Archive for January, 2008

Shawn O’Neal, XXX, Horses….

January 30, 2008


Don’t get too excited, you perverts, this is serious shit.

One of the reasons I started blogging was because there are some pretty nasty negative blogs about Masters bike racing, and some of them have said very unkind things about people who are both excellent racers and really great people. My buddy Shawn O’Neal is one of them. Shawn doesn’t really race on a bike racing team, because he has other sponsors from his triathlon successes. That’s pretty unique at his level of racing. Most tri guys never get past Cat-5, while Shawn was bucking for a mandatory cat-2 upgrade a few seasons ago. I feel partly responsible for his transition to Masters racing. I knew that I’d known him for a while, and I think we had butted heads in duathlons at the turn of the century.  I said, “Hey Shawn, how old are you?” He answered, “Well, I guess I’m 41.”  So I said, “Well shit, why don’t you race Masters with us?” And he said, “Maybe I will, let me see.” Sure enough, he’s been ripping us up ever since.

Shawn has a very aggressive attacking style, he’s like Velo Force’s Kurt Russell on meth. But, you know, if you’re an independent, attacking isn’t a bad strategy. It’s up to everyone else to chase, and you may stick something solo or in a break. It’s not like you have teammates up the road.

Shawn has a great attitude, and he’s one of the guys I really like to see at the races. One of my best memories of last season was sitting on the sidelines at the Tour of STL with Shawn and Jeff Williams watching our Team Mack teammate Mark McGeen sticking in the winning break of the Cat 1-2 race. It was awesome! Mark knew he had to do something, and he buried himself for the last three laps, securing a podium finish. We were screaming like little girls! Gee, imagine that, rooting for a person who isn’t on your team. Shawn just thought it was cool that a nice old guy like Mark had a shot at a 1-2 win at the tender age of 49.

And then there were horses….

 Shawn was also there for my worst memory of the 2007 race season. The Brimfield IL road race for the IL State Championship. The day started off ok. I pulled into the parking lot to see an exhuberant Marilyn Powell, one of the nicest people in all of cycling. She had just taken second in the masters race. It went downhill immediately. Something had happened. A woman pulled Marilyn aside even as we were talking. I thought nothing of it, everyone wants Marilyn, and  I went to pick up my number. Cat 4 men started coming back into the parking lot. A few of them were almost crying, and talking about a horrible wreck. A woman in the women’s Cat 4 race had gone down, and it pretty much nullified the men’s Cat-4 race which followed. The guys I spoke to weren’t interested in racing after seeing whatever it was they saw.  Details were sketchy.

     At one point I was standing with Gary Dyer, and while we were concerned, the lack of information and the delays seemed to be wearing thin. Then, a young guy said “the woman died.” I didn’t believe it. How could he even know? He was standing there with all of us, it’s just a rumour, we all need to calm down. The kid was right.

     The young woman was Beth Kobeszka, a promising young racer only 24 years old, three years older than my daughter. She was a graduate of Northwestern University and raced for the XXX team, which has a large contingent of young, lively, racers many of whom started out as bike messengers. Kobeszka was killed when she was forced over the center line and an oncoming pickup truck pulling a horse trailer at a high rate of speed hit her head on. The XXX team suffered another death in 2007 when Pieter Ombregt was killed in a crash in a training race in the Chicago area. It’ll be hard for me to even look at the XXX people this season. 

We didn’t even really race the Masters race. The pack tooled around the course. There was not a single violation of the center line rule (contrary to at least one report). Shawn O’Neal put in an attack with Dave Stone late in the race. Nobody could really chase, or even tried. Shawn cramped, Dave won. At one point, Kurt Russell looked back at me and he wanted to attack and I think he knew I’d follow,  but we’d have had to have crossed the center line on the rolling hills. Right where Kobeszka was killed. We could see Shawn and Dave just up the road, but it just wasn’t important anymore.

