Friday, March 28, 2014

On Gay Rights, NFL Has No Kluwe - Fired After Supporting Gay Marriage, Ex-Minnesota Vikings Punter Chris Kluwe Kicks Back in Vancouver

Ex-Minnesota Vikings punter Chris Kluwe speaks at SFU downtown in Vancouver March 18 - Bill Tieleman photo
Bill Tieleman talks with principled punter Chris Kluwe, who says social activism cost him his job.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column
Tuesday March 25, 2014
By Bill Tieleman
"In the end, it's a choice between playing a children's game or standing up for human rights." 
- Chris Kluwe, Minnesota Vikings football player fired after supporting gay marriage
Would you give up a $1.45-million-a-year job playing professional football to publicly speak out in favour of gay marriage? Even though you are straight?
Former National Football League punter Chris Kluwe did.
And while Kluwe spoke at last week's Vancouver TED Talks conference, he pulled no punches when asked to respond to my criticism of TED's overzealous focus on corporate technology solving world problems.
That's no surprise from this outspoken guy, who in January wrote the stunningly provocative article titled: "I Was An NFL Player Until I Was Fired By Two Cowards And A Bigot."
Published on Deadspin, the story charged that Kluwe's refusal to be silent about gay rights cost him his job. It caused a huge international controversy, received over four million views, and helped earn Kluwe nearly 200,000 Twitter followers.
In person, Kluwe is no strident martyr. He's just an ordinary guy in shorts and sandals doing the right thing, with the platform to make it heard.
Talking at TED - And SFU
I met Kluwe last Tuesday when he agreed to speak to students at teacher Suzanne Norman's Simon Fraser University publishing class in downtown Vancouver.
He fielded questions from students, a player from the university's Clan football team, and myself.
Chris Kluwe & Bill Tieleman - Suzanne Norman photo
The 32-year-old punter who lives in California with his wife and two daughters said he loves Vancouver and would consider playing for the BC Lions.
Kluwe didn't hesitate when I asked if my criticism that the $7,500-per-person TED Talks that brought him here is far too fixated on corporate technology solutions to world problems.
"You can't have the belief that technology will solve everything. It gives you the possibility of making things worse," Kluwe responded. "There is a problem seeing technology as a panacea."
Kluwe's TED Talk last Wednesday wasn't about social activism; it was about augmented reality and his belief that technology can make football safer, including using tools like Google Glass to avoid career-ending concussions by giving players warning signs of impending collisions with tacklers.
By his own admission, Kluwe's future is unclear. He said he plans to play a lot of video games -- a Warcraft expert, his Twitter handle is @ChrisWarcraft -- stay in shape and write books for now. But he is still open to a return to football.
Letter to a 'narcissistic fromunda'
Kluwe became socially actively in 2012, after Maryland politician Emmett C. Burns Jr. attacked Baltimore Ravens linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo for supporting a gay marriage initiative. Burns called on the owner of the team to "inhibit such expressions from your employee."
In response, Kluwe penned an eloquent open letter in Deadspin, which told Burns that his "vitriolic hatred and bigotry make me ashamed and disgusted to think that you are in any way responsible for shaping policy at any level."
Then, Kluwe went nuclear on Burns:
"As I suspect you have not read the Constitution, I would like to remind you that the very first, the VERY FIRST Amendment in this founding document deals with the freedom of speech, particularly the abridgment of said freedom.
"Not only are you clearly violating the First Amendment, you also come across as a narcissistic fromunda stain. What on earth would possess you to be so mind-bogglingly stupid?
"It baffles me that a man such as yourself, a man who relies on that same First Amendment to pursue your own religious studies without fear of persecution from the state, could somehow justify stifling another person's right to speech.
