Thursday, July 28, 2011


For the past six or seven years I have gone to Al Anon meetings on a weekly basis in search of, well, I’m not quite sure… some sort of understanding, or explanation of why the things around me are as they are and why I react to them as I do. My attendance has helped me in fits and starts. There are days with ah ha moments which I call ‘epiphanettes,’ and other days when I leave the meeting with quite a few more questions than answers.

Al Anon, should you not have heard of it, is a 12-step program for the families and friends of those among us who have addictions. It originally focused on alcoholism—indeed, the co-founder of Al Anon was Lois Wilson, wife of Alcoholics Anonymous co-founder Bill Wilson. The program has existed since the early 1950s and has helped hundreds of thousands afflicted by the addictions of others to cope.

Like AA, Al Anon is largely faith-based, though it does not espouse any religion, preferring members work on their spirituality. There is always talk of a Higher Power and this is what occasionally leaves me wondering.  Today, I had an epiphanette: If my Higher Power isn’t doing anything for me, what good is it? And if, as I have been told, faith is not leaping from A to B but simply leaping from A, what of my reticence to leap from the known to the murky. Hmmmm. Not the most spiritual of thoughts and this sort of questioning sprouts wings. 

What of active versus passive? Am I responsible for or responsible to? What separates a caretaker from a caregiver? When is it acceptable to be assertive, even aggressive? Where does helping become enabling, or charity lapse into foolishness?

It has taken me a very long time to accept a sense of powerlessness over most daily things but I find more and more that my powerlessness is nothing more than a lack of understanding of events, their causes and consequences. I have been powerless over the economy, which has ravaged my savings and threatens my future.  Dwelling on the causes, however, offers little or no relief. I get angry at the people who put us where we are, then come to realize that, pretty often, the people are us, and more specifically, me. That’s truly disturbing. Admitting powerlessness is a strange act of faith and yet it is not synonymous to being helpless, a notion that makes perfect sense in the buffeted lives of most. Shit happens, Forrest Gump once said, and in one way or another, we have to deal with it.

At the meeting today, I heard a man talk about the unfairness saddling his existence, the perfidy of his business partners, and the ingratitude of his children. All were linked, he said, as he recounted a long story of others’ transgressions against him. At no time did he mention the part he played in the tragedy of his life, and I was reminded of the old 12-step saying that no relief it to be found expiating the sins of others. The man was told that things would probably get better, but there was no belief in his eyes. He wanted something or someone to blame other than himself—after all, he had worked long and hard to have what he had built taken away from him through the treachery of others—and he got no solace from bromides.

It’s tempting to espouse this fellow’s philosophy of blame and helplessness. We’ve all gotten screwed at one time or another, and though the depth of the shafting may vary from person to person, the outrage that follows seems universal, with the emotions very much resembling those described by  Swiss-born psychiatrist Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. First, we deny and isolate. Then we give in to anger; we bargain; we get depressed, and finally, finally, we accept and give up the emotional struggle.

I’m not sure where I am in all this. Though I’ve stopped bargaining with HP, the anger and resentments are still there, as is this sense of letdown, this second-guessing of the past that always leads to one thought—I should’ve known better.

I’m working on the acceptance but it may still take a while. 

Tuesday, July 26, 2011


I once had a friend who was insane, back when the word meant something frightening and incurable. My friend’s name was Danny and our parents were close; we were two French families of average standing recently arrived in the US. Danny was my age, owner of a mind already complex enough that I thought him odd but fascinating. He seemed to know everything about America and would take me touristing in the back alleys of his parents’ neighborhood. In time Danny’s illness would be better defined as being bipolar; he would experience mood swings so violent they eventually overpowered him, elation giving way to suicidal depression, then back.

