A better way to tie your shoelaces

Well, I have made my first youtube video. It is a cheesy – yet valuable – instructional video on how to tie your shoes. Yes, perhaps you learned how to tie your shoes many years ago, but this is really the right way to do it so those laces don’t come undone. Trust me!

As it’s the Terry Fox Run tomorrow – which has a nice link to tying your shoelaces – I’ve launched this video in support of that great cause. Please donate here: My Terry Fox Run Donation Page.

 

Funny numbers – brought to you by the Fraser Institute

Last week, the Fraser Institute reported on some rather alarming numbers with regards to the tax burden of the average Canadian family. As the ominous graph below indicates, the Canadian tax bill has risen a whopping 1,832% since 1961. That is a monstrous increase; such an upsetting trend in policy is absolutely outrageous! Actually, the only thing outrageous here is the lack of context. There really is nothing alarming here; more aptly, this is an alarmist piece of propaganda put out by masters in the trade.  As most of the major Canadian media outlets re-broadcast the essence of the report with minimal comment, I feel it is well worth providing a review of their numbers.

'Alarming' tax increase .. as reported by the Fraser Intitute

‘Alarming’ tax increase .. as reported by the Fraser Institute
Fraser Institute, 2014

First off, among the major points made in the release – and notably being at the core of the alarming graph – is that “the average Canadian tax bill has increased by 1,832 per cent, dwarfing increases in shelter costs (1,375 per cent), clothing (620 per cent) and food (546 per cent)”.  Now, though these numbers are likely accurate, there really is no sense in reporting monetary comparisons over time if you don’t account for inflation. Between 1961 and 2013, inflation would account for a 683% change in prices (according to the Bank of Canada Inflation Calculator). Nevertheless, after providing these large numbers for dramatic effect, author Charles Lamman does note that ‘even after accounting for changes in overall prices (inflation) over that period, the tax bill shot up 147.0 per cent.’ OK, now we’re getting somewhere: 147% still sounds like a huge tax increase. But wait a second, those helpful stick men with the money bags show that the proportion of our income going to taxes has risen from 34% to 42% (which is a 24% increase, not a whopping 147%). Well, as it turns out, it is the family income that has increased most dramatically. Back in 1961, the workforce was 72.7% male, 27.3% female (reference), it is now a much more balanced 52.5% male, 47.5% female. As such, with a much higher proportion of women taking part in the workforce, it is not surprising that family incomes have risen so significantly, and as a result the tax bill  has gone up as well. The increase as a proportion of total family income has been less significant.

Nonetheless, putting aside these omissions of context for a moment, I will concede to the Fraser Institute that it is worth noting that the proportion of the family income going to taxes has increased from 34 to 42%.  (Editorial note: though conceding, I must admit, I do it with some reservation – the text provides no sources as to their calculations, and it is unclear if there is anything more to this study than this 395-word news release). Though this may still be a notable increase, there is one small bit of history that is not mentioned. The selection of 1961 as a starting point appears very apt for their thesis as it immediately precedes a rather important government program – Medicare. In 1961, all the provinces agreed to the Hospital Insurance and Diagnostics Services Act (precursor to the Canada Health Act), and clearly, thereafter it brought with it a significant increase in government spending. Given that Canadians voted Tommy Douglas –  ‘the father of Medicare’ –  the Greatest Canadian in 2004, I would gather that there is a large part of the population that feel that this was a worthwhile expenditure.

Despite my protestations as to the informative value of the Fraser Institute’s ‘report’, we should of course always keep an eye on how our governments spend our tax dollars. Nevertheless, taking economic lessons from the Fraser Institute is not something I would recommend. Though the news release identifies themselves as an ‘independent non-partisan public policy think tank’ it is worth knowing their raison d’être. For one, though described as ‘non-partisan’, given their mission statement states that their vision ‘is a free and prosperous world where individuals benefit from greater choice, competitive markets and personal responsibility’, it is not much of a question as to where they might fall along the political spectrum if forced to endorse a political option. Furthermore, a list of their more significant donors would reveal both oil giant ExxonMobil and American billionaires, the Koch Brothers. If you are unfamiliar as to the implications of being supported by the Koch brothers, please do take a look. Finally, though I might further dispute the Fraser Institute’s charitable status, I will not try to stop them from having a voice. Having said that, I would simply like to add my own opposing voice to the conversation.

 

ADDENDUM: Funny numbers aside, I wanted to point out some interesting manipulations made in the infographic. Specifically, take a look at those money bags. Though we might concede that the numbers are accurate, the size of those bags seems a little strange. Looking at the bags on the left, I would swear that the Basic Necessities money bag is way more than twice the size of the Taxes bag even though it shouldn’t even be that big given the 34% to 57% difference. It turns out the graphic artists has decided to proportion the bags according to the bag’s diameter (not the bag’s area which would more appropriately represent the amount of money in them). As such, once again, the Fraser Institute manipulates and exaggerates for the effect they desire. Though perhaps this is a minor offence – I suppose there are no specific rules for infographics as long as you use accurate numbers – as someone who loves numbers (and graphs, and infographics), I must admit I felt even further perturbed by the Fraser Institute’s manipulated presentation of the underlying facts.

“Dude – you have HUGE CALVES!”

Summer season is finally here and as all of you prepare for weekends camping, days at the beach, and picnics in the park, I prepare for another aspect of the season that is strangely particular to me. You see, summer of course brings shorts weather, and with my legs fully exposed, I will have to ready myself for the inescapable commentary that I am sure to be subjected to: “Dude, you have huge calves!”

The massive calves in full effect

The massive calves in full effect

It may seem rather odd to the majority of you out there, but I kid you not, this happens to me constantly. Often, it comes from an envious bodybuilder or fitness-nut who simply can’t add any girth to their apparently sub-standard calves. Other times, it just randomly comes up as topic of conversation at parties or at the patio bar when my overgrown appendages are spotted. Though I’ve lived with this “condition” pretty much my whole life, I’ve never taken the time to gain a full understanding of this odd fascination … until now! Beyond being blessed with superhuman lower leg strength, I also got me some smarts, particularly in terms of investigative research and number crunching skills. As such, dear reader, I have all the answers to those questions that have surely haunted you for years: What is the rationale behind this strange obsession with the well-defined calf muscle? Are Peter’s calves really that big? How on earth did he get such big calves? Don’t let these questions continue to torment you … read on and let me teach you all you ever needed to know about the elusive gastrocnemius muscle.

Obsessed with calves?

When a guy walks into a room with massive arms or overgrown shoulders, he will certainly be noticed. However, it’s rather unlikely that anyone will bother to say anything about it, or ask him just how he got such big muscles. It would probably be assumed that he works out at the gym a lot, or that his work involves a significant amount of physical labour. Calves however are a different story altogether. For some reason, having big calves requires explanation. Why is that? Though I did have an inkling as to why this may be, the root of this fascination is best stated in the article A Killer Guide to Building Massive Calves published in the online bodybuilding magazine, Simply Shredded:

The most stubborn and hard to develop body part for most bodybuilders is definitely a pair of diamond shaped calves. Even at the professional level, a great pair of calves is seldom seen on stage.

