Friday, August 22, 2014

Where's the outrage for Tina?


     There were no riots after Tina Fontaine's body was pulled out of the Red River in Winnipeg last Friday. It was news, all right, but the 15 year old's still-unsolved murder couldn't compete with Ferguson, Missouri, where unarmed black teenager Michael Brown had been shot to death in a confrontation with a white police officer, sparking a wave of demonstrations and looting that attracted worldwide media attention because of the race relations narrative. 
     There's a racial angle to Tina Fontaine's story as well. She was one of 1200 Canadian First Nations girls and women who've been murdered or gone missing since 1980 - numbers completely out of proportion to their percentage of the population. Yet the Canadian media and public remain fixated on Ferguson, too busy jumping to conclusions about police brutality and racism in another country to pay much attention to a runaway native girl whose suffering at the hands of her killer or killers was apparently so unspeakable that police are reluctant to release information about how she died. 
     At a time when the police profession was being trashed for alleged insensitivity, it took a cop - Winnipeg Police Sgt. John O'Donovan - to point out that as a society, we'd be horrified by a litter of dead puppies or kittens, so we should be horrified at the discovery of a murdered child wrapped in a bag and dumped in a river. Sgt. O'Donovan's message resonated in Winnipeg, where hundreds of non-aboriginals were among a thousand people who turned out for a vigil for Tina. But people in the rest of the country were too caught up watching the non-stop Ferguson coverage or arguing on Twitter about Gaza to spare a thought for Tina Fontaine. 
     Manufactured sanctimony aside, there's nothing wrong with being informed and engaged on perceived outrages no matter where they happen. But mainstream Canadian media and hashtag activists clamoring for justice for Michael Brown would do well to acknowledge the racism and insensitivity that breed social injustice and tragedy in our own backyard. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Still wondering who the bad guys are?

      If you're having trouble telling the good guys from the bad guys in the complicated world of global conflict and geo-politics, here's a hint: the people who saw other people's heads off with a combat knife and upload the videos on YouTube are the bad guys. 
     For the better part of a dozen years, there's been a widely-shared consensus that gray areas in western (i.e. American) foreign policy and military and intelligence tactics preclude the simplistic notion of white hats and black hats - a sentiment that gains credibility when the supposed good guys invade sovereign countries under false pretenses, torture suspects for information and violate their own citizens' right to privacy.  But the butchers representing the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are shining horrible light on the fundamentals of the post-9/11 struggle.  
     The videotaped beheading this week of kidnapped American journalist James Foley by the forces of the ISIS was only the latest shocking reminder of what Islamic jihad - or Holy War - stands for. The ISIS agenda, which they themselves faithfully document in gory detail on social media, is one of unapologetic and unremitting slaughter and destruction, and they pursue it fanatically - to the point where they've been disowned by Al-Qaeda.  Think about that. The people who flew commercial airliners loaded with passengers and aviation fuel into office towers teeming with unsuspecting people starting their work day are unsettled and alienated by the extremism of ISIS.
     If any good can come of the cruel, calculated murder of James Foley, it's that the moral equivalency crowd should finally understand that no matter how misleading or suspect American military and intelligence policy might be, it's being conducted on a war footing and is predicated on securing and protecting western interests and values from something far more insidious and evil.  
     Even if you're still not clear whose side you're on, it's abundantly clear who's on your side.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Putting more protein in Bird Droppings

     Attention earthlings: Bird Droppings as an exclusive sports blog/commentary is no more.
     There are only so many laurels I can toss at PK Subban and so much scorn I can heap on Bob Cole, so I'm branching out to broader social commentary.  It's a wiggly world out there and it's getting wigglier (more wiggly?) by the day.  In a media landscape where millenials barely off their mother's teat are often dominating the social and cultural agenda, it behooves people with actual life experience to contribute to the discourse.  I've been told I have a knack for putting thoughts into words, and I have a few industry awards in writing and broadcasting that presumably weren't given to me as a charitable gesture.  Combine that with a solid base of knowledge in both history and current events, and I'm no less qualified to comment on the issues of the day than some of the pompous post-adolescents who think they're on radio and television panels because they're important, when in fact they're there because they'll work for free.  They remind me of myself at their age in their youthful hubris.  Thankfully, I'm no longer young enough to know it all.  I also would never devalue myself to the point of working for less than what I'm worth for the sake of boosting my fragile ego.
     This will probably still be a sports-heavy blog, because that was my bread and butter for so long, and I'm going to try to continue infusing my entries with humour and sarcasm, because people seem to enjoy those elements of my self-expression.  As always, though, I will be brutally frank and honest.  If we disagree, I hope we can do so respectfully.
     If not, that's your problem, not mine.

Monday, August 11, 2014

She likes us!


Everybody needs a Sally Field "You like me" Oscar moment; some of us need it more than others.  Around here, it was bigger news that Venus Williams fell in love with Montreal than it was that Agnieszka Radwanska beat Williams in the final of the Rogers Cup at Jarry Park.  That's what four decades of political alienation and social and economic decline do to a community's collective self-esteem.  They drive it so low that we cling to any validation we can get, and when it comes in the form of praise from an outside celebrity, we milk it for more than what it's worth.

