Saturday, September 24, 2011

Donorcycles and the Medico-Insurance Complex

Since everything your mother told you about motorcycles is true, it follows that motorcyclists should have a particular interest in the ongoing debate about the state of American health care and insurance (aka Obamacare, Romneycare, creeping socialism, Nazism...)

Opponents to a public option for Americans' health insurance love to begin their arguments with, "We've got the world's best health care system..."

And in truth, if you're rich and or very well covered by your work plan, you may well have access to the best, or at least world-class health care. But it comes at an enormous price, which you'll be well aware of if you pay for the premiums on your own. And it's not a high-price/high-quality/high-value system. Americans spend far, far more in both absolute and per-capita terms for health care than do the citizens of any other nation. And yet, Americans' health and life expectancy are no better than Lithuanians'.

It turns out that if you are administered a $40 aspirin in an American hospital, it's not any more effective than the four cent one given to a Lithuanian.

This cost affects the entire economy. If you've got a job which provides health coverage, the huge premiums you share with your employer amount to a payroll tax by another name. Over the last 30 years, the percentage of the U.S. GDP devoted to health care has doubled, to nearly 20%. While that growth in the Medico-Insurance Complex has enriched a few people, it's not really a productive use of resources (nor is it really making the people being treated more productive; for starters, about a quarter of all those expenditures are made in the final year of patients' lives.)

You want to talk about a jobs program in an election year in which the economy's in the toilet? The single biggest impediment to job creation is the cost of adding employees to group health plans.

One solution would be to just reduce the amount of care given. That's politically unpalatable. That leaves reducing costs.

You may be thinking, Surely the insurance companies are trying to reduce costs; after all, they're the ones paying the bills.

Wrong-o. In fact, the insurance companies will never, ever, bring America's spiraling health care costs to heel. Why? Because there's simply no incentive at all to do so. There's not even a feedback mechanism in place to encourage them to try.

As a private, uninsured individual, you've got a huge incentive to control costs, because any trip to the hospital is a personal financial catastrophe. (Half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical expenses.) But insurance companies don't hate big payouts. They only hate big unanticipated payouts. So if the levees break in New Orleans and a hurricane does far more damage than the insurance companies expect, that's a problem for them.

Your crash in turn four, that causes you to need $60,000 dollars in orthopedic surgery, probably comes a surprise to you. After all, if you'd known you were going to crash that day, you wouldn't have ridden. And while the health care problems of any one insured person are hard to predict, the health care problems that will occur over a huge population are extremely predictable, and insurance companies have hordes of actuaries to carefully calculate such probabilities.

Once the probabilities are known, insurance companies decide how much they'll pay for related medical services, and set premiums at a level that guarantee profitability. Obviously, health care providers have every incentive to increase costs, and perversely the insurance companies actually benefit from high costs, too.

Insurance companies benefit from high costs? First of all, if you had access to much more affordable health care -- say, you were racing your motorcycle in India, which is where your U.S. emergency-room doctor was trained anyway -- that $60,000 treatment might cost $6,000. In that setting, you might well choose to self-insure. The fact that in the U.S. virtually any treatment is bankruptcy inducing is, in fact, the strongest argument in favor of having insurance. And, since eventually even insurance companies would run afoul of the few remaining regulators if they operated at higher and higher margins, it's only by increasing the gross costs of health care delivery that they can be sure of increasing their net.

So you see, decreasing the cost of health care in the U.S. would actually hurt insurance companies financially. By contrast, denying coverage; that goes straight to the bottom line.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Husqvara makes its first road bike? Not really...

There's been lots of buzz about the forthcoming Husqvarna Nuda road bike, and how this is a first for the Swedish marque (now made in Italy and owned by Germany, but whatever...)

Not really a first. In fact as a quick thumb through good old Tragatsch shows, for the first half of Husky's life, from 1903 into the 1950s, it made almost nothing but road bikes. And some fine ones. As road racers, the Huskies finest days came in the 1934 TT, when Ernie Nott finished on the podium in the Junior and Stan Woods(!) set fastest lap on a 500 in the Senior but failed to finish when he ran out of gas.

