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

Friday 5 April 2013

A Meme You Can't Not Love

Paul Ryan cribs the Ryan Gosling meme addressing Ayn Rand, with an ending that hints at faith in the collective "us."

It's inspired, really.

Is Strong Healthcare At Risk?

You can make arguments for or against the notion of expending service on likely-to-die patients; I've written on the topic myself.  It's important to recognize, regardless of your position, that medical service providers are human; their are physical and emotional strains associated with related professions that practitioners simply can't brush off.  ER nurses are suffering from burnout, but if they try to get leave or assistance, they're costing the system more and are being told, instead, to suck it up - just like other professionals do.  You know, like over-stressed contractors and real estate agents.  It's not fair for public professionals, regardless of the real impact of their work on society, to get more benefits than someone operating in the private sector, after all.  And, as we all know, the economic well is drying up.  It's time taxpayers paid less.
Rob Ford is a champion of this kind of thinking.  He seems not to value the public employee, unless their job is to find savings.  Tim Hudak operates the same way, as does Stephen Harper.  You needn't worry about a Conservative trifecta to see how a focus on the bottom line is already impacting healthcare, though - there's a wave of cost constraint that is washing through the public healthcare system from top to bottom. 
Bureaucrats will tell us that Cesarean Sections are being used for cosmetic purposes by mothers-to-be not wanting to go through natural births and as such, doctors are being told to discourage the practice where possible.  I have spoken to a number of oobstetricians and have yet to hear supporting evidence.  Walking around Labour and Delivery in city hospitals are clip-board wielding suits, discouraging spending wherever they think they can - I'm not sure what training they have, but it must be disconcerting for medical doctors to be made to second-guess their split-second decisions not on the side of life, but on the side of finances. 

Strategic Altruism: The Social Media Arms Race

Deny it all you want, but its charm and value-add, not aggression and guns that will help you move forward.  It's ever been thus - we simply have to accept that truth.

