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…
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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.

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.

“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.

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.

Violence in Politics / Suppression of Journalism / Fantasy in Sports

It’s the 11th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks today and my students came up with an understated cover to mark the occasion:

On the 11th anniversary of an act that robbed thousands of their lives, I’m left looking back a violent act that took “only” one last week. While the States was focused on the Democratic Party’s conventions last week, back on the homeland front, all eyes were on Quebec’s provincial election. I figured this would lead to a reflection on the state of the sovereignty movement, but then tragedy reared its ugly head.

Richard Henry Bain is in custody after the murder of a stage technician during Premier-Designate Pauline Marois’ victory speech. It was an eerie callback to Quebec’s troubled political past (one blogger notes Bain’s odd aged resemblance to Denis Lortie).

Yet the profile of Bain remains surprisingly vague at this moment. His associates don’t drop any hints from his past behaviour that would indicate that he would have been politically motivated in any way. Still, all of the news reports are quoting Bain as shouting “Les anglais se réveillent! (The English are waking up!)” as he was dragged away. Sounds like you can’t get any more politically motivated than that. Which presents a frightening rhetorical conundrum in a situation that didn’t seem to be possessing one.

Despite the election of the separatist Bloc Quebecois to a mintority government, support for separatism nor any particular stances related to English-French tensions ranked particularly high on the voter priority scale. Instead, the BQ victory was largely attributed to a combination of fatigue (Jean Charest’s Liberals having been in office roughly a decade) combined with severe dissatisfaction with Charest’s handling of scandal and the economy. Related to my world, Charest’s hard-nosed approach in response to student protests of the Liberals’ plan to raise tuition won him few friends and the presence of red squares the night of the election indicates that this wasn’t forgotten at the ballot box.

Yet there we were the night after the election, circling around sovreignty issue again, but more specifically, the violence that a stark few seems compelled to commit in the name of it (regardless of the side the take). Cheryl R. Jorgensen-Earp wrote about the interesting challenge citizens face in terms of disassociating themselves from violence in the name of a movement for which they profess suppport (In the Wake of Violence: Image and Social Reform). She identifies three themes in such people’s responses:

1) Divesting one self of the “violent militants” that support a cause, often citing defeasiblity (one of Benoit’s oft-cited apologia strategies). Basically “This person ain’t one of us and there’s no way we could have controlled this person.”
2) Debates on the merits of violence to achieve a sociopolitical end.
3) A reaffirmation to one’s original beliefs and a strong statement that no violent act can erase that.

Following that second theme is what interests me. If debates on sovreignty or language issues suddenly open up again, it’s going to be hard to ignore a terrible violent act’s role in the middle of that. On the other hand, if the voters continue their focus on economy and government ethics, there will be something almost oddly refreshing about it, not because of my feelings for or against in those debates. But rather, if the voters stick to that for now, it will be their way of saying “we’re not letting deathly violence dictate or prioritize what policy we care about.” That’s how it should be.

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It’s somewhat enlightening and also sometimes frightening to compare situations stateside and overseas, especially so in the past few weeks. While there have been interesting developments here in Atlanta, a former colleague of mine underwent something far more exhausting miles and miles away.

I recently spoke in a municipal court here in Atlanta regarding a former Signal reporter, Judy Kim, who was arrested along with two other student reporters in November 2011 for “obstructing traffic.” Kim’s legal representative called myself, Kennesaw State advisor Ed Bonza, and Student Press Law Center Executive Director Frank Lomonte to the stand to vouch for the different legal rights accorded professional and student media…..which is to say “there are no legal rights accorded to ‘professional’ media that are not accorded to student media.” It remains to be seen whether the charges will be dropped or if the city will ignore the arguments Bonza & I put forth when the whole incident broke out in the first place. In the meantime, I’ve also been sledding uphill as an advisor to expand The Signal’s outreach in the downtown area. I’m happy to report that some progress is being made, but it won’t be overnight.

