I, Pledge Allegiance...

Do humans excel at contradictory behaviour or what? In many areas of economic human activity, how we spend our money is a collection of choices made either in haste or out of thoughtful consideration. Sometimes we mix both. Interpreting consumer spending numbers is sometimes a fool's game. For their part, sports fans not only pay for their product but invest personal energies all premised on an absolute love of team.

This brings up its own set of circumstances and problems; I love you, no, I hate you. We love to hate and hate to love - it's the secret of successful talk radio.

Consumers are the perfect choice to use as lab rats for the purpose of this piece. It is not uncommon to hear people complain about a particular corporation (especially if it is perceived to wield a disproportionate amount of power on all levels of society) all the while shopping within its walls. Why would they do this?

Low prices of course. Sure, we'll complain about Wal-Mart on an assortment of corporate indiscretions and excesses but we do love the "roll back." In Canada, this notion takes on an added dimension when we consider nationalism as part of the equation. Nationalism and low prices lie awkwardly side by side in Canada. We are all addicted to shopping for the lowest price. The result is that we pledge allegiance to a retailer that provides us this service. The markets are efficient and we are rational economic beings. So the concept goes.

In the case of nationalism in Canada, what do I mean? I like to use the Canadian Tire case. CT is a successful and iconic Canadian retailer. A proud Canadian institution indeed. Canadians love their CT. Yet, whenever a Wal-Mart builds nearby I have observed - on several occasions -how the parking lot on one place seems a little tame compared to the other. Guess which one has the insane car infested lot? Canadians will avoid CT to get their low price fix (humans are rational economic players) but if it were to be bought out you can bet nationalists would scream.

Consumers are not the only ones who exhibit loyalty. Sports fanatics (fans) do the same for their team. Pride of city, the history of franchise and success of their team all play a role in the degree of their support than can turn into fanaticism.

At what point does one cease being a valued fan and become one that is taken full advantage of by ownership? Nothing is more painful than watching fiercely proud and loyal fans support not only an inferior product but a franchise that does not commit to victory. It's the famous vicious circle of if 'you don't come we can't pay the best players.' Yet, what to make of teams who have their stadiums and arenas constantly jammed packed?

Fans are in a precarious position. They don't want to be seen as jumping on and off the band wagon so a 'through thick and thin' mentality prevails. This leaves them vulnerable to marketing departments who can count on their support no matter how bad the product gets. They also don't want to be the reason why their team fails. So they show up. Even when it is obvious it isn't their fault.

The difference between a consumer of Wal-Mart is that they don't care (except for a few) about Wal-Mart's behavior as long as they keep providing low prices and on this front WM meets their demands. The situation with sports fans is not as clear cut. They are not looking for lower prices (though ticket prices can be a little exaggerated) they are looking for victory. There's more of an intangible component to what they seek. Where they get trapped is when they give their hearts and a team's owner can still bail and move the franchise on them.

On both fronts, humans should consider taking a stand. Sometimes it backfires and other times it works. If consumers truly hate their local multi-national then go to a local Mom & Pop (if you are lucky to have one in your neighborhood). You'll pay a small premium on the products but at least there's some preservation of integrity. Otherwise, you'll have to go with the rest of society which has determined in the free market system what they will pay for good and services.

It is the same with sports fans. If you feel your team is not giving you bang for your buck simply do not show up for the games. Easier said than done (but it does happen). Of course, this too can prove a dicey game. Ownership can just as easily turn and claim that it is precisely because of lack of support that they don't sign any top free agents to make the club you support a winner.

In life, we all have to make tough decisions. Saying what ought to be and acting out what ought to be are two different things. So far, our actions do not match the complaints. We still support the Wal-Marts of this world and our favorite teams.

We've taken our stand. At least we are not fence sitters; this would have surely displeased Danté.


Neil Young: A National Treasure without a Passport

I picked up 'Prairie Wind' the other day. I've read the reviews - which I rarely do - and without blushing I offer my own thoughts.

Musically, the guitar work is full of light wind memories and imagery. The lead song 'The Painter' sets this tone perfectly. This is the type of album that resonates with people who love to hear the dominance of a guitar over lyrics - and the guitar work is indeed sublime in its humble beauty. Speaking of written thoughts, the lyrics do seem a little confused and borderline idealistic - shades of 60ism ('Southern Man' did not please Lynyrd Skynyrd all that much) come and go but I won't fault him for this. Still, it manages to derive quintessential pleasure for any music enthusiast. In comparison to past works, it harks back to the sounds and feel of his masterpiece 'Harvest.'

Young's musical tones often cross over into the country tradition. However, he has achieved something rock'n roll legends have rarely met. To me, his music dives in and out of the bluegrass sounds of American roots music in the tradition of the Louvin Brothers and other legendary American musical acts.

Forget the critics and comparisons. Sometimes we get so caught up in the technical side of things we forget the art behind the concept and idea. To avoid this trap and exercise in minutaie, I trust my own inner barometer; the shiver and imagery factor.

Music is a human endeavour. By tragic and joyous default it is vulnerable to flaws and elusive perfection. Its origins are in the heart and mind of a craftsman. In this mysterious vain, musical scholars attempt to explain how a classical masterpiece taps into a spiritual nerve center of the listener. Whether Beethoven or Vivaldi, their creations travel the space of time and straight into our souls. How's that for a cliche?

In any event, this is how I protect myself when determining if I like something. It may not tell me if it's any good but it sure will determine if I will pay $16.99 for a CD. Since I was already familiar with the work of Neil Young I took a calculated blind chance and dropped a twenty on the HMV counter.

I wasn't disappointed. While I was listening to the album I began to think about how musicians and writers reflect the spirit of a nation. I lamented the fact that many of our greatest musicians historically tend to avoid writing about Canadian themes lest they compromise U.S. sales - at least this is what I think without proof . Call it a hunch.

More subjectively, I think it may have something to do with overlooking Canadian themes under an avalanche of American culture. More and more we are finding Canadian musicians (The Tragically Hip, Blue Rodeo etc.) finding confidence not just in their own abilities but their surrounding landscape. I guess we're slowly finding our way as we mature as a nation. Hopefully, musicians can find and draw inspiration from the place to which they were nourished; literally and figuratively - and get recognized for it. As I have written before, who is Canada's answer to Bruce Springsteen? Does Gordon Lightfoot meet the criteria?

It will always be tough for Canadian musicians to tackle our themes and market it for an international audience. It's easier for Springsteen to write about the Northeast and do well abroad because America naturally attracts the world to its dreams and hopes. Everyone wants to know what America is thinking about. Canada? It's not as straightforward.

Neil Young touches on the spirit of Canada and for this we should be thankful. Prairie Wind can just as easily be American but it screams an inner return to Canada.

Interestingly, Young represents something that transcends nationality. His art belongs to the North American experience. A line in 'Far From Home' entertains this suspicion:

'Walking down the Trans-Canada highway/I was talkin' to a firefly/tryin' to make my way to Nashville Tennessee.'

To some this means nothing. To me, it's a line that binds Young to two nations. In a way, makes you think about what we are all about without borders. Neil Young may have been born in Canada, but he belongs to the world now. Canada has come a long way since nomadic rock'n roll mavericks like Andy Kim, Joni Mitchell, The Band, The Guess Who -among others- and the grunge man with a peculiar soulful voice Mr. Young left their artistic prints on the Trans-Canada highway.

