Friday, December 31, 2010

156 Lines About 26 Letters: Winnipeg 2010 in Review

Yeah yeah yeah blah blah blah end of year, personal reflections, best-of lists, site traffic ruminations, all that noise. I can get to that stuff later, perhaps.

Similarly, I have a couple of very fine (if I do say so myself) Uptown columns that I'd really like to exposit upon at length, but those too will have to wait.

I'm on a tight schedule, you see; what you are about to read below is entirely time-sensitive. I may later issue a sound recording of the following passages, just so you know where the line structure is supposed to match up, but I wanted to get this out and about in time for people to actually look at it. Who's even slightly interested in 2010 wrapup stuff once we're actually into 2011? Right? Very strict psychological window, here. And I figure I need to get it up and out in the morning, because if I post it in the afternoon you folks won't see it until the evening, and -- let's be honest -- a lot of us are not going to be able to read straight tonight.

So, no time to waste! To commemorate the annum concluded, and to properly bury the previous year of civic affairs, please enjoy the following:

156 Lines About 26 Letters: Winnipeg 2010 in Review.


A is for Autobin garbage collection
and Assiniboine Avenue changing direction,
both rammed through with the City's usual tact
that takes public input only after the fact.
These are just roads and trash, really not complicated --
but our local bungling can't be overstated.

B is for Blue Bombers, always well versed
in starting with bad football and making it worse,
but their Board seems to believe rebuilding is done
through crackdowns on fans' entrances, drinking, and fun.
The full year of bad decisions soured the masses,
and fans dropped the team. Just like Bowman drops passes.

C is for Concrete Circles cars beware
and for Canwest Corp as it collapsed in despair,
Combat around the Canadian Wheat Board,
"Consultations" our planners clearly ignored,
Curve FM, Crocus, Creswin, Crop failures, gee --
sure seems that 'C' starts every catastrophe.

D, the Downtown, bears its closest relation
to lawless post-apocalypse civ'lization;
landowners plop lit signs in illegal spots
and tear up local parks for surface parking lots.
Even this carte blanche fails to attract marquee sellers;
the suburbs get IKEA, Downtown gets Zellers.

E is for Evan Maud, twenty years old
when the mean old cops stranded him out in the cold,
wearing only some stranger's sweater and a frown
as they dumped him to die on the outskirts of town.
A sad story, t'was true, 'till it turned out he lied;
Public Mischief his charge now for tales falsified.

F for Fort Richmond, where stadiums go
(after Polo, downtown, and Point Douglas said no)
in a very rare case, an odd Winnipeg quirk:
the one time "Not In My Back Yard" failed to work.
David Asper then received four million in pay,
not to finish the job, but to just go away.

G is for Gold -- Mr. Marty, that is,
who was speedily bounced from the radio biz
through a series of measures so covert and swift
that nobody quite knows how he earned the short shrift.
There has since been scant answer to RRC queries,
but if you'll ask Gold, I'm sure he'll share his theories.

H for Helicopter, the key invention
to save our law enforcement and crime prevention.
T'was announced for summer with major fanfare,
then launched sheepishly into December air.
Crime is still going strong despite this news, somehow;
haven't crooks heard we have a Helicopter now?

I for Incumbents, invincible all;
call a civic election and not one shall fall.
Any given reign halts only when one should stop this
by dying, retiring, or trying to switch office.
Our established truism, on which pundits harp,
is no Mayor's lost here since the '56 Sharpe.

J is for James 2010; such a shame
they'd attach their failed campaign to such a fine name.
Their ads just didn't pan out quite like they'd been hopin',
2010 all done and the joint still not open --
but worry not, travellers, all is not lost,
not while flying from Fargo is still half the cost.

K is for Katz and his Kick to a Kid
in the face as part of his re-election bid,
a subtle nod to the truth lying beneath
that his tenure has been one long kick in the teeth.
Still we voted him back, as our record insists,
because we're a city of complete masochists.

L is for Leo Mol statues of stone,
two of which have been stolen this past year alone;
folks in this town'll steal anything not nailed down,
even when the contraband weighs thousands of pounds.
One turned up in back lanes, but please be reminded
we're still missing one -- let us know if you find it.

M is for Museum of Human Rights
which remains still unpaid and starts terrible fights
over whose genocides deserve full exhibitions,
whose pogroms are programmed for part-time positions
and how best to prioritize all the guilt --
but perhaps, first things first, they should get the place built.

N for the North End, where the police force
warned the whole neighbourhood not to open their doors.
T'was a triple shooting o'er one night in October
sparked this public warning, still not declared over;
our cops still have no leads, no suspect yet found,
worth noting if you'd planned on wand'ring around.

O is for Overload, such as we get
when campaigning begins with a year to go yet.
The provincial election will have a fixed date
for the very first time, which in theory was great
but means more time for accusations of mistakes --
of Bipoles the wrong way, and of urine in lakes.

P is for Plastic beer cups, known to make
a big stink when they stack in the shape of a snake.
This was one of the Bomber season's biggest peaks,
and as such was snuffed out within roughly two weeks.
The club's overreactions were how they kept peace;
stacking three or more cups will now draw the Police.

Q is for Queen, dear Elizabeth Two
who dropped by for a day while she was passing through;
t'was a simpler tour we decided we'd give her,
hoping this time not to strand her on the river.
She did seem to enjoy herself, albeit quietly;
she left that same day after waving poli-et-ly.

R is for River trail, largely unseen
with its year spent moonlighting as a submarine.
You're supposed to walk over it, damp though it looks
through the city's second-wettest year on the books;
we maintain, though on this promise we can't deliver,
that there's a trail somewhere under all that River.

S is for Selinger, our Premier Greg,
lopsided from spending an arm and a leg
with his other arm toned by all the cash he doles
throwing money anywhere that might help his polls.
He has time to adjust, before push comes to shove,
but he has yet to learn money can't buy him love.

T is for Transit rate hikes at year's end,
stashing project funding they don't intend to spend.
Our Rapid Transit boasts were quietly retracted;
we dropped half the route because we got distracted.
Bus drivers take classes now in self-defence
for when they'll have to tell you the fare's up five cents.

U is for Upper Fort Garry, the space
where apartment buildings were supposed to take place,
but our noble elites saved yon neighbourhood fair --
nothing worse for downtown than people living there.
A modest park will instead adorn the scene,
completion date (no, really): 2014.

V for Veolia, the engineers
who we've signed a deal with for the next thirty years
worth around a billion, though the math's not exact;
no one at City Hall ever read the contract.
Want to know what the details are? Well, so do they --
but Council voted three decades through anyway.

W is for Wacylysia-Leis
whose support base exactly mirrored the NDP's.
T'was her time she was biding -- she went into hiding
all summer, but then her fall was unexciting.
Lost 'cause "she's a woman"; should that claim trouble you,
just ask politics profs at the U of W.

X is for Xolox, an Oxycodone;
there've been eight pharmacy holdups this month, all known
to be after painkillers, more frequently stolen
since March when the Province imposed more controllin'
rules on prescription -- which are only restrictions
for folks who won't steal to support their addictions.

Y is for Youth for Christ, whose breakout was
when Pat Martin complained because that's what he does,
but other detractors thought the group quite uncouth
when their website declared aboriginal youth
as "a prime area for development" -- wow,
their Higgins at Main plan makes way more sense now.

And Z for the Zero interest folks express
in reliving this year, because, boy, what a mess;
news got more bizarre with each new story heard
until even a talking cat seemed unabsurd.
The best we can say is that 2010's done,
so -- until the floods start -- enjoy twenty-one-one.


Tuesday, December 07, 2010

November in Review (Caution: Huge)

Perhaps -- I am not presenting this as an absolute, but perhaps -- that month was not the most productive November I have ever logged on this site.

