Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Athletic Flashback: Ancient Olympics

As the world readies itself for another round of summer Olympics, take a few moments to remember the ancients who started it all, more than 2500 years ago, as a tribute to their top god, Zeus.

While today's athletes may get more world-wide exposure via television than those in the original Olympics, it was the ancients who were truly exposed - as in naked. Yes, athletes of old wrestled, boxed, sprinted, jumped and threw javelins in the nude.

Due in part to this most casual of dress codes, married women were prevented from attending the games on the premise that they should not be gazing longingly upon that which they could never have. Wives caught attempting to crash the party were tossed over a cliff. Single women, however, were allowed to attend because it was thought that young virgins should see the best that the male gender had to offer and then aspire to win such a man for herself. 

In contrast to the modern games, quashed three times so far because of war, a general truce was announced before and during each of the ancient Olympics, to allow visitors to travel safely to Olympia. During the truce, wars were suspended, armies were prohibited from entering the area, and legal disputes and the carrying out of death penalties were forbidden.

In the pankration - a cruel combination of boxing and wrestling- punching, kicking, choking, finger breaking, and blows to the genitals were allowed; only biting and eye gouging were prohibited.

In horse races, jockeys rode without saddle or stirrups and, subsequently, were sometimes thrown from their mount. One independent equine bumped his rider off at the beginning of the race but went on to complete the course, cross the finish line first and be declared the winner.

In "the kalpe," an equestrian event that never quite made it to the moderns, the rider would dismount on the last lap and, while holding the reins, would ran alongside the horse to the finish.

Women were allowed to enter their horses into equestrian events but were not permitted to act as their own jockeys or charioteer.

While females did not actively participate in Olympic events, girls and young unmarried women were allowed to run foot-races at Olympia as part of a separate festival for Hera, the wife of Zeus. Their uniforms, somewhat more modest than the men's, consisted of short tunics which revealed the right shoulder and breast. Their hair hung loose down their backs.

The ancient games ended with a race in which each competitor wore full armor and carried a shield as he ran, a reminder that the truce was about to end and that wars would soon resume.

The Olympics were held in Olympia every four years for about 12 centuries. After an extended 1500-year time-out, they resumed in 1896. If the modern Olympics enjoy such longevity, they will continue until at least the year 3000.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Dogs On Duty, Off Menu

Dog meat will be banned from menus in China during the summer Olympics - at least the 112 official Olympics restaurants in and around the host city of Beijing. But canines are being put to good use for the games. More than 200 dogs will assist with security efforts, including sniffer dogs performing inspections of bags and travelers and rescue dogs who are ready to help with disaster relief if needed. 
View video of Chinese security dogs in training.

The Beijing summer Olympics open on August 4th.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Lincoln deserves more respect.

This was the message left on a promotional poster for a political mural created by street artist Ron English.

The commissioned mural, displayed along a construction wall in Boston's South End, consists of a series of multi-colored portraits, each melding the faces of Abraham Lincoln and Barack Obama. Soaring 13 feet high and running nearly a block long, the mural, entitled "Abraham Obama" hardly seems to need a full-press ad campaign. But inspired fans of the artist, armed with miniature prints of the portrait, fanned out around the South End, plastering every available surface with "Abraham Obamas."
So, on my way to work, I saw one of these mini-posters on an electrical box, with the hand-written note reading, "Lincoln deserves more respect," stuck between the image's eyes. I wasn't sure if the note-writer was complaining about the unauthorized placement of the poster or the blending of Lincoln's features with Obama's.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Jackpot Fantasies

If you won a large sum of money tomorrow, would you tell anyone? Would you tell your spouse? If you said, "No way!" you're not alone. A survey conducted by BingoPort.co.uk revealed that nearly 15 percent of 2000 randomly chosen respondents would keep their new-found fortune all to themselves. That means, of the 2,000 adults asked, 300 of them would attempt to deceive their husband or wife by hiding life-altering amounts of money from them. One can only imagine what secret, hedonistic pleasures they would spend it on.

People surveyed spent an average of about twelve minutes a day fantasizing about winning a fortune. This seems innocuous enough until you run the numbers. Twelve minutes a day works out to almost one and a half hours a week, three days a year and six months of one's life. Surprisingly, for respondents who spend such substantial amounts of time dreaming about easy street, only 10 percent say that they would quit their jobs. 


I visited the Flexpetz website this morning to see what all the rent-a-pet hoopla was about.

Flexpetz is a service which provides members with access to a variety of dogs without the responsibility of full-time ownership. Flexpetz participants are allowed to borrow and return dogs like library books - except it's far from free.

Here's how it works. After signing up for a Flexpetz membership, you must meet with a trainer for a mandatory, in-home introductory session. After that, you will be given access to the online reservation system. Then it's time to choose your canine date and book a time to rendezvous. Your date can last anywhere from a few hours to a few days. You can either pick up your temp-pet or have it delivered on the Flexpetz shuttle. According to the website,"You can take out the same dog time after time, or choose to meet different doggy friends on different days."
The orientation session will run you $150. There is a monthly membership fee of $99.95 plus $45 a day with a four-day monthly minimum. The fee for shuttle service can vary but is usually $25 one-way. Also, there is a $99 annual administration fee but, at this point, who's counting anymore.

Apparently, I've been approaching this dog ownership thing from the wrong angle. Instead of paying our wonderful dog walker to come and take Shadow to doggy playgroup, I could be on the collecting end of things, selling her escort services. All I have to do is find some lonely soul with deep pockets who's itching for a little canine companionship. Of course Shadow has a few quirks - chasing motorcycles, trying to bite the rear tires of mail trucks and SUVs, attacking basset hounds for no apparent reason - but, hey, that just makes your doggy date that much more exciting.