Archive for the 'sports' Category

Waldron on Armstrong’s Fall

Thursday, October 18th, 2012

Travis Waldron sums up some of the ambivalence I’ve been wrestling with myself in the wake of the doping chickens coming home to roost: The Complicated Tragedy Of Lance Armstrong.

So is Lance Armstrong a fraud, a cheat, and a villain, the worst example of how the quest to win at all costs can distort our priorities? Or is Lance Armstrong a friend, an inspiration, and a hero, the best example of how success can be used to change the world around us. Can’t he be both?

I think it’s wrong to focus just on Armstrong. He was arguably a victim here too. But not in the responsibility-free way that one might think I’m saying.

Sigh. It’s complicated.

Paul Ryan’s Least-Consequential Lie

Friday, August 31st, 2012

I was once a teenager. I’ve also got one kid who’s 21 and another who’s 14. In other words, I have both direct personal experience and a couple of recent refresher courses in the tendency of a certain egotistical stage in human development to lead to routine lying.

It’s a natural tendency. We all have that realization at some point of hey, I don’t actually have to take the trash out. I can just say I took the trash out, and the person asking me will probably be satisfied, and I can go on playing Pokemon or reading this book or whatever.

As a parent observing those sorts of lies, it’s interesting to see the progression. At least in my experience, there’s a rapid evolution from “I’ll lie once in a while when it’s important” to “hell; I’ll just lie every time. Why not?”

I think it might be useful to view the Romney-Ryan ticket as the political equivalent of a 12- or 13-year-old who has discovered the usefulness of lying, but has yet to experience the consequences that (hopefully) instill the lesson that it’s not just morally wrong, but is a losing strategy if you go to the well too often.

I offer as evidence the following story from Runner’s World magazine: Paul Ryan Says He’s Run Sub-3:00 Marathon.

In an interview with radio host Hugh Hewitt last week, Republican vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan said he’s run a sub-3:00 marathon.

In the interview, after Ryan told Hewitt that he ran in high school, Hewitt asked if Ryan still runs. Ryan replied, “Yeah, I hurt a disc in my back, so I don’t run marathons anymore. I just run ten miles or less.” When Hewitt asked Ryan what his personal best is, Ryan replied, “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.”

Runner’s World has been unable to find any marathon results by Ryan. Requests for more information from Ryan’s Washington and Wisconsin offices, and from the Romney-Ryan campaign, have so far gone unanswered.

If Ryan has broken 3:00, he’d be the fastest marathoner to be on a national ticket. John Edwards has run 3:30; George W. Bush has run 3:44; Sarah Palin has run 3:59; and Al Gore has run 4:58.

The thing is, marathon finishing times are more or less public information. And having dug into it some more, Runner’s World now has turned up what appears to be a finishing time for Ryan from the period in question (1990, when he was 20). Ryan’s time? 4:01:25.

Now, it’s possible that the Paul D. Ryan who ran in that race is a different Paul D. Ryan than the one now running for vice president (though the race in question is one that the magazine was led to by a Ryan staffer’s response to their inquiries). It’s also possible that that time was an anomaly for the young runner, who really could, and did, post a time under 3 hours, either before or after the 4-hour time he recorded in 1990.

But as a rational grownup, I think it’s much more likely that Ryan simply lied. Or, if you want, “bullshitted”, in the sense of just throwing a truthy-sounding statement out there because it sounded good, without bothering to really think back or be intellectually rigorous about whether or not the statement was actually true.

Which is not a huge deal. I mean, clearly it doesn’t make any difference in terms of his qualifications for vice president if he ran a sub-3-hour marathon 22 years ago, and lying about it shouldn’t disqualify him.


Except that, as a parent, I feel like I’ve seen this pattern before. I know what it means. And yeah, on a certain level, it kind of does matter. Not because of the marathon time 22 years ago. But because of the pattern of routine, casual dishonesty it reveals in the Paul Ryan of today.

Update: Ryan (through a spokesperson in the campaign) comes clean (sort of). From Nicholas Thompson, writing in the New Yorker’s News Desk blog: How fast can Paul Ryan run?

I contacted the campaign this evening about the discrepancy. Ryan, through a spokesman, responded that he’d just mixed things up: “The race was more than 20 years ago, but my brother Tobin – who ran Boston last year – reminds me that he is the owner of the fastest marathon in the family and has never himself ran a sub-three. If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three. He gave me a good ribbing over this at dinner tonight.”

