Thursday, May 29, 2008

RIP Luc Bourdon: 1987-2008

Blooming blue-liner Luc Bourdon passed away this afternoon in New Brunswick, Canada. He was 21, drafted 10th overall in 2005 by the Vancouver Canucks. Bourdon played 27 games with the Canucks this season, recording 2 goals, including an absolute rocket against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The shock has prevented the news from sinking in yet.
Luc had been a fan favourite at GM Place ever since his days with the Canadian Junior team. Whenever Bourdon came up with a big play, the fans would serenade him with chants of "Luuuuuc." Initially, he appeared to be something of a flop, but showed signs last year of becoming a tough and steady defenceman, a rock on the Canucks blue-line for the next decade.

Instead, Luc will be watching the Canucks from the rafters, presuming that Canucks management does the honorable thing and retires his #28 jersey.
Still, when searching for a silver lining, this is all I can come up with: if Mike Gillis does take the decision to retire Bourdon's jersey, he will gain that street cred that Mark Messier lost when he took over the deceased Wayne Maki's #11 jersey. But that really is a pretty weak silver lining.
Heartfelt condolences to the Bourdon family. Wins and losses seem pretty irrelevant at a time like this.

Here are some highlights from Luc's sadly stunted career:

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Sorry, No Love from Russia!

Oh dear oh dear. Stamford Bridge will not see a trophy this season. Cracks are starting to form in the oligarchic Russian Roman Abramovic's theory that money can buy success. Chelsea went down 6-5 on penalties to league winners Manchester United. In some ways, I didn't really care. Arsenal were long gone from the greener pastures of continental Europe so there was little in the game for me. However, I do believe that football games should be won on the talent of the players and the intellect of the managerial staff, not the deep, silk-lined pockets of the owner.
Henceforth, I was rooting for the Red Devils, not the Chelsea Cheapskates. Let's make this clear. I despise Manchester Utd. But I loath Chelski on a whole other level.
To see Didi Drogba sent off for bitchslapping Vidic at 1-1 left a bitter taste in Chelsea's mouth and set the angry fire burning in the hearts of Manchester. Yet the game dwindled with the Blues more or less edging the Us until the petulant Joe Cole was taken off for Salomon Kalou in the 103rd minute. Avram Grant first real managerial decision had been a poor one as Manchester controlled the tempo but were unable to capitalize amongst a dozen or so episodes of cramp and the referee blew for penalties.
Both teams capitalized on every chance before Ronaldo capitulated his to the hands of Petr Cech. Monotony returned until Cashley Cole somehow squeezed the ball through van der Sars' fingers, setting up John Terry for a championship-winning spot-kick. Alas, ol' JT slipped to the freshly-laid Luzhniki turf, sending his effort on to the right-hand upright. Both teams added an extra goal. Conclusively, Nani then sent the ball past Cech before mid-season arrival Nicolas Anelka sent the ball tamely into the welcoming palms of Edwin van der Sar. The Dutch legend lept from the ground in elation whilst Anelka merely stood, wondering where he's off too next. van der Sar's teammates hugged, kissed and generally embraced their keeper whilst their counterparts realised that money is no substitute for success. Indeed, Arsenal have the meagre Emirates Cup to hang over Chelsea's heads.
I wasn't so much celebrating Manchester's win but Chelsea's loss. I can now rest comfortable knowing that money doesn't necessarily win titles. That same knowledge leaves Roman Abramovich twisting in his silken sheets. Actually I don't know. He still has this:
Yeah, I don't think he's too upset.

Monday, May 12, 2008

God Hates China

God Hates China. That pretty much sums up the rough ride China has been given in the past few months, let alone the last month. However, that is a poor analogy, as God doesn't exist, and a non-existent being obviously can't hate anything, but you get my gist. China has drawn the short straw so far in '08:

January- February 2008: The Big Guy in the Sky decided to dump ridiculous amounts of snow on Southern China, with Henan and Guangdong being hit particularly hard. Reports of 1,00,o00 backlogged travellers camped out at Guangzhou and Nanjing rail stations added to the furor. Although only 133 perished as a result of the blizzard, many were injured in accidents or stampedes. Thousands went without basic services but the main hit was taken by the Treasury: some $7 billion in potential profit was lost, and harvests were badly affected.

