Tuesday, October 30, 2007

My first-year history professor once told us that Napoleon was the most written-about person in all of history. That seemed like an odd choice to me, but a few Saturday nights spent roaming the stacks at Robarts Library (aka The Big Turkey) strongly supported this claim. Personally, I think I've written more about the Indianapolis Colts than anything else. It's hard to believe that I've written more about Peyton than Plato, but fully 20 posts on this blog mention the former compared with two about the latter. I haven't written that many essays about Plato either, and the Colts aren't even my favourite team.

At any rate, let me add one more to the pile:

The defending Super Bowl champions are playing at home and undefeated in seven games, winning each game by an average of 17 points. Still, they opened as 4-point underdogs.

That’s just how good the New England Patriots have been this year, winning eight games by an average score of 41-16. Tom Brady has thrown 30 touchdowns in half a season against just two interceptions, and rolled up a quarterback rating of 136.2.

FanHome » Battling for History: Colts host Patriots
What follows is like an absurd case of sleep paralysis. It makes you want to reach into the screen and knock someone, anyone. Trinity University is down 24-22 against Millsaps College.


Friday, October 26, 2007

To return to an alarming issue I discussed last week, by the time I get home this evening, Stephen Colbert's campaign might have one million supporters in its ninth day of operations. The total stands at roughly 917,000 right now, with approximately 30 people having joined every time the page is refreshed. By way of illustration, in the time it took me to write this entry, 339 people joined. In the time it took me to write that sentence, 84 people joined.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

So John Tory has indicated that he will stay on as leader of the Ontario Conservatives. I'm not sure by what premises he reached this conclusion. Tory, sadly, has pretty much failed at everything he has ever done, at least going back for the last 15 years.

  • In 1993, Tory approved the heinous ad making fun of Jean Chretien's palsy, which played a large part in reducing the governing Conservatives to a pair of seats in Parliament.

  • After that, he became the CEO of Rogers Media and then Rogers Cable. The company grew significantly during this period, I will admit, but it grew into the inhuman behemoth that it is today.

  • Tory was commissioner of the CFL from 1996 to 2000, which was a time spent mostly worrying about whether the Ottawa Roughriders would play on the coming Friday night.

  • He then ran for mayor of Toronto in 2003 and lost. He did, however, win a by-election and became an MPP.

  • He then lost the recent provincial election and lost his own seat.

    At least he didn't own the Texas Rangers at any point.
  • Wednesday, October 24, 2007

    Parity between the Canadian and American dollars has led to all sorts of demands from consumers who want a chicken in every pot and want both for the same price as in Buffalo. Everything, it seems, can be tied to the sharp increase in value of the Canadian dollar. Consumers have had their say, lambasting retailers for maintaining high prices for trinkets, widgets and doodads in spite of the dollar's strength. In response, some retailers, Zellers most prominent so far, have lowered prices on some 250 items. That most pernicious purveyor of all ominously boasted of its "best-ever year of price reductions".

    Of course, is it really possible to explain something as complex as the pricing of goods on an open market by appeal to the exchange rate? John Williamson from the Canadian Taxpayer Federation says as much in his griping about our labour laws and regulations. In an open letter to federal finance minister Jim Flaherty, he writes: "you and I both know the strong loonie is only one factor that determines price. Others include taxes, government regulations, minimum wages, and labour laws." These things, apparently, are bad.

    Williamson goes on to advocate a reduction in the Employment Insurance payroll tax, because it is "without doubt passed on to, and paid, by consumers." Clearly, if you're able to buy a DVD player with small change, there is still a hidden price to pay. I hope we aren't willing to pay that cost, which comes in the form of taking away some of the niceties of life in Canada.