There was a memorial lap after the Masters Crit the  day after Kobeszka’s death, we did the lap in shock and silence. I didn’t even care who won (we had three guys on the combined 30+ and 40+ podiums, but it was pretty hollow). After the Memorial lap, I pulled off the course before the barriers, and there they were. Right in front of me; her parents. It was pretty jarring. I couldn’t say anything. But it was too late to look away, or ride to another turn off, or act like I hadn’t seen them. I had to look them straight in the eyes, and just nod my head, and try not to cry.

Another horse nut just about took out Shawn this weekend. He was out with two training partners and some wacko redneck in a pickup truck with a horse trailer ran them over. Corky Miller (Ghisallo) and Nicole Burge suffered broken collarbones, and are lucky that is all that it was. Shawn’s report states “the driver, he/she went out of way to run us over!” Horses.


Walter R. Gove, The Man

January 28, 2008

walt2.jpgWalt Gove is one of the greatest living sociologists, and I was lucky to be on the faculty with him at Vanderbilt for ten years. Walt has made enduring contributions to the field in several substantive areas, particularly social psychology, mental illness, deviance, and criminology. Walt has published more articles in ASR, AJS, and Social Forces than almost anyone in the entire discipline, ever. He’s retired now and living in Utah, but he’s still working on papers and publishing.

Walt is the consummate true intellectual, not some sycophant seeking status and attention. He doesn’t give a rat’s ass what anyone thinks about him, but he does care if you have a thought in your head–so if you don’t agree with his work, he’d like to know why, with specifics, and maybe just a bit of empirical evidence to support your position. At Vanderbilt, Walt was sometimes harassed by campus security, who thought he might be some homeless guy wandering around campus late at night (Walt doesn’t do mornings). He didn’t wear tweed jackets and other props that pseudo-intellectuals need to make pretense of scholarly authority. No, this dude is the real deal.

 What some don’t know is that Walt has a lifelong obsession with extreme sports. He was a serious alpineer in his glory days, and has several publications in the prestigious American Alpine Journal. I remember on my interview at Vanderbilt that he said his AAJ articles meant more to him than his articles in American Sociological Review or American Journal of Sociology. Alas, a very serious alpine accident which cost him all of his toes and many of his fingers led him to stop high altitude ascents. Still, he manages to try to kill himself on a regular basis. My great friend Alfred Darnell is lucky (or stupid) enough to accompany him on some of these adventures, which now days usually involve kayaking down glacial rivers in backcountry Alaska. They made it back this summer, despite nearly drowning, freezing to death, and being eaten by bears and wolves. Alfred is one of the best photographers I’ve ever known, and this shot of Walt is absolutely fabulous.

Just for Brett

January 27, 2008

darrenspandex.jpg   Well, I couldn’t quite get it to dance, and I’m only wearing a diaper. But, this is a shot from a night out on the town with Heston and his Senator, David Vitter. We were, uh, playing around and just doing what came natural.

Remember, if you go to Rouge Roubaix, pack a lot of Desitin. You’ll need it. It’ll keep you from having pain in the bottom.

Where to stick that Poll?

January 25, 2008

mousefuck.jpgProspective political polling has become less and less effective over the last two decades, in large part because the polling is conducted by whores who violate every scientific convention that social scientists developed to make sure that polling would indeed produce high quality results. None of the statistics are legitimate because the basic assumption of having a random sample of the population in question has been violated. We’re not just talking about the tip-of -a-finger in an orafice, no, this is more like a jackhammer-up-the-ass type violation. It’s hilarious to hear reporters with 85 IQ’s talk about these shit polls having a 5% or 6% “margin of error”, as if they passed undergraduate statistics or something. We don’t know what the margin of error is, because we don’t have a random sample. Even adjusting the standard error to reflect the piss-poor response rates wouldn’t help us. This could be possible, using techniques similar to what is done for complex sampling design, but since we don’t know the composition of the non-respondents, we can’t be sure of our initial estimates of the mean or its standard deviation. There is no technical fix for bad data.

