Friday, February 24, 2006

Go, Gretzky, Go...Away

This I suppose is further to the post several days back when I took exception to the storylines developed by Canadian media covering the Winter Olympics insofar as the heartening "mouse that roared" victory of the Swiss over Team Canada. The script that played out in the ensuing 24 hours was tediously predictable. As in 2002, Wayne Gretzky stepped forward in mock Churchillian fashion, to rally the troops, doing so - again as he did in 2002 - not with the team iustelf as the primary audience but to the whole world. He went on, this time, on the theme of "boys (should) just wanna have fun" but restating the obvious that a few more goals would be desirable. This, as I say, was not rocket science since the lads had just gone 6 scoreless period.

In the utterly meaningless game (insofar as making the medal round was concerned) that followed, Canada banged home 3 first period goals, looking like they would be chasing the Czechs off the ice. The story didn't roll out quite as Gretzky and the hapless fans back home might have wanted: the Czechs game back and made it awfully close. Watching the third period, one might well have had a feeling that the team was not quite back on the path to glory that ist exalted executive director had hoped. No matter - the Canadian press lapped it up just as Wayne had intended and gave him the headlines over any of the worker bees who'd actually been out there on the ice. Right on cue, exactly as Wayne intended, the media got sucked in by this fakery. Here are the leading heavy-breathing lines of our zealous public broadcasting system's story on the win over the Czech Republic:

Wayne Gretzky, the most prolific scorer in hockey history, wanted more goals and commitment. And what Gretzky wants, he usually gets.Team Canada responded to Gretzky's edict with its most determined effort of the Torino Olympics, a 3-2 victory over the Czech Republic on Tuesday before a lively crowd of 9,126 at Turin's Palasport Olimpico."Every game is a stepping stone in getting better and getting to the final game," Gretzky told CBC Sports. I thought our guys played really hard and got our feet wet with a nice win. It's do or die now."

One had to read down in this over-boiled tripe for quite a ways before a word was said about who scored and when. It was all about Gretzky.

Well the "Great One" was spot on in what he said about do or die: for soon we saw the dying - to the huge amusement and even satisfaction of some of us less patriotic types. A couple of days later Team Canada found its 0-2 groove again and our ancient adversaries, the Russians, sent Bertuzzi, Heatley and the lesser felons packing for home. In vain, I watched for Wayne (hey there's a poem wants out there!) as the post game interviews unfolded. One can recall back in the halycon golden moments of 2002 how the many time Lady Byng winner, uncharacteristically elbowed his way to the front of the line moments after the victory over the USA. It was his characteristic (and this case quite apt) "aw shucks, I didn't do nuttin'" kind of performance. But the press lapped up the false modesty, crediting Wayne's inspirational burst of paranoia (remember: everyone is against us and wants us to lose) rather than the apparently trivial on-ice activities of the likes of Mario Lemieux, Paul Kariya and Steve Yzerman.
Listen to this typical crap from 2002: "If you're looking for the main reason Canadian hockey players heard an Olympic crowd serenade them with Oh Canada for the final minute of their 5-2 win over the U.S.A., one reason 23 hockey heroes are coming home with gold medals around their necks, you've got to go to Gretzky."

To make matters even worse, when Gretzky got up to explain Canada's two hockey triumphs in 2002 - including the women's who have mercifully spared his ministrations, did he talk about stellar performances of any of the team? No, instead he chortled on about a loonie that had been secretly embedded in the Salt Lake City ice, turning an occasion where praise was warranted into buffoonery that only accomplished, once again, keeping his foolishly grinning visage as the main focus of media attention.

In 2006, sweating for another big fix of the drug he can never have enough us - everyone's worshipful attention - Gretzky was - we were all told - given the prime responsibility of picking the team. I hope our media is as lavish in giving him the credit for the pitiful results of his selections as they were back in 2002. In particular, they may wish to reflect on the startling omission of a brilliant young player who had captivated all of the NHL's strike-bewearied fans, Sidney Crosby. Was the old "great one" responsible for this petty snubbing of the game's most promising young star and, if so, might that have been because the new "great one" threatened to share if not take over the limelight Wayne has so craved and skilfully held on to these many hockey years, even well past the time when he was doing much at all on the ice?

