Three images of the same scene from February, 2003, Sackville, New Brunswick.
- International and Canadian News: deportations of Palestinians refugees, Coca Cola accused of murder, a British plan to hide nuclear bombs in Germany, Music "piracy" and terrorism, and analysis of John Manley's decision to drop out of the Liberal leadership race.
- An interview with Emmanuel Todd, a historian who argues that the US empire is in decline, and has been for the past decade.
- Readings on the recent history of Liberia
- Heather Meek's comics
- The Weekly Chomsky
- Carole Ferrari on HydroQuebec's plans to divert rivers flowing into James Bay
- Reviews of Shakespeare productions in Halifax and Toronto
We are now "hiring" for several volunteer positions. Positions require anywhere from 2-6 hours per week.
A few people have joined the Dominion in recent weeks: Susan Thompson is the new features co-editor, Yuill Herbert is co-editing the environment page with Hillary Lindsay, and Marcel Mason has been providing news updates and commentary from the vast Canadian north on the Dominion Weblog.
The Dominion Daily Weblog is updated daily with commentary on a variety of topics and links to interesting articles from around the web.
AOL is going to provide blogging tools to all users of version 9 of its software.
One of the nice things about weblogs is that they don't operate in a common space, but rather allow everyone to create their own space. So AOL doing this won't create anything quite as bad as the September that Never Ended:
All time since September 1993. One of the seasonal rhythms of the Usenet used to be the annual September influx of clueless newbies who, lacking any sense of netiquette, made a general nuisance of themselves. This coincided with people starting college, getting their first internet accounts, and plunging in without bothering to learn what was acceptable. These relatively small drafts of newbies could be assimilated within a few months. But in September 1993, AOL users became able to post to Usenet, nearly overwhelming the old-timers' capacity to acculturate them; to those who nostalgically recall the period before hand, this triggered an inexorable decline in the quality of discussions on newsgroups."Still, there is plenty of room for the cultural norms of web site stewardship to decline or otherwise degenerate. Thankfully, there will be less of a lowest-common-denominator shift than there was with the popular/mainstream groups on USENET. This same "everyone has their own soapbox" structure leads to a significant echo chamber effect, but I'm pretty sure that this just reflects the reality of how unoriginal people are in general, rather than necessarily encouraging it.
One thing we can be sure of, though, is that there won't be much of an increase in the number of people asking, as Paul Ford did:
How could the Weblog "form" be expanded in regards to narrative, not technology, to become exciting and valuable over time?In that article from way back in 2000, Ford proposes a number of new forms of weblogs that could be taken up. He also offers an explanation of why "so much of the web is so bad", which will almost certainly continue to be true:
Many people who create personal Web sites believe that by becoming famous, they will become less lonely.Alternatively, people do things because they want recognition for doing them, not because they love doing them.
Would it be too pretentious to quote Rilke?
And if out of this turning-within, out of this immersion in your own world, poems come, then you will not think of asking anyone whether they are good or not. Nor will you try to interest magazines in these works: for you will see them as your dear natural possession, a piece of your life, a voice from it. A work of art is good if it has arisen out of necessity. That is the only way one can judge it.(from Letters to a Young Poet, 1903)
If one feels one could live without writing, then perhaps one shouldn't write at all.
Rilke wrote that one hundred years ago; technology hasn't changed that much. But maybe, from those 34 million AOL users, a few hundred will find a place to share and develop some authentic or original work, or share interesting work or research. The rest will keep doing what "opinionated" people have been doing for years, slightly emboldened by new technology.
Columbia Journalism Review Re-thinking Objectivity
['Objectivity'] exacerbates our tendency to rely on official sources, which is the easiest, quickest way to get both the "he said" and the "she said," and, thus, "balance." According to numbers from the media analyst Andrew Tyndall, of the 414 stories on Iraq broadcast on NBC, ABC, and CBS from last September to February, all but thirty-four originated at the White House, Pentagon, and State Department. So we end up with too much of the "official" truth. More important, objectivity makes us wary of seeming to argue with the president - or the governor, or the ceo - and risk losing our access. Jonathan Weisman, an economics reporter for The Washington Post, says this about the fear of losing access: "If you are perceived as having a political bias, or a slant, you're screwed."What frustrates me is the baffling yet prevalent belief that questions can be objective. Not only is it nonsensical to say that a question is objective, the question is necessary before objectivity is even possible.
