Monday, March 30, 2009

Response to a Fan

Thanks for taking the time to write, and for sharing your perspective and personal experiences. Your email demands a thoughtful reply, and I am in a difficult two days, but I feel compelled to respond now.

I want to thank you for sharing your own experiences, and trusting me to respect your humanity. Hopefully my thus-far "tragic" story will have a happier ending. I know that I'm not where I want to be right now, I know that my own mistakes and bad decisions have cost me opportunities that most people never even have a chance at, and I know that I let a lot of people down - not least of all my poor mother.

But when someone like you takes the time to write me, it gives me a big boost to keep fighting, and pushing through these stormy times in hopes of finding the same kind of peace, tranquility and harmony I enjoyed on the bike. Cycling was sublime...heck, cycling IS sublime, and far more important to me than victories was the opportunity to travel the world and write about it so that others could share the journey. I loved to win, no doubt, but this battle I'm fighting now to right myself and ameliorate the negative fall-out stemming from my actions is harder than any race or training session. I would give anything to go back in time and not make those mistakes, but since I can't, I try to hold on to the positive memories, but still be honest about what I did that was wrong.

On paper, I'm a pretty smart guy, and even have the chance to get an MBA now that I'm back in grad school. But I often failed to show common sense, as when I turned down the dark road of doping. I was never concerned about the health risks, b/c I believed that could be controlled for, so the anti-doping education at the time totally failed to impact me (the main message then, and now, was "don't dope, because it puts your health at risk"). There has been a slight change now in that USADA is also talking about concepts like ethics and morality, but I still don't think that is the most effective way to dissuade kids - AND ADULTS - from illegal performance enhancement.

What absolutely would have worked in my case, and why my story will hopefully serve as an example to others - a warning - is the fact that doping means that you're in a milieu of dishonesty, cheating, unethical and sociopathic behavior and sometimes criminal activity. It profoundly corrupts your soul, even if actually making your body stronger, and if you fall foul of the testers and are exposed, it's not just a possible suspension from sport and loss of a result that you face - there is the chance to have your life destroyed. Imagine having a goal about which you were passionate outside of sport, and intending to work in a particular field when you retired from biking - but then being forever barred from that employment because of the ethical "cloud" that hangs over you for cheating. Even in the most glorious, self-centered, live-for-the day moments I had on the bike (I'll attach some pictures for you from a few of those sublime moments), I always knew that I'd have to stop racing one day, but was comforted by the fact that I had two very strong professional goals - working in international affairs either for the State Department or the CIA. International affairs are like football for me, and I follow the latest treaty signings and bilateral agreements, military threats and economic developments with the same fervor of some of my fellow Pittsburghers who are fanatics for the Steelers football team. I was lucky enough to have two passions in life: sport and international affairs. And now neither is accessible to me at the professional level because of profoundly bad choices I made without intending to harm myself or others.

To know that you're "genuinely pulling for" my success means a lot - more than you might realize. You say that you're just a random guy from South Carolina (beautiful state, by the way)...well, I'm just a random guy from Pittsburgh (born in Ohio) who was "bike crazy" from an early age and who possessed just enough talent to race professionally at the lowest level of the pro ranks in Europe, and at a higher level in Latin America. And I sympathize with how you must feel having to compete against riders who may be doping - because I was in the similar situation in 2001 but didn't have the courage or moral compass or guidance to follow the right path and stay clean. In my eyes, that makes you someone who I'll look up to...someone with the fortitude and perspective to continue in a sport he loves, even though the playing field isn't always level. And to do it while raising a family and building a career - heck yeah I look up to you!

What stinks about doping, is that, unfortunately, the products work and they can transform an athlete...even a great athlete becomes god-like and that feeling is intoxicating. Use EPO? Figure a 10% improvement in your functional power threshold. Add products that help you reduce body mass (without costing you power) and your watts/kg goes up and you can soar up mountains. Throw in some HGH and you're a dominant sprinter. It's not difficult to understand how all but the strongest (mentally) and most morally-grounded athletes who are tempted with dope often give in. It's been approximately 32 months since I last raced, and not a day goes by when I don't yearn to be back in competition. But when my sanction expired in August of last year, I didn't even take out a license. I think I might this year, in hopes of regaining enough fitness to compete locally later this summer - but any return would be with a hugely-different perspective and with radically different goals.

