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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 13 October 2012

The Outing of Reddit's Violentacr​ez, The Biggest Troll on the Web


Everyone is always worried that their ability to spout off irresponsibility about whatever is challenged when anonymity is breached.  It's not.  Free speech isn't the issue - responsibility of speech is.  What you post on line, you own.  If you aren't prepared to live personally with the consequences to your friends, family and employment, think through how much pain your could be causing for another family out there with senseless posts or cruel pictures.  It could be a family like Amanda Todds' that you're hurting.  Don't fight for the right to act without consequence, because such a right does not exist.  Focus on building personal responsibility, on consciousness instead.
Free speech is out there in dozens of mutating forms and always will be.  In fact, it's never been easier for average folk to watch the watchers.  That's not what's bugging folk like Violentacrez - it's the notion of accountability.  It's a funny thing how, with their own reputations on the line, people tend to be a bit more considerate of each other.  When you expose yourself to such a degree, you'll find that eventually, the truth will set you free.

A Comprehensive Mental Health Strategy: The Liberal Party Game Changer

"If the Liberal Party could develop a comprehensive mental health strategy…I honestly believe it would be a game changer."

I'm inclined to agree with that.  Harper has had his chance, with lots of encouragement, too - perhaps it's up to someone else to carry this torch forward.

Friday 12 October 2012

Winter Is Coming

Lead By Example and Stop Bullying

I'm sure her bullies are among the grieving. 
Here's a question for you - is it a dog-eat-dog world where only the most competitive survive?  Do you have to be tough to get ahead?  That's frequently how office politics works.  It's certainly how politics proper works.  Now, with clamp-downs on information flow, a reduction in social supports and heightened security measures, that's how government policy is working.   
If you really believe that a job is the best social program and that people should fight aggressively for the positions that are out there, then you must feel this young woman was a whiner unwilling to do what it takes to survive in this world.  Terrible thing that she killed herself, but probably best all around. 
Does that shock you?  Why would it?  We all buy in to political attack ads that denigrate individuals.  That's bullying.  Despite all the talk about mental health in the work place, aggressive micro-management and bosses with tempers are tolerated as "management styles."  Really, though, that's bullying, too.  When staff get that favoured talk, "look to your left, look to your right, one of you is going to be gone," that's a way of fostering healthy competition - by encouraging your team to work against each other and come out on top. 
It drives me nuts when people try to tell me "but it's different."  In what way is it different?  Is taunting not bullying when it comes from Members of Parliament?  Is calling people useless or worthless not bullying if it's someone's boss saying the lines? 
We might not like to look at it this way, but we have a whole culture of bullying:
  • Studies have shown that protracted exposure to stress caused by living in an uncivil environment lowers morale and increases the chances of developing coronary heart disease and other illnesses
  • The American Psychological Association has estimated that workplace stress (considering absenteeism, loss of productivity, medical expenses and turnover) costs U.S. businesses about $300 billion a year
    Bullied teens commit suicide.  Bullied employees underperform, take anxiety meds, end up in ERs thinking they're going to have heart attacks and snap at their families.  Folk at the bottom of the social ladder bullied by the social system find their own ways to excise their pent-up cortisolEven people in prison being treated like rats in cages engage in self-harm.  Folk will say that adults should be tougher, that a bit of aggressive smack is healthy for workplace competition, etc. Nobody can ever tell me why, other than to use the confabulated excuse "it's different." That's not good enough.
    She's missing the point.  Bullying isn't an add-on behaviour - it's genetic.  Aggressive people bully.  They tend to get ahead that way, too, encouraging more of the same.  People under resource pressures - like those who are worried about their economic stability when a pink slip comes in the mail - react biologically to their stress with a flight or fight response.  Fight might mean bullying the staffer next to you; flight might mean suicide.
    We live with this head-smacking cognitive dissonance that bullying is bad but that the solution largely rests in the hands of the bullied.  We deplore bullying in one context when we ourselves are bullies in another.  The why is easy - we don't want to accept that just maybe, we're responsible and to avoid causing future such challenges, it's us, not them, that need to change.
     Bullying if a form of aggressively controlling or minimizing threats from opponents for resources, pure and simple.  Very useful genetic tool to have in a survival-of-the-fittest environment, it lets you remove opposition.  Rather detrimental in a social context, though, as we can see.
    The more resource-challenged people are, the more aggressive or despondent they will become.  People who are supremely focused on getting themselves ahead will do so at the expense of others, reducing threats through tactics that embody the very essence of bullying.  We like to question the "mental health" of people who commit suicide, but perhaps we should be be dedicating an equal amount of energy looking at the cognitive functioning of their bullies.
    It's a culture shift that needs to happen if we are to ever address bullying properly.  We owe this to every future Amanda Todd, their families and their communities.  Our leaders can decry bullying all they want, but until they start leading by example and exhibiting the behaviour they wish to nurture in our youth, our workplaces and in civil society, no one is going to listen.

    Thursday 11 October 2012

    What Has Happened Before...

    There are so many trends pointing to how this can all go terribly wrong.  The Harper government is erroding democracy.  The people who don't care aren't the ones that are finding themselves in dire straits or in prison.  Those folk believe the government doesn't recognize them as citizens anyway.
    Prison is increasingly becoming a place of revenge, not justice, setting the fuse on a cycle we have seen many, many times before.
    This is what happens when you think you can make the rules up as you go.  Those who ignore history, etc...

    Transforming schools an entire system at a time (by Michael Fullan)

    Improving education is at the top of many governments' agendas. Recent large-scale efforts yield useful lessons for relatively quick whole-system reform.

