How to Watch The Tour de France. Everything You Need to Know.

Each July the French put on a little bike ride called the Tour de France.  They’ve done this every year since the start of the Twentieth Century, except for a few times in the 1940s when the French were tenants of Germany.

            On this side of the pond, the Tour is just there for sportswriters to have something to write about between baseball’s All Star Game and preseason football.  In Europe, especially in France and the UK, sports fans are going nuts this week with Wimbledon, both France and England in the semi-finals of World Cup play and this little bike race. Things are so crazy in England that on Saturday last, Wimbledon was pushed off the prime BBC channel in favor of England’s World Cup match. That’s the equivalent of the New England Patriots or the Golden State Warriors games being shown on The Shopping Network.

For those of you unfamiliar with The Tour de France, here, as a PSA, is a primer. First, no one watches The Tour de France.  It’s “The Tour.”  If you’re a bit of a snob (and what is more français than snobbery) it’s Le Tour.

Teams in Le Tour are made up of different types of riders. Just as baseball, football and basketball have position players, cycling teams have position riders.  There’s a team leader.  This is the rider best able to endure the different types of torture found on Le Tour. Along with him are other overall riders. This group makes up the GC, or “General Classification” of riders. The GC is where the eventual winner will come from. Also on a team are sprinters, hulking beasts (relatively speaking) whose specialty is going fast and pulverizing lesser riders; climbers, whippets who flit up mountain roads to the tops of the Pyrenees and Alps without breaking a sweat; and domestiques, apprentice riders whose job is to take care of the rest of the team by shuttling water and food from the team car to the riders, giving up their bikes to a rider who has crashed if necessary and generally being slaves to the rest of the team. If a GC rider falls and rips his shorts, a domestique will give him his.

Le Tour is raced over 21 days, or stages. There are flat stages, mountain stages and time trials, different venues where the different riders can strut their stuff.  The overall race leader wears a yellow jersey.  Each day, there is a stage winner, the rider who finished that stage fastest.  It’s theoretically possible to win Le Tour without winning a single stage, and except for the second day, the prior day’s stage winner isn’t necessarily the yellow jersey.  Note how the leader has been reduced to the color of his shirt.  If you want to ask who the race leader is on a given day, you say, “who’s in yellow today?”  Of course, if you’re a true aficionado, you don’t ask because you know.

Time trials are a special type of masochism.  In the Individual Time Trial (ITT) riders leave the starting gate one at a time and ride a course, anywhere from 15 to 50 km. alone, in two-minute intervals.  They wear alien-like helmets and put their hands on aero-bars to slip through the wind.  You pedal as fast as you can, as long as you can and hope you reach the finish line before your heart explodes. There’s also a team time trial, or TTT, where five riders race the course together and four have to cross the finish line. The team’s time is that of the fourth rider to finish.

Mountain stages are, as one would expect, rides in the mountains.  The route of Le Tour varies, but always, always includes several days in the Pyrenees and Alps.  Fans love the mountain stages because the riders have slowed to about seven mph and spectators can run next to their favorite riders, exhorting them on to greatness. Or, sometimes, get run over.  The summit of a mountain climb is a favorite place for the loonies to come out, as the accompanying picture shows. Of course, what goes up must come down and on the downside fans can see spectacular crashes.  To get an idea of what it’s like to crash on a bicycle coming out of the Alps, strip down to your underwear and jump out of a car going 45 mph on the freeway.

If you’re watching on TV, you can find Le Tour on NBC Sports.  For three weeks, you can listen to every move described by Paul Sherwin, Phil Ligget, Bob Roll, Christian Vandevelde, Jens Voight and other lesser lights. All are former Tour riders. Paul and Phil are Brits and given to delicious understatement.  For example, on a particularly nasty climb, a rider may be falling off the back of the peloton (peloton is French for “big group of crazy riders”).  This is technically called being dropped, and it’s not a good thing.  As this rider struggles up a gradient that would make a mountain goat puke, Paul or Phil is likely to note that “he’s in a spot of bother right now.”

