Sunday, January 28, 2007

Federer wins - again

For a moment it looked like we had a match going in the men's Australian Open Final. Fernando Gonzalez took Roger Federer into a first set tiebreak only to gain two meager points. Starting off the second set, Federer looked as if any worry about losing had passed and he proceeded to break the Chilean calmly, going 6-4, 6-4 in the last two sets, becoming the first man since Ivan Lendl in 1980 to win a major without losing a single set.

Gonzalez, for his part, played an exciting first set, giving Federer perhaps his toughest challenge of the tournament, but it was if the Swiss Maestro had simply been using the match opener to take the measure of Fernando, because afterwards, it was all Federer. Among our office staffers, we are excited at what the Australian Open showed in terms of promise on the men's side, Gonzalez will hopefully be able to to follow up his strong showing, as we hope Safin and Murray will. Blake and Nadal ought to continue their strong play and we are curious to see what happens now to Roddick.

For the women, however, it seems unfortunate that our angry comments about the lack of consistency in the women's game proved too true in the final. After her father and coach asked her to tweak her serve prior to the match, Sharapova fell apart under Serena's withering stare. But we are left to wonder, what sort of coach would undermine their player's confidence so soon before a major match? We too echo commentator Mary Carillo who asked why parent/coaches are so common in the women's game, and nearly absent on the men's side?

The big question though, still centres around Federer. Many consider him to be the best men's player of all time, and so the question becomes, can he be considered the greatest without either a French Open title, or a Grand Slam? What will it take for naysayers like Pete Sampras to hold their tongues?

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What's up with the Grups?

Given that a few of our staffers at The Daily Wenzel and even more of our friends have entered parenthood, it was perhaps inevitable that Adam Sternbaugh's article "Up With Grups" from New York made it's way to us. Furthermore, since many of us cut our teeth at "hip" institutions like Calgary's CJSW, Fast Forward, and VOX, we could all see ourselves somewhere in Sternbaugh's article about post-adolescent hipsters clinging to their youth.

While Sternbaugh's article spends more time discussing the consumption patterns of the parents he observes, he still delivers his observations on their attitudes and behaviours close to the mark. Having said that, we would like to offer a few comments:

1. Sternbaugh seems surprised that the adult members of the Gen X community are purchasing frivolous items geared towards a younger generation. He comes close when he mentioned that Gen X graduated into a recession. It wasn't just the recession however, marketing consultants at the time noted that members of Gen X were proving unusually cynical towards advertising, and many companies elected to skip Gen X as a consumer target group, aiming more towards their younger companions, the 'tweens. Now, flush with cash after the dot.com craze, ad execs are looking once more to Gen X'ers who find the attention flattering and no less susceptible now than any other generation.

2. We are experiencing one of those odd moments where two popular cultures are cohabitating in the same mass cultural space, namely that of the 1960s "counterculture" and its descendents, and that of "mainstream" society. The generation gap that Sternbaugh speaks of is a product of the clash between these two cultures. Grups, having grown-up in the media space occupied by the counterculture are perfecting at home listening to the music of the current counterculture. It is akin to fans of Frank Sinatra picking up on Michael Buble. Grups are simply trying to find their way through parenthood in the same way that hippies and punks did before them.

The Champ is Here!

Whether he moves on to the eventual championship or not, Roger Federer's thorough dismantling of Andy Roddick will go down as legend. Roddick summed up his relationship with Federer, saying "Are you sure you can call this a rivalry?"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Woe is the women

In the women's game there have been so many breaks of serve, often four or five times in a set, one after another, it's maddening. It seems like all you need to do in the women's game is hold serve while in the men's game holding is a given and the game is premised on trying to gain the break. It seems impossible to imagine that a women who looks obviously out of shape and is fighting a visible cold, that has barely played any high level competitive tennis over the last eighteen months can enter a grand slam tournament and reach the finals. Is simply surviving the best the women's game can manage? What happened to the will to win? Clijsters and Hingis appear buddy-buddy in the tunnel just moments before the match and Clijsters sprays sixty-five errors - we feel obliged to give full credit to Serena Williams, what she lacks in conditioning she more than makes up for with her will to win.

Until more women learn to harness their talent, the women's game will not, and cannot, measure up to the men's.

Speaking of the men, and harnessing talent, Fernando Gonzalez continues to impress us. Picked by our assorted office courtwatchers as an early favourite, it seems like Gonzo's partnership with new coach Larry Stefanki is a match made in heaven. Stefanki has taken other players, such as Kafelnikov and more recently Tim Henman, to the heights of their careers. Gonzalez has always been a creative and intriguing player, but under Stefanki his energy has been focused, giving him the power of Andy Roddick and the anticipatory shot-making nearing the realm of Rodger Federer. Suitably dispatching Nadal yesterday, Fernando makes his first foray into the semi-finals of a Grand Slam and it remains to be seen whether he can withstand the pressure and stress that comes travelling this deep into a tournament.

