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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.

Friday 5 October 2012

Team Trudeau and Post-Partisan Politics

This article has gotten flack in some circles because backroom operators are speaking to the media.  That's not the way things are done, say the old-school masters.  Staff are to be neither seen nor heard.
Little niggling problem with that - they are being seen and are being heard, whether that's intended or not.  Average Canadians know there are Mandarins in the shadows, pulling strings and working their Machiavellian stratagems.  That's a big reason people don't trust politics, because too much of it happens behind closed doors.  We don't trust politicians to some degree because we don't know what or who is informing their choices.
Now, I am admittedly biased - I have enormous respect for Katie Telford - but I'm also an absolute believer in the notion that people deserve to know what's going on and, when you hold yourself open to public scrutiny, the public helps keep you honest.  It's like going to the doctor's office; when the practitioner lets you know what they're doing, you have more comfort in the process.
I also believe in the notion of Post-Partisanship, which is essentially about overcoming tribal differences and seeking common ground.  There's a political cycle that happens with Left and Right tacks, with one wave constantly undoing the work of the last.  It's inefficient.  The wisest course of action is to collaborate and find solutions that will stand the test of time.  That goes for backroom folk, too.  Getting out and talking isn't about a moment in the sun, it's about engaging in a national, post-partisan dialogue that's open and transparent to all.
We can do this, if we do so consciously.

Apps Opening the World

Technology catapults the world ahead into new realms of opportunity.  Without tools that serve special needs, however, too many get left behind. 
Apps can change that.  Apps are changing that.

Thursday 4 October 2012

What Science Says About Successful Bosses

There is mounting evidence that standard, aggressive management styles are simply not good at motivating innovative success.  Smart leaders are paying attention.  It's all about the cognitive labour, folks!

What Science Says About Successful Bosses

A new scientific study of managers reveals the character traits that lead to success.

Over the past year, I've been writing a book about the future of sales and marketing with Howard Stevens, chairman of the leadership assessment firm Chally. As part of a decades-long research project, Chally has gathered extensive personality data about 150,000 salespeople, including 9,000 sales managers.
Last week, I had a conversation with Howard where he described the results of a statistical analysis on the cumulative data on sales managers. While the data set is specific to sales, I believe that personality traits that emerged apply to any management position.
According to the success vs. failure statistics that Howard shared with me, successful bosses tend to be:

1. Humble Rather Than Arrogant

Failed bosses defined their role as some form of telling people what to do. Employees perceived them as obnoxious know-it-alls who wouldn't let them do their job.
Successful bosses put themselves and their own egos into the background. They focused on coaching employees to perform to their highest potential.

2. Flexible Rather Than Rigid

Failed bosses couldn't tolerate change themselves and so found it nearly impossible to get their employees to embrace necessary change.
Successful bosses knew that adapting to new conditions requires personal flexibility in order to inspire similar flexibility throughout the rest of the team.

3. Straightforward Rather Than Evasive

Failed bosses tried to manipulate employees using half-truths that left false impressions. When employees realized they've been fooled, they felt resentful and disloyal.
Successful bosses gave employees the information they need to know to make the best decisions, even if that information is difficult or sensitive.

4. Forward Thinking Rather Than Improvisational

Failed bosses often attempted to run their organizations ad-hoc, constantly shifting gears and directions, creating a more-or-less constant state of confusion.
Successful bosses had a plan and made sure that everyone understood it. They adapted that plan to changing conditions but did so carefully and intentionally.

5. Precise Rather Than Vague

Failed bosses created mushy goals that employees found difficult to map into actual activity. As a result, the wrong things got done and the right things didn't.
Successful bosses let employees know exactly what was expected of them, in sufficient detail so that there was no ambiguity about goals.

6. Patient Rather Than Ill-Tempered

Failed bosses blew up and threw fits when problems cropped up. Their employees became more afraid of doing things wrong than eager to do things right.
Successful bosses confronted problems by listening, considering options, deciding on the best approach, and then communicating what needed to be done.
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Tuesday 2 October 2012

Bringing DC's The Question To The Screen

Political corruption at the municipal level.  Machiavellian manipulations at the federal level.  Citizen unrest.  Foreign threats penetrating the shadows of our society.  Journalistic integrity is under scrutiny due to armchair reporting; people are turning to citizen reporters who aren't always as grassroots as they claim.  Lots of questions, no easy answers - and much less certainty of who to trust.  Perhaps the best hero for the times is not one who has the answer, but one who asks the question.