I suppose one could say, if looking superficially, that it is to the credit of the beleaguered and we hope,soon to permanently EX executive director, mouthed his apologies after the Russian loss. Still, it was all about Wayne, "I'll take all.. the responsibility for not winning. That's the position I'm in, and the responsibility I have. It's nobody else's fault." As in 2002, it's as if the real players, their strengths and shortcomings during the big game, don't matter a whit. Let us now honour Wayne with this excerpt from "the first realist":

A jellyfish swam in a tropical sea
and he said: "This world it consists of me,
Since there's nothing above and there's nothing below
that a jellyfish ever could possibly know...

Just then a shark who was happening by
Gulped the jellyfish down in the wink of an eye
and he died with one convulsive twist:
but somehow the universe still exists.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

There they go again, those Zionists and Crusaders!

Everyone has heard about the grievous transgressions of the West, the sacrilege of some backwater Danish newspaper portraying the Prophet. And the world of Islam, not at all recovered from these insults, no doubt somehow traceable to the Zionists and latter-day Crusaders -, now staggers amidst the rubble of one the Shia Muslims' most holy places, the Askariya Shrine in Samarra.

The obvious culprits - aside from those ubiquitously conniving Jews who many in the Arab world also are still certain are the perps behind the World Trade Center attacks - are Sunnis violently embittered by their loss of power when the US et al brought down Saddam's regime. Here, one cannot but be struck by what religious respect means among the Believers versus we, the Infidels. Let us travel back to early June 1967 when, as part of their rapid rout of their belligerent neighbours, Israeli forces entered Jerusalem and fought hand-to-hand to retake this ancient prime city of their faith at the spiritual centre of which was the site of Temple. On this holiest of site for Judaism, a mighty mosque had been built- Al-Aksa or "The Dome of the Rock". Much vaunted as Islam's third holiest site, some very good questions can be asked about just how revered the site was for Islam prior to 1967 and the Six Days War. Notwithstanding, invading/returning Israelis in 1967 were under the strictest military orders to forego the use of heavy artillery in the vicinity of the Dome as they pushed back Jordanian soldiers. As a result, that bloody, if short, battle resulted in no significant damage to the Mosque, probably at the cost of extra Israeli caualties sustained by virtue of their mandated reticence and respect in the vicinity of this Muslim holy place.

In the years that followed, quite understandably, devout Jews pushed hard to take down the Dome and rebuild the great Temple for whom more than a millenium of mixed Muslim and Christian authority in Jerusalem had shown no respect. Today, Muslim commentators ridiculously assert that Israel never allowed this to happen because of its fear of "retribution from the Muslim World": yeah, that's pretty credible - the Israeli government's 1969 ban on any practice of Jewish religious ceremonies beside the Dome(let alone razing the Dome)came came two short years after little Israel had kicked ass of its far more populous Muslim "neighbours."

What we saw then, what we see now, is a fundamental distinction between what is deemed to be sacred and inviolable - even among one's enemy's icons - between western democracies (including Israel therein) and the practiced radicalism of Islam.


Sunday, February 19, 2006

A Better Storyline: Hooray for the Swiss!

After the Canadian hockey team fell to the nigh anonymous Swiss yesterday, the rah-rah commentators of the CBC quickly adjusted, rolling out the predictable "wake-up call" metaphor, as if our multi-millionaire squad's conquest by the Helvetians was just an obligatory chapter in the Bildungsroman of inevitable Canadian Olympic Gold. We Canucks so often point fingers at the American media coverage of international sports for its indubitably jingoistic flair. But this kind of post hoc rationalization in defeat - something we are rather good at through long practice - is just as bad, as our journalists neglect the better Cinderella storyline of the Swiss who have beaten two historic hockey powers in succession. This narrative is all the more intriguing in light of the fact that the most lopsided game in international history was Canada's drubbing of the same diminutive nation 33-0 way back in 1924. Surely the long and winding road from that ancient humiliation at Chamonix is a better plot than cliches about wake-up calls to spoiled pros! But for Canada the narrative of should-have-beens is pretty well-grooved.

