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Bad things, Good people

Posted on : 18-05-2010 | By : Charlie | In : God, Theology and Religion

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Hi. I’m back. Did you miss me?

I know it’s been a while since I posted in this space but I feel like it’s been a long time since I had anything particularly worthwhile to say. Since my niece stopped swearing, stories worth telling have been few and far between. Or I just haven’t felt much like telling them. I have been enduring a period of enforced quiet. Something like that anyway.

Hopefully that period is behind me now and I can start writing again. I have thought about it several times but could never muster the energy or the time, at least not together. I have been thinking about it more lately and would like to tackle some more Christian themes, I think.

One of those themes is the age-old question of why God allows “bad” things to happen to “good” people. I got to thinking about it after I read a post over at Stuff Christians Like this morning, a post about why “bad” things happen to “good” people.

I use quotation marks there because I believe, as humans, we do not have the capacity to distinguish good from bad.* Typically, we perceive circumstances to be good or bad. But those circumstances that we perceive as bad or negative frequently have long-term effects that are neither. Being limited in our perception of time and space, we don’t have the ability to foresee outcomes, as much as we would like to believe otherwise. We fret and worry and try to control everything around us, whether those things be circumstances or people, in order to achieve certain outcomes we deem to be “good” or, at least, good for us.

When the outcomes are not what we thought or hoped they would be, we’re bewildered, wondering why pulling lever “a” didn’t shift pulley “b”. Rather than realizing that life is much more complex than that and giving up control to God, we run around looking for other levers to pulls, hoping to achieve the outcome we desire. Unfortunately, or fortunately, neither life nor God is that simple.

The whole debate reminds me of two different passages of scripture that I’d like to share. The first is from the book of Job, a must-read for anyone interested in the whole debate of why bad things happen to good people. Job, for those unfamiliar with the tale, is a “good” or righteous man that God allows Satan to torment. There has been much, much debate on why God would ever allow Satan to torment a righteous man. I’m not going to touch that here. But this is what Job has to say about it:

…But how can a mortal be righteous before God?

3 Though one wished to dispute with him,
he could not answer him one time out of a thousand.

4 His wisdom is profound, his power is vast.
Who has resisted him and come out unscathed?

5 He moves mountains without their knowing it
and overturns them in his anger.

6 He shakes the earth from its place
and makes its pillars tremble.

7 He speaks to the sun and it does not shine;
he seals off the light of the stars.

8 He alone stretches out the heavens
and treads on the waves of the sea.

9 He is the Maker of the Bear and Orion,
the Pleiades and the constellations of the south.

10 He performs wonders that cannot be fathomed,
miracles that cannot be counted.

11When he passes me, I cannot see him;
when he goes by, I cannot perceive him.

12 If he snatches away, who can stop him?
Who can say to him, ‘What are you doing?’

13 God does not restrain his anger;
even the cohorts of Rahab cowered at his feet.

14 “How then can I dispute with him?
How can I find words to argue with him?

15 Though I were innocent, I could not answer him;
I could only plead with my Judge for mercy.” – Job 9:2-15

Who can understand the purposes of God? No one. Who can dispute the will of God? No one. Even if we’re innocent, Job says, we could not give answer to God. Even if we were innocent.

But are we? I know that I, in my pride, have told myself I was righteous, innocent or good but it was a lie. My pride was in and of itself a sin and perhaps the greatest sin or all. It kept me from examining my own behavior more thoroughly and acknowledging my own sins and shortcomings. 1st John 1:8 says “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.”

So, no, we aren’t innocent. If we could not answer God in our innocence, how are we to answer him in our guilt? How are we to proclaim to him what is good and what is ill? We simply cannot.

Lastly, we are none of us “good”. We say things like “I’m a good person” or “I try to be good” but it just isn’t true. It’s incredibly humbling to think that not even Jesus, who was without sin, considered himself good. (Mark 10:17-18.) If even Jesus did not consider himself good, how can we ever consider ourselves so?

And if we cannot consider ourselves to be good, how can we even begin to consider whether the situations we face are good are bad? They may be painful and difficult to face in the moment but there may be outcomes that we would consider good that we never get to see. We all know it to be true but it is very difficult to remember when you see or experience pain and suffering in the world.