Most of the political opinion polls being conducted have response rates of under 10%, probably less the 5%. Nobody reports this. That means that 90%-95% of the randomly selected targets for interview are not interviewed. Usually, this is because of laziness on the part of the firms conducting the interview. What do they care? They’re getting paid to have “results” not to have quality findings. Opinion polling is no longer a cottage industry, it’s big business. Also, many of the principals, almost uniformly media conglomerates (but also politicians and parties–who should have an interest in getting high quality data), want results NOW! Not tomorrow. Not next week. Now. As if people change their political choices on a whimsy every day. You can’t get accurate results NOW. A hardworking team may be able to get good results in 1.5 weeks, but even that is pushing it. It’s better to wait for good data, than to collect shit. It’s like collecting mushrooms. Some people may not want to wait for that perfect fungus to emerge, but instead decide they’ll just cook up the cow pattie.

Worse yet, indifference towards high quality data is infiltrating the social sciences. Gee, if we can get a $250,000 grant and do a survey with 1,500 respondents, that’s good, right? No. Not if your study has a response rate of 21%! I was horrified to open up a recent issue of a journal and see a feature series on a “study” which only managed to get cooperation from 21% of the targeted subjects. Gee, do you think the 21% who did cooperate are like the rest of the population, or do you think the 79% who didn’t cooperate are more normal.  Several of the authors had the audacity to compare their findings to higher quality studies with 70-80% response rates, and claim that because they made some minor shift in question wording or coding that the results of the shit study were more meaningful than those produced by the high quality source! Wow. I’m impressed. Is it hard to be that full of shit? Or, maybe if they’re stupid it just comes naturally. Or, perhaps they’re just whores, feeding off of grant money from agencies that want quick answers in line with their interests…..

Earlier this year I published a paper on this topic in Sociology of Religion, where I was looking at potential religious biases created by differential response rates in very high quality opinion polls. Even when the response rate is 70% (as it is in the General Social Surveys and National Election Surveys), if some groups are more likely to be in the 30% than in the 70% our statistics will not converge to the population parameters no matter what the sample size (that, of course, is the definition of bias in samples). What I found is that fundamentalist Christians are underrepresented in sample surveys, which is consistent with some findings from prospective sample prediction failures. My favorite occurred when I was in graduate school. We all knew that Harvey Gantt was going to kick Jesse Helms ass! There was an 8% gap in the polls! High quality stuff, done at UNC! Of course, Helms trounced Gantt by about that same margin. Media sources have consistently framed that election as one which turned on Helms’ last minute racist advertisements, as if somehow racist rednecks in North Carolina were going to vote for Gantt (who was African American), but then changed their minds in response to these vile ads. Yeah, right. The real answer is that even the highest quality polls had a 60% response rate (the UNC polls), and the Helms supporters hung up the phone as soon as they knew that it was some liberal, communist, homosexual from Chapel Hill wanting to know if they were in support of turning the nation over to the Africans.

Still, I’m bummed that  moving between ex-wives and ex-fiance’s after graduate school I lost my “Another Liberal Communist Homosexual from Chapel Hill for Gantt” T-shirt. I never found my “Impeach Reagan” T-shirt, either….


January 24, 2008

1-2, and five of the top ten slots at Winghaven, Elite.The very word “elite” conjurs up some fairly visceral reactions on all sides. Those who think themselves worthy of the title defend their privilege, while those left out decry the injustice of creating and perpetuating hierarchies. Our pithy regional cycling blogosphere revisited the elitism issue recently, partly in response to posts from my team’s listing in, where we advertised our “Elite Masters Team.” That designation is certainly controversial, and I’ve had to deal with the fallout several years ago, when most of my local teammates quit the team, rather than continue as something less than “elite.”

But, alas. Hierarchies exist. Arguing that we shouldn’t have elite universities would not make my somewhat humble SIU equal to Johns Hopkins or Duke, nor would disestablishing hierarchies make SEMO or Murray State closer to SIU. In cycling, I’m a bit perplexed by the issue. In the end, we carry around cards in our wallets that tell us pretty much where we  stand, and our placement in the strata determines which races we’re allowed to start. Team Mack has an Elite Masters team which is comprised of the old farts who are qualified to start at Masters Road Nationals. If you aren’t at least a Cat-3, you can’t race Nationals on the road, and there are several other Masters races which also make category distinctions based on 1-2-3 licenses. For young guys, USCF generally goes 1-2 for stuff like that, but for us old guys, they give a break to the fact that many people downgrade to Cat-3 as they get older, and some older guys, like me, prefer to race masters rather than 3’s if they came into the sport late. 

