Friday, January 25, 2013

Just What did @NYRangers Think They Would Achieve by Publishing "Girl's Guide..."

This afternoon, the New York Ranger's twitter feed alerted hockey fans to a piece posted on their official fan site, Blueshirts United. "A Girl's Guide to Watching the Rangers" was written by a guest author as a part of a new Community Contributor program. What followed was fury from female and male fans alike, and the post was soon taken down, and the tweets were deleted as well. But, you know, the internet. Nothing dies here. The offensive article has been screen-capped, mocked, mocked some more, mocked even more, and torn to shreds by various online communities.

Personally, I thought the whole situation was farcical. An oblivious author writing for an out-of-touch PR department reaching out to rabidly unforgiving fans. Unfortunately for both the author and the Rangers, they got a shockingly cold dose of reality today. NYR's staff can hide behind a cloak of anonymity, but the author has since protected her twitter account, and I don't blame her (hey guys, cyber-bullying is not cool regardless of circumstance!)

The article itself is unsurprisingly flippant and aggravating. However, it is no worse or more casually misogynistic (or more inaccurate) than Cosmo's "My GAWD, Hot NHL Players!", or any number of messages geared toward the light-and-fluffy-and-loves-shopping side female audiences. In front of a different readership, because uninterested but reluctantly obliging girlfriends do exist, this guide may even be not-completely useless. Published most anywhere else, this slideshow would have garnered little attention and even less protest.

What puzzles me is figuring out what Blueshirts United was trying to achieve. I understand that they may want to reach out to a more "diverse" fan-base, get some on-the-fence fans to jump ship, but this was the entirely wrong way to go about it. Consider the possible situations that could arise:

1. A female hockey fan reads it because she follows @NYRangers or because she regularly checks Blueshirts United. Considering that she is proactive in getting updates about hockey, I doubt she is the target audience for this piece. It's like handing a college student a picture book about the alphabet and saying "look how much knowledge!" Yep. Lotsa knowledge. If I were still in kindergarten.

2. A male or female hockey fan reads it and understands that he/she is not the target audience. Is NYR expecting this fan to forward this to friends, girlfriends, wives, sisters, daughters and mothers? Is the organisation expecting previously unconvinced friends, girlfriends, wives, sisters, daughters and mothers to suddenly see the light because Henrik Lundqvist is a good looking dude? I deal with non-fans, male and female, all the time, and trust me, I'm as hardcore of a hockey evangelist as you will find. I know a lot of my friends just treat me as a hockey spam-bot and tolerate me only because the internet allows them to shut me off at their discretion. If all my linkage of amaze-balls goals and explosive hits and saving-the-puck-at-the-goal-line heroics haven't done the trick, I don't think Henrik Lundqvist's dreamy face ensconced behind a goalie mask will either.

3. Some women (and men) do genuinely suffer from having to tolerate the men (or women) in their lives obsessing about a silly child's game that involves large, bearded, monsters slamming into each other and swatting at a small black disc. Some of these people do genuinely make an effort to improve their relationships with said folks in their lives by taking an interest in their interests. All of these people are awesome because without these people I wouldn't have any friends...or parents. These people don't care about Callahan or Del Zotto or icing or goals; they just want to hang out with their loved ones. These people wouldn't know the NYR is talking to them because they're not following @NYRangers or any of the outraged hockey bloggers. These people don't give a shit.

So thanks for trying Rangers, but you really missed the mark!

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Thoughts on the Bruins Rangers Game

The Bruins' defense and defensive play were shoddy at times. Even the normally flawless Patrice Bergeron made a couple glaring mistakes.

The Bruins penalty kill was amazing; their power play not so much. I'm pretty sure their shots-on-goal-per-power-play was fewer than their shots-on-goal-per-penalty-kill.

The Bruins were good at faceoffs; the Rangers not so much. However, it was clear that the Rangers anticipated this. Even though Bruins won faceoffs by an incredible margin of 36 to 17, the Rangers were the ones hustling to the puck. It was like the Bruins wingers and defensemen were surprised and hesitant every time the puck came to them, which allowed the Rangers in on possession.

Speaking of faceoffs, and the Bruins winning them, I should note that the Bruins really take advantage of having a solid core of good faceoff centers who can play wing. Take the third line of Peverley-Kelly-Bourque?, every time Kelly (80%), got kicked out of the circle, Peverley (67%) stepped in to win the draw. Tyler Seguin was even taking some draws and winning them. Since he is a natural center, it's good to see that the Bruins are giving him some opportunities to develop those responsibilities and improve his versatility. That said, it has been pointed out that sometimes the Bruins' strategy is to have Seguin line up for the draw, intentionally violate the circle, and switch with Bergeron. The refs nearly never call faceoff violation a second time, so this is oh-so-crafty on important draws.

