Canadian exceptionalism

Between Jeremy Corbyn’s showing in the last U.K. election and Emmanuel Macron’s phenomenal sweep in France, there is grounds for optimism that the fever of right-wing populism is beginning to break. In part I think this is due to Donald Trump himself, who is such a perfect specimen of the ugly American that his election and subsequent behaviour no doubt did considerable damage to the fortunes of populists in countries where voters would like to think of themselves as above the impulses that brought him to power. (This is, I suspect, an important part of the story in France.)

Just a few months ago, things were looking quite different. At that time, a fairly widespread discussion broke out over the seemingly anomalous circumstances that prevailed in Canada, where nativism seemed to be gaining no traction. The picture we all saw of a smiling Justin Trudeau greeting Syrian refugees at the airport was reprinted in newspapers around the world.… Continue reading

What the failure of Star Touch teaches us about a media bailout

The Toronto Star announced yesterday that it was shuttering its flagship Star Touch tablet app, laying off 30 employees and eating something north of $20 million in investment costs.

This comes a week after a group called “News Media Canada” — basically a legacy news media lobbying group — pitched the feds on a plan for the government to give the industry $350 million in support that would include funding 35 per cent of newsroom costs.

Clearly, the failure of Star Touch proves the need for the bailout money, yes?

Actually, no, it proves the exact opposite. Star Touch is exactly why the feds need to leave the news business to its death throes.

Some quick background: Star Touch was an attempt to recreate the walled garden of print in a digital format, to provide a closed environment where readers would come and stick around, paging through the heavily designed and curated app.Continue reading

*All The President’s Men* for the Trump era

If you’re looking for guidance on the current media-political climate in the United States, I highly recommend you pick up a copy of All The President’s Men, the book-length account of the Watergate investigation by Woodward and Bernstein. This is one of those I-can’t-believe-I-haven’t-read-it-sooner books, something I really should have been handed the day I walked into the newsroom at the Ottawa Citizen almost a decade ago. (The movie is great too, but it only covers the period from the break-in until Nixon’s re-election in ‘72, so it misses what is arguably the most interesting stuff. It’s also a bit jarring to read the book knowing that Deep Throat was Mark Felt, the #2 at the FBI at the time.)

Aside from its value as analogue journalism-porn (See also: Spotlight) in many ways, it will make you feel better about what’s going on now. History doesn’t repeat itself but it definitely rhymes: America has seen shit-show presidencies before and survived.… Continue reading

Are university administrators wrongly incentivised?

 

In contemporary philosophy and economics, a central paradigm is the idea that rather than put our trust in people’s virtue, or overburden them with laws and regulations, we should provide them the correct incentives for them to guide their own actions. In particular, we seek to align interests, so that decision-makers, workers and the public at large all aim toward the same set of goals, despite having different goals. For example, if your money guy receives a percentage of what you make, then the theory says that his interests aligns with yours, and that lessen the risk of bad management, since both of you nowhave a vested interestin you making more money.

Obviously, there are plenty of ethical, psychological and economicissues with this theory, however, in many cases, the problem is not so much due to the theory itself; it is simply a matter of having failed to correctly align the interest in a given situation, which then predictably leads to conflicts between actors.… Continue reading

How can we accept the transgendered but not the transracial?

There’s been a lot of chatter about the recent interview with Rachel Dolezal by Ijeoma Oluo, published in The Stranger. Here’s a sample of some of the response that it has generated. Most people seem to regard it as having buried Dolezal, once and for all. I found it rather mysterious. To see why, imagine that someone did an interview with Caitlyn Jenner, in the same tone, making the exact same arguments. It would instantly have been denounced as transphobic, everywhere but in the furthest reaches of the alt-right. What I don’t understand – I have no axe to grind here, what I really don’t understand – is how people can view the two cases, of people opting to change race, and people opting to change gender, as so very different, or how they could regard the former as more dubious than the latter.

