Sunday, February 28, 2010

Olympics: Denouement

As posted by me on the Penny Arcade board, the Vancouver timeline of major events, updated day-by-day as the Games progressed.

Day 1: Luger Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia dies in a crash when he loses control, flies off his sled and collides with an unpadded steel pole at a reported 89.44 mph. The culmination of a series of crashes in training, the track is closed for investigation. The remainder of the Georgian team considers withdrawing, but decides to compete in Nodar's honor.
Day 1: Opening Ceremony, dedicated to Kumaritashvili. Wayne Gretzky is the final torchbearer. Two cauldrons were lit, one indoor, one outdoor (as Olympic protocol states the cauldron must be outside and visible from a distance). The indoor cauldron was to be lit by a group of four poles, lit by Gretzky, Steve Nash, Nancy Greene and Catriona Le May Doan, but Doan's pole did not function, and the cauldron was lit using the other three.
Day 2: The luge track is reopened, with the wall raised at the section where Kumaritashvili left the track. In addition, the men are moved down to the women's starting point.
Day 2: Men's downhill is postponed due to slushy conditions on the track.
Day 2: Ski jumper Simon Ammann of Switzerland is the first gold medalist of the Games, winning the men's normal hill individual. Adam Malysz of Poland wins silver. Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria wins bronze.
Day 2: With the Dutch prime minister in attendance, speedskater Sven Kramer of the Netherlands wins gold in the 5000 meters, setting an Olympic record of 6:14.60, six hundredths of a second faster than the previous record set in Salt Lake City by Jochem Uytdehaage of the Netherlands. Lee-Seung Hoon of South Korea wins silver. Ivan Skobrev of Russia wins bronze.
Day 2: Biathlete Anastasia Kuzmina wins Slovakia's first winter gold in the women's sprint. Magdalene Neuner of Germany wins silver. Marie Dorin of France wins bronze.
Day 2: The Canadian women's hockey team sets an Olympic record for largest margin of victory, defeating Slovakia 18-0. Canada was also owner of the previous record, beating Italy 16-0 in Torino. Slovakia had previously defeated Bulgaria 82-0 in qualifying, a world record.
Day 2: The South Korean short-track speedskating team misses out on a podium sweep when Ho-Suk Lee and Si-Bak Sung collide and crash just short of the finish line. Sung comes in 5th; Lee is disqualified. Jung-Su Lee of South Korea wins gold. Apolo Anton Ohno of the United States wins silver. J.R. Celski of the United States wins bronze. Ohno, with his silver, ties Bonnie Blair as the most decorated American winter athlete with six medals.
Day 3: The Vancouver climate strikes again in the men's biathlon 10km sprint, raining heavily after the early starters had gone and sealing the fate of everyone else in the field. Vincent Jay of France wins gold. Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway wins silver. Jakov Fav of Croatia wins bronze.
Day 3: The United States wins its first-ever medal in Nordic combined as Johnny Spillane wins silver in the individual normal hill/10 km. Alessandro Pittin of Italy wins bronze, Italy's first medal in Nordic combined as well. Jason Lamy Chappuis of France overtakes Spillane near the end of the race to win gold.
Day 3: Having paid $820 million to air the Olympics, NBC of the United States airs local news, USA airs a rerun of White Collar, MSNBC airs a true-crime docudrama, and CNBC airs a juicer infomercial simultaneously. Other NBC Universal networks such as Telemundo and Bravo, used in Beijing, are not in use for these Olympics.
Day 3: Figure skaters Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao of China kick off the pairs event by setting a world record in the short program, 76.66. They are not overtaken and win gold the next night.
Day 3: The men's singles luge competition, marred by the death of Kumaritashvili, is won by Felix Loch of Germany. David Moeller of Germany wins silver. Armin Zoeggler of Italy, who had crashed himself during the same training session, wins bronze. Levan Gureshidze of Georgia, Kumaritashvili's teammate, withdraws prior to the first heat of the event.
Day 3: Overcoming what has proven to be a merciless, unforgiving moguls course, Canada wins a war of attrition to achieve its first-ever Olympic gold medal on home soil as freestyle skier Alexandre Bilodeau takes gold in the men's moguls competition. Dale Begg-Smith of Australia wins silver. Bryon Wilson of the United States wins bronze.
Day 4: Cross-country skier Dario Cologna wins Switzerland's first cross-country gold in the men's 15 km. Pierro Piller Cottrer of Italy wins silver. Lukas Bauer of the Czech Republic wins bronze.
Day 4: In response to public complaints, the IOC asks VANOC, the local organizing commitee, to remove or lower the fence separating the public from the outdoor Olympic cauldron. Previously, the fence was covered by blue and green bunting, blocking the view entirely, but a high chain-link fence still remains, creating poor photo opportunities for tourists.
Day 4: Men's 500-meter speedskating is delayed due to a Zamboni breakdown that damaged the ice surface. The delay is so long that Shani Davis of the United States, not in serious contention at the time, elects to withdraw.
Day 4: Alpine skier Bode Miller of the United States makes a miraculous NBC-approved comeback from everything from disappointing finishes to a still-slushy course to being named Bode to win bronze in the men's downhill. Didier DeFago of Switzerland wins gold. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway wins silver. This is the closest men's downhill competition in Olympic history, with .09 seconds separating gold from bronze. In a non-NBC-approved non-comeback, Marco Sullivan of the United States finishes 60th, 13.45 seconds back. Sullivan finished last place among those who finished and over three seconds behind 59th-place Andrei Drygin of Tajikistan.
Day 4: An epic men's snowboard cross final sees Seth Wescott of the United States edge out Nate Robertson of Canada in a photo finish. Tony Ramoin of France wins bronze.
Day 4: The gold skinsuits of Japan win everything but as speedskater Mo Tae-bum of South Korea wins gold instead in the men's 500 meters, the first South Korean to win winter gold outside of short-track speedskating. Keiichiro Nagashima of Japan wins silver. Joji Kato of Japan wins bronze.
Day 5: Men's super-combined skiing is postponed due to too much snow. Sure, why not.
Day 5: Biathlete Magdalena Neuner of Germany, who had missed gold by two seconds in the women's sprint to Anastasia Kuzmina of Slovakia, misses her final shot in the 10 km pursuit, erasing what was a previously insurmountable lead and letting Kuzmina into the race again. However, Neuner hangs on and wins gold. Kuzmina wins silver, 12.3 seconds behind. Marie Laure Brunet of France wins bronze.
Day 5: Snowboarder Lindsay Jacobellis of the United States fails to silence four years of personal demons as she is disqualified in the semifinals of women's snowboard cross after going off-course. Maelle Ricker of Canada wins gold, becoming the first Canadian woman to win gold on home soil. Deborah Anthonioz of France wins silver. Olivia Nobs of Switzerland wins bronze.
Day 5: The Canadian men's hockey team begins the most high-pressure quest for gold of the Games by crushing Norway 8-0. To this point, the two Canadian hockey teams have, combined, scored 36 goals in three games while only giving up 1 (to Switzerland).
Day 5: Cherry blossoms are spotted in Vancouver during the hosting of the Winter Olympics.
Day 6: The fences surrounding the outdoor cauldron are moved in and a length of fence at eye-level is removed. A higher-level viewing area is also made available.
Day 6: Cross-country skiier Petra Majdic of Slovenia, #1 in the world rankings, becomes the latest victim of Vancouver when she falls off the course during warm-ups for the classic sprint and goes into a ravine. She recovers enough to qualify and eventually wins bronze. Marit Bjorgen of Norway wins gold. Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland wins silver.
Day 6: Speedskater Shani Davis of the United States, after having dropped out of the 500 meters, makes good on his gamble in the 1000 meters, winning gold. Mo Tae-bum of South Korea wins silver, Chad Hedrick of the United States wins bronze.
Day 6: Short-track speedskater Wang Meng of China demolishes the field in the 500 meters, setting three consecutive Olympic records in the first three rounds and taking gold with no additional trouble. Marianne St.-Gelais of Canada wins silver. Arianna Fontana of Italy wins bronze.
Day 6: After multiple delays, the women's downhill is finally held, with the results no less challenging than anticipated. Eight different skiers fail to reach the bottom of the mountain. Lindsay Vonn of the United States wins gold. Julia Mancuso of the United States wins silver. Elisabeth Goergl of Austria wins bronze.
Day 6: Snowboarder Shaun White of the United States sets an Olympic record in the men's halfpipe, winning gold and, more importantly, avoiding becoming Vancouver's next victim. Vancouver took many victims this day. Peetu Piiroinen of Finland wins silver. Scotty Lago of the United States wins bronze.
Day 7: There is a tie in the men's individual biathlon for 2nd, netting Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway and Sergey Novikov of Belarus silver medals. Emil Hegle Svendsen of Norway wins gold. No bronze medals are awarded, which sucks for Evgeny Ustyugov of Russia.
Day 7: Vancouver claims six more victims in the women's combined, including downhill gold medalist Lindsay Vonn, and nearly claims bronze medalist Elisabeth Goergl as well. Maria Resch of Germany wins gold. Julia Mancuso of the United States wins silver. Anja Parson of Sweden, a victim of the women's downhill, wins bronze.
Day 7: The men's figure skating competition is won by Evan Lysacek of the United States. Evgeni Plushenko of Russia wins silver. Daisuke Takahashi of Japan wins bronze.
Day 7: Canada's third gold of the Games comes in speedskating, when Christine Nesbitt claims the women's 1000 meters. Annette Gerritsen of the Netherlands wins silver. Laurine van Reissen of the Netherlands wins bronze.
Day 7: The Canadian men's hockey team is nearly derailed in the group stage, needing a shootout to beat Switzerland 3-2.
Day 7: An NBC reporter asks speedskating gold medalist Sven Kramer of the Netherlands, who won the 5000 meters, who he is. Kramer responds, "Are you stupid?"
Day 8: Alpine skier Patrik Jaerbyn of Sweden is airlifted off the mountain after a crash in the men's Super G slalom that would claim 18 victims. Meanwhile, NBC interviews three American snowboarders. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway wins gold. Bode Miller of the United States wins silver. Andrew Weibrecht of the United States wins bronze.
Day 8: Great Britain gains its first winter gold in 30 years as Amy Williams wins the women's skeleton. Kerstin Szymkowiak of Germany wins silver. Anja Huber of Germany wins bronze.
Day 8: Snowboarder Scotty Lago of the United States, bronze medal winner in the men's halfpipe, leaves Vancouver after lewd photos of him emerge involving said bronze medal. One picture involves the medal disappearing into a woman's mouth. Another involves the medal disappearing below his waist, woman in tow.
Day 9: Ski jumper Simon Ammann of Switzerland claims his fourth Olympic gold, more than any other Swiss athlete in summer or winter, and more than any other ski jumper, dominating the individual large hill. Adam Malysz of Poland wins silver. Gregor Schlierenzauer of Austria wins bronze.
