Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Giving Back

I’m one of those people that like to be busy, busy beyond the realm of the desk. It rarely matters what the task at hand is, just that there is a task. Therefore, eager to avoid the holiday doldrums, I took up the opportunity to contribute a few hours to a homeless luncheon at St. Augustine’s Church in nearby Santa Monica, California.

Initially, I felt struck by a terrible case of cold feet, confronted with the thought that spending time and making contact with people a lot less fortunate than myself would be an awfully awkward and painful experience.

So as we turned into a parking garage on 5th Avenue, I had that dull sinking feeling befitting usually of an experience that does not end well. It was with that sense of foreboding that I trundled across to St Augustine’s and descended into the basement, where the lunch would take place.

Quickly, the tides changed: the friendly, organised ambience within fought back against any worrying premonitions. The fact that we were all told what to do was immensely helpful, meaning that we had a comfortable sense of purpose when the downtrodden, unemployed and homeless came streaming down the stairs, gleaning for a drink and some food but perhaps more importantly some festive cheer. The servers mingled with the guests, creating a nice ambience that also procured some interesting stories, such as the visiting couple from Holland who had lost their credit card.

The meal of ham, yams, bread and pie went down well, accompanied by milk, coffee and fruit punch. Smiles only grew when warm hats and gloves as well as umbrellas were distributed in an attempt to help the guests combat the unusually cold and wet weather. Soon enough, the guests left to test out their gear and so the ensuing clean-up operation began. Reserves were packed off to the Salvation Army and homeless shelters whilst the helpers grabbed a plate of food. The younger folk engaged in a box-crushing session whilst the more disciplined adults battened down the kitchen. Everyone participated in some facet of this stage as well, reminiscent of just why the lunch was such a success: everyone pulled together for a common cause, spreading the Christmas cheer.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Ways and Means

Written for the Hills Road Phoenix, Edition 17/12/08

It has been almost 30 years since an Islamic revolution gripped Iran in 1979 and in that long tenure, the country has been perceived as the scourge of the free and fair world. Whilst diplomatic relations with much of the EU have been reinstated, contact with the United States has not reached the heights of an exchange of ambassadors. The country has constantly been the subject of press speculation and UN scrutiny and sanction.

This icy façade has fissured. Beginning in 2006, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom began to forge a working friendship with Tehran Mayor Mohammad Ghalibaf, in contrast to the militaristic sentiment of 2007 and 2004 that culminated with a total of 29 Royal Navy personnel being seized by Iranian forces. Indeed, even outgoing US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said that “the diplomatic course is really the best course.”

All this is good and well but when ill will is allowed to ferment at the uppermost levels of government, things do not bode well. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recognised this and set a precedent when he congratulated President-Elect Barack Obama with a personal letter, saying, “I hope you will be able to take fullest advantage of the opportunity to serve and leave behind a positive legacy.”

Whilst Obama did not flatter his Iranian counterpart with a personal response, there is still the propensity for serious talks to occur: the ice has been broken and should remain so, given that dialogue has been initiated. Even if Obama never responds to Ahmadinejad, the very fact that the letter was sent represents an important progression in terms of the governance of Iran: previously the President was merely a puppet for the Ayatollahs – religious leaders who had monopolised control since the 1979 revolution. Now, the President has established contact with the “infidels,” a sure sign that political control has become increasingly secular, even modern.

Back in the Europe and the United States, politicians and whole governments have embraced the internet, campaigning via media such as social networking site Facebook or popular video-sharing site Youtube. Making up for lost time, Iran is not far behind – Ahmadinejad and his multilingual aides have set up a blog, available in English, French, Arabic and Farsi.

It speaks of a reconciliation, if not between the two governments of the US and Iran then between the people of those two countries. In one post, entitled “A Reply to American Mother’s Message,” the President or more likely a ghost writer assures the mother that her son would return home from the Iraq war because, “Certainly Almighty God would help him.”

This sympathy is not a lonely occurrence amongst a swarm of rants. In another post entitled “Merry Christmas to Everyone,” Ahmadinejad spreads the holiday spirit by describing Christ as the “A messenger of peace, devotion and love based upon monotheism and justice.” The mirth is preceded by a philosophical reflection, remarking that, “the dignity, benevolence, peace and tranquillity of the human beings have been taken to abattoir and slaughtered. And then, lie and deception are positioned for honesty and truth.”

Surprisingly, Ahmadinejad recognises that this is a plight of the whole world, not just the scourge of the infidels of the West, saying that this was a problem, “In occupied Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, and South America and even in Europe and North America.” Once more, this is a hopeful sign that the reign of the Ayatollahs is a thing of the past. The very fact that the blog is available in English represents the notion that the Iranian government wants to communicate with the West. This isn’t to say that Ahmadinejad is a knight in shining armour as his country has done some terrible things, for example the use of stoning as capital punishment but there is a recognition that modernisation might after all be a good idea.

However, ugly sentiment is still directed at him from the West. Americans who have commented on his blog have hoped that “a bullet is put in [Ahmadinejad’s] head very soon. Similarly, a Briton wrote, “you are a despicable man.” Perhaps more importantly, an Iranian poster was allowed to sarcastically applaud his President. Ahmadinejad has shown the guile to open himself to international critique, unimaginable mere years ago. It doesn’t matter if the blog is a hoax, written by aides, censured beyond recognition. Somewhere in the upper levels of Iranian government, there has been a decision to welcome back the wider world with peace and goodwill.

Note: President Mahmoud Ahmadinjad’s blog is available at www.ahmadinejad.ir

Friday, December 5, 2008

Avery's Recycled Insults

Prior to their recent match-up versus the Calgary Flames, Dallas Stars forward Sean Avery approached the media behind the back of his coach, Dave Tippett. Defying a supposed gentleman's rule throughout the locker-rooms of the NHL, Avery then remarked, "I just want to comment on how it's become like a common thing in the NHL for guys to fall in love with my sloppy seconds. I don't know what that's about."
Obviously, the intention of such a remark was nothing more and nothing less than to rile up Dion Phaneuf and his girlfriend (and Avery's ex,) Elisha Cuthbert. His intentions were slanderous but his words were not. One has to conjugate his words very euphemistically to get anything near sexual connotations out of them, something which it appears Gary Bettman's office tried to do. If that is not the case, then what did Avery say that was so awful? OK, he longwindedly commented on the private life of a colleague, Dion Phaneuf - who just happens to be a huge marketing pawn but even so, what is the motivaton for the NHL to hand Avery a 6-game ban pending an anger management evaluation? He went out of his way to call out a fellow player on his personal life in front of the press and got 6 games whilst Tom Kostopolous, who carried a criminal record, basically broke Mike van Ryn and wound up with a 3-game suspension. Colin Campbell, in charge of disciplinary issues for the league has long been seen as ridiculously inconsistent but this takes that cake - Avery didn't actually directly insult anyone.
That said, there is another reason for the harsh sentencing: the NHL had been looking to suspend Avery ever since he created a new rule by "screening" future Hall-of-Famer, Martin Brodeur. When he signed on as a summer intern at Vogue, the conservative bastion of the hockey elite saw this as a vicious affront. Thus, without even delivering a cheap hit, Avery finds himself banished to the press box for at least 6 games.
See, there's another reason for his sentencing: even on his team, very few players even find him aquaintable, let alone friendly. Earlier in the season, things got bad enough for Mike Modano to speak out against Avery and his partner in crime, Steve Ott. In a recent interview with the Los Angeles Times, Kings captain Dustin Brown said, "The more people talk about it the more he'll do stuff like this." Brown was bullied by Avery in his first season with the Kings. In short, a mutual hate for Avery unites a lot of NHL locker-rooms. His influence was counterproductive for the game. "Was," as opposed to "is." As Dave Tippett said, he can only come back in the players want him to. Being such an unpopular figure, it was only natural for the league to throw a few pages of the book at him.
So there you have it: Avery, circumstantially, looks to have been used and abused by the league but in reality did everyone around him a favour in opening his door away from the NHL. Of course, there is just one moment of hilarity left: Avery isn't the first man to use the phrase "sloppy seconds" to describe Dion Phaneuf's relationship with Elisha Cuthbert: it was first featured on a blog several months ago. So desperate for attention was he that he took the words out of the mouths of us "citizen journalists" and came out looking like a fool, a fool. Let's just hope that isn't an omen.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Not to sound cliched...

There is no "I" in "team," and never can an "I" precede the word "team."