In January 2013, the Washington Post published an article titled "The secret behind Israel's dysfunctional political system." That same day, the Embassy of Israel in Washington responded, taking to its Twitter account — which has more 36,000 followers — with a snarky rebuttal: "Based on the actual article text," tweeted the embassy, "may we suggest a new headline: The secret behind Israel's functional political system." That the embassy responded to news that could have painted Israel in a negative light wasn't newsworthy — but the means and voice with which it did so were.
In a new era of social media tools that allow individuals and organizations to communicate and interact directly with online "friends," "followers," "fans" and "supporters," foreign embassies based in Washington, D.C., have started expanding the means by which they tell their side of the story. No longer do embassies have to rely only on letters to the editor that appear days later or press releases that are easy to ignore, but as the Israeli Embassy did, they can now submit instantaneous responses and engage more easily in conversations — all for free, with unlimited audiences and with the potential that their message could go viral.
These new tools — Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Pinterest and others — have changed how the world communicates, whether it's a head of state making a headline-grabbing declaration, rebels trying to foment a revolution, or just old friends living continents apart reconnecting. But these tools have also changed the language of local diplomacy, allowing embassies to be more relaxed and approachable than what traditional diplomatic protocol often requires. a few years ago, only a handful of embassies and ambassadors had a presence on social media. Today, Washington-based embassies from across the globe have jumped with gusto into this emerging realm of digital diplomacy.
The British Embassy has close to 20,000 followers on Twitter and over 5,400 "likes" on its official Facebook page, while Israel's combined reach with both popular services exceeds 100,000. The Embassy of Canada tweets to over 6,500 followers and regularly posts photographs on its Flickr page. The Polish Embassy is on YouTube. The United Arab Emirates not only employs Facebook and Twitter, but also created its own iPhone and iPad app, the only embassy to do so. The European Union Delegation just launched a new website in part to better showcase its Twitter efforts, interactive maps and photo galleries. And the Dutch Embassy recently took to Storify, using the service to aggregate tweets and Facebook postings to create minute-by-minute summaries of events it hosts.
The move toward social media is in many ways motivated by necessity more than desire. According to a December 2012 report by the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life Project, 67 percent of all Internet users in the United States regularly turn to social media. Of that number, 67 percent use Facebook, 16 percent use Twitter, 15 percent use Pinterest, 13 percent use Instagram, and 6 percent use Tumblr. Globally, it is estimated that there are more than 1.5 billion social media users, with close to 1 billion people using Facebook alone. Communications professionals say that entire conversations and interactions — especially among the critical 18-29 demographic — take place via social media, making it a tool of incomparable importance and reach for institutions seeking to spread their message.
At a recent discussion on social media at the Meridian International Center, Bob Boorstin, public policy director of Google, pointed out that digital diplomacy is still in its infancy, with only one-third of the world's population having access to the Internet. He also said that while social media can supplement traditional diplomacy, it cannot replace face-to-face encounters and a diplomat's social skills.
But it does open up a direct line of access to the public in a way old-fashioned diplomacy never could.
"You want to be there. You want to be where the conversation is taking place, and for any company, for any embassy, for any country — no matter the entity — the conversation is taking place out there whether you like it or not, and you need to engage in that conversation. [Y]ou need to be represented across many social media platforms to make sure that if the conversation is there, they have someone to turn to," said Peter LaMotte, senior vice president at Levick, a Washington-based PR firm that has worked with embassies on using social media tools to further their political and communications strategies in Washington.
The conversation can take many forms and include a diversity of content. While some countries rely on social media as another outlet to express political viewpoints, many use it to promote culture, tourism and elements of public diplomacy that expose their audiences to aspects of the country that may not be well known (and that sidestep touchy political issues).
The British Embassy's most popular social media tool is its visually rich Tumblr page, which it uses for cultural promotions, while the British Council used Facebook to share a Halloween picture of its staff dressed up like the characters from "Downton Abbey." Given the popularity of the TV show, the images were quickly and widely shared among thousands of people — a boon in the promotion of British heritage. Likewise, the British Embassy's Flickr page features photos of "Downton" cast members hanging out at Ambassador Peter Westmacott's residence during a December reception. The Flickr photos offer a glimpse inside exclusive parties with Washington VIPs such as White House Advisor Valerie Jarrett and Arianna Huffington, while others show a more down-to-earth side of diplomacy, like embassy staff training for a bike ride they'll do with U.S. wounded war veterans from Paris to London.
For the United Arab Emirates, social media tools offer the embassy an opportunity to communicate a variety of messages, from the political to the cultural to the economic.
"We absolutely mix it up as much as we can. We try not to make it about politics all the time, because there's more to the United Arab Emirates than just that," said Haitham Al Mussawi, the embassy's digital diplomacy editor. "So we try to inform and educate as much as we can about the U.S.-UAE relationship, about women's rights, about education, about culture and heritage, and about the philanthropy between United Arab Emirates and the U.S." noted that the embassy was recently able to use social media to correct an assumption that the United States buys oil from the UAE; it doesn't, said Al Mussawi, but the UAE does do roughly $20 billion of annual business with the United States.
For the Greek Embassy, Facebook and Twitter are avenues to inculcate positive sentiments in an era of difficult political and economic news for the country. "Our main objective is to create a positive sentiment around Greece. So we focus on culture, travel and good news about Greece. Especially now with the crisis, we want to promote — in an interactive way — good stories that do exist back home," said Maria Galanou, the embassy's press officer.
This, said LaMotte, is one of the core benefits of social media. "Every country has a positive message, every country has something that they can share about their country of what they're doing on education, what they're doing on diplomacy. All of them have those stories. Those are the stories that you want to engage in. Because people can be turned around," said LaMotte, whose PR firm recently hosted the EU Delegation and embassy representatives from Austria, Peru, Sweden the UAE and others during a Digital Diplomacy Open House as part of Social Media Week, a worldwide event exploring the social, cultural and economic impact of social media.
In addition to amplifying cultural or political messages, social media is also used to convey more basic information, communicating with local diasporas, for example, or providing timely information to nationals traveling in the United States should events warrant it. During Hurricane Sandy, said Al Mussawi, the embassy was able to use Twitter and Facebook to get in touch with UAE tourists visiting the United States, as did the Italian Embassy.
"We assign great importance to social media — for example, broadcasting information on Hurricane Sandy last fall, providing updates on the situation, and a list of emergency numbers of our diplomatic network for Italian tourists in the U.S. and any nationals needing assistance," said Italian Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero.
Various embassies have divided up their social media presence into institutional and personal — both the embassy and the ambassador can maintain individual Twitter accounts, for example. Indonesian Ambassador Dino Patti Djalal and former Mexican Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan — both of whom embraced Twitter early on — each boast more than 100,000 followers. Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren has his own Twitter account with 10,000 followers, while Ecuadorean Ambassador Nathalie Cely Suárez has 31,500 followers of her own.
Cely spoke at the Meridian International Center on Feb. 21 for another Social Media Week discussion, "Power to the Tweeple: Best Practices in Digital Diplomacy," co-hosted by Google. The Ecuadorian envoy agreed with panelists such as Google's Bob Boorstin and Facebook's Katie Harbath that social media is more effective when engaging an audience with a "persona," rather than as a faceless mouthpiece dictating reworked press releases and official statements. For example, by tweeting informally and often in Spanish, Cely puts a personal touch on her professional observations.
While some ambassadors clearly do their own tweeting, not everyone will admit as to whether the chiefs of mission are the real voices behind the tweets, though envoys who are hands-on see social media as a means to break down the walls of protocol that tend to surround embassies.
"Sometimes I make personal comments about the weather or how I feel or how happy or unhappy I was with something. I make my own my own personal appreciations," said EU Ambassador João Vale de Almeida, who recently took on his own Twitter account (and provided live tweets during the U.S. presidential inauguration). "One-third of it is of a more personal nature, two-thirds of it are more professional. I think Twitter has to be personal, otherwise there's no interest."
Of course, social media can't merely be another way for institutions to talk at people, but rather has to be a means of talking with them, and therein lies a fundamental challenge. An interactive dialogue takes manpower, and not every embassy has the resources to constantly maintain websites, let alone multiple social media sites. And not every comment merits a response.
On that note, many embassies admit they have to balance when and how to respond to the public. As much as Twitter or Facebook are useful soapboxes, they also offer critics a chance to comment — and often abrasively. The more controversial the topic or country, the more difficult that balance can be to achieve.
"Israel is sometimes perceived as a controversial topic, so there's a lot of back and forth between people who love Israel and are very in favor of it and a few people that are against it. You have to have a balance between the people you're going to respond to and the people that you won't," said Jed Shein, who directs social media efforts for the Israeli Embassy. "I think what we really look at are what are the main issues, what do people want to hear? We're willing to react and respond to people."
But maybe the biggest challenge faced by embassies isn't so much what they can say — but rather what they can't. Social media tools are freewheeling and often anonymous; conversations and comments can move much faster than what traditional institutions, especially embassies, are able to respond to. Embassies are still bound by the political imperatives and messages of the ministries or cabinet secretaries they answer to, and sensitive diplomatic topics often have to be left off of social media. One badly worded tweet can easily create a diplomatic firestorm. In a sense, this leaves embassies at a disadvantage, especially when dealing with hot-button political issues: Users of social media can easily tell when they're being fed canned responses, and don't often take kindly to them.
Yet finding a voice — even in the midst of crisis — is important. For Shein and the Israeli Embassy, being a focus of controversy can often help. "We're not afraid to be a little edgy. That's what we're really proud of. We get a lot of front-page headlines — some of them in favor, some of them not in favor — but it's how we're going to grab the attention of people and kind of break through the filter of the media that won't write everything that you might be interested in," he said.
For LaMotte, the benefits of using social media far outweigh some of the drawbacks in navigating what can be said, how it can said, and when it can be said. "The fact of the matter is that whether it's a corporation or a country, their hesitancy comes from pretty much the same place, which is, this is an incredibly powerful tool that we're not sure we fully understand, and if things go poorly, we can control," he said. "We educate them first that getting engaged is the most important piece."