Day 9: The Canada 2 two-man bobsled flips during the second heat, somehow manages to negotiate the final three corners, and finishes Heat 2 (of 4) in 6th position.
Day 9: Short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno of the United States surpasses Bonnie Blair as the most decorated winter American athlete by taking bronze in the men's 1000 meters. Lee Jung-Su of South Korea wins gold, setting an Olympic record. Lee Ho-Suk of South Korea wins silver.
Day 9: Sung Si-Bak of South Korea sets an Olympic record in the men's 1000 meters. Zhou Yang of China sets one in the women's 1500 meters. But it's a slow-val. Really.
Day 10: Skier Chris Del Bosco of Canada careens off the last hill of the final in skicross and becomes Vancouver's latest victim. Michael Schmid of Switzerland wins gold. Andreas Matt of Austria wins silver. Audun Gronvold of Norway wins bronze. Along the way, Schmid eliminates Errol Kerr of Jamaica in a quarterfinal; Kerr qualified 9th of 32 and won his opening heat.
Day 10: The Canadian men's hockey team, and the entire nation of Canada, is left wondering what went wrong with not much time to find an answer after a 5-3 group-stage loss to the United States sends them to the qualification round.
Day 10: In a super-combined event that takes out 17, with an additional DNS for the slalom from Georg Streitberger of Austria, alpine skier Bode Miller of the United States claims a complete set of medals, taking gold. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia wins silver. Silvan Zurbriggen of Switzerland wins bronze.
Day 10: Ice dancers Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia perform a controversial dance based on Australian Aboriginals, including matching costumes. Actual Aboriginals find the dance offensive, especially considering that the pair had performed a more flamboyant version of the same dance at January's European Championships, garnering much the same reaction, and still chose to perform the dance at the Olympics. Domnina and Shabalin dropped from first to third in the competition.
Day 11: Cross-country skier Petter Northrug turns on the afterburners to win gold for Norway in the men's team sprint. Germany wins silver. Russia wins bronze.
Day 11: Bob Costas of NBC is in a seaplane, oblivious to the fact that Americans never really needed to be told where Vancouver is or what's up there, considering there's an NHL team up there, there was an NBA team there not too long ago, and there will be an MLS team there in the near future. And also a job at Whistler was offered as a grand prize on Hell's Kitchen this season.
Day 11: Austria obliterates the large hill in team ski jumping, the last ski jump event of these Games, setting Olympic records for longest jump, largest team point total and largest margin of victory. Germany wins silver. Norway wins bronze.
Day 12: Speedskater Sven Kramer of the Netherlands continues his rather interesting excursion in Vancouver by losing what was to be a sure gold medal and Olympic Record in the men's 10,000 meters when, under his coach's advisement, he transferred into the wrong lane- or rather, failed to change lanes- and was disqualified. Lee Seung-Hoon of South Korea wins the gold- and the record- instead. Ivan Skobrev of Russia wins silver. Bob de Jong of the Netherlands wins bronze.
Day 12: Whistler eats freestyle skier Ruxandra Nedelcu of Romania in particularly heartbreaking fashion in the qualifiers for women's ski cross when Nedelcu wipes out just short of the finish line. She slides across the line to register a time, but the time is .21 seconds slower than the time needed to qualify ahead of Yulia Livinskaya of Russia, who qualifies instead. There were 32 spots available; Nedelcu finished 33rd. Livinskaya DNF's herself in the first heat of the 1/8 finals. Ashleigh McIvor of Canada wins gold. Hedda Berntsen of Canada wins silver. Marion Josserand of France wins bronze.
Day 12: Alpine skier Oleg Shamaev of Uzbekistan, the lone country not featured at any time in NBC's coverage of the Opening Ceremony, finishes 77th in the men's giant slalom, an event that claims 20. Shamaev is the first of three Uzbek athletes to participate in these Games. Carlo Janka of Switzerland wins gold. Kjetil Janslud of Norway wins silver. Aksel Lund Svindal of Norway wins bronze.
Day 12: In ladies' figure skating, the second member of Team Uzbekistan, Anastasia Gimazetdinova, claims the 24th and final qualification spot in the short program to advance to the free skate. Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia qualifies 9th. Kim Yu-Na of South Korea leads after the short program.
Day 13: Alpine skier Lindsey Vonn of the United States crashes in the first run of women's giant slalom, but due to the fog, teammate Julia Mancuso, next to ski, is oblivious until reaching Vonn's position. Despite NBC having exclusive coverage of the Games in the United States, ESPN scoops NBC on this event by several hours. Run 2 was postponed to Day 14. Kseniya Grigoreva of Uzbekistan, the third and final member of that delegation, sits in 67th of the 68 who finished.
Day 13: NBC claims their e-mail inbox is full of people asking why short-track speedskater Apolo Anton Ohno of the United States yawns before races. In the process, NBC proves that, in addition to being jingoistic idiots who can't program for beans, they're liars as well.
Day 13: The South Korean short-track speedskating team is disqualified for illegal contact with the Chinese team, who sets a world record in the women's 3000 meter relay. Slow ice. Slowval. Worker ice. Slow ice. Canada wins silver. The United States wins bronze.
Day 14: Four days after the death of her mother, figure skater Joannie Rochette of Canada wins bronze in the ladies' singles. Kim Yu-Na of South Korea wins gold, setting a world record in the process. Mao Asada of Japan wins silver. Anastasia Gimazetdinova of Uzbekistan finishes 23rd.
Day 14: Alpine skier Kseniya Grigoreva of Uzbekistan moves up to 58th in women's giant slalom, primarily because eight additional skiers dropped out, four from DNF's. Viktoria Rebensburg of Germany wins gold. Tina Maze of Slovenia wins silver. Elisabeth Goergl of Austria wins bronze.
Day 14: Canada's women's hockey team does its part in the most important event of the Games by taking gold from the United States in a 2-0 victory. Finland wins bronze.
Day 14: Belarus wins its first winter gold as freestyle skier Alexei Grishin takes the men's aerials competition. Jeret Peterson of the United States wins silver. Liu Zhongqing of China wins bronze.
Day 15: Enjoying a surge of popularity in the sport, Canada rides the home crowd to silver in women's curling. Sweden wins gold. China wins bronze.
Day 15: Kseniya Grigoreva of Uzbekistan becomes one of 32 victims of women's slalom, the most of any event so far. Maria Reisch of Germany wins gold. Marlies Schild of Austria wins silver. Sarka Zahrobska of the Czech Republic wins bronze.
Day 15: The Canadian men's hockey team staves off a furious last stand by Slovakia, including a last minute of unceasing goal-line attack, to advance by a score of 3-2. They face the United States in the gold medal game.
Day 15: Meanwhile back in Sydney, the International Gymnastics Federation recommended to the IOC that the Chinese gymnastics team that won bronze in Sydney 2000 be stripped of their medal in the all-around after finding one member of the team, Dong Fangxiao, was underage- 14 years old- at the time of the Games. The bronze, if stripped, would instead go to the United States.
Day 15: Biathlete Ole Einar Bjorndalen of Norway carries his flag across the line as Norway wins the men's relay to close out biathlon in Vancouver. Austria wins silver narrowly over Russia, who wins bronze.
Day 15: Short-track speedskater Zhou Yang of China sets a new world record in the women's 1000 meters. She is, however, disqualified in the final. Wang Meng of China wins gold. Katherine Reutter of the United States wins silver. Park Seung-Hi of South Korea wins bronze.
Day 15: The Netherlands wins its first gold outside of long-track speedskating as Nicolien Sauerbreij takes the women's parallel giant slalom. Ekaterina Ilyukhina of Russia wins silver. Marion Kreiner of Austria wins bronze.
Day 16: An 8.8 earthquake strikes off the coast of Chile, causing a massive amount of damage. Team Chile, consisting of alpine skiers Noelle Barahona, Maui Gayme, and flagbearer Jorge Mandru, heads home to survey the damage. Barahona's best result was 28th place in women's combined. Gayme's best result was 42nd in men's Super G. Mandru's best result was 52nd in men's giant slalom.
Day 16: Canada closes out long-track speedskating by edging out the United States in the men's team pursuit. The Netherlands win bronze, setting an Olympic record in the process. Slowval.
Day 16: The women's team pursuit is even closer than the men's, as Germany pips Japan to the line with only .02 seconds to spare. Poland wins bronze.
Day 16: The only non-competitive athletic event of the Games, the Champions' Gala, is held, featuring all figure skating medal winners. It's the only functionally useless figure skating exhibition with a genuine five-ring pedigree. Accept no substitutions.
Day 16: In the winter equivalent of the women's marathon, the cross country 30K classical, it all comes down to a difference of .3 seconds after over an hour and a half of struggle, with Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland claiming gold at the expense of Marit Bjorgen of Norway, who wins silver. Aino-Kaisa Saarinen of Finland wins bronze.
Day 16: The Canadian men's curling team rides a raucous home crowd to gold, defeating Norway in the final 6-3, with Norway conceding the 10th end. Switzerland wins bronze.
Day 16: Whistler Creekside takes one final opportunity to sate its voracious appetite for alpine skiers, feasting on 53 participants in the men's slalom, over half of the field, with the help of a dense fog. Oleg Shamaev of Uzbekistan finishes 42nd of the 48 survivors. Giuliano Razzoli of Italy wins gold. Ivica Kostelic of Croatia wins silver. Andre Myhrer of Sweden wins bronze.
Day 16: The Terry Fox Award, intended to recognize inspiration through perserverance, is awarded to cross-country skier Petra Majdic of Slovenia and figure skater Joannie Rochette of Canada.
Day 17: Unable to secure a flight back home, alpine skier Noelle Barahona of Chile decides to take part in the Closing Ceremony after all.
Day 17: The King's Race, the 50k cross-country classical, is won by Petter Northug of Norway, who in addition to gold, wins the right to hear the Norwegian national anthem at the Closing Ceremony. Axel Teichmann of Germany wins silver. Johan Olsson of Sweden wins bronze.
Day 17: In a storybook ending to the Olympics, the Canadian men's hockey team defeats the United States 3-2 in an overtime game for the ages, with the winning goal scored by Sidney Crosby. Slovakia wins bronze.
Day 17: Closing Ceremony. Catriona Le May Doan, whose arm of the indoor cauldron failed to rise in the Opening Ceremony, is brought back to light her now-functional arm. The Olympic flag is passed to Sochi, Russia. Both cauldrons are extinguished during a performance by Neil Young. Then the ceremony goes straight down the tubes with every wrong thing about Canada profiled in rapid succession. NBC is eventually driven away to the premiere of The Marriage Ref, leaving Vancouver to their descent into madness. They come back to spare the United States of the worst of it.

