June 10th, 2010

[LINK] "Quebecor eyes Fox News-style TV for Canada"

It is nice that Canada's broadcasters are producing all kinds of independent content. Must this be one of those kinds?

The former chief spokesman for Prime Minister Stephen Harper is spearheading a bid by Quebecor Inc. to set up a Fox News-style TV station in Canada with an unabashedly right-of-centre perspective.

Quebecor has filed an application with the CRTC, Canada's broadcast regulator, to operate an English-language news channel. The application has not yet been made public but a source says an announcement on the venture is “imminent.”

Kory Teneycke served as director of communications to Mr. Harper in 2008 and 2009 and this week was appointed vice-president of business development at Quebecor Media Inc.

He's been working since last summer on contract for Quebecor, investigating the feasibility of creating a more unconventional news outlet that speaks to conservative-minded Canadians.

The venture appears to be driven by the potential for profit rather than a desire to advance big-C Conservative fortunes in Canada.

It’s an attempt to mine what Mr. Teneycke believes is a largely untapped market for more right-of-centre TV offerings in Canada, acquaintances and people familiar with the plans say. Sources say Mr. Tenecyke pitched the proposal to Quebecor last year and has been trying to prove the business case for the station ever since.

Mirroring the format of both Fox TV and MSNBC in the U.S., the envisioned Canadian station would offer straightforward reporting but also conservative-minded opinion shows – a mix of programming that would be clearly separated rather than blended.

Ezra Levant, a conservative author and activist, is being seriously considered as a host for one of the new station's anchor opinion shows, sources say. Mr. Levant and Mr. Tenecyke have worked together as far back as the 1996 Winds of Change conference, a precursor to the unite-the-right movement that merged the Canadian Alliance and Progressive Conservative parties.

Which faction, I wonder, will be Canada'sm equivalent of the birthers?

True/Slant's Colin Horgan goes into greater, and more critical, detail.

[LINK] "Iran: Whose History is it Anyway?"

IWPR's Mehdi Baghernejad has an excellent article about the complex relationship between Iran and Persian culture. At one point, the Persian language that is so strongly associated with Iran--also in Afghanistan, as Dari, and in Tajikistan, as Tajik--was the vehicle for a thriving, cosmopolitan culture that extended beyond the more limited realms of the Persian language today. Who is Rumi, the man in Afghanistan who wrote in Persian and in the Persian tradition? What of Central Asians like the doctor Avicenna and the mathematician al-Khwarizmi? The logics of the nation-state run up hard against these questions.

Mahjoob Zweiri is a professor of modern Middle Eastern at the University of Qatar. Of Jordanian origin, he lived and studied in Tehran for many years, and explains that disputes over cultural ownership stem from the fact that the geographical borders of today simply did not exist hundreds of years ago.

The Persian cultural world extended eastwards across Afghanistan into India, northwards into Central Asia, and westwards to include parts of the southern Caucasus. The thinkers and writers of that time – many of them multi-talented scientists and poets – often moved around and ended up a long way from their birthplaces.

In places like Central Asia and Azerbaijan, the creation of “national” poets and other historical figures stems from the deliberate Soviet policy of equipping the USSR’s constituent republics with a sanitised version of history, complete with their own approved cultural icons. This policy was carried over into the post-Soviet states as they embarked on nation-building and sought historical legitimacy. Thus, Ganjavi has been incorporated into the historical narrative of modern-day Azerbaijan.

Many of the figures whom Iranians regard as their own are also described by blanket terms such as “Muslim scholars”, or even portrayed as Arabs because some of their works were written in Arabic, the language of religion and science of the day.

Iranians are dismayed when the likes of Ibn Sina are presented as Arabs. The well-known Tehran University professor of philosophy, Gholam Hossein Ebrahimi Dinani, see this as a part of an “Arab plot” to rewrite Persian history.

“Many of these scientists produced works of literature and science in both Persian and Arabic,” he said.

Zweiri points out that until Islam’s golden age came to an end with the fall of the Abbasid Caliphate in 1257, Baghdad was the centre of science and knowledge. At that time, “Arabic culture” was a much broader and all-encompassing concept.

[LINK] "Lesbian Parents & Their Well-Adjusted Kids: What the Study Really Means"

You may have heard of a recent report suggesting that children raised by lesbian parents--well, same-sex female parents, at least--fared better than their counterparts raised in more traditional opposite-sex parental households. 80 Beats' Andrew Moseman looks more critically at the study's findings. (The paper is available here, if you're curious.)

The study, which began in 1986, ended up following 78 kids from lesbian couples who were recruited for the study in Boston, Washington D.C., and San Francisco.

The mothers were interviewed during pregnancy or the insemination process, and additionally when the children were 2, 5, 10 and 17 years old. Those children are now 18 to 23 years old. They were interviewed four times as they matured and also completed an online questionnaire at age 17, focusing on their psychological adjustment, peer and family relationships and academic progress [CNN].

The children of these lesbian couples were just as well-adjusted as the kids of heterosexual couples to whom the researchers compared them. Indeed, the kids in the study proved superior in some areas, like academics, self-esteem, and behavior, as shown by the standard “Child Behavior Checklists” that were part of the surveys.

