Hell no, we won’t bro: the Vancouver hockey riots

Paul Raven @ 17-06-2011

Sincere apologies to Canuck readers and the easily offended, but I found the pictures from the Vancouver riots to be… well, pretty hilarious, actually. For possibly the first time in my life, I find myself pretty closely aligned with the vibe at Hipster Runoff, which – to spare you the effort of beating your head against deliberate and doubtless ironic subliterate txtspk – can be summed up with the phrase “sportsbros rioting LOL WHUT”.

Vancouver sportsbros REPRAZENT, YO

Obviously I’m not tapped into the local news sources, but from the more internationally-visible side of things there seems to be a tone of Official Condemnation tempered with a subtext of Boys Will Be Boys, very similar to the one trotted out in the UK media when football fans decide to commiserate a major loss (or sometimes even celebrate a win) for their home team by, er, smashing the hell out of their own town. (No, I don’t understand it at all, especially as I’ve been repeatedly told that supporting your local team is all about civic pride. Um, OK.)

Compare and contrast, then, to the weeks of media handwringing over Anarchist(TM) actions at things like the G20 summit or the London marches earlier this year. Clear subtext for the hard of thinking: dumb violence is just one of those things, especially when propelled by a vague sense of regionalistic fervour; however, dumb violence as part of an anti- or counter-state agenda is a shameful waste of taxpayer’s money, a threat to the security of decent people everywhere, a sign of the end times and a justification for swinging changes in the public order statutes, blah blah blah. Bread and circuses, business as usual. Plus ça change, non?

Leaving aside media coverage, though, the Hipster Runoff person raises a valid point: why are these people rioting? He suggests that the pictures explain it all: because, dude, it would be totes sweet to have a Facebook picture of you throwing fake gang signs in front of a burning car! Thanks to ubiquitous cameras, every event is instantly mediated; even riots are now performative displays, a chance to grasp at an authenticity and prove that you were right there man, SRSLY, no fakin’. Personally I’ve never been a big fan of the riot as political tool (though I understand the arguments in favour of it), and I think that this sort of thing is going to make violent protest look increasingly facile to the passive masses in Western nations; it’s gonna take more clever things to catch anything more than their kneejerk disgust.

That said, I think it’s reasonable to suggest that if you can get a mob scene like this over sports results in Canada, we’ve got a good metric for how generally tense and willing to leap across the line folk are feeling right now. As I said last night on Twitter (in my best Eeyore voice, naturally), if you think that’s bad, just wait until the Arab Spring starts turning into the Arab Autumn, or for the next raft of bad harvests in Africa. Food and water riots are going to happen, and they’re going to make Vancouver look like a fucking picnic in the park.

Interesting sidebars, though: some local citizens attempted to face down the mob and organise a clean-up the next day, [via MeFi], while Vancouver PD are crowdsourcing the tricky task of identifying the rioters [via SlashDot]. Funny how people act on “civic pride” in such different ways, isn’t it?

Dope sports

Paul Raven @ 28-01-2011

Kyle Munkittrick takes on one of the few sports-related topics that’s of any interest to me at all, namely the blanket ban on performance-enhancement drugs. He’s bouncing off a post by cyclist Floyd Landis, who calls for a lifting of the ban using a rather cumbersome but basically valid analogy to gun control:

“In the US we have these gun laws where half the country thinks we should have them and half don’t, but the fact of the matter is that the bad guys have guns and you can’t get them back from the bad guys. It’s nice to live in a pretend world where you can start over, where you say you’re not going to have guns, well that’s wonderful and good luck with that and go to church on Sundays and enjoy yourself, but the fact of the matter is that there are guns and the bad guys have them and trying to keep others from having them isn’t going to accomplish anything… “

An argument based on pragmatism has something going for it, of course, but it puts Landis’ attempts to retain his stripped title into an interesting perspective, to say the least. But Munkittrick raises the stakes and goes after the ethical question:

Laws and ethics are not based on what is easy and what is hard to control. They are based on standards of justice and what is ethically right. The reason I believe doping should be allowed is that I see nothing unjust or wrong about professional athletes using chemical compounds and medical knowledge to improve their abilities and performance. Let me rephrase that: there is nothing wrong with taking steroids.

The concern over professional athletes misusing steroids is always framed as some lone juicer injecting himself in his bedroom so he can get that extra home run. That’s not how it happens. Even illegal doping is under the watchful gaze of a team of professional athletic doctors, trainers and nutritionists. Do you think Floyd Landis mixed up his hyper-complex, nary-undetectible designer steroids and blood doping techniques in a lab in his basement?

Steroids are dangerous. But so are thousands of other prescription drugs for which we require doctor supervision. The only ethical reason to ban steroids if they are dangerous and harmful even when used properly. To say doping is wrong because it’s against the rules is circular, yet that’s what most arguments come down to once one is unable to prove steroids are harmful if used properly. Let’s stop pretending that most professional athletes 1) aren’t doping and 2) that they aren’t under strict supervision when they do. Let em take ‘roids.

My own argument in favour of lifting the ban is simply that it would make sports much more entertaining: strip away the false veneer that it’s all about a fair contest between equals and expose it as the sponsorship-fueled tribal ape pissing contest that it really is. Let transhumans like Oscar Pistorius compete against unmodified meatbags; let corporate-sponsored teams become close-knit clans that tweak their genes from generation to generation in the hope of giving them an edge. Because as Munkittrick points out, they’re all trying to do exactly that anyway; if people want to risk screwing up their bodies so they can win an ultimately meaningless physical contest, I say let ’em do it.

