Monday, December 24, 2012

Acceptable Lethal Power

I was out eating dinner with friends the other night and the subject of gun control came up.  Clearly a necessary topic of conversation due to the recent shooting in Newtown Connecticut.  It wasn't too long into the discussion that it occurred to me I  was going to have to keep my mouth shut.  Of the four of us at the table I was the sole diner who was of a different opinion.  Immediately I knew that the topic of gun control had just joined the ranks of those topics off the casual dinner conversation list.  It’s no longer appropriate to discuss religion, politics, and now gun control if you want to enjoy your dinner and maintain friendships.  Some may also put abortion on this list however, the rights of an unborn fetus has always been a somewhat self-censoring topic and therefore rarely comes up in casual dinner conversation.

Until the Newtown shooting spree, I would have said gun control was one of the few politically charged topics that could be discussed at dinner.  But something has now changed.  Something permanent and something that will forever divide those who believe it takes a good man with a gun to stop a bad man with a gun and those who believe the right to keep and bear arms is only about hunting for your dinner.

With the taking of those 20 young innocent lives it has become personal.   Each of us now feel threatened and more vulnerable than ever as the attack came straight at our soft underbelly...our children.  Those of us who have a gun within reach will only feel safe if yet another gun is within reach.   Those of us who hate guns will only feel safe if that gun is pushed further away.  

Take the fear of crossing the street as an example.  A fear of crossing the street abates once the street is crossed.  It doesn't linger until the next street is approached.  However simple fear of tangible threats, such as a busy street, is being replaced by it’s big brother dread.  Dread is a constant nagging anxiety that  makes you never want to cross the street again, it’s just not safe, even at an intersection with a crossing guard. The fear of the unknown, the intangible, becomes manifest in all our actions.  After someone goes on a shooting spree  the sale of guns always increases.  That comes from dread not fear...since day to day there would be no tangible threat, like a busy street.  At precisely the same moment that dread sets in is exactly the wrong time to take a gun out of somebody's hand.  That is precisely the time when everyone is feeling most threatened and vulnerable.  The time to give up guns is after a long period of relative safety and security.  Yet, those without guns, also have to deal with dread.  However, their dread is harder to deal with because reaching for the comfort of a handgun is not a realistic option for them.  They feel powerless since they don’t see cold steel as a comfort since  they only see a gun a mechanism of yet more destruction.  They also have children in school and the last thing these people want is more guns placed closer to their soft underbelly...their options for action are limited since presumably the schools already lock their doors.  So they strike at the mechanism not the actor and arrive at the conclusion that guns kill people and more guns will kill more people.  Less guns therefore  is clearly the solution to the problem.

Yet, these same people (most of them anyway) would feel secure if they were told the local SWAT team was on duty guarding their house tonight.  In fact if we told them, that everyday at school this year the team from Flash Point, led by Enrio Colantoni himself, was going to protect the high school they would probably be OK with that, particularly if the Department of Homeland Security moved us to a higher Threat Level and there was credible evidence that a terrorist organization had targeted the city they live in.  However, if they were told day to day, a trained member of the Marine Corps (Charles Whitman) or coordinator of the neighborhood watch program (George Zimmerman) was going to guard the school, that might invoke a different reaction.

Yet we are at an impasse.  Clearly, something must change, to do nothing doesn't address anyone's dread.  And it is dread that must be addressed.  Winston Churchill was addressing dread when he said the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.  We cannot lock-up and do nothing.  If the dread causes paralysis we might as well unlock the doors to our schools, opening them to not only gunman but other disturbed predators and those who wish ill upon our kids...and there are far more of those in our society than deranged gunman.  The good news is that predators typically don’t have a death wish and locked doors with on scene security personnel do a good job keeping our kids safe, predators tend to look for less visible opportunities. 

Gunman, however, typically are looking to end their own life as well as the lives of their victims. And just like suicide bombers, all the military forces in the world can’t stop a terrorist bent on sacrificing himself.  One or two guns in school, even arming all the teachers, would haven’t have an effect if the gunman steps onto a school bus (Dirty Harry 1971).  Frederick the Great said, “if you try to defend everything you defend nothing”.  The only way to be sure is to have armed guards with armored cars pick our kids up from within our walled family compounds and deliver them to the fortress High School on the hill surround with moat and drawbridge.  And even then, when the defense becomes strong, the threat will come from inside as in 1927 when the school treasurer,  Andrew Kehoe, blew up his school with dynamite killing 38  most of which were children, the worst school massacre in US History.

