I hate January, which is by far my least favourite month of the year. The days are short and cold, it seems to go FOREVER, etc., etc. That said, at least it's one step closer to summer. With that complaint out of the way, here are some random thoughts for a cold Saturday morning:
1) Israel is continuing its military operations in Gaza, the U.N. Security Council's (UNSC) demand for an immediate halt to the attack notwithstanding. There are a couple of things worth mentioning here. First, the feckless behaviour of the United States in failing to veto the UNSC resolution was pathetic, but not entirely surprising. We have seen the State Department's Arabist influence over the Bush 43 Administration's foreign policy grow by the day, and now, as we approach the last 10 days of its life, President Bush appears to have finally capitulated entirely to the wishes of Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice to be more "balanced" (in other words, more pro-Arab). So, Israel is now truly alone. Second, Israel can't afford to stop right now. After the debacle in Lebanon in 2006, Israel MUST be seen in the Arab world as being the unquestioned winner of this conflict. The bigger question is, how does it achieve that? Obviously, zero missile/rocket/mortar launches out of Gaza would be the best case scenario, but I don't know if that's doable. The thing is, if it doesn't you will eventually see a situation where there are similar attacks out of the West Bank. That's not a question of "if", but "when". The bottom line? I don't know how Israel wins....................
2) On a similar theme, the reverberations from the Israeli operations in Gaza have been felt all over the world, whether it's protesters in Fort Lauderdale screaming "Jews to the ovens" (isn't THAT a nice sentiment?) or an Italian trade union calling for the boycott of all Jewish-owned businesses to the desecration of cemeteries across the continent and attacks on Jews in Denmark, France, the U.K., Holland, etc. (nothing like a Middle East war to get the Europeans to show their true, anti-Semitic selves). We here in the U.S. and Canada are fortunate in that we have been largely insulated from the more violent elements of the anti-Israel movement, but it's only a matter of time before similar events occur here.
3) So the University of Florida Gators are the "undisputed" national champions in NCAA Division I football after their methodical 24-14 win over Oklahoma in the BCS title game. Can we just permanently ban Oklahoma and Ohio State from the national championship game (unless they play each other)? You KNOW that if one of these two teams shows up, the team they are playing is guaranteed to win. And here's another thought: I would not have voted UF number one. My vote, if I had one, would have gone to Utah, the only undefeated team in major college football. Utah soundly beat Alabama 31-17 in the Sugar Bowl, in a stadium that was about 70-75% pro-Alabama. In fact, it never trailed in the game. As you will all recall, Florida was losing to Alabama going into the fourth quarter of the SEC title game before coming back to win 31-20. And, I don't know if Florida would have beaten USC. After watching the Rose Bowl, I don't think that there is a more skilled, faster team out there than the Men of Troy.
4) Round One of the NFL playoffs is done, and here comes Round Two. Without further ado, here is how I see the games shaking out:
i) Arizona at Carolina: The Cardinals are trying to play the "we get no respect" card, but there's a reason why they get so little respect--they don't deserve any. The Panthers will punch them in the mouth, and while the Cardinals will score their points, it won't be anywhere near enough. Carolina 38, Arizona 21.
ii) Philadelphia at NY Giants: I think that the final score of this game will be 23-17. I'm just not sure who will have the 23 and who will have the 17. I'm leaning toward the G-men, who I think want to make a statement after Philadelphia beat them in Week 13.
iii) Baltimore at Tennessee: The will be an old-fashioned slugfest. I see the Ravens playing just a little bit better than the Titans and escaping with a 17-16 win.
iv) San Diego at Pittsburgh: Arguably the most intriguing game of the weekend. The Chargers barely scraped into the playoffs at 8-8 (but they were red hot down the stretch, winning their final four games of the regular season and then edging Indianapolis in Round One of the playoffs) while Pittsburgh comes into the playoffs a bit banged up, though it did have the bye week last week. The Chargers don't have a great history in cold weather games, and it will be very cold in Steeltown this weekend. Steelers 23, Chargers 13.
5) We are almost at the All-Star break in Hockey, and here are my thoughts on the season so far:
i) San Jose is the best team in the west, for now. I'm still not sold on the Sharks in the playoffs, and Detroit is just as good as it was last year. That would be one heck of a playoff series.
ii) The Winter Classic at Wrigley Field was great. Seeing the players skate around with the famous Wrigley Field scoreboard in the background was just amazing, and viewers agreed. The NHL actually got measurable ratings on NBC for the game.
iii) The Boston Bruins are for real. I read an article that compared them to the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes team that won the Stanley Cup, and it was a very good analogy. Everybody kept waiting for those Hurricanes to fall on their faces, and they didn't. Similar predictions are being made about this year's Boston team. I don't know if the Bruins will have enough to beat either Detroit or San Jose in the Stanley Cup Finals, but I do think that Boston will get there, barring injuries.
iv) Is it possible for a team as hyped as the Montreal Canadiens to fly under the radar? Montreal is in the midst of its 100th anniversary celebration (word of advice to all hockey fans: go out and buy the DVD collection of the 10 best games in Canadiens' history: It's well worth the investment), and it has amassed an impressive point total, but because of the stellar play by Boston, it has been largely ignored. If Boston does cool off, it could be in for a dogfight atop the division.
v) Sidney Crosby is incredibly talented, but I don't know of a bigger crybaby in the sport. It is very easy to cheer against him, given his petulance and whining every time a call is not made in his favour. I wish that Mario Lemieux would sit him down and tell him how to behave properly.