Cat Flag: Spanish Galleon Edition

The San Salvador in port

My hometown recently had a very unique visitor. The San Diego Maritime Museum’s full-size replica of the San Salvador, the ship used by Spanish explorer Juan Cabrillo when he became the first European to reach California, had sailed into port and was letting people take a tour. To say the least, I was super-excited. Spanish galleons are my favorite type of old ship, and so getting a chance to tour one was a real treat.

The original San Salvador was built in El Salvador, from which it takes its name, in 1540. It was one of three ships Cabrillo took on his expedition, the others being the La Victoria and the San Miguel. On their maiden voyage the ships set sail to Mexico, arriving on Christmas Day at a beach that was given the name “Barra de Navidad” (Christmas Sandbar). There Cabrillo and his men helped put down an Indian uprising against the conquistadors. In 1542, they set sail again, this time heading north.

A few years earlier, another explorer, Francisco de Ulloa, sighted what he thought was an island just northwest of Mexico. He named the land “California” after a fictional land in the 1510 fantasy novel Las Sergas de Esplandián by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo. Cabrillo was charged with exploring this “island” and seeing if it could provide a shortcut to Asia. Over the course of his journey, he sighted and mapped much of the California coast, including my hometown, and got as far north as the Russian River before bad storms forced them to turn back. On the return trip, the ship stopped to make repairs at Santa Catalina Island, when the local Indians attacked them. Cabrillo’s leg was broken in the struggle, and he died of a gangrene infection a few days later.

Life aboard a Spanish galleon would have been very rough. The docents said that the San Salvador would have had about 70 people on board – the captain, the crew, the soldiers, a few slaves, a priest, and a surgeon. That’s quite the crowded vessel.

This ship really isn't that big, when you get right down to it.

This ship really isn’t that big, when you get right down to it.

Making matters worse, the below-decks area was reserved for storage. A few officers had bunk beds and the captain had his tiny quarters, but most of the crew would have had to just sleep out on the deck. Not fun if it’s cold or rainy.

In an age before refrigeration, the food that the crew took on board would have been whatever grains and dried foods they could easily store in barrels plus what seafood they could catch along the way.

How appetizing.

How appetizing.

The length of the journey was almost entirely dependent on the weather, as there were no motors and the only thing powering the ship were massive canvas sails pushing it along. Which brings me to steering the thing; not an easy job by any means. Later generations of seagoing vessels would have the famous ship’s wheel used by the helmsman to turn the rudders and steer the ship.

USS Constitution demonstration image from the US Navy

However, that innovation hadn’t been invented yet when Cabrillo made his journey. Instead, the San Salvador and other galleons had to be steered with a giant lever.

San Salvador steering lever

Then there’s the all-important job of the lookout, standing in the crow’s nest looking for land or bad weather. Better hope you aren’t scared of heights!

Crow's Nest

Yet these men somehow were willing to put up with all the hardships and dangers to explore lands that had never been mapped before. You have to admit, these guys were brave.

Cabrillo, of course, was just one of many people in the New World pushing to expand the Spanish Empire, marching or sailing under this flag:

Of course I have to talk about the flag!

Of course I have to talk about the flag!

That flag is known as the “Cross of Burgundy”, and was used by the Spanish army and navy from 1506 to 1701. To this day, the flag is used throughout the Americas as a symbol of the Spanish colonial heritage of much of the continents. Yet the flag was not originally from Spain.

The Cross of Burgundy originated in the 1400s in the Duchy of Burgundy, an ancient realm between France and Germany that dated back to the 9th century. In 1477, France conquered and annexed the heartland of the Duchy, but its peripheral territories – the Netherlands, Belgium, and parts of what are today eastern France – remained in the hands of monarchs who claimed the title “Duke of Burgundy”.

One of these “dukes” was Philip the Handsome, whose name should be familiar to you if you remember my posts on the history of the Spanish monarchy. Philip married Joanna, daughter of the famed King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. His son, King Charles I of Spain (who also held the title of Holy Roman Emperor as Charles V), was born and raised in Ghent, Belgium, and he used the Cross of Burgundy as part of his coat of arms. He made the various armies of his many, many realms use the Cross of Burgundy, or variations thereof, as their flag. After he resigned and passed the throne to his son, his descendants in Spain continued to use the Cross of Burgundy for centuries.