    The logical next step in this train wreck of a debate, I think, ought to be a rejoinder on the part of retailers that the minimum wage in all provinces need to be rolled back to reflect the loonie's strength. If the Wal-Mart in Cheyenne, Wyoming or Savannah, Georgia is only required to pay employees $5.15/hour, why does the Wal-Mart in Bracebridge, Dryden or Scarborough have to pay its employees $8 per hour? After all, if we're going to let the exchange rate determine how we do business in Ontario, there's no reason to leave the minimum wage as unfairly high as it is.
    Colts-Patriots tilt shaping as battle of Good vs. Evil: Patriots at Colts on Nov. 4 is shaping up to be one of the most attractive and exciting NFL regular-season games ever staged. The pairing is fabulous; the teams are the league's best; and there is a chance both will take the field undefeated. Plus, Patriots at Colts has a powerful, compelling narrative. Namely -- Good vs. Evil.

    The fact that I don't even need to tell you which team represents Good and which stands for Evil says a lot about how low New England has sunk. You knew instantly which was which, didn't you?


    In the Good vs. Evil narrative of the Colts and Pats, running up the score is a telling factor: It reveals a team's sportsmanship or lack of same, and whether a team shows sportsmanship in public might offer insights into its character in private. New England is scoring so many points the Patriots offense looks like cherries and oranges spinning on a slot machine. The Flying Elvii stand plus-159 in net points, by far the best scoring margin in the NFL. This is supposed to be impressive. But I think it's creepy, and New England's creepy on-field behavior is only underscoring the seediness of the Beli-Cheat scandal.

    Easterbrook says what I've been feeling all along. Having only seen two Patriots game all season but having stopped well before the end, I didn't know that they were throwing right to the final whistle. I know that Tom Brady throws a lot, but I didn't know he threw from the shotgun with a five-touchdown lead on Thursday. Calling a play with just 23 seconds left in the game and a big lead, as Bill Belichick did against the Cowboys, is pathetic.

    All this, of course, doesn't change the fact that the Patriots are very, very, very good. The average score in seven wins has been 40-17. Tom Brady has numbers that many people struggle to put up in Madden: 73% completion rate, 27 touchdowns against 2 interceptions. We may never see anything like it. Unfortunately, Belichick's visceral disregard for sportsmanship inflates an excellent team into a superhuman team. When most teams jump out to a huge lead, they stop trying as hard. Belichick's players play hard until the final whistle. Normally that would be a virtue, but here, as Easterbrook says, it's just creepy.

    Tuesday, October 23, 2007

    Death is a popular activity in Detroit, so maybe I can chalk up my own in yesterday's half marathon to the benevolence of the city's tourism department. I hit 8 miles in 50:57, about two minutes faster than last year, but then, like so many others before me, I died a painful death under the Detroit River. My shoes sounded like they were stuck in mud and I feebly emerged from the tunnel.

    I'd been averaging around 6:20 per mile, with the last three liberally run in 6 minutes flat. I think that was probably the culprit in the end, but why ruin a good story? The ninth mile was 6:37, the tenth 6:50 (64:24 total). Course markers being as unpredictable as mortality is predictable in Detroit, I was still, somehow, two minutes ahead of last year's pace.

    I really did come unglued in the 11th mile, badly enough to stop looking at splits. This mile was in the 7-minute range and the 12th mile took 8 minutes. I was now around Tiger Stadium and the brick-paved roads of Michigan Avenue. I'll never cease to be amazed by Detroit's penchant for bundling pain with nineteenth-century ornamentation. All the people I had passed in the middle of the race now flooded past me and I swerved all over the broad street trying to get out of their way.

    I reached the 12-mile mark in 79 minutes and realized that it was going to take something special to avoid the humiliation of running even slower than last year. I'm not sure why, but I hurt more than I've ever hurt before in a race and dug deeper than I ever have before, without qualification. I launched a powerful kick down Woodward Avenue. All this gave me a 7:20 final mile and a 1:27:02 finish, 26th overall. My last four half marathon times are 1:26:51, 1:27:17, 1:27:12 and 1:27:02. At least I'm consistent. I then took my unrequited bloodlust, with a gap in between to stagger around on Detroit's cold, empty streets in short yellow shorts, to see the Lions take on the Buccaneers.

