Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Was USADA ‘victory’ in Armstrong stripping worth it?

In a time when the world needs heroes, I don’t understand the witch hunt that’s been perpetrated against Lance Armstrong, the seven-time victor of the Tour de France and inspiration to millions.

I’ll be quite honest; I don’t fully understand the charges against Armstrong, but from what I can gather, the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has accused the cyclist of using performance-enhancing drugs in 2009 and 2010. Armstrong, who fought his way through cancer and back onto his bicycle in 1996, had become a symbol to the world of what people can achieve with hard work and dedication.

Despite testicular and brain cancer, he was able to not just compete, but win. It was a modern-day fairy tale with Armstrong serving as central figure.

The thing with Armstrong is, he didn’t just win, he did it with a smile. And he became the poster child for success-despite-hardship. Lance Armstrong was a living motivational poster — just add poster.

It truly makes me wonder why the USADA seems to have tried so hard and gone out of its way to try to discredit him and strip him of the titles he had won. Do they not like fairy tales? Are they jealous? Or is there just a curmudgeon in charge who wants to see the mighty fall?

I’m not about to endorse cheating. I think athletes who juice their bodies in order to game the system should be barred from their sports. It’s akin to chief financial officers caught with their hand in the cookie jar. If you can’t follow such a basic tenet of your career, you should obviously have a new career.

So am I saying that Armstrong is innocent? No, actually I’m not. Truth is, I have no idea. He has said he’s innocent. But I wasn’t there and I don’t know the science of it. So I’m actually going to assume that he’s guilty.

Even assuming he is guilty, I think the USADA should have left him alone — for the sake of his image and for the sake of what his image has meant to millions of people.

If Lance Armstrong was doping and cheated his way into seven victories in the Tour de France, that surely affected the world of cycling and potentially cheated his fellow competitors. There are potentially seven people who could have titles that don’t because of his blood doping. For those seven people, his potential cheating is a life-altering event and assuming they now get their titles, this is vindication.

But are those seven people’s vindication worth the effect it may have on the — literally — millions of people who had looked up to Armstrong?

Could it be that those who were convinced that they could do anything now believe that it was all a lie? Could it be that in bringing down Armstrong, really the USADA has upset cancer survivors around the world? Could it be that in “winning,” the USADA has made losers of not only Armstrong but everyone who was a fan of his?

And if any of those are true, was it really worth it?

Scott Leffler can ride his bike with no handlebars. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Can't beat a weekend of food, folks and fun

Amongst my many varied likes are tasty food, cold beer and cute brunettes. Not necessarily in that order.

So you can only begin to imagine my delight when I was granted a weekend jam-packed with all three.

This past weekend, I was honored to be able to serve as a judge for the pierogi contest at Buffalo's Dozynki festival on Saturday. I was also fortunate enough to judge appetizers at The Taste of Lockport on Sunday.

The weekend began normally enough - waiting for my girlfriend to get out of the bathroom. (Seriously, girls, what do you do in there and why does it take so long? Every man in America is dying to know).

Then we packed up the kids and headed to North Tonawanda for the Thunder on the Niagara jet boat races, which I knew would be a real treat for my girlfriend — who probably took 1,000 pictures of the boats— and her son — because what six year old boy doesn't want to watch jet boats race?

After we got our fill of jet boats (and the kids got their fill of PB&J), we headed to the heart of Buffalo for the Dozynki Harvest Festival at Corpus Christi Church where I saw some old friends, did some 12-ounce curls, and feasted on pierogi in an incredibly wide variety of flavors from standard sauerkraut to cheeseburger (with all the fixings). I was one of 20 judges for the pierogi contest and while it was certainly fun, in honesty, it wasn’t easy because there was not a single bad pierogi amongst the offerings. In all honestly, some were simply more awesome than others.

My favorite pierogi of the day a beef on weck created by Brian Marek. Sadly, our table didn’t get a chance to try the top vote getter in the non-traditional category, a reuben pierogi. But I had a reuben pierogi last year and can understand why it would win.

After pierogi, we bowled at the Corpus Christi Club across the street from the church. I won, of course, (with a measly 120) but Heather and the kids did great, too. Then we trekked back to Lockport to rest up for day two of my great Western New York eat-a-thon.

