Saturday, August 11, 2018

links for the weekend: Facebook, social media and lost jobs (Gunn), private schools getting more elite, a UK extinction for double reeds?, and

Facebook is starting to have scandals that have hurt its business

https://slate.com/technology/2018/07/facebooks-scandals-are-finally-starting-to-hurt-its-business.html

and it's not surprising that some writers belief the nature of Facebook and social media can be taken to be ultimately antidemocratic.

http://artsfuse.org/171946/book-review-facing-up-to-the-damage-wrought-by-facebook/

among the scandals are what groups Facebook has managed to give a platform that people feel shouldn't be getting a platform.  As one author has put it the problems that have shown up about Facebook are fractals of the larger problem as to its social role, uses and ends. 

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/07/facebook-is-fine-even-if-it-is-also-terrible/566162/

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/07/techs-fractal-irresponsibility-problem/566114/

...
Only with the arrival of the smartphone and the social web did it become obvious that, for those concerned with promoting truth and protecting journalism, this was the force to reckon with—this new class of publishers who refused for so long to acknowledge what everyone could plainly see they had built: Facebook is the largest media company in the world and Mark Zuckerberg the most powerful publisher in human history. Twitter is a smaller media company, sure, but still influential in many ways, not least of all because it is known for being the publishing platform of choice among wealthy celebrities, powerful politicians, and journalists. Also: conspiracy theorists.
...
 
To recap: What serves the public conversation best, Dorsey argues, is for one media company to reject the idea that publishers are responsible for the quality of what appears on their platforms, to ignore the larger record of information people publish—and instead to rely on other publishers to uphold standards such as seeking the truth and reporting it, holding the powerful accountable for lies and corruption, and doing so in a way that serves the public good and minimizes harm.
I do not envy publishers like Dorsey and Zuckerberg. The scale of the problem they face—and that we all face as a result—is mind-boggling. In journalism, reporters who lie are fired. But no newsroom has a structure like Facebook, with 2 billion individuals publishing stories and no real editors. On a platform where users can publish freely, and provocations and misinformation are incentivized by the very architecture of the platform, what’s a publisher to do? Perhaps a better question is: What is the publisher’s moral or ethical responsibility?

 
But the word "platform" invites a rebuttal.  And, of course, it got one. Twitter and Facebook are platforms but not traditional publishers as the publishing industry would understand them.
 
... 
To call these platforms publishers—as The Atlantic’s Adrienne LaFrance recently did—is to presume that their task is merely to produce content. It is to presume, then, that the internet should be produced, packaged, and polished and that when someone says something bad anywhere on it then the entire internet is beschmutzed. In Europe, it also means that the internet should be regulated, and in a growing list of authoritarian nations—China, Russia, Iran, Turkey—it means that the internet and the public’s speech on it should be controlled.
...

Among the controversies associated with platforms like Facebook, Twitter and their role in politics is that there's an apparently insoluable tension between the platform as legitimation process and the nature of those messages that are distributed through the platform.  Social media is not the media in a traditional sense, if by "traditional" we mean a publishing institution with fact-checking ability and a social contract corresponding to an "estate".  Sure, the internet has been called a "fifth estate" but the "fifth estate", whatever its strengths, can't be conflated with or taken for the "fourth estate".  All the jokes I've heard megachurch pastors and staff make about the lack of credibility about bloggers in the last twenty years has underlined this point, even when those pastors and church staff made these jokes at their blogs?  Why is that not contradictory? Because social media isn't institutional journalism, to keep it simple. 

In the press the crises associated with social media use are looking like crises that orbit around a central tension between the free-for-all libertarian theory of the press that advocates for social media platforms tend to fall back on and a more traditional array of authoritarian to social responsibility or Marxist theories of the press that people within the institutional press (i.e. magazines, newspapers, whether in online or paper forms) and institutions (schools, churches and their associated leadership cultures) find objectionable.  Anyone who has read this blog in the last ten years may have come across statements by Driscoll about how bloggers are too often not accountable to anyone and not identifiable as beholden to any particular team or tribe.  That's a ridiculous assertion on its face if you try to get specific but it works as a sweeping generalization.  It's just that from 2012-2014 it began to turn out that bloggers who were especially critical of Mark Driscoll often did have an identifiable "tribe", being Reformed (i.e. in some way doctrinally descended from Calvin and Zwingli and their descendants).  So it became dubious for Driscoll to insist that bloggers were not part of a "tribe" while claiming to be Reformed because more detailed investigations into which bloggers were publicly criticizing him would begin to show that PCA and OPC sure seems Reformed!  So here we are in 2018 with Mark Driscoll associating with Charisma House ... .

If the graft, incompetence and spin of the institutional press across the spectrum doesn't get addressed the spin and graft that can permeate the fifth estate may be moot.  Distrust of institutional media seems to be high and while I wouldn't say that social media offers a healthier alternative it's out there.  Meme argumentation and appeals to memes are generally terrible history and terrible journalism but they appeal to the moral intuitions of those who create and reproduce the memes.  It seems to be why balkanization is so rampant.  I doubt it will get better.  The institutional press and the platforms of social media probably can't rectify the problem because these are the apparatuses traditionally used to inculcate precisely those vices of the mind. 

Since social media has turned out to be a way for people to get fired based on things they posted online in the past, there are serious questions to be considered about what a person should or should not say about themselves or in jest on the internet.  And yet ... sometimes it seems that the red and blue partisans have made a business of agitating their own bases in ways that they don't like when the favor gets returned. 

https://slate.com/human-interest/2018/07/james-gunn-dan-harmon-mike-cernovich-the-far-rights-pedophilia-smear-campaign-is-working.html

James Gunn got dropped from directing Guardians of the Galaxy volume 3, for instance, and this gave an author at Slate an opportunity to observe the opportunistic and double-standardized testing approach the right or alt-right can have online about what they do and don't find objectionable.  But then Gunn could grant that his own coarse joking in the past was what catalyzed his getting into trouble in the present. 

in keeping with an ... Atlantic theme ... private schools are getting more elite

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/07/why-private-schools-are-becoming-more-elite/566144/


You probably don't really have a book in you so don't write it, please. A literary agent writes on the topic of how most would-be "books" are just stories, not book-length projects and very probably not book-length projects that would be something a publisher would afford to run with.

