The postponed Olympics from last summer are supposed to be held this summer, and many of us will watch sports that we only watch every four or, in this case, five years. I, for example, haven’t seen a decathlon since the last Olympiad, and I expect to hear announcers intone that the decathletes “are competing to be the best athlete in the world.” That tagline never made sense. Yes, those competitors are amazing, but there are many athletic abilities that are not part of a decathlon, which only incorporates track and field skills. Other talents are needed for making a soccer or American football pass, hitting a baseball, driving the basketball lane, or zooming down a ski jump. The range of sports around the world demanding diverse skills is amazing, and the decathlon tests only a tiny fraction of athletic abilities. The modern pentathlon would seem to be a better test of all-around athletic skill than its ten-part counterpart. The pentathletes compete in fencing, equestrian jumping, swimming, and a cross country race with periodic stops for shooting. Now that is a collection of diverse athletic skills.

          As a part-time resident of the Keystone state, I was interested in the recent news article that said conservation groups were suing to denominate the Eastern hellbender an endangered species. The Eastern hellbender is a less than cuddly salamander that can grow two feet in length. Two years ago it was named Pennsylvania’s official amphibian although the picture of the governor signing the denomination did not include a picture of an Eastern hellbender. The news article said that the animal got its name because the early American settlers described it as “a creature from hell where it’s bent on returning.” One moniker, however, is not enough for this creature because it goes by the increasingly intriguing names of “mud devil,” “lasagna lizard,” and “snot otter.” The vote to name it the state amphibian was lopsided, but it had competition for the little-known trophy from the Wehrle’s salamander, which is named after the late naturalist R.W. Wehrle, of Indiana, Pa. Reading this factoid doubled my knowledge of Indiana, Pa., residents. I already knew that Jimmy Stewart was born and raised there. I am convinced that the brief news report contains the seeds of many jokes, but I haven’t come up with any, so I am posting this, I must admit, so that I can write “lasagna lizard” and “snot otter.”  Let’s do that again: lasagna lizard; snot otter.

          The phone call was with someone who had recently retired and moved to my part-time Pennsylvania community. After we had discussed governance issues, he discovered that I was talking to him from New York City. He was surprised and asked if I was afraid to go out. I started to say that I was cautious about Covid, but Brooklyn was no worse than where he was, when he said, “Friends of mine tell me that after the George Floyd protests, they are afraid to go out in New York City.” I did not know what to say. Those protests ended nine months ago. Is it fair to make conclusions about him from this? What should they be if I do?

“It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.” Oscar Wilde.

“The boiling point of water is straightforward, but the boiling point of societies is mysterious.” Rebecca Solnit, The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness.

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