October 29, 2012 § 1 Comment
Meet Fredrick II, he’s better than you (that rhymed). In fact, I’m here to make the case that he’s better than everyone. People love geniuses; more so, we love talking about them gushingly and tweeting the wise things they say as our own words. We speak of Mozart, Einstein, and Da Vinci; all geniuses, to be sure, but mentioned at the expense of the good king Frederick. And any time spent not learning or reading about Frederick II, the king of dudes, is time wasted. That’s why I’m here: To correct the imbalance, to throw Frederick II’s gilded crown into the ring and make a case for a man oft neglected, or, outright ignored when discussing humanity’s leading lights.
What makes him better is that he is the ultimate GQ man, just a millenia before GQ. He well rounded, loved, and he freaking loved to fight. Frederick II lived in the 13th century – the pre-Renaissance age broadly derided as “the Dark Ages”. Well, fine, call it what you want, but I’m telling you: Frederick did not earn the name Stupor Mundi–which means “The Wonder of the World” for those among us not up to scratch with their Latin–for no good reason. He was exceptional. But exceptional is so overused these days, you cry! Not in this case damnit.
Try this on for size: How many languages can you speak? One? Maybe two? If you’re super special, perhaps three! Frederick is, once again, better than you. He spoke six languages – Sicilian, Italian, German, French, Greek, and Arabic. He also understood some Hebrew because, hey, life’s too short. That’s some extreme, next level polyglot business right there. And he did this without all the fancy aides we have now; no about.french.com, no Rosetta Stone, no Google Translate. Learning languages in the 13th century largely involved memorizing shit (Memorizing things! Ha! Remember that?).
Aside from being a formidable linguist, he was an astute, rational mind in era of superstition and ignorance. He looked to outlaw medical quackery; the Middle Ages equivalent of trying to outlaw alcohol in Ireland, he employed the era’s greatest scholars in his court, he founded the University of Naples, and tackled subjects such as mathematics and physics. And just because he could, he wrote a well respected treatise on the art of falconry. He was a broad and conquering mind when he could have easily been a wealthy, fat do-nothing king.
All this talk of science and maths probably conjures up images of a bookish and reticent gentleman scholar but, let me assure you, Fredrick was scared of no man alive or dead (with dead I’m referring to the omnipresent threat of zombies, of course). He took on the Pope countless times, not in Martin Luther, “Oh hey, lets talk about this” style, but in open warfare. That’s THE pope. The same Pope that was so powerful in the middle ages, that if he issue a papal decree demanding that everybody should rip their pants off and sodomize themselves with a rabbit’s foot, everyone would have followed suit. Not Fredrick though, because he wasn’t afraid of no old man in a funny hat. He loved brawlin’. The pope even excommunicated him four times. Four times! A totally unnecessary amount surely. Although, I’m almost sure that each excommunication was probably met with Fredrick doing a triumphant multi-lingual rendition of “Fuck da Police!” whilst he did the Dougie.
That was Fredrick for you, he was THE renaissance man even before the Renaissance was a glint in Florentine eyes. He was a dude, in the James Dean tradition, mixed with Aristotle – Aristotle Dean. And what I want you take from this, is that he was better than you and me. So stop trying, the pinnacle of being a badass was reached, taken out for dinner, and roughly screwed by the good king Frederick in the 13th century.
September 6, 2012 § Leave a comment
We were scrappers, all right, not particularly loveable; we played ugly, our uniforms were worn out, and we didn’t even wear matching socks. We were as rag tag as rag tag can get but, somehow, playing u-18 rugby for Letterkenny RFC is still my favourite, abiding memory of my misspent teenage years.
Where’s Letterkenny? Well, it’s a barely recognisable dot that you’ll find in the north-west corner of a map of Ireland. It sure as hell isn’t the most glamorous place on earth; the weather was awful, it could be boring as hell and some of its denizens didn’t exactly inspire awe with their fine breeding and eloquent speech and manner. Letterkenny was ours though – our little house on haunted hill and, by God, we were proud of it.