See you in London, two years hence.

Olympics: Day 17- Final Day

Couple pieces of business before we proceed to the final day of competition (and I really hope that US/Canada isn't a run-away-and-hide 4-0 snorefest).

First, the Terry Fox Award was awarded yesterday; mentioned here previously. It will be going to two athletes who gave inspiration through perserverance: Petra Majdic of Slovenia and Joannie Rochette of Canada. It was originally to go to a single athlete, but the judges couldn't decide between them.

Majdic, a cross country skier, fell into a ravine during warmups for the women's sprint and fell back-first onto a rock, fracturing four ribs and puncturing a lung. She would go to the hospital for three days and miss the rest of her events... right after winning bronze.

Rochette's mother died of a heart attack four days prior to her competition, women's figure skating. With that going through her mind, she won bronze too. In fact, according to her statement upon recieving the award, it hasn't even really hit her yet:

"It's not even a week since she died and I don't even realize yet that my mom is not here anymore. I don't even realize I have won this medal. My feelings are so mixed."

Our second piece of business concerns Chile, which you'd never think would connect to the Olympics, but remember, it's a global competition. Chile did in fact send a team, three alpine skiers, none of which were contending for medals. Two had in fact already departed Vancouver after their events, but when the third, Noelle Barahona, was unable to secure a flight home, and as she knew her family was okay- they were in Vancouver themselves- she decided to stay and participate in the Closing Ceremony after all.

And finally, Team Uzbekistan has not been shown on NBC for the entire Games. You'll remember them as the country that had the misfortune of marching between the United States and Canada during the Parade of Nations, with NBC lingering on the United States until Canada entered the stadium, skipping Uzbekistan entirely. No measure of redress was made over the course of the Games. So we do what we can here. Here's how they did.

*Anastasia Gimazetdinova claimed the 24th and final transfer spot after the short program in women's figure skating, coming in 23rd overall.
*Kseniya Grigoreva DNF'ed in the first run of women's slalom, along with 29 others including medal contenders Lindsay Vonn of the United States, Anja Parson of Sweden and Susanne Riesch of Germany. Two others were disqualified; Jelena Lolovic of Serbia withdrew between runs. Grigoreva, however, would finish the giant slalom, coming in 58th. This event would claim 21 through DNF's, including Vonn again, with one disqualification and four who did not make the second run.
*Oleg Shamaev finished 77th in men's giant slalom and 42nd in the slalom. The men's slalom claimed more victims than any other event of these Games, taking out more than half of the field. Of 101 who started (Markus Kilsgaard of Denmark did not), only 48 made it to the bottom both times.

Granted, not epic performances. But in the Olympics, that is not what matters. Baron de Coubertin would tell you himself.

"The most important thing in the Olympic Games is not to win but to take part, just as the most important thing in life is not the triumph but the struggle. The essential thing is not to have conquered but to have fought well."

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Chile Earthquake

In case you're not aware by now, an 8.8 earthquake hit off the coast of Chile. How big is 8.8?

Really really big. The seventh strongest on Earth since humans started measuring earthquakes. Orders of magnitude worse than a 7.0, which is what Haiti got. Fortunately, Chile is not Haiti; they know how to earthquake-proof. But there aren't many earthquake-proofed buildings that are rated to withstand 8.8's. That earthquake is bringing the building down anyway. Or in Rocky-speak:

Haiti was Rocky Balboa over Spider Rico.
Chile is Ivan Drago over Apollo Creed.

There is reportedly no communication to the areas closest to the epicenter. It's bad when you see damage. It's worse when you see chaos. It's worst when you see nothing.

Hawaii, you have a few hours to get to higher ground because you've got to worry about a tsunami, though why are you even here looking at this when the sirens have already gone off. Rest of the Pacific, it's either on you or it's going to be.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Olympics: Day 15- Go World, Part Deux

In 1936, Shusei Nishida and Sueo Oe of Japan tied for second in the pole vault. They were offered a sudden-death jump-off for the silver medal, but the two declined.

For recordkeeping purposes, Oe allowed Nishida to take the silver, as he had cleared the tied height in fewer attempts. Once the two returned to Japan, however, they hired a jeweler to cut the medals in half and fuse them back together.

Half silver, half bronze.

They're now known as the Medals of Friendship. Nishida's medal, shown below, now sits in Waseda University in Tokyo.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Olympics: Day 14- Statistics! Glorious, Glorious Statistics!

Exactly what it says on the label; today you get a semi-random assortment of Olympic statistics. Medal statistics do not include Athens 1906; the IOC doesn't officially recognize those.

ALL-TIME MEDAL LEADER: United States. Including Vancouver, they have 2,539 overall medals. They won't lose the lead for a while; the Soviet Union dissolved at 1,204 (they are considered a distinct entity from Russia).
ALL-TIME SUMMER LEADER: United States, at 2,295. The Soviets ended with 1,010.
ALL-TIME WINTER LEADER: Norway. As of the start of today, they had 298 to the United States' 244.

The overalls go 1-2 with the same pairings when you count individual medals with the sole exception of Winter bronzes, where instead of Norway-US, it goes Norway-Austria. Norway has 90; Austria 73. (As of today, though, the US has 70.)

PERFECT ATTENDANCE CLUB: Only France, Great Britain and Switzerland have attended every Olympics since 1896.
PERFECT WINTER CLUB: Add Austria, Canada, Finland, Hungary, Italy, Norway, Poland, Sweden and the United States.

MOST ALL-TIME MEDALS WITHOUT A COMPLETE SET: The Philippines, who have acquired 9 medals- 2 silver, 7 bronze; all in summer.
MOST WINTER MEDALS WITHOUT A COMPLETE SET: Croatia, with 7- 4 gold, 3 silver.
MOST ATTENDED GAMES WITHOUT A MEDAL: Monaco, 25 Games. 18 summer, 7 winter. They're followed by San Marino (19) and Andorra (18). Fifth on the list is Malta, who actually has medaled at the Paralympics- 2 silver, 6 bronze.
MOST MEDALED CURRENTLY EXISTING COUNTRY TO NEVER HOST THE OLYMPICS: Hungary, with 465 medals (only 6 in winter, none gold).
MOST MEDALED WINTER COUNTRY TO NEVER MEDAL IN SUMMER: Liechtenstein; 9. They are also the ONLY medaled winter country to never medal in summer.
MOST STRIPPED MEDALS: Marion Jones, United States, with 5.

ALL-TIME PARALYMPIC MEDAL LEADER: The United States, at 2,088. Great Britain has 1,447. The same two are 1-2 in summer, and it's Norway-Austria in winter; the two are separated by only 6 medals.
MOST PARALYMPICS WITHOUT A MEDAL: Uganda, with 8. Armenia, Chile and Ecuador have been at 7 apiece.

MOST ATTEMPTS TO HOST THE OLYMPICS: Los Angeles, 9. New York has only bid once, for 2012.
MOST ATTEMPTS WITHOUT FAILURE: London, with 4. Paris and Stockholm were successful in their first two tries. Paris then failed for 1992; Stockholm for 2004.
CITIES THAT SUCCESSFULLY BID ONLY TO NOT GET TO HOST: Chicago- 1904 (stolen by St. Louis), Tokyo- 1940 (WW2; given to Helsinki and then cancelled), London- 1944 (WW2), Sapporo- 1940 Winter (WW2; given to St. Moritz, Switzerland; Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany; then cancelled), Cortina d'Ampezzo- 1944 Winter (WW2), Denver- 1976 Winter (backed out; reawarded to Innsbruck).
SHORTEST POST-HOSTING HANGOVER BEFORE A HOST BID AGAIN: 8 years, St. Moritz. They hosted in 1928, sat out 1932, bid in 1936.
STATISTICALLY EASIEST CHOICE: Innsbruck 1964, who gained 84.4% of the vote over Calgary on the first ballot. Los Angeles 1984 and Lake Placid 1980 ran unopposed after potential opponents Tehran and Vancouver, respectively, failed to submit a bid.
MOST BALLOTS NEEDED: Albertville 1992, which needed five rounds and a run-off. Sofia, Bulgaria led after Round 1.
TOUGHEST FINAL ROUND OF VOTING: Melbourne 1956, which won by a single vote over Buenos Aires.

COUNTRIES THE IOC HAS CONVENED IN THAT HAVE NEVER HOSTED THE OLYMPICS: Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Denmark, Luxembourg, Hungary, Portugal, Monaco, Poland, Egypt, Iran, Uruguay, India, Turkey, Puerto Rico, Singapore, Guatemala. South Africa and Argentina will host meetings in 2011 and 2013.

Snd now your life is complete. Or, you know, not.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Olympics: Day 13- Have I Mentioned I Hate NBC?

NBC has paid $820 million for these Games and says it will lose money on them.

I wonder if it has anything to do with the fact that there are no televised events of any kind scheduled before 3 PM Eastern today, despite the fact that there are medals to be handed out in women's giant slalom, two-woman bobsled, men's cross country 4x10 km relay, women's aerials, women's short-track 3000 meter relay, and women's long-track 5000 meters, plus elimination games in curling and hockey.

But you know, let's not show any of that until 3 PM Eastern. A Ferrari doesn't win you races if you leave it in the garage, you dolts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Olympics: Day 12- Phony! Hey, Everybody, This Guy's A Phony!

Vancouver, for all its faults, has been mercifully cheater-free so far. Hopefully that won't change, fingers crossed. But, it does happen. If it gets you a medal, and you get caught, they will ask for the medal back and redistribute as necessary. If you took drugs, the Olympic standards are famously fierce: two years for first offense, life for second offense.

Strict, but I happen to like something the ancient Olympics did: first, they would fine you. Then, they would use the fine money to create a bronze statue of Zeus, referred to as a Zane. Then, they would inscribe on that statue your name, your parents' name, your city-state, and a warning against doing whatever it is you did. Then, they would place that statue along the road leading to the ancient Olympic Stadium. Imagine if you were to go to London two years from now, and as you're walking up to the stadium, you pass a bunch of Zeus statues shaming the likes of Marion Jones and Ben Johnson.

Let's not go too far with the ancient-punishment line, though; we'll stop at the statues. I'm not too keen on punishing false starts with whippings. And we might want to leave the parents out of it these days.

We don't have the money here to erect any Zanes of our own, but hey, fun to blog about. Since the ancients already have their Zanes, they'll be left alone. We'll also skip the infamous East German team because there are too many people over too many years to peg to a specific incident, and we need specific names for a Zane. Besides, a lot of the actual athletes thought the steroids were vitamins. In chronological order:

*Spiridon Belokas, Greece, 1896
It would have to start with a Greek, wouldn't it? It was the original modern Games in Athens, and there isn't much in detail about what happened: the crowd was over the moon that Greeks were not only winning, but sweeping the podium, at least until fourth-place Gyula Kellner of Hungary tattled on Belokas, who had ridden in a carriage for part of the race. Belokas lost his bronze, lost his running shirt, and was duly ostracized. Ironically, he would be the only runner from 1896 to return to the field when Athens hosted again in 1906; he would DNF.

*Fred Lorz, United States, 1904
We already covered Lorz on Day 7, who hitched a ride in a car during the 1904 marathon, from miles 9-19, and only stopped there because the car broke down. He was slapped with a lifetime ban, which wasn't very lifetime-y, as he won the Boston Marathon, cleanly, as soon as 1905.

*Dora Ratjen, Germany, 1936
This can't be pinned entirely on Ratjen, on claims of being ordered to do so by the Nazis as a member of the Hitler Youth- the Germans were just wacky that way back then, having already left Olympic Trials winner Gretel Bergmann off the team due to "mediocre performance" (she was Jewish) and struck Bergmann's German record from the books in the process- but after the high jump, in fact two years after, it was revealed that Dora was actually Herman; a hermaphrodite, posing as a full-on woman for the Games. The funny thing: Ratjen came in fourth, behind, among others, German teammate and full-on woman Elfriede Kaun.

Bergmann's then-German record was restored in 2009. She's still alive, living in New York.

*Boris Onischenko, Soviet Union, 1976
This one took a bit of ingenuity. The Soviets were leading the team modern pentathlon (now discontinued) and were supposed to be a runaway winner going into the fencing segment. Onischenko wanted gold. He really wanted gold. He also knew a little something about wiring, not usually thought of as an Olympic discipline. In his competition, the epee, his British opposition noticed that he had registered a hit even though he hadn't actually hit anything. Onischenko's sword was replaced with a sword with properly-working wiring and he still won easily. Afterwards, when they opened up Onischenko's sword, it was found that he'd rewired the circuitry to include a push-button circuit breaker. Every time he hit the button, he would score a hit. This was just the time he got caught; David Wallechinsky writes of his performance having surged as early as 1970. He'd done well to pick epee for that stunt; epee allows for some fairly wild flailing to score.

