Lance Armstrong and the Cost of Victory

The big news today in cycling is that Lance Armstrong will quit fighting doping charges brought by the USADA. The news follows the dismissal of a lawsuit he filed contesting the charges in federal court.

Though he has framed it as simply being weary of continuing to fight a witch hunt, it’s hard to view this as anything but a tacit acknowledgement of guilt. Folks that follow cycling with anything more than a passing interest have believed he was guilty of doping for some time. Indeed, its likely that pretty much anybody contending at the top levels of cycling for the past 15 years has been doping.

This sports year has given us plenty of opportunity to determine when the good outweighs the bad in the legacy of admired athlete. In Joe Paterno’s case, the man had a blemish free record on the football field and by and large did things the right way. Ultimately, however, a sin of omission only tangentially related to football will erase much, if not all, of his legacy.

In the case of Armstrong, the story is a little different. In his free time, Armstrong has been a huge contributor to the fight against cancer, through funding, heightened awareness and advocacy, as well as inspiring countless folks that are battling cancer. Its hard to say if these great works outweigh cheating for the better part of your career, even if everybody else was doing it at the same time.

Part of the frustration with Armstrong is that he is so brand conscious that he will never admit guilt. He knows he cheated, we know he cheated, and we know that everybody else was doing it. If he’d just own up to it, maybe it would be easier. But when he smears anybody that challenges his legitimacy, he comes off looking like a colossal asshole. Indeed, by most private accounts, the guy is, in fact, a colossal asshole.

Incredible natural talent or not, this guy cheated better than anybody ever. Seven wins in a row. Certainly it got easier to cheat and win later tours given the money and sponsorships he accumulated after his early wins. On the subject of money, he’s obviously given a ton of it away, but he’s kept his share. He has profited enormously from these tour wins. Even if you want to discount the scale of the cheating because that was the environment in cycling at that time, its hard to give him a free pass.

Obviously, you can tell I don’t think highly of the guy.


The Strange, Tense Power of Talking Heads’ ‘Fear of Music’ (via The Atlantic)

When Fear of Music was released, the group was on the verge of outgrowing local New York success and moving toward the arena-filling, ten piece musical funkanauts they would be circa 1984’s concert doc Stop Making Sense. The success of their cover of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River” and appearances on Saturday Night Live and American Bandstand had gained the group a wider audience, yet made them wary of selling out. This gave rise to a set of contradictions that would manifest even on Fear of Music‘s jacket: all black with raised worm-like shapes reminiscent of tire tread or, in Lethem’s view, a steel door that evokes both a “chilly authority” and “desire to be stroked.”

[Author Jonathan Lethem’s] slow approach [to the album] yields big, as it reveals a record composed not of disparate songs, like, say, a short-story collection, but a “concept album” in the most abstract yet perhaps truest sense. Fear of Music tells no narrative, but weaves together its bleak motifs in such a way that a resonance chamber forms, the pop music equivalent of the postmodern, fractured books of Italo Calvino. Parts that at first seem only distantly related start to feel of a piece the further one goes and the closer one looks. The majority of the song titles act as a table of contents of sort—”Mind,” “Paper,” “Cities,” “Air,” “Heaven,” “Animals,” “Electric Guitar,” “Drugs”—all riffing on themes of restlessness, dissolution, and instability. Crackpots, conspiracy theorists, criminals, and druggies emerge as characters, and a bleak landscape forms. Make no mistakes, it’s the apocalypse. … Read More

(via The Atlantic)

Friday Jam: He was Levon, and He was a Good Man.

