Author Archives: thesculpin

It’s Time to Move the Super Bowl to Saturday

The NFL and its commissioner, Roger Goodell, has taken a lot of heat in recent years for the way the league has handled domestic abuse on the part of its players, what it has and has not done to protect its players, as well as a number of controversial investigations such as last year’s ball deflation fiasco with the New England Patriots. Critics often accuse the NFL and its commissioner of being arrogant, but they don’t get nearly enough criticism for the most arrogant thing the NFL does; scheduling the Super Bowl on a Sunday night.

The Super Bowl is the most watched sporting event in North America as it attracts casual and even non-fans of the NFL. Many people will tune in just to watch the commercials and the half time show. The game has become a social event as much as a sporting event, and the league is not only aware of this but along with sponsors like Anheuser-Busch, actively encourages it, but yet it insists on holding the game on Sunday night when everyone has to get up and go to work the next day. They know that every single football fan on earth would rather have it on a Saturday when everyone could spend the next day sleeping off their hangovers, but they keep it on Sunday anyway.

Living in Newfoundland, the most easterly part of North America with a time zone an hour and a half later than Eastern Standard, I suffer more than most people from the late start, but it is far worse for all the European fan base the league is trying to grow. I doubt that many German bosses will be very sympathetic to employees who are unable to come to work on Monday because they were up until 4:30am watching American football. If the league was serious about growing their global fan base they would move the game to Saturday.

Everyone would benefit from a Saturday Super Bowl. Fans would be happier, bar and restaurant owners would be happier, and now that McDonalds has all day breakfasts, the Sunday after the Super Bowl would shatter all previous records for Egg McMuffin sales. It is time for fans and media alike to start exerting pressure on the NFL to give the football fans the Super Bowl Saturday they deserve.

 

Your Criticism is Welcome but Please Spare Us the Condescension

After friendliness, the second most distinguishing characteristic of Newfoundlanders is their sensitivity to criticism. We haven’t forgiven the Globe and Mail for allegedly publishing some columns a couple decades ago that took a sceptical view of the federal government’s involvement in the Hibernia project. Rod Stewart went from our favourite international rock star to a pariah when he said that he didn’t wear that sealskin coat on purpose. I’ve always thought that the “everyone on the mainland is out to get us” mentality is a little overblown and we should stop being so touchy when it comes to criticism, so when I came across an article the other day in the National Post about how the solution to Atlantic Canada’s problems is for the rest of Canada to start telling us no, I really did approach it with an open mind.

This was without a doubt the single most condescending article I have ever read. It reinforced every negative stereotype of mainlanders who look at us as helpless beggars completely unable to look after ourselves without the benevolent guidance of Ottawa. It is interesting that one of the two co-authors is actually from PEI, because it shows how there really isn’t an Atlantic Canada. There is the Maritimes and there is Newfoundland and Labrador. We have more in common with Alberta than we do with New Brunswick, and people in the Maritimes can be as dismissive of this province as someone from Ontario.

It is too bad that the article was so condescending, because the authors did have some valid points to make. Our public sector is disproportionately large compared to our private sector and our government is spending more money than it takes in, but we already know that. We may not have a plan to deal with that at the moment, but our government has assured us they have a plan to come up with a plan to address that issue at some point in the not too distant future.

Any valid points made by these authors were completely overshadowed by their failure to acknowledge that Newfoundland and Labrador has not received any equalization payments in seven years while Ontario has been receiving equalization for the past six years. And since they were discussing subsidies, they probably should have at least acknowledged the huge tax breaks and subsidies that the auto sector has received in Ontario as well as the enormous economic subsidy that the province receives by having such a disproportionate number of federal government workers in Ontario. It would have also been nice if they could have made at least a passing reference to some of the high profile examples of corruption and mismanagement that has occurred in places like Quebec and Ontario in the past decade.

My point is not that people in the rest of Canada should stop writing anything critical about Newfoundland and Labrador. Criticism is good; it helps you get better. The best managed companies in the world hold all their managers accountable and expose them to constructive criticism. The key point though is that they use objective and constructive criticism. They realize that while frank criticism is healthy, condescending and insulting criticism is counterproductive. We are facing a lot of challenges in Newfoundland and Labrador these days, so feel free to offer any suggestions or criticisms you might have, but please, spare us the condescension.

