The 2010 Tour


If you didn’t watch the Tour de France this year, this is really the image that sums up the whole race. From Bicycling Magazine:

After dropping his chain during an attack on the Bales climb, Luxembourg’s Andy Schleck tries desperately to chase Alberto Contador, Denis Menchov and Samuel Sanchez. At the end of the day he would finish 39 seconds behind and lose his yellow jersey by 8 seconds.

The reason this was *the* moment of the Tour is that Contador ended up winning the overall Tour by 39 seconds — exactly what he stole from Schleck in Stage 15.

Still, Contador is a strong rider who rode well and hard and deserved to win. It was an awesome Tour. I’m looking forward to next year. Was this Schleck’s peak or will he run away with it? Or will someone else emerge to dominate both of this year’s leaders? If you think cycling is not fun and exciting to watch, give the Tour a chance; it just might change your mind.

A case of language that’s struggling toward some idea outside our experience

Point OmegaPoint Omega by Don DeLillo
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The book that made me finally see “Psycho.” The parallels between the film and the characters in this little novella are what make the book interesting. DeLillo is a prose master so there are some great little lines in there that make it worth your while, but beyond that he’s making readers work with this one. All the characters are so detached and alienated from the world and themselves that it’s, well, painful, and painfully depressing.

I finished it wondering a little what was the point, but, of course, the alienation itself is probably the point. I began to appreciate it when I started thinking about it as a meditation on war, and the planners of war, and how they see the world as an abstraction, a curiosity, something that is not real, a bunch of big ideas. This enables them to construct and set in motion the machinery of death because there aren’t really flesh and blood people and lives and civilizations and societies involved — it’s all just big ideas and theories and stars.

“Consciousness accumulates. It begins to reflect upon itself. Something about this feels almost mathematical to me. There’s almost some law of mathematics or physics that we haven’t quite hit upon, where the mind transcends all direction inward. The omega point,” he said. “Whatever the intended meaning of this term, if it has a meaning, if it’s not a case of language that’s struggling toward some idea outside our experience.”(72)

The planners of war are Norman Bates; their minds have transcended all direction inward until they have begun to eat themselves with dissociation. In the end they have to be someone else to do what they do and they don’t even know that other self that they are, they deny it and almost are unaware of it. If you confront them with the reality of the pain and suffering they create, they will not be able to cope. They will run, retreat, escape, deny, turn away, and become helpless as children. Maybe.

Or maybe it would just be really cool to see “Psycho” slowed down into a 24-hour marathon.

The Top Idea in Your Mind

Paul Graham:

I’ve found there are two types of thoughts especially worth avoiding—thoughts like the Nile Perch in the way they push out more interesting ideas. One I’ve already mentioned: thoughts about money. Getting money is almost by definition an attention sink. The other is disputes. These too are engaging in the wrong way: they have the same velcro-like shape as genuinely interesting ideas, but without the substance. So avoid disputes if you want to get real work done.

. . .

Turning the other cheek turns out to have selfish advantages. Someone who does you an injury hurts you twice: first by the injury itself, and second by taking up your time afterward thinking about it. If you learn to ignore injuries you can at least avoid the second half. I’ve found I can to some extent avoid thinking about nasty things people have done to me by telling myself: this doesn’t deserve space in my head. I’m always delighted to find I’ve forgotten the details of disputes, because that means I hadn’t been thinking about them. My wife thinks I’m more forgiving than she is, but my motives are purely selfish.

This is actually great advice for public defenders. It’s so easy to get sidetracked by little disagreements with prosecutors or judges or to take adverse rulings personally and forget what’s really important — doing your best for your clients. If you allow your personal struggle with “the system” and its components to become the top idea in your mind you’re less likely to do all the best things for your clients because those things easily become obscured by those petty disputes that really just don’t matter.

I wonder if this is actually the difference between those public defenders who love their work and do it well for decades, and those who are always in anguish and burn out after only a few years. Those who let go of the petty, bullshit disputes and focus on what matters are happier, do better work, and retain their sanity. Those who don’t, well they have to find something else to do because the work just eats them up.

(Via Daring Fireball.)

Contador seizes Tour de France lead from Schleck

Stage 15 today and what a stage it was! Did Contador play dirty when he took advantage of Schleck’s mechanical problem? According to the BBC:

Cycling etiquette says that riders should not attack the yellow jersey wearer when he falls or suffers a mechanical problem.

Hm. Bruce Arthur of the Canadian National Post also argues that Contador played dirty and I have to agree. Regardless, I hope Andy Schleck comes back and eats Contador’s lunch in the next few days. Sadly, that doesn’t seem likely. There are only two more mountain stages where Schleck could theoretically make some time up on Contador. After that, it’s flat and a time trial, both of which will favor Contador.

Today was not a good advertisement for the SRAM Red drivetrain on Schleck’s bike. Of course, I guess that’s what Contador is riding, too.

(btw, the Versus Tour Tracker has been totally worth it. It’s letting me really watch this race for the first time ever and I’m loving it. Highly recommended if you’re a fan of cycling.)

Pitchfork Music Festival 2010

We spent Friday evening and are going again today to Pitchfork here in Chicago. The reviews on the Time Out Blog pretty well capture my impression of what we saw on Friday, including: Modest Mouse, and Robyn, and Broken Social Scene. Missing is the note that the sound for BSS was terrible. There’s a difference between static and feedback, and this was definitely static. Still, great festival on Friday. We’re looking forward some great (if very hot and humid) performances this afternoon, too.


