Main Index Page
About Your Host
Send Me E-Mail
Browse the Archives
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
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.
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
"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
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.
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
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...
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
"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.
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."
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?
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
Oilers-Canes, Game 7
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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)
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.
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)
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.
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.
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:
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.
From the world press, 6/9/06
Osirak at 25: Israeli pilots who denied Saddam the bomb meet to swap memories
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.
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.
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
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
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