To address dread, both sides must sit in one another’s shoes.  Those who feel safety holding a gun must recognize how uncomfortable that makes someone who chooses not to hold a gun.  And the one without the gun must recognize how calming carrying lethal power can be to the other person.  The truth is somewhere in between and the side that is unwilling to look at all the potential options is of the greatest danger in this dialogue.   Many high schools, for instance, already have an armed presence through arrangements with local police departments, etc.  Elementary schools are different and should be therefore considered differently.  It is possible to understand and quantify the threat to our schools, our businesses, our public meeting places.  The threat to our Homeland is being handled at the national level.  The threat to us in our homes we handle ourselves, and choose to keep and bear arms per our second amendment rights.

But just like the 1st amendment right to freedom of speech doesn't give everyone the right to yell fire in a crowded movie theater, if the 2nd amendment becomes a threat to everyone, it also must be addressed for the public good.  However as quickly as I mention the 2nd amendment those opposed to any additional gun laws, will just as quickly tune out.   Therefore question really shouldn't be addressed at the 2nd amendment...the question we need to ask is related to lethality, or the question of lethal power.  How much lethal power should anyone member of society be in possession of at any one time?  Anytime lethal power is in the hands of an individual it must be controlled.  A car is a lethal instrument.  You cannot drive a car until you are responsible, have been trained, and have a license.  If you are drive drunk, you have the power to kill, and we the people have the power to take your license and place you in jail.  That has also been extended to the responsible parties who provided the alcohol to begin with.  We are not permitted to keep quantities of lethal substances such as explosives, chemical agents, or biological materials.  Already, as we look to the future, the cyber domain poses the possibility of many lethal events to occur.  Hack into the traffic system and turn all traffic light’s green, for instance.  Or hank into the power grid and shut down a hospital or nuclear power plant.  Specific tools are available to enable such activity which are threats to us all of us.  These are threats that must be controlled in the future...not all malicious code  will be criminal to have in your possession....the Stuxnet virus on the other hand, should be.
It is worth restating the question.  How much lethal power should anyone member of society be in possession of at any one time? And it doesn't matter if the individual intents to use the power, or that power can fall into the wrong hands, the lethality remains the same.  Clearly we don’t let blind people drive cars.  We also have to find ways to keep these analogous handicaps from owning or gaining possession of great lethal power.    Lethality, therefore, is what we need to define as a society.  Without that definition, what is the acceptable limit? we can’t get started.  We will never be able to eliminate violence.  We can, however,  reduce it’s impact on our society and that is where we should begin the dialogue.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

When the Mountain Mist Clears...

As the Lance Armstrong saga continues to unravel...the damning evidence presented by USADA, the stripping of his titles, his lifetime ban from sports, stepping down as chairman of his foundation, “LiveStrong”, with other allegations that are being reported, and now the sponsors who have supported him for years kicking him to the curb. Lance said at a “LiveStrong” fund raising gala last night, “I’ve been better, I’ve also been worse”. Among other things, Lance is a spectacular PR man. He is a natural promoter, leader, visionary, and will survive this seemingly limitless setback orchestrated by the USADA. It’s been called a witch hunt, I've called it a witch hunt, but as it turns out, there are actually some witches involved. And even though Lance is being burned at the stake, he will continue to be a part of the American fabric for decades to come. Why? The reasons are complex and go to the core of human motivation...and on these points Lance, in my book, is still a winner.

At the first brilliant point in his life, after he survived cancer and won his first Tour de France (TdF), he wrote the book, “It’s Not About the Bike”. Which is what we, along with the 80 million people who wear the distinctive yellow bracelets will continue to support. Why? Because it’s true. The profound good that this organization can do in our world stands clear, and, it is indeed not about the bike. Lance knows this...he wrote the book. However, shortly thereafter, having come back from the dead, Lance confused his own beliefs about his foundation and the meaning of his bike. Professional road racing, the extreme spectacle of a TdF win, the challenge of winning more, and of course the bike, took hold of him in a way that became an obsession. Why? Because while he can’t personally cure cancer, he can make money. To make the most money he must win the most bike races. If winning bike races is what it takes to cure cancer, the end’s must surely justify the means. As it turns out the bike takes front and center. Winning is the solution, the goal, the obsession. The bike is the mechanism for the win however the motivation for the win has fundamentally changed. That motivation obscures everything in it’s path until it’s it no longer about the bike. At least for him. For everyone else in professional cycling, the bike remains important.

