Thursday, January 24, 2013

And the Monster It Became

The beautiful scenery and famously complex corners in the hills of Faro attracted more than 300,000 of the sport’s most outrageous and passionate fans.  They embarked on an annual pilgrimage to the well-known highlight of the FISA World Rally Championship calendar, Rally Portugal. 

The greatest fear of the drivers and journalists was realized early in the opening stage. Joaquim Santos lost control of his Ford RS200 and careened into a crowd standing on the embankment of the coniferous winding road.  More than 30 spectators were injured.  
Santos's RS200 after the crash

Henri Toivonen was selected to read the statement the drivers and teams prepared in the aftermath,
“First, as a mark of respect of the families and for those injured. Two, it is a very special place here in Portugal.  We feel it is impossible for us to guarantee the safety of the spectators.  Third, the accident on stage one was caused by the driver having to try to avoid the spectators that were in the road.  It was not due to the type of car or the speed.” (Henri Toivonen qtd. in Madness on Wheels)

Rallying is a pure and humble sport.  A series of time trials are conducted one by one over a number of stages in a particular locale.  The driver with the lowest combined time over all of the stages is the winner.  It is unlike other forms of the auto racing.  Rallying takes place on public roads, rural gravel paths, and snowy ice covered mountains rather than purpose built race courses.  The stages start and finish in different places, and the competitors see little of the course prior to the day of the race.  Each car carries a driver and a co-driver for shouting information concerning the upcoming obstacles and corners as they race along.  The races are held in exotic destinations.  The most popular stages are on the glorious hills of Monaco, the snow covered lakes of Sweden, and the sheer cliffs of Pikes Peak.   

In 1982, the FISA governing body president Jean-Marie Balestre set out to increase the fan base and revenue of the sport by modifying its homologation rules (competitive criteria for allowing vehicles to enter).  He worked together with the manufacturers to allow them to produce faster cars further distanced from their road-going ancestors.  These cars were bespoke, purpose built race machines designed to push the very limit of engineering abilities.  The new class was called Group B.  
Lancia Delta Integrale

Audi Quattro

After perennial power Lancia won the first year in the new class, the other manufacturers were extremely driven to bring more competitive cars to the rallies held all over the world.  Audi, a small manufacturer at the time, came up with an ingenious solution to the issue of traction.  They developed the first ever rally car with 4 wheel drive.  Extreme turbo-charging, space frames, and the black magic art of “ground effect aerodynamics” were all employed by various multi-million dollar teams in the bloodlust for speed.  In the four years of Group B, the cars had doubled in power and speed and the machines became impossible to drive.  The crowds impossible to control.  

The sport grew into the most popular form of racing on Earth.  Crowds of hundreds of thousands stood by the roads to see the cars pass at breakneck speed.  The spectators were known to step out in front of the approaching racers to shoot exciting photos even while airborne.  Drivers complained about the dangerous fans.  Injuries and deaths grew more and more common.  The governing body was far from faultless.  Tim Considine wrote about its president, “Monsieur Balestre was spied breaking one of racing's incontrovertible rules -- running across a racetrack occupied by race cars -- in front of one very surprised Grand Prix driver” (Considine).  Group B had become an insatiable monster.  

The Rally of Portugal in 1986, specifically the events involving Joaquim Santos, only foreshadowed the inevitable.  Though the major teams chose to protest completion of the rally, Balestre allowed the rally to go on without them.  They returned for the next rally in Kenya where a young spectator’s leg was broken.  The following event was held in France and was also known as the “Rally of Ten Thousand Turns”.  Exactly one year after Attilio Bettega’s death at the same rally, the infamous high speed asphalt stages claimed their most prominent victim.  Henri Toivonen and his co-pilot Sergio Cresto ran off the road in the 18th stage.  Martin Holmes wrote this in his obituary,
The news of the accident was received in almost stunned silence by the Lancia mechanics waiting at the end of the stage. Garbled messages crossed the air waves and, as the truth dawned, Henri's friends openly wept.  A dear friend had been lost to us all. The following day, FISA killed his reason for being there at all. Things would never be the same again...” (Holmes)

