Monday, December 25, 2006

Vick vents as Falcons fall to Panthers: "We've got first-round guys, we've got guys that have been in the Pro Bowl offensively and defensively, guys who've been in the scheme for two to three years," Vick said. "You know, the talent level is there, and I just think it's a question that needs to be answered. I don't know what it is, but we're too good to be losing these games, and we should be ranked among the elite in this league this year and we're not."

The answer to your question, Michael, about why your team consistently underperforms is, I'm afraid, a little embarassing. The problem, persistently and perspicuously, is you, namely that you suck. Today's 9-20 performance for 102 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions was emblematic of your pathetic, inept career as a professional quarterback. Speaking subtly, your team has by far the best ground game in the NFL, a stout run defense, a passable defense on the whole and the worst passing attack in the league. Speaking pointedly, you are far more likely to pass for less than 100 yards than you are to pass for more than 300. You can't throw the ball. You can run, but that's easy to contain. Defenses know what's coming and they can stop it. That your team manages to score a little over 18 points a game can be attributed to the grace of the Almighty, as can the astonishing celebrity you have achieved in your thoroughly inadequate career.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

So this is Festivus. Shopping is over, if you want it. Nine days in advance, I resolve to never again work in retail in the month of December. I came to this affirmation after I sold the umpteenth $60 worth of needlessly and needlelessly produced microfibres, colloquially termed a "stocking-stuffer". What makes the secular observation of Christmas a bad thing is that the observation is nothing more and nothing less than a vicious, protracted bout of shopping for material goods, like the Battle of the Somme re-enacted out at big box centres. This, of course, is hardly news to anyone over the age of 14 or even to anyone younger who has seen a television special about "the true meaning of Christmas". What makes it worse is precisely that all of us are aware of it and, yet a large portion of us continue to search high and low for that useless, meaningless trinket with which to show our love.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

In grade 11 computer science, taught by the grossly underappreciated genius of Ms. Gorski, I would often put together a piece of code that didn't work. I would try all sorts of things and it wouldn't work. Then, all of a sudden, it would work, without any reason at all. Sometimes pasting the code into Notepad and back into the client worked.

We can toss my cell phone in the same category. Why was it silent when I set an alarm for 6:30 am on December 19, turned the alarm on, set the ringer to 'soft' and the alarm sound under soft to 'Interlude'? There is no possible reason for it not to work and yet tomorrow, under the same circumstances, there will be an alarm since I will be sleeping in or possibly still awake. I bet an overworked, underpaid Chinese kid somewhere is snickering to himself in between bouts of whooping cough.
SI.com - Writers - Monday Morning QB (cont.) - Monday December 18, 2006 9:32AM: "...this is the best team Marty Schottenheimer has had this late in any of his 21 seasons as a head coach."

I've been wanting to say this for a long to anyone who will listen: as good as the Chargers are, they are coached by Schottenheimer. In addition to possessing arguably the single greatest last name in league history, Schottenheimer's better-safe-than-sorry brand of coaching has been historically the most disappointing (4-10 in the playoffs). Though he is, as King writes, one of the winningest coaches in NFL history, what's most notable about Schottenheimer is his inability to win games that actually matter.

First and most prominent in this list is his tenure with the Cleveland Browns. You may recall clips of Schottenheimer's Browns routinely going down to defeat to the Broncos. Two straight defeats in the AFC title game (1986, 1987) to John Elway's Broncos defined both Elway's and Schottenheimer's careers. Needless to say, Elway became well-known as Schottenheimer's nemesis. Fast-forwarding to 1995, Schottenheimer's Chiefs, heavily-favoured and playing at home, lost in a quizzical upset to the Colts. They would repeat the feat and the antagonist two years later, losing to John Elway and the Broncos.

Schottenheimer's preoccupation with running the ball and his aversion to passing may well placate those nostalgic for the hard-nosed, ground-based football of decades past. However, his corresponding aversion to the passing game creates a frustrating impotence in the late stages of the game. Now, it would be odd to blame Schottenheimer entirely for his teams' failures. Just as John Elway didn't win a Super Bowl without an outstanding team, so too can Schottenheimer's inability to win a Super Bowl be attributed to the cards he was dealt: Bernie Kosar, Steve Bono, and Elvis Grbac (notice a theme?). On the other hand, maybe it's no coincidence that the last playoff victory by a Schottenheimer-coached team came thanks to Joe Montana in 1993.