Professional road racing is an exhibition. Sponsors, above all others, understand that exhibition is what sells product. The TdF is an extreme exhibition, hence extreme product endorsement. The participants who compete are not like regular humans. They are extreme specimens shaped with decades of preparation. All professional sports are exhibitions, without sponsors there are no exhibitions. Few events are as extreme as the TdF. It extracts an extreme toll physically, mentally, and even spiritually on the human body. Participates sacrifice, most, if not all of their lives riding a bike in pursuit of winning. And those of us who are spectators, pay to see it happen. We pay to see, in the great voice of Jim McKay, “the human drama of athletic competition” at it’s greatest and at it’s worse. Once a year, in France, during the month of July, all of these things come together in professional road racing. For exhibitions where one prepares a lifetime, the motivations are a varied as the participants who ride. In this story, the motivations of Lance Armstrong, outweigh most, if not all, of the other riders. If Lance want’s to use this spectacle as his platform to cure cancer, he must win at the TdF. Sponsors like a winner. They too, if they can back a winner, make a contribution to his foundation, and sell more product. Lance’s sponsors have a win-win-win situation on their hands. The riders on his team, if they can catch a “boost up the mountain” in his slipstream also, boost their careers. They have a win-win situation. And if there is one thing that is certainly true about the TdF, Lance knows he cannot do it alone. He must exploit the win-win to facilitate his sponsors win-win-win to promote his foundation.

But winning the TdF is not easy. It’s not even hard. It is extremely difficult. To win the TdF you have to have best five things money can buy. First, a large team from which to choose the strongest riders. Second, the best technology. Third and fourth, the best coaches along with the best tactics on the road. And finally, the very best physical training available. Coupled with the physical training comes nutrition and health, recovery and therapy, and psychology programs. No team will win the TdF without having all of these categories covered. In every category teams are constantly stretching the limits, within the rules, to top out in each area. Performance enhancing drugs fall into the category of physical training. As it turns out, and something that should come as absolutely no surprise to anyone even remotely acquainted with this sport, most of all the sponsors, including Nike, Anheuser-Busch, and Trek, that pay for their name in lights and on the podium, finding an advantage is the nature of business. Kicking the athlete when he is down must also be good for business. The teams that were winning were the teams that found a way to boost their physical performance without being caught by the rule book. Lance, as it turns out, rewrote this rule book and found a way to times. Performance enhancing drugs were necessary or another team, pick one, that was using them would win. He leveled the playing field. But no way Lance wins without the other things also in place and also at the very peak of their performance. The team, the equipment, the coaching, the tactics on the road are just as important. Just ask the other teams. The ones that were doping but failed in the other categories, and the teams that were not doping were not even in the top 10, maybe not in the top 20. And there are only 24 teams in the TdF. 

Yet let’s not forget about the the race itself. These super-humans don’t come from nothing. Give me an injection of EPO and I still don’t make it to the first turn in the road. These super-humans still have to have talent. They still have to ride, something still has to be accomplished. And in the case of the TdF, extreme tasks must still be completed. The riders, with all their preparation, still have to push back the pain and endure 21 stages. No matter how many drugs you have in your system, to say it’s a grueling race to the top of Alpe D’huez, to fight through the mist, dueling wheel to wheel with another rider, pushing your body to it’s limits, is as extreme an understatement as the 2,200 miles of racing is long. The fact that the race is physically punishing confuses every issue even more. The sacrifices made to train, to be apart of a great team, to give up you life to pursue a career in professional road racing, for the sake of being a professional road racer are real. These demands cannot be imagined. When someone offers you better equipment, an easier way to reach the top, particularly when it’s coming from the king of the sport, the option to say no is unavailable. 

Lance found a formula for his team to win. And maybe it’s a technicality, but it;s an important technicality. Lance Armstrong never failed a drug test and neither did most of his riders. The rules are play by the rules but you seek every advantage possible within the guidelines as they are established. If you find a loophole you drive a truck through it. Companies, like the companies who sponsored Lance, have legions of lawyers looking for legal loophole, trying to gain a corporate advantage in an extreme marketplace. It is beyond hypocrisy to seek your own advantage, yet spurn those who do so also. Some may go beyond the law. When they get caught, hopefully they get prosecuted and go to jail. Their motivation...greed. Maybe, just maybe, in amateur sports, and in venues like the Olympics, where there is some ethereal belief that we are admiring the natural limits of the human body, this might not be true. But my observation is that Olympic athletes, even these “non-professionals, are far from natural. The Special Olympics, or Paralympics might be the better venues to admire natural limits of the human body, or better yet, the local high school competition or Little League. The line between cheats and those who play fair is extremely long, extremely crooked, and wafer thin. In politics the term is gerrymandering, redefining a congressional district to gain the advantage of demographics in a particular region. Do we call that cheating? Lance chose his path and took his team down that road. 

