Monday, November 30, 2009

When Gatorade chokes, what will you wash it down with?

As I train for my fifth marathon, it's as true as it ever was that I hate the long run. One of the staple workouts for a runner is to have one run that's longer than the others, with the goal of building endurance. If speed workouts push your physical limits, long runs really just test how long you'd last in some kind of soft torture experiment where they repeatedly play the start of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony but leave out the last note. It's especially bad living in the suburbs, where I do get quiet places to run through, but gray skies, brown subdivisions and green grass all kind of blend in after a while.

This, of course, is a problem if you want to run a marathon, since a marathon is a very long run that is the culmination of at least a dozen long runs in different kinds of bad Toronto weather (hot and humid, cold and windy, cold and slushy). Whenever I seek illumination on a topic, I look to my dad ("you should really keep these things to five minutes, that's plenty") and then Aristotle.

On this topic, as with all others, Aristotle would look at the received views (i.e. modern physiology) on this topic, then maybe what the poets said, and then conclude that the virtuous long run is the sort of long run that the virtuous runner does. Somewhat less facetiously, I suppose I'd be classified as the incontinent runner, in the dated and philosophical sense as opposed to the literal sense, even after nine years.

The analogy that Aristotle makes is with water. "When water chokes, what will you wash it down with?" he asks. A runner that knows long runs are good for them but can't manage to do them is in a bad state. She knows what to do but can't manage to do it, so she can't be saved by reasoning. She is, effectively, choking on the water. The runner that doesn't know long runs are good for him is better off because someone can tell him that they are, and he'll quit working on his 40-yard dash every Sunday.

To complicate matters, it's not that I know long runs are good for me and don't do them. It's that I do them but hate them, which means that the choking-on-water analogy doesn't imply. I'm actually a less-than-virtuous runner, not in the least because I don't report the dead bodies I find when I run.

Now that I've deftly alienated anyone who might possibly entertain the idea of reading this blog, next time I'll offer up an Aristotelian training plan for those of you that virtuously want to run your best marathon.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The high cost of football

The first time I ever went to a football game was to watch the Detroit Lions, then flying high, at home. The crowd roared so loud on third downs that I couldn't hear someone screaming in my ear. Ford Field would be a great stadium if there was something even half-decent to watch. The way the crowd cheered, however, was different from the way I'd always imagined games, because you're not really cheering for a long touchdown pass as much as you are a good hit and some violence.

It's tempting to say, then, that we have some culpability in the way players, especially professionals, do serious, lasting damage to their bodies from playing the game. But, that's ridiculous, because while our money makes players very rich, they're consenting adults, not to mention highly competitive athletes, who long ago decided that the set of physical problems resulting from football is outweighed by the benefits.

With concussions, that argument doesn't quite hold, because decisions are made from a state of ignorance. Ben Roethlisberger will play this week after suffering a concussion last week. This entry at the New York Times' Fifth Down blog questions that one week is enough to return from a concussion, even though Roethlisberger says he feels fine. There's obviously no shortage of athletes in a variety of sports that retired due to concussions, but the more that's known about concussions, the less it makes sense for someone to return in just a week, never mind on the same day, as is commonly the case.

I started writing this post last night, and as I came back to finish it, I read that Roethlisberger will not play tomorrow due to the concussion. A good analogy to concussions is with smoking. Though the dots can be connected, in practice, concussions aren't treated nearly as serious as they are. By the time the NFL accepts what it does is wrong and changes its practices, we'll still have generations of athletes who are irreparably damaged.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Something controversial

The stakes are small and tensions therefore high at the Sonagi Consortium

Friday, November 27, 2009

The ultimate inf-ing

When I was in high school, I really enjoyed urban exploration. I made it to the otherworldly areas of Union Station, a few abandoned factories and some interesting places in the Toronto subway. Eventually I stopped because the people I met were really strange and the July 7, 2005 London subway bombings made it strange for someone of Pakistani descent to be hanging around places he shouldn't be.

Sites of interest on the Urban Exploration Resource website were catalogued by difficulty and what's worth seeing inside. Getting in, or infiltrating (a lot of the people doing this really just pretend to be spies), is commonly known as "infing". There have been some great infiltrations in history, going back to the Greeks at Troy, and the latest achievement in this field came from a Virginia couple with the dirty, dirty Arab name Salahi.

Not only did the Salahis make into a dinner party for Indian prime minister Manmohan Singh with 300 guests, but the Secret Service didn't even realize it. They only realized their lapse when they boasted about their feat online, which alerted the media, who asked the appropriate questions. In security terms, it's a non-issue because according to the article, the Salahis went through the same security check as everybody else there.

