By Scott Feschuk - Saturday, May 11, 2013 - 0 Comments
Have you heard about Google Glass? ARE YOU EXCITED?? Soon we will have the ability to purchase this revolutionary product that will give us the same features we already have on our phones but without all the hassle of needing to glance slightly downward.
Glass has been described by some as a “hands-free, voice-activated, augmented-reality headset”—and by me as a “dork monocle.” What’s important is this: Google wants you to want one. The company has been hyping Glass for months. And it’s sold a limited number of prototypes to people it refers to as “Glass Explorers” because that doesn’t sound nerdy at all.
By Barbara Amiel - Tuesday, May 14, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Barbara Amiel on what she would say to the Class of 2013
’Tis the season of commencement speeches, well convocations if you’re Canadian, and days of hoary platitudes are upon us. Will you be true to yourself and “live your life with integrity” (Ellen DeGeneres, Tulane, 2009)? “Have the courage to follow your heart” (Steve Jobs, 2005)? Do you realize that the most important thing is to “surround yourself by people who cherish you” (Oprah forever) and that we are now in a time of great technological advancement—as we have been since some grad discovered fire and then the wheel and the printing press.
Look, I know it’s easy to mock this stuff and I do realize that commencement speeches are not for students but parents who having paid a small fortune for offspring to study collective bargaining (Queen’s) need a wash of congratulation. Daughter Ashley has got her degree in conflict resolution which may help with any kids she has but frankly if it’s the UN she wants, a course in compensation of Third World public officials or mercenary studies would be more helpful.
My all-time favourite wasn’t, strictly speaking, a commencement address but Malcolm Muggeridge’s 1968 sermon to the University of Edinburgh’s students after he was elected rector. He longed to say something enlightening. But he had, as Ellen would understand, his integrity. Students, he said, you “are the ultimate beneficiaries under our welfare system . . . elite who will happily and audaciously carry the torch of progress into the glorious future.” There is nothing, he told them, that they could do in the spirit of rebellion or rejection of our run-down values with which he would not have some sympathy or some understanding.
By Paul Wells - Friday, May 10, 2013 at 8:44 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on a heritage committee study and the politicization of Canadian history
Sometimes Ottawa politics offers up a Rorschach moment. Something random happens and the various reactions tell a story. Last week the Commons heritage committee announced it would launch “a thorough and comprehensive review of significant aspects in Canadian history” that would extend lo unto the nation’s school classrooms. Your members of Parliament passed a resolution saying they would compare “standards and courses of study offered in primary and post-secondary institutions in each of the provinces and territories.”
This gave many observers frissons—of outrage or bold purpose, depending on their inclination. Education is, after all, a provincial responsibility under the Constitution. In Quebec, the government of Pauline Marois paused from its regular work of running the province’s economy into the ground so that assorted ministers could find microphones and declare they would never tolerate such an intrusion. In Toronto, National Post columnist Andrew Coyne congratulated the parliamentarians for abandoning at last the notion that we live in a federation where different levels of government play different roles.
Both the outrage and the kudos were premature. News of the committee’s decision broke on May 2. At their very next meeting, on May 6, the committee’s members voted unanimously to backtrack. There will be no federal study into provincial history curricula.
By Emma Teitel - Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 10:00 AM - 0 Comments
From forcing kisses on relatives to hand-holding, kids may be losing their liberties
You’ve all been there: unruly, unclean and narcissistic, yet for some reason, irresistible to everyone in your path. You are four years old at a family function. A stranger approaches. She looks and smells like leather. She has whiskers. She wants a kiss. You duck away, look to your parents for support. Not only do they ignore your calls for help, they are, in fact, aiding and abetting this sadistic ritual: “Give your auntie a kiss, sweetie,” they plead. “It will mean so much to her.” You abstain, they get stern and finally, defeated, you give in and let the whiskers brush your chin as the stranger plants a wet one on your tiny grimace.
Being forced to kiss and hug distant relatives—endure cheek-pinching from old people you’ve never met—is a universal annoyance, an age-old tradition most of us have experienced first-hand. But its days may be numbered. Support for a new parenting trend is on the rise, a trend defined not by the affection kids crave, but by the affection they detest. Irene van der Zande, founder of Kidpower International—a non-profit organization devoted to child safety (she founded Kidpower in 1985 after a man threatened to kidnap her children)—believes that forcing kids to show affection is potentially dangerous. “When we force children to submit to unwanted affection in order not to offend a relative, we teach them that their bodies do not really belong to them,” writes van der Zande, “because they have to push aside their own feelings about what feels right to them. This leads to children getting sexually abused, teen girls submitting to sexual behaviour and kids enduring bullying because everyone is having fun.” Shirin Purnell, a Virginia parenting blogger who subcribes to this belief—she wrote about it last week on her blog, On the Fence—believes that even suggesting to your child that a relative might enjoy a hug or kiss is “emotional manipulation.”