A couple of things:

1) This may be exactly what it appears: “Ha ha, yeah, you got me. That inconsequential thing was me misspeaking. No biggee.” Or it might be an example of how good Ryan is at this sort of routine lying: To instantly (and correctly) assess that as soon as this became A Thing (which it did as soon as it escaped the low-stakes, no-pressure realm of the friendly Hugh Hewitt interview), it was in his interest to defuse it as rapidly and thoroughly as possible. He needed to “get out in front” of the story, acknowledging the (obvious) truth that he did not, in fact, come anywhere near running a sub-3-hour marathon, and doing his best to frame it as a silly (but honest) mistake. In which case, it’s actually quite slick the way he incorporated the “good ribbing” Tobin gave him over dinner. And of course, if we accept the possibility that this is all artful spin, that ribbing from Tobin is just as likely to be a lie as the original claim.

2) I know this comes off as me sounding petty. But again, the framing of the original act of “misspeaking” in a way that makes me sound petty could just be part of the artful dodging on display here.

What I mean is this: Ryan, post-confession, would have us believe this was an innocent mistake. He didn’t consciously lie about his marathon time. “If I were to do any rounding, it would certainly be to four hours, not three,” he said (the report says that statement came through a campaign spokesperson, but it’s offered as a direct quote of Ryan, so presumably the spokesperson is telling us that Ryan actually said that).

But the thing is, as any number of commenters at both the New Yorker and Runner’s World pieces have pointed out, that has a hard time passing the smell test. A marathon runner would be very, very unlikely to accidentally mistake the difference between a sub-3-hour time and a 4-hour-plus time, even 22 years after the fact. The two performances are qualitatively, not just quantitatively, different. A sub-3-hour marathon is, if you’ll pardon my French, really fucking fast. It isn’t just a time you’d post as a dedicated amateur. You’d have to be a dedicated amateur who had undergone extensive painful training and (probably) who had an innate body type conducive to fast times. Ryan’s actual 4-hour marathon was an accomplishment. But it was an accomplishment that is well within the reach of many serious runners. As Thompson put it in his blog post:

A 2:55 would have put Ryan in a hundred and thirtieth place, out of the thirty-two hundred and seventy-seven men in that race. A 4:01 put him in nineteen hundred and ninetieth place. It’s the difference between racing and running.

But in the Hugh Hewitt interview, Ryan was quite specific. He didn’t simply misspeak. He went into detail: “Under three, high twos. I had a two hour and fifty-something.” Even with the passage of 22 years, I don’t believe it’s possible to construe that as an innocent misstatement. It’s a knowing lie.

Politicians embellish their own credentials. They do it routinely. They put themselves in the best possible light. In that sense, what Ryan did here was nothing special.


Except that it illustrates the aforementioned pattern. Kevin Drum talked about that pattern today in Paul Ryan’s Grim Vision for America.

It’s a struggle to truly explain Paul Ryan. He seems so reasonable. Why, in his speech on Wednesday, he told his audience about all the tough choices ahead but then added, “We have responsibilities, one to another – we do not each face the world alone. And the greatest of all responsibilities is that of the strong to protect the weak.” How could you dislike a Republican who says stuff like that?

It’s hard. And it’s hard to convince people that this is, basically, an elaborate and finely honed act. After all, we’re not used to politicians getting up on a stage and just flatly hustling us. We give them the benefit of the doubt, especially when they speak in sober tones and make a point of sorrowfully acknowledging how tough things are for everyone.

Nonetheless, an elaborate act is what this is. You see, Paul Ryan prides himself on being a numbers guy, and his vision for America can best be seen in his long-term budget plan.

Drum goes on to lay out the numbers, and he’s right: When you look at what Ryan actually proposes, it just isn’t possible to square it with the language he used in his speech. The compassionate speech-making was an act. And just like casually misrepresenting himself as having been an elite marathoner in his youth, then swiftly and artfully minimizing the damage (at least for listeners who aren’t themselves runners) by painting it as an innocent mistake, it’s an act that Ryan appears to be really good at.

Later update: Here’s Drum again, on Ryan’s sub-3-hour marathon claim: Paul Ryan likes to supersize it.

Does Ryan deserve a bit of mockery for this? Sure. But if there’s anything really telling about Ryan’s character here, it’s the fact that when he misrepresents himself, he doesn’t do it in a small way. Ryan didn’t just shave five or ten minutes off his time, the way some of us might if we were bragging about an old athletic accomplishment that no one could check up on, he shaved off a full hour, giving himself an extremely respectable, elite amateur time. This doesn’t quite rank up there with Kim Jong-Il carding eleven holes-in-one on his first round of golf, or Pat Robertson leg-pressing 2,000 pounds at age 76, but it’s in the same ballpark.

