The War of 1812 was 200 Years Ago – Should we Care?

Posters and dioramas at Vancouver’s Canada Place, replica villages in Gananoque, Ontario, battle re-enactments at Toronto’s Fort York – these are all part and parcel of the Harper government’s bicentennial celebrations of the War of 1812 taking place this summer. I have to wonder if it’s really worth the  expense to memorialize what for so many of us is an obscure, inconsequential conflict. Perhaps it is the perceived ignorance of our own history which inspired Ottawa to educate us about the war this summer using tax dollars. We shouldn’t be entirely surprised by how keen the current government is for this sort of thing – it’s in the same vein as the amount of wasteful spending which went into re-branding our army as the “Royal Canadian Forces”. We can’t forget where we came from – after all.

The historical narrative being trotted out by Canadian Heritage is that we were born as a nation through defending our borders from repeated attempts at invasion by American forces and that this deserves recognition. No doubt true: the Americans torched Fort York (Toronto) at the beginning of the war, and we (mostly settlers from America originally) set fire to the White House in retaliation. Yay us! We felt better. Avenged even – and ultimately bonded through the experience, becoming a little more “Canadian” in the process and a little less “American.” An important evolution towards nationhood, no doubt, but does it really merit celebrating what was essentially a brutal, prolonged, nasty little war with no clear victor and little gained on either side?

Canadian Heritage thinks so. As part of its campaign of memory, it has spent close to $900,000 dollars in Vancouver alone (not even on the map in 1812) to make sure that West Coasters know the war happened. To that end – there’s a fake ship’s wheel and cannon sitting at the Canada Place promenade, among some other odds and ends.

When neighboring Coast Guard stations are being shuttered due to Tory budget cuts, could this money have been put to better use? You decide.

From West Coast to Country Western

The country western culture is foreign to me and there is no better introduction to a new culture than total immersion. At least that’s my favourite strategy. I was of the “anything but country” variety for many years before I started dating a born and raised Calgarian. This year will be the 100th anniversary of the Calgary Stampede so it seemed like the ultimate introduction to this integral part of his upbringing.

When I imagine the Stampede, the picture in my head is a toss up between a lawless, raucous street festival and an urbane city fair with partners swinging partners doe-see-doe.  Of all the stories I’ve ever heard about the Calgary Stampede, I have heard very few adjectives used to describe it.  Usually people tend to stop short at “It’s just so –“ or  “You’ve just gotta – “.  These types of descriptions, while leaving plenty of room for my imagination to run wild or “stampede” with visions of what to expect, may or may not be preparing me for what to actually expect on my summer vacation next week. From the information I have managed to gather, there are a couple aspects of the Stampede that seem to be especially community building in nature.


I am so looking forward to the prospect of an entire city taking part in a weeklong theme party.  I am a costume party enthusiast to say the least. It’s hard to imagine all of Vancouver getting dressed up in any one costume besides Canucks team wear but I do like to imagine everyone dressing up as fishermen for a week while for the most part going about their daily routine. Or if during the Olympics, instead of just wearing red mittens, we had all dressed up like the ancient Greeks. I have also heard tell of a special Super Hero Day in the Brazilian Mardi Gras celebrations when everyone dresses up as super heroes. From what I gather, it’s the nostalgic feeling of dressing up that really makes the Stampede more than an urbane city fair and more of community cornerstone.

FREE PANCAKE BREAKFASTS! Get everyone together and give them free pancakes. The genius of this simple idea should not be understated. I have written before about the strong power of a shared meal. People are much friendlier when they have full bellies and even more friendly when they have recently been the given something for free. Friendly people are catalysts for community building. Perhaps the way I phrased it the first time should be corrected. The real idea here is, “if you feed them, they will come”. Notably, this concept was a smash hit over the Canada Day long weekend in Vancouver with the first ever Food Cart Festival drawing in huge crowds and selling out their street eats.

Of all the adjective-less descriptions of the Stampede that I’ve heard, there has been a consistent excitement present in all of them. That excitement is undeniably contagious. I have my best outlaw gear at the ready and I’m raring to go to my first rodeo.

CP Rail Was on Strike Last Week – Did Anyone Notice?

On May 31st, 4,500 CP Rail brakemen, engineers, and conductors walked off the job and freight operations at Canada’s second largest railway ground to a halt. For businesses dependent on trains to get their goods to market, this was an instant catastrophe.

Deprived of rail, their goods piled up in warehouses and port terminals, or or in bottle necks across the country and they started to rapidly lose money. The stance on Parliament Hill was that if the strike wasn’t resolved soon, it could start costing the Canadian economy up to 500 million dollars a month.