Mine own awakening to the Olympics generally and the Canadian thema of rationalizing unexpected but almost inevitable defeat was in 1960 when world-record holding Harry Jerome pulled up lame in the gold medal final of the prestigious 100 metres. Shucks, I said, a word that I so often repeated until 1980 - when the Yanks had shown that true grit could beat out the Russians in hockey after all our own country's efforts had so long proven inexplicably fruitless. At that point, jubilant as I was with our great southern neighbour's triumph, I did some long overdue soul-searching and in good internationlist spirit, concluded that there was no valid reason at all to root primarily for athletes with whom I merely shared the accident of geographically proximate nativity.
(To be honest I had begun a curmudgeonish resistance to hometown fidelity long before that, growing up on Montreal's south shore and cheering on the Detroit Red Wings and the man who is still the greatest of them all, a case for which I shall make on, and you can look forward to until, his upcoming 78th birthday, March 31st).

Since that reflective revelation, I have always pulled for the underdog, which brings me back to my exquisite delight with yesterday's Swiss miracle. Getting blanked by unknowns couldn't have happened to a more deserving self-important assemblage than Team Canada and, especially to their Executive Director - whatever that is - the hockey personality for whom centerstage and limelight have become nothing short of an addiction. I refer of course to the man who despite his much-trumpeted epithet and scoring records, is about the 5th or 6th greatest player at best, in NHL history and who has managed to get his famously grinning visage centerstage whenever Team Canada wins, despite doing little other than making obvious picks for who is to play. Oh yes, he inspires if the Olympic circumstance should not be enough for seasoned professional hockey players.

As the distinct possibility, I am hopeful, looms of no gold, perhaps even no medal, my mind casts back to late in the 1995-96 season when Gretzky whined himself into a trade from the lowly Los Angeles Kings to the more prospective St. Louis Blues quite openly stating that he wanted to play for a "real contender". Odd: other great players in pro sports have usually assumed that one's superb talents are supposed to be applied on the ice or field to making your team a contender, rather than fussing until you can be once again surrounded, as Gretzky was in his most triumphant Oiler days, with a champion-level mix of stars to help you and bullies to clear your path.

Well, who knows? Wayne's absence from the glare of defeat Saturday may not have been just a hangover from the Tocchet gambling affair or his lifelong situational shyness when his team has just taken a shit-kicking. Perhaps he was off trying to cage a deal to join up with the unbeaten Slovaks or Finns...or maybe even this year's "miracle on ice" little Switzerland. After all "the Great One" likes to be with real contenders.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Postcripts on Cartooning

Since my brethren in the Middle east will not let go of this bone, I must show no less perserverance.

I came across a news story that the Iranian newspaper, Hamshahri, has decided to exercise one of the less overtly violent protest options in response to the blasphemous West: a contest is underway for the best (funniest? most offensive?) cartoons about the Shoah (Holocaust). It is nice, I guess, that usually muzzled would-be political satirists of that paleolithic state, now have a sanctioned opportunity to be"creative." In announcing this, Hamshari's editor said, "The Western papers printed these sacrilegious cartoons on the pretext of freedom of expression, so let’s see if they mean what they say and also print these Holocaust cartoons." I do hope that our journals of record shall comply with these wishes, so that those in our midst who think Bush et al overrate the dangers flowing from the world of radical Islam, gain insight into the minds at work there. As a preview, here are a few readily found ouevres that the children of the Prophet have already demonstrated their artistic prowess with.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Fight Back - Buy Danish

There is a beautiful story -- which I was raised believing -- which really ought to be true: it is that of the brave Danish people, led by their King, donned yellow stars-of-David when the invading Nazis ordered all Jews to do so in 1941. Apparently this particular heroic is all myth, but accurately reflected the real courage of countless Danes who hid away or ferried their Jewish neighbours away from the jaws of the Shoah.

