First Time Gold

In a lot of ways, the Olympics is about Firsts. First to cross the finish line, coming in first place in a tournament…. There are also the first times a sport has been played at the Olympics.

Some of the best “firsts” happen in the medal ceremonies, when a nation’s anthem gets played for the first time to mark that nation’s first gold medal. In Rio, this happened nine times. Ten, if you count the “Independent Olympic Athlete” team.
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So, Who Won the Olympics?

So, Who Won the Olympics?

This question pops up every two years at the conclusion of the Games (either Winter or Summer). The simple answer is whichever nation got the most medals. Usually, as was the case this time, it’s the United States. This achievement is crowed by people who seem to believe that success in an international sporting competition somehow validates a nation’s greatness. Or that individual athletic achievement only matters when your name is Michael Phelps or Simone Biles.

Let’s be fair. The United States is one of the most populous nations in the world. We have a truly vast pool of talent to draw on. And our large, vibrant, and robust economy means that when talent does appear, we can offer the best in training, technology, and equipment to help those aspiring athletes reach greatness. Well, at least in the sports we care about….

Gee, if only there were some way to take population size and economic factors into account. I wonder what the Medals Table would look like then… Continue reading

The Other Problem With the Olympics

It happens every two years. People gripe about the Olympics. Corruption in the International Olympic Committee, doping scandals, and the like. They swear they aren’t going to follow them, and yet they keep an eye on the medal tables and whatever else the media tells them to pay attention to.

In and among their litany of complaints, they might mention how the Games have gotten too expensive for a city to host. The displacement of people, the disruption of everyday life for the residents, the oppressive security measures, the wasteful expenditures on facilities that will never turn a profit (as if making money was the only reason to host the Games).

They have a point. The Games have gotten rather expensive. But it’s not just inflation, or hosts trying to “one up” the previous games.

It’s that the Olympics have gotten too big.
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The Olympic Team to Root For

One of the more notable athletes competing in the 2012 Olympics in London was Guor Marial, a marathoner from South Sudan. A refugee from Sudan’s civil war, he managed to make his way to the US. In high school he started competing in track, and made All-American in college. Noting that his time in the marathon was good enough to qualify for the Olympics, friends and coaches encouraged him to apply.

There was a problem, though. He wasn’t a US citizen and couldn’t be on the US team. He wanted to represent the new country of South Sudan (where he was born), but that country hadn’t yet met the International Olympic Committee’s requirements to field a team. The IOC suggested that he run for Sudan. Marial’s response was pretty much along the lines of “The Sudanese Army killed almost all of my family and forced me to flee the country. Do you honestly think I’m going to compete under the same flag?”

The IOC found a loophole. They allow for “stateless” athletes to compete under the Olympic flag. Wearing a generic black and gray track suit, and being given the three-letter country code of “IOA” (Independent Olympic Athlete), he ran in the marathon, finishing with a respectable middle-of-the-pack time of 2:19:32.

Since then, the refugee situation has gotten worse. Millions of people are being displaced by civil wars and strife all across the globe. Mindful of this, the IOC wondered if any potential athletes were sheltering in refugee camps or otherwise counted as “displaced” people.

They found quite a few….
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Thoughts on the Democratic Convention

Well, the DNC wrapped up their party. As with the RNC’s version, I didn’t follow it closely. But I still have some observations….

I’m not sure that people were expecting Sen. Al Franken to go with comedy in his speech. There was little laughter from the audience. Perhaps it was just that his delivery seemed to be off. Must be out of practice. There was a lot of humor in other speeches. Have to love Michael Jordan’s – er, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s jab at Trump.

Nice touch having speakers from all the groups – minorities, immigrants, disabled – that Trump has insulted all during the campaign.

Okay – Bernie Sanders and his supporters. I’ve got no problems with Sanders. He ran a good campaign, and can be proud that he had such an influence on Clinton and the Democrat’s platform. But his supporters need to face reality. They got practically everything they wanted, except for their guy as the nominee. I heard only one commentator mention that the DNC isn’t a “democracy”. As a private organization, they can set the rules however they want, and arrange things to favor one candidate over another. There’s nothing anyone can do about it.