In case you weren't aware, Olympic fencing is not like movie fencing. You don't have swords clash over and over with parrys and blocks. They might dance a bit but someone's going to lunge before too long; they're trained to scream like they've scored afterward if it's not completely obvious what happened.

Onischenko left Montreal posthaste and was never seen outside the Soviet Union again. Britain, the country that busted him, won gold.

*Ben Johnson, Canada, 1988
We won't chronicle every drug user ever- Johnson was the 43rd athlete to get caught since drug testing began in 1968, but Ben Johnson's a gimme. In Seoul 1988, Johnson set what was to be a world record of 9.79. Then the drug tests came back. Bye, Ben. The gold then went to Carl Lewis of the United States. (Johnson would get a lifetime ban after a second positive in 1993 at a meet in Montreal. He was allowed to appeal it in 1999, but then failed a third drug test that he himself had called for.)

*Carl Lewis, United States, 1988
The silver medalist, pre-drug test. In later years, he would admit to taking steroids himself at the 1988 US Olympic Trials, but the USOC had ruled it as inadvertant and allowed Lewis to compete in Seoul. The next guy down was Linford Christie of Great Britain.

*Linford Christie, Great Britain, 1988
Guess. Go on. Guess. It was not a clean 100 meter final that year, folks. Lewis and Christie have both kept their medals, but the rest of the 100 meter final that year reads: Calvin Smith, United States; Dennis Mitchell, United States (who also failed a drug test in 1998); Robson Cateano da Silva, Brazil; Desai Williams, Canada (who was supplied by the same doctor who gave Ben Johnson his steroids but never took any himself); Raymond Stewart, Jamaica (who injured his leg in the final).

*Eduard Paululum, Vanuatu, 1988
Less cheating than stupidity, but he did come up too heavy at a boxing weigh-in and it's too irresistible to leave out. Paululum was supposed to be Vanuatu's first-ever Olympian. Was. Then he gorged on a giant breakfast before the weigh-in. See if you can spot the flaw in this idea.

*Carlos Ribagorda, Spain, 2000
In the 2000 Paralympics, an event which generally gets only a fraction of the attention the Olympics get, people stood up and took note of the Spanish basketball team. People poured their hearts out in admiration that these intellectually disabled people could put together the gold-medal performance that they did, beating Russia in the gold-medal match.

Except 10 of the 12 weren't intellectually disabled. They merely acted like it so they could play against people they could beat. Not only were these ten a bunch of scumbags for taking advantage of the Paralympics like that, they also ruined things for everyone in the intellectually-disabled category, including the two actually disabled guys on the team, as the entire spectrum was deleted from the Paralympics for 2004 after a decision that it was too hard to figure out who was real and who was fake (though they will be restored for 2012).

Thanks a lot, guys.

Carlos Ribagorda, one of the ten, is the one we single out, partially because he's the only actual name I can dig up, and partially because he joined the team with the intent of breaking the story AFTERWARD, which might have done a whole lot more good had he broken the story immediately and not actively participated in the cheat knowing that what he was doing was wrong. Had he said something immediately, maybe Russia gets those gold medals clean. Maybe they have the experience of being awarded those gold medals publicly in Sydney, instead of having them awarded privately at a later date. It's just not the same.

*Adrian Annus, Hungary, 2004
After a teammate, discus thrower Robert Fazekas, got busted with a urine bag and was himself disqualified (his gold medal was thankfully redistributed in time for the medal ceremony), people started looking funny at Annus, who had won the hammer throw. Annus, though, had a brilliant idea: after passing the post-competition test, get the hell out of Athens and declare retirement.

It didn't work. Nice try, though.

His pre-competition and post-competition tests were found to have come from two different people. He only returned his medal (reawarded to rightful winner Koji Murofushi of Japan) after sanctions were threatened on the Hunagrian Olympic Committee.

*Irina Korzhanenko, Russia, 2004
This was Korzhanenko's second drug violation, triggering a lifetime ban. She knew full well and refused to hand over the gold medal she had won, which would have gone to Yumileidi Cumba of Cuba.

Her event? The shot put, which just so happened to be held at the ancient stadium in Olympia, the first bona fide Olympic event to be held there in over 1,600 years. She wasn't hard to spot; Korzhanenko had won by five feet, which was more than the distance between second and twelfth. (There were only 12 finalists.) And she was using the exact same steroid Ben Johnson was using in 1988.

Too bad the Zanes had long since deteriorated.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Olympics: Day 10, 11- Lovely Parting Gifts

So your favored athlete just finished in fourth place. No medal. The worst place to be.

Don't worry, he won't go home empty-handed. He'll get a diploma.

The world honors the top three, but the IOC more discreetly honors the top eight. They like to rank athletes at least as far down as eighth place, and will host B-finals and other consolation rounds in order to do so. In addition, the top eight athletes are awarded personalized Olympic diplomas. It's eight now; the threshold has gradually risen through the history of the Olympics; eight were given out starting in Los Angeles 1984. Athens 1896 only awarded two (and no medals); at London 1908 there were three; by Helsinki 1952 it had risen to six.

The exact design differs for each Games; here is what gymnast Vitaly Scherbo's looked like when he won bronze in the men's individual all-around in Atlanta 1996. Other designs are lnked to from there.

It doesn't even necessarily have to be an athlete that gets a diploma; in 1905 Olympic diplomas were handed out to Brazilian aviator Albert Santos-Dumont, Norwegian polar explorer Fridtjof Nansen, and Theodore Roosevelt. Yes. That Theodore Roosevelt. Charles Lindbergh got one in 1928 for doing exactly what you think he got one for doing, along with a guy who went around the world in a canoe.

And that's not all. The Olympics is really truly an 'everyone's a winner' competition. There are 'participant' medals and diplomas handed out to all the athletes, staff and volunteers. Here's what they looked like in Seoul and Barcelona. So, yes, Canada. You'll get your medals. Tons of medals.


There are also three special prizes given out at IOC discretion.
First, there's the Olympic Cup, instituted by Baron de Coubertin to award any organization or group of people that have helped further develop the Olympic movement in some way. In recent years it tends to go to the people of any city that puts on a reasonably good Games (the cities of Oslo, Helsinki, Tokyo, Mexico City, Sapporo, Munich, Innsbruck, Seoul, Barcelona, Norway on behalf of Lillehammer, Nagano, Sydney, Salt Lake City, Athens, Torino and Beijing have won Cups this way; though 1997, the year after Atlanta, saw no award given. Hmmmmm), but other winners include:
*Various national Olympic committees
*The YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts, now Springfield College (the birthplace of basketball)
*Fluminense, a Brazilian soccer club
*L'Equipe, a French sports newspaper whose ancestor, L'Auto, put together the first Tour de France
*La Gazzetta dello Sport, an Italian sports newspaper that did the same with the Giro d'Italia

Second, there's the Olympic Order, given to individuals for generally the same purpose. It's handed out in three levels: gold, silver and bronze. Naturally. Generally the chief organizer will get the Olympic Order at the Closing Ceremony, which is how Mitt Romney walked away with one in 2002, but some other recipients include Nadia Comenici, Katarina Witt, Steffi Graf, John Williams (the guy who composed the Olympic music you hear on NBC; orginally heard at the Opening Ceremony for Los Angeles 1984), and some don't-ask-me-what-they-have-to-do-with-sports selections such as Boris Yeltsin, Indira Gandhi and Pope John Paul II.

Finally, there's the Pierre de Coubertin Medal. Funny how he keeps showing up. This is awarded irregularly, unlike the other two, and only makes an appearance when someone shows sportsmanship above and beyond the call of duty. Some consider this an even higher honor than a gold medal. As of this time, there are only 11 Pierre de Coubertin Medals. The list:

*Lutz Long, Germany (who advised Jesse Owens at Berlin 1936, awarded posthumously)
*Emil Zatopek, Czechoslovakia (awarded posthumously for reasons not clear)
*Eugenio Monti, Italy (donated a bolt from his bobsled to Great Britain at Innsbruck 1964)
*Karl Heinz Klee, Austria (for his role in organizing Innsbruck 1976)
*Franz Jonas, Austria (reasons not clear)
*Lawrence Lemieux, Canada (deliberately went off-course in a sailing race at Seoul 1988 to assist capsized Singapore team Joseph Chan and Shaw Her Siew; he finished 22nd but was awarded 2nd, the position he was in at the time he pulled up)
*Raymond Gafner, Switzerland (reasons not clear)
*Tana Umaga, New Zealand (halted an attack during a rugby game to tend to an injured opponent, Jerry Collins of Wales)
*Spencer Eccles, United States (in recognition of his role in organizing Salt Lake City 2002)
*Vanderlei de Lima, Brazil (the guy who was ambushed by a spectator at Athens 2004 during the men's marathon, ultimately relegating him to bronze; fellow Brazilian Emanuel Rego offered his beach volleyball gold in 2005, but de Lima handed it back)
*Elena Novikova-Belova, Belarus ('outstanding service to the Olympic movement', exact reasons not clear)

And don't forget about the Terry Fox Award to be handed out on Saturday, which we already covered. So hey, Canada, there's still plenty of Olympic swag out there yet. There's even a podium. Weren't you looking to own that thing at some point?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Olympics: Day 9- Who's Terry Fox?

Today, let's rewind all the way back to the Opening Ceremony.

No, no, we already talked about the cauldron. Back up a bit further to when the Olympic Flag was brought in. Eight Canadians were selected to help carry the flag into BC place, among them Donald Sutherland, Bobby Orr, and Jacques Villeneuve.

Also among them: Betty Fox, mother of one Terry Fox of Winnipeg. If you're American, this was likely just some random footnote, some guy you've never heard of. In fact, Meredith Vieira confused him with Michael J. Fox.

If you're Canadian, though, there's a good chance you either welled up or commenced with a standing ovation. On the Penny Arcade boards during the Ceremony, I was hearing speculation that the final torchbearer might be not just Betty, but a Terry Fox hologram.

So who's Terry Fox?

In 1977, Fox lost his right leg to a form of cancer called osteosarcoma; it was amputated to keep the cancer from spreading. This was not a good thing for a man who would participate in just about any sport you placed in front of him. Track, swimming, basketball, baseball, soccer, rugby, it was sports. After losing the leg, Fox wanted to keep participating in sports, but as an amputee, competitve sports would be a problem.

The solution: run solo. In fact, not just run solo, but run coast-to-coast across Canada. And while he was at it, raise money for cancer research. He called it the Marathon of Hope, with the goal of raising $1 (Canadian dollars, of course) from every Canadian citizen.

At the time, in addition to the amputated leg, Fox had a heart condition, left ventricular hypertrophy, or 'athlete's heart', carrying symptoms of dizzy spells, double vision and shortness of breath. Long story short, Fox's doctor warned him that with the kind of stress his heart would be under during the Marathon of Hope, he might not complete the run and in fact die trying. Fox's response was, he's already got those symptoms anyway, so why not.

So with a bad heart and a different leg than he started life with, Fox set off applying for sponsors to help pay for the run (which he promptly got, though he turned down unsolicited endorsements; they would detract from the goal of public awareness) and set off for St. John's, Newfoundland.