Apparently none of the '34 TT bikes survived. This is a sweet replica, which is claimed to be faithful in every detail. It's no Nuda, but it's definitely a naked...

Husky's first real off-road bikes were factory specials developed for the 1929 ISDT. The company focused on off road machines beginning in the '50s, though there were sporadic forays into road racing as late as the 1960s. One interesting story is that in the late '60s when the Husky 250 motocross bikes were dominant, a Swedish road racer convinced Husqvarna to build him a 500cc twin for road racing. Although that bike never fulfilled its promise, the flamboyant American motocross promoter Edison Dye convinced Husky to build a bike with that motor which he entered in the Baja 1000. Malcolm Smith, J.N. Roberts, and two Scandinavian riders teamed up to win the race on it!

So the Nuda, whatever it is, isn't a completely new idea for Husky. Once again I'm reminded of that French quote about, The only things that are new are those that have been forgotten. (And by the way, I was gratified to read that I wasn't the only person who saw a Vincent frame as providing antecedents to Ducati's 'frameless' MotoGP flop. No less an authority than Kevin Cameron noticed the same thing...

So this is how it ends...

Too little, too late, Obama's staked some ground for 2012. Let's have an election decided by the question, "Should people making over a million dollars a year pay the same percentage of their income in taxes as people struggling paycheck-to-paycheck?"

The argument against the so-called 'Buffett Plan' will be that any increase in taxes paid by these multi-millionaires will reduce their investment and thus reduce their job creation. (Note they are multi-millionaires because the new rule would apply to people making over a million bucks a year, not people with a million bucks. That would be even better, but Obama won't dare go there, for reasons I'll get into in a paragraph or two.

Leave aside the fact that 75% of the U.S. economy is based on retail spending, and that a.) people making $1M+/year are already spending all they want, and b.) their marginal spending comes from buying Ferraris, not Fords, and Veuve Clicquot, not Two-Buck Chuck. So giving them more disposable income actually results in an economic boost for Italy and France, not us. And what? Are they going to invest it in the stock market?!? The market rewards companies that move jobs to Viet Nam, not companies that create jobs here. Then those investors blow their lightly taxed capital gains on Ferraris and Veuve Clicquot.

But none of that matters, because any argument about the net economic effect of such a tax is just a straw man.

The real issue here is that Americans have always been remarkably optimistic about their own economic futures. This has been true in fat times and lean; during the years leading into the baby boom, when the American Dream seemed like manifest destiny -- and things really were just getting better and better for most people -- most people thought they'd get even more better (if you can follow that tortured sentence.) And in the depths of the Depression, when things were getting worse and worse for most people, most people didn't think things were going to get quite as bad as they did. Yep, Americans have always been economic optimists -- or they've at least been insufficiently pessimistic in even the worst of times.

That means that a ridiculous percentage of the population entertains the fact that they themselves might someday be rich, and they vote accordingly. Remember Joe the Plumber? The moron who didn't want to raise taxes on people earning $250,000 or more a year because he thought that some day he might buy the plumbing company he worked for, and then he'd be saddled with those extra taxes? Obviously, he was just a dupe, part of a grand media setup by a cabal that stretched from Karl Rove to the Koch brothers, but the story angle that didn't get any traction was that people who were plumbing contractors -- people doing the job that Joe the Plumber aspired to -- were, like, He's going to make 250 grand doing this? He's on crack. The vast majority of plumbing contractors, including the guy who really did own the company Joe the Plumber dreamed of buying, told journalists that 250 grand was totally out of the question.

Rove's (and his ilk -- it's basically a cabal that's loosely organized but which is operating in shared self-interest -- I'll call them the Republicabal...) Where was I? Oh yeah, Rove's plan, all along, was to complete a massive transfer of wealth from the bottom 90% of the population to the top 1%. (People in the 90th-99th percentile for wealth and income weren't really scheduled to benefit from the Republicabal's plan, but 'trickle-down' economics does work in the sense that it trickles from the top 1% down to about the top 10%. So the wealthiest 10% of voters could be expected to support the Republicabal just by voting in their own interest.)

