November 25, 2010

Jian Ghomeshi speaks at Mount Allison (President's Speaker's Series: Year of Culture and Creativity Speech: Pop Culture for Social Change)

In case you missed it, Jian Ghomeshi, voice of Radio Q, delivered the Josiah Wood Lecture as part of the President's Speakers Series on Culture and Creativity on November 19th entitled "Pop Culture for Social Change". Unfortunately there seems to have been little coverage outside of the Mt. A announcement, a snippet in the Times and Transcript (on page C2 under the heading Riverview Canadian Tire opens tomorrow), and an article in the Argosy dead-tree edition but not online (the website,, as I've mentioned, has been mangled beyond all recognition and hasn't been updated since May, although their twitter account is active...).

It was a really interesting talk touching on different themes including how pop culture isn't necessarily shallow and meaningless but can be a way starting point for people to connect. He mentioned about how Twitter aided the almost Green Revolution in Iran. His main focus seemed was on the distinction between high and low culture and how there ought not to be one and how his more-than-radio show Q has a variety of guests and how that the popularity of the show demonstrates then when 'high' culture is communicated effectively, without artificial barriers, it can become popular.

I know there were some people recording the event but there's nothing posted online yet. Something like the President's Speakers Series would be something good to have a record of besides simply speaker, date, and time.

Below is the press release and poster.

Award-winning CBC Personality Jian Ghomeshi to speak at Mount Allison
2010-11-15 09:15:31

Lecture part of the University’s Year of Culture and Creativity Series
SACKVILLE, NB — Mount Allison University welcomes noted CBC broadcaster, writer, and musician, Jian Ghomeshi to campus on Friday, November 19 to deliver the Josiah Wood Lecture, as part of Mount Allison’s President’s Speakers Series. Ghomeshi’s lecture, entitledPop Culture for Social Change will take place at 7 p.m. in Convocation Hall.
Ghomeshi is the host and co-creator of the national daily talk program,Q, on CBC Radio One and bold TV. Since its 2007 inception,Q has become one of the most popular programs in CBC Radio’s history. A known contributor and commentator in the arts, Ghomeshi has appeared on several programs including CNN Today, the National, and Late Night with Conan O’Brien. He has also been published in many national and international newspapers, including The Washington Post, The Guardian, and The Globe and Mail.
Mount Allison English professor and director of the University’s CultureWorks research program, Dr. Janine Rogers says, “Jian Ghomeshi’s CBC program Q has become an important venue for discussion and debate in the Canadian arts and culture scene. We are excited to welcome him to campus to contribute to the Year of Culture and Creativity at Mount Allison.”
The lecture is co-sponsored by CultureWorks and the Josiah Wood Fund at Mount Allison University. CultureWorks is a research program at Mount Allison that supports interdisciplinary, innovative, and creative research and practice — engaging culture and community from artistic, academic, archival, and administrative approaches.
The Josiah Wood Lectureship was founded and endowed at Mount Allison in 1925 by the Honourable Josiah Wood, D.C.L., a member of the first Mount Allison class. Previous speakers have included: Lester Brown (2009); Flora MacDonald (2006); John Kenneth Galbraith (1985); Robert Stanfield (1978); Wilder Pennfield (1967) and Vincent Massey (1957).
The Year of Culture and Creativity will emphasize the role that traditional ‘arts’ departments and programs such as Fine Arts, Music, and Drama play at Mount Allison. It will also recognize and celebrate the creative role that all scholars bring to their respective disciplines (
The lecture is free of charge and all are welcome to attend.

Jian Ghomeshi Culture and Creativity Poster

Geoff Campbell from Mount Allison University or, Identity and your 'Online Reputation'

This is me, or one version of it:

and another!/GeoffatMtA
and another
and some others:

November 21, 2010

On Bullshit, Branding, and the National Post

On Bullshit is a book Princeton University philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt wrote. In it he attempts to separate liars from bullshitters. Here are some pertinent excerpts:

One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit. Everyone knows this. Each of us contributes his share. But we tend to take the situation for granted. Most people are rather confident of their ability to recognize bullshit and to avoid being taken in by it.
That is why she cannot be regarded as lying; for she does not presume that she knows the truth, and therefore she cannot be deliberately promulgating a proposition that she presumes to be false: Her statement is grounded neither in a belief that it is true nor, as a lie must be, in a belief that it is not true. It is just this lack of connection to a concern with truth — this indifference to how things really are — that I regard as of the essence of bullshit.
What bullshit essentially misrepresents is neither the state of affairs to which it refers nor the beliefs of the speaker concerning that state of affairs. Those are what lies misrepresent, by virtue of being false. Since bullshit need not be false, it differs from lies in its misrepresentational intent. The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.