Of course, this isn’t to say that there isn’t evil in the world or that pain and suffering are good. I only suggest that we, as humans, cannot see all the connections and how good might come out of the heartache. We, like Job, cannot fathom God’s purposes. But we can rest in what Jesus affirms in Mark 10:18. God is good. Always.

* (Please note that I did not use the words “good” and “evil”. I do believe we have the capacity to distinguish between those two. Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil so, inherently, we must, assuming you believe the tale. If you don’t, pretend it’s a metaphor about man’s relationship with God. Maybe I’ll discuss that whole topic here another time.)

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The Other WTF

Posted on : 27-11-2009 | By : Charlie | In : Family and Friends

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So I’m sitting at the dinner table with my two-year old niece, happily consuming Thanksgiving leftovers. I’m reading my book while she pokes and prods small slices of pumpkin pie. Ollie, being a relatively chatty toddler, prattles on to me, herself and the pie in no particular order.

“Unk Cha-e”, she hails from her high chair

“Yes, Precious?”, I ask without looking up from my book.

“Wha’ da f#ck?”

I am brought up short. Laying my book down, I finally concentrate my attention on her. Slowly, I answer. “What’s that, baby?”

“Wha’ da f#ck?”, she asks, confirming that I did indeed hear what I thought I heard the first time. I’m torn between giggling and calling her mother to task for the child’s foul language.

Suddenly, she whips her fork from under the table and raises it high above her head, shouting in triumph, “There it is!”

I’m so amused by the whole exchange that we end up playing “Where’s the Fork” for another 15 minutes.

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In Which Daddy Gets a New Pair of Shoes

Posted on : 25-11-2009 | By : Charlie | In : Family and Friends, Tales Of A Charmed Life, Travels with Charlie

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It’s a true statement to say that a man will go to great lengths when he wants to impress a young lady he finds attractive.

Generally, it starts with little things, things to get a girl’s attention. A new haircut. A fresh, clean shave on a day he might have otherwise gone unshaven. A spritz of cologne whenever there’s a remote chance that the young lady in question might be near. In some more advanced cases, the spritz of cologne turns into a few extra spritzes and worrisome questions that “maybe I used too much”. And, as is generally the case with these kinds of things, if you have to ask the question, you probably did.

In more extreme cases, a man might set about remaking himself entirely, just to make himself more attractive to her. He might join the gym and lose 30 pounds. He might throw out all his old, frumpy clothes and buy an entirely new wardrobe of slightly more stylish clothing. He might buy a new house or a new car in order to upgrade his life. He might even go back to school in order to improve his job prospects, just so he’ll have more to offer.

Of course, those are extreme cases and I don’t know that I’d ever go so far myself.

Not again, at any rate.

But I did once buy a new pair of shoes to impress a Cute Girl. The year was 2003 and there was this fancy function to attend and I knew the Cute Girl was going to be there. I had a small crush on the Cute Girl and was hoping to impress her enough to at least score a date. Doing what guys do, I went out and bought a new shirt, a new pair of pants, a new wallet, a new belt and a new pair of shoes. Not a whole wardrobe, mind you. Just a new…outfit…for lack of a better word.

Aside: I do not like to use the word “outfit”. The word is not meant for guys. Guys don’t wear outfits. We wear…clothes. Sometimes those clothes match. Having our clothes match doesn’t make those clothes an outfit. Outfits are for girls or for children.

Second aside: More often than not, our clothes do not match. Usually it is because we picked them out ourselves, without appropriate female supervision. When our clothes do not match, it’s okay to refer to them collectively as a “getup” as in, “take a look at that guy’s getup.” But it still isn’t an outfit.

Where was I? Oh, yeah. So, I bought this new…set of clothes…in order to impress Cute Girl. And I went to the highfalutin’ affair in my new clothes, on which I’d spent a decent amount of money and, as luck would have it, she wasn’t even there. Typical.