Danny was a kid who stuttered and had transformed himself physically by haunting the first gyms in the area. He worked out several hours a day and developed a massive muscularity; he shaved his head when the rest of us grew our hair shoulder-length, and at night he read the works of French philosophers. When he hovered around sanity, he would call me and we’d go for walks and talk of existentialism, Sartre and Beauvoir and Camus. He would fall in love violently with one girl or another, showering her with far too much attention, too much fervor for his age, and she would flee after a short, overly intense time, unable to match his enthusiasm and passion. Then he would be heartbroken, retreat to a rented basement room in a mostly Black section of town, and exorcize his demons with alcohol and cocaine. When he re-emerged, he would be thin, almost wasted, wearing a haunted and feral look.

After a while it became increasingly difficult to discern truth from fiction in Danny’s tales. He would vanish for a year and return fit and smiling, claiming to have trained with the Alpine Hunters, the elite mountain infantry of the French Army. Another time, it was six months spent with the Foreign Legion. He once appeared at my apartment door dressed like a character from a Raymond Chandler novel, claiming to be a detective investigating a kidnapping in the building. He had a gun, took it out and waved it around in my living room and told me I was his one and only friend. He switched between French and English, the former for emotions and the latter for facts, or a close cousin thereof. He returned three times that month, once with an equally troubled partner, a young blond American male who was also armed and dangerously quiet. That day, Danny insisted I fix some plain white rice which he ate with hands, then he gave me one of his treasures to hold, a small empty tin of Dr. Albert’s Cocaine Pills, manufactured almost a century before. 

Then he vanished from my life for two years. His father had passed away a decade earlier and I occasionally saw his mother at the Giant food store where we both shopped. The news was never good. Danny would come home, sign himself into a psych ward, take the prescribed meds and start life anew. Once he became a popular trainer at a local gym but was fired when a client complained about the harshness of his methods and techniques. He worked at a print shop, another time as a bike messenger, yet another in construction. After a month or three he would stop taking the meds; they depressed him, ruined his libido and left him feeling hung over for days at a time. The slide would be gentle at first, hardly noticeable. By the third week he would cease going to work. By the fifth week, he would be back on the streets. There were more made-up jobs, and as sanity slipped, so did the tenuous hold he had on reality. He once directed traffic during rush hour in Georgetown and from all reports did a good job of it. He was an undercover CIA agent, a reporter, a pimp. The very last time I saw him, the encounter was surreal, even baroque. I was walking home late from a nearby friend’s home when a near-naked apparition wearing a loin cloth and a mask made of tin foil leaped from a doorway. Danny. He told me he had been following me for days, there were evil people bent on doing me harm and he would protect me. Then he vanished into the city night.

I’ve since met a slue of bipolar people, with illnesses of varying severity. Medications today, I am told, have improved and produce fewer side effects and the illness is more treatable than it was a few decades ago. This didn’t help my friend.  Danny killed himself many many years ago in the underground garage of his mother’s apartment building. I have no idea why I am thinking of him today, save that I think his death occurred around this time, a couple of weeks after Bastille Day. His mother died a short time later. I think there is a sister who left home long ago and married a marine who took her to Okinawa, but I’m not sure.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Heat, Again

It’s the heat. The Washington area has been wrestling with 100˚F weather and there is no break due for a day or two. Yesterday, the power went out for a blessedly short time, but in the hour or so without air conditioning, the temperature in my house rose from 76˚F to 84˚F. Local rescue squads are gearing up for a bounty of heat-related calls, and there’s nary a child to be seen playing outdoors.

Weather like this makes me ponder the imponderable and question the unknown laws of the universe, I wonder, for example:

Why are we paying for cable? The original intent, if ancestral memory serves, was to have a wide variety of channels (mostly educational, as I recollect) that would be provided free of charge. In the past few years, however, we’ve added a collection of useless and vapid channels that offer nothing but paid programming, reruns and shows with eighteen minutes of TV and twelve minutes of ads. What happened here?

