Monday, August 27, 2012

Bugs, Blood, and Beer

Camping is one of those adventures that always looks good...on paper.

Habitual campers can talk at length about hiking through the woods, roasting marshmallows around a cozy fire, and sleeping under starry skies. It's easy to romanticize. They'll assert that if you don't take your children camping, they'll be missing out on everything nature has to offer.

Perhaps a generation or two ago, cooking over an open fire and sleeping in the great outdoors wasn't that far removed from our everyday lifestyles, but the same can no longer be said, can it? Nowadays, we expect climate control in our homes, at our workplaces, and while we travel to and from. We expect shelter from the elements and the small creatures who feast on our bodies. And while I can't speak for everyone, a great many of us expect cold beer at a reasonable price.

Roughing it with no running water, plumbing, or electricity is certainly a task many of us can no longer claim to enjoy. Sleeping under the stars can be appealing until the temperature drops to near freezing or rain and wind wreak havoc with your tent. Cooking by a cozy fire will certainly come with a generous helping of carcinogens. And a leisurely hike in the woods will quickly transform into a full hand-waving sprint as you desperately try to avoid mosquitoes and other blood lusting fiends.
Give Blood.  Go Camping.
Through all the discomfort and distress, however, camping still affords us with a genuine opportunity to bond with family in an atmosphere free from our typical daily distractions.  Cooperating by pitching the tent you are going to live in for 3 days, gathering firewood to allow you to eat, and swatting mosquitoes off of each other is certainly no one's textbook definition of quality bonding time, but it ends up being so by default.

Perhaps this is still camping's greatest allure.

Monday, August 20, 2012

What the "hell" aren't we talking about?

Hypocrisy is alive and well in America. Was there ever any doubt? It seems like those who would scold the Saudis for not affording women the right to drive, those who would admonish the Russians for imprisoning Pussy Riot, and those who are quick to speak out against regimes that persecute children for scribbling in their Koran are willing to deny a high school valedictorian a diploma for uttering the word "hell" in her commencement address.

Kaitlin Nootbaar, a straight-A student with a 4.0 GPA, was named the valedictorian of her graduating class in Prague, Oklahoma three months ago. While addressing her fellow seniors at commencement, she used the line, "How the hell do I know? I've changed my mind so many times."

Although her speech was met with warm laughter and applause, Nootbaar was berated by her former principal when she went to pick up her diploma and told that she would not receive it until a formal apology letter was written to the school. I bet that was an awkward conversation.  Likely an ageing fossil of a man feebly trying to explain to a girl demonstrably more intelligent than himself how a group comprised of he and his cronies reached their noble decision.

School administrators were honest in their admission that the speech they had approved contained the word "heck" and Nootbaar's "cursing" was not acceptable. 

Heck is a place for those who don't believe in Gosh.

I'm not sure what is more ridiculous. The withholding of the diploma because the use of a word that has long been considered innocuous or the fact that a straight-A valedictorian needs to have a speech "approved" before delivering it. Frankly, it's disturbing that educators are taking this position. It's something you'd expect from some fringe cultists or small town minister trying to make a name for himself, but when those whom we trust with the minds of children make "calls" like this, we can't act fast enough.

Rightly, Nootbaar has refused to apologize and the school has declined further comment calling the situation "confidential." They didn't disclose whether or not an exorcism is being planned for the new graduate.

The self-righteous among us may suggest that religious fanaticism only exists on the other side of the world and may assume that zealots only belong to those "other" religions from which Middle America was not descended.  I've got news for you.

America, surely you jest!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Faster, Higher, Stronger...helped?

Another Olympiad has come and gone. Similar to every other major competition before it, London 2012 saw its fair share of world records shattered.

While world's fastest man, Usain Bolt was unable to break his own records in the 100 meter and 200 meter sprints, he won gold in both events and certainly let the world know (any time a microphone was thrust upon him) that, "I came to London to become a legend and now I am a legend."

