Friday, February 29, 2008

I will continue posting videos until someone tells me to stop. There's a group in Toronto that does odd things in urban spaces, like having a massive pillow fight, and there's an annual parade of people dressed as zombies. All that pales to the 207 people in this video who stood motionless for 5 minutes inside New York's Grand Central Station.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Here's a campaign in its fiery supernova, and deservingly so.

Laura has asked me, among other things, to:

# Share seven random and/or weird facts about yourself on your blog.

I will disregard the rest of her injunction, but do my best to come up with 7 odd facts about myself, preferably new ones.

1) I once took a bus from Toronto to the Yukon in the middle of February, which is a 12,000-kilometre round trip. I'm sure all of you know this, but this probably has to be at the top of the list.

2) I can't drive, cycle, swim, skate or make myself a cup of coffee. I also don't drink, making myself a designated passenger. I realize that's also a known.

3) The first time I ever ran, I did fairly well for someone who was otherwise absurdly unathletic. Then I found out that it was just the warm-up. The workout that day was to run 6 hill repeats. I did half of the first one and then sat down on the ground for the rest of the workout.

4) I won the history award at my high school graduation, which made me the best history student in the school, I think. The first question of the first test in that class asked me to identify the weapon that revolutionized warfare in the 15th-century. I chose (c), the atom bomb.

5) When I was in Pakistan, we once drove into a buffalo. Everyone was okay, including the car.

6) I once spent three hours walking around an abandoned factory with four complete strangers. One of them knew the area because it was close to the Metro West Detention Centre, where he'd recently spent some time.

7) Someone once asked me in high school, "so Allah is the Buddhist god, right?"
Okay, okay, I'll stop talking about NASCAR. Here are some pictures from Ottawa, mostly from the time my camera was with me and working.

The next time I think having an LCD viewfinder or looking at what I'm shooting have anything to do with the quality of my pictures, I'll remember this.

Across the street from Parliament, there's this statue of Terry Fox.

The Ottawa River with the Alexandra Bridge to Quebec in the background.

The Palladium-Corel Centre-Scotiabank Place-Place Banque Scotia

The Senators played the Columbus Blue Jackets and lost 3-2 in a shootout. The game featured two former Turner Fenton students (Jason Spezza and Rostislav Klesla). I think we sat next to the only other coloured people in the building not named Ray Emery.

The real reason I used my camera were these snow banks. This is the view from my brother's front door.

Ottawa has received over 10 feet of snow this winter, one of its heaviest snowfalls ever.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

I can't believe my last post also mentioned NASCAR. This little blast from the past gets me rolling on the floor every time.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Here's something surprising: in the United States, the NHL has more fans than NBA. Well, that's not exactly true. It's more accurate to say that more sports fans rate hockey (5%) as their favourite sport as compared to the NBA (4%). Odds are that more people watch the NBA than the NHL in the US, but few would rate it as their favourite sport. Still, it says something about the NBA that it's outranked by the NFL, MLB, NCAA football, NASCAR and the NHL. Perhaps most surprising of all is that 10% of people rated NASCAR as their favourite "sport", which is both the greatest blight on America today and the greatest achievement of marketing. Track and field was on the third tier of minor sports, receiving 1% of the vote, right up there with tennis and boxing.

In somewhat related news, I went to my first NHL game last night, watching the Ottawa Senators beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-2 in a shootout (sorry Chris). Watching hockey on television is like trying to perform open-heart surgery on a rollercoaster, but hockey in person is surprisingly riveting. The speed of the puck and the players doesn't quite make translate onto a television screen, though the decapitating hits are the same. The other benefit of watching in person might just be my inability to follow rapidly-moving objects on a screen, but I found it much easier to watch plays develop on the ice.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Continuing our tour of the politics of those lesser-known countries in the world, we come to Chad. Chad is one of the lesser-known countries in central Africa, long playing second fiddle to the regionally eponymous Central African Republic. It briefly came to fame in the fall of 2000, and again in 2002 after joining the Axis of Countries Whose Names End in "Guay". As we all know, Chad gained independence in 1960 at a time when flags were scarce, necessitating use of the Romanian flag. Things moved along quietly albeit unspectacularly until the world came calling in 2000 during the Hanging Chad Crisis, during which thousands of dissidents and political opponents were hung to death. Despite its top-5 ranking in the Failed States Index, Chad gets relatively little attention in the news, probably because Shaquille O'Neal was recently traded to Phoenix, where he is expected to bolster the Western Conference-leading Suns.

