Search This Blog

CCE in brief

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

Friday 26 October 2012

CFN - Bullying: A Genetic Problem with a Social Solution

Bullying: A Genetic Problem with a Social Solution

Are we going to tell our children to stand up and do the right thing, or to watch in silence?

How do we have a hope against bullying if so many of us are complicit bystanders?

There’s lots of talk about bullying these days.  While it appears there is broad consensus that bullying is bad, we’re not quite sure how to deal with or even how to define it.  Is bullying uniquely a youth thing, because adults have more emotional maturity to handle aggression/not take harassment personally?  Does social media/violent TV contribute to bullying behaviour?  Is micromanagement a form of bullying?  How do we discourage bullies – and is it possible to inoculate people against the emotional stains bullying causes?  

The latest conversation has been kicked off by the heart-breaking suicide of Amanda Todd, a victim of the all-pervasive kind of bullying that has only become possible thanks to social media.  Before her it was Jamie Hubley, another high-profile youth who killed himself after merciless torment; prior to that there was Greg Doucette.  Each of these deaths shocked us into conversation and a retributive mood.  While these specific bullying-induced suicides grab the nation’s attention, they’re a bit like the Attawapiskat crisis; individual, visible examples of a pervasive, systematic issue.

One in five students in Canada says they have been bullied.  Between Canada, Australia, the US and the UK there have been 41 cyber-bullying attributed deaths since 2003.  Youth suicides are just one indicator of the social impact of bullying – in Canada, one in six employees reports they have been bullied.  This pervasive, society-wide harassment has a hugely detrimental impact on individual mental health, the economy, our health care system, families – it goes on and on.  The problem is so significant that Political Parties from across the system are trying to find ways to legislate against it. 

If bullying is such a recognized problem, you’d think we would have a clear definition for it.  Public Safety Canada tells us bullying “is characterized by acts of intentional harm, repeated over-time, in a relationship where an imbalance of power exists.  It includes physical actions (punching, kicking, biting), verbal actions (threats, name calling, insults, racial or sexual comments) and social exclusion (spreading rumours, ignoring, gossiping, excluding)”.  The “balance of power” reference is key to our understanding of bullying; without that caveat, you could easily include everything from heckling in the Legislature to the Obama Birther movement as harassment.

How then do we define “balance of power”?  The man accused of kicking off the bullycide campaign against Amanda Todd clearly had power over her, in terms of the harmful video he’d conned her into providing.  The tables turned, though, when Anonymous outted this man, shifting the balance of power against him; the bully became the bullied.  Was it bullying when the Conservative Party of Canada spread rumours suggesting Irwin Cotler was going to retire?  Heck, aren’t all attack ads a form of bullying?

Most would say no – because politics is expected to be a blood sport.  Politicians should expect to be attacked and be prepared to fight back.   It’s through the cut-and-thrust of Question Period, election campaigns and increasingly, every political interaction in between that the public can determine not only which ideas stand up to scrutiny, but which representatives/leaders are tough enough to do the job of governing.  Somewhere in here is an unspoken notion that the balance of power doesn’t apply to politics, due to individual agency and public accountability of each elected official.  This notion doesn’t hold up to scrutiny itself, though; as politics becomes increasingly aggressive, Political Parties are becoming increasingly tribal.  How can you not label as bullying the dogged targeting of individuals by entire political packs?

What about micro-managing employers?  They have power over their employees; does abuse of the employer/employee relationship count as bullying?  Again, there are those who would argue against this, suggesting that individuals always have power over their own fates and are therefore equals in the labour market. If employees are really bothered by the treatment of a boss, they can speak to them about it and if that doesn’t work, they can quit and move to another job.  If they don’t do that, they’re just playing the “victim” card.  If this were really the case, though, would we be facing an unheralded business crisis in Canada?

For me, these aren’t academic questions.  I know what it’s like to be bullied.  A December baby, I was always the youngest in my classes.  Added to this, I have Attention Deficit Disorder, a “disability” which went undiagnosed until I was well into my teens.  Being the smallest and a bit different in how I interacted with the world, I was a natural target for those on the lookout for someone to diminish as a way of aggrandizing themselves.  From about Grade 1 all the way into high school, I was on the receiving end of vicious taunts, torment and physical abuse. 

Decades later, I still have clear memories of being chased home by older kids waving baseball bats (Grade 2).  It made them feel powerful to instill terror in a runt like me.  Then there was the time I was tied to a flag post in winter and left outside after all the other kids went back to class, laughing at me (Grade 4).  It got so bad that my parents eventually moved me to a different school, but by then the damage was done.  I had become a fearful child, mistrustful of people and afraid to speak up, knowing that whatever I said would be used against me.  This hesitation morphed into a stutter, which became just one more opportunity for my peers to mock me.