Kindof aside: I did eventually manage to set up one date with Cute Girl. We planned it right before I went out of town for an extended vacation. I call it vacation but it was really just a long, paid leave-of-absence from work so I could go to a family reunion down in Mississippi. My parents wanted me to drive down from North Carolina with them because they were nervous about making the long drive themselves, they being old or something. So I take use my vacation time to go to Mississippi for a family reunion for 10 whole days.

Aside from the aside
: I don’t know if your parents are like this but my parents love some Cracker Barrel. I swear, over two days of driving for that trip, we had Cracker Barrel for seven meals. I kid you not. It was all I could do to get them past an exit with a Cracker Barrel. Mom got “Uncle Herschel’s” for every single meal.

Another aside: And don’t get me started on how often we had to stop for pee breaks. OMG. We broke the trip up into 30 mile segments. We went from Cracker Barrel to Rest Stop to Cracker Barrel in rapid succession.

Anyway, when I get back, Cute Girl is dating some other guy, the guy to whom she is now married. I think they have like two kids or something. I dunno. Utterly freaking typical. And my parents want to know why I haven’t given them any grandchildren yet. Two words for you, Ma and Pa. Family. Reunion.

End Asides.

Anyway, the whole point is that trying to impress a girl by buying stuff was and is a total waste of time and money.

Except that I still have the shoes from that particular purchase. As you might imagine, they’ve seen better days. They are scratched and scuffed and haven’t been my dressy black shoes in many years. After six years, they’re getting to the point where I really shouldn’t be wearing them at all. As comfy as they are, I feel poorly put together when I wear them.

Like I did yesterday when I wore them to work. I felt so poorly put together that I decided then and there to buy a new pair of shoes. I went to Zappos and I ordered a new pair of Giorgio Brutini’s.

The experience was so positive that I had to blog about it. As per usual, I got an email stating that my order had been received and was being processed. An hour later, I got an email stating that my already-free shipping was upgraded to “expedited” shipping at no charge to me, by way of saying “thank you”.

I was, of course, pleased and thought I might return from my Thanksgiving holiday to find a new pair of shoes waiting on my doorstep. Imagine my surprise to find a new pair of shoes waiting for me when I got home from work today, not even 24 hours after placing my order. Free overnight shipping. Zappos rocks.

I was already a fan of Zappos because of their excellent customer service on previous orders. They do not charge for shipping to you and, more importantly, they do not charge you for shipping any returned merchandise to them. My loyalty to Zappos is that much stronger now that they’ve given me a free upgrade to overnight shipping.

If you don’t want to get out and brave the Black Friday crowds after Thanksgiving, you might check out Zappos for shoes, clothing and other fashionables. If you’re a guy, you might even find something to impress the Cute Girl in your life. But, whatever you buy, remember this.

It isn’t an outfit. Ever.

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A Thanksgiving Tradition

Posted on : 22-11-2009 | By : Charlie | In : Food, Mom's Recipes, Tales Of A Charmed Life

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It is not often that you’ll find me talking about my experiences in the kitchen here on this blog. Well, you might find me talking about my experience in the kitchen but that is just what it is: talk. I do not go into my kitchen very often and, when I do, it is generally for something simple like coffee, milk or cereal.

It’s not that I’m uncomfortable in the kitchen, necessarily. It’s mostly a consequence of being a bachelor. Cooking for one is about the most unrewarding task I can imagine. It’s inefficient, given that you can produce a meal for three or four using the same amount of effort and the same number of dishes as you do when cooking for one. Sure, I know some singleton’s that really enjoy themselves in the kitchen and find it to be relaxing and enjoyable. I am just not one of those people.

Thanksgiving is typically the one time of year in which you might find me in the kitchen doing something more complex than scrambling an egg or frying up bacon (two things of which I am mightily capable.) The reason behind this is that there are typically an assortment of pot luck affairs to attend and I find myself shamed into doing something more than bringing some form of frozen desert.

But, also, I really enjoy Thanksgiving dinner. I mean, really enjoy it. If I can, I will enjoy it many times before and many times after the actual Thanksgiving holiday. In the past week, for example, I made a special trip to Boston Market for a turkey dinner with all the sides and I took advantage of the turkey luncheon at work. It’s like practicing for actual Thanksgiving.

