By Daniel Tencer | October 27, 2009 - 5:18 am - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

Pesticides can increase suicidal thoughts…

Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s chumminess with Fidel Castro made him the target of Mexican surveillance for years…

The Mississippi Review has published what its editors say is the world’s shortest essay…

Jesus has appeared in the wood pattern of an Ikea bathroom door…

Is Malawai the cradle of human civilization?

An excerpt from Dave Eggers’ novelization of Where The Wild Things Are…

Novelist Jose Saramago says the Bible is a handbook of bad morals…

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By Daniel Tencer | - 5:18 am - Posted in Newsburger

In case you’re wondering why the White House has had enough and gone to war against Fox News, here’s your answer.

Hendrik Hertzberg at the New Yorker had a great article about a month ago breaking down exactly what’s happening with Fox “news”:

This sort of lunatic paranoia—touched with populism, nativism, racism, and anti-intellectualism—has long been a feature of the fringe, especially during times of economic bewilderment. What is different now is the evolution of a new political organism, with paranoia as its animating principle. The town-meeting shouters may be the organism’s hands and feet, but its heart—also, Heaven help us, its brain—is a “conservative” media alliance built around talk radio and cable television, especially Fox News. The protesters do not look to politicians for leadership. They look to niche media figures like Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Michael Savage, and their scores of clones behind local and national microphones. Because these figures have no responsibilities, they cannot disappoint. Their sneers may be false and hateful—they all routinely liken the President and the “Democrat Party” to murderous totalitarians—but they are employed by large, nominally respectable corporations and supported by national advertisers, lending them a considerable measure of institutional prestige. The dominant wing of the Republican Party is increasingly an appendage of the organism—the tail, you might say, though it seems to wag more often from fear than from happiness. Many Republican officeholders, even some reputed moderates like Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, have obediently echoed the foul nonsense.

For all of Fox’s hysterical claims that the Obama administration is ushering in a new era of socialism and/or fascism (they can’t seem to decide which one it is), Eric Boehlert at MediaMatters argues that it’s Fox news itself that is reflective of some kind of authoritarian banana-republicanism slouching towards Washington:

Greenwald noted the similarities between Fox News’ overt role in U.S. politics with places like Venezuela, where the opposition TV station led the failed 2002 coup attempt against Hugo Chavez, as well as Italy, where Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a media magnate, uses his TV ownership to agitate. “Roger Ailes and Rupert Murdoch are really using that model to organize and galvanize this protest movement,” wrote Greenwald. “It’s a totally Fox News-sponsored event.”

Completely detached from traditional newsroom standards, Fox News has become a political institution, and the press needs to start treating it that way. The press needs to treat Fox News the same way it treats the Republican National Committee, even though, frankly, the RNC probably can’t match the in-your-face partisanship that Fox News flaunts 24/7. Think about it: Murdoch’s “news” channel now out-flanks the Republican Party when it comes to ceaseless partisan attacks on the White House.

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By Daniel Tencer | - 5:15 am - Posted in Smells Like North

Like authoritarians everywhere, Marcus Gee at the Globe and Mail uses the fear of crime to convince people to part with their privacy and submit to a police state. In an article entitled “Toronto would be safer with a camera on every corner,” Gee makes the standard argument for planting CCTV cameras on every corner: Accept our surveillance state or be murdered.

In typical fashion, Gee uses a recent homicide in the news to show us that we would be living in a safer city if there were cameras everywhere — just to make sure you understand that, if you don’t support police cameras watching our every move, YOU ARE SIDING WITH MURDERERS.

What’s really amusing about Gee’s piece is how utterly banal it is. (What was Hannah Arendt’s phrase? The “banality of evil”?) It presents absolutely no new argument here that would convince someone who hasn’t yet made up their mind one way or another. It does, however, fall into some perfect little stereotypes relating to how these arguments play out. For example, Gee writes near the end of his column:

If CCTV still creeps you out, remember that you’re already on camera every time you walk through the mall, enter a parking garage or go to the bank machine. If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to worry about. If you’re committing a crime, watch out. There may be cameras watching. The more the better.

There you go. The innocent have nothing to fear. Or, as it would come out of the mouths of Hollywood-movie Nazis, ze innocent haf nussink to feah. And just above that laughable stereotype of an argument for fascism, Gee asserts the following:

Then, of course, there is the whole issue of privacy. Opponents of CCTV say it is taking us toward an Orwellian world where the state can follow our every move. While it’s healthy to worry about Big Brother, those fears are overblown.

Nobody watches the live video being recorded by the handful of CCTV cameras in Toronto. The only time anyone sees it is if police request footage for a crime investigation; otherwise it is simply stored and then automatically erased after 72 hours.