Bob Roll is fond of calling Le Tour “the Tour DEE France.”  It’s not that Bob can’t speak French; he’s actually quite fluent.  It’s that he doesn’t like the French so he intentionally mispronounces their pride and joy.  Various stories exist about why he’s anti-French.  Some say it’s because he can’t get a decent beer in France.

At the end of each stage, there is an award ceremony.  The stage winner is presented, gets a bottle of champagne and kisses from two lovely French women.  If you look closely, you’ll see that their lips never get nearer than two inches to the guy’s cheeks.  I mean, he hasn’t shaved for a couple of days and he’s just finished a five-hour bike ride.  Ewww!

The final day of Le Tour is madness.  There’s no race for the Yellow Jersey.  By tradition, the leader at the end of the penultimate day is the winner.  But the race finishes with eight laps around the Champs-Elysees and the sprinters go berserk, pounding the cobblestones, cutting corners, occasionally losing it and sliding into the hay bales set up to stop careening riders from plowing into the howling crowd.  Meanwhile the yellow jersey and his mates cruise into Paris sipping glasses of champagne.

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Desecration or Science?

We recently returned from a vacation in Southern California where we attended the King Tut exhibit. This is the last time this exhibit will be in the United States. When this exhibit ends, King Tut and his artifacts will reside permanently in Egypt. It was fascinating. The handiwork from over 3,000 years ago was delicate and exquisite.  It was truly an experience not to be missed.

But after it was over, I got thinking. At what point does grave robbing go from being criminal and desecration to science? Or is it the circumstances under which the graves are robbed that makes the difference?

Some 20 years ago I represented one of the defendants in the Polar Mesa Cave-looting prosecution in Salt Lake City.  These guys (and women) were just souvenir hunters, rock-hound, antler-shed collectors as it were. Yet because they went into an area that was last inhabited around  A. D. 1250 they were prosecuted under federal law. As the article in the link above points out, the position of the federal government and those involved in antiquities preservation is that this was a “violation of Indian heritage.”

Wasn’t the excavation of Tut’s tomb a violation of Egyptian heritage? Does it make it less of a violation (or no violation at all) if the treasures recovered are put in a museum rather than on a shelf in someone’s house? Should we outlaw archaeological research as a violation of fundamental human rights?

Now I’m saying this (mostly) tongue-in-cheek. But think: how do you feel if you contemplate the possibility that, 3,000 years from now some archaeologists might dig up the cemetery, lift out your casket and pop it open to see how people lived in that part of the world once known as the United States? What did they wear? What did they die of? What did they eat? Does it matter to you whether those people are just souvenir hunters or whether they are the scientists of their day? Or does it matter at all? After all, you won’t be here to know.

King Tut, like the ancient people who inhabited Polar Mesa Cave, thought that when he died he would be laid to rest for eternity.  That wasn’t the case. My question is, at what point does opening a tomb, under whatever circumstances, constitute desecration and at what point is it justified in the name of science? Or should we take the position that when your time on earth is over, you have no further claim to a right to be left alone?

Gun Violence Protest in Logan

Today at 10:00 a.m. thousands of students left their classes to protest gun violence and to show support for students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school, especially the 17 killed, exactly one month ago today. Across the nation reaction by school officials was mixed, with some schools supporting the walkout, some threatening to discipline students who left classes and some taking no official stance but not interfering with the walkout or punishing students. There was also mixed reaction to the nature of the walkout, with some schools terming it a “gun violence” protest and others calling it a show of support and sympathy for all students affected by recent shootings.

In Cache County there are five high schools, four in the Cache County School District and one in the Logan City School District. Logan School District took the position that students, faculty or staff who participated in the walkout could be subject to disciplinary action. District superintendent Frank Schofield issued a memo saying that it is district policy not to endorse or participate in any type of student protest. “Endorsement of any one particular protest places us in a position of choosing whether to support future protests, which potentially places the district in a position of appearing to advocate for certain positions and not others.” However, he added that the district supports seeking government action to prevent gun violence in schools and that they “applaud students who choose to involve themselves in advocating for any position they believe in. . . .”

The Cache County district seems to have taken the middle road, neither approving nor prohibiting students’ participation. At Green Canyon High in North Logan a number of students left the school promptly at 10:00 and gathered on the east side. School officials were outside and one told me that the school didn’t approve the walkout, per district rules, but that the students have a right to gather.