Rangers finally came to play, as I suspected they would. They were lethargic and confusing in their first two games. Taylor Pyatt is doing very well for them.

Many Rangers fans were upset that Kreider was benched. A lot of their resentment stemmed from the fact that Michael Del Zotto, or Del-Zaster as they call him, is "never punished for making constant mistakes", and the seemingly uneven distribution of punitive measures. I have no opinion on this, other than believing, based on severely limited information, that Torts is a firm but fair coach.

Considering how the game started (down 2-0 early in the game), it was a hard-earned loser-point by the Bruins. Once the Bruins started scoring and kept the game close, it was an entertaining game as well. I made some acquaintances with other Bruins fans, and my favorite Rangers STH neighbor Tony and I had good fun and good conversation as always.

Warmup Pictures:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

In which I present crappy poetry OR In which a knight or a hockey goon or some other celebrity contemplates mortality.

EMO POETRY FOR ALL!!!!!! Hahahahaha. This is like 7th grade all over again

we are dust at end of day
ashes in the gray
even stars decay
eternal life but myth of man

who then shall bear witness to my might?
why the skies can!
as well this earth on which I tread
as well opponents I have bled
as well the bards who sing my feats
as well children who worship me

yet when I pass as heroes do
will they sing my praise?
and when their days are numbered too
who will remember me then.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

On Worshiping False Idols

Today is the Fourth of July, the Anniversary of the Founding of our Nation. Most people celebrate with fireworks, barbecues. Here in Minnesota, people chill out on the lake, escaping the heat and humidity with a dip in the water. In many ways, Independence Day has become like Christmas, a day that's become less and less about remembrance and honoring legends, and more and more about the day off and seasonal demarcation.

In just as many ways, what Independence Day was meant to celebrate has become more and more like what Christmas was meant to celebrate. On every other day of the year, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution have become more than historical and legal documents; they have become sacred text. They have become the Bible. One declares the power and vengeance of an angry Lord; the other lays out the foundations and theories of a loving and just Father. The Old and New Testaments.

Our Founding Fathers have become political gods. Their speech and writing are quoted more than those of other wise men. We see in their actions and minds more than the courage of human beings, but the seeds of superiority. The faces of dead presidents line the side of Mount Rushmore; the monuments rose in Washington so young into the life of our nation. 

As time heaves away from the 18th century, as technological innovations make the colonial era appear more similar to the age of antiquity, the Revolution becomes myth. The parable of preachers. Its characters reduced to religious icons of saintliness. Yet the words of the Constitution, the faded ink on yellowing parchment, that becomes scripture. It certainly looks like scripture: old paper and fancy handwritings that no one but experts can decipher.

Why is it that the Constitution, a document written more than two hundred years ago (not on the day of July 4th 1776 that we celebrate, but more than a decade later, yet always forever linked to this earlier birthday), a document written by ordinary men made extra-ordinary by the luck of history and circumstance, by men who didn't even like each other all that much, who nearly crowned a King and squabbled through much of the first years of our Nation and for many more years after that, why should this document be held so sacred? 

That we may write amendments and amend amendments is credit to our political and social institutions, and an indication that we are a young and progressing nation with still unrealized potential. Yet already we have those who would wish that we interpret the law only in the literal words of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Because some first-draft proposal originally written by squabbling, egoistical men in 1787, that took two years to go into effect, two more after that to be "perfected" with the first ten Amendments (hey, just like the Ten Commandments, they even rhyme), because this manifesto should know and govern our nation so absolutely in the new millennium.

Are these the same folks who say we should interpret morality by the letter of the Bible? I don't know. I don't have the expertise or authority to say that. I haven't even read enough of the Word of God to know if my analogies are making sense. I only mean to say that sometimes we treat history like religion, and worship historical figures as deities.

My parents grew up during the Chinese Cultural Revolution, when history was being made, when its figures were living Gods, when the Cult of Personality of Mao was worshiped in full effect. My mother was fifteen when it all started. She comes from a family of original communists. Those who were shot at and persecuted before communism became trendy. Her brother was born in a jail cell. When the Cultural Revolution started in the mid-sixties, like many other teenagers her age, she went to the streets and danced the Mao dance. Her aunt, who sacrificed her life and marriage for communism, said "We Communist believe in neither gods nor myths. Why do you dance for him like for an idol? He is a man; an important man, but only a man".