You see — fears of a police state are “overblown,” because “nobody watches the video” anyway. Ah, well nothing to worry about then. Because of course, we know that municipal employees are never corrupt, that a police officer or a transit guard would never use these technologies to spy on people for their own purposes. Nor are they greedy, and would never consider selling footage to private detectives or TV stations. Never.

Ultimately, though I agree with Gee’s assertion. More cameras would make the city safer. And here are some other ideas that no doubt would make the city safer:

– GPS tracking devices on everyone’s ankles.

– Portable body scan devices, Manchester Airport-style, that would allow police to remotely check under your clothing for weapons, drugs, etc.

– Security checkpoints at major intersections.

– Soldiers, armed with machine guns, patrolling subway stations and shopping malls.

Clockwork Orange-style psychological reprogramming for repeat offenders.

– Constant monitoring of all electronic communications — phone, email, Skype, etc.

– A Department of Pre-Crime to pre-arrest people considered at high risk of offending, based on psych profiles, etc.

All of these technologies are or will soon be possible. All of these technologies can be argued for using Gee’s hackneyed old arguments. Where we draw the line on a surveillance state will depend on our collective will as a society. How much freedom and privacy will we sacrifice for additional safety?

I used to think that Canada was relatively immune to the police-state arguments that have been so successful in the United States and Britain. But now I watch as the news media grow ever more hysterical about crime, even as the crime rate in Canada continues a decades-long downward trend. And when arguments like Gee’s start showing up in the newspapers, the signs are all there that our will to preserve Canada as a free society is weakening.

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By Daniel Tencer | - 5:11 am - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

This is worth noting, even though I have no idea what its significance might be:

The growth of British trees appears to follow a cosmic pattern, with trees growing faster when high levels of cosmic radiation arrive from space.

Researchers made the discovery studying how growth rings of spruce trees have varied over the past half a century.

As yet, they cannot explain the pattern, but variation in cosmic rays impacted tree growth more than changes in temperature or precipitation.

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By Daniel Tencer | - 5:11 am - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

Ever since word spread last week that the Obama administration plans to put serious restrictions in place on pay at seven companies that received bailout cash, the Wall Street crowd has complained that the policy will cause a “brain drain” out of Wall Street. Colin Barr thinks that’s just fine:

Still, we say Godspeed to this “talent.” After all, the traders and suits in the corner offices don’t exactly have an unblemished track record. In 2008, Citigroup, BofA and Merrill Lynch (since acquired by BofA) posted a grand total of $51 billion in losses.

Yet even as they were running themselves into the ground, the firms managed to pay out more than $12 billion in bonuses — including 1,606 million-dollar-plus bonuses, according to a report from the New York attorney general’s office.

“Even a cursory examination of the data suggests that in these challenging economic times, compensation for bank employees has become unmoored from the banks’ financial performance,” the report said.

No kidding. If we actually lived in a capitalist economy, these companies wouldn’t even exist anymore. They would have disappeared in a puff of stupid decisions sometime in the second half of last year. The “brain drain” would have swallowed one hundred percent of their “talent.” As far as I’m concerned, the bailout recipients are now on welfare, and their compensation should reflect that.

Welfare rates are kept intentionally stingy, as a motivator to keep people looking for work. (We want to avoid a “brain drain” from the work force to the welfare rolls.) Similarly, executives at companies enrolled in corporate welfare should receive the minimum amount of compensation possible, to ensure that they are motivated to pay off their debt to the public and start turning real profits again as soon as possible.

And, in the meantime, if poor compensation on Wall Street spurs people to leave jobs with Citibank and AIG in favor of jobs at companies that actually make real products and money, like, say, Google or RIM — well, frankly, I can’t see a downside to that.

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By Daniel Tencer | - 5:07 am - Posted in Smells Like North

A strange propaganda battle has been playing out in front of the entire Canadian television viewing public of late. On the one side is a group calling itself “Stop the TV Tax,” which is telling us that the broadcasters are about to convince the government to slap a ten-dollar-a-month “TV tax” on all Canadians who purchase cable TV. They’re saying get involved and stop this injustice.

On the other side is a group called “Local TV Matters,” which is telling us that the cable companies are blocking an effort to save local television from bankruptcy, that local TV is threatened by a precipitous drop in ad revenue, and that unless we tell the government to act, we won’t have local news on TV anymore. They’re saying get involved and stop this injustice.

