Saturday, October 20, 2012

Our Dope

Back in April I blogged about Lance Armstrong and how I respected him for continuing to compete at a high level in triathlons after retiring from cycling.

Not that a huge number of people read this blog, but I was tempted to go back and delete the post after this week’s news that all of Lance’s corporate sponsors were dropping him and he was stepping down as president of Livestrong. 

I decided not to delete the post because I still stand by most of what I said.  I didn’t make any reference to doping in that April post.  I didn’t think he doped, but I wasn’t sure, and the post was not about doping anyway.  But it’s now abundantly clear that Lance not only doped, but he was the honcho of the doping ring that propelled him and his team, U.S. Postal (backed by millions of taxpayer dollars) to the front of European cycling.  It’s also apparent that he vindictively trashed and destroyed the reputations and livelihoods of people close to him who dared to publicly state that he doped. 

Most of us pulled for Lance because he was such a great story:  a kid from Plano, the son of a hard-working single mom, a guy who beat cancer and cheated death, a guy who went to Europe and represented the U.S. on one of the biggest sports stages in the world and then founded an organization to help cancer victims.  So, in a sense, we made Lance.  No, I’m not saying we made Lance dope.  But we made Lance.  We constructed him and propped him up and celebrated him because he scratched us where we itched and filled our need to see a brash Texas guy go over and stick it to the Frenchies seven times.  

We needed the story.  And now that much of the story seems to be fiction we feel the need to trash him and cast him off the way Nike and Trek and Radio Shack and Anheuser-Busch and Honey Waffle Stinger and a bunch of other people have discarded him.  But let’s ask ourselves if Nike didn’t make a buttload of cash off of Lance; the Lance that was propelled by drugs.  Do you think Nike will be giving any of that money back?  Do you think Trek will; now that they know without a doubt that it was the EPO-injected Lance that was winning the tour on their bikes, give back some of the hundreds of millions of dollars they made off of him?  Wouldn't it be right for these big corporations to kick in some serious money to drug testing technology or athlete education or clean racer development?  If they are doing it I’d like to hear about it. 

Let’s not fool ourselves, especially if we’re cyclists.  The guy was immensely talented and he trained insanely hard and possessed exceptional mental toughness.  He was up there among the top 3 pro triathletes at races he did when he was 16 years old.  He got a lot of people off the couch and on a bike.  Lance made cycling more popular, accepted and mainstream in the U.S.  The massive number of people who went out and threw a leg over a bike because he inspired them probably made bikes and bike technology more affordable.  He and his foundation have helped an untold number of cancer victims.  So I’m not ready to jump on the Hate-on-Lance bandwagon because he was doing what apparently a high percentage of pro cyclists have been doing. 

The whole Lance disaster should make us examine why we tend to celebrate the guy, the team or the coach who is willing to do anything, legal or ethical or not, to win.  We celebrate them without asking too many questions.  Maybe they’re our dope.  

Thursday, October 11, 2012

A Monkey Off My Back (a capuchin maybe)

Ok, it´s not the whole gorilla, not a chimpanzee and probably not a rhesus monkey, but I got a small one off my back this morning.  I sent the first chapter of my dissertation (four more to go) to my committee.  I haven´t gotten feedback from them yet and I know when I do it won´t be, "This is perfect, you shouldn´t change a thing."  Nevertheless, I feel pretty good about it.  Overcoming the inertia of the blank page is the hardest part and I think I´m now in a groove of good systematic reading, digging and writing.  The first chapter, which came out to 50 pages including 9 images and the bibliography, covers the reception of Don Quixote by Spanish speaking readers over the first 200 years of its existence.  

Interesting things I found out were the following:  

-A whole bunch of really smart people don´t entirely agree on exactly what makes Don Quixote the first novel.  After all, there were already a whole bunch of books out (La Celestina, Lazarillo, Guzm├ín de Alfarache) that had plots, multiple voices and narrators, etc.  The Quixote was different because of how Cervantes played with the concepts of reality and fiction and how we view and consider written works like history and scripture.  You can still see the reality - fiction play in movies like Shutter Island and Inception.  Cervantes started all that in 1604.  One scholar said that what makes the Quixote the first novel was how it showed how one man built his personhood in the face of a modernity that threatened (and still threatens) to make us all anonymous cogs in a huge industrial machine.  We become interested not just in what will happen to Don Quixote next, but we also get to see his interior development, which is still what separates a good novel from a crappy one.   

-The Spanish publishing industry was a goat-rope when the first Quixote was published.  There were hundreds and hundreds of early errors that were compounded by subsequent editions.  You see, the Spanish Inquisition was very hard-core about the ideological content of books in the 1500-1700´s, going so far as to scoop up a bunch of French and Flemish print shop workers for Lutheranism because they possessed "heretical" material and burning them at the stake or sentencing them to years of service rowing in warships, which was just a long, slow death.  They were very lax on basic systematic operation, though, and a lot of print shop workers were completely untrained. So that´s what religious extremism can do for the running of your national industries.   

-We mostly think of Don Quixote through the images of him we´ve seen, but for the first 50 years of the book´s history it was not illustrated.  Almost immediately after the non-illustrated editions were published, though, people were showing up dressed as Don Quixote at carnivals, parades and celebrations in Spain and Spanish America.  They were replicating what they had read, not what they had seen in an image, which speaks to a basic human desire to view, create and interpret images.  Cervantes tied a lot of the imagery in the book to the carnivalesque, which pushes our buttons because we like to invert social roles more than we realize.  He also tied the imagery to the existing religious iconography, which in the Catholic parts of the world was really significant.  How we react to images and what they represent - what they tie to in other parts of our brains and our own experiences is really fascinating.  

Anyway, I´ve got a bunch of compositions and mid-term exams to grade, but I wanted to mark this point with a blog entry, to commemorate in a small way this milestone that makes me think that the whole dissertation by June is doable, even if I look like St. Jerome (see attached image) by the time I´m done.  

Nothing to do but to do it.    

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

A Tuesday Cycling Ghazal

FM 166 from Tunis 

So what got you out of bed and put you on this road?
 There’s nothing pretty on this trashmarred road

Except the barelegged animal peloton
of locos churning down this heattarred road

Collective rolling vigil for a miracle of tire survival
A flat-free four hours on this glassshard road

Depending on the kindness of strange rednecks
 trucks rumble by inches away on this paintbarred road

Rocks, potholes, animal bones and crappy diapers
 jar teeth and sensibilities on this tractorscarred road

 The peloton is off the Mark and the beast rides away
and I backbow my penitence down this blackhard road. 


Mark McGraw   2009