 

 

 

 

There were a few signs and a few comments but by and large it was a quiet though not necessarily somber gathering. Judging by the size of the crowd a number of students didn’t take part. There was one possible sign of counter-protest as this truck drove past the gathering, but there was no confrontation among the students.

 

Two of the students, one a freshman, the other a senior and the organizer, spoke with the press. Both expressed their concerns over their safety in coming to school every day. The organizer said that she had tried to keep politics out of this, emphasizing that whether you’re for or against gun control, people’s attitudes need to change.

This latter statement gives me hope.  As I wrote earlier, we don’t necessarily have a gun or gun control problem; we have a cultural problem. As a society we embrace violence.  Until we can change that attitude we won’t make any inroads into the gun violence issue.

Guns, Gun Control, and Society

I haven’t written much lately, let alone written anything remotely controversial, so I decided that today is the day to wade into the gun debate. I don’t want to keep you guessing so I’ll say it up front: I’m pro-guns. I’m also not blind to the fact that we have a problem with the misuse of guns in the United States. So here are some thoughts.

Sound Bites Aren’t Productive

My twitter account, Facebook feed and email inbox are filled with short snippets that pass for sound bites. Things like: “No one needs an assault rifle.” Perhaps not, but it can be argued that no one needs a Lamborghini or a 20,000 square foot home, yet they aren’t illegal.  “Imagine a nation that loved guns so much it sacrificed its children for them.” This one is countered by “Imagine a nation that loved cars so much it sacrifices 50,000 people a year for them.” “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” And then there are the statistics. “The U.S. has the third highest homicide rate in the world. But if you eliminate Detroit, Chicago, Washington D.C. and New Orleans, all cities with strict gun control laws, the U.S drops to fourth from the bottom.” As if correlation was causation. No, sound bites or text snippets don’t produce results. They just express biases.

It’s a Cultural Problem

We have a culture that thrives on violence. Movies, music, video games, TV shows all glamorize violence. Can you imagine a Star Wars or super heroes movie without violence?  Is there a video game that isn’t based on blowing something or someone up? No I don’t have data to back this up but it’s intuitive to me that young men (the shooters are almost all young men) raised on a steady diet of watching carnage and creating virtual carnage will eventually want to gravitate to the real thing. Blaming guns is like shooting the messenger (pun intended). A shooting is just the message delivered by the gun that society has a problem. Effecting a social change is hard. It’s so much easier to blame the inanimate object so we can feel good about ourselves. Until the next message is delivered.

I don’t have a solution to fixing the cultural problem. That’s way above my pay grade. But that’s the problem we have to address, not who buys guns or what guns they buy or how long they have to wait.

Dr. Seuss a Racist Subversive

The liberals in Massachusetts, or at least one of them, has once again proven that no good deed goes unpunished. I’m referring to Cambridgeport, Mass., Elementary School librarian Liz Phipps Soeiro’s refusal of ten books sent to her library by Melania Trump. The First Lady sent 10 Dr. Seuss books to a school in every state to mark National Read a Book Day. Ms. Soeiro refused the gift, noting that HER school has over 9,000 volumes as well as a librarian (Ms. Soeiro) who has an advanced degree in library science and they don’t need the books. There was no word on whether Ms. Soeiro felt that perhaps one of those despicable public schools, who depend on public servant staff or (gasp!) volunteers might benefit from the books. Probably not, since the esteemed Madam Librarian took pains to inform us all that the Dr. Seuss’s books are “steeped in racist propaganda, caricatures, and harmful stereotypes.” Who knew that Dr. Seuss was a radical racist shill of white supremacy?
According to CBS News, the school district counseled Ms. Soeiro about using public resources as a political platform. Parents of students at the school appeared supportive of her actions.