Keep this in mind when Ryan talks about his tax and budget plan and promises with a straight face that it will slash the deficit, benefit the middle class, protect the social safety net, and supercharge economic growth all at once: lying is easier when you tell a big lie.

Olympics Opening Ceremony #nbcfail

Sunday, July 29th, 2012

I’m not sure what bugs me most: That NBC had commentators talking over many of the best parts of Danny Boyle’s Olympics opening ceremony; that they cut out what looks like it was, in some ways, the most moving part of it (see Here’s The Opening Ceremony Tribute To Terrorism Victims NBC Doesn’t Want You To See); or that they replaced the 7/7 victims tribute with a Ryan Seacrest interview.

I could really do without Ryan Seacrest interviews, generally.

Also #nbcfail-worthy: Making a joke out of Tim Berners-Lee’s obscurity.

I look forward very much to being able to view a version of the opening ceremonies that has those mistakes corrected. By which I mean, a version that just gives me the audio and video feed as it was intended to be seen, without added inanity.

The Art of Deception, Middle School Football-Style

Monday, November 8th, 2010

Question: Will eighth-grade quarterback Jason Garza ever have a more complete and satisfying moment? And if not, does it matter?

Armstrong and Doping and Anti-Cancer Philanthropy

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

The NYT continues the ongoing discussion of Lance Armstrong’s alleged doping, in this case looking specifically at the impact it would have on his activism and philanthropy in the fight against cancer if he were found to have been lying: Some Fear Armstrong Inquiry Will Taint Charity.

I was especially interested in this passage:

Jay Coakley, a sociologist and the author of “Sports in Society: Issues and Controversies,” said that he had no doubt that Mr. Armstrong was guilty of doping, but that it did not matter. For athletes, he said, the line between performance enhancement and medical treatment has become so fuzzy that it is impossible to discern.

“Deciding to use performance-enhancing substances and methods has nothing to do with lack of morality,” Mr. Coakley said. “It has to do with normative structure of elite sport, and the athlete’s commitment to his identity as an athlete.”

I don’t have any personal knowledge as to whether or not Armstrong used illicit doping during his career. But overall, I think the explanation that there is, in fact, a high-level conspiracy among elite cyclists to conceal the extent of doping in the sport, and that Armstrong’s statements over the years have been carefully calibrated to avoid exposure to perjury charges should the truth come out (“I’m the most-tested athelete in the world”, “I’ve never failed a test”, etc.), appears more likely to me than the competing explanation: that professional cycling is essentially “clean”, with a few outliers like Floyd Landis being exceptions rather than typical.

Or, more briefly, I think Armstrong is probably lying, and Landis is probably telling the truth, at least about whether or not Armstrong doped while on the US Postal Service team. But the evidence I’ve seen is fairly inconclusive as to specifics, and my belief has more to do with the overall context of professional sports, and the relationship between money and performance when even the tiniest advantage can have huge financial consequences.

I’m normally pretty resistant to conspiracy theories. But in this case, the situation seems tailor-made to nurture an actual conspiracy, with strong financial incentives both to cheat in the first place and to engage in a conspiracy to conceal the prevalence of cheating afterwards. To have a whistleblower you pretty much need what we have with Landis: Someone who knows he’s out of the sport, and really doesn’t care anymore, and has enough of an ego to be willing to make himself even more of a pariah by going public. The only piece missing is the smoking-gun evidence that a whistleblower trying to take down a huge commercial enterprise pretty much has to have in order to weather the storm of countercharges that are the predictable result.

Update: Fairly hilarious: Lance Armstrong Wants To Tell Nation Something But Nation Has To Promise Not To Get Mad.

Audiovisual Commentary on the State of Policing in San Francisco

Friday, October 2nd, 2009

Note to police officers with a propensity to hassle scruffy young skateboarders: Consider that said skateboarders might be filming a video, and be wired up with non-obvious recording tech:

I’ve taken the cop’s side in discussing situations like this before, and I realize there is more to this interaction than we’re seeing here. If the cop had shot and edited this video, it probably would create a completely different impression. Then again, if the cop had been recording this with his own camera, knowing that his superiors were going to review it in case of complaints, I’m guessing he would have handled himself a wee bit differently. Which is kind of the point of laws like the one Obama helped pass in the Illinois state legislature, requiring jailhouse interrogations to be videotaped.

More here from S.F. skateboarder vs. SFPD officer.

Shawn Johnson, R.I.P.

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

I know it’s kind of sick, but I did laugh at this:

As usual with the Onion, it’s not just the idea. It’s how they follow through on it.

