Friday, August 31, 2007

She's Warming Up...

According to this piece in VeloNews, we may well be approaching an end to the Floyd Landis case. The proverbial fat lady hasn't sung yet, but I can hear her warming up. Mind you, this probably doesn't end the whole case, just the USADA arbitration part. There will probably be an appeal to the CAS in Switzerland, whether Floyd wins or loses.

There appears to be one last closed-door meeting on the docket, with Dr. Botre on September 12. There's a strong possibility that the arbitrators will close the hearing at this point, which starts a 10-day clock, by which time they're required to render a decision.

The peanut gallery over at the Daily Peloton Forums has been reading the tea leaves, trying to figure out what the delay from May's hearing means. I plead insufficient data. You can argue either way, that a long deliberation is good news for Floyd, or not. I'm leaning towards good news, guardedly. It seems reasonable that, if they really believed the laboratory testimony, they'd have little trouble rendering a quick decision. So, maybe...

What I'd love to see is a decision that raps LNDD on the nose for shoddy procedure. Lousy procedures only help the cheats. Imagine how the hearing would have gone, if they'd had a bulletproof chain of custody, meticulously-documented procedures, and fully-archived test results. Every defense question would be met with hard data. Or, it would never have gotten this far; they'd have known the sample was too degraded to test and that would be that.

My point is that the science needs to be sufficiently solid that the cheats won't have a leg to stand on. A good enough lawyer can poke holes in just about anything, but it takes a freaking genius to shred well-documented scientific evidence. "Racehorse" Haynes might have been able to do it, but not many lawyers are quite that [ahem] inventive. Most of you won't have heard of him. He was said to have advised one client: "Deny everything. Even if they have pictures, deny everything."

But I digress. As I said earlier, I want to believe that Floyd didn't cheat, but I can see how you could read the circumstantial evidence that way. But that's almost beside the point. To deter cheating, the testing has to be good enough to detect fiddling, and it also has to be solid enough to stand up to the harshest scrutiny. That would go a long way towards restoring the public's confidence.

Other measures are needed, too, and several teams are making good starts by gathering out-of-competition data on their athletes. This establishes a solid baseline of what constitutes "normal" for a particular athlete's system, and can give a team an early-warning indicator if they're doing something funny.

But in the end, we come back to the fate of one man, whose life has been on hold for better or worse since last July. One way or another, he can finally figure out what to do with the rest of his life. Win or lose, this isn't the end for Floyd, but a new beginning. What sort of a beginning remains to be seen. At least he won't have to wait much longer to find out.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

1984: The Year That Wasn't

I probably would never have come across this book if I hadn't had to read it in high school. But I'm glad I did, because it has been one of the most influential things I have ever read. It's an extraordinarily important book, and if you only re-read one book from your high school experience, make it this one.

This is the book that George Orwell wrote as he knew he was dying. It's filled with a driving sense of purpose, a sense of warning. Orwell wrote us to warn us of what the world would look like, if we ever lost the Long War.

The Long War probably isn't what you're thinking, although what we call the Cold War was part of it. The Long War is the eternal struggle of enlightened individualism against totalitarianism, liberty versus tyranny. 1984 spells out in painful details the cost of defeat. It also shows us, obliquely, how to avoid going there.

In the world of Winston Smith, liberty had long since gone down to defeat. The Party ruled all. It governed you from the moment you opened your eyes in the morning to the moment you closed them again at night, and held you to account for what you mumbled in your dreams. If the contents of your thoughts weren't sufficiently orthodox, the Ministry of Love would fix you. We get to see the entire process through to its horrific conclusion. Winston Smith goes from Party functionary to rebel, rebel to prisoner, and finally prisoner to ... what? In a real sense he was always a prisoner. His final transformation was a final realization of that fact. He is, at the end, a completely broken man.

But the world doesn't have to end up like this. That's the key message here.

Our best line of defense at home? A healthy suspicion of those we keep in power. My current blog tagline as I write this states my position perfectly: "In God we trust. Everyone else, keep your hands where I can see 'em." We the citizens have a duty to stay informed, and keep our elected leaders' feet to the fire. Most of them are good, honest people. But even so we dare not trust them with too much power. This means that the government will never be as efficient as it could be. This means that there are things the government won't be able to do. We simply have to accept that as the price of freedom.