Mostly, however, the trend towards designating “elite” versus “recreational” or “club” teams is a function of increased participation and limited resources. I race for an “indie” team. We don’t have an anchor sponsor with a pecuniary interest. Team Mack Paper Company does the title sponsor well by existing, as far as I can tell. I’ve seen their factory in Rockford, but I don’t think I can actually buy Mack Paper. Many of our other sponsors are guys on the team. Steve, Dan, the other Dan. Nobody is losing anything from that arrangement. They want their name on jerseys and that satisfies their marketing objectives, and Mack gives that to them. In contrast, we also have equipment sponsors. Given that we’re NOT affiliated with a shop which sells those goods, equipment sponsors are interested in Mack because we deliver visibility and credibility in the racing community. If old farts can win high profile bike races on Waterford steel bike frames in 2008, I think that says something about their product, and I think we deliver a pretty credible marketing bang for their investment. But, how many frames are you going to dole out for marginal profit? Mack is not a shop. It’s not like we’ll pimp them to other riders in any direct way. At one time, I think we had over 200 members on Team Mack. Should Waterford/Gunnar or other sponsors be dealing in that kind of volume for limited profit? Probably not. Making an elite designation became essential for sheltering sponsors from the burden of committing to giving factory level pricing to huge numbers of people, with little hope for a return on their investment.

For teams associated with bike shops, the problem is even more pronounced, since the profit cut happens at the shop, rather than being a more abstract marketing decision by a sales representative. Josh Johnson, AKA Butthead,  of the venerable Big Shark racing team, made a quite nobel response to a negative post about “elite” club postings on cyclingnews. Butthead pointed out that teams are really just trying to do their job to promote sponsors, and that many clubs create elite designations because of cost concerns. What, is Big Shark supposed to give every Cat-5 in STL a jersey and bibs? Should they give them all race fees? Provide bikes at cost? I shouldn’t be picking on the cat-5’s, because the same holds for the Cat-3’s! Mike Weiss is running a bike shop, for fuck’s sake, not a charity. If you’re a cat-3, and if you race a lot, and if you win a lot, and if you promote his bike shop, and if you’re dead flat broke, then maybe, maybe, if you’re nice, Mike should take pity on you and give you something. Generally, if you’re in that situation, notice, you’re not a cat 3, you’re quickly a cat-2. And, maybe he’d have an interest in promoting you more, but maybe not! The cult of Butthead may actually benefit Big Shark, but I don’t know how many other “elite” level racers a shop can afford to heap with largesse (though I doubt even Butthead is slathered in schwag, because Mike Weiss isn’t a moron).  And, as Big Shark’s Matt aptly noted, if you’re not on your club’s elite team, it gives you some motivation to improve.

Non-elite clubs have their place, and are important for shops, and for cycling communities. Recreational riders, Cat-5 and Cat-4 racers are the lifeblood of US cycling. They are the fans, the developing talent, and the friends who we train with.  They are the people who keep bike shops solvent, and who encourage young people to ride bikes.  The “elite’ designation is unfortunate, mostly because of the connotations. But, there aren’t many alternatives. 

January 22, 2008


So Ill Offroad Cycling

January 22, 2008

A lot of my professional colleagues are always surprised to hear that I’m not desperate to get out of SIU. While the University may have it’s issues, I really love the area. I just about freak out anytime I have to drive in Tulsa, St. Louis, or Nashville these days, and I thought I was going to have a stroke when I had to drive in Chicago last summer. I’ve never had a parking sticker on my car in Carbondale, and my commute to the office is 5 minutes door-to-door by bike. We can hit the farmer’s market, co-op grocery, international grocery, liquor store, and commercial grocery and be home with everything put away in two hours. The Child Development Lab at SIU is one of the best day care facilities in the nation, and that’s a huge relief (and it’s a one minute walk from our offices, and three minute drive from home). It’s nice to live in a small college town.

