Blacknell.net

Politics, technology, and society. And the seasonal incursion of pro cycling.

Month: March 2008 (Page 1 of 4)

Doping

As a pro cycling fan, I'm rather well acquainted with the world of performance enhancing drugs. And the dopers that use them. It is, as you might imagine, a topic close at hand during any discussion of the state of the sport. At this point, I don't really have any moral outrage. And it's not just because I'm worn out by the succession of recent doping stories. It's that doping has *always* been around. It's part and parcel of the sport. The Festina affair is recent history, in this context. When you read any books dealing with the history of cycling, whether it's the the last 25 years of pro racing or Dino Buzzati's masterpiece on the '49 Giro d'Italia, riders have *always* turned to drugs for an edge. And if you're not a cycling fan, and you're thinking that this isn't really a problem in the sports *you* appreciate, you're almost certainly deluding yourself. Every sport needs to grapple with doping (and so do "sports" like golfing). It's against this background that I think a new book- Dope: A History of Performance Enhancement in Sports from the Nineteenth Century to Today - will be worth reading. Written by the author of Rant Your Head Off, it looks like a real history of doping in sports:
Dope starts in the mid-1800s, when doping was performed on racehorses with the intent of altering the natural outcome of races. Back then, the stables in which the horses were kept weren’t all that well guarded, so a doper could come along and administer a drug that would affect the animal’s racing. Sometimes the drugs were meant to give the horse a boost, and sometimes they were meant to slow the animal down. [ . . . ] You’ll get to see stories of doping in the Olympics from the quadrennial spectacle’s earliest days, the rise of various drugs (like amphetamines, testosterone, other steroids and eventually EPO and designer steroids), as well as read about doping incidents across a wide range of sports over the last century. You’ll read stories of doping in weightlifting, swimming, track and field, cycling, football (both kinds), baseball, as well as doping in other sports. [ . . . ] But most of all, what I hope you’ll get out of the book is an appreciation and understanding that doping is not a problem that just magically appeared over the last twenty years (despite how the many in the mainstream media seem to cast the story). The desire to boost human performance, and to find ways of pushing the boundaries of what we’re capable of, has existed for a very, very long time. And at one point in time, “the human experiments” that doping athletes perform were once even considered merely using technology in man’s quest to be better, faster and stronger. The perfectability of man/woman, if you will.
I intend to put my hands on a copy and review it when it's finally released.

Mark Jenkins’ Street Art

Inspired by a link to this wonderful bit of street art, I went looking for some photos of Mark Jenkins' street art.  He's done a number of projects in DC that I've randomly stumbled across.  Turns out he's got a pretty comprehensive site of his own.  Check it out.

Wreckfest @ Tiffany’s

I miss all the cool parties.

How Much is that SD In the Window?

Ah, our political values at work:
[A] study by the Center for Responsive Politics concludes that campaign contributions have become a fairly reliable predictor of whose side a superdelegate will take. And if that's the case, it's good news for Obama. Since 2005, his PAC has donated $710,900 to superdelegates, more than three times as much as Clinton's PAC has. Her PAC distributed $236,100 to superdelegates during the three-year period. The study found that the presidential candidate who gave more money to the superdelegates received their endorsements 82 percent of the time. That's based on a review of elected officials who are serving as superdelegates and who'd endorsed a candidate as of Feb. 25.
Just one of many reason I'm much more careful with my political giving than I used to be.  I don't give money to buy votes, even for candidates I'm otherwise supporting.

National Kite Festival

Don't forget, the National Kite Festival takes place this Saturday on the Mall.  Thousands of kites (including yours!) in the sky can only be good.  I stumbled upon this years and years ago, and have tried to make it regularly since then.  I never regret the effort.