We're living in an era in which men like Bezos and Zuckerberg have billions at their disposal but they are not becoming known for traditional philanthropy

https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2018/08/the-problem-with-bezos-billions/566552/



from The Telegraph side of things the "big beasts" of the orchestra may be in danger of going extinct.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/07/28/big-beasts-orchestra-could-become-extinct-arts-chief-warns-youtube/

That's to say the oboe, the bassoon, the French horn and the tuba are less and less popular as instruments to study now in the UK.

...
"Oboes and bassoons are generally not known at all in schools. They might have picture on the wall but they haven't seen them in the flesh. This has been reflected in the massive falling off of the number of children learning them.
 
 
" The sheer physical size of the instruments, the complications of the reeds, and the expense of lessons has led to these instruments being sidelined", he explained. 
 
 
"I think part of it is the perceptions that guitars, saxophones and so on, are seen as being relevant, cool and part of life whereas some of these others are a bit obscure and not what they would want to be identified with," Mr Codd said.
 
...
I happen to love double reed instruments.  While it's unfortunate that oboe, bassoon, French horn and tuba are less and less popular in the UK they are still getting played.  One thing I would suggest, blatantly invoking advice that Matanya Ophee gave to guitarists, is that people who play oboe, bassoon, French horn and tuba consider digging into the chamber music traditions the guitar has with these instruments.  There's a lot of music written for oboe and guitar.  The sonatas of Ferdinand Rebay come to mind, and an excellent sonata by David Evan Thomas.  This is reminding me that I'm overdue (like I am with so many other would-be blogging projects) to discuss the discography of the d'Amore Duo.  For French horn and guitar there's chamber music by Christian Dickhut

For bassoon and guitar ... well ... that's a bit of a trickier one.  Yvonne Kershaw has a nice album's worth of arrangements for bassoon and guitar.  Karl Goepfert anyone?  Gasperini's work is probably going to be hard to find. There is work out there, though.  As for tuba and guitar ... well ... it's not a published score but there's this.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uxcgx-QdMl4

and now back to school stuff.  While there's theoretically a case that a good grounding in education can be a bulwark against the propagandistic elements of social media and traditional mass media there's actually not so cut-and-dried case that this should be so.  Ellul described state education as "pre-propaganda". 

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/08/lottery-college-admissions/566492/

That there's a case that Harvard has discriminated against Asian applicants has been in the news. 

It's interesting to read how a linguistic legacy in pedagogy can be construed in drastically different ways in geographic and historical context.  Take the use of European languages in African education.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o and the Tyranny of Language

Then again, depending on the dialect English, for instance, might be considered legitimate or illegitimate.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/08/who-gets-to-use-black-english/566867/

But here's the thing, there are definitely stereotypes across the color lines.  One of the most prevalent stereotypes the composer George Walker has said he's faced over the last fifty some years is the assumption that because he's a black musician he must play jazz.  He doesn't, never has.  A comparable stereotype can be that whatever "blackness" is as music is the default expression in certain types of vernacular styles and idioms.  That isn't really the case, either. 

In a thread of thought about cultural appropriation as the enforcement of sumptuary codes that, in earlier epochs and places, tended to be the purview of aristocracies, debates about cultural appropriation at a linguistic and dialectical level have continued throughout our day.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/08/who-gets-to-use-black-english/566867/
...

Of course, this controversy also touches on the issue of cultural appropriation. Whether Black English is coherent and whether black people are bidialectal, might we not consider it a kind of encroachment for whites to utilize what is “ours”? Especially when the utilization entails them expressing themselves, in a sense, in something rooted in a culture they don’t belong to?

Perhaps—but we end up tripping over countervailing goals here. We often say that we want whites to understand black pain, the black experience, black difference. We want them to empathize. But upon achieving this understanding, white artists, as artists, will naturally seek to express it through their creations. Are we to decree that they must not? Would this muzzling of basic human creativity, as well as the fundamental drive to share between cultures, be worth something larger?

If minstrelsy of one sort is considered terrible there seems to be another kind of minstrelsy that has gained favor.  No, it's not minstrelsy as conventionally understood but if you didn't read Raymond Knapp's monograph on Haydn and camp and what he had to say about the class enforcing and socio-economic aspects of minstrelsy then this pivot might lose you.  Minstrelsy had a role of delineating the unsophisticated by way of satirizing what the unsophisticated supposedly thought about sophistication in a way that deflated and preserved category distinctions, in Knapp's reading.  There was a type of meta-comedy in making fun of blacks poking fun at the pretense of respectable white society in ways that could, at least in Knapp's reading, simultaneously criticize and affirm the status quo. 

With that preparatory observation in mind, white-bashing can be argued to appropriate the spirit of minstrelsy, paradoxically precisely at those points where its practitioners might aim to subvert the letter.  With that in mind we can shift into the Sarah Jeong tweeting topic, which is another social media topic in the last few weeks.  Let's assume you don't need an introduction to white-bashing.

There may be some utility to white-bashing for both whites and non-whites, discussed over here.

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/08/the-utility-of-white-bashing/566846/

...
To state the obvious, Jeong is hardly alone in colorfully expressing anti-white sentiment, and it is this broader phenomenon I find most interesting. Honestly, I’ve been around this sort of talk, most of it at least half-joking, for most of my life. (Years ago, I even affectionately parodied it.) The people I’ve heard archly denounce whites have for the most part been upwardly-mobile people who’ve proven pretty adept at navigating elite, predominantly white spaces. A lot of them have been whites who pride themselves on their diverse social circles and their enlightened views, and who indulge in their own half-ironic white-bashing to underscore that it is their achieved identity as intelligent, worldly people that counts most, not their ascribed identity as being of recognizably European descent.
One reason I’ve been disinclined to take this sort of talk seriously in the past is that it has so often smacked of intra-white status jockeying. It is almost as though we’re living through a strange sort of ethnogenesis, in which those who see themselves as (for lack of a better term) upper-whites are doing everything they can to disaffiliate themselves from those they’ve deemed lower-whites. Note that to be “upper” or “lower” isn’t just about class status, though of course that’s always hovering in the background. Rather, it is about the supposed nobility that flows from racial self-flagellation.  

But many of the white-bashers of my acquaintance have been highly-educated and affluent Asian American professionals. So why do they do it? What work is this usually (though not always) gentle and irony-steeped white-bashing actually performing?