Touring the San Salvador was a great experience, and I appreciate the San Diego Maritime Museum for allowing me the opportunity to see it. The museum is home to numerous similar historic and replica ships from different historical ages, and anyone in the San Diego area who has an interest in naval history should pay them a visit!

Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims of Hurricane Matthew.

When does a dialect become a language?


It seems so simple on the surface. Around the world, people speak many different languages – English, Spanish, Chinese, Arabic, Swahili, Hindi. Often, speakers of the same language who live in different areas will speak different dialects of the same language, with slight variations in accent and vocabulary. For example, my native language is English, and I speak it using the California dialect. Simple, right?

Then you learn that in 1925, South Africa passed a law declaring Afrikaans, the form of speech widely used by the descendants of Dutch settlers in the country, was NOT a dialect of Dutch, but instead was its own, separate language. Wait, what? Laws can do that?

In the case of Afrikaans, though, there are enough grammatical differences between it and standard Dutch that I would agree it is, indeed, a different language. However, this was not universally accepted in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when many still considered it to be a dialect of Dutch (referred to as “Cape Dutch”). A large part of why has to do with the fact that Dutch and Afrikaans are so similar that speakers of the two languages can often understand each other when talking in their native languages.

That’s the litmus test, right? When speakers can understand each other without a translator? Except, that’s not always the case. I speak Spanish, and when I hear someone speaking Italian, I understand something like 90% of what they are saying. Yet Italian and Spanish are definitely different languages. Right?

The concept I’m getting at is what’s known in linguistics as “intelligibility”. This is when speakers are able to understand each other without either of them having to change the language or dialect they are speaking or get a translator. But intelligibility is not the determining factor in whether something is a separate language or a dialect of the same language. If that were the case, there are plenty of English dialects that would have to be classified as languages.

Like, pretty much any British accent that isn't that posh BBC standard newsreader's English.

Like, pretty much any British accent that isn’t that posh BBC standard newsreader’s English.

Here’s another example of where intelligibility gets weird. Norwegian, Swedish, and Danish are universally considered different languages, yet they have a very complicated relationship with each other. These three languages form what is known as a “dialect continuum”, where the local dialects change very gradually as you move from town to town. Neighboring villages will have very similar dialects, while villages father away from each other will have very different dialects. This creates the unusual situation where people in a Swedish town right on the border with Norway will have an easier time understanding their Norwegian neighbors than they would Swedes living on the opposite side of Sweden.

So, where is that dividing line between language and dialect? The fact is, the answer is blurry and can change over time. For example, most people here in the United States probably consider “Chinese” a single language, but linguists now tend to consider it to be many different languages that just happen to share the same writing system. You’ll notice more and more lists of the most widely spoken languages specify “Mandarin Chinese”, instead of simply “Chinese”, holding the #1 slot.

Arabic is even stranger than that. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, “Arabic” is a catch-all term for many, many different forms of speech that are functionally different languages for all practical intents and purposes and are not intelligible at all. However, they all share a Standard Arabic dialect (based on the Arabic of the Koran) that is taught in schools and used for such formal things as news broadcasts and official documents. When Arabic speakers from different countries meet and can’t understand each other, they use Standard Arabic to communicate. Since Standard Arabic acts as a linguistic bridge spanning from Morocco to Iraq, most people, including most Arabic speakers, consider Arabic to be a single language.

On the other hand, someone travelling through India and Pakistan would see the exact opposite effect when it came to the Hindi and Urdu languages spoken there. Or, should I say, language, as pretty much all linguists agree that Hindi and Urdu are simply dialects of one language – Hindustani. Yet most Hindi and Urdu speakers will emphatically insist that this is not the case, that Hindi and Urdu are separate and distinct. The reason is both religious and political. Hindi is India’s national language, and emphasizes the country’s Hindu roots by incorporating many Sanskrit words and using an alphabet based on Sanskrit. Urdu is the official language of Pakistan, and emphasizes the dialect’s ties to Islam by incorporating many Persian and Arabic words and using an Arabic-based script.

When Yugoslavia broke up in the 1990s, a similar phenomenon occurred with the Serbo-Croatian language. The warring Serb, Croat, and Bosnian ethnic groups refused to accept that they were all speaking the same language, and declared that their dialects were not dialects at all, but different languages: Serbian, Croatian, and Bosnian.