By Paul Wells - Friday, May 3, 2013 at 12:00 PM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells on why Tom Mulcair sounds a lot like Jean Charest
Turns out the leader of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is some guy named Tom Mulcair, and apparently his “New Democratic Party” has nearly three times as many MPs as Justin Trudeau’s Liberals. Who knew? You can read all about the NDP leader in the new Maclean’s ebook, Justin!: Justin Justin Trudeau Trudeau Trudeau. We’re sure there’s something about old what’s-his-name in there somewhere.
My press gallery colleagues were reminded of Mulcair’s existence this week when the NDP leader denounced the Supreme Court’s cursory investigation into its own behaviour 33 years ago. A new book by a Quebec historian, Frédéric Bastien, quotes archival documents from the United Kingdom to assert that two former Supremes, then-chief justice Bora Laskin and his colleague Willard Estey, discussed the Constitution’s repatriation with Canadian and British officials in 1980. Bastien sees this as proof of collusion across the wall that should separate judges from legislators, and therefore as proof that Canada’s Constitution is illegitimate. He notes that the paperwork he received from Canada’s government was heavily edited. More proof!
In reality, the top court’s patriation reference opinion did not say what Pierre Trudeau wanted it to say. If Laskin and Trudeau were conspiring, they were really bad at it. But details like that are not enough to shake off a dedicated conspiracy theorist.
By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Let’s stop worrying about the why, people. The cause of all ‘isms’ is the ‘ists’
“The root causes of terrorism is terrorists.”— Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre
Pierre Poilievre makes a good point: stopping terrorism is super easy. We don’t need to invest billions in intelligence and security. We don’t need to explore the societal and cultural influences that abet radicalization. We simply need to go to the hospital, hang around the maternity ward and wait to hear a doctor shout: “Congratulations—it’s a terrorist!” And that’s when we burst in and slap on the baby handcuffs. The world? SAFER.
There is such simplicity and clarity (but mostly simplicity) to this perspective. There is also terrible grammar but—as Poilievre would surely argue—the root causes of a poor education is educationists.
By Colby Cosh - Saturday, April 27, 2013 at 8:10 AM - 0 Comments
“Liberation therapy” for multiple sclerosis is dead; yet long will it live, not only in the hearts of desperate MS patients, but in their bank balances too. In 2009 an Italian physician named Paolo Zamboni issued a study claiming that MS sufferers had poor rates of blood outflow from their brains. He proposed a complex new etiological theory of MS on this basis, proclaiming the existence of a new syndrome: “chronic cerebrospinal venous insufficiency,” or CCSVI.
Zamboni’s study made bold, almost patently insupportable claims about differences between the blood vessels of MS sufferers and healthy persons. His theory of CCSVI seemed to contradict much that is known about MS and failed to account for obvious features like the midlife age of typical onset. The research got little attention outside Canada, a country hit hard by the global north-south gradient of MS rates. Inside Canada, it only took one round of zingy, insufficiently critical news stories by CTV and the Globe and Mail to make Zamboni a hero.
Hundreds of patients, perhaps thousands, have travelled the globe seeking venous angioplasty for MS symptoms, usually against doctors’ advice, and millions of dollars have been invested in CCSVI and “liberation therapy” surveillance after pressure was applied by shouting patients and opportunistic backbench politicians. But after years of empirical setbacks for the whole notion of CCSVI, it is all looking like money down the drain.
The first question to be answered about CCSVI ought to have been, “Is there actually any such thing?” Attempts to reproduce Zamboni’s results have met with mass consternation; researchers cannot even get to the point of determining whether CCSVI is treatable because they cannot detect it as promised. Radiological imaging does not seem to exhibit consistent relevant differences between MS sufferers and healthy patients, and Zamboni’s original criteria for a CCSVI diagnosis are hardly even coherent or well-specified enough for practical use.
The April issue of the Journal of Vascular and Interventional Radiology, for example, contains a report of a Texas study of 276 MS patients and 70 healthy controls: ultrasounds of their necks produced “findings consistent with CCSVI” in four per cent of the MS group—and in seven per cent of the non-MS group. Examples of results like this could be compounded ad nauseam: the Texas paper is not even the only negative CCSVI-Zamboni result in that issue of that journal.
What went wrong? For those seeking an answer, I would recommend a paper open-published in late February by the Journal of Cerebral Blood Flow & Metabolism. Conveniently, its title is: “What went wrong? The flawed concept of cerebrospinal venous insufficiency.” This paper is important because the doctors who wrote it are among the leaders in using ultrasound and other means to study normal venous blood flow. Zamboni depended on their research for background when he was trying to devise diagnostic criteria for CCSVI. If CCSVI were real, they might be expected to be the first to applaud.
They’re not applauding. The authors go point by point through Zamboni’s proposed criteria, showing how he repeatedly misinterpreted earlier literature on vein behaviour and confused abnormal blood flow events with harmless typical ones. They emphasize the basic implausibility of Zamboni’s theory and show that it conflicts with non-Zambonian findings on MS and venous drainage. And they criticize the “open-label” nature of early CCSVI studies and patient registries assembled on the fly for political reasons. The best-designed of these, the authors note, was probably one paid for by the government of Newfoundland; a brusque June 2012 press release announced no evidence of objective benefit, but no peer-reviewed publication of the results has followed.