I'm a busy guy! I don't really have a whole lot to elaborate on, on that point; I have just been a very busy dude. In addition to the term position I am going full-force on -- there are staggeringly few prospects for permanent employment in my field, right now, so I have to make the most of work when I can get it -- I also have four different projects on the fly at the moment. Two of those are rather labour-intensive, one isn't quite in season yet, and one I refuse to go into detail on because I'm convinced that I'll jinx it if I do. But I figure I owe you guys some kind of post, in the meantime, so you don't assume I just took the month off and spent my time on the couch eating cookies and yelling at the television set.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

This Was The Winnipeg Week That Was, or: C4 2010 Was Good Times (or: You Got It, Park... Bus)

It's been a big week!

Remember all that noise that people were making on and around Election Day, trotting out the old saw about how "if you don't vote, you don't have the right to complain"? (There's an awesome old George Carlin routine from his Complaints & Grievances special that cleaves right though this saying, but let's humour it for the moment.) Well, we the Winnipeg electorate as a collective are the sort of folks who really love complaining, enough so that we will cheerfully re-elect absolutely everybody we complain about because we are geniuses and defenders of accountability to the utmost.

(Mind you, if an alternative involves voting for a woman, then clearly we--what? No, no, I intend to reference this forever. Sampert ain't never gettin' over that line.)

There's another old saying about politics, that "the people are never wrong", so... well done, people. I am glad that you like the city so much, exactly the way it is.

So, yeah, the civic election played out pretty much the way I'd been expecting. Personal best: I was only one point off with my voter turnout guess. So close, and yet so far! But how is a politics enthusiast like myself supposed to cope now, with all of the electoral excitement and hullabaloo over and done with?

(Bam! Segue:)

Uptown Magazine! It's a real long chew!

The day after the election saw my newest column hit the streets, and as you can tell from its general tone I am just a dude who does not know what to do with myself any more. There was a lot to enjoy about this electoral season, with new twists and turns almost every day as we neared the end, and now that it has ran its course our local matters are inevitably destined to fall into disinterest.

Equally concerning is the sudden spate of alt-media departures, as esteemed and established members of our local blogging community either retired gracefully or disappeared abruptly. Yes, I realize that two people may not technically be considered a 'spate' -- but both the honourable Mr. Brown and the honourable Mr. Watson were longstanding juggernauts of the scene, comprising nearly a decade's worth of quality material between the two of them, and neither gentleman leaves an absence that will be easily filled.

Lest anybody worry that I'm setting this stage into my own swan song, let me assure my dedicated fanbase of six or seven people -- I may or may not be including my cat in that total -- that I am both entirely too obscure to incur any legal attention and entirely too stupid to know when to quit.

(Graham's smart, he's taking the moment as an opportunity to bust out a redesign. Me? I'm busy complaining that the election is over and then stuffing distressingly bulky handfuls of Halloween candy into my gaping maw, which I like to tell myself is an equally worthwhile pursuit.)

Speaking of stupid -- (Bam! Segue!) -- I was dumb enough to get paid two weeks' wage on the same day that the Central Canada Comic Con opened for the year.

The Con -- henceforth "C4" -- was held as usual in the Convention Centre downtown, which means anyone who was so inclined could wander away from the event and admire the bizarre art on the second floor instead.

...presented without comment.

As you would expect from the event's consistently strong organizers, all the trappings of a fine comics convention were in play for the weekend. Costumes!


Products that you can barely believe anybody would legitimately purchase!

A thrill ride!

A live band!

And... oldschool pinball machines? Oldschool pinball machines!

I also want to make a point of bringing this to your attention:

Those who know me know that I am not, by nature, an envious person, but Jesus Christ a Fourth Doctor scarf gimme that shit give it give it give it give it.

There were some sweet costumes floating around for the weekend that made me regret not carrying a camera at the time: an Optimus Prime with his truck bed in an accompanying plastic wagon, a fully functioning Dalek, a particularly convincing Towelie, a Frank West with a perfectly-constructed Servbot Head, the Black and White Spy(!), and the blue Yip Yip alien(!!!).

But I did get these couple of shots, which I just want to mention right now:

My second-favourite costume of the Convention was five completely different-lookin' dudes who came dressed up as "Multiple Man" Jamie Madrox, because that is funny for a variety of reasons.

But my favourite costume?

I will level with you, right here, straight up. If you do not think that Baby War Machine in the centre there is the cutest weapon of destruction that you have ever seen in your life, you and I got nothing to say to each other. Look at him! He's adorable!

The event's Facebook page has a thorough photo gallery of the various cosplaying that went about over the weekend, so be sure to check it out if you enjoy costumes and general nerdery.

(Incidentally, if you were at C4 on Friday or Saturday and overheard a voice introducing or announcing matches in the Super Street Fighter IV tournament, that was me you were hearing. Despite being absolutely terrible at the game, I am a bone fide one-man Hype Machine. Real talk.)

And because my nerdery knows no bounds -- remember earlier, when I'd mentioned how the Convention featured products that could really only appeal to lunatics and eccentrics? Well, me being both, you know that I had to buy this sucker the second I saw it sitting along the shop aisles:

Yeah, that's right. I'm that guy. I am the guy who dropped thirty bucks for a complete in-box original edition of the Manitoba Theatre Centre's old locally themed knock-off Monopoly game. Now I have guaranteed content for a sure-to-be-entertaining blog post down the line, and I can have up to seven people over at a time to get hammered and crack jokes about the city. There are no possible downsides to this.

I also dropped the additional two dollars to own a Dusty Rhodes figure, because I am the biggest dorkball on your blogroll.


(Ahem.) So! The week has had its ups and downs, and for now our fair city is down to the business of getting back to normal. Or as normal as it gets when you have at least three seasons going on at once outside.

(It's November.)

But then the worst news of all for Winnipeg dropped earlier this week, a bolt out of the blue and a devastating blow to our civic psyche that will soon bring decades' worth of history and tradition to a screeching halt. When this news br--what? The stadium overruns? Naw, son, nobody's even pretending to be surprised about that one. I'm talking about the sudden disappearance of a critical fibre in our local character, the unthinkable becoming reality as we stand gobsmacked and dumbfounded at the new world before us.

That's right, our worst-case scenario has come to life: General Motors has terminated the Pontiac brand.

There are now no new Pontiacs being manufactured, which means within the next five to ten years Winnipeggers will have no piece of shit Pontiacs left to drive. So the City of Winnipeg needs to get its act together on rapid transit, and it needs to get its act together on rapid transit right now, because there is going to be a very sudden and very pressing need for Winnipeggers to get around somehow once all of their old shitty Pontiacs die and they find out that the shitty Pontiac supply has been completely exhausted. Our infrastructure and services spending is absolute god damn dead last in the country, and there is absolutely no way that our meager transit system in its current state will be able to accommodate the influx of passengers who have to take the bus because they can't afford to buy the actual dependable, functioning, grown-up cars.

Do you believe that our Mayor and Councillors have what it takes to make the major improvements as necessary and ensure that the flow of human traffic through the city will run smoothly? Well, of course you do! You voted them all back in.

Hard times, daddeh. That's hard times.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Very Special Winnipeg Civic Election 2010 Post (Is... Thataway)

I put a fair bit of work into it, and it's pretty well all the same gags I would have made over here anyway, so please direct your attention to today's thematically timed and extravagantly large Winnipeg Cat entry.

Do be sure to get out and rock the vote today, intimidating weather aside; in the interest of our fair citizenry not looking like idiots, I would very much appreciate it if we could do our best to break fifty per cent for voter turnout this year. Of course, if this event goes down the way I suspect it might, we're all going to look like idiots anyway -- but we can go over all that once the whole shebang is over and done with. So I'll see you then, electorate!