Social Media Starter Tips

Be Present, But Have a Plan

Social media is a reality that exists out there, and millions of people already use it to communicate. If you're not on it, you're already behind the curve. Fortunately, it's easy, widely accessible and, best of all, free. That being said, it's easy to get lost in all the noise; without a proper plan of how to use tools as diverse as Twitter and Facebook to Pinterest and Tumblr, your message will not only be forgotten — it could never be noticed at all. Jump into social media, but know what you want to achieve with it.

Be Creative, Funny, Risky

Given the high noise-to-content ratio in much of the social media world, you'll have to be creative in how you communicate, engage, and get your point across. Use Tumblr and Pinterest for more visually compelling content, and use Twitter and Facebook to decipher some of the traditional codes and conceptions surrounding diplomacy. If an ambassador or senior embassy official is on Twitter, they should liberally mix in personal observations with professional obligations. Social media can be risky, but risks pay handsome rewards.

Speak With People, Not At Them

Social media tools enable conversations. Use them as such. While it could be easy to simply tweet out rehearsed talking points or post embassy press releases on a Facebook page, social media tools should be used to engage people who are already out there. That doesn't mean you have to avoid making a point, but you should be willing to go back and forth with people — respectfully — when they engage. Additionally, listen to what people are saying and what they might want and respond in kind.

The Cultural Fight For Guns (by Adam Gopnik)

