26 February 2006

Spring race season has started...

The Spring bike racing season has started, and no I'm not talking about the Tour of California (although from what I've seen it appears to have been a good race and a success). I'm talking about Belgium, in the Spring. That's what I'm talking about. What most would refer to as "proper bike racing" in the ultimate sense of the words. This weekend we had the openers, Oomloop Het Volk and of course Kurne-Brussels-Kurne, and honestly I wasn't let down by these 2 opening Spring season races. Of course, residing in the US, I only get to read about the races via Cyclingnews.com, but I'll take it. They're written reports are not too bad, and they get most of the detail, and I can go back and see what happened during the race if I want to. Normally, I just look in around near the end, see who is off the front, and see who won.

Het Volk, we had a sort of surprise winner, Mr. Phillippe Gilbert from Francais des Jeux on Saturday. Gilbert had to bridge across to the front group, 2 times, the second time taking him almost 6KM to do it, but he made the split of the elite of the front of the group. The man showing lots of fight started attacking again about 10KM from the finish, and tried, and tried again, until finally, it stuck for him, and he rode off on his own. Eventually he soloed across the line with about 40 seconds in his pocket to take the win easily (well, easy at the end of it), and pocketed his best win of his young career so far. He is Walloonian though, so only half of Belgium will be celebrating this win, the French half that is. An old favorite of mine, Leon van Bon took the third place finish, with the podium being rounded out by Bert de Waele taking second. Overall, a damn fine race to start off the season.

Race number 2 this weekend is KBK, won last year by none other than George "I need a sandwich" Hincapie. He wasn't there to defend his win of last year, although from the looks of the strength of the Disco team, he would have had a very good chance to take it had he been there, but I think George is going to concentrate on le Tour this year, mark my words. He might race a few select Spring races such as Paris Roubaix (especially after coming so close last year), but he's going to ride the Tour to win, and I actually think that he can win it. I do believe a lot of people would be surprised, but then again, when Armstrong decided he could win the Tour, nobody thought he could do it either, and they considered 1999 a fluke, and 2000 a fluke when he won again, but then he kept on winning. I think July is going to be interesting this year. Hincapie's TT ability has come a long way, and he seems to have gotten faster in the time trials, and he has been getting better at climbing year after year, and in the past, he's had to work his ass off for Lance during the flat stages, and on the hillier stages. Yet, he was still hanging tough on some of the harder mountain stages of the Tour, especially last year when he took the win on top of Plat de Tet (spelling??). I think it's going to be interesting to see what shakes loose. Look for Hincapie to be co-leader with Popovych for Dicso's Tour hopes this year in July. Anyway, KBK. Ah, another great early season race today. Essentially with about 25-30KM to go in the race today, the attacks started, and then the counters, and then the speed got jacked up really high. At the end of the kicking of each other in the teeth, we had 11 guys in the front of the peloton by about 15 seconds, and that's all that elite group needed, as the rest of the race behind them got blown apart, and disorganized at that point in time. The make up of the final group was: Tom Boonen, Kevin Van Impe, Nick Nuyens (Quick.Step), Folkert de Haan (Ubbink), Jurgen van den Broeck (Discovery), Johan Coenen, Matthe Pronk (Unibet), Nico Mattan, Gert Steegmans (Davitamon), Niko Eeckhout (Jacques) and they were actually all working it together fairly efficiently. Coming into the finishing circuits, it looked like Boonen might get the win as he had a couple of teammates with him towards the end of the race, but.. There is always a but. Nuyens attacked the rest of the group, and got a small gap, and then he just put his head down, and went as hard as he could and maintained the gap to the finish. Nuyens took the win in a great solo effort to get across the line first. Leif Hoste from Disco took second, which is a great result, with Tom Boonen taking it across the line for 3rd.

