Thursday, May 24, 2007

Trust But Verify

Trust But Verify is grassroots journalism at its finest. TBV tracks the status of the doping allegations against 2006 Tour de France Champion Floyd Landis. The arbitration hearing last week at Pepperdine University involving Floyd and the USADA was covered first hand by the bloggers, and the play-by-play and color commentary was *exemplary.*

Writing for TBV is Judge William Hue. His articles (co-authored by the blog owner David Brower) on TBV "Judging Floyd" are outstanding. So far posted in 5 parts, this is the kind of coverage that is sorely lacking in mainstream media. *Thank you* for all you did in covering this proceeding. We owe all of you at TBV a debt of gratitude.

Courtrooms often resemble theater more than a search for truth, justice or fairness. While the instant proceeding was an *arbitration* with significantly different rules that one would encounter in the American system of justice, there are some common elements. The basic "adversarial system" is used; the premise being that if both sides are dedicated to forwarding their clients interests, then "the truth will out." This is an interesting and oft debated proposition in our system of justice, and the Landis/USADA arbitration gives us a prime example to examine it not in the abstract, but in actual application.

Did the truth out?

This is a tough question. Philosophers have debated what "truth" is for millennia. But when following the progress of the hearings at Pepperdine, I was struck again by the awesome power of the State. USADA is funded largely by public funds; US taxpayer dollars. When they decide they have a case, they don't need to go to a Grand Jury, nor do they need permission of a neutral magistrate. As an administrative body (and just who they work for is a little hazy in my mind at this point) they get to make make the rules, decide what they mean, and then enforce them. Interestingly, you come to their power (or popularly, their "jurisdiction") by contract, voluntarily. Still, our US constitutional notions of equal protection and due process are so deeply ingrained that we expect it even when we seemingly have waived these basic civil rights.

So when we do that, can the "truth out?" Hmmm...

The analysis can proceed from a very different prospective. What if both parties are telling the truth? Or, what if both are not forwarding truthful information? How can we know what truth is more important? Ugh. Unsavory considerations.

Our instinct in these situations is to rely on our notions of fairness. The US Constitution requires exclusion of tainted evidence - the familiar "exclusionary rule." When evidence is seized in violation of Constitution protections of due process or equal protection (or any other protection recognized by the constituion or other law) that evidence (and all evidence gathered using these "fruits of the poisonous tree") *must* be excluded from use. And therein lies a contradiction - we have to ignore what would seem to be The Truth(tm) in favor of protecting the innocent, vulnerable and powerless. To keep the State from overreaching their authority, we have to put in place what would seem to be a draconian rule: where The Truth is discovered wrongfully, we must ignore it.

Is this a good or desirable system? Perhaps not. But it is superior to any other justice system I have studied. I am more afraid of what the State can do that I am of letting a liar, chaet, or yes, even a murderer, off the hook. "Good enough for government work" is not good enough, as the power I have granted to my government is powerful indeed. If those with that power demonstrate any level of unreliability, I expect and demand instant withdrawal of that grant.

So it boils down to this: when I cannot tell what The Truth is, I have to rely on knowing what truth is more important to me. Could Landis have doped and deceived us all? Maybe. But I see no evidence that is certain enough for me to conclude that. The powerful state entities did not carry their burden sufficiently. Could LNDD have used their "power of the state" to act incompetently or with careless disregard for evidentiary standards? I think so. Could the USADA have acted to demand the highest standards of proof to wield their power of state with judicious wisdom? They could have, but to me it appears they did not.

Floyd should win. I believe the champion. I distrust LNDD, USADA and WADA.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Taking one for the team?

Professional cycling has had its share of doping scandals. It might even be fair to say it has had a disproportionate amount. Be that as it may, as long as a road will handle more than one bike at a time (and they all will) someone somewhere is going to race them. Humanity's competitive nature that has resulted from millions of years of evolution ensures this.

Professional bike racing is a uniquely beautiful sport. The uniforms are colorful, the bikes technologically interesting, and the scenery for the competition is unrivaled. Lost on many lay people, or even sophisticated sports fans is the cornerstone of the sport - the team tactics. While there are many ways to race a bike, the most well-known and obvious way, against a clock - the team race is most prevalent. Over a long course (usually over a hundred miles for a "stage") many riders on a team will cooperate to place their leader either on that "stage win" or to gain as much time collectively over the many "stages" in a longer event (the general classification, or "GC.") The cooperation springs from the very basic concept that when riding a bike, most of the energy expended to to overcome the wind resistance working against any rider. Slip in behind a team mate, let him "take the wind" and his/her energy is transferred to the person in back doing the drafting. The drafting rider rests, conserves energy until wither the sprint to the line, or to use when the course dictates a place to "break away" from all the other riders. Some teams prefer to transfer the burden of defending a lead to other teams, preferring to make a final push at the end for the final victory. Exciting stuff, fun to watch, and tactically very interesting.

