Quotulatiousness

January 28, 2016

QotD: George Orwell on American fashion magazines of the 1940s

Filed under: History, Media, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Someone has just sent me a copy of an American fashion magazine which shall be nameless. It consists of 325 large quarto pages, of which no less than 15 are given up to articles on world politics, literature, etc. The rest consists entirely of pictures with a little letterpress creeping round their edges: pictures of ball dresses, mink coats, step-ins, panties, brassières, silk stockings, slippers, perfumes, lipsticks, nail polish — and, of course, of the women, unrelievedly beautiful, who wear them or make use of them.

One striking thing when one looks at these pictures is the overbred, exhausted, even decadent style of beauty that now seems to be striven after. Nearly all of these women are immensely elongated. A thin-boned, ancient-Egyptian type of face seems to predominate: narrow hips are general, and slender, non-prehensile hands like those of a lizard are quite universal. Evidently it is a real physical type, for it occurs as much in the photographs as in the drawings. Another striking thing is the prose style of the advertisements, an extraordinary mixture of sheer lushness with clipped and sometimes very expensive technical jargon. Words like suave-mannered, custom-finished, contour-conforming, mitt-back, inner-sole, backdip, midriff, swoosh, swash, curvaceous, slenderize and pet-smooth are flung about with evident full expectation that the reader will understand them at a glance. Here are a few sample sentences taken at random:

“A new Shimmer Sheen color that sets your hands and his head in a whirl.” “Bared and beautifully bosomy.” “Feathery-light Milliken Fleece to keep her kitten-snug!” “Others see you through a veil of sheer beauty, and they wonder why!” “An exclamation point of a dress that depends on fluid fabric for much of its drama.” “The miracle of figure flattery!” “Molds your bosom into proud feminine lines.” “Isn’t it wonderful to know that Corsets wash and wear and whittle you down… even though they weigh only four ounces!” “The distilled witchery of one woman who was forever desirable… forever beloved… Forever Amber.” And so on and so on and so on.

A fairly diligent search through the magazine reveals two discreet allusions to gray hair, but if there is anywhere a direct mention of fatness or middle-age I have not found it. Birth and death are not mentioned either: nor is work, except that a few recipes for breakfast dishes are given. The male sex enters directly or indirectly into perhaps one advertisement in twenty, and photographs of dogs or kittens appear here and there. In only two pictures, out of about three hundred, is a child represented.

On the front cover there is a colored photograph of the usual elegant female, standing on a chair while a gray-haired, spectacled, crushed-looking man in shirtsleeves kneels at her feet, doing something to the edge of her skirt. If one looks closely one finds that actually he is about to take a measurement with a yardstick. But to a casual glance he looks as though he were kissing the hem of the woman’s garment — not a bad symbolical picture of American civilization, or at least of one important side of it.

George Orwell, retitled as “George Orwell Wrote One of the Most Incensed Takedowns of American Fashion Magazines”, The New Republic, 1946-12-02.

January 4, 2016

QotD: The Science Czar

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

I have noticed a tendency of mine to reply to arguments with “Well yeah, that would work for the X Czar, but there’s no such thing.”

For example, take the problems with the scientific community, which my friends in Berkeley often discuss. There’s lots of publication bias, statistics are done in a confusing and misleading way out of sheer inertia, and replications often happen very late or not at all. And sometimes someone will say something like “I can’t believe people are too dumb to fix Science. All we would have to do is require early registration of studies to avoid publication bias, turn this new and powerful statistical technique into the new standard, and accord higher status to scientists who do replication experiments. It would be really simple and it would vastly increase scientific progress. I must just be smarter than all existing scientists, since I’m able to think of this and they aren’t.”

And I answer “Well, yeah, that would work for the Science Czar. He could just make a Science Decree that everyone has to use the right statistics, and make another Science Decree that everyone must accord replications higher status. And since we all follow the Science Czar’s Science Decrees, it would all work perfectly!”

Why exactly am I being so sarcastic? Because things that work from a czar’s-eye view don’t work from within the system. No individual scientist has an incentive to unilaterally switch to the new statistical technique for her own research, since it would make her research less likely to produce earth-shattering results and since it would just confuse all the other scientists. They just have an incentive to want everybody else to do it, at which point they would follow along.