When bullying is that pervasive, there is no escape.  Even when your tormentors are gone, the anxiety remains, riddling your thoughts with disquiet and doubt.  I hated going to school.  I didn’t like interacting with others, period.  I dreaded every waking moment, never knowing exactly what sort of private hell it would bring me.  The ADHD only magnified the pain, as I could never shut down the soundtrack of doubt and self-loathing playing non-stop in my head.  Self-harm became a way out; if the pain was sharp enough, it would cleanse my mind of the pervasive anguish that nestled there like a splinter.  Of course, the relief was temporary, and the fact that I was cracking my head against my desk hard enough to leave welts simply put another arrow in my bullies’ quiver.  Suicide was definitely something I contemplated – there just didn’t seem to be any other way out.

That was then.  Today, I am a confident, positive person that has a reputation for finding the silver lining around any cloud.  There’s nothing life can throw at me that I can’t handle.  Why is that?  Why is it that my name now appears in a byline rather than having featured in a headline like Todd, Hubley and Doucette?  When moving schools didn’t solve the problem, my parents decided to try an alternative solution; fight might prevail where flight did not.  They enrolled me in a Karate class led by a tough-as-nails Sensei with the hope that learning how to fight back might help.  It did, but not in the way they intended.

My Sensei was tough, but always fair and never judgmental.  He never criticized mistakes – instead, he corrected them.  The senior students who helped lead the lessons were the same way; they pushed the class but were always, always supportive.  They taught me how to fight back, which I eventually did.  The supportive attitude of the teachers carried over to the students; we were all in the same quest for perfection of technique, together.  Although I hated the class at first, it eventually became my community.  For the first time I could recall, there was a place I felt safe and respected, plus a group that included me as one of their own.

This element of belonging made a huge difference, but Karate provided me with even more.  The strict physical discipline and quick reaction times required by martial arts nurtured in me a level of focus and confidence that bled over into every aspect of my life.  My stutter began to fade; I became more and more comfortable in asserting myself.  At the same time, the experience of having been bullied combined with the positive experience of the class shaped my understanding that individual strength is nurtured within supportive communities. 

I tell this tale not to gain your sympathy or to toot my own horn but to show that it can get better when we address the underpinnings of bullying proactively and cooperatively.  The importance of collective morale and promoting individual resilience is understood within our military, if not those who command it.  The idea of fostering social-emotional learning and positive relationships with teachers and peers is equally a key component of Ontario’s Full Day Kindergarten program.  The entire field of positive psychology is dedicated to the development of cognitive grit the way exercise builds physical strength.  There is no reason these principles can’t be applied more broadly, especially in the places where bullying is most prevalent – schools and the workplace.

The other lesson to draw from experiences like mine is that the tools for developing resiliency aren’t instinctive.  As Colin Powell points out in It Worked For Me, social functioning is learned behaviour; this is as true for the human animal as it is in all social species.  Left to our own devices, we tend to fight, flee or circle the wagons and avoid – it’s just how natural selection works.  There’s really not much difference between the playground, Question Period or an episode of Animal Kingdom.  It takes moderators – an elder, a teacher, the Speaker, etc. – to referee social interactions, foster respect and maintain order. 

It also takes leaders to set examples and develop the kind of work or school cultures that manage down this bullying instinct. Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris famously fostered a competitive culture within the Progressive Conservative Party, believing that ambitious people would produce the best results.  Instead, the internal fighting became so toxic to the Party that Harris had to lay down the law for his cabinet ministers.  It’s the exact seem scenario that’s being fueled by the heightened, competitive rancor in Queen’s Park now.  Somewhere along the way, our political leaders have forgotten that it’s possible to be in total disagreement with someone without denigrating them as a consequence.

If we, as a society, want to have a hyper-oppositional culture that fosters survival of the fittest competition, that’s fine – but we’ll also have to accept that victimization and its consequences are part of the package, including the lost productivity, the health care costs and the youth suicides.  If we’re really serious about addressing bullying, we have to realize the only way to do so is proactively – by providing universal resiliency and social-emotional training on the one end and using programs like restorative justice to stifle bullying behaviour on the other.  The most important thing we can do to end bullying, though, is lead by example. 

