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North Korea can host the Hunger Games


North Korea can host the Hunger Games

SPECTATOR USA, September 23, 2018

North Korea can host the Hunger Games

The modern Olympics give fool’s gold to despots and dictators

By offering to pursue a joint bid to host the Summer Olympics in 2032, the two Koreas hope to right a historical wrong: no doubt, the exclusion of Dennis Rodman from the 1992 Dream Team.

But just as the retired Piston rebounder and peninsular hero would be a fool to pursue today’s Olympic Gold, let’s stop fooling ourselves about the Olympic Games. Through the Koreas’ absurd suggestion, the time has come to question the fool’s gold of the modern games and its longstanding currency among the world’s murderers, despots, and thieves.

The ancient Olympics were a religious rite and a celebration of free people. According to myth, inaugurated by Heracles and consecrated to Zeus, the first recorded games began in Olympia in 776 BC. The games took place every four years, a unit of time known as the Olympiad, and continued for nearly a thousand years. Here the Greek city-states sent their best to compete in running, pentathlon, boxing, wrestling, horse racing, and an ultimate fighting game called the pankration. Koroibos, a cook from Elis, became the first laureled Olympian by winning the stadion race. Like a box of Wheaties — you could not go anywhere in the Hellenic world without seeing this champion of track and field on some black-figure amphora.

The modern games began in a similar spirit. The Olympic Movement arose from the Greek Uprising of the 1820s and Greece’s liberation from the shackles of the Ottoman Empire. After fits and starts, the International Olympic Committee organised its first modern games in the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens in 1896.

Citius, Altius, Fortius — Faster, Higher, Stronger — has been the guiding spirit of the modern games. It’s a motto first proposed by Olympic founder and IOC president Pierre de Coubertin in 1894. Yet it did not take long for this showcase of amateur competition to descend from these noble aspirations.

The 1936 Berlin games were a travesty of the Olympic spirit by providing a false cover for the Nazis’ murderous regime. The famous torch relay, which takes its flame from the sunlight of Olympia focused by a parabolic mirror, was another Nazi invention and furthered the false narrative of connecting Aryan ‘supermen’ with the athletes of the ancient world. Fortunately, real mensch Jesse Owens sent those Nazi blondes home in an Uber.

We might consider 1936 to be an unfortunate exception to a great Olympic tradition. But in fact, as we see one despotic regime after another winning the rights to host the modern Olympics, the Nazi games have become the rule reflecting the rot at the core of the IOC. Just consider: The Soviet Union in 1980; China in 2008; Russia in 2016; China again in 2022. Even the games that take place in the free West have been sullied by repeated instances of bribery and doping, among countless other crimes.

By bringing out the best of athleticism, the modern Olympics seem to bring out the worst of humanity. Its participants are drugged. Its officials are bribed. Its builders are worked to death. And its pageantry is pure propaganda. Back in 1988, when South Korea first hosted the summer Olympics, the autocratic regime rounded up the homeless of Seoul and sent them to slave labour camps to be beaten, raped, and murdered.

So, sure. Why not let the descendants of the Hermit Kingdom join hands and ring in the 2032 Olympics in Pyongyang. There’s nothing like a nuclear arms race to heat up competition. The Hunger Games will make for classic Olympic sport.


Who will take the noise out of sport?


Who will take the noise out of sport?


SPECTATOR USA, September 7, 2018

Who will take the noise out of sport?

I can’t hear myself watch

The US Open Tennis Championships concludes this week. ‘Let’s make some noise!’ Or better yet, let’s not.

Sport is losing its appeal to me: I can’t take the noise. Endless chatter obscures what we see on the courts and fields of play. A set of earplugs should not be required equipment of the game.

Like much else, the first mention of earplugs appears in The Odyssey. As Odysseus is lashed to the mast, his crew packs their own ears with beeswax to save them from the Siren’s Song. Whenever I attend an amplified event, I’m reminded that Homer was on to something about epic wax. As we do battle against the sirens of the street and the Siren Song of the culture, earplugs and other noise-cancelling devices have become a booming industry, worth half a billion dollars a year.

Good sound is essential to great sports. What is skiing without the schuss of the snow, or sailing without the snap of the wind? The martial crunch of football is underscored by the military precision of the halftime show. At its best, baseball is an organ recital — or, in humbler settings, nature’s symphony of summer — punctuated by the crack of a bat.

