Thursday, December 13, 2007

Turn on the juice!

When I was in high school, I learned how to rig those "aptitude tests". One summer, I decided that I wanted to stay home for the summer. I had a girlfrien for the first time, you see. In order to do so, I would need a reason to take summer school. So I rigged the test to say I should become a doctor. This made my mom very happy, but in order to get into medical school, I would need to stay home and take reach-ahead biology in summer school, so I could take OAC biology next year, and get into the right schools...after the summer I decided biology and being a doctor were not for me, and I concentrated on math. You know the tests I'm talking about, right? The ones with questions like "if you could choose between being a garbage man and a spetic tank installation technician, which would make you less upset?" and "when watching Godzilla vs. Mothra, were you cheering for Godzilla, Mothra, or the scientists?" Yeah, those.

What ended up happening, however, was that I never figured out what I was supposed to do with my life. I mean, if you don't take one of those aptitude tests seriously, how do you know? Maybe I was supposed to be an electrical engineer in the field of livestock milking, but I was too busy rigging those tests to say "professional baseball player". (I figured if I had proof, in test form, then I would be able to just go play baseball all the time, and my marks would no longer matter as much. I figured wrong, of course.) Of course, I was way too lazy to put the time, the effort, and the human growth hormone into myself that it took to actually make the big leagues. Frankly, I was too lazy to put the training and effort in that it would have taken just to make my high school team. It just seemed like a neat job to have.

Now, I'm not so sure it WOULD be a neat job to have. If I HAD made the major leagues, I would be halfway through my career right now, supposing I was very good, good enough to play twenty years or so. A George Brett type, I fancied myself. Well, that's a lie. Frankly, I fancied myself a Roger Clemens-Doc Gooden type. I was a pitcher. And those two guys were my heroes. Look what kind of role models they turned out to be. Gooden, after that monster start to his career, effectively coked himself out of the game in a few short years, along with his pal Strawberry. And now Clemens is the biggest, most important name mentioned in the Mitchell report, which came out today. The report seems like it is just the tip of the iceberg. A very small tip. It looks like if everyone using HGH or other steroids was busted, and supposing they got kicked out of baseball, there would be enough players left for two full teams, presumably in Kansas City and Minneapolis.

I really don't have an opinion on what should be done here. Do you suspend them all? Kick them all out? Do you erase the record books in baseball completely for the last fifteen years? Do you divide baseball's history into two eras, BC and AD? Before Canseco and After Drugs? Who knows? Frankly, there is no satisfactory solution that would make everyone happy. I find it hard to believe there is a solution that would make ANYONE happy. I mean, basically you are saying that just about everyone who was any good at all in the last ten, fifteen years in the major leagues was on the juice. Brady Anderson's 50 HRs? Juice. Roger Clemens not sucking after the age of 35? Juice. Bonds, Sosa, McGwire? Well, come on. We knew that already. Frankly, we had to know about Brady Anderson too. How did people not see this before? I include myself in this group. I remember a few seasons where guys with career highs of 14 home runs started popping 40, 50 out of the yard the very next year. And I just thought "wow, good for them! They must really be working out! Especially that Juan Gonzalez guy with biceps the size of my head." Perhaps I was being a little naive.

But the guy I feel worst for here is Bud Selig. He was already cursed with being one of the ugliest public figures this side of Kim Jong Il. (Seriously - what's with these nerdy guys all looking basically the same? I'm going to post a blog with some pictures, I think. Bud Selig, with droopier features and a wheelchair, is Stephen Hawking. Selig with 60 extra pounds and thicker glasses is Stephen King. And a better, healthier looking Selig, is Bill Gates.) So he was already difficult to look at, in a James Carville sort of way. And now, he just looks like he is in so much pain, like it hurts his brain to talk, that he makes me cringe every time I see him take a podium somewhere.

Come to think of it, had I really been on the ball when I was younger, I would have rigged one of those tests to say I should become commissioner of baseball. (All it would have taken is answering "Mothra" instead of "Godzilla" - it's a complicated mathematical system, rigging these tests.) Thank god I was NOT on the ball, however. Because becoming commissioner isn't something that requires steroids or even that much effort. So it's something I might actually have done. And boy, I would hate to be Bud Selig right about now.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

More football...it's what I do.

