Garbage Time (SPORTS!)

The following are the ravings of a Peyton Manning fantasy owner.

 Via Denver Post

Via Denver Post

I feel obligated to preface what I'm about to say with the following: I have been supremely lucky. Absurdly lucky. As a football fan I have had the delight to witness the NFL during what is without a doubt its most fascinating and enjoyable epoch. I have watched the 90's Cowboys, the Steve Young 9ers, Elway, Brees, Rodgers, the miraculous late-in-life rise to supremacy of Kurt Warner, and most importantly, the dual rise to Mount Olympus of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

One more disclaimer: I'm an unabashed Tom Brady fanboy.

Despite this, I have never been able to hate Manning in the way I probably should. He was, until Rodgers rose to prominence, the only QB able to dispute Brady's claim to being the best in the league. He was one of the few players in the game who was at times seemingly impervious to Bill Belichek's wizardry. He was annoyingly perfect.

But I didn't hate him; I secretly admired him.

I watched in awe as he called his own plays on the field, making his coaches look irrelevant. I watched through my fingers as he delivered infinite touchdowns, and they all brought me real, bone deep anguish. But still, I couldn't hate him.

You often see and hear sports writer's (over)use the term "surgical" when discussing a great QB. Manning was more than surgical. He was a heartless assassin with a clinical, almost psychotically calm visage in the face of immense pressure. He often faced defenses, good defenses, with such dismissive and untouchable indifference that it truly unnerved me. For evidence I present the following, and ask you to note how recently these passes were thrown, and I implore you to appreciate their singular, peerless perfection:

Now that we have adequately knelt at the alter of Peyton Manning, may I remind you how fucking awful he is?

Watching Peyton Manning now is like watching your dad get his ass kicked by the punks at the super market who hit on your mom. It's like watching Ali fight in the end of his career, knowing full well you were witnessing both the decline of a God, and the total annihilation of a man's body and mind. Watching Peyton this season is physically tiring.

More than that, owning Manning in Fantasy is like having a really shitty child. Every day I trot this little brat out to school knowing full well he will disappoint me to an unfathomable extent. I know he will sit there, with his big sweaty face, drooling in the corners of his half-opened mouth, while his teachers ask him painfully easy questions that he can't possibly grasp. But still, I have to keep up this charade because he's my little idiot.

No. That doesn't even do justice to my pain, because I chose Peyton Manning. I chose this nullifying despair. I looked at this one hundred year old man and said "obviously". I will remind you I took him tens of picks after he was projected to go. He was just sitting there, begging me to blow my season. Looking at me with with his eyes barely visible below his impossibly large forehead and saying "go for it chump".

This is not even an advice post for fantasy, I merely needed you to appreciate my sorrow. All I can hope is that the Football Gods will rain justice down on me for doubting the 2nd greatest QB of all time (had to) with a vintage Manning 5 TD beatdown, that I, much to their dismay, benefit from greatly.

This is for all you Rodgers and Brady owners out there, who wake up every day with that dumb grin on your face: now you know.

Just a few notes on the election.

On Stephen Harper:

I’m a little embarrassed. It’s a morning-after type of embarrassment. It feels like I, in one of my drunken stupors, made an egregious Facebook slander, or was too honest with a friend; it feels like I spoke an uncomfortable truth. I don’t necessarily regret the omission, just my delivery. I think so anyway. I can hardly remember.

You see, it’s been so long. The sheer amount of time is stretched over my recollection and obscures it like a night of binge drinking. Has it really been almost 10 years? Was I really fifteen when Harper first took over the Conservatives and began his odyssey toward a new Canadian identity, one that I was sure to hate? Again, I don’t regret my reaction to him and his policies in any categorical sense; he was wrong, I was right, and I still feel sure of that. How could I have been wrong, when he was handed such a historic defeat, one that was so clearly about the nation’s fatigue and anger towards him rather than its overwhelming belief in his opponents? No. In the end, they came around - he had to be stopped and we stopped him. I don’t regret this. However, I think I may regret taking it so personally.