Why are we paying $4.00+ for a gallon of gas? We won the war in Iraq, and traditionally when you win a war you get to take home whatever neat stuff the losing country may have. That’s the rule and often the reason we go to war in the first place. In Iraq, the neat stuff is oil, millions and millions of barrels of the stuff. Yet somehow there is a national shortage that allows the oil companies to ram up the price all the while posting record profits.

Why aren’t people up in arms about this? That ones mystifies me. Oil is to America what potatoes were to the Irish and bread was to the French. In the latter two countries, revolts started when these commodity prices soared, making them unaffordable to the common folk. Here, we line up to pay for fuel that, with 10 percent ethanol in it, is less energy efficient and ruins our engines. Think I’m kidding? Gasohol delivers fewer miles-per-gallon than does regular gasoline, and creates vapor locks and harder starting. There’s also a pretty valid theory that ethanol is highly destructive to plastic and rubber engine parts.  You’re paying more, getting less, driving fewer miles with it, and your car won’t last as long. What a deal! Why aren’t you pissed off?

Why don’t radishes taste lice radishes and tomatoes taste like tomatoes? Cause they’re grown in water, that’s why. Hydroponic farming has robbed us of taste. Seedless watermelons have no oomph to them, and most of the veggies we consume have never been near soil.

Why is there epidemic obesity and diabetes? The short answer to that is processed food. Sugar, rice, the flour used to make bread and pasta, all are essentially nasty to your system. But we like white, since in the Western world it symbolizes health and purity. We overlook the fact that foods become white because fiber is taken out. That means it is digested quicker and turns into sugar faster. According to nutrition expert Kent C. Sasse, MD, “So many white foods contribute to huge amounts of simple carbohydrates finding their way into your body and bloodstream and becoming dangerous by being converted to and stored throughout the body as fat. These simple carbohydrates also set off a potent hormonal cascade, a stimulus of the hormones insulin and leptin, the main drivers of a rebound affect of yet more hunger, more calorie intact and more fat storage. The whole sequence leads to obesity and disease like early heart disease, impotence, strokes, blindness, kidney failure and cancer.” Neat, uh?

Do airplanes really fly? No. It’s an optical illusion. And the people who enter an airplane are not the same people who come out of it after the plane lands. The ones who come out are clones of the originals. The originals are sent to colonize faraway planets. This is a plot by aliens from a parallel universe.  Really.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


The dog days of summer in Northern Virginia have given me a new understanding of the French word, abrutissant. The nearest transition would be ‘stupefying,’ as in, ‘make stupid.’ Abrutissant renders you a brute. Your head sinks into your shoulders, and your shoulders hunch. Your steps become not a walk but a shuffle. You move more slowly and your thinking is muddled; insects drink the salt of your sweat and you are too tired to swat them away.

I remember as a kid my mother would use the word to describe Algeria in the summer. Algiers and Oran, the two cities where she was stationed with the Free French during World War II would shut down from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. for everyone but the soldiers—the French, Americans and Brit men and women who served with the Allied forces. No air conditioning, of course, and since electrical power was haphazard, no fans either. I remember her telling me that people did truly silly things in the sweltering temperature. While driving an Army truck, she said, she once passed out from the heat and ran into a palm tree. The soldier following her in a second truck ran into hers, and so did the third and fourth. The Algerians found it hilarious, all those Europeans incapable of dealing with the heat. They knew better than to attempt anything serious when the temperature hovered around 100˚F.

It’s always been believed that there’s a relationship between heat and violence. Montesquieu noted, “You will find in the Northern Climates people who have few vices, enough virtues, and much sincerity and frankness. As you move towards the countries of the South, you will believe you have moved away from morality itself: the liveliest passions will increase crime.” These observations are somewhat self-serving since Charles-Louis himself lived in a well-ventilated chateau in the south of France.

In modern days, according to Heat and Violence, a paper published by Craig Anderson of the Iowa State University Psychology Department, the more or less accepted heat hypothesis states that “hot temperatures increase aggressive motivation and (under some conditions) aggressive behavior.” The heat effect suggests higher rates of aggression by people who are hot relative to people who are cooler. And, of course, there is a direct relationship between heat and alcohol, and crime.    

