The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom. - Wm. Blake

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

In actual race news...

Ivan Basso has won the Giro D'Italia (soft G, short I, like Giblets). As you all should know, he's considered the odds-on favorite for this year's Tour, and if he pulls it off, he'll be only the twelfth to win 2 of the 3 big races in one year (the third is the Vuelta a España). Although I'll be pulling for Vino, I woudn't mind seeing Basso managing such a feat.



I didn't blog about it when the allegations came out last summer, but they've been at the back of my mind since then. Today, however, the International Cycling Union officially exonerated Lance Armstrong from the doping accustaions made in L'Equipe last August. Lance, of course, denied it all along, and this was, in some sense, just the latest in an endless series of doping claims against him in the European press. Americans make up only a dozen out of over 500 riders on the European tour (even fewer when Lance won his first Tour), so it was galling that Lance should dominate the marquee event in the unprecedented way that he did.

As I said, I didn't blog it, but I did write about it at the time. When the news broke, a friend of ours who teaches in Paris wrote with concern:
Okay, so please send me the insider's (insiders') version of the fresh-off-the-press revelations about Lance and drugs. I'd cut the Discovery Channel's full-paged ads congratulating him out of my dad's newspapers, to paste on my classroom walls. Is this now politically incorrect?
I responded:
I'm not sure what to make of it. On the one hand, the story seems very thorough, and the evidence seems clear, if far from definitive (only one sample, 6 years old, frozen...); on the other, L'Equipe has been against Lance from Day One. It's hard not to view this in the context of the 6 year vendetta the French press has had against him.

The final point is that this regards his first win. He's had 6 since then, with the substance in question (EPO) being thoroughly tested all those years. The cynical view is that he's simply stayed one step ahead of the testing. But if he has, it seems certain that others have as well, and that means that he, on doping, is better than the others on doping.

I do wish it could be definitive - break my heart or let me have my hero, but don't string me along. Alas, in this day and age, it's no longer a choice. But, EPO or no, Lance is a hero. Put up those pages with pride. Il est le mieux.
Of course this issue has been on my mind of late because of the Bonds controversy. Although I've commented a few places about it, I haven't pulled together a post here because I had to deal with my very different responses to Lance Armstrong and Barry Bonds.

As I wrote to my friend, I was doubtful about the allegations, and was unwilling to dismiss Lance's accomplishments even in the event that they proved true. In contrast, I view Bonds as nothing more than a fraud, and consider his 715 HRs a sad joke. Why the contrast?

The simple, cynical answer is that I'm a Lance fan and not a Bonds fan. Furthermore, there's the race issue (although anyone who knows me could tell you that I'm a lot more likely to prejudge a Texan-American than an African-American). And to be honest, I didn't have a firm alternative to those explanations. Except:

First off, Lance & Bonds both transformed themselves, mid-career, from great to the best. But of course the reasons for the transformations differed: where Bonds turned into a suspiciously thick-necked behemoth for no apparent reason, Lance nearly died from cancer, then came back leaner than ever (mass is the cyclist's foe, especially on climbs), and put in staggering work to recover.

Bringing us to the next difference. Simply put, no cyclist has ever had the work ethic of Armstrong. His early spring training rides are the stuff of legend: his support car tells him the pass ahead is impassable with snow. He challenges the report, and rides up anyway. Sure enough, a meter of snow. C'mon, Lance, get in the car. No, I'll ride back down. His greatest rival, Jan Ullrich, could barely be bothered to go home from the clubs at a reasonable hour, and all the while Lance was working, working. In contrast, while people used to talk about Barry's training - they had to find some reason for his sudden power - it was really not extraordinary in this day and age. Yet the results were so extraordinary. Hmmm....

Finally, and this brings us back to the reason for this post, the attitude of the press towards the two is so different. While Bonds and his supporters paint him as a press martyr, the reality is that, the year he hit 73, no one in the mainstream sporting press so much as whispered - hinted even - steroids. Sure, they portrayed him as a prick - I've never heard anyone honestly claim he isn't one - but a hard-working, honestly talented prick. But the European press has always hated Lance, and every Tour was accompanied by competing accusations and slanders, including the execrable book L.A. Confidential. And despite all that - in particular, despite being drug tested almost literally every day of competition - no one ever laid a finger on Lance. And as the news today tells us, they still haven't.

Vive le Lance. LiveStrong.


Tuesday, May 30, 2006

When will people learn?