All this for $16.99? Why not? If you like being moved then what do you have to lose? National treasures always take you to a place never imagined. But hey, these are just the thoughts of a guy who sucks in an Eastern Canadian Shield wind.


Hollywood still Struggling with Originality


When will the remake madness end?

More often then not remakes (or sequels for that matter) don't measure up to their originals (although the remakes they have chosen weren't classics to begin with). One place where remakes have found a special niche is in jazz. Jazz artists sing standards and within that community the music of Berlin, Porter and Gershwin for example, are treated with utmost respect and care. No serious jazz musician would dare tackle a timeless classic like 'I've got My Love to Keep me Warm', 'What is this Thing Called Love and 'They Can't Take that Away from me' without truly being ready for it.

Has film been as diligent as custodians of their heritage? They do seem to have a lower batting average on this front. One thing I have noticed, remakes of silver screen classics (whether from the 30s, 40s or 50s) miss their mark - never mind that the script writing back then was astonishing. On the other hand, Marvel has done a solid job of adopting its comics to the big screen. Why this is so is not the point of this blog but I have a suspicion that keeping in the spirit with the essence of the original has something to do with it.

In general, it's perfectly fine to produce remakes. If anything, it introduces different interpretations and perspectives to established works. A classic is just that; classic. It should be able to adapt to any generation provided that the person in charge of such a project has respect for history. Sometimes the remakes are even better than the original. Some come up short.

Magnum PI, is one of my personal all-time favorite shows. The character development and interaction between the main characters were irreverent to the point of coolness. However, what is Thomas Magnum without Tom Selleck? Part of the problem is that Hollywood does not know how to keep in line with which the shows were intended. This takes artistic courage and the reality is that they are mostly interested in turning a profit. So, they cut here and forget that until true fans are left with a poor (albeit modern) generic version of the original. It's too bad.

I'm one of those odd (some may think impractical) classicists who wants to see the original casts and music on these shows in some capacity. Modernize it here and there and go with it. I hear 'The A-Team' will be in production but without the original cast (George Peppard passed away). If they do this, the least they can do is either pick obscure and eccentric Hollywood actors (in the Roth, Buscemi, Walken, Malkovich mold. Viggo Mortensen seems right) or unknowns to do the job.

I don't know who will be involved with the Magnum film but I do hope they cast it right. It will be very hard to capture the nuances of Magnum on the big screen. I don't have much confidence (how many Batman's did they have to make before they got it right with Batman Begins?) but I am always open. Heck, they couldn't even make a straight forward and linear plot like 'Dukes of Hazzard' work. Why Dukes of Hazzard and not, say, 'Hill Street Blues?' or 'Dallas?' Why stop here? 'Simon and Simon?' and if we desire (since they already did the 70s thing with 'Starsky and Hutch') the 'Rockford Files?'

Like how Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald (the auteurs of jazz) interpreted the works of the great songwriters of the 20th century with absolute purity and brilliance, I hope Hollywood one day finds the integrity to do the same with their own wonderful film and television legacy on a consistent basis. Maybe then there will come a point when a director will feel compelled to do a specific film or genre as a rite of passage to challenge their craft like they do in jazz. Until that happens, they should cease the insanity and go with original projects. Or are they that desperate for scripts?


Mario Lemieux: The Last of the Pure Legends and Memories of a Time Long Gone

Mario Lemieux's retirement has ushered in a new round of 'who's the greatest hockey player ever?' debate. Specifically, the question almost always comes down to 'Gretzky or Lemieux?' Or Orr, or Howe, or Richard.

In 2002, Sports Illustrated published its 'Greatest Feats' special collector's edition. In the 'Lifetime of Excellence' section they chose athletes they felt made the cut. Among them were Bobby Orr at #12 and Wayne Gretzky. 99 was ranked first and SI summarized their argument with the following line; "Wayne Gretzky's career may be the greatest body of work in sports history, and his record for career points will last several lifetimes." I agree.

The Magnificent One's career will always be lamented for the 'what could have been' scenario. Hey, the 'what if's' of history are just that - subjective conjecture. What if Italy, for example, united during the Renaissance? During the age of exploration, would South America be speaking Italian? What if Italian influence was rooted in a collective and consolidated state? Alas, as interesting this theoretical thought may be this is for abstract debate.

Wayne Gretzky is without doubt the greatest hockey player who ever played the game. I say this with all do respect to Morenz, Richard, Howe, Hull Sr., Orr, Esposito and Lemieux. People will come up with all sorts of reasons - some reasonable others ridiculous - to try and downplay this fact and reality. We've heard them all; Gretzky played with legends (true, but he helped turn them into legends), Gretzky had Semenko to protect him (well, he didn't ask for that and it spoke to Glen Sather's smarts in protecting his investment more than anything), he played during a watered-down offensive era (again accurate, but it's still all relative and it was the same for everyone. The net dominance was clear. His next closest rival was kilometres behind), he was not a power forward (no, but he managed to stay healthy) and so on.

Lemieux's numbers are similar to Gretzky's in that their points per game production was staggering at 1.88 and 1.92 respectively. And yes, I will entertain the notion that he was the greatest 'pure' talent ever. Just by watching him you knew this to be true. But ordaining someone the greatest ever involves so much more and 66's career (cut short because of cancer and other injuries) comes up short. 99's meets any criteria of what is deemed to be great. Imagine if Mario played in Montreal? His status would be that of an immortal god. I know Pittsburgh has treated Lemieux well and they are aware that they were blessed with such a rare specimen. I just hope they never forget.

More importantly, Mario's retirement was more than just about hockey for me. It signaled the end of an era for me. Mario came into the league in 1984 when hockey (and soccer) was all that mattered to me. Before that, played in the Quebec Major Juniors for les Voisins de Laval down the street from where I lived. My father knew that a legend was about to be born and took my brother and I to a couple of pre-NHL Lemieux games. He was a stunning player to watch.

The Montreal Canadiens were my lifeline and the league and sport transcended all things. I grew up watching Steve Yzerman, Wayne Gretzky, Denis Savard, Dale Hawerchuk and my favorite Swede Mats Naslund to name a precious few; not to mention the Oilers and the Islanders dynasties. Playing ball hockey in crisp, dry white snow in sub-zero temperatures with my French-Canadian friends was all that I knew - and loved.

How time flies and changes. The game means little to me now. The Habs are run by the marketing department who only care if the Bell Center sells out win or lose. The game, while filled with outstanding talent, is probably a more skilled game than ever, has lost its spiritual center. Money has destroyed hockey (if not all sports) and everything we see is all a carefully orchestrated advertising blitz.

Bob Seger once sang 'Old time rock'n roll' lamenting the passing of a golden age in rock. With music you could always go back. It's not the same in sports. Someone should write about 'Old time sports.' I'm not usually the type to compare eras but we did lose something in translation here. Maybe the game was not as good in the 50s, 60s or 70s. But the spirit was surely better.

Mario or Gretzky? It's a nice debate. But I fear we've lost so much more.

