May 31, 2010
We picked Canada to win, and they finished in seventh place. So that didn't go so well. However, I'm claiming credit on one point: unlike just about everyone else, we didn't pick Russia to win. I say this because there was a reason. I didn't think the Russians wanted their third medal in a row badly enough, and the way they played the tournament bore it out. They got to the final by playing consistently: in every game, they made the minimum effort required to win. In the final, they ran into a country prepared to do way more than the minimum, and lost. The same thing happened at Vancouver.
Head coach Bykov is leaving Team Russia, and it may be for the best. There's no denyning that he's changed Russia from a lackadaisical collection of skilled players to an international juggernaut, but it hasn't quite clicked yet. They're still a long way from the big red machine of a few decades ago, and in my opinion, one of the crucial differences is in the mentality. Bykov's squad has had real trouble showing up for big games. The ultimate humiliation was their awful start against Canada at Vancouver, but the same thing happened in Germany against the Czechs. In fact, despite the lopsided eventual numbers, it nearly happened against Finland; if the Finnish power play wasn't so amazingly rubbish, made even worse by coach Jalonen's inexplicable decision to insert a new player into the number one power play, Finland might have beaten the Russians the same way the Czechs did. As it is, though, Finland finished the tournament with the second-worst offensive. Only Kazakhstan scored less goals, and they were relegated. So that, as they say, is that. Recall, also, the world champs final in Canada against the home team, where the Russians almost gave the game away in the first two periods and had to mount an almost unimaginable comeback to win the game.
The reason I picked Canada to win was precisely this difference in mentality. While the Russians seem to stumble out of the gate in all their big games, the Canadians rarely suffer from this. What I didn't reckon with was that Mark Messier's first foray into general managering would be such an unmitigated disaster. As I said, the excuses are ready: Canada had only one olympic player and so on. They can hide behind that if they want, but really, their lack of Olympians should be a strength, not a weakness. Instead of sending guys jaded from Olympic success, they picked a young, hungry team that should have done much better. In my opinion, the fact that Corey Perry was their only Olympian makes the quarterfinal elimination all the stranger. And besides, looking at how Perry played, more players like him wouldn't have helped at all.
Speaking of Canada and the Olympics, this gives me an opportunity to poke fun at Canadian hockey again. One of the fundamental myths of Canadian hockey superiority is that while the "Euros" are in it for the money, Canadians play for the glory of Canada, hockey and the Stanley Cup. Remember how a few years back you couldn't read a story about NHL captains without someone brandishing the old adage about European captains? The claim was that no European captain had ever won the Stanley Cup, or would ever win the Stanley Cup, because Europeans just play for the paycheck and don't really care about hockey. Niclas Lidström put that one away, but the fundamental prejudice behind it remains.
That's why it was so funny to see the silly little storm-in-a-teacup over Crosby's refusal to play at the world champs. Apparently the kid didn't want to, saying via his agent that it was "more appropriate" for him to relax and prepare for the next season. Funnily, teammates Malkin & Gonchar didn't seem to think so, and turned up to represent Russia. Some people had the nerve to say that Crosby's refusal was disrespectful toward Hockey Canada, which sent everyone scrambling to the wünderkind's defense. Of course he doesn't have to play some stupid Mickey Mouse tournament! He has his day job to think about! It's fine by me; it's just somewhat amusing that Russian players put their national team before their summer vacation, the anointed messiah of Canadian hockey doesn't, and still Europeans are somehow less "principled" than Canadians. The doublethink required to be a Canadian hockey bigot is remarkable. Ceterum censeo, next time someone mentions running up the score, ask them why it doesn't apply to Team Canada. They beat Norway 12-1 this year.
Anyway, for me, the biggest disappointment of the whole tournament was Team USA. They, too, had a young team, fresh off the motivating mix of success and disappointment that is an Olympic silver medal (we know). Finland was in the same opening round group, and given how puny Finland's defense corps was, I fully expected the Americans to beat the snot out of Finland. They didn't, because incredibly enough, their offense was even worse than Finland's defense. The only thing I can say about the Americans' tournament is EPIC FAIL.
I expected the Americans and Finns to be in the medal games, and neither made it. Jukka Jalonen's Team Finland continues to fall short of even my pessimistic expectations. I'm pretty sure one of the reasons they lost to the Czechs was that like me, they too expected that Finland would win. The numbers would have been much uglier had the Czech offense not consisted almost entirely of unscreened wristshots. I find Jalonen's team to be a little confusing. On the one hand, there's a real attempt to play offensive hockey, even a puck possession game at times, which is a great change from the mind-numbing neutral zone trap we all got used to in the last ten years. It was long a mantra of Finnish hockey that Finland can only win through great defense and spectacular goaltending, and when every head coach fielded the same old 1-2-2, it was a self-fulfilling prophecy. So in this sense, Jalonen is great for Finnish hockey.
What I have trouble with is two things. First, and least, the motivational aspect, which was highlighted by several commentators on Finnish state television. Jalonen's team also suffers from spectacularly bad play in big games, even compared to their usual level. The question has been raised whether Jalonen has the leadership to really get the team to give its all when it counts the most. More importantly, I can't wrap my head around the way he picks a team. As near as I can tell, he's totally dedicated to fielding the worst defense ever on a Finnish national team, and suceeded in doing so again this year. Granted, this is better than Erkka Westerlund's system of picking 20 wingers, three centermen and five D and rolling up lines with a pair of dice, but still, I don't understand what he's doing. Then again, I don't even know who actually picks the Finnish national team. Is it Jalonen? Or does our "GM" actually do something? I have to admit I don't even know, so I'm not sure whose fault this all is. Several signs point at Jalonen, though, including the strange inclusion of Antti Miettinen on all of his teams, despite his notorious uselessness on the national team, and an odd penchant for seemingly random players from the Finnish league.
On that note, I do have to gloat on two points about the Finnish team. Juhamatti Aaltonen, this year's European league wildcard, was just as useless as I said he would be in my Finnish-language preview. Aaltonen, touted as a "sniper", managed one (1) goal in the entire tournament, and that was a superfluous empty-netter against Slovakia. A second point is Miettinen's linemate. As I've said, before the tournament, Veikkaaja, the sports supplement (sort of) of one of Finland's biggest daily newspapers, was headlined "Savior". On the cover was Jussi Jokinen. Left off the Olympic team for dastardly and underhanded reasons, Jokinen was now going to save Team Finland at the world champs.
Yeah, right. When Jokinen was left off the Vancouver roster, I argued that this was for two reasons: Jalonen was going to play Mikko Koivu with his Minnesota linemate Miettinen, and Jokinen was always rubbish in international play. The first wasn't the case, perplexingly, but this spring Jokinen quite decisively proved the second. The "savior" of Team Finland was, again, useless. He scored two goals against Slovakia, but in the big games, what did he manage? He took an idiotic 2+10 against Russia for a flying elbow to Sergei Gonchar's head, and three minor penalties in the decisive game against the Czechs. To top it all off, the former shootout specialist missed the net on his game-deciding penalty shot. Some savior he.
That shootout was embarassing, by the way. The Czech forwards were great, but really, as he's freely admitted himself, Vokoun is rubbish at shootouts. He stays up for way too long. All three of Finland's shooters could easily have scored. As it was, only the first guy did; the next two had wide-open nets in front of them and missed. In a way, that does sum up Finland's whole tournament.
It also brings me neatly to the most important point I have. The great thing about the tournament as a whole was the importance of the offense. This year, teams that were good on the offense won, and teams that couldn't score didn't. The low-scoring Czechs were the exception that confirms the rule, while Denmark are pretty much the posterboys. Of the big countries, Finland, Sweden, Canada and the US suffered heavily from an inability to put the puck in the net, while a fearless offense landed Denmark a historical place in the quarterfinals. Switzerland also showed up with a much better offensive game than they ever had under Ralph Krüger, and they would have been in the semifinals if they'd only concentrated on the game, as opposed to spearing and fighting.