Sunday had been planned out for months. I took the night off work so I could spend it serving as Heather’s tag-along, carrying coffee, protecting her from her adoring fans and whatever other odd jobs I’d be given. Heather is, among other things, co-president of the Lockport Business Association, which oversees the Taste of Lockport.

However, early last week I secured a spot as a judge in the appetizer category of the Taste, a role I’ve served in a few times since the Taste began just over a decade ago. So what had been planned as a day of me following my girlfriend around became another day of hard labor, forcing down delicious goodies.

As was the case the day before, I can honestly say that there wasn’t a single poor offering put in front of me as a judge. There were some offerings, however, that were more spectacular than others. My personal favorite was a meatball on a stick from Middleport’s Alternative Grounds Caffe.

After the judging, there was some walking, more eating, and of course, washing all those tasty morsels down with cold beer. It was such a hard day.

Between Dozynki and the Taste, I ran into far too many people to even begin to name drop without leaving people out and offending, so I won’t. But it’s always nice to get out and see people — especially those I haven’t seen in a year or more.

Sadly, I missed the Erie County Fair this year — one of my favorite annual pilgrimages — but with so many other things going on, I barely missed it.

Scott Leffler is a professional food taster and an amateur columnist — at least in some people's eyes. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler where he can name drop at will.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Saturday was awesome ...

Speed boats are fun. Pierogi are tasty. And bowling rocks. Want proof? Check out my photos, yo.

The awesomeness continues today with a trip to the #TasteofLockport2012 where I'll be one of the judges in the appetizer category. Photos of that (and a column about the weekend's events) to come later.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

It's all about the food ...

This weekend is going to be delicious.

First, I'm fortunate enough to be one of the "celebrity" judges for Dozynki Buffalo's pierogi contest. I was a judge last year (click for pix) and if it's anything like it was, it will be incredible. Check back here for photos and a recount later.

While we're at Corpus Christi Church at Buffalo's Superman Corner (the corner of Clark and Kent), we're going to partake in a game of bowling. I haven't bowled in years and I'm VERY much looking forward to it. And bowling in a church? Seriously, how awesome does that sound?

Actually, before we even to Buffalo (on the way), we're stopping off at the Niagara River for the hydroplane races. The girls and I have watched these the last few years. They're with their grandparents this weekend, so it's my girlfriend and her kids. Her son's going to LOVE it. :)

Tomorrow, I'm one of the judges for the Taste of Lockport. I'll be judging the appetizer category. I'm looking forward to the food and to seeing everyone. So, seriously, could this weekend get much better?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Can the GOP please flip the ticket?

I was a bit confused that Mitt Romney announced (via leak) his new running mate late Friday night. It was as though he didn’t want anyone to know. Friday night is when government types release data they want to hide — not when they announce their running mate for the road to the White House.

The official announcement was no better — a Saturday morning on the penultimate day of the 2012 Summer Olympics — when anyone who might actually be watching TV was most likely watching America win at life. If you wanted to watch the Olympics and it got pre-empted by politicians, would you be more or less inclined to vote for them?

My favorite Mark Twain impersonator and TV meteorologist, Mike Randall, suggested to me via Twitter that maybe the plan was “designed to take over the Sunday news shows.” Maybe he’s right, but I don’t tend to think of “real” people as watching those shows. And really, it’s real people that Romney needs to win over.

That leads me to believe that either Romney is embarrassed by his new running mate … or he’s just really bad at this whole “running for president” thing. Considering he introduced his selection as “the next president of the United States,” I’m inclined to think it’s the latter, which is exactly why I’m excited he’s added Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan to the ticket as his VP candidate.

I’m not a huge fan of Ryan’s fundamental principles, but at least I’m aware of the fact that he has fundamental principles, unlike Romney. Oddly, though, Romney announced his disagrees with the thing Ryan is most known for — his budget plan — which conservatives love and liberals hate.

In other words, Romney tried to buy some conservative credibility by partnering up with Ryan, while distancing himself from the thing which would help the most in that aspect. Put another way, Romney wants to ride Ryan’s coattails and denounce his core philosophy — simultaneously.

Again, I say, Romney is really bad at this whole “running for president” thing.

It makes me wish the ticket were flipped. I’d much rather see this a Ryan/Romney ticket than Romney/Ryan. At least then I would know what it stood for — even if it was something I don’t myself support.