This is the crux of the distinction between him and the liar. Both [the bullshitter] and the liar represent themselves falsely as endeavoring to communicate the truth.
The success of each depends upon deceiving us about that. But the fact about himself that the liar hides is that he is attempting to lead us away from a correct apprehension of reality; we are not to know that he wants us to believe something he supposes to be false. The fact about himself that the bullshitter hides, on the other hand, is that the truth-values of his statements are of no central interest to him; what we are not to understand is that his intention is neither to report the truth nor co conceal it. This does not mean that his speech is anarchically impulsive, but that the motive guiding and controlling it is unconcerned with how the things about which he speaks truly are.

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.
Someone who lies and someone who tells the truth are playing on opposite sides, so to speak, in the same game. Each responds to the facts as he understands them, although the response of the one is guided by the authority of the truth, while the response of the other defies that authority and refuses to meet its demands. The bullshitter ignores these demands altogether. He does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are.
One who is concerned to report or to conceal the facts assumes that there are indeed facts that are in some way both determinate and knowable. His interest in telling the truth or in lying presupposes that there is a difference between getting things wrong and getting them right, and that it is at least occasionally possible to tell the difference.Someone who ceases to believe in the possibility of identifying certain statements as true and others as false can have only two alternatives. The first is to desist both from efforts to tell the truth and from efforts to deceive. This would mean refraining from making any assertion whatever about the facts. The second alternative is to continue making assertions that purport to describe the way things are but that cannot be anything except bullshit.

What does this have to do with Branding or the National Post? You might ask.
Well, as I wrote earlier about Mount Allison has a new branding campaign underway they must realize that Search Engine Optimization (SEO) is key in any branding campaign. For those unfamiliar, SEO is

the process of improving the visibility of a website or a web page in search engines via the "natural" or un-paid ("organic" or "algorithmic") search results. Other forms of search engine marketing (SEM) target paid listings. In general, the earlier (or higher on the page), and more frequently a site appears in the search results list, the more visitors it will receive from the search engine. 
 In essence it is ensuring that when people search for your brand online they find your website (or at least positive mentions of your organization online. Google is the world's most popular search engine, with 65% of US website, news that Mount Allison was for the 4th straight year ranked the best primarily undergraduate University in Canada by Maclean's, that Mt. A lost to Acadia on Saturday (in a four-hour quadrupole overtime battle), the Mount Allison Faculty Association press releases web page, and the Argosy on the first page. Not too bad all around... Mt. Allison-written material or positive mentions.

However when you get to the second page, unfortunately you run into an posting that I think Harry Frankfurt would agree if he were informed about Mount Allison, is full of bullshit. I don't use this term lightly, as I have refrained up to this point from using any of the seven dirty words on this blog. I make an exception to this rule this time firstly for effect and also to bring attention to the pervasive nature of this blatant lack of concern for the truth. It is very unfortunate that this article appears so high in search results because it has no authority in discussing Mount Allison (which, according to the new issue of Macleans, have one of the highest ratio of awards per full-time faculty in the country).

The post in question which unfortunately may be read by prospective students, is not even a proper article, but a blog posting on the National Post's comment section’s blog, Full Comment whose about page states that

Our goal is to a create a lively spot where our columnists, editorial writers, readers and friends debate the issues of the day. Oh, all right. Our enemies are welcome, too. We’re that confident in the persuasiveness of our arguments. (And our hit-counter doesn’t know the difference.)
As I'll show below, not only are the "arguments" in the article unfounded but the way in which they are presented qualifies it, and many other opinion pieces, as nothing more than bullshit. 

If the essence of bullshit is the indifference to how things really are then this article is an exact fit.
Here is a nofollow link to the article.