"To call that hypocritical would be to do a disservice to the word. Mindfucking obscenely hypocritical starts to approach it a little bit."
Then, Kluwe administered the coup de grace:
"I can assure you that gay people getting married will have zero effect on your life. They won't come into your house and steal your children. They won't magically turn you into a lustful cockmonster.
"They won't even overthrow the government in an orgy of hedonistic debauchery because all of a sudden they have the same legal rights as the other 90 per cent of our population -- rights like Social Security benefits, child care tax credits, Family and Medical Leave to take care of loved ones, and COBRA healthcare for spouses and children."
Burns was immolated as Kluwe's flame letter went viral, leading the Democrat to reconsider.
"Upon reflection, he has his First Amendment rights. And I have my First Amendment rights... Each of us has the right to speak our opinions. The football player and I have a right to speak our minds," Burns told media, but clearly Kluwe's free kick put Burns tumbling into the end zone.
'Great job on that letter, man!'
Kluwe knew he was onto something when a 290-pound tackler from an opposing team approached him at a game, causing some significant trepidation until the player said: "Great job on that letter, man!"
But the clueless NFL, in particular the Minnesota Vikings, didn't welcome the eight-year veteran's outspokenness.
Chris Kluwe - at SFU downtown - Bill Tieleman photo
Kluwe was cut by the Vikings in May 2013, a move the punter said was the culmination of repeated attempts to silence him, even though owner Zygi Wilf had personally told him he was free to speak out.
In Vancouver last week, Kluwe was philosophical about paying for his principles, but scathing about the NFL.
"A lot of it is the corporatization of football. They don't want to offend anyone," Kluwe said. "If they don't offend anyone, they'll buy more of our product.
"There are owners who will give a guy who committed a felony a second chance -- murder, drunk driving, spousal abuse," Kluwe said, referring to players like dog killer Michael Vick; Leonard Little, convicted of drunk driving manslaughter; and Ray Lewis, who had murder charges dropped after he agreed to testify against two friends.
All three and many others quickly returned to the NFL field. But speak out in favour of gays and lesbians being allowed to legally marry their partners? Forget it!
Interestingly, Kluwe said the big problem on gay marriage doesn't come from the players, but owners and coaches. "This is very much a generational issue, like racism," Kluwe said.
And he predicted the first openly gay player, college star Michael Sam, will do fine in the NFL once drafted in May.
"Michael Sam is a football player who happens to be gay. Sexuality has nothing more do with it than skin colour," Kluwe said. "I think he'll get a fair shake in NFL locker rooms."
Doing the right thing
Kluwe said he's not sure what's next, but he has started work on his football memoirs as well as a science fiction trilogy, and has already written BEAUTIFULLY UNIQUE SPARKLEPONIES, a 2013 book featuring his personal essays on various absurdities in football and beyond.
While he said that being cut by the Vikings was "bullshit," and that his wife was stressed out at the time, he is amazingly easygoing about it now.
"I honestly don't care. I don't need much to get by. I need a couch and an Internet connection," Kluwe said, though he admitted the NFL salary loss affects his kids' college fund.
When one SFU student asked Kluwe how speaking out impacted his endorsements, Kluwe laughed. "Hey man, punters don't get endorsements!" he replied.
But Kluwe turned deadly serious as well. "This isn't just something I had to go through -- millions of people face losing their jobs for being gay," Kluwe said.
"I'm 'that guy' who speaks out [about] a fairly basic concept: treat people the way you want to be treated. You learn that in kindergarten."
He concluded by noting that his two daughters learned an invaluable lesson from the controversy. "In the future when Dad says: 'Do the right thing,' they'll know I did," Kluwe said.
This political punter has one hell of an admirable kick.


