"Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored." -Aldous Huxley

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wMonday, June 30, 2003

ADVANTAGE: JEREMIADS: Edmonton Sun columnist Michael Jenkinson repeats a few refrains which should be familiar to readers of this blog. To wit:

When the magazine changed its name to the Report Newsmagazine in 1999, it not only wiped out a perfectly good and widely known brand name for the sake of an ill-advised national expansion and re-branding, it also moved from being a weekly product to coming out every two weeks.

And while I don't expect many people to really grasp the significance of this, the revamped Report also got rid of most of its staff reporters and became a magazine largely written by its senior editors as well as a large corps of freelancers.

The combined effect of these changes were a magazine that was less timely, less interesting to read and far less influential than it had ever been.

In short, there were fewer and fewer reasons to read the "new" Report Newsmagazine.


If anything, I find myself annoyed, and even angry, at what happened. I've never believed the generally accepted wisdom that permeated the magazine's culture that there was simply no way Alberta Report would ever make money because it was too controversial and advertisers wouldn't go near it.

Because the flip-side of that argument is to believe that a right-wing magazine couldn't make a profit in Alberta. And I find that very hard to believe.

Indeed, I submit that if the Byfields would be willing to sell the rights to the Alberta Report name to someone else with a solid business plan, there's no reason why the magazine couldn't continue being the unique voice on the right that it was for so many years.

posted by Jeremy at 3:50 AM


ALL THAT JAZZ AND THERE GOES THE OLD SOUTH: New Reasonette Kerry Howley (whose byline is already producing, er, howls of resentment) has a new piece on cussed jazz critic Stanley Crouch:

If media icon Stanley Crouch is less than a dream to work with, he is a nightmare to fire. When JazzTimes magazine abruptly cancelled his incendiary column last month, Crouch generated a media uproar befitting his blustery reputation. In a Newsweek Online editorial, he accuses his former employers of membership in a "union of white people" committed to "the elevation of white jazz musicians over their black betters." [more]

On an entirely unrelated note, if nothing else good comes from the death of Strom Thurmond, at least The American Prowler decided to re-run this classic Florence King review (and, yes, I did have a hand in this):

Strom's father, who was Tillman's personal lawyer and campaign manager, missed out on a political career of his own because, as Strom explains, "One time he had to kill a man." It happened in 1897 when a drunken political enemy confronted him on the street and called him a "low, dirty scoundrel." In reply, young Will Thurmond pulled out a pistol and shot him through the heart. At his trial, which was attended by his fiancée Gertrude Strom, he pleaded self-defense and was acquitted by twelve white male Edgefieldians who did not doubt that self-defense included defending one's honor. Some years later, when Will Thurmond ran for Congress and lost badly (though carrying Edgefield), he used the occasion to instruct his eldest son. "Never kill anybody," he told Strom. "It will hurt you all your life." [more]

posted by Jeremy at 2:15 AM


ENTER STAGE RIGHT ON DEAD TREE?: Steve Martinovich has something to say, so listen up people:

I mean this seriously. Since the death of The Report on Monday I've been smoking a lot of cigarettes and I've been thinking a lot. I want to launch a conservative magazine in Canada.

A lot of you are probably thinking one of two things. First, you must be thinking I'm mad to even contemplate entering an arena that just saw the death of its only representative. I think the failure of The Report was a unique event, a believable contention if you've read the numerous blog entries...by its newly unemployed staff. The Report may have had its problems but I think at least some of them were created internally. I think a conservative magazine can prosper in this country and only needs someone to step up and begin the hard work of launching it. As I told Lott earlier this week, if two guys without j-school credentials can launch a weekly in Los Angeles then I can't see how a few brave souls can't launch a national conservative magazine in Canada. The economics can work and there's no lack of talented conservative writers in Canada. Heck, we'd start with a ready made staff if even half the people laid off by The Report came onboard.

Second, you're probably thinking that of all the people who should be arrogant enough to want to start an endeavor like this, it shouldn't be me. Fair enough. I realize that ESR is far from being a polished gem. If it's any good it's because of the talented writers who have to put up with me. I'm still willing to give it a shot though even if just to cheer the effort on if someone else shoulders the load and receives the glory.

So what's the next step? Money of course. Launching a magazine requires capital. Unfortunately we don't have a Canadian version of Richard Mellon Sciafe (at least not that I'm aware of) and I don't think Conrad Black is particularly eager to spend any of his money returning to the Canadian journalism industry. Outside of a few major organizations like the Fraser Institute, who have their own publications, there's little in the way of a conservative infrastructure in this country. We were so eager to elect conservative politicians that we seem to have forgotten to do some major work.

That said, I think this country is ripe for a 1960s style National Review-esque conservative awakening though we are missing a national leader at the moment. I think it isn't pie in the sky dreaming to think that we can begin laying the ground work for a conservative movement by launching a conservative magazine and seriously begin the process of having conservatives across Canada debate and network with each other. There are a surprising number of conservatives in Canada and we can inspire and motivate them with a dynamic and forward looking magazine.

So...am I merely shouting out into the wilderness or are there people out there as interested in doing something like this as I am? Don't be a stranger...

He closes with his e-mail address, which I now pass on to readers along with the address of one Kevin Michael Grace, the only other person (that I know of) who has publicly said he wants to start a follow-up mag. Martinovich's address is editor@enterstageright.com. KMG's is kmgrace@telus.net.

posted by Jeremy at 1:10 AM


I ACCUSE THE BYFIELDS: Rick Hiebert wonders what a Report movie would entail:

With all the media and weblog tales of pot merchants, "insane" editiors and brain- surgery-dogs that are swirling around, perhaps a quickie explotation movie would be the best way to handle the story. Either that or something that would be shown on Showcase as Canadian content. Or an ABC After School Special.

The end of our magazine is being made to sound like something that would have been dubbed, oh, I Accuse The Byfields, a tawdry tale of journalists gone wrong, back in the day.


As much as we Report alumni might hope to at least get a Roger Corman to direct such a film, we would probably be stuck with an Edward D. Wood Jr.. I'm suddenly glad that no one wore angora in our office.

posted by Jeremy at 1:01 AM


ME IN PRINT: Two articles by yours truly are only available in print. For those fans who just can't get enough (or who are getting sick of all this Report reportage), the publications are the current issues of The Weekly Standard (the Summer books issue no less) and The American Spectator. The first is a short take on Chris Hedges' new book. The second is a long piece on the late Michael Kelly. It begins:

The death of Michael Kelly hit the world of journalism like a brick to the gut, with the pain quickly spreading from the vital organs to the extremities. I learned of it the day after, on April, during a phone call with an editor at a literary magazine. Kelly's name was dropped (and picked up) in a half dozen conversations that same day. According to the early reports, there was gunfire and a Humvee crash and, well, details were still sketchy.

At first, I didn't believe it. I refused to. How could a guy as nimble as Kelly die in such a stupid pointless accident? During the first Gulf War, he was in Baghdad when the bombs started to fall, then in Israel as the scuds descended. He flew to Saudi Arabia for the beginning of the ground war, rode into Kuwait with the Egyptian army ("Sure, why not? It's a free desert," said an Egyptian commander), accepted the surrender of several Iraqi troops, and found his way into Kuwait City for the liberation. Kelly then returned to Iraq and had to be smuggled out by Northern rebels. At every point he had not only evaded death, but thumbed his stubby nose at it.

The irony that Kelly could get through the first war with nothing but his wits and dumb luck, but died as an "embed" under U.S. military protection was not lost on his admirers. Michael Ledeen lamented that the U.S. had lost "a national treasure, dammit." Peggy Noonan called his death "a sin against the order of the world," and maybe it was, though I'm not sure Kelly would have agreed, or put it quite so glowingly. Eulogies paint an idealized portrait of the dead, but a portrait nonetheless. Those who knew Kelly well all painted a picture of a man who was not overly impressed with himself. [If you want more, you'll have to pick it up on the newsstand.]

posted by Jeremy at 12:26 AM

wSunday, June 29, 2003

JEREMIADS ENDORSEMENT: "Ground Zero for the impressively bitter carcass-poking" - Matt Welch.

posted by Jeremy at 10:04 PM


BLOG ON: You just knew all this writing about the death of The Report was going to come around to the how it proves the power of the Internet, didn't you? The argument is ably advanced by Kevin Steel:

The influence of the blog and the personal website, and the use and ease of the hyperlink, add a new dimension to the whole exercise of laying off a whole bunch of writers all at once.