The news came out of Woodstock on Tuesday, from his wife and daughter, that Levon Helm was in the final stages of his battle with cancer. When I first read it, I had to close the door to my office for a few minutes. I couldn’t quite figure out why it shook me up so. It’s not like I ever met the guy. I saw him perform live only once. But he’s unique among my musical icons, if you can call them that, insofar as I feel like we’d relate to one another. That we’d have something to talk about, that he wouldn’t be too uppity to say a few words, and that it wouldn’t just be polite conversation. That a man who grew up in a town called Turkey Scratch would be all that you’d expect – easy going enough to sit down and have a beer with you and tell stories for hours, no matter who you were. By all accounts, he was. I’d conned myself into thinking we’d been old friends.
At that moment when you realize that The Band sings The Weight and Up On Cripple Creek, it occurs to you that you’ve been a fan a lot longer than you’ve known. But my first experience with The Band, the moment that I had a realization that the band I was loving was none other than The Band, occurred in my sophomore year of college (So late – for shame!). My roommate at the time had “discovered” them recently, and honored his discovery by playing The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down. Over and over again, at top volume, for a couple weeks. No exaggeration. I’d say he played it ad nauseum, but I can’t recall it even getting old.
And it didn’t get old when, each year, AD would call us together at Thanksgiving to celebrate and fellowship in a law school classroom, of all places, to watch the Last Waltz. Ironically, Levon hated that movie. But for me, and probably a lot of other folks, it’s the first glimpse you have of this man, and the spectacle of him crooning as he bangs the hell out of those drums.
When I finally saw him play live, at the Ramble at the Ryman in 2010, I was two weeks away from graduating law school. It was one of those late April days – sunny, not too cool, not too hot, air heavy with the fragrance of blooms and electric with life – that is the truest blessing of a southern Spring. A group of us grabbed dinner and headed downtown to worship. A perfect storm of circumstances that set it up to be a magical night, no matter which guests he brought on stage. The voice wasn’t what it had been before his surgeries, but it was still beautiful. As AD said to me on Tuesday afternoon, even afterwards, he never lost his inflection, that sound that makes it so immediately clear who is singing up there. But the voice sometimes faltered, so singing duties shifted throughout the evening. Still, he was grinning from ear to ear the entire night. Truly, I can’t recall a moment when he wasn’t singing or grinning. Or as this reviewer put it, looking like a proverbial pig in the shit. They closed the night with a cover of I Shall Be Released, and then I walked out and down onto Broadway with a crowd full of people who were quiet with the recognition that the night had been a special one, even by Nashville standards. For me, it still makes The List.
He left us yesterday, so we’ll honor him with today’s jam. We picked The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down, but if you are satisfied with one song right now, you’re a better  man than me. To that end, here’s a great spotify playlist from Rolling Stone to keep you listening for a while longer.
Ramble on, old friend.

Magalan’s year in review

Top 3 Sports Moments/Things of the Year:

1. Makau breaks the Marathon World Record in Berlin.

Don’t worry, we’ll talk SEC Football soon enough. But records in the Marathon don’t happen every year, and it’s getting much harder to break. So when Patrick Makau runs 26.2 miles in 2:03:38, it’s a big deal. Breaking the previous record by only 21 seconds in a race that is so long might not seem significant, but, umm, it is. I find it helpful to note that the time listed above means Makau ran the race with an average pace of 4:42.9 per mile. If you were a track star in high school, it is possible that you could run a mile in under 5 minutes. Once, maybe twice. To do it 26.2 times is truly difficult for me to comprehend.

2. The ALL SEC National Championship Game.

Since it is a moment that will actually occur in 2012, we’ll say the selection of two SEC teams for the title game. I’ll start by saying the whole situation stinks for Oklahoma State. They were certainly deserving of a shot against LSU. But so is Alabama. I didn’t agree with any of the talk about the LSU-Bama meeting on November 5 – I didn’t think it was terribly boring, and really enjoyed watching it.

Aside from SEC homerism, the moment is significant in that it might have finally tipped the scales for a move to some kind of playoff. It has, at the very least, put the structure of the BCS in doubt going forward. The run up to the national championship may look very different five years from now.

3. The Atlantic publishes Tyler Branch’s piece, The Shame of College Sports, in October 2011.

As should be clear by now, I love watching college football. But its hard to read that article and not feel unsettled by the current state of affairs. As revenues for college football continue to increase, I expect that we’ll eventually see some sort of real payment for players. Which is probably for the best.

Top 3 Albums of the year:

1. Here We Rest – Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit.

He was my favorite part of the Drive-By Truckers when we was with them, and I’ve loved each of the three albums he’s made since he moved on in 2007. This last one is yet another good addition to his body of work. He’s a heck of a songwriter, and you can rock out or relax at various points on the album.

2. The King of Limbs – Radiohead.

I liked it, sorry. Maybe it’s not as groundbreaking as stuff in the past, but I’ve caught myself listening through the album over and over again. I take that as a sign.

3. Barton Hollow – The Civil Wars.

These guys put out an incredible album this year, and then got a ton of publicity when Taylor Swift tweeted about their concert at the Belcourt Theater. The whole album is beautiful, and the title track is all sorts of acoustic kick-ass.

