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On the Future of the Olympic Games July 28, 2016

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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One example of the ruins of the Olympic venues in Athens from the 2004 Summer Games.  This is what happens when the hosting of the Olympics are awarded to countries that are not First World/commerce-oriented.

The train wreck in Rio de Janeiro that continues to unfold as the Summer Olympics are but days away has exposed two large, systemic problems.  The obvious one is with Brazil itself.  Its economy may have been on the rise in 2009 to the point where it gave enough people the impression that it was becoming part of the developed world.  Not long afterwards, political corruption, lack of infrastructure, and a glaring lack of sanitation exposed Brazil as still being Third World and still having a long way to go before it deserves to sit at the grownups table of world affairs (along with the United States, Great Britain, Germany, Japan, Canada, Israel, Australia, possibly France, and the like).

The other systemic issue at play is with the Olympic Games themselves.  Simply put, they are huge, and very expensive to stage.  Even 40 years ago, things almost reached a tipping point.  The city of Montreal hosted the 1976 Summer Olympics, only to be $1.5 Billion in debt afterwards. It took that city almost 30 years to pay it off.  Indeed, few cities wanted to host the Games after that.  Sure, Moscow jumped at the chance four years later, because to a Communist nation, money is no object when it comes to propaganda.

Peter Ueberroth and the Los Angeles organizing committee for 1984 revolutionized how the Games were financed when he persuaded the International Olympic Committee to allow corporate sponsorship.  It saved the Games for another 30 years.

Now, the Games have grown even bigger still, to the point where they are too expensive for new cities to host the Games.  Sure, Putin and the Russian government seemed more than willing to turn Sochi into a $51 Billion (with a ‘B’) boondoggle, because, again, at what price propaganda?

Beijing was the only viable city that wanted to host the Winter Olympics for 2022.  The IOC was certainly were not going to give the Winter Games to Kazakhstan, for goodness sake.  It is a sad commentary on the susceptibility of the IOC to a bribe that so few viable countries and cities thereof even put in bids for the 2022 Winter Games in the first place.

That aside, one thing is for certain:  the Olympics are so huge and such a big deal that only commerce-oriented (read:  First World, developed) countries are built and, indeed, fit to host the Games.

Yet, there is this politically-correct mantra out there, saying that everyone deserves a chance, but grownups will tell you that is pure poppycock.  The truth is, most nations and even whole continents are not built to handle and host the Olympics.  That includes Africa (with the possible exception of Johannesburg), South America (as we are currently seeing now), the Middle East (outside of Israel), and central and Southeast Asia.

Even some countries in otherwise developed regions are more than suspect.  Remember Athens in 2004?  The Greeks built all those state-of-the-art facilities only to let them go to ruin a decade later.  Yes, it sounded wonderful for the Olympics to be hosted in the ancient birthplace of the Games themselves, but the huge problem was that Greece is anything but commerce-oriented, which speaks to a culturally systemic problem in Greece itself.

One aspect of this systemic issue is that a city that wants to host the Games for the first time has to spend billions of dollars to build new facilities from scratch.  In this day and age, even with corporate sponsorship and in some cases, state-supported funding, that is no longer economically viable.

The solution is to start cycling the Games around to cities that meet certain criteria.  They are:

1.) Be situated in a commerce-oriented country (i.e., one of the aforementioned “grownup” countries).  Not all cultures are equal.  Some cultures are superior to others.  A hallmark of this cultural supremacy is a culture that itself is commerce-oriented, that respects the rule of law and property rights of the individual, that frowns on black markets, and puts a premium on democratic governments and transparency within.  Not to mention, superior cultures minimize corruption in government, at least compared to more corrupt Third World nations.  These sorts of countries also have free presses (to varying extents; France is suspect in this regard) that can call wayward politicians into account for any malfeasance.

