Thursday, August 31, 2006

I've always had a little more America in me than most of my friends, or even many Americans. I once challenged a couple from Maine as to whether the capital of their state really was Augusta, because I was almost certain that it was Bangor, though that might be because I've awlays had a little more combatant in me than most of my friends. More seriously, I watch baseball, football and King of the Hill to the exclusion of hockey and basketball. I would love to be able to watch hockey, but I can rarely bring myself to care. I know more about the Buffalo Bills or even some far-off football team than the Toronto Maple Leafs. More significantly, I feel a certain kinship with the land of the zone defense, the split-fingered fastball and the Taco Bell and will often defend it against all comers in political debate. I'm not sure what the cause is, whether it is too much time on the Internet, too much time spent watching FOX or maybe a fixation on America as the hub of the world, at least my corner of it.

My ultimate fixation, however, is with football. I've been watching football since I was 9. The stereotypes might say otherwise but football is a great way for a nerd to spend a Sunday afternoon: three hours of technical overanalysis and statistical overload. The game itself is uniquely American, moreso than baseball or anything else. It is only a legitimate sport in North America, it is complex, technological, overhyped, overblown and overexposed. It embodies the good and bad of America like soccer represents the good and bad of Europe, or hockey represents the good and bad of Canada.

I'm not sure just what it is about the defence lining up in a 3-4 zone with an eighth man in the box that excites me. The jargon, the commentary and the mentality is very aggressive and very appropriate to young males of 21st century America. The games are always exciting, full of twists and absolutely nerve-wracking. The sequential nature of plays turns off many who like a fluid sport (but won't watch 10,000 metre races on the track) but the combination of the order and the controlled chaos within each part of the sequence is beautiful. The game is seen as boorish and violent, but it is so much more, if only you could sit down and learn the intricacies of the game.

In a couple of months, it will be fall, the time of fast races, fun at school and cold weather football. The season will be in full swing as immovable defenses collide with irresistible offenses on a 100-yard chess board with breathless, hyperbolic commentators there to remind us if we forget. The redundant comments don't take away from a sport that features some of the most talented athletes in a complex, entertaining drama every Sunday for five months.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

I imagine that a number of people have visited my blog as a result of the apparently controversial remarks made here. Also, Mark, Blaine, Drew, Jeanne, and Anne have all written about it, and those are just the ones I know about. I wish I had something running-related to offer to you, but I don't, unfortunately. Feel free, however, to get to know my loyal but quirky group of commentators and enjoy your time here.
There is an Urdu joke that I remember from many years ago and it goes something like this: a man has a guest at his house and wants only the best to drink for him. They go from place to place asking what the healthiest drink is, each time receiving a different answer and the regress ultimately has the guest drinking a simple glass of water. I remember this joke because I'm reminded of both its farce and truth whenever social plans with whiny friends or relatives fizzle ("why bother going to a movie, we can't talk anyway, so let's just stay at home"). Today, however, while thinking of writing about the stunning destruction of New Orleans, I imagined criticism for being overly Americo-centric and then thought of writing about the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, maybe falling back to some even more catastrophic earthquake or flood, before jokingly deciding to write about World War I instead. After I wrote that, I decided instead that the flu epidemic following the war is the issue I should think about since it killed more people than the war. If you come up with something else, let me know.

A co-worker once poked fun at a friend who was similarly harsh in providing free doses of supposed perspective, though such perspective often comes across as a smug intellectual superiority. "What's that? Eighteen people died in a car bombing in Jerusalem? Who cares? One hundred and eight died in -- oh, wait, I've actually got 121 in floods in Ethiopia; that's the winner, that's the one that deserves your emotions." It is, of course, important to not fly off the handle concerning tragedy (shark attacks were all the rage in the summer of 2001) but at the same time, deciding which deaths mean more and why is not only macabre but ultimately a meaningless proposition. Five accidental deaths at home are the equal of how many callous murders in a remote corner of the world? I guess it depends on how many children died.

What the co-worker and I agreed upon is that supposed answers to this question, couched in the form of "oh, that's nothing" statements, do nothing but obscure the issue at hand. If the only response to this summer's war between Israel and Lebanon is that only 1500 people died whereas more no doubt perished from AIDS in that timespan, then the respondent has spoken meaninglessly and completely missed the point. After saying something about the issue at hand, it would make sense to discuss a different issue, but the negation of discussion with pretentious mention of something supposedly more important is absurd in relation to the original discussion. It is also meaningless with respect to the secondary topic, because it invites a regress. I might respond to the AIDS pandemic by screaming about nuclear proliferation, which could theoretically kill everyone on the planet, so on and so forth. It is best, then, to can the pretense and speak intelligently about present matter.

Friday, August 25, 2006

If you live anywhere in this country, I very strongly urge you to go and see Bon Cop, Bad Cop, as wonderfully Canadian of a movie as I have seen. All things Canadian find their way into this understated, underrated movie that I saw with five others in a theatre large enough for hundreds. Interprovincial bickering, bilingualism, Quebecois and Torontonian stereotypes, hockey-based nationalism and not-so-vague references to Eric Lindros, the Quebec Nordiques and Wayne Gretzky are all present.

The result is Canadiana overlaid a parody of a cop movie; the two detectives are taken off the case in a mix of French and poorly-spoken English, the forced partners are a straitlaced WASPish Torontonian and a free-spirited Montrealer with predictably clashing personalities and the dirty business is that of the Americanization of hockey. All the familiar things are there and the narrative is Canadian instead of Californian, leading to more familiarity and the ultimate realization that more Canadian stories need to be told, so long as they are told as well as this one.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Most songs played at work leave me with a non-exaggerated case of post-factum shell shock, but a rare exception is the late Eva Cassidy's folksy Penny to My Name. Like all the other songs, it got stuck in my head, namely Cassidy's lament, "I never seen the city lights/How they must shine so bright". By contrast, "the sky's black as coal" above her remote, crushingly poor country home. The experience for me is the total opposite, having lived only in Toronto and Lahore with the odd trip outside, and anything near total darkness is just scary.

I was never one to notice the stars until a first-year astronomy course I took to fulfil the need for a science credit. The only thing I took away was that, apparently, you could go into the country and see a bunch of stars. Coupled with the mystery of year-round life in a remote location, be it northern Ontario or the mountain villages of Pakistan, I have an immense fascination with small towns. Penny to My Name didn't really have any meaning to me until I went for a run late last night.

Sheepishly, I can now tell you that the lights are so non-existent in Malton, itself a backwards small town in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area, that the stars come out and stay, precariously close. I'm sure the same is true for any vantage point in the suburbs, but the darkness is especially complete in Malton. The small town feel is reinforced by a near-complete absence of anything to do in Malton. At the end of each working day, the options are to walk home from the bus depot, go for a walk or sit on your porch. There are no restaurants, coffee shops, movie theatres, cultural attractions or really anything that could even loosely be termed 'somewhere to go'.

Stalking along the sidewalk, the quiet and the darkness work together so that every sound is audible and every action is visible. Conversations can be heard from houses, cars can be heard from around the corner and distant headlights behind me light up the night like the sun. I have run at night before, I have run the route hundreds of times, but desolate, poorly lit neighbourhoods offer this small wonder. A reasonable facsimile of darkness is good enough with the song in my head. Watching the Big Dipper all the way with a pathetic fascination, I enjoy the solitude and the parallel to a poor, desperate place frozen in time but still with charms.