Similarly, there is no reason Moldovan should be considered a separate language from Romanian, other than that Moldova was ruled by the Soviet Union for decades and Moscow demanded that Moldovans think of themselves as Soviet citizens and not as Romanians. Since independence, the country has started to change its laws, now recognizing that Moldovan is really just a dialect of Romanian.

What’s really mind-blowing to me, though, is that Jamaican Patois is considered a language of its own, not a dialect of English. I find that fact fascinating, as I find it to be no more difficult to understand than, say, a cockney or deep southern accent.

Translation: Still pretty hard to understand

Translation: Still pretty hard to understand

So, I guess the answer to “When does a dialect become a language?” is “When the speakers of that dialect decide they are speaking a language.” Or, as one astute observer once put it, “A language is a dialect with an army and a navy.”

Where did Labor Day come from?

Labor Day image from Twin Owls Steakhouse

For most holidays, it’s pretty obvious what they are celebrating and where they came from. Christmas celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ, St. Patrick’s Day celebrates the patron saint of Ireland and Irish culture, Columbus Day celebrates the first arrival of Christopher Columbus in the New World, and the Fourth of July celebrates the Declaration of Independence. Yet on the first Monday in September, millions of Americans have a day off of work to go on one last summer vacation or fire up the grill. Why? Where did Labor Day come from?

To answer this question, we need to go back in time to the late 19th century. The Industrial Revolution was in full swing, and technology was rapidly changing everyone’s lives. In many ways, the standard of living was improving for many, yet for the common industrial worker, life was absolutely terrible in many ways. Workers were forced to man dangerous machines for 10-16 hours, six days a week for crummy pay or risk losing their jobs, and often working-class children were forced to take jobs instead of attend school in order to support their families.

Cotton mill image from the National Archives and Records Administration

It was only natural, then, for workers to start banding together to demand change. Labor unions became a growing force in both the workplace and politics, demanding better working conditions and better pay, in spite of the fact they were illegal at the time.

It was in this context that a machinist from New Jersey who was active in the still-young labor movement named Matthew Maguire spoke before the Central Labor Union in 1882 and proposed a “Labor Day” to celebrate the American worker. This idea started to catch on, as labor unions in New York started holding an annual workers’ parade in early September.

Then, in May 1886, the Haymarket Affair went down in Chicago. What started as a peaceful strike turned violent when police officers fired on the workers on May 3, killing two, and the following day a bomb was thrown at police by radical activists seeking revenge, killing seven officers and four civilians. These shocking events led to an outpouring of public sympathy for industrial workers, as well as fear that without reforms, there would be an armed revolution. After all, socialism, communism, and anarchism all emerged within the labor movement and were growing forces among many workers and intellectuals of the time.

Little by little, new laws were passed in many countries around the world to protect workers and reduce the appeal of more radical political movements. Demands such as child labor bans, minimum wages, eight-hour workdays and occupational safety and health laws were put in place to protect workers, and the labor unions themselves were legalized. In the United States, the Haymarket Affair led state after state to declare the first Monday in September a public holiday for workers, starting with Oregon. By 1894, thirty states honored Labor Day.

In the meantime, the Second International, a political federation of socialist and communist movements in countries around the world (the “Second” in its name refers to the fact it saw itself as the successor to the defunct International Workingmen’s Association that had once included such notable figures as Karl Marx and Mikhail Bakunin) decided to honor the victims of the Haymarket Affair by declaring May 1 to be “International Workers Day”. In Europe, the May 1 holiday caught on, in part because that day was already an important spring festival. Country after country around the world started adopting May 1 as a public holiday honoring workers, and today it is celebrated by the majority of countries around the world.

We Americans just had to be different, though. While there was some support for switching our Labor Day to May 1st so we could line up with the international celebration, our Labor Day tradition was actually older (even if just by a few years), and America’s leaders were not exactly inclined to look like they were supporting a radical organization that included communists among its members.

In any case, the Haymarket Affair would not be the last headline-grabbing violent incident between striking workers and law enforcement. In 1894, the Pullman Strike by railroad workers threatened to shut down vital railroad traffic in Illinois. President Grover Cleveland authorized the U.S. Army to break up the strike and get the trains moving again, but in the process, the soldiers ended up killing 30 and wounding 57. Again, there was mass public outrage at the violence. To appease angry labor unions, Congress unanimously voted only six days later to declare Labor Day a federal holiday, and President Cleveland signed the law.