    October 2012 | by Michael Fullan
    The deliberate attempt to use “change knowledge” to bring about whole-system reform in schools is barely 15 years old. By change knowledge, I mean ideas and strategies that cause the system to move forward in performance, especially when it comes to raising the bar and closing the gap for all students. By whole-system reform, I mean all schools in the state, province, or country, and all levels from local to intermediate and state.
    My colleagues and I began to get some clear ideas of the do’s and don’ts of large scale reform when a group of us evaluated the literacy-numeracy reform that was launched by the United Kingdom in 1997—large scale to be sure, as it addressed the performance of the over 20,000 primary schools in England. We drew four lessons from this partially successful reform effort, two negative and two positive.
    First, on the negative side, we found that depending too heavily on targets turns out to be a distraction. England had set as targets 80 percent for literacy and 75 percent for numeracy from a starting base of some 60 percent. They did progress to about 75 percent, but then for various reasons leveled off and declined in subsequent years. Overreliance on quantitative targets turns out to be a temporary boost at best. Second, a negative approach to accountability—name, shame, and improve—also turns out to be of questionable use in the mid to long term.
    On the positive side of the equation, two components did turn out to have strong value. One was focus and the other was capacity building. Focus meant selecting core educational-improvement goals and staying with them relentlessly. Capacity building consisted of strategies that systematically developed the skills, resources, and motivation of individuals and groups to put in the effort to get results, as well as to sustain that improvement effort.
    During this same period, stimulated in part by the introduction of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), governments around the world developed an interest in the state of school-system performance and how to improve it. Biannually since the year 2000, PISA has been assessing the performance of 15-year-olds in literacy, math, and science starting with the 30-plus OECD countries and then rapidly expanding to the current number of close to 70 countries. The question is now front and center: how do you improve all systems in reasonably short periods of time, such as 6 to 10 years?
    In this short article, I do not attempt to answer this question in detail. Rather, my goal is to give some directional advice and illustrate what that advice looks like in practice. There are at least four dilemmas that must be continuously addressed:
    1. The accountability dilemma
    2. The policy-overload dilemma
    3. The capacity-building dilemma
    4. The sustainability dilemma
    The key to understanding accountability is to realize that no system that relies primarily on external control can be sustained. Therefore policy makers must design, monitor, and improve systems that ensure built-in accountability on the part of the implementers. The idea is to achieve forms of accountability that are based on both internal commitments to the users of the system and on commitments to the public. We have found that effective accountability is first a function of good data used primarily as a strategy for improvement, second a degree of “nonjudgmentalism” that reduces the culture of blame, third widespread transparency about results and about what’s working and not working, and last a drive to intervene in order to build capacity for progress.
    Policy overload happens when governments fall into the trap of developing plans that are too complex, too vague, and contain too many priorities. Policy overload results in a lack of focus, fragmented priorities, and a sense of an endless stream of ad hoc initiatives. Successful reform plans are designed as much for the implementers—that is, the teachers and school and district leaders—as they are for the planners themselves. The overall plan must be actionable, reasonably clear, and lead to widespread ownership.
    The centerpiece of all successful whole system reform cases is capacity building—the development of individual and group efficacy when it comes to new skills, resources, and motivation. Put another way, all the failures we observed had a weak capacity-building core. In fact, governments tend to underestimate the need for capacity building or try to address it in weak, individualistic ways. The bottom line for those engaged in whole-system reform is that the core strategy must focus on thorough and widespread capacity building, especially the collective capacity of groups.
    The fourth issue is sustainability. If a transformation program addresses the first three dilemmas successfully, it is most likely well on its way to greater sustainability. Focus, integrating accountability and capacity building, and developing widespread leadership relative to the agenda all contribute to greater sustainability. Widespread leadership includes leaders developing other leaders to carry out the core agenda.
    There is no single model for addressing whole-system reform. Particular models will vary according to the starting point and context. For example, if a system has extremely low capacity and is very large in size, as is the case for many developing countries, it will call for certain approaches that are more direct at the early stages. Below I address the core attributes of the whole-system reform model we developed in Ontario, which has achieved widespread success since 2004. The value of this model has been documented by several external case studies, and the model is based on a good deal of research and evidence from around the world.

    The Ontario case

    Ontario is Canada’s largest province, home to over 13 million people and a public education system with roughly 2 million students, 120,000 educators, and 5,000 schools. As recently as 2002, this system was stagnant by virtually any measure of performance. In October 2003, a new provincial government (Canada has no federal agency or jurisdiction in education) was elected with a mandate and commitment to transform it.
    Improvements began within a year, and some eight years later, the province’s 900 high schools have shown an increase in graduation rates from 68 percent (2003–04) to 82 percent (2010–11), while reading, writing, and math results have gone up 15 percentage points across its 4,000 elementary schools since 2003. Fewer teachers and principals leave the profession in the first few years, and achievement gaps have been substantially narrowed for low-income students, the children of recent immigrants, and special-education students. In short, the entire system has dramatically improved.
    In brief, the strategy consisted of assertive goals and high expectations from the government, combined with a commitment to partner with the education sector in order to develop capacity and ownership in the service of student achievement. The key factors were:
    1. Relentless and focused leadership at the center (in this case, the Ontario government)
    2. A small number of ambitious goals, specifically higher levels of literacy and numeracy and improved high-school graduation rates
    3. A positive stance toward the schools, districts, and teachers
    4. A core strategy of capacity building to improve the quality of instruction
    5. Transparency of results and use of data for improvement purposes
    6. A nonpunitive approach to accountability
    7. Learning from implementation, by disseminating best practices both vertically and across schools and districts
    8. Fostering leadership at all levels to drive and support items 1-7

    The conclusion to be drawn is that systems will be successful if they focus on a small number of key strategic elements, deploy them in concert, build capacity on the part of the implementers, persist with the process over time, and monitor and learn as they go in relation to actual results and effective practices.

    About the author

    Michael Fullan is professor emeritus of the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education of the University of Toronto. He is currently special adviser to the premier and minister of education in Ontario. Fullan has published widely on educational change and leadership. His most recent book is Change Leader: Learning to Do What Matters Most.