One of the oddities of the gun-control debate—apart from ours being the only country that really has one—is that the gun side basically gave up on serious arguments about safety or self-defense or anything else a while ago. The old claims about the million—or was it two million? It kept changing—bad guys stopped by guns each year has faded under the light of scrutiny. Indeed, people who possess guns are almost five times more likely to be shot than those who don’t. (“A gun may falsely empower its possessor to overreact, instigating and losing otherwise tractable conflicts with similarly armed persons,” the authors of one study point out, to help explain that truth.) Far from providing greater safety, gun possession greatly increases the risk of getting shot—and, as has long been known, keeping a gun in the house chiefly endangers the people who live there.
And so the new arguments for keeping as many guns as possible in the hands of as many people as possible tend to be more broadly fatalistic, and sometimes sniffily “cultural.” Ours is a gun-ridden country and a gun-filled culture, the case goes, and to try and change that is not just futile but, in a certain sense, disrespectful, even ill-mannered. It’s not just that Mayor Bloomberg’s indignation is potentially counter-productive—basically, his critics suggest, if not so bluntly, because a rich, short Jew from New York is not a persuasive advocate against guns. It’s that Mayor Bloomberg just doesn’t get it, doesn’t understand the central role that guns play in large parts of non-metropolitan American culture. What looks to his admirers like courage his detractors dismiss as snobbishness.
And so the real argument about guns, and about assault weapons in particular, is becoming not primarily an argument about public safety or public health but an argument about cultural symbols. It has to do, really, with the illusions that guns provide, particularly the illusion of power. The attempts to use the sort of logic that helped end cigarette smoking don’t quite work, because the “smokers” in this case feel something less tangible and yet more valued than their own health is at stake. As my friend and colleague Alec Wilkinson wrote, with the wisdom of a long-ago cop, “Nobody really believes it’s about maintaining a militia. It’s about having possession of a tool that makes a person feel powerful nearly to the point of exaltation. …I am not saying that people who love guns inordinately are unstable; I am saying that a gun is the most powerful device there is to accessorize the ego.”
It’s true. Everyone, men especially, needs ego-accessories, and they are most often irrationally chosen. Middle-aged stockbrokers in New York collect Stratocasters and Telecasters they’ll never play; Jay Leno and Jerry Seinfeld own more cars than they can drive. Wine cellars fill up with wine that will never be drunk. The propaganda for guns and the identification of gun violence with masculinity is so overpoweringly strong in our culture that it is indeed hard to ask those who already feel disempowered to resist their allure. If we asked all those middle-aged bankers to put away their Strats—an activity that their next-door neighbors would bless—they would be indignant. It’s not about music; it’s about me, they would say, and my right to own a thing that makes me happy. And so with guns. Dan Baum, for instance, has an interesting new book out, “Gun Guys: A Road Trip.” His subjects, those gun guys, are portrayed sympathetically—they are sympathetic—and one gets their indignation at what they see as their “warrior ethic” being treated with contempt by non-gun guys. (That’s, at least, how they experience it, though where it matters, in Congressional votes, there is little but deference.) As Baum points out, gun laws are loose in America because that’s the way most Americans want it, or them.
But though you’ve got to empathize before you can understand, understanding doesn’t entail acceptance. Slavery, polygamy, female circumcision—all these things played a vital role at one time or another in somebody’s sense of the full expression of who they are. We struggle to understand our own behavior in order to alter it: everything evil that has ever been done on earth was once a precious part of somebody’s culture, including our own.
We should indeed be as tolerant as humanly possible about other people’s pleasures, even when they’re opaque to us, and try only to hive off the bad consequences from the good. The trouble is that assault weapons have no good consequences in civilian life. A machine whose distinguishing characteristic is that it can put a hundred and sixty-five lethal projectiles into the air in a few moments has no real use except to kill many living things very quickly. We cannot limit its bad uses while allowing its beneficial ones, because it has no beneficial ones. If the only beneficial ones are the feeling of power they provide, then that’s not good enough—not for the rest of us to be obliged to tolerate their capacity to damage and kill. (And as to the theoretical tyrannies that they protect us from: well, if our democratic government and its military did turn on us, that would surely present a threat and a problem that no number of North Dakotans with their Bushmasters could solve.)
In a practical sense, we’ve been reduced to arguing about marginal measures—a universal background check, which might still become law; an assault-weapons ban, which seems to have been put aside. There is, let it be said, another cultural argument to be made here about both. Though gun violence remains shockingly common in America, gun massacres, of the kind that took place in Newtown or, before, in Aurora (remember that? A while ago now, though this week the shooter appeared in court) and that are dependent, in some ways, on the speed and scope of assault weapons, are still statistically rare. If one is playing the odds, there really isn’t any reason to be frightened for your children each time you drop them off at first grade, though parents feel that fear anyway. They might have more to worry about from the gun in the closet, or the person who will still be able to get a gun legally. That’s true about lots of things. It’s even truer about terrorism, for instance. Yet, rather obviously, we spend a lot of money, and go through many airport contortions, to protect ourselves from what is, rationally considered, a minute threat.
That we do so is not unreasonable. Though, from a cold-blooded accounting point of view, we might be able to survive many more 9/11s, the shiver that one feels writing that sentence reveals its falseness. The nation might survive it, but we would not, in the sense that our belief in ourselves, our feeling for our country, our core sense of optimism about the future, would collapse with repeated terrorist attacks. And so it is with gun massacres, whether in Aurora or Newtown or the next place. Our sense of what is an acceptable and unacceptable risk for any citizen, let alone child, to endure, our sense of possible futures to consider—above all, our sense, to borrow a phrase from the President, of who we are, what we stand for, the picture of our civilization we want to look at ourselves and present to the world—all of that is very much at stake even if the odds of any given child being killed are, blessedly, small. Laws should be designed to stop likely evils; it’s true, not every possible evil. But some possible evils are evil enough to call for laws just by their demonstrated possibility. There are a few things a society just can’t bear, and watching its own kids killed in the classroom, even every once in a while, is one of them.