The “What went wrong?” paper concludes unequivocally that “only a complete halt to [liberation] therapy seems sensible.” The story of CCSVI will not be over until the last frustrated Canadian pays the last Bulgarian or Bengali doctor to be “liberated” for the last time; but from a scientific standpoint, the proverbial fat lady is about halfway between the main performance and the encore. On web forums for MS patients, liberation therapy is already receding into the shadow world of I’ll-try-anything curatives, there to linger with cobra venom and upper-cervical chiropractic.
It would be nice to be able to ladle out guilt for this ignoble episode in medical history, but it is not clear that even Zamboni, whose wife has MS, did anything consciously wrong. On the other hand, the doctor is not likely to miss any meals because he messed up. A Canadian MS patient who forked over for repeated unnecessary angioplasties might.
For more Colby Cosh, visit his blog at macleans.ca/colbycosh
By Scott Feschuk - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 2:00 PM - 0 Comments
A Star Wars movie every year? Scott Feschuk imagines the synergies
Walt Disney Co., which paid $4 billion for George Lucas’s film company, has announced that, beginning in 2015, it will release a Star Wars movie every year—yes, every single year. Let’s look ahead:
2015: Although many are eagerly anticipating J.J. Abrams’ take on the series, some are apprehensive that he will introduce to the Star Wars universe the element of time travel—which would enable a middle-aged Luke Skywalker to encounter his younger self, his older self and, quite possibly, a very confused Spock. On the other hand, it could also bring together seven Yodas for the most backwards-talking, ass-kicking climax in film history. Let’s agree to let the time-travel thing slide so long as Abrams uses the device to have two incarnations of Jar Jar Binks beat each other to death.
2018: The franchise is entrusted to other directors, beginning with Michael Bay—who opens his film in flashback with a 14-minute shot of a young Princess Leia (Megan Fox), clad in cut-off jeans, leaning over a landspeeder to tinker with its engine. On the radio we hear the sounds of Alderaan’s best Aerosmith cover band. Continue…
By Paul Wells - Friday, April 26, 2013 at 11:00 AM - 0 Comments
If you want to be the calm at the eye of the storm, it helps to be calm. Justin Trudeau is figuring that part out.
On Monday, Trudeau’s (pause to count on fingers) ninth day as leader of the plucky underdog Liberal party, the wavy-maned MP for Papineau exited the House of Commons and parked in front of a scrum microphone in the Centre Block lobby. He was greeted by the customary mob of journalists badgering him for autographs. Just kidding! No, we had Tough Questions for him.
What did he make of his latest exchange with the Prime Minister, which came after ﬁve questions from the NDP, a party the scribes are basically ignoring this month? “I asked a substantive question,” Trudeau said, once, twice, three times. But Stephen Harper preferred to send mockery in return.
Surely this will be a theme of Trudeau’s spring: he would like to be considered more than a pretty face. He asks substantive questions. If Harper can’t give substantive answers, or won’t, Trudeau hints, well then we’ll know who’s low on substantivity, won’t we? Substantivosity. Substantiveness. Substance? Never mind. We’ll know what needs knowing.
By Barbara Amiel - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 2:30 PM - 0 Comments
Barbara Amiel on literary greats and everyday heroes
There’s nothing original I can tell you about the events in Boston apart from a few heart-stopping hours before my former husband, author George Jonas, heard that his blind wife, Maya, who was running in the marathon, was alive and uninjured. “I didn’t run my best time,” she said when she telephoned, which was just as well, since she was about eight minutes behind the explosion. Maya’s no-nonsense approach to adversity has been a standard to which I have tried to adhere but fall terribly short. She lost her only brother to suicide in her 20s, all her sight in her 30s, followed by breast cancer in her 40s and emerged to become a formidable marathon runner looking more beautiful than at any other point in her life. Surely such a vale of tears would be an excuse for full-scale alcoholism or fatty-foods addiction. One can’t envy her afflictions but I do envy the sang-froid and style with which she translates them into opportunities.
Maya would rank high on my list of “who do you admire?”—a type of question beloved by interviewers. Last Sunday’s New York Times grilled accomplished Pulitzer prize-winning journalist Anna Quindlen. “What are the best books you’ve read by female journalists?” she was asked, and “Who are your favourite journalists writing today?” She named four, including Laura Lippman and Julia Keller. Very respectable and very alive, although I don’t really think of Dorothy Parker, Nora Ephron, Clare Boothe Luce or even Simone de Beauvoir as dead white females, if you know what I mean. Quindlen’s favourite books included estrogen’s national anthem, Pride and Prejudice, and her favourite heroine was Elizabeth Bennet. Jane Austen is very high-quality early-19th-century chick lit and I turn to it unfailingly whenever I need a hit of elegant prose and easy pleasure. Actually, I also turn to Edith Wharton, who was herself a journalist during the First World War, although her Fighting France and A Son at the Front are not on Quindlen’s radar.
