The Last Olympic Post


I don't see the point in this article. It strikes me as a tad excessive in its nit picking of Italian irreverence. Not to mention condescending and ungrateful to an Olympic host.

Torino, as a major industrial and manufacturing hub, is not the first place people think of when they plan their romantic get away to Italy. I told my wife to expect an article or two along the lines of this one before the games started. Thanks for stating the obvious Canadian Press that Torino was not like Lillehammer.

Interestingly and ironically, Italy has many other places that would have matched Lillehammer. Alas, this is not the first time Canadian sports journalists take their stab at Italy. Rare is it where I find a thoughtful piece about Italy in Canada's national sports pages. I wonder how they would react if an international journalist wrote such a piece about stunningly beautiful Vancouver in 2010.

For once, it would be nice for mainstream editorial boards to write with more care when it comes to Italy. Perhaps they should consider placing a permanent reporter there so as to pick up on the many intricate nuances that make up the Italian character - or at the very least consult someone who knows a thing or two about Italy.

As for the article's attempt to draw a link between Italy's alleged indifference to the games with poor medal counts consider this. There were 84 gold medals up for grabs at Torino. Germany won the most with 11. A total of 18 countries won at least 1 gold for an average of 4.6. Italy won 5. Fans had plenty to cheer about and be proud of. Historically, Italy has won 36 gold and 100 medals. This places them in the top 10 nations.

Incidentally, I have noticed that people attempt to judge a nation's performance by dividing the number of medals won into the population. This is erroneous because it does not consider that finite number of medals available. Countries with big populations will always 'under perform' next to tiny countries. That's why you see countries like Bermuda top such lists. In order for giant countries to measure according to this method they would have to win over 75% of the medals. I hope to revisit this in detail soon.

Let's take a look at the countries who are usually ahead in the rankings. Most are Nordic or Northern countries like Norway, Sweden, Russia, Canada, Finland, Austria, Switzerland and Germany. Italy holds its own among these nations. They were expected to win 10 medals in Torino - they won 11. While it may be far from the 20 won in Lillehammer, it's still in historical range and a decent number for a Southern European nation - though it is also considered an Alpine state.

In the land that gave the world brilliant motorbikes, exotic high performance cars, beautiful bicycles, legendary soccer moments and clubs and superb athletes, they did just fine. Italians in different parts of the country just have a different way of showing it. The reporter took on a subject that proved too big to handle.

-Watching the closing ceremonies I noticed that they handed off the games to Vancouver. During the part where the guy who was cracking the ice, it would also have been cool to unleash starving polar bears on an unsuspecting caribou tribe - or seals. Good old fashion carnage. Now that's a good way to capture the world's attention. Canada: Land of unforgiving frost, permanent Arctic darkness, dancing Natives and carnage. Works for me.


And So What About Canada in Torino?

When the Canadian Olympic Committee set a medals target of 25 I wasn't sure if that was attainable for a couple of reasons. The first is that Canada never got more than 17 medals in their history. The second was because of Canada's uncanny ability to find a way to lose.

Ever since Canada's pathetic showing in Calgary in 1988 - where the country failed to get a gold medal - Canadians began to demand a little more from our athletes. At the time, that was unfair since the government (or the public for that matter) did little to help out athletes.

It was during the 1990s did Canada begin to emerge as a serious winter athletic nation. The Albertville games in 1992 were a sign of things to come. As we improved people began to see that winning wasn't all that bad. Suddenly it was no longer acceptable to just participate.

In Torino, Canada finished third overall by virtue of winning 24 medals - its best showing ever. Germany led the way with 29 followed by the United States with 25. They even finished ahead of traditional powers Norway and Austria. It was an impressive performance. Especially considering that we led all nations with an incredible 18 4th place finishes. Imagine if Canada converted half of those misses? It would top the table of nations. We've come a long way since 1984 when we didn't even have long track speed skating facilities.

All things considered, it was an interesting performance. Depending how you see things, it can be argued we succeeded in spite of ourselves. There were too many 'what might have been' story lines. To others, this is just nit picking as it was an amazing performance for a perennial mediocre performer like Canada.

Nonetheless, things are a-changing in Canada. The COC should not sit back and pop the Asti Spumante just yet. They need to figure out how to avoid that many 4th place finishes if they want to achieve the lofty goal of 35 medals in Vancouver in 2010.

For the first time, Canadian sports rhetoric is competitive. It was unheard of 10 years ago to set such ambitious goals. However, before we get carried away in Lombardesque chants, they must also guard against developing the prototypical arrogant athlete that only considers gold as being worthy. This would be unhealthy.

In any event, Canada is the talk of a nation. Maybe we can now do away with the notion that it was not about the medals all these years. Indeed, that may have been a way too secretly comfort our collective disappointments. People have been taking an active interest in the medal count - and they are liking it. Radio sports talk hosts, reporters and commentators have all had a different tone in their voice. No more is that sarcastic hint of inferiority complex. Canada is now among the great nations and this makes people feel good.

Quick word on hockey. The games were absolutely boring to watch. After Salt Lake City, everyone was talking about how the NHL was a bad product (which it was) and that it needed to be more 'international' in its orientation. While the NHL could have learned a couple of things best to remember that the Olympics are a short, high impact tournament with nationalist emotions flying high.