Today, 222 years later, it is easy to forget just how far we have come since those days, and how much of a struggle it was to get here. We take for granted the fact that we have laws protecting our rights as employees, wherever we may work. We are used to having one of the highest standards of living in the world. In our minds, Labor Day is a day of sports on TV and special sales at our favorite stores. Yet we often don’t stop to remember those who protested, who suffered, and who died to give us these privileges. This year, I will be remembering them.

Who Did It Better? The Dirty Dozen vs. Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad image from Warner Bros Pictures

When the first trailer hit for Suicide Squad, I was super-hyped to see this movie. I thought it was a really cool and original premise: a secret government project recruits some of the worst comic book super villains in the world to take on an extremely dangerous mission. The bad guys are promised clemency if they cooperate, while the government gets to deny any involvement or knowledge if they fail or something goes wrong. In my excitement, I told my father about the movie, and he responded with, “So it’s just like The Dirty Dozen?”

The Dirty Dozen image from Amazon

It turns out that in 1967, MGM released a WWII film with the same basic premise. In this case, the bad guys were Army convicts who had been condemned by court-martial for various offenses, but were offered a chance at freedom if they agreed to a mission deep behind enemy lines in occupied France. The film was regarded at the time as exceedingly violent, but over the years it has become regarded as one of the classic, great WWII films. As for Suicide Squad, it was based on a comic book series of the same name, but the comic book was itself inspired by The Dirty Dozen, so it is fair to see the new movie as something of a very loose adaptation of the older one.

That led me to ask a very obvious question: Which movie was better?

The Dirty Dozen

The Dirty Dozen image from Mubi

Directed by Robert Aldrich (Whatever Happened to Baby Jane, Flight of the Phoenix), The Dirty Dozen stars Lee Marvin (M Squad, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valiance) as Maj. Riesman, a rebellious, insubordinate jerk who is assigned to whip the convicts into shape and train them for their mission. He isn’t exactly thrilled with the assignment, and one is led to believe that his superiors gave him this job as a form of punishment. It doesn’t help that the convicts selected for the mission don’t get along with him or each other. The tension between the characters is well-delivered, as you can feel the constant threat of a fight, or worse, a mutiny.

However, after a few training montages that let us get to know these guys, we start to see them gain respect for each other and eventually back each other up when things get dicey. Each character’s motivations are clear and believable, and the whole ensemble has great chemistry together. The most complete story arc follows Victor Franko (John Cassavetes), who goes from being the most selfish of the bunch to a truly steadfast and selfless leader. There are a number of clever comedy bits as our anti-heroes show up the more prim and proper soldiers. Then, of course, the film reaches its climax with the mission itself, presenting us with an emotional roller-coaster mixed with edge-of-your-seat suspense and action.

Obviously, being a 1967 film made with a 1967 budget and 1967 special effects, the movie doesn’t have all the CGI explosions and other bells-and-whistles modern moviegoers have come to expect. While there are one or two places where that really shows, I would argue that, for the most part, it actually works to the film’s advantage. By NOT having too many special effects to rely on, the filmmakers had to focus on delivering characters we want to root for and a story we are invested in. If anything, the older, pre-blockbuster aesthetic in the set design, costuming, and special effects gives the film a certain charm that many modern films lack.

While the movie was by no means perfect, with a few scenes going on a bit long and one character in particular making some very poor decisions to advance the plot, I say The Dirty Dozen is overall a very good film. It’s an excellent popcorn movie for a lazy afternoon, and it would be good to include in a WWII movie marathon. An 8 out of 10.

Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad poster from Wikipedia

Hoo boy, where to begin.

Suicide Squad apparently caught the same bug that infected Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. It’s as if somebody at Warner Bros. keeps looking at the movies they’ve been making about the DC Comics characters and going, “No, no, this is too good. We need to cut in some bad here to even it out.”

While Suicide Squad is far better than Dawn of Justice, in large part because it’s nowhere near as dour or dark and has plenty of levity to it, the film is plagued by baffling decisions. For example, Director David Ayer (Training Day, Fury) apparently decided that this modern-day Dirty Dozen clone with comic book characters should go for a hip-hop gangsta theme in its visuals and tone. Okay, that’s weird. What makes it infuriating, though, is that he fails miserably, resorting to over-the-top stereotypes like having several main characters covered in tattoos and speaking in phony street slang. The end result looks like hip-hop culture as understood by rich advertising executives.