By macleans.ca - Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 10:37 AM - 0 Comments
Why we need to adjust our expectations
The current global war on terror seems unlike any war familiar to Canadians.
From revelations earlier this month that a pair of high school friends from London, Ont., died in a raid led by al-Qaeda on an Algerian gas plant, to last week’s bombing of the Boston Marathon, to this week’s arrest of Chiheb Esseghaier in Montreal and Raed Jaser in Toronto for allegedly plotting to derail a Toronto-to-New York Via Rail train—terrorism, it seems, is all around us.
It is becoming increasingly obvious that the clash between radical Islam and the West can never be won in the conventional sense of the word. As such, we may need to adjust our expectations of those charged with keeping us safe, and learn to appreciate notable victories—such as the dismantling of the Via train plot—as we lament high-profile defeats in the war on terror.
By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 4:40 PM - 0 Comments
Because the Conservatives are super-classy, they released a statement congratulating Justin Trudeau on winning the Liberal leadership. Here it is (for real) in its entirety:
“We congratulate Justin Trudeau on becoming Liberal leader.
“Stephen Harper has an Economic Action Plan that has created 900,000 new jobs since the recession, the best job creation record in the G7. He’s lowered taxes, such as the GST, and increased support for families with measures like the Universal Child Care Benefit.
“Justin Trudeau may have a famous last name, but in a time of global economic uncertainty, he doesn’t have the judgment or experience to be Prime Minister.”
By Emma Teitel - Thursday, April 18, 2013 at 10:50 AM - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel on the long, slow fade of dementia
When former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher died last week at the age of 87, public reaction was as divisive as her politics. Some mourned, some drank champagne. In Leeds, a man yelled into a megaphone before a crowd of revellers, “If you all hate Thatcher clap your hands!” They did.
I know very little about Thatcher, the prime minister. She resigned from her position a year after I was born. I can’t comment on her political legacy, and whether she saved Britain or ruined it—but I have a lot to say about her final years. What I know about Thatcher the person is that she had dementia, the blanket term for a host of debilitating memory-loss diseases (Alzheimer’s included). We don’t know how advanced her dementia was when she passed away last week, but if the disease had changed her as dramatically as her daughter Carol says it did, it’s very likely that the personality mourned and vilified by Britons this past week had in many ways already departed several years before.
Carol Thatcher writes in her 2008 book, A Swim-On Part in the Goldfish Bowl: A Memoir,that she started noticing her mother’s symptoms in the year 2000: she began to confuse the names of countries. She asked the same questions several times. And eventually, years later, she forgot again and again that her husband of more than 50 years, Denis, had died of cancer in 2003. “Sufferers look the exact same,” writes Carol Thatcher, “but beneath the familiar exterior something quite different is going on. They’re in another world and you cannot enter.”
By macleans.ca - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 7:29 PM - 0 Comments
Who is saying what in the wake of the Boston bombings
Who is saying what about the Boston bombings:
“Boston is not the biggest city in America; it is not the most politically powerful. But it has an inner determination and power that only the foolish ignore. Next year, at the 118th running of the Boston Marathon, I confidently predict there will be more runners and more supporters than ever before. The attackers, whoever they are must be incompetent. They picked on the wrong city.”
By Barbara Amiel - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 10:39 AM - 0 Comments
Barbara Amiel on a barrier-breaking outsider
On Nov. 22, 1990, three-term prime minister Margaret Thatcher announced her resignation. She had been knifed by a cabal of elites in her own party while attending a meeting in Paris. Finally, the Oxbridge-educated, upper-middle-class males, led by Michael Heseltine and Geoffrey Howe, had got rid of “that bloody woman” and after all their conspiring persuaded her she hadn’t enough support to win the annual leadership vote. Later that day in Parliament, the Labour Party called for a vote of no confidence and Thatcher, who naturally was staying as PM until the party chose a new leader, rose to reply. She wore one of her bright Tory blue suits with the two rows of pearls in place. Nothing in her voice indicated the heartbreak—of which she later spoke. Her speech was vintage Thatcher, calling down the seven plagues on the policies of the Labour Party. At the height of her speech, feisty Labour MP Dennis Skinner’s voice boomed from the Opposition benches with the mad integrity of a genuine working-class chap who couldn’t bear to see what the toffs had done to her: “You could wipe the floor with the lot of them, Margaret.” And the house erupted in applause.
She left politics in 1990 after 11 years as prime minister, and an entire generation has grown up since who probably cannot understand what all the fuss is about or how the rights they now enjoy are due to her. She inherited a country in 1979 that was known as the sick man of Europe suffering from “the British disease.” Strikes every day, streets lined with weeks of garbage and the dead left unburied. Income tax topped out at 98 per cent for unearned income, 86 per cent for top earners. (Do I hear sighs of envy from the NDP?) British tourists lucky enough to go on holidays abroad couldn’t take more than a few hundred dollars with them since the country had currency controls and was on audit by the International Monetary Fund. In all respects—except climate and size—Britain was the 1979 version of 2013’s Greece. Thatcher brought a semi-comatose country back to life by employing free-market economics together with her unshakable belief that people could do better for themselves than the government could do for them. She gave the world a template for economic success, and her daily encomiums on the virtue of liberty and refusal to knuckle in to dictatorships—whether Argentine or Soviet—was a textbook lesson on peace through strength.