Would public pressure to achieve drive athletes to dangerous extremes? Quite possibly, if it isn’t already doing so – and that might force us to face the archaic relationship we have with physical contests as status markers and political symbolism. In the meantime, just think of the television possibilities… something’s got to replace the fading lustre of “reality” programming, after all, and what better than ritualised combat between end-case transhumans?

[ * NB: much of the above paragraph is meant as sarcasm, but by no means all; I’ll leave you to guess which bits are which. And if you’re wondering whether I was picked on by jocks at school, yes, I was. ]

Live action replays and analysis moves from the sports field to the battlefield

Paul Raven @ 04-06-2010

The Harris Corporation supplies instant replay systems to big-brand sports teams, but they may just have cracked a whole new market… one with a budget that (inexplicably) never seems to shrink. The Pentagon has decided that the ability to collect, replay and analyse battlefield video feeds will make it easier to score touchdowns instil shock and awe liberate oil people from oppressive regimes, and they’re working with Harris Corp toward that end:

The system, called Full-Motion Video Asset Management Engine (FAME) uses metadata tags to encode important details — time, date, camera location — into each video frame. In a football game, those tags would help broadcasters pick the best clip to re-air and explain a play. In a war-zone, they’d help analysts watch video in a richer, easier-to-grasp context. And additional tags could link a video clip to photographs, cellphone calls, databases or documents.

Makes a certain amount of sense, but I suspect there’ll be a point where a greater volume of incoming data will become counterproductive, and your multiscreen generals will be so caught up looking at the trees that they forget there’s a forest… which would be business as usual, I suppose, just with more cool toys for the folk behind the front line.

And hey, here’s a potential monetization stream: edit together and sanitise the daily rushes, offer ’em as live streams to warporn fans… or sell the material and outsource the marketing to someone with more experience, like ESPN. Man, this thing’s really got legs – anyone wanna form a collective to buy up Harris Corp shares?

Never mind Darwin: hockey players as religious icons

Edward Willett @ 13-02-2009

Rocket Richard Paul’s recent post on Darwin as a religious icon made me think of this story (Via PhysOrg):

Since January 2009, Olivier Bauer has pioneered the world’s first course examining the link between hockey and religion. As a professor at the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Theology, he also just compiled and coauthored a textbook examining the Canadiens as a religion, “La religion du Canadien de Montreal” (Fides, 2009)…

In English, the Montreal Canadiens are referred to as the Habs, but in French the legendary hockey team is often known as the Sainte-Flanelle (the Holy Flannel). The nickname of its new young goaltender Carey Price is Jesus Price and he is thought to be the savior of the team.

Canadiens fans also talk about the ghosts of the old Montreal Forum. French-Canadian broadcaster Ron Fournier is the prophet and his listeners are disciples. All these religious connotations intrigued Bauer.

“If the Habs are a religion should we fight it because it’s a form of adulation?” asks Bauer. “Or should we use it to highlight that certain values transmitted by the Habs can correspond to Christian values?”

Of course, this is a little different from setting up someone like Darwin as a quasi-religious figure: Bauer is connecting adulation of a hockey team directly with the fact that Quebec is historically predominantly Catholic–not hockey as a new religion, but hockey infiltrating an existing religion.

Apparently Bauer isn’t the only researcher who has looked at the links between the adulation of sports teams and religion: others have studied baseball in the U.S. and soccer in South America and Europe. But Bauer thinks the passion for the Montreal Canadiens is particularly intense, with people visiting the Saint Joseph’s Oratory to pray on game days.

Then there’s this:

Bauer’s course is being taught in three parts with the help of invited Swiss Professor Denis Müller, an ethicist and theologian specialized in soccer. The first part of the course addressed relics. For instance, some people believe to have been cured from disease after touching the jersey of Hall of Famer Maurice Richard.

Personally, I think you’d be more likely to get a disease by touching an old hockey jersey, but then, as a Canadian with almost no interest in hockey, I’m unquestionably an infidel.

(Image: Statue of Maurice “Rocket” Richard in Gatineau, Quebec, via Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags] sports,hockey,religion,Canada[/tags]

The straight dope – performance enhancement drugs and the Olympics

Paul Raven @ 14-08-2008

syringe and ampoulesThe Beijing Olympic games are seeing a record-breaking achievement of a different kind – a round-the-clock lab team performing a greater number of tests for performance enhancing drugs, and more different types of tests, than ever before. And even so, the International Olympic Committee expect up to forty athletes to test positive for illicit substances. [image by happysnappr]

So – as suggested in the New York Times but originally proposed by bioethicists and other scientistswhy don’t we just do away with the restrictions entirely?

“… what we have now is not a level playing field. The system punishes some innocent athletes and rewards others with the savvy and the connections not to get caught. The more that the authorities crack down on known forms of enhancement, the more incentive athletes have to experiment with new ones — and to get their advice from black-market dealers instead of doctors.


If elite adult athletes were allowed to push the limits of human performance in return for glory, they might point the way for lesser mortals to coax more out of their bodies. If a 50-year-old sprinter could figure out how to run as fast as her 25-year-old self, that could be useful to aging weekend warriors — or any aging couch potato.”

As I’ve suggested many times before to anyone foolish enough to ask my opinion about sports, the thing to do is create a separate league for athletes who enhance themselves, run it in parallel, and sit back to watch the viewing ratings. The noble myth of the natural athlete would die off pretty quick in the hard glare of economics, I’m thinking.

But I suspect that – as with the case of Oscar “Bladerunner” Pistoriuseconomics is the one big force keeping things the way they are. After all, Nike and Adidas and their ilk like to be able to claim that their clothing or footwear is what separates first place from first loser, rather than chemical [x] or prosthesis [y]… and they’ve got a lot of money to throw around in the process.

But would they have enough to hold out against Big Pharma, if they were allowed to join the contest?

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