Conservative leader Stephen Harper: Canada's 22nd Prime Minister

Canada has spoken and it speaks minority Conservative. When I got up this morning the sky seemed to be lower than usual. Under an atmosphere of soot and grey matter I had a hard time making sense of where I was. Orienting myself was the least of my concern when I noticed a giant glass bubble being erected in my area as tanks rolled in. Tiny little gnomes pranced with black flags in a display of giddy arrogance. A sudden knock on my door broke my shock. A beautiful woman with a lizard's tongue speaking in a baritone voice curtly demanded "We are rationing peanut butter. Sign." Just as she was turning to leave she looked out of the corner of her eye and said "And if you are gay...watch out. We don't like happy people."

Ok, it wasn't quite like this but parts of the media certainly painted such a picture in the event of a Stephen Harper victory. What will be interesting to note moving forward just how accurate they were - I learned long ago to go opposite of what the media says whenever they take a 'principled stand.' The backlash against Harper did not quite reach the insidious pitch seen in the U.S. with Bush, but for Canada it was close enough. For those spooked by the Conservatives, don't look now as North America has a blue blanket covering it now.

I have no idea how this will play out. From my years of observing politics, it can only be a good thing for Canadian Federalism. Canada has stagnated and was managed by the Liberals like a retail supply shop. Painstaking care was given to ensuring the credits and debits balanced that they forgot to man the store and listen to what the people needed and were saying.

The Tories, for their part, made important (if not remarkable) inroads in Quebec (where contradictory nuances continue to baffle analysts) and do indeed have a different perspective on what Canada should be like.

The first order of business is to bring back accountability which can begin the process of narrowing the democratic deficit the Liberals punctured. For too long I listened to the Liberals arrogantly push the notion that they alone stood for Canadian 'values.' Until this day I still have not figured out what those values are. To many, it's the tired cliches of peacekeeping, multiculturalism and other mythical inventions that were never truly part of the Canadian political cultural heritage.

By contrast, the Tories called for people to 'stand up for Canada.' Again, this nationalist cry eluded me. Stand up for what exactly? The country is more divided than it's ever been. Alienation seems to be a word particular to our lexicon - Western, Quebec, Native, beaver whatever. Everyone feels alienated. Still, Calgary spoke to me more than my native Montreal or my sister city Toronto. Where pseudo-sophistication came at the expense of innovative governance.

The power shift away from Montreal and Toronto is particularly important. Calgary and the province of Alberta have been byfar the most successful and prosperous region ushering in an entrepreneurial spirit long forgotten in a place that has come to depend on government assistance a little too much. Quebec, for its part, is what we call a have-not province but is extremely experienced in exacting a disproportionate amount of power on Canada. For 40 years they set the agenda.

No longer. Furthermore, judging by the results in this province, another myth - the myth of the will of the Quebec people nationalists claim to speak for - has once again defied their political masters who seek to destroy rather than construct. I still don't know where they got their Will-O-Meter.

Quebec is so out and Alberta is in. Far fetched and fancy rhetoric explaining how the Bloc Quebecois failed to attain its magical 50% plurality notwithstanding, the fact remains that the independistes movement was dealt a wake up call. C'est fini. Enough is enough.

As for the Liberals, they were spanked but not as hard as I would have preferred. They needed to be sent a clear hard message to wipe out those smirks off their arrogant faces. I'm not so sure they got the message.

In any event, Harper has his mandate and he deserves a fair shot. Rather than seek boogey-men, Canadians have to judge by what action he takes. Not by some difficult to prove 'hidden agenda' his party may or may not have. Save the Skull and Bones stuff for later.

For the record, I got up this morning and the sky was where it has always been and there weren't any freaks running around - except for my neighbour. But that's another story.


Canadiana Comedy Sketch Group Back

When I was young my parents did not moderate our television intake and consumption. We were free to roam the cold, hard realm of pop culture with eager independence. By the time we were 13 our knowledge and exposure to underground television (and later film and writing) ideas were unrivaled by our peers. The impact and consequence of this?

We are forever held hostage to those images. Many times we find ourselves using what we saw as metaphors for our lives. Needless to say, many people rarely ever understood what it was we were talking about. When there was someone who did it was akin to meeting a soul mate. Example? How many people ever watched Jim Carey at the Juno Awards when he was a freakish obscurity? The Juno's? Are you kidding me? Who in Canada in 1984 or 1985 (whatever) were watching the fricken Juno's? Alas, we can always brag we were exposed to Carey's brilliance before most people. This is just a small example that was ushered into my head while reruns of 'Cheers' plays in the background.

Sketch comedy is something Canadians excel at for some reason. SCTV Network and Lorne Michaels (the man behind Saturday Night Live) are American comedy institutions who happen to be Canadian. In the 1990s, 'The Kids in the Hall' rose to critical fame soon finding there way on American sitcoms. Most notably Dave Foley on the vastly under rated and under appreciated 'Newsradio'. Lesser known sketches included 'CODCO' and 'You Can't do that on Television.' More recently, the enormously popular 'This Hour has 22 Minutes' is the latest in the evolution of Canadian sketch comedy.

For me, there was one forgotten and obscure group. So forgotten that it is almost impossible to find any reliable information about them. 'Four on the Floor' was a comedy group from the 80s that scarred us. Well into our 30s my family and I still refer to it from time to time. I have always wondered what ever happened to them. Until today when I noticed on Comedy Central that they were back as The Frantics for a one-hour special on Saturday.

One of the more hilarious skits included Mr. Canoehead. A Canadian super hero who had his canoe welded to his head after being struck by lightning. One particular episode had him battling a fiendish villain -with one of those sit down hair dryers you find in hair salons stuck to his head - who wanted to collect all the bacon bits in the world.

Good to see them back - even if it is for one hour. This blog always pays tributes to pioneers and 'Four on the Floor' a part of a long tradition of Canadian comedy.

Canada Votes Today

I'm not historically and genetically predisposed to write about up to the minute current events. I choose topics as they hit me. Issues that I have some reasonable handle on (through experience, sources, contacts etc.). It's definitely not organized nor is it scientific - many bloggers don't have the benefit of an editor. I use a lot of sarcasm, humor and dead-pan (most of it completely missed judging by some comments I have received). Some days I feel more like an essayist - it all depends and this is the beauty of blogging. It's freeform.

Where am I goin with this? I have seemed to position myself as a voice for Canadian issues (and culture) for American readers. One of the biggest complaints Canadians have - not unreasonably- is that Americans care little about Canada. True, they don't show an active interest in learning about Canada BUT it is also up to us to brand ourselves better. If we do this Americans will read. We need to project this country in a meaningful manner; and I don't mean this by drawing negative attention by using anti-American (to please a minority of Canadians. To be sure, most Canadians (apparently 70% of us anyway) like the Americans) rhetoric to cite an example. This is why I found it shocking and incredibly misguided that the Liberals would pander to Canadians who think this way. This is not leadership; it's cynical capitalizing.

Moreover, the Liberals liken themselves to the holders of a pan-Canadian vision that includes mythical values such as multiculturalism and peacekeeping. It is true the Liberals cut across a wider scope of moderate Canadians. They appeal to people who hold to notions regarding national unity by demonizing regionalized parties.

The other parties include The NDP; socialists with limited appeal. The Bloc are a provincial and thus parochial party that is in Ottawa thanks to the Canadian electoral system. Ironically, Canada's federal system is the loosest in the world and it has allowed for Quebec to have a voice in Parliament. The Conservatives have become more of a populist party defined by small 'c' and social conservatism - the school of Calgary as it is known - have redefined traditional Canadian Toryism. Still, the party has managed to appeal to many Canadians from coast to coast. One thing I hope they do is to reintroduce to Canadians (as they once did) that they need to stand on their own two feet free of government assistance.