But the Chinese people forgot. They forgot that the spirit of the People's Revolution transcends the legends and ambitions of a handful of individuals. They allowed one man's, one party's words to be law, rather than remember that such practice was what brought empires, colonists and despots. In America, we are not yet threatened by despots, but we are threatened by conformity of thought, threatened by the worship rather than understanding of the past.

I think that's a lesson we should all remember. That all the great and evil and good and genius humans in life are only that. Humans. They are no more godly and possess no more super powers than you and I. Their words are NOT scripture. We should respect history and the lessons it teaches us. We should admire the feats and courage of those individuals whose names are remembered, and also of those whose names are forgotten. But we should not allow nostalgia to stall progress, should not allow the past to dictate the future. We should not allow our reverence for our ancestors to stop us from climbing on their shoulders and ultimately standing taller than they ever did.

Happy Independence Day everyone! Let us remember the spirit of the Founding Fathers. Let us reflect on their interesting lives and the interesting actions they took, and the profound effect those actions have left on our society. Let us not be blinded by the religious iconography that has sprung up around their history. Let us not make them False Idols.

Friday, June 29, 2012

On Intellectual Curiosity and Mental and Physical Exercise

This one is badly written. I'm still working out some very incoherent thoughts, but I want to keep this blog somewhat regular. Also, anyone with interesting brainteasers please send to me because I hate going on Wall Street Oasis. That forum is a cesspool of IB obnoxiousness and ivy-league self-importance.

The head counselor here is a 21 year old former junior hockey player. He spent two years out of high school doing nothing but playing hockey. Now that his junior career is over (junior is under-20), he's gone back to school as a college freshman, while playing NCAA. The way he puts it: not using your brain for a couple years makes you stupid. One day I put out one of the silly brain-teasers that's commonly found in finance interviews. For some reason, that piqued his interest. He's been asking for one a day now. He hasn't actually solved one yet, but he's not going to stop until he does.

The problem is that few of the brain-teasers out there are actually any fun. Most require some knowledge of probability, game theory, algorithms, or competency in mental math. The people here, they're competitive. Most of their lives, they've been competitive in a physical way, but they don't like to lose. And they're not stupid either. They haven't practiced their multiplication tables enough to crunch number at lightning speed; they haven't been exposed to 14.12 or 6.046 to be know what "being rational" and "exponential time" mean in the technical sense. Giving them conditional probability questions seems obnoxious and unproductive. I prefer questions that require a clever trick, or that is easy to solve on a small scale and just need induction to work for case n.

But this post wasn't supposed to be about me and my elitist educated self being all superior and schoolmarmy over a bunch of dumb jocks. It's actually to wonder at what makes a productive wholesome life.

A few days ago, the camp twitter account sent out this observation:
You know you are busy when you go to work, you are on the the property, and don't make it upstairs to your office.
This is the mantra of camp. Every person here is a bundle of physical energy. They work out, they work hard, and then they work out some more. My boss comes into the office, sees us two interns fiddling with video editors, and she cries "what have you accomplished all day?"

To her, an office and a computer are for checking email, also a brief respite from business and real work. For us, real work is what keeps us in the office, our lard-asses stapled to our chairs. For them, work gets them outside, dirty, sweating, and tanned. The couple of weeks I've spent here, I've noticed that you rarely find folks working in their office. They are working in the gym, on the deck, in the shop, almost always on their feet, sometimes on their backs or knees. Work is spraying the deck, washing the car, laying sod. Work is not sitting at a desk scribbling notes to yourself.

Yet their physical life does not make them intellectually indifferent. They are as curious about mental exercises, not the way nerdy math students at MIT are curious, but the way we are curious about foreign cultures: hesitant, fascinated, a little intimidated. Just like I am not indifferent about physical exercise. But I am shy about working out here. My work-outs would not be considered work-outs, and I feel physically stupid next to these fine folks. My  lack of physical confidence makes me physically lazy, and I fall further and further behind; further and further out of shape. It's ok, I tell myself, because the important part of life is intellectual curiosity and mental fortitude. At least that's what's important in my life. At least that's what I tell myself.

I'm sure that's how they feel about my puzzles and the fancy college degrees I've got on my fancy resume. Never mind that next to my fancy friends, my resume suddenly looks average, if not lacking; here, it's most definitely an anomaly. Just like most of these guys here will never whiff a professional career much less an NHL one, but to me they look like beasts in their physical approach to not just exercise, but life. They like to hear my brain-teasers and the solutions the way I like to watch power-plyos, with morbid and bemused fascination, and maybe a sinking realization that I don't have it in me to work that hard to do what they do. (Well, maybe that's just wishful thinking; black hats/white hats don't give quite the same rush as a big sweaty dude flying over a five-foot obstacle.)