Marathon Woman

Wednesday, November 12th, 2008

It takes a lot of balls to be a firefighter, and it takes a log of balls to file a fraudulent workers comp complaint, and it takes a lot of balls to compete in marathons.

But it really really takes a Ginormous set of Cajones to do all three.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you the “ Liar of the Week” (TM) Christina Hijjawi who surrendered to police today after a warrant was issued claiming she had bilked San Francisco for $140,000 in workers’ compensation and disability benefits while training for and competing in ultra-marathons, triathlons, and other extreme endurance events.

Congratulations Christina, you are an inspiration to aspiring Liars everywhere.

Disclaimer: “ Liar of the Week” is not a real competition nor is it endorsed by or jbc. Or for that matter, hossman.

Mainstream Media Play NBA Referee, Give McCain Home-Court Advantage

Thursday, July 10th, 2008

So, despite having some significant stretches of NBA fandom in my past, I was forced to accept a couple of painful (for me) truths during the playoffs this year:

1) The Celtics as a team, and Kevin Garnett as an individual player, were just so much better than the Lakers that there wasn’t any real doubt as to the outcome of the Finals from the get-go.

2) The NBA exists somewhere in the gray area between professional wrestling and real sports in terms of the essential fairness of the competition, with the referees serving as the main lever that gives the home team a big leg up to keep things closer than they otherwise would be.

Which is not much of a crisis; I understand that (as with pro wrestling) it’s just business: People pay lots of money to buy those tickets, and lots of money to reach the audience that watches the games on TV, and some of that money would probably go away if the officials were zealously objective in how they call the games. So it all works out; I’m not sure it even has to be arranged explicitly in smoke-filled rooms. It probably just kind of happens, as people at all levels of the organization make decisions in the knowledge of the overall institutional goal (more viewers, more ticket sales, more dollars).

And maybe I’m being paranoid. Maybe this is the result of my own bias resulting from the hostile-media effect. But I’m increasingly of the opinion that the mainstream media is calling the presidential race the same way. That is, they are giving the underdog (McCain) a leg up, because a closer contest is more interesting, and gets more viewers, and since the dynamic of commercial news operations has been pretty much completely remade to be bottom-line driven, with things like journalistic ethics and fairness a distant memory, it becomes just like the NBA, or professional wrestling. It isn’t like there has to be a big shouting match between old-school referees who still call the game fairly and soulless league executives who pound the desk and talk about ratings. The people who would have made that case for fairness (or for journalistic ethics) just aren’t there any more. They’ve retired, or moved on, or just never rose to the level of exercising that kind of power in the organizations the way they’re currently structured.

I’m not sure what it means. But I’m pretty sure it’s not a good thing.

Anyway, some data points that have caught my attention lately: Max Bergmann at the huffingtonpost writes about the week that should have ended McCain’s presidential hopes, but that hasn’t, thanks in part to the referees blowing the whistle on Jesse Jackson’s “cut off his nuts” comment about Obama, while ignoring lots of more-newsworthy fouls by McCain and his entourage.

And along with the supposedly-fair news organizations skewing for McCain, there are the not-even-pretending fanboys at Fox News, and their imitators, which these days apparently includes the Associated Press. Mark Kleiman wonders the following (in Pelosi figures it out):

How completely in the tank for the Republicans is the AP? A subpoena isn’t issued, and a Congressinal investigation isn’t conducted, by “Congressional Democrats,” as the story says not once but three times. A subpoena voted by a Congressional committee has exactly the same legal standing as a subpoena issued by a judge. The story makes it sound as if Rove is engaged in partisan warfare rather than defiance of the law.

I’d have to answer, pretty much completely in the tank. I’m not sure when it happened, but it’s kind of scary, given that the AP is one of the few remaining “news organizations” that actually has reporters scattered around to gather news. Most of the rest are madly downsizing their editorial staffs, replacing them with wire reports from… the AP.

Sigh. Maybe Obama is the political equivalent of Kevin Garnett, and it doesn’t matter how hard the referees shore up McCain in their effort to make it a more interesting contest. Maybe it doesn’t matter how many former referees have traded in their blue-gray shirts for the hot pants and spangles of Republican cheerleaders. Eventually we’re going to get to that Game 6 in Boston Garden and the truth will be revealed in all its ugly, naked starkness (or its radiant, majestic glory, depending on which team you’re rooting for). McCain will try to drive the lane and Obama will just swat that weak-ass stuff away, then spread his arms to the cheers of the crowd, reveling in his moment that has finally, at long, long last, arrived.

Maybe. But in the meantime, I wish we had better referees.