    Friday, October 19, 2007

    Internet smears target Obama: WASHINGTON–She was a Republican backing Mitt Romney, but her frustration that late summer day in Iowa was spawned by that Muslim running for the Democrats, Barack Obama.

    Why, she wondered, was there such fuss over Romney's Mormon faith when the media was not writing about Obama's Muslim faith?

    It's not a good time to be Barack Obama right now, the man who has enjoyed Secret Service since about 18 months before the 2008 US presidential election. Elsewhere on the Internet, a Facebook group in support of Stephen Colbert's presidential bid has signed up over 116,000 members (I am one) in about two days.

    Monday, October 15, 2007

    As Joseph enjoys Alabama's 27-24 victory over Mississippi yesterday, my own University of Toronto Blues lost their 48th consecutive football game yesterday, setting a new Canadian university mark for football futility. Now, none of this really matters, of course. You only need to consider that this latest defeat was a 44-1 drubbing at the hands of the bacchanalian, pot-bellied University of Western Ontario. Still, it is baffling how a school with more than 50,000 students can't manage to find 24 males capable of winning a single football game.

    Friday, October 12, 2007

    To borrow from Jean-Paul Sartre, six in the morning is both way too early and way too late to be in Detroit. Still, the bus entered an eerily dark city at the crack of dawn and deposited us in its downtown. I can't think of another city with a million people that was so black, except perhaps for London in World War II. I was a little excited to be coming to Detroit, but it was plain eerie to enter a place without a single light.

    The broad streets were completely empty and passing under the vast John C. Lodge Freeway, named after the younger brother of the senator so vociferously opposed to Woodrow Wilson's internationalism, was like hiding out in a bomb shelter. If the Chicago Marathon was an exodus of war-weary refugees along Michigan Avenue, downtown Detroit is the perpetual blackout.

    I don't know why I expected breakfast from a city that had a single open restaurant on the Saturday night I was there. It was best to stay in the Greyhound station anyway, with its barbed wire fences, sentries, barking dogs and machine gun-toting guards. Well, at least the first one is true. The inside of this maximum-security compound was a bewildering mixture of 28 Days Later and an NWA music video. If I never go to prison, this was probably the closest I'll ever come. There were probably 200 people in there, almost all black and poor, with the exception of an old Amish couple. Playing on the television was something called Homicide in Hollenbeck.

    Riyaad, doing what he does best when we arrive at a Greyhound station of questionable hygiene in a city of unquestionable skeeze, headed for the washroom. "How bad is it?" I asked, "this place is nuts". "It was about what I expected," he replied, "there's blood in there." Doing what I do best in any Greyhound station, I headed for the coffee machine.

    (Sidebar: The Economist uses the price of a Big Mac in a locale as a measure of purchasing power. I use the price of a cup of coffee at the Greyhound station. A cup of coffee at the Toronto station is $1.56, just $65 cents in Detroit and $1.40 in Chicago.)

    I'm not sure why I headed for the coffee machine in the corner. I thought I was going to get stabbed for my running shoes and copy of Augustine's Confessions. An old black man came up to me while I was there, claiming to be selling pins for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Furrowing my brow in a vain attempt to understand the situation, I gave him a dollar for a tiny American flag. "Errybody bin givin' fies and tens," he said with a sleazy grin. He then turned to the girl next to me and repeated, "ERRYBODY bin gi'in fies and tens, even twenties." He then helped himself to the other two American dollar bills in my wallet, though it would take until the end of the cup of coffee for me to realize what had happened.

    I don't know much about the VFW, but I suspect that they don't hire drug dealers to solicit on their behalf at the downtown Detroit Greyhound station at 6 in the morning.

