Thursday, November 30, 2006

Often I feel as though the twentieth century never happened for me, never mind the twenty-first. I'm writing a paper on Aristotle by hand while listening to Schubert's Ave Maria in an old, unheated house. Except for the fact that I'm writing this entry and listening to Ave Maria on a computer, the original occupants of this house could have done the same thing. Afterwards, they would drink to the health of Queen Victoria and pull up the Globe and Mail for the latest news from Cape Town.

Things really haven't changed all that much, not at all.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Here are ten reasons, in no particular order, why you should both move downtown and walk around in those magical hours between late night and dawn:

  • At the corner of Bloor and Sherbourne, not far from the Glen Road exit to Sherbourne station where crack deals are brokered, I saw two transients and then a peculiar old woman come up out of the Rosedale Valley. Not only is that a strange place for anyone to be at 10 pm, but it's a very, very steep climb that I'm not sure I could make in complete darkness.

  • Go for a run (or a walk) in the true middle of the night, a time that's too late for the night and too earl for the day, and follow the yellow line in the middle of the street. See how long you can keep it up.

  • Listen to the work cars in the subway tunnels from above a ventilation grate.

  • Sit in a Tim Horton's anywhere on Bloor Street and watch the eccentrics clean the store and burly TTC employees bellowing about who's doing the 63 run in those sharp maroon jackets.

  • Yesterday at 4 am the windswept intersection of Spadina and Dupont, there was a Ryder truck parked on Dupont at the northwest corner. There were large cords running out of the truck into Dupont station. Inside the truck, which was open, strange men were operating machinery that made it seem like they were about to blow up the truck.

  • Get to know who sleeps where on the streets. There is a very distinguished-looking older man who, also because he stands, almost doesn't look homeless when you pass him on Bloor around Bay. At King and Jordan, the first street west of Yonge, for as long as I can remember, a few native guys have eked out an existence. Just looking at that corner makes me cold.

  • What do skyscrapers look like under a dense fog? Not much different than the Don River valley. Both are non-existent.

  • Bloor Street East is a very underrated stretch of architecture and grandeur. The sidewalks are wide, the scenery beautiful and some of the buildings true gems.

  • Queen's Park at night. I could go on forever about this park, about five-sixths of a kilometre in circumference, and every incline, decline and variation in terrain within. A few people camp out there but because the entire Queen's Park Crescent (the legislature is one half, the park another) is a black hole, you may not know until you get a little too close. Every time I go and run there late at night, though, I have to wonder who exactly it is that needs to be scared. The scariest thing I have ever seen at Queen's Park was what looked like a man with a metal detector glowing a bright red. It could've been a dirty bomb for all I know.

  • Anywhere by the lake, preferably uninhabited, is awe-inspiring. Large bodies of water at night, at least to someone who is accustomed only to lights, is eerie. Go and stand by Lake Ontario one night and look across at the lights on the Islands. Bonus points for going to the Islands on a cold winter night and looking south.
  • TheStar.com - Big Mac won't get my vote for hall: "Mark McGwire may well make it to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., on the strength of his home run numbers. Some day.

    He'll probably do it without this vote, though, and he'll certainly not be getting it in this, his first year of eligibility.

    This isn't about moral outrage or first whacks at a poster child for the steroids era. It isn't about McGwire participating in a common practice, now illegal in baseball, that not only was not against the rules but was tacitly endorsed by the high sheriffs of Major League Baseball when he was slugging home runs with unprecedented frequency and 'saving' the game after a particularly messy labour disruption.

    The feeling here is that McGwire simply has very borderline numbers, even including his home-run exploits
    ."

    I have known Dave Perkins, at least through his regular columns for the Toronto Star, for longer than I have known any of you. I also know that Perkins is either lying in denying a moral component to his vote against McGwire, a very valid reason, or he is dead wrong in denying merit to McGwire's career.

    He is right to point out that McGwire's career was precarious until 1995. That he ever came to break baseball's single season home run record is unfathomable considering that his career may well have come to an end after 1995 thanks to injuries. He played a total of 74 games in 1993-94 and batted no better than .235 from 1989-91. However, the claim that McGwire has "borderline" numbers is non-sensical. McGwire's OPS+, a rough measure of his hitting relative to the parks and era in which he played, is 163 ranks him as the eleventh-greatest hitter of all time. His career OPS of .982 is 13th all-time. Perhaps most impressive of all is the fact that for every 162 games he played, McGwire averaged 50 home runs and 122 RBI. He was certainly no slouch with the bat.

    Perkins writes that voting for the Hall of Fame is "based upon the player's record, playing ability, integrity, sportsmanship, character and contribution to the team(s) on which he played." When Perkins opts to ignore integrity, sportsmanship and character, he has no choice but to admit McGwire into the Hall of Fame. McGwire's record speaks for itself, as I have shown earlier. No one can seriously deny that, though he wasn't a great all-round athlete (a poor fielder and baserunner), McGwire is one of the most physically gifted players in baseball history. He is, after all, a man who hit 49 home runs in his rookie season. Contribution to a team is nebulous to measure in a game like baseball. A power hitter isn't the best team player, granted, and I am not here to advance a view that McGwire is the greatest player in baseball history. At the same time, a team that wouldn't want a player who averages 50 home runs a season and has a career OBP of .394 (close to .500 at his peak) does not exist.

    On the whole, however, Mark McGwire does not deserve to be in the Hall of Fame because he is, in all likelihood, a cheater. Steroids weren't banned in Major League Baseball at the time, I am aware, but it would be a colossal mistake on the part of baseball to enshrine a blatant cheater like McGwire. McGwire isn't simply a racist jerk like Ty Cobb or a gambler like Pete Rose, he took genuine shortcuts in the game and arguably has done more to tarnish the sport than anyone who isn't Barry Bonds. Major League Baseball continues to be soft on the matter of steroids. That androstenedione was not banned in 1998 is the fault of baseball. It would be doubly wrong to enter McGwire into the Hall of Fame on that basis. The right thing to do, after reaching certitude with respect to the matter (what I have said is merely probabilistic), is for the Baseball Writers' Association of America to vote against McGwire, if not coyly like Perkins. I may not follow baseball as passionately as I did when I was 12, the summer when McGwire could do no wrong inside and outside the batter's box, but I still care enough to not let baseball bean itself.