I fully expect the Swiss and Danes to do well next year too, while Finland may start paying a heavy price for its systemic neglect of goal-scorers in junior hockey. They may have won the world title, but the last few years have been bleak for the Czechs at the NHL draft, and worse for the Slovaks. The latter have Tomas Tatar and Richard Panik to look forward to; not only do they have awesome names, but they play up to them as well. In the longer run, though, it'll be interesting to see if Finland, the Czechs and the Slovaks can keep up with the other big countries, or if they'll sink to second tier.
All in all, though, the gap between the small and big countries is narrower now than it has ever been, and that's great for hockey. I'm already looking forward to next year.
May 29, 2010
I do have a couple of pointers, though. First of all, give Philadelphia's front office credit for putting togther an excellent playoff team. In the regular season, it all looked like the Philadelphia we're used to since the lockout: big hits, suspensions, comedy defense, a different goalie every night. We didn't think they'd make the postseason. In the playoffs, though, they've really started playing hockey, and after all, these are the games that count.
On defence, it's going to be interesting to see how the big guys match up. Yes, Chris Pronger is old, slow and plays dirty. He's won the Hart Trophy, Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup, too, and he's a hell of a postseason player. One on one, as good as Chicago's guys have been, I'd give him the edge.
When it comes to the defense as a whole, though, the Flyers are in trouble. Montréal had a strangely schizophrenic offense. When they were on their game, Cammalleri was unstoppable; when they were off their game, you couldn't even understand how they were trying to score, let alone how they might eventually manage it. It was much the same thing with Boston. Chicago is probably going to give the Flyers the first real defensíve test of the postseason, and I don't think they're going to pass. When they're not at their best, they do play the usual Philadelphia comedy defense, and I fully expect Kane, Toews and the over-lettered Byfuglien to tear them apart.
Overall, I'd rank the Hawks' forwards over the Flyers', what with Jonathan Toews heading for a Conn Smythe Trophy whichever way the final goes. The Flyers have more depth while the Hawks' first line is on a different level than anything the Flyers can throw at them.
There's been a lot of ink spilled about the goaltending on both sides. Philadelphia's revolving door system has worked remarkably well, and Leighton posted some incredible numbers against Montréal, while Niemi has been good. Here's the thing, though: neither of them is actually as good as they're being made out to be.
The Finnish media has been having a field day with reports of Niemi, who several North American publications have claimed was "the difference" against the Sharks. Sure, he played well while Nabokov wasn't at his best. That definitely wasn't the difference, though. Now that I've used the term twice, I'm beginning to think the Difference is a friend of the Situation's. Anyhow, the thing with Niemi is that he's a positional goalie, rather like Minnesota's Niklas Bäckström and Toronto's monster, although he's way better than either of those guys. Anyone playing a positional style is very much at the mercy of his team's defensemen, and Niemi's numbers are a combination of his play, his team's defense and the Sharks' inept offense. Big Pavelski was a disappointment in the Hawks series, and the big line an even bigger one. They had much more to do with the Hawks win than Niemi did. I'm not saying he was bad, I'm just saying he wasn't nearly as good as they say he is.
The same goes for Leighton. As I said above, the Montréal offense was, at times, ridiculous. Their insistence on unscreened shots would make any NHL goalie look good, and although Leighton pulled off a couple of impressive saves, his numbers are much better than his play. The "musical goalies" system also comes with a drawback: Boucher's healthy again. If Leighton doesn't play well enough in the first game, will they start second-guessing and switch goalies? What will that do to their game?
Although the numbers say different, and despite what I've just said, I do think Niemi is a better goalie than Leighton. Hey, if playing for Pelicans in the Finnish league back when they routinely lost games 10-2 doesn't teach you goaltending, what will? More importantly, the Hawks defend better than the Flyers.
So overall, I think Chicago has the clear advantage. With one big "but". The Hawks are a very young team, and the Flyers aren't. Superior experience may well come into play here, especially as the series gets older. The first two games will be fairly big, but given Philadelphia's ability to rally from a defeat, not as big as they might otherwise be. Then again, if the Hawks get nervous, the Flyers can really take the fight to them from the get-go.
Still, my money's on the Blackhawks. A big line, better team defense and better goaltending sounds like a safe bet. Then again, the Flyers wouldn't be here if the safe bet always won.
Whoever wins, the best part is that if anyone says they saw this final matchup coming, they're lying. No-one could have predicted this, and I like that. I hope the best team wins.
May 28, 2010
The Song Contest has its critics. One of the more outspoken ones of recent years was British radio personality Terry Wogan. Some of his criticisms were downright idiotic, like his persistent allegations that the voting is completely fixed. This has been parroted over the years by a number of British "critics", mainly as an excuse for Britain's dismal showing at the contest. They prefer to believe that this is the consequence of some vast continental conspiracy rather than a logical outcome of the horrible rubbish they've been sending to the contest for the last decade. I talked about this earlier with quotations.
There's one of his criticisms that I sympathize with, though. Wogan has been critical of the failure of Eurovision contestants to represent their countries' music in any meaningful way, instead opting for bland, standardized Euro-dross. It's very true. Usually, the bigger countries want to send a representative who is dignified enough to represent their nation, which always means some woman singing a mortally boring song about love. These days, though, that trend is on the wane, as for the last several years, more and more countries have come around to thinking that Eurotechno is the surest route to the final. It really depresses me that the majority of the entries, even this year, are either boring ballads that are worthy of the dignity of the nation, or second-rate techno songs from the 90's bargain bin.
Of course, this year the contest itself is completely schizophrenic. After several years of using the popular vote to determine the winner, the EBU has reintroduced "expert" panels. Now each country's votes are made up from a mix of the popular vote, accounting for 50%, and the opinion of a panel of supposed experts, which accounts for another 50%.
This is stupid. The Eurovision Song Contest is now committed to sitting on the fence when it comes to one of the classic questions of art: who is it for? What is the objective of an entry to the Eurovision Song Contest? Should it be a song that people all over Europe will like enough to vote for, or a song that wows supposed experts? The two, one feels, rarely coincide; an example is Portugal's entry this year, which I'm told ranks very high on the experts' lists but very low with the bookies. I'm sure it has great artistic merit, but as a punter, I think it's plain boring and I'd never vote for it. How many "music experts" would have voted for Lordi or Ruslana, the two undisputed highlights of the 2000's?
To be entirely clear, only the latter of those two was a musical highlight. Lordi's win was a highlight because it, like Ruslana before it, gave us some hope that the Eurovision Song Contest isn't doomed to an eternity of techno and boring ballads. After Lordi, there have been at least a couple of rock bands in the contest every year, and that has to be a good thing.
This may not be fair, but I've gained the impression that the move back to panels is a result of pressure from the bigger funders of the song contest, who usually do poorly in the popular vote. It certainly makes sense. Personally, I think it doesn't do the contest any good. A win by the popular vote is as close to an honest, all-European mandate that a song is good as you can get. Why muddy the thing up with panels? Alleging a popular vote is rigged is a conspiracy theory. Rumors of deals between national panels were rife back when some countries used them; why bring all that back?
Furthermore, I find the idea that a board of experts carries equal weight with thousands of votes to be repellent. In our private lives, we all like to think that we know what's good music and what isn't far better and more objectively than the next guy, and why shouldn't we? At the end of the day, it's a question of taste. I present some very strong opinions on art in this blog every now and then, but they're the opinion of one writer only. I'd find the idea that my opinion being the equivalent of hundreds if not thousands of votes horrific. And I'm not at all convinced the people on those panels are any more entitled to it. If we're supposed to be a continent of democracies, why aren't we one at the Eurovision Song Contest?