Anyway, to my American readers I hope this blog has helped to give a glimpse in what is going on in Canada. I plan to focus more on its culture - often overlooked (incidentally, I highly recommend various CBC programming if one wants to get a feel for Canadiana. I especially like the Vinyl Café on Sunday Mornings. My goal is to go against the grain of accepted norms (though to some I am the norm) and avoid typical hysterical musings so prevalent in society today.

Canada is poised to vote a Conservative government today and this will usher in a breath of fresh air. As it stands, they are on the cusp of a majority government. I had predicted a Conservative government a few months ago and even flirted that it would be a majority one - I once debated with a PhD political scientist that Bush would win the last election. Just though I'd brag here.

It all depends how angry Canadians were with the Liberals. Here in Montreal, nationalist propaganda (Québec is fond of pointing out American propaganda excesses but never their own. Bush is a criminal in their eyes but election fraud during the 1995 referendum by the Part Québecois was either justified with typical pathetic theoretical mumbo-jumbo rhetoric or just plain ignored.

Back to the election, I'm not buying into the alleged zealotry the Conservatives are being chastised for. Sure, there's probably some validity to it but let's not exaggerate either. This is Canada after all where ensuring safe decisions comes to its full blossom. If the Conservatives prove incapable of governing then they will be booted out next election.

If the Conservatives come in I will be proud of Canadians. It will mean we recognized there was a democratic deficit and we were bold enough to take a stand. Let us hope we will be rewarded tonight.


How the Mighty have Fallen: The Sad State of Nos Glorieux; The Montreal Canadiens

Bob Gainey is a class act. I never met the man but I know people who know him personally. He's every bit the man he comes off on television. Gainey was once called the 'most complete two-way hockey player in the world' by Soviets. As captain of the Montreal Canadiens during the 70s (and 80s), and with quiet reserve Gainey helped lead the Habs to 5 Stanley Cups. He was an integral part of of great Canadiens dynasty of the late 1970s that won four consecutive championships. A team many consider the greatest ever.

Gainey had all the typical traits expected to win at a professional level. Diligence, intelligence, intensity you name it. Once upon a time the Montreal Canadiens defined the city of Montreal; they were one and the same. Who would have thought that with all the success Montreal witnessed in the 1970s - the Alouettes were a power in football and the Expos were an emerging team soon to be ordained the 'best organization in baseball' - that it would have sank as low as it has?

Many point to 1976 as the beginning of the end; the year a separatist provincial party got elected in Québec. While many Quebecers will not accept this explanation, the painful reality is that politics did play a role. The immortal French-English dichotomy has a life force not always beneficial to all concerned. As much as it adds to beauty of this city it can also be its worst enemy. It's just the way things work in here. Hockey was and is not immune to this. Many times the sport was and is used as a proxy for nationalist rhetoric. How could there have no consequences?

Rather than trace back the roots as to why and how the Habs (by extension the city of Montreal) have fallen to their knees and assign blame, it may serve this piece better to lament a lost time and era; to discuss the present and future. Like the Federal Liberals, le Club Hockey Canadiens are living off past glory and reputations. This is fine if you can connect this to the present. It does not seem to have happened.

Poverty of decision making, general incompetence and the reality of modern economics in pro sports were all actors on the stage that led to Montreal's curtain call.

Usually great teams bestow upon themselves the luxury of keeping the dynastic line alive by allowing for the past generation to connect with the new. Tradition is a powerful tool in modernity. The Canadiens have abandoned that tradition. Someone once astutely pointed out to me that the real downfall of the Expos was not that we had poor baseball fans but rather it was a direct result of the Expos severing all ties with themselves and the community. There was no continuity. People need to change hands from generation to generation and sports is no different.

Gainey left for greener pastures in Minnesota and later Dallas as helped to construct a Stanley Cup team in Dallas (he also helped lead the North Stars to a final in 1991). In fact, many of the great Habs were allowed to leave - save Serge Savard. The list included Jacques Lemaire, Larry Robinson and the greatest coach in pro sports history on this continent Scotty Bowman.

Again it is hard not to blame politics. The political, outrageous media, and tax situation (for good measure) are not a combination too many people want to tangle with these days. It must become impossible for some indeed.

After going through some bizarre interruptions and episodes (Patrick Roy's shocking inability to control his ego in 1995 immediately springs to mind for me), Bob Gainey returned in 2002-2003.

It was a return many fans reasonably felt was the beginning of a turnaround. The regal Gainey was just what this franchise needed. A force of tradition of a magnificent era long gone who brought instant credibility. Like a brilliant chess player trying to piece together a beautiful broken puzzle, Gainey exuded a return to Camelot. Alas, it has not turned out this way. It feels as though the rot of the curse in the halls of this team is threatening to swallow him up.

He inherited a team swimming in a pond of defeat. Sadly, he has only added to this. His moves have not been all that impressive for such a hockey mind. I am sure he'd be the first to admit this. Many Hab fans were confused by some of his signings and draft choices. Worse, he seems to have taken on a character many people did not think was in him when he called fans 'gutless bastards' for booing an unpopular and over paid defenseman.

The 2006 edition of the Habs is a collection of sad sacks with no pride. Once upon a time wearing the classic 'CH' was a badge of honor and instant respect. No longer. Too many people who do not deserve this logo have been allowed to wear it. Management is not cleared in any way in all of this. From body to soul, every single one of them have been architects in the downfall of the Montreal Canadiens.

Yes, the Montreal Canadiens are run by the marketing department and as long as fans pack in the Bell Center little incentive is available to turn Montreal into a winner. Players avoid this place like the plague for a reason you know. Who wants to put up with advertising smart-alecs and a media who can turn on you? We have implanted the notion that Montreal must have French players. Why? The Habs don't even draft the best players from Quebec any more - losing a monopoly does that to a franchise. Reasonable players with pride won't put up with it.

As I sat and watched the Canadiens put on another sad display losing 6-2 to the Vancouver Canucks, the camera panned to the Habs bench. Behind the lost, dazed eyes of the players on the bench, I could not help but notice the three men standing behind that same bench - Doug Jarvis, Guy Carbonneau and Bob Gainey. The irony was not lost on many fans I am sure. Three former great Habs on the 70s dynasty who never understood what it was like to lose in such a manner. The performance was indeed listless.

Maybe Gainey is slowly purging the organization behind the scene. Who knows? By now, he should be close to completing the puzzle, right? There is much to be excited about. There are some good young prospects on the team. We just don't know if they are quitters or winners. A warning shot has been fired. Whether Gainey can turn the Habs around is, in part, entirely up to the ghosts of the old Montreal Forum who have declined to migrate into the new arena; they have already reserved #23.


Aw, Shucks. Michael Moore Cares Aboot Canada



Well, Michael Moore weighed in with his intellectual and thoughtful comments on the Canadian elections. Gee, thanks, er, I guess Michael.

Yeah, we Canucks are one big joke. We're going to vote the Conservatives -drunk on doughnut juice - just to scare liberals. Now the new leitmotif among the left is that Harper is exactly like Bush. What nonsense. Like anything else, there are some similarities but there are some notable differences. Of course, people will only focus on what they want to see. There is some truth in that hyperbole and hysteria is all the modern left (hijackers of true liberalism) has in its arsenal.

