Bureaucracy: The Olympic Torch Bearer


Last year I attended a gathering where a gentleman, let’s call him Chuck, delivered a speech to us about an accomplishment he had made.

In 1988 Canada hosted the Winter Olympics in Calgary, Alberta.  As part of the celebration Canada’s state owned oil company Petro-Canada decided to sponsor the Olympic Torch Relay across the country.  How would the relay team be assembled?  By lottery.  All you had to do to participate in the Olympic Torch Relay was go to your nearest Petro-Canada Gas Station and fill out an entry form.  Relay participants would be drawn from among the entrants.  You could enter as many times as you wished.

Chuck lived in a small rural community, but it turns out our he was ambitious.  He was determined as a grade school student that he would participate in the Olympic Torch Relay.  He went down to the Petro-Canada Gas Station and picked up as many entry forms as the gas station attendant would allow, went home and began filling out entry forms by hand, one at a time.  Then he would go back to the Petro-Canada Gas Station and stuff all his completed entry forms into the entry box.

Chuck was determined.  Every day he would go to the Petro-Canada Gas Station and collect a ream of entry forms.  Everyday he would spend all his spare time filling out the entry forms one at a time by hand.  When other kids his age were spending their time with their families and friends, enjoying leisure time or participating in extra-curricular activities or sports, our speaker was filling out forms.

The entry form completion and submission routine went on for months.  Chuck’s family thought he was crazy, his friends thought he was crazy, his teachers thought he was crazy, the attendants at the Petro-Canada Gas Station thought he was crazy.  Then the day of the draw for the Petro-Canada Olympic Torch Relay participants finally arrived.  The draw was made and about a week later a letter arrived at Chuck’s home.  He had been drawn to carry the Olympic Torch as a relay participant.  Everyone was overjoyed.

The Olympic Torch Relay began during a Canadian Winter and it finally arrived at the point where Chuck would take the Olympic Torch from the previous Torch Relay participant, bear the Olympic Torch for a kilometer or two and pass it to the next Torch Relay member.  Chuck was dressed in the red and white Olympic Torch Relay uniform with the Calgary 1988 Winter Olympics logo,  the Canadian Flag logo, the Olympic Torch Relay logo and the Olympic Torch Relay logo emblazoned on it.  However, it was bitterly cold, the relay schedule was very tight and physically Chuck was not only unfit, but considerably overweight.  However, no matter, Chuck received the Olympic Torch and jumped on the back of a snowmobile driven by a Torch Relay volunteer.  They crossed the snowy Canadian winter wilderness with God speed with Chuck holding the Olympic Torch high.  Finally, they arrived at the next relay point and Chuck jumped off the back of the snowmobile and passed the Olympic Torch to the next Torch Relay participant, who in turn jumped on the back of the snowmobile and continued onward.  Victory had indeed been sweet.

Now, let’s return to 2007 on the day this speech was being delivered.  Chuck completed his story and proudly displayed the Olympic Torch Relay uniform he had worn during his leg of the relay.  We all looked admiringly at it and thought about our own desire to carry the Olympic Torch that we had not attempted to realize.  And looked at a man who had had the courage to realize a dream.

Chuck stood before us proud, reserved and two hundred pounds overweight.  He now worked for one of Canada’s provincial governments as a senior bureaucrat.  He was a senior elected member of the organization of which his audience belonged.  He was also a member of the subdivision of the organization to which the audience belonged.  He does not believe in new members or in fact any members of the organization receiving a copy of the organization’s constitution, but knows it intimately.  He studies Robert’s Rules of Order intensely during organization meetings, but does not share this knowledge with the members, instead waiting to be called upon in an advisory role as Parliamentarian deciding for everyone what due process is.  Instead of rationally debating motions, he bellows out bombast like profanity.  When asked about ethics, he says his is winning.

So, what did Chuck learn from the example of Olympic Torch Relay?  First, he learned that sport and sportsmanship had nothing to do with the Olympic Torch Relay.  Second, he learned that the Olympic Torch Relay was a lottery, not based on merit.  Third, he learned that he could manipulate the outcome of the Olympic Torch Relay selection process by stuffing the ballot box.  Fourth, he learned to be a good bureaucrat legalistically filling out the same Olympic Torch Rleay entry forms day in and day out, neglecting family, friends, liesure, extra-curricular activities, sport and physical health.  Fifth, he learned that the Olympic Torch Relay had no physical fitness requirements at all.  He simply sat on the back of a gas poewered, internal combustion engine, polluting snowmobile so the organizers of the event could meet their schedule.  It’s a wonder that Chuck had the strength to hold the torch up for the length of his leg of the relay.

Chuck had learned a lot of lessons from the Olympic Torch Relay.  I believe that the Olympic Committee, Canada, the Petro-Canada Corporation and the Canadian Olympians should all be proud of what they accomplished.  They have produced an immoral, misleading, scheming, complex, inefficient, ineffective, inadequate, over-indulgent, imprecise and inaccurate bureaucrat who could die of any number of self-inflicted chronic health problems the next moment.  Although I’m sure he has a redeeming trait or two. They all deserve a medal.

Live the Dream.

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Malcolm Gladwell: The True Meaning of “Gifted”


Outliers is definitely Malcolm Gladwell’s finest book to date.  And I am going to keep this review really simple, because the simplicity of Malcolm’s book has earned it.  I read the book in one sitting and found myself welcoming the morining sun as I read the last sentences.  I simply could not put the book down.

According to Malcolm, there are two things that make you gifted.  First, why, how, when, who, where, what and how much you were born into and lived in, the gift of your environment.  Second, how many hours you practiced, the gift of hard work.  And the two were interdependent.  There were no born prodigies or self-made successes in this world.  There were instead many world-made, effort-made successes, and repeating world-made, effort-made success was not that difficult.  The world could be tailored to gift most children by grouping them by narrower margins of maturity, going over the material slowly to develop comprehension and then practice, practice, practice at school and at home.  And if the children need a summer break, a change is better than a rest.  Give them two months of educational field trips or meaningful apprenticeships.

There is even a good argument that we should adopt the Cantonese verbal language for our number system.  It would be the greatest leap forward since we adopted Arabic numerals.

I think Outliers is not only recognition that individuals are gifted by the world and practice, it is also a recognition that we are now in a world of competing agri-cultural philosophies.  The West is accustomed to one planting, a unhurried summer, one harvest and a winter’s hibernation.  The East is accustomed to two to three intense plantings, two to three intense cultivations, two to three intense harvests and an intense preparation over a dry season for the next first planting.  Where the West may only have worked 1000 hours annually the East worked 3000 hours annually.  The gap between Western and Eastern philosophies regarding work are just as profound.

Eastern agricultural philosophy makes the Western agricultural philosophy leisurely and statistics make the self-made man delusional.

The one thing left out is which offers the greater quantity and quality of life?  How much time is spent in the play state as opposed to the work state?  Which gifts us a better world?