But why is it so difficult? If you put the effort and training in, can you not get ripped biceps, wicked traps, or killer delts? What makes massive calves so elusive – just why are they so stubborn? The best answer I could find comes from yet another fantastically-named body-building website – angrytrainerfitness.com. The angry trainer himself, Alfonso Moretti, explains that because we use our calves so much every day of our lives, and primarily for walking, the muscle development is fixated on lean slow-twitch muscles made for endurance rather than on explosive fast-twitch muscles that have a much higher propensity for growth. He further notes that some have speculated that the fascia – the connective tissue that surrounds our muscles – around the calf is particularly tight, and this may in fact limit muscle growth. So, no matter how hard you work at it, as long as you’re walking around the rest of the day, getting real big calves may be a tough assignment.

Frontal and side view to get a proportional perspective.

Frontal and side view for a proportional perspective.

Just how big are my calves really?

All right, perhaps we’ve explained why people have a particular fascination with calf muscles, but why do people seem to be particularly infatuated with my calves? Are they really that big? Perhaps the photographic evidence above is explanation enough, but I’m a numbers guy, I need some definitive metrics to explain this fully. Well, I found the metrics, I crunched the numbers, and I have made the scientific determination … I indeed have humongous calves! Without further ado, to Exhibit A…

The website bodybuilding.com provides a calculator for target body measurements for the serious bodybuilder. Based on your wrist measurement – apparently, a surprisingly accurate estimator of overall body size – it provides the proportioned measurements that should lead you to the “Grecian Ideal”. The table below pretty much says it all …

My Measurement

The “Grecian Ideal”

% difference

Neck

16″

17″

-5.9%

Chest

42″

46″

-8.7%

Bicep

15″

17″

-11.8%

Forearm

12″

13″

-7.7%

Waist

32″

32″

0%

Hip

39″

39″

0%

Thigh

23″

24″

-4.2%

Calf

18″

16″

+12.5%

As you can see, though I am a fairly big guy for my stature, for most measurements, I don’t quite measure up to the body-builder’s ideal. Essentially, big, but not quite big enough. That is of course, for every measure except my calves. As far as calves go, I’m kind of off-the-charts, surpassing the ideal by a whopping 12.5%. That may not sound like a lot, but think about it this way: I’m actually significantly bigger than what a body-builder aims for. To provide another perspective, another killer website, illpumpyouup.com, provides a chart of ideal measurements based on height. For my height category (~5’6”-5’7”), they suggest an ideal calf measure of 14.8”, and a championship level measure of 15.4”. Not only do I easily surpass this objective, I would even challenge the biggest guys for the biggest calves: championship level calves for the 6’4” bodybuilder is 17.8”. Now, I understand all that body-builder envy. There’s no doubt – I have huge calves!

How did you get those massive calves?

But how on earth did I get such freakishly big calves. Sure, I did a little weightlifting when I was in university – but I never kept it up. I used to play rugby, and now play mainly beach volleyball and basketball (which of course require a lot of jumping up and down), but this certainly can’t be the biggest contributing factor. Some of my friends attribute it to all the cycling I do, but that simply doesn’t jive with our previous discussion about the development of the thinner slow-twitch endurance muscles. As such, it is not surprising that the consensus of the lamenting body-builders out there is one simple thing: genetics. Again, I turn to our friend, the angry trainer, for explanation:

All of your muscles shapes, sizes and lengths are due to your genetics. The issue with calves and why they’re so noticeable is that they’re kind of hanging out all by themselves for everyone to see. If you have lackluster biceps, triceps or even shoulders, there are other muscle groups around to help contribute to the overall look. But the exact opposite is true in the case of calves – the bigger your quads and hamstrings, the smaller your calves appear.

So, though you can put the work in to build your calves, due to the fast/slow-twitch issue, you’re going to have a hard time putting on mass through training. As such, the muscle size will largely be based on your genes. This explanation certainly fits my profile. Though I may have the biggest of the bunch, both my dad and brother have big calves. As well, when this topic came under discussion, my mom also mentioned that her prowess in ballet stemmed from her powerful calves. So, apologies to all you iron-pumping body-building super-calves wannabes, but you’re just going to have to sit back and wait for a propitious DNA mutation to amp those legs.

Final thoughts

There you have it, all you ever wanted to know about that mysterious calf muscle. Knowing that this blog will not reach all the masses out there, I imagine I will have to suffer through another season of “holy crap, they’re huge” commentary. But of course, it is not bad a thing really – it actually serves as an odd ice-breaker at parties (I don’t mention it myself of course, someone’s just bound to say something). At least now I have an easy response to the “dude, you have huge calves” comment … “I know – they’re so big they have their own blog!”

ADDENDUM: Though genetics are the key factor, a number of sites do provide some guidance on building the bad-ass calf. However, though most of what you’ll find out there is devoted to helping you build big calves, I suppose it’s not surprising that some women are actually in search of the slender calf. What’s disturbing however is that in Korea, there is actually such a thing called ‘calf reduction surgery’ and as you might imagine, it actually involves the removal of sections of muscle. ICK!

Also, as a final aside, how awesome are body building website names?! Beyond standards like bodybuilder.com and musclemag.com, I found kick-ass sites like simplyshredded.com, angrytrainerfitness.com, illpumpyouup.com, shreddedempire.com and spotmebro.com. Outstanding! Perhaps their branding is a little off-the-wall, but most of the sites actually seemed to be well put together, and contained good information.

A vote for a better focus

Quebec LogosAt its onset, the 2014 Quebec Election was about the Charter. In announcing the election, Pauline Marois exclaimed, “Nous ferons adopter une charte qui affirme les valeurs québécoises de l’égalité entre les hommes et les femmes et de laïcité. Nous le ferons!” (translated: “We will adopt a charter which affirms the Quebec values ​​of equality between men and women and secularism. We will do it!”). Looking back now, it may be easy to dismiss Marois’ election call as audacious, even foolish. At the time however, even if you disagreed with the policy, the political move appeared astute nonetheless. Though a surprise to many observers outside the province, the charter continued to show strong support in Quebec. In January, polls suggested the Charter had 48% support across the province, a result that coincided with the PQ’s 36% to 32% lead over the Liberals. Though not a large lead, given the Liberals concentrated support in urban ridings, it put the PQ well in reach of a majority government. Gaining a majority would give the PQ the mandate to implement the Charter, and in turn, take a significant step towards sovereignty somewhere down the line. And yet – that is not at all how it played out. Though we are now assured of four plus years of no charter and no referendum, we are still left pondering over the future of the sovereignty movement, and the Parti Québécois itself. In contemplating this future, it is worthwhile taking a closer look at exactly what did happen during the election. In particular, what were the views of the voters themselves? What were their concerns? What swayed their vote one way or another? A better understanding of the views of the people of Quebec is what will lead to understanding the future of the province.

