Thursday, April 30, 2009


This made my day, actually. It seems that the Danish police are a ferocious lot when it comes to dealing with the scourge of unbehelmeted bicycling. Behold:

Fez tip to The Galloping Beaver.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

It's Time...

...for the Second Annual De Koboldorum Rebus Awards To Members Of The Edmonton Oilers For Their Performances During The Recently Concluded NHL Hockey Season!! Hereafter, these will be referred to as "The Scalies." Last year's edition is here.

Well, that was depressing, wasn't it? The Oilers hurtled into this season abrim with optimism, and ended up pretty much where they did last year, only without much of the fun. In the end, poor old Craig MacTavish walked the plank, and not even the most devout MacT fan (and I'm a fairly devout MacT fan) could claim that it wasn't time. And so we look ahead to next year with, well, optimism, or at least interest. There will be a new coach! New players! A refreshing new attitude! Etc. And now on to the awards:

Team MVP: It's a bit of a cop-out to pick the team's starting goalie, but let's face facts here. Dwayne Roloson became the oldest goalie ever to start 60 NHL games in a season, and stole more than a handful of points for the Oil. He was looking worn out by the end of the year, but without him the Oilers would have been done by about the beginning of March.

Best Rookie: This year's freshman class lacked the flash of last year's, with nary a Gagner nor a Cogliano to be seen. So... Well, Theo Peckham is a more promising prospect, and Steve MacIntyre was a better story (in addition to producing the best photo of the season, see above), but Liam Reddox got himself into 46 games, and, even though he didn't do much in them, that's enough to earn him the Scaly.

Most Under-Rated Player: Ooh, a repeat winner! To put it bluntly, when Dustin Penner was on the ice, the Oilers had a significantly better chance to score than did the other team (and you can go here and play with the stats if you don't believe me). And yet, once again, all we heard was that Penner is fat, lazy, stupid, a communist, and so on. Bizarrely, his coach joined in on that theme this year, which was one of the first signs that things had to gone pear-shaped with reference to MacT's tenure. Anyway, Penner's a good player, and I hope he stays in Edmonton.

Most Improved Player: After a nice rookie year, Sam Gagner's offence went away at the beginning of this season. However, his defensive play had improved dramatically, and the fact that he was playing on a wonky ankle probably had something to do with his inability to score. By the end of the season he was quite possibly the team's best player.

And so, on to next season! Excelsior (please)!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

De Stultitiis

Well now...

The Government of Alberta recently embarked upon the project of finding a new slogan for the province. It duly settled upon "Alberta: Freedom to create. Spirit to achieve," which is probably decent enough as provincial slogans go, since it creates warm cuddly feelings without conveying any information whatsoever beyond the name of the place. This slogan has duly been plastered all over pictures of charming-looking scenery, such as this one (click it to see larger version):

Lovely, no? The problem, of course, is that the scenery in that picture isn't in Alberta. Nor is it in Canada. In fact, it's not even on this particular continent. In fact, that's the coast of the North Sea, in Northumberland, England. It's not far from Bamburgh Castle, as shown on the map below.

Now, what makes this particularly funny is that the government PR types, when queried about this little problem, chose not to simply say "Oops, our bad." Instead, they trotted out the "I meant to do that" defense. From Paula Simon's column about it in the Edmonton Journal:

"'This slide represents Albertans' concern for the future of the world,' Olga Guthrie, manager of the brand initiative for Alberta's public affairs bureau, wrote..."

and later:

"'There's no attempt to make people think that this is Alberta,' says Tom Olsen, the premier's director of media relations. 'There's no attempt to mislead. That picture just fit the mood and tone of what we were trying to do.'"

Yeesh. Yeah, slapping the province's shiny new slogan onto a picture of some countryside has no chance at all of making the casual viewer believe that it's a picture of Alberta. I say again, "Yeesh."