Pre-Budget Consultations Are a Waste of Time

This week Dwight Ball announced that the Liberal government would be holding pre-budget consultations to solicit input on how to best address the massive deficit that Newfoundland and Labrador is currently facing. The concept of public consultations is nothing new as it has become common practice across the country as governments prepare budgets. Many cynics out there dismiss them as little more than cosmetic public relations to create an illusion that the government is actually listening to people’s concerns as they prepare the budget, but the fact is these consultations are a waste of time regardless of whether the government is sincere or not.

We just went through the most thorough and comprehensive public consultation possible; a province-wide general election. The deficit issue was well known when the election started, and every MHA spend weeks going door to door and meeting with various local groups. The leaders of the parties had televised debates in which they outlined their plans on how to deal with this challenge and then the entire adult population had the ability to cast their vote. On Election Day the people of this province decided to give the Liberals a clear mandate to guide the province through this difficult time.

In a general election, even one with low turnout like this past election, more than half of all voting age citizens cast ballots. Pre-budget consultations on the other hand attract only a miniscule percentage of the adult population. If 100 people show up to meeting in St. John’s and 90% of them said the government should spend more money in a particular area or cut money from another, what use would that be? Aside from being a tiny sample of the population, they are not randomly selected. Rather than providing valuable feedback they could be giving a false impression that their views are an accurate reflection prevailing opinion in the area, which may not be the case. These meetings are often overrepresented by people with an abundance of time on their hands. People busy with jobs and kids are far less likely to take the time to participate in such meetings.

Having just gone through a general election, I think the government should have received enough feedback to be able to start making some difficult decisions, but if they are really determined to get additional feedback they should hire a professional polling company that can reach out to a random sample of people. The polling company would be cheaper than the public consultations and if any citizen wants to share their ideas they are always free to call or write their local MHA.

Simani Deserves More Respect and Recognition

The recent passing of Ron Hynes triggered a well-deserved outpouring sadness and appreciation for one of the greatest songwriters and musicians this province has ever known. Though he wrote and performed many wonderful songs, Sonny’s Dream is widely considered his crowning achievement as it both one of the most beloved songs in Atlantic Canada and has been covered by the likes of Emmy Lou Harris among others.

The Ron Hynes coverage coincided with the start of the Christmas music season on the radio and I remember listening to the Mummer’s Song right after hearing about the importance of Sonny’s Dream and I couldn’t help but think that Simani has not gotten nearly enough recognition and appreciation. Regardless of whether you like Newfoundland folk music, there are two songs by Simani that you have undoubtedly heard many times; the Mummer’s Song and Saltwater Cowboys.

I love Sonny’s Dream, and as someone who spent a lot of time away from home it has always resonated with me, but the song in not particularly specific to Newfoundland. Relatively few Newfoundlanders have lived on a true farm or have been sailors who never come home. Newfoundlanders were mostly fisherman, not sailors, and they were home all the time. Though almost everyone outside of St. John’s grew vegetables, full time farmers were a distinct minority. By contrast, both the Mummer’s Song and Saltwater Cowboys are quintessentially Newfoundland songs. A Nashville recording artist could never cover one of those songs.

The Mummer’s Song was about the dying tradition of mummering in Newfoundland, but instead of just being a lament for a lost tradition, it actually managed to preserve and revive it. Simani and its most famous song legitimately deserves the bulk of the credit for the tradition of mummering still existing in this province today.

Mummering was not invented in Newfoundland. We brought it with us from the British Isles. It also existed in 19th Century Russia. There is actually a section in War and Peace where some of the main characters go mummering, yet the practice has long since disappeared from Russian culture. The only place on earth where a large majority of the population have ever heard of mummering is Newfoundland and Labrador and that is due in large part to a great song by Simani.

Saltwater Cowboys is not as popular, nor has it had the same kind of cultural impact as the Mummer’s Song, but it is the most culturally relevant, both when it was first released almost 35 years ago and today. The song, which is about Newfoundlanders going to Alberta to work in the oil industry and coming back home looking and talking differently could just as well have been released last week as in 1981.

In some ways it is understandable that Simani does not get much attention these days. They gave up performing 18 years ago and half of the duo, Sim Savoury, passed away in 2010. Bud Davidge, who wrote and sang all of the songs is still alive and well, and it would be nice to see him get some of the recognition that he so rightly deserves while he was still with us.

Hyper-Partisanship is a Form of Mental Illness

Few things are as wearisome as a rabid political hyper-partisan. Many people like to heap scorn on these people for the ludicrous and predictable things that they say, but before you join in the piling on, you might want to consider whether these people are actually suffering from a type of mental illness.