    Citizens: The untapped resource (By Matthew Taylor)


    Seeing citizens as sources of innovation and co-producers of services, rather than just consumers, opens new possibilities for a more productive government.

    October 2012 | by Matthew Taylor

    Here is a question I often ask public-sector audiences but to which I rarely get a correct response: which public service has, over the last decade or so, been through the most radical shift from being delivered to essentially passive users to being co-produced by provider and consumer?
    The answer is refuse collection. Recycling rates in England still lag behind many other European countries but they are rising quickly. Between 1997 and 2009, the proportion of household waste recycled or composted rose fivefold from 8 percent to 40 percent. Although the cost to local authorities has also risen, higher recycling is an affordable national objective because more and more householders now accept a significant degree of responsibility for managing their rubbish.
    The evolution of refuse collection shows a route down which more public services need to travel. Even before the credit crunch and subsequent squeeze on spending, we here at the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) had identified what we termed the social aspiration gap. This lies between the broad hopes most citizens have for the future and the trajectory on which current attitudes and behaviors have set us. To be sure, effective policy and technological advances are important to closing this gap, but equally important is enabling citizens to be active partners in building the future to which they aspire.
    Generally, democratically accountable governments and their citizens share objectives. We all want children to do well at school, vulnerable elders to be safe and treated with dignity, our neighborhoods to be pleasant and secure. Yet in both the old, paternalistic way of thinking and the more modern consumerist model, the assumption tends to be that these are outcomes that the state should provide as entitlements. As the gap between what we want and expect and what is affordable grows, this way of thinking has to change.
    After all, we know that one of the most important determinants of a child’s educational attainment is parental engagement; that eating well, staying fit, and following medical advice is much more significant to the nation’s health than surgical survival rates are; and that no police force can cope if a community lacks the basic social norms and responsible behaviors that underpin public safety. This is why the RSA has suggested a new way of measuring the effectiveness of public services: higher social productivity is achieved when government agencies enable people to make a greater contribution to meeting their own needs individually and collectively.
    In case this seems too abstract or idealistic, the field of social care provides another example. Ten years ago, the demand of many disabled adults and their carers for more choice and control over the services they received was a problem for public-sector managers. But now the majority of these clients are allocated their own budgets, giving them either direct access to cash payments or control over how a budget held in their name is spent. The grants may be modest but people can use their resource entitlement in the way that best suits them; perhaps paying family or friends to provide flexible care and support or clubbing together with other clients to purchase bespoke activities. One group of clients living in a mental health facility, for example, bought gym equipment to share and to provide a focus for socializing. Also, some of the money local authorities used to spend on dividing up fixed services among clients can now be channeled to direct payments.
    The example of direct payments highlights an important aspect of the social-productivity way of thinking: seeing clients and citizens not just as a source of demands that must be managed but also as assets that can be exploited for good. David Halpern, who is currently an adviser to Prime Minister David Cameron, has described what he calls the “hidden wealth” that lies in the space between the state and the market. This is a society or neighborhood’s capacity for resilience, compassion, trust, and creativity, driven not by profit or regulation but by shared values and aspirations.
    To engage and empower people, local agencies need a nuanced and multidimensional understanding of citizens and service users. Mapping community assets is also an important tool for service designers in the pursuit of greater social productivity. New UK-based companies like Participle and Think Public, as well as more established global giants like IDEO, are developing novel solutions to long-standing problems. A recurrent theme in their work is how better to engage and mobilize citizens as active partners in generating public value. One impressive example, from Participle, is Southwark Circles, a system serving a deprived borough in South London. Based on extensive community engagement, the service, which received seed-corn funding from the local authority, combines paid staff, volunteers, and an affordable membership scheme for elders and caregivers to fill the gap in support for older people at home that has been left as shrinking services concentrate on those most acutely in need. Services might include computer lessons, gardening, or routine home repairs. Participle now has public funding to scale up Circles across London and in many other parts of the UK.
    Arguably, there is no shortage of new ideas for more effective public-service interventions; the harder challenge is turning these into viable social business propositions. In England, the government is hoping that the creation of a new £600 million Big Society Capital fund to back new business ideas can mesh with the growing use by public agencies of contracts for services that are paid for based on results to generate a vibrant social-enterprise sector.
    Still, perhaps, the hardest part of realizing the potential of social productivity is creating the necessary culture shift. A senior UK politician tells the story of a local primary school that tried every form of intervention to tackle a long-standing problem with the mathematical attainment of boys from Bangladeshi backgrounds. It was only when in desperation they brought the boys’ parents into school that they stumbled onto the solution. It turned out the boys’ fathers didn’t have the confidence to help their sons with math homework. After a few lessons with the dads, the boys’ attainment was flying high. Many schools see parental engagement as a chore, marginal to teaching and learning, but as this case study demonstrates, seeing children’s education as a shared goal and widening the school’s span of influence to the broader community provided a simple and cost-effective solution to what had seemed an intractable problem.
    Around the world, there are hundreds of great examples of this more holistic, upstream way of thinking about social problems and solutions. If we are to close the aspiration gap, we need the goal of greater social productivity to be at the very heart of public service strategy.

    About the author

    Matthew Taylor is chief executive of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), a London-based nonprofit organization dedicated to finding innovative solutions to social challenges. Prior to this appointment, he was chief adviser on political strategy to the prime minister.

    The servant state (by Daron Acemoglu)


    The strongest governments will be those that serve the people rather than a political elite—but guarding against the potential to backslide requires constant vigilance.