Former Arsenal captain, William Gallas, failed to recognize this when he went before the media recently and revealed a supposed "dressing room rift" during the 4-4 tie versus Tottenham. Coincidentally, this press conference was called to reveal Gallas's autobiography. I believe that would define put yourself before the team. This move was all the more perturbing given not only his reputation on the training ground but also because Arsenal is widely known to be greater than the sum of its parts. Arsene Wenger was equally worried and removed the armband from the 31 year-old rearguard who had, in all honesty, been faltering since Eduardo was torn apart at Birmingham City last year.

Wenger yesterday installed 21 year-old dynamo Cesc Fabregas as captain on a permanent basis. Some members of the media are already questioning the appointment but ultimately Fabregas has the links from the starting 11 on down to unite a dressing room recently struck by controversy. Whilst the need of such an appointment has me a little confused, Arsenal has been Fabregas's team since the day Thierry Henry left for the allegedly greener pastures of Barcelona. Here's what I don't understand: what amounts to Arsenal's youth team beat full-strength Sheffield United and Wigan Athletic sides by an aggregate score of 9-0. Such a resounding achievement whiffs of squad chemistry, and if the first team is rid of its aged annoyances, such as Gallas and Mikael "Stick a fork in it" Silvestre, there is no reason why Arsenal can't spring up the Premier League tables once more.

For reassurance, Wenger need only look across the pond to the Vancouver Canucks of the National Hockey League. Since the pre-lockout Bertuzzi saga, the former West Coast Express line of Brendan Morrison, Todd Bertuzzi and Captain, Markus Naslund had been a destabilising force in the locker room, battling the Sedin twins for offensive supremacy. The rift was apparently settled when Bertuzzi was shipped to Florida for goaltender extraordinaire Roberto Luongo. The saviour collected 47 wins, tying Bernie Parent's record as the Canucks recorded their most succesful regular season. After a seven game series against the Dallas Stars, the Canucks succumbed in 5 to the eventual Stanley Cup champions, the Anaheim Ducks. Then 2007-08 happened: the season finished on a bitter note with a 7-1 loss to the Calgary Flames and the firing of then-GM, Dave Nonis.

Then, Mike "Moneyball" Gillis took the reigns. Since then, the team was lost just once in pre-season and is 14-6-2 on the year, good for 5th in the NHL. And the reason: locker room unity and camaraderie. A cohesive unit, the Canucks are greater than the sum of the parts. Arsenal should be too. Arsene knows...what he has to do.

Monday, November 17, 2008

They listened!

Five minutes after my post earlier today, the IDF let food aid into Gaza!

Courtesy of Canadian Broadcasting Corporation

Israel opened a border crossing into the Gaza Strip on Monday for the first time in two weeks, according to UN officials, allowing limited aid to cross into the impoverished territory despite resumed militant rocket attacks.

Chris Gunness, spokesman for the UN Relief and Works Agency, told the BBC that eight of its trucks carrying powdered milk and luncheon meat were allowed into Gaza with the convoy.

The Israeli military said about 30 trucks had entered the territory, while the decision to allow more shipments would depend on whether the rocket fire continued.

"This will be gone in a matter of days, and what happens then?" the UN's Gunness said.

Gaza's 1.5 million residents have been forced to contend with food and fuel shortages since Israel sealed its borders to Gaza earlier this month. Egypt, which also shares a border with the territory, has also kept its border crossings closed.

Between a Wall and a Hard Place

Up until the moment when planes began falling out of the sky over the Eastern United States on September 11th, 2001, the plight of Palestine had enjoyed reasonable status on broadsheets eitehr side of the Atlantic. In the past eight years, US-led incursions into Iraq and Afghanistan has distracted the press, who up until very recently have stocked the frontpages so heavily with tales of carbombs and and assasinations that articles on those war-torn corners of the world have become mundane. Whilst the situation in those two countries is deserving, even needing of media coverage, it has afforded the Israeli government a curtain of smoke and mirrors behind which it can flout its influence over its unwilling dependent , Palestine.

In Gaza, 80% of the population live below the poverty line with 35% unemployed. Some may argue that this situation is a product of their own doing, or more accurately Hamas's own doing but given that Israel has, since 1991, instituted a tight closure policy over the state, thus reducing trade and migration to a quite literal standstill, it is hard to see how Ehud Olmert can still reiterate that the dire situation is not his fault. The GDP per capita is slightly above $1000. Whether this would be the case had the Israeli airforce not flattened the airport near Ramallah is an interesting question, one that the Prime Minister's office is not keen to reflect upon. Mark Regev, Olmert's spokesman, claims that the Gazan people were being "held hostage" to Hamas's "extremist and nihilist" ideology which was causing undoubted suffering. This confuses me for two reasons. Unless Hamas is a front for Mossad or some such organisation, its membership would largely be Gazan. Why would anybody hold themselves hostage? The second issue is that Israel and Israel alone has the power to allow imports into the Strip. People would not be dying of malnutrition if Israel had a) not allowed things to deteriorate to the extent that a militant organization like Hamas could take "control" or b) simply allow the Strip to trade reasonably freely. Unfortunately, as Hareetz.com suggests, this may be exactly what Ariel Sharon's old cronies want, an excuse to wreak further havoc in Gaza. Thankfully, the smoke is blowing away, heavy press coverage is returning to the region, the Red Cross is at the very least, pushing the Israeli government to allow food aid to pass through the closure policy. The world is watching. Time to make ammends. There is a chance to be good again.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Letters...of hope

The world keeled over with joy at around GMT 4:20 early Wednesday when Barack Obama secured the states of California, Oregon and Washington and with it the necessary votes to win the Presidency. Throughout America, people reveled in their new found sense of self-confidence. Internationally, peopled basked in the realization that this impending version of America would not be as foolish as its predecessors.
Even Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saw something in Barack Obama's "Change We Can Believe In" mantra, congratulating our new President-Elect on "gaining the majority of the vote. The Iranian President went on to remark on Obama's proposed foreign policy mindset, saying that, "Iranians will welcome such changes." Them and me too. The 30th anniversary of the 1979 Embassy siege is quickly advancing and yet the thaw of diplomatic relations between the two countries has not been forthcoming. The unfortunate thing is that if it was the Iranian Government that served its purpose in governing the country and did not let the Ayatollahs run around, Iranian-American relations would be a lot more amicable. Obviously that's like Gordon Brown telling the Queen where to go but nonetheless, proof lays in the friendship that has developed between Gavin Newsom, Mayor of San Francisco and Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, Mayor of Tehran. Now with Ahmadinejad's virtual statement of intent and Obama's promises, maybe, just maybe, US-Iranian relations can begin to approach stability.
Of course, the power of the Ayatollahs is not to be underestimated - they were rumored to be behind the temporary displacement of Ahmadinejad earlier this month, which was officially put down to exhaustion. A man who is threatened like that will be less inclined to break from the past, due largely to the sheer difficultly of such an action. It seems as if it was truly Ahmadinejad and Qalibaf who controlled the country, Iran would be well on the way to reconciliation with the community but unfortunately such a situation is not likely to occur in the foreseeable future. That isn't to say such a situation would be unsavory - a secular society will have to be put in place for that to happen, another unlikely event. After all, who would want to relinquish power.
Unfortunately, in a move that underlined the political and religious complexities of the Middle East, Tzipi Livni, the Israeli foreign minister warned against unconditional dialogue between the American and Iranian Presidencies: "dialogue at this time is liable to broadcast weakness." Livni is missing the point. As Obama himself said in reference to the poorer, rural White Americans, "
It's not surprising, then, they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy." That quote also transfers beautifully the situation of Israel: surrounded by those with opposing views, it follows the suite of the aforementioned demographic. Unfortunately, this mindset - which, thankfully, is restricted largely to the Army and Government, has the ability to destabilize a whole region, as it has for so long. As soon as that changes, things can begin to seriously progress. Until that point, Livni's perception that her government's word can send ripples through the region will remain frighteningly true.
As if echoing that last thought, Barack Obama today declared that he
would be reviewing the Iranian president's letter of congratulations and responding appropriately, rather than reacting in a "knee-jerk fashion". Had Livni not gone and ruined this sense of goodwill, perhaps Obama would not have been dragged into discussion in the Iranian Parliament, where he was criticised. The Speaker, Ali Larijani said "It [Obama's reviewing of the letter] signals a continuation of the erroneous policies of the past," he said. "Change has to be strategic, not just cosmetic."A fair analysis - at least Larijani had enough to dexterity to not throw a spanner too far into the works. On the other hand, Livni and the Kadima Party are putting one-upmanship over their country's safety, blind to the fact that a resolution of differences between the US and Iran and all its implications can only be beneficial to Israel. We can only hope Barack Obama does not pick up her rose-tinted spectacles.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Through the Night: Liveblogging Election 2008

Tonight's the night. Across America, people are flocking to the polls as the world watches with bated breath. Who will it be, the presumptive Barack Obama or dark horse, John McCain? Plus, the Vancouver Canucks take on the Nashville Predators starting 03:00GMT.