Society is no longer looking the other way, the norms society has deemed as the rules are no longer in Lance’s favor. So be it. Wanting to gain an advantage is human nature. Stretching the rules is human nature. If you lean too far forward and go beyond the bounds of the legal loophole and get caught, you should pay the fine imposed by society. An eye for an eye, etc. In this case, since everyone in the TdF was doping, in that society, good or bad, right or wrong, it was acceptable behavior as long as your drug test was clean. If you get a speeding ticket, you pay the fine. Does that mean you are going to stop cheating the posted speed limit of 55 mph? That depends on your motivation. If you are keeping up with traffic, perhaps you are OK. If you’re speeding alone because you are late for work and might lose your job (your riding career) as a result, the officer who pulls you over might have little compassion. However, if you are rushing a bleeding child to the hospital, perhaps the ends justify the means and the officer who pulled you over might overlook the infraction. The USADA, in this case Tavis Taggart, is officer who pulled Lance over. He doesn't see the bleeding child the back seat of Lance’s car. In fairness to Taggart he sees a bleeding child that is the use of performance enhancing drugs in professional athletics. Whichever side of the argument you might be on, finding a cure for cancer betters the human condition. Suppressing human nature from seeking a competitive advantage also suppresses the human condition because it is human nature. Lance beat cancer. He had the very best science and the financial wherewithal to seek the latest treatments. He cheated death as a result. Many others do not have the resources to they lose their race. LiveStrong want’s to level that playing field. Lance’s desire to level the playing field at the TdF is no more or less troubling, at least not to me. As self-serving as it may sound, the only one speeding with a bleeding child in their car was Lance Armstrong. His foundation, his obsession, his desire to cure cancer became his bleeding child. He survived, he can win, he can live strong for’s not about the bike but the necessity to win with the bike became his save all bleeding children.

Lance was paid to win. We all paid for him to win. We pay to see champions. We pay to see the human drama. We will continue to buy Nike shoes and drink Anheuser-Busch products. We will continue to push an army of Lance’s to the extreme. Extracting a penalty from the offenders we carried forward, that exceeds what can be established as a societal norm, is unfair. The USADA has a different agenda. Maybe they have cracked the “code of silence” surrounding the practice of doping. And that’s a good thing. If the TdF is completely clean, nobody has to speed, and maybe that’s better in the long run. But for Lance there are still bleeding children in his car. When the USADA witch hunt is over, the fog will roll back in, something else will take the place of drug doping that will stretch the rules and help teams gain an advantage over one another. The mountainous toll cancer will take on society will continue. On another day two riders will emerge out of the mist on some unknown high mountain pass. Lance Armstrong will be one of those two riders breaking and chasing back the wheels of death all the way to the top. I personally hope that Lance will find another way to level the playing field with a winning team behind him. You can bet death will be looking to cheat him at every opportunity. But as death is now riding against a great champion, times seven, don’t count Lance Armstrong be continued...

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Director's Cup 2012

As the summer of 2012 draws to a close and the first vestiges of fall begin to show in the brisk morning air--kids returning to school, traffic returning to Southern California levels--we should take time to reflect back on a season filled with major sporting events.  The summer kicked off in June with the Euro 2012 Championships preparing the very best European soccer teams for the World Cup on 2014.  In July, the Tour de France and Wimbledon officially announced the summer was in full swing.  In August, the Games of the 30th Olympiad opened in London England.  And finally, on September 20th, just a few days before the last day of Summer, A9 Sports Day kicked off its historic competition on the manicured lawns and trails of Bonair Park in Arlington Virginia, pitting active duty warrior and Washington bureaucrat in a high stakes athletic competition to hoist the coveted Director’s Cup and garner bragging rights at the water cooler for the coming year.  

The annual event actually started a few days prior at the Blue Ridge Arsenal, as small teams from each of the four Directorates (Big Red, Mellow Yellow, Black Eye, and Blue Bayou) assembled to display their sharp shooting talents.  Clinging to their guns, these four conservative groups competed on the Blue Ridge firing range shooting rifles and handguns as various targets and distances.  Rene M would claim active shooter honors as he completed the course at a blistering pace with high accuracy hits on each target.  His low score enabled him to carry his vision impaired, less accurate, and low-income-tax-paying-on-the-government-dole teammate to an early Big Red victory.

At 7:00 am, on a cool Thursday morning, amidst the rose bushes of Bonair Park, the competition planning committee began setting up for the day’s events. Blueberry cake donuts, assorted bagels, and gallons of black coffee were shipped in to greet the arriving athletes with a surge of sugar and caffeine.  Anger “I put 7,000 miles on my bike but have never watched the Tour de France” N arrived on his Fuji velo to supervise the early activities.  The volley ball nets were strung, cones were set-up to mark the boundaries for the field competitions, and the Frisbee golf course was walked off with the fresh patches of poison ivy duly noted.  Slowly the athletes would arrive to begin numerous attempts at stretching by swinging their legs back and forth, bending over at the waist, and letting out low pitch groans at various decibel levels and duration.