...

That this form of white-bashing fulfills the role minstrelsy played of delineating educational distinctions along class and race lines might not be taken as an appropriate take on minstrelsy, and even if it were it might be that Jeong's tweets could be taken as a "defensive inversion of bigotry". 

Yascha Mounk, writing at Slate, does not buy the idea that a "defensive inversion of bigotry" constitutes a compelling defense of Jeong's material that sparked debate. Mounck presents a case that for those who identify as liberal or progressive there's a self-defeating set of double standards that will be at work in a "defensive inversion of bigotry":

Writing in Vox, Zack Beauchamp argued that it would be a mistake to think that Jeong is prejudiced against all white people: “To anyone who’s even passingly familiar with the way the social justice left talks, this is just clearly untrue. ‘White people’ is a shorthand in these communities, one that’s used to capture the way that many whites still act in clueless and/or racist ways.”  
Even if the use of this verbal register—let’s call it the “defensive inversion of bigotry”—is meant to be subversive in the way Beauchamp suggests, it inevitably mirrors other undesirable aspects of the speech on which it is modelled. As a result, we ourselves will start to engage in speech that is stupid, hateful, or both. One characteristic aspect of discriminatory speech is to hold all people who belong to a particular group responsible for the behavior of some of its members. Another characteristic aspect is to advocate cruelty against a whole group of people. If we start to imitate the harassers, we will quickly fall into the same trap: We will talk as though it’s fine to treat all members of a group poorly because some of them have acted badly, or even rejoice at the prospect of making “old white men,” in general, suffer. And it should be obvious that, in doing so, even ironically, we will violate two of the most fundamental principles to which liberals subscribe: that individuals should not encounter prejudiced treatment due to the group to which they happen to belong and that we should try to alleviate and oppose rather than to inflict and celebrate harm and cruelty.  
For the same reason, it’s not very convincing to point out that defensive inversions of bigotry are often meant to be humorous. While humor was clearly the intent of some—though certainly not all—of Jeong’s tweets, this line of argument conveniently elides what is supposed to make these jokes funny in the first place. If Jeong had tweeted that she gets a lot of joy out of being cruel to little babies, the comedy would have turned on the implicit absurdity, since we presume that nobody has a reason to wish them ill. But as everybody understands, that emphatically was not the nature of the jokes she did make: the reason why it was supposed to be funny when she tweeted that she gets a lot of joy out of being cruel to old white men is that her implied audience does in fact think that they kinda have it coming. So, yes, many of Jeong’s worst tweets were supposed to be funny, but what was supposed to make them funny was the fantasy of inflicting indiscriminate cruelty on a whole group of people—something to which, as liberals and leftists, we have good reason to object. [emphasis added]
In short, the defensive inversion of bigotry may indeed grant minority groups temporary solace. But it is also a massive gift to the very people who are most intent on doing harm to them. Unfair though this may be, anybody who is genuinely interested in taking away power from the alt-right, or in ensuring that Donald Trump can’t victimize minority groups for a second term, has a very good reason not to say things that serve the cause of the bigots who are out to hurt them.
Mounck doesn't go so far as to argue that employing the distanced ironic methodologies of minstrelsy is not the best way to argue against minstrelsy methods.  The irony that a Jeong tweeting in a way to provoke the alt right could take up the methods and aims of the alt right might almost be too obvious to point out, that meta-minstrelsy is probably not the best weapon to counter the spirit of minstrelsy.   I'm more inclined to be sympathetic to the argument and proclamation that Christ died for all sinners, white, black or Asian or Native American and that in Christ there is no slave or Greek, Jew or Gentile, male or female and so on.  Telling those who practice minstrelsy they are partaking of Antichrist won't convince them, of course, but in a sense convincing them isn't necessarily the point, is it?  If they're committed to that set of views on race then a proclamation of the Good News won't phase them because for them whatever "god news" there is going to be is going to be about their ethnicity or race and not Jesus on the cross.  It's not a big shock to me if the alt right abandons monotheistic religions in favor of more nationalist neo-pagan beliefs.  Somebody gave me Kurlander's Hitler's Monsters as a Christmas gift last year ...  and if Anglo-Americans think that casting off the Abrahamic religions in favor of neo-paganism will curb some kind of fascist tendency it's not clear that there's a compelling historical case that that worked in the previous century.   Which would get me to the topic of a George Steiner book ... .

As to the Jeong-style tweets ... a traditional religious conservative might say the reason this sort of course jesting and cruel joking is bad is because fools are not interested in gaining wisdom or understanding but in telling other people what they think (Proverbs 18:2). While it's common enough to invoke Ephesians 5 about sexual purity could we not also consider that the warning against coarse joking and obscenity doesn't have to be restricted to sexual topics?  It's possible for a religious conservative to be against crude humor about any and all races because that can be gleaned from biblical texts.  Sure, it's easy for Americans and Europeans to joke about Puritans and the bad elements of their legacy but I am not always convinced that the level of cruel humor we have suggests we've arrived at a healthier alternative.  But I'll set that off to the side.  What has been on my mind in the last month or so as I read about these online controversies about humor and race and cultural appropriation is that, as some have already pointed out in the last few years, it's begun to look like these are, for want of a nicer way to put it, an intra-aristocratic set of concerns.   

I wonder if the affluence is one of the keys here in these debates about who gets to say what for what reason with which understanding of interpreted intent.  Ever since I began to read the word "privilege" bandied about in internet discourse and debate it has seemed as if those with the privilege of the literacy and internet access with which to talk about "privilege" have underestimated the amount of privilege they have in being able to broach the subject of privilege. I even began to wonder if it was in some sense an intra-aristocratic battle, not that we officially have levels of aristocracy in the United States but the lack of those formal categories as publicly accepted categories certainly doesn't mean that these categories aren't constantly discussed at an informal/non-scholastic level.  It may be one of the signal debates and tributaries of literary activity in an ostensibly post-literate age. 

in light of Ethan Hein's up-and-down post about Cage there's a new piece at NewMusicBox by a composer who provides a case study of how, however white John Cage's legacy might be seen to be he's an inspiration to an African American woman who composes.

