Wednesday, February 25

Lance Armstrong is unbelievable. Most of us know the story. He's a prodigy of an athlete as the only son of a poor single mom in some rural town in Texas. He's on the small side but tough as hell, so in a state that only cares about one thing - football - he starts swimming and running and cycling every single day starting when he's a kid until he's literally exhausted at the end of the day, consuming tons of spaghetti or other carbs each night. This continues into his early teens, where he regularly competes against and beats much older boys from high school. In high school he competes against college and pro athletes and starts to be the talk of the county, then the state, then pretty soon he's out of high school and training in Europe for the Giro d'Italia and soon the Tour de France, not to mention still competing in triathlons in Texas and winning them. He keeps finishing better and better and looks to be one of the top cyclists in the world, when all of a sudden his world comes crashing down when he's diagnosed with testicular cancer.

He has to lose the little guy, but good thing us guys carry spares! Unfortunately after a period of remission the cancer returns like crazy in different parts of his body, but most notably his brain. Several of the best oncologists in the world give him 5% chance or less to live, some saying he's got a matter of months. Instead he tries a radical treatment from some guy in Chicago (I think...been awhile since I read his book), which makes him violently sick and turn to skin and bones for a year or two, miserable every single day. His mom is his only friend who sticks with him, all his sponsors cancel their contracts with him, most famously Nike, and he's broke. The treatment goes ahead anyway, an experimental case for a patient with no other choice since none of the normal protocols will cure him, and eventually in a last ditch effort chemo treatment is combined with radiation AND extremely risky brain surgery (which he has to stay awake for) to remove huge tumors in his brain and keep the blood and bone cancers suppressed. Somehow, miraculously, he lives, and after a couple more years he's still in remission, scrawny and looking ten years older instead of just a couple. He's so weak at the end of his treatment he can only drink liquids and uses a walker to get around for months. His body is destroyed.

Then comes one of the most remarkable things I have ever witnessed (by reading about it; I remember the time quite well as it was at my peak of being a sports fan so I followed his story as closely as I could). He learned to walk again, then jog. Then begin to eat healthy food, and slowly put on muscle. He never regained the larger build he once had, but stayed light and trim, having lost 20-30 pounds of lean muscle mass even once he was rehabilitated. But "rehabilitated" medically isn't enough for Armstrong, so he starts to ride all day, every day. He eats scientifically, he trains as long as the sun is up. He not only gets back to where he once was but with his body now much lighter, he actually develops a better VO2 max (sort of the amount of oxygen your capillaries can take in from each breath), his heart is 30% larger than the average person's, his body fat is a preposterous 5%. His power to weight ratio is through the roof, and he trains every single day, whether it's raining or snowing or asteroids are bombarding the earth. He wears out riding partners and has to change them at mid-day because they can't even keep up his training pace.

Finally after a year back on the Pro circuit but still not sponsored, he places well in the Giro and some Spanish events, and suddenly there's the US Postal Service team wanting to recruit him, and a raft of sponsors. Nobody can believe he's back from the dead. They make a big deal of his story and how he's won simply by returning and qualifying. But this is Lance. He competes in the Tour de France again for the first time since his illness, the most prestigious event in cycling, and wins it. That win may have been one of the most shocking things I ever remember reading about in sports.

People write heartwarming stories and even the French reluctantly embrace an American as a hero, especially when he moves to France and buys a small house, to train there year round, and learns to speak French well enough to conduct interviews and chat with neighbors. The next year, he proves it was no fluke, winning the Tour again. He's now in his mid twenties. To cut to the chase, he becomes the greatest cyclist in the modern history of the sport, breaking all records by winning SEVEN Tour de Frances in a row, something that is too incredible to describe when there's a field of hundreds for the weeks-long event, which meanders all over France and dips into Germany and Austria. He gains the reputation for being unbeatable, which he his. He never loses a race again.

