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Tour Thoughts

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Eddy Merckx receiving tri-jersey in Brussels

[Mark Renders, Getty Images Europe]

I mentioned Friday that what might just be the biggest sports weekend of the year was about to begin. Well, I survived.

Saturday, in succession (with overlaps), were the Wimbledon tennis women’s final between Serena Williams and Vera Zvonareva, the World Cup soccer quarter-final between Argentina and Germany, the prologue time trial stage of the Tour de France in Rotterdam (yes, Rotterdam is still in the Netherlands — it hasn’t slipped into France — but the Tour often opens in another country), and the World Cup quarter-final between Paraguay and Spain.

Sunday brought a break from soccer, but the Wimbledon men’s final between Rafa Nadal and Tomas Berdych took place simultaneously with the Tour’s first regular stage, from Rotterdam to Brussels (France is getting closer). And no sooner did they end than coverage of the annual July 4th Nathan’s hot dog eating contest began.

It’s easy in all the excitement to forget that a baseball season is still running, but one is, and yesterday Cliff Lee pitched yet another masterpiece for the Mariners. His performance rises above parochial local interest because he is the most sought-after player in the trade market, and each successive outing adds to his sky-high value.

Every year I re-discover, when forced to choose, that I’d rather watch the opening stages of the Tour than the Wimbledon finals. I appreciate the significance (to themselves and to tennis history) of Williams’s and Nadal’s weekend victories. I loved seeing Navratilova (a goddess if ever there were one, and she looks it) in the stands for the women’s final. But, hey, I’d rather see the Tour. I can’t explain it. That’s just the way it is.

And soccer too, especially when the choice is the women’s final with Williams well on her way to victory or Argentina vs. Germany. I said Friday that “Argentina-Germany could be a game for the ages. Watch it if you can.” And what do you know? It was a game for the ages, just not in the way I imagined. Germany played beautifully.

But let me not run on about the obvious, as good as I am at it, and as happy as Joel has been to point this out to me whenever I say anything about the World Cup. Let’s focus on the Tour, which has been wild. Yesterday’s crashes destroyed the opportunities of such sprint-finish favorites as Mark Cavendish and Tyler Farrar. The crash just inside the one-kilometer kite brought most of the field to a standstill. Bizarre. And today was worse.

Yet, depressing as yesterday’s stage was, how could anyone not be happy to see the greatest rider of them all, the Belgian Eddy Merckx on the podium afterward to put the yellow jersey on Fabian Cancellara? (At the end of each day, the current leader in each of various categories stands on the podium to have the jersey of the traditional color put on, with the help of two beautiful, smiling women, on either side — yellow for the overall leader, green for the sprints leader, polka-dot for the climbing leader, etc. For each award, the women are themselves dressed in colors that match or complement the jersey.) Merckx celebrated his 65th birthday last month, and was the day’s man of honor.

I missed one cute moment, catching it only last night when I watched the podium ceremony again with Gail. Since there had not yet been any climbs, no one had earned the polka-dot jersey. In lieu of a climbing leader, Merckx came out with a jersey that was part yellow, part green, and part polka-dot, in recognition of his being the lone cyclist ever to win all three during one Tour. (The complementary women wore breathtaking polka-dot umbrella skirts.)

Part of the fun for me of watching the Tour is listening to Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen hour after hour, day after day, as they do their best to keep up with the action on the road. Phil has a habit of tripping over himself in his comments, but how can he not? He’s watching the same video feed we are, and can’t really know what’s going on. But he had quite a howler yesterday. As Eddy Merckx was joined by Bernard Hinault (who oversees the podium ceremony) in helping Cancellara with his yellow jersey, Phil noted that the two together had won ten Tours as members of the five-Tour club. Only one was missing, he added, Jacques Anquetil, who of course could not be a part of the ceremony, since he’s no longer with us.

Okay, yes, but, um, are you forgetting someone? (And no, I don’t mean Lance. It was clear enough that Phil viewed Lance as in another club altogether, the seven club. The five club was for those who have won the Tour five times exactly, not five or more.) I seem to recall a Spanish rider by the name of Miguel Indurain, who earned entry to the club, the only member to win his five in succession, 1991 to 1995. I imagine Phil was a bit embarrassed when he played that one over again in his head.

No matter. The Tour rolls on. Tomorrow it moves from Belgium (Wanze) into France (Arenberg Porte du Hainaut). I’ll be watching. And what do you know? It’s World Cup time again, the semi-final between Uruguay and the Netherlands.