To wit:

Since management made its announcement on Monday, they have received a barage of calls from traditional media, and they've largely controlled the story. However, there is something else creeping up. For instance, former colleague Marnie Ko finally unloads. Jeremy Lott posts some of her comments. As her piece makes plain, she took a lot of crap.

I guess no one can be accused of telling tales out of school since there ain't no school left...The difference is "telling tales of out of school" in the internet age means talking to the world, not knowing who's listening, who cares, or even if it will make a difference. There's no point in me going on about how the "little person" benefits from this type of communication. Truth and power; bosses in any business like to control the former and horde the latter. They don't like their underlings having access to both. We know that a few journalists have been ordered to close down their sites on pain of being fired.

As for "who cares?" in the present situation, it's hard to say. The thing of it is this; the Report was a singularity. It was Canada's only conservative newsmagazine. People who like that kind of thing--and we know there were 60,000 of them a few years ago--might be wondering; what comes next? Part of "What comes next?" is "What happened before?" Are there any cautionary tales to heed? Where did they go wrong? And into that breach now steps, somewhat sideways, the anecdote through the private voice of the blog and the personal website.

I don't know how many fully employed journalists in Canada have blogs. But I do know that since blogging became popular, a publishing singularity like the Report hasn't completely shut its doors and laid-off everybody, including those who have the venue and the freedom to discuss the event publicly like they are now. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 8:25 PM


TAKIN' CARE OF BUSINESS: In his Edmonton Sun column about the death of The Report, Ted Byfield declaims any responsibility for its demise ("Beyond writing columns, I've had almost nothing to do with the magazine for the last 10 years.") and takes a stab at explaining the magazine's longevity:

That it did not [die during the early '90s] is due to the genius of a single man. This was our ad manager, Don McCallum, who began selling advertising profiles on various Alberta industrial companies that the callers couldn't threaten. That kept us alive for at least 10 years.

Er -- how to put this? -- the idea of Don McCallum as a business genius is certainly a minority opinion among Report alum.

posted by Jeremy at 7:08 PM


REPORTSTERS UPDATE: Kevin Steel has a new song out and will soon be begging for money. Colby Cosh is trying to get editors to return his phone calls. Rick Hiebert is praising French libertarians. Dave Stevens has perhaps the best explanation to date of why The Report lost the taxicab demographic. Marnie Ko's Report memoir continues to elicit reactions, pro and con. And KMG's suggested cast for the movie treatment has stirred up all kinds of trouble. (I got out of him that the understudy for my part would be one Giovanni Ribisi.)

posted by Jeremy at 3:34 PM

wSaturday, June 28, 2003

OVERPLAYING THE RIGHT HAND: Arguments about ideology and the failure of The Report are already becoming tiresome to me, so I suspect most readers have had their fill. That said, there is one wrong impression that I wish to correct, especially because it is being reinforced by the Byfields.

In a slapdash piece for the National Post, Ted Byfield claimed that The Report was the public voice of Christianity in Canada. During an interview with Lifesite, Link said the pro-lifers would be hardest hit by this, and one Paul Tuns, editor of a Toronto-based "life and family newspaper" called Interim, which covers "abortion, euthanasia, the gay-rights agenda, feminism, educational choice, judicial activism and religious freedom, among other issues," invited former Report readers to come on in, the water's fine.

The thing is, sure, The Report was a socially conservative magazine, and it ran a mostly liberal-baiting regular column by Ted and Virginia Byfield called "Orthodoxy," but it was always more than a "life and family newspaper." The U.S. has a several dozen non-liberal media outlets -- the Weekly Standard, Reason, National Review, Chronicles, the American Spectator, etc --, a large religious press, and a cable network. Canada has the occasional right-of-center regional paper (e.g., the Ottawa Citizen, the Calgary Herald), the imploding National Post, a few small religious weeklies (e.g., the Interim, the B.C. Christian News), and a big hole where The Report used to be.

What The Report did was take all those groups that would be at each other's throats in the U.S. and cram them into one magazine. You had libertarians (Colby Cosh, Jeremy Lott, Kevin Steel, Ilana Mercer put in a few guest appearances), paleocons (Kevin Michael Grace), Catholics (Link, Terry O'Neill), Baptists (Mike Byfield), atheists (Colby Cosh, Paul Bunner), pro-lifers (Joanne Byfield), pro-choicers (Cosh), neocons (Bunner), prohibitionists (Joanne, O'Neill, Mike on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays, and every other Sunday), legalizers (Cosh, Buner, myself), and users (I'd probably better not say).

Which is a long way of saying that if The Report had a theme song, it wouldn't be "Onward Christian Soldiers" (though I doubt if it would be "Oh Canada" either). In fact, the magazine rarely had a uniform editorial position on any issue. For instance, when people would complain to me about the seemingly endless downpour of drug scare stories, I would surprise them by saying that, in 1997, the mag ran a cover story calling for the legalization of pot (indeed, here's an example of Cosh playing whack-a-mole with O'Neill's statistics).

The angle of the argument about the Report's passing that has been underplayed is the conviction that pretty much all Reportsters shared in common: The belief that the West is getting screwed: by the federal government, by treaties with both foreign powers (e.g., Kyoto) and local tribes, by the courts, and by the effete snobs in the Eastern media. More likely to hold the staff together than taxes or abortion or any other issue was resentment that Alberta in particular is being treated as a second class province. And this is not an issue on which they were in a minority. In the last decade, Albertans tried to shift the balance of power back toward the provinces by creating first the Reform then the Alliance parties, only to see their candidates rebuffed by voters in Eastern provinces, and the current incompetent management returned to power. We can look at this, as some have suggested, in terms of Western social conservatives versus Eastern liberals, or we can look at this as Albertans tend to do, in terms of a broader struggle: It was about the East keeping the West in its place.

posted by Jeremy at 4:29 PM


HARD HAT HETERODOXY: Jay Currie pens a response to Paul Cella's argument that "social conservatism is the only really popular conservatism there is" (Currie's permalinks are busted; scroll down to "Common man, Social conservative?").

Cella might be right but my sense is that he is merely out of date. He freely confesses to knowing very little about Canadian politics and takes his examples from his understanding of human nature and American politics. While American politics change in the blink of a chad, human nature would seem less mutable and less nativist.

The booming Internet porn business, the success of the adult entertainment industry, the explosive growth of drug culture in spite of the loony war on drugs, the popularity of truly dumb television (television so awful that it makes Leave it to Beaver look like Othello) and the rise of feel good quacks such as Oprah all suggest that the mass of Americans long since abandoned any but the ritual observation of traditional values.

To suggest that “our vulgar entertainment culture is rather the invention of elites” is to ignore the cultural contributions of Larry Flynt and Rosanne Barr to name two of many.

