Archive for: June 2010

A veteran speaks out against grief porn

One particularly noisome aspect of modern journalism is its fixation with grief porn: those maudlin public displays of grief over tragic events by people otherwise uninvolved in the lives of those actually afflicted. Grief porn is wholly a product of media pandering. it’s a way for people to feel good about themselves — and just incidentally show the world how good they are — by displaying, often in bizarre or saccharin fashion, how badly they feel about the misfortunes of strangers – especially spectacular or notorious misfortunes besetting newsworthy or celebrity strangers.

Well, here’s a rare exception: a gutsy interview by CBC Cape Breton reporter Bobby Nock with a World War II veteran who dares speak out against these unseemly displays.

Why are journalists like phone sex workers?

Writing in the Columbia Journalism Review, Maureen Tkacik explains:

Phone sex is not so unlike being a reporter. A central challenge of success at both is keeping random strangers—horny guys, hostile hedge-fund managers—on the phone, talking to you, confessing to you, growing fond of you, resolving to talk to you again. And at all times, phone-sex operators, like reporters, are expected to remain detached, wise to “The Game,” objective—but in a way, that’s crap. It’s not easy to become beloved by strangers if not a single part of you truly yearns for that love.

This echos Janet Malcolm’s famous dictum that, “Every journalist who is not too stupid or too full of himself to notice what is going on knows that what he does is morally indefensible. He is a kind of confidence man, preying on people’s vanity, ignorance, or loneliness, gaining their trust and betraying them without remorse.”

But Tkacik goes further. She thinks the phone sex industry is better an the journalism industry in one key respect:

The stranger thing about phone sex, though, was that the training program was more rigorous and extensive than any I’d encountered in journalism. There was a day and a half in a classroom learning such phone-sex fundamentals as the “hot statement” and the “ego stroke,” daily feedback sessions with supervisors who listened in on calls, a mandatory creative-writing contest for the best Halloween-themed fantasy scenario, refresher courses to hone fluency in more exotic proclivities, individual binders in which we recorded our progress in this stuff and collected, as per instruction, magazine clippings—Penthouse letters, perfume advertisements, etc.—whatever we found erotically inspiring. When my supervisor’s boss learned I was writing a story, he unfurled all the usual legal threats, but when it was published, the company ordered hundreds of reprints to dispense to new hires at orientation. They did not expect you to be some innate phone-sex genius, but they had full faith that you could get immeasurably better, especially if you wanted to, and they genuinely seemed to take it as a given that people wanted to become better at things they did.

For me, an enduring frustration of traditional journalism is that what training you do get centers on the imperative to discount and dismiss your own experiences in pursuit of some objective ideal, even as journalism simultaneously exposes you to an unusually large variety of experiences. The idea that it might be a good thing to attempt to apply insights gleaned from those experiences to future stories—let alone synthesize it all into any sort of coherent narrative—rarely comes up, unless you’re a columnist. This can be an especially torturous dilemma during the inevitable low point at which the journalist—this one, anyway—comes to believe that the only feasible course of action (given the state of journalism) is to secure a six-figure book deal, and commences filling her off-hours in a feeble attempt to “write what you know.” I know a lot of things, taunts the endless negative feedback loop, but none of them is how to make six figures.

Self-indulgent lefties let Harper off the hook – updated & corrected

Pinto Pony Productions, a small Toronto video production house specializing in non-invasive filming techniques, took to the streets of Toronto this weekend and shot the best roundup of demonstrator-vs.-police violence I could find on YouTube. The protesters did not impress the filmmakers.

The Harper Government made a serious miscalculation with its absurd expenditure on security for the G8/G20. Halifax did a G8 nine years ago for $27 million, and Pittsburg did a G20 last year for $95 million [see correction below]. Harper spent ten times that amount: $12 million an hour over the three days; three times what security for any international leaders’ gathering has ever cost before.