Likewise, no journal has the incentive to unilaterally demand early registration, since that just means everyone who forgot to early register their studies would switch to their competitors’ journals.

And since the system is only made of individual scientists and individual journals, no one is ever going to switch and science will stay exactly as it is.

Scott Alexander, “Reactionary Philosophy In An Enormous, Planet-Sized Nutshell”, Slate Star Codex, 2013-03-03.

November 20, 2015

QotD: Rolling Stone

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

Rolling Stone morphed into AARP Magazine so slowly, I hardly even noticed.

Ed Driscoll, “Plutocrat Millionaires Insult Military Veterans”, PJ Media, 2014-11-14.

November 12, 2015

Small claims court case with wider copyright implications

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Media, Wine — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Michael Geist discusses a recent small claims court judgement:

… the case involved the president of the Canadian Vintners Association (CVA), who received an email from Blacklock’s Reporter, an Ottawa-based political publication, advising that he was quoted in an article discussing a recent appearance before a House of Commons committee. The man did not subscribe to the publication, which places its content behind a paywall, so he contacted a member of the association who was a subscriber and asked if he could see a copy of the article. When Blacklock’s Reporter learned that he had received a copy from the subscriber, it demanded that he pay for a full subscription or face a copyright infringement lawsuit.

While this does not sound like a copyright case, the Ottawa court ruled that the man had violated Canada’s copyright rules by breaching the publication’s paywall (an act it described as a circumvention of a digital lock) and awarded $11,470 in damages plus an additional $2,000 in punitive damages.

The Canadian digital lock rules were enacted in 2012 under pressure from the United States, which wanted Canada to mirror its safeguards on e-books, DVDs, and other digital content. Those rules typically cover circumvention of popular consumer products, but rarely involve website access. In fact, there are several U.S. cases that have concluded that sharing a valid username and password combination with someone else does not constitute circumvention for the purposes of the law.

Yet in the Blacklock’s Reporter case, the president of the CVA did not even try to access the publication’s site with someone else’s credentials. Indeed, it is difficult to see how asking for a copy of a lawfully obtained article could possibly be considered circumvention of a digital lock. Moreover, there is also a strong argument based on several Supreme Court of Canada decisions that providing the copy qualifies as fair dealing under Canadian copyright law.

As a small claims court ruling, the case has no value as precedent (and could still be appealed). However, it places the spotlight on the restrictive digital lock rules that have already caused a chilling effect within Canadian educational institutions, which often fear that circumvention for legitimate, educational purposes may violate the law.

October 18, 2015

Playboy‘s biggest market today

Filed under: Business, China, Media — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Colby Cosh on why the Playboy brand is so attractive to the Chinese market:

Playboy was once an important cultural force; and what are Chinese men and women buying when they buy jewelry or clothing with the Playboy bunny on it? They are buying a small stake in an anti-puritan, worldly vision of the good life. Hugh Hefner’s “Playboy philosophy,” which he used to set out in windy essays sandwiched between the pictorials, is still considered good for a laugh decades later. But every magazine does express a philosophy, whether or not it chooses to yammer on about doing so, and Playboy’s epicureanism was a powerful one. It practically amounted to a guarantee to the customer: if you bought Playboy, the only uplift you were at risk of encountering would involve lingerie, not morality.

When you were done being titillated by an issue of the magazine, the ads and the articles about stereos and cigars and cocktails were there to linger as an aftertaste, making a subtle but sharp imprint on one’s endocrine system. It is hard for us to appreciate what this kind of thing means in a strongly collectivist, egalitarian society. People who visited the old Soviet bloc, and who saw what blue jeans or heavy-metal cassettes did to the brains of the people there, will have some idea. It is an enigma of 20th-century history: stuff that seems trivial to a Western consumer somehow encodes a message of choice and private aspiration that can never be expressed as powerfully as an explicit proposition.

October 14, 2015

Playboy finally reads the writing on the virtual wall

Filed under: Business, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

Nick Gillespie says “thanks for the mammaries” to Playboy magazine:

Well, it was either really changing things up or going bankrupt for Playboy, the men’s mag that published its first issue way, way back in 1953.

Inside the pages of that first issue, Marilyn Monroe was seen posing with, as she once put it, “nothing on but the radio.” Its circulation peaked at 5.6 million in the mid-1970s and now comes in at maybe 800,000 nowadays. That’s still an enviable number but like a lot of other, older mags (think Time, Newsweek), Playboy is a shadow of its former self in every possible way: financially, journalistically, culturally.

