"I have just met you, and I love you."

Well, I’ve had an enjoyable forty-ish hours. It started Friday night when we walked down to Front Street to see this year’s criterium. I have no real interest in cycling, but it’s fun to watch racing on a downtown street. Plus, it gave me a chance to test out our new camera: a Canon SX10 IS. We used to have an S3 but sold it when Nellie got her Nikon SLR. I still have a little Canon S230, which is fine for carrying around in my pocket if we’re out with friends, but it turns out there was too big a gap between that and the D40. This SX10 feels familiar (it’s basically just the update of the S3 we had before), is a pretty good mix of convenience and quality, and the 20x zoom will come in handy. For example:

These guys were way down Front Street when I took that. Anyway, we couldn’t stay long as we had dinner reservations at Canoe with Nellie’s mom, so home we went to get all gussied up. Canoe was magnificent, as one would expect, and lives so comfortably in their place atop the Toronto restaurant pile (according to Toronto Life, anyway). Nellie and her mom started with the chevre with rosemary brioche, I had the prawn & asparagus chowder with tarragon butter, and we shared a bottle of 2007 Fielding viognier. For our mains I had the caribou (which was amazing), Nellie and her mom had the prime ribeye and we took a 2006 a bottle of Domaine Gardies Mas Les Cabes. No dessert, just dessert wine for Nellie and I and a glass of white for her mom. Oh, and at some point the afore-mentioned mom took off her shoes and went for a stroll through the restaurant. Don’t ask.

The next day, after dropping Nellie’s mom off at the airport we went to see Up (imdb | rotten tomatoes) at Yonge & Dundas. I’m not a big animation fan, and while I did like the last two Pixar releases (Ratatouille and wall-e) I didn’t bother to see them in the theatre. However, a screaming 98% on Rotten Tomatoes and a lot of advance critical praise made this one my top movie theatre priority this weekend. And it was good. Really, really good. It was sweet, funny, entertaining and (of course) spectacularly animated. Fun story, too, like Raiders Of The Lost Ark if Indy were an octagenarian. In the end I think it might have actually been a mistake to see it in the theatre, since the kid and mother behind me who talked often — and loudly — occasionally “pulled me” out of the film. But I’m still glad I saw it yesterday.

The movies weren’t done there. We freed up a little more room on the PVR by watching Gus Van Sant’s Paranoid Park (imdb | rotten tomatoes), which I kind of liked (bizarre mismatched music notwithstanding) but I felt it would have made a better short film than feature. There were so many repeated scenes and long tracking shots that nine minutes likely would’ve done it.

We also finally got around to watching the pilot of Glee (fox | onion a.v. club), which I found fairly funny, but if the singing keeps up like this I may struggle to keep watching. I can only take so much Amy Winehouse and Journey. While we watched that a killer rainstorm passed over Toronto, followed quickly by a brilliant rainbow (and another faint cousin):

Also, at some point this weekend I finished reading The Blind Side (amazon) by Michael Lewis. Only about a quarter of the book was what I expected it to be — an historic and financial look at the left tackle position in football. Instead it focused on a kid named Michael Oher, and told a very engaging story about his life. There is, in fact, a movie being adapted from it but with Sandra Bullock cast as one of the leads I don’t hold out much hope for it not sucking.

With that book done I’ve taken the advice given to me over the years by several friends, including those who’d just finished with my copy, and begun reading The Long Walk To Freedom.

Unfortunately it’s a bit too chilly out today to enjoy the sun the way we’d like, but that gives us a good excuse to tackle yet another chunk of the PVR’s hard drive.

I'm off the case

Tonight I began the long, onerous task of removing my roughly 250 movies from their cases and jamming them into a giant CD wallet. This is the second phase of the great media pack-up. Back in February I finally ditched all my CD cases, though they and the original CDs had been boxed up and sitting in a closet for four years. Now it’s the DVDs.

The plastic DVD cases will be…I dunno, thrown out, I guess. While I’m entirely used to seeing them out and occupying yards of shelf space, Nellie thought they were ugly. I suppose she’s right. They’re just hunks of plastic. I don’t know though, I’m worried that without the ability to scan a shelf and see something that jumps out at me, I’ll just stop watching these. For the most part I own only movies that I’d want to see over and over again; how will my viewing habits change now that they’re out of sight? I grew up in a place where books, movies and music occupied every inch of the (rather formidable) shelf space in our living room, not to mention the books covering pretty much every other flat horizontal piece of wood in the house, so it feels weird for me to put them away.

I suppose at some point when I get around to procuring a media server I’ll buy myself a giant hard drive and start ripping these films and TV series, and watch them that way. I’m not quite there yet; not that I don’t like the technology, just that I haven’t felt a strong need to do so. Nor have I just seen it as a logical extension I’d already taken, as I did by streaming the music files I’d already made the ‘master copy’ of my music.

