We Failed Domestic Violence Victims- Preemptive Strategies and Losing (or Finding) Jian Ghomeshi

(***TRIGGER WARNING***: Several links here and throughout this post refer to descriptions of violence that may be triggering for survivors.  My previous entry, prior to the revelations of additional claims and Lucy DeCoutere and Reva Seth’s coming forward, is here).

(UPDATE #2 (10/31): The digital age is ripe to be exploited for misinformation, but this case now appears to provide a compelling case for how one ripple in the digital world can lead to the disclosure we wish for but do not often volunteer. A detailed story published by the Toronto Star indicates that Ghomeshi may have inadvertently sped up the investigation on himself by reacting in paranoia to the Twitter account, Big Ears Teddy, which only posted tweets from April 9-11. An official investigation is finally underway).

(UPDATE #1 (10/31): Apologies that I missed this item before submitting this, but Navigator has dropped Jian Ghomeshi as a client).

If you only click on and read one link in this entire post, make it this one. This summarizes the tremendous frustration about the terrible events that make the story right now.

On Tuesday night and Wednesday morning (while packing and preparing for #collegemedia14), I did something of which I’m not sure I’m horribly ashamed, but of which I certainly know I’m anything but proud.

I went on a Jian Ghomeshi listening/watching binge (and no, I’m not linking any of it).

I listened to the podcast of his last Q episode from start-to-finish. I listened to several interviews of him from his book tour of 2012. I listened to bunch of his “audio essays.” I listened to some of his best & in some cases (Howie Mandel) poignant interviews as a radio host. And I listened, in a state of surreal shock, to his Gamergate interviews—in which women detailed to him the horrors of cyberstalking and death threats they were experiencing—which were conducted only ten days ago.

I think, somehow, I knew— as Robyn Urback wrote today— the dam was about to break. And I theorized in conversations that there was any number of reasons why I found myself compelled to go on my listening binge before it did. Those reasons including:

— The natural temptation to see if there was any clues in the public persona that had been staring us in the face all along. Oh sure, he was smarmy…but how many smarmy media personalities are there out there? Are they all this horrible?
— Similarly listening for the clues in his book tour interviews: the descriptions of a life as an outsider due to Persian background and the seemingly strong connection to his recently deceased father. How could someone who claimed to work so hard to make his dad proud be something so much different?
— The surreal feeling of listening to a person’s last known photograph. Somehow the public Jian Ghomeshi feels…not so much like he was never real. But like he was killed by the private Jian Ghomeshi. And that man took his time doing it. And he physically abused and emotionally scarred possibly countless women- real, very real, very non-fictitious people- along the way.
— The cruel fate that his last two episodes would encompass Gamergate conversations, the Ottawa shootings and the subjects of depression and suicide with Clint Malarchuk. (Malarchuk, not knowing what was to unfold, tweeted this afterwards).

And finally, listening to a historical archive of a man being a voice of reason for the nation…and slowly realizing something dark and sinister. And something that, quite frankly as someone who advises student journalists and radio hosts for a living, is downright haunting:

If Jian Ghomeshi the radio host was a different person than Jian Ghomeshi today, he’d be the first person most of Canada would have turned to for commentary on this story.

Not any of the women. Not any of the women who knew the women. Not any of the friends that tried to provide shelter to the women. You can very easily surmise the first voice on the matter on a Monday morning would have been Jian’s, ever so calmly starting with his signature “Hi there,” ostensibly presenting his “word of radio god.”

And even just that one realization tells you right there: we failed. We failed the women of Canada, the women of the world. We keep failing, and I’m right there with all of us.

———-

One of my students wrote a powerful story for The Signal earlier this semester on why sexual assaults go underreported and that story doesn’t lead all that differently from this one that I linked above, the most important story of all. My students’ story was accompanied by a staff editorial, which was well-intentioned and, quite frankly, strongly reasoned.

But still, more often than not, we do not report. Oftentimes, it’s up to the good journalists, it’s up to the Toronto Star muckrakers we’ve seen in action, to wrangle up as much as earthly possible in a story to uncover the truth. Why? As “Melissa” from Nothing From Winnipeg wrote: “Do you know about Jian?” That’s why.

Those horrible feelings that something is not right, with enough people feeling the same thing all around you, with enough people whispering terrible things but somehow no one ever really being able to point to the person that can corroborate it in a way that everyone can know… even though…they know. I don’t have any close friends near the situation, but many have moved to various places across Canada and have heard from those who know about Jian. Some of them bit their lip because they felt it might not be ever possible to prove.

When the dam bursts, it becomes impossible to deny. Oh sure, we still have not an ounce more of physical evidence than we had on Monday when many of us tried to hold our feelings on the matter at bay. But now we have people putting names to their accusations. Now we have people offering vivid descriptions. Now we have a conspiracy theory of Ghoeshi’s (lawyers’) imagination so vast that moon landing conspiracy theorists would state “I’m sorry, that’s a stretch.”

But why do we have to let the dam reach the breaking point? Why do so many assaults go unreported (or underreported)? Why did it take not one assault by Ghomeshi to merit a journalistic investigation but a virtual plethora of them? Much of it stems from how we take our the principle of the presumption of innocence to a rather twisted end.

—–

I described Ghomeshi’s approach in his Facebook statement as a “a multi-pronged reduction of offensiveness approach: bolstering (reminding everyone of his work as a ‘good (CBC) solider’), minimization (‘we’re not talking about assault, we’re talking about consensual BDSM’) and attacking the accuser (insinuating this is the “campaign” of ‘jilted ex-lover’).

But others were much more to the point and accurate: his team was trying to pull a David Letterman. Furthermore, It was only logical that this was the only aim because winning the accompanying lawsuit was swiftly judged as pragmatically impossible.

We’ve logically come to a very quick conclusion about the Letterman strategy: it failed. There are two reasons for this.

The minimization effect worked for Letterman because the blackmail attempt was a much easier story to believe. The most Ghomeshi could hope for was that the accusations towards him would remain as vague as they did on Monday so that his conspiracy theory could hold water. That didn’t even remain a reality for 24 hours. By Wednesday morning, the accusations were so varied, descriptive, and from differing social circles with no real compelling interest to defame Ghomeshi seeming obvious. On the other hand, Letterman’s story was easy to believe right away and thus his infidelities were immediately minimized against what was perceived as a greater crime, that of trying to blackmail him.

Second, Letterman’s story stopped unfolding. He didn’t just get ahead of it. He stopped it. There was no danger of Letterman being arrested. His infidelity may have been reprehensible but it posed no danger of arrest nor did any suggestions it would lead to assault take hold. Letterman was deemed by some to be “merely” reprehensible, Ghomeshi is now understood to be dangerous.

And that second difference is why we’re all kicking ourselves now. The law indicates Ghomeshi is “innocent until proven guilty” and we carry that so far so as to not even begin or demand a police investigation now after this many allegations. In the police’s case, possibly out of respect of victims’ fears of vengeance of a perpetrator before a sentence can be laid out. In the public’s case, because of a false equivalency between a rush to investigate and a rush to judgement.