Monday, October 18, 2010

RoboCalls: Part Man, Part Machine, All Calls (or, I Like My Politics Like I Like My Mountain Dew: "American-Style")

Remember how dull everything had been, for the longest time, in the leadup to this civic election? The summer months of silence, the early autumn of broad platitudes and campaign re-announcements? Well, forget that noise! This civic campaign is going to be remembered for its last few weeks, and its last few weeks are being so exaggeratedly snippy that we're all going to be laughing and shaking our heads about it for years and years to come.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Mayoral Candidate Forum on Downtown -- Manitoba Hydro Place, October 7th, 2010

Were you visiting the core of our fair city this past Thursday in the name of excitement? Drama? High discourse and adventure? Then you, like many others, had come specifically to witness and experience the razzle-dazzle of: the Mayoral Candidate Forum!

...On Downtown!

Other bloggers have done a great job of concisely encapsulating Thursday's mayoral debate, so let me do now what I do best: mull over the available information, drop in considerably after the fact, and then write exhaustively about the minutea that most people wouldn't bother with. Hey, you can't tell me I don't play to my strengths!

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Walk Around in Circles

Man, I'm tired. I'm tired a lot lately! I've been going full-bore at learning my new position, and then basically just shambling home and falling asleep, so I realize that I have not exactly been Mr. Excitement lately. It's just nice to be spending all of my energy on working instead of on finding work, y'know? Plus with our library mostly under construction at the moment, and the resulting dearth of available rooms, I've been getting quite the enjoyment out of my makeshift office because it's a dual-monitor station set up amidst shelves of rare books up to four hundred years old.

My office is awesome.

But enough about me! There are lots of interesting developments going on in this city that clearly just have not received enough attention. So join me now as we take a moment to consider one of the less-covered stories amidst our recent events, and thus discuss the hitherto unexplored topic of: traffic circles.

Hey, wait, come back!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Back Again (or: Nice Pictures and Then a Long Personal Post that You Can Probably Just as Easily Skip if You Like)

(Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim Vol. 6: Scott Pilgrim's Finest Hour, p.220)

So, long time no see. What's new with me? Why, I'm glad you asked! Very nice of you. Let's pick up where I'd left off, way out west around the Oak Lake area. (And this is a smotheringly long post with a lot of complainy bits near the end of it, so don't feel obligated to read the whole way through if I start to grate a bit. Fair warning! The first part is fun, though.)

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I'm Everywhere Lately, or: Hello, Oak Lake!!

I'll be hitting the road very shortly, so I'll be quick here. Just a few quick tidbits, this and that, you know.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Manliest of Arts and Crafts Projects

It may not look like it, but I still do quite a bit of writing. It's for cover letters, though, so you don't really see any of it.

Yes, despite my Master's degree and my highly relevant workplace experience, I remain a capital-L Librarian without a library to work in. Since this is currently one of the worst job markets of the past eighty years, I figure I can't be too down about it; it helps the ol' morale if I think of it more as a mandatory unplanned vacation, kind of like being a nursing student. So in between applications, I do my best to putter around and maintain a reasonable facade of productivity.

What did you do today? The usual routine? That's cool, that's cool. Not a bad day, then. Me? I made a cape.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Behold Our Majestic Double Rainbow, or: You'll Never Guess What Winnipeg Leads in (Seriously, Guess)

When I say Slurpees, you say Murder!


...yeah, okay, so that never really works. But you've probably figured out where I'm going with this post, so let's get down to business.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Welcome to the Confusing Political Inclusions Pavilion

The Folklorama programs for the year, titled the "Folklorama 2010 Travel Guide", are now available in various locations all across the city.

As a two-week celebration of the diversity and understanding that unites and shapes our multicultural community, I believe it's fair to say that Folklorama represents a spirit of inclusion and a genuine effort to avoid making people feel as though they're left out.

So, for us politics nerds, the spread on pages twenty and twenty-one are particularly interesting; if we operate on the idea that everybody is important and that nobody gets left out, then apparently there are only eighteen MLAs in the Province of Manitoba and all of them are NDP.

Well, that's interesting.

Given that this list lacks all of the Conservative MLAs and the... one remaining Liberal, it stands to reason that these pages were paid for and/or laid out by the NDP. But isn't it usually considered worthwhile (or, uh, appropriate) to include the name or logo of the party somewhere on there?

There's a similar, but smaller (at half a page), section on the upper half of page forty-three that shows the names and titles of six federal Conservative MPs -- but that ad also uses blue for most of the design and identifies itself as being "from your Federal Conservative Team", so there's less room for confusion on that one. (Granted, the federal Conservatives have gotten themselves in trouble before for putting their names and logos on things they shouldn't, but I think the usage is considered acceptable here.) So it seems kind of strange that the ruling provincial party, who hold thirty-six seats, would use two pages to offer best wishes from only half of its Members.

Initially I'd wondered if they were profiling only the MLAs of ridings within the city limits -- Folklorama being, after all, a Winnipeg event -- but that line of thinking evaporated once I went over the ridings actually represented here. Brandon East and not, say, Burrows? Gimli and not, say, Point Douglas? Strange. And stranger still when you consider the relative provincial prominence of these members, especially since the two-page spread omits almost as many notables as it includes.

Ten of the eighteen slots here are filled by Cabinet Ministers, eleven counting the Premier, but that leaves another nine Cabinet Ministers off the sheet entirely. Some of the bigger names, at that; no Ashton, no Blaikie, no Robinson, no Wowchuck or Mackintosh or Marcelino. Yo, isn't Flor Marcelino the Minister of Culture, Heritage and Tourism? How did the Minister of Culture, from a Winnipeg riding, get left out of the Folklorama program entirely while the non-Cabinet MLA of Brandon East made the cut? This is so bizarre.

I also wondered, after all of that, if these are some of the ridings that the NDP is sweating; were the selections here made to shore up support in next year's toughest battlegrounds? An initially promising idea, but not too accurate unless things have changed drastically in these areas; aside from Blady's surprise win and maybe Selby's riding, none of these contests were even particularly close in the last election. Not even Caldwell's!

I must admit that this post largely originated from me looking at these pages and going "what the hell is Drew Caldwell doing there", but much deliberation later I still haven't come up with a particularly compelling explanation. What the hell is Drew Caldwell doing there? Do we have a Brandon Pavilion this year? And how does a special spread of eighteen NDP MLAs make it into a Folklorama program without the customary NDP branding? Did Selinger decide that he'd pretend to be Sam Katz and stage a "non-partisanship" charade of his own?

More questions than answers here, I'm afraid. Fortunately, since Folklorama begins on the first of August, there are just under three weeks remaining before we can all get completely plastered and yell in public and forget everything we were talking about beforehand. Hope you like gymnasiums!

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Big Month So Far, or: Concerts and Queens and Parades, Oh My (Plus: Crowdsourcing a Clean Shave)

Whirlwinds of activity around here! (Including, if you've been following the weather, actual whirlwinds.)

Yes, the summer months always seem to be the busiest in this city, and if there's one thing I need right now it's to keep myself busy. I'm currently fighting a bout of a frustratingly lingering cough and cold combination -- just like almost everybody I know, almost as if there's some sort of connection -- so it's important to get some sunshine and exercise, do the ol' up-and-about routine, that sort of thing.

Besides drinking entire cases of fluids, and besides stubbornly dragging myself out of bed bright and early every morning specifically just to watch soccer, what have I been up to? Well, buckle yourself in for a fine photographic travelogue, because we'll start from day one out along the Lake. (There are a lot of photos in this post, so slower connections should consider themselves forewarned.)