We hope to see him in the final.

We also hope to see another match worthy of the highlight reel emerging from yet another Federer-Roddick clash. Typically the young American gets put through his paces but Roddick's recent exhibition win over Federer will have some supporters suspecting the return of Andy's mojo, but we have our doubts. Nevertheless, this one should be good.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Music Update

Amidst all this tennis we've still been listening to our fair share of music. One of the albums that barely missed our top ten faves of last year was Built to Spill's You in Reverse, an album that's been getting some pretty heavy play lately, at least the stellar epic "Goin' Agaisnt Your Mind" with it's heavy reverb and distortion droning on into the seven minute mark. Similarly, we've revisted the Arab Strap's live album Mad for Sadness which contains a delightful intermezzo of feedback and distortion that demands to be played at maximum volume. We are somewhat disappointed at the band's announcement that they were breaking up last month, though not really surprised.

Also finding itself in heavy rotation has been Blonde Redhead's multi-lingual Melodie Citronique five song EP with their post-modern no wave take of various European chanteurs like Serge Gainsbourg's "Slogan". Our favourite has been the Italian "Chi E E Non E" and we were quite excited to come across their 2004 album, Misery is a Butterfly and are very excited about their forthcoming album "23" to be released in April.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Battles in the Blistering Sun

Upsests abounded this weekend, with the "young guns" making good on last year's promise. From Monfils, Gonzalez, Djokovic, and Andy Murray. With Safin out, and Camerin finally retired from the doubles court, Fernando "Gonzo" Gonzalez is now the player we most hope see pitted against Roger Federer. Perhaps the unpredictable Chilean will find some of the form that won him the bronze medal in Athens.

With so much tennis under the bridge it seems best to start with the lead off broadcast match of Serena Williams and Shahara Peer. Granted Williams is lacking in fitness, but Peer's relentless assault in the first set caught many off guard, including Williams, who used the occassion to curse loudly using language that would cause even Marat Safin and Andy Roddick to blush. Regardless, Peer's physical play forced the question of Serena's conditioning, exposing her lack of movement and highlighting the dominance of Williams' serve and forehand.

Earlier in the day Andy Murrary demonstrated that he had the talent to go toe-to-toe with Rafael Nadal, with many arguing that the young Brit allowed Rafa to escape with the win, failing to follow-up on numerous break point opportunities.

Despite a surprisinglylarge build it, the challenge of Djokovic failed to materialize against Federer on an otherwise busy day of upsets. Amelie Mauresmo could not solve Safarova, while Mardy Fish continued his improbable run, by bouncing David Ferrer .

Friday, January 19, 2007

Clash of Titans

It was a match that lived up to expectations, with Andy Roddick and Marat Safin squaring off in one of the most anticipated tennis matches of the Australian Open. The hard-serving Roddick, looking to show off his net moves, attacked at the net every chance he could, but the wildly inventive Safin did his best to hold the aggressive American at bay. At times Safin looked bewildered by his own talent, stopping to curse his play and earning a caution from the chair umpire. Roddick, doing his best to keep his own temper in check, managed to battle through Safin's moments of brilliance to best the Russian in four tight sets.

Elsewhere, Daily Wenzel staff writer Bassano del Grappa was disconsolate as Maria Elena Camerin lost to Elena Dementieva in a match that, at times, was much closer than the 6-1, 6-3 scoreline would indicate. However Camerin is still alive in the women's doubles, and del Grappa has been gracing us lately with the merits and beauty of the doubles game.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Small Victories and Sweet Anticipation

In our heart of hearts we knew that Canadian Frank Dancevic was unlikely to advance past Lleyton Hewitt last night. However, ever the optimists pre-match banter found us grasping at whatever facts we could. Hewitt might be hurt, or at least still tired from his opening round five set match. Hewitt is under a lot of pressure, having worn out his welcome with the Australian tennis public. Maybe Hewitt will fall down and hurt something. Instead, Dancevic fell down, appearing to strain somethign in his back. The Canuck with pluck, in a yellow jersey that's vies with Serena Williams' electric lime outfit for brilliance, ultimately lacked the composure and pace to keep up with Hewitt, two things he's sure to pick up this year as Dancevic becomes the first Canadian man to crack the ATP Top 50, and only the third ever to do so. We look forward to the potential of seeing him at more events throughout the year.

Bassano del Grappa meanwhile, already happy at Maria Elena Camerin's victory over Vesnina, was wildly elated at the news that Camerin and Dulko had bested the American pair of Granville and Gullickson. Now the man from Paderno keeps one eye on the telly and the other rivited to the online scoreboard. We can't imagine what could happen if Camerin could somehow eke out a victory over the soft-serving Dementieva later today.