Preview - next CFN Column, on Bullying

For me, these aren’t academic questions.  I know what it’s like to be bullied.  A December baby, I was always the youngest in my classes.  Added to this, I have Attention Deficit Disorder, a “disability” which went undiagnosed until I was well into my teens.  Being the smallest and a bit different in how I interacted with the world, I was a natural target for those on the lookout for someone to diminish as a way of aggrandizing themselves.  From about Grade 1 all the way into high school, I was on the receiving end of vicious taunts, torment and physical abuse. 

It also takes leaders to set examples and develop the kind of work or school cultures that manage down this bullying instinct. Former Ontario Premier Mike Harris famously fostered a competitive culture within the Progressive Conservative Party, believing that ambitious people would produce the best results.  Instead, the internal fighting became so toxic to the Party that Harris had to lay down the law for his cabinet ministers.  It’s the exact seem scenario that’s being fueled by the heightened, competitive rancor in Queen’s Park now.  Somewhere along the way, our political leaders have forgotten that it’s possible to be in total disagreement with someone without denigrating them as a consequence.

Stephen Harper's Slide to the Policy Centre

Despite all his strangulation of Parliament and disingenuity to the public, Stephen Harper doesn't want to be a dictator.  His goal isn't to be the lord and master, but rather to foster a society that feels more comfortable to him.  It doesn't seem to work out that way, does it?  For all the right-wing political gains that can be made and partisan points he's scored, there is an inevitable gravitational pull to the centre of the policy spectrum.

It's funny how that happens...

Stephen Harper shows flashes of consumerism: Goar


Cloud Calls for a Concious Revolution

The demands of work are changing - as is what employees demand of their employers.  Imagine a labour market that treated human resources the way it did computers - ensuring regular upgrades, supportive environments and interconnectivity.  How do we motivate innovative success?  How do we best support our cognitive labour resources?
What is required for success in the knowledge economy is a completely different model than that which fueled the industrial economy.  It will take a revolution not of technology, but of consciousness for us to get from here to there.
Welcome to the 21st Century; welcome to the Conscious Society.

The Garden of Good and Feeling Good

Thursday 25 October 2012

Is Ontario Ready for Collaborative Change?

The idea is to remove barriers to employment for everyone — not just able-bodied people, but also those with obvious physical or hidden mental challenges. With ODSP caseloads growing by 5 per cent a year, and most of the new and returning recipients coping with mental issues, it is no longer sensible or sustainable to hive them off and write them off.
There's growing consensus that the systems we have here in Ontario aren't working.  Healthcare is too feudal, social service supports are too fragmented - the list goes on.  The system that worked well enough once upon a time is past it's best-before date.  The problem, however, is the political risk that comes with big change.  In today's polarized, hyper-partisan political climate, it's guaranteed that opposing Parties will decry anything that speaks of bold reform.  But we can't go on as before. 
What's a province to do?
Here's a radical notion - picture we had three political leaders that thought more of achieving results, even if through working together, than of scoring political points by working against.  Imagine there was a core set of values that the Liberal, PC and NDP leaders all held and were willing to build shared solutions around.  Why, if there was an attempt by all three Parties to find and communicate consensus to stakeholders and voters, those big changes everyone says are necessary might just be doable - and with all Parties working together, we could actually get viable solutions that would be both effective and have longevity.
Of course, that's not doable with the current configuration - just witness the goings on at Queen's Park of late.  With Premier McGuinty exiting the stage, there will soon be a new leader for the Liberals, likely to be one of a few women with track records of finding shared solutions.  Andrea Horwath, for her part, has occasionally played the role of peace maker.  That leaves Tim Hudak as the sole leader who is adamantly committed to an election and hasn't exactly carved out a reputation as a team player.
Hudak has committed to a Spring election, no matter what happens between now and then.  Like Rob Ford, he's not interested in working together - he just wants to win.  Especially for Hudak, it's critical he does; if he doesn't, that's two general election losses and a lost by-election against him.  It would be the end of his political career and result in a PC leadership race.  IF that scenario were to play out, a strong contender for the PC leadership role would be the amazing Christine Elliot - a woman who is unquestionably in politics for the right reasons and willing to work with anyone to address the issues that matter.
 I'll get in trouble for writing this, surely - in partisan politics, you're supposed to wish the worst possible leadership on your opponents, not the best.  I'm terrible at being self-serving that way - besides, I actually love the idea of a Legislature that functions the way parliaments were intended to.  It might make for boring TV or news, but so what - you want spicy political entertainment, watch Game of Thrones.  Just imagine the possibilities if Ontario had three women leaders with shared goals willing to put the best interests of the province ahead even of their own partisan aspirations. 
It might just be the only way Ontarians can move forward - together.

Martin Regg Cohen on the need for conscious social system reform

And you know what?  There are lots of good people out there working on this exact problem.

