Thursday, June 24, 2010

A break from politicized posts...

We've lived just on the edge of Toronto's Greektown for almost a year now, and I only just noticed something strange about the strip-mall at the end of the street.

Conventionally speaking, the strip-mall runs north-south. But since it's on the west side of the street, the strip-mall 'reads' from south-to-north. And so the combination of the restaurant on the far left and the one of the far right is suspiciously unlikely and geographically appropriate.

The extreme left/south:

...and the extreme right/north:

What California or Florida have to do with places that serve mostly Greek food, though? I have no idea.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Constructing 'the protesters'

"protesters...are beginning to flood the downtown core" (Toronto Star)

"protesters descend on the city" (CTV)
"Feeding the protesters" (Toronto Star)

I was talking to my students last week about how the G20 protesters are figured as people on the fringe, non-Torontonians, and, implicitly, non-Canadian. The first two quotes make the non-Torontonian and non-Canadian claims, I think. The protesters, who we know to be a menacing collective because the media's occasionally using the definite article ('the'), are not from 'here' because they are flooding or descending from some shadowy place of anarchy to transform the ostensibly safe-haven of Toronto into a zone of danger. (Euphemistically referred to as the 'security zone', of course, because Toronto cops surely aren't prone to violence, and dropping thousands of cops into an urban setting to quell protest has always had a calming effect. Clearly.)

The bit about feeding them also reinforces the sense that these people live dangerously on the margins. 'Feeding the protesters' not only frames a benevolent act of community as somehow brutish - it immediately recalls 'feed the animals', as in 'do not...' - but reminds us of the poverty (and all the things that poverty connotes - laziness, criminality, etc.) that characterizes many of the people who are protesting.

"Dress like a militant protester, you run the risk of being tear gassed" (Toronto Star)
"What the demonstrators are saying" vs. "What the public is saying" (Globe and Mail)

These distinctions also reinforce the split between protesters and the mainstream media's implied audience - non-protesters who are voyeurs and might have a perverse interest in the protesters, but can't possibly identify with them. The first article playfully infantilizes the protesters by reducing them to fashionistas ("militant and fabulous") who can be imitated as if they were Halloween costumes, while the second is even less subtle in drawing a clear distinction between the law-abiding citizen-readers and the fringe.

Because, clearly, one cannot oppose any aspect of the G20 Summit while also being a law-abiding citizen who reads the Globe and Mail or watches the CTV news.

Monday, June 21, 2010

On the BP oil spill

"Gulf disaster needs divine intervention as man's efforts have been futile. Gulf lawmakers designate today Day of Prayer for solution/miracle."
-Sarah Palin, on Twitter

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Marketing Canada: fake lakes and 'pristine natural beauty'

1. In the lead-up to the G8/20 summit at the end of the week, most of the Canadian media is focusing on a $2 million space for foreign journalists, where the centerpiece is a fake lake and beach so that the journalists who can't attend the G8 meetings can still 'experience' some approximation of their natural setting.

Needless to say, most people who aren't members of the ruling Conservative party aren't impressed. From The Globe and Mail:

[NDP leader Jack] Layton asked how the Prime Minister can justify the costs. [...] "We’ve got a government here that has to create an artificial lake when Canada has more lakes than just about any other country in the world.”

2. The Conservatives are defending it as a marketing ploy, though it's not clear what they're selling - is Canada a source of plentiful artificial lakes? And do the journalists covering G8/20 even care about Canada's lakes, real or not? From the CBC:

"The Experience Canada space will host over 3,000 media and other guests, and will serve to highlight Canada's pristine natural beauty, as well as promote leading Canadian businesses and industries," according to a statement issued by the Prime Minister's Office.

"In fact, it's a $2-million marketing project," [Prime Minister Stephen] Harper said, "We must not miss this opportunity."

3. But the real goal is probably to use the fake lake as a sort of distraction object. Because if you're trying to market Canada, you certainly don't want foreign media to be looking at the streets of Toronto, where the G20 is actually being held. A lot of concrete barriers and chain-link fences, sure, but not much "pristine natural beauty" here:

Unless, of course, the government is trying to sell Toronto as a police-state-themed amusement park.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Does FIFA have any credibility at all?


