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News

“HE”

Imagine, if you will, an escaped zoo gorilla whom someone found in a state park in the Catskills flinging acorns and windfall apples at small children, and trying to intimidate incoming motorists by jumping up on the hoods of their cars and not getting off until they paid him ransom. Instead of locking him back up in his cage or taking him to the vet to make sure he’d had all his shots, they force-fed him first grade reading books, put a suit and tie on him, sent him to Wharton, and then told him that he could be President.

–No further comment–

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News

I’m Back

Hey, folks. I’m back. A little mutilated in the groin area, after four days at Shouldice Hernia Clinic, but overall in better shape than before my surgery. Already walking 3 km a day, and expect within the week to be back to the previous quota of 5 km, weather permitting.

Let’s get back in touch. I am writing again and will be putting some different kinds of things up here every now and then. Probably no more Daily Niblets, but maybe some weekly or bi-weekly equivalent, supplemented with the occasional slightly larger morsel. And excerpts from longer pieces in progress. Pay me a visit even if you don’t need my unrivalled editing and mentoring services. I’ll be glad to see you.

Let us all go down on bended knee to thank the dear Lord that Joe Biden was elected last week. This will be perhaps the one political statement I’ll make on this site, but I think it needs to be made.

Till later–but not too much later.

Jon

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News

Announcement

As of tonight, I’ll be starting a three-week “vacation” from writing. The well has run a bit dry of late, as I’ve been busy first with setting up my new house in Gatineau, and, more recently, preparing for my hernia surgery in a little over two weeks. I’ll be using the extra time to read and to prepare myself, both intellectually and emotionally, to write pieces reflecting the changed reality of my new living arrangement. If some extraordinarily keen insight occurs to me during my “vacation,” I may put something up on the site–but don’t hold your breath. The Niblets will definitely resume in three weeks’ time, but perhaps less frequently than daily. We’ll have to see.

Be of good cheer, and stay well and sane. See you in three weeks, if not sooner.

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News

Congratulations. . .

To the Quebec Health Authority, for having the best background music to listen to while we wait for assistance. Today’s offerings included Rachmaninoff’s “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” as well as a couple of mellow jazz piano selections. It’s a smart move to put good, peaceful music of this kind on as background music; you enjoy listening to the music so much that the waiting time passes more quickly than you’d have believed possible.

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Essay News

Adios, Andy

Yesterday (Sunday, Sept. 13), I had the pleasure of watching the entire U.S. Open men’s singles final between Dominic Thiem and Alexander Zverev.  It was an extraordinary match, with the final outcome in doubt until, after four hours of play, well into the fifth set tiebreaker, Zverev missed on a routine forehand, leaving Thiem the overjoyed but utterly exhausted winner, barely able to hobble off the court to claim his prize.

          While this particular final was more physically demanding than many, it was far from unprecedented in the history of the U.S. Open, or of men’s major tennis finals generally.  Some major finals, at tournaments like the French Open (which still does not use the tiebreaker), Wimbledon, and the Australian Open, have run as long as five or even six hours.  Such matches are a test of courage and physical and mental stamina as much as they are of the players’ tennis ability.  They demand the very best of totally fit young men, compelling them to draw on physical and emotional reserves that in many cases they hadn’t known they possessed.[1]  Such matches are not for the faint of heart—or for those who are in any way infirm.

          Up until about 2017, when his numerous injuries started to take a severe toll on his game, Scottish tennis star Andy Murray might well have been one of the two U.S. Open finalists.  His 15-year career has included three major titles (one at the U.S. Open and two at Wimbledon), eight other final appearances at majors, two Olympic gold medals, a Davis Cup title, and nearly a year as world number #1.  He has also made the semi-finals at ten majors and the quarter-finals at nine more. Over that long career, Murray has earned more than $60 million on the courts, making him the fourth all-time leader in earnings.  Clearly he is one of the sport’s all-time greats.  And clearly, at this point, he has—or should have—nothing further to prove regarding his ability to play the game.

