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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 29 September 2012

CFN - You Can’t Take the Risk Out of War


The Predatory Exhaustion of Partisan Politics

Name me one other species that spends so much time in a state of adrenaline-fueled hysteria, fighting or flighting 24/7. 
Of course, you can't - because no other species is that stupid.  Energy is precious and is accumulated through enormous challenge.  Most animals spend the majority of their time resting, saving strength for when they need it most.
Not us.  We burn the candle at both ends, at all levels, even at all ages - and we're getting worse at this as we go along.  It's not sustainable.  There are consequences that come with this continual level of stress.
The question now is, are we smart and motivated enough to do something about it?

It's Never The Crime, But the Coverup That Condemns Us

There's not a lot of sympathy for Khadr here at home.  The general impression is that he's a bad kid, a soldier-killer from a bad family.  A psychologist has even suggested Khadr is "evil."  All of this, of course, is based on the impressions we have been given by governments, the military and the media.  None of us really know Omar Khadr as a person, not at all.  He hasn't been allowed to be one since 2002, when he was fifteen years old.
Once back in Canada, though, all of that landed perception is going to be challenged.  Looking at the evidence, there's already a pretty compelling case to be made that the handling of Khadr was a complete bungle in which many were complicit.  Sadly, this isn't a story without precedent - remember Maher Arar?

It could very well turn out that Khadr didn't kill Christopher Speer, was tortured into admitting he committed the crime while he himself was severely wounded and all this happening while he was 15 years old - a child in the eyes of the law.
Of course, the facts won't matter to some.  They've already made up their minds; anything else will be interpreted as spin by sympathizers or the whine of bleeding hearts.  There's a word for this confabulated justification of emotional responses - bigotry.
We keep telling ourselves that we are fighting against those who seek to destroy Western Civilization as embodied by freedom of person, freedom of speech and blind justice - yet we're narrowing that definition to exclude those we don't like.

Maybe it's time we start re-evaluating whether the greatest threat comes from troubles lapping at our shores, or from willful ignorance within our borders.

Friday 28 September 2012

Cognitive Labour in the Classroom

Now, we're starting to get somewhere! 
Education is the front-line of civil life - the equivalent of the working world for adults.  Teachers are front-line managers, ensuring their charges have the tools and training necessary to do their job, which pretty much translates into passing tests and getting good grades, enabling them to get further training and decent jobs.
As such, schools are both a springboard and a microcosm of society.  The skills students learn (and don't learn) in school and the examples they see around them will form the tone of their adult lives.  It's really enlightening to watch school-yard shenanigans, because they're a much more honest portrayal of behaviour we see in the rest of the world.  "But he hit me first" is, from a youth's point of view, an acceptable response for bad behaviour.  Bullying is a method of reducing competition for resources and attention.  Kids haven't bought into the notion that they're supposed to have spilt work/life personalities, so they naturally bring stresses from home to school and vice versa.  Office politics, cliques, etc. all exist in the adult world, too - we just deny this and confabulate justifications for behaviour we chastise in our youth.

There are cognitive differences between children and adults (see sensory fusion), key among these is the fact that they are more resilient and adaptable; it's actually adults that have a harder time making distinctions, despite the social pressure to do so.  Kids will move past emotional wounds more quickly; they'll get over colds more quickly, too.  Part of the reason for that - we let them.  When a child's parent dies, we don't tell them they get two days off and then are expected to be back at peak performance.  If they've had a big fight with their parents or best friend, we don't tell them to get over it immediately and focus on their work.  Good teachers will serve as counselors, too, helping their students learn to cope with and manage through personal and familial challenges, helping to build social emotional skills along the way.

Teachers bridge the gap between the emotional honesty of the playground and the suppressed individuals of the working world.  The best ones are deeply involved in the emotional lives of their students, because they have to be.  Understanding their students is the only way to reach them, and it's only through that connection that knowledge can effectively be transferred.  When teachers refer to their students as "my kids," it's less like a boss referring to a team than it is a parent referring to their family.  Yet teachers themselves are being told to leave their personal baggage at home and not let the work-related stresses that weigh on their minds impact their teaching.  It's impossible to switch selves, so what teachers are really being asked to do is repress their cognitive stresses

We're asking teachers to shovel water; it simply won't work.  It's not a coincidence that teaching ranks among the top ten stressful careers.  Again, schools are a microcosm of the working world at large - the mental health challenges that we're recognizing in schools also impact teachers.  In fact, we have a growing mental health crisis in all sectors that's burning out Canadians, dragging down economic growth, dominating insurance claims and placing an ever-growing burden on our health system.
A key part of addressing the mental health crisis is to stop using the "suck in up" and "separate work and life" memes as excuses for ignoring the social stresses that lead to mental illnesses like depression and anxiety.  Doing so isn't about ignoring problematic behaviour, but about empowering everyone to develop the internal resiliency tools they need to manage stress better and to start designing work and work environments that are conducive to strong cognitive labour performance. 
This is going to be a hard lesson for all of us to learn - but like all education, it's going to start in the classroom.