Stephen Ireland: Liar. Also, Otnay Ootay Ightbray

Saturday, September 15th, 2007

I don’t pay much (well, any) attention to European soccer, but I couldn’t resist linking to this item, mainly because of the paragraph I’ve quoted below: Ireland apologises for lies over fate of both grandmothers.

When journalists discovered earlier this week that Ireland’s maternal grandmother, Patricia Tallon, was alive and well – and shocked to read about her death in the newspapers – Ireland changed his story to say his paternal grandmother, Brenda Kitchener, had died. She, in turn, read about her own death and at least one newspaper was reportedly threatened with legal action by relatives on Thursday. Ireland is then understood to have changed his story again, this time claiming that one of his grandfathers was divorced and that it was his elderly partner who had died. That was also exposed as a lie.

I’m sensing a pattern here.

Bugatti Veyron at Top Speed

Friday, March 9th, 2007

Ridiculous. But kind of cool: Video Bugatti Veyron at top speed.

BASE + Bungie Jumping Insanity

Saturday, December 24th, 2005

This is definitely on a par with that item I previously linked to, with the helmet-cam footage of bike messengers racing through Baltimore traffic with pit stops where they chugged 40 oz. bottles of malt liquor. I mean, for some people, it’s not dangerous enough to bungie jump, or even to BASE jump. They have to do a bungie jump while doing a BASE jump. Definitely crazy. Anyway, via MetaCafe: Insane video.


Saturday, December 3rd, 2005

Just engaging in a little wishful thinking. The big game just started, with the noble Bruins 21-point underdogs to those loathesome Trojans. They’ll probably go down in flames, just like Luke will be destroyed rather than taking out the death star, Frodo will succumb rather than tossing the Ring into the Crack of Doom, and so on.

Kevin Drum, alumnus of the much-hated University of Spoiled Children, can crow all he wants in a couple of hours. But for me, for now, it’s Go Team!


John Callender
UCLA Class of ’85


Friday, December 2nd, 2005

I checked the date to make sure it wasn’t April 1, and it wasn’t, so I guess this story must be for reals: By hook or by rook.

“It has enormous potential,” says the Joker, 31, a taut Dutchman with an undamaged chin and wire-rimmed glasses. “Chess and boxing are very different worlds. Chessboxers move around in both. It’s extremely demanding, but extremely rewarding. It’s all about control over your physical and mental being. The adrenalin rush in boxing must be lowered to concentrate on chess strategy.”

As someone whose professional career has pretty much been defined by straddling the line between two apparently-incompatible disciplines (I like to tell potential employers/clients that I’m a really good writer and editor for a programmer, and a really good programmer for a writer and editor), I can appreciate what these chessboxers are trying to do.

High School Football Coach Caught Cheating

Thursday, December 1st, 2005

Good thing we have high school athletic programs to teach our kids important lessons about the benefits of sacrifice and teamwork and hard work. Oh, yes; and cheating. As reported in the LA Times: San Pedro coach caught cheating.

Paul Bryan, a volunteer assistant football coach at San Pedro, has been suspended from coaching next season after he was caught cheating on videotape filmed by another school.

During a game against Gardena on Oct. 28, on a fourth-and-inches situation with 7 minutes 19 seconds left to play, Bryan is seen near midfield moving a yard marker in a direction that benefited San Pedro. The Pirates, holding a 7-6 lead at the time, were awarded the first down without a measurement. They went on to score and win the game, 14-13.

Riding Very Fast Through Urban Traffic on Bicycles

Monday, October 17th, 2005

Check out some of the crazy-ass helmet-cam footage of bike messengers racing through busy urban streets: Lucas Brunelle videos. Because I don’t think the guy’s going to live long, and once he dies the site’s probably going to go away.

Lance Armstrong: New-Old Doping Scandal?

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

So, a French sports magazine is saying that Lance Armstrong’s old (circa 1999) urine, which originally tested clean, now fails a more-sensitive, modern test for EPO, a banned substance.

From VeloNews:

Update: Here’s the transcript of Armstrong’s appearance on Larry King where he responded to the allegations.

More Photoshop Phun from

Tuesday, August 9th, 2005

If you listened to the latest podcast, you know I’ve been obsessing about the credibility of online images lately. Here are a few examples of why, from

The last one actually took me a few minutes.

Fun Flash Games

Friday, July 15th, 2005

I’m not sure how to categorize this, but I guess I’d call it a cross between sports and drugs. Anyway, it’s Good experience games, a site listing lots of fun little flash games.

HST’s Final Column: Shotgun Golf

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2005

What would be exceptionally weird is if the publicity of his apparent suicide led this proposal of Hunter Thompson’s, described in his final column, to actually take hold: Shotgun Golf with Bill Murray.