At any rate, Chad was already one of the poorest, least-developed countries in the world when a civil war broke out in 2005 between the government of dictator Idriss Deby and a number of rebel groups whose names are permutations of abstract concepts like United, Republican, Democratic, and Front. As is often the case in Africa, the war has become regional owing to Sudanese support for rebel groups. Casualty numbers are hard to come by because, well, someone would probably have to send someone in there to talk to someone, and Sudan is as far as the world's attention goes. The conflict recently flared up after rebel groups marched on the capital N'Djamena but were turned back by the government. Indicative of the sort of free-for-all that is Chad, the rebels did surround the presidential palace before retreating towards Sudan, where they mill about with impunity.

Friday, February 15, 2008

It stopped being trendy to keep up and pretend to be an expert on this topic a while ago, but Pakistan is holding elections on February 18. A Pakistani election is about as meaningless as it gets, though it makes for great political theatre if you understand Urdu, and even if you don't, it's worth it for the garish mustaches. Now, as any student of transnational studies knows, Pakistani politics turn on ethnic cleavages.

It's worth offering a quick background on Pakistani history for those who just don't plain care, for a number of very valid reasons, chiefly boredom. Pakistan was formed in the year 1366 AH as a union between the Pakis and the Stans, the descendants of the latter being numerous in Canada, such as Black Hawks great Stan Mikita. The Stans, having connections to other Midwestern sportsmen such as Cardinals great Stan Musial, came to control Pakistan's economy, military and civil service post-union. This, of course, fueled resentment among the Pakis, who constitute the overwhelming majority of the population. With most of the lucrative professions closed to the Pakis, they resorted to playing cricket, driving taxis, operating convenience stores and generally not wearing deodorant while spreading around the world thanks to emigration. Needless to say, the term Paki came to be a racial slur in the West.

The result today is that 10% of the population in the Stans controls 90% of Parliament, though dictator Pervez Musharraf is an ethnic Paki. It's safe to predict that through electoral fraud, intimidation, coercion and the boycotting of the election by many opposition parties, he will maintain his grasp on power for his ethnic group (not for himself). All in all, we can expect some volatile political theatre, the sort that the United States can't even manufacture in the movies. Of course, if you believe many of my relatives who have become impossibly cynical to politics, this election is in fact a movie manufactured in the United States.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Gregg Easterbrook reports from an article in the journal of General Relativity and Gravitation: "3 trillion years from now, the universe will have expanded to such vastness, and its edges accelerated to such speeds, that an observer in our galaxy, the Milky Way, will not be able to see any other galaxy. At that far date, Krauss supposes, from the standpoint of the Milky Way, it would appear that our galaxy was all that existed. The ancient Greeks believed our galaxy was all that existed, so over the very long term, their view might come back into fashion!

Krauss further hypothesized that once the universe is so spread out the galaxies can't see each other, there no longer would be any evidence of the Big Bang. Humanity, Krauss contends, is fortunate to have popped up relatively early in the life span of the cosmos, which appears to be about 14 billion years old -- less than 1 percent of a 3-trillion-year period -- because the firmament is young enough to remain rich with clues as to how the heavens came into being. Think what might happen to an intelligent species arising 3 trillion years from now, Krauss continued. Able to perceive only its own galaxy, that species might not realize a larger universe exists, and might be perplexed about what force could have formed a single cluster of stars floating in an endless void. My speculation: The beings in this scenario would conclude that all existence was created for them personally, which is roughly what our ancestors believed."