Bolt has also gone on record to say that while being
compared to other legends, he would prefer to be in the
same company as Jesse Owens, rather than Carl Lewis.
Since Jesse Owens' famous dash at the 1936 Berlin
Games, presided over by Adolf Hitler, the world record
in the 100 meter sprint has been steadily improved upon
by a superior class of athletes, or so we've been led to

Just how many fractions of a second shaved off of the
world record can be attributed to the athlete and how
many attributed to technology is really a matter of debate.

Owens' time of 10.2 was a world record in 1936. Of course, it may have been 10.14 for all we know because back then, there were no reliable methods for measuring hundredths of a second.

Since Owens' mark of 10.2, subsequent records have been beaten or equaled no fewer than 60 times.
Athletic prowess? Superior athletes? Perhaps, but what is often not taken into consideration are all the aids and technological wonders that are commonplace today.

While Jesse Owens' shoes would have been state-of-the-art in 1936, they'd certainly be considered clunky and heavy compared to the 100 gram marvels that athletes wear today.

While Hitler spared no expense on Germany's Olympiastadion, the tracks of the day were dirt. Starting blocks? Nope. The athletes used small spades to dig footings in the dirt. The sophisticated track designed for the London Games meanwhile gave runners a distinct advantage because less energy was lost with each stride. Are tracks being designed to keep up with better athletes or are track designs creating better athletes?

Organizers also carefully prevent sprinters from running into a head wind at their events. After all, every city that has hosted the Olympic Games wants to be known as the city where [insert world class athlete here] set the world record. Of the 60 or so times that the world record in the 100 meter sprint has been equaled or bettered since Jesse Owens' day, only 5 times has the phenomenon occurred with a head wind and since 1977, there has never been a head wind.  Something less than random is going on here. It makes one wonder when sprinters will be permitted to run downhill to better ensure that a record will fall.

There is no question that Usain Bolt has earned the title of World's Fastest Man. To say that no sprinter from the past could ever equal Bolt's mark, however, is folly simply because what's at Bolt's disposal was not available to his idols.

Monday, August 06, 2012

8 Women Out

In what will surely go down as one of the most tantalizing scandals in Olympic history, eight badminton players including the reigning world champions were expelled from the Games last week for "not using one's best efforts to win a match".  Since then, the debate has raged as the whether not trying is cheating, or not.

I'll say that it is not. Clearly, using aids, drugs, or devices to gain an unfair advantage is cheating and should be dealt with accordingly, but when a pre-defined format allows an athlete to choose their path to the podium based upon where they rank in the standings, it is the format that should be expelled, not the athlete.

Don't blame the athletes

After the four women's pairs had qualified for the quarterfinals of the tournament, they began intentionally losing games in order to dictate a more favorable match-up in the next round. It seems to me that that's strategic and not worthy of being ejected from the largest sporting event on the planet.

After all, athletes at the highest level of sport "tank" performances all the time to gain an advantage in the future. Consider a swimmer or sprinter who knows that he only needs to finish in the top 3 to advance to the next round. Once he knows that he has 3rd or better clinched and cannot be caught, he often lets his foot off the gas, ending the race with a less than spectacular finish. Even world's greatest Olympian Michael Phelps would be guilty of this. Or what about a soccer team that knows its next round destiny before their final round-robin match even starts and thus rests all their star players, consequently losing the match?  Should these types of performance also lead to expulsions for "not using one's best efforts to win"? Of course not; in fact, we applaud them for having the savvy to save themselves for the greater battle ahead.

The eight expelled badminton athletes could not have made it any more obvious that they were trying to lose and perhaps that it what doesn't sit well with the masses, but using every available strategy to enhance your chance of winning is not cheating and shouldn't be a crime. A well thought out format that would have taken this scenario into consideration could have prevented this "gamesmanship".

Like everything else that has gone wrong with the 2012 London Olympics thus far, blame the organizers.