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  • June 30, 2006

    Tour de France Update #1 – Good Riddance

    [Posted by BVBigBro]

    I had hoped to do my first update sometime during the first week of the Tour, but events have taken a turn that requires a pre race update. Several riders including Ivan Basso, Jan Ullrich, Francisco Mancebo and Joseba Beloki have been forced to withdraw from the race due to an ongoing doping scandal in Spain. Bravo, I say.

    The riders are suspected of doping based on information acquired during a civil investigation in Spain. A team director and several doctors were found with doping products and a list of names. The above names, and others, were on the list.

    There will be an immediate outcry that they are all innocent until proven guilty and that the Tour should not take any action. Too bad. They will argue that other riders are getting their dope elsewhere and are not being banned. That is true, but my reply is still too bad.

    More than any other entity, it is the Tour that has been hurt by ongoing doping scandals and accusations. The riders can retire after having made their money, the teams continue on with new sponsors. It is the Tour whose reputation and long term marketability are damaged. I support their efforts in their entirety. We have ample evidence that we are in a time where the ability to dope exceeds the ability to detect the doping. For the Tour to ban people based on evidence that may not lead to a conviction is entirely appropriate. The Tour has given ample opportunity to for cycling to clean itself up and it hasn’t happened. The 800 pound gorilla is now taking matters into its own hands.

    The cycling world should also take note that the Spanish investigation is a civil affair. The UCI, which governs cycling, took no part. That is no accident. The UCI has long since demonstrated its uselessness in stopping doping. Indeed, as the UCI really only represents the riders and teams, it has no interest in stopping doping.

    For the race itself, three of the favorites are now gone. My prediction of Landis is looking a lot more solid, but the pure climbers like Mayo now will have far fewer teams chasing them down in the mountains. American Bobby Julich may also step up to lead CSC. He has had excellent form all year and cannot be discounted. Riders like Gilberto Simoni and Stefano Garzelli must also now be considered threats due to their climbing ability.

    Anyways, watch the race. It is still not as clean as it needs to be, but the Tour has taken one big step in the right direction.

    Update: The Astana - Wurth team has left the Tour and thus Alexandre Vinokourov will not be riding.

    Posted by BVBigBro at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)     
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    June 29, 2006

    I See The Light

    [Posted by ]

    This a completely random thought, but in the song "The Devil Went Down To Georgia", I think the devil's song totally blows Johnny's piece out of the water. The devil was robbed! Charlie Daniels is from the south, so I'm sure his redneck, conservative Christian values required him to write a song in which the devil would lose. Of course, even if he had been truthful about who the winner really was I'm sure radio stations would boycott the song. There's so much censorship in Bush's America. It took me awhile, but I, like Sterling Hall bomber Karl Armstrong, have finally realized that "our country is going down the tubes." Isn't it ironic that it took a country music song for me to finally open my eyes and see the truth?

    Posted by at 08:19 AM | Comments (3)     
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    June 28, 2006

    Cutting Grass in Iraq

    [Posted by ]

    A friend sent me this neat forward with this picture attached:

    Hope the picture will go through for you of this Army soldier in Iraq with his tiny plot" of grass in front of his tent. It's heartwarming! Here is a soldier stationed in Iraq, stationed in a big sand box. He asked his wife to send him dirt (U.S. soil), fertilizer and some grass seed so he can have the sweet aroma and feel the grass grow beneath his feet. When the men of the squadron have A mission they are going on they take turns walking through the grass and the American soil to bring them good luck. If you notice, he is even cutting the grass with a pair of a scissors.

    Sometimes we are in such a hurry that we don't stop and think about the little things that we take for granted.

    It seems like an appropriate story to post as we near the 4th of July weekend.

    Posted by at 07:05 AM | Comments (3)     
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    June 27, 2006

    2006 Tour de France Preview - Part 2

    [Posted by BVBigBro]

    Yesterday we looked at the race basics, the field and the contenders for the general classification (GC). Today we will look at the stages, tactics, and how the race might unfold. I emphasize the word might. With Armstrong retired, there a number of ways this race could develop, and how this race is run will go a long way towards determining the winner. The stages consist of a short prologue time trial, two individual time trials, three mountain top finishes, two additional mountain stages, nine fairly flat road stages and four transitional stages that have significant climbs but avoid the true mountains. Traditionally, the GC is decided in the time trials and the mountains, but this year there will be opportunities elsewhere as well. The sprinters will contend for the flat stages, and the breakaway artists will try their legs out on the transitional stages and on some of the long flat stages that occur between the mountain stages.

    The race starts with the prologue; a 7.1 km individual time trial. This short time trial is flat, but has several sharp turns. Although it is the first chance for the riders contending for the overall to take time from each other, it is short enough, and technical enough, that the time gaps will only be measured in a few seconds.

    Stage one is a flat stage that will begin the sprinter’s contest for the green jersey. Look for Boonen, Hushovd or McEwen to win.

    Stages two and three would normally also be sprinter’s stages, but this year we are likely to see something different. Stage two is a very long stage with a couple of category three climbs that will see an early breakaway go out to a lead. After this there is long flat section where the breakaway will get a big lead, and then lose it. Finally, there are a couple of short, steep climbs in the final 20 km before the finish. The end of the stage should see the first fireworks of the Tour. The short climbs at the end set up well for someone like Valverde or Vinokourov to escape and grab a stage win. The other teams know this, though, and will try to mark them closely as they approach the final climbs. This in turn will result in a lot of riders in a limited amount of space all trying to get to the front. Crashes are entirely possible. Look for Valverde to get clear and steal a stage win and a time bonus.

    Stage three is another long stage with six short categorized climbs in the final 80 km. Once again, one of the GC favorites like Cadel Evans or Vino could be off the front trying to steal a stage. Look for this stage to see a very fast pace for the last 110 km as attacks are chased or discouraged, and as a result, a split in the field for what would otherwise be an easy stage.

    The sprinters couldn’t get free in stages two and three, but they’ll be up to their old tricks in stages four, five and six. These three flat stages should all see sprint finishes and a favorite for the green jersey emerge.

    Stage seven is a 52 km individual time trial (TT), a key stage for the overall. Ullrich will be the favorite, but someone else, like David Zabriskie or Floyd Landis could take this stage. For Ullrich, he must take time out of his rivals on this stage to stand a chance at winning. For the other good TT riders among the contenders like Landis, Hincapie and Leipheimer they will want to take as much time as possible from the climbers while keeping Ullrich in sight. For the climbers, like Mancebo, Mayo and Valverde they know they will lose time, especially to Ullrich, but they will want to limit their losses to the other GC contenders who are probably more of a threat to them in the mountains. The key people to watch on this stage will be Evans, Vinokourov and Michael “The Chicken” Rasmussen. Vino, and especially Evans are both capable of an unexpectedly strong time trial and any such result would stamp them as an early favorite. For Rasmussen, this stage will be the test to see if he has improved his time trial. If he can stay within 2:30, he will be very happy. I think Landis is going to put his stamp on the Tour on this stage.

    Stages eight and nine return to the flats with a rest day between the stages, and we should see two more sprint finishes.

    Stage ten sees both an Hors Categorie (HC) and a Cat 1 climb, but they are both in the middle of the stage. The field will be split up by the climbs, but the GC contenders are unlikely to lose any time to each other. With a 35 km descent and flat run to the finish, Valverde could grab another stage win if the sprinters are dropped on the climbs as they likely will be.

