Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Ghost of Christmas Past

A merry Christmas to all my readers! I hope it finds them very well. Healthy and happy and you know.

Nothing but old stuff for you this year, but all worth a re-visit:

Snook on the occasion of receiving a Christmas card from a former student.

G.K. Chesterton on the Wise Men.

Hilaire Belloc on a remaining Christmas.

And re. those wonderful people in our midst who are actually better than Christmas.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Help! My body's racist!

You ever had one of those experiences where it's imperative that you do a lot of very concise thinking and speaking in a very short period of time? Like, say, in an oral exam? And you find yourself incapable of doing so because the only thing running through your mind is I'm supposed to be thinking about David Hume now. I'm supposed to be thinking about David Hume right now. I'm supposed to be thinking about fucking David Hume right fucking now!

You have? Me too. Goddamned David Hume.

Oh, and what a sight you were! Sweating profusely, grimacing, squirming, looking anywhere--the walls, the floor, the infinite distance--anywhere but at the face of your examiner. You were the very picture of discomfort and clear loathing for your predicament.

But the great thing about oral exams is that they are infrequent, and usually are undergone at a stage early enough in your life that the extent of their devastation wasn't entirely comprehended ... You usually shrugged it off by next week, I'm guessing. Yeah, me too.

Here's a question though: You ever had one of those experiences where it's imperative that you do a lot of very concise thinking and speaking in a very short period of time, and you end up being judged not by your carefully considered words--and not even by your body language--but by the body language of an actor on a TV show set on fucking mute?

"White characters are treated better across the board and this has an impact on viewers," said Weisbuch, a post-doctoral psychologist at Massachusetts's Tufts University.

In the first experiment, researchers used clips from 11 television programs – including Bones, Grey's Anatomy, CSI and Scrubs – and digitally removed one of the characters participating in the scenes.

They then muted any onscreen conversations and recruited college students who had never seen the episodes to watch.

"We took out the target character, who was either black or white, and the (remaining) character was always white," senior study author Nalini Ambady said in an interview with the Star.

"Then we just showed people and said `how much does this person like the person they're interacting with?'" said Ambady, a Tufts social psychologist.

The viewers, it was found, consistently judged the body language expressed by the visible white characters as more negative whenever the unseen character in the scene was black.


"Take a medical drama for example, both the black and the white characters were doctors," Ambady said. Yet while the negative body language is certainly not scripted, she was not sure if it reflects innate reactions by the white actors, is directorial in origin, or a combination of both.

"There's no bias in what they're saying, the bias seems to be in the way they are conveying, and we have no idea where that's coming from," she says.

Ambady says positive body language like smiling, nodding and leaning forward while talking is far less common when white characters engage with black co-stars.

"The black characters receive significantly less positive non-verbal behaviour. They're liked less non-verbally than white characters."


Thus, Ambady says, the subtle body-language bias displayed on television can create "insidious" repercussions in subconscious racial feelings among millions of viewers.

"Of course, when someone says something to you that's biased, you can correct for it, you can say `that guy's a jerk,'" she says.

Subjective, did I hear you say? Too, too, too subjective to be taken seriously as scholarship? The same thing occurred to me, but I'm not saying anything. I'm having a hard enough time trying to keep my body language in check, let alone my language language.

But this is priceless:
In a journal commentary on the study, Yale University psychologist John Dovidio said the paper's use of white college students as viewers showed just how potent the non-verbal cues were in creating bias.

"Thus, non-verbal messages influence relatively sophisticated participants who are especially motivated to appear unbiased," he says.

While Mr. Dovidio made no mention of it, one assumes that he was outraged at the clear expression of non-verbal bias evinced by anyone's seeking his opinion on the matter.

... Ah, scraping the bottom of the grievance barrel in "post-racial" America. Next up? Blind taste-tests for racism, I'm thinking.

Pity the poor creature who chooses Sprite.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Drive

Well, the lads are back at it ... and with a vengeance! This episode's got everything! A borrowed car, cheap knives in Chinatown, the ROM Crystal, and the Gay Village.

Like I say: everything!

(Click the image. Press play)

... And you thought they'd never leave the apartment!

(Incidentals: like maybe, I don't know, four f-bombs. It's nothing, dude. Relax. Further info re. the songwriter, and the album in full, can be found here, purchased here ... Appreciators of the genius of this might also appreciate this.)

A painfully short 14 minutes.


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

That stethoscope doesn't make you right

Chris Selley:

The Toronto Star's Catherine Porter thinks poverty alleviation outweighs medical ethics and has no problem with doctors deliberately misdiagnosing welfare recipients with afflictions that will top up their monthly payments. Think of that what you will — one shouldn't read the Star if one doesn't want to encounter logic-deprived activist journalism.

