Archive for July, 2012

Rest Day, 2

July 17, 2012 Leave a comment

Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome

[Bryn Lennon/Getty Images, from The Guardian]

I haven’t written a Tour report in a week, since the first rest day, though my Tour commentary hasn’t been missed. I did intend to write last Thursday, after the second of the Tour’s two big days in the Alps. It was every bit as dramatic as expected, and in all likelihood served to decide the overall standings, which haven’t changed among the leaders since. But two more huge mountain days await, tomorrow and Thursday in the Pyrenees, and Saturday brings the second time trial, providing opportunity aplenty for form and standings to change. It just doesn’t seem likely.

Let’s go back a day, to last Wednesday’s Alpine stage, won in thrilling fashion by Frenchman Thomas Voeckler, but one that led to no changes at the top of the GC (the general classification, or overall standings). Bradley Wiggins still led, with last year’s winner Cadel Evans 1′ 53″ back in second, Wiggins’ teammate Chris Froome in third another 14 seconds back, and Vincenzo Nibali in fourth 16 seconds further behind. Plus, Nibali finished Wednesday’s stage upset at Wiggins for what he took to be a sign of disrespect at the finish. Thursday would present the best opportunity for Nibali, and Evans, to move up.

Nibali attacked with about 10km remaining in Thursday’s stage, gaining as much as 20 seconds, but Froome did the hard work of chasing him down, Wiggins in tow. There was a victim: Evans couldn’t keep up. In what may be the decisive moment of the Tour, teammate Tejay Van Garderen had to pull back from the lead group to pace Evans up the mountain, both losing time to the other three. In a moment of great surprise, Froome took off ahead of the others, only to be told (or so it appeared) over his earphone to drop back and stay with Wiggins and Nibali.

The end result: Wiggins stayed in the lead, Froome and Nibali took over second and third overall, Evans dropped to fourth, and the others who did well on the climb, and Jurgen Van Den Broeck moved into fifth, with Haimar Zubeldia in sixth and Van Garderen, even though he lost time on the leaders, moving up to seventh. Nothing changed in the four subsequent stages. The time gaps: Froome 2’05” behind Wiggins, Nibali 2’23” behind, Evans 3’19” behind, Van Den Broeck 4’48” behind, Zubeldia 6’15” behind, Van Garderen 6’57” behind.

As long as Froome works for Wiggins, as he surely will, it’s difficult to see how they won’t keep their top two positions in the Pyrenees. And since they appear to be the top two time trialists in the race, they will only increase their lead over the field on Saturday. The only remaining question would seem to be whether Evans can keep from losing more time in the mountains, at least with respect to Nibali, and snare the last podium spot with a strong time trial effort. Alternatively, if he cracks again, will Tejay be released to go out on his own and see what he can do?

Which brings us to the most fascinating question of the Tour? Is Wiggins really the top rider, or is Froome? Not that it matters. Froome will ride for the team, supporting Wiggins rather than trying to beat him. And the time gap at this point is probably too large. We can only speculate on what might have been if Froome were the designated team leader from the beginning. Of course, there’s a history here, Froome finishing 13 seconds back of Juan José Cobo in last year’s Vuelta a España after riding in support of Wiggins, who ended up third.

But riders must wait their turn. Greg LeMond famously finished second in support of Bernard Hinault in 1985 before winning the next year (with Hinault less interested in supporting LeMond than he had promised the year before). And when Bjarne Riis won in 1996, his rookie teammate Jan Ullrich sure looked the stronger rider, making good on his promise by winning the next year.

But I’m getting ahead of myself in this entire discussion. Let’s see how the next few days play out. Then we can dream about Froome’s potential.

I was just looking back at The Guardian’s coverage and see that I missed an article last Saturday by William Fotheringham on the Wiggins-Froome situation. He covers some of the same ground I do, but much better. I’ll finish with an excerpt. Well, I don’t see a lot to cut. Here’s most of the piece, with a paragraph snipped in the middle and one at the end:

Some of cycling’s most enduring and hotly debated plotlines have emerged when two equally talented and ambitious cyclists on the same team find themselves racing for the same prize. The dilemma Team Sky faced as the Tour de France entered its final week, with Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome lying first and second overall respectively, was one that cycling teams had encountered in the past – and history indicated that the team’s management would be tested as never before.

The problem stems from the fact that cycling is an individual sport run on a team basis. Talented cyclists are expected to subjugate their ambitions to those of the collective, in feudal style. Hence the sight, on this Tour, of Michael Rogers, Richie Porte and Froome – all capable of leading a team in their own right – working selflessly for Wiggins. The system only breaks down when a designated worker becomes aware of his ability and his ambition, and becomes frustrated, which is what appeared to be happening with Froome on Thursday, at the toughest mountain-top finish at La Toussuire in the French Alps.

