Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Pro cycling is no stranger to scandal

The Tour de France, cycling's most prestigious race, has been around since 1903, and endured its first scandal in 1904. That year saw the top four overall finishers and all stage winners disqualified and banned by the French Cycling Union (UVF - at the time the national governing body). Sounds bad enough as scandals go, right? But this happened after the organizer of the Tour threw out nine other riders for some sort of cheating (the Wiki entry doesn't specify all the infractions, but does note that at least some were for hopping trains).

There are parallels to more recent scandals as well. American cyclist Floyd Landis was disqualified and banned for two years after having won the 2006 Tour; a decision on Landis' final appeal is expected this June . Last year saw the leader thrown out by his own team after being suspected of doping.

The recent struggles for control of racing have a 1904 precedent as well. Then the Tour organizer disciplined riders as he saw fit, expecting that to be the end of the story. Several months later the UVF opened its own investigation, and on its own authority banned many of France's top riders. This led to a war of words between the governing body and the Tour organizer over who had jurisdiction over a private race.

The UVF's actions may have been an opportunity to claim jurisdiction over all aspects of French cycling (warning: speculation alert). Just as the US Supreme Court used the case of Marbury v. Madison early in the nation's history to establish the principle of judicial review over all branches of the federal government, it may be that the UVF used the controversy to display and cement its authority over the totality of French cycling.

Does all this maneuvering sound familiar? This year saw the Court of Arbitration for Sport refuse a request from a group representing several professional cycling teams for injunctive relief against the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the group (ASO) that stages many of the world's premier races - including the Tour de France. In this case the ASO was on the side of the pro teams despite being lumped in with the UCI. The UCI and ASO have been squabbling for years over power and money. In fact, it seems that the professional season requires a controversy before it can "officially" begin.

As for what the riders banned by the UVF in 1904 were guilty of, no one seems to know. The Wiki entry mentions illegal agreements but offers no evidence. A cycling historian is tackling the subject for his thesis; his judgment will be written up and published, hopefully as a book along the lines of Cod, or Close to Shore - books which include plenty of historical context about the events they describe. The story as known is written up by cycling's premier journalist, the International Herald Tribune's Samuel Abt.

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Monday, March 24, 2008

Cycling and doping, they go together like a horse and carriage

Professional cycling is entering the meat of its Spring season, with exciting finishes and entertaining races. And yet it can't shake its history of doping, as three recent articles from the BBC depressingly illustrate:

The first notes that defending Tour de France champion Alberto Contador (who won thanks to the leader of the Tour being pulled by his team on doping suspicions), will not have the opportunity to defend his yellow jersey, as his Astana team was not invited to participate. Contador is a young and talented rider, there is no question he will be back - as will other Astana riders. However, the team itself is finished, as it should be. Too many of its riders have been implicated in doping scandals for the team to get another invite to the big dance this year.

Next up, doper and 2006 Tour de France winner Floyd Landis has his last chance at proving he was wrongly convicted when he tested positive on the heels of an epic ride on the Tour's final mountain stage. The Court of Arbitration for Sport in Lausanne, Switzerland will hear Landis' appeal, but his chances have to be counted as slim.

UPDATE: Per this press release (in French), the hearing captioned Floyd Landis v. United States Anti-Doping Agency is finished. The judges took more than 35 hours to hear both sides. All that remains is for final supporting documents to be provided by 18 April. The final decision is expected in June. Whatever the outcome, the decision will make for fascinating reading.

Finally, Dick Pound, the ex-honcho of the World Anti-Doping Agency, will be sued by the International Cycling Union (UCI) for expressing his opinion that the UCI wasn't doing enough to combat doping. Now, Pound is a fierce critic when it comes to dopers and doping, so it isn't difficult to see how he'd ruffle some feathers at the UCI. Given that professional cycling is the sport most tainted by doping, you would think it would have a thicker skin when it comes to critics.

Perhaps cycling can slowly put its shameful doping past behind it. Certainly, keeping the Astana team out, even if it harms innocent riders, is evidence that the Tour De France organizers are serious about their stewardship role (and their bottom line).

In any case, the season just beginning is full of promise. Like any fan I will enjoy the spectacle of riders heroically pushing themselves to their limits. Only I've learned to question overly heroic performances.

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Sunday, March 16, 2008

Gratuitous insight of the day

Directed to any religion that takes daily offense at Western civilization:
"Exaggerated sensitiveness is an expression of the feeling of inferiority." - Alfred Adler

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Dark Ages were dark because of vulcanism?

Evidence for a volcanic cause for global cooling and famine in the sixth century may exist in ice cores. The eruption may have led to “the most severe volcanic cooling event in the Northern Hemisphere in the past 2,000 years”, according to one of the study's authors. The article (from Nature News) goes on to speculate that the global cooling led to a famous plague:
Some have suggested that its consequences were more dramatic than mere crop failure and overcast skies. Around 541, a plague pandemic rampaged from southern Asia to Denmark, wreaking havoc in the Byzantine Empire and possibly killing about 40% of the inhabitants of its capital Constantinople. [....]
The evidence remains sketchy, but it is a fascinating theory. More research will doubtless help establish any causation.

