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!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs Begin Tomorrow

It's the most wonderful time of the year!

Yes, every year -- coincidentally close to my birthday -- the NHL regular season concludes so that professional hockey can actually get properly started, and every year I make half-successful and ultimately misguided attempts to predict how each series will unfold. So why should this year be any different? Let's do some prognosticating!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Season's Greetings to You and Yours from Jubilee Avenue

So I went for a nice walk yesterday evening. And I took my l'il digital camera along with me, for reasons that I'll elaborate on in a minute.

The Bridge Drive-In opened for the season this past weekend, to my knowledge the last of the city's major ice cream institutions to do so; it's been a weird year so far, with weather nice enough that both Sargent Sundae and Banana Boat opened in March. So with the BDI now joining them in operation -- and quite clearly doing okay for themselves --

-- I think it's safe to declare that spring has officially arrived. Depending on the upcoming weather through to August, it may be the point to declare that summer has arrived, but hopefully this won't be the case. (We just had one of those bizarre chilly summers, what, two, three years ago?)

Yes, spring is in the air; the grass is growing, the sun is shining, and folks are eating through the whipped cream and the bananas to get to the milkshake underneath the hot-fudge sundae atop their magnificent five-dollar ice cream behemoths. So with this spirit of warmth and rebirth, new life and positive energy flowing through the veins of our fine town, I just wanted to take this opportunity to pass a message of seasonal tidings along.

So let me just say this, right now, to the dear residents and good citizens of Jubilee Avenue:

It's April.

What is this? What is even this. You have to be kidding me.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

Of Course We're the Robbery Capital, Who Even Doubts This

You Got It, Uptown Magazine!

Why, who's that handsome realist that wrote a column for this week? Yeah, you know it. With Winnipeg declared the reigning Robbery Capital last week by Statistics Canada, to the surprise of likely nobody, I figured it would be a good time to relate a 100%-true personal anecdote that probably explains significant chunks of my personality. If anybody out there has a more quintessentially Winnipeg origin story, I'd definitely love to hear it, but I do say in my own humble estimation that it doesn't get much more representative than this -- so one day when I inevitably go stark raving Louis-David-Riel crazy and try to take over the city, at least you'll know I've got the credentials for it.

Anyway, Winnipeg is terrible for public safety and it always has been, full stop. What, you want me to lie to you? Naw, son. You think these were ideal weather conditions for the first peoples? You think things got much safer for them when white dudes rolled in and started setting up shop? How about our violent, awesome guerrilla warfare that established the province in the first place? Or the perpetual booze-soaked brawling and debauchery of our early city history, right through to the 1920s? (If you've never read James H Gray's 1972 book Booze: When Whiskey Ruled the West, I totally recommend it.)

How safe and secure would you have felt during the Great Depression? During the staged Nazi invasions in the general unease of World War II? During the legendary flood and polio outbreaks in the 1950s? (Would you believe, in the mid-1950s, we were the Polio Capital of Canada? With our luck, we probably still are.) The '60s were characterized by tensions from counterculture idiocy (baby boomers you know I love a lot of you but you've got to admit your generation turned out to be pretty awful for everybody), the 1970s saw the mass movement of Native populations from their reserves to the downtown core of the city -- coinciding with white flight and mass unfounded hysteria that continues to this day -- and the 1980s were awful enough that Portage Place seemed like a good idea at the time. Who here considers Portage Place a bastion of public safety and order? Hands up where I can see them! And the 1990s and 2000s were recent enough that I doubt anybody has rose-coloured glasses for either decade, but suffice it to say we haven't been winning any Safest City awards for a very, very, very long time now.

Honestly, I don't mean to be a downer, but Winnipeg is pretty much the shadow of death with a statue of Mercury on top. You have to understand this. This is the way it is, and this is the way it always has been, and throwing a few hundred easy targets in Best Buy uniforms onto the streets isn't suddenly going to reverse hundreds of years' worth of murders and lootings and floods and plagues and uprisings and racial tensions and everything else that makes our One Great City so continually interesting.

I was hoping to use this time to brag and boast about my appearance in another avenue of local news, but thus far it has yet to pop up online. I actually have no idea how it turned out, but I do intend to be boistrously insufferable about it regardless because I have no shame whatsoever and nothing better to do with my time. So, look forward to that! I'll let you know when it turns up.