The common man, if he exists at all, is awfully difficult to know. Likely because of the very complexity of human nature. I have no doubt that if you walked into a bar in Flyspot Texas and interviewed the denizens on the question of sodomy or gay marriage you would hear a great deal of angry, bewildered talk about Judges and State’s Rights and those “god damned faggots”. And, on Sunday if you attended any church you would hear the same sentiments on behalf of God. But are these real, or are they social constructions? The test comes when “Billy-Bob” or “Cindy-Sue” comes out. My sense is that the good, fag hating people of Flyspot have evolved enough to be able to deal with homosexuality in an accepting, loving way in real life while remaining capable of the traditional homophobia for social and religious purposes. All the while checking in hourly to psychic hotlines and online astrologers. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 1:03 PM


VERY VERY HAPPY, OR NOT: Well this is ironic. Here I am in the middle of a running debate about the future of social conservatism in Canada, and the folks at Blogger decided to rotate the ads in the above banner, so that the links now go to Legal Gay Marriage Canada and My Gay World. I'm not sure if it was a deliberate thing or if the ads are determined mechanically, by using terms that appear on the front page to determine ad placement. If readers can shed some light on this, feel free to drop me a line.

posted by Jeremy at 12:47 PM

wFriday, June 27, 2003

TEASER: There will be much more over the weekend and into next week, but I'm taking the rest of the day off to tend to a few wounded deadlines.

posted by Jeremy at 3:06 PM


SHATTERED GLASS: THE CANADIAN VERSION: KMG has created a dream list of actors to play Reportsters in the movie version of Chesterton's Bastards. I got Breckin Meyer. Other sure to be controversial choices: Philip Seymour Hoffman as Colby Cosh; Enrico Colantoni as Dave Stevens; and Johnny Galecki as Ezra Levant.

posted by Jeremy at 10:48 AM


SPEAKING OF POWERFUL CURRENTS OF CANADIAN OPINION: Jay Currie concedes that a collapse in editorial standards might have had something to do with the drop in circulation after all, but he still insists that Stockwell Day poisoned the well for the electoral prospects of social conservatives for a generation. He may be right (though Mark Cameron should probably weigh in on that), and I certainly have little interest in national politics in Canada, but I think his strong dislike of religious and social conservatives may be coloring that prediction.

I should add (for the sake of honesty if nothing else) that I'm at best a marginal social conservative myself. I often describe my politics as "pro-life and pro-drugs," but then, so was Day. Writer Paul Cella sent me a long letter on social conservatism and its relationship to the other varieties, and I reproduce it here without comment:


Somehow the writings of yourself and your former colleagues have provoked me to an interest in the story of the downfall of The Report. I want to say a few things in your defense against the charges of Jay Currie. Now I confess to knowing very little about Canadian politics, but I like to fancy I know something of human nature, and I can say confidently that, contra Mr. Currie, social conservatism is the only really popular conservatism there is, if the word popular means anything substantial about the sentiments of the common man. The common man is usually traditional; the mass of common men almost always traditional. Consider the social or cultural views of union members ? the blue-collar miners and plumbers and electricians. It seems rather clear to anyone familiar at all with blue-collar workers that their views on such things as gay marriage and school prayer are probably to the right of most elected Republicans.

As to "economic conservatives": well, they are popular to the extent that taxes and vague "big government" schemes are unpopular, which, as a fact, means they are reasonably popular. But the idea that libertarianism is popular with the mass of people is rather comical. Libertarianism, admirable though it is in many respects, is truly an ideology of elites. Try arguing that we ought to privatize, say, the highway system in front of a gathering of mechanics at the pub; or that the noble idea of Liberty includes the liberty to engage in incest, as Eugene Volokh did recently, to a bunch of construction workers -- do that and see what kind of looks you receive if you want to discover how "popular" libertarianism is.

Now perhaps Mr. Currie means that social conservatism is unpopular with "movement conservatives." On that asseveration I am open to persuasion; but, if true, it certainly tells us something interesting about this movement. I recall Ramesh Ponnuru noting with some surprise on the Corner, sometime after the Santorum affair, that very close to a majority of Americans actually favor anti-sodomy laws, which is a decidedly different thing than merely favoring the right of legislative bodies to criminalize sodomy without interference from the courts, as Mr. Ponnuru and many right-wing intellectuals do. In my judgment, this revelation tells us that National Review may be to left of the country on the question of sexual morality. Interesting, no?

Anyway, to the question, floating around by implication on your blog, Who will stand up for traditionalism or rather that dread phrase social conservatism?, perhaps we should answer, The common man, if ever he has a say in the matter. The idea that, for example, our gruesome "popular" culture is merely an instance of entertainers "giving people what they want," strikes me as laughable. Our vulgar entertainment culture is rather the invention of elites: men and women who graduated from Yale and Duke and the University of Michigan full of half-baked ideas from mountebanks and a lot of time on their hands. There is something very curious in assuming that, given the chance, farmers and carpenters also would fill the airwaves with filth and barbarism. I think they would probably fill them with Leave It To Beaver and Growing Pains reruns.

Well, I have written a small polemic here on a very obscure proximate subject, but, I think, a very important ultimate subject; the subject of oligarchy and tradition; the latter of which Chesterton wrote very shrewdly and very famously, it is "the democracy of the dead," which gives a vote to "the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors" and "refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about." Social conservatism is as popular as it gets.

Paul Cella

posted by Jeremy at 10:24 AM


YOSSARIAN DIES: Peter Kok, the real-life inspiration for Yossarian in Joe Heller's classic Catch 22 (which I've been reading for a long article in Books in Canada) died this Sunday:

Heller piloted one of the B-25 bombers under Kok's command. The 1968 movie based on the book depicted Kok's decision to refuse an order to bomb a village in northern Italy, The Grand Rapids Press reported Tuesday.

"My dad said there was no strategic purpose to it, that it would be leveling innocent villages," said Peter Kok, his eldest son. "He pulled up short, bombing open fields, and the rest of the bombers followed suit." [more]

posted by Jeremy at 9:46 AM


DEEP BREATH: Twenty-four posts in seven days, several of them quite long. My, that is a lot of blogging about one topic... When I started writing about the collapse of The Report last Friday, it was a small item -- only 14 words long --, but I scooped the Edmonton Journal on the news that Canada's oldest, and only, conservative newsmagazine had suspended publication.

Since then, this site (surprisingly, along with Reason's blog) has become the go-to place for former Reportsters (my coinage) to figure out what in the world is going on. Or, I should say, I think it has. I've never gone out of my way to promote this blog: I don't advertise it at the end of my reviews or columns; I rarely try to get people to link to an item; and, ever since I lost the hit counter in a freak accident, I've been happily flying without instruments. But if the increase in mail, links, and phone calls is any indication, quite a few readers are now checking back regularly to read about the new twists in this sordid saga.

And it is sordid. I've talked to quite a few people, for instance, who read either Marnie Ko's full article of her time on the job, or my abridged version. It's quite shocking to them, but it's only a small part of the story. In the interest of full disclosure (and I've said this in the past on this blog, but I doubt new readers will bother to scan the archives), I used to work at The Report.

I quit when Link Byfield installed his brother Mike as editor. In fact, the announced date of my resignation was planned to coincide with his installation as editor. I hesitate to call Mike insane, in a clinical sense, but that certainly wouldn't be far off the mark. He is rude, prone to rages, absorbed with countless crackpot racial, economic, journalistic, and other theories, all of which are as true as the hair on the back of your hand AND HOW CAN YOU DENY IT?!?!?!. He constantly contradicts himself, often in the same breath, and his editing is some of the worst I've ever experienced.

Scratch that: It takes the bloody prize for asinine editing. I wrote a piece on the Gospel Music Industry and, apropos of nothing, he inserted the following sentence near the end:

"Christ isn't for everyone."

The sentence had nothing -- zero -- to do with the thesis or reporting of the article. It made me sound like an arrogant Christer (plus, I think it's heresy, but I suppose that's neither here nor there) and it made absolutely no sense. Mike simply decided that that part of my article would be a good place to unburden himself of that particular... nugget of wisdom.

But this isn't primarily about Mike Byfield. The reason that The Report lasted as long as it did is that dedicated readers were willing to put up with the shell that the magazine had become was that they wanted an outlet that was willing to buck the powerful currents of Canadian opinion. The Byfields gladly took their money, first in the form of sky high prices and then in direct, solicited donations. The purpose of the Citizens Centre, in the minds of most donors, was to keep the mag afloat. But Link and company squandered the money in search of a legacy, and then they intentionally created a cash crisis by cutting the price and frequency of the mag in half. Link has recently taken to saying that there isn't a real conservative movement in Canada, and has expressed an almost Maoist enthusiasm for reeducating the ignorant proles.

Then, rather than trying to sell the magazine, Link abruptly shut it down. Too much of an annoyance, I suppose. Why go out there and learn about people's lives and at least wrestle with those messy details as you seek to tell a different version of the story than you're likely to read in most of the Canadian press when you can simply tell people what to believe?

