Search This Blog

CCE in brief

My photo
Recovering backpacker, Cornwallite at heart, political enthusiast, catalyst, writer, husband, father, community volunteer, unabashedly proud Canadian. Every hyperlink connects to something related directly or thematically to that which is highlighted.

Saturday 8 September 2012

Two Political Approaches

There's an anti-intellectual movement out there; angry, scared and frustrated people want validation; sugar for the soul in the short term, but it rots you to the core over time.  Then, there's the reasoned, balanced approach of making a case and backing it up. 
I would say, we need both.  Balance, not competition, is what is required; if you're too busy tipping to the sides, your forward mobility is limited.
Go watch Bill Clinton's DNC 2012 speech for an example of how to best bridge those two approaches.


Bill Clinton's Tantric Speekmaking

- Bill Clinton 
As someone who actually has read the Kama Sutra, I fully appreciate Scott Feschuk's description of Bill Clinton as a tantric speechmaker.  The man certainly has some skeletons in his sexual closet (Clinton, not Feschuk, at least so far as I know) - but then, to say that trantic sex is just about sex is like saying the Bible is a book about genealogy, or that LOST was about people fighting on an island.
Clinton weaves a tapestry where we are collaboratively the threads.  Like the best of film makers, his words and presentation create a commonality of experience that, even if you don't believe, you can still taste the magic.
Whether you follow politics, enjoy writing or think deeply about the issues greater than our individual selves, watch this speech, and enjoy.  You'll thank yourself for doing so.

Friday 7 September 2012

And Chuck Norris' "Something Much Worse" Than Socialism is - Paul Ryan?

GOP VP Candidate Paul Ryan:

And the greatest of all responsibilities, is that of the strong to protect the weak. The truest measure of any society is how it treats those who cannot defend or care for themselves.

Got it.  Paul Ryan believes it's the job of the strong to carry the weak; very NDP of him.

GOP Supporter + Icon of Tough Chuck Norris:

“We know you love your family and your freedom as much as Gena and I do, and it is because of that we can no longer sit quietly or stand on the sidelines and watch our country go the way of socialism or something much worse."

Socialism... you know, where those with resources, the strong people, protect the weak.  Especially from themselves.

It's suddenly all clear - the "something much worse" Norris is going to stand against is... Paul Ryan!

Good thing you have Clint and Obama's Chair in your corner, Mr. Ryan - you're gonna need 'em.

Why You Can't Run Government Like A Business

Here' the thing; Rob Ford IS playing by the rules - the rules of business.  He who has the gold makes the rules; if the rules don't work, free market competition either kills the business or shareholders look at the declining value of their shares and boot the bums out.  It's all very natural selection, survival-of-the-fittest.
Part and parcel of this process is the "so what?" concept.  Time is money and money is a commodity; you don't get someone's time or capital unless you can answer the question of why your issue is deserving of the boss' attention.  Particularly in today's climate where everyone is so busy all the time, the real trick is to package that message in as brief and compelling a narrative as possible and reflect the established interests of the decision maker.
If you're pitching a new process or asking for a raise, there might be merit to demanding employees prove their worth (though the best bosses build loyalty out of anticipating and proactively supporting their teams).  When you're a soldier that has to prove you have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or a mother trying to explain why local social programs will help keep your kid out of gangs, you don't necessarily have the tools, training or energy to build and sell the case to the boss - i.e. the Mayor.  Thing is, in a democracy, it's actually the voter who's boss - not the taxpayer, which would be a shareholder and imply a financial interest, but the voter, who has a social stake in governance.
Look at all the problems Rob Ford has had as Mayor; Council that won't vote as they're told, bureaucrats that challenge his positions, media that treat him (poorly) like a public figure and quibbling things like whether or not he's read briefing notes or rule books.  Look - if the details were that important, he's Mayor.  Someone would have come to him with the "so what" answer and he'd know about it.  If they can't convince him in 30 seconds, it really wasn't that vital, was it?  Certainly not to the bottom line, which any good business operator is always focused on.
I wouldn't say that Rob Ford is dumb or incompetent - he seems to do well at coaching and his business isn't dead.  I would say that he is functionally fixed on the wrong rules and the wrong game, if he wants to continue as Mayor.  His trial isn't about ignorance, so much as it is about a culture clash between business and politics.
Politics is not the same as business.  Yes, we do need better financial management and better integration/efficiency of services, however the end goal of government isn't to build a profitable society but a strong one.  Money's just one piece of that puzzle; leadership, community building, infrastructure and yes, social programs are another.  It's been that way since the day of Kula Rings and potlaches.
To be successful in the long run and not run afoul of the actual rules of politics (frequently known as "the law") it is incumbent on politicians like Rob Ford or Tim Hudak to remember one key thing;
Being a Political Leader isn't the same as being a CEO - instead, it's more about being Chief Civil Servant.


