A Teacher's Writes

One teacher's thoughts on life, literature, and learning

Amen to David Stanley’s case against bicycle racing chivalry

It is time for ‘racing chivalry” to become a relic of the past. As with every sport, there is a professional code amongst bike racers. Part of that code is that you do not attack race leaders when they suffer mechanical issues; flats or bike problems. That code needs to go away.
a. Once upon a time, there were no support vehicles. In the years leading up to the 1930s, the Tour was contested by individuals. In those early years, pre-derailleur shifting, the riders had two gears. One cog was on each side of the wheel and at the base of the climbs, the riders would stop en masse and flip their wheels to their climbing gear. For many years, riders carried spare tires wrapped figure eight style over their shoulders. No spare wheels were provided by Mavic neutral support or your team cars. Neutral support didn’t begin in 1973. In those days, the idea of “All for one, and one for all” made perfect sense. With no help forthcoming, riders crossing the high-alpine goat paths that passed for roads in the post-WWII era needed the support of each other.
In 2015, rider support has become more sophisticated.
b. Once upon a time, equipment was unreliable. In the years leading up to the Merckx era, equipment was not to be trusted. Rims were wood. Tires flatted frequently. Post-war derailleur mechanisms were sketchy, and often went out of adjustment. Chains broke. When Mavic popularized the aluminum rim, early glues often came unglued from the heat generated during braking. As a consequence, the tires would peel off at speed, and riders would crash. With all of these issues, the idea that one should profit from a competitor’s mechanical issue seemed both un-sporting and unwise. Unwise, because he who would profit at another’s expense would surely be the next to suffer a mechanical.
c. Once upon a time, there was no money in cycling. Riders were called “les forçats de la route,” the convicts of the road, for a reason. They were poor. The sport made money for a few sponsors, but little was left for the racers. Today’s world-class racer is the monetary equivalent of many sporting heroes. Today’s teams are multi-million dollar investments for sponsors. The sponsors are now Fortune 500 companies. They invest in the teams because the teams generate return on investment. French business magazines estimate the value of the Tour at between 1 and 1.5 billion dollars.
With this much money at stake, let’s envision a meeting between a team and a sponsor who has not yet decided to renew a 10 million euro contract.
Oleg (the sponsor): Well, the Tour didn’t go as well as we’d hoped. We were promised a top stage finish. Our guy Vincenzo was right there. He looked great. When he attacked, I knew he’d win the stage. Talk about a great return. He’d be on the cover of L’Equipe wearing my company’s jersey! Why’d he sit up?

Sean (the team’s sporting director): Well, his big rival Chris had some problems with his chain.
Oleg: So? Sounds perfect to me.
Sean: Well, cyclists don’t like to take advantage when something like that happens.
Oleg: So, let me get this straight. I write checks for about 10 million bucks. I write a check to Vinnie for about an extra million five. And you’re telling me that because this Chris guy breaks a fifty dollar chain, we have to wait for him to fix everything up before we can race again? Are you nuts? That chain is this Chris guy’s problem. Not ours. Your problem is winning races. Oh, and you gotta another problem-finding a new sponsor. This is crazy. I’m out.
It is crazy. When Sebastian Vettel has an engine problem, does Lewis Hamilton slow down and wait? No. Formula One is a big business, a freaking huge business, and the teams hire the very best people to run their programs. 

In 2015, professional bike racing is also a freaking huge business, and it is time to start acting like one.

From David Stanley

Two gut-wrenching comments that are on my mind today

“We’ve been very good at getting heart, lung, liver, because we know that, so I’m not gonna crush that part, I’m gonna basically crush below, I’m gonna crush above, and I’m gonna see if I can get it all intact.”

– Deborah Nucatola, senior director of medical research for Planned Parenthood

They walked into the little clearing, the boy clutching his hand. They’d taken everything with them except whatever black thing was skewered over the coals. He was standing there checking the perimeter when the boy turned and buried his face against him. He looked quickly to see what had happened. What is it? he said. What is it? The boy shook his head. Oh Papa, he said. He turned and looked again. What the boy had seen was a charred human infant headless and gutted and blackening on the spit. He bent and picked the boy up and started for the road with him, holding him close. I’m sorry, he whispered. I’m sorry.

The Road by Cormac McCarthy, p. 198

Jimmy Carter’s continuing evangelism

Meroney: Speaking of your faith, what’s your estimate of how many people you’ve led to Christ through personal one-on-one interaction?

