Sunday, April 27, 2003

Twentysomethings and the Media : Input needed!

I'm speaking at the Canadian Newspaper Association's annual "Super Conference" on Thursday, on a panel called, "Building Brand for the Light Reader."

Here's the description of the panel:

How do we get into the heads and lives of those many readers who, while still using a newspaper for various purposes, are not as closely connected as we want them to be; eg., women, minorities, twenty-somethings? How do we create a more meaningful newspaper-reading experience for them?
Speakers: Mary Nesbitt, Readership Institute; Lucinda Chodan, The Gazette, Montreal; Kelly Nestruck, McGill University student; Sue Grimbly, Brand New Planet. Moderator: Peter Haggert, New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal.


I'm on the panel representing -- you guessed it -- twentysomethings. In her email inviting me, Anne P. Kothawala, President & CEO of the CNA, wrote:

[A]s a representative of the 20 something demographic I think it would be very interesting to hear your views. I know that you read newspapers and many of your friends do as well. But no doubt you have some friends that don’t and it would be interesting to learn why. We would also like to hear about what you think newspapers are good at and what they are not in terms of attracting younger readers.

I have plenty of opinions on the (condescending/foolhardy/obnoxious) things newspapers do to attract my demographic, but I would like to hear what some other people think. So, if you're a twentysomething media consumer please drop me a line at jkelly@cup.ca with your opinions on newspapers. Do you read newspapers regularly? Do you subscribe? Do you prefer online media or television news to newspapers? What do newspapers do to attract readers like you that works? What doesn't, and instead pisses you off? What else turns you off from or on to newspapers?

The Globe and Mail, for instance, consistently pisses me off, ie. this article by William Thorsell (who used to be The Globe's editor-in-chief), basically making it seem like the only newspapers young people read are the free subway tabloids like Metro and FYI Toronto.

Or this column by David MacFarlane, where he jokes that he has only seven readers between the ages of 25-35, and that none of them could possibly like the Rolling Stones. (At the time this column was published, I was a 21-year-old regular reader of his column, who enjoys some of the older Rolling Stones' music; I have since given up reading MacFarlane's columns, which never seem to get to the damn point until halfway through.)

I have also been annoyed at CBC Radio lately for screwing with its programming in an attempt to attract young listeners. One of CBC Radio's stupidest changes was changing the Old News Theme to this Hyperactive News Jingle "composed" by Adam Goddard, the same twit who came up with the Sounds Like Canada theme song. (Thanks to Jon Black for these links.) Like this kind of cosmetic change is really going to attract younger listeners... (At a conference CBC's President Robert Rabinovitch was speaking at, I brought this up; he accused me of being afraid of change, and called me an "old fogey." Really.)

So, email me your comments and I'll fit as many of them into my presentation on Thursday, as possible. Thanks!
Harddrive Detritus : Marx and Engels, Together Again!

Every so often, I like to look through the Word files on my harddrive and see what's there. I have a folder called "Random Acts of Writing" filled with bits and bytes of text that I have written over the years.
It's fun to see what's there, what was on my mind in the past. I keep a real-world, paper-and-pen journal, but only sporadically. My harddrive functions as the real record of my life. It's my pre-blog blog.

Today I discovered that, apparently, on April 21, 2002, I was once working on a musical to be titled "Marx and Engels, Together Again!" One partial scene was abandoned in a file I called, "flattering ass"; don't ask, because I cannot remember why on earth I called the file that.

Anyway, here's an excerpt from the never-to-be-written musical:

Engels: Geez, Julie, I didn’t mean –

Julie: Yeah. I’m sure you didn’t –

Engels: No Julie, don’t go…

Julie: See you, Engie.

Engels: Aw geez…

(pause Marx enters.)

Marx: Boy. This industrial revolution sure sucks.

Engels: Oh give it a break, Karl. (pause) Oh, I’m sorry. It’s just I can’t keep my mind on the devaluation of the lower class while Julie is mad at me. And she’s mad at me all the time. It seems I just can’t do anything right.

Marx: Well, you can’t.

Engels: Oh, come on Karl.

Marx: Relax Fred, I’m just joshing ya. Look Fred. Women are like… they’re like capitalism. They want more and more and production just won’t meet demand without taking advantage of the workers.

Engels: I just wish I could live up to her expectations. But I’d have to be some sort of... of... ubermensch to do it, you know.

Marx: Well, you’re not. None of us are ubermenschen. (Nietzsche enters.)