I Don't Think So, Tim...

Tim Hudak can't say nobody warned him.
On just this wee blog, I tried to offer some advice to the PC leader; I actually want to see effective Oppositions, as that's what makes our democracy work.
Alas, Tim chose not to heed this advice, or any of the similar advice that's been directed his way.  In his response to the recent by-election results in Kitchener-Waterloo, he had this to say:
In one foul swoop, he's done the eye-poke and deflected responsibility with nary a mention of Elizabeth Witmer, the PC MPP that held that seat for so long an certainly deserves some emotional support from her former leader.
None of this helps his Party's fortunes, helps Ontario in these challenging times, nor is his performance as PC leader doing anything other than tarnishing his personal brand.
It's not too late for Hudak to change his ways, in one context or another.
I truly hope that Tim Hudak has devoted himself to some introspection; going forward, he needs to either drastically revisit his leadership style or perhaps ask himself if being the boss is really a good fit for him, for his Party, or for Ontario.  He surely has much to offer the Province - just not as a political leader.

Thursday 6 September 2012

What Has Greater Impact: Facts or Feelings?

Had the pleasure of attending Rotmans' Social Media Experts Series debate between Don Tapscott and Andrew Keen.  I tweeted a fair bit about my thoughts at @__cce, so I won't cover the whole thing.
One exchange in particular stuck out.  Tapscott was arguing the value of openness and collaboration; Keen was arguing that both of those things were detrimental to businesses.  When Tapscott refuted a point with an example, Keen said "Look, we can both argue specific cases until the cows come home but that won't change anything."
It suddenly occurred to me that he was right.  They could provide facts to support their views, but then the secondary pieces that became the focus.  At its core, Keen is afraid; change, the loss of privacy, the potential of his self to be lessened by the fostering of a more connected society.  He admitted himself that he's hardly the first person to be afraid of change. 
To really get at the root of debates like this, it's that cognitive response piece that should really be considered first.

Canada's Productivity Trap (Kevin Lynch, Globe & Mail)