No small wonder then, that by the time the strike hit day three, a panicked chorus of business leaders across the country were demanding action from Lisa Raitt, Labour Minister. And it didn’t take her more than 48 hours to get back-to-work legislation moving through the House of Commons and to the Senate for approval. After all, she’s had practice of late in forcing workers back to their jobs. (All she probably had to do this time was use existing legislation, simply substituing “Air Canada” and “Canada Post” for “CP Rail”!) Surprise, surprise – Lisa Raitt’s bill passed, and by the middle of last week the strike was over. CP workers were back in action, the issue of deep cuts to their pensions proposed by CP management unresolved.

Working for Port Metro Vancouver, it was amazing to me to see how utterly dependent both the Port, but also our national economy, remains on rail to keep business moving. CP opened up a newly minted Canada to Asian markets almost 50 years ago and its importance has only grown even with the advent of alternate modes such as air cargo or long-haul trucking. CP alone handles close to 50% of the over 120 million tonnes of cargo which passes through Vancouver’s port every year. This shows no signs of diminishing with container cargo projected to triple by 2030.

Next time you’re stuck at a rusty rail crossing impatiently waiting for that endless string of rickety freight cars to trundle past, remember that, without rail, we’d be sunk.

Masthead photo courtesy of ahockley’s photostream on Flickr

Canvassing the Country

A cool story came to me across our virtual editor’s-desk that couldn’t be more fitting for a feature on the ‘boot.

It’s a community, using ideas from across Canada, coming together for a cause.

The bonus – it’s a community of artists, as a recovering painter and printmaker myself it’s exciting to get to talk to inspiring people working on a really cool project.

Here’s the skinny:

The MFPA (That’s the Mouth and Foot Painting Artists) have selected artists across Canada to work together on a canvas. It’ll travel the country as each artist paints a portion that is representative of their region. It’s like the Voyageur guitar, but less like a guitar and more like a tapestry of Canadian inspiration all in the name of supporting disabled artists and showcasing what can be achieved in the face of adversity.

That a group of artists are coordinating a collaboration across Canada is noteworthy enough. That the group of artists are all facing significant challenges, have found drive and inspiration through art, and are using that to inspire others is fantastic.

I got to talk with the painter Cody Tresierra, he’s got the canvas first and is painting a scene of the Stanley Park totem poles and coastal mountains as a representation of the West Coast. He says most of what he paints for the public is representative of the West Coast, and that lots of it is kind of a diary of where he goes. For himself and friends he does portrait work and experiments with really pushing colour.

Learning, seeing others progress and the ability to meet people from all over the world through the MFPA have been key for Cody. He was inspired to take up painting himself when one night, about two years into rehab at Pearson after a motor vehicle accident left him paralyzed from the neck down, he saw a lady painting with her mouth. The ability to produce something real you could look at and share had him hooked.

Cody’s perseverance in the face of adversity is inspiring – and his work is fantastic. Take a moment to connect with the group making this happen and use their dedication as inspiration to get something creative and constructive done yourself.

Go check out the MFPA – The association supports artists through selling cards, calendars, books and more, and  bookmark the Canvassing the Country page – each artists is also recording their work and you’ll be able to follow it as it develops and travels across Canada.

Joel Plaskett’s Microcosm of Community

rebecca / flickr

It’s Sunday morning. Last night Michelle and I saw Joel Plakett Emergency (Joel Plaskett’s band is an/the Emergency) play at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver, which is a big deal because Joel Plaskett almost never comes to Vancouver.

Reflectively poetic interruption:

I love Maritimers. In fact, Maritimers are probably my favourite kind of Canadian folk. Fun fact, Martin Renauld is probably my favourite Canadian, mostly because he’s from Quebec and won’t know exactly how to react to this comment. Anyway, like I was saying, I love Maritimers. One of the greatest years of my life unfolded in Lennoxville, Quebec during which time I lived with three fantastic gentlemen from Halifax (Cole Harbour), Nova Scotia. Jon, Justin and Adam were/are in possession of the sort of mischief, poetry, kindness, storytelling, and intangibly-unique-sociability reserved for folks from this part of the world. For years I have enviously listened to their stories of The Plask’s performances in person, over the phone and watched their posts/videos online – my theory is that he plays in either Halifax, Moncton, Charlottetown, or somewhere in the woods of Cape Breton once a week. And I’ve been jealous because I love Joel Plaskett almost as much as I love Maritimers. So last night was a pretty big deal for me. For all of us in Vancouver.

Here are my three favourite things about the Joel Plaskett Emergency show in Vancouver:

1. “Joel Plaskett: What a Beauty!” This was an overheard from the guys behind us, which was inspired by Joel (I feel like I can call him Joel) laying on his back as he sang, told stories and nearly killed himself by getting tangled and electrocuted (“electrangled” ©Copyright John Horn 2012) in what he described as an “overly ambitious stage show” – the show included red-light-rock-n-roll-monkeys and they were/are awesome. Also included on the list of things that make Joel Plaskett “a beauty” are the following: Canadian unpretentiousness (he arrived on stage wearing jeans, a jean jacket and, you guessed it, a jean shirt), soul of a poet, friggin’ hilarious, weird quirkiness (best evidenced by some of the most amazing hand gestures I’ve ever seen), and the stage presence of a truly gifted showman Showman.