What makes it amazing, of course, is that they managed to get into a dinner party at the White House with some very famous people (Katie Couric, as well as Joe Biden and Barack Obama), presumably without no more reason to be there than you or me. There's a possibility that someone let them in, which also undid the Great Wall of China, but the possibility of a payoff is very low at the White House in comparison to the Great Wall. It's also the sort of thing that happens in 24: in the last season, terrorists infiltrated the White House and took the president hostage, entering from the basement, where a bookshelf hid a giant hole in the wall.

The key to these situations is to always act like you belong. Of course, it helps to look the part by dressing appropriately and inconspicuously. I found that a sullen look, the kind that expressed dismay at having to go to my office at Union Station on a Saturday after already having worked Monday to Friday, carried me around its interior without any problems. A good back story, white skin and pretending not to speak English are also helpful. I had two of those three.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Anything I can do he can do better

Read about a Vienna-Pyongyang train trip at the Sonagi Consortium.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What a Sunday

On paper, the Lions-Browns Zero Bowl yesterday was a terrible match-up of 1-8 teams. It turned out to be a 38-37 Lions win where the Browns blew a 24-3 first half lead and the two teams combined for over 900 yards of offense. I'm lucky that I was able to watch the end of the game live, which had this bizarre sequence of plays. If you haven't heard about it for some reason, it went like this:

Detroit had the ball at the Cleveland 32 with 8 seconds left, quarterback Matthew Stafford rolled left to avoid a sack, rolled right, and threw a pass that was intercepted. But, Browns defensive back Hank Poteat tackled a receiver as the pass was thrown, so the game could not end even though there was no time left. Since the call was in the endzone, the Lions got the ball at the 1-yard line. But, in a break for the Browns, Stafford was hurt on the play. In came Daunte Culpepper, who had no time to warmup. With only one chance to get it right, the odds probably favoured the Browns. That's why it made no sense for the Browns to call a timeout and get their bearings, which allowed an injured Stafford to return and throw his fifth touchdown pass for a 38-37 win.

This came just after fellow bottom-dwellers upended the Super Bowl champion Steelers 27-24 in overtime. A third upset came in the Bengals-Raiders game, which was no surprise. Cincinnati got to the Raiders' 1, 13, and 9 in the second half and got three points. With a few minutes left, the Raiders were down 24-17 and tied the game with about 30 seconds left. The Bengals fumbled the kickoff and the Raiders kicked a field goal to win the game 27-24.

Elsewhere in the NFL, the Broncos completed the not-so-astonishing collapse I predicted a long time ago, handing over the division title to the Chargers with their fourth straight loss. This led Yahoo! Sports to write this on their website: "The Broncos once stood firm among title contenders. Now, they're trying to avoid a total collapse." Only the sort of halfwits that write for Yahoo! considered a 6-0 start by the Broncos to be legitimate.

In effect, this allowed Yahoo! to create a story where there was none, and the hype they produced allowed them to create a second story about going from being "among title contenders" to a "total collapse". That the people who talk about football professionally don't really know what they''re talking about. They predict the outcomes of games with accuracy worse than a coin toss, and when talking about football, try and offer up nonsensical cliches. The person with the loudest voice wins in these competitions.

Consider that a lot of analysts railed on the Jaguars' Maurice Jones-Drew for intentionally not scoring a touchdown late in last week's game against the Jets. Instead, he knelt at the 1-yard line and the Jaguars ran out the clock and actually kicked a field goal. A touchdown would have given the ball back to the Jets with almost two minutes left in the game. This sort of strategic thinking isn't what professional analysts talk about, so they kept yelling "you can't take points off the board". Also, you need to be able to run the football and stop the run in the playoffs. If you can't do that, you won't win the Super Bowl. If you're going to run the ball, it's best to run straight ahead for two yards at a time because then big men hit each other and it gets the testosterone flowing for everybody involved.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sonagi Consortium: no, I don't know what it means either

I've had this blog for almost 7 years, and in that time, I've been remarkably faithful to this blog aside from a sparsely-kept Livejournal, under the name eazy3, in which I poured out the more volatile contents of my heart. There was also an attempted foray into a Korean-language version of And with your help I'll get that chicken, tentatively titled Dangshin-eui dowa isseu-myeon, jae-ga geu dalk-eul chajeo geosimnida.

However, thanks to the frighteningly authoritarian policies of the Korean government, more or less the equivalent of the US government requiring Blogger to have a US social security number from all its users, it never got off the ground. The proposed Urdu-language version, Aap ki madad kai sath, is murghi ko pakar loon ga, also never worked out.

Anyway, I am now posting on another blog, set up by the relentless Kushibo (goo-sheeb-oh), which deals with Korean or East Asian topics. If, for some reason, you would like to read it, you can find it here. You can find my first post, about the coal furnace-intensity of Korean life, here.

