Posts Tagged ‘heroes’

Floyd Sings

22 May 2010

Dear J-

Floyd Landis has confessed his guilt after insisting on his innoncence for nearly four years and my first reactions range from disbelief to anger and, finally, understanding thanks to the analysis by Mark Ziegler in today’s Union-Tribune (as much as the U-T ignores everything besides the holy trinity of American Football-Golf-Baseball, Ziegler actually does his best to bring soccer and cycling our way — sort of a European correspondent without a travel account). The big headlines, of course, are less about Floyd himself than they are about the names he’s named, including the iconic Lance Armstrong.

It’s easy enough to take Lance’s tack and declare Landis’s confession as the rantings of a delusional crackpot who’s finally snapped under the pressure of having to deny for four years, but what else does he have to lose at this point? Title, house, career, wife — all already gone. Remember when Jose Canseco levelled accusations that everyone in baseball was juiced and we all wrote him off as desperate and self-promoting? I understand that if everyone else is cheating, you need to cheat to remain competitive, but that also implies it’s tolerated or even tacitly encouraged by the governing body.

When I was a teenager, the world of bicycle racing seemed honest and upstanding: strategies, teams, and abilities all melding together into a chess game taking place over a hundred miles a day. Then again, everything short of pro wrestling sounded like pure physical prowess willing each other onward to amazing feats. They caution us to not elevate sports icons to hero status, that everyone’s just human, but that sounds like such a cop-out, you know? For the hyperinflation that’s affected (afflicted) professional sports you’d think that, for instance, Tiger Woods would be able to keep it in his pants, or that we could keep needles out of more brawny arms, but the stakes are too high: do we demand too much for all those dollars?

Mike

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Pilot Philosopher

30 September 2009

Dear J-

Two of my favorite authors are Roald Dahl and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry; both had success with children’s stories, and that’s how I got my first experience with them, in fact. Beyond that, though, both were pilots; anyone who’s read about the golden age of flight, those first few years, will tell you that those pioneers were nearly all on their own. Think about it — crude machines barely able to pick up their own weight, let alone passengers; lone wolves daring to touch the sky and push the limits of imagination. Wright, Blériot, Lindbergh, Earhart — iconic names etched under solo silhouettes.

I like to imagine that the nature of the machine encouraged philosopher-pilots realizing their dreams to soar amongst birds and clouds; long hours in the cockpit with nothing but instruments and thoughts surrounding and permeating the atmosphere. It doesn’t work for space exploration, which requires pots of gold, whole armies of support, and often, buddies to fly with. There are no shoestring space programs, no backyard spacecraft hobbyists; astronaut may be an aspiration but it isn’t something that most of us could see doing, while everyone knows a pilot or two.

Perhaps the pool of aeronauts is larger, so it’s natural that you’d find some good authors. But perhaps we find it easier to identify heroes amongst ourselves and folks we can relate to, not just in dreams and shadows.

Mike

China’s Games

8 August 2008

Dear J-

The Olympics start today — it’s now twenty-four years since I started watching the Olympics in earnest, as the Lake Placid games meant little to me besides collecting the Chiquita banana stickers, and the Moscow games later that year were boycotted.  Nope, LA was the first ones I can remember well, particularly the American heroes Mary Lou Retton and Carl Lewis.  Although there’s always a ton of events, our summer viewing always seems to revolve around gymnastics, track, swimming, and diving.

This summer seems to have brought a slightly abbreviated fill-in season of shows:  short runs, smaller build-up; folks know enough to get out of the way of watching the Olympics.  Much has been made of Chinese politics and atmosphere lately, too.  There are those who’ve called for a boycott of the games on the basis of high moral principles, but I believe those views are rooted in perceiving China through 19th century lenses.

Setting the stage, for roughly 100 years, 1840-1949, China descended into ever-growing chaos with the ending of the Qing dynasty and the rise of treaty ports and concessions.  The government was unable to exert any sort of force over the country; industrialization was a farce, and so the modern perception of China as a decadent backwards society was set.  Now, it seems as though the Western societies have promised much (“Look, if you just followed our example, you could be just as modern as us”) and delivered little (“Don’t copy us — and you can’t pollute like we did.”)  Small wonder that there’s frustration over the direction China may take; no one yet considers the momentum — consumer, intellectual, innovation — of a country with over four times the population of the United States.

I’m not going to defend China’s involvement in human rights violatons except to note that they are not the first, they are not the only, and they will not be the last.  We’ve laid down an example of how strong countries act, and we need to accept the consequences of that.  But it’s not to say that they’re blameless for following that precedent.  The Olympics are a chance for China to flex its muscles on the world’s stage and demonstrate that 2042 will be nothing like 1842.  There’s a sort of unintended patronizing tone here:  gee, China, you sure are doing great; at some point all kingdoms rise and fall.

Mike

Time’s Mirror

10 July 2008

Dear J-

Today’s my brother’s birthday; we have a cousin precisely three days older who used to live in the exotic land of Saudi Arabia (his dad, our uncle, worked for ARAMCO, and to compensate for the hassles of living out there, was well-compensated with crazy benefits, such as paying for boarding school, etc.).  I used to think that there was some kind of weird coincidence to having birthdays so close together, but considering there’s six billion people and only three hundred and sixty-five days to divide them up into, there’s bound to be a little overlap there.

He’s always been one of my heroes, by the way.  There was one year that he went through a modern algebra course — a senior college-level course, mind you — while still in high school, and managed to not miss any points that year.  Perfect homework, perfect quizzes, perfect exams.  Plus his fast-twitch skills were well beyond mine; we would play cooperative multiplayer games (TMNT II on the NES!) and it turned out that he did much better solo than when I tagged along — there were times that I lost track of which turtle I was controlling and thought I was doing very well.

Now that we’ve both unleashed a new generation on the world, I think I begin to understand him better now; I can see where we used to both revel in the seemingly limitless freedom following moving away from Cheney, and I can see where we apply the lessons we learned there in our lives today.  Fifteen years ago is now just under half our lives; fifteen years ago our lives were different — not better, different — and fifteen years ago we were kids ourselves believing everything.

Time reveals everything; for us I believe that time’s given us the perspective and opportunity to try on different personalities to see what aspects fit, and which didn’t stick.  Time’s crucible refines us, but fails to define us.  Despite wearing glasses for twenty-five years the face in the mirror gets clearer every day.

Mike