The books, I suppose, will be the last to go. Again, I have nothing against eBooks, I just haven’t had any incentive to switch so far. Besides, I think Nellie’s soft spot for having books on the shelves is almost as big as mine.

On an unrelated note: anybody need a couple hundred empty DVD cases?

Make it seven…but not how you think

If you live in Canada you’re likely tired of hearing about Jim Balsillie’s attempts to buy the Phoenix Coyotes, a team which recently declared bankruptcy, and move them to Hamilton. The league is fighting it, obviously. Technically the Coyotes are their franchise, and I’m pretty sure that if I walked into a struggling McDonald’s in downtown Phoenix and announced my intention to buy it and move it to Toronto, the McDonald’s head office would have something to say about it.

Predictably Canadian hockey fans have turned this into a proletarian struggle against the hockey politburo, and Labatt has played the faux-patriotism card. It doesn’t make that much difference to me what happens; in my view there’s one team I love (the Montreal Canadiens), one team I view as a hated rival (the Boston Bruins), one team I view with a mix of loathing and bemusement (the Toronto Maple Leafs) and 27 other teams I don’t really care about all that much.

From a tactics standpoint, though, I think Balsillie’s going about this wrong. The pressure on Bettman’s not going to work in its current form. Here’s why:

  1. Bettman doesn’t care about the whirlwind of patriotic fervor north of the border. He’s not Canadian and feels no call of the hockey motherland, and knows that not a single Canadian will stop watching hockey just because of this, so his market is intact.
  2. Perhaps most importantly, Bettman knows that moving a team out of an American market and into a Canadian market will net him positively zero new fans. None. Rien. Zip. Putting a team in Copps Coliseum won’t suddenly create a whole new batch of hockey fans to put up TV ratings and merchandise revenues. The market’s pretty much at saturation already; Hamiltonians (?) willing to see a game try to get Leaf tickets or Sabres tickets, since Buffalo is nearby, and the rest watch on TV. Now, there aren’t a ton of fans in Phoenix that he’d be giving up, but every one gained there (however long that takes) is new. Also keep in mind that Phoenix has roughly six times the market population and a lot more disposable wealth than Hamilton, recession of no. Even counting any better TV deal the league could get for another southern Ontario team, Bettman would see a move like this as a net loss of fans, and as giving up one of the top ten markets in the US.
  3. There are serious logistical problems with this move. Let’s say for a second that Balsillie’s move goes ahead. Phoenix is in the western conference of the NHL; Hamilton would almost certainly be in the east. The league would now be unbalanced; 14 teams in the west, 16 in the east. To rebalance sensibly, the league would have to move one of the two most westerly teams to the western conference. Those two teams would be Hamilton and Pittsburgh, the latter’s arena being about 4 miles further west than Copps. Bettman would either be faced with the ridiculous situation of having Hamilton in a difference conference than either Toronto or Buffalo (despite them being only a few miles apart) or of throwing Pittsburgh, home of the league’s great white hope, out of the east coast TV market and into the worst travel schedule in the league.
  4. Bettman, ultimately, doesn’t want to be bullied, and Balsillie’s moves have certainly felt very aggressive thus far. Right or wrong, it’s a bad way to deal with a guy who’s probably developed a Napoleon complex over the years.

Bettman’s not going to be won over on ideological grounds. If Balsillie really wants a team in Hamilton he’ll have to appeal to Bettman’s interests: money. If he wants a team he’s going to have to pay for it. Bettman knows he’s protecting a dying franchise, but he’s trying to save face, so how do you let him do both?

You offer to buy the Buffalo Sabres and move them to Hamilton.

Half of the attendance at a Sabres game is people from southern Ontario anyway. To placate the rest maybe you offer Sabres ticketholders first crack at Hamilton season tickets, or discounts. Maybe you even call them the Hamilton Sabres.

For the right to do this, you pay the league a special franchise relocation fee (call it whatever the hell you want) which they’ll quietly use to prop up the Coyotes and boost their marketing. Bettman gets to keep his big US market, he doesn’t lose any fans, his TV revenues will likely go up (Hamilton’s in CBC territory, Buffalo is not), he doesn’t have to realign the league and it looks like he stood up to Balsillie.

Buffalo has struggled financially in the past, declaring backruptcy in 2003 (just three years after making the cup final), so this wouldn’t be a stretch. Moving a team into Hamilton would almost certainly spell the end for the Sabres anyway. If Balsillie’s willing to pony up the cash, the leauge ends up with more viable franchises overall than before.

Thoughts? Is that crazy? Or does some/all of it make sense? Is it a moot point because the Leafs will nix any team infringing on their market.

"Oh yeah. Me and my friends are meeting at a gun store."