It has been pointed out to me by Greg Callwood, our estimable CHEZ sales rep and current leader of our office football pool, that I do NOT have a stranglehold on first place. In fact, I am not even in second place. I have fallen to third place. You see, although I was very happy with my 13 wins last week, it turns out that it was not good picking on my part at all. It was merely because last week was the easiest week of the year to pick. Greg had 14 wins. Six other people, including WOODY, had 15. And I fell ever so slightly from second into third. This also leads me to think something else - Greg, and possibly others, are obviously reading my picks on my blog, and making theirs accordingly. If they choose a few different ones, then they might sneak by me into first. With that in mind, I will continue making picks here on the ol' blog, but - are they real? Are they fake? Are they designed to throw off my competitors, like the unscrupulous Mr. Callwood? Decide for yourself, football fans!

Denver - Houston: Houston, according to the online CHEZ football pool, is favoured by 1.5 points. No team has ever won a game by 1.5 points. I have every faith in Denver's skill, but even more faith in their stupidity. Houston beat a fairly good Tampa team last week, and I think they have more than enough talent to compete with Denver at home. I'm taking Houston to cover this spread and win the game.

Cincinnatti - San Francisco: The spread here is zero. This is a gift to all those prognosticators who want free points in the CHEZ pool, because the Bengals are by far the better team. Which is not to say Cincinnatti is that good, just that San Fran is that terrible. They are TERRIBLE. Take the Bengals.

Baltimore - Miami: The Ravens have lost seven in a row, and after the huge opponents of the last two weeks, they will have a seriously easy game against the Dolphins this week. Easy enough to overlook it completely. And Jason Taylor will have a field day with Baltimore's offence. Miami knows they will lose to New England next week, and they will be totally focussed on this game. Dolphins in the big upset.

Tennessee - Kansas City: The Titans have figured out how to win, the Chiefs have not. Tennessee is gunning for a wild card spot, KC is not. Titans will win, but not by a huge margin. They have not been good at covering the spread this year. Titans by three. Spread is four.

New York Jets - New England: You never can tell with these divisional games, eh? The Patriots are already looking at week 16. Yes, week 16, not 17. Because they play Miami. And beating the Dolphins to go 15-0 while the fish fall to 0-15, will be sweet justice for the Pats. However, the fish will go in 1-14, thanks to their win over Baltimore, and the Patriots will go in 14-1, when they lose to the Jets. You think New England has the ability to look past a team to face a winless opponent? Only if that team is the Jets. And the Jets have already stunned the Steelers with a convincing win. Remember that year Dallas went 1-15 and the Bears went 15-1? You know who beat the Bears that one time? Dallas. The Patriots will LOSE!

Seattle - Carolina: The Seahawks are too strong right now, Carolina is too weak. Yes, the Panthers finally have a win at home, but they will not get number two this week. Hasselbeck will pick apart this defence. Seahawks to win, and to cover the 7 point spread.

Buffalo - Cleveland: The Bills have made a seriously tough push for the playoffs, and they have looked much improved in doing so. But their playoff hopes get dashed this week against the Browns, as Cleveland makes their case for wild card status. Cleveland to cover the spread and win big.

Green Bay - St. Louis: The Rams are much better now, and are a serious threat to playoff teams because they have nothing to lose at the moment. But Green Bay is not a team that will tighten up in this last few weeks. They are playing so loose and having too much fun to let the Rams surprise them. Packers by ten or more.

Arizona - New Orleans: This one seems like a gift in the CHEZ pool also. Zero spread, just pick the winner! However, it isn't that easy. New Orleans and Arizona are both so up-and-down this year that it is almost impossible to choose in this game. But the Saints are out. No playoffs for them. The Cards have a shot, and they will not waste it, I think. Arizona by a slim margin.

Jacksonville - Pittsburgh: The Steelers are favoured by 3.5 at home. However, the Jaguars are a better, more complete team. They have lost to the Colts this year, and Pittsburgh is realistically their statement game. Jaguars not only to win, but to win big.

Atlanta - Tampa Bay: OK. This one really IS a gift. Tampa still has to hang on to that first place in their division. And Atlanta is lousy. Painfully lousy. The Buccaneers will win big, and the CHEZ spread is zero. Enjoy your 16 points.