Listen closely my caring cap-wearing angel, the Liberals have more than just 'splainin to do. They have to account for the continued destruction of military, the crisis in our hospitals and the millions they stole from the pockets from hard working Canadians (to name a precious few scandals).

If you really cared, this last point should have kept you locked up in your fancy penthouse. Isn't your whole platform based on speaking for the little guy? Ah, there's the kicker. You don't care, right. I mean, it's all an act to squeeze more money and attention to yourself, right? Funny guy you Yank. I get it now. You only care about using us as leverage - if I may indulge for a moment (hey, everyone is doing it these days) - to continue espousing your world view in the U.S. Smart as a precision missile you are.

Hey, I have to give you credit. You managed to fool the CBC.

The people who truly care about this country are beginning to question many things. Above all, they are justifiably disturbed by the lack of responsibility and accountability in modern Canadian affairs. They are not impressed by the lack of leadership either. In fact, I'm proud of Canadians for considering the Conservatives (who aren't quite ready for power in my opinion but such is the sad state of affairs here). It takes courage and guts to make such a turn; lest we forget that the obliteration of the Conservatives in the early 90s was the worst of its kind in Western political history.

The precedent is set and the Liberals are not immune. The Liberals do not stand for profound Canadian values such as accountability, independence and responsibility any longer. They need to be spanked.

Sometimes I wonder if Michael Moore even knows what he's talking about. His films are utterly deprived of truth (ok, let's call it selective truth) and historical accuracy. Moore should stay put in the USA.

Canada has enough problems to contend with. Just getting Canadians to recognize there are problems has been hard enough. Time to fix them and I highly doubt we can count on Moore to offer enlightened ideas. There are many Canadians who have the fortitude and integrity to adjust Canada.

One last thing, the ultimate irony here is the fact that Canada is a country that thrives on an old boy's network built on patronage. The Liberals seem to have taken this a step further by expropriating the people and their money for their own. For a supposed caring liberal, it is extremely revealing for him to overlook this reality.

Congratulations Michael, you now know nothing about two countries and still managed to get paid a lot of money. What's that saying? You can fool most of the people....


Who has the Most Devoted Fans?

I was recently in a discussion about sports with a friend. Specifically, we talked about who had the most devoted fans in North American professional sports. It was a subjective conversation void of any concrete proof but in our own little trivial way we did narrow it down to a few.

For the soccer fans out there, I left soccer out of this because for the most part the sport is littered with obsessive (read: psycho) fans around the world. Whether they be big or small clubs, the devotion soccer fans display is undeniable. Makes you wonder if playing with a Play
Station is a step up for some of them.

Nonetheless, the 'Madness Meter' seems to be highest in places like Italy, Brazil, Argentina and England.

What does the inexact non-scientific Madness Meter reveal about the sports around these parts ? Clearly, football has the largest fan base of all the pro leagues.

Not only that, there are several cities and clubs that have devoted fans. The Bills, Dolphins, Patriots, Steelers, Raiders, Chiefs, Broncos, Eagles and Redskins all have their share of rabid fans. It's hard to say but I'll argue that the Bears, Packers and Cowboys have fan support that is unmatched. Too bad Modell moved the Browns because they were easily in this group. I wonder if the bitter stench left behind by the move still has a negative effect on Cleveland's psyche. For good measure, I'll even throw in the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL here. In any event, football is the only sport with a deep enough fan base that remotely challenges soccer.

Basketball is harder to get a handle on, for me anyway, but the Knicks, Lakers and Celtics are obvious choices here. Pistons? Bulls? Anyone?

Baseball has many great fans. The Cardinals (some argue they are the best in baseball), Royals, Dodgers (both Brooklyn and LA), Mets, Cubs, Reds and Orioles have proven to be loyal to their teams through thick and thin. But does any team approach the insanity of Red Sox nation? It's to the point where I wonder if Yankee fan can keep up.

The Red Sox/Yankees comparison has a similar tandem in hockey. The NHL is not without some mentally imbalanced fans. The Red Wings, Flyers, Bruins (traditionally) and Rangers have their share of hard core fans. Even the Blues have had strong support over the years and the state of Minnesota is a hockey hotbed in the United States; all of Canada for the record, is plain kooky when it comes to the sport.

But we're restricting ourselves to teams here and like in baseball, do the hopeless and often pathetic Leaf fans have an equivalent that matches their love of their team?

The Habs and Yankees are cut from the same cloth when it comes to outright success and dominance in their respective sport. They are the aristocrats and are victims of their own success. The Habs may not have been as despised as the Yankees during their respective dynasties but it was close enough. They were both elitist evil empires on the eyes of the fans who disliked and distrusted their success. The Red Sox and Maple Leafs fans have positioned themselves as underdogs. That no matter how bad it got or how many times they lost to their arch rivals, they would not change allegiance for anything.

Curses notwithstanding, years of futility have come to define the psychological profile of these fanatics. Leaf fan remain as delusional as ever and Red Sox as devoted. What makes this fascination all the more interesting, as my friend pointed out, these are big world class cities we're talking about here; roughly 7 million people between them.

In the end, maybe because of disproportionate media attention, Red Sox nation gets the nod. The Madness Meter needle was clear that they are crazier than most fans.

Fret not Yankees, chances are you'll probably monopolize success as you always have. As for Nos Glorieux, odds are that the Montreal Canadiens will win another Stanley Cup before the Leafs do. Thus fueling more of that passionate devotion to Red Leaf Nation.


Canada: It's Election Time

In Monty Python's hilarious 'Life of Brian', there was a group calling itself The People's Front of Judea. They were all talk and no action and mired in minutaie. In one of their meetings, Reggie the leader, tries to stir up popular revolt as he proclaims "...what have the Romans ever done for us?" Upon further reflection, the other members start to list a number of Roman contributions - aqueducts, baths, sanitation, irrigation, wine, education, etc.

Sounds like Canada. Lot of rhetoric little action of substance these days. What have the Americans ever done for us?

Canadians, I think, fall into three groups each found in 'One Flew Over the Cukoo's Nest': The first group is the R.P. McMurphy group who try to revive Canada. The second group are the ones who are mute-by-choice like Chief Bromden and simply escape. Our talent if you will. And the third group are the evil Nurse Ratched. They include the the intellectual dead-weights, infantile nationalists, self-absorbed sensitive Canadians who happen to be floating around aimlessly on a raft with Jim and Huck Finn.

Which category do you fall under?

China Rises? Think Again

The CBC will be airing a show called "China Rises." It got me thinking.

Multi-polaristic-lateralists are tripping over each other like Inspector Clouseau and salivating at the mouth Cujo style in the hope that China will challenge American hegemony. Best to heed some prudent advice; hold off with the Asti Spumante.

China still has a long way to go before it is a bona-fide integrated superpower. They have some internal issues (such as environmental and ideological) they need to iron out before they can project true power - and they know this. We, on the other hand, seem to be ignoring this at our peril.

The Dragon is not a stranger to being a great power. Chinese history is littered with great achievements. It stands to reason therefore as the world links to one another through trade that China - with its massive population - would be a natural competitor of the United States.

Of course, rather than challenge U.S. power both sides should co-operate in the region. For the Chinese this mutual existence is paramount especially considering America's recent rapprochement with India.