March 2008: This time another religious group is to blame. On March 10th, monk-led protests and marches spread across Lhasa and wider Tibet. The escalation was preceded by inflammatory words from Dharamsala, India, the seat of the exiled Tibetan Government. Things took a violent turn on the 14th as protesters clashed with PRC police. Chinese living in Lhasa faced persecution whilst their native counterparts faced ambiguous prosecution. We could see Chinese being beaten on the streets of the Tibetan capital in a cleverly-released video, whilst Tibetans were beaten behind closed doors. However, the international community regarded this not as Chinese steadfast protection of sovereign territory but as a precursor to genocide. Ludicrous, but whilst I don't condone the Chinese government's actions, that simply does not amount to accurate journalism. Point is, this warping led to global protests and attacks on the Olympic Torch route. China's economy may have been booming, but its international reputation was a shrinking violet.

28th April: Two trains collide near Zibo, Shandong province. 70 were killed and 400 injured whilst the international community blamed China's rapid, laxly controlled development for the collision. Xinhua would later join that hypothesis, as well as noting that at least one train was travelling at excessive speed. Whatever the reason, this was something the country could have done without, especially considering that the derailment occurred on a route linking two Olympic host cities, Beijing and Qingdao.

May 12th: A huge 7.8 earthquake rocked Sichuan province, not far from the regional capital, Chengdu. Thousands were buried in this largely agricultural area. The death toll so far has reached 15,000 but is set to rise as soldiers have only recently reached the epicenter. Heart wrenching stories of school collapses are finally drawing China some sympathy, but 15,000 souls is a huge price to pay for some support.

Still, they say every cloud has a silver lining. China has been lauded for its relief efforts. Premier Wen Jiabao was quick on the scene, offering support to the stricken and overseeing the rescue effort. Thousands of soldiers, policemen and rescue workers have descended on the worst-hit areas and the government is actively welcoming overseas aid pledges. All this, and yet God has the gall to rain on Sichuan.
Still, China has shown in the simplest of ways that it will do whatever it takes to care for its own. It didn't need to build the Three Gorges Dam or host the Olympics to exemplify this. China has responded fantastically to an extremely difficult situation. Shear manpower and national unity get the job done. Somewhere up above, Chairman Mao is smiling.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Where Art Thou, Regional Responsibility?

Four or five days ago, the lights went out across Beirut. Gunshots echoed through the city that had, sadly, been expecting them for a long time. Ever since Emile Lahoud abandoned the Presidency in late 2007, a perpetual state of uneasiness has plagued the city that was slowly returning to its earlier label, "Paris of the East." As one Lebanese classmate of mine said, "Civil war will happen tomorrow." Even that blunt uttering carried a state of perpetuality, for although full-blown civil war hasn't broken out, its impossible to confidently say it won't.
In so many ways, perpetuality has become synonymous with Lebanon, not just in the aforementioned, violent, context. Well, not really. See, Beirut was formerly known as the "Paris of the East," and has been going a long way towards reclaiming that status, despite the lurid development of Gulf cities such as Dubai and Doha.
However, going the perpetual nature of violence in Lebanon, foreign meddlers have been a constant threat. The French and Americans prior to the civil war did little other than aggravate an already strained social balance. Foreign military presence was seen as necessary post-WWII, but considering the Mediterranean nation's ridiculously complicated demographics, this was a foolhardy move that made governmental neutrality difficult. Indeed, Western troop presence could be at least partially blamed for inflaming tensions that led to the civil war. But it was countries closer to home that really caused problems for the ailing Lebanon.
See, this is a strategically placed country, close to Cyprus and Europe beyond, but also bordering both Arab and Jewish countries, Syria and Israel respectively. So when Lebanon was already being torn to pieces by Hezbollah, Maronites, Druze, etc, its neighbors irresponsibly saw fit to try and claim a stake in the country. For over a decade, Iranian Revolutionary Guards were based in Balbek, and Syrian or Israeli troops were a force in Beirut. Instead of using their power to resolve Lebanon's issues, the three countries simply made things worse, all trying to pressure their own ideology on a war-burdened country. All this achieved was to prolong a pointless war. We can see now from the latest flare-up that the war achieved nothing, other than kill scores of men, women and children. So when 16 years later, Israel has the gall to go and bomb Beirut again, it makes you wonder, does Tel Aviv have it coming? Whatever the motive, it was a terribly foolish thing to do considering the relative peace prior to the month-long conflict of summer 2006.
So comparatively, this latest upsurge was minuscule. Barely a week long. And here's the best bit. For the first time in too long, Lebanon was left to it, and an admittedly tentative resolution has been reached in 5 days. Let's just hope it wasn't took quick for Bashar, Ahmedinejad and Olmert to take notice.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

