Thursday, September 16, 2004

Quoting the Wisdom of Others

Clive Thompson, in the May/June 2004 issue of This magazine, talking about stump speeches versus lab coats:

I started my career as a political writer, but soon realized that politics wasn’t a game of progress. On the contrary, human history is pretty much just the same grim cycle over and over: A group of people gain power, then use it to screw over everyone else. Rinse and repeat. Open today’s paper and you’ll see stories of Paul Martin’s graft, or tax cuts for the rich, or First Nations bands wrestling over ancient land claim. Go back 3,000 years and you’ll find hieroglyphs describing essentially the same things.

This is not to disparage political activism; the sheer intractability of injustice is why we have a moral imperative to fight it. But when I started writing about science, I felt, for the first time in a long while, an unusual emotion: optimism

Russell Smith, in today’s Globe (September 16/04), on Canadian magazines and the healthcare debate:

The September issue of Saturday Night magazine decided it would capitalize on this frenzy of excitement by putting out a cover almost as boring – I mean almost as relevant – as any grey-on-grey Walrus cover, showing a grey-haired, grey-faced doctor in a grey tie in a grey room. This makes me feel distinctly strange: If someone has consciously and soberly calculated that such an image is going to light up the jaded eyes of Canadian newsstand browsers, then I am even less of a Canadian than I thought. I must be weird.


Who are these magazines for? Recent poli-sci grads eager for jobs at the CBC? High-school Canadian Studies teachers, who use them to torture trapped youth on sunny days? Or just other Canadian magazine writers?

And I hear that The Walrus itself, not to be outdone in the race for the Dullest Worthy Endeavour prize at the next National Magazine Awards, is itself feverishly preparing a blockbuster of an article on the state of health care in this country. I can’t wait to see the shades of grey they use in their cover art. I guess they’re hoping to use a piece on health care to bring down the dangerously high levels of reader adrenaline brought on by the other entertaining articles on trade tariffs and parliamentary subcommittees

By the way, The Globe will no longer allow you to access columnists on their website for free, so I might have to retire my interest in Smith commentary for the immediate future. On a related note, as this Wired article points out, paid access and registration-required tactics work to disappear a publication from the Internet. Without links to articles there is no resulting discussion in the blog ecosystem and thus little to no traffic around the marketplace of ideas. But that’s a whole other post.

Now, Carl Hiaasen on hurricane journalism (Miami Herald, September 6):

* What you should wear: Always choose the flimsiest rain jacket available, to visually dramatize the effect of strong winds. All foul-weather gear should be brightly colored in the event you're swept out to sea or sucked down a drainage culvert, and someone actually goes searching for you.

* What you should televise: The first rule of hurricane coverage is that every broadcast must begin with palm trees bending in the wind. Never mind that the puniest summer squall can send a coconut palm into convulsions, your producer will demand this meaningless shot

And finally, as for Toronto Life being sued for $2.1 million by Conrad Black, I like the magazine (full disclosure: I write for it often) and I wish the publication the best of success in fighting this stupid lawsuit. However, I must say that the Robert Mason Lee article at the centre of the suit was an unreadable piece of drek. Horrible, horrible writing that should have been deleted at birth. A class-action lawsuit organized by Toronto Life subscribers, demanding some money back for wasting their time with such an unfunny piece of "satire" would be reasonable; Conrad Black suing for defamation is ridiculous.