Environment, culture, natural aptitude. They forge the kind of paths we will tread, the kind of paths we feel comfortable and confident treading. For a few lucky ones, their lives include both physical and mental fulfillment, both indoors and outdoors curiosities, a truly well-rounded gift-from-the-gods. I am not one of them.

I leave you with a happy picture, because writing this kind of depressed me:

Downtown Nisswa: only about two blocks long, but pretty good shopping indeed. The Chocolate Ox is the Ice-Cream and Candy Shoppe to be at.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

In which I am thrown into the strange world of competitive sports...

I'm just checking in from Minnesota. Wanted to see how everyone's doing this summer. 

So far, mine's been great. Minnesota is beautiful and quaint in the way only the Midwest can be, from gas stations that sell racks of pipe tobacco, to the government-owned pub.

The work I'm doing and people I'm interacting with make me feel like I'm not in real life. The camp owner, who's opened this place since 1980, used to work for the Rangers and last for the Penguins. Last week, he brought in his Stanley Cup Ring from 2009 to show campers and staff. His two sons are a scout for a west-coast NHL team and a player agent respectively. His daughter-in-law, my boss, basically runs the camp as well as the PR/Charity-lives of three NHL-ers. Her office is all-at-once the shipment-center for player merchandise, meeting-place for camp-counselors, and play-stall for her three-year-old daughter. 

When you think of the glitz and glamour of these professional major-league athletes, their Las Vegas paprazzi photos, and the millions of dollars they make (granted, they're not the NBA, but still), it's incredible to think that none of it is being managed in the shiny sky-scrapers of New York City or Los Angeles. Instead, it's all run out of little wood cabins in middle-of-nowhere, MN (population less than 2000).

If you want to check out some of the photos from camp, here they are. Part of my job is to photograph/film campers, so there are a lot of work-out shots, but hopefully a few fun, goofy ones too (particularly with the Russians, they're hilarious).

There is only one NHL-er (I won't post his pic here, but you can find it in that album) at the camp right now, and he's already treated the camp staff on a Saturday night out when we ran into him (at Zorbaz, where pizza is apparently Mexican food, and it's the only place within 50 miles that people of ALL ages get wasted together). Most of the pro's will start coming mid-July, so hopefully I'll have more exciting updates then.

When I say that I don't feel like I'm in real life right now, I don't just mean that I'm all the sudden within a couple of degrees of separation from people I see on TV. That's part of it of course. Sitting in on a two-hour conference call with a professional athlete and his family, and having access to their personal information, is surreal and surprising. I'm shocked but also honored that my boss trusts her two spazzy interns (who basically twitter-stalked their way to this job) with such confidential information. Moreover, I feel odd peering behind the curtains. Here in Nisswa, people have so many inter-personal connections with professional and NCAA athletes, that they don't think twice about it. But where I come from, or more specifically, the culture and environment that I grew up in, one that is sheltered in academics, white-collared jobs, top-tier education, and polite conversation, this place is a whole different world. Physical exertion is more than just healthy activity or bread-earning work, but both process and achievement. I have entered one extreme of society (let's be honest, we white-collar $100K+ salaried workers are in the 10% if not 1% of American income), to another niche of extreme society. The end-product, the entertainment of the sports industry, may be a luxury; top-tier athletes may be paid an exorbitant amount of money; but the work to get them there, and the businesses that support them, are anything but.

The stories these people tell are so clearly of one very unbalanced but vivdly exciting world. In one, my boss cuts off Wayne F'ing Gretzky in the bathroom line of some hockey charity event. He comes up to her husband, the player agent, and jokingly demands to meet "the only person in the establishment who does not know who I am". In another, a coach retells the tragic events of his brother's college roommate and linemate, who was going to be called up by the Anaheim Ducks. He took his visor off his minor-league team helmet to put on his NHL team helmet. That night, in the last game he was to play in before his major-league debut, he got high-sticked in the eye. Never skated again. One coach has six daughters, each of whose name starts with "Br-". He teasingly asks his daughters to use hyphenated last names when they get married, because he has no sons to carry on the family name. They chat about the up-coming CBA-negotiations and the UFA market. Casually, not with the heated passion of fans, but with a matter-of-fact, almost grim, realization that they, those on the cusps of the billion-dollar business, but paid only pennies, their lives will be the most impacted by labor movements and player/team strife.

