March Madness In Ford Nation

I write in the lull between what is turning out to be great tumult out here in my little piece of the Ford Nation. (Yes, they have proudly adopted the name for themselves. I await the imminent arrival of t-shirts and baseball caps.) It is March Madness in these parts. Some sort of statutory holiday where everyone (mostly men) gathers around television sets to watch hours and hours of basketball played by collegians. I had never heard of this before, have you? Perhaps it has not really taken in more urban areas of Toronto.

It seems that this year my presence here has added a little extra level of tension to the event. You see, after the 2nd round of play, I am the runaway leader in Larry’s March Madness Hoops Pool.™©® What is that, you say? A betting game, of sorts, where a group of people (mostly men) throw a set amount of cash into a “pool”, a “kitty” if you will, and pick teams they think will make it all the way to the finals, held sometime in early April. In years past, it was a field of 64 weeded down to 2 finalists but there was talk about 2011 being expanded to include an additional 8 teams who played off for the final 4 slots. Or something like that. I am new to this kind of convoluted sports chatter.

Exactly! I hear you saying. What do you know about sports, Acaphlegmic? There wasn’t a ball you couldn’t drop. A puck you didn’t slip on. A horse you weren’t afraid to feed a carrot to. How could you possibly be in contention in any sort of sports wagering set up? How shallow is the gene pool.. ha, ha… you are taking part in?

My answer is two-fold. You see, as devoted to fandom as the people (mostly men) are out here in Ford Nation — and do not underestimate just how important sports are — it is the first thing they read about when they wake up in the morning and the last thing they watch before falling asleep, sports are nothing short of a religion. As I’m sure I’ve written to you before, if we could turn politics into some sort of game that could be quantified, put into a bracket and bet on, these folks would be the informed citizenry that Thomas Jefferson dreamt the people could be.

But there are only so many hours in the day and only so many TVs in the household. There is a ranked order of importance to the sports that is followed and, as I am now learning, except for March Madness, college basketball is down the list significantly. Based on my observation over the last two days, no one here has watched a college basketball game since last year’s final, a thriller won by the Duke Blue Devils of North Carolina (their 4th national championship) over everyone’s favourite underdogs, the Butler Bulldogs, hailing from the basketball heartland, Indiana.

The problem is, the college basketball season, starting as it does in late fall/early winter, plays out in conflict with hockey, the conclusion of the NFL season capped in the Super Bowl and the beginning of baseball’s exhibition season (called the Grapefruit League for its location down in the sunny climes of Florida). Throw in the occasional mixed-martial arts event and there really isn’t time enough to stay on top of college basketball.

Until the 3rd week of March when everybody becomes a sudden expert on the topic. There is a flurry of conjecture as all scramble to fill out their bracket based almost purely on gut instinct, team colours and the number of times a logo is seen on a sweatshirt or baseball cap. Much like how they place their votes, I fear. An old retired friend of Larry’s, Wally, every year is absolutely convinced that this one will be the year that a 16th ranked team (the lowest a team can be) will upset a number one ranked team. “It’s never happened before,” he’ll yell. “It’s got to happen sometime, right?” A grasp of probabilities that explains the popularity of the lottery, I suspect. His choice, University of North Carolina, Asheville (who had squeaked into the tournament with a 4 point win in the 1st round) lost by 23 points. “A moral victory”, claimed Wally afterwards. Another 16th ranked team lost by over 40 points.

Like taking candy from a baby, right? After the 64 teams were set on Wednesday, I snuck out of the house, claiming it necessary to visit a sick aunt, found myself an internet café (some do exist out here in the inner suburbs) and pulled an all-nighter, crunching numbers and doing an exhaustive historical analysis of the tournament. The wealth of information out there is truly astounding. Even if you’re not a sports fan, the thrill of such in-depth research is intoxicating.

Who didn’t know that Georgetown was in line for serious spanking at the hands of Virginia Commonwealth? No one in Larry’s March Madness Hoops Pool™©®, I’ll tell you that. I made over $200 dollars on that game alone, guaranteeing a double digit victory by the Rams of VCU. Let’s face it, if you actually didn’t approach this year’s tournament secure in the knowledge that the power of the Big East was highly over-estimated, well, you deserved all the scorn I felt necessary to heap upon you. You had Louisville in walk over Morehead State?! Shame, shame, shame.

Overall, my lead is already almost insurmountable. With 5 rounds still to go! Such smashing success has not gone unnoticed, stirring some brewing resentment in the process. It has also seemingly triggered some sort of pride of possession in Darlene who, up to this point, has vigorously fought to keep our relationship clandestine from her kin (as she calls them) justifiably fearful of the derision she will endure if they were to find out. However as my victories have grown and my braggadocio swollen (I mean, how could it not?! Larry actually had St. John’s going to the Elite 8!! Another Big East sucker. I had to dance as Gonzaga romped!), Darlene has become disconcertingly openly affectionate, even sitting on my lap after my heady 1st day, 2nd round run of 15 correct picks of 16. This drew the stinkeye from a number of people in the room including Larry.

But this is what we do out here in Ford Nation. We win gracelessly and lose poorly. To triumph as spectacularly as I have and not crow, chant and finger point would be seen as spurning ritual. An offense. And besides, after months and months of enduring ridicule and name calling at the hands of these people, I am due my turn at the plate of gloating. I earned this. I intend to enjoy it to the maximum.

May everyone’s March Madness be as glorious as mine is shaping up to be.

brayingly submitted by Acaphlegmic

A Plea To Conservatives Everywhere

I wish, I really wish, there was one tenet espoused by modern conservatism, one article of their faith that I could glom onto and accept as true or factually sound or anything even approximating that ideal. I really do. Otherwise, I may have to accept the possibility that I’m nothing more than a partisan stick in the mud, addled by “motivated reasoning” and hopelessly and immovably entrenched in my views.

