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ARCHIVES for June 2006

From the world press, 6/30/06

Wet nursing is a booming business in urban China, but some ethicists think it's unacceptable to commoditize mothers' milk
Blame Bugs Bunny? In a decade, the Tasmanian devil population has been reduced 40% by a bizarre facial cancer
Russians swap jokes and rumours about Putin's weird, thwarted fellatio-attack on a small boy
Are video games and cell phones "destroying the Japanese way of eating"? Nutritionist Yukichi Abe says yes
A Chinese TV play-by-play man melts down while calling a World Cup match, screaming "Long live Italy!" and "I don't like Australia!"
France passes its "iPod law" that will (maybe) require Apple to make iTunes songs playable on other machines
The efficacious, comfortable African kanga is strangely neglected by the West in a time when baby slings are super-trendy
Kim Young-Nam, mysteriously spirited away to North Korea as a child, invents a cockamamie story to explain his reappearance [editorial]
A Canadian tourist takes candy from a stranger in Guadalajara--and wakes up with amnesia 30 hours later in a hospital bed
How awkward: is Israel's Orthodox president being boycotted because he refuses to address Reform and Conservative rabbis with the Hebrew honorific "rav"?
Deep-bred esthetic sensitivities make eating abroad a constant trial for the expatriate Japanese
In 1990, 41-year-old Mayumi Hashimoto went to work at a bookstore to pay for her daughters' education; today she's president of the corporation
Gianluca Pessotto, new manager of heavily scrutinized Juventus, puts a rosary in his hand and leaps off the third floor of a parking garage, failing to kill himself
Much of the world has a natural historic ally in the upcoming World Cup tilt between Portugal and England--but Bermuda is divided right down the middle
Japan's National Defence Medical College reacts to billing changes by going on strike and refusing to perform court-ordered autopsies
The mighty Cruyff admits that he was approached twice to coach the Dutch World Cup side
"You're Hitler! You're Castro!" The mudslinging Mexican election campaign ends with Lopez Obrador slightly ahead one week before the vote...
...and in El Universal, columnist Kenneth Emmond writes that Mex voters face a choice between "production and distribution"
Ratted out: a very senior Chinese navy commander is turned in for "economic crimes" by his mistress
When you buy Peruvian mahogany, you're funding the gradual encroachment of loggers on uncontacted indigenous peoples
The new $1.2B Dapeng gas terminal on China's south coast is good news for the Middle Kingdom--and better news for Australia
Yeah, I'm sure they'll get right on that: UNICEF instructs the Tamil Tigers to stop recruiting the minor children that are its revolutionary lifeblood
Crippled in a motorcycle crash, a New Zealand athletic hero died in agony because of a shortage of paraplegic services
An airline flight between Chinese cities is thrown into chaos when a smelly packet of tofu bursts open in the cabin
Guatemala joins El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua in the unsteady bosom of CAFTA
Kartika Gunawan, Indonesia's first Playboy "Playmate" [photo], is formally booked on indecency charges for a pictorial that wouldn't make your granny flinch
The UN General Assembly welcomes the new Republic of Montenegro as its 192nd member
"Botswana is just about to get a president who cannot speak any of its indigenous languages properly", says the Mmegi: "Yeah, we remember what that's like," say Canadians

- 7:48 pm, June 30 (link)


This is how hard the Chris Pronger situation is hitting people in this town: I actually had a nightmare about it last night. I do not have a lot of nightmares about hockey, as a rule. In the dream I picked up the Sun and ran across a story that the trigger had been pulled on a trade--but the players the Oilers were getting back were two guys named "Dale Durgeon" and "Francois Boot". Oh my God! I've never heard of these players! I panicked so hard that it actually woke me up. No offence meant to Messrs. Durgeon and Boot, if they actually exist.

- 11:47 am, June 29 (link)

From the world press, 6/28/06

The pursuit and death of a sheep-killing Bavarian bear has Germans in a screwy (but typical) political tizzy
In Yemen, Red Bull just can't compete with the energy boost from a wad of qat
At the World Cup, the Ukrainian diaspora is colliding with residents of the mother country, not always happily
A Norwegian bachelor party gets way out of hand, leaving the survival-suited groom floating alone in a middle of a fjord
WPR: "Who would have believed that Estonia and the Netherlands, two small-sized E.U.-partners, would become entangled in a serious diplomatic dispute?"
North Koreans now enjoy access to cheap radios that can be tuned to foreign stations--so how come no one's trying to undermine the regime by broadcasting to them?
Don't laugh, but in Africa, the AK-47 is also known as a "Congolese credit card"
Every Chinese metropolis has armies of migrants from the rural interior--so why, the HK Standard asks, does Canton seem to have a special crime problem?
Mauritanian voters approve a new constitution: this is news because the concept of "Mauritanian voters" has never before had a real-world referent
Aussie cops are forced to deny rumours that an accused child murderer is one of James Bulger's grown-up killers
Zhirinovsky, the antiliberal clown of Russian politics, makes a strange pilgrimage to Israel to visit the grave of his Jewish father
A live donkey used in a demonstration ends up in a Tamil Nadu courtroom--as evidence, not as a witness
It's the bomb that will bring us together: Bali's unhappiness is good luck for its gaspingly beautiful but neglected neighbour, Lombok
Namibian grape growers are on the verge of reaping the benefits of the U.S.'s incalculably important Africa Growth and Opportunity Act

- 3:42 am, June 28 (link)

"Issa"? Pfft--that seems a little pretentious. Can't we just call her The Artist Formerly Known As Jane Siberry? -8:26 am, June 27
Nervous flier?

Then this will be either a must-read or a must-not-read: pilots and other aviation specialists at the PPRuNe forums respond to a Star investigation into the state of air safety in Canada.

- 5:18 am, June 27 (link)

I've got an 1,100-word piece in Tuesday's National Post about the unbelievable merger of the world's two largest personal fortunes. Look for it on page A15--unless you're stuck with the Toronto edition, which (I guess) went to press a little too soon for the final version of the piece. -4:55 am, June 27
Weekend YouTubeology

Sometimes I try to estimate how long I could sit and watch The Great Cornholio at one go and still be entertained. The over-under tends to hover around ten hours. Twelve might be pushing it, and then again it might not. I originally found this while I was actually in the throes of a quasi-Cornholian caffeine jag.

Kate Bush singing "Oh England My Lionheart" at the Hammersmith Odeon, 1979. The most feminine of female performers steals a recipe from the heavy metal cookbook ("Dropped from my black Spitfire to my funeral barge"--surely this is Lemmy's fine Italian hand?) and seasons it with 500 years of English lyric poetry and patriotic cliché. As always with KB, either you buy into it or you don't. Bonus: if you're an England fan in soccer, this pretty much fits the foredoomed tone of World Cup month perfectly.

I actually don't have a whole lot of use for The State, a MTV sketch show that featured some of the players from today's vastly superior Reno 911. But this two-minute vignette is perfectly executed. and better than, say, 95% of the output of the more highly cherished Kids in the Hall. That's right, I said it. I'll turn in my citizenship voluntarily if it comes to that.

I went back and watched this video just to see if the masturbation references that went over our heads at the time were really as blatant as all that. If you were older than 12 in 1984, I guess you already know the answer. Did they really show this thing on TV? "She Bop" is a plodding, uninspired tune, but someday I'm going to write a newspaper column about how unjust history has been to Cyndi Lauper. How the heck did Madonna get to be the great '80s prophet of sexual liberation and postfeminism? Did we get bad marching orders from the gay culturati or what? Sure, Madonna fast-forwarded an entire generation through puberty (which puts her on a footing no higher than Annette Funicello), but she was still doing dreary, overproduced dancehall numbers while Cyndi Lauper was cutting videos where everybody goes blind in the end from jerking off. Plus, which one's prettier (even before the nose job), a better singer, more attractive as a personality, and a close personal friend of Captain Lou Albano? It's no contest, right?