So get rid of the damn panels already. And participating countries: for next year, please, please come up with something that isn't either techno, some X-Factor or Idol castoff or a boring ballad. Surely you can do better. Your entire national music scene cannot be summed up by bad singing, scantily clad dancing girls and a techno beat. Can it?
May 26, 2010
Augusten Burroughs: A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father
This one deals with a darker subject matter. A Wolf at the Table is a prequel of sorts to Augusten Burroughs's autobiographical Running With Scissors, and like it, this is billed as a memoir. It is the story of a young child brought up by a mother whose mental health is failing, and a psychopathic father. It's a very powerful, dark story that I can't in good faith recommend to any sensitive readers.
There's a fundamental problem with writing all fiction. If I recall correctly, it was Russian playwright Chekov who said that if a pair of pistols is seen above the mantlepiece in Act 1, they must be used in Act 3. The problem is familiar to anyone who has ever read a detective story: the murderer must be one of the people we're introduced to at the beginning of the story. This forces the narrative to be, in a sense, predictable.
Burroughs's memoir suffers from a form of this. It is so dark, so miserable, so psychotic, that the reader very quickly becomes inured to the darkness and lunacy of it all. From the beginning, all of the young protagonist's attempts to win his father's heart fail, and all the pets he has meet unfortunate ends of some kind. To be blunt, by the time he gets a guinea pig, you know it's going to end up dead. I think this is a terrible shame, because it really detracts from a well-written book, but it is its major weakness. The author paints a powerful picture of living with a psychotic father, but trivializes it by heaping misery upon misery, fear upon fear and disappointment upon disappointment until it all becomes predictable and, frankly, boring.
On the other hand, the last chapters of the book, set in the protagonist's youth and later days, seem strangely detached from the whole. It's as if they were pinned on as an afterthought, as forced closure to create a "story arc" worthy of Hollywood. They don't really seem to add anything to the story.
In between the rather formulaic recitation of family misery are excellent moments of storytelling. At times, Burroughs (an assumed name) creates a very convincing, engrossing narrative that one can't help but be immersed in. These flashes of brilliance are too few for me to really recommend this book to anyone unless the subject particularly interests them, but they're there. It's a strangely dual book: on the other hand, the power of personal experience shines through it, but on the other hand, it seems to be so rigidly welded to the conventions of storytelling, story arcs and literature in general that much of that power is wasted. This combination makes the book memorable and forgettable at the same time, which is an odd experience.
In short, A Wolf at the Table is memorable, powerful, tragic, and forgettable, conventional and trivial at the same time. Technically, I suppose that makes it a very accurate memoir of life, but at the same time, a strangely split reading experience.
My recommendation is sadly banal: if the subject of a boy growing up with a psychotic father fascinates you, give it a shot; otherwise, don't bother.
May 24, 2010
Czech Republic are the new champions, having defeated Russia in the final. Russians clearly didn't want the third gold medal in a row quite bad enough. Though Vokoun was brilliant throughout the game, the primary reason Russians lost the game was their inability to solve the Czech trap; they insisted on trying to stickhandle through Czechs' four man defensive line all night. Like Don Cherry always says: just shoot the puck in!
Russia didn't receive any help from the referees, either. After a game where practically nothing was called the Slovakian-Finnish refereeing team made the most shocking penalty call of the tournament halfway through the third period. Alexei Emelin delivered a clean hip check on Jaromir Jagr, but the refs chose to call it clipping. Emelin was ejected from the game, and Team Russia, desperately trying to even the score in the third, went on penalty kill for five minutes. Of course, major penalties called on clean hits on Jagr are nothing new in international hockey. It's a contact sport, Jaromir; keep your head up, and wear a real helmet.
All that said, refereeing didn't cost Russians the game, they lost it all by themselves.
In the bronze medal game the Swedes, unfortunately, defeated the German hosts. Bengt-Åke Gustafsson's tenure as the head coach of Team Sweden ended with a medal, though not of the color Sweden was looking for. True to his style, Bengt-Åke ended his last game with a gigantic "fuck you" to the host country, calling a time-out with one second remaining.
Ladies and gentlemen, Bengt-Åke Gustaffson.
And finally, here are the final rankings:
Gold Czech Republic
May 21, 2010
Switzerland - Germany
We didn't see this one, but we did think it was particularly ingenious of Switzerland's top scorer, Martin Plüss, to spear a German player in the crotch in the first period and be thrown out of the game. Also, ouch. We're glad to see Germany back in international hockey after a rubbish couple of years, and nothing would make us happier than a German medal.
Sweden - Denmark
The upsets are over, and Denmark finished in eighth place. It was a memorable tournament, though, and we hope to see Denmark in the quarterfinals again. When they're on their game, they can beat anybody.
Canada - Russia
Grapes only made a passing reference to the world champs on Coach's Corner, which isn't surprising; any tournament Canada doesn't win doesn't really count, whether it's the world champs or the Olympics. Sure, they're banging on about the Olympics now, but did anyone as much as mention the Olympics for years after Torino? No. Anyway, Ron said Steven Stamkos was "on a mission" in this game. We agree, if he means a mission to take the stupidest penalties possible. At the end of the first period, Canada was on a power play until Stamkos took a boarding penalty at 20:00 to take Canada off the man advantage. He seemed to go berserk several times in the game for no reason at all.
Come to think of it, that describes the whole team fairly well. Canada played awful, like they did all tournament. In a truly pathetic showing, they lost every game they played against a team in the top 10 of the world ranking, including Switzerland. They ran up the score against the likes of Italy and Norway, and were totally unable to score against anyone else. Unsurprisingly, a fairly pedestrian effort by the Russians sent the Canadians packing, and good riddance to them. This is the Canada we're used to seeing in international play: arrogant, easily frustrated, dirty.
Of course, the Canadians have their excuses ready. With Canada, there's always an excuse. This time, they're parroting it over and over again: the Russians had 13 Olympic players, Canada only had one, and besides, only the Olympics count. Funny, after Torino nobody said only the Olympics count. And anyway, is having only one Olympic player your excuse for losing to Switzerland? The bottom line is that Canada played horribly, and they deserved to drop out of the tournament here.
Finland - Czech Republic
It was a miracle this thing went as far as the shootout, given how horribly Finland played. The Finnish D was constantly in trouble with the Czech offense, and the biggest single reason the game went past regulation was the Czechs' monomaniacal insistence on taking easy shots the goalie could see all the way. The single Czech goal in regulation was a deflection off a Finnish forward's stick. Finland had a power play in overtime, and despite a full two minutes against a confused Czech PK, they did not manage a single shot on goal. That really sums up the Finnish game. The better team won, no question.
Sweden - Czech Republic
The Swedish press says they got a free pass to the final when the second round ended, with Denmark and the Czechs. Given that Finland had recently beat the Czechs at Vancouver and destroyed them on the Euro Hockey Tour, I think the Finns thought that, too. It would be salutary to remember that the Czechs beat Sweden quite decisively in the initial round of this tournament, and there's no reason they can't repeat the performance. It's especially likely if the Swedes are already planning the party at Sergels torg in their heads.
Russia - Germany
If the Swedes do end up in the bronze medal game, I expect them to lose it. They took on Finland for the bronze at the world champs in Canada, and barely showed up at all. They played horribly and failed to score a single goal. The disappointment of missing "their" gold medal party will be so terrible for the Swedes they'll throw the bronze medal game like they did that year. So, this is my guess:
2. Czech Republic
May 20, 2010
These are the quarterfinal pairs we expected before the tournament:
This is what we expected after the preliminary round:
Russia - Switzerland
Finland - Czech Republic
Sweden - Slovakia
Canada - Germany
And what we're actually getting is:
Russia - Canada
Finland - Czech Republic
Switzerland - Germany
Sweden - Denmark
NHL.com injected a note of humor into the proceedings with a silly report from the world champs, saying this:
The U.S. finished with a record of 2-1-2-1 (W-OTW-OTL-L) and tied their worst-ever showing by placing 13th in the 16-team field, a position it last finished in 2003.