It’s very hard to bottle the essence of a town; to just stick your finger on it and go “eureka! this is it” but what probably came closest to representing our fine hometown of ‘Kenny (as it was called by all the locals), it was us: The Letterkenny RFC U-18’s. Poorly trained, we lacked discipline and composure but we were big and mean, aggressive and obstinate, and we never backed down from a fight. We would show up at away games and I could only imagine the impression we gave off – piling out of the bus disjointedly, our weary faces attesting to our laissez-faire attitude to healthy sleep patterns, eating junk food and using language unbecoming of gentlemen. Our first impressions didn’t get better, we got kitted out in our all black attire (our junior age rugby team jersey sponsored by a night club) and we would wander out onto the field in groups. We weren’t the ’98 Chicago Bulls, we didn’t give off an air of supremacy. Teams probably saw us and thought we were easy beats—I surely can’t blame them—but they were nearly always wrong.
One of my greatest memories was taking the two and a half hour drive up to Belfast—which was the nearest big city to ‘Kenny—to play a city club in a knockout game. We followed the same old ‘Kenny routine: pitched up late and disorderly and with a collective appearance not necessarily conspicuous with winners. We didn’t get much respect from them; who the hell were we? To them we were just a bunch of farm plodders from a dumpy little town and they would just breeze past us. We won. The game was brutal and I really mean that; it was about as close to open warfare as sport can get and we beat them 15-10. I remain convinced that we got that win simply because we drew them into our game – which was the rugby equivalent of World War I trench warfare. Smash, crash, bish, bosh; we played ugly as hell but were also capable of moments of magic. It was our unpolished style of play but, hey, we came from an unpolished kind of town. Our opponents broke down in tears after the final whistle went and we were euphoric. Partly because we won but mostly, I think, because at that moment we suddenly realised how much we all meant to each other. It wasn’t a sappy, “I love you, bro” style revelation but it was a feeling that was palpable. We had done this all together; not just this game, specifically, but all our games. Despite awful coaching, awful weather, awful facilities; we still managed to win more often than not. We were a strange, amazing family filled with characters that were so unique and special.
That was the last game we all played together, and it’s probably the last time we’ll ever play together again. I moved away pretty soon after the season concluded and I honestly think I’ll never see some of those guys again. It’s enough to get me down but I know don’t really need to see them because I know how special they all were to me and how much I loved, and still love, that ill fitting, horribly faded black jersey of Letterkenny RFC U-18’s.
It’s a love that I’ll carry to my death bed.
August 8, 2012 § Leave a comment
“You, sir, are the greatest athlete in the world.”
These were the words said by King Gustav V of Sweden as he handed Jim Thorpe his two gold medals at the 1912 Stockholm Olympics. Who the hell is Jim Thorpe? Well, Jim Thorpe is the greatest athlete of all time.
OK, let’s take a step back – calling someone the greatest athlete of all time is a contentious claim and, granted, you’ve probably never even heard of Jim Thorpe until this very second. I certainly couldn’t blame anyone for being pessimistic upon hearing this claim because as far claims go, this one is a whopper. If you would care to indulge me, however, you would see that this claim is not as bold as it would seem.
James Francis Thorpe was born to parents who were both of American Indian and White European extraction. It was an unremarkable birth and an unremarkable (albeit a sad one with Thorpe losing both his twin brother and mother at an early age) childhood spent among his tribesmen in the Sac and Fox nation in Oklahoma. Along with his pale face name, Thorpe was christened with the native name Wa-Tho-Huk – which means “path lit by great flash of lightning” or, more simply, “Bright Path”. The name seems kind of apt in retrospect – Thorpe’s freakish natural athleticism was surely an illuminating sight for those lucky enough to witness it.
Thorpe had a fraught relationship with his father – he ran away from home and school frequently and the death of his mother and brother affected him deeply. In 1904, a sixteen year old Thorpe arrived at Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Indiana
It was at Carlisle where Glenn “Pop” Warner (himself a legend of American sport) path crossed with Jim Thorpe. So how did Thorpe announce himself as an athletic phenom to Pop Warner? Was it some kind of Christ like revelation, where Bright Path floated in on a cloud and announced himself to the world of sport?
Well, no. Thorpe began his athletic career at Carlisle when he came across the schools athletic team training and beat all the high jumpers with an impromptu jump of 5 FT 9 inches clothed in his street attire.