Speaking of which, India - a remarkable, transparent democracy - is every bit a power in the region. Yet, we hardly see any programming on 'India Rises.' China - an intensely proud and insular society - is a communist state and thus are not always straight forward with information.

With China presently driving the world economy, will academics call for people to learn Chinese dialects with the pending rise of Chinese power? I seem to recall not so long ago (during the 80s) how business professors were teaching about the inevitably of Japanese power and that we should all learn Japanese. One hitch; a decade long recession hit Japan like a typhoon in the 1990s that put a serious cringe in that thought. America, which speaks the international language of business, still stood tall.

Rather than seek faux-replacements for political ideological considerations, perhaps we should examine why and how America keeps prevailing. This is not something to fear but appreciate.

There is little question that both China and India will become major players on the international stage moving forward. The question is just how prepared are they?


World Faces Uncomfortable Choices with Iran

Iran is back in the news these days. It seems they were not comfortable with all the attention Iraq was getting. So they unveiled their plans to be a nuclear power in the region.

The descendants of Persia are run by religious derelicts who want to be a nuclear power. Iran with nuclear capabilities is filled with disturbing geopolitical implications. It can destabilize and bully its neighbours (especially when it comes to oil production) as well as threaten to implicate regional powers like China and India. It can - above all - threaten Israel.

However, the problem with how to deal with Iran is a tricky one. Amidst the Islamic tyranny, lays a vibrant democratic movement among its youth. World powers should do more to support them. Furthermore, The U.S. does not have official relations with Iran which neutralizes American involvement. For the time being, the U.S. will rely in their European allies to open talks with Iran. As is usually the case with diplomacy, navigating through the balancing of Iran's needs and the world's requests will prove a test for our ability to negotiate.

This is yet another opportunity for the world redeem itself. When faced with uncomfortable choices in the past the world dithered. They (mostly Europe) failed with Nazi Germany as they kept their heads in the sand. They (once again parts of Europe and Russia) failed when they chose to publicly scorn the U.S. when it came to Iraq. The Iraq story had a twist in that it revived a long-standing debate within the inner circles of American power as to whether the U.S. should export - in what manifestation remains a source of intellectual debate - its visions of democracy. Reaching for a Utopian ideal is filled with the unpleasant reality of war.

What course of action will the world choose with Iran? Dialogue? Countries like Canada will push for this. In any event, for Canada Iran is not a major issue during election time as Canada busies itself with parochial domestic issues. It is telling that during the election campaign the mention of foreign policy vis-a-vis Iran has not been raised.

For the major players, a major obstacle to be overcome is how does one speak to an opponent that has little respect for dialogue? As witnessed so often, is not the language always best understood in this region. Unfortunately, force is an ancient language they usually understand. For its part, what will the UN - so agile and skilled in the art of dithering - decide?

Odds are that Iran may have to be dealt with militarily - the question is what type of operation (precision bombing, covert etc.) will be employed and who takes part. This also poses all sorts of serious questions with major implications. The Americans have their hands full in Iraq. They have to use every ounce of enlightening thought to ensure Iraq succeeds. Their military is large enough to take on another project but why would they want to stretch themselves thin? Not to say nothing of the planning that goes into this; Persians are not Arabs.

Indeed, some military strategists claim they are already dangerously there. If the U.S. invades Iran - which may be an unlikely scenario - that simply leaves them vulnerable. Maybe even vis-a-vis North Korea. If military action is opted for - after diplomacy is tried - the forces of anti-war may have to close their eyes because there may be no other choice.

Waging war is an awful decision to make. The ones who take decisive action usually are criticized (though it can be reasonably suspected behind the scenes there's a sigh of relief even among the criticizers). Recall France when they helped Hussein with his weapons program in the early 80s, Israel answered by bombing the facilities. In doing so, Israel was made out to be the rogue state. This sort of stuff should cease among the civilized nations of the world.

The world should avoid this sort of factionalism. Iran is too important an issue (especially considering that Asia already has its and full with North Korea). Iran sees what is happening in Iraq as it slowly emerges from the wilderness by embracing democracy and they don't like it one bit.

What are the options? The usual ones; appeasement, meaningful discussions (with threat of sanctions) or force. The willingness to use force is what makes Americans and Israelis unpopular. That leaves the European powers who may or may not have something enlightened up their sleeves.

If not, it is possibly time to unleash Israel since they are the ones under direct and immediate attack - not to mention Europe as they are within striking distance of Iran. There is no doubt that the U.S should lead. It would indeed be a great accomplishment if Europe can subdue Iranian ambitions but what are the chances of this? If they fail, they must step aside and let the Americans help.

In the heart of what was once the cradle of civilization, humanity finds itself at a crossroads. What will it be world? Do we break ranks or do we speak as a unified voice to send a clear message once and for all?


Money and War Alone do not Define Humanity

'Money is the root of all evil' and 'War, what is it good for?' Two famous contemporary phrases - especially in pop culture. I'm not sure where its origins lie but I'm pretty sure baby-boomers - those from the 60s anyway - have something to do with its popularity. Noble (naive?) as they may be in their philosophical intent, they ultimately fail to explain why evil still existed during the barter system long before the invention of money. Or how war was a permanent condition among humans before the arrival of the nation-state. By extension, are wars of liberation or survival good for something? Money is just the latest scapegoat for man's imperfections and flaws to be greatly magnified. As for war, well, man is what he is.


The New York Rangers Retire Mark Messier's 11

Mark Messier was never about statistics. Rather, his style throughout his 25 year career was about the intangibles that can never be measured - emotion, passion and later in his career pure leadership. The Ranger faithful will have a chance to show their gratitude one last time. Before 'Mess' arrived, the Rangers had been starving for a Stanley Cup last won in 1940. The drought ended in 1994 under his guidance.

Drafted in 1979 by the Glen Sather and the Edmonton Oilers in the 2nd round (48th overall) out of St.Albert Jr. A, Messier was one of many key components to the Oiler dynasties in the 1980s that included the under rated Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey, Kevin Lowe, Charlie Huddy, Grant Fuhr, Jari Kurri and Wayne Gretzky. Messier played in 1756 games and scored 694 goals, added 1193 assists for a total of 1887 points. Impressive numbers but not dominant (please see Gretzky and Lemieux). While it took him less games to reach 1850 to pass Gordie Howe for second all-time, Messier's career never quite matched the utter dominance of Howe.

Messier helped the Oilers to 5 Stanley Cups and the Rangers to their first in 54 years. He won the Hart Memorial Trophy for the most valuable trophy in 1992 with the Rangers and in 1990 with the Oilers. He was also runner-up to Mario Lemieux in 1996. In 1984, he won the Conn Smythe trophy for the most valuable player in the playoffs with the Oilers. Though he was instrumental in the Rangers victory in 1994, Brian Leetch won the Conn Smythe honors that year.

But enough about that. Over the next couple of days we will be hearing how Messier is the greatest leader (or among the short list anyway) in the history of the NHL - maybe in North American pro sports. The tendency to use hyperbole is always at its greatest when emotions are involved as Keith Olbermann seemed to confirm on the Dan Patrick Show when he compared Messier to Babe Ruth - which is absolutely ludicrous and ridiculous; riludcrious.

