February 28, 2010

As I write this post on Sunday morning, Canada has won 13 gold medals in the Winter Olympics.  That equals the record that only the Soviet Union (1976) and Norway (2002) have managed before.   It is a remarkable achievement and we still have the chance to make it 14 gold and give Canada a record that we could hold for decades.  However, in the short term at least, the entire success or failure of Canada’s Games depends solely on the result of the hockey final this afternoon.

Universal health care, peacekeeping, hockey:  we can be pretty single-minded when we want to be!

Go Canada go!

The “original” Craig’s List?

February 19, 2010

In those distant days before the internet, fifty years before Craig’s List, and using just the telephone, a couple from East Vancouver set up a middle-man position for people trying to buy and sell things.

“People who want to buy or sell anything can phone Boyd’s List and will receive information where buyers and/or sellers can be contacted.  A very reasonable charge is made for this service.” — Highland Echo, 24 April 1952.

Craig’s List … Boyd’s List — even the name is not new!

Frisbee Through The Universe

February 13, 2010

Some of the good guys die old.  This week we lost Fred Morrison, the man who gave us the Frisbee, at age 90.

His original was called the Pluto Platter and had the names of the planets embossed around the edge;  which goes some way to explaining his odd outfit in this 1957 publicity shot.

May his soul sail softly through eternity.

Nylons 2

February 10, 2010

“Nylons 2” (2010), Powerpoint to TIFF, 36″ x 36″

You may have to be of a certain age to appreciate these wonders.

In 1950, Television Already Revealed As Evil

February 9, 2010

As I have written elsewhere, I am currently researching a history of Commercial Drive.  In the midst of that research I have found an editorial in the Highland Echo, Commercial Drive’s local paper, that takes a prescient view of television.  They describe it as:

… just one more of the influences currently being brought to bear on the American people to render them incapable of independent thought and independent decisions.”

Not much to add to that really.  The date of the editorial?  30th November, 1950.

Landscape No. 5

February 7, 2010

Not All Sports Are Created Equal

February 7, 2010

I admit it, I am a TV jock.  I like to watch sports on TV.  I’ll watch almost any kind of sport instead of a blank screen.  You might think that one team sport is essentially much like any other team sport, but that isn’t so.  Watching such a variety of sports has allowed me to isolate a large number of differences between team sports in North America and team sports in the rest of the world.  And, so we are clear, I am talking here about major team sports — soccer, American/Canadian football, cricket, rugby, baseball, ice hockey, basketball.

1.  Sports as Business Risk

Virtually all team sports outside North America are played in a series of hierarchical leagues where a team’s position in the series of leagues is dependent solely on their success or failure in the previous season.  To use British soccer as the exemplar, there is the Premier League at the top of the heap.  Below that is the Championship League, followed by League Division 1, League Division 2 etc.  If you finish in the bottom three of the Premier League in one season, the following season you will be relegated to the Championship League.  Your position in the Premier League is taken by one of the teams that finished in the top three of the Championship League in the previous season and were therefore promoted.  Three or four bad years in a row and you can quickly find yourself several levels below the top flight. This system, or something very similar, is the case for soccer, rugby, cricket leagues all over the world.  Even the ancient Japanese sport of sumo operates in the same way.

To be clear in the basest North American manner, the level your team plays in determines everything to do with money.  A soccer team in the English Premier League will make tens of millions of dollars a year more than will a team in the Championship; and the diffference is similar between the Championship teams and those in lower leagues.  There are genuine financial incentives for doing well, and significant financial penalties for doing badly.

In North America, there are financial incentives in doing better than the next team, but there are NO penalties for bad play:  you can play really badly for decade after decade and still be in the major leagues.  There is no chance of a Triple-A team being promoted, and no chance of a major league team being demoted. The entire business risk based on sporting chance has disappeared.  Every part of the system — from TV-revenue sharing to bottom-up drafts — is designed to bring equality.  It is an oddly non-free enterprise system, socialist in its implications.

2.  Always a Winner

In all of the North American major league team sports there must always be a winner in every game.  If one team cannot win in the regulation time, then you keep playing in some form or another until someone DOES win:  extra time, shoot outs, etc.

In team sports outside of North America, a draw or tie is a perfectly acceptable result for all but a tiny proportion of matches.   In fact, where a weak team is playing a stronger, their tactics may well be to aim for a draw and thus secure something rather than lose everything in a winner-take-all scenario.  This is a legitimate management option.

3.  Armour

In the contact sports — American/Canadian football, hockey — the trend in North America is to increase and improve body armour. Steroids help too.

In the contact sports — rugby, soccer — the trend in the rest of the world is to minimize equipment to free up the athlete.  Looking at a moderrn professional rugby player in his kit is to imagine that he put on the team shirt and then stood in some vacuum packing device so that the uniform is almost moulded to the player’s body.  Muscles are what you see, not padding and straps and metal.