"I'm proud of our players," said U.S. and New York Islanders coach Scott Gordon. "After the tough start we had, we did a nice job coming back and winning our final three games."
After scoring only four goals in three preliminary-round games -- all losses, two in overtime -- the U.S. exploded for 16 goals to go 3-0 in the relegation round.
Dubinsky currently leads all players with 7 assists and 10 points.
Reading that would give anyone a totally false impression of how Team USA did. Um, "exploded for 16 goals"? Well, they were against France and Kazakhstan. They totally failed to score against such hockey heavyweights as Germany and Denmark... And in fact, because of the world champs format, they most emphatically did not go 3-0 in the relegation round, but 2-1-0-0. Yeah, nice job.
Then again, the other North American team isn't doing much better. Canada has lost every game in the tournament against a top-10 country; they've only beaten Italy, Latvia and Norway, while losing to Switzerland, Sweden and the Czech Republic. So, to preview the quarterfinals, we'll start with:
Russia - Canada
While Canada has been doing pretty poorly, the Russians haven't lost a game at the worlds since 2007. Given that Canada has yet to beat a top ten country at this tournament, this one should be a foregone conclusion. Despite running up the score against the likes of Norway and Italy, in their bigger games the Canadians have been unable to score. Given how easily Varlamov shut out Team Finland, there's really no way Russia should lose this.
And that's what we said at Vancouver.
Finland - Czech Republic
The Czechs have been trending upward all tournament, more or less, with a shaky start (including a regulation loss to Norway) followed by improved play, beating both Sweden and Canada while losing to the Swiss. The Finns have been mediocre throughout, losing decisively to the Danes and Russians and scratching out meagre 1-0 and 2-0 wins against Germany and Belarus. The only team Finland properly beat were the hapless Slovaks, who managed to crash out of the top eight completely.
Finland's great weaknesses are defense and scoring, or in other words, the only good thing about Finland is their goaltending. The young, inexperienced and soft Finnish defence has struggled mightily against everyone, and in the game against Russia they made a steady parade to the penalty box while being unable to stop their opponents anyway. The Czechs' penchant for counter-attacks and short-handed goals will be especially dangerous against them.
The Czechs came out surprisingly strong and physical against Canada, so expect them to do the same here, which will land the Finns in trouble. Finland's strategy is the normal one of playing a tight trap, so it's unlikely to turn into a great game. If they stick to their strengths, the Czechs should win.
Switzerland - Germany
The Germans have put together a good tournament, beating Slovakia to secure a quarterfinal spot, but I'm afraid it's the end of the road for the plucky home team. By rights, the Swiss should win this, but if the home crowd can spur the Germans on to great things, it's not impossible they'll advance. This one could really go either way.
Sweden - Denmark
As it happens, Denmark has more of a chance here than most people seem to think. Sweden has really not been impressive this year, and if Denmark can come out as strongly as they have before, they can shock the Swedes. The Swedish media is already planning the parade route for their gold medals, so their arrogance may well be their downfall. Needless to say, we hope it will.
The semifinals are seeded as follows:
FIN/CZE - DEN/SWE
RUS/CAN - GER/SUI
So we expect to see the Czechs take on Sweden, and Russia play Switzerland. If the Czechs can knock the Swedes into the bronze medal game, the Swiss might well secure themselves a medal. On the other hand, if Finland does manage to beat the Czechs, we'll have a quarterfinal for the ages against the Swedes. And Finland will lose.
May 19, 2010
BBC: Hack attacks mounted on car control systems
The team of researchers, led by Professor Stefan Savage from the University of California-San Diego, and Tadayoshi Kohno from the University of Washington set out to see what resilience cars had to an attack on their control systems.
"Our findings suggest that, unfortunately, the answer is 'little,'" wrote the researchers from the Center for Automotive Embedded Systems Security.
May 17, 2010
Born in 1980 in the southern United States to Canadian parents, Chad Johnson studied physics at the University of Minnesota and played college hockey there. In 2000, he served as the principal gay and lesbian issues adviser to the Gore/Lieberman campaign, and was nominated for two Grabby Awards for his work in gay pornography.
In 2001, he was nominated for another Grabby for "best three-way sex scene", and was drafted by the Cincinnati Bengals. However, he went on to get his Ph.D in high energy physics at Columbia. His work centered around a theoretical particle created as the Higgs boson decays, and took place at the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory. While studying at Columbia, he was inducted into the GayVN Awards Hall of Fame, and made the NFL First All-Star Team twice, in 2005 and 2006. He's received a total of 62 touchdowns, and holds several Bengals franchise records.
He appeared on the cover of EA's NFL Street 3 in 2006, and was drafted 125th overall by the Pittsburgh Penguins. In 2007, the Minnesota Vikings signed him as a free agent cornerback, and two years later he made his AHL debut with the Hartford Wolfpack. He played five NHL games last season, with a record of 1-2-1, save percentage of 91,9% and a goals-against average of 2.35. This is his first national team appearance.
He's also employed as a professional photographer in the New York area, and has his own segment on the TV show Sports Soup. He's a soccer fan and supports Arsenal FC, and is still active in the Democratic party.
That's some goaltender!
May 16, 2010
May 15, 2010
An Atheist public policy groups today sharply criticized remarks by former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who appeared on the Bill O'Reilly Factor Thursday night and called for U.S. law to be based on the Judeo-Christian Bible.
Palin, who was the Republican candidate for Vice President in 2008, is reportedly considering a run for the White House in 2012 or beyond.
During her interview, Palin gushed: "I think we should keep this clean, keep it simple, go back to what our founders and our founding documents meant," adding, "They´re quite clear that we would create law based on the God of the Bible and the Ten Commandments."
Several of the Founding Fathers were quite explicit about separating church from state. Jefferson springs to mind immediately, but James Madison said something similar, just to name a few. This was why they included the Establishment Clause in the Constitution, explicitly there to prevent the federal government from interfering in religious matters.
Of course, in case their "intent" is unclear to some people, John Adams, the second President of the United States, signed the Treaty of Tripoli, saying this:
Art. 11. As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion,—as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen,—and as the said States never entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
My boldface. The treaty was accepted unanimously by the Senate.
So here we have the US Senate in 1797, unanimously passing a treaty that explicitly states the United States are not, in any sense, a Christian nation, and 200+ years later, a former Alaska governor arguing that what they "really wanted" was to found a Christian nation under Mosaic law.
In my opinion, this nonsense about what the Founding Fathers "really wanted" comes down to two simple questions:
1) Why didn't they say so? From what we know, none of the Founding Fathers were in favor of a Christian state based on the Bible, or anything like that. If it was what they "really wanted", you'd think they might have said so.
2) Why didn't they found one, then? I mean, these were the guys who created the US Constitution and Declaration of Independence. Both of these are historically noteworthy for a lack of any appeal to divine authority. If what they "really wanted" was Mosaic law, well, why didn't they found a Christian commonwealth based on the Bible?
Any idea that they "really wanted" something different from what they did is ridiculous. The religious right in the US simply can't get to grips with the idea that the revered Founding Fathers really did found a non-religious state, because they need to portray themselves as strict constitutional conservatives and strict religious conservatives. The two just don't add up, so they're reduced to this idiot notion that the Founding Fathers didn't really write what they wrote.