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dead Antennae and Terrible Weather

Since I spend my time these days back and forth between the city and the lake, I can't help but notice that we've been having... less than ideal weather conditions so far this summer.

You know how Environment Canada, and similar weather forecast agencies, maintain a standard set of visual icons to help the viewer quickly identify the conditions outside? A sun represents "sunny", clouds represent "cloudy", snowflakes represent "snowy" -- you know, pretty straightforward indicators. So with that said, I can't say that I've seen this icon very often --

-- but Environment Canada knows how to get your attention, if nothing else. (BRB, tornado.)

Seeing that report pop up last week was something of an anomaly, of course. Funnel clouds don't just fall out of the sky -- or, okay, they kind of do, but you get what I'm getting at -- so I was willing to dismiss the whole thing as a temporary blip on the way to the clear skies and warm temperatures that characterize another great summer in our fair province.

And sure enough, the very next day, the city celebrated as--

--wait, what? No, no, wait. Hang on.

This is my fault, really, for even being surprised; I was just kind of expecting more along the lines of "partly cloudy", not "shit on fire".

But, hey, stuff can only burn for so long, right? So as we headed into the weekend, conditions improved to--, uh... wow, that's nearly a day and a half of lighting stuff on fire. Did they sneak the G20 summit into Winnipeg, and I just missed the memo about it?

Fortunately, this was still an improvement from the previous report, as it had the courtesy to chill off somewhat. You hear newcomers and visitors complaining about Winnipeg being on fire all the time, but it's really more of a cool fire. Trust me, once you get used to it, it's actually quite invigorating.

And hey! Once the fire is extinguished and we go into the weekend proper, with countless Manitobans packing up the car for a getaway to their favourite cottage countries, it's time for sunny beaches galore and the relaxing enjoyment of a mild Manitoba June.

Well, screw you too, then. Fine! Let's all stay inside for the rest of the summer and read things on our computers instead. (Segue!)

I ran a column in the most recent edition of Uptown Magazine -- normally I'd mirror the cover here, but the image is busted -- and you can read it here. To lay the credit where credit is due, I was partially motivated to write this column by this recent post at Kevin McDougald's The View From Seven; the other part of the motivation stems from my current setup, even as we speak, holed up in the Interlake watching the World Cup via a fuzzy analog antenna feed.

I know we technologically advanced, high-minded internet types don't tend to think about such things, but those numbers I mention in the article are correct: there are still one out of every ten households in Canada watching television through the ol' rabbit-ears, and when the mandatory digital switchover hits fourteen months from now those one out of ten households are going to be quite righteously grumpy. And, yes, perhaps under normal circumstances one out of ten doesn't sound that impressive -- but when you've got a minority-government deadlock on the federal stage, believe me, that ten percent starts to loom pretty large.

Don't be surprised if (or, if my suspicions are correct, when) this story begins to draw disproportionately high airplay within the year. And hope for everybody's sakes that our fair region is less rainy, smoky and swirly next year; when this debate starts to dominate, you're going to want to spend more time outside just to get away from it. I'm calling it now!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Damage was Already Done, Looking at the Sun

Pursuant to the previous post, and about a case and a half of local brews later, let me conclude the earlier matter by saying that my reaction to my data loss was about as calm and collected as the reaction of Stephan Lichtsteiner to the officiating in the Switzerland-Chile World Cup game.

Sometimes you feel like a Lichtsteiner, sometimes you don't. What is there to do, sometimes, but scream to the heavens and flap your arms like the most majestic of furious penguins?

So, we move on. I had been working on a humdinger of a post about that upcoming SUN TV News -- the capitalization is either "Sun" or "SUN", depending on who's being paid to write about it at the time -- and it was really close to completion before, well, you know. So humour me as I try to reconstruct the main points for consideration from memory, presenting them for my own sake as an itemized list.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Pain in My Ass, I Tell You What

What has two thumbs and lost a really interesting blog post, plus a collection of fine lake pictures and a smattering of other items, when a USB stick arbitrarily stopped working?


You can't see it, but I'm pointing to myself.

Clever for me that I'd backed the whole drive up a week or two ago, but that was a week or two ago. Everything since then -- and there had to be a good couple thousand words in that article by now -- is lost to the metaphorical winds, and I am going to understate the matter dramatically by saying that I am somewhat less than pleased.

So if you were wondering what I've been up to since I dropped by last week, the answer is: apparently nothing, now. I'll give myself a day or two to drink it off, and then get back to business.

Friday, June 11, 2010

James Hope Howard Liveblogs the 2010 FIFA World Cup Opening Ceremony

6:45 AM

Good morning, everyone! It's soccer time! Yeah!

It's been a while since I posted, yes, I know; I'm currently squirreled away up in the Interlake, getting rained on every few hours, and pulling in today's World Cup festivities on a snowy antenna signal that gets maybe three-and-a-half television channels. But I did manage to hook up some internet, as you can tell from reading these words on your screen right now, so here's to the joys of modern technology.

And what have I been up to since my last post? I put out an Uptown column, have a look, it's pretty good; I also popped up in (and on) a somewhat controversial article in the Uniter, which you should remind me to elaborate on later because it's a pretty interesting topic. Then I rooted for the Flyers, watched them lose, and drank a lot. Chicago had a pretty awesome team this year, though, so no worries.

Anyway! That's all in the past now. (Well, not the part about the rain; that'll continue to be current until about Sunday evening, because the weekends in this province are hateful creatures.) We're gathered here today, way too early in the morning, to witness and enjoy the kickoff -- I hope you like that pun, because you're probably going to see it a lot in the news coverage -- the kickoff of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, the single biggest sports event in the world. Hope you're looking forward to thirty straight days of vuvuzelas!

6:50 AM

The CBC has a customized graphic just counting down the minutes until the ceremony begins, to give you an idea how invested they are in this. They're also helpfully explaining all of the ways you can watch the World Cup through the CBC; apparently all sixty-four games will be broadcast on the main network, so the one person I know who still watches Coronation Street is probably going to be pissed off this whole month. And the final two matches of the World Cup will be broadcast... in 3-D! Maybe your TV gets 3D, I don't know. Mine sure doesn't! Hell, mine is barely getting 2D right now.

6:55 AM

The CBC, apparently out of things to talk about, gives us the weather map and satellite imagery of South Africa. Spoiler alert, it's hot over there.

Part of the fun of the World Cup, every four years, is reading the goofy news stories that arise around it. I haven't seen them mention this story yet on this feed, but this is kind of what I'm talking about: non-Anglophone World Cup officials have been given lessons in British curses, so they'll know when to card England star Wayne Rooney. No, seriously.

7:00 AM

The CBC Sports intro graphic for the tournament isn't too bad, at first glance, but let's see how well I like it a couple weeks from now.

Scott Russell, who always reminds me of the Muppet Guy Smiley, is accompanied at the desk by Dick Howard (no relation, but sweet 'stache). They throw it to Brenda Irving, standing outside the stadium in Johannesburg, and she already looks tired of hearing the vuvuzela. You can hear them in the background from outside the stadium, which Russell makes a point of mentioning -- then a flyover from a squad of jets ends the interview prematurely, so Russell has to throw it to a video package about the host nation to fill some time. Dangers of live TV, folks!

They did mention beforehand that Nelson Mandela has pulled out of the opening festivities following the death of his great-granddaughter yesterday, which puts a bit of a damper on the whole thing.

Opening Ceremony, coming up! For real this time!

7:10 AM

The World Cup Adidas commercials use Ennio Morricone's theme from Once Upon a Time in the West, which -- as much as I love the arrangement -- seems like a weird choice when everybody else is busting out something at least vaguely African.