Photo by MJ 

Interview with Candidate Amit Singh (8th CD) – Part II

This is Part II of an interview with Arlington’s Amit Singh, who is running for the GOP nomination in the 8th Congressional District race. He’ll be vying with Mark Ellmore for the votes of 8th district Republicans on June 10th. The winner of that race will face long time incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D) this fall. Part I is available here. Getting to the Specifics MB: Your platform is very focused on reducing spending, sounding like the old – and to me, mythical – Republicans. This, of course, is what we hear from every candidate. And then that candidate gets elected, goes to DC, and it’s back to business as usual. This is both because a newly elected representative doesn’t have much power to change the big picture, and because he or she soon draws a connection – consciously or not – between federal spending and future campaign contributions. In concrete and practical terms, how do you expect to overcome those two challenges? What would you do differently? AS: “I'm not worried about making a career out of being a politician. I’m not doing this for the money, I’m not doing this for the power.” If I can’t stick to my principles, there’s no point in running. [ . . . ] Yes, I would be one of 435 votes, but my vote would be as equal to the most senior member in Congress as well.” Singh goes on to cite a The Wisdom of Crowds – part of which examines the idea that “one person in a crowd who stands for what they believe in can start other people – basically, embarrass people into doing the right thing. If I can be one of those votes that can start building that momentum towards fiscal responsibility, that’s important.” On the matter of trading earmarks for contributions, Singh cites a case in which he believed there was a connection between $17k worth of contributions from a contractor and Moran’s backing of a $35 million nautical magnetic drive project (that the Navy apparently didn’t want) for that contractor. Singh framed these types of situations as simply bad politics - “Whether you’re left leaning or right leaning, I don’t think any American is pro waste.” Are there specific things that come to mind when you talk about reducing spending? “Yes, and again – nothing would happen overnight. One of the top [targets for spending cuts] would be the Department of Education, which has been doubled in the last 10 years or 8 years. [Education is] something that should be defederalized and sent down to the local levels.” Singh also pointed out the Federal Communications Commission is an agency that is not needed, suggesting that arbitration could settle claims of interference between spectrum users. Singh summed up his general approach to assessing the state of the Federal government as, roughly (this is not a quote) - we have to fundamentally ask ourselves what’s the role of government – is it supposed to take care of us cradle to grave? If so, we keep the existing form. If not, we need to look at getting rid of all these bureaucracies. Singh clearly thinks the latter is the answer to his question. He sees a role for a revived commitment to and reliance on private charity. Looking at your resume, it seems that almost all of your career has been spent working on government-funded projects. Has that informed your perspective on federal spending? “Absolutely. If I was conservative before, going through college, it really didn’t hit me until I started contracting with the federal government, and I saw firsthand, so much of the waste and abuse, and how decisions were made politically.“ Singh related some stories about the problems with the budgeting process – situations where cost savings weren’t valued by the contractor, or dealing with the annual pressure to spend up to the agency’s budget at the end of every fiscal year, as “they’ll burn money before they hand it back to Treasury”. Speaking of spending – do you support the Tyson’s tunnel effort? “I don’t think so. Well, first off, I think it needs to be rebid. If you don’t have competitive bidding, the citizens of Virginiaa just aren’t getting the best deal they could get.” [ . . . ] “My understanding of all the nuances is that the tunnel is going to be generally three times as expensive [as the above ground option] and it’s going to take a lot longer to happen. So my fear is that by trying to go under, instead of over, it will never happen. I’m more of an advocate for the over. But again, being an engineer dealing with a fluid situation, if the facts on the ground change, you have to adjust your view.” So you’d be open to hearing a case from either side? “Of course. And that’s what competitive bidding is about.” Arlington is all about the green, lately. That’s not something that Republicans really have a lot of brand cred on. What’s the proper role of the Federal government in protecting the environment? “The government shouldn’t be signing treaties that lets Americans export pollution to less efficient countries. If we sign these treaties where we have to reduce our emissions, but we let developing nations off the hook, then the natural thing that’s going to happen is that American industry is going to go to these Third World countries and export their pollution, that’s going to be even dirtier. The Kyoto treaty lets India and China off the hook. If we’d hold them to the same standard that we held the United States, then that’s a different story. But we’re giving developing nations a free ride while they’re putting all the burden on the industrialized nations. That’s not the right formula for having a global environmental improvement.” [MB: a description of the cap and trade mechanisms used by the Kyoto Protocol signatories can be found in this Council on Foreign Relations summary.] “The other thing I think the Federal government should do is allow for more nuclear power plants. I think even environmentalists have come around and realized that we need a total energy alternative solution, and nuclear has to be a part of the equation. I know a lot of people don’t want a nuclear powerplant in their backyard, I think they’ve shown, time and time again, throughout the world, in the last 20 years, that nuclear is safe, cheap, and clean. I think we really need to open the door again to nuclear power, as part of the overall energy solution.” Does the Federal government have a rule in investing in research so we can move off of oil, or is that something that should be left to the markets? “Absolutely, it should be left to the markets.” Singh is against all government subsidies for the energy sector, including soft subsidies such as the costs involved with US defense of private oil operations. Singh also notes that “the government is bad at picking winners” and thinks that consumers should be more exposed to the actual costs of their choices – “If gas goes to $5 a gallon, people are going to stop buying SUVs. The consumer has to play a role [in reshaping energy consumption], but they're not going to play a role as long as we force gas to be cheap." This is a tough sell - what I think I'm hearing is that there's no tax breaks for development of solar, wind, and other alternative energy sources. "I think it's a consistent view." It's a tough sell to both sides. On one hand, you’ve upset the people pushing for development of alternatives to oil, and you’ve also told the oil industry that you won’t be supporting them. Tough spot, no? "I think even the Republican base is not in favor of corporate welfare." You seem to emphasize very strongly, individual rights and freedoms, yet you support term limits, which strikes me as taking away the individual right and freedom to vote for whom they like. "I disagree. The way our political system works now, Congressmen who have seniority in Congress have a disproportionate effect on the lives of people who did not elect them." There's an incentive [to keep electing] the same guy who's going to bring you back pork, to the district, over and over again. What that ends up doing is making the government very inefficient. [ . . . ] “Just as we have term limits on the president and most local offices, I think it's appropriate to have term limits [on congressmen]. Whether that's six years, or twelve years, that's all negotiable. But to have people who've been in office for forty or thirty years, and they can get whatever pork they want back to their district, to guarantee that they'll win over and over again[,] I don't think that's how this country was [meant to be] set up." But aren't you telling the voters that you know better than them? "The voters are doing what's best for them, for that particular district, but they're doing it at the expense of all the other voters in the rest of the country. And that's what I have a disagreement with." That concludes Part II. Part III will finish the interview, and examine Singh's thoughts on the REAL ID Act, government surveillance, and facing Jim Moran in the fall.