In some kinds of bike racing, triathlon most prominently, drafting is illegal. "Stealing" the advantage by drafting is considered cheating, not tactics. All professional bike racing done under the guise of an Olympic endeavor is done with a strict doping code as well. Use of performance enhancing drugs, as determined by a governmental body, is cheating. When that cheating occurs, the user of the PEDs is disqualified, and usually given penalties beyond the loss of the race. Athletes that win are tested as a matter of course, and all competitors are tested randomly, in and out of competition. Testing is expensive and of course, subject to error.

Given that cycling is essentially a team sport, what could or should happen if a team integrates the use of PEDs into a team strategy, knowingly or unknowingly? In other words, what happens to the team result if one team member dopes? Put a doper out front, transfer his/her energy to the team leader in early stages, and drop back later. The team leader gains the advantage, the doper is less likely to get caught, as only the random checks might turn up the dope. Should this taint a champions win? Certainly if done knowingly, but what about unknowingly?

Lest we think of this as idle speculation, there is evidence it has been done, presumably unknowingly. Frank Andreu admitted to doping in the 1999 season while on the US Postal team for Lance Armstrong's first Tour de France win. Does this mean Armstrong was the beneficiary of "ill-gotten booty"; benefited from the effects of PEDs? In the context of another sport, what should be done to the team record if Barry Bonds is demonstrated to have used PEDs to break the home run record? Delete those runs from the scoreboard, and award the win to the other team? Sport doesn't really work like that.

Could it get more complicated? Sure. Remember that in pursuing the GC win at the 2006 Tour de France, Floyd Landis and his team decided to "give away" the yellow jersey (race lead) for a few stages before the end. This is a valid and common race tactic. The leading team has a responsibility to defend, to chase breakaways, to expend more energy they might be able to maintain, to make it easier on the chasing team in the long run - in this case, Phonak and Landis. (Indeed, this tactic was employed with great success in the 2004 TdF by Lance Armstrong and the US Postal team, placing Thomas Volkler into yellow early in the tour, making Volkler something of a French national hero that summer.) In 2006, Landis and Phonak chose Oscar Periero, and let Periero gain nearly 30 minutes back in one stage, moving in to the lead for several stages. "...we like him..." Landis explained. While there is nothing overtly sinister in this, consider the result: the winner, Landis, chose his runner up. If disqualified, should his choice for second place also be disqualified? (Even stranger still, Periero is now accused of being involved in "Operacion Puerto" a doping scandal of epic proportion.) If the win was a result of the the use of PEDs, shouldn't the all the consequences of that cheating be eliminated? Ironically, the organizers of the 2006 Tour de France tried to prospectively avoid this result by forcing teams to disqualify riders implicated in Operation Puerto *before* the race.

Could or should the rules reach this far? Cycling is certainly not alone with a drug problem, but it has done more than other sports. Are the rules we put in place illusory? Do they really prohibit unfair competition?

Friday, May 11, 2007

Be 9 seconds late this week.

Remember when Floyd was 9 seconds late for the TdF prolog last year? No big deal, he still won the race.

Be 9 seconds late to a few things this week. See how it all works out anyway, and strike a blow for justice and fairness. Call it Civil Disobedience for Floyd week.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Today I Believe

I believe in the power of the bicycle. I believe you can gain wisdom and understanding by riding a bike. I believe Americans need more exercise. I believe more Americans should get out from behind the wheel of their cars, and step onto pedals. I believe clipless pedals are safety devices. I believe anyone not wearing a helmet when riding a bike is a criminal. I believe the roads and trails need to be shared.

I believe in the mythical power of Ventoux, L'Alpe d'Huez, and the Champs Elysees. I believe I know what a hundred miles means. I believe in the most famous 8 seconds in sport, and it has nothing to do with bull riding. I believe we can cure cancer, MS and other diseases. I believe in sunny days, long roads with no traffic, suffering in the mountains, and knowing I will top The Wall next time I face it. I believe in Bicycle Adventures (www.bicycleadventures.com) I believe in Stevie and Brandon. I believe one of the sexiest things I've ever seen is my wife on her new Cervelo. I believe in Bob Roll, the suitcase of courage, and pedaling like a man possessed.

