Saturday, August 4, 2012

London Games

I will be out of connections for a week or so.  I am headed to Colorado with the wife to get her some recommended specialized medical treatments.   Or maybe I can occasionally check in on a motel computer.  Anyone know of any good used bookstores in Denver?  In any case I wanted to throw out a few random thoughts that have been agitating my aging brain cells and see if any of you all have some of that bartending wisdom to set me on the right bearing.  What got me thinking on these was an article in the latest edition of the VFW ragazine – don’t puke Jim.

The modern Olympics are a long way from the 7th and 8th century BC variety.  Back in the day, the sporting events were more attuned to training for war - the hoplitodromia (a steeplechase type footrace in helmet and bronze shinguards while carrying shield) and the pankration (a no-holds-barred wrestling/boxing/savate/judo hand-to-hand combat).  A few of the old ones still persist in modern form - javelin throwing, and the archaic Greek field artillery of discus and shotput.  Were those ancient games a way the city states tried to do away with actual war between Greeks (while still practicing for foreign wars)?  Wikipedia seems to give more of a religious and political origin for the games, but I question their presumption.   

More questions: 

Do sports serve a useful purpose in military training?  Of course, even golf I say!   By that question I meant outside of plain old fashioned physical conditioning (there is a  report out lately that the vast majority of our nation’s youth is too obese to be accepted into military service).  

Also, do great athletes make for a great military?  No IMHO, maybe only in Schwarzenegger’s dreams.


  1. mike-

    I hope the trip is successful and you are both pleased with the result.

    Yes, I think sports do serve a useful purpose is preparing one for military service. First team sports show the necessity of working together for a common goal, while individual sports show the necessity of attention to detail. There are other positive attributes one could add, I'm not making a definitive list. That said, the average Englishmen in 1914 was probably a better sportsman than the average German, but was he a better soldier?

    This brings us to the moral qualities and motivations which can be influenced by sport, but not necessarily so. Idealism, ambition and adventure are the motivations which induce volunteers (we're not talking conscripts here) to volunteer for military service. I would include getting $$$ for college as ambition. Is there a connection between practicing sport and these motivations?

  2. Let's not forget that the ancient Greeks would have competed mostly naked (except for some kind of thong to keep the flapping bit from flapping.

    And from seeing photos of the women's volleyball teams, I think the Greeks have an idea there...

    Jokes aside, I'm not a fan of the modern Olympics. Instead of a bunch of dilettantes trying to be the best we've moved to the extreme opposite with nothing but specialists who're amateur in name only. The games become an excuse for countries to showboat, they've got McDonalds as a major sponsor (?!?) and you're not allowed to publicly criticize (in print or electronically) the games in London or wear clothing with logos of the competitors to the sponsors.

    All those things have pretty much jaded me to this spectacle and I only hope my city never succumbs to this fever.

  3. Leon-

    Naked as not to conceal any weapons . . . that was the deal, very political.

    Being a Clausewitzian I would find that theoretically important.

    In regards to the ancient games they started in 776 Bc, and ended in 394 Ad . . . any information on those last games? Why was it thought no longer important?

    1. I don't think that was the main reason for being naked, athletes usually exercised and practiced naked.

    2. Leon-

      There are various sources I could provide for this. Here's a nice one picked at random. Check out the comment by R. Salzberg . . .

  4. Mike,

    Denver has one of the best book stores in the country, called "The Tattered Cover." Google the website, it's easy to find. It's one of Denver's landmark businesses.

    I'm from the area, so if you have any questions, please let me know.

  5. Thanks Seydlitz for the cheer and encouragement. As to your questions:

    ”. . . any information on those last games? Why was it thought no longer important?” Too much of a pagan festival for the newly minted Christians.

    ”Is there a connection between practicing sport and these motivations?” For sure, and confidence building too.

    ”That said, the average Englishmen in 1914 was probably a better sportsman than the average German, but was he a better soldier?” I would say without a doubt no and that in 1914 that Fritz was a better soldier than Tommy. But later, after mobilization, I do not believe that was still true – probably at that time, neither was a better soldier. And as far as Tommy being a better sportsman, I’m not sure about that?? Certainly it may be true for Brit officers – the “playing fields of Eton” and all that. But I suspect the average man in the Brit ‘other ranks’ was too busy in the fields, factories or mines to engage in sport prior to being conscripted. Wasn’t Germany the birthplace of gymnastics during the late 19th century? And didn’t German sports clubs reintroduce and modernize the ancient Greek gymnasiums. Maybe not so much team sports as in England, but without a doubt they participated in more winter sports? I need to check out a bio of Frederick the Great to see if he instituted sports into the Prussian Army back in the 18th century, or maybe his father? Svenn O. would know more I think.