The French are fickle fans, and while on the one hand embracing him on the other hand they create a witch hunt in the media, accusing him of doping. As a result, drug testing gets more sophisticated and more random and frequent, to the point where nearly all his closest competitors, including seven of the top ten in the world, are eventually banned by testing positive, yet Lance never once tests positive. He passes every test every given to him (and still has to this day), and decides on his own after seven consecutive Tour victories to retire on top, in the best shape he's ever been in. He's the Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods of cycling, except maybe better. And in an age when athlethes train harder and more scientifically than ever, honing their bodies to perfection, no one is even close. And he seems graced somehow - he seems to never slip on wet corners, never ends up in the pile when the peloton goes down en masse, never cramps or gets ill (or maybe he just fights through it), never has a serious injury. When he does fall he seems to find an extra something inside himself to make up the time. He easily surpasses Miguel Indurain and Eddy Mercx's records and becomes the greatest cyclist of all time except to those Mercx fans in Belgium who will never concede anyone better than their hero, even if he won 10 or 12 Tours in a row.

After retiring, he starts running marathons again, and finishes respectably in the famous Boston Marathon as well as in New York and several other premier events. He also takes up mountain biking in his spare time, training in the Rockies and the Sierra Nevadas and quickly becoming one of the elite mountain bikers (timed climbs and endurance events, not crazy downhill stuff) in the world, in a totally different kind of sport where there are famous people in their own right who have earned X-Games medals and dedicated their lived to the sport, and yet find themselves losing to Armstrong badly. At one point he's ranked #2 in the world, and the guy ranked #1 says Lance could beat him pretty easily if he was really motivated to do so. His "Livestrong" yellow bracelets have raised millions for cancer research over the years. People talk about him going into politics.

The latest, now, is that, after three or four years of not racing, he's decided to return to pro cycling and try to dominate the Tour once again, as well as try to become the best endurance mountain biker in the world (update: though lately I haven't heard much of anything about mountain biking). Maybe a top marathoner as well, and who knows, maybe he'll find time to fit some swimming in and dominate the triathlon circuit too. He'll be nearing his 38th birthday when he competes in the Tour this summer, an age where you should be retiring, and at which no cyclist has ever won the Tour (his seventh victory came when he was 34 - the last time someone that old won it was in the 1920s). All these totally ripped machines of men in their mid-20s and absolute prime condition will line up to take him down.

Which is why I wouldn't be surprised at all if this unbelievable athlete came back and won it all again, just to show he can. Despite his upbringing in rural Texas and George Bush's attempts to use him as a celebrity friend, he's remained a Democrat who is "left of center," pro-choice, and very individually-minded. He's openly atheist. He appears to be a good dad to his three kids and states now that he would rather become the president of the American Cancer Society than the Governor of Texas, so that he can reach everyone and not just one half of the electorate. This guy is one of my personal heroes, without a doubt.

Links to check out:

Monday, February 23

The flag.

Three monks are sitting outside their Zendo on a beautiful day. The flag at the top of the building is blowing softly in the wind.

The young monk says, "The flag is moving harmoniously."

The older, wiser monk says, "It is the air which is moving. The flag only reacts passively."

For a long moment, the Zen master sits quietly. Finally he says, "It is the mind which is moving."

—Zen Kōan

Sunday, February 22

Do not feed the blogger.

He tends to do things like this:

B  R  A  V  A  D  O
R  E  N  A  M  E  D
A  N  A  L  O  G  Y
V  A  L  U  E  R  S
A  M  O  E  B  A  S
D  E  G  R  A  D  E
O  D  Y  S  S  E  Y
Tolkien again.

Tolkien was very big on certain classes of being simply being created superior to others. It perhaps reflects his belief in men, angels, and God. At any rate, there is a strong hierarchy implied in his writings, and for a being, even a hero, to defeat someone from a class "above" him or her was virtually unheard of in his writings, as if it would upset the natural order of creation or that there were just vast gulfs between the power of his creations that such a feat was practically unthinkable. Yet it did happen, on rare occasion. Based on my readings of the History of Middle Earth and The Silmarillion, this seems to be the order I would put his classes of created folk in, from Eru (God, essentially), to the lowliest common man.

An important note: Some denizens of Arda simply do not fit into this scheme. Where would one put the ents? Or the Beornings? Or wildlife like wargs? What about vampires and demonic dogs like Carcaroth, or werewolves? These made appearances in First-Age tales but were never fleshed out enough to give the reader any idea of their origin or nature. Where they living being corrupted? Or were the animated constructs of Morgoth? That skews the picture considerably. Likewise, dragons are not listed for although indeed mighty, they were only ever as mighty as the animating force invested in them (again, usually by Morgoth). It was said they "bred" but it was also said they were without souls. So constructs - creatures controlled by another and in thrall to that entity, possessing so soul and no will of their own in a sense - do not make the list. I've added trolls and giants to this group but I'm not firm in my opinion. If orcs have free will, as corrupted elves, what about these other monstrous humanoids? The text to my knowledge just does not say. It's possible that Aulë, having nothing better to do after being chastised for his creation of the dwarved, tinkered around later and formed these being of stone, but did not attempt to imbue them with an independent spirit. Who knows. 