    Tuesday, November 28, 2006

    Monday Morning Quarterback: "Obviously I made a mistake. And it cost us the game."
    -- Kiwanuka, who explained after the game that he thought Young threw the ball and thus let him go, fearing that if he sacked Young he would be called for roughing-the-passer, a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down.


    King earlier shredded Mathias Kiwanuka, a defensive end for the Giants, over one of the most incomprehensible displays of incompetence that I have ever seen in eleven years of watching football. Kiwanuka had Titans quarterback Vince Young wrapped up on a crucial fourth-down play (Titans down 7, on their own 24). And then he let him go. Young, as deadly a runner as he is a passer, scrambled for a first down and eventually tied the game. The Titans eventually went on to win thanks to a similarly inexplicble interception thrown by Eli Manning.

    Kiwanuka's explanation above, however, makes a lot of sense. The dominant sentiment after Super Bowl XL was that the game was far too dominated by officials and penalties. Subconsciously, we had all known this for years: a quarterback throws the ball downfield and the receiver doesn't catch the ball but, making contact with a defender, looks around for a flag. Or, on a crucial play on which the game hinges, the commentator often ensures that there are no flags before making a statement about the game.

    That Kiwanuka even thought that a personal foul was possible on this important play is shameful. John Madden often calls on referees to simply "let the players play" for this reason. The moment that the outcome of the game is influenced by the various permutations of penalties that can be assessed is the moment that the game becomes a farce. Granted, the referees have the job of applying the rules and as I pointed out after the Super Bowl, Titan fans would have an overwhelming case that the rules weren't applied if indeed Kiwanuka roughed Manning. All this means is that the rules need to be changed.

    The rigid enforcement of roughing the passer penalties came about only to protect quarterbacks who were getting injured. Maybe I'm being coldhearted, but isn't this football? The game is supposed to be played a certain way in that players can't clothesline or punch each other and gratuitous violence is a problem in the game, but the centrality of the penalties is becoming farcical. Consider all those games where the outcomes have swung on personal fouls, offering a team another play fifteen yards downfield even with time expired.

    Elsewhere in the league, how about those Ravens? Really. To sound like an analyst, I saw the kickoff against the Steelers and I said to my brother, "the Steelers are going to get eaten alive." The Steelers are definitely in a bad state right now and the Ravens are looking great. They sacked Ben Roethlisberger nine times, produced three turnovers and held the Steelers to 172 yards. With the right matchups in the playoffs, this team could do very well.

    Saturday, November 25, 2006

    I don't live downtown, at least not by my own definition. According to those boundaries, I live just outside downtown in uptown because I don't consider anything north of Bloor Street to be within downtown. It's not really a bad thing, uptown is a very nice place to live. What I like most about uptown is the leisure. It really is a whimsical place, a little too rich but very unrushed and very peaceful. It's a more human counterpart to the oasis of calm made up by the University of Toronto and the provincial government buildings (Spadina to Bay, College to Bloor) within the downtown core.

    The closest subway station to me, despite what I've been telling people all this time, is Dupont. Dupont, because no one ever gives directions using Dupont, is definitely uptown. Aside from looking like a remnant from the set of The Flintstones, the station is really a beautiful place. The big round windows on street level make the intersection with Spadina seem more grand than it really is. After all, the entrances on the northwest and southeast corners, with a convenience store on the northeast and a house on the southwest corner. It's also really nice to look at, even if there is nothing else to do in the area. All the restaurants and stores on the street are classy but not obscenely gentrified, reflecting the intersection of the University of Toronto and the Annex with the south end of Forest Hill. Most importantly, there is a large mezzanine at Dupont, along with a gallery above the platform where trains can be observed. Why else would this be there if not for the time to look at trains go by? There's no efficiency in this gallery, only leisure.

    Coming out of Dupont, uptown extends north towards St. Clair and Forest Hill. My earliest memories of university are of the area between campus and St. Clair West station. This stretch is a gorgeous stretch of uptown: rich but not too rich, familiar on paper yet mysterious on foot, with beautiful vistas. The Iroquois escarpment, marking the shoreline of post-glacial Lake Iroquois, is a natural boundary just north of Davenport. The steps at Spadina are one of my favourite places in the city for both the view and the history. This helps to isolate the area to the south a little bit. St. Clair West station has a similar gallery. The other option is to power up steep hills on Bathurst, Avenue or Poplar Plains. I do a lot of running up and on Poplar Plains.

    St. Clair at Spadina, on the other side of the escarpment, has Winston Churchill Park on the southeast corner. I have some lousy memories of feebly moving my legs as fast as I could behind the University of Toronto cross country team, but I also remember the view of downtown Toronto as if it might as well be in another city. This park, I believe, is on top of a reservoir. After here, uptown gives way to midtown and the perspective changes. Personally, because of the escarpment, I feel that St. Clair is very much in midtown. Maybe what unites downtown Toronto as a piece of land is that 10,000 years ago, it was all underwater. In that case, of course, I do live downtown.

    Coming back to the south, the intersection of Bloor and Spadina is very quiet and unassuming. Toronto does have a bit of a jumbled architecture, such that looking down Bloor Street is just plain weird, especially with that half-formed crystal prominently jutting out into view. Bloor and Spadina, similarly, doesn't let you know what a great area you're in. There's a Scotiabank and a Pizza Pizza on the northeast corner, a 7-11 and Tim Horton's on the northwest, the JCC's Second Cup and falafel place (I know) on the southwest and a concrete parkette on the southeast.

