Saturday, July 28, 2007

Nike suspends Atlanta quarterback Michael Vick's contract
FLOWERY BRANCH, Ga. (AP) -- Nike suspended its lucrative contract with Michael Vick on Friday, while Reebok took the unprecedented step of stopping sales of his No. 7 jersey.

In another dose of bad news for the indicted quarterback, a top trading card company announced it was pulling Vick's likeness from any new packs.

Facing protests from animal-rights groups, Nike announced it was suspending Vick's endorsement deal without pay, as well as halting sales of Vick-related shoes and other products at its retail stores.

"Nike is concerned by the serious and highly disturbing allegations made against Michael Vick, and we consider any cruelty to animals inhumane and abhorrent," Nike spokesman Dean Stoyer said in a statement.

Reebok, the official uniform supplier of the NFL, said it would stop selling Vick's replica jersey at retail stores and through its Web site.

The news isn't all bad for Falcons fans. Assuming that Vick doesn't play this season, and he has been banned from the Falcons training camp, they might be able to make it back to the playoffs.

The news from Nike, Reebok and little old Donruss is heartening, indicative of at least a shred of scruples in the sports industry.

Friday, July 27, 2007

We know how to do many things, but not what to do, E.F. Schumacher wrote over thirty years ago. I say that Schumacher wrote this in 1973 because the proliferation of useless, gratuitous technology of the order found today was not even on the horizon at the time. Consider, for example, Facebook: you can now pwn your best friends, along with disclose your stripper name to them, not to mention invite them to use the Zombie Application or the Genocide Application.

Someone at Facebook apparently thinks that information displayed haphazardly on a page is a good thing. The problem of adding and adding information and superfluous, non-sensical features is hardly unique to Facebook, but gradually, the website will lose its point. A non sequitur aggregate of facts about everyone you know even loosely is already stored in your mind or in the minds of others. As well, everyone you know is already on a system connected by wires, though it only offers voice-based communication.

Like cell phones with cameras, MP3 players and remote detonation capabilities, Facebook has added features to the point of becoming incoherent. Is there anything at all meaningful about the ability to write on a Facebook wall using your phone or to upload grainy, inebriated pictures from your phone? To the contrary, the result is communication as meaningless and infinite as writing out the dictionary.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Late July is usually the time around which I give up on the Jays and focus on enjoying the last month of summer break. For eleven years now, I've given up on a Jays team going nowhere, the last nine of them being years in which the team had an outside chance at making the playoffs. I was all set to do this on Saturday, but then Josh Towers combined with three relievers on a two-hour, 1-0 shutout. Four days and four wins later, by a combined score of 34-5, the Jays are 51-50.

The Jays were 50-50 in the first 100 games of the season, effectively leaving a 62-game season to be played. The playoffs may be an impossibility, but good baseball is good baseball. If the team keeps winning, at least I'll be following, though, of course, third-place teams generally don't attract much attention at the end of a six-month season. In the end, Blue Jay fans may have confirmation of what they hoped for in April, that theirs is a playoff-quality team when healthy and performing.

On the other hand, this is one kernel of good news in what is otherwise a terrible time for professional sports.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Part-time jobs are not all they're cracked up to be. I don't get to sing at mine, for example.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Today I covered the 14 km on Yonge Street from Finch to Dundas in about 48 minutes, which is about 8 minutes faster than I've ever run over that distance. The problem, however, was that not only did this happen outside of today's competitive ten-mile race, but that I wasn't even running. In fact, I was securely inside a bus for the duration of the 48 minutes. If the bus in question, an Orion VII hybrid electric vehicle, had entered the race, it would have placed roughly fifteenth based on its pace of roughly 3:30/km.

I finally gave up on the bus at Dundas and put two blocks between me and the bus from Dundas to King. I don't think I was moving any faster than about 13 km/h, which means the bus has to have been moving at roughly 10 km/h. In its defense, on board were all the extras from Braveheart, and stopped at every red light, often twice, to let passengers on and off. I've seen parked cars move faster.

More pleasing were Adam Giambrone's remarks in today's Toronto Star:

It's fair to say no one ever got misty-eyed about a bus. But rumbling quietly along city streets, the streetcar represents, for many, a more civilized mode of in-city travel – the romance of the railway, urban-style.

"There's just something about riding the rails," says TTC chair Adam Giambrone.

But it's not all about the charm. Streetcars move more people than buses, last longer (as much as three times longer, up to 40 years), and, thanks to the system's web of overhead electric wires, run cleanly and exhaust-free. TTC statistics show that the Dufferin bus, the city's heaviest-volume bus, carries slightly more than 30,000 people per day; the King streetcar moves almost 50,000.

"The average car in Toronto carries 1.1 people," Giambrone says. "A streetcar displaces 130 cars. We're all citizens. If you assign everyone one value point, that streetcar takes priority."