Sounds like a great backdrop for a TV show, doesn't it?

I was a big fan of Dennis O'Neil's version of The Question.  O'Neil took the original, tough-minded, Objectivist-believing character (on which Watchman's Rorschach was based) and gave him an organic infusion of Taoist philosophy.  The result was a hero unlike any other - seeking justice became his path to enlightenment.
This isn't to say he was dull - The Question had wit, romance, cool fighting and intense bad guys to square off against.  To me, though, it was the almost Old Testament/New Testament dichotomy that was really compelling.  Perhaps even compelling enough to watch.
So, here's my pitch for a Question TV show (that could be cast and filmed right here in Canada):
Against a backdrop of Occupy, civic unrest and heightening political/ethnic tensions, The Question follows Vic Sage, an elbows-up investigative reporter based in Hub City.  Following a lead from his former professor/current medical researcher Theodore "Tot" Rodor, Sage begins to unravel a complex plot that spans from Hub City to Washington to the deserts of Afghanistan.  Using pseudoderm, a skin-like bandage developed by Tot to disguise his famous features, Sage becomes The Question to get the answers that a reporter can't.  With Tot and fellow reporter Myra Connely as his only allies, The Question is in a race against time to stop the plans of a selfish few from spiralling into World War III.
If I were actually a TV writer, I would have made that tighter, but as I'm not, here's the exposition.  Season I would have The Question pursue the Arby Twain story as the A arc.  The B would involve his ongoing investigation of municipal corruption in Hub City, which is Myra's beat.  The C arc would involve a slow reveal of a bigger, League-of-Shadows type threat that's informing everything.  This is where Lady Shiva comes in. 
Season I would end like Battlestar Galactica's first season did, allowing Season II to spin off in a whole new direction and turning Sage towards his real question - what drives him most, a killer instinct or the quest for the truth?  This soul-searching would play off against a changed relationship with Myra, big changes in the city he knows and a growing awareness of a bigger problem to which even his own immediate villains seem oblivious.  I already know how Season II could end, too.
Here are the main characters:

Vic Sage/The Question (Joshua Jackson)

 Sage was born Charles Victor Szasz and raised as an orphan in a tough Catholic orphanage.  Growing into a tough kid with a reputation for aggression, Vic changed his name when he went to university, attempting to get a new start.
When we meet him, he's a relatively well-known talking head with a reputation for wit and tenacity onscreen, but a pit-bull arrogance offscreen.  Becoming The Question is more than a new way for him to tackle his stories; it becomes an outlet for internal turmoil and an excuse not to venture into the dark corners of his mind.  To add a layer, he might even play guitar in a punk band.

Aristotle Rodor (Alan Thicke )

Tot is a cross between James Bond's Q and Quantum Leap's Al, with a bit of Batman's Alfred thrown in to tweak Sage's conscience.  Partially played for comedic relief, Tot also lets us see that under the aggression and thrill-seeking edge, Sage is an intellectual with a deep thirst for knowledge.  This sets The Question up for his story arc transition.  Tot also has his own skeletons to deal with - the big Season I arc involves the misuse of pseudoderm and one of the main bad guys is his former colleague, Arby Twain.

Myra Connely (Ellen Page)

Myra is a woman who fundamentally believes the phrase "what is a bad person but a good person's opportunity?"  She feels being a reporter is a noble profession and one that serves to help government and justice function, not be their watchdog.  Having done some investigating of her own, she knows that Sage is Szaz (but not that he's also The Question); she sees him a a broken man and a chance for her to prove she's right about people on the whole.  Plus, he's not afraid to give or take a hit, meaning he's a good guy to have in her corner as her corruption story goes further and further down the rabbit hole.  She also thinks Sage is cute, but clearly that doesn't shape her opinions.