    However, sit in the window of either Second Cup and watch the people go by. They're educated, they're polite, they're hip but not bohemian. They're Chinese, native, white and of indeterminate backgrounds. Yes, there are two Second Cups about 100 feet apart, perhaps the best metric of the quality of the area, if not the fact that it's impossible to get a seat in either one. Bloor and Spadina is pure leisure: there are no office towers at Bloor and Spadina and the really obnoxious bars are a few blocks west. The university to the south, the houses to the north and the coffee shops right there are not mere diversions as leisure can be construed. Rather, along with the giant dominoes as benches in the parkette, they are all invitations to reflection.

    Friday, November 24, 2006

    TheStar.com - Suicide bomber a granny: "JEBALIYA, Gaza Strip — A 64-year-old Palestinian grandmother blew herself up near Israeli troops sweeping through northern Gaza on Thursday, wounding two soldiers, and eight other Palestinians were killed in a day of clashes and rocket fire."

    My God. I don't know what to say. I want to say that this is wrong, which it is, but I can't even move beyond the image of a 64-year old woman. Her daughter said that "“she and I, we went to the mosque. We were looking for martyrdom." Well, she found death instead.
    Right now the Broncos are down 10-3 to the Chiefs. Jake Plummer has thrown 21 passes for 110 yards and has been picked off. I can't say I'm surprised. This team was, at 7-2 last week, the pulpiest of paper tigers. The defense is good, though not nearly as great as suggested by allowing just 44 points in the first six games, and porous in allowing 34 points to the Colts and 35 to the Chargers last week. The running game, of course, is good and has been good ever since I became a fan in Terrell Davis' rookie season of 1995. The quarterback, however, can't throw the ball. Worse, instead of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory, Plummer seems intent on pre-emptively carpet-bombing victory and forcibly installing defeat into power.

    Wednesday, November 22, 2006

    Pictures from this weekend can now be found here.

    Sunday, November 19, 2006

    This is what happened in the last 40 hours. Times are approximate but everything happened in this order. Pictures will follow. We almost exclusively took country roads, followed no directions, and I really miss country music.

    Friday, 5 am: I am at the Tim Horton's at Bloor and Spadina, as I often tend to be, but I am starting my day this time, not about to end it. Emily and I get on the Gardiner Expressway in downtown Toronto. She discusses New York, black coffee and France. I discuss running, Toronto and philosophy. We really are simple people.

    6 am: We are now on the Queen Elizabeth Way. I mention that it's still absurdly dark. The sun still hasn't risen. By the time it does, we will be in another country. We pass through Beamsville, which I always thought was a very sad name for a place. I mention that I had a mysterious roommate from Grimsby last year. Emily asks around Hamilton if I'm uncomfortable with silences. I'm not, I reply, I just have a lot to say.

    7 am: "Where were you born, sir?" the border guard at the Lewiston bridge barks at me. It was the second question he asked. The first was which citizenships we held. I hate to give the answer. The wait is very, very tense, at least for me. "I don't know what he was doing," Emily muses about what he was doing in his booth. I do know. Moving quickly, we enter Lockport and I insist we visit Lockport Gambino Ford. Anyone who regularly watches FOX WUTV Buffalo (most of you) know why. We arrive at 7:33. "The guy from the commercial" isn't there. I take a picture to prove I was there. We switched from the QEW to the 405 to reach Queenston, the second War of 1812 reference here in a matter of days. We take the 190 at Lewiston.

    8 am: We are in Denny's. I called my dad at work to let him know that I was in America, but waited until Emily returned from the washroom. I didn't want to incite a stampede by speaking in Urdu by myself. I don't know what highway we took in Lockport, the 31 or something.

    9 am: We motor along. We get on another highway and soon we're on the Interstate 90, debating our destination the entire time. The Interstate was taking us to the Atlantic Ocean, which I haven't seen in a very long time, but then I realized that upstate New York looks a lot like Ontario. Pennsylvania was more foreign, and Emily said that we could switch states, so we stop at Pembroke to take 77 south, going by Six Flags at Darien Lake. We marvel at the scenery; upstate New York is really beautiful. Between Java Center and Sheldon, we pass a collapsed barn and take lots of pictures. If I'd known, however, just how many collapsed and rundown barns there are in upstate New York and western Pennsylvania, I wouldn't have. It's amazing just how much we've already seen and done by 9 am.

    10 am: The 77 had become the 16, which becomes the 98 and swerves east, then west, going through Franklinville, home of the 1999 Miss USA. We stop at Ischua for gas and the Buffalo News. Crossing the Interstate 86, we realize that the scenery is beautiful. The road now winds through the Appalachian Mountains and the view of the valley at the top of a mountain is breathtaking. Hinsdale and Olean pass like this.

    11 am: We climb a huge mountain and keep climbing. The view of the valley below is simply beyond words. We stop twice for pictures. A great spot for pictures is at the head of the dirt Lippert Hollow Road, a little bit south of Olean on highway 16. It's now snowing, maybe just at our moderate altitude. Abruptly, we cross New York into Pennsylvania just before noon. We stop for pictures of the signs though no one else seems to be very excited by the state boundary.

    12 pm: Pennsylvania is gorgeous. We make an executive decision to head east, now on highway 346, a great decision. The highway is now a narrow two-lane road, a narrow crevice surrounded by two steep hills covered by trees. The car rolls over the mountains and the beautiful vistas are regular. We pass through Rew, Smethport, Crosby, Norwich and Shippen before stopping at Emporium. We buy gas, pop and chips. American chocolate bars are very numerous and foreign.