Wiggins had already had to restrain the Kenyan-born climber from setting too high a pace at the first summit finish, La Planche des Belles Filles, last Saturday, when the Londoner took the yellow jersey. Froome had to be drawn back again this week when, having sat on the back of the lead group to recover for a short while, he attacked, briefly leaving Wiggins behind.

The problem, clearly, was that the race leader might lose time to two of his key rivals, Vincenzo Nibali and Jurgen Van Den Broeck. Froome had started the stage almost two minutes behind Wiggins, having lost more than a minute on the first stage with a puncture and a further 35 seconds in Monday’s time trial, and the risk was obvious: if he gained time on his leader, so too might those rivals, potentially putting the entire race at risk.

The twist in the Wiggins-Froome tale is that the pair had been in this situation before. At last year’s Tour of Spain, they surprised themselves by being in the mix at the sharp end of the race. Wiggins was coming back from a broken collarbone, Froome from the illness bilharzia. Froome was expected to work for his leader when Wiggins took the leader’s jersey, but beat him in a key time trial, then rode for him at a crucial summit finish when he was probably capable of contesting the overall win.

Froome finished second to the Spaniard Juan José Cobo by just 13 seconds; the race looked to have been lost largely because Sky were in unknown territory, with a leader who was not in his best form and a second-in-command who had never performed at that level before. The situation now is different, because Wiggins has a two-minute advantage on Froome and the rest, and unleashing the little climber could risk others eating into that as well.


The Froome-Wiggins situation has an uncannily close parallel in one Tour in particular, that of 1985, when Bernard Hinault of France started the race as the uncontested leader of the La Vie Claire team, tilting for his fifth win, with the American, Greg LeMond, as his designated domestique. As the race progressed, Hinault took the yellow jersey, but weakened in the final week after a crash. LeMond got stronger and sensed he might be able to win himself. On one key stage in the Pyrenees, LeMond got in an escape with other contenders, leaving Hinault behind. He was ordered not to collaborate, in exactly the same way that Froome was reined in at La Toussuire. LeMond remained convinced that had he ridden for himself, he would have won the Tour.

The Hinault-LeMond plot thickened the following year because, in 1985, the formal agreement was that the Frenchman would assist the American. LeMond eventually won that Tour, but only after being pushed to the limit by Hinault, who insisted that any attacks he made were to soften up the opposition, toughen up the American and make the race entertaining. A quarter of a century later, LeMond remained convinced that Hinault had tried to win for himself, while Hinault maintained he was capable of winning but had enabled his team-mate to do so.

Categories: Cycling

Matt’s Latest Dancing Video

July 15, 2012 Leave a comment

By December 2008, with Ron’s View still in its infancy, I had already figured out that my services as poster of the latest internet craze or meme were not needed. If I’d seen the cool video that was making the rounds, you probably had too. Nonetheless, I couldn’t resist a post on Matt Harding’s then-half-year-old video. Now, three-and-a-half years later, I can’t resist again. If you’ve seen the video, just skip this post. If you haven’t, I urge you to.

Better yet, watch all four of his videos in order, so that you can enjoy his ever-expanding vision. For a self-described “deadbeat from Westport, Connecticut who used to think that all he ever wanted to do in life was make and play video games,” and who “was a mediocre student and never went to college,” he sure knows how to combine simplicity, visual impact, and emotional power. This last feature sneaks up and takes you by surprise, though maybe I’m now spoiling that surprise. Well, see if I’m wrong.

Here’s Matt’s 2005 video:

And the 2006 video:

And the 2008 video, the one that prompted my earlier post.

By this point in his career, he had commercial backing and improved video quality.

Finally, the 2012 video is at the top.

For more, visit Matt’s website. And read the interview David Pogue posted three days ago on his NYT blog.

But watch the videos first. They’re a treat. I’m restraining myself from saying more so that I don’t impose my inadequate thoughts on you before you watch.

Categories: Dance, Life, Travel, Video

Island Cup

July 15, 2012 Leave a comment

In recent years, we have had the annual privilege and pleasure of heading to Nantucket for a few days. I’ve given up trying to make sense of why we so enjoy our time there. Or why, by going every year, we thereby postpone visiting they many other places on our wish list. I suppose it comes under the heading of doing one thing well rather than many poorly, though I wouldn’t say we do such a good job of visiting Nantucket. For one thing, we have only the narrowest of perspectives on real life there. We always make it a point, when we find ourselves chatting with year-round residents, to ask them about the winters, which we have yet to experience. We gather that essential activities are reading, knitting, and drinking.

