Wednesday, April 8, 2015

From the Archives - Flooding


Introduction

I came across this little story—a true one—very recently. I’d completely forgotten it. This takes place just a few weeks after my wife and I had finished an 8-month bike tour and were living in a tiny apartment in Russian Hill.


Flooding – January 13, 1995

Lots of flooding out here. The other day, at what seemed like a wee hour of the morning, the phone rang. I picked it up, totally groggy: “Hullo?”

“Hi! It’s me, Mom.” Huh? This didn’t sound like my mom, and my mother-in-law didn’t refer to herself as “Mom” when talking to me, and it didn’t sound like her either. But I figured I better play it safe. I’d hate to tell my actual mother-in-law that she had the wrong number (i.e., that I didn’t recognize her voice).

“Oh, hi! Nice to hear from you,” I replied.

“Were you sleeping?” she (whoever she was) asked.

“Oh, no, uh, not really.” Although I still didn’t recognize the voice, I felt that by continuing to throw out stock phrases, I could hold my own long enough to figure out who was on the phone—and whose voice I was supposed to have recognized.

“Well, I knew there was a lot of flooding going on out there, and just wanted to make sure you two were okay.” (Voice notwithstanding, this is exactly the kind of worried check-up call my mother-in-law would make.)

“Yes, we’re both fine. No flooding at our end.”  This wasn’t completely true, but I hate to make people worry.

“Oh, I’m so relieved. That was the main thing. Oh, and I wanted to tell you that S— got the things you sent him. Thing is, now he wants to go buy all the most expensive mountain biking equipment!” she exclaimed. Now I was even more confused. The mountain biking link was a little too close to be a coincidence. And now, my yet-groggy mind racing, I came up with a link for the name S—: this could be my wife’s ex-boyfriend from high school, with whose mother she is still very close: close enough, in fact, that she gave us a gift of eight table settings of fine porcelain plates, bowls, cups, saucers, etc. Could she have said “This is S—’s mom”? Or had I even heard the name correctly? And could I have actually sent anything to S—? Perhaps a thank-you card, since we’d stayed with him toward the end of the bike tour. Could I have enclosed anything with the card? I was just too groggy to remember.

“Well, you know I always like to encourage bicycling, even if it does tend to get expensive,” I said. This seemed like a safe statement.

“Yes, well, not for you, of course, since you work full-time at a bike shop!” she said.

Now I was really confused. Surely this couldn’t be a coincidence ... up until recently, I actually had been working full-time at a bike shop. So I decided to go out on a limb: “Well actually, I’m only working weekends at the shop now—I’m working downtown now.” This was true.

“Gosh, really? Downtown?”

“Yeah, downtown.” I didn’t feel like getting more specific, since I was probably talking to a stranger.

“Well . . . I guess that’s more money, anyway.”

“Yep.”

“Well, how’s my daughter?” she asked. Well, she was somebody’s mother-in-law, anyway.

“Oh, just fine,” I said. “She’s still sleeping. Should I get her up?” I felt I was now mere seconds away from a wonderful practical joke. I could tell my wife her mom was on the phone, and moments later—after they’d shared a very awkward and bewildering exchange—my little charade would be over. Unless, of course, this woman were to end up thinking her son-in-law was completely sane, but her own daughter was crazy.

“Oh, no, don’t wake her, I know she loves her sleep,” the woman said. “But she should get up before too long, ‘cause she has to be to work by 9:00, right? Well, anyway, you’re both safe, and that’s what’s important.”

Okay, that was the kicker. My actual mother-in-law would know full well that her daughter hadn’t yet found a job. It was clearly time to clear things up, but it seemed I’d taken the conversation too far to stop now.

I’d been through this before. When I was a teenager, I got a phone call from my old friend Steve—at least, that’s who he claimed to be. It seemed impossible that this guy could know another male Dana, so I played along while trying to remember who Steve was. This went on for several phone calls, over the course of which I realized there was no way I knew him. He and the real Dana had been friends in Michigan (where I’d never lived), and he said we should go out drinking sometime (which I was too young to do). But I didn’t know how to explain myself, so far into our rekindled friendship. Things finally unraveled when he called up and my mom answered. “No, I’m his mother!” she said before hanging up on him. “Who was that?” I asked her. “I don’t know,” she replied, “but he said, ‘Who are you, his woman?’”

And so now here I was again, sure this was a wrong number but unable to find a way out. So I told this would-be mother-in-law, “Yes, we’re both perfectly safe. Thanks for calling.”

“Okay, bye,” she said, and then there was awkward silence. Was her son-in-law supposed to say “Love ya, Mom,” or maybe “Love ya, Jane”? Was she waiting for this? Was I getting some poor son-in-law in trouble?

“Bye,” I said, and hung up the phone. I wondered how her daughter and son-in-law were actually doing. Probably had to evacuate their home. Could be dead. Oh well, at least the nice lady wouldn’t worry.

An hour later the phone rang again, and I asked my wife to answer it. She picked up and, after a pause, said, “No, nobody here by that name.”

Monday, March 30, 2015

Fiction - Game Show of the (Near) Future


Introduction

I haven’t seen a game show in at least a decade, and I’ve seen almost zero reality TV, so perhaps I’m not the greatest person to create a story about them.  On the other hand, who’s to say what these shows might morph into?

What follows is pure fiction.  Any resemblance of any character to any real person—past, present, or future—is utterly coincidental and, I might add, extremely unfortunate for all of us.

Game Show of the (Near) Future

Rick Bently, the host, who has the head of hair that Malibu Ken, Barbie’s boyfriend, must have been modeled on, wears one of those almost permanent grins that tempts you to hate him.  But the greater temptation is to fear him.  He may strike you as the grown-up version of one of the popular kids at school.  “It’s time for our first contestant!” he cries.  “Barbara Palmer, come on down!”

Barbara comes on down.  She has straight, mouse-colored hair and glasses.  “Barbara, tell us about yourself!” Rick booms.  Her smile looks a bit forced.  She grips the sides of the lectern and leans in to the mike before speaking.  “Well, I work in insurance but my real interest is mushrooms.  I’m what you call a mycophile.”

Rick touches his chin.  “You mean you eat mushrooms you find in the wild?”  Barbara perks up.  “No, the people who gather and eat them are called mycophagists.  I just like to study them.”

“Tell me, Barbara, what are three interesting things about mushrooms?”

“Well, for one thing, they’re a fungus, not a plant.  Also, they don’t require sunlight to make energy for themselves.  And maybe the most interesting thing is that a colony of mushrooms discovered in Oregon is now thought to be the largest organism in the world, covering over 2,000 acres, and it’s over 2,000 years old!”

“Wow, Barbara, what do you do with all this trivia?” asks Rick.

“Well, my friends all say the only value it could have is making money on game shows, so—here I am!” Barbara laughs.

“Well, that brings me to what’s on tap for today,” Rick says, shifting his attention to the camera.  “And I’ve got some exciting news for Barbara.  She doesn’t even have to compete with anybody today, because she’s been chosen as our Lucky Day winner!  That’s right, we drew her name out of a hat as an automatic winner, no quiz questions required!  Bob, show the studio audience today’s Lucky Day prizes.”

