January 30, 2013

During the last several years, we’ve seen the fall of two of the world’s super heroes: Tiger Woods and Lance Armstrong. But of the two, Armstrong fell further. Reason being: Woods betrayed his immediate family; Armstrong betrayed us all. Let me tell you why.

Over the last two decades, my wife Connie and I have made watching the Tour de France an annual tradition, even getting up at 5:00 a.m. to keep up with the race’s progress. Why? Because of the mesmerizing presence of that indomitable cancer survivor, Lance Armstrong. How vicariously proud he made us feel of our nation, the bicycling sport, and the human spirit. Not just in America alone, for Armstrong became a world icon.

Then the doping dominoes began to fall, one after another; but, in spite of multiple accusations, Armstrong’s teflon armor withstood all attacks. We collectively believed in him, attributing the doping accusations to envy, sour grapes, or mere plea bargaining. After all, Lance had given us his word. Given it to us in thousands of sound-bytes. Had sued one after another of his accusers. Had spent a fortune to protect his good name.

And then, like a Greek tragedy: the fall. The long, long fall. The sitting in a chair opposite Oprah where he admitted, matter-of-factly, that yes, his entire climb to the very top of cycling’s Mount Olympus was riddled with lies: there was no substance to his room full of yellow jerseys, for they’d come to him via years of stacked decks—no level playing field for him! Yes, he admitted in deadpan fashion, he’d lied to everyone: teammates, racing officials, interviewers, fans, even his own son. He’d viciously attacked and done his best to ruin those who dared to speak the truth about him. In short, he’d lied to the entire world. And there, in that chair, he revealed to us all that the Emperor had no clothes—never had had clothes. It was all sham.

Why? For the same expressed reason all those other cyclists used to justify their acts: “because everyone else was doing it.”

But Lance was not “everyone else”—we’d held him to a higher standard than they.

Humpty-Dumpty had such a great fall that not all the king’s horses or all the king’s men could put him together again. The same is true of Lance—he can never be put back together again. Others who betray those closest to them, we may in time forgive. But not Lance, for he betrayed us all.

My wife and I will never again look at cycling the way we did before. Always, in the back of our minds, will be that insidious question: Are we being betrayed again? Which of today’s leaders got to the front because of doping? Of what value are time trials when some win through performance-enhancing drugs? Which ones are winning through deceit today? How many wide-eyed hero-worshiping children will be stripped of their innocence, their faith in their sports idols? How many will, as a result, become disillusioned, cynical about sports victories that used to mean something?

Next week, we’ll dig deeper into this international tragedy. Not just Lance and Tiger, but how we as a society have got this way.




It is a very sobering picture, isn’t it (the last three blogs)?  It is indeed.  Yet, even so, I promised last week that we’d now turn to the up-side, affirmation, hope, solutions.

It is time.


You will remember that, several times in recent months I have referred to my earlier prediction that, historically speaking, the other side of the zeros (100-year-turn, 500-year-turn, 1000-year-turn) invariably turns out to be radically different from all that came before—and that this one, being all three (100, 500, and 1000) would inevitably prove to be the most seismic since the years 1500 and 1000.  We are only now beginning to realize that the ebbtide of the old order is taking place before our very eyes.  What we don’t know yet is what kind of incoming tide will replace the receding one.  We can only guess.

What we can predict with a high degree of accuracy is that the pace of life and change will continue to increase in speed as the world continues to constrict into nanotechnology.  So when did all this begin to accelerate?  Only three-hundred years ago: when the zeros of 1800 replaced the zeros of the 1700’s.  Up until that crucial watershed (turning point), for millennia, the pace of life had remained relatively unchanged: the fastest land-speed being a galloping horse and the fastest sea-speed being a sailing-ship.  Because neither of these optimum speeds could be long sustained (obstacles on land and becalming on water), there was no need for clocks; sundials worked well enough, until the industrial revolution of the 1800’s when steam-power replaced sail-power.  Only when ever faster locomotives made it imperative that we divide the nation into time zones, did accurate time become relevant, for before the invention of mechanical engines, no one could possibly know for sure when either a land-vehicle or a sea-vessel would arrive at a given destination.

Every year since 1800, the pace of life has continued to accelerate.  Sometimes at such a rate that the juxtaposition of two opposites proved to be ridiculous (such as during World War I, fought with both cavalry horses and armored tanks; fought with both drifting balloons and power-driven airplanes).

Nostalgically, my thoughts drift back in time a half-century to a musical play my high school students put on during the mid 1960s.  Our theme song was “Far Away Places,” and the play began and ended with a dreaming teenager in her home bedroom, and the lyrics had to do with “those far away places with strange-sounding names.”  The music that followed came from all over the world.  Places that seemed strangely exotic to us back before jet travel replaced prop-engine travel. The world seemed so vast to us back then!

I remember when I first heard the phrase: “The world is a vast web, and you can’t touch any part of it without it affecting the lives of everyone else.”  That seemed so far-fetched back then, really too much of a stretch to take seriously.  So what if rainforests in far away Brazil or Papua New Guinea were being cut down at an ever-increasing rate?  It surely couldn’t affect me!  Far-fetched then because I’d never been to either place, and with the pace of travel back then, it seemed unlikely I ever would.  But that’s not true today when I can doze off in one continent and wake up next morning in another, thousands of miles away.  When astronauts can return to earth after having actually walked on the moon!

But the flip-side of speed is nanotechnology: being able to reduce all life and technology to such infinitesimal proportions that the naked eye cannot see it at all.  And thanks to this new  technology, sports victories can now be accurately calibrated down to a hundredth of a second—even a thousandth!

Not surprisingly, national boundaries are increasingly viewed as both indefensible and outdated, and dictatorships are toppling like rows of dominos thanks to the worldwide web of the Internet.  Not even the strongest walls in the world can keep the Pentagon’s innermost secrets from being hacked.  Corporations can set up shop in the loosy-goosiest countries (regulation-wise) on the planet; and jobs can be out-sourced to wherever in the world the hourly pay is the cheapest.  No longer does someone in the most powerful country in the world have the edge over someone in the poorest country, given that access to a computer so levels the playing field that Thomas Friedman can justifiably announce that “The World is Flat.”

* * * * *

So now comes this global slowdown that dramatically changes every aspect of life for every person on this planet—not just ours here in the U.S.  Everything was working so well—as late as only three years ago.  Then Bam!  Bam!  Bam! —one after another, the bludgeon blows continue, with no apparent end in sight.  No one appears to have the answers.  In the words of that timeless baseball skit: “Nobody’s on first.”  Nobody.  Not here in the U.S.  Not anywhere else in the world either.  All even the most powerful leaders in the world know is this: the old order, the old template that enabled all the markets in the world to peacefully coexist and churn out prosperity for the majority of the world’s industrial powers, is broken, and there isn’t a mechanic in the world who knows how to fix it.

That’s just it: it is unfixable.  The answer nobody wants to hear is this: A new template, evolved from scratch, must be created from our new realities.  It is anything but a quick fix, and it is almost certain to take a long time to develop.  And we have to face the likelihood that when we do finally get it up and running again, so that the world’s markets once again purr their satisfaction, even that template will be foredoomed to a short shelf life, because change in future years will be near continuous.

The good news is that these are exciting times in which to live.  We have been long overdue for a course-correction; unfortunately, we waited so long that this one is likely to be the mother of all lulus.

Next Wednesday, we’ll discuss silver-linings.