The Perils of Paid Content

Back in the late nineties and early 2000s, I worked in various capacities for This Magazine, a spunky little lefty magazine in Toronto. I wrote for it, helped edit the front of the book, and served for a while on the editorial board. The magazine’s slogan was “nobody owns us”, by which they meant two things. First, there was no corporate owner calling the shots, and second, there were no advertisers to speak of.

As declarations of independence go, it was as wrong as it was proud. Pretty much everywhere you go in life, there’s always an owner, there is always somebody to answer to, someone calling the shots. In the case of This Magazine, there were two such owners. First, the magazine has charitable status (it is technically an educational charity) and is hence highly constrained by the requirements of that status and the limitations it puts on the sorts of things it can publish.… Continue reading

On Iain M. Banks

I found it very poignant when Iain Banks announced — 4 years ago now — just a few months before his untimely death, that he had inoperable cancer. I resolved then to sit down and write the piece about his Culture novels that I’d been meaning to write forever. I did that in relatively short order. Publishing such a piece, however, proved somewhat more difficult!. Now, however, thanks to Sci Phi Journal, it is in print (here).

This is, by the way, the first half of the piece. The second half should be coming out in the new year.… Continue reading

On Trump, the apocalypse, and missing the forest for the Tweets

At the beginning of every apocalyptic thriller there’s always a scene where the hero is getting ready for work, feeding the kids breakfast, dealing with a dog that has barfed in the living room, and generally dealing with the million minor stresses of every day life. 

Meanwhile, on the TV or radio in the background the news is cycling through the usual mundanities of petty crime and traffic and local weather, except thrown into the mix there are always a handful of Easter eggs: warnings of nuclear sabre-rattling by jumped-up third-world dictators; quirky reports of bizarre weather patterns in Europe; a fun little hit about a couple from the midwest who swore they saw an alien spacecraft collecting samples in a field behind their house.

These scenes play a key role in setting up the narrative, in three ways. First, they establish the family ties that will provide the emotional basis for the film.… Continue reading

Happy Birthday, Bill 101, or How Camille Laurin inadvertently saved Canada

I led a double life in the 1960s and ‘70s, growing up in Snowdon, which was then a largely Anglophone, lower middle-class neighborhood in the Western part of Montreal. We were pretty much the only French-speaking household in the area. My mother, a Hungarian Jew, had spent her adolescence in France (long story), had acquired French citizenship which she passed on to me (Thanks, Mom), and more importantly, had developed a very strong sense of French identity, and perhaps even of French cultural superiority. I therefore attended Collège Stanislas, an educational gulag which, though it did everything it could to stifle any creative spark that might have been flickering among its pupils, did instill upon me a strong grasp of the rules of agreement of the French language. My friends at school were for the most part French Canadian. There were a few anglos – but we lived in French. I was fully attuned to French pop culture.… Continue reading

Comprendre le “Compromis Bouchard-Taylor”

Plusieurs choses sont dites au sujet de Rapport Bouchard-Taylor depuis que Charles Taylor a déclaré qu’il ne soutenait plus l’interdiction du port de signes religieux visibles pour les employés de l’État exerçant un pouvoir coercitif ou incarnant au plus haut point l’autorité de l’État (juges, policiers, agents de prison, procureurs de la Couronne et président de l’Assemblée nationale).

Cela n’a jamais jailli à la surface du débat public, mais la recommandation initiale du Rapport Bouchard-Taylor est depuis le tout début fragile et hésitante. Je cite le passage pertinent du Rapport :

“Telle est notre conclusion [au sujet de l’interdiction limitée du port de signes religieux visibles chez les agents de l’État]. Nous admettons que l’on peut y arriver en suivant différents types d’argumentation. Par exemple, on peut considérer que cette proposition est la plus appropriée dans le contexte actuel de la société québécoise, étant bien entendu ce que ce contexte peut changer avec le temps.Continue reading

How Crazy is Trump? Part 1 (and counting…)

Yesterday, Andrew Coyne wrote the following:

Whether a country has a trade deficit or a trade surplus, that is — with the world in general, let alone with individual countries — does not make the slightest difference to its welfare. It is a primitive fallacy to think that it does…

Where did Trump (and others) get the idea that the purpose of trade was to run a surplus? Perhaps, as a businessman, he equates a country’s trade balance with a company’s profit and loss statement. More likely, it is a matter of mistaking accounting for economics. Every first-year economics student is taught that national income equals consumption plus investment plus government spending plus the difference between exports and imports: the trade balance.

