I’M THINKING 24 MEDALS

Okay, I’ll admit it: I was feeling pretty down earlier this week about Canada’s performance in Vancouver. But man oh man — it’s really turning around now. How could you not love last night’s total and complete ass-kicking of Russia by our men’s hockey team? Unlike in Turin, where they looked, well, horrible, this Team Canada looks very medal-worthy. I’m trying to not get overly excited yet. They face Slovakia tomorrow. No Sweden, either!

As of today, we have 15 medals (including the amazing Clara Hughes’ incredible race yesterday). Here’s where we’re going to medal for sure:

* Women’s hockey today. We’re assured at least a silver medal.
* Men’s curling. Kevin Martin looks unstoppable at this point.
* Women’s curling. Again, Cheryl Bernard? Only China can stop her at this point.

Here’s where we have a good-to-possible chance at a medal:

* Joannie Rochette tonight in the women’s free skate. She’s third now, but she’s probably got something extra special saved.
* Men’s hockey. At this point, the only thing stopping them are Slovakia and possibly the U.S.
* Short track speed skating. Charles Hamelin is looking for some serious redemption now. The women are still strong contenders, too.
* Long track speed skating. Women’s and men’s team pursuit — Canada is fearsome in these. Then again, so are the Dutch and Germans.
* Four-man bobsled. Pierre Lueders has one last shot at the whole she-banga-bang.

I can’t believe there’s just four days left of competition. What a crazy whirlwind it’s been. Still, 24 medals seems very reasonable at this point.

OLYMPICS FANDANGO

So, uh, get this: it’s less than two weeks until the Olympics. And in spite of the fact I’m not a licensed sponsor/accredited media/millionaire, I’m going to do something the International Olympic Committee doesn’t like:

Yes, the strange mix of plutocrats, ex-arms dealers, ex-fascists, aristocrats and capitalists that make up the I.O.C. don’t like it when you post the Olympic rings up without their consent, apparently. Well, here’s me doing it. I like the Olympic rings. They’re cool.

CLARA HUGHES: My namesake is Canada’s flag-bearer for Vancouver. Couldn’t have picked a better person for the role. Here’s the story. And here’s another story on the bad-ass Clara was in her youth. Surprised? She loved the Extra Old Stock and smoked a pack a day. Now she probably has the most insanely muscular thighs and most in-shape body. Ever.

WINTER OLYMPIC MASCOTS

Since I’m going to be covering the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver for Yahoo! Canada, I figure I might as well state for the record that my life is going to be Olympics, 24-7, for three weeks in February. I’m not complaining, though. Ever since the 1984 Los Angeles Summer Games, I’ve been completely enraptured with the Olympics. I’ve worked for two Toronto Olympic bids, watched both Winter and Summer Games obsessively, covered the 2006 Turin Winter Games for AOL and own a pretty hefty number of Olympics books.

Why do I care about the Olympics so damn much? Honestly, I have no idea. It was exciting and formative back in 1988 to see the Games in the proverbial backyard, what with Calgary. Now that I’m older and well aware of all the corruption and bad stuff that goes on at the highest levels of the I.O.C., it’s harder and harder to look at the Olympics as a morally pure, idealistic extravaganza. Of course, as my brother says, it’s also the only time when nationalism is actually cool.

But enough about all that. I’m probably going to blog about the Olympics pretty consistently now up to and including Vancouver. One of the things I admit I like doing about the Olympics is the miscellany that surrounds them, including the mascots. Oh the mascots. The few, the proud, the sometimes-dorky.

1980 – Lake Placid – Roni the Raccoon

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Adirondack Mountain range? Drunken backwoods huntin’ and killin’? Downhill skiing? The economic wasteland that is Upstate New York? A raccoon? Well, probably not a raccoon. Well, that’s actually what the Lake Placid Olympic Committee chose for its mascot: a creepy-looking raccoon. Check out this comparison:

Now, when you think of Lake Placid, you’ll be thinking of vampires. Stupid Lake Placid.

