Saturday, July 20, 2013

Doing the Right Thing...Too Much

    President Obama just could not help himself !  He had to do more that he did on the day of the Florida verdict; issue a short, diginfied, presidential statement setting the tone of sadness and reflection, the only truly human, civilized, Christian response to the legal outcome of the George Zimmerman's trial for those who did not find comfort in it. The only response that could calm the streets down. Alas, the president felt it was not enough ! He had to speak out, and bare his soul and capture the sad and, yes maddening,  incident as his personal experience, as the experience of his people, that would breathe some meaning to that awful, senseless killing which claimed young Trayvon's life on that rainy night in Sanford. There is of course nothing wrong with the sentiment. It comes from the noblest part of our soul, from the desire to share in someone's pain and suffering, from the resolve to set things right.  

    Unfortunately, the idea is fraught with danger. The president in his soul-searching failed to perceive that it was the same noble sentiment which propelled George Zimmerman to open the door of his car and to pursue the shadowy figure that deprived his community of peace and security.  He too already did the right thing !  He called the police dispatch to take a look at someone who did not seem quite in place. But he had to do more ! He had to get involved personally because - it seemed to him - the regular tools to right this wrong were not adequate.

     I imagine that Trayvon felt the same when he was confronted by a strange huffing and puffing creepy ass cracka who had a problem. He too tried to correct the perception the man had of him, one that was obviously wrong. He too went too far, young and inexperienced as he was in the ways of this world.

    There is no other tragedy in the death of Trayvon Martin that I see, certainly no cause worth fighting for.  If we all could just learn to step back when we feel we are so right and the other person or people so wrong !  I hope the president will eventually see that it is wrong to use his office to the ends he did yesterday.   I agree with much that he said, including the "Stand Your Ground" laws. They are unworthy of a civilized people. It is just that it is not right to speak about one community experiences in an incident that touches everyone in the US, including the man who was acquitted of a crime but has to live in hiding because there are so many people who in their noble sentiments want to do far more than is just. They demand what George Jonas once aptly described as "affirmative atrocity".
    The president needs to find a way how to address everyone in this, fairly and equitably. Stories about car doors clicking and ladies clutching purses will not do it. Someone needs to step up boldly and say, it is one thing to do the right thing and another thing to know how much of the right thing you may do before you bring down the house divided ! 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Bonfire of the Vanities - Florida Flavoured

The Zimmerman legal saga would be as close as you can get to a perfect farce if it were not so tragic.  No matter how one looks at it there was a young life lost in the incident, and lost totally needlessly. The greater tragedy is what the incident bespeaks of:  the wide gulf that separates American communities, by their race or ethnicity, by wealth, by cultural values. The trial and the immediate aftermath of the trial serves also as a great exhibit of the seemingly irreconcilable left-right political chasm that makes it hard and sometimes impossible to have an intelligent discussion. What I mean by ‘intelligent discussion’ is one in which both sides have the capacity to understand the other side’s point of view and the ability to reflect on one’s own beliefs, not to say have a firm rein on one’s own passions and preoccupations.  

 Observed from the relatively benign, boring Canadian North, all this looks like reports from another planet. Mind you, there are Trayvon Martin T-shirts worn here also, and bumper stickers proclaiming that guns are feared only by the criminals. All the same, we have been blissfully spared the sharp edges of the inequalities, and racially motivated nastiness. They exist here also, but they are much more subdued and truly on the fringe. Canadians know the meaning and value of compromise.  It appears, the Americans these days do not.   Apparently, there are only two ways to see the fatal incident in which Trevor Martin was killed. One, he was a victim of a stalking racist vigilante who set upon him without a cause as he was ambulating peaceably home from a convenience store. Two, he was a punk (never mind of which race) who got what was coming to him after bashing the head of a blameless citizen, protecting the property of his neighbours against the depredations of hooded hoods such as himself.  There seems an absolute disconnect between these two narratives. No possibility of a compromise. A verdict that favours one side of the divide will immediately spark a mass outrage on the other. There has been from the start an attempt to portray the incident and its handling by the authorities as having deep racial undertones.