So - how, then, do you motivate innovation?  How do you nurture your cognitive labour resources?
There are few issues that evoke a blank stare more than productivity. Upon hearing the word, people either react with lack of interest or recoil in fear that what is coming is a lecture on working harder. The result is an absence of any serious public discourse in Canada about productivity.
It is time we faced some uncomfortable facts. Canadians have been collectively incarcerated in a beguiling productivity trap for almost a generation. We work harder and harder, use up our natural resources faster and faster, while the trap keeps us less rich, less able to provide public goods and less competitive. Canadians see more people working and goods being produced as proof that productivity is not a problem. Yet this is the beauty of the productivity trap: While the illness worsens, the patients believe they are feeling better.
For several decades, the Canadian medicine chest has been filled with a depreciating exchange rate, unsustainably strong U.S. demand, rising commodity prices and an increasing labour supply. These have kept the symptoms at bay. But with a Canadian dollar over 95 cents, weak U.S. and European demand, uncertainty about energy prices, and growing demographic pressures, a Canadian business-sector productivity level that has fallen to just 75 per cent of the United States means that the productivity trap may be painfully sprung.
The facts of Canada's poor productivity performance are well established, but not well known or understood. Unlike a fiscal deficit or unemployment or inflation, productivity cannot be measured directly. Unobservable it may be; unimportant it is not. A more productive economy grows faster, adapts better to changing circumstances, leads to lower prices, higher wages, and more jobs, improves living standards and affords more public goods.
There are two paths to the improvement of a country's standard of living. One is to have more people working, so that in total we produce more "stuff." The second is to improve productivity, so that each worker produces more "stuff." With demographics that ensure fewer future workers, the trap means that we won't be able to drive growth and raise living standards unless we increase productivity, something we have not done well recently.
Start with a statistical glimpse of productivity growth in our business sector. There was strong 4-per-cent average annual growth over the first postwar quarter-century (1947-1973), a much weaker 1.6-per-cent average pace over the next quarter-century (1973-2000) and a tepid 0.8-per-cent average growth rate recently (2000-2008). Comparing countries by output per hour worked per worker, Canada was an astounding 17th among OECD nations in 2007. Since Canadians work more hours than the OECD average, our total output per worker ranked 8th among OECD countries, but worse than the United States. Canada's business-sector productivity in 2007 was 75 per cent of that of the U.S, compared to 90 per cent in the early 1980s.
Next, take a sectoral perspective. From this vantage point, U.S. productivity performance was particularly strong in the manufacturing sector, and concentrated in information and communications technologies. The U.S. service sector also sustained consistently higher productivity growth than Canada's for more than a decade.
One explanation that was advanced in the 1990s to explain the gap was the sorry state of Canada's macroeconomic fundamentals. Our national debt was the second-worst in the G7; our deficits never-ending; our national pension plan in trouble; our bonds and stocks bore high-risk premiums; and the corporate tax rate was significantly higher than our largest trading partner's. These were not conditions encouraging to investment in productivity, Canadian businesses argued, and they were correct.
Fast-forward a decade. Canada's debt is now the lowest in the G7, our national pension plan is actuarially sound, macroeconomic risk premiums have disappeared from our stocks and bonds, and Canadian corporate tax rates are 12.5 percentage points below those in the United States. Despite this, business-sector productivity growth was actually worse in the decade just ended.
Consider the possible impact of the long decline in the Canadian dollar. A lower dollar paradoxically improves competitiveness but reduces wealth. It encourages business to use more domestic inputs and fewer imported inputs, which the lower dollar makes more expensive. Since Canadian business imports much of its machinery and equipment, firms employed more labour and less capital than their competitors. This reduced short-term costs, but impaired medium-term productivity, as business used older capital and less innovative technologies. This orientation saw Canadian business invest relatively little in home-grown research and development, and spend relatively little to license leading-edge technologies developed elsewhere.
A key source of U.S. productivity growth has been the development and production of information- and communications-related goods, and subsequently the broad application of these throughout the U.S. economy, particularly in the service sector. Sustained increases in service-sector productivity have a profound effect on the economy; services account for 80 per cent of the U.S. economy and 70 per cent of ours. Unfortunately, the intensity of usage of information technologies by Canadian business is only half that of the U.S.
International comparisons again demonstrate the research gap between Canadian businesses and their competitors. In 2007, Canadian business ranked 14th among OECD countries in research and development expenditures as a percentage of GDP. Canadian business spending on R&D was only 1 per cent of GDP, well below the OECD average of 1.6 per cent, roughly half of what U.S. business spends as a percentage of GDP and about a third compared with Sweden, Finland and Korea. This suggests that Canadian business has less capacity to be receptive to innovation, and less of a focus on innovation as part of integrated business strategy in Canada.
If Canada's business productivity were near parity with that of the U.S., a Canadian dollar near parity would not be as stressful as it is. Moreover, the demographic crunch of a declining working-age population is looming. So is the shifting of demand away from our traditional markets, as the global economy adjusts to the rise of Asia, the financial crisis and the worldwide recession. All these developments underscore the need for urgency in tackling our productivity underperformance.
What will not work are one-off approaches, small fiddles to address a systemic problem and the view that it is someone else's responsibility. In short, a continuation of the status quo will not work. What is needed is behavioural change by Canadian businesses in their long-term strategies, and a shared sense of purpose by business, governments and the research community. A concerted productivity strategy should encompass innovation, the labour force, markets and attitudes, bearing in mind that there is no single or simple or immediate fix to this structural problem.
Innovation is a driver of productivity growth, creating the new products and processes that will allow Canadian business and workers to move up the value-added chain and compete on quality, service and uniqueness, not merely on cost. Canadian business spending on research cannot remain below the middle of the OECD pack if we are to spur innovation on the scale needed. Our public research capacity has improved greatly, but we need to focus on building global centres of research excellence, better commercialization of our research efforts to create jobs and wealth, better models of business-university partnerships, and better market-based means of financing the application of innovation, particularly a stronger venture-capital market in Canada.
Innovation and a highly skilled work force go hand-in-hand in driving productivity in a knowledge-intensive, global economy. Our aging demographics mean that fewer people will be working in the future; it is simple arithmetic that everyone will have to be more productive just to stand still. In a knowledge-based economy, high school completion and rigorous minimum literacy standards should be givens, not aspirations. We have fewer Canadians with university degrees than many of our competitors, fewer still in scientific disciplines, and we have to design new incentives to encourage the education outcomes we need as a nation. Immigration can offset our demographic trends, but its labour-market effectiveness depends on attracting skilled immigrants.
Canada's trade linkages are akin to those of a cautious portfolio manager who is overinvested in traditionally safe markets. With the rise of Asian behemoths such as China and India, Canada needs a market enlargement strategy that includes new economic partnerships with the "Asian triangle" of China, Japan and India, expansion of Canada's Americas strategy to Brazil and a new economic arrangement with Europe. Canada should pioneer new partnership agreements oriented more to the treatment of services, investment, R&D, intellectual property and dispute-settlement arrangements.
Canada is a market-based economy where productivity gains must come largely from business. Governments should place more emphasis on speed, agility and frameworks to support productivity, and less on process and entitlement. Markets need more competition to spur faster adoption of new technologies. Better interaction between university researchers and business is key; in this, Sweden offers useful lessons. More emphasis on trade is essential; we are a trading nation, but not a nation of traders. In short, attitudes matter, they influence behaviour, and we must be strategic.
The global context Canadians face is complex, uncertain and changing structurally. It places a premium on firms, sectors and countries that are flexible, have solid fundamentals and anticipate change. Innovative and productive economies will have a better chance of sustained growth, rising living standards and good jobs. These are the challenges and opportunities for Canada to break out of its productivity trap.
Kevin Lynch is the former clerk of the Privy Council and secretary to the cabinet.