Until recently, I had been mentally comparing the Romney campaign with the McCain campaign of four years ago. He seemed clueless and flailing. A decent guy (maybe) who had no idea what to do when put on the national stage and whose handlers should have all been fired.

It has come to my attention, however, that maybe Romney is actually John Kerry circa 2004. He a wishy-washy flip flopper with little charisma and no real plan for the future, hoping to energize his campaign with a younger better looking rising star from within in party.

I went with a friend (and former Greater Niagara News employee) David Winters to see John Edwards speak in Rochester in 2004. He was impressive. He was put together. He was enigmatic. He was apparently too good for the Democrats.

ASIDE: As a reminder, I supported Howard Dean in 2004 then dropped the Democratic party because they freaked out over “the scream.” I didn’t want to be associated with a big bunch of losers. So now I’m a registered Libertarian — a much smaller bunch of losers.

Long story short (I know, too late), it’s nice to see someone with principles in the race. Even if they’re principles I disagree with.

Scott Leffler would have rather written about #SharkWeek but then Mitt Romney went and announced a running mate. Follow him on Twitter @scottleffler where you can find the Twitter handles for everyone mentioned in this column.

Column-related shout outs ...

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Buffalo-Toronto Olympics?

I love the idea of Toronto Olympics ... but Buffalo-Toronto? WIVB's facebook page wants to know what you think of the idea ... 

Are we admitting now that we're just a suburb of Toronto?

Monday, August 06, 2012

Lego devotes whole month to #SharkWeek

I knew there was a reason I've always liked Legos.

Click the photo for the LEGO Shark building instructions ...

2012 Olympics leads to marathon TV watching

The pendulum on my love/hate relationship with television has completed its arch back to love.

With the advent of the 2012 Olympics, I once again care about TV. And, frankly, since the start of the games, I’ve accomplished very little aside from watching as much of the games as possible.

I’ve always liked the Winter Olympics better than the Summer Olympics. I think that’s probably because the Winter Olympics have hockey and skiing while the Summer Olympics - while growing up, at least - meant two weeks of watching gymnastics. I may have pink checks but I am not now, nor have I ever been a fan of gymnastics.

I also can’t watch Olympic basketball. There’s nothing good that can come from watching a sport your country is expected to dominate. If we double-up on other teams, it’s expected. There’s no margin we could win by that would be impressive to Americans. Maybe that’s why Kobe Bryant has been spending all his free time watching other events. Good for Kobe.

There are several events I enjoy in the Summer Olympics, though. I enjoy watching the track events, both beach and indoor volleyball, tennis, rowing, swimming and — even though I have trouble believing it’s really a sport — water polo.

Honestly, though, water polo may be fun to watch, but any game that I could or would play in a swimming pool with my kids can’t be a real sport. What’s next? Don’t let the balloon touch the ground? Because my family would completely dominate that sport. In fact, we’d challenge any Russian family to a game. Any time.

The global politics of the Olympics is very interesting. Remember when we wanted to beat Russia at everything? It wasn’t all that long ago. Now it’s China that we feel the need to beat. That’s a good thing since I tend to root for any Russian women’s team. Apparently I have a thing for Russian women. Who knew? Now everyone does.

I find myself rooting for the underdogs nearly all the time. In fact, Sunday I was rooting for the Chinese water polo team against the Australians … simply because the Australians were supposed to win. I guess I’m difficult like that.

There have been some great human interest stories in the Olympics — as there always are. And NBC has done a good job in my opinion of relaying those stories to the world. Overall, I think NBC has done a good job with the Olympics, no matter how much flack they may be taking on Twitter, Facebook and the like. The coordination that goes into bouncing back and forth from one event to another without dead air is amazing.

The peacock network has had a great opportunity to showcase their fall lineup during the games. If only their fall lineup didn’t look so horrible. But the show with Matthew Perry looks good at least.

Of course, I can’t concern myself too much with the fall lineup quite yet. In fact there are only two things on television that I can even think about. This week it’s the Olympics. And next week it’s Shark Week. And honestly, after that, the pendulum will probably swing back to hate and I’ll finally get a chance to read “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

Scott Leffler is an avid television viewer … except when he’s not. Follow him (and his television viewing habits) on Twitter @scottleffler.