The End is Nigh

I have to say, I am genuinely surprised. Hillary - yes, I finally figured out there are two "L"s - is set to take a detour off the campaign trail, one that will ultimately lead her back to a seat in the Senate. At the moment this is only a rumor, but it would make a lot of sense. After all, Barack Obama is in pole position with over 2000 pledged delegates to his name. Momentum is going his way after a 12% overall victory on Tuesday. As far as Clinton is concerned, the freight train of the future is looking increasingly difficult to derail.
Whilst Ralph Nader has not learnt his lesson, and is still being a complete pain in the ass for the Dems, Clinton still has the opportunity to hold her head high. All she has to do is pull out before any real skirmishes with Obama develop. Who knows? Might he then graciously ask her to join him as the President's first right-hand woman? Actually, Monica Lewinsky did that, but Hillary would be the first political figure to fill that role, in a more legitimate spectrum.
Whatever happens, let's get it done before the Convention, so as to add further futility what has already carried the aura of a debacle. Once the Democrats get some positive, forward momentum, McCain will be as dead on the tracks as Clinton is now. Go back to 2007 and by political analyst will have told you that change will win the game. Even I was unsure for a few months, but let's just put it this way: these are smart guys.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Where's My Cult Hero?

The sound of jaws dropping could have overcome a space shuttle launch after Miley Cyrus sat, "tousled, wrapped with a blanket" on the cover of Vogue magazine. See, Cyrus is Hannah Montana, a Disney Channel program aimed at elementary school children. Not only that, she is 15.
Sure, other cover-girls such as Maria Sharapova or Scarlett Johansson barely have 5 years on the Disney starlet, but as I suspect many a parent will attest to, those are 5 definitive, changing years. Gone are the days of taking the cute little kid to the park. These are the days when, so I hear, parents are fretting about just how much skin little Annie is baring to the boys tonight. I'm not really qualified to comment further on that perspective though, for I am neither a parent nor a teenage girl. If anything, I fit into the demographic that Cyrus is surely switching to: I am a teenage boy. Wow. I can even here the Jaws theme tune.
Here's the thing. The adult world is making a huge fuss over a skimpily dressed teenager. Yes, she's a rich, famous teenager, but a teenager nonetheless. If you happen to walk in on a high school party, you can bet that upwards of 50% of skin is on display. Even when drink factors in, unwanted lifeforms are an extremely rare occurrence. Too bad for us teenagers that Jamie Lynn had to go and get us a bad name. Gee, thanks, Mini-Britney.
So back to the cause of the Cyrus uproar. Whilst in Hannah Montana mode, Cyrus teaches little kiddies how to live a good, wholesome lifestyle. Parents are grateful for this popular guidance, and in some ways have themselves become hooked on Miley's magic. As Montana, she shows America's 30-40 somethings that its all going to turn out OK. So when she turns out more or less nude on the Vogue, those lingering fears that all girls -that is what Cyrus has come to represent- will eventually sway from the straight and narrow appear to have been confirmed. Never mind that Cyrus, like all teenagers, just wants to have a little rebellious fun. So ingrained has Cyrus become in pre-teen culture that anything untoward that may come her way could drastically increase the grey hair count of the USA.
By this point, you'll either have noticed my sarcastic tone or proven that might want to look into a community education course. However, there are some serious issues surrounding Miley's appearance on the cover of Vogue. Firstly, why was a 15 year old allowed to appear in a state of undress on the cover of one of America's most lewd magazines? She may just barely be a teenager, but she is supported by a phallanx of grown adults. Even if they're in it for the money, this more or less amounts to child pornography, a felony. Apparently though, it's "artsy, not skanky," according to Cyrus. Sorry there, dear, but you're wrong. I would post the *widely available* picture, but that would be in contravention of my beliefs.
Even so, the cult reliance upon Miley/Hannah for advice has got to stop. If parents are up in arms over the influence the photo will have on their offspring, this is a sure sign that things have gone a step beyond popularity. In any case, very few children live a life comparable to Cyrus, so projecting your own child's future on that of a child star seems naive. Anyway, I doubt anything will happen to her. She's ugly.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Chameleonic Cambridge