Communicate Details: the Devil's In Them

Throughout his term in office, Rob Ford has been frustrated.  People aren't doing as he asks, attention isn't being paid to the things he thinks are important and people are constantly niggling him over little things like his driving habits.  It's all such a waste of time; don't people get that time is money?  Then, there are all these paperwork technicalities bureaucrats and lefties are getting hung up on.  He hasn't time to read through reams of detailed Acts - he's busy.  When he was elected Lord Mayor, was it not implied that he gets to do what he wants?  It was Ford's business-like "cut the gravy" approach that won him the spot in the first place.
In assuming that politics was like business, Ford made a grave mistake; he took that to mean he was wholly in charge and made the rules, rather than the reality, which is he essentially became first among equals with the same voting rights as anyone and an established code of conduct to follow.  When Council challenges him, they represent factions within Toronto, just as he does.  When the private media speaks out for or against, one must assume they have an audience hungry for their perspective, otherwise they'd go bankrupt.  His definitions of conflict of interest don't matter; the collectively established ones do.  If, as Mayor, Rob Ford has an agenda to push forward, it is through painstaking, time-consuming consensus-building, not a lordly decree, that he can make things happen.  
Ford, a businessman and a football coach, is used to being the man in charge with his say so being gospel.  He has demonstrated a dogged, bullish approach to getting things done and, to his credit, seems fully committed to his world view.  Keep It Simple, Keep Your Head Down and Plough on Through.  Time is money.  It's an old-school, Industrial Age approach; he who as the gold, makes the rules.  The early bird catches the worm, or something.  Those beneath you, staff or functionaries, have to do as they're told or accept their walking papers
A growing part of staff responsibilities includes doing the boss' homework for them; figuring out applicable rules, sussing out important (but only top-level details) and synthesizing them into 1-page notes or sparse, 5-page power point decks.  Even the sussing out of new markets and new opportunities is being downloaded to line staff.  Is it any wonder Generation Y is beginning to ask, "we're doing all the work, what do we need you for?"  For those who don't strike out on their own, there is mounting pressure to simplify and cut out all but the most salient details.
I have sat in on government, private sector and NFP communication planning meetings where the same themes have come up; the person we're going to be communicating to (not with) has little time and is exposed to so much information, we need to get right to the essential points quickly.  This holds true in campaigns, too - voters are busy and don't have time or interest; we have to hit them only on the issues that resonate with their lives and do so quickly.  There's so much anxiety about hitting the right buttons that a lot of content, context and resulting consequence is falling through the gaps.  If I focus strictly on, say, the impact of specific policies on education, am I getting public feedback on economics or health care?
The people at the top feel pressure to get more done, faster; they're too busy to stop and read the fine print.  The people under them feel pressure to cut the fine print and message only the points they see as salient.  Red tape gets in the way of productivity; having to follow rules inhibits, delays and discourages success.  More than one government or private interest has come to the conclusion that it's far easier to bully, shout down, ignore or undermine partners than to take the time to build consensus with them.  Of course, more than one government has found their rushed policies being questioned for broader legality.
Picture this top-down, KISS approach in school.  A professor assigns a broad theme for an essay topic to their class, but makes it clear the end product has to be a one-pager that is so boiled-down that a 6th grader could read it.  The students get one shot and any consultation they have to do, it won't be with the teacher, because they're too busy.  Or, picture students stood up to their teachers and said, "look, I'm paying your salary, here.  You're not going to waste my time with technicalities of red tape, research and the rules of good grammar.  Your job is to rubber-stamp my paper and get out of my way so I can get back to my paper route and make money."  Schools are training grounds for the real world, after all - if that's the sort of approach we want, that's what we should prepare our kids to do.
Of course, we would berate both teachers and students for putting such a lack-lustre effort into their work.  The role of a student is to learn as much as possible, build a salvo of knowledge that can be loosed on the real world; the job of a teacher is to nurture students along that journey, helping them build skills and attain practical understandings of various fields of human endeavour.  If we applied our current real-world methodology to our schools, there would be no time for research, analysis, synthesis, review - or comprehension.  The whole process of making sure no stone is left unturned, no connection is ignored (ie, learning) would be discarded in favour of developing message sound bites. 
How useful, how informative do you think those one-pagers would be?  How well prepared do you think students would be to absorb information, connect dots and present detailed arguments to back a given position and bring something new to the table?  Not very.  If a student took the approach to their studies that we seem to be encouraging in our government and private sector planning processes, they'd get failing grades and be sent back to the drawing board.
Planning in the absence of facts is an exercise in futility.
Which brings us back to Rob Ford.  In his constant, singular-focus busy-ness, Ford has broken the law, defied social conventions and wound up in court as a result.  Sure, he has people steadfastly behind him equally frustrated with rules and consensus - but there seem to be more lined up against.  All the things he could have done if he'd planned ahead, taken time to get background, paid attention to what his partners interests were and attempted to communicate, not message, are lost. 
The lessons here are not new; if you want to go fast, by all means go alone.  If, however, you want to go far, move forward together.
Oh - and the devil is always in the details.

