The Twisted, Torturous Tale of the Torch

I keep hearing about all the hullabaloo (a word with an interesting etymology (external - login to view)) regarding the running of this year's Olympic Torch. The central issue seems to China's lamentable human rights record, especially regarding Tibet. Frankly, I'm getting annoyed. In addition to protesting around the path where the torch is being run, there have been calls for the US (or just the President) to boycott the Olympics. Perhaps that's wise, as I hear they put lead in their Lo Mein.

It's not that I don't sympathize with the Tibetans. I do. I actually met the ambassador of the Dalai Lama to the US once. (Side note: Josiah started a new club called L.L.A.R.D. - Libertarian Llamas Against Republicans and Democrats. I'm so proud!!) When I was younger my family (homeschooling at the time) took a trip to D.C. While there, we met Jesse Helms (a hero of many homeschoolers and conservatives). He introduced us to the ambassador, whose causes he supported in the Senate. (Anti-communism makes for strange bedfellows.) Picture the scene: My family, all seven of us, in matching clothes, most of which my mom made. My sisters (all with hair down to their butts) are all wearing prairie dresses (think Little House on the Prairie) with pleated smocks embroidered with their names. My brother, father and I are all wearing baby blue slacks and vests with short-sleeved, white, Izod, golf shirts. We stand in a row, father, mother and kids in descending order of height. Across from us stands the ambassador who, as custom dictates, must bow to each of us. As we give our names, he bows respectfully, each of us returning an awkward bow in return. I think we sang him a song (we used to travel the Eastern seaboard singing as a family) as well. I am certain that he had hours of intensive acupuncture therapy afterwards for his aching back.

What was I talking about? Oh, yes, the torch. Anyway, I'm not a fan of what China does and doesn't do (although I'm not sure that America is that much better), but all this fuss about the torch is ridiculous. The purpose of the Olympics is to bring nations (or city-states) together who might be at war and probably have very different ideas about how a nation (or city-state) should be run. We put aside our differences, try to beat their butts at various sports, and then go back to business as usual. It is not a tacit approval of the nation hosting the events.

Consider Athens and Sparta during the Peloponnesian War. Although it is a myth that all hostilities stopped during the Olympics, those going to and participating in the events were supposed to be protected by the sacred truce. Because the games were dedicated to Zeus, and Zeus was the patron of wayfarers, that makes sense. But by no means were Athens and Sparta any closer to peace, nor did it improve human rights at home. Athens, that "model" of democracy and equality, was not an example I would encourage anyone to follow. As the pharaoh of Djelibeybi says in Terry Pratchett's Pyramids:
They've got something they do it with, I think it's called a mocracy, and it means everyone in the whole country can say who the new Tyrant is. One man ... one vet. ... Everyone has ... the vet. Except for women, of course. And children. And criminals. And slaves. And stupid people. And people of foreign extraction. And people disapproved of for, er, various reasons. And lots of other people. But everyone apart from them. It's a very enlightened civilization.
How much more just can you get than the jury trial that ended in the murder of Socrates, after all? And Sparta? Please! They practiced eugenics (killing babies who looked "unfit.") There children became wards of the polis at seven and went through state-sponsored hell until adulthood (if they survived). Today we call that "public school." Remember, it takes a village to ruin a child. The shining moment in a young Spartan's life was the Crypteia, or coming of age ritual, in which he was sent into the countryside to find, kill and steal from Helots (slaves of the Spartans). This helped control the population of the slaves which greatly outnumbered the Spartans themselves. How's that for some human rights?

The point is, Sparta was much worse than China is today. Yet, they came together to compete, even in the midst of a long and bloody war. That's kind of the point of the Olympics, to bring these disparate peoples together despite their differences. Even despite great wrongs they might be doing. But my annoyance with this goes a bit further. I don't know why we're all stuck on this torch thing as a positive symbol anyway. You know who started it? Yes, they had the sacred flame at the ancient games, but the running of the torch was started by Hitler and the Nazis in the 1936 Olympics. It was meant to add a bit of mystery and mythology to the cause of Aryan supremacy they represented.

(external - login to view)ummmmmm ..... yes?

Could it be a more perfect symbol? Start with the Indo-Europeans, the progenitors of Western Civilization and all us crackers. Their language gives rise to Greek, Latin (and all the Romance languages), German (and all the Germanic languages, including English), Celtic, Slavic, etc. Their mythology (external - login to view) gives rise to all the mythologies of the same areas. Thor and Zeus and Jupiter are all the same guy. The idea of "guest-right" and being a good host comes from these people. Even Indian (from India) mythology comes from that same source. And, most of all, they gave their "superior" genes (Jordache?) to all these places. The "white" Aryans established the caste system in India. The Spartans, as I mentioned, practiced eugenics, only keeping the best of the best.

The Olympics had ceased during Roman times (although it could be argued that the Colosseum games were a fitting continuation), but who else did Rome have with whom to make peace? But Rome carried that "torch" of Indo-European/Aryan culture into a new Era. And they passed on another idea to Hitler. Germany had been the seat of the Medieval Holy Roman Empire. The German word for empire is reich (which is cognate with our word rich). Hitler's empire was also known as The Third Reich ... the third Holy Roman Empire.

The running of the torch, for the Nazis, symbolized that pure flame coming from it's ancient roots to the place which was best carrying on the tradition. They even made a documentary about it in 1938 called Olympia. Here is an excerpt:

I have to say, Nazi Germany is a fitting successor to the tradition of the children of the Indo-Europeans. Caste systems and mass killings and conquest which would make Alexander the great drool with envy. I'm sure it smarted for the Germans to see Jesse Owens take home four gold medals that year. Although, to be fair, Germany did a sight better than the US in how they treated him. He was allowed to eat in any restaurant and sleep in any hotel he wanted. He didn't get that kind of treatments at home. I guess it was that hospitality thing again. Here's what Owens had to say about Hitler vs. FDR:
Hitler didn't snub me—it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn't even send me a telegram.
FDR wasn't that great at hospitality anyway. He denied asylum to 936 Jews fleeing the Nazis in 1939. Of course, he was facing pressure from anti-semite Democrats in the South, so I guess that makes it OK. I'm still looking for a valid excuse for the internment of Japanese, Italian and German Americans, though.

I should wrap this up. I sympathize with the Tibetans, but if we were to deny every country with a less than stellar human rights record because their hosting the Olympics, we'd never have an Olympics. And if we're going to protest the torch, let's do it for the right reasons. It's a tainted symbol to begin with.

Etymological note: Torch comes from the Latin torca, meaning "something twisted" (meaning the twisting flames). Here's where it gets interesting. Torca, in turn (get it???) comes from twerk, an Indo-European word meaning "to turn, twist or wind." That word gives us a host of other words which are all related.
  • Tartarus, the region of Hades in which people are tortured, or made to twist in pain.
  • Queer, or something that is "off-center, not right, twisted, etc."
  • Tortuga, the island-pirate stronghold in the Caribbean.
  • Tortoise, an animal with a twisted head who was considered evil in some cultures.
  • Tort, meaning "injury or wrong," as in "tort law."
  • Torque, meaning (among other things) "to rotate or twist."
  • Torc, meaning "an ornament made of twisted metal worn around the neck" (usually Celtic).
Torus, tornado
JBeee, where did you cut and paste that from?
..look it up yourself. *grin*
Nice photoshopped sign.

Who gives a rats *** about Tibet and Chin and politics when it comes to the Olympics. Settle that in the UN (or allow us to hold sporting events in the UN). This is about athletes getting an opportunity to get away from that baloney and compete together.
....go back to sleep, Kreskin.

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