Indianapolis - Oakland: The Colts are still not 100 percent assured of home field throughout the playoffs, but they are banged up and will likely be resting several starters in the coming weeks. They could rest Peyton Manning, Bob Sanders, Joseph Addai, Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne and still beat Oakland by 30.

Detroit - San Diego: Yes, the Lions have lost like 12 straight. And yes, their playoff hopes are all but done. But that showing against the Cowboys made it looke as though they still care! Not enough to win the game, mind you...and the showing by San Diego against the Titans made it look like they no longer care. But they cared just enough to win...the Chargers will win this one at home, but it will be much closer than that 10 point spread.

Philadelphia - Dallas: A divisional game, and Philly has played every really good team very very well this year. Donovan McNabb is back now, and if he finds his groove, Dallas could be in trouble. I would hate to pick against the Cowboys in this one, they are still the superior team, but the Eagles should cover the 10.5 point spread easily.

Washington - New York Giants: There is no way to tell how the Skins will do. If they have another great, emotional game, they could dismantle the Giants, who are still not as good as their record indicates. However, if they have a letdown at all, the Giants could smoke them. I will take the Giants to win at home, but the Skins to cover the 4.5 point spread. That's called hedging one's bets.

Chicago - Minnesota: The Vikings could be the scariest wild-card team in the playoffs. They have looked absolutely dominant since Week 12. Between Peterson and Taylor running the ball, they have the best backfield tandem since...umm....I can't remember. They will pound the run, and stop the run, and win this game. Big.

OK, that's it! Greg, you cheater, see if you can figure out which ones I invented! If any at all! I've got you now, pool players.

Monday, December 10, 2007

An endorsement.

The lovely welcome wagon lady left me several useless things, and also some hidden gems. One of those things was a Mr. Clean Eraser. I scoffed at my sister when she suggested it was a magical product. Scoffed! Products are not magical! Only Disney movies and David Blaine are magical, said I! But I tried that eraser today on my sink. And it came cleaner that any amount of scrubbing has ever done. In fact, it came cleaner than it was when we moved in. This product IS magical! I heartily endorse the Mr. Clean Eraser and all it's glorious cleaning ability.

The Golden Compass points to crazy.

I read a story online this morning about the Golden Compass. Now, I must say that I have no idea as to the actual veracity of the story. It was buried deep in a mire of internet sludge, so perhaps it is untrue. But if it is, it would not surprise me in the least. You see, the Golden Compass is a children's book that has been talked about a lot lately. Most of the reason it is being talked about it that certain Christian groups believe it has an atheist connotation, and is therefore anti-Christian. From what I understand, the main reason they believe this is that the author himself has said that he is an atheist. Now, having not read the book, I can't comment on whether or not it has any anti-Christian sentiment. But even if it does have some ideas that are against Christianity, the reaction to it has been absolutely insane.

The main reason people are latching onto this controversy is that the book is being made into a movie. Have you ever noticed that a book being made into a movie is the only time it becomes controversial now? It's not enough to just be talked about on it's own merits. I mean, people don't READ anyway. But now that it is a movie, people might SEE it, and therefore it could be a problem. Of the six people who started this controversy, I'm sure one of them has read this book. But ALL of them will see the movie! The same thing happened when Harry Potter became a movie, or The DaVinci Code. The books were anti-Christian, but it's only a problem when it becomes a movie people might actually watch! What was the last book to stir up this kind of controversy without being made into a movie? The Satanic Verses?

So the story I read today was about a group of atheists, buoyed by the publicity for The Golden Compass, who attended a screening. Then they complained to the movie theatre about the trailers. You see, one of those trailers was for a movie called Prince Caspian, coming soon, which is the next installment in the Chronicles of Narnia series. A series based on books by C.S. Lewis. And C.S. Lewis is...A Christian! Therefore, his books, and by extension his movie adaptations are...pro-Christian! And the atheists are...offended! This is hilarious. Either extremist atheists are as nuts as extremist Christians, or they have an excellent sense of humour. Or the story is made up.