For Palin to suggest that the Founding Fathers "really wanted" a Christian state is completely ignorant. For her to suggest that basing national legislation on the Bible would be a good idea is terrifying.
May 14, 2010
Having said that, it's somewhat surprising that our initial prediction is spot on except for two things: Canada lost to Switzerland, and, well, Group D. The Americans lost the deciding game to Finland entirely on their own, and Denmark surprised everybody. If anyone says they saw that coming, they're lying. A couple of days before the tournament, Sweden and Denmark played a friendly match, which Denmark lost something like 12-3. Nevertheless, they beat the US and Finland.
Here's the two qualification round groups, with each team's points:
Czech Republic (3)
And this is how they'll play out.
Russia will sweep the round, while Finland will beat both Slovakia and Belarus. Slovakia will defeat Germany and Denmark, and those two will beat Belarus. Germany and Denmark end up with 6 points each, and Germany goes through on strength of their win over Denmark in the opening round.
We think Denmark's leaky defense won't stand a chance against either Russia's or Slovakia's high-powered offense, and the Germans' game won't cut it either, although they have a better chance against Slovakia. The Slovaks are the biggest question mark of this group, and if Denmark can put together another solid game, they have an outside shot at making the playoffs.
Czech Republic (9)
After losing to Switzerland and having Steven Stamkos taken out of the lineup, we expect the Canadians will start playing and sweep the round. Sweden will beat the Swiss and Latvians, and so will the Czechs, with Switzerland defeating Norway for the fourth spot.
This is going to be a very tight group, with three teams tied for points and ranked by goal differential. Any game going into overtime will change everything, so it's highly unlikely this will stand. It wouldn't even take a huge miracle for Norway to land a spot in the quarterfinals! Therefore, the following predictions are, at best, tentative.
Russia - Switzerland
Finland - Czech Republic
Sweden - Slovakia
Canada - Germany
Russia - Sweden
Canada - Finland
Gold: Russia - Canada
Bronze: Finland - Sweden
Three of these four countries have been in the final four of every hockey world championship in this decade bar three, and two of them were represented in those as well. They're also the top four countries of the IIHF world ranking. That didn't really inform our predictions, but it's what we end up with. Also, they're the same ones we had in the medal games prior to the opening round, except we thought the Americans would be in the bronze medal game. Well, that went differently.
We still think Canada will win the tournament, but we'd like to be wrong. We didn't think the Habs would win, either, but that sure felt good too.
May 13, 2010
May 12, 2010
I can't do justice to him right now. I know he was an old, ill man but... damn.
Sure, Modesty Blaise is a pulp heroine but she is a well-rounded believable character... well, okay, her skills are incredible but she is still a human being, and I love her. I've loved her since I was a kid and read Taste for Death. The first English language novel I ever read was I, Lucifer. I hunted the used books stores for the books and the comics. (Now, thanks to Amazon.com and eBay, I've managed to collect all of the 13 novels & short story collections, but am still working on the comics.)
Even the historical romances (more like adventure stories) O'Donnell wrote under the pseudonym Madeleine Brent are much more feminist than many of their like, and this from a British man who was born in 1920. I had been reading them for years before I found out they were written by him. (Yes, I'm old. This was before Wikipedia.)
Thank you for giving us the stories I can read over and over again, Mr O'Donnell. Thank you for giving us characters whose fates still make me laugh and cry (I might never forgive you for Cobra Trap, though, you old bastard).
Rest in peace.
Modesty: "No villains, no victims, no blood sweat and tears... We'll take a little break, Willie love, just you and me."
Willie: "Best bit of it all, Princess."
May 11, 2010
I've been going on about Denmark, and I'm not stopping yet. They beat the US 2-1 in overtime to clinch a spot in the top 12, and it looks like they'll be taking some points with them, too. It's likely, far from certain, but likely that this year, Denmark will secure a spot in the top 8 for the first time and get to play in the world championship quarterfinals.
While beating both Finland and the US at the world champs is impressive, it's not unheard of. Each year, there are two first division championship tournaments, and the winners get to compete in the world championships the next year. Denmark won their tournament in 2002, and made their first appearance at the top level since the 1950's at the 2003 world champs in Finland. In their first championship game in 50 years, they beat the US 5-2 to send them to the relegation series. In the next round, they fought Canada to a 1-1 tie, but failed to make the top 8. By the way, that was the only game Canada didn't win that year.
The Finnish media especially has been giving a lot of credit to head coach Per Bäckman. I don't want to take anything away from his achievement, because he's been an excellent coach, but really, this isn't such a huge surprise. Most of the "small countries" at the hockey world champs always used to play a very boring trap defense, and compensate for their lack of individual skill with a lot of stick fouls. The Ukraine was especially notorious for this in the early '00s, and after the rule changes inaugurated in the NHL after the 2004-2005 lockout, a couple of those countries dropped right off the hockey map.
Denmark was never one of those. From their first days at the world champs, they played a spirited, offensive style of hockey that was totally different from the 0-1-4 clutch-and-grab of most other countries at their level. Despite some poor years in the later 00's, they hung on to a spot at the championships and occasionally gave some countries a very hard time.
These days, they have a couple of impressive NHL players. Frans Nielsen plays great for the New York Islanders, and Ottawa's Peter Regin was one of their best players in this year's playoffs, scoring a couple of goals and securing a spot on the Ottawa first line for a while. A standout player in the game against the US was the St. Louis Blues' Lars Eller. Perhaps their best NHL player is Vancouver's Jannik Hansen, who couldn't even make it to the games. A big part of the reason Denmark didn't make the Olympics was that the Olympic qualifiers were held in the middle of the NHL season.
But it takes more than a couple of NHL stars, no matter how impressively they play, and the real driving force behind Denmark's rise is their own indigenous hockey program. The third and fourth liners and the depth defensemen are playing at a much higher level than their counterparts were five or so years ago. The Danish hockey program produces bona fide players, and recently they restricted the number of foreign players on Danish teams to give their own guys more ice time. All this adds up to an impressive world champs run, and I'm delighted. As I said before, I've been a big fan of Denmark ever since they got to the world championships because of their fearless play, and this is a great time to be a Team Denmark fan.
Sadly, there are still serious flaws in the way the Danes play. Their team defense is somewhat mediocre, and they have the worst penalty kill in the entire tournament. In the second round, they'll meet up with Russia and Slovakia, and that might get ugly. Still, they're playing excellent hockey, so who knows how far they'll go?
A particularly delightful aspect of this Danish triumphal march is one I alluded to earlier on my Finnish-language blog. The Finnish media, and Finnish hockey pundits and players both, often complain about having to play against the "small countries". The games are just a waste of time, these countries shouldn't be allowed at the games, and so on, and so forth. Of course, they completely miss the fact that if the IIHF didn't allow silly "small countries" at the games, Finland would never have made it in. Now that Finland is teetering on the brink of the relegation series, maybe the Finnish media will finally shut up about "having to play these games". And that's a victory for hockey.
May 10, 2010
First of all, this transforms the balance of payments of the Finnish electricity grid, so to speak. At the moment, Finland is more dependent on imported electricity than any other European country. Some of it comes from Scandinavia, but the majority of the electricity we import comes from Russia. That isn't a nice situation to be in for purposes of security policy. The new nuclear plants will end Finland's energy dependence on Russia.
Secondly, and much more importantly, they will finally allow Finland to stop using fossil fuels for electricity generation, thus making the most important contribution to diminishing global warming that we can. As I explained earlier, power generation is the biggest single source of greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.
Predictably, the Finnish "environmental" movement is up in arms over this. The Green party, which is currently in government as part of a coalition, has protested strongly, but like they always do, has done nothing but protest. I thought I should address this, as opposing nuclear power is, to me, the most illogical and senseless part of the "environmental" movement.
