Where’s Jonathan Swift When We Need Him? – The Daily Beast

Nice piece by John Stubbs on Swift’s enduring relevance in a “post-truth” and “alternative facts” world (George Orwell is also worth re-reading):

Jonathan Swift’s “Essay upon the Art of Political Lying” tells us that “post-truth” statements are nothing new. “As the vilest writer hath his readers, so the greatest liar hath his believers: and it often happens, that if a lie be believed only for an hour, it hath done its work.” He was writing in 1710, but his words have been borne out by much that has happened in the last year. Swift also begged a question that many are asking now: Will there be any room left in politics for those who aren’t prepared to lie?

Swift’s hatred of falsehood sat oddly, in fact, with his love of a good fib. Some of his most celebrated works were elaborate hoaxes: His best known book, Gulliver’s Travels, was presented to the public as a voyager’s genuine memoir, and large numbers of readers were apparently taken in. Swift is generally regarded as the foremost satirist in English. It’s mentioned less often, though, that he was also a master of the primary art of getting facts in order and checking sources. By the time Gulliver emerged into the world, Swift had already made a formidable name for himself as a journalist as well as a satirist.

Satirists of course have license to exaggerate and distort; but Swift insisted that there was an absolute link between verifiable fact and moral truth. He had a devastating way of letting figures speak for themselves. In one of his first publishing sensations, an anti-war work called The Conduct of the Allies (1711), he used secret information provided by friends within government. The Conduct was an epoch-shattering critique of the corrupt means being used to prolong Britain’s war against France. Swift exposed a political and financial elite set on warfare for the sake of profit, and demonstrated that “Shock Doctrine” tactics were in use long before 20th century economists figured them out. His astounding book, staggering for its deployment of research and privileged information as well as lethally brilliant writing, helped end a long and largely senseless campaign.

Swift often wrote of satire as holding up a mirror or magnifying glass to reality. Before Swift, the word “satire” was often synonymous for “libel,” the idea being that satirical writers could say more or less anything they wanted about someone they hated. Swift was not at all timid when it came to voicing his dislikes, but sought to restore a higher purpose to his chosen mode of writing. For it to carry weight, satirical mockery had to be based on solid claims. And it was important, then as now, that satire scored the points it needed: for by making people of influence seem ridiculous when they acted wrongly, it made them seem a little less frightening, and opened a space in which there could be meaningful free speech about what such people were doing.

As a protest writer in the 1720s and ’30s, Swift laid bare the injustice of British rule in Ireland. He was an Irishman himself, born in Dublin in 1667, but to English parents. To give his writing substance he went to inordinate lengths in checking the situation in the Irish countryside, where people were starving as a result of exploitative land practices and repressive legislation. He made sure that he was fully up to date with the most reliable trade figures and consulted widely with well-placed sources in business and administration.

His subsequent approach to writing itself was a dangerous one, namely to take a “post-truth” mentality as far as it could go. He fought hypocrisy by creating a series of masks. The most memorable specimen in his portfolio was his Modest Proposal, a short essay of 1729. In this he assumed the voice of an entirely sincere and indeed socially concerned psychopath. Swift’s “proposer” argues calmly that poor Irish children could be sold as delicacies for wealthy tables. The essay’s power comes partly from Swift’s vision of where callousness might lead, but also from a ruthlessly detached observation of reality. He described scenes of deprivation that all his readers could recognize.

Many of the great satirical hits in Gulliver’s Travels also take their strength from Swift’s honesty about facts that his fellow Britons and Europeans preferred to ignore or view differently. One such moment comes when Gulliver explains to the gigantic king of Brobdingnag how politics and war work in Europe. Nothing he says is very sensational; Swift’s readers could deny none of it. And so the king of Brobdingnag concludes that most of them must belong to a really horrible species of “vermin.”