I'm worst at what I do best

The road from Shanghai to London goes through some areas where nobody even knows what Europe is, and everyone looks like an extra out of Borat or the subject some sad documentary. In those places, I would tell people where I was going and where I'd been, and they'd give me a look not of awe, but of fatigue. Plowing forward day after day on dirt roads for up to 15 hours takes a motivation that is blind to comfort or the benefits of spending more than a few days in one place.

As much as my fascination with cartography drove me to complete the trip, part of my desire to travel comes from the fact that I went about 12 years without leaving this province. Admittedly, it's a big province, big enough to be the 29th-biggest country in the world, but it's not like I spent that time shuttling around to meet Claude, Manon or Francois in Abitibi-Temiscamingue, though I'm sure they all have nice teeth (yes, I'm aware that's in Quebec).

Traveling is another one of those things that I started doing because I was really bad at it. My proficiency at writing, insults and running also comes from not being naturally gifted at it, but from embarrassment at being really bad at it. I was never really a bad writer, but English is not my native language, and it was never a strength of mine until I started reading (and mimicking) the newspaper and posting on message boards in middle school. Also in middle school, I learned the skill of making fun of others since, well, there's a lot about me to make fun of. When I first started running, I was slower than all of the nearly 100 kids on the cross country team, both boys and girls, asthmatics and non-asthmatics, the gimpy and the non-gimpy. It was doubly unfortunate since I didn't exactly have the excuse of being fat to fall back on.

Running is somewhat different from the others in that I didn't want to be good at it because I was so bad. I wanted to be good at it because everybody else I knew was good at it. In typical Adeel fashion, though, I took all these things to the sort of extreme I did when I continue to beat my brother at years-old video games. It took me about 5-6 years to be better than most of the kids on my high school cross country team, which is unfortunate since by then I was almost finished university and most of them had long stopped running.

What I admire are people that don't know the sort of things that they should know and can plainly ask for help. That sort of unvarnished desire to know without concern for how the question will be taken is hard to come by. I tutor a person in written English who today asked me for recommendations in music so that she could judge it and find some that she liked. I have Korean friends who have asked me how to say all sorts of plain, everyday words in English. A dictionary would do the job just as well, but using a dictionary in private also hides your ignorance.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Nothing lasts forever, except the cold November rain

I hate running in the rain, but I love running in mud. As a sidebar, I'm not alone as someone who hates to run in the rain. So when I left for a run yesterday afternoon, I was only doing it with the intention of heading for the grass and dirt trails near my house. It was almost sunset, which was a problem because the trail runs through a vast arboretum that separates Humber College and Woodbine mall. Often at dusk or in the dark, I've been running there and almost tackled some unsuspecting student or shopper.

What I like about running on the trails in the dark is that the deer living in the arboretum come out. Sometimes I spot them in the distance thanks to their unmistakable silhouettes and other times I run right by them and ruin their meal, though nothing beats the time I ran laps of a rugby field while a deer stood in the dead centre, rotating to watch me like an organic sundial. These days I think about the deer more than usual thanks to this story (as though OFSAA needed to get any tougher).

Yesterday I was hoping to see some deer quietly eating in the dark while I ran muddy, hilly repeats, but there was no such luck. I've been told I sound twice as big when I run, so maybe that's what chased them away. Or maybe there were just in their usual spot on the edge of the forest at the basketball courts, possibly attracted by the blinding Esso in the distance that lights up an otherwise dark sky. I ran in the mud until I had to concede that one of the hills on the loop I like to run was simply too slippery to run at anything other than a jog and then I emerged into the rush hour traffic to rejoin humanity.

Whenever I run, I spot people that look weird, such as the sort of person that stands in a gazebo in the middle of nowhere for a brief smoke break, or the kind that hangs around in the bushes after dark. The reality is sadly that I look weirder to an impartial observer, especially to the impartial observers in that area, where runners are rare. Coming across another person in situations where the last thing you'd expect to see is a human being is a lot like coming across a bear. Each party is scared of the other, who they consider to be a violent predator, but really it's all just a misunderstanding.

Snow sculptures in China

This month, the Chinese government's weather manipulation seems to have resulted in freak snowstorms across northern China, including Beijing. The Chinese Internet is as vast as it is Chinese, with more users than the US or Europe. The same website that brought us this essay also brings us these images from the snowstorm.

I don't know if all of them are real or from the past week or two, but if they are, it's unbelievable.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pizza is also Italian and greasy

It doesn't happen often, but there are times the Toronto Transit Commission simply shines (other times it simply shuts down). Every Wednesday, you can buy extraordinarily plain rectangles of pizza, of varying sizes and freshness, for a dollar each. There's nothing really remarkable about Pizza Pizza pizza itself (real slogan: "Ontario's #1 pizza!") aside from the lexical ambiguity it produces, but the situation together is interesting.

