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Mark Cavendish

July 6, 2009 1 comment

cavendish

A couple of hours ago, in writing about the weekend in sports, I mentioned the start of the Tour de France on Saturday and my plans to watch it over the next three weeks. Let me take a moment to single out the great young Manx sprinter Mark Cavendish. (Okay, so, I don’t want to be too obscure. Manx describes a cat breed, but Cavendish isn’t a cat. He’s from the Isle of Man, and that makes him a Manx as well. His nickname is the Manx Missile.) Cavendish is only 24, but he’s already the fastest sprinter in the world, and no one else is close. In his first Tour, last year, he won four sprint stages. This year he has already won the Tour’s first two sprint stages, yesterday and today. He’s cocky, he’s confident, and he’s great fun to watch.

Years ago, I thought the sprint stages were a waste, just something to pass the days between the time trials and the mountain stages. I didn’t understand. They rarely have an impact on the overall classification in the Tour, but they are strategically fascinating. And — and this is what I especially failed to understand — an individual Tour stage, however small a role it may play in determining the Tour’s overall leaders, remains more important than almost any other bicycle race of the long cycling season. For a sprinter, winning one of the flat stages can make a career.

Sprinters excel at reaching and maintaining top speed for about 300 meters. Today’s stage was almost 200 kilometers long, with some minor climbs early on and then a relatively flat route for the final 50 or so kilometers. Each team’s top sprinter waits for the final few kilometers to get positioned near the front by his team’s leadout riders. He might sit behind two or three of his riders. The first one maintains a high pace for a while, then drops off to let the next one continue leading the sprinter out. Finally, in just the last 750 meters or so, the main leadout rider will bring the sprinter to the front, and in the final 250 or 300 meters, the sprinter takes off. If he goes too early, he will run out of steam and be passed. If he times it just right, and if he has better legs than his competitors, he will surely win. This is what Cavendish has done the past two days. And he’s a wonder to watch. Yesterday the American rookie Tyler Farrar (a Washingtonian, from Wenatchee!) finished second. Today the veteran Norwegian Thor Hushovd was second. Neither had a chance.

Some sprinters grab a stage win or two early, then drop out in the mountains. Those who stick it out may get more stage wins later, and may even win the green jersey, representing consistency in the sprints across all the stages. I’m hoping Cavendish sticks it out. As long as he’s riding, I will be watching every sprint stage closely.

Categories: Sports

Trotta on Palin

July 6, 2009 Leave a comment

I am not a close enough follower of Fox News to recognize the interviewer in the clip above, but watch it for the comments from his colleague and Fox News contributor Liz Trotta. He keeps trying to get her to stick to the script. He expects her to answer his leading questions by bashing the liberal media for its own perceived bashing of Sarah Palin, but she won’t take the bait. Mind you, she’s as conservative as they come, but when it comes to Palin, she’s not impressed.

Some of Trotta’s comments, and the times to watch for them:

1:04: “the woman is inarticulate, under-educated.”

2:25: “she just begs for adjectives like flaky and wacky.”

3:20: “[she] really has no credentials for any job.”

Categories: Media, Politics

The Weekend in Sports

July 6, 2009 Leave a comment

Frank Fight

July is always the most intense sporting month of the year for us, largely because of the coincidence of the British Open golf tournament and the Tour de France. Golf is our favorite sport to follow. The four majors and the Ryder Cup are highlights of our year. We haven’t been to a major since our trip to Scotland five years ago to see the Open at Troon, but we always watch them when we can. Somehow, travel often interferes, as it did two weeks ago when we went to Vancouver on days two and three of the US Open. And last year we were down in Ojai, California during days two through four of the British Open. We spent Sunday morning watching the final round in our room before checking out to drive up to Santa Barbara. This year we expect to be here at home watching closely when the Open begins next week.

Another annual convergence of events takes place early each July — the start of the Tour de France and the end of Wimbledon. Two days ago the Tour opened with a short time trial in Monaco. I got up at 6:30 to turn on the women’s final at Wimbledon, Venus and Serena, and then we switched over to the Tour. Since it’s only the first day, there’s usually not much drama, unlike what happens two weeks later, when as often as not there are crucial Tour stages in the mountains as the British Open comes to an end. Indeed, this year, on Sunday the 19th, the Tour stage for the day will end with a climb to Verbier in the Swiss Alps, simultaneous with the Open’s final day. There won’t be a bigger sporting day this year.