Bullet trains! Children twirling in circles! A cheetah running! The opening montage, which seems to be titled "Africa's Time Has Come", shows us a variety of tourism images but not any actual soccer or balls or anything. Then we go live to the centre of the stadium and a dude wearing some very interesting robes, who yells at us in at least three languages to announce the arrival of a few hundred festively-clad dancers.

"People of the world! Welcome to Soccer City Stadium!" The jumbo screen gives us a rundown of all the other venues across the country, as well, each one represented by one of the seven lines of dancers.

Scott Russell informs us via voice-over that this next segment is called "The Calling", representing the call for the rest of Africa to come to the Games. What we immediately get from this is a group of children driving a GIGANTIC BEETLE, which then raises its hind legs and begins rolling an equally gigantic soccer ball. Everybody who had "giant beetle" in the pool, please collect your winnings at the front.

7:25 AM

A patchwork Africa is assembled from giant cloth squares as an impressive singer sings an unimpressive song -- it sounds like an opera tenor covering a Luther Vandross song -- and feet are superimposed on the cloth Africa to represent mankind's first steps.

I didn't catch the name of this next group -- something-10, it sounded like -- but they're rapping over a sample of Europe's The Final Countdown so they're alright by me. Was that a shot of Desmond Tutu boogieing down just now? Ha ha, it was! Dude's got some dance moves for a guy his age, wow.

Now we get a giant cauldron shuffling in to represent the melting pot of African culture, with hundreds of dancers arranging themselves in a gigantic star around it. The bowl design kind of looks like they stole it from one of the Zelda games, but it comes apart to reveal African hip-hop star DoubleHP and he gets to rap for maybe thirty seconds before they walk him off the field again.

Then a whole bunch of countries are represented in quick succession, as they roll out one musician from each nation to perform briefly; I'd kill for the CBC to throw some chyron up there to tell us who they are and how to spell their names, but no such luck.



Okay, so I recognize the representative of Nigeria, but that's about it. Following him is R. Kelly (wait, what) and the Soweto Spiritual Singers; their segment consists mostly of the choir swaying or clapping while R. Kelly (seriously, what?) wears a Scott Steiner headdress and performs a song that sounds like something Phil Collins threw away.

Black Power fists end the musical segment, the flags of the thirty-two participant countries are spun around on giant cards, and we get a roll call for each one.

Scott Russell cuts in to note that Canada is not one of the final thirty-two, as though somebody somewhere is surprised by this; Dick Howard sounds confident that they'll qualify in 2014, but I'll believe it when I see it. The commentators also note that the stadium isn't full for this opening ceremony, which they blame on the traffic. I think the stadium announcer was about to introduce the next segment, but the CBC throws us to an ad break instead. Welp! If they insist.

7:45 AM

We go back to CBC's main stadium and they run down today's matches, South Africa versus Mexico and Uruguay versus France; Dick Howard brings up the handball literally the second that Thierry Henry is mentioned, which is pretty funny. And the video screen behind them seems to indicate that the opening ceremony is over, because they have to tear everything back off the field and get ready for the actual match.

Then they throw it to commercial again. Oh, COME ON

7:50 AM

Oh, god, the CBC stadium is set up like a miniature soccer field. Russell and Howard have to stand in front of a fake soccer net, on a fake soccer field, underneath a scoreboard on the jumbo screens. I don't think they could have made this set look any dorkier, for real.

They throw it to Brenda Irving, who notes that today's games might not be sellouts simply because most of the people in South Africa can't afford the tickets, and then we get a profile of South African player Matthew Booth and his wife. He's the lone white dude on the South African team, and at 6'6'' he's kind of hard to miss, so I guess they figure they'll explain that one to us ahead of time. (The crowds aren't booing, they're saying "Booth".)

They give us a quick shot of the team buses carrying in the squads for our first game before throwing us to commercial again. The Rogers spot helpfully reminds everybody that you can stream the games at work, so I hope nobody was expecting productivity this month or anything.

8:00 AM

Well, here's their World Cup intro again. A video package gives us a brief introduction to the South African and Mexican squads, and then we get footage of both teams coming off their respective buses. (They wear very nice suits.)

We meet our new three-man broadcast team -- Mitch Peacock, Bob Lenarduzzi, and a third guy whose name I didn't catch (give me a break, it's freaking eight in the morning) -- and they yammer a bit about a couple of upcoming CBC segments that nobody is actually going to want to watch. Would it kill you guys to talk about the upcoming match? Even a little?

They do mention how staggeringly low the host country is in the actual rankings -- there's seriously no way they would have qualified if they weren't hosting, so they make for great underdogs -- but then they try to chatter about Canada's connection to soccer, and they interview some Mexico fans in Toronto, and urgghhhh

They call these street segments "Soccer Nation" and promise more of them to come, which I'm sure we're all just thrilled by, and... back to commercial? Sure, I've only seen this Canon commercial three times now, why not.

8:10 AM

Okay, I get that they have an elephant in that intro because everybody loves elephants, but is the accompanying elephant noise really necessary? Really?

To fill some more time doing anything except talking about today's match, they give us a feature on the soccer prisoners played on Robben Island. They enjoyed it, is the gist of it. Gave them something to do with themselves. The network captions the English of a fellow who really didn't need his English captioned at all, which is always kind of an awkward decision.

Immediately after that they send it to Kim Brunhuber, at the stadium in Cape Town, who describes the vuvuzelas as "calling to each other, like moose". He notes that he was in this town a couple of years ago and nobody gave half of a crap about football at the time; it's more of a cricket and rugby area, so the locals have to get caught up now that the excitement about the World Cup has blown in. (A rugby fan apparently asked Brunhuber "Why do they fall down and cry so much?", which I have to admit is a question that comes up a lot when you're trying to explain the game to neophytes.)

8:20 AM

I'm being told now that my spoiler alert earlier was incorrect; it's cold in South Africa, CBC meteorologist Kalen Mitchell announces. It's only about 16C in Johannesburg right now, and 14C in Cape Town -- "only" being completely relative, of course. Remember, I'm up at the lake right now, and if it hits 16C out here today I'll consider it a lucky break.

A bit more patter about altitude, and then about nothing in particular, leads us into the teams taking the field and warming up. Back to commercial? Yes, back to commercial. I do believe I've now seen the full roster of the network's World Cup advertisements, so expect me to be pretty salty about them by the time the first round is done.

8:27 AM

We come back from break to see that starting lineups are now scrolling across a ticker at the bottom of the screen, which is at least progress. The announcers note that the Mexicans are going to be completely unfazed by the relative altitude, which kind of pooches that angle, and talk a bit more about how weak the host team actually is. Irving, at ground level outside the stadium, points out the obvious -- the South African fans are expecting no less than the World Cup itself, and the players are nervous about the expectations.

Oh, remember how I'd mentioned the video package they put together for Matthew Booth? Well, they just checked the lineup, and he's not starting in today's game. DERP

8:37 AM

We're back from commercial -- again (gotta pay them bills!) -- and they give us another hard look at that ridiculous soccer-pitch set, including somebody throwing a ball into the net from offscreen. Pretty goofy.

We finally get a bit of strategy discussion, covering a couple of key player matchups, and then they throw it to commercial again. Okay, that segment was two minutes long, I quit.

A countdown graphic in the bottom-right corner, which only popped up right at the end of that segment, indicated that there are still twenty minutes to kickoff. And if they're obligated to air the actual game without commercials, as is the convention, than I suspect at least fifteen of these twenty remaining minutes are going to be ad time.