I write all of this not to pin blame on a specific person other than Jian Ghomeshi. Any assaults committed by him, however many they be, are his responsibility and his to be punished for. But that doesn’t mean that we as a collective haven’t failed. Because Ghomeshi’s story hasn’t stopped, more come forward. Yet still we do not do enough. We try to walk the delicate line of respecting victims, respecting the justice system but yearning to take assault allegations seriously, despite the overwhelming evidence we collectively don’t.

And after everything I’ve written, I have few solutions. Here’s two starting points, though:

– You don’t have to believe every single rape or assault allegation you hear. But you should never disbelieve it until it can be soundly disproven. The mythological “pot of gold” that a false rape accuser gets still eludes us all- the sensible ones of all, that is. Hateful, sexist dialog towards accusers of people you want to stick up for is inexcusable, no matter how good of a friend, ally or figure that might be. The consequences of stigmatizing an accuser, no matter how frivulous a charge may seem, is far greater than the consequences of giving an accusation a chance to be investigated.

– Here are some resources. Get familiar:

http://www.cwhn.ca/
http://www.canadianwomen.org/facts-about-violence
http://www.nrcdv.org/
http://www.dvrc-or.org/
http://www.thehotline.org/
http://www.ncadv.org/

——

One last thought,

Jian Ghomeshi said something in one of those many “Q essays” (again, not linking it) and it seems like he was oblivious to it. “Journalism is not a crime.” We tell our students, “you the student are subject to the same journalism that you practice on the students you write about.” Perhaps there are people who think they are media figures think they get immunity. They don’t.

After all of this, it remains as true, and in as dark of terms as possible, as when I first wrote it: something very sad has happened. Not just at CBC, but across Canada.

Gobblefest: Give Thanks

Preface: Five years ago this past June, I completed my doctoral dissertation on the music scene in my hometown and the corresponding website CBLocals. On p. 15, I wrote…

CBLocals provides a more quotidian example of locality in music scenes not often found in current literature. Many recollections of music scenes from both scholars and the masses center on large urban centers…music communities stemming from or near Athens, Minneapolis, Boston and Washington are given prominence in music scene narrative due to the prolific number of nationally recognized bands that emerged from them (Azerrad, 2001).

Yet for every Athens, Georgia, there are hundreds of small communities such as industrial Cape Breton. Today, hundreds upon hundreds of bands play to small local audiences and will never be heard by a mass audience, Internet exposure notwithstanding. (This is actually as true of urban areas as well although these bands at least possess greater proximity to national media). These examples bear further analysis as there is much to learn from how people develop music scenes without the amenities granted by urban locations. This is especially important in how participants of music scenes articulate a sense of, alternately, pride and disappointment in the music scenes that they feel helps to define them.

…..

Where I was 20 years ago today is either fitting, ironic or a little bit of both when you consider where I was a couple of Saturdays ago.

I attended the second of three massively attended Outkast shows at Olympic Park here in Atlanta. For someone who moved here in August 2003, nothing could be more emblematic of re-living a zeitgeist. Because it wasn’t but for a few weeks after I moved here that The Love Below/Speakerboxx completely took over the earth (or at least it seemed that way). “Hey Ya!” was everywhere you could look and after a decade of hustling and five full length releases, Andre 3000 & Big Boi had officially staked their claim as the city’s newest “most famous sons.”

Normally, events like #ATLast are eschewed by the “I knew them back when they were next-to-nothing” crowd but quite frankly, the Outkast shows attracted everyone from the most casual to hardcore fan and with absolutely everyone loving it. For many of the over 60,000 people that attended one or more of the shows, the Outkast reunion represented nothing less than the ultimate homecoming. I noted that the song that produced the biggest reaction of the night was not anything from the aforementioned album, but rather Big Boi’s 2005 cut “Kryptonite” in which he triumphantly declares that on any given night, you can “find him in the A.” One fan told a newsreporter on Friday that the events was like a home game for the Braves, Hawks or Falcons. I would argue that would be selling it short: Atlanta’s known to be pretty transplant-friendly for road teams in sports. Outkast is as unanimous a home team as it gets for the ATL.

OlympicPark
The Triumphant Return

In sum, there’s fewer things can make you feel more of Atlanta than seeing Outkast, all these years later, in Atlanta.

So where was I 20 years ago today, (I made) you ask? Over 3050km north of what wasn’t quite yet Olympic Park and certainly not among tens of thousands of people of multiple races, ages and creeds in an open air venue. Instead I was among maybe 250ish mostly teenagers (and mostly white teenagers at that) at what was then known as Steelworkers Hall for a Thanksgiving Sunday event called “Gobblefest.” And I’m pretty it sure it was mostly teenagers because I was one of them.

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Were we ever so cute?

Some of that year’s Gobblefest strikes me as embarrasingly hokey in hindsight. There were still not a lot of original local bands to make up a 23-band show so some cover bands had to make up the space. I remember some band covering John Mellencamp’s “Wild Night” and me being one of three people in the room for it. Yet the room was packed when Saucy Jack covered Lenny Kravitz and had us all moshing (this is my secret shame).

But the 1994 Gobblefest was the first time I remember paying money to watch bands that were a) from my hometown and b) no more than a few years older than me and in a few cases, as old as me. The highlight for me was Smiling Uniks because two of the members of the band were high school seniors I’d been in the same classes with since Grade 7.

SUCassette
Only minimal damage to the case after all this time…

I’m treading into long-retold “wow, anyone can do it” punk rock clichés, I know. But here were actual honest-to-goodness teenagers writing their own stuff and playing it. Oh sure, I’m sure if an unsentimental distant spectator listened to it, s/he’d write a lot of it off as grunge posturing. But some of the music stuck with me– Try listening to a song in which the lyrics consist solely of “Bubblegum, bubblegum, I like bubblegum,” then try to get it out of your head. Come to think of it, it seems more subversive and clever at age 37 than it did then…

Gobblefest didn’t turn me into a musician (although I kept writing lousy poetry for a couple more years). But it did have a transformative effect on me. I knew now that there was something going on in my hometown that was fun, energetic, creative to which I could relate. And for the non-quotidian indie rock places, that’s pretty important. I have nothing against the fiddle music of Cape Breton, but at the time, none of it made me feel happy to be of Sydney like being at Gobblefest did.

SIDEBAR: I’m acutely aware that’s really silly given how amorphous indie rock is vs. Cape Breton fiddling. No need to point it out. 🙂

I stayed home for college and my sister cajoled me into going to the student org fair because college wasn’t going to be more high school: I had to get involved in something. So I made a beeline to the “college radio” table even though the “college radio station” had no frequency (literally) and 19 years later, it still doesn’t. But oh the work they do

Gobblefest became a three-day event that year and it was the first of six that I’d volunteer for (a couple of which I co-organized). You can openly laugh at me finding that a profound weekend of my life because I didn’t utilize a single creative skill at the second Gobblefest. At least that I can remember.