This effort by liberals to turn everything into a political issue is getting old very quickly. When Hurricanes Harvey and Irma wreaked havoc, the left wasted little time in blaming this year’s unusually severe hurricane season on global warming, using the devastation in Houston and Florida as an excuse to criticize President Trump’s decision not to participate in the Paris accord. Now someone else has taken the opportunity to turn a gracious gift by someone associated with the President into an example of racism and stereotyping, not to mention using her access to the school’s blog as a platform to promote herself.  I’m anxiously waiting for the media uproar over this attack on the First Lady. I mean, can you imagine what would have happened if it had been Michelle Obama whose gift was rejected. Something ells me I’ll be waiting a long time.

Wrapping Up Meatless August

It’s September 1. Meatless August is over, done, finished, terminated. Here are my conclusions.

I could be a vegetarian. I probably won’t be a vegetarian. There are several reasons. As I thought about them over the last few days, here is where I find myself.

I didn’t feel significantly different going meatless than I did before. The only thing I really noticed was a decrease in night time indigestion. That tells me that I need to be more careful about when I eat meat and how much, not necessarily that I need to eliminate it.

Because I didn’t notice a big difference health-wise and because I don’t have ethical objections to eating meat, it comes down to a matter of what is more convenient. Eating vegetarian was too inconvenient. I had to think about every meal, especially when eating out. Eating became a chore.

Going vegetarian was a lot easier than eating a low-carb diet, which I have done. Being meatless for 30 days was much more tolerable than going carb-less. When you start looking at it, carbohydrates are everywhere. Potatoes, bread, pasta, rice, chocolate, potato chips. That was really a challenge and I often felt deprived on that diet. I can’t say I ever felt deprived by eliminating meat. I just didn’t see a commensurate benefit to giving up something I enjoy.

So the experiment is over. Tomorrow I’m having a hamburger,

Does the Word of Wisdom Require Vegetarianism?

Early on in this journey I promised that I would discuss the LDS Word of Wisdom in the context of vegetarianism.  Many people know that Latter-day Saints (Mormons) don’t drink coffee, tea or alcohol, or use tobacco. These prohibitions come from what is known as the Word of Wisdom, which can be found in Doctrine and Covenants Section 89.  What many people don’t know is that the Word of Wisdom contains a lot more than abstinence from coffee, tea, alcohol and tobacco.

Verses 12 and 13 of Section 89 hint that vegetarianism is preferred by God, and can even be read to require abstinence from meat:

12. Yea, flesh also of beasts and of the fowls of the air, I, the Lord, have ordained for the use of man, nevertheless they are to be used sparingly;

13.  And it is pleasing unto me that they should not be used, only in times of winter or or cold, or of famine.

Taking Verse 13 literally, one might conclude that the Lord is NOT pleased if meat is eaten frequently (not “sparingly”) or at times other than winter, cold or famine. How many of us, the reasoning goes, are subject to famine or really suffer from the cold? Therefore, it seems that the Word of Wisdom prohibits meat consumption except in these rare circumstances.

Such was the thesis used by a teacher in church once a few years ago. He is a former stake and mission president and has medical training. He is also a dedicated vegetarian. He used these verses and scientific research that shows that meat consumption is linked to nine of the top ten causes of death in the United States. These include heart disease, some cancers, high cholesterol and others (the other of the top 10 causes is accidental death, which can’t be blamed on meat). While he didn’t come right out and say it, his point was clear: You’re not keeping the Word of Wisdom if you eat meat.

I disagree. First, saying the Lord is “pleased” if you do something is not the same as a prohibition against the opposite. God knows how to give commandments, as in “Thou shalt not …..” It doesn’t even mean the Lord is displeased if we don’t do something. I’m pleased when Nancy makes my favorite dinner. That doesn’t mean I’m displeased with everything else she cooks.

Secondly, other verses in the Doctrine and Covenants, Section 49, verses 18 and 19, seem to clear up the issue:

18. And whoso forbiddeth to abstain from meats, that man should not eat the same, is not ordained of God;

19. For, behold, the beasts of the field and the fowls of the air, and that which cometh of the earth is ordained for the use of man for food and for raiment, and that he might have an abundance.

It seems to me that while the Word of Wisdom counsels eating meat sparingly, a practice that medical science is now promoting, it does not require one to become a vegetarian. So all you carnivores, go ahead and indulge without fear of spiritual retribution.

By the way, if you’re interested in the historical context of the Word of Wisdom, you can find it here.