April 26, 2010

The ABCs of Curling - X

illum_x is for X-Rated. If the nineties was the decade curling discovered it had an audience, this will be remembered as the decade curling discovered it had sex appeal. Several internet lists of "Olympic Hotties" at the 2010 Vacouver games were topped by 43-year-old Canadian skip Cheryl Bernard, and included many other curling athletes - women and men included. But this was not always the way.

In 1987, with the Calgary Olympic games around the corner and curling included as a demonstration sport, the Canadian Curling Association issued a directive to several national level curlers expected to compete at that year's Olympic trials: lose weight. Ed Werenich, a former Canadian and World champion, considered one of the favourites to represent Canada the following year, took great umbrage at the threat of being excluded from the trials if the national body did not consider him 'fit enough.' If a team is winning at an elite level, what matter if the members weigh two hundred, or even three hundred pounds, he argued. He and his vice, Paul Savage, threatened to show up to the trials with a case of beer as a training aid, and a local exotic dancer as their official coach. In the end, cooler heads prevailed, and Eddie showed up without "Marina" and eighteen pounds lighter - a fact on which he blames his loss to this day (the weight difference, not the lack of a stripper).

In the end, the CCA needn't have worried. The general rise in the level of competition in the upper echelons of the game over the past two decades has resulted in elite level curlers looking to improve their overall fitness levels in order to remain competetive on the world stage. Kevin Martin's Olympic gold medal winning squad became so devoted to their fitness regimens it led vice John Morris to write a book about curling specific exercise routines.

In 2006, following on the rousing success of naked or nearly naked fundraising calendars from firefighters, golfers, skeptics (and skep-chicks), and quilting guilds, Andorrran professional photographer and competetive curler Ana Arce convinced a dozen world-class curling women to pose nude or semi-nude for their own calendar, Fire on Ice. The project was successful enough to spawn a 2007 version. It lapsed in 2008, but was revived in '09 and published again this year.

Clearly, even in curling, sex sells.

<- Start at the beginning.

April 12, 2010

Concerning Debcons, and The Great Tim Tam Heresy

My friends, my dear, dear friends, we have been led astray. The path we have been following faithfully, it turns out, is but a maze of deception. We have been led astray.

Let me explain.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. It was about seven o'clock on a Saturday night. Most of us had arrived at Lai Toh Heen restaurant near Mount Pleasant and Eglinton for our "Taste of Kitai" dinner and Debcon Bright Weavings Get Together. Things were going about as usual. Guy was buying drinks (thank you, Sir); people were renewing old accquaintances, and making new ones; we were all admiring Niel's authentic first off the press editions of Lord of Emperors, Ysabel, and Under Heaven; I was calling Paula on my cell phone... As is also usual at these gatherings, new people were fitting in like old friends. At one point, I wandered over to the other table to see how things were going. Loni was there. Our eyes met. There was a sudden hush around the table - almost a stillness in the room. And then, she said those three little words: "I brought Tim-tams."

For a moment, I didn't say anything. Then, as is my wont, I tried to make light of the situation. "Where," I said, "are we going to find hot chocolate?"

It was Loni's turn to spend a moment in silence. The look of confusion on her face alarmed me. "What," she finally managed, "what ever would you want with hot chocolate?"

I looked around furtively. There were several of the uninitiated in the room. I leaned in close. I whispered, "you know, for the...slams."

She laughed. Not with malice, but with affection. She patted my hand reassuringly, much as one would pat the hand of a young child who had just announced that he doubted the existence of Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny... or Jesus. "Silly boy," she said. "You do Tim-tam slams with coffee, not hot chocolate."

The room spun. I struggled to maintain my footing on a floor threatening to fall out from under me. "But, but, Thunderchi-, Terry... he said-"

Someone else spoke then. In my condition I could not even tell who, but the words shall be burned indelibly on my soul from this time until eternity: "Paul, Terry didn't drink coffee." At last the heresy was revealed. Terry, Thunderchild, he who preceeded us all, had taught us an alternative Tim-tam slam. He had modified the traditional ritual in order to suit his own, personal tastes and preferences. Our slamming had never been authentic. From the very beginning, we had indulged in a fake cultural phenomenon. Happily, blissfully unaware of the error of our ways, we had slammed Arnott's Chocolate Biscuits using the wrong hot drink. We were like Anglicans taking fake communion, moderate muslim women wearing pants, Hindus eating hamburger. We were heretics.

I welcomed the inquisition. I confessed my sins. I renounced my heretical ways.

I ordered a coffee. Carefully, I nipped the diagonally opposite corners off a delicate chocolate biscuit. I dipped it into the strong, black, unsweetened chinese brew. I drew the warm liquid in through the makeshift chocolate straw. Just as the bitter coffee hit my tongue, I shoved the rapidly softening cookie into my mouth.




My friends, the truth was revealed to me that night. The everlasting truth that is the real path of the Tim-tam slam was delivered to me in a blast of mouth watering, soggy, bitter-sweet Arnott's Chocolate Biscuit. And I cannot keep this truth to myself. It fills me to overflowing. I must pass it on. Hear me now, friends. Get up off your couch. Get youself down to your local imported confectioner and buy a package of Tim-tams. Pick up a coffee at Dunkin Donuts on the way home - black, no sugar. And then, my friends, my children, my dear, dear children, and then... Slam those babies!


April 08, 2010

So you want to play mind games...