Curling Draws Italian Hearts

What was the most watched sport on Italian television at the Torino games? Alpine skiing? Hockey? Speed skating? Nope. The strategic game of curling. As in hurry hard and sweep, curling. Now of course, the rest of the world just found out what a bunch of hosers from Canada already knew. That curling is pretty darn interesting - once you get past the nerdy exterior.

I decided to write about curling not because I play it (I played it once. More on that in a minute) but for how its subtle role in Canadian life. Curling is one of those games where everyone watches but dares not tell anyone. Once long ago, a buddy of mine came onto the bus while we were in high school and quietly sat down and admitted he spent the week-end watching the Brier (Canadian curling Championships). Suddenly, one by one we all stepped forward and confessed. It was one of those rare bonding moments we all shared. Our own Curling Anonymous was founded on that day.

While curling is played in urban centers its best curlers come from the outskirts of major cities like Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal. They are rural (non-urbanized citizens for pc) folk from parts of the country we hardly ever notice. The Canadian comedy movie 'Men With Brooms' made in 2000 did a fair and entertaining job of playing with the curling culture.

My brush - make that broom - with curling came during a Montreal Winter Carnival on Ile Sainte-Hélene several years ago. Off to a remote part of the carnival we stumbled across a makeshift French colony - equipped with a library and museum of course. Being a history junkie I could not resist picking up 'Montreal During the American Civil War' for $2.50 and the 'Roots of the Canadian Army: Montreal District for $3.50. Yes, I party hard.

Nearby there was an outside curling rink in its original state laid down by the British who imported the game - the Scots invented it. It was well below zero. It was January and the median temperatures during that month is always damn cold. It must have been minimum -15c. We asked if we could play and 'la jolie fille' said 'mais oui' and we did. She served us soup and we drank beer under an early evening sky. It was quite something. You know what else? We actually got hooked. We vowed to play again. Until the next day my friend called and said "Where the fuck are we going to curl?" I told him we had to join a club. "What with all those pins and tuques?" Firmly tonque in cheek of course.

And so lives the Canadian stereotype in Italy. Tuques, Mounties and curling. Moose, beavers and loons. Hockey, lacrosse and snowshoeing. It is what it is.

And now the world is in on the secret.


The Olympics are Now Officially Over in Canada

Canada could finish first over all and accumulate tons of gold medals but only one matters to most Canadians - Hockey gold. In Torino 2006 Canada will not medal in the sport that defines this country's sports culture. After Canada's 2-0 loss to a superb Russian team the usual introspective debates and endless symposiums will litter newsprint and radio airwaves. The legendary Canadian heart we were all waiting for never came.

I don't know why but this team may have been pegged to win gold by the experts but a more thoughtful mind would have been a little more suspicious. We consistently, at our own peril, under estimate the opposition. Even up until today's loss Canadian hockey pundits predicted Canada would magically 'pull it together'. If they were playing well I could see this but Canada played horribly overall in the six games they played. They thoroughly deserved the loss. I don't think it was from lack of effort.

From top to bottom the philosophy of Hockey Canada was completely out of step with the nuances of Olympic hockey.

Before I go on a couple of thoughts. International hockey is highly competitive any of the 7 powers (Canada,Russia, Sweden, Finland, USA, Czech Republic, Slovakia) can beat anybody at any time. All the more reason for hockey minds to be agile and innovative if not daring. As for Canada, they remain the supreme hockey nation in terms of talent. There is no nation (with the possible exception of Russia) that could have literally sent a second squad of high quality.

The depth of Canadian talent is deep, awesome and safe. Nothing is wrong with hockey in Canada. Just add up the titles (and second place finishes) in the major tournaments (World Cup, World Championships, Olympics and World Jr.s). Who is on top? Canada - by a long shot. The problem lies, like in any organization, with two things: the administration and setting realistic expectations. Are Canadians prepared to look at this reality? For all the 'it's our game' rhetoric' the reality is that we do not own it.

Now for the ugly. Canada simply played awful hockey. From the onset I predicted they would not win a medal and I am not happy for being right. I won $10 for my troubles.

I based my bet on one simple axiom that can be applied to anything: Past winnings is not indicative of future victories and remaining loyal to the past is not always wise. Too many players selected to this team were having sub-par seasons and this should have been honestly considered. Those try-outs were an exercise in political non sense as Gretzky already new who he was going to select.

The whole selection process was flawed. Yes, the core of this team won in Salt Lake City in 2002 and the World Cup in 2004. On the surface, only this matters. However, we have to be frank. They were lucky in 2002 and 2004. That should have been a signal for them to not go with a safe formula but a different direction.

From the get go Hockey Canada was unwilling to be daring. They repeated the same errors they committed in 1998. Rather than take hot players that deserved to be there they went political. Way too many players should have been in Torino without debate on this team. Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Paul Kariya, Alex Tanguay, Patrick Marleau, Jason Spezza and Dion Phaneuf to be specific. It's hard to think they would not have made a difference.

Worse, the coaching staff of Quinn, Hitchcock and Martin were abysmal in their incompetence. They may be good NHL coaches but international guys they ain't. I could not believe how they could not adjust thanks to their old style NHL stubbornness. It was a disjointed effort that was devoid of any enthusiasm. No player stepped up their play and this is unacceptable.

My coaching choices would have been the following: Dave King or Tom Renney both actually have true international experience. Arguably, the greatest coach in sports history was never consulted (for typical short sighted Canadian political reasons). How Scotty Bowman continues to be ignored is one of the great hockey mysteries. Last, Jacque Lemaire - who is a true innovator and great hockey mind - deserves to be looked at in 2010.