Only Gretzky can be compared to Ruth. In fact, some have suggested he was the greatest Ranger ever - of course they conveniently overlooked Rod Gilbert, Jean Ratelle, Brad Park, Andy Bathgate and Ed Giacomin. To understand Messier's career in proper context, his career can be divided into two segments - his Oiler years and the post-Oiler years with the Rangers.

Since his years with the Rangers remains - thanks to the New York media machine - fresh in everyone's mind, the temptation to transmit and project his play during these years for his entire career distorts the reality. We should all re-watch the Oiler years carefully. He was not the leader of the Oilers; Wayne Gretzky was. 99 was clearly the most influential and dominant athlete of not only his sport but arguably in all of North American professional sports. Anyone who would suggest otherwise that the Oilers were not lead by him (or worse he was over rated) need to get their selective mind examined by a neurologist. Anyway, don't believe me. Ask any Albertan.

Messier seized the reign of leadership after Gretzky was traded to Los Angeles in 1988. It is during this period the roots of the Messier leadership legend were sown. It matured during the New York era. There is no doubt that in the 1990s, Messier was not only a premier hockey player but the single most important force to his club. It's safe to say or argue that he was among the greatest leaders during the 90s. Again, we have to recall that Steve Yzerman, Joe Sakic and of course Wayne Gretzky were great leaders too.

Mark Messier was a joy to watch - especially in the 80s for me. Hockey players that combined size and skill to his level are rare. I was in my youthful prime and the Oilers were the world's greatest hockey team. Not even the legendary Habs, the powerful Flyers, arch bitter rivals Flames or the then-recent dynasty Islanders were able to dethrone them for any significant amount of time. His signature shot off the fly with one leg up remains a distinct piece of hockey folklore - A signature move the Soviets studied and emulated.

With his career over and his number retired in the great NYC, Messier always seemed to me to be the perfect character in a Hollywood movie that a screenwriter could build a sports story around. His physical and facial expressions are definitive and expressive. Might I suggest Willem Dafoe to play his role?


Canadian National Debates: An Exercise in Blah.

Canadians are famous for being dull. While this stereotype is not entirely accurate, we don't help matters sometimes.

Nonetheless, Canada not only suffers with a helplessly divided and fragmented political and cultural landscape but with tiresome parochial grievances that threaten the Confederation. This problem is made worse by the sad reality that there is no enlightened leadership in Canada. Intellectually ideas are stagnant and politically the will to foster change is coated with paralysis.

And so it is with the National debates, which fall on the dull side of the equation. Before we delve into this further please allow me to introduce the two players and the two pretenders. The incumbent Prime Minister Paul Martin from the Liberal Party and the challenger, Stephen Harper of the Conservatives. And the other guys. Jack Layton of the New Socialist Party. Kidding, New Democrat Party (NDP) and Gilles Duceppe of the Bloc Québecois. In fairness to Gilles, I am from Quebec, though I will never truly be a part of their nationalist experiment. I must confess that the Bloc do have some interesting things to say on some issues. That's the only thing I'll say from now on since in principal I stand on the opposite side of their ideological divide.

They - and this goes for the NDP also - believe in the role of big government in society. I don't. They depend on government intervention to solve all our ills. I believe in the individual. The individual is its own best form of governance.

Watching these debates is akin to watching sponge cake rise. One got the distinct feeling things were going immediately astray when the attire of the two main principles - Tory leader Harper and Pauly 'Nowhere Man' Martin - made clear they weren't about to take a page out of the Gianni Versace playbook for daring style. Harper wore a blue tie and Martin a red. This is about as daring as they got as each represented the colors of their respective party's. Break out the fresh new face Canada needs! I forgot what the other two wore. What do Communists and Marxists wear?

I'm not about to rehash the typical and stagnant ideas proposed. What I am prepared to comment about is the fact that Harper - like on the last debates a couple of years ago - is by far the most articulate speaker. He dares to touch issues some Canadians (and the media save the National Post) consider taboo. For example, increased military spending, tax cuts and improved relations with the United States.

As for Martin he stutters too much and his party is to be directly held responsible for Canada's falling international reputation. Worse, he refuses to be accountable for the Liberal's bizarre poor imitation of Roman hubris and excess in the form of criminal corruption. How stupid are Canadians to even consider voting them in based on the number of investigations they are under?

The remaining panel included the icicle eyed Duceppe who is a conflict of interest onto himself (he's a Marxist - though who knows these days. How seriously can we take people who benefit from a capitalist structure based on freedom but who turn around and embrace impractical and failed ideologies that at their core run contrary to Western values? - fyi, he collects rent) and Jack Layton just seems to talk to himself - to me anyway.

Intermittently watching the pow-wow I noticed a new intellectual trend, as every solution to every question seemed to either be restrict handguns or have more women in Parliament. "You know, Mr. Moderator. I have the answer to the question of unemployment. Restrict handguns! Have more women in Parliament!"

In fact, some of the solutions tabled were simply based on old wives tales or flawed assumptions - as usual. How the electoral process is linked with low voter turn out is beyond me, Jackie. There are other reasons for this I am sure.

As I kept coming back to the discussions, I kept wondering what it would have been like to have a true third voice in the mix. Alas, this is Canada and we can't have true competition, eh?

In the end, the leaders failed to stake any major claims. That's what happens when a country is in a rut like Canada is. It's hard to take a major stand on certain issues for fear of a backlash.

For those of us waiting on a new dynamic Canada, it's clear we'll have to wait.


A Knee Injury Revisited: The ACL Trauma

"That's an ACL tear." Those were my exact utterances after watching Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer go down in a playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers. I should know. I had not one but TWO ACL injuries.

This type of injury is serious. The reconstruction of the ligament and subsequent rehabilitation is a long and arduous ordeal. Most ACL injuries occur in high-risk sports like basketball, skiing, football and soccer. It occurs less in ice hockey because of the gliding motion of the players. In any event, Palmer is just the latest in a long list of famous athletes who have been devastated this season-ending injury.

The ACL - or anterior cruciate ligament - is a ligament that connects the thighbone to the shinbone (fig. 1). Other knee ligaments such as the MCL (medial collateral), LCL (lateral collateral) and PCL (posterior cruciate) ligaments usually heal on their own with extensive physiotherapy and rest but the same privileges are not accorded with the ACL. ACL tears require surgery to repair. The ACL is the ligament (ligaments are tough non-flexible fibbers that keep your bones in place) that crisscrosses and stabilizes your knee. In doing so, it permits lateral movements.

The ACL tears with sudden rapid moves or high impact collisions on the side of the knee like Palmer suffered. Interestingly, 30% of all ACL incidences are a result of impact. 70% of ACL tears happen without impact. While a person can go on without repairing the ACL since it will not bother you while walking, swimming or cycling it will buckle (with pain I might add) if you decide to play sports that demand pivotal and directional moves.

In my case, one injury was without impact and the other was. The injury sustained without the impact was during a ball hockey game. Moving up the rink I made a sudden lateral move to avoid a defender. I still remember the popping sound. The pain was unbearable. In this light, I knew exactly what Palmer was going through.

My second injury was during a soccer match. This time I cut across the filed at top speed only to have a defender step into me. I was heading in an east-west direction and he slammed into me knee on knee from the north south angle. This injury was very similar to Palmer's. The pain, again, was incredible.