Contemporary sport gets lost in the noise. Good games are ruined by bad sounds. The 2010 World Cup was drowned out by the mind-numbing buzz of tens of thousands of vuvuzelas. These horns, emitting a deafening 113 decibels at a distance of six feet, were originally used to send signals between towns. Likewise the atonal timpani of indoor basketball, that acid jazz of squeaky sneakers, pealing whistles and pneumatic rubber, is increasingly lost amid the roars of the court and the brays of the announcers. Broadcasters now rely on spy-like microphones and electronic filters to isolate the true sounds of the game, but those in the stadium, and the players in particular, enjoy no such relief.

Tennis has always understood the importance of quiet play. That’s one reason for its continued appeal. Two years ago, the United States Tennis Association heard an earful when this code of silence was broken. The problem was the acoustics of the US Open’s reengineered centre court. When the Arthur Ashe Stadium opened in 1997 at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens, it became the largest-capacity tennis stadium in the world.

Unfortunately, it was built on the swampy ground of a former salt-water marsh, the dump site that was the model for F. Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘Valley of Ashes’. The ground did not lend itself to building a fully enclosed stadium. The new stadium had no roof, and the storms of late summer had a nasty habit of disrupting play. In 2016, the USTA covered its centre court with a $150 million retractable canopy made of lightweight, translucent material. The new roof kept out the rain, but it also kept in the noise.

‘Fans inside Arthur Ashe Stadium no longer need umbrellas,’ read a report in the New York Times. ‘They might, however, need earplugs.’ The new roof was projecting the noise of spectators seated in the upper decks back onto the court. The pitter-patter of rain bouncing the roof’s diaphanous shell was also sending down cascading waves of sound, drowning out important sonic information in the game’s play — the timing of a bounce, the nature of the thwack of an opponent’s racket against the ball, the ever-informative grunts of the players.

The noise flummoxed the players, as well as the US Tennis Center, which had to bring in acousticians to study the problem. The situation also raised the alarm over the role of sound both for professional players and those of us who hope to enjoy the game. ‘We use our ears when we play,’ said the player Andy Murray. ‘If we played with our ears covered or with headphones on, it would be a big advantage if your opponent wasn’t wearing them.’

This year’s US Open is having a better encore performance. The culprit was indeed noisy fans — the fans inside the stadium’s air conditioning system. Along with some buzzing cellular transmitters, this humming rooftop equipment, bouncing off the new roof, was found to be the underlying cause of much of the additional courtside sound. Still, the US Open sounds a lot louder than it once did, even on TV.

Tennis plays out in a Cartesian space set apart from the chaos of life. Wimbledon is a classical concert performed in a stadium of near total silence; a word midpoint may get you ejected from the stands. Played among some 20,000 Americans, not to mention opinionated New Yorkers just a stone’s throw from LaGuardia Airport, the US Open has never quite sounded like Wimbledon’s contrapuntal fugue, but here the crowd’s abated potential can make the points all the more thrilling. ‘There’s that tension that everybody feels,’ says Venus Williams. ‘The more important the moment, that silence says it all.’

Williams has it right. Sport is a concert, and great sport needs its silence too. The noise-making of today’s games only adds to the din of modern life. But who can still the sounds of mass entertainment? New balls, please.



Time for Tim Tebow to Stand Tall

Tim Tebow appearing in Superbowl commercial for Focus on the Family, 2010

April 1, 2012

Time for Tim Tebow to stand tall
by James Panero

His voice and values may be just what New Yorkers are looking for

Out of the circus that has surrounded the arrival of the Jets new backup quarterback, one thing is clear: New York has never seen a culture warrior like Tim Tebow — a fact that could challenge the city in profound ways.

For this “muscular Christian,” football and faith have been a winning combination. And like his game on the field, Tebow’s powers of religious persuasion didn’t come by chance. They date back long before his star turn for the Denver Broncos, his championship runs with the Florida Gators or the local squad he joined as a home-schooled teenager.

Tebow is an evangelist — not just for his Christian faith, but more importantly, for the kind of living it commands. And now, rather than that message being spread in more conservative Colorado, Tebow has the opportunity to practice what he preaches on the world’s largest stage.

In a city where sky-high abortion rates are rarely questioned, he should spotlight the problem. In a city where churches are being forced out of public schools on weekends, he should speak for them. In a city where abstinence-only sex education is passé to the powers that be, he should connect with young people on the virtues of saving oneself for marriage.

Call it Tebow’s biggest mission.