Congratulations for resisting the temptation to dope, and for helping others (like your kids) to develop the ability to make ethically-sound decisions. We need more of that in the world today and you should take comfort and satisfaction from the fact that you understand the complexity of the doping issue but are committed to clean sport.

I'm glad you contacted me, and I would invite you to correspond regularly - don't hesitate to write if you have more specific questions, philosophical insights, requests for advice, or you just plain want to shoot the breeze. As I said before, I'm crushed with school work and am not as efficient right now as I was on the bike, but I'll always respond eventually. And so that you're aware, I do continue to make myself available to groups, clubs, teams, associations, corporations, educators, etc as a speaker (with an obvious focus on telling my story in the context of a presentation tailored to the audience's topic or area of interest). I only note this because I'm presently in negotiations with two cycling clubs in Canada to address them, and find the activity to be very cathartic and incredibly beneficial to my own recovery...

Be well, thank you so much for your support, and please enjoy the pictures.

I'm Glad my Mom Didn't Buy a Car Yet

From the Boston Herald:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama says the federal government is preparing to offer several incentives to get Americans to buy more U.S.-made cars.

In a White House speech, Obama said the IRS will start notifying consumers who purchased cars after Feb. 16 that they can deduct the cost of any sales and excise taxes. The program would remain in effect till year’s end.

Obama says he wants to work with Congress to use parts of the economic stimulus package to fund a program that would allow consumers to get a "generous credit" when they replace an older, less fuel-efficient car and buy a new, cleaner car.

The president says he wants to make the program retroactive starting Monday. It’s meant to boost car sales in the U.S., which have seen their worst decline in 27 years.

Obama also said the government will guarantee warranties on any GM or Chrysler vehicles.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

GM, Obama: My Heart is Broken - "Joe the MBA Student Speaks"

"WASHINGTON — The White House on Sunday pushed out the chairman of General Motors and instructed Chrysler to form a partnership with the Italian automaker Fiat within 30 days as conditions for receiving another much-needed round of government aid.

The decision to ask G.M.’s chairman and chief executive, Rick Wagoner, to resign caught Detroit and Washington by surprise, and it underscored the Obama administration’s determination to take a hands-on role in the companies it is bailing out — a level of government involvement in business not seen since the Great Depression..." - NYTimes.

Under pressure from the Obama administration, GM CEO Rick Wagner was forced to resign. Socialism's march through this once great nation continues unabated, with the people blinded by hope and self-delusion into thinking that the federal government has the ability to manage the return to profitability of the auto industry. Nothing could be further from the truth. While there are a variety of possible scenarios, what I see unfolding over the mid-term is this:

The government takes an AIG-like ownership position in GM, dictating the production of vehicles that do not appeal to the domestic market, let alone to auto buyers in Europe, Asia or Russia. Future Chevrolet's will be green eco-boxes that post great fuel economy numbers, but cost thousands of dollars more to produce than their highly-efficient internal combustion rivals, making them much more expensive on the sales floor - even with generous federal vouchers issued to encourage their purchase (subsidies that our sons and daughters will spend a generation trying to pay for).

Cap&Trade cars will not return GM to profitability as long as gas remains reasonably priced and the American public prefers mid-size cars and trucks, cross-over vehicles and even SUV's. Realizing that Obama's Car Czar has dictated the production of a product that is "ahead of its time" and too enlightened for the masses, the federal government will then mandate a gas tax to maintain the price of a gallon of fuel at $4+ for the duration. The concept will be extended to all industries that rely upon fossil fuel - government dictated taxes that make normal production and use prohibitively expensive, in favor of "green" alternatives.

The increased cost of doing business will further decrease output and GDP will continue to slide, while wages stagnate and consumption falls further still.

But looking back to the auto industry, which will become fully-owned by the federal government within 18-24 months, expect by the end of Obama's first term to find the auto industry to be brain dead, run out of some creepy bureau in Washington named "The Vehicular Output Office" or something suitably GreatDepressionistic in its hue. Obama wins a second term because the Republicans are still too chicken to shoot the fundamentalists who've so contaminated and corrupted the ideals Reagan stood for, and the Party fails to field a viable candidate.