The New York Times reports and the Interwebz weeps that come next March, the nudes are out as part of a thorough redesign of one of the most influential mags in American history. Yes, Playboy helped to mainstream nudity and, more important, start frank conversations about sex in a time of button-down sensibilities. Yes, Playboy photoshopped the hell out of its pneumatic centerfolds and playmates, launching innumerable careers and an even-higher number of eating disorders among women and unrealistic expectations among men.

In many ways a very progressive outlet, Playboy also showcased some of the worst, most-retrograde elements of the patriarchy that slowly and surely lost its power over the 20th century. For all of the nipples and the semi-arty beaver shots, it was far slower than National Geographic to showcase the full range of human diversity when it came to naked ladies, unless your idea of diversity only ranged from the girls of the SEC to the girls of Big Ten. It published a ton of great and famous authors with a capital A and set the standard in post-war America for the Big Interview, sitting down with everyone from Ayn Rand to Timothy Leary to William Shockley to Jimmy Carter (who notoriously admitted lusting “in his heart”) for incredibly extensive and intensive Q&As that simply (and sadly) don’t gone anymore.

The joke was that you’d only read Playboy for the articles … yet the articles were actually quite good for the most part. By the time I saw my first issue of Playboy (October 1972, if I remember correctly [edit: off by a year … it was 1971]), it was already being seen as stodgy and “conservative” compared to more explicit and raunchier competitors.

Update: Megan McArdle contrasts the Playboy Man with his modern-day “successor”, the Pick-Up Artist:

In its heyday among the mod generation, the writing essentially peddled the fantasy of being a more sedentary James Bond: a sophisticated and urbane man about town, drowning in lady friends. The New York Times quotes Hefner’s first editor’s letter, which sketches the demographic he envisioned: “If you’re a man between the ages of 18 and 80, Playboy is meant for you. … We enjoy mixing up cocktails and an hors d’oeuvre or two, putting a little mood music on the phonograph, and inviting in a female acquaintance for a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex. …”

Playboy Man was, in short, a connoisseur of the upper-middlebrow au courant, at least enough to carry on an hour or so of really good cocktail party conversation. He liked to give cocktail parties, too, though they might have only one guest. His hi-fi system was the latest, his little black book crammed with the names of willing and attractive females. He was, we might note, the type of person who really doesn’t have a lot of spare time to spend looking at Playboy centerfolds.

[…]

It’s interesting to contrast Playboy Man with the modern incarnation that has taken his place: the Pickup Artist. Both present versions of the same message: follow this code, and you’ll be successful with women. (For some values of the word “successful,” anyway.) But Playboy Man was supposed to achieve this through mastering a certain body of “cool” knowledge, through becoming the sort of person who might impress even those he does not intend to woo. The Playboy fantasy was of being the kind of gent who naturally attracts women because he’s so with it, while the Pickup Artist fantasy is more like a teenager playing a video game: You press the buttons in the right sequence and — yes! — your character unlocks the next level.

Sexual conquest has, in other words, moved down market, as pornography did, first with the introduction of raunchier Playboy competitors, and then in the move to the Internet, where sheer volume trumps production values. Playboy spoke to the moment between two sexual moralities: the age when sex was forbidden, and the age when sex became ubiquitous. In the moment between, the sight of men openly pursuing lots of sex had a sort of glamour, and a status, that it has now entirely lost. I don’t say that the pursuit has stopped. But the charmingly dangerous character of the “wolf” has now been supplanted by an assortment of derisive terms that I cannot repeat here in a family-friendly column. For an adult man to admit that he spends a lot of time thinking about how to score is as gauche now as it was in 1900, though for entirely different reasons.

August 29, 2015

We need a new publication called The Journal of Successfully Reproduced Results

Filed under: Media, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

We depend on scientific studies to provide us with valid information on so many different aspects of life … it’d be nice to know that the results of those studies actually hold up to scrutiny:

One of the bedrock assumptions of science is that for a study’s results to be valid, other researchers should be able to reproduce the study and reach the same conclusions. The ability to successfully reproduce a study and find the same results is, as much as anything, how we know that its findings are true, rather than a one-off result.