Nietzsche: Oh yah? Vell, you’re wrong about zat, yah. (Music begins)

May I have your attention?
I’d like to give a mention
To the ubermenschen.

Who can work and get a pension?
Let me relieve the tension:
It's the ubermenshen!

Now Jesus was a Jew, they say,
Not the uberrist race of them all,
But he still came back from the dead on Ascension
He was the first of the ubermenshen!

Uber!
Super!
Menshen!
I’ve got a penchant for the uber.. uber… uber… uber… menschen!


Marx: Excuse me?

Engels: Who is this guy?

Nietzsche: Hi, my name is Nietzsche
I don't mean to be preachy
'Bout the ubermenschen.

If you listen to my teachey
You'll see life can be real peachey
With the ubermenschen.

The supermen know there's no eternal truth,
They're passionate folks, you know.
Just realize the limits of our dimension
And you can be super, like the ubermenschen!


Marx: I don't know...

Engels: Me neither...

Nietzsche: I can sense your apprehension
(And your lack of comprehension)
'Bout the ubermenschen.

There's no need for hypertension,
I don't got no pretensions
'Bout the ubermenschen.

I know they're just a theory
And I know the concept's bleary
But if you'll just put your belief in suspension
For a moment, you'll love the ubermenschen!

Uber!
Super!
Menschen!
I've got a penchant for the uber... uber... uber... uber... menschen!

(End of Song; Nietzche exits)

Engels: Well. (pause) He gets marks for enthusiasm.

Marx: What are you talking about? He didn't get me.

Engels: Marks, not Marx!

Marx: Come again?

Engels: Sigh. How come everyone knows you better than me, even though you're such an idiot?

----------------

Thursday, April 24, 2003

Giving them what they want: Rex Brynen!

According to our On the Fence focus group, visitors to this website want to know what McGill University Professor Rex Brynen (the one on the right) is up to these days.

One correspondant writes: "Ever since my peacebuilding class ended, I've just felt this... I dunno, hole in my life. A hole that can't be filled with bizarre articles by Professor Gil Troy on The Sopranos and Zionism. I just want to know, what's Sexy Rexy up to these days?"

Well, here it is! Rex Brynen on NPR's All Things Considered, on April 17th. The subject: textbooks for Iraqi schoolchildren. Professor Brynen was the last to be interviewed in this short news piece:

ABRAMSON: It may be impossible to print new, politically acceptable text for all subjects in all schools that quickly, but Rex Brynen of McGill University in Montreal says that for some subjects Iraq might want to use textbooks developed in other Arabic-speaking countries.
Mr. REX BRYNEN (McGill University): There may well be textbooks that can be borrowed from Jordan, from Egypt. Some excellent materials were produced for the Palestinian Authority. Some of those textbooks might, indeed, be appropriate, but they're probably appropriate as stopgaps.
ABRAMSON: Once schools are up and running, once students have supplies and books, Iraqi faces the really touchy questions: whether to develop a unified national curriculum, whether to teach in the local language, whether to allow religion a role in the public schools. American educators still fight over those issues in this country; Iraqis now face many of the same struggles. Larry Abramson, NPR News, Washington.

And, if you're still jonsing for Rex, why not reread his great essay, The Politics of Science Fiction.
What People are doing on the Internet These Days...

Hello, and welcome to a new feature here at On the Fence.

Every Thursday, we'll ask, "What are people doing on the Internet these days that bring them to On the Fence?" This feature will let you know what people are typing into search engines that bring them here.

In the past week, these searches have led people to this very page:

ben errett national post

Christian Science Monitor article on 18 regime changes forced by U. S. in 20th century

rex brynen

"fuck the usa" lyrics

clear fence

"J. Kelly Nestruck"

“kelly nestruck”

newspapers biased war

sample letter of resignation fuck you

"sample letter of resignation"

Students Strike Mcgill pictures

farewell resignation sample letter

brynen

"phillip todd"+mcgill

sherwin tjia

CBC biased blog


All this leads me to believe that the people want more Rex Brynen news and are eager to learn ways to resign from their jobs.

Monday, April 21, 2003

Reality! Television! Simulacrum!

Okay, so I finally handed in my honours thesis today, and boy are my arms tired.

Hmm... That didn't make a lot of sense. I hope my essay and play are more coherent than that...

Anyway, I just like to take this moment to thank the Internet for all her help on the project, which involved writing a play and an essay on the interaction between the Televised World and the Real World, and television as the primary site for the enactment, contestation and dissemination of our reality. (Whew! If I hadn't written it, I'd be making fun of myself right now.)