I'll conclude the post here and go fix myself some breakfast; the actual opening ceremony ended an hour ago, so my stated mandate was completed a while back. (The ceremony itself wasn't particularly great, but hey, I've seen worse.) And I don't intend to be the idiot who misses a critical play because of a bowl of cereal, so I'm going to fuel up and get ready to enjoy the game.

World Cup, baby! Whoo!

Monday, May 31, 2010

There's a Place Called Downtown

The Downtown BIZ is an important and prominent local organization that does great work in the ongoing efforts to promote and improve Winnipeg's perenially troubled downtown core. That's good! It is also a duplicitous little creature, by nature, that blurts out misdirection and falsehoods even when the truth would be a more productive approach. That's bad.

Yes, this is going to be a very long and involved blog post, full of civic discourse and interesting pictures and a couple of outright lies. So before we begin, I think it's only proper that we establish some background to make sure everyone's up to speed.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Portage Place: Coming Alive! (But Not Really)

I've been working away on a couple of things since Monday. This is one of them, but not the one I'd expected to finish first. Such is life!

Monday, as you'll recall, was the day that the Downtown BIZ decided to start posturing; the organization had been cleaning the place up since at least the previous Friday, if that caption on the second picture of the Free Press article is accurate, so they felt really confident in challenging downtown visitors to try and find any vandalism. Executive Director Stefano Grande -- who I really never intend to single out, but who keeps blurting out things he shouldn't -- would later add the claim that "You can walk around downtown for an hour and not see graffiti", to give you some idea of how committed they were to this.

So I popped out after working downtown that day to see if I might happen to come across any graffiti, and... well, I've been weeding photographs ever since, but despite my efforts there's still probably going to be at least a hundred pictures in the eventual album. The blog post about my exploration that evening is obviously still forthcoming, but the estimate I just gave you kind of foreshadows how that walk went.

That's what we've got coming up in the near future, if it sounds like something you might be interested in. But, hey, in the meantime -- let me tell you what I've got for you right now!

You see, going out and about downtown that day also gave me the opportunity to grab the last bits of footage I needed for an entirely different activity, one that I've had in mind since I found this online a while back.

ha ha ha oh wow

A little bit exaggeratory? Well, maybe a little. A little bit over-the-top? Yes, perhaps. (It was the '80s, after all.) But you have to realize, this was legitimately what people expected of Portage Place when it was built; the downtown shopping centre was a major source of excitement for the city, even hailed as the potential "salvation of downtown Winnipeg" when it opened in September of 1987.

(Holy crow, that video is a wayback machine just by itself. The 24Hours News Team! Mayor Bill Norrie! MP Lloyd Axworthy! Urban Affairs Minister Gary Doer! Man, what a trip.)

An estimated 250,000 (!) visitors flocked to the new downtown landmark that day, and the excitement generated by this major revitalization project ushered in a new era of prosperity and prominence for the city's downtown core. I mean, there's no possible way you just lose that kind of momentum without--


Okay, never mind, I guess. Everything fell apart for Portage Place within the first nine months (!!), with blame laid in a few different areas -- including low customer traffic along the skywalks, the absence of nearby businesses open during the evenings, and a clientele base who would just hang around for hours without ever actually spending money.

You know what they say: the more things change, the more they stay the same.

I know I may, occasionally, give the impression that I'm underwhelmed with business advocacy groups like the Downtown BIZ, but really I do try not to be too hard on them. I mean, Jesus, look what they inherited. This is what they get to work with.

Anyway, I just told you all of that to tell you this: straits have been dire for Portage Place since as far back as June of 1988, which means that I'm twenty-two years late to this joke. But sometimes a juxtaposition is just so poignant that you can't help but explore it, and my rigorous commitment to accuracy -- plus the surprise discovery that nobody else has done this yet (I mean, really?) -- finally baited me into updating the information on record.

Ladies and gentleman, I give you: the Winnipeg Portage Place commercial, 2010 Edition.

Kevin McDougald of The View From Seven recently suggested that the reduction or destruction of Portage Place would be a significant contribution towards improving the downtown, but admitted that the idea is considered "think(ing) the unthinkable". All's I'm saying is: maybe we could think about it a little. See what you make of it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Stanley Cup Conference Finals Begin Today (Plus: Love Me, Love My Friendly Spirited Heart of the People Over One Great Energy Glorious and Free)

Winnipeg Free Press, you know I love you, but--

Really, guys? Really?

Yes, the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue early this afternoon, but I'd like to take a moment first to pursue some good ol'-fashioned self-promotion.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

They Shoot Coyotes, Don't They?

So a small city near a large city in a foreign country had a council meeting the other day. Maybe you heard about it.

You'll note the live blog that accompanied that article; no fewer than five thousand and seven hundred people were on the Free Press website that evening for up-to-the-minute updates on what was going down. Which is probably why five thousand and six hundred of them were complaining that they couldn't get video working on the official City of Glendale stream, but come on -- if you were the website administrator for a city of 250,000, how much budget would you expect to need for bandwidth?

So full credit to the Free Press, on this one; I've been known to make less than complimentary observations about their product in the past, but they did a stand-up job on this story and good on 'em. Plus I just want to take this time to draw attention to the greatest quote about the whole thing, attributed to one of the 250 Coyotes fans who showed up to support saving the team. (Not a typo; two hundred and fifty. And the punchline is that they still couldn't fill the building.)

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Hockey Rock, Winnipeg Style! (But Not Really), or: Outlook Not So Good

[Retroactively added to the Slurpees and Murder Record Club.]

Five months to go! The race for the Mayoralty of Winnipeg appears to be set, and there aren't a lot of players to memorize this year. Russ Wyatt and Lillian Thomas, who were polling at a combined nine per cent of the vote a month ago, both decided not to serve as honourary Pollock siblings this year -- so the two remaining choices for the Mayor of Winnipeg are a broken Magic 8-Ball that only coughs up 'ask again later' responses and a broken Magic 8-Ball that flips its answer to whatever you want to see and then flips again as soon as you turn your back.

Neither of the two candidates has laid out any real vision -- in Katz's case, we've been waiting six years -- and neither of the two candidates would get along well with our Provincial Government at all. (It's actually strangely entertaining to consider how ideologically dissimilar the Manitoba NDP is from its Federal namesake.) So aside from the city's nigh-insurmountable incumbent bias, the contest will really just come down to five months of shameless pandering, outright lies, and heelish, slanderous, meanspirited potshots.

Yes, it's going to get ugly and it's going to get personal, so it should be the blissfully dirty kind of campaign that takes a toll on the psyche of everybody involved and makes for decently entertaining politics. And when an increasingly desperate candidate completely loses his or her mind, there's always the nuclear option: a "Bring Back the Jets" crusade, which has never ever backfired on a prospective leader in the slightest.

So just in case the subject comes up, I want you all to be prepared -- and I have just the thing!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Round Two of the Stanley Cup Playoffs Begins Tonight

I keep meaning to write about the wacky political shenanigans going on in this town right now, but, first things first. Hockey marches on! The first round was easily some of the best hockey we've seen in ages, and my uncharacteristically accurate predictions were as follows:

Washington in five (nope)
New Jersey in five (nope -- thankfully)
Buffalo in six (nope; it turns out that going down 3-1 in a series on a double-overtime too-many-men penalty against a team that's straight up outworking you is a bad strategy)
Pittsburgh (yep) in five (close but not quite)
San Jose (yep) in six (close, but not quite)
Chicago (yep) in five (close, but -- not quite)
Vancouver (yep) in five (close, but... huh, eerie)
Detroit (yep) in six (close but not quite; apparently I should just add a game to all my predictions, because what is this)

So I went five-for-eight for teams and zero-for-eight (with five near-misses) for number of games, which means I did okay but probably wouldn't be making any money on this. And I can't feel too bad about missing the Montreal pick, because really, who the hell picked Montreal? And did anybody look at Montreal down 3-1 in the series and go "yeah, they'll come back from this and win the series, count on it"? Since this is apparently the first time in history that an eighth seed came back from 3-1 to beat a first seed, I'm going to guess not.