Sigh. I'll have more to say but that's enough for tonight.

posted by Jeremy at 1:04 AM

wThursday, June 26, 2003

JAY CURRIE IS WRONG: I tried to come up with a better title but it's been that sort of day. Blogger Jay Currie insists that social conservatism and not KMG's explanation, "an utter collapse of editorial standards," was to blame for the Report's loss of influence and readership these last few years:

Most purely editorial lapses are missed entirely by readers. Not all readers, but a majority. You do not lose 20,000 subscribers in four years only because the editor is either not doing or is not permitted to do his job. You lose them because you are out of touch with their priorities.

OK, then, try this. Start out with a weekly magazine that has three distinct regional formats (Alberta Report, Western Report, B.C. Report) and news bureaus all over the place, which has something of a sense of humor and is quite responsive to readers. Now fold the three into one "national" magazine, reduce the frequency to every other week, charge almost as much, close the bureaus, fire the reporters, keep a skeleton staff of editor-reporters, constrict the range of what they can write about (by, for instance, killing the culture review section), and make them turn in an absurt ammount of copy every issue, often about subjects which bore them. Presto! You lose 20,000 readers in four years. No social conservatism necessary.

posted by Jeremy at 8:01 PM


WHY NOT SELL?: Longtime Reportster Rick Hiebert takes too much of a kid gloves approach for my taste, but he asks the question that tens of thousands of Canadians would like to have answered. Why wasn't The Report sold to someone who actually wanted to publish it?:

I wish that [Link Byfield] had sold the magazine instead of folding it, even if doing so would have meant that I was sacked by the new owners.

The history of National Review illustrates a different way that the long-term future of The Report could have been handled. William F. Buckley Jr. realized that his son Christopher wanted to be a writer and editor, but he did not insist that the future of National Review be placed in his hands. Instead, Mr. Buckley looked for ideological children of his who could also guide the future of the magazine. That way, Chris Buckley had the freedom to decide what was the best way for him to help the conservative movement and National Review could have a long-term future no matter what Chris Buckley did.

The Report's end suggests that a lot of pressure was put on the second generation of Byfields to keep the vision alive. It led to a situation where either the magazine was published *or* the foundation was freed to do its important work.

Am I suggesting that Link Byfield should never have taken editorial or financial control of the magazine? No. He was a passionate editor and publisher for many years and others could have failed ignobly and not continued the magazine's good work as long as Link did. But, I do think that the Byfields should have considered a possible post-Byfield future for the magazine.


I wish that the Byfields had considered that our magazine was a "movement" business and not just a "family business". Folding The Report, if there are no other conservative Canadian magazines to take its place, is a decided blow to the conservative movement. I would respectfully suggest that although the second generation of Byfields have decided for very valid reasons to turn to what they see as as more profitable methods, that they let someone else have a go at making The Report succeed or let new owners buy whatever's left of the Report's resources to start something new. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 1:12 PM


SHOULDN'T THAT BE 'FIND'?: Robin Brunet, a former staffer at The Report, wrote an nasty but fun e-mail to Kevin Michael Grace. Grace posted it, and replied with a few barbed comments of his own:

Dear Rob:

Last time I saw you, four years ago, you were brandishing a cutting tool, muttering darkly of revenge and conspiring to spike Terry O’Neill’s coffee with LSD. Glad to see the intervening years have not dulled your "edge." Mind your meds, buddy.

Your friend,
Kevin Grace

posted by Jeremy at 10:22 AM


WE GET LETTERS: Reader Greg Klein fills in the details about a previously unidentified play based on the Report newsroom:

It was Prairie Report, by Frank Moher. Very lame stuff, this play. Moher got Link completely wrong, portraying him instead as a moronic hayseed. The other characters were bland, completely lifeless -- which is all the more surprising, given that the play took place in the Edmonton newsroom. The protagonist was a stereotypical journalist with conventional ideas that the audience was expected to admire. There was also a banal coming-out epiphany, when a fellow reporter was revealed to be lesbian. At the end, Ted sold out to a big Toronto outfit. Yawn.

posted by Jeremy at 10:17 AM


THE RIGHT ASSESSMENT: I've avoided linking many of the Report obits, because a) they often get stuff wrong and b) I'm not sure how much they add. That said, David Frum's diary entry yesterday was quite good. He concluded:

The Report had its faults. It was not always well-written; it was never very attractive to look at. Its conservatism could be, well, obsessive and peculiar: It had a strange enthusiasm for doctors who felt persecuted by mainstream medicine, and some of its editors seemed not to have completely liberated themselves from Alberta’s Depression-era experiment with the crackpot Social Credit economics of Major Douglas. But the Report also launched an astonishing number of brilliant conservative media careers, including that of Ken Whyte, who went on to create the National Post. It articulated a social conservatism that otherwise would have gone unheard in Canada. And it never lost sight of its readers – or became inured to the injustices they and their province suffered. It will be missed – and it will not easily be replaced. [more]

Of course, I argue that in the end they did lose sight of readers, and will pay dearly for it.

posted by Jeremy at 10:09 AM

wWednesday, June 25, 2003

REPORT KO: My former colleague Marnie Ko has a long piece on her tenure at the Report. Some of it is pretty damning, but, as I commented when she let me look at an earlier version, it would have been more potent if she named names. Her treatment by one editor in particular is truly shocking stuff. Samples:

My introduction to the Report (then in its regional incarnation as the Alberta Report) was a rough one. My obnoxious, emotionally erratic first editor told me he liked me a lot, but hoped my husband had a really big stick. Whether he was suggesting I should be beaten, or it was a sexual remark, I don’t know to this day. On hearing that, my husband wanted to take a whack at the editor, but we both knew I needed I needed the job.

That editor was an unpleasant fellow who would fly off the handle one moment, then call you five minutes later like the first conversation had never happened. He’d also call when you were writing frantically on deadline, and talk about useless, boring crap for the next two hours. He’d phone you up just to rant and rave endlessly about subjects and flit from one topic to another. He rarely made sense. I learned to grunt and sound interested while continuing to pound at the computer and concentrate on the latest green scheme to save the whales, or the various methods homosexuals used to go straight.


Indeed, he was so caught up in the moment that he told me I should celebrate such a good cover story by "fucking" my estranged husband. Then maybe he’d support me and I wouldn’t have to work anymore.

The awkwardness didn't stop there. Soon after, my editor began asking personal questions about my family life. I told him these things were none of his business. I refused to answer personal questions His business was that my stories were handed in on time and well done, I said.

“If you continue this,” I told him, “I will quit right now.” Over the course of the conversation, he told me that the new Citizen’s Centre Report Foundation was going to be very well-respected in the future and had plans for their new place among Canada’s movers and shakers. They wouldn’t want to be embarrassed, he said, by any scandal. He told me that women should really be home with their children. He told me that my working would result in me neglecting my children, even though I work at home.


But perhaps the biggest obstacle for the Citizens Centre's goals will be its own failings. Terry O'Neill, speaking for the organization, was asked to comment on the magazine ceasing publication and laying people off. He replied, "Luckily, I don't live paycheck to paycheck." Good for him, but most of the staff, and indeed the vast majority of the country suffering from oppressive taxation, do indeed live paycheck to paycheck. If easing the crushing impact of taxes, and improving the quality of life for all Canadians, are among the new foundations' goals, they've chosen a particularly poor way to go about convincing people. Maybe they bizarrely believe that a little more misery will make eventual reform more likely.

