Tuesday, May 29, 2007

"It was like lining up with the fourth line of the Washington Capitals," I later said. George Misoi, Isaac Arusei and Philip Koech aren't the biggest names in distance running, but then, neither are Brian Sutherby and Brooks Liach. I bumped into these and a few others at the start line of the MDS Nordion 10k in Ottawa on Saturday night, one of the most competitive road races in Canada. I'd never seen a bona-fide 27-minute 10k runner in the flesh before. Then again, for those scoring at home, Arusei and Koech ran 27:48 and 27:50 respectively on Yonge Street's downhill course earlier this month.

I was struck by how human they were. I expected at least some superhuman features, but they seemed to be just as thin as I was, a bit darker and a bit better-dressed. There were, of course, dozens of other world-class and national-class runners at the race. Canada's own Simon Bairu won the race in 28:29, and scores of runners outscored me who finished 117th in 38:53.

I'm mixed on whether Bairu's victory or his subsequent geography lesson was more important. Bairu is, to speak plainly, is a black guy from Saskatchewan whose mother is Ethiopian and father is Eritrean. He identifies strongly with his Eritrean heritage and celebrated, I'm told, with both the Canadian and Eritrean flags. The Eritrean flag may as well have been the flag of the Northwest Territories to the thousands of spectators and runners present.

Eritrea gained its independence from Ethiopia in the early 90s after a war that lasted decades. With a population of 4 million and a GDP of $4 billion, it's safe to say that Eritrea isn't better than Canada at many things. The only things that come to mind are wars of independence (Eritrea 1-0, Canada 0-0) and distance-running. It may be dubious to some whether a Canadian athlete who stands a strong chance of competing at the next two Olympic Games should be flying the flag of another country. Still, if someone found out on Saturday that there's a country out there called Eritrea, Bairu should fly its flag more often.

Friday, May 25, 2007

There's something about the summer heat that makes the subway stop running like an old air conditioner. Signal problems at Union Station completely shut down subway service south of Bloor Street during rush hour, to be replaced with buses. In the meantime, crowds at Yonge-Bloor station swelled to the point that the station had to be closed: there was no more space on the southbound platform or in the mezzanine to hold any more passengers. Dejected passengers seeking shuttle buses swam upstream against the thousands of people, causing some faint-hearted commuters to fret that the subway had shut down entirely.

Crowds swarmed the turnstiles and the mezzanine on the inside, sweaty from the 32-degree heat outside and without space to even move. The numbers increased and increased, the claustrophobia increased and increased, and then the collector booths were closed and transit police ensured that crowds did not try to get over the turnstile.

I wasn't in a hurry at all, so I hoped that there would be some sort of small-scale riot against this large-scale futility of the highest order on the part of the TTC. Just as that seemed to be the case, a quick-thinking supervisor wearing a foppish red hat relieved the situation by ushering in all passengers heading east or west into the station for free and to descend, via the small intestine, into the bowels of Yonge-Bloor. An empty westbound train sat waiting mysteriously and serendipitously, and I promptly forgot the drama above in favour of a nap.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The 401, the 4O1 to those he (nothing so monstrous could possibly be female) knows, really ought to be designated as a sixteenth ecosystem in high school geography textbooks. Commensurate with this designation are its sixteen lanes through Toronto, which form a concrete serpent sharply dividing the city. There probably aren't many roads in the world that are as encompassing as the 401; when Highway 401 sits around the magnificently appointed Tuscan villa, it sits around the magnificently appointed Tuscan villa. The road is all you see, in other words, and you're lucky if you can ever see the road instead of the backside of a tractor-trailer.

The astonishing size of the 401, like an obese man who winds up as a Learning Channel freak show masquerading as a medical subject, speaks to the priorities of the city. The only way of crossing Toronto east-west without going downtown to the Gardiner or Bloor-Danforth subway is the 401. The only attempt at another crosstown route in the last half century, in which the city's population has quadrupled, was the short-lived Eglinton subway. A hole was reportedly dug at Eglinton West station, filled back in, and Highway 407 constructed instead to the north of the city.