00:27GMT: Predictably, Barack Obama takes Vermont and its 3 electoral college votes whilst Kentucky and its 8 votes go to John McCain. As the BBC newscasters have been reiterating, this is expected, given that in the case of Vermont, the state has gone blue in the past four elections.

00:33GMT: My condolences to the family of those who died in the Hanover bus crash.

00:45GMT: I am now officially just another corporate sell-out, having registered with Google's AdSense program.

00:51GMT: Apparently Fidel Castro is backing Obama. Whilst that is probably the case, he shouldn't say it too loudly - don't want to risk pushing away conservative democrats.

00:55GMT: BBC has called South Carolina as Republican, still as expected. Some networks are also giving West Virginia to the GOP.

00:57GMT: The BBC ticker is calling South Carolina a "key battleground." Not sure about that.

00:59GMT: McCain currently stands at a 16-3 lead in terms of Electoral College votes but with around 1.5 minutes remaining until a very blue close of voting, normalcy is soon to be restored.

01:03GMT: Blink and you miss it. I lambast a friend for his footballing beliefs and now Obama leaps out to a projected 67-16.

01:08GMT: Maine and Jersey go to Obama, sweeping further ahead to a 103-34 lead.

01:11GMT: Massachusetts, one of the two states along with California that I could register to vote in once I turn 18 goes blue. Thank god it isn't an English county.

01:13GMT: A lull descends on the BBC studio as the flood of results coming in slows to a trickle.

01:15GMT: Obama up 60% to 40% in Miami-Dade and Orange counties, 52% to 47% in Osceola. Booya!!! (Yes, I'm beyond "words.")

01:18GMT: McCain has a slight lead in Indiana but with only 32% of precincts in. The BBC are talking of Pennsylvania as a "key battleground." This time I agree.

01:25GMT: Choirboys are hogging the airtime on BBC. Where are the results??!!

01:28GMT: According to the Los Angeles Times, Ohio, Florida and Virginia are too close to call but are leaning the way of Barack Obama!

01:32GMT: My friend and I agree that some composition of Al Franken, Chris Rock, Tina Fey and Sarah Palin would make an excellent ticket in 2016. Arkansas is called for McCain. Surprise surprise.

01:38GMT: The vote counter reads 49-103 in favor of Obama. Wisconsin, Colorado, New Mexico and Michigan are scheduled to close in just over 20mins.

01:41GMT: The Palin family is reuniting at an airport somewhere, I think in Phoenix. Many a wet shoulder there will be.

01:42GMT: The Palin motorcade sweeps out onto the streets. Those gas-guzzling SUVS will be one of her only comforts right now. Some secret service agents have an open window in their car. Obviously she isn't in there.

01:47GMT: The Rvd. Jesse Jackson himself. If I wasn't wrapped up in my duvet I would bow in the presence of greatness.

01:52GMT: Just 8mins now until the next round of results. Add New York, Rhode Island, Texas and Wyoming to the next round of closing polls.

01:55GMT: Fox News has called Pennsylvania for the Dems. Its set in stone now.

02:01GMT: GOP stands for the "Grand Old Party." Semblances of the Ivory Tower of Academia anyone?

02:02GMT: Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York go BLUE!!!!

02:04GMT: Kansas, Wyoming and North Dakota called for the GOP. Rhode Island for Obama. Meanwhile, Fox give Ohio to the Democrats amidst scenes of wild celebration on Times Square.

02:08GMT: Georgia squeaks in for McCain. 175-76 reads the tally in favor of Barack Obama.

02:11GMT: Grant Park, Chicago looks insane right now. What I would do to be there...

02:12GMT: Fox calls New Mexico for Obama. What is going on? Do the Bushes want him to win?

02:13GMT: Florida has 48% of precincts in and Obama is up, 52% to 48%. Meanwhile, 51% are in in Virgina and McCain leads by a very slim margin, 50% to 48%.

02:17GMT: Sen. Elizabeth Dole has been making a mockery of herself in North Carolina. Surely that goes for Obama now. BBC calls Wisconsin for the Illinois Senator.

02:23GMT: The Associated Press is saying that the Senate will remain under control of the Democrats. In the worlds of Quagmire, "Allllllllriiiiiiggggggggggghttt!!!!." And wow, a fight is breaking out on the BBC. Some American historian is calling the correspondent in Phoenix "ignorant" for suggesting that Palin shunned undecided voters from the Republicans.

02:30GMT: At long last, the BBC calls Ohio for the Democrats. There is very little scope for a McCain comeback now.

02:34GMT: Louisiana goes to McCain. Big surprise. Still, Obama is closer to the presidency than his rival thanks to a 195-90 lead.

02:37GMT: More networks are calling New Mexico and its 9 votes for Obama. The state has voted for the President all bar two times since before the Second World War. Interestingly, New Mexico has the largest Latino population percentage in the country, a slap in the face to my premonition that state was a redneck haven. My bad.

02:41GMT: The BBC adds New Mexico to its tally, putting the score at 200-124 after the Lone Star State went down a very familiar line. Even after that 34 vote haul, I have difficulty seeing how McCain can win given that the West Coast is still to come.

02:46GMT: Wow. Not that this has anything to do with the election but the New York Islanders, last in the NHL, beat down on the New York Rangers, 2-1.

02:50GMT: I have just received word from my "inside sources" - that's you Lorraine - that the California polls close in 1hr10mins. So yeah, I'll be jumping for joy in a little over an hour. Meanwhile, 60% of precincts in Florida are now in with Obama still leading the way at 51% to 48%.

02:53GMT: Iowa, Montana, Nevada and Utah are set to close in just over 5mins.

02:57GMT: CNN has Obama up 8000 in Virgina. Surely not...

02:59: BBC confirms things in Virgina, things tied at 50% each. Elizabeth Dole has officially lost in North Carolina, where Obama is up 51% against McCain's 49%. Mississippi goes to the GOP, bringing the tally to 200-130. Polls close in the four aforementioned states in one minute.

03:02: Obama wins what must be one of his favorite states, Iowa and its 7 votes. Yet another swing state goes to the man from Honolulu. Unsurprisingly, McCain takes Republican bastion Utah and its 5 votes. Interestingly, Utah has voted for the Democrats just once, in 1964.

03:06: The puck's about to drop at GM Place in Vancouver. CBC must be hating themselves as TSN picked up their Hockey Night in Canada themetune.

03:09: Obama sits up at 207 to 135 with results from Nevada and Montana expected shortly.

03:15: Just minutes into the Canucks game, defenceman Kevin Bieksa hits the deck injured. In the corresponding last season, Bieksa suffered a lacerated calf muscle at the mercy of Vern Fiddler, causing him to play just 34 games.

03:17: Back in the lower 48, McCain is up 50% to Obama's 49% with 85% of precincts reporting. Meanwhile Florida is still going Obama's way with 65% of precincts reporting.

03:21: What. a. comeback. Obama is now up in Virgina, 50% to 49%.

03:26: Gosh, this is hard. Blogging, watching hockey and watching the election. It isn't as though I've missed too much. The tally still stands at 207-135 and the score between Nashville and Vancouver is 0-0.

03:29: Yeaaahhh!!! Powerplay Vancouver. Suck that J.P Dumont.

03:31: John McCain and the Straight Talk Express have arrived in Phoenix. Tee Hee.

03:33: Wow. The LA Times and CNN both have Obama up by several percent in Utah whilst Nebraska has gone the other way.

03:39: Back in Vancouver, Alex Edler clears the puck out as the boys kill of an Alex Burrows roughing penalty.

03:41: Five states are about to close. According to the BBC, "Barack Obama is within sight of the Presidency."

03:42: The District of Columbia is projected for Obama whilst South Dakota goes to McCain. Nancy Pelosi has tears of joy streaming down her cheeks as the Democrats retain control of the Senate.