I can't help but think that those of us at the Report should have stuck together earlier. Some co-workers expressed the opinion that I should have taken the Report to the Human Rights Commission and complained about the way I was treated. But that shouldn't have been necessary. After all, a foundation dedicated to promoting good should simply start out by doing good itself. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 10:37 PM


FATHER KNOWS, WHAT?: Now this should be interesting. Ted Byfield founded The Report, brought it through several crises, and handed it off to Link, who drove it into the ground. Then Link started the Citizens Centre and Ted sold his ownership for a pittance. Now, Link is going around basically saying that the magazine was a waste of time and effort, and thereby implying that his father erred -- and erred badly -- in starting the damn thing. Ted has a weekly column in the Edmonton Sun. Anyone care to place bets on what he'll say this Sunday?

posted by Jeremy at 12:28 PM


MARK SHEA NOMINATES ME FOR A PULITZER: Though his Piltdown Man comment gets at what I was meant when I wrote that "the forgery angle quickly metastasized into a fact."

posted by Jeremy at 11:20 AM


QUICK UPDATES: More posts on the other Report forum, the bulletin board of Reason magazine, including a follow-up from Kathy Shaidle. Colby Cosh has raised about US$1000, and Kevin Michael Grace promises to have a Paypal button up soon. I might by psychic.

posted by Jeremy at 10:58 AM


THE REPORTER REPORTED: KMG says I know more than I've been willing to say, but, hey, give me time. Colby Cosh opts for cut rate psychoanalysis.

posted by Jeremy at 10:49 AM


DONE! DEAL: Dave Stevens' reaction to being tossed out of a job is almost touching: generous, self-effacing, etc.:

Kevin Grace in particular appears to have the most dire situation of all, and I sincerely hope that anyone capable of helping him out (donations or otherwise) should do so sooner rather than later.

I just happen to know that Colby could really use a hand as well.


I, myself, was more or less living paycheque to paycheque. I had the good fortune of adopting a freelance client over the last month that partially helps out my situation, but not enough so that it would cover all my expenses should I be unable to find supplementary employment. I suspect that things may not turn out the way I would like them to over the next few month, but am mentally prepared for any financial disaster that may occur. My wife may be somewhat less prepared. I am not asking for assitance, although maybe I should. I would prefer that any assistance given went to Kevin Grace and Colby (Rick and Kevin Steel if they need it, though I saw less urgency in their blogs for it).


In the end, I would acually like to thank The Byfields, for giving me somewhere around 9 years (more or less) of employment that started out shitty, ended badly, but had great moments in between. They and their company helped me out above and beyond the call of duty a few times when I needed it, and I am grateful for that.


There are a number of people that I want to thank for their friendship and co-workership (for lack of a better term). My fear is that I will overlook someone and piss them off. So I will generally thank everyone I worked with at what became The Citizens Centre for Freedom and Democracy for their professionalism, friendship, and influence from day to day while we were all there. I hope that all of you will be well, and I shall miss you all greatly. I loved almost everyone there that I ever worked with. They were, almost to a person, great individuals. I am hoping to remain in contact with as many of my core group of work pals as I can. I have to admit that I am horrible at maintaining previous work relationships, but I will do my best.

posted by Jeremy at 10:28 AM


WORTHWHILE CANADIAN INITIATIVES: Canadian blogger Jay Currie responds to my assertion that there's still a market for a decent right of center (even socially conservative) print magazine, thus:

I completely agree that not all of Canada has drifted iredeemably leftwards. But what most of Canada, including Alberta, seems to have concluded is that the private behavior of Canadians should not be regulated by the State. And where you have fundamentalist ninnies like Byfield denoucing gays and feminists at every opportunity a magazine's subscriber base will shrink and shrink fast.

There is definitely room for an economically conservative - in the broadest sense of that term - magazine to operate in Canada. But I suspect it would make a great deal more sense to launch on the internet before, if ever, going to paper. The trick is to leave the social conservatives, at least the ones who want to enforce selected passages of the Bible with the Criminal Code, to sink in the tar pit of their own irrelevance.

To a degree the gap between the dying social conservative movement and the increasingly mainstream world of more libertarian social views cleaves along age lines. Over 50 and people are rather more likely to think homosexuals are the spawn of Satan and drugs really will make you crazy (everyone of you.) Under fifty and the balance shifts towards a fairly radical level of tolerance for personal choice and an increasing annoyance at the corruption and incompetence of government.

But there is also a cleavage on what might be described as cultural and stylistic borders. Blah, blah, blah, blah, OK here it gets interesting again: To create a vehicle Canada's urban conservatives could embrace would mean dumping a lot of the social conservative, fundamentalist Christian baggage Byfield saddled Reports with. In fact, one of the main targets of such a vehicle would be the hatred and intolerance practiced by Byfield and his ilk in the name of their vengeful God. The other target would be the loony left in Canada. Lots of material there generated by Judy and Svend and Avi and Naomi and the entire CBC.

We are not ready to link arms and sing kumbayah, but many of us are also unwilling to even hum along to "Onwards Christian Soldiers". Somewhere to the right of middle there is a sweet spot where you can listen to The Clash and write seriously, and in actual English, about politics, books, ideas, science and issues. That sweet spot is likely on the internet and being invented as we speak.

There's a lot of stuff here but I'll try to be brief:

I reiterate, the Report was and is a winning business proposition. It took the extraordinary genius of the Byfields for spending money and pissing off readers to drive it into the ground. I'm all for a more libertarian and literate follow-up mag, but the idea that it should score points by going after conservative Christians is just loopy.

Also, about this Internet mag thing, it sounds good but it should be the goal rather than the starting line, and it doesn't answer the question, How are you going to pay for this? Ideally, you sell people on the print version and then slowly edge them over to the website and the weekly (or biweekly) PDF version at a cut rate (the Weekly Standard and the Economist are both playing around with variations on this theme).

posted by Jeremy at 12:31 AM

wTuesday, June 24, 2003

PAUSE FOR LATTES: I seem to have a thing for children's books lately (the column on junk e-mail was "Green Eggs and Spam") but I am perversely proud of the title of the current column: "James and the Giant Reach."

It's about the controversy over the James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus ossuary. The question, Is it genuine? An excerpt:

Speculation turned into accusation last Wednesday, as the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) announced, but did not release, the "unanimous conclusion" of a report by a committee of 15 scholars: The ossuary was from the first century, but the inscription was a very well done fake. The forgery angle quickly metastasized into a fact in the popular press (and was broadcast by not a few religion bloggers), but has turned into something rather different among scholars of antiquity.

Shanks, who has always been a lightning rod figure in the field of archaeology, responded by questioning both the motives and the methodology of the IAA. In a rebuttal posted on the BAR website, he charged that the not-yet-released findings of the committee were really the findings of one man, Tel Aviv University's Yuval Goren, and that Goren had gone into his investigation with a strong bias against the inscription's authenticity. Further, Shanks charged that the director of the IAA, one Shuka Dorfman, had a motive to help push this conclusion on the rest of the committee. That is, Dorfman hates the antiquities market and has a personal grudge with Shanks, for speaking up for the hated collectors of ancient artifacts. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 11:58 PM


MORE REASONS: Kathy Shaidle posted a long message on the Reason bulletin board that she neither reproduced nor linked to on her website. She began by responding to charges that the Report's problem was that it was too socially conservative:

Oh, I dunno: I loved the hate-the-French stuff. :-)

I wrote just under a dozen pieces for Report. I always seemed to be asked to write about abortion-y stuff, I guess because I'm a girl. And gay stuff, because I mentioned that I lived in Boystown. When not one but two editors asked me to write about My Big Fat Greek Wedding, I came close to losing it!

So for instance, I'd submit a piece (as requested) on PrideTV, asking: if gay men are the huge marketing demographic we keep hearing about, why don't they support their own tv station; and why, even though PrideTV's own market research told them gay viewers didn't want to see sex sex sex, were all the PrideTV shows about... sex sex sex??

When I read it a lot of that was gone. Just lots of tired boilerplate about them wacky Torontonians.

The demise of Report really opens up the truth about the generation/geographic gap in Canadian conservativism. I suspect I'm more socially conservative than many of you, but then I'm pushing 40 -- let's all talk again ten years from now :-)

Do I hate gays? No, and neither do the Byfields, if their Christianity is for real, and I think it is. But: do I think pre-teens should learn about fisting and cross-dressing in sex ed? Uh, no. And those were the stories you'd read in Report, weeks before Margaret Wente'd reported on it.

Do I think that (yawn) political correctness is still a problem and (yawn) still needs to be battled. Yep. Do I think the only good thing Trudeau ever did was invoke the War Measures Act. Pretty much. Sorry.

When I read about Reese Witherspoon in Vogue, talking about how women should have kids in their 20s, and daring to opine that The Pill has had some _negative effects_ on society, too, I think: social conservativism is alive in the oddest places, huh? Maybe it was Report's 'shocked and appalled' voice, and not its message, that bugged even its supporters.