2. “Do not deviate from the set list.” Following multiple requests for certain songs from certain audience members, Joel responded to the group (he was brilliant with his fan-engagement throughout the evening) with this quotation. And then he told a story about why he thought that this was the funniest thing anyone has ever yelled at him during a show. Fantastic.

3. Diverse Musical Stylings. Joel Plaskett can rock with the best of ‘em (“Lightning Bolt”), he can make you tear-up with a love song (“I’m Yours”), he can make you dance with a catchy pop song (“Through & Through & Through”), and he can make you laugh with some of the most creative lyrics this side of K’Naan (“North Star” or “Come on Teacher” or “Extraordinare” or “Fashionable People”). Oh, and he’s got some sentimental gems that get to the heart of community (“I Love This Town”).

In conclusion, from his Canadian Tuxedo to his storytelling to his balls-out rockin’, Joel Plaskett is a community-builder (unless you’re from Kelowna) through and through and through.

His cross-Canada tour just kicked-off and you should check out when he’s coming to your town. Because Joel Plaskett is all kinds of awesome.

4/13 Victoria, BC – Alix Goolden
4/14 Vancouver, BC – Vogue Theatre
4/16 Banff, AB – Banff Centre
4/18 Calgary, AB – MacEwan Hall *
4/19 Edmonton, AB – Winspear Centre *
4/20 Saskatoon, SK – U of Sasks, Louis Pub *
4/21 Winnipeg, MB – Garrick Centre *
4/25 Montreal, QC – Corona Theatre *
4/26 Ottawa, ON – Bronson Centre *
4/27 St Catharines, ON – Brock Centre for the Arts *
5/18 Toronto, ON – Queen Elizabeth Theatre *
5/19 Toronto, ON – Queen Elizabeth Theatre *

* with Frank Turner

A Community of Madness – Final Round

sonnet / flickr

Here’s Alex and my re-cap from Round 1, Round 2 and Round 3 of March Madness.

This final one will be short and sweet.

Partly because this year’s installment of March Madness – the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament – yielded one of my worst ever predictive performances, but mostly because it’s now out of our community’s collective consciousness and, as a blog that explores community, we must honour this. [Editor's note: the tourney was pretty boring, too - for the first time I can remember, there wasn't a single buzzer-beater and, well, everyone knew that Kentucky was going to win]. That’s right, folks, following their historic run to the championship, the starting lineup of the Kentucky Wildcats will be heading to the National Basketball Association (NBA) and their coach, in the years to come, will probably be investigated for illegal recruiting practices, which is pretty much what happened to Jim Calhoun after his UConn Huskies won the championship last year.

Go, um, sports?

Anyway, congrats to Alex and Robin for picking Kentucky to win it all. I think that Robin won (Alex, in the last three years of us doing this Robin has won twice and Michelle has won once), which was how this was supposed to happen. And congratulations to the Kansas Jayhawks for having the nicest community-building fans in the nation.

As always, this is one of my favourite series on the Gumboot, folks. And I thank you all for providing the metrics, attitude, witticisms, sportitude, and energy as we explored one of the most fascinating community-based stories in sport.

Thanks for the memories. See you next year!

A Community of Madness – Round 3

[Editor's note: people, the Editor-in-Chief of this blog loves basketball, higher education, community, competition, and when they all slam together in a mess of cheers, tears, body-paint, over-achievement, and ridiculously awesome excitingly uncontrollable hyperboles. Exclamation point! Over the next three weeks, John and his American-import-possibly-mustached-BFF, Alex Grant, will engage in witticisms and precarious predictions pertaining to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. As players, teams, schools, regions, bank accounts, pundits, pride, and - yes - nations collide, you will get a true sense of what the March Madness community really means. Enjoy!]

flyingsaab / flickr

LET’S RE-CAP THE MADNESS | Round 1 | Round 2

JOHN: Well, we all went 2-4 in terms of picking the last teams standing … except for Michelle, who went 0-4 in her quest to select Final Four teams. Her formula will be forever called into question. But her energy, confidence and sense of community never will!

In other news – meh - that is the news, or at least the word, that kinda sorta describes the 2012 March Madness tournament from my perspective. Sure, there were a few big upsets during the first weekend, but there hasn’t really been the game that’s defined the tournament; there have also been three times as many semi-colons used in this “journalistic” series than there have been buzzer beaters in the tournament. Disgraceful. Even the Kansas vs. North Carolina game (fun fact: Barack Obama picked UNC to win it all, which Sean Hannity will undoubtedly use as evidence that the President is secretly controlling gas prices and is, at best, a mediocre basketball player) saw some great first-half moments, but what could’ve been the game of the tourney truly fizzled into, well, a +10 point victory for Kansas (the team I picked to win it, by the by).

