Flies respect the Olympics

All the time that the Games are on, the flies seems to keep a truce with the visitors and the locals in the area.    This happens even though there is much blood and meat hanging freely due to the many sacrifices to the Gods.  The flies voluntarily go to the other side of Alpheus river, they disappear from the Games.

In many ways there are like the women, only better.  Women are not allowed at the games , the rules exclude them and the observers make sure that no women sneak in.  But the flies follow this ritual on their own free will for the entire period of the Games.

When all the festivities are over, the return like people that have been exiled.  They pour back into the area in great numbers.


On Animals – Aelian


The real Fight Club

It was almost evening at the Nemean Games when Creugas from Epidamnus and Damoxenus from Syracuse were boxing.  So they agreed that they would each allow the other on free punch to decide the match.  In those times the boxers wore soft gloves and their fingers were left uncovered.  Creugas started and punched Damoxenus in the head.  Damoxenus then asked his opponent to raise his arm.  No sooner had Creugas raised his arm, than Damoxenus used his straightened fingers to strike right under his rib-cage.  It was such a hard hit and because he had sharp fingernails that his hand went into his opponent’s body where he grabbed intestines and tore them out with force.

However Creugas, now dead, was declared the victor by the judges because they considered the blow from each of Damoxenus’ fingers as an individual punch even though they had agreed on one punch.

Guide to Greece – Pausanias


Featured History

The Greeks had a name for it

Syko – is fig in Greek and it was the same in Ancient Greece.   philo-sykos means “friend of the fig” and many famous ancient Greeks professed to this love, including Plato and of course Solon who banned the export of figs as he considered them way too useful for the inhabitants of Attica.  Another Greek king, Mithridates ordered that all citizens of Pontus were he ruled should consume them daily as a cure for all sorts of things.

Greeks loved figs so much that they wore them around their necks in purification ceremonies.  (White figs for women, black ones for men.)  Figs were considered particularly honourable fruit, given to mortals from the godess Demeter and even used as laurels in the first Olympics, they were food for athletes, travellers and of course symposiums as they were considered good food for thinkers as well.

Communication Society

Send in the Olympics…and then the IMF!

(Note: By popular local demand this article has been translated to Greek with various extra links to older articles about the Olympics here.)

This is not some conspiracy theory.  My question is simple:  What is the effect of turning a huge global spotlight on a country via the Olympics?

Of course I am thinking of Greece and a recent conversation – for the umpteenth time – about the economic impact.  That isn’t really the point.   Multiple fine economists have studied micro, macro and …malaka economics concerning impact and it is always a pretty grim picture.  But forget all that and please don’t get caught up in whether or not we needed a stadium for baseball.   Or whether they killed all the stray dogs inhumanely or not.

What did the world see of Greece because of the Olympics?  For a couple of years in the run up all you heard of us was pretty grim horror stories.  How bad our economy is, how terrible the workers unions are, how difficult it is to get anything done, how the prime minister had to do it himself… it just went on and on.  A British newspaper would make fun of us, we spiked our backs in indignation but the story stuck.   Greeks are lazy, just like we thought they were, and completely incapable of getting anything done in time.   British, American and German companies have to fly in at the last minute to get it done.

The fact that the Athens Olympics “went well” is beside the point from a communication point of view.   Everyone just assumed (quite rightly) that it is a party that always goes well in the end.   Same crowd, same stars, same music.  There haven’t been any “failed” Olympics because it always comes together in the end.  Nothing to do with the Greeks, it is the organizers that get it done.  One way or another.   We just pay the bill.

So many years of bad news about Greece, then a few weeks of pleasantries.   Then some of you went on holiday here and then the whole circus headed for the next host country.  What was left as an impression?   That Greece is hopeless.   A lost case.   An easy target for any sort of economic speculation…hey, wait a minute, that’s exactly what happened isn’t it?   Greeks think the whole world is against them.   Ancient obsession.   Jews, Germans,Persians, Americans, even aliens have supposedly targeted Greeks as the “chosen” enemy because we are so good!  They are all jealous or something like that.

Well this is the first time it feels like they are right!   Greece was indeed singled out in a pretty unique way.  Both in terms of policies, in the way other countries ganged up against it (or for it, depends on your conspiracy hat) and the media had a field day.   We complain about German media, but what did we expect?  We have been selling the image of lazy Greeks, on lazy islands, with lazy donkeys, sipping ouzo and taking siestas for so long that it would be rather hard to change now!  