On April 12, 1980, Fox dipped his prosthetic leg in the Atlantic Ocean, with the intent of dipping it into the Pacific Ocean once he arrived at his destination of Victoria, British Columbia (not far from Vancouver). He also took two bottles of Atlantic Ocean water- one to keep, one to pour into the Pacific. His intended pace was a standard marathon every day- 26.2 miles. Every day. Across Canada. With the entire country cheering him every step of the way, recieving a hero's welcome when he entered Ontario.

He would not make it.

On September 1, Day 143, near Thunder Bay, Ontario, Fox was forced to stop. The cancer had returned, and progressed to his lungs. His right lung had a tumor the size of a golf ball; his left lung had one the size of a lemon. He had run 3,339 miles at a pace of 23.3 miles per day, just short of half of his goal.

It was enough for Canada.

On September 9, CTV organized a telethon on Fox's behalf; they raised $10.5 million CAD in one day. It was only the start; by February 1981 Canadians had raised $24.17 million CAD- which, by the way, would meet Fox's goal of $1 per Canadian.

Fox would live to see it, but not by much; the cancer claimed him on June 28th, at the age of 22.

Every year since, a Terry Fox Run is held in various locations around the world; to date nearly $500 million CAD has been raised in his name. If you'd like to add to that, head on over. Fox has been awarded the Companion of the Order of Canada, the Order of the Dogwood, Canadian of the Year, Canadian of the Decade, and when CBC ran a TV special, The Greatest Canadian, Fox placed second, behind only Tommy Douglas, and conspiracy theories exist as to why Douglas beat Fox.

In case you're wondering, Wayne Gretzky placed 10th, just behind Alexander Graham Bell, who in turn placed two spots below Don Cherry, commentator for Hockey Night In Canada.

On the 25th anniversary of the Marathon, Canada introduced a one-dollar coin honoring the run.

And you will see Fox's name again in these Games. The Terry Fox Award will be handed out on Day 16, next Saturday, to be awarded to "someone who is the epitome of determination in motion, who pushed on no matter what the pain or obstacles in their path and touched Canada and the world by displaying humility and selflessness in their treatment of others both on and off the field of play – a veritable hero.”

You will also see Fox on ESPN; as part of their 30 For 30 series, Steve Nash will narrate the documentary Into The Wind.

Oh, and one more thing.

Steve Fonyo, a man from Montreal who lost his left leg to cancer at age 12, was inspired by Fox, taking note of the fact that Fox had to stop near Thunder Bay. He resolved to finish the job Fox started, and over the course of 14 months, from March 31, 1984 to May 29, 1985, Fonyo completed the Journey For Lives, running the same St. John's-to-Victoria route. He was originally called a copycat, and ran in Fox's shadow, but once he made it past Thunder Bay, he won his own amount of respect, eventually raising $13 million CAD, and was awarded an Order of Canada of his own later in 1985. However, he would have it revoked in 2009 after it turned out that, run or no run, he was no Terry Fox; he battled a cocaine addiction and was convicted on a series of charges including impaired driving, driving without a license, aggravated assault, assault with a weapon, writing bad checks, violating probation, and violating parole.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Olympics: Day 8: NBC Cancels Olympics Due To Lack Of NBC's Interest

Apparently, the Olympics are not being held today. They can't be, or else NBC wouldn't schedule only two daytime hours of coverage and spend the first 50 minutes- and counting- on recaps from last night and interviews and assorted other garbage as opposed to showing events., I do not want the 'Team USA Soundtrack' either. Team USA Soundtrack is not an event in which medals are awarded.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Olympics: Day 7- Worst. Olympics. Ever?

Oh, Vancouver, how do we loathe you? Let us try and count up the ways:

*The death of Nodar Kumaritashvili of Georgia, causing the starting points to be moved from the men's start to the women's, and the women's start to the juniors'.
*Two cauldrons instead of one, necessitating a Wayne Gretzky motorcade in pouring rain.
*The first cauldron failing to work, leaving Catriona Le May Doan out in the proverbial cold. (It's the first cauldron lighting that was unquestionably, indisputably mechanical. Sydney had a malfunction, but by then the cauldron was already lit. Atlanta had a malfunction, but by then the flame was in transit from torch to cauldron. If you're in the crowd, Sydney and Atlanta MIGHT have been mechanical problems or maybe an attempt at dramatic pause, but Vancouver was DEFINITELY mechanical problems.)
*The fact that Joe Biden was in attendance and someone unauthorized got uncomfortably close to him.
*The endless delays trying to get the alpine events at Whistler going.
*A refund of 28,000 tickets at Whistler due to unstable snow for viewing on.
*A seemingly endless amount of crashes in alpine skiing when it does get underway, most notably Anja Paerson of Sweden.
*And moguls.
*And figure skating. Only one of the top four had a clean run in the pairs free skate, with the fourth-place Russians falling twice.
*The fact that you apparently can't find a decent Zamboni in Vancouver, which to the outside observer would seem like the simplest thing in that city. And the ones that they did have screwed up the ice so long that Shani Davis dropped out of the event he was in, the 500 meters.
*The fact that they aren't even Zambonis. (Don't worry, though, one came to the rescue. From Calgary.)
*The closest working ice machine they can find is in CALGARY.
*The cauldron being locked away behind a chain-link fence. (You know, usually they just put the thing on top of the stadium. What? You held the Opening Ceremony indoors? Shame, that.) Don't worry, they cut this eye-level length out of the fence so you can look at it and take pictures of it.
*The weather chewing up the biathlon course to the point where the later starters were facing such a profoundly different course from the early starters that victory was hopeless.
*Also in the biathlon, in what one man from the International Biathlon Union called the "blackest day ever", two people were sent on course too early, and three were sent on course too late. (Their times were adjusted.)
*Top-ranked cross-country skier Petra Majdic of Slovenia going off course during warmups and falling into a ravine. When I saw this, the commentators said they had never seen anything like it. (She recovered and won bronze.)

Please note that this is after 6 days of competition. Out of 17. One has little choice after a six-day stretch like that but to include Vancouver in the running for Worst Olympics Ever. Of course, to be the champ, you have to beat the champ, and the undisputed champ in this category is St. Louis 1904.

So let's examine how bad St. Louis was, David Wallechinsky's Complete Book of the Olympics in hand, and then you can make your own judgment (and hopefully Vancouver will pull itself up from these depths):

*They were originally awarded to Chicago, but St. Louis intended to overshadow the Games with their own events at the Louisiana Purchase Exposition unless they were given the Games instead. They held their own events even after they successfully stole the Olympics, and the resulting mess in which St. Louis called anything and everything Olympic is still being untangled by sports historians. The IOC eventually settled on 94 of the events.
*The Games lasted for five months, from July 1 to November 23. Yes, the Summer Olympics went well into November. The organizers tried to hold an event every day, but most of the recognized events were crammed into a stretch from August 29-September 3.
*12 countries were represented, but only 42 of the IOC's count of 94 events included athletes who weren't from the United States. It was St. Louis, smack in the middle of the country, in 1904. A lot of top athletes couldn't manage the trip like they might have been able to do if the Games were in New York or something.
*651 athletes. Number of women? Six.
*August 12 and 13 were "Anthropology Days". If you know anything about race relations in 1904, you already know this isn't going anywhere good. It was a World's Fair, so they went around, gathered up an assortment of indigenous people- not just black Africans, but Inuit (then Eskimos), Patagonians, Native Americans, Ainus, Filipinos, etc., (at least the ones who agreed to it; a lot of people were justifiably offended and refused to go along with it)- and put them in events to see how they would compare to 'the white man'. Events included such high-minded things as mud fighting, spear throwing (the javelin throw was not an event yet), rock throwing, and like-minded pinnacles of multicultualism. Winners did not receive medals; they were given American flags. (For more on this, go grab 'The 1904 Anthropology Days and the Olympic Games: Sport, Race and American Imperialism'.)
*According to that book, they did it again in September. Baron de Coubertin, the mind behind the modern Olympics, was appalled, saying "As for that outrageous charade, it will lose its appeal when black men, red men and yellow men learn to run, jump and throw and leave the white men behind them."
*The marathon. Oh my God, the marathon, quite possibly the single most disastrous athletic event in Olympic history. This was before paved roads, before horseless cars became popular even, and so when the ones they did have ran ahead to clear the road for the runners, they kicked up a ton of dust.
*The closest water available to runners was in a well 12 miles from the stadium.
*Fred Lorz, first to arrive, had found one of these wondrous machines and decided to partake. He was disqualified.
*The actual winner, Thomas Hicks, was given strychnine and brandy. During the race.
*Felix Carvajal of Cuba- running in street clothes- could have medaled, but stopped along the way to pick an apple off of an orchard. This apple turned out to be rotten, and he needed to sit down for a while. He finished fourth.
*Len Taunyane of South Africa- one of the 'savages' the organizers rounded up to compete against the white man (competing under the name 'Len Tau')- came in ninth. He might have done better except for the part where dogs chased him a mile off course. Another South African, Jan Mashiani or, as he was called, 'Yamasani', came in 12th. These were the first two black Africans to compete in the Olympics, under whatever pretense, so at least St. Louis has that going for it.
*Carvajal almost didn't make it to the Games; he lost his savings in a New Orleans craps game and had to hitchhike to St. Louis.
*An organizer car had to swerve to avoid a runner and wound up in a ditch.
*William Garcia was found lying unconscious on the side of the road.
*Johannes Runge of Germany finished 5th in the 800 meters, tiring in the second half due to accidentally running in (and winning) the 880-meter handicap three days earlier thinking it was this.
*Lajos Gonczy of Hungary won a high jump handicap drunk on Hungarian wine.
*Carroll Burton won his opening round boxing match in the lightweight division-- wait... why, you're not Burton! You're not Burton at all! You're some guy named James Bollinger! No, no, no, this won't do. Disqualified!
*The 50-meter freestyle devolved into a brawl over who won, J. Scott Leary or Zoltan Halmaj of Hungary. They eventually reran it. Halmaj won.

St. Louis went so utterly wrong and caused such profound damage to the Olympic movement that an emergency intermediary or 'Intercalated' Games were held in Athens in 1906 just to help restore some credibility.

Of course, St. Louis has the excuse of the Olympics only having been eight years old in their modern form. Much of the time nobody knew what they were doing. Vancouver, meanwhile, has 114 years to look back on, and 86 years of Winter Olympics. And there's no threat, no matter how bad the Games, that the Olympics will die here and now. London, Sochi and Rio de Janeiro will host their Games as scheduled.

And of course, in St. Louis, nobody died.

This is never going to be a great Games, like Lillehammer or Sydney, although Jacques Rogge is duty-bound to call them such at the Closing Ceremony. At this point, avoidance of disaster is all Vancouver can hope for.

Can they?

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Olympics: Day 6- Go World

(read in the voice of Morgan Freeman)

In 1984, Daley Thompson won gold in the decathlon. When he took his victory lap, he revealed a T-shirt reading "Thanks America for a great Games".

And on the back of that shirt, it read...

"But what about the TV coverage?"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Remember When I Said I'd Tie Everything To The Olympics?

I lied.

Well, maybe not totally; North Korea is participating in the Olympics, so... screw it; yeah, I lied.