I came of age in the Harper era. As I grew into myself and became increasingly engaged in the politics of my time, so did I grow to truly hate Stephen Harper and his party. Eventually he felt like a personal adversary, like a nemesis whom I could seemingly never defeat. I began to not only dislike his views and their adverse effect on my country, but him generally. His face bothered me, as did his demeanour. His smugness was insufferable, his dullness was nullifying, and his cynicism was so pervasive it spread throughout Canada like a weed, unearthing the foundation of positivity that was once its bedrock.

In short, Stephen Harper became the idol of my reproach. He epitomized everything I felt was symptomatic of neo-conservative ideology: disregard for the rule of law and the process of democracy, selfishness, intolerance, and the institutionalization of bigotry, whether it be racism, sexism, homophobia or the like. Now, was this useful to me, or to anyone? Did I fail to appreciate the nuance of his character? Could he possibly have been wholly bad? On the last charge, I still posit he was, to my liking, as bad as it probably gets in this country. However, that doesn’t lessen my sense of embarrassment over a decade’s worth of hatred.

I think that, as I’m sure is the case for many people in my generation, I formed my opinions about Harper as a teenager, while I was still myself forming into an adult. As such I often had emotional reactions to him and his policies, rather than truly critical ones.

I have always had a significant problem with unfairness, especially when demonstrated by authority figures. It was hard for me to watch people older than myself, who should know better, fall victim to such obvious pandering. It became impossible for me to appreciate anything Harper might have done, or listen to any argument about him contrary to mine. Now that I’m older and by and large more well read, I do feel somewhat vindicated by the facts; I was right about him all along you might say. His government was secretive, suspect, and above all else, self serving. Still, in the harsh light of day, I feel my loathing of him was lazy. It’s when you hate the face that you fail to see what’s behind it.

I became withdrawn from Canadian politics. I had little hope that things would change. Even during this election, when it was obvious to so many, even Harper himself allegedly, that we were undergoing a sea-change, I secretly expected him to win again somehow anyway. His mandate became a saga to me, not an administration, and subsequently I thought of it in terms of tropes rather than evidence.

And now that he’s gone I am waking up to the realization that what ails this country is not simply Conservative rule, or Stephen Harper, and perhaps that more than anything is what scares me.

On Justin Trudeau:

I’ll admit it. I was initially a little ambivalent towards Trudeau. My estimation of him was perhaps cynical and unfair. I thought that he was thrust into his role as Liberal leader by a party, and to a lesser degree, a country that saw something in him that was probably not there. If anything, I felt bad for him. I thought we were projecting the perceived greatness of his father onto him.

Pierre Trudeau after all, and regardless of how you feel about his time as Prime Minister, still occupies a large space in the Canadian imagination. You’ll often here that foreigners will refer to him as the Prime Minister of Canada to this day because he’s the only one they’ve ever heard of. He’s responsible for the repatriation of our Constitution, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms, our official bilingualism, the Multiculturalism Act, and perhaps more than any other single person, Quebec’s not having separated in the late seventies and early eighties.

And here comes his son: handsome, well spoken, and having the slightest hint of that spark that made Pierre Trudeau so likeable in our eyes decades ago. I think we desperately wanted him to fulfill some kind of destiny, to satisfy a kind of national mythology. At any rate, the Liberals certainly did.

Again, I’m embarrassed to admit that while I thought Harper’s attack ads against him were childish and cynical, I may have felt that Justin Trudeau was indeed not ready. Therefore I think I was, like many of us, surprised to see him outperform the other candidates so badly in their campaigns, particularly in the debates. He does not have his father’s acerbic wit, which was devastating in the debates of his time, but he does have his positivity, and his genuine belief that this country can be a great and just society. Moreover he is forthright and realistic, and principled in equal measure. He certainly has substance that I did not originally see.

In the end, I’m more proud of my country’s government with Trudeau as Prime Minister, and will give him a chance to prove that he is what this country believes he is.  