But obviously, 10% of the population can't swing U.S. elections on their own. To pull that off, the Republicabal had to first eviscerate America's public schools, to dumb the population down as much as possible. Then, they had to fragment chunks of the electorate who were committed single-issue voters -- gun rights activists, anti-abortion fundamentalists, people who hate crash helmets -- and pander to them. That gave them a pretty sizable minority to work with as a political base.

But it still wasn't enough to swing elections in many areas. Once they'd dumbed down the population, they could steep the Tea Party zealots in the idea that, despite the fact that the average American is paying a smaller percentage of his income in tax than at any time since WWII, it was taxes that were keeping the population down. (Not, for example, the way the wealthiest handful of industrialists had moved every middle-class American job offshore.)

They also worked hard to disenfranchise the poor. But even adding up all the rich people, plus all the people who aren't getting poorer, plus all the gun nuts and all the religious fundamentalists, and all the Tea Party kooks and half-wits, and taking many of the frustrated poor off the ledger could not quite swing most elections. So how did they succeed in getting more than half the population to vote their way?

The average family in the wealthiest 1% of the U.S. population is now over 50 times as wealthy as the average family in the bottom 99%. That's a concentration of wealth that exceeds countries in Central America - or, say, Libya - where an army of secret police is (was) required to prevent a popular uprising. The Koch brothers are no more capable of withstanding a popular uprising than Kaddafi was, so what gives?

How they succeeded, and what gives, is this: the swing vote in every recent election was made of Americans who, in good times and bad, remain irrationally optimistic. (OK, in times as bad as these, let's call them insufficiently pessimistic.)  Yes, there are millions and millions of American voters who, in the face of all the evidence and against all of their direct personal experience find themselves thinking, But what if I get rich? Then, I'll want to keep all my money, just like these guys. It's the political equivalent of 'The Secret'.

The old idea of The American Dream is politically sacrosanct. There have been long stretches in American history, too, when it really seemed to apply. If you worked hard, and lived right, it was almost a certainty that your kids would do a little bit better, even, than you did. Now, that is a dream. But it's unlikely any Democratic candidate will dare to tell the American electorate the truth.

If they did, here's what it would sound like:

If you're in the bottom 90% of the population in terms of wealth, you have seen and will continue to see a drop in your purchasing power and wealth for the foreseeable future -- IE, for the rest of your life. If you're in the 90th-99th percentile on the wealth curve, you can expect to break even. If you're in the top 1%, you're going to get richer. If you're in the top 0.1%, you're going to get exponentially richer. Congratulations! You're one of the American Kaddafis (for now.)

If this sounds like a rabble-rousing rant, it isn't. The Republicabal's plan worked. They won. It's unlikely, at this point, that the U.S. could reverse the course they set, even with all the political will in the world. Rebuilding the educational system alone would bankrupt us. We'll have our hands full taking care of the tens of thousands of seriously injured war veterans who gave limbs, eyes, and faces to enrich Haliburton and stroke the ego of America's second-stupidest President (and who sacrificed themselves in a second, ill-considered and unstrategic war against opponents -- like the Taliban and Al Qaeda -- that at least presented us with targets worth punishing -- even though we essentially created or at least empowered the Taliban in previously ill-considered support of the Taliban's fight against the Russians. Help drive the Russians out of Afghastlystan? That was the worst idea ever. If the Russians had still been bogged down there at the turn of the millennium, 9/11 would have been perpetrated against Moscow, not New York. We should have let them punch each other out for decades. But that is rant, and one for another time...)

The future, for the vast majority of us, has nothing to do with improving our situation. That isn't going to happen. It has everything to do with finding ways to be satisfied with less. That will do us all some good.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Motorcycle journalism gets 'Closer to the Edge' with TT3D release

Maybe the '3D' stands for Desperate, Destitute, and Depressed...

Over the last couple of years, I've chronicled what amounts to the beginning of the end of professional motorcycle journalism. All I can tell you is, I'm lucky to have a job at a grocery store, [NAME OF EMPLOYER REDACTED], these days; better to be a member of the working poor than unemployed.

