Rage, rage against the dying of the idealized past

I used to love reading the newspaper. For years I had the Globe and Mail, and then the Toronto Star, delivered to my home. I’d read it on the subway, or on my couch, and feel I was reading something important. Five years ago, the Globe pissed me off by charging me twice to read the same content, and I canceled my subscription out of protest. Shortly thereafter I began reading the Star, but once newspapers rolled out RSS feeds I basically threw the paper versions over for this more efficient (and more environmentally friendly) method.

I read this as my own example of how mainstream media was dying, though not already dead, as ‘new’ media liked to claim. It caught my attention, then, that NPR’s Intelligence Squared podcast dealt with the statement “Good riddance to mainstream media” last week. For those of you who haven’t heard NPR’s Oxford-style debates before, the debate is book-ended by audience votes for or against the proposition, and whoever changes the most minds during the debate (according to the audience poll) is declared the winner. Now, forgive the spoiler (as if any of you are going to sit through it!) but those against the proposition win the day. In my opinion this had less to do with the efficacy of anyone’s argument and more to do with the phrasing of the proposition.

I’ll explain: I’d wager that, apart from investors in blog networks, no one wants the mainstream media to collapse and disappear. In fact, most people probably just don’t care. Few, then, would vote for a proposition that sounds rather gleeful about the demise of mainstream media.

Even then, the nays might have won it on a low blow, as those backed into a corner sometimes throw. Again, I’ll explain: the classic tactic of any industry which finds itself under siege is to ignore the facts and appeal to emotion. Think of the music industry: there was no debate about one medium (the CD) being superior to the other (the MP3), and there was certainly no attempt to produce profit by matching supply to the obvious demand; instead, sensing a threat to their existing business model, they wept for the poor artist starving now that he was deprived of album royalties. That was, of course, horseshit, but that’s the tactic: obfuscate by tugging at the heartstrings. Likewise opponents of gay marriage (who purport to defend the very fabric of society), gun ownership lobbies (“You couldn’t be more wrong, Lisa. If I didn’t have this gun, the King of England could just walk in here any time he wants, and start shoving you around.”) and union organizers (who still cast their negotiations as Dickensian urchins struggling under the boot of wealthy land barons).

In this case the MSM tries to equate their business model — print, newsrooms, and on on — with the moral righteousness of pure journalism. Kill newspapers, they say, and you’ll lose the Woodwards and Bernsteins and Murrows of the world who expose corruption and tweak our collective conscience. Leaving aside for a moment the false sanctity of journalism this supposes, there’s a gaping logical flaw in their argument. Just because the mainstream media is where journalistic triumphs have tended to happen, does not prove that only the mainstream media that can produce beneficial journalism.

This notion did float up during the podcast — someone arguing for the proposition did say that no one would debate that journalism is good — but it didn’t garner much discussion, probably because the ‘no’ side benefits from marrying the ‘how’ and the ‘what’. Would should have been debated was the probably longevity of the ‘how’, but it became — as such debates often do — a discussion on the merits of the ‘what’. If the proposition is that the MSM is no longer the most viable model for journalism, but the MSM successfully convinces people that they are journalism, the inferred extension of this is that the end of the MSM equals the end of journalism. It’s a logical fallacy, but an effective tool.

This deceptive tool is usually wrapped up in the banner of tradition or ‘way of life’. Five to ten years from now we’ll be listening to the auto industry explain that conservation and urbanization make us drive less, and driving is synonymous with freedom, and therefore environmentalism is killing freedom.

"Recruited for moral judgments"

Earlier this week in the Toronto Star John Sakamoto (who I thought wrote music…but whatever) did a brief story about Cornell research entitled “Morality rooted in disgust“:

Researchers at Cornell University tested a group of people from politically mixed swing states for both their political ideology and their “disgust sensitivity.”

“Participants who rated higher in disgust sensitivity were more likely to oppose gay marriage and abortion, issues that are related to notions of morality or purity,” a Cornell news release concluded.

“People have pointed out for a long time that a lot of our moral values seem driven by emotion, and in particular, disgust appears to be one of those emotions that seems to be recruited for moral judgments,” said study leader David Pizarro, an assistant professor of psychology at Cornell.

I’d never thought of it this way, or rather never would have guessed that such a correlation existed, but it makes sense. I think this is a big reason why liberals get so frustrated when arguing with conservatives, and vice versa. If one side is arguing based primarily on emotional response, and the other primarily on logic (or, at the very least, less emotion; I took the inverse reaction to mean logic, but may have overstepped…in any case I consider logic by no means guaranteed to be any more “correct” than emotion, misused as it often is) then the two are not only unlikely to agree, but may have trouble even understanding where the other is coming from.

The lead researcher does, however, caution against using disgust as a core influence of morality:

“Disgust really is about protecting yourself from disease. It didn’t really evolve for the purpose of human morality.

“It clearly has become central to morality, but because of its origins in contamination and avoidance, we should be wary about its influences,” Pizarro said.

The authors explain a bit further:

As Martha Nussbaum has pointed out in her treatment of the topic, “… throughout history, certain disgust properties — sliminess, bad smell, stickiness, decay, foulness — have repeatedly and monotonously been associated with… Jews, women, homosexuals, untouchables, lower-class people — all of those are imagined as tainted by the dirt of the body.” (Nussbaum, 2001, pg. 347)…Whether or not moral disgust can be of value in keeping people from committing unethical deeds remains an open question, but given the amount of damage disgust is capable of inflicting on innocent people, at the very least it seems as if we should be careful to monitor its influence in the courtroom, in public policy decisions, and in our everyday interactions with others.