By Paul Wells - Tuesday, April 16, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Paul Wells: Thatcher’s legacy will weigh heavy on Harper as he pays homage
What will be on Stephen Harper’s mind as he flies to London for Margaret Thatcher’s funeral? What will the champion of feints and defts, a man who edits his speeches to take out the memorable bits, be thinking as he approaches the valediction of an Iron Lady?
The Canadian conservative movement has more than a few household gods, as befits a large and diverse group. The summer before he became prime minister, Stephen Harper told me the most exciting item on his vacation agenda was a meeting with Australian prime minister John Howard. When Kory Teneycke was Harper’s communications director he had a 1984 Ronald Reagan “Morning in America” campaign poster decorating his office. Jason Kenney actually helped chase Preston Manning out of politics, but you should see the look of affection on his face when he watches the Reform party founder speak today.
But Margaret Thatcher is the Big Kahuna of Canadian conservatism, for reasons having as much to do with timing and culture as with her own considerable accomplishments. While she was Britain’s prime minister, Canada was led by Pierre Trudeau and Brian Mulroney, the provinces by the likes of Bill Davis and Robert Bourassa. A generation of Canadians grew up believing our own country’s politics was a sea of vanilla pudding. Only Maggie offered grit. She stared down the unions, counselled Reagan and watched, warily, as the Cold War ended. On our TVs every night, endless handwringing over Meech Lake, whatever the hell that was. And then the news from London, Maggie steadfast against the tide.
By macleans.ca - Monday, April 15, 2013 at 11:40 AM - 0 Comments
Tabatha Southey considers the place of the modern camel in history
“Moreover, we report that these deposits have yielded the first evidence of a High Arctic camel…Camels originated in North America and dispersed to Eurasia via the Bering Isthmus, an ephemeral land bridge linking Alaska and Russia. The results suggest that the evolutionary history of modern camels can be traced back to a lineage of giant camels that was well established in a forested Arctic.”
— Dr. Mike Buckley of University of Manchester in Nature Communications.
The mid-Pliocene Epoch was a warm period in the Earth’s history but the camels would still have endured temperatures well below freezing. Notably, the camels of Canada’s Ellesmere Island, were likely significantly woolier than modern camels. I was able to reach a small herd of camels near Giza, Egypt, for comment.
“Do you think my hair’s all right?” said Douglas, a camel. “I worry it’s thinning on top.” [Spit]
“I think it looks fine,” I said.
“Really?” he said. [Spit]
“Almost lustrous,” I said. “I’m just sort of surprised you’re answering me, I didn’t know your species could …”
“Talk? Yeah, well, of course we can talk,” said Clive, another camel. “You think we were going to talk to you assholes? I’ve been standing in the desert with a big hunk of fat on my back my entire life and now you people figure this ‘adapted for the High Arctic’ thing out?” [Spit]
“I have a relative with two humps,” said Mandy, a nearby camel, coming over effortfully. “Has major back trouble. Is still thirsty.” [Spit]
By Scott Feschuk - Monday, April 15, 2013 at 8:00 AM - 0 Comments
Scott Feschuk writes an open letter to his money
An open letter to my Money:
How are you? I miss you so much! You and I parted so abruptly during our recent jaunt to Las Vegas, I feel compelled to apologize for leaving you behind.
Before I get to that, a quick question: have you seen my self-respect? Or my self-control? Or those studded leather chaps I bought from Gucci while super-duper drunk on complimentary margaritas? I left Vegas without those, as well.
I’m still trying to piece together what went wrong, Money. Our trip began with such optimism. Remember how I withdrew you from the bank and counted you over and over? We shared an immediate connection. Together, we were as close as human and inanimate object could be, not including Kanye West and Kim Kardashian.
By Colby Cosh - Friday, April 12, 2013 at 10:45 AM - 0 Comments
It’s official: Ted Byﬁeld, Alberta’s legendary conservative media entrepreneur, has completed the latest in the series of audacious, contrarian, financially tenuous projects that has defined his life. In the early ’60s, the Old Man, as he likes to be called, dropped out of newspapering to help found a series of traditionalist Anglican private schools. In the early ’70s, he started to miss journalism the way old soldiers hanker for combat, so he founded the newsmagazine that would become Alberta Report, the notorious but inﬂuential voice of Western dissent and orthodox Christian values.
He spent much of the ’90s editing and compiling an enormous, popular, illustrated history of Alberta, with the idea of providing the province’s overlapping, restless demographic waves with a shared narrative spine, a structure of story within which even those who arrived last week can find a niche. (That’s assuming they can find the books.) And now he has applied those lessons to the most ambitious task of all: a 12-volume history of the Christian faith from the Pentecost to the present, covering everything from the Crusades to Calvinism to the Cathars.