Given the lead they had going into the campaign, it is understandable that observers would be looking for a turning point that changed the tide of the election. Though in other instances it may be difficult to positively identify such a defining moment, it appears almost unanimous in this case. It was the introduction of Pierre Karl Péladeau as a star candidate for the PQ. For those outside of Quebec, Pierre Karl Péladeau is the heir of media giant Quebecor, and has served as its President and CEO. PKP, as he is often referred to in the province, is a polarizing figure in Quebec – a fervent nationalist and successful businessman who has been known for his tough tactics in negotiating with unions (notably in the 2009 lockout at the Journal de Montreal). The impact of his entrance appears to have been two-pronged. For one, his anti-union record and right-wing leaning appeared at odds with the PQ’s social democratic core. More importantly, it was his spirited cry for sovereignty as he made his campaign announcement that made it a key election issue: “Je m’engage au Parti québécois parce que j’ai la conviction extrêmement profonde de faire du Québec un pays” (translation: “”I am committed to the Parti Québécois because I have extremely deep conviction to make Quebec a country”). There was no question as to what was top of mind for Péladeau, and it was his presence that shifted the focus of the campaign. Once focused on the Charter, the spectre of an imminent sovereignty referendum now seized the PQ campaign.

Though there was solid support for the Charter, the emergence of the sovereignty issue brought to the forefront the question of just how far the PQ would take it. At the onset of the election, James Mennie of the Gazette aptly asked, “values charter support: miles wide, but how deep?”  We look to the polls to find an answer to that particular question. In a Globe and Mail – Léger poll conducted in mid-March (immediately following Péladeau’s introduction), respondents were asked what they wanted to hear about during the campaign. The pressing issues identified were, in order, the economy and job creation, health, and public finances. On the other hand, the charter of values and sovereignty were seen as less important (27% and 20% wanted to hear more about these issues, respectively, while 63 and 69% wanted to hear less about them).  A snippet of an Ipsos poll conducted just prior to the election (see below) further reinforces just how far down the priority list you have to go to find both the Charter and sovereignty issues. With only 2% seeing sovereignty as either their first or second priority, it was clear that putting it front and centre did not inspire the electorate. Adding the paradox of bringing Péladeau and his fiscally conservative views into the fold, must have further confused, and unnerved, the party’s supporters.

Issue

Top Priority

Second Priority

Total

Create a better economy and jobs

28%

14%

41%

Provide better healthcare

17%

19%

36%

Ensure debt repayment and balancing budget

12%

12%

24%

Lower taxes

11%

12%

23%

Implement the Charter of Values

4%

4%

7%

A referendum for independence on sovereignty

1%

1%

2%

Priority issues in Quebec (Ipsos Poll Mar 28 – Apr 1, 2014)

With this confluence of an unappealing focus and an uneasy relationship between the premier and her star candidate, it wasn’t difficult for the opposing Liberals to take advantage. In essence, the simple repetition of their campaign slogan, “Ensemble, on s’occupe des vraies affaires” (“Together, we take care of real business”), was pretty much all that was needed. The rest is history. The Liberals drew even in the week following Péladeau’s arrival on the campaign, and finished with a whopping 16 point advantage over the PQ, securing a comfortable majority in the National Assembly (70 of 125 seats).

Where do things go from here? An Ekos poll conducted in the week prior to the election provides some insight into the future of the sovereignty movement. When asked to choose between a completely independent Quebec and the status quo, 65% chose the status quo (a high point for this indicator over the last 20 years).  Also of particular interest are the salient findings with regards to the demographics of the vote (see the graph below). The PQ’s greatest support is found among  45-64 year olds – a demographic that was around for the PQ’s initial rise to power in 1979 and the subsequent sovereignty efforts over the succeeding years. PQ support drops from 32% in this bracket down to 25% among 25-44 year olds and down to 22% among those under 25. Nevertheless, this may not be a trend wholly against the sovereignty movement. Québec Solidaire – who also support sovereignty, though with a different ideology than the PQ – actually have a growing support with the younger demographic. Their trendline along age grows from only 8% support among those 45-64 to 13% among those 25-44, and 15% among those under 25. As Québec Solidaire holds some of its roots in the New Democratic Party of Quebec, it is not a surprise that the orange wave that hit Quebec in the last federal election has had led to some crossover gains for Québec Solidaire provincially. Nevertheless, it is worth noting that though Solidaire holds sovereignist ideals, they are not so fervent as the PQ.  In the poll previously mentioned regarding the choice between an indepedent Quebec and the status quo within Canada, 77% of PQ supporters chose independence, whereas, Solidaire supporters display a 50/50 split between sovereignty and the status quo. As such, should Solidaire ever supplant the PQ as the sovereignist party of choice in Quebec, it’s a wonder what it might take to put a referendum at the top of their political agenda.

EKOS Poll, Apr 2014

EKOS Poll, Apr 2014

Though it is very much premature to suggest that we are at the end to the sovereignty movement in Quebec, it is certainly a more comfortable position we find ourselves in with a federalist party in control of the province for the next 4 years. No referendum is imminent, and the ill-titled Charter of Values has been put to rest (or at least shelved for the foreseeable future). In being a staunch federalist, one that values Quebec’s place within Canada, I am very glad for that. Not only do I value Quebec, but I believe we should all value the right of its diverse people to express their own beliefs free of discrimination and persecution. To turn a phrase oft used by those on the other side … “Vive un Quebec libre!”

 

Who are you rooting for?

stanley-cup-odds-203

Every year, the time comes around when we are faced with the big decision – who do we root for in the Stanley Cup Playoffs? The reason I say ‘every year’ of course is because the ‘we’ I belong to is the much beleaguered, much maligned, Leafs Nation. Oh sure, there was an exciting blip in that decade of despondency last year, but it was short-lived and we return once again to the status quo – beginning the second season without a rooting interest.

Usually for me, my standby is the Vancouver Canucks. I can’t really say why this is my backup Canadian team of choice – it just is. This year, they aren’t even an option. As such, it’s time to scour the field of 16 to see if there are any worthy candidates.

For such a task, we must have some criteria – nothing mind-blowing or over-analytical required, just some basic starting points (ed: ok I realize writing a blog may be over-analytical in the first place, but bare with me). The selecting criteria is narrowed down into to three simple items:

  • The worth-watching factor: Pretty self-explanatory – Does this team play exciting hockey? Do they consistently exhibit show some skill?
  • The attachment-clause: Are there players on this team that I’ve rooted for in the past? Notably, this Olympic year has an interesting impact on this factor.
  • The feel-good-story: Somewhat related to the attachment clause, but is there some good reason for me to root for a noteworthy player on this team? A player persevering after injury? A retiring veteran seeking one last chance at glory?

Equipped with our selecting criteria, let’s move on to our candidates. To make it interesting, let’s go in reverse order. First up…

 

The not-a-chance teams

As we are talking about rooting interest here, this ‘not-a-chance’ has nothing to do with their Stanley Cup odds. No, instead this has all to do with the fact that there is not-a-chance-in-hell that I’ll be rooting for these teams.

Philadelphia Flyers

What they have going for them? Claude Giroux is a great player to watch and I’m sure is a man on a mission after his Canadian Olympic snub.