    Stage 11 starts the real Tour. The stage features an HC climb and four Cat 1 climbs with a mountaintop finish on the Puerto de Beret. The climbers will need to do well on this stage, and with all the peaks this stage will likely see an all day breakaway with some of the GC contenders possibly involved. If everyone waits until the final stage to attack, we will likely see a conservative Tour. If there is an early attack by one or more of the GC contenders, we will witness a free for all. If this occurs, any weakness on the part of any of the GC riders will see them dropped and they will lose several minutes to the other contenders.

    Stages twelve and thirteen give a break to the riders as the first is a transitional stage likely to finish in a sprint. The second is a brutally long rolling stage that will go to someone who can get over the Cat 4 climb near the end and then negotiate the descent to the finish.

    Stage fourteen is an interesting transitional stage with two Cat 2 climbs and a 10 km descent to the finish. Logically this stage should go to a long breakaway, but among the contenders we may see some attacks on the final climb followed by a fast run to the finish to maintain any gaps that have been created by attacks on the final climb.

    After a rest day, the Tour heads back into the mountains for stage fifteen. This stage features the HC Col d’Izoard, then the Cat 2 Col du Lautaret, and finally the famed HC L’Alpe d’Huez. This should be a great stage with the climbers going all out for a chance at glory and with everyone else hanging on for dear life. Look for Mayo to maybe get clear and get a big stage win. Another possibility is that one or more of the contenders will be eliminated by this stage and we will see someone like Moreau, Hincapie or Rasmussen win after a long breakaway.

    Stage sixteen is another mountain stage crossing the monstrous HC Galibier, the highest point of the Tour, then the HC Col de la Croix de Fer, then a Cat 2 climb and finally a Cat 1 climb to the finish at La Toussuire. This is another brutal mountain stage that will eliminate all but the strongest. Once again, an early attack by a GC contender could leave the field in a shambles, or we could witness a truce of sorts with everyone waiting for the final climb to attack. The long 18+ km final climb might favor someone like Mancebo who can grind out a big gear all the way to the top.

    Stage seventeen sees the end of the mountains with another long, brutal mountain stage crossing a Ct 2, a Cat 3, two Cat 1 climbs and finally a downhill finish 11 km after climbing the HC Col de Joux-Plane. This stage favors a long breakaway, so we will likely see two races; one for the stage win, and one between the GC contenders who by this time will be few in number and closely marking each other.

    Stage eighteen is a flat stage that should go to one of the sprinters who has survived the Alps.

    Stage nineteen is the final time trial. It is a narrow, rolling, climbing and descending 57 km beast that represents a last shot at victory for someone. The usual time trial suspects will be favored to win, but the all the little accelerations required might see someone like Vinokourov or even Valverde do unexpectedly well. At the end of this stage, we will know who the winner is.

    Stage twenty is the traditonal flat stage into Paris ending with eight laps on the Champs Elysees. It is a prestigious stage that all the surviving sprinters will contest. Occasionally, if the GC battle is still very close, a contender will attempt to breakaway on the Champs Elysees and collect some time bonuses and possibly a stage win and victory. They never succeed, though.

    So how will this race go and who will win? This is a wide open race with a least a dozen serious contenders. As usual, the number and quality of the mountains, the level of the competition and the sheer length of the race will ensure that no one displaying any lack of fitness will win. The key, though, will be how aggressive the race becomes.

    Over the past several years we became accustomed to seeing the race unfold according to a predictable formula: the team time trial put Armstrong in the lead and the riders from smaller teams in a hole, the first time trial solidified his lead, and everyone waited until the final climb on the mountain stages to attack. There Armstrong could attack or defend as the situation required knowing he had a significant lead. This led to seven Armstrong wins. This wasn’t accidental. After his win in 2000 Armstrong was firmly established as the Boss. His team raced solely to support his bid for the GC win, they excelled at the team time trial, and Armstrong delivered the goods in the mountains. His competition obliged by not attacking without approval, and unapproved attacks were quickly punished by Armstrong; the exception being Pantani in the aforementioned 2000 Tour. Also, no rider goes three weeks without having some bad days. Once he was established as the Boss, Armstrong was able to bluff his way through the days when he wasn’t in top form with nobody willing to test him. This formula, though, was actually very risky. It was entirely possible that the team could do a days’ worth of work to discourage attacks, chase down all the breakaways and then find out Armstrong was not the strongest. This would have left the team with nothing to show for a huge effort.

    This year, it appears that the CSC or T-Mobile teams will attempt to duplicate this formula to obtain a win for Ivan Basso or Jan Ullrich. As I said yesterday, I think this will prove exceptionally difficult. First, there is no team time trial, thus many riders who would previously enter the mountains with a huge time gap will be much closer to the lead. Second, neither Basso nor Ullrich is the Tour Boss. This year we have no Boss. Basso has never won the Tour and is likely to enter the mountains with a time deficit to several of the other contenders, and Ullrich won nine Tours ago. Worse, Ullrich has shown weakness in the mountains in recent years. In short, no one will give any respect to these two, it will have to be earned. With no Boss, and with lots of aggressive riders in the race, there ought to be constant attacks that test everyone’s level of fitness. With the three week nature of the event an aggressive race means that sooner or later Basso and Ullrich should both have at least one bad day that will be revealed by the constant attacks. For Basso or Ullrich to win they will have to be outstanding, and if they do win they will be deservedly called the greatest racer in the world.

    A third factor to consider is that with Armstrong retired lots of riders consider this year to be their best shot at victory. Guys like Mancebo, Vinokourov, Moreau, Leipheimer and Mayo know it is now or never. Expect at least one of these guys to dig deep and reach new heights.

    Finally, there are some riders like Rasmussen, Valverde and Evans who are still developing. It is entirely possible that one of these guys will show their future form and become the new Armstrong.

    As for me I’m picking Floyd Landis to win. I think he can out climb Ullrich and out time trial Basso, Valverde and Mancebo. I think he will establish himself in the first time trial, and be able to join any breakaways that happen in the Pyrenees. By the time the race reaches the Alps he should be able to pick and choose his efforts knowing he has the final time trial to gain back some time on the climbers. Besides, I need a reason to pick someone and Landis’ favorite ride includes a stretch of old Highway 395 that I used to ride. As unpredictable as this Tour is, that’s as good a reason as any to pick a winner. The biggest threat to him is probably an epic breakaway in the mountains by someone like Mayo or Evans. This epic breakaway may seem unlikely, but remember that prior to Armstrong at least one such breakaway per tour was the norm. I will, of course, root for Mancebo to finally make that pained look on his face a look of triumph.

    Anyways, enjoy the Tour, root for some aggressive, fun racing regardless of the rider, and I’ll post a couple of updates as the race warrants.

    UPDATE: The Tour has requested that the Wurth team withdraw from the race due to their ongoing doping scandal. This would eliminate Vinokourov from the race [editor’s note: NO!!!!!!!!!!!].

    Posted by BVBigBro at 08:25 AM | Comments (4)     
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    June 26, 2006

    Child's Portion Baked Ham

    [Posted by ]

    I have a friend, we'll call her "Aimee", who likes to bring a Sharpie with her to dive bars. Why, you ask? Well, Aimee likes to leave her mark, literally. Given the right mood and the right bar, she'll leave a message on the bathroom wall. She has two messages she especially loves. The first is to write "Only monkeys look in corners" near the door and then to write "monkey" in the corner. Sure, it's silly, but it's also funny. Her second message is a just a little more cryptic: "child's portion baked ham". What does "child's portion baked ham" mean? We have no idea. Personally, I love it precisely because it's nonsensical.

