Thursday, December 23, 2010

Beauty and the Beast

We went to see the Ross Petty production of Beauty and the Beast last weekend. (Thanks Kerri for getting on the phone as soon as tickets were available and getting us third row seats!) Ross Petty has produced (and starred in) a pantomime at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto every Christmas for 15 years, and this is our third (or fourth?) year going to see them. It's always a lot of fun, and this year was no different. Petty always gets some fairly big name people in the show: In past years, he's gotten Kurt Browning, Alan Frew, Patty Sullivan (if you have young kids and live in Canada you will likely recognize her), Don Harron, Jessica Holmes, and even Bret "The Hitman" Hart. This year it was former Canadian Idol winner Melissa O'Neill and Kids In The Hall alumnus Scott Thompson. Petty himself always stars as the villain, and loves to be booed - so much so that if he appears on the stage and doesn't get booed, he stops, looks at the audience, and waits until they start booing him, grinning all the while. Then he inevitably tells everyone to shut up, though of course he wants nothing of the sort. He likes to get some topical humour in there as well; last year he talked about Tiger Woods, and this year he called the audience a bunch of left-wing pinkos.

The shows are aimed at kids (and there are a zillion of 'em there), but there are enough "grown-up" jokes that we parents always get a good laugh as well. The best one this year was by Scott Thompson, who was dressed in drag as Aunt Plinky. (There's always someone in drag in these shows.) At one point, they bring three kids from the audience (Nicky was chosen last year!) up on stage and talk to them a little. Scott was dressed as Queen Elizabeth at this point, and asked one of the kids "Have you ever been this close to a queen before?", and gave a knowing look to the audience. This was funny enough for most of the kids but for the adults, knowing that Thompson is gay made it even funnier. After the little girl said no, Thompson replied "Well, you probably have but you didn't know it."

I love all the little unexpected things they throw in there – things that aren't necessary, don't advance the plot or anything like that, they're just funny. Near the end of the play, when the problem has been solved and the bad guy defeated, the main characters come together and sing the "We Did It!" song from Dora the Explorer. Or when the main two characters (Bella and Prince Zack) are singing a romantic love song to each other, Aunt Plinky shows up with his her bubble gun and dances around silently blowing bubbles all over the stage. Every year, Petty picks a particularly silly dance sequence and says afterward "You won't see that at the Nutcracker!", which is not only funny because it's absolutely true, but also because he is married to Canada's most famous ballerina, Karen Kain.

Petty has a clever way of mentioning the sponsors – they take two "commercial breaks" and show very funny commercials featuring the actors and/or characters from the play. This year we had "Queen Elizabeth" (Thompson again) staying at the Royal York, Bella trying on dresses and Aunt Plinky getting drunk and passing out at The Bay, and "Busking Beaver" (Justin Bieber with buck teeth and a flat tail) buying wood at Lowe's, among others.

If you get a chance to see one of Ross Petty's plays near Christmas some year, definitely check it out, especially if you have kids. Just don't get tickets too early, or you may get the ones that we should be getting. And if you're going the same night as us, definitely do not go to Baton Rouge across the street for dinner beforehand. I'm sure the Popeye's Chicken across the street is just as good.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

At least they made the playoffs

Nicky's soccer team played in the consolation final yesterday, since they lost their semi-final game last week. The game was tied so they went to penalty shots and ended up losing. (Note that there are only four teams in this league, so fourth place is the same as last.) Nicky's teammate's mother and little sister (I think she's six) were sitting next to me, and this conversation occurred after the game:

Little Girl: Did we win the first place cup?
Mom: No, honey, we didn't.
Little Girl: Did we win second place?
Mom: No.
Little Girl: Third place?
Mom: No, not third either.
Little Girl: Fourth place?
Mom: Yes.
Little Girl: Oh. That's the Stinker Cup.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Stability in the NLL

Note: this is a "recycled" article from my blog from a few years ago. I've updated and posted it to the NLL blog.