In that vein, I have another practice session to attend tonight. A couple of my very good friends are hosting an early Thanksgiving potluck tonight and I’m preparing the one dish of which I’m capable: sweet potato casserole.

At least, sweet potato casserole is what my mother calls it. The rest of the family refers to the recipe as “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”. The recipe entered Stafford family lore way back when I was in high school. High school was when the Stafford children began to invite various and sundry sweethearts to Thanksgiving dinner at Che Casa Stafford. Being steeped in Southern hospitality, these sweethearts would generally bring a dish to share.

This particular dish was brought to the table by Black Sheep’s high school girlfriend, Pat, using a recipe handed down to her from her mother. (Some of you know Black Sheep as “Frankenberry”. That’s another story for another time.) It was hugely popular and, for a number of years, thrust aside the simpler and more traditional sweet potatoes and marshmallows. Ever since that day, we’ve referred to the dish as “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”.

And, ever since Black Sheep and Pat broke up, mom has been trying to get us all to stop calling it that, especially since Black Sheep’s wife is not named Pat. Mother doesn’t seem to understand that, once the tradition is set, it cannot be changed. That’s why they call it “tradition”.

Anyway, it is my favorite Thanksgiving dish and it’s the only one I learned to make on my very own. It’s like sweet potato crack and I’ve never known it to be unpopular. I’m pretty sure it’s the only reason I have things like measuring cups in the house. I know it’s the only reason I own a potato masher. It’s that good. I make it at least once a year but have been known to make it twice in a season. It’s good for Christmas potlucks too.

From my Mama’s cookbook: (I just noticed that my mother titled her cookbook, “Your Mama’s Cookbook”. It reminds me of endless “Your Mama” jokes. I snicker at my own wit.)

    “Sweet Potato Casserole” (a.k.a. “Pat’s Mom’s Sweet Potatoes”)

    I have served this casserole for several years at Thanksgiving and will likely continue as long as I am able, as no one will allow me to change the menu. Double the recipe for a large group.

    Boil sweet potatoes until they are easily speared with a fork (estimate 1 large potato per cup for recipe).

    Melt 2/3 cup of butter and divide it.

    Mix together the following:

    3 cups cooked, mashed sweet potatoes
    1 cup sugar
    2 eggs
    1/2 cup evaporated milk (like Carnation or Pet)
    1 tbs.vanilla
    1/3 cup melted butter

    Pour this mixture into a 2 quart casserole dish and then mix the following:

    1/3 cup butter
    1 cup shredded coconut (I use the frozen kind)
    1 cup pecans
    1 cup light brown sugar (packed)
    1/3 cup flour

    Spread this mixture over the first and bake at 350 degrees for 30-45 minutes.

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Greetings from a Sunday Morning

Posted on : 22-11-2009 | By : Charlie | In : General Bloggishness

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Greetings and salutations from a lazy Sunday morning. I’m playing hooky from church this morning but, don’t worry, I talked to God about that earlier. I asked if it was okay for me to sit and listen to the rain instead and He said He was fine with that as long as I did something to update the blog. So here I am, sipping my cinnamon hazelnut blend and tapping away at the keyboard.

So far, all I’ve been able to do is change the look of the site. What do you think? Whaddya’ think? I think it’s hideous, personally. I am so dissatisfied with many of the free themes available out there. They all seem to meet maybe one criteria you have for them but fail utterly as far as the rest is concerned.

This “theme” for example, meets the criteria for easily allowing people to follow this blog via Twitter, Facebook, Google, etc. But it does not do anything for the aesthetics of the blog. I probably could hack the template given a little motivation and a lot of time but…I’m no designer either. In fact, I am the opposite of a designer. I know what I like but I have no ability to bring the picture in my head to life.

I’m convinced that is why God made woman. Adam was in the garden and he was making a real mess of the place. It was comfortable but messy. God took pity on Adam and created Eve to tell him where to put the furniture.

Anyway, I have some topics in mind for future blog posts if I can ever work up the energy. I wanted to write a little more about my trip to Seattle and I’ve been meditating on the topics of pride and gratitude. I’d like to share my thoughts if I can get them out on the page.

