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.

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.

Bryceis36
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.

————————————————————

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.

————————————————————

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.

“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.

——————————

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.

——————————

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.

NINE-SEVEN-NINE! / Knockout!

I was quite thrilled when ESPN decided to renew its 30 For 30 series.* The first installment offered a lot of illumination on some oftentimes told and other times not-as-often told stories from the world of sports folklore. The second film in the second series is a particularly salient one for me as a sports fan.

*Although I’m bit puzzled at how one keeps the name when the 30th anniversary of ESPN is long gone and we’re past 30 films…why not just call it “The ESPN Films Series?” Also the whole ”what if I told you” ad campaign strikes me as a bit inane as the question always seems to pose as a grand philosophical query yet usually precedes something of faux profoundness.

9.79* revisits the most famous 100 metre dash in history– possibly one of the five most famous events ever in Olympic history– that occurred at the 1988 Olympics.

Atlanta remains un-united

This is salient because it was the first Summer Olympics I ever watched. Thus I watched the Ben Johnson scandal through the eyes of a naïve Canadian fanboy, for lack of a better way of putting it. 24+ years later, the ever-developing nuances of the story fascinate me far more than the original 10 seconds of drama ever could have. One race encapuslated debates on race, social class, masculinity, our concepts of “fair play” and how to reconcile them with the ethic of “doing whatever it takes.” Some of these issues are explored and other not even touched on in the film, even though as a whole it just reminds me of all of it all over again.

One of my big takeaways was how the scandal introduced me to an ugly form of Canadian racism that I was even able to spot as that naïve 11 year old who stayed up past midnight to watch the race. The media seemed keen to celebrate Johnson’s “Canadian-ness” as a gold medal winner yet played up his Jamaican roots much more once he was caught (do a pre-88 and post-88 “Jamaican born Ben Johnson” LexisNexis search and see what I mean). The culture of racing is, of course, extremely important in Jamaica and the movie notes that Johnson wasn’t even the only island-born Canadian at the line that day and how Canada represented a journey to a better life to facilitate racing success, not ultimately hinder it.

The issue of ”othering” is fascinating as its rationalization process is so often incredibly contradictory. Barack Obama encounters this even to this day with some people stubbornly clinging to the theory that he was not born in America, even though if such allegations were true, it would shed far more light on something wrong with America’s inability to find it out if he got away with it for so long. Just the same, the documentary reveals how Johnson and a host of other black athletes were part of a doping system that was supervised and overseen by middle-class white coaches. The most notable being Charlie Francis, to whom the furor of disappointment never reached nearly the same level as it did Johnson.**

**And even despite publicly claiming that he didn’t believe one could win on an Olympic level without resorting to drugs, Francis still managed to carve an assocation with American sprinters such as former “30″ subject Marion Jones, who later also was found to have doped with the spotlight firmly tilted away from Francis or any of her other coaches.

It seems like Johnson being an exotic “other” was convenient when it shed negative light on Canada, just as Obama being a foreign “other” was/is convenient to those who disagreed with his politics. This is also particularly relevant at a time when Lance Armstrong has decided to recede from his fight against numerous doping allegations. Lance is not only not an “other,” he’s a sympathetic “non-other” as a cancer survivor. Hence it seems the vitirol one might expect towards him hasn’t surfaced.

9.79* does take a pass on other issues raised by the furor. Such as the ongoing debate on why Carl Lewis was never an incredibly popular man. The doc reminds us of Lewis rubbing his fellow competitors the wrong way and gives quite enough of him to indicate why that might be (anyone who claims to go to college to “get a degree in Carl Lewis” is probably possessed of an unhealthy amount of hubris***). As a young kid, I thought that hating Carl Lewis was something that a Canadian sports fan did since he was the archrival of our hero and Canada always naturally takes to any athletic rivalry with America (far more naturally than the States’ sports fans take to it, frankly). Of course, I didn’t have as much access to the media then to know that Lewis wasn’t exactly universally loved at home either.