A large part of Swift’s cultural legacy is his way of showing how even morally developed people can be brought to accept horrifying practices. The secret is tied up with what those people assume to be the truth. In the Travels, a morally “superior” race of horse-beings—Swift loved horses—share their land with rather brutal, dishonest and undeniably filthy humans, the Yahoos. The horses decide they have no choice but to exterminate their two-legged neighbors. This “final solution” is arguably the punishment Swift is saying we humans will ultimately deserve—for our violence to each other and contempt for the environment. But he leaves a less than inspiring image of those killer horses, which had recognizable counterparts in Swift’s actual world.

The scale and daring of “post-truth” politics might lead some to think that lies can only be fought with lies. The work of Jonathan Swift should make us pause at such a moment: the moral case, Swift urged, is undeniable when the empirical case has clear validity. This unparalleled creator of satirical fiction demonstrated that those concerned with truth should keep faith with it.

Source: Where’s Jonathan Swift When We Need Him? – The Daily Beast

The Culture of Nastiness – The New York Times

Good reflections and commentary by Teddy Wayne:

Social media has normalized casual cruelty, and those who remove the “casual” from that descriptor are simply taking it several repellent steps further than the rest of us. That internet trolls typically behave better in the real world is not, however, solely from fear of public shaming and repercussions, or even that their fundamental humanity is activated in empathetic, face-to-face conversations. It may be that they lack much of a “real world” — a strong sense of community — to begin with, and now have trouble relating to others.

Andrew Reiner, an English professor at Towson University who teaches a seminar called “Mister Rogers 101: Why Civility and Community Still Matter,” attributes much of the decline in civility, especially among younger people, to Americans’ living in relative sequestration. The majority of his students tell him they barely knew their neighbors growing up, corroborating thinkers like Robert Putnam, who in his 2000 book, “Bowling Alone,” argued that civic engagement is diminishing. Consequently, Professor Reiner believes they have little experience in working through conflicts with people with whom they must figure out a way to get along.

“Civility is the idea that you’re not always going to agree but you still have to make it work,” he said. “We fear our ideas clashing with somebody else’s, even when we’re all ultimately pulling for the same thing.”

This leads to a vicious cycle in which the breakdowns of civility and community reinforce one another.

“People think, ‘If I disagree with you, then I have to dislike you, so why should I go to a neighborhood meeting when it’s clear I’m going to disagree with them?’” he said.

Professor Reiner also chalked up some of the devolution of basic courtesy to people’s increasingly digitized existence and engagement with their phones, not one another. For an assignment, he asks his students to experiment with old-fashioned civility by committing random acts of kindness and eating with strangers.

“It’s about trying to get beyond our own insecurities and get past the possibility of rejection, and that never has to happen with our online lives,” he said. “It reintroduces the idea of social risk-taking, which not that long ago was the norm, and learning how to be uncomfortable and relearning the skills of how to talk face to face.”

Though the internet receives the brunt of censure for corroding manners, other elements of popular culture aren’t much more elevated. In my neighborhood subway station a few months ago, two posters near each other for the TV shows “Graves” (about a former president) and “Those Who Can’t” (a comedy about teachers) both featured lightly obscured depictions of the middle finger. After the election, as I looked at the one depicting Nick Nolte in front of an American flag with the presidential seal covering his offending hand, it no longer seemed so shocking that Mr. Trump would soon occupy the Oval Office.

And the putative employer wielding all the power over labor is a trademark of reality TV, where Mr. Trump honed his brand for 14 seasons on NBC and trained us to think of a blustery television personality like him as a regular and revered figure in contemporary America. We have long had game and talent shows, but elimination from them used to be gentler — or, in the case of “The Gong Show,” at least goofier — than being brusquely told, “You’re fired,” “You are the weakest link” or receiving Simon Cowell’s withering exit-interview critiques.

In the dog-eat-dog environments of these programs, cooperation and kindness are readily abandoned for back-stabbing and character assassination. Short-term strategic alliances sometimes form among rivals, but the rules of the games preclude the possibility of something like collective bargaining. Likewise, union membership has drastically shrunk in the private sector over the last four decades. Why sacrifice for another person when there can be just one top chef or model or singer, one bachelorette with the final rose, one survivor — or in your own workplace, one promotion this financial quarter amid a spate of layoffs?