If I say "blue", that statement is not objective, it's just a word. But if I say "blue" in response to "what colour does the sky appear to be, right now?", then it's an answer. Subsequently, I can decide whether the answer is objective or not by examining how I came upon the answer.
The only way that the question "what colour is the sky?" can be objective is if it is the answer to another question, like "what is the most pressing question, according to my peers?" But that question isn't objective either unless it is an answer to another question ("what criterion should I use to decide what question to ask?"). This leads to both an infinite loop-back and answers that are impossible to call objective without a philosophical apparatus that is very complex indeed.
This is not to say that examining where questions come from isn't important, but that we should be clear that it has very little to do with "objectivity".
I suspect the main problem is that journalists equate the word "objectivity" with "balance". This is to suck any remaining meaning from the word "objective", though, or at least make it extremely narrow.
Since balance doesn't have anything to do with describing reality, but rather has to do with describing opinions about reality, balanced reporting can be considered somewhat objective as an answer to the question "what do certain people think about X?"
The problem, described in the article linked above, is that reporters only want to answer that question. This probably has to do with the need to crank out a large number of stories consistantly as much as anything. Repeating other people's opinions is much more likely to render an interesting result than in the short term than doing research to answer a specific question (e.g. "did Bush lie?").
Objectivity in the conventional sense of isolating an object and making accurate, documented, or repeatable observations about it, isn't something that is relevant to journalism, except as a tool or guideline in specific instances.
One of the questions raised in "Re-thinking Objectivity" is: if objectivity isn't achieveable, then what will replace it [as an overarching principle followed by journalists]? The short answer is: nothing.
People who do really great journalism don't follow anything like objectivity. They follow up leads, ask questions, get answers, ask new questions, and so on. Eventually, a coherent picture emerges, which they describe as accurately as they can, guiding the reader to their own place of clarity and understanding about a topic. This isn't objectivity; the simplest way to describe it is "open-mindedness"; being open to what presents itself in the course of investigation or exploration. "Induction," even.
Nor is the process of portraying this understanding, of guiding the reader closer to it, objective. When it's at its best, it's literary. A world is set up, and the reader can enter it as she pleases. This portrayal of understanding is often set up in opposition to, or at least in response to, what is commonly understood by the body public.
The objection that will be raised is that without objectivity, there is no check on blatant political partisanship in reporting. But it's already the case that objectivity provides no such check; if anything, it keeps reporting more in line with the status quo.
"What are some of the really bad things that George W. Bush did while in office?" A report that set out to answer this question could be completely objective in its answers. But would it be good journalism?
This kind of journalism may be partisan, but it is not a lack of objectivity that makes it so. Rather, it is the narrowness of its approach that makes it partisan. But even this isn't necessarily bad journalism; provided the kind of narrowness is made explicit, or is clearly presented in the context of an existing body of reporting.
What is (or should be) the key for journalists is a concern for the whole. The whole story, the whole situation, the whole of relevant facts. This means having a lot of different questions, and places to ask questions from. The article highlights some problems in this area:
Most newsroom diversity efforts, though, focus on ethnic, racial, and gender minorities, which can often mean people with different skin color but largely the same middle-class background and aspirations. At a March 13 panel on media bias at Columbia's journalism school, John Leo, a columnist for U.S. News & World Report, said, "It used to be that anybody could be a reporter by walking in the door. It's a little harder to do that now, and you don't get the working-class Irish poor like Hamill or Breslin or me. What you get is people from Ivy League colleges with upper-class credentials, what you get is people who more and more tend to be and act alike." That, he says, makes it hard for a newsroom to spot its own biases.But perhaps what is needed even more is time. The obsession with daily news updates, in combination with the needs of the market, keeps the vast majority of journalists churning out short bits and briefs, as many as two per day. The nebulous concept of "objectivity", as well as "balance", provide a crutch that allows overhurried journalism to go on existing without confronting its many obvious problems. It's easy enough to call up a bunch of people, ask what they think, and string some quotes together.
