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My Olympics
Later this summer in London, proud Olympic champions will hold up their medals for the world to see. Parents will beam; whole countries will celebrate the achievements of their sons and daughters. People everywhere will rejoice in the fellowship and unity found in the simple purity of sport.

Sadly, I will not be joining them. Not because I begrudge them their pride and feelings of brotherhood, but because the modern Olympic Games have abandoned that purity of sport in favor of a misguided notion of inclusion. Pastimes that have no business being on the same level as, for instance, the hundred-yard dash, have been elevated to that status simply because somebody somewhere likes to play them. Does anyone really believe that the ropes, hoops, and ribbons of rhythmic gymnastics belong on the same podium with javelins and shot puts?

Synchronized swimming, diving, boxing, gymnastics: none of these would be included in My Olympics. Why? Because, to win these competitions, a judge must vote for you. How did voting get to be a part of sport? Give me a measurement, a clocking, a score fairly earned by the athlete; save the secret ballots for Homecoming Queen.

I take my inspiration from the original Greek games. There were very few events then, and for the most part, the scoring was straightforward. Fastest, highest, farthest, strongest: these simple achievements won the day. Let us return to those times, at least for the Olympics.

Any event using complicated equipment of any kind will be looked upon with suspicion at My Olympics. Shooting in any form is banned outright, and I got your Second Amendment right here, pal. Furthermore, fencing, archery, biking, tennis, and croquet will lead the list of sports which will have to prove that their gear doesn’t play too large a part in the outcome. No sport is exempt from scrutiny. The pole vault, for instance, and all ball-related games will be closely examined for compliance. As always, purity of sport will be the standard for all determinations.

And no animals, please. All equestrian events and the modern pentathlon are out. Here, the ancient Greeks were not entirely without fault themselves. In a moment of weakness, they added chariot racing, and it all but killed the original Games. This is supposed to be about humans; Old Paint is welcome to try out for the Kentucky Derby.

There will be no winter games in My Olympics. I’m sorry, but it’s just all too strange: the subjective scoring, the rifles, the puffy clothing, the cold, the high death rate. There has never been skiing in Greece, not even on Mt. Olympus, so let’s save ourselves the anguish of pretending we care about the luge.

Finally, there will be no clothes in My Olympics. All athletes compete in the buff, the way the Greeks did. The Greeks also rubbed themselves down with olive oil, but I will not require that. Canola is fine, and so is corn oil, although most fragrant oils would be banned. They might add an unseemly dimension to some events.

For those athletes who would miss out on a chance to win gold because of these strictures, please find your sports immortality elsewhere. There are other venues for you to prove yourself to your family and your nation. You are certainly welcome to attend as a spectator — just as I would welcome people without any athletic ability at all. But leave your hoops and ribbons at home; your sport just isn’t pure enough for My Olympics.
Not News
Did you hear about the 3.6 earthquake in Barstow? It was in the newspaper.

I confess that I didn’t get past the headline. Any quake under 6.0 is just not worth worrying about, and for Barstow I’d put the minimum at 8.0. Otherwise, it’s not news.

If there is a poll showing that people think global warming is a hoax but that there’s some truth to astrology, please don’t waste my time. The insight this provides into human nature is not news.

The Yankees are in the playoffs? Tell me something I don’t know.

The Dow is up a hundred points? Now it’s down a hundred? Wake me when it swings a thousand or more.

Feel free to edit out all celebrity updates, especially those involving long iterations about struggles with addiction. Thanks; I’m trying to quit.

I guess I do need to know about corporate malfeasance and political corruption. It’s not news, but I do have to keep my outrage fully inflated at all times. You know — just in case I’m presented with an opportunity to do something about it.

I do not need to know about Rush Limbaugh’s latest vile exudation. As a wise man once said, Rush Limbaugh is a big fat idiot, and that will suffice for me. As to his followers, who proudly proclaim their identity as “dittoheads,” I can only say that I don’t know whether or not they are overweight.

I suppose the end of the world would be a newsworthy event, but what good would it do me to know it was near? Thanks for your concern, but it’s not news.

It is possible that, with all these deletions, my daily newspaper would shrink even more than it already has. Some of my favorite online sources might disappear entirely. I would mourn these losses. I suppose I could subscribe to one of those tailored news feeds, but those services assume that I know what I want. I don’t; all I know is what I don’t want.

If only there was some service that could comb the various news outlets, weed out the useless stuff, then submit the remainder to me for reading.

Oh, wait a minute; that’s me.
I won’t say that capitalism is bad.

It rewards individual enterprise, after all. It also rewards ingenuity, hard work, and the building of long-lasting, beneficial institutions. Unfortunately, capitalism also rewards greed — more handsomely than all those other things put together. I am willing to say that greed is bad.

