Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Reasons to be cynical: David Cameron's analytical skills

[Forgive me for being a little late on this one - other stuff got in the way.]

Findings from a paper titled "Austerity and Anarchy: Budget Cuts and Social Unrest in Europe, 1919-2009", by Jacopo Ponticelli and Hans-Joacim Voth:
"Does fiscal consolidation lead to social unrest? From the end of the Weimar Republic in Germany in the 1930s to anti-government demonstrations in Greece in 2010-11, austerity has tended to go hand in hand with politically motivated violence and social instability. In this paper, we assemble cross-country evidence for the period 1919 to the present, and examine the extent to which societies become unstable after budget cuts. The results show a clear positive correlation between fiscal retrenchment and instability."
Wisdom from British PM David Cameron:
"[T]hese riots were not about poverty: that insults the millions of people who, whatever the hardship, would never dream of making others suffer like this. No, this was about people showing indifference to right and wrong, people with a twisted moral code, people with a complete absence of self-restraint."
Well, then, I suppose that settles it. I guess it was too much to hope that Cameron and company might have actually learned something? Something that would lessen the likelihood that this might keep happening, and then happen again? (And again...)

Monday, August 29, 2011

VMAs and Gaga

In what was an unsurprisingly awful show - Britney and Foo Fighters won the first two awards of the night, making it feel as if we had been transported back to the late 90s - Gaga managed to steal the spotlight at the VMAs, again. What was surprising was that she did it by completely abandoning her shtick - no costume changes, nothing absurd or abstract or excessive. She just played the role of her own ex-boyfriend, Joe Calderone, for the entire night. (A character who has mostly elicited comparisons to Bob Dylan but strikes me much more as Al Pacino-as-Scarface if he were also one of the T-Birds from Grease.)

Predictably, the tween and teenybopper response on Twitter has been a mixture of amusement, disappointment, and transphobic outrage (in a poll on EW, I'm told that Gaga was the number one choice for both the most and least favorite thing about the show). Here's what I just grabbed off the Twitter feed for the VMAs:
  • no offense lady gaga but if you are transgendered you are not BORN THIS WAY!!!! [this could be transphobic in so many different ways that i won't bother trying to unpack them all]
  • I think Lady Gaga has lost the plot
  • Lady Gaga is amazing!
  • Lady gaga looked messed up last night
  • The VMA's was more of a freak show than the Cantina on a Wednesday night. Only think missing was Gaga shooting first [it's a Star Wars joke - Gaga is being compared to a green, reptilian alien]
The great thing, though, is this - for the first time in years, Gaga has managed to unsettle and disturb people again. Her method of coming up with outfits and routines that were increasingly bizarre had become, well, routine. And so she did the only thing she could to recapture her audience's sense of wonder and horror: she wore a white V-neck and strapped her breasts down.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When journalism takes an embarassing turn

It didn't take long for someone to write a mean and cynical piece about Jack Layton's death and the surprisingly warm and loud response that it's garnered - in fact, it took less than 12 hours.

Most of Christie Blatchford's snark is directed at the outpouring of grief, as if Layton is undeserving or the people saddened by his death are somehow misguided, which is both a cowardly thing to do (if you're suggesting that he's unworthy of the attention, why mock the people who are giving it rather than the object of their attention?) and cruel. To be so casually dismissive of grief, especially on the day the man died and when it's still so new and even raw, is indecent and inhumane if not simply inhuman. And to demean it as "spectacle"? I find it hard to critique even the most showy politicians for being a bit effusive - again, these are knee-jerk, gut-reactions to the news that a colleague and/or friend has died. Docking them points for style is just unwarranted.

But when Blatchford does turn her attention to Layton, the venom is actually worse. Her discussion of Layton's letter opens innocuously enough, as she characterizes it as an example of "what a canny, relentless, thoroughly ambitious fellow Mr. Layton was", and these things are certainly true. The letter is not an apolitical one - Layton knew, as did we all, that it was his cult of personality that won the NDP second-place in the election, and that he probably wanted to make some grand gesture and take advantage of that one last time. Blatchford gets nastier, though: she describes his prose as "vainglorious" and "sophistry" that's full of "bumper-sticker slogans" and "ruthless partisan politicking" . Whether it was with the sophistry or bumper-sticker comment, one thing is certain - we've crossed solidly into the territory of shamelessness.
Real classy stuff, right there.

She also asks, "Who thinks to leave a 1,000-word missive meant for public consumption and released by his family and the party mid-day"? To which I feel it necessary to reply, who thinks it necessary to use 1,000 words to kick a warm corpse and heap scorn upon the people mourning it?

(I should add that I don't think Jack Layton's parting letter is perfect, by any means. It's sweet, but probably too precious. I suppose we could begrudge him the overt partisanship, but I wouldn't really expect anything less from him. But, really - given that he finalized it from bed, two days before his death? Do we really expect perfection? I'll let Andrew Coyne sum it up for me: "You're allowed to exploit your own death. You get a free, one-time-only pass.")

Monday, August 22, 2011

Jack Layton, 1950-2011

Jack Layton died this morning. It wasn't surprising so much as sudden - I knew when it was announced that the cancer had spread that he probably didn't have much time, but you never think that today will be the day.

I got it in my head to write a blog about Jack - about how refreshing his choice to campaign on optimism was, about how hilarious and cutting he could be ("that's a hash-tag fail" remains my favorite debate line, ever) - but then his family released his final statement to his friends, the party, and the country. His own letter's concluding lines seem a far fairer tribute than I could ever devise.

"My friends, love is better than anger. Hope is better than fear. Optimism is better than despair. So let us be loving, hopeful and optimistic. And we’ll change the world."

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Thinking about Rise of the Planet of the Apes

I caught Rise of the Planet of the Apes yesterday with a friend, and we both reached the same basic conclusions:

1 - On the whole, it was better than we expected. The revolution plot was well-constructed and Caesar (as an adult) looked shockingly real and made for a surprisingly compelling and sympathetic lead.
2 - But it was just as racist as we expected.

I don't know what it is about monkeys and apes, but corporate media doesn't seem capable of writing stories about them without stumbling into racist clichés, representations, and/or rhetoric.

In the new Apes film, the opening scene takes place in Africa, where poachers are capturing the apes for scientific research. The poachers, of course, are generic African mercenaries with rag-tag clothing and cleaver-like swords.

Now, it's not really clear why this is necessary - and the scene is so unnecessary that the Wikipedia summary of the movie omits it entirely. What I'm guessing is that it was meant to show how similar humans and apes are in the first place. As the apes run from the poachers, they hoot and scream - and so do the poachers who chase them. The only obvious inference is that we're supposed to note their similarity, or even note how difficult it is to tell them apart.

But this doesn't really resonate in the intended way, I think. Because if they thought they were saying something about how animalistic humanity is, they probably should have said it in a way that isn't quite so outrageously cliché and recognizably white supremacist. I mean, really - you can't make this point in a way that doesn't display a stunning lack of creativity and, worse, have centuries of racist symbolic weight attached to it?