Back to this past Saturday, two days ago. The Tour started. The women finished playing at Wimbledon. That alone would be plenty. Yet, there was much more, partly because of the fact that Saturday was not just the first weekend of July. It was also July 4th. As the Tour ended, the Mariners began playing a daytime holiday baseball game against the Red Sox at Fenway. Soon after that, CBS’s coverage began of the week’s PGA tour stop at historic Congressional Country Club, just outside DC, with Tiger fighting for the lead.

But remember, this is July 4th we’re talking about. So there was more. Yes, that’s right. Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest. This may not sound like the most enticing event, but the rise of Joey Chestnut as a challenger to Takeru Kobayashi has made it a must-watch event in our house. Kobayashi had won six years in a row, until Joey upset him two years ago. However, Kobayashi was competing with a jaw injury, so we had to wait until last year for a clearer assessment of their relative merits. And what a year it was! After 10 minutes of eating — the standard competition time — they were tied with 59 hot dogs and buns eaten. Overtime was required. Each was given a plate with five hot dogs and buns. The first one to finish would win. And Joey won, finishing 7 seconds ahead of Kobayashi.

That set the stage for this year’s contest. There were other competitors, of course, including the next three finishers from a year ago, Tim Janus, Pat Bertoletti, and Sonya Thomas. But everyone expected it to come down to our two heroes, the Federer and Nadal of hot dog eating. And it did. As time expired, both smashed last year’s record of 59. Kobayashi had 64 1/2. But Chestnut won again, at 68. Amazing competitors. Bertoletti was a distant third at 55. I think Janus was fourth. Sonya Thomas broke her own female record with 41.

I fear that Kobayashi’s best days are behind him. Well, that doesn’t make sense. He does better every year. But I don’t see him catching Chestnut, who is only 25 and will continue to improve, while Kobayashi is 31 and perhaps at his peak. Still, as long as they’re both competing, we’ll keep watching.

Categories: Food, Sports

The Whack Job

July 6, 2009 Leave a comment

palinrunner

Palin. (Who else?) I’m at a loss as to what to say. Is she resigning ahead of news of a scandal? Is it part of an agreement that will avoid news of a scandal? Is she freeing herself to concentrate on national politics, or for a job on Fox News?

One thing I learned from Gail years ago, in the context of someone else, is that there’s no point trying to explain the behavior of a crazy person. By definition, crazy people are irrational, so trying to explain them is itself an act of craziness. But let’s hear from those who know her best. Read more…

Categories: Politics

Alexander the Pretty Great

July 6, 2009 Leave a comment

rallincremental

The latest from my favorite political cartoonist, Ted Rall.

President Obama, when will you end illegal detentions at Guantanamo and elsewhere? While you wait for Congress to overturn DADT, why not issue a stop-loss order to suspend it? … And so on.

Categories: Cartoons, History, Politics

Al Franken and the WSJ

July 6, 2009 1 comment

franken

With the news last week that the Minnesota Supreme Court declared Al Franken the winner over incumbent Norm Coleman of the state’s second Senate seat, I almost wrote about his victory and how pleased I was to see one of my college classmates join the Senate. But I didn’t have much more to say than that, so I let it go. And then I read the editorial on the matter in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal and was stunned to find them accusing him of stealing the election:

The unfortunate lesson is that you don’t need to win the vote on Election Day as long as your lawyers are creative enough to have enough new or disqualified ballots counted after the fact. … Mr. Coleman didn’t lose the election. He lost the fight to stop the state canvassing board from changing the vote-counting rules after the fact.

This is now the second time Republicans have been beaten in this kind of legal street fight. In 2004, Dino Rossi was ahead in the election-night count for Washington Governor against Democrat Christine Gregoire. Ms. Gregoire’s team demanded the right to rifle through a list of provisional votes that hadn’t been counted, setting off a hunt for “new” Gregoire votes. By the third recount, she’d discovered enough to win. This was the model for the Franken team.

Mr. Franken now goes to the Senate having effectively stolen an election. If the GOP hopes to avoid repeats, it should learn from Minnesota that modern elections don’t end when voters cast their ballots. They only end after the lawyers count them.

Um, they can’t be serious, can they? In both Minnesota and Washington, the rules were followed. If they want to talk about stolen elections, they’re barking up the wrong trees. There’s a little election in November 2000 that might be worth reviewing.

