Sunday, 29 July 2007

Politically Incorrect Questions

I leave you this fine evening with a column by Steven Pinker.


Here is a scene from today’s ultimate stage of the Tour de France, won by Daniele Bennati. The Italian rider averaged 23.55 miles per hour on the 90.7-mile course. Here is the story. Here is the New York Times report.

Addendum: I don’t know how to evaluate my predictions, but here they are. (“Predict” means, literally, say [“dict”] before [“pre”], or foretell.) I said that Alejandro Valverde would win; he finished sixth. I said that Levi Leipheimer would finish second; he finished third. I said that Alexander Vinokourov would finish third; he was kicked out of the race for blood doping. I said that Cadel Evans would finish fourth; he finished second. I said that Stefan Schumacher would finish fifth; he finished 87th.

Addendum 2: The winner of this year’s Tour, with an elapsed time of 91 hours, 26 seconds, is Spaniard Alberto Contador. It’s been said that he could win several more Tours before he retires, given that he’s only 24 years old. I’m not so sure. It’s one thing to win when nobody knows who you are or what you’re capable of doing. It’s quite another to win when you’re watched like a hawk by everyone else. Next year, everyone will be focused on Contador. He will get away with nothing. To win again, he will have to overpower everyone the way his countryman Miguel Indurain did, and the way Lance Armstrong did for seven straight years. I’m not saying that Contador will never win again; I’m saying that it’s silly to predict that he’ll win five or more Tours. That said, he rode well. I congratulate him. I hope he is clean and stays that way.

Addendum 3: Six of the top 10 places went to Spaniards. The highest-placed French rider was 27th, more than an hour behind Contador. One wonders why France, with its long history of cycling, doesn’t do better in its beloved tour. Is it because the French people are soft; and if they are, is it because of the welfare state they’re so proud of? Just askin’.

Addendum 4: Next year’s Tour is going to be wide open, even though there will be a defending champion. You can be sure that Cadel Evans will be back to win, and so will Levi Leipheimer. I don’t think Leipheimer and Contador will be teammates next year. Leipheimer needs to be the undisputed team leader, and he won’t be if Contador is on his team. Michael Rasmussen should be back. He hasn’t tested positive for any banned substance, so all he needs is a team that is willing to tolerate his eccentricities. I also expect Floyd Landis to be back in action, new hip and all. He will come back with the aim of winning. Who knows? Maybe Lance Armstrong will come back as well. I’m sure he’s in great shape. Had he not retired, he might have nine Tour victories right now.

Addendum 5: Here is a scene from the Tour de Toona, in Pennsylvania. The scenery reminds me of the rallies I do in Texas.

Animal Ethics

See here for my latest post.


This (courtesy of Will Nehs) made my day. Progressives hate it that they do not control every media outlet. Fox News (which I have watched for many years) is not so much biased toward conservatism as it is not biased toward progressivism.

Global Warmism

I have a question for proponents of climate change:

Just what would have to happen not merely (morally and wrongly) to tempt but also (logically and rightly) to entitle us to say “Global warming is not taking place” or even “Global warming is not taking place at the rate often asserted”? I therefore put to the proponents of climate change the simple central question, “What would have to occur or to have occurred to constitute for you a disproof of global warming?”

Astute readers will recognize this as a (close) paraphrase of the final two sentences of Antony Flew’s famous essay on theology and falsification. The point is this. If nothing counts against global warming, then it’s not really a testable hypothesis, in which case, why are we discussing it, much less proposing to act on it at great cost to other values? It seems as though everything that happens counts in favor of global warming. What counts, or would count, against it?

All Fred, All the Time

This is not good.


Mark Spahn sent a link to this blog post about performance-enhancing substances in cycling. Some of the commenters say they don’t mind watching doped-up athletes compete. I do. I want to see people who are like me in all relevant respects except that they devote themselves entirely to their sport. In other words, I want to see what normal human beings can do when they have trained and prepared to the maximum. I don’t want to see what normal human beings can do when they use artificial substances to enhance their performance. Are there borderline cases in which it’s not clear whether a particular substance is artificial or natural? Yes. But the fact that there are borderline cases doesn’t mean that there are no clear cases.