Anybody? Anybody? Come on. Throw me a bone.

Linking through the overload that is this information age, I went from here to here to here, Joe Keohane’s article from last July in the Boston Globe, How facts backfire. In a nutshell, we’ve gone from the utopian, Enlightenment bathed conviction of Thomas Jefferson who opined (between sackings of his slave, Sally Hemings, no doubt) Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government to the very likely possibility that we may be physiologically incapable of becoming fully informed. Is that what Mr. Keohane suggested? I’m not sure but that’s what I believe he wrote, so I’m going with it.

We hold beliefs, believing that we’ve come to them rationally, objectively and open-mindedly. But when presented with facts that run contrary to our beliefs, it seems we have a tendency to dig in our heels and believe our beliefs even more. And worse still, there is some suggestion that the better informed you are, the more “politically sophisticated”, the less open you are to new, opposing information and thus less likely to alter what you believe.

So, if I’m following my line of reasoning correctly, the more informed we endeavour to become, the less informed we end up being. Something so-called experts in the field (although I’m beginning to suspect such entities cannot actually exist since more information only leads to further misinformation we’re told… or, so I hear) “confirmation bias”. Our inclination to latch onto information that confirms what we already believe regardless of its veracity, and to disregard information, valid or not, that disputes what we believe to be true.

The makings of the political logjam we currently find ourselves in. (If true that is, and since I’m not sure it is, that renders it questionable.) I believe what I believe. You believe what you believe. And never shall the twain meet. How is a society supposed to function under such factional pressure?

Badly, it would seem, looking around us. The Democrat-Republican divide in the U.S. The Conservatives against everybody else here, federally. In Toronto, an unyielding right-left split on council built upon a firm structure of urban-suburban antagonism.

So, in a spirit of co-operation and bipartisanship, I attempt to set aside my beliefs and preconceived notions of modern conservatives as masters of malevolent delusion, and ask once more for someone of that ilk to step forth and sway me to your side on the strength of a well-reasoned argument. Show me how further corporate tax cuts will kick start our economy. Persuade me that de-regulation and less oversight wasn’t at the source of the financial meltdown. Go bigger! Prove this whole trickle-down theory to me. How rising tides raise all boats. We’ve been at for 30 years or so now. There should be some model to point to. If not, how much more time do you need?

Give me the facts and figures showing that the War on Drugs has accomplished the goal of decreasing drug use and not simply criminalized a large segment of our population and made prison building a growth industry. We’ve been at this for awhile, too. There should be a solid school of evidence telling us that we’re on the right path. Harm reduction, schmarm schmeduction. Give me the straight goods on why punishment is the better way to go.

Maybe how about you provide even the teensiest bit of proof that this whole climate change thing is a sham and humans aren’t responsible for it even if it did exist. Which it doesn’t. So show me.

One thing. Just give me one conservative thing I can latch onto and say ‘yes’, ‘yes’, you’re right. That is a good idea. We would be better off if we implemented or passed or introduced that. Just one. I’m begging you.

Otherwise I’m going to have to start believing that I’m stuck in my little mindset, blind and deaf to all protestations and opinions that don’t match my own. That this impasse we’ve reached is as much my fault as it is those I don’t agree with. I want to break that deadlock. I want to be the bigger man. So please, conservatives. Prove me wrong and prove me open-minded.

in the spirit of cooperationally submitted by Cityslikr

Home Style Independence

After reading my colleague’s post from a couple days ago, I feel compelled to submit a response. Not that I disagree with the sentiment expressed in the piece. Having just returned from the wilds of the wider Ontario region, I can fully attest to there being a formidable gulf between… out there and the capital city region here. They are different worlds rather than different provinces. Believe you me.

No, the exception I take to the post is its American tone. Lest anyone forget, the 13 Colonies were not the only political entity to shrug off the heavy shroud of tyranny. Rebellions and discontent bubbled and brewed in both Upper and Lower Canada throughout the 19th-century. While none were as decisive or militarily glorious as the War of Independence south of the border, they were not without their own scruffy charms. Ultimately, like the American uprising, our battles against colonial Britain did lead to the formation of a new, independent country. Arguably, a more pragmatic and peaceful country at that.

More to the point, Tuesday’s riposte and its ripostee share far more in common with a leader of the 1837 uprising, William Lyon Mackenzie, than they do the likes of such Enlightenment types as Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. Vituperative, impetuous, “intemperate in both word and deed” with a “long-winded, meandering [writing] style” were all descriptors used for Mackenzie that would apply equally well to our friend Cityslikr. Mackenzie’s zealous hatred of the Upper Canadian ruling elite known as the Family Compact is matched, fiber by bitter fiber, by Cityslikr’s loathing of those ruling over the city with similar disregard within the walls of the Pink Palace of Queen’s Park.

Embrace your own history’s rebels is what I’m suggesting, as we begin the slow march to provincedom. The symbolism will resonate that much deeper. Label ourselves the WLMers. Hoist high the flag bearing the likeness of Montgomery’s Tavern. Proclaim the words of proto-Canadians not early Americans. For it was the very first mayor of the newly formed city of Toronto who wrote in the Declaration of the Reformers of the City of Toronto on July 31, 1837:

“Government is founded on the authority, and is instituted for the benefit, of a people; when, therefore, any Government long and systematically ceases to answer the great ends of its foundation, the people have a natural right given them by their Creator to seek after and establish such institutions as will yield the greatest quantity of happiness to the greatest number.”

Not William Lyon Mackenzie. William Lyon Mackenzie King.

So was said some 173 years ago again needs be uttered.

Viva La Province of Toronto!

revolutionarily submitted by Acaphlegmic