Thursday 27 September 2012

Harper Gangnam Style!

Politics - Gangnam Style!

They shouldn't have really been surprised.  Like #tellviceverything before it, York U Gangam came with a built-in success factor; there is a huge appetite for fun, current and community-relevant online content.  People want to absorb it.  They want to be part of it.  Cool memes like Call Me Maybe are infectious and evolve rapidly - hence the term "viral." 

What's the message in this for political marketing?  The game is rapidly moving beyond the "stories sell" phase - it's time to start letting the audience become the message.  For maximum traction, make it music-video short or a one-sheet like a political cartoon; don't be afraid to put yourself out there; make it fun (light and respectful) and hard-wired into the social zeitgeist.  You can target a specific community, like the McGuinty Bollywood Spectacular did, but leave enough whimsy, variety and sheer coolness to appeal to a broader audience.

Put it simply; make it fresh, inclusive, diverse, fun and topical.  Canada should own this market.

... and it looks like I'm not the only one who feels that way!

My Liberal Values

and most importantly:

That's my list.  What's on yours?

Keep The Candle Burning

      - Rian Malan, My Traitor's Heart

The Harper Conservatives will tell us they're not the first to act this way.  They would be correct on that point.

The Enlightenment was seen as a turning point in Western Civilization, where we began to emerge from the Dark Ages into a time where reason, knowledge and compassion ruled.  If we want to keep it that way, we're going to have to light the way forward from within

UPDATE Sept 23/13: "This is more than an attack on academic freedom.  It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance."

Forgive them, lord...

Wednesday 26 September 2012

Have ADHD? Pay Attention to this:

“It is primarily the (drug company’s) responsibility to monitor the safe use of their products,” Health Canada told the Star.

Dr. Derryck Smith, an ADHD specialist in B.C., says monitoring side effects is the government’s job. “That’s why we have Health Canada,” he said. “There’s no point in making the reports if (the regulator is) not going to be monitoring.”

What's the message here?  It's that people suffering from ADHD, their families and the dedicated front line service providers doing their best to assist them are on their own.

When you have people killing themselves, that's just not damned good enough.

Pro-Omnibus, Anti-Abortion?

Two things that caught my attention today:
1) The Conservative Government is looking to pass another omnibus budget bill.  The last one didn't just deal with the budget - it included far-reaching changes that Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page is still fighting to get details about.  While the bill was widely derided by Opposition and the media, the average Canadian didn't really much seem to care. 
2) Jason Kenney favours Bill M-312 - ostensibly about mandating a Parliamentary Committee (on which the Tories would have a majority and their committee-disruption manual at hand) to decide when human life begins but, come on - it's really about declaring abortion as murder.  Kenney is far from the only Member in the Harper Caucus that is anti-abortion; many of their base is, too.
Kenney is a Senior Pitbull in the Harper team.  He's not beyond using creative means to realize his own personal agenda.  He probably gets to have some say-so on the contents of far-reaching omnibus budget bills, too.
We have a Harper government that, now entrenched with a majority, is testing just how little the Canadian public cares about the functioning of our parliamentary democracy.  They're enacting massive budget bills that cynically include all kinds of things that relate to their partisan agenda and then aren't telling us what those things are.  We have a Tory Caucus, including senior Cabinet Members, who are advocating for policy changes unpalatable to the majority of Canadian voters.
Would Stephen Harper include anti-abortion provisions in an omnibus bill and then bury the details so that the public can't find them?  If I can think of this, you can bet the Stephen Woodworths of the world have as well.  Someone, somewhere, has surely whispered this message in a political ear: come on, the public doesn't care.  The Opposition can't do anything to stop us.  You know it's the right thing to do.  We have the chance, now, we can't afford to lose it.  Put a clause in the the budget bill.  You'll regret it if you don't.
Sound dramatic?  It's also entirely possible, if the Canadian public doesn't start to actively care about how Stephen Harper is abusing our system of democracy.  There will certainly be things in the upcoming omnibus budget bill that don't belong there, but support the CPC's partisan agenda.  If Canadians don't make a fuss about it, we are reinforcing the message that omnibus bills are a great tool for skirting the process and implementing partisan agendas without scrutiny or transparency.  The people with unpalatable notions will seize on that and apply internal pressure to get what they want, whether it's in Canada's best collective interests or not.
This is why we have to start caring.  To paraphrase Burke, all that is necessary for the triumph of small-minded and harmful policy is for the average Canadian to not pay attention.