Basically there are two kinds of renewable energy, "old renewables" (mainly hydroelectric power) and "new renewables" (solar, wind, tidal and geothermal energy, to name a few). Of these, we're utilizing hydroelectric power pretty much to its maximum extent. The ecological effects of dams are so profound that it's hard to see any developed countries building any more of them. As for the new renewables, at the moment, they're a pipe dream. They're the energy generation means of the future, sure, but that future is a long time and a gigantic investment in R&D and plant away. To stick with our example, Finland, at the moment none of the new renewables are cost-effective. All Finnish wind power generation runs at a net loss and must be heavily subsidized by the government.
To convert current electricity production from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources is, if not completely impossible, far too expensive to contemplate. In the alternative, our energy policy options are either continuing to burn fossil fuels or replacing them with nuclear power. With a (slowly) growing population and a growing economy, we can't very well reduce electricity consumption by the kind of amounts it would take to get rid of Finland's electricity deficit and stop using fossil fuels.
The safety hazards of nuclear power plants in normal operation are grossly exaggerated, but the problem of nuclear waste is real. Interestingly, the problem could be very much reduced if we used nuclear fuel more efficiently, but that's a topic for another time. However, nuclear waste is a much smaller problem than global warming. Anti-nuclear campaigners make much of the horror of leaving nuclear waste to future generations. What about leaving them a world that's at about the same temperature as this one? Surely the consequences of runaway global warming are infinitely worse than those of a very minute amount of nuclear waste?
It's this failure to prioritize that I find most galling about the current "environmental" movement, by which I mean Greenpeace and their ilk. The inordinate attention they pay to the problem of nuclear waste nicely obscures the greater problem: how will we generate electricity without using fossil fuels? I stress, again, that renewable energy sources like solar power are simply not practicable yet.
The only current alternative to building nuclear power is continuing to use fossil fuels. Not only does burning fossil fuels for electricity generation make the largest single human contribution to the greenhouse effect, but in normal, day-to-day operation, coal plants kill people. They produce air pollution that shortens the expected lifespan of everyone living around them.
So the question is, really: do we want to stick with a form of power generation that not only kills people through air pollution but also makes a huge contribution to global warming, or build nuclear power? By taking the latter route, Finland will be able to entirely stop burning fossil fuels for electricity generation. That is a huge step toward doing our part to mitigate the effects of global warming. And it's only possible with nuclear power.
At the same time, it must be done despite the active campaigning of Greenpeace and the Finnish green movement. In my opinion, their opposition to nuclear power is nothing more than a cheap popularity stunt to capitalize on technophobia and old Cold War-era fears of nuclear annihilation, which have nothing whatsoever to do with nuclear power. It's an excellent example of how the Green movement is no longer an environmental movement, because in this case, they are allocating considerable funds and energies toward fighting against the only form of power generation that does not contribute to global warming.
In short, while preaching the dangers of global warming, the Green movement opposes the phasing out of fossil fuels as quickly as possible. How is that environmentalism?
May 9, 2010
I guess I should explain I've been a huge fan of Team Denmark ever since they climbed back into the hockey world championships in '03. And yesterday?
TSN: DENMARK UPSETS FINLAND AT WORLD HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP
Cologne, Germany (Sports Network) - Frederik Andersen stopped 36 of 37 shots as Denmark shocked Finland, 4-1, at the 2010 World Ice Hockey Championship on Saturday.
Frans Nielsen tallied twice, with Peter Regin and Julian Jakobsen scoring once each for the Danes, who didn't even qualify for the 2010 Winter Games but opened up Group D play with the tourney's first surprising final score.
May 7, 2010
Canada: Canada has a fair NHL-level team, featuring the co-winner of the Rocket Richard trophy and the best defense in the games. It would be astonishing if they didn't do well, but every now and then, they do find a way.
Russia: The best offense in the game, including Ovechkin and Kovalchuk, to drop a few names, backed by solid goaltending in Varlamov. The thing is, you'd think the Russians will want to win this to make up for humiliating themselves completely at the Olympics. Then again, we thought they'd want to win that, too. They might power through to their third consecutive world championship gold medal, or crash out in the quarterfinals. We just don't know.
Finland: We have no D. The team has six offensive defensemen who are total liabilities in our own end, and two stay-at-home D, one of whom is the appalling Lasse Kukkonen. The goaltending is top-notch for a tournament like this, but Pekka Rinne has his work cut out for him. Even Miikka Kiprusoff struggled behind the similarly inept Finnish defence at the Olympics.
Sweden: If Finland has no D, Sweden has no team. 26 players have refused to turn up for the games, according to Aftonbladet's count. Of course, some of them are busy. All other things being equal, that means this is effectively the Swedish "B team". As of this writing, Sweden has yet to announce their team, probably because they're ashamed to. They managed to lose the Euro Hockey Tour with this lot. We confidently expect them to suck.
USA: That Olympic silver medal was no fluke: the US has a great new generation of hockey players coming up. This should be a young, hungry team, and Scott Clemmensen is the best goalie at the games. We expect them to come home with a medal.
Czech Republic: Over the last few years, the Czechs have looked old, tired and confused. They put in a fairly dismal performance on the Euro Hockey Tour. Vokoun is an excellent goalie, but him and Jaromir Jagr notwithstanding, the team doesn't look very convincing. They barely managed to squeeze past Latvia in the Olympic "eighth-finals", and Finland beat them 2-0 in the quarterfinals because they were totally rubbish. We expect a similar finish here.
Slovakia: On the face of it, the only thing the Slovak team is good for is funny names: Richard Panik, Michal Macho and Roman Kukumberg. Then again, their Olympic team wasn't that much more convincing, and they made the bronze medal game. We reckon quarterfinal elimination (see below).
Switzerland: Incredibly enough, this is not Ralph Krüger's Switzerland. They have a new head coach! Under Krüger, Switzerland played an admirably solid brand of hockey for years, finishing a respectable eighth at the Olympics. We'll see what the new head coach does, but we're looking forward to seeing Switzerland do well again. There's no word on the final lineup yet, but we're hoping Switzerland's hero from the U20 tournament, Nino Niederreiter, shows up. Switzerland's decisive games are against the Czechs and Swedes in the qualification round; if they can beat one of both, they even have a shot at the semifinals.
We expect a typical performance from both Belarus and Latvia: give some of the bigger countries a surprisingly hard time, but finish just outside the quarterfinals. Norway put up an excellent show at the Olympics, so we think they'll do well and avoid the relegation series altogether.
Germany have really struggled at the world championships over the last decade, but the Olympics looked like a return to form of sorts. They're playing in front of the home crowd, which may either spur them on to great things or make them so nervous they just fail. They have a shot at upsetting Slovakia and making the quarterfinals, but I'm afraid that's as far as they can hope to get.
I'm a big fan of Denmark, but being blasted 10-3 by a rubbish Swedish team before the games doesn't bode well for the plucky Danes. They'll end up in the relegation round unless they pull off a major upset, but they ought to do well there.
Sadly, this is the end of the championship road for Italy and France this time, although France has played surprisingly well. The most interesting struggle in the relegation round will be whether France of Kazakhstan is eliminated, and I'm afraid it's going to be France.
Here are the groups:
The worst team from each group will head to the relegation series, where two teams will be eliminated. Next year, Austria and Slovenia return to the championships to replace them. Groups A and D will form Group E, and B and C Group F; the four best teams from each will face each other in the quarterfinals.
To make a potentially tortuously long preview short, here's how it'll go:
Italy and France eliminated. Upset potential: France defeats Kazakhstan.
Upset potential: Germany makes the quarterfinals.
Upset potential: Switzerland might well beat either the Swedes or Czechs. At worst, Sweden has an outside chance of missing the quarterfinals altogether, although that's very unlikely.