Rory McIlroy is on an incredible roll, but can we hold the phone on designating him as the new big threat to Jack Nicklaus's record of 18 major golf titles?  McIlroy's win at the 2014 PGA Championship gives him four majors at the age of 25 and that's plenty impressive, but it's not even a quarter of the way to the Promised Land.  I know restraint is a lot to ask of modern media, but it's possible to give McIlroy his due without resorting to hyperbole.

Tony Stewart is a fierce competitor with a documented history of confrontation, but it's difficult to believe and impossible to prove that he deliberately ran over and killed fellow driver Kevin Ward Jr. at a dirt track event in Rochester, New York.  Ward hastened his own demise by exiting his vehicle and walking into the middle of the track to confront Stewart after being spun into the wall by the three time Sprint Cup champion.  That's not blaming the victim - it's stating the facts.

It was a banner public relations week for the Montreal Canadiens and their fans.  A national public opinion poll concluded that the Canadiens have the strongest brand among the country's professional sports franchises, while a less scientific but still reasonably credible online survey revealed that the Boston Bruins are the most-hated NHL team in the world.  The trifecta would have been a focus group confirming something else we already know: that the rest of the country cares a lot less about the Leafs than the Toronto-based national media think we do.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Not good


    Regardless of the outcome of PK Subban's arbitration hearing, it's unfortunate that it had to come to this. It's just business, but it's business among people, and as such there will always be an emotional component.  As mature and professional as he's been during the negotiation process, Subban can't help but feel slighted when the Canadiens try to minimize his worth in front of an arbitrator.
     It wouldn't be so bad if this weren't the second time they've butted heads at the bargaining table.  Subban held out for six games two seasons ago until he compromised on a bridge contract, on the understanding that the jackpot would be waiting once he proved himself.  A Norris Trophy and Stanley Cup semifinal run on his shoulders later (which is all the proof anyone should need), the Canadiens are still playing hardball.      
     When you combine everything he brings to the table on and off the ice with the modern day potential for revenue streams, there's a strong case to be made for Subban as the most valuable asset in Canadiens franchise history, which makes doing things the hard way that much more puzzling...and dangerous.  Now that they've actually gone to arbitration, the popular refrain that it's all just part of the process, PK will sign his long-term deal and bygones will be bygones rings a lot more hollow than it did this time yesterday.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Vin Scully - the anti-Bob Cole


     Anyone who can count to 66 understands the enormity of Vin Scully's legacy, but let's have some fun with perspective anyway.
     In announcing yesterday that he would be back for a 66th season doing play-by-by for the Los Angeles (nee Brooklyn) Dodgers, Scully extended a major league baseball broadcasting career that began in the first year of the Korean War.  No one had ever heard of Elvis Presley besides his immediate family and close friends, Queen Elizabeth was still a Princess and current Dodgers manager Don Mattingly wouldn't be born for another 11 years.
     Scully's longevity has never come at the price of his dignity.  He's not a senile blowhard hanging on well past his best before date.  At age 86, Scully still has his wits entirely about him and a work ethic that's second to none.  He's as knowledgeable about the game and as masterful a storyteller as he ever was, and no less conspicuous just because he hasn't completely embraced social media, which is supposedly mandatory for anyone who wants to stay relevant in 21st century mass media.
     Even in the multi-platform digital universe, at its core, broadcasting is about resonating with your audience through the spoken word, and no one has done it longer or better than Vin Scully.

Monday, July 28, 2014

All hail PK and pay him whatever he wants


It's appropriate that in the process of laughing all the way to the bank, PK Subban took a theater full of Just For Laughs comedy fans along for the ride.  That he stole the show from one of the biggest comedy stars in Hollywood at the Seth Rogen gala underscored how incredibly valuable a commodity Subban is - not only for the Canadiens, but for the NHL.  Along with being one of the best and most exciting players in the game, his larger than life persona stamps Subban as the undisputed face of hockey's most celebrated franchise.  Add the visible minority element - and it's an important part of the marketing equation, whether or not it's politically correct to say so - and you've got an asset without equal.  Never mind this arbitration business or the negotiation two-step.  This should be an easy call for a man of Geoff Molson's means and business savvy.  Pay PK what you know he's worth and be grateful that you have him.

They can deny it until the hormone-injected cows come home, but the Baseball Hall of Fame's decision to shorten the eligibility period from 15 to 10 years is a transparent attempt to hasten the end of the steroid era debate.  The sooner the likes of Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa are off the Hall of Fame ballot, the fewer awkward inconsistencies Cooperstown will have to answer to in the selection process.

While the baseball media debates whether Mike Trout or Yasiel Puig is the new face of the game, my question is what happened to Bryce Harper?  A knee operation and thumb surgery have both contributed to Harper's declining production since he won National League Rookie of the Year honors in 2012, but he looked like he needed a brain transplant when he made two outs on the basepaths Saturday against Cincinnati.  That's clown baserunning, bro.