The day after the deaths in France, Balestre banned Group B competition altogether.  Scientists concluded that the cars were traveling quicker than the brain could process.  Drivers like Henri were experiencing “Tunnel Vision”, where the brain can only see what comes from the center of the eye.  Balestre, the teams, and the fans were all experiencing tunnel vision.  Purely focused on speed and excitement, no steps were taken to ensure the safety of drivers and fans until it was too late.  The meteoric rise and catastrophic fall of Group B rallying would teach the entire sporting world that great leaps forward in performance can lead to terrible consequences.    

Considine, Tim. “Dickens of a Decade.” Autoweek 1 Jan. 1990: 47. LexisNexis Academic. Web. 27 June 2012.
Holmes, Martin. “Autosport 40th Anniversary Supplement: On the Death of Henri Toivonen.” Henri Toivonen: The Printed Word.   Witolda Maruszewska, n.d. Web. 27 June 2012. .
Madness on wheels. Dir. John L. Mathews and Richard Heap.  BBC, 2012., 6 Apr. 2012. Web. 27 June. 2012. .

Thursday, January 17, 2013

A Tangled Web

    The new era of digital media represents a modern Renaissance for art, film, music, and literature.  Artists can reach greater audiences and distribute their product more effectively than ever before.  The same advantages that brought about this great time may lead to its downfall.  The Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) was sold as an attempt to address this issue and protect the creative individuals, but it was actually a corporately backed infringement of free speech and due process.
    Unlike the debate over whether or not piracy is unlawful, as in the case of Napster, this bill was written to categorize and penalize sites for engaging in the illegal distribution of copyrighted material.  As proponents of the bill, News Corp, NBC Universal, and even the NFL were looking to protect their content from file hosting sites based outside of the United States and the reach of the Justice Department.  Vanessa Grigoriadis explained in Vanity Fair:

The point of the bill was to make the government, with Hollywood's prodding, go after foreign cyberlockers, like Megaupload, by squeezing the U.S-based companies that do business with them, like Google, Yahoo, and MasterCard. (Grigoriadis)
The bill was unanimously passed in the senate under the name PIPA.  However, when it traveled to the house very serious changes were made to strengthen the bill’s punitive power.  Cory Doctorow outlines in Publisher’s Weekly that:
Under SOPA, these intermediaries could be ordered to censor or block access to, and funding for, any site accused of copyright infringement, without due process, without a jury or the right to rebut accusations. (Doctorow)
He would add further:
SOPA would also expand the definition of copyright infringement to include hosting a single link to a site that is alleged to contain infringing material. Thus, if an author's blog, or a book discussion group, attracts a single post that contains a single link that goes to a site that someone accuses of copyright infringement, that site becomes one with the alleged infringer, and faces all the same sanctions--without any proof required, or due process. (Doctorow)
 The intention of the legislation was not to protect the starving artists of your favorite media, but rather feed the gluttonous tycoons who have looted their work.  The lobbyists of the entertainment industry have pushed extremely hard to monopolize the vast expanses of internet content.  Even songs like “Happy Birthday” have been copyrighted, and under the stipulations of SOPA any posted video of singing to grandma could lead to the complete seizure of youtube.  

Opposition would be spearheaded by tech and web giant Google.  Grigoriadis mentioned that along with help from others in the same industry:  
an estimated one billion people could not access their favorite Web sites on January 18, “Blackout Day,” when more than 115,000 sites shut down, including even Wikipedia, which replaced its home screen with a black page and the inauspicious message “Imagine a World Without Free Knowledge.” (Grigoriadis)
 The statement made by the likes of Wikipedia, Google, Reddit and the others was very clear.  Citizens cannot stand for the censorship of any part of the internet at a corporation's request.  Lack of due process is absolutely unconstitutional on any issue.  Congress had been allowing the industry to write its own bill to enforce its own will, and it needed to be stopped any way possible.  