    And so "child's portion baked ham" is a particularly whimsical addition to my personal white noise. I've been thinking lately that all the partisan messages we're bombarded with are nothing more than white noise too. I was at the Farmer's Market Saturday with a friend and she purchased a "Global Village Idiot" button featuring Bush. Ha ha. I'm so beyond caring about those kinds of buttons or bumper stickers. I've seen so many one second political messages in the last six years that they all just blend into one giant message that reinforces my belief that 90% of the politicians of either party care about one thing and one thing only: getting elected.

    Both the Retardicans and the Dummocrats practice nothing but sound byte politics these days: "cut and run!", "Bush lied!", "defense of marriage!". These words mean as much to me now as "child's portion baked ham".

    I don't think I care about politics anymore. I care about policies, but not politics. To me, reading about politics is like trying to get to know someone and never getting past their stories about how they partied in college. While that's entertaining, it doesn't tell me anything important about someone. It's just superficial. It's just like politics. And it sucks.

    Posted by at 09:13 PM | Comments (3)     
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    2006 Tour de France Preview - Part 1

    [Posted by BVBigBro]

    Saturday once again brings on the greatest spectacle in sports, the Tour de France. Yeah I know what you’re saying, Lance Armstrong has retired, who cares? Well Armstrong’s retirement promises to bring about the most hotly contested Tour in years, and the racing should be far superior to what you’ve gotten used to during most of the Armstrong era. There are an unprecedented number of riders who have essentially planned their whole seasons around this one race. Simply put, this is the strongest field that has contested a Tour for the past 20 years
    In addition, while this tour will still have all the usual scenery, technology, crashes, and controversy, we will get an added spectacle of a new winner (no, Ullrich will not win again). For those who insist on having an American in contention, there are two who could contend for a high placing and possibly win the race. Tomorrow, I’ll look at the stages and how this wide open race might develop.Today, I’ll go over the race basics, the teams, and the contenders.

    The Race

    This years Tour again consists of 21 stages. Each individual stage is a race unto itself and is considered a major win for any of the riders. There is a prologue time trial, two long individual time trials, three mountaintop finishes, and the rest are road stages varying from flat to mountainous. There are two big differences between this years Tour and recent Tours. First, the team time trial has been eliminated. Second there are only three mountaintop finishes as opposed to four or five in a more typical Tour.

    In addition to having individual stage winners, the Tour awards prizes and jerseys to the best sprinter (the green jersey), the best climber (the polka dot jersey), best young rider(the white jersey), and finally the general classification (GC) also known as the overall (the yellow jersey). The GC winner is the person who has the lowest overall time for the combined 21 stages.

    The Teams and Contenders

    This years tour will be contested by 21 teams of nine riders each. A 22nd team, Communidad Valencia, was uninvited after a doping scandal. As of this writing, the rosters aren’t set yet, but the teams are:

    AG2R Prevoyance
    This is a French team that has attempted to really improve their team this year. They have added both Cristophe Moreau and Francisco Mancebo to their roster this year. Moreau is a very good overall rider who has shown good form this year and should finish in the top ten. If you read last year’s preview, you know Mancebo is my favorite rider. Despite finishing fourth last year, most of the pundits don’t see him as a threat to finish on the podium (the top three), mostly because of the lack of mountain finishes and the presumed emphasis on the time trials. While not a good time triallist, Mancebo can climb with anyone in this Tour, and possibly outclimb some of the other favorites as he did last year. If he has improved his time trialing, or can escape in the mountains, he can win it all. I’m picking him for a podium spot.

    A French team that is in the Tour strictly because they are French. They will do nothing.

    Bouygues Telecom
    Another French team that did nothing last year and will do nothing this year.

    Caisse D’Epargne
    This is the old Banesto team of Miguel Indurain fame. They have lost Francisco Mancebo for this year, but they bring back another contender, Alejandro Valverde. Valverde has already arrived in cycling having picked up a couple of big wins this spring. He can climb with anyone in this Tour, but like Mancebo, the big question is whether or not he can time trial well enough so that he has a realistic amount of time to make up in the mountains. Thus far, I would say the answer is no. Valverde does have two things going for him, though. First, among the contenders for the overall, he is the best sprinter, and the best power climber on the short hills. There are several flat stages that feature short climbs at the end of the stage, and were they one day races, Valverde would be favored. Valverde can possibly make up some time on these stages and collect some time bonuses for the stage win as well. Second, if Valverde can escape in the mountains, it’s possible he could gain enough time on a single stage to make up for his inevitable time trial losses. Valverde will have a strong helper in the mountains in the form of Vladimir Karpets.

    Another French team that is actually a fairly high budget affair. Despite their high budget, they rarely win important races. This race will be no different for them. Look for another underwhelming performance.

    Credit Agricole
    Yet another French team that has one rider, Thor Hushovd that will compete for the green jersey [editor’s note—and for the ladies and non-traditional male fans, he’s one of the best looking riders on the Tour]. Laszlo Bodrogi is an excellent time triallist, but will probably not be given the green light to compete for the time trials, instead being saved to help Hushovd. No one on this team will threaten for the overall.

    This team has the rider everyone is picking to win, Ivan Basso. In addition, this team also has Americans Bobby Julich and David Zabriskie, German Jens Voight and a great Spanish climber, Carlos Sastre. Essentially, they will bring back the same team that did so well last year. This is a powerful team built around helping Basso win the overall. Basso has been magnificent this year, winning the Giro d’Italia, another three week tour, easily. He showed only one weakness, his time trialing. Jan Ullrich beat him easily in a time trial that mattered more to Basso than Ullrich, and that does not bode well. Also, Basso tends to fade in the time trials, and the Tours’ time trials are 4 -5 km longer than the Giro d’Italia’s. Finally, Basso will face 8 – 10 teams, and at least a dozen riders stronger than anything he faced in the Giro. Former winner Bjarne Riis is the director of this team, and I have questioned several of his decisions in recent Tours. If it comes down to a battle of wits between team directors, look for Basso and Riis to lose.

    By all appearances, this team will try to win this Tour by using the formula the old Postal team used to bring Armstrong his Tours. That is, riding hard to discourage attacks, and delivering their man to the bottom of the final climb on each mountain stage at the front of the field. For reasons I will discuss in Part 2, I think that will prove exceptionally difficult.

    Davitamon Lotto
    While this team is best known for sprinter, Robbie McEwen, who will be one of the favorites for the green jersey, they also have the darkest of dark horses for the overall, Australian Cadel Evans. Evans has had great form this year, and is both a good time triallist and an excellent climber. He is simply too good to finish out of the top ten, and with good form could easily be on the podium. With the team focused on winning the sprints, it is doubtful he will get the team support the other contenders will. This, however, could be an asset if it results in Evans rolling the dice in the mountains in an all out aggressive attack. Like several other riders, if he escapes in the mountains, he could win it all.

    Discovery Channel
    Lance Armstrong is gone. That is both a positive and a negative. The negative is that they won’t win the Tour. The positive is that they won’t be expected to do any work, freeing them up to take stages or be opportunistic on the attack. Their director, Johan Bruyneel is a very good tactician who always finds a way to put his riders in position to win if they have the form. I think his riders are outclassed by this field, but I would be surprised if Bruyneel doesn’t pull at least one rabbit out of his hat this year.