Until then, I think I’ll go back to shopping or page layouts. I am not digging this one. Stay tuned and thanks for stopping by.

Oh…and, God, I realize this post is probably insufficient as far as the church-skipping agreement we had earlier. I’ll, uh, just keep working on a more substantial post, shall I? Thanks!

Update: Okay, I’ve settled on a more appropriate looking theme, though one that is slightly less functional. I’ll have to work on that. Plus! It has rotating featured posts. Nifty.

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Greetings from the Great Northwest

Posted on : 13-11-2009 | By : Charlie | In : Tales Of A Charmed Life, Travels with Charlie

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Greetings, all, from the great and friendly Pacific Northwest! I’m currently propping up a counter at the Top Pot Doughnuts on the corner of Galer and 4th atop Queen Anne Hill in the great city of Seattle and thought that, since I don’t have a camera with me, I’d paint you all a picture of my experiences in Seattle thus far.

Why am I in Seattle, you ask? Good question and there’s a good but convoluted answer.

I’m here in Seattle at the invitation of my brother, Bigwig. He’s out here for some kind of training class and he had a weekend to kill. He’s a huge fan of beer, especially if it’s beer he’s never had before. In theory, Seattle offers a whole new world of beers and bars and breweries for him to experience and explore. But there’s one problem. My brother hates to drink alone.

It’s more than that, though. I actually believe him to be incapable of drinking alone. It’s like a physical law of some kind. When forced into an environment in which he is to be drinking alone, my brother can, will and must do everything in his power to befriend those around him, just so he won’t have to drink alone. More often than not, the environment is a bar and, more often than not, the people around him are inveterate drunks. This can lead to interesting and entertaining encounters but, more often than not, it leads to conflict. More on this in a minute.

In this particular instance, my brother decided that the best way to keep from drinking alone was to invite all his buddies to join him in Seattle for the weekend he had free. Together, we’d all explore Seattle and try lots of new beers and have a grand old time. As luck would have it, I was the only one who could make it. Everyone else begged off due to the expense or the time or whatever.

So that’s why I’m in Seattle. I am designated drinking buddy.

If you’ve been following the logic thus far, you’d likely conclude that this would prevent my brother from having to make friends with those around him in the bar. You would, however, have come to that conclusion erroneously. Tragically, I just got in last night and he’s been here by himself for two days. He’s explored every establishment within a two-mile radius around the hotel. And he’s already made friends in at least one location, the one location we hit upon my arrival last evening.

I don’t recall the name of the place but it’s maybe half-a-mile from our hotel. Apparently my brother visited this same location the night prior to my arrival and made friends with the bartender. The bartender gave him complimentary Japanese Whiskey and a permanent bond was established.

My brother also apparently befriended some guy named Tom who spends 318 days of the year on a fishing boat somewhere in the Pacific. Tom, apparently, on the days he isn’t out fishing, spends his time in this particular bar pickling himself with Bud Light. Well, it just so happens that Tom wasn’t fishing last night and my brother, being the social critter that he is, invited Tom to join us whilst we sampled beers and sang a little karaoke.

My first impression of Tom was that he was awfully quiet and possibly shy. My second impression of Tom was that Tom couldn’t speak because he was stone drunk. Guess which impression was the more accurate?

Tom did eventually speak to me. After three or four minutes of sitting with us at table, Tom looked at me and said “Do you arm-wrestle?”

Now, I don’t know about you but, in my experience, people don’t generally open polite conversation with that question. I don’t think anyone has ever posed that question to me, certainly not since I left high school. Maybe this is what they do on fishing boats. I assume when you’re out on a boat for weeks at a time, you get a little bored and do silly man things. Like get monstrously drunk and arm-wrestle one another.

Regaining my composure, I replied that I did not, in fact, arm-wrestle on any kind of regular basis.

“I could beat anybody in here at arm-wrestling. Do you thumb-wrestle?”

WTF? Seriously?

“Um, not professionally, no.”

“I could beat you at thumb-wrestling.”

This is when I let myself get sucked in by the whole affair. He began both to try upon my patience and practice upon my competitive nature. I decided that, not only was this guy a drunk but he was also a jack-ass. So I decide that, fine, I’ll arm-wrestle. And thumb-wrestle too.