The play is called Bellesville. The essay is called, "Television, Media, and the Reality of Simulations : Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Blog."

Here, some of the more interesting excerpts:

-- For me, the intersection of the televised world and the real world became clear on September 11. While watching the endlessly looping footage of the Twin Towers' collapse on CNN, I was struck by a comment from one of the talking heads that, "It's like watching a movie of the end of the world." Hearing these words, I was torn in two directions. While the statement appalled me (This isn't a movie; these are real people dying!), it simultaneously resonated within me as truth (He's right; it is like watching a movie of the end of the world.). This commentator's (and my own) confusion between the real and the simulated is a modern example of the concept of the liminality of fact and fiction, which Jean Baudrillard has articulated.

--- The use of simulations or spectacle as a way of communicating does not have to be a bad thing. One of the modes of communication that I have noticed among my peers is in relation to the television show The Simpsons. I have been to many parties where people will have conversations completely based around Simpsons' quotations. This is an example of using spectacle as a social relation among people. Our discussions of The Simpsons produce a bonding effect, even among people who have not previously met.

I am hardly the only one who has noticed The Simpsons' importance among my generation. In "The Simpsons Generation," Chris Turner describes the importance of The Simpsons as a cultural signpost of today's youth: [Ed note: Surely one of the best articles I have read in the past year.]

"Western culture has in recent years become an irredeemably fragmented thing, counted in webpage hits and record sales, endlessly quantified and analyzed and synthesized and then co-opted and corrupted by advertisers, focus groups, test audiences, pollsters, pundits, and on down the line, all the while changing so quickly and in so many directions that it has never really been nailed down. (Maybe no cultural moment ever really is.) But watching The Simpsons, all those scattered slivered Is became wes, if only for thirty minutes each week (more often after the show went into syndication). We were being defined by the show. Shaped by it. Even united by it, or as close to that state as we came, anyway. If there was a single cultural signpost broadcasting the emergence of a generation/era/movement/whatever, a monolith to a widespread yearning for progress, truth, honesty, integrity, joy, a final goddamn period at the end of every vacuous corporate press release and cloying commercial script and prevaricating political soundbite -- it was The Simpsons."

--- Here is just one example of the Reality Effect that Joel Black relates in his book, The Reality Effect: Film Culture and the Graphic Imperative. A writer for Homicide: Life on the Street watched a television documentary, wherein a policeman related to a cab driver the real-life story of a man who was fatally injured in a subway accident. This writer was inspired and wrote an episode of Homicide based on that story. Interestingly enough, PBS then made a documentary about the making of the episode of Homicide. A TV documentary gave rise to a fictional episode of a TV series, which then gave rise to a another TV documentary.

--- The Reality Effect has been apparent in many of the biggest news events of the past decade. The 1997 movie Wag the Dog, for instance, eerily paralleled the events that were taking place in the White House at the time of its release. In the September 24 issue of The New Yorker, film critic Anthony Lane noticed the parallels between 9/11 and many movies of the past decade:

[Y]ou could argue that last Tuesday was an instant dismissal of the fantastic–that people gazed up into the sky and immediately told themselves that this was the real thing. Yet all the evidence suggests the contrary; it was the television commentators as well as those on the ground who resorted to a phrase book culled from cinema: "It was like a movie." "It was like 'Independence Day.' " "It was like 'Die Hard.' " "No, 'Die Hard 2.' " " 'Armageddon.' " And the exclamations from below, from the watchers of the skies caught on video, as they see the aircraft slice into the side of the tower: where have you heard those expressions most recently–the wows, the whoohs, the holy shits–if not in movie theatres, and even on your own blaspheming tongue? [Read the full article here]

Of course, for those of us who were not in New York on 9/11, the attacks weren't just like a movie, they were a movie. They were created by the plane hijackers for us to view at home and be frightened by. The planes were flown into the two towers specifically for the symbolism. The attacks were a political transaction in the age of spectacle.

--- The battle between naturalism and the self-consciously artificial has been extremely apparent in recent art and pop culture, but it is hardly new. It first waged itself in the theatre. Critic Kenneth Tynan summed the two camps up when wrote, "'You are in a drawing room,' says Stanislavsky to his audience, 'witnessing life.' 'You are in a theater,' says Brecht, 'witnessing actors.'"

On one end, we have the meta, the false that acknowledges its untruth : David Foster Wallace and Dave Eggers' metafiction; The Simpsonsand metatelevision; Daniel MacIvor's metatheatre; Eminem's metarap; and the metamovie Adaptation by Spike Jonze and Charlie Kaufman.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have the false that purports to be true: the faked or edited reality of Reality TV shows; the real-image pop of Avril Lavigne; and the manipulated documentaries of Michael Moore.