Mount Allison breaks into the big league of loopy professors
Posted: May 17, 2010, 10:01 AM by NP Editor
Kelly McParland, Heather Reisman, Mount Allison University
The poor profs at Mount Allison University must have felt they were being left out of the fast lane on academic humiliation.
Mount Allison is a small university, with a tiny student body, out there in Sackville New Brunswick, which even Prince Edward Island considers out of the way.
Bigger universities were getting all the attention with silly campaigns fired by perverse notions of justice and rights.
The University of Ottawa hitched itself to a campaign to prevent a right-wing author from being allowed to speak there, the banning of authors being a well-known means of protecting the right to free speech.
And a collection of cuckoos at the University of Regina [dead link] announced their horror that the university would show sympathy and support for students left without a father or mother because they'd given their lives in the military.
Why should those profs get all the derision?
Luckily, along came Heather Reisman [dead link], who sponsors a charity that provides educational opportunities to non-Israelis who have served in the Israel Defence Forces and want to stay in the country.
Hmmm, thought the profs. Israel. Defence. Must have something to do with oppressing Palestinians. Doesn't everything related to Israel have to do with oppressing Palestinians? For example, Israel grows oranges. Israel is in conflict with Palestinians. Therefore, oranges hate Palestinians.
That's about the level of reasoning the profs put into it. Ill-conceived justification in hand, they started bellyaching about a plan to award Ms. Reisman an honorary degree.
Luckily, the university didn't listen. You can always tell a smart university when it refuses to listen to its loopier profs. But the profs got what they must have wanted: Everyone knows there are some pretty dubious academics in Sackville, just as there are in Ottawa and Saskatoon.
Way to go, Mount Allison. Welcome to the big leagues.
National Post

First off...Mount Allison being "out there" shows a clear bias towards Toronto...okay fine if we Toronto=Canada then your description may be valid...but believe it or not the vast majority of Canadians don't live in Canada. Is Vancouver or Montreal "out there" as well?

Second, if you look five seconds to find Sackville, New Brunswick on Google maps you'd see that its about 50km from Confederation Bridge...hardly out of the way. In fact if we're assuming that people from PEI were on their way to Toronto it would take an detour of four minutes to drive through Sackville instead of Shediac. So if we assume Google maps is 100% accurate then yeah it'd take a negligible extra amount of time to go through Sackville. But judging from Kelly's wording I doubt she took the five seconds to figure that out and it's really about appearances of her and central Canada's supposed superiority than any consideration of the truth.

Onto more important things: "silly campaigns fired by perverse notions of justice and rights."
Oh no! I feel some (not so) righteous indignation coming on. Where's Glenn Beck when you need him most?

If you look at the facts though, you will see Kelly's post is factually incorrect. The University of Ottawa "did not at any time oppose Ann Coulter’s appearance." This has been confirmed by different sources including, ironically enough, even the National Post. Despite the fact that the provost sent her an ill-advised letter urging her to weigh her words with "respect and civility in mind", it was, in fact, students of the University, as opposed to the administration who publicly fought against her attendance at their school.

If Ann Coulter, well known mostly for being an outspoken bigot came to Mount Allison I am certain there would be a crowd of students to oppose her visit.

There is a difference between a group of students not wanting to offer Ann Coulter a podium at their school and the University "banning" her from speaking there.

 So besides not even trying to report facts about other cases she is trying to relate to the controversy around Mount Allison's decision or even make a case, Kelly's only motive in writing the article only but to paint herself as above these loopy professors throughout the country.

The U of R controversy surrounded the University's support of Operation Hero. Some professors argued that providing tuition for children of soldiers killed while on an active mission. As a poll taken at the time shows, most Canadians think that such a scholarship is reasonable. Kelly must also disagree with the professors' argument that think providing the scholarship "represents a dangerous cultural turn"
Canadians Support Project Hero; Disagree with U. of Regina Profs                                                           

There is nothing wrong with disagreeing with professors who promote views against your beliefs. But using that disagreement in an argument about something entirely different is intellectually dishonest.

A fact-based approach to reporting about the Reisman degree controversy came from Macleans which, as a real news organization reported on what the actual controversy was over. Link:

But Reisman was the one that faculty like David Thomas, a professor of international relations, took exception to, citing what he alleges are her “direct ties” to the Israeli Defense Forces. “This is a military that has been accused and found guilty on several occasions of gross violations of international humanitarian law,” he told the CBC. The Palestinian Solidarity Network and the Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid took up the cause, urging supporters to send letters of outrage to university of´Čücials.
At issue is a charity Reisman and her billionaire husband, Toronto businessman Gerry Schwartz, set up in 2005. The Heseg Foundation provides bursaries and pays living expenses for former IDF members who wish to study and settle in Israel, but have no family in country. Headquartered in a historic Tel Aviv mansion, the foundation supports approximately 125 “Lone Soldiers” each year.

So there was an argument, whether you agree with it or not, against giving Reisman a degree. If Maclean's wasn't clear enough, Kelly could have consulted, I don't know, maybe the petition supported by many Mount Allison professors. It reads
 By rewarding and supporting "lone soldiers", Reisman and Schwartz provide support for Israel’s military effort. HESEG has close ties to the Israeli military and includes on its Board of Directors notorious figures from Israel’s military establishment, such as Maj. General Doron Almog. Warrants have been issued for Almog’s arrest in the UK in 2005 and in Spain in 2008 on suspicion of war crimes. 
“Lone soldiers” participate in a military that operates checkpoints that restrict Palestinian freedom of movement, enforces the occupation of Palestinian land, and has a documented history of human rights violations. At any time there might be 5,000 “lone soldiers” in the Israeli military in all capacities. 