However, it occurs to me that we could have some fun with this. So, kiddies, get out your crayons, and let's make some Alberta tourism posters! Like this one, which subtly reminds the viewer of the vastness of the Alberta prairie:

Or how about this one, which takes us a bit further afield?:

Or this?:

So go to it, and have fun!

UPDATE: The Alberta government has now in fact issued a straightforward apology for the mix-up.

Now then, turning our attention to a much more malignant and serious bit of stupidity. Warning!: This next section deals with a Michael Coren column! Once you've read it, you won't be able to un-read it. For those of you unfamiliar with Michael Coren, he's a columnist for the Sun Media chain, and also hosts some sort of talk show. In terms of his political beliefs, he resides within easy hailing distance of the folks who get together every April 20th to sing the "Horst-Wessel-Lied." Prior to what we're about to examine, my "favourite" Michael Coren piece was the one in which he pitched a whiny, passive-aggressive, fit because the Muslims portrayed in Little Mosque on the Prairie weren't murderous enough for him.

We're a bit late to the dance with this one, as it's already been pounded on here, here, and here, to name but three examples. Anyway, here's what Mr. Coren vomited forth in his Sun column last Saturday, about the death due to enemy action in Afghanistan of Trooper Karine Blais, 12e Régiment Blindé du Canada (Coren's words are in italics, with my comments in normal script):

So Canada sacrifices another victim on the altar of equality.

Last week a young girl dressed up as a soldier died in the increasingly futile and pointless war in Afghanistan. She was 21 years old, had been in the country for two weeks on her first tour of duty and probably weighed a little over 100 pounds.

"Dressed up as a soldier," hmmm? Methinks, after that crack, that Mr. Coren should keep his head up the next time he's in Valcartier.

Please know that I mean no disrespect to Karine Blais or to her family and I grieve for her and them. But what on earth was she doing in such a place and in such a job?

What she was doing was serving her country. And the notion that Coren "mean[s] no disrespect" is, as we say, stercus equinum. The entire thesis and purpose of this column is explicit disrespect for Trooper Blais, and every other female Canadian soldier.

Look at the photograph of this beautiful girl. Look at the innocence, the gentleness, the grace. All of them precious aspects to the human character. So when I say that she was "dressed up as a soldier" I mean it as a compliment. I've known soldiers all of my life and I have an invincible respect for them. I've seen their courage, integrity and sheer decency.

And with that we pass through some sort of event horizon of assholery. Having sneered about "a young girl dressed up as a soldier," Coren now tries to cover his rear end by claiming that he meant it in a good way.

I've also seen their capacity for controlled and righteous violence, which is absolutely essential for any fighting man. Yes, man. Because there are few if any women who have the skills required to serve as a front-line combat trooper.

This is true, but only because there are very few people of any gender who have the skills required for combat.

Yes, yes, yes, I know it's fundamentally anti-Canadian to say this but I'd prefer to articulate the views of the silent majority than hide behind some modernist fetish that places more importance on the myth of absolute equality than the safety of a girl who should be laughing with college friends rather than fighting theocratic madmen.

For those of us familiar with Coren' oeuvre, the thought of him calling anybody a "theocratic madman" is more than just a little bit ironic. Oh, and if you believe for one second that Michael Coren thinks women should have the right to attend college, then I've got a stretch of North Sea coast in Alberta that I'd like to sell you.

Can we really imagine for a moment that if a group of Taliban tribesmen rushed a trench or an encampment this poor young woman could fight them off, could deal with the thrusts of their long knives and heavy clubs? Do we seriously think that the men in the unit would not risk their own lives to protect a pretty young girl who was inevitably being beaten to the ground by salivating killers?

