Last Night I Dreamed of Algebra and the Taliban

Note: An oldie but even more relevant today. Sometimes history doesn’t repeat itself. Perhaps this time x= (order- fear) * the whole world is watching

From 2018…

The subconsciousness is a strange device. It’s our human CPU, running subroutines in the background. When we shut down for the night, it keeps running, energetically trying to solve all the world’s problems.  How the universe was formed. Whether there is life on other planets. What x equals. Why cruelty exists.

American Conservatory Theater production
From SF American Conservatory Theater production of Khalid Hosseini’s book, photo from Playbook.

A Thousand Suns… Some Not So Splendid

Last Thursday, I sat mesmerized during San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater production of A Thousand Splendid Suns. This play, based on the best-selling novel by Khalid Hosseini, is the story of women enduring the Afghanistan Civil Wars and the rise of the Taliban in the late 1990s. I choose the word enduring carefully because it is the core verb that women in the play use to express what must be done. Afghanistan under the severity of the Taliban interpretation of Sharia Law was as perilous a place for women as any; endure is what they must.

Learn this now and learn it well, my daughter: Like a compass needle that points north, a man’s accusing finger always finds a woman. Always. You remember that, Mariam….There is only one, only one skill a woman like you and me needs in life, and they don’t teach it in school . . . Only one skill. And it’s this: tahamul. Endure . . . It’s our lot in life, Mariam. Women like us. We endure. It’s all we have.
–Nana in A Thousand Splendid Suns

I don’t know if Hosseini read his Faulkner.

DILSEY.
They endured.
–Last line of The Sound and the Fury

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The Whole World in a Seven-Meter Circle (Day 14, Tokyo)

SnyderlaevIII will be Saturday, August 7th, aka Captain America vs the Russian Tank.

Wrestling was voted out of the Olympics. It was gone, in 2013, as room was needed for the new “X” sports that we’ve enjoyed in Tokyo–skateboarding, surfing, and sport climbing. It was an ignominious end for a sport that crosses hundreds of cultures, practiced for thousands of years. Skateboarding only goes back to the Sixties.

But like a phoenix rising from the ashes, like Gable Steveson coming from three points down in the final seconds, like a wrestler who is pulled down but then flips her opponent for a pin, wrestling has come back. The whole world, where wrestling “originated” everywhere, all the time, is thrilled.

The pankration, where you can die and still win. Photo from wikipedia.

The Pankration, Pehlavi, Pehlwan, Pat Patterson

Many countries across the Balkans and Eastern Europe, from Russia to Mongolia, had traditions. The Ottoman Empire brought the pehlavi, oil wrestling, to every country they conquered. It’s still Turkey’s national sport, and in the old times, when you had to win with a pin, matches could last for days. The men wear special leather pants, which was more than the Greeks, who also wrestled in oil but naked.

What makes wrestling different from so many other Olympic sports is the breadth of countries competing. Often 60-70 different nations, from all corners of the world, send qualifiers. Compare that with the 6 which sent baseball teams or 16 beach volleyball countries. Watching wrestling, you quickly have to learn how to spell Kyrgyzstan and Azerbaijani, names like Khongorzul Boldsaikhan and Elizbar Odikadze.

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Maybe, One Last Time (Day 10, Tokyo 2020)

The phrases “greatest of all time” and “greatest in history” are getting bandied about with awful frequency these days. She’s the greatest swimmer of all time. That has to be the greatest finish in history. Really, folks, history is pretty long. It’s annoying to use such words when athletes are in their second or maybe third Games. Come back, maybe, when you hit five. Or how about eight?

France’s Teddy Riner (blue) competes against Japan’s Aaron Wolf compete in the judo mixed team’s final bout during the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games at the Nippon Budokan in Tokyo on July 31, 2021. (Photo by FRANCK FIFE/AFP via Getty Images)

Instead, as far as the Olympics go, I propose that we honor the Living Legends. The Games are full of folks who still compete with strength and experience. Every time they say, “just one more time.” Every time it’s, “this will be my last.” But they stay in shape, they have outstanding technique, and they’re long past the Olympic jitters.

Perhaps they have lost a step but still make up for it with guile and style. Perhaps they’re not three-peating or four-peating or five-peating. There still have suitcases full of medals. Overall, considering all the sports, these legends might make this the Greatest Class in Olympic history.

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