Identity politics heavyweight bout

As long as identity politics have been around, there has been an unanswered question: which group's identity politics are stronger, race or gender?  Well, after Gerry Ferraro (one-time gender politics standard bearer) was forced to quit an honorary Clinton campaign post after noting the obvious fact that Obama (current race politics standard bearer) has benefited from his identity as a black man, we have a winner: race trumps gender.

Not that it was a clean KO.   No, race identity won only after Gerry mounted a furious counter attack, making the rounds of the news shows and firing memos as if they were jabs.  She fought her corner skillfully - even claiming racial victimhood herself - but lost on points to our fear of appearing to condone racism.

UPDATE: As usual, Tom Maguire puts it best.

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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Dead man walking

Just as sure as Scheisse stinks, this young man will be dead soon after being returned to Iran.
An Iranian homosexual man who has said he will be executed if he is deported from the Netherlands has had his claim for asylum overturned.

Mehdi Kazemi has said his life is in danger if he is returned to Iran, where he says his boyfriend named him as a partner before being executed. [....]
Both the Netherlands and England have turned down this man's asylum requests. Let's hope some European nation saves his life.

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Working definition of chutzpah

Need a current example of chutzpah, with an unhealthy side helping of entitlement? How's this: The H-monster, currently second in votes, second in delegates, and second in states won, is contemplating offering Obama the second place on her ticket.  Actually it would be third place, behind Bill.

Anyone accepting the veep position on a Hillary! ticket must wish for obscurity.

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Media bias against Republicans quantified

I recently left a comment at Ace's blog regarding media bias. He was kind enough to link my blog, so I thought it best to get a post up so his Moron Nation (which more or less includes me) wouldn't go stumbling about looking for a non-existant post.

ABC News has a handy slide show on recent sex scandals, which has the unintended consequence of quantifying media bias. I'll just quote my qoute from Ace's blog:
ABC News has a slideshow recounting 13 (12 involve elected officials) famous political sex scandals. The 12 break down thusly: five are Democrats, seven are Republicans. Of the Dems listed, only one is identified as a Democrat [one out of five]. Of the listed Repubs, six are IDed as Republican. [Six out of seven.]

Media bias quantified.

Ace adds:
The one unelected official, incidentally, is explicitly ID'd as a political appointee of President Bush's, so while his nominal party isn't mentioned, hey, they sure make sure you know which team he's playing for, eh?

This is all in our minds, huh, MSM?

It's all accidental, right? [....]

The media around the world is filled with this sort of bias. Republicans in particular and Americans in general (see David's Medienkritik for an excellent breakdown of German reporting) are fodder for the press.

A further example of media bias, this time anti-American: While living in Switzerland, I noticed that when the three wire serviecs (AP, Reuters, AFP) would report passenger plane crashes, they would invariably list the manufacturer of the downed plane. Of course, this makes sense, as the information is part of the story. However, the placement of the information would often vary. If a Boeing plane crashed, the info was most often in the lead paragraph, whereas if the crashed plane was an Airbus the info appeared in the middle or at the end of the story.

I worked up a spreadsheet comparing the three wire services and found Reuters and AP to be the worst offenders, while AFP to be the least prone to this sort of bias. Thankfully, few planes crash these days so the spreadsheet listed perhaps ten instances, but a clear pattern of listing Boeing in the lead paragraph nevertheless emerged.

An enterprising blogger could make a fine post out of this bias. It would require finding the first article written by each service that includes plane manufacturer (later articles tend to lead with other info, e.g., the human interest angle). At least fifty crashes involving passenger planes would need to be checked to ensure statistical significance.


Saturday, March 08, 2008

European pro bike season underway (with expected controversy)

The last time I posted on the beginning of the Euro bike season, which traditionally kicks off with a stage race from Paris to Nice in the south of France, I noted that in order to be official, a necessary requirement is that some sort of bureaucratic controversy must be taking place.  Et voila!
The UCI has threatened to expel riders who take part in the first European stage race of the season from their organization. The race is being organized by the ASO outside the UCI authority but under the aegis of the French federation.
Plus ca change....

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Thursday, March 06, 2008

Here we go again; The Netherlands prepares for Islamic rage boy sightings

The Netherlands prepares itself for another round of Islamic rage boys and girls spewing threats and potentially rampaging, albeit in a restrained Dutch manner. The spark this time? A Dutch politician is releasing a provacative anti-Islam film.

The Netherlands is a pretty laid back nation, and that largely includes its Muslim citizens, so predicting the form the outrage will take is difficult. Nevertheless, expect at least some generalized head chopping threats. The Dutch aren't taking any chances; they've raised their threat level to 'substantial', the second highest level.

Doubtless Muslims in other nations - I'm looking at you, Pakistan, Egypt, Iran, et al. - will raise their voices (and weapons) the highest. Will Dutch embassies be attacked, protested, or ignored? Hard to tell given the little known about the film. The Beeb does offer this tidbit:
He has revealed that his 15-minute film is entitled Fitna, an Arabic word used to describe strife or discord, usually religious. [...]

The lawmaker has said his work will show how the Koran is "an inspiration for intolerance, murder and terror".

According to a Dutch daily which has seen some of the footage, the film has the Koran opening. Inside the pages of the book are shown images of atrocities in Muslim countries that the film-maker thinks are inspired by verses of the Koran. [....]

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