A highway that would bypass the congestion of the city may seem like a novel idea, but it has already been tried in Toronto. In fact, it succeeded so well that it became the most popular highway in the city and became the subject of this entry. Traffic, construction and a bewildering array of concrete barriers are a certainty on the 401.

A new $2-billion project will improve Ontario's roads, including applying more balm to the concrete underbelly of the 401. Cars, trucks, buses and stretch Hummers will continue to crawl along the scaly skin above, getting nowhere. All of those three dozen lanes, apparently, are far more important than any sort of subway, light rail, or bus corridor. We have to fatten the beast so that he can feed us, or maybe it's the other way around.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

TheStar.com - News - Young black activist has press for lunch

TheStar.com - News - Young black activist has press for lunch

"Don't think for a second that black people did not give education to the world. We civilized the entire planet," she said, from the Greeks to the Romans, thanks to the Egyptian civilization that predates Europe. "So if anybody knows how to teach it's us."

Every advance in the history of the world is a result of black people?

"Absolutely. Yeah. We were here first. Doesn't mean you haven't used technology and developed yourself. Want to challenge me, go head, knock yourself out. But if you were confident of the truth you would not have deleted it from the history books," she said.

I'm not so sure that a raving lunatic hurling flimsy assertions constitutes lunch. If so, every paranoid prophet on the subway dines on the venison of the rush hour commute.

Still, perhaps it's not so bad that we'll have some schools dedicated to the negroid, a hard-working stock that comes from the deepest recesses of Abyssinia. There they can learn about the Nubian kingdom of Kush, George Washington Carver, the black philosopher Socrates and also the black physicist Albert Einstein. As a result, they will emerge as educated, functional adults, having been informed of the greatness of black civilization.

Monday, May 14, 2007

At least the presentation about what I did on my summer vacation will be easy when I go back to school. I went out a couple of times and then I ran a marathon on the fourth and final day. The Mississauga Marathon is, as is common among marathons these days, takes its participants by the major landmarks of the nation's sixth-largest city (population 700,000). Running by the Square One shopping mall, its parking lot and the strip mall at Burnamthorpe and Mavis were my largest reasons for running this race. Other major landmarks on the course include a couple of cafes on Lakeshore Road and possibly a Starbucks somewhere on the course.

I originally was shooting for a 2:55 finish, but then it was brought to my attention that this particular marathon was 42.195 kilometres, and I revised my goal to an even 3 hours, my second 3-hour exam of the week. I lollygagged my way through the first 5 kilometres in 21:40, feeling very comfortable, though for some reason I was running next to an inordinate number of hectoring, huffing-and-puffing hucksters who had somewhere between 19 and 40 kilometres yet to run.

I slid backwards a bit approaching 10k, which I reached in an even 44 minutes. Another landmark of note was the second-biggest campus of the first-biggest university in the country, which was the 8-kilometre mark of the race. This is the stuff of which cold winter training runs are made: the thought of traversing the hallowed grounds of the University of Toronto at Mississauga, established in that long-ago year when the Leafs last won a Stanley Cup, kept me going on all those runs. All this considered, I realized that I probably needed to speed up a bit and did, reaching 15 kilometres in 1 hour and 5 minutes.

The highly unusual sight of local residents standing on their driveway, presumably interested in the race that was passing by, kept me enthralled for the next 5k. I hit the halfway mark of the race in 1:31 and was feeling very strong. The plan was to run a negative split of approximately 3 minutes. Of course, a marathon being 30 km instead of 42, I surged at the halfway mark, probably too hard in retrospect. Still, this was the best part of the race for me. I reached 30 kilometres in 2:09 still feeling sprightly, this being the turning point of the day. To paraphrase Charles Dickens, I had everything before me and I had nothing before me.

