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April 2007 Blog Archive

My archived blog articles for April 2007 are below. You can also click the respective links for my current blog articles, my featured blog articles, and my complete blog archives.

The End is Not Quite Nigh
17 April 2007, 16h05 EDT (GMT-4)

CBC Radio One's The Current
The Current on CBC Radio One
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As regular readers of my blog will be aware, I have always opposed negative campaigning by any political party, including my own. In my view, the politics of the personal attack represent not only a profound betrayal of the public trust, but also a sign that the attacker has nothing better to offer than the accusation that others are greater scoundrels than himself.

Nevertheless, though the current parliamentary session has seen some of the most sordid political slurs in recent memory, I do not believe that Canadians need despair. Indeed, the public revulsion against such tactics speaks to a fundamental law of politics: hope always trumps fear.

I argued this position when Avi Lewis and CBC Radio One's The Current hosted a national panel on the decline of civility in public discourse. My fellow panellists, columnist Heather Mallick and CTV's Lainey Lui, were not convinced, but I hope the discussion was all the more lively for that.

An audio file of the full panel discussion is available variously at my Radio page, my iTunes podcast, and my RSS newsfeed.

Belligerence and Vulgarity Hazard Training
06 April 2007, 17h55 EDT (GMT-4)

Akaash in South Park Sarah in South Park
South Park Akaash & Sarah
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Anyone involved in Canadian politics today should have a high tolerance for belligerent vulgarity.

Fortunately, the Planearium character generator, to which I was referred by the Raging Kraut, gives us all a chance to visualise ourselves in such a milieu, by projecting ourselves into the scatalogically offensive world of South Park.

I already find my life faintly absurd, so I am not certain whether the cartoon or the real life version of myself is the better caricature...

Farewell to Arms - Day 6 of the International Tent Pegging Championships
04 April 2007, 19h20 EDT (GMT-4)

Group Sword with Ground Targets
Group Sword with Ground Targets
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I arose late for the final day of the International Tent Pegging Championships, having over-mastered the ability to sleep through the amplified wails from Muscat's minarets.

I rushed down to the hotel lobby, nearly tripping as my spurs struck each stair, to find my driver Salim waiting contentedly. "Do not worry," he said reassuringly. "I have saved you time by eating your breakfast."

We arrived at the field of competition as the starting order was being announced. Fortunately, the grooms had already saddled and prepared my horse Shomool for me. They threw me the reins as I hurdled over the partition, and I slipped boot into stirrup to vault rakishly into the saddle. Then I picked myself up off the ground and mounted properly.

The final day of competition would involve two group disciplines: in the first, riders would gallop the course four abreast, wielding swords to smite targets; in the second, riders would gallop the same course, but in groups of four riding in single-file, armed with lances.

I was matched with the same three Omani riders as in the previous day, and unfortunately, one night's rest had done nothing to still Shomool's antipathy towards their horses. He pawed, snorted, and snapped viciously in their direction whenever he could catch their eyes.

When the starter's flag dropped for our first run of the group sword discipline, Shomool exploded forward as was his wont, then suddenly leapt into the air and threw out a killing blow with his hind legs, just missing his intended victim. My Omani colleagues gave us a wide berth for the remainder of the day, and we placed sixth in the discipline.

For group lance, I felt I owed it to the other competitors to put Shomool at the rear of our file of four, where he could (I hoped) do little mischief. Unfortunately, this would leave me distracted as I restrained Shomool from overtaking the slower horses, and we would be pelted by mud and debris thrown up by the others' hooves.

As we galloped the course, Shomool seemed offended that I did not allow him to catch and maul any of the horses ahead of us. He sometimes looked back pleadingly in mid-stride, as if to say that I was being cruel by coming between the stallion and his wrath. We placed fifth, but I do not think this mollified Shomool in the least.

All the athletes, human and equine, gathered to receive congratulations from an assortment of princes, potentates, industrial patricians, and others with an alphabet soup of honorifics. However, from my perspective, being saluted by them paled next to the delight of meeting Paul and Joanne Harrison, a couple from Guelph, Ontario. The Harrisons had written to me by e-mail before I left Canada, when they had learned that the tent pegging championships would coincide with their visit to Muscat. It was a surprising bit of home so far from home.

There would be a "gala dinner" later that night, with the usual raft of speeches and presentations attendant upon any international event. The dinner would prove to be an enjoyable cap to the week, but there was a far more important goodbye on the field.