The next day, writing in his blog, Paul Krugman helped me better understand what’s up at the WSJ:

… yesterday’s editorial asserting that the Minnesota senatorial election was stolen.

All of this is par for the course; the WSJ editorial page has been like this for 35 years. Nonetheless, it got me wondering: what do these people really believe?

I mean, they’re not stupid — life would be a lot easier if they were. So they know they’re not telling the truth. But they obviously believe that their dishonesty serves a higher truth — one that is, in effect, told only to Inner Party members, while the Outer Party makes do with prolefeed.

The question is, what is that higher truth? What do these people really believe in?

Update: On reading this post, Gail pointed me to an excellent article in the British newspaper The Guardian. It notes (italics mine): “Hand-counted paper ballots proved, yet again, to be the gold standard in this election, which the state canvassing board, the three-judge election contest panel and now the state’s supreme court has affirmed as won by Franken, the former radio talkshow host and comedian, by a mere 312 votes. Minnesota’s excellent election law, requiring both the secretary of state and the governor to sign the election certification only after all election contests are settled in the state, has assured that the next senator from Minnesota will not serve under a cloud of suspicion. Only the most insane and/or disingenuous could challenge the findings from one of the longest and most transparent election hand-counts in the history of the US.”

Categories: Newspapers, Politics

One Shot

July 6, 2009 Leave a comment

oneshot

Last Tuesday was June 30, and that meant it was my last day to spend the balance of my rebate from the University Book Store. You used to get your full annual rebate as a check, but now they give it to you on a cash card spendable only at the bookstore. And it expires. But they did send a helpful reminder a month ago that we had $5.98 left to spend by the end of June. The only problem is that I hadn’t done so. And I didn’t much feel like driving to the bookstore to buy something. Then I realized I might be able to spend the balance online. So was there a book I’ve been wanting to read? Well, yes. Since February, I’ve wanted to read Liaquat Ahamed’s Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World. It lists at pennies under $33, and Amazon sells it for 1/3 off. But the U Book Store was offering it at full price. What’s the point of using $6 that will otherwise go to waste and still spending over $6 more than I would if I ordered it from Amazon? Forget that.

So then I thought, oh, I know, I could get another Lee Child thriller. As I described last December, I read #12 in his Jack Reacher series in June a year ago and wasn’t too impressed. But it did sweep me up. I started it on a Friday night and finished it Saturday afternoon. So when #13 came out in May, I dutifully bought it, not reading it until I was done with teaching last month. (See my comments here.) I was now hooked, and it seemed like a good idea to read some others. But in what order? His website actually has a discussion of this, suggesting they be read in the order in which they were written. I had my own idea, which was to read them backwards, starting with #11. My thought was that they might improve over the years, so I would read the best first, and in working my way backwards, if I decided I didn’t like them so much anymore, I could quit.

The time had come to choose a strategy. I decided to skip back a few books and go for #9, One Shot, based on the vague memory that in Janet Maslin’s review of #12 in the NYT a year ago, she spoke of its being the best since a few books earlier, maybe #9. I didn’t go back to verify this. I just ordered #9. The U Book Store website showed it still available as hard cover, so I chose that. And it came on Thursday of last week, just after I started reading Red and Me. Darn. I would have to wait.

But I didn’t wait long. I read the first 80 pages Friday night. I had a lot else going on Saturday, from a morning full of sports to a July 4 barbecue at friends to watching fireworks, but in the afternoon I read another 200 pages, and at 11:30 at night, I started in on the final 100 pages. I can’t remember the last time I read until 1:11 AM. Years. But I did. I don’t know how he does it. If I didn’t have other plans Sunday morning (watching the men’s Wimbledon final and the Tour de France), I might have gone to sleep and finished it in the morning, but I didn’t want to awaken with the book hanging over me and have to exercise the willpower to defer it until after the sporting events. So I kept reading until I was done.

I don’t know what to make of these books. They’re not by any means great literature. I’m not even sure I like the Jack Reacher character so much. What I do like is how his reasoning is laid out. He has unparalleled fighting skills, but his mental skills are just as important to his success and great fun to observe. No doubt I’ll read #14 next year as soon as it comes out. Maybe I’ll continue my remedial reading in the meantime.