I am put in mind of the need for such solidarity in the face of the totalitarian mindset winning in the current furor over the cartoons of the Prophet. Throughout the Muslim world, the usual suspects -- gigantic drooling mobs of primarily youthful males with a smattering of stern looking elderly mullahs -- sweep through the streets looking for anything Danish to torch. Despite the more than sufficient-seeming apologies not only by the editor whose newspaper carried the Mohammed cartoon but by Prime Minister Rasmussen, this hooliganism continued and spread around the Muslim world. Likewise, boycotts were launched against Danish products, regardless of the affected companies and workers having had nothing to do with the original sin. Righteous outrage, of course, is never selective in its targets or collateral casualties.

Muslims in their own lands and even in the disapora of Europe and North America which, despite our insensitivity to Allah, have a powerful attraction for Middle Eastern immigrants, have every right to choose their own cheese, so to speak. And while reprehensible, even the right or ability to violate Western embassies is I guess, a time honoured tradition of the Muslim world. The True Believers must make their own choices, governed, sadly, by the mediaeval mentality that envelops and retards their worlds and driven, it now appears, by the concerted effort to foment these riots by what has been aptly called “a global fascist movement masking as religion”. The goal, let us be clear, is not simply revenge but intimidation, a muzzling of anyone in the West who, consistent with our ideals of free thought and speech, has the temerity to criticize or satirize the violent turn that a small but dangerously significant fraction of Muslims appear to have chosen. The killing of Dutch film-maker Theo van Gogh for his documentary on the ill-treatment of Muslim women, was, alas, the mere prelude to the well-orchestrated symphony of intimidation that Islamic Jihadists have in store for us.

Hordes of that cohort swarming through the streets burning flags, desecrating Christian sites, even assassinating innocent and unconnected “non-believers” have become commonplace. One cannot shake memories of tediously identical scenes of ferment bubbling over in Middle Eastern cities when a few of their more dedicated brethren commandeered planes into several architectural icons of American life on September 11, 2001. Largely we turn the other cheek at the plenitude of insults and worse dumped onto the places and symbols that Westerners treasure but are expected to don hair-shirts when a rather poorly executed cartoon violating Muslim sensibilities re-ignites their world of unceasing griping and gnashing.

I don’t doubt that many of the less Internet-able people here in Canada, the US and Europe would like to see just what the fuss is all about, exactly what the cartoon depicted. In our society under our customs of free speech and press we have every right to expect our media to have the guts to show the full story, inclusive of reproducing the source of all this moral outrage. Alas, fear and spinelessness have prevailed and, to my knowledge neither the major North American networks nor any of our principal newspapers have dared display the offending cartoon.* This monolithic self-censoring of the free world’s media has sent, an unequivocal and welcome message to Muslim extremists: burn a few flags and embassies, shoot a priest or two, shun some cheese and the mightiest nations on earth will bow down.

I hope that everyday citizens in the West will be less craven and, as one small step I come back to the beautiful myth about the star-of-David armbands. Let’s get out and strike our own delicious blow against the vicious mentality of the marauding hordes in the streets of Damascus, Beirut etc.: Purchase and proudly serve some creamy Havarti, a tangy Saga Blue, a smoky Rygeost, smelly Esrom and some unequalled Danish butter.

* Update: I stand corrected. The Philadelphia Inquirer has drawn itself away from the flock of journalistic sheep and reproduced the egregious cartoons. At least in this case, I am inclined to concur with the posthumous W.C. Fields about where I'd rather be!

Friday, February 10, 2006

Guten Tag!

Many helpings of matjes herring later, I have returned from Deutschland. My apologies to loyal fans for making them go "cold grouse" all this time. I was five days in the great Hanseatic city of Hamburg attending a remarkable gathering led by Israeli scholar, Dan Bar-On at the Korber Foundation. The latter is an institution established by the late eponymous gentleman who got rich inventing a machine to put the tips on cigarettes but who had deeper avocations, to wit, ensuring that Europe never forgets recent history's lessons. After the sessions, I fast-trained it to Berlin where many hours were spent in the marvelous Judisches (Jewish) Museum there. It seemed fitting to come to this epicentre of the Shoah and so devote my time. Even more apt was learning what I had never absorbed before - that Berlin's Holocaust Memorial was plunked down right atop Adolf's bunker where, so belatedly, he cleansed the world of his own nauseous self. So much for the Final Solution; so much for the 1000-year Reich!