Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Some Hockey Thoughts


Trying out a new idea here: keywords to highlight the content of a post. We'll see how it works.

So ... the Canadiens have the fifth pick in the NHL draft this Saturday. Bob Gainey's said he's going to talk with the Penguins about getting the first overall pick, hence Sidney Crosby. It ain't gonna happen. The Penguins need Crosby for short-term survival. Just as they needed Mario Lemieux twenty years ago. The Canadiens don't have anything they can offer which would make up for the PR hit the Penguins would take if they let Crosby go. Maybe if somebody came to the Penguins with a ridiculously lopsided deal similar to what Philadelphia gave Québec for Eric Lindros. Maybe if somebody came to them with a deal which would guarantee them a Stanley Cup this year and next. But such deals do not exist, and should not.

The bigger question: should the Penguins continue to exist in the league, or at least in Pittsburgh, if the only thing that keeps them going are once-in-a-generation talents like Lemieux or Crosby? Isn't this effectively an admission that hockey, regular NHL-calibre hockey, is not sustainable in Pittsburgh? A lot of people are happy that because of Sindey Crosby Pittsburgh's probably going to be able to keep their team for the next little while. I'm not, necessarily. Instead, I'm a little sad that because of Sidney Crosby, a real hockey market (say, Winnipeg) is going to be deprived of a franchise they deserve more than the fairweather fans of Pittsburgh.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Back in action

So the NHL is back in business.

What does the new CBA mean? It looks like the owners won handily. But then it looked like they won back in 1995. In fact the CBA that resulted then benefited the players tremendously. So, essentially, time will tell who won this deal.

But because the owners were perceived as winning, because they seem to have gotten what they wanted, the pressure is on them to do well by the deal. What I mean is this: Gary Bettman's negotiated two CBAs for the NHL owners. The last one ... well, it kept them in business, but it didn't do much for their bottom line. This one's going to have to do better. Bettman's always had a vision of the NHL as a truly national league in the US; expansion to places like Nashville, Dallas, and Florida was meant to pave the way for a national TV deal, to eliminate the notion that hockey was a 'regional' sport. Instead, the popularity of the league's dropped, and TV ratings never hit the heights Bettman envisioned. Will this CBA allow things to be changed? Or will it at least allow all the franchises to keep going while the popularity of the sport increases?

Essentially, Bettman has to start realising his dreams. He's got the CBA he dreamed of. There's no excuse, nobody else to blame. It's time to put up or shut up. We'll see what happens, but something to consider: the cost certainties of the new CBA reopen the possibility of putting NHL teams in markets formerly considered too small to host a franchise. Say, for example, Winnipeg or (gah) Québec City. Pittsburgh's been talking about moving for a while. What happens to Bettman's great dream of American national popularity if teams move from the States up to Canada?

(And, of course, what about other dreams for the sport which won't come true while Bettman pursues his own? Expansion to Europe, for example. Risky — but is it any more risky than scattering franchises south of the Mason-Dixon Line, and cancelling a whole season of play?)

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Curiously Fine Writing

Mark Haddon's book The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a real interesting read.

To begin with, it's good. It's the first-person account of a fifteen-year-old with severe autism who sets out to figure out who killed the dog owned by the woman across the street. Christopher Boone's detective story is broken up by his personal reflections, his take on the world, which both let the reader into his way of seeing and are fine bravura pieces of writing. The story doesn't suffer; it's increasingly compelling, and takes a radical shift halfway through. It does read a bit like a screenplay in terms of structure, complete with a slightly aimless third act. That aside, it's well worth the read.

What's most interesting to me, though, is the way in which Haddon (probably unintentionally) sends up modernist and post-modernist notions of 'good writing'. His prose is bare of metaphor and (intentional) emotional content, because Christopher understands neither. The fact that the book is so gripping follows from Christopher saying more than he understands; which is theoretically where the punch in most modern literary fiction comes from. But look again: the narrator here is autistic, suffering from neurological impairment. If that's what it takes to produce the ideal literary protagonist, what does it say about literary fictoin? Christopher's story is punctuated with sharp observation of people around him, concrete tactile details such as are suppposed to be the hallmark of good writing. How does he know to include them? Because his creative writing teacher told him that details make for good writing, and because one of the symptoms of his autism is an acute Holmes-like power of observation.

So: what we learn from The Curious Incident is that literary fiction's ideal narrator suffers from autism. If this is so, what can we conclude about literary fiction's ideal readers, writers, and critics?

Friday, July 8, 2005


Recently read: Collapse, by Jared Diamond. It's an interesting book, with a weighty theme, but it has to be the worst-written important nonfiction bestseller I've ever read. Misplaced adjectives, dull text, creaky attempts to personalise vast issues ... but the ideas and the information are so intriguing, it just about makes up for it. Diamond looks at how and why societies collapse., and sometimes why they don't. He makes a strong case for the environment, and a society's management or mismanagement of the environment, as a key reason. He looks at a number of societies quickjly, and a couple in depth, including the Greenland Norse. The problem is that most of the societies he examines — the Maya, the Anasazi, Easter Island — have left little or no written records behind them, meaning that there's little to be gleaned on an individual level. It's not surprising that when he examines modern societies the book becomes much more interesting. It's too simple to say that the book provides a warning or a wake-up to the modern-day First World; rather, it demonstrates some ways in which the First World interacts with the rest of the world, and puts that in a historical context, implying certain patterns of societal development. It's a worthwhile effort, and worth reading, but the prose really does get in the way.