When I talk about hyper-partisans, I am not talking about actual politicians. Their form of partisanship is entirely rational and understandable. When you are a member of a political party you generally have to support your party’s policies publicly, and work behind the scenes to try and modify them. You may disagree with that, but it is at least logical. I am also not talking about ideologues. Reasonable people can have radically different ideological views that will cause them to stridently disagree with one another. One person may believe in lower taxes and smaller government while another person might want higher taxes and more government spending. Those people will likely always be dependable voters for whichever party shares that view, though they are in actuality just loyal to a policy, not a party.

What I am talking about is people who have sworn an allegiance to a political party and will defend everything that party does and attack everything the other party does, regardless of where it falls on a political or ideological spectrum. Someone who is driven by ideology will abandon a party if he or she believes its policies no longer match up with their ideology. This is what happened in Western Canada when right wing voters abandoned the federal Progressive Conservative Party. A hyper-partisan will passionately support a party no matter what changes it makes to its policies.

This phenomenon is particularly obvious in Newfoundland and Labrador, where the only two parties who ever hold power have little, if any, differences in ideology. There isn’t a single ideological issue that would cause a voter to be fanatically devoted to one of the parties. With taxes, both parties have raised and lowered taxes at one time or another. Social issues like abortion and gay rights never come up in elections in this province. Yet despite the lack of clear ideological divide there appear to be just as many hyper-partisan voters here as there are in the US, where parties have a markedly different positions on polarizing issues like abortion, immigration, taxes, and gay marriage.

What is striking is that many of these hyper-partisans have nothing to gain from their strident partisanship. They don’t work for the party and nobody in the party would ever consider putting them in any kind of position of authority. Their lives probably won’t materially change no matter the party in power, yet every day they call open line shows, rant on social media and fill up the online comments section of the CBC website.

If they had a direct material interest in one party’s success I would say it was an act, but most of these people are completely honest and sincere. They really believe what they are saying. When their party loses they truly believe the media was out to get them. When they win they think the other party’s partisans are being a bunch of sooks for blaming the media. If you are a Liberal hyper-partisan and someone from the PC Premier’s security staff shoots someone you believe it was an assassination. If you are a PC hyper-partisan then anyone who wants an inquiry is playing politics over someone’s unfortunate death. If a party leader said that sky was green there would be hyper-partisans calling open line to agree with them and say that people only think it is blue because they have been brainwashed by the media.

Hyper-partisans are essentially like people who are hallucinating and seeing visions; they see things that are not there. It is time to stop looking at hyper-partisanship as an annoyance and recognize that it is a type of mental illness. Instead of looking down on hyper-partisans and mocking them, we should try to get them the help that they need.

Why Do We Let People Keep Handguns in their Homes?

It was not that long ago that I actually thought it was illegal to own a handgun in Canada. I knew all kinds of people with shotguns and rifles, but I had never heard of anyone owning an actual handgun. Then a deranged and jealous man shot his ex-girlfriend and her boyfriend a short drive from my house with a legally purchased handgun. A few days ago someone was convicted of first degree murder for shooting his girlfriend in St. John’s with a legally purchased handgun. I find it surprising that so many Canadians look at Americans as being a bunch of gun nuts but yet it is extremely easy to buy a handgun in Canada.

People have shotguns and hunting rifles for hunting. Hunting, particularly on the island of Newfoundland, is a good thing. Aside from providing healthy food for people, it helps control the moose population, which in turn lowers the risk of dying by crashing into a moose on the highway. The reason that people have handguns is that they really like shooting handguns.

As I understand it, people with handguns are only allowed to use them at shooting ranges. If you apply for a license to own a handgun and state that the reason why you want one is to keep it under your mattress so you can shoot intruders you would no doubt be turned down, but yet people who like shooting at the range are allowed to keep a handgun and ammunition in their home. If you are granted a permit to use a handgun at a shooting range then it would seem reasonable that the handgun should stay at the shooting range. You should have some kind of locker there and not be allowed to remove it or the bullets from the range.

I understand that there are background checks and if you have some kind of conviction for a violent offence you probably cannot own a handgun. The one blind spot in these regulations is that men who abuse women often do not have convictions for violent assaults. They are too cowardly to pick a fight with a man so they tend to seek out vulnerable women who won’t report abuse, and so they never end up with a violent conviction, not until it is too late.  There may be people out there right now who are not leaving an abusive relationship because they know their partner has a loaded handgun in the house and has threatened to use it.

If you are the type of person who really enjoys shooting handguns, I don’t think you are the type of person who should have a handgun in your house. Think about it, if you have a neighbour whose favourite hobby is shooting off handguns, would you feel comfortable with him having a loaded handgun in his house? I suspect you would feel much safer if the person had his gun locked up at the shooting range a 30 minute drive away on the Trans-Canada. Why would a responsible handgun owner have any objection to storing his guns at a licensed shooting range?