By the final year of the Obama administration, the means of production may be in the hands of the working class, but no one will have any money to buy the pairs of two left shoes and battery powered "cars" costing $42,000 each that Detroit is pumping out. Enter, at this point, when it doesn't seem like it could get any worse, a private sector representative reminiscent of JP Morgan when he saved the financial system of the US. He'll come with a plan and an investment cartel and the goal of re-privatizing the domestic auto industry so that we can get back to making the cars that America wants, and not the rolling-mechanized-green-lobby-PR-boxes that some members of the radical environmental lobby believe it their duty to secure.

If you're a classic car fan, better to enjoy them now, before the enviro-Nazis confiscate them and give you the choice of a Tesla Roadster or a Tata Nano.


For media inquiries, I am "Joe the MBA Student" the antithesis of "Joe the Plumber." Commentary and interview requests click here.

The Australian "Gone with the Wind"

I watched "Australia" last night (having gone so far as to actually drive to Blockbuster and pay for a movie rental, as opposed to taking advantage of PJ's magical system of movie downloading)...and I liked it! HA! Rather than explain why, let me just ape the reviews of others.

To quote from the NYTimes Movie Review, in reference to Director Baz Luhrmann's efforts on "Australia":

"A maximalist, Mr. Luhrmann doesn’t simply want to rouse your laughter and tears: he wants to rouse you out of a sensory-overloaded stupor with jolts of passion and fabulous visions. That may make him sound a wee bit Brechtian, but he’s really just an old-fashioned movie man, the kind who never lets good taste get in the way of rip-roaring entertainment. The usual line about kitsch is that it’s an affront, a cheapening of the culture, a danger. “Kitsch causes two tears to flow in quick succession,” Milan Kundera wrote. “The first tear says: How nice to see children running on the grass! The second tear says: How nice to be moved, together with all mankind, by children running on the grass! It is the second tear that makes kitsch kitsch.”

True, but it doesn’t make the second tear any less wet."

And to share Roger Ebert's sentiments:

"Baz Luhrmann dreamed of making the Australian "Gone With the Wind," and so he has, with much of that film's lush epic beauty and some of the same awkwardness with a national legacy of racism. This is the sort of film described as a "sweeping romantic melodrama," a broad family entertainment that would never have been made without the burning obsession of its producers (Luhrmann for "Australia," David O. Selznick for "GWTW"). Coming from a director known for his punk-rock "William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet" and the visual pyrotechnics of "Moulin Rouge," it is exuberantly old-fashioned, and I mean that as a compliment..."

I think everyone needs a bit of kitsch every now and makes life less cruddy and restores a bit of the magic. Here is the trailer, and a picture from my own magic adventure in Oz.

Friday, March 27, 2009

The Lance-haters: They are nihilists.

Not only do they have one of the most-pleasurable-to-browse cycling e-commerce sites out there, but Competitive Cyclist absolutely shreds with a pen in their blog:

"...I think it's really and truly a jihad. It's a terror exactly like the one our country is at war against, where the ideology of the "oppressed" can find no satisfaction in this life. The Lance-haters: They are nihilists. What is their purpose of their anger? What endgame, exactly, do they want to see? I have some bad news for them: Everyone who raced the Tour de France in 1999 was on EPO. Do you not understand that? Why the outrage at a fact that no one disputes?

Tell me this: What is Lance's path to penance? Clearly confession isn't the answer. If it were, Jonathan Vaughters wouldn't still be tap-dancing around the issue of his own doping. And if confession reliably earned Christ-on-a-cross-like redemption, Joe Papp and Patrick Sinkewitz could plot their racing comebacks. But, no, a rational path to cleansing doesn't exist for the haters. It's because they're not rational. It's because they're suckers. They're suckers for the would-be eloquence and fashion sense of the preening David Millar. They're suckers for the cuddliness of family man Erik Zabel. The haters think they're la Résistance, but in fact no one has proven more susceptible to the modern-day crafting of character -- where public figures aren't appraised by their deeds, but rather are judged by the packaging job concocted by high-dollar PR firms with their expert media manipulation. Like the fat fuck idiots who run me off the road when I train who honest-to-God believe in "Must See TV": The haters run like rats to their media addictions: The New York Times, Paul Kimmage, "honest" interviews with the spokesmodels of Team Garm*n. Here's what the Tour of California taught me: Lance has no path to penance. Why? It's because there's something the haters hate even more than him: That the world doesn't share their self-righteous outrage. Their capricious use of forgiveness proves that there's no true north for their moral compass.