Come Tuesday, a book will appear that promises to offer additional perspective, James Sullivan’s Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry. The blurb from the book’s website:

Before “Friday Night Lights” was a bestseller and a Hollywood franchise about high school football in Texas, author Buzz Bissinger had a different setting in mind: a remote island off the coast of Massachusetts. We may think of Nantucket as a resort destination for CEOs and senators, but it really belongs to a legendary coach named Vito Capizzo. After the tourists and jetsetters leave and the cold weather descends, for narly a half-century Capizzo and his Whalers have readied themselves for the main event: a spirited and unforgettable rivalry with the high school team from the neighboring island, Martha’s Vineyard.

For decades, these two teams have shaped their seasons around their fierce head-to-head matchups. They play for pride, a coveted trophy—the Island Cup—and quite often a shot at a state Super Bowl title. Despite their tiny year-round populations, both islands are perennially dangerous on the football field.

This far-reaching book tells the story not only of the unique Whaler-Vineyarder rivalry, but of two places without a country. Dotted with empty houses nine months of the year, Nantucket and the Vineyard have long, strange histories that include an attempt to secede from the United States, two traditionally diverse populations and lasting connections to the vanished whaling industry. Delving into the rich culture and sometimes hard realities of both places, Sullivan paints a picture of a bygone New England, a place that has never stopped fighting for its life—and the rights to the Island Cup.

Island Cup might have passed me by if not for Tony Horwitz’s Wall Street Journal review yesterday. I suspect the audience for it may be limited, but within that limited audience is us.

Horwitz, a distinguished writer, lives on Martha’s Vineyard with his wife, fellow writer Geraldine Brooks, and their sons. Here’s the opening of his review:

On a raw day last November, I rode a packed ferry from Martha’s Vineyard to Nantucket to see my son play in a high-school football game. The 1,500 passengers poured onto Nantucket’s cobbled streets like a marauding horde, waving purple banners and screaming from painted faces, “Harpoon the Whalers!” That night, we returned across the water to be greeted at the dock by fire-engine sirens and flashing lights as a raucous throng cheered its victorious warriors.

A newcomer to the Vineyard—to locals, a “wash-ashore”—I was stunned by this primal display from my normally taciturn neighbors. I knew my island took its sports seriously and disliked Nantucket. But I had no idea that football games between the two islands were blood feuds out of “Braveheart.”

The history of this New England rite is the subject of James Sullivan’s “Island Cup: Two Teams, Twelve Miles of Ocean, and Fifty Years of Football Rivalry.” Turns out, the frenzy I witnessed in 2011 was tame compared with earlier years. Visiting players used to stay overnight with families on the host island—until 1966, when police had to break up a brawl involving two Vineyard linebackers and Nantucket locals well after the team’s 9 p.m. curfew. Hotels proved no better; home-team fans blew air horns all night to deprive the visitors of sleep. Nantucketers once left a broken pipe seeping water on the sideline so that during the game, the visiting players and coaches stood deep in mud. Vineyarders replied by burning a mock coffin and declaring that the Nantucket coach was inside.

Island inhospitality has extended to other teams, too, with rocks and eggs thrown at visitors’ buses. One coach from a mainland team told his players after games on Nantucket: “Maybe we lost, but we’re lucky—we get to get off this damn island.”

All this may surprise summer tourists, who associate Nantucket with the homes of whaling captains and with sunburned WASPs in salmon pants. The Vineyard is likewise known for its affluent ease, a retreat for the Clintons, Kennedys and Obamas. But as Mr. Sullivan observes, these crowded resorts have a very different character in fall and winter. They’re small communities, mostly middle- and working-class, with large immigrant populations, isolated by fog and water from what islanders call “America.”

Sunburned WASPs in salmon pants? Is Horwitz talking about the famous Nantucket reds from Murray’s Toggery Shop? I’m no WASP, that’s for sure, but I happily wear them. And I never thought they were salmon.

In any case, I’m eager to find out more about what goes on there when we’re not around.

Categories: Sports, Travel

Darwin’s Ghosts

July 14, 2012 Leave a comment

[Well, this is frustrating. I had this post mostly written when, because of an accidental mouse swipe, I lost it all. WordPress’s in-progress saving mechanism is not the greatest. It asks if you want to leave the page or not, if you mistakenly hit a back button or swipe backwards, but when you say no, it just spins and spins, having no real way, apparently, to stay put. So, I’ll see what I can reproduce, but this is always such a painful exercise.]