Introduced in Season I but expanded on in Season II:

Lady Shiva (Steph Song)

Shiva is a cross between Miyamoto Musashi and James Bond.  She's the deadliest human alive and knows it.  She hires out her skills for a high price, takes only the jobs that intrigue her and has continual opportunities to test her skill - but something is missing.  When her path crosses The Question's, she begins to think she knows what that thing is: an unresolved riddle posed by a former teacher.  Shiva believes that violence is the purest form of human nature; her teacher suggests that it's actually the quest for enlightenment.  Sage becomes the personification of this riddle and Shiva's best hope at understanding people in general and herself in particular.  Shiva also plays a shadowy role in a plan that threatens Western civilization, setting her up for an inevitable showdown with her would-be apprentice. 
Richard Dragon (Paul Gross)

Dragon is Obi-wan Kenobi to Shiva's Darth Vader; in Sage, he sees a Luke Skywalker, a path to redemption from his own failure. 

There you have it - an outline for what I think would be an amazing and timely show, cast with some great Canadian talent.  They could even film it in Toronto, you know, so I'm close at hand for production and writing.  I've got a lot more depth developed for this, but we'll start small.


Justin Trudeau Throws In - Here's His Speech

This, then, is Justin Trudeau's Idea of Canada:
The prepared text of Justin Trudeau's speech in Montreal on Tuesday night announcing his leadership bid for the Liberal Party:
Make no small dreams, they have not the power to move the soul." -Goethe
Now that'll take courage, but more than that, it'll take hard, honest work. So let me start by telling you about the folks who taught me that best, here in Papineau.
On this side of the riding, it’s Parc Ex. People from every nation live here. They make this neighborhood so vibrant. On the other side of Jarry Park, Xavier and Ella-Grace’s favourite park, is Villeray, one of those solidly francophone neighborhoods that defines Montreal. Artists and intellectuals live there, but so too do many families.
In the east side of the riding, there is St-Michel, where you find people like my good friend Ali Nestor – a boxer – who teaches us how to fight poverty, social exclusion and, from time to time, conservative senators.
This community is not just remarkable for our diversity of ideas, of cultures, of beliefs. What is truly remarkable is that this diversity thrives peacefully.
Here, we trust each other and we look to the future together.
This trust that binds us together here in Papineau is the trust that binds this country together.
My friends : I love Montreal. I love Quebec.
And I am in love with Canada.
I choose, with all my heart, to serve the country I love. That's why I'm so happy to announce here, tonight, my candidacy for the leadership of the Liberal Party of Canada.
So I’m here to ask for your help, because this road will be one long, Canadian highway. We will have ups and downs. Breathtaking vistas and a few boring stretches. And with winter coming, icy patches.
But we will match the size of this challenge with hard, honest work.
Because hard work is what’s required. Always has been.
Canada’s success did not happen by accident, and it won’t continue without effort. This magnificent, unlikely country was founded on a bold new premise. That people of different beliefs and backgrounds, from all corners of the world, could come together to build a better life for themselves and for their children than they ever could have alone.
This new idea that diversity is strength. Not a challenge to be overcome or a difficulty to be tolerated.
That is the heart and soul of the Canadian success story.
That, and the old fashioned idea of progress. The idea that we owe a sacred duty to Canadians who come after us. To work hard. To build a country that offers them even more than we had. More opportunity, more choices, more success, just as our parents and grandparents did for us.
These are the values that define and unite us.
I have seen a lot of this country. And I can tell you that those values are alive and well, from coast to coast to coast.
My fellow Liberals, these values are not the property of the Liberal Party of Canada. They are not
Liberal values; they are Canadian values.
I’ve too often heard it said in Liberal circles that the Liberal Party created Canada. This, my friends, is wrong.
The Liberal Party did not create Canada. Canada created the Liberal Party.
Canadians created the Liberal Party.
The great, growing and optimistic middle class of the last century created a big-hearted, broad-minded consensus. And built a better country. For themselves, yes. But more important, for each other, and for their children.
Canadians built Medicare.
Canadians built an open and dynamic economy.
Canadians welcomed newcomers from around the world into their communities and businesses.
Canadians developed an independent foreign policy, and when necessary, bled for our values in faraway lands.
Canadians brought their constitution home.
Canadians demanded that their inalienable rights and freedoms be placed above the reach of politics.
And Canadians balanced the budget.
The Liberal Party was their vehicle of choice. It was the platform for their aspirations, not their source.