Categories: Books

Rover’s Again

July 6, 2009 Leave a comment

napoleon

In January I wrote about our first lunch at Rover’s, and in March I wrote about our second. Rover’s, as you may recall, is one of the finest restaurants and Seattle, and it’s just down the street from us, but we had never eaten there before these lunches. Since our second lunch, on March 20, we haven’t been able to return. They serve lunch on Fridays only. The next Friday, Gail flew to Scotland. The ten Fridays following, I had to teach. Then there was another engagement the Friday after that, then we had to drive to Vancouver the Friday after that. At last, two Fridays ago, we had the option of eating there, but my cousins John and Joan were visiting and eager to see Pike Place Market, so we went there and had lunch at Serious Pie (as described here). Last Friday there were no obstacles to going. So we did.

Our meal was superb. Gail and I ended up ordering the same items. Alas, three days on, I don’t remember the details too well. We started with one of the soup choices, Walla Walla onion (now in season) and bacon with mushrooms. As with the other soups we have had there, it comes to the table with some item stacked in an otherwise empty soup bowl — the mushrooms in this case. The liquid comes out in a teapot and is then poured into the bowl around the central stack. The liquid itself was smooth and creamy in consistency. I would describe the color as brownish gray, but Gail suggests golden tan. That certainly sounds more inviting. I don’t know. Anyway, it was great. Caramel color, Gail now adds.

For our entree, we chose the Moulard duck breast, which came with quinoa and some other spectacular items that now completely escape me. The duck was perfect. I need to take notes in the future. But let’s move on to dessert. It was sublime. Called a Napoleon, it was by no means a traditional one. It was more like the ideal chocolate bar. At the base was a thin, rectangular chocolate cookie. Sitting atop it were five creamy mounds of chocolate, shaped like Hershey kisses, topped by a chocolate filament. And on the side was cookie crumble.

Our friend Kai joined us. She had the same dessert, but chose a cold asparagus soup with smoked salmon and, for her entree, the sturgeon. I tasted tiny bits of each. Excellent.

And no visit to Rover’s is complete without a tableside visit by Thierry Rautureau, the Chef in the Hat. Now that I’m not teaching, we discussed our plan to have lunch there every Friday this summer. He approved, but also suggested we try their Sunday brunch. And he spent some time discussing possible future developments. He was a delightful host, as always.

Categories: Food, Restaurants

Bill Russell

July 6, 2009 1 comment

redme

I read Bill Russell’s new book Red and Me: My Coach, My Lifelong Friend (written with Alan Steinberg) last Thursday. A pleasant little book, though extremely repetitious. I bought it for Joel for his birthday 10 days ago, knowing he might not be too keen to read about the Boston Celtics, but thinking he might enjoy the historical perspective it would provide on basketball in the 1950s and 1960s. He went back to Boston a week ago and the book stayed here. When I was in the midst of some project in the basement bedroom Thursday afternoon, I saw it sitting around, so I began to read the Prologue. A few hours later, I had finished the book.

Bill Russell is one of the giants of sport whom I always regret that I came to appreciate too late. Like a number of other figures of that era, he was still at the height of his powers when I began to follow the given sport, but I was too focused in those early years of fandom on rooting for my own team to enjoy the greatness of players on other teams. And none in basketball was greater than Russell. Only in his final two years as player (and coach), when the Celtics yet again won the NBA title, did I begin to understand that there might be something special about him. I eventually got to place him in proper perspective: the NCAA championships for the University of San Francisco in 1955 and 1956, the Olympic gold medal in 1956, then the NBA championship in his first season as a Celtic, in 1957, followed by eight in a row from 1959 to 1966, the break in 1967 when that great 76er team of Wilt Chamberlain, Hal Greer, and Billy Cunningham won, and then the final two championships. A record unrivaled by anyone in any other major team sport. And the Celtics won all those championships because Russell re-defined the game, in partnership with his coach Red Auerbach, putting defense and quickness at its heart.

Well, you can read about it in the book, though without much detail. It’s mostly a collection of anecdotes about Russell’s relationship with Auerbach alternating with repetitious philosophizing about what true friendship is. I enjoyed it. In part, I enjoyed getting a fuller picture of two men I used to view as enemies. But Joel’s comment when I told him I had read it struck me as on target. He had in fact started it before he returned to Boston, but decided it was written for nine-year-olds.

For more thoughts, see Bill Bradley’s review in the New York Times last month.

Categories: Biography, Books, Sports