The TTC is harshly criticized by the sort of half-wits that troll the comments sections of newspaper websites and, sometimes, if they get their act together and write in sentence form without the excessive use of ellipses and mistyped exclamation marks as "1", also the letters section of lesser newspapers. Most of the complaints are that TTC workers are paid too much for too little work, which surprises me because TTC employees tend to wear ties, and no one ever considers anybody wearing a tie to be overpaid. Unionized workers are really no different from other workers in that they are paid what someone is willing to pay them, otherwise BSWs would make a lot more than MBAs.

Anyway, not all TTC employees look like burly teamsters, but a large number do. Fortunately, it's the large, burly Teamster types that stand around selling pizza. Presumably, these people aren't paid to sell pizza since the proceeds from the pizza go to charity, but I'm not entirely sure. Nothing warms your heart like gruff, burly men who typically have a union mandate to not even look at you selling you cheap pizza. This works even in that unsavoury ring of outer suburbs that make up Toronto's banlieue, places like Wilson station, where a sign still informs you that the stairs only go up to buses on the "upper and lower level only".

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Twirling, twirling towards freedom and the future

Since I came home, I have begun a relentless, inexorable march towards the 20th and 21st centuries. I have learned to operate our two-remote television, as well as the PlayStation to which it is attached. I learned to use a scanner, bank online, consolidated my ability to use a fax machine and learned to use a drip coffeemaker. I have started to use tags on my blog, got a Gmail account, started subscribing to blog feeds instead of just checking the blogs I like incessantly, and I even started listening to podcasts.

Online banking was one of those things I resisted for a very long time for reasons I can't quite remember, though they probably centre on not being able to acquire the service without having to get up and get my bank card, or maybe I had to make a phone call. Previously I used to pay bills at bank machines, but when I moved to Korea, that meant having to call Royal Bank's toll-free service located in New Brunswick, where I always spoke to somebody who answered in French first and English second, and sheepishly requested English service. Since I didn't get any credit card statements, I just tried to overestimate how much I had to pay, and this once meant paying a $400 to cover a $91 Visa bill until I was gently persuaded to relent.

When I gradually turned my life over to Google, I stopped clicking randomly on blog links and now receive an avalanche of interesting articles from Slate, the Atlantic, several blogs I enjoy reading, as well as a set of heavily liberal, heavily politicized blogs that breathlessly report in nearly identical words every time Sarah Palin so much as flinches. Not since I discovered news on the Internet about ten years ago have I experienced such a revulsion for information.

On the whole, I suppose this reads like the ethereal ruminations of a bumpkin using an escalator for the first time, a deaf man who thinks the world with sound is too noisy, and those two old men on TD Canada Trust ads griping about mobile mortgages, all rolled into one. And it should. I like to think I'm pretty adaptable, and I probably am, but I tend to adapt nicely to bad situations like a mouse living on subway tracks, instead of making even a slight effort to create a better situation.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

In defense of the devil himself

Last night's Colts-Patriots football game had it all: a good football game, a Patriots loss, a Peyton Manning win and the meeting of football and statistics. If you haven't heard about it yet, up 34-28 at their own 28 with two minutes left, the Patriots went for it and failed. The Colts promptly scored in four slow plays that took left 13 seconds on the clock, winning 35-34.

Most people on TV, including the announcers, roundly bashed Bill Belichick for the call, but was it really that bad? This New York Times blog argues that going for it on fourth down gave the Patriots a marginally higher chance of winning. Most conventionalists argue that the Patriots should have punted because it's what teams do. The conversion, however, would have ensured victory. A failed conversion, which is not as likely because the Patriots averaged close to 7 yards on every play, still left the Colts with 30 yards to go.

A punt offered none of the chances of ensuring victory, but offered the same problem as a failed conversion, that of stopping the Colts. I think Burke's numbers at the New York Times blog are off because they really prove that if the Patriots had about 100 chances to run that play, they would have won 56 times. Belichick is paid, however, for situational judgment. The probability of winning by going for it on fourth down last night has to do with the players involved on both teams and how they match up against each other.

Peter King at Sports Illustrated, who I enjoy reading even though he usually abstains from the sort of higher-level thinking that shows going for it on foruth down is usually a good idea, had a better analysis, which shows why turning sports over to statheads isn't a good idea.

Let's place the odds of Brady getting two yards at 60, 65 percent. The odds of Manning going 72 yards to score a touchdown in less than two minutes ... that's maybe 35 percent.

You might say Manning's chance of taking his team 72 yards are better than 35 percent. Not sure I would. On his previous seven possessions, covering about 30 minutes of game time, Manning had done the following:

· Six plays, 79 yards, touchdown.

· One play, zero yards, interception.

· Five plays, 79 yards, touchdown.

· Six plays, 16 yards, punt.

· Four plays, 24 yards, interception.

· Five plays, 16 yards, punt.