I didn’t go on any poster runs, trusty staple-gun in hand, but I remember mixing cola and coffee together at the merch table on a dare. I didn’t design any posters or write any press releases, but I remember selling a shirt for a band (as in…the lead singer literally hen-scratched the band’s name on one single shirt and one single person bought it for…$10?). I didn’t network with anyone to make any band come to the show, but I remember talking to the members of Plumtree and harboring a typical college crush on them (gosh, they were so nice). I wasn’t in on the budget planning for the show, but I remember being told at the end of the night to “keep all the juice bags” (if you have to ask…).

There was always lugging stuff. That I remember. That and seeing a lot of cool bands.

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…and everyone had a good time

I’m reveling in recalling minutiae because that was my first volunteer gig and before you knew it, I’d be finding bands for shows, plastering posters all over town(s) and lugging gear in my mom’s Cavalier because my cheap sorry college self still couldn’t afford a car. (Sorry Mom! I like to think the 37-point turns out of the back of MusicStop carrying amps the car wasn’t built for didn’t harm the car’s transmission, but it probably did).

I still find everything I did then cropping up in my work life: This will be the third year in a row I will do a panel at CMA/ACP on review writing. I have to write up press releases before and after events all the time. Organizing MMC requires a lot of the same networking skills. I talk about things running on “rock time” all the time (hint: a lot of things in my life run on “rock time”). Watching students get to the verge of disavowing each other for life on time-intensive assignments (I’m looking at you, newspapers…) and having to be the “voice of reason” when the project still needs to complete itself inside 48 hours.

I once attended a leadership retreat for GSU and when the last session concluded in what was essentially cafeteria space, I told the students in my group to clean up everything and pack it out because “you need to leave the venue better than you found it.” The co-owner of the location- a fairly religious individual- was impressed at my mantra.

“Yup. Y’know where I learned that? Indie rock shows.”

She seemed a bit surprised…I think she figured I’d learned it from my parents (not that they didn’t try…). But in Cape Breton, you often had to rely on church halls to supply the venue. They weren’t listening to your loud, raucous music…you sure as hell were going to leave the place much more spic-and-span than you found it.

So why’d I bother mentioning Outkast in the first place? Well, see, when the first Gobblefests were happening, over 1900 miles away in Atlanta, a college radio station with a 100,000 watt frequency was playing Outkast on the weekends. And as a grad student, I found myself repeating my “let’s go try out for the college radio station” ways for that outfit and witnessing the whole process of people finding their place repeat itself anew.

The truth is, none of the bands you’ll see at Gobblefest may ever “rule the earth” like Outkast did (and one could argue that in this age, no band will ever “rule the earth” period but that’s a whole other story). So I might see it as a tad pointless to go to see a band when they’re “just this small band.” Still, it might end up being a neat fringe bonus point and I like to think that somewhere in the crowd at Centennial a few weeks ago were the GSU students who were convinced they were the only ones on campus who knew who Andre & Big Boi were then. I hoped it made them smile.

So if getting to say “I saw X Band when they were just playing at New Dawn” ten years down the line is appropriate incentive for any Cape Breton kids to check out this year’s Gobblefest this weekend, then by all means, seize it. It can happen in Sydney too, maybe not as easily but just the same, heartwarming homecomings are fun when you get older.

But really, more importantly, Gobblefest for me was the beginning of making friendships with fellow organizers and volunteers. It was also getting a chance to watch current and future friends be rock stars at least for a few days. One of my friends got a whole crowd of teenagers to sing his song in an arena concourse. Another rose out of a coffin to start his band’s set. Another one did his show with his arm in a cast because he’d broken it during a show in his resident province…and he had shirts that told the tale of his injury and how he actually returned to the club on the same night to see his favourite rock band.

That’s just fun.

BPMGF2011
Back Pocket Material at Gobblefest, circa 2011

All of which is a long way of saying, I mostly linked this on my social networks for people I know who either have kids, or know people who do, in Sydney. Tell ’em there’s an all-ages Gobblefest on Sunday and tell them they should go. And tell them that they are going to see talented and creative people and they’re not from another planet and they’re not from “big town, Canada/USA,” they’re either your parents’ friends– and yes, those people can be cool too– but more importantly, they and the audience are just the friends in town they haven’t made yet.

During one of the Gobblefests (I’ve long forgotten which one), one of the logo designs simply reused the same expression we’re all told during Thanksgiving (Canadian or American): Give Thanks. Even though I’d heard the expression in a hundred different places and times, it never resonated with me as much as it did on a Gobblefest poster.

So I give you thanks, Gobblefest. Go break your turkey leg this weekend.

Public Property Filming and Public Building Funds

Well, I’m off to Peru!

That’s also my way of announcing not to expect any blog/Twitter activity in the next few weeks. For all of my attempts to fake “worldliness,” I’m not worldly at all– this trip will mark my first excursion outside of North American soil. Kind of nerve-wracking and exhilarating.

Between Machu Picchu and the Amazon, I’m going to learn all about backpacks, Camel Baks and water “potability” (it’s often tinted and not all that great-tasting). And that’s before we even get to the experiences distinct to Peru. If Anthony Bourdain has taught me anything, my tastebuds might need to do some serious acclimating.

Still, pretty exciting, hopefully the blogosphere won’t be too entertaining in my absence.


Not Dr. McNeil’s typical dinner…
————————————————————————————

Filming the police is always a hot button subject. A couple of differing cases this week on that.

In Augusta, Matthew Haley was arrested while filming from a public sidewalk, then interrogated again while being interviewed by local news on the subject. A much more violent case occurred in Hawthorne, California where police arrested Leon Rosby as he was filming a crime scene. They then repeatedly shot his dog upon his escape from Rosby’s vehicle during his arrest.

Every case like this has its own individual considerations. The Augusta police argued that Haley was “drawing suspicion” by filming and not providing ID. The Hawthorne police argued that filming wasn’t the offense of which Rosby was guilty, but of obstructing police work with unnecessarily loud music blaring from his car. The shooting of the dog, they argued, was for the safety of the police as he was out to protect his owner.

I try not to revert to being instinctively unsympathetic to the police in cases such as these. Typically the first reports come from the aggrieved. As such, it’s easy to slant the story away from any legitimate concerns police may have (for e.g., if I was working on a crime scene with loud music blaring nearby, I would want that quieted as well). That said, it’s becoming alarming how often the official responses to situations such as these often begin with “the police found this annoying or suspicious” and then end with “once this person wouldn’t respond to the cops, it was therefore OK for them to arrest this person.”

I worry about cases like these when I think about my students and any time they’re out to cover a rally, arrest or any other public event. I was asked in court about whether my students are trained to obey police commands at all times. I found the question worrisome in its phrasing and replied that students are always trained to comply with the law, which led to a trying back-and-forth, to say the least.

This has become an exceedingly tricky issue in the past ten years as now just about everyone has a device with which they can film something. The right of the citizen is the most important thing in play– no one should be arrested for filming something in a public place. However, there’s also an important subconsideration: how realistic is it for police forces to approach to public filming in this manner in an era such as this?


This has been the new reality for awhile…but can law enforcement adjust?