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Categories: Cycling, Sports

Jason Robert Brown on Copyright

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

[Photo from Jason Robert Brown website]

Jason Robert Brown is one of the leading musical theater composer-lyricists of our time. I realize that may not be saying much, since so few contemporary musical theater composers are known at all. But they’re out there. Brown is one of them, and he’s marvelous.

Perhaps best known of his songs is Stars and the Moon from the 1995 show Songs for a New World. If you’re not familiar with it, I recommend going to iTunes (or some other legal source) to download one of the many versions. (I have those by Audra McDonald, whom you can see below singing it, and Betty Buckley.)

A tweet from David Pogue this afternoon pointed me to Jason Robert Brown’s blog, where last week he had a fascinating post discussing (and providing) the correspondence he had recently with a teenager regarding the legality and morality of downloading sheet music for free, without the composer’s permission.

I couldn’t possibly do the post justice by quoting from it. You should read it in full. To get you started, here’s how it begins:

I have known for a while that there are websites where you can essentially download sheet music for free, and I am certainly aware that a lot of the sheet music being downloaded in that manner was written by me. While my wife Georgia has written extensively about this problem, I have tended to sit back, certain that anything I do would just be the tiniest drop in a very large bucket. But about a month ago, I was seized by the idea to try an experiment.

I signed on to the website that is most offensive to me, got an account, and typed my name into the Search box. I got 4,000 hits. Four thousand copies of my music were being offered for “trade.” (I put “trade” in quotes because of course it’s not really a trade, since nobody’s giving anything up in exchange for what they get. It’s just making illegal unauthorized copies, and calling it “trade” legitimizes it in an utterly fraudulent way.) I clicked on the most recent addition, and I sent the user who was offering that music an email. This is what I wrote:

Hey there! Can I get you to stop trading my stuff? It’s totally not cool with me. Write me if you have any questions, I’m happy to talk to you about this. jason@jasonrobertbrown.com

Thanks,
J.

Categories: Culture, Law, Music

Cricket: Fact and Fiction

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

[Piotr Redlinski, The New York Times]

I mentioned some time back Joseph O’Neill’s 2008 novel Netherland and my great regard for it. The novel’s narrator, a Dutchman working for a London bank, is assigned to its New York branch. The story centers not on his banking life but on his cricket life, as he joins Caribbean and South Asian teammates at Randolph Walker Park in Staten Island and befriends the astonishing character Chuck Ramkissoon. Here, five pages in, is the start of O’Neill’s description of the pitch:

By the standards I brought to it, Walker Park was a very poor place for cricket. The playing area was, and I am sure still is, half the size of a regulation cricket field. The outfield is uneven and always overgrown, even when cut (once, chasing a ball, I nearly tripped over a hidden and, to cricketers, ominous duck), and whereas proper cricket, as one might call it, is played on a grass wicket, the pitch at Walker Park is made of clay, not turf, and must be covered with coconut matting; moreover the clay is pale sandy baseball clay, not red cricket clay, and its bounce cannot be counted on to stay true for long; and to the extent that the bounce is true, it lacks variety and complexity.

Netherland is a wonderful novel. If you haven’t read it, be sure to. But also, be sure not to miss the article in the local pages of today’s NYT on a recent match at Walker Park. As author Alan Feuer explains:

On July 18, 1886, The New York Times — as it often did in those pocket-watch-and-frock-coat days — reported on a cricket match, a big one, played between the Staten Island Cricket Club and a visiting squad from Merion, Pa. The occasion was the debut competition at the Staten Island field, although, by all accounts, it was a miserable display.

Not one member of the Merion team managed to post a score in the double digits, and even by the end of one full inning, fewer than 80 runs — a disastrous performance — had been made. “Neither team,” the disappointed Times reporter sniffed, “was fairly representative.”

After that embarrassing exhibition, the field on Staten Island might have suffered the fate that would eventually consume more legendary ballparks, like the Polo Grounds in Harlem or Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. It did not; late last month, in fact, a remarkable, if quiet, blow was struck for the intransigence of Staten Island cricket. The same two teams, in their batting pads and boonie caps and ageless Slazenger field whites, stepped out again onto the pitch and reprised the historic game.

It was, as people said all day, approaching the 125th year of continual cricket at the field, once a portion of the Delafield estate but now owned by the city and known as Walker Park. The players who came out that day were not the British officers of yore, but Bangladeshi cabbies, Indian computer engineers and a Pakistani man who owns an auto-body shop. The Ladies’ Outdoor Amusement Club was not on hand to administer refreshments. Instead, there was D.J. Ralphie, of the so-called Chutney Bastards, blasting rowdy soca from a laptop.

The world described by Feuer is very much that of O’Neill’s novel. See also the accompanying slide show.

Categories: Books, Sports