I believe in the praying mantis. I believe my dad's hearing is better with his new Phonak hearing aid. I believe the pain in my hip makes me faster, and that one day it will not hurt as much. I believe in being 9 seconds late to start things, knowing it will work out in the end. I believe one day I will have a cycleops power meter, and that it will not be more expensive than the bike I put it on. I believe in punching the air with my fist when I finish a ride. I believe in the resolve to compete to the finish line. I believe I know what I saw on 7/20/06: a courageous, clean battle to the finish line from a true champion. I believe the biggest amount of dope that day was in the peloton that refused to chase. I believe in clean, fair sporting events. I believe in due process, equal protection, the scientific method, and the exposition of facts for all to see and examine. I believe even the most well-intentioned public servants can be corrupt and incompetent.

I believe in Floyd Landis, the 2006 Tour de France Champion.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

That substantial step issue.

Basso admits to only attempting doping.

Just when we thought it couldn't get wierder, we are now faced with the possibility that we'll need to decide what the inchoate rule violation of "attempted doping" is.

So if you stock up a supply of blood, with the intent of transfusing it later, have you committed a doping offense? Suppose "Birillo" decided at the last minute, just before a pivitol stage, to not use the blood supply after all? He fully inteded to, but at the last minute, had a change of heart. (!) Or perhaps, just before the pivitol stage, was wearing yellow, feeling great, and didn't think help was needed?

Doping offense?

Lying? Yep. Sinister and creepy? Sure. Dispicable? You betcha. But IF this is the truth (and isn't the truth what people are after?) maybe this isn't a doping offense. (Someone correct me if the rules say draining your blood is a doping offense.) A crime, maybe.

Imagine a case where a pro athlete thinks his trainer is giving them a regimen of harmless homeopathic substances, when in fact the trainer is supplying dope. This is a clear rules violation, and the athlete is a doper. But imagine a pro athlete seeking out dope, only to find that a trainer screws up and gives harmless, legal substances? Or perhaps, in playing a "mind over matter" game, the trainer falsely tells an athlete they're "getting the juice" and lo and behold, go out an achieve great things because they think they can. Doper?

It is well known that Lance Armstrong used EPO. He freely admits it. He used it to save his life. He also eloquently points out having cancer changed his life and his body. Many experts agree much of Armstrongs success in cycling was due to the enormous change in body composition due to his cancer treatment.

Is surviving cancer doping? And wait for it...will we see people look to curable cancers as a form of doping? A poll of pro athletes showed many would trade years of their lives to win championships. Would they risk a 5% chance of death to transform their bodies to be more competitive?

I am not entertained.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Regardless of outcome, we win.

Trust But Verify has excellent commentary on what to expect from the upcoming 5/14/07 arbitration hearing regarding Floyd Landis' doping case at Pepperdine. At this point, I feel that we've won a significant victory in the doping battle. Regardless of outcome, we're finally on a path to resolving important questions about sport. If the panel votes to uphold the alleged doping charge by being shown a preponderance of scientific, verifiable evidence we can all examine in an open and fair manner, we can know Floyd Did It(tm). (I personally feel this is an unlikely result.) If the panel votes to acquit because USADA doesn't uphold their burden of proof, we will know that shoddy work on the part of ADAs won't cut the mustard, and they need to be held accountable for their incompetence.

If we are shown evidence from either side that doesn't fairly equate to the determination made by the arbitrators, we will know just how corrupt the entire ADA system is. (I think this is likely, but I am holding out hope otherwise.)

Many people ask me how I can defend a guilty person. I don't defend guilty people - I put The State to their proof. I am far more afraid of the evil than can be done by governments and their "servants" than I am of the most evil individual. And that's saying something. The good guys with the badges I trust them with have to be the good guys *all* the time. Not most of the time, but all the time. The only tool we have to accomplish this is a system that prohibits the use of unjust means. Does that mean some "guilty" people slip through? Perhaps. But give me another tool - something other than one requiring exclusion of tainted evidence, and I'll sign on.

Thank you, Floyd, for the fair fight.

Friday, May 04, 2007

My submission to the "Doug Macdonald Challenge."

