A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for June 2007

[URBAN NOTE] Sam’s

Some wag working at Sam’s played Leonard Cohen’s 1992 song “Closing Time” over the store’s sound system soon after I got in.

The VHS tapes that silly_dan mentioned were on sale in their tattered black cases, clumps of CDs from the likes of Babylon Zoo and Bernard Butler were left on the shelves sandwiched between plastic name-sheets, well-dressed older men picked through the remnants of the classical music and opera, and the last customers stood in line at the cash clutching 99 cent CDs in their hands as the cashiers looked down at their machines.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2007 at 4:45 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] Finis Sam the Record Man

The Yonge Street flagship store of Sam the Record Man, a Canadian music retail chain that once operated 130 outlets across Canada–including one in Charlottetown–will be closing today, at 7 pm, five years after it was re-opened in a last ditch attempt to keep the landmark active. (Creative destruction might work, but it also and obviously leaves casualties.)

[A]s of the end of June, Sam the Record Man is finally closing its doors – a victim of the vagaries of the retail record business and declining CD sales thanks to the Internet. According to Canadian record industry statistics, sales of CDs have dropped 35 per cent in the first quarter of 2007 alone.

“We are making a responsible decision in recognizing the status of the record industry and the increasing impact of technology,” said Bobby Sniderman in a news release issued yesterday.

Sniderman is one of the present owners of the store and one of the sons of Sam Sniderman, the man who built the record store dynasty that rivalled many around the world.

“But there is a wonderful story to be told here, not about the current state of the industry, but about a family business that operated for 70 years in record retailing. Throughout that time our family has made significant contributions to the music industry, for Canadian artists and to the community as a whole …

“This is about more than just bricks and mortar; Sam the Record Man is the most recognizable name in the Canadian music industry, an iconic legacy that will forever endure …”

[. . .]

[T]he company ran into trouble in 2001, filing for bankruptcy in October and closing its doors in late December. Competition from music superstores such as HMV and discount retailers like Wal-Mart, coupled with Internet downloads, all spelled trouble for the Toronto record retailer. A&A Records two doors away also closed in the 1990s.

I’m planning on one last quick spin through the CD racks after work tonight, for nostalgia’s sake. Have any other readers here in Toronto done the same, or are they going to?

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2007 at 2:16 pm

[URBAN NOTE] The weather

The weather lately–the heat, the humidity, the smog–has been unbearable. Walking west home last evening, I couldn’t see the sun, only a multiply-refracted orange haze. The Baffin Island terraforming project might be getting off the ground, but at what cost to more southerly climes?

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2007 at 7:51 pm

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[LINK] Facebook, Myspace, and social class

Via Facebook, I’ve come across an interesting study on Facebook and MySpace use, summarized here by The Globe and Mail‘s Matthew Ingram.

Danah Boyd, a sociologist and researcher in the U.S. who specializes in youth culture and online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace, has posted a draft version of a new paper she is writing on what might loosely be referred to as “class divisions” between the two popular social networking sites. Although she says that the differences between the two audiences are not strictly class-based, in the sense that they don’t really follow economic lines, there appears to be a clear difference between teens who gravitate to MySpace and those that tend to join Facebook.

For the most part, Ms. Boyd says, the younger users on MySpace are what she calls “subaltern” — a term meaning subordinate, or lower in station — in the sense that they are outcasts in some way or another, either because they are involved in a social sub-group of some kind (i.e., they are gay, or goth, or interested in punk music) or they are a member of a racial or cultural group that is non-mainstream (i.e., black, Hispanic, Asian, etc.). Teens that join Facebook, she says, are what she calls “hegemonic,” meaning they are sympathetic to mainstream society in some way.

Boyd’s paper is here, and her blog posting announcing the paper’s initial findings is here. One blogged criticism of her work is telling.

The conclusions coincide, satisfyingly, with the presumptions of Facebook users with snobbish disdain for the ghetto design of Myspace pages. They’re probably true. And Boyd’s essay has the patina of academic credibility, obtained through the liberal use of lingo from critical theory such as “hegemonic” — by which I think the author means the cool kids. But, astonishingly, there’s a complete lack of survey data to support the thesis. If this Berkeley PhD candidate really had six months for the project, how hard would it be to recruit a few hundred survey respondents? And some of the conclusions are truly pedestrian: the research suggests that Facebook users are more likely to go to college. Well, Mark Zuckerberg’s social utility started — duh — as an online facebook for college students, so it’s hardly so surprising that it would do well among that demo.

The statistical sampling that she describes–formal interviews in eight states which capture a variety of variables, analyses of apparently random MySpace profiles, very limited access to Facebook profiles, an undersampling of users from “rural environments and […] the deep south”–certainly has its flaws, though I do think that this paper might still indicate certain interesting trends. For the sake of her–at least superficially plausible–thesis I only hope Boyd can get much better data.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 25, 2007 at 7:20 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] Pride after-notes

Pride in Toronto–one of the four largest Pride events in North America–still strikes me as a secular carnival for people of all orientations, and is not so much a community-bonding gathering as it might once have been. The relatively greater prevalence of merchants over community groups on closed-off Church Street and adjoining corridors is enough proof of that. Still, it’s nice to be a marketing demographic, and the events were fun. Carole Pope‘s concert, one of the last Pride concert events on Sunday night, was a particular highlight for me, no matter that I caught only a few minutes of it.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 25, 2007 at 7:08 pm

[MUSIC] Pet Shop Boys, “A Red Letter Day”

Toronto’s gay pride parade is taking place tomorrow, on the last day of Pride Week. I plan to be there, watching.

Have a good day, everyone!

Written by Randy McDonald

June 23, 2007 at 7:15 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Dissolve the people and elect another?

As The National Interest reports, former Bush Administration hack and Prince of Darkness candidate Richard Perle is at it again, this time paying attention to Turkey.

The military sees itself as the guardian of Turkish secular democracy, and will intervene in politics when it perceives that secularism is under siege. Such intervention runs the gamut from comments—meant to influence public opinion—to seizing power from governments thought to be “ineffective.” Although the Turkish military has overthrown four governments since the Turkish republic’s founding, it has always returned power to civilian officials. The military, therefore, does not impede the functioning of Turkey’s democracy; rather, Perle said, it is an important check on the Turkish government’s power. “The model of the military coup that we’re familiar with doesn’t apply in the Turkish case”, the scholar explained.

Consequently, Perle said that the EU must take care to preserve the Turkish military’s place in politics during the membership negotiations process. While some of the EU-mandated reforms will undoubtedly improve Turkish democracy if implemented, any European attempt to circumscribe the powers of the army would be misguided, Perle warned.

After reading this, Bertolt Brecht’s poem “The Solution”, inspired by his time in East Germany, came to mind.

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers Union
Had leaflets distributed in the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

Written by Randy McDonald

June 22, 2007 at 11:59 pm