Wednesday 5 September 2012

Heroes and Monsters: Dan Gardner Questions Sanity

"And choice requires awareness. The mentally ill man who strangles a woman because he believes she is a python attempting to swallow him is not aware of reality and cannot be said to have chosen to strangle the woman. He certainly is dangerous and he can be incarcerated until such time as he is restored to mental health. But as Western jurists have recognized since the time of Aristotle, he cannot justly be condemned and punished."
Dan Gardner has repeatedly gone further down the rabbit hole of society and his own soul more than most writers I know and is to be commended for that.  In this case, though, I think he needs to go down a bit further.
Choice, Gardner suggests, requires awareness.  The man strangling the woman he thinks is a python, to use Gardner's example, has not chosen to strangle the woman; he was choosing to strangle a python.  But that was a choice; it simply wasn't one made with a full appreciation of the context or content of the situation.  He could have chosen to walk away from the python, too, but something made him attack.  You might think that's quibbling with words; it's not.  Boiled down to its basic points, the hallucinating man perceived a threat, his body produced the right hormones to incite a fight-or-flight response and it was that emotional state that fueled his choice of reaction.
This is the damaged Hummer belonging to Darrell Krushelnicki as it awaits repairs in Edmonton on Sept. 5, 2012. Krushelnicki drove his Hummer into the path of a speeding car to prevent the driver of an oncoming car from hitting four children in a crosswalk.Take a completely different example: Darrell Krushelnicki is undeniably a hero for saving the lives of four children from a negligent driver.  The other driver/would-be commiter of manslaughter (because slamming into four kids you didn't see isn't a conscious act of murder) was apparently focused on his cell phone; Krushelnicki saw this and, in his own words, "could just tell it was a bad scenario that was going to take place."  His response was just a reaction to a perceived threat.  Surely, other people saw what was going on, but didn't act.  Why? 
Perhaps they felt that the driver saw what was happening and would stop of his own accord.  Perhaps they didn't register the consequences; they simply didn't put two and two of kids, driver and impact together; maybe they weren't aware of what could happen.  Or maybe, they saw the exact same scenario unfolding that Krushelnicki saw but didn't have the drive to intercede.  It's entirely possible they made a conscious choice not to act; Krushelnicki did and four young lives were saved as a result.
Krushelnicki perceived a threat and acted on it.  The exact same neurochemistry that drove him to respond to that crisis would have motivated Gardner's hypothetical python strangler to act on his perceived threat.  Humans are like any animal; we are designed to survive and reproduce, both activities that take a lot of energy.  As those are our two reasons for being, energy gets directed primarily to related activities; foraging, hunting, escaping, sex, rearing.  The other big energy expending activity - play - is training for the skills we'll need to survive, sustain and attract/retain mates in the future.  It's really a fluke of evolution and history that humans have done anything beyond these activities; there are even those folk out there who feel that's really all we should be dedicating ourselves to.
Now, let's take a look at Rob Ford.  Rob Ford received a good deal of negative attention for driving while reading, which is against the law in Ontario.  His answer to his detractors was that he was busy - too busy, apparently, to dedicate full attention to the road.  That's the same mental state our previous driver was in.  Ford has a history of proactively and aggressively engaging in defense of himself (after a pretty nasty insult), his family and his freedom of movement - all commendable activities on the surface of things and, devoid of context, all variants of the same thing that Krushelnicki did.  Yet Ford's been criticized for his actions.  Again, at the neurochemical level, what motivated Ford would have been the same hormonal triggers that incented Krushelnicki or Gardner's fictional strangler.
In case you think I'm playing partisan favourites, here, let's throw in Warren Kinsella.  Kinsella, a master political strategist (I've got his The War Room on my shelf next to a copy of Takuan Soho's The Unfettered Mind) tells his war room teams that their loathing of conservatives is a purifying force.  "Step on their necks," he advices; "don't lift your foot until the day after the election.  Hurt them."   What Kinsella is doing with that advice is riling his team up, getting their emotions (cortisol, testosterone, etc) flowing and inciting them to act and act decisively.   
Just as Krushelnicki did. 
Whereas Krushelnicki damaged his car, a tooth and the car of the other driver to save lives, what Kinsella is suggesting his team do is damage political opponents to essentially do the same thing - act in protection of something they feel matters.
Playing on emotions is nothing new in politics - every partisan speech, every fundraising letter and every missive employs, consciously or not, techniques of neuro-linguistic programming or NLP; tools of psychological manipulation designed to incite a desired emotional response that encourages action of some kind.  This is sales 101 - hit them where they'll feel it. 
The Nazis were masters at using these tools; they played into social unrest and got an entire nation to tacitly support genocide.  By the same token, there are organizations out there using public protests here in Canada as a tool to incite police-on-public violence as a tool to nurture civil unrest.  said they don't know what came over them, they just got caught up in the moment? 
We decry hooligans and shooters; we say that only monsters perpetrate genocide.  Yet there are genocides happening right now in the world, and we're doing nothing about it.  In our own country, we are absolutely aware that there are people living in unsafe conditions on reservations, in slums and on our streets, but we invest precious little of our resources or energy into doing anything about it.  We get righteously indignant when a little girl gets run over in China and nobody helps, but we do the exact same thing here, all the time.  Why?  Perhaps Adalbert Lallier summed it up nicely when he said "I pretended not to have seen, I pretended not to have heard because I didn't want to be responsible."
The reason that Gardner's column comes up today is because he reposted it in response to the post-election shooting in Montreal.  Social media has been all aflutter with queries as to the man's sanity; mental illness has been mentioned, as it was in the case of Anders Behring Breivik, perpatrator of the Norway massacre of 77 people, mostly teens.  Wisely, Gardner suggests that cooler heads must prevail that that any response must be based on awareness of what actually happened.  If you aren't conscious of content and context, you cannot hope to predict consequence.
We like to tell ourselves we're supremely rational creatures, in complete control of our thoughts and motivations.  It's the other guys, whoever disagrees with you, that are irrational, malleable, weak, whiners, monsters, dumb or plain sick.  When we say this, we're fooling ourselves.  The "I" we speak of is nothing more than the hard-wiring of our brain, the experiences we have and eons of evolutionary drives.  Our personalities are shaped by the size and activity of different parts of our brains and how we exercise them over the course of our lives.  Like our bodies, our thoughts can be shaped; they are, all the time, but mostly frequently that shaping is not being done directly by us.
Accepting this might be uncomfortable, but it's also empowering.  People with severe food allergies can manage their diet appropriately, when they're aware of their condition.  Asthmatics, epileptics, the vision or hearing impaired can use tools to function normally.  When you have a cold, you get why you're tired and know to rest; if you're drunk or angry, you can get (theoretically) why you might not want to make any major decisions or drive your car.  By the same token, you can peel back the rhetoric of the aggressive salesman or the vision-shilling politician to see how their words are designed to manipulate you and avoid falling into reactive traps.  You may even be able to recognize that the python is probably a woman or better yet, have the right tools (medicine, training) to avoid such threatening scenarios in the first place.