Burnishing the GOP’s “Strong on Defense” Credentials

Earlier today, I decided against posting this article about the new "Cyber-security Czar". You know, the one without any cyber-security experience whatsoever? Gosh, I know I sleep better at night with America's cyber-security under the watch of a guy who's primary claim to fame seems to be a book about how great it is to have organizations without any leadership:
By all accounts, Beckstrom is neither a cyber-security expert nor a Washington insider. But his private-sector background and published writings emphasize a decentralized approach to managing large organizations. In "The Starfish and the Spider: The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations," a book Beckstrom co-authored with Ori Brafman in 2006, the authors use the two creatures to illustrate their argument that decentralized organizations -- whether in the marketplace or the battlefield -- are more nimble, creative and resilient than those that operate in a rigid, top-down fashion.
Why am I posting about it now, then? Just as a little warm up to this NYT story, which illustrates the level of care this Administration puts into defense of this country and its allies:
Since 2006, when the insurgency in Afghanistan sharply intensified, the Afghan government has been dependent on American logistics and military support in the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban. But to arm the Afghan forces that it hopes will lead this fight, the American military has relied since early last year on a fledgling company led by a 22-year-old man whose vice president was a licensed masseur. With the award last January of a federal contract worth as much as nearly $300 million, the company, AEY Inc., which operates out of an unmarked office in Miami Beach, became the main supplier of munitions to Afghanistan’s army and police forces.
This story has to be read to be believed.  Illegal munitions suppliers, penny-ante fake IDs, and shoddy quality control in the hands of idiot kids.  This is what the "strong on defense" GOP brings us.

Arlington Democratic Delegate Selection

From the Arlington County Democratic Committee:
Arlington will be represented at the 8th  Congressional District and State Democratic Conventions by elected delegates and  alternates. There are four categories of positions: Clinton delegate, Clinton  alternate, Obama delegate, and Obama alternate. These delegates and  alternates will be expected to attend (at their own expense) the 8th District  Convention on May 17 in Alexandria and the State Convention on June 14 in  Hampton. There is an excellent description of the  delegate selection process for these positions on page 4 of the April issue of  the Voice---the Arlington Democratic Newsletter. If you want to learn more, or  think you might be interested in becoming a delegate or alternate, log on to our  website [and]  click on the link on the left side of the homepage that says "Read the  Voice".

Bike Porn in Richmond!

No, really.  (NSFW) I just realized that I missed my chance to see bike porn in DC last night (by about 30 minutes and 200 feet, it seems). So, in case any of you are in Richmond Thursday night, don't miss your chance. (Also, if any of you francophones want to ID the soundtrack to the linked video, I'd quite appreciate it).

Michel Martin on Speaking Up

When Michel Martin's "Tell Me More" show replaced the BBC News World Service on WAMU earlier this year, I was less than pleased.  And after listening to her first couple of shows, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't have the radio on in the background during her timeslot.  But, over time, she's either come into her own or I've just done a better job of listening - I now appreciate her as an excellent interviewer, and as someone who is unafraid of being direct on uncomfortable subjects. Today, she took a few minutes to offer an unflinching and clear eyed observation on the chattering class's claim that they would have stood up and walked out of Rev. Wright's now infamous sermons.  To wit:
I have had it up to here with members of the commentariat who keep lecturing us about how they would never have tolerated the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's more incendiary sermons, and they wonder why Barack Obama did. They would have walked on out [of the church]. Can I just tell you? I don't think so.
Give it a listen, or - at least - give it a read.

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