I was reminded of that last week when I got an email out of the blue from some guy packaging the Universal/Sony DVD release of TT3D. The DVD, it seems, will be released with a 16-page magazine-format insert.

The offer I got, as a professional motorcycle journalist who has both raced in and written extensively about the TT was this: I'd be responsible for 13 pages. (Everything but the covers and the inside front cover.) Universal/Sony wanted me to provide editorial direction and write the 13 pages, covering 4-5 'features' and including a couple of sidebars on each spread.

It sounded like a great gig, and I immediately started thumbnailing it. My anchor feature would have paired "What it will take to win" an in-depth interview with Guy Martin, the most popular TT rider who's not yet won one, with "What it takes to win" from John McGuinness.

They wanted in-depth, insightful content that would add a deeper layer of understanding for viewers coming to the video with little understanding of the TT. (I have not yet seen the film myself, but the online trailer looks brilliant.) I was pumped.

Then, came the shocker: The budget was 500 quid. Yes, Universal/Sony wanted to pay about $75 per page. REALLY?!? How many will they print? Surely it would be in the tens of thousands; the margin on sales of DVDs is vastly better than the margin in the magazine business, but even in their death throes, magazines are paying several times that rate. And that's for writing only; they also pay full time staffers to provide editorial direction. And the TT3D magazine will be on the market for years.

It occurred to me that maybe they'd left a zero off, or at least neglected to put the '1' in front of the '500.' I countered with 1,500 quid, or a page from the magazine in which I could run an ad for Riding Man, Kindle edition. I was told that 500 was the budget.

That wouldn't pay anywhere near as much on a per-hour basis as [NAME OF EMPLOYER REDACTED]. It's an amount that guarantees one of two things: either someone will just regurgitate a bunch of crap as content -- no new interviews, no actual thinking or insight, and no time spent crafting the writing either. Or, someone will actually do that work, but get paid far less than a living wage. The offer, coming from Universal/Sony, was a real insult to professional journalism. They're obviously not willing to invest even one percent of their profits back into the TT3D package, in order to make it a product that a wider audience will appreciate more, and one which will add a deeper level of insight into the TT for even devoted fans.

I highly doubt that I'll be sent a review copy of TT3D but if anyone reading this ever buys it, shoot me an email and tell me who wrote the insert, eh? And write that bastard a note castigating him for hastening the demise of professional motorcycle journalism.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Reno Air Races strike chord familiar to TT fans...

When a pilot slammed into the ground at the Reno Air Races last week, killing eight fans and injuring many more, there was an understandable question in the media about whether the sport justified the risks.

The pilots at the races willingly take risks about which they are well informed. That reminds me of the Isle of Man TT races. The fans, however, probably didn't go to the races that day with a tiny voice in their heads saying, "This may be the last time I ever pack a thermos and sandwiches. This may be the last time I kiss my wife good-bye."

For the pilots, I know, the risks informs their sport. They don't race in order to take risks (which is a common misperception amongst casual onlookers.) But risk gives the choice to participate its significance. This is a complex subject, one worthy of an entire book, not a blog post.

It remains to be seen what the long-term implications of last week's crash are for the Reno event. Unlike the TT, which is a huge inconvenience for the sizable minority of Isle of Man residents who don't love motorcycles, there's not an established constituency of people in Reno politicking to have the races banned anyway. But the news coverage of the Reno disaster reminds me that, after David Jeffries' high-profile fatality at the 2003 TT, I realized that the TT races are one high-profile disaster away from being discontinued.

In the wake of DJ's death, the Auto-Cycle Union distanced itself from the TT races, and the Isle of Man government effectively took over the event. In the last decade or so, they've tried to make it both safer for riders and fans, and less inconvenient for those residents who count among its detractors. So there's more air fence (although there's not enough air fence on earth to make the course truly safe) morning practice has been eliminated, and in general total rider/mileage is being throttled back.

The Isle of Man government and the TT committee know that they can sweep the deaths of anonymous TT backmarkers under the rug, but that carnage among the fans is harder to rationalize. So, from a fan's perspective, the most visible impact of the changes at the TT is that prime spectating areas are now off limits to fans. The first time I returned to the Isle of Man as a fan after racing there, I resented the fact that I was not going to be allowed to stand and watch pretty much anywhere I wanted. Those changes haven't actually eliminated racers careening off track into fans, but they've definitely reduced the risk of a Reno-style disaster.