In another race weekend debut, it was also the first weekend of the annual Greenville Spring Training series, which for the past 4 or 5 years has been the de facto Souteastern season opener. For the first time in about 5 years, I wasn't there. A combination of no training, and well, no training and or riding. Actually, as I write this entry, I should be out, training, but I digress. In getting the low down about the race weekend, it appears that as much as things change, they still stay the same. The Hincapie juggernaut keeps on rolling in the pro 1-2 ranks of the Southeast, as they made up almost half of the break yesterday. 10 man break, 4 Hincapie riders. Of course, only one of the Hincapie riders was doing any work at all, along with the other 4 or 5 guys that were in the break, but within said break, namely, Scottie Weiss and Geri Mewitt were sitting on doing, well, nothing, until it was towards the end of the race, at which time, they started taking turns attacking the break to try and bust it up. Of course, they being of the fresh legged sort of people, and the rest of the folks being of the not so fresh legged folks, they were successful in breaking up the break, and taking the top spots on the day. As I said, as things change, they remain the same. The Hincapie team is all by themselves in making racing in the Southeastern region of the US, not fun. By not fun, they race negatively, and frankly, for a small region, they have way too many riders on the team. Seriously, last year, at some of the races I lined up at, they had 15 or 16 riders starting a race. 16!! I know there isn't any limit as to how many folks you can kit out in your gear, and throw them on the start line, but it's getting ridiculous folks. Plain old silly and ridiculous. Of course, they take wins in races all the time, so that's good for them, and good for their team, but I don't think it's good for the sport in the Southeast. It makes people NOT want to go to races, because we essentially already know more or less what the outcome is going to be, and while we can try and do something about it, in a case like mine where you're outnumbered 16 to 1, there ain't much that you can do. As for the rest of the teams in the region, nobody else approaches the size of the Hincapie team, so even the larger teams tend to not be able to do anything about their dominance. When you've got 16 people lining up for a race, you can send guys on the attack from the opening gun to the last lap, and still have reserve riders waiting in the back. Like I said though, unfortunately, there isn't really anything we can do about it in the Southeast, except try and beat them.

25 February 2006

And so it begins...


The attacks on a woman's right to choose what she does with her own body have started already shortly after Alito took the bench on the Supreme Court. I fear that the so-called "pro-life" movement is now rounding up their forces to try and once again take down Roe v. Wade, and thereby eliminating a woman's right to choose and make her own decisions about healthcare. It actually infuriates me. South Dakota, in their ever present wisdom has voted through a ban on abortion in their State. Lawmakers ran it through, and the governor said that he is inclined to sign it when it plops down on his desk. What are these people thinking? Home of the free indeed. In the law that these dumb asses have written, they allow for NO abortions whatsoever, none. Not even if a woman is raped. Not even if a woman is a victim of domestic abuse. Not even if a woman is a victim of incest. Nothing, they allow nothing. And I know that right now, George W. Bush is sitting behind his desk (well, he's actually probably not in the office it being a Saturday and all) with his hands behind his head, and he's smiling. There is no way that this can get passed through, and there is no way that this isn't going to be litigated against, and there is no way that this should happen. It kind of makes me sick. Also, I would like to point out that SD is a State that indeed does carry the death penalty, and does currently have 4 people serving death sentences in their jails. As the Governor of the State of SD has pointed out, he is pro-life, and believes that they should do everything they can to save lives, then I ask; why does South Dakota still have a death penalty if they're so pro-life? As a society, we seem to be moving backwards instead of forward. I say this because look at the big push, from the Right of course, to have a "moral" and a "just" society. Look at the freedoms that they want to roll back. Look at how they attack science as a course of nature. Look at how they attack education and being educated as being "bad", even though most of them are holders of prestigious degrees from Ivy League schools in the US.

Here are some examples of what I'm talking about. The on-going and ever evolving (pun intended) war against evolution being taught in science classes around the country to kids in public schools. Parents and some school officials come out and say that indeed, evolution is just a "theory" (about as much of a theory as Pythagorean's theory, which we all know works) and that there are indeed "alternative" theories and juxtapositions about how we came to be on this Earth. When they say that, it means ID or intelligent design, which as most of us know, is a thinly veiled screen for creationism, or the story of Genesis from the Bible. They want to teach religion as science. The funny thing about ID, is that there is no scientific basis behind it, none. There are no facts about it, just the fact that the people who promote it say that nature is too complex for a higher being to not have a hand in creating it, and that evolution doesn't explain it at all. Well, maybe evolution doesn't explain everything because let's face it, the world is pretty big, and there are a lot of things in it, and well, you can't have possibly studied everything, and determined where everything came from. Essentially, these folks are saying, yeah, we believe these Bible stories and take them as fact, and we don't want our kids taught evolution, because that is contrary to our religious beliefs. Now we're looking at devolving our school systems to the point where we're teaching 1930's education to the kids of the nation again. And then we look around and wonder why we don't have much of a high tech industry anymore, and why our kids are lagging behind other nations in engineering and sciences, it's because of bullshit like this that goes on, oh, and things like No Child Left Behind, which bases how much money your school gets on how well the students do on standardized testing. So now we have instead of teachers being allowed to actually teach, and maybe educate students, we leave them to teach them how to take a test so that the school can survive. Teaching to tests does nothing to actually make students think, and to give them critical thinking skills that you need in life. It's more like, this is what you need to do, now do it. They're not allowed to question things. To start discussions. To think for themselves.