1984 – Sarajevo – Vučko, the little wolf

Okay, this is a bit better. Still odd, but better than the ultra-creepy Lake Placid mascot, but still not reaching the CuteOverload.com range that future mascots would employ to seduce people into loving the Games. Looks like a European version of Tom from Tom and Jerry, although let’s be honest, the first thought that comes to mind:

ENDUT! HOCH HECH!

1988 – Calgary – Hidy and Howdy, two ridiculously cute polar bears

Alright, now we’re getting somewhere. These adorable late 1980s-looking polar bears showed the world what Canada is all about: soft and cuddly on the outside, hard and cruel as hell to others in reality. Even though polar bears might look cute, they’re actually mean bastards that now eat each other since the polar ice caps have started melting and, you know, caused food supplies to decline to pathetically low proportions.

Still, hats look good. Calgary was still trading in stereotypes as of 1988, anyway.

1992 – Albertville – Magique, the man-star

Holy Christ. This is so lame. Aside from looking like a Coked-out Shriner’s Club Member, this doesn’t even look cute! It’s more scary than anything. I fear the day the French decide to drop thousands of these leftover bad boys onto beaches somewhere in the South Pacific. The French totally dropped the ball.

1994 – Lillehammer – Håkon and Kristin, two humans

Um… okay. See, only in Norway (and possibly Sweden) would this be considered a good idea: two real-life, people that require absolutely no anthropomorphization at all. Lillehammer was easily the best Winter Games ever and the people of Norway got it virtually 100 per cent right, but the mascots are lame. Mega-lame. Thanks for invoking the Olympic spirit, guys. *snark*

1998 – Nagano – The Snowlets – Sukki, Nokki, Lekki and Tsukki

See, I don’t get it. You’d think the Japanese, with their insane and overbearing love of all things cute, would have nailed this one down pat. But they didn’t: instead, they got four “snowlets” that look like they’re about to get run over by a car while tripping out on some really, really strong LSD.

2002 – Salt Lake City – Copper, Powder and Coal, three… um, animals/Earth-bound resources

This is what happens when you have a mascot by committee: you get mascots named after resources. I don’t care if they’re based on the Olympic motto or animals in the Mormon State of Utah. They don’t even look cute. They just seem boring and drab. Wait a minute, the Games were hosted in Utah… it all makes perfect sense.

2006 – Turin – Neve and Gliz – A snowball and ice cube

Alright, much, much better. After several crap-tacular mascots in a row, the Italians got it right. How can you not love Neve and Gliz? They’re unabashedly happy, have huge round faces, and remind people of:

Which brings us to…

2010 – Vancouver – Miga, Quatchi and Mukmuk – Mythical sea bear, sasquatch and Vancouver Island marmot

Yes, they’re adorable. Yes, they’re well-done. Yes, they’re representative of Native Canadian culture on the Left Coast. No way that’s politically motivated. NO. Freaking. WAY.

And yes, they do look like Pokémon.

I’ll do the Summer Olympics mascots soon.

SOME PERSONAL NEWS

Alright. It’s been a wild and crazy past week. Here’s the update in a non-sequential order:

* I lost my job with the software company I worked at Monday of last week.
* My grandfather (my mom’s dad) passed away on Thursday of last week.
* We had the visitation on Monday, funeral itself yesterday and a move-out of my grandfather’s apartment today.
* I will be away at a friend’s cottage for the Labour Day weekend.
* I’m thinking of going back for re-training in a new field.

They say it’s always the darkest before the dawn. Well, today’s really the first day where I feel like suddenly, I’m not angry and sad like I was after losing my job or overwhelmed with things like when we all found out about my grandfather’s death last week (he was 90 years old and it was peaceful, which is really all one can ask for in this life).