    What followed was a very special part of the trip. Winding south from Emporium, already in the middle of nowhere, we followed highway 120 through a few state forests. Going up and down the mountains, the views were unbelievable. The muddy Susquahanna was to the right for the most of the time, a cliff to the left and the mountains across the river. Only pictures can do justice to this section. Taking pictures was like shooting fish in a barrel. Simply pointing a camera and pressing a button guaranteed an amazing picture. We saw very few cars and fewer people, though there was at least one house on the road. The location on a "highway" was peculiar until I realized that this house was on a quieter road than any place within 2 hours of here. The towns were very far apart at this point, obviously, not that it mattered. We went through Driftwood and East Keating, still in the forest but now eagerly anticipating Renovo, which had been touted very highly on signs for a long time.

    1 pm: Renovo is a very strange town. The downtown is one giant detour off the main strip. Everything seems to be closed and abandoned. We finally manage to park and relax by the town's ice cream parlour, literally something from the '50s. I bought ice cream and, for some reason, feel much better. I estimated that Lancaster is 2 hours away at this point. Lancaster and Amish country was our destination. I recall that JP lived there, so I send out text messages amidst sporadic reception to see if I can get his phone number. We follow 120 to Lock Haven, driving the 30 miles behind a guy towing a boat. There was not a single town in between and nowhere to turn. We travelled between cliffs, treated to scenic valleys as always.

    2 pm: At Lock Haven, I calculate that we need to get to Williamsport via the 220 to get onto an Interstate (I navigated and Emily drove; it was a very fair division). However, I immediately decide that back country highways, as we've been doing, are much more fun. We go south from Jersey Shore on the 44, which is a shortcut to Allentown, where 220 leads anyway. We set the first of our goals, vowing to reach Allentown in a time that we beat thoroughly. More on Williamsport later.

    3 pm: From Allentown, we take the 15 south, incidentally our 15th highway. We destroy all our time goals on the way and spot our first Amish boy. I still don't have JP's number but, miraculously enough, I remember it and call him. I get his machine. The phone rings right after but it's Riyaad, who doesn't believe that I'm in Pennsylvania. I assure him that I am. I fall asleep soon after and, depressingly, dream that I'm at work. I wake up very disoriented at a gas station at around 4 pm.

    6:30 pm: Nothing happened in the intervening period. We're now on the 283 approaching Lancaster, only about an hour from Philadelphia, blaring the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

    7 pm: We check into the Hotel Brunswick in Lancaster. Emily doesn't know what it means to cover someone when they open a door, so I teach her.

    8 pm: We go for dinner at a Korean restaurant, though I don't know how a Korean person winds up there. Emily, exhausted from 14 hours of driving, and I, exhausted from 14 hours of sitting, talk about what we do all day.

    9 pm: FOX News airs a special on why Muslims are evil.

    10 pm: I realize that I'm asleep. I'm very disoriented and in a mild state of panic. I debate whether or not to go for a run to settle myself.

    Sunday, 5:19 am: Madison sends me a text message. Clearly, she was up late, and this matters.

    7:20 am: I didn't go for a run. My alarm goes off. I think I'm in Ottawa and I can't remember Emily's name, so I go back to sleep instead of waking her up.

    8 am: This shower only has hot water, which is a welcome change from home, but my feet do hurt. The last foreign shower I took was operated by a knob under the faucet. I'm never going to shower when travelling again.

    9 am: After Emily climbs five stories of the parking lot, I clue in and ask her what she's doing. She claims she was just following the signs. We stop for breakfast on highway 340, which is our 20th highway. Scrambled eggs, toast, home fries, pancakes and many, many cups of coffee total $8.27. What a country. We drive a few minutes more and stop off at a store in the hamlet at Bird in the Hand, Pennsylvania. One lucky reader will receive a postcard from this locale. Hint: the name is the same as the last name of a former president, a state capital and rhymes with a hotel chain. It did take about a dozen unanswered phone calls, but I did get an address even though the recipient went to bed very, very late.

    10 am: After perusing many quaint trinket stores, the farmer's market is the next stop. This place has everything and is actually a lot like the St. Lawrence Market in Toronto, but with less space and more old people. I find a hat that I like but it has a buckle like "the man from the oatmeal box", to quote Chuckie Finster, so I pass. We drive around some more and enjoy the Amish carriages mixing it up with cars on the highway. The horses are really working, galloping at an impressive clip. One carriage in particular had to have been doing 40-50 km/h, the horse majestically whizzing by us as if on fire.

    11 am: We decide to drive on since time is short. We do, however, need to find a hat and peanut brittle for Emily's mom. Driving along 340, we enjoy more endless Amish farms and sunshine. We go north at highway 10 at Compass in search of another town. The next town, however, is tiny and seems to have taken us out of Amish country. Honey Brook, Pennsylvania is the end of our journey, about 800 km and 10 hours by a direct route according to Google. It made more sense to go back to the farmer's market. I ended up buying that first hat I saw, the first of about 6. I fully intend to wear it.

    12 pm: We started back west to Lancaster on a mission. This was no ordinary drive back, we had to be back in Toronto by 9:30 since both of us were going to go see movies. Through Lancaster, we took the 30 and switched to the 72, which would take us to an Interstate. On the Interstate 81, I decide that the Interstate 180 is quicker, so I order a move west along Interstate 80. A shortcut to Interstate 180 is highway 93, which is also the exit Emily takes to stop for gas.

    1 pm: I walk into the convenience store at the gas station and can't find the washroom. "Is there a washroom in here?" I ask. The man looks at me quizzically and I wonder, briefly, if he might not speak English. That's a ludicrous proposition in rural Pennsylvania for a man who is not Amish, so I repeat the question. He looks at me again, puzzled, replying "what's a washroom?" Sheepishly, I ask if there's a rest room, and he points to a door by the entrance. What a country.

    Back outside, I notice that we are stopped at an elevation overlooking a valley, so I snap easy shots of tiny picturesque homes in the distance.

    2 pm: We are making excellent time towards Milton, such good time that we almost forget that there's somewhere to go after.