Oh, and I’m sad about Michigan State – I think that this is the first time in Tom Izzo’s career where a team he coached that was ranked No. 1 didn’t make it to the Final Four. But I guess that there’s a first time for everything; for example, Ohio State is actually good this year! Semi-colon!

In any case, my conclusion for the tournament thus far is that, first, I still love the energy, poise, lack of poise, and pure basketball that these kids play and, second, I’m too old, “professional” and in possession of cooler priorities to watch the required amount of television to accurately comment on this tournament.

But that’s okay. We make up stuff on this blog all the time. Alex is from Saskatchewan, not Indiana. And Kentucky’s fourth guy off the bench is actually – literally - a Wildcat (like, the offspring of a puma and wolverine) from rural Ontario.

sleepyneko / flickr

ALEX: Well, you know what they say…two out of four ain’t bad. I believe they also say
that two out of three is nearly perfect. These two old chestnuts happen to neatly summarize my performance in both Final Four predictions, and in mental acuity for
blog article deadlines.

Well, the rock chalk has settled, and here we are. A #1, #2, #2, and #4. All in all
a pretty good year for the tournament, not least of all because Duke went down
in flames in round one. I missed the opportunity to delight at this fact last week,
so let me just share the final delicious moments for further savoring. Take that


JOHN: Kansas all the way, baby. They’ve got all the ingredients for an NCAA championship team: outstanding guard play, the ability to stroke the three-ball, a legit seven-foot-bigman-not-named-Big-Country, stifling defense, great open-court play, and a guy who wears 0 on his jersey named Robinson that does all the intangibles with great intensity.

The only problem with the above facts is that Kentucky does all these things, too. Better even. But I didn’t pick them and my extensive research shows that Kansas fans are nicer, so, let’s go Jayhawks!

I also think that the Louisville vs. Kentucky game is going to be absolutely brutal and will probably result in several people getting hurt – may the basketball gods ensure that none of the injuries are permanent or life/career threatening.

John's Picks - Go Michigan State!

ALEX: Now let’s quickly review what’s left and partake in the yearly tradition of casting
aside all bracket-bound loyalties, and instead root based on arbitrary gut instinct!

OSU vs. Kansas – Really, I wish this was the final because either team winning the
Big Dance would be mildly palatable. However, because I like Aaron Craft, I’m going
to be rooting for OSU, even though the Buckeyes are a bunch of big-school cheaters
and a hated Big10 rival. Such is March Madness!
OSU 76 / KU 73

Kentucky vs. Louisville – I’ve never really liked Louisville for some reason. But the
searing humiliation their coach publicly suffered may have started to turn the tide
in that regard. Who doesn’t love a good insane extortion story?? The upshot here is
that it’s only a matter of time until Kentucky’s coach John Calipari is exposed as a
trafficker of human organs. Well, maybe not that, but he’s clearly up to no good.
UL 80 / KU 78

Final: I have no idea. Who knows? I’m picking Tim Tebow in straight sets.

Alex's Picks - Winning!


JOHN: Well, Alex, I can only assume that your lack of chatter on this weekly forum is a result of your emotional attachment to Canada’s national sport, Lacrosse. Perhaps you’re learning the game and trying to understand how, during a really cold winter, it was transformed into hockey (dude, it wasn’t; they’re totally different – also, we stole hockey from the Mayans).

As always, good sir, it has been a pleasure exploring this important element of community with you.

ALEX: You really had a golden opportunity to rake me over the coals last week Horn.
I would have been defenseless against your biting critiques. And all your witty
statements of scorn would have been correct! Missing a deadline in the 21st century
is pure bush league. But instead you took the high road. You even complimented
my personal hygiene and my bracket picks…And this has made me very suspicious.
What’s your angle here?! Are you and Robin in cahoots? Do you two have a deal to
sell my supple kidneys to John Calipari?!?! OUT WITH IT!

In any case, provided I don’t wake up in a bathtub of ice next week (or, even if I do)
it’s another great crazy year in the books and I look forward to our next battle of
wits and words.


ROBIN: Okay, so here we are at the end of another college basketball season, ready and poised to crown another victor.  As usual, I have remained almost entirely (and blissfully) ignorant of any happenings in the tournament.  I have dutifully turned the channel when I chanced upon some game while ellipticalling at the gym.  I have abruptly left friendly workplace conversations when the topic changed to who came out on top in last night’s game (thereby ending up on Wanda’s blacklist).  I have overtly cast the stinkiest of stink eyes at people cheering in a bar.  Yes, I have remained my most curmudgeonliest self.  That is, until Saturday.  I was ambushed.  Without warning, I walked into my parent’s house and my father told me that Kansas had just beaten UNC.  And I cared.  I cared that I had picked UNC to win the game.  And I felt betrayed that they had nevertheless lost.  How could they!?  And then I was shocked and embarrassed that I actually remembered my bracket picks.  I’m not supposed to care about this drivel.  But I did.  I haven’t yet processed all that this realization means.  I do know one thing, though.  Because I now care, friends, I am almost guaranteed next year to lose.