          The memory of what Murray has been makes it particularly painful to see what he has become since his two major hip surgeries, in 2018 and 2019.  At least one of those surgeries involved the insertion of a metal plate.  On the court, he is still the gamer he always was, giving his all on every point and frequently showing flashes of the brilliance and tactical excellence that propelled him to the top of the men’s ranks. But he sometimes misses shots that would have been routine for him prior to his surgeries, and on occasion doesn’t even go after balls that he would likely have hit successfully in the past—not because he doesn’t want to, but because he knows he has no real chance of even getting to the ball, let alone hitting a successful return.

          As I say, the sight of this former world #1, struggling to make shots that in many cases would have been routine for him four or five years ago, is a sad one indeed.  And I can probably empathize more than most, as a near-lifelong tennis player myself who now attempts to keep on playing despite two hip replacements in 2015.  (I confine myself to doubles and to singles rallying, and to clay courts.  A full set of singles, even on a clay court, would likely leave me unable to walk the next day.  If I should be so unwise as to attempt to play singles on a hard court, I’d almost certainly end up in Emergency). 

          Before my first hip replacement operation, I did some reading on the Internet in an attempt to determine the likelihood of my being able to play tennis again after my recovery. The literature I saw suggested that about half of all tennis players are able to return to doubles after the operation, but fewer than 10% are able to return to singles.  This suggests that any sort of competitive singles, let alone world-class singles, including occasional five-set matches on hard courts, is distinctly against the odds for anyone who has undergone such surgery.  Despite these odds, and despite having been in such pain following his first-round loss in the Australian Open earlier this year that he was unable to board his plane back to Britain the next day, Murray has continued to attempt to compete in the majors, entering the same U.S. Open ultimately won by Dominic Thiem.

          In his first-round match against Japan’s Yoshihito Nishioka, a player I have never before heard of, Murray barely survived, requiring five sets and two tiebreakers to get past his opponent.  I did not see this particular match, but am frankly just as glad I didn’t; it would surely have been painful to see Murray leaving the court at the end of the five-set marathon. The commentators said it took all he had to get through the match.  Next up was his second-round match against the young Canadian phenom Felix Auger-Aliassime, who handily dispatched Murray in straight sets, allowing the Scotsman to win just nine games over those three sets.  While Auger-Aliassime was a seeded player for the U.S. Open, and might well have beaten Murray when he was in his prime, or at least given him a good run for his money, I very much doubt he’d have given him this kind of a drubbing.  Hopefully this match and its results have given Murray reason to think seriously about his future in professional men’s singles tennis.  No less than John McEnroe said the same thing after Murray`s loss to Auger-Aliassime.  As a long-time tennis champion himself, he should know.

          Even worse than seeing Murray miss or not even try for shots that would have been routine for him four years ago was seeing him limping around on the court between points and games, looking more like a man of 63 than one of 33. It now seems increasingly clear that if Murray continues to play competitive singles, he will be risking his future mobility, his ability to engage in the ordinary activities of daily life.  Is it really worth it for someone who has been one of the greatest players in the world to risk ending up in a wheelchair so that he can obtain, at best, third-tier status by occasionally, and at great effort and physical cost to himself, surviving into the second round of majors he used to have a decent chance of winning?

          Regrettably—and I say this as one who has always enjoyed watching him play—the time has come for Andy Murray to give up competitive singles altogether, and to start thinking about other things he wants to do with his life.  He owes it to himself, his family, and his fans, as well as his fellow players, not to continue to torture himself any more by putting demands on his much-abused body that it is simply unable to meet. If he quits singles now, and takes a few months off to rest and rethink things, he may be able to continue with competitive doubles, which he said in the past did not cause his body any pain.  Even that is a decision he should only make after consultation with his doctors, his team, and his family.  As for his continuing in singles, we have twice seen the results of that, and they were not pretty. Those results offer definitive proof that Murray will never again come close to being the player he was. If he starts listening to what his body is telling him, his decision should be easy.  I hope he makes it soon, before inflicting even more damage on himself in a futile attempt to continue with competitive singles.   


[1] Readers unfamiliar with modern professional tennis may wonder why I have excluded women from this sentence. The reason is that, even in major tournaments like the U.S. Open, women’s matches are the best two of three sets.  While a three-set match can certainly make considerable demands on players (men as well as women), they are not quite the same demands as those made by five-set matches—particularly five-set matches that go for the full five sets.  Whether there is any justification for having women’s matches shorter than men’s at the majors is a question I’ll leave to wiser heads than mine.

