Monday, March 31, 2008

There aren't many lists where Ethiopia, Kenya, Qatar and Eritrea find themselves at the top. Results at World Cross Country Championships, without doubt the most competitive races in the world, are like that. In the men's race today, Kenya placed 7 in the top 12 on its way to a rout of Ethiopia, which held off Qatar and Eritrea for second place. After that, we find Morocco and Uganda before coming to the United States. Also in the bottom half of the results are Spain, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and Canada. Unlike the time we lost to Angola in basketball, Canada's men beat Botswana (population 1.6 million, AIDS infection rate of 40%). Our women, however, were last of the 12 teams entered.

The first 18 men to finish were all born in Africa: 11 in Kenya, 4 in Ethiopia, 2 in Uganda and a lone Eritrean. All of the first 10 women were born in Africa. It has gotten to the point where most European countries don't bother sending teams and focus instead on the European championships. Maybe it has to do with race and maybe it has to do with money, but whatever the case, no country outside Africa is close to the African powers of Kenya, Ethiopia, Morocco and Kenya-B (Qatar) when it comes to distance-running.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

A long-running theme on this blog, which is now almost five years old, is mentioning my minor connection to local crimes. Tonight, it seems that this shut down northbound trains and kept me from this, which is where I was going originally. Austrian psychiatrist Victor Frankl wrote of the inevitability of death in the parable Death in Tehran. No matter where you go to escape death, the point is that you just might be rushing to meet death. The idea at work here seems to be Life in Toronto: no matter what you do, fate will keep you safe through subway delays.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

This seems like a ridiculous joke, but the baseball season starts in two days. Really. The Blue Jays don't play a home game for almost two weeks, by which time we might get normal January temperatures: Thursday has a forecast low of -10. I don't follow baseball as closely as football, certainly not the second half of the baseball season. Drama comes by harder in baseball than in football, which has been specifically engineered to be a highly unpredictable television product. Baseball can be accused of relying overly on what happened during Reconstruction and calling it tradition, but its drama is louder against a quieter backdrop. Each and every pitch can be a home run, let's not forget, such as this or this. Personally, I actually prefer a masterful pitching performance, especially when the strikeouts are replayed in quick session on highlight shows. Baseball doesn't have anything as primal as a good, solid hit on a quarterback, but it's very close.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

This is hilarious, not just because of the violent rape of logic we see in this video. How can one person be Muslim and go to a racist church? How can Obama be allied with Osama bin Laden and be gay? You really can't have it both ways, even though McBain once shot down some Commie Nazis. Whatever the truthiness of these claims may be, it makes sense to support whoever irks the semi-literate white trash who created and posted this video. Besides, I've always hoped for a Muslim in the White House. The guy who posted this video describes himself as "active duty military". I just hope he doesn't deal with anyone smart enough to know how many toes they have.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Hyperbole and myopia are nothing new to journalism, but this article in yesterday's London (Ontario) Free Press is a horrendous example. It also demonstrates how dramatically our conception of physical exertion has sunk. Never mind that the Free Press considers a healthy 58-year old man walking 40 minutes every day for 7 years to be newsworthy. Far more troubling is that he is described as "Obsessive. Compulsive. Maybe even crazy." There are people out there, strange people but people nonetheless, who have running streaks dating back almost four decades. There are probably at least one million people in the world who, out of necessity, walk more than 40 minutes a day and have been doing so for a very long time. The Tarahumara of northern Mexico can run over 100 km while chasing down dinner, and they don't need finisher's medals to make themselves feel better.

If less than an hour of daily low-intensity movement germane to our existence is considered newsworthy, we're in some serious trouble. Far more newsworthy, and just as alarming, is that Canadians watch a whopping 21 hours of television per week on average! That's a sixth of your waking life spent watching television! Most of these people, it's safe to say, also complain about not having enough time to do other things.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Alex complains that this space has become "dark and weird", a charge I wish to respond to by pointing out that, one day, our aging sun will become 256 times bigger and 2,730 times brighter. This, of course is bad news for our humble blue-green planet. In this edition of Ask a Science Student, we will discuss an upcoming article in the Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society, according to which Earth will be consumed by this out-of-control sun, but not for another 7 billion years or so. Fortunately, most of us will be dead by then, except for those who restrict their caloric intake and eat (or restrict, depending on what's fashionable) their anti-oxidants. I now turn over the keyboard to Riyaad to comment on this topic and to answer your questions.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

If you're a regular reader or acquaintance, watch your back, not to mention your flanks and your front. I'm seeing people go down right and left. I was walking down Bloor Street when I saw a cyclist, legs still on the pedals, lying in the street with a car a few metres away. He was being attended to by about three passers-by, one of whom was on a phone, presumably with 911. He wasn't moving, but I didn't see any blood or read about it later, so I think it's safe to say that he made it. The moral of this story is that if you're going to get hit by a car anywhere in this city, or anywhere in the world for that matter, do it in the Annex.

