Physical cliff

The NHL lockout might be over by the time you read this. Or not. Given the league's stature, it'll be hard to know for sure. Try Section D, Page 4, below the fold, next to the Lube 'n Tune coupon and that ad for the Jug Hut. Or the bottom left rail under the "Fantasy Football Technical Difficulties FAQ."

The latest news is here and here and here.

As October and November and now another NHL season slip away, it's important to remember why we're reading about this. We're here because a handful of people think you and I are responsible for their own impulse control problems. They overpaid. They made bad investments. Bad choices. So the rest of us -- the fans, the players, the networks -- are on the hook for their mistakes. Sound familiar?

And having just seen the same in the NBA and the NFL, it's worth noting while the owners play us for suckers and pick our pockets, that no special-interest group in North America has ever had it tougher than aggrieved billionaire sports hobbyists.

"We're past the point of give and take," NHL commissioner Gary Bettman reportedly growled on their behalf last weekend. Grrrrrr.

Meanwhile, out on the front page, we're hurtling straight for the "fiscal cliff" and the dire consequences to us all if Congress and the president can't get their hands on the wheel. A deal must be made. MUST! BE! MADE! It's government by Thelma and Louise!

Suddenly everything everywhere is brinksmanship. Gamesmanship. Stalemate. Stare down. Everything is Us against Them! Red versus Blue! Left fighting Right! Capital! Labor! Wall Street! Main Street! Bad choices! Personal responsibility! The only U.S. growth sector in Q1 2013 will be the production of exclamation points.

Front to back it all feels like a small-bore variation on Naomi Klein's "disaster capitalism," in which every negotiation must now be framed ideologically and as part of the never-ending emergency of our national economy. The media sell the cliffhanger because cliffhanger is what sells. Whatever happened to sitting in a room and talking about solutions? To polite discussion? To cool reason? To mutualism? Maybe serve a little coffee, a little slice of sponge cake.

Nope. It's all deathmetal and antagonism now. Grrrrr.

And in the whole, long history of disasters and capitalism, has there ever been a bigger disaster than the National Hockey League or its mortician, Gary Bettman? The decommissioner has managed in just 20 years to make the league invisible. An afterthought. An unfunny punch line to a joke no one recalls. By his own accounting, the league is poised on the brink of insolvency. Again. Still. A constant invalid.

Bettman's legacy will be $60 million league "relocation fees," a shell game of mishandled franchises and indifferent cities, ineptitude and cupidity and a National Hockey League too big in fact and too small in the imagination. And a long history of bungled union-busting. On behalf of his owners, whenever the CBA comes up for renewal it has been Bettman's practice to bring a gun to what should be a butter knife fight. And even those fights he loses. The game staggers on. In arenas built by taxpayers.

All due respect to the relevant parties, but any one of us could pick a fan at random out of the stands at an OHL game in Guelph or Kitchener or the 'Soo and find a better head and a better heart to serve the game of hockey.

Let's do that. I'll bring the sponge cake. In the meantime, Congress and the president are on their own.