Go vote for this. It's part of a contest Pepsi's doing where people vote for what charities get $250,000. This is for LINK, which seeks to build a halfway house for North Korean refugees that have made their way to the United States.

It's currently in 4th position; the top two get the money. You can vote daily until the end of the month.

Olympics: Day 5- Timeout

Well, Day 5 of the Games now- oh, yes, we're probably going to be tying everything into the Olympics clear on through to the Closing Ceremony, so settle in- but let's change pace a bit and not talk about the Games directly. Instead, let's focus on the world-coming-together thing.

So let's have an event of our own. This is a link to a quiz asking you to name the capitals of all the countries of the world, which by this quizzes' count sits at 195. Your task is to rattle off as many capitals as possible. Don't go Googling or anything; that's cheating.

You have 20 minutes in which to do this. Post your score in the comments.
I managed 146; I will not disclose entirely which I missed except to say that I count 1 that I knew but didn't spell correctly, 13 that I should have gotten, and a smattering of others, maybe 5-6, that I might have gotten on a good day. But ifs and buts and should haves aside, 146 is what I actually got in the alloted time.

And one little stat, without giving away answers: the easiest one, statistically, that I missed is that of San Marino, followed by South Africa and Serbia. The toughest one I managed to get is that of the Marshall Islands, followed by Tonga and Niger.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympics: Day 4

One of the eternal arguments of the Olympics is, how do you improve them. It's a ripe argument to have: the location changes every time, every host has its own unique set of issues to tackle (in Vancouver's case, primarily the weather), and with such a variety of cultures and sports and competitiveness and familiarity with same, and a host of other aspects of the Games, everyone's going to have their own vision of what the Olympics should be.

That, and the fact that the argument really only happens once a year or so: when the Games get awarded to a new city, and when the Games are actually happening.

And if you think I'm shying away from this argument, you're nuts.

*The events are largely fine. By and large, my definition of an Olympic sport is whatever the IOC says it is. There are some things to consider- is the sport athletic enough, is there enough international parity to make it not be a free gold medal for one particular country, is there at least some kind of objective criteria, is the sport widely enough practiced, is Olympic gold valuable enough to the competitors- but by and large the IOC catches these things in the planning stages to my satisfaction. There are some events that are, shall we say, less fitting than others- race walking, trampoline, etc.- but there you go.

With baseball and softball off the Summer program, and golf and rugby on, my major concerns are addressed. The host nations usually couldn't figure out what was going on- Greece only had a couple baseball fields in the entire country when the Olympics were awarded to them- and now that they have the World Baseball Classic, the baseball people seem largely content. But if I was taking aim at something, I'd first go after rhythmic gymnastics, as anything that has a standardized automatic deduction if your bra strap is showing is not exactly something you should be considering as an Olympic sport. Of the non-Olympic sports recognized by the IOC, sport climbing is something I'd put in. They used to have that in early versions of the X Games, but not anymore. I might also swap martial arts and trade taekwondo for karate, but that's really only because nobody watches taekwondo anyway.

As for Winter, ice dancing has to go. I'm not a figure skating fan, but at least it has, you know, athletic elements. Ice dancing is what happens when you take figure skating and remove everything requiring athletic ability. It's the Winter equivalent of dressage. (That's the part of equestrian where the horse prances around without actually running or jumping over anything.) There isn't really much of anything you can replace it with, but my best pick would be speed skiing, a demonstration sport in Albertville 1992. This involves you, a lot of crash-absorbing stuff attached to you, a pair of skis, and a 1-km straight shot downhill with nothing in your way. Fastest guy wins.

The world record is 156 mph.

*Open up the TV coverage. The complaint I'm seeing more than anything else has to do with the coverage, particularly from NBC and the Tape Delays from Hell. If I'm the IOC, I want my as many of my events as possible shown live to as many people as possible.

Now, every country gets a neutral global feed that they can then cut and splice and add commentary to at their leisure. I put that feed on the main Olympic website free for all. The local networks would simply bid to be the local carrier. They can then do whatever they want with it. But people shouldn't be prevented from seeing an event entirely just because it's not as photogenic as the others.

*Every nation is entitled to at least one athlete, no questions asked. Tonga attempted to qualify an athlete these Olympics, luger Bruno Banani, but he crashed in qualifying. If it's me, I let him in anyway. I make a spot for him. I let Tonga fly their flag, let the guy have his Olympic moment. Functionally, all I do is add one more no-hoper to the lineup. But ideally, it shouldn't be about that. You have to have standards, yes, but at the end of the day, it's about coming together as a planet for two weeks. If that means I have to find places for a few guys who can barely ski or swim and are only hoping to finish their race, so be it.

*Don't award the Games as an encouragement to the host to be a nicer country. That never works. Once the Games are underway, we put politics aside. In the awarding phase, though, you do need to take it into account. How likely is that nation to ignore the outreach for brotherhood and use the Olympics for propaganda purposes? Moscow did, Beijing did, Berlin sure as hell did. Even Los Angeles (which Moscow revenge-boycotted) did to a degree; the 1984 Games were the catalyst that kicked off the ever-escalating cauldron lighting one-upsmanship. You don't award the Olympics to countries in the hopes that they'll become nice. You award them to countries that are already nice.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Olympics: Day 3

So you might have heard about Canada's squeaker of a win over Slovakia in women's hockey last night, scraping past their own Olympic record for margin of victory in that event by a mere two goals.

It's the nature of sports. Even at the highest level, where close finishes are inevitable and storied, sometimes someone just has a good night and just blows away the field. Let us now reminisce about the Dream Team stomping Angola in 1992...

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Olympics: Day 1, 2

I'm an Olympics nut. Like, real big Olympics nut. For the duration of the Games, I pretty much lose it and divert just about all excess energies to the Olympics. (I feel genuinely sorry for anyone like me on the West Coast. For those unaware, even though the Olympics are on the West Coast, NBC has decided to put them on a three-hour tape delay anyway. They're three hours delayed from watching their own Olympics. It's just dumbfounding. No wonder NBC doesn't have any viewers these days.)

I buy completely and utterly into the Olympic ideal. I'm a total sucker for it and I don't mind a bit. For one, the vast, vast, vast majority of the athletes have worked their entire lives for this one moment that only comes around once every four years. And for the vast majority of the sports, the Olympic gold medal is the sport's ultimate prize. It's also a very nice catch for those for which it isn't. For a ski jumper, this is it. This is what you've trained all this time for. For an NHL player, it's not the big prize- the Stanley Cup is- but when you have athletes saying they'll skip out on the NHL to play in the Olympics, that tells you they value the gold medal pretty heavily as well. So you're getting everything that everybody's got, even if they might not actually have that something in them. They'll fake the something if they have to. Anything to push themselves a little further. It's the Olympics. If not now, then when?

Second, I buy into the global-brotherhood aspect of it all. It's very refreshing to have a period every so often when we all set everything aside and just watch sports together for a couple weeks. I don't care who wins as long as we get a good competition- and more importantly, as long as everybody shows up. I hate boycotts. Hate them. Even when we did it for the 1980 Moscow Olympics. For those few weeks, I don't care about communism or nuclear weapons or war or politics or anything. You want to know how to stick it to a country during the Olympics? You go, you have fun, make friends, learn something about each other, and then you beat them and take all their medals. Bloodless, yet still carries a ton of prestige. I mean, to this day we're still talking about Jesse Owens figuratively posterizing Hitler. I'm not so naive as to think it can stop a war from happening- we absolutely needed to fight World War 2 anyway- but that could not have been a fun day for Hitler nonetheless.

Which is why I hate it when NBC gets way too jingoistic with their Olympics coverage. Did you happen to catch Uzbekistan during the Opening Ceremony's Parade of Nations? If you're American, no you didn't, because the poor bastards had the misfortune of marching between the United States, which came before them in the alphabet, and Canada, who marched last as hosts. NBC lingered on the American team well past when Uzbekistan came out, and by the time they were done, it was time for Canada. Bob Costas made a brief note about how Uzbekistan "slipped in", as if they had entered through the emergency fire exit or something, but that was it.

I couldn't stand it. Earlier in the parade, Costas had noted how for many of the lesser athletes, the Parade IS their Olympics, as they have no shot at a medal and are merely hoping to set a personal best and maybe beat at least one other athlete along the way, while judging themselves among the best in the world.

So in an effort to make up for NBC's shortcomings, here is some information on Uzbekistan's three Vancouver athletes:

Anastasia Gimazetdinova is 29 years old, living in Tashkent. She will be competing in ladies' figure skating. She is a three-time Uzbek champion, for 2003, 2004 and 2005, having come in second the five years prior. She skates for the club Alpomish. Her coach is Peter Kiprushev. Her choreographer is Mikhail Voskresenski. So far this season, she has finished 14th in the Nebelhorn Trophy (won by Alissa Czisny of the United States), 12th in the Cup of Russia (won by Miki Ando of Japan), and 11th in the Four Continents Championships (won by Mao Asada of Japan).

Kseniya Grigoreva is 22 years old, competing in the women's slalom and giant slalom. She won three slalom events in 2009, all in Iran. In her most recent slalom on December 17 in Miass, Russia, she did not finish. She finished first in the giant slalom in January 2009 in Shemshak, Iran; in her most recent event on December 22 in Magnitogorsk, Russia, she finished 36th.

Oleg Shamaev is 27 years old, competing in the men's slalom and giant slalom. He was Uzbekistan's flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony. Shamaev has not finished his last three slalom races, and has only finished three of his last nine. However, he did finish second on March 31, 2009 in the Kazakhstan national championships in Chimbulak Almaty. Shamaev did not finish his last giant slalom race in Magnitogorsk, Russia, on December 22; his highest finish this season has been 35th on December 9 in N. Tagil/Kirovgrad, Russia.

Good luck to you three.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Filibuster Update Update

So remember that filibuster we were talking about yesterday? Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) had a look, didn't like what they saw, and are now going to try to kill the filibuster with fire.

It is unfortunate, really, but considering what the filibuster is, and how many chances the Republicans were given to negotiate in good faith, it's inevitable. The general rule of Congress is that if you utterly break Congress with a particular parliamentary maneuver, don't be surprised when that maneuver suddenly goes away. This is not a new thing.

*There used to be a practice called the disappearing quorum in the House; the Senate still has one. In this maneuver, a Congressman can refuse to vote even though they're on the floor. With enough members refusing to vote, they could dip the voting population below half, thus making there not be a quorum, and thus preventing anything from getting done, as you need a quorum. It was used routinely in the House, gumming up business until 1890, when then-Speaker Thomas Brackett Reed of Maine simply counted all on the floor as present whether they had voted or not. A present member of Congress being counted as present? Shock! Outrage! (Just for reference, Reed had defended the disappearing quorum when he was the one that got to use it, so...)

*The Senate feared a different problem: people just wouldn't show up, breaking quorum that way. They took care of that early, in 1798, by making attendance mandatory. Good call. Attendance was fairly strongly encouraged in 1988when Bob Packwood of Oregon barricaded himself in his office and had to be carried to the floor by five members of the Capitol Police. He made them, as he "refused to walk into the chamber on his own two feet". Steve Symms of Idaho was to suffer the same fate, but he managed to outrun the cops.

