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Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

Bruce Bawer in happier days.

I’ve been enjoyed Bruce Bawer’s essays on politics and culture for nearly 30 years, so I’ve been troubled over the last few weeks by the way his name has become entangled with that of the Norwegian terrorist Anders Behring Breivik.

Bawer has had a fascinating career: he’s a gay writer who made his name in some extremely homophobic magazines, an avowed Christian has sought to reconcile his sexuality with his faith, a literary essayist who is also a formidable political polemist, and an American expatriate who has become a central figure in Europe’s burgeoning anti-immigration movement.

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Murdoch: The Newspaper Baron Under Seige

The unfolding scandal over phone hacking, police corruption and political intimidation in Britain is filled with enough juicy details to fill a fat novel. But I thought it might be worthwhile to take a big picture view of the man at the heart of the scandal, Rupert Murdoch. My assessment of the man can be found here.

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Marshall McLuhan, 1911-1980

Over at the Walrus, I have an assessment of Marshall McLuhan at the 100 anniversary of his birth, with a focus on him as a Catholic intellectual. You can read the article here.

An excerpt:

Indeed, his faith made him a more ambitious and far-reaching thinker. Belonging to a Church that gloried in cathedrals and stained glass windows made him responsive to the visual environment, and liberated him from the textual prison inhabited by most intellectuals of his era. The global reach and ancient lineage of the Church encouraged him to frame his theories as broadly as possible, to encompass the whole of human history and the fate of the planet. The Church had suffered a grievous blow in the Gutenberg era, with the rise of printed Bibles leading to the Protestant Reformation. This perhaps explains McLuhan’s interest in technology as a shaper of history. More deeply, the security he felt in the promise of redemption allowed him to look unflinchingly at trends others were too timid to notice.

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Not Ezra Levant.

I feel bad going after Ezra Levant. He’s so goofy that his antics are sort of endearing, like the mischief-making of a not-very-bright ten year old boy. But still “Sideshow Ezra”  does get to publish in national newspapers and there might be some people out there even dimmer than he is who take him as a sage.

 

The eagle-eyes at The Mark have noted a jaw-dropping anomaly in Levant’s writing. Last Tuesday, Levant called for the murder of a private citizen who has not been convicted of any crime, asking “Why isn’t Julian Assange dead yet?” Criticized for this, Levant responded on Friday that that Assange has no right to claim free speech because certain types of speech are rightly considered criminal. His examples? “There is a minor element of expression involved in spying and hacking. But the same could be said for forging a signature on a cheque, or writing a death threat on a piece of paper. No-one would reasonably characterize those as acts of free speech — the speech part is incidental to the crime involved in each.” (Italics added, of course).

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Julian Assange: Many want him dead.

Over at the National Post, I link current calls for the assassination of Julian Assange with a larger history and pattern of incendiary rhetoric on the political right. You can read the article here.

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Maclean's infamous campus issue.

 

Maclean’s has finally issued an editorial comment on their “‘Too Asian?’” article. Before taking issue with what is problematic in their editorial, I do want to praise this paragraph:

Through hard work, talent and ambition, Asian students have been highly successful in earning places in Canada’s institutions of higher learning. They, like all of our high achievers, deserve respect and admiration. Every one of them is a source of pride to their fellow Canadians.

It’s good to see Asian-Canadian students addressed, as they should be, as Canadians.

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I, Asimov: A Memoir

 

“Vicious anti-Semitism was (and is again) a widespread scourge; no comparable, sustained phenomenon — ‘anti-Asianism’ — exists.” – Barbara Kay, National Post, November 23, 2010.

***

Although I was Jewish and poor as well, I benefited from the American education system at its best and attended one of its finest universities; I wondered, how many African-Americans would have had the same opportunity at that time? Denouncing antisemitism without denouncing human cruelty in general troubled me constantly. The general blindness was such that I heard Jews condemn unreservedly the phenomenon of antisemitism, and then without skipping a beat move on to the African-American question, and talk about it as if they were little Hitlers. If I pointed this out to them and objected strenuously, they turned on me. They were completely unable to see what they were doing. 

 

I once heard a lady speak passionately about the Gentiles who had done nothing to save the Jews of Europe. “You just can’t trust them,” she claimed. 

I let it pass for a while, and then I suddenly asked: “And what are you doing to help the Blacks achieve their civil rights?”

“Listen”, she retorted. “I have enough problems of my own.”

And I said: “That’s exactly what the Gentiles of Europe said.” I saw a complete lack of comprehension in her face. She couldn’t see what I was getting at. What can we do about it? The whole world seems to be permanently waving a banner that reads: “Freedom! … but not for others.”

 

 

– Isaac Asimov, I, Asimov: A Memoir (1994)

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A Twice-Told Tale

R.W. Johnson: not a writer to be trusted.

 

Here’s a story that appeared in the Business Review Weekly in 1994:

 

After overthrowing the Batista regime in 1958, Castro had to set up a new administration in haste. The story goes that at a meeting of the revolutionary leaders, Castro asked: “Is anyone here an economist?” Che Guevara, the Argentinian firebrand, put up his hand and instantly became president of the national bank and Minister for Industry. This surprised all present. Che had been a medical student. Moreover, as Clive James was later to write, it was accepted that he couldn’t organise anything more complicated than a small ambush. Che later confessed: “I thought Fidel said: is anyone here a communist?”

 

Here’s a very similar story that ran in the Wall Street Journal on November 19, 2010:

 

Trevor Manuel, the South African finance minister from 1996 to 2009, got his job when the aging Nelson Mandela asked, at a cabinet meeting, who was a good economist. Mr. Manuel raised his hand thinking Mr. Mandela had asked who was “a good communist.” Mr. Manuel served his country ably. But the appointment of the sole competent minister in the first government of African National Congress was a matter of blind luck.

 

The first story is almost certainly apocryphal, the second is even more dubious. It’s clearly modelled on the first story, with such fidelity that one can most charitably describe it as unconscious plagiarism.  

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Time: it only took Maclean's decades to do a less intelligent and sensitive version of this article.

Over on the CBC radio program Q, I was interviewed by Jian Ghomeshi about Maclean’s “Too Asian” article. You can listen to the show here. 

Interestingly, Maclean’s was asked if they wanted to appear on the show and debate the issue. They not only declined the request, they refused to make a statement on this matter. This adds to my general sadness on this topic: if Maclean’s wanted to raise such a provocative topic, they should have the courage of their convictions and argue it out with their critics. But it seems like Maclean’s wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want to get attention for publishing something that angers people, but when objection are raised they duck out of engagement with the issue and act like their being unfairly singled out for criticism.

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David Suzuki: Canadian hero or too Asian?

 

Maclean’s magazine has raised the issue of whether Canadian universities are too Asian. (The link is to website that preserved the original version of the article, which has since been scrubbed and replaced by a slightly less offensive piece by Maclean’s). In a fit of irritation, I wrote a response in the National Post asking if Maclean’s is too white (I’m almost tempted to say too Whyte). My article can be read here.

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