Well, distribution problems are petty by comparison, Kim and her peers’ arrests certainly were not and are not. Many miles away, Matt Duffy’s recent ordeal gives me pause for thought. Duffy is a fellow GSU doctorate and sat on the Committee on Student Communication with me years ago. He taught several students that came through the Student Media doors (and recommended some very good ones). He knows his stuff. And maybe that’s why he found himself in the center of the mess that he did.

Duffy’s research interests include journalism laws in the Middle East, which made his appointment as a Journalism professor at Zayed University a perfect fit. Then the very factors which are the focus of his research kicked in. Duffy and his wife were dismissed from the university, and Dubai, with no explanation other than the orders came from “outside the organization (university).”

He hasn’t been shy about outlining the many things he’s done that he feels likely contributed to his ousting. Unfortunately, this is a standard practice, especially in light of the Arab uprisings, in that part of the world.

I applaud Duffy’s various initiatives in Dubai, especially starting a SPJ chapter. Journalists cover events of interest, they don’t ignore them. This is the ipso facto of what it means to be a journalist. It seems ridiculous that something that should appear benign doesn’t in the eyes of a country’s law.

Yet that’s the same way I felt when my student was arrested for taking pictures at an event of public interest. Sometimes it takes a macro example of journalistic suppression to remind me of why the micro examples mean so much.

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On the (much) lighter side, is there anything more addictive to a sports fan than the experience of fantasy football? After winning my league in 2010, I sank like a stone in 2011 and picked up right where I left off losing my first game last night. I’ll probably be lucky to win 3-4 games but still I find it an incredibly fascinating and engaging form of fandom, even if my brother disagrees.

You see, my brother is one of those sports fans who sees fantasy sports as violating the sacrosanct relationship between fan and team. “Why would I join a league where I have to follow ten different teams for one score and where I might have to cheer against my favourite team because the other guys have one of my running backs?” If you’re a sports fan, you’ve probably heard this logic a thousand times. Or maybe you’ve heard this argument: “it forces you to cheer for a quarterback to keep throwing the ball even though his team has the lead and they should run it. All because you’re selfishly cheering for your fantasy team!”

The sports fans reasons to embrace or deride the fantasy experience says a lot about what the values we celebrate by being sports fans. Jesse James Draper argues for the community values enacted by fantasy sports. He argues that, for example, when a team like the Dallas Cowboys win a big home game, the real winner in terms of power and capital is Jerry Jones: he overcharges for admission, food, parking…well, everything. The win will fuel the fans to come back and give him more of that capital and none of those fans will ever share in that very real wealth.

However winning one’s fantasy league typically involves much smaller stakes (though some people are known to invest hundreds and a few even thousands into it). I’m not going to suddenly move into a different tax bracket and social class by winning my fantasy league. If anything, by participating in it, I’ve identified the social class with which I want to identify.

This pro-community interpretation is ironic as that’s the exact opposite to what my brother and his like argue. They would tell fantasy sports is all individual and against team. However, what sports teams accomplish, unless you’re related to someone on the field, is imaginary culture. I’m not a part of that team. I’m not really a “part” of my fantasy team either, but I at least played a role in the team’s selection. In that sense, there is both more of the self AND the community engaged in fantasy sports, even though there is certainly no doubt that the NFL and other organizations are monetizing it more to their benefit by the year.

Of course, this could all stem from me watching the Cincinnati Bengals for over 20 years. Let’s imagine that didn’t happen.

Red and…Dead? – The *Best*/*Worst* Selection Ever – Inevitable Politicelebreality

Georgia is one of those weird (to me) places where school comes back in August and in Athens, it came back with a bang for student journalists.

In a missive directed towards its “Board of Directors,” Polina Marinova stepped down as the Editor-in-Chief of UGA’s student newspaper, The Red & Black, and led a walkout. The cause? Marinova asserts that the recent wave of hires of permanent staff is a thinly-veiled attempt at prior review and/or prior restraint. Most reaction from the student media world is restrained until all the facts of the story can be verified, although not everyone is waiting to throw their two cents in.