I'm of two minds about such changes. There's a part of me that would like to rise to the challenge of making the TT as safe as possible, in order to preserve it as long as possible. But there's another part of me that wants to keep it as it always was -- an anachronistic, gritty, gladiatorial competition in which risk, and death, were always near for competitors and (literally) near for the fans, too.

I guess the Reno event, for the moment at least, suggests that moving fans back from the action is a good thing.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

I promise to get back to motorcycles soon, but first I have to share a dream about the 2012 Presidential Debate...

I have this persistent daydream that is set during the 2012 elections, in some debate between the Democratic nominee -- presumably Barack Obama but who knows? -- and the Republiban (er, make that 'Republican') nominee, To Be Determined.

In my dream, the structure of the debate allows the candidates themselves to pose questions of each other. The Democrat, when it's his turn, says this...

"I'd like to pose a question that does not relate to this campaign in particular or even politics in general Instead, I'd like to ask you to answer a simple question of fact. Biblical scholars have determined that, according to the Book of Genesis, the Earth is about 5,000 years old. By contrast, virtually all scientists including all of the scientists -- geologists -- who specifically study the earth, have concluded that it's about five billion years old. So there's a profound disagreement there; it's not as if the scientists think the earth's ten, or even a hundred or a thousand times older than the earth's age according to fundamentalists. No, scientists think the earth's a million times older than it is, according to the Bible. 

"So my question to you, sir, is simply this: How old is the earth? Is it more like 5,000 years old? Or more like five billion?"

Monday, September 12, 2011

9/11 redux

Of course, the proof that Al Quaeda were just a bunch of morons was that, by attacking New York's financial district, they were in fact attacking their own allies. It was not until about 2008 that most Americans realized the financial sector was engaged in its own efforts to bring America to its knees.

Not long after 9/11 there was a spate of anthrax "attacks" (that were later traced back to a home-grown terrorist with a good old-fashioned grudge.) Anthrax was a perfect topic for media hysteria, since most of us don't actually work in buildings that could be meaningfully targeted by terrorists crashing jetliners, but we all get mail.

At the time, my ex-wife worked for Capital One, the predatory credit card lender. Capital One was the largest customer the USPS had, sending out millions of credit card solicitations per day. She was a graphic design genius, and got assignments from C1 like, for example, figuring out how to put in all the federally mandated information about fees, penalty fees, and interest rates in ways that met federal guidelines but that were most likely to be ignored by customers.

Anyway, at the height of the anthrax scare, Capital One's mail center got some responses that seemed to have been dusted by white powder. They immediately instituted a plan to have all the employees take turns opening mail, since it would be unfair to expect the mailroom employees to take all the risks. Hilariously, it later turned out the white powder was something Capital One's mail preparers put on the forms themselves, to prevent them sticking to envelope-stuffing equipment.

At the time, though, I was struck by two things: One, the extreme vanity of the company, that it would think, "Oh yes, terrorists wanting to strike at the U.S. would naturally choose us as a target," and two, that if Osama bin Laden had only known how corrosive Capital One was to American values, he would have invested in C1, not tried to harm it.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

9/11 memory

On September 11, 2001 I was in London, England on the way to the Isle of Man.

I spent part of the day walking around the West End, killing time. I entered a used book shop -- as always, keeping an eye peeled for Mike Hailwood's road racing book. I noticed that the clerk was riveted to a small TV. He barely noticed me coming or going. I caught a glimpse of the screen and assumed he was watching some low-budget takeoff of the Die Hard movies.

But as I walked back into the street, every pub I passed was packed, and everyone was silently staring at the television. I squeezed into one, and suddenly it dawned on me: this was really happening. Then, the second plane smashed into the second tower. I think I stayed in that pub until the first tower fell. Then, I walked back out into the street, and took the tube back to my sister's house.

Some time in the next few days, I called my mom and, of course, the subject of those terrorist attacks came up. And my mom told me a kind of triste but funny story...