A week ago, I wrote about how my recent reading journey from the Baltic through the Black Sea to Central Asia, back to the Black Sea via the Caucasus, and on to Hapsburg Austria had consistently skipped over the Balkans. To fill this gap, I turned to Mark Mazower’s The Balkans: A Short History, which is so short that at its conclusion, I needed more. So it was that I downloaded his more narrowly focused and detailed examination of a single Balkan location, Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950.

As enjoyable as Mazower’s introduction to Salonica’s history is, the press of other events kept me from getting very far. When I saw a review of Rebecca Stott’s Darwin’s Ghosts: The Secret History of Evolution in the Wall Street Journal just over a week ago, I thought perhaps I should put the Balkans aside temporarily and dip into some scientific history and biography. The reviewer, Laura Snyder, is herself the author of a well-received work of scientific history/biography, last year’s The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World, which presented itself as another attractive option.

Regarding the Darwin book, Snyder explains:

The conceit of Ms. Stott’s project is that men she considers Darwin’s predecessors—including a number not included in his “Historical Sketch”—were his “ghosts.”

Ms. Stott describes the lives and work of these ghosts of Darwin: the Greek philosopher Aristotle, the ninth-century Arab scholar Al-Jahiz, the 15th-century artist-scientist Leonardo da Vinci, the 16th-century potter Bernard Palissy and, in the 18th century, the microscopist Abraham Trembley, the French natural historian Benoît de Maillet and the philosophe Denis Diderot. These chapters—focusing on men not part of the standard histories of evolutionary theory—are followed by chapters discussing evolution’s “usual suspects”: Erasmus Darwin, Jean-Baptiste Lamarck, Robert Grant, Robert Chambers and Alfred Russel Wallace.

In telling the stories of these men, Ms. Stott—who is also a novelist—writes with a novelist’s flair.


From Aristotle to the great inductive philosopher Francis Bacon in the 17th century and on to William Whewell and John Herschel, the 19th-century writers who were such great influences on Darwin, a vision of science arose that privileged observation and experiment over axiomatic deduction or wild speculation. … Darwin and the “ghosts” so richly described in Ms. Stott’s enjoyable book are the descendants of Aristotle and Bacon and the ancestors of today’s scientists.

Last night, still having made little progress in Mazower’s Salonica book, I was browsing online in the NYT Sunday book review that will appear tomorrow when I discovered that it contained its own review of Stott’s book, by anthropologist Hugh Raffles. He had some criticisms, but represented the book as most enticing.

Stott’s narrative flows easily across continents and centuries. Her history of evolutionary ideas is the story of a varied set of philosophers, naturalists and, eventually, scientists (all men here — “To my frustration,” she writes, “I found no women who published evolutionary ideas before ‘Origin’ ”), pitting themselves on the side of enlightened knowledge, boldly challenging established wisdom and obscurantist doctrine in the name of truth and, in many cases, suffering terrible consequences. …

Stott, the author of two well-received historical novels and an earlier book on Darwin, stages sharply drawn encounters and depicts domestic lives and social worlds in rich and convincing detail.


It’s one of many good stories, well told, in this lively, original book. “Darwin’s Ghosts” unfolds like an enjoyable and informative TV series, each episode devoted to a fascinating character who provides a window into the world of ideas of his time.

I downloaded the book last night, turning straightaway to the Preface and first chapter, which discusses Darwin’s realization after the 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species that he had erred by not including a historical discussion. With that, we begin Stott’s own history, jumping back 2200 years to Aristotle.

Which means, by the way, that I find myself once again in the Balkans, what with Aristotle being Macedonian. Central to Stott’s story is the tension between Athens and Macedonia, Aristotle’s own close family connection to Philip of Macedonia (father of Alexander the Great), the awkwardness of his presence in Athens, and his ultimate need to depart. Of course, we won’t be in the Balkans for long, but I’m enjoying this overlap of interests, and enjoying as well Stott’s already evident narrative flair.

Categories: Books

Words of Wisdom

July 10, 2012 Leave a comment

John Maynard Keynes

My local newspaper, the Seattle Times, has its strengths. For one, it’s locally owned, not part of the McClatchy or Hearst or other newspaper chain. Its coverage of the aerospace industry is top-notch. And, of course, if you want to keep up with the Mariners,you pretty much have to read it.

But sometimes the editorial page is painful. Not necessarily for its views, which are often counter to my own, but that’s another matter. Rather, well, let’s look at today’s editorial. First, the opening and a few more brief excerpts.

Two sobering pieces of economic news should remind the country that it is essential to reset our thinking on money, jobs and spending.