This makes the thought of conservative (socially conservative, not fiscally conservative) lawmakers and so-called “moral” leaders very worrying. Disgust is a very subjective concept, and says as much or more about the judges as about those who would be judged. I fear the consequences of laws and moral judgments with such dubious, irrational origins.

Final thoughts on Nuit Blanche

  • David Topping at Torontoist has an excellent list of recommendations for how to improve next year’s event, including my favourite “Somehow Ban Trashed, Annoying People from Participating.” Also, you can tell by the article’s permalink that the original title was “The Nights Who Say Nuit” but I’m guessing the editor pulled that for excessive levels of nerd. 🙂
  • Another of Topping’s suggestions — Ban Non-Pedestrian Traffic — was echoed by Toronto Star columnist Christopher Hume. Pretty hard to argue with that, having seen a few people almost hit by cars and Queen Street ground to a halt anyway. Even leaving Richmond, Adelaide & Front open for cross-town traffic while closing off Wellington, Queen & King would help.
  • My Flickr traffic has gone through the roof in the last 24 hours, partly from native Flickr searches, and partly because Spacing Wire used one of my pictures.
  • Finally, while we could hear the rehearsals all week leading up to Nuit Blanche in the nearby park, and could also hear the early performances Saturday evening before we went out, we missed seeing Quixotic ourselves in St. James Park. It looked impressive too: how this performance at 5AM didn’t wake us up I’ll never know.

"It would be Wolfmother instead of Wolf Parade, Darkness instead of Lightning Bolts"

I like this recent development of traditional media linking out to local event sites for more in-depth coverage. It’s especially helpful in cases where user-generated content (like all the photos of this week’s fire on Queen Street) is better and/or more plentiful than the professionally-gathered stuff.


I don’t know what it says about the internet (or, erm, me) that, just by reading her blog at NPR, I’ve developed a crush on Carrie Brownstein, a gay woman I’ve never met. I sense this could be difficult relationship.


I can feel myself getting sick. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, since everyone around at work is sick, but c’mon…I was just sick. Super crazy mondo sick. Hell ass balls sick. I cannot be sick again, not with an assignment due Monday and work running somewhere north of murderous. I cannot. I shall not.



[tags]blogto, toronto star, carrie brownstein, cold season[/tags]

"This is my first torture."

The weekend of awesomeness continued today. We both slept in a little before going for breakfast at Fran’s and picking up groceries on the way home. We dropped the bags and walked over to the Scotiabank theatre to see Rendition (imdb | rotten tomatoes). It was ok…a little heavy-handed and too scattered to really flesh out most of the characters, but worth watching. Weird part was the couple in front of us. They alternated between fooling around and taking phone calls. It was distracting and, frankly, confusing. And the dude had Sideshow Bob hair. Anyhoo.

After the movie we decided to stop at Smokeless Joe’s for a couple of beer (Great Lakes Pumpkin Spice Ale for Nellie, Hacker-Pschorr Dunkel Weiss for me) and a late lunch. We got there at 3:40 and the place was empty. I mean, literally empty…even the staff was nowhere to be seen. Finally a guy showed up; turns out they don’t open until 4, but he let us stay. When we left 90 minutes later only one other customer had come in, so it was like we had the bar to ourselves all afternoon. Fun.


Late last night we finally watched The Last King Of Scotland (imdb | rotten tomatoes), and I’ll say the same thing every other critic and person I know has said: pretty good movie, but Forest Whitaker was amazing. Pretty decent performances all around, and a good job recreating the Uganda of the time, and Kerry Washington is my girlfriend du jour, but really, it’s Whitaker who steals the show. As usual. Looking at the man’s imdb profile it’s almost hard to believe he hadn’t won many awards until this film. He should have won an Emmy just for his role on The Shield two seasons ago.


Christopher Hume, the Toronto Star’s architecture critic, wrote up our building yesterday. He gave it an A, which is nice to hear.

Sitting on the northwest corner of Church and Adelaide Sts., this is one of the most elegant condo towers in Toronto. It isn’t fancy and the materials – glass and steel – aren’t expensive; what makes this building attractive is the elegance and simplicity of its form. At 45 storeys , it’s one of those rare structures designed to take advantage of height, indeed, height is what makes it so appealing.

Up close, there’s just enough detailing to maintain a sense of engagement. Glass Juliet balconies, perforated banding, operable windows and other touches enliven surfaces that could otherwise be sterile and boring. Just as important, the utilitarian functions have been hidden away from the main facades on Church, Adelaide and Lombard. Keeping in mind that the original proposed site was the park surrounding St. James’ Cathedral (which would have been disastrous), the final location across the road and slightly north is perfect; a rare happy ending.

The design and integration to the neighbourhood were almost as important to us as the unit itself. We’re glad it turned out so well.


  • Original weight: 233
  • Weight last week: 222
  • Weight this week: 221.5

I did get to the gym three times this week and did lots of walkin’ around the city this weekend; I believe what kept me to a scant half pound dropped was the steady influx of Hallowe’en candy to the office

[tags]rendition, smokeless joe’s, last king of scotland, forest whitaker, girlfriend du jour, spire condominium, christopher hume, toronto star, fatblogging[/tags]