Brand Management: Go Social or Go Home

We are the brands our companies keep - or something to that effect. 
The lines are blurred so much that it's not a matter of living to work or working to live, but work being life and life being work; the trick is to integrate these two parts seamlessly and draw enjoyment from both.

How Do You Merge Your 9-to-5 Brand with Your Personal Brand?

zapposWhen we go to work each day, we don certain attire to achieve a certain look as we become representatives of our company. Some companies have actual uniforms: McDonald’s, service departments within car dealerships, the US Post Office, and many, many more. Professional service firms, such as, accounting firms, law firms, and banks, have an unwritten uniform that features a suit and tie for men and dresses or suits for women. However, do we represent our employer or our own unique brand?

Consider Zappos and the culture that Tony Hsieh has created: all employees strive to create an exceptional experience for customers. Zappos employees will even go above and beyond for potential customers even if the company doesn’t sell a desired product. Consider Southwest Airlines: while it is known as a low cost, no frills airline, the company’s employees understand that they are in “the customer service business and just happen to provide airline transportation.”
It’s clear that employees of Southwest and Zappos represent their brands while on the clock, and it’s easy to see why. But while many of us are representations of our companies and extensions of our brands during business hours, what happens at the close of business? At that point, you represent yourself: your unique strengths, expertise, education, and experience. Your unique brand must be maintained so that you can give 110% each and every day. And remember, it’s due to your unique brand that you were hired in the first place.
In the words of Tom Peters, “Big companies understand the importance of brands. Today, in the Age of the Individual, you have to be your own brand. [You have] to be the CEO of Me Inc. You’re every bit as much a brand as Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop. To start thinking like your own favorite brand manager, ask yourself the same question the brand managers at Nike, Coke, Pepsi, or the Body Shop ask themselves: What is it that my product or service does that makes it different? Give yourself the traditional 15-words-or-less contest challenge. Take the time to write down your answer. And then take the time to read it. Start by identifying the qualities or characteristics that make you distinctive from your competitors – or your colleagues. What have you done lately – this week – to make yourself stand out?”
Here are five tips to nurture your individual brand:
[1] Write a mission statement (or brand promise) with an action plan to clarify your professional goals and list your key strengths.
[2] Keep your digital footprint current – create a detailed profile on LinkedIn and update it regularly with project highlights, create a blog, participate in conversations on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.
[3] Attend continuing education courses in your specialty area, either from experts within your business or elsewhere.
[4] Request to participate in cross-departmental meetings at your business in order to gain a more comprehensive understanding of how all departments work together – and as a result, volunteer for new projects outside of your comfort zone.
[5] Share your expertise with others by speaking to chambers of commerce, panel discussions, local businesses, friends’ companies, etc. – and also join professional organizations.
As David McNally and Karl D. Speak write in their book, Be Your Own Brand – Achieve More of What You Want by Being More of Who You Are, “Everyone has a brand, and anyone can be a strong brand. It doesn’t involve changing your personality – you can be an introvert or extrovert. And it’s definitely not about trying to be something you’re not. The difference between one personal brand and another is that the person with a strong brand utilizes his or her special qualities to make a difference in the lives of others.”
So, does your personal brand accurately reflect what you want it to? You need brand dimensions (the combination of standards and style that defines the unique attributes of your brand) and a personal brand promise (a concise, meaningful, and inspiring statement that sums up the relationship you have with someone else). Then, your personal brand has great potential. But you’re not done yet.
You must think like a brand manager, and the brand is YOU. McNally and Speak offer 11 tips:

[1] Develop and refine your personal brand platform.
[2] Be brand proud.
[3] Audit your brand promise.
[4] Be authentic.
[5] Make sure the signals you send convey relevance to others.
[6] Be consistent.
[7] Make sure your package reflects your contents.
[8] Brands are known by the company they keep.
[9] Find alignment between your personal brand and your employer’s brand – if possible.
[10] Start counting relationships as part of your asset base.
[11] Go social or go home.
So remember, while you represent your company during business hours, you ALWAYS represent your individual brand!
photo credit: magnifynet