    October 2012 | by Daron Acemoglu
    Twenty years ago this spring, Los Angeles was shaken by riots after four police officers were tried and acquitted of the beating of Rodney King, a young African-American. On March 3, 1991, King had been driving intoxicated and disobeyed police orders. Unarmed and on the ground after being hit by a Taser stun gun, King was struck repeatedly with batons and suffered a fractured facial bone and broken right ankle, among other injuries. It remains one of the best-known cases of police brutality in the public memory, but the problem continues to recur—in the fall of 2011, for instance, protesters with the Occupy movement endured harsh police measures in many US cities.
    These episodes may seem far removed from the famous—and ongoing—debate over the role of the state in the economy and society. This debate revolves around the contrast between the night-watchman state, which is entrusted with the minimal enforcement of law and order, and the interventionist or “nanny” state, which is supposed to regulate and provide incentives to improve the allocation of resources and influence social behavior. Both perspectives implicitly accept Max Weber’s definition of the political state as the entity that has the “monopoly of legitimate violence” in society. This monopoly has implications: the state and its agents have the power to coerce, and it is an unfortunate part of human nature that this power will be misused in every society.
    The abuse of this power is at the root of what James Robinson and I have called extractive institutions in our book Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty. Extractive institutions benefit a politically powerful elite by taking resources from the majority of society. To accomplish this, elites must use the coercive power of the state. This power was on display when Spanish conquistadors reduced the native population of South America to servant status in encomiendas or to forced labor in the mita system in the mines of Peru and Bolivia. It was this power that enabled English, French, and Spanish colonists to create plantation societies based on the ruthless exploitation of slave labor in the Caribbean. It was also this power that formed the foundation of the apartheid state in South Africa, which lasted until 1994, barring black Africans from almost all skilled occupations and giving them little choice but to work as cheap labor in white-owned mines and farms. In these societies, it was crucial that the elite could exercise the state’s power without significant constraints, making its agents feared among the general populace.
    By contrast, many societies, beginning in Europe more than 300 years ago, have developed what we have called inclusive institutions, which create a more equal distribution of political power, as well as constraints on the exercise of that power by politicians and elites. These inclusive political institutions underpin inclusive economic institutions, which provide incentives for investment and innovation and create a more level playing field in the economy and society. Inclusive institutions don’t just make for a better society: ultimately, they’re more sustainable and in some sense stronger than extractive institutions—in part because the lure of unencumbered power granted to the elites by extractive institutions creates frequent struggles with would-be elites seeking that power for themselves.
    The societal advantages of inclusive institutions notwithstanding, the relationship between state and citizens in almost all societies is still one of domination by the former over the latter. The United States may have broadly inclusive institutions, but many citizens fear the police and other branches of the government. In fact, in recent years, thanks to the alarm over terrorism, the state’s power to monitor and coerce citizens has increased, while the ability to monitor state abuses of power seems diminished. The hierarchical relationship between the state and citizens is not confined to the police and security forces. Bureaucrats often make major decisions affecting businesses and lives that leave citizens with little recourse.
    Inclusive institutions don't just make for a better society: ultimately, they're more sustainable.
    This innate power of the state means that even relatively inclusive institutions can backslide into extractive ones. Inclusive institutions will often be challenged because, even when there’s a fairly equal distribution of political power, those who are able to take control of the state can use its coercive capacity to change economic and social rules for their benefit—and to silence dissent and protest against their takeover. Consider Venice, which became one of the richest places in the world in the tenth century, based on, for its time, uniquely inclusive institutions. Venice’s political system—featuring a parliament and a Great Council—gave voice to a broad cross-section of society, while its economic institutions encouraged long-distance trade through new forms of contracts and technology. But at the end of the 13th century, a group of established families started taking control of the Great Council. They used this monopoly of political power to create entry barriers against potential competitors and even banned the innovative contracts that had fueled Venetian growth. As extractive institutions took hold of Venetian society, its prosperity withered. Notably, as this transition took place, the coercive capacity of the state increased, and for the first time, it built a police force ready to repress protests and demands placed upon its elites.
    As the Venetian example demonstrates, inclusive institutions exist in a precarious balance: the state must accumulate enough power to enforce property rights and maintain some basic degree of law and order, but without being able to impose a climate of coercion on citizens. And it must not succumb to elite takeover, though its coercive capacity is always a desirable target for elites.
    Perhaps it is time, then, to remove the Weberian state from atop the social hierarchy in order to strengthen the resilience of inclusive institutions. Perhaps it’s time for the servant state, an entity whose agents are no longer feared and are less able to coerce. This does not mean removing the power of the state to intervene and regulate but more strongly enshrining the notion that state power emanates from the citizens, who should monitor it more closely and reclaim that power when it is abused.
    How can this be achieved? It requires a two-pronged approach. First, we need a change in attitude, among regular citizens and the judiciary, supporting a society-wide agreement that the police and other agents of the state are no different than, say, our dentists. We respect and listen to our dentists, but if we decide that dentists are not performing their jobs adequately, we can walk out. Although citizens cannot easily walk out from the country in which they live, if their rights are more strongly protected and their voices more clearly heard, they should be able to demand due process and the dismissal or even prosecution of state agents who are misbehaving. Our current laws allow for this, but only imperfectly.
    Second, we need to use technology to make this change in attitude influence behavior. It was a private citizen, George Holliday, who made the videotape of Rodney King’s beating, which drew attention to the incident. While the case ended in a verdict that many found improper, it was the presence of technology that allowed police behavior to be recorded and that thrust the issue into the public eye in the first place. Such technology is now pervasive; video recordings also produced evidence of police brutality against Occupy protesters in the fall of 2011. Technology, which is being increasingly used by the state to monitor its citizens, can thus be used to monitor the agents of the state. Citizens can then use the society-wide agreement on the accountability of a state’s agents to its citizens to process and act on this information.
    A king's ransom: This 1596 engraving
    shows Incas gathering gold to pay
    Pizarro for the return of their king—a
    vivid example of the powerful extracting
    resources from the less powerful.
    There are several policy reforms that can help with this objective. Making more real-time data about the behavior and performance of the government, bureaucrats, and police officers available to citizens is an obvious first step. Another is streamlining and facilitating Freedom of Information Act requests, which can be used, for instance, to ensure that agents of the state with a record of misusing power are not promoted to positions of greater responsibility. More controversial, but perhaps equally important, citizen oversight could replace internal investigations in some cases. Protections for whistle-blowers against the state and the police could be strengthened. And finally, the state itself could develop and disseminate technologies for citizens to monitor its actions—a bit like the way it provides defense lawyers to accused parties.
    The resulting servant state would do more than just reduce particular abuses of power. The diffusion of power to citizens would lower incentives for elites to capture states and would act as our best guarantor that the power of the state will not be used to silence the protests and grassroots movements that rise up when some elements of society try to turn inclusive institutions into extractive ones.