It’s conceivable that if an arrest were happen on main street on AnyMajorCity, USA, dozens– nay, hundreds– will probably whip out their phones. Unless a person is standing directly in the way or path of a criminal or an officer, isn’t preoccupation with all of this incredibly unpragmatic? The sergeant in the Haley case argues that one safety consideration is planning out “escapes” for future crimes such as the Boston Marathon bombing. Yet every public place will probably eventually be well-known through filming in this era, it may just be that law enforcement have to get used to the assumption that most everyone knows the layout of most everything.

(Apropos of almost nothing, it reminds me of the infamous exchange between Tim Rafe and Pierre Trudeau during 1970’s October Crisis, in which Rafe argued Trudeau’s rationale for martial law was ultimately impractical even if morally justifiable. Oh to think of the cellphone footage Trudeaumania would have produced…)

The teachable moment for student press is: have your ID with you at all times. The sad part is: even if the law doesn’t necessitate you having it, trouble might still occur regardless. That is very, very worrisome indeed.

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If I asked you to guess where one of the most watched municipal governments in North America was…would you guess “Glendale, Arizona?” If you’re not a hockey fan, probably not. Yet it’s been the case in recent years due to the Phoenix Coyotes saga.

The Coyotes are “Exhibit A” in the “MADNESS” file of public-private relations in sports. It would take an entire month of blog entries to properly recap the team’s story but a nutshell version goes something like this (and I can’t emphasize enough how much this nutshell version leaves out):


More riveting than it looks, I assure you

The NHL team moved from Winnipeg to downtown Phoenix in 1996. Northern hockey fans greeted the market with suspicion and the arena was not built for hockey. The team was losing money every year so the owners sought a new arena and got one in the neighbouring city of Glendale (on the public dime, of course) as part of the consumerist experiment known as Westgate City Center. However, the team lost even more money there leaving the team owner to declare bankruptcy and throw the keys to the NHL. The NHL didn’t like that the owner tried to sell the team to a man that wanted to move it and ever since then, the city of Glendale has been forking over dollars to the NHL to “run the arena” (i.e. keep the Coyotes in town at a severe loss and to the detriment of Glendale’s bond rating).

The latest chapter came on late Tuesday night/early Wednesday morning as Glendale approved a deal that might take several business degrees to understand, in which the IceArizona investment group will receive a) a loan from the NHL, b) a loan from investment banks, and c) a “management fee” from Glendale…all to be the owners of the Phoenix Coyotes. Hockey fans watched anxiously to see if the council might go in the other direction, especially as a rejection would have certainly meant relocation.

A highly recommended website to learn about just how far city and state governments will go to appease pro sports teams is Field of Schemes, from the authors of book-of-same-name. It details the continuing saga of concessions– (mostly) financial and otherwise– that teams usually receive from cities and states fearful of losing status, businesses and/or revenue if their teams jump town.

Yet it’s debatable how much prestige, revenue or business the Phoenix Coyotes bring the city of Glendale. The only publicity the Coyotes seem to draw is negative, even in years where they’re winning, they bleed money and arguably every business supported by the Coyotes presence could realistically exist with a minor league team (which is not cheap but is certainly much cheaper to run). In a hilariously sublime moment, one of the first citizens to plead with the council Tuesday night to agree to the deal was a Phoenix sports store owner…whose businesses aren’t in Glendale. The city has attracted scorn for laying off public employees (no, not these brave folks, but the optics remain terrible regardless) and drowning itself in red ink to pursue the Coyotes project…all for fear that it’s all or nothing because abandoning it will lead to a white elephant.

The case is fraught with nationalistic tensions as well, creating an interesting fissure in the Canadian vision of American capitalism. The majority of northern hockey fans, but especially many Canadian hockey fans, have been calling for the relocation of the Yotes for a long while now. Quebec City, Markham, Hamilton and even Saskatoon all have businesspeople harbouring serious NHL aspirations and many fans are bitter that they haven’t been realized.

The negotiation of the Free Trade agreement coincided with the infamous Wayne Gretzky departure to Los Angeles and provided Canadians with a prism of which they felt business would operate– sentiment and tradition wouldn’t matter if dollars and cents dictated going south. Yet dollars and cents, Canadians argue, would support multiple NHL franchises in Canadian locations where there currently aren’t any. Former impediments such as a lack of revenue sharing or a low Canadian dollar are no longer present. Essentially, the grievance goes something like “we were told it was just business when it was a bunch of teams moving to the south…why can’t it be just business now?

Which, of course, then comes right back around to proposals for public money for private stadiums. The league’s return to Winnipeg has those aggrieved cities sensing a change in the wind, although ironically enough, the rumoured top contender in this year’s “move the Yotes” sweepstakes was an American northwest city planning to fund its stadium with *gasp* private money– Seattle.

The Coyotes saga hit closer to residence for me in 2011 when the Glendale Council injected $25 million at the last minute to keep the Yotes skating on Arizona ice. That expedited the relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg in lieu of the former Winnipeg Jets. Atlanta’s city government said and did very little in that instance but that hasn’t been the case with the NFL’s Atlanta Falcons. And thus creates a whole new potentially cautionary tale…


One conception of the ambitious Atlanta Falcons stadium project

It’s one thing to assess these investments from a civic perspective by gauging how many dollars and cents are gained back by having major sports teams. It’s another to assess it by how many years you get out of the investment. And by the standards of North American pro sports towns, Atlanta has a bad track record. The Omni stood for less than three decades and if a new Falcons stadium is constructed, the Georgia Dome will meet a similar fate. It’s not out of line for churches and citizens to be a little bit taken aback at this venture because business owners will tell us that this building will stand for a long time but history tells a different story. It’s also dubious as to whether or not the proposed $200 million of public money will stay at $200 million and come solely from a proposed hotel tax and not somewhere else. (Bless their cotton-woolen socks, the poor ol’ NFL has graciously loaned the Falcons an equivalent amount to help out).

It’s worth noting is that this project directly affects Georgia State, as it would constitute demolishing the Dome and taking the Panthers football team down the street with the Falcons

All of which raises the question: how necessary is it to have these palaces in your neighbourhood to be a thriving metropolis? Most cities with a population over 100,000 manage to have a major sporting facility to accommodate their growth, but the level of return on the investment without pro sports is difficult to assess. One can look to the Sprint Center in Kansas City for an example of a thriving arena without a team, but then, that arena too funnels most of its direct profits to the arena operator, not the city that built it.

Which makes me wonder if Coyotes fans have it right– you’re gonna pay and someone else will collect regardless, so maybe it doesn’t matter how much you spend to keep it busy. The Falcons already keep a building busy so it will take a lot to economically justify ripping it down and putting up a new one.

I Turn 36 Today

It’s not a long blog entry today because it’s my birthday.

Normally the most notable birthdays and anniversaries are the ones meeting five-year increments. In the university world, I think 36 is an exception.