I'll never boast about being able to run faster than one of our noble streetcars.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The batteries for my iPod died Tuesday night, so in search of entertainment, I went to the library and took out Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. The late Bloom taught at the University of Toronto and I discovered him by way of his extremely nuanced translation of Plato's Republic, which I actually never bought. Bloom wrote the foreword to this book in the wonderful month that was May of 1986, the first of many coincidences that resulted from my impulsive decision to borrow this book.

Bloom discusses music among the many inadequacies of modern youth and their education. He notes "nothing is more singular about this generation than its addiction to music." Rock music is especially insidious to Bloom, for it "has one appeal only, a barbaric appeal, to sexual desire...[that is] undeveloped and untutored." Whether it is realized or not, "rock has the beat of sexual intercourse", and the result is that "life is made into a nonstop, commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy."

Reading that in place of my iPod on my way home, I was all of a sudden quite glad that the batteries had died on my iPod. Here I am two days later, and I can still hear Bloom's booming, eloquent voice in my head every time I think about re-charging my iPod. I can't say I take Bloom's criticisms of rock music all that seriously. There is something thoroughly inciteful, he is insightful in saying, about catchy rock music that is absent in more complex music. I'm not certain that all rock music is primarily erotic. Bloom and his student, Clifford Orwin, who was my professor of political philosophy, are preoccupied with the erotic to a degree that verges on lecherous for grey-haired men. Nevertheless, the point about the uniquely manipulative and corrosive effects of insipid popular music in the late-twentieth and twenty-first century is a cogent one.

At any rate, Bloom mentions in passing American philosopher Herbert Marcuse and his book Eros and Civilization, who advocates precisely the hyper-sexualized society that Bloom condemns. Bloom observes that though "the unconscious has been made conscious, the repressed expressed...Mick Jagger tarting it up on the stage is all that we brought back from the voyage to the underworld." Plumbing the depths of our psyche has yielded no psychosocial El Dorado, but only a new set of trivialities.

All this, of course, is neither here nor there. There I was on the subway again on Wednesday night, when I looked across the train and saw, sure enough, a smartly-dressed young man reading Marcuse's book. Further compounding the eeriness of the incident, I saw him again on the subway today, but opted to sit in a different car lest I get transported to a different vortex than the urine-tinged black hole that is Kipling station.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

In its brief but brilliant existence as arguably the single greatest website in history, SatireWire was the first major news outlet to report that despite a recent preoccupation with national security, the United States is unprepared for "the simultaneous spontaneous combustion of every person east of the Mississippi." Moreover, the impact of such a catastrophe would be immense: well over one hundred million lives will be lost if all those people were to die.

Similarly, a study conducted by the federal government concluded that the detonation of radioactive explosives in downtown Toronto would "[result] in mass anxiety, a rush on medical facilities and an economic toll of up to $23.5 billion." Presumably, the city remains woefully under-equipped to deal with the effects of radiation in a city of 2.5 million, just as Muhammad Ali would have lost to Sonny Liston if Sonny Liston had beaten Muhammad Ali and I would have won the lottery if I won the lottery.

Given the right set of conditions, any hypothetical situation can be elevated to the status of reality. If you came home one day to find your home burned to the ground by Fenians, then what would you do to prevent it? Discuss by commenting.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Whatever chance Transformers might have been a decent movie disappeared the moment Bay was hired to direct.

With no sense for consistency, Bay jumps from slapstick to insult humor ("Let's make fun of fat guys eating doughnuts!") to dead-serious melodrama. The story is all over the place, too, with more holes than plot. And the dialogue is dreadful. Only LaBeouf and Turturro have the proper sense of humor to pull off their hyperbolic lines. These two actors are the only reasons to see the movie.

With all the trademarked Michael Bay badness roiling about, it is easy to overlook something that may have doomed this live-action "Transformers" even with a decent director. By trying to make the Transformers appear realistic the film technicians take away the charm of the toys, cartoons and comics. In their robot forms, the Transformers look like every other computer-generated special effect of the last decade. During Bay's poorly staged and never-ending action sequences, we're just watching one set of metal frames pounding away at another.

Admittedly, much of my antipathy towards this movie is the product of having seen it at an advance screening that was perilously choked with un-socialized Saved by the Bell extras that made me feel much better about myself. Still more egregious was the bizarre view amongst the corpulent corps congregated at the cinema that the movie "was good for what it is". It is, apparently, too much to expect a film lasting 2 hours and 24 minutes (enough time to run 20 miles) to have been coherent and not borrow humour from the early '90s.

"It was good for what it was" means that just about anything can be good. My rendition of Ave Maria in the shower is now "good for what it is", as is water with E. Coli, though the logical retort would be that it was good for something that was not at all good. No one goes to see Transformers expecting a cinematic masterpiece, but it failed at even delivering insipid entertainment.

Far more unfortunate than this one particular movie is the unfortunate lowering of standards for a good movie. Sure, you don't attend a horror movie expecting to laugh and you don't attend a comedy seeking drama, but a movie still ought to be good by the standard of goodness, not by being a good piece of trash.