So that explains why I never made the NHL

Those of you who’ve read Malcolm Gladwell‘s latest book Outliers know the chapter about hockey players, where he describes the disproportionate number of hockey players with birthdays in the first few months of the year. Gladwell’s theory is that, because of the Jan 1 age cutoff between levels of minor hockey, those born earlier in the year have a size and development advantage over others as they have an extra 6-11 months under their belt. That doesn’t sound like much, but the difference between 6 years old and almost 7 years old is substantial enough that the older players tend to move into accelerated programs, which gives them an advantage. Gladwell then shows several examples of teams whose rosters skew to the early months of the year.

Tonight, after watching my Canadiens blow a late lead, and lose in the shootout to drop the ninth of their last ten on the road, I wondered if their roster followed the same pattern as the elite teams Gladwell described. Based on the 20 players they dressed tonight, here’s how it breaks down:

Jan: 2
Feb: 3
Mar: 1
Apr: 1
May: 2
Jun: 2
Jul: 0
Aug: 2
Sep: 0
Oct: 3
Nov: 2
Dec: 2

That’s 55% in the first half of the year, 45% in the second half. Not exactly overwhelming. Even if I include the other six players who didn’t dress tonight, it’s 58% to 42%. Still nothing to write home about. So I’m faced with three hypotheses:

  1. Gladwell is wrong
  2. Gladwell is right, but my team is an abberation
  3. Gladwell is right, and this explains why my team sucks

So I went looking for more data. My first stop: the Detroit Red Wings, defending Stanley Cup champs and by any measure an elite team. They’re also at 58% born between January and June, the same as Montreal. Then I checked the Boston Bruins, the top team in the NHL this season: also at 58%. Canada’s gold-medal winning major junior team, an all-star team for players in a very specific age range, clocked in at 64%, with 14 of the 22 players born before June 30, but even that isn’t exactly a drastic difference.

Anyway, I know that’s only a sample of four, but I’d prefer to think that hypotheses #1 is correct rather than #3. I’m not holding my breath though.

How do I get Rideau this cold?

As my brother has been blogging, his wife surprised him by flying him to Ottawa for a long weekend with friends and, as an added surprise, Nellie and I. He flew back to England this evening; Nellie and I returned to Toronto yesterday. It was a fun few days for us. I’ve known many of his friends since 1996 when I lived there with him for the summer, and it was good to hang out with all of them again. It was good to see Ottawa again too; I’ve not been there in a while, but it still feels a little like home. Best of all, though, was getting to help celebrate my brother’s 40th birthday in such great circumstances.

Highlights: an awesome Porter flight to Ottawa; surprising (kinda) my brother at our hotel; the food and drink at the Wellington Gastropub, including the Beau’s and a 2005 Raymond Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon (also overheard a great Grant Lee Philips cover of Echo & The Bunnymen‘s “The Killing Moon” on the stereo there); getting silly (where exactly did “chicken sodomy” come from anyway?) and reliving some memories at a Royal Oak (warning: awful, obnoxious music embedded in site); struggling the next morning until I could get some sausage and toast into me at the Elgin Street Diner; Winterlude ice sculptures; marveling at just how far Lego has come since we were kids; awesome homemade pizzas at mblogler/imspycat‘s place; playing the Wii with the kiddies; breakfast at the Metropolitan Brasserie with our aunt (where we loudly berated the Senate, even as Art Eggleton dined next to us); more pizza and beer at the Prescott where people who used to work with my brother were invited out to see him (funnily enough, three of them walked up and started talking to me, thinking I was him…by the third I just said, “Hey, how are you? That’s Tim over there.”); cheap pub breakfast at the Aulde Dubliner in the market; walking (not skating…couldn’t be arsed) down the Rideau Canal to the hotel before flying home.

That’s obviously an abuse of the word “highlights” but it really was a great weekend. My biggest problem with it was that I got very, very sick. Saturday night I felt a cold coming on; by Sunday morning it was severe, and by Monday morning it was brutal. It kept me in bed most of Sunday, made me miserable for all of Monday, and made our plane’s descent into Toronto excruciating. But it could have been worse: I could’ve been sick the entire weekend, or worst of all, my brother might have been sick. So it all turned out for the best. I didn’t even mind the cold; chilly as it got, the sun stayed out most of the time.