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News

I’m back

Up and running in my new home in Gatineau, Quebec. The Daily Niblets will resume tomorrow, along with more sustained writing efforts. And we will see if absence has indeed made our hearts grow fonder.

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News

Connecting in Person

Some good news for writers living in or near Metro Halifax and wishing to get in touch with me to discuss a project. Now that the coffee shops and restaurants are open again, we can once again meet in person to discuss your requirements. I’ll even buy the coffee!

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News

Know Your Writer Quiz

Which 2 of the following statements about me are not true? Answers tomorrow. Answers to some may be found in pieces on this website, or in my published pieces.

Enjoy.

  1. I have been writing on a keyboard for more than 60 years.
  2. I played Little League Baseball.
  3. When I was in fourth and fifth grade, I had a Christmas card and writing paper business, the proceeds from which enabled me to make a charitable donation that got written up in the New York Times.
  4. At the age of about 40, I made a mid-career switch from English to social science, a switch inspired by my mother’s similar switch two decades earlier.
  5. I attended a famous New England boarding school.
  6. I voted Green in the 2013 Nova Scotia provincial election.
  7. I was accused by my son of having voted Natural Law in the 1997 federal election.
  8. I’m a lifelong stataholic.
Categories
Essay News

When Reruns are Better. . .

I’ve an odd confession to make.  During this era of no live sports, I find that I’m enjoying the various hockey and baseball reruns I’ve been watching more than I was enjoying the “real things” prior to the Big Lockdown.  Even the tennis reruns, I am enjoying about as much.

          What sort of strange bird am I, anyway, to enjoy reruns more than the live events themselves? Am I also the sort of dude who, in this era of no restaurant meals, spends his evenings reading menus online, and finds this more enjoyable than actually going out to dinner somewhere?

          The answer to this last question is no, no, and a thousand times no.  Most emphatically I am not the sort of dude who prefers vicarious existence to real-life experience.  I just happen to find the baseball and hockey games of two or three decades ago, and even the tennis matches of five or six years ago, more entertaining than many of the recent games and matches I’ve seen.

          Let’s start with the issue of vicariousness.  Watching sports on TV is itself a form of vicarious experience, whether the games one watches are taking place in the moment or happened 20 years ago.  Going out to a ballpark or hockey arena and seeing a game live may be a tad less vicarious and closer to “real life” than watching the game on TV, but at the end of the day, one is still a spectator rather than a participant.  Not to mention that live sporting events of any kind, with or without a live audience, won’t be happening for a considerable length of time—perhaps not until a COVID vaccine has been developed.  As much as Donald Trump and his ilk may prate about giving people back their sports, the reality is that resuming live sporting events will be one of the last things that happens in the reopening process.  Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister, certainly no foe of organized sport, recently said as much, in a remark quoted by CBC.

          Just the other day, I heard the Chief Health Officer of Japan quoted as saying he’s not at all sure it will be safe to hold the Olympics in Tokyo next year—during the summer of 2021.  That’s 14 months from now.  If this kind of attitude is all at representative of the larger world of sports as a whole, live sports fans are in for a long dry spell. For the foreseeable future, we’ll be left with the choice of retro games and matches on TV, or no sports at all. 

          To my great surprise, this really isn’t bothering me very much.  In fact, I’m liking my TV sports better than I’ve liked them in years. I’m finding that the experience of watching retro games and matches on TV differs, not just in degree but in kind, from the experience of watching live sports events as they are happening.

          There are three main reasons for this.  To begin with, the games or tennis matches we see as reruns have been specially selected, because they were particularly interesting, and generally because they were close, with an outcome that was in doubt almost to the end.  There has been real drama in almost every rerun I’ve seen so far.

          That definitely isn’t the case with the games we see live, whether at the ballpark or hockey arena or on TV.  What you get is what you get. The live Blue Jays game we tune into might be a 3-2 nail-biter that takes 13 innings to decide, or a 14-2 laugher that has most fans falling asleep or changing channels by the sixth inning.  There’s obviously no way of knowing in advance which type of live game we will get when we turn on our TV.