The real kicker in this piece, though, is her interview with Dr. Roland Wong, who's currently under investigation for precisely the sort of actions Porter's advocating. His defence, in a nutshell: What is a "diagnosis," anyway, in this mixed up world we're living in?

"Chronic constipation — who can define it, except me?" he asks. "Soya allergy — it's not a clear medical condition. I do the best to my abilities. If they lie to me, I can't change that. I have to trust the patient to a certain extent."

Not that there aren't a ton of misdiagnosed food allergies out there, but I think Dr. Wong will find soy allergy is very much a "clear medical condition." One is either allergic to soy or one isn't — a determination your friendly neighbourhood allergist will be happy to make, on OHIP's dime, assuming you've been referred to him by, say, Dr. Wong. If Dr. Wong wishes to remain Dr. Wong, as opposed to simply Poverty Activist Wong, I think he might want to stop talking to the media.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Did He who made the lamb make thee?

It's a truism that public life is service if willingly undertaken, and slavery if unwillingly.

This is so in the personal (and private) sense too, obviously, but let's save that discussion for the long winter evenings, what?

We know that anyone who seeks the limelight imagining that it is not, of its essence, a form of serious public service, will sooner or later discover--usually by pillory, almost inevitably by despair--that the liberty they take is the liberty they owe. And that they will pay, whether they want to or not. Or even whether they deserve to pay quite so much.

We, as I say, know this. It's boringly obvious.

What the example of someone like Tiger Woods gives us, though, is novel. And practical. What it tells us is that the choice between service and slavery is made from the outset. That is: the characteristic of servant or slave is not applied retroactively in the event that you've been found out, but that it is assumed--its burdens taken up and borne--at the moment this simple truth is either understood, misunderstood, or rejected.

Thus the man who decides (whether through hubris, or just a perverse and tragic kind of innocence) that he will use the privilege of his celebrity to live the life, say, of carnal fantasy played-out in pornography, does not and cannot succeed in doing so however much he tries and whatever resources he might have at his disposal. Tiger Woods didn't get caught living the fantasy of porn, after all. He got caught banging porn stars. That there is a world of difference here need not be pointed out.

And what better illustration of what this sort of celebrity has attained to? Not the high life, but the lie at the heart of the high life: the slum. A place where fantasy (such as it is) does not grant respite from grim and inevitable reality, but which gives it STDs, divorces, the loss of careers, and unhappiness and shame to last at least a couple of generations. A place in which the dream of escape has become a burden greater than reality.

... It all depends on when the revolution comes, of course, but I don't think there can be any doubt what the next permutation of celebrity scandal will be. Shit-eating. Mark my words.

Friday, December 04, 2009

CBC and me

Things are getting really slack around here and I'm really sorry about that. You're right: what I need's a good kick in the pants. Only, my legs don't go that way and, obviously, you're not allowed 'cause you'll do it too hard.

Here's something anyway:

I’m still trying to figure out whether it was a small moment of courage, or just a different way of talking about the same old story, when Peter Mansbridge brought up the Tiger Woods story on the “At Issue” panel on The National last night.

Mansbridge asked the panel for their thoughts on what the obsession with the Woods story says about us – meaning the greater “us”, as in all of us.

I think the question would have been more courageous, and more relevant if he’d meant “us” to mean “us” as in the CBC.

This from concerned former CBC journalist, Andy Clarke (who explains the reasoning for his excellent new blog, CBC and Me: Watching the CBC Do Itself In, here). He continues:

The crew in charge at the CBC now tosses around the word “transparency” to talk about how it covers things differently than it did before.

“More transparent,” they tell us.

Well here’s what I’d love to see in terms of transparency. I’d love to see Jennifer McGuire – who’s in charge of CBC News – take to the airwaves and say something like…

“You know what? We’ve been talking about this in our newsroom, and we can’t figure out for the life of us what the news value is in this story. So, we’re not going to report on it anymore. We’re going to leave it to others to obsess over, and report on. You guys are smart enough to know where to find those others, but we’re going to move on to other things.”

Fat chance, eh? It will never happen with this leadership team at the CBC.

There's much that annoys me about the CBC--I should say, there's very little that doesn't annoy me, and annoy me exponentially more with every passing year, about the CBC--but I am definitely of the opinion that it is an institution worth retaining. It requires, however, a great deal of reform. Andy Clarke's seems to be a serious and principled voice toward that end--even as he works from the outside--and is well worth your attention.