Addendum: Here is a story from what one of my colleagues calls “the best newspaper in the world.”

Addendum 2: Here is a depressing column.


Yesterday, in beautiful Cleburne, Texas, I did my 13th bike rally of the year and my 409th overall. This was my 15th Goatneck rally in the past 18 years. The man who parked next to me asked whether anyone within earshot had done this rally. He was new to it. I sheepishly told him that it was my 15th. For some reason, it made me feel old to say this. The course, I said, never changes. It’s 69.5 miles of hills, and the heat and humidity are usually unbearable—although we always manage to survive it. (Anything that doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.)

At the start, the rally organizer announced that more than 2,500 riders were expected to attend. This is one of the biggest and best-organized rallies on the schedule. The best part is that it’s only 37.4 miles from my house. It starts at 7:30, so I have to rise at 5:10 to make it in time. Only one of my friends—Randy—showed up. Phil had a family gathering to attend and Joe was hiking with his children in Colorado. I don’t know where Julius was. They missed a good one.

The fastest I’ve ever gone in this rally is 18.97 miles per hour. I remember that rally vividly, because I rode like hell near the end to get 19 miles per hour and didn’t quite make it. I told myself at the start of yesterday’s rally that I’d be content with 17 miles per hour for the day. I brought my Zune music player in case I found myself alone in the countryside. Somehow, Randy and I got separated at the start. I was pretty sure I was ahead of him rather than behind him, so I rode along at a pace that would allow him to catch me. It’s always fast out of town, however, and once I fell in with a large pack, I decided to stay there rather than worry about Randy. I’d hook up with him eventually, perhaps at a rest stop.

The course is two loops joined by a thread. (I think that’s why they call it the Goatneck. The “thread,” I surmise, is the goat’s neck.) When I completed half of the first loop and turned onto the thread, I decided to wait for Randy. This meant falling out of the pack I was in, but I didn’t mind. Within seconds, there came another large pack, this one containing Randy. He saw me and eased up. I got going as fast as I could. I realized immediately that I had messed things up royally. Not only had I lost my pack, but Randy lost his. We were out in no-man’s land. Feeling guilty, I rode hard to get us back in. Randy and I took turns chasing. Both of us were gasping for air, and hence could not talk. My heart rate hit 155 during the chase. Finally, having had a breather while riding behind Randy for a few seconds, I surged ahead and told him to stay on my wheel. We were closing in on the pack, which was climbing a hill. I caught on, but saw that Randy was 50 yards behind. I decided to stay in the pack for a few seconds to see whether Randy caught up on his own. If he didn’t, I’d go back for him. Luckily for me, he caught up. It’s a great feeling to get back into a pack. The riding is much easier. Sometimes it’s so easy that it feels like a bus ride.

I couldn’t believe our speed. We were flying. I covered 22.7 miles during the first hour. I knew I’d pay for it later, but damn, it was fun. To my surprise, I got stronger rather than weaker. I covered an additional 20.1 miles during the second hour of riding, which gave me an average speed of 21.4 miles per hour for two hours. Keep in mind that the course is hilly. I might add, for the record, that my bike works much better as a result of the tune-up I had done at a local bike shop. I now realize that the chain was loose for several years. The new chain is tight. Every ounce of energy I put into the pedals transfers to the road. It’s hard to explain. Suffice it to say that the bike is more efficient than it used to be.