This was my submission to the "contest" in September 2006. I received an email that said "the newspaper didn't report what we were asking for, but thank you for playing." Doug Macdonald retired last month. No idea if anything came out of his "challenge."

Got any bright ideas to relieve traffic? State roads official offers $1,000 prize

This proposal does not maximize throughput. It endeavors to reduce the amount of traffic during peak periods by combing vehicle sensors with a tax incentive.

Owners of motors vehicles ("Users") would be given the opportunity to purchase a GPS device to be permanently installed on their registered automobiles. These devices would analyze the routes travelled and the times those routes were taken. A tax rebate of paid gas tax would be available to the users for reducing the travel times on the most congested roads at the most congested times.

The challenges to this program include: 1. Making unique hardware available for purchase and permanent installation on a WA registered vehicle; 2. Appropriate legislation/rules to protect/safeguard very sensitive user information (travel times/routes); 3. Costs of the vehicle sensors, collection mechanisms, and the rebates offered.

The hardware will require specific design, and the state will have to requisition its design, construction, and installation parameters. It would feature the ability to be mounted permanently on a vehicle, as it is important to assure it is associated with that specific vehicle. The VIN could be programmed into the unit on installation, and the design would assure that the device is disabled if removed from that vehicle. The device must analyze GPS position and time information. It must also allow download of processed information after comparing time/location data to the state structured formula. However, the data must only be collected in the aggregate - it is important the device not allow specific data to be recorded - only to compare current location and time to a "formula" configured by the state. (For instance, if the device detects that the vehicle avoided 520 during rush hours, it merely records a specific "credit." It must never record specific time and location data.)

An important consideration in this system is safeguard of this tracking data. That data could be used for insidious, unlawful, and dangerous purposes. The associated legislation and rules would make it clear that access of only aggregate data for purposes of applying for rebate of taxes paid is lawful. The device should complete the credit calculations internally, without actually recording specific location data; the system must allow "upload" of the credit formula devised by the state. Download of the data could be by direct modem, or via any digital method - an internal wifi system, or even cell phone system could be used. The user could have the option to review the data at any time through a computer interface to a home computer. I'd recommend all the software be open source, so as to allay any privacy concerns. The system need merely have the ability to "phone home" to download the data, and upload any updates to the formula.

Participation would be totally voluntary. Users would establish an account with the state for credit of the rebate offered. The state can authorize any level at any time. User's on line accounts would be via a web-based interface to apply for a partial refund of state gas tax paid. Determining the amount of gas tax pad by a user may be something of a challenge, but a simple solution may be to have the tracking device calculate it internally. The GPS receiver will know where and when fuel is added to the tank (a fuel level sensor would be added and calibrated for make/model of vehicle) so the unit would know precisely how much tax was paid, as a change in the fuel level on a specific date within the state makes it trivial to calculate. Through the user account established online, users can apply for a refund check as determined by the state.

Many factors require further consideration: who pays for the sensors and installation (Users? The state?) It is likely that non-WA residents would have to be allowed to participate as well. The software to run the sensor, data collection system, and rebate web interface may be quite complicated and extensive. In the end, we'd be compensating individuals not to drive. This is a very narrowly tailored program, and much cheaper and environmentally sound than building roads. Our roads are adequate, just not in certain place at certain times.

No property right is conveyed herein.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Soon off on another Bicycle Adventure

Last year, Cindy and I set off on our first real vacation in over 15 years. Yes, we've travelled a bit, mostly to visit familiy or to participate in fencing tournaments, but we hadn't been an a good old fashioned American *vacation* since 1991. As a 20th wedding anniversary present, I gave Cindy a week-long trip from "Bicycle Adventures," an Olympia based travel company. We partook of their California Redwoods tour, and it was fan-tastic! (See their most excellent web site: www.bicycleadventures.com)

Our guides, Stevie and Brandon, we not only great fun to be around, but clearly accomplished athletes and great cooks as well. This company does everything right: the accomodations and dining were all first-class 5-star quality. We felt taken care of in every sense of the words from the very start. The trip was easy to book, their representatives were always there by phone an email for any question regarding logistics or schedule. This was essentially a "land cruise." The routes were obviously well-planned and scouted. The scenery was unbelievable! You must see the Redwood forest in California, and there is no better way to see it than on a bicycle. And there is no better way to vacation on a bicycle than with BA.

I write this now because we just signed up for another trip with them this summer. This time it will be the Glacier-Banff-Jasper tour, and I am counting the hours.