But there are actual, bizarre consequences of this bizarre attack on the Golden Compass book and movie. The book has been banned in Catholic schools all over, including the Halton Catholic school board right here in Ontario. That hits pretty close to home for me. They have even gone so far as to ban the Scholastic book flyer that is released in December because it has the book available to order. My girlfriend's eight-year-old goes to a catholic school here in Ottawa. That Scholastic flyer is very exciting for him. Every time it comes, he makes a wish list, and I buy three or four books for him. The idea that a school board in our area is censoring this flyer, and actually banning a book, seems terrifically Draconian. How many books that were banned at one time are now actually taught in schools? Thoreau, Salinger, Lawrence... for God's sake, you can check out Mein Kampf at the public library if you so desire. (Which is something I would very much like to do, out of an interest in the motivations of totalitarian psychology, only I am too scared.) But banning a kids' book? For any reason?

This is symptomatic of a much greater problem. If a catholic school is banning a book because they feel as though it has atheist morals, then they must be scared. Having a kid in your school the entire day, and teaching all the religious stuff you teach him (or her), is not enough? Anything that might speak against that is off-limits, because it might influence young minds away from the direction in which YOU want to influence them. And make no mistake, this is exactly what it is. We want to make sure that only a catholic influence gets to these kids, and so anything that might be perceived to go against that influence should be cut off. If you are seeking to protect kids from gang culture, sure. If you are looking to prevent kids having minds of their own, that sounds a bit...creepy, doesn't it? A bit totalitarian? Well, I am glad the Ottawa catholic school boards have not taken this step. I would like to think that our catholic schools accept different ideas and are not attempting to indoctrinate, but rather to educate. And I would like to think that our eight-year-old will be allowed to make up his own mind about these things.

That's why I'll be getting him the book for Christmas. Even if he doesn't care about it at all, I would sure like to read it now. And I think I will revisit Prince Caspian as well, dust it off my bookshelf. Those atheists have piqued my curiosity!

Trials! Tribulations! OK, just trials.

My football games yesterday were interrupted for Breaking News! The verdict was in at the Robert Pickton trial. This trial has been relegated to the third or fourth item in Canadian newscasts, the seventh or eighth page in the papers. I didn't realize that people were so wrapped up in it that it would warrant Breaking News status. Front-page the next day, sure. Lead item in a newscast, sure. But Breaking News? Judging by the coverage in the middle of the Packers game, I was not the only one who was surprised. The CTV anchor seemed equally surprised that he was on the TV. I believe he started his report with the following words: "Good afternoon. A verdict in the uh...Robert..uh...Pickton trial. We will be...am I on? OK. [six second pause. Finger to his ear.] What's that? OK. We're doing what? Sure...we now take you to...oh, not yet?" It was painful.

Then of course, as I'm sure we all know, six counts of second degree murder. I agree with Doc's assessment this morning. One murder, maybe a crime of passion that was not pre-meditated. Six? Uh, you kinda know, when you bring that woman to your farm, that there's a pretty good chance you're going to kill her. I suppose in the end it makes little difference, Pickton'll be going to jail for the rest of his life either way. And, of course, there will be another media circus trial when he's brought up on the charges of murdering those other twenty women. Or, maybe they will split that up into segments of five at a time, and this thing can go on until 2050.

Today, two more major trials, and one more major charge. Conrad Black has gone in for his sentencing hearing, and has been given 6 1/2 years, and fined $125,000. If I was to be punished that way, it would be like jailing me for 30 years and fining me eight bucks. (I assume I would handle prison better than Lord Black. And I am certain I have much less money.) The freakiest thing about this trial for me, however, was seeing Peter Worthington's column in the Sun this morning, where he continually referred to the judge in the Black trial as "Judge Amy". Now, if this was his idea of being humourous, it wasn't really funny. Just obnoxious. And if, which is a far worse thought, this is the new trend in courtroom reporting, where the Judge Judys of the world have impermeated the regular reporting culture to this degree, then I am not looking forward to any trials during the rest of my life.