The series bears Ted’s personal stamp, partly because, as with many of his projects, Ted came to find that every bit of editing and writing he did himself was one less bit he had to budget for someone else to do. But he has been careful not to make it too polemical or idiosyncratic. Himself a member of an Eastern Orthodox denomination nowadays—capital-O Orthodoxy being an attractive refuge for high-churchish intellectuals who cannot swallow the notion of a Pope—he took advice throughout the production of the series from Catholic and Protestant scholars. Offshoots of the faith, from the Jesuits to Jehovah’s Witnesses, get a fair but frank hearing, and the books are at times startlingly candid about issues like slavery (a “brutal business” upon which Jesus remained mysteriously silent) and the early American republic (chapter heading: “The America that won independence could not be considered Christian”).
By Emma Teitel - Saturday, March 30, 2013 at 7:00 PM - 0 Comments
Emma Teitel on TV’s modern censorship crusaders
Historically, the aim of television censorship has been pretty straightforward, if ultimately doomed: sex, or anything that made you think of having it, was supposed to be as unsexy as humanly possible when it was on TV. “Indecency regulations”—the kind that kept married characters sleeping in separate beds—arrived in the 1930s. In the 1950s, CBS famously cropped out Elvis Presley’s gyrating pelvis on the Ed Sullivan Show, and in 2004, the world saw Janet Jackson’s nipple for a fraction of a second, which, for the Federal Communications Commission in the United States, was one fraction too many (the FCC tried to fine CBS $550,000 for the infamous “nip slip,” but the United States Supreme Court threw out the charge last year). Sex persevered. A study by a U.S. non-profit in 2005 found that sexual content on TV had almost doubled since 1998. I wouldn’t be surprised if that number has quadrupled since. What’s more, censorship initiatives by socially conservative groups that would have certainly succeeded in the nipple-wary past are seldom successful today. Groups like the Parents Television Council, for example, and One Million Moms, consistently try—and fail—to get supposedly inappropriate content off the air: from gay romance on Fox’s Glee, to sacrilege on ABC’s GCB (Good Christian Bitches), some things just don’t shock like they used to. This is certainly one of the reasons networks have stopped trying to appease the traditionally squeamish—but it’s not the only one. They’ve also stopped because there’s a new squeamishness on the rise, one that’s concerned not with what TV portrays too much of, but rather, with what it doesn’t portray enough.
Take CBS: the network is no longer under fire for depicting too much sexuality, but for failing to depict the right kind. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) gave CBS a failing grade on its “network responsibility index” this year, for its apparent lack of sexual diversity; that is, not enough gay and transgendered characters. GLAAD puts out two reports annually, one rating the American networks on overall “LGBT impressions” and another that looks at LGBT characters in the TV season to come. Apparently, the reports work. Matt Kane, GLAAD’s associate director of entertainment media, says, “CBS responded, saying they would do better. We have worked with their diversity department in recent years and they seem to have been making a concerted effort to improve diversity on their network.” Kane says his group’s earlier efforts may have actually led to the production of the gay-themed TV show, Partners, although the comedy was cancelled almost immediately after it aired.
In a similar fashion, HBO’s Girls, arguably the most sexually explicit show on television right now, has also succumbed to public pressure over its lack of diversity. When the show first premiered, social media was rife with complaints that creator Lena Dunham’s omission of non-white characters was “unrealistic” and, some critics suggested, downright racist. Dunham told NPR that she took the criticism very seriously, which is why, presumably, she wrote a black character into the second season of Girls—an African-American Republican named Sandy, who lasted about as long as CBS’s Partners did. It turns out affirmative action and fiction don’t really mix. But the criticism didn’t stop at racial representation. Dunham’s current critics argue that there’s lack of “verbal consent” between sexual partners on Girls, as though the TV show were a public service announcement you’d watch in health class.
Paul Levinson, a media professor at Fordham University in New York and author of the book New New Media, doesn’t find any of this depressing. He’d prefer that audiences—not regulators—pester networks and TV writers. “It’s not as though the gatekeepers who decided what got on television in the past did a very good job, so I think it’s a very healthy thing that viewers have much more power over what gets into television than they ever had before,” he says.
It would be easy to agree with Levinson if we were just discussing the merits of something like Kickstarter—the website that allows users to fund artistic projects (the Veronica Mars movie, for example)—or any other medium that gives an audience freedom of choice. But we’re talking about the merits of an audience manipulating a piece of art so that it meets a certain ethical standard. And that doesn’t sound like power to me. It sounds like censorship.
The people at GLAAD and those who criticize Dunham do not likely see themselves as prudish or censorious. And they certainly don’t see themselves in league with the Parents Television Council or One Million Moms. But their crusade for inclusion is fundamentally no different than their opponents’ crusade for exclusion. Both groups believe that art, ﬁne or popular, must fulfill a moral obligation—that its purpose is not to portray the world as it is, but as it should be. Carried to the extreme, “moral” art like this is just another version of state-sponsored art, the kind you could have found in the Soviet Union yesterday, and Saudi Arabia today. Ironically, it violates the fundamental moral raison d’être behind art since the beginning of campfires: to hold up a mirror to nature. Worse, it violates the fundamental amoral one, which any TV watcher knows is even more important. It’s boring.