Bdoyk’s year in review
Exexpatriate’s year in review

Bpbrady’s year in review
ALDLAND’s year in review

Football is Better than Soccer: An Englishman Abandons the Beautiful Game for the NFL (via WSJ)

In its energy and complexity, football captures the spirit of America better than any other cultural creation on this continent, and I don’t mean because it features long breaks in which advertisers get to sell beer and treatments for erectile dysfunction. It sits at the intersection of pioneering aggression and impossibly complex strategic planning. It is a collision of Hobbes and Locke; violent, primal force tempered by the most complex set of rules, regulations, procedures and systems ever conceived in an athletic framework.

Soccer is called the beautiful game. But football is chess, played with real pieces that try to knock each other’s brains out. It doesn’t get any more beautiful than that. … Read More

(via WSJ)
(HT: VC)

Urban renewal: Once Meyered in the Swamp, a Buckeye nut returns to his roots

I met Urban Meyer once, about a month after we won our first title with him at the helm. Through a series of very fortunate events, I actually got to have an uninterrupted conversation with the guy for about 20 minutes. In that time, it became obvious that February 2007 Urban Meyer only cared about two things: winning football games, and spending time with his family. And it was clear that, notwithstanding all the success on the first front, he was pretty upset about everything he was missing out on at home.

Which is why, 2 (and then again 3) years later, when he claimed he was leaving, at least in part, on account of his family, I believed it. I really think that was a big deal to him, and I think he has, by and large, taken great advantage of the time off to see his kids. But he loves coaching football, so seeing his inevitable return come a little quicker than I expected is understandable.

Given all that, I’m having trouble being mad at him. Sure, he said some ridiculous things about how he couldn’t step away and then end up coaching somewhere else in a year or two; how wrong that’d be. I’m sure he felt that way at the time, and I appreciated the sentiment. But he obviously can’t come back to UF now, and tOSU is his alleged dream job, so I don’t begrudge him moving on. If he raids our coaching staff, as has been rumored, that’s another story. But until we see that confirmed, best of luck buddy.

My feelings about the way UF handled the Urban Meyer situation over the past two years are a little different. I understand that he had a ton of leverage when we negotiated with him, but our AD, Jeremy Foley, basically let Urbz walk all over him. As I understand it, he had a $500,000.00 buy out, on a deal that paid him millions of dollars over a very long period of time. Even worse, a month after his second, longer-term retirement, we still paid him a $1MM bonus that he was to earn if he was still the coach as of January 1, 2011. So we essentially gave him a cool million to take a year off while he waited on what is reportedly a 7 year, $40MM contract. Money aside, the guy also got to keep an office on campus, and was a continued presence in Gainesville. It made for a challenging transition, and probably didn’t make Will Muschamp’s job any easier (though I’m not going to begin making excuses for this season).

As for how this hire plays out for tOSU, it’s tough to predict. Call us bitter Gator fans, but from discussions with fellow UF grads over the past week, the consensus seems to be that the Buckeyes might not be getting their money’s worth. The Urban Meyer that won national championships had great assistant coaches he could rely on. Even then, he was a workaholic. If he’s truly found a work-life balance, I think we’ll see a more even win-loss balance as well. I’ve heard more in depth analysis about why he’ll have trouble succeeding, but I’m not an Xs and Os guy, and I can’t begin to give a good explanation. Surely they will improve on this year’s record, but questions of how many years before he can win a national championship are a little premature. In terms of recruiting, I’d assume tOSU starts getting more national recruits than they have in the past, but I’m praying that kids from the state of Florida still think of Ohio in the same way I do: Cold, gray, ugly, and irrelevant for decades.

To What We’re Listening (and Youtubing): The Black Keys’ new single Lonely Boy

As usual, I swore at the beginning of the football season that I wouldn’t travel to The Game Formerly Known As The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party (“TGFKATWLOCP”). The many reasons for my apathy about this game included: recently Georgia has refused to put up much of a fight, Jacksonville is so overrated, coordinating getting to the game is always a royal pain, and the stadium, while neat to look at when its split blue and red 50/50, doesn’t provide anywhere near the joy of being in The Swamp. Et cetera.

But just like in years past, here we are about 24 hours to kick-off, and my willpower has faded. So I’ll be leaving in a couple hours for TGFKATWLOCP, and I’m actually pretty excited about it. We’re allegedly including a bourbon fountain in our tailgate this year, which is the good kind of bad idea that makes you scared for your life, and more importantly, your bar license. It’s a bright spot on a weekend that otherwise features grown men dressing like vampires, or drag queens, or the ultimate: vampire drag queens.