A disembodied, off-stage voice says, “It’s a BRAND NEW CAR!”  A beautiful woman in a long dress glides her hand over the car’s hood and up past the windshield.  “A Buick Regal with custom styling, perfect for date night or taking the kids to soccer practice!  But that’s not all.  The Lucky Day winner also gets … a trip to Belize!  All-expenses paid for the winner and a companion!  You’ll spend six nights at the Best Western Belize Biltmore Plaza!”  We see images of cocktails, the beach, a pool.

The camera pans to Barbara, who is literally jumping for joy.  “But Barbara, before you get too excited,” says Rick, “I didn’t actually say that you won.  What I said is, we picked your name out of a hat.  But the Lucky Winner is notified by phone, and—here’s the catch—the winner has to actually answer the phone to get the prize.  And you didn’t answer!  We tried to call you three times yesterday but you never picked up!

Barbara’s smile vanishes.  Her lower lip trembles.  “I didn’t answer?”

“No!” say Rick, in the same upbeat tone he’s had all along.  “Why didn’t you answer!?  Screening your calls?  Or can’t you hear your phone?  What, were you in a loud bar?  A stadium?”

“Um, yesterday?  No … I was, uh, at home.  I was doing … laundry,” Barbara says slowly, sadly.

“Well, I’m sorry but this means you don’t win anything!  Not even a parting gift, though twenty randomly selected members of our studio audience will receive … Bob, tell them what they get.”

Bob cuts in, “Well, Rick, won’t they be happy with this Hickory Farms 5-Piece Farmhouse Sausage and Cheese Sampler basket!  Premium meats in natural casing, and naturally aged premium cheeses, individually wrapped to enjoy now, or later!”

“It’s time for a commercial intermission, and when we come back we’ll meet our next contestant!” Rick beams, as Barbara is escorted from the stage.

We rejoin and meet Doug Smedley, a rotund fellow with bad skin.  His face and neck are nicked up from shaving, making you think (oddly enough) of a pomegranate.  “Doug, tell us about yourself!” cries Rick.

“Well, I work … when I work, or when I worked I guess I should say … I’m between jobs … as an HVAC technician,” Doug says.

“HVAC?  What’s that?  Care to enlighten our studio audience?”

“Oh, sorry, it’s heating, ventilation, and air conditioning for office buildings.  Wiring, controllers, that sort of thing.”

“But you’re unemployed now?  How long has that been?”

“Well … it’s been, uh, fourteen months now.  It’s hard.  I guess HVAC is being done in the ‘cloud’ now.  I don’t really know how all that works.”

“Well, Doug, we have a special surprise for you today.  You see, you haven’t actually been selected as a contestant here, but we have a very special person backstage we think you’ll be surprised to see.  Bring out Janet Smedley, Doug’s mother!”

A grey-haired woman in neatly pressed trousers and a floral blouse strides across the stage and shakes Rick’s hand.  Doug, perplexed, gives her a little nod.  “Gosh, Mom,” he mumbles.  “I had no idea.”

“Janet,” Rick booms, “so glad you could join us!  We’ve just been talking to your son Doug.  And I have to say, Doug seems like a bit of a loser, doesn’t he?”  Janet frowns, and now looks as befuddled as Doug.  Rick continues, “When did you first realize he was a washout?”  Janet, her expression that of a drowning cat, says nothing. 

“Well, we happen to have a pretty good theory,” Rick says cheerily.  “It’s time for our special guest star!”

A thick, mustachioed man in a tweed suit strides across the stage and shakes Rick’s hand.  Rick looks into the camera and says, “This is Philip Simms, M.D., a renowned obstetrician, professor, and lecturer.  Dr. Simms, what can you tell us about the benefits of breastfeeding?”

“Well, Rick, as all doctors and most mothers know, a large body of evidence shows that children who are breastfed go on to score higher on IQ tests, and display higher academic performance.  Meanwhile, the closeness and comfort of breastfeeding strengthens the mother’s bond with her baby and is crucial in building a secure, loving relationship.”

Rick turns to Janet.  “You didn’t breastfeed your son Doug, did you?  Why is that?!”

Janet blushes profusely.  “Well—nobody did!  It was out of favor!  The doctors … they said formula was better!  It wasn’t just me!  It was everybody!  Breastfeeding was ... well, it was out of fashion!”

“Oh, fashion!  Of course you had to be au courant!  And, poor thing, you were pushed around by doctors!  But did it ever occur to you to think for yourself?  Didn’t you have any maternal instincts at all?!

Janet is in tears.  Rick pushes on:  “Knowing what we all know about breastfeeding, I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say you played a big part in creating the sad sack your son has become.  Frankly, I think it’s disgraceful.”

Rick pauses.  “Now Janet, raise up your arms,” he commands.  “Come on, raise them up!”  Janet, bewildered, does as she’s told, and Rick points to where the armpits of her blouse are dark with sweat.  The audience roars with laughter.  “Janet, it’s time for you to go.  And take your dirtbag son with you!  Bob, let’s see what twenty more audience members get to take home, in Janet and Doug’s honor.”

Bob gushes about a framed Thomas Kincade print, showcased for the audience, and then there’s another commercial intermission.  We return to see another contestant standing at a lectern.  He is thin, sporting an Oxford button-down shirt, and has thinning, sand-colored hair and wire-rimmed glasses.  “Kyle Nelson, tell us about yourself,” says Rick.  Kyle explains that he is a college history professor specializing in—“That’s nice, Kyle, thanks,” says Rick.  “And now, look—puppies!”

Five adorable German Shepherd puppies run out onto the stage.  They’re fluffy, with floppy ears and love-me eyes, and the crowd gives a collective “Awwwwwwwww.”  The puppies line up and lie down, facing the audience, resting their heads on their front paws.  


Then a full-grown German Shepherd wearing a charcoal-colored vest labeled “POLICE” trots out to the stage, lean and taut, the perfect embodiment of discipline and grace.  A moment later a uniformed police officer appears onstage.  He is sturdy, with a square jaw, five-o’clock shadow, and thick, dark hair.  He is so good looking you begin to wonder if he might actually be a male stripper.

“This is Officer Jack Strong of the L.A.P.D.,” says Rick, “certainly one of the finest in the force.  I know I’m glad to have him on our streets.  Officer, I believe you have some questions for Kyle here.”

Officer Strong gets right to the point.  “Mr. Nelson, just after 11 p.m. on Saturday, October 18 you were headed southbound on Highway 405 when you encountered a police road block.  An arrest was being made on the shoulder of the highway, and as you were waved through you accelerated.  You wanna tell everybody what happened next?”

Kyle is speechless.  The cop continues, “You hit something, didn’t you?”  Kyle looks stricken, and stammers, “Well, there was a thump, but I didn’t know what it was, I figured it could be a road cone, or a hunk of an old tire or something.  I don’t know, I didn’t stop—I mean, there was a big bust happening there!”

“A road cone?  Is that what you were thinking when you cleaned the fur and blood off the front of your car?!  You ran over my K-9, you [BLEEP]!”  The audience gasps in horror.  “Scout died in my arms.  He was a good dog.  He was one of the best on the force.  And he was my friend.  You know what you are?!  You’re not just a cop-killer, but a hit-and-run dog-killer!”