- Speaking of Paul Kimmage, he of the starry-eyed Team Garm*n worship, let's not forget the fact that in his cri de coeur "A Rough Ride" he makes it clear that he experimented with doping during his own pro days. There's no shame in that. As his book makes clear, life is complicated. It's interesting, then, that he's so eager to play character-assassin to Lance. Stones, glass houses, etc. Why, Paul, why? I have a theory: It's guilt that motivates Paul Kimmage in his splenetic, very public hatred of Lance. He can't stomach the experience of his own personal doping experimentation. It's as though confessing it in his book wasn't enough, and forgiveness can only come through more punishment. Punishment of himself? No way. It's punishment of others who might be guilty of the same.

I can already hear the ripostes of the haters. There's a world of difference, they'll say, between Kimmage's youthful doping dalliance and Lance's methods. I'm sorry, but nary a shred of proof exists of that. In lieu of facts, the haters will compensate with the Great Wall of Vitriol. In the place of due process, they prefer the ease of trial-by-media. I agree that there's a "world of difference" here: It's a talent level that differentiates Paul and Lance. As bike racers. And as effective communicators..."

"...Lance-haters, I appreciate meaningful dialogue. With this in the forefront of my mind, I yield the floor to you, my esteemed colleagues whose second-most prized asset is their David Millar-autographed copies of Rouleur #8 (featuring a glossy full page photo of a freshly-scrubbed, looking-thoughtful DM head-to-toe in Paul Smith at the foot of the Eiffel Bridge in Girona.) Please help me understand: (1) Why the selective forgiveness? I have a soft spot for Kazakh riders. What will it take for you to embrace the no-less-guilty-than-Millar Vinokourov and Kasheckin? And Papp and Sinkewitz? (2) What will cause you to lower your moral crosshairs from Lance? Let's get into the realm of the purely theoretical: If he surrendered his '99 maillot jaune who is the innocent that we'll hand it down to? Jesus, look at that top-15. It reads like death row! How about a Festina rider? A Casino rider? A Mercatone Uno rider? Look at all 141 finishers -- not unlike life, who there is without sin? Let me narrow the questions to this: What is Lance's way to penance? Or would you prefer not to get into that, since forgiveness to Lance would deprive you of your most prized asset, the thing that finally gives you a sense of purpose in life: Your white-hot hatred of Lance."

Full, delicious entry here.

Holy Norway, Batman!

This is one of those images that arrived on my hard drive from a source that was most likely Burt Hoovis. I'm sure that he would want me to re-post it here for your consumption. Enjoy. Holy Norway, Batman.

And in case you can't find Norway on the map, he is the annotated version:

Design and the Consumer

From Fast Company (a publication I didn't realize was still in business) comes this gem:

"In a simpler time, design wasn't harsher than a mixed-martial arts event. In the olden days, say three years ago, companies would order their new logos and new-and-improved packaging from their design fortresses on high, and the lowly customers below would quietly accept the blobby, 3D-textured versions of once-beloved logos without complaint.

No more of course, as we've seen all too clearly in the last month with Facebook's reconsideration of its new look his week after a whopping 94% of users gave a thumbs down to the redesign, and Tropicana yanking its new packaging created by the Arnell Group after the primary customer reaction was that their grocery had introduced a generic store-brand O.J. and where was the orange with the straw in it?"

Read more, here.

The Crisis of Credit

The Crisis of Credit Visualized from Jonathan Jarvis on Vimeo.