         At the outset, I was entirely on side with Trayvon Martin family’s and the African-American community outrage at the police letting George Zimmerman simply walk out.  This certainly did not feel right, and the assurances of the police that there were no grounds to detain the shooter since he was battered and claimed self-defence ring hollow to our Canadian multi-cultural sense of fairness.  How could the police be sure at that time that George did not, as Tom Mesereau, formerly  Michael Jackson’s defense lawyer, put it later, bring a gun to a fist fight ?  Of course they could not be sure.  Zimmermann should have been detained automatically, and subjected to thorough medical examination i.e. an assessment of his injuries and state of mind. Since he seemed eager to cooperate, a lie detector test should have been administered, or at least suggested. I understand and share in the bitterness and outrage which was entirely in place, and well in advance of any outside political agitation and far-flung political theories of how to read the incident.  A routine investigative detention (up to what Florida habeas corpus statute allows) should be de rigeur.  There is no other way to demonstrate law enforcement is serious about enforcing the law. Not just to the African American community; to everone !  It make sense not just politically, not just procedurally, but - I pray you - humanly. You don’t want to hurt the family further in their grief, by putting in question the value of the life of their tragically lost son.   

         I am led to believe it was this act of stupidity prefigured and poisoned the whole process as it unfolded.  It is clear that the Florida state officials felt deeply embarrassed and resolved to make up for the dreadful gaffe of not detaining the shooter  and examining immediately his physical and mental state. The problem of course is the remedy  they cooked up was far worse than the ill it was to cure:  indict Zimmerman without grand jury, on the basis of the worst possible conjecture we can make about his motive, and let the jury chill this down to a compromise solution. Surely, they will assume that George must be guilty of something. (Just look at the pics of him : does this spooked guy look innocent to you ?)   If the jury doesn’t buy the sordid vilification of Zimmerman, they will still shudder to let him go free, and give us manslaughter as a way to equity. And so it went, surely one of the ugliest prosecutions in American legal history.  I hope it is long remembered that the special prosecutor in the case called Zimmerman a murderer after the trial's verdict, when he was acquitted of the charges against him by the jury of his peers. Disgraceful and impeachable ! 

     One of the saddest roles in this melodrama must go to the media, and more specifically to the TV networks and even more specifically, to CNN (which I have watched the most), although , the first prize for yellow journalism will be claimed by NBC for the doctored tape GZ made to the police dispatch!  It is not just that the pundits failed to halt (or thoroughly embarrass) the attempted railroading of George Zimmermann by the state. They helped to set up the farce and collaborated with this cynical abuse of process, right down to a staged rehearsal of the jury verdict. I certainly was not surprised the overwhelming majority of the studio guests “voted” manslaughter on Piers Morgan's show - so as to suggest that this is how most Americans felt about it.  (Most post-verdict polls, even from liberal strongholds such as HuffPost, show the "not guilty" verdict being supported by the majority of Americans who have an opinion).   Similarly, the legal experts called to comment seemed to be open to embrace the manslaughter compromise.  It was shocking to see bright, accomplished, lawyers by and large conniving in this ludicrously improvised state's case against George Zimmerman, and often witless when it came the flagrantly underhanded tactics the prosecution used.

      Just one example that somehow did not get commented on (TMK) by the bright legal minds:   a seventeen-year old is not usually refered to as a child in the legal contexts of proceedings that took place in Sanford (as it would be for the puposes of a family court) where the shooting victim was six-foot-one and 140-150 lbs high-school footbal player. It would have been far more appropriate to call him adolescent or minor but the sleazy misnomer seemed to have been deployed to argue that Trayvon Martin could not pose a real physical threat to George Zimmerman, and to disqualify the evidence of battery the latter suffered at his hands in advance of shooting him dead.  Not being a lawyer myself, and not knowing the procedural tolerance stateside for prosecutotrial rhetoric, I can only observe that in Canada the opening statement by Bernie de la Rionda would likely have been followed not by the defense's rebuttal but by a motion for a mistrial on grounds that the prosecution was inflaming the jury against the accused

   The badgering and scapegoating of George Zimmerman was constant and vociferous. In my reckoning, the worst offender was Piers Morgan. I have lost whatever respect I had for the man for the revolting animus he showed toward George Zimmerman, repeating ad nauseam the preposterous prosecutorial description of Trayvon Martin as a child "armed with Skittles and Arizona Tea".  Then there was Anderson Cooper, only slightly better, obviously having a more intelligent and guarded manner than Morgan. Nonetheless, his getting one of the jurors to talk and help her wade into series of statements to be picked apart and outed as racial bias and vile disrespect to a dead teenager was not helpful either. (Incidentally, I thought the interview was very interesting).   Clearly B-37 was over her head with Anderson who repeatedly ambushed her cleverly, in ways she was clueless about.  She had no idea what was going on when Anderson shot : "You really believe that ?" to her stated faith that George was afraid for his life. She thought Anderson was asking a question. 