Meta is important in our discussion of simulations, because the movement can be seen as a way of fighting off The Reality Effect. We currently live in a world where it is difficult to prosecute child pornographers, because courts have ruled that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between real child pornography and virtual child pornography. The veracity of video evidence of crime is increasingly being called into question by defence attorneys. Meta is a defense against the blurring of fact and fiction; the stridently false is perhaps the one thing that we can believe in completely today.

-------------

Well, those are some of the more interesting parts of my essay, with appropriate linkage. The conclusion is a little soppy, as I admit to being a bit of a technophile and say that blogs will save the world.

Wait! Did I write an essay that was partly about blogs and then paste parts of it on my blog? As they say, "It's getting meta all the time..."

Friday, April 18, 2003

David Foster Wallace's Footnotes

Well, sometimes you just can't update your blog. These times include the times that you have 60+ pages of essays due. So this will have to function as a ersatz entry.

For my Comedy 430 class with Professor Wes Folkerth (picture), I had to write a comic play and then write a short essay about it. Since I was uncomfortable writing an academic essay about my own work, I pretended that I was David Foster Wallace and then wrote an essay about my play.

I won't post the essay. Nope. But here are David Foster Wallace's footnotes from the essay on my play, called The Work Farce:

1. By seminal, I do not mean that The Work Farce deals solely with the subject of semen. Semen does, however, play an interesting role in the play. Fidel, the man who runs Lucy’s job interview, is scared that his semen has because lazy because of the years he has spent in an office in front of a computer under fluorescent lights.
Fidel’s fear was not uncommon among the North American population at the time this play was written. Scientific studies - most notably Dr. Ali Freischer of Harvard University’s groundbreaking “Sperm Count Among White Urbanized North American versus that of Middle Eastern Arabs” in 1997 – observed that White Christian Middle-Class Sperm in the West was less active and athletic than Brown Muslim Lower-Class Sperm in the Middle East.
It has been posited that this study was one of the main reasons that Paul Wolfowitz and Dick Cheney founded The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) later that year. It is hardly a coincidence that PNAC members, upon gaining power in the 2000 elections in the United States tried to restrict abortion rights in the US and launched an euphemistically-titled “War on Terrorism,” which historians have since termed, “The War to Blow Up Lots of Virile Muslims by a President called ‘Bush’ and his friends ‘Dick’ and ‘Wolfy’.”
Anti-imperialists like Nestruck were equally concerned about the potency of their man juice. In a worried e-mail to his friend Lindsay Bernath in late 2002, Nestruck wrote, “I wonder if all this masturbating to internet porn is not only keeping me from getting laid now, but also affecting the future generations of Nestrucks. What kind of invisible rays are emanating from my laptop screen directly into my testicles? To be safe, I’ve started carrying my cell phone in my school bag instead of my pants [sic] pocket.”
In April of 2003, when this play was written, Nestruck had not yet fathered any of the three love-children he would accidentally bring into the world later in the decade. Had he known the true potency of his wayward sperm, he most certainly would have continued to transport his mobile telephone in the vicinity of his genitalia.

2. By British tight-asses.

3. This is, of course, just one of the OED’s definitions, and from the shorter, abridged pocket version.
Nestruck, in his undergraduate career, was most definitely brooding and pretentious. Take this “poem” he wrote in the final year of his BA:

The Comedy Club Act Grows Sour

Pasteurization! I yelled out, my mouth dripping teeth.
From behind, I heard the flatulent chuckles, ominous and menacing.
Men’s mouths, deep and hollow as their skulls, gaping.
Sublingual glands secreting saliva:
Bilious enzymes aimed to eat away at me.
The caws of dying crows…
But the scarecrow won’t move.

Instead, I smash his fucking beer bottle and gut his throat.
(His uvula, a bloody tear, weeps onto the floor.)
As I pour him to the ground,
I can’t help but
Laugh.

4. Esslin’s book The Theatre of the Absurd has nothing to do with semen. Esslin fathered two children by his wife and was not particularly occupied with worries about his potency.

5. Esslin, The Theatre of the Absurd, (Eyre & Spottiswoode: London, 1961),16-17. I’m sorry that this paper is not in MLA style, but with all these footnotes, I just thought it would be easier to use Chicago. Chicago has increased in popularity since the Oscars, anyway.