Another trial today is Michael Vick's sentencing hearing. Now, I have never said that I agree with dog fighting or with bankrolling dog fighting. But I have said that I think Michael Vick is being dealt with unnecessarily harshly because he can be made a poster boy for this thing. I saw a very small story in a magazine a few days ago about the rapper, DMX, being investigated because of some pit bull corpses being found in his yard. Clearly some kind of dog fighting thing also, but how many of us know about it? How many people have heard about this, outside the DMX fans and the tabloid-obsessed web surfers? I'm going to guess that about 2 percent of the people who know about Vick. And why? Two reasons. One, DMX the rapper is kind of expected to be involved with things like this. He's hardcore, hes a gangsta, it fits the profile, and it isn't a shock like Vick. Vick was supposed to be all-American, and an elite athlete with a pure soul, and THAT was a shock. And two, the tabloids already have their dog-fighting guy. They have already produced that poster boy, their work is done. Vick will serve 23 months in prison, and may even have a football career once again when his time is done. That seems pretty fair to me.

And charges! Larry O'Brien is facing two charges in the whole bribery scandal. He was formally charged this morning with attempting to offer Terry Kilrea a position with the National Parole Board in return for stepping aside in the mayoral race. Why anyone would want to work for the Parole Board, who knows? The main thing that could happen here is that O'Brien may step down as mayor. I have no idea if the allegations are true, I have no clue whether he will step down or be forced to step down, I have no opinion either way. I do, however, see a big problem with him stepping down if he decides, or is forced to do so. Our city council seems to be basically a large kindergarten class without their Ritalin at the best of times. Can you imagine what would happen if the teacher left for a few days? It'll be like Lord of the Flies out on Elgin Street! Terrifying.

What a couple of days! Justice served locally, nationally, multi-nationally and internationally!

Darfur.

I have just watched a movie that I intend to review for Cynical Cinema very soon. But, much like I did with An Inconvenient Truth, I feel as though it deserves a little more time than just a one-minute piece a few weeks from now, so I thought I would put it on my blog. Like a preview! The movie is called The Devil Came on Horseback, and in a few weeks, this will be my review:

There is a lot of material out there no about the genocide that took place in Rwanda in the 1990s. Romeo Dallaire’s excellent book, Shake Hands With the Devil, has been made into a documentary film and now a feature film starring Roy Dupis. Hotel Rwanda was a fantastic movie about a hotel owner who tried to save as many of his countrymen as he could, starring Don Cheadle.
All of this is great. It’s great that the story is being told, and that people are now aware of the atrocities committed all those years ago. But therein lies the problem. This genocide happened many years ago. And it is becoming a part of the world conscience only now. The point of making genocide known is that the will of people can stop it. In Rwanda, the American government could have stopped it. The Canadian government could have stopped it. But they didn’t, because people were not outraged enough. So now, we hope that genocide never happens again. And we hope that because people are aware of it, they will stand up when the time comes and say "never again". Well, that time is here, and it has been since 2003. The place is Darfur. And the movie is called The Devil Came on Horseback. It’s a documentary, the story of a U.S. Marine and his tour of duty in Sudan.
The atrocities being committed in Darfur are no less brutal or heinous than those in Rwanda or those of the holocaust. And it’s going on now. And the movie is out there now. Watch the Devil Came on Horseback, because if you watch it next year, it will be too late.

There was a CD called Instant Karma released a little while ago, a collection of two discs of John Lennon songs recorded by other artists, the proceeds of which went to Amnesty International and their efforts to end the Darfur genocide. A flawed album, an excellent cause. Their website is still one of the best to check out for information on the crisis.

www.instantkarma.org

Self-evaluation!

I have completed my workplace self-evaluation. Went in for a meeting this morning with the new boss, and I went over my record for the past year. The boss didn't agree with my harsh self-assessment, he thought I was doing better than that. In fact, he figured if I was actually doing as poorly as I had suggested, I should probably be fired. So I recanted. I wanted to explain myself, but couldn't really figure out how. Gruff, if you're reading my blog, this is what I was actually thinking;

You see, the self-evaluation is actually a two-step process. You see, six months ago, or maybe ten, or twelve, or sometime in the past year, I began the process. I set out the goals and objectives that I would strive to reach over the course of the next year. Today's process was merely the culmination of this effort, where I assessed my ability to meet those goals since I had written them. However, when I wrote down these goals and objectives, I was being somewhat of an ass. I suggested things like, I was going to attempt to increase the value of my butt-paintings through self-promotion to the point where they would be purchased by the National Gallery of Canada at a price that rivalled Voice Of Fire. Or that I would attempt to center my blog around CHEZ 106 "talking points"...making fun of Stephen Harper a little, I suppose. Now, Jeff Brown was the boss when I wrote these things down. And I was merely making fun of him and of the self-evaluation process when I wrote them. Now that he is gone, I am not sure the new boss would appreciate these things on the same level. I still do not know him that well. He strikes me as the kind of guy who would enjoy my sardonic attitude toward self-evaluation forms, but I don't want to assume anything.