    About the author

    Daron Acemoglu is the Elizabeth and James Killian Professor of Economics at MIT. Acemoglu received a BA in economics from the University of York and a PhD in economics from the London School of Economics. His most recent book, Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity, and Poverty, which he cowrote with James Robinson, was published in March 2012.

    Why exploration matters—and why the government should pay for it (Neil deGrasse Tyson)


    Giant research efforts like the one that put a man on the moon produce the kinds of technology that can lift an economy and protect citizens in times of war or disaster. It takes a government-size budget to fund those efforts, but the payback can be enormous.

    October 2012 | by Neil deGrasse Tyson
    Twentieth-century America owed much of its security and economic strength to national support for science and technology. Some of the most revolutionary (and marketable) technologies of the past decades have been spun off research done under the banner of US space exploration: kidney-dialysis machines, implantable pacemakers, affordable and accurate LASIK surgery, global-positioning satellites, corrosion-resistant coatings for bridges and monuments (including the Statue of Liberty), hydroponic systems for growing plants, collision-avoidance systems on aircraft, digital imaging, infrared handheld cameras, cordless power tools, athletic shoes, scratch-resistant sunglasses, virtual reality. And that list doesn’t even include Tang.
    Although solutions to a problem are often the fruit of direct investment in targeted research, the most revolutionary solutions tend to emerge from cross-pollination with other disciplines. Medical investigators might never have known of X-rays, since they do not occur naturally in biological systems. It took a physicist, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, to discover light rays that could probe the body’s interior with nary a cut from a surgeon.
    Why not ask investigators to take direct aim at a challenge? My answer may not be politically correct, but it’s the truth: when you organize large-scale, extraordinary, inspiring missions, you attract people of extraordinary talent who might not happen to have been inspired by, or attracted to, the goal of saving the world from cancer or hunger or pestilence.
    Today, cross-pollination between science and society comes about when you have ample funding for ambitious long-term projects. America has profited immensely from a generation of scientists and engineers who, instead of becoming lawyers or investment bankers, responded to a challenging vision posed in 1961 by President John F. Kennedy. Proclaiming the intention to land a man on the moon, Kennedy welcomed the citizenry to aid in the effort. That generation, and the one that followed, was the same generation of technologists who invented the personal computer. Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft, was 13 years old when the United States landed an astronaut on the moon; Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple, was 14. The PC did not arise from the mind of a banker or artist or professional athlete. It was invented and developed by a technically trained workforce that responded to the dream unfurled before them; they were thrilled to become scientists and engineers.
    Yes, the world needs bankers and artists and even professional athletes. They, among countless others, create the breadth of society and culture. But if you want tomorrow to come—if you want to spawn entire economic sectors that didn’t exist yesterday—those are not the people you turn to. It is technologists who create that kind of future. And it is visionary steps into space that create that kind of technologist. I look forward to the day when the solar system becomes our collective backyard—explored not only with robots but also with the mind, body, and soul of our species.
    When I stand in front of eighth graders, I suppose I could say to them, “Become an aerospace engineer so that you can build an airplane that’s 20 percent more fuel efficient than the ones your parents flew on.” But imagine if instead I said, “Become an aero-research space engineer so that you can design the airfoil that will be the first piloted craft in the rarefied atmosphere of Mars.” “Become a biologist because we need people to look for life, not only on Mars but also on Europa and elsewhere in the galaxy.” “Become a chemist because we want to understand more about the elements on the moon and the molecules in space.” When you put that kind of vision out there, my job as science educator becomes easy, because I just have to point them to it and the ambition rises up in the students. The flame gets lit, and they’re self-guided on the path.
    NASA’s current budget sits just below $20 billion—sounds large. But the National Institutes of Health has a $30 billion budget. That’s fine. They ought to have a big budget, because health matters and everyone wants to live a long and healthy life. But most high tech medical equipment and procedures—EEGs, EKGs, MRIs, PET scans, ultrasound, X-rays—work on principles discovered by physicists and are based on designs developed by engineers. So you can’t just fund medicine; you have to fund the rest of what’s going on. Cross-pollination is fundamental to the enterprise.
    What happens if you double NASA’s budget? The vision becomes big—it becomes real. You attract an entire generation, and generations to follow, to science and engineering. Nowadays, everyone who spends even a minute thinking about the next few decades knows that all emergent markets in the 21st century will be driven by science and technology. The foundations of every future economy will require this. And what happens when you stop innovating? Everyone else catches up, your jobs go overseas, and then you cry foul: they’re paying them less over there, and they’re giving huge subsidies to new industries, and the playing field is not level. Well, it’s time to stop whining and start innovating.
    Let’s not just talk about inspiration. Let’s talk about true innovation. People often ask, “If you like spinoff products, why not just invest in those technologies straightaway, instead of waiting for them to happen as a secondary or tertiary benefit?” The answer: it just doesn’t work that way. Let’s say you’re a thermodynamicist, the world’s expert on heat, and you’re asked to build a better oven. You might invent a convection oven or an oven that’s better insulated or one that permits easier access to its contents. But no matter how much money I give you, you will not invent a microwave oven, because that came from another place. It came from investments in communications, in radar. The microwave oven is traceable to the war effort, not to a thermodynamicist.
    That’s the kind of cross-pollination that goes on all the time, and yes, it’s wacky. It’s surprising. There’s no reason it should happen. But it does. And that’s why futurists get it wrong more often than not—they observe current trends and just extrapolate. They don’t see surprises. So they get the picture right for about five years into the future, and they’re hopeless after ten.
    If you double NASA’s budget, whole legions of students will fill the pipeline. Even if they don’t become aerospace engineers, scientifically literate people will rise up through the ranks—people who might invent stuff and create the foundations of tomorrow’s economy. But that’s not all. Suppose the next terrorist attack is in the form of biological warfare. Who are we going to call? Not the Marines. We want the best biologists in the world. If there’s chemical warfare, we want the best chemists. And we would have them, because they’d be working on problems relating to Mars, problems relating to Jupiter’s ice moon, Europa. We would have attracted those people because the vision was in place. They wouldn’t have become lawyers or investment bankers, which is what happened in the 1980s and 1990s.