I'm reading praise for new Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson. I have no reason to disagree with Ezra or, certainly, Prof. DeLong about his qualifications. But for Brad to say
Is this the beginning of the change for the Bush administration? Henry Paulson is not somebody who is going to passively watch economic policy made by political operatives in the White House. This could be very good news
is simply nuts, and goes against his oft-repeated (and never disproved) rule:
The Bush administration is not only worse than you imagine even after taking account of the fact that it is worse than you imagine, it is worse than you can conceivably imagine
Meanwhile, over at TAPPED, Ezra Klein gives reason to hope:
Paulson is -- believe it or not -- a serious, competent guy.... Better yet, he retains a reputation of his own, has long ties to the private sector, and has plenty of money in the bank. In other words, the administration needs him, he doesn't need them, and both sides know it.
Which is great, except that that description perfectly fit Paul O'Neill as well. Indeed, O'Neill's nomination was the first bright news I heard in that awful late fall of 2000. As CEO of Alcoa, he built a beautiful, green, and egalitarian HQ here in Pittsburgh, and he was widely viewed as the best sort of corporate leader. Yet not only did they ignore him, but they also found a way to silence him after his book came out. Like Paulson, O'Neill even had a pretty good green track record (given that he ran an extractive industry corp). Didn't make a lick of difference.

Monday, May 29, 2006

What kind of a monster?

All right-thinking people have long-since determined that Dick Cheney is perhaps the worst, most-unAmerican person ever to hold high office in this country. But I had no idea of the depths of depravity in which he wallows :
At a roundtable lunch with reporters a couple of years ago, two who were present say, he cut his buffalo steak in bite-size pieces the moment it arrived, then proceeded to salt each side of each piece.
The horror, the horror.

via Shakespeare's Sister

Friday, May 26, 2006

Mr. Rogers Kicks Ass.

Mr. Rogers Memorial
Originally uploaded by JRoth.
Pittsburgh is Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Literally. The TV show was made for most of its existence right around the corner from Carnegie Mellon, and Fred Rogers sightings were a staple of discussion among those of us who grew up with him. I'll never forget speeding past him on my way to work one morning. I was biking and it was cold, and he was waiting to cross the street. I don't even remember if I spoke first, but he saw my recognition and gave me a warm Good Morning. When he died, the whole city went into mourning, as evidenced by the sign in the photo. It was in the window of a very hip, High Fidelity-style record store on Pittsburgh's South Side the day after Fred Rogers' passing. A tribute to the universal love he engendered in this town. (In case you can't read it well, it says, "Mr. Rogers, Thank you for all the beautiful days in the neighborhood.")

Anyway, I've been meaning to post about Mr. Rogers for ages - and there's more I want to say, now that I've got a two year old of my own - but the immediate inspiration is this video, which I found via Exit Stage Left. In it, Mr. Rogers, circa 1969, turns a somewhat cynical Senator into a quivering lump, happy to give $20 million to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.


This image is iconic in certain (very small) circles. It was drawn decades ago by my hero, Malcolm Wells, and is titled The Architect. I've never found a large version online, and don't have a good hard copy to scan, so it may be hard to see. But it's a ravenous monster holding a diploma and T-square and devouring farmland and wilderness, excreting industry and subdivisions. Mac's then-young son helpfully suggested "run it backwards." Which is part of the vision for what Wells calls Gentle Architecture.

At any rate, I'm posting this largely because, as you can see, I finally figured out that I can. Thirteen months after I started, I realized that I can post lots of pictures, for free, and easily. Somehow that had escaped me. Anyway, this may portend a lot more activity around here. Let's hope.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Clean Sweep Update

Well, yesterday's primaries were the first fruit of PACleanSweep, the group mobilizing to throw the bums out. Specifically, the bums who bent the state constitution last year to give themselves a pay raise. Some background here. [Holy cow! That's the #8 Google hit when you search "PA Legislature"!]

The biggest news is that the top two Republicans in the (R-led) Senate lost. The Senate is R by 55-45, the State House by 110-93, meaning we need to pick up 6 Senate seats and 9 in the House (hey, we already got one in the Senate!). It appears that 11 Rs in the House and 4 Ds lost their primaries, including my own rep.

Obviously, Rs who lose to angry voters in primary races are usually being replaced by more conservative Rs (bad), but that also means an opening for Ds in the general election. As I've written before, PA is a funny state, consistently blue in Presidential elections, and more often than not for gov., but the leg. has been red for years, mostly due to "Alabama in the middle." But some of that Alabama is rust belt, and with the right candidates, the Rs aren't always safe. ortcutt at Kos has an extremely helpful post with maps showing who represents what. Note that one of the leaders thrown out represented a district just east of the big blue swath in mid-state. We don't need to take either house this year (although I'd like to think that Dem voters will turn out big in Nov.), but we need to chip away if we're going to hold a house in time for redistricting after '10.