· Three plays, no yards, punt.

Three punts, two interceptions, two touchdowns. Now, maybe Belichick thought his defense was tired. Maybe he feared Manning. Maybe he trusted Brady. Whatever, the faulty logic here is that Manning was a sure thing to ram it down the Patriots' throats. Yes, he'd just done that, but on the series previous to that one he'd thrown a interception, his second of the night. So if the theory was Manning was going to score for sure, I don't buy it.

It's still hard to argue with Burke's numbers. There was a 60 percent chance that going for it would have won the game, and a 50 percent chance that a failure would not have resulted in a touchdown.

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.53)) = 0.79 WP (WP stands for win probability)

Personally, I'd give Manning an 80 percent chance of scoring from the Patriots' 30. That gives us:

(0.60 * 1) + (0.40 * (1-0.80)) = 0.68

The Colts had a 30-35% chance of scoring from their own 30, so a punt has a 65-70% chance of leading to victory, making it roughly the same as going for it and failing even if you believe that the Colts had an 80% of chance of scoring. The obvious point to be made is that there was a 60% of a certain victory by going for it, which is what Belichick was going for. I do have to admit that I don't understand the significance of a 2 or 10% increase in win probability, which I can't understand in football terms (eg is 2% like an 8-yard pass or a 28-yard pass?).

When people say things like "you should make the Colts go the length of the field", the unexpressed idea is that you should be beaten by someone else, not yourself. If the odds are equal, which they more or less were, and Peyton Manning beats you, you can say that Peyton Manning beat you and not feel bad. If, given the same odds, you lose because of your own mistake, somehow it seems worse. This mentality of failure by distance probably explains why university students never try as hard as they could. If they did, they might find out that they're not very good. It's better for the minds of many to keep failures obscured by various outside factors and events.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

"Western boys are all very excellent"

There are a lot of things you could say about this essay by a Chinese university student on the kind of man she wants, but what jump out at me are the things which make China so interesting (parentheticaly, I think Jiaotong University translates as Traffic University, any help?). To me, it combines the relentless, hard-headed practicality of much of China with the sort of naivete that James Fallows describes here. The rest of the world might be concerned with religion, traditional cultural practices, democracy and so on, but a large portion of China only cares about money. This is evident in the bargain that the Chinese have made with their government: they will agree to be repressed socially and politically, so long as living standards keep rising dramatically.

Social liberality is roughly commensurate with economic prosperity, for whatever reason. The countries that are the most accepting of a variety of life choices tend to be the richest ones. China is one place that undercuts this. The number of young Chinese that live together without being married is far higher than in a far more developed country like Korea and I would venture to guess, without any knowledge, also Japan. The personal ads that are described in this book, probably the best description of life in modern China, could just as easily be interpreted as real estate ads. Both men and women devote equal attention to the size of the apartments, appliances, furniture, as well as personality traits.

Sixty years of communism and the ravages of the Cultural Revolution have allowed China to be far more egalitarian in its personal relations than its comparable neighbours in Korea and Japan, which are still remarkably hierarchical. This allows problems and ideas to be considered with the sort of naked, unadorned logic that is otherwise largely the domain of philosophy majors and the socially inept. This produces, at least in the cities, a sharp, astute population that is both unconcerned with and unwilling to consider what the rest of the world thinks. Consider, for example, the Chinese position on Tibet. China brought schools, roads, hospitals and a host of modern amenities to Tibet. Why, then, the acrimony?

The naked, socially inept logic is what leads to arguments of the sort they hurled at Barack Obama. Obama is black and though he is not the descendant of slaves, most American blacks are, so he must appreciate the importance of emancipation from slavery. Many Tibetans lived in slavery before the communist era, when they were emancipated, so if Obama is in favour of the Tibetan camp, he is unappreciative of what China did for Tibet. The merits of the argument are largely irrelevant. China is very good at not saying anything about so much, it could easily refuse to discuss Tibet and Taiwan the way it ignores the third of its Big T's, the Tiananmen Square massacre. That would likely be a more fruitful approach than this embarrassment.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Hair today, Dunkin' Donuts tomorrow

One of the best things about Korea, and one of the worst things about Canada, is the speed of construction. There's an escalator at King station in Toronto that has been out of service since May and, when I last saw the sign in October, was expected to be in service by November. That means it takes, for whatever reason, six months to repair an escalator. That's a bad sign if we're going to build 120 km of track by 2020, considering that it takes a decade just to produce a measly extension of a subway line.

The most amazing example of Korean construction was the Dunkin' Donuts by my old school. It took, by my estimate, no more than two weeks for a functioning pharmacy to become a functioning Dunkin' Donuts. When I saw the sign that said Dunkin' Donuts over the closed pharmacy, I thought that I would probably be able to go there in three months. Construction was quick, but I didn't think much of it, living in Canada had taught me some cruel lessons about what to expect.

