It’s not a stretch to say that Sri Lanka has been in the news for all the wrong reasons lately. Political choas, tribal infighting, grand scale social media manipulation, and of course that brazen Islamist terrorist attack which left over 300 dead last Easter when their dysfunctional government was caught virtually unprepared for the mayhem that followed. But what few understand about this exquisite island nation is how frail and vulnerable their democracy remains in the aftermath of this seismic event. Simply put, this deeply spiritual hub of roughly 21 million people is 70% Buddhist and 10% Muslim, and now it’s going through the familiar and predictable throes of what extremist violence does to a unified people – namely, a return to some of the worst forms of reprisal built almost entirely on spreading vicious lies, endless state-sanctioned propaganda, and medieval falsehoods. On top of all that, they just ended a moratorium on capital punishment which lasted an extraordinary 43 years and now find themselves led by wickedly vain and incorrigibly petty men who refuse to sit at the same table together (I’m talking to you, Sirisena and Wickremesinghe). My heart bleeds at the thought of such a beautiful country that endured centuries of colonization from multiple world powers (Portuguese, Dutch, British) but retained their noble dignity throughout time while being referred to as the Land of Serendipity. I’d expect nothing less from a place that was once named after tea (Sri Lanka was known as Ceylon until 1972) and is home to one of the most sacred mountains on the planet (Adam’s Peak) which is revered by several major religions and probably Nicolas Cage. Surely a country which introduced us to humanity’s first ever female prime minister (Sirimavo Bandaranaike) and has the highest global literacy rate alongside the most per capita Google searches for the word “sex” can find a way to avoid falling into the pitfalls of modern-day populism; that dreaded moment where your homeland goes from being civil to unruly in the blink of a troglodyte’s eye.
I suppose it’s only fitting that the Maple Leafs traded Patrick Marleau by throwing in a first round draft pick to close the deal with the Carolina Hurricanes. However, if reports are true that they acquired Cody Ceci from Ottawa by agreeing to pay Nikita Zaitsev’s three million dollar signing bonus and making us all forget him for the rest of history, I’ll consider it a massive victory for young Kyle Dubas (who can now walk away from Cody’s arbitration settlement) and immediately revel in the turnabout that is fair play in today’s NHL. In an era where the most proficient cap managers are more likely to gain the respect and admiration of their fanbase than any old school Brian Burke blustery posturing, it’s been a fascinating study of what’s transpired here in Toronto. Amidst considerable criticism for his recent penchant of trading away first rounders (for Jake Muzzin), the Leafs GM was able to bring Kasperi Kapanen ($3.2 million AAV) and Andreas Johnsson ($3.4 million AAV) into the fold for the forseeable future, thus securing a rather beastly top six forward punch that should be felt all across the Eastern Conference next year – this team won’t have any issues scoring. Last week’s Subban rumours had many around these parts buzzing with anticipation before crashing back down to earth and remembering that, after all, these are the Maple Leafs – and so defensively this team remains a permanent quagmire. While Mitch Marner negotiations are vexing, I have no doubt that he’ll return with a vengeance and under mercifully favourable conditions that should allow the team to make a few more minor moves before embarking on a tumultuous season with ruthlessly high expectations. Hey, it’s year FIVE of the Mike Babcock hit parade; something’s got to give. Another first round exit would be the death knell of a seven-year extravagant plan that sounded so sublime when we first heard it years ago but might remain a pipe dream without a blue line worth writing home about.
We’ve seen a number of Blue Jays players over the years who came up with lofty expectations and after an initial delivery of goods found themselves struggling to stay afloat. Players who were entrusted to develop according to scout forecasting and analytics curves that would approximate when and how they’d make an impact. Roy Halladay and Carlos Delgado were prime examples of legendary franchise players who became the best at their positions even though their first kick at the can at the MLB level was univerally considered an unmitigated disaster. Upon bursting on the scene, the former nearly no-hit the Tigers in 1998 (before Bobby Higginson took him deep with two outs in the ninth) while being sent down after his second official season in 1999 with the worst statistical numbers for a starter in the history of the game (10.64 ERA, 2.202 WHIP), and the latter was originally a catcher who was converted to first base and hit nine home runs in 43 April and May games before having to spend the next year and half rebuilding the gaping hole in his colossal swing. Carlos would go on to become my second favourite player behind Tony Fernandez, and set virtually every team record in Toronto yet somehow only ended up with a measly 3.8% of the Cooperstown vote even though his numbers were comparable with David Ortiz. This is what happens when you stand up for you principles over the promise of social conformity and other soul-destroying bullshit. But life isn’t fair for struggling rookies with visions of grandeur based on their talent and nothing more. This was the case for Lourdes Gurriel Jr., or as I now fondly refer to him as: “The Franchise.” Why? Because after hitting .175 to start the season and since being sent down to for his unholy conversion from infielder to outfielder, Lourdes has been fielding like Carl Yastrzemski and swinging like Ted Williams; he’s managed to hit an unearthly .352 with 14 home runs in 125 at-bats since returning from the Bisons. Not only is he a different player since his stint in the minors, but he’s become a complete player – one that’s finally following in the footsteps of his prescribed royal baseball family lineage. And when you factor in the lightning-fast development of Cavan Biggio, Danny Jansen, and that other fellow at third base who’ll be competing next month in the home run derby, suddenly this rebuild feels infinitely less futile and considerably more purposeful. Now if only Marcus Stroman and Aaron Sanchez can stay healthy enough and improve their innate trade value so this franchise can move forward and then…<insert predictable ending here>.
I’ve admired the dystopian science fiction series Black Mirror on Netflix for quite awhile now, and season five is no exception to what I’m proud to admit is a genuine guilty pleasure. Striking Vipers and Rachel, Jack and Ashley Too have been lauded for being some of the best streaming story-telling seen in years, but Smithereens stands out as perhaps one of the most intensely emotional episodes I’ve ever witnessed. It’s about our dependency on social media apps and how our minds have become attuned to a world where our goldfish attention spans and having a lack of moral truth is essentially turning us all into living zombies. But what’s especially poignant about this chapter is the standout performance of Andrew Scott and his interplay with the more established and well-known Topher Grace. I’ve seen some fine theatrical and cinematic performances in my life but this brand of melodrama may have taken the indelible cake. Not only will you find yourself totally immersed in the narrative constructed by the brilliantly cerebral Charlie Brooker, but I promise you’ll leave altered by the visceral impact of knowing that our future has already entombed us in ways that might make it too late for us to combat those manufactured cell phone addictions that only exist to profit off our misery and woe.