We should not expect our sports heroes to be nice people. Not if we want them to be singled minded, focused, dedicated, machine-like beings willing to set aside any other life to win. Winners at this level have to be people we would not want as friends.


Doping in cycling does not guarantee that you will win. In stage after stage in the Tour de France, in the Giro d’Italia, the Vuelta d’Espana and other high profile races, scores of men who doped came nowhere and last. The idea that there is a drug that will turn you from nothing to superman overnight in one dose is ludicrous, but many believe it. The doping that modern cyclists use gives them an edge of performance over a long period. But it means they have to dope over a long period. This is why the drug screening system in place now should be dismantled. It does not work because those in charge were complicit.


Cycle racing at this level is the most grueling mind bending undertaking in sport. If you think you could ride a bike at an average speed of 25 mph or more every day for three weeks up and down two major mountain ranges in temperatures ranging from cool to blistering, in humidity ranging from desert to jungle, in the company of others who either hate you or only like you as a temporary teammate, without thinking you could use a little help, without losing your mind, you are not a cyclist, and you don’t know cycle racing.   


Lance Armstrong’s ‘crime’ is lying, serially lying, to a large number of people over a long period of time. But doping or not, flawed person or worse, he was one of the greatest racing cyclists to get on a bike. He focused on one race, the Tour de France and so does not rank as high in my estimation as Eddy Merckx or Jacques Anquetil or even Louison Bobet, all of whom won many different races over their careers.  


I don’t have to like Armstrong or approve his lifestyle to admire his grit. I do not approve of his decision to take PEDs but my gamblers instinct says he could have won most of those TDF’s even if he had not. And therein lays some shame.

Downton Mania

January 12, 2013

I do not share the current mania for Downton Abbey. Wonderfully produced and acted it remains as much an upper class soap opera as its predecessor, Upstairs Downstairs. And further for me it represents the world of privilege into which my parents were not born, but from which they and their parents suffered. A twisted and deplorable world of class distinction and snobbery only exceeded in bizarre and revolting effects by the Indian caste system. I suppose the series might illustrate some of these social injustices clearly, but the overall impression is of a somewhat desirable gilded age. Gilded for a few, indeed, a very few. And there is resonance with some analyses of current dispositions of wealth and favor in our own time, here in the land of the free. The flight of wealth upwards in the last twenty years shows a less than favorable adherence to the ideals of Thomas Paine, our illustrious Founding Fathers, and more of an utter indifference to anyone but ones self. Why, there is even a magazine called, Self! Sure, it is less about money than about self-esteem, dieting and better sex; as most glossy mags are; but what the name implies is really rather sad. And did I say soap opera? Yes, Downton Abbey is a soap opera. Very good for Public Broadcasting, an institution I support fervently, and for this reason I ask you to watch it with some care and acknowledgement of the real history of the times, support your local public broadcasting station, but don’t ask me to watch it with you.

I know that many believe we’re on the wrong planet. There is some compelling evidence. We are destroying the place forest by forest, river by river, desert by desert, mountain by mountain, glacier by glacier and we are filling our air with poisons and gases that will eventually suffocate every living thing. No other animal does this to its home. We suffer from hundreds of diseases and are more and are becoming more allergic to formerly harmless substances. The planet is sending a strong message; go away!

Perhaps we were dropped here, as some sci-fi fantasists have written, for some long forgotten and unknown penal reason. There are those who suppose that the Pyramids and some strange markings in South American deserts are unearthly signs that we come from and will return to our home planet. Our Mother ship should surely come for us one day, but there are few signs that our original civilization gives a toss for its old penal colony.

Something that I feel is a more logical indication of hope, care and maybe a sort of rescue is to be found on the corner of Burnside and 10th Avenue in Portland. Possibly an attempt to distribute the scarce intelligence that had developed on Earth since we were abandoned here so long ago, Powell’s Books does seem to attract humans with open minds and thirst for more than can be found through the other rather gruesome media our cultures have produced. A city block of books; not very big for an interplanetary vehicle, but the contents of this unlikely looking building might do a better job of saving us than any starship rescue fantasy.

New Years Day. An approximate calendarial construction. Not like the solstice, which is fixed, planetary, or even galactic. At the instant of the solstice our tired helium warrior begins to find it in himself to regain his former strength. Day by day a few more lingering minutes of faltering illumination bless a darkened landscape. And even if the thermal mood remains frigid and forbidding and the Pacific Ocean extends a somber blanket across our skies, our hearts slowly rise and acknowledge a hope that is always there.

These are days to get through in the Pacific North West. No bright frosty Currier and Ives New England scenes for us; only the dull leaden weight of an aerial ocean hanging always on the verge of falling. We find our path to brighter times, still moist, with games and jokes that acknowledge the drippy truth and point either forward to the dry time or relish the other side of rain. The good side. Our forests, rivers and fields are superlatives of their kind and feed hungrily this dark wet time to stay that way.

I glimpsed our tired warrior today, peering wanly between folds of the suspended ocean looking for his old burning fields. I raised my hand in salute to the force I know that rules my days, though masked and muted a while he will as ever burn us once more.