Friday’s jobless report …

The worst news came earlier in the week when The Associated Press released its survey of 32 economists, the majority of whom said they expected unemployment to stay above 6 percent for at least four more years. …

In such a climate, U.S. consumers, businesses and especially governments cannot assume that a bad jobs report is a fluke, and that the next month’s jobless report or state revenue forecast will put everything right.

Four years of disappointment suggests that this recession is different.

And now the concluding paragraph.

In this election year, candidates will be reassuring voters they know how to fix the economy, as if it were a broken faucet. Some of their ideas will be better than others, but people should not expect too much. Slow growth appears to be baked into the cake, at least for a while.

Huh? So, we should just get used to it? Forget new ideas? Forget old ideas? Forget what politicians say?

Oddly enough, if one has the stomach for it, which I rarely do, and wades into the online reader comments, one finds people shouting back and forth at each other about getting rid of socialist Obama or trying a new stimulus. (I think one of these might actually be a good idea, but again, that’s another matter.) Some blame the Times for whatever position they don’t like.

However, if I’m reading this right, these commenters missed the point entirely. The Times isn’t recommending any position at all. It’s just telling us to suck it up and wait this out for a few more years.

Okay then.

Categories: Economy, Journalism

Rest Day

July 10, 2012 1 comment

Bradley Wiggins resting

[Bryn Lennon/Getty Images, from The Guardian]

In my Tour post two nights ago, following the first two mountain stages, I wrote about the inevitable shakeout that had taken place, with the true contenders revealed. Tour co-favorites Bradley Wiggins and Cadel Evans emerged in first and second place overall, separated by no more than the ten-second gap Wiggins established on day one in the short time trial. But Wiggins had the advantage of a stronger team, with several riders leading him up the climbs, Evans staying close without benefit of his own teammates.

Of special note, as I mentioned in the earlier post, is Chris Froome, who appears to be not just Wiggins’ main ally in the mountains but a contender himself. On Saturday, in the final 2 km of steep ascent to the stage finish, he led Wiggins most of the way, with Evans tucked into third. Then, when he let Wiggins take over for the final bit, Evans made his move, only for Froome to counter and win the stage himself. He would finish Sunday in sixth place overall.

Which brings us to yesterday’s 41.5 km time trial into Besançon and a stunning day for Wiggins, Froome, and Team Sky. As always, the riders start in reverse order of the standings, the leaders riding last, which means that the great time trialist Fabian Cancellara went well before they did. He set the pace with a time of 52′ 21″. The young US rider Tejay Van Garderen made a surprising run at him, finishing just 9 seconds back, by which point the big news was Chris Froome’s early times. He was running ahead of Cancellara at the checkpoints, eventually crossing the line in a stunning 51′ 59″, 22 seconds ahead. No mere climber, for sure.

Attention shifted to Evans, whose checkpoint times were behind those of Cancellara, Van Garderen, and Froome. Wiggins left the starting ramp last, 3 minutes after Evans, and his checkpoint times were similar to those of Froome and Cancellara. He appeared to be putting some significant time between himself and Evans. The big question was, would Froome jump from sixth overall all the way to second, ahead of Evans, or would Evans keep second position?

Evans crossed in 53′ 07″, over a minute behind Froome, but close enough to stay 14 seconds ahead overall. Only Wiggins remained on the course, but not for long, finishing in 51′ 24″. Final result: Wiggins won the stage, Froome second, Cancellara third, Van Garderen fourth, Chavanel fifth, Evans sixth. Not all that bad for Evans, really, compared to most of the field. Maybe not his best day, but he is a fine time trialist. The problem is, Wiggins is a brilliant one, and Froome has demonstrated that he’s not far off.

And with that, the riders entered today’s rest day with the nature of the competition much clarified. Wiggins has a potentially insurmountable lead of 1′ 53″ over Evans, 2′ 07″ over Froome, 2′ 23″ over Nibali, and 3 or more minutes over everyone else. If he doesn’t crack in the Alps or Pyrenees, he will win, all the more because he can be expected to add to his lead in the last competitive stage, the time trial a week from Saturday. Evans’ only hope is to attack hard on the mountain stages and hope to break away from him at least once, which will be hard to do without a strong team. The Sky riders are more likely to be formidable attackers, trying to lose Evans and lock up the top two places for Wiggins and Froome.