    There are two riders who supposedly are leading this team, Yaroslav Popovych and American George Hincapie. Popovych is an excellent overall rider, but it is difficult to see how he could win this Tour. He cannot out time trial the other contenders, and he is not a good enough climber to escape in the mountains. Hincapie supported Armstrong in the past, and is an excellent time trialist, but has never shown the ability to climb with a field of riders like this for three weeks. Featuring him as the team leader may be a concession to the sponsors, or a mind game by Bruyneel to take the pressure off Popovych. I see some possible stage wins for this team, but no threats for the overall.

    Euskaltel Euskadi
    This is a Basque team that I was prepared to write off a couple of weeks ago. After poor showings in the last two Tours, rumor has it that without a good result in this years Tour, they will lose their sponsorship and their place in the Pro Tour. While that outcome is still a distinct possibility, their chances have been greatly enhanced by the sudden reappearance of Iban Mayo as a bike racer. Two years ago Mayo looked capable of running away from everyone in the mountains before suddenly falling off the face of the earth. Earlier this month he came back with a vengeance, looking like the Mayo of old. With a wide open Tour this makes Mayo an instant threat. While Mayo is an average at best time trialist, his ability in the mountains means the other teams will have to mark him constantly. An escape by Mayo early on a mountain stage with multiple peaks would lead to a panic among the other contenders, and we could see some great racing and spectacular failures on the part of some of them. This team also has Haimar Zubeldia, who could finish in the top ten but really shouldn’t threaten.

    Francais des Jeux
    Another French team. Unlike some of the other French teams, they tend to overachieve. They will not threaten for the overall, but could take a stage.

    American contender, Levi Leipheimer will lead this team. Last year he did much better than I expected, and this year his form has been better still. He is both an excellent time triallist and climber, and any weakness by Basso or Ullrich will put Leipheimer on the podium, and possibly in the yellow jersey. Leipheimer’s only real weakness has been an inability to attack in the mountains. Thus far in the Tour he has been strictly a follower when the road goes uphill. The best scenario for Leipheimer is probably a conservative race where he can gain large amounts of time in the time trials and hold on in the mountains. I don’t think this will be sufficient to win this year, though, as I think a conservative race is a long shot.

    Lampre Fondital
    This is the team of former Giro d’Italia winner Damiano Cunego. Cunego is an excellent rider, but this is his first Tour, and I think he will find the faster pace and longer stages of the Tour difficult. This will strictly be a learning experience for Cunego.

    Most of the riders on any team are primarily workers who rarely get a chance to ride for themselves. Lampre has the ultimate workhorse (and excellent time trialist) in Marzio Bruseghin. If Bruseghin escapes in a breakaway on one of the flat stages and has a chance to win, you are obliged to root for him

    This team will do nothing [editor’s note – except provide the commentators hours of fun by calling them “Leaky Gas”].

    A new team that features sprinters Eric Zabel and Alessandro Petacchi. Both have seen better days.

    The biggest American threat for the Tour overall will be Floyd Landis. Landis is a threat to win any of the time trails or mountain stages. As such, anything but a podium finish would be a disappointment. Landis’ ability in the time trials means he will probably be able to ride defensively in the mountains, even against Basso and Ullrich. Like several other riders, it will take a massive effort by someone in the mountains to leave him out of contention. Look for Landis to establish himself early in the tour, if he does this, he could be the new boss to replace Armstrong.

    Quick Step
    The great one day racer and sprinter Tom Boonen [editor-my favorite sprinter] will be favored to take several stages and possibly the green jersey if he can get through the mountains. There have been rumors that Boonen may eventually try to become a GC rider, but that is at best a couple of years away.

    Last years Tour revelation Michael ”The Chicken” Rasmussen [editor-my favorite rider] and last years Vuelta Espana winner Denis Menchov make this a very interesting team. Menchov is another rider who is just too good overall to not finish high in the standings unless he is riding in support of Rasmussen. For Rasmussen, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is everyone knows who he is, so he will not be allowed the breakaway that led to his big time gain last year. Any time he gains in the mountains this year will be very hard earned. The good news is that one, the team time trial is gone, and two, there is no conceivable way he can have as bad a time trial as the disaster that closed out his tour last year.

    As an aside, Rasmussen has been focusing on his time trialing, resulting in a rather strange looking position where his aero bars are pointed up at an angle. For him, having very long legs, this is supposedly a more aerodynamic position that still allows him to generate maximum power. When you’re watching the time trials his position should contrast sharply with the flat aero bars run by virtually all the other riders.

    Saunier Duval
    This team animated what would have been an otherwise horribly boring Giro d’Italia. Gilberto Simoni will probably lead the team, but the rider to watch will be little Leonardo Piepoli. He has had good form this year, and as he will not contend for the overall, he could take a mountain stage or two on a long breakaway. Oh, Simoni has no chance whatsoever against this field.

    Jan Ullrich heads up this strong team once again, and there is really nothing new to say about him. He is still the best time triallist in the world, but one whose overall fitness is highly suspect. He has two chances of winning: First, he could have far better form in the mountains than he has had in recent years. Second, the race could be very conservative where he gains a great deal of time over his rivals in the time trials, and then limits his losses in the mountains. I don’t believe either of these scenarios is likely. This team also has Andreas Kloden, and he tends to alternate good years with bad. This year would be the good year, so he could surprise.

    Liberty Seguros dropped their sponsorship of this team over a doping scandal, but they will nevertheless still be riding the Tour. I have mixed feelings about this. I like some of their riders, but I think that in principle, the Tour should exclude any team suspected of doping.

    Their leader will be Alexandre Vinokourov, the most aggressive rider in the race among the contenders. A win by Vino would be popular, and this year may be his best chance. He has planned his whole season around this race, and will be bitterly disappointed if he does not do well. Although good at both climbing and time trialling, Vinokourov’s plan for winning is simple: he will attack whenever he feels like it [editor-which is why we love him-he’s the Phil Mickelson of cycling]. With a wide open tour, that strategy may work.

    So that’s the field. Tomorrow I’ll take a look at the race and how it should all shake out.

    Read Part 2 of the 2006 Tour de France Preview now.

    Posted by BVBigBro at 09:24 AM | Comments (1)     
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    June 25, 2006

    The NY Times Is Begging For It

    [Posted by Laura]

    How many times, as children, did we hear something along the lines of "Knock it off! You're begging for it!" where "it" is a spanking or some other punishment? Children who lack positive attention will settle for negative, when the alternative is no attention at all. So it is with the Times. Every month their numbers slip a little further, and they lean further and further left to placate what little audience they have. They would be delighted with a spanking from the federal government. It would solidify their liberal street creds even further, and rally the left to them in a way that nothing else can at this point. You'll see Kos Kids subscribing just to vote with their wallets. There will be buttons popping up on blogs to support the Times, with a link to the subscribe page. Even moderates who believe the Times was wrong will rally around the banner of the free press because of the slippery slope argument. Representative Peter King (NY) is playing right into their bloody, treasonous hands by calling for an investigation. The actual law is irrelevant. The facts in this case, as in the rest of this war, are irrelevant, because they will be drowned out by half-truths, lies and irrelevancies from the anti-war leftist media. In short, if they get the attention they want, they win.