 
When I made the decision to pursue music, I understood at my core that I did not want to fall into the stereotypes of what “black music” was expected to sound like. I knew that my natural form of expression had another voice that deserved to be cultivated. I knew that focusing on a “classical” practice exploiting Negro spirituals would feel forced and disconnected from the Roman Catholic faith that was integral to my rearing. I often found myself recoiling into the works of John Cage, Morton Feldman, Arvo Pärt, and Arnold Schoenberg. I was a frequent loner in music school because my tracks were largely independently driven. These men gave me a place to start experimenting with a different voice. Then one day, I met a friend and colleague who would change my life in more ways than I could imagine—a person who challenged me to question my perceptions of how I was treated, making me realize that I deserved more basic respect than others were giving me in my personal and professional life; a person who made me realize that the only way to be the truest artist and most authentic version of myself would be to embrace all parts of myself, to put in the work to better myself, but to accept my humanity and stop beating myself up for not being the perfect little black girl everyone wanted me to be; and, most importantly, the person who introduced me to the work of Pamela Z.

I wonder if academia is where everyone is expected to be "the perfect little _______." and where, paradoxically, everyone has an incentive to protest against "being the perfect little _______."  If it's that way then why would anyone go into the academy? 

Do authors step back and wonder whether or not this could constitute a case for those who spurn the academy to keep spurning it?  It's not that academic life sounds like it's all bad.  I wanted to be part of it at one point ... twenty-five and thirty years ago.  But I have read more and more from academics and gotten a sense that I dodged a bullet by not being able to partake of that life and it's got nothing to do with a lack of love of learning. 

I really do want to tackle writing about that George Steiner book but if you've read everything I posted today you'll understand why I don't feel like writing more for today.

"Lance Armstrong's moving finish line" and cases for fallen celebrities deserving a second shot at reinstated celebrity

There's a piece at Mbird about Lance Armstrong, who had a Freakonomics show recently.  As someone who was an American kid back when Greg Lemond had his first win and had not just so happened to start watching the Tour de France when that first win happened, I guess I was just not primed to go along with the tone of the article at Mbird from its first two paragraphs.

Wasn't the Oprah interview aired in 2013?  Armstrong was banned from the sport of cycling but since he never had any serious place in "my" heart I not only didn't care that he was banned from the sport of cycling the cumulative case of what he did wrong within the realm of cycling seemed like a fairly clearcut case that that lifetime ban had been earned by his lifetime of conduct within cycling. 

Nonetheless, let's quote the essay so you can get a chance to see why I might not be on the same emotionally resonant notes as Bryan J.
 
 
Wasn’t it 2013?
 
Lance Armstrong’s Moving Finish Line
by Bryan J. on Aug 2, 2018 2:34 pm
 
Where were you in 2012 when Lance Armstrong confessed his steroid sins to St. Oprah? Did you immediately take off your 2004 (!) Livestrong wristband and trash it, or did you simply let it fall behind the bedroom dresser? Was it the talk of your town, or did it just confirm your lack of interest in professional cycling?

It’s been six years since Lance Armstrong was banned from the sport of cycling (and our hearts). Now that a series of lawsuits has been completed and other scandals taken the spotlight, Lance has started to reenter the public square. He’s hosting his own podcast and he’s getting into the cycling commentator business. He’s also beginning to talk openly about his life for the past six years, and wondering aloud what it would take for America to forgive him of his sins.

And a sinner he is, no doubt. He’s started to talk about a number of the practices he went through to keep his steroid use hidden from drug tests. Blood transfusions, backdated prescriptions, carrying out independent tests on his own body to see how big a dose he could take before he hit the allowed drug test limits. It was a massive cover up, and a good one too–a UK newspaper published allegations that Lance had doped in 2004. When Lance sued them for libel, they settled, retracted the article, and apologized.
So when Lance confessed, he was banned from cycling and made public enemy number one. On the most recent Freakonomics podcast, Lance shares what happened as recently as last year as he was leaving a bar in his hometown of Austin, Texas:
And I walk out I’m getting in my Uber and there’s one guy goes, “Hey Lance,” and I fully expected him to go, “What’s up, dude?” and you know, “Right on man, love you,” you know? And I go “Hey what’s up?” He goes “F— you. F— you! F— you!” and he wouldn’t stop. And the next thing you know, the entire patio is screaming “F— you, f— you, f—.” I’ve never had that happen. I was like, “Oh.” I was shaking.
America’s all-star cyclist was finished, and while the rest of America moved on to its next scandal, Lance Armstrong did not have that luxury.
How do you come back from that? It’s a question that drove Lance himself up the wall. It turns out that the course back into public life has a moving finish line. Take this exchange from the same interview:
The question of whether or not anyone who was found guilty of such conduct "should" come back to the fold in which the fraud and cheating was perpetrated and perpetuated doesn't seem to be up for consideration.

DUBNER: If you look at the post-career resurgence and public embrace of Alex Rodriguez, here’s a guy who doped at the highest levels and also performed at the highest levels. Do you look at someone like him and wonder why he gets more of a pass than you seem to be? And what are the differences?
ARMSTRONG: The answer is absolutely. But I just want to be really clear that when I ask the question to myself and really, really want an answer, it’s not because I’m jealous or envious. I’ve met Alex many times, he’s been perfectly nice to me and my kids. I wish him the best. The reason I ask is — I just want to know why. Like what, what is the difference? And I actually, this is so funny. It’s f—ing crazy, like you’ve been tapping my phone. Six months ago, I woke up one day, and I was in Austin alone and I woke up and it was on my mind. And I went crazy. I was literally running around the house. And I said, “Okay, I’m going to ask five of the smartest people I know what they think the difference is between Alex Rodriguez and myself.” And the answers were pretty consistent. The one key thing is that Alex Rodriguez was allowed to come back and play. And Alex Rodriguez was part of a team sport. And, thirdly, Alex Rodriguez never stood for anything else other than baseball.
No consideration of something Greg Lemond said about how if Armstrong's comeback from cancer to win a Tour would have been the greatest comeback of all time if it was clean or, that if it was not, it was the greatest sham in the history of the sport?
So, I was never allowed to come back to my sport at any level, and most people viewed it as an individual sport. And I stood for much more than just cycling. You want to hear this crazy little side note of that day? I was running — I’m not s—ing you, I was running around the house and it was a Sunday. And I was watching the N.F.L. on Fox, because I love watching football. And the lady says, “And we’d like to introduce our newest cast member on the desk here on N.F.L. Sunday on Fox: Michael Vick.” And man — and then I just lost it. I was like “Okay, you know what, I don’t — f— it. I don’t know what’s going on.”
But cycling is clearly also a team sport and has been for decades. Over time it began to look like the cheating and the deception had a team element to it, too. If you lawyer up and threaten a libel suit when you're challenged ... .  What's different about Armstrong?  Well, did Vick or A-Rod sue a British publication for libel and get them to retract a story and apologize even though it turned out they had a legitimate story? 
Michael Vick the dog-fighter is back, A-Rod the doping liar is back, and both of these men did the same thing or worse than Lance Armstrong. And while A-Rod got to earn his way back into Major League Baseball, Lance was never given the chance. 
The question of why Armstrong would deserve another chance to be a cycling celebrity or a cancer-survivor celebrity when so many people who ride bikes and survive cancer aren't celebrities still hasn't come up, has it?