       And then there is Sunny Hostin, a former federal prosecutor, now a legal analyst, who professed to have been stunned by the verdict and offered that justice took a day off.   She is alone among the CNN panelists who feels very passionately that Zimmermann should have been found guilty of a second-degree murder. She feels that the state proved beyond reasonable doubt that the act was one that manifested a depraved mind.  Ok, I guess it's a minority view. Problem is, she finds nothing wrong with Angela Corey's describing GZ as a murderer two days after the verdict that freed him while also believing that removing "Stand Your Ground" from the books would bring more civility to America.   But may I ask : what good are rules of law if we feel they are there only to advance our interests and aspirations ?  How can one speak of civility if one does not understand the idea of decency

   Is it decent for a major television network to fan the flames of racial hatred by pouring scorn and degrading comments on a pathetic figure who unwittingly, by not more than his lack of judgment and common sense, destroyed one life outright and brought terrible insecurity into his own life and the lives of those dearest to him ?  Does this make the country better ?  You really believe that Sunny, Anderson, Piers ?  

  Is it decent to deny the public the facts of the case and the relevant background, or to scatter them so they become meaningless, instead of serving a factually correct, balanced, judicious view of what happened ?  Why could it not have been what it was, right from the beginning...a stupid, violent, avoidable clash of two guys clueless about what the other was really doing ?  How is it possible that after more than a year of CNN (and Reuters) knowing the Zimmerman's family background the question of racial profiling can even be raised ?  George's great maternal grandfather was black; he grew up with two black girls in the house in the care of his grandmother; he had a black business partner; publicly took up the cause of a black homeless man beaten by a police-chief's son.  Is this a profile of a racist, prowling in the night in search of a coon to lynch ?  Is it decent to compare George Zimmerman publicly to a Charles Bronson notorious serial killer vigilante character three days after he was set free and the president called the incident a tragedy ? Is this how Piers Morgan understands calm reflection and widening the circle of compassion and understanding across America's communities ? 

     I have been strongly reminded during the trial and in the wake of the verdict of a brilliant book by Tom Wolfe The Bonfire of the Vanities, a book about America corrupted by insane greed, the rage of the underprivileged preyed upon by corrupt race baiters, unscrupulous operators in the justice system and manipulators in the media (distilled into one character).  More and more, the Zimmerman process seemed like life imitating art. The only thing missing right now is the ending that would match the book's conclusion of the malicious prosecution of Sherman McCoy rendered in the movie by Morgan Freeman. Worth watching, worth reflecting on !

Saturday, July 6, 2013

A Tale of Two Hockey Cities

          Having lived in Montreal through the glory days of les Glorieux, and in the days of decline of the dynasty, I can testify to the exceptional brutality of its hockey pundits when it comes to losing.  No one in Montreal has time for, or patience with, bumblers running their hockey club.  This was as true in the late eighties as it is now.  Even after the club improved dramatically in the last (short) season from the disaster it was the year before, the nastiness and the barbs were in evidence at once when the Habs went out sheepish-like in five against Ottawa in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Michel Therrien’s post series rejoinder that despite regular season success much remains to be done was met with universal derision. Comme quoi par example, quipped one of the regulars on the popular TV show  l’Antichambre. 

         In sharp contrast, when Ottawa went out with a thud in the next round against Pittsburgh, getting walloped  in the last two games, the local media had nothing but lavish praise for the hockey club and its leadership’s accomplishments. And this in the face of obvious and long-standing issues.  Even though the victory against the Habs was a nice combination of grit, goaltending and gamesmanship (by Paul McLean) which for a moment obliterated the holes up front, the desperate lack of offensive talent on the Sens’ bench became immediately and painfully in evidence against a fast-skating, star-studded club like the Penguins. The spirit was willing; the flesh was weak. But the Ottawa press corps would have none of that. By and large, the pundits lapped up the Sens marketing script which asserted the club has much improved under the smart Walrus and even brighter days lie ahead.  And yes, Bryan Murray is going to get a top-six forward in the off-season which should make Ottawa even  stronger contender for the coveted prize. 