    If you want to prosecute someone, get the leakers. Treason, espionage, sedition, conspiracy - some charge will apply. Some people will rally around them and call them whistleblowers, but it will be much harder to find support for people who violated the security clearances they agreed to than it will to find support for prosecuting anyone in the media, however justified. Prosecute them, and if they are guilty, apply the maximum penalty, and find some way to stop them from writing a book and making money from their crimes.

    In the meantime, the press has the right to try to find things out, not the right to be told. Take back their press passes. Lock the Times and the other publishers of classified information out of every official government press conference on any subject. Never let them see the inside of Air Force One again. If they want to cover a Presidential trip, they can fly commercial. If they want to report on government activities, they can regurgitate the coverage of the media who obeyed the law. For those who obeyed the law, open the door wide. Give them every consideration. Refurbish the press room at the White House, invite them to special events, do everything possible to show appreciation for the fact that they declined to publish information that will hurt the war effort.

    It may not be the legal justice that the Times deserves, but it's a practical, achievable win, and it needs to be done.

    Posted by Laura Curtis at 11:48 AM | Comments (10)     
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    June 22, 2006

    The Worst People in America

    [Posted by ]

    The Dummocrats staff participated in John Hawkins' poll to determine the worst people in America. While some of our picks (Fred Phelps, Noam Chomsky & Jimmy Carter) made the list, Kellie Pickler, Warren Anderson and Duke Cunningham were conspicuously absent.

    Lists like this are fun to make and read, but there's also something a little bit depressing about them. These really aren't the worst people in America. The RWN list is full of obnoxious people that "right of center" bloggers disagree with. Despite what some loons at the Democratic Underground might think, disagreeing with someone's politics doesn't make them evil. I really don't think Hillary Clinton is evil. I just think she's wrong about a lot of things. I think liberals believe their policies are the right thing for the country. Conservatives feel the same way. We all want to do the right thing, sometimes we disagree about what that is and how to get there:

    There ain't no good guys
    There ain't no bad guys
    There's only you and me
    And we just disagree

    When I think of the worst people in America, I think of the people on Dateline getting busted trying to have sex with minors they met on the Internet. Or I think of people beating up their wives and kids. Or a egomaniacal boss making his employees' lives miserable. I don't think of liberals. Really.

    Posted by at 08:36 AM | Comments (1)     
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    June 21, 2006

    Missing the Rather Obvious Point

    [Posted by ]

    Bill Wineke laments the loss of Dan Rather in a blog post over at Wineke says that Rather's departure from CBS will "give the Rather-haters on the right some sense of joy". Of course it will, but not, as Wineke implies, because Rather was some kind of fearless reporter "who had pounded the bushes (no pun intended) for years digging out news no one wanted them to dig."

    People on the right don't dislike Rather because they fear his truth-digging ways, they dislike him for something Wineke's post omits entirely: he was willing to broadcast made up news to support his own political views. Rather's career wasn't ruined because time had passed him by or anything romantic like that. Rather's career as a serious journalist is over because he manufactured news. He has no credibility left. CBS, or any other news organization, can't afford to employ someone that much of the public doesn't believe.

    The problem I have with today's journalists isn't that they're insufficiently partisan or nonpartisan, it's that I don't believe they're telling me the whole truth and nothing but the truth. That's the rather important lesson being missed from the inglorious end to Dan Rather's career.

    Posted by at 02:48 PM | Comments (2)     
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    June 20, 2006

    Video: New Orleans 17th Street Canal Levee Break

    [Posted by Laura]

    In spite of all the chaff in the coverage of what another NOLA local, Paul from Wizbang, has called The Great Flood of New Orleans, media consumers finally get some wheat. New Orleans firefighters actually got video of the 17th Street Canal levee break as it occurred. That video, and their statements, were suppressed by Congress until the investigation was completed. WWL News covered the story tonight, and a National Geographic special will air on Wednesday with more from these firefighters and on why the levees broke.

    Two things come to mind when watching the video. First, that New Orleans firefighters are every bit the heroes that the NYFD were during 9/11. They stayed, they served, and they saved lives. And even now, they grieve that they couldn't do more. Second, Paul from Wizbang has been spot-on in his coverage of the levee breaks. His October 3 article, "The Story Behind The Katrina Story" asked "How did a "State of the Art" floodwall become a 200 billion dollar engineering failure?" The Corps of Engineers finally, grudgingly, had to admit that the levee broke. It was not overtopped. They knew all along what happened, because this video was available to the government. But they spent months prevaricating, stalling, and trying to find a way to explain why they failed. When they finally admitted it, however painfully, Paul wrote

    Greater than a million people have suffered enormous losses because of the Corps' failures. You in the rest of America can't come close to understanding. (largely I blame of the media for that)

    The Great Flood of New Orleans makes 9/11 look like child's play.

    Today's report doesn't undo any of that. It can't, as the philosophers say, un-ring the bell.

    The best it may possibly do is convince the remaining holdouts in Congress that since the federal government flooded us, they hold the ultimate responsibility for making many people here at least partially whole. So I guess some will say this is a "victory" for the people of New Orleans. At this point, you'll pardon us if we don't cheer.

    My church was about a half mile away from the break in the video. To see a video of some of the damage, click here. You can view a photo album here, or here are a few snapshots:

    Multiply that by tens of thousands of homes and businesses and you might begin to get an idea of what the Corps wrought. As I've written before, other groups, for example the Orleans Levee District, or as they're known locally, the Levee Board, certainly did nothing to prevent this. However, the group most responsible is the Corps of Engineers. And this video is the smoking gun.

    Posted by Laura Curtis at 02:18 AM | Comments (0)     
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    June 17, 2006

    Census Logo es Loco

    [Posted by james]

    I was playing around with some of the figures at today (yes, that's how I spend my free time, don't laugh) and I came across the following logo:

    I can't help but wonder, why in the world did they choose this strange coloration pattern? Is it some sort of top-secret code? Will the men in black show up at my house if I try to crack it?

    I checked the groups of letters against the Internet Anagram Server and found that the light-colored letters ("seura") can be rearranged to spell:

    ARE US
    A RUSE
    A SUER
    RE USA

    The dark-colored letters ("ucnssbueu") can be juxtaposed to spell out:


    Is it really all A RUSE? Is the Census Bureau making a political statement about the UN? Are they secretly telling the Chicago Cubs that they should sue the UN? Was Bartman a secret UN operative?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

    Posted by jkhat at 04:48 PM | Comments (1)     
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    Bovine University

    [Posted by ]

    Following in the hoofprints of numerous cities around the world, Madison has its own cow parade this summer.

    People love the cows and can't stop talking about them. The cows are pretty damn cool. This is my favorite, called "Pasture Bedtime", which is mosaiced with hundreds of clocks and watch faces:

    Unfortunately, these cows are going through some serious abuse. In a well thought out plan, the cows were placed around Madison's Capitol Square and down State Street, which connects the Capitol to the University of Wisconsin. The whole area is full of bars so you can imagine what happens when the sun goes down. People get their picture taken with the cows. They pretend to milk the cows. And, of course, they ride the cows. Everybody rides the cows. When the parade is over, the cows are supposed to be auctioned off for charity, but I don't see how they can last that long. In another month, there's not going to be a cow in Madison that still has its horns or teats.

    Poor, poor cows.