Also a cute historical fact is that one of each seed made it through to the second round this year. And that hasn't happened since... wait, in 2006? Seriously? Well, never mind, then. Dang, I thought I was on to something there.

Moving on! Since I clearly had more success in the West, let's start with:

Western Conference

(1) San Jose Sharks vs. (5) Detroit Red Wings

Oh, great. Judging from that stinker of a game seven, Phoenix just made Detroit mad. This is going to suck.

I'm trying to map out defensible justification for predicting San Jose over Detroit and, man, it just ain't coming. Even putting aside that the Red Wings are historically one of the better playoff performance teams and the Sharks are... the Sharks... the matchup between the two teams just looks lopsided, regular season be hanged.

San Jose had significant trouble against Colorado's surprisingly effective defense, barring one spectacular two-goal-on-two-shot collapse that cost the Avalanche the whole series, and I don't think it's a stretch to claim that Detroit is usually considered more defensively sound than Colorado. Whereas Phoenix was no slouch on defence or in any particular area -- a team of the medium-sized guys from NES Ice Hockey, if you will -- and Detroit routinely went "pfft" and scored five or six or seven goals on them just to be dicks.

You would think that I'd be rooting for the star-making performances of the goalie who shares my name and birthyear, but my longstanding nonsensical Winnipeg Jets loyalty stands in the way of rooting for Detroit and the guy is probably sucking up what little of my potential Google traffic doesn't already get eaten up by James Howard Kunstler, so the hell with him. Although -- one of my best friends in elementary school was (and is) named "Daniel Craig", so I guess the lesson here is that things could always be worse.


What I'd Want: San Jose in five, in a complete shocker to everybody involved, avoiding any potential Wings/Penguins threepeat and giving San Jose a bigger stage to choke and die on. Everybody wins!
What I'll Guess: Detroit in fi... six. Detroit in six. Realistically, if San Jose managed to win this series, it would only be because something on Detroit's end went horribly wrong at the worst possible time -- and since their scoring is always insane and their defense is always insultingly effective, I think it's Detroit's goaltending that'll decide this series. (For better or worse.)

(2)Chicago Blackhawks vs. (3) Vancouver Canucks

Aww, yeah, rival fight. This ought to be fun.

Both teams earned their second round spots against plucky but outmatched clubs who weren't particularly grueling tests, so this is going to be a pretty entertaining series to watch. And I have a sneaking suspicion that the scores are going to be crazy high in this series, because Chicago's goaltending is still entirely questionable and Vancouver's defense at this point is made up of ham-and-egger Manitoba Moose. (You know, the kind of players that got the Moose where they are today. Eliminated. Rimshot!)

I don't see any way this series will end quickly, so it'll live and die by its terrifying top lines; both sides have first-lines that look like the results of unfair trades in video games, but I suspect that Vancouver will pull this one out if Samuellson continues whatever sinister blood pact he made with Satan. Sorry, Captain Serious. (Fuck, I love the nickname "Captain Serious". And so does his mom, which makes it so much funnier.)

What I'd Want: I'm pretty cool with either team winning, to be honest -- and the playoff Kane mullet deserves special mention just by itself -- but for the sake of the discussion I'll say Vancouver in seven. Not only would this ensure a lot of quality games but it would both exorcise Luongo's hilarious playoff demons and make the rivalry that much angrier, so I'm all for it.
What I'll Guess: Vancouver in si... seven. Chicago, you need a goaltender. Real talk.

Eastern Conference

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (8) Montreal Canadiens

Check this out, I thought this was pretty funny. The official website of the National Hockey League solicits playoff predictions from its staff, and all of the series for round two have the pundits and experts split.

Except for one.

So that's funny by itself, but underneath that are their round one picks:


So the potential for upset is clear, as it would have been last round if anybody (myself included) had paid attention. In game seven of the Washington series Halak (who punched in a God Mode cheat or something, because what) stopped 41 of 42 shots, and the rest of the team blocked another 41 shots, so it's pretty hard to imagine the Penguins getting more chances on goal per game than the Capitals had in their eighty-three tries.

But then, of course, these are the Penguins; damn if they don't manage to get things done, even when it seems completely counterintuitive to expect them to succeed. (See: last year's Finals.) And, yes, I'm aware how strange that sounds to be saying it'll be tough to run up the score on an eighth seed. Anyway, I do wish Montreal the best of luck, but they're still small and unintimidating and rely entirely on the prospect of a hot goalie not losing a step at any point in the foreseeable future, so if they do pull it off again I'll be as surprised as anybody.

What I'd Want: Montreal in six. Shine on, you scrappy, overperforming diamonds!
What I'll Guess: Pittsburgh in fi... six. And by the start of next season the Montreal Canadiens wish Carey Price well in his future endeavours.

(6) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Philadelphia Flyers

Of the four series this round, this one should easily be the strongest in terms of sheer work ethic. Certainly that was how the two teams made it this far; Buffalo rolled over and died an uninspiring death in true Buffalo fashion, and New Jersey clearly must have thought they were supposed to save their energy for later rounds or something.

With both teams being similarly low-scoring, hard-working, tough-checking jerks -- particularly now, with major scorers on both sides out with significant injuries -- the difference might well end up being goaltending again. Rask was no slouch in his series, outdueling the Olympic Silver Medalist (!) and one of the consensus best goalies on the world, and I thought it was pretty funny when Boston tweaked Vancouver's Luongo routine and started going "TUUUUUUUUUU" every time Tuuka made a save. (They're not booing, they're saying--) But as good as Rask was, he wasn't even the most impressive goalie last round; Philadelphia's Boucher wasn't just good, he was the best.

Really I'm just hoping for some hilarious ultraviolence, and if anybody's good at inappropriate violence it's the Philadelphia Flyers, so I'm throwing my support behind them (and inevitably setting myself up for disappointment, because it turns out the league penalizes gleeful stupidity at frequent intervals).

What I'd Want: Philadelphia in four,
What I'll Guess: Philadelphia in si... seven. I have more faith in Boucher than in Halak, let's put it that way.

Playoff time! Yeah!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Place in Your Heart (But Not Really), or: I've Got Woes in Different Area Codes

[Retroactively added to the Slurpees and Murder Record Club.]

I've got quite the treat lined up for you folks today! But, first, the obligatory hype segment for my output through other, more respectable channels.

Uptown Magazine! History will be made!

You can read my most recent column here, and I fully recommend you do so in preparation of the inevitable complainfest set to erupt within the next year or two. The addition of an extra area code in the years to come means that we as a city will finally have to dial all ten digits of a phone number, and preliminary internet reaction indicates that we as a city are about to lose our shit about it. So when somebody you know gets particularly uppity about it and insists that we did just fine with seven numbers, or declares that the new area code should be relegated to the outer limits of the province (by which they will mean "everywhere past Perimeter Highway"), please feel free to refer them to this article.

Read that? Good! Then let's move on to the next article of business.

Remember how I'd mentioned my new cassette player in the previous post? Well, it turns out that the thing only spat out sound in the right channel, so after much trial and tribulation I had to take the sucker back and grab a second one. The folks at Nermen's were more than accommodating, of course, and I did eventually walk away with a fully working cassette player, so you get to reap the rewards of my slogging and enjoy the sound files that I am about to present to you.

We as a province are currently still stuck in the throes of Manitoba Homecoming 2010, which is expected to linger until January rolls around and the promotional powers that be realize that they have no commissioned theme song for 2011. So, while we're here, why not explore some of our past attempts at tricking outsiders into visiting our barren, crime-riddled wasteland?