Also, the right will tell you about how their opponents are "East coast elitist liberals" while they are salt of the Earth type of people, and that they have degrees from these fancy schools, and that being too educated is bad. Here is my theory behind that. They appeal to the lowest common denominator because they can, and the people with less education, and with less critical thinking skills will support whatever rhetoric that they throw out there, which is why I think now we're turning out a nation of students who don't have such skills. Students who don't question things, and just accept what they're being told. And hence why the right doesn't support people getting higher educations, they want to keep them down and supplicant to their rhetoric and or power, and or what they tell them. And scarily enough, it's working, or it seems to be. When did being smart become the boogeyman anyway? When did becoming educated become a no-no? It's pure lunacy! And then like I said above, the people telling folks this hold degrees from Harvard, from Yale, from other prestigious Ivy League schools around the country, and or other prestigious institutions of higher learning, yet they don't want you to follow the same path, because hey, you might come up with an opinion that's different than their's, and that would just be bad.

Anyway, it's time to throw on the spandex, and head out to ride the bike, and to try and start getting into some sort fitness before the year 2006 is over.

23 February 2006

Grill work...

So when I was in 6th grade and young and stupid (as opposed to now being old and stupid) I was rollerskating at the Mexico Rec Center and decided that jumping off of the stage at the end of the roller rink was a good idea. And it was at first, and the second time, and the third time, and the fourth time, but the fifth time was the charm, as in, when I fell and busted my 2 front teeth. I didn't knock them completely out mind you, but snapped the 2 front teeth out in an almost perfect V shape. Mom was not happy, and my father who happened to be working at the roller skating rink at the time took me home shaking his head the entire way. Up until this point, I had had some extensive dental work with orthodontics and other incidents in the past, so the Mom was none too happy of course. Down we went to Dr. Kivus' office in Lewiston Maine (also home of Tony Atlas) for those wrasslin' fans amongst you). Dr. Kivus had this young minx working there named Dr. Schneider. Tall, German, blonde, and in my 6th grade memory, very hot. She fixed me up, and sent me home after bonding some new extensions to the old grill. I think Dr. Kivus and Dr. Schneider got married somewhere along the way.

Anyway, fast forward to junior year of college. I was at St. Michael's college hanging out with my friend Kathy MacDougall and her roommates, and it was St. Patrick's Day weekend, which of course at an Irish Catholic school meant drinking, and lots of it. I was startled awake that morning with a beer by Brian Ritchie I believe his name was (another friend of Kathy's). And so the drinking ensued, all day long, and well into the night. Well, I was at this bar on campus somewhere around 2 in the morning, and I was walking around with a beer bottle stuck to my mouth drinking like a fish, and someone slammed into me, knocking said bottle into my formerly repaired teeth, and knocking the 2 composite pieces out, and down my throat with the slug of beer I was taking in at the moment. I awoke the following morning to people laughing at me because they thought I had originally done that damage that night, they didn't know about the roller skating incident, so I had to tell the above story to them to get them to stop heckling me. Another trip to Lewiston, this time from Orono Maine (near Bangor where Stephen King lives), and another trip to Dr. Schneider (yeah, she was still working there at that time), and another repair. I'm happy to report that the Dr. Schneider of my junior year of college was still as hot as I remembered the Dr. Schneider of 6th grade, so at least the old memory hadn't failed along the way.