So we throw elbows on the table and some thoughtful, experienced soul wanders over and removes our beers from the table top. I’m thinking to myself, “This happens here often. I’m going to lose.”

Sure enough, I did. We start to throw down and he does something with his wrist, twisting it inward somewhat. This totally destroys my leverage and the match is done before it’s begun. Fine. Whatever. I do my best to earn my revenge in thumb-wrestling but to no avail. I have always sucked at thumb-wrestling. I don’t have the thumb length for it or something. I dunno. It’s not important.

Tom goes on to arm-wrestle my brother, carrying the match even faster. Salving some of the Stafford pride, Brother actually wins the thumb-wrestling follow up and the two retire to the out-of-doors to share a victory cigarette.

Eventually, the two come back and things have obviously turned sour. Brother, in addition to finding it impossible to drink alone, also has a difficult time shutting up about things about which he does not know. After some while, this almost always leads to his new-found friend threatening him with some kind of beating.

In this case, he has taken what little knowledge he has about commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest and expounded upon it at great length, extolling the virtues of the crab-fishers on “The Deadliest Catch”. You’d think that would be safe enough ground but, no. Apparently drunk fishermen who spend 318 days of every year in a cramped boat greatly resent the crab-fishermen of “Deadliest Catch” as self-serving glory hounds that hog all the media attention.

Oh, and Brother also suggested that some of the fishing activities in which Tom and his mates engaged were probably illegal.

I start rolling up my sleeves, convinced I’m going to have to save my brother from having his teeth fed to him. He’s no fighter, that’s for sure. I was the one that grew up doing all the fighting. It’s what happens when you have two older brothers.

I should know better. It never ends in fisticuffs. It always ends peacefully. He always manages to talk himself out of every richly deserved ass-kicking. I don’t know how he does it but he does. He talks himself into being friends with even the most lost souls at the bar. He talks himself into their good and then their bad graces. And then he talks himself through it and back into at least some kind of peaceful resolution, swallowing every shred of pride he might have had in the process.

How does he do it? I’m sure I don’t know. My own nature is such that I would never engage the damn drunk in the first place. And I would never go out of my way to earn their good will. And I would certainly never swallow my pride just to keep the peace. I’m sure it’s a great failing of mine. God has been talking to me about my pride lately. I’m doing my best to listen and learn but…well, I’m not there yet. I guess I’ll just keep trying to see everyone through His eyes rather than my own.

Anyway, I’m shutting down and moving on. There’s a coffee shop across the street that was particularly recommended to me, Cafe Fiore. I need a refill on my latte and it sounds like the place for me. There’s also Umi Sushi to hit up for lunch. I can’t wait to try it out.

Unlike my brother, I’m perfectly capable of doing these things alone. Maybe when I learn to conquer my own pride, I won’t have to any more. Certainly wishing some of you were here to share the trip.

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“Walter Reed”

Posted on : 25-10-2009 | By : Charlie | In : The Song In My Head

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Back again. I promise I’ll start writing again soon. In the meantime, I thought I’d update the song in my head. I think some of my Facebook friend’s are getting rather annoyed with me posting my head songs every day. Well, one person complained when I kept posting a lot of country songs. It led me to think that not everyone shares my musical tastes and may not want to see my songs every day. Since I am covetous of each of my Facebook friend’s, I thought I’d shift back to the blog. People who want to come listen here can do so.

This morning’s song is “Walter Reed”, by Michael Penn. I think he is the same guy who did “Romeo in Black Jeans” way back when. I also think he may be related to Sean Penn but that could be entirely false. Go look it up if you’re curious. Meanwhile, enjoy the music in my head.

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The Song in My Head: “Make It Alright”

Posted on : 31-08-2009 | By : Charlie | In : The Song In My Head

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Hello. Did you miss me? Yes, I’ve been away for a while. I kinda’ got burned out on feeding the blog at the end of the Tour de France. Sorry about that. I guess I was just so distraught at Lance placing third that I just didn’t have the heart to write any more.