Now, there's a Korean church by my house that, for a decade, was nothing but a sign that said "future site of the Light Korean Presbyterian Church". Aside from the curious choice in name, which makes it sound like either fat Koreans will not be allowed or that the Presbyterianism is lightweight, I can only assume that they lacked the money for a long time to build the church. Once they started building it, I thought the process went by pretty fast.

Then again, having worked at a Korean company, I'm glad to be a lazy foreigner. The school's owner was there from about 8 am to 8 am Monday to Friday, and was often there on Saturdays as well. The Korean staff worked 8-6 Monday to Friday for less pay than us, and didn't have the option of refusing extra work because, unlike foreigners, they don't really exist as individuals. The same drive that gets Dunkin' Donuts built in ten days gets you a week of vacation at many companies, which you often can't use at once. I'd rather live in a country where the minimum wage is more than $4 an hour, where you don't have to ask your boss permission to go home, and where more than 40% of people are happy with their lives.

Now, that graph measures subjective well-being, which news articles turned into articles about the "world's happiest countries". This would be a good time to break out your Aristotle and see why this is a bad idea.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Fish don't fry in the kitchen, beans don't burn in the grill

It took a whole lot of trying, but we in Toronto will reach the big leagues when our subway fares hit $3 for a single cash fare on January 3. As this demonstrates, we will finally have world-class transit fares. Three dollars seems absurd, but I remember paying 320 yen (about $3.75) when I had the misfortune of switching from one company's subway lines to another in Tokyo and about $3 for single rides in Paris and Vienna. I got to pay 50 cents in Beijing and Shanghai, but as I commented on the linked post, 50 cents to a Beijinger is $4 to a Torontonian.

Still, if people think wine tastes better when told it costs more and if The Phoenician (really it should be The Scottsdalian of Scottsdale, Arizona) charges $6 for a bowl of Froot Loops, maybe the key to all our problems is to make everything really expensive. This is also the prevailing attitude in London, or at least that's the only rationalization I came up with for why all the prices are doubled, in addition to the exchange rate being doubled.

The urge for many is to write an angry post denouncing the poor public transit in Toronto, as though traffic, crowding and imperfect service are uniquely Torontonian qualities. Yes, mass transit is far superior in places like New York, Hong Kong, Paris or Tokyo, but each of those cities has a population roughly equal to that of Ontario, or Canada in the case of Tokyo. With Toronto, appropriate comparisons are with cities like Chicago, Vienna, or Rome. The systems of Berlin and Madrid are far superior for cities of a comparable size. Reading this list, you can amuse yourself with knowledge of the world's lesser-used subway systems like Detroit, Ottawa or Yerevan (still the largest system in all of Armenia).

What does make Toronto's system something of an embarrassing anomaly is that though we look down our noses at supposedly crumbling, underfunded American cities, our various governments have little to no interest in funding the TTC, which is extraordinarily dependent on passengers for its revenue. The transit strike being proposed for November 13 is the latest in a long line of endeavours aiming to convey frustration through abstention. We've seen it with gas, Facebook, the Cleveland Browns, and so on.

The better idea would be what these Redskins fans are planning, or still more constructive, elect politicians with a commitment to funding public transit. That presumes, of course, that you yourself actually care about public transit and don't just emerge every now and then to bash the TTC as a backronym for Take The Car. We do have seven new light rail lines supposedly coming by 2020, but given that the 8 km York University subway extension was approved in 2005 for service in 2015, I might be dead before we complete 120 km of light rail lines.

By the way, if you understood the title and first sentence of this post, you have horrible taste in music. Here is your reward.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

San Diego, super-charged

Watching the Chargers pull out a 21-20 win over the Giants was watching the Chargers do what they do. This year's 2-3 start was a blessing compared to last year's 4-8 and the year before that they started 1-3. The game was very exciting. Up 17-4, the Giants had first-and-goal at the Chargers' 4 with 3 minutes left. They muffed it up and kicked a field goal on fourth down making it 20-14. Going for it on fourth down would have either sealed the game or given the Chargers 96 yards to go in two minutes.

A Chargers field goal after a failed fourth-down conversion would have only tied the game and a touchdown would have won. But a touchdown would have also won against a 20-14 lead, as was the case. Given the choice between a certain victory and a 96-yard field, I think the Giants should have gone for it. If nothing else, fourth down conversions are entertaining. Nobody wants to watch a bunch of wusses play, and wusses tend not to win.