  6. Leon – Y

    ou are right of course re the commercialization. But I cannot resist watching the lady V-ballers. And IMHO there is nothing more graceful than high jumpers and pole vaulters (a 19th century German sport BTW). Unfortunately NBC will probably only show Americans in those sports.

  7. Andy -

    Thanks I will check it out. I was in Denver back in the 70s for several months at Lowry before they moved the Navy Intel School to Virginia Beach. So hopefully I can still find my way around. Rocky Mountain Navy they called it. I and every other Marine and Navy man at both Lowry and Buckley scored free tickets to the Navy/Air Force game in the Springs as long as we wore dress uniform.

  8. mike-

    I think Tommy may have been a better sportsman than Fritz given the status of football (soccer) as the working class sport at that time in the UK. All the primier league teams in the UK were set up originally by working men's organizations. It was also British workers in South America - building railroads I think - who originally sparked interest in the game there leading to their dominance in the sport today.

    You did have the Turnvereine and Wandervogel in Germany, but the former were considered untrustworthy politically. They had been active in the liberal movements of the 1840s and the Turnverein movement in the US dates from the time when political refugees left Germany for the States. The Wandervogel were more about freedom and self-reliance than sporting ability.

    As to winter sports, it's hard to say.

    As to the better soldier, that's why I date it at "1914" and not the whole war. The Germans had the advantage of their entire military system and conscription/reserve/ersatz elements whereas the British did not. The system necessarily deteriorated over time given the losses and damage the country suffered over the course of the war.

  9. What did you guys think of Greek triple jumper Voula Papachristou getting banned for a silly tweet?


    1. In my opinion, as an offensive tweet it seems relatively low on the bar.

      However she's not an average joe (or jane), she's an Olympian and representing all that's the best of her country. Which includes not making stupid slightly racist jokes (in context of her also supporting the far-right party from what I've read - I suspect Aviator47 will have a better handle on this).

      She's still relatively young so she can try again next Olympics and learn to keep her mouth shut.

  10. Mike,
    best luck with the health care issue.

  11. Leon.
    Olympians do not necessarily represent the best of their country-only the most physically proficient. There's a difference

    1. They've been elevated to that as well, at least in my opinion. You look at the outpouring of pride when someone wins a medal, (IMO) oft-times it seems their victory gets 2nd billing to their country's 'winning' it.

  12. Dave -

    I agree with Leon that it was a fairly mild offense, especially compared to the Swiss guy (Morganella?). His comments were not only viciously racist but unsportsmanlike in my understanding of that word.

    Some claim that Papachristou's banishment had more to do with the Greek economy - in other words the Greek Olympic Committee and Greek politicians were more worried about blowback on Greek corporations than about being politically correct. Don't know if that is true, but as Leon says perhaps Al can give us a better picture.

  13. David,

    Per the "silly tweet": How do you think that would sit with the American contingent if, say, a white B-ball player said that? A little offensive? Banning offense?

    Twitter et. al are the currency of the new world of commo ... it is no longer the domain of the nerdy kid. An Olympian should represent brotherhood amongst her fellows, which would be athletes of the world. Brotherhood, fellowship of man, equality on the playing field ... these goals of reaching the zenith of human potential are not fostered by anything even tangentially approaching such vile bigotry as expressed in her "harmless" post.

    Why don't liberals stop giving such unveiled hatred a pass.

  14. Lisa -

    You are right. Mea Culpa for my own post on that subject. Even so I still feel that Michel Morganella's tweetings(is that a word?) were a thousand times worse. Yet his gaffe gets half the coverage. Is that because he is Swiss and not Greek? No probably more likely it is because he lacks a certain photogenic quality that Papochristou has in abundance.

  15. Wow - 20,000 British troops providing Olympic security????

    Interesting blog post at the pinstriped line:

  16. mike-

    I work for a British organization as you may know and have contact with lots of Brits. Lots of British friends have been lamenting the scandalous way the whole event has been organized, from the infamous "London Bridge incident" of several months back to the ongoing screw-ups associated with G4S . . . The Guardian even has an undercover blogger covering G4S . . . which has close connections with the Conservative government . . .

  17. seydlitz -

    What do your British contacts say regarding Barclays, HSBC, and now Standard Chartered banks?


  18. mike-

    Libor was big news around a month ago. The office is closed for August, so I'm not hearing much. I think once the Olympic hype is done, it will return to the top of the news, the opposite of what is happening in the States. The prediction I've heard is that once the rain stops and people get over what little mass enthusiasm there is for the Olympics, that we'll start to see the same sort of violence we saw in the UK last summer . . .

  19. Seydlitz -

    Two interesting links below.

    The first about G4S and the old East India Company shows in a way why many people in the world still hate England. The second, about letting wounded British soldiers help out at archeological digs, turns that around (to me at least) into more of a love-hate relationship. I hope they are getting lots of dig time with some young and pretty undergraduate coeds.