This seems obvious, but in practice, a lot more work goes into original studies designed to create interesting conclusions than into the rather less interesting work of reproducing studies that have already been done to see whether their results hold up.

Everyone wants to be part of the effort to identify new and interesting results, not the more mundane (and yet potentially career-endangering) work of reproducing the results of older studies:

Why is psychology research (and, it seems likely, social science research generally) so stuffed with dubious results? Let me suggest three likely reasons:

A bias towards research that is not only new but interesting: An interesting, counterintuitive finding that appears to come from good, solid scientific investigation gets a researcher more media coverage, more attention, more fame both inside and outside of the field. A boring and obvious result, or no result, on the other hand, even if investigated honestly and rigorously, usually does little for a researcher’s reputation. The career path for academic researchers, especially in social science, is paved with interesting but hard to replicate findings. (In a clever way, the Reproducibility Project gets around this issue by coming up with the really interesting result that lots of psychology studies have problems.)

An institutional bias against checking the work of others: This is the flipside of the first factor: Senior social science researchers often actively warn their younger colleagues — who are in many cases the best positioned to check older work—against investigating the work of established members of the field. As one psychology professor from the University of Southern California grouses to the Times, “There’s no doubt replication is important, but it’s often just an attack, a vigilante exercise.”

[…]

Small, unrepresentative sample sizes: In general, social science experiments tend to work with fairly small sample sizes — often just a few dozen people who are meant to stand in for everyone else. Researchers often have a hard time putting together truly representative samples, so they work with subjects they can access, which in a lot of cases means college students.

A couple of years ago, I linked to a story about the problem of using western university students as the default source of your statistical sample for psychological and sociological studies:

A notion that’s popped up several times in the last couple of months is that the easy access to willing test subjects (university students) introduces a strong bias to a lot of the tests, yet until recently the majority of studies disregarded the possibility that their test results were unrepresentative of the general population.

August 14, 2015

QotD: When “the science” shows what you want it to show

Filed under: Media, Quotations, Science — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

To see what I mean, consider the recent tradition of psychology articles showing that conservatives are authoritarian while liberals are not. Jeremy Frimer, who runs the Moral Psychology Lab at the University of Winnipeg, realized that who you asked those questions about might matter — did conservatives defer to the military because they were authoritarians or because the military is considered a “conservative” institution? And, lo and behold, when he asked similar questions about, say, environmentalists, the liberals were the authoritarians.

It also matters because social psychology, and social science more generally, has a replication problem, which was recently covered in a very good article at Slate. Take the infamous “paradox of choice” study that found that offering a few kinds of jam samples at a supermarket was more likely to result in a purchase than offering dozens of samples. A team of researchers that tried to replicate this — and other famous experiments — completely failed. When they did a survey of the literature, they found that the array of choices generally had no important effect either way. The replication problem is bad enough in one subfield of social psychology that Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote an open letter to its practitioners, urging them to institute tougher replication protocols before their field implodes. A recent issue of Social Psychology was devoted to trying to replicate famous studies in the discipline; more than a third failed replication.

Let me pause here to say something important: Though I mentioned bias above, I’m not suggesting in any way that the replication problems mostly happen because social scientists are in on a conspiracy against conservatives to do bad research or to make stuff up. The replication problems mostly happen because, as the Slate article notes, journals are biased toward publishing positive and novel results, not “there was no relationship, which is exactly what you’d expect.” So readers see the one paper showing that something interesting happened, not the (possibly many more) teams that got muddy data showing no particular effect. If you do enough studies on enough small groups, you will occasionally get an effect just by random chance. But because those are the only studies that get published, it seems like “science has proved …” whatever those papers are about.

Megan McArdle, “The Truth About Truthiness”, Bloomberg View, 2014-09-08.

August 1, 2015

QotD: How to write a headline about a “scientific” result

Filed under: Humour, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

… let’s not forget the Heads We Win Tails You Lose rule of the in-group affirmations which we loosely call “social sciences.”

Suppose you run a test to distinguish whether women, or men, are more willing to hire family — that is, engage in nepotism — when filling a job.