Some other good info here.

Your good deed for the day

Click here.

Why? Because a motivated 11 year old softball player in Pittsburgh is fighting to get money so that her team can have a field as good as the one the boys get to use.

From today's Post-Gazette, we learn that Gabby Means has already won her neighborhood ballfield - sandlot seems more apt given its condition - $5,000 from Briggs & Stratton, turf equipment provider. She wrote an essay for an annual contest, and got to be a finalist. Now, if she gets enough clicks here (it's down at the bottom, on the right), the field will get another $20,000, including a lawn tractor and other capital investment.

Help her learn that, while life is most certainly not fair, it doesn't always suck, either.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A Simple Guide to Christianity

At last.

Actually, this is probably funniest for those of us who are already familiar with the particularities of Americans' favorite pastime. The intro is stiff and possibly even pedantically wrong, so you may as well skip it and get to the funny. Sample:
For many years, American scholars believed the Orthodox were, like leprechauns, unicorns, and Eskimos, purely the product of the fanciful imaginations of medieval writers. Recent evidence leads us to tentatively conclude, however, that Eastern Orthodoxy may have somewhere in the neighborhood of 250 million adherents. Protestants tend to see the Orthodox as "Catholics with beards," while Catholics confess to a haunting sense that they are simply "Orthodox without beards."
Via Jim Henley, I think. Whom largely I ignored for years due to his libertarianism, a bent for which I have little patience. But he's really proven himself a principled one, and he's got a picture of his dog, all too lacking from the left blogosphere. So check him out, too.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Men and Feminism

An exchange over at Twisty's started bugging me the other day. To get the context, you should probably at least peruse the relevant posts over there, but the bottom line is:
how, exactly, is a guy claiming to be a feminist different from [a white guy] claiming to be a Chicana?
First of all, the illogic of that statement is pretty obvious. A white civil rights activist is not claiming to be black, and a male feminist is not claiming to be a woman. As I understand it, the reason we have something called feminism and something called women's lib is that feminism is about more than group identity. As the good Bitch, PhD put it:
If blending the personal and the political, or the private and the public, is intrinsically feminist (and I think that it is), then the fact that men need to do it too, that male academics also feel this stress about whether or not they belong, whether or not they’re smart enough, whether or not they really want to be doing this, demonstrates the usefulness of feminism within the academy (and by extension, the world outside the academy). This is the kumbaya moment: feminism frees everybody! That’s a little bit of a joke, but I actually do believe it. If the world is divided into binaries, then one set of people might get the shitty end of the stick, but the other set is still holding a stick with shit on it. Maybe we should find another stick to play with.
So why the hell is it so important for Twisty and many of her readers to insist that "dudes can support cause all they like as long as they stay fuck out of way"?

Beats me. I'll readily admit that I've always been personally ambivalent about claiming the descriptor "feminist." And frankly, it's for reasons in some ways congruent with what was said about claiming to be a Chicana. But it has more to do with how much psychic energy I put into the movement - it's not the core of how I want to change the world (which is, not surprisingly, a lot to do with the built and natural environments). But it does inform my relations with men and women alike, and it's crucial to how I'm trying to raise my daughter. My wife and I have even discussed how much harder it will be if our speculative second child ("Number Two") turns out to be a boy. It's easy to teach a girl to blame the patriarchy, and encouraging her to be fearless and sporty and handy are all subversive. Encouraging a boy to be those same things is practically conformist. So we need to be more thoughtful and subtle. Who would have thought that child-rearing was complicated?

Anyway, as I was pondering Twisty's conundrum, an article in the Pittsburgh City Paper shone a light. The director of our neighborhood reproductive health center and a sociologist from Drexel University got together to create a website for men who accompany women to abortion clinics. You should read the article, but the part of it that struck me is that it's a response to abortion clinics that are almost hostile to men - 75% of them don't allow men in the room while its happening or in the recovery room. Obviously, the vast majority of men who are coming along for an abortion are there for support (and for those who aren't - who may be forcing or pushing the woman into it - there are less exclusionary ways to protect the women), but these clinics are treating them as the enemy. And I can't help but tie it to Twisty's attitude. And, frankly, that's bullshit.

At the end of it all, Twisty comes through, citing approvingly a (male) sports writer who writes about the barriers faced by MLB's only female General Manager in a way that blames the patriarchy simply and elegantly. As she says, "say it, don't spray it." But I think that balance is easier to achieve without the bogus No Boys Allowed signs.