Politics Now

Speaking from my minimalist experience, I can tell you politics is a blood sport; loyalty is demanded but scarcely returned, partisan benefit regularly (and increasingly) squeezes out broadly-based good public policy and individual human value counts for nothing.
It's funny - for all the attention paid to developing human narratives in support of partisan ambitions, politics is ultimately a dehumanizing process.  Comparisons to warfare are spot-on except instead of your life, it's your reputation that is constantly on the line. How many front-line staff have had their names torn to shreds in the media, sometimes just for following orders?  
And that's just the external risk.  Political campaigns (which never really end, these days) are kill-or-be-killed scenarios.  When you work an election, you get to see the uglier side of our democracy under high-pressure situations with little food and sleep. Frequently, you are given ample reason to question the people and beliefs you are fighting for. In your devotion to the bigger cause, you'll sometimes even find yourself justifying lapses in your own moral standards.  Unlike war, though, you can't always count on your teammates to have your back; they're just as likely to stick a knife in it if doing so serves their interests.  Where reputations and future success are at stake, you pretty much expect to be abandoned should ever you fall.

A lot of folk in politics believe that empathy is for the weak. These are the political Bill Kilgores that talk about victory but really see nothing but the battle. They will pathologically throw colleagues, staff and even leaders under the bus or download responsibility for their actions, never thinking twice about the consequence for others. It's kill or be killed, they tell themselves. We're doing what everyone else is doing, just more effectively. This probably comes as a surprise to nobody - there's a reason why we don't trust politicians. What's more of a surprise, I'd warrant, is just how many people in politics do have a conscience.
These aren't the folk that are in politics primarily for prestige or position, but because they (perhaps naively) actually believe in the system.  Most of them don't last long.  Those that do invariably end up with at least some innocent blood on their hands.  If you have any shred of decency, the things that you have endured and done to stay alive or support your cause will haunt you long after the election has ended.  Operators likes this wear their political sins like a chain, unseen yet chafing.

There's a reason dedicated campaign staff emerge from from the shadows of elections looking a bit like wraiths themselves, expressing PTSD-like symptoms.  Somewhere along the journey they've started to lose faith in the vision that motivated them in the first place and, therefore, are left to question just what it is they believe in and what they have sacrificed in support of that cause.
Why do we fall, though?  Because sometimes it takes feeling like you're in the bottom of the pit before you can really look around at the every-day people impacted by politics.  You also have to reach the bottom before you have reason to look up and see the light.  I can think of a couple high-profile people who have seen their entire lives dissected on the public stage - that kind of deconstruction invariably leads to some painful introspection as well.  One fella I recently had coffee with is in the process of re-findging himself and trying to figure out what his life should mean.  That was the key thing, though - it has to stand for something. 

Although these folk might not always have faith in themselves, it's the people who question the status quo and suffer from self-dout that give me the most hope

Why's that?

Because while things end, endings don't always mean what we expect them to.

Tuesday 25 September 2012

Who Is Stephen Harper?