So beware, and remember Shakespeare’s warning in Romeo and Juliet, “For now, these hot days, is the mad blood stirring.”

Sunday, July 17, 2011

LTD (Let Them Drug)

Roger Clemen’s legal difficulties just ended—at least temporarily—in a mistrial. He may or may not be tried again, but really, it’s a silly procedure that doesn’t mean much in either the long or short-term.

Did he use performance-enhancing drugs? Who cares? Did Roberto Contador, or Lance Armstrong? Who cares! What of the Olympians of various nations? In some cases and in some lands, winning is a life or death issue. Does it matter that their amazing skills and stamina might be slightly enhanced by this drug or that?  It’s frankly ridiculous to think athletes whose livelihood depend on the fine tuning of their bodies will not use almost anything that will give them the slightest edge. Why shouldn’t they?  It’s pretty damned competitive out there, and these are big boys—and girls. They, better than anyone else, know the effects certain drugs will have. They know that what is beneficial today will result in harm tomorrow. They’re in the business of winning, of sacrificing their bodies for a good pay-off and a very uncertain future. This is part of the deal, whether in concussion-prone contact sports, high-speed racing (and I include bicycling racing here, where riders reach 60+ miles per hour on downhills), mixed martial arts bouts that leave both winners and losers bloody,  or more passive team games such as baseball, revered for power and skills but not hitting.  Imagine such rules applied to business.

Would someone take a brilliant inventor to court for using some sort of drug that enhanced his creative capabilities? Would this apply to artists, musicians and writers? How about investors? Soldiers? Politicians? During World War II amphetamines were routinely given to fighting men and aviators so they could stay awake and alert, and you can be certain that seekers of national offices who must stay awake 20 hours each day for weeks on end are not doing it on black coffee alone. ow about investorsH

The fact is, there’s a huge amount of hypocrisy being manifested by the rule-makers. Drugs—licit or not—are a part of our daily lives and deaths. Their legality or lack thereof is not a matter of health but of misguided morality.  The idea that something can make you a better performer, or simply a better partaker of life, without additional effort on your part, is considered wrong. To make obligatory this strange thesis, we have tried to enforce the unenforceable—we have learned and now know the drug makers and the drug takers will always be one step ahead of the drug testers.

On an international level, our stubbornness has caused more than 50,000 deaths in Mexico alone as drug cartels battle to protect and enlarge their trades in illicit drugs.  We have created a narcocracy there, and the likelihood is that the exact same thing will happen in Afghanistan when our military presence ends. We have spent billions in eradication, interdiction, re-education, and agricultural programs in the war of drugs, a conflict we are losing. Our hospital emergency rooms are overrun by overdoses, our jails and prisons overcrowded largely because of harsh sentencing of those selling and using drugs, often in ridiculously small amounts. That’s the tip of the iceberg. The ramifications of our drug-related obsessions influence every government from the community to the nation as a whole. We are wasting a frightful amount of money today and every day.

But we could, instead, be applying the funds from this already lost battle to education, AIDS, research, addiction counseling. We could create and teach better drug avoidance programs in school starting at an early age,  we could build more rehabilitation centers, teach addicts about relapse prevention and make the selling of drugs by dealers as antiquated as the marketing of buggy whips. The police efforts could be redirected to inner city safety, or to the apprehension of real criminals, such as the bankers and investors who almost bankrupted the nation. We could tax drugs as we tax cigarettes, liquor and gasoline. And for those who are dead set on staying drugs, let them do so. They’ll die off in a generation.

