Danielle Crittenden who is a famous Canadian author and journalist and also Managing Editor of HuffPost Canada blogs -- which kind of makes her my boss -- sends me an email.
Would I please focus my next columns on the Olympic Games?
I notice that Danielle's email doesn't mention anything about an airline ticket to London where the Olympics are being held. Or any Bev Oda memorial suite waiting for me at the Savoy Hotel. So presumably I'm expected to either get there under my own steam or cover the games on TV from Toronto.
I'm not complaining. My deal with HuffPost -- world's most popular political website -- is that I write stuff I believe in and, as a result, get to spout off my opinions to an immense audience.
Anyway, my first thought is that if I can't be in London on account of habitual penury, my favourite neighbourhood watering hole is the perfect place to watch all that "faster, higher, stronger" stuff. Scallywags has a dozen big flat-screen TVs up there on its rooftop patio.
If I camp out at Scallywags, I won't have to sit in my apartment for 17 days while all those beautiful people in their underwear do their sweaty, sporty thing and I try desperately to think of wry, witty, even insightful things to write about them.
As an added benefit, I'll be able to get reactions from other customers up there on the roof. Folk who are either fanatic sports addicts, retired, or, more likely, unemployed like me so have the time for it. I can get immediate man-on-the-rooftop reactions, take the pulse of real people as they watch the "people's games."
If all else fails, there's always the surpassingly comely servers to interview.
My second thought is to do a recce -- head off to Scallywags' roof and, like any good journalist make sure the TVs all work and the beer's properly cold.
My third thought (while sitting in the sun on the roof working on my second beer) is that Her Canadian Majesty's taxperson will doubtless agree that I can't just sit there without buying the occasional beer for the folks around me -- the people who'll provide colour commentary for my stories.
Surely, the odd pint on my expenses will be a legitimate investment in the story? So I'll be able to write it off on my taxes. A dozen beers a day for the requisite 17 days will total around two hundred pints. Worth $1,500 in tax writeoffs. Not too shabby.
And without a doubt, I'll be the most popular person on the roof.
My fourth thought is that since HuffPost notoriously doesn't pay its bloggers I can hardly write off expenses incurred while writing for free.
My fifth thought is that I don't know anything about the Olympic Games.
So I have another beer and think some more.
And come up with the conclusion that there are lots of similarities between the Olympics and my employer of record, Huffington Post.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) has reserves of around US$4-billion -- and pays nothing to the athletes who sweat and strain and sacrifice to bring in the cash.
Huffington Post sold itself to AOL last year for US$315-million -- and pays nothing to the bloggers who fill most of the websites.
Now, in fairness, a couple of caveats.
Caveat #1: the IOC hands over most of the many millions and millions it's paid for broadcast and advertising rights to "promote the worldwide development of sport" and help out whichever country is staging the games.
It claims to keep only eight per cent for "operational and administrative costs." That eight percent, however, is quite enough to treat its 105 members to mind-boggling luxury and privilege. And, as history records, splendid opportunities for corruption and personal enrichment.
Caveat #2: Huffington Post pays its regular staff, of course, but according to a judgment in a U.S. District Court, "the bloggers had volunteered their services, their compensation being publication."
But enough of the ironies.
Let's get to those hugely privileged grandees, the owners of it all, the Lords of the Rings, the self-appointed Members of the IOC of the XXX Olympiad.
Here, for your edification, are just a few of them.
The President is Belgium's Count Jacques Rogge, Légion d'honneur, who recently described himself -- to widespread derision -- as "a working class person who lives in the real world."
A few others of the 105 working class IOC members who live in the real world are Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark; Prince Nawaf Faisal Fahd Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia; Prince Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Sabah of Kuwait; Prince Faisal bin Al Hussein of Jordan; Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein of the United Arab Emirates; Henri, Grand Duke of Luxembourg; Prince Tunku Imran of Malaysia; Princess Nora of Liechtenstein; and Willem-Alexander, Prince of Orange, from the Netherlands.
Splendid titles, all inherited rather than earned, of course. But not one of this lot has any actual sporting Olympic participation listed in their official biographies.
But I'm certain they all have loads of lovely cash in their personal bank accounts. To says nothing of lots and lots of influence in circles where splendid titles actually still count for something. And, without a doubt, each knows how to wear garish decorations awarded by their fathers, and which spoon to use when served caviar for breakfast.
As the ever-acerbic Rosie DiManno reports in the Star:
"The IOC is ridiculously a sinecure for royal progeny who don't have proper jobs. That might get in the way of their swanking 'round the world. They are monumentally privileged and refer to themselves, by Charter, as 'Supreme Authority'' of all things Olympian..."
So for the next 17 days we'll have this marvelously capitalist, even feudalist, conundrum playing out in front of the world. Up in the stands will be 105 IOC grandees: lords of all they survey, watching the games from luxury boxes, staying free in five star hotels, served by obsequious, fawning flunkies.
Down on the track and in the pools will be the athletes: 10,500 of them from 205 countries competing in 21 sports, sweating, straining -- trying desperately to pull that last bit of effort, that last ounce of courage and faith -- out of numbed minds and battered bodies.
And watching both groups will be the thousands of journalists who, unlike me, are actually paid to be in London to report on the games.
While they watch, the IOC grandees and the fourth estate will do well to remember the words of Theodore Roosevelt, 26th president of the United States, spoken around a hundred years ago:
"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better.
The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."
As for me, I'll be on the roof of Scallywags watching endless TV, trying to find interesting things to write about.
Drop by, and maybe we'll share a pint or three.
P.S. The opening stuff before the parade of athletes was weird, bizarre, peculiar, odd, curious, offbeat, outlandish, eccentric, unconventional, unorthodox, queer, unexpected, abnormal, atypical, unusual, out of the ordinary, extraordinary, remarkable, puzzling, mystifying, mysterious, perplexing, baffling, inexplicable, incongruous, irregular, singular, ludicrous, comical, ridiculous, droll, deviant, aberrant, grotesque, freakish, surreal, wacky, oddball, way out, freaky, off the wall, rum, wacko, and bizarro.
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