    A mountain of a security guard then came over and repeatedly pounded his fist, speaking as black as anyone, telling the man to go "take yo hustlin' elsewhere, this is our turf." The dealer and his friends snickered at the man, called him an Uncle Tom and boasted that they made more money in two hours than he made in two weeks.

    Maybe it's not polite to notice that just about everyone in there was black and pathetic, but it's certainly idiotic not to notice. It seems inhuman to allow a place like that to exist in the richest country in the world, certainly in comparison with places like Ann Arbor, less than an hour away. The crime (254 murders last year), poverty (the per capita income is half of Ann Arbor) and unemployment (14% in Detroit, triple the national average) produce a parallel world. It's a bizarre, bizarre experience to spend two hours anywhere in the First World and be unsure of whether anyone will care if anything happens to you. To have that happen in the heart of a major city is entirely something else.

    Thursday, October 11, 2007

    In the event, the election was decided within an hour of polls closing, but the real victor is the first-past-the-post system, which flexed its muscle tonight. With roughly 40 percent of the popular vote, the Liberals earned 71 of 107 seats. A referendum on proportional representation is a resounding failure, with just 36% of respondents in favour out of votes currently tallied.

    The most gratifying part of the evening, however, is the defeat of Progressive Conservative leader John Tory in his own riding. Tory rooted his campaign in leadership, relying on his slogan "leadership matters", a curious choice given that his campaign consisted in petty criticisms of Premier Dalton McGuinty. This torrid criticism in the absence of any leadership whatsoever instead justifies the slogan "criticism matters". The slogan is an apt one, given that the Tories have an unelected leader and enjoy the role of critic as the Official Opposition in Parliament.

    Wednesday, October 10, 2007

    Today is election day in Ontario, a territory of 1 million square kilometres roughly three times the size of Germany. I've been fairly busy the last little while, so I'm not sure who to vote for. However, I will be home all day, so I will be taking your calls. Call in and tell me who to vote for. The more ignorant and baseless your opinion, the better.
    With my apologies to the good people at Chasing Kimbia:

    Tuesday, October 09, 2007

    It would be grotesquely inefficient to try and reproduce the report and pictures I posted about yesterday's Chicago Marathon.

    Sunday, October 07, 2007

    The bus ride from Ann Arbor to Chicago took longer than I realized, but they got there around 2:30 PM CDT. Here are some more texts I received during that portion of the trip, along with some from Chicago:

    (10:42 AM CDT)
    Adeel: I'm in Kalamazoo.
    Jennifer: I love that name.
    Adeel: Yeah, me too. It's home to Western Michigan University. They have a bigger stadium than we do and a separate track. Then again, we get an education.

    Later: (1:12 PM CDT)

    Adeel: We're coming up to Gary...
    Jennifer: I always think of that camp song.
    Adeel: ??
    Jennifer: A song about Gary, Indiana.
    Adeel: I've never heard of of, it's safe to say. Way to date yourself.

    (Adeel loves to tease me about my age. The song is actually from the musical "The Music Man". And despite what Adeel may tell you, I'm not actually quite as old as the song.)

    And a bit later: (2:53 PM CDT)
    Adeel: We're in Chitown. Black people really do talk like that and the food is great.
    Jennifer: Great! What did you eat?
    Adeel: Chili dog. I was talking to Riyaad about how I'm 21 years old and I've never had one.

    The rest of the day seemed to be devoted to seeing the city and the sights. It's very hot in Chicago, which will make for a very difficult marathon tomorrow. I look forward to hearing more about it and seeing the pictures.

    Saturday, October 06, 2007

    Jennifer posting again. It doesn't seem like Adeel got much sleep on the bus. Maybe a couple hours, but he already had to be awake for the border crossing. Here are the texts I received while I was sleeping:

    Adeel (5:37 AM EDT):
    Dear Jennifer,
    Am currently under Detroit River. Will go through customs. More to come.