But maybe their lives won't be changed at all. These are the folks that have lived and breathed the sport their entire lives. They work 10-month contracts at schools, at arenas, and come back to camp in the summer; the same camp that they probably attended when they were 10 years old; the same camp they got their first job in scrubbing dishes in the kitchen; the same camp that provided them the connections and taught them the know-how around the hockey world.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On Packing

The days before a trip are full of anticipation; antsy, nervous energy. No matter how fun the destination, the preparation is painful. Between giving parents every single contact number and fighting that voice of reason in your head that still hasn't quite accepted your abandonment of responsibility, you have to deal with packing. Ugh...packing.

Luckily, I'm a speedy packer. I make a list a few days before I have to pack, and add to it until I think I've got everything. Then it all gets crammed haphazardly into a duffle bag, which takes about 20 minutes. However, this trip presents a new challenge.

I've mentioned that I am going to work for a professional hockey player. And that I found out this job via his personal twitter. Basically, I stalk people online, and occasionally finagle a way to meet them. This is not the first time I've done it. I've previously successfully stalked a Chinese martial artist and somehow got myself invited to hotpot with him and about a dozen small time actors and entertainment personalities in Beijing. If someone were to tell me that I'm a creep, I wouldn't disagree. I'm way worse than the puck hounds who stake out hotels, because all they ask for is the residue of some pen strokes. I ask for the residue of interpersonal experience. The fact that said martial artist is not actually all that famous (or all that dreamy as I found out), and said professional hockey player has a public twitter account that he uses specifically to connect with fans, does not make my actions more excusable; it just means there are people as sad and pathetic as me.

So the challenge of self-representation arises. When you meet with these people, who you have scoured the internet for information --- real, rumored or completely made up --- how do you hide your complete disregard for their privacy? How do you play it cool? Theoretically, you've always known that these individuals are real human beings and not just brands and assets, but realistically, in your little cocoon of anonymity, you've complacently objectified these men as false idols and vessels of your vicarious fantasies. Suddenly, you're going to meet them, and not just for a handshake and an autograph, but to work with them, for them. Their celebrity will shatter, and along with it the security and entitlement of your presumptions.

What does this have to do with packing? Well, packing requires me to re-evaluate my T-shirt collection. I don't have very sophisticated tastes. My wardrobe consists of a couple of basic tees, loads of career-fairs shirts from college, some band-camp shirts from high school, and a few hockey-related tees. By a few I mean 10 or so and that doesn't include a half dozen of X-Large playoff T-shirts passed out by various teams. In terms of purchased official merchandise, I only have Bruins gear. As a fan of the team, I would feel dirty to buy another team's merchandise. However, I feel no guilt being a fan of a player if not of his team, and have on numerous occasions spent on player-centric items, those created by a player himself, or created for him as tribute by appreciative fans.

So lets say I find myself working for a certain redheaded athlete known best for his tumbles on the ice, and I own nearly every merchandise he's pimped for himself and his teammate (hey, it's for charity!) Not only that, but I also own many shirts associated with other players on other teams. I can go for more than a week wearing a different hockey-related shirt every day. Suddenly I'm self-conscious of my inner-creep. As a fan, those things seemed funny and dedicated, inside jokes only other hardcore need-a-life people can understand. As an employee I am now wondering how unprofessional, juvenile and desperate I must seem.

As I go through my collection, I store away the those I think are inappropriate for being too affiliated with players and teams irrelevant to our foundation:

  • Tuukka Rask official Bruins T-Shirt
  • 2011 Bruins Stanley Cup Championship T-Shirt
  • Sully's Darth Quaider shirt celebrating Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid and his occasional but frighteningly maniacal rage
  • George Parros Defend Anaheim T-shirt in bright Anaheim Ducks colors complete with sparkly gold bits
  • Original Sauce Hockey BizNasty Feeds the Homeless T-shirt

I did pack a few hockey shirts, some because they were actually bought from the foundation and thus, I hope shows my bright-eyed enthusiasm, and others because they were too amusing to give up on. In particular, my new Ryan Getzlaf Old English T-shirt, which celebrates his alleged inebriation in Finland and wonky google translations. As others have written on the event, I won't rehash it, and simply link to the story here, and the t-shirt here.

I've been reading some books by Jack Falla and by Bill Gaston. They both ruminate on hockey-celebrity and the silliness and pointlessness of memorabilia-collecting and the general phenomenon of being star-struck. I will reflect on these literary inspirations later. What I want to say now is that I admit I am a bit of a hero-worshiper and fame-chaser, and I am old enough and mature enough to be a bit ashamed. But I'm not old enough or mature enough to stop.