Was it solely his expression of confidence (or arrogance) or was it something more? As early as the mid-80s, rumors of homosexuality followed Lewis around and it’s entirely possible that some of the dislike for Carl stemmed from the fact that he dared to be one of the greatest athletes of all time without looking or acting like a “real man” should. Some of Lewis’ responses– ”I’m no homosexual”– were as troublesome as the rumors. Not because Lewis failed to out himself or because he is indeed straight, but rather that he didn’t instead use the opportunity to open a dialogue as to why it would be so threatening if he was in the first place.

*** It’s worth noting that Calvin Smith, free of any shadowy drug history, seemed to fade in public consciousness despite presenting a far more humble image than Lewis. Yet if you watch the film, you’ll notice that he also comes across as somewhat effeminate, perhaps lending credence to the “gotta be macho” theory.

The most important reason to watch the film is to peek into the continued rationale and/or denial of athletes surrounding drug use as it raises the all-important question ”why do certain actions constitute cheating but others do not?” Six of the eight athletes in the race failed a drug point at least once in their careers, but some tests are deemed to be less significant than others. Johnson is positioned as a “truth will set you free” character free to rationalize his drug use rather than deny it because he’s already been caught (or possibly not: Johnson maintains that what he actually tested positive for was something he didn’t use, and the movie explores the espionage accusations behind that as well). The movie opens with the anonymous quote that echoes Johnson’s logic, “if you don’t take it, you won’t make it.”

It’s a riveting story and shows promise for the 30 series after a somewhat underwhelming re-debut (the very important but scattershot ”Broke”) and a potentially self-indulgent followup.

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It’s fascinating to compare a municipal debate to a national one and, for me at least, a Canadian one to an American one.

In my hometown, there’s a race for the mayor’s office. Several media outlets collaborated to host a debate between most of the candidates. Listening to the candidates answer debate questions, occasionally making small-town humour and taking a little extra time to properly phrase an answer to a question, makes me think “wow, these people would be eviscerated on a national stage.”

That’s not a dismissal of them. Quite the contrary. It’s a dismissal of decades of national debates being turned into a quest to find out when people stammer or when a “knockout moment” happens.

After a strong post-debate tilt in the polls for U.S. Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, his VP candidate Paul Ryan is apparently ”prepping for a big knockout moment” tonight in his debate with Joe Biden. Whenever I read headlines like this, I’m inclined to cringe. Not because I’m anti-debate but rather because the purpose of debates continues to be twisted into a quest for a “knockout” or a “gaffe” rather than advancing any serious discussion on an issue.

There are two particularly discouraging things about this. The most discouraging is that scribes usually proclaim or discern “knockout moments” out of items not nearly possessed of the substance that they seem to be, especially in American politics. Usually, a “knockout moment,” for me, is where policy debate goes to die. For example, when Ronald Reagan dismissed Jimmy Carter’s medicare concerns with the pithy ”there you go again,” it received more focus than any substantive response to Carter’s response that Reagan offered. Logically speaking, “there you go again” made Carter look like a nag, but it didn’t really answer his question either. Just the same, when Lloyd Bentsen chastised Dan Quayle for being ”no Jack Kennedy,” it resonated as a great putdown, but generated more attention than any purported substance within the criticism.

The search for the ever-occurring gaffe can equally inane. Michael Dukasis’ expressed opposition to the death penalty was criticized for its lack of passion, as though the specifics of the opinion (that he felt such a penalty wouldn’t act as a deterrent) were irrelevant. Hence, it qualified as a “gaffe.” A more recent example is Rick Perry’s failure to remember the name of the Department of Energy in a Republican primary debate. It elicited great laughter, but it left any potential discussion about his plans to eliminate three departments completely in the dust.

The second reason why the “knockout quest” is so frustrating is that it’s debatable how far these moments really sway things in American elections. Take Romney’s current post-debate push: was there any one defining moment that sealed it? Likely not, it’s generally conceded Obama performed poorly in the debate overall rather than failing in any key moment. Looking at the some of the aforementioned examples, Reagan won the 1980 election by a landslide, Bush’s win over Dukasis was a fairly comfortable one; it’s hard to take away from either of those elections that one should look for such moments.