We tried it years ago with Prohibition. That program, aside from creating a handful of millionaires, was a failure as well. We’ve ignored our own history. Now we’re repeating it.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Wasted Miracles--The Book

So I just published a book on Kindle. It’s titled Wasted Miracles, (I named this blog after it) and I originally wrote it about a decade ago, rewrote it two or three times, and decided to put it out there to see what might happen. It’s not the best thing I have written but it’s frankly better than a lot of crap you’ll pay ten bucks for in paperback. Obviously, you need a Kindle to access it, and if you have one, the book is available at:

It goes for $6.99, of which I will receive 70 percent in English-speaking countries and 35 percent elsewhere. I don’t know why that is but am sure there is very fine print somewhere explaining the anomaly. The book is 367 pages long, so you’re going to be paying just about two cents a page, which I personally believe is a pretty good deal.

Since I don’t want anyone to assume from the title that this work may have religious overtones (it doesn’t), here is what is called ‘a pitch,’ or a very brief intro to persuade you to buy the thing.

The Zulu wants his heroin back. His reputation is at stake. He and his bodyguard Comfort Okwiuke have their honor to uphold.

But where are the drugs? Did Herbie a mid-level seller, take them? Or is it Josie, his 19 year old alcoholic girlfriend? What of Mollie Catfish, a bar dancer? Or Jennifer Jamieson and Clare Drake, call girls who have smuggled a mysterious bundle aboard the cruise ship Isadora?

Wasted Miracles, set in the Nation’s Capital, brings together protagonist Colin Marsh, a one-time reporter; his lover and Josie’s mother, Catherine; and Mamadou Dioh, a Senegalese immigrant and former policeman.

The kidnapping of Josie launches Colin and Dioh into the realm of murder, revenge, arson and betrayal in the meanest neighborhoods of the Nation’s Capital. Colin and Dioh battle the Zulu and his henchmen in a war where quarter is neither given nor expected. Their survival depends on daring, strength, street smarts and the help of Aunt Mim, a doyenne of Black Washington who once helped engineer the jailing of the city’s Mayor.

Wasted Miracles is an intimate look at the darker side of Washington, DC, once known as the crime capital of North America, and a glimpse into the deadly business of addiction.

So there you are. Remember, this book was written and published in America, which should make you feel patriotic if you purchase it. It is set in Washington, a city many of you are familiar with, and all proceeds will go to benefit a local writer.

If you do buy it, I hope it provides you a bit of summer pleasure. There’s a modicum of sex and violence, not too much morality, and the good guys win in the end, kind of. Happy reading and many thanks!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Life As We Know It

The urologist handled me gingerly, a big man with large gentle hands and, he told me, a French major in college. I was lying on the examining table, pretty much fully exposed as he poked, prodded, and went, “Hmm” several times. I was nervous. My blood pressure had shot up. “White coat syndrome,” said the nurse, shaking her head. “You gotta relax.” I was taking deep breaths and trying to quiet myself down for the possible bad news that I knew was coming. Kidney stones. Renal failure. Cancer.  The doctor snapped off his blue latex gloves, and with a look of slight concern, asked, “So, what’s the best French restaurant in the area?”

This was not a question I expected. I have not been in a French restaurant since my dad died 15 years ago. We used to go to the Pied de Cochon in Georgetown together to have riettes and paté de campagne. Now it’s a Five Guy hamburger restaurant, and a little bit of my personal history has been lost.

I pulled my pants up, cinched my belt, thought fast and suggested The Inn at Little Washington, which Travel & Leisure magazine rates as the number one restaurant in the world for food. The doctor made the universal thumb-rubbing-forefinger gesture implying the restaurant’s menu might be beyond affording even for a urologist, so we settled on the Auberge Chez Francois, which too has won several awards but does not charge you the price of a well-equipped new American-made sedan for a meal.

So I’m OK. For the nonce, things are working fairly well for a guy well into middle-age, and this is good. There are more tests scheduled for the future, something called a cystoscopy, during which I will be mostly conscious though shot full of Novocain. The friendly gourmet urologist does not expect to find anything nefarious—the test is to dot the i’s and cross the t’s.