Rick, who has been approaching Kyle, suddenly steps back as Kyle slams his fist down on the lectern.  “Wait a second!” Kyle cries out.  “You just wait a second!  Look, okay, I made a mistake!  But I was scared!  Fine, call me a coward—but look at yourselves!  You’re even worse!  Sitting there all smug, gaping at me and getting off on my humiliation!  You should all be ashamed!  This show is a travesty!  How would you like it if your lowest moment was put on display for a bunch of judgmental strangers?!  What is this, Tower Hill in London?  The Colosseum in Rome?!  Where would you be if you weren’t here to see this?  A cockfight?!  You disgust me!  You all disgust me!”  He turns to Rick.  “And you’re the worst of all, making your nut shaming people.  You can go straight to hell.”  Rick turns and begins to stalk away.

But Rick grabs him by the shoulder.  “Stop,” he says.  “I have to tell you something.”  Kyle turns and glares.  Rick leans close and, in a low tone, hisses, “You think you’re the first guy to try turning the tables on us?  Don’t make me laugh.  Sure, we film this thing life before a studio audience, but it’s not shown live.  We can cut it up all we want, and you can be sure your little tantrum there won’t be hitting anybody’s TV screen.  Don’t be a twit.”

“You think I care?” Kyle shoots back.  “Screw your show.  None of the rest of your footage is usable either, since I didn’t deign to follow your stupid script.  I’m glad I wasted your time.”

“Whoah, whoah, whoah.  Not so fast, mister.  Yes, we do have a script, and you’re going to follow it.”

“Oh yeah?” Kyle sneers.

“Yeah.  Because we have your teenage daughter backstage, and if you don't go back up to that stage and finish out this show the way we intended, I’m going to bring her on the show and confront her about her recent abortion.”

A blood vessel is bulging on Kyle’s forehead, and he stands fuming for a full minute before walking back to the lectern, lips pursed, and taking his licks.  Rick, when he’s done smearing his guest, concludes, “It’s time for Kyle to go.  And no, he won’t be getting a parting gift.  But Bob, show the viewers what Officer Strong and the rest of his precinct will be getting.”  Bob sings the praises of a beautiful hip flask—“Timeless, yet practical, in brilliant chrome or beautiful brushed stainless steel, covered in genuine cordovan leather.”

“But you, Kyle Nelson, you get nothing!” Rick shouts.  “That’s how we do it on”—and here the entire crowd shouts it out, in perfect unison—“NO CONSOLATION!” These words appear on-screen, in a giant blocky font.

The credits roll.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Biased Blow-By-Blow - Milan-San Remo 2015


Introduction

In a way, it’s hard to watch Milan-San Remo, the first of the so-called “Monuments” (i.e., really important races) of the year.  It’s so fricking long, and so flat, that there’s really very little action until a couple of little climbs toward the end.  Maybe that’s why you’re here:  you just couldn’t bring yourself to get out of bed early for an hours-long race, but you want to know a little more about the result than you’ll get from the post-race coverage.  But of course that’s not really it.  You’re here because you’re tired of real journalists biting their tongues all the time and being careful not to slander anybody, and you know that unpaid (and largely unread, almost completely invisible) bloggers can tell it like it is.

This race is often called “La Primavera,” meaning springtime, and carrying the burden of association with pasta primavera, which is pasta with no meat, just some damn vegetables, and everybody knows that vegetarians are an easy crowd to please—you just have to skip the meat and they’ll eat anything.   Hopefully this will be a better race than that.


Biased Blow-By-Blow – Milan-San Remo 2015

I join the action just in time to see Maarten Tjallingii (Team LottoNL-Jumbo) clenching the stem of a banana in his teeth.  Now, it would be tempting for a race commentator to trot out a cliché of some kind, like comparing this to a horse having taken the bit in its teeth.  This would actually be refreshing compared to the totally overused phrase “gallop to the finish.”  But I’m watching the Eurosport feed, which is a cut above, and the bloke (being British, of course he’s a bloke) says, “I can guarantee you he won’t be eating it with the skin on.”  Why is this funny?  Is it the randomness?  Is it that I was softened up by the British pronunciation of banana (i.e., “buh-NAW-naw”)?  Or is it that I’m just feeling really happy right now because I’m watching bike racers out there in the cold and rain and I’m nice and warm with a mug of tea and a cat on my lap?

In any event, you won’t have to settle for such inane comments from me except when I quote the Eurosport guys.  You see, I’ve done my homework and am steeped in trivia about this race which I can dole out as we go.  Not that the pro announcers don’t; my tidbits just aren’t subject to the annoying formality of fact-checking.

So here’s what’s going on.  Yes, it’s been raining, and it’s gotta be cold because a lot of dudes are rocking full leg warmers and long-sleeve jerseys.  The weather is clearing up, but the racers are surely already soaked.  There’s a breakaway 3:23 ahead of the group, with about 65 km to go.  It’s ten riders, the only ones I’ve heard of being Stefano Pirazzi (Bardiani CSF) and Tjallingii. 

Depending on what house rules you use for Scrabble, you might keep “Tjallingii” in your back pocket.  What a great way to use up all your tiles, while baiting your cycling-ignorant opponent to challenge your word!

So, if you’re reading my blow-by blow, perhaps you’re only a pseudo-aficionado of cycling or are reading this way after the fact for the sake of nostalgia.  That being (possibly) the case, I suppose I should give you some background about who the favorites are this year and what they have to say about their chances.  Don’t worry, I’ll work this in carefully so I don’t deprive you of any real-time updates like “the peloton is still very large and going very fast, everybody is still on bicycles, and the breakaway is still losing time.”

As it happens, a good friend of mine, Maynard Steele, is a freelance journalist and got some great pre-race interviews with a number of favorites.  This was for “Woman’s Day” magazine, which I’m sure surprises you, but Maynard knows what he’s doing.  You and I know that “Woman’s Day” is for housewives, but these Europeans don’t grasp that.  They’re picturing Baywatch babes reading it, so they’re a bit more open, perhaps even trying to be a bit provocative.  Consider this quote from Peter Sagan (Tinkoff-Saxo):   “I feel I’m ready.  I think my form’s improved as the season has gone on. I don’t think there’s a secret to winning Milan-San Remo. I think it all depends on what happens on the Poggio.  And yes, there’s lots of pressure on me, a monument victory is long overdue, but I’ll be happy just to make the podium, so I can show that I can behave myself there.  I have learned not to grab the podium woman’s butt, even if she did wink at me earlier.”

Wow, the riders go into a tunnel and a bunch of them stack!  Normally we’d now be looking at Tom Boonen rolling on his back and moaning in agony with a broken bone, but he’s not in this race.

It’s down to 48 km and the gap is down to 2:07.  They’re on the Capo Mele, which is not Italian for “head of the mêlée” like many think, but actually translates “tiny little hill that is barely worth mentioning.”

Another big favorite, given that this 293 km race often comes down to a field sprint, is Mark Cavendish (Etixx-Quick-Step).  Cav claims he’s not at 100% as he’s coming off a stomach virus, but of course this might just be a ruse.  He told Maynard, “[Milan-San Remo] is my first goal of the year. It’s not like a failure if I don’t win it. How do you Americans put it ... ‘This ain’t my first rodeo.’  If there’s one thing I’ve learned from the classics, it’s that an ageing complexion needs more coverage, not more product.  So layering on a sheer formula isn’t your best bet.”  Perhaps the jocular Manxman is tweaking certain British journalists who mock him for having such a perfect, gleaming smile that his teeth are almost unpatriotic.