When we were at our best, we were in touch, open to our fellow citizens and confident enough in them to take their ideas and work with them to build a successful country.
If there is a lesson to be drawn from our party’s past it is not where we landed but how we got there.
We were deeply connected to Canadians. We made their values our values, their dreams our dreams, their fights our fights.
The time has come to write a new chapter in the history of the Liberal Party.
This will be a campaign about the future, not the past. I want to lead a movement of Canadians that seeks to build, not rebuild. To create, not recreate.
After all, we live in a very different world, my friends. Twenty years ago, I was part of the first graduating class at my university to get email. I was of the last group of pre-Google high school teachers.
And now, my kids don’t know there was a world before Blackberries.
But if the way we will build it is new, what we have to build is timeless.
We know what Canadian families want. Good jobs. A dynamic and growing economy that allows us to educate our kids as they mature, and to care for our parents as they age.
We want a compassionate society that pulls together to help the vulnerable, and gives the less fortunate a chance at success.
We know that Canada is the freest society on Earth because we trust each other. So we want a government that looks at Canadians with respect, not suspicion. That celebrates the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. That believes in your choices, your values and your liberty.
Some say that youth carry our future. I say youth are an essential resource for our present. We need to empower all young Canadians, through world-class education, through rich and relevant work experience, and through opportunity to serve their communities and their world. Their voices, their choices, matter deeply, as do their actions: they are already leaders today.
And directly, to our First Nations, the Canadian reality has not been - and continues to not be - easy for you. We need to become a country that has the courage to own up to its mistakes and fix them together, people to people. Your place is not on the margins. It is at the very heart of who we are and what we are yet to become.
We want a foreign policy that will give us hope in the future and that will offer solutions to the world.
We want leadership that fosters and celebrates economic success in all regions of the country. Not leadership that seeds resentment between provinces.
We need to match the beauty and productivity of this great land with a new national commitment to steward it well. My generation understands that we cannot choose between a strong and prosperous economy, and a healthy environment. The conservative approach may work for a few, and for a while. But we know we can’t create long term prosperity without environmental stewardship.
We need to learn what we have forgotten. That the key to growth, to opportunity, to progress, is a thriving middle class. People with good jobs. Families who are able to cope with modern life’s challenges.
A thriving middle class provides realistic hope and a ladder of opportunity for the less fortunate. A robust market for our businesses. And a sense of common interest for all.
The great economic success stories of the recent past are really stories of middle class growth. China, India, South Korea and Brazil, to name a few, are growing rapidly because they have added hundreds of millions of people to the global middle class.
The news on that front is not so good at home; I don’t need to tell you that. You, like our fellow Canadians all over the country, live it every day. Canadian families have seen their incomes stagnate, their costs go up, and their debts explode over the past 30 years.