What makes all this matter is that Schottenheimer's Chargers are likely to be heavily favoured in the playoffs this year. They will play at least one game at home, likely two, employing one of the greatest running backs ever. LaDainian Tomlinson will either vindicate Schottenheimer's strategy or the Chargers will go down in obscurity, handing the ball to Tomlinson over and over against a team like the Ravens. The real story in San Diego is only about to begin.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Suspended Gatlin bids for future in NFL - Yahoo! News: "Brandt also said his speed advantage might not be as great as some might expect.

'We've got a lot of guys playing cornerback that run (40 yards in) 4.4 or 4.35 seconds. There are not many slow guys anymore,' the NFL expert said
."

Uh huh, do all those cornerbacks have Olympic medals and world records? Forty-yard terms are ludicrously inaccurate for a number of reasons. Most notably, they are hand-timed, often feature a rolling start and react to the runner rather than the runner reacting to the clock. If 40-yard dashes were a legitimate event on the track, very few people would break 5 seconds. To convert hand times to electronic times, 0.24 seconds are added. A further 0.2-0.3 seconds can be added for reaction time.

Or, on the other hand, if Justin Gatlin was timed running 100 metres by Gil Brandt, he could run a full second faster than his current best of 9.77. The fastest 100 metres ever run is Carl Lewis' 8.85 split in the 4x100 at the Barcelona Olympics. Gatlin, hand-timed with a running start, is going to be closer to 8.5 seconds.

Gatlin likely won't do much in the NFL. Speed in football and on the track are subtly different. Speed is also just one subset of the skills a wide receiver needs to succeed in the NFL. On the other hand, a third wide receiver in the NFL likely makes as much as the Olympic and world champion on the track.
TheStar.com - Wells rich and very happy: "In terms of the major leagues' richest deals, Wells would rank behind only Alex Rodriguez ($252 million for 10 years), Derek Jeter ($189 million for 10 years), Manny Ramirez ($160 million for eight years), Todd Helton ($141.5 million for 11 years) and Alfonso Soriano ($136 million for eight years)."

The question of whether Wells is worth $18 million isn't entirely an accurate one. Most of the money, about two-thirds of it, will be paid from 2011-14. Lest some boor on the FAN gripe about Wells' $18-million salary burdening the team, Wells will make $5.6 million this year and a half million in 2008. I don't think Wells is one of the six best players in the game, as his contract suggests, or even the best one on his team. I do think that signing him is a good thing on baseball terms. Some parts, be it a computer or a World Series winner, cost more than others. Letting Wells go and trying to replace him through the No Frills equivalent is not the way to win.

To quote and fix the now-outdated haiku on his Baseball Reference page:

Vernon Wells.
He is 28.
Should be fun
.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I love the University of Toronto because everything people say about it is true: it's harsh, cold, inhuman and fiercely competitive. Over four years here, as Clancy Wiggum once said, students will "be broken down to the level of infants, then rebuilt as functional members of society, then broken down again, then lunch, then, if there's time, rebuilt once more."

Granted, other schools are just as rigorous and still others more challenging, but the University of Toronto is as inhospitable a school as any. The only two things it provides students are lecturers and seats. There is absolutely nothing to do but learn which, for the most part, isn't so bad. In fact, a school so utterly unconcerned with my well-being is both endearing and challenges me to do my best. Spend some time at the labyrinthine John P. Robarts Research Library, affectionately known to me as The Bart, if you are ever in doubt of the crushing weight of this university.

Fourteen stories tall, Robarts Library is a massive concrete peacock. It is actually quite beautiful, at least from the outside. The concrete interior, designed to withstand a direct hit from a Boeing 767 full of Chinese ESL students, gives off the impression of a minimum-security prison. One day, I looked up the namesake, John Robarts. He turned out to be a former premier of Ontario, serving from 1961 to 1971. Ironically, Robarts himself was a graduate of the Bacchanalian University of Western Ontario.