Elsewhere in football, the Saints turned another rout into a decisive victory won going away. Down 14-0 and 17-6 at halftime, New Orleans tied the game 20-20 at the end of the third quarter, kicked a field goal late in the fourth quarter. That must have scared the Panthers so much that a few minutes later, running back DeAngelo Williams simply dropped the ball at his own 1 or 2 yard line. The Saints recovered and nonchalantly strolled into the endzone for a 30-20 win. This was similar to a 24-3 deficit two weeks ago that became a 48-34 win. What has made their last three wins so impressive is that the back-breaking points at the end were scored on defensive touchdowns.

With the best game of the week still to come in a few hours, between the 5-2 Steelers and 6-1 Broncos, it's safe to say that this was the best week of football in a while. There were a number of exciting games, although they were between good or average teams, like the Cowboys-Eagles, Colts-Texans, and Giants-Chargers. There are still two 8-0 teams, one 7-1 team and after tonight, another four teams with at least 6 wins. Compare that with five 1-7 teams.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Sunshine in the centre of the universe

I enjoy Toronto most on cold Sunday mornings. I don't know why, but the city seems to be at its best and is most interesting on Sundays. If you trace Toronto's history as a sleepy Protestant city where the subway still doesn't start until 9 on Sundays, you get a good taste of old Toronto on Sunday mornings. When the weather is cold, the streets are empty and shops closed except for Tim Hortons, you're getting the full Toronto experience.

In all honesty, it's the full Toronto experience because I often end up running on Sunday mornings for up to 30 km, meaning that I see a lot of Toronto. If it was my habit to engage in low-speed sightseeing tours of Toronto on humid, smoggy Wednesday afternoons, I might feel the same way about those sweltering afternoons, you could argue.

Humid, smoggy summer afternoons do express the fact that Toronto has one of the most miserable combinations of weather anywhere in the world. They don't quite express Toronto's past as a quiet native settlement and then Canada's straight-laced second city that unexpectedly became the centre of the known universe when the first city imploded. Cold Sunday mornings are more fitting than warm ones because cold ones make the streets seem even deader than they are.

Much is made in Toronto of whether or not this is a world-class city, a term that's as nebulous as "a pile of stones". It's not a city without its flaws, but I'm constantly amazed at how many people I've met that have a familiarity with Toronto: a Great Wall bus tour, an LG Twins baseball game in Seoul, an Australian traveling in Paris, a museum guard in Istanbul, and so on. That's largely due to Toronto's status as a magnet for immigrants, you could say, but clearly Toronto has made a name for it that goes beyond its comparatively small size.

Cold mornings in a city that takes its staid Sundays seriously is interesting because Toronto is otherwise a maddening potpourri of architecture, people, ideas and cultures. A good way to see this is to stand at the corner of Dundas and McCaul. The view south is jam-packed with towering monuments to bizarre architecture: the comparatively normal Art Gallery of Ontario is in front, just behind it is the table-top OCAD building, and in the distance is the CN Tower. You're standing just east of Chinatown, but west of the hospital district (official name: Discovery District), south of the university and north of whatever it is that you call Queen Street.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Bachmann turning in overdrive

Guy Fawkes Day is probably a bad time to declare an insurgency, but that's what Michele Bachmann did. Bachmann is a member of the American House of Representatives and she sent Rush Limbaugh an email entitled "Insurgency in Congress". This insurgency was planned for Thursday, November 5, with the aim of maintaining America's status as the only developed country without national health insurance. In addition to the frightening title of the email, Bachmann wrote:

"If real freedom-loving Americans come to Washington and walk up and down the halls of the office buildings and the capitol tracking down congressmen, looking them in the whites of their eyes and getting them on videotape, then I think we can kill this thing. If we can kill health care this week in the House, I think we will kill it for the next ten years. We have Jon Voight and Mark Levin confirmed, also Betsy McCaughey. We'll have a meet-up at the Capitol steps and then the insurgency begins. It's a big task, but it's the best way to really kill the bill, which is our goal."

Bachmann is, of course, no stranger to lunacy. In the past, she has called for an investigation of anti-American activities from left-wing liberals in Congress, refused to fill out the census form because that's how the Japanese were sent to internment camps, and rambled incoherently about the benefits of carbon dioxide.

Once again, I call for Chairman Mao on the US dollar bill by 2030. 毛主席是我们心中的红太阳!

Friday, November 06, 2009

I put nothing but grapefruit juice in my car

This year, I had the misfortune of spending some time in close proximity with a former co-worker who was both an idiot and a person of epic proportions. One day she boomed, to anyone who could hear, that she was going to cleanse her body of "poisonous toxins". I asked her if there was such a thing as non-poisonous toxins, but she didn't understand the question. There are lots of people like her who like to "cleanse" their body in variety of ill-advised, medieval-inspired methods. They even have their own online communities, but that shouldn't surprise anyone (here are serious communities dedicated to running, fat acceptance, graves and white supremacism).