    3 pm: Lunch is at the Arby's in Williamsport. Finally. I have never been to an Arby's. I have two sandwiches, two servings of curly fries and half of Emily's sandwich. I wonder what it would be like to work at a small-town fast food restaurant. They have six employees working on this Saturday afternoon. We take highway 15 north towards New York state. The view is amazing, especially as the sun sets.

    4 pm: There is some tension as we wonder if we're going to make it back in time.

    4:44 pm: We cross into New York at Lawrenceville. Emily knows someone who went to boarding school here.

    5 pm: Emily is singing along to Kenny Chesney or something or other, driving between 80 and 90 miles an hour. I have to admit that I really like country music. I had insisted that we listen to it since it really makes the road trip feel like a road trip.

    6 pm: we stop for gas in Avon, about 20 minutes south of Rochester. I feel very self-conscious going into pay and buy coffee. I feel like the girl I talked to will be a witness, my interest in getting to Rochester the evidence along with the security camera footage. Outside, a butch woman in a pickup truck who looks like Michael J. Fox is pumping gas next to a prissy, well-dressed woman in a parka. We finally switch off of highway 15 onto Interstate 90.

    7 pm: We hit Buffalo at 7:01, about 15 minutes earlier than expected, letting out whoops.

    7:50 pm: After a tough stretch, we cross into Canada. What a country.

    7:51 pm: We leave for Toronto, hopeful of reaching Toronto in 90 minutes since it took us 2 hours to arrive.

    8:06 pm: We are in St. Catherines.

    8:13 pm: We are in Hamilton.

    8:27 pm: Burlington. We talk of reaching Toronto in less than an hour and bragging about it. What a turnaround, literally.

    8:38 pm: We pass under Winston Churchill Boulevard into Mississauga. I tell Emily that we'll have to cross Mississauga pretty quickly to make our goal.

    8:41 pm: We reach Dixie, which I recall is the last exit in Mississauga before Toronto.

    8:45 pm: We're in Toronto, 54 minutes after crossing the border.

    8:55 pm: We get off the Gardiner onto Spadina.

    9:14 pm: After my brother called, I find myself spat out onto Bay Street holding the hat I bought. I feel like I went through a time warp. None of the people I see look like they'd believe I was in Pennsylvania, and neither would I, if not for the hat, a strange relic.

    9:35 pm: I'm wondering whether or not we'll get decent seats. Three hours ago, I was pumping gas and thinking of where Rochester is relative to Toronto.

    11:59 pm: Stranger than Fiction, the fitting actual name of the movie I saw, comes to a zigzagging end. It is one of the best movies I have ever seen. Dustin Hoffman is on fire lately and Will Ferrell actually acts in this one. Go see it. It was a perfect unassuming, mindbending cap to an unassuming, mindbending adventure. We drove at least 1000 miles on 28 different highways in total over the span of 40 of the greatest hours of my life.

    Thursday, November 16, 2006

    Do you ever feel watched? This June, moments after landing at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport, I received a text message. I figured it was my brother or someone asking where I was. Instead, it was Rogers Wireless welcoming me to the United States. I used Cingular Wireless, the network with the fewest dropped calls, proudly for my stay, just like the people on TV. About 45 seconds after crossing over into Detroit last month, Rogers again sent me a text message indicating my position. Interestingly, no one else in the car received such a message.

    Today, I noticed that the University of Toronto email system has a small icon signifying "personal" emails, whatever that means. The icon is a dark-skinned man with black hair and a goatee.

    Tuesday, November 14, 2006

    I suddenly understand why going to Detroit was so fascinating and why many small towns like Espinola, Ontario are so fascinating. Places, be they cities or towns, that are completely stagnant remind me of home. Technically I grew up in Mississauga, a city the size of Baltimore, Memphis or San Francisco. However, in reality I grew up in Malton, a village in the northeast corner that has been going nowhere fast for as long as I can remember. If anything, it is dying a slow death.

    There are 40,000 people living in Malton. A large portion of them don't speak English, don't have a job and have nothing to do. Life for their children is even worse, who "grow in the ghetto living second-rate", to quote Grandmaster Flash. They receive a shoddy education from shoddy schools and make friends who loiter outside the library, looking tough. There is nowhere to go in Malton in terms of restaurants, shops, theatres, coffee shops, bars. You can buy groceries, fast food, coffee or do some fourth-rate shopping. As soon as they have some money, families move out to a better suburb with mine being a rare exception.

    When I was in Detroit, I heard (saw, actually, on a television) West End Girls by the Pet Shop Boys and I understood why I was so fascinated by Detroit. I certainly knew of a "west end town" that was a "dead end world". It was like Malton had been transposed onto a major city. White flight has wrecked Malton. You can now count the number of white people left in Malton, most of them old and Italian. With the whites, no doubt, went a good chunk of the money: the Zellers closed down in grade 6 (1997-8) and Westwood Mall simply can not support a department store. Since there are very few jobs in Malton, most people travel elsewhere anyway, and eventually just end up moving there.

    The significance of all this is that today is Election Day. Malton, on top of everything else, has been cursed with incompetent leadership. The Member of Parliament is, believe it or not, in his fifth term and has been around since 1993. I can not tell you one thing that he has done. Politicians here are elected based on how closely they connect with the "immigrant" (Punjabi) community. That's all. They don't even have to have a single idea, be it good or bad.

    The local councillor is Eve Adams, now mired in a corruption scandal just like her predecessor Cliff Gyles, who I believe is now in jail. I would love to vote for someone else, but other candidates do not have websites and I don't live here and missed any possible debates. I liked Adams, to be honest, because she was white and I assumed that she had been elected on merit rather than immigrant connections. I also hoped that, having been elected, her racial disadvantage would force her to work hard. It seems, clearly, that it wasn't the case. Adams has no coherent proposals on her website save a few bridges. Her major accomplishments include the city's credit rating and financial management, the city's absurdly low crime rate and that 56 Fortune 500 companies "have chosen to bring their jobs to Mississauga".