If it turns out that men are more likely to engage in nepotistic practices, the study will be titled:

Women More Ethical in Business Dealings Than Men

On the other hand, if it turns out that women are more likely to approve of nepotism, whereas men are less likely, the study will have the title:

Women More Caring Towards Family Members; Men Care Only About Filthy Careerism & the Welfare of Total Strangers Who Might Be Rapists

Ace, “Shock: Social Scientists Determine Conservatives Are Stupid”, Ace of Spades HQ, 2014-09-09.

July 8, 2015

Political correctness reaches even the railfan community

Filed under: Media, Politics, Railways — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In his blog at Trains magazine, Fred Frailey explains why he’s not a fan of the attempt to shut down an advertiser’s access to the magazine for personal expressions of the advertiser that offended certain ultra-sensitive readers:

Jack runs a company that sells supplies to competitive swimmers. He advertises in Jill’s magazine, which is devoted to competitive swimming. And Bart is a competitive swimmer. On Facebook one day, Jack says that Bart is a alcohol-swilling has-been of a swimmer. Bill and Bob are admirers of Bart and subscribers to Jill’s magazine. They are angered by Jack’s remark and pressure Jill not to accept Jack’s advertising.

Jill asks, what in the dickens do I have to do with this? I didn’t start this fight, none of it occurred on the pages of my magazine, and Jack meets all our advertising standards. Am I to police everything that every advertiser says anywhere? Impossible, she says, and tells Bill and Bob no, she has no reason to ban Jack’s ads. But Bill and Bob respond, Bart is our hero and the hero of many if not most subscribers to the magazine. It’s a smart business decision to ban Jack. They cancel their subs to Jill’s magazine, naturally, thinking this will really, really hurt Jack (let’s all roll our eyes).

I have a name for this. It’s political correctness, and it is becoming the death of independent thought. The tempest involving a small advertiser in Trains Magazine over a comment he made on social media after the derailment of Amtrak train 188 has upset some readers of Trains, who have cancelled subscriptions. To be specific, the businessman ridiculed 188’s engineer, calling him a foamer.

[…]

To go back to my example — which I think fairly describes the dispute involving Trains Magazine as an uninvolved bystander — Bill and Bob’s normal recourse would be not to patronize Jack’s company. Certainly this is their right. But Bill and Bob don’t patronize Jack’s company to start with, and it is unlikely that boycotting Jack’s business would have much if any effect. So they twist the arm of Jill, a third party who has no dog in this hunt. It’s not her fight. She probably has no opinion of Bart one way or the other and if she did, it’s still a barroom brawl she isn’t interested in entering. And even if her editor wants to stake out a position on one side or the other on the editorial pages, what does this have to do with access to her magazine by an advertiser?

So now comes the insidious entrance of political correctness. On this blog this past weekend, a poster said to me in a comment: “I’m at a loss trying to figure out how dropping an advertiser that insults many of the magazine’s contributors and readers is somehow equal to stifling dialogue and free speech? Seems like a stretch.” I read that and thought to myself, this is politically correct thinking in full flower. Let me paraphrase the contributor: Some of us don’t like what was said, and therefore this offender must be thrown out, ostracized, punished, silenced. And it is fair to use any means at hand, including bringing outsiders into the fray.

June 14, 2015

More on that Reason grand jury subpoena

Filed under: Law, Liberty, Media, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 04:00

At the Foundation for Economic Education, Ryan Radia discusses the free-speech-quashing subpoena issued by a federal prosecutor in New York state:

In late May, Judge Katherine Forrest, who sits on the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, sentenced Ulbricht to life in prison. This sentence was met with mixed reactions, with many commentators criticizing Judge Forrest for handing down what they perceived as an exceedingly harsh sentence.

A few Reason users, some of whom may have followed Reason’s extensive coverage of the fascinating trial, apparently found Ulbricht’s sentence especially infuriating.

One commenter argued that “judges like these … should be taken out back and shot.” Another user, purporting to correct the preceding comment, wrote that “it’s judges like these that will be taken out back and shot.” A follow-up comment suggested the use of a “wood chipper,” so as not to “waste ammunition.” And a user expressed hope that “there is a special place in hell reserved for that horrible woman.”

Within hours, the office of Preet Bharara, the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, sent Reason a subpoena for these commenters’ identifying information “in connection with an official criminal investigation of a suspected felony being conducted by a federal grand jury.”

This doesn’t mean a grand jury actually asked about the commenters; instead, in federal criminal investigations, it’s typically up to the US Attorney to decide when to issue a subpoena “on behalf” of a grand jury.