I consider the R&B‘s Ed Morales a valued peer and want to hear his response and that of his co-workers before reacting too rashly. ***UPDATE The SPLC just posted a story about the controversy in which Marinova states that Morales approached her directly about the alleged review/responsibility plan. Suwannee Patch is reporting that the Board will meet to discuss these resignations.*** That said, if the allegations that the Board intended to exercise prior review and to enforce a rather dodgy definition of “good” and “bad” news, then colour me profoundly disappointed.

I understand that there’s fewer things professionally that require more emotional restraint than advising student media. Professionals screw up a lot so what chance do students have to make it through with a perfect record? Your job is tell them what they could do better, point them to resources that can help, then cross your fingers every week that it will have an impact.* One thing your job isn’t is to step in and write the paper for them, but historically there’s a lot of pressure from adminisrations for advisors to do just that. I say it everywhere I speak: There’s yet to be a campus I’ve ever visited where anyone is ever fully happy with the student newspaper. They’re always convinced that all of the other student newspapers in the world are mildly competent and theirs is the only one in the world screwing it up.

* = crossing of the fingers is actually not part of the job description. Sometimes I wonder if it ought to be.

What’s particularly interesting about the R&B case is that whereas many student newspapers are departmentally-based and others are based out of student activities, the R&B is neither. If ever a student paper should be devoid of administrative pressures, the Red & Black should be. Furthermore, the paper is usually held up as a beacon of excellent student journalism. When they switched from a daily to a weekly-with-digital-daily last year, it was considered big news. And that’s only because the paper had earned the reputation for its changes to matter significantly for the rest of us.

This is the type of change, were it to be true, that would matter significantly in a very, very bad way. There are always administrations in North America are always looking for ways to monitor what the student watchdogs say about them, using the flimsy pretense of quality control as an excuse. What’s even more disturbing, however, is that even if quality control was the concern, the word “control” gives away every reason it’s wrong. Every student is entitled to the best student journalism they can receive: if the best student journalism isn’t good enough, so be it. There will be plenty of other avenues to get professional journalism, there are certainly much fewer ways to get student journalism.

I’m hoping the backlash will result in a change or clarification in policy that will allow UGA students to do what they’ve done for over 100 years: let the students bring the news to their peers.

Meanwhile, back in my world, my students are back to work, though secretly they never stopped. The Signal and GSTV will be co-sponsoring a two-day conference at Georgia State that I’m very excited about. Tim Harrower, Jovita Moore, Scott McFarlane, Doug Richards, several people from the CNN/HLN family, it will be an amazing learning experience for the students. And you won’t view journalism the same once you’ve experienced the wrath of Michael Koretzky.

I’m looking forward to a Signal on Tuesday, my GSTV students prowling the campus with their cameras looking for projects and stories and a new edition of New South in 4-5 weeks. And none of the aforementioned headaches going on up the road.

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Our good friends at In Media Res are discussing political polarization this week (including an an entry on the previously discussed Chick-Fil-A furor) and it’s probably no better time than right after Mr. Romney selects his Vice-Presidential candidate. The immediate effect of polarization on American politics is never more evident than in the blogosphere/Facebook wall/Twitter universe than when a VP candidate is selected. The rush to instantly proclaim the selection as shrewd or a flop is often political marketing disguised as observation. You will instantly be told within minutes, depending on the company you keep, that this is an absolute disaster of a selection or an incredibly shrewd selection. Of course, neither may be true, but users want to get the word out this is the impression going around so that you might believe it too.

It’s akin to when people try to imply some sort of zeitgeist by saying “this is the most important Presidential election in our era.” If I were to believe this every time I heard it, it would mean the American zeitgeist has been every four years because people are in a hurry to judge the importance of the present to the future in the present. The idea is that civic engagement will be boosted by an appointment with nostalgia for the present: We will remember this election, which I’m sure is what people told everyone who doesn’t remember the name of the Democratic presidential candidate in 1988.

Of course, there’s a kernel of truth in this: every election is important and it really seems trivial to compare the importance of one to the other. However, there’s less kernels of truth in much of the post-Ryan-selection “observations” if they are simply personal endorsements masked as observations of how he might impact the polls.