Cohn: With no payoff for politicians, who will reform the system?

It’s a bad time to be on welfare in Ontario. And a tough time to be writing a report on it.
The economy is stalling and the deficit is crippling. The legislature is prorogued and the premier is a lame duck.
Quite a time for Frances Lankin to co-author a landmark report on how to save Ontario’s system of social services from itself.
Lankin’s report was postponed after Dalton McGuinty’s dramatic resignation announcement last week. During her belated Wednesday news conference, Finance Minister Dwight Duncan convened reporters one floor above to announce his own retirement.
Now, a high-profile committee of cabinet ministers set up to deal with her report is distracted by its own power play: Five putative rivals — Eric Hoskins, Kathleen Wynne, Deb Matthews, Laurel Broten and Glen Murray — are mulling over individual bids for the Liberal leadership.
Against that backdrop comes the first major welfare review since the late 1980s, undertaken by Lankin and former StatsCan chief Munir Sheikh. Despite the political distractions, they have an ambitious vision to redesign social services — by reuniting the two big welfare programs created by Mike Harris in the late 1990s.
Back then, the Tories were motivated by segregating the “undeserving poor” (who got general welfare, rebranded as Ontario Works) from the “deserving disabled” who qualified for the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).
All these years later, the report suggests eliminating these contrived distinctions between the “bad poor” and “good poor” by creating a more coherent and seamless system. Yet the authors have implicitly embraced the once-controversial goal of workfare (where possible).
The idea is to remove barriers to employment for everyone — not just able-bodied people, but also those with obvious physical or hidden mental challenges. With ODSP caseloads growing by 5 per cent a year, and most of the new and returning recipients coping with mental issues, it is no longer sensible or sustainable to hive them off and write them off.
The over-arching theme is that the system is too complex and opaque for anyone to support — recipients, caseworkers, taxpayers or politicians. For all the focus on fraud, welfare is rife with red tape, intrusiveness, contradictions and other costly inefficiencies.
It makes no sense to penalize the poorest of the poor by depleting their life’s savings, making it harder to bounce back when they finally land a job. Hence the need to allow decent “asset limits.”
It’s pointless to claw back the modest sums people may earn from temporary employment if that only deters them from ever getting off welfare. And it is absurd to maintain a federal tax code that helps the disabled only if they have enough taxable income to benefit from a refund.
Unsurprisingly, anti-poverty groups have embraced the report’s call for an immediate increase in base rates. Understandably, they are nervous about the goal of magically getting the disabled back to work. But keeping the system as it is will only hasten its decline.
Some in the corporate sector are stepping up, a credit to Lankin’s persuasive powers honed at the United Way of Toronto. Building a broader base of support may be the best way to rally politicians when they finally get back to work, post-prorogation and post-election.
Business backing might also coax the Progressive Conservatives to keep an open mind (and heart and wallet) should they win power, not least because the report argues that investing in smart reforms now will save money in future. The Tories’ deputy leader, Christine Elliott, is a passionate advocate for the disabled and has a powerful network of her own — not least her husband, federal Finance Minister Jim Flaherty.
While I usually resist the temptation to invoke her private hotline to Ottawa, she seems especially well placed to lobby Flaherty to look at the report’s call to redesign federal tax credits to help all disabled people, not merely those with the income to qualify.
Welfare is easily forgotten because there’s not much payoff for politicians to show leadership. The very poor don’t vote in large numbers and don’t donate big money.
Only if Ontarians at large open their eyes to the problem will politicians ever turn their minds to it.

Social Gravity

Social Media Protocol

Yes, I got this from  There's frequently good stuff there to peruse.

Social media is a broad category that encompasses many of the web-based tools that we use for interacting with our audience, conducting research, presenting information and gather story ideas. Sun Media has a social media usage policy for all employees that offers guidelines and etiquette notes for how to use these tools.

It's good advice for professional using Social Media, though, isn't it?  Always helps to think communicaiton through before implementation.

Sun Media social media policy

  • Don’t insult your employer, your readers or your coworkers on the Internet
  • Assume that any and all social media remarks you broadcast will be associated with Sun Media because you are a staff member. Off-colour or unprofessional remarks may travel widely and therefore should be avoided.
  • Do not post confidential documents or information to any website.
  • When to post material to Facebook and Twitter is largely determined by how long we are able to maintain control of the story. Widely available breaking news should be posted to social sites immediately to increase of visibility as all media outlets are publishing their material. Conversely, in situations will only be known when we decide to publish, we can co-ordinate social media release with web release (ie Tweeting a link instead of just the info).
  • Audience engagement through @-replies, Facebook comments and other forms of communication is encouraged.
  • Experiment where you feel it’s appropriate but e-mail the social media manager if you have anything new that you want to try.
  • Not everyone must tweet or post to Facebook. In fact, only about 30 per cent of people on these sites world-wide actually post content to them. That’s fine. But everyone must know how to use them in a professional capacity for research purposes, whether through a personal account or a work account.