Well, that was another low-key, yet enjoyable weekend. After Friday’s movie excursion we slept in a little, then got up and did a little bit of furniture shopping. Something must be done about our balcony. Then we skipped over to Liberty Village, off King West, to check out a furniture store. After locating a couch we wanted and probably identifying a new option for the den (day bed FTW!) we had lunch at the Brazen Head pub. Not the original, obviously, the slightly newer Toronto version. Damn if they didn’t have one of the best salads I’ve ever eaten. There were a few Toronto FC fans there when we arrived, but by the time it was swarming with red jerseys, a byproduct of it being the nearest decent pub to BMO Field.

On the way home we picked up a bottle of wine to bring with us to GB’s birthday party, got cleaned up (at which point I realized I’d been sunburned, no mean feat since I don’t remember actually spending much time in the sun), caught a little breather and then jumped on a streetcar. We arrived in time to find the beer chilling and meat ready to grill. Two burgers, some Applewood smoked cheddar, several beers later and excellent conversation — my controversial position on Jim Balsillie’s tactics and our various strategies in the event of a zombie attack being just two examples — later, we grabbed a cab home and crashed.

Today was a little more low-key: slept in (again woo!), watched Terminator, planned some balcony decorations, checked out a Contact exhibit at BCE place, enjoyed a little walk in the sun, picked up groceries, watched Terminator 2, grilled steaks and fixed a problem with the PVR. Sweet.

Maybe not quite as sweet as my brother’s weekend in Paris with an Armagnac drip, but still pretty good.

"The devil's hands have been busy"

After watching Terminator: Salvation (imdb | rotten tomatoes) last night Nellie said, “Whoever made the trailer for that movie should win an Oscar.” If you haven’t yet seen said trailer, watch it here. Note the awesomeness, not the least of which is the note-perfect use of Nine Inch Nails.

After seeing the movie, I think whoever made the trailer should also be charged with fraud. It didn’t live up to the trailer. But you can’t really fault the trailer for being good, so here was my problem with the movie: I kept giving it chances, and it kept letting me down. I went into it with low expectations — I’d read the bad reviews and seen the poor ratings on RT — but I was pleasantly surprised by the first half of the film. It wasn’t bad.

It wasn’t great, either — the dialogue could be a little wooden, we both felt the Kyle Reese character was strangely played, and I thought Common was a great example of the latest in a string of rappers who can’t act — but it was interesting and the action sequences were very good. I actually started to believe that this could end well. But when it entered the final act, it just went sideways and got ridiculous. Completely fell down. I knew I shouldn’t have expected much from a McG-directed Terminator, but I think I was ultimately more frustrated by knowing, as Nellie said last night, that there was a good movie in there somewhere.

I Hold The Sound

The first time I listened to the new Thermals album Now We Can See (pitchfork | metacritic) I didn’t think that much of it. But something told me I should listen again. So I did. And then I did again. And now I like it a lot.

Where their previous albums would contain one or two phenomenal songs like “Back To The Sea” or “How We Know”, the rest would lag badly. This album doesn’t have those highs, but neither does it have those lows. It’s more consistent, and it’s consistently good.

If you like fast, loose post-punk, check them out. An interesting side note is that their best songs, like “Here’s Your Future” or “Pillar Of Salt”, are tinged with religious stories. I don’t know the back story there, and I don’t think I wanna.

Go ahead, sample some of their music over at elbo.ws.

"Lines, wrinkles and coarse, leathery skin"

A couple of articles found in the Maclean’s news feed that fill me with disbelief and a teensy bit of dread. For our planet.

First, there’s “Sunbed Use To Rise In Recession” (BBC):

A fifth of regular sunbed users are planning to increase usage because they cannot afford a holiday abroad owing to the recession, a survey suggests.

The poll for Cancer Research UK found 34% of more than 2,000 people were less likely to travel somewhere sunny.

The charity warned that using a sunbed once a month or more could increase skin cancer risk by more than half, and recommended applying fake tan.

I cannot afford to go on vacation, so I shall stay home and irradiate myself instead. Good choice. And then there’s “Who You Gonna Call?” (Montreal Gazette):

The economy is in tatters. Your portfolio is down. Your job is in peril and you’re wondering if you should launch a business. Who are you gonna call? Your financial advisor? An accountant?

If you’re anything like a growing number of recession-anxious Canadians, you may want to call an intuitive seer, an astrologer, a palmist or a numerologist. Some members of this alternative community say their business has picked up as a result of the tough economy. They say they’re consulting to people who want to know everything from whether the stars are correctly aligned for a new business venture to whether to jump in or out of the stock market.

It might also help to know that this, too, shall pass. Pluto’s passage through Capricorn will continue until 2023 so there’ll be more transformation to come, says Edward. “For most of my clients in business, I see that this year will be a little rough but they’ll be better off next year in 2010,” she said.