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University students used to make jumpdrive mixes for each other in this form

I turned 18 on Father’s Day of 1995. It was notable in Nova Scotia because the G7 Summit had wrapped up the day before in Halifax– the event even had a website! Jean Chretien was wrestling with Quebec sovereignty issues while Bill Clinton was wrestling a Republican Congress over budget issues. An absolutely horrible song topped the charts on both sides of the border and Batman Forever was crushing it in its opening box office weekend.

Nine days later, I walked the aisle of CBC Recreation Center to receive my Riverview high school diploma, which is why I think that my 36th birthday is somewhat notable. Everyone born on my 18th birthday is receiving their high school diplomas now. Meaning they are the freshman students I will encounter in the fall.

Our nostalgia for the present is such that 1995 seems like yesterday and not just for late 30-somethings like me who like to pretend that it really was just yesterday. “18 years ago” in 1995 was 1977 and you didn’t have a mass amount of 1977 movies, news and (oh, to laugh) websites at your disposal back then. I can far more readily access TV news reports about Elvis Presley’s death now than I could when I was a teenager. In some ways, the year of birth feels closer to me now because of it. Of course, 1977 felt like forever ago then.

Elvis1977
I can also look up Elvis death hoax conspiracies. And laugh at Geraldo’s haircut

The landscape that my college freshman self and the freshmen I’ll end up advising bear a lot of differences and similarities.

I didn’t live in an Internet-capable household when I graduated high school. No word of lie, the first time I experienced this wacky “Internet” was in a UCCB lab. In America, the number of Internet users was pegged between 20-30 million at the time. Much of my college classroom experience
was spent discussing how we were going to refashion our way of life around it. Now the use of the Internet in the classroom itself is perhaps not ubiquitous, but darn close (then again, if cyberslacking counts, then yes, it is ubiquitous).

Optimistic outlooks back then cast a digital divide that would be much smaller, but really that’s not the case. 1995 Bryce probably thought that the Internet would allow his small town and other small towns to grow as they utilized the digital tools to reach out into the world. 2013 Bryce lives in Atlanta: a city with a metro population over a million people more than it was ten years ago. I was told that one day I’d have to move to the big city as a college student. Here at GSU, I advise people that already took up that advice coming out of high school.

Tuition is always a problem. We bailed on classes in my senior year at RHS to attend information sessions with federal government representatives to address the rising costs of postsecondary education. We were nervous about how much it would cost us, but today’s student will tell me I got a bargain. It goes up and up back home, but stateside doesn’t tell a better story. Even accounting for inflation, my 1995 tuition dollars wouldn’t go as far. Whatever we told those representatives didn’t work, I guess.

I attended a small university slash college but there was a persistent desire to present a more consolidated vision. It would take years and years before the University College of Cape Breton became Cape Breton University but it was a march to the inevitable. The idea behind such a name change– besides optics– was (and is) to foster a belief (and develop programs towards that belief) discouraging students from using CBU as a “stopping point” before transferring to a bigger university. I met several students like that when I set foot on UCCB campus. I wasn’t one of them…no one else in Atlantic Canada offered a B.A. in Communication.

I was at the tailend of Generation X and we were being told as we headed to college that it was gonna be rough. Rick Mercer was an emerging Canadian comedian and he was wondering when the baby boom job clog was ever going to clear up. 18 years later, we’re still wondering. Today, I’m telling my media students that there’s a job market out there, but you best be careful because it’s constantly reinventing itself in the name of mobility.

Bryceis36
Mercer had to get older to pull his snark out of a black & white haze

The university professional living in Georgia, USA, 2013 is witnessing this manifest in the seeming death of the two-year school. I get transfers volunteering for GSTV and The Signal all the time but many smaller Georgia schools are consolidating under institutional umbrellas to develop four year programs. Witness the new University of North Georgia (an amalgamation of two North Georgia College State and two Gainesville State College campuses) of and Middle Georgia State College soon-to-be “Middle Georgia University” (a merger of Macon State College and Middle Georgia College). Perhaps the middle Georgian freshmen born in 1995 will elude me and stick to their roots?

Pontifications and questions that will have to wait for another day. For now, I’ll enjoy my birthday mix and wish good luck to the Class of ’17. After you get your tassle, you’re invited to my 40th birthday party.

Quest For Info: In State, Across States and Home

It’s a John Lennon sort of day today. Everyone searching for some truth.

You’ll notice when you enter the front page of my website, the following statement appears: “(This page does not officially represent Georgia State University or any of the Georgia State University Student Media divisions).” I should add to that “or the University System of Georgia”.

Especially since the students that cross my path on a regular basis occasionally cross the path of the Board of Regents.

One such student is David Schick. Schick contributed a bit to The Signal this year during his transfer year from Georgia Perimeter College to GSU. His work ethic stood out such that USA Today selected him to be their GSU correspondent. However, it’s his time at GPC that remains as pertinent to the present as anything because of an unresolved Open Records Request.

Before transferring to GSU, Schick (then EIC of The Collegian) made a request for 15 budget related documents. As of now, he doesn’t have seven of them. GPC had laid off 282 employees and reports alleged that the school had “overspending for years” thus causing the shortfall precipitating the layoffs (Collegian adviser David Simpson was among the casualties). Schick’s request reflected his journalistic curiosity as to whether or not this allegation was true and if so, how could it have gone on undetected for so long.

That was in July 2012. Today, Schick filed suit against the USG Board of Regents because he still doesn’t have all of the documents he requested.

Open Record Requests are not supposed to simply be a resource for professional journalists: anyone can request them. However, oftentimes, the costs given to requestors can be quite exorbitant. I’ve advised students who have placed ORRs that have resulted in four-figure quotes and that is more likely of a possiblity the more redactions are deemed necessary due to various legal concerns. The original quoted cost of Schick’s ORR began the delays and the new quote remains a sticking point.


David Schick

The lawsuit is instructive on a few levels:

1) American college journalists shouldn’t just pay attention to what their university administration is doing, they should also be mindful of the systems under which the administrations operate. The one thing I find myself suggesting to my students during teardowns more often than not is “you should call the students at (Somewhere Else in Georgia) University and see if the same thing’s happening there.” And where the public universities are concerned, the USG is the first place to look for why things work the way they work.

2) Open government is messy, whether the facts of the case dictate that it has to be or not (and being 100% fair, I’ve yet to hear USG’s response to the suit). Launching an ORR isn’t activity exclusively reserved for journalists but non-exclusivity doesn’t necessarily dicate ease. Rights to privacy often clash with rights to public information and even after that, debates will arise has to whether or not public officials leverage the perception rights to privacy are in play when they aren’t. (An ongoing controversy in campus journalism is how much FERPA is used and misused in ORRs).

3) This is yet another case that proves that students do have the most important story ideas sometimes. This is not the AJC* or a network affiliate (or even Creative Loafing, though David’s worked there as well) causing such a ruckus, just one journalist on behalf of one student newspaper. That he doesn’t even edit or write for anymore. Students are affected by a lot of things and think that their problems exist on their island, but that island can be exposed to a wider audience if you ask a question or two.

* = One person commenting on an AJC column about the affair writes “I guess that I’m kind of curious as to why a lone student journalist is carrying the spear here. Why has the larger media complex not been all over this like ugly on an ape ?” Eek.