Until we become fully aware of the internal mechanics that shape our choices, the belief that we're in complete control of our options is a delusion.  When we accept that every thought we have is subconsciously shaped by factors that we cannot see or taste or touch, we can proactively adopt the tools and techniques that allow us manage the influence of those hormones and neurotransmitters to our mutual safety and advantage. 

Choose wisely, though, for once you know yourself, it's harder to close the door of broader awareness again.


Rob Ford Was Right The Second Time

I wouldn't doubt that his foundation makes such a difference in the lives of participants.  Having a supportive tribe/social group, discipline and a common, achievable goal to strive towards can have a powerful impact on personal development.  The military is build on that very same model, or at least it was.  Conversely, being born into poverty and surrounded by violence gives youth the wrong message, the wrong incentives from day one.
On the one hand, Ford seems to get that - his programs, which are social programs, save lives and provide opportunity for their participants.  On the other hand, he can still say things like this:
There aren't many who are interested in investing in a retail shop in a hot zone.  But there are lots of people willing to invest in programs that give kids the support they need to nurture the tools of success.
Rob Ford's dedication and passion for the kids in his program is commendable; there's no question in my mind that he believes in what he does.  All I ask is that he broaden his horizons a bit - as Mayor, he has opportunity and responsibility to make that exact same commitment to all Toronto's youth.
As too many of our officials seem to be forgetting, true leadership leaves no one behind; it helps us move forward together.