In the event, I had nothing before me, nothing but fading gradually and embarassingly over eight kilometres of rolling hills. I will tell anyone who listens that I could have finished in 3 hours or less if the second half wasn't so hilly, though a more reasonable approach would not have been to dawdle early on, necessitating such a fast pace later. I ran the seventh 5k segment in 23 minutes and the eighth in 27, by far the slowest I have run in a race since grade 9. All this considered, salt stains included, I shook, rattled and rolled my way to a 3:10 finish.

The time was disappointing and to say anything else would be a lie, but I enjoyed trying. With more experience and more miles, that time will come down, the inconvenient truth of marathoning. I'm definitely in the best shape I have ever been in and after limping home as feebly as I did, all I could think of was my next race, one where I dispense the pounding on the road rather than absorb it with good humour.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

FOXNews.com - 'Poppy Quarter' Behind Spy Coin Alert - Business And Money | Business News | Financial News

FOXNews.com - 'Poppy Quarter' Behind Spy Coin Alert - Business And Money | Business News | Financial News

WASHINGTON — An odd-looking Canadian coin with a bright red flower was the culprit behind a U.S. Defense Department false espionage warning earlier this year about mysterious coin-like objects with radio frequency transmitters, The Associated Press has learned.

The harmless "poppy coin" was so unfamiliar to suspicious U.S. Army contractors traveling in Canada that they filed confidential espionage accounts about them. The worried contractors described the coins as "anomalous" and "filled with something man-made that looked like nano-technology," according to once-classified U.S. government reports and e-mails obtained by the AP.

The silver-colored 25-cent piece features the red image of a poppy _ Canada's flower of remembrance _ inlaid over a maple leaf. The unorthodox quarter is identical to the coins pictured and described as suspicious in the contractors' accounts.

I think these spy coins were probably found in the gritty South Toronto neighbourhood, full of swarthy immigrants like myself, that was made famous by former Indiana Congressman John Hostettler.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

It was 7 pm on Friday night and I was in a white van speeding along winding, unlit and unmarked roads. Inside the rickety van, there were no seatbelts for the eight passengers and the ocean breeze darted through with ease. The radio was blaring a reggae version of Bryan Adams' Heaven. We were somewhere on the quiet southeast coast of Barbados, heading into Bridgetown on the fantastic Bajan public transportation system. It was just as well, too, because deciphering Barbados' streets is on par with, well, decoding a cipher. Fortunately for visitors, driving is something of a spectator sport on the island. Passers-and-sitters-by are eager to offer directions, as well as crisp analysis of the situation.

For example, after the final of the Cricket World Cup, the road next to the famed Kensington Oval became a one-way road for traffic leaving the stadium. Southbound traffic entered into a laidback, low-speed game of chicken against shuttle buses. Bemused residents of the neighbourhood who were watching the fireworks display from the stadium took it upon themselves to direct traffic and offer directions informing us to drive straight and then turn where we needed to turn. Though Barbados is approximately the size of Toronto and we were staying roughly 10 miles from the stadium, it took 90 minutes to arrive home by what was literally a roundabout way.

The preceding match was simultaneously baffling and thrilling, much like its location. The match attracted a diverse array of Old Money old white men from places like England, Australia, and South Africa who bought a round of beer every half hour for twelve hours. Nonetheless, ground-shaking, trisyllabic chants of "Sri Lan-ka!" did emerge in the brief period when it looked that the Sri Lankans could be the Purple People who would be the Eaters of the banana-yellow Australians.

Hundreds of millions of people watched around the world, Canada included. However, fans bought food in a muddy gravel lot and almost half sat in temporary stands erected for the purposes of the tournament. The match was called due to light and the Australians celebrated their third straight World Cup, before it was re-started so that Sri Lanka could bat three more meaningless overs in the dark. In the end, I think that I've seen games of Monopoly that ended with more certainty.

Darkness is a beautiful thing, even if it cancels cricket matches. There aren't many lights in Barbados, which has a population of just 300,000. The night sky lights up unexpectedly with stars and, from my vantage point, hung black over an ocean that was blacker. The ocean, it can be hard to realize, doesn't disappear when its beautiful blue waters no longer make for great pictures. A roaring armada of waves smashed themselves against the rocks all day and all night.