One dude is dropped from the break.  They’re really giving it a good fight, but the gap is down to 1:45 with like an hour to go.

One of my real-time blow-by-blow readers (okay, my one reader) says, “The better part of 300K is a long way to ride in the cold and rain.  I don’t care if you’re totally lubed, it would still suck.”  Now, in case this report is your introduction to the sport of cycling, my pal is referring to illegal performance-enhancing drugs, which a majority of fans believe are still in use.  And here’s another little tidbit:  other sports are even worse!  That’s right ... those football players you watch?  They’re all on steroids!  Crazy, huh?

At the back, Edvald Boasson Hagen (MTN-Qhubeka) is having some trouble.  Not sure what happened ... got stuck behind somebody with a mechanical or something.  He’s also having some trouble with his name.  Every time somebody is introduced to Boasson Hagen, he says, “Nice to meet you Edward.”  Which prompts, “Um, it’s actually ‘Edvald,’” and now the two are off to an awkward start.  Fortunately, the time my wife and I met Boasson Hagen, at the Tour of California years ago, there was nobody to introduce us, which was fine because my wife later admitted that she thinks he’s hot, and I wouldn’t want to have to kick his ass or anything.  (In a fistfight, not a match sprint, of course.)  Boasson Hagen continues to be the only bike racer my wife cares about (though that’s putting it strongly).

Man, the pace has really picked up, and the gap is down to 50 seconds.  The break has shattered and the front group is down to three riders:  Matteo Bono (Lampre-Merida), who goes by the nickname “the other Bono,” Serge Pauwels (MTN-Qhubeka), and Pirazzi.

Whoah!  A gnarly crash on a gentle descent!  Dude’s front wheel just washed out.  A Tinkoff-Saxo rider, Christopher Juul Jensen, looks pretty bad ... I think he hit a stone wall.

Three Sky riders are chasing the break all on their own.  Ben Swift, their best sprinter, is among them.  Seems like a ridiculous move, but then Sky is so coked up on PEDs, they don’t need to follow normal tactical guidelines.  Just consider what went down in Paris-Nice recently with Richie Porte and Geraint Thomas practically walking away from everybody else at the stage race’s only summit finish.  Thomas is in this trio now, showing that when you’re on the high-test stuff, you can be just as amazing on the flats as you are on the climbs.  The third guy is Luke Rowe, whom I’ve never heard of, but then I’d never heard of Christopher Froome either until he joined Sky and was suddenly one of the strongest guys in the sport.

It’s 30 km to go.  I may not have time to run down the rest of the top contenders.  But here’s an interesting quote from perennial favorite Philippe Gilbert (BMC Racing Team):  “For me, [sharing team leadership with Greg Van Avermaet] is an advantage. Two guys are better than one.  And Greg is a classy rider.  I’ve learned a lot from him, such as how to use the tip of my ring finger to gently tap liquid highlighter along my cheekbones, from just beyond the apples of my cheeks up toward my temples.  The product contains light-reflecting particles that draw the eye upward and away from what he calls my ‘droopy jowls.’  Bit of a twit, Greg, now that I think about it.”

Now it’s just Bono off the front, solo, barely holding off the Sky trio.  The racers are on the penultimate climb, the Cipressa.  This is a celebrated climb, though not as celebrated as the salad that goes by the same name (but which Americans know as the Caprese, except Midwesterners who think all salads are just giant hunks of iceberg lettuce with thousand-island dressing).

Van Avermaet is now in great position as the front of the peloton starts to break up.  And there’s a crash!  The French national champ is down (which I point out not because he was a favorite, but because based on his jersey I could at least say something about him).  The video is freezing up.  I doubt anybody is hurt because it was on the climb so they were “only” going like 40 kph.  Now the pack is back together and some Sky guy is drilling it.  I think they said its Lars Petter Nordhaug; I won’t pretend I can recognize him.  I’ve never heard of that guy in my life.

This is unbelievable:  they’re flying up this climb so fast, they’re having to brake for the curves.  Surely some of the sprinters are worried by this.  Cavendish is still in there ... it’s a long pack so you can slip back a fair bit and still be attached.

An attack by BMC ... not sure who it is.  The riders are all lined out which surely means agony.  Lots of dudes going backwards as you look back in the group.  Alexander Kristoff (Team Katusha) is really suffering almost at the very back.  He’s last year’s winner and must be totally stressed out right now.  He told “Woman’s Day” last week, “Milan-San Remo is a wide open race, so many guys can win in different ways. You can win it in a sprint, as I did, you can go away in a small group on the Poggio or even before.  Why should I assume it’ll come down to a bunch sprint?  And why, for that matter, woudn’t I ‘walk’ black eyeliner across my top lashes using tiny back-and-forth motions, starting from the outer corner of my eye inward?”

I’m starting to think the publishing game is starting to affect my friend Maynard’s journalistic judgment.  Something is not quite right about these quotes from the racers.  He might be paraphrasing again.

It’s 22 km to go, and BMC has lots of guys near the front, with Daniel Oss leading with a quickness.  Cavendish is in better position now but is clearly suffering.  Now they’re descending the Cipressa.  The road is dry which I think is good ... I don’t like it when crashes figure strongly in the end result.

There’s a French rider named Adrien Petit in this race.  I wonder if he’s a small guy, from a family of small guys.

They’re really bombing this descent.  The odd puddle could change things around fast but these guys are plenty alert.  There’s a tailwind which is surely intensifying everything.  The Poggio is coming up soon.  It’s almost 4 km in length but only averages 3.7%.  It’s tempting to call that a pretty easy climb, but remember how far these guys have already ridden.

It’s 16 km to go.  Michal Kwiatkowski (Etixx-Quick-Step), the reigning world champ, is way toward the back, though not as far back as Kristoff who I think is literally the last rider in the peloton.  Do they think the draft is actually better behind 90 riders than, say, 60?

The sun is coming out.  I should point out that Bono is still 20 seconds ahead of everybody.  That’s kind of amazing, really.  He was already off the front when I joined the coverage almost 90 minutes ago. 

Kwiatkowski has to be considered a favorite.  He’s a relative newcomer to the limelight but obviously extremely talented, and apparently a quick learner.  Speaking of his chances in this race, he said, “I didn’t feel tired after Paris-Nice. We did the recon on the Monday and I really enjoyed that time.  My skills are still improving, and though I’m still young, I think I’m gaining some wisdom.  I’ve learned to love the skin I’m in, if that makes any sense.  Love you as you truly are, before you put on the concealer or the lipstick.  Use your products to enhance your own natural beauty and know that every line, crease, or scar is a marker of who you are and what you have survived.  Be proud and own it!”

The racers are approaching the Poggio now.  After this climb is a fairly tricky descent, and then a flat run-in the the finish, which is a kilometer shorter this year, which could increase the chances of a successful breakaway.  It’s under 10 km to go.  Astana is at the front.  Cavendish has wisely moved himself closer to the front of the group. 

Oss and Thomas have a bit of a gap on the others as they close in on the Poggio. 

At the back of the group, Andre Greipel (Lotto Soudal) is just barely hanging on the back, clearly dying.