The Wussification of American Men and What Tough REALLY Looks Like

I read these two articles in tandem yesterday:
Of course, if you're on the far political right, both authors "don't get it" - they are, to you, enablers of the wussification of men.  Screaming at kids, deriding them as "less manly" (ie, gay as a Spartanbrotherly/paternal love between men) makes them tougher, as does throwing balls at their heads.  People like Mike Rice are tough, aggressive, bombastic - what men are supposed to be.
If the alpha male is so tough, then, why do they seem to need so much protection?  How can they feel so put-upon if their hides are so thick?  In some subsets of Islam, women need to cover themselves to create a wall between them and men, who would otherwise be too tempted by them.  You know, like Oscar Pistorius, tough guy, masculine athlete.  Fellow tough guys like Femi Fani Kayode seem to feel the need to circle the wagons around him, too, defending him from a mean world and telling us that his girlfriend made him kill her
Canada's most infamous boxer, Senator Patrick Brazeau, is another exemplification of alpha-tough; ex-military, powerfully built, likes to trash-talk.  He got beaten by a leaner, more strategic opponent in the ring, got caught behaving unethically in his position and quite likely took to assaulting his girlfriend to subconsciously prove to himself that he could still dominate at something.  When he was recently called out for making a stupid April Fools' joke about stepping down from the Senate (where he has clearly not been working hard enough to earn the people's money), his response was "I played the media" - implying, at least to himself, that he was in control.
Another sporting fella with a reduced on-the-job-energy expenditure is Rob Ford - football coach, tough guy, tough Mayor.  Except that he constantly whines about media criticism and is so wounded by it that he simply refuses to engage them.  I wouldn't expect a tough guy to rely so heavily on 911; maybe he just needs a gun.

If you have a gun, you're to be feared.  You have control over the life and death of others.  Owning a gun makes one feel powerful.  Power and dominance, of course, play a big role in gang culture - as it does in any gun culture, including the one in the States.  What guns don't do is make their wielder tough.  Any scrawny tech-geek can learn to use a gun and with it, take down the burliest of men without getting their hands dirty.  If anything, depending on an external tool like a gun to define one's ability to dominate makes one less tough, not more. 
When I look at the big picture, this is what I see; alpha males like Eric Bolling want a licence to dominate the herd and aren't willing to face criticism.  They call themselves tough, but they're not very resilient.  Indeed, there's a definitive fragility to their egos that seems to require protection from verbal assailants by their fellow alpha peers.
It's as true of tough-minded Political Parties as it is of individuals; they want unquestioned authority to dominate the landscape and have no one challenge them on resource usage.  That's the whole point of being alpha - you swat down any challengers.  Facts don't matter - he who wields the club defines the rules.
There's a bigger trend here, if you look for it - the "wussification of American men" plays out as the emancipation of everyone else.  So, the real issue isn't one of declining strength, but of increased responsibility and sharing of power. 
So, yes - Bolling is right, in a sense.  The American Culture of the Founding Fathers is in decline.  At least according to these mortal words in the Declaration of Independence concerning the rights of men:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

The focus here is on the rights of men (White, Anglo-Saxon land-owning men specifically), rights endowed by God.  Mike Rice exercised his rights - smacking around kids over whom he had authority made him feel powerful, which is always a good feeling.  Oscar Pistorious defended his right as a man, removing a barrier to his unalienable right to be content.  The veiling of women (when imposed), the beating of wives, the rape of daughters can be interpreted as expressions of a masculine right to freedom and pursuit of self-gratifying endeavours.  But the implication here is that rights are the unalienable property of men, only and suggests nothing about responsibility.
But the Delectation of Independence has something to say about responsibilities, too:
But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
The abolition of slavery, Suffrage, Civil Rights, Gay Marriage - these are all efforts to reduce the yoke of despotism that have historically denied the rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness to non-whites, the socially disenfranchised, religious and ethnic minorities and of course, women.
I attended a talk yesterday that focused on domestic abuse in Aboriginal communities.  The women who spoke told tales of horrific abuse; one had her jaw broken by her husband.  Another explained how alcohol saved her life, because during a fit of rage, her husband was too drunk to find the right bullets for the gun he planned to shoot her with.  Another talked about visiting rural communities and having to explain to 15 year old girls that no, she didn't have to submit to sex with her father or uncle.
There were tears during these presentations, but there was also indomitable strength.  These women had endured horrors far beyond the scope of a man-cold and yet had continued to support their children and seek opportunities for a better life.  Instead of expecting their fellow women to circle the wagons around them, these ladies had taken it upon themselves to empower other women and together, reduce the yoke of abuse that has historically denied them their unalienable rights.  They knew it was an uphill struggle that would continue for generations, but that didn't stop them - it only fueled their determination.
Internal strength, super-human resilience and a sense of responsibility for one's peers - that's what toughness really looks like.  As formerly oppressed groups gain increasing access to the market of personal independence, they truly are changing American culture into something that is equally strong, resilient and which balances personal freedoms with social responsibility.  American society, as it were, continues to evolve.
Which is the big weakness of Alpha males like Bolling or the GOP entire - they don't do evolution very well
I guess they're lucky to have tough, resilient and proactive progressives there to take their hands and help them move forward.