You loved YouTube's clips of Stevie Wonder on Sesame Street. Now see the bizarre English analogue, wherein Morrissey and Marr join a school visit to the Royal Gardens at Kew and the kiddies gawk at botanical specimens to the life-affirming strains of "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now". And I swear to God that's not even the weirdest part. (þ: VideoSift)

- 2:54 am, June 27 (link)

I am absolutely delighted, although mildly surprised. I would have thought they'd have been thrilled by a big lass who looked like she could pull a cart on a diet of potatoes and dumplings. -Alison Moyet, commenting in the Scotsman about her presence on a 1985 Soviet blacklist along with 37 other musical acts. Come on, you're telling me Rush wasn't on there?? -7:53 pm, June 25
The worst Wikipedia entry ever...

...has to be this entry on the slider.

The opening sentence alone contains one plain error ("nickel curve" isn't a genuine alternate name for the pitch--it's an obsolete pejorative, used by old-timers to dismiss it when it started becoming popular after the war) as well as a vague, unhelpful description of the slider as "halfway between a fastball and a curve." Nowhere is there a description of the grip, or the off-kilter release that distinguishes it from a fastball (here's an excellent illustrated description from a fairly talented exponent of the pitch). There's no mention of its origins or its spread in baseball. The direction of the lateral break, a fairly relevant basic fact about the pitch, isn't specified. The statement "It will tend to drop less and move toward or away from the batter more than a curve" is only really true, I suspect, when the slider is compared to a 12-to-6 curve thrown overhand. And I'd be interested to know how anyone would show that it "causes great stress and wear on a pitcher's arm": on this count, it's probably unsound to go any further than that (a) there is evidence that the slider is associated with a high risk of elbow pain in very young pitchers, and (b) a strong consensus exists within sports medicine that it should not be incorporated into a pitching repertoire until adulthood.

I know I have a fair number of readers with baseball expertise; no doubt one of them owns a copy of the Neyer-James pitching encyclopedia and the free time to wrestle with Wikipedia markup...

- 6:32 pm, June 25 (link)

From the world press, 6/23/06

Until recently, Mexicans didn't need polls to know the PRI was going to win: now maverick statistician Maria de las Heras leads a domestic polling industry that battles cultural resistance to binary questions
Slovenia, about to euroize, is warned by an EU commission that it should remorselessly humiliate retailers who use the changeover to inflate prices
Tragedy: the more that central Asian crazycrats repress the Hizb-ut-Tahrir caliphist movement, the stronger it gets
The Flemish independence party puts a stock shot of an elderly Belgian lady on its election posters--only to find out she's a litigious Walloon
The Hamas mayor of Beit Hanun, the town on the Gaza Strip that's pouring Qassam rockets into Israel, says the missiles "are not for killing"
Timoshenko, the Marianne of the Orange Revolution, returns to power in Ukraine and provokes fears that her anti-Russian attitude will precipitate a trans-Europe energy crisis
Diagnostic indicator: in Zimbabwe, major grain mills have been idle for two weeks
Chavez Watch: the independent concienca of Venezuela's left still hearts Hugo, but blames the bureaucracy for thwarting "social justice"
Sources at the Hague say Ayaan Hirsi Ali will probably retain Dutch citizenship
Catalonia's parliament prepares for a controversial vote on banning bullfighting
Sadulaev latest: the assassination of Chechnya's supreme rebel warlord turns out to have been dumb luck, not brilliant KGB FSB planning
Where is Nelson Mandela's personal sidearm? An SA historian wants to know
Communism as caretaker: Chinese coal mines are polluting and manufacturing earthquakes in rural villages, and a replay of Aberfan [wikipedia] seems inevitable
Are the EU's open borders destroying the native flora and fauna of the Canary Islands?
As much of the Caribbean abandons sugar production, Cuba is trebling its output on the promise of an expanding ethanol market
Gaffe! Ireland's justice ministry says that most asylum seekers are opportunistic liars
The Economist puts sub-Saharan Africa under the microscope, finding surprising growth rates but disappointing social progress
Duh dept.: Malaysia discovers that artificially low state-set sugar prices have been causing "unscrupulous" food wholesalers to hoard
Startin' 'em young: a Danish school adds English to its kindergarten curriculum
A Jamaican journalist reveals the baffling secret behind succeeding as a family-class emigrant to Canada: "Respect Canadian laws"
A schismatic New York offshoot of Russian Orthodoxy has decided to reunite with the patriarchate after 80 years
New Zealander Paddy O'Dowd was rich and educated, but he chose to die on the streets of Wellington
When the World Zionist Congress meets, suggests Ha'aretz, what's said isn't as important as the fact of the meeting
A Filipino idea, coming soon to a hyperpower near you: formal legislation against political dynasties

- 6:23 am, June 23 (link)

"Hey, Roli, is it true you're a big Boston fan?" Covered in Oil provides the funniest outtake yet from the Edmonton Oilers autopsy. -5:40 pm, June 22
A few stray pucks

The NHL hands out its official awards tonight, but Alexander Ovechkin has already won what is, in one sense, the highest individual honour in hockey--namely, the box cover of Electronic Arts' NHL '07.

In other league news, it looks like the Oilers humiliated the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim so bad that the California franchise has changed its name and logo.

The next time Edmonton finds its way into a Stanley Cup Game 7, I'll have to find a quieter corner to drink in. I just received official word that, because I was front and centre at the Elephant & Castle on Whyte for the game, I appeared in B-roll on all three Canadian networks. In my strictly professional capacity as a sports columnist, I also did a nationally syndicated interview the next morning for the Dave Rutherford Show (hosted by Rob Breakenridge) on the Corus radio network. Seems just like me not to make a dime from any of it...

If you want to take 15 seconds and register for the Western Standard, you can read the column I wrote on the eve of the final (and many more besides). Before long, Standard subscribers will be receiving the slightly less ebullient piece I filed the day after the series ended.

- 4:49 pm, June 22 (link)

Man, it's kinda dismal when your team has a great playoff year and the personnel changes start right away... -4:06 pm, June 22
The most depressing quote you'll see in the news this week, even if you make a habit of looking at South African newspapers

"If a girl abstains and boys know that, they then want to rape that girl because they know that she does not have AIDS. The bad thing is that they want to kill that girl after rape."

- 12:33 pm, June 22 (link)

The new insincerity

I was flipping through channels yesterday morning in quest of the soccer, which has me taking in a lot more morning and daytime television than usual. ("Usual" = zero.) I rediscovered something strange I'd first noticed a couple of years ago: the characteristic acting style of soap operas has changed markedly since I was a kid. By and large, they retain the same junky two-camera production values. As is often noted, they've become way more lurid. What I've never heard discussed is that there's a new layer of irony present: where once the soaps were impossibly earnest, now the actors chew over their absurd dialogue like gleeful ruminants and all but mug openly for the lens as they navigate a world of evil twins, contract-driven comas, and pathological infidelity. The shows seem to have collectively embraced their own comic character--it's the same self-consciousness that you see in The O.C. and Desperate Housewives, which is probably no coincidence. For my money it makes them harder to enjoy. Has anyone ever written about this ironization of daytime TV? Was it something that happened suddenly?

