Sunday, July 30, 2006

Make that 5

I forgot one that I haven't yet added to the list to the left there. So it's 995 then.

6 More to Go

My lifetime Books I Have Read list is up to 994. Which is somewhat below the true total, I should think, since I only began keeping this list a few years ago and I only added books that I was certain that I had read. So there's probably a fair number from my childhood that have been left off. But, be that as it may, I am fast closing in on the 1,000th book. I'm rather excited about it, truth be told.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

I've said....

this.

7 Faces, 5 Peppers?

I was watching a movie the other day with my wife that she had never seen and I hadn't watched in, oh, 15 or 20 years or something like that. The movie was Seven Faces of Dr. Lao. I was concerned, of course, that after so long a time I might find the movie less enjoyable than I did the first time I watched it. "When I was a child, I reasoned as a child" and so forth. My fears were unfounded in the event, however. It was something of a child's movie, but it wasn't awful. And I like movies aimed at children if they are well done.

Before the movie started though, I expressed my fears in this regard to my wife and one of us (I don't recall which of us) noted that I was hoping not to have a "Five Little Peppers moment". This comment refers to the experience that our mutual friend, Holly, had when she re-read a favourite book from her childhood, Five Little Peppers and How They Grew, and found the experience disappointing. The book was not nearly so good as she remembered it being and her far greater maturity as an adult had irrevocably separated her from being able to enjoy the book any longer.

After noting that this phrase is a very useful shorthand for this phenomenon, we decided that we ought to use it wherever possible and to attempt to insinuate it as an idiom into the vocabulary of all our friends. So we hope you use the phrase, but avoid having it apply to you.

Doping and Uncertainty

The Tour de France is over and, for the eighth year in a row an American stood on the top of the podium in Paris. Floyd Landis finished 57 seconds ahead of Oscar Pereiro, his nearest competitor. The victory was made all the more impressive by the news released by Landis and his team, Phonak, during the Tour that Landis would have to undergo surgery on his hip after the Tour concluded.

All this has now nearly been swept away by the announcement that Landis tested positive for doping during the Tour. The levels of testosterone in Landis' blood sample were abnormally high. His positive test came after his impressive win in Stage 17 that brought him back from a deficit of more than 8 minutes to third place and less than a minute away from the overall lead. After each stage, that stage's winner, the current overall leader and a handful of randomly selected riders are tested for illegal substances.

Reaction from various quarters has varied. Some anti-doping officials have all but condemned Floyd as guilty, his team management is waiting for the results from a back-up, or "B" sample, and Floyd's mother has been widely quoted as believing that her son was the victim of some strange chance rather than guilty of doping.

Since a well-publicized doping investigation in Spain implicated a large number of top riders causing them to be expelled from the Tour right before it began, doping was an ever-present theme during the race. Jan Ullrich, former Tour winner, Ivan Basso, second place finisher in 2005 and other big names were told they could not compete in 2006 because they were connected to the investigation though not conclusively shown to have doped.

And that, really, is the crux of the matter. Uncertainty is the most defining feature of the doping question. Lance Armstrong has been dogged even into his retirement by accusations of doping and claims that his success can be credited more to pharmaceuticals than to hard work. Tyler Hamilton is an American cyclist who finished fourth in the Tour in 2003 despite riding most of the way with a collarbone broken in an early stage. He is also a cyclist who tested positive for blood doping in the Olympics the next year and was saved from having his medal stripped because of a mishandled "B" sample. Without the "B" sample, his medal was allowed to stand. He later, however, tested positive for blood doping in the Vuelta a Espana, the Spanish grand tour and is now serving a two year suspension from cycling. He still maintains his innocence and claims that a little known medical circumstance leads to his blood seeming to have been doped when that is not the case.

Other examples can be given, but the general climate has become one of suspicion and distrust and this most recent accusation against Landis only deepens the sense that nothing is what it seems in cycling. In the style of old-fashioned witch-trials, the only way to prove your innocence to the satisfaction of the world at large is to fail to be successful. If you win, you're dirty, if you're clean, you can't win.

And it isn't just cycling that suffers from this taint. Baseball, most notably in the person of Barry Bonds, is also under the same cloud of uncertainty. Do the big home run hitters "juice" with steroids or not? Is your favourite player's talent enhanced by drugs or is entirely a product of practice and innate ability? Basketball and football have not come in for the same media scrutiny, though why they should get a pass is difficult to fathom. The greater strength and endurance so prized by baseball players and cyclists would be just as useful in other sports. It may be that players in those sports have managed to be more discreet about about the use of illegal substances to enhance performance, though, at least in football, their use is assumed to be widespread by some people.

Ultimately, however, this uncertainty is here to stay. The benefits brought from doping will continue to allure and the doping methods will get ever more sophisticated. For the foreseeable future then, we are going to have live with the fact that athletic heroes, while crowned with honor, may well have feet of clay.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

World Cup

Any of you watch it? No? Why not? Oh, yeah. We're Americans. I like to make fun of soccer (my wife thinks I do it rather too often) and soccer players, though one has to be much more careful with that nowadays because one is always running into people whose kids play soccer or played themselves when they were in high school or college. Lately, however, a particular piece of criticism has come to my attention that is worthy of serious note and is yet a very damning indictment of the quality of the game as it is played, especially at the championship level. It is the fact that when a soccer game ends with a tied score, instead of playing sudden death overtimes (football), or even continuous overtimes until someone is ahead at the end of one of them (basketball and baseball), soccer goes to penalty kicks. In other words, the game changes completely and is hinged entirely on something entirely different. It would be like deciding a basketball game with a free-throw competition, or a football game with a punt-pass-kick contest, or using a home-run derby to decide a baseball game. Soccer, faugh!

Wish I'd thought of this.

Space Invaders! With real people! (Linked in The Corner.)

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Baseball Trivia

Fun little quiz from ESPN. I did about as well as I thought I would before I started and better than I thought I had once I finished. (Sort that out.) 30 out of 50 using no references other than the facts in my own head.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Book List

Back from vacation at the end of last week, and I did get to do some thinking about a required reading list (or "lists"), but I haven't hammered out anything final. I didn't get to spend as much time considering it as I hoped, and it's also been a slower process than I anticipated. But, hopefully before another month is out, I should have something posted on it. Actual books from such a list, that is.

As Promised

A brief note on War and Our World by John Keegan. The book itself is merely a collection of lectures delivered by Keegan on the topic on which he is expert, war. He does have interesting things to say about war and military history and the future of warfare, but I think he is altogether too sanguine about the capability of humanity to dispense with war entirely. While it is indeed the first duty of the strong to protect the weak, this of course presupposes that there is something from which to protect the weak; there will always be those who use their strength to oppress those weaker than they. The universal problem with such books as this, however, is length. Because it is less than 100 pages, and because it is taken entirely from four or five spoken lectures, it necessarily is briefer than a book, originally conceived as a book, would be. Thus, because of the brevity, the support given to various arguments (and, indeed, the number of arguments brought to bear) are also of necessity lessened. Well worth reading, however, for someone looking for an introduction to Keegan's ideas, less so for someone like myself who already has a shelf of his books.