The great spiders, children of Ungoliant, are not on the list because they ranged from Ungoliant herself, who literally extinguished light with her presence and of whom even Morgoth himself was wary, down through Shelob and to the certainly menacing, but quite killable, spiders of Mirkwood. We don't know the origins of Ungoliant; she is a mystery, and thus must be left on any authoritative list.

About the Ainur who remained with Eru in the void and did not enter Arda (the overwhelming majority, it's implied), we know little. Were they mighty like the Valar? Mightier? More modest in power like the Maiar? There's simply no way of telling, and sine they don't come into the story after the creation tale, I've left the matter unresolved as I think it must be.

Lastly, Tom Bombadil and Goldberry remain utter enigmas and I've made no effort to insert them in this hierarchy whatsoever. I think Tolkien would have smiled knowing I chose not to even try.

Now then, from most to least mighty, here are the denizens of the world of Arda:

The 'Powers' *
Lesser Valar *
Maiar *
Vanyar **
Noldor **
Teleri **
Sindar **
Avani **
Numenorians ***
Edain ***
Dunedain ***
Dwarves ****
Uruk-Hai ******
Rohirrim ***
PettyDwarves ****
Olog Hai ******
Stoors *****
Hobbits *****
Wose/WildMen ***
CommonMen ***

* Collectively, Ainur
** Collectively, Elves
*** Collectively, Men
**** Collectively, Dwarves
***** Collectively, Halflings
****** Collectively, Orcs

I hope this list is pretty self-explanatory. One could quibble with some of my choices in the bottom half of the list, where it's not as clear cut. I think it's much harder to prove me wrong in the top half.

A few notes: Valaraukar (Balrogs), Istari (Wizards), Sauron, and possibly some other beings possessing souls and which appeared in the tales are all in their original nature Maiar, servents of the great Valar. That is why they seem to be absent from the list, but "maiar" covers the lot of them.

If you have questions, agreements, disagreements, want to point out that I've completely missed some race or other, or have anything to add or comment on, please feel free to add to the comments section.

Saturday, February 21

In Bedlam,
Nothing changes from day to day.

Those Abram-Men,
Busking money on the clay streets.

I see them every day
Out the tiny window above my seat.

In Hell,
Nothing changes but the stoke of the heat.

In Bedlam,
Parishoners come to pour pity on us.

Trick'd up with Ribbons, Red-Tape.

Fox-tails and rags,
Pretending to be shadows, beside themselves.

In Hell,
Nothing changes but the shadows themselves.

In 1403,
They drove more wits out of the women and men

Within these walls,
Then they have ever put back into them.

Because in Bedlam,
Nothing changes down these shiny halls

Except the fashions
You get a peek at every spring and fall

Over the redbrick wall.

Friday, February 20


Because I hated the new template (called a layout now) Blogger kept encouraging me to use, and which I finally tried, I have switched back to my old-fashioned, rustic, uncluttered look.

I think the deal is, unless you know your way all round HTML and CSS and are willing to manually set it up that way - in which case you likely wouldn't be using something as newbish as Blogger - then you have two options. Option one - if you had a blog prior to Google's big "upgrade" and which you put a decent amount of time into customizing (fonts, getting rid of the dumb blogger adverts in the code, widening the columns somewhat, and so on), KEEP IT in the old format. Otherwise, it will look scrunched, and all your customization will fail or be ignored or cause microscopic singularities to occur in the fabric of spacetime, probably within your own home. Try looking for your lost keys then.

If however you are starting a blog anew on Blogger, you really have no choice but to use on of their new layouts anyways, but the good news it that they will look just fine. It's not the new layouts and methods for handling things like widgets which the Blogger team has grafted onto the old simpler structure that's the problem - it's the conversion algorithm they've kludged into being which fouls up old blogs and makes them look terrible in the new scheme. They just don't translate well, don't look the same as they used to. I've a hunch the more you've messed with the official templates, the worse the translation goes; I did a lot of excision on the actual HTML in my own blog template, not wanting it to look like anyone else's, and also pretty extensively mussed about with the typographic parameters (won't go into detail here) and the sidebar (basically only leaving a customized navigation tool, which I didn't even like). So, I shouldn't have expected things to go well.