You see, my dad spent all day, every day, staring at the TV in their condo. By the fall of 2001, he was in the last year of his life. He had lost all of his short term memory, so every time a plane flew into a building on TV, for him, it was happening anew. He called her over to watch it, and wondered what the hell was going on, time and time and time and time again.

I don't know if television caused his dementia, but it sure as hell didn't help it.

My initial reaction to the events of 9/11 was that the terrorists had hit two home runs clear out of the park in New York, had scored a solid double in Washinton and a single in PA. An amazing run of luck for four at bats. If they tried it 100 times in 100 parallel universes, the other 99 attempts would have been far less successful.

But, on that day, they won.

And then we showed it over and over again on television. We could have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by leveraging world opinion that, for the first time in decades, briefly swung back into our favor. But instead, the defense budget was doubled, an enormous fortune was wasted on security theater, two wars -- one of which was embarked upon under obviously false pretenses -- drag on in countries that are if anything less stable and more dangerous for their own citizens, and more likely to polarize them against us.

"We will never forget" became a catchphrase. And we won't, because the media will continue to use 9/11 as an excuse to sell advertising and the military-industrial complex will keep using it as an excuse to profit from an ill thought-out and unstrategic 'war on terror.'

I don't know if television caused this dementia, but it sure as hell didn't help it.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The French have a great expression for, well,.. everything

I was reading a post on Hell for Leather earlier this morning, about the implications of the 'frameless' Ducati MotoGP bike's failure on the soon-to-be-released 1199 production bike. It was better than the average motorcycle blog post, but one sentence stuck out...

Michael Czysz credits himself for perfecting this arrangement on his stillborn C1 GP bike...

You know, the French have a great expression that, loosely translated = The only things that are new are those that have been forgotten.

I can't possibly know what part of this design Czysz claims to have invented, but 'frameless' motorcycles have been around a long time. Phil Vincent's famous twins used the engine as a stressed member and had only a rudimentary 'spine' bolted across the tops of the cylinder heads.

More recently, John Britten's V-1000 was a frameless design. So there's nothing particularly new or innovative about cantilevering the steering head off the motor. At the other end, the MZ Supermono Cup race bikes pivoted the swing arm through the cases. And my friend James Parker has designed bikes that are even more frameless than any of those examples. So what's the innovation here? Building that front subframe as a monococque and using it as the air box? Maybe, but quite a few very conventional bikes draw engine air through the castings of the steering head, so the idea is only as big as expanding the volume of that channel, to make it a resonating chamber.

Is there something about those electric motorcycle entrepreneur types that makes them especially prone to claiming to have invented ideas they've, at best, repurposed?


Tuesday, September 6, 2011

America gets its Monaco, shame it will never get its TT...

According to this great New York Times piece, Baltimore had a very successful launch of it street race for Indy cars last weekend. Getting a race downtown in a major city is a huge deal for open-wheel car racing; it exposes the sport to lots of people who would otherwise never attend a race.

Obviously, it's a hell of lot easier to put on a(n acceptably safe) car race on streets lined with barriers than it is to put on a(n acceptably safe) motorcycle race in an urban setting. This was no Macau Grand Prix. But as there gets to be more and more Airfence available, it's fun to fantasize about an urban motorcycle race that would thrust our sport in front of a whole new group of potential fans.

That was part of the promise of Supermoto. Its most successful events were the ones staged in Reno, and around the Queen Mary dock in Long Beach. But the whole sport basically imploded before those events could really build a franchise. And a few Backmarker readers will remember the ill-fated attempt to hold a Cape Breton (Nova Scotia, Canada) TT. The organizers couldn't pull that off, even though it was to be held in a remote, impoverished area where locals would have supported anything that brought in revenue.

Is there a Backmarker reader out there old enough to have seen the races in Montjuic Park, in Barcelona? That's the sort of thing I'm fantasizing about. The best place to pull that off in North America would be in Montreal, at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve, which is certified by the FIA for F1 car racing. What American cities have a downtown park that could hold a world-class race?

Monday, September 5, 2011

A mea culpa, with qualifications...