What’s not working for them? Admittedly, I was once a big Flyer fan (back in the 80s). Then they jettisoned my favourite players (Poulin, Kerr, Propp) and in the end, the whole mess that transpired with Lindros and Clarke left a blackeye on the franchise. I don’t see too much redeeming features in this club. The old Broad Street Bullies persona is certainly in full force this season. in the past, teams may have been praised for this kind of toughness, but not so much in this era). The Flyers were the most penalized team in the league, and tough guy Zac Rinaldo is one of the more recent winners of a 4-game suspension for a nasty headshot. I am NOT rooting for this team.

Tampa Bay Lightning

What they have going for them? Steven Stamkos is arguably the most exciting star to watch in this league.

What’s not working for them? Recent falling out with star Martin St Louis certainly doesn’t help. Also, they are that sunshine state team that took away one of Canada’s most recent opportunities of having Lord Stanley’s mug reside north of the border (beating Calgary in 2004). Finally, the real kicker … the following video monstrosity that is a vomit-inducing affront to all hockey fans everywhere.

Boston Bruins

What they have going for them? They are a well-coached talented team that are the odds-on favourite to win the Cup.

What’s not working for them? See above. I hate the Bruins!

The ‘murky middle’ teams

I don’t love them, I don’t hate them. They are the murky middle.

St Louis Blues

What they have going for them? A solid team that was first overall for a good portion of the regular season. Ken Hitchcock is a likable coach and a good interview. His continued participation in Canada Hockey certainly helps.

What’s not working for them? Top players Backes, Oshie and Steen certainly have some skills, but none have really caught on as top stars in the league. Ryan Miller could be an interesting story after so many years of excellent play in Buffalo, but not endearing enough to reach feel-good-story status.

Dallas Stars

What they have going for them? Rising star Jamie Benn is great to watch. Also, you may remember that he scored the lone goal for Canada in the 1-0 Olympic Semifinal win over the US.

What’s not working for them? Just not enough with regards to the other criteria to make this a viable team to cheer for. Though I’m sure he’s probably not that bad a guy, top scorer, Tyler Seguin, left Boston and arrived in Dallas without the best of reputations and as such hasn’t become as big a star as he may yet reach some day.

Chicago Blackhawks

What they have going for them? The defending champions are a great team with all sorts of talented players. Also, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith were once again big contributors to our Olympic victory.

What’s not working for them?  They’re too good, and they just won last year. Perhaps seeing a repeat winner might be interesting, but I like the glory to be spread around a little bit. Reruns get boring.

New York Rangers

What they have going for them? King Henrik  is truly a full blown star in this league, and after 5 Vezina trophy nominations (1 win), it would be great to see the classy netminder be the one to hoist the cup. The addition of Martin St Louis and the Alain Vigneault vindication story make the Rangers a borderline root-for candidate.

What’s not working for them? Not exactly a high-flying team – they are among the bottom half of the league in terms of goals scored, and their top scorer was … Mats Zuccarello?

Columbus Blue Jackets

What they have going for them? They are the plucky underdog team from the struggling franchise that has only been to the playoffs once before this year in their 14 years of existence. They also have one of the best goalies in the league, Sergei Borbrovsky.

What’s not working for them? They are the plucky underdog team with a bunch of guys named Who that make up their roster. Their top 4 point getters through the regular season … Ryan Johansen, James Wisniewski, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson. Not exactly household names.

Pittsburgh Penguins

What they have going for them? Superstar Sidney Crosby is always fun to watch as are the rest of this offensive powerhouse team. Also, there may be a feel-good story here if Letang can be a contributor here after being able to come back after his stroke.

What’s not working for them? The “they-won-recently” issue doesn’t hurt them that much, as I think many would like to see the league’s top star lead his team to another Stanley Cup. Nonetheless, I can’t quite rank them in my top 3 favourites.

San Jose Sharks

What they have going for them? After years of being among the elite teams in the league, will they finally make it to the top?

What’s not working for them? After years of being among the elite teams in the league, will they finally make it to the top? No.

Los Angeles Kings

What they have going for them? The Kings are a strong team with amazing play in net from Jonathan Quick.

What’s not working for them? They won recently – in a not so memorable playoff final. They also are the lowest scoring team among those that made the playoffs. Not exactly fire-wagon hockey.

Minnesota Wild

What they have going for them? They certainly have some notable talent, especially having added Parise and Suter to those huge contracts last season. Also, if soundbite master Ilya Brzygalov makes the final, it would certainly makes things entertaining.

What’s not working for them? The Wild are a small market team with minimal flash. Though no great reason to root against them, hard to jump on their bandwagon.

Detroit Red Wings

What they have going for them? They have shed their elite status in the league and now are a bunch of hard-working young players that accomplished a huge feat by making the playoffs under the leadership of Canadian Olympic coach Mike Babcock? Also, they are playing the Bruins, so you have to root for them.

What’s not working for them? They have shed their elite status in the league and now comprise a hard-working crew of young players that haven’t a chance in hell in getting very far this year (I did mention they were playing the Bruins, right?).

The Contenders

Here are the three finalists that are valiantly vying for my temporary loyalty.

Montreal Canadiens

What they have going for them? They are the official ‘’last remaining Canadian team in the playoffs’. Sadly, they achieved that moniker right from the get go this year, as this was the first season since 1973 that there was only one Canadian team in the playoffs (quite a sorry state of affairs since we now have 7 Canadian teams and back then we only had 3). Speaking of Canada, Carey Price backstopped the Olympic team to hockey gold, and PK Subban admirably rode the pine most of the tournament without complaint (an accomplishment given his brash personality). Though not a high-scoring team throughout the season, by adding sniper Thomas Vanek to a roster that includes 39 goal scorer Max Pacioretty and a wealth of young talent, this should be a fun team to watch. Go Habs!

Anaheim Mighty Ducks

What they have going for them? Anaheim is the highest scoring team in the league. Led by Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks also have on board future Hall of Famer Teemu Selanne and former Canadiens Captain Saku Koivu. Here is where the feel-good-story gets amped. Selanne is retiring this year and he came back in style for one last Cup run.  What a great send-off it would to have one of the greatest goal-scorers the league has ever season leave as champion.. Also, it’s hard not to root for Koivu. After his much-publicized battle with cancer, Koivu came back in fine form, and not only won the Bill Masterton Trophy in 2002 (for perseverance), but also the King Clancy Memorial which is awarded “to the player who best exemplifies leadership qualities on and off the ice and has made a noteworthy humanitarian contribution in his community.”  And hey, how can you not love coach Bruce ‘Gabby’ Boudreau?

Colorado Avalanche

What they got going for them? This young talented team finished the season and impressively overtook both the Blackhawks and the Blues to take top spot in the Central Division. They are led by a young core of top-flight talent: Matt duchen (3rd overall pick in 2009), Gabriel Ladeskog (2nd overall pick in 2011), and Nathan Mickinnon (1st overall pick in 2013). Add offensive wepaons Ryan O’Reilly and Paul Stastny, top tier defenceman Erik Jonson (notably 1st overall pick in 2006) and sure Vezina Trophy nominee Semyon Varlamov in net, and you start to realize just how talented this team is. And putting altogether – Hall of Famer Patrick Roy. How can you not want to watch Roy’s feisty presence during the playoffs … not only from behind the bench, but also during the post-game interviews. Topped off by a potential feel-good-story in retiring goaltender JS Giguere, and the Avalanche are truly a team to root for this post-season.