Robin's Picks - Totally Winning!

MICHELLE: Well, that was unfortunate…

Michelle's picks - "well, that was unfortunate"

Editor’s note: the scoring system for this particular bracket is based on the idea of exponential growth and the law of accelerating returns. So, one becomes two becomes four becomes eight becomes 16 becomes 32 becomes I can’t count higher than that. Does it make sense? No. Does this tournament? Nope.

A Community of Madness – Round 2

[Editor's note: people, the Editor-in-Chief of this blog loves basketball, higher education, community, competition, and when they all slam together in a mess of cheers, tears, body-paint, over-achievement, and ridiculously awesome excitingly uncontrollable hyperboles. Exclamation point! Over the next three weeks, John and his American-import-possibly-mustached-BFF, Alex Grant, will engage in witticisms and precarious predictions pertaining to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. As players, teams, schools, regions, bank accounts, pundits, pride, and - yes - nations collide, you will get a true sense of what the March Madness community really means. Enjoy!]

akeg / flickr - Alex and John took things too far...


JOHN: Well, it was a record-tying weekend. Only once before have teams seeded 11-15 done so well. In fact, two 15-seeds (Norfolk State and Lehigh) upset their second-seeded opponents (Duke and Missouri). And there was much rejoicing by the communities of those former two schools. Well done, fightin’ sports teams! And “go college!”

As for this little pool, well, my bracket isn’t broken, but it’s not not broken, either. While only one of my final four teams have fallen, I suffered a lot of damage within my “interior bracket” – this may or may not have been a word that I just made up (patent-pending, John Horn 2012). Vanderbilt going down to the stifling defense and sweet shooting of Wisconsin hurt, yes, but I still have my dealbreaker, Kansas, in the mix and they demonstrated nerves of steel and wily cunning as they ousted Alex’s beloved Purdue on Sunday (I heaved a great sigh of relief when they did, too).

Canadian Alert!!!

Wow. Brady Heslip is a fairly unassuming fellow. At least he was fairly unassuming until going 7/10 from three point range and almost single-handidly making Buffalos extinct in the state of Colorado. Now he’s King of Baylor and Burlington, Ontario.

Finally, congratulations to the state of Ohio. Your teams went 8-0 last weekend and that’s pretty darn great.

eliduke / flickr

ALEX: [Editor's note: as of press time, Alex Grant's 4,000 words were not filed - we can only assume that he is managing at least 453 social media channels through one integrated dashboard or making prank phone calls to Brady Heslip every five minutes and this is why he missed the deadline. Alex, next time just use Robocalls!]


ALEX: [Editor's note: see above above].

Alex's Picks - injured bracket

JOHN: I predict that Marquette will go down in the kind of flames that are typically reserved for metaphorical descriptions of what Donald Trump’s political career goes down in. Zing! My main man Evan “The Heavy” Ferris – somehow - predicted that Florida would make it, I think, to the Final Four. Well, I don’t think they’re going that far, but they’re going to take down Marquette in the Sweet 16. Well played, Ev.

John's Picks - injured bracket

The time has come for the number ones, too. And I also predict that Wisconsin is going to beat Syracuse and, here’s the big one, that Baylor is going to dispatch Kentucky. Here’s my Final Four:

  • Baylor
  • Michigan State
  • Kansas
  •  Wisconsin Ohio State Cincinnati Ohio State

danny wild / flickr


JOHN: Over the past couple of days I’ve been saying things like “three of my four teams are still in it” and “I’m doing waaaaaaayyyy better in my other bracket” – one of these statements is true. Do you know what else is true? Here’s a truism: Alex Grant is a gentleman and a scholar who not only throws great parties, but who also counts cooking, style and immaculate facial hair construction among his world-changing professional toolkit. You are a god amongst men and, well, you have three teams left in this game as well. Good luck, good sir!

Robin, well played. You clearly have the best strategy. None of my grand pappies went to college, though, so it was hard to pick the closest thing to a fishing boat off the coast of Newfoundland. Wait…was that Ulysses guy from thousands of years ago an Athenian or a Spartan? Because I think he was my great x 20 uncle.

And Michelle, well, you invested a bit too heavily in Duke stock this year.

ALEX: [Editor's note: I like to think that, at this time, Alex would celebrate his special lady's accomplishment as well as commend John for doing his best Alex Grant impression and/or hypothesizing where Alex might be right now ... prank calling Brady Heslip].


acaben / flickr

MICHELLE: Well, this is unpredictable fun. You never know what’s gonna happen. Take Duke, for example. Who could’ve seen that coming? [Editor's note: John saw it coming]. I hope that there’s not another upset like that. Go UNC!