Naturally, these two astroturf campaigns are being run by the companies involved. The “Local TV Matters” folks are a consortium of Canada’s major broadcasters, who want to charge cable companies for carrying local TV station signals that are free over the air. The “Stop the TV Tax” folks are the cable and satellite companies, which are telling us, point blank, that if that happens, they are going to pass the cost on to the consumer — hence the notion of a “tax.”

Both campaigns are disingenuous. The cable companies have grabbed the ten-dollar-a-month figure seemingly out of thin air. The numbers being discussed would be closer to six dollars per month. (Granted, the ad says “up to.”)

But the TV Matters campaign is far worse. Check out the website — you can’t tell that what they’re talking about is a new fee on cable companies. And the idea that this money would save local stations and therefore local TV content is bunk. As others have noted, local stations have been closing for years. They’ve lost their local identities: The CBC doesn’t even brand its local affiliates separately anymore; CTV barely does; Global TV never did. Not to mention that a new fund, amounting to one percent of broadcast distributors’ revenue, was already set up this year to support local news in markets of less than one million people.

So ultimately I side with the TV Tax people. The cable and satellite providers are some of the wealthiest companies in Canada, and I ‘m loathe to defend their monopolistic fiefdoms, especially when they’re making clear that any charge they incur they will dump on me. But when it comes down to it, it’s patently unfair to charge the consumer, via cable company or any other method, for channels we have no choice but to purchase.

The CRTC mandates that cable companies carry the signals of any local (”local”) TV stations in the area where the cable service is provided. You can’t buy cable service without getting these channels. So charging for them is, in effect, a cable TV tax. From the consumer’s perspective, it’s not a “local TV tax” because the people who get local TV from the air don’t pay it. It’s just a new tax, is all, the funds from which will be given to subsidize TV broadcasters, which subsidies they can use any way they want. (They haven’t committed themselves to actually spending the money on local content.)

So I have a proposal that will resolve this problem: If the local TV stations want to be a paid-for service, their purchase should be optional like all other pay-TV channels. I’m perfectly willing to let them charge for their channels — but I should have a choice whether to buy what they’re selling.

And given that they’ve recently convinced the CRTC to allow them an unlimited amount of commercial time per hour, I have a feeling I won’t want to pay for their services. I shudder to think what reruns of all my favorite ’70s sitcoms will be like once the broadcasters chop them down to make way for fifteen minutes of commercials per half-hour. It’s not enough that they want to pollute our brains with a constant stream of consumerist propaganda — they want to charge us for it, too.

Well, no thanks. I can think of more than a few people who would love the opportunity to trade in their ad-ridden “local affiliates” for HBO or the sports-channel packages. Which is precisely why the CRTC won’t allow it to happen. Von Finkelstein and the gang will argue that Canadian society would fall apart if people stopped watching local TV broadcasting. After all, the whole point of creating the CBC and mandating Canadian-content rules and limiting foreign ownership of media was to “build the Canadian nation.”

Well I’ve got news for you, CRTC. The days of nation-building via television are over. Who actually watches local TV anymore? I watch the national and American news channels, and leave the TV tuned to one of the cable movie channels by default. My girlfriend is a cooking-channel addict. Many of my friends stick to the pay-channel shows. Others just download whatever they want to watch via torrent. Yet others are collecting their favorite shows on DVD and don’t even watch “live” TV. The local affiliate? Good for sports scores at 11:25 pm, and that’s about it.

You know who is watching local TV? The people with rabbit-ear antennas, the ones who never made the jump to cable. The only people who WON’T be paying the new TV tax, if it happens.

So time to let ‘er rip and let the local channels compete in the brave new five-hundred-channel universe. If the CRTC is worried about the disappearance of Canadian culture from the airwaves (cablewaves?), they’re going to have to address the matter in a completely different way anyway. Forcing people to pay for something they don’t use won’t convince them to buy locally.

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By Daniel Tencer | October 22, 2009 - 1:10 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

Check me out on last night’s Jeff Farias Show. I trash-talk Fox News, defend (then criticize) the Obama administration, and cry “For shame!” at Wall Street. Punditry is fun!

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By Daniel Tencer | October 17, 2009 - 2:41 pm - Posted in Antics and Pedantics

MSNBC crusader Dylan Ratigan explains what he means when he talks about corporate communism:

Lack of choice, lazy, unresponsive customer service, a culture of exploitation and a small powerbase formed by cronyism and nepotism are the hallmarks of a communist system that steals from its citizenry and a major reason why America spent half a century fighting a Cold War with the U.S.S.R.

And yet today we find ourselves as a country in two distinctly different categories: those who are forced to compete tooth and nail each day to provide value to society in return for income for ourselves and our families and those who would instead use our lawmaking apparatus to help themselves to our tax money and/or to protect themselves from true competition.

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