    Posted by at 12:14 PM | Comments (3)     
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    June 15, 2006

    Soccer in Perspective

    [Posted by ]

    With the World Cup in full swing, Americans are once again forced to justify why we are uninterested in the world's most popular sport. And if, by chance, Team USA started to win, we'd hear story after story about how soccer will finally start to get really popular in America. To this I say: "No way!". Soccer will never be really popular here. The poll below will emphatically prove the point:

    Posted by at 01:00 PM | Comments (3)     
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    June 14, 2006

    Do Republicans Have Cooties?

    [Posted by ]

    In today's New York Times, Peter, Paul & Mary's Mary Travers talks reminisces about the 1960s, protest music and her recent bone marrow transplant:

    The cancer diagnosis came quickly, she recalled. When chemotherapy did not work, she waited for a bone marrow transplant. It turned out that her donor was named Mary and, like Ms. Travers, had two daughters. Ms. Travers, a lifetime Democrat, joked with her family that she wondered if a Republican's marrow had save her body. She learned that this was indeed true when she called the other Mary to thank her.

    I don't think she's kidding. She really did ask her bone marrow donor what political party she belonged to. Wow. Was she afraid that the marrow had Republican cooties and that she was suddenly going to start believing in capitalism and small government?

    I joke about people thinking I'm evil simply because I've voted for Republicans, but I didn't realize how serious some people are about their political affiliation. Perhaps liberals should be able to declare that they only want liberal organs and conservatives should be forced to have a special donor sticker on their driver's licenses. Just a thought. I wouldn't want anyone to be inadvertently contaminated by my crazy Republican germs.

    Posted by at 09:35 AM | Comments (2)     
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    Happy Flag Day!

    [Posted by ]

    In honor of Flag Day, I'm proud to present my personal, top ten flags.

    10. On the main highway around Madison, the Beltline, car dealerships compete to see who can fly the biggest American flag. On half a dozen Saturdays in the fall, however, some of them fly my number 10 flag, Wisconsin's "Motion W".

    9. I like it when a place goes for the gold with their flag. Reunion's flag has got it all: circles, triangles, stripes and nearly every color under the sun. Nice job!

    8. Botswana's flag is simple, but the color scheme is very unusual. The pale blue and black remind me of the late, lamented Hartford Whalers' colors (just add in a bit of green and we'd be good to go).

    7. Belarus spices up an every day green and red flag with some neat ornamentation along the left border. I like simple flags, but I also appreciate a flag that tries to do something different.

    6. Barbados: nice color scheme. Totally kickass trident. Love it!

    5. Gambia's flag is yet another example of simple, yet beautiful design. Lots of countries have a simple three bar design, but Gambia makes their flag special with the white piping. Excellent.

    4. While simplicity put Gambia on my list, the Isle of Man's flag makes it because it's so frickin' strange. Apparently the symbol on the flag is the Three Legs of Man emblem. M'kay.

    3. Texas' flag is the proud symbol of the Lone Star state. It's vast and bold, just like Texans ;-)

    2. Sainte Pierre and Miquelon, a French territory in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence, one-ups Reunion's the "everything under the sun" approach with this flag featuring a big ship, lions and TWO coats of arms. Damn.

    And my number 1 flag is the "Gasden" flag from revolutionary America. Don't tread on me. Indeed.

    Posted by at 08:20 AM | Comments (5)     
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    June 11, 2006

    The Libertarian/Gay Alliance

    [Posted by ]

    Madison, as a liberal oasis, also has a gay-friendly reputation. Our congresswoman, Tammy "Comrade" Baldwin, is a lesbian. My State Representative, Mark Pocan, is also gay. Given these prominent members of the community, I was surprised to see who OutReach, Madison's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Center, chose to be the keynote speaker at their upcoming awards banquet: Ed Thompson.

    For those of you unfamiliar with Wisconsin politics, Ed Thompson is the head of the state Libertarian party and is the brother of former Governor Tommy Thompson. I think most people believe that liberals are the only ones looking out for homosexuals. It's nice to see someone like Ed Thompson out there now. He's a throwback to the conservative ideas of Barry Goldwater. Too many people only know Goldwater as the guy who got his ass kicked in 1964, partly because of the infamous "Daisy ad". They don't know the man who:

    After his retirement, in 1987, Goldwater described the conservative Arizona Governor Evan Mecham as "hardheaded" and called on him to resign, and two years later stated the Republican Party had been taken over by a "bunch of kooks." In a 1994 interview with the Washington Post the retired Senator said, "When you say 'radical right' today, I think of these moneymaking ventures by fellows like Pat Robertson and others who are trying to take the Republican Party and make a religious organization out of it. If that ever happens, kiss politics goodbye."

    In the 1990s he became more controversial because of statements that aggravated many social conservatives. He endorsed Democrat Karan English in an Arizona congressional race, urged Republicans to lay off Clinton over the Whitewater scandal, and criticized the military's ban on homosexuals: "Everyone knows that gays have served honorably in the military since at least the time of Julius Caesar." He also said, "You don't have to be straight to be in the military; you just have to be able to shoot straight." He acknowledged, however, that in 37 years of military and reserve service he had not personally known any openly homosexual service members. In 1996 he told Bob Dole, who mounted his presidential campaign with luke-warm support from hard-line conservatives, "We're the new liberals of the Republican Party. Can you imagine that?"

    The classic conservative moment, as espoused by the likes of Goldwater and Ronald Reagan, was about getting government out of our pocketbooks and out of our private lives. It's refreshing to see an organization like OutReach recognize that support can come from the Right as well as the Left. It's a little thing, but maybe it'll stop people from automatically assuming I'm a racist or a homophobe simply because I refuse to vote for whatever candidate has a "D" behind their name.

    Posted by at 10:07 AM | Comments (0)     
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    June 10, 2006

    Belmont Stakes Pick

    [Posted by ]

    With no Barbaro and no Bernardini, this year's Belmont Stakes has lost a little luster. However, what the race does have are 12 evenly-matched horses. When a Triple Crown is on the line, the Belmont is kind of a weird race. Everyone, including the other riders, is focused on that one horse. The race isn't so truly run. Today, however, the Belmont (PDF of past performances) will be run just like any other mile and a half contest.

    One common misconception about the Belmont is that it's won by come-from-behind horses. Actually, Belmonts are ususally won by horses with a little natural speed who can relax mid-pack for the first mile and then turn it on for the final half mile.

    Bluegrass Cat, second in the Kentucky Derby, is the favorite today and he does have the right running style. Steppenwolfer and Jazil are the only deep closers that did anything in the Derby, but I think they'll be way too far back today to make any input. I think the race will come down to a duel between two good stalkers: Sunriver and Bob And John. Sunriver won't Belmont's Peter Pan Stakes in his last start, while Bob And John was jostled around in the rough Kentucky Derby. It's really hard to choose between these two, so for me it comes down to breeding. Bob And John is a son of the excellent sire Seeking The Gold and is out of the nice mare Minister's Melody. He's a blue blood bred for the distance. The Belmont is commonly referred to as the "Test of Champions. I don't think Bob And John is championship material, but he is my pick for today.

    Posted by at 12:22 PM | Comments (1)     
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    June 07, 2006

    Retail & Politics Don't Mix

    [Posted by ]

    A couple of political story displays are in the news. In Boston, a group opposed to gay marriage has persuaded Macy's to remove "Gay Pride" mannequins from its windows, while in San Francisco, a Marc Jacobs' boutique window displayed "WORST PRESIDENT EVER!" in 7 to 8 feet tall letters. The Jacobs' window was actually ordered up by the company visual merchandising department.