I just headed over to The Guardian and came up with the photo up top. I also found an article from their famed sportswriter Richard Williams . I may have been insufficiently emphatic about Wiggins’ strong position. Here are excerpts from Williams piece:

After Team Sky’s impressive show of strength on Sunday and Monday, when he and his wingman Chris Froome pulverised the opposition in the mountain stage to Porrentruy and on the time trial to Besançon, Wiggins now enjoys a lead of 1min 53sec over Cadel Evans, the defending champion, with Froome in third place, 14 seconds further back, and Vincenzo Nibali of Italy in fourth, 2min 23sec behind the yellow jersey.

No one else is within three minutes, and some observers have been declaring the race as good as over. According to the correspondent of Libération, the French daily, anyone who kills the Tour stone dead before it even reaches the Alps should henceforth be said to have “done a Wiggins”.

The man himself demurs. “It’s a dream situation to be in,” he said at Tuesday’s press conference, “but I don’t expect anyone at this stage of the race to say: ‘Yes, Sky have won it, let’s just ride to Paris and have a big party.’ We expect this to be a shit-fight for the next couple of weeks. That’s how we’ve prepared for it and that’s what cycling’s about.”


But he knows that Evans, who became the first Australian winner last year, gives away nothing without a struggle. “I don’t for one minute underestimate Cadel and what he’s capable of doing. I’ve got huge respect for him and I expect him to fight every inch of the way to Paris.

A shit-fight for sure. I’m looking forward to it.

Categories: Cycling

Time Trial Eve

July 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Bradley Wiggins, in yellow

[Lionel Bonaventure/AFP/Getty Images, from The Guardian]

It’s been an exciting two days in the Tour de France. No surprise, that. The first days in the mountains always are, as we separate the contenders from the pretenders.

Yesterday’s concluding climb of La Planche des Belles Filles in the Vosges brought the first major shakeout. The climb is not long — 6km — but unrelentingly steep. Tour co-favorite Bradley Wiggins was led out by three Sky teammates: Chris Froome, Richie Porte, and Michael Rogers. Defending champion and fellow co-favorite Cadel Evans, on his own, attached himself to them. First Rogers dragged them up the hill, then he dropped off and Porte took over. With 2km to go, it was Froome’s turn, Wiggins glued to his wheel and Evans to Wiggins’ wheel. Joining this elite group were Vincenzo Nibali, Rein Taaramae, Denis Menchov, and Haimar Zubeldia. Zubeldia and Menchov would fade in the upper reaches, leaving the others to fight it out.

Overall leader Fabian Cancellara was minutes behind, so the yellow jersey would go to Wiggins, if they stayed together, or Evans, if he could ride 10 seconds clear of Wiggins. Froome dropped back part way into the final kilometer, as expected, allowing Wiggins to move into position, but then Evans accelerated, looking for both the stage win and yellow. Would Wiggins go after him? Suddenly, Froome did, racing up to and blasting right past Evans in the final 200 meters to win the stage by 2 seconds, with Evans second and Wiggins on his wheel for third in the same time.

A great day for Team Sky. Wiggins in yellow, stage win for Froome, and the polka dot jersey of best climber for Froome as well.

The day ended with a new general classification that may bear some resemblance to the final standings: Wiggins in first, followed by Evans, Nibali, Taaramae, Menchov, and Zubeldia.

Only minor changes took place today, as the Tour passed into Switzerland via a series of climbs through the Jura mountains, ending in a downhill-flat finish. The big thrill was Thibaut Pinot’s stage win. The overall leaders caught the other members of a breakaway group, but he raced ahead of the breakaway on the final climb and survived on the descent, as the leaders closed to within 26 seconds. Evans sprinted for second place, with Wiggins, Nibali, Menchov, and Zubeldia finishing in the same time. The lone victim of the day, two minutes behind them, was Rein Taaramae, dropping back to tenth place overall as Froome moved into sixth.

The new top six: Wiggins, Evans, Nibali, Menchov, Zubeldia, Froome.

And don’t sell Froome short. He’s more than a simple support rider for Wiggins. Last year, at the Vuelta a España (the Tour of Spain, the last of the three major annual tours), he was charged with leading Wiggins to victory, only for Wiggins to fall short and Froome to prove the stronger rider, Froome finishing second to Wiggins’ third. (Juan José Cobo won, by 13 seconds, the slimmest of margins.)

Tomorrow will bring an altogether different sorting, with the Tour’s first time trial, a ride of 41.5 km into Besançon. Only then will we have a fuller reading of the top riders’ fitness.

I’ll close with this enjoyable tidbit, brought to us by The Guardian’s William Fotheringham:

A journalist asked Wiggins for his opinion on comparisons being made on the internet between Wiggins’s Sky team and Lance Armstrong’s US Postal Service team, which has been linked to a current investigation by the US Anti-Doping Agency.