          In the rerun pool from which our games are drawn these days, there are no 14-2 laughers in baseball, no 8-1 laughers in hockey, no 6-1, 6-0, 6-0 demolition jobs by Roger Federer.  No network would show such a game or match.  Common sense would forbid it.  The airing of such a game or match would result in a flood of angry phone calls, texts, and e-mails.  It would be the sort of public relations disaster that the sports networks, already hurting from loss of their usual sports ad revenue, could ill afford.

          Beyond that, the TV viewing experience itself is different in reruns than in live matches.  Almost all live games and matches feature an enormous number of commercials.  In hockey games, in particular, there are special breaks set aside as “TV breaks.”  Live tennis matches, as well, have lengthy commercial breaks, generally after each odd-numbered game.  While the reruns still have some commercials, there are many fewer of them than there would be during a live game or match.  And there are none of those lengthy intermission breaks we normally see between periods of hockey games. We go directly from one period into the next, with at most a short commercial break in between. 

          In addition, some hockey and baseball reruns, though not all of them, have been shortened, so that one sees only the most exciting parts of the game.  This  makes for an even more focussed and exciting viewing experience.  I quickly noticed that I was falling asleep far less frequently during reruns than I had been during the live matches I was viewing immediately prior to the lockdown.

          “Isn’t it boring,” some might ask, “to watch a game when you know in advance what the outcome will be?” For me, this hasn’t been an issue.  In the first place, I often don’t know the outcome, because I never saw the game before.  (Many of the hockey reruns, in particular, go back to the 1980s, when I didn’t own a TV set).  And even some of the games I have seen before took place far enough in the past that I’ve long since forgotten both the final score and all but the haziest details. 

          But even when I do remember the score, it doesn’t bother me.  Watching a rerun, my focus is different than it would be were I watching a live game.  In the latter case, my main focus would be on the outcome.  While I would appreciate and perhaps even applaud great plays, I’d still be most interested in knowing who won or lost.  This isn’t so in the case of reruns. With the final outcome not in doubt (and sometimes deducible through internal evidence—you know that if a Canadian team is playing an American team, the Canadian team will probably come out on top), you’re free to focus on the game itself, on the strategy, the technique, and the style.  I find I appreciate the nuances of the game far more with reruns, whether those nuances take the form of the precision sniping of Joe Nieuwendyk, the defensive prowess of Kevin Pillar, or the indefatigable retrieving of Andy Murray. And I am actually learning things about all of these sports that I never knew before, because I never bothered to look for them in my concern with the won-lost column.

          Finally, particularly for hockey and baseball—this is not so much true for tennis, where thus far the networks appear not to have broadcast a match taking place prior to 2014—there’s a documentary quality to the old games.  For me, there’s something enjoyable, in and of itself, about being taken back to an earlier era, with its different styles of dress, different fan behaviour, and, above all, different style of play. I marvel at the players who played without helmets through the 1980s and into the 1990s, and I’m amazed (and slightly appalled) to see games, like a 1987 Cup final match between Edmonton and Philadelphia that I viewed the other night, in which none of the officials was helmeted.

          A number of current NHL players and executives have alluded to that different style of play—often quite fondly.[1] Says Montreal Canadiens defenseman Ben Chiarot, “It’s hilarious when you see Bobby Orr skating and some guy’s got his stick wrapped around his waist the whole trip from blue-line to blue-line.  Sometimes I think, ‘That wouldn’t be too bad if I could just latch my stick on someone and slow him down.’”

          Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving, who played junior back in the late 1980s, has expressed himself even more pithily on the same theme.  “What the hell was a penalty back then? It’s unbelievable watching some of these games and just the manslaughter that took place every shift.”

          While Chiarot and Treliving may have overstated the case a bit, it’s definitely true, based on the reruns I’ve seen, that players on a down-ice rush would often be forced to drag an opposing player along with them for at least part of that rush, with little expectation (or hope) that the officials would call a penalty.  I have no way of knowing whether, as some claim, the hitting was harder back in the day, but there definitely appears have been more of it—and also more in the way of post-play rugby-type scrums, sometimes lasting several minutes and leading to further, game-delaying fisticuffs.  