 

The Verdict

Not only would it be great to see Patrick Roy coaching in the Stanely Cup Final.- but wouldn’t it be amazing to see him taking on the Canadiens. I can’t help but root for a Colorado-Montreal final. As it might be a tall order for this to happen, I’m primarily going to root for the Ducks! Sorry to Teemu and company if I just jinxed their chances!

Terrible Team Names … the Ottawa REDBLACKS

REDBLACKS

The Ottawa REDBLACKS – ok logo, terrible name

This new year ushers in a new era in the CFL – one that again includes a franchise in Ottawa. Though I’ve lived in Toronto for quite a long time now (it can now be measured in decades), I grew up in Ottawa and during my childhood, the Ottawa Rough Riders were the only game in town. Despite the fact that they amassed a lowly 60-169-1 record during my time as a fan from 1984-1996 (an unbelievably pitiful 0.263 winning percentage), somehow we still loved them. We survived the ownership of the Gliebermans (perhaps a nostalgic blog post in itself), the brief reigns of Horn Chen and Bruce Firestone, and the unsuccessful rebirth as the Renegades from 2002-2005. But it is now time to rejoice, as Ottawa returns to the league with a new stadium and more stable ownership. Or is it? The rebirth of the Ottawa CFL franchise comes with one small wrinkle … no, let’s call it one BIG WRINKLE. The new franchise has a terrible name: the REDBLACKS. Though the name stems from Ottawa CFL tradition – red and black were the traditional colours of the Rough Riders – there are some key problems with it. First off, it is a made-up word, and though I am not against a little creativity, this effort is weak. Second, and perhaps more importantly, team management has put out an edict to the media: the team name is to be spelled with ALL-CAPS. So, essentially, your inner voice should be SHOUTING when you read REDBLACKS. This leads to either sounding very angry, or very annoying (just think of the Aflac Duck, and you’ll be sufficiently agitated).

Bemoaning this significant hurdle to return to Ottawa football fandom, I find myself contemplating,  “just how terrible is this terrible team name?” With this question occupying my consciousness, I set out to determine the worst of the worst: the 5 most terrible team names of pro sports. Though this by nature of course must be a subjective analysis, it does not come without criteria:

1) Does it fit the standard mould of the North American pro sports franchise name? First thing to note is that I have specified North American pro sports as this will be the pool of team names I will be adjudicating. Living within the North American sports culture, I don’t feel qualified to judge the absurdity that abounds internationally. Furthermore, given the plethora of minor league and college sports nonsense, I will be sticking to teams in the MLB, NHL, NBA, NFL, CFL, and MLS (yes, the MLS is just too wonderfully awful not to include).As far as the standard mould goes, there appear to be a few basic models. First are animals (or similar creatures of the past or mythology, e.g. dinosaurs, dragons). Animals are good as they can represent ferocity, strength, speed – things that you’d like to associate with your sports team. Furthermore, some animals, namely birds, fit nicely as being symbolic of the city or region (e.g. Baltimore Orioles, New Orleans Pelicans). This idea is another founding element of the North American team name mould: being symbolic of the city or region. Team names may thereby relate to a people of the area (e.g. Edmonton Oilers, Boston Celtics), or other more symbolic representations (e.g. Philadelphia 76ers, relating to the 1776 signing of the Declaration of Independence). Lastly, like animals, the team name may refer to someone or something that symbolize strength, speed, power or are in some way fearsome. Notable examples include: the New York Giants, the Los Angeles Kings, and the Pittsburgh Pirates. The large majority of the team names reviewed in some way meet at least one of these criteria. That is not to say that passing this criteria gets you off the hook, but a decent attempt within this mould will likely get you a passing grade (remember, we’re just trying to identify the worst of the worst, we are not trying to find the best).

2) My second criteria involves off-the-board names. If you are going to try something a little different, you better do it right. If you’re going with an abstract concept, an entity that can’t be pluralized, or something otherwise obscure, there better be good reasoning, or a good story behind it. In terms of the latter, names with long-storied traditions like Red Sox and Browns fit an old mould or have a story, and thereby pass my test without much further scrutiny. Newer names like Heat and Magic are certainly a little different but fit well enough and I have no problem with them. As you’ll see, others don’t measure up quite as well.

3) How does it sound? This is a simple criteria for a sports team name. A big part of rooting for a team is well … rooting for a team. You actually have to be able to get the team name out of your mouth, and it should in some way sound right in a phrase like “Go Jets Go!” or “Let’s go Steelers! Let’s go!” As you can see, one or two syllables helps, though a team name that has a simple abbreviation also fills the bill well enough. Names that have too many syllables or are otherwise hard to pronounce are eyesores and earsores.

With our criteria set, on to some team name distinctions. For this we have a couple of categories before we get to the top (bottom) 5.

Category 1: “Get out of Jail Free Card” Names

These team names have been judged by some to have bad names that I’m going to give a passing grade to for one reason or another. Though this may seem like an act of mercy, if I delved deeper into my subconscious I would probably discover that this was just an opportunity to point out flaws.

1) Los Angeles Lakers and the Utah Jazz. These two oddities stem from franchise movement. The Lakers originated in Minnesota (where there are many Lakes), and the Jazz started in New Orleans (yes, a greater hotbed of jazz music than Utah). Despite the very odd pairings that these names make, somehow they have entered our consciousness as perfectly good team names. They also pass the “how does it sound” test quite well. Though I am definitely not a fan, who can argue with the rhythm and overall sound of the L.A. Lakers.

2) Toronto Raptors. I am just pointing this one out as my home team Raptors are often maligned in similar team name lists. Yes, it was conceived during the dinosaur hysteria that came from the Jurassic Park movies, but nonetheless, the Raptor represents a fearsome creature, and the franchise’s move from the old cartoonish logo to that of the basktetball claw mark was a step in the right direction. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the Raptors have the best mascot in the league! (BTW, get well soon Raptor!). 

Category 2: Dishonourable Mentions

This category essentially represents the Miss America Runner-up designation for this list of dishonour … should any of the terrible team names not be able to fulfill their duties as terrible team names, one of these awful runner-ups may act as replacement.

1) Brooklyn Nets. Right. I get that “nets” have a lot to do with the sport of basketball, but really? One might give it a passing grade on the sound criteria (“Go Nets Go!” is pretty easy to manage), but would you want to root for the Atlanta Homeplates, or the Chicago Endzones? Terrible name.

2 ) Houston Texans. I know I suggested that it was good to have your team name relate to the people of the area, but this is being way to literal with that idea. Nevertheless, perhaps we should consider ourselves lucky. Among other names that the organization filed for trademark prior to making final decisions: Roustabouts and Colt .45s. Oy.

 

The Worst of the Worst, the Top (Bottom) 5

And finally, here we go – the wonderful worst of the worst. Of course, this is presented to you in ever-exciting reverse order. Also, note that I have taken license and added running mates to a few of these designations as there are a number of these team name terrors that just belong together.

