One Hundred Things Norman Geras and I Corresponded About Over the Last Decade

Country music (including but not limited to Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Allison Krauss, and its relationship to suicide) — Marxism — The war in Iraq — The case the British government made for the war in Iraq — Media coverage of the war in Iraq — Differences between British and American media coverage of the war in Iraq — Dead socialists (including the question of whether or not Paul Sweezy was in fact dead: he wasn’t when we began corresponding on the question, but later he was) — Favourite novels — University admissions — Boycotts of Israelis — Blog technology issues — The paradox of democracy — Paul “The Thinker” Richards — Defamation law — French headscarves laws — International rugby partisanship — New Zealand and whether it is a dull country — Amnesty International — Italian anti-war demonstrations — Christopher Hitchens — The precise distance from Boulder, CO to Birmingham, AL — My Normblog Profile — The number of Red Sox supporters who have Normblog profiles — Where the Wild Things Are — Bob Dylan — Favourite films — A Mighty Wind — Nashville — Joan Baez — George W. Bush — The Hutton Inquiry — Lucio Colletti — Why the film Life is Beautiful is so terrible — The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind — Mobile telephones — Cricket — The various ways in which my students used to pronounce the name “Geras” — Rock stars — Exam marking — Arnold Lobel and his Mouse Tales — The Butler report — The Campo de’ Fiori in Rome — Shakespeare plays — Obnoxious right-wing writers (including Mark Steyn and Andrew Bolt) — American airport security checks — Terrorist threats — Socialist Register — The 2004 US Presidential election — Baseball — Visiting Oxford — Thomas Hobbes — Roman libraries — Classical composers (especially Schubert) — Jokes about rational choice theorists — The Tour de France — Etienne Balibar — Favourite actors — The excellence of kittens (and, more generally, cats) — American street names — Wendy Cope — Footnotes in Capital — Umpiring — Passport applications — Margaret Thatcher’s resignation — Margaret Thatcher’s poetry —  Jews for Justice for Palestinians — Chavez and anti-Semitism — Academic plagiarism — David Aaronovitch as marathon runner — x-RCP front organisations — Robert Wokler — Academic jobs — Musicals — Australia — The rubbish-collection regime in Oxford — Tony Judt — Whether or not the Euston Manifesto was part of a “common, hysterical defense of the Anglo-Dutch financial system, and their permanent right to loot the economies of the world” — American practices of memorialization on campus — Flooding in Oxford — The Beatles — Jerry Cohen’s valedictory lecture — The New Left Review — Loyalty oaths — A Dance to the Music of Time — Merton College, Oxford — Visiting Manchester — Critical opinions about America — Puzzles involving marbles — Traffic robots — The Beach Boys — Tony Blair’s relationship with God — Bernard-Henri Levy looking funny in photographs — Authorisations to use military force — John Stuart Mill on international intervention — The Eurovision Song Contest  — Adam Smith — Nick Cohen’s views about torture — Alfred Hitchcock films — The thorny question of whether seven-times Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong was on drugs — The problems of travelling between Oxford and Cambridge.

Biggest regret? In July 2004, Norm wrote, “Might you have an interest in watching a Test or some part of one with me?”, and I never took him up on the suggestion.

His final words of the correspondence, from the start of this month: “My own care from the NHS has been exemplary.”

Allez Wiggo!

I’m writing this post as the Tour sweeps onto the Rue de Rivoli for the first time, and I’m in a very good mood about this year’s Tour de France.

I’ve loved the Tour for twenty years now. It flickered on my radar screen in 1987, with the gripping duel between Stephen Roche and Pedro Delgado, and then again in 1989, when I watched Greg Lemond pipping Laurent Fignon to the post in that final time trial, but the race permanently captured my imagination in 1992, specifically on the occasion of Claudio Chiappucci’s epic solo ride into Sestrières.

Those twenty years, of course, were mostly very heavily doped up indeed. For a long time I wasn’t really bothered by the doping, and treated it as part of the soap opera. That attitude more or less survived the 2007 Tour–one I particularly enjoyed, being in Hyde Park for the Prologue and on the Champs-Elysées for the finale–when Michael Rasmussen was thrown off the race while wearing the maillot jaune. But it took a big knock the following year, when Riccardo Riccò was kicked out, shortly after winning a stage in tremendous fashion. That was, I think, when it was brought home to me just how intimate the connection was between the doping, on the one hand, and the kind of riding that make for the most exciting television, on the other.

So while Bradley Wiggins hasn’t won the Tour in the most exciting fashion this year–he’s copied the Indurain method of dominating the time trials and defending in the mountains–I find that this doesn’t really get in the way of my appreciation of his achievement. There doesn’t seem to be terribly good reason to think that he’s doped (and there seems to be quite good circumstantial evidence to suggest that the race isn’t as doped as it once was), and I find myself warming to the man himself. He comes across (to me, at least) as a very civilised champion, and it’s gratifying to read that the French public are learning to appreciate him. I’m almost feeling patriotic.

