The Writer's Life: Film & Book Reviews, Observations, and Stories
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Category — What Passes for News


It is hubris that usually does us in. That was certainly the case with Lance Armstrong, who believed he was so gifted he was invulnerable, that no one could touch him. How different things would have been for Lance if he had simply given his down-on-his-luck ex partner, Floyd Landis, a job or money when he asked for it. Landis would not have sent the email that began the process of slowly unraveling Armstrong’s empire. Naturally, no one likes to be blackmailed, but in the case of Landis, a little bit of sympathy would have gone a long way. Of course, the qualities that make us strong are the very ones that make us weak. Lance put everything together—a dominating will, a wonderfully strong and efficient body, and the intelligence to create the best doping protocol on the planet—to win seven Tour de France titles. He was amazing rider, but it was his hubris—the need to crush or discredit rivals and critics—that brought him down. It’s ironic. Those who worshiped him have now become his critics and are pretending to be outraged. Let them. Let them take his titles, too. Let them pick over his bones if they want. It will never change the fact that he was magnificent.

October 15, 2012   Comments Off on Hubris

Death of a Superhero

It seems odd to attack and destroy a national hero, but, then, this is part of American culture, or any culture, when the wrong people are in charge. Naturally, I’m talking about Lance Armstrong—perhaps the greatest cyclist who ever lived—and the USADA—an agency of the U.S. government, unassociated with cycling or Olympic sports—who will almost certainly manage what a grand jury or international cycling itself could not achieve, namely, ban Lance for life and strip him of his Tour de France titles. The question, of course, is why. Why spend the time and money? The answer lies, in part, on the war on drugs and its importance in American culture and, also, I suspect, on Lance’s obdurate personality. But, when you think about it, how could he have achieved his seven Tour de France victories without being a hard man? How could he have won without using every means at his disposal? Why would anyone be naive enough to imagine otherwise?

One can only assume that when a grand jury failed to indict Armstrong, all of its evidence was turned over to the USADA. This was done in extremis. The USADA is not a legal forum, but an agency of the U.S. government whose decisions are made by a panel of experts. There is no due process, no ability to present a case or question witnesses, no legal recourse after the decision is made. Essentially, the USADA can and will do anything it pleases. Lance’s only option is to challenge the panel’s legal standing to make a judgment in this matter. Sadly, it is highly unlikely that he will succeed.

How quintessentially American this is. When we discover our superhero is flawed and human, we relish seeing him flayed, bowed, and bleeding, so we can pretend we are patricians sitting in judgment on a wounded gladiator in the Colosseum. The thing I love about Lance is that he will never give us this pleasure.

July 10, 2012   Comments Off on Death of a Superhero

Lance Prevailed

The Grand Jury closed the case against Lance Armstrong. Would you have expected anything less from Lance? His last victory against his worst foe.

February 3, 2012   Comments Off on Lance Prevailed

Tyler Hamilton

Justice is selective in the United States, especially at the national level. No one is prosecuted for a crime these days except for political reasons. Why, then, is Lance Armstrong being publicly excoriated? Certainly, not because he is guilty of taking performance enhancing drugs. That’s an open secret. All the major riders of the last two decades used drugs.

The lastest rider to testify against Armstrong is Tyler Hamilton, a teammate, who recently went public on 60 Minutes. I’m sure Hamiliton is telling the truth. There is no doubt Armstrong cheated. He could not have been competitive otherwise. Naturally, Hamilton has been granted immunity for his testimony. It was that or jail time.

Unfortunately, Jeff Novitzky—who heads the grand jury investigating Armstrong—will have his way in the end, and Lance will be stripped of his Tour de France titles. But why? What important person or persons did Lance piss off so badly they needed to destroy him? Who does it benefit?

May 23, 2011   Comments Off on Tyler Hamilton

Laired in the Rock

Listening to Obama’s Mideast speech today, I thought with a shock that except for the timber of his voice, the phraseology, cadences, and sentiments were exactly those of George Bush. It was unnerving. Has Obama been studying the Decider’s speeches? Has it come to this? Woe to us. Double woe. Time to cue in the Greek chorus. Or, perhaps, to recite a poem by Robinson Jeffers, called “Soliloquy,” which may very well go to the heart of the matter.

August and laurelled have been content to speak for an age,
and the ages that follow
Respect them for that pious fidelity;
But you have disfeatured time for timelessness.
They had heroes for companions, beautiful youths to dream of,
Women shed light down the great lines;
But you have invoked the slime in the skull,
The lymph in the vessels. They have shown men Gods like
racial dreams, the woman’s desire,
The man’s fear, the hawk-faced prophet’s; but nothing
Human seems happy at the feet of yours.
Therefore though not forgotten, not loved, in gray old years
in the evening leaning
Over the gray stones of the tower-top,
You shall be called heartless and blind;
And watch new time answer old thought, not a face strange
nor a pain astonishing;
But you living be laired in the rock
That sheds pleasure and pain like hailstones.

May 19, 2011   Comments Off on Laired in the Rock

Royal Condoms

While drawing shots from a well-used Italian espresso machine this morning, my barista wondered how to procure a packet of Kate and Andrew condoms. He imagined a picture of the royals kissing at the lubed end. I laughed out loud. It was a strange way to come to full consciousness on Easter.