Nora Loreto on Trolling, i.e. Cyberbullying

There's a long history of dominant forces control the masses from arms length, either maliciously or out of ignorance.  Bread and circuses cost money, though, as does the use of force - and when the funds start to bleed, what's left is a disillusioned and angry populace demanding change.  The ones who speak out first are the angry ones - they end up setting the tone for everyone else, leading to a rapid spiral away from a civil society.

That's why true leaders are the ones who take the time to occasionaly walk among the troops and the people

Trolls and the spaces created by trolling

| October 24, 2012

I’m sure you’ve heard, by now, about Violentacrez.
He was doxxed by Gawker and in the process called one of the Internet’s most notorious trolls. Indeed, his vile contributions to racist, misogynist, violent, generally offensive, degrading and depraved subreddits should give him the right to own that label. This supertroll lost his job upon being doxxed and is, according to Fox News, now looking to work in the porn industry. It’ll be interesting to see if any porn outlets are interested in hiring a creepy older dude to do what they can just steal off of Reddit (or wherever else). He accidentally devalued his skill set.
His defense is that he viewed his work as Violentacrez as a game. Imagine, a game where the players are real, the effects are real and you get to hide behind your screen? It’s a pervert/creep/etc.’s dream.
I read the Gawker story with great interest. It’s well written and sheds light on a few corners of the internet that I have no reason to normally examine. I don’t need to see that creeps like Violentacrez exist by watching them peddle their vile garbage. As a woman, I’m acutely aware that men like Violentacrez exist.
Gawker has also faced criticism as they too are guilty for some of the crimes perpetuated by Violentacrez, though as far as I can tell they don’t host discussion boards dedicated to incest or dead women.
While much of the analysis has been dominated by the debate about outing Vilentacrez, or the strawman arguments around free speech, there hasn’t been enough from what I’ve seen about what troll culture makes possible online.
Over at Racialicious, an excellent post was re-posted about some of the questions that the Gawker article raises. In the article, T.F. Charlton cites Whitney Phillips’ response and says,

1) troll culture is built on the assumptions of white male privilege, 2) individual trolls like Violentacrez are supported by a “host culture” whose values they reflect–in VA’s case, he was wholeheartedly embraced by fellow Redditors and tolerated by the highest levels of Reddit staff, and 3) there’s not that much difference between VA’s racist and misogynist trolling and the sensationalism of “corporate media culture.”
Trolls and trolling concern me for many reasons, including everything that is mentioned in Charlton’s article. But I want to frame the effect that trolls have on discourse in another way: with such extreme elements from the Right raging online against those of us from any sphere of oppression, what does this do to normalize and shift debate? Charlton (and Phillips) offer a good examination the role of more mainstream media outlets who gobble up stories that include the word “Facebook” in the lede. The reach that trolls (and extreme trolls) have on shifting political discussion goes further than the mainstream media.
The extreme hatred spewed from the Right online (and I keep referring to “the Right” because I simply cannot think of anything equivalent that comes from the “left”) normalizes and entrenches extreme discourse. If you believe in the theory of the Overton window, where extreme opinions help to mix and push along less extreme positions to a more extreme place, the existence of trolls who demonize, terrorize, dehumanize and humiliate from a position of [relative] power is dumped into the ether of ideas and further normalizes what should be considered to be extreme.
Consider Amanda Todd’s suicide where it took feminist bloggers to ask the question, wait… what the hell? A girl kills herself as the result of a man harassing her with photos of her own body and it’s dubbed bullying? In an age where deeply troubling misogynistic harassment can be called the same thing as someone having their lunch stolen, we must acknowledge that the Internet’s metre stick has been moved further to the Right than many people are ready to admit.
Comments from the serial trolls like Ann Coulter and Ezra Levant no longer shock us. Rather, these two maintain their positions of power, keep their TV spots and occupy the time of meme generators who do up a quicky “I can’t believe Ann Coulter tweeted this” image. Indeed, the left creates better memes, but to what extent? What is a Binder Full of Women?
Have we actually reached a place where it takes message boards where the sole purpose to peruse them is to look at teenage girls photographed as dead? Has the Internet really broken us?
Extreme trolls are also dangerous because the “left” has no real equivalent. It’s just not possible to troll someone from the “left” in the same way that many of us get trolled regularly from the Right. What’s the equivalent to someone responding to something I post with “You’re a stupid cnut”?
Somehow, the left’s moral high ground, with its “facts,” “research” and occasional “you’re an asshole” renders it unable to respond directly to these attacks. Our moral high ground is a liability.
Of course, there exists a massive plain between the work of a Violentacrez and your “average” Right-wing troll. But it seems so clear that it’s part of the same messy side of the Internet that destroys both discourse and people. One enables and normalizes the other.
I’m not arguing in favour of fighting one brand of vile garbage with another. I’m just pointing out a deficit that exists. If the Internet is ever going to be a safe space for many of us, especially young women and girls with myriad other identities, we need to fight back in a way that is both constructive and effective.
And we have to call out these connections when we see them.