    So this $40 billion starts looking pretty cheap. It becomes not only an investment in tomorrow’s economy but also an investment in our security and in our dreams. Our most precious asset is our enthusiasm for what we do as a nation. Marshal it. Cherish it.
     About the author
    Neil deGrasse Tyson is an astrophysicist with the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, where he is also the Frederick P. Rose director of the Hayden Planetarium. Tyson has authored ten books and served on two presidential commissions on the future of space exploration. This essay is adapted from his most recent book, Space Chronicles: Facing the Ultimate Frontier.

    Fighting Words

    Hybrid semi-ideological formation.  Somewhat insulting.  Stating that it's the other guys that are ideological - ie, emotion-driven - but not the Liberals is a bit like saying you're the only unbiased journalist in the room.  Tough and nose-thumbing, sure, but reflective of Canadian values of honesty, respect and integrity?  "We'll take from the left or the right" makes one sound like a political pirate, tacking to where the spoils are best.
    Now, I agree with the theory of what Trudeau said; I think it's best for there to be different Political Parties representing different points of view in Parliament, because it's through a debating a diversity of ideas that we land on the best solutions.  There's an unfortunate thread in our politics that suggests separate Parties can't work together for the good of the country, because that's not good for their partisan image.  The thing that's missing is people who want to find the best middle ground for everyone, even if it means compromise; perhaps our politics has become too polarized for that.  Being disrespectful to Parties that do have so much support across the country isn't going to help.
    It's a wording thing, perhaps, but words are my thing; "we're ready to take" comes across as entitled and arrogant.  How about "we're open to?"  You can ignore the subtle impact wording choice has, but you do so at your peril.  That's the sort of thing that is causing the electorate to tune out in the first place and simply creates fodder for CRG attack ads.
    I thought Trudeau was brilliant in employing the Ender's Game "empathy against" bid with his "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." Show yourself a Statesman by respecting their contributions and empathizing with their failings.  One of the most effective attacks I think Dalton McGuinty ever used was when he responded to silly kitten-eater insults by Ernie Eves by saying he knew Ernie, that wasn't the kind of thing he says.  It was political judo at its finest. 
    We need to see more of that.  We need more inclusive language, more empathy, more embodiment of the values he hopes to bring back to Canadian politics.  That doesn't mean being weak-kneed or whatever - it's about demonstrating how you rise above the fray, as leaders do.  If you want to change the system, you cannot do so by employing the traditional politics.  You just can't. 

    Not if your end goal isn't to be just Leader of a Party, but Prime Minister of the entire country.

    Wednesday 10 October 2012

    Beware the Four Horsemen of Calumny

    - Senator Margaret Chase Smith
    Sadly, people on both sides of the border are giving leave to politicians to put partisan gain by whatever means ahead of ethics, value, honesty and respect.  What happens when good people choose to do nothing about abuses of the system?

    Beautiful Fall

    Huawei: The New Business As Usual

    Interesting, this.  Espionage is being compared to terrorism in terms of a threat to the future prosperity of Canadians.  I would think that Stephen Harper would commend Huawei for their initiative.  After all, aren't we looking for more firms to pick up some economic slack?  Better yet, Huawei (and China behind it) are being competitive.  They are pushing the envelope of what's acceptable, doing what it takes to get ahead of the competition - much like Harper's Conservatives.
    The Conservatives must look to China with envy.  While they're stuck with small-time shenanigans like the Cotler calls run through penny-anny operators like Campaign Research, Inc. China is playing with massive telecoms firms and landing huge domestic wins from industrial espionage.  They're way ahead of Harper when it comes to building influence in Africa.    While Harper's stuck putting special interest groups he doesn't like on watch lists, China gets to be really tough on their internal foes.
    China is playing exactly the same game the Harper Conservatives want to play, only they aren't encumbered by periodic elections, Budgetary Watchdogs or pesky reporters.  This gives them the luxury to be more ruthless, plan further ahead and do whatever it takes strategically to win.  China therefore also provides us with a window into what Canada might look like down the road if submitted to perpetual Conservative governments.  
    If this is the game we truly want to play, it would be wise for everyone - especially our government - to consider the risks that come with it.

    CFN - Political Planks on a Burning Platform (Updated)

     -          Katie Telford

    Canadian politics, alas, tends to be low on hyperbole and weak on dramatic content.  That’s why unless you’re a CanCon political junkie or a Conservative researcher, you probably missed the little piece of Liberal drama that played itself out last week.  Like the best dramas, this tale began on a hopeful note, spiraled into conflict and has now moved into intrigue.

    It started off innocently enough, with Justin Trudeau giving an impassioned speech heralding his entry into the Liberal leadership race.  Rather boldly, he laid out a vision that reached beyond the scope of the Party and included our entire political system.  Canadians, he suggested, are hungry for a vision of Canada’s future “grounded not in the politics of envy or mistrust.”  Trudeau’s stated goal is to bring values like honesty, integrity, respect and cooperation back into Canadian politics.  “When,” he asks us, “was the last time you had a leader you actually trusted?”