- 12:25 pm, June 22 (link)

From the world press, 6/21/06

Bloomberg says young Argentines are rediscovering the tango, creating a boom in fishnet stockings and high-heeled shoes
The heir to Italy's toppled throne sweats it out in a Potenza jail as prosecutors investigate links to prostitution, illegal gambling, and influence-peddling...
...and after a fall from bed, he's asked by a psychologist for his word of honour that he does not intend suicide
Surprise surprise: Namibia hopes it's seen the last of Brangelina
Stephen Hawking, attending a conference in Peking, uses his infirmity to troll openly for local booty
Paul Watson's anti-whaling pirate ship, the Farley Mowat, escapes from South African marine custody under cover of night
Tale of two revolutions: a Sovbloc expert observes that Georgia and Ukraine, written off by the West not long ago, followed the civil-society path to accountable government after all
Is Peking shopgirl Kong Tao really a descendant of Confucius? The DNA will tell
The focus in Italy's calcio scandal switches unexpectedly from Juventus to AC Milan
Chavez Watch: Brazilian intellectuals bring shame on themselves by favouring Chavista messianism over the high liberal road to prosperity, says a law prof
Don't feel any pressure to shave your head or chant just because you're visiting the Iskcon veg-aurant that's "one of Budapest's best-kept culinary secrets"
China's world-leading toy export industry contemplates a future of increasing pressure to rectify worker conditions and improve product quality
Great Northern War? The 5 PMs of Scandinavia and Iceland show a common front in Svalbard, but conflicts over Arctic territory and policy remain
The death toll from Angola's cholera epidemic blasts past 1,900
The Argie military continues to tweak the civil government's nose about the memory of the junta and the "dirty war"
Meet Shashi Tharoor, India's favourite son (and Pakistan's worst nightmare) for the UN secretary-generalship
And here's Inul Daratista, whose sole reward for returning Indonesia's dangdut dancing to its earthy, sensuous roots has been threats from mullahs
A proposed usury law has Japanese lending institutions quaking in their boots
Brazil builds major new refineries for biodiesel, promising a bright future for soybean farmers
Seven-year-old Chinese boy Chen Jiakun isn't quite wearing his heart on his sleeve, but it's definitely not where it should be
A Norwegian dairy co-op tries a six-hour work day in a bid to cut sick leave and injury
Thailand formally offers to rebuild the Islamist-vandalized Buddhas of Bamiyan
The Arab Emirates overtake Japan as the largest investor in Saudi Arabia
From Bermuda, a father's tale of monster truck terror

- 5:01 am, June 21 (link)

Oilers-Canes, Game 7

There's not much to say about tonight's action. The things that worked for the Oilers in Games 5 and 6 simply didn't in Game 7, by inches. It was a matter of a missed trailing forward here, a poor pinch leading to a penalty there [so long, Dick Tarnstrom], and Fernando Pisani not quite being able to hoist the puck that extra five centimetres over Cam Ward's pad after pulling the Oilers like a Clydesdale on nandrolone for nearly two months. Part of me is wishing swollen black brain tumours on everybody who didn't write Pisani's name on the Conn Smythe Trophy ballot. Part of me respects the decision: after Ron Hextall in 1987, no one in a position of actual responsibility has been particularly eager to award the Smythe to a visiting player for a losing team in a seventh game. Pisani will never regret not winning the award. Immortality suffices.

I've cheered for Edmonton sports teams all my life, but when the 2005-06 playoffs began I was just somebody who lived here. By the time they ended, it was home. Of all our communitarian fictions--nations, tribes, geopolitical blocs, even families--cities may be the truest and most deserving of our suspended disbelief. But it has never been easy to feel Edmonton--a brute economic construct, unnatural in demographics and remorseless in its boreal interpersonal reserve. Cheering for the Oilers in Edmonton this spring was a little like being Pinocchio and awakening slowly to the unfamiliar throb of real veins and sag of flesh. It wasn't always comfortable: with real life, loss is part of the bargain. But even taking the ending into account, it is a matter for envy, not pity.

- 4:27 am, June 20 (link)

From the world press, 6/19/06

The biggest under-the-radar international story right now is the tale of the "Armenian brothers" who brandished guns on security officials at Nairobi's main airport: the Independent has a brief roundup and Kenya's Standard has the political fallout and an eyewitness account
Tibetan earthquake: the Nathu La Pass between India and China, closed for 44 years, is about to open to bilateral trade
Rome's Protestant cemetery, idyllic resting place of Keats, Shelley, and Gramsci, tries to renovate without offending families
Fighting back: a Zimbabwean man tries to hijack a South African jet with a hypodermic needle, yielding predictable results
"Cosy and private wasn't what he was into": legendary football broadcaster Rex Hunt becomes the Marv Albert of Australia
Not for weak stomachs: Chechen supreme warlord Sadulayev is sold out to the Russians for the price of a gram of heroin
I hate to say it, but I don't think anyone's going to be surprised to see where the headline "Cat meat restaurant closed" comes from
A Bengali cyclist becomes a national hero in India when she punches a pusillanimous cop after a scooter accident
"For some reason, I'm really good at taking sports photos"; Drew Carey materializes on the World Cup sidelines with a new vocation [anyone know where we can see his work?]
Not making this up dept.: A French environmental audit says the ladies can help save the earth by wearing Daisy Dukes
Let's all welcome Kazakhstan to the club of spacefaring nations
Nnnnnext: the Serbs of the Bosnian Republika Srpska want to know why the Montenegrins can have self-determination but they can't
Blah blah blah: Mexican presidential candidate Lopez Obrador threatens to kill NAFTA in order to save corn and bean farmers
A Thai team of roboteers honours the King's 60th anniversary by winning the World RoboCup Rescue competition
Meanwhile, Australia observes the jubilee by sending two pairs of koalas to the Chiang Mai Zoo
Check out Eastern Europe's cute, wildly successful new economy car--the Skoda Roomster
Botswana's central bank announces plans to decirculate small bills--but whose faces will be on the new coins?
The Swiss state is caught offguard by a referendum vote to lock up dangerous offenders for life
Where are they now dept.: soulful folkie Tracy Chapman turns up with a show in St. Petersburg
A new book argues that Muslims didn't have such a bad break under tsarism
The suspect in Sweden's vicious "Haga Man" rapes goes on trial in Umeå
Malaysian transsexuals and academic supporters lobby to have the "third gender" recognized in identity documents
Another gray hair dept.: the German Historikerstreit was still a red-hot topic when I was a grad student, but on its 20th anniversary it's now entered history itself
The left wins in Slovakia, but is going to need centrist help to form a majority
Shebeen showdown! Owners of illicit Namibian beer halls march up Fidel Castro Street to protest a license crackdown
60% of Ukrainian citizens consider Ukrainian their native language, but Russian is actually the language of choice in almost as many households

- 12:13 am, June 19 (link)

Oilers-Canes, Game 6

Holy fucking Christ.

Jesus. I mean, fuck. Was that a game or what? Wow.

Pisani. What can you say? The dude with the El Greco face comes through again. That goal. Apparently he doesn't even have to look at the net anymore. And, hey, do I know from goalies? Ward got beaten--from the backhand--by a guy who was firing completely blind. That kid's being eaten alive: until Monday I'm going to lie awake worrying that Laviolette is going to pull him. Funnily enough, if I wanted to rustle up a bookie and bet a million zillion dollars on the Oilers to win Game 7, I'd go straight to Edmonton's Little Italy, fabled stomping ground of San Fernando himself, to do it. That's how this town rolls--you don't make book unless your name ends in a vowel.

In fact, does anyone else suspect that Pisani's glorious Conn Smythe streak may be the extended payoff in history's longest sports hustle? He disguised his preternatural talent all those years, and now I suspect he has teammates betting huge amounts on whether he can score in increasingly bizarre ways. Shorthanded goal in OT? No problem. No-look backhand off a defenceman's stick-blade into the net for the gamewinner? Easy cheese. The whole playoffs are like one long game of H-O-R-S-E for this guy. Just watch him deflect one in off his head soccer-style Monday night.

You should have seen it here after the final horn. I was on 87 Avenue, a few blocks north of Whyte. When I went out for a postgame smoke I watched them come out--the revenants. It was exactly like a zombie movie, maybe that one from last year where the zoms are kinda fast and scary. Thousands of people all headed in the same direction, with the clouds low and skulking and the air full of unearthly noises and sirens. Across the way, in another apartment building, someone was setting off fireworks, or firing wildly into the crowd with a rifle (it was hard to tell--plenty of son but very little lumière).

I wanted to watch the game at the Elephant & Castle on Whyte, but apparently three hours before puck drop isn't early enough to get a table under these conditions. This was not terribly unexpected, but they might have handled it better. I stood around for 90 minutes, experiencing Rabelaisian fantasies about Yorkshire pudding, before a waitress came out with a bullhorn to explain about fire codes. Basically a real polite, electronically-enhanced "fuck you, go home." That's fine. I love everybody right now, maybe even including the Carolina Hurricanes and the citizens of Raleigh, N.C. It's not their fault they're getting Rachel Corried by the Caterpillar D9 of history.