What is known is that Ryan was likely picked at least partially for his Tea Party credibility. Which is perhaps unusual on its face, given that it seems to have suffered a post-2010 slump in public approval. It looks like a pick very much in the Al Gore vein in both that Romney and Gore seemed to go for a candidate to temper whatever extreme one is seen to be possessing or lacking. Gore picked the right-leaning Democrat Joe Lieberman, allegedly to distance himself from Bill Clinton and make moderates comfortable voting for him. Romney, on the other hand, has been accused of being not conservative enough by many in the Republican camp. Ryan is seen as the yin to Romney’s more moderate yang, a yang that Republican candidates seem keen to avoid, exemplified by Newt Gingrich’s mea culpa.

Despite a slim plurality, Gore’s strategy didn’t pan out. The Romney-Ryan ticket feels potentially counterintuitive in these polarized times. The Obama-Biden and McCain-Palin tickets appeared to be “doubling down” tickets (Obama doubling down ideologically, McCain doubling down on “maverick-ism”). Romney’s challenge will be to craft a platform that straddles the line between moderate conservatism and staunch conservatism, but perhaps in these times, that will satisfy no one.

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Speaking of the In Media Res series, Sue Collins’ first entry in the polarization series analyzes the Republicans’ continued attempts to play off of assumed anti-Hollywood sentiment in voters. John McCain bet on such sentiment and four years later, the strategy remains resonant in many conservatives’ minds.

John Street has long advocated for the positives of the marriage between popular culture and politics, and moreover argues that the marriage is not as new as everyone portrays. Certainly the suspicions towards Hollywood from conservative critics goes back to the Hollywood Ten of the 1940s. Collins wisely points out that if Obama is a “celeb-president,” this should hardly be a surprise given how current American political campaigns favour the “pop TV format.” Neil Postman might have been surprised to see the Republican side of the aisle trying to point out any inherent downfall in this reality, especially given how they’ve capitalized on it in the past, but neverthless here we are.

On the surface, this appears to be merely be a criticism of what is alleged to be an artifice of the opposing candidate. In other words, it’s not “Obama is a celebrity therefore he is a bad politician” but rather “we believe he is a bad politician who has blinded you with celebrity.” Beneath the surface, it’s consistent with the conservative strategy of planting suspicion with “liberal media” amongst voters by creating a full-circle: celebrities are too liberal for you, they like Obama an awful lot, Obama is not like you.

Street defends pop culture as a way that young people are able to make sense of politics and of the authenticity of their everyday experiences. He disputes the idea that it’s merely a way for people to vote their way their celebrity idols tell them to, and much of the affection for the The Daily Show and Colbert Report is that it points out the comic absurdity of how politics works which hopefully will motivate viewers to be more thoughtful about their conduct within that arena.

So with that being said, I wonder if the “anti-Hollywood” strategy has any more ceiling for the Republicans. Certainly those who are offended by celebrity involvement with politics have already cast their lot away from Obama. Those who, as Street argues, “make sense” of politics through popular culture are probably unlikely to be moved by such arguments. Celebreality is now the political language they speak. Telling them their language is wrong, though perhaps an admirable attempt to make political discourse more erudite and less “fluffy,” is not likely to sway them come election day.

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Already going through that withdrawal period where you go home expecting something Olympics-related on my television but not finding it. After my retrospection and lamentation last week, Diana Matheson scored arguably Canada’s most dramatic football goal in 26 years. It was fitting that this was the most memorable moment for Canada this Olympics since the event was covered in bronze for the maple leaf.

Maybe I’m in “Olympic Hangover” mode. I’m living in a city 16 years removed from the Olympics so there’s a bit of a perpetual hangover from people living here longer than me. But it’s funny that CBC would report about that given that they’re already counting down to Sochi, where Canada’s broadcast rights will return to them. With a record gold medal haul in 2010, it’s safe to say that the winter version will yield more metallic variety for Canada the next time around.

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.