This is a far cry from the argument Kelly paints the professors as believing in. She writes: "Israel grows oranges. Israel is in conflict with Palestinians. Therefore, oranges hate Palestinians. That's about the level of reasoning the profs put into it." No, Kelly, that's the level of reasoning you put into it. Oversimplifying or, in your case completely ignoring the arguments of people you don't agree with pollutes reasoned debate.

Even student journalists know it's important to take both sides into account when discussing important issues. For context I'll provide an entire article written for Mount Allison's the Argosy newspaper (via the Canadian University Press Newswire):

Mount Allison profs protest Reisman's honorary degree
Many hope degree will open dialogue around Israel-Palestine conflict at the university
SACKVILLE, N.B. (CUP) — Some students, staff and faculty at Mount Allison University don't want Indigo founder and CEO Heather Reisman to receive an honorary degree during the May 17 convocation ceremony.
“One concern is Reisman’s direct connection to the Israeli military. There are deep concerns across the international community with regards to the activity of the Israeli military,” said Dave Thomas, an international relations professor at Mount Allison.
In 2005, Reisman and her husband Gerald Schwartz started the Heseg Foundation — an organization that "provides full academic scholarships and living expenses to former Lone Soldiers who have completed their service in the Israel Defence Forces, and have chosen to make Israel their home."
“The [concern] is what granting an honorary degree says about the university’s position around issues such as militarism, military solutions to political problems, and the issues of military occupation,” Thomas said.
Tony Frost, communications director, disagreed about the message Reisman's honorary degree sends.
"[Reisman is being celebrated for] her business acumen [and as] a noted Canadian recognized globally for her business credentials [and] long-standing philanthropic support for programs [such as] public school literacy,” he said.
"The [selection] process is very clear . . . we’ve done our due diligence and there have been a lot of people who have had access to this information. To change [the decision] would be unfair to the process and to the people who played within the process.”
The university has received emails from across the country both in opposition and in support of Reisman and several professors have signed an online petition against the degree conferral.
While Thomas admits that the attempts to have the decision reversed have failed, there are two things that he hopes will emerge from this controversy.
“One is that, in the fall, the university community begins a process of engaging with, and discussing and debating some of the larger issues that have been raised in the past week,” he said.
University provost Stephen McClatchie agreed. “We are an academic institution and academic debate is what we're all about. We should be engaging with such difficult topics and it is important to do so in an open, fair-minded, and respectful way,” he said.
McClatchie said he has offered funds to Thomas to arrange a forum on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the upcoming academic year.
Thomas also hopes that this controversy will lead to a revision in how honorary degrees are awarded.
“The fact that we are only having a discussion now about Reisman indicates to me that there is a problem with the process,” he said. “[In the senate], we were presented with a list of [honorary degree] candidates and a brief biography, given about five to 10 minutes to read it over, and then make a decision. To me, this is not adequate time.”
Sam Gregg-Wallace, student union president, echoed Thomas’ thoughts. Gregg-Wallace said that the university needs to look “not only at the value and the purpose of honorary degrees . . . but also the process.”
The information on potential candidates should be made available long before the voting process takes place, Gregg-Wallace said.

So even way out here in Sackville...which actually isn't out of the way for people from PEI, have disagreements about the merits of giving her a degree. Some believe that Reisman should be given the degree based on her other work while others believe her work with the Heseg Foundation should disqualify her from being granted a degree. However, nobody sunk to the level of name-calling. Those in the administration were balanced about the issue of the Israel-Palestinian conflict. As Provost (and Vice-President Academic & Research) Stephen McClatchie said, "We should be engaging with such difficult topics and it is important to do so in an open, fair-minded, and respectful way.”

While I have not provided an opinion on the granting of the degree, I do know that when dealing with complex issues you need to examine the arguments on both sides. However, Kelly claims moral superiority to say that anyone who disagrees with her has "perverse notions of justice and rights" without having the journalistic integrity to include any facts.

So a student newspaper with staff with, by definition, limited experience can deal with a complex issue with an even hand but a 'real' journalist who has been "toiling in the ranks of journalism for more than 30 years" cannot. Some might argue that apparently 30 years isn't long enough for Kelly. Maybe the disparity in quality between Kelly's bullshit and Noah Kowalski's student journalism is an exception to the rule. Or maybe, just maybe, a bigger question should be asked. Which is a more reliable source of unbiased news, The Argosy or the National Post?