Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Listen To Cicero

Cicero’s Six Mistakes of Man:
  • The delusion that individual advancement is made by crushing others

  • The tendency to worry about things that cannot be changed or corrected

  • Insisting that a thing is impossible because we cannot accomplish it

  • Refusing to set aside trivial preferences

  • Neglecting development and refinement of the mind and not acquiring the habit of reading and studying

  • Attempting to compel other persons to believe and live as we do.

By most accounts, Marcus Tullius Cicero was a pretty sharp guy. He may have been a bit wishy-washy at times, but it's safe to say that his Six Mistakes of Man have a good deal of merit.

The fifth mistake may not fully apply, but the others could be easily applied to the UCI/ASO feud. Cicero was an Italian lawyer too, so maybe he could have brokered something. Where are Bill and Ted with their Time Machine phone booth or Marty McFly and his DeLorean when you need them?

I like quotes a lot. I find a certain comfort in reading the inspiring, funny or stupid things other people (often far more respected than me) have uttered or written. Recently, as professional stresses have increased, I have found myself going back to some quotes involving Character, Adversity and Virtue among others. Most of these apply directly to my situation, but they also have a clear relevance to the current state of professional bicycle racing as well.

Here are a few quotes and comments.

"But rules cannot substitute for character." — Alan Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve Board (b. 1926)

No matter what rules, tests and penalties are instituted to rid the sport of cheating...the end result will be dictated by the character (or lack thereof) of the riders. And since, at least the last time I checked, most of the riders are human beings...there will be cheaters. To say that catching people breaking the law is indicative of a problem does not account for this fact. I am far more skeptical of sports that never catch anyone. As Tommy C. said:

"The greatest of faults, I should say, is to be conscious of none." — Thomas Carlyle, Scots-English historian and author (1795-1881)

The German TV stations that rode out of the Tour on their high horses probably still broadcast soccer games, right? Yeah, and all those footballers on the Operacion Puerto list have been pulled from their teams and publicly revealed right? Oh...yeah.

"I have not observed men’s honesty to increase with their riches.” — Thomas Jefferson, Founding Father and third U.S. president (1743-1826), in a letter to Jeremiah Moor, 1800

Okay, Tommy J's reputation has taken a bit of hit recently, and rightfully so, but he did leave us with some pretty good quotes in between the philandering and slave ownership. The whole "We hold these thruths to be self evident" thing was pretty solid, but I am particularly fond of the above quote because Tom just flat out tells it like it is.

The bottom line is that as long as there is a bottom line, there will also be a bottom of the barrel. And there will be people willing to get pretty dirty down there.

"It is more shameful to distrust one’s friends than to be deceived by them." — Fran├žois duc de la Rochefoucauld, French epigrammatist (1613-1680)

One of the things I find most disconcerting about the assumption of guilt placed on those within the cycling community is that a resistance to openly slander current and former colleagues is now interpreted as nearly an admission of collusion. I question the notion that you must name names or publicly defame other riders or team staff to prove your commitment to a clean sport.

"The proper man understands equity, the small man profits." — Confucius (K'ung Fu-tzu), Chinese sage (551-479 B.C.)

This one from Donna Changstein's favorite philosopher goes out to the ASO and the other Grand Tour organizers. For the future of the sport, there needs to be a distribution of power and influence between the events. Think about it, what is the image of the recent Grand Tour winners? Ummm, not so good is it? And the power structure is such that these guys are the primary faces of the sport for better or worse.

But if you look at the Classics and many of the "second tier" events, there seems to be a much more legitimate representation. I don't know, maybe they are just as bad but it just seems like the ASO is trying so hard to keep the spotlight on itself, but it's not using the right facial cleanser or something. And the whole sport is looking ugly as a result.

"You can tell a lot about a fellow’s character by his way of eating jelly beans." — Ronald Reagan, 40th U.S. president (b. 1911)

Our 40th President of the United States, ladies and gentlemen. Okay that was just for fun.

"A clear conscience is usually the sign of bad memory." — Steven Wright, American comedian (b. 1955)

This is for all of the half-admissions, media-money-induced confessions and post-career-mortem mea culpas. It makes for a curious situation when you cannot be certain of denials or admissions.

“It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” — Upton Sinclair, American author and politician (1878-1968)

A doozy from the only author that has made me throw up while reading. Seriously, The Jungle, you should read it. In the bathroom.

Anyway, I think this applies in a number of ways to those within professional cycling over the last few decades. People will often compromise their ethics when livelihoods are at stake, whether it's in a meat packing facility or the pro peloton.

"We cannot learn without pain." — Aristotle, Greek philosopher (384-322 B.C.)

It's tough to expand on Aristotle. I guess this one speaks for itself. Arnold Out.