5) Los  Angeles Angels of Anaheim. So wrong in so many ways. First off, Angels is not a great name. Unlike its counterpoint – the New Jersey Devils – it does not really instill fear in opponents. Granted, it does have an obvious link to the city name and its nickname – the ‘City of Angels’ – but in the end there is one too many Angels in there (remember, in translating it all to English, it would be “The Angels Angels of Anaheim”). However, the Angels part is not its crowning achievement in terribleness, that of course goes to the ‘of Anaheim’ qualifier. Make up your mind … Los Angeles or Anaheim! The team’s geographical title has gone from Los Angeles to California to Anaheim before becoming this monstrosity of superfluous syllables that it is now. Given how terrible this name is, it’s actually not surprising that it stemmed from a legal clause agreed to between team ownership and the city of Anaheim (back in 1997 when the city agreed to refurbishment of Anaheim Stadium on condition that Anaheim be included in the name). When Arte Moreno took over the team from Disney in 2004, he wanted to again reference the Los Angeles roots of the team, and the ten-syllabic atrocity was introduced in 2005. Sadly, by next year, we will no longer be able to mock this nonsense, as ‘of Anaheim’ will officially be dropped from the name. We can always hold out hope for a successor  … perhaps the Detroit Pistons of Auburn Hills, the New York Giants of East Rutherford or better yet, the Buffalo Bills of Orchard Park and Toronto.

4) Washington Capitals. Perhaps this is one that you might not have thought of, but c’mon, when you really look at it, it’s rather stupid. Granted it doesn’t sound that bad (especially when shortened to “Caps”) and it of course relates to the capital-ness of Washington itself, but in the end, it doesn’t make any sense. Dictionary.com defines a capital as “the city or town that is the official seat of government in a country state, etc.”, so though this is referring to the capital of the United States, they’ve actually pluralized it. So, are these players representing various world capitals or something? Just nonsense. Many teams diverge from the mould of animals or people and such, but some of those work quite well (I actually like the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Orlando Magic, and even the Minnesota Wild). Capitals just doesn’t cut the mustard. Washington’s baseball team has a similar problem – not a fan of “Nationals” – but isn’t quite as bad as the absurdity that is the Washington Capitals.

3) Real Salt Lake. Full disclosure – I am not a fan of the MLS. I actually do watch some soccer when there is the drama and intrigue of the major international tournaments, but I have never fallen in love with the “beautiful game” at the club level. That being said, part of that problem may be the consistent lameness of MLS franchise names. To be honest, though the winner of the 3rd place distinction in this list is Real Salt Lake, this honour is truly shared by around half of the teams in the MLS. It ranges from the utter lack of imagination in Toronto FC and FC Dallas, to the blatant commercialism that is the New York Red Bulls, to the lame UEFA copy-catting that is Sporting Kansas City. Despite these poor efforts, Real Salt Lake stands out to me. Clearly just mimicking the world renown Real Madrid, the name just really doesn’t fit Salt Lake or Utah at all. Real is of course Spanish for royal, and the Madrid team adopted that name in the 1920s in honour of the Spanish King. What that has to do with Salt Lake City, I don’t know. Leniency is given to Chivas USA (which has always been associated with the Mexican club of the same name), but Real Salt Lake took on the name with no real association with the original club, only developing a tenuous relationship with the storied club after the fact. Real Salt Lake, you are the winner of the MLS terrible name derby!

2) REDBLACKS. I’ve already stated my case against this name, but let’s make another point on this one. When referred to in French, this team will actually be known as the Rouge et Noir, a term that is made of real words, and sounds much like Laval University’s Rouge et Or (red and gold). The University of Ottawa’s sports teams also falls under this mould (Gee-Gees is actually short for Garnet and Grey). Though not a fan of the “___ and ___” mould, this is certainly passable in my books. Why they decided to go further off-the-board with this goofy name just doesn’t sit well with me. You’ll also note that I have complied with the over-the-top juvenile request that the team name always be spelt with capital letters to further accentuate its terribleness. EDGY? No. CREATIVE? Not really. LAME? Yes, very lame indeed.

1) Washington Redskins. Over the last few years, the debate about Washington’s football moniker has gained more steam. One can argue that other team names in the same vain are meant to honour Native Americans (e.g. Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Braves, Edmonton Eskimos), but you can’t really argue this on behalf of the Redskins. Let us note the online definitions for the term from oft-used sources:

Dictionary.com
Slang: Often Disparaging and Offensive. A North American Indian.

Merriam-Websters
usually offensive. American Indian
(it also adds in its Learner’s Dictionary “The word redskin is very offensive and should be avoided”).

The often maligned owner of the franchise, Dan Snyder, has strongly defended the team name, but his arguments fall short with me and many others. A fairly lengthy Wikipedia page has outlined the significant opposition to the team name. In a notable development, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King and USA Today sports columnist Christine Brennan both declared that they would no longer print the name “Redskins” in the writing of their articles.  It doesn’t help that the Washington Redskins franchise has the worst record of racial intolerance relating to the inclusion of African American players dating back to the early years of the NFL (see this great article from CNN for more details). Some may feel that it is wrong to wash away the “proud” tradition of the franchise by dropping the team name. I’m sorry, but when the name has its origins in bigotry and racial slurs, that is clearly nothing to be proud of. Terrible, terrible name.

So that’s my rant — do you have any thoughts? What’s your favourite (least favourite) terrible team name?

Being a fan at Fan Expo

Have you ever seen the movie Paul? Well, if you haven’t, it’s about a couple of sci-fi nerds who befriend an alien on the lam trying to escape the powers that be that control Area 51. It’s a fantastic homage to sci-fi replete with all sorts of clever references, particularly relating to Star Wars and Star Trek. In other words, this movie is very dear to my heart. The movie begins with our beloved geeks – ably, and probably aptly, portrayed by comedy duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost – at the San Diego Comic-Con, the grand-daddy of all conventions. This was my inspiration – I needed to explore my inner geek. I needed to go to a Comic Con.

Norman Reedus

Norman Reedus of the Walking Dead was certainly a big draw at FanExpo

Though there is a Toronto Comic Con, it is now outshone by a much, much bigger event – Fan Expo Canada. The interesting thing about Fan Expo Canada is that it is truly a free-for-all for the avid fan. Though there is certainly a big focus on comic and sci-fi fare, there are many attractions for the sports fan as well. So not only was there Norman Reedus, Laurie Holden, and Steven Yuen – the Walking Dead’s Daryl, Andrea, and Glenn – there was also hockey greats Joe Sakic, Gordie Howe, and Bobby Orr. Star Trek stars both old and new found themselves rubbing shoulders with Blue Jays Robbie Alomar, Paul Molitor and Tony Fernandez. FanExpo had everything for the geek and jock alike (ok if not jock, at least the sports nut). In truth, I have never been much of celebrity hunter or autograph seeker – never saw what the big fuss was about – but with all the attractions this was clearly the event for me. As such, I took a Friday off work, put on my Stormtrooper T-shirt, and made my way to FanExpo Canada.