And I'm not sure 'get over it' is a very stirring rallying cry for the new Right...

I applaud them for forgoing the subsidy. The Idler did the same I think, and ended up the same.

What do you say, guys? What is next? And can I be Religion Editor when you start It? Just askin'

posted by Jeremy at 11:05 PM


SAVING GRACE?: From the Edmonton Journal today (not online):

Former senior editor Kevin Grace, fired in March, is trying to find backers to buy the magazine from the Byfields and refill what he said is a lucrative niche.

"The reason the magazine failed was not a failure of the message so much as lousy business practices," said Grace.

Four years ago, the magazine claimed more than 60,000 subscribers, each paying $92 a year for the biweekly magazine.

One more reason to send him that loose change you have knocking around.

posted by Jeremy at 10:55 PM


THE LAST REDNECK: The CP story on the death of the Report reads like, well, a parody of a CP story (though I would like to know more about that unidentified play):

Edmonton — The right-wing newsmagazine that gave voice to 30 years of self-described redneck politics has condemned its last liberal.

posted by Jeremy at 10:46 PM


CLOSE READING: Rick Hiebert wrote:

Jeremy Lott is being a little skeptical about the death of the magazine.

Notice the word "skeptical" is not preceded by "too."

posted by Jeremy at 2:55 AM


REASON TOGETHER: Regarding the responses to my intemperate reply on Reason's blog:

Colby Cosh wrote:

I don't want to contradict either of J-Lo's theories about the demise of the magazine (although cutting frequency and price could have boosted new sales just as easily as it hurt 'em). In fact, I'll observe that the two theories are not mutually exclusive!

I reply:

In theory, he has a point. In practice, get real. Halve the price and you have to sell twice the subscriptions in order to generate the same revenues. Plus, they fired the telemarketers!

Matt Welch replied to my "oh please":

You know, feeble attempt at headline-humor & all that.

I reply:

I apologize to Matt Welch for the undue snark. It should have been aimed exclusively at the management of the Report.

Jay Currie, on the Reason site and on his own blog, says I was on the mark with the "butter for brains" comment. However:

Money was part of it, management too - as it always is; but the fact is that the Report's social conservative agenda was boring even the stubble jumpers.

Also, he thinks that I miss the more crucial point. That is:

Strict, religious right, anti-gay, anti-drug, anti-porn, anti-immigration, pro-gun and anti-French social conservatism has been overwhelmed by small "l" liberal and even libertarian postions on social issues in Canada.


To take the last bit first, I suppose I should make the obvious point that the pro-gun thing is actually a libertarian position. But never mind that: He's right, to a certain extent.

However, not all of Canada is ready to link arms and sing kumbayah just yet. Alberta, for instance is very different than the rest of Canada. But it doesn't follow that just because many Canadians are drifting left that there wouldn't be a niche market for The Report. Maybe two percent of the population (or less) have a foot fetish. And yet, that's enough to support a few magazines.

One K Christie says:

[I]t wasn't the writers that were the problem in the first place.


posted by Jeremy at 12:43 AM


SOMEBODY HELP THE GUY: Kevin Michael Grace is in trouble. Unlike Terry O'Neill, he was living paycheck to paycheck (well, severance check to severance check; er, make that cheque) and the late arrival of the latest one (probably the last one) has already caused a loan check to bounce. Normally, you see, the receptionist would make sure that the cheque (oh, screw it, I'm going with American spellings from here on) was couriered to him, but when you suddenly fire the receptionist such trifles tend to fall through the cracks. He doesn't have a PayPal button (yet), but I'm sure he'd give out a mailing address if readers send him an e-mail (kmgrace-at-telus.net). I doubt this would make a difference, but if readers who send him at least one hundred dollars (US or Canadian) would like a thank you phone call from me, just include a note with a phone number along with the check.

PS: Please consider giving Colby Cosh a few bucks as well.

posted by Jeremy at 12:22 AM


EVEN COWGIRLS GET THE BLUES: Kevin Steel takes the prize for best line in a Report-death-related post:

No, this is not a suicide note.

And he isn't having any of this false optimism, thank you:

As I was saying to former colleague Jeremy Lott on the phone moments ago, when one door closes, you could be stuck outside... Wait, is that how that goes? When one door closes... when one door closes, another one opens. Yeah, that's how it goes. You know? When you think about it, that doesn't make any fucking sense. I don't know who makes up these idiotic sayings--"When one door closes..."--but I think they are pretty good evidence that we live in a stupid world where everybody goes around saying things that aren't true.

Too true, I'm afraid.

posted by Jeremy at 12:10 AM


ARGH!: Trying to get my column done for this week and I find my mind wanderig back to the Report. Please excuse the deluge of posts to follow. I need to get this out of my system.

posted by Jeremy at 12:05 AM

wMonday, June 23, 2003

WAS SHE PUSHED OR DID SHE JUMP?: BTW, if an editor at some Canadian publication (or an American one, for that matter) would like to commission a piece on my experience with the Report and its untimely demise, the e-mail address is over there on the left.

posted by Jeremy at 6:26 PM


DEPLOY PARACHUTES: Well, it's official: The Report is dead. Writing on Reason's blog, Matt Welch repeated the now oft repeated line that the thing the did her in was the rejection of government subsidies. That prompted this intemperate response from yours truly:

Oh please. If the rejection of the subsidy is what finally pushed the Report over the edge, well, it wasn't.

Last fall, the Report had to find a way to close a CA$500,000 gap. So the Citizens Centre was started and "bought" the magazine. They begged readers for money. The total fundraising came in at something like CA$600,000, leaving them, one would assume, with change to spare.

Then they decided to junk the subsidy, which they could have offset by doing more fundraising or trimming costs. But instead, they a) started all sorts of stupid Citizens Centre projects, and b) cut the frequency and price of the magazine in half (thus cutting sales revenues from over CA$4 million a year to just over CA$2 million).

The Report died either because the management had butter for brains or because, as I suspect, they wanted it to die.

posted by Jeremy at 3:53 PM

wSunday, June 22, 2003

UPDATE UPDATE: Ready parachutes.

posted by Jeremy at 1:32 AM

wSaturday, June 21, 2003

IMPORTANT UPDATES: I e-mailed Glenn Reynolds about his claim that Matthew Parris' recent Times of London column is "ethnic hate speech." Reynolds said the claim was only "semi-tongue-in-cheek." Er, OK.

Regarding my former employer, the Edmonton Journal ran a story today, titled "Report magazine hits a financial wall."

And it hurt:

Publisher Link Byfield insisted the delayed issue will appear, although he would not say when. He promised to reveal more next week, after a meeting Monday with employees.

There's talk he will suggest they apply for employment insurance benefits, just in case Report fails. When asked about that, Byfield said he will comment after meeting with employees.

Byfield assured the 41 staff on June 11 that, although management and senior workers had not been paid in three weeks, he would catch up on payroll as of Friday. ...

The next payroll remains in question, however. Sources said that at the June 11 meeting he told staff there's not enough cash flow to guarantee payment.

He also told them there's a $1.5-million deficit that's a "one-time adjustment cost" for the operation's transition from a for-profit publisher to the non-profit Citizens Centre, the sources say.

And that's enough borrowing from me. If you're in Edmonton, you might want to pick up the Journal.

posted by Jeremy at 5:59 PM


THE KVETCH: My O'Reilly column was quoted in Howie Kurtz's Friday online Media Notes column. It began:

Bill O'Reilly suddenly finds himself at war with the Internet.

And it isn't pretty.


O'Reilly loves to stir up trouble, of course, but many of his targets don't have a megaphone to shout back. That's hardly the case online, where almost anyone can crank up the volume.

The title of the column: O'Reilly's Onling Spanking.


PAGE TWO: The source code is still pretty badly tangled, but my old friend Dave Munger has taken to updating his blog more often. I especially like his latest Assorted Assertions question: Why is it so hard to tell non-conformists apart? Answer: Because they're not conforming in exactly the same ways. Oh wait.