[…]

Even if this subpoena is valid under current law — more on that angle in a bit — the government made a serious mistake in seeking to force Reason to hand over information that could uncover the six commenters’ identities.

Unless the Department of Justice is investigating a credible threat to Judge Forrest with some plausible connection to the Reason comments at issue, this subpoena will serve only to chill hyperbolic — but nonetheless protected — political speech by anonymous Internet commenters.

June 4, 2015

When did “scientific literature” transmogrify into bad science fiction?

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Media, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 03:00

In The Lancet, Richard Horton discusses the problems of scientific journalism:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue.
Afflicted by studies with small sample sizes, tiny effects, invalid exploratory analyses, and flagrant conflicts of interest, together with an obsession for pursuing fashionable trends of dubious importance, science has taken a turn towards darkness. As one participant put it, “poor methods get results”. The Academy of Medical Sciences, Medical Research Council, and Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council have now put their reputational weight behind an investigation into these questionable research practices. The apparent endemicity of bad research behaviour is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world. Or they retrofit hypotheses to fit their data. Journal editors deserve their fair share of criticism too. We aid and abet the worst behaviours. Our acquiescence to the impact factor fuels an unhealthy competition to win a place in a select few journals. Our love of “significance” pollutes the literature with many a statistical fairy-tale. We reject important confirmations. Journals are not the only miscreants. Universities are in a perpetual struggle for money and talent, endpoints that foster reductive metrics, such as high-impact publication. National assessment procedures, such as the Research Excellence Framework, incentivise bad practices. And individual scientists, including their most senior leaders, do little to alter a research culture that occasionally veers close to misconduct.

April 3, 2015

QotD: The long decline of Rolling Stone

Filed under: Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 01:00

The gap between Americans raised before World War II and after was huge in a way that’s difficult to recall for those of us who came of age after the ’60s. Greatest Generation parents who might have grown up without on-demand indoor plumbing and survived the Depression and fighting in Europe, the Pacific, North Africa, and Korea came from a different planet than the one on which they raised their kids. To their credit, they bequeathed to the baby boomers a world that was still full of major problems but one that was much richer and full of opportunities. And to their credit, the boomers (of which I’m a very late example, having been born in 1963) readily went about using new opportunities and freedoms (expressive, sexual, educational, economic) to build the world they wanted to live in.

In the late ’60s and a good chunk of the ’70s, youth-oriented pop music was central to that project. Whatever you might think of the Beatles’ music, their very existence — and their constant self-recreations — made everything seem possible. They were far from alone as pop music maguses, too.

Simply by talking with major pop figures, Rolling Stone could be a vital and compelling magazine because it served as something like a boomer conversation pit. Over time, however, music stopped playing the same sort of vital role in generational conversations — don’t get me wrong, it’s still a part of it all. But as the mainstream in every area of life splintered and recombined into a million different subspecies, no single form of cultural expression matters so much to so many people anymore.

That’s a good thing for the culture and the country (and the planet, really), but Rolling Stone has been looking for a replacement core identity for decades now. The magazine that once published New Journalism masterpieces about David Cassidy and stardom, Patty Hearst’s rescuers, and “Charlie Simpson’s Apocalypse” had trouble figuring out how to deal with a world in which pop and movie stars were less interesting than ever (and more disciplined in terms of talking with the press) and in which men and women of good faith might actually disagree over complicated aesthetic and ideological matters. There has been a lot of good writing and reporting over the years, but there’s no question, I think, that the magazine is chasing trends and insights rather than creating them.

[…]

In a world in which pop culture — especially youth-oriented pop culture — allows a thousand flowers to bloom in a way that was unimaginable even 40 years ago, Rolling Stone can no longer get by simply by talking with Patti Smith or John Lennon or Bob Dylan for 25,000 words at a time. It might have reinvented itself as a clubhouse where people who love music or movies or whatever could get together to argue over politics, economics, and policy. That could indeed be interesting, especially in a world where large chunks of young Americans are going right, left, and especially libertarian. Just as there is no longer one dominant mode of music, there is no longer one dominant mode of politics.

