Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Alpe D'Huez

I'm watching the OLNTV repeat broadcast of the 16th stage of the Tour de France. The race today was a time-trial up the infamous Alpe D'Huez. He was the fastest person up the mountain, taking 39 minutes and 41 seconds to ride 9.6 miles. He was the only rider to race up the mountain in under forty minutes. He finished a minute faster than the second place rider, Jan Ullrich.

Two remarks: One, he caught up with the rider ahead of him, Ivan Basso. In time-trials, races start two minutes apart. I've seen him catch up with riders ahead of him in relatively flat time trials, but this was up a mountain! Two: In an overhead camera angle, looking down on the road at Lance chugging up the mountain, I saw on the road, in huge white painted letters, the exhortation: "Rip their balls off Lance." He did. Oh, yes, he did.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Moon Landing

Thirty-five years ago, man first walked on the moon. The President has declared that we would return to the moon, and I am eager to see it happen.

Tonight, in a brief celebration, I watched the episode from the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon featuring the lunar landing (episode six: "Mare Tranquilitatis"). The show focused on the preparation by the crew (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins) and the flight operations team. In a series of flashbacks, the episode described the easy-going attitude of Collins (who never set foot on the moon, orbiting instead in the command module), the decision behind Armstrong walking on the moon first before Aldrin (Armstrong was the mission commander), and the strain of working in simulators, preparing for the worst.

The moon landing was the singular human achievement of the 20th century. I hope we try it again in the 21st century.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Reading at Risk

The New York Times had an op-ed piece about a report by the National Endowment of the Arts called Reading at Risk. The report, which you can download from their website, states that less than half of the American population now reads literature.

As I scanned the document, I was worried that the NEA had set the bar too high: literature means a certain thing. Literature means Dickens, Shakespeare, and other books that are supposed to be "good for you" (but may not necessarily be fun for you). But the report defines literature as "any novel, short story, plays, or poetry." For purposes of their survey, reading any of the above items "counted as reading literature, including popular genres such as mysteries, as well as contemporary and classic literary fiction. No distinctions were drawn on the quality of literary works."

So we're in trouble. Reading is indeed at risk. The NEA is quite clearly stating that reading for pleasure is in decline. The report doesn't offer an action plan. The report sought to explain, not to prescribe.

Are you reading? In my morning and evening commute (on a train and a bus), my head is buried in a book. But before I hit the pages, I take a brief survey of what people are reading around me. In a train car of perhaps sixty to eighty people, at most only ten have a book in their hands. Most have newspapers or music. Some (to my amazement) just sit.

Since I started this commuting schedule at the end of April, I have read nine books. This makes me part of a dwindling statistic.

Thursday, July 1, 2004


Hello, July! We'll soon be cresting the exact middle of the year.