Sadly, Hockey Canada seems to be a Toronto-centric operation and he may never be looked at. Lemaire, to outsiders like me, seems to stand on the periphery of hockey's inner circle.

Now, Canada has to reassess their position for 2010 in Vancouver. The nation will look to the players aforementioned to win. They will be thrown into the lion's den when they should have gained some experience in Torino. They will go against the dynasty of Russian players like Ovechkin, Kovalchuk and Malkin who were all the same age but no whave the added edge of experience by being present in Italy. It was a short sighted move on Canada's part to not bring th kids. They did so with Eric Lindros (who wasn't even an NHLer but still in juniors) in 1991 at the Canada Cup and it worked out great. As a result, Canada will not be a lock in front of their home crowd and that's a shame.

Canada has already won 18 medals - most in its history. This is cause for many of us to be impressed (though with 12 4th place finishes Olympic Canadian Committee would be a tad disappointed as they aimed for 25 medals to prepare for Vancouver). But, the hockey loss will over shadow all these accomplishments. Just another day in Canada.

Note from Oct. 2007 - Hockey Canada usually gets right more often than not and so I am not concerned.


Animated Reflections on Cartoons

"Yoo-hoo! Mr. A-rab....over here!" Bugs Bunny

"Wo, camel. Wo! When I mean wo, I mean WO!" Yosemite Sam

"Oh come Lisa, everyone knows leprechauns are extinct..." Kent Brockman

This cartoon thing has legs alright. As a writer, I very rarely ever delve into the world of religion. Though a fascinating subject, my knowledge of it is limited. Not that I think other shouldn't do so. However, when it comes to art and religion, the marriage has at times been rocky.

The Muslim outrage - what aren't they ever outraged over? - is religious based. Now let me say this: I think we're over-dramatizing and over-analyzing this whole thing. It very much is about freedom of speech. We're at the point that Muslims are demanding that Denmark apologize.

How a government should apologize for something a single newspaper published points to the heart of the matter. Muslims back home at the mothership simply can't comprehend how we function here. They believe that all this is a conspiracy. Sure it is.

Oddly, their depiction of Jews as eating babies or as Nazis is perfectly within the realm of good taste for them. Conversely, here in North America we tend to tolerate anti-Christian postering (Christian iconography in general) a little too much. Time and again we see artists interpret Jesus in whatever light they choose - at times relfecting the philosophical fads of the times. Most of it not smart at all but they have the right to their expressions. Jesus still towers above them all. If you read anything into the religious revival in America. Lennon is out. Jesus is so in.

Back to Muslims, do they have armoires filled with flags of the West pulling them out as needed? It's all a scam, I tell ya. Perceptions dictate that Muslims have become the raving and ranting incoherent Uncle at family gatherings no one dares offend. Always upset that he's misunderstood, though never once looking at himself in the mirror. Indeed, perceptions are notoriously unreliable.

They wonder why we don't learn about their history (though I suspect we now know more about them then they do of us), but do they ever take a minute and actually look at how they behave at times? Worse than Ile Nastese and John McEnroe combined. Can they seriously blame people for wondering what the hem is going on within their ranks?

In fairness, Toronto and Montreal did have peaceful demonstrations but the rhetoric remains completely oblivious to how Western society functions. The cartoons should be displayed and CNN was not being respectful when they chose not to run them; just scared.

All these North American Muslim leaders keep pointing and wagging their religious fingers at my secular mindset, but they are doing a massive disservice to their own people. I don't need them to tell me what was wrong with the pictures. Most people already concluded that before the insane uprising. Then again, who am I to judge? If that's what they prefer, be my guest. Just don't make me feel guilty for anything.

Someone once told me, "I don't hate you Italians. I love lasagne." My how times change. Now I can say to a Muslim, "I don't hate Muslims. I love vine leaves." What do they think? We dream up ideas to offend Muslims in a boardroom over doughnuts? Are they that vain? We have better things to do - like watch American (or Canadian) Idol for instance.

Still, I refuse to paint all Muslims in this light - I have read a few insightful articles from Muslim North Americans. However, this is counter-balanced by Muslims disturbingly calling for those Danish cartoonists to be 'sentenced to death.'

The cartoons reveal distastefulness, not racism. One caller on a national radio show suggested we think hard before we publish things... wise and prudent words. However, what degree of thinking is needed? A left-wing newspaper will have different considerations than a right-leaning one. And what if they do and determine it's alright to publish cartoons, only to have miscalculated? Is this immoral or irresponsible? This is where balancing moderation and freedom of speech comes in. Secularism has freed us to explore the nether-regions of our culture and mind. Islam and Mohammed are one and the same.

That's the problem. Freedom itself is ignorant of race or religion. That's why many Muslims in the West have learned to balance their religion within an Occidental construct.

Protest, write to the editor and move on. Italians are still depicted as fat Mobsters; Mexicans as immoral and lazy and Irishmen as drunken pugilists. Cripes, the Poles and Newfies are punchlines to everyone's jokes! Get used to it me Muslim friends. It's part of the fun. I know, it's not the same as attacking a Prophet but it still makes a point. Is there a Muslim equivalent to George Carlin? Thought not.