    If nothing else, this demonstrates why Adams has done nothing, not to mention the immense gap between Malton and the rest of Mississauga (at least my family refers to Mississauga as a separate entity). With or without her, the city's financial management would remain excellent. It is the work of mayor Hazel McCallion, whose first act upon being elected mayor was to press for the cessation of the War of 1812. Low crime rates in Misissauga are artificial given the low-density of the city and her use of that statistic is laughable. Though Malton is relatively safe, very few people, myself included, feel safe being out at night. Adams has done nothing to change that, even though all it really takes is a few streetlights on major streets. Touting jobs and opportunity is a joke that rubs salt in the wounds of Malton; the only jobs in Fortune 500 companies anywhere near here would be manual labour in a FedEx plant. Those jobs, again, would be here independent of Adams because of the proximity of the airport. Much of what she has managed to do is for the affluent west end of the ward.

    I will vote for Karam Singh Punian, if only because the only reports I've seen tout him as Adams' strongest challenger. Who Adams caters to is made clear when she wrote elsewhere that "improving your drive to and from work has been a priority for me". Punian and Sydney Weir, to name another solid choice for councillor, happen also to care about those who neither have a car nor a job.

    Monday, November 13, 2006

    Sunday's game at Foxboro between the New England Patriots and the New York Jets, specifically its climactic final two minutes, demonstrated why football is a great sport to watch. The score was 17-14 for the Jets, who were trying to outlast the Patriots in the the cold November rain and fog, and Phil Simms was along for the ride as a bonus. The Jets pinned the Patriots deep in their own end, meaning that the vampire-like Tom Brady (you just can't beat him) had to go about 70 yards in 70 seconds without any timeouts.

    I love listening to Phil Simms for two reasons. The first is undoubtedly his accent, which is so typically American, just like football itself. I think I can listen to a man with a southeastern accent forever (Simms is from Kentucky, Al Gore is from Tennessee, Bill Clinton is from Arkansas). The second is that Simms makes a lot of sharp assertions, often critical, and doesn't shy away from making them at crucial moments. I'll never forget the column Simms wrote where he said that he had no idea what the West Coast Offense meant anymore; his honesty is refreshing in an environment of sychophants. Most of my memories of big football games consist of Simms, loud, frantic and twangy, explaining why something happened.

    Right at the start of the drive, Simms blurted out that he didn't understand why the Jets were only sending three men after Brady because it would allow him far too much time to pick the defense apart. Brady proceeded to do just that: a 14-yard dump-off to Kevin Faulk and a 10-yard completion to Ben Watson, both in bounds brought the Patriots to their own 35. There were about 40 seconds left, though the clock was moving.

    The next play gave me goosebumps. The Jets again played a suffocating zone, but Brady somehow managed to thread a pass between four defenders to Reche Caldwell for a 19-yard gain. As much as I hate Brady, if only for the way commentators and analysts obsequiously sing his praises in every game he plays, this play shows why he is a great quarterback. With most other quarterbacks, this pass would likely have been intercepted and halt what was a decent but improbable comeback. Brady, however, made a play that had to make every Jets fan uncomfortable as the Patriots were now at the Jets' 46. The ball was spiked with 13 seconds to go and both Simms and Gumble casually spoke of Brady completing another pass of at least 10 yards to the sideline, enabling a game-tying field goal.

    On the next play, almost prophetically, defensive end Shaun Ellis came around and sacked Brady, forcing a fumble that caused time to run out. There are exceptions, but I think Simms was right in saying that the only way to stop Brady was put pressure on him, not by sitting back in a zone. Brady, unbelievably in his sixth season already, is one of those quarterbacks who can destroy a defense given enough time to find an open receiver. On this Sunday, the Jets managed to stop him in the maddening frenzy that is the climax of a football game.

    Sunday, November 12, 2006

    Remembrance Day is probably my favourite of the holidays and quasi-holidays on the calendar. That is likely because it is the only one in Canada that, aside from the ones where it is obvious (Canada Day), is not divorced from its intentions and origins. Halloween, for example, really wasn't intended to be a day where children trick-or-treating and women choose from a wide variety of skanky (skanky Viking, skanky nurse, skanky Supreme Court justice) costumes to wear to lame parties. I also happen to like the poppy, which is a sharp accessory for which greater allowance must be made year-round.

    More to the point, the solemnity of Remembrance Day, moreso than any other day, underscores the fact that we are, in fact, a country and that being a country is serious business. Our history has been fortunately placid and our crises fortunately overblown in comparison to virtually every other country in the world. It would be an understatement to say that we have had it easy as a country. As a result, the dead of foreign wars are a rare reminder that we live in luxury. Roughly 110,000 Canadians died in the two World Wars from a population of around 10 million. The red on the Canadian flag is clearly more than aesthetic.

    This is the reason I don't think Remembrance Day should ever be a holiday. With a holiday comes a long weekend and with the long weekend comes near-complete obscurity for what the holiday supposedly commemorates. Remembrance Day, at least, should be a day untainted by forty-percent discounts at The Bay and an extra beer in every case. The disconnect between such holidays or traditions and their celebration mirrors the disconnect between the things, material and immaterial, that we enjoy and knowing how they got to us. Just about everything that makes being a Canadian the envy of the world appears magically and literally at the press of a button. If we know no other history, we should know the history of those who gave their lives for our sake and that of others and those who continue to do so.
    Pursuant to Tostitos with a Hint of Lime, takeout pizza and other gluttonous fare, I have decided to take a long break from running (ten days, not counting Thursday) given that I am done racing for 2006. Well, there is one more race to go, a race so terrifying that it doesn't even have a website. Indeed, this might well be the most important race of all. The focus is on next year now, however. It has been a very long year and though I didn't make the breakthrough in times that I thought I would, that was a matter of aligning fitness with conditions. I hit peak fitness in mid-summer and in late fall on a hilly course. On the whole, I ran a lot of good races and a few that were inexplicably bad, but I was more consistent than ever.