What’s the response from the NDP? To sow regional resentment and blame the successful. The Conservative answer? Privilege one sector over others and promise that wealth will trickle down, eventually.
Both are tidy ideological answers to complex and difficult questions. The only thing they have in common is that they are both, equally, wrong.
We need to get it right. We need to open our minds to new solutions, to listen to Canadians, to trust them.
And as we face these challenges, the only ideology that must guide us is evidence. Hard, scientific facts and data. It may seem revolutionary in today's Ottawa, but instead of inventing the facts to justify the policies, we will create policy based on facts. Solutions can come from the left or the right, all that matters is that they work. That they help us live - and thrive - true to our values.
Because middle class growth is much more than an economic imperative.
The key to Canadian unity is the shared sense of purpose so hard to define but so deeply felt. The sense that we are all in this together. That when Albertans do well, it creates opportunities for Quebecers. That when Quebecers create and innovate, it echoes across the country and around the world. That whether you’re in St. Boniface or St. John’s, Mississauga or Surrey, we have common struggles and common dreams.
It is the middle class, not the political class, that unites this country. It is the middle class that makes this country great.
We know some Quebeckers want their own country. A country that reflects our values, that protects our language and our culture, that respects our identity.
My friends, I want to build a country too. A country worthy of my dreams. Of your dreams. But for me, that country reaches from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from the Great Lakes to the Grand North.
Quebeckers have always chosen Canada because we know it is the land of our ancestors - who built this country from east to west. They were here to write the first chapters of the great Canadian history of courage, liberty and hope. We have left our footsteps everywhere.
Will we put this history aside now because people of other languages came after us with the same dream of building a better country ? Of course not. Our contribution to Canada is far from over.
I want the Liberal Party to be once again the party that promotes and cherishes the francophone reality of this country. I want my party to support francophone communities across the country. And I want the Liberal Party to be once again the vehicle for Quebeckers to contribute to the future of Canada.
Now my candidacy has been the source of some speculation over the past months. The odd newspaper article has been written. Some have been very odd indeed.
But I said to Liberals after the last election that we need to get past this idea that a simple leadership change could solve our problems.
I believe that still. My candidacy may shine a few extra lights upon us. It may put some people in the bleachers to watch. But what we do with that opportunity is up to us.
All of us.
And when Canadians tune in, we need to prove to them that we Liberals have learned from the past, yes. But that we are one-hundred-per-cent focused on the future.
And not the future of our party: the future of our country.
I am running because I believe this country wants and needs new leadership. A vision for Canada’s future grounded not in the politics of envy or mistrust. One that understands, despite all the blessings beneath our feet, that our greatest strength is above ground, in our people. All Canadians, pulling together, determined to build a better life, a better Canada.
To millions and millions of Canadians, their government has become irrelevant, remote from their daily lives, let alone their hopes and dreams. To them, Ottawa is just a place where people play politics as if it were a game open to a small group, and that appeals to an even smaller one.

They do not see themselves or their values reflected in Ottawa
My friends, we will do better.
This is not a personal indictment of Mr Harper or Mr Mulcair. On the contrary, I honour their commitment and their service. But I think they are both dead wrong about this country. And, I want to tell you, together, we can prove it.
There will be many highs and lows between now and April. And if we work hard and find success, I know there will be many, many more between then and 2015.
I do not present myself as a man with all the answers. In fact, I think we’ve had quite enough of that kind of politics.
But I do know I have a strong sense of this country. Where we’ve been, where we are, and where we want to go. And I believe I can bring new forces to bear on old problems. I can convince a new generation of Canadians that their country needs them. That it values their energy, ingenuity and vision. Together, we can convince young Canadians that serving this great country is its own reward.
I promise you this: if you entrust me with the privilege of leadership, I will work long, hard and tirelessly. I learned first-hand from the people of Villeray, St-Michel and Park Extension that there are no shortcuts, no easy ways to earn trust and support. You have to work at it, day in and day out.
Because that's what it's going to take, and that's what Canadians deserve.
Think about it for a moment: when was the last time you had a leader you actually trusted? And not just the nebulous "trust to govern competently", but actually trusted, the way you trust a friend to pick up your kids from school, or a neighbor to keep your extra front door key? Real trust? That's a respect that has to be earned, step by step.
I feel so privileged to have had the relationship I've had, all my life, with this country, with its land, and with its people.
From my first, determined steps as a toddler to my first, determined steps as a politician: we've travelled many miles together, my friends...
You have always been there for me. You have inspired me, and supported me in good and more difficult times. And you have made me the man and the father I have become.
I chose today to launch this campaign because it is my little brother’s birthday. Michel was killed in an avalanche, doing what he loved, in the country that he loved as much as anyone I have ever known. Michel would be 37 years old today. Every day, I think about him and I remember not to take anything for granted. To live my life fully. And to always be faithful to myself.
At Michel's funeral, my father read from the Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians. Paul wrote, “when I was a child, I spoke as a child. But now that I am a man, I put away childish things.”
It is time for us, for this generation of Canadians to put away childish things. More, it is time for all of us to come together and get down to the very serious, very adult business of building a better country. For ourselves, for our fellow Canadians, and for our children.
We Canadians live in a blessed country. We are the most diverse people on Earth, yet we are peaceful. We are tough but we are compassionate. We are confident, but we work hard and we earn it. We have resources that are the envy of the world.
Let us pledge to one another to match those resources with resourcefulness. Let us rededicate ourselves to the glorious, improbable, work-in-progress that is Canada. And to serve its people through the only party willing to speak to and for all Canadians: the Liberal Party of Canada.
So tonight, Sophie and I draw on our love for our family and offer up all we have in service to Canada, and to each and every one of you.
Join us.