My wife just approached and said my name in that “can we talk?” voice.  I told her there’s 8 km to go and next thing I knew, she’d started in on our “talk.”  I repeated “It’s 8 km!  I’m watching this!”  She indicated a lack of understanding of how quickly 8 km goes by.  It’s going to be a long morning.

Thomas has attacked Oss!  He’s absolutely flying!  He’s making this climb look like a flat road!  But Katusha is crushing it on the front of the peloton.  Ooh, Thomas looks like he’s really suffering, and that’s saying something.  Normally when a Sky rider solos, he barely looks like he’s going hard.

I think I have time for one more “top contender” quote.  John Degenkolb (Team Giant-Alpecin) is a clear favorite based on his m4d sprinting sk1llz.  He was noisily confident ahead of the race:  “We had a good ride today, seeing the course and getting one last long ride in. I’m happy with my shape.  It’s going to be a phenomenal race.  Burning rubber AND BLOOD! Now that’s what I call a bike race.  SUNDAY SUNDAY SUNDAY!  Blood-burning racing bikes and blood-red lip-liner!  BE THERE!”

Oss is still a ways ahead of the peloton, mouth gaping open.  Looks a bit like a pit bull.  Oh, his face is contorted.  He’s miserable.  And here comes the peloton, with some bearded Katusha rider heading it up.  I have to think some sprinters are getting shelled.

Van Avermaet has got a bit of a gap and seems infinitely powerful at the moment.  Cav is being absolutely rendered at the back of the group, hanging on for dear life.  Thomas still has a bit of a gap but he’s running out of climb.  It’s 5.4 km to go and they’re over the top of the Poggio!

If Van Avermaet can work with Thomas, they might do something, but it’s an awfully strong peloton and Thomas has got to be fried already.

Van Avermaet has got Thomas!  And the rest of the group is pretty much upon them.  They’re bombing the Poggio.  The great thing about this sport is that in addition to everything else these guys have to be able to do—motor on the flats, climb well, sprint well, hold up after 6 or 7 hours—they also need great skill and giant balls (figuratively speaking).

It’s so hard to tell what sprinters are still in contact. 

Gerald Ciolek (MTN-Qhubeka) and Gilbert are down!  Their race is over!  Another guy who went down spikes his helmet on the asphalt.  Kwiatkowski is also down!  Dang it, these guys are totally bummed!

Van Avermaet is still at the front, still with a tiny gap!  He’s a phenomenal rider, but still fighting the wind alone.  Okay, a number of guys have passed him up.  I think Sagan was among them.  Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) is up there.  It’s only 1.3 km to go!

Michael Matthews (Orica GreenEdge) is in there.  Kristoff is there.  Boassan Hagen is also there.  They’re under the 1 km banner!  Katusha, just like last year, is right on the front, the first two guys.  It’s a pretty big group, all lined out, Kristoff well placed, Degenkolb right up there, and they’re starting the sprint, Kristoff goes from early out and BOOM!  It’s suddenly Degenkolb!  He’s got the win!

Degenkolb bided his time and (even more importantly) was just really, really fast.  The crush of media are around him and his chest is still heaving.  He won on a bicycle made by Giant.  I, too, ride a Giant.  That’s about where our similarities end.

Kristoff was second, Matthews third.

They’re showing the super-slo-mo.  Kristoff went really early, and just faded at the end.  He even had to sit back down on the saddle a bit before the line.  If it were possible to be poisoned by lactic acid, he’d be a dead man.  Degenkolb does the “I-can’t-believe-it!” helmet-clutching victory salute


It looks like they’re not going to show the podium ceremony.  I never get to see those anymore.   Oh well.  I’d be more bummed I were missing out on a chance to see if Sagan can behave himself on the podium, but he placed only fourth anyway.  It’s a pity; I heard he’d been so confident of a triumphant post-race interview, he even plucked his eyebrows.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Biased Blow-By-Blow, Paris-Nice 2015, Stage Four


Introduction

Not everybody in this country is willing to get up at 6 a.m. to watch a bike race live.  Other Americans are on the east coast so the race is happening during working hours, so they have to miss it.  Still others don’t really want to watch and just want a recap, which is easy enough to find, but most reports don’t include totally unfounded accusations and wild conjecture, along with snotty comments, which is where I come in.  If you want an account of Paris-Nice from a non-journalist who calls a spade an asshole, read on.

Paris-Nice Stage 4

As I join the action, the riders have 51 km to go.  There’s a breakaway of three 4:10 ahead of the peloton.  It’s the Dane Chris Anker Sørensen (Tinkoff-Saxo), the Canadian Antoine Duschesne (Team Europcar), and the Belgian Thomas De Gendt (Lotto Soudal).

Great, Duschesne has been dropped.  I’m going back to bed.  It was bad enough that I had to settle for a North American to root for, but now it’s just pointless.  You know what we need?  A World Series of cycling, where only Americans participate and it’s always held in some U.S. state.

Just kidding.  Of course I love watching foreigners, or “damn foreigners” as we Amer’cans like to say, racing their bikes and then speaking their funny languages during the post-race interview.

The racers have cruised over the Category 2 Cote de la Gimond, which was a mere 1.8 km at 6.5%.  How that got to be rated a Cat 2 is beyond me.  I mean, a pro cyclist would probably barely feel such little bump in the road.  I have to say, I’m disappointed at the parcours this year.  Just not very much climbing considering this is the Rhône-Alpes region of France.

By the way, if you’re reading this out loud to somebody who doesn’t follow cycling, he might think you just said “parkour,” and thinks you’re watching that really weird sporting event where dudes run through some urban area negotiating various obstacles without slowing down.  This is a much more popular spectator sport (among Americans) than cycling.  Don’t correct your audience ... instead, see how long he plays along like he knows what you’re (or rather, I’m) talking about.

Not much has happened (can you tell?) since my first update.  It’s 38 km to go, and the gap has dropped to 2:35, if the on-screen stats are to be believed (which is a big “if” because they’ve been really screwed up in previous stages).

In case you haven’t been keeping up with the race this year, can I recommend a blood infusion or some PEDs?  (Okay, that was lame.)  If you haven’t been following this stage race so far, here’s what’s going on.  Aussie Michael Matthews (Orice-GreenEdge) is in the yellow jersey after winning yesterday’s stage. The prologue was short and the stages have been basically flat, so there aren’t big time gaps.  Reigning world champion Michal Kwiatowski (Etixx-QuickStep) is in second overall, 1 second down, and won the prologue less than 1 second ahead of Aussie Rohan Dennis (BMC), the current holder of the world hour record (at least until next week, when somebody else will probably grab it for awhile, and since you asked, yes, I myself am planning to have a go later in the year).

Rafal Majka (Tinkoff-Saxo) has a mechanical and has to get a new bike. That’s a drag because the riders are on a false flat.  That is to say, they’re on a road that looks flat but is slightly uphill.  Actually, on the screen it looks completely flat, but just as the camera adds five pounds, it also subtracts a couple percent.  If a climb looks steep on-screen, rest assured it’s completely brutal.  I know this from watching footage of races up the Col du Galibier and Alpe d’Huez, which (I can tell you) look so much steeper in person.