But the people at the helm of Rolling Stone cannot seemingly even acknowledge that anyone who might disagree with them on, say, the effects of minimum wage laws on the poor, is worth a second thought. All they can do, out of a sense of liberal guilt, is publish radical calls to arm that they must know are ridiculous. Sadly, a magazine that was once required reading for anyone who wanted to know what the younger generation cared about is now a pedantic, insecure, and ultimately ineffective tool of Democratic Party groupthink.

Nick Gillespie, Rolling Stone‘s Sad ‘5 Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For'”, Hit and Run, 2014-01-04

April 2, 2015

The new editor of The Walrus bows in

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Politics, USA — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 03:00

Jonathan Kay, formerly of the National Post, is now the editor-in-chief of The Walrus. Here’s the start of his first editorial for the magazine:

“Any slighting reference to Canada is bound to produce a flurry of anguished letters, most of them attached to manuscripts,” Michael Kinsley wrote in The New Republic three decades ago. “On the other hand, so is any favorable reference to Canada, so it would be futile to add at this point that I think it’s a lovely country and we’re darn lucky to have it next door, especially considering the alternatives. Yet Canada is, for all its acknowledged merits, a nation of assistant professors, each armed with articles designed to ‘dispel misunderstanding.’ These literary missiles are aimed at the American media, ready to be fired at the slightest provocation.”

Any Canadian past the age of thirty will recognize the whiny writing that Kinsley aptly skewered: until recently, our relationship with the United States was the great neurotic obsession of our intellectual life. This neurosis didn’t just produce insecurity; it also produced bad writing.

In the domain of foreign policy, especially, virtually every debate — missile defence, Cuba, Afghanistan, Iraq, terrorism, peacekeeping — was brought back to the question of whether we were doing enough to distinguish ourselves from the southern hegemon. To describe our place in the world in a way that made us feel morally superior, we became reliant on a canonical set of clichés — honest broker, human security, global citizenship, soft power. The dreariness of these tropes was unavoidable, because the approved form of argumentation among all those assistant professors was to string old ideas together in new ways.

[…]

This attitude is gone — or at least very much on the wane. Whatever you may think about the way Stephen Harper has changed Canada, it is undeniable that we have become a richer, more interesting, and less insecure country than we were just a decade ago. I’ve lost count of the number of international surveys that Canada (and Toronto, its largest city) now tops. Ambitious Canadians in every field have better reasons to stick around than they did even a few years ago.

And all those assistant professors whom Michael Kinsley disparaged have become less whiny: having shed our anxieties about our relationship with the US, Canadian intellectuals now draft their impassioned manifestos in a country that is important and interesting in its own right.

Needless to say, this is good news for The Walrus, a magazine that explores Canada and its place in the world. Never in my lifetime has it been a better time to write — and read — about this wonderful country.

February 10, 2015

Smug Torontonians preen themselves over another meaningless survey

Filed under: Cancon, Media — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Richard Anderson supplies the appropriate level of disdain:

It’s always nice when a big important magazine notices Canada. It’s also a big important British magazine. Even nowadays it’s extra special when mother says we’ve done so very well for ourselves. Did we mention the solarium we’re having installed? The Americans don’t have a solarium. Just thought we’d mention that. We got a great deal with the contractor. Excellent references.

Torontonians are known through out our fair dominion for two things: Having a gigantic tower that is no longer the most gigantic in the world and being incredibly smug. The original logo for Toronto actually featured a very smug looking beaver carefully ignoring the rest of Canada. If you paid close attention it was obvious the beaver was looking at New York but in a very nonchalant sort of way.

I hate it when The Economist or the OECD or UN or the OAS or whoever the hell puts out these surveys. Like most rankings the whole thing is a bit of numerical legerdemain. A recurring example of how the easiest way to bullshit your way through life is to use numbers. In what real common sense way is Toronto better than Sydney? Did you talk to someone who has lived in both cities?

Didn’t bloody think so. That would be journalism.

As a native Torontonian I would like to ask the editors of The Economist, those non-byline using smug bastards, why they think Toronto is so wonderful? Yes I know you visited here one summer for a conference. You strolled down Bloor Street and bought something at the Roots Store or Holts. It was so terribly clean and the homeless people were so very polite. Have you lived here? Would you ever in your right mind move from Chelsea to the Annex? Exactly. You’d prefer to be cramped and gouged in London than less cramped and less gouged in Toronto. Why? Because it’s friggin’ London! The potholes are older and more historic than the whole of Toronto.

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