Dan Gardner on Sanity and Evil


But notice that in the torrent of tweets and comments about the atrocity, this common theme is seldom interrogated. What do we mean when we say Breivik is insane?
He'll surely be subjected to an intense psychological evaluation, and this may well reveal mental disorder, but to date there is little to suggest Breivik is anything but perfectly lucid. His own lawyer says he is aware that what he did is "atrocious" but he felt it was "necessary" to attack a ruling party dedicated to multiculturalism and launch a Christian crusade against the Islamic jihad that supposedly threatens Europe.
Those are the words of a fanatic, not a madman.
I tweeted precisely that comment on Sunday and got a barrage of recrimination in return. One man even accused me of "defending" Breivik.
This got me thinking about how we use the word "insane" and all its more colloquial derivatives.
Most casually, "insane" is merely something that is ridiculous and unsupportable. But in a context like the atrocity in Norway, it becomes infused with moral meaning and it becomes the strongest possible condemnation: "Insane" is the secular equivalent of "evil."
This is why we call acts "insane," even though acts are not agents capable of perceiving the world and making choices and so cannot be, by any meaningful definition of the word, "insane." This is also why people reacted as they did when I suggested Breivik may be sane. They felt I was diminishing the horror of what he had done. And diminishing his responsibility.
And that is truly unfortunate because it gets things exactly backwards.
Responsibility requires choice. The man who robs a store because someone threatens to kill his child if he refuses does not choose to commit the crime. He is not responsible.
And choice requires awareness. The mentally ill man who strangles a woman because he believes she is a python attempting to swallow him is not aware of reality and cannot be said to have chosen to strangle the woman. He certainly is dangerous and he can be incarcerated until such time as he is restored to mental health. But as Western jurists have recognized since the time of Aristotle, he cannot justly be condemned and punished.
So in suggesting that Breivik is sane, I am not diminishing his responsibility. In fact, I am suggesting he fully understood what he did and is therefore fully responsible.
It is those who loudly insist that Breivik is insane who are suggesting there is something disordered about his mind, which may diminish his awareness of what he did, and diminish his responsibility to some degree, even if his particular mental state does not fit the narrow legal definition of insanity.
But there's still another layer here, I think. It's hinted at in that Norwegian woman's use of the word "hopefully."
People hope that authorities will announce Breivik is a psychopath or otherwise mentally aberrant because the alternative is that he is as sane as you and I. That would mean that a man who is otherwise ordinary committed an atrocity.
The implications are obvious. And disturbing. It's much more comforting to believe that only monsters are responsible for monstrous acts.
But that is false, as psychology and history can both attest.
"You don't look at their face, even when you put prods in their mouth," a Chilean torturer said in 1984.
"You keep their eyes covered. The secret is not to look into their eyes. The other secret is not to draw blood. You leave that for the sick bastards or the young brutes. You can watch the body arch and bounce under electricity, but never draw blood."
In the research on torturers, it is not the "sick bastards" and "young brutes" who turn up most often. It is men like this one - an ordinary man who had to carefully and deliberately overcome his normal human sympathies in order to torment helpless people.
Historians examining the worst crimes of the Nazis and the Khmer Rouge found the same pattern. As the title of a famous study put it, most of those responsible for some of the worst crimes in history were "ordinary men."
Nor is there much mental illness to be found among legendary fanatics like Torquemada, Robespierre, and Lenin. They knew precisely what they did. And they were explicit about the need to overcome basic human compassion to do it.
"Our mission here is difficult and painful," wrote a French revolutionary officer as he and his men were butchering men, women, and children. To do this work, a man had to renounce "all the affections which nature and gentle habits have made dear to his heart." His only consolation was "an ardent love of country."
Heinrich Himmler said something similar to a group of SS officers. "Most of you know what it means when 100 corpses are lying side by side, or 500, or 1, 000. To have stuck it out and at the same time - apart from exceptions caused by human weakness - to have remained decent men, that has made us hard." Himmler's sympathy for his men came from personal experience: Observing a mass execution, he had been sick to his stomach.
It is tempting to think we can identify the deviant few, lock them away, and be rid of horror.
But as Alexander Solzhenitsyn observed, "the line between good and evil runs through every human heart." The best we can hope to do is stay on the right side of it.

(CFN) The Evolution of Work

The old model of work still exists, but being mapped on to it are new demands requiring new skills, new tools and new accomodations.  Evolution is a very apt way to describe this process of change:


The Politics of Fear Leads To Violence

You can ignore the source of any frustration for a while, but there comes a point where the penalities of doing nothing outweigh the costs of action.  Walking away - flight - is one such option.  When you remove avoidance from the table, though, there's really just one choice left - fight.
That's the emerging theme in Canadian politics from the federal level down to the municipal level.  All Parties and operators are pushing the fear and anger buttons.  The choice is no longer between opposing views of policy; it's a choice between one side or "those who would destroy our community/our future/our traditional values/our language/our culture/our education/our healthcare."  It takes strong emotions to shake the electorate from their restful complacency, after all and fear is easier to build and sustain than is hope.
The same thing is happening around the world, leading to a rise in regional friction and ethnic tensions.  In some places, violence is already the norm.  Where social strife is less prevalent, it's the already emotionally frayed that serve as canaries in the coal mine.  In somnambulant Canada, the people are stewing.  We're a pot slow to boil, but when that happens, people will get scalded.
"It gets worse before it gets better" is a truism - possibly because we need to be reminded just how bad it can get when we stand against before we remember why we started working together in the first place.

