Tuesday, September 16, 2014

What a mess

   If star players beating their wives and children doesn't force the National Football League to get serious, this might: the Radisson hotel chain has terminated its relationship with the Minnesota Vikings after the team reinstated All Pro running back Adrian Peterson, who's facing child abuse charges.
   Money talks, and in the upper echelons of corporate culture, it's the only voice.  The NFL cares about domestic violence only in the context of how it potentially affects the bottom line, and when a major corporate sponsor pulls the pin, the alert status moves to DEFCON 1.       
   The challenge for league commissioner Roger Goodell and his minions is to come up with a public relations game plan that doesn't come across as disingenuous or contrived.  Between routine criminal arrests of players, sexual assault allegations against Dallas owner Jerry Jones, Bountygate in New Orleans and the callous mishandling of the concussion epidemic, there's such a wide swath of damaging PR in the NFL's recent history that changing public perception of the pro football culture is like turning an aircraft carrier around in a phone booth.  It doesn't help when a player of the stature of New England quarterback Tom Brady refuses to get involved in the process, saying social activism isn't what he signed up for.
   Sadly, the NFL's best hope is fan apathy - not apathy about football itself, but about the peripheral scandals that have damaged the league's image.  As long as television ratings remain high, fans continue to buy tickets and merchandise, and profits don't suffer, the league's corporate partners will ride the gravy train to hell and back, and principled stands like Radisson's will be the exception rather than the rule.

Update: At least eight NFL advertising partners have now acted in the wake of the Adrian Peterson/Ray Rice domestic violence incidents.  Drug maker Mylan has cancelled an endorsement deal with Peterson, Nike is pulling Peterson jerseys from select outlets, and Anaheuser Busch, McDonald's, Visa, Campbell Soup and Cover Girl have all issued statements putting the NFL on watch.  Of the eight, only Radisson and Mylan are taking a credible moral stand, and their action is at the local level.  Without putting their money where their mouth is, Anheuser Busch, McDonald's, Visa, Campbell Soup and Cover Girl are offering nothing more than cynical, self-serving corporate platitudes, while Nike's half measures and long history of profiting off Third World child labor and substandard working conditions preclude it from the moral high ground.  

Monday, September 15, 2014

"A" for absurdity

   There's got to be something that we don't know about P.K. Subban - something so damning that it's guarded with a commitment to secrecy and security that makes Area 51 look like a backyard tree fort.  Why else would the Canadiens be so consistently loathe to acknowledge and reward their first legitimate (non-goaltender) superstar since Guy Lafleur?
   The decision to pass over Subban for the vacant captaincy and make him one of four alternates is only the latest inexplicable slight.  Despite a Norris Trophy in 2013 and a Conn Smythe-calibre performance in last spring's run to the Stanley Cup semifinals, the Canadiens only grudgingly and belatedly agreed to pay Subban market value in his last two contract negotiations.  Coach Michel Therrien's thinly-disguised disdain for Subban has been a regular feature over the first two seasons of Therrien's second coming, whether expressed verbally or through suspect management of Subban's ice time.  Now, the Canadiens braintrust is not only making Subban audition for the captaincy, but they've effectively pitted him against Max Pacioretty in a potentially unhealthy competition that could split the dressing room.  
   Through it all, Subban has stuck invariably to the high road, his personal and professional maturity establishing him as the leading brand ambassador for the CH on and off the ice.  He is the prototype captain in every way.  
   Clearly, there's a graveyard full of skeletons in P.K. Subban's closet.  I can't think of any other possible reason the Canadiens would be so reluctant to make their best and most popular player the undisputed face of the franchise.
   Can you? 

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Dr. Machiavelli, please report to emergency

I'm not a Rob Ford basher.  In fact, the only thing more cynical to me than the mainstream media's deliberate campaign to discredit Ford at every opportunity is their transparent coddling of Justin Trudeau.  That said, there's something fishy about Ford dropping out of the Toronto mayoralty race on health grounds but still running for city council.  What's the medical dividing line for being too sick to run for mayor but not sick enough to run for council?  And how did Ford make that distinction before even knowing the results of a biopsy on a tumour found in his stomach?  Throw in the fact that his brother Doug is replacing him as a candidate for mayor, and it's not offside to simultaneously wish Rob Ford well and wonder if there's something rotten in Etobicoke.   

The Guy Turcotte case is a depressing reminder that justice and the law don't always intersect.  That a man who stabbed his 3 and 5 year old children to death is being freed on bail pending a retrial is completely at odds with common sense, let alone any sense of justice.  Turcotte was found not criminally responsible in 2012 but a retrial was ordered after the Quebec Court of Appeal overturned the verdict last year.  Even though there's no question that Turcotte killed his children and that he has a history of severe mental illness, Superior Court Justice Andre Vincent says Turcotte has a right to the presumption of innocence.  If that's the letter of the law, the law needs to be relettered.

Regardless of the outcome, there are important lessons to be learned on both sides of the Atlantic in this Thursday's Scottish referendum.  The clear, unequivocal question being put to Scottish voters is a lesson in intellectual honesty for Quebec separatists. On the flip side, with the Queen herself declining to intervene for the No side in what Buckingham Palace calls "a matter for the people of Scotland", Canadian federalists should understand that Quebecers have the right to decide their own destiny without undue influence. That right, however, only extends to the referendum itself, and everything is on the table moving forward from there. 