On top of that, the film’s editor John Gilroy (Nightcrawler, The Bourne Legacy) must have been asleep at the wheel. Scenes are cut and spliced in very strange places, whole sequences feel like they are in the wrong place, and there are a few times where we see flashbacks to things we have already seen earlier in the film. It makes the movie hard to follow in places.

In spite of all that, you can still tell that there is a good movie in there fighting to get out. Will Smith turns in a great performance as the assassin Deadshot, and Margot Robbie practically steals the show as Harley Quinn. The role of authority-figure-trying-to-keep-these-bad-guys-in-line is split between two characters, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis), who shows how dangerous having an ends-justify-means mentality can be, and her subordinate Griggs (Ike Barinholtz), a no-nonsense soldier who is trying to hide the fact that deep inside, he’s facing a huge emotional crisis. The complex interplay between these two characters is both unique and very interesting.

Yet all of these good performances come to a screeching halt as soon as Jared Leto (Requiem for a Dream, Dallas Buyers Club) appears on the screen. I’m calling it right now: Jared Leto is the worst Joker ever. He absolutely fails in this role, and ironically enough, it’s because he is trying too hard. The Joker works when he’s understated and menacing, but Leto is overacting loudly.

I really wanted to like this movie more than I do. It had great scenes, great action, and some really good performances. It’s clear that there is a good movie in here trying to claw its way out. As it stands, though, I’m giving it a 6 out of 10.

The winner: The Dirty Dozen

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Sometimes, just because something is new doesn’t make it better. The Dirty Dozen is a classic for a reason, and Suicide Squad just doesn’t compare. You don’t need special effects, a modern “cool” hip-hop look, or Will Smith to make a good movie. You do need a good story delivered well with good performances, good directing, and good editing and pacing. That’s something Hollywood knew in 1967, and could stand to learn again in 2016.

Where did the Olympics come from?

Olympic Flag image from Collins Flags

The Olympics are back! Time once again for athletes from around the world to show us what they’re made of as the best of the best compete for the gold. It’s an epic event that only happens every four years, during which people around the world are watching and cheering on their home country’s team.

But why do we do this? Why do we have an Olympic Games, and why are they only every four years? Where did the Olympics come from?

The answer is a bit more complicated than you might initially think. To understand the Olympics, we have to go back in time to ancient Greece.

The original Olympics

Ancient Greek pottery image by MatthiasKabel

According to tradition, the first Olympic Games were held in Greece in 776 BC. There are multiple legends explaining the origins of the games, all of them based on Greek mythology. What is known is that the games were a very important religious festival for the ancient Greeks, who counted the years in their calendar in relation to the Olympiad, the four-year period between the games. These ancient games were always held in Olympia, a small village that was home to one of the most important temples to Zeus.

During the games, all the city-states of Greece would observe an Olympic Truce, agreeing not to fight any wars with each other during the games so that athletes could safely travel to the games and back. Any Greek man who was not a slave could participate, and everyone from kings to peasants won awards for their athletic achievements. Interestingly, only unmarried women were allowed to watch the event; married women had to stay away. This was probably because ancient Olympian athletes were completely naked.

These ancient games included some sports that are still a part of our modern Olympics today – foot races, jumping competitions, discus throwing, wrestling, and boxing. However, the ancient games also included chariot races, something our modern Olympics don’t have.

These ancient Olympic Games lasted for a thousand years, surviving the conquest of Greece by the Macedonians and then again by the Romans, and they remained a part of Greek culture for generation after generation. There was one thing it would not survive, though: Christianity.

In 312 AD, the Roman emperor Constantine claimed to see a vision just before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge that told him to paint Christian symbols on his soldiers’ shields. After Constantine won the battle, he converted to Christianity. A later emperor, Theodosius I, banned the earlier pagan faiths and ordered all Romans to convert to Christianity. The Olympics, a festival that honored Zeus, not Jesus, were abolished in 393 AD.

That was the end of the story for the Olympics, then, for 15 centuries. That is, until one French baron had an idea.

The Olympics reborn in the modern age

1896 Olympic Games image from Wikipedia

Baron Pierre de Coubertin was a historian in the late 19th century who studied ancient Greece and was passionate about education. He saw both training a strong mind and training a strong body as being necessary for a healthy man, and encouraged schools to adopt the same philosophy.