Therefore, when I was rating my ability to meet these tasks, I had to be completely honest in my assessment. I wanted to sell a butt-painting for 3.2 million dollars. How close did I come? Well, I had to give myself 0 out of 4 on that one. I wanted to adhere to CHEZ talking points on my blog? Um...1 out of 4. I still blog about the football pool, I suppose. Although blogging about my self-evaluation is likely not on the list of talking points, if we had one. And we don't. Although I did test the waters with the new boss a little, by including, on two different occasions on my self-evaluation form, mentions about how proud I was of my blog posting concerning the managerial ball-gag and the self-evaluation ben-wa balls. (See July 23rd, 2007.) He did not mention it during our meeting, so either he saw it and thought it was kinda funny but unprofessional, or he did not-know what ben-wa balls are. I will let you google it, sir. But thank you for the painless process.

Now, from what I understand, the self-evaluation form goes to the bigger boss, and then he sends it to Toronto, and then it gets re-routed through another account in the Cayman Islands, and then ends up back in my inbox. At each step in the process, there is a little button you can click at the bottom of the screen that says "I disagree with this evaluation". I may have been the only person in the whole company who seriously considered disagreeing with my own self-evaluation. After all, I had done it in such a cynical way, I had really no choice but to disagree with myself of one year ago. I think it may be time to become more businesslike, because disagreeing with one's own self-evaluation might well have the same effect as travelling into the past and meeting yourself. It could create some kind of...Star Trek thing...and unmake existence. In the interests of the continued safety of the world, I will no longer apply my cynicism to such things. Only my blog. And my movie reviews. And the Doc and Woody show. And my home life.

Finally!

For the first time this year, I am ahead of Doc and Woody in the CHEZ on-line football pool. And with the week I had, I feel pretty good about regaining the lead in the office pool as well. So far, pending tonight's who-cares bowl between the Falcons and the Saints, I am 12-3. So far so good...

Ones I got wrong: Tampa Bay's backup QB was not as good as Houston's backup QB, and that second half kickoff-return TD broke the back of the Bucs. If Jeff Garcia can't come back from that sore back soon, Tampa could lose their last three! I also said if Donovan McNabb started for the Eagles against the Giants, Philadelphia would win. That did not happen. He started, but did not play particularly well, and New York managed to eke out a win. And lastly, Thursday night's game between the Skins and Bears was good to see, the Redskins winning one amidst the tragedy of Sean Taylor. They are a much more resiliant and proud team than many expected. I also suggested that Denver would "squeak by" the Chiefs, yet 41-7 is hardly "squeaking by", is it? And, lastly, I thought the Cowboys would win big over the Lions. 28-27 at the last possible second is not winning big, and the Lions were very surprising.

Ones I got right: Dolphins ARE going to go 0-16. New England WILL go 16-0. The Packers will end up the number 2 seed in the NFC, and the Vikings will make the playoffs. The Jaguars are for real, the Bengals do suck slightly less than the Rams, the Chargers-Titans game WAS the toughest to call, and the Chargers managed to barely escape with a win in overtime. The Seahawks are very very good, and the Cardinals are not quite there yet. Arizona will not make the playoffs. The Browns are searching for their identity, and may not make the playoffs, but they were certainly good enough to beat the Jets. And the Ravens did not have it in them to repeat that performance from the New England game, and they were destroyed by the Colts.

Hopefully, this puts me in the drivers' seat in the office pool in the remaining three weeks. It definitely does with the online pool, over Doc and Woody. The fact that Doc forgot his picks one week, and Woody forgot them twice, is immaterial. I have a slight edge, and I plan to maintain that edge to the end.