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Watch this fail

   The Dick Tracy jokes were all used up when Samsung unveiled its smartwatch, so let's cut to the chase on the new Apple watch: it's a bad idea. 
   There's virtually nothing the Apple watch can do that the iPhone can't do, but redundancy isn't its worst failing.  Watches are an accessory, and as a fashion statement, Apple's glorified swatch can't compete with mid-priced brands like Tissot and TW Steel, never mind Rolex and Tag Heuer.  Considering the brainpower they employ, it's surprising no one at Apple was clever enough to design a smartphone shaped like an old-fashioned pocket watch at the end of a 24 karat gold chain.  That's snob appeal, but it would probably be vetoed by the beancounters at corporate because it would mean two devices for the price of one. Practicality and creativity are quaint business concepts, but God forbid that they interfere with profitability. 
   Meanwhile, it wouldn't be 2014 if someone wasn't somehow offended, and Apple ran afoul of feminists 
by enlarging the iPhone6.  Apparently, the new 4.7 inch screen versus 4 inches for the previous generation makes the new model too difficult to manipulate with one hand for people with smaller hands - typically women. 
   Who knew that phones could be sexist, and that 4 inches is enough?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A wasted opportunity in more ways than one

   In the predictable public clamor for as many heads on a platter as possible, some important questions about the Ray Rice debacle not only remain unanswered but appear to have been deliberately shunted aside. 
   There's no question that Rice acted unconscionably when he knocked out his then-fiancee (now wife), Janay Palmer, in a hotel elevator, and that the NFL, the Baltimore Ravens and the criminal justice system all failed in how they handled the situation.  What hasn't been addressed is the nature of the dispute between Rice and Palmer, and whether it was an isolated incident or they were already in an abusive relationship.  Not that a one-off could be rationalized - in fact, it would suggest the beginning of a pattern of abuse. 
   When a social plague is exposed in a spotlight as bright as the one that shines on the NFL, it's an enormous opportunity to have an open and honest dialogue aimed at understanding the problem and working towards solutions, but one of sports journalism's most prominent commentators, ESPN's Stephen A. Smith, was suspended for even daring to speculate about the root causes of domestic violence.  
   There is only one politically and socially acceptable position - Ray Rice struck a woman and that's wrong. Yes and yes, but focusing only on what happened and shutting down debate over why it happened is worse than useless. 
   It's inviting the plague to perpetuate itself. 

Monday, September 8, 2014

Please don't offend the rapists

The idea of discrediting political correctness as dangerous intellectual fraud is gratifying in theory, but in Rotherham, England, the cost of exposing the folly of enforced groupthink was so horrible that it's something to be lamented rather than celebrated. For the better part of two decades, police and politicians turned a blind eye to the systematic rape of an estimated 1400 adolescent girls because the crimes were being perpetrated by gangs of immigrant Pakistani Muslims, and the authorities were afraid of being labelled as racist. Community leaders, social workers and seasoned police professionals made a conscious, collective decision to portray sexually and psychologically exploited teenaged girls as promiscuous white trash instead of investigating and prosecuting predatory criminals from a culture where the degradation of women and girls is the entrenched societal norm. Multicultural harmony is a noble ideal, but not something to be valued over the innocence of one child, let alone 1400 of them.

Speaking of white liberal guilt, Atlanta Hawks owner Bruce Levenson is selling his controlling interest in the NBA team after outing himself for a private e-mail in which he pondered ways of improving season ticket sales to the affluent white demographic. Never mind that Levenson was musing as a businessman about sociological factors that affect his business and said nothing hateful or bigoted towards blacks. So spooked was Levenson by the self-appointed thought police that he went public before the e-mail could be leaked, no doubt hoping to minimize the damage to his reputation. No such luck. Levenson is being widely pilloried in both social and mainstream media for a "racist" e-mail that wasn't subtle but doesn't even come close to meeting the definition of racist.

Anyone who complained about the CF-18s buzzing Molson Stadium yesterday should be grateful to live in a place where military jets do ceremonial fly-pasts at football games and don't drop precision smart bombs down chimneys.

I try to accept life on life's terms and not burden myself the unnecessary emotional baggage that comes with resenting someone else's success, but when Eugenie Bouchard catches not one but two foul balls at a Yankees game, my faith and forbearance are sorely tested.

If you're at the Toronto International Film Festival and you bump into Kevin Coster, tell him Mandy Patinkin called. He wants his beard back.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Oh, shut up and R.I.P

   Well, that didn't take long.
   Joan Rivers was still warm when people started cracking jokes about her death yesterday at the age of 81. That is to say, the parts of her not made of Gore-Tex, teflon and silicone were still warm. 
   Although her comedic range and CV were broad, Rivers will be remembered primarily as an "insult" comedienne because of the barbs she routinely tossed on her show Fashion Police. It's a challenging way to make a living in a politically correct world where people wake up looking for a reason to be offended and the social media lynch mob mobilizes at a moment's notice. Ask Gilbert Gottfried.
   What her detractors tend to forget (or deliberately overlook) about Rivers is that she was often her own favorite target. Self-deprecation can be an endearing quality, and it was a significant part of Joan Rivers's appeal. It was also something of a badge of honor to be taken down by the Fashion Police - at least among celebrities who understand and accept that it comes with the territory, and recognize that any publicity is good publicity in Hollywood.
   So whether you hated Joan Rivers or loved her, don't feel obliged to adhere to the moral code of not speaking ill of the deceased. Take your best shot.
   She wouldn't want it any other way.