This is the stupidest paragraph in the entire column, and that's saying something. First of all, yes, the men, and women, of the unit would certainly come to the aid of one of their own, male or female, who was in difficulty. They would do this thing because they are soldiers. Secondly, I do rather think that Trooper Blais could have dealt with knife- and/or club-wielding attackers (salivating or otherwise), probably by using one of these:

That is a C7A1 Assault Rifle. It is capable of emptying a 30-round magazine in a little over two seconds, and is going to represent a serious obstacle for anyone who attacks the wielder with medieval weaponry, whether or not said wielder is female. What killed Trooper Blais (and has, I believe, accounted for the majority of the Canadian casualties in Afghanistan) was a roadside bomb, and those don't generally discriminate on the basis of gender.

The very reason we have various weight categories for all forms of organized fighting is that whatever the training, a pugilist's weight and muscle bulk give an advantage to the heavier combatant.

Once again, NATO forces in Afghanistan have guns. So do the Taliban. If you're strong enough to pick a gun up and point it somebody, then it doesn't matter if you're Charles Atlas. And why is Coren so obsessed with the idea that the fighting in Afghanistan is mostly hand-to-hand? Does he think this is a repeat of the Third Crusade? On second thought, don't answer that...

More than this, even contrived cultural denial should not prevent us from admitting that the death of a daughter or a wife is different from that of a son or a husband. Women nurture, give birth, care in a way that is unique. Quite simply, they are different from men.

And here we have the ago-old little paternalistic argument against women taking part in such strenuous pursuits as soldiering, policing, fire-fighting, sports, and voting. It's an argument that is still sadly trotted out by people like Michael Coren and, well, the Taliban.

If captured, of course, such a woman would be repeatedly raped. And tortured. Again, I'm not meant to say this. Not Canadian, not CBC, not Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Not the sort of thing we're supposed to feel, so we pretend that men and women in the army, police and fire service are given the same tests and have to fulfil the same requirements. Yet truth still breaks through.

Yes. And the truth that has broken out of this situation is this: Trooper Karine Blais, a competent, brave, qualified, and capable soldier, died in the service of her country. Period. I'm not going to get into debate about the worthiness or lack thereof of the Afghanistan mission here, as I think it's a moot point for the purpose of dissecting Coren's column. And, by the way, it wouldn't be a Michael Coren column without some gratuitous sniping at the CBC.

We rightly condemn Islamic extremists in Afghanistan because they treat women so badly. Then we allow one of our own to give her life so that we can congratulate ourselves on how liberal and egalitarian we are, lie about how gender difference don't [sic] matter and then encourage our generals and politicians to obscure the truth on television about soldiers and causes.

What hypocrites we have become. Poor, poor Karine -- this is not the way it should have been.

You and your country deserved better.

And, in closing, Coren turns the "Sanctimony" knob up to 11. He really is a world-class twerp.

Our deepest sincere condolences to the family and friends of Trooper Blais, and of the other 116 Canadians who have died in Afghanistan to date.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April 15, 1989

Very strange to think that it's been 20 years... My most vivid memory of watching the coverage of that thing on television was seeing the fans (of both teams) ripping down the pitchside advertising hoardings to make stretchers.

R.I.P. the 96.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


Well, we completely forgot to haul the wizened Kobold seers away from what they assure us are absolutely vital day-to-day duties in order to have them give us their baseball prognostications before the season actually started. However, we eventually got around to it.

First of all, the wizened Kobold seers told us that they foresee a subway Series this year. "Yup," they said, "it's gonna be Brooklyn versus the Bronx!" Ok, so the seers are a little out of date (did I already mention that they're wizened?). Anyway, it's apparently going to be Dodgers-Yankees.

When pressed about the eventual fate of the Toronto Blue Jays, the seers looked shifty, and said that the Jays would probably start the season brightly, particularly in terms of offence, but that there might be some problems with the closer's spot. "After the first, oh, six or so games of the season, in which we predict that the Jays will go five and one," they continued, "the waters of divination grow murky. However, third in the AL East sounds reasonable, all things considered. Second and the wild-card are not out of the realm of possibility. Neither is fourth. As we said, the omens aren't that clear."