Alert the Bank of Canada. Call Ben Bernanke. It’s time to raise interest rates again. Pluto’s about to pass through fucking Capricorn.

That settles it. I’m locating the city with the lowest average IQ and opening a tanning salon where your fortune is read to you inside the booth. I shall be rich within minutes.

"It is still hard to convince people of the truth."

For over a year now my brother’s been writing on his blog about the after-effects, ten years on, of faulty a 1998 study linking childhood vaccinations to autism. From his first post on the topic:

In 1998 UK doctor Andrew Wakefield had a study published that claimed there was a link between autism, a new type of bowel disease, and the Measles-Mumps-Rubella (MMR) vaccination jab given to children. This scary proposition – that something that almost all children were getting might cause autism – led to a massive amount of media coverage of the study. And that, of course, led to massive dropoffs in the rates of MMR immunisation of children in the UK.

It quickly became clear, even back in 1998, that Wakefield’s results were suspect. Ten of the thirteen authors of the paper summarizing the study removed their names from the conclusions drawn. It’s been a sordid saga since then. Newspapers have re-ignited the scare. Wakefield has been charged with professional misconduct. The publication that carried the original study has since denounced the study as flawed. Although Wakefield continues his work, there are very few medical professionals who believe there is a connection.

Today the BBC reported disturbing (if not surprising) news: a measles outbreak in Wales.

Health chiefs in Wales are dealing with a “massive” measles outbreak, with numbers already four times the highest figure recorded over the past 13 years. Four nursery school children were treated in hospital as part of 127 cases across mid and west Wales, while there are another 35 cases in Conwy.

The National Public Health Service (NPHS) in Wales saw 39 cases last year. Its highest figure in 2003 was 44.

Officials appealed for parents to take up the MMR vaccine.

More from the BBC:

“Parents are taking a conscious decision not to get the MMR jab. We think that is down to the concerns that were raised when the research came out.

“The newspapers have admitted the research was wrong, but it is still hard to convince people of the truth.”

That’s the real crux of the problem. The news went out, it was a hot story and blared from newspaper headlines, but retractions rarely have the same zazz and so most people don’t absorb the news. Also, Oprah deserves some blame.

Seriously. Oprah, who undoubtedly influences the opinions of millions of parents, has thrown in with Jenny McCarthy and other vaccine skeptics. And if you’re a new parent — exhausted, stressed and fairly freaked out — maybe you don’t have time to thoroughly research these things. Maybe you trust your friend who heard it on Oprah, or your family member who read it in the newspaper years ago.

Here’s the thing: ten years ago a scientist yelled “Fire!” in a crowded theatre, and the media started yelling along with him. When some people looked around and realized there was no fire, they pointed it out to the media. The media, for the most part, realized they’d been fooled and told people it was safe to come back in, but the people were already out on the street and no longer paying attention. Worse yet, there are now people standing in the doorway saying the theatre is still on fire even though there’s neither smoke nor heat.

Look, no scientist would claim that it’s impossible for there to be a link between vaccinations and autism. It’s just that there’s been no substantive proof of one to date. If there were no consequences to this, no one would care. But there are consequences, and they’re serious indeed. Kids die from the measles.

Doctors everywhere are begging parents to get kids vaccinated before the problem gets worse. We happily listened to doctors about washing our hands to avoid H1N1, and all that was on the line there was the flu. Why would we ignore their advice about how to save our children?

"You can whistle really loud, you know that?"

Victoria Day, shmictoria day. This was movie day. We watched four:

Star Trek (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was as good as advertised. I don’t want to say too much about the plot in case you haven’t seen it, but I like how they handled the reboot. Good action, great pacing (you basically sit down and whammo, two hours later, it all stops and you go home), funny in parts and lots of little nods to the original series, some of which I probably didn’t even get. A highly entertaining summer movie, to be certain.

The Reader (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was a bit of a disappointment. Granted, by waiting so long to see it I was already aware of the two biggest ‘surprise’ points of the film, but even so, I didn’t think it was great. I think it’s another great example of a make-up Oscar being given to an actor — Kate Winslet — who deserved to win it for a past role. OK, but not great, and certainly not good enough to make the best picture shortlist.

For some reason I recorded The Strangers (imdb | rotten tomatoes) earlier this week and we watched it today. That was a mistake. Rubbish. Sufficiently creepy for the first half, but dumb cliche and crap plot from then on. Waste of time. Avoid.

After all that violent shlock we decided to change gears and go for light and goofy. Get Smart (imdb | rotten tomatoes) was both of those. Not hilarious, but amusing here and there. Not much of a story, but you know…it’s Get Smart. I wouldn’t recommend anyone go out of their way to see this, but if you notice it’s on, there are worse things you could watch. Oh, and Anne Hathaway: hideous. I can barely stand to look at her.

And here endeth the movieathon. Tomorrow it’s back to the office, like the rest of the British empire.