Atlanta remains un-united
Everyone remembers Bentsen’s putdown, but it ultimately didn’t help Dukasis

Yet that’s all we hear presidential candidates do: meet with their debate coaches (a good thing) and come armed to the tee with the right catchphrases to have their moment (not as good). If 1/4 of the enery was expended on how to produce a productive discussion on issues that there is expended on the knockout quest, Americans could be treated to something of major importance. It’s alarming how much less combative and more illuminating a third-party presidential debate is yet it attracts so little of the audience.

The “knockout” is perhaps a little more relevant in Canadian politics where the margin of victory actually counts for something, unlike a presidential debate. You can win by one electoral vote or by 200 electoral votes: at the end of the day, you’re still president. In a parliamentary system, the “knockout moment” could be the difference between a majority or minority government or opposition vs. backbench. ”You had an option” isn’t such an incredibly riveting moment because it won the Conservatives an election all by itself. It’s riveting because it turned a potential minority government or small majority into 211 seats. Everyone knew last year that Stephen Harper would still be Prime Minister after the election, but Jack Layton’s stern riposte of Michael Ignatieff and Ignatieff’s arrogance in the face of Layton’s criticisms is what likely helped tip it into majority terrority (as the NDP played spoiler to any fading Liberal hopes in Ontario) and place the opposition mantle firmly in the NDP’s hands for the first time.

However, regardless of whether the knockout works or not, I’d love to see a “postgame” report that focused on the feasibility of ideas presented, alternatives not considered and less focus on “how did Candidate X do?” I won’t hold my breath.

Sports Hurts (Why?), Cars Sell…and So Does Chicken

Living in the U.S. during the Summer Olympics is pretty weird.** Canada is historically pretty terrible at the Summer Olympics, unless communist countries are boycotting en masse. But the U.S., of course, is not.

You can always count on them placing in the top three in the overall medal count. So the stories that NBC latches onto are usually centered on inevitable victory…or at the very least, an inevitably decent chance at victory. Michael Phelps: just how many medals will he win? Missy Franklin: a bunch of gold medals or just a bunch of medals? The Fab Five gymnasts: awesome or merely great?****

**Well, statistically speaking, no it isn’t, since I haven’t lived in Canada during the Summer Olympics since 1996…when they were ironically enough happening right here in Atlanta.

****A refreshing counter to this is 11 Points’ detailing 11 nations that have never won an Olympic medal and why you should root for them.

So Monday’s women’s football/soccer semifinal between the U.S. and Canada was particularly interesting to me. For American viewers, it was just another chapter in their diverse book of inevitable medal opportunities. For Canadian viewers, it was a titanic David-vs.-Goliath struggle with our neighbours to the south, who’ve won three gold and one silver in the four previous Olympics.

The United States won 4-3 in a game filled with tension, drama and post-game bitterness. What struck me the most about all of it was just how much it genuinely hurt when Canada lost. I mean, here I am, a 35 year old man who never played an organized game of soccer in his life (does tennis court soccer at Churchill elementary count?) watching a bunch of people he will never meet playing a game that Canada was absolutely certainly destined to lose going in…and I was just FLOORED.

It reminded me of Bill Simmons’ excellent reflection of the emotional rollercoaster that is being a sports fan, told both through his fanship and his daughter’s. Simmons argues that watching his daughter sob over her favourite hockey team’s loss leaves him wondering why he introduced her to sports fandom in the first place, only to identify the merit of fandom in the in-between moments (the “suture,” if you would) that he argues sports makes possible.

I think I see the merit in what he’s saying although when you’re a Canadian watching the game in an American office by yourself, that explanation loses its lustre. It still *hurt* somehow; even though I couldn’t name more than three players on the team and 99% of the nation didn’t watch a single game of Canadian soccer before yesterday. (I can at least own having followed the team since its third game). It wasn’t like this game was a tremendous social lubricant.

There have been confirmations of positive relations between a fan’s favourite team’s outcomes and their self-esteem or moods. But I can’t help but wonder if the appreciation of the beautiful loss is overlooked in such research. Dating back to Barthes, those that have studied professional wrestling have usually returned the argument that fans identify with both the good AND bad wrestling presents: there HAS to be the unfair outcomes to make it all work because that’s how we understand life to work. So while we profess to be upset when the bad guys win, we often really aren’t because if they didn’t win more often than the good guys…well, THAT (more so than any “fakery”) would just look like a sham.