Islam is home to some of humanity's greatest achievements. Yet, you would not think this in contemporary times. Everyday I have to read about how the West is killing the environment, how Americans are evil, that Jesus never existed (in some parts of the Middle-East people think he ate babies), and how insensitive and ignorant we are (to name a few).

At some point you stop and reflect over a fresh piece of apple pie and wonder if we are really that bad. Did these cartoons arise because we are the masters of evil-dom? The answer, of course, is no; unless you're Bobby Fischer or Noam Chomsky.

In the case of Jesus I find it offensive that scholars/writers would even attempt to refute his existence, but am I out bombing embassies? I'm a coward that way. Are we freaking out that Arabs think Americans and Jews (if the Freemasons prove me wrong so be it) plotted the attacks of 9/11? The West should speak as one clear voice in this matter.

The American and British weak response was absolutely shocking if not maddening. We should stand behind Denmark. Not as enemies to Muslims but as allies to freedom.


Sports Comment: Propecia, The Olympics, IOC, Wayne Gretzky

-Propecia. Who knew? According to Zach Lund and Josée Theodore it works like a charm. Now, are there any endorsements lined up? Lund was given the major political shaft. His Federation and fellow athletes should stand firmly behind him. It would be nice if they would protest the absurd last minute call to ban him.

-Corrupt, filled with nepotism and bureaucratic red tape. Sounds like many corporations and political parties. Isn't it interesting to note that the one organization on the planet that seeks to pander to human virtues -gulp, the Olympics - has succumbed to the vices we find in other international bodies? Like the UN for example. The Olympics are a joke in many ways in and in many languages.

-Should he or shouldn't he? Personally, Gretzky did the right thing going to Torino. If not, simply because many in the media think he should stay home. Suggesting otherwise based on the facts lacks proper rational logic.In any event, professional athletes should not be allowed to participate at the Olympics. It's like asking a punk band to perform at a Jazz festival. Speaking of which, the Montreal version is not too far off from crossing that line.


Skating on Melting Ice for the Great One?

And not just because he coaches the Phoenix Coyotes. If there is any truth about the allegations that Wayne Gretzky and Rick Tocchet were involved in illegal gambling it will have some obvious implications for them and hockey in general. However, in the case of Gretzky in particular, the outcome will have an impact on an entire nation.

Wayne Gretzky is a national symbol to Canada. Like the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has become an integral part of our political culture, so has Gretzky. One will be hard pressed to find a sport figure in North America that has meant more to his country than Wayne Gretzky. The closest to my mind is Babe Ruth. Indeed, baseball players captivated the publics imagination more than any other athlete once upon a time in the U.S. I'm not sure Michael Jordan reached such an esteemed level.

America is littered with sports legends but they seem more regional in their legend than national. Though Red Grange, Junior Johnson, Jim Thorpe etc. all were national heroes to an extent, did they ever reach Gretzky's Arthurian image like in Canada?

Gretzky's iconic image is quintessentially how Canadians want to be looked upon on the global stage. This is why if any of these reports are true and evidence implicates Gretzky, the national psyche of entire people may be ruptured. One will be able to hear the collective sighs of disbelief all the way to Torino. It may take some time before the story unfolds but in the mean time Canada is holding its breath.

When are we going to learn to not turn athletes into mythical figures? If Gretzky goes down (which by the way is highly unlikely) so should the entire ethos to which we hold athletes in high regard. Every parent may have to sit down with their kids and delicately explain to them how to balance admiring someone's talents and achievements with outright infatuation that flowers the athlete with obscene adulation.

On a side note, I met Wayne Gretzky in 1983 when he was visiting the city of Laval north of Montreal. At the time, Mario Lemieux was playing in Laval and the hockey world was buzzing with anticipation of Gretzky's heir apparent. Gretzky was being sponsored by the now defunct GWG Jeans (come to think of it I have no idea whatever happened to the company). Laval is predominantly French speaking city and I still remember the look on everyone's face while waiting in line. You did not need to speak any language to know who Gretzky was. I waited in line and he signed the picture of him in his GWG's and stylized 80s blonde hair.

I taped it on the wall off the side of my bed where it stayed for a long while. Strange enough, I can't help but wonder if that pristine memory is just that - a distant memory from an innocent time bound to disappoint.

Nah. Gretzky's image will always age better than, say, Barry Bonds.


The Unsolved Mystery of Freedom's Death

Those intellectual homes we call Universities have long been on tenuous ground as preservers of freedom. In the minds of our best and brightest - students and administrators - suppressing is a mode of compassionate and thoughtful defense. What fecal rot have we allowed to set in on the grass of our soiled institutions of higher learning? It is to tread a thinnish line to condemn part -if not an entire - system of upper education. If insignificant animations drawn in a distant land have the capabilities of exposing the death of healthy debate then perhaps we do what we must to revive this precious commodity.

Freedom is dead on campuses. The University of St. Mary's and Prince Edward Island have reminded us of this. Their reactions -save some brave souls - to the the impending wave of Muslim wrath is all too common in our schools. So sensitive are we to not offend we find ourselves on our knees with our wrists twisted in mangled pain. The one place where all people of all nationalities can bond in a brotherhood of intellectual exchange has chosen to immolate freedom of thought and speech. Stifen and swiffer away these young minds of the future slated to shape and form our collective future. The beautiful minds of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison are but mere mirages for posterity.

