August 09, 2004

Can I get a hall pass from the Oracle?

In case you've been hiding under a rock for the last few weeks, the Summer Olympics are almost here. Greece got its collective ass in gear and seems to have gotten everything ready in the nick of time, even getting a bridge ready ahead of schedule. (By what, a day?) Let the events, heroics, scandals, touching human-interest stories, poor coverage, and medal count begin!

Of course, along with all the medals up for grabs, security is on everyone's mind and these Games will be unprecendented in terms of the breadth and cost of security measures, with some countries providing their own security for their athletes...which may have been a condition for many of the countries even agreeing to show up. This Slate article mentions the fact that in the ancient games, there was an empire-wide truce among warring Greek parties so that the athletes and the audience could travel to and from the games in safety. I learned a few other interesting tidbits about the ancient games while in Sacramento for the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials: Married women were absolutely forbidden to enter the grounds where the games were held, upon penalty of death. On the other hand, virgins (i.e., the unmarried maidens, who were of course one in the same) were allowed and encouraged to attend because they needed to be exposed to the cream of the crop of their prospective mates, in all their naked glory. (Married women, apparently, weren't supposed to check out the goods once they were off the market.) There was even a parallel set of competitions that the maidens could enter held on the same grounds, in which the chicks from Sparta regularly kicked the other maidens' asses.

I've already expressed my worries about what might happen during these Summer Games, so I'll just mention this article that only strenghtens my fears. I listened to a radio show today featuring Juval Aviv, a counterterrorism expert consultant for Athens security quoted in this article, who really brought it home to me when he said, flat out, that this is the one Olympics he'll be watching on TV at home. (If you're at all interested, they're supposed to have the interview available on the station's Web site in the next day or so.) As mentioned in the article, "Among his concerns: no background checks on vendors and crews who built stadiums, roads and tunnels. His fear: During construction, terrorists installed explosives under roadbeds and stadium foundations...'All they have to do now is push a button.'" Um...yikes.

But, cynicism aside for a moment, I am looking forward to watching the Games. Just not so much the opening ceremony, or at least about three-quarters of it. They turn it into such a production, so bloated and heavy with meaning and symbolism, always trying to out-do the last few such ceremonies. The parade of athletes is usually pretty interesting...or at least it used to be before every other athlete started toting along a cell phone or video camera, or both. (Okay, the cynicism snuck back in, so sue me.)