Thursday, March 27, 2014

VanCity Board of Director Elections March 31 to April 25 - I will be voting for Lily Grewal and Ellen Woodsworth

As a former Director of VanCity, I take a special interest in seeing good people elected to the Board of Canada's largest credit union - and the one I do business with.
Lily Grewal and son

There are several excellent candidates running for elections that start March 31 to April 25 but I want to highlight two that I will be voting for: Lily Grewal and Ellen Woodsworth.

Lily Grewal would be an impressive new voice on the Board, a Delta resident who brings a strong background of working with immigrant communities, unions, non-profits, social justice, cooperatives and much more.

Lily would also provide the VanCity Board with the needed perspective of those members who live south of the Fraser River.

Ellen Woodsworth
Ellen Woodsworth would bring a wealth of experience to VanCity - from sitting on Vancouver City Council for six years to working with seniors, fighting poverty and homelessness and standing up for a variety of progressive causes.

You can find out more about Lily and Ellen at their websites linked above and about the elections at VanCity's website.

In branch voting takes place from April 11 to 17 in select branches; other voting takes place by mail.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

In support of Jenny Kwan, BC NDP MLA, who has done the right thing in difficult Portland Hotel Society situation

NDP MLA Jenny Kwan - centre - Bill Tieleman at right - at Fight HST rally with other NDP MLAs, September 2009
Much has already been said about the unfortunate circumstances surrounding the devastating audit of the Portland Hotel Society and in particular about BC NDP MLA Jenny Kwan - Vancouver Mount Pleasant - and her connection to the PHS audit.

Jenny immediately repaid nearly $35,000 to cover all possible costs of two trips where she and her family accompanied her former husband Dan Small - who was a PHS executive member and director of policy and research for the non-profit.  

That repayment, as outlined in her statement on March 21,  included his own travel costs - despite being assured that Jenny and her children's travel had been paid personally by Small.  

She did that to ensure that the Portland Hotel Society was in no way paying for her family's travel - it is a principled move that I admire, particularly knowing that the PHS books are such an unfathomable mess there may never be a way to sort out who paid what.

It is important to know that at the time of travel, Jenny personally paid for and produced receipts for the trip to Disneyland in California, and that Small only was responsible for a room upgrade.  

Let's be blunt - Jenny is a friend whom I greatly respect. 

If she did nothing else in her life but be one of two brave NDP MLAs - with the formidable Joy MacPhail - facing 77 howling, horrible BC Liberals after the 2001 election, raising enormous issues and fighting for social justice - she would have earned my admiration forever.

But she has been outspoken before that on Vancouver City Council and since then as an MLA, representing some of the poorest people in Canada. 

Those who criticize Jenny for trusting her spouse's word on these expenses should first consider if they have not done exactly the same. 

They should then ask - what politician would risk their reputation and career over 2 trips?

Next, ask if someone paying $35,000 in expenses she did not knowingly incur, including those of her ex-husband, is not being honourable?

There is a lot of second-guessing going on and some partisan sniping outside and inside the BC NDP but the expectation that Jenny Kwan should know more about the operations of Portland Hotel Society than the entire provincial government that funded PHS to the tune of up to $29 million a year for the past 13 years is both astonishing and ridiculous. 

In reality, this astonishing lack of accountability on the part of the BC government despite the obvious fact that the Portland Hotel Society was a high-profile, controversial and major recipient of taxpayer dollars should have screamed for attention.  

Yet it was clearly ignored.

None of this is to negate the incredibly valuable work that PHS has done in the downtown eastside.  

I respect the work done to help the poorest and most vulnerable citizens perhaps in our whole country. And I strong recommend you read a powerful piece from a PHS worker giving their perspective - which hasn't been heard in much of the media.

If you have doubts about where you stand on this, here's the take-away:

Jenny Kwan went on two trips with her partner and family.

She paid for one, except for hotel upgrades her partner said he paid for.

On the other trip, to Europe where her partner was speaking at a conference, he said he paid for the family's expenses personally.

When it turned out from the KPMG audit that there was absolutely no record or her partner having personally paid for family travel, Jenny Kwan paid all of it herself, including for her now ex-partner's share.

That in my book is honourable, it is respectful of taxpayers and the vulnerable people served by the Portland Hotel Society.

Those who carp that "she should have known" or that "she should have demanded receipts from her partner" are simply not being realistic or fair.  

As Jenny said at her news conference, being in a relationship requires a degree of trust, something those of us who have travelled with spouses can attest to. 

Ultimately, this is a sad personal situation for Jenny and to go through it in public with such vitriolic comments is an ordeal most of us will never face.

The BC NDP's longest serving MLA, the only Chinese-Canadian MLA in their caucus, someone who along with Joy MacPhail faced the most lopsided BC Legislature in history and did so with honour and courage is worthy of our understanding, not to be trashed.