But, best of all, Southern Illinois is really far south. The weather is almost identical to what I was used to in Nashville TN. We’re actually only about 75 miles north of Nashville (and another hundred miles West). In contrast, Champaign-Urbana is 200 miles due north, and is a whole different world. Chicago is nearly 400 miles north.

As a bike racer, the difference is huge. Some of my Team Mack teammates have come here for Winter training camps, and Dave Stone (now with Druber’s Delta squad) used to run a “spring” break camp in the So. Ill area for riders from Champaign/Urbana. The 200-400 miles difference is huge at that time of year. In the first week of March, the average high temp in Chicago will be near freezing, while in So. Ill it will average 50 degrees. Down here, we train outdoors all winter, and it’s awesome! The roads are rough, but there are few cars, and the trails are incredible.

Today we celebrated Martin Luther King day by exploring some of the Shawnee National Forest on cyclocross bikes (mtbs are too slow on the transition areas, and you feel like you’re wasting your tires when you ride long road sections). I finally found a hidden  rustic trailhead only 7.5 miles from Carbondale. It’s hard to justify putting a bike on a car in Carbondale, but despite our rural setting, there aren’t many trails in the campus area. We managed to wind around through the forest for a spectacular four hour ride. There were a few hairy creek crossings (at 36 degrees, you don’t really want to get wet), but it was still a great ride. It’s pretty incredible to be able to ride for hours and never see a paved road, and mostly be on single track trail.

Southern Illinois is also very hilly and scenic. Unlike the frozen, ugly, flat tundra of Central and Northern Illinois, So Ill is situated in the hill country. Today we were climbing up and descending huge rocky bluffs, admiring caves and ice formations on the sides of limestone cliffs. All kinds of wildlife are abundant, and we regularly see Bald Eagles, foxes, coyote, turkey, timber rattlers, deer, and varied other critters. And, I even spotted a cougar last year.

Unfortunately, my buddy Dave snapped his derailleur off just as we were exiting the trail area. Sometimes sticks jump out and bite you at the least opportune moment. Fortunately, we had tools and chain links, so we set him up as a single speeder and continued on our way.  Tomorrow, I may try to do the same thing in the snow (if that happens), only I think that instead of running the Etherton Gauntlet past the scary squatters who have closed off the Forest Service road, I’ll work my way back to Von Jakobs’ vineyard for a glass or wine or so….

Editorial Impasse

January 21, 2008

sherkatmack1.jpgIt’s that time of year again. The end of Winter break always brings with it a glut of manuscripts to review. I’m on the editorial boards of Jrn. Scientific Study of Religion and Social Science Research, and I just cycled off of American Sociological Review (supposedly, as the manuscript flow continues). So, winter meant that I received 8 manuscripts from various journals. To add to the joy, Chris Ellison and I have been co-editing a special issue of Sociological Spectrum. So, we’re busy doing “tie-breaker” reviews for that one. I’ve always done a lot of reviewing. I’ve been on the boards of Social Forces, American Journal of Sociology, and Review of Religious Research, and Chris and I co-edited Review of Religious Research for a term. I average about 60 reviews per year, and have refereed manuscripts from more than forty different journals in sociology, economics, political science, epidemiology/health, criminology, and sexuality.

    Editing the special issue this time has really brought home a serious problem in Sociology, and in most disciplines. While I have busted my ass to do my professional duty and provide what I think are fair and reasoned critiques of other people’s work, so that editors can do their jobs and scholars can have their work published (or not), I’m not typical. No matter what forum you examine, you see sociologists and other scholars whining about editors, review time, manuscript processing problems, and all manner of such things. Sociology used to be a discipline where you could pretty much bet on having some kind of a decision on a submission within four months. Now, we’re up to something more like six months…with a large standard deviation. My spouse is an economist, and throughout her career wait times have always exceeded a year. Yes, a year before hearing anything. Indeed, I have a manuscript under review right now at a journal (which I will not name, yet), which has been there for 14 months…no word. I checked twice to make sure they got it….