6. Coursepack, 193.

7. Whose books Voltaire’s Bastards, The Unconscious Civilization, and On Equilibrium are highly critical of the “dictatorship of reason” in the modern world. Nestruck was first exposed to Saul’s ideas at his sister’s convocation from McGill University, where Saul was the keynote speaker. He read The Unconscious Civilization and heard Saul speak a couple more times. Though he often pretended that he had read Voltaire’s Bastards and Reflections of a Siamese Twin, he in fact had only skimmed the former and had lost his copy of the second in a bar on Rue Prince-Arthur after having read only the first few chapters.
Nonetheless, Nestruck, especially after a few drinks, would often claim that Saul was “the greatest thinker of the past fifty years.” After a few more drinks, Nestruck once told his classmate Simon Phillips, “If I had the chance, I’d totally fuck Adrienne Clarkson, because then my dick would have been where Saul’s dick has been. Heck, I’d suck his cock.” On that same evening, he also told a dirty joke involving Chancellor Dick Pound and thirteen naked nuns.

8. Coursepack, 227.

9. Nestruck, 5.

10. Ibid, 8.

11. Ibid, 8-9.

12. The play, significantly, was written just one month before Nestruck graduated from university and entered the work force. He was scared of going to work at The National Post where he was interning for the summer. Afraid to lose his soul. Afraid of losing what was left of it after four years at The McGill Daily, anyway.

13. Literally and figuratively.

14. Nestruck, 9.

15. Though it would be stretching it to conceive of The Work Farce as great comic art. Nestruck’s later works may someday gain that status, particularly his 2007 farce Fart and his great 2010 tragedy War and Piss. (Nestruck’s later works are a lot more grotesque and deal with bodily functions quite a bit.)

16.Dupe.

17. The Nepalese cymbals should not be seen as any grandiose symbolism on Nestruck’s part (Symbols/cymbals?). Nestruck owned a pair of Nepalese cymbals which sat on his desk during much of his undergraduate degree. They were intended to be used in meditation and were a gift from Dr. Kirsten Benzon, a friend of his who gave them to him upon departure for England to finish her PhD. Likewise, Nestruck owns an antique fireman’s helmet, which his father had gathered up from the street after it fell from a passing firetruck when he was five. His father passed the prized helmet on to Nestruck in 1999 saying, “Here. The damn thing clutters up the house.”

18. The chair behind the desk.

19. Nestruck, 10

20. This bit of self-referential postmodernism is emblematic of the stagnancy of turn of the century writing. Authors, playwrights, songwriters – they all seemed unable to restrain themselves from saying, “Look at me! I’m so postmodern! You aren’t reading a novel; you’re reading a metanovel! You aren’t watching a play; you’re watching a metaplay! La-dee-dah!”
At least Nestruck refrained from putting footnotes into his writing, unlike some of his favourite comic authors: David Foster Wallace, Dave Eggers, etc.
Wait a second. I’m David Foster Wallace. And this is a footnote.
Does that make this footnote a meta-footnote? Am I succumbing to the very vice that I have just disdained? Does anything truly exist?

21. For instance, one could discuss the relationship between comedy and tragedy, citing Holtz, Feibleman, or Girard. Or, one could write about the pudding “feast” that Fidel devours, and bring Bakhtin into the mix. Or one could list all of Farb’s six functions of comedy and show how this play does not enact any of them! But, frankly, I’m tired and have many other essays to write.

22. “Fuck you, motherfucker.”

Saturday, April 12, 2003

The Mood I'm In

Here's some Internet Detritus Poetry for you...

Motion Picture Soundtrack
Lyrics: T. Yorke
Image Selection: J.K. Nestruck

Red wine and sleeping pills
Help me get back to your arms
Cheap sex and sad films
Help me get where I belong

I think you're crazy, maybe
I think you're crazy, maybe

Stop sending letters
Letters always get burned
It's not like the movies
They fed us on little white lies

I think you're crazy, maybe
I think you're crazy, maybe

I will see you in the next life

Beautiful angel
Pulled apart at birth
Limbless and helpless
I can't even recognize you


I think you're crazy, maybe

I will see you in the next life


This song's running through my head right now... Can't wait for the new Radiohead album to come out.
Shock and Awe: A Columnist's Parting Shots
NB: I am not parting from the Internet. This column, however, is the last one that will appear in The McGill Daily, as it is done publishing for the year, and I am, similarly, done with McGill.

With my McGill soapbox about to pulled out from under me, I’m left with a couple difficult questions. What is the one thing that I’d like to say most to my audience? What one topic is resonant enough to weather four months on the stands?