As Stephen Harper slowly dismantles Canada's Parliamentary democracy by trouncing all oppositional voices, blatantly misrepresenting facts to the Canadian public, stifling research and blocking our elected officials, even those in his own Party, from doing the job they were elected to do, comparisons to George Orwell's 1984 are growing in number.
I don't think that's particularly accurate.  We know Stephen Harper is a real person, and he certainly doesn't attempt mind control.  There are enough tools out there for the populace to get the real skinny, should they care to.  But they don't.  It seems like every week there is a new scandal of some sort emerging from his Party, airplanes and misspent dollars and vital facts ignored, like the impact of policy on the well-being of employees.  Again, it's all out there, but we're too comfortable to put in the due-diligence and get the other side of the story.  Harper knows this and has played on our collective, willful ignorance to great effect.
Harper's self-proclaimed big policy narrative has been to make Canada a strong presence on the global stage, both economically and militarily.  That sounds good, but what he's really been doing is undercutting our front-line troops, turning the military into a political office and now, he's even shrinking our diplomatic presence overseas.  Those pesky separatists are stating to make noise again, too - Canada, they say, isn't working for them.  Harper will continue to ignore this fact until and unless separatists start taking actions bolder than hiding the Maple Leaf.  If that happens, it could quite likely be after Harper has left the federal stage and returned to his beloved Alberta, swimming in oil wealth.  In a Canada wracked with financial and constitutional challenges, it might just be time to  get back to his business of firewall building.
What Stephen Harper is, first and foremost, is a cunning politician who knows how to play the game in the long-term interests of his Party and his home province.  Sadly, that kind of thinking comes at the expense of an atrophying Canada.   His political pundits will tell me I'm a nut-wing socialist for suggesting that Harper is anything other than the best Prime Minister in the history of the parliamentary system and certainly won't agree that Canada's international reputation continues to plummet under Harper's watch.  Any examples I cite from people who work in international diplomacy, foreign news or stories of Canadian travellers back depressed at how they aren't getting the same kind of cheerful response they used to will be dismissed, ignored or criticized as propaganda.  Why deal with the evidence when you're convinced you can make up reality as you go?
But that's Harper's ambitious little political circle.  What of Harper as an individual?  He's a man who appears to think of himself as the smartest in any room, is deeply suspicious and perhaps even contemptuous of people who he feels "don't get" what he sees as the fundamentals of economics or his particular world view.  Harper has essentially declared political war on creative/collective types like artists, socialists, environmentalists, human rights advocates.  While our Prime Minister by no account enjoys the political spotlight, he's supposedly quite funny and engaging in his smaller circle of like-minded individuals.  Though I'm sure that circle defines those terms differently than the rest of us might. 
There's a pattern of behaviour here, familiar to anyone who has read Atlas Shrugged.  Perhaps it's not Big Brother that Harper is modelling himself after - maybe in his heart of hearts, he sees himself more as the real-life manifestation of the fictional John Galt.

Monday 24 September 2012

Christina Blizzard: Education Hypocrite

Christina Blizzard thinks Full Day Kindergarten is bad.  To her, FDK is a luxury that carries a whopping $1.5 billion price tag and comes at at time when it's not business as usual any more for Ontario's economy.  She has referred to FDK as full-day babysitting.  What's more, she has made it clear she believes becoming a parent shouldn't be a lifestyle choice.  Children, after all, aren't fashion accessories.
Tell me if I'm wrong, but what I get from this is that parents need to be responsible for their kids and shouldn't expect the public dollar to support the out-of-school care for their children.  If you're going to be a parent, you should be accountable for the well-being of your own child.  Right?  
Unless, of course, Blizzard is talking about extra-scholastic activities, traditionally referred to as "extra-curricular" because they aren't part of the mandated curriculum (and are therefore voluntary).  These are things like basketball practice that give kids motivation to get out of bed in the morning. 
While it's wrong for parents to expect the public sector to provide full-day babysitting to their kids on the public's dime, when it comes to after-school time, it's the teachers who are using students as pawns in their battle with government over the Putting Students First by suspending extra-scholastic activities.  Teachers, according to Blizzard, are focused on the financials, not the kids. 
So, when it comes to FDK, the government should focus on the financials and not be paying for daycare; that's the parents' job.  When it comes to post-school activities, though, the teachers are wrong to focus on financials and should be doing the parent's job of providing extra-scholastic activity for their kids.
These two positions are not in agreement.
But there's more:
Were her kids the ones yearning for after school basketball as a reason to get out of bed in the morning?  If that's what it took to get her children out of bed, why should public sector teachers be responsible for motivating them?  Many Jewish parents are happy to pay to have their children educated according to their beliefs.  If it's commendable for some parents to pay out-of-pocket to ensure their children are educated according to their beliefs, shouldn't parents who want their kids to play sports after school be willing to pay for them, too?  This includes teachers who are parents; I know many a teacher that still pays for daycare while they're providing extra-curriculars to other people's kids. 
In fact, when you pay for private after-school activities, you help create jobs and support the economy.  When you expect the public sector to pick up your slack, you deny private-sector opportunities and add to the burden on the public purse.  Finance Minister Dwight Duncan suggested this very thing when, asked who was responsible for Ontario's massive deficit, he said “It’s everybody’s fault. We’ve all done this.”
But Blizzard disagrees.  "Well, count me out, Dwight. I have no comfy government pension. I don’t make it to the Sunshine list of $100,000 earners. Speak for yourself."  It was the fault of teachers, unions and government that her kids didn't have a fulfilling school experience; she's not on the sunshine list so perhaps can't afford cushy after-school activities.  But it's the fault of people not her that we have a deficit; people like single mothers looking for government to give them welfare to care for their kids.  Care for their kids during the day, that is - not after school.  That's clearly different.
You can't have it both ways, Ms. Blizzard.  You can't object to parents having the choices they want to make for their children disregarded if they expect someone else to take responsibility for enacting those choices.  Either parents are individually responsible for the well-being of their kids or society is a collective effort that we all have to take responsibility for. 
Which is it?