Stop Retweeting Angry Twitter Trolls

If you follow any prominent columnist on Twitter, be it in sports or politics, you have no doubt been exposed to the occasional deluge of angry, hateful and sometimes deranged re-tweets. Every time an opinion writer states an opinion, a tiny minority of their followers will send the person a mean-spirited hate-tweet or a half-baked conspiracy theory. Rather than simply ignoring and blocking such people, a growing number of prominent people have chosen to retweet these messages to all of their followers. This needs to stop.

There are two reasons why people retweet their deranged followers, both of which are misguided. The most common reason is simply to say to the rest of their followers “Do you see what I have to put up with?” Well, on behalf of all of your civilized followers, we know what you put up with. We know that there are all kinds of angry people out there who say angry and mean things online. You don’t need to remind us.

The other, less common reason for these retweets is to embarrass these so-called Twitter trolls by broadcasting their terrible comments to the world. Many loyal followers often bombard the troll with tweets chastising him or her for their comment, sometimes with hateful words of their own. This is a waste of time as these type of people typically do not have any shame and all of the responses actually play into the person’s craving for attention. Furthermore, it is unlikely that the problem of too much negativity online will be solved with additional negativity.

Most of the people on earth are good people, or at the very least, not horrible people. In an age when the internet and social media have served to provide a giant megaphone for every negative and depressing thing that ever happens, it is easy to start thinking that that the world is a horrible place filled with horrible people and things are getting worse by the minute. I’m not a sociologist, but that kind of world view cannot be healthy.

One of the biggest problems with retweeting hate-tweets is that it gives angry, isolated people a feeling that they are not alone. If you are sitting in front of your computer, hating the world and everyone in it, and all you see around you are sensible, functional people, you might at some point question whether it is you that has a problem. If, however, you see all kinds of angry and paranoid tweets being retweeted by the prominent people you follow, you may take comfort in thinking that there are many others out there who hate the world just as much as you. You may start following those people and retweeting them. Perhaps society would be a little better off if prominent columnists would just let us all remain in our state of innocence about the nasty side of social media.

Note: This is an updated version of an article published by the same author a year ago on another blog. 

Ryan Cleary Highlights the Lack of Ideology in NL Politics

This week the news broke that the former NDP Member of Parliament, Ryan Cleary, was considering running in the upcoming provincial election, not for the NDP, but for the Progressive Conservative Party. Aside from the obvious issue of lack of loyalty to the NDP, many found it curious that someone would leave the most left wing national party to join what was supposed to be the most right wing provincial party. Some would think that this shows Mr. Cleary’s lack of political conviction, and that he was simply basing his decision based on what would give him the best chance of re-election, but his decision actually says more about the PC Party and NL politics than it does about Ryan Cleary.

There is no right wing party in this province. There is a left wing party, the NDP, whose elected MHAs have never outnumbered the fingers on my right hand, and the Liberals and PCs, who have both mostly been consistently centrist or center-left for the past 40 years. NL politics largely exists in a vacuum separate from national politics, particularly when it comes to the PCs. Not only is there no allegiance with their federal counterparts, there is outright hostility.

While the Tories were clearly the more right wing party when it became a province of Canada, it has in recent years become steadily more of a left wing party, to the point where it is now more to the left than the Liberals. Just this week the Premier warned that a Liberal government would dramatically cut spending, and the Liberal leader, for his part, criticised the Premier a while back for his plan to raise the HST. The PCs, in addition to keeping the province’s tuition dramatically lower than the rest of Canada, have even come out with a policy whereby students no longer have to pay back the provincial portions of their student loans, something that would be too left wing for most NDP governments.

The role reversal of the two major parties started with Clyde Wells, who was the most conservative Premier the province has ever had. He fought bitter fights with unions (remember the “Clyde Lied” bumper stickers?), cut spending, and even tried unsuccessfully to privatize Newfoundland Hydro. If you are a center right party and the party in power moves to the right of you, you can’t help but move left if you want to get elected.

It’s not clear whether this lack of clear ideology is a bad thing. On one hand, it would make voters’ decisions less complicated if there was a clear left/right ideological divide among the parties, but on the other hand the stark ideological divide that has developed in the United States appears to be making the country almost ungovernable. Like it or not, we don’t have a right wing party in this province, and if a defeated federal NDP candidate wants to run for a provincial party that has a chance of forming a government, it is actually the PC party that is the most logical choice.