I continue to support Jenny Kwan - as a dedicated MLA who fights for social justice and will keep doing so despite this challenge because she has earned my respect through her actions over the last 20 years.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Get Ready for Hard-to-Swallow Higher Booze Prices in BC Supermarkets - Easier To Buy, Not Cheaper

Going into the red - BC price $17.95, $15.95 in Ontario and $11.10 in Chicago!
BC Libs' changes will simply increase total sales by making it easier to buy, not cheaper.

Bill Tieleman’s 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday March 18, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

There are only two real ways to get ahead today -- sell liquor or drink it."
- W.C. Fields, comedian, 1880-1946
Beer, wine and spirits are coming to British Columbia supermarkets next year, but don't expect cheaper booze -- if anything, what is already among North America's highest-priced alcohol will only get more expensive.
Consumers say they would love the convenience of supermarket sales, but that thrill may be gone when prices stay the same or likely go higher than in B.C. government liquor stores.
The reality of BC Liberal changes is to make booze easier to access, but prices harder to swallow.
So forget about B.C. becoming like Washington State or Europe, with giant supermarket chains offering deep discounts on your favourite beverage.
The government's real goal is simply to increase total sales by making it easier to buy, not cheaper.
The only way most prices could actually drop is if government reduced its $1-billion annual booze profits -- and that ain't gonna happen.
And since most B.C. private liquor stores already charge $2, $3 or much more per bottle of wine, spirits or a case of beer than government rates, without a wholesale price drop retail prices will stay sky high.
In fact, there is nothing in the B.C. liquor review that gives even faint hope to thirsty drinkers of any cut to the high cost of quaffing.
Booze costs already too damn high
There are two models for sales in grocery stores. The main one is called a "store within a store," where supermarkets will have a liquor sales area separated from grocery products and minors.
In addition, some B.C. VQA-certified wines will be made available at some point directly on grocery store shelves without the separate store model, though details aren't yet clear.
When this column did a price comparison of wine and beer prices in 2012, the gap between B.C. prices and other jurisdictions was stunning.
And it still is.
One example: the widely distributed Perrin Cote Du Rhone Reserve red wine sells for $17.95 a bottle in B.C. Liquor Stores, but $16.50 in Quebec government liquor stores, $15.95 in Ontario, only $13 in a private Alberta store if you buy a case of 12, and just $11.10 Canadian at Binny's in Chicago -- or $10.54 a bottle if you buy a case!
And while occasionally a B.C. bottle can be had cheaper, overall any online search will find wine, beer and spirits here are very pricey in both public and private stores.
So, government "modernizes" liquor laws, booze arrives in grocery stores, and yet the prices will only go up, not down.

Drink that irony in.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

TED Talks, money glistens as $7,500 per person gabfest comes to Vancouver - why TED is more than just tedious

TED Talks - with Limited Vision on Granville Street Bridge - Bill Tieleman photo
'Big ideas' gabfest is a money magnet but what's really being sold?

Bill Tieleman's 24 Hours Vancouver / The Tyee column

Tuesday March 11, 2014

By Bill Tieleman

"Each new 'big idea' to 'inspire the world' and 'change everything' pitched from the TED stage reminds me of the swamp root and snake oil liniment being sold from a wagon a hundred years past."
- Nathan Jurgenson, social media sociologist
TED Talks, money glistens. And now it's here in Vancouver, selling what may be snake oil solutions to the well-heeled and well-intentioned.
Who in their right mind would attend for U.S. $7,500 per person for the five-day TED Conference starting March 17 at the Vancouver Convention Centre when many speakers' talks get posted online for free?
But don't worry about TED -- the 1,200 seats for the non-profit Technology, Entertainment, Design extravaganza are long sold out.
However, you can try to be a "TEDster" at next year's Vancouver "Truth and Dare" event, where the price jumps to U.S. $8,500 -- but good luck getting in, because you have to "apply" to attend -- along with having a big credit card limit.
Or become a TED Donor next year for just U.S. $17,000 and get more networking benefits. And you could go all in for U.S. $150,000 Patron status for five years.
There's also the chance to become a corporate sponsor like Walmart, Target, Citibank, Lincoln Motor Car Company, Google, Walt Disney, Toyota and other corporations are this year for even bigger money.