Abortion is the first and most obvious opportunity. The son of Baptist missionaries, Tebow was born in the Philippines. While pregnant, his mother Pam went against doctors’ orders and refused to have an abortion. This story has long informed Tebow’s own pro-life beliefs. During the 2010 Super Bowl, the organization Focus on the Family famously aired a pro-life advertisement featuring her being “tackled” by her loving son.

The ad proved to be a simple and positive treatment of a mother’s love for her “miracle baby.” “He almost didn’t make it into this world,” she said. “I can remember so many times when I almost lost him.”

Airing this soft-sell ad despite the pushback from abortion groups became a victory for Tebow and his convictions. He later claimed that a survey revealed that 5.5 million viewers changed their stance to pro-life because of its message. A football star can be a powerful argument against an abortion that had once been presented as a medical necessity.

What better place to repeatedly make the case than in New York City? This is the country’s “abortion capital,” with the highest rate of any city in the nation. Yet it’s rarely discussed that fully 40% of all pregnancies here end in abortion — 83,000 in 2010 — compared to 23% nationally, according to the Chiaroscuro Foundation.

It’s not that New Yorkers are happy about the fact: Two-thirds of us, including a majority of pro-choice supporters, believe these numbers are too high. It’s just that we’d prefer not to think about it. That may be coming to an end; it’ll be impossible for Tebow to ignore the epidemic in his new backyard.

Second, Tebow should challenge a city administration that’s been downright hostile to a few dozen small churches fighting for the right to use public school space on weekends. If secular groups can rent the spaces, the churches contend, why should religious organizations be forbidden?

But that’s precisely what Michael Bloomberg has fought to do, citing a policy prohibiting “worship services” that courts have, up until now, endorsed.

A visit from Tebow to the Bronx Household of Faith, which is at the eye of this storm, would send a powerful message and likely change many minds.

And imagine if, instead of only serving as a spokesman for car dealerships and clothing brands like other sports stars, Tebow also uses his celebrity to sell New Yorkers on the evangelical Christian values that course through his bloodstream. For example, back in 2009, Tebow openly admitted in a press conference that he was a virgin — an earnest and honest expression of his convictions.

That sort of straight talk could win him many converts of the literal kind. Kids wearing his jersey might think twice before getting pressured by peers to engage in irresponsible behavior.

None of this is a leap of faith: Unlike Charles Barkley, who famously chafed when called a “role model,” Tebow embraces the term.

The Tim Tebow Foundation, which the football star first envisioned when he was an undergraduate, now uses “the public platform that God has blessed Tim Tebow with to inspire and make a difference in people’s lives throughout the world,” according to its website. As the testimonial from coaching legend Tony Dungy makes clear, “His leadership and Christian values set an example not just for his teammates, but for all young people.” Now, he has the opportunity to set an example for New Yorkers of all ages.

In the process, he just might call New York City to recognize its true character, hidden in plain sight. Much has been made about the pious Tebow landing in a heathen town. “So the Denver Broncos have sent quarterback Tim Tebow to the New York Jets, which is akin to dropping the Christian among the lions,” wrote Tracee Hamilton in the Washington Post.

It’s a common refrain, but it relies on a caricature. New York is far from the Gomorrah that Woody Allen describes in “Annie Hall”: “Don’t you see the rest of the country looks upon New York like we’re left-wing, communist, Jewish, homosexual pornographers? I think of us that way sometimes, and I live here.”

In fact, Andrew A. Beveridge, a professor of sociology at Queens College and a demographer at Gotham Gazette, reports that an “estimated 6.8 million New Yorkers — or more than 83% of the population — were identified as being affiliated with some organized religion in 2000.”

Just how religious does that make New York City? More religious than all states except Louisiana and “even slightly higher than Utah,” writes Beveridge.

From the tallest church in America — Riverside Church, at 22 stories — to the seat of a newly reinvigorated Catholic archdiocese led by Timothy Cardinal Dolan, to the epicenter of American Jewry, to evangelical ministries now sprinkled into old theaters throughout the city, New Yorkers take their religion seriously but silently.

Tebow’s words and, more importantly, his actions, can help get religion out further into the public square.

“If people are still somehow talking about prayer or talking about my faith, then I think that’s pretty cool,” Tebow said on Monday.

Just days after his arrival, that strategy is already working.

UPDATE: Syracuse Post-Standard picks up on this story and reports the Jets may have other ideas for their backup quarterback.