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.

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.