The Fords - Bullies on a Technicality

More than that, it's bullying as defined by Public Safety Canada:
Correct me if I'm wrong, but all Political Parties have agreed that bullying is bad to the point where they're trying to legislate change in schools and workplaces.  The Private Sector has concluded that workplace bullying hurts productivity and leads to insurance claims and hospital visits.
Of course, the Fords won't care about any of this - they know they're right and will shout down or threaten anyone who disagrees with them. 
After all, that's what bullies do.

Sandra Pupatello

Make no mistake - the Ontairo Liberal Party is blessed with a bevy of amazing Leadership potentials.  Each of the could-be-candidates that have been buzzed about would do an amazing job as Premier; each has the smarts, the vision, the empathy and the decisiveness to lead our province. 
They can all muster exceptional teams to develop and communicate policy, to connect with voters, stakeholders and the Opposition Parties alike.  Best of all, these are professionals - servants of the people who are liberals of conscience, not convenience.  That means that whoever wins will have the full support of the others, presenting a political powerhouse dedicated to serving the best interests of Ontarians.
Of all these amazing potentials, though, it's definitely Sandra Pupatello that gets me the most excited.  In addition to being smart, savvy, caring yet tough when she needs to be, Pupatello is also larger than life.  You feel her presence; the air crackles when she walks into a room.  When she speaks to a constituent, or a stakeholder, or a potential partner, they feel like they are her whole world and get sucked in by her charisma (helped by the fact that she actually listens).  Watching her give a barn burner speech would be like attending a rock concert; Pupatello creates a community of experience that resonates, that lasts and, most importantly, that mobilizes.
It's why she was so effective as Minister of Economic Development and International Trade; she put a face on Ontario that enticed the world into investing in our province.  Even opponents who have been peeled by her respect her ability to connect with anyone, even political foes, as human beings.  This is why she was so effective in leading the Community and Social Services and Education Ministries - she actually cares about people.  As I've mentioned elsewhere, I will never forget when she walked over to Marilyn Churley in the Legislature and gave her a hug at the passage of the Adoption Information Disclosure Act.  She can be partisan when she needs to, but Pupatello is fundamentally about doing the right thing and will work with anyone to make that happen - and recognize their contributions in doing so, too.

Despite an obvious political crush, I'm not throwing my support, for what it's worth, behind Pupatello quite yet.  While ability, savvy and a knack for motivating and mobilizing teams are essential qualities in a winning candidate, this race isn't about the Leadership of the Liberal Party - that's just a conduit for helping to grow Ontario.  What will sell me is the plan.  I know that Pupatello understands the economics, the social policy, the education policy - and she can certainly pick up what she needs on health care, justice, First Nations and the environment, all of it, through osmosis and carefully-picked teams. 
What matters to me is how well she's able to connect the dots and weave a cohesive plan that hits all the right points simultaneously.  The pressures facing our economy are impacting families, which in turn impacts children and their education.  Equally, our social strains are placing an avoidable burden on health care and additional services and far too many communities of Ontarians are getting short shrift.  There are plenty of bright young social innovators out there with great ideas that can make our world a better place, but lack the business skills to build the right networks and sell those ideas to investors.  The nature of labour is changing, too - Ontario's businesses need the right knowledge and right tools to ensure our province gets ahead of the economic curve.
Ontario's success is built on a solid foundation:
- Strength through diversity
- An unwavering commitment to overcome difference and share opportunities; economic, cultural, etc.
- Life-long learning, available to everyone and accessible to individual learning requirements
- Universal health care that's there when you need it, but also the tools individuals need to stay healthy
- Responsible use of our natural resources that plans for generations, not just the next election
- A strong Justice system that focuses on remediation, not retribution
- Accessible, transparent, collaborative governance
The stronger our foundation is, the higher we can reach.  If Sandra Pupatello can pull a plan like that together, combined with her natural leadership qualities and the backing of a strong Ontario Liberal Party, it's not just my support she'll have earned - it'll be all Ontario's.