As evinced by the long-running “Real Housewives” series, calm conflict resolution does not make for good ratings. Even cake baking is now a fight to the finish.

Rather than seeking the comfort of known faces with the fictional, loving families and buddies from “The Brady Bunch,” “Cheers” and “Friends,” we now crave the company of supposedly “real” squabbling family members or acquaintances from documentary-style shows, perhaps as consolation for most likely watching them by ourselves, on a small laptop or phone screen.

“We would rather watch families on reality TV than do the hard work of being in a community with our own families,” Professor Reiner said.

Many critics of Mr. Trump have drawn parallels between this era and 1930s Germany. But when it comes to incivility and the 45th president, a more apt epoch may be 1950s America and its Communist witch hunts, specifically a quotation from the lawyer Joseph N. Welch in the 1954 Army-McCarthy hearings. (The chief counsel for Senator Joseph McCarthy was Roy Cohn, who later went on to become a close friend and business associate of Mr. Trump’s.)

“Have you no sense of decency, sir?” Mr. Welch asked Mr. McCarthy after Mr. McCarthy alleged that one of Mr. Welch’s fellow lawyers was a Communist.

It is a question many would like to pose to Mr. Trump — and one we all, nasty sirs and women alike, should be asking ourselves.

Andrew Coyne: Free speech needs to be guided by judgment and conscience, not rules

Another thoughtful column by Coyne:

It is common among some clear-thinkers to reject any allegation of speech suppression — a speaker being shouted down on campus, a boycott of an offending corporation, a Nazi getting punched — unless it involves the explicit use of the coercive power of the state. Anything else is merely the “consequences” of speech, for which one should accept “responsibility.” Suck it up, snowflake.

In a sense, of course they’re right. The obligations of the state are of a different order than private individuals or groups, because of its unique powers of coercion, and because coercion — the power, not merely to punish speech, but to actively prevent speech — is of a different order than mere disapproval, say, or shunning.

But the difference is not so absolute as all that. It is more of degree than kind. As private individuals, we may not be under the same obligations and constraints as the state, but that does not mean we are under none. We have still the obligations of judgment, of conscience, and of respect — for the spirit of free speech, if you will, rather than the legal letter.

At one extreme it is easy to see this. If a mob were to burn down the local newspaper and hang its editor, it is of no use to say, well, it wasn’t the government that did it, so no chilling of speech is involved. One should not have to factor in, among the “consequences” to be expected of speech, the chance that one might be murdered — or punched, for that matter.

Short of actual law-breaking, things get trickier. There is no violence in shouting down a speaker, you may say; neither is a university, as a private organization, obliged to provide a platform for opinions of which it, or a section of the university community, disapproves. No, indeed. But free speech exists, as a legal guarantee, in part because of the foundation of social values in which it is embedded.

The spirit of free speech, that is, is as important: the notion that none of us is in absolute possession of the truth; that the route to truth is through the exchange and conflict of ideas; that the rights we each enjoy are guaranteed only so far as they do not intrude upon another’s; and that, in particular, we do not have a right not to be offended, or to be spared any encounter with disagreeable words, images or ideas. If we do not live by these principles ourselves, we will shortly find neither will our creation, the state.

So far so good. But what of the more benign ways of expressing collective disapproval: boycotts, online campaigns, or Parliamentary motions? Are these mere consequences of speech, or constraints upon it?


Answer: It depends. Anyone who has been the subject of a Twitter mobbing can attest it can be deeply unpleasant, and quite intimidating, even without overt threats of violence. The harm to reputation, for example, of having one’s name broadly associated with sexism, racism — or “Quebec-bashing” — can be a significant deterrent to speaking freely.

Taboos, shunning and other mechanisms of social disapproval, in other words, can raise the “price” of speech to intolerable levels. On the other hand, some things are taboo for a reason. We should not feel censorious for shunning or denouncing someone who expresses hateful or noxious opinions.