The big finale of this stage is the Croix de Chaubouret, the only mountaintop finish of the whole race.  It’s a Category 1, 10 km at 6.5%.  That’s not such a terribly hard climb, frankly.  I’ve seen the Col du Telegraphe, 11.8 km at 7.3%, rated as a Cat 2.  Why this discrepancy?  Maybe the Chaubouret is higher.  Nope!  It’s only 1,201 meters above sea level; the Telegraphe tops out at 1,566.  Who knows.

Right now the racers are approached the “Cat 3” Cote de la Croix Blanche, which is 1.8 km at 4.9% and will appear on my screen as an actual descent.  The racers will probably roll over it at like 40 kph. 

I wish there were more to report in terms of action, but there just isn’t.  De Gendt and Sørensen are working pretty well together, but the peloton is huge and swarming and now only 1:25 down.

A Movistar rider has punctured and his teammate gives him his wheel.  They do a nice job of it, losing maybe 15 seconds tops for the guy who punctured, who must be a team leader.  The domestique of course will lose more time, but ought to be able to latch back on.

De Gendt and Sørensen are over the top of the Croix Blanche already.  They’re bombing the descent but even with the peloton still on the climb, the gap is down to 1:15.

I’ll be keeping a close eye on Rohan Dennis, because in addition to being a great time trialist, that boy can climb.  He won the Mount Diablo stage of the Tour of California, which is a proper HC climb with a brutal section at the very top, at least 15%.

It’s 21 km to go, gap at just 1 minute.  There’s just one climb to go, the “big” one.  This British announcer is calling it the “grand finale,” which made me think of that last burst of continuous fireworks on the 4th of July, and then seconds later the announcer said “There are going to be fireworks!”  Just add funnel cakes, and we could be at the fairgrounds in Topeka!

Andrew Talansky punctures!  Man, what terrible timing.  The peloton is hauling ass on this descent and Talansky will be lucky to latch on before the climb.  At least he didn’t stack.

De Gendt has a picture of a padlock on his butt.  I’m not sure I want to know what that’s about.

Talansky is still off the back.  A couple teammates have dropped back to help him out, but it’s not looking good.  It’s also not looking good for the breakaway duo, whose lead is down to 25 seconds.  They’re still going through the motions, which is probably more than I would do.  I’d be putting on the brakes, so the pack would scoop me up sooner and I could draft.  I once saw a racer actually turn around during a criterium so he’d be lapped sooner, and be fresher for the primes (of which he won several, oddly enough).

Talansky is back on the group!  Pretty impressive, and I’ll bet he’s nice and warmed-up now.

De Gendt has a beard.  I’m seeing a lot more of those in the peloton these days, such as on Bradley Wiggins (Team Sky) and Peter Velits (BMC).  I had a beard until last night.  I hadn’t planned to shave it, but my wife was at Whole Foods (or the Food Hole as we like to call it) and the butcher had a giant beard with a hairnet  over it, which (inevitably) put my wife in mind of beard hair falling in food, even though the net actually prevents that, and she decided, “I’m done with this beard thing” and made me shave mine off.  At first I didn’t want to, and we bickered, and I finally decided to compromise, and shaved off half my beard.


So, a bit of background on this Croix de Chaubouret climb:  according to the race preview travelogue-ish thing, “Winter activities include ski and cross-country ski lessons for beginners as well as snow tubing (sledging on rubber rings)... The Monts du Pilat is a former industrial basin where the distant echo of weavers’ looms can still be heard.”  Is this for real?  Picture yourself there:  “Wait, ssshh, what’s that sound?  That whish-whishing sound?  I think ... yes!  That’s the distant echo of weavers’ looms!  But nobody uses a loom anymore!  It must be ... a GHOST!”

The climb is underway now and riders are being spat out the back.  And guess what?  I’m no oracle:  there goes Rohan Dennis, inexplicably off the back.  Heinrich Haussler is also dropped, which is weird, because I think he’s worn the polka-dot jersey in this race.  In fact, I’m sure of it.  He was wearing it when he contested a field sprint and ran into Mark Cavendish and they both stacked spectacularly.

It’s 12 km to go and this road just looks flat. 

Christian Knees (Team Sky) is also dropped.  That is really weird because normally Team Sky riders are never dropped at all, no matter what the course.  Even their sprinters are usually right on the front on a climb, helping to drive the pace.  I wonder if there’s a bad case of food poisoning or something among these riders?  I mean, this climb just isn’t that steep!

A crash!  Two guys on the ground and a third guy somersaults over him.  Man, looks painful.  Warren Barguil (Team Giant-Alpecin) looks to be in a world of hurt.  Poor guy.  I feel so bad I’m not even going to make a snarky comment along the lines of “how do you crash on a straightaway on a climb?”

Rafal Majka is off the back. That’s weird, too ... he was a GC hopeful.

The break is over and it’s just this giant swarming peloton.  AG2R is on the front drilling it.  Now an Astana guy, Paolo Tiralongo, attacks.  Meanwhile, off the back, another Astana guy, Lars Boom, yells angrily at Majka.  I wonder what he yelled?  “Don’t throw away your future!”  Or, “Your form is disgraceful, even for the early season!”

Ben Swift, a sprinter on Team Sky (see!?), is on the front leading the chase.  Tiralongo doesn’t seem to be making much ground.  He looks tired.  How can everybody be so lethargic, when the hills are alive with the sound of music?

Team Sky has four guys right on the front now, with Tiralongo absorbed. So, it’s back to the old status quo for Team Sky, who eerily dominate races like this one.  Today they’re working for Aussie Richie Porte, who handily won Paris-Nice in 2013.  Porte has done 50 pro stage races and has only finished 24 of them.  Hmmmmm.

It’s 4.8 km to go and nothing but Sky, Sky, Sky on the front.  They’re really flying, with the peloton stretched out pretty thin.  Tiralongo is now off the back.  Nicholas Roche is riding really well this season, because he’s on Team Sky now himself.  (No, I’m not suggesting that he’s on some special Sky doping program!  I just mean that he must be really good for them to have signed him!)

Wow, there’s still snow on the road.  France is pretty far north I guess.  Roche is forcing the pace on the front, chin wagging a bit. 

Geraint Thomas (Team Sky) attacks!  An Astana rider joins him.  And now it’s Tejay Van Garderen (BMC)!  Brutal attack, and now Richie Porte makes his move!  Whoah, and a rider is down!  This Movistar dude just drifted into the rider next to him!  Unbelievable!  And now it’s an ad for a NASA Doctor’s natural brain breakthrough, which is some kind of berry where you “eat this ... NEVER forget a single thing again!”  Okay, ad is over.

It’s Jacob Fuglsang, using a J as a vowel and a silent G, up there with Thomas.  The pack is blown to smithereens.  Kwiatkowski is still in the group.  The third rider off the front is Simon Spilak (Team Katusha).  They have a pretty small gup.  And there goes Richie Porte!  He attacked the moment the group came back together.  He’s completely flying, with Thomas on his wheel.  On Team Sky, you don’t need to use most riders as domestiques; everybody can be a leader because they’re winning the arms race.

Less than 500 meters to go and Porte is still flying along, looking pretty cool, no obvious suffering there, with Thomas sitting on him rather casually.  With 300 meters to go they’re only extending their lead.  Perhaps Swift will come in for third.  Okay, at leat the two are grimacing now, but that’s probably just for the fans.  They cross the line 1-2, making the rest of the peloton, and all the fans, look like chumps.