This plays to the nagging doubts middle-of-the-road Canadians have about Harper. It hints at the proto-fascism we suspect lurks in the old Reform core of the so-called Conservative Party. It shows contempt for civil liberties. It bespeaks a brand of hypocrisy that pitches fiscal conservatism out the window whenever the police or the military want more goodies. A week ago, I thought Harper had fatally damaged his chances of getting a majority with this jingoism.

Not now. By making common cause with masked blackshirts bent on smashing windows, burning police cars, and throwing rocks, peaceful protesters have stupidly squandered that advantage. Public opinion, firmly on our side week ago, is now firmly on Harper’s. Spare us any whining about police over-reaction. I just watched all the YouTube videos I could find of the Toronto events, most of them taken by protest sympathizers, and saw little that could be termed seriously out of line in the police response (and I write as someone who witnessed truly vicious police actions in Chicago, Ill., in 1968 and 1970, and in Birmingham, Alabama, in 1963). This time, the left was both self-indulgent and self-defeating. (See Update below.)

There was one protest moment that Pinto Pony videographer Bill Stoppard did like, however:

[Update] After I posted this, a video by Meghann Millard surfaced, showing a police attack on apparently peaceful demonstrators who were singing, O Canada! Not exactly Birmingham or Chicago scale police violence, but utterly stupid nonetheless.

Imagine how Harper would look today if this is the only kind of protest police faced in Toronto. Instead, the moronic blackshirts gave him all the excuses he needed.

[Correction] The Halifax G7 was in 1995, not 2001, so 15 years ago, not nine. The federal budget for that summit was $28 million; the provincial budget, $5 million. Lots more info here. Thanks to David Rodenhiser, one of Contrarian’s crack researchers, er, readers, for the correct info.

New Waterford

New Waterford

Contrarian friend and New Waterford video artist Ashley McKenzie, now serving temporary exile in Halifax, has put some of her wonderful still photos on line. McKenzie previously recorded the demolition of Sydney’s Vogue Theatre in this clever video.

A spider crab molts

The scale is deceptive. This is not the ordinary crab we’re used to, but a giant Japanese spider crab (Macrocheira kaempferi), whose leg span (3.8 meters or 12.5 feet) and weight (up to 19 kg. or 41 lb.) make it the largest arthropod in the world. This time-lapse video was shot over a 6-hour period.

Hat tip: Enoshima Aquarium, Fujisawa, Japan, via Daily Dish.

Kansas defends the niqab – updated

Jane Kansas takes time out from her walk to mount the simplest, most easily understood defence I’ve heard of a women’s right to choose face coverings like the niqab and the burka. Money quote:

At the beaches of Nice, Cannes and Saint-Jean-Cap-Ferrat most women were young and slim and topless. In all the cafes, women wore only tiny bikini bras and sarongs, or simply sat and scarfed down their Croque Madames and Ricards in their bikinis. It was what was done.

Kansas-burka-150I sure didn’t. I come from a place where women do not sit in restaurants in their bikinis. I would be uncomfortable anywhere in a bikini. And topless? Please. I feel strongly that away from the beach, cottage or lawn mower, everybody should keep their shirts on.

No one agitated for me to assume a state of address [sic] I would be uncomfortable with, for whatever reason: religious, body image, habit. I would have felt like a skank, no matter if everyone else was doing it.

If you have spent your adult life wearing a shirt in public, you don’t want to go without one. If you have spent your adult life wearing a face covering in public, you don‘t want to go without one. Having your default sartorial splendor legislated away must so totally suck.

She even wore one herself for an afternoon. [Photo: Maggie Lucas.]

[Update] Contrarian reader Cheryl Cook is of mixed mind:

It’s hard not to blur the debate about the right of women to choose what they wear in this part of the world, with the discussion of what they wear in parts where they have little to no choice. This lack of choice being mandated over such a long time surely plays a huge role in determining why anyone would choose to continue wearing a particular piece of clothing when offered the chance not to. To paraphrase Ms. Kansas: it’s what you know, it’s part of your culture/religion etc.