Given my predisposition to waffle and vacillate and just not make choices in general, I refuse to be pinned down to one topic for my farewell column. Instead, I’m going to take a page from the American army’s book and use the cluster bomb approach. Go out with a bang, trying to shock and awe as many people as possible in my allotted 900 or so words. So, here we go.

Fuck you, too

I love the word fuck. It grabs attention, creates excitement, and can send a shiver down my spine when articulated at the right moment. However, I was displeased to pass an anti-war march on St. Catherine the other day, and hear one of the leaders shout in his megaphone, “Fuck America!” The crowd cheered. A moment later, a man came up to me, handed me a sheet of paper and reiterated, “Fuck the USA!” I took the paper and nodded politely.

About ten minutes later, I thought of what I should have said. It was something along the lines of: “Yeah, buddy. Fuck the Americans. Fuck the Texans and fuck the New Yorkers. Fuck my relatives and friends scattered across the United States. Fuck Michael Moore and Lewis Lapham. Fuck the hundreds of thousands of ordinary American citizens who have been and continue to march for peace.”

“And when you’re done, roll up this little propaganda sheet of yours, shove it up your ass, and fuck yourself.”

I’ll be honest. Marches, peaceful or not, generally turn me off. Sure, it’s nice to show solidarity with a cause, but there’s something fascistic about mindlessly parroting slogans that are screamed at you through a loudspeaker.

Still, I’ve gone to anti-war marches and I’ll probably go to more. However, anti-Americanism, while de rigeur at the moment, is no more acceptable than racism, sexism, or any other prejudicial -ism or -phobia. It’s hurtful and unhelpful. I, for one, resolve not to quietly let it go anymore.

The Politics of Occupation

At the same march, I heard a lot of calls to end the occupation of Iraq, which is being set up as we speak. Oh God. That would be a disaster

Let’s face it: the only thing worse that letting the Coalition of the Willing finish up their task would be to have them abandon the whole idea right now. The civil war that would be unleashed would be completely devastating.

Let’s get the international community involved in the rebuilding of the country and ensure that the Iraqi people get control of their resources and real freedom, not Kissinger-brand freedom. This means, unfortunately, establishing tight control over the country in the short-term.

The US should arrange to cede control of the occupation to a UN force as soon as possible for two reasons. One, it is the right thing to do. Two, it will show to the world that the United States is not interested in Empire-building.

The Right-Wing Media

With the war raging, I’ve heard a lot of old complaints resurfacing about how the media is right-wing and thus partly to blame for the mess we’re in, yadda yadda. Frankly, I’m beginning find this argument somewhat ludicrous.

I get my war news from metafilter.com, The Globe and Mail, forwarded articles, and occasionally from CBC News. The so-called alternative press is not difficult to find. The perspective that I have personally received is, if anything, anti-war.

The media has fragmented so much over the past five years with the rise of specialty channels, digital cable, and the Internet. Somehow, the evil media myths that I clung to in my youth don’t ring true for me anymore. Public opinion isn’t being manipulated by shady, cigar-smoking men in tall, corporate buildings. Alas, public opinion is just as fickle an indicator of what is right and what is not as it has always been, FOX News or no FOX News.

Abortion

If you think abortion rights are safe and sound here in Canada, think again. The curtailment that is taking place south of the border could easily migrate here.

If abortion activists are going to keep winning, they’re going to have to drop the disingenuous argument that life begins at birth. It’s as silly as the argument that life begins at conception.

Trying to fix a moment when a baby is a baby is an absurd debate that scientists, theologians, philosophers, and Pat Buchanan will never resolve. All I know is that I don’t want women being horribly mutilated in alleys or babies being dropped in garbage cans at birth.

To me, the argument ends there. The larger philosophical issues of conception and birth are up to the woman (and, hopefully, her partner) to deal with.

Gay marriages

I don’t think that the government should start sanctioning gay marriages. Nope. In fact, I believe the government should get the hell out of the whole marriage business.

The concepts of marriage and family are up to individuals to figure out for themselves.

Civil unions for everyone! Huzzah!

Self-indulgence

Barring some horrible graduation mishap, this will surely be my last writing in The McGill Daily as a McGill student. Permit me a moment of self-indulgence. I’d like to thank this year’s Commentary Editor Ian McKellar for encouraging me to write this column. Many thanks as well to the four coordinating editors who have managed this paper since I began: Jason Chow, Ben Errett, Jaime Kirzner-Roberts, and Phil Todd. And, finally, thanks to the readers of this space. I have very much enjoyed receiving your emails and kind comments.