It will be interesting to see how far the case proceeds. There’s interest is in the verdict, yes, but also in the discussion will be on reasonable cost projections on citizen requests and the level of awareness it will create for student journalists on covering their campus budget beats.

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Whenever there’s someone saying that we’re not getting enough information, however, there’s someone that thinks we have too much. Nationally, that’s the case with the Edward Snowden case. Snowden’s recent online interview detailing his whistleblowing on the National Security Agency has attracted a lot of buzz. The future doesn’t seem promising for the whistleblower. Snowden must believe as much as his plans essentially involve never setting foot on American soil again. At the time of this entry, he’s fallen off of the planet.


America’s Most Wanted

Two takeaways from this?

1) The furor over the PRISM leak seems to reveal that we’re not as “post-post 9/11“*** we think we are. Specifically, it’s interesting that the lines of inappropriateness have been drawn domestically. William Binney worked with the NSA for 28 years but only quit when he felt the surveillance of domestic data got to be too much. Obviously legally, this makes sense: the privacy issue is framed as a constitutional one and the constitution only applies to American citizens. However, no one has asked yet if PRISM’s reach has affected private citizens of other parts of the world whose connections to terrorism would be specious at best. There does seem to be an invisible “othering” in play.

*** = “Post-post-9/11” should be considered a scale rather than an absolute. Just as scholars reminds us that Obama’s 2008 election shouldn’t be treated as a pass/fail inscription of the notion of a “post-racial” society.” There are other elements upon which we can assess 9/11’s effect on social perception and policy beyond suspicion and personal privacy.

2) I wonder if this case is going to make people think twice about how much they voluntarily disclose online. Never mind the companies that try to facilitate our unwitting divulging of information, the social mediation we currently experience leaves a lot of people thinking it doesn’t matter whether people know everything about everyone anyway. So much so that I regularly now see panels at national media conventions where professionals essentially try to shame 18-24 year olds to keep to them damn selves when Twittering and Facebooking. They shame them with “you won’t get hired!” Are we going to transform this into “the government can take everything you did 30 years ago and ruin you?” or will the new generation reply “if anything, I’ve learned I can’t do anything private on the Internet anyways so YaskY?”

Danah Boyd argues that you can’t take refuge in the idea that “I’ve done nothing illegal” because PRISM takes us in a direction that “presumes entire classes and networks of people as suspect” (particularly apt here is her analogy on how we all freak out after doing our taxes and imagining feeling that way all the time). “Nothing to hide” does indeed often fail as logic and it seems like we’re a culture that’s hiding less and less. However, recent scholarship suggests that the more we get into our social media, the more we seek privacy out. If that research is indicative of our behaviour, you can expect us to be outraged about PRISM for a long, long time.

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Speaking of hiding, I wonder where Manning is these days.

No, not Bradley Manning (though that’s very directly relevant). Preston Manning.

Remember Preston Manning? The squeaky voiced idealist who emerged from the Canadian Praries in the late-80s with a message of populism, more provincial equality, less wasteful spending and what not? The man who was vocal in an anti-establishment charge against the Charlottetown Accord that taught Canadians you could beat all the major parties in one referendum?***** And the man who took the Reform Party from the fringes to the opposition benches, which led the way to a merger with the Tories that left the Liberal Party in shambles?

***** = I struggle to imagine the U.S. voting populace being given a chance to smack both the Republicans and Democrats in the face as mightily as Canada smacked the three major parties in the face in 1992.


And no one was happier than Preston

I lie when I paint a portrait of Manning literally hiding. He was seen only weeks ago denying that his non-profit organization is fronting a movement to undermine the current mayor of Calgary. And he’s still beating a familar drum from 20 years past, reforming the Canadian Senate.

However, I still feel like the old Preston is hiding when I see the latest news about Conservative tumult. The Reform Party was never very popular east of Manitoba and social progressives absolutely bristled at the thought of their taking charge. However, there seemed to be a general consensus that one upside to Manning’s movement succeeding would be an increase in accountability and information. The Liberals had turned off even many of its own voters with its image of an arrogant, power-entitled group oblivious to its own scandals and Jean Chretien was frequently criticized for centralizing too much of the power to the office of the Prime Minister.

Now Stephen Harper is arguably the most power-centralized Prime Minister in Canada’s history and it’s starting to take its toll on the party. Alberta MP Brent Rathgeber departed in a huff and reports indicate that the grumblings of Defence Minister Peter MacKay are getting louder. The Senate remains unchanged, unabolished and the accounting of a Conservative senator’s expenses is now an issue. The Office of the Auditor General– an office designed to corral overspending which was the biggest Reform pet peeve of all– is constantly in disagreement with the CPC. It’s a far cry from what the Reform Party projected on a mount of Western alienation in a not-too-distant past. Which is puzzling since some people were quick to trumpet the 2011 election out as a realization of Manning’s work– not the least of which Manning himself.

The press is positioning this as a populist vs. moderate fight and that seems half-right. How “moderate” Rathgeber or MacKay or anyone else is or isn’t on social issues hasn’t publicly frothed to the surface as a source of discontent yet. However, there is one very simple strain of populism clashing with moderate politics. Moderate politics dictates that what is electorally successful is too some degree justified. However, many within the conservative movement are concerned because, majority or not, as one blogger puts it, “Surely Conservatives deserve a party that is bigger than one man—i.e., Stephen Harper”.


Manning’s Idealistic Stephen Harper

When these “new” Conservatives came to town, there’d be more accountability and the Prime Minister, even if you disagreed with his policies, wouldn’t be so power mad. You could ask questions in the House of Commons with less fear of blowback within your own party if you didn’t tow the line. The CPC that voters encounter now is certainly a far cry from the Liberals on economic issues and some social issues (though they’ve yet to touch gay marriage despite the worst fears of progressive voters). However, it has done nothing substantial to tackle the Senate issue and it’s created an image that only the Prime Minister is in a position to comment on anything.

It hasn’t taken on the level of the mid-2000s Liberals yet and some columnists argue that all of this hubbub can only strengthen Harper’s resolve for 2015. Still, regular deficits, quibbles with the Auditor General and Mike Duffy overspending? I can only imagine if there still is a 1992 Preston Manning hiding somewhere, clutching a Social Credit pamphlet and shrieking in horror.

All I can say, is that it’s enough to make this whole “transparency” thing catch fire.

Return from the abyss / Survivor = Wrestling / RISK and Reality “Gamebotting”

It’s been a long sabbatical from the online world.

I mean, really long. Seven months long. In the digital age, I may as well have abandoned my apartment and returned to see squatters trifling through rubbish…only to find I didn’t leave much behind.

So what’s been going on in the interim?

–> GSU student media outlets continued to make me proud. The spring brought good news as GSTV,The Signal and WRAS all received placements at the Southeast Journalism Conference and The Signal added some state awards to that list as well. Speaking of which…

SignalGCPA
I clean up nicely when I have students to not embarrass

–> GSU was selected to host the 2015 SEJC. We’ve already hosted our own in house conference (with a followup planned for the fall) and a regional Society of Professional Journalists conference. Perhaps a future career is conference planning?