One-dimensional debate dictate the arguments of the offended and thus the plaintiffs. Liberty and secularism - as defendants- simply do not figure into their minds when assessing the cartoons.

For its disreputable part, Concordia University - by which a History degree was earned and long denounced - dismay and disappointment is the operative words to describe the spineless individuals who roam its decaying bricks. Within its weak arms they hold the hand of tyranny on its campus.

Perhaps the cartoons traveled a little far. However, the reaction to it is a shocking validation of the utter lack of good judgment and common sense among those who feel attacked.

Debate is about freedom and freedom allows for our most humanistic of values to flower and grow but Universities are corporations now. Its administrators operate like CEO's ensuring that their shareholders are taken well care of. Some have become a little to insidiously and comfortably partisan either with political party's or ideologies. All in a day's work in a post modern life.

In the skeleton halls of our schools that bequeath upon our future minds supposed tools that exercise the mind we find nothing but ghosts and murderers. Universities are fine for those single-minded souls out to get a degree in esteemed and important disciplines in the mold of accounting or engineering. It may as well be for those such specific oriented minds, the micro-management of hollow intellectualism is what we all excel at.

The price has been rendered and it is high.


My Liberty: Shared Realities Make France and the United States Partners

It all depends if you believe there's a legitimate terrorist threat or not. From here, it can be determined the degree of security measures needed - if any. Such is the reality of living in a free and democratic society. No one ever said it was going to be easy.

Cynics, skeptics and leftists (artists and political theorists alike) obviously take the position that it's a gross exaggeration fed to us by a media kept in line by the government. Some of their arguments are valid and others should be dismissed outright. What intrigues me is how many who stand against the government threaten to move to France to voice their displeasure.

Is the grass greener in France? Let's look at it, shall we? Ironically, the perception is that France is a freer society. Culturally the French are indeed more liberal - and anti-American. But that's another story. French anti-Americanism is hardly how conservatives like Hannity and O'Reilly describe it. It's just a typical philosophical position taken by a quarrelsome society that enjoys taking a devil's advocate stand. This is not to demean their recent posturing on this front, but a sense of perspective is needed here.

France has a reputation of being an inept military society; as if Inspector Clouseau ran the show. This, too, is selective, for the descendants of Gaul and the Franks are noted for their military abilities. We always remember the most recent things in life, because we have short attention spans when it comes to history, and France - until they prove their worth in another war - will always pay the price for their record during World War II. People care little for the big picture for it will inevitably shatter their narrow perceptions.

On a governance level France is a unitary Republic that wields widespread power unseen in the United States. On the terrorist front France is a key partner. They are efficient at breaking up cells and plots. It is here that we begin to see a breakdown in people's arguments against Bush, who wants to use simple and controversial, but effective measures like wiretaps and internet tools such as 'Google' to fight terrorists.

It may come as a surprise to many but France has been a police state for decades. France has been dealing with terrorists for centuries, but specifically since the 1950s with Algeria. Since then an organization calling itself Groupe Islamique Armé (GIA) has made France a target. France has responded with three police services responsible in fighting terrorism: Direction de la Surveillance du Territoire (DST), Direction Centrale des Renseignements Généraux (DCRG) and Division Nationale Anti-terroriste (DNAT), each with specific roles and duties that cooperate with one another.

France is a sophisticated civil society that makes no qualms about the fact that the threat is real. One need only examine the networks they have dismantled and destroyed either by mass arrests or targeted killings. The list is daunting if not frightening. France has some of the toughest anti-terrorism laws on earth. For their part, Germany, Britain and Italy all have functional intelligence units that are experienced in this field and together they form as formidable a power group. Interestingly, France and the United States have been cooperating behind the scenes to devise plans on how to fight terrorism. On this front, the uncomfortable alliance remains strong.

In 2001, Americans were introduced to an act of murder Europeans had grown accustomed to. As such, its government has sought to introduce various responsible, expensive, imperfect and unpopular security measures and organizations necessary to defend themselves. As time moves forward, Americans will become better at balancing civil liberties and security. After all, France has done so (they did manage to fool entertainers). This is the nature of the beast Western societies face.

It is up to Americans if they want to use short-term considerations to drive their responses to security concerns. Will someone stand up and speak for the big picture? Big pictures always reveal some surprising truths.

Sports Comments: Winning is all that matters, History and QB's, Hockey goalies, Super Bowl XL

-It's all about winning. Once upon a time, sports was viewed as an integral component of what made up a renaissance man; a gentleman in the Victorian age. It was more important to shake a hand and lose graciously than to win by cheating or at all costs. Slowly, the philosophy (or idea anyway) of amateur sports helping to form men of integrity and high morals gave way to the professional ethic. No, this did not happen recently but rather early in the 20th century. It only reached the levels we are accustomed to late in the century. Things take time, you know.

Anyway, here's the trade-off: better athletes with more money who operate in a sports business environment that cares little for the 'spirit' or 'essence' of the sport. All rivalries are superficially created, whereas before it was athletes with no financial security who played for love of sport and hatred of opponent. That's why we romanticize the earlier decades as 'golden.'

-We've all heard the saying "history judges the quarterbacks who win a title." Just like history gets to be written by the winner in a war. This is true but not necessarily right. Many great nations have lost critical wars. Some wars are won by the slightest of margins that is usually determined by intangible factors not thought of by military 'geniuses.' Like nature, for instance. Outside factors do have an impact.