          Beyond that, the reruns give us an opportunity to see things that would otherwise be lost to us forever—games involving the old Quebec Nordiques team, 1993 playoff games featuring the Winnipeg Jets’ Teemu Selanie, then a rookie, and games showing a young Jaromir Jagr working in tandem with Mario Lemieux to produce one of the sport’s most potent offenses.  I find it especially enjoyable to see games from what Joshua Clipperton calls the “wide-open 1980s,”[2] the decade when Wayne Gretzky was in his prime, backed up by a strong supporting cast, and when it wasn’t uncommon for teams between them to score five or six goals in a single period.  Without the reruns, we’d never have had these insights into how the game has evolved over the past three or four decades.  I, for one, am grateful for those insights.

          What isn’t as yet clear to me is how big the networks’ stock of retro games is, particularly their stock of reasonably exciting ones, and how long it can be expected to last, assuming that, as is presently the case, each channel broadcasts an average of two retro games or matches per night.  Will it be necessary for the sports networks to “ration” their retro games and matches, reducing their broadcasts to one per night or maybe even one every night?  Alternatively, will it be necessary for the networks to start airing reruns of second-tier, perhaps even third-tier games, games of only average interest and dramatic appeal, just to have something different to fill in the time each night?  Already there are signs that, as the saying goes, some of the reruns are starting to get awfully old.  This is certainly the case for the 1992 and 1993 World Series games featuring the Blue Jays, games which I notice haven’t been shown at any time during the past three or four weeks.  Might this soon be the case, as well, for reruns of the more recent 2015 and 2017 playoff games involving the Blue Jays and Ottawa Senators?  And how far back can the networks realistically be expected to go in their search for what might be called “new oldies”?  So far, I haven’t seen anything from before about 1985. Are the hockey and baseball games and, for that matter, tennis matches as well from the 1960s or 1970s of sufficiently good technical quality that they could be rebroadcast today?

          The answers to these questions will depend largely on how much longer we will have to rely entirely on reruns for our collective sports fixes.  If (as now seems a tad optimistic to hope) some kind of live sports is on air by the fall, the networks may not have to delve too far below their first-tier, super-exciting games and matches.  If, on the other hand, it’s to be a year or more before live sports can be broadcast again, the networks may well be faced with some hard choices.  Do they cut back on the number of reruns they broadcast, or do they start using games and matches of significantly less than top quality, just to fill in the time?  And if there is a significant reduction in the number of broadcasts of “major” sports, how else will the sports networks fill their evening time slots?  The longer live sports are off the air, the more serious this problem will become.  Suffice it to say, I’m glad I’m not in the network executives’ shoes.

          For now, whatever sorts of hard choices the sports networks may be facing with regard to reruns in the months or even years ahead, I can only say that what they’re doing is working for me.  Whether I’ll be saying the same thing in six months in a year is another matter, but it works for me right now.  Bring on those unhelmeted referees riding herd on the young Gretzky, Nieuwendyk, and Ron Hextall, those shots of the young Milos Raonic introducing the tennis world to his booming serve, those glimpses of Tim Raines and Jose Bautista in their prime.  I can take quite a lot of that.

Copyright © Jon Peirce, 2020


[1] Except as noted, hockey players’ and executives’ comments about the style of play they have seen in reruns are drawn from Joshua Clipperton, “Hilarious How Much the Game’s Changed,” CBC Sports website, April 19, 2020.

[2] In “Hilarious How Much the Game’s Changed.”

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News Publishing

Novel Release

In the fall of 2018, I released a novella, Love and Love, as an ebook available on Amazon.

When strong but socially awkward WASP boy meets gorgeous, socially assured Italian girl at a summer tennis camp, what do you think will happen? At first, nothing, as he lacks the courage to ask her to play. But once he screws up the necessary courage, they start to have some amazing matches, some lasting longer than the average Wimbledon men’s final. Their passion for tennis is just starting to evolve into a passion for each other when tragedy strikes Gloria’s family, and she breaks off with Fred.