03:48: Delaware goes to Obama-Biden but BBC have not updated their tally which thus rests at 141-207 in favor of the Democrats.

03:56: My rumbling belly has been silenced thanks to milk and marzipan. Just 4 minutes remain until the polls close in California, Hawaii, Idaho, Oregon and Washington. Hallelujah!!!

04:02: The Los Angeles Times has called Virginia for Obama, California and Washington by the BBC. Obama wins, 273-241. Tears are streaming fown my cheeks. Uh oh. BBC just referred to him as a "negroe." Anyhow, WOOOOOOHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

04:12: All else is irrelevant. Once more, I can be proud of being American. Neither the grin spread across my face or the tears dripping down my cheeks will subside.

04:15: Similarly, elation is spreading across Barack Obama Sr's hometown in Kenya. The world is on cloud nine, exactly what we need right now.

04:17: Colorado and its nine votes also go to Obama. At times like these, who cares about hockey? Well maybe everyone's favorite lipsticked pig, Sarah Palin. Good riddance.

04:21: Full credit to John McCain. A very dignified concession of defeat. Whilst his speech seems forced and seems memorized, props to McCain for such an eloquent exit, also paying tribute to Barack Obama's grandmother, Madelyn Dunham and urging his supporters to throw their weight behind the President Elect. Meanwhile, Florida goes Obama's way, so the tally now stands 333-145.

04:27: Wow, the crowd sure loved it when McCain paid tribute to Palin. Nonetheless, a very dignified and respectful speech from this veteran warhorse. Commiserations, Senator McCain. It would've taken a God to beat Barack Obama. And hey, he mentioned Joe Biden. Not something that happens every day.

04:34: BBC has footage outside the White House where people are...jumping around. Follow McCain's example, guys.

04:37: We've got about 30 minutes until Obama hits the stage in Grant Park. Back with the BBC in Virginia, the coffee shop crowd is chanting "YES WE CAN." I'd join in to if I wouldn't wake up everyone.

04:41: When the BBC reporter in Virginia asked the Moody family, "is this a new dawn?, " they responded, "Absolutely! This is a new dawn!" Amen.

04:48: The BBC's graphic reporter, Jeremy something, has just brought down a curtain of ticker tape. Tacky as hell but I don't care.

04:50: Gore Vidal is being interviewed and he doesn't seem too happy. Petulance and requests to be allowed to speak from the 83 year old have the studio falling over themselves in mirth. Meanwhile, one analyst in the studio earnestly professes that "if you'd told anyone that Obama would win North Carolina...no one would have believed you." There's one right here.

04:59: Obama has arrived on stage in Grant Park!
This time I really will bow in the presence of greatness.

05:03: I'm just beyond words so I'll leave you with this. Yes, We did!!!

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Plea

November 4th: You can make it YES WE DID!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Of Melting Pots

The enigmatic issue of what makes someone American has been raging on in that crazy old place I like to call to a head. The stem of such confusions comes from America's greatest asset, its diversity: racial diversity that is probably unsurpassed and economic diversity that follows that same trend. Most important of all is the huge differences between the stereotypes of the states. In very few other countries could there be such a scattering of mindsets and affiliations. The open-arms attitude of, say, San Francisco to the blatant intolerance that my arch-nemesis Jeremy Clarkson revealed in Alabama.
Whilst such demographics will likely be at odds with one another, that is part of what makes America so unique, so remarkable. That such different people can all fit under the same umbrella is simply amazing. To think that a little over 100 years ago, the survival of the union was in jeopardy just adds to the achievement of the country. Largely, this a consequence of a government that has checks and balances stuffed into every perceivable corner. Most people are kept satisfied because their view is accounted for. Those that aren't have suitable avenues to pursue their grievances but most of all, the government has legitimacy. It has never been fallen victim of a coup. It subsists thanks to a constitution designed for the people, by the people. Most importantly though, American civilization has survived thanks largely to internal pacifism. True, the Native Americans and Mexicans suffered at the hand of overzealous American expansion but in the case of the Native Americans, this was largely due to their inability to bond together and fight back. On the other hand, the settlers united in a common cause, so called Manifest Destiny and unquestionably achieved their aims.
Therefore, it is more than a little perturbing that the Bush Administration and thus 150 million people didn't mind tearing apart two countries, if not the world over the need to institute a democratic political system. Surely by now the government might actually understand that stability must always take a front seat to political change. It simply does not work to set up a democratic government by means of force. The notion that such a theory might work is in itself a paradox. Democracy, rule by the people just can't be put into place without a democratic process. It has to be an evolution, or if not that then popularly welcomed revolution. That a naive teenager can recognize this whilst the cabinet of the world's mos powerful nation cannot beautifully illustrates how America has got itself and thus the world into such a hole.
This brings me onto my next point. Brains are obviously required to govern any country, few more so than the USA. Once again, I am baffled that about 140 million of my compatriots see fit to elect John McCain and Sarah Palin to the White House. How the presence of a notorious womanizer and a local, corrupt former beauty queen in the Oval Office would benefit our ailing reputation is beyond me. Let common sense prevail. See that Barack Obama and Joe Biden take the reigns.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Odds-Defying Continues

The Vancouver Canucks lead the way Western Conference in goal scoring, something that hasn't been meant to happen since the ugly demise of the West Coast Express. That's right, the Canucks have spread around 11 goals in just two games since that wonderful night last Thursday when the Flames were hit for six. Just two days later and once more the Canucks emerged the victors, coming back from 3-1 down for Pavol Demitra to scoop in Alex Burrows's rebound. More to the point, Demitra showed more emotion after that one goal that Naslund did through most of his career. That emotion was present throughout the team and that made it very difficult for the Flames to keep up. Outhustled, outskated - outplayed, the Flames are the wrong end of a 12 goal differential after one preseason game and two regular season contests against Vancouver.
Whether the boys will manage to sustain the offensive onslaught remains to be seen but the early signs are good: already, the Canucks have five multi-point players with more set to join the list after Monday's showdown with Alex Ovechkin's Capitals. Of course, all depends on the play of perennial All-Star Roberto Luongo but when the team is averaged 5.5 goals per game, thinks are a lot easier. Indeed, many commentators stated that last year's stagnant forward group would have made the playoffs had it not been for the bullet-ridden rearguard. Once more though, the injury bug is always lurking around the corner. Kevin Bieksa, returning from a badly lacerated calf, went down awkardly in the second half of the long weekends home-and-home and flew back to Vancouver to have an MRI on his knee. The team will be fine for the time being - so deep is the defense that Nolan Baumgartner, who had 34 points in the bigs just 2 years ago is currently off by the wayside with the Manitoba Moose. That said, if injuries once more become habitual, it will be a long season marked only by the potential arrival of John Tavares or Victor Hedman.
All the while, the Canucks must continue to play fundamentally sound hockey. Goal scoring is all good and fine but grit and defense must be equal components of the team's mindset if success is going to continue throughout the season.
NB: It appears my advice went unheard: The Canucks went down 5-1 to the Caps last night having only registered 10 shots. Gee, that's awful: more goals in their first two games then shots in their third.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Defying All Odds

The puck drops tomorrow at the Pengrowth Saddeldome in Calgary when the Vancouver Canucks open the season on the road to the hometown Flames. Even prior to the offseason, doubts surrounded the teams chances in 2008-9. No one was quite sure how the team would fare if impending free agents and stalwarts, Trevor Linden, Brendan Morrison and Markus Naslund did not resign. When all three walked, the team entered the Victor Hedman/John Tavares sweepstakes in the eyes of many popular media outlets. ESPN, TSN and many others all claimed that Canucks would miss the playoffs by a mile. ESPN also figured No.8 defenseman Lawrence Nycholat to be good for 70 points and +37, so obviously this should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Nonetheless, hardly anyone outside the Canucks faithful gave the team a chance, chastising rookie GM Mike Gillis for being seduced by the ongoing availiability of Hall of Fame lock, Mats Sundin. Three months had passed and the 6ft 5 Swede hadn't signed in Vancouver. How on earth were the Canucks headed for the playoffs?
Then the exhibition season happened. The intricacies aren't important but basically the boys in blue and green set a searing 6-1 pace over teams such as San Jose, Calgary, Edmonton and Anaheim - all seen as playoff teams. Despite no superstar forward signing, the Canucks recorded 25 goals, almost 4 goals per game. That would put them comfortably in the upper third of the league, not bad for a team with "no scoring prowess." All this and they did it with a slapdash lineup against teams who largely used their opening night rosters.
How are they doing it?
Well, the new triplet, Steve Bernier is fitting in well with the Sedins, Mason Raymond and Pavol Demitra are made together. Jannick Hansen was seperated at birth from Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler. Oh yeah, and the presence of a fourth line that makes no bones about dropping the gloves offers a refreshing change.
The defensive core looks as solid as ever. No one player has stuck out - all have been exemplary. The same can be said for Roberto Luongo, who has recovered spectacularly after an awful playoff run last year when his mind was so clearly distant from the rink. Curtis Sanford also enjoyed an unbeaten preseason. However, the capping point is that, unlike last season when Brendan Morrison and Sami Salo - among others- started the season injured in the press box, only depth defenceman Lawrence Nycholat is suffering from any form of malady.
This year's Vancouver Canucks are yin to last year's yang and in the opinions of many, that is a wonderful thing.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008