After all of this, it almost seems unfair for it to come down to the last sixty minutes of hockey, doesn't it?

The CBC had Michael Peca and Chris Pronger on a panel together after the game. It was a fascinating study in contrasts--the sunken-eyed, vaguely rodential Peca, still projecting a weird aura of injustice and impatience despite the personal and collective success, and the gigantic, indefinably lewd Pronger, who radiates good cheer even when he's smearing an opposing forward across the boards like a mischievous baby with a turd. I thought back, nay, practically flashed back to the bizarre 24 hours in which we learned that both men were becoming Edmonton Oilers. During the team's worst times, I took a certain amount of flak for five words I wrote that evening: "What is this, Christmas morning?" Well, it turned out that some assembly was required in Peca's case, but the presents under the August tree turned out fine, thanks. Sarah inadvertently gave the best possible summation of Peca's playoff performance: "I can always spot Peca," she said, "because he always has his stick moving." I've been a hockey fan literally 200 times longer than she has, and I'm not sure I've ever said anything that on-point and succinct.

The comic truth is that the real story of these playoffs isn't "The NHL's smallest, most impoverished market makes good." I mean, yeah, sure, it is. But the missing plotline, the one that should arguably dominate the discussion, is "General manager strikes out into the free-agent market with a barrowful of bills and has the best single day by any executive in the history of sports." Am I wrong? Who are the other contenders? Championships, contrary to popular belief, are never easy to buy. It is starting to look like Kevin Lowe may have bought himself one. Without Pronger, the Edmonton Oilers don't get close to the playoffs. I don't know that I'd say Peca has been worth a round or two in himself, but I wouldn't want to go back, re-run the experiment, and find out.

Random, Larry-King style notes about the actual game:

Hey, CBC, can you please stop letting Don Cherry pick the three stars? I know Markkanen didn't get much work, but when you get a shutout you have to be one of the stars of the game. That's just a rule. I'm afraid Grapes has kind of jumped the shark for me in these playoffs--I can't really put my finger on why, but I felt he was a little slow to get behind the Oilers in the early going, and he seems to be contributing less actual information than usual in his segments. I'm tiring of the way he uses our soldiers as a means of conjuring pathos, though I honestly don't know who would keep them in the forefront of the public mind if he didn't do it. His heart's still in the right place and he's still genuinely brilliant once or twice a week; I guess I just don't like the way the Corp shunts Kelly Hrudey aside after the first round, even though Hrudey knows the western teams forward and backward and Cherry patently doesn't. How exactly did it work out that the CBC's untouchable "icons" are all eastern guys serving on Leafs-Sens duty all year? Like either one of those franchises is going to get to Game 7 of a Stanley Cup final in your lifetime or mine?

On a related note, congratulations to Bob Cole on finally learning the difference between Eric Staal and Jarret Stoll. We knew you could do it, gramps.

I agree with the consensus that Laviolette's insertion of Erik Cole into the lineup may have sent the wrong message to his team. I can't agree with CiO Chris that Cole had a bad game--he seemed to be at 100% or more, delivering licks and helping to create some of Carolina's few scoring opportunities. If you're a Canes fan, the outlook for '06-'07 just got a lot brighter.

I'm sure Carolina wants the Cup as much as ever, but after Game 6 I'd sure be up Feces Creek if anyone demanded evidence for it. There's a side debate about whether the tepid display was an effect of jet lag or of physical battering by a tougher side. I incline, reluctantly, toward the latter. Hockey fans are liable to overstate the game impact of explosive checks, not having noticed (apparently) that teams often just stop hitting when the in-game and playoff stakes reach their highest. Hits are a bit like stolen bases in baseball--fun for the crowd, and a valuable part of an individual's game in many cases, but not a serious method a team can use to win in the long run. For every game I've seen where clean checks decided the issue, I've seen ten where dirty stickwork, fistfighting, or sheer verbal needling did the trick.

But in the case of this series, the physical side must be judged decisive if only because a Torres hit removed Doug Weight from the Carolina lineup. Even in his dotage, Weight is a polarizing presence on the ice. I'm pretty sure it's no coincidence that he's lounging around in a Zegna suit while the Canes are crumbling. In fact, I strongly suspect that if this were the year 2002, he'd pull on the flannel and get out there. But anybody who had a front-row seat for Al MacInnis's last game--as Weight did--knows that you just don't belong in an NHL game with a separated shoulder. Full stop.

Fun stat from a reader (þ: Allan): the Oilers are now 7-0 this playoff year in the "if necessary" games--that is, games 5 and 6 of each series.

Fun stat from me: the Oilers franchise is 6-2 all-time in seventh games. The quirk here is that it did not run up this impressive record during the glory years, when hardly anyone ever took the team as far as seven. They went 2-2 in Game Sevens during the 1980s, but have won four straight since (Winnipeg, 1990; Calgary, 1991; Dallas, 1997; Colorado, 1998). Draw your own conclusions.

- 4:32 am, June 18 (link)

By the way--in case you're wondering about the Roloson screencap in the set below, the team name is transliterated into katakana as Edomonton Oirasu. Ganbatte, Oirasu, ganbatte! -12:29 am, June 16
The "Oilers" tag on Flickr gets more interesting every day

- 9:29 pm, June 15 (link)

Oilers-Canes, Game 5

I have to say--I've never experienced an Oilers playoff year that was so full of poetic scoresheets. The bare fact of a shorthanded goal in overtime will make Game 5 immortal, and seems to have suddenly converted Canada to the cause of the Oilers late in their storybook run. The event was doubly sweet because, as in Game 4, the decision came at the expense of a player who had provoked the hockey gods. Steve Staios simply had no business being in the penalty box; as the replay showed, he was so anxious not to get his stick around Cory Stillman that he let it clatter to the ice when Stillman began to steam away from him. On the resulting power play Stillman, probably the deepest and most urticarious thorn in the Oilers' side thus far in the series, promptly fed the puck right to Pisani on a breakout despite not facing a terribly tough forecheck. (It hit Nando right in the pants.)

Even considering the awfulness and untimeliness of the play, it was a bad choice. The Oilers had showed in regulation that they'd figured out (or read here?) the right way to attack Cam Ward--high up, and to the blocker side if possible. As Pisani took control of Stillman's giveaway and bore down on Ward, the Canes goalie overcorrected to the vulnerable side. Pisani is an excellent breakaway man, one who forced his way onto the Oilers' shootout unit and held on early in a season in which he only scored 18 goals. The encounter was essentially over before the mighty Fernando even released the shot. The goal was his 12th in just 22 playoff games.

Immediately after the Oilers' devastating Game 4 loss, the fans at Rexall got even louder than they'd been all night, sending the team off to Carolina with "LET'S GO OILERS" ringing in their ears. Of all the demonstrations by Oiler fans in these playoffs, this was the most extraordinary: the team not only wouldn't have received such a sendoff from most cities, it didn't especially deserve it. I've never seen anything like that chorus of insane confidence. By contrast, after the Pisani goal, the Carolina fans in Raleigh--despite still being up 3-2 in the series--were smashed flat. Their storyline has been hijacked. The Cup, taken out of its carrying case by its white-gloved guardians with ten minutes remaining in regulation, was proffered and then snatched away cruelly. The Oilers came off the ice laughing, their fists pumping, their eyes glittering with newfound hope.

Two wins in a row is still a tall order: Carolina, after all, was an absurdist 3-for-7 on the power play in Game 5. But there are good hockey reasons to think that the series is close to a 50-50 affair now. Cam Ward is damaged goods now, unsure of his positioning and beaten fair and square four times by an Oiler attack that had been flaccid for three nights running. We can expect more and more holes to open up for the formidable Oiler long-range artillery (Pronger, Stoll, Spacek). Edmonton is frankly fortunate that Ward wasn't blown out badly enough for Canes coach Laviolette to consider swapping in Gerber. And now that the Canes' faith in Ward has been shaken, you can expect them to start squeezing the sticks in 4-on-4 situations and on penalty kills; it was already happening by the second period last night. Weight and Aaron Ward, two foundational players for the Canes, are questionable for Game 6.