Dan Marino is the latest sad sack figure among football fans. The King of 'Never won the big one' syndrome. 'Great regular season figures but he never won.' Some people disregard stats and go straight to the heart of the matter: did he win or not? I thought there was no 'I' in team. While there is some merit to these arguments, they are rather shortsighted to me.

Is Marino (or Dan Fouts, Fran Tarkenton and to a lesser extent, Jim Kelley and Warren Moon) to be judged less favorably than lesser QB's (and there many) who have won? Jim Plunkett, Mark Rypien, Doug Williams, Brad Johnson, Jeff Hostetler and Trent Dilfer have all won super bowls, yet we are to somehow believe by this virtue that they stand ahead of Marino? One could argue that people will remember Plunkett over Marino because he won. Baloney. The fact is that Marino is far superior than many QB's who have won the SB. It's not his fault the Dolphins weren't good enough. There are limits to what a person can do and I somehow doubt lesser QB's made their teams better.

-Interestingly, hockey goalies suffer the same type of nonsense. 'He's great but he's never won anything.' One such goalie is Curtis Joseph. I can barely recall a goalie that stood more on his head for bad playoff teams than he. Time and again in St.Louis and Edmonton he made saves that only a hockey immortal can pull off. Yet, those teams were not good enough to make him a winner. Furthermore, in 2003 Joseph allowed only 10 goals in 4 games for Detroit, while his teammates popped six behind Jean-Sebastien Giguere of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. Joseph was absurdly made the scapegoat for the loss. Does the same fate await great young goalies like Roberto Luongo? FYI: The rate of great goalies winning the Stanley Cup is higher than great QB's winning a Super Bowl. The same goes for all sorts of great players in different sports: Barry Bonds, John Stockton and Karl Malone, Marcel Dionne etc.

-Just want to comment on the officiating during Super Bowl XL. Let me first say that Seattle lost the game on their own. Pittsburgh, while not doing anything that forced Seattle to make mental errors, still made the plays when they had to. End of story. Sports is driven by results. However, bad officiating is a momentum killer. Seattle had some calls go against them that were hard to overcome.

It's not the first time we see this sort of thing. Buffalo Sabres fans will recall Brett Hull's 'toe in the crease' infraction that was overlooked. What was interesting about that non-call was the fact that all year long the referees called that infraction with consistent fervor then suddenly they ignored it. During the 2002 World Cup in soccer, the third-rate officiating was an absolute disgrace. There should be an asterisk next to that one. Anyway, these are just two tiny examples among many that have happened. Everyone has a memory of one. Seattle did get the shaft, but hey, join the club.


Pittsburgh Steelers Reach Super Bowl Pinnacle

Super Bowl XL has come and gone and you can still hear the many screams of the destitute in Vegas all the way to Memphis. As I watched the Seahawks give the game away (though they were unlucky on some calls), I could not help but think about what is a more important position in today's game; running back or receiver? Receivers are the glam-boys but do running backs drive an offense more? Come to think of it, and on a side note, why does Terry Bradshaw remain under rated when it comes to the Steelers dynasty of the 70s? Tangents aside, the Pittsburgh victory adds some spice to those who like stats and placing them in their historical context.

With nine completions (Roethlesberger - who looked like one of the apostles - went 9 for 21 for 123 yards. Hasselbeck 24-49 for over 200 yards) and a paltry offensive output, the Steelers beat the Seahawks 21-10 in unspectacular fashion. I'm still unsure how Pittsburgh pulled it off. Yes, timely interceptions and bad penalties on Seattle's part helped but one can't help but notice Seattle sinking their own ship. We've seen this play out many times before where a team that seems out of the game just know how to hang around long enough to win. The Montreal Canadiens were masters of this; especially against the Boston Bruins in the 1970s.

Seattle dictated the game in the first half and came away with 3 lousy points (though the interference call seemed a tad harsh that would have given them a deserved touchdown). Worse, with double the time possession and yardage, they were down 7-3 at the half! Right then and there most people probably thought like I did and felt they were in trouble.

Which goes to prove no matter how well prepared you are if you don't execute and improvise you're dead. The Seahawks seemed like the better prepared team early but Pittsburgh knew how to play and stay close while they warmed up. They seemed to go with the flow very well all year. That's why they were not picked to win anything. No one could quite get a grip on them.

With the victory, Pittsburgh joins Dallas and San Francisco as the 'Elite Three' with 5 Super Bowl titles. Between the Triumvirate, they have have won 15 titles or 38% of the Super Bowls. To purists 5 titles is nothing next to the feats of Cleveland, Chicago and Green Bay and all those AAFC and NFL titles.

Anyway, not only did Pittsburgh win their 5th title in 6 appearances in the finals, they have the distinction of being the only 6th seed to ever win. The city of Pittsburgh itself has now won their 13th pro title. Right about now some of you are saying "let's see, Steelers 5, Pirates 5, Penguins 2...hey that's 12 bonehead!" I added the Pipers of the ABA in the total.

As for the legendary Rolling Stones who performed at half time, not that they were terrible but for a group that was predicated on the notion of anti-establishmentarianism they sure embrace corporate life very well. They traded in their drugs for Evian water; rags for Armani's. Who said life was not a mere collection of contradictions over time? It's fine they still play but a cynic may ask are they still relevant? Does it matter? They do seem to connect to each passing generation. Blues musicians still sing the blues even though the days that brought them the blues are long gone.