The Clinton Clan really should found their own political party. For the two-time President and his wife to refrain from putting their full support behind their party's nominee, Barack Obama, is absolutely disgusting. Putting family before country has no place in the United States, at least when the stability of the nation is concerned. For Hillary to then brazenly commend Sarah Palin for her efforts adds fuel to a fire that no one would want to stoke with barely 3 weeks remaining to the election.
Just what the Clintons' aims in this heinous tactic is remains to be seen. Obviously Hillary was feeling the flames when she, the presumptive nominee before the Primaries actually got going, succumbed to the intelligence and charisma of one Barack Obama, who now sits 5 points up on John McCain. Still, its not like Clinton's demise was Obama's fault. He had the moral fibre to refrain from liberal assaults on Hillary's questionable honesty. She just could not keep up with his slick, legitimate campaign for the Democratic nomination. With regards to fundraising, Obama may as well have written the record book, hauling in around $60 million a month. Hillary on the other hand struggled to avoid sinking into the red. For her to seek closure by throwing veiled support Palin's way is simply ridiculous. Whatever respect the family holds right now will be lost should this trend of jealous retribution continue.
Ironically, John McCain has borrowed Hillary's campaign problems. He too is struggling to keep up with the Obama machine and has thus turned the attack dogs out on the Illinois Senator. Once more, the public isn't responding well. Once more, the public will vote against you.

Friday, October 3, 2008

A Gleaming Facade

Sarah Palin has not had much going for her this last fortnight. For that, we are all forever indebted to Katie Couric. Somehow, the Alaskan Angie emerged from last night's debate relatively unscathed. As usual, we are all baffled as to just how that is. She is the most corrupt, most neocon person, let alone woman to have a legitimate shot at the White House in a long time. Her policies make those of George W. Bush look sensible. Lost in a sea of radical creationism and economic wishwash is a compass that, inexplicably, gets the Alaska Governor out of more bonds than 007. Even Washington's most knowledgeable commentators have stumbled when trying to explain just how a woman who in many cases has no policy, no facts, commands so much respect from the American people.
Its easy to understand how the analysts missed the answer: it was staring them in the face. Simply put, Sarah Palin is at the level of the average Midwestern voter. Facts don't matter because she can relate to them. That is an unfortunate reflection on that huge chosm of our society. Resentment to the articulate politicos of Capitol Hill has festered to such a level that someone like Palin can come in and rack up ridiculous popularity basically for the simple reason that she is one of them. It doesn't matter that she doesn't know squat, that she's corrupt and backward. The only relevant issue is that she does not fit the traditional mold of the alleged Washington bureaucrats and among the down-at-hand, that is a good thing.
Such an image makes it hard to forget that what Palin proposes is essentially a more partisan form of Bush's reign of terrifying stupidity. Read: American popularity, economy to think further. Her response in the debate with Joe Biden to the economic difficulties was that "we must stop being pushed around by the banks," or words to that effect. Words that mean basically nothing in political terms.
Most of the world realises this. Now all we need is for American down-at-hand to give up the illusion. We need change and that is something that only Barack Obama can deliver.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Think Ahead Time

Even before Freddie Mae and Fannie Mac began their torrid slide down the economic plughole way back in July, the world's financial situation was not looking good. Markets were sliding, slowly, point by point to oblivion. According to the press at least. Almost a quarter has elapsed since the mid-summer crisis and yet still we are perpetually stricken with panic, despite small personal losses. Here's why: it sells newspapers.
Unfortunately, Murdoch & co.'s impact on our predicament is, perhaps, the driving factor in its continuity. That isn't to put the blame solely on the shoulders of our business editors, but if the media industry wasn't thriving off our economic downfall then perhaps less alarm would have spread through global markets, perhaps the latest in a long series of Wall Street flops would not have such dire consequences.
For once, I agree with our President, George W. Bush. Dire straits call for drastic actions and if that means halting economic reportage for the meantime, so be it. Of course, actual monetary reimbursement at some level of society is more pressing but with power comes responsibility, something great swaths of the media too often forget.
Whilst a social collapse akin to the Great Depression has all but been prevented thanks to insurance of savings at up to $100,000, the world would not have been as badly affected had the press exercised a little care. Sure, the people have a right to know but was the knowledge really beneficial?
Our leaders have learned that hyper-inflation is most certainly not the way to go but nonetheless, frivolities will have to be cut down on and societies unified. So what message does it show us when Bush, desperately trying to push the $700 bail-out through Congree, is vetoed by his own party? Only 40% of Republicans backed the plan, compared to 60% of the Pelosi-led Democrats. Hopefully the voters read this, because it really would make very little sense to elect into office a ticket that doesn't mind the people being financially crippled. Once more, Vote Obama. So far, we've figured out that it will do the world a world of good. How about some goodness for ourselves too?

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Referendums and Me

Just a little politics homework you might find interesting

The United Kingdom claims to be a Liberal Democracy. Criticism of that statement has come from a great array of people, home and abroad. The esteemed French philosopher Voltaire once said that “Britai

n is free for one day every four years.” At the time, the franchise barely expanding beyond the aristocratic elite, bringing further truth to Voltaire’s

words but after at least 250 years of all sorts of electoral reform, the legitimacy of the British democracy is still in question.

To counter such claims, Edward Heath’s Conservative government se

t a trend and issued a referendum on Northern Ireland in 1973. For a party that traditionally – since the time of the Whigs – has been the most out of touch with voters, this represented a trend to em

phasise the democracy. However, there are serious issues surrounding its usage, at least in the UK. Rare

ly are they issued to the whole country and rarely is the issue particularly important for the whole population. For instance, no referendum was issued on either significant military action since 2000 or on the potential institution of the Eur

o. In the UK it seems that referendums are primarily used to give false legitimacy to governments which have become isolated from the electorate. T

hat’s not to say that devolution should be taken lightly but there are many more pressing issues. Voltaire was right; people here are only

free once every four years.

Thankfully however, as a Dutch Californian, at least half of me come from a very democratic background. Whilst in Holland there is no legislation that allows for binding referenda, my motherland is one of the most democratic areas on the planet.

It’s not as though California is some small New England town or Swiss canton, this is the 7th largest economy in the world, ahead of Russia and India. In short, this is no small-scale project, no shrinking violet. As Charles Kesler of the Claremont Institute said, No other state uses the popular initiative and referendum as aggressively as this one.”

Indeed, in 2008 alone, 22 referenda were issued. Not state, federal or nation can claim to come close to Hellenistic direct democracy but California comes close. Popular opinion remains decided over whether this is a good thing.

In my view, empowerment of the public opinion can never be a bad thing. Direct democracy on such a large scale ensures that politicians don’t get a chance to sway the vote, so the negatives are hard to pick out. We complain that the UK suffers from an elected dictatorship and with a potential resurgence in Tory control those fears will only be amplified.