Commerce-oriented countries also have the necessary infrastructure for such massive undertakings as the Games.  This includes transportation (e.g., airports and expressways), not to mention a sufficient amount of clean, comfortable, available hotel rooms to handle the crush of spectators attending said Games.

2.) Be a city big enough that it already has the aforementioned infrastructure in place.  This applies to cities that have never hosted a previous Olympics.

3.) This is the big one:  ideally, be a city that has already hosted the Games, and has proven to do so exceptionally well.

Indeed, for the Olympics to remain doable in the future, the way to go is to starting cycling them around to cities (and, by extension, their countries) that have proven capable of hosting the Olympics well.  The IOC seems to be inching towards this already, however gradually.  London just hosted its Olympic Games for the third time, most recently in 2012.  Tokyo — another excellent choice on the part of the IOC — will host the 2020 Summer Games.  Los Angeles is currently bidding to host the Summer Games for 2024.

For these cities, the venues/facilities are already built.  Maybe a little renovation or generally sprucing up might be in place, but such expenditures pale in comparison to building everything from scratch.  Los Angeles, for example, has but one additional facility to build (for rowing and kayaking) and it’s all set.

Think about it from the Winter Games perspective.  Sure, a nearby, mountainous ski resort town can handle the alpine skiing events (Salt Lake had Park City, Vancouver had Whistler), but you still need to build a sliding sports track.  That alone costs between $50-100 Million, and then there is the necessary ski jumping tower, etc., etc.  Economically, it makes sense to host the Games in cities have already hosted them, and hosted them well.

One could cycle the Winter Games from Salt Lake City to, say, Munich (they have a sliding sports track at nearby Koenigssee), then Calgary and/or Vancouver.  What’s not to love?

Similarly, a Summer Games cycle of Los Angeles, London, Sydney, Atlanta, Tokyo, and Munich/Berlin would work just fine.  Seoul would be a viable cycle candidate as well.

Either we start doing this, or we encourage cities to continue to engage in multi-billion-dollar boondoggles to build athletic venues that rarely get used again, like those in Athens (indeed, what shall become of Rio’s many facilities after these upcoming Games are concluded?).

So, which is it going to be?  Cycling the Games around to proven cities/countries, or more wasteful boondoggles?

‘Sochi Da’? More Like ‘Sochi, Nyet!’! February 5, 2014

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics, Sports.
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Does this look like a winter sports destination to you? Can one think of anything more antithetical to the Winter Olympics than palm trees? Yet this only scratches the surface regarding all the things wrong with Sochi, and it calls the collective judgment of the IOC into serious question.

As a life-long fan of the Olympics, I must concede that I am very excited for the Winter Games to commence this Friday evening.  But this time I am excited with reservations, namely on the very choice of the city and country to host these Games.  It is painfully clear to me that the judgement of the leadership of the International Olympic Committee (henceforth the IOC) was, to put it mildly, severely compromised.

What’s wrong with Sochi?  Let us count the ways.  Start with the fact that it is out-of-the-way.  For the previous three Winter Olympics in a row (Salt Lake City, Torino, and Vancouver), the IOC got it mostly right.  The United States and Canada are commerce-oriented, and have first-rate infrastructures, not to mention the population bases in the bookend cities dictate the size and quantity of hotel rooms to accommodate massive influxes of spectators for gigantic events, like, say, the Olympics.  Torino was not a terrible choice in that they had a solid population base to handle the Games and the many myriads of people.  It’s just that Italy is not exactly commerce-oriented, not when compared to the Anglosphere or even Germany, for that matter.

Another huge problem with Sochi is the geography itself, and in more ways than one.  The most obvious problem is that fact that Sochi is a subtropical resort, hardly the ideal spot for the designated hub of winter sports championship events.  At least the nearby mountains are snowy, though.  The size of the town is not quite up to what is needed for the Winter Games of this modern size.  Gone are the days when a tiny ski resort town like Lake Placid (population:  less than 4,000) could handle the Winter Olympics.  It was fine when you had only 19 countries competing, with a total of about 200 total athletes (as was the case in 1932), and they barely, just barely pulled it off in 1980.  Calgary turned out to be a great choice in 1988, but then small town problems persisted again with Albertville (whose 1992 population was only about 35,000), and also with Nagano (1998:  just too far out of the way), which brings us back to Sochi.  At only about 340,000, it’s not as big as metro Salt Lake City, let alone Calgary, Torino or Vancouver.