On Thomas Mulcair:

The shortness of this note should be illuminating. I have voted NDP more than once before. Traditionally their views and sentiments align fairly well with mine, and I have admired their fortitude to be honest and stick to opinions that are politically unpopular sometimes. However I have never been a fan of Thomas Mulcair, and in that, again, perhaps I should be embarrassed.

I have a weakness for charisma, and, by my reckoning, Mulcair has little. He also got so close to forming a national government that I think he compromised his integrity and the integrity of his party. His plan to balance the budget rather than spend what I feel needs to be spent on this country’s failing infrastructure smacks of a pivot towards ‘electability’. I believe that he thought if he positioned himself a little to the right, or the centre of Trudeau, he could win, which was obviously a grave miscalculation. The NDP's sudden fall in this election should speak volumes to this country's reaction to Mulcair, and his party's representatives' unwillingness to go to bat for him on election night speaks volumes also. There are more than a few rising starts with in the NDP, I think it's time to turn to them in order to reinvigorate the party.

On Elizabeth May:

Elizabeth May remains perhaps the best candidate for Prime Minister in this country, and thus will never win.

On Gille Duceppe:

I don’t know, I don’t live in Quebec.

JPB 21/10/15


Embracing The Abyss

Harper and his old pal, the ruler of the underworld, Cthullu.

Sometimes I like to imagine Democracy as a valiant force fighting in a doomed battle; no matter how hard they fight, their foes are always growing in number and cunning. I picture them now as being holed up in their deepest chamber while their antagonists clamour over their last defenses.  They will die, surely, but they will die well.

Other times I think of Democracy as Winston, who despite his convictions and daring, was undone by his naivety and his willingness to believe in other people, against all the compelling evidence suggesting he should not.

Occasionally Democracy is on a suicide mission. Presented with the categorical impossibility of her mission, she still carries it out. So fierce is her sense of duty, and so firm her belief in the necessity of her endeavour.

I expect that by now you’re wondering why, in my mind, Democracy is always dying? I’ve surmised, with little difficulty, that this propensity is an unavoidable symptom of my time, place, and upbringing.

I was nursed with the liberal-socialist ideals that were fairly common to the time of my parents’ youth. The Canada of my childhood took for granted, to some degree, its passive and polite liberal heritage, which was the undergirding for everything from its attitudes towards difference, to how it took care of its sick.

Please, don’t take this as a glorification of those principles, nor as a eulogy for them: they’re still kicking, and plenty of dishonour has been done in their names.

White Liberalism - fuck it - White Male Heterosexual Liberalism, more accurately, tends to, by way of its inherent belief in its own moral authority, look at the world as a thing in need of its teaching and patronage, and thus learns very little from it. Still, this is often a well-meaning sort of wrong doing, which I will not pretend to dismiss in favour of its common opposite: White Male Heterosexual Conservatism, which looks at the world at large as if it were an unpleasant thing stuck under its shoe.

Okay, perhaps that’s unfair. At the very least, as a thing it can profit from. And if it can’t profit from it? Ask Rwanda.

So no, I was fed with liberalism and I still prefer its taste to conservatism. It was also in the cupboards at most of my friends’ houses. Its commercials ran during the morning cartoons, and it was littered throughout the literary classics we read in school.

Film? Remember, by common conservative temperament, Gaston, the French frat boy, would be the hero of Beauty and the Beast. Adam Smith would never learn to paint with all the colours of the rainbow, and Aladdin would serve the prison time befitting his repeat offences. Also, The Genie, who is clearly gay, should get back in the lamp.

Okay, this has run its course, and the politics of Disney are a quagmire I don’t wish to discuss any further.

Suffice to say that the liberal ideals of tolerance, helping the needy, and open mindednessfurnished my upbringing.