And on the opposite side, Pronger seems to have reacquired his bearings somewhat. After Game 4 I couldn't shake the troubling thought that a team like the Oilers cannot succeed if its superstar--the only one on either roster--is tied up in psychological knots. Pronger's questionable playoff history seemed to be returning to haunt him at the worst possible time. Well, all he did was to fire a laser past Ward (later credited to Pisani) 16 seconds into the game. Game on.

- 11:01 am, June 15 (link)

Has Alex Abboud found the answer to the Edmonton Oilers' power-play troubles? I would love to see this happen. -9:54 pm, June 13
From the world press, 6/13/06

The English-speaking world's classic nursery rhymes are declared "too Western" for Indian state schools and chucked
On the streets of Mogadishu, the people prefer Islamist rule and sharia to anarchy and the personal whim of warlords
Nigeria's Daily Independent interviews Jakes Eppele, founder of the International Campaign for Albinos
A investigative report from the FAZ says that Menachem Begin was behind a 1952 attempt to assassinate West German chancellor Konrad Adenauer
2.5 million doses of polio vaccine are rushed to Namibia as the death toll from a retro outbreak hits 10
Finland's Christian soul and liberal heart slug it out as a ban on the sex trades goes to parliamentary committee
This month Armenia won gold in the 37th Chess Olympiad--but unfortunately, the victory may enhance the prestige of the kleptocratic post-Soviet elite that controls the country
For those wondering what Gary Busey and Billy Zane are doing these days, turns out they're busy portraying outsized "ugly American" caricatures for the Turkish cinema
Airbus delays delivery of the new A380 superjumbo by up to seven months, pleading "industrial issues" (?)
A ban on the burqa is upheld in the Flemish town of Maaseik
Brazil's Lula on the verge of an election: talk like Thatcher, spend like Old Labour
With the red ink rising, Libération founder Serge July appears to be out the door at last
A new design movement seeks to create "supernormal" consumer goods by returning to the roots of modernism--innovation and function-driven form
Mahajan Jr. case latest: the hospital where BJP scion Rahul was treated is coming under scrutiny for falsifying medical reports and covering up the case
Ryanair will sue Air France for crowding it out of a low-cost terminal at Marseille Airport
This week's "lack of progress on the Roma file" story comes from the Helsingen Sanomat
"End of an era" in Irish politics: colleagues and successors say RIP, Taioseach Charles Haughey

- 6:38 pm, June 13 (link)

Oilers-Canes Game 4: live weblog

Latest text at bottom--scroll down for updates

6:08 pm--pregame Hrudey (drenched in sweat from the terrible Oiler Flu) is talking about Cam Ward's rebound tendencies. I am mystified by the long bounces this guy gives up, because it doesn't seem to have any stylistic basis--it's almost like his equipment is too springy. The puck comes off his pads like a superball. Anybody have any thoughts on this?

15:09 1st Dvorak just faked out a defenceman and actually got the puck to the net (trying to beat Cam Ward to the five-hole). That's got to be his first decent scoring chance in six weeks, doesn't it? A very good sign for the Oilers, who are really pouring it on.

13:04 1st By the way, am I the only one who noticed the bright yellow "SHOW ME YOUR PECA" sign that appeared briefly in the Rexall stands during the second period of Game 3? Priceless.

11:20 1st--SAMSONOV (Dvorak, Stoll)
10:51 1st--STILLMAN (Kaberle, Staal)
Oilers get an absolute picture goal created and finished on a three-man rush by Samsonov. I've been saying for weeks that "Samsonov is God"; it turns out that means he's invisible most of the time, but makes extremely dramatic occasional appearances on the world-historical stage.
As so often this year, the Oilers comes right back with a defensive miscue and leave Stillman alone to take a one-timer from 20 feet out on a cross-ice pass.

4:48 1st The Oilers burn two straight power plays like a Gilded Age millionaire lighting cigars with dollar bills. Bob Cole helpfully notes that the Oilers are 5% for the series in PP efficiency--on the whole, they've actually been creating more chances when shorthanded, it seems. The Canes PK really exposes the Oilers' relative weakness along the boards, and it's forcing the Oilers to look for the perfect pass.
Aaron Ward just took a high-sticking minor to create a 5-on-3. Ordinary I'd be ecstatic, but the Oilers stink in this situation--they just have no clue.

1:37 1st Yep. The Canes actually had the best chance of the power play when Whitney stole the puck and forced Markkanen to make a tough save after winning a one-on-one. The Oilers poured in a few shots, but what jackass's scouting report told them to go for Ward's five-hole? The bottom quarter of the net seems to be his strongest area--his blocker side looks a lot more vulnerable to me (which raises a further question--why are they putting Hemsky on Ward's right when they know perfectly well Hemmer never shoots the damn puck?)

End of 1st The period ends partway through a Carolina power play. I'm not super happy that the game is tied--the Oilers are obviously expending a lot of energy in the first frame at home, and they usually seem to end up back on their heels in the 2nd. They've got to get their hands around the opposition's throat while the crowd's still at maximum energy.

Coach's Corner Cherry does his traditional awkward interview with the top prospects for the upcoming draft. Why is he belabouring these kids about Bobby Orr? Orr was retired for ten years when these dudes were passing through the birth canal. Also, it seems to come as news to Grapes that modern players eat a lot of pasta to load up on carbohydrates for a game (a practice that I know dates back at least to 1968, because Jerry Kramer wrote about it in Instant Replay--and by the way, any book publishers reading this should GET THAT BOOK BACK INTO PRINT, YOU DIPSHITS).

16:38 2nd There is no more ambivalent feeling than seeing Laraque go in as half of a two-on-one. Decent pass from le GG, though.

14:35 2nd Why are the Oilers sending two forecheckers down low on a penalty kill. On what planet is this considered a sensible thing to do. Help me to understand.

11:37 2nd Mike Jenkinson writes: "You have to say that Markkanen just made a really 'Jussi' save there on the Hurricanes' PP." This is a typical exemplar of the wit and wisdom for which Jenk is renowned. Truly gruesome ten minutes of hockey for every Oiler but Markkanen, who is playing his best hockey of the year.

8:35 2nd The Oilers finally assemble one or two half-decent scoring chances on a power play. Will wonders never cease. I still think Hemsky is due to inflict some PP damage on the Hurricanes, though they seem a little better than other teams at waiting him out while he does figure-skating compulsories at a 20° angle to the goal line.

5:17 2nd The game degenerates into a disorganized porridge of exhaustion, with wild, dangerous jabs coming at both ends. The TEAM 1260 radio call of the game is a few seconds ahead of the CBC--it's like being clairvoyant!

4:04 2nd--RECCHI (Staal, Stillman)
Tremendous play by Staal there--he spotted a clearing attempt, leaped in the air to glove it down, and fed Recchi at the right post before the Oilers defence could react. If the Oilers can escape the period without giving up any more goals, I'll still be content. God bless this crowd, they responded to the goal by torquing the volume even higher.

End of 2nd A horrid period, as predicted.

Ron MacLean-Colin Campbell interview Remarkably nasty little affray here between Campbell and MacLean (with heavy collateral damage to Jason Smith for an obvious dive late in the 2nd). Mac backs Campbell into a corner when he points out that only five diving penalties have been called in the playoffs. Campbell says that the players can't be blamed for trying to attract calls because they're out there to win the game--but if they can't be blamed, MacLean asks, why are they represented on the competition committee? (My question would be: why isn't there some fan/civilian representation on there? Neither of these prats wants to challenge the "good hockey guys" who run the league, but it's the "good hockey guys" who gave us the 1998-2004 game that apparently needed fixing so badly...)

14:18 3rd Very troubling dynamic emerging here--Carolina seems totally comfortable with the puck in their own zone, because they trust in their own ability to win the board battles and in Ward's ability to handle any shot taken from more than about ten feet out. Moreover, with the Oilers PP vanished up its own nethers, they have the freedom to risk penalties. One doesn't sense that Edmonton is going to equalize here--the last, sole saving grace is that it's Edmonton, it's Rexall Place, and the team demonstrated in Game 1 that it can create a lot of good opportunities fast when the pressure is truly on. This game should kick into high gear at around 10:00 of the period.