Partisans say the darndest things (By Dan Gardner)

Kids say the darndest things. So do partisans.
Take Vic Toews. The release of 2011 crime statistics this week prompted the public safety minister to say something positively adorable.
“Crime rate down 6 per cent,” Toews tweeted. “Shows CPC tough on crime is working.”
I cracked up when I heard that one. How delightful.
You see, many of the major Conservative crime policies only became law in March, 2012, so it’s cute to suggest they had something to do with the crime rate in 2011. And in any event the crime decline in 2011 was only the continuation of a trend that has been underway for decades.
But what really had me rolling on the floor laughing — or ROTFL, as the kids say — is that in 2011 the homicide rate bucked the long downward trend it has been on since the 1970s and went up. In the past, Stephen Harper has pointed to one year jumps like that as proof that the justice system is broken. But now? Poof! It just disappears. And the decline in the overal crime rate proves the government’s policies are working!
Like I said, adorable.
Now, cynics won’t find this nearly as charming as I do. They’ll say the minister — or rather, the staffer who wrote the tweet — was simply being as cynical as they are. The minister knows all the facts. He knows how nonsensical his claim is. But he made the claim anyway because that’s what cynical politicians do.
That may be. I don’t know. But I doubt it because there really wasn’t much to gain, aside from the scorn of critics like me. I also doubt it because there is another explanation for why the minister made that claim that is at least as plausible.
He said it because he believes it.
Yes, really. He believes it. Even though it’s clearly absurd. He believes it.
Think that’s impossible? Then you don’t know the partisan mind.
For decades, political scientists argued about the role that partisan identification plays in how people perceive facts and form judgments. The view dominant in the 1960s and 1970s was that people identified with a tribe early on in life and this identity became a filter that kept out or distorted information that made the tribe look bad while freely admitting anything that made the tribe look wise and wonderful. The partisan voter thus became “more of a rationalizing voter than a rational one,” as one writer put it.
But with the increasing prominence of rational choice theory — which sees people as rational optimizers of whatever it is they value — scholars developed a very different model of how party identification worked.
People aren’t so biased, they said. They keep a running tally of what a party promises and what it does and they judge that tally according to their own values and beliefs. If they like what they see, they support the party. If they don’t, they don’t.
The newer model was much more flattering to our species. But in 2002, Princeton political scientist Larry Bartels published an influential paper that suggested it was quite wrong.
“Far from being a mere summary of more specific political opinions,” Bartels wrote, “partisanship is a powerful and pervasive influence on perceptions of political events.”
Bartels produced a wide array of evidence, but one set was particularly revealing.
As Bartels noted, simply showing that partisans have very different views on issues doesn’t mean much because those disparities may simply reflect underlying differences in values. But what about facts? If partisan identification is simply a “running tally” it shouldn’t skew how people perceive facts. Facts are facts. Conservative, Liberal, or New Democrat. Republican or Democrat. They should all agree on the facts.
But they don’t. Not even close.
The American National Election Studies (ANES) is a series of scholarly voter surveys conducted during and after each presidential election. Bartels found that the 1988 surveys asked a number of factual questions about the 1980 to 1988 period — the Reagan era.
“Would you say that compared to 1980, the level of unemployment in the country has gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse?” read one. “Would you say that compared to 1980, inflation has gotten better, stayed about the same, or gotten worse?” read another.
The correct answers to these questions were unequivocal: In 1980, unemployment and inflation were both high; in 1988, both were much lower. But Americans were far from unanimous in agreeing to these facts, which might simply demonstrate ignorance except for one critical fact: The disagreement broke sharply along partisan lines.
Most self-identified moderate Republicans said unemployment and inflation had declined. Even more strong Republicans agreed.
But only a minority of moderate Democrats agreed that unemployment and inflation were down. Only a small minority of “strong Democrats” agreed. In fact, roughly half of strong Democrats actually said that unemployment and inflation had gotten worse during the eight years in which a Republican they loathed had been president.
It was a stunning demonstration that partisan identification distorted even the perception of basic facts. And it wasn’t the only one. Bartels found the same partisan divide in the 2000 ANES survey — except this time it was Republicans who denied basic facts that reflected well on an outgoing Democratic president.
For psychologists, it was sweet vindication since Bartels’ findings fit perfectly with cognitive dissonance theory — which holds that the stronger someone’s commitment to a belief is the greater the mental contortions he will undergo to protect that belief from contrary information. Ignore. Rationalize. Even turn upside down. The strongly committed person will do whatever it takes — and wind up saying something goofy as a result.
Of course that isn’t inevitable. People can and do maintain a critical distance, examine their perceptions and beliefs, ask if they really make sense or not, and even overturn them when necessary. But that’s hard mental work under any circumstances. When committment is extreme — as it is with any fierce partisan — it’s exhausting.
It’s so much easier to go with the psychological flow and say the darndest things.
Dan Gardner’s column appears Wednesday and Friday. E-mail:

Read more:

The Partisan Mind

People really don't like this concept.  They prefer to think they are in complete control of their thoughts and actions.  Alas, evidence doesn't seem to point that way.
The brain is a storage, filter and executive command system; it has its own internal threat-assessment guide that you didn't consciously build - evolution and life experience have done that for you.  But, like every other part of your body, the mind can be harnessed and channeled:

If Justin Trudeau is The White Knight - Does That Make Harper The Dark Knight?

In the Chris Nolan Batman movies, the White Knight was Harvey Dent - all charm, promise and vision ultimately done in by The Joker (I'm trying to picture Mulcair in that role - just not happening).  It was The Dark Knight that bore the weight of the dirty work, keeping internal and external bad guys at bay.  This kinda fits with the brand Harper has tried to paint for himself.
What kind of Batman would Harper make?
Picture our Prime Minister, working alone in his office when the CP-signal lights up the sky.  He stands, slowly removing his glasses.  "It's time.  Poilievre, warm up the f35!"  Harper takes the fireman's pole hidden in Langevin Block down to the CPC war room, and makes for the locker holding his cape and cowl. 

Loyal servant Poilevre briefs the Bat-Minister as he Walks-and-Stalks to the plane - Pauline Marois is holding another event sans the Maple Leaf!  "I'll look into it," says the Caped Legislator, as he throttles the ignition and blasts out of the hidden entrance overlooking the Rideau.  "Baird can go over the GG's head", he says to himself - "but I fly under it."
The Harper-plane swoops into Quebec, zeroing in on the rally.  People need dramatic examples to shake them out of socialist/separatist ways, Harper thinks to himself.  I can't do that as Prime Minister, but as an angry man in a cape... his Huawei-made tracking system shakes him out of his reverie as the convention centre looms ever closer.  Harper puts his f35 in hover mode (that's what's really been redacted) and readies his grappling gun. 
Marois steps out of the rally surrounded by a protective swarm of supporters.  It's no use.  Harper's precision shot tags the Quebec Premier in the leg, hooking her pants.  Before she can even scream, Marois is hoisted into the air where the Bat-Minister waits.  He wastes no time on pleasantries.
"Where is the Maple Leaf?" he growls at the terrified, upside-down Premier.
"I'm sorry!" she cries in desperation, blood rushing to her head. "I'll bring it next time!  I swear, to Canada!"
"Swear to me!" comes the guttural reply. 
With no time for questions, the conversation is over; Marois drops swiftly to the ground as the Harperplane disappears into the darkness.  Somewhere out there, Harper muses, Justin Trudeau is planning the destruction of his Canada.  There is still work to be done.

Trudeau Welcomes the Challenge

Imagine that - a leader and team that actively welcome challenging ideas, knowing that it's through honest and open debate that best solutions will be arrived at.  What's also encouraging is that Trudeau has no fear about putting his skin in the game (going to Alberta - love it!).  HE wants to be tested - but is this solely to prove to others what he's capable of, or partially about pushing his own personal boundaries?
Here's hoping this is a campaign that throws political conventions on their ears.  That would not only send opposition into a tizzy, but might just inspire Canadians as well.