The journalist was given short shrift. “I say they’re just fucking wankers. I cannot be doing with people like that,” said Wiggins. “It justifies their own bone-idleness because they can’t ever imagine applying themselves to doing anything in their lives.

“It’s easy for them to sit under a pseudonym on Twitter and write that sort of shit rather than get off their arses in their own lives and apply themselves and work hard at something and achieve something. And that’s ultimately it. ”

I hope he’s not talking about me.

Categories: Cycling

Let Them Eat Cake

July 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Maeve Reston writes in today’s LA Times about Romney fundraisers this weekend at Ronald Perelman’s East Hampton estate and David Koch’s Southampton estate. (Hat tip: digby, via Atrios.)

Reston describes the “line of Range Rovers, BMWs, Porsche roadsters and one gleaming cherry red Ferrari” that queued outside Perelman’s estate, began queuing outside of Revlon Chairman Ronald Perelman’s estate off Montauk Highway long before Romney arrived, the guests coming “with high hopes for the presumed Republican nominee, who is locked in a tight race with President Obama. And some were eager to give the candidate some advice about the next four months.”

One New York City donor said that

Romney needed to do a better job connecting. “I don’t think the common person is getting it,” she said from the passenger seat of a Range Rover stamped with East Hampton beach permits*. “Nobody understands why Obama is hurting them.

“We’ve got the message,” she added. “But my college kid, the baby sitters, the nails ladies — everybody who’s got the right to vote — they don’t understand what’s going on. I just think if you’re lower income — one, you’re not as educated, two, they don’t understand how it works, they don’t understand how the systems work, they don’t understand the impact.”

If only those lower income and uneducated people could be disenfranchised.

*I love this detail. There’s no better way to show how special you are than to line your car with years of annual permits from one of the right places — those places where people congregate who not just understand the system, but run it.

Categories: Life, Politics

Haub Collection of Western Art

July 7, 2012 1 comment

Departure of an Indian War Party, Albert Bierstadt, oil on board

[Tacoma Art Museum, Promised Gift of Erivan and Helga Haub]

I learned some exciting local arts news from the Wall Street Journal today. German supermarket billionaire Erivan “Mr. Haub and his wife, Helga, are giving the bulk of their collection of Western art to the Tacoma Art Museum in Washington state. The couple is also funding most of a $15 million project to add a lobby and a museum wing to display it all.”

The article goes on to explain:

The 280 pieces in the gift include works by major Western artists Thomas Moran, Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. Collectively, the works chronicle the Western sweep of Manifest Destiny—from portraits of Native American chiefs to cowboys astride horses to sun-drenched vistas.

Many of the works are by 19th-century European painters who fell hard for the American West, whether or not they ever actually visited the region. The terrain they conjured on canvas is largely grand and unspoiled. The gem is “Green River, Wyoming,” by Moran, a self-taught painter from England who later crisscrossed the West to paint his epic landscapes. Moran’s 1907 scene shows a band of Indians riding toward the river as terracotta-colored rocks loom on the opposite bank.

I looked online in the Tacoma News Tribune to see if I could learn more, and they too have an article, which says the official announcement will be made on Monday.

Most of the new 15,000-square-foot wing and all of the 280-piece art collection come courtesy of Erivan Haub and his wife Helga, who own property here. They amassed the collection over 25 years.


The Haub collection is a who’s who of Western art: Frederic Remington, Charles Russell, Georgia O’Keeffe, Thomas Moran, Albert Bierstadt, John Clymer, and Tom Lovell as well as contemporary artists such as Bill Schenck. It contains both paintings and sculptures. The new wing will display anywhere from 100 to 150 pieces at a time, Hushka said.

“This is definitely one of the finest Western art collections in private hands,” [Curator Rock] Hushka said. Only the Denver Art Museum with its extensive collections of Native American art and Western painting and photography has a substantially greater collection.

We haven’t been to the Tacoma Art Museum in many years. Our loss, since they always seem to have interesting exhibitions. We’ll have to get down there soon. And again, of course, once the new wing opens.

Categories: Art, Museums

The Balkans

July 7, 2012 Leave a comment

I wrote the other night about Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad, which I finished two weekends ago. Between that and Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, I had taken an excursion into recent American fiction, a welcome break from my non-fiction journeys through Eastern Europe and Central Asia. But perhaps it was time to get back overseas.