That was Jim Thorpe – unremarkable and remarkable at the same time. The same Jim Thorpe who would later accept King Gustav’s grand compliment by sheepishly saying “Thanks king”. It was almost as if he did not quite understand the significance of his gifts; as if he thought it wasn’t really that big of a deal.
Everyone has probably heard of the term “Snowball effect”, a figurative term for a process that starts from an initial state of small significance and builds upon itself, becoming ever larger. That impromptu high jump at Carlisle got the snowball rolling – after that it just kept growing.
Thorpe turned his attention to football. He pestered Pop Warner–who was Carlisle’s football coach as well–to try out for the football team. Thorpe had by this stage already established himself as Warner’s premier track and field athlete and Pop wasn’t exactly keen to risk his star on the gridiron in a rowdy contact game like American football. Thorpe persisted though, and Warner relented. It wasn’t that easy though – still keen to dissuade his athletics star, Warner put Carlisle’s best defense out on the field and gave Thorpe a chance to rush the football. Pop’s logic was that Thorpe would get roughed up and give up on his notions.
He was wrong. Totally wrong.
The first time he got the ball, Jim Thorpe ran straight through the defense. After he did this, he apparently walked over to Pop, flipped him the football and said (clearly feeling that the situation merited speaking in the third person): “No one is going to tackle Jim.”
Thorpe became Carlisle’s star running back/defensive back/kicker/punter. He became Carlisle’s one man track and field team. He played Lacrosse, baseball, and just because he could – he won the 1912 intercollegiate ballroom dancing championship. He was Carlisle Indian Industrial School’s sports program.
Thorpe fell in love with Football and it became–and remained–Thorpe’s favourite sport right throughout his life. The kind of freakish talent Bright Path possessed could never be confined to any one sport, however, and he returned to track and field. In the Spring of 1912, he started training for the Olympics later that year. He didn’t train for a specific event, no chance – Thorpe always went big. As the New York Times wrote of his performance at that years Olympic trials: “He had confined his efforts to jumps, hurdles and shot-puts, but now added pole vaulting, javelin, discus, hammer… In the Olympic trials held at Celtic Park in New York, his all-round ability stood out in all these events and so he riveted a claim to a place on the team that went to Sweden.”
At the Stockholm Olympics Thorpe competed, rather unsurprisingly, as a multi-sport athlete in the traditional five event Pentathlon and a new fangled event called the Decathlon which involved ten different elements.
To say Thorpe dominated is putting mildly. He eviscerated the competition. The Pentathlon was easy (The 1912 version consisted of the long jump, javelin throw, 200-meter dash, discus throw and 1500-meter run) but it was the Decathlon–an event Thorpe had never even attempted–where Thorpe made his mark – he won by 700 points and his Olympic record of 8413 points stood for two decades. And just because he didn’t have enough on his plate: he finished fourth in long jump, seventh in the high jump and played and exhibition baseball game because, hey, he’s Jim Thorpe.
Oh, he did all this wearing some shoes he found in the trash after his were stolen. I’m not even kidding.
Looking at this one could easily raise the old argument of jack of all trades, master of none. Au contraire, Thorpe was not a dilettante: He ran the 100-yard dash in 10 seconds flat, the 220 in 21.8 seconds, the 440 in 51.8 seconds, the 880 in 1:57, the mile in 4:35, the 120-yard high hurdles in 15 seconds, and the 220-yard low hurdles in 24 seconds. He could long jump 23 ft 6 in and high-jump 6 ft 5 in. He could pole vault 11 feet, put the shot 47 ft 9 in, throw the javelin 163 feet, and throw the discus 136 feet.
These are all times and distances that would not look out of place at London 2012 and this was a man who, according to all accounts never practiced or trained a day in his life. It was just sheer athletic ability.
“s0 e’s gud at lik afleticZ wotevz LOL”. Well, you’re wrong hypothetical, illiterate commenter. He’s in the college and professional football hall of fame. Not enough? He played professional baseball as well. Still not enough? He also played some pro basketball on all Indian exhibition team as his sporting career was winding down.
So his athletic resume reads: Double olympic champion and all round athletics phenomenon, one of the most gifted football players of all time, pro baseball player with a career batting average of .252, and professional basketball player who was an excellent dancer and very good lacrosse player.