The issue of online piracy can be solved in other ways.  Apple has found great success selling files one at a time at relatively reasonable price.  Netflix went about building partnerships with the entertainment industry to give subscribers the convenience of streaming legally.  Pandora, Grooveshark, and Spotify have each found their own new way to provide nearly unlimited amounts of music to users for free while still supporting the rightful owners of the content.  

When an issue makes its way into congress as a bill it has to be treated carefully and pragmatically.  Too often, large and powerful interest groups can take charge of legislation and push through biased laws which hurt the underrepresented citizen.  SOPA is one of these instances.  Under great pressure from media giants, corporate lobbyists, and campaign financiers, congress nearly ruined America’s most influential contribution to world art and history, the uncensored internet.  

Doctorow, Cory. "Copyrights Vs. Human Rights." Publishers Weekly 258.49 (2011): 36-38.
    Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 16 July 2012.
Grigoriadis, Vanessa. "Sopa Opera." Vanity Fair 621 (2012): 184. MasterFILE Complete.   
    Web. 16 July 2012.


Thursday, April 28, 2011


Within myself, is another self.  

I dedicated the last year or so to growing up specifically to finish the climb to "Mr Calvin Cupini". Not that I considered myself in a place of immaturity, no one ever does, but that I knew that adulthood wasn't something to stumbled into, or regretfully passed by.  It isn't a finish line, but a stride.  I was looking to peel off the me's prior and become the self I pictured when I was a kid.  The "when I grow up" me.  I likened it to the dichotomy of the people you knew in high school, and what they became.  I didn't want to impress secondary peers, but instead, become the fullest evolution of the person I thought I would become.  The Porsche 911 of me.  Looks the same, never got a new haircut, but its faster, smarter, safer, stronger, and all the kinks have been ironed out. 

I began this project rather stark in an unedited free flowing writing called "lamentations of carolina"  In which I used to no punctuation, no capital letters, and merely wrote down anything and everything that came through my mind.  It's still up.  Since then, things have changed.  And so have I.

I deliberately moved back to St. Louis (much less fun and youthful than Charlotte) to be near family, as adults do. I moved in with a close friend and missionary (@drewgrateke) who was on a similar path, trying to get out into the field, and work out the long distance relationship he had.  We got an apartment together, started racking up possessions and fantasized about what the apartment would be to all people. I even attempted to involve myself in all sorts of community things, like leading worship at church, starting up athletic clubs, and volunteering.

But most importantly, I learned to listen to the elderly. Primarily, those closest to me.  Not something many people do in the finale of their youth.

My grandmother is beautiful, spunky, and heartwarming. She and I were always movie buddies, and would redesign the inside of her house together on multiple occasions(from her I believe I grew into my taste for interior design). But it was ever so recently that Ive grown into a position where I see my grandmother and other members of my family not as Patriarchs and Matriarchs who domineer, and invade,  but, as people, who are kinda like me. They get in trouble, and live through pain, arguments, debts, heartbreak, and despair.  I learned that they gave advice from a pure place, not out of judgment, and derisiveness. 

I started to listen to my grandmother tell stories, and they began to mean things to me.  Not like before, these were relate-able.  My favorite of all was when she was my age and in college, at the University of Tulsa in the 50's, a band came and played for a large dance held off campus.  The band was playing off campus because had been banned from playing anywhere near the school.  This was Tulsa in the 50's after all and that type of dancing was not to be tolerated.  She, being the lovely woman she was, didn't go because it seemed wrong, her parents would not have approved.  The band, was Louis Armstrong. And he was at his prime. The spectacle would have been something out of the history books, something to remember, something to record. A definite "i was there" moment. A once in a lifetime opportunity.