Of course, when one thing ends, another begins. It is how it is in this life. There is no stopping, at least, not for long. Consciousness is a river that never repeats itself, though we imagine it does. Earlier, when I had actually woken up, after a series of desultory dreams about me as a tarnished hero, I thought, as I often do, we are responsible for what happens to us, not the other way around. It is mind-bending proposition, since we seem to have little control over anything, especially our thoughts. We always imagine ourselves to be the hapless playthings of fate.

Would having intercourse with a Kate and Andrew condom be more intense than normal? I’m thinking it would. One could imagine coupling royally. Of course, it would all be downhill from there. As Christopher Hitchens advised Kate: Run as fast as you can!

I’m hoping Kate will become another Diana, who grew lovelier and more feminine each time she rose above her circumstances. Literally, the most beautiful woman in the world until her tragic death in Paris. Was Diana responsible for her gruesome death at the hands of a drugged and drunken driver? According to my theory, yes. But how can that be?

Al-Fayed certainly didn’t think so. He claimed the royals had conspired to kill his son because of his origins. Huge projection there. Amazing really. But that’s what living in England does to you, even if you are as fabulously wealthy as Al-Fayed. You never feel good enough. Though it hardly matters. He’s given us Fulham FC and a great statue of Michael Jackson.

By the way, there is a very amusing article in The Guardian about Hitchens, written by his friend Martin Amis, in which he transforms this loathsome, objectionable man into a kind of modern saint. Oh, if I only could write as well as Amis, I’d have the world at my feet.

April 24, 2011   Comments Off on Royal Condoms

Kudos to the Tribune

The StarTribune recently updated its website, which is a good thing, since the old site would actually “hang” your brouser. You would click on an article, the article would not appear, and then, even worse, the brouser could not be diverted from its task of finding it no matter what you did (hitting return, trying to change sites, even trying to shut down the browser entirely). This dysfunction seemed in keeping with a paper that had embraced conservative pundits in an attempt to change its image from being “liberal.” I’m hoping with the upgrade—the new site is fabulous—that the StarTribune will quietly push its most vocal Karl Rove types with their 1984 logic into the background. They don’t belong on this shiny new website.

April 7, 2011   Comments Off on Kudos to the Tribune


Harold and Maude played for years at a theatre at the edge of Edina. The residents finally had enough and complained. Their complaints had the desired effect and the theatre is now a laundry. I suppose that’s appropriate. Either you liked the film or you hated it. Anyway, it’s not Harold and Maude I’m interested in but the song “Trouble” by Cat Stevens. With radioactive iodine and cesium pouring into the ocean off the coast of Japan, Cat Steven’s words could not be more appropriate.

March 31, 2011   Comments Off on Trouble

The Essay Is the Thing

In his series of essays in The New York Times, Errol Morris, the famous documentarian, discusses his understanding of the ideas of Kripke and Kuhn. On reading the essays, it soon becomes evident that our boy Morris is very bright, loves philosophical arguments of the purer kind, and believes he is reponsible for having caused Kuhn to modify his definition of “incommensurability” over the years. (If you want to know what this means, who these guys are, and what they believed, I suggest you read the essays. They’re short and informative. [By the way, I don’t pretend to be a philosopher and have no clue of what I’m talking about. Okay?])

Errol, of course, is partial to Kripke’s notion that a thing, once named, defines it forever. In this, he sides with those who believe there are immutable truths and that there is continuity between and among the elements of reality (at least, those we can perceive). Kuhn, on the other hand, believed that paradigm shifts, though explicable, are revolutionary in the sense that they create discontinuities between the present and the past. Kuhn, like most philophers, took his ideas to extravagent lengths (thus allowing people like Morris to attack him), and suggested that each time we check in with reality, nothing is quite the same as it was before—that a kind mini shift has occurred.

My prediliction is to side with Kuhn. I am leary of anyone who claims that a thing, a person, or an event has a fixed point of reference, even if it’s only a label. My problem with those who believe things to be true is that it causes them to continuously redefine the present to make it conform to the past. That is, it makes them bigots.

While reading the essays, I wondered whether humanity doesn’t naturally fall into these two categories: those who shun the present and those who embrace it. Of course, this is oversimplified bullshit. But it is proof that Morris got the blood moving in my lame little brain. Sort of like making a steep climb along a difficult portage between two lakes. Of course, even this is bullshit. If there’s any truth in all of this, it is that the essay is the thing.

March 10, 2011   1 Comment

Oh, Charlie!

Because I don’t watch television, I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing the Charlie Sheen saga unfold these past weeks—though being stuck in front of a television set tuned to Fox this morning, I couldn’t escape it. Sheen apparently lives with porn stars, has wild sex, takes drugs, says stupid things, and is unapologetic about the whole thing. Why is this shocking? Everyone in Hollywood has pretty much done the same thing for decades.

Of course, the answer is obvious. You’re not supposed to admit to it. Once you do, it’s over. You have to go down.

And that’s exactly what’s happening to Charlie Sheen. He’s self-destructing and we love it. It’s more fascinating that any role he’s had on the screen. And, of course, it must end badly. Sheen has crossed the line into territory that forces us to see how things really are and this we cannot accept. We have to believe the bullshit at all costs. Otherwise, we might discover how much bullshit there really is, and that we are its principal target.

March 3, 2011   Comments Off on Oh, Charlie!