Reading that, you can’t help but feel awed by what the Jim Thorpe was capable of. When he died in 1953 as a penniless, desperately ill man with chronic alcoholism, it belied the incredible athlete this man once was.
He was Jim Thorpe – the greatest athlete who ever lived.
August 3, 2012 § Leave a comment
I want to be fluent in French. I have no idea why. I find the grammar infuriating and completely bizarre. Or do I actually love it? I don’t know. French makes me feel like a love sick teenager: befuddled, dazed, intrigued, lustful. I just know I want it. I don’t know how I’ll get it or what the hell I’m gonna do with it – BUT I WAN’T IT.
For all my conflicted emotions I know one thing: French people are cool as hell. It’s just a fact — even uncool French people look and sound cool to me. They all smoke and drink and fuck and do everything with a vague air of arrogance and an emotional totality I find admirable. I know people hate them for this–most people actually–but I don’t. I just find it kind of awesome. I love that they strain to greet each other. I love that they’ll wear whatever fuck they please. I just like them and all their quirks and idiosyncrasies and TGV’s.
The language itself has a mystique around it, an almost aphrodisiac quality. It’s just seems that it was a language that was concocted just for the purpose of expressing emotions and how thickly laced it is with this complex undercurrent of feeling is a refreshing change from my usual Anglo-Saxon/North Germanic, “No sex for me, thank you” home languages.
So, you stay classy French. Stay Arrogant, stay overly emotional, stay fussy and complex and obsessed with how the language flows. Keep all that cool shit.
Get rid of Academie Francaise though — those old dudes are kind of lame.
March 19, 2012 § Leave a comment
Fuck it, I’ll do it later: This one is familiar to everyone because it’s so universal. We have all, without exception, stood in front of a looming dead line and just shrugged our shoulders and continued playing Minecraft. My assignment becomes tomorrow’s problem and tomorrow it will become the next days problem; I will procrastinate, filibuster and navel gaze until such a time where I absolutely need to start working. It sounds like I’m lazy but I’m not really — I just can’t bring myself to finish early (some ladies may argue that’s a good thing). Somehow, relaxing while their is work to be done feels more rewarding to me than the sense of accomplishment from finishing nice and early. I probably could probably explain this a lot better but… fuck it, I’ll do it later.
Immense dread: Someone reading my last point could very easily think that I’m the chillest dude going; that I’m cold as ice. Well, I’m not. I worry. A lot. The biggest driver, the main reason why I get work done eventually, is my ability to work myself into an academic stupor once the fear grips me. The fear of failure, ladies and gentleman, it’s what this city was, in fact, built on (screw you, Rock and Roll).
Apathy: I’m not an apathetic person, but a research assignment eventually drives me toward to immense, albeit relatively temporary, apathy about the topic I’m writing on. I handed in a research assignment today on conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo and at this moment I could not care less about Joseph Kabila, Etienne Tshisekedi, Uganda, Rwanda, the DRC’s cockamamie elections or their plethora of crises. That sounds bad, but the essay has temporary blunted my ability to feel anything except an intense lack of concern for the Great Lakes region of Africa. I think there’s a direct correlation, in the academic sense, between familiarity and your level of give-a-fuck-ness. Maybe, I should do a research assignment on it.
Becoming an Automaton: Around the middle/end of writing the first draft of my essay, I cease being human and become an imitation of one — an automaton. I robotically punch keys with a complete disregard for proper grammar, syntax or human insight. Process information, type, type, read source, process information, type, type. It’s crude but it gets shit done yo!
Bibliography induced Depression: My idea of hell is to have to write bibliographies for the rest of eternity. I hate it even more than a Yemeni villager hates American drone attacks, more than Mel Gibson hates Jews; hell, I hate bibliographies more than Usher hates not being in “da club”. Most of all, I hate academia for forcing this autocratic, “be sure to give me credit!” dogma down my freaking throat. If you want to tell me insanely bad news wait until I’m writing a bibliography because everything will sound like good news. News such as “Hey Fran, a bunch of homeless people are having an orgy in your car” or “you have full blown AIDS” will become a welcome distraction from my hellish, arduous journey to ensure my assignment conforms to academia’s pernickety standards.