Tejay rolls in for 5th.  The Astana climbing sensation Fabio Aru comes over a few seconds later.  The rest of the peloton comes over in 1s and 2s.  The announcer is applauding the tactics of Team Sky.  And I have to agree:  being far stronger than everybody else is a brilliant strategy. 

Kwiatowski was third.  I think this puts him in the yellow jersey.  Yep, he’s got it!  Porte is in second now, 1 second back, with Thomas in third, 3 seconds back.  Tejay sits 4th, 27 seconds back, which isn’t  too terribly much time since the last time trial is all uphill.

Out the window I see my daughter biking off to school.  Did you know she has better position on the bike than Christopher Froome?  It’s true.

They’re showing, over and over, the super-slo-mo of the two Sky riders cruising in to the finish, and I think I’m going to be ill, so I’m going to call this a crap.  Er, wrap.  Thanks for tuning in, and I’m sorry everything unfolded so predictably.


Saturday, March 7, 2015

From the Archives - STEM vs. Rhetoric


Introduction

Some seventeen years ago, before the novelty of e-mail had worn off, I forwarded around a funny message I got from my boss. My friend M— forwarded it to a bunch more people, and one of them sent a rebuttal that I found a little too pat. Moreover, his opening sentence, “Your math is off,” struck me as a little smug. So, notwithstanding the absurdity of the original e-mail, I decided to defend it to the death. (Actually, being in the wrong actually increased my motivation: as a lover of rhetorical finesse, I have a natural fondness for the quixotic job of advancing untenable positions.)

I present the transcript of this debate because I think it’s funny, and because everybody loves a good smackdown, right?

(A note on the title: of course the term “STEM” hadn’t been coined yet in 1997. But my title, you may find, is decent shorthand for the subtext of this debate.)


Knowledge vs. Money - a debate between strangers

From: Dana Albert
Sent: Friday, November 07, 1997 5:36 PM
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Subject: FW: Equation

Check out this funny e-mail from my boss!

--~--~--~--~--
Team,
I think we could call this the rule of the VP level at (insert client here)...
Do you know too much?
We all know that:
Knowledge is Power and  Time is Money.
And, as engineers learned in school:
Power = Work / Time
So, if  Knowledge = Power, and  Time = Money, then  Knowledge = Work / Money
Solving for Money, we get:  Money = Work / Knowledge
Thus, Money approaches infinity as Knowledge approaches ZERO, regardless of the Work done.
Therefore:
The Less you Know, the More you Make.

--~--~--~--~--~--~--~--~--

From: M—
Sent: Monday, November 10, 1997 11:18 AM
To: Dana Albert
Cc: undisclosed-recipients
Subject: FW: Equation

Dana,

Below is follow up from my friend—working on his PhD in Physics...

M—
--~--~--~--~--
From: S—
To: M—
Subject: Re: Equation
Date: Sunday, November 09, 1997 8:22PM
Your math is off. You must assume that work is independent of knowledge for your math to be correct. Since knowledge and work are correlated money does not go to infinity. Work is probaly proportional to knowledge to some power greater than one (first order approximation).. i.e. work = C * (knowledge)^(1+n). Where C is a constant. So if we go back to the eq M = W/K. We get M= C* K^(1+n) / K, by substituting in the relation for work. Finally simplfying, we get: M = C*K^n. So we see that as Knowledge increases money, actually also does increase. All is good in the world still.
S—
--~--~--~--~--~--~--~--~--

From: Dana Albert
Sent: Tuesday, November 11, 1997 7:16 PM
To: M—
Subject: RE: Equation

M—,

I find your friend’s rebuttal to my boss’s treatise interesting. I will analyze the rebuttal in terms of the three branches of rhetoric: ethos (authority), logos (logic), and pathos (emotional feeling).

First, ethos: the fact that your friend is working on his Ph.D. in physics is not nearly as impressive as an actual degree in physics. All that being in graduate school means is that he already has an undergraduate degree and has passed some tests. Meanwhile, we can only speculate on the quality of his undergraduate education. I did immediately notice that your friend’s his message had punctuation errors (such as only one space after a period), spelling errors (such as “probaly”), and grammatical errors (such as the sentence fragment “Where C is a constant”). Suffice to say he doesn’t win huge points in the ethos category.

Moving on to pathos, we immediately see that he bases his rebuttal largely on equations. I was not moved.

Finally, his logic is based upon what I would call a faulty premise: that knowledge and work are correlated. Where did he ever get that idea? It is futile to build an argument on an axiom that is not generally accepted. An effective argument must not only have valid reasoning, but must also be built upon sound premises—thus his equations, nothing more than smoke and mirrors, evaporate.

Clearly all is not “good in the world still.”

Sorry,
Dana

--~--~--~--~--~--~--~--~--

From: S—
To: M—
Subject: I am a Rocket Scientist!
Date: Tuesday, November 11, 1997 4:35PM

Mr. Albert feels that my argument fails for three reasons: I do not have the authority to make such statements, my rebuttal did not stir his emotions, and that knowledge and work output were indeed uncorrelated.

Mr. Albert challenges my authority, citing my numerous typos, and my lack of education. In science, authority has no baring on the validity of an argument. Just as the church’s authority could not stifle Galileo’s heresy, Mr. Albert’s authority can not stifle my heresy. I would also note that he is not immune to typos himself: “I did immediately notice that your friend’s his message had punctuation errors”

Mr. Albert goes on to say that my argument fails to move him. Perhaps, Mr. Albert, my equations failed to move you, because as an English major you fail to understand them.

Finally, Mr. Albert rejects my assumption that work output and knowledge are correlated. I challenge him to reject the assumption the next time he is interviewing a potential employee.

The success of the scientific worldview has been in large part due to the rejection of pathos and ethos, in favor of logos. While Mr. Albert certainly has pathos and ethos in abundance, it does not obscure the fact that he lacks logos. Mr. Albert defends his boss’s abuse of math and science in an attempt to prove that the less you know the more money you make. The argument is empirically false, and the argument should be rejected for that reason alone. I simply wished to point out where the logic of the proof collapsed.

S—

--~--~--~--~--~--~--~--~--

From: Dana Albert
Sent: Tuesday, November 11, 1997 8:16 PM
To: M—
Subject: RE: I am a Rocket Scientist!

M—,

I will continue to uphold the validity of my boss’s statement about money, knowledge, and work. This is fun.

The following sentence, committed by Mr. S—, I find comical: “In science, authority has no bearing on the validity of an argument.” Perhaps Mr. S— is quibbling on the definition of “valid,” which in strict logical terms can mean “correctly inferred or deduced from a premise.” I see no point in doing this: valid, in a normal context, means “(1) Well grounded; just: a valid objection. (2) Producing the desired results; efficacious.” Now, does Mr. S— really believe that authority has no bearing on the validity of an argument? If a doctor diagnoses sickle-cell anemia and the patient insists it’s just a cold, does the doctor back down? When a judge or attorney evaluates the merit of forensic evidence, whom does he call on: a forensics specialist, or an art historian? Perhaps Mr. S— is unimpressed by credentials, but he can hardly speak for the entire scientific community.