         Had the club been covered in Montreal, a howl of razor satire would meet this rosy picture of the world in May 2013.  Why ? It is doubtful that Spezza and Michalek can come back to their former days’ production. If Spezza’s is the kind of injury that all but destroyed Jagr’s ability to skate, do not expect much.  For one thing, Jaromir is much tougher fighter than Jason. If Milan’s knee is not rehabilitated – and one can never be optimistic with that particular joint – he will not get twenty-five goals again. So, who else on the club is a legitimate twenty-goals scorer ?  Turris can likely do it – he scored twenty four, mind you it was in San Antonio, in the AHL.  But yes, he definitely can do it with some talent on his line.  Who else ?  Silvferberg might.  Greening might. Zibanejad just might.  None of them scored twenty goals in the NHL.  Alfredsson might if he decides to come back for one season.  So the first thing that a Montreal hockey pundit would have shot through is the totally insane notion that the Sens need only minor fixes to become a legit contender.  But this is really nothing – nothing, compared to the discovery that this state of affairs has developed with the club operating somewhere $20 million below the annual cap. (It is probably close to $24M since Alfredsson’s cap hit last year was 3.5 million over what was paid to him) The club has not had a forty goal scorer since Heatley left town.  It had not had a power forward since Hossa left town. And yet, the dynamic duo of Melnyk – Murray cannot seem to find spare money to get some bang up front.  Why would that be ?  The answer is very simple. Why should Mr. Melnyk spend money on hockey in preference of his other ventures (major soccer club, casino at the hockey arena) if the club is making money with overachieving minor league cast led by a coaching wizard?  

          None of this of course would make the Ottawa papers. The headline in the Sun the day after Alfie kissed goobye a former Melnyk’s mania ('Stanley Cup where it belongs – Ottawa !’) and headed up for Detroit, was screaming : ‘ 11 WINGS AWAY…But in a BLOCKBUSTER deal, Sens give up Silfverberg, grab superstar BOBBY RYAN from Anaheim’.  (Capitalization preserved). Again, a Montreal-bred hockey cynic would see immediately through the psychobabble. This was no blockbuster; Bobby Ryan is no superstar(ranking the highest 28th, on the NHL best players list in 2011-12, and having an off year last season) and the deal has panic over Alfie’s  flying off the cuckoo’s nest written all over it.  It is a takeover of a contract with two years left on it for a current Sens No.1  prospect (already a top 6 forward), next year’s No.1 draft pick, and another young player.  This is a horrendously high price given there is no long-term commitment in it. I would not be surprised if in the future I see Jakob and Bobby playing on another team together like Zdeno Chara and Wade Redden in Boston, with the same amount of  equity for Ottawa Senators – zilch.  

         Bruce Garrioch (Ottawa Sun) describes July 5 as a day of ’agony and ecstasy for Ottawa hockey fans’.  It’s really neither.  Despite the shameless propaganda there were rumblings that Alfie was done in Ottawa in advance of his signing with the Wings. The cries of ‘shock and disbelief’ ring a bit hollow.  I am persuaded that given Daniel’s value to the club, not to re-do the contract in his option year and make him play for way less money than he was worth, was an act betraying the lack of management know-how and finesse that I have long observed with the club under its current ownership and GM.  Then there is the 'mysterious' tale of offer-counteroffer this spring. If it is as I believe - Barry asked for six (agreeing to drop two-year deal for one-year)  and Murray offered four million - then the club added insult to injury.   This is not simply because Daniel Alfredsson even at forty is a fine hockey player, a major contributor, and a greatly respected leader on the ice. It was especially galling because of the enormous marketing value his long service to the club and the community represented. I think it was more this than the putative yen for the Stanley Cup (though I believe Alfie wants that also) that made him leave Ottawa.  The jump has "ticked-off" written all over it.  Never mind the phoney "we were ready to write him a blank cheque".  It's a feeble-minded attempt to re-write what happened.   

       And again,  Garrioch seems too optimistic about the Ryan deal.  If he turns out to be a high-scorer on an underfunded (and therefore a non-contending) team he will want out at the earliest opportunity to protect his market value: the Dany Heatley scenario. 

      I think at this juncture it is the ‘fifth estate’ that can do much more for hockey in the city.  Get Montreal mean !  Ottawa is not Phoenix and the columns should not be written as hockey-ticket sales job for people who are essentially strangers to the game.  Right now, the Senators will likely sell tickets no matter what, but eventually people will tire of mediocrity, or even valiant efforts if they are futile. If you want to compete in the big league, you will have to spend big-league money!  People will not root for Ottawa Cheapskates !  This should be the message to Melnyk. And if Murray does not have the touch to pick value for Melnyk’s money, he should retire.  He’s been at it for nine years, and his July 2013 ‘trading frenzy’ scorecard describes his progress in a nutshell:  one top-six forward signed for two years, two top-six forwards gone for good and no sign of a proven offensive blue-liner to replace Gonchy!