Manitoba: A Place in Your Heart, Travel Manitoba, undated. (No, really; neither the cassette itself nor its accompanying materials list a publication date. Strange!)

I seem to recall the "Place in Your Heart" slogan being used in the mid-nineties, let's say 1994 or 1995, but I'm not certain enough about it that I would attempt to stamp the promotional campaign as such. And the rest of the internet, perhaps surprisingly, is no help about it; for better or for worse I'm the de facto online authority about this nonsense, so I'll try my best to be an authoritive resource on the subject.

These are the front and back, respectively, of the paper inset that came with a cassette I bought for a dollar at a local Salvation Army. These are my credentials.

But don't take my word for it! Outdated and potentially embarrassing as they are, I am declaring the following MP3 files required listening:

Travel Manitoba - Discover Winnipeg! Discover a City with Spirit! (Side One) (Manitoba: A Place in Your Heart, year unknown)
Travel Manitoba - Down Country Roads to the Great Outdoors! (Side Two) (Manitoba: A Place in Your Heart, year unknown)
[ site | normally I'd link here to purchasing info and band websites, but this was free to distribute and its performers are (perhaps wisely) lost to time so oh well ]

ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Now, let's put aside for the moment that the whole thing sounds like a 1950s training video. In considering our current provincial promotional campaign, what methods did our forebearers use to draw tourists and travellers to our lands? The answer, as revealed by this culturally and historically significant cassette tape, is twofold. One of the approaches (folds, if you will) involved musical interludes to begin and end each side of the tape; one such interlude sounds suspiciously like a Kate Bush impersonator (check out the beginning of side two -- yeah, that's from the 1990s, all right), and all such interludes sound suspiciously reminiscent of the Most Wanted Music project. But the other approach to Manitoba tourism, as represented by the non-musical majority of this cassette, was founded on a tried-and-true pillar of advertising -- which is to say, outright lies.

Consider the following excerpts:

"Travelling into Winnipeg, you'll see just how exciting a place it is."

This is a lie. (Or a really, really depressing truth, depending on your point of view.)

"Winnipeg, Manitoba's capital city, has something for everyone."

This is also a lie.

"Winnipeg's night spots are just what the doctor ordered."

Yeah, no. Considering the glut of stabbings, Winnipeg's night spots are really the very last thing that any doctor would recommend.

Then a random Chinese woman just starts SCREAMING AT US at 4:24, which is probably better off not being discussed, so let's move on:

"If you love to shop 'til you drop, Winnipeg is the place for you!"

From your own experience -- how many people do you know that drive down to North Dakota just to shop at all the places, and all the prices, not offered here in Winnipeg?

"For a change of pace, take the family to an IMAX adventure! Words cannot describe the sights and sounds of IMAX."

This... is probably more a matter of historical perspective than a modern falsehood, so let's let this one slide for now.

"Winnipeg's festivals are virtually unsurpassed."

Oh, don't even -- are you kidding me? We hold Folklorama in high school gymnasiums, and we always have. Come on, honestly.

"There's always lots to see and do, and experience, in Winnipeg!"



"Few places in North America, if any, rival Manitoba's splendour."

This is subjective, yes. But still pretty false.

"Manitoba has everything you could possibly want in a vacation. (. . .) Manitoba is a tourist's paradise."

I can't even properly start in on these points without giving myself an aneurysm, so let me just say this: what we should have, along all the highways that cross our borders, are giant road signs reading "FOR FUCK'S SAKES LOCK YOUR CAR DOORS AT ALL TIMES".

"We are proud of our multicultural heritage, and it shows."

Yeah, uh, not exactly. A quick glance at the various comments sections of the Winnipeg Free Press website indicate that this statement is extremely false.

"When talking about Eastern Manitoba, one has to mention Steinbach."

haha what

Winnipeggers basically treat Steinbach the same way New Yorkers treat New Jersey, let's not kid ourselves here.

"World-class, and we do mean world-class, fishing is found in virtually every lake in Manitoba's North."

Ouch, 'world-class'. There's that adjective again! At least it's good to know that we're no less relentlessly insecure now than we were fifteen (or so) years ago.

So, yeah, our previous attempts at luring tourism and immigration weren't really any more successful than our current one is. But I hope this little historical study was educational, nonetheless; heck, I'd spin these sound files into a techno remix, or something, if I had the tools to do so. Alas, not! Alas not.

Manitoba: A Place in Your Heart!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

State of the Guy Who Recently Had a Birthday Address

Yeah, I'm old. So old! I am an old man.

Before I get too deep into that, though, let me just bring this up out of the blue and apropos of nothing. Super Street Fighter IV is set to hit stores one week from today, and fight-game internet nerds such as myself are super hyped about it. The game adds ten characters to the roster of its predecessor, including eight returning characters; one of these characters, Cody, is a former vigilante hero whose unchecked lust for violence eventually lands him in prison. He escapes and immediately decides to fight some more, of course, because -- well, the name of the game is Street Fighter, so it's kind of futile to explain motivations too far beyond that.

But if this escaped-prisoner character, Cody, were to make his way back into society and try to make a new life for himself -- changing his name and altering his appearance, but always keeping his signature attacks on hand in case of emergency -- where do you think he would turn up? Who do we know with a suspicious look, a really fake-sounding name, and deceptively high kicks?

Yeah, I'm on to you, "Ace". Not very discreet, there. Convict.

Anyway! With that tangential and completely defamatory aside out of the way, let me break my extended silence -- has it only been a week? Well, it felt longer -- and make a rare personal post. (Rare for good reason, I assure you; back when I wrote about myself regularly I had maybe ten visitors a week, so I think it's safe to suggest that reading material about me is not in extraordinarily high demand.) This past Sunday I hit the big two-six, which isn't technically considered all that old but sure feels like it, and I was fortunate enough to commemorate my increasing age with fine family and a crazy awesome cake my sister made for me.

You know you're jealous! I don't know what my shamanistic power animal actually is, but if we were allowed to just pick 'em for ourselves I'm pretty sure that "luchador surrounded by fire" would easily be on my shortlist.

So I faced the oncoming year with reasonably good cheer, considering the unemployment and whatnot. (Winnipeg, you know I love you, but it's awfully hard to stick around when you don't produce any actual jobs. I didn't come back with my Master's degree to just sit and share drinks with it.) And thus -- as my birthday present to myself, a fine morale-boosting start to the year ahead -- I hit up the $10 stereos clearance sale at Nerman's Books and Collectables on Osborne and bought myself a fine, state-of-the-art, Dolby-compatible cassette deck.

And it works! It is as wide as my widescreen monitor, and according to its model number it is as old as I am (!!), but more importantly it is the final piece to my elaborate digitization puzzle. I'd already rigged up an elaborate series of wires to convert vinyl into digital formats, I have a scanner (not a big one, but it does alright) for print materials, and every computer made in the past decade or so is able to rip CDs so there's really no sense of wonder involved there. I guess if I arbitrarily decide that I need something off of an 8-track I'll be really cheesed off, but otherwise I think I'm pretty well equipped to preserve historically significant or charmingly ludicrous local material.

That kind of jumps the gun on my next point, but hey, while I'm at it. Here we are, it's April already, and I've barely given the half-sarcastic Manitoba Homecoming 2010 much of a workout at all; I'd originally intended it as an excuse to occasionally explore the cultural history of our great province, and now that I'm old and have too much free time on my hands I reckon I should give it the attention it deserves. So watch for that, true believers; hopefully I can get back to form reasonably quickly and deliver some bizarre, old-timey shenanigans. Here's hoping!