Slate's Samantha Hennig decided to try a 10-day cleanse in which she abstained from any food and only consumed some unholy liquid concoctions. On its own, it makes for interesting viewing, but it's an interesting insight into the warped thinking of that subset of the population which insists on shunning conventional medicine and will try anything as long as it has no evidence to support it and sounds kind of nice. This entry was spawned by a letter printed in the National Post today, which questioned why people will run from the flu shot and entrust their body to all sorts of quackery, but not, say, their cars.

Nobody goes to a mechanic, who says that you need the sort of new part whose name I would know if I knew anything about cars, and then disregards that opinion by going to an alternative, all-natural mechanic, who does nothing but rub your seats with elephant urine. With machines, we don't think twice about trusting the experts, who often do suggest unnecessary products and services. With healthcare, the sort of person who studied medicine for seven years is not to be trusted, but you should probably trust the person who completed a six-week course in naturopathy.

A working theory I have on the appeal of non-scentific medicine is that much of the appeal comes from cures that just sounds nice. There are many things that though we don't enjoy on a regular basis, we like the idea of being able to enjoy them on a regular basis. That's why we buy books that we have no intention of reading, talk about watching soccer if it was ever on, and always drink strange teas, as long as they're of an exotic East Asian origin. On a vague level, many people like the idea of being able to cleanse their body of bile just as the ancients would have liked. Unlike buying War and Peace and occasionally reading its first few chapters, there can be serious consequences to not eating any food for ten days.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Maybe I'll name my daughter Smacker

I don't have an English name, but many people do. I've seen lots of kids with weird English names that came from currency, TV, movies and so on. I've never seen anyone with names as crazy as the ones in this video. I did meet an Athena in China. All the other names were too hard to pronounce.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Watching football with my grandmother

I got to spend the afternoon and evening yesterday with my 75-year-old grandmother, who has lived in Canada for about 20 years but is not too familiar with football. At first she confused the pregame showmanship for professional wrestling, asking if it was real. Then she criticized the game for its barbarism. "They hit each other in the head, intentionally. It's so uncivilized." She also found some of the dives a little gratuitous. "Why do they just fall down on purpose?" She was relieved that they do wear shoulder pads and helmets, but given the present concern about the long-term impact of concussions in football, her analysis is not that funny.

The game between the Saints and Falcons was very well-played, with shifts in momentum and lots of offense. The best part was the final 90 seconds of the game, even though the outcome was a certainty. The Falcons had no timeouts and were down by 11 points. On a third-down play, Coy Wire simply took the ball away from running back Pierre Thomas, who carelessly dove into a fracas. The Falcons quickly drove down the field and scored a field goal with about 40 seconds left.

On the ensuing onside kick, the ball went off a Saints player and right to Wire once again. The Falcons got a long completion to bring the ball to midfield before a last-second pass was intercepted. Going from a few kneel-downs to actually having a chance to erase an 11-point lead with less than two minutes left to go is fantastic football. For trying to prevent viewers from being treated to a series of kneel-downs 42 seconds apart, I hope the Falcons are justly and richly rewarded.

Even a blind Mike Shanahan finds a...

So, it took seven tries, but the Broncos finally lost. To the extent that I have a favourite football team, it's the Broncos, though I'll cheer for pretty much any cold weather team and refuse to legitimize the Broncos unless legitimate. A 6-0 start was a good claim for legitimacy, but from the moment they took the field against the Ravens yesterday, I could say that I knew they were frauds. After a 30-7, I didn't feel like a complete moron for once after a Broncos game.

This probably was the most interesting thing to happen all day in football, unless you consider BRETT FAVRE RETURNING TO GREEN BAY WEARING A JERSEY OTHER THAN THE JERSEY OF THE GREEN BAY PACKERS, FOR WHOM HE PLAYED AS RECENTLY AS TWO YEARS AGO to be an interesting story. If you do, you might also be interested in touring your former workplace and soaking up abuse from erstwhile customers. Lost in the hype of BRETT FAVRE RETURNING TO GREEN BAY WEARING A JERSEY OTHER THAN THE JERSEY OF THE GREEN BAY PACKERS, FOR WHOM HE PLAYED AS RECENTLY AS TWO YEARS AGO was the fact that the Vikings-Packers game was also an important division game. With a win, the Packers, FOR WHOM BRETT FAVRE ONCE PLAYED, AS RECENTLY AS TWO YEARS AGO, could have improved to 5-2 and the Vikings would have been 6-2.

Hopefully the Saints-Falcons game tonight will be more interesting. I was so starved for an interesting game that I resorted to watching baseball last night, knowing full well what the outcome would be. Baseball, I'm always pleased to realize, is actually a really interesting sport if the Blue Jays are not involved. Elsewhere in sports, if you had bet $100 each on the men's and women's winners at the New York Marathon, you would have about $14,000 today. Clearly, if you're bored by football, you should turn to marathons.