Still, matters like this are disturbing. I’ve been healthy all my life and in the last few years, a bunch of small ills have been nipping at my heels, stuff that taken individually is meaningless but viewed collectively borders on the irksome. My dentist, commenting on the new crown I needed, said, “Teeth are a design flaw. They were never made to last as long as we do…” For all I know, this is true of kidneys, livers, lungs and, judging from some thoughts that have crossed my mind lately, brains.

The life expectancy of a white male US-born in 1930 was 58 years. The rate had climbed slowly—and dipped once or twice—every since. A white male born today can expect to live into his late 70s. But life expectancy for my age bracket in France is 77. In the US, it’s 75. Ha!

Thursday, July 7, 2011


This week I managed to sustain two tiny injuries—a knife cut and paper a paper cut—that hurt like hell for a few minutes, then pretty much vanished. Both bled far too much for such inconsequential damage.  I bandaged them with skull and crossbones Band Aids on top of Neosporin (the yellow ducky ones seemed inappropriate and I am well aware that Theodore Roosevelt supposedly died of an infection in his leg) and started thinking about the nature of pain.

There hasn’t been a lot of physical pain in my life. The most I have felt all at once was following an accident while riding a motorcycle at night coming back from Canada. I hit an eight-point stag in Great Bear National Park, flew over the bike, landed on my back, slid,  then the bike caught up with me and slithered over and past my chest. I was conscious the entire time and the pain, great floods of it, washed over me. It started at my ankles, rose to knees, flourished in my hips, traveled up through my spine, snapped at my neck and wound up concussing me. I passed out.

In my late 20s, I fell off a roof, landed on a Coke machine and broke a few ribs. In the non-accident category, the single worst moment was a steroid shot in the joint of my shoulder to alleviate a bout of bursitis. That really, really stung. I’ve also been bed-ridden a time or two by back spasms.

Pain is how our brain tells our body to stop doing something harmful. The body does not remember pain, and that makes perfect sense. If it did, no woman would have a second child, no one would go to war or run downhill or dive off the high board. If we remembered every scrape, cut, twist, sprain, strain and wrench, we would stay at home, ensconced in pillows and thick blankets, unwilling to brave the outside world on the chance we might get hurt. We would not drive, remembering the whiplash injury when the Korean woman rear-ended our car. We would not play football, or ride horses, or ski, or face an 80-mile-per-hour serve from a tennis adversary bent on causing us harm. Probably we would not climb stairs (that fall was nasty) or cook (that burn was nasty) or plant tomatoes (that wasp sting was nasty.)  

The mechanics of basic physical pain are fairly primitive, and it has been used to coerce, persuade, threaten, atone. It is a tool of war, politics and religion and we are familiar with its effects from the earliest childhood. Most of us fear it while some seek it as a gateway to a separate reality. Pain heralds both our arrival and departure; it is at the beginning and at the end. 

CS Lewis once wrote: Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains; it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.

Personally, I like the more succinct two words once uttered by Lucy in Peanuts: Pain hurts.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Me and My Beard

I’ve grown a beard. I haven’t had one since I was in my thirties, and back then there was very little white or grey or other flag of aging.  This one has come in full salt and pepper with salt in the lead and to me it looks OK.

Facial hair is one of the few ways a man can alter his appearance.  Most of us do not dye whatever is atop our heads, and make-up for men is still in the realm of the early morning weatherman so most males, at one time or another, experiment. Responses—or lack thereof—have been interesting.

First, few people really notice, so the conceit that we really occupy a lot of space in others’ awareness gets destroyed quickly. A friend’s spouse, known for a perpetual scowl that has not benefited her face, snarled, “Well, it doesn’t make you look any younger!” A male friend asked whether I liked looking homeless, and a woman I’ve known for years just went, “Eeehhh.”

On the positive side, someone said I now looked like George Moustaki,  one of my guitar idols (he was guitarist for Edith Piaf and then went on to establish a career of his own in Europe with such hits as Le Métèque) and somewhat Hemingway-ish. The Ethiopian lady who has been cutting my hair for years said, “It’s very, very…” And then she shrugged and volunteered to trim it.