I’m hoping now, with summer finally ending, this is the start of a new era. It’s easy to say how shitty 2007 and much of 2008 have turned out. Not saying they haven’t been bad years. But I’m not going to let all this bad stuff destroy me. I came incredibly close last year to letting it all consume me, but not this time. Fuck that.

Oh, and the Beijing Olympics are over. I barely saw the Closing Ceremonies in the midst of the chaos last week, but it was quite good I heard and definitely builds up anticipation for London in 2012.

MORE CHALLENGES

I got some unfortunate news yesterday. I won’t go into major details about it, but needless to say it’s going to involve some major personal changes for me. It’s not life-threatening, just something I need to deal with for now.

If you want to know what’s up, email me or IM me. I’d just prefer not to broadcast it over the blog.

OLYMPICS: Hey, so I was wrong. I thought Canada’s performance at the Beijing Games was, um, sub-par at the very least in the first week. Well, here it is, the Games are more than half-over, and now Canada’s got 13 – a very lucky 13 – medals to its name. Good on Canada!

LEGO PHOTOS

- Mike Stimpson, Wired.com

- Mike Stimpson, Wired.com

Here’s an interesting link to a photo set by a Lego fan named Mike Stimpson. He’s done a re-creation of some of the most incredibly photos even taken (at least, from a photojournalism perspective) with Lego characters! Some of the photos are still disturbing as hell and the Lego images only remind you of that fact. Definitely worth checking out.

TUMBLR: Also, I’ve decided to take the plunge – I’m on Tumblr now. It’s a sorta blog without the editorial comment – my Tumblr’s going to be a collection of my favourite things on the Web. Check out my site – it’s very new, so there’s not a tonne of stuff there, I admit. Yet.

OLYMPICS: So after a week of real concern Canada might get hosed at this year’s Olympics in terms of medals, we now have nine medals. Karen Cockburn managed to land the silver today in the women’s trampoline, while the men’s team competition in equestrian also won a silver. All I’m going to say is I’m just glad we’re ahead of North Korea now in the medal standings.

THE DARKER SIDE OF MAD MEN?

- AMC Stills

- AMC Stills

With the second season of Mad Men now in full swing, this year’s season is already demonstrating a fascinating and considerably darker shift in the show’s tone. It’s undeniable that so far this season, the characters in Mad Men have gone a shade into the shadows – most notably, Don Draper himself.

Never mind that Don looked at his most corporate, cruel and menacing when firing Lois, his sweet but admittedly dim secretary. Last night’s most shocking and surprising moment happens just moments after above’s photo is taken: Draper aggressively and violently pulls Bobbi Barrett’s hair and then shoves his hand up into her crotch, whispering in a quiet, raging manner, “I will ruin him.”

It’s a decidedly dark moment in the show – perhaps the darkest so far. It’s alarming to see Don – a moody, quietly desperate man – doing something so decidedly violent. While Don is capable of anger, rage and violence – remember last year with him shaking Betty’s arms after Roger came over for dinner? – as all people are, last night represented a turning point for me when it comes to the show. The show’s tone is getting darker, which is only making a brilliant show even better.

One thing Season Two has been notable for thus far is how Matt Weiner is really getting in deep on the character’s interior and family lives. While Don and Betty – talk about keeping up appearances – continue to struggle, we’re also seeing Peter and Trudy battle over a baby, a frustrated Harry and his wife (watch for Harry’s role to likely get larger and larger over the next few seasons, now that he’s in charge of television at Sterling Cooper), and Joan. Oh Joan. Not sure what to think about you these days.

OLYMPICS: So, China’s already got 14 medals, leads the medal standings and is winning events with almost-robotic like efficiency. We’re not even half-way through the first week and the Beijing Games already look like a whitewash between China and the U.S. battling it out for the top spot in medals.

Call me crazy, but even in a field as deep as the Beijing Games, shouldn’t Canada already have some piece of the medal action? How does North Korea have four medals already?