The first official event of the day would be the 5k fun run.  Fun because the planners wanted to attract a high number of participants and 5k because they didn’t want to lose anyone from the competition before the day’s events began.  The race would be run on the W&O trail that borders Bonair Park on the left and goes for 1.5 miles due west along I-66 with a return straight back into the blinding sun to the starting point for a total distance 3.1 miles.  Team Black Eye arrived in force, fielding ten participants and ringers.  Team Mellow Yellow fielded two with the Big Red showing with a single lone runner (see Southern California traffic above).  Team Blue Bayou was still in the bag.  And so it would begin, Team Black setting the pace, with SMSgt “I ran a marathon over the weekend” B taking the early lead.  Dodging bicycle commuters passing continuously on the left, B finished the course in a blistering 21:10.  Most of team Black and the two runners from Mellow Yellow would finish ahead of the sole Big Red runner.  And had it not been for an urgent, as they say in the Tour de France “natural break” at the halfway point, amidst the pesky commuters and school buses, the lone Big Red runner might have cut a minute or two off his pace.  He was forced to leave the course in order to find privacy in bush.  Honorable mention goes to Derek C  and Angie G who completed the 5k later in the morning.

Back at the pavilion the crowds of participants were growing.  Team members in cliques of blue, red, black, and yellow t-shirts began assembling to discuss strategy and drink coffee. At a few minutes before 9:00 am one of the event organizers picked up a bull-horn and welcomed everyone to this year’s A9 Sports Day.  After the obligatory speech from the leader of the Black Eye Team the day took flight.   

The first major events for the day included volley ball, Frisbee golf, and the soccer kick.  Lesser events such as darts and Jenga would take place in the pavilion.  Blue, Black, and Yellow team members stared up in awe as the Big Red giants, Dave “I’m tall but not so quick” Q and Glenn “The Dutch Giant” V, took their place at the volley ball net and looked down from the clouds at their competition.  Needless to say, with that kind of height advantage at the net, the Reds, easily took their first major field victory of the day.  

Over at the soccer kick, life wasn’t going so well for the Reds as Lucky Tucker laid down a withering barrage of smack and Dave H showed everyone he could effortlessly direct a soccer ball with his instep.  Fred S, a.k.a last year I dressed as Bastian Schweinsteiger, aggressively tried to convince the Team Yellow that it was the right decision to put him in this event.  For the Reds, Rhett, “Apollo is my Doberman” M, was forced to carry his blaze orange shoe wearing teammate to victory in the semifinal…but they advanced.  As the final began, Lucky continued his verbal barrage of his adversaries stopping only when taking his own kicks.  Hickman continued to accurately place kick after kick and score point after point, with Ray the Referee dutifully declaring successful hits against the backstop.  However, the Big Red slowly accumulated points in machine like manner.  At the final distance, orange shoes had given honor back to the blaze orange he wears (which happen to be the colors of the famous Netherlands Football Club) with a near perfect score.  As Lucky and Rhett shanked a sufficient number of shots for the teams to be dead even at the final kick and with the orange shoed competitor bending it like Beckham on every kick the pressure was squarely on Hickman’s back.  His final kick dropped low, “no points” Ray called.  Victory in soccer belonged to Team Red.

After the consolation heat to determine 3rd and 4th place in the soccer kick, Fred a.k.a. Schweinsteiger, feeling a surge of frustration for their loss, demonstrated the correct way clear a soccer ball by launching one hard from behind the 50 ft line.  Coffee and Duncan donuts…$5.  BBQ lunch at Famous Dave’s…$10.  The look of surprise on Charlotte L’s face after taking the line drive of Fred’s kick to her spine…priceless.  Fortunately there was no injury other than to Fred’s pride which would later be redeemed during Frisbee golf.  A special mention should go to Cyber-Girl “I never saw a soccer ball before I left Texas” H for stepping in to kick for Team Black Eye despite how Kevin A might now feel about having someone who never saw a soccer ball before she left Texas on his team.

After the Red victory in soccer and volleyball in the first period ended it was time to begin readying for flag football as the crowds divided and some migrated to the free throw-line to begin practice for the basketball toss.  As one approached the blacktop, Dave “I can dunk the basketball on this court” Q could be seen standing shoulders above the other players warming up.  Q, along with his teammate, Derek “I have long shorts and a sleeveless shirt” C seemed, at first glance, to be favorites in the completion.  Q has the ability to go 5 for 5 at the line.  Sadly, “Spacemen can’t jump” and just as Cyber-Girl Hayden grew-up in a soccer-ball free Texas, Derek played water polo while growing up in Southern California. The two sports are as different as sports can be. Tossing 2 for 15 in his first round, it was clear Q would be called on to go 15 for 15 each round if the Big Red was to stand a chance.  Although Q put up a fight the deficit was too large for the Big Red to advance to the finals.  Red would have to fight it out for third place in the consolation round.  As the teams changed positions and prepared for the final rounds, the swimming Ralph Lauren was offered advice to throw “granny style”.  Q demonstrated the proper technique.  The transformation was instant and Derek went 4 for 5 during the 3rd rotation to add to Q’s commanding lead and easily take 3rd place.  Every point counts in this furious competition so Big Red was happy to steal 3rd place.