It basically killed all my fonts and formatting, leaving it almost unreadable with no leading to speak of and a miniscule x-height. Without getting technical, I decided that fixing it would have been harder than restoring the old template, which fortunately I could do. Yay, back to normal. Most of the other blogs I run use the new layout, which is fine with me. I like widgets and polls and so forth, but I think I'll keep this particular blog pristine as long as Blogger will let me. If they ever shut off the ability to use the older templates, I'll move to WordPress or Movable Type. Someplace which actually lets me create something which somewhat resembles what I have in my head, which Blogger patently does not do.

Thursday, February 19

All is not forgiven.

In San Francisco
On Telegraph Hill
Should have spoken up then
Because now I never will

You made me long for the world
You made me loathe and curl
Destroyed, unemployed

You made me feel like a child star
You crashed my dreams in a car
Every child star dies young
So they say

Don't judge me now
Don't judge me at all
Years ago I may well have impressed you

But look what human lifetimes do
Scarred and barred by time
And this largely self-destructive
Brain and body of mine

I pick up my cross and walk on.

Puff the magic dragon lived by the sea
And frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee
Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff's gigantic tail
Noble kings and princes would bow when e'er they came
Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name.

A dragon lives forever, but not so little boys
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys
One grey night it happened, Jackie Paper came no more
And Puff that mighty dragon, he ceased his fearless roar.

His head was bent in sorrow, green scales fell like rain
Puff no longer went to play along the cherry lane
Without his lifelong friend, Puff could not be brave
So Puff that mighty dragon sadly slipped into his cave.

(Peter Yarrow)

Wednesday, February 18

Two from Peter Murphy.

Monday, February 16

“One Day Goodbye Will Be Farewell”

Always be careful
When you abuse the one you love
The hour or the day no-one can tell

But one day, goodbye will be farewell
And you will never see the one you love again
You will never see the one you love again

I have been thinking
What with my final brain cell
How time grips you slyly in its spell

And before you know, goodbye will be farewell
And you will never see the one you love again
And the smiling children tell you that you smell

Well, just look at me
A savage beast, I've got nothing to sell
And when I die, I want to go to Hell

And that's when
Goodbye should be farewell

One day goodbye will be farewell
So grab me while we still have the time.

(©1998 Morrissey)

Thursday, February 12

“Something Is Squeezing My Skull”

Im doing very well
I can block out the present and the past now
I know by now you think
I should have straightened myself out
Thank you, drop dead

Oh, something is squeezing my skull
Something I can barely describe
There is no love in modern life

Im doing very well
Its a miracle I even made this far
The motion of taxis excites me
When you peel it back and bite me

Oh, something is squeezing my skull
Something I can barely describe
There is no hope in modern life

Oh, something is squeezing my skull
Something I cant fight
No true friends in modern life

Diazepam...that's Valium...temazepam...lithium long must I stay on this stuff?

Don't give me any more
Don't give me any more
Don't give me any more
Don't give me any more

You swore you would not give me any more
Don't give me any more
Don't give me any more
Don't give me any more

You swore...
You swore...
You swore...

(©2008 Morrissey)

Wednesday, February 11


This is not what I meant:
Stucco arches, the banked rocks sunning in rows,
Bald eyes or petrified eggs,
Grownups coffined in stockings and jackets,
Lard-pale, sipping the thin
Air like a medicine.

The stopped horse on his chromium pole
Stares through us; his hooves chew the breeze.
Your shirt of crisp linen
Bloats like a spinnaker. Hat brims
Deflect the watery dazzle; the people idle
As if in hospital.

I can smell the salt, all right.
At our feet, the weed-mustachioed sea
Exhibits its glaucous silks,
Bowing and truckling like an old-school oriental.
You’re no happier than I about it.
A policeman points out a vacant cliff

Green as a pool table, where cabbage butterflies
Peel off to sea as gulls do,
And we picnic in the death-stench of a hawthorn.
The waves pulse like hearts.
Beached under the spumy blooms, we lie
Sea-sick and fever-dry.