But in talking about parts of the world where women have this choice, be careful to peel the layers away there and acknowledge the women who perhaps don’t really have so much choice. It’s never quite as simple as “we said they could wear what they want, surely that’s permission enough.” People live within communities and subcultures, and the news gives us plenty of examples of women who took the choice to live as they like in countries such as Canada and the UK and paid the price.

For the record, I support anyone’s right to wear what they like. Which means I support the choice of a women in Canada to wear a niqab, even if I don’t like it. But I also fully understand the loathing and mistrust that many have for items of clothing that have been used for such a long time to subjugate or mark my gender as necessary of being hidden, or ‘protected’ because of the way we were born. Sugar coat it as you like with cultural or religious relativism, but it comes down to women being a temptation. Call it protection of honour or whatever, but it’s all done because of our gender. Until that sort of bullshit thinking goes away, and I doubt it ever will, there will never really be a choice for a lot of women. Even some living here.

What we ask our politicians to be

The Whitest Kids U’Know present Matt Clint for Senator:

Money Quote:

For the last 15 years, I’ve lived my life in such a bland, uncontroversial, and repressed manner that it’s almost unnatural. Why? Because I’ve been preparing to be your representative since I was a child.

That Rolling Stone article

Oh, not that Rolling Stone article. One you weren’t expecting. Money quote:

pete_seeger-300x300 Seeger switched to a 12-string guitar and began a hymn-like finger-picked version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” He told the story behind the classic Wizard of Oz track, recounting how lyricist Yip Harburg and composer Harold Arlen held a successful two-man protest to get the studio to include the song in the film. Seeger looked up at the ceiling and apologized to the deceased Harburg for having to change the lyric “Why can’t I” to “Why can’t you and I?” and explained his logic: “If I’d been there when little Dorothy said, ‘Why can’t I?’ I’d tell her, ‘Dorothy, it’s because you only asked for yourself. You’ve got to ask for everybody, because either we’re all going to make it over that rainbow or nobody is going to make it.’ “

Hat tip: Ann Molison

Toronto lockup

A Toronto police officer enters a defunct film studio lot that has been fortified for use as a detention center for protesters arrested during next week’s G8 and G20 summit meetings.

The temporary jail stretches along a lengthy portion of Eastern Ave. in Toronto’s Leslieville neighborhood.

Satellite imagery shows the dormant film studio between Eastern Ave. and Lake Shore Blvd., before its conversion into a summit detention center. Security officials will not confirm that the newly fortified and heavily policed compound will serve as a temporary jail, but the taking of these photos Saturday attracted polite but persistent questioning by police on hand.

Dr. Michael Feldman, a medical director at Sunnybrook Hospital, told doctors in an email last week that summit officials are seeking doctors willing to treat minor injuries in the detention center so they can remain in police custody and not be transported to hospital. Feldman said the protesters would likely be young and healthy, and may fake their injuries.

Toronto lockdown

Workers install security fencing near the CBC building on Front Street in Toronto in preparation for next week’s G8 and G20 summits. This is not the perimeter fence, but one of a series of internal fences that will form – take your pick – an obstacle course, security sub-zones, or guides to assist in herding any demonstrators who may penetrate the outer perimeter.

The National Post has a graphic depicting the scale of the $1.2 billion security lockdown to be enforced by 7,100 police and para-police.

Facilities to be closed during the weekend include the Rogers Centre, the Princess of Wales Theatre, the Roundhouse Brewery, the Royal Alexandra Theatre, and eastbound exits 24,

25, and 26 of the Gardner Expressway. (The entire westbound lane will experience periodic shutdowns on June 27.)

Union Station will remain open for GO-Train traffic, but not for Via Rail passengers, who will be bussed around the city while their trains shuttle through the station empty. Subways will operate, but individual trains will be halted any time heads of state traverse streets above them.

Businesses in the downtown core have been encouraged to let employees work from home, and those who must come to work are cautioned to avoid business attire that might make them targets for bogeymen, er, terrorists.

(Click here larger version of the Post graphic.)

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