4.  The Viewing Experience

There are a number of cosmetic differences in watching these team sports.  For example, in the rest of world, in every kind of team sport (including baseball, football, basketball and hockey) the home team is listed first, the game clock shows how much of the game has gone, and the teams keep the same uniforms wherever they play (with a few minor exceptions).  In North America, the visiting team is always listed first, the game clock always shows how much time is left to play, and the home team is always in the darker uniforms.

None of these things are, perhaps of any importance by themselves.  However, together they change how a game is watched and experienced, especially on television.  Why these particular small things are reversed is a mystery to me.  Is it psychology? marketing? chance?

5.  The International Perspective

Finally, North American major league team sports are entirely insular at the club level.  They play all of their games and competitions against one another, no outsiders are wanted.  This leads to the embarrassing situation where, say, a team in Ohio plays a team in Georgia for a “World” series or a “World” championship.

In the rest of the world, major team sports find every excuse to play different leagues, to challenge clubs from all over the globe.  These international leagues and competitions sit on top of the national leagues and become a further incentive to good play.  T o use English soccer as the example once again, the top four teams in the Premier League get to play in the following year’s Champions League against similarly successful clubs from all over Europe.  The teams that come fifth to eighth in the English Premier League qualify for the Europa Cup.  It is estimated that winning the Champions League is worth $100 million to a club, while winning the Europe Cup might be 20% of that.  Similar high value competitions exist in rugby and cricket, and for soccer in other continents.

Major league sports teams outside North America do very well, thank you very much, both in terms of money and quality without any of the protected Trust-like setup that North American leagues feel the need to erect.  They operate in a completely free market, where talent rises to its own level against peers from every corner of the globe.  They are the true capitalists, while the Major League owners are more like a Stalin-era Politbureau stamping out competition.

North Korea: Extreme Laboratory

February 5, 2010

In another life, I wrote a lot about North Korea.  It is a fascinating place with a genius aparatus that keeps it going against all the odds, against common sense, and against the entire world.    If nothing else, it is a massive multi-million person experiment in social control.  Now, although it hasn’t been widely reported, they have actually managed to wipe out ALL private wealth.  We’ll be able to see how that works out, or whether that was going one step too far.

Getting rid of private wealth turned out to be extremely simple.  First, you cancel the currency and tell the people they can swap out their old notes for new ones.  Then you tell everyone that the exchange rate rate will be 100 old notes for one new note.  Then you only allow $30 of exchange per person.  That way, no-one has more than $30.  All other wealth simply disappears*.  That’s a neat trick that couldn’t be tried in any other country in the world.

* not including the cash held by the elite that is in anything other than the Korean currency.

The Old Farts Bite

February 4, 2010

Asashoryu, perhaps the greatest sumo wrestler of all time, has been forced to retire from the sport because he doesn’t have the “dignity” to retain his position of grand champion or yokozuna.  It has nothing to do with his skill in the ring but, rather, his apparent inability to live within the rules of conduct that others, less skillful than him, have set for the position.

During the last basho, Asashoryu got drunk one evening and punched out a colleague, breaking his nose and re-arranging his lip.  They settled the matter between themselves and that should have been that.  But no.  Asashoryu’s critics — perhaps especially Japanese elders who don’t like to see foreign dominance of the ancient sport — grabbed hold of the incident as a way to beat up on the champion and force his to retire.  This was, I am certain, the only way they could guarantee that the Mongolian, who had already won 25 Emperor’s Cups, would not break the record of 32 victories, currently held by a Japanese.

In the end, although he was tearful at his farewell, this may be a release for Asashoryu.  His extraordinary career has brought him broad business interests in Mongolia.  The restrictions attached to being a yokozuna are now gone and he can expand his business career as he wants.

Something similar is happening in English football.  John Terry, captain of Chelsea and England, has been discovered to be a serial cheater on his young wife, and with the wife of another player.  Apparently John has trouble keeping it in his pants.  So, he is not a good husband or friend, fine, but how does that affect his ability to be England’s captain?  There is a media-whipped frenzy demanding his resignation for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with his footballing abilities.  How many captains of industry or leading doctors and surgeons would be out of a job if we determined these things by morality?

As the Globe & Mail columnist noted this morning:  “It is unrealistic to have a squad of players where everyone respects and likes each other. While Terry will probably be disliked and mistrusted as a person within the squad he will, nevertheless, be respected as a football player. The harsh reality is this will trump all other options or considerations for [England’s’ manager]”.

Update: They DID remove John Terry as Captain this morning.  Such dummies!  The Worldsports site has a good piece on why that is a bad thing to do.