The Convention Floor

I got to FanExpo right around 10AM when the doors were set to open. I hadn’t purchased tickets in advance and had no idea what to expect. I was fully prepared to miss out on it completely, as it sounded like there was quite the hype about the lineup of stars coming for the event. The ticket line looped through Olympic Park by the Rogers Centre and spiraled its way down the garage entrance into the Convention Centre. Though I may have covered as much as a mile in this winding line, it took a relatively pain-free hour to get to the ticket booths. The wait was made all the more bearable by the interesting people I got to talk to in line. One guy I spent most of my time chatting with was looking forward to heading to the Hulk Hogan”Uncensored” event that night – an up close and personal experience with the Hulkster.  Though it’s not what I would spend my money on, if you really are a Hulkamaniac,  I can see how it would be a big draw. As well, we were all fans there, and the nice thing about all the people there was that it didn’t matter what you were a fan of, people just enjoyed sharing with others this opportunity of expressing their fandom without judgement. In fact, the only thing you might’ve been judged on was your dedication as a fan. One young woman dressed up as Kaylee from Firefly noted to me that it didn’t matter who or what I showed up as, I just really should’ve made more of an effort than my basic Stormtrooper t-shirt. It was true, amongst the Batmans, Captain Americas, Lara Crofts, and Anime characters I’m unfamiliar with, I was decidedly underdressed.

The Emperor's Throne

The 501st stands guard

As my scheduled activities were later on in the day, my first order of business was just to wander the convention floor (or shall I say floors – Fan Expo took up pretty much the entire Convention Centre). As you might imagine, video game companies showed off the latest games, collectibles were stacked high among the endless rows of vendors, and comic book art exploded out of every corner of the place. Though fun to see, I was not in the market to buy anything (more due to a lack of space in my condo than any other reason).In the end, I found myself more interested in people costume watching and checking out some of the big props on display. One thing I absolutely loved was the omnipresence of the 501st Legion. As you can see on their website, the legion is an international club dedicated to celebrating the Star Wars universe, primarily through making authentic costumes. This focuses on stormtroopers and various other Star Wars universe soldiers, but they’ve developed costuming guidelines for just about every character in the movies (and books, I imagine). They had some cool displays (like the Emperor’s chair), an AT-ST, and various R2 droids roaming about. Any of them on their own was pretty cool; seeing a whole squadron of them march the halls was quite something. Beyond the Star Wars theme, the coolest of all cars were on display: the Batmobile (Tim Burton movies) and the original KITT from Knight Rider! After checking out the convention floor, it was on to my first appointment …

Batmobile

The Batmobile (from the Tim Burton films)

Celebrity Encounters

You may have noticed a heavy Star Wars theme to my recounting of the Fan Expo experience. I am truly a child of Star Wars. The original came out when I was a toddler, and as a child, I lived and breathed everything that was a long long time ago and in a galaxy far far away. As such, if I were to tell you that I actually spent money (and yes, it was a little more than 20$) to have a photo-op with a celebrity, you would guess correctly that it was someone from Star Wars. But who? Though there is photographic evidence below, you may not be sure who my Star Wars idol. Clearly it’s not Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill, neither is it Carrie Fisher or James Earl Jones. No, the celebrity appearance that cinched my attendance at Fan Expo was none other than Ian McDiarmid … the Emperor. Though it is Darth Vader that finds himself ranked third on the American Film Institute’s list of greatest movie villains, I always had a soft spot (or perhaps dark spot) in my heart for the Emperor. In the end, Vader shows remorse, he is redeemed. The Emperor is evil incarnate to the end, and McDiarmid’s portrayal is exquisitely diabolical. Though the photo is great, the encounter as you imagine was short lived. I believe I got to ask him how his day was, but that waspretty much it. Thankfully I got to hear more from him during the Q&A.

The Emperor

Me and the Emperor – just chillin’

Besides the Emperor, I also got to meet another personal favourite – Rudy Ruettiger. Reuttiger is of course the real life inspiration for the movie “Rudy”, which always struck a chord with me. It’s about the little guy who for one shining moment got his own football glory on the field for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. As a university student, I remember much bigger guys referring to me as Rudy on the rugby field and basketball court (none of my own doing – I swear, it was just my stature and hustle). I actually look a little like Sean Astin who portrayed Rudy in the movie; the real Rudy, not so much. Anyway, my encounter with Rudy was a little longer than that with the Emperor. Besides getting his autograph on my Rudy DVD case, I chatted with him briefly about the current state of Notre Dame football, and my own experiences playing rugby and football. Though I grant the experience was made a little awkward by the woman asking for the 40$ payment for the autograph, it was nonetheless an worthwhile experience. Also, the photo I got with him was quite a bonus – he wasn’t too busy when I came by so he was able to take the moment to have the photo taken. Though I’m generally not an autograph-hunter, the DVD and the photo will definitely be great personal keepsakes.

Rudy

Rudy Ruettiger (and me)

The Q&A Sessions

Throughout the day there are Q&A sessions with the various celebrity guests of the expo. Some of the best of course are saved for the end of the day. That is when I headed downstairs to one of the larger convention rooms where the final lineup was to comprise George Takei and Nichelle Nichols – Sulu and Uhura from the original Star Trek – and of course, Emperor McDiarmid. Not wanting to miss George Takei, who I figured might be the biggest draw, I headed down a little early. When I got down to the room a good half hour or more before Takei was to take the stage, the usher noted to me that I was welcome to go in and take in the current guest … David Hasselhoff. To my complete surprise, the Hoff was very genuine, charming, and quite entertaining. When asked about the famous Cronut Burger at the CNE, he was humbly self-deprecating noting that burgers had gotten him in trouble in the past. As well, after a little egging on, he rolled off a couple of verses of “Springtime for Hitler” from Mel Brooks’ “The Producers” (he played Roger Debris in its Las Vegas run). What was most endearing about him was that he was genuinely thankful for everything that his life in showbiz had afforded him. One of his more engaging stories was his recounting of using his celebrity to allow him to “see the people” in South Africa (an earlier retelling of the story is available here).  On a lighter note, he was also thankful to have gotten the opportunity to being a part of the Spongebob movie, and Piranha 3DD. Yes, that was the Hoff.

The Q&A Sessions

Hasselhoff, Takei, McDiarmid (note McDiarmid’s security detail)

George Takei followed Hasselhoff and was equally entertaining. As I had a question ready for George early on, one of the facilitators roving the crowd with a microphone motioned for me to join him to await my chance. George, taking charge himself, proceeded to select people in the first few rows that were within earshot. These questions led to interesting stories regarding his past convention experiences and his opportunity to take part of NASA history. Throughout, I crouched down in the aisle (so as to not block the view of the people in my vicinity), and awaited my chance. Finally, the host declared they had time for one more question. At this point, I now had mic in hand … and it was on. I took my chance and announced, “as I have a microphone, I think I’m getting the last question.” Though there were a handful of disappointed looks turned my way, it appeared that no one was going to challenge my claim to the honour of the final question. I proceeded with my question: ”George, I have to admit, when I log in to Facebook, half of my newsfeed is made up of George Takei posts that my friends have shared with the world … I was wondering, what got you started on your way to becoming the King of Facebook?” Even before George’s response, it was clear that I had asked a good question; after both my initial statement, and my question declaring George the King, there was applause and roars of approval from the crowd. After things settled, George actually had an interesting story to tell. Earlier on in the Q&A he had noted that over the last few years he’d been driving the development of a musical about the Japanese American internment during World War II – its plot is inspired by his own personal experiences. Clearly the project was a labour of love and he is determined to get it to Broadway. How would he do that? The plan was to boost his social media presence and get the word out about the show. As such, he started posting more, using the humorous memes, and the topical fare with his own commentary. As he himself explained, this let him expand his fan base beyond the trekkies to a whole host of new followers of all ages and stripes. Great story – though through this process, I must admit I hadn’t heard of his musical … but I have now! It’s called Allegiance and it opened to rave reviews in San Diego last year. Touché George, well done.