    Here's what happened in the 15 races I have run this year:

  • I was 2-1 against 75-year old Ed Whitlock, beating him at two miles and 10 km but losing at 5 km.
  • I jogged half a race but still won maple syrup and a hat. Needless to say, I intend to come back and set things right by running faster and winning nothing.
  • This year, I also won a flashlight, a hat, and a water bottle belt.
  • I ran a relay race with three co-workers wearing our work uniforms. We came 63rd, mostly thanks to me. Really.
  • On Canada Day, I ran a 10 km race...and a bunch of Americans showed up. The kid in front of me, wearing American flag shorts, zig-zagged the course, high-fiving volunteers along the way. I finally caught him at 9 km and muttered "let's go, Uncle Sam". I still don't know if that was friendly encouragement or an insult.
  • While running a half marathon in September, I stopped at 14 km because of excruciating pain from, um, starting off way too fast. It happened to be at a water stop. I have never stopped for water in my life, so I didn't know what to do. Before I knew it, I was standing on the side of the road casually sipping Gatorade. Proving that I should never drive, I almost bowled over a few runners trying to "merge" back in.
  • An excited camel jogged alongside me at one of my races. He was inside his pen, but he was also four times my size. Also here, while negotiating the labyrinthine course at the Toronto Zoo, featuring more than 135-degree turns than Michael Ignatieff, I threw up my hand and yelled a profanity. Two runners behind me supportively muttered, "no kidding!"
  • At the Detroit Half Marathon, in a victory for harangued swarthy travelers everywhere, I ran unimpeded across the American border, twice, as law enforcement officials watched powerlessly.

    I'm aiming for a top-5 finish at the Egg Nog Jog, where I was 6th last year. Next year, I will shoot for a 36-minute 10k, a 1:22 half marathon (guaranteed entry to the New York Marathon) and a 5k time under 18 minutes. Like my plan for a 3.7 GPA, I will have to work harder than I have ever worked to get it, but I think it's about time that I did it.
  • Friday, November 10, 2006

    Rob Fairley writes in a letter published in today's Toronto Star that Michael Ignatieff "hung out with the neo-con gang, in the U.S., for many years" and that his "embrace of neo-con ideology is a matter of historical record."

    First of all and most importantly, I don't think Fairley has any idea what the word means. Repeatedly using the word (7 times in a 214-word letter) without any synonym or adjective and ascribing to it only the quality of being an "extremist clique that has caused death and destruction" proves it. If I repeatedly use the word mendacious and its inflections and only those words, it would be clear that I had no idea what the word actually meant. Indeed, it appears that Fairley repeatedly uses the word neo-conservative over and over for its emotional power, namely its connection to George Bush, without actually having an idea what it means.

    Ignatieff, unfortunately, is very much a liberal. That he is running for the leadership of the Liberal party is, believe it or not, a good first indication Probing deeper into those beliefs of his which are not rabidly anti-American, this is plain. Ignatieff is someone who believes in the progression of humans, in the value of freedom and, above all, rights. Ignatieff is obsessed with rights: rights for gays, rights for the Quebecois, rights for First Nations, rights for Afghans. Neo-conservativsm, insofar as it remains a meaningful term (think emo), is hardly concerned with rights, liberty and all that gobbledygook. The concern instead is for what ought to be done rather than what can be done. Ignatieff's thinking is influenced by Isaiah Berlin, not Leo Strauss. If Ignatieff is controversial in his beliefs on Iraq and on torture, it is out of his love of liberal democracy and internationalism.

    I agree with Ignatieff on many issues and disagree with him on many, but he is thoroughly a liberal. It is absurd to claim, as Fairley does, that Ignatieff's prominence in Canada means that "their [neo-conservatives] project north of the border still has legs." Instead, it is much more likely that Fairley uses neo-conservative as a pejorative term for someone whose politics disagree with his own, much like "liberal", shorthand for "terrorist sympathizer", in parts of the United States.

    Thursday, November 09, 2006

    I've done a lot of things while running, but I don't think I've ever managed to run while angry. Just about everyone I know who runs has managed to escape stress by going out for a run, but I never had, I usually just opted instead for the Hint of Lime Tostitos (1820 calories per bag, 247 grams of carbs, 2 full grams of sodium). Today, which is now yesterday, was one of the most pathetic days I have had in a long time.

    After going to see Borat but still feeling lackadaisical, I went out and ran hard, as hard as I could. I tend to describe all my runs in a long, Dickensian prose so I'll let my running log describe this one:

    thursday - went to buy milk at 2 am, 44 total with 42 progression to bay/wellington and back, felt like a hero coming up king's college circle, 21/19 split from dupont station, 10k pace charge up huron
    This shatters the fourth wall of blogging, but I've noticed lately that a lot of people are coming to my blog via links from emails. I think that's a very nice gesture. I've gotten a few hits from emails about the last entry questioning the prevalence of prostate cancer: El Cajon, California and Scottsdale, Arizona (I was there!). Sorry to out you guys, but I just find it amazing that people still (or ever did) use email for informal, casual communication.

    I'm going to stop writing about this blog. That's just cheap.
    Common test for prostate cancer comes under fire: "The American Cancer Society estimates that nearly a quarter of a million cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed in the United States this year alone, and one in six men will be diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives. Stamey said prostate cancer is a disease “all men get if we live long enough. All you need is an excuse to biopsy the prostate and you are going to find cancer.”"

    One out of six? Really? Are you sure? Take that, breast cancer industry. I know that this doesn't mean much, but I know a lot of old men. I've only known one who had prostate cancer. That's a pretty lofty claim there. Anyone who can unpack it for me is more than welcome to do so.