    Voters are cynical about politicians, and rightly so.  Our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, ran on the promise of ushering in a new era of accountability and transparency.  On the heels of the Sponsorship Scandal, that message appealed to the average Canadian.  Since gaining power, however, Harper has been neither accountable nor transparent.  He has moved to limit public access to committee debates, has stifled information flow to the media – his government has even denied information to the Parliamentary Budget Officer, a position of their own design. 

    If we’re wary of politicians, we’re downright suspicious of the people who work behind the scenes for them.  We know that Harper’s hired guns aren’t interested in strengthening democracy; they themselves tell us as much.  Nick Kouvalis happily states that he gets paid to end the careers of liberal politicians, while Tim Powers readily admits that the Conservatives are happy to misrepresent the facts if it allows them to keep the Opposition on the defensive.  At the end of the day, does it really matter what a Leader says, when it’s folk like this pulling the strings?

    For this reason, engaged Canadians are increasingly paying attention to the people behind the curtain.  If we’re going to invest in a Party to drive our country forward, we want to know something about what’s under the hood.  Perhaps it was in recognition of this that Team Trudeau agreed to an interview with Michael den Tandt, skirting traditional political wisdom that suggests political staff be neither seen nor heard, and kicking off the next act in our little drama. 

    If Trudeau’s speech was the teaser to the campaign, the den Tandt piece was like a making-of featurette.  It introduced us to a likeable production crew that clearly supports the vision laid out by their leader.  In addition to Katie Telford, a bright young mother with tons of both idealism and political experience (full disclosure, she’s a former colleague of mine), we have former Liberal MP for Mississauga-Erindale Omar Alghabra, Ben Chin (a former reporter of South Korean heritage) and the more mysterious of the Trudeau brothers, Sacha.  Named but not interviewed was Gerry Butts, a man who is not only gifted in his ability to craft political strategy but also someone who only dedicates his time to things he believes in.  Former political staff like me still look up to people like him.

    Not a bad crew to have supporting you, really – and unlike a Kouvalis or a Powers, these folk have made it clear their goal isn’t to defeat the opposition at all cost.  “It’s about who’s willing to put in the work, no matter their background, no matter what party they’ve been in before, or (whether they’ve) been involved in past battles,” as Telford says.  But why, some might ask, is she the one saying this at all?  There’s a reason why conventional wisdom suggests staff should stay in the backroom; when they draw attention to themselves, support teams draw the focus away from the person who will actually have his name on the ballot.  It’s not smart, politically.

    One of the people pointing this out is Warren Kinsella, Bad Boy Liberal Strategist and a man with more hard-won election scars than most political staff ever has skin in the game.  When it comes to all this campaign strategy stuff, Kinsella knows of what he speaks – he wrote the book on it, literally (and if you haven’t read The War Room, I highly recommend it).  Kinsella compares political strategy to the process of making sausages (a bit ironic, given the unfolding tainted meat scandal); the less revealed to the public and your opponents, the better.

    It’s a point worth raising.  As Kinsella notes, the folk supporting Paul Martin, Stéphane Dion and Michael Ignatieff all dabbled with media exposure, while the campaign teams for Stephen Harper did not.  As a strategy, this worked out pretty well for Team Harper; despite being implicated in a scheme to bribe a dying man for his vote, being found in contempt of Parliament and the ongoing robocall scandal, among others, the Conservatives have clawed their way to a majority government and are now free to do as they please.  By never going off message, allowing few of his Caucus to speak to the media and holding his operators to an omerta-like code of silence, Harper presents a thin target for his opponents.  As for the other guys, well – go look for them now.

    This Harperian method makes for great politics, but is terrible for the long-term health of our Canadian democracy.  “The political system has failed many Canadians in clear and tangible ways,” suggests Alison Loat, Co-Founder and Executive Director of democracy watchdog the Samara Institute.  As Trudeau stated so eloquently in his launch-speech, we no longer trust politics, neither the leaders nor the people who support them.  Harper doesn’t shoulder all the weight for this problem – he’s merely taken an emerging trend and pushed it further, faster than anyone expected.  It’s because of this sort of cynical governance that Canadians, particularly younger ones, are proactively opting not to vote. 

    Only 61.4 per cent of eligible Canadian voters cast ballots in the last Federal election, and that was considered an improvement.  Youth turnout was even lower, with only 38.8 choosing to support a candidate or Party.  Feeling like their vote has no meaning and that all Parties are the same, these Canadians are choosing alternative methods of expressing themselves politically by participating in student protests or supporting movements like Occupy.

    Kinsella himself has recognized this, time and again – the way politics works in Canada is changing.  As disenfranchised voters tune out, backroom operators are using increasingly aggressive tactics to win votes and eviscerate their opponents.  To avoid the consequences of scrutiny, these folk are extinguishing media and opposition access so that they can do what they have to do away from the spotlight.  What happens when people who don’t feel accountable to the public have growing amounts of influence on the political process?

    According to the den Tandt article, Team Trudeau and Justin himself have collectively realized that it’s not just the Liberal Party, but the Canadian political process that is at risk of collapse.  That’s the burning platform; that’s the impetus for renewal.  Instead of engaging in old-school politics of Machiavellian manoeuvers planned and orchestrated by shadowy, unaccountable operators, Team Trudeau is trying to devise a new approach, one that is more transparent and accessible to the public while equally being more respectful to opponents.  In this, they’re following some wise words: “Never attack the individual.  We can be in total disagreement with someone without denigrating them as a consequence.”

    Which brings us to the last act of our little drama.  Warren Kinsella, a Liberal veteran who recognizes the need for some kind of renewal in politics offered some constructive criticism of the Team Trudeau approach.  Less discussion of process in the media, he suggests.  Staff should remain behind the curtain.  This is a valid position, one that has born political fruit for successive generations.  It doesn’t mean it’s the right one for today. 