Riyaad, you always say I give you nothing to talk about.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Unsurprisingly, Detroit is America's most miserable city according to Forbes magazine. (In case you're wondering, no, I don't subscribe to a news feed on Detroit.) I like to think that I've been to a few of the least desirable places on earth, including Detroit, Peshawar, and Scarborough. The second spot on that list goes to Flint, which doesn't have too much going for it these days aside from having the highest population of any American city with a monosyllabic name, hardly surprising. The third spot goes to New York City, naturally, because commutes are long and taxes are high. I was never one to equate paying a little more in tax and taking longer to get somewhere with the constant threat of having someone bust a cap in your black ass, but the folks at Forbes are free market fanatics, as Christopher Hume notes.

Hume's column is a little more detailed and it points out some of the ludicrous free market fetishism at Forbes. Taxes make France the most miserable place on earth and the UAE the happiest. The people of the United Arab Emirates might not be able to choose their government, have their human rights egregiously trampled upon and live in the same territory as the oil boom-funded madhouse that is Dubai, but at least they don't pay much in taxes.
It's not just spring training that warms my heart. The Boston Globe writes:

The six Patriots who played in the all-star game in 80-degree temperatures and on artificial turf that was hot to the touch were greeted with a surprisingly emphatic chorus of boos during introductions yesterday. Cornerback Asante Samuel, linebacker Mike Vrabel, nose tackle Vince Wilfork, center Dan Koppen, tackle Matt Light, and guard Logan Mankins followed a standard-bearer of the Patriots logo onto the field amid fireworks as the crowd erupted with the only negative greeting it accorded any of the game's participants.
The wind chill is -20 and there's a blizzard outside, but mark my words: spring is on the way. Pitchers and catchers report this week and Opening Day is just six weeks away. As I have done every year for the last 12, I will try and figure just how it is that the Jays can make the playoffs. The excuses have run thin in Toronto in recent years as we've realized that only a handful of teams have gone longer than we have without a playoff appearance. The Senators-Expos (1981), Brewers (1982), Royals (1985) and Pirates (1992) are the only teams with streaks longer than the Jays, who last made the playoffs in 1993. I'm glad that the Royals' streak is where it is because they knocked off the Jays in the 1985 ALCS.

It's hard to see that streak changing this year. The Jays have won 80 or more games in 8 of their last 10 seasons, but have also finished 3rd in 8 of the last 10 years. If they played in a different division, they would have gone to the playoffs at least once, and maybe even won it all given the vagaries of a playoff system. As it is, their road to the playoffs goes through the toughest division in baseball. The good news is that this team, at its best, is as good as any in the league. The forecast, therefore, is the same as always: the Jays can make it, but with some luck. The Cubs will be beginning their 100th season since their last World Series, the Jays their 15th. There's always hope and failing that, there's sunshine and seventh-inning pitching changes.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I hate to move on from the glorious Super Bowl, so I'll put up some pictures. These are the things that my phone has seen over the last few months, except for the first one.

Yes, that's Chairman Mao.

My boss and I met our match in an XXL jacket.

Seen in Toronto's Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood.

This is actually on Charles Street on the University of Toronto campus.

Remember that time I was interrogated?

Sign on the door of Hart House.

The U of T's new Varsity Centre is inside the bubble, as seen last Saturday.

A prescient drawing by a friend of a friend while watching the Super Bowl.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Wow. That was about the strangest thing I've ever seen in sports, and also one of the sweetest. This was a 7-3 game after three quarters, which was even more improbable than the Giants having won the Super Bowl. I certainly could have seen the Giants winning, though I didn't take them seriously in this game until they were 10 yards away from the endzone, but holding a team that scored almost 600 points in the regular season to just 7 for the first 57 minutes is unbelievable.