This saddens me.  When it becomes about winning, not achieving, you've lost.  We as Liberals and as Ontarians deserve better.


Pupatello gave one of the humblest, most dedicated concession speeches I have ever heard, that ended right where she began in politics - here's our leader, here's the plan, lets make it happen.  It was inspirational  really.  It's good to have her back.

Wednesday 24 October 2012

Donald Trump - the Russell Oliver of US Politics

Was it going to be a divorce shocker?  The revelation that Obama was actually born in Area 51?  What juicy political gossip did Trump have up his sleeve?
Actually, it turns out he had nothing up his sleeve other than money.  His big, revealing announcement wasn't announcing anything revealing at all - he simply wanted to put out an offer, money for what he hopes is "dirt" on the President. 
Just like the Cashman, execpt with records in place of jewels or gold.
Trump is a hugely successful businessman, just as Romney is.  Their approach, though, is terrible for politics.  It'll rile up the already-converted, sure, but will turn off the average undediced voter and will actuallly work against the GOP.
Money can buy you many things, Mr. Trump, but political sense isn't one of 'em - and neither is integrity.
Oh, yeah!

John Franklin Stephens responds to Anne Coulter

I was diagnosed with a learning disability when I was in high school - Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder.  This "retardation" left me with the general attention span of a gnat and meant that I was completely ill-equipped for success in the rote-learning education model of my youth.  I couldn't (and still can't) just "absorb" something; I have to understand it to learn it.  At the same time, I could and do put ideas together and multi-task like there's no tomorrow. 
Through a lot of hard work, discipline and supportive strategies, I've learned to manage these challenges and function successfully in an attention-superfluous world.  That which gives me communication challenges in some contexts has proven to be a gift in others; I might be terrible at taking notes down off a blackboard, but I have never had a problem with generating original material.  While I am an award-winning writer, I don't think I could ever hit the notes of emotional sincerity or clarity of message this "retarded" man has done with so few words. 
imageWhat moves me more than the careful phrasing of Stephens' letter, though, is it's overall tone.  Despite the challenges he faces and the bigotry he has undoubtedly experienced, even from those who mean well, there is not a bitter bone in his body.  Stephens' letter isn't meant to chastise Coulter, though he's well within his rights to do so.  Instead, he wants to help her overcome her own bitterness through empathy and understanding.  While probably part of Mitt Romney's 47%, Stephens clearly doesn't see himself as a victim.  Instead of concluding with an angry missive to an ignorant woman, he signs off as "a friend you haven't met yet."  My god, that's a powerful statement.
This "retarded" man has learned to read, write and express himself just as "non-retarded" people like Anne Coulter do - and do so, I'd argue, far more powerfully.  If there's hope that people with challenges can not only function in but contribute to society, there might just be hope that people like Coulter can overcome their social-emotional "retardation" as well.

Deeds, Not Words, Define You

You know what's ironic?  Many a bureaucrat I know at Queen's Park felt the same way under the Harris government.  I can think of a couple of folk in particular that singled out Tim Hudak for his "management style."  Hudak would never carry the hammer - he'd walk around and be chummy with the bureaucrats.  He always wanted to be seen as likable.  Seeing him, though, sparked fear in the hearts of staff, for shortly after Hudak passed, his Chief Bulldog would come behind and bark orders and lay down the criticism.
There's a modus operandi here - not one reflective of the Conservative Party, but the current crop of political operators specifically.  They see government as a business and employees as just another resource to be used and abused as they please.  These folk see the public as consumers - so long as you give them bread and circuses, the process doesn't matter.
It's not your words, but your actions that define you - and the same actors that were behind Mike Harris and are propping up Stephen Harper now are the same ones working the Hudak PC machine.

Tuesday 23 October 2012

Horses and Bayonets Get the Meme Treatment

Like binders full of women before it, the moment Obama dropped that zinger, the tweet-o-sphere was predicting an ensuing meme.  It didn't take long!
The go-forward question is, how can you channel the power of the meme as a force for good?

Memes are coming...

Sean Bean, the meme machine:

Kinda appropriate for the bicentennial of 1812... it's got the horses and bayonets at least!

Risque, taking the Romney's an elite" into "like a plantation owner" territory...
Carried on by connecting his supporters with grey coats
If Romney's only the apprentice, does that mean Dick Cheney's still active?

Yee haw!  Though I question whether Romney knows how to ride...