Cambridge, England is known the world over for its medieval city center, the centerpiece of which is the legendary University of Cambridge. This leads many people to accept the theory that Cambridge is a picturesque, somewhat sleepy college town. But whilst this isn't Durham, North Carolina, it is painfully obvious that a boozy transformation occurs on weekend evenings.
Whilst England's smartest party it up in their respective JCRs and bars, the low-cut dresses with fat drooping out are all the rage on Cambridge's main drag. Just a half-mile from the world-renowned King's College Chapel, WKD bottles litter the gutter. The quality of English spoken on Regent Street has more in common with the East End than King's Parade. And that's not a bad thing.
See, Cambridge was first and foremost an agricultural town, not exactly the land of milk and honey from a fiscal point of view. However, food was always plentiful and the climate one of the most amiable in the UK. The region has been a national knowledge base since the days of Isaac Newton, and has also hosted several important religious institutions such as Ely Cathedral. Intellectual mixture is nothing new, but it is more established than ever before. Hi-tech companies have been setting up shop since the 1990s, so for a "city" of its size, Cambridge has a remarkably high proportion of tertiary sector workers. However, this has served to draw many EU citizens, such as Poles and Slovakians, to Cambridge in search of a better life. This attitude of endeavor has led to less British workers in the primary sector, but Cambridge has become ever more multi-national and multi-cultural.
Not only do Chinese and Americans affiliated with the University walk the streets, Poles, Turks and Lebanese go about their jobs as well. The result of this multi-directional development is a town of 130,000 which has just about something for everyone . Everyone one from the most simple-minded of farmhands to the theory-stretching college nerds can find their niche in Cambridge. Heck, different parts of the city even reflect this sentiment. All I know is that you can make of Cambridge what you want.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

When do I start?

Today was a beautiful day, despite the precarious thunderclouds lurking nearby. Nothing could dampen my mood, especially at 3.20 in the afternoon. Prior to that, the day had been nervy from the moment Head of Year 11, Mr Pullin, announced that Sixth Form offers would be coming around during the course of the day. Normally, Mr Pullin carries on like no tomorrow about his travels, somehow weaving them into the Grand Scheme of Things, and today was no different, as we learnt he was ditching us for a three-day golfing jaunt in Malta over the Bank Holiday weekend. From the moment I heard the word "Hills Road Offer Pack," everything else was overshadowed. Well, not everything. I still managed to remember a few dates and treaties for my history practice exam. Point is, I was just a tad apprehensive.
So when the bell rang at 3.20, I was one of the first of a hoard of people to storm the school reception to pick up our offer packs. I spotted my name. I spotted Hills Road Sixth Form College. I ripped at the envelope with all the dexterity of Edward Scissorhands. I jumped for joy. At this point, it is probably worth explaining that Hills Road has a reputation as one of England's top state-run Sixth From Colleges.
The irony is, I am faced with the longest summer vacation ever, 10 weeks of fun in the sun and yet I can't wait for September to come. Not only are my courses (Modern History, French, English and Politics) riveting, but the enrichment activities read like a catalogue of my dearest interests: Chinese, Tennis, Africa Link, Japanese, War Studies and Social Anthropology. Unfortunately, four of those are back-up choices, but in any case September can't come soon enough.
You may have gathered from my previous post that this has been something of a frustrating year, that I have felt somewhat held back, socially at least, at Melbourn Village College. Don't get me wrong, I'll miss MVC, but the brakes are coming off and I can't wait.