A couple of years ago I happened across the blog of one Denyse O'Leary. One of many, actually - she maintains about fourteen, it seems, and spends most of her time contriving to link from each to all the others in an attempt to create some kind of meta black hole. Mixed in between the links to her other blogs, and the further links to her Amazon page where she hawks her books, she manages to cram in some confused, rambling anti-"Darwinist" screeds, and Intelligent Design apologetics.

I don't remember the exact matter in question, but I left a comment on one of Ms. O'Leary's posts asking what I thought was a perfectly reasonable question. The comment was deleted in extremely short order. I emailed Ms. O'Leary, asking her why she had deleted the comment, to which she replied that she only allowed comments that were truthful, or factual, or some similar descriptor. Funny, that. I had thought the point I raised was factual. What Denyse really meant was that she only allowed comments that agreed with her world view and personal opinion.

I guess those weren't all that common, as her blogs no longer accept any comments at all.

That kind of reaction, censorship in order to protect oneself against uncomfortable and inconvenient realities, is all too common in the world of "Woo." Whether it is religion, or alternative medicine, or conspiracy theory, woo-meisters will always choose to end a dialogue when presented with actual facts that are difficult for them to rebut. On another occasion, I wrote a blog post about a local Homeopath in which I discussed some of the claims she made on her public website. Rather than address my criticism of her claims, she chose to complain to my ISP, and they chose to delete my blog entry with no warning, no explanation, and no recourse.

These events are brought to mind by a couple of similar experiences I have recently had, although not with people who traditionally fall into the category of "woo." At least people who do not, at first look, appear to fall into that category...

The first instance occurred last week, when I was directed to a web forum for audiophiles. Now, audiophilia is generally not grouped in with other "woo" because it really does no harm to individuals - unless you count to the wallets of those who fall under its sway. However, the claims made by audiophiles, and by the companies that make and sell the products they buy, are equally as specious as those of any homeopath, astrologer, or Catholic Priest. On this occasion, I read a forum thread talking about accessory power cables available for high end audio equipment. Never mind the miles of questionable wire the power flows through to get to one's house, apparently changing a three foot power cable from the wall to one's amp can result in remarkable improvemments in sound.

The person who directed me to the discussion - a Grammy winning sound engineer - had spoken up to say that he had done careful listening tests and was unable to hear a difference between different power cables - or any reasonable quality speaker or interconnect cables for that matter. He was looking for some support from some reasonable and skeptical people, so I registered for the forum, and posted a reply.

I did not criticise any of the posters. I did not accuse them of lying, or of being deluded, or of being stupid. I wrote one simple, factual sentence. I said, "if you can successfully tell the difference between different cables in a controlled listening test, you can win one million dollars." That was all.

Being a brand new member, my post was not published immediately, rather directed to the moderation queue, so I determined to come back later to see if there were any replies. Later, I was unable to login to the forum. It appears that the forum moderators/administrators deleted my first and only post, and immediately IP banned me from the forum. For making a simple statement of fact.

The second thing happened just this past weekend. Have you seen the NHL commercials currently airing in which famous plays are "rewound"? The first one I saw was the one that asks, "what if Orr didn't fly," and shows Bobby's iconic goal being "unscored", and Orr flying backwards through the air to land on his feet and retreat from the net. The ads end with the line, "history will be made." I believe the suggestion is that, even if the NHL's most famous plays had never happened, new history will be made, starting in this year's playoffs.

The ads have become popular fodder for YouTube spoofs, with video creators picking out all their favourite imfamous plays, and asking, "what if..." They are being reposted all over the internet. One of my Facebook "friends" posted one to her profile showing the contentious triple overtime goal by Brett Hull that won the Stanley Cup for Dallas over Buffalo in 1999. This spoof asks the question, "what if Brett didn't cheat?" Of course, this "friend" is a Buffalo fan.

I commented on her link, pointing out that Brett did not, in fact, "cheat;" that the goal, though hotly contested by the Buffalo team, was completely legal. She promptly responded that I didn't know what I was talking about, that she was a huge hockey fan, and had been all her life, therefore she knew the goal was illegal, and that "they" had changed the rule right after that game (the inisinuation was that the NHL had somehow tried to post-legitimize Hull's goal).

Well! Anyone who knows me knows that attempting to present me with "facts" based on ideology rather than information is just begging to be schooled. I did the research. I scoured YouTube for every replay of that goal I could find so I could refresh my memory of exactly how it had unfolded. I looked up the rule in question - the crease crashing rule that was in force for only that one year - and read it carefully. I compared the details clearly visible in the replays to the rule. I then returned to comment again. I quoted the exact language of the rule that pertained to Hull's goal, and pointed out where and why in the replay it was evident that the goal was legal. I also explained that the rule wasn't changed in order to validate Hull's goal, but because it was a poorly thought out rule to start with. The rule did, in fact, do what was intended, that is, reduce the instances of players crashing the net in order to distract and impede the goaltender. Unfortunately, it also resulted in dozens of goals being called back that should not have been; goals on which there had been no goaltender interference or distraction, either intentional or inadvertent.

The response to my reply? She "unfriended" me. It was more important to her to preserve her illusions about the perceived massive NHL conspiracy against the Buffalo Sabres, than to engage in honest dialogue about the actual facts of the matter. She was just like the audiophiles, or the Homeopath, or Denyse O'Leary, all of whom chose to avoid dialogue rather than confront reality; to surround themselves with sycophants and toadies and yes-men who were willing to join them in drinking the woo kool-aid.

Me, I choose to live in the world of fact, and deal with uncomfortable realities as they present themselves.