I'd venture, though, that that's something other than journalism. Let's call it text-repurposing. That, or "good journalism" needs to be called something other than "journalism".
The yellowcake lie landed on Page One solely because it occasioned a brief and fatal departure from the Bush White House's press strategy of stonewalling. "Bush Claim on Iraq Had Flawed Origin, White House Says" read a New York Times headline on July 8. Glancing through the story, Chatterbox initially puzzled over its Page One placement. Didn't we know already that Bush's yellowcake line was a lie? Then Chatterbox realized that the novelty component wasn't the lie, but the Bush administration's admission that it had told a lie. In the Bush White House, this simply isn't done.
The ugly reality about stonewalling and lying is that, if pursued with the proper discipline, it can be an effective public-relations tool. Mainstream reporters may contrast what a White House press spokesman says with what somebody else says, but they usually hesitate to state bluntly that Person A is lying and Person B is telling the truth. (An admirable exception is Dana Milbank of the Washington Post, who has devoted considerable energy to documenting Bush's falsehoods.) If a press secretary states consistently that up is down, most reporters will present this as a matter of opinion. But if he states repeatedly that up is down, then says that up is up, and then resumes saying that up is down, reporters will seize on the inconsistency and cry foul. Unlike disagreement between one person and another (or even disagreement between one person and the rest of humanity), a single person's saying one thing and then saying another is usually taken (sometimes unfairly) as prime facie evidence that a lie has been told.
Reporters, of course, are in the business of "objectively" presenting what politician say. It is well beyond their scope to evaluate what is said. This is the central paradox of "objective" reporting: as soon as one starts to deal with the matter itself, and not what is said about it or depicted, one enters the realm of "opinion" or editorialization. Opinion can be objectively reported, but objective evaluation can only be opinion. Confused yet?
(I've written about the way 'objectivity' is conceived in American journalism and the problems it raises in a previous post.)
Someone has compiled a series of blush-inducing snippets of sexual innuendo from the latest Harry Potter book. They're mostly out of context, but nonetheless quite amusing.
I recently read #3, and since everyone has an opinion, I'll note that the first two chapters seemed to take great pains to identify being fat with stupidity, ignorance, mean-spiritedness, and as just generally Bad. Bitch Magazine has made the case fat people are the one group that it's still ok to make fun of. I should add that this is far too often combined with race. The silly fat black guy is still a Hollywood staple; watch for him in 'Old School', 'Blue Crush', and many others.
In any case, Rowling makes this case in a grotequely overstated way. After that, though, the book gets better, and ends up being a well crafted fusion of Hardy Boys and Roald Dahl, like the others. As literature, though, I think it still falls well short of the mark in its observations of and insights into human activity. The Potter books lean on plot twists and magical knickknacks the same way action movies rely on special effects. They are what makes the books compelling, but they also obviate the need for (and reduce the expectation of) anything more substantial.
I've enjoyed the books so far, but I feel some obligation to stem the cultural tide that inevitably grants blockbusting bestselling phenomena more than their due in areas unrelated to popularity.
The US military is one of the last real socialist institutions in the world. I realized this talking to an old friend who currently works on a military base; he was complaining about his rent. All of the sailors from the base where he works get a housing allowance from the navy. As a result, local landlords are able to jack up the prices to otherwise untenable levels. Only the non-military folk are affected.
In this and other ways, people who join the US armed forces are taken care of. They are fed, provided with cheap or free transportation and accommodations, and given discounts on groceries and other goods. All this, thanks to collectivized production and taxpayer dollars.
If you're dropping off the bottom rung of the social ladder in America, the safety net of the military is there to catch you, and provide an attractive alternative to the hell of split shifts of minimum wage work. Just a few caveats: you have to be willing to kill others and die for your country. And by "for your country", they actually mean "for various interests whose connection to the well-being of your country is vague, or perhaps nonexistent." (Woody Guthrie sang, "if we fix it so you can't make no money on war, then we'll all forget what we was killin' folks for...")