Then again, human grief and despair will always be with us. When Muddy Waters was rediscovered in the 60s and 70s, he toured with rock acts but by then his folkloric legacy was a distant memory. But in the process a whole new demographic was reconnected to it. For that they deserve credit. I would have liked to have seen them play 'Sister Morphine.'

-Quick hockey note: Josee Theodore's sudden and mysterious inability to goaltend for the Canadiens has many scratching their heads in this town (maybe throughout the league). Reason, excuses and theories abound. To me, it reminds me of the story of former Pirate pitcher Steve Blass. In the early 70s, Blass went from effective pitcher to losing all sense of location. His career ended on a mystery. While he's still far away from a Blass type obscurity, Theodore seems to be on the path. Now, he may just be in a funk or perhaps a change of scenery may revive his career but it's still something that entered my radar. He's on the watchlist.

Here's to the Danish People, Economy....and Freedom!


Denmark: Area 43 075 sq km; Population 5.3 million; Human Development Index 92.1; Capital: Copenhagen; GDP 162 billion; Per Head $30 420; Principal Exports: Manufactured Goods; Known for: Generous social programs and introspective and peaceful civil society. In addition, butter cookies, Hans Christian Andersen, Soren Kierkegaard and ferocious Vikings.

I can't let this story go. It's simply too rich and irresistible.

Do Christians go around burning flags and dying whenever people characterize the Pope in a distasteful manner? Do Italians fatalistically run amok whenever they are drawn as fat, lazy mobsters eating pizza and smoking cigars while placing bets on the NFL in a murky coffee bar? And why do Muslims out on the infamous Arab street have Danish flags handy to burn?

The cartoons were expressions of freedom, poor judgment notwithstanding - though I don't know what the fuss is all about. Bin Laden sure loves his guns and being a tough macho psycho. The Muslim reaction to it was pure insecure tyranny. The question must be asked: Are our most cherished values - freedom of speech and the press - as defined by our culture, simply incompatible with Muslim sensibilities? Everyone is fair game in a free society. You didn't like it? Write to the editor. There are other ways to voice disagreement than absurdly burning down embassies. And I would classify burning down an embassy as a tad excessive.

Rightly or wrongly, who looks worse once again? Sadly, this type of hysterical fear-mongering has led to the Danish newspaper apologizing. Instead of looking at the cartoons and asking themselves what they are doing wrong to garner such a perception (hey, we ask the Americans to do it all the time), they chose the usual low road of blaming others. Sometimes you just need to laugh at yourself. The West does that all the time - sometimes a little too much.

According to statistics, the Muslim boycott of Danish goods and services is costing that economy $1 million dollars a day. I fear they stand to lose a lot more than a few pennies if they don't stand their ground. We should support them. Or else freedom is on the run my friends.

NOTE: Since the writing of this post The Commentator has changed his name and moved to Wyoming.

Danes'N Muslims

It can't be this easy to provoke Muslim insecurities can it? Then again I rarely believe whatever comes out of police states. Most people you see at rallies from Cuba to Syria are organized by the state and thus do not reflect the feelings of the general population at large. Nonetheless, the latest anger showcased from the infamous (and possibly mythical) 'Arab Street' does reveal some intriguing things about how we deal with 'outrage' in that part of the world. In the process, we learn a little about ourselves.

Many a Scandal-navians are scratching their blond hairs today I am sure.

Let's see, a cartoon in a Danish newspaper which is circulated throughout the Scandinavian paper circuit leads to the burning of the Danish embassy by Muslims in Beirut? So, if Muslims were the leaders of modern polity it stands to reason that Americans should have reacted to a Turkish movie depicting American soldiers as brutal animals by burning down the Turkish embassy on U.S. soil? Another persons absurdity is another persons reality I suppose.

How should we rationalize all this? The Arab world is justifying their actions by pointing out that the cartoon was inflammatory. If you do not like something there are other ways to voice your opposition. Notice the different approaches to perceived ill-will; the general American reaction to the Turkish film has been indifference while Muslims reacted by burning the Danish flag. Oh dear, if the peaceful Danes are not immune to this sort of thing what hope do the major powers have?

And where exactly did they get these flags? I can barely get my hands on a Canadian flag and these people have Danish ones handy? The American 'drapeau' I can see since everyone wants a piece of one but Denmark? No offense to the great Danes, but Denmark?

Obviously, someone supplied the protestors with them. "Hello, they did what? Allah wants us where? I'm so there."

"People, here are some matches, mustaches and two Danish flags. Burn them wisely. Don't mind the cameraman he's just working on term paper."

What about propaganda? A cynic grown disillusioned with democracy will point that democratic propaganda is far ore subtle and sophisticated. The apparent free state is not, well, free if you get their drift. I'll stop here.

The whole episode is entirely preposterous to our sensibilities in the West. Therein lies the massive differences between the two societies. Muslims have yet to flick off certain things in order to choose their battles wisely. The West is constantly chastised, belittled and attacked by vitriolic commentators and religious clerics in the Middle-East. Where's our outrage?

Usually immature, less developed and insecure societies react with anger to innocuous stories. How their leaders react to it will greatly dictate the degree of the people's 'will.' Being distasteful is not the same as being racist. Here in Canada we have been known to over react at times. Out come the curling brooms and hockey sticks in thin-skinned anger when our peaceful sophisticated society is made fun of.