–> The Student Activities department also did its Panther Leadership Academy, which I always find rejuvenating and inspiring. This year, it was held at the Enota Mountain Retreat area in Hiawassee. Aside from helping build group leadership skills, the retreat had trampolines. We’re all lucky I’m not still bouncing around up there.

–> My wife has gotten really, really into geocaching. Well, OK, she already was into it, but now she’s really into it. So I’ve seen a lot of backroads of Georgia.

–> We’ve been planning a summer excursion to Lima and Iquitos as well as the Machu Picchhu trail near Cusco. Hard as it is for me to believe, I actually haven’t left this humble continent in my lifetime. So look for me to come back stateside in late-July with hilarious misadventures of sherpas having to drag my sorry behind up the mountain and my inability to speak a sentence of anything not-English leading to horribly delicate misunderstandings.

That’s the real-life stuff going on with me. In the made-up(ish) universe…

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Something strange happened to me over the course of the past few months. While my colleagues and friends have been glued to the relevant shows of the day (and basically having heart attacks watching Sunday’s Game of Thrones episode), I was busy becoming reacquainted with a TV show more than a decade past its cultural zeitgeist. I stumbled back into the landmine of Survivor.

My wife likes to have a certain amount of TV shows “on the go” and re-added Survivor to her queue in February. I hadn’t really given much thought to it since Richard Hatch became America’s TV villain of 2000 for forming an alliance. The show has become especially “non-courant” with dwindling ratings leaving it strong enough to make renewals at CBS, but only because of a dedicated subculture.

Watching the show play out– and becoming more addicted to it than the person who suggested we watch it in the first place– I was struck by some of the similarities between Survivor and pro wrestling (more specifically the WWE), which fits my aca-fan profile. Similarities such as:

–> Neither are close to as popular as they were during their peak(s) yet both have major media forces that continually rely on repurposing for profit.

–>Wrestling and reality TV also overcome their dwindling popularity with lower overhead than their traditional dramatic counterparts. Wrestlers have no union and are usually relegated to no-name status without their WWE trademarks. Survivor contestants compete for prizes and returning players are shunned if they demand any additional compensation for their notoriety.

–> Both Jeff Probst and Vince McMahon, the most powerful people in the Survivor and wrestling universes respectively, have traversed the path from host overshadowed by the talent to the showrunners seldom overshadowed by anybody.



Vince’s phlegm would put out the torch by itself

–> Since its infancy, Survivor has been much like wrestling was pre-Vince McMahon. Back then, everyone thought wrestling was fake, but no one admitted it. The entire “reality television” genre is shrouded with suspicions of how much it’s “rigged” and the Survivor fanbase often holds similar beliefs that certain seasons are decidedly tilted by producers to favour certain players.

–> Both have found themselves both compared and usurped in the popular imagination by something that’s kinda similar but really not similar at all. For the WWE, UFC. For Survivor, singing/talent shows.

–> Both subcultures stick with the product but endlessly complain that the producers won’t find fresh new faces. Entrenched crusty WWE fans tire of John Cena and Wrestlemanias centered on one-time-a-year wrestlers, Survivor fans are wondering when they’re going to get another season without any returning players, as the last three have all featured various numbers of returnees.

–> Both have hermeneutic terms of production that simultaneously are universal yet genre-specific in their application. In particular, the word “edit” amongst Survivor fans takes on individualistic meaning (as in “Brenda didn’t get a very good edit this season”) just as “booking” would appear to be another word for “writing” in wrestling jargon. Yet hardcore wrestling affectionados would tell you that what’s wrong with wrestlng today is too much writing and not enough booking.

–> Most fascinatingly, but sadly not surprising, both are genres of entertainment that wrestle (pardon the pun) with portrayals of women (maybe Ashley Massaro could comment?). Both McMahon and Probst seem most comfortable when they can keep their onscreen females in the 18-35 demographic but at least Probst always has a spot for a working mom or two. However, perhaps his portrayal of them is still lacking for nuance (see my point on gamebotting and Dawn Meehan below…).

Being a diminutive scrawny fellow and being someone who completed countless university assignments on his favourite pop culture phenomena, it wasn’t too hard for me to treat John Cochran as the protagonist of the affair– even as he attracted the wrath of many devoted Survivor legions who yearn for new faces and complained of his edit taking over the show.

Cochran is the face of non-zeitgeist Survivor. First, for being the example of character development that Probst now aspires to have Survior attain with returning players. Cochran “two season” arc was reality TV’s version of the hero’s quest (minus the refusals). His first season transformed him from the bullied to the turncoat to ultimately a poor player who nonetheless has his “world of cardboard” moment upon his exit. The second season completed the ascent deemed inevitable from that moment; such that some fans argued the casting was rigged (booked?) to complete the “storyline” satisfactorily with Cochran getting a favourable draw of fellow favourites to navigate his plan.

Second, and more importantly, Cochran is the face of compulsive theorizing the gameplay of a show that on the surface is designed to emphasize drama much more than any idea of sport. One of his talking points when auditioning was a Harvard assignment in which he compared the Survivor jury system to actual jury systems. This actually fits Cochran in with the subcultural universe that exists outside of CBS’ purview in which players dissect their moves in podcasts that sometimes exceed two hours per player.

Which lead me to an interesting discovery…

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I’m no more of a board game person than your average Jane or Joe but I played a fair bit of RISK with my compadres back in the day. It usually went as follows: 1) choose red, 2) desire to take over Africa, 3) get a crappy card draw, 4) wander instead, 5) roll crappy dice and be the second to go. Fun times.


Arrrrrrrrggghhhhhh!!! Europe again!!!

My friends were never keen on playing the marathon model of RISK I’ve heard so much about through TV mythos. My friend and colleague Shane Toepfer, however, regaled me with tales of his games where the board would sit for an entire weekend and players would hold private convos with each other to try to form (and break) alliances. In other words, it sounded like a less serious version of reality TV.

Which is why the latest venture of Survivor alum Rob Cesternino is particularly compelling. The new online show Reality Gamemasters pits Survivor and Big Brother alumni against each other in a simple RISK game. Except of course, add cheesy music and private discussion booths so that the game can be edited to essentially resemble the shows that made the participants D(E?)-level famous.

I’m anticipating that the meager $7,036 budget (funded by Kickstarter) and the compressed timeline of the actual game itself will provide a hilarious bizarro universe of the reality TV world.

Theoretically the players should be reduced to “gamebots.” Notorious Survivor villain Russell Hantz usually (involuntarily) wears the “gamebot” term perjoratively as someone who embraced backstabbing and manipulating and forgot the endgame of the jury actually wanting to vote for you.

The most recent season saw Mormon adoptive mother of six, Dawn Meehan, get the “villain edit” by opting to vote out Brenda Lowe despite their bond. The corresponding jury/audience response was rife with gender politics, as she was lambasted for simultaneously playing “too emotional” and “coldhearted” as though the two had to be constantly mutually exclusive by some sort of sacred law. Cochran declared the absurdity of taking such things so seriously with the pithy observation “she was voting people out of a game where the crucial part of the game is voting people out!”