So the military practices a skewed kind of socialism that views a relative increase in economic well-being as a means to an end (ensuring a supply of cannon fodder, for example), rather than an end in itself.
The same friend was also a bit depressed about the amount of spousal abuse that occurs on the base where he works. Submarine crew members, he said, are often enough jailed for beating their wives. Just as often, though, they are released by their commanding officers when they are needed for another six month mission across the Pacific. The socialist state of the navy is again skewed by having its own justice system: one geared toward the task at hand, not necessarily at justice.
A second tier of socialism is available for public servants, generals, politicians, and Pentagon types who are loyal to the military industrial complex. Cushy "consulting" gigs with defense contractors are subsidized by the taxpayer, but make no pretense of being accountable to her. From each according to his debility, to each according to his greed.
These socialist practices skewed to other ends are often copied by large corporations, though rarely carried to the same extent. Resources are collectivized, but not surprisingly, the benefits accrue to a chosen few. Why not spread things around just a bit more, to make everyone's life better? Perish the thought. Socialism for the rich is commonly refered to as "free market capitalism", but socialism for anyone else is "class warfare".
Issue #3 of the Dominion has been up for a while.
I'm particularly happy with the National Missile Defence readings. They reveal some aspects of NMD that simply aren't discussed in mainstream debate (in Canada, the debate is almost entirely how much we need to placate the Bush administration). Those aspects are Canada's fast-growing defense industry, which stands to profit from projects like NMD, and the reasons for the existence of missile "defense" in the first place. Take this startling analysis from the Project for the New American Century, for example:
Effective ballistic missile defenses will be the central element in the exercise of American power and the projection of U.S. military forces abroad. Without it, weak states operating small arsenals of crude ballistic missiles, armed with basic nuclear warheads or other weapons of mass destruction, will be a in a strong position to deter the United States from using conventional force, no matter the technological or other advantages we may enjoy. Even if such enemies are merely able to threaten American allies rather than the United States homeland itself, America's ability to project power will be deeply compromised.In other words, NMD is about being able to negate the ability of smaller states from deterring an American invasion, so as to attack with impunity. This is quite literally the position of the Bush administration.
We also published a series of excerpts from Social Torment: Globalization in Atlantic Canada, a book-length study of neoliberal policies by Dr. Thom Workman. Workman has some provocative things to say about both mainstream politics and the left in Canada. For example:
The social equation of neoliberal policy reforms is clear: social austerity equals low wages.Or:
Capital is not antidemocratic; it is antiworker. If throwing a democratic bone or two to "citizens" would do it any good, transnational capital would embrace any element of democracy in an instant. Discussions that centre around the notion of "democracy" are likely to miss the crucial and most important point about the evolving globalist agenda, namely, that the purportedly democratic institutions of the state are being attacked and usurped to undermine the relative power of working people. Almost invariably, these overworked dramatizations about the erosion of democracy give themselves over to genteel concerns about the importance of salvaging great nations such as Canada. Analysts must do more than chase the shadows of a world that emits such cruelty and suffering.
The most recent issue of NetFuture has some good articles, including a series of aphorisms about computers and learning, extracted from previous NetFuture articles on the subject, and Notes on Genetic Engineering, a strong criticism of corporate science. Here are a few of the aphorisms:
Lack of information has not been the bottleneck in education for decades, or even centuries. Rather, the task for the teacher is to take the infinitesimal slice of available information that can actually be used in the classroom and find some way to bring students into living connection with it.
Computer labs have been displacing art, music, craft, and physical education classes. Does anyone pretend to have shown that the exchange is beneficial?
Given how many hours a day children pursue mediated experience through cinema screens, television screens, and video game screens, it hardly makes sense to add a computer screen to the mix while saying reassuringly, "Let's make sure the children use it in a balanced way".
The quality of kids' play is correlated with their later cognitive, aesthetic, and social skills. There is no demonstrated connection between these skills and early computer use.