The main event however is the much anticipated match up between Safin and Roddick, a contest to see who rightly deserves the crown of tennis' enfant terrible. What to look for? Hard hitting serves, long strokes and short tempers. Rackets will be slammed on the ground, curses will be muttered under breaths, umpires called into question, and no inch given nor quarter conceeded. It could very well get ugly and a legendary clash of two men wanting desperately to be seen as titans of their sport.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Victory for the Veneto!

With college basketball well into triple overtime on TV, we found ourselves huddled closely over our laptops, our voices joining with Bassano del Grappa in urging his paesana Maria Elena Camerin to victory over Elena Veznina of Russia. After losing the first set, Camerin battled back in the second, only to fall behind 1-4 in the third. However the young Italian, with eyes on making the third round of a grand slam for only the second time in her career, found the reserves required to mount a late-stage comeback, winning 8-6. With a cheer, del Grappa broke out the grappa and espresso, fitting fuel for a long night of Australian tennis.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Australia serves it up hot!

It's mid-January and the mercury is taking a dip on this side of the hemisphere, which means that it's time for sweltering tennis on the other side of the world. It also means that it's time for another "episode" from Andy Roddick. Australia tends to bring out the best in Roddick, from trashy locker rooms to yelling at officials. Yesterday was no exception as the young American took veteran chair umpire Carlos Ramos to task quite heatedly, when Ramos tried to cool Roddick down saying, "I think we should end this discussion," the American, who's words were picked up by the chair microphone, "We'll end this conversation when you say something intelligent."

While some may point to Roddick's behaviour as following the American tradition laid down by John McEnroe, Roddick's behaviour is singularly self-serving (McEnroe at least sometimes deliberately blew points in the face of what he considered bad officiating). Until Roddick learns to carry himself with more deportment and aplomb, he will continue to rank on the outside of the tennis greats. That, and a few more majors.

Serena Williams found herself on the comeback trail yet again, with many questions surrounding her fitness prior to her first round match. Allow she easily defeated her opponent we were all surprised that her bright outfit was not being used to power a small country's energy grid.

Speaking of outfits, it looks like Mary Sharapova ought to spend more time preparing for the extreme heat of Australia, and less time detailing her wardrobe for the benefit of international
media. While Camille Pin appeared fresh well into the fifth set of their first round match despite the withering heat, Sharapova looked ready to pull an Andy Murray and spew. Even on the verge of vomiting, Sharapova still showed more poise than Roddick.

Williams, by appearing fit and healthy for the first time in months, joins Marat Safin in an unusually low draw. Safin, who spent much of last year hurt and unable to defend his ranking, is coming off a stellar Davis Cup appearance where he helped Russia win the Davis Cup. Both of these former number ones could make good runs towards the final. Also capable of making a surprise run could be any number of players in the bottom quarter of the men's draw where Rafael Nadal is suspected of spending too much time contemplating Federer and not enough on his game. If Nadal falls early, that will open the door for James Blake, Lleyton Hewitt, Andy Murray, or even Fernando "Gonzo" Gonzalez.

As usual, we are backing our favourites, Safin and Hingis, while Bassano del Grappa cheers on his countrywomen Maria Elena Camerin.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

What we're listening to these days

With the spate of Best of 2006 Albums available these last few weeks, we at The Daily Wenzel have taken the opportunity to catch up on some music that we didn't get a chance to listen to during our hectic regular year-round listening schedule. But you imagine trying to cram twenty albums of so of listening into a ten day period. Regardless, here are some of our more notable:


The Rolling Stones, Exile on Main Street, granted this doesn't actually belong here on the strength of not being released in 2006, but the Time Top 100 Albums list got us talking and it turns out that none of us had ever listened to the actual album start to finish. Widely considered to be the best Stones album, it is rumoured that the Stones opted not to release any "singles" from it (perhaps to encourage airplay on the emerging non-singles oriented FM dial - Wikipedia disagrees though) and so its' songs are rarely heard on radio.

Snow Patrol's Eyes Open - this record got a lot of people gushing this year. It sounds to us a bit like a cross between James Blunt and Sebadoh. Maybe you had to be there, or perhaps it needs to sit in the record player a little longer.

Beulah's The Coast Is Never Clear, was a direct hit right out of the gate. At times reminescent of the Beach Boys and Wilco, a more Americanized version of Belle & Sebastian's pop sensibilities. We decided we could listen to this one all day long - if only there wasn't so much else to hear (and this really came out in 2001)!

Joanna Newsom - Ys, a critic's darling with some wierd folk overtones. We were a little taken aback at the number of songs surpassing the seven minute mark. Newsom's voice is one of a kind, kind of like Dan Bejar or Danielson on helium - Macy Gray sung folk, but even that doesn't quite capture it. Riveting. We were tempted to turn it off after the first minute, but hung around for the whole album.