It’s an example of what we at Mockingbird call the “little l laws” of life. While the admonition “do not use steroids” is not explicitly mentioned in the Bible, it is explicitly mentioned in the cycling handbook. More importantly, “thou shalt not use steroids” is codified in the court of public opinion, right next to the commandment “thou certainly shalt not lie about it.” It may not be written down on a stone tablet, but that doesn’t make it less of a standard to live by. 
Is there a little l law that says all who attain to celebrity must keep being celebrities until the day they die?  Is there a little l law that says that megachurch pastors must always be able to somehow keep on in that line of work after credible evidence of misconduct or copyright infringement have come up?  This is the blog Wenatchee The Hatchet I'm writing at, after all.  Sometimes the trust broken along the way raises questions as to how and why someone got the level of prestige and fame they gained, and raises the questions as to the legitimacy of that gained status in a way that invites a fair question as to whether a person deserved it in the first place and should continue to have that status moving forward. 

The problem with the law of public opinion is that there is no agreed upon method of justice or atonement for its sins. Lance shared in the interview that he’s traveled the world to make amends with specific people, and that he’s payed out $111 million dollars (!) to compensate spurned sponsors and settle lawsuits. It sounds like a lot, but the wife of one of Lance’s former teammates told the media that she believed Lance “got away with it,” meaning the punishments weren’t harsh enough. Another friend said to Lance that his attempts at atonement had two different audiences. “For the cycling fans it wasn’t enough. For the casual fan it was too much,” reflects Armstrong.
And yet, the “little l” law may not even be a good law. Lance often articulates that he has been singled out for engaging in practices that every single other cycling team used. He’s not wrong to recognize that there are deeper forces signaling him out over the other cyclists of his era. Perhaps there is an unacknowledged projection of our hopes and dreams that Lance didn’t meet. If Lance could could beat cancer and win a national championship seven times, that means there’s hope for us, right? If Lance could do it, that means it’s at least possible.
So if Armstrong was symbolically punished as being the apotheosis of the sins of the entire industry is that unfair? Were the sins of Israel in wanting a king distilled in some fashion in the sins of King Saul, their first appointed king?  That a king at the top of an empire can embody and distill the virtues or vices of a kingdom can receive a punishment that is considered in some way commensurate to the nature of the power misused doesn't seem like it's actually unfair. 

If Armstrong had beaten cancer and then won a race like the Tour de France seven times that means he could afford the resources to do that.  It says nothing about whether there's hope for us.  Now if we just say that Lance Armstrong embodied a precept of single combat where he somehow represented "us" when he raced then that gets us back to whether those victories were done "fair and square" or whether there was an epic level of cheating and then lying about the cheating involved.  If Armstrong was punished because the way in which he made a sham of the race by how he won and how he hid how he won cast doubt on the credibility of the entire sport then at one level, sure, Lance Armstrong can be upset that he believes he was symbolically punished as the embodiment of the vices of an entire industry.  But so what?  Hasn't it been the case in combat that kings were slain or publicly paraded as slaves to show that a kingdom had been defeated in battle? 

Look, anyone who knows the history of cycling knows that Greg Lemond won decades ago.  He also got accidentally shot, recovered from that, and came back to race again.  Maybe this makes me old school but there was nothing about the Armstrong comeback that was anything we hadn't seen before in the history of cycling or even, to be brutally honest about this, in American cyclists who participated in the tour.  Cancer is bad in its own unique way but getting shot is pretty bad, too.

I was a Greg Lemond fan when I was into cycling, back before too few guys won the race too many times in a row for me to care about who won any more (that started with Miguel, for the record, and not Lance, so Lance wasn't even the only cyclist to win the Tour de France too many times for me to feel like it mattered any more). 

So there's never been a point at which I have wondered why Lance Armstrong should be "back" in the world of cycling as a celebrity.  It's a pedestrian point to note that cyclists peak and decline and drop out of racing to participate in the cycling culture and industry in other ways.  Sorry, that pun wasn't intentional but I'm leaving it in there now that I've seen it.  The question that seems to have an assumed affirmative answer is whether or not Armstrong's reputation should be rehabilitated.
 
Again, the finish line keeps moving further out. He wasn’t remorseful enough. The financial punishments weren’t punitive enough. His public apologies aren’t enough. See this artifact of a news article from 2013, published in the wake of the Oprah Interview. It’s a step-by-step breakdown analyzing whether Lance really understood and felt remorse for his actions. 
Truthfully, it may be the case that, in 2013, Lance didn’t understand just how bad his decisions were. In fact, Lance articulates that the shoe really dropped in 2016 when one of his former Livestrong staff reached out and shared her experience: 
I had a longtime employee at Livestrong finally reach out to me after, oddly enough, she rode the whole wave of this thing and then absolutely hated my guts. Somebody came to her and said, “Let’s listen to his podcast. I don’t know. This guy sounds a little different.” And so she listened to a couple and she started to come around and then she reached out and she said, “Can we go have coffee?” and I said “Absolutely.” 
And so she’s walking me through — I asked her about the process of what was happening at Livestrong while all the accusations were there and there was a lot of smoke. And then eventually there was fire. And you know, she walked me through the whole thing, and she said, “You know, at the end of the day we all felt really complicit." 
DUBNER: That must made you feel really good, huh? Now you drag everybody in.
ARMSTRONG: Well, it changed my life.