The task of schools is to encourage the development of children who can decide what sorts of jobs are worth having in the coming century, not to train children to fit whatever jobs the system happens to crank out.
The computer is often used as a gimmick to lend a touch of glamor or excitement to a subject. Why is this artificial glamorization more appealing than making the subject itself exciting -- something good teachers have no difficulty doing?
[The following are three excerpts from Martin Heidegger's Letter on Humanism]
Absolute metaphysics, with its Marxian and Nietzschean inversions, belongs to the history of the truth of being. Whatever stems from it cannot be countered or even cast aside by refutations. It can only be taken up in such a way that its truth is more primordially sheltered in Being itself and removed from the domain of mere human opinion. All refutation in the field of essential thinking is foolish. Strife among thinkers is the "lovers' quarrel" concerning the matter itself. It assists them mutually toward a simple belonging to the Same, from which they find what is fitting for them in the destiny of Being. (p. 239, Basic Works)
I finally met Kellan in person yesterday, and spent the day walking around Seattle, chatting about various combinations of activism, philosophy, books, and technology. Kellan has done some interesting thinking on online collaboration, and we agreed that mailing lists are not a good way to get work done. No one is ever paying full attention when the traffic is anything more than minimal; it only takes one flamer or negative type to kill a discussion; no one is addressed directly, and so does not feel obligated to engage. I find this last problem to be present even on cc: lists where everyone has met in person and has a fair amount of common group to work with.
Since I'm trying to start a virtual national newspaper in Canada, I've been thinking a lot about how to facilitate a sense of cohesion, and keep everyone on the same page, without being in the same place. Right now, people doing work for the Dominion are in Scotland, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario, Alberta, and British Columbia. And two potential additions are in Nunavut and Italy. Even with Scotland out of the picture, that's a span of four days of driving or an eight hour plane ride that divides us.
On the other hand, it's pretty exciting, because none of this was possible even six years ago. That is, it was possible, but only by narrowing the range of participants to the at least mildly geeky. Now, it seems like every other person who emails me about the paper has their own weblog (more than two run their own slashdot-style collaborative weblogs), or checks their email at least a few times a week.
This makes a lot more possible, in terms of getting a group of people who are scattered all over the place to work together on one project. Email, though, doesn't seem to be enough in the long term. Kellan seemed convinced that for tasks that involve programming, much, much more can be accomplished with everyone in the same place, focused on the same task. On the other hand, he mentioned that irc meetings helped keep the indymedia tech folks in the same shared reality, until they stopped them, anyway. I've had a similar experience with various Indymedia meetings and from hanging out on the Monkeyfist irc channel for a few years. Something about feeling like the other people are present through immediate feedback makes it a much more satisfying experience than writing a long email, not receiving any reply, and wondering if anyone read it.
In the end, the choice seems to be between irc (or some kind of instant messaging) and phone conferences. Irc takes a bit of getting used to; a "pace" of back-and-forth has to develop, which can be complicated with many people present. And it's a bit geeky. Phone conferencing, though, sounds like it can also be tedious (I've been on one teleconference, but friends who work with regional environmental groups seem to dread them). And they're more expensive. Video conferencing, in the words of Eric Idle, is right out.
The production of a newspaper is a funny combination of social and antisocial. Good writing requires determinate lengths of silence and reflection. Putting a paper together, at its best, is a very social process of writing, editing, chopping, creative filling of space, and spontaneous discussion of journalistic practices or ethics, and discussion, as it gets late, of just about everything else. The end result is a collective work: stories have been re-hashed, layouts reconsidered and refined, and corrections made, with various levels of input from anywhere from two to a dozen others.
This is a lot of fun. On the other hand, I've written enough editorials at 3 am to know that it can also be extremely distracting. The Dominion, then, doesn't have this problem, but it also lacks the benefits, for the moment. The long term plan for the paper is to make it into a franchise of sorts: a way to enable people to start their own local independent paper by providing them with a solid base of 8+ pages of content, as well as design and layout services. They provide locally relevant content, local distribution, and local ad revenue.