*There was a short-lived rule called the Twenty-One-Day Rule in the House, enacted in 1949. It was an attempt to do an end-run around racial conservatives in positions of power that allowed any bill to come to the floor that had not been put on the schedule within three weeks. The racial conservatives had been blocking civil rights bills by simply not placing them on the docket; you can't pass a bill that nobody's scheduled time to debate. The rule didn't prove popular; many of the original supporters, including then-Speaker Sam Rayburn of Texas, eventually realized what kind of naked power grab they were trying to pull, reversed themselves, and repealed the rule two years later.

*In 1823, the Senate had become tired of gridlock in nominating and appointing committee members; every single member had to be voted on, and partisanship was pretty bad back then. So this gridlock had to go away; it was agreed to simply have the presiding officer appoint everyone himself. Everyone thought this was going to be the President pro tempore, who would just rubber-stamp the will of the majority. Then in 1825 John C. Calhoun of South Carolina became Vice President, who as you might know is the real presiding officer of the Senate when he shows up (which these days is pretty much never). And Calhoun had his own ideas as to how those committees should look. The Senate knew exactly what it was in for. And boy did they get it. And boy did they move to fix it. The rule was re-changed within weeks to let the Senate overrule the presiding officer.

*Woodrow Wilson had to suffer a filibuster problem too, but in his day there was no real way to make the filibuster stop. This was bad. He was trying to fight World War 1, and his war bills were getting tied up for as much as a month at a time. Per bill. Wilson demanded- and got- a cloture rule, saying the "Senate of the United States is the only legislative body in the world which cannot act when its majority is ready for action. A little group of willful men, representing no opinion but their own, have rendered the great government of the United States helpless and contemptible." Sound familiar? (This is why that previous link doesn't show anything before then- it counts motions and votes on cloture.)

*However, cloture used to require a two-thirds majority. And back then, the Senate only had one legislative "track"- essentially, that means the Senate could only consider one bill at a time. If that bill was stalled on the floor, the Senate came to a screeching halt for however long it took to get that bill resolved. Then-Speaker Robert Byrd got sick of it in 1965, and added a second track. He also reduced the votes needed from 67 to the current 60. However, in the process he also got rid of what you would recognize as the Mr. Smith filibuster: until 1965, a Senator had to actually stand on the floor and talk and talk and talk until his voice gave out, his will gave out, or his bladder gave out. You no longer have to do that. Only one Mr. Smith filibuster has happened since 1965, and it was basically for old times' sake. Alphonse D'Amato of New York conducted a 'gentleman's filibuster' in 1992 to try and save a typewriter factory in upstate New York, timing it to start after dinner so everyone had gotten something to eat first. He lasted 15 hours, 14 minutes, but failed.

Today, a filibuster essentially is indistinguishable from a failed cloture vote. As there is no physical exertion in sustaining one, filibusters are easy. According to Harkin and Shaheen, they're too easy.


Also, I should make a correction: in a previous post, I placed the seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate including discouraged workers at 11.2%. That was incorrect; that's the unadjusted rate. Seasonally-adjusted, the figure is 10.3%, down from 10.5% in December. Sorry about that.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Filibuster Update

If you're curious as to what's going on with all those filibusters being thrown around, go here to This is a complete statistical history of filibusters: how many cloture motions were filed in each Congress, how many came to a vote, how many times the filibuster was beaten back, what was being filibustered... and most importantly, who voted which way each time.

Have fun with that for the next couple hours.

Badasses Through History: Edouard Izac

Let's keep it short and halfway readable today. This is the Medal of Honor citation of one Edouard Izac, former Congressman from San Diego, California, and I will only say that if this were a movie plot, it would be unrealistic:

Rank and organization: Lieutenant, U.S. Navy. Place and date: Aboard German submarine U-90 as prisoner of war, May 21, 1918. Entered service at: Illinois. Born: December 18, 1891, Cresco, Howard County, Iowa.


When the U.S.S. President Lincoln was attacked and sunk by the German submarine U-90, on May 21, 1918, Lt. Izac was captured and held as a prisoner on board the U-90 until the return of the submarine to Germany, when he was confined in the prison camp. During his stay on the U-90 he obtained information of the movements of German submarines which was so important that he determined to escape, with a view to making this information available to the U.S. and Allied Naval authorities. In attempting to carry out this plan, he jumped through the window of a rapidly moving train at the imminent risk of death, not only from the nature of the act itself but from the fire of the armed German soldiers who were guarding him. Having been recaptured and reconfined, Lt. Izac made a second and successful attempt to escape, breaking his way through barbed-wire fences and deliberately drawing the fire of the armed guards in the hope of permitting others to escape during the confusion. He made his way through the mountains of southwestern Germany, having only raw vegetables for food, and at the end, swam the River Rhine during the night in the immediate vicinity of German sentries.

Izac would make it to the American embassy in Bern the morning the war ended. He would later assist in the inspection of the recently-liberated Buchenwald concentration camp. He would be the last surviving Medal of Honor recipient from World War 1, and the only US Navy recipient during that war.

Needless to say, he is buried at Arlington.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The Aftermath of Dred Scott

This is a classic example of how history can gloss over things inconvenient to the storyline, and how things can turn completely on their head after people have stopped paying attention. Dred Scott, of course, is famous for being the slave who went before the Supreme Court in 1856 and argued for his freedom, only to be told in a 7-2 decision that he was not only a slave, but that he was not human but rather a piece of property.

The event is always told in the context of injustice towards blacks, and/or the runup to the Civil War. As such, the story always seems to end at the Supreme Court decision. Nobody ever goes any further. One is left to assume that Dred was simply led away and lived out the rest of his life as a slave. Perhaps he was starved or beaten to death by his owner.

Not quite.

To understand the aftermath, you must first note the full name of the case, 'Dred Scott v. Sandford'. Don't look at Scott. Look at Sandford. Sandford is John F.A. Sandford, Scott's owner when he brought his case to federal court. This was Scott's second attempt; he had previously lost a Missouri Supreme Court case against another owner, John Emerson. Somewhere along the line, Sandford had been committed to an insane asylum; he would die there two months after the Supreme Court ruling.

Clearly, he was in no position to reclaim Scott, though his name would remain on the name of the case the entire way through. John Emerson had died in 1843, three years into proceedings. Scott had passed to Emerson's widow, Irene Emerson, whom Scott had tried to buy his freedom from for $300; her refusal was the spark that caused this whole endeavor.

Since losing in Scott v. Emerson, though, Irene had remarried.

To an abolitionist.

Member of Congress.

Say hello to abolitionist Calvin Chafee of free-state Massachusetts, Irene's new husband. It was February 1857, shortly before Chafee was to begin his second term in the House of Representatives. (Terms started in March back then.)

Apparently, Irene had never told Chafee about Dred. He found out in the newspaper like everybody else. By the time he woke up one day, looked in the paper, and did the spit take to end all spit takes, it was too late. The Springfield Argus wrote "All the long years of servitude through which this [Scott] family has been doomed to labor has this hypocrite kept their ownership by his family from the public, while he had profited, not only by their labor, but by his extraordinary professions of love for the poor Negro."

It was one month before the verdict would be rendered, far too late to do anything about it. His political career went off a cliff right then and there. The abolitionist Congressman owned the most famous slave in America and didn't tell anyone. There was no way back from that.

But there was still the matter of Scott. The obvious move would be to simply free Scott. That was not possible. Chafee and Emerson were from Massachusetts, but Scott was from Missouri, and only a Missouri resident could free him. Chafee frantically tracked down Scott's original owners, the Blow family. Taylor Blow, the son of Scott's first owner and a childhood playmate of Scott's, did the deed.

Dred Scott v. Sandford was decided on March 7, 1857. Dred Scott was formally emancipated May 26, 1857, two and a half months later.

Scott would settle in St. Louis and take a job as a hotel porter, where the locals regarded him as a celebrity. Which he was. However, 16 months after his freedom was granted, Scott would die of tuberculosis at approximately age 59.

But Dred Scott would die a free man.

He is buried in St. Louis, and if you're ever at the Calvary Cemetery, and happen past it, local tradition is to place a Lincoln penny on the gravestone.

As for Calvin Chafee, he would not even attempt re-election; his seat would be filled by Charles Delano. However, after his term was over, he would become Librarian of the House of Representatives for two years, and then return home to Massachusetts to practice medicine.

No word on whether he stayed married to Irene Emerson.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Internal Way-Too-Far-In-Advance Programming Note

I project to have a week coming up, May 1-6- not confirmed but it should go through- in which I aim to go... somewhere. Front-runner is Minneapolis- the Twins have four home games in that span, though the three against the Tigers are the only feasible ones for a roadtrip- but I'll have to see what's going on that week.

Not that you'll be able to do anything with that information until May, but there you go. Like to give you as much warning as possible.

In other news, there likely won't be any posts from January 1, 3521 onward, because I plan to be dead.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Losing the Vice Presidency: A Bad Career Move

Sarah Palin has recently made overtures about a 2012 Presidential run. To many people, probably most people, this should come as not the slightest bit of surprise. And I allow her that prerogative. I would not vote for her to be dog catcher let alone President, but that's not the issue at hand. As far as I'm concerned, it should be as easy as possible to claim a spot on a ballot. I will and have gleefully signed a petition to place a candidate on the ballot that I will spend the rest of the election just as gleefully campaigning against.


Before ex-Governor Palin makes a final decision to abandon a presumably safe, cushy post at Fox News to take a run at Barack Obama, she might want to consider the daunting history she's up against.

No, not the no-woman-President thing. Palin and Hillary Clinton may not have broken that barrier, but together they put up enough of a high-profile showing that they might as well have broken it. Women are in play. The only problem now is finding a winner.

Being a winner is Palin's problem. Her current lot in history is her adversary.

Sarah Palin is a defeated candidate for Vice President.

Vice Presidential nominees are not chosen by the voters. They are chosen originally by the party establishment, and in modern times by the candidate. The 'veepstakes' begins in earnest after the Presidential nominee has the race locked up and no sooner. After all, some of those veepstakes participants might be running for the Presidential nomination themselves. As a non-voter-elected candidate, the voters may feel emphatically different about the VP nominee than the Presidential nominee or party leadership does.

In addition, anyone that loses a race will lose political face. They lost. The voters rejected them personally. Many measures of political approval are soft and mushy to varying degrees- protests, approval ratings, town halls, campaign rally audience size, the tone of mail received by the politician from constituents and potential constituents. An actual vote, however, is hard data. Claim fraud and turnout and such all you like, but at the end of the day, the voters gave you a concrete approval or rejection. A win is a win; a loss is a loss.

Combine a losing candidate with a candidate not put forward by the voters, and it's not a pretty recipe.

Now, one can't really count the first two elections, as there was no 'losing Vice Presidential candidate' early on; in the earliest elections, the winner became President and second place became Vice President. There were no running mates in George Washington's two elections; John Adams came in second and was thus placed into the Vice Presidency.

Since then, however, running mates existed. Here are the losing ones from 1796 to today, and remember that what happened before the loss is not relevant here; it's what happened afterwards:

1796- Aaron Burr, New York
Would later serve as VP under Thomas Jefferson, but during that term he would challenge Alexander Hamilton to a duel. You might have heard about it. Burr's career went splat.

1800- Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, South Carolina
Would go on to be the Presidential nominee twice. Would go on to lose twice, and be relegated to a role as president of the Society of the Cincinnati.

1804, 1808- Rufus King, New York
Would go on to serve as Senator from 1813-1825, though it should be noted this was an era when Senators were elected by the state legislature. 1816 would be a bad year: he lost a gubernatorial race, get nominated as President (without voter input), and then lose that race too.