Comedian Louis C.K. appeared on Simmons’ podcast a few weeks ago and spoke something that is heresey for most sports fans: that there are losses from his favourite athletes and sports teams that he *gasp* enjoyed, because they made for a better story than a win might have. I suppose having taught a film class or three and having studied narratology should leave me more imminently curious to interrogate this narrative. Whether or not a loss was more interesting because of what it symbolized, like Rocky going the distance and just being happy about it.

In that regard, I appreciated Canada’s loss for its poetry. But all told, if I was to tell the truth, my brain sees the tragic drama, my heart just wants the damn handling the ball call back so I can see what would have happened…

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I said last week that Atlanta was locked, theoretically speaking, to cars being its mode of mobility no matter what happened in the big TSPLOST vote. Not that there was much suspense as to what would happen in said vote.

Well, surprise, surprise #1: the TSPLOST didn’t make it last week. And surprise, surprise #2: all of the post-TSPLOST talk is about roads, roads, roads.

One question that should perhaps be asked aloud more often is why this tax was up for a referendum, but a proposed hotel/motel tax that would build a new stadium for the Atlanta Falcons isn’t (at least yet). This stadium would replace a stadium that isn’t legally old enough to drink, even if plenty of drinks are served there. At least, one part of the puzzle is there: the vast majority don’t think taxes need to go towards a new stadium.

But never mind the trains, bikes or buses, let’s not lose sight of how Georgia runs itself and how Atlanta looks as a result.

Atlanta remains un-united
Atlanta remains un-united
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One other story in the American south that fascinated me last week was the furor surrounding fast food chain Chick-Fil-A.

The short short version of the tale is this: Dan Cathy says gay marriage is “prideful” and bad. Internet revisits Chick-Fil-A’s donations to groups with various anti-gay initiatives. Potential boycotts are debated and bans in some cities are threatened. Christian right gets wind of this, organizes a counter-protest in the form of people forming lines around blocks to buy chicken sandwiches on August 1.

Now, there is the usual “culture wars” sniping I could get into dissecting. (Supporters that say it’s not about being anti-gay, it’s about freedom of speech because mayors threatened to ban businesses based on speech. Critics that say boycotts aren’t about what Cathy said, but the wilful organizations he’s funding to deny a human right.) However, there’s also that tired cliché that says more about the Western world than most clichés could: “you vote with your dollar.”

As the mode of mobility is the car in Atlanta, the primary mode of political expression continues to not be how one votes or what they do, but what they don’t buy or do buy (the latter of which Monroe Friedman describes as “buycotting”). It’s deemed effective because affecting finances is seen as incredibly uplifting or devastating. Slower political operatives such as the Occupy movement sputter perhaps in no small part they don’t speak the logic of capitialism. If no money was exchanged in the first meeting or no money was taken away from another business, how are we to tell whether this is working or not?

Either way, we’ve come to accept the rules of the game that these things matter much more than (or least as much as) actual legislation, to the point that deciding what we’re eating for dinner (much like whether or not we say “Merry Christmas” and how often) somehow equates to intense political activism.

Indeed, if Facebook and Twitter feeds are any indication, both buyers and non-buyers seem pretty convinced they’ve committed a real act of political intensity. This is pretty telling.

To bring it back around to being a sports fan, when the NHL moved from Atlanta last year, I was pretty mad at the company running Philips Arena about how it handled the whole thing. I decided I wasn’t going to pay to go to any event there. A friend of mine said this was pretty ridiculous since concerts would make Philips so much money, “it wouldn’t make a difference.” I was kind of flummoxed by the idea that he assumed that was the point, as though I was puffing my chest out about it. “I just don’t want to go, no more no less,” I replied. That I was having any “real” impact beyond that didn’t really occur to me.

While the “real” impact of the whole furor is seen to be whether or not Chick-Fil-A was helped or hurt by all this, the real question to be answered is “which way does this move, if at all, discussions on gay rights?” Might it have a psychological effect in November when people might actually vote with their…vote? Or will it instigate a further discussion on the concept of gay rights and whether rights are determined at the polls to begin with? Whatever the case, I have a feeling we’ll continue to prioritize our votes by dollar, rather than votes or civic activity otherwise.