The other night my beard and I went for dinner at a local Thai restaurant. I do this four or five time a year when I am terminally bored with what’s in my fridge and I need to get out of the house. I took a book along, A Partisan’s Daughter by Louis de Bernière. It’s an interesting work; the author speaks in the first person with his two principal characters, a man in his 40s and a 20-something Yugoslav girl who has befriended him. De Bernière is the author of Corelli’s Mandolin, one of the biggest selling novels in Great Britain.

I read a few pages of Daughter and realized that at the table next to mine, a quiet but furious argument was developing. I closed the book. This was way more interesting than reading.

The husband and wife were both in their sixties, both armed with red iPhones, both texting madly. Between texts, they hissed at each other, and between hisses, they ate. I could overhear only a word here and there; the couple was being discreet, a habit, I suppose developed over the years of their warfare.  I wondered what the purpose of taking one’s fights to a public space might be, and decided it prevented open yelling and the throwing of things.

I was the only single person in the restaurant—a not unusual occurrence—and felt almost invisible. When the place began to get crowded, my waiter dropped off the check, cleared the table, wiped it, and generally let it be known that others—with more expensive orders and possibly mixed drink—were eager to take my place. The warring couple left at the same time as I did, and out in the parking lot any pretense of civility vanished. He got into their SUV, slammed his door shut and had the vehicle moving before his spouse was fully in.  He neatly cut off another car as he pulled out. There was honking, hand gestures, a raised finger. The perfect ending to a very good night.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

DSK Revisited

It’s a lot of fun watching a big guy go down, hence our enjoyment of Dominique Strauss-Kahn’s predicament. Here was a wealthy, powerful man in whose hands rested the destiny of nations, and he was accused of sexually molesting an unfortunate black immigrant woman, a maid in a luxury hotel. There was something positively delicious about such a heavy hitter imprisoned at Ryker Island with the prostitutes, pimps, murderers and other felons. What was he thinking?  The debate raged on the front page for days on end, and the weekly news magazines had a blood feast.

Now it appears the story is perhaps a bit more complex. The maid is not the vestal virgin we would have liked her to be. She’s ruining the story by being merely human, that is to say she lied, possibly thought of enriching herself, may have faked her immigration application, and had relations with a bad guy, a drug dealer serving time.

The basic charges still hold: DSK, the lout, apparently came out of his hotel suite’s bathroom stark naked and demanded some sort of sex, then brutalized the maid when she refused to perform. She complained, cops were called, DSK was nabbed just before he was to take off for his native France. He has, the media tells us, a history of such behavior, and when the story broke several women were there to attest that they, too, had been manhandled by the former chief of the International Monetary Fund. His wife Anne Sinclair, a former broadcast star, seemed to consider these accusations peccadilloes and was heard to say that “for a political man, it is important to seduce.”  She forgot, no doubt, that her husband’s latest transgression was aggressive and not seductive.

The ramifications of the case were even bigger in France where DSK had been touted as the Socialist Party’s great white hope, a possible presidential candidate with a good chance of trouncing the increasingly unpopular Nicolas Sarkozy. DSK’s arrest threw the party into turmoil from which it has not yet emerged.

Sex cases are particularly tricky, according to law enforcement officials. The victims are clearly casualty, the transgressors reviled, and this long before any case goes to trial.  There is something visceral there, and opinions are formed with great and unfair immediacy. In the case of DSK, the situation was almost feudal: a great, landed noble versus a hapless immigrant. No one thought to question the victim—we are a nation that roots for the poor and the disenfranchised and what more did we need to know: she was black, foreign, in a low-end job, not just an immigrant but a refugee from a country we could not point to on a map.  DSK was wealthy, and like Balzac, most of us believe that behind every great fortune lies a great crime. If he wasn’t guilty of assaulting the maid, he was nevertheless guilty of something. That’s all we needed too know.