Moreover, the federal Liberals were in power for nearly all of my formative years. Stephen Harper wasn’t even a Conservative party-member then. Instead he was a member of, and then the leader of the Canadian Alliance: a right-wing, regional party with relatively low national traction. During this period Harper argued in favour of the following: a higher level of provincial autonomy for Alberta, raising the age of sexual consent, and parental rights to the corporal punishment of their children.

By the time I could vote, the federal Progressive Conservatives were no longer around, replaced by the New Conservatives, formed by a merger between the PCs and the Canadian Alliance, and led by the Alliance Party’s impossibly dull leader: Stephen Harper.

I voted Liberal, although even then my own political sensibilities had moved further left. It was the first of many “strategic votes” I would feel obligated to cast.

They won! Joy! Ecstasy!

But it was short lived. Mere months later, Harper would make his first obstructionist play, a non-confidence vote that called a shotgun election. What followed was really the first Canada had ever seen of American-style smear politics.The attack ads were constant and ubiquitous, focused on Prime Minister Martin’s character on the heels of the so-called Sponsorship Scandal of the previous administration. Sadly it worked. The Conservatives (they dropped the “new” as if the merger had never happened, in true Bolshevik fashion) had won.

So followed close to a decade of the erasure of Canada’s previous identity. Harper’s conservatives appealed to the very worst in us; our xenophobia, our greed, our ignorance, our insecurities, and in doing so, made them stronger.

We’ve become more intolerant, less intellectual, greedier, less compassionate, more brazen and less respectful, and certainly less respected.

When I was young, during Harper’s first bid for Prime Minister, I became aware of a significant trend among the Harper supporters I talked to; their response to him was largely emotional. This is surprising for an empty suit like Harper, who is painfully awkward and lifeless, like a wax statue of a 50’s accountant. He’s square incarnate.

However, his supporter’s feel genuinely safe with him at the wheel, even in the face of a weakening economy, sky rocketing consumer debt, widespread infrastructural problems, and diminishing international repute. Why?

Firstly, he is always campaigning. He smears his opponents with attack ads regardless of the proximity of the next election (link is to a Harper vintage v. Stephan Dion before an election was remotely close). He is tirelessly partisan. He considers governing secondary to being in government, never better evidenced than by his requesting of the Governor General to prorogue parliament in 2008 and 2010, both times ostensibly to avoid possible defeat by coalitions of the minority parties. The second time specifically allowed him to side step the Afghan Detainee affair.

Secondly, he avoids facts and instead appeals to broad, hard to define “principles”, saying things like “real”, “ordinary”, or recently “old stock” Canadians. In this effort he also uses so-called wedge issues to divide and distract the electorate, such as the current Niqab debate, which, despite being a complete non-issue, has dominated the last half of the election.

Brilliantly, because he has spent so much time advertising, he has succeeded in fostering an image of himself in the minds of so many Canadians as a steady, trust worthy leader who is willing to stick up for them. They are the “old stock Canadians”. And there is, in my experience, absolutely no use in trying to use facts (like Harper’s disastrous economic record) to diminish his glow in their eyes. After all, choosing Harper is an emotional choice for many - don’t believe me? Consider that the Sponsorship Scandal of the Martin Liberal government was a scourge to most Harper supporters, but they are seemingly willing to look past the long line of missteps and misuses of power during the last decade, including, but not limited to, Harper’s lessening of our intentional diplomatic role (re: no longer sitting on the UN Security Council), his disastrous senate appointments (Duffy, Brazaeu, etc.), his outright lying about his knowledge of Duffy’s expense account debacle, and his proroguing of parliament to avoid talking about the torture of Canadian prisoners. In the face of all of this Harper has incredibly managed to portray himself as honest and dependable. How? Fear seems always to help.

Harper has asked for us to embrace the abyss of our own prejudices and self-servingness, and we gladly dived in. We allowed a debate around whether or not we should “allow” someone to wear a religious garment in a short ceremony that follows intense vetting. Not only is such a prohibition in stark contrast to our constitutional rights, its a total non-sequitur relative to the issues, such as unemployment, the environment, and infrastructure, that are actually important to our future.