This is a quantitative study, so the “why” question becomes the subject of speculation. But for Gartrell, the fact that she studied families with planned pregnancies and involved parents was the key.

Salon’s Tracy Clark-Flory puts the first point more forcefully:

One factor that seems awfully important here is that these pregnancies were all planned. Like, really, really planned. There were no forgotten pills, broken condoms or one too many glasses of red wine; these women had to actively seek out sperm donors and then undergo artificial insemination [Salon].

The parents in her study, Gartrell says, “reported using verbal limit-setting more often with their children” (as opposed to any kind of corporal punishment). They had dealt early with the difficult conversations about sexuality and prejudice, she says. That may have contributed to the fact that at 10 the kids of lesbian families appeared to have experienced more anxiety from being stigmatized, but by 17 that effect no longer showed up.

“They are very involved in their children’s lives,” she says of the lesbian parents. “And that is a great recipe for healthy outcomes for children” [TIME].

That is, good parenting is what matters, not gay parenting.

Moseman goes on to suggest that there are issues with the sample, not in the methodology of the study; same-sex parents nowadays aren't what they were twenty-five years ago.

The study’s long-term view of families headed by lesbian couples is its strength, along with the fact that gathering study participants before they gave birth meant the study wouldn’t be skewed by “families who volunteer when it is already clear that their offspring are performing well.”

But it does have weaknesses. For one, Gartrell’s funding came in part from gay and lesbian organizations like the Gill Foundation and the Lesbian Health Fund from the Gay Lesbian Medical Association. That has led anti-gay organization to respond to the study with charges of bias. Indeed, if Gartrell had been able to secure complete funding from an independent source like the National Institutes of Health, that would have been nice. But there have been easier things to do in the last quarter-century than glean government grants to study families led by same-sex couples.

A more pressing scientific question is: How much you can extrapolate the study’s data to 2010? As the study says, the differences between 1986 and today made recruiting a nationally representative sample quite difficult:

The NLLFS sample is drawn from the first-wave planned lesbian families who were initially clustered around metropolitan areas with visible lesbian communities, which were much less diverse than they are today; recruiting was limited to the relatively small number of prospective mothers who felt safe enough to identify publicly as lesbian, who had the economic resources to afford DI, and who, in the pre-Internet era, were affiliated with the communities in which the study was advertised.

[LINK] "The answer to low savings rates: more gay couples"

Tim Harford, the Undercover Economist, certainly found an interesting paper.

We analyze how sexual orientation is related to household savings using 2000 US Census data, and find that gay and lesbian couples own significantly more retirement income than heterosexuals, while cohabiting heterosexuals save more than their married counterparts. In a household savings model, we interpret this homosexual-specific differential as due to the extremely low fertility of same-sex couples, in addition to the precautionary motives driving cohabiting households to save more than married ones. Evidence from homeowners’ ratio of mortgage payments to house value exhibits the same pattern of savings differentials by sexual orientation and cohabiting status.

It's terrifically preliminary, of course, and is probably affected by the same sort of self-selection as in the previous study re: female same-sex parents, but it's worth a read. (Right?)

[BRIEF NOTE] On saving island societies

Over at the Globe and Mail, Oliver Moore wrote an article ("Self-made millionaire on a mission to save her heritage'") about a Newfoundland businesswoman, Zita Cobb, who is determined to save her native Fogo Island--the largest island offshore the main island of Newfoundland--by giving it a niche economy catering to tourists and others with cultural (and economic) capital to replace the old dead fisheries.

In many ways, the story of Fogo Island is as old as Newfoundland. The 240-square-kilometre island, population 2,700, is scattered with communities that face the sea. Now they are grappling with the traditional problems of all outports: the exodus of youth, a hurting fishery and limited jobs.

“Since the moratorium on cod, governments have been sort of casting it out to try and find what can we do for rural communities,” said Gordon Slade, a former deputy provincial fisheries minister and chairman of the Shorefast board. “And really there hasn’t been much in the way of ideas or solutions.”

But Ms. Cobb and the people at Shorefast believe there is a market here that could draw up to 2,500 high-end tourists annually, attracted in part by exploring the unique relationship between artists and landscape.

The newly built artist studio is a starkly beautiful modern structure designed by award-winning Newfoundland architect Todd Saunders, with huge windows offering views of the pounding sea and rugged landscape. It will be occupied first by artist Siddhartha Das.

The rotating cast of artists-in-residence will be given studio space and accommodation, said Elisabet Gunnarsdottir, director of the Fogo Island Arts Corporation, another Shorefast creation. In return, they are expected to open up their studios to local residents and tourists and will be encouraged to give courses and artist talks.

“We want to create a little platform, a mingling place with local people, and see what happens,” Ms. Gunnarsdottir said.

I think that Cobb actually has exactly the right idea. In a globalized society, if one component of your society catering to a specific market--like, say, its economic underpinnings--fails, then you'll have to find something to replace it. Presenting Fogo, with its scenery and its history, as a high-end tourist destination, is a spectacular idea. It's just that this strategy can't be adopted by every island society, within or without Newfoundland and Labrador; there are only so many niches to go around.