Not in California, home to 36 million people, 26 million of which can participate whole-heartedly in the running of their state if they so choose.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A Brave New World

Mike Gillis is either very smart or very optimistic. Faced with $10 million of unfilled cap space, the freshly minted Vancouver Canucks GM declared via his players that a youth movement was taking place. Francesco Aquilini withheld those $10 million for the sheer, simple reason that the resulting roster space would allow some young shot to fill the boots purportedly intended for Mats Sundin. There's just one problem. No one knows if the youngsters can cut it.
Admittedly, the primary players we're talking about here - Michael Grabner, Cody Hodgson, Dan Gendur and Jannick Hansen have all become known for their offensive prowess but they have a combined 15 games of NHL experience between them. In actuality, Hansen, a former 9th round pick, accounts for all 15 of those games. Whilst unseasoned rookies have made huge impacts in a variety of sports - LeBron James, Sidney Crosby for example, the odds of our crop making aren't particularly high. Ridiculously, this is not for lack of talent, this is simply because Alain Vigneault - whose job was mercifully rescued by Gillis - does not have it in him to hand over the necessary minutes for a selection of the aforementioned players to make an impact. Instead, look for a mishmash of the perpetual grinders Rick Rypien, Mike Brown and PC Labrie on opening night. Viggy may have uttered the old, "if you're good enough, you're old enough" quote but all the same, he is synonymous with dull, defensive hockey the same that John McCain is synomous with dull, defensive politics.
However, this is a 2-dimensional realm of possibility. If it wasn't for the generosity of Gillis, Vigneault wouldn't have a job. At the same time, the new GM has said on several occasions that he will bring up-tempo, offensive hockey back to Vancouver. Gillis doesn't seem to the kind of guy that likes to joke around so perhaps, god willing, Vigneault will succumb to the pressure and take a leaf from Craig McTavish's book and give his talented rookies a chance. The media has been hinting at it for days and pre-season lines have reflected it, so here's to hoping.

This is what I'm talking about:




Sunday, September 21, 2008


In the realm of Politics, self-doubt is a killer. Thus, in the high-stakes battleground that is the Presidential Election, self-doubt is a cyanide pill. Whilst the chameleonic John McCain seems to have one firmly lodged between his molars, Barack Obama has laid deaf ears to overtures that he, for one reason or another, will fail to clinch the Presidency.
Ever since the pre-dawn of Obama's race for the Democratic Nomination, he has been told that he will fail due to his race, his inexperience or his unwillingness to play hardball with armour-plated opponents. In that same duration of time, Obama has avoided tempering his domestic policies and mindset, rarely dignifying Clinton's, McCain's or Palin's attacks with so much as a response. Instead, Barack Obama decided that the High Road is the one to take for 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
I must say, it is an honour for the future President to have taken a leaf from my book*, for I am one of the only people I know to stand in unflinching support for the man from Honolulu. I have questioned him when he toppled over at the gold-embossed toe-caps of the Jewish Lobby but other than that, Obama all the way.
Howard Dean had similar potential but the Dean Scream put paid to that. If perhaps he had kept his wits about him, things would have been different. Unfortunately, he had scalding hot coffee running through his veins. This made for an excellent crowd-pumper but it also helped him quite literally blow his lid.
Thank heavens that this time, my choice for the Presidency has ice water running through his veins. This has not one but two immediate consequences. A), we'll *knock on wood* have a President who doesn't flinch in the face of criticism, and B) He'll also help reduce global warming. It just doesn't make sense, on the other hand, that a McCain-Palin ticket that is so mish-mashy, so changeable that it makes the English weather look predictable. How such a pairing can be electable beats me. Don't give them that dignity. Vote Obama

Monday, September 15, 2008

Wanted: Brains

Several weeks ago, in the aftermath of John McCain revealing Sarah Palin as his running-mate, the press, American and international harangued the Arizona Senator for electing a fresh-faced politician with almost no experience concerning many of the forthcoming election's issues. The polls were swinging back to the left after a halfbaked Democratic Convention. It seemed as though the next few months would be a ridiculously long victory parade.
Imagine then, after it was announced that Palin's teenage daughter Bristol was several months pregnant, the Democratic camp's reaction. Euphoria, surely. Unfortunately, Obama & co didn't make enough of Palin's parental negligencies and archaic views but instead let the McCain camp dictate what these past weeks have been about.
Palin and McCain have these past few weeks congragulated Bristol for her courage in not seeking an abortion behind Mommy's redneck and back and have lauded praise on Sarah herself for giving birth to her youngest son Trig, who has Down syndrome. Essentially, the Republicans have managed to avoid all the key issues of the election to such an extent that foreign policy discussions were virtually unheard of at the convention. There is one, and only one reason for this. Obama let them. Thanks to Obama's quiet inaction, he's now head to head with a girl from a frosty little Alaskan town nobody had heard of before September. That's how distracted the election has become. Its no longer between the two presidents. Thank goodness the debate season is still to come, when Palin's nails-on-chalkboard voice and questionable policies will be revealed, and likely countered by the smooth talking, intelligent and experienced team of Obama and Biden.
McCain has found his babe, just not the brains.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Week One Done

Bang. That was the main though crashing through me on Monday, my first visit to a classroom in almost 3 months. Granted, a new chapter had started with my arrival (at last) at Hills Road Sixth Form College, Cambridge. Hills, as it is colloquially known, topped the national tables with its stunning A-level results. Fair reasoning has it then that carrying the ID card is more than carrying just a piece of plastic. It implies a responsibility to be all that you can be, and in the case of most of the student body, the quantity is quite something to behold, and I'm not just talking about following in the footsteps of Syd Barrett.
Hills Road graduates delve not only in to the musical big-time. Hills Road students also attain the highest Oxbridge admission rates of any school in the country, and thus the world so there is quite some pressure to succeed. This has brought the college the unfortunate reputation of being an exam factory but as of yet (I know, it's early) I haven't seen signs of that. Admittedly, some teachers have been rather exuberant in dishing out homework - Mme. Rigoni and Mr Binfield in particular, but all the same, this isn't the comfortable safety of Village College, this really is the academic big-time.
So, Hills has very musical alumni and a fluorescent-bright student body. What else? Well, the college also boasts some of the nation's best Athletics and Tennis teams, which for sporting wannabes like myself, that reputation doesn't exactly bode well for our chances of getting on said teams. Still, with top-of-the-line reputation comes top-of-the-line facilities. The college has some of the best tennis facilities in East Anglia and an NYO-laden orchestra. Of course, the teaching staff is the main thing and they too do not disappoint. So far I have noticed friendly professionalism, none of the irritability or questionable teaching skills that were rather common back in the village. No sir.
It seems almost alien to be in a French class where I do not have to rub Wasabi in my eyes just to stay awake. Whilst I didn't have such problems in History or English last year, I am pleased to report that there has been no drop-off in the standard of teaching. Most of all, my Politics class, which I had doubts over coming in to the year, has surged to the top of my list. Finding a fault is something I have not achieved yet. Even the notoriously active student body has lived up to its billing.
I'm more tired than I've been in months, even years, but boy am I loving it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

A Rude Dethroning

Several weeks ago, King Fed, better known as Roger Federer, lost his No.1 Ranking spot that had been slipping further and further from his ivory grasp since the Hamburg Masters, where he narrowly beat his successor, Rafael Nadal. The slippery slope got ever more lubricated when Federer succumbed to the Spaniard at Roland Garros and Wimbledon and by Aug. 18, the Swiss had officially slipped to No. 2.
During his incredible 4.5 year reign at the top of the standings, Federer has been the beneficiary of ridiculously lenient treatment from fans and umpires alike. Whereas the likes of Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin (all former No. 1s) have endured alarming anger from the audience and harsh decisions from the umpire, everyone just laps it up when Roger lets slip a cuss or a racket.
Obviously Federer has earned this leniency but to suggest that the aforementioned trio haven't is ludicrous. In professional sports, all players should be subject to the same regulations. Particularly for a guy like Roddick, who no doubt has the weapons to go far in most tournaments, who doesn't have the mental frailty of Safin, it must be painful to succumb to the world No. 1 despite playing fantastic tennis: see US Open 2007, all the while being picked apart by the media for not being an eloquent gentleman.
Still, any man who has the ability to play God (of the tennis world) for almost 5 years must possess a remarkable talent and indeed Federer does. Whilst competitors such as Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic seem to possess more power than Federbear, the latter's effortless, nostalgic style has brought him countless titles with very little injury along the way. By comparison, Nadal's knees are heavily strapped, the result of bounding around the court like no tomorrow. Similarly, Novak Djokovic has 16 or so body complaints following his arduous head-to-head with Tommy Robredo. Federer has reached the final of two grand slams this year despite a battle with mononucleosis earlier in the season. Such durable talent is a rarity.
Somewhat unfortunately, Roger is under no illusion as to the magnitude of his talent. Even when he succumbs to players as talented as Andy Murray or Mardy Fish, there is no reason in Federer's mind other than "I played bad." Stealing the glory of defeating the world's highest ranked player is not eloquent. Oddly enough, when Federer triumphs, he always lauds his opponent with praise. Thankfully for Fed, that is the usual outcome so he has become known as one of the most gracious winners in all of sports. I wonder what public opinion would have been had Federer's talent not been quite so pristine.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Windy Obsession