10:03 3rd Spacek fans on a clearing attempt, has to turn 180° and go into the corner for the puck, and gets drilled by a charging Eric Staal. Ah, Jaro, don't you ever change. Oh, wait--I mean do change. And soon, before you cost us the Cup with one of your crazy screwups.

9:05 3rd Samsonov and Moreau have only played about 10 minutes of hockey so far in this game. Obviously MacTavish has been husbanding his most frightening individual weapons. Let's hope they can generate something--the Oilers are swarming but they aren't creating good shots.

7:23 3rd There's been a ton of talk in this series about Carolina's shot-blocking. Can I point out that they're not actually very good at it? The Oilers block shots the right way, remaining square to the puck (at great personal risk) so that they can get up quickly and get back into the play. The Canes flop to the ice fully stretched out as if they were lounging on a divan, with their bodies turned away from the puck. Sadly, Edmonton hasn't been able to capitalize on this.

4:38 3rd Jason Smith is sent off--he barely touched Craig Adams with his stick blade, but after his grotesque dive in the 2nd, the refs were just waiting for their opportunity to skate over Gator's balls. This just in: payback still a bitch.

0:00 3rd The Oilers pull Markkanen with nearly two minutes left, but Carolina's box defence proves impossible to solve. We're going back to Raleigh with the Cup on the line. It's the first time in the 2006 playoffs that the Oilers will have faced elimination. With luck they'll have a few chances to stare it down--but a fair analysis of the series to date can only leave one with the conclusion that they'll need some luck, or a loss of focus by Carolina. I'm off to pour myself a drink.

- 5:51 pm, June 12 (link)

I was flipping through the latest issue of the Alberta Gazette this morning to see if the remarkable order-in-council allowing pharmacists to prescribe drugs independently in the province had been published yet. No dice, but in perusing the Gazette I stumbled across the Government Services ministry's list of legal name changes for April. I always knew these changes were published in the Gazette, but as a provincial-politics reporter I always spent more time with my nose buried in the budget docs and latest press releases.

Most of the name changes are presumably related to adoptions, or to some form of indiscernible family heartbreak. But there is another surprising tendency: in multicultural Canada, it seems some immigrants still want to change foreign-sounding names to good "Western" ones. In the April gazette, Anantee Maraj becomes simple Anne. Pheng Ly Wong is now Louise Phen Ly Wong. Seungwon Kim, exercising his sacred freedom to be called what he likes in a manner I'm not sure I would ratify, has taken on the name Zelig Seungwon Kim.

Some of the changes are subtle almost to the point of inscrutability. Frieda Fox must have felt awfully strongly that she prefers to live as a Frida; so let it be written, so let it be done. Roger Anthony Polowy, after who knows how many years of hearing his Polish surname mispronounced, has phoneticized it to Poloway. Will Joan Elizabeth Anderson, by some queer magic, find it easier to face the day as Joan Elisabeth Anderson?

I am a little sad to see that some bearers of obvious Indian-derived names are "going white", with no apparent traffic in the other direction. I suppose I'm as guilty as anyone of snickering at surnames like "Fryingpan", but part of the flavour of Western life is lost irretrievably when Jeremy Peter James Shirt becomes Jeremy Peter James Busch or Tyson Ian Smallboy becomes Tyson Ian Abraham.

But I wish only the very best for the former Sharon Myrlene Kuntz, now reborn as Sharon Myrlene Kurtz.

- 5:33 am, June 12 (link)

BLEG! An Ohio reader in the media business is curiousnervous about this David Black character who just purchased the Akron Beacon-Journal (whoa). I know next to nothing about Black, or his company, or B.C. newspapering. But I'm sure I have at least 40 readers who are experts on these subjects. Send me anecdotes and takes and I'll forward 'em with identifying info omitted. -4:50 am, June 12
Tramp the dirt down dept.: Anne McLellan has quietly re-entered the ivory tower, taking up a tailor-made chair in U.S.-Canada relations at the U of A. -4:39 am, June 12
Oilers-Canes, Game 3

That, as they say, was a close one. I wasn't very happy with the Oilers' play overall, but as fans of the English national soccer side have been telling each other for the past 36 hours or so, a win is a win, and the alternative was not pleasant to contemplate. I was watching the game in a social setting, which, as Tyler Dellow has pointed out, isn't exactly congenial to postgame analysis. But one must do one's best:

  • Home ice, as one might have expected, turned out to be huge. The Oilers came out flying like the Condor Legion in the first period, were finally able to mount a challenge to Rod Brind'amour's dominance in the faceoff circle, and had the chance to get Peca on the ice consistently against Carolina's offensive threats.

  • That said, Carolina looked like the stronger team in many ways from minute to minute, and often the margin was decisive. In fact, they reminded me of nothing more than the way the Oilers looked against more talented opposition for the first three rounds of the playoffs. It's dismaying to suddenly be presented with technical genius when it comes to the components of success that the Oilers used to get this far: they seem particularly outclassed when it comes to (a) the precise first pass from the defence, (b) formation skating through the neutral zone, and (c) combat along the boards. They're not winning all the races to loose pucks anymore. They're still real fast and they still never go offside, but on the whole I have to say they don't necessarily look like the team that wants to win more, which is scary.

  • A lot of the Oilers just seem to be delivering 90% instead of 110% now, and it's having ripple effects through the team. When MacTavish decided to bench Marc-Andre Bergeron, a young minute-devouring defenceman who finally began to show signs of exposure and exhaustion in the first two games, it shook up the D like a Boggle set--and now, perhaps as a consequence, Chris Pronger doesn't seem to know what to do with the puck coming out from behind the goal line, isn't sealing the offensive zone real well, often seems in danger of just plain falling on his ass, and can't hit the net on point shots anymore. Jaro Spacek had a nice Game 3 but is in constant danger of being posterized. Ethan Moreau isn't keeping the Carolina backcheck honest anymore--in the two games I haven't been flat on my back in the hospital for, there have been several occasions when my heart leapt because I expected Moreau to eviscerate a Canes defenceman to the outside, and it didn't happen.

  • It's not a coincidence that all of this puts more pressure on Ryan Smyth to perform. He's the man of the hour now.

    Maybe I should just drop the point form and talk a little bit about Smytty. You already know him as "Captain Canada", a second-tier national hero with a knack for coming up indefinably big in international games. For a decade he has been THE Edmonton Oiler, the young blond manchild who was going to be there at the core when the team got good again (eventually, eventually...). While ten years' worth of first-round Oiler draft picks were dying on the vine in the Swedish Elitserien, or handling the AHL like an orangutan trying to solve a Rubik's Cube, Smyth showed up as a local with Boy Scout credentials and was terrific immediately. What you're seeing today isn't even the really good version of Smytty. He's always been great in front of the net, a living refutation of the idea that a goal-clogging "power forward" has to be gigantic--but he used to be about 20% faster and the best player in the league, bar none, in a corner battle. If he'd been twins, they'd both have been Hall of Famers.

    With his battered face and his sweat-bedewed beard, he's now a testament to what the Stanley Cup tournament demands from a human being. He looks like a fifty-year-old pirate in an era of 45-year life expectancies. From age 20 to age 30 Smyth didn't age a day; six weeks of hockey have doubled his apparent lifespan. You may have noticed that this doesn't happen to basketball players. Every year around this time we start to hear about the physical courage and endurance of those dudes, and lord knows about 30% of them have gone into recording studios to immortalize their own hardcoreness in song. Yet, oddly enough, Shaquille O'Neal never seems to end a playoff year toothless, half-crazed, maimed, and dehydrated. No basketball player, as far as I am aware, had ever had his carotid artery slit open or a finger physically severed during the course of play. That, as much as anything, is why hockey's status as the fourth North American team sport is still tacitly recognized and deferred to by the media--even as it makes constant, scornful, infinitely tedious jokes about the sport's popularity.