    According to Kinsella himself, his advice has been met with the kind of response that is typical of old-school politics; angry messages from Trudeau supporters, some of them delivered anonymously.  This is the sort of kindling from which new rivalries are made; it’s also the sort of personality conflict we’re sadly used to.  Sure, this kind of political theatre makes for great viewing, but it does nothing to address the burning platform and brings into question whether renewal is actually possible.  If politics is invariably a blood sport, you can hardly blame the Tories for being as ruthless as necessary to succeed – nor can you blame Canada’s youth for taking to the streets in protest.

    For what it’s worth, I think that Trudeau is right.  I think it’s time for a political leader to embody the values they speak of and inspire the same from their team and the public at large.  I also think that Kinsella is right – political staff shouldn’t be using their position as a way to build their own brand.  Frankly, good leaders value their team personally and always make sure their contributions are properly recognized.  Having said that, we live in the days of Facebook and Twitter and IP addresses.  Whether we like it or not, everyone is in the spotlight.  Instead of trying to deny this, political people should always be thinking about how their comments, both verbal and posted, can reinforce and carry forward the vision they have chosen to support.  You never go wrong by standing up for what you believe in.

    I would also suggest that political leaders need to spend less time attacking their opponents and micro-targeting voter blocks and instead start engaging all Canadians.  Democracy is a conversation and, like all conversations, it’s built on a foundation of shared values – including trust.  When we don’t trust others, we make them untrustworthy and become untrustworthy ourselves as a consequence.

    Of course, all this suspicion and intrigue makes for great conflict.  Though Canadians do love their drama, I think there’s a growing recognition that if we don’t change something, we’re all going to get burned.  The Leader or Party that consciously sets the right example will find that while we enjoy the spectacle, what we truly respect is values-based leadership.

    Will Trudeau be this leader?  Can his team renew Canadian democracy before the platform disintegrates?  I’ve got my feet by the fire and popcorn in hand, waiting to see how the next act unfolds.

    Some people never learn, eh?

    Peter Russell: Be Grateful For Our Diversity

    Largely by accident, Canada has become the world's leader in getting along.  Some folk see this as a weakness - to them, only military strength and aggressive capacity have value.  I think they're wrong, and Peter Russell seems to agree:

    A Constitutional Thanksgiving
    It is true that we, in Canada and Ontario, may not have the bounty of the new world and the hospitality of its native people that Americans celebrate on their Thanksgiving weekend.
    But we do have some remarkable constitutional roots for which to be deeply thankful. Indeed these founding constitutional circumstance are the source of what makes our country such an exceptional political community.
    We can begin with the fact that Great Britain, after defeating the French on the Plains of Abraham in 1759, did not to try to complete the conquest by driving the Roman Catholic Canadians into exile, which is exactly what they had done to the Acadiens in Nova Scotia just a few years earlier.
    Of course, the British really didn’t have much choice. Les Canadiens outnumbered them by 75,000 to 5,000, and most of the British were soldiers anxious to return home.
    Even though Britain’s decision was based more on prudence than principle, it planted the seed of diversity and ethnic accommodation that would become a hallmark of Canada.
    Fifteen years later the incompleteness of the “conquest” was consolidated in the Quebec Act passed by the United Kingdom Parliament in 1774. The Canadians could remain French and Catholic, hold public office in Canada and enjoy their system of civil law. Though this fell short of recognizing Quebec as a nation, it enabled les Canadiens to survive and flourish as a distinct people within Canada.
    For that we should be thankful.
    After the fall of New France, Indian nations to the west of Quebec were uneasy about Britain succeeding France as the dominant European power in North America.
    In 1763, an alliance of western nations led by the Ottawa chief Pontiac, fearing a flood of British settlers into their territories, burnt eight of the forts the British had taken over from the French, put Detroit under siege and attacked English settlements in the Ohio country.
    In July 1764, representatives of these nations met with British emissary Sir William Johnson at Fort Niagara.
    At Niagara, Johnson presented George III’s Royal Proclamation to the “Nations with which we are connected.”
    The Crown promised that there would be no settlement on Indian lands without proper treaties.
    On the basis of this commitment, the Indian nations made peace with the Crown. The rights and freedoms of Aboriginal peoples contained in the 1763 Royal Proclamation are now recognized in the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
    For this too we should be thankful – and not forgetful.
    A few years later when American rebels arrived in Quebec, we should be thankful that the Canadians were grateful enough for the freedoms they enjoyed under British rule, to not fall for Ben Franklin’s offer to be “conquered into freedom”.
    And we should be equally thankful, that when the Americans invaded our country again in the War of 1812, that His Majesty’s Indian Allies provided military support that was crucial in repulsing the American attack. Although our gratitude should be tempered with shame for the Crown’s failure to honour its promise to protect the western Indian nations from American invasion of their country.
    We should also be thankful for the Loyalists, arriving here with a liberal understanding of parliamentary government.
    They were indeed “liberty’s exiles.” Their government in Upper Canada was the first in North America to abolish slavery.
    And we should be thankful that when their theory of parliamentary government as a balance between the Crown, the propertied class and the people, became in practice too hierarchical, William Lyon Mackenzie found support for resistance among the people. Not enough support to overthrow the government by force, but enough to convince the mother country that democratic reform was needed.
    Finally, we should be thankful for colonial leaders like Robert Baldwin and Louis-Hippolyte La Fontaine, who convinced Great Britain that in Canada the representative of the Crown, in whom the executive power of government is formally vested, must act on the advice of politicians who command the confidence of the elected house of parliament.
    This gave us responsible democratic government as early as 1848 - at the very time the flickering flames of democratic reform were being doused in Europe.
    None of these developments were carefully planned. But when we add them up they are what gave us our legacy of liberal and democratic constitutionalism.
    We should be thankful for that legacy and ever mindful of the principles it embodies.

    Peter Russell is one of Canada's leading constitutional experts, advisor to Governors-General and Professor-Emeritus in Political Science at the University of Toronto
    Posted date : October 09, 2012