J. Kelly Nestruck can be reached at jkelly@cup.ca. He can still be found on the fence on the internet at http://fence.blogspot.com.

Tuesday, April 08, 2003

On the Fence, On the Radio... again

Well, this indecision of mine has landed me a gig (by which I mean, a non-paying gig) on CBC Radio Montreal's Homerun. I've been on a couple times in the past few weeks endlessly vacillating on the upcoming Quebec election.

My last appearance is archived here in Real Audio. Here's CBC Montreal's Quebec Votes page that links to it.

If you do choose to listen to it, keep in mind that I had been up writing a paper the night before and did this on an hour's sleep...

The question remains... Who's a bigger media slut? Me or Professor Gil Troy?

Monday, April 07, 2003

Help Wanted, Inquire Within

All right. So, I haven't really written or edited HTML since high school, and Javascript is totally over my head.

In other words, I've managed to totally screw up both my attempts to put a counter on my blog AND/OR let people comment on my blog entries without errors on the page.

If any of you fine folks out there in InternetLand know an easy way to do these things, please drop me an email at jkelly@cup.ca. Gracias.
Resigned to Procrastination

Let's face it. I'm screwed.

I have what seems like a million pages of papers due over the next week and nothing is done.

I hereby hand in my resignation. I resign. Point finale.

There's no getting me back. It's over. I'm hightailing it for the hills. I'm lighting out for the territories and Aunt Sally ain't gonna catch me.

(I'm a little overdoing it with the Huck Finn references lately. [See 4/3/2003 1:51:03 AM])

If anyone else is looking to figure out how to resign in style, check out this website for The Complete Guide to Resigning.

It even helped me draft this sample letter of resignation:

On The Fence
fence.blogspot.com
Montreal
The Internet, WWW WWW

April 8, 2003

Dear You:

As required by my contract of employment, I hereby give you one week's notice of my intention to leave my position as Blogger.

I wish both you and On The Fence every good fortune and I would like to thank you for having me as part of your team.

Yours sincerely,

J. Kelly Nestruck

Sunday, April 06, 2003

Wish me a Happy Birthday and Plant the Seeds of Peace!

Well, I've come up with a good way to celebrate my birthday. As a gift to me, please click on this link which will take you to a page at the Youth Noise website where you can click in order to have 5 cents donated to Seeds of Peace.

Seeds of Peace is a non-profit organization that brings teens from regions of conflict around the world to a summer camp for coexistence and conflict resolution. They are a non-political and secular organization, and therefore do not represent any political or religious point of view.

If you do have the cash, I encourage you to make a larger donation directly to Seeds of Peace. You can visit their donation page here.

In times of war like this, it's nice to know that there are people out there building a peaceful future. So please click to wish me a happy birthday.
Party, boobytrap!

Well, April 6 is my birthday and I'm a palindrome again for the first time in 11 years. In celebration, I encourage you to brush up on your palindromic knowledge.

First a few historical palindromes from Jim Kalb's Palindrome Connection:
"The ancient Greeks often put "Nipson anomemata me monan opsin" on fountains. It translates as "Wash the sin as well as the face." The Romans admired palindromes too, as demonstrated by "In girum imus nocte et consumimur igni" (We enter the circle after dark and are consumed by fire"), which was said to describe the action of moths."

Those crazy Greeks! What did they not invent? Check out Jim's page for links to dozens of other fascinating palindrome links.

I've been interested in word palindromes since I was a kid and one of my math teachers (the wonderful Eugene Lehman) asked us what was interesting about the following statement: That irrational numbers are said to be NEVER ODD OR EVEN.

Proof that I became fascinated in palidromes is an old webpage of mine from high school, where I compiled some of my favourite ones. (NB. This page has not been updated in 6 years. I've been trying to delete the darn thing, but I can't remember the password or username. Damn Geocities!)

I held two palindrome parties in the month leading up to New Years Eve 2002. Guests were invited to dress up as their favourite palindromes. I believe that either Sherwin Tjia or Jayne Kennedy won first prize at the first one, and Anders Yates won first prize at the second one. I can't remember Sherwin's palindrome, nor Jayne's, but Anders brought about six palindromes with him. He wore his Spam t-shirt and pinned maps to his back, brought a miniature racecar that may have been a toyota, and he brought a bottle of painkillers with him that only had one pill in it: lonely Tylenol.

2002 was an interesting year to say the least. I wish that I had turned 22 that year, but, alas, my mother was impregnated about five months too late.