    Adeel (6:16 AM EDT):
    Hello Jennifer Wolf, I am now free to move about your country and do all of the things you can do. I can ride at the front of the bus and drink from the same water fountains.

    [I am thinking: Yeah, but you can't vote.]

    Adeel (8:00 AM CDT):
    I'm in Ann Arbor. Detroit was scary. There's nothing funny about the Detroit Greyhound terminal at 6 am. Scary.

    Me (9:09 AM CDT):
    Good morning. I guess you didn't sleep much. Did you have breakfast in Detroit?

    Adeel (9:12 AM CDT):
    Good morning. I slept quite a bit, actually, after Detroit. I had black coffee and a granola ba in Detroit. There was nowhere to go eat. It was dark and the place is filled with drug dealers. It was terrifying. The station is one of the worst places I've been.

    Even with Adeel's hyperboles, that does sound pretty bad. At least they did get more sleep than I originally figured. Ann Arbor is only about three hours from Chicago, so they should be there soon. I'm still jealous. At least the Red Sox won last night.
    This is Jennifer posting now. Here is a conversation I had with Adeel today at 4:45 PM Eastern today (by text message):

    Adeel: So guess where I'm going tonight?
    Me: Red Sox game? Sorry, I give up. Am I going to be jealous?
    Adeel: Yes. Guess.
    Me: WHERE?
    Adeel: Gary, Indiana, murder capital of the USA. But that's really en route to Chicago.
    Me: COOL! You'll have a great time. I'm so excited for you. You must be leaving soon.
    Adeel: Yeah, at 1:30.
    Me: 1:30 AM? By car or bus?
    Adeel: AM, yes. By bus. You're an American; how does one not get killed in many of these places?
    Me: Um, you've been to Detroit; I haven't.

    So in the end, Adeel and Riyaad decided to go Greyhound, and didn't need a white person with them afterall. They are probably en route to the bus station now. Another Greyhound trek, and another opportunity for me to post Adeel's colourful text message descriptions of his and Riyaad's experiences, as I did back in February during the Whitehorse trip.
    Maybe it was my fate to tour the murder capitals of the United States. I decided at 9 this morning to be there for the Chicago Marathon on Sunday and the elimination of the Cubs on either Saturday or Sunday.

    It won't come easy. I will be having breakfast in Detroit. If I make it that far, I will be in Gary, Indiana sometime in the afternoon. Detroit is a four-time winner of the prestigious Moran Quitno Most Dangerous City in America (1999-2001, 2003). Gary is a two-time winner of this, achieving this distinction in 1997-98. In the previous year's rankings, Detroit was the runner-up, while Gary placed a respectable 10th.

    Friday, October 05, 2007

    Riyaad Says:

    I'm posting for Adeel, who is at work. Adeel has jumped on to my weekend trip idea. We're heading out either tonight (late) or tomorrow morning, thinking of going to Chicago to see the marathon. Need white members, as we are two brown guys heading into States. Riyaad will have car. Interested? Comment!
    World's worst goalie spins amazing tale

    Admit it, you thought it was going to be about this Vesa Toskala character.

    Wednesday, October 03, 2007

    Speaking of stunning reversals, do you remember the Greatest Show on Turf? There was a time when the St. Louis Rams made opposing defenses look like house plants. So good were the Rams, in fact, that they were what I hated before I started hating the Patriots. The Rams averaged at least 30 points a game for three consecutive years, and have been in the top 10 offenses in the NFL for the last eight seasons.

    This year, the Rams have scored 39 points in four games, all losses. In 2000, the Rams began the season by scoring 41, 37, 41, 41 57 and 45 points. All six were wins, and in five of the six games, they scored more points than they have in all of 2007.

    Just as stunning but with a greater immediacy are the reversals in fortune of the Chargers, Bears and Saints. These three teams lost 11 games all of last year, but they're already 2-9 this year. I had to look it up because it didn't seem right, but the Bears and Saints actually met in the NFC Championship game.