Upset potential: The Americans or Finns may drop their game.
Upset potential: If either Canada or Russia are going to fail somewhere, this is the most likely spot.
Boringly predictable? Yes. But you'd be crazy to put your money on anything else.
May 5, 2010
Thomas Wolfe: Look Homeward, Angel
On this business of bildungsromaner, it seems impossible to avoid Thomas Wolfe. According to the back cover, Look Homeward, Angel's "largely autobiographical story about the quest for a greater intellectual life has resonated with and influenced generations of readers." It is "rich with lyrical prose".
Here's some. It's part of his description of the protagonist as an infant.
And left alone to sleep within a shuttered room, with the thick sunlight printed in bars upon the floor, he felt unfathomable loneliness and sadness creep through him: he saw his life down the solemn vista of a forest aisle, and knew he would always be the sad one: caged in that little round of skull, imprisoned in that beating and most secret heart, his life must always walk down lonely passages. Lost. He understood that men were forever strangers to one another, that no one ever comes really to know anyone, that imprisoned in the dark womb of our mother, we come to life without having seen her face, that we are given to her arms a stranger, and that, caught in that insoluble prison of being, we escape it never, no matter what arms may clasp us, what mouth may kiss us, what heart may warm us. Never, never, never, never, never. (p. 32)
Not just never, but five never. The reader is powerfully reminded of terrible poetry. Generally, the quality of the prose is acceptable, but I'm tempted to say that overall, Look Homeward, Angel manages to capture everything that's bad in American literature.
First, there's a terrible mania with family history. I don't know if it's because the United States has such a short history of its own, but for some reason many American writers are obsessed with totally trivial family histories. Mostly it must reflect the mania with family and heritage that so many Americans have. In keeping with this, Thomas Wolfe starts his story with the protagonist's father's early days. We're given a detailed account of his business dealings, his alcoholism, his marriage and his property deals, not to mention the construction of his house.
I need to digress for a moment, because there may be some younger people reading this. In the old times, before digital cameras, after a vacation you had to take the film from your camera to be developed in order to get your holiday snaps. There were two options you could pick from. Normal people got them developed into, well, photos. If, on the other hand, your sole thought in taking the pictures in the first place was the future torment of your friends and relatives, you got slides. These could be loaded up into a projector and shown to hapless guests ad infinitum. It was a form of torture, sure, but you have to remember this was centuries before the Geneva convention.
Reading Thomas Wolfe's chronicle of his protagonist's family, like nearly all other American authors' similar chronicles, is exactly like looking at someone's vacation slides. You want to stand up and shout: "I don't care!" The first three chapters of Part One are dedicated to the mind-numbing tedium of the Gant family. Matters of business and property, family history, and especially money, are dealt with in suffocating detail. This chronic overexposition stretches to cover food, too; there are endless lists of foodstuffs and desriptions of eating, cooking and of the food itself. None of this has any conspicuous literary merit, or any storytelling purpose: the author just seems to be convinced that it's vitally important for us to know what kinds of fruit the Gant family ate for its own sake. At one point, there's a multi-page list of the smells the young protagonist has encountered. Smells.
This might not be so bad, but it's combined with another problem of American literature: flowery prose and pathos. The great, overflowing emotions fairly gush off the page in paragraph upon paragraph of "oh, woe is me". Wolfe indulges in entire paragraphs where he lets the pen fly and describes, in his own pseudo-poetic style, the terrible angst and pathos of his characters, from the drunk father to the frightened mother and even, as quoted above, the entirely implausible existential angst of a year-old child. One expects the baby's first words to be an eloquent lament to the sky on the crushing misery of the human condition.
In short, the book is rich with lyrical prose in the same way that nuclear waste is rich with radiation: true, but you sure don't want any on you. The syrupy prose, gushing adjectives, endless exposition of inanity and interminable lists combine for a reading experience "rich" enough to induce vomiting.
My recommendation? I don't know. I couldn't be bothered to finish it. The book is massively long and tremendously boring. About a hundred pages in I still didn't care about any of the characters, or feel like suffering through another "stream of consciousness" narrative or account of a land deal. I predict most other people won't, either. Give this one a miss.
* Man, the refs are calling these playoffs weirdly. After refereeing in the NHL sort of stabilized after the post-lockout rules changes, we already got used to the "playoff line" of far fewer penalties. Now, though, they're randomly calling very soft obstruction penalties that would have been unheard of only last year, unless you were playing the Pens. For example, the Sharks-Wings series has been called bizarrely.
* By the way, the NHL definition of boarding is: "a boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player or goalkeeper who checks an opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to be thrown violently in the boards." The Pittsburgh definition of boarding is "a penalty that is imposed on other teams". Or is there some other reason why Matt Cooke didn't get a match penalty and suspension for injuring Andrei Markov? Or why none of the other flagrant cases of boarding were called on the Pens?
* In other news, diving is back. Evgeni Nabokov took a ridiculous dive in Game 2 of the Sharks-Wings series, only eclipsed by the Olympic-quality dive Malkin took in his Game 2. The refs went for both. What does it take for the referees to call an unsportsmanlike penalty? If they don't, expect more dives as the series go on.
* To finish this refereeing thing on an interesting note, Crosby's special treatment is no longer confined to lunatic anti-Pens bloggers like me. As the CBC studio unanimously agreed, had anyone else smashed their stick into the goal and thrown it into the stands like Cindy did in Game 2, they'd have got a penalty. But not Cindy. In a Game 2 where he was completely useless, we liked the shift where he smashed his stick in frustration, skated over to the bench and started screaming obscenities. That's the kind of leadership he brings to the team.
And now, the most important thing.
* You're doing the Hart Trophy wrong. As per nhl.com: "The Hart Memorial Trophy is an annual award given to the player judged to be the most valuable to his team." It is not the award for best player. The finalists this year are Ovechkin, Crosby and Henrik Sedin.
I have to agree with the Hockey News' Jason Kay when he says that "It’s not that Sid, Alex and Henrik didn’t have terrific seasons. It’s just their value to their teams’ success, while hefty, still lagged behind what Ryan Miller did for the Buffalo Sabres in 2009-10." Miller should, in my opinion, win the Hart this year, no question. The fact is that the Hart should be given to the player who is most valuable to his team during the regular season. Adam Proteau agreed: "This award goes to the player most valuable to his team and not the best player in the league, as much as some would prefer it. Because of that fact, the only reasonable choice is Miller, without whom the Buffalo Sabres would be a non-playoff team (as they were last season following a Miller injury)." Having said that, he also stupidly voted for all three of the current finalists.
Of the current finalists, I think Henrik would be the most worthy winner. However, even he wasn't nearly as important to his team as Miller was to his. Ovechkin missed a bunch of games this year, and the Caps' record without him is better. As for Crosby, there hasn't been any doubt over the last few years who the MVP of that team is, and it isn't him.
Ideally, the Hart winner should be a player without whom his team wouldn't have gotten as far as they did. None of the three finalists fit that bill. The Hart Trophy seems to be degenerating into a "best player" award, which is in my opinion just wrong. That Miller isn't even a finalist is pathetic.
* You're doing the Calder Trophy wrong. The finalists are Matt Duchene, Tyler Myers and Jimmy Howard. Um. I guess posting the best save percentage in the regular season and displacing last year's Vezina winner as your team's starting goaltender doesn't count. Or taking the lowest-scoring team in the league to the playoffs. In other words, TUUKKA RASK. What does a guy have to do to get a Calder nomination? How can Jimmy Howard, who's played worse than Rask in every category, be nominated over Rask?
Sometimes I think the hockey writers who vote for these awards are insane, intoxicated or both. This year I think I can prove it. The best rookie in the league and the most valuable player in the league aren't up for those awards. The people who voted for them ought to be ashamed of themselves.