Neither should we hesitate to call them what they are. A good many of the participants in the present debate seem to think their freedom to say the most virulently and prejudicially anti-Muslim things should also protect them from being accused of prejudice against Muslims — or Islamophobia — in return. Well, no. That is simply logical, as is the denunciation in the motion before Parliament.

Where do we draw the line, then? Again, it depends. It requires all of us to use our judgment. People should not be labelled bigots or hate-mongers merely for offering an unconventional view on a controversial topic. A reasoned critique of Islam’s teachings on women is not to be treated the same as, say, a blanket claim that Muslims, as a group, are “unintegrateable.” But neither should actual bigotry be excused as merely being “un-PC.”

There are no simple rules to guide us. There are only mutual obligations: not to give offence needlessly, but also not to take offence lightly; not to round up a mob every time someone’s views offend us, but neither to be intimidated by the mob when it is necessary to offend.

Source: Andrew Coyne: Free speech needs to be guided by judgment and conscience, not rules | National Post

Apple CEO Tim Cook says fake news is ‘killing people’s minds’ and tech needs to launch a counterattack – Recode

Will be interesting to see what comes to pass but tech does have a role in flagging and addressing fake news:

Although the election is over, the problem of fake news isn’t. Apple CEO Tim Cook said it’s time to do something about it.

“All of us technology companies need to create some tools that help diminish the volume of fake news,” Cook said in an interview with the Daily Telegraph on Friday.

“There has to be a massive campaign. We have to think through every demographic,” Cook said.

While most of the discussion around fake news has centered on fabricated stories and headlines that surface on websites and spread like wildfire through Facebook, earlier this month it was Trump’s own not-official spokesperson Kellyanne Conway who shared news of a “Bowling Green massacre” that never happened.

Conway said the made-up event was orchestrated by two Iraqi refugees, as she attempted to defend Trump’s immigration and refugee travel ban on individuals from seven majority-Muslim countries.

Even though Conway’s false narrative was quickly debunked on Twitter, a recent poll from Public Policy Polling showed that 23 percent of Americans believed the made-up story enough to think it justified Trump’s travel ban. Twenty percent were unsure if the fake news was justification enough for the immigration executive order.

Tim Cook says that the proliferation of fake news is “killing people’s minds.”

Differentiating between fact-checked news and stories that are written to deceive has proven difficult for online readers.

Remember Pizzagate? It was a completely false story that went viral on Facebook late last year that linked Hillary Clinton to a child sex ring run out of pizzeria in Washington D.C. Another poll by PPP at that time showed nearly half of Trump voters thought Pizzagate was true, or at least could be true.

“We are going through this period of time right here where unfortunately some of the people that are winning are the people that spend their time trying to get the most clicks, not tell the most truth,” Cook said in the interview.

Or in the case of Kellyanne Conway, straight-up spouting falsehoods on national news.

Much of the fake news controversy has focused on Facebook, where in recent months fabricated stories have become wildly popular. In January, the social media giant rolled out new filtering tools in Germany for users to flag stories that are potentially fake to be reviewed by fact-checkers.

But Cook called for even wider action. “Too many of us are just in the complain category right now and haven’t figured out what to do,” he said. “We need the modern version of a public-service announcement campaign. It can be done quickly if there is a will.”

Source: Apple CEO Tim Cook says fake news is ‘killing people’s minds’ and tech needs to launch a counterattack – Recode

ICYMI – Hans Rosling: A truth-teller in an age of ‘alternative facts’ – Macleans.ca

Good profile of Rosling, who was so creative and insightful in his presentation of data. Particularly important to note in the context about “alternative facts” and fake news:

… Rosling joined the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, where he discovered his students, and even his colleagues, had crude and misinformed ideas about poverty. To them, and most policy makers in the western world, the “third world” was one uniform mess of war and starving orphans. They did not understand the vastly different experiences of a family living in a Brazilian favela and one living in the Nigerian jungle, nor did they realize how rapidly these countries and economies were evolving. Without this knowledge, how could people make informed decisions about diseases, aid, or economics? “Scientists want to do good, but the problem is that they don’t understand the world,” he said.