Personally, I still think DSK is a creep. I’ve met others like him—Washington crawls with men such as him. I suspect he’ll skate on this one; there will be deals, exchanges of money, false apologies and the necessary dance of regrets. He will return to Europe. The maid may fare far worse and be deported. The story has already shifted from A1 to A14. Soon it will be a brief item in the Around the World column.

Eh. C’est la vie.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Le Tour

This from my friend Kim Peter Kovac: “Individual sport. Team sport. Drugs. Politics of the sport. Politics of teams (who will emerge as the big-dog on a team so that all the others have to be his ‘domestiques’ and help him). Scandals. Beautiful scenery. Men in shorts so tight you can see what religion they are. Racing kits covered with sponsorship logos, including the bicycle-seat manufacturer ‘Fisik’ whose logos are on riders’ butts. One hundred years of history. Finishing with 30 kilometers of at 10% uphill climb at the end of 200 kilometers in the hot sun (and do we wonder that they drug themselves?). Vacant attractive young women in goofy costumes giving the winners of each day’s stage their prizes (yellow jersey for the overall leader, white for the leading ‘young rider’, green for the leading sprinter, polka dot for the leading climber – and the ladies wear dresses with big polka dots for those prizes). What could be better?”
What else could it be but the annual running of the Tour de France?
First, some statistics on what is the premier bicycle race in the universe.
In 2010, the Tour was broadcast and/or covered on 121 TV channels, 72 radios, 400 newspapers and press agencies, 54 websites, with 2,050 journalists representing 35 nationalities. Broadcasts today are aired in 188 countries of which 60 transmit live coverage, and the official website hosted 10.5 million unique visitors.
The race is long and intolerably arduous, 3,430 kilometers of downhills, uphills, straightaways and treacherous curves through both the ugliest and most beautiful scenery France has to offer. More than 200 riders compete in several teams, with each team having a dedicated champion who will rely on ‘domestiques’ to make the ride a little less arduous by clearing a path or allowing the main rider to draft. The course is not roped off so fans are on the road as the riders cannonball by at an average 40 miles per hour. That’s average… Downhills can hit 60+ mph, uphills slow to a deadly crawl. There are crashes, such as the one this very morning when a rider hit a fan, went down, and caused such a domino of  collisions and spills that this leg of the race was completely re-written in the last few minutes.
There is scandal, charges and countercharges of doping and cheating. Lance Armstrong, who has retired, is presently under a shadow, his seven victories at the Tour now suspect.  The reigning champ, Spain’s Alberto Contador, has won the tour as well but his achievements are tainted too. In fact, when the Tour is over, Contador will have to await the decision of the Court of Arbitration for Sports. He may well be stripped of titles if the court decides his performances were drug-enhanced.
According to Time magazine, the first Tour, held in 1903, was a bid by magazine editor Henri Desgranges to boost the circulation of his magazine.  There were 60 riders, and the race was an unmitigated success. It was dangerous as well: racers rode single-speed bicycles through the night on dirt roads. They were likely to be attacked by fans of other teams, and a common ploy was to leave boards studded with nails along the race route to flatten the other guys’ tires. By the 1920s, the race had become seriously competitive, and nicotine and alcohol were used as performance enhancers. In 1967, a British rider died mid-race after taking amphetamines, and drug testing began.
But as all followers of sports know, users are always one step ahead of testers. Even though stage winners are tested daily, the drugging continues and a movement has begun among some fans to embrace a laissez-faire attitude towards blood boosters and other performance enhancing drugs.  
Most fans agree that even the worst disgrace of one or several riders cannot strip the Tour of its aura, and that is because the Tour is perhaps the single most macho and demanding sport now being practiced. Three weeks of almost constant riding over all terrains and in all weathers. Seen in its true light, the tour was and remains the first and foremost display of extreme sports. It is demanding, unforgiving, passionate and more entertaining than almost any other spectacle and it will endure through and even thrive in its own controversy.