    On the other hand, I bought tickets to the October 21 game between the Buccaneers and Lions. I was so grateful to be going to my first NFL game that I was willing to overlook the fact that both teams last over 10 games last year. As it stands now, I have tickets to see a division leader take on a playoff contender.

    Tuesday, October 02, 2007

    The last four days have bore witness to the meaning that can be contained within nine innings and change of baseball.

    On Friday night, while I watched my Blue Jays play out the string against the still-more-moribund Tampa Bay Devil Rays, fully half of the National League remained in contention for the playoffs. More amazing than this was that on the third-last day of the season, not a single team was guaranteed one of the four spots. The Mets, Phillies, Cubs, Brewers, Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres were all in the mix at the start of play Friday.

    On Saturday night, with his Mets facing elimination, John Maine pitched 7.2 near-perfect innings. Maine took a no-hitter into the 8th inning, struck out 14 batters and led the Mets to a seemingly cathartic 13-0 win over the Marlins.

    On Sunday, the Mets wasted no time the next day in securing their stunning collapse. Future Hall of Famer Tom Glavine allowed 5 runs to score while earning one out. The Marlins had a 7-0 lead before a single Met came to the plate, and the collapse was complete. An airtight 7-game lead had disintegrated in 18 days. The Phillies, somehow, had become division champions. The season still wasn't over, however.

    On Monday, the Rockies and Padres are playing to settle an improbable tie after 162 games and a further nine innings of single-game playoff. A bizarre 13-1 finish, including an 11-game winning streak, have vaulted the Rockies to the precipice of the playoffs.

    As Greg Cote of the Miami Herald wrote yesterday, "somebody like me whose hobby is making fun of how boring baseball is should never have to work this hard!" This is baseball at its very best. Enjoy.

    Monday, October 01, 2007

    "This is 40k," the voice boomed, with all the gravity of James Earl Jones informing viewers that this, indeed, is CNN. I was, as you may have guessed, at the 40-kilometre marker of today's Toronto Waterfront Marathon. The race was won by the sprightly and slightly John Kelai, who ran the fastest marathon ever run in Canada. Kelai, however, was long gone by this point. I was standing in that eerie twilight zone watching the sort-of-rans go by: men and women in superb but decidedly amateur shape. The best had already passed by and the festively plump middle of the pack was baking somewhere in the Beaches.

    One by one, separated by large gaps and gasps, the also-rans staggered, lurched and powered by, the toll of the previous 39 kilometres visible and audible, if not a fully-fledged olfactory experience. I thought back to the 40-kilometre point of my one and only marathon. I was somewhere on the Mississauga Waterfront, noticing my chance and my desire for a sub-3 finish galloping away. The 40-kilometre marker was in front of someone's house, and this family had decided to bring out an impressive stereo system and treat runners-by to the best of ACDC. I remember thinking that this was great if I already hadn't been Thunderstruck.

    Here we were, however, on Toronto's barren eastern lakeshore. Runners had passed by the mercurial soil at the old Tent City, passed underneath the mighty Gardiner expressway and now the 40th kilometre began on a barren stretch of Lake Shore Boulevard around Sherbourne. It really couldn't get much worse than this, I thought.

    I generally tend to agree with most of my non-running friends and family who can't comprehend just why it is that someone would pay $135 to run 42-some-odd kilometres on pavement. Long-distance running, even at the best of times, is painful. When a marathon goes badly, it gets ugly. It can even turn lethal, as was the case of a woman I saw walking erratically one minute and in the arms of a paramedic 15 minutes later.

    The answer, I think, is that absolutely nothing can compare to the ecstasy of success in the marathon, absolutely nothing. Marathons hurt to run and the training is sometimes worse and failure worse still, but a dozen failures are dwarfed by a single success. That's why, like sheep, runners cheerfully line up by the the thousands and the tens of thousands and finish petrified and ruined.