Allez Wiggo! Vive le Tour!

Le jour de gloire est arrivé!

Here’s Severine Dupelloux singing the French national anthem to open the Winter Olympics at Albertville in 1992:

The link popped up in my twitterstream this morning, and I was very pleased to see it, not only because of the (sort of) appropriate Bastille Day / Olympics mash-up effect, but also because this was the legendary performance–a sweet ten-year old French girl from the Savoie singing unaccompanied before the TV cameras of the world–that inspired Danielle Mitterrand and others to embark on their ludicrous campaign (le Comité pour une Marseillaise de la Fraternité, no less) to rewrite the words of the Marseillaise to make them a little less bloodthirsty. Happily, nothing came of it, and the French continue to enjoy the finest national anthem in the world.

Other Stoa Marseillaise links, some possibly still functional, over here.

[It was somewhat appropriate to have a British cyclist win–David Millar–win yesterday’s stage of the Tour de France, on the 45th anniversary of Tom Simpson’s death on Mont Ventoux. (If you haven’t read it already, William Fotheringham’s book about Simpson’s death, Put Me Back on my Bike, is marvellous.) But today, it should be turn of a Frenchman.]

Track Cycling

I’ve been enjoying the track cycling events at the Olympics (and ignoring most of the rest of the Games). Hitherto, I’ve only watched road-racing in general and the Tour de France in particular. Well done, the British team, etc. (Actually, they’ve been remarkably good, and it looks as if they’ll all be winning at least one medal — assuming Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins can pulls something off in the Madison. I hope they get to sit next to the Judo team on the plane on the way home.)

But what I was going to say was this: aren’t all the track events basically very silly? I was watching the team pursuit earlier today, and thinking what a silly event that was, before reflecting that there were at least four sillier events (the sprint, the points race, the Madison and the Keirin — and, arguably, a fifth, the team sprint, which is, let’s face it, pretty silly). Has velodrome cycling always been silly, or has it become progressively sillier over time?

Iban Mayo…

David Millar (just signed for Slipstream) ought to be absolutely furious with Iban Mayo.

On the first day in the Pyrenees, Millar and David De La Fuente of the Saunier-Duval team drove the peloton over the Port de Pailheres at a crazy pace, in the hope that team-leader Mayo could do something on the way up to the stage-finish at Plateau de Beille. But he couldn’t, and lost nearly ten minutes on the final climb. And now we learn he was on drugs too.

Mayo had a terrible tour, finishing 16th at 27’09”. I thought the drugs were supposed to prevent that kind of thing.


I don’t think I’ll try to become a professional sports photographer any time soon. But here are three images from this afternoon’s racing, anyway.

Quite by chance I seem to have got Alberto Contador in the middle of this pic, on the second half of the first circuit of the Champs-Élysées, flanked by the rest of his Discovery Channel team.

Here comes the peloton!

The Lampre riders, on their way to set up the stage win for Daniele Bennati.

Vino Fails Dope Test!

Over here, or en français.

Not entirely clear why Klöden et al should be pulled from the race, too. Maybe we’ll find out in the hours to come. Anyway: this is just what we want: a drugs angle to inject a bit of life into the cycling soap opera that won’t destabilise the whole event.

While I’m on the subject, do other Stoa-readers agree with me that Vino looks funny when he rides his bike? Especially when he’s being filmed from the front on the breakaway. I can’t really describe it; he looks like some kind of comically stubborn child as the legs pump up and down. The bandaged knee has something to do with it, but I don’t think it’s just the bandage; he’s stockier than the average cyclist, and that has something to do with it, too. Maybe it is just me.

Anyway: it’s been a cracking Tour, and I can breathe easily now that it looks as if Cadel Evans won’t be winning it.

UPDATE: Good piece (as ever) by William Fotheringham in tehgraun.

Dead Cyclist Watch: Tommy Simpson

Today’s the fortieth anniversary of the death of Tommy Simpson, the first (and only?) really great British cyclist, who collapsed and died near the summit of Mont Ventoux in the 1967 Tour de France.

Richard Williams has a good piece in today’s Graun; and do read William Fotheringham’s Put Me Back On My Bike if you get the chance: it’s a cracking book, certainly the best book on cycling that I’ve read, but one that’s not just for the cycling nerds out there. In fact, anyone interested in the social history of postwar Britain in general and the popular culture of the 1960s in particular should enjoy it. And, look, there’s a new edition, too, so it’s bound to be in the shops.

(There’s even been speculation that Bradley Wiggins has gone on the attack in today’s stage from Semur-en-Auxois to Bourg-en-Bresse by way of symbolic tribute to the man; we’ll find out, no doubt, at the end of the day’s racing.)