More direct

Damn it, Barry - you sank my campaign!

Damn it, Ryan, I told you to fetch the horses and bayonets, not a bird!
There are so many ways you can play with this.  Take any pop-culture phenomenon, affix horses and bayonets, and you have something that someone like me will endless post and share.  There is, however, the ever-present risk of taking it too far, both in terms of demonizing the target and creating additional offense with the comparisons.
If used wisely, though, memes are communication gold.  You don't need to go @vikileaks for traction - it's the #tellviceverything's that leave an impression, empower people to engage and can be fun, too. 

Jesus Loves Obama

I'd be really curious to see just which election race this pastor is following, because there ain't no Muslim in the Presidential debate.
But what if there was?  To quote Coiln Powell - is there something wrong with being a Muslim in the USA?
There's also been questioned raised about Obama's authenticity as an American, despite his birth certificate proving otherwise.  Is there something wrong with being an immigrant in a nation of immigrants?  Yes, there's a a law about Presidents having to be born in the US, but is it a valid one?  The US is lucky in that its borders remain consistent, but what if they didn't?  Is it birth or belief that determines who is committed to the country?
Back the Christian thing, though.  I wonder how thoughtfully these "Obama's not a Christian" types have considered the underpinnings of their faith.  Their approach is more cult-like, focused on insiders and outsiders to the religion than they are Christ's actual message. 
The disparagers of diversity shouldn't need reminding that Christ himself wasn't a Christian - he was a Jewish reformer.  The first Christians weren't card-carrying members of Club Christ, either; they were believers in a man and his vision of a world that stood for something more than individual gain (granted, I think his message was Sufi-esque rather than directly literal).  Christianity began much more in the vein of Occupy, except rallied behind a leader, than it did an institution.  All the trappings of an organized religion came later.
The same, oddly enough, holds true of Islam.  Islam holds Christ up as a prophet rather than an end-game and kicks the ball further down the field to Mohammad.  Islam is no more a repudiation of Christianity than Christianity is a repudiation of Judaism; both offspring of the original Abrahamic religion are, if anything, adaptations to time, place and context, just was was Martin Luther's Reformation.
It shouldn't have come as any surprise to faithful Christians that Libyan Muslims praised God upon finding Ambassador Stevens alive in the Benghazi embassy and tried to get him help.  They were simply acting out a shared principle: So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)
In my opinion, those who wish to carry on the mission Christ laid out shouldn't be focused on division - that's a bit too much like casting the first stone.  Likewise, they shouldn't be looking to demonize any man or woman as being "un-Christian" - the act of demonizing itself is unbecoming of Christians.
But how does that help Christians who want to ensure they have a President that reflect their values?  That's a church and state thing - leave unto Caesar that which is Caesar's.  You can support a candidate that reflects your beliefs, but to demand only leaders that share the Christian brand is to stray from what Christ taught in the first place.  Instead, what Christians can do is what everyone else does - advocate and empower candidates with their perspective: And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. (2 Timothy 2:24)
What would Jesus do were he around today?  He would love both Barack Obama and Mitt Romney; he would probably love Ahmadinejad, al-Assad and Kim Jong-un, too.  Instead of campaigning against, he would share his counsel with both sides, and anyone else willing to listen.  This is no surprise if you're a Christian, because that's exactly what the Gospels depicts Jesus as doing in his time.  True followers of his message will do the same.

Monday 22 October 2012

The Linguistics of Politics

The Koreans invented their own writing system - they did it to ensure literacy among the broader populace, as learning Chinese characters was a complicated task that only elites with free time could master.  The resulting phonetic alphabet is one of the easiest to learn in all of human language.  The system was designed with the user in mind; the rules were carefully recorded and taught to ensure continuity.
King Se-Jong created this system because he understood the intrinsic value of knowledge and communication.  He wanted to spread the light of wisdom throughout his kingdom, knowing the benefits would be countless.  The Chinese system was still kept in tandem because there was value in having multiple systems to record and share ideas, both to inform and provide counter-balance.
Now look at this writing system, undeciphered, lost to history.  The Mr One Hundreds might have created their own system for political reasons; to be distinct from the Mesopotamians or to ensure that only the elites had access.  They defined themselves, after all, on how many people they ruled over - not by what they accomplished.  So cautiously did they guard their literary secrets, however, that the system could not be sustained.  Without collaboration, without sharing, without embracing diversity, their story ended up going extinct.
It's the same with writing as it is with language, culture or ethnicity.  That which stagnates in isolation dies.  That which embraces diversity, transparency and collaboration evolves and continues.

Proto-Elamite script