I knew right away it was an ACL. Oddly, the physiotherapist on the field and the sports doctor the next day both felt it was an MCL. I disagreed. I went to my orthopedist (who is part of a sports clinic who handle pro-athletes) and a subsequent MRI proved me right. He too, by the way, initially thought it was an MCL.

The first time I tore the ligament I was 16 and was expected to attend the under-16 Team Canada soccer try-outs. I never got the chance. It was all-downhill from there. I could never overcome the psychological trauma of the injury. A pro athlete can do so because it is his job, for a teenager it proved too much. Since I was 17 I have played sports at maybe 75% throttle. It's tough to play a sport when you are always thinking about that 'pop' sound. It's even tougher if you are competitive as I am. Of course, I could not expect others to ever understand this which made playing 'for the team' hard.

After tearing the ligament, it took me another year before I decided to have surgery. I popped my knee maybe another 8 times thus shredding not only the ligaments but damaging the meniscus cartilage.

The decision to have the surgery was simple for me and can be just as straightforward for others. If you are active and want to play sports or have a job that is physically demanding have the surgery. You will never be 100% but it's pretty close. Ironically, the knee will probably be stronger. Conditioning will help to strengthen and stabilize the knee - this is crucial to the success of the surgery. However, your range of motion and quickness are reduced. Speed comes from your hamstrings and quads but your ACL's have a lot to say in the matter and I have noticed I lost a slight step. It's much different for a well-conditioned athlete of today. They have so many advantages and as such a full recovery is usually successful.

Once a career ending injury, modern medicine has developed techniques to repair the ACL. It usually takes three to six months to repair and heal. It takes an additional three to six months before one gets cleared to play again. When all is said and done, it can take up to one-year before getting clearance.

The ACL does not discriminate and watching Palmer go down right after his first career playoff completion in the second play of the game was proof that life isn't fair. The Cincinnati Bengals were not able to recover after that. They'll have to wait a while before Palmer does so too. Each time I watch an athlete go down with a knee injury, this one time I know exactly what is going through their mind.

Sources: American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Canadian Sports Medicine.

NOTE: Since I wrote this piece, it has been reported that Palmer's injury is far more extensive than an ACL. It turns out he shredded other ligaments and suffered a dislocated knee cap. Bengal fans are holding their breaths I am sure.


Canadians are Babies: Disgrace at the World Hockey Championships

The World Junior Hockey Championships is a great tournament. It brings together the world's best hockey talent from 10 countries and provides outstanding hockey. With it comes the pure raw energetic emotion only teenagers can bring. No sport - besides soccer - pays attention to its youth through major tournaments like hockey does on an international scale.

This year the tournament was held in Vancouver, British Columbia. We are at the end of the tournament and Canada and Russia will square off against one another for the gold. The United States will play Finland for the bronze.

Now to my main point. During the U.S./Russia game a curious incident took place. Some Vancouverites began chanting 'Russia, Russia' and 'U.S. sucks' during the game. Remember, these are 18 and 19 year-old kids. Now, Canadian reactionary anti-Americanism is well known since 9/11 but this was too much for this viewer. It was sickening to watch them get up and cheer Russian goals (the Russians dominated and proved too much to handle for a skillful American squad who heavily favored to win the tournament).

Freedom of speech my ass. It is less the fact that they cheered Russia but more of how utterly stupid this country has become at sporting events towards Americans.

First, most American players, if they are not playing at the Collegiate level, play in Canada. They represent Canadian towns and their fans. How in good conscience can Canadians boo them? Mind you, this took place in a big city and big city folk care little for the impact of their actions. Junior hockey is played in small towns and the tournament should have stayed there. Maybe we would have been spared this sort of repugnant behavior. Second, Canadians often complain that there are 'too many Europeans' in the NHL. Nice. Here they are cheering Russia? Third, Russia is Canada's sworn hockey enemy. It's like if Yankees fan stands up and cheers the Red Sox on. Or Habs fan with the Leafs. Certain things are simply not done. Last and most important, Russia is one powerful squad. I would have much rather played the U.S. (since they play a similar style).

As the title implies, Canadians are babies. If not downright tacky. Lordy, lord, lord, imagine if it was Americans booing Canadians. How would we sensitive Canucks reacted if, say , North Dakotans booed us last year for not joining the fight in Iraq? Or course, Americans are smarter and more mature than that. When thousands of Winnipeggers were stranded in North Dakota, Americans opened their hearts and arms to provide them shelter. They then proceeded to cheer Canada in the gold medal game.

Come to think of it, I seem to recall during the World Cup of hockey in 1996 when notorious Philadelphia fans cheered when Canada won in their home building. Credit to the American team. They have taken all this animosity in stride and with class. They have gone on record saying that they will cheer for Canada in the gold medal game.

It means little to Canadians that the wealth and health of this land (culturally, economically and politically) is intimately tied to America. Some Canadians, not all, have lost all sense of perspective and decency when it comes to their American cousins. They have willingly chosen to politicize their relationship with America and in the end we'll end up with Caribou dung on our face. Never mind that we have our own pathetic mess to clean up. They say in life be careful what you wish for. Well, Canada enjoy Russia. They may bring us the silver.

Hockey Canada should apologize immediately.

*NOTE: In the bronze game, unsurprisingly, the Canadian crowd continued their idiocy. With Finland ahead 4-2, Canadians began to shout 'Over-rated, over-rated!' Sad. No class.
**NOTE: In the gold medal game, Canada simply proved too powerful for Russia. They were outstanding and dominant as they defeated their old rivals 5-0. It was a superb display. They deserve full credit. It still doesn't take away, sadly, from how their fans behaved.
***Note: I contacted Hockey Canada suggesting they apologize. While they agreed that it was inappropriate behavior there was little they could do.


Canadians Must Vote Conservative come January 23.

On January 23rd, Canadians will probably vote in a minority government. If this does turn out to be the case, nothing will be solved to rectify the rut this country is in. As our politicians bicker, Canada stagnates.

With the Bloc Québecois poised to sweep the province of Québec, a minority government is the last thing Canadians need. More importantly, when Canadians head to the polls, we need to seriously send a message.

The Liberal Party of Canada is drunk. Drunk on power and seduced by scandals. It is a rudderless collection of irresponsible buddies from a 2nd rate frat house. In this manner, they are brethren to the Democratic Party in the United States. There are no philosophical ideals or values to speak of in the Liberal Party. They are slaves to the polls and prisoners to special interest- pure and simple. Accountability, a precious concept these days, does not exist in the Liberal lexicon.

With no true opponent, the Liberals run this place like the PRI did Mexico throughout the 20th century - down and dirty. The NDP are as relevant as Karl Marx and the parochial Bloc are as useful as a car with no engine.

That leaves the Conservatives. And Harper just might be the right guy to get people to forget the other parties.

The Conservatives are not quite ready to take power, but what are our choices? Such is the sad state of governance here.

Regardless, this time around Canadians must vote responsibly and with a conscience. How many times can a person tolerate being robbed? Going with the devil you know is not healthy in a democracy. We need choice.

We must vote Conservative in huge numbers. Not because they are better, but for change. We should wipe the Liberals out like they wiped out the Conservatives in the early 90s - though this would not solve any of our problems. The Liberal party needs to be gutted - gutless people should be. If Canadians vote for the Liberals we will deserve what we get. This won't stop us from complaining though. It's the timeless Canadian pass time. Fools - all of us.