It was a great weekend. I’m really glad I got to be part of it.

[UPDATE: Ooh, ooh, almost forgot: the brother and sister-in-law brought me some Pierre Marcolini chocolate from Belgium. Zowie.]

This city = cold

For those of you not following my Twitter feed, I’ve been in Ottawa since Friday afternoon as part of a surprise for my brother. It’s been lots of fun so far, out with some of his friends, lots of food and drink and hanging out and catching up. Too tired to post much right now; will likely have more to say later.

"A revolution of destruction"

After three months (!) I have finally finished reading The Coming Of The Third Reich by Richard Evans (amazon). A highly worthwhile and ultimately troubling book about how the Nazis came to rule Germany in the early 1930s.

To those of us too young to remember WWII, Hitler and Nazism seem like bogeymen, monsters sprung wholly-formed from Hell, aberrations so monstrous we can’t conceive of such a thing being repeated. That’s simply not the case. The Nazis weren’t exceptional. They weren’t even original: as Evans points out in the book, most revolutionaries seek to do away with the old in favour of the new, but the Nazis did away with the relatively new — democracy and the Weimar republic — in order to return to the very old: declaring themselves the third Reich reestablished the line of nationalist dictatorships.

Neither was there anything extraordinary about how they rose to power. The political violence dealt out in the streets by the brownshirts wasn’t that different than what happened in Italy, Spain or other nearby countries around the same time. But Germany had two key ingredients that added fuel to the murderous fire: first was that Germany was still — and many people don’t really realize this, myself included — the most powerful country in Europe. Second was the national sense of racial purity which, when combined with an antisemitism strong even for Europe at that time, led down a path that ended, almost inconceivably, at extermination camps.

This, though, was the part of the book that surprised me the most. I’ve always tacitly assumed that the Nazis came to power, in part, by riding a wave of antisemitism that swept through Germany. How else to explain why they would so quickly turn to imprisoning and slaughtering Jews? What Evans explains so well is that the Nazis believed in an Aryan ideal, not an antisemitic one. I’d always thought of those two words as rough synonyms, but racial purity — the nation of pure German culture — went far beyond that. The Nazis didn’t even enter the national stage through violence against Jews; they concentrated on Communists. By the time they terrorized the Communists out of the German political arena, they turned their attention to Social Democrats and any other party of the left until they too were intimidated into political irrelevance. Add one twist of fate (the Reichstag fire), some political opportunism and back-room intrigue, and suddenly Adolf Hitler has been appointed chancellor. Yes, appointed. Something else I’d never realized: Hitler was never elected to office. He was given it by those seeking to rein him in, the farmer inviting the wolf into the sheep’s pen. At any rate, now that the brownshirts had run out of political victims, in their anger they let their idea of racial purity be their guide, and turned to the business of ridding Germany of what they saw as poisonous elements. What started with organized boycotts of Jewish shops escalated to murder, and finally genocide, with remarkable speed.

Ultimately, Evans points to two less-often mentioned reasons why the Nazis were able to seize power. The first: the great depression. Economic crises and massive unemployment make for palpable fear, and propagandists such as Goebbels made fine hay of this one in particular. The poor and desperate can be driven to great lengths, and will lash out given half a chance. Evans makes the case that the Nazis game them just such a conduit: they famously stopped campaigning for anything well before coming to power, and instead campaigned against: against the Weimar republic, against those they professed stabbed the true Germany in the back in November of 1918, against Communism, against racial impurity, against democracy…they simply dealt anger and revenge, playing on the emotions instead of the intellect. Theirs was, as the saying later went, a revolution of destruction. The second reason was the near-inexplicable absence of revolt against Nazi ideals. Put another way: much of Germany agreed with, and approved of, the Nazis. Not all, certainly, and even those agreed or consented may have done so out of fear, but the lack of will on the part of the citizenry to reject Nazism and their violent methods suggests assent. Perhaps their defeat after WWI convinced the German people a return to military imperialism was necessary. Perhaps the desire for racial purity among Germans transcended the Nazi party. Perhaps both.