In conclusion, I hate March Madness and am sad that my bracket is broken. I don’t understand how my logical and data-driven selection criteria failed me. Needless to say, this – more than anything else, ever – has me re-thinking the very principles of what I call “community”.

Michelle's Picks - broken bracket

ROBIN: [Editor's note: this is the very hilarious transcript of a conversation between Robin and John very early this morning. Oh, and she's winning our pool]:

Robin: Hi John. This is the first I’ve heard about a second post from me.  I’m pretty busy at work today, and I don’t think I’ll have time to jot anything down.  I’m so sorry for whatever part I played in dropping the ball here (haha?)  Please let me know how you would like me to proceed. Thanks. Robin.

John: Do you have your bracket all marked up? Because I can just post it. And no worries, I’ll take care of the words!

Robin: I don’t….I don’t even know where my bracket is. And I haven’t been paying attention so I don ‘t even know how I’m doing! That’s my whole MO with this march madness thing. I can try to recreate it when i get home tonight. Let me know if you want me to do that. 

[Editor's note: this is pretty great, right?]

Robin's Picks - winning

A Community of Madness – Round 1

[Editor's note: people, the Editor-in-Chief of this blog loves basketball, higher education, community, competition, and when they all slam together in a mess of cheers, tears, body-paint, over-achievement, and ridiculously awesome excitingly uncontrollable hyperboles. Exclamation point! Over the next three weeks, John and his American-import-possibly-mustached-BFF, Alex Grant, will engage in witticisms and precarious predictions pertaining to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. As players, teams, schools, regions, bank accounts, pundits, pride, and - yes - nations collide, you will get a true sense of what the March Madness community really means. Enjoy!]

toddwickersty / flickr creative commons

Let’s Set-up The Madness

JOHN: This is the third time that my March BFF, Alex Grant, and I have written about our experience with March Madness, the greatest sporting event in the history of the world (yes, I’m including gladiatorial “games” and the archery tournament from Robin Hood).

We did it in 2010 and 2011, too. Both times were amazing. Just like this time. Amazing.

So, why do I love the NCAA 64-team-single-elimination-Men’s-Basketball-Tournament so much? Here’s why:

1. There is always a possibility that two “Wildcats” or “Bulldogs” will play each other. Rarely do two teams with the same mascot name compete in any professional sports league* worth its salt, which is too bad, because it’s hilarious.

*[Editor's note: Somehow the unique and pro-Roosevelt (Teddy, not FDR) mascot name "Roughriders" was used by two teams in the, like, six-team Canadian Football League. This is also hilarious].

2. European Football Hooliganism Spirit in North America. In the Supporter’s Pledge of my Vancouver Whitecaps FC 2012 Season Tickets book, I have been asked to play my part for the team by “deafening our visitors by joining in our club’s chants, songs, and shouts” and “making our home pitch a fortress; a place no visitor wants to play” and “blinding our opponents with a sea of white jerseys, caps, scarves, and flags.” The simple fact that the fans of March Madness, unlike fans in any of the professional sports on this continent (except, ironically, soccer fans), paint their bodies, stand up for the entire game, sing songs, and take things too far when it comes to challenging the opposition is the realization of something special in their communities. And remember, people, keep it positive!

3. Anything* can happen! I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: 19 year olds frequently cave under the immense pressure of having 20 million people watch them break a full-court press with their team is up by one point with 45 seconds to go and your mom is yelling at you to shoot but your coach is, like, “work it for one shot!” and then your special lady, she’s, like, “I love you, baby” but all you can think about is how to accurately describe how the French Revolution started because it’s the topic of your history paper and you need at least a 72 to pass the class and you have a job interview for an internship with Rebuild the Dream and holy crap I’m being triple-teamed and I’m 5’10″ and they’re so big and they fouled me and oh my buddha I have to hit two free throws, which would usually be fine, because I’m money, but I can’t stop thinking about how Napoleon was also 5’10″ and now my mom is yelling at the coach and – gulp – here we go…

*[Editor's note: "Anything" never really happens; only once in the last, like, 30 years has a team ranked below fifth made it to the Final Four. Still, ridiculous and unpredictable things always happen. Like Alex choosing Purdue (ridiculous) and whether or not he will have submitted his 500 words by Wednesday (unpredictable)].

ALEX: Dearest John. Can you smell the energy? Do you feel the faint thrumming in your fingertips? The extra bit of pressure in your accelerating pulse? That’s the Madness my friend. It’s steaming down the track, furnaces blasting, and it’s nearly here.

YES! It’s true. Somehow it’s another year, and somehow, it’s March. I don’t know how either of these things happened. In fact, if I hadn’t seen your bombastic antics up close and personal at our mutual friend Kurt Lambreich’s wedding, I might have even forgotten our deep burning rivalry. But worry not my friend, for I am here to do battle in the brackets for another year. And this time, I have devised a plan so fiendishly flawless, so breathtakingly brilliant, and so stupefyingly strategic that I am guaranteed to take home the gold-plated trident we use as a trophy.

markfive / flickr creative commons

Let’s Make (Bold) Predictions

ALEX: In years past, my results in this battle of wits, patriotism, and athleticism (NB: no actual athletics required) have been like an undersized, 3-shooting, midmajor team named the Fightin Windexes. That is to say, I’ve been streaky.