Randy and I stopped for the first time in Nemo, which is nothing more than a post office. The sky was cloudy, but no rain had fallen. It was early enough in the morning that the heat wasn’t a factor. When we left the rest stop, I told Randy that if he dropped me on a hill, he should go on without me. I was getting tired and wanted to listen to my music. But Randy stayed with me for a while (or I with him), which was nice. Talking made the miles go faster. Eventually, though, Randy dropped me. He’s a good climber. I put my earphones in and was bummed out to discover that the battery on my Zune was depleted. Evidently, I had turned it on accidentally before going to bed. It must have played for hours, until the battery ran down. Oh well, live and learn. I carried the Zune 69.5 miles for nothing. No wonder the hills were so hard. I had a little passenger in my jersey.

During the time I was apart from Randy, I fell in with four riders who caught up to me. One man did all the work. He was as strong as a bull. I sat on the back of this train and enjoyed it immensely. We must have been going 30 miles per hour on some stretches of road. We passed people as though they were standing still. At one point, we came upon a fallen rider who was being treated by paramedics. Someone said that she had done a face plant. I noticed blood on her face as I passed. She may have been unconscious. Then we hit a steep hill and I was out the back. Not long after, I saw Randy waiting for me at a rest stop. I didn’t want to stop, so I slowed and motioned for him to join me. We rode together until near the end, when Randy began cramping. A fast-moving pack came by. I wanted to hop on, but Randy didn’t. He told me to go. Since we were within a few miles of the finish, and since I thought I had a chance for 20 miles per hour, I did. I told Randy I’d see him in a few minutes.

Riding in this pack was hazardous, but not for the reason you might think. The rally organizers had put orange cones on the road for the final couple of miles to keep motor vehicles away from the cyclists. Some of the cones had been knocked over. It was like an obstacle course! Riders were dodging cones at over 20 miles per hour. There were also slower riders to be negotiated—people who had done shorter courses. It was a relief to finish upright. I ended up with an average speed of 19.75 miles per hour for 69.5 miles. I rode only 17.0 miles during the third hour, which knocked me just below 20 for the day, and averaged 18.75 miles per hour for the final 31:02. I’ll take it!

You may not believe me when I say this, but this was only the 13th time I’ve been on my bicycle in over eight months. I did the Denton Turkey Roll on 18 November and didn’t get on the bike again until 31 March, when the rally season began. (I do nothing but run during the winter months.) Yesterday’s rally was my 13th of the year. I’ve done no training rides. I’m pretty sure that some of the riders in the packs I was in have ridden 100 times in the past eight months, which is a few more than 13! Just think how fast I’d go if I trained! As I told Randy, I’m riding solely on cardiovascular fitness. I have no cycling legs, which is why I get dropped on hills.

Looking at my bicycling log, I see that this was my fastest ride at any distance since 4 August 2001, nearly six years ago. It was my fastest ride for 69.5 miles or more since 23 August 1997, nearly a decade ago. It was my 60th-fastest rally of the 409 I’ve done. In other statistics, my maximum speed for the day was 43.4 miles per hour. My maximum heart rate was 158 and my average 129. I burned 2,207 calories. The official high temperature for the day, which came several hours after I finished riding, was 93° Fahrenheit. The average wind speed was 5.7 miles per hour. I don’t consider it windy unless the average is 10 miles per hour or more.

I can’t wait for the Hotter ’n Hell Hundred. The course is 30 miles longer than the Goatneck, but it’s not nearly as hilly and I won’t be going nearly as fast. I hope it’s hotter ’n hell. A little heat never killed anyone. Okay, it has, but it won’t me.

McKean on Language


From Today’s New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “The Full-Time Blues” (column, July 24), by Judith Warner:

Working mothers (and fathers and family care-givers) often need full-time jobs because they are the sole source of health insurance for their families. To paraphrase a well-trodden political phrase: it’s the health insurance, stupid!

Until the United States finally takes responsibility for universal health care access, part-time work will be an option of limited practicality.

Nancy Green
Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., July 25, 2007

Note from KBJ: Let’s take it a step further. Until the United States finally takes responsibility for universal food access, part-time work will be an option of limited practicality. And why stop there? If the United States guarantees fuel, clothing, and shelter to everyone, everyone can work part-time—or not at all!

A Year Ago