However, the crucial blow to the stomach in the Robarts saga is that he committed suicide at the age of 65 in 1982. In this sense, Robarts Library is probably named rather appropriately. Tonight, walking out in a daze at midnight, I heard a girl sobbing while a muffled male voice seemed to plead with her to "come down from there". I didn't flinch. After all, Robarts is open from Sunday morning to Friday night and there are many near-carcasses collapsed at desks, half alive, half dead and half on CCNet. I'm going to go rejoin them in about four hours. There's nowhere else I'd rather be.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I had an idea for an entry, but first I would like to follow up another entry since it was just so contoversial. Shan has posted a review of my new clean-shaven look, while Sasha briefly spoke for the opposing side here. I encourage all of you to make up your minds independently and submit your votes via text message.

Almost as absurd was today's Toronto Santa Speedo Run, featuring 100 Speedo-clad participants wearing red Speedos who jogged about 2.5 km through Yorkville. Together, they raised about $15,000 for the Hospital for Sick Children. The question this prompted was this: what can't you do in the name of charity? On the surface, of course, it is a good thing to raise that much money for charity. At the same time, the charity seemed almost an afterthought, the entire spectacle seemed to be more about the participants than anything else.

The intersection of charity with narcissism and market forces in the way of self-interest is troubling because it is questionable whether such instances of charity are even charity in the first place. When someone, usually generously proportioned, female and unathletic, runs a marathon to raise money for a charity, is it really about whatever charity benefits? Or, more likely, is raising money for charity merely incidental to the act of running a marathon? The local chapter of Team in Training will train me for a marathon and take me to Honolulu, Dublin or some other exotic locale to run the race, all in the name of charity.

The choice in locations highlights the reality that doing something for someone with nothing in return is suddenly very unfashionable. The hundred or so participants in today's swimsuit-clad freak show could just as easily have canvassed friends and co-workers for the average of $150 they each raised. That such shock value is required to yield donations is an even sadder commentary on those involved. Alternatively, they could have run down the street inebriated and nearly naked for whatever enjoyment it brought. To twin the two is to attribute a moral goodness to acting like a complete idiot. It would hardly be charity if I had solicited donations from you in exchange for shaving off my goatee. It would hardly be charity if you donated money to charity for the sake of amusement.

Those participating in such these would point to the results and argue, quite plausibly, that though the machinations are less than ideal, the end result easily justifies the means. Team in Training claims that it has raised $660 million dollars in 18 years of operation. The claim is a powerful one, but it simply transfers the question from the participants to society at large. That charity is impossible if it does not coincide with an appeal to self-interest is almost tragic. Moreover those receiving fame and accomplishment, however deluded and undeserving, in exchange for charity are not simply doing whatever they can to raise money for charity. Those who run a marathon to fund a cure leukemia did not, for many years, unsuccessfully raise money for leukemia. Rather, they decided to run a marathon and then decided that they "may as well do it for a good cause".

The coincidence of self-interest and that of others, namely the sick, could be touted as being as much of a "win win" situation as any. I do not dispute that self-interest should not accompany some social good. I do not dispute that good comes out of otherwise insipid events that have a charitable aim. I dispute that these events are charitable and, most strongly, that the participants are performing an act of charity or are doing much more than bringing attention to themselves. Good actions performed coincidentally are not as good as good actions performed for the right reasons, with the right intentions. True charity, to take today's case, would be canvassing meekly and fully clothed in Yorkville for the sake of those same children. Charity entails sacrifice and is not something that can be appended to the Speedo-clad posterior of narcissism.

Friday, December 08, 2006

On Monday and previously, I argued that there were no significant differences between the four leading candidates for the Liberal leadership. However, considering differences to be purely substantive on issues of policy is overly reductionist. The character of a leader is hugely important and in fact an equal to beliefs on major issues. This is not to legitimize the incoherent, meaningless babble that can be said of virtually anyone from a meth addict to a barista to Louis XIV: "he's committed, dedicated and a man of principles and vision." Rather, a leader must possess the sort of prudence or practical expertise that bridges the gap between beliefs and knowledge to tangible change. The difference, after all, between the Prime Minister and editorial page of the Globe and Mail or the philosophy department of the University of Toronto is that the first governs whereas the latter two prescribe. Governance not only can't be reduced to what are commonly termed "the issues", but governance qua governance consists in managerial capacity and not having the best set of beliefs.