Most NLL fans know that every year, teams appear, disappear, or move. But here's a sobering fact: the last time an NLL season began with exactly the same teams as the previous year (in the same cities) was 1993. That's eighteen straight seasons with some kind of team movement. Here's what's happened since then:

  • 1994: Removed Pittsburgh
  • 1995: Added Rochester, removed Detroit
  • 1996: Added Charlotte
  • 1997: Removed Charlotte
  • 1998: Added Ontario and Syracuse, removed Boston
  • 1999: Ontario moved to Toronto
  • 2000: Added Albany, Baltimore moved to Pittsburgh
  • 2001: Pittsburgh moved to Washington, Syracuse moved to Ottawa, added Columbus
  • 2002: Added New Jersey, Montreal, Calgary, Vancouver
  • 2003: Washington moved to Colorado, removed Montreal
  • 2004: New Jersey moved to Anaheim, Albany moved to San Jose, Columbus moved to Arizona, removed New York and Ottawa
  • 2005: Added Minnesota, removed Vancouver
  • 2006: Added Edmonton and Portland, removed Anaheim
  • 2007: Added New York and Chicago
  • 2008: Removed Arizona
  • 2009: Added Boston, removed Chicago
  • 2010: New York moved to Orlando, San Jose moved to Washington, removed Portland
  • 2011: Removed Orlando

Sometimes franchises fail because lacrosse just didn't sell in that city (Ottawa, Anaheim, Orlando, San Jose). Occasionally they fail because of corrupt or incompetent ownership (Vancouver). In the case of Arizona in 2008, it was some mystery reason that made no sense. This was the year that the NLL season was temporarily cancelled due to a labour dispute. The Sting shut down operations because of the cancellation, but then the season was resurrected two weeks later. Arizona management announced that they had already shut everything down and couldn't restart it in time (though every other team managed it), so they'd just sit out 2008 and return in 2009. Of course they didn't return at all, so it sounded to me like they used the season cancellation as an excuse to fold up operations since they weren't making much money. This is too bad for Arizona fans, since they had a very good team that made the finals twice in three years. The Chicago thing was another mystery reason — their owners said that it was just too difficult to manage the team in Chicago from their offices in Atlanta and LA. Mmmmmmkay. Never heard of phones? Email? Video conferencing? Hell, hire someone who lives in Chicago that can run things.

Whatever happened to due diligence, not only on the part of NLL ownership groups, but on the part of the NLL itself?

Apparently the Chicago owner announced that he wanted to sell the team during the middle of the 2008 season, which means that less than two seasons after he bought an expansion franchise, he was trying to sell it. Did he not consider the "difficulty" of running a team from a thousand miles away before spending $3 million to buy an expansion franchise? Did the NLL not ask him how he intended to run the team from a thousand miles away?

Twenty-six NLL teams have folded or moved since the league was formed in 1987. Of those, four (Ontario, Charlotte, Montreal, Orlando) only lasted a single season. Compare that to the NHL, where a total of eighteen teams have folded or moved since 1917. Four cities (Pittsburgh, Washington, New York, and New Jersey) have had NLL teams fail twice. Does this sound like a good league to purchase a franchise in?

Having said that, the Toronto, Colorado, Calgary, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Rochester franchises are all healthy. I don't know about Edmonton or Minnesota, but I haven't heard any negative rumours about those. Boston and Washington are probably too new to really have a good grasp, but 2011 will be Boston's third season in the league, so that bodes well for them. I really hope that the late 90's and early 2000's were a kind of experimental phase for the NLL, where they tried lots of new markets, many of which failed. Now that they have a core of seven or eight franchises that are doing well and are unlikely to fold, perhaps we'll see a little more stability.

Sunday, December 12, 2010


A week or two ago, a meme went around facebook where people would change their picture to that of a cartoon character and set their status to something urging others to do the same. This was supposed to be some sort of campaign against child abuse. But not once in any of the statuses that I saw was there any explanation of exactly how changing your facebook picture would have the slightest impact on this problem. Is some scumbag out there going to see all these pictures of cartoon characters on facebook and decide not to beat their child that evening because of it? Call me pessimistic, but I don't think so. Some may say that it was to "raise awareness". Who doesn't already know about child abuse? Other than the abusers themselves, who doesn't already think it's a terrible thing? Whose awareness are you trying to raise?

I'm not trying to be negative here and say that this is a problem that we can't solve so let's just do nothing. I'm not saying that people who do this are idiots. And there's certainly no harm in changing your facebook picture. But anyone who believes that this type of "campaign" will have any effect on anything is delusional. This is just another form of slacktivism, where people think they can cause real change in the world without actually doing any work.

This has come up on both facebook and twitter many times over the last few years: Copy this line to your facebook status if you know anyone who's died from cancer. Black out your twitter picture to protest a proposed copyright law in New Zealand. Join this group to protest <cause of the day>. Sign this internet petition to protest high taxes. Could the government look at an internet petition with several thousand "signatures" on it and rethink their budget because of it? Not bloody likely, but I guess it's theoretically possible. But how is changing your facebook status to "I know someone who died of cancer" going to change anything? And quite frankly, who doesn't know someone who's died of cancer?