    Wednesday, November 08, 2006

    I don't know what it is, but the last few posts have shot my traffic through the roof, at least back to where it once used to be. I guess the message is to spend less time talking about mile splits and more time bashing controversial Texans. I have nothing of the sort for you today.

    Instead, I'll volunteer the story of what I saw last night: a woman, about 30 years old and very fashionable, walking down Bloor Street wearing what looked to be a dress made out of a Mylar blanket. After collecting mine at last week's half marathon (the race finished indoors but I'd been wearing shorts in 3-degree weather for 90 minutes and didn't have my sweats), my manager and I discussed the other possible applications for Mylar. I think I suggested a tent made out of mylar blankets, using the safety pins from the bib and the other odds and ends (chip ties?) from a road race. Matlock would love a road race, God bless him.

    Monday, November 06, 2006

    The death sentence of Saddam Hussein to some met with the reaction that it makes no more sense to sentence him to death than it does to sentence George Bush to death. After all, though Saddam Hussein was a mass murderer who willfully and explicitly ordered the deaths of thousands of people, he was in the end sentenced to death for ordering the killings of 148 people in connection with an assassination attempt. On the surface, this reaction seems ludicrous: Saddam Hussein was a tyrant whereas George Bush was freely elected, Iraq was a dictatorship whereas America is as free as any place on earth. Iraqis killed by Americans, ostensibly the largest source of non-political grievance leading to the above reaction, were neither killed intentionally nor did America invade Iraq expressly to kill Iraqis.

    There must be some form of accountability for the prosecution of a war that, though I once supported it (and probably has something to do with why I started this blog in late March of 2003), is today baseless and unjustifiable by any stretch of the imagination or credibility. At some point, surely it makes sense to hold someone responsible in some way, shape or form for the damage done. Do the thousands of Iraqi deaths attributable to Americans for no mitigating reason (unlike in Afghanistan or elsewhere) not together constitute a horrendous wrong? Whether the intention was to kill them or not is immaterial in coming to terms with the fact that George Bush and at least a few other senior officials in his administration, have be considered killers. This is markedly different from morally questionable actions in the course of war which can be mitigated for the most part, though not always, by claims of utility and expedience. When the war itself is illegitimate, so too are claims of mitigation.

    The absence of intent is a powerful blow in Bush's favour. Almost all of those who died were not killed in the way Saddam Hussein killed those 148 people, and those who were killed in that way were not killed at his orders. On the other hand, how many people can one person kill intent becomes a question? George Bush is not the military equivalent of a Charles Manson in the way that Saddam Hussein is, but he surely is the equivalent of a drunk driver who kills someone. A drunk driver may or may not be a good person on the whole, but he is certainly a bad person insofar as he has killed someone, no matter how unfortunate or how unintentional the death. If the law, be it American or international, is to be applied, a similar case should be prosecuted against George Bush.

    Wednesday, November 01, 2006

    Lance Armstrong can go fuck himself. I say this categorically and without hesitation. Imagine opening up the sports section one day to read about last night's Leafs game but instead found Michael Jordan on the cover, along with a detailed account of Jordan watching the Leafs game. Granted, Runner's World, which featured Armstrong on its cover, is more like the section with phone sex ads than the sports section. Nonetheless, the inordinate amount of attention focused on Armstrong, running the New York Marathon this Sunday, is disgusting.

    The New York Marathon is no joke of a race. Lance Armstrong should not even receive one thousandth of the attention given to, say, Hailu Negussie, Rodgers Rop or William Kipsang. These men are the second tier in this race, paling in comparison to Stefano Baldini, Paul Tergat, Hendrick Ramaala and Meb Keflezighi, four of the biggest names in the sport. For those who don't know, Baldini is the Olympic champion, Tergat holds the marathon world record (along with dozens of other honours), Keflezighi is the Olympic silver medalist and Ramaala is one of the best road racers in the world. All Negussie has done is win the Boston Marathon, Rop has won both Boston and New York and Kipsang is the 17th fastest marathoner ever. Clearly, if the response is that Armstrong and his friends at Runner's World and Nike are bringing attention to the sport, it is a highly specious claim. If anything, they are obscuring the sport. In fact, it could even be said that they are killing the sport. What else would you say about a sport that needs to appeal to another sport for attention?

    I can't say I'm surprised. Armstrong and his feel-good cult has amazing marketing potential. It would be criminal to ignore the chance to feature a white American who is a household name and avoid having to mention a gaggle of foreign niggers who just happen to be the best at what they do. More broadly, the running industry is determined to speak of every freak show and carnival curiosity before it speaks of the best in the sport. This September, the Toronto Waterfront Marathon gave equal importance to: the man who ran 2:10 to win the marathon, a 75-year old man and a man who ran while juggling three balls. Imagine if the NFL promoted Peyton Manning's accomplishments with the same intensity as Matt Bryant's 62-yard field goal and Mark Brunell's 22 straight completed passes. Imagine if basketball was more concerned with records for consecutive free throws made than with championships.

    Only with running is there a concerted effort verging on a conspiracy to do anything but acknowledge that some people do it better than others. The marketing machine at Runner's World is not only obscuring, it is a lustrous liar as well. Indeed, breathlessly anointing Armstrong to be the "fittest first-timer" (my apologies if the quote is inexact) in the race is a lie. It is a complete and utter fabrication, intentionally so. Anyone who has semi-seriously followed the race knows that American Dathan Ritzenhein, for example, is running his first marathon at New York and is likely a little fitter than Armstrong (unless Armstrong would also be the fittest player on the New York Giants, Yankees and Rangers).

    In protest, I will buy these for anyone who asks. Armstrong may or may not have ruined cycling, the truth may never be known on that matter, but I will not accept his eroding what little seriousness remains around running.