DUBNER: How so? 
ARMSTRONG: Look, “betrayal” is a terrible word. It’s a word that nobody wants, a child to their parent or friend to another friend, a spouse to a spouse, a C.E.O. to — whatever. It’s a very heavy word. Complicit is 100x. For me, I had already started to get my mind and my heart around the fact that people had suffered this tremendous amount of betrayal, and then I was hit with complicit. And it just — it rocked me to the core. But it was, I tell you, it was the greatest — her name is Melissa — it was the greatest gift that anybody has given me the last six years.
 To be complicit here suggest that people who supported Armstrong were complicit in his cheating, the bullying he did of those who questioned the honesty and integrity of his victories, and those who believed in what he was doing through his organizations.  If Armstrong was a fraud and a bully then people were complicit in contributing to that whether they realized it or not.

He made a whole lot of people unclean is one way to put it.

When I was attending Mars Hill in later 2007 and 2008 I had some people tell me that just by attending that church I was approving of all the terrible things the church and particularly its leadership had done.  The point I raised at the time was to say, "Look, I have to know what these evil things are if I'm going to know I'm party to them just by attending."  It wasn't that I couldn't conceive of a church leadership team doing or saying terrible things, it was that there were a couple of people telling me without explanation that if I attended the church I was party to the evils.  They were functionally saying I was unclean by association without breaking down in more detail what the guilty parties had done.  Now that Mars Hill has collapsed and a whole lot more things have come to light I am still not sure that merely by dint of attending a church whose leadership perpetrated abuses that I was guilty of those abuses myself but I sure can say that I felt that my contributions of money and time were misused when I began to have a clearer sense of the ways in which I became convinced Mars Hill leadership had revealed itself to be incompetent and even malicious towards people who gave to its cause. 

I don't think anyone has a compelling case to make to me that I should send Mark Driscoll Ministries a financial donation.  Forgiving someone does not require that a person be reinstated to some status they had before you discovered they had been misrepresenting things to you.  As someone once put it, trust is gained slowly and lost quickly.  Perhaps another proviso might be that trust can be gained and lost incrementally or it can be gained and lost as a whole.  Armstrong's conduct while he had, let's call it total trust, meant that once he lost that trust that loss of trust was total. 

That's why it's hard to take this Mbird piece talking about Lance Armstrong as accomplishing a life lesson in a little l law.  I've seen those pieces from time to time but to make Lance Armstrong the springboard for such a discourse without considering that there may be good cause to have that guy banned for life from cycling, particularly when people who read the interview with Armstrong can get a strong whiff of how he sees himself as unfairly scapegoated for the collective sins of cycling--we can flip the script and ask whether cycling deserves attention?  If Armstrong, the king of the cycling empire, turned out to be a sham then we don't just have to ask what it will take for him to be given a way back in, we can also ask why anyone would watch cycling, too.  I stopped watching cycling by the time Armstrong won because I was bored.
If only repentance had a set number of stages and pre-arranged stopping points along the way, where one could complete a course and be done. 
One of the great benefits of God’s Law is that it does have a fixed finish line. It’s just that crossing that finish line is harder than winning the Tour de France seven times after cancer–without steroids (zing!): be perfect as your heavenly father is perfect. There are no questions of good enough, no unwritten rule book, no people sitting around discussing your success or failure at the water cooler. 
To hear Lance talk about his exile from cycling is to hear a man desperate to atone for his sins, someone who has traded one race for another. Winning seven Tours after cancer may have been pretty easy compared to the challenge of this new race. The confessional of St. Oprah can only go so far.  
Ah, no, some of us read Armstrong and get the impression he really misses the status he had when he was king of the hill; feels he was unfairly scapegoated for doing what everyone else was doing, too; and failing to grasp that as the symbolic king of the hill his fall was emblematic of how he came to his kingship.  If you won the throne by cheating you didn't honestly win the throne, did you?  We could just set off to the side the question of why men want to seize thrones and just stick to the observation that Armstrong might just have been banned because after having the proverbial throne for so many wins it turned out he won it by doping and intimidating people who had questions and doubts about the integrity of his wins into retracting their public statements. That's more Megatron than Optimus Prime if we want to keep the discussion at a pop culture level.

To my way of thinking, better the race you know you can’t win than the one that says you can but keeps moving the chalk mark. At least in the first instance, victory has substance. It may not be yours or mine to accomplish, but apparently someone did pull it off once. It was so tough, they say the guy was sweating blood.
So by article's end it seemed that Armstrong was in some sense an interchangeable cog for a general observation about how celebrities can't catch a break after they've been caught doping, lying about the doping, and using lawyerly power to intimidate people who published allegations about doping into retracting their stories.   
 
Now, maybe we shouldn't make heroes of cyclists.  That bromide for the bros is easily trotted out.  We can talk about how we shouldn't make celebrities of cyclists and that says something about the idol-factory in our heart.  Yeah, yeah, I get that.  I'm a Calvinist, after all.  But Armstrong sold people a story, a heroic story, and people believed in this story, they literally bought into and invested into that story. 

I doubt I could find a more apt summation of this buying in aspect about Armstrong than the following:
 
 
And Now He Is Nothing
 
By Michael Specter
August 24, 2012
 
I moved from Moscow to Rome with my family and two bicycles in 1998, and spent a lot of that year—and the next—obsessed, I am sorry to admit, with the bicycles. Italy, after all, was a place where thousands of middle-aged men felt perfectly comfortable spending many hours a week in brightly colored spandex. I rode most days, (often, idiotically enough, on the highways that ringed the city) and by the next summer, when I wasn’t on my bike I was often parked in front of the television, mesmerized by a man who hardly seemed human.
 
Lance Armstrong—could a Hollywood screenwriter come up with a better name for an American hero?—had returned that year to the world’s most gruelling test of endurance, the Tour de France. He had spent the previous two years being treated for testicular cancer that had spread throughout his body, which, at the time, was more often than not a death sentence. The chemotherapy Armstrong received was so powerful and so toxic that he suffered burns on his arms from the inside. How could somebody even ride a bicycle after that, let alone win a race that lasted a month, scaled the highest peaks in Europe, and covered more than two thousand miles?
 