This, then, is what I found so troubling. Disasters — economic, natural, man-made — happen from time to time. Those discussing the current economic crisis often refer to the “panic” we’re seeing, but what we’re seeing now isn’t panic, it’s concern. If we see massive unemployment, hyperinflation, crumbling institutions…then we’ll see panic. And then we’ll see true desperation, and we’ll see political advantage taken of that rampant fear. Add one ill-timed act of violence to the mix — say, a large-scale Al Qaeda attack on a western country — and it isn’t hard to imagine the effects. Curtailing of rights under the guise of patriotic security. Nationalism. Xenophobia along racial or religious lines. It’s an unlikely series of events, but but no less likely than what happened in Germany not eight decades ago. The rise of Hitler and the Nazi party wasn’t an act of pure evil, as we seem inclined to believe. It was a confluence of violent intent, political will and tragic fate, and to think that it could not happen again is beyond short-sighted. It is dangerous.

I do have two whole years to make up for, after all

I’m hungry just thinking about it.

Last night, in an early celebration of Nellie’s birthday, we had dinner at Jacob’s & Co. with T-Bone and The Sof. And what a dinner it was. After a drink downstairs in the bar we settled around a big comfy table. More drinks — beer for the guys, sparkling wine for the ladies — followed before we opened our menus. Our server Harry walked us through the details and intricacies of each cut of meat they had that night and we made our choices.

I started with the lobster bisque (which contained, like, half a lobster). T-Bone had steak tartare, The Sof had oysters and Nellie ordered the Caesar Salad. That salad was prepared tableside and tasted, according to Nellie, better than any Caesar’s salad she’d ever had. All our wines were paired nicely as well. So far, so good.

Then…oh, then, the meat arrived. T-Bone and The Sof split a 28oz USDA Prime Black Angus bone-in ribeye. I opted for the 14oz version. Nellie had an 8oz Wagyu striploin. My ribeye was so tender my knife just slid through it; Nellie’s was almost like butter. Amazing. A lot to handle, too…I’m not sure how I finished it. I guess it might have been that I largely stayed away from the sides of mushroom, broccolini and duck fat french fried potatoes, though I did enjoy the pureed potatoes quite a bit. The whole affair went down with…I think the sommelier said a Cabernet, but I can’t really remember. It were tasty.

No one had a lot of room for dessert, though I did feel like having a single scoop of house-made coconut ice cream and Nellie got some sorbet. T-Bone had port, natch. The Sof skipped dessert, and concentrated on trying to digest the 14 ounces of meat he’d just eaten. Before heading back downstairs for one last drink, Harry dropped off four house-made muffins for our breakfast the next day. Nice touch.

Jacob’s is a beautiful space, and the food was spectacular. So, as one would expect, were the prices. Economic downturn be damned, though – that room was full last night. We enjoyed our experience there thoroughly. And, in a perfect little coda: the muffins this morning were delicious.

La Princesse

I’ll admit it, I’m not fond of spiders. I’m not scared of them, and would never squish one (I was often reminded by my farmer father that spiders kill all the ‘bad’ bugs, so I was conditioned not to kill them as a kid) but they make me uncomfortable. I prefer that they don’t crawl on me, and the big hairy ones like bird spiders freak me out a little.

However, this is pretty goddamn awesome:

Click on the link above to see all the pictures, and read the story of La Princesse arriving in Liverpool.

Hooray for good genes

Visited my (hot) doctor yesterday. She’s very speedy — walks quickly, talks quickly, moves quickly — and my physical was over just as I was starting to process the idea of sitting around in a little paper gown. Turns out my bloodwork revealed that I’m in very good health…she sounded a tiny but surprised as she said it, but then I suppose I don’t really project the picture of peak physical fitness. Good genes, I explained. She agreed. Quickly.

She also commented, when taking my history last time, that it’s not often she encounters someone who has never smoked, and grew up in a house where no one else smoked either. Even in my extended family on both sides, there were no smokers except for the odd one here and there, and those quit by the time I was old enough to remember it. No heavy drinkers either. Two grandparents who lived into their 90s, another who lived into his 80s. That’s a pretty good starting point, and not being gassed in my childhood years helped.

So, uh…thanks ancestry. Good work.