Most of the players then migrated to the main field to watch the results of the flag football competition.  Due to injuries at past competitions, flag football had been banned from Sports Day.  However, assuming some risk, the Director approved the competition this year on a trial basis and everyone was admonished to “Be Safe” as this wasn’t, after all, Super Bowl Sunday.  Of course that advice was abandoned after the first kick.  The inner-self,  the American instinct, the Friday night lights, the marching band, the cheerleaders, the Vince Lombardi speeches, all conspire to cloud the judgment of even the most conscientious players.  When that pig skin arcs high in the blue sky turning slowly, end over end, time stands still.  As the ball drops into the outstretched hands of a running back suddenly all hell breaks loose.  Players are frantically scrambling forward to block the on-rushing team.  The grass field erupts in a cloud of dust as players cut back and forth committing body and soul into the melee to grab at the dangling flag being advanced forward.  It only took a few moments to comprehend that this was indeed Super Bowl Sunday.

Wanting to atone for the humiliation of throwing granny style in the basketball competition, Derek suited up to play flag football.  His impact on the field was immediately noticed as John “I played D8 ball in college” H took command as the QB for the Big Red and connected with C in the end zone.  This combination proved effective as John would fade back into the pocket, pump fake long, as Derek would come short and sprint inside across the center.  Meanwhile, Glenn and JED “It’s not a motorcycle baby it’s a chopper” D would block as Rich “Don’t call me Sulu” Sand Wade McG went deep down field.  In the end the Crimson Tide of the Big Red out powered each opponent to win a second major field competition.  Were the gods of fortunes finally smiling on Big Red?  Momentum was certainly in their favor. 

In the second round of Frisbee golf Smacko McM and Rebel Lewis would serve as course officials.  Lucky Tucker started talking smack early.  As Rebel and Smacko led the teams through the first several holes on the course, everybody learned two things.  First that those seemingly wasted hours of Frisbee practice in college weren’t for naught.  And second, that Tasha “I played softball in college” T, didn’t play Frisbee in college.  As the casual observer might judge based on Tasha’s Frisbee throwing abilities, just like there are no soccer balls in Texas and no basketball courts in California, there are certainly no Frisbees in Arizona.  Note in Derek’s case, since there are actually basketball courts in California, we are left to scratch our heads.

As the game progressed the field was separated into three groups; those whose college prowess at throwing the disc returned; those who never could throw the disc even though they played in college; and Lucky Tucker who could talk smack while simultaneously chucking the disc.  This round proved to be a relaxing way to spend the afternoon while Ultimate Frisbee would rage on the main field.  Toward the end of the round, hidden deep behind the award winning Bonair Park Rose Garden and a leafy outcropping of bushes standing atop a grassy knoll, Lucky Tucker would pause along a lush depression in the fairway to gaze down at a loop of color lying casually on the soft blades of grass.  He announced to the other players that here in this secluded area of the park a circus clown had been making balloon animals.  The others stepped forward to see what Lucky had found.  Snop Johnson, more experienced in the ways of the world, or perhaps more versed in quotations from the Blues Brother’s looked at the thin balloon exclaimed, “One prophylactic…slightly soiled”.  The golfer’s gave the heinous find a wide berth as they continued their march toward the next hole.  As they walked forward Lance “I won arm wrestling” J reminded everyone that although we may have the vision of a secret love between Romeo & Juliet in our minds DoD policy reminds us to equally consider a Romeo & Romeo version of the park rendezvous.

Over the course of the day speculation on which teams were winning could be heard ringing throughout the druid woods.  No one knew for sure as the competition officials guarded the results tightly to prevent the unfortunate shenanigans that occurred in sports days past.  Previously directors, equipped with the knowledge of their standings, pressured their teams to seek a competitive advantage.  Not unlike election officials “getting out the vote” directors could be seen personally selecting who would take the field and who would sit the bench.  Ringers were brought in, identification was not checked.  Lopsided competitions were the direct result.  Vicky “My little dog is cuter than your big dog” White might end up arm wrestling Lucky Tucker, for example.  Whereas lopsided, no one could ever be quite sure which way that particular line-up would end. 