Working with his son, he developed software that explained data through easily understood graphics. He launched the Gapminder site, which allowed people to explore and play with data that was otherwise hidden in the archives of the OECD, the World Bank and the United Nations. And Rosling began giving increasingly popular public lectures. His TED Talks and online videos went viral, as he explained global population growth using plastic boxes, or the relationship between child mortality and carbon dioxide emissions with Lego bricks.


Rosling had a natural charm and a ready sense of humour that grabbed your attention and kept it, even if he was talking about the most esoteric elements of statistical science. His message—that the world is getting better but we need to understand the data if we want to help those being left behind—resonated not just with the public, but among philanthropists and government leaders.

From Davos, to the White House, to the offices of the World Bank, Rosling could be found tirelessly preaching the gospel of facts, data, and truth. For generations, aid and charity decisions were taken for reasons of vanity, simplicity or self-interest. Billionaires gave money in ways that would grant them the most publicity. Bureaucrats channelled aid dollars to projects that were the easiest to administer. And western governments built dams in Africa solely to help their own construction companies. The real impact of aid on poverty was rarely considered and almost never measured. Rosling helped change that, by explaining to donors that ignorance is the first battle that must be fought in the war against extreme poverty.

This idea, as obvious as it seems in hindsight, was new. And it mattered. Governments listened. Donors became converts to Rosling’s religion of evidence-based policy. He was not its only apostle, but he was among its most well-known, and the only one with millions of views on Youtube.

Ironically, Rosling had a much more critical assessment of his own influence on the world. He called himself an “edutainer”, and in a 2013 interview he bemoaned the fact that the average Swede still overestimated the birth rate in Bangladesh: “they still think it’s four to five.”

“I have no impact on knowledge,” he said. “I have only had impact on fame, and doing funny things, and so on.”

The deputy prime minister of Sweden, Isabella Lövin, disagreed. After Rosling’s death was announced, she wrote: “He challenged the whole world’s view of development with his amazing teaching skills. He managed to show everyone that things are moving forward … I think the whole world will miss his vision and his way of standing up for the facts—unfortunately it feels like they are necessary more than ever at the moment.”

A few hours after the announcement of Rosling’s death, Betsy DeVos, a Republican donor who believes the American school system should be reformed to “advance God’s Kingdom” was confirmed as Donald Trump’s Secretary of Education.

Source: Hans Rosling: A truth-teller in an age of ‘alternative facts’ – Macleans.ca

Google offers a glimpse into its fight against fake news

Challenge to know how much the issue is being addressed without any independent watchdogs:

In the waning months of 2016, two of the world’s biggest tech companies decided they would do their part to curb the spread of hoaxes and misinformation on their platforms — by this point, widely referred to under the umbrella of “fake news.”

Facebook and Google announced they would explicitly ban fake news publishers from using their advertising networks to make money, while Facebook later announced additional efforts to flag and fact-check suspicious news stories in users’ feeds.

How successful have these efforts been? Neither company will say much — but Google, at least, has offered a glimpse.

In a report released today, Google says that its advertising team reviewed 550 sites it suspected of serving misleading content from November to December last year.

Of those 550 sites, Google took action against 340 of them for violating its advertising policies.

“When we say ‘take action’ that basically means, this is a site that historically was working with Google and our Adsense products to show ads, and now we’re no longer allowing our ad systems to support that content,” said Scott Spencer, Google’s director of product management for sustainable ads in an interview.

Nearly 200 publishers — that is, the site operators themselves — were also removed from Google’s AdSense network permanently, the company said.

Not all of the offenders were caught violating the company’s new policy specifically addressing misrepresentation; some may have run afoul of other existing policies.

In total, Google says, it took down 1.7 billion ads in violation of its policies in 2016.

Questions remain

No additional information is contained within the report — an annual review of bad advertising practices that Google dealt with last year.

In both an interview and a followup email, Google declined to name any of the publishers that had violated its policies or been permanently removed from its network. Nor could Google say how much money it had withheld from publishers of fake news, or how much money some of its highest-grossing offenders made.