Beirut - Gulag Orkestar. Neutral Milk Hotel's 1997 release In the aeroplane over the sea has been one of our favourite albums as it seemed to promise a new direction in sound that their follow-up, On Avery Island, couldn't quite match, and with the band's subsequent break-up we felt was gone for good. However, Jeremy Barnes from Neutral Milk Hotel, is here as a session player on Zach Condon's debut album and making all the same promises. Lon Gislan an EP released a few weeks ago only adds to our expectations.

Yo La Tengo - I Am Not Afraid of You and Will Beat Your Ass. Really, this is perhaps the best album title release in a long while. This is the sort of thing normally used as a working title an then the band gets cold feet or some studio exec puts a kybosh on it. No such second thoughts with Yo La Tengo and this adventuresome, muscular outing melding sixties soul with guitar fuzz.

We Are Scientists - Live Sessions EP. We Are Nerds. We have a high school science teacher on staff. We Are Suckers for their sophisticated pop sensibilites, stripped down here. Some of the songs, like "Nobody Move, Nobody Gets Hurt" are slowed down, heightening the emotional tension.

Cat Power - The Greatest. We loved "Nude as the News" back in the day, and her cover of the Stones' "(Can't Get No) Satisfaction" made her heart-ache and yearning speak to us in a way that Mick never could. It seems like a lot of people are having that exprience with this album and "Lived in Bars" in particular. Smoky, sultry . . .

Alright, so not necessarily twenty but the stacks of incoming records is starting to get high again.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

On Leadership

There are two ways to exercise leadership. One is to arrive in a position of power with a vision and execute that vision without alienating those around you. The other is to be in a position of power during some sort of destabilizing event and navigate the ensuing chaos back to a degree of normalcy.

For the past few months, the Prime Minister Harper has shown a decided lack of what we would define as leadership. In fact, reactionary is a better word. Upon hearing that the Bloc Quebecois were about to introduce a motion regarding Quebec sovereignty, Harper beat them to the punch. With the election of former Liberal Environment Minister, Stephane Dion, Harper scrambles to replace the universally criticized Rona Ambrose. However, Harper's subsequent interview on who he considered to be part of the Quebecois nation reveal an astute lack of understanding. Similarly, his failure to name a significant caucaus member as Minister of the Environment, or to use the naming of a new minister as an opportunity to announce a new environmental policy, highlights the absence of vision here.

The environment is widely expected to play a large role in the upcoming federal election. Canadians recently named the environment their number one concern. Furthermore, in this week's edition of Fast Forward David Suzuki suggests that it is time to take a more integrated approach to environmental issues. Some media reports seemed to indicate that Harper would do just that, naming a high profile member of the Conservative Party who could hold his or her own with the Finance Minister to plan joint endeavours on behalf of the enviroment. Naming Baird, a junior MP, does not do this.

Marketers and public relations officials go to where the people are, leaders go to where they want the people to be.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Bookends

It's been awhile sir we've graced this page with the pages we've turned around the office here at The Daily Wenzel. Most eagerly making the rounds has been Gautum Malkani's Londonstani, a tale of first generation Indian youth growing up middle-class and British. Combining elements of A Clockwork Orange and Trainspotting, it chronicles their bling-filled, cellphone-boosting, class-cutting days as they try to establish meaning and identity.

Meaning and identity are also central to Prof. Ross Haenfler's Straight-edge: Hardcore Punk, Clean-living Youth, and Social Change. Haenfler spent almsot ten years observing the Denver straight-edge scene, and his book is an exploration of how American youths use the no drugs, no alcohol, no meat or promiscuous sex of straight-edge as a catalyst for personal change. Sean Marchetto's Tune In, Turn On, Go Punk makes great companion reading.

We've also been readind T. Christian Miller's Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq. The title pretty much tells you exactly what's going on in the book, but nevertheless, Miller does an admirable job documenting the mishandling of Iraqi reconstruciton. While she perhaps spends too much time dwelling on the failures (or maybe there really have been so few successes), she puts most of the blame of the Bush Administration's failure to plan and prepare for the reconstruction. Yes, companies like Haliburton have walked away with billions, but only because Government oversight has allowed it. Events unfolded with a speed and complexity that planners simply did not predict.

Finally, on a more light-hearted note, we have also been perusing the new Gorillaz' "biography" Rise of the Ogre. Quite fun.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

A More Toxic Nation?

With the environment shaping to play a much larger role in the upcoming federal election, the profile of our national toxicity has received a big boost. Four MPs, including Rona Ambrose and Jack Layton, volunteered for toxic testing, similar to the kind that Statistics Canada announced it planned to undertake on roughly five thousand Canadians this year. The results showed that the Canadian MPs exceeded many of the recommended safety levels. Click here for more information.