    I guess that was a digression. The point I wanted to make was that no one on either side of this series has as much at stake now as Ryan Smyth. Dwayne Roloson and Craig MacTavish saved their imperilled careers and earning potential weeks ago. Pronger is a Hall of Famer no matter what happens; so, probably, is Brind'Amour. Samsonov and Spacek and Hemsky will get big contracts from somebody next season. Eric Staal and Cam Ward will still be around in the year 2020, win or lose, and Ty Conklin won't be. But for Smyth, this is the moment in the crucible--the chance at glory he used up his true prime years awaiting, the opportunity that has defined his every decision since he was playing Peewees. I honestly don't know how good the Oilers are going to be next year, but it seems probable that half a century from now, Edmontonians--and maybe hockey fans everywhere--are going to remember that Smyth won a Cup in 2006, or that he didn't.

    Some hockey writers have claimed that, talent-wise, we're going to end up with a rather weak Stanley Cup champion this season no matter how the series turns out. To me, this seems bafflingly unjust to the Hurricanes, who have a few blue-chippers on the rise and are stacked with senior eminences of the game--Brind'Amour, Weight, Wesley, Recchi. The media, naturally, looks at Carolina and sees a team that doesn't have a single superstar in its prime. But the depth of the lineup, measured in players we're going to be talking about 20 years hence, is remarkable. It contrasts just fine, I think, with the Tampa Bay Lightning of 2004.

    But by the same measure, the Oilers really are nothing to write home about. They do have, in Pronger, one guy in his prime whose face is going to be carved on a mountain. They have Peca, whose name is still hissed with white-hot loathing up and down the eastern seaboard for past crimes, and they have Georges Laraque, whose larger-than-life legend will outlast a career that may be in its twilight even as you read this. Hemsky's going to be good for a very long time--though never great. For the most part, when it comes to the historical record, I see this as Smytty's team. He is the one guy who legacy will rise or fall on the market according to what happens in the next ten days. He has always represented--personified--optimism and energy, even when there was no hope for the Oilers. Now the summit is in sight, but the oxygen is low and his tentmates are beginning to flag. He is the man to keep your eye upon.

    - 12:37 am, June 12 (link)

    From the world press, 6/9/06

    Osirak at 25: Israeli pilots who denied Saddam the bomb meet to swap memories
    An Indian government commission rules that the official story about S.C. Bose's death [wikipedia] was a fabrication
    Fascinating details from the arms race between cheaters and educators in Asia's high-stakes varsity-entrance exams
    China puts an online-gaming "virtual thief" in prison for one year
    While Italy competes in the World Cup, the investigation into calcio's officiating scandal meets with a "defensive wall" of silence
    In the Danish town of Espergærde, a graffiti war between white nationalists and antiracists has shop owners caught in the crossfire
    Have ethnic riots in East Timor been deliberately fomented by the country's prime minister?
    With a mighty roar, the flood-control functions of the Three Gorges Dam are brought online
    The original aviation fuel: how Santos-Dumont, Brazil's aviation pioneer [wikipedia], was inspired, funded, and personally sustained by coffee
    The shocking premise of a new Italian book: native English cuisine is terrific
    South Korea is ambivalent about a French decision to publicly exhibit priceless Korean historical texts seized by the Second Empire
    Australian wineries that expanded to meet 1990s growth in demand are now leaving grapes to rot
    The worst job in the world? William Brownfield, U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, uses baseball to reach out to the people in spite of Chavista vilification
    Venona, scene of the upcoming bridge championships, awaits the arrival of Bill Gates
    If you haven't heard of Sugata Mitra's Indian experiment in "Hole-in-the-Wall" computing for the poor, you should check out this CSM piece
    Great AIPS: South Korea's navy rolls out a new submarine class
    Hello Google: a young Chinese romance novelist uses her hot naked ass to sell her book [link is NSFW]

    - 6:35 pm, June 9 (link)

    Oilers-Canes, Game 2

    Wednesday morning logic: "The Edmonton Oilers were a mediocre team looking worse every day before they got Roloson. They suddenly became magnificent when they got Roloson. Now they've lost Roloson. How will they play?..."

    I quickly found, turning on the radio and checking out the weblogs as I emerged from my stupor of illness, that almost nobody was willing to follow this quasi-syllogism to its end. There was no shortage of counterarguments: the Oilers have always (meaning "since the third week of April") found ways to win in the face of adversity, Carolina's defence looked like dogshit on Monday night anyway, look at the five-game winning streak we put together without Roloson in October-November and the five right around Christmas... ordinarily this would have sounded like pathetic denial, but there was a touching stubbornness to it too. The city of Edmonton had been reduced to pure blind bloodthirst. Lose now? This close to the Cup? To a team south of the Mason-Dixon line? Because one player got hurt? Hell, the boys didn't have any trouble beating Anaheim when half the team was being brought to the games on gurneys; a goalie's knee is like a rounding error compared to that. So Carolina has won one game? We spotted Detroit that many, and that was a good team. We gave San Jose two, and they might have been the best of the bunch. Are we supposed to be afraid of this kid Ward? He's 20, and it's not like he didn't let in a few funky goals on Monday, interspersed with a few fluky stops...

    But where Game 1 had seemed like a blind, bizarre tragedy--a pure matter of the gods' shithammer swinging down and accidentally landing on the better team--Game 2 ostensibly left little room for the remaining intellectual comforts available to Oilers fans. Yesterday morning, the city was still full of the defiant communal spirit of the Blitz; now, after an agonizing and inexorable 5-0 loss, it's perhaps more like France 1940.

    Yet in pure, raw hockey terms the outlook may actually be better today than it was after Roloson was smashed like a rag doll on Monday night. For the past two days, there was a possibility that Ty Conklin would appear in net for the Oilers Wednesday night. Well, I'm awfully sorry, but Conklin is no longer capable of lasting two weeks in the ECHL--he was, in fact, waived successfully through the NHL in February or thereabouts, and there was no credible reason for him to be appearing in a Stanley Cup game at all.* Shortly before Game 2, Coach MacTavish assured the press and the fans that whoever started would stay between the pipes for the rest of the series, come hell or high water. That it was Markkanen was outstanding news. And Markkanen had a decent game, may indeed have been one of the best Oilers on the ice. He was beaten cleanly only once or twice; he was out of position a few times, but it never cost him and he seems to be moving well laterally; and he made a half-dozen or so quite splendid saves. Cory Stillman's wraparound goal into an empty net looked awful, but if you watch the replay you'll see that Markkanen got caught going wide of the net and rotating 180 degrees because he had to guard against a weird carom off the backboards. There were three Oiler defenders, any one of whom could have swept in and contained Stillman. That goal was not ten percent Markkanen's fault.

    So: we've got a goalie. He's nothing special, probably not even league-average, but he's a better option than strapping a set of pads onto Igor Ulanov and tying him to the goalposts with bungee cord. I think.

    That basic condition leaves a dim-lit, narrow, beast-plagued path to victory still open for the Oilers. They're coming home to their energizing mother earth for Game 3. At different points during two horrible games, they've displayed all the features (all of them but exceptional goaltending, that is) that made them the Western champions. They're the faster team through the neutral zone, and the faster team to the loose puck. Their penalty kill, at its best, has looked just ridiculously good. Last night they heavily outchanced Carolina in the first period; the Canes' strategy of blocking to drop everything from the point worked for 15 minutes, and the Oilers were just starting to work around it (often sending three men behind the net) when they got caught up in a spiral of increasingly foolish penalties. If the Hurricanes continue to flop in front of pucks, Ales Hemsky is eventually going to explode on them: the question is whether he'll do it in time, and (Lord, hear our prayer) he's been a just-in-time kinda guy all year.

    Basically, Game 3 is everything now. The Edmonton fan collective has, excusably, lost pretty much all contact with reality; the Oilers have been so strong at home in the playoffs that a Game 3 win is likely to be regarded as, basically, evening up the series. No version of the Oilers has depended more on fan intensity; I suspect that the grim mood which prevails on a gray, rainy morning will be gone by noon, and I hope that enough actual ticketholders will be in the building to not only match the legend established thus far, but to exceed it.