Even in the short term, I hope to set up an office of some sort when I move to Halifax (or wherever I end up), to provide the paper with more than a virtual space. But the problem isn't going to go away; we are a national paper, and if everyone was in the same place, that would effectively make it a regional paper that calls itself a national paper, like the Globe and Mail and National Post do from Toronto.
I think, finally, that the answer is going to involve occasional short irc meetings, and persistant yet subtle encouragement of posting to the weblog. I mention weblogs because it's what enabled me, for example, to know that Kellan was in Seattle, and then to have a significant backlog of his thoughts on various topics to provide a background to our conversations. All of this involves getting people to geek out a tiny bit more than they feel comortable doing, but not enough to add a burden to volunteers who might already be close to burnout. This seems like a reasonable challenge, given the exciting possibilities of collaborating with a diverse group from different backgrounds and locations to create a newspaper that is truly national in scope and critical in sensibility. Actually, we don't have a version Francais, so that's a ways off.
The real technological solution to the geography problem was recently pointed out to me by photographer and writer John Haney. In a moment of wisdom, John suggested that we buy a railcar, paint THE DOMINION along the side, hook up some satellite internet and cell phones, and set up shop. The paper could travel slowly from coast to coast, stopping to pick up writers, confer with editors, and cover stories about various parts of the big dominion.
In case you hadn't heard, Bush effectively dodged the draft, the semi-legal way. His dad got him skipped to the front of a National Guard waiting list. Greg Palast has the files:
This week, on July 6, George W. Bush turned 57. William White was born the same day in 1946. I mention this because, if you’re old enough, you’d remember that young men were drafted for Vietnam based on a grim lottery – if your birthday was picked out of a hat, you went. I got White’s name off a black wall in Washington. He went to Vietnam when George W went to the Air Guard in Houston. White never came back. Happy birthday, Mr. President.
(All this is from a novel and lacking its original context; this changes the meaning quite a bit.)
From Strong Motion, a novel by Jonathan Franzen. Farrar, Strauss and Giroux. 1992.
She was finishing her thesis when Claudia informed her, in a two-line postcard, that she had married her old boyfriend at the Istituto Nazionale.
Renée was amazed by how betrayed she felt. She couldn't bring herself to write to Claudia again, and the months went by and Claudia didn't write either. What hurt was knowing that she wasn't jealous of the man for having Claudia but of Claudia because she had a man. This, and knowing what a difference it made that she was a female.
She was sure that if it had been a case of René and Claudio, good heterosexual friends, René wouldn't have felt so betrayed. Men who'd gotten married or found girlfriends didn't drift away from their single male friends, at least not as often as women did. Obviously, men were nobler spirits than women. It came of belonging to the default gender. If both men and women considered their relationships with men inviolable, then men inevitably remained true to their gender while women, equally inevitably, betrayed their own. Men's moral superiority was structurally guaranteed.
However, Renée did not wish she were a man.
Dominion: Media Regulation At Home and Abroad
Dominion: Iraq Briefs: US in Iraq for a Decade?
Dominion: Gouging Together a Living: How banks get away with making you pay for your savings account
I found this to be resonant. Though I'm currently avoiding the lifestyle described, the imitation of some imagined norm is not easily escaped. When I find what I think is authenticity, it seems to be hidden in the surface of the imitation, not in some radical deviation from it (which ends up being imitation, newly covered).
So that was us last night: a bunch of strangers drinking lychee martinis out of glasses from Zellers, figuring out how to make a few extra bucks on the side, not flirting. It's an act and we all know it, a sort of by-the-book yuppiedom. We're imitating something, some rite of the upper crust, but what exactly we're imitating remains unclear. We swirl our swizzles and lift telltale pinkies off the glass, by habit, as if we do it all the time. At breakfast, even. But who are we pretending to be? Surely even the highest of high society with martini glasses in hand are just pretending, too.
An interesting story about how From the Wilderness (the CopvsCIA folks) got a full page ad in the Washington Post, and what effect it had.
"Suddenly, the 'inevitability' of the project of Corporate Globalization is beginning to seem more than a little evitable." Another great speech from Arundhati Roy, who is eloquent.