If you’re a fan of doomsday scenarios you’ll love Doomsday: How BP Gulf disaster may have triggered a world-killing event – by Terrence Aym. The conclusion:

Most experts in the know, however, agree that if the world-changing event does occur it will happen suddenly and within the next 6 months.

So, if events go against  Mankind and the bubble bursts in the coming months, Gregory Ryskin may become one of the most famous people in the world. Of course, he won’t have long to enjoy his new found fame because very shortly after the methane eruption civilization will collapse.

Perhaps if humanity is very, very lucky, some may find a way to avoid the mass extinction that follows and carry on the human race.


Dum, de-dum, dum, dum!

When the Cop Says Stop — you better stop!

Cycling lawyer” (um, can I have that job, please?) Bob Mionske relates the fascinating story of an out-of-control cop harassing two cyclists in Ohio. He appears to have tried to stop them for no reason, and when they wouldn’t stop he pulled his taser. One of the cyclists ended up getting tazed multiple times. Charges were eventually dismissed and the cyclists are filing a civil suit, but the story illustrates what can happen when men with guns and badges lose control.

Aside from the abuse of police authority, the story grabbed me because in the end, Mionske concludes that:

if the order is unlawful, the cyclist is not required to obey the order, and can’t be arrested for failure to comply. Now, this is the law in Ohio, but it is based on 4th Amendment jurisprudence, so the jurisprudence in other states should be similar. If somebody knows of contradictory 4th Amendment jurisprudence in another state, please let me know.

Um, well, my experience defending more than one obstructing charge is that, if the officer tells you to stop, you better stop. If you don’t, you could end up with an obstructing charge — or worse. Basically, if you disobey a police order — even where the order is unlawful — your ass is getting arrested. Sure, it might be sorted out later and the charges *may* be dismissed, but is it worth going to jail for the night or however long it takes to post bail? No. Just stop. The officer can be the biggest dumbass on the planet, but again, that’s something to sort out later. If the officer here had been our friendly neighborhood cop Johannes Mehserle who claims he confused his taser and his gun, these poor cyclists would be dead, not just dismayed.

As just one example of an illegal stop that escalates to legit criminal charges, see People v. Thomas, 198 Ill. 2d 103; 759 N.E.2d 899 (2001). There, Mr. Thomas was riding his bicycle while carrying a police scanner. An officer tried to stop Mr. Thomas and Mr. Thomas fled. Eventually, officers caught up w/Mr. Thomas and arrested him. They found drugs and he was convicted of possession w/intent. On appeal, the Illinois Supreme Court found that, although the officer’s initial order for Mr. Thomas to stop was not legal (b/c the officer lacked any reasonable suspicion that Mr. Thomas was engaged in illegal activity), the subsequent seizure of Mr. Thomas was legal because he fled and was seized after flight. The flight became a legitimate (legal, constitutional) reason for the seizure.

Following that logic, in the case of the Ohio cyclists, even though the officers initial orders for them to stop were ambiguous and clearly illegal, a court could have found that the subsequent actions amounted to resisting, obstructing, or some other criminal act. They’re lucky the prosecutor didn’t think of adding such charges or they might have been in a different position.

Police have far too much authority in our society, but that’s exactly why you better stop if an officer tells you to. Stop, cooperate, and figure out the legality of it all later.

Defending “The Man”

Congratulations to defense attorney Michael Rains and the defense team for Johannes Mehserle on getting a verdict of involuntary manslaughter for the shooting of Oscar Grant. I didn’t follow the case closely, but based on the headlines I’ve heard, the defense must have been amazing to get this result. Example:

The verdict followed a three-week trial in which prosecutors played videos by bystanders, and witnesses recounted hearing the frightening gunshot that killed Grant.
At least five bystanders videotaped the incident
Mehserle, 28, testified that he struggled with Grant and saw him digging in his pocket as officers responded to reports of a fight at a train station. Fearing Grant may have a weapon, Mehserle said he decided to shock Grant with his Taser but pulled his .40-caliber handgun instead.

It’s easy for criminal defense attorneys to see police as the enemy — it’s the cops who stop and arrest our clients, the cops who testilie and put our clients in jail and prison — so defending a police officer could be a moral challenge for some defense attorneys. Apparently not for Mr. Rains.

On the other hand, the reason the state wins so often is because judges and juries tend to believe cops over everyone else no matter what the other evidence suggests. With that in mind, I’m sure people will argue that the defense work here was just a matter of showing up and not screwing anything up too badly. (Imagine, for example, that the facts were reversed and Mehserle was the civilian who shot a police officer — getting involuntary manslaughter on that would really be amazing.) But even a serious jury bias in favor of the police cannot explain this verdict. The defense team convinced a jury that Mehserle confused his gun with his taser. That’s completely unbelievable, not only because the gun definitely weighs far more than the taser, but because an officer carries these two weapons in different places. It’s not like they are identical and sit side-by-side on his hip. Finally, Mehserle didn’t come up with this defense at the scene, nor was there any evidence that he was claiming this mistake until after he’d talked to his attorney. The fact that the jury came in with an involuntary verdict on those facts is nothing short of amazing.

The San Francisco Chronicle is trying to dampen public unrest by arguing that this was the appropriate verdict. Perhaps it was, but even if so, that doesn’t make it easier to accept that a cop gets a slap on the wrist for shooting a man in the back for no reason.

Anyway, great job, Mr. Rains, great job.