I’ve found that being charitable, when it comes to assessing people’s understanding of basic economics, is a habit seldom rewarded.

This afternoon, President Trump’s spokesman announced that they may impose a 20% tariff on Mexican imports as a way of making Mexico “pay” for the border wall.… Continue reading

Three thoughts on Kevin O’Leary

The newspapers today are loaded with stories suggesting that Kevin O’Leary is now the front-runner for the Conservative party leadership. For all the reasons outlined by Andrew Coyne, I don’t think it will happen. Not because Canada is necessarily morally exceptional (something we’ll be debating here at MISC next month) but because the systemic barriers are bigger here. It’s just harder to take over the Conservatives than it was for Trump to take over the GOP.

But since you never know what might happen, I think it’s worth making a few points about his candidacy.

1. Bilingualism

Whether it was craftiness or cowardice , O’Leary’s decision to enter the race the morning after the french-language debate was clearly deliberately timed. And didn’t we all spend yesterday talking about him? Combined with Justin Trudeau’s brain cramp in Sherbrooke, it raised once again the question of official bilingualism and whether one “has” to be bilingual to lead a major political party in this country.… Continue reading

Deinstitutionalisation: The new crisis for journalism Part I

1.

As far as the mainstream media is concerned, 2016 will be remembered as the year that the the print media ran out of runway, as the transition-to-digital bluff was called. There is no serious digital business model to speak of for online publishing – the recent round of mass layoffs at Medium only underscoring that even the digital-only ad-supported initiatives are a fool’s errand.

What should be done? For a while now, my view has been the same as Ken Whyte’s — we should do nothing. And that is pretty much the view I expressed at two of the seminars run by the Public Policy Forum as part of their initiative to determine if the decline of the news media is a problem, and if so, what should be done about it. My answers have been: Yes it’s a problem, and there’s not much to be done until the convulsions have ended.… Continue reading

Charles Taylor: A Strong Evaluator

(published in German in the magazine Transit for Charles Taylor’s 85th birthday alongside papers by Habermas, Fraser, Joas, MacIntyre, Gutmann, Honneth, etc.)

 

In seminal essays such as “What is Human Agency?” and Part 1 of Sources of the Self, Charles Taylor tried to articulate a fuller notion of selfhood and personal identity than those available in the analytic tradition. He starts off by suggesting that stripped-down, Lockean conceptions of personal identity as self-awareness through time could not be the end of the story. The idea, for instance, that “identity over time just involves […] psychological connectedness and/or psychological continuity”[1] is omitting, according to Charles, a crucial feature of what it is to be a person[2].

 

Even Harry Frankfurt’s richer theory of personhood lacks, according to Charles, a layer. For Frankfurt, what makes us distinctively human is our capacity to have “second-order volitions”, which involves being capable of rationally evaluating our first-order desires.… Continue reading

Retrouver la raison

M’inscrivant dans la mouvance du rationalisme 2.0 promu par Joseph et du renouveau du réalisme philosophique, je viens de faire paraître Retrouver la raison, un recueil d’essais de philosophie publique. Un extrait de l’introduction a été publié dans Le Devoir et, dans le contexte du débat au sein du Parti Québécois sur la laïcité, La Presse a publié des passages du chapitre 31.

Le livre a fait l’objet d’une riche discussion entre Francine Pelletier, Pierre-Luc Brisson et Marie-Louise Arsenault à Plus on est de fous, plus on lit ! Francine Pelletier s’est depuis entre autres appuyé sur le livre dans une chronique lucide et courageuse sur le multiculturalisme et l’interculturalisme au Québec. Le temps où la simple attribution de l’étiquette « multiculturaliste » était suffisante pour disqualifier un adversaire est peut-être révolu.

Louis Cornellier a publié un compte-rendu critique dans Le Devoir. Sa critique, généreuse, s’appuie sur une lecture sérieuse du livre.… Continue reading