The second story is from mio nonno Aldo, my grandfather in Rome. I got the chance to visit him when I was eighteen. I went, in fact, for that birthday, leaving the U.S. for the first time at 17, coming back alone just barely of age.  I missed all of my friends graduation parties to visit the family I'd never met. This was a very important trip for me. My grandpa, very old, seemed to almost hurriedly impart wisdom on me. Many stories about his time around the world, and many stories of my family. He told me once, about the Trevi Fountain, that it at one time was true that all wishes came to be once a coin was thrown into the fountain over the right shoulder. But, when he was my age, he liked a girl, and so did a friend of his, who was very handsome. He took the girl to the fountain one day, and saw on the far side his friend, ready to make a wish. He was certain the wish was for this girl.  He quickly dove into his pockets, threw all of his change in to the fountain and wished that no one's wishes would ever come true. He said, his wish was the last ever granted.

He told me later, that the lady of the story, was my grandmother, and that she was going to wish his friend would go away.

Together they had showed me that once in a lifetime opportunities really do exist.  And that, sometimes what is strange, or even unacceptable to the present, and those around me, may just be a part of history.  Something I dare not miss.  Something to just say yes to, and be part of it.  I had also learned that nothing really comes from magic.  There's no sorcery, or unavoidable destiny.  Thank the heavens themselves they don't meddle, but that in fact, I am a free being.  I love what I love, and pursue what I pursue.  I can succeed.  I can fail.  I will never again sit in a bathtub and pray for the water to come on, rather, reach out, however scary that may be, and lest I not be ready to be wet, turn the water on.   

It's always been that life lessons are too full of crappy little sayings.  Pathetic little metaphors, of which I am obviously guilty.  I can't escape the imagery.  I want to simplify, and yet refute life's simplicities, in favor of more investigative tendencies.  We all want a sentence to live by.  Religion seems to in all grand scope, be a books attempt at the same.  

But this left me with me.  Who was I in all of this?  What would be my story?

When I was a kid, I used to think I was actually older, and just having a perfectly synced dream recanting my entire life.  I imagined myself as the one dreaming.  I was taller.  Perhaps a 27 year old self.  I saw that I lived in a city.  I had one of those thin houses back to back with others, and a small flight of 5 or so stairs which lead to my front door.  I parked on the street.  I owned a relatively sporty hatch, or wagon.  Across the street were a line of trees, and possibly a park.  I carried a backpack, and a hat.  I had earphones in my ear.  I didn't have a dog, but perhaps a close relationship with someone who did.  possibly a girlfriend.  I did not see myself as married at that age. The lady had a ponytail.  Brunette, a runner.  Someone who had a career with nothing to do with mine.  I saw myself with a relatively mundane job, teaching, or organizing events.  I had many hobbies.  I saw myself to have a very close circle friends.  I probably coached youth football, and played in an adult league myself.  I was not rich.  

So, this is me, now.  At this stage in life, I live in a house, in the suburbs, with a few close friends.  I play football with mexicans late at night.  I am single, 5'10, work in a restaurant, and have no dog, hatchback, or brunette. 

Yet, I am happy.  I am a self not quite envisioned, but not far from it.  I am who I've become.   I am who I want to be, for now.  I've even loosely changed my name from Calvin to Calvino to honor my Italian family, and the self I set out to find. I've decided that living four years at a time, high school, college, grad school, marriage, kid, kid, repeat...would only make me sick.  Above all else, my life goal is to ensure that when I'm older, if I make it, I have stories to enrich others with, and that my life takes at least an hour to explain where I've been in bullet points.  I want to do weird things, with diverse people.  I want to have a birthday party where no one knows each other. Life should be beautiful, and a bit odd, and sometimes gross, and funny, and painful, and fool hearty, and romantic, and dangerous, and shakey, and nervous, and sweaty, and flashy, beneficent, dire, perpetual, deliberate, and sometimes wet.

My name is Mr. Calvino Cupini, and I'm not missing my chance to dance with the greatest trumpet player of all time.