What also caught my eye in the CNN report of the story was the disclosed line at the end of the article stipulating that they decided not to reprint the pictures out of respect for Islam.

Cheat me out of some laughs, will they? Ok, as I shake my head furiously, let's see if I follow this. As we have seen, the media in the West (and in the U.S. in particular) have no problem fighting to print information that can be sensitive to national security or questionable stories that can amount to treason by invoking the freedom of the press. Yet they show restraint, responsiblity and sensitivity to Islam about lousy cartoons? Curious stuff.

Freedom is a selective process for the media elite. The only casualty here is exactly that - liberty. Do we fear Muslim backlash to the point of sacrificing our own rights? We are slowly losing grip on perspective.

Sigh, where do I buy a Turkish or Syrian flag?


History Rewards The Kinks' Bad Timing

"Picture yourself when you’re getting old,
Sat by the fireside a-pondering on
Picture book, pictures of your mama, taken by your papa a long time ago.
Picture book, of people with each other, to prove they love each other a long ago.

"Picture book, your mama and your papa, and fat old uncle charlie out cruising with their friends.
Picture book, a holiday in august, outside a bed and breakfast in sunny southend.
Picture book, when you were just a baby, those days when you were happy, a long time ago." The Kinks, Picture Book. 1968.

So go the lyrics of a song from a forgotten album. A mighty difficult challenge it is for a thirty-something gent to comment on a wild period such as the 60s musical scene. Then again, it's just history and some of us are capable of grasping its lost nuances.

In the mind of popular public opinion, the 60s is all about gratuitous sex, drug experimentation and Satanism all rolled up in the spirit of Woodstock - a mythical time and place so long ago it may as well be Camelot or Atlantis. The period is best remembered under the musical umbrella of rock immortals like The Beatles, Neil Young, Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Led Zeppelin - and on and on. But what about the lesser known members of 1960s musical heritage?

For me, the 60s have become hopelessly dated - especially politically. John Lennon is a hero to many still; I sometimes want to vomit when I hear him described as the world's greatest pure soul. It was all a moment in time and while many baby-boomers hang on to the notions they espoused then, it doesn't resonate all that well anymore. In a way, I'm glad foreign policy resisted the onslaught. What was good for the baby-boomer wasn't necessarily good for the nation moving forward.

There were bands and albums being made that went against the grain. I came across 'The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society' a couple of years ago and thought nothing of it. Ignorance is not only bliss, it's downright indiscriminate. If one is not acquainted with history, we can easily overlook relevant gems before our eyes. Fast forward to 2006 and something hit me about this album. The sound struck me as so contrary to what was being recorded back then. In fact, the lyrics were not only intimate but also hilarious. If the 60s were about hope and youthful exuberance (the Renaissance belief in man run amok if you will), Ray Davies' masterpiece comes off as a little too sober and pragmatic for the period. It's as if he was saying 'Grow up people. Pay attention!'

Alas, this is just my perception. I never interviewed Ray Davies but if I did I'd know exactly what to ask him and what to talk about. Nothing can be more frustrating than to write relevant stuff and not be recognized on the spot. Then again, true relevance ages like a fine wine. It finds a way to reconnect. Inside John Mellencamp's 'Scarecrow' album jacket reads 'There's nothing more sad or more glorious than generations changing hands.' With this album, Davies can sit back and, well, derive satisfaction that a young blogger is writing about his soul.

Worse, it can be quite the uphill battle trying to shake a stigma. The Kinks, as most already know, are the creators of some of rock's most recognizable anthems - 'Lola' and 'You Really Got Me' immediately spring to mind. As a result, they were forever associated as a hitmaking pop rock band that every garage band must copy and master in order to be legitimate. Marketed as part of the British Invasion, Ray Davies and The Kinks were not allowed to spread their intellectual musical wings.

While The Beatles and Brian Wilson were blowing everyone away with 'Revolver', 'Rubber Soul' and 'Pet Sounds' in a game of one-upmanship, Davies quietly offered his perspectives that flopped in the construct of musical business models. Who knows why certain pieces of art get ignored? Maybe the kids were too burnt to truly understand. They were too busy trying to be cool.

What attracts me to The Village Green is its call for a lost time. The whole album seems to try and preserve parts of history. The opening line of 'The Village Green Preservation Society', "We are the VGPS, God Save Donald Duck, Vaudeville and Variety" blasted me with so many realities of modern times. Sadly, Al Jolson is just another forgotten historical relic. No longer central to a people so addicted to immediate self-gratification. Our collective attention spans are that of a tiny fly that has little interest - let alone appreciation - for all things from another era. Fret not, there are many people who are preserving our beauty against the terrible avalanche of profiteering. History on its own is just a word. Add a human face to it and it becomes something more.

Above all, the album hits with a hint of humorous irreverence, as revealed with the references to 'Scooby Doo' and 'Fat Uncle Charlie' in the addictive 'Picture Book.'

Someone once contended that 'The Kinks' are the greatest and most under appreciated rock band ever. Now I know what this astute person meant. The Kinks (who had achieved cult status in the mid-70s) had the courage to go against a grain and a current much like Jonathan Richman did in the early 70s. The price was to forego eternal immortality in the annals of popular consumption.

Now that I think of it, who cares? What albums like VGPS have given is far more profound. Is Davies 'the last of the good old choo-choo trains?' No, but he's a dying breed in the face of Ashlee Simpson.