Fast forward one more time to my living room. Last night. 22-Feb-06. Me, a box of sea salted pita chips, and some roasted red pepper hummus, a good snack you might say. I was crunching away, and then heard an extremely loud crunch, and felt that yes indeed, one of my fake teeth was missing from the front of my grill. It had fallen out, and I had tried to chew it, twice. I spit out the offending hummus and chips, and did a little search for my missing tooth piece, and indeed, there it was, in pieces laying on the napkin in front of me, and a gap now existed where there wasn't one before. Damn. Not again. When is my luck going to change for the better? A few things ran through my head, most of which was, "How much is getting this fixed going to cost me?" (more on that later). A trip over to the SO's house, and of course her friends were there last evening doing some knitting and talking, and hanging out, which is all good, except they got to see the snaggle toothed me, which of course is slightly embarrassing, but still kind of funny (I am writing this after all aren't I?). And then to work this morning, where I actually only showed a couple of people my newest injury. Luckily though, the SO sent me the name of her dentist, and I gave her a call, and she fit me into her schedule, on her lunch hour no less. Score!

I got the dentist's office right around the time of my appointment, which was noon, and the SO was waiting for me there having already filled out most of my paperwork, but getting my birthday wrong, but only by one day. That was very nice of her to be there, ready and willing to hang out with me should I get shot up with some good drugs for the procedure, and not be able to drive myself homeward afterwards. Just one of the many reasons why I love that woman. Anyway, they ushered me into the room, sat me down, and took a look at what lay ahead of them. The Doc's hygienist took some x-rays of the mouth, and they got to work. From the time that I sat down, to the time that I was all done and finished, it was only about 30 minutes, and like I said before, she fit me in on her lunch hour no doubt, and she did some outstanding work. I of course immediately made a follow up appointment to have a full exam and cleaning after that, and I would recommend her to anyone and everyone in the greater Durham, Chapel Hill, or even Raleigh area. She appears to be a rather good dentist, and seems to really care about her patients, and takes the time to talk things over with you, and work out solutions, and see what's best. She is good, we'll just leave it at that. Her name is Doctor Alicia Ramos (click on her name for her website). And if you don't have a dentist, or hell, even if you do, go there and see her. You won't be disappointed methinks. Outstanding customer service, and she did a hell of a job restoring the chicklet that was dislodged from my grill by the most offensive pita chips. Since all 3 or 4 of my friends read this blog, I figured I would refer you guys over to her, obviously the SO already goes there, as she referred me to them, but for others, go there.

But of course, to top off the bad and subsequent good luck that I had today, I got a call from one of my managers at the good old workplace, and it appears that they need me to roll in there around 2AM this morning. Now, it's off to bed with me. I hope they appreciate this bullshinto.

11 February 2006

Yes, finally, the Winter Games...

I am so freakin glad that the Winter Olympics are here again. Yeah, sure, there are a lot of sports in there that people don't understand nor have ever seen before (for example, curling), but once every 4 years is not a bad time frame to trot this stuff back out and throw it into people's faces. Of course, we'll have the damned figure skating extravaganza again this year, as for some reason, people still seem to love this crap. A nice "subjective" sport isn't it? Hey, the German judge only wanted to give you a 5, but the US judge gave you a 6, whatever. Then the scandal that they had back in '02 in SLC where they ended up awarding 2 gold medals instead of one. Ridiculous. I can respect their athleticism indeed, because skating, jumping, and spinning around is hard as hell, but the judging portion of it, it really needs to go. Don't know how else they could determine a winner though. That being said, they have made some changes in the judging, and in most cases, the right person, or pair does win the event, so yeah, I just can't stand the hours and hours of coverage it receives. I guarantee you that at some point in time, there will be a medal event going on, and they'll be showing the 14th figure skating practice session for the individuals in primetime, and then they'll break off and do a human interest story about so and so who had to endure such a hardship to get to where he/she is now. Can't we just show the games and the competitions without all of this fluff? But then again, the American viewing public loves fluff, so I am in the minority when it comes to this methinks. I wish that I wasn't. You know how it goes. This person's mother is sick. This guy's dog is blind. So and so's girlfriend's luggage got lost on the way to Italy. A good hardship story, that's what Americans like. They like to see someone pull themselves up by their old bootstraps, or at least, they like to think that they've done this.