Where to? Well, it’s not like I have any particular plan or program. I seem to have fallen into this sequence of books, each suggesting another to read or a region to explore. In retrospect, it started three-and-a-half years ago with Judith Herrin’s Byzantium: The Surprising Life of a Medieval Empire. Then there were the books I read two winters ago: Ian Frazier’s Travels in Siberia, Ted Conover’s The Routes of Man: Travels in the Paved World, Peter Hessler’s Country Driving: A Journey Through China from Farm to Factory, Eliza Griswold’s The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Line Between Christianity and Islam.

It took almost another year, and my reading of Max Egremont’s Forgotten Land: Journeys Among the Ghosts of East Prussia, before a theme began to emerge. That led to Timothy Snyder’s Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin, Orlando Figes’ The Crimean War, Colin Thurbon’s Shadow of the Silk Road, Thomas de Waal’s The Caucasus, Charles King’s Odessa: Genius and Death in a City of Dreams, Edmund de Waal’s The Hare with Amber Eyes , and the realization that I was reading books about the border between Europe and Asia, Christianity and Islam, Communism and Fascism, Medievalism and Modernism. And the people caught in the middle, millions of whom were dislocated, starved, or murdered.

In finishing the Crimean War history and moving from the Black Sea eastward to Central Asia and the Caucasus, I could just as well have headed west to the Balkans. Two weeks ago, I decided to do so.

But no book immediately suggested itself. Or rather, two did: Misha Glenny’s The Balkans: Nationalism, War and the Great Powers, 1804–1999, 726 pages long, and Mark Mazower’s The Balkans: A Short History, 188 pages long. I couldn’t help thinking that a book of intermediate length might be more suitable.

Both books are over a decade old. When they were new, Richard Crampton reviewed them in the New York Review of Books, praising them both. I chose Mazower, in part because it is available on the Kindle, while Glenny’s isn’t.

I was slow to get into it, and began to fear it was going to be the longest short book I ever read. One initial difficulty I had is that Mazower assumes a fair bit of familiarity with the basic historical and political facts. I seemed to be reading commentary, without being told what book this was commentary on. Not that I am all that ignorant of the facts, but to the extent that I am ignorant, he wasn’t filling me in. This obstacle was only temporary, and soon I was absorbed.

An essential theme of the book is that, contrary to the common view, the violence and wars of the Balkans are not an inevitable consequence of centuries of ethnic hatred. Indeed, during the Ottoman period, the region was characterized by its ethnic and religious tolerance. As Crampton explains in his review,

Mazower will not accept that the awful violence the peninsula has endured is the result of ancient ethnic hatreds. It was, he argues, the only means modern nationalists could find to break apart a society that was otherwise capable of ignoring the mundane divisions of class and ethnicity. Like Glenny and Allcock he sees nationalism as a Western or Central European import into the Balkans; and if this import gave the Balkans the categories with which its peoples defined themselves, so it gave them also the ideological weapons in the shape primarily of modern romantic nationalism with which to destroy themselves. Mazower, like Glenny, also shows how romantic, European-style nationalism was given its political opportunity by peasant anger at declining living standards.

While I’m at it, here’s more from Crampton:

[Mazower] produces a masterful and wonderfully succinct picture of the Ottoman Empire in the earlier centuries of its rule in Europe. It was an empire which was amazingly polyglot, especially in its capital. It may not have accepted religious equality—which was almost coterminous with ethnic equality—but it practiced tolerance and accepted coexistence. Despite the lurid pictures of Muslim persecution painted by many nineteenth-century European Christian observers or commentators, there was a great deal of intermixing in the Ottoman Empire. Muslims, Orthodox Christians, Jews, and others became members of the same guilds, and would even, in nineteenth-century Salonika, for example, join the same labor organizations or gentlemen’s clubs.

And his conclusion:

Those who already know something of Balkan history will be delighted by Mazower’s sober judgments, his measured style, his breadth of knowledge, and his telling anecdotes. For those who as yet know little of this history there could scarcely be a more reliable or a more appetizing introduction to it than Mazower’s book.

I closed the book last weekend eager for more.

And what do you know? A new edition of the Misha Glenny book that I rejected in favor of Mazower is coming out in late September. The new title will be The Balkans: Nationalism, War, and the Great Powers, 1804–2011, and unlike the original, this one will have a Kindle version. It should be worth reading.

In the meantime, there’s Mazower’s Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews 1430-1950. Crampton has a piece in the New York Review of Books on that too. It sounds wonderful, with an examination of the same themes that his Balkans introduction treated, but with the greater depth made possible by a longer book and the focus on a single city. And once again, in keeping with a thread that has run through several of the books I’ve read, I can learn about the growth and destruction of one of the great Jewish communities of Europe.

I have downloaded it. More once I’ve read it.

Categories: Books