    These are two examples of a very bad idea. Retail and politics should never mix. The San Francisco store says that "no one" has complained about their display. Their thought must be that everyone in San Francisco is a raging liberal and therefore it's okay to do this. First, not everyone in San Francisco is liberal. Really. In 2004, 15.3% of voters in San Francisco county opted for Bush (note: excel file). Second, even if everyone in San Francisco hated Bush or even just all Marc Jacobs' customers hated him it's still a bad idea.

    I don't understand why a retailer would actively choose to alienate any customer based on their ideology. And furthermore, why do retailers need to express their own ideology in the first place? Is Marc Jacobs about politics or is it about style? Does Macy's want to advertise themselves as a gay-friendly retailer or do they want to simply be a purveyor of fine merchandise? Most marketers realize you can really only get one message out to your customers at a time. That these retailers want that message to be political instead of promotional boggles my mind.

    What it all comes down to is that too many retailers aren't customer-centric. They think that by tapping into the perceived ideology and lifestyle of their customers that they are being customer-centric, but they're not. Their customers don't care about their politics, they care about their products and prices. These retailers are using up valuable areas in the store where they could communicate the latest styles and promotions to their customers and instead using them to talk about themselves. How is that customer-friendly? If I'm walking down the street, is it more beneficial to me to see what kinds of stuff the store has and how much it costs or is it better for me to see whether the store is run by liberal or conservative people? I think it's clearly the former.

    Stores that make a big deal about supporting politics of any stripe are doing so because those issues are important to them, not their customers. They're like a bore at a party that only wants to talk about themselves. Customers don't care. Really. Remember that whole Buy Blue thing that was supposed to direct people to "progressive" companies? You don't? Exactly.

    It's hard enough to decide what shoes to buy, why do retailers want to make it harder for me. Sometimes a girl just wants shoes. She wants cute shoes, not liberal or conservative shoes.

    Posted by at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)     
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    June 06, 2006

    Spamming the Legal System

    [Posted by Laura]

    I checked my gmail this morning and learned that I'm "a class member in a class-action lawsuit in the Circuit Court of Miller County, Arkansas." In order to not be part of this lawsuit, I have to take action to exclude myself. This really makes me mad. Granted, it's just a letter, but it's my time and my stamp and my aggravation. And it's the principle of it, as well. How can I be included in a civil legal action without my knowledge or consent?

    The person who started this lawsuit "allege[s] that Google breached its contract with class members and violated the law by failing to adequately detect and stop “click fraud” or other invalid or improper clicks on online advertisements." If I go along with this, and the plaintiffs prevail, I might get a minuscule credit for future AdWords. The lawyers will get a bundle, and Google will pass the expense onto me and the rest of their customers. In fact, even if Google wins it will almost certainly mean higher rates because they will pass on the expense of defending themselves.

    The person originating this may or may not have a case. I have no idea. I don't care. I use Ad Words for several clients, and we've been very happy with the results. It has translated into ringing phones, closed deals, and increased profits. How I, as a satisfied customer, can get dragged into this is beyond me. Shouldn't we have to opt-in for this kind of thing, instead of opting out?

    Posted by Laura Curtis at 09:16 AM | Comments (6)     
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    Fathers, Daughters & D-Day

    [Posted by ]

    On this, the 62nd anniversary of D-Day, my thoughts turn, as they always do, to two men. Neither of them fought in WWII, but they each helped me understand the enormity of what the men who landed on the beaches or parachuted behind enemy lines accomplished that day.

    The first man is Ronald Reagan. I was 12 years old in 1984 and I vividly remember watching Reagan's speeches commemorating the 40th anniversary of D-Day. First, I watched him describe the exploits of the Rangers at Pointe du Hoc.

    You can sense his awe when he talks about these men:

    Behind me is a memorial that symbolizes the Ranger daggers that were thrust into the top of these cliffs. And before me are the men who put them there.

    These are the boys of Pointe du Hoc. These are the men who took the cliffs. These are the champions who helped free a continent. These are the heroes who helped end a war.

    Later that day, Reagan headed to Omaha Beach and gave another speech. This speech was more personal and the Gipper, along with most of the crowd, was tearing up by the end. It's my favorite Reagan speech. These are the lines that I always remember:

    Lisa Zannata Henn began her story by quoting her father, who promised that he would return to Normandy. She ended with a promise to her father, who died 8 years ago of cancer: "I'm going there, Dad, and I'll see the beaches and the barricades and the monuments. I'll see the graves, and I'll put flowers there just like you wanted to do. I'll never forget what you went through, Dad, nor will I let any one else forget. And, Dad, I'll always be proud."

    I'm sure not coincidentally, President Bush used some similar imagery in his 2004 speech at Normandy, given on the heels of Reagan's death:

    Before the landing in Omaha, Sergeant Earl Parker of Bedford, Virginia proudly passed around a picture of Danny, the newborn daughter he had never held. He told the fellows, "If I could see this daughter of mine, I wouldn't mind dying." Sergeant Parker is remembered here at the Garden of the Missing. And he is remembered back home by a woman in her 60s, who proudly shows a picture of her handsome, smiling, young dad.

    To me it's entirely fitting that these Presidents used the words of fathers and daughters to celebrate D-Day because the other person I always think about today is my Father. My Dad passed away 3 years ago and instead of thinking about him on his birthday or Father's Day, I find that I think about him more when I do or see something that I know he would have enjoyed, like a NCAA tourney game decided with a last second bucket or the accomplishments of his grandsons or a program about D-Day.

    Dad was only 11 on D-Day, so his personal memories were mostly about the boy who taught him how to swim one summer and then went on to join the 101st Airborne and jump into Normandy. But he was a history buff. He made sure his children were raised on a steady diet of WWII movies, Victory at Sea shows and Time Life WWII books (complete with gory pictures!). Because of that, I knew all about the "Greatest Generation" before Tom Brokaw, Stephen Ambrose and Tom Hanks made it cool.

    Today is a day when all Americans should pause and think about the gift of freedom these brave men gave us. But it's also a day that I stop to think about one of the gifts my Dad gave me, which was to grow up already knowing and appreciating the sacrifices America made for the sake of liberty. So many people today grew up in the cynical 60s and 70s. They grew up thinking America was the cause of the world's problems. Because of my Dad, I got to grow up seeing America the way that he saw it and that Reagan saw it: as that shining city on a hill.

    So today I say "thank you" to all the veterans and "thank you" to everyone in Iraq and Afghanistan today. But, I also want to say "Thanks, Doc" ;-)

    Posted by at 01:20 AM | Comments (7)     
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    June 05, 2006

    Dopes and Doping

    [Posted by BVBigBro]

    Later this month I’ll do another Tour de France preview. It will be without any discussion on doping in cycling. I’ll get that out of the way here. Within the last two weeks cycling has had two major doping stories. One, the UCI report on the retesting of the 1999 Tour de France samples including several of Lance Armstrong’s, the other the arrest of several team doctors and managers in possession of doping related materials in Spain.