I was surprised by how much I regretted handing Shomool's reins to the grooms for the final time. Although I have no illusions that Shomool's thoughts were engaged with anything other than food, water, and the comforts of the Sultan's stables, I felt we had developed a surprisingly happy partnership during the competition.

Shomool is a living anachronism, a true warhorse in an age where the cavalry warrior is a relic of history and myth; he is, therefore, precisely the sort of creature that inhabits the imagination of the small boy inside every man. Shomool is also a terror on four legs, whose wayward instincts demonstrably run to slaughter; yet I am sure that by the end of the championships, he was trying his best for me, for no better reason than that it suited him to do so. No horse will ever displace Thunder from my heart, but I like to think that if they ever met, the best of both Thunder and Shomool would gleefully run riot together.

As Salim drove me back to the athletes' hotel, I realised that I had grown so accustomed to his driving that I no longer flinched as pedestrians scurried for safety. "You know," he said over the peals of his Eminem tape, "I think I really will miss you when you go." I suspected he meant he would regret my absence when I returned to Canada, though I should have settled for him meaning that he would not run me over when I stepped out of the car. He, and indeed everyone I met in Oman, was the very soul of hospitality, and I certainly miss them.

Since coming home, I have had time to nurse my strained muscles and frayed ligaments, and to reflect on my experiences at the championships.

There is no greater athletic privilege than representing our country in competition, and no greater virtue than to strive in a noble cause, even if both these efforts involve a sport as outlandish as mine. I believe it is fair to say that I exceeded expectations in my results at the International Tent Pegging Championships. Far more importantly, however, I hope I represented Canada with honour, and made howsoever modest a contribution to the cause of the world's children with UNICEF.

In a life blessed far beyond my deserts, competing for UNICEF Team Canada at the 2007 International Tent Pegging Championships will always rank amongst my most cherished memories.

But just wait until next year!

Formation Stallion Rage - Day 5 of the International Tent Pegging Championships
02 April 2007, 20h45 EDT (GMT-4)

Group Lance with Ground Targets
Group Lance with Ground Targets
Click thumbnail for full photograph

The International Tent Pegging Championships resumed with group disciplines, in which sets of cavaliers riding abreast would gallop down a course, to simultaneously vie for targets lined-up within the space of a few metres. During my training in Canada, I had not had the luxury of fellow tent peggers with whom to practice, and so this would be an entirely new experience for me.

"You will all be riding very fast. Are you worried the others might stick you with their lances?" my driver Salim asked between mouthfuls of breakfast. Well, not until you raised it, actually.

The heat closed in on the competition grounds, and water trucks drove back and forth, spraying the course to suppress dust while the Royal Omani Mounted Police camels looked on with perplexed disdain.

As the luck of the draw would have it, I was matched with three riders from the Omani team: Khalil Ahmad Al Bloushi; Helal Abdullah Al Badri; and Zaid Bin Sued.

In the first discipline, we rode four abreast, wielding lances against ground targets. The stallion's instinct to bridle against the incursions of other males immediately rushed to my horse Shomool's head.

As the starter's flag dropped, Shomool made one last attempt to savage the horse to our nearside, before lurching forward with a speed that left the others far behind. I flounced my weight to and fro in the saddle, in an attempt to slow him back into the line. By the end of the requisite six runs, Shomool had calmed somewhat, and we placed sixth.

In the second discipline, Khalil and I rode shoulder-to-shoulder, he wielding his lance and I my sword, again against ground targets. The lance is the classic tent pegging weapon, but I have always found it to be improbable and awkward. By contrast, Khalil and most competitors eschew the sword, which they regard as demanding excessive acrobatics from the saddle.

Now wary of my efforts to restrain him at the starting point, Shomool instead tried to incapacitate Khalil's horse at the end of each run. With his most forceful lunge, Shomool still failed to escape me to reach the other horse, but he did manage to unseat me, leaving my pride dented but my body intact. We placed ninth, a respectable showing.

The South Africans continued their domination of the championships, managing to carry off medals in both disciplines of the day, despite a near disastrous collision involving one of their riders. The British, represented by four professionals riders from the Household Troops, fared surprisingly modestly, but did manage to keep their particularly unruly mounts in check.

"You did very good," offered Salim cheerfully, as he drove me back to the athletes' hotel. "You did not get stabbed or anything!" Then again, there was one more day left in the championships.



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