 Editors can certainly help or hurt, but the real problem  is usually beyond the editorial office. Right now, we’re sitting on about a 60% refusal rate to review manuscripts. Most people won’t review manuscripts, even when they are directly in their areas of expertice. And, of course, tardiness and other issues are also a problem. But, the big deal is that many people think that they have some free pass on reviewing manuscripts. They want their stuff reviewed in a timely manner by fair and thoughtful reviewers, but they think that they are too busy (or important) to use their scarce time to perform the same professional courtesy. I’ve seen some evidence that junior scholars are actually being socialized into not reviewing manscripts. Wow. Brilliant! Don’t have a say in what gets published in your field. Don’t help editors with their difficult and thankless task. Just do your own work and (you think….) cover your own ass!

 If you want more time for your own stuff, I suggest pulling the plug on your television. Avoid going to the movies. Stop standing around in the halls yapping about nothing with your colleagues, acting as if you are working or being an intellectual. Stop wasting your time with pointless departmental and university politics. But DON’T neglect your one genuine duty to your discipline. OK, if you have eight or twelve manuscripts sitting on your desk, you may take a pass. But if you have four, I’m sorry, that’s not that much. 

 Reviewing manuscripts is your scholarly duty, and it puts your stamp on the field. People need to stop whining about editors and blaming them for the increases in time-to-decision.

Master Baiting

January 20, 2008

forestparkleadout.jpg I race bicycles. Most people don’t know much about that, but it’s pretty competitive. I came to bike racing from running after a knee injury (an old motorcycle injury came back to haunt me—never mix quaaludes and booze while riding a motorcycle). Running is a more individual “feel good” activity, where people can have their own personal goals and stuff. That’s great. I love that. Bike racing isn’t like that. But, I love racing bikes. I mostly race road bikes, but I also love cyclocross and the rare mountain bike event.

Because I’m old (43 racing age this year), I tend to mostly race in the “Masters” class. Unlike in running, Masters cycling is not an indication of lower levels of performance. Bike racing starts at beginning categories, and all new racers start at category 5, and hope to progress to category 4, cat 3, cat 2, and cat 1. Professionals are cat-1’s who can convince someone to pay them. Master’s racing operates somewhere around the cat-2 level. Most of the top masters guys still hold cat-1 licenses, and many were former professionals. So, if you have been beating around on a bike and want to try races, and happen to be over 40, DO NOT sign up for the Masters race.

I race for the venerable Team Mack Racing, headed by former pro Gary Doering. I love Gary. He’s widely misunderstood. He’s exceptionally competitive, and I think people sometimes take the races home with them. Gary doesn’t. He’s a great guy off the bike, and a fierce competitor on the bike. I’m fairly new to racing (I did my first cat-5 race in 1999), and didn’t really get serious until joining Team Mack in 2002. But with the help of teammates like Gary, Darrell Bratton, Robert Kron, John Fleckenstein, Mark McGeen, Jeff Williams, Tim LeRoy, Clark Priebe, and many others, I’ve learned pretty quickly.

Now, I’m a regular on the St. Louis/IL Masters scene, and it’s fun. There are some really great people on several awesome teams. Russ Murphy heads the fearsome Mesa Cycles team, Kurt Russell does the deed on Velo Force, Joe Walsh is the old guy in charge for Big Shark, Gary Dyer keeps STLCC on the map, and we bump heads with others in central and northern IL on a regular basis.

This season, Mesa has thrown down the gauntlet by picking up a serious ringer in Ethan Froese. I suspect having Ethan’s kid Nolan racing for Mesa had something to do with the switch, but also, his old Labor Power team dissolved, so he was looking. Worse yet, Mesa stalwart Tracy Smith aged back into the 40+ (it used to be that masters was 35+, but we changed the rules because of Tracy). Tracy is fucking fast (I’m working on forming a USCF committee to have the age bumped back up as soon as I’m 45). So, with Russ, Ethan, Tracy, and some very strong support riders, Mesa will be the team to match in the STL area races.

It’s going to be another great season of racing!