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By Scott Feschuk - Wednesday, March 27, 2013 at 3:10 PM - 0 Comments
“Our top story: we are awaiting the arrival of a couple first-class passengers!” the morning anchor on CBC News Network was saying. “We’ll take you to Pearson airport in Toronto when the pandas land!” In the meantime, please enjoy this bonanza of panda footage, edited for maximum adorability: Chewing! Frolicking! Sleepy-eyed falling over!
Upon sighting the FedEx plane carrying Er Shun and Da Mao—the two giant pandas we’re renting from China for the next 10 years—the anchor switched to her two-exclamation-mark voice: “We’ll be counting down to touchdown at Pearson, down to the minute!!”
On the screen, live from the airport: CBC’s on-location reporter. She was wearing panda puppets on her hands—just like they teach in journalism school. It’s a technique that dates back to Edward R. Murrow explaining developments in the Second World War using balloon animals.
By From the editor - Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
The United Nations Human Development Index is utterly irrelevant (and we’re not just saying that because of our recent showings)
Canadians with a penchant for lists will recall that in 1994 we began a record stint of seven straight years atop the United Nations Human Development Index. Meant to provide an international comparison of living standards, our dominance on this global leader board was seen as tangible proof Canada was the best country in the world. The annual report regularly garnered substantial media attention and sparked plenty of national braggadocio. Prime minister Jean Chrétien, in particular, made it a frequent talking point.
No longer. We haven’t topped the rankings since 2000. Current leader Norway now boasts more first-place finishes than we do. (Although our Nordic friends haven’t yet won seven in a row.) In fact this year marks the first time Canada has failed to place in the top 10. The most recent edition, released last week, has us at a humbling 11th—a whisker above South Korea. Ireland beat us.
Making matters worse, the UN has changed some of the components of its index and recalculated past results. Many of our old top performances have thus been erased from the record books. It should therefore come as no surprise then, that our current status has received scant media attention and no political boasts. Should we consider our disappointing result a crisis, a call to action or at least a blow to our national pride?
By Barbara Amiel - Saturday, March 23, 2013 at 8:00 PM - 0 Comments
Barbara Amiel on an anything-goes sexual society
The rape convictions last Sunday of two teenagers in Steubenville, Ohio, the firing of CBC guest commentator professor Tom Flanagan for his comments on child pornography and the alleged grope of publisher and former Toronto mayoralty candidate Sarah Thomson’s bottom by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford share one thing. They are topics any sensible commentator must preface with ardent assurances that nothing with the possible exception of matricide could revolt more, and only abhorrence flourishes in the breast of the commentator who now feels compelled to address these matters. You have to say that or your licence as a pundit gets withdrawn amid truly vicious attacks.
In Steubenville, a bunch of high school teenagers got drunk at house parties and one of the girls ended up sans her clothes, of which there were not many to begin with, and no memory of how she got that way. This is a party ending that reminds me of my days living in Whitney Hall residence at the University of Toronto in the early ’60s, kitty-corner to the Zetes fraternity house, which specialized in drunken binges and the noisy smashing of bottles all weekend long. The girls wore more clothes, flip flops had not been popularized and, crucially, no such thing as cellphones and social media existed. But the end result looked much the same from my third-floor window.
The Steubenville boys behaved like many drunken 16-year-old males before them when faced with a 16-year-old female drunk as a skunk herself; in other words, they behaved appallingly. Next day, the girl couldn’t remember a thing except that she didn’t have sex as we once understood it. Teenage boys, often horrid beings, texted boastful messages about how “dead” the girl had been and one sent out cellphone photos of her naked. Three days later, the girl found herself the star of a particularly grubby online gossip session going viral.
By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, March 21, 2013 at 10:30 AM - 0 Comments
Because of all the complex terminology, reading about this week’s federal budget sure can be taxing. (Ladies and gentlemen: wordplay!) Lucky for you, I’ve spent the past several years compiling and refining a helpful guide that translates all that wonky budget lingo.
Austerity During tough economic times, the federal government reduces the amount it spends, except in areas that reflect vital public trusts like health care and snowmobiles.
Balance of Payments The formal term for rushing out to buy a new pair of shoes after discovering your husband dropped $700 on a flat-screen TV.
Benchmark Bond The little-known brother of the famous spy, he was killed in a tragic securitization mishap.
By Pierre Poilievre - Monday, March 18, 2013 at 2:21 PM - 0 Comments
MP Pierre Poilievre on cash awards and innovation
It is easy to turn public money into research. But the question should be, “How do we turn research into results?” Who better to ask than Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and Google co-founder, Sergey Brin? They invented and popularized technologies that serve billions of people and have created mind-boggling wealth.
Last month, Zuckerberg and Brin inaugurated the “Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences” with the purpose of recognizing “excellence in research aimed at curing intractable diseases and extending human life.” Rather than simply pumping all the money into research institutions, Zuckerberg and Brin are paying for results.