For instance, before even getting to the interview, Oluo spends two entire paragraphs mocking Dolezal for having changed her name to Nkechi Amare Diallo.… Continue reading

Why you should read “Should we change how we vote?”

Last summer, a lot of us expected that roundabout now the Liberal government would be either introducing legislation to change the electoral system, or making preparations for a national referendum on a proposal to change the electoral system. That’s because Justin Trudeau promised, during the 2015 campaign, that the upcoming election would be that last one held under the “first past the post” electoral system, and by summer 2016, it was clear that time was running out on the government’s ability to make good on that pledge.

Hoping to both intervene in the government’s decision-making process and contribute to the public debate, Daniel Weinstock, Peter Loewen, and I organized a pair of conferences last fall, one in Ottawa and Montreal. We also arranged for MQUP to publish a “quickie” book out of the conference, one that would do a shortcut on the usual academic press publishing timelines and get something out in time to contribute to the anticipated debate we would be having this spring.… Continue reading

Why Facebook is the Devil: Platforms, publishing, and the public good

Prologue

We have no elected government, nor are we likely to have one, so I address you with no greater authority than that with which liberty itself always speaks. I declare the global social space we are building to be naturally independent of the tyrannies you seek to impose on us. You have no moral right to rule us nor do you possess any methods of enforcement we have true reason to fear.

A Declaration of the Independence of Cyberspace — John Perry Barlow, 1996

I.

You all know the line about generals always preparing to fight the last war. News media execs, and many academics and media critics, on the other hand, have spent the better part of the last two decades fighting the current war while trying to figure out a way of getting everyone to agree to return to the terms of the old. That is, a good decade after it became clear that the math for digital publishing was never going to work, there are still a lot of publishers, aided by a sizeable scholarly industry, who are devoted to finding some way of rolling back the clock on the business model.… Continue reading

L’ Affaire Potter (again).

 

As I write these lines, McGill University is reeling from the scrutiny that has been brought to bear upon it in the handling by its upper administration of what has come to be known as the “Potter Affair”. I think we could have come out of this crisis much better that we have done. I offer the following reflections, not because I think there is any way that the present situation can be made good – the well has been poisoned to far too great a degree for that – but in the hope that it might guide our institution, as well as others, through similar challenges.

First, let’s get a couple of matters out of the way. To begin with, yes, Andrew is a friend. He was my postdoctoral student many years ago at the Université de Montréal. Our life trajectories have not led to our having had that much contact since then, but we have been in regular touch.… Continue reading

L’affaire Potter

(Those who have been following the news will no doubt know that Andrew Potter, our co-blogger here on In Due Course, as well as my friend and sometime co-author, has been at the centre of not one, but two, recent scandals, the first when he published an unpopular column in Macleans, which he quickly came to regret, and the second when he stepped down from his position as Director of the McGill Institute for the Study of Canada. Unsurprisingly, I have a few thoughts on the matter…)

 

The McGill administration appears to have sleepwalked into what is arguably the most egregious violation of academic freedom in this country in living memory. To see how outrageous it is, consider how it would look had it occurred to me. Suppose, for instance, that I wrote an opinion column called “10 things I hate about Toronto.” That actually wouldn’t be much of a stretch, because I hate Toronto, and it wouldn’t be hard to come up with a list of 10 things.… Continue reading

American Nakba

I’ve recently been writing a paper on the topic of stigmatization (available here), which includes some discussion of the rather acrimonious left-right debate over the “culture of poverty,” and the extent to which the lower classes should be held responsible for the various self-destructive behaviours that they tend to engage in. This had me reading some conservative cultural criticism, which led me to David Frum’s How We Got Here: The ‘70s. I was vaguely aware of this book when it came out, but never got around to reading it. After checking it out from the library I found myself quite looking forward to it, because Frum has been a consistently interesting voice on the American scene in the past 5 years or so (since he was expelled from his post as movement conservative). Thus I was quite surprised by just how bad the book is. Part of this I suppose is due to the fact that it was published in 2000 (i.e.… Continue reading