Some fake news site operators have boasted of making thousands of dollars a month in revenue from advertising displayed on their sites.

‘I always say the bad guys with algorithms are going to be one step ahead of the good guys with algorithms.’– Susan Bidel, senior analyst at Forrester Research

The sites reviewed by Google also represent a very brief snapshot in time — the aftermath of the U.S. presidential election — and Spencer was unable to say how previous months in the year might have compared.

“There’s no way to know. We take action against sites when they’re identified and they violate our policies,” Spencer said. “It’s not like I can really extrapolate the number.”

A bigger issue

Companies such as Google are only part of the picture.

“It’s the advertisers’ dollars. It’s their responsibility to spend it wisely,” said Susan Bidel, a senior analyst at Forrester Research who recently co-wrote a report on fake news for marketers and advertisers.

That, however, is easier said than done. Often, advertisers don’t know all of the sites on which their ads run — making it difficult to weed out sites designed to serve misinformation. And even if they are able to maintain a partial list of offending sites, “there’s no blacklist that’s going to be able to keep up with fake news,” Bidel said, when publishers can quickly create new sites.

Source: Google offers a glimpse into its fight against fake news – Technology & Science – CBC News

Ezra Levant: The Rebel’s unrepentant commander – Good profile in Maclean’s

Good profile on Breitbart North by Jason Markusoff. Sad that there is a market for this kind of behaviour:

…Media highlighted the “lock her up” chant at Rebel’s rally, in part because there was little particularly new by December 2016 about Alberta economic hurt, carbon tax opposition or anti-NDP rallies; plus, there’s high curiosity about anything vaguely Trumpish penetrating Canada.

Levant chastized them for not focusing on his rally’s content, for two straight nights on his self-titled show, where he treaded lightly on that content and instead reacted to the reaction by news reports and politicians.

“How about just once, we all tell the media-political industrial complex to f–k off?” he ended his rant.

Within days, The Rebel was selling “lock her up” T-shirts, and announced the following week’s rally in Calgary. He hadn’t initially planned it, Levant explains, until that media response.

“As a signal to Canadians that you don’t have to do what Peter Mansbridge says anymore,” he says.

The second rally drew Conservative leadership candidates tacking to the party’s right flank, like climate change skeptic Brad Trost, Kellie Leitch, as well as Chris Alexander again, who had told most outlets he was mortified by “lock her up.” He told this audience his donors and “establishment types” warned him not to return. “I’m not going to fold to a bunch of politically correct people,” he said.

This time, Calgary news reports played it largely straight, leaving little for Levant to pillory. But he found his whipping post on Twitter: a twentysomething radio reporter. “We had a controlled experiment of the media. And Haley Jarmain screwed up,” Levant says.

Jarmain is a university student who also reports for Newstalk 770 radio. After live-tweeting the Calgary rally and filing her radio story, she tweeted about the insults she’d faced that afternoon but excluded from her report: “But I got death threats. Was laughed at. Told that I’m less of a human for my job.” Levant and supporters on Twitter pushed back skeptically: why didn’t she call police about threats on her life, or the rally security? She explained later, on Twitter and her radio station, it amounted to one guy telling her “you’re dead” in the foyer, and didn’t want to risk a he-said/she-said by reporting to the authorities.

The next day on The Rebel, Levant posted a 14-minute piece skewering her as a left-wing, social justice reporter, and promised to go over security tapes with her to catch this would-be-murderer. Voice oozing with sarcasm, he announced a cash reward, and acquired HaleyJarmain.ca and HaleyJarmain.com to redirect to his video. Levant’s Twitter backers mobbed further: called her attention-craving, a faker, part of the lügenpresse. (She and her station declined to comment to Maclean’s.)

Journalists tweeted in Jarmain’s defense and called Levant’s stunt disgusting and bullying. That’s just more media tribalism, he says. But journalists aren’t the only ones who worry about this dark side of Levant. “You want to be controversial; you want to hold powerful people to account for their action,” says Kory Teneycke, a longtime friend and former Sun News president. “But on the flip side, I think you get in trouble if you target people who are smaller than yourself.”