    *Don Cherry asks why Conklin was on the bench Monday if MacTavish didn't believe he was the team's second-best goalie. Does anyone have a really good answer to this question? I sure don't, and neither did Ron MacLean, who nearly choked to death on his own tongue trying to account for it.

    - 7:17 am, June 8 (link)

    As the grandchild of an RCAF veteran, I feel kind of weird pointing this out, but it looks like even the Luftwaffe is pulling for the Edmonton Oilers. -1:21 pm, June 7
    Lose weight now! Ask me how

    A brief update for those expecting weblog entries, phone calls, e-mail, or other matter from me: I fell ill Saturday with what seems to have been a bacterial infection of the intestinal tract. I spent Sunday alternating between bathroom visits, short periods of sleep, and trying to meet my paying deadlines. On Monday, while the Oilers were playing one of the most exciting, bizarre, and horrifying Stanley Cup games ever, I was half-dozing in a hospital waiting room, waiting for intravenous fluids and a Cipro prescription. I was still semi-shitfaced on fentanyl when I heard Rod Phillips say on the radio that Conklin was in net for us (who??? what??? Conklin???), and I am still waiting for someone to tell me that the whole thing was just a side effect. Physically, I am feeling markedly better and just ate my first near-solid food in 96 hours. If the Oilers start Conklin tonight I will have to go back on clear soups and fruit juice, I think, but regularly scheduled programming will be restored gradually.

    In the meantime, here's a new National Post column from me; it's about Joe Volpe and it's on the free side of subscriber wall.

    - 7:57 am, June 7 (link)

    From the world press, 6/3/06

    Indonesians debate the modern place of Pancasila, the five-point Buddhist state ideology drawn up by Sukarno [wikipedia] that has lost its sacrosanct status in the archipelago
    Who's the mysterious "Ananias Nghifitikeko" whose anonymous e-mails are shaking up southern African politics?
    A Jamaican robber invades the wrong house--and when his weapon fails to fire, he gets chopped to bits by a mother and her six kids
    Ireland's highest court strikes down the country's statutory-rape law, creating a crisis as child rapist "Mr. A" is briefly freed and sending the Irish into the streets by the thousands
    Consensus eludes the EU on work-hour limits as Britain and the old Sovbloc fight for their right to opt out of harsh Franco-Swedish rules
    "I feel that I am Israeli, 100 per cent": so says Marcus Klingberg, the exiled IDF bioweapons expert who spied for the Soviet Union and spent 20 years in Israeli prison
    Don't fret, travellers: Latin America's first "five-star gay hotel" will still leave the welcome-mat out for breeders in Buenos Aires
    The "Berliner" format craze claims another broadsheet, Denmark's Berlingske Tidende
    An Israeli arbitrator denies CanWest Global an option to buy 50% of the Jerusalem Post
    Bombshell in Qatar: an expert on "Islamic economics" declares that many sharia-compliant banks are deceiving the Muslim public and that employees are poorly trained in religious doctrine
    Afrikaners prepare to demonstrate in defence of their cultural ownership of the Bloemfontein Women's Monument, a memorial to Boer War victims
    Did a Turkish museum director steal the treasures of Croesus? From police custody, he claims some pieces were missing when he retrieved them from the US
    Will anthropologists be allowed to study Macedonian mummies unearthed in an ethnic-Albanian part of the FYROM?
    Brazilians get browned off when Tony Blair leaves them out of a speech on reform of the UN Security Council
    Jumping the Sarko express: France's Segolene tries to cram a tough-on-crime plank into a socialist electoral platform
    Fugitive or refugee? The Mexican government wants to get its hands on mineworkers' union leader Napoleon Gomez, who is in Ottawa trying to win sympathy for his cause
    Denmark's legislature, with all-party support, goes open-source with its electronic docs
    Probably just a coincidence: one day after they raided the server farm of the world's largest torrent-search site, Sweden's national police are hit with a denial-of-service attack
    Poland's president (belatedly?) displays solidarity with the nation's chief rabbi after the cleric suffers a street attack with fists and pepper spray
    Mahajan poisoning update: hospital sources confirm the secretary was poisoned and rule out an overdose of recreational drugs as the cause of Rahul's illness
    Despite stains on its record of probity, Lula's rationalist-populist Brazilian government still looks unbeatable in the early polling
    Finnish authorities back off from prosecuting a nationalist group that put the Jyllands-Posten Muhammad cartoons on its website
    Chavez Watch: spittle-flecked attacks on Peru's Alan Garcia draw a tart response from Garcia's main electoral rival
    Snakes on a plane: it's not just a movie anymore

    - 5:20 am, June 3 (link)

    From the world press, 6/2/06

    For 56 years, Chinese children under 110 cm in height were eligible for free public transport, but with nutrition improving and heights rising, municipal governments are having to raise the bar
    The Prague Post does Miroslav Tichy, whose bizarre photographic oeuvre shot with handmade cameras is becoming the art sensation of 2006
    A major study of harm-reduction in Switzerland shows that liberal drug policy has reduced the number of new heroin addicts, though it has also discouraged existing junkies from getting sober
    Arson-prone Norwegian churches brace themselves for 6/6/06, but Satanists say they don't intend any harm
    After three decades, OPEC is considering expansion, with Sudan and Angola first in line for new slots
    Hindu cremation centres were once common in Lahore, but now that city's Hindu dead are being left on the slab as Pakistan becomes ever more Muslim
    Need to catch up? dept.: here's a nice little potted history of post-1968 relations between the Czechs and the Slovaks that sets the stage for upcoming elections
    Radio Free Asia releases the text of a 1997 plea for freedom by Zhao Ziyang, the late CCP General Secretary who was purged and placed under house arrest after Tienanmen
    Doh! The ICC's arrest warrants for Lord's Resistance Army leaders threaten to derail the Ugandan peace process and leave the guerrillas nothing to lose
    It's another slow-motion land reform disaster in South Africa's arable heart
    WTF? Mere weeks after BJP pol Pramod Mahajan's death, his secretary has died and his son is in intensive care after a poisoning incident
    Meanwhile, the Telegraph of Calcutta has dramatic images from the scene of a terrorist attack on the headquarters of the RSS, the Hinduist group that begat the BJP [wikipedia]
    Check out the Nation of Bangkok's charmingly cheesy web feature in honour of the Thai king's 60th anniversary on the throne
    Chess beat: it's easy for Kalmuck president Kirsan Ilyumzhinov to stamp out the opposition in his homeland, but his time as president of FIDE may soon be ending

    - 2:28 pm, June 2 (link)

    Depressing scientific study of the day: "Fatal agricultural injuries in preschool children", a preprint from the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Out on the prairie, the safety-poster contests for farm kids were always a gallows-humour highlight of the school year. You don't really know rural life until you've been in a classroom who walls are blanketed in children's drawings depicting, essentially, themselves with missing digits and limbs and big blue Laurentian-pencilled tears streaming everywhere. -10:19 am, June 2
    Super Flush effect in Edmonton: EPCOR, the city's privatized water provider, has issued incredible graphs depicting citywide water consumption during recent Oiler playoff games. (See the indispensible Cecil Adams for background.) -1:29 am, June 2
    53 days ago, the Edmonton Oilers reached perhaps the lowest, bleakest point in the history of the franchise. Craig MacTavish "probably wanted to kill everyone" that night, says Chris Pronger in a new feature piece about the game that ended up turning everything around. What I wrote the day after the Savvis Center bloodbath now seems like an artifact from a different epoch. -5:37 pm, June 1
    They fought the law! After nearly a month of sporadic vandalism on Whyte Avenue, the Edmonton cops have just released the first "Wanted" images of suspected rioters partying down amidst the copper-and-blue chaos. Is it possible that the EPS has suddenly decided to fight crime by gathering evidence and soliciting public assistance, instead of just whining to local editorial boards? They must be pretty desperate! -5:02 am, June 1