The Giants won this game by doing two very important things. First, they harassed, harangued, hurried and hit Tom Brady, each knockdown to the turf more delicious than the last. In all, they recorded five sacks, a monumental performance for a defensive line that was better than billed. A fumble ended one drive, while a boneheaded decision by Beelzebub, supposedly a genius coach, himself may well have lost the game for the Patriots. Facing fourth-and-13 at the Giants' 32, he arrogantly went for the score instead of attempting a field goal, eventually losing the game by 3.

Second, Eli Manning, after muddling his way through most of the game, engineering the most electric drive in football history since, well, The Drive. Let's recall this 12-play, 83-yard drive. Facing a third-and-10 from his own 28 at the 2-minute warning, it was fair to have discounted Manning. But he found Toomer for a 9-yard gain and then Brandon Jacobs ran for the first down on 4th-and-a-foot.

Then came arguably the most improbable play in a most improbable game: Manning dropped back, eluded a sack and fired a pass downfield, which a leaping David Tyree secured between his helmet and hand. On the next play, Manning was sacked, and the pass after was incomplete, bringing up the third 3rd-down of the drive. Manning then found Steve Smith, who made sure to get the first down. Then came the winning touchdown, which made me jump up and down, sprain a knee and hug complete strangers in ecstasy.

Plaxico Burress caught that touchdown, he of the 23-17 prediction, which made ladyboy pretty boy Tom Brady scoff: "we're only going to score 17 points?" It turned out Burress had been too generous to these paper tigers.

The Giants proved two maxims tonight. Three, actually: cheaters never win, winners never cheat, and all it takes for evil to be stopped is for good men to get pressure using just their front four. The humiliation of an 18-1 season like this couldn't have happened to a worse asshole than Bill Belichick, who might well have wore out his team by running up the score at every opportunity like a small child, and then tried to leave the field before the game ended.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Whoa. Darlene Jones teaches a black-centred math unit at a middle school near Jane and Steeles. It "has touched on the Rwandan genocide, racial profiling and Loyalist history". That's odd, since I doubt Poles find their heritage boosted by hearing about British history, but let's set that aside for now. The real kicker is that Jones claims "I have a wide range [of students of different descent]: Caribbean, African, Vietnamese, Pakistani - all equally engaged".

No way. I can't believe it. I can't do math without trying to calculate the base of the Minar-e-Pakistan or trying to calculate how long it takes a Ghauri-II missile to travel from Lahore to New Delhi. My ability to perform as a student is dependent on the place where my parents were born and the colour of my skin. I would founder in a curriculum that talks about nothing but a bunch of old, dead black guys and completely ignores the richness of Pakistani history and culture. You might think that when I was in middle school, I was interested in baseball, the Simpsons and other aspects of Western culture, but you couldn't be more wrong. The only way to have reached me at that age, and even now, is by appealing to things which happened centuries ago and 10,000 kilometres away.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Not since that long-ago day I discovered the Tard Blog have I laughed so hard at the Internet. I found a series of clips showing misspeaks by Emmitt Smith. Here are some gems:

"[The Patriots] go to Arizona sharp as a whistle"

Speaking about a game that, if the Giants won, would advance them to the Super Bowl: "If the Giants win today they possibly go onto the SuperBowl."

"They're going to be on the cover of Insane magazine", meaning Mad Magazine.

"[Adrian Peterson] is redefining the way teams defend the running ability."

Calling Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel "Romeo Cornell".

"You cannot change the stripes of a leopard."

And my personal favourite: "They are definitely a fortable opponent, now, so don't slip on the Texans."

It's amazing to think that this man actually has more education than me.
Here's the Associated Press giving a primer on Toronto to Americans:

The Bills proposed the plan at the NFL owners meetings in October as part of their desire to expand their market to Toronto, Canada's largest city and financial capital, and located about a 90-minute drive from Buffalo.

Under the team's proposal, the Bills would play some preseason games and one annual regular-season game at the downtown Rogers Centre -- a domed stadium with a retractable roof -- through 2012.

It all seems to check out, but they got the name of the SkyDome wrong.