Unfortunately, Carl Raskin argues ineloquently, semi-literately and demagogically in today's Toronto Star that the debate over Stephane Dion's French citizenship is simply "fanned by the Harper right-wing government and its neo-con sycophants." Ignoring Dion's merits and demerits as a leader and focusing primarily on this question, it is plain to see that a leader's citizenship and by extension, her or his person, matters. Just as Michael Ignatieff is lacking in his knowledge of Canadian politics, Dion's French citizenship means that he is lacking in his devotion to Canada, hardly suitable for any citizen, let alone who is likely the next Prime Minister. It can not be denied, of course, that Dion has served capably in the federal government as an MP and a minister. However, to be the citizen of a country is to be loyal to that country as well as to retain some form of affection for that country. Whereas Ignatieff may well have been in possession of all the right ideas but lacked managerial capacity, Dion, too, may be in possession of all the right ideas but can not be fully devoted to this country so long as he is the citizen of another. Full devotion, surely, is not too much ask of a potential Prime Minister.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

After a very, very long time, I am clean-shaven. I don't remember the last time, but maybe someone else does (Shan, Riyaad, Azim?). Catch it while you can and do discuss the pros and cons in the comment box conveniently located below this post. I know that the opinions are out there. At least one passionate reader described shaving the goatee as "iconoclastic".

For the curious, the impetus came from a reverse shave-off at work. I am to shave regularly while my lameduck, soon-to-be former boss is not to shave. Whoever breaks first suffers an undetermined public humiliation.

Seasoned observers will know that this isn't the first time the goatee has suffered during times of duress. There was a brief period in 2004 when I quit my job and sported a handlebar mustache.

Edited to add some reactions:

Brother: "Awesome. It's the end of your hairy days."
Maddie Jr.: "!!!!!!!!"
Maddie Sr.: "That is ACTUALLY the scariest thing i have EVER seen."
Second Brother: "I am sorry, but that picture is just not you. A hairless Adeel is no Adeel."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I was discussing the Liberal leadership convention this weekend with Sasha and noted that I didn't really find any significant differences between the four candidates. For the most part, they agreed on just about everything, especially at the debate in October in Toronto. Sasha disagreed strongly, but I was reminded of this video. To this day, I can't really remember who I supported on the night of November 7, 2000. This Rage Against the Machine video articulated why I had trouble choosing between Al Gore and George Bush: I didn't really know what the difference was.
I saw two teams in very bad situations yesterday, their respective free falls continuing unchecked by the attendant urgency. The New York Giants of football, a moniker as deliciously archaic as the alternate pronunciation of Missouri, fell to their fourth straight loss behind the still atrocious tackling, blown coverage and freak luck. The Denver Broncos, as anemic as ever, lost for the fourth time in their last five games, a span in which they have gone from second in the conference to third in the division. The Giants played a passable game yesterday, if only because Eli Manning played a game worthy of his last name. They also had the misfortune of being outwitted, outfoxed and outplayed by Tony Romo.

Romo made some great throws not reflected in the statistics, most notable of them being a clutch 42-yard completion to tight end Jason Witten in the final minute of the game. Linebacker Antonio Pierce likely should not have been covering Witten, one of the best pass-receiving tight ends in the league. Safety Will Demps, in tandem with Pierce, should not have allowed such a pathetic lapse in coverage. There were other miscues, such as the continuing bizarre tale of Mathias Kiwanuka, getting his second mention on this blog in as many weeks. Redeeming himself after his car was stolen to add injury to last week's embarassment against the Titans, Kiwanuka intercepted a Romo pass in the first half. Then, untouched and unprompted, a theme in his career, Kiwanuka dropped the ball while running back. The Cowboys recovered the ball and went on to score a touchdown. I really want to see the Giants do well for some reason, but they're already playing as though they are out of contention. Fortunately, at 6-6, they retain a wild card spot in the feeble NFC.