Isolation is another issue.  It is located on the eastern end of the Black Sea, way too out-of-the-way compared to major population centers of countries with a sufficient degree of commerce-orientation.  That isolation makes it unduly taxing on the kind of nations that will make the most substantial contributions athletically and in terms of medal counts.

This does not even take into consideration the issue of sticker shock for families trying to make it to Sochi to cheer on their sons or daughters in person as they compete.  Unlike commerce-oriented locales like Calgary, Salt Lake or Vancouver, which have plenty of hotel rooms all over their respective metro areas, Sochi has yet to build up the hotel space designed to handle the major crush of people about to descend on it.   Combine high demand for hotel rooms and low supply thereof, and out-of-the-way air travel, and you have a prohibitively expensive combination that will keep the vast majority of families away, period.

For those who do have hotel rooms, particularly those in the media, there are plenty of issues to contend with that are non-issues in more civilized parts of the world.  The Russian government has had seven, count ’em, seven years to prepare for these games, yet look at the laundry list of issues that members of the media have to contend with regarding their lodging while covering these Games.

There have been twitter-fed reports from journalists of having to climb out of their windows just to leave their hotels.  Also, there are reports of hotel lobbies have no floors; of having to contend with stray dogs in hotels — you know, the stray dogs that the Russian government is not murdering with typical Bolshevik brutality.  Then there is the glaring lack of water at some hotels, and where there is water, that people are advised not to drink it.

Seven years and 51 Billion (with a ‘B’) dollars later, and this is the best they could do?  Actually, why are we not surprised?  This is, after all, Russia, whose people had to make multiple botched attempts to bump off Rasputin.  Never underestimate the power of Russian incompetence — or corruption, for that matter.

Remember, folks, one thing that separates the developed First World from every place else is a more open, transparent government, and relatively minimized corruption.  It is clear that with $51 Billion wasted in Sochi, somebody got paid off.

Now let us consider the not-so-small issue of athlete and spectator safety.  Did the IOC consider Sochi’s close proximity to Chechnya and the fact that that spot of the world is a hotbed for Moslem terror?  Or did that just slip the IOC’s collective mind as they awarded the hosting of the 2014 Winter Games to Vladimir Putin’s kleptocracy?

The term ‘kleptocrat’ is not used lightly, either.  During a formal reception, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft happened to bump into Putin.  The latter asked to see Kraft’s Super Bowl ring, and Kraft, ever the gentleman, obliged without hesitation in the interests of both classy conduct and international relations.  If only Putin were as much of a gentleman.  Instead of doing the right thing and returning the ring to Mr. Kraft, after the Pats’ owner so kindly handed over such a precious article of jewelry to the despot for his own close inspection and presumed admiration, Putin just put the ring in his suit pocket and immediately surrounded himself with three KGB agents before leaving the party without delay.  This, ladies and gentlemen, is the leader of the nation that is about to host the Winter Olympics.

I ask yet again:  did the IOC consider that?  Did they consider anything?  If current hindsight is any indication, they did not.  They did not consider the relative lack of commerce-orientation and the necessary infrastructure that it inevitably entails.  They, apparently, did not consider basic geography, be it climate (remember, the whole subtropical resort deal), nor the human side of geography (Chechnya, Islamic terrorism, etc.) and its obvious security risks that imperil athletes and spectators alike.  Neither did the IOC consider geography in terms of fundamental location, and the fact that it is out-of-the-way compared to many other sites in more civilized locales.  Need we mention the IOC’s lack of consideration regarding the human rights violations and the increased authoritarianism of Putin’s regime?  This is to say nothing of the rampant corruption that has left everybody outside of the teams themselves lacking for basic living necessities in their lodging.