I can't tell you how I know that 'Elbowz11' is not really Ben Spies, but I can tell you that I know for sure it isn't Spies -- unless he's carefully crafted an entire second identity in England, complete with another name and address!

So my pot-stirring post about Elbowz11 dissing Valentino Rossi last week -- which, in my limited defense acknowledged the possibility of the post coming from a faux-Spies -- was just pot-stirring. Hey, I'll do almost anything for 1,000 hits.

The larger point though, is still worth mulling. I admit that I'm one of the rare motorcycle racing fans who's not particularly in love with Valentino Rossi. Don't get me wrong; I totally acknowledge his dominant riding skill over a long period. His comeback from a nasty injury also earned him a couple more points in my book. A win on the Isle of Man (which will never happen) would push him into Mike Hailwood territory in my books. And since I've never met him, I can't say that I really dislike him. I just don't love him.

As a writer, I can say that from a literary point of view Rossi the man is far more interesting than Rossi the superman, and I've watched Rossi's (and Ducati's) struggles with a little more interest this season. I never expected to read press releases from Ducati in which they expressed satisfaction with the fact that their star rider was finally catching up to the third group. I feel a little bit sorry for Ducati, a company with an admirable passion for racing. But I also feel a bit vindicated; there were people who'd written off Honda once and for all, and that's something you do at your peril.

Speaking of things done at peril, it's clear that anything that could possibly be considered a public slight of Rossi will still trigger a vitriolic response from his fan base (a group only slightly less protective than Sarah Palin's base.)

I guess than it will be a while before I ask the most provocative Rossi question...

Willie McCoy!

The epic Springfield Mile win by series part-timer Willie McCoy brings to mind only one thing, Jim Croce's great '70s song You Don't Mess Around With Jim.

Uptown got it's hustlers
The bowery got it's bums
42nd Street got Big Jim Walker
He's a pool-shootin' son of a gun
Yeah, he big and dumb as a man can come
But he stronger than a country hoss
And when the bad folks all get together at night
You know they all call big Jim "Boss", just because
And they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

Well outta south Alabama came a country boy
He say I'm lookin' for a man named Jim
I am a pool-shootin' boy
My name Willie McCoy
But down home they call me Slim

Yeah I'm lookin' for the king of 42nd Street
He drivin' a drop top Cadillac
Last week he took all my money
And it may sound funny
But I come to get my money back
And everybody say Jack don't you know

And you don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Jim

Well a hush fell over the pool room
Jimmy come boppin' in off the street
And when the cuttin' were done
The only part that wasn't bloody
Was the soles of the big man's feet
Yeah he were cut in in bout a hundred places
And he were shot in a couple more
And you better believe
They sung a different kind of story
When big Jim hit the floor now they say

You don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off that old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Slim

Yeah, big Jim got his hat
Find out where it's at
And it's not hustlin' people strange to you
Even if you do got a two-piece custom-made pool cue

Yeah you don't tug on Superman's cape
You don't spit into the wind
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
And you don't mess around with Slim

Croce released that song in 1972. Is it just me, or was that just a better time for songwriters?

That year, Mark Brelsford won the GNC, but the it was a tumultuous time; Kenny Roberts went on to win the #1 plate in '73 and '74. Those were the first overall championship wins for a Japanese manufacturer.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The real reason Indy deserves a MotoGP race

The news (perhaps unexpected?) that Indy has renewed its MotoGP contract means that for the foreseeable future, the U.S. will host three MotoGP rounds.

With Indianapolis, Austin, and Laguna Seca nicely scattered across the country, that gives a lot of U.S. fans access to a race in their region. The country may not be motorcycle-mad, like Spain or Italy, which also have multiple rounds, but the sheer size of the U.S. market easily justifies three events.

I have to say that while Laguna Seca seems to put on MotoGP out of a sense of noblesse oblige, IMS has really done a lot of heavy lifting, in terms of raising the profile of the sport in the U.S. They generate a steady stream of press releases about MotoGP all season long, and work tirelessly to get traction with non-endemic media. I don't get the feeling that the MotoGP paddock really appreciates the work IMS does.