I got home this morning just in time though to see the last half of the 20km biathlon event, which for those of you not in the know of things, no, this isn't a run bike run kind of thing. It's a cross country ski, shoot, ski kind of thing. Essentially you've got a group of the most fit athletes in the world skiing around a course, and stopping at certain intervals to shoot at little small targets with a small caliber handbuilt rifle (.22 I believe that it is), and then they ski off again. Sure it doesn't sound hard, but toss your heart rate up over 170 bpm, then stop and try and hold still. This is what these guys have to do to shoot their rifles into the targets down range. Of course, you miss a target, you get time added onto your final time. Out of the entire field of competitors today, only one guy shot clean, a Frenchman even. The Norweigians, who are typically one of the stronger nations when it comes to nordic skiing and shooting at the same time had to settle for silver and bronze medals at the 20k distance. A German one, first German to take the gold in a long time in an Olympic biathlon event. An American named Hakkinen placed 10th, which you might say, so what he placed 10th, but it is the best finish by an American in a biathlon event ever. So that's saying something right there. It's not a medal, but it's taken someone from the US 20 Olympic games to get in the top 10, he should be pretty proud, and actually, if it weren't for his shooting errors, he could have easily taken a medal in the event. Got to shoot better son. Maybe he should learn from the Frenchman who shot clean. The commentators were saying that the American guy, this Hakkinen has a good chance to take a medal in the other biathlon events that are more geared towards the skiing portion of the event, instead of the shooting. I'll be keeping an eye on that stuff to see what happens. Could be interesting to see if he can do it. It's good stuff, if you can catch it, check it out.

Of course, my other favorite winter sport to watch is ski racing, downhill, slalom, GS, Super G, doesn't matter which discipline, I'll take them all, and for a change this year, the Americans look strong out there. We have Bode and Dahron, and we have a ton of women who are skiing well this year, so the Americans indeed do have a very good chance at taking home some more hardware at this Olympics. Again, we'll see if Bode can keep his mouth shut long enough to win something, and you never know when the Herminator is going to come out and whip some ass again. It's funny to me that Americans for the most part don't know anything at all about the Winter Games. They avoid it like the plague. I think I know why. There are no "balls" involved in the Winter Olympics. This is true. No baseball. No football. No basketball. All of the sports take place on snow and or ice, and for the most part are not so-called within the big 3 mentioned before. Sure there is hockey, but hey, how many people in the US watch the NHL? There ain't many. I think it's also hard for people to follow along with these sports, because most of them are about time, and most of the timed events are not about head to head competition. Yes, there are teams, but the teams are more or less competing as individuals, and we as Americans seem to have a hard time with that concept. Sure there are sports that keep score, but they are pretty limited. Hockey, figure skating, and curling, I think that's about it. There is stuff out there that we only get to see once every 4 years, and then we love it, for about 3 weeks. Skeleton, luge, bobsledding, ski jumping, and a few others that we'll fall in love with, and then quickly forget after the Winter Olympics are over, which is why I believe, we don't do as well in the Winter Games as we do in the summer. We just don't have the support over the Winter Olympics. The Americans still do pretty damn good, but compared to other powerhouse winter sports countries like Norway, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and a few others, we get trounced. We're catching up, just not fast enough. Anyway, watch the Winter Olympics, they're fun and different (for most).