That doesn’t matter though. We’ve made an emotional choice to engage in name calling instead of democracy. We’ve allowed the erasure of our very character and national identity. We’ve gone from a country of rational, progressive thought, to one of anti-intellectualism, war-mongering, and international disrepute.

Instead of reaching for greatness, we are satisfied with regional normality, and are perhaps now destined merely for quaintness and semi-importance.

My malaise is infinite and pervasive. My sense of political and philosophical decline is inherent - it’s in my bones. I breathe discontent. My default position is a sigh and a nagging hopelessness in the face of an intellectual challenge that feels impossible, and what’s worse, I no longer have the youthful energy necessary to undertake it. Like I’m fighting a doomed battle, I see them multiply and climb the walls, but I’m on Netflix like whatever.


Crossing The Line
The unfortunate use of religious rhetoric by the non-religious in American politics.

 Hilarious picture I lifted from Foreign Policy's Rosa Brooks article (sorry).

Hilarious picture I lifted from Foreign Policy's Rosa Brooks article (sorry).

I can’t help but wonder, whenever I let the channel rest on CNN for a moment, what is more likely to happen first, the election of America’s first female president, or its first (openly) atheist one? Would America rather elect a Mexican-American , or even an Arab-American president before an open and proud atheist? I’m essentially asking where the country’s prejudices are stronger, and I think I know the answer.

In this day and age, when the GOP race is particularly rife with questions of religion and their obligatory handwringing and one-upsmanship, piety plays a more active role in the choosing of political leaders in America than perhaps ever. This is strange, especially when one considers that the non-religious are the fastest growing ‘religious group’ in America.

However, in the Fox Republican Debate, moderator Megan Kelly selected the following question from Chase Norton on Facebook, “I want to know if any of them have received a word from God on what they should do and take care of first”. First, this is hardly a question. Second, it is absurd to ask a presidential candidate whether he or she has received a dispatch from an invisible, supreme being residing in the skies. Yet, no one laughed. None of the audience members, nor the candidates, seemed to think the question was invalid.

But how mortified can I really be at this stage of the game? This has unfortunately become commonplace, and the GOP candidates regularly attempt to outdo one another when it comes to both their piety, and their intolerance. And why not? Despite the words of refuge found in so many holy texts, religious history is fraught with denominational and cultural divisiveness. Each epoch has indeed had its moment of ‘some being more equal than others’. Religious history would suggest that one group or another has always professed to own salvation as a rite of birth or geography. Many peoples have allegedly been “chosen”, at one time or another.

This can no longer surprise me, or upset me. What does upset me is when supposedly progressive/non-religious writers, television personalities and the like, use religious arguments against the religious. This is often done in a playful, condescending manner, as if to say “look how I can beat you with your own weapon”.

A recent example of this is Rosa Brooks’ article in Foreign Policy about how Donald Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric flies in the face of his Christian faith. While that may be true; as she rightly puts, Mathew 25:31-46 does make the case for the acceptance of strangers (and duly punishes those who don’t accept them of course), why must we continue to frame moral debates thus?

By continuing to emphasize religion in these debates, even if one is on the other side so-to-speak, we proliferate and maintain the prominence of religion in politics, specifically as it pertains to morality. The wrongness of anti-immigration policy does not have to be explained trough the use of religious texts, especially by those who don’t believe in them. We can merely say that broadly calling undocumented immigrants “rapists” is intuitively wrong. Moreover, closing one’s doors to the teeming, suffering masses fleeing the civil war in Syria is inherently selfish - I do not require a nearly 2000 year old book to understand this. Nor do I require my non-religious peers to remind followers of that book of this incongruence.  

The continual use of religious rhetoric, by both believers and non-believers, will, in large part, persist in making the election of an openly atheist candidate in America seemingly impossible. As long as American politics is discussed in religious terms, and while America is referred to as a “Christian Nation”, true religious freedom, including the freedom from religion, will continue to be available only in the abstract.