Okay, just kidding. Some of you – two to be exact – have requested I update the blog so here I am. I am not going to write anything too detailed tonight. All you get is the latest Song in My Head. I woke up with Jay Farrar’s “Make It Alright” on my brain and wanted to share it with you all. I had a heck of a time finding audio and no luck at all finding video. I hope you enjoy it!

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2009 Tour de France: More Thoughts on Le Tour

Posted on : 22-07-2009 | By : Charlie | In : Sports

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I had this weird dream last night. I dreamed that my cousin, my brothers and some of my Fishing, Drinking and Stinking buddies were Astana cyclists. We were out carousing and got news of the team’s new sponsor for the next year. It was some sun glass manufacturer whose name began with a “Y”. We were then handed a crumpled piece of paper telling us what races we were scheduled to ride in the upcoming season. We were all excited about our new sponsor and I was particular pleased because I was scheduled to ride in the 2010 Vuelta Espana. Let me tell you, I felt truly honored.

And then I woke up. I think I possibly might be a little to into the Tour this year. I’m not saying that I am but I have a tiny, nagging suspicion. The good news is that there are only four more stages left.

Well, that’s good news if you’re a slightly obsessive fan. It’s bad news if you’re a Tour rider and you want to catch Alberto Contador. Because that is not happening. The 2009 Tour de France belongs to Contador and the only question that remains is who might join him on the podium.

Right now the two Schleck brothers, Andy and Frank, are the best placed riders and I think it likely that at least one of them will be on the podium. I do not think it likely that both of them will. Andy probably makes it but Frank, winner of today’s stage, probably misses.

Here’s the setup. After today’s ride, Contador sits in first, two minutes and change ahead of Andy Schleck. Brother Frank sits back in third, another minute or so behind. (If you want actual time gaps, visit http://www.letour.fr.) Armstrong is in fourth, another 30 seconds adrift, followed by Andreas Kloden and Bradley Wiggins in fifth and sixth. As far as overall standings, that is as far back as you need to go to get an idea of who might end up on the podium on Saturday. There would have to be a spectacular crash among the leaders of the race to get someone further down the list into the top three come that time.

Tomorrow’s stage, stage 18, is an individual time-trial about 40 kilometers in length. Contador, Armstrong, Kloden and Wiggins are all better time-trialists than the Schlecks and will likely put time into those boys tomorrow. Whether it will be enough to bring them back into contention for the podium is up the air but at least some time will be pulled back in all likelihood. The first four all finished in the top 10 in the opening 15.5 kilometer time-trial while the best of the two Schlecks, Andy, finished a respectable 18th, 20 seconds behind Armstrong.

Extrapolating that 20-seconds-lost-over-15-kilometers to 40 kilometers, Lance puts about 53 seconds back into Andy tomorrow. That’s not enough to overtake Andy but a similar extrapolation between Lance and Frank puts Lance solidly into third. This, of course, discounts Kloden and Wiggins, both of whom did better than Lance and, theoretically, could claw back even more time using the extrapolation method. Given the right set of circumstances, both riders could vault ahead of Armstrong and take third and fourth.

I don’t think that will happen, however. I think Lance will be more prepared for this time trial for various reasons. For one, the opening trial in Monaco was over a course for which it was difficult to prepare. Traffic alone probably made it impossible to prepare the course in a truly technical fashion. This course is probably more amenable to preparation. Lance has always been methodical in preparing for courses that he expects to make a difference in the GC.

He also, by his own admission, suffered from opening jitters on the first course and may have made some technical mistakes that a more relaxed, comfortable Lance wouldn’t make. Because of these factors, I expect Lance to ride a better time trial tomorrow than he did in Monaco.

I also wonder how much energy the Schleck brothers will have after spending the better part of two days attacking in the mountains. They put on a pretty good show in stage 17, leaving everyone but Contador on the slopes of the last climb. This may mean a slightly worse ride for both of them in stage 18.

Even considering all those factors, I still think Lance falls short of catching Andy tomorrow. At the end of the day, I predict the standings will be Contador, Andy Schleck, Armstrong, Wiggins, Kloden and Frank Schleck. Kloden and Wiggins are pretty evenly matched but I think Wiggins pulls ahead in the time trial. It’s not inconceivable that Schleck falls one more spot to seventh place but I think he’d have to put in a disastrous ride to fall further.