As for my Broncos, Sunday hopefully marked the nadir of a season that began too well and is unraveling just as atrociously. Winning seven of eight after an opening day loss, the Broncos seemed poised to make a run at the Super Bowl so long as Jake Plummer held up, at least on paper. Crumbling like a poorly repaired rotator cuff under the strain of a twelve-to-six curveball, the Broncos are now 7-5 and in third place in the AFC West. Sunday's game highlighted the important question of the season for this team, namely just how it is that Denver intends to score points in the next five games and any subsequent games.

Jay Cutler, in replacement of Jake Plummer, performed miserably. With the exception of a late touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall, the credit for which rests entirely with Marshall effortlessly spinning his way out of three tackles and striding 71 yards, Cutler was 9-20 for for 72 yards. Most egregious of all was the first of five turnovers by the Broncos. This sordidly painful moment came about when Cutler deftly dodged the Seattle rush but nevertheless found himself in the grasp of defensive end Bryce Fisher. Apparently not one to be deterred by painfully and experentially obvious facts, Cutler nevertheless lobbed the ball up as if it were a bouquet at a wedding. The camera then panned right, almost in slow motion and confirmed the expectations all had for such a play: Darryl Trapp, Fisher's counterpart on the right end of the line, caught the ball and returned it for the first Seattle score of the night. With this in mind, it was a small miracle that the Broncos only lost by three points.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Partisan politics happen so quickly. Here is an email I just got 45 seconds ago, a penetrating example of why almost half of Canada abstains from the absurd fanboy fantasy that is party politics. To clarify my own involvement, I ambivalently joined the Conservative party two years ago and am no longer a member, for this very reason.

"Dear Adeel,

Moments ago in Montreal the Liberal Party elected Stéphane Dion as their new leader.

The Liberals are anxious to force a federal election and could benefit from a bump in the polls that often occurs after a leadership race. We can't let them gain momentum with the New Year approaching. That's why it is vital that you make a tax-deductible contribution of $150 or $75 to your Conservative Party tonight.

You know Stéphane Dion. He represents the old Liberal policies and the old dithering Liberal approach to government:

· The bogus sponsorship scandal? Mr. Dion was there!
· The federal government at war with the provinces? He was Intergovernmental Affairs Minister.
· The embarrassing federal environmental policy? He presided over this terrible failure as Environment Minister.

Mr. Dion is a leader who admits to having difficulty setting priorities. It's up to you to stop him before he gets started.

With your urgent contribution, we can broadcast Prime Minister Harper's message of hope and real progress to Canadian families as well as counter negative attacks by the Liberal Party.

We can't prevent a forced election. But we can prepare for victory. Your support is essential for Getting Things Done! Please click 'Donate Now!' above and make your secure contribution online now.

Sincerely,

IRVING R. GERSTEIN, C.M., O.ONT.
CHAIR, CONSERVATIVE FUND CANADA
"

Saturday, December 02, 2006

My good luck at the movies continues. The Prestige is every bit as good as a putative fight to the death between Batman and Wolverine, maybe because that actually is the case. Starring Christian Bale, Huch Jackman and even David Bowie, the plot revolves around an intellectual arms race between two turn-of-the-century magicians. It is certainly violent at times, but the lengths to which Bale and Jackman go to both preserve their secrets, effectively an advantage of knowledge, is delightful to nerds everywhere. The presence of Bowie, playing unheralded inventor Nikola Tesla (UNESCO proclaimed 2006 to be his year, whatever that means), cements the existence of this arms race. Simultaneously and paradoxically, the eccentric supergenius argues that some technology is not worth being developed and some knowledge is not worth having. This, of course, is anathema to the relentlessly progressive spirit that, among other things, yielded TiVo, blogging and the drive-through ATM. For that reason alone, you should go watch.

Actually, I don't know where I go off touting my luck at the movies. A few hours before The Prestige, I was treated to an eponymous biography of Jacques Derrida.