Conservatives Make Strategic Error in Targeting Niqab Instead of Hipsters

The Conservative Party has caused considerable controversy and stirred a lot of debate with their recent attempts to prevent new Canadians from taking their citizenship oath while wearing a Niqab. This is a risky move, as even though it may help solidify one block of their voters, and may help lure some undecideds in Quebec, it also risks alienating some of their Muslim supporters. One of the overlooked strengths of the Conservatives is that they have been quite successful at increasing their support among recent immigrants, including Muslims, who tend to be more socially conservative. It was a major strategic error to alienate a group of voters who would at least consider voting for them, particularly when they could just as easily gone after a group of people who would never vote Conservative; hipsters.

Hipsters never vote Conservative. They used to all vote NDP before everyone started doing it and now they vote for parties you’ve never heard of. Rather than banning the Niqab, Stephen Harper should have banned the wearing of wool hats in the summertime. Rather than arguing with Justin Trudeau over the legalization of marijuana, he could have also deflected to banning hemp necklaces.

For most Canadians, it is hard not to feel bad for a recent immigrant being prevented from wearing something that is part of their culture, even if we don’t necessarily agree with it. We generally like to stick up for the defenseless in this country and that makes us feel like we are sticking it to the defenseless. The only think Canadians dislike more than picking on visible minorities is hipsters.

Stephen Harper could literally send Paul Calandra around to coffee shops around the country with his own camera crew to film him actually yanking the hats off hipsters and you wouldn’t be able to find a voter backlash with a microscope. It is amazing to me that the Conservatives and their high priced imported campaign gurus didn’t see this golden opportunity staring them in the face.

Deadspin As Obsessed As Ever with Jason Whitlock

When the news broke that Jason Whitlock’s departure from ESPN was official, I checked out Deadspin to see what snarky comment they would have on it, but there was nothing. A day later, still nothing. I thought this odd, since I had previously written about their apparent obsession with the erstwhile Undefeated editor-in-chief, but the other shoe dropped today when they posted a 3,800 word rant from their resident Whitlockologist, Greg Howard.

I have written before that I find Deadspin’s obsession with Jason Whitlock to be confusing. I mean, he is fairly well known among sports writers but he is far from a household name. Yet they seemed to go to great lengths to critique his management of the Undefeated and leak all sorts of private correspondence and documents. This latest article seems to take that obsession to a whole other level.

Jason Whitlock has claimed that much of the writing about him attributed to Greg Howard has actually been written by some of the more senior writers at Deadspin, but after reading this most recent article I find that hard to believe. From my experience reading Deadspin, the longstanding writers, while blunt, if not at times cruel, often have at least a hint self-deprecation. The writer of this article takes himself extremely seriously.

This article, on the other hand, seems to border on being unhinged. An article that is ostensibly about ESPN’s and Jason Whitlock’s troubles with launching The Undefeated spirals off in all directions, calling George W. Bush a war criminal, Kevin Johnson a corrupt sexual harasser, and taking some shots at Grantland as well as numerous ESPN personalities. In between all these attacks are heaping amounts of fawning praise for the work of Ta-Nehisi Coates, a writer for The Atlantic. I am not necessarily disagreeing with the criticisms or praise of these people, but cramming it all into a single article about ESPN’s difficulty in launching The Undefeated adds a shrill tone to the writing.

I read Jason Whitlock’s articles, but I understand much of the criticism of him, and even agree with some of it. But this article lost all credibility when the author said that “he went on PTI and spoke at length about the importance of isolating women from their friends and families while dating”. First of all, the format of PTI prevents anyone from speaking at length about anything. There is only a minute or so for each topic and there are two hosts, so each host only get about 30-40 seconds to speak on the subject. Second of all, the comment that he is referring to was a failed attempt at humour and Whitlock went on Twitter shortly thereafter to explain himself and apologize. Someone who is not familiar with Jason Whitlock and didn’t see that PTI segment would come away with impression that he really does support isolating women from their friends and family, which the author of this article knows is not true.

There are plenty of legitimate criticisms you make about this guy out there, but to twist a failed joke like this indicates that this article was written with malice. The only real objective criticism of Jason Whitlock in this article was the point about him just being a standalone writer for twenty years and not having management experience. That is valid and instructive. The best writers may not make the best managers or editors. Those kind of criticisms have more value than misrepresenting a bad joke.

I like Deadspin. They are irreverent and from time to time they produce some great examples of investigative sports journalism. But I can’t help but feel like there is some sort of untold story about why they are so focused on Jason Whitlock.