So far, that work's been pretty thankless, but IMS deserves a lot of credit for approaching the challenge of building a mainstream U.S. audience for MotoGP in a rational, realistic way. IE, IMS appreciates the fact that this is a multi-year challenge.

Creating a national audience in the U.S. for MotoGP is not like getting a new franchise for an established sport; it was comparatively easy to introduce the Diamonbacks to Arizona, or the Rays to Tampa. Everyone there new what Major League Baseball was; they had winter league play and farm teams already. It's more like the challenge faced by Major League Soccer here.

We're finally at a point where American soccer fans no longer need to plaintively explain to their friends that, everywhere else in the world, 'football' = soccer and it's hugely popular. We're finally at a point where pretty much any sports fan in a city with an MLS franchise can, at least, name his local team. Here in KC, Sporting has become a real hot ticket (although that may reflect the shaky performance of our other major league teams.)

The thing is, it took MLS nearly 20 years to reach this point.

I think -- at least, I hope -- that part of the faith MotoGP has shown to IMS in renewing that contract stems from a recognition of IMS' hard work promoting MotoGP, not just its own event. I hope Austin's organizers are willing to take a page from IMS' play book, too.

In eight years, the U.S. has gone from no MotoGP events to three. If they work as tirelessly down in Austin as IMS does -- and if Laguna Seca improves its media game -- in another eight years, we may not have to explain what MotoGP is when it comes to town.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

SBK and MotoGP: Is any town big enough for the two of them? Don't worry, they don't even know they're in the same town

I'm reading news that Bridgepoint Capital has acquired InFront Sports, which effectively means that the company that owns Dorna (holder of MotoGP's media rights) now also owns the rights to the World Superbike Championship.

Even before this development, SBK and MotoGP have operated at, at best, a sort of uneasy truce. The latest source of tension, of course, is MotoGP's creation of Claiming Rule Teams, which blurs the 'pure prototype' status of MotoGP by allowing the use of modified production motors. Colin Edwards has openly discussed his 2012 season plans now, and has said he hopes to get Yamaha World Superbike-spec motors -- and that he wants to poach Yamaha's top SBK engineer -- for his CRT.

The implication in most of the reporting about Bridgepoint's acquisition of InFront is that the change in ownership status might trigger some kind of rationalization at the top level of motorcycle racing.

Don't count on it.

Leave aside the fact that anyone with big-business experience will tell you that -- not withstanding the Tea Party's idiotic kowtowing to the so-called free market -- it's unwise to expect businesses to operate rationally at all.

The real reason that it's unlikely any kind of rationalization will result from this deal is that it's unlikely it will really occur to anyone. Dorna represents about 5% of Bridgpoint's portfolio. And the acquisition of InFront can only be about one thing, really... FIFA. 

You see, in addition to SBK and a range of sports properties from show jumping (that's horses, not Evel Kneivel wannabes) to curling, InFront also holds the media rights for the Federation Internationale de Football Association. This is the giant, famously corrupt governing body of soccer, and the World Cup. As much as MotoGP and World Superbike are big deals for us, the global audience -- and attendant commercial opportunities -- for motorcycle racing are trivial when compared to soccer. Sony alone spends about $50M/year on FIFA sponsorships. And in a weak global economy, soccer's relative strength is enhanced by the facts that it costs almost nothing to participate in the sport at the (literally) grassroots level, that it has vastly better terrestrial/free TV packages in place, and that there are far more events in total with lower average ticket prices, making it more accessible to cash-strapped fans.

When Bridgepoint's board reviewed the due diligence on its InFront acquisition, I doubt that more than a minute was spent discussing SBK. And most of that minute was occupied when one old boy asked, "Really? We own motorcycle racing." At that moment a young assistant leaned in, whispered something in his ear. The old boy raised his eyebrows, muttered "Frightful things," and went on to ask, "How's Sepp Blatter doing these days?"

Still, it's fun to speculate about how an informed, intelligent owner could rationalize SBK and MotoGP. I'll get around to that soon. But right now I have to go the farmer's market. Don't want to miss the last of the summer's corn and fresh Missouri peaches, tomatoes...