Coren says: “I’ve seen him do and say things that are incredibly hurtful, but I don’t think he actually feels it. He doesn’t know the effect he’s having on people.”

He scraped gutter mud a week earlier, too. An Alberta labour leader criticized a claim about his Edmonton rally size, and Levant threatened to post his profile from dating site Ashley Madison.

To call Levant perennially unrepentant is to call fish damp. That young reporter was “an embedded activist,” he says, the paragon of media skullduggery. “You know what?” he says, as though addressing her. “You can own that for the rest of your life as long as I have the money to keep the domain HaleyJarmain.com. She’ll own that lie. Or, we’ll catch the killer. Either way, it’s a win.”

For the next four years, remember: Art doesn’t belong to the left: Brendon Ambrosino

An amusing if ultimately silly article.

Yes, of course, Ambrosino is right that we should all try to see and understand the perspective of others.

But that does not necessarily mean accepting their views, particularly when they are anti-democratic, misogynistic, racist or bigoted, as many of Trump and his followers have been, with no post-election pivot to a more inclusive tone. So it’s not just about art ‘belonging’ to Democrats, it is about civic values and respect belonging to us all:

As the election proved, entertainment and media elites who live on the coasts are severely out of ideological step with the rest of the nation. Some small-town folks from the middle of the country enjoy Broadway shows as much as New Yorkers – and they open their wallets when Broadway shows and the Rockettes tour through their largely white, blue-collar towns. Best, then, not to alienate them by sending the message that performing arts are against Trump supporters. Especially because, if some of these people really are as backward as we’re told, wouldn’t you want them to be in the front row of, say, Hamilton, so they can experience the beauty of diversity in action? Trump supporters could learn a lot from a theatre; no need to make them feel unwelcome there.

There are rumours that Mr. Trump might cut arts funding, which would be a terrible decision. But think about the way his mind works: If professional artists are sending the message that art belongs to Democrats, then why would his administration keep funneling money there? Same thing with Mr. Trump going to see Broadway plays or concerts: Why would he do that if he thought he was showing up only to be lectured? This is the new leader of our country – and various arts communities would do well to let him know he is welcome to enjoy their art.

If you’re angry with Mr. Trump’s supporters, go to a quiet room, close your eyes, and try to imagine three logical reasons why they might be happy with a Trump presidency. If you can’t come up with these reasons easily, then that’s a failure of imagination on your part. (There are plenty of these sorts of unimaginative people on social media.) That suggests to me that our country is in desperate need of a renewed artistic vision, one that transcends petty political infighting.

I believe Dostoevsky was right when he said that beauty will save the world. Best, then, not to keep it under a political bushel for the next four years.

Source: For the next four years, remember: Art doesn’t belong to the left – The Globe and Mail

Canadian filmmakers consider how to make Heritage Minutes fresh again

Good to see this kind of questioning and thinking given the need to broaden the reach of the Heritage Minutes (which I always liked):

Kari Skogland thinks it’s about time that filmmakers push the boundaries on Canada’s Heritage Minutes.

After directing two early instalments in the series of bite-sized historic moments, the Ottawa-born director suggests there’s an opportunity to re-envision the project as a collection of thought-provoking conversation starters, rather than simple recreations of the past.

“It’s one thing to say we’re proud of a moment,” Skogland says.

“It’s another thing to say we’re involved in a moment.”

Skogland, who has gone on to direct TV shows including “House of Cards,” “The Walking Dead” and “Vikings,” says the latest call out by Historica Canada for another two instalments of the series opens the door for artists to draft a few edgier proposals.

Past dramatizations often leaned towards safe, heart-warming tales like “Winnie,” the story of Winnie the Pooh’s creation. Even Skogland’s own Mennonite-set history lesson “Water Pump” played like a sugar-coated memory.

“Maybe it doesn’t need to be quite that saccharine,” she suggests.

Historica Canada has been making tweaks to the series in recent years, turning its lens to more shameful parts of Canada’s history. Two new Heritage Minutes last year acknowledged the country’s racism with stories that addressed residential schools and segregation.