Sorry folks, but once more, bad news is in the making. We appear to be on the verge of another in this current string of ridiculously long-winded posts. That reminds me, wind will be a common theme as well. See, last Saturday after enduring an arduous ten-hour drive from Trieste, Italy to Brodarica, Croatia we made the short ferry trip to the quaint island of Krapanj, where we would embark upon a week-long flotilla around the islands and inlets of the Dalmatian coast, mostly between Sibenik and Zadar, both of which were targeted by Serb forces during the 1991-1995 conflict with Croatia.
Half an hour after arriving in Brodarica, we finally made it to the tranquil pontoon to which our home for the week, Sea Monkey, was docked. As is the norm, establishing diplomatic relations with our neighbours didn’t happen instantaneously. That said, we established a lively conversation with the waiter at Hotel Spongolia. The food was similarly lively, metaphorically not physically.
The metaphor wore off the following day. Aside from our skipper, Matija and hostess, Zana, the lead crew seemed worrying lackadaisical, passing over the technical briefing with all the depth of a conversation with John McCain. Further inciting fear, our personal skipper for the day, Rinko seemed to share the careless attitude of our mechanic. Whilst clearly a competent sailor, he was too intent on proving this, loath betide if he let one of us touch the wheel. Admittedly these were 25 knot winds we were dealing with, but he reacted with shock and awe when offered sandwiches and biscuits and proclaimed, “We do not do that in Croatia” when a cup of tea was bestowed upon him. Indeed, he only succumbed to conversation upon discovering that we are relations of “favourite NBA player,” Steve Kerr, better known as fellow white token to the Croatian Sensation himself, Toni Kukoc.
As Rinko basked in the realization that he was kinda, sorta in the presence of greatness, we narrowly avoided an ugly collision with an overworked water bomber before working our way up the river Krka to Skradin, a few kilometres downstream of the aptly named Krka falls. Poor Rinko was obviously desperate to flee the Sea Monkey, so after some vague manoeuvres that apparently constituted mooring practice, he jumped ship before that gangplank was even in place, leaving us to explore Skradin with the rest of humanity. Over the next few hours, the rest of our flotilla would arrive, leaving us to bathe in the murky waters of the marina. A strange day it was, we were left with no clue what to expect the next day. I woke fitfully just before 7am the next morning, panic-stricken and eager to depart for the Krka Falls. Alas, the pillow in my mildewy berth seized the moment and it would be another 2 hours before I would wake up to a sumptuous breakfast of very plain drinking yoghurt and cries of, “get ready, Johan, we’re gonna be late!” A quick sprint to an Italian-dominated toilet block and I was ready to go. The ferry to the falls wasn’t, but we did eventually reach our destination at around 10.30. There was something oddly Chinese about the whole thing; mass tourism off the beaten track, essentially. Still, the scenery was amazing and I felt nothing but unadulterated agony when I looked down and saw cargo shorts, not a bathing suit, hugging my thighs. Unfortunately they would miss the opportunity to plunge into the refreshing waters of the falls.
Soon enough, another Chinese feeling, of shallow awesomeness began to cloud our minds so we decided to make for the ferry back to the all-too-bright lights of Skradin and escape to tranquillity at Zirje, a large island 10 miles southwest of Sibenik. Winds were gusting up to 17 knots well inland so a sense of apprehension filled the bowels of the Sea Monkey but fortunately the wind died down in the Sibenski Kanal, making for a tame passage towards our mooring point at Stupica, an area of Zirje known to be infested with mines. So tranquil were the winds that we had to motor almost 5 miles of the sea passage although we were thankful for the calm seas when we had to venture out once more from Stupica to empty a precariously full holding tank. Cries of horror rang out as I turned the release valve. Worried, I hurried up to the transom and saw a putrid yellow smudge in our wake. Surprisingly, naivety was in good flow half an hour later as we dove into the water barely a mile from that traumatic sight
Later that night was the hallowed punch party. A non-violent affair, I discovered that Croatian regard for drinking regulations is as nonchalant as that of its Western European counterparts, serving up hefty cups of punch to us 16 year olds. Fresh fish with an applesauce-like potato dish brimmed on the table but the meal culminated in a fish eye eating contest, not something that bares going into too much detail about. Through a mist of alcohol and darkness, we somehow managed to seek out the Sea Monkey. Miracles were all around as we even managed to board the boat in what traffic police would most definitely define as an intoxicated state.
Fearing the aforementioned winds would pick up towards midday, we scampered out of Stupica, still oblivious to the mines lying in the hills above us. The wind-induced terror was so intense that we even set out in convoy with another boat, Musling II, the pronunciation of which was in question all week long. This proved to be a loose relationship for intentionally or not, a half mile separation boundary was maintained although the VHF crackled along throughout the voyage.
The winds never did pick up but instead a pleasant 15 knot wind blowing up the Kornati-kanal helped us make good time past the fishing boats further up Zirje and into the aforementioned waterway. The Kornati islands were true to guidebook form, offering a paradoxical stark beauty. Several times, I found myself thinking that it seemed too weird to be natural, some waterside tourist attraction. Hopefully some photos will be in order to illustrate my belligerent attempt at description, but anyhow all was fantastic until we reached the tricky open sea passage to the north of Lavsa Island, through which we would have to venture to reach Piskera marina, wedged between two of the 400 Kornati islands.
15 knots on the open sea proved to be a much greater force than the same windspeed in sheltered waters. Tossed around like a rubber duck, I counted my blessings between swells. I must have been counting them too quickly for as we trundled towards the marina past Musling “Muesli” II, 5 German speedboats emerged from as if out of nowhere and swept past us into an already crowded mishmash of wood and metal. God had mercy on us and with our faithful lead skipper, Matija, delivered the news that Pontoon 5 had been reserved for the hardy seafolk of the Sunsail Kornati Flotilla. And a few French motorboat babes. The more the merrier, non?
Shock, awe, Zana and more welcome news greeted us on the pontoon. Despite our lethargic pace along the outside of Zirje, we had “beaten” our “competitors” into Piskera, although by this time, Muesli was close on our tails. I’ll leave it up to you to intuit exactly what this meant. Anyhow, the heady heights of kayaking and snorkelling cast our minds from such silly thoughts as competition. The aquatic life wasn’t as interesting as the previous night but the warm, diesel-laced waters made up for it. The news that more fresh fish awaited us at dinner went down just as well, but the 1015 Kuna price tag wasn’t quite as well received. It was a good meal, but £100 pounds for a fish dinner would seem extortionist even at Loch Fyne.
By this point, the entire flotilla had made it past the harrowing Lavsa channel, meaning that the marina was near capacity. Sitting just over the hill on the exposed side of Piskera Island, I would have no idea that several hundred yachts and motorboats, along with their inhabitants lay just a few meters behind me. Indeed, it all seemed a world away as I gazed towards the shimmering light of a distant Italian lighthouse, discussing just that notion.
That brief, naïve foray into philosophy came to an abrupt end, dazzled by the bright lights of the marina but soon enough the brainpicking was back in full flow, this time trying to grasp some deeper, firsthand knowledge of the Balkan conflict. Bear in mind, this was onboard our very Croat lead boat, Pinta. Essentially all we nuanced out of it is that nothing too major happened in Zagreb. However, as Coldplay professes, all was not lost. We discovered Roman Coke, a lethal mix of some sort of spirit and…cola. It was under this uninhibitance that we discovered that Matija hates pasta, but “bearded guy” preferates it. Yes, he also preferates rice. Want more juicy tidbits? We also gleaned the fact that he works for a company that installs highway railings. Still, the night was about Roman Coke. Well, pancakes too, but that’s another story. Moreover, 25 knot winds apparently beckoned once more, so a healthy dose of sleep was in order.
A strange thing happened that night. Once more, the forecast winds decided not to pop by, perhaps fearing the reaction of a few hundred crewmates the next day. Instead, a mere 10 knots blew northwest, making sailing back down the Kornati Kanal, making sailing nigh impossible. On the plus side, I skippered the boat for the 8.5 passage back towards Zirje. Hoping that higher winds would fill our sails to the south of the canal, we pulled up the sails. This proved relatively futile for our speed never made it past 3 knots and was rarely close to that. Combining the low winds with modest swells coming in off the Adriatic made for uncomfortable conditions. Even though the wind eventually died off to the extent that 5 knots was a gust, taking the sails down as we lumbered towards Krapije, our destination for the night, proved a difficult task.
