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

Friday, August 17, 2007

The Midwest Really Is Different

OK, so I wanted to see whether Greenfield, Iowa's town square really is "European Style," as its website proclaims. Google Maps, so. Sadly, the satellite imagery for this area is a joke, so I couldn't answer my question, but I noticed that this little county seat features 240th St. That seemed like an awfully big number, and, indeed, the entire town lies between 230th and 250th. Hmm. So, is there some metropolis 240 blocks to the north, the way nearly all of Dade County is laid out from a point in central Miami?


Turns out that this part of Iowa is laid out with east-west streets that run from 110th up to around 360th or 400th, and then starts again at the next county. Meanwhile, the county lines are demarked by evocatively-named roads such as Adair-Adams St. (between Adair and Adams counties) or Adams-Union Ave.

Good Lord, I just realized that the north-south streets are in alphabetical order, again starting and ending at each county line. So Clover Ave. turns into Orange Ave. because the third north-south road in Union County is the fifteenth in Adair County. Wow.

Now, the rationalist in me - the dork who loves logical systems - thinks this is kind of cool. And it's a million times better than the Utah system, which proves that Mormons really are freaky cultists with their street names like S 100 E St. (and they're all streets! No avenues to distinguish orientation). But when you look at those Iowa roads, those endless, dead-straight lanes leading to and from nothing in particular, it has a chilling feel, as if devised by intellects at a slight remove from our own.

The people, that is, with an outsize say in who our next president will be.


Friday, August 03, 2007

OK, So It Was Over

The post below this one suggested that the annual Parade to Paris could be more exciting if the final gap was below 0:30. Yet there it was, at 0:23, and nothing happened. Why?

Well, first of all, that 30 second figure was a guess. It was surprisingly difficult to determine how many time bonuses were on offer that final day. Turns out to have been something like 28 seconds. So Cadel Evans could only have overtaken Alberto Contador with a near-perfect day.

But why not fight for it anyway? Why not try?

Well, the simple reality was that there was no way for Evans to esacpe from the peloton and take those time bonuses by sheer strength/gall. Among (many) other things, at each intermediate and final sprint, there are time bonuses available for each successive place. So Evans would need not only to beat Contador to the line 3 times, but he would also have to have over a dozen other riders do so. There is no rational reason to think that was possible. So Evans accepted second place, and was, I'm sure, fairly happy with it.

In other wrap-up news, Levi had his best day of the Tour on Saturday, winning the Time Trial by 0:51 over Evans, putting him a tantalizing 8 seconds out of second. Frankly, it's conceivable he could have snuck in a final day time bonus, but, again, unlikely - if he contests one of the intermediates, Evans and his team are on alert, and he doesn't stand a chance; and the final sprint is always a showcase for the sprinters' teams, and it's hard to imagine Levi sneaking into position. More agonizing is that Levi lost 10 seconds in the Alps when he was penalized for being "towed" by his team car during a mechanical check. There was a minor controversy - lost in the doping scandals - in the sudden enforcement of this rule this year. Essentially, riders have long gotten little boosts from their team cars when being handed drinks, or getting a medical check, or a mechanical assist. It's meaningless over the course of 3500 km, and everyone does it, so it's just not a big deal. But officials decided to be dicks about it this year, and it cost Levi.

Nonetheless, it was a big year for Team Discovery, which has no sponsor for next year. Three finishers in the Top Ten, including two on the podium in Paris. Much of the sports world has dismissed the Tour, and pro cycling in general, in the wake of this year's doping scandals (and former star Iban Mayo, who had a poor tour, apparently tested positive for steroids after it was over). But there are signs that the young riders, who began to take over the race this year, have a new attitude about doping. Most notably, after the second rider was caught, a number of teams sat out the day's start, protesting the rider. Ten years ago, when the Tour was similarly racked with scandal, teams protested as well - against enforcement. Of course, the scandals, which even hit teams with commitments to internal testing, aren't a good sign. But you can't clean up a dirty sport without exposing some dirt.

Here's to a 2008 Tour with just as much testing, but many fewer (no?) positives.