There are really only a small handful of countries that are capable of competently handling the Olympics, given the size to which the Games have grown.  And remember, the words ‘competence’ and ‘Russia’ hardly go together!  Again, the importance of the commerce-orientation in a country is that it has the infrastructure (transportation, hotel accommodations, sanitation/cleanliness, etc.) that can handle such an astronomically massive set of events.  But moreover, this same small handful of governments that are sufficiently free/democratic, and have a free press that can call wayward politicians and government officials into proper account (barring left-wing media malpractice, anyway).  Such openness is a symptom of the proper commitment towards first-world living standards and infrastructure in the first place.  The United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Australia and Japan — to an extent — can all pull it off well.  Why roll the dice with some place so isolated, in a dangerous part of the world, with a non-winter sports climate, in a country with an increasingly dictatorial government?

Of course, one plausible explanation for this gross lack of judgment on the part of the IOC is that maybe part the $51 Billion spent on these Games in Russia was dangled in front of the faces of key IOC members to cast the vote in favor of Putin’s regime.  This is Europe, after all, where such corruption is more commonplace than in the Anglosphere, by and large.

The truth of the matter is, as mentioned before, the vast majority  of countries are not built to handle the Olympics.  Contrary to the feel-good, politically-correct mantra, not everybody deserves a chance to host something so huge.  Not all cultures are equal, hence not all countries are properly equipped to handle such a massive undertaking.  The wise approach would be to cycle the Games around in a handful of cities/countries that have proven that they can handle such events without a hitch.  Why not cycle it from Salt Lake to Munich to Vancouver (or Calgary) and repeat the cycle?  Don’t out-think the room, IOC.

Dinosaur tracks found in Australia August 24, 2011

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Science.
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Australia is traditionally a relatively latecomer when it comes to dinosaur discoveries.  The first dinosaurs discovered were Iguanodon and Megalosaurus in England in the early 1820s.  We found herds of Hadrosaurs outside of Philadelphia in the 1840s (the significant finds out west started in the 1870s).  Compared to all that, the first dino finds Downunder not coming until the 1900s and 1930s seem quite recent.  It does not help things that Australia, even during the Age of Reptiles, did not have all of its land accessible to dinosaurs, as much of the present-day continent was covered by a shallow sea.  But it also was connected to both Antarctica and South America during this era, and as such, the part of Australia not covered by said shallow sea (try saying that three times fast!) was a crossroads of sorts for a number of species.

Despite the decent diversity of dinosaurs found in Australia, the actual number of species found Downunder are relatively few, for a number of geological reasons, one of which has already been mentioned.  But any dino discovery in Australia is significant because of its crossroads status, but also because it can give us clues to dinosaur migratory patterns as well as potential behavioral patterns during a unique time of when A) Australia was located further south than it is today, and B) despite the southern part of the continent’s almost polar latitudinal position during this time, a huge saving grace was that a major warming period occured at that same period, about 105 million years ago.

Hence the significance of the discovery of dino tracks along the coastline of Victoria dating to that time.  A research team led by Emory University Paleontologist Anthony Martin discovered what appear to be Therapod tracks from Australia’s polar period.  Keep in mind that dinosaurs were not discovered in Antarctica until the late 1980s — pre-dating the ground-breaking documentary on dinos hosted by Christopher Reeve in 1985.  But given that geologists surmised that the continents were at one time joined together, there were thoughts that finding dino fossils at the bottom of the world would be a matter of time.

Martin also found the first dinosaur trace fossils of a burrow in Australia back in 2006, so his track record for these finds is well-established.  This current find was in a location called Dinosaur Dreaming.  With a name like that, it sounds like Paleontologists ought to do more digging in that point on the map!