Rebel Scum!

On the lookout for Rebel Scum!

After George came Nichelle Nichols (the original Uhura). Though she did have some inspiring words, and interesting stories as she recounted her journey to becoming one of the first female African American stars on television, I have to admit, I was really now just waiting for the Emperor. It was well worth the wait. Prior to his arrival, the buzz grew as the 501st legion entered the hall. A squad of Stormtroopers and Imperial Guards set post in front of the stage to act as McDiarmid’s security detail, while a handful of troops roamed the aisles (conceivably looking out for rebel scum). Though I don’t see myself joining the 501st anytime soon, seeing the spectacle that they made at this event certainly made me understand the draw of enjoying such a hobby. With the stage set, McDiarmid came on and charmed the audience. Using the eloquence one might expect from a Shakespearean actor, McDiarmid recounted his story of getting the part as the Emperor. It turns out, they did originally cast a much older actor for the part, but McDiarmid was chosen to step in, as the older fellow would not sign on to play the Emperor due to health concerns over having to wear the yellow contact lenses required for the role. McDiarmid who was only 38 at the time, was cast based on his performance of an aging Howard Hughes in a production in London. Being so young when playing the decrepit Emperor allowed for the odd turn of events of then getting to play the younger version of the character – Senator Palpatine – in the prequel trilogy when he was in fifties and early sixties. Among other notable remarks, when McDiarmid was asked about his favourite scene from the movies, he chose the scene in the opera house in Revenge of the Sith, where he is finally able to turn Anakin to the dark side.  All in all, McDiarmid was very entertaining – even doing the Emperor’s voice upon request. A great way to end my Fan Expo experience.

So, would I go again? I think so. As I mentioned, I am rarely an autograph or celebrity seeker, but there was definitely something to exploring your fandom – your inner geek, shall we say – with other people doing the same. Only trick now – got to figure out a costume for next year!

Quebec’s Charter of Deplorable Values

“L’argent et la vote ethnique!” It was almost twenty years ago when premier Jacques Parizeau lashed out at what he saw as the lead culprits in the demise of his push for a sovereign Quebec. If you need a refresher on the 1995 referendum, the coverage has been made available on the CBC website. After uttering those famous words, Parizeau made an ambiguous comment about the Parti Québécois protecting Quebec from the future vengeance he expected from his opponents. I would contend he was in fact fixated on how he and his party would find their own path to vengeance. Though no longer led by Parizeau, it appears the PQ has found its vessel of revenge: Quebec’s proposed Values Charter.

Thousands gather to protest charter in Montreal (CBC)
Thousands gather to protest the charter in Montreal (CBC)

To review the essence of the policy, public employees will be forbidden to wear ‘ostentatious’ symbols of religion when on the job. Disallowed items include hijabs, turbans and kippas, as well as larger than usual crosses (see below). Allowed items are smaller more moderate symbols such as a small cross on a necklace, or a Star of David ring. Though the charter has been introduced under the pretense of conveying neutrality in the public service, these rules clearly show a partiality to Quebec’s Christian majority. A large cross like the one depicted would not be expected to be worn by even the most devout Christian, and it would certainly not be seen as a requirement in demonstrating one’s faith. In the case of the other disallowed symbols – the hijab, the turban, the kippah – these are clearly required displays of faith among a large number of the adherents of non-Christian faiths. As a result, the rules ask very little of the majority, and far too much of the minorities. Neutrality is not what this charter represents.

Quebec Values Charter Poster

Further evidence of this partiality comes with the glaring exemption to this supposed demonstration of neutrality: the crucifix is to remain in Quebec’s National Assembly. This exception has been made because this symbol is “emblematic of Quebec cultural heritage”. This speaks to the charter’s partiality rather than its intended neutrality: the crucifix is part of Quebec cultural heritage, symbols of other religions are not. If anything these bans and exemptions are precisely backwards of how neutrality could be effectively demonstrated. In representing the government of Quebec, it is the National Assembly that should be seen as a neutral institution. It and other edifices of public service should be seen as neutral without religious symbols. Furthermore, in being neutral they should allow the individual to practice their own beliefs without hindrance. The argument that all individuals must adhere to complete neutrality and not display their own beliefs while providing a public service suggests that we live in a society that is not at all tolerant to the varied religions and cultures that are represented within our population. I don’t know about you, but when I am approached by someone wearing a hijab, turban or kippah, my first impression is not that they are trying to force their religion upon me. In fact, I don’t recall ever getting that impression in the slightest. I am saddened to think that there are others that do. Unfortunately, leaders in Quebec have not always been ones to support multiculturalism.

In the aftermath of the charter’s initial introduction, I am somewhat surprised that it has not be soundly denounced by the masses. In Quebec, the results suggest support and opposition for the charter is relatively balanced: 43% support, while 42% oppose. Support actually grows significantly among francophones as 49% support the charter, while only 34% oppose it. In the rest of Canada, acceptance of the policy is much lower, with only 20% in favour, while 44% oppose, and the balance are unsure about the proposal. This uncertainty is not surprising, as there is surely a sympathetic ear for initiatives to divide church and state but a need for  closer inspection of the charter’s policy and true intentions. Thankfully, the past few days have provided a wake-up call for the PQ government. Despite the balance in support and opposition of the charter itself, confidence in the government itself has dropped. The opposition Liberals now lead the PQ in popular support 42% to 35% (compared to a 32% to 31% edge the PQ achieved in last year’s election). Though this may have led to some softening of the PQ stance, let us not believe that the fight is over.

The people of Quebec are very proud of their culture. They have every reason to be. Though I do not live it as they do, I am proud to be part of a Canada that includes Quebec as a fundamental component. Given there is so much to cherish in Quebec culture, I am saddened that the attempts to protect it continually impede it from flourishing. Celebrating the culture is the answer, not iron-fisted attempts to assimilate others into it. Many years have gone by since Parizeau’s bitter words, but those same attitudes are the driving force that has led to this terribly divisive policy. Dismayed as I am with the introduction of this policy, I am satisfied that it has once again shown the true colours of the Parti Québécois. What’s more, I am also confident that another long-storied trait of the Parti Québécois will soon surface as well – always losing the big fight.

ADDENDUM: In light of the recent resignation from his seat in Parliament, it is worth pointing out the courageous and poignant words of the Honourable Bob Rae during the coverage of the referendum back in 1995 (from the same clip at 18:25). I always found Rae an honest politician who stood for what is right and effectively communicated his positions. If circumstances had worked out differently, he would have made an outstanding Prime Minister.