But it goes beyond that. For example, this is the reason that I really don't like hate crimes legislation. I do not like the idea of criminalizing the content of a man's thoughts. It is irrelevant to me that those thoughts are indefensible or uncivilized. Because eventually someone will work their way around to criminalizing mine. It's far, far easier to stop this thing from snowballing now, than to try to stop it once the Powers That Be get used to the idea of legislating what you're allowed to think.

It's also why I really don't like political correctness. Mind you, I do think that a proper gentleman should self-censor his speech. I do not always do a good job of that. Some words have no place at all in polite communication, and if you cannot express yourself without vulgarity then your vocabulary is sadly lacking. That said ... There are substantive conversations we cannot have today, because they are not PC. We all know what we are not allowed to say, and about whom we are not allowed to speak. Try to have a serious conversation about a taboo topic, and you're branded a racist, a sexist, or worse. This is distinctly unhelpful, and does no one any real good. Pretending that an issue does not exist does nothing to help the situation.

But forewarned is forearmed: we do not go forward in this struggle unguided. And because an Englishman looked ahead and told us what he saw, we have a better chance to avoid the abyss.

Give it a read if you haven't done so lately. It'll make you think.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

My Latest Project

Coming soon to this space: I will be re-reading some of the novels that I was compelled to read during high school, and see if I can get anything more out of them now that I'm an adult. The tentative list includes, but will not be limited to:

The Grapes of Wrath
The Great Gatsby
The Scarlet Letter

There are several that I've forgotten, I'm sure. Feel free to remind me.

Updates will follow, as I finish the books in question. I've already read 1984 relatively recently, I just need to think about what I want to write.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Property: It's A Good Thing

Last time, I snarked off about a Russian expedition to the North Pole. There are actually some serious implications that probably need to be talked about. To wit: property rights.

A staple of sci-fi for several years was the undersea colony. We've had things like SeaLab, SeaQuest DSV, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, and all that good stuff. Well, there's a good reason why none of that is happening. It's not because the technology isn't up to it, though that's part of it. No, the real problem is that no one in their right mind is about to sink big money into deep-sea mining unless and until sovereignty issues have been sorted out.

You see, without sovereignty, there is really no guarantee of personal or corporate property rights. And without property rights, there's no development. You'd have to be nuts to put good money at risk that way, if no one were standing overwatch to guarantee that no one jumps your claim.

Let's leave the particulars of Russia's claim as beside the point for the moment. It's sufficient to note that, unless Russia were able to establish clear title to the sea floor in question, there's no way any Russian company would set up shop drilling there. And there's plenty of legal wrangling to be done, because Canada isn't sure that they can't make the same claim.

But that brings us 'round to the other link from that post.

As much as I might like to think so, the United States has no territorial claims on the Moon. The Outer Space Treaty of 1967 prohibits such claims. And that's a problem. Why? Because, as I said before, without sovereignty there's no guarantee of property rights, and without property rights there's no development.

Anyone who wants to start up a business based on extraction of extraterrestrial resources is treading on very uncertain legal ground. Which is why no one has seriously explored such options to date. Oh sure, we're years away from having the technology to exploit such resources. But if the legal basis were more firm, there'd be more of an impetus to develop said technologies.

This is a problem, to be sure, but not necessarily an insurmountable one. I'm not going to guess precisely how this problem gets resolved -- there's more than one way to paint a fence, after all. As long as the path doesn't involve anything heinous, it's the goal that's important. But, sooner or later, we have to come to grips with this problem.

It's raining soup Out There, and the sooner we get 'round to making bowls, the better.

Sunday, August 05, 2007


So the Russkies have planted a flag at the North Pole seabed, in an effort to secure territorial rights along the Lomonsov Ridge.

Well, fine. If they want to go ahead and press that claim, fine.

Just so long as if they can plant a flag and claim the North Pole, we get to assert a certain flag-based claim of our own.

Hey, it's only fair.