Published without comment.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Death and Senator Charles Grassley

Death Stalks Us All, but some more closely than others. Whether we die from congenital heart failure, or head trauma from the shock wave of a roadside IED blast in Iraq, or even an overdose of some stupid recreational drug...eventually we all die.

Unfortunately, to me it feels like my family has experienced more than its fair share of death and loss recently, which is why it profoundly upsets me that the boorish, dishonorable Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) actually said this week that A.I.G. executives should "resign or go commit suicide."

There is rhetoric, and there is going too far. And while almost nothing in the political culture of this once-great nation shocks or bothers me, Grassley's statement angers and disgusts me.

A US Senator publicly encouraging fellow human beings to take their own lives? WTF?!

I don't care if Grassley claims that he was speaking "rhetoric" (must be some foreign language related to Mandarin, since the Chinese are going to own our asses once we default on those T-Bills)and that he "obviously" never intended to encourage anyone to kill themselves (even though that's exactly what he did).

The fact is, Grassley said the first thing that came to his (obviously under-developed) mind, which was that his fellow human beings should take their own lives because of their culpability for monetary losses at a public company.

That's horrible. Worse than horrible - it is f@cked-up, and this country is going to hell in a hand-basket. I never thought I'd say something like that...but it's in a moment of crisis that the true nature of a country's leadership is revealed, and this is what we're seeing: a supposedly pro-life Republican Senator slip-up on a local radio program and reveal the depths of his moral rottenness. And he didn't even have the guts to stick by his rhetorical statement.

I normally don't take politics very seriously, but Grassley's insanity and insensitivity wound me personally. Can you imagine if someone like me gave an interview on the record in which I said that Senator Grassley should commit suicide? I'd either be arrested or institutionalized, and whatever bullsh#t excuse I tried to come up with would be dismissed by the judge. And yet a US Senator can get away with a comment like that and not be censured for it?

Congratulations, America, this is the leadership you've chosen to steward this country through the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.

If people should resign or commit suicide because they spent money inappropriately, then the halls of Congress would be very quiet.

Contacting Me; Facebook

Some drama in the family right now. Those who need to know what's up do, and my other loyal readers - well, I appreciate your understanding.

I'm not very reachable right now, and less so via Facebook since they implemented that horrific series of changes to the UI recently. While I wasn't addicted to Facebook, I certainly used the site a lot, and my productivity was probably down because of it. Not to worry though, because I hate the new UI so much that FB will be lucky if I log-in 1x/day or even once every couple of days.

So if you're trying to reach me, revert to pre-FB methods, please.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Paddy's Day

Saint Patrick's Day (Irish: Lá ’le Pádraig or Lá Fhéile Pádraig), colloquially St. Paddy's Day or Paddy's Day, is an annual feast day which celebrates Saint Patrick (circa AD 385–461), one of the patron saints of Ireland, and is generally celebrated on March 17.

Saint Patrick's Day is celebrated worldwide by the those of Irish descent and increasingly by non-Irish people (usually in New Zealand, Australia, and North America). Celebrations are generally themed around all things Irish and, by association, the colour green. Both Christians and non-Christians celebrate the secular version of the holiday by wearing green, eating Irish food and/or green foods, imbibing Irish drink (such as Irish stout, Irish Whiskey or Irish Cream) and attending parades. (Or in this case, by trying to catch up still on homework and work work.)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Looking at a 50% drop in the value of your investment portfolio? Read my note and learn how to smile again!

1. Practice good hygiene. If you've got bits of food stuck in your teeth, people may indeed say you have an infectious smile, but they might be talking about actual infections. It should go without saying, but regularly brushing your teeth and making sure your breath is fresh are some prerequisites to a good smile. If your teeth are stained, visit the dentist for a polishing or use a whitening product, and take care of your lips to prevent chapping. When you smile people will inevitably look at your mouth, so following these considerations will help you make a better impression, and, more importantly, a healthy mouth will make you feel more confident about smiling.

2. Get comfortable with smiling. Many people are a little nervous about smiling. They don't think their smile looks good, or they think that smiling makes them look unprofessional or vulnerable. It's true that a smile does show a little vulnerability, but that's part of what makes it so powerful. No matter how professional, intelligent, or in control you think a serious face (or worse, a frown) makes you appear, people almost always respond better to a smile.