Every couple of years there's the "gas-out" where everyone is supposed to not buy gas on a particular day (sometimes from a particular gas company) to protest high gas prices. This is not quite the same thing, in that people are doing something real, but nobody considers the fact that if Wednesday is the gas-out day and you were going to buy gas that day, then you'd have to buy it on Tuesday or Thursday instead. Even if they sold no gas on the gas-out day, the total demand over the course of the week would be the same as usual, and so there might be some momentary blip in gas prices but nothing long-term. This is proven by the past few gas-outs, where gas prices drop by a few cents on the day of, only to rise back to normal a day or two later.

Another form of slacktivism is the "ribbon" magnets people put on their cars. Many of them are for some medical condition or another (again, "let's raise awareness for cancer" – who doesn't know about cancer?), but some simply say "support the troops". These ones confuse me too. Originally I assumed they meant that the person was in favour of the fighting in Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, etc., i.e. they support the war and agree with those who decided to send the soldiers overseas. But later I heard that even if you don't support the reason the American and Canadian troops are fighting, you should display these magnets to say you support the soldiers themselves. This makes no sense. Saying that you support the war is a political statement that many agree with and many do not, and some may feel strongly enough about their position that they want to broadcast it to the world. But agree or disagree with the war itself, who doesn't support the soldiers? What's the alternative – hope they die? Why do you need to put something on your car that says "I hope the soldiers overseas are not killed!"

Now as I talk about ribbon magnets, I should say for the record that I do have a magnet on my car. It's shaped like a banner and it says "Transplants save lives". I've written before about a little girl we know who had four organs transplanted in 1997 at the age of six months. This surgery saved her life, and she will be 14 years old in a couple of months. This magnet could be considered slacktivism as well, but I argue that it's not. In order to do something real to help cure cancer, you'd have to be a doctor or scientist or both. You can certainly give money to the Cancer Society (or the CNIB or the Diabetes Association or whatever); I do it myself and I will never argue that it's a bad thing. But all you need to do to support organ donation is sign your organ donor card, which takes almost no effort and costs nothing. I've done it, my wife has done it, many of my friends have done it, and if something terrible should happen to one of us and the organs are needed, just signing the card has saved someone's life. Not to take anything away from donating money, but donating organs can have a much more direct impact. If the magnet on my car reminds someone to sign their organ donor card, it will have served its purpose.

If you want to effect real change, get off your ass and get out there and do something real, or at least donate money to someone else who's doing something real. There are lots of charity walks, runs, and bike races, not to mention car washes, barbecues, and even 50-50 draws and raffles. Hell, I grew a moustache in Movember, which took almost no effort on my part, but it raised a coupla hundred bucks for prostate cancer research. That's about as close as you can get to doing something good with no work and no cost. Though come to think of it, I did change my facebook picture as part of it.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Five things you didn't know about Qatar

FIFA has chosen the tiny desert country of Qatar to host the 2022 World Cup of soccer. Qatar beat out the United States, South Korea, Japan, and Australia for this honour. Here are some facts about this surprising choice, thanks to Wikipedia.

  1. The Qatari soccer team is ranked 113th in the world. They have never even qualified for the World Cup before. Neither has Canada, and we're ranked 28 spots higher than Qatar. Correction: Canada did qualify for the World Cup in 1986. They finished 0-3 and didn't score a single goal. Thanks Ryan!
  2. The average high in July is 115°F or 46°C. That's really freakin' hot. But it's a desert, so it's a dry heat, right? Wrong! Qatar is bordered on three sides by the Persian Gulf, so it's really freakin' hot and humid. Perfect weather for playing soccer! Maybe the Qatari team does stand a good chance in 2022 because all the players from the other countries will be dropping like flies from heat exhaustion and dehydration.
  3. There are only three stadia in Qatar that are even close to big enough to host this event. They plan on adding 18,000-23,000 seats to each one, and building another nine stadia, each of which will hold at least 43,000 people. They've managed to get by with three stadia up to now, so what the hell are they going to do with twelve of them after 2022?
  4. The entire population of Qatar is about 1.7 million. Attendance at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa was double that. There are four cities and thirty five metropolitan areas in the United States (1 and 4 respectively in Canada) bigger than that. South Africa has a population of just under 50 million.

If you're still not sure why FIFA chose Qatar, point number 5 should clear it up:

  1. 70% of all government revenues come from oil and gas. Qatar has 14% of the world's total reserves of natural gas. This is a very small and sparsely populated but extremely rich country.

Update: According to this article, after the World Cup, Qatar plans to dismantle the new stadia they are building and give them to poorer countries. I applaud this gesture.