What’s so bad about greed? Isn’t it just as good at animating the Invisible Hand that Adam Smith assured us would magically guide the economy toward a good result for everyone? No. They made greed a cardinal sin for a very good reason. It kills any positive motivation (enterprise, let’s say) that might exist alongside it and goes straight for the money. It dictates an all-out, all the time, full-on sociopathic pursuit of personal gain. As with all the other cardinal sins, it will lead you to a bad end.

And by “bad end,” I don’t mean hell. I mean human suffering, and the more greed there is at play, the more suffering will result. In fact, of all the cardinal sins, including wrath, it has the most potential to do harm. Slavery is a prime example. Slave traders certainly make plenty of money, but they also create a lot of human misery. My guess is that they don't care. That is because the traders’ greed has overcome their human decency. I would also argue that most war — the ugliest, stupidest, most destructive thing we do — has greed at its motivational core.

So capitalism has a problem. It incentivizes the most poisonous of all vices. It sews the seeds of its own undoing, cripples the invisible hand, and in the end will bring all of us down. Adam Smith himself recognized this danger. He warned against cartels and monopolies, which are antithetical to the idea of consumer sovereignty that is central to his theories. And he wasn’t even aware of the monstrous corporate “persons” we live with today.

Still, I won’t say capitalism is bad. Instead, it’s more like an undisciplined child, potentially good, but in need of structure and guidance. That leaves us to decide how to provide that structure. For this job, there are two options: Church or State.

I’m not really crazy about either one, but I’ll have to go with State. Church is just too unreliable. With State, assuming it’s a democracy, we have the promise of our own authority written into law. It’s not an ironclad guarantee, certainly, but it is something tangible we can use to defend ourselves from the ravages of greed and the excesses of capitalism.
Naming Rights II
The prospect of involving physicists in the creation of new words might seem like a chancy undertaking. This is probably nothing more than liberal arts prejudice on my part, especially since they have done quite well over the years in making up names for things.

Quark is a good example. For those of you who don’t know what a quark is … I’m a liberal arts guy, remember? Let’s just say it’s an elementary particle and that it’s very small. It seems to fit the thing it names. Quark. A little strange, like the concept, yet short and pronounceable. It even smells a little bit like a laboratory, don’t you think? The quark, by the way, has a superpartner called the squark, which is its hypothetical twin as suggested in supersymmetry theories now current in high-energy physics. This is why I am in the liberal arts.

They’re both good names, though, as are many of the names assigned to these teensy bits. You’ve got your leptons, your bosons, and your tachyons of “Star Trek” fame. Also geons, dyons, muons, luxons, trions, and plektons. Special note is made of the pomeron, which is used to explain the “elastic scattering” of hadrons. I figured it was something like that.

What I like most about these words is that they have no other meanings besides these. I wish that were true about all words. But no; language suffers from its own form of elastic scattering.

In fairness, it must be said that physicists do not have a perfect record in this regard. Take flavor and charm. Others seem to like the idea of giving these names to hard physical phenomena. Perhaps they think these are cute, counterintuitive usages; I don’t care. We already have multiple meanings for those words. Should we dilute their clarity even further in the service of cuteness? (Please say ‘No’ here, out loud if possible.) I also have a small quarrel with the use of the –on ending for so many of the elementary particles above. Just a plekton more of imagination might have helped.

Despite the energetic naming efforts of physicists, however, they have missed a few obvious opportunities. Let me take on two of the challenges they have ignored. First up: the speed of light. It’s the "c" in e=mc2. Why are we still using four words for a concept so central to modern physics? For this position of honor, I nominate phtt. No vowels, I know; there just wasn’t enough time. The double T, in case you’re wondering, is meant to add a firmness to the ending emphasizing that this is the absolute speed limit for our universe: phtt and no faster.

Next comes nano-. Yes, it’s a prefix, not a word, and yes, it’s a perfectly good prefix. In fact, it’s one of a number of very fine size-related prefixes. Nano- indicates a high degree of tininess — just below micro-, in fact — but the tiniest of all is yocto-. The nano- prefix indicates a billionth; yocto- means a septillionth. What I propose to do here is crash through the frontiers of smallness with a brand new prefix representing sizes measured in octillionths.

For this heady task, I choose neenonano-. That’s teeny to 27 decimal places. This new prefix will be able to look above itself at the other prefixes as say, “Ha-ha. I am the smallest of all! Neenonano, neenonano.”

I invite physicists to comment on these creations or simply to begin using them in interactions with their peers. I certainly welcome input from liberal artists, as well — but shouldn’t you be out looking for a job?
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No "new normal" for me, this shit ain't normal.
~ MS, Truckee