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Save Our Soldiers

And yet:
I'm sure that Team Harper is focused with free-market intensity on stopping the gravy train when they cut services like this.  They've probably thought very carefully about the bottom line and PR implications of forcing our veterans to individually prove they need psychological help, going against the grain of their training and "corporate culture" of Yes Sir, No Sir, No Excuses Sir.
But I ask this - have they spent much time thinking about what happens when they decide to move on Iran or any number of emerging conflicts with soldiers that are emotionally and psychologically frayed?  Do they assume they can just hire more troops, when the horrifying consequences of armed conflict are blasted onto every TV, Movie, Video Game and mobile device screen?  Have they thought out the implications of biting off more than Canada can handle militarily or public response to institution a draft?
No matter what they might try to tell themselves, it's not just about the money.  It's about the people.  I pray for our men and women in uniform - and for the rest of us - that Team Harper doesn't learn this lesson the hard way.

Monday 3 September 2012

The Social Why Behind Liberal Who

Yes, this was a deliberately misleading and self-serving, if entertaining, title.  I can only guess as to the story behind Liberal Who, just like anyone else.  But, as you've come this far, here are my top three theories:
1) Liberal Who was a legitimate, if poorly considered, social media launch pad for a potential Federal Liberal leadership candidate. 
This Social Media stuff isn't as easy as it looks.  How do you become a #tellviceverything without falling into the trap of @vikileaks?  How do you pull a Call Me Maybe in planned fashion, yet avoid puffin poop?  Some eager beaver, either candidate or someone on their team, floats the idea of a viral lead-in to generate buzz.  "Buzz!" said the candidate and their people.  "Buzz is good, let's do that!" 
Then it went off the rails; the response wasn't so hot.  Instead of following through and A) defending the approach regardless, which is what most pols do when caught up, or B) owning up to Liberal Who and saying, "this didn't work, but my policies will" and quickly recapturing focus in a positive way, someone blinked.  That blink was followed up with a "if we pretend it was a prank and link to Rick Mercer, this will all be quickly behind us." 
Someone should have been paying closer attention to the emerging trends of social media - nothing gets left behind; where there's uncertainty, there're armchair pundits and opponents on both sides of the fence ready to dig until they have both mud and the person to throw it at.
2) Liberal Who was an oppositional attempt to steal the thunder of/put egg on the face of a potential Liberal candidate.
Think it's a little bit rich to assume somebody's opponent has gone to such lengths to embarrass a candidate or the Liberal Leadership race?  You clearly aren't a political junkie.  It's a sad reality that policy is generally seen as secondary to politics and, in politics as in war, anything goes.  You have to win to govern, but winning comes at the expense of another Party, so every ounce of energy and thought must reflect how to win hearts and deflate your opponents.  It's a fatal flaw in our current political system, but that's another conversation.
It is entirely possible that opponents of a given candidate decided to use Liberal Who as a way to undercut said candidate before they even got out the starting gate.  Those could be potential leadership rivals, personal foes or supporters of another political team that get way too excited about Nick Kouvalis.  Either way, if you can tar your rival as ineffective, out of touch or focused on sizzle rather than steak, that's an effective way to lessen any threat they may possess.
Again, though, there was a website, there were emails - Liberal Who is forever imprinted on the Internet; if someone wants to find out who's behind it badly enough, they will.  And that story will get out.
3) The least likely option, in my mind - some random person came up with Liberal Who because, why not?
There will always be those who like the idea of generating attention without actually wanting the responsibility and focus that comes with it.  So, stuff like this DOES come up.  Having said that, there is always a motive behind such anonymous attention plays.  Vikileaks was an obvious one - the man behind that meme got to tar and feather an opponent without being tarred back.  At least in theory.  Adam Carroll was outed for that campaign and ended up owning it on the national stage.  Twice, now, actually, so maybe the lesson is that you needn't worry.  I hope not.
Who would have decided it would be fun to draw attention to a non-leader?  Did they intend to go through with it, or was the eventual redirect to Rick Mercer a cop-out?  Heck, were Mercer's people behind Liberal Who as a way to build traffic?  Not the worst conspiracy theory, as these things go.
Whoever was behind Liberal Who, whatever their intention, they have generated enough interest that someone is going to follow through on the why.  Where and when that happens, the mind(s) behind Liberal Who will have some xplainin' to do, so they better start thinking about how to deflect, redirect or answer the questions that are coming.
For everyone else, the lesson is one that more and more people are learning the hard way - if you're going to do something on the Internet, you will forever own it.  This is a good thing, though, as it will encourage people to think a bit further ahead before they act.  The truth will set you free, etc.
In the meantime, let the #cdnpoli social media guessing games continue.  What's your theory?