Aside from word palindromes, there is the fascinating field of number palindromes. There's a wealth of fun information about them on the web, but I recommend this discussion of Palindromic Primes for advanced palindromers.

So, Happy Birthday to me, if I do say so myself. I hope that my palindrome year goes well... My only wish is that my birthday was not taking place during raw war.

Friday, April 04, 2003

An Anthropologist on SARS

Wouldn't that be a cool headline for an article? Yeah, if I was going to write something about SARS here, I would use that as the title.

Alas, alack, I have nothing in particular to say about the illness, and I am most definitely not an anthropologist.

Thursday, April 03, 2003

New Features!
Here at On The Fence Corp., we're always trying to improve the blog for readers like you. That's why we're proud to announce a new feature at On The Fence: Commenting.

That's right! On The Fence has joined the 21th Century of Blogging. Now you can "interact" with the weblog in "real time."

It's like Democracy, but on the web!

Try out the Comment tool now and be amazed!
If They Were all like Rex…

Sitting in a café, writing papers on my laptop and sipping my Freedom Vanilla coffee, it is difficult to think of anything but my late papers and the impending doom of exams. Thank god I’m getting out of here.

This may be the lack of sleep talking, but, while I’ve always assumed that I would go back to school for a Masters, at the moment I’m on the fence about this wild and wacky world of academia. With war and pestilence and various other horsemen of the apocalypse galloping across the front page of the newspaper, spending hours on a thirty-page paper about radio evangelism in the 1920s feels a little like fiddling while Rome burns. I can’t help but feel like this work I’m doing is inconsequential and, dare I say it, selfish. While a degree will add a couple of letters to my name, how does it actually benefit the world in comparison to, say, volunteering for an NGO in Africa?

Post-secondary education in Canada was in serious decline for over a decade or so thanks to deep cuts in government funding. Now, however, there seems to be a genuine attempt by universities and governments to fix some of the rot that set in during the 1990s. Going into academia might actually be a wise career move right now; the Association of Universities and Colleges estimates that universities will have to hire between 30,000 and 40,000 new professors in the next ten year. By 2010, two thirds of McGill’s faculty will have been hired in the new millennium. This is a huge opportunity for renewal here at McGill.

This influx of younger faces alone won’t fix universities’ larger public relations problems, however. Academia has had to endure years of snide remarks from Canadian Alliance and Reform MPs ridiculing off-the-wall thesis topics in the House of Commons.

There is a valid point buried deep in their redneck rhetoric, however. Some of the stuff in the socials sciences and the humanities seems positively pointless, an expensive exercise in onanism. Too often the “social” and “human” is left out of these disciplines. Some academics actually seem to pride themselves on the esoterism of their pet projects.

The sciences have done a good job of arguing for their importance in our society. We’re interested in funding microbiologists work because of sudden outbreaks of diseases like the SARS. How can a literary analysis of women’s work in Shakespeare’s histories compare to issues of life and death? It leads me to feel like packing up my bags post-BA and heading to the “real” world of journalism or politics. Professors need to argue and prove the relevance of the arts disciplines.

I’ve been to a few ceremonies over the past couple of weeks. As the academic year wraps up, this is a penchant for naming People of the Year. Well, allow me to give out an award myself, if I may be so presumptuous. Let’s call this award the Professor of the Year award. The full title of the award is the Professor who Makes Me Believe in the Importance of Higher Education of the Year Award (PMMBIHEYA).

I’ve name-checked Professor Rex Brynen a couple of times in this column. I only took one of his courses in my brief fling with Political Science in my first year, but the excitement and relevance of his lectures has stayed with me. Brynen is at the top of his game and doesn’t shy away from sharing his work on regional security, conflict and democratization in the Middle East with the general public, as he does in the weekly Gulfwatch 2003 briefings.

Brynen employs interactive teaching techniques, most (in)famously in his Peacebuilding class and seminar, where student participate in a large-scale simulation of an international crisis in the fictional country of Brynania. He has a sense of humour and his students are devoted to him.

Holding professors to the Brynen Standard is perhaps a little ambitious. He does work in a topical and sexy field. But in reaching out to the larger community, he does a good job of arguing the importance of continued funding for the humanities and social science.

Anyway, I’m not going back to school right away next year. I think I’ll light out for the territory before I get too sivilized by the Aunt Sallys of academe. But in a couple of years, I reckon the bright lights of folks like Rex might just lure me back…

J. Kelly Nestruck can be reached at jkelly@cup.ca. He apologizes for the gratuitous Huckleberry Finn reference.