One other point that deserves mentioning. Clinton has been a Democrat for decades. Sanders joined the party a mere three months before the New Hampshire primary. Sounds to me like he joined up at the last possible minute, just so he could take advantage of the party machinery in his try for the White House.

Corey Booker’s speech was all over the place, but what a barn-burner! The passion was obvious.

True, Clinton isn’t that great a public speaker. She doesn’t have much in the way of charisma. But would you rather have someone all style and no substance, or no style but a lot of substance?

Not only did the Democrats have better celebrities, they had better balloons, too….

Thoughts on the Republican Convention

I was away for a while last week (and early this week), so I haven’t been able to closely follow the goings-on at the political conventions. But I have seen enough to have some thoughts and comments.

First, RepubliCon 2016:

I have to give Ted Cruz some credit for having at least a bit of honor. Whatever you think of his political views, not coming out in full support of Trump was a daring move. But since Trump insulted Cruz’s wife and slandered his father, did you honestly expect him to do otherwise?

I caught the last half of Trump’s acceptance speech. Yes, it was scary and “dark” in tone, but it wasn’t anything we hadn’t been hearing all along from him. It was basically the “cask strength” version of his views.

Donald Trump’s default expression seems to be one of self-satisfied smugness. Head tilted slightly back, with something like a cross between an inverted smile and a dismissive scowl. Most of the rare times he smiled, it was fake.

And, um, was it really a good idea to have as the closing song for the entire convention – the one bit of music you want to wrap up and summarize the entire mood of the convention – “You Can’t Always Get What You Want”?

BOOK REVIEW: Fleet of Worlds (series)

Fleet of Worlds (2007)
Juggler of Worlds (2008)
Destroyer of Worlds (2009)
Betrayer of Worlds (2010)
Fate of Worlds: Return from the Ringworld (2012)

Larry Niven and Edward Lerner
Published by Tor Books

It seems to be par for the course these days in SF/fantasy book publishing that if you are an established author, you have to write a series of novels. Standalone books don’t cut it anymore. Even new authors, if their first novels are even modestly successful, are encouraged to write more books in the same milieu. From a publishing standpoint, it’s a good way to get guaranteed sales. For writers, the dirty work of basic worldbuilding has already been done, so there’s generally a little less effort in going down the same road than in blazing a new trail.

I’ve also noted that older authors who have written many stories and novels in the same or similar universes may, as they get on in years, try to tie everything together and write a few works that link all the stories or fill in the gaps in the chronology. Some years ago, Larry Niven commented that part of the reason he hadn’t written any “Known Space” stories covering the Man-Kzin Wars that he had frequently referred to was that having no military background, he didn’t feel comfortable writing war stories. So he “opened up” that era of Known Space to other writers; the result was several books worth of stories filling in that era and providing much detail on Kzinti society.
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Random Thoughts on the 2016 All-Star Game

Well, the 2016 Major League Baseball All-Star Game has come and gone. The American League won by the score of 4-2. Not a particularly exciting game, but that’s baseball. Individual games, even All-Star Games, are rarely exciting. But you watch, because of the *possibilty* of seeing something exciting.

Anyway, my thoughts, in no particular order:
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On the Matter of Clinton’s E-Mails

One would have thought they’d be happy.

When FBI Director James B. Comey announced the results of his bureau’s investigation into the security lapses in Hillary Clinton’s e-mails during her tenure as Secretary of State, he pretty much gave them everything they wanted. Were she and the State Department careless in their handling of sensitive information? Were e-mails deleted? Did they know they were using an unsecured system? Was information that was classified at the time sent over that system? Yes, , yes, yes, and yes. Serious matters, all. And all things that anyone opposing Clinton in a campaign should hold her feet to the fire for.

But because he did not recommend that charges be brought against her, the GOP – well, at least some of their mouthpieces – is having a hissy fit and demanding that the investigation be investigated.
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