Friday, 19 October 2012

US politics

This post, I hope, is read as an example of the kind of funny things people often say, without intending to be funny. This is not meant as political commentary, though it is extracted from the US vice-presidential debates. I thought it was so funny when I first heard it that I expected it to be all over the news. Instead, it hasn't been commented on at all to my knowledge. So, since I think it is too good to let go, here it is:
During the vice-presidential debate, Paul Ryan and Joseph Biden were asked about their position on abortion. After Ryan's answer, Biden put on his straight face and announced that:
"I accept the Catholic church's teachings on abortion, but I refuse to impose it on equally devout other Christians, Jews, and Muslims, and all those other people."
Admittedly, he did include "all those other people", which can be understood to mean "everyone", but he said it at the end, tagged on and weakly said, as if he hadn't originally intended to mention them. His answer looks as if he interpreted the question to be a matter of religious tolerance. That is, tolerance of other faiths. However, it was on the subject of abortion, and all three of the religions he mentioned agree on this subject. According to them, abortion is wrong. So, as a "practicing Catholic", Biden doesn't want to "impose" the Catholic position on abortion, that it is wrong, on other religious people who agree it is wrong.
The reason I found this funny is that Biden clearly identified the wrong people when he was telling us who he wouldn't "impose" his beliefs on. If he had said, "I accept the Catholic position on abortion in my private life, but cannot in good conscience impose that on all those other people who disagree", he'd be in the clear. The mistake is a classic one for politicians. How do you get your message across without alienating half of the audience? He can't afford to alienate religious voters, but he also can't afford to alienate non-religious voters (or religious voters who disagree with the Pope on abortion.)So what does he do? What politicians have been doing for centuries: he ties his shoelaces together, takes a step, and says something that makes no sense while falling flat on his face.
The other thing about his statement that was interesting to me is that the naivete it revealed makes sense if Biden is not "a devout Catholic" but is instead one of "all those other people." He can't say it of course, but was this the same thing?

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Dream song

A couple months ago, I dreamed of a young singer in a tour bus, who sung a song just before injecting himself with what I presume to have been an illegal drug. I assumed he was committing suicide.
I dream of music infrequently, but when I do, it is almost always hauntingly beautiful, as it was in this case. The style of the song was the kind of high-pitched rock I remember hearing in the 1970's. It is so far from being my favorite genre of music that I didn't know what Led Zeppelin sounded like until I ran across an article about them around September of 2012. The article made me curious, so I looked them up on youTube. Again, not my kind of music, but the style of it was consistent with the song from this dream.
Normally I have very good recall of dreams, but certain types of things are more difficult to remember than others. One of those things happens to be song lyrics, words on paper, numbers, or other symbols typical of normal written communication. In this case I was lucky, because I remembered the lyrics pretty well. They are reproduced below:
"What do you say when the green turns to ash?
In the light!
What do you say when your friend is gone for good?
In the light!
Fighting in the darkness
To find the meaning
Finding nothing, going nowhere
In the night!
Knowing heaven is up there somewhere
seeking, not finding
the place they have gone to
In the light!
There is music and friends
Forgiveness and support
for all the wrong things you've done
In the light!
For all that you've done and I have not
As beautiful as it is
I don't yet belong
Leave me be, God, where I belong
Fighting in the darkness
In the night."


Friday, 24 August 2012

Lance Armstrong, doping, and sport

Lance Armstrong has been fending off accusations of doping since his first Tour de France win in 1999. Today I read that he has decided to forego arbitration in a recent challenge brought by the American anti-doping agency. This effectively allows a default judgment against him by that body and the loss of his seven consecutive Tour titles. While reading about the many doping scandals associated with cycling: Jacques Anquetil, Team Festina, Eddy Merckx, Steven Rooks, Richard Virenque, and many others, I can't help but be disappointed that riders feel they need to use various doping methods to compete with others who are doing the same thing. On the other hand, as a fan of the sport, I find it impossible to enjoy any race when there is no way to know if the race results are final because a doping agency can at any time claim that the winner was doping and should be disqualified. I don't mind the idea of doping controls in cycling. It is not good for the rider's health and should be discouraged. However, the sport ceases to be interesting when it is doping agencies and not the ability of the racers themselves that determines the winner. The racers may as well have the quality of their urine samples judged and skip the race. The problem, as shown in the recent events connected to Lance Armstrong, is that anti-doping agencies feel that they have the authority to retroactively punish riders at any time, regardless how many years have passed since the offense in question. Why, if for very good reasons that are part of US law, are statutes of limitations not a part of doping control? Also, if doping control measures are so inept that they cannot be relied upon until many years after a purported offense, how can a later test or re-evaluation be trusted after such a passage of time? Also, how can an accusation made years after the fact be done without compromising the person accused? One solution could be for doping control to be exercised up to the moment of a race, and then to end right there. Riders are pre-qualified to race, but once this is done, the race results will stand, no matter what is discovered after the fact. In this way, results can be trusted by the fans, races themselves will be more interesting to watch, and responsibility will be placed where it belongs: on the doping authorities. If their technology is not able to reliably pre-qualify riders, then the technology used to control for doping is not sufficient for doping control at all. Until a method can be invented that is capable of controlling for this prior to the commencement of a race, doping control will always compromise the quality of the races themselves and unfairly prejudice a rider's ability to defend against doping charges. We aren't in the middle ages any more, when late accusations had the weight of absolute proof, but in a modern age where the accused--at least usually--have rights. As Armstrong notes in his defense against the current charges, after taking thousands of doping tests and passing every single one of them, all of the forensic evidence is in his favor. If this is true, either that type of testing is completely invalid and should be immediately dropped, or it conflicts so severely with the witness testimony the USADA is relying upon that no impartial observer could hope to reliably sort out which is true. If the tests are right, then Armstrong is innocent and the witnesses are lying. If the witnesses are right, then the tests are invalid and should never be used again. Either way, without some kind of time limit during which charges may be made, cyclists are not treated fairly by the system and fans of the sport have their enjoyment spoiled by the ever-present possibility that race outcomes can be overturned at any time. If the cycling anti-doping agencies had the health of the sport in mind, they would be willing to submit to some controls on their own activities that would pressure them to make timely reports and to live with the consequences. For the health of the sport, some kind of controls need to be placed on the anti-doping agencies. At a minimum this should include pre-qualifying racers and a statute of limitations. Until these are enacted, I intend to boycott all cycling events. I've gone to the Tour de France twice in person, but next year, I'll be vacationing in some other country. I won't be buying the Tour highlights videos that I started buying in 1999, and will no longer be buying team jerseys. What the USADA has done to Armstrong and others is an affront to the sport, and until it is redressed, as far as I am concerned, the sport is dead.