May 3, 2010
Around the year 1000, an expedition of originally Norwegian Vikings from Iceland landed in Newfoundland and eventually created the first European colony in the New World. Some 1000 years later, another Norwegian man crossed the Atlantic, only to have his descendant marry a Thai woman and create the gorgeous Kira Kener. Looking at their relative accomplishments, one has to say that the second trip was far more productive than the first. Kira produced a small oeuvre of porn for Vivid before returning to stripping, which I can imagine is lucrative for her.
See her in: porn. You may have spotted her in the Vivid reality show "Porno Valley", too.
Once upon a time, the WWE featured a women's division that was mostly made up of women who actually (gasp!) wrestled. Several of them were quite good at it and looked damn good doing it. One of the foremost was former Hooters girl and Man Show background dancer (!) Christy Hemme. I absolutely adore her. Sadly, around midway through the decade the WWE became uncomfortable with women doing something as powerful as wrestling, and the women's division was scrapped in favor of models strutting around in lingerie. Christy made her way to TNA Wrestling, which is to say obscurity. It's a shame, as I miss her.
See her in: her stunning Playboy pictorial in the April 2005 issue.
The prettier half of t.A.t.U., and easily the hottest Eurovision contestant ever. How can I argue with a music video of two schoolgirls making out in the rain?
See her in: t.A.t.U. If they ever pull off that comeback.
A fantastically beautiful porn star who pops up at gamer conventions in between movie shoots, Justine Joli has made some name for herself as a "geek porn star". She only appears in lesbian movies, which hardly makes her less popular on this blog. Personable, charming, sexy and simply beautiful, she's a real treat to watch.
See her in: porn. I especially recommend Michael Ninn's FEM Bella, variously spelled, if you can stomach his style.
I used to play tennis when I was younger, and I actually prefer the WTA tour to the ATP tour purely because of the level of play. While the Roger Federer era has reduced men's tennis into an ace contest, the WTA tour still features downright good tennis. The fact that several of the players are beautiful is a nice added bonus. Ever since the time of Anna Kournikova, women's tennis has attracted its share of misogyny, best exemplified by the infamous canard that Kournikova was "only famous because she's good-looking". Obviously any run-of-the-mill model could win several WTA doubles tournaments. Kournikova's career was cut short by injury, and she never quite managed to live up to the expectations, which opened the door for several chauvinist commentators to claim she never could play tennis in the first place, and was just kept around because she was pretty. Quite how they think the WTA world ranking works is utterly beyond me.
With Maria Sharapova, though, they can hardly claim she can't play. She's imposingly tall, absolutely beautiful and when she's on her game, she's the best female player in the world. It's tough to find pictures to convey how beautiful she really is, because you have to see her play the game to truly understand it. The determined look on her face and the blaze in her eyes when she's on top of her game are simply incomparable. As I've said before on this blog, I believe true beauty exists in several completely different forms, and when Maria Sharapova plays tennis, she is several kinds of beauty incarnate.
See her in: the WTA tour, where she kicks ass.
A drop-dead-gorgeous Polish model who moved to the UK and started dating footballers. In several people's opinion, she dethroned Aria Giovanni in the chest department, but whatever part of her you feel like ogling, she's absolutely beautiful.
See her in: the Internet and British lads' mags.
I mentioned the WWE's women's division earlier, and while it had several great performers, one of them is in a league of her own. The incomparable Amy Dumas is without doubt the greatest female pro wrestler ever, and in my opinion, one of the most beautiful women in the world. She was the biggest single reason I ever bothered to watch the WWE in the past decade. After the dismantling of the women's division, she was relegated to being the obnoxious Edge's valet, and eventually left the company in a disgracefully handled episode. I never watched an episode since. What made her exceptional was not only that she was beautiful and a great wrestler, but she was every bit as good as the guys at a trade where women are traditionally relegated to being tits and ass. Of course, that kind of thing didn't sit very well with the ultra-macho president of the WWE, and as neoconservatism hit in the 2000's, women's wrestling was out and lingerie pillowfights were in. It's a tragedy that a fantastic performer like her was relegated to being eye candy and eventually kicked out in favor of ditzy models who think a suplex is a kind of apartment.
See her in: Her WWE DVD has some excellent matches, including, as far as I know, the only women's hardcore match ever. These days she's retired from wrestling and has a punk band called The Luchagors.
Oh, Susana, what can I say about you? I first saw her on actiongirls.com, that more than slightly demented collection of softcore porn filmed by a man from California in an abandoned Soviet army base in the Czech Republic. I don't know where she's from or what her real name is, but I've been hopelessly smitted with her since I first saw her. There are several fantastic pictorials of her online, but as she tends to lose her top very early in all of them or just show up without it, I can't post any without violating Blogger's guidelines. Anyway, mere pictures don't do her justice; she moves like poetry and is beautiful beyond reason.
See her in: Actiongirls.com and their DVDs. I'll review them one of these days. Suffice to say that the latest one was more demented than pornographic, but for Susana I heartily recommend volume 3.
The original Tomb Raider is much more butch, and far more beautiful than the eventual movie incarnation, and I say this as a huge Angelina Jolie fan. As there is demonstrably no justice in the world, she's had a chequered movie career that in no way reflects her talents. We're still waiting for her big break, which I hope she'll get.
See her in: Doomsday, a far better movie than you might think.
The nurse turned porn superstar is quite simply pornography personified. Even the thousand words a picture is allegedly worth don't even begin to convey the awesome power of her sex appeal. In my opinion, Tera Patrick is nothing less than a modern wonder of the world, a living Jungian archetype of sex. Whenever I try to post something about her, I feel rather like an ancient Greek trying to explain Aphrodite. Her body is simply one of the greatest works of art produced by humanity. Again, I can't really post a proper example, so you have to be content with these. Suffice to say that as a philologist, I would accept a nude of Tera as a definition of sex.
See her in: porn. A simple search at, say, freeones.com will produce more links than even the most rabid pornophile can get through easily.
That's my top 10. There are, however, five fabulous women who fall just short of it but who I can't bear to not mention. It would have been a duller decade without them.
This fantastically gorgeous bodybuilder and fitness queen is further proof that good things come from Hawaii. Her Playboy pictorial, in the May 2002 issue, has to be seen to be believed.
See her in: Universal Soldier: The Return, which was rubbish, or Playboy, which most emphatically wasn't.
The reigning queen of European softcore porn, she has to be seen in motion to be truly appreciated.
See her in: actiongirls.com and their DVDs. She is nothing short of astonishing, especially in volume 5.
The British have a soap of some kind called Hollyoaks that seems to regularly find beautiful young women and catapult them to fame and WAGdom. I can't tell you anything about the show, as the only British soap I've ever seen was Emmerdale, because the biggest guy on my "open prison" cell block wanted to watch it on the common room TV. What I do know is that by far the most beautiful of their alumni is Gemma Atkinson.
See her in: the UK. She was on that reality show thing where they send celebrities into the jungle. Mostly I wish they'd stay there, but luckily she came back. She also did a smoking pictorial for FHM a few years back. Last I heard she was dating a footballer.
Canada's gift to the world of Internet latex porn is fantastically beautiful even to those of us who aren't that much into weird latex costumes.
See her in: latex fetish porn on the Internet. Luckily for most of us, there's some regular stuff too.
I could hardly do this list without the undisputed queen of porn, Jenna Jameson. She told FHM UK that when she was younger, she was making up to $50,000 a night stripping. Looking at her, I can believe it.
See her in: porn. Sadly, I thought Briana Loves Jenna failed to live up to the hype. I keep wishing they'd do Tera loves Jenna.
I leave you with that thought.