. Think happy thoughts. The easiest way to a great smile is to be happy. You can be happy all the time, but not everybody is; when you are not, you can think happy thoughts instead. Think about something or someone that you care about, or think about a joke that you just find hilarious. Remarkably, when you're feeling down, smiling can help cheer you up, even if you have to coax a smile out at first.

4. Smile with your eyes. When we think of smiling, we think of the mouth, but the eyes may actually be more essential to a warm, genuine smile. Smiling with your eyes is difficult to describe--in general your cheekbones lift slightly and your eyebrows dip a little--but when you see it, you know it: it's that look of your eyes "lighting up" or "twinkling." To get a feel for how to make your eyes smile, get in front of a mirror and practice smiling, but concentrate only on your eyes. You may find it helpful to cover the lower part of your face with a piece of paper. Play around with it a bit, and you'll find that you can make your mouth smile when your eyes aren't smiling, and you can also smile only with your eyes. When your eyes do smile, remember how it feels, which muscles are working and how. With practice, you'll be able to smile with your eyes at will.

5. Develop your smile. Don't particularly care for your smile? It's a common complaint, and while it's true that any smile is better than a frown, it's also true that some smiles look better than others. What's your best smile? One way to find out is to look through pictures of yourself. Many people who consider themselves un-photogenic are plagued by bad smiles in front of the camera, but just about everybody has at least one picture in which they just look great, with a perfectly natural, contagious smile. Find that picture and focus on what your face is doing. Then practice in front of a mirror until you get it just right. Keep practicing, and pay attention to how that great smile feels, so that you'll be able to replicate it without looking in a mirror. Soon it will become second nature, and you'll likely find that you'll look more photogenic in your next batch of pictures.

6. If you want to improve your smile, look at pictures of smiles that you believe are beautiful. Also, think good thoughts and remember that you are beautiful (inside and out). Your smile is bound to look better if you feel good about yourself!

Friends --> Smiles

* You don't need perfect teeth to have a perfect smile. Not everybody has perfect teeth, and that's okay. Beautiful teeth are nice, but a great smile doesn't depend on Abercrombie & Fitch teeth. That said, if you feel uncomfortable about your teeth you may be reluctant to smile, and that's no good. If that's the case, either learn to appreciate your individuality or look into cosmetic dentistry procedures.

The Volpe Self-Portrait = guaranteed smile stimulator

* Begin your smile with your eyes. If you find that every time you try to smile with your mouth, you look like you're faking it or, worse, like you're in pain, you may find it useful to look in a mirror and smile only with your eyes. Once your eyes are smiling, they tend to pull your whole face (including your mouth) into a natural, beautiful smile.

* You've probably heard of "contagious" or "infectious" smiles. There's a reason for this. When you smile, it does tend to make others around you smile. Even in the most stressful times, a roomful of smiles can brighten everybody's mood. Either that or make someone seriously angry at you, just because you are smiling when they are talking about someone’s funeral...

When in doubt, pinch or squeeze.

* Ever laugh hysterically about something you've just seen? Now, think of that instance again will help fuel a full blown smile.

Smiles require effort sometimes!

* A lot of men feel uncomfortable about smiling at strangers, especially at other males. If that is the case, then just offer a casual "Hi", or "Hey man!", or "What's goin' on?". It works just as well, and feels less awkward for a lot of guys.

Hola compadre, what's up?

* Try a light smile: don’t show as much teeth as you would when you would be laughing. It's the best smile for flirting - light and seductive.

* If you have a tooth that pokes out a bit at the side, as many people sometimes do, try to get your lip to go above it so your lip doesn't catch on the tooth when you smile. [my note: this is a stupid tip and I'm replacing it with a simpler one: surround yourself with friends you care about, and you'll smile in no-time!]

More Great Smiles

I could go on and on with great photos of great smiles, but that would be selfish. I'll leave you with this one (sorry ladies, I don't have the male equivalent, unless you want my beefcake shot), but I'll invite you to post your own great smile shots. With this frakkin' economy, let's give ourselves something to smile about...

Text for this post comes from the article, "How to Smile" with minor corrections for spelling and grammar.