Wednesday 3 April 2013

Canadian Liberalism and The Successful Society

It's not hard to see why I love this Bob Rae post (reproduced in full below).
The values he expresses are the same ones I believe in.  They are not the exclusive property of any one Party; they are a common expression of society shared by most Canadians and open to all.  The Liberal Party, at its best, doesn't see itself as the only legitimate voice for this shared worldview; instead it strives to be a prism for the voices of everyone.
Without question, the Liberal Party lost its way for a while; to paraphrase Gerry Butts, it wasn't that Canadians had lost faith in liberalism so much as the Liberal Party seemed to have.  It might just be finding its way again.
I tend not to get hung up branding; it's the concept, not the wording, that matters.  Having said that, I understand the need for terminology to communicate concepts; I liked the nuance of The Conscious Society, but if Bob Rae's The Successful Society sticks I'm good with that, too.  It's the shared destination that matters; no matter where we come from we all end up in the same place.  We all gain from the journey when we travel together.
Of the Political Parties in Canada, it's the Liberal one that is seen as the least rigid, the most inclusive and yes, the most resilient.  When liberals hold true to what they believe in, Liberals are empowered to do what they do best - listen to Canadians, communicate with our partners and create shared solutions that move everyone forward.

What follows in the first in a three-part series by Liberal leader Bob Rae on the resilience of liberalism.
I am a Liberal because I believe in the dignity and equality of every human being and I believe in a democracy where we care about what happens to each other.

I believe that the pursuit of prosperity, social justice and sustainability can best be achieved together, and that bringing them together is the job of an accountable and democratic government.

I want the policies to achieve these goals to be based on evidence, on what works, and not on ideology.

I am a Liberal because I believe that love is better than hate, because I believe in celebrating success and never resenting it, and because I do not mock failure.

I believe in enough government to help us all achieve success, but not too much government to stifle initiative and creativity. I understand that markets are the best way to create prosperity, that a progressive tax system is necessary to pay for programmes, and that all of us -- individuals, families, businesses and governments -- have to live within our means.

I want every child to have the love, support and education they need, and everyone to have a job that reinforces dignity and security. I want those who are less able, to receive the support they need, and to allow those who are older to continue to live in dignity.

I believe that access to good health care, education and housing are fundamental attributes of a good society, and well within our means as a successful society. I believe in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the independence of judges. I believe that punishment should fit the crime, that public security needs to be protected, and that a good and strong society will encourage rehabilitation and change. I would rather build a school than a prison, and believe that it is important to be as tough on the conditions that give rise to crime as we are on crime itself.

I am a Liberal in Canada because I want us to build a better world based on the rule of law, where we celebrate and share our values.
I believe that while charity and justice begin at home, their pursuit does not end there. The reduction of violence, the protection of rights, the closing of the gap between rich and poor, the greening of the planet are all best achieved with an approach that starts at home but embraces the world.

I am a Liberal and a proud Canadian. I am proud to be a member of a party that has consistently supported an ever expanding sense of citizenship based on our inherent rights as free women and men, of our two official languages, French and English, a distinct Canadian flag. This is a federalism that celebrates the unique identities and rights of Canadian provinces and territories, and understands the need for a deeper reconciliation between aboriginal Canadians and all those who have, through the centuries chosen to make Canada home. I am proud of a country that celebrates free expression, diversity and pluralism, and the right of everyone to be themselves without fear of discrimination.

We came here in many boats. We're in the same boat now.

The resilience of the liberal idea gives us hope and strength. Our task is to keep building a country and a party worthy of the idea itself.

Liberalism: A resilient idea, a resilient movement

It all starts with an idea and a feeling -- about individual conscience, freedom, and dignity. All else flows from that.

The idea of liberalism in history is connected with powerful changes -- from economies and societies based on hierarchy and conformity to those based on people demanding to be heard, insisting that authority be made accountable and transparent.

It is an idea whose power is felt today -- in societies around the world that fail to respect the rule of law, that disregard diversity, that insist that the power of the party or class or privilege is more important than the primacy of freedom.

Liberalism's journey has been about understanding the key role of economic freedom, and government's role in ensuring a strong capacity for regulation and the rule of law, to make sure that someone's freedom does not become a licence to abuse power.

Liberalism understands that for each person to achieve their freedom, society needs to help break down the barriers to human potential. Liberalism understands the dilemma that it is not enough to say that the rich and poor are equally able to sleep under bridges.