One other bright spot is that The Black Keys (Dan Auerbach – vocals/guitar and Patrick Carney – drums) dropped their first single from forthcoming album, El Camino (the cover of which inexplicably [to me] has a photo of a 90s vintage minivan on it). The new song, Lonely Boy, already has a funny video up on their Youtube channel. While you’re there, check out the videos for Tighten Up and Howlin for You. They’ll all make you laugh.

This new album was recorded at Dan’s new studio in Music City, USA. In the past, they’ve recorded all over the place, including Pat’s basement, an old rubber factory (for an album titled…wait for it…Rubber Factory), and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios (founded by a group that defected from FAME, including David Hood, father of Drive By Truckers front man Patterson Hood). AD tells me their experience recording in Alabama was suboptimal, which is sad to hear. All the same, they’ve put out consistently strong bluesy rock over a series of records, no small feat for a couple of white dudes in a power duo. Though to be fair, if a white dude is trying to sing the blues with any kind of authenticity, coming of age in post-industrial Ohio can’t hurt. If the new single is any indication, they’re close to the mark again.

Good listening, Godspeed, and Go Gators.

Eagerly Anticipating the LSU/A&M Rivalry

Huzzah for inaugural posts. Given the frequency of AD’s posting thus far, I’m a bit intimidated by the prospect of making any sort of regular contribution to ALDLAND. I sat out the first week so that I might get a feel for the Bard of Battle Rapid’s voice and the character of the blog. Unfortunately, from what I’ve seen so far, it would seem that my forte – sweeping, overwrought pieces that capture the zeitgeist and bring readers to a greater knowledge of self and a higher plane of being – will be completely out of place among fake interviews of hockey players.  Further, my commentary on sports usually doesn’t progress beyond cursing from the sidelines or the occasional essay on why Lane Kiffin is an idiot. If you really want my opinion on sports – and by sports, I mean college football – just go read Spencer Hall at Everyday Should Be Saturday. If I could write, or knew anything about sports, I suspect that’s what I would say. At any rate, for now, any contributions I make to ALDLAND will likely be focused on music.

That said, this Texas A & M rumor means I’ll be commenting on sports sooner than I expected. I’ll admit I was a little surprised to read that A & M  was looking at the SEC again. Not that the idea is inconceivable, but the timing caught me off guard. We went through all this last year, with Texas flirting with the PAC10+ (What would they have called that, by the way? Is Texas Pacific Group up for grabs now that the PE shop is officially TPG?) It seemed clear at the time that A & M was pretty content to stick around so long as the Longhorns continued to anchor the conference.

It also suggests that A & M got a look at the details of the Longhorn Network deal about the same time we did. That’s been covered extensively, and I won’t try to add my own thoughts (because, frankly, I haven’t read the thing. I haven’t even read the coverage at Midnight Yell that AD linked). But my understanding is that it certainly doesn’t provide any long term security for the Aggies.

As an SEC man, I’m all for A & M joining the conference. Their strategy, though, suggests that there isn’t strong leadership inside the administration in College Station. I don’t know how strong their bargaining position with Slive and Co. was last year, but it certainly had to be better than right now. If they are in talks this time around, it means they are desperate for an exit, so I’d expect to see the SEC get them on good terms (whatever that means).

As for Big 12 Commissioner Dan Beebe’s comment that moving away from your geographic base and tradition rivals can “create a lot of problems”, I understand he has to say that kind of stuff, but get real man. You can see why A & M doesn’t want to stuck in the University of Texas with a dash of Oklahoma conference. If UT decides to go their own way someday (And don’t say they won’t. As literally every Texan will tell you, it’s the only state that can secede from the union), the whole house of cards falls. Granted, a move by A & M might help accelerate the collapse.

The last question is a matter of balance in the SEC. If Slive puts the Aggies in the West, who do we steal for the East? My pick during this whole debate last year was Va. Tech, and I still think it’s the best move in terms of increasing market share (as well as getting another high quality program). That said, with all that’s happened in the past few months, I bet we could get Ohio State for ten cents on the dollar right now. It’s not a cultural fit by any means, but having a crippled OSU in the East for the Gators to beat up on would make me a happy man. One can dream.