History proves they are onto something.
Napoleon Bonaparte offered a cash prize for new ways of preserving food, knowing that his “army marched on its stomach”. So Nicolas Francois Appert invented canned foods, and used the reward of 12,000 francs to open a commercial cannery, which operated for over a century.
Between 1839 and 1939, the Royal Agricultural Society of England offered cash prizes at annual competitions. A Harvard Business School and Norwegian School of Economics joint study showed “large effects of the prizes on competitive entry” and “an impact of the prizes on the quality of contemporaneous patents”. The contests led to new milking machines, cream separators, cultivators, light portable motors and more than 15,000 other innovations that made food more plentiful and farming less burdensome.
In 1874, the Scientific American even said that the Royal Agricultural Society prizes catalyzed a “most extraordinary improvement in the engines, as regards economy and workmanship, and there is little doubt that the effect of these tests has been most beneficial to the users of steam power.” That is important because, as the report notes, steam power likely did more to boost output than any other invention of the latter part of the 19th century.
Almost a fifth of the inventions that competed became patented. Even the losing contestants won. Hundreds of them patented their inventions to profit from them.
From the soil to the sky: the “Lone Eagle”, Charles Lindbergh, won the $25,000 Orteig prize to become the first man to pilot a non-stop flight from New York to Paris, and the first to cross the Atlantic solo. According to the X Prize Foundation, “a quarter of all Americans personally saw Lindbergh and [his plane] Spirit of St. Louis within a year of his flight – and the world changed with their excitement”. The Foundation notes that in the year of his legendary flight, the number of licensed aircraft jumped 400 per cent and applications for pilot licenses rose 300 per cent. From 1926 to 1929, the number of airline passengers went from 5,782 to 173,405 – a 30-fold hike in just three years.
Based on this success, the Foundation is leading a revival of prize money for innovation. First, they offered $10 million for launching a private-sector aircraft carrying three people to outer space twice in two weeks. Twenty-six teams from a half-dozen countries competed and invested a total of $100 million on development. There was an astounding $10 in R&D chasing each dollar in prize money—talk about leverage.
The contest not only led to the invention of a new aircraft, but a new industry — private sector space travel. Virgin Galactic has purchased technology from the winning team for that very purpose.
The Foundation then offered a contest for fuel-efficient vehicles. A Swiss company won $2.5 million with a vehicle that could go zero-to-60 miles per hour in 6.6 seconds, while running on an amazing 200 miles-per-gallon equivalent. In other words, it accelerates almost as fast as a 2010 BMW 328i, with seven times the fuel efficiency of a 2010 Honda Civic.
The X Prizes have since expanded to robotic moon landings, genomics, environmental cleanup, education and global development.
The private sector is sponsoring prizes for more than philanthropy. A few years back, Netflix crowdsourced its R&D with a $1 million prize for a new system of algorithms to recommend films. According to The Economist, 55,000 people competed and the winning team was a group of seven who had worked together via the internet and met in person for the first time when they retrieved their prize.
Governments are catching on to the power of prizes. Under the America Competes Act, 45 U.S. government agencies have offered over 200 prizes to incentivize problem solving. The President’s Office of Science and Technology Policy says prizes are now a “standard tool in every Federal agency’s toolbox”. And this January, the New York City Schools Chancellor announced a $104,000 prize for the best app, video game or other technology to help teenagers conquer math.
Here in Canada, the House of Commons Transport Committee unanimously made the cost-neutral recommendation for government to “redirect a portion of its existing research and innovation budget away from institutions and towards substantial prize money for innovations which meet well-defined public goals.”
With private sector promotional sponsors picking up the tab, governments could hold massive science fairs to unveil the winners. The prestige and publicity would create further incentive to compete and win. As the Lindbergh flight and the Royal Agricultural Society prizes prove, the prestige and publicity of competitions can motivate the innovators of today and inspire those of tomorrow.
Let’s keep our eyes on that prize and make Canada an innovation nation.
By Scott Feschuk - Thursday, March 14, 2013 at 6:00 AM - 0 Comments
Time for the Senate to fight back — Scott Feschuk has some ideas
The whole Mike Duffy thing has brought to light a shocking truth. People of Canada, there’s a second house of Parliament.
Apparently it’s called the Senate and all along it’s been right down the hall from the House of Commons. Mostly there are old people in there every afternoon—so naturally, many of us assumed it was a Swiss Chalet or possibly a matinee screening of that movie where Meryl Streep forces Tommy Lee Jones to go to sex counselling. But no: legislative body the whole time!
Having existed for more than a century, the Senate has produced a number of memorable achievements, such as having existed for more than a century. Also, there was one day that a plucky young upstart openly defied the two-nap minimum. He was subjected to a thorough harrumphing.
Being a senator sounds like a pretty sweet gig. You get an office, a staff and an annual salary of $132,000. You are also entitled to collect up to $22,000 a year in living expenses if a) your primary residence is more than 100 km from Parliament Hill, or b) you feel like it.