From the Toronto Star: 'FIFA is preparing to monitor the World Cup’s most vulnerable matches for match-fixing threats. [...] FIFA’s monitoring of legal and illegal betting markets suggests the World Cup has been “clean and clear” so far, with no suspicious wagering patterns identified.'


From Tom Tango on his The Book blog: 'This is FIFA’s recap of the USA Slovenia 2:2 game. You will notice the controversial missing 5th goal is not there. If you want to see the goal, you need to see it on Youtube. And the message board at FIFA is totally devoid of discussions of the non-goal goal.'

Me: A lot of people have also pointed out that the offside wasn't called by the linesman, who typically makes this call, but only by the referee. And this is a problem because while the linesman is positioned so as to have a nearly perfect line of sight, this was the ref's perspective:

If he could see evidence of any foul, one would have to wonder why he didn't appear to notice all of the Slovenian defenders who were restraining the Americans - which were very easily seen from where he was standing. (And there were more of them than are visible in this picture.)


It's possible that the referee is just terrible at his job and made a mistake. It's also possible that there's something shifty going on. And it's possible that FIFA is covering it up - mistake or not - and cares more about not looking bad than they do about entertaining the possibility the ref made the wrong call. Despite the claims they've made regarding match-fixing and how much they want to stop it - which, after all, have to do with betting patterns, right? Regardless, it all looks bad.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

A letter to the Toronto Star

Re: New copyright law would cut artists’ earnings (June 9)

I'm not really sure where Sophie Milman sourced her legal advice, but she's wrong when she writes that "just as with vinyl-to-cassette prior to 1997, ripping songs to a DAR is actually against the law". It's generally agreed that ripping music from a CD to your computer constitutes 'personal use' under the law. [Exclusive to the blog!: Nor is it technically illegal to file-share in Canada, as courts have shown unwillingness to find defendants guilty and the police lack the resources or desire to pursue music pirates, especially those who do so for personal use.] It may not be explicitly legal - neither, for that matter, is abortion - but it's certainly not illegal. If Ms Milman was looking to make a legal argument, she probably should have made sure that she knew the law, first.

I suppose that it isn't surprising that the music industry would play the levy card again, but the old suggestion that we be charged repeatedly for the exact same recording is indicative of the lack of creativity that got the recording industry into this mess in the first place. And just as the industry tried (hopelessly, and with still dubious legal grounds) to shut down file-sharing rather than find ways to profit from it, their efforts to police personal use is likely to only further alienate their customers. If only they spent as much time and resources in making these new formats into a unique and value-added experience worthy of our money...

Thursday, June 03, 2010

MIA and ethics in interviewing

Really quick bit on the MIA and Lynn Hirschberg interview controversy that's been smoldering for a week or so (in short: Hirschberg portrays MIA as a hypocrite who styles herself as a revolutionary but lives in a mansion with her rich husband). From the New York Observer:

In the published piece, M.I.A. is described as "eating a truffle-flavored French fry" as she mused about what type of artist she is. According to the tape, it was Ms. Hirschberg who introduced the concept of fry-ordering.

"They have, like, truffle, they have like three different kinds, it's very elaborate," Ms. Hirschberg says on the tape, explaining the menu to M.I.A. at the Beverly Hills Wilshire Hotel. M.I.A. said that, yes, she would like a starter. "Can we order the French fries that come on the bar menu, the basket?" Ms. Hirschberg instructs the waiter.

This only came out because MIA was more canny than Hirschberg expected - she secretly taped the interview, probably because she knew Hirschberg has a reputation for doing seemingly innocuous interviews that turn into scathing character-assassinations.

Hirschberg is either lying or being disingenuous when she says that "I don't think the French fries illustrate that much about her character", because it's clearly meant to illustrate something. I would call it Dickensian in its upper-class-is-morally-defunct symbolism, except that I think Hirschberg's unsubtlety would make even Dickens blush. (Hilariously, Hirschberg criticized MIA's immediate response to her profile - MIA posted Hirschberg's phone number on Twitter - as "unethical".)

As a brief aside: The Observer also notes that we might be at a point where journalism needs to tighten its standards, since every interviewee now has the potential to publicly call them on their bullshit. And that might be the most interesting development to follow.