But this year, all that is about to change. And because you’re powerless to stop me, Horn, I’ll even tell you why.

Number 1: Karma. Because last year held such miserable results for my favored sports teams (Purdue eliminated by VCU, Twins imploded and blew up the core team, Canucks crushed all my hockey dreams, and the Saints ended up being contract assassins) I am now due for a bracket run of epic proportions. It’s science.

Number 2: Good omens. Just yesterday, I noticed that the interior light in my car has started working again after I thought it was burned out. And last week, someone who owed me a dinner that I had completely forgotten about gave me 10 bucks. These are both pretty sweet scores, but they’re also something more. They’re harbingers of my coming success in our match of the ages.

Number 3: By far the most important part and keystone of my bulletproof strategy, I KNOW ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! I have worked hard to remain complete ignorant of all subtleties in the college game this year. I will be picking based on raw gut instincts alone. I don’t know if an Iona is a basketball team or a charged atomic particle.  I’m not even sure if John Calipari is still coaching with a court-ordered electronic monitoring bracelet around his ankle. Your fancy “insider knowledge” will be your undoing, much as it has been mine for the past three years.

Alex's Picks

JOHN: Well, I did something strategic awesome hilarious pretty stupid right from the start. Last year, Michelle won our four-way-pool (Alex, John, Michelle, and Old Man Dean) by applying this formula:

hilarity of team name x 64[( jersey colour - symbiosis of mascot) - (affiliation during the Civil War - size of English Lit. department)] + “your gut” ÷ MADNESS = The Duke Blue Devils.

Yeah, I wish I was joking. It wasn’t even close. She won like Charlie Sheen. Anyway, I didn’t go so far as to use math this time, but I did go so far as to use words. One word in particular, actually. And that word is “State”. For the first round I have selected every team with “State” in their name as my winners. Is this logical? Yes No. Will it help my chances? Yes No Probably. For you see, readers and fans, any good March Madness bracket needs to be sprinkled with some gut feelings and incredulity and a team from Nashville that some guy on the television yelled about yesterday in a super-convincing way.

John's picks

My big upset for the first weekend will happen when West Virginia muscles over Ohio St. Other than that, it’s pretty clear that the Canadians on New Mexico State will power past Indiana and Long Beach State (also powered by Canada) will eek out a victory against Los Lobos. It goes without saying that the underrated powerhouse that is South Dakota State will trounce the overrated Baylor Bears. As for the State vs. State first-round-battle, I’m obviously picking Murray State (basically playing at home) to blow-out Colorado State and then roll through Marquette like Kurt Heinrich rolls through defenders on the soccer field or through butter that he puts on his, um, rolls for din- shoot … I was in trouble a quarter of the way through that double metaphor!

Oh, and Purdue will be out in the first round, Alex, and Kansas will beat Michigan State in the final.

Go Vanderbilt!

Fire At Will / Flickr Creative Commons


JOHN: This gets harder and harder every year because, Alex, you’re such a sweetheart of a man who makes great choices when it comes to food, community and women, but poor choices when it comes to basketball. Oh, and Cranium – an ingenious Canadian invention  – is more of a sport and a game than your national pastime, NASCAR elections militarism baseball.

Oh, and I miss you and think/know you’re great and am lucky to share this experience with you, good sir.

ALEX: Now, every year we reserve this space to trot out the same old saws about why I’m really great and you’re really loud. Well this year, things are a bit different. I’ve seen you carve a Turducken one handed, and you’ve seen me belt out November Rain. We both know what the other is capable of. So I respectfully tip my jaunty cap, and suggest that we join forces against our better halves, who are always winning this thing anyway. What say you? Can we overcome our Shakespearian love/hatred to best our loved ones at reading the bracket tea leaves? Probably not, eh?

[Editor's note: he said "eh?"! Feud averted!]

Robin and Michelle Will Probably Win

MICHELLE: This year, my formula is an even simpler one. Here is what I took into consideration:

1. The livableness of the city, because the more healthy and livable the community then the players will do better.

2. How awesome the fans are totally determines how pumped-up and excited the players will be; my research shows that pumped-up players perform better, especially when they live in a healthy, happy and vibrant community.

3. I’m all about underdog teams that have a chance of winning, like North Carolina! I’m kidding. Like Murray State!!! [Editor's note: about halfway through her selecting John may or may not have had to explain what "the numbers next to each team" meant].

4. Bonus points for any team from a state where I know someone (my friend Caroline went to Layola).

Consequently, the winner will be North Carolina. Haha, my friend’s name is almost Carolina!