But he not only rode—he won. Again and again and again. Each victory seemingly more thrilling than the last. Seven Tours in all; a feat unmatched in sports. Cycling had long been tainted by the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs, and Armstrong’s achievement was so astounding that many people simply assumed he relied on them just as others had. The French were the loudest and most persistent critics (reason alone, in my book, to feel for the man). But others wondered, too. As I wrote in my lengthy and adulatory Profile of Armstrong, Greg LeMond, America’s first Tour de France champion (he won three times), put it well, if somewhat uncharitably, after Armstrong won his third straight Tour, in 2001: “If Lance is clean, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If he isn’t, it would be the greatest fraud.” But who could pull off a fraud like that? Armstrong was, and remains, one of the only top cyclists never to be caught doping. He almost certainly received more drug tests than any other athlete: he was tested whenever he finished among the top three riders in a race (most days). In addition, representatives of the World Anti-Doping Agency would periodically show up at his house in Austin, during the off season, with vials he was forced to fill. He seemed perfectly justified in making a famous (now infamous) Nike commercial ridiculing his detractors. (“Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”) [emphasis added]
 
I have already conceded that I was, perhaps, overly beguiled by Lance’s excellence. And there is little left to do but lament what we have lost. It’s worth pointing out that the enormity of his achievement, even with drugs, can hardly be overstated. There has never been a more visible symbol in American sports of a man who just won’t quit.
 
That is why I am so deeply appalled by his announcement yesterday that he would no longer fight the charges against him. He said he was tired of the fight. Tired? Really? Armstrong made it clear on several occasions he would fight to the death. (My favorite Lance quote about pain, clearly applicable to the accusations, is, “Pain is temporary. It may last a minute, or an hour, or a day, or a year, but eventually it will subside and something else will take its place. If I quit, however, it lasts forever.”)
 
Yes, quitting lasts forever. And he did not even have the decency to admit his guilt. Oddly, two of my colleagues—both of whom had ridiculed me mercilessly for supporting Lance—wrote to me today to say that they actually felt sorry for the guy.
 
I do not. Lance Armstrong stood for something. He was a man who, despite the hatred, the envy, and the odds, would never quit, would never concede. He was the great American—a man of principle who also won. Now, I am afraid, he is nothing.
 
So it's not just that Armstrong admitted he was a fraud, he sold himself as the man who wouldn't quit.  If you quit, it lasts forever.  He quit, so to speak, in the middle of 2012 and by early 2013 he admitted to doping. Quitting meant he had failed to live by the maxims he advised to others.  The confession meant he'd ... failed to live by the rules that he'd been alleged to have ignored as a way to gain his victories. 

I am just going to have to spell out that when I read Mbird pieces that are apologies for celebrities who lost their celebrity status with cause I'm just not "feeling it".  Defenses of why celebrities who were shown to be shams should be back on the celebrity train in their industry just don't connect with me. 

If you want a run down of a sample of the coverage.
 
 

So here's the podcast that got referenced in the Mbird piece, or large chunks of it. 
 
 
The Tour de France is so famous that it’s known even by people who know zero about cycling — which, in America, was pretty much everyone. That changed with Lance Armstrong, especially when he won again the following year. He put half the nation in spandex. Then he won again, again, again — an unprecedented seven Tour wins, all in a row. He became a hero, then a legend, and then something even bigger. Because he won those seven Tours after having survived cancer and starting a cancer foundation called Livestrong. You know those yellow Livestrong bracelets? He put even more people in them than he put in spandex. Armstrong was loud, cocky, and combative — on and off the bike. But it worked. It seemed he literally couldn’t lose, at anything. He had a rock-star girlfriend. There was talk of him going into politics someday, maybe running for governor of Texas. But there was also talk of him cheating, of doping his way to victory. Cycling — along with most other sports — has a long history of cheating.
 
ARMSTRONG: You know, the original Tour riders were jumping on trains and holding on to cars and taking cocaine.
 
Journalists and others came forward with seemingly credible evidence that Armstrong was using, among other things, erythropoietin or EPO, a naturally occurring hormone thought to boost performance. Armstrong aggressively denied the charges.
 
ARMSTRONG: [From this clip] I have never doped. We’re sick and tired of these allegations and we’re going to do everything we can to fight them.
 
In some denials, he seemed to wrap himself in the cape of a cancer-survivor superhero — like this one [emphasis added], from his 2005 Tour de France victory speech:
 
ARMSTRONG: [From this clip] The cynics and the skeptics, I’m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big and I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.
 
But in 2012, seven years after his last Tour de France victory, most of the allegations were finally proven true.
 
HOST: [From this ABC News clip] Some breaking news now on Lance Armstrong: the global governing body of cycling has just announced moments ago that it will ban Armstrong for life and strip him of his seven Tour titles.
 
Ultimately, Armstrong confessed. But America wasn’t buying it. It wasn’t just that he’d doped; that’s what cyclists did. Nor was it that he lied. It was the way he lied — attacking his accusers; suing them. Even his confession seemed to lack an ounce of contrition. Armstrong had gotten very rich, but between lawsuits, lost sponsorships, and other clawbacks, he now lost something like $100 million. He was sued by, among many others, the U.S. Government, for having defrauded his team sponsor, the U.S. Postal Service. Armstrong also got kicked out of his own cancer foundation. So where does all this leave a person?
The 2018 Tour de France is finishing up this week. There are still constant doping allegations and, occasionally, penalties. Armstrong still feels he was unfairly scapegoated for all of cycling’s sins. [emphasis added]
 
ARMSTRONG: I raced in a generation and on a team that was amongst 20 other teams that all did the same thing. Every single one of them did the same thing. I went to the American team in ‘92. And I’ve referred to this a lot over the years, I referred to it as low-octane and high-octane: cortisone and things like that are low-octane and then when you get into EPO, the 10 percenters, those are high-octane. And the sport of cycling in the mid 90’s, EPO was like wildfire. And we were holding out, holding out, holding out, just assuming that, “Come on, there has to be a test for this,” and we got to this moment where we looked around and were like, “Oh my god. We don’t have a choice.” Or, well, we do have a choice. Our choice is to go home. We could just quit. Retire. But if we want to stay and fight — we were all walking around with knives, because we were told we were going to a knife fight. And next thing you know, everybody had guns. And we said, “Oh s—, these boys are carrying guns.” And so in the spring of ‘95, we went to the gun store.
 