For Mr. S— to point out my typo is an excellent example of what in logic is called the “red herring fallacy.” While I did make a typo, pointing it out is irrelevant to the actual argument, which concerns my boss’s statement about work, knowledge, and money. I cited Mr. S—’s grammatical errors because I was attempting to evaluate his level of education. My level of education, on the other hand, does not figure in the validity of my boss’s argument. Meanwhile, since the quality of S—’s education is still very much in question and pertinent to our ongoing discussion, I did notice that in the very sentence in which Mr. S— points out my typo, he commits another punctuation error by neglecting to end his sentence with a period. Perhaps he wasn’t sure whether the period should go after the quotation mark or before it and just gave up. But I digress.

Mr. S— suggests that the failure of his equations to move me emotionally is due to the nature of my undergraduate education. On the contrary, elegant and conclusive math—such as that exemplified by my boss in his original statement—moves me almost to tears. Moreover, a solid argument can impress and persuade anybody, regardless of his or her background. To confine one’s audience to nerdy scientists seems pointless, given that my boss’s original statement had universal appeal to any of us weary cogs of industry.

I was surprised to see that Mr. S— returned to his ill-fated premise about knowledge and output being correlated. This assertion is arguable at best, and simply cannot stand up to ages-old, commonly accepted axioms such as “time is money” and “knowledge is power.” And yet his first attempt to support this assertion is a suggestion that I keep his assertion in mind when conducting job interviews. I can assure Mr. S— that when conducting job interviews, I actually keep in mind the fallacy of this assertion. When I interview an applicant, particularly one weighted down with extra degrees, I invariably have the following question in mind: “Okay, he’s got plenty of knowledge, but after such long residence in the ivory towers, will he work hard enough to finish his projects on time? Will he complete a variety of tasks, or get bogged down in his habit of perfectionism? Or will he decide that his job is a nuisance, and return to academia for another degree?”

Meanwhile, it appears that Mr. S—’s submersion in his graduate physics program has given him a skewed perception of “the success of the scientific worldview.” All around us are examples of science’s failure to persuade people. For example, it is scientific fact that smoking cigarettes causes lung cancer, yet millions of people begin doing it every day. Why? Is it because they refute the validity of the scientific findings? I doubt it. More likely it’s a clear example of scientific logos being overpowered by the pathos of cigarette ads showing beautiful sexy cool people smoking, combined with the ethos of the Marlboro Man and assorted smokers in the entertainment industry. Again, Mr. S— seems to confuse the prestige of his field with the realities of rhetoric.

Mr. S—, meanwhile, himself seems to try to infuse his argument with ethos by titling his message “I am a Rocket Scientist!” and repeatedly citing the strength of logos in science as if it were exemplified in his own arguments. Alas, it is not. For Mr. S— to claim that “Mr. Albert . . . lacks logos” is both incorrect and a good example of the logical fallacy called “ad hominem.” For Mr. S— to assert that my argument is illogical is one thing; to assert that I as a person “lack logos” is a personal attack. I will not dwell on this attack, since it is far more interesting to wonder what problems he has found in my logic. Incongruously, he attempts to support his attack on my logic by claiming that my boss’s statement about knowledge and money is empirically false. First of all, what does empirical evidence have to do with the quality of my logic? Dismissing the premises of an argument does not in itself do anything to evaluate the logic of conclusions that proceed logically from those premises.

Let us use a simpler proof to elucidate Mr. S—’s mistake. Assume this premise: it is raining outside. Assume also this premise: if it rains, Mr. Jones will carry his umbrella. If we assume these premises to be true (i.e., it is raining, and Mr. Jones does carry his umbrella when it rains), then we arrive at the logical conclusion that Mr. Jones is therefore carrying his umbrella. I believe this is a classic example of inductive reasoning, called (if memory serves), “modus tollendo ponens.” Now, if we discover that we were mistaken about the rain—that it is in fact not raining—does that mean we were being illogical when we concluded that Mr. Jones was carrying his umbrella? Of course not. Our logic was impeccable; we were simply wrong about one of the premises. For Mr. S— to state that my premise is the point “at which the logic of the proof collapsed” suggests that he aspires to an understanding of logical proof which he has not yet achieved.

This brings us to what apparently is the last possible foundation of his argument: his assertion that knowledge and output are interrelated, and that this statement is empirical fact. Even when I take into consideration Mr. S—’s lack of experience in the corporate world (immersed as he is in academia), I still must believe that examples of knowledge without output are all around him. What about the tenured professor who hasn’t published in three decades, who recycles the same rote lecture year after year? What about the grad student who has read every single book on his subject and still hasn’t started on his doctoral thesis, and never will? What about all those who finally get their Ph.D.s, only to take dead-end jobs in the service sector, letting their nine years of education slowly fall to oblivion? Meanwhile, we see other examples of output without knowledge, such as the factory worker who knows almost nothing about the textile industry but is nonetheless capable of sewing more than 500 elastic waistbands a day. Clearly, Mr. S— is unwise to base his entire argument—and his condemnation of my logical ability—on such a problematic assertion as knowledge and output being interrelated to a significant degree.

I hope that clears up the matter.

Dana

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From: S—
To: M—
Subject: Re: Equation (fwd)
Date: Wednesday, November 12, 1997 1:44PM

M—,

I’ve been busy researching the correlation between knowledge and wages, but I offer the insights of C—, a fellow graduate student.
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Forwarded message
Date: Wed, 12 Nov 1997 11:36:23 -0700 (MST)
From: C—
To: S—
Subject: Re: Equation (fwd)
I find this entire discourse fairly meaningless in light of one error. Even if we accept the premises that knowledge is power, and that power is equal to work divided by time, the conclusion that these two relationships obey the laws of communicability is fallacious. The original author has fallen into a fairly common trap in the sciences. As with the infamous “Intensity” definition in optics, the true meaning of power depends upon the specific context, or less generally, discipline of science in which it is used.
Since an astronomer uses “intensity” to mean “watts per square meter” and a radiometric scientist uses “intensity” to mean “power per steradian” (the true SI definition), can we state that the ratio, area divided by solid angle, is a meaningless quantity and should thus be discarded? Of course not. As I see it, there are two definitions of power in play. As a businessman might use the term, power is the ability to wield influence over others. Fortunately, the science definition is more exact. It is presented appropriately in the original document, power = work/time. You may disagree with the former definition, but my fundamental point is undeniable: business power cannot be made equivalent to science power.
You may attribute any typos in this document to my telnet settings (which do not properly justify and update the window as I edit) rather than to how much attention I paid to spelling back in the sixth grade. Thank you.
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From: Dana Albert
Sent: Wednesday, November 12, 1997 5:40 PM
To: M—
Subject RE: Equation (fwd)

M—,

I find C—’s assessment to be refreshingly clear and conclusive. With surgical precision, he has gotten right to the crux of the matter: the inappropriate merger of mathematical equations with abstract aphorisms.

However, I can’t help but point out that the original treatise (“the less you know, the more you make”) is meant as comedy—and, like other examples of the comic genre, depends upon its good-natured audience to gloss over the certain things (in this case the math/aphorism incompatibility). If the director of “Trading Places” had been hung up on the impossibility of a panhandler becoming a successful Wall Street trader, the movie never would have been made. In like fashion, if Mr. C— had responded directly to the knowledge/money treatise, he would have spoiled our fun. I much prefer the protracted debate in between, especially when my opponent is off in the weeds. ; )

Dana