A couple of kilometres down the street at Christie, I told Siqi about what I saw earlier. Our conversation kept being interrupted by sirens, which really annoyed me. He told me that he'd once walked onto the scene of a death. Reassuringly, it was an accident in China. I walked down into Christie station to see three laughing paramedics figure out how to get a stretcher down a pair of escalators. I beat them to the platform and saw a group of police officers standing around a body. It was the first time I'd ever been in "a medical emergency onboard a train" situation, dispelling my belief that all such "medical emergencies" are really just suicide attempts. After maybe ten tense minutes, the body was put on a stretcher and we all got on the train and tried to forget what we'd seen.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

This is the sort of thing I might have done in high school to amuse myself. A part of me is astonished, and the part still stuck in high school envious, that someone can produce a complete fabrication and slip it past so many people. I was pretty good at getting people to believe odd things about myself even briefly, such as my time in the military. I can't believe how someone who has a few years to get to know another person, as was the case with Seltzer's editor, can be so completely fooled. Lying about important things isn't impossible to do even for a very long period of time, evident from former Canadiens general manager Jacque Demer's ability to hide his illiteracy. It's more remarkable to lie so completely when purportedly telling your life story in such detail. I now wonder how many of you are completely lying to me about very basic facts about your life.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The most compelling thing I read last week was Peter Cheney's lengthy account of the Britney Spears microeconomy in Saturday's Globe and Mail. It's obvious that Spears has profited immensely from being one of the most famous people in the world for the last decade, and that this is in large part due to an army of photographers that track her every move. As her life unravels with all the spectacle of her rise from white trash origins in Kentwood, Louisiana, the result is that a battalion of poor, unskilled men have gone to Los Angeles to get rich by photographing her.

There's a lot that can be said about the shrewdness of those who get rich by snapping pictures of an untalented hack getting a haircut, and the mild retardation of those who find themselves so interested that they pay money. Evidence of the former: a 15-year-old made $2,000 in one week from a few pictures he took of Spears. Evidence of the latter: as Spears' life became an unmitigated disaster last year, circulation at tabloid magazines US Weekly and OK! rose substantially. Portfolio Magazine reports that though Britney Spears generated $120 million for the US economy last year. The Britney Spears economy, not a microeconomy at all, is the size of Oklahoma's and would rank 30th among US states.

The stupendously vacuous nature of Western culture with respect to celebrity worship isn't a surprise to anyone, but I think it's amazing that Britney Spears shaving her head was "a moment that the paparazzi consider the equivalent of the JFK assassination in terms of its news value", and that an exclusive image of this would have sold for well over $1 million. It's not simply that we have a lot of money to spend on stupid things, like $4 billion on iPods in the last quarter or $45 million dollars over six years on defensive end Justin Smith, the latter working out to about a half million dollars per football game. Capitalism is bound to produce all sorts of absurdities and oddities because people are willing to pay a lot of money for a product or service. What's most unfortunate is that a lot of people are willing to pay a lot of money for a picture of someone really, really famous going about their daily business.

What struck me most, however, was the sheer insanity of Spears' life, one part her fault and one part that of paparazzi, which does not seem real at all. Mad car chases between up to 50 cars with extra horsepower specifically for the purpose are so common in Los Angeles that a proposed "Britney bill" would restrict this. Even ordinary people are savvy enough to charge $100 for access to an apartment that offers a good vantage point of Spears leaving a dance studio. Most alarming of all is what one paparazzi says: "this business is a runaway train. It's huge, and it's only going to get bigger."

Saturday, March 01, 2008

I'll post one more video. This is the latest ad produced by the Hilary Clinton campaign, looking like satire from the Simpsons:

Here's a second, even funnier version of that ad.