PAGE THREE: In the ever-growing Am I missing something here? category, Glenn Reynolds links to a post that links to a column by Matthew Parris in the Times of London. Glenn, relying on the analysis of one Collin May, calls the column "ethnic hate speech."


I read the same column, about the influence that German immigration has had on the U.S., and I've gotta say, May's highly tendentious, blinkered reading ("Parris doesn’t come right out and say that Bush and his people are Nazis, though the hint is about as subtle as an elephant sitting in the front row of the Paris Opera House" ; "Parris is trying to edge us ever closer to the view that the Bush administration incarnates some sort of scary fascist regime"; etc.), isn't even a terribly well done hatchet job. Matthew Parris may be many things, but he isn't an anti-American bigot.

PAGE FOUR: Belatedly, happy birthday to Rebecca Grace.

posted by Jeremy at 2:04 PM

wFriday, June 20, 2003

A LITTLE BIRD JUST TOLD ME: The Report has suspended publication. What a shock.

posted by Jeremy at 3:32 PM

wWednesday, June 18, 2003

BILL O'REILLY IS A...: Well I went with "crank," but it only narrowly edged out "paranoiac." My latest "Latte Sipping" column is on Bill O'Reilly's latest atrocity:

It had been some time since I last checked in on O'Reilly, so this was a bit of a letdown. He at least used to be an interesting crank. For people who actually take the time to gain a working knowledge of the Internet, these charges are so easily rebutted that I fear bloggers and other tech savvy types won't realize how many people who listened to this screed were nodding their heads in agreement.

This is especially dangerous because some of these people write laws. The Council of Europe is putting the final screws on a proposal recommending that countries pass legislation to mandate a "right of reply," which would force all "online media" (including bloggers) to give equal time to those people whom they criticize. In the U.S. broadcast media, this was known by the Orwellian moniker the Fairness Doctrine. If employed today, it would put half of the cable news channels out of business, but, hey, as long as it's not O'Reilly's ox being gored … [more]

This piece is supposed to read a bit like the house style of a certain late lamented publication. About once a year, I feel the need to tip my fedora to one of the not-quite-best-but-certainly-unique publications the world has ever known. (Here's last year's shot.) If readers tell me the article sucks, I suppose I'll choose to take that as a compliment.

posted by Jeremy at 2:37 AM

wTuesday, June 17, 2003

YET MORE BUFFY STUFF: Just finished my weekly TAS column (and on time, for once), which should be posted tonight. It's on Bill O'Reilly's... particularly poor choice of words. Thanks to Kevin Steel for the title.

So now I can give some impressions of season four. In response to my calling him a whore, Cosh writes that he'd link to me more often but he doesn't share some of my "unhealthy preoccupations," namely Buffy:

Unfortunately, Buffy was already an overanalyzed cult object by the time it really came to my attention--it arrived on the radar screen trailing sulfurous clouds of obnoxiousness, so I've never taken the trouble to watch more than ten minutes of the show at a stretch. I'm unusually confident--thanks to reports of self-contradictory story arcs and frequent admissions (from fans!) that much of the show's run was crap--that my decision is an instance of economically sound rational ignorance.

Conceded: The seventh season did suck and was very bad.

Conceded: Many people think the show lost its rudder in the sixth season. (Though not moi.)

Conceded: The whole Buffy phenomenon can sometimes lend itself to overanalysis.

That said, the first five seasons, at least, were some of the best television for your money. I finished season four Saturday night and was not blown away quite as much as seasons one through three, but still breathless. The big challenge was to move Buffy, which was a high school show, into a college setting. If seasons one through three were expansions on the insight that high school is hell , this season was about the dislocation of college and how we adjust. Old relationships are severed, people change, and life gets more complicated if, in the case of Buffy, that is possible.

And it worked. There are maybe four episodes out of the 22 that I wouldn't care to watch again.

When people, like Cosh, tell me that they can't get into Buffy, I always tell them to get the first season and watch a few episodes and see if it grows on them. My kid brother was an ignorant Buffy skeptic and is now, if anything, more of a fan than I am.

posted by Jeremy at 2:23 PM

wSunday, June 15, 2003

LOTT VS. COSH: I don't keep web stats for this site for a number of reasons, but I will admit to occasionally Googling myself. Tonight, I decided to check my Google hits against former colleague and world wide web superstar Colby Cosh. I launched separate searches for Jeremy Lott and Colby Cosh. Results:

Lott: 18,200
Cosh: 8,230

In other words, I thoroughly kicked his ass. But then I got to thinking: There are a lot of Lotts and a lot of Jeremys, but relatively few Colbys or Coshes. However, there are relatively few Jeremy Lotts, and, one imagines (and hopes), even fewer Colby Coshes. I did a restricted search (I launched parallel searches with our names surrounded by double quotes). Results:

Lott: 1,990
Cosh: 7,550


This gap can be explained a number of ways. One is the fact that people often link to me using either my first or last name only. Another is that Colby Cosh is a complete shameless whore when it comes to links. And third...did I mention Cosh is a whore?

OK, enough keeping up with the Coshes. Back to work.

posted by Jeremy at 11:34 PM


OBLIGATORY DAD'S DAY POST: This is a review that ran in the Report, but it's more autobiographical than I should normally care to admit. It's about a pastor who loses his calling, and I'm a pastor's son:

Waiting for God(ot)

Harry Johns is a respected businessman--a "pillar of the community"--and quite used to having his way: with banks, with women and other obstacles. Over lunch, he threatens to withhold all his money from the First Church of Ruin if Pastor Cyrus Manning doesn't vacate the pulpit within three months. "And what're you going to do about that?" Harry half asks, half gloats.

What Cyrus does is hook his leg under a leg of Harry's chair and send him sprawling, spilling iced tea into his lap and raining plates onto the restaurant floor. When Harry gets up and starts swinging, he is stopped cold by an irate Cyrus, who screams that he knows Harry's life. Unlike a Catholic priest, Cyrus isn't bound by the seal of the confessional.

On the dust jacket for Leaving Ruin, novelist Annie Dillard enthuses that Mr. Berryman "has taken an evangelical preacher and turned him into the most unexpected thing: a human being." The damningly faint pastoral praise notwithstanding, it's true. Cyrus Manning is a compelling character not because of his physical appearance (completely bald) or his rhetorical skills (cannot boil a sermon down to three points to save his life) or his rigid moral scrupulousness (has a temper, occasionally swears, lusts and admits to all of the above), but because he earnestly tries to serve God and his fellow man in spite of it all.

Each chapter in this otherwise first-person narrative begins with a comment about Cyrus from one of the parishioners of the First Church of Ruin, a barren West Texas town of 26,000, to one of the elders of the church. These windows into the congregants' thinking anticipate a church vote to be held sometime in the next few months on whether the Mannings will stay. Things are not looking promising amid such rousing endorsements as "I think he's odd, don't you?" and "You think he loves Jesus enough?" and "Maybe the next guy will give us some sermon outlines."

Cyrus knows this, describing his own prospects as a "peculiar disease that's mostly fatal called they-don't-want-me-here-anymore." His wife, Sara, talks early and often about jobs that she could find to tide them over. His two sons approach their father with their own sense of foreboding and are not comforted.

Worse, the unexpected death of a friend deepens into an existential trauma, as questions of calling, cosmic justice and faithfulness come crashing down on Cyrus' head. In a moment that echoes the tragedy of King Saul, he is left to grapple with God's refusal to speak or act when Cyrus needs him most. In the most wrenching passages of Leaving Ruin, the narrator tears at everything he has ever known or loved in an attempt to wrest some consolation from an uncaring universe. More than once, the reader is led to wonder just how Cyrus will leave Ruin: intact, broken or in a body bag

Literary merits aside, this book could serve as a primer on the pressures faced by pastors from the various free-church traditions. They usually became pastors because they felt some sort of stirring of the Spirit, a "calling," that stubbornly refuses to stir their congregations. Their seminary training often runs headlong into a reductionist, pervasive anti-intellectualism: Cyrus relates how he was fired from a previous position for taking a page from Frederick Buechner and preaching on the comedy of the cross. Many pastors subsist on low salaries and meager benefits. Their children typically react badly to being the centre of attention (and, thus, to being held to a higher and hypocritical standard). Pastors' wives develop an almost Darwinian instinct for avoiding anything that could lead to controversy or scandal.