Monday 1 October 2012

Tim Powers - Taking Partisanship Too Far

Partisan politics isn't about doing or saying what's right - it's about what will either build up your brand or tear down your opponent.  Fair's got nothing to do with it - judgements are crafted by the victors.  This is why virulent partisanship fails our country.
I think sometimes the backroom folk get so caught up in their quest for political dominance that they forget how to see their opponents (and even their own teammates) as people.  Respected adversaries, perhaps, but ones to be torn down by whatever means can be gotten away with.  That's where spin comes in - as much as spin is about reframing the narrative for an audience, it's about dopping your own integrity to do what you feel you have to do in the darkness.
Yeah, that's right - I'm looking at you, Tim Powers.
Powers seems to be really good at this.  He sees no reason to question some of the questionable acts committed by the State of Israel.  He suggests that, by casting aspersions on the actions of a State actor, Omar Alghabra is expressing Anti-Semitic sentiments (although he very carefully, or very fearfully, never says this plainly).  Correct me if I'm wrong, Tim, but there are a fair number of Jews in the broader diaspora that question some of the State of Israel's choices.  Does that suggest they are Anti-Semitic Jews?
How about Canadians?  I definitely question a whole host of actions - some that seem pretty blatantly bigoted  - committed by our current Conservative government (PS - the parrot is dead, Tim).  Does that make me anti-Canadian?  I'm sure both Tim and I take issue with Quebec separatists - does that, then, make us anti-French?
Of course, if you follow the thread of Powers' argument carefully, you'll realize it's all just a slight of wordcraft.  He uses analogies that aren't apt, but in so doing never addresses the matter directly.  He talks around the issue, rather than saying what he's suggesting in clear prose.  But we're not meant to look behind the curtain of spin and Powers rests assured that, busy as we are, we won't.  He wants to make this dig stick, especially as his professional spin-meister skills are being challenged, but it gets harder for him to keep his top from tilting as he goes on.  How much of that is out of professional pride and political gamesmanship - and how much because deep down, he's got a big case of cognitive dissonance going on?
I get how politics is played.  It's a two-dimensional arms race for political clout and voter blocks; with us or against us, our guys are perfect, yours are out to destroy the country.  We're not sanctimonious, we're justified - it's the other guys who have sold their soul for a seat at the table.  What partisan politics loses, however, is sincerity and integrity
That's as true for individuals as it is for Parties on the whole.  I wonder, in his quiet moments, if Powers questions whether he has abused his position and gone too far.  I imagine he does, and that this doubt lingers like a splinter in his mind.  Some of his fellow political warriors pour their challenged faith into songs or blogs or prayer.  I wonder if Tim does something like that.
Don't worry, Tim - if not, I'm sure somebody's praying for you.

What Do Omar Khadr and Pussy Riot Have In Common?


Two governments trying to look tough and decisive are facing legal cases that are causing all kinds of political headaches.  Things are way out of hand with Pussy Riot - a political statement/publicity stunt that should have merited at most a slap on the wrist and some discouraging words has seen musicians treated like terrorists and their children left as collateral damage.  Where Omar Khadr is concerned, the jury of political opinion has largely condemned a man on hearsay; the facts don't matter when your emotions lead.
The broader legal ramifications are less of a concern in Putin's Russia than they are in Harper's Canada.  Although there is much in common between the political approach of these two men, we have a much stronger domestic legal system here.  Despite what polls and pundits might be telling us, Canadians are far less receptive to legal rights being trampled in the name of security.  When we are made to question the stances we have taken on Khadr - and we will be - I can guarantee there will be some displays of cognitive dissonance across the nation.
Which is a good thing, because there is much to question.  We Western countries like to believe we are bastions of free speech and tolerance; some pundits have, in essence, told those who took offense to The Innocence of Muslims to calm down or get a life.  Yet we are happy to vilify a child-soldier in the absence of fact and we are willing to lock up young women performers because they offended someone's religious sensibilities.  Here in Canada, we even threaten activists whose opinion we disagree with and attack officials who try to shed light on uncomfortable facts.
Both Harper and Putin are praying that their little legal bundles of joy will just somehow go away.  That's not going to happen.  The choices they have made or refused to make will have consequences, which is as it should be.  Justice is supposed to be blind, but it seems it's our leaders trying to block out inconvenient truths.