Remembering Gord Downie

Canadian cultural history changed in an instant today, with the news that Tragically Hip front-man Gord Downie has died. The "Gord" so many Canadians knew and revered was not the intensely private man himself but the public persona—the poet and philosopher, the humanitarian and activist, the enigmatic raconteur. Every generation cherishes the music of its youth. But Gord Downie and the Hip occupy a unique strata in the pop-music pantheon. For theirs was the music of the generation sandwiched between the boomers and the millennials—the last of the pre-iTuners, for whom FM radio, live gigs, record albums and rock-auteur authenticity were communal experiences and formative identity markers. Heart-broken Gen-Xers are today consoling each other and listening to all-Hip radio—to remember, to wax nostalgic, to rehash the old stories, to immerse themselves in the zeitgeist one last time. For the many thirty- and forty-somethings who trooped around the country, year after year, decade after decade, to see the Hip on stage, the loss of Gord Downie is intensely personal. But more than this, it feels like the end of an era—the era when music mattered. (For HW)

On Twitter: A Modest Proposal

So, you hate Twitter—and what's more, you love to hate Twitter. You thought it was great when it was powering the Arab Spring but now you worry that it's addictive, unhealthy and inequitable.  You find too much hate on Twitter, and too little diversity. You think tweeting is a pointless waste of time, and you are annoyed by the platform's random notifications. You fear that Twitter is killing literacy, contributing to mental health problems, threatening Enlightenment values and undermining democracy.  In short, you have come to see Twitter as the end of the world as we know it.  Here's a modest proposal.  Stop using it.

Goading Trump

Trump goading.jpg

After a brief truce last month, the war between the U.S. president and the media is again in full flame. But this week the stakes changed. Trump issued a tweet suggesting that some news networks should have their licences challenged or revoked. His critics pounced, suggesting that he had violated the First Amendment, for which he could be impeached. Press-freedom activists opined that Trump's tweet alone was actionable. Rebecca Baker, president of the Society for Professional Journalists, threw cold water on the idea. "Right now it's just his words," she said, "no executive orders, no bills introduced to Congress, just hot air." But the cat is among the pigeons. Goading Trump now has strategic value.

On Newspeak

The pejorative phrase politically correct has been with us since the 1980s. Politically correct speech is speech imposed—typically by elites seeking to eliminate hierarchies of oppression in public institutions. Whether imposed speech is tyrannical may be contested, but its pervasiveness—and its resistance to critique—is undeniable. Libertarian Claire Fox believes that we have today reached a tipping point, evinced by the BMA's directive that the phrase expectant mothers be replaced with pregnant people. Such "ludicrous" ideas will isolate officious elites, Fox argues, and thus free ordinary citizens. She's wrong. As Orwell predicted, we have all become masters of self-censorship. The process is irreversible.