The Olympics aren’t to blame for the Greek financial crisis.   And conspiracy theorists are wrong:  these things aren’t preplanned by some evil Genius or ten ultra rich people.  But the way the Olympics shone a light on all of our weaknesses helped Greece take the scapegoat position a lot more easily than it would have otherwise.    Selling unusually harsh measures needs a strong story to work on.   And a corrupt and lazy country, incapable of organising the Games is a pretty good start in building a global negative myth to get that sort of story off the ground…

Business ENGLISH Society

Tribal Shame, Doping Control and how to keep Greece’s deficit from mounting again

I should be ashamed of myself.  After the Greek football team triumphed in Euro 2004 Iwas the only person in the country and probably the planet, publicly stating (and even writing) that we didn’t deserve it.   I claimed the Greek team was doped (any other way to explain how a team that never lasted past 65′ suddenly went into overtime running like Ben Johnson?) and that opponents took bribes.  It was an Olympic year, we had the budget!   To add insult to the injury I am fairly sure that even our first ever modern Olympic medal in marathon running, back in 1896 with Spyros Louis was in fact the result of Greeks giving him a couple of lifts at parts of the route not covered by judges.  OK, I am an obvious cynic.


One of the reasons I got particularly annoyed at Greek doping scandals is because I experienced the disappointment in kids that looked up to them first hand

It is not just because they are unusual that these views didn’t get much airing.   There is no public forum designed to feel ashamed of itself.  When Kostas Kenderis was almost caught just before the2004 Olympics ( a ridiculous story with him escaping doping control on a moped and then staging an accident so as to avoid a blood sample being taken) it hit me even more strongly.   The reason everyone gets away with such behaviour is because we are not acting in a natural, tribal  way.  Can you imagine the same athlete being of Japanese decent?  He would have been found dead in his apartment for the shame.  The shame he brought to his country, to his fellow athletes, to the Olympic ideal. 

You only had to look at the hearings for the Toyota case recently in the US to see this in vibrant colors.  Toyota’s only sin was spreading too thin in terms of control of its enormous supply chain.  They didn’t do an Enron.  But the shame of it all…  So why don’t we just purposely design controls in business and in sport to encourage the tribal approach to guilt. 

“Guilt” as a legal term is way to shallow.  Someone can be pronounced “not guilty” even though we 

all know he is; and he can laugh straight into the cameras as he glides away from the court.  And people can feel deep guilt or remorse about things they never controlled or were in any way responsible for.   It is a social construct.  The whole concept of “corporate responsibility” was always inadequate in my mind.  It is like trying to sell a product that nobody really needs.  “You really need this product, buy it!” sell which gets a “and why the hell do I need this?” response type of situation. 

Tribal guilt is not like that.  Get that athlete to go to court with his entire team.  Introduce penalties to his federation.  Make the negative publicity a communal hit, not something personal.  Shrugging it off as a whim of a particular person is too easy.   This is not some kind of twisted mean streak, it makes perfect sense.  The reason we need guilt is to reinforce our common values.  Tiger Woods apologised not because it is any of our business what he does in his bed or a hotel room, but to show us he is not evil; he feels remorse and agrees that the societal norm of not sleeping around too much in an obvious way is correct. 

Get Kenderis, Enron board members and the Greek football team in the limelight with the system that turned a blind eye to their misbehaviours and we achieve a similar pressure point.  Which seems to me to be a pretty similar set of problems and solutions to Greece’s current financial mess.   Individual citizen’s as wrongdoers hide behind the “everyone else was doing it” facade.   Politician’s hide behind the “every other government did it” scenario. 

It is common in such situations to assume that the system that creates the problem, can’t solve it.  Especially amongst Greeks it is taken for granted that it is too deeply ingrained in our characters, our national “style”.  Heck, even in the war of liberation against the Turks in 1821, it is well documented that Greek soldiers refused to fight if their pay was late.  (With the battle raging right next to them!) 

This is not the case.  It only takes one prominent working  example of the shame system I propose for it to become established.  It could catch on like a Greek summer wild fire and spread as fast.  And maybe sports is the ideal place to start.  I put myself forward as an initial victim of this approach.  If footballers in the 2004 Euro team, Kostas Kenderis supporters or relatives of Spyro Louis want to,  I am willing to be put in front of a jury of fellow bloggers to test whether this slander I am spreading is justified or not! 

Maybe they will start commenting things like “hey, alex, this post seems preposterous!” instead of just letting me get away with it so easily next time…