And don't forget general TED Talks corporate partners like Gucci, Rolex, American Express, Samsung, Sony and Intel.
How TED's spread
"Ideas worth spreading" is TED's slogan -- but are they really?
Or do TED Talks instead promote corporate technology solutions to problems that require far more fundamental, difficult and political change?
As Jurgenson wrote: "TED and the larger TED-like world of Silicon Valley corporatism have far too much importance."
"There are consequences to having this style of discourse dominate how technology's role in society is understood. Where are the voices critical of corporatism?" Jurgenson asks.
Well, not likely here in Vancouver speaking at the TED Conference. Somehow I don't think Bill Gates -- the world's richest man and Microsoft founder -- will spend his 18 minutes starting that revolution!
And in reality, some very powerful technology barons and venture capitalists finance TED through the Sapling Foundation that puts it on, business people with direct real economic interests in solutions their companies just might supply or ideas they might buy.
For example, check the Internal Revenue Service reports for the Sapling Foundation major donors and you'll find names like Jeff Bezos, founder of, venture capitalist Brook Byers, David Cowan of Bessemer Venture Partners, Arjun Gupta of Telesoft Partners and many, many more all making five, six and even seven figure donations.
Nothing wrong with them supporting TED and giving up a Bentley or two to do so but it does raise questions about the organization's focus.
Political gatekeepers
When one of those mega-rich entrepreneurs goes rogue -- like Seattle's Nick Hanauer did in a TED Talk saying the rich don't actually create jobs -- then TED stops the talking. It refused to post Hanauer's speech online, perhaps because of statements in it like this:
"If it were true that lower tax rates and more wealth for the wealthy would lead to more job creation, then today we would be drowning in jobs. And yet unemployment and under-employment is at record highs," Hanauer said.
Sounds plausible but TED Talks "curator" Chris Anderson claims that Hanauer's presentation was too political.
TED Talks Curator Christ Anderson
"The talk tapped into a really important and timely issue. But it framed the issue in a way that was explicitly partisan. And it included a number of arguments that were unconvincing, even to those of us who supported his overall stance," Anderson posted on his website in response to censorship allegations.
Now despite all this, not everything about TED Talks is bad -- far from it.
Interesting speakers, diverse ideas, potentially game-changing ideas all dynamically and convincingly delivered in 18 minutes or less, then most made available to the entire world free online.
And for the Vancouver TED Conference titled "The Next Chapter" as it relocated here for possibly three or more years, there is some free access to TED Talks online for accredited community centres, non-governmental organizations, high schools, universities, or libraries. That may explain the number of TED Talks lamppost banners around the city.
But is it really worth all the attention?
Take one of the most popular TED Talks from psychologist Shawn Achor, titled: "The happy secret to better work."
It has over seven million views since 2011 and tells us if we think positive thoughts and use the "Happy Advantage" you'll be better at securing and keeping jobs, have superior productivity, more resilience, less burnout, greater sales and more.
Great -- I'll be sure to tell everyone working for minimum wage at Walmart and Target to lighten up!
'Blatant pseudoscientific garbage'?
Psychobabble to make rich people happier at their non-menial jobs may be obnoxious and not deal with most of the world's crushing reality but it's not any more harmful than Tony Robbins' self-improvement empire.
However, it is disturbing to read writer Llewellyn Hinkes-Jones easily destroying some TED Talks in The Awl earlier this year for their "blatant pseudoscientific garbage."
"These aren't nebulous meanderings on where ideas come from or the contentious talks on new age and quantum energy seen at the smaller TEDx events (kookiness that the organizers have already tried to clamp down on)."
"These are the main stage talks on subjects with wide social implications. These are the TED Talks that simply repackage right-wing talking points for the stoned California tech elite with a gloss of technological innovation and a contrarian interpretation of how the world actually works," Hinkes-Jones concluded.
As Jurgenson put it: "At TED, 'everyone is Steve Jobs' and every idea is treated like an iPad."

In the real world, TED Talks can be simply tedious, but the money definitely glistens.