I went to this restaurant last night that was supposed to be outstanding. Ju Ju Be I think was its name. In full disclosure, I will mention that the SO thought that her food was exceptionally good. Anyway, we walked in and the first thing that hit me was that the design of the place was all off. They had no room near the door in which to stand and wait for your "table" (I'll get to that in a minute), and I do mean nowhere to stand. A small aisle that the hostesses and the waiters also used to bring food out and to get drinks from the bar, and things like that. It was crowded near the door, and you constantly had to move around to avoid being run over either by a the waitstaff, the hostesses, or someone just coming in the door. I mean, if you have a busy place, at least have space for folks to stand around, or sit even, to wait for their table. That was the other thing, there was nowhere to sit either, let alone somewhere to stand. That was just silly. We did get seated in a timely manner though, which was at a bar like countertop if you will. Now the counter we were sitting at was high enough, and the chairs tall enough so that if you wanted to put your feet on the ground while you were sitting in the chair, you couldn't do it. Your feet dangled in the air. The chairs that they sat you in were so poorly designed for use in this space (think stools with a backing on them) that the peg you could place your feet on was so high that it got uncomfortable fast just sitting in the scrunched up position. If you removed your feet from the peg, they just floated in the air. And before someone makes a crack about how short I am, you'd have to be exceptionally tall to be comfortable with your feet placed squarely on the floor at this place. The side of the restaurant we were sitting on was the side the open kitchen was on, and hence, it was loud. Really loud. So loud in fact, that it made me not want to talk because I am sort of a low talker, and I couldn't be heard about the din of the kitchen clatter, and the head chef yelling out orders, and the guys back there tossing around pans and pots, and slamming steamers, and things like that. Note to self. If you ever open a restaurant, don't put the kitchen out in the middle of everything, that's just stupid I think.

We've been sitting in our most uncomfortable chairs now for about 15 minutes, when finally our waiter Ian comes over. I'm willing to cut the guy a little slack on being late to the "table" but 15 minutes is a tad too much to come over and take drink orders from us. I will say though that once he engaged us, it was pretty decent service, and they were very busy. So like I said, a little slack for the waitstaff, but damn son, I needed a glass of water pretty bad, and you didn't show for 15 damn minutes. When we do place our drink orders, we just place our orders at the same time, because we've had time to read their menu about 6 or 7 times by now, and I could probably repeat it verbatim. I forgot to mention, this is one of those neuvo Chinese places that claims to be different. I order the pork and shrimp steamed dumplings, and their variation on Kung Pao chicken. I get my dumplings, and Ian screws up the SO's order and doesn't bring her the right combination of food, that's OK, the order was still in, and instead of getting her mushrooms with her calimari, she gets them later. I try the dumplings. They're good, but they're really no better than what I can find at the 35 buffet uptown in Chapel Hill. It tastes about the same. Most times when I've been to different Chinese places, they offer up their own version of a dumpling sauce, these guys didn't even do that. I just used plain old soy, which I think I prefer anyway. Don't get me wrong, the dumplings are tasty, but they're not knocking my socks off over here. The old entree arrives. I tuck into it, and what do I find? The chicken is good, but the broth or sauce they're using is really overwhelmingly hot and spicy, because that's all I can taste. There are a bunch of vegetables in there, but all I can taste is heat of the peppers they tossed in there. And it was runny as well, lots of broth or sauce, and nothing to sop it up with. I am thinking they should have tossed some rice in the bottom of the plate as well. I would have done that, and cut back on the peppers a touch to make it a little less spicy, and maybe bring out the taste of the other stuff that was in the dish. Still though, it wasn't "bad", it was just, regular. Delicious? Yeah, I'd say it was that, but I was expecting a little more I guess. I wasn't impressed, but I was sort of satisfied with what I got from them. I did hear the chef talking about how all of their food was locally raised or grown, so that's a good point. Organic food from local growers. Always a plus in my book.

What they need to do is to make the place a little more intimate, or at least get chairs that fit the counter in the back where we sat so that people can actually enjoy their dining more. Like I said, I found it hard to talk with and carry on a conversation with the SO while we were there because there is so much going on around you, and it's just loud. I guess I don't like loud places, and if I'm going out to eat, I want to be able to at least hear what my dining partner is saying to me, and not have to ask her to repeat things over and over again. Like I said though, I don't like loud places. If I wanted a loud dining establishment, I would have gone to Chuck E' Cheese's where there are screaming kids and parents and video games all over the place, not some wanna be high brow Chinese restaurant. Overall, Ian's service was good, after he noticed we were sitting there with nothing in front of us. The food, middle of the road average. The cost, here is the best part, the cost was more than reasonable in my opinion. 2 appetizers, 2 entrees for about $30, that's not too shabby for pricing. I'd say though that if you wanted about the same tasting food for less price, head off to your local Chinese buffet, you won't be disappointed. If you're feeling like experiencing a toned down version of PF Changs, head to this place. I'd say, it's like PF Changs except locally owned and operated. Would I go there again? I don't know, depends on who is buying. It aspires to be great, but ends up just being a little around average.