Pastors are plunged into difficult controversies: styles of worship, sexual roles in church leadership and onerous expectations for their own preaching. In stark business terms, more churches now compete for fewer warm bodies to fill the pews, using livelier worship, various outreach programs, lowered requirements for membership and an increasing expectation that the pastor's sermons will lift, inspire and exhort and yet somehow manage not to upset too many people. Acting like religious consumers, parishioners often march to the church a few blocks down for any reason. In North American religion, as in the marketplace, the persistent customer is always right, in this world at least.

The marketing for Leaving Ruin stresses that Cyrus' experience is not atypical of the life of pastors. On author Berryman's Web site (www.jeffberryman.com), one drama director wished that his one-man play version of this novel could be seen in "every seminary in the land." One admittedly cynical response is that such a broad run would be a good way of emptying the seminaries.

But I'm probably wrong in that assessment. Leaving Ruin also conveys what many pastors have experienced: the sense of "calling" that brought Cyrus into the ministry and set him apart from the lukewarm spirituality of most. This same calling is the very thing called into question as his world unravels, upping the ante both for the possibilities of disaster and redemption. The end of a poem quoted in his story captures this sentiment in a way that I could not ever hope to understand: "If I miss the mystery of God/I'll die."

361 pages; softcover; US$14.99

posted by Jeremy at 3:45 PM


BUFFY BLOWOUT: Sorry about the paucity of posting. I got Buffy the Vampire Slayer season four on DVD Wednesday, and it took until last night to get through all 22 eposides. I'm back.

posted by Jeremy at 3:38 PM

wWednesday, June 11, 2003

AND YOU THOUGHT THE VELEDICTORIAN WAS BAD: My new "Latte Sipping" column has been posted. It's on Chris Hedges' now famous anti-war grad speech. An excerpt:

"Speaker disrupts…graduation" read the improbable headline in the Rockford Register Star. And yet, that was pretty much how it went down. Invited to give the commencement address last month at Rockford College, in Rockford, Illinois, longtime New York Times war correspondent Chris Hedges delivered an anti-war speech instead.

Without so much as a "Hi, thanks for coming out," Hedges launched into it. Though the hostilities in Iraq were done for now, he warned, "blood will continue to spill." He predicted occupation will be "as damaging to our souls as it will be to our prestige, power, and security." Americans would soon, rightly, be viewed as bullies -- isolated from the whole world by our, oh, I don't know, ignorance, hubris, arrogance, racism: Take your pick. [more]

Near the end, I get in a plug for my longstanding contention that attempts at censorship in a free society actually promote free speech.

I'll be out of the country for much of tomorrow, so no posts until late, at the earliest.

posted by Jeremy at 1:02 AM

wFriday, June 06, 2003

THE KVETCH: Too hot to blog yesterday and the temperature is already approaching unbearable. So a few quick hits and then I'm going to retreat to the main floor of my house.

Re: the Howell Raines' resignation, (critic!) Ana Marie Cox had about the least grating take:

I doubt much will really change. Sure, the paper would be wise to engage an ombudsman and stringers may get more fair compensation. But who will get appointed executive editor next? In the TV-movie version -- or even in a just world (aren't they one and the same?) -- the top job would be awarded to Metro editor Jonathan "We have to stop Jayson from writing for the Times" Landman.

This Cinderella story is unlikely at the Times. I'm not enough of a Times watcher to even make a guess at who will get the job, but I think it's safe to say it will be a Sulzburger crony, and that the core character of the paper will be unaffected: Its writing will be needlessly colorful, its opinions prosaically imperious and its culture one of privilege and insularity.

And Jayson Blair's book is going to fly off the fucking shelves.

Depressing, but at least we can take comfort in the fact that the Times is no longer the paper of record (nya!).

I linked an Andrew Ferguson piece in my most recent "Latte Sipping" column on seatbelt laws. The end is difficult to forget:

"But now that we've made air bags mandatory," I asked, "why do we need seat belts? Aren't they redundant?"

His voice rose an octave.

"Are you serious?" he said in exasperation. "Are you kidding? Do you know what an air bag does? An air bag is an explosion in the closed passenger compartment of an automobile. This thing exerts nearly a ton of pressure as it inflates."

"Jeez," I said.

"Exactly," he said. "You need the seat belt to protect you from the air bag."

Finally, and belatedly, happy birthday to my kid brother Christopher. He turned 14 yesterday.

posted by Jeremy at 10:59 AM

wWednesday, June 04, 2003

THE KVETCH: Sorry I've been on coast mode. Normally I'd blame deadlines, but lately it's been deadlines plus writer's block. It was hard enough to batter through my own mental barriers to meet deadlines, which left me basically tapped out when it came to the blog. Hopefully, the worst is over.

I enjoyed Jesse Walker's review of the Matrix, though the suggestions for the third movie sound a tad overdone:

After learning that absolutely every level of reality is just another matrix, The One shrugs his shoulders and walks off the film set. A digital camera follows him across the street to a lecture hall, where a professor is denouncing metafiction and declaring postmodernism a literary dead end. Keanu's cell phone rings: It's his agent. We hear them chatting about how much they're making from all that Matrix tie-in merchandising. Then the wall collapses and the cast of Blazing Saddles falls into the lecture room, throwing pies.

While I'm on the topic of summer blockbusters, I refer readers to Steve Sailer's review of the Italian Job (though I wasn't nearly as sweet on the movie as Sailer). Best line:

The scene of lovely Charlize Theron zipping her Mini through lumbering traffic to nose into a 13' long parking space is going to inspire lots of sorority girls to beg their daddies for these adorable baby station wagons. Of course, other sorority girls whose daddies bought them Hummers will squash them like cockroaches, but at least the Mini girls will look cute up until the moment they become road kill.

Finally, a warm welcome to Kerry Howley, the new intern for Reason magazine.

posted by Jeremy at 12:23 PM


DON'T BELT ME IN: My latest double shot has been posted at the American Spectator Online [aka The American Prowler]. It's about primary seatbelt laws and the odious "Click It Or Ticket" campaign:

Millions of dollars of federal and local government resources were dedicated to forcing motorists to buckle up. Or else. There were radio and television ads, billboards, and, for all I know, sock puppets. Advocacy groups used the occasion to press more states to enact primary seatbelt laws to "save lives."

It's hard to argue against saving lives. But even if we are willing to discount the massive expansion of police powers that primary seatbelt laws engender -- and we shouldn't be -- it's hard to know how seriously the self-appointed experts should be taken. Economist Sam Peltzman published an (in)famous essay in the Journal of Political Economy in the '70s which looked at the early results of the effects of mandatory safety devices (e.g., seatbelts, padded dashboards, collapsible steering columns, one gets the idea) in automobiles. At the time, Peltzman outraged public safety advocates by finding that there wasn't a huge difference in fatalities for commuters, before and after. Drivers and passengers were both more likely to get in accidents, and more likely to survive them, but pity the poor pedestrians. [more]

posted by Jeremy at 11:17 AM

wMonday, June 02, 2003

I SAW HER FACE: But I'm not, yet, a Believer. My most recent Books & Culture/Christianity Today column is about the new offering from the McSweeney's empire, a monthly lit magazine called The Believer. One thing I'll say here that I forgot to include in the piece: The dumb editors failed to even respond to five separate requests for an interview, so now they're stuck with my own opinions. To wit:

Co-editor Heidi Julavits opened the issue with a 9,000 word essay in which she attacked "the snarky dumbed-down world of book reviewing" and attempted an explanation (of sorts) of the magazine's odd title. Affirming her faith in the unrealized possibility of literature, Julavits called for a whole new "era of experimentation, and a book culture that will support it." The Believer is meant to usher in that culture.

That's quite the tall order for any magazine to fill. One need not be overly cynical (or "snarky") to doubt that the Believer/McSweeney's talent pool will be up to it. The amount of genius and enthusiasm needed to sustain such an enterprise simply beggers belief (apologies for the lousy pun). [more]

posted by Jeremy at 11:28 AM