Carter: I would say several hundred. I’ve been on Christian mission programs for the Southern Baptist Convention—to Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, other places like that. I’d spend a whole week, or ten days, just going from one house to another explaining the plan of salvation to people who did not have any faith. A lot of them have accepted Christ. I teach a Bible lesson every Sunday when I’m at home. I taught this past Sunday, and I’ll teach next Sunday as well. We have only about 30 members of our church who attend our services—it’s a small church. But we have several hundred visitors who come—sometimes it’s as high as eight hundred. Most of the time, though, it’s in the two hundred range. Many tell me they’ve never been to a church before. I don’t have any doubt that a few of them, maybe every Sunday, decide to accept the lessons that I teach.

From The Atlantic, an interview with Jimmy Carter

In 1820, printers assembled the newspaper one letter at a time

The expansion of newspaper publishing resulted in part from technological innovations in printing and papermaking. Only modest improvements had been made in the printing press since the time of Gutenberg until a German named Friedrich Koenig invented a cylinder press driven by a steam engine in 1811.The first American newspaper to obtain such a press was the New York Daily Advertiser in 1825; it could print two thousand papers in an hour. . . . Compositors still set type by hand, picking up type one letter at a time from a case and placing int into a handheld “stick.” Until the 1830s, one man sometimes put out a newspaper all by himself, the editor setting his own type.

– Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought, p. 227


John Ortberg calls out the church for its almosts

I wonder about the larger spiritual and moral eco-system of which what happened in Charleston is a tiny, damnable part. I wonder where the church is; at least the church I have known through my life. I wonder why the churches and college and seminary I was a part of look less like the kingdom of God—every tribe and tongue and people–than the military does. I wonder how many leaders in that church almost marched for the rights and dignity of all persons; how many sermons almost got preached; how many barriers almost got breached. I wonder why the networks and training and education and informal relationships of the church circles in which I serve still look as if the apostle had written… ‘He has almost torn down the dividing wall of hostility’; ‘you are almost one in Christ Jesus.’

– John Ortberg, writing beautifully and convincingly for Leadership Journal

A Knight’s Tale Relishes Its Silliness

My students are practicing using the “they say/I say” rhetorical structure in class by responding to a movie review of A Knight’s Tale. This is my own contribution. I find the “they say/I say” structure a very practical and flexible structure for students to use. It almost instantly adds a maturity to their writing they otherwise have not had.

In his 2001 review for New York Magazine Peter Rainer offers a harsh critique of the film A Knight’s Tale. Rainer claims the movie attempts to demonstrate “that there’s no essential difference between then and now.” To make his point, he likens each character to our modern equivalent: the hero’s friends are groupies, complete with squires as buddies, a herald as PR agent, and a pretty lady oogling from the luxury boxes.

By focusing on his thesis that the movie wants us to see how “the fourteenth century was as glitzy and starstruck as our own,” Rainer entirely misses the film writers’ self-consciousness. Surely the writers were not trying to convey a real parallel between the middle ages and the modern world. A noble woman sneaking around men’s tents at night? A prince declaring a peasant a knight because the peasant was tough? Next, a historian might counter, you’ll tell me a king wrote the Magna Carta. At practically every turn, any historical record shows the medieval world is strikingly different than the way the movie portrays it. But before criticizing the movie for this difference, shouldn’t a viewer stop to realize the writers were surely aware of how discordant their story is with history, and that it must have been part of their point? In A Knight’s Tale, filmmakers have reveled in setting the archetypal rags to riches and David & Goliath plots of sports movies in a completely new place. They’re committing the same old clichés in all the new ways, and like homecoming dress-up days, we revel in A Knight’s Tale because we know it’s silly and we think its clichés are fun. In the climactic moment of this movie, William jousts against the world’s second best jouster without armor or a helmet. Somehow—through quick edits and close-ups—his opponent completely misses him, and William knocks the guy off his horse. In sum, anyone who sees an ending like this and does not recognize its aspirations to silliness has been weighed, and found lacking.

A teacher who conveys that he’s learning something from you

As a person, Lou was unique. I have never met anyone like him. He was a great storyteller, but he also listened. I think my daughter’s sketch above captures this listening quality. He was a spellbinding lecturer, giving important words an extra push not with increased loudness but with intensified enunciation. But he was even better as a seminar leader, and even better than that in one-on-one conversation, because he always conveyed the sense that, however stupid you thought yourself to be, he was learning something from you. And I believe that he was, that he saw things in his students and, more widely, in his friends, that they didn’t see in themselves. For me, that is the definition of grace.

from Joel Marcus, describing his former professor. I heartily agree with Wesley Hill’s sentiments on it: “If I could be half the mentor/teacher described in the last paragraph, I would count myself the luckiest.”


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