Play Ball! Or rather, Keep Playing Ball!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

More Sadness In The Gaming Community

One of the very early posts on this blog dealt with the death of D&D co-creator Gary Gygax. Well, the other half of the creation team, Dave Arneson, has passed away at the age of 61. Arneson was not nearly as famous as Gygax, but deserves much of the credit for transforming table-top wargaming into role-playing as she is practised today. Various appropriate tributes to him are appearing on the 'net, including here and here.

Monday, April 6, 2009


Bad stuff in Abruzzo this morning. The early reports are that the death toll is about 150, and that the city of L'Aquila will be "uninhabitable for some time." A friend's sister reports that the quake was felt "very strongly" in Rome, but that everyone there is fine. Further bulletins as events warrant.

UPDATE (April 7th): There was a major aftershock today, which apparently brought down the dome of the cathedral in Pescara. The death toll is up over 200.

UPDATE (April 9th): One of my Latin students, who is of Italian extraction, reports that all her relatives are fine (they weren't too close to the action, being south of Rome), although they did feel the 'quake, and the overhead lights were set to swinging. My thesis advisor also reports that all is well in her part of Tuscany, although she and her husband were woken up by the shaking.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Tale of Two Programs Part 2: Manning The Pumps

Not long after Carolina Morace was presented as head coach of the Canadian women's soccer team, men's coach Dale Mitchell was given his walking papers, accompanied by a terse statement thanking him for his years of service. No replacement has been announced.

It is safe to say that Mitchell's tenure was not a successful one. In fact, in the 20 months that he was in charge, the national team won only four out of sixteen matches, beating St. Vincent & the Grenadines (twice), Martinique, and a club team that had just been relegated to the second division of the Danish League. And, for the third straight time, Canada went out of World Cup qualifying at the first group stage. To be fair, it was an extremely tough group, featuring Honduras, Mexico (against whom Canada actually played quite well), and Jamaica, but the team's failure to win even one of the six group matches was depressing (Canada have won a grand total of two of the last eighteen group stage matches). There was even an element of farce thrown in when former national team defender Jason de Vos got up on television and beaked off about the tactics employed by the women's team, earning him a withering response from Christine Sinclair. In short, Mitchell's time in charge represented a continuation of what has been a fairly dismal decade for the Canadian men's team.

So how do we go about fixing this? And believe me, it is fixable. As recently as nine years ago Canada were CONCACAF champions (i.e., champions of North and Central America and the Caribbean), with invitations to play in both the Copa America (the South American championship) and the Confederations Cup (a tournament contested by the various continental champions), and seemed poised for, if not greatness, at least respectability. So, here are some suggestions for how to get back there:

  • Resist the urge to promote from within the CSA: In the short term at least, that well has been thoroughly poisoned, and it is time to bring in somebody new.
  • In fact, don't hire a Canadian at all: The coaching reigns of Mitchell, Frank Yallop, and Bob Lenarduzzi, all stalwart performers for the national team in their day, were not terribly successful, although Lenarduzzi did better than the other two. Conversely, it was an Englishman, Tony Waiters, who took Canada to the World Cup in 1986, and a German, Holger Osieck, who won the CONCACAF Gold Cup in 2000. As discussed yesterday, the Canadian women have enjoyed their greatest success under Even Pellerud, who's Norwegian. Yes, there are patriotic reasons for wanting to see a Canadian coach for the Canadian national team. However, if the English Football Association can swallow its pride long enough to hire a foreign coach for the English team not once but twice, then the CSA can do likewise. Fortunately, it appears that the CSA is not at all averse to the notion of foreign coaches.
  • Hire ambitiously: And if we're going to go after a foreign coach, let's go big. Bora Milutinovic has made a career out of getting lesser soccer powers to the World Cup. Sven-Goran Eriksson was the first foreigner to coach England. "Big Phil" Scolari has in fact actually won the World Cup as a coach. I mention those three as hypothetical possibilities (and because all three are currently unemployed), and am aware all have cons to go with their pros, but that's the stature of coach that I'd like the CSA to look for.
  • Set lofty goals, and insist that they be met: For example, "As of right now, it is completely and 100% unacceptable for the Canadian national team to lose a match in Canada, ever, to anyone, for any reason, period, full stop. If it happens, there is going to be shouting, feelings will be ruthlessly hurt, and there will be some new faces in the lineup next time out." I'm not asking for anything unattainable here; for much of the 1990s, Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton was a virtual fortress for the national side, and there's no reason why that can't be recreated, both at Commonwealth and elsewhere around the country. There has been a tendency, albeit an understandable one, not to demand very much from the men's national team, and I think that that mindset needs to be replaced.
  • Try to keep the players in North America: Oddly enough, fifteen or even ten years ago my opinion on this was the exact opposite. And it's still rather heartwarming to see a Canadian kid go overseas and make it in one of the big European Leagues. However, that sort of thing does come with a cost to the national program. First of all, it's costing the program players. Most recently it was Jonathan de Guzman, who hails from southern Ontario but went overseas to play for Feyenoord Rotterdam. He subsequently obtained Dutch citizenship, and now turns out for their national side (his brother Julian, pictured above, elected to play for Canada, and this may represent the only instance of two brothers representing different countries). Secondly, having the national team players scattered all over the globe makes it very difficult for the coach to get any kind of tactical system in place. And finally, it's no longer necessary. There's a perfectly decent professional league in North America, with one team in Canada at the moment and more to come. And yes, the calibre of play in MLS is not that of the English Premier League, but it's a lot closer than one might expect.

There is cause for some optimism. The talent is there in the men's team, and the new coach will have a bit of time to get his system in place before qualifying for the 2014 World Cup begins. However, it seems to me that a change in the culture surrounding the team is going to be required before it can move forward.

Friday, April 3, 2009

A Tale Of Two Programs Part 1: Steady As She Goes

So they've been ringing the changes down at the Canadian Soccer Association, and I though it might be fun to take a look at what they've been up to. First of all, let's head to the female side of things, and check out what's been going on with the women's team.

The Canadian national women's team finished 8th at the Beijing Olympics, a result that was either a bit disappointing or an accurate representation of where the team stands on the world stage (actually, Canada is currently ranked 11th in women's soccer, but still). Sadly, the Olympics were the end of the line for Even Pellerud, the team's talismanic Norwegian coach. His resignation was certainly not prompted by poor results, or any displeasure with the man himself; in fact, Canadian women's soccer had advanced light-years during Pellerud's nine years in charge, reaching the heady heights of 4th place at the 2003 World Cup. Although he had been unable to reproduce that success, Canada had done decently enough since then, and there was real worry that Pellerud's departure represented a crippling blow to a women's program that was nosing around elite status.

So far, it appears that those fears are unfounded. In February, the Canadian Soccer Association hired Venetian-born Carolina Morace (above) to head up the women's program. She will coach both the national team and the U20 side. Morace was a superstar player in the 1980s for the Italian national side, which she later went on to coach. In fact, she is the only woman in the world with top-rank professional coaching credentials. She brings along Elisabetta Bavagnoli, former coach of the Italian women's U-19 side, as her assistant. To date, Morace has coached the Canadian women in one tournament, the 2009 Cyprus Cup, where they finished a decent 2nd behind England. The team now has a couple of years to get used to a new coach and a new system before the next World Cup.

Women's international soccer is steadily becoming a tougher place to succeed, as more and more of the traditional men's soccer powers get their women's programs up to speed (see above about England winning the Cyprus Cup). However, the Canadian Soccer Association is showing an admirable ambition to not just keep up, but perhaps even to go further than that. It may all yet end in tears, but right now Big Red looks just fine.

Tomorrow, or whenever I get to it: pour yourself a stiff drink and we'll examine the Canadian men's program.