(sylvia plath)

Tuesday, February 10

Photographs by Dan & Jean Fogelberg

...and a drawing.

Tuesday, February 3

The Grim.

What's on and poppin'?
I'm watching old monster movies
Black and white
Black comedies
White angels
Skyfire microwave radiation
Background hiss
Creation seems like this
Maybe Hitler will
Someday be picked up by receivers
But all true believers know
That television snow
Has nothing on Bela, or
The day the earth stood still, so
To those ahead of their time
And in the know
We still miss ya,
You know.

Monday, February 2

Cold war geography.

They tell me angels are dead.
The city of angels, the pride of brooklyn,
The sleeping nights
Where we wandered, pondered, lied
To one another
And could it be??
The love we never showed each other led
To our loneliness and unholiness
Whenever days are mentioned
Skies cry out and spill tears all over
Stubbornly cry out a good life;
I wanted castles if you remember
And you preferred ponies and ponytails
But we were off the rails,
I've never felt so strongly a scary pull
For anyone else but you and you
Couldn't have cared less but you did truly
Love me, in was written in your
Bleached and frozen smile, in your darkest eyes.
Something under the bleachers
A craze, a mirror of the afternoon
Beneath a solar storm, white on black
We danced over unsaid things
And never found what we were seeking,
Like the most beautiful flower
Stillborn in an unseasonal frost
We lost everything.
But we take our breaths now,
One at a time like anyone else, and how
Do we put into perspective
All those years we shoved into days
Into minutes, into snapshots-
How did I let you go, or you me? It was
I won't say golden. But it was golden,
And platinum, and forest green and blue and silver
And every shade between, we lost
And never found again such secret things
As cold war geography
Terrorist plots to keep you from
Holding me. And lots of crazy men, they
Surrounded you. And lots of mistaken girls,
They absconded me, they taunted me
But I was always taken by you
YOU, do you hear me??
I was next in line for eternity
Willing to drum in 5/7 time
Or discover dark things and make
Them irresistibly precious, just for you.
And I couldn't care less about the world
Were it not for you. And I've never
Lost my soul, if I had such a thing
Like I did for you,
Just to be with you.
We put our greenthumbs together
And killed a landscape of hope
Frozen orchids forever tangled
Two beautiful people dreaming the same thing
Lost the plot and felt the rope
As the tide swings, and the chair is kicked
You say you'll be with me forever,
But forever only meant a day
In our minds. And lifetimes
Stand or fall based on far less than that.
I know you are in your room drawing.
And you know that I am here,
In my drawing room writing, and you are there
Where I can never reach, like a star vaulted
Into the sky, most beautiful and brightest
In all the heavens
A forever thing, still feeling
What I thought you'd see
As I was falling.
And it's only cold war geography
That keeps our hearts from thawing.
And effervescent kisses, blown wishes,
I tacked you into my night sky
With razorblades; You were high on trying
To be free, but Nicola, under
Black-inked heavens never dreamt in
Other women's philosophies
You always knew it was me, and
You always fled from perfect things
Even as our fateful day was dawning.

Sunday, February 1


I touch the clothes you left behind
That still retain your shape and lines
I trace the outline of your eyes
We're in the mirror hypnotised
I find a solitary photo
Gone, and I still reminisce....

I'm haunted.

Haunted by your soul
Haunted by your hair
Haunted by your clothes
Haunted by your eyes
By your soul, by your hair
By your clothes, by your eyes
By your voice, by your smile
By your mouth, by your soul
By your hair, by your clothes
By your eyes, by your voice
By your smile, by your mouth
By your soul.

So this is for when you feel happy
And this is for when you feel sad
And this is for when you feel...

Ooooh when the minutes drag
Ooooh when the minutes drag

And this is for the tears that won't dry
And this is for a bright blue sky
And this is for when you feel...

And this is for when you feel...

Ooooh when the minutes drag.
Ooooh when the minutes drag.

So this is for when you're feeling happy again
And this is for when you're feeling sad
And this is for when you feel...

Ooooh when the minutes drag.
Ooooh when the minutes drag.

(Draft - Daniel Ash - Copyright Love and Rockets Music)

was the birthday of my pumpkin
has she had a good time?
has she died upon her vine?
oh and by the way,
did we ever really try?

i know I tried

i see something in that
old photo I keep
in your eyes
was your birthday and your time

apart from mine

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