Skogland thinks the next step could be acknowledging how our Canadian artists have impacted the world. A timely and important example, she suggests, would be dedicating a Heritage Minute to the story of Leonard Cohen.

“He was a poet and a social commentator,” she says. “He had a huge value in his time to make people think about the world and how we perceive it.”

Historica Canada’s chief executive says he’s open to all new ideas, but that he’s particularly hoping to fill glaring omissions in the series, which after nearly 26 years still hasn’t tackled some important subjects.

“There’s a lot of holes, a lot of things to do,” says Anthony Wilson-Smith.

In particular, Heritage Minutes haven’t paid much attention to stories of the LGBTQ community, young people, religion and the environment.

Wilson-Smith says he’d like all of those themes captured in vignettes sooner than later.

Storytelling diversity is another priority. A variety of technologies like 3D and CGI haven’t been used much at all, so they could become new tools for retelling a particular moment. Documentary-style formats are also on the table as a possibility.

“We’re not filmmakers here,” he adds.

“So when people come forward with ideas where we say, ‘We haven’t looked at it that way before,’ we’re gonna (consider them) very hard.”

Breaking the mould has been a top priority for Wilson-Smith. He recently green-lit the first animated Heritage Minute, which explores Canada’s immigration history. The clip is set for release later this year.

The less-conventional style could allow for more original ideas to flow in.

Source: Canadian filmmakers consider how to make Heritage Minutes fresh again – The Globe and Mail

Stephen Gordon: Canada doesn’t have a Harvard, and that’s a good thing

Stephen Gordon on the weakness of the US elite college system in terms of social mobility:

It’s hard to tell which theory is correct: human capital models and signalling models both make the same basic prediction about the salaries of university graduates. Researchers are obliged to leverage information from natural experiments to distinguish between the two theories, and it’s usually the case that evidence that seems to support one side can be re-interpreted as supporting the other as well. A reasonable conclusion is that both stories have support in the data, and that each may play stronger roles in different contexts.

This brings us back to Harvard. The lengths to which people will go in order to obtain a Harvard degree are easier to understand if you think if a Harvard degree as a signal, and not a measure of human capital. To be sure, Harvard’s faculty deserves its reputation, but to the extent that teaching assistants and contract lecturers are responsible for much of the teaching at the undergraduate level (as is the case at so many other universities), the amount of human capital on offer at Harvard is unlikely to justify the prestige a Harvard degree conveys.

A more plausible story is that a Harvard degree conveys a signal: it shows that you have what it takes to get into Harvard in the first place. And indeed, the signalling story would also explain the trend to grade inflation at Harvard and other Ivy League universities. The grade most frequently awarded at Harvard is an A, and the median grade is A-. If students (and their parents) are paying for a signal, elite universities are going to be expected to provide it.

Signalling — and the wasted effort that goes with it — is much less pervasive in the Canadian university system. While some universities and some programs may have relatively higher entrance standards, getting into a “top” Canadian university is nowhere near as difficult as entering an elite U.S. college: the entire undergraduate population of the Ivy League is roughly equivalent to that of the University of Toronto. Moreover, the consequences of not getting into a top Canadian school are relatively minor: those who graduate from a Canadian undergraduate program are on a much more equal footing than they are in the U.S.

The U.S. has a rigid hierarchy of universities: the fact that they have a certain number of high-prestige schools has to be set against the fact that access to them is extremely limited, and that those who don’t make it into the top are at a permanent disadvantage. And since children from high-income families have greater access (elite universities typically offer “legacy” admissions to children of alumni), post-secondary education in the U.S. is at best a weak force for social mobility.

If — as available evidence suggests — Canadian social mobility is significantly greater than it is in the U.S., then much of the credit goes to the fact that there is no Canadian university that plays the prestige-signalling game that Harvard does. A “Harvard of Canada” is the last thing we need.

Source: Stephen Gordon: Canada doesn’t have a Harvard, and that’s a good thing | National Post