Michelle's Picks

ROBIN: Well, Alex has finally wised up and decided to apply an age-old rule to his March Madness picks: the woman is always right. Yep, you got it, Alex stole my strategy. This year, Alex has correctly identified the winning strategy as knowing “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.” He says, “I have worked hard to remain completely ignorant of all subtleties in the college game this year. I will be picking based on raw gut instincts alone.” But where did he come by that strategy? Me. As evidence, I’ve selected a few key passages from my “chitter chatter,” which appeared on this esteemed blog March 16, 2011.

My first point of advice last year was, “Don’t, under any circumstances, take the bracket seriously.  Over-thinking is enemy #1.  Think to yourself: ‘Geez, this is really dumb.’ and  ‘Who cares?’”  And second, I shared, “Above all else, go with personal affiliation and INSTINCT.  Is your great-great-grandpappy an Akron Zip? They’re in.”

These words speak for themselves.  However, I take this blatant violation of my intellectual property in stride.  This year it’s a battle of instincts.   Too bad for Alex that women are better than men at that too.

Robin's Picks

And that was 2,000 words of awesome!

[poll id="4"]

Quebec’s political scene upside down

Last spring, I wrote a post on the great Daily Gumboot following the federal elections, trying to explain Quebec’s unexpected vote for the NDP. I thought a conservative majority could help sovereignist parties, such as the PQ, so far it has not been the case. Since then, Quebec’s politics has continued moving quite a bit. Pools are extremely volatile, new actors are emerging; others are destroying themselves from within. As May 2th election showed, Québécois seem to look for change, but do not know where to find it.

Let’s start with the old parties. Liberals are in power since 2003, under Jean Charest. They have sunk extremely low. Charest’ government is an administrative one, stay with the flow, “do not make drastic changes and you might get re-elected” type of government. However, his government has lost most of its important ministers (one died, the other left for good private sector jobs), but most of all, it has been crippled with incompetence, bad decisions, and numerous scandals, notably his refusal for a year and half to implement a commission of inquiry on corruption in the construction sector). In the moment, Charest maintains his support only in liberal strongholds.

The Parti Québécois is also facing a storm after another. As the official opposition leader, Pauline Marois has suffered many attacks coming from inside her own party. Last June, 3 MPs left to sit as independents (Jacques Parizeau’s wife, a well-know actor and a former minister) to protest her leadership; another one left to form his own sovereignist party (Option Nationale); lately, a last one has joined the CAQ (see below). On top of this, different groups or influential personalities have called for her to renounce. In the last weeks, Gilles Duceppe has intended what has been described as a failed coup to replace Marois, without results. We have to remember that the PQ was formed as a coalition, including right and left wing nationalists. Now that a referendum seems very unlikely, even if the PQ takes power, this coalition seems to be falling apart.

While old parties are having a rough time, new ones are growing. Québec Solidaire is getting a lot of love from disillusioned left-wingers and former PQ followers. Based mostly in Montreal, it has one elected MP, Amir Kadhir who is party co-leader with well-known feminist Françoise David (yes, they have two equal leaders). Kadhir has been very effective in giving QS a great deal of visibility and raising new issues at the Assamblée Nationale. Pools are around 10% for them and are obtaining more support outside Montreal, which has always been their biggest challenge.  So much so that rumors are running the PQ is looking to make an alliance with QS in the next election. One thing is for sure, QS is stealing votes mainly to the PQ.

Another party just disappeared, the center-right ADQ (Action Démocratique du Québec) who had offered a disappointing performance as the official opposition in 2007-2008 and lost its life-long leader Mario Dumont. Their positions included usual right-wing reforms, such as limiting immigration, slash social programs, etc. After a very difficult year, the ADQ just got integrated in the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), a recently formed political party. Former PQ minister and businessman François Legault has regrouped individuals from all political families (PQ, Liberal –both provincial and federal-, ADQ). It stands as nationalist, yet no sovereignist, and refuses labels. Journalists describe the CAQ as center-right while Legault says they are neither left nor right but pragmatic. Basically, they want to reform the state, fighting bureaucracy while using the state as an economic force. For example, Legault proposes to increase teachers’ salaries but evaluate them to be able to fire the inefficient ones. The CAQ’s program is not very clear still. Its pool numbers were very high at first, now are around 30%. In my opinion, the CAQ main problem will be similar to the PQ’s, getting individuals with different ideologies working together, in short being a coalition… For example, MP François Rebello left the PQ and joined Legault to “undertake a green Quebec” while former ADQ MPs have always been very critical of environmentalists.

Next elections could be this spring or this fall, it is very difficult to say which party will win. For now it is a tie between the CAQ (31%) and Liberals (29%), PQ (25%) being very close behind. Charest could pass trough, since all the other parties are courting francophone votes and he can almost certainly count on most Montreal West Island ridings. However, things change quickly and Québécois seem to change their political tastes even quicker.