Back at the pavilion the first and only snafu of the day occurred.  The Director, in person, came to collect water for the thirsty participants of Ultimate Frisbee.  To the shock and horror of those present in the pavilion the understanding was universal…A9 Sports Day had run out of water.  And in front of the Director…immediately grasping the gravity of the situation Stephanie “Magenta is the new Red” W jumped into her car and quickly returned with six more cases of water thereby saving the day and quite possibly the promotion opportunities for the Lieutenants on the organizing committee.

Lesser sports of the day included Jenga which was cancelled due to the inferior quality of the playing blocks, which upon inspection, turned out to be “Tumbling Tower” blocks manufactured to a much lower standard.   Instead of smooth wood surfaces that would glide over one another, the TT blocks were pitted and rough creating a safety hazard for the Jenga players.  Gone are the days when Thomas “Jenga Champion of the World” C, wearing a hernia belt and taking a wide stance, would relentlessly pursue each Jenga victory…perhaps safety wasn’t quite the concern back in the old days.

Yet other competitions included darts, poker, and of course the creative relay.  Competitor to the end, Scott “Snow” L, could be seen personally coaching his Mellow Yellow Team to victory as well as asking for Marie “SoH” L to stop holding hands with her inked beau and to compete, no less, in three consecutive heats of the creative relay.  Much later, Chris “the God of Sky & Thunder” Z, who also competed in the creative relay was discovered wandering through the ancient druid forest of Bonair still dizzy from his run in with the dizzy bat.

Lunch time was at hand, Famous Dave had delivered his Famous BBQ, but before the athletes could eat the final event had to be settled.  Tug of war is the traditional final event at sports day each year.  Tremendous planning goes into the selection of each side, Who will anchor? Who brought gloves or was still wearing cleats? and most important of all, Who has the most girth? It’s funny but when you are searching for members for the tug of war team there seems to be a statistically improbable sample size of participants who had broken their backs sometime in the past and thus had to turn down the opportunity to participate.  Needless to say, sufficient bravery won over and full teams stepped to the line including at least one participant who had cracked his spine while racing motorcycles.

Anger Newman, ever vigilant for safety violations, made sure the anchors were not anchoring the rope around their necks.  There would be plenty of time for hanging ones head after the competition so there was no need to hang anyone during the tug of war. Black and Blue stepped up to the rope, seven to the left and seven to the right.  The rules of the competition were read aloud.  Last minute spacing and organizing of athlete places around the rope occurred.  Finally, the official announced, “Pick-up the rope”.  As the rope drew taught so did the anxiety in the crowd.  The official called for slack on one side, then the other.  When the center flag hung straight down over the center line he dropped his arm and the pull was on.  The crowd erupted in cheers for both sides.  Black got the drop on Blue and advanced backward step by steady step.  Just when Black was about to pull Blue over the line, the Blue warriors held firm. Blue began working in unison chanting Pull, Pull, Pull at even intervals.  Slowly they turned the momentum around.  Back they walked with more organization… Pull – Pull – Pull – Pull and suddenly the Black Team was broken, they fell forward, dropped to their knees, and were drug across the center line.   Big Red and Mellow Yellow were up next.  Angie “I’ll be at Langley next year” G and Tina were selected to lead the coxswain chant for Big Red. When the officials gave the call to step to the rope the Dutch Giant instinctively took his place as anchor with the rest of the Big Red side spacing along the rope.  Team Yellow dug in.  When the official’s arm dropped the Pull—Pull—Pull—Pull of Tina and Angie rose upward from the park with twenty or more assembled Red members joining in.  Yellow fought valiantly but they never made a stand.  Red pulled them straight over the line.  Big Red would advance to the finals against Blue Bayou.  

After the consolation round, and after taking a chance to breathe, Red and Blue took to the rope for the final competition of the day.  More care was taken during the spacing with each player stomping the ground looking for vital traction from a tired turf field.  Once again the pull was on.  This time Blue got the drop.  Red was pulled forward a few steps.  The Red coxswain’s were trying to reestablish a rhythm for Big Red... Pull – Pull – Pull – Pull– Pull…the Blue advance was halted but not turned.  Slowly the direction switched and Red was gaining ground one step back at a time.  Pull – Pull – Pull they were now in perfect unity.  Yard after yard was gained but within inches of crossing center, Blue held firm and halted the movement.  Red reached deep.  Some questioned their remaining strength and knew they couldn’t hold out much longer.  If Blue had any strength left it was over.  Reaching deep, Red listened for the call of the coxswain…Pull – Pull – Pull and with one mighty final Pull, Blue was defeated.  Big Red had prevailed tabulating a number of major field victories and now adding tug of war to the list.