Any sail-related hindrance was absolutely worth it once we made it into Krapije harbour, where once again Sea Monkey and Musling II made a one-two finish. No marina to speak of, just secluded anchorages overlooked by rocky hills and a gentler sunset. As you can guess, once we managed to anchor according to the wishes of a certain Austrian boat, the water beckoned just as it did back in Zirje. Just as our surroundings were perfect, the water was not so cold that it was bracing, not so warm as to be stifling. “Is Krapije Croat for Paradise?” was a thought that crossed my mind.
The pristine peace was disturbed as Coconut Moon, another flotilla member made a spectacular entrance, steaming in at 5 knots with mainsail up. Not surprisingly, the lone crew member aboard the 37ft boat could be heard yelling, “trop vite! trop vite!” The drama mellowed quickly, although the errant mainsail remained hoisted. We thought they may have succumbed to a similar predicament as ourselves: our hoisting sheet had snagged on a protrusion in the mast, a problem that was solved at the cost of a toenail.
The crowded lucky-dip box that is my brain didn’t have time for such frivolous worries. Dinner beckoned as did a landlubbing trip to the town of Krapije. Along with the hardy crew of Wind Magic, we searched (successfully it may be added) for ice cream. We really struck it lucky. Not only did gelato meet our lips, but the glorious sight of Michael Phelps swimming to the success captured our salt-encrusted gaze. Our period of golden happiness however was short-lived. On the short trip back to Sea Monkey, the outboard failed, leaving the troubled back of my dad to row us the remaining several hundred meters. Luckily, some more fuel remedied the engine problems. Ultimately, it simply wasn’t possible to harbour any negative sentiment towards Krapije.
Having left Pinta for our two days of free sailing, we didn’t have a forecast for the following day, leaving us feeling comfortably in the dark. How right we were. The big guy once more had mercy with us. The winds struggled to breach the 7 knot barrier. Admittedly this lack of proper wind was getting rather dull, so it was rather exciting to have a German jetskier roar up to the stern and ask for directions to Krapije, to which we pointed vaguely behind us. Still, the winds had deserting us for good, perhaps saving their strength for one final hurrah so the prop speed scurried towards 2500 rpm as we steamed towards our lunch spot at Tijat, a small island roughly between Vodice and Sibenik.
Although not exactly a secluded anchorage, Tijat provided pleasant, calm water, perfect for its intended purpose of a place to swim and lunch. However, just as the final crumbs were being washed overboard, a transmission came in on the VHF from Pinta, saying that a large yacht had taken up all the berths at our initial destination, package-resort bound Vodice, so they were diverting to Zlarin, a mere 3 miles from Tijat and reputed to be a calm, quiet village with the added luxury of water and power hook-ups.
The short crossing allowed me another chance to take the helm, but as we entered the harbour something odd struck me. Two of the Zagreb tagalongs had been swallowed by an annoyingly…large, young blonde. Still, the legendary bearded guy remained but more to point, our supplies were running low, meaning such shallow thoughts could wait.
Frustratingly both the Jadrolinija ferry office and mini-market were closed, so in a desperate attempt to waste time, we pounded concrete (walked) for the remaining hours, passing by a so eloquently named, German, gasthaus. (Nazi connotations, anyone?) A pleasing change, the town definitely was not under siege from plagues of rather…hefty, shirtless tourists. The sprawling bellies were replaced by sprawling summer homes, a quiet fishing harbour and remarkably narrow backstreets, on one of which the market sat.
By this point, we had somehow made it through the hour and a half until opening time, so we embarked on another flight of fancy to the market. Kindly, all of humanity decided to guide us through the process, so the shelves were dwindling along with the check-out attendant’s smile once we made it out the door but all the same, we got more or less what we needed. A sumptuous dinner of I-can’t-remember-what appeared from the bowels of Sea Monkey several hours later, swiftly followed by another perilous search for ice cream, this time with the dairy-starved folk of Musling II and Servanto joining the hunt. It took a circuit of the town but eventually we laid eyes on a gelato stall lurking next to a marina-side restaurant. The ice cream wasn’t up to scratch with that of Krapije but having an actual town to look around, complete with tucked-away church, made it worth it. What’s more, thoughts on delicate differences in ice cream tastes tend to evaporate faster than Usain Bolt can run the 100m when the news that 40kt winds await is delivered.
Prior to this haunting report, we had heard forecasts of 25kt winds which ultimately failed to materialize, and when we rose to sea the flags sitting collapsed, naturally the big guy had taken mercy on us. Nah. Hell no. Once we rounded the northeastern tip of Zlarin Island, breaking waves crashed into the side of the poor Sea Monkey, her storm jib filled with 30kt winds. The sheer angle with which some of the foolhardy, fully-sailed boats were heeling had my heart in my mouth.
To make matters that much more inconvenient, the wind was blowing directly in our faces, meaning that a lot of tacking was required to go anywhere. For the uninitiated, tacking involves bringing the sails around to the other side of the boat by turning through the wind; a manoeuvre that can cause capsizes in dinghy sailing. You get the point, tacking in winds that ended up topping 35kts wasn’t much fun. After around an hour of waves and fear jolting the boat as it made little progress towards Krapanj, the call came in from Musling II that they were abandoning plans for a day’s sailing and motoring into the harbour.
The steadily increasing windspeed caused the waves to grow, so as we were being buffeted around we turned around and headed for Krapanj whilst I hauled in the storm jib, somehow acquiring an elbow gash and a rope-whipped eyeball in the process. 10 minutes later we turned around once more. In all the chaos, Dad had misinterpreted the GPS display. We were wondering why all the other Sunsail boats were going the other way.
Taking care to avoid the precariously shallow waters off the island, we turned around the southern tip of Krapanj an hour later. The winds dropped off by 10kts and the waves subsided a little. All the same, 10 boats waited to be moored, with only two local skippers to lead the way, so it was another 40 minutes before we were furiously yanking at ropes to secure ourselves to a remarkably calm pontoon. As per the norm, we were treading delicately over pebbles on the way to the beach within seconds of being secured. Due to the stormy conditions, the water was a little cooler, which in all honesty was refreshing and helped down the staple lunch of chocolate sandwich cookies. By now, the winds had picked up to 30kts in our oh-so-sheltered harbour. Contemplating boarding the pontoon, let alone any of the yachts was a life-or-death decision. One foolhardy skipper had been thrown from the gangplank and into the furiously churning waters below. White knuckles gripping onto the stern, he was tugged to the relatively safety of his cockpit. It wasn’t all bad. The swells crashing into the boats also passed by a concrete dock which jutted out into the channel, which meant that if you timed it reasonably well, you could dive into the top of a wave and be swept into the beach a little downwind of there.
That is how we entertained ourselves for the hours preceding the farewell dinner, diving into the perilously shallow waters (tombstoning, I believe its called), exacting the art of scurrying between island, pontoon and boat at exactly the right lull in swells and laughing at those unfortunate souls who found themselves deposited in the sea. A merry time it was, even if our nextdoor neighbours’ gangplank was snapped like a twig.
Although it seemed an eternity, the winds died down to the low 20s by 6pm, leaving us time for a beer, some hors d’oeuvres and a game of Uno before sauntering into Hotel Spongolia for dinner, seated, because we’re a bit Dutch, with the two Flemish families. An awkward silence followed, but eventually we got to talking, in a mixture of incomprehensible Flemish and English. Still, we learned that one family lived in just any suburb of Brussels, but a very important one. Desperately, I tried not to crack a smile. Bluntly put, I failed.
Anyhow, the slightly tepid food arrived, giving us an excuse to break off negotiations. The minutes span by and were soon followed by our fellow flotilla-ers, leaving a raucous last chat with the Pinta Peeps, where we discovered that we were their favourites. We had such a mirth-filled 10 minutes that as we walked to the nearby ice-cream parlour, Emmanuel galloped up to us and kindly reminded us that our tab sat unpaid. Once the matter was resolved, we strode on through a trattoria, past some stray dogs, loaded up on gelato and wandered on, eventually stopping at another finger pontoon reaching out of the southern tip of Krapanj.
Everyone, the whole island it seemed, was feeling drowsy so we clambered through our waiting suitcases and let REM, dreams to you and me, descend. No doubt soon enough they would be filled with memories of this amazing sailing trip.