    The first story is the release of the UCI report widely reported as exonerating Lance Armstrong and the other riders who tested positive for EPO in retests of their 1999 samples from the Tour de France. EPO is a drug developed for people with low red blood cell counts. It’s applicability to sports is that it can build up the red blood cells, and hence enhance the ability of an athlete’s blood to deliver oxygen to the body. As a background, a French newspaper, L’Equippe reported last summer that several riders, including Lance Armstrong tested positive upon retesting of some of their 1999 samples. The retesting had been done in 2004. Upon publication of the article, a great finger pointing contest began between the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA), the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the lab that performed the tests, L’Equippe, the Tour de France, and the riders involved. Punishing the athletes involved was never really contemplated as there was no “B” sample left to confirm the results of the testing. Last weeks UCI report was supposed to put everything to rest. Instead what was issued was a report that reads like a note passed between junior high students.

    The report addresses, and answers some, but not all, of the many relevant questions people had regarding the testing, namely how the samples came to be tested without anyone’s permission, who leaked the results, etc. The report also goes to great lengths to exonerate the UCI of any wrong doing, and blame the WADA for everything short of global warming. None of this, of course, is what anyone other than the riders and agencies cared about. What everyone else wanted to know were the answers to three questions: 1. Did the samples really test positive? 2. Did the samples belong to the people in question? And 3. Is the testing method, namely testing samples years after they were collected, reliable?

    After reading the report the answer to Question 2 appears to be a big yes. The answer to Question 1 also appears to be a big yes unless you are a fan of conspiracy theories i.e. the samples were deliberately falsified. Question 3, remains unanswered. Question 3, of course, is the big one. If the answer is no, then the WADA owes the riders an apology and probably a resignation or two. If the answer is yes, then we say to the riders involved we know we can’t punish you without being able to do retests, but the odds of multiple samples testing positive is negligible. We both know what you did, so go away and let us hear no more of you.

    The reaction of the parties involved to the report unfortunately reveals the sad state of affairs regarding doping in cycling. WADA and UCI continue their finger pointing. In a very bizarre statement Lance Armstrong actually claimed it was all a conspiracy between WADA, the lab, the French ministry of sports, the Tour de France, and L’Equippe. I hate to break it to you, but if it had been a conspiracy between all those parties, all they would have had to do was slip something into one of your samples from last year. The results would have been positive, there would have been “B” samples that also tested positive, and the results would not have been covered up for a year.

    Now we have a brand new debacle. Several doctors and managers for some major teams were caught about a week ago with doping related materials and loads of cash. In addition, several riders were taped making after hours visits to a doctor involved in a doping investigation. The repercussions have begun, with one major sponsor, Liberty Insurance, dropping it’s sponsorship of the Liberty – Wurth team. This is the team that formerly had Roberto Heras (suspended last year), and currently has Alexandre Vinokourov and Joseba Beloki as riders. The UCI has given the incident its’ usual silent treatment hoping it will blow over until after the Tour when riders can be suspended without too much publicity. The Tour itself has thus far remained largely silent on the matter.

    It is plain that there is still widespread doping going on in cycling. The parties that are supposed to control it, the WADA and the UCI, are unable, in the case of the WADA, and unwilling, in the case of the UCI, to do anything about it. What’s the solution? Barring some magical test that can easily detect all forms of illegal substances over long periods of time, nothing is likely to change. The only immediate solution I see is for the grand tours, led by the Tour de France to lay down the law. Most of the sponsorship money in cycling comes with strings attached. The biggest string is that teams qualify for one or more grand tours, especially the Tour de France. Under the current formula, 20 teams on the pro tour, sanctioned by the UCI automatically qualify. The grand tours need to junk that system. They need to ban teams like Liberty – Wurth from riding their races. This would hurt the sponsors, and if the sponsors are hurt, they will hurt the teams that cheat. At the same time, they need to develop their own standards independent of the UCI that riders must follow, including possible retroactive tests if they can be developed. In short, sign our special conditions, or go race somewhere else. It’s clear that with all the money involved, the benefits of cheating now outweigh the risks. That equation needs to be flipped on its’ head.

    Posted by BVBigBro at 08:17 AM | Comments (0)     
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    June 02, 2006

    The Political Totem Pole

    [Posted by ]

    The conventional wisdom in the blogosphere is that if a Republican candidate takes a strong stance against illegal immigration he or she will be on their way to a dominating Presidential victory in 2008. I'm going to challenge that wisdom. While a vast majority of Americans may want a crackdown on illegal immigrants it may not be the most important issue to them.

    You're never going to agree with any political candidate on every issue. There are always issues you have to compromise on when you hit the voting booth. Candidate A may be for lower taxes and small government, but wants to amend the constitution to ban gay marriage. Candidate B thinks amending the constitution for such a petty reason is ridiculous, but she's also for expanding government social services and is really upset with all those "tax cuts for the rich".I'm going to vote for Candidate A. I hate his stance on gay marriage, but we agree on issues that are higher up on my policy totem pole.

    80+% of the public may be all for building a bigass wall on our southern border. But is that more important to them than the War on Terror. Or taxes? Or government spending? Or social security? Or abortion? I don't know. Immigration may be the most important issue to some people, for other people it's further down on their checklist. It might be something they'll compromise on to support a candidate that they mostly agree with.

    It's like American Idol. I loved Elliott, but I didn't really, really love him. I wasn't willing to sacrifice two hours of my time to vote for him. If I took an opinion poll, I'd come out as supporting him 100%, but when the real moment of truth came, he couldn't count on my vote.

    That same scenario might play out with whatever Democrat or Republican finally comes out as the candidate of immigration reform. A lot can happen in two years. By then, many Americans may find that when they're in the privacy of the voting booth, immigration isn't such an important issue after all. Opinion polls don't accurately measure the public's passion on any issue. Elections, on the other hand...

    Posted by at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)     
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    June 01, 2006

    Immigration and the Bee

    [Posted by ]

    Tonight ABC will air the finals of the National Spelling Bee live in prime time. Round Four of the competition will kick off at Noon Eastern Time on ESPN with the favorite, Samir Patel, attempting his next word. I have to confess, I love the Bee. The kids are hilarious to watch. At their age, they'd be awkward anyway, but when you add in the fact that they're so into spelling it's a freak show-but in a good way.

    So what does the Bee have to do with immigration? Take a look at the names of some of the kids still in the competition. Sure, we have a John Tamplin and a Katharine Close, but there's also Natalia Vélez, Kendra Yoshinaga, Allion Salvador, Kavya Shivashankar and Aishwarya Pastapur. In other words, the Bee is the classic American melting pot.

    It's kind of ironic that these kids are competing in a spelling bee. It implies that at some point, their ancestors actually learned English. We used to expect that. We used to expect something of the people that came to America. We expected them to do what they had to build a better life for their children. Now it's all about what illegal immigrants expect from us: freedom to break our laws, social services and bilingual communications everywhere.

    I've had a romantic view of immigration in the past, but the whining and entitled attitudes of so many illegal immigrants and their advocates has changed me. America, as a nation, has ceased to ask anything of illegal immigrants. We're like teachers who pass students just to move them up and out of their class. The students (or the illegal immigrants) get away with something now, but in the long run by passing them on, we ultimately fail them.

    I'm mad at the way illegal immigrants treat America, but I'm also angry with the way we treat illegal immigrants. Our government's permissive attitude is only going to spell disaster for those folks we're dooming to a lifetime in the shadows. I desperately want to see America live up to the ideal that we'll see on the Spelling Bee's stage tonight.

    Posted by at 06:21 AM | Comments (4)     
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