However, the private discussion booths, the history of all six players and the over-the-top dramatizing is designed to add a fake layer of emotional consideration to make RISK seem less “gamebotty.” It’s probably a bit sad that this might not even be necessary with some people as there’s always that one friend who takes it just a bit personally that s/he’s the first target in RISK (“everyone’s out to get me!”). However, that fake layer only seeks to reveal the absurdity of reality TV itself, where games are prolonged to 30-50 days in an attempt to make them personal to both player and audience– even though they take up a tenth of a percentage point of someone’s lifespan.

I’ll probably lap up this cheesy reenactment and end up being way more chatty the next time I play RISK (oh boy, won’t my friends be appreciative?). It also mirrors Toepfer’s helpful dissection of the playful wrestling audience delighting in the obscure Champions of the Galaxy board game. These fans of reality TV were devoted enough with their games to end up playing it for real, but when the spotlight dims, they’re really just seeking any way to playfully engage with social gamesmanship– even if it’s in the form of a video-edited game of RISK.

You’ll note that Cochran chose the continent of Africa for his first landing spot and red as his army colour. He’s already playing RISK like me. Heaven help him.

“The Devil You Don’t” Never Wins / Stifled Electoral Conversation / Best of Show

“We can’t afford four more years!” “Anything to get him out of office!” “It’s about defeating the president!”

I’m talking about the Republican outcry this year, right? Actually, I’m not, I’m talking about the Democratic outcry in 2004. In case you didn’t notice, both times, these outcries led to electoral defeat in the race for President.

By 2010, I felt pretty strongly that Mitt Romney’s ascendance to the Republican presidential nomination was a fait accompli. By 2011, this feeling was supported as such potential front-runners as Bobby Jindal, Chris Christie and, yes, even Sarah Palin gradually withdrew interest in the job. And right there and then, I told politico friends of mine that Obama would likely be re-elected in 2012. When asked why, I answered the same way every time: “Romney will win the Republican primary and there will be no enthusiasm for him going forward, only enthusiasm to find the ‘safe’ candidate to defeat the incumbent. And that’s not going to work.” Lo and behold, it didn’t.

Primary voters do sometimes fall for this logic. Romney certainly didn’t have a shortage of Republican opponents with enthusiastic bases while commentators generally noted the “enthusiasm gap” that he possessed. Such was the news of this that The Daily Show even did a skit from which 90% of the humor derivation was the principle that it wasn’t odd to imagine someone campaigning for Romney, but it was completely alien to imagine anyone being enthusiastic about it.


Excitement!

“Fringe” candidates such as Ron Paul, Herman Cain, Michelle Bachmann and Rick Santorum had (and have) cores of supporters that were (and are) greatly devoted to them but it didn’t (and doesn’t) translate to the primary ballot box. Obviously, there are numerous reasons for this besides the “safe” factor, but there’s no denying the groundswell of “we have to defeat the president” that underwrote some of the Romney primary vote. Somewhere along the way, “let’s find a candidate we support regardless of opponent” got lost.

For a quick exercise of this practice, go to your social media network of choice and visit the statuses/tweets/posts from your Republican friends. Find one person whose primary expression is that of disappointment over what they believe America lost by not having Romney as president without once mentioning Obama. Then send it to me because I haven’t seen it.

It reminds me of sitting in a house with my American friends in 2004 watching the Presidential election and hearing the lamentations of “four more years” with Bush. I silently waited for someone to say “it’s a shame that John Kerry won’t get to be President.” When it never came, it occurred to me that it was easy to understand why the Democrats didn’t persuade enough swing voters to come over to their side. The expression “the devil you know over the devil you don’t” didn’t happen by accident: elections are about more than about convincing people the other side is the devil. America’s Democrats found out the hard way in 2004. The Republicans are mulling that lesson today.

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Lost in the usual presidential headlines is the vote total of third party candidates, which remains a far cry from the Ross Perot salad days.

In 1992, Perot alone marshalled nearly 20 million votes and the overall third-party vote dwindled to nearly 10 million in ’96. Then came Ralph Nader. America hasn’t cracked two million votes for third party candidates since.


Not then, and not now

I’ve been reading Jonathan Sterne’s MP: Meaning of a Format (more on that in my next blog entry) and in it, he cites a very powerful quotation from Warren Weaver’s introduction to The Mathematical Theory of Communication: “Information is a measure of one’s freedom of choice when one selects a message.” In the strictest information theory terms, this has rather banal mathematical implications (1 and 2 has three exponential possibilities amongst them, 1, 2 and 3 has six, etc.). However, it’s also led me to consider that information theory is perhaps the best lens with which to understand how the electoral system can (and usually does) limit the scope of conversational possibility in politics.

Supporters of third-party candidates usually rail on the unfairness of ballot access, debate access, the tendency to reduce voting to a “lesser of two evils” practice, but stepping outside of that, does one necessarily have to disagree with Obama’s potential policies to see the loss here? What really matters it that the exponential possiblities of discussion remains incredibly rigid.

And voters have lashed out at this in other ways: three states supported regulatory measures to legalize marijuana. Two others voted to approve same-sex marriage. Of course, many suspect that most Democrats favour these things and Obama has come out and said as much for the latter. However, issues such as drug regulation and marriage rights were noticably dimmed during the actual election; swapped out for small talk over whether Obama used the word “terrorism” properly or other such technicalities.

By framing the discontent with two-party focus as an information theory problem, rather than as a fair access problem, I think we gain a greater understanding of what is lost. I don’t want to get too mathematical about it, but there needs to be a reframing of the electoral process as a chance to discuss issues robustly, especially in America, where the process is long and cumbersome. State-run ballots miss the point: they establish a groundswell of attention but fail to establish a long-standing conversation about issues that third-party candidates are much more often willing to address, only to receive little to no audience.

The first possible solution is election reform. It’s already clear that the “lesser of two evils” approach doesn’t lead parties to select their best candidates, so why not use that as a premise to open up discussion on various forms of runoff voting, reforming the primary system or fixing debate moderation and access. Will such discussions put a third party into power? Maybe not, but is that the larger point at stake?

It doesn’t interest me because I’m upset at any one given election result. It interests me because of how little we talked about along the way.

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I like my job a lot. My students do good things and have taken their organizations a long way from where they were when I started. I got more reaffirmation of that recently.

My GSTV students notched two CBI Award nominations this year as well as a Pinnacle Award nomination for its website. Following up on that, The Signal launched a new website and celebrated this by winning a “Best of Show” award (and an additional category placement) in its category for the first time. Not too shabby for a stolen issue.

In the end, the best reason to go to CBI and CMA/ACP is share with and learn from the students. Oh, and all these papers…:


Not a dead medium on campuses across America

Staying up to watch an election is fun, but I’ll take staying up in my pajamas and critiquing papers until three in the morning every day and twice on Sunday if there was a logistical way to make that fit my career. Probably isn’t, but such is life.