Normally, a time trial this late in the Tour would probably more or less settle the podium pecking order but this year is different. There are still two tough mountain stages to ride before Saturday’s ride into Paris. I don’t know what the 19th stage will bring but I can almost guarantee the podium contenders will go at it tooth and nail on the slopes of Mount Ventoux on Friday.

The Schlecks will either want to defend their positions or, if lost in the time trial, want to regain them. Any rider who gains the podium in the time trial will want to defend his spot to the uttermost of his ability. This probably means a make-or-break ride for Armstrong. Not only will he be fending off the Schleck brothers but I’m sure Bradley Wiggins will want to take a shot.

Hopefully Armstrong will have enough left in the tank to rise to the occasion. He did put a hell of a move on Bradley Wiggins with one kilometer left in the final climb today. His acceleration looked a lot like one he would have made as a younger man and Wiggins could only watch him ride away. It was the highlight of my day.

I’m sure third is not going to be entirely satisfactory for Lance this year and I’m sure he will use it as motivation as he trains for 2010. He’ll have his own team by then and won’t have to worry about splitting leadership duties with Contador, if news reports are to be believed.

So, on to the minutia:

  • Johan Bruyneel says that he is done with Astana after this year. Apparently the Kazakhs want Alexander Vinokourov back as their leader next year, even after his suspension for doping and Contador’s all-but-in-the-bag Tour win. Bruyneel apparently has problems with this and is using it as his excuse to bolt. That confirms my suspicion that he’ll be paired up with Armstrong on a new team next year.
  • Bruyneel also denied that Nike was going to be the American sponsor of the new team. This makes me happy because my conjecture of yesterday was truly nothing more than that and now I’m convinced I was right. Why deny it unless it’s true? Odd logic, I know, but still.
  • Bruyneel also blasted Contador for dropping Kloden with an attack today. Levi Leipheimer and Lance both had things to say about the attack on Twitter today. Following them both via Twitter has been wonderfully educational, btw. Levi gave Contador the benefit of the doubt and blamed any miscommunication on the language barrier. Lance…not so much.
  • For my money, I’m all for Contador’s attack. I was reminded of former Tour champions Eddie Merckx and Bernard Hinault. Eddie Merckx, probably the most overpowering cyclist to ever sit a bike, used to ride away from everyone on every stage of every race, just because he could.

    There were no team considerations. The strongest man went out and raced and, if you couldn’t keep up, (and you couldn’t), then tough luck. Contador’s attacks have reminded me an awful lot of Merckx, especially given that he, like Merckx, has won all three of the Grand Tours. Lance, for all his Tour wins, relied heavily on having the best team and on preparing only for the Tour de France.

    I’m reminded of Hinault because of his “no gifts” quip to Lance a few years back. Lance was going to win the Tour but that didn’t stop him from going for his third stage win in a row. Contador is going to win this tour but that hasn’t stopped him from showing everyone just how strong he can be. If his own teammates cannot keep up…so be it. I for one applaud him and I hope he keeps it up. Let the strongest riders win.

    That’s all for the night. I can’t wait to see what tomorrow might bring. Coverage begins at 8:30 EST on Versus.com. Check it out!

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    2009 Tour de France: Astana’s New Sponsor

    Posted on : 21-07-2009 | By : Charlie | In : Sports

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    Sorry, all, for not posting more regularly. Time has been short lately and I haven’t had the time to post my thoughts on anything. I would love to cover stage 15 and its fireworks. Lance looked baked. Glad to see him bounce back a little today.

    Lance mentioned today that the team would have a new American sponsor in 2010. I don’t have any basis for this conjecture but I think it might be Nike. I know one of the Nike execs was around Lance early in the race, according to his Twitter feed and it just seems like the kind of thing Nike should be doing, especially in conjunction with LiveStrong.

    I guess we’ll find out tomorrow but I wanted to put it out there.

    I’m off to bed. Maybe I’ll find time to write more tomorrow.

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