1812- Jared Ingersoll, Pennsylvania
Would go back to his job as attorney general of Pennsylvania until 1817, and for a brief period from 1811-1812 would preside over a district court in Philadelphia.

1816- John Eager Howard, Maryland
Back into the oblivion from whence you came. Next.

1820, 1824- There was no campaign in 1820; people were so content with James Monroe that he ran effectively unopposed. John C. Calhoun of South Carolina was the running mate of both candidates in 1824. He doesn't count.

1828- Richard Rush, Pennsylvania
Would spend his post-loss career as a reasonably successful, though unheralded, European diplomat and negotiator. I'll be nice and call it a success.

1832- John Sergeant, Pennsylvania
Retreated for a while, then would serve two terms in the House of Representatives. He was offered a Cabinet post afterwards, but he declined and faded into private life.

1836- John Tyler, Virginia
Would ascend to the Presidency in 1841 after William Henry Harrison's death, the first President to gain power in that fashion. It didn't work out. There was not yet a hard-and-fast rule in place to determine succession, and Tyler's now-accepted assertion that he was fully President upon Harrison's death did not sit well. He would receive correspondence to the 'Vice President' or 'Acting President' and return it unopened. When he turned out to have a different agenda than Harrison as well, he found himself opposed by both parties, and would spend the rest of his time as an essential lame duck. Tyler would be the first President to have his veto overridden, and the first to endure an impeachment attempt. He was not renominated, obviously.

1840- Richard Mentor Johnson, Kentucky
Only technically. Johnson, the incumbent VP, was already damaged goods by this point in his career and the VP vote was split three ways. He would spend the next decade trying to re-enter the political arena, finding a home in the Kentucky state legislature in 1850. He would serve for a whopping two weeks before he died.

1844- Theodore Frelinghuysen, New York
Would serve as president or vice president to a long string of small organizations.

1848- William O. Butler, Kentucky
Would turn down the Nebraska territorial governorship in 1855, and would head the 1861 peace conference called as a last resort to head off the Civil War. Anyone want to guess how that turned out? Audience?

1852- William Alexander Graham, North Carolina
Would go on to 12 years in the state legislature, two of which would also be spent in the Confederate Congress. He was elected to the Senate in 1866 (without voter input), but did not serve because North Carolina had not been readmitted yet. He would then spend eight years on the board of the Peabody Fund, providing postwar education assistance.

1856- William L. Dayton, New Jersey
Would go on to be Minister (ambassador) to France, where he would convince the French to not recognize the Confederacy as a sovereign state. He would die in 1864 in this role. We'll call it a success, though, given the ramifications of that accomplishment.

1860- Joseph Lane, Oregon
He was a pro-slavery candidate. Oregon didn't think much of him after that. Into oblivion he went.

1864- George Hunt Pendleton, Ohio
Would go on to lose a election for the House of Representatives, and then lose a governor's race. The state legislature put him through to one term in the Senate. During that time, he sponsored the Pendleton Act, which ended the spoils system for many government jobs. But a sponsorship does not necessarily mean effort put forward in a fight, and those two losses to the voters keep me from calling him a success.

1868- Francis Preston Blair Jr., Missouri
In 1871 was elected (without voter input) to the Senate, where he would suffer a debilitating case of paralysis. He would die from a fall in 1875.

1872- Benjamin Gratz Brown, Missouri
The loss was it for him; he went into private life. Next.

1876- Thomas Andrews Hendricks, Indiana
Would go on to decline the 1880 Presidential nomination, but would be Grover Cleveland's Vice President in 1884. He wouldn't last long before his death. Cleveland never bothered to replace him.

1880- William Hayden English, Indiana
Oblivion with you, good sir. Next.

1884- John A. Logan, Illinois
Would finish his term as Senator- well, most of the rest of his term- and then write some military books on the Civil War.

1888- Allen G. Thurman, Ohio
Oblivion. Drink. Next.

1892- Whitelaw Reid, New York
Would take a quiet eight-year stint as ambassador to the United Kingdom.

1896- Arthur Sewall, Maine
Was plucked from shipbuilding to run on the ticket. Went back to it. Next.

1900- Adlai E. Stevenson I, Illinois
Not that Adlai Stevenson. He would lose a governor's race in 1908 and then go into private life.

1904- Henry G. Davis, West Virginia
Served as chairman of a railway committee.

1908- John Worth Kern, Indiana
Would serve one term in the Senate without voter input, but would champion the concept of electing Senators with voter input. He was not renominated with non-voter input. He would also help out in a spot of trust-busting, as well as helping the 16th Amendment (the income tax amendment) through the Senate. I'm comfortable calling this a success.

1912- Hiram Johnson, California
Won re-election as governor, then won a Texas Senate seat that he would hold from 1917-1945 (with voter input, something he helped put in place prior to his run). The man who said "The first casualty when war comes is truth." Would make a run at a Presidential nomination, but lost to Warren Harding. Supported the New Deal, but wavered when FDR started his attempt at court-packing. A success.

1916- Charles W. Fairbanks, Indiana
Into oblivion he went, though he was hauled out of oblivion to have Fairbanks, Alaska named after him.

1920- Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York
Enough said here. Success.

1924- Charles W. Bryan, Nebraska
Gave up the governorship to make his run; would get it back from 1831-1835, then serve two years as mayor of Lincoln.

1928- Joseph Taylor Robinson, Arkansas
Would go back to what he was doing- serving as senator- and would claim the title of Majority Leader from 1933 until his death in 1837. He was... something all right. His face would get red, he'd pound on the table, scream, yell. According to a period press gallery attendant, "When [Robinson] would go into one of his rages, it took little imagination to see fire and smoke rolling out of his mouth like some fierce dragon. Even when he kidded me, he spoke in loud gasps while puffing his cigar. Robinson could make senators and everyone in his presence quake by the burning fire of his eyes, the baring of his teeth as he ground out the words, and the clenching of his mighty fists as he beat on the desk before him." He was FDR's chief man in the Senate for his court-packing plan; when he died, it died with him. This one's a judgment call.

1932- Charles Curtis, Kansas
Assumed a legal career in DC, died a few years later.

1936- Frank Knox, Illinois
Would become FDR's Secretary of the Navy from 1940 until his death in 1944. Obviously, he worked his butt off. We'll call him a success.

1940- Charles L. McNary, Oregon
Returned to being Senate Minority leader and died there in 1944.

1944- John W. Bricker, Ohio
Would go on to being a two-term senator, known for an attempted amendment to limit the President's powers in treaty-making, and was blindsided in the race for a third term for his endorsement of an unpopular right-to-work amendment to the state constitution. That loss ended him.

1948- Earl Warren, California
Would go on to the Supreme Court in 1953, and become one of its greatest justices. An unqualified success.

1952- John Sparkman, Alabama
Would return to his Senate seat that he would hold until 1979. Signed the Southern Manifesto, costing him the 1956 VP nomination.

1956- Estes Kefauver, Tennessee
Would return to his Senate seat that he would hold until his death in 1963, the 1960 run hampered somewhat by his refusal to sign the Southern Manifesto. Somewhat. Architect of the Kefauver-Harris Drug Control Act of 1962, requiring drug manufacturers to disclose side effects, allowing drugs to be sold as generic, and be able to prove on demand that the drugs work and work safely. Success.

1960- Henry Cabot Lodge Jr., Massachusetts
Served as ambassador to South Vietnam, where he largely determined that local government sucked. He was dragged into the 1964 Presidential race, winning the New Hampshire primary as a write-in. He ran, sort of. He lost. Back to diplomacy.

1964- William E. Miller, New York
Appeared in an American Express commercial. Do you know me? No, Miller. No, we don't know you.

1968- Edmund Muskie, Maine
Ran for the nomination in 1972. Lost it. Maybe it was the part where he ran into some Gay Liberationists and told his staff "Goddam it, if I've got to be nice to a bunch of sodomites to be elected President, then fuck it!" Was Secretary of State for eight or nine months. These were the last months of the Carter Administration. Those were not proud moments for that office.

1972- Sargent Shriver, Maryland (the original candidate, Thomas Eagleton of Missouri, imploded during the campaign and that was basically the end of him Presidency-wise, though he would recover to hang on to his Senate seat for two additional terms, helping the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts through)
Made a brief, abortive run for President in 1976. Retreated to private life, including heading the Special Olympics and investing in the Baltimore Orioles. Eagleton you could call a success, Shriver not so much.

1976- Bob Dole, Kansas
Returned to his Senate seat. Would make a run at the nomination in 1980, lost the primary. Tried again in 1988. Lost the primary there too. Surrendered the Senate seat for third shot. Lost, becoming the only man to be a Democratic or Republican VP and Presidential nominee and win neither. Moved on to Viagra ads.

1980- Walter Mondale, Minnesota

1984- Geraldine Ferraro, New York
Made two front-runner bids for the Senate. Primaried out both times. Appointed to the UN Commission on Human Rights by Bill Clinton. Generally thought to have lost her mind during the 2008 campaign in support of Hillary Clinton.

1988- Lloyd Bentsen, Texas
During the campaign, responsible for "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy." Went back to his Senate seat until tapped for a two-year stint as Secretary of the Treasury, helping Clinton's first budget through. He did okay.

1992- Dan Quayle, Indiana
The victim of "Senator, you're no Jack Kennedy". He was a large part of the reason Bush 41 lost to Bill Clinton- Bush was told he'd get a huge jump in the polls if he'd dump Quayle, Bush said no, and so did the voters. Quayle's reputation has preceded him ever since.

1996- Jack Kemp, New York
Went into private life. Next.

2000- Joe Lieberman, Connecticut
Returned to his Senate seat, which he still holds but most of Connecticut will tell you he's a lame duck who doesn't realize it yet. Lost a primary, won the general after the Republicans abandoned their own candidate, and since then has made progressively more obvious moves towards a party switch which in all likelihood will not save him.

2004- John Edwards, North Carolina
Tried and failed to win the Presidential nomination in 2008, and then the baby-daddy thing happened.


By my count, there are nine outright successes on this list:
1828- Richard Rush, Pennsylvania
1856- William L. Dayton, New Jersey
1908- John Worth Kern, Indiana
1912- Hiram Johnson, California
1920- Franklin D. Roosevelt, New York
1936- Frank Knox, Illinois
1948- Earl Warren, California
1956- Estes Kefauver, Tennessee
1972- Thomas Eagleton, Missouri

And three iffy calls:
1864- George Hunt Pendleton, Ohio
1928- Joseph Taylor Robinson, Arkansas
1988- Lloyd Bentsen, Texas

After that it gets ugly in a hurry.

So, it's not impossible to build off of a failed Vice Presidential bid. It has been done. One must usually lower their standards off of how to build off a run for the second-most-powerful position in America, and even then it's still not all that likely, but allowing some reasonable leeway, it's possible.

However, it's a long, hard road to hoe from a loss like that, especially if your aim is the Presidency, as is the goal seemingly set by Palin. The Presidential win-loss record of losing VP candidates after their loss is 4-12, and all four wins came from FDR. Pinckney lost twice in the general election, King lost in the general, Johnson was primaried, Lodge was primaried, Muskie was primaried, Shriver never got anything going, Dole lost three times, Mondale lost in legendary fashion, Edwards was primaried.

Sarah Palin, do you like those odds?