Back at the pavilion lunch was served.  Famous Dave’s BBQ was opened and everybody dug in.  Some expressed remorse at the absence of Red Hot & Blue and wondered if they were witness to yet a second sports day snafu.  The noise in the pavilion was deafening as the tired participants re-lived each event and awaited the announcement of the final results.  After everyone had eaten the Director was handed the bull-horn to thank everyone for their participation and to announce this year’s champion. If there was any remaining doubt all was erased as Big Red was confirmed Champion of A9 Sports Day for 2012, the first time in a decade that Balf’s Team would take home the elusive honor.  The only thing left to do would be to decide how the trophy would be shared between two office locations over the year to come.

There were a thousand stories at sports day, my apologies for not capturing the action associated with each and every one.  Also, I did my best to capture the stories as I remember; some stories were relayed to me second hand and have not been fact checked.  In a few cases I took liberties with the exact wording to add levity or drama as the case dictated. I would like to thank all the folks who put sports day together for it allowed us to have fun and build memories.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Curiously Red Summer

I’ve watched in earnest last night as the international players from the Iberian Peninsula displayed their silky smooth talents at this year's EURO 2012 Championship (Spain advances to the Finals on Sunday). EURO 2012, like the FIFA World Cup, comes once every four years albeit offset by two years to take up some of the boredom of having to wait for World Cup in 2014. That does however, align the years with the conduct of the Summer Olympics. This year the Summer Olympics are hosted in London and begin in late July. While we wait for lighting of the Olympic Torch there is no less drama as Country qualifiers are currently in full swing.

The human drama of athletic competition is all around us. Rafel Nadel won his 7th French Open Title on the red clay courts of the Roland Garros on June 11th as the the grass center court of Wimbledon awaits the crowning of a new champion on July 9th. And not that anyone needs a reminder, the Tour de France begins with its customary Prologue stage this Saturday in the Province of Liege Belgium to start 20 more grueling stages of cycling and hours of scenic rolling countryside streaming in HD to our computers and living rooms. Hopefully this year The Tour will not be too heavily tarnished by all the anti-doping rhetoric in the news lately.

Hours upon hours of athletic competition to keep us entertained and awestruck at the physical capabilities contained with our human bodies. The endurance, agility, strength, speed, coordination, timing and that’s not to mention the mental component of the competitions with the accompanying stress, guile, agony, and elation of those who emerge victorious. Yet with all this going on, I will also be watching another human endeavor taking place over the summer. For this event there is no olympic torch, although there will be fire. There will be no silver cup, although there will be a very red playing surface. There will be no anti-doping commission seeking to strip the players of their victories if trace amounts of banned substances surface in blood, in fact there will be no blood tests. There will also be no HD video of the event streaming into our living rooms. There will only be success or failure and “7 Minutes of Terror” as it has been called. First go watch this YouTube video and then we will continue.

Those seven minutes of terror however are only terrifying if you know what’s at stake. At stake is more than the 5 kg of Plutonium 238 that Curiosity carries with it as its power source. At stake is the crowning achievement of two decades of Mars exploration. Curiosity is the fourth Mars rover in the series that began with tiny Sojourner, added Spirit, and recently enhanced with the highly successful missions and lengthy service life of Opportunity. Curiosity, also call the Mars Science Laboratory, cost about $2.5B to develop and launch, So losing this exploration vehicle, as with other space vehicles which take years to conceive, design, develop, test, and launch would be devastating to the team behind the project. Losing Curiosity would also be a devastating blow to potential manned missions in a decade or two. As spectacular as the video demonstrated has been the engineering behind safely landing Curiosity on the red planet, the entire project has been an engineering marvel from start to finish. The objective, land one ton of payload on the surface of the Mars with enough science to be useful. The result -- a rover that is 10 feet long, weighing in 1,984 lbs, with a promised service life of 14 years, based on its radioactive power cell, packed with enough scientific instruments to keep the next several generations of post graduate Martian biologists, geologists, climatologist studying much more than what we can find in our own backyard.

There is no doubt, this is a crowning human achievement in engineering and science...since we have plenty of instruments circling Mars already and have been traipsing around in the red dust for many years, Curiosity’s landing may go unnoticed. With so much other cool stuff to entertain us this summer, not to detract from the athletic achievements and champions in the making, there ought to be a better way to get the word out. Perhaps, as with the success of images from the Hubble Space Telescope, Curiosity will make its own successes. We could be in store for an untold number of scientific discoveries. I hope so. But this is my small part.

And just as I watched (for text messages) from James Cameron as he touched the bottom of the Mariana trench back in March, although he didn’t sent back pictures (I think we have to wait for the movie) I am excited. I have no doubt, since we paid for Curiosity, NASA will be sending us pictures as fast as that 13 minutes of free space between us will allow.  But only after Curiosity survives the seven minutes of terror.  I will be cheering for a victory.