Coubertin was not the first man to think that some sort of revival of the ancient Olympic games for the modern age would be a good thing. As early as 1850, the small English village of Much Wenlock began organizing the “Wenlock Olympian Games”, an annual competition founded by Dr. William Penny Brookes, a local doctor and lover of all things ancient Greek who wanted to encourage the townsfolk to get more exercise.

Meanwhile, interest in ancient Greek history was also experiencing a major revival in Greece itself, as the nation had just won its independence from the Ottoman Empire. Two wealthy and patriotic, if eccentric, cousins, Evangelos Zappas and Konstantinos Zappas, organized and funded modern recreations of the ancient games in 1859, 1870, and 1875, as a way to celebrate Greek history and culture.

Coubertin was inspired by these earlier competitions, but objected to certain aspects of them. The English were too obsessed with social class, he believed, and he sternly objected to the Zappas family’s refusal to let any non-Greek participate in their games. In Coubertin’s mind, the essence of the ancient Greek Olympics was about building bridges, understanding, and common brotherhood.

In 1892, Coubertin proposed an international competition in keeping with his interpretation of the spirit of the ancient Olympic games. He managed to get a large number of like-minded sports officials from several countries together in Paris in 1894, where they set up the International Olympic Committee. In 1896, the very first of the modern Olympic games were held in the ancient Panathenaic Stadium, a racecourse built in 330 BC in Athens. These games saw 241 athletes from 14 countries participate in 43 events. Four years later, another Olympic Games were organized and held in Paris as part of that year’s World’s Fair.

The unrecognized games that saved the movement

Marathon race finish photo by James Edward Sullivan

It turned out that having the Olympics as a side-show for the World’s Fair was not a good idea. Far more people were interested in the fair itself than in some guys in shorts running. The 1900 Olympics had no opening or closing ceremony of any kind, and the competitions were a mish-mash of whatever sports the organizers could think of from ballooning to motorcycle racing. The 1904 Olympics at the St. Louis World’s Fair was even more embarrassing. That year, only 12 countries participated, and in the majority of the events, only Americans competed. Official “Olympic” events recognized by the IOC were mixed in with competitions crammed in by the Americans. After 1904, it was looking like Coubertin’s dream would be a side-note of history.

Then, in 1906, Athens hosted another “Olympics” at the Panathenaic Stadium. Originally, Coubertin and the IOC planned to host an official Olympics in a different city every four years as well as a secondary competition in Athens in between. The 1906 Athens games, however, proved to be a far bigger and grander event than the official Olympics thus far. Twenty countries sent 854 athletes to compete in 78 events. These were the first games to have an opening ceremony where the athletes paraded with their national flags through the stadium, the first to have a medal awards ceremony that featured the national flags of the winners being raised, and the first to have an Olympic Village for the athletes to stay in during the games.

The 1906 games were a massive success that provided a model for all future Olympics would follow. Yet, ironically, today they are not recognized by the IOC and all the medals and awards given out to its athletes have been scrubbed from Olympic history. The reason? In 1949, a commission examined whether the 1906 games were considered official at the time or not, concluded that they weren’t, and argued that accepting them could set a precedent for anyone to organize their own “Olympics”.

The flag and the torch

Of course, there are two more things we associate with the Olympics that need some explaining: the Olympic flag and the Olympic torch.

The flag was designed by Coubertin in 1912, featuring five colored, interlocking rings on a white background. Blue, yellow, black, green, and red – the colors of the Olympic rings – are also the most common colors you will see on most flags around the world. The rings represent the five continents (Europe, Asia, Africa, the Americas, and Australia) while white represents peace.

During every Olympic Games, a flame burns in a massive cauldron over the main stadium, a tradition introduced in the 1928 Amsterdam games in honor of the ancient Greek myth of how Prometheus stole fire from Zeus to give it to humanity. However, it would be the 1936 Olympics in then-Nazi-controlled Berlin that would first light a torch in Olympia and have an international relay of honorary runners carry the flame from Greece to the stadium hosting the games. In spite of its origins, the torch relay was reintroduced for the 1948 London Olympics, and it has been a key component of the build-up to the games ever since.

Enjoy the Olympics in Rio, everyone! I know I will. Good luck, Team USA!