DUBNER: Are you surprised at how long you got away with it? And I’m curious what kind of cost or burden it must have been to keep it secret for so long, especially when you’re getting accused of it.
 
ARMSTRONG: It’s made a lot easier when you have drugs that were undetectable — not even drugs plural, really a drug. Right? That is really all about EPO. Two things. One, a drug that was undetectable for very long time. So, it was the Wild Wild West. And secondly you had a drug, EPO, that had a half-life of somewhere between four and five hours. It’s very easy to monitor that, and if you knew that you were going to be in that window of time you’d be tested, if you could just do some basic math, you could figure that out. And then thirdly, and I did say this — and I’ve got a bunch of criticism for it, which I should have — my line used to always be, “I’ve passed every drug test they’ve ever given me.” And people sort of laughed at that after the fact. But the reality is that that’s actually true. Because every time those tests were given, they were clean. Because if you manage the half-life and you manage the time of year — there’s a window of risk. [emphasis added]
 
I cared about one event. And that’s the Tour de France and it’s in July. So I knew that I had to open up that window of risk for six to eight weeks. And that was it. So come August, September, October, November, all the rest of the months — “Guys, you can come all day long, any day, any time of day. Doesn’t matter.” Of course that doesn’t change anything, right? Most people would say, “Well, just because you managed the half-life and did the math right, that doesn’t mean that the test was clean.” But I guess it’s all to say that there was no other nefarious masking or anything. It was just about managing the math.

Let's stop a moment and highlight the last highlighted quote.  It emphasizes that the way in which Armstrong had cheated the system was calculated to be beyond the accountability protocols that were in place.  It's not just that he cheated but admitted he cheated in a way that ensured he would pass based on the testing criteria available. 

And ...

But there was some masking. Swapping out blood, for instance, to avoid detection. Here, from the 2013 documentary The Armstrong Lie, is the journalist Daniel Coyle.
 
Daniel COYLE: In 2000, they developed a test for EPO. So the smart guys — Ferrari being one of them — go back to an older technology which was you take out bags of blood out before the race. During the race you put them back in.

“Ferrari” is Michele Ferrari, the Italian doctor and doping expert who worked closely with Armstrong and has also been banned from the sport.
 
ARMSTRONG: The transfusion became part of our world once they developed the test. It became a part of everybody’s world. I mean, transfusions is old-school, right? That’s retro. That’s what they did in the 70’s and 80’s. And so people said, “Okay, well, we’ll just go retro.” 
 
DUBNER: If we’re talking old-school and doping, you can go back to the early days of the Tour. You can go back to the original Olympics. Performance-enhancement drugs have been around as long as, if not longer than, sports, right?
 
ARMSTRONG: Well all of that is true. But none of us thought about the ancient Greeks. We were thinking about ourselves and thinking about just how f—ing hard this sport is, and how we’re just getting throttled.
 
DUBNER: You’d been riding for so many years, you had this unbelievable endurance, physical and mental. And then you started taking EPO. And now you’re riding off in the same courses, the same hills, whatnot. You knew what’d it feel like before. What did it feel like, physically, in comparison when you had EPO in your bloodstream?
 
ARMSTRONG: It’s very hard to compare. I can try to imagine. I’m 46 years old and 15 pounds heavier than I was then. So, naturally it’s a lot harder. You go a lot slower, you breathe harder, you sweat more, and that’s just that.
 
DUBNER: Did it feel like you had a little engine helping you out. Was it that drastic, or not really?
 
ARMSTRONG: It’s interesting. There’s no, that I’ve ever heard of, or seen, or taken — there’s no compound that prevents suffering. Right? So even with EPO or whatever, you still feel all of the effects of — if you’re in a race and you’re over the limit and you’re suffering. I had — the only thing I’d point to is that I had an unbelievable ability to buffer lactic acid. So when you’re on a one-hour climb at the Tour de France, the thing that starts to make you go slower is lactic acid. If you just went running uphill as fast as you could and sprinting, you would start to slow, slow, slow, slow, stop. The thing that stops you is lactic acid. So I had this ability to not only buffer it, but clear it. So once we hit the downhill, then my lactate levels would drop significantly faster than anybody else. That’s really the only thing we could point to. And then I just trained my ass off. I loved it. I thrived on the work in the process, it was my favorite part of it, to be honest. And then when I got in the race I just didn’t want to lose.
 
DUBNER: But do you think you could have won any Tours de France without doping?
 
ARMSTRONG: Well, it depends what the other 199 were doing.
DUBNER: Well, considering what was actually happening at the time, considering your opponents.
 
ARMSTRONG: Say I did nothing?
 
DUBNER: If you did nothing, could you have won?
 
ARMSTRONG: Zero percent chance.
 
 
And yet a generation ago it was commonplace for people to just drop out of the Tour de France.  They just plain couldn't finish the race.  Being able to get into the race at all was considered something of an achievement and yet Armstrong talks about how there's zero chance of winning if you didn't dope?  That's what I find puzzling.  Thirty years ago when I was introduced to cycling I was told that the Tour de France was grueling, that lots of people didn't even finish it, and that if anyone actually did win it they had successfully worked with their team and strategically played the best game to win as an individual but also through teamwork. 
 
So for me the idea that Armstrong needs to be rehabilitated seems moot.  His cheating reflected badly on an entire sport, sure, but if that's the case then I don't think thee question is why "we" can't have Lance Armstrong back in cycling, the question should be why there's still cycling as a professional sport if the cheating has been as endemic as Armstrong has said. 
 
I'm just not seeing why a Lance Armstrong needs to have a firm "finish line" if the "finish line" is whatever he needs to say or do to be welcomed back as the crowned king of professional cycling.  That's over.  He can find other things to do.  He can at least try.  It's not that there's no ability to feel compassion for someone who has discovered that the world has discovered he's a fraud and a bully who has attacked people publicly for raising what turned out to be legitimate doubts about the integrity of his story and conduct.  I can feel compassion for a man who has done these things and still suggest that finding some way to make an honest day's wages that doesn't involve going straight back into the realm in which you were discovered to be a sham is the better way to go. 
 
If we live in an era in which "everybody" cheats to win some game why aren't we asking why that game should be played rather than talking about what it might take to reinstate a cheater into the game?  I'm not sure I can understand this.