In the great movement for democracy that has marked the last 200 years, liberals have been at the forefront of expanding the franchise and expanding rights -- to go beyond a world determined by wealth and colour to a world determined by equal rights and a sense that a good country is one where people care about what happens to one another.

In the last half century we've become more aware that the great British liberal Edmund Burke was right when he talked about society being a contract with those yet unborn, or to borrow a phrase from our aboriginal tradition, that we borrow the Earth from our children and our responsibilities have to last as long as the wind blows and the rivers run.

Samuel de Champlain came to Canada in the early 17th century formed by the experiences of a Europe literally torn apart by religious and ethnic conflict. The "great and good place" he saw in Canada was to be marked by a spirit of reconciliation and a recognition of the rights and traditions of all -- Catholics, Protestants, non-believers, and the aboriginal people he encountered as he travelled eastern and central Canada.

The people and institutions he left behind did not always live up to his hopes and expectations. Violent conflict, death by disease and neglect, conflict between English and French -- our early history was not often marked by civility.

But as the refugees flowed north from the United States after the revolutionary war, and immigration continued from Europe, liberal ideas began to take hold in the provinces of British North America. While the supporters of the Family Compact wanted a government that would insist more on order than on liberty, the irresistible arguments for freedom and for responsible government began to win out. Joseph Howe in Nova Scotia, followed by Baldwin and Lafontaine in "United Canada" -- we can trace the organized origins of the liberal movement in Canada (and indeed the modern Liberal Party) to elections where those fighting for responsibility, accountability, the separation of church and state and a universal right to public education won out over those who simply preferred the status quo, or worse, who rioted against policies of social progress and change. The Reform government of 1848 took office at a time of great democratic turbulence in the world.

Liberals should take great pride in these governments, and in the remarkable fact that Lafontaine sought election in York and Baldwin in Rimouski -- a symbol of partnership that would carry on through strong Liberal Cabinets that through three centuries have emphasized how liberalism transcends the ties of religion and race.

Liberals -- prominent names like Brown, Mowat and Taché -- became proud partners in the governments that led to Confederation, but except for the Alexander Mackenzie administration in the 1870s, with its important contributions including the secret ballot, did not take national office until Laurier's great win in 1896.

Laurier had won pre-eminence as a Liberal in the 1880s, when as a young parliamentarian he stirred the deepest emotions in his speeches on the crisis created at the heart of the federation by John A.Macdonald's decision to hang Louis Riel for his role in the Red River rebellion and the death of Thomas Scott, "executed" by the Riel government. Laurier eloquently eviscerated the Macdonald government for its mishandling of affairs in the Northwest and the national ramifications it had wrought saying of his fellow French Canadians, "We do not want any more privileges, we are strong enough, but what we want is justice for all."

It became clear that Laurier would in fact be the man to replace Macdonald when as Opposition Leader he eulogized Sir John A. in the House of Commons with greater eloquence than any of his fellow Conservatives, saying that the old chieftain was "endowed with those inner, subtle indefinable graces of the soul which win and keep the hearts of men."
Laurier would become one of Canada's greatest Prime Ministers. Possessed of great charm, wit, and eloquence, his "sunny ways" endeared him to Canadians. The first French speaking Quebecker to take office as Prime Minister, he will long be remembered for building strong bridges between French and English, his determination to give Canada its place on the world stage, and opening up the country to widespread immigration to Western Canada from many parts of Europe. He resisted calls for imperial union, and was a determined proponent of a "new nationality" that would allow Canada to stand stronger on its own.

Laurier's belief in more open markets, and a strong desire among Western farmers to be able to get cheaper manufactured goods from the United States led to the free trade election of 1911, which Laurier lost to Borden, the Conservative.

Sir Wilfrid stayed on as Opposition leader until his death in 1919. The First World War produced a crisis for Canada and for the Liberal Party, as, following the British example, Borden offered Laurier and his fellow Liberals seats in a coalition government. Laurier resisted the appeal, arguing that Quebeckers needed to be understood and listened to in their resistance to conscription. But many other Liberals felt it was their patriotic duty to join the government in a moment of non-partisanship.

Laurier's decision, born of deep conviction, left him alone and isolated, and the Party was devastated in the election of 1917. Many then predicted the demise of Liberalism, as a new mood of radicalism took hold in the West and a nascent labour movement seemed ready to join with farmers to take the country in a different direction. Even Laurier himself in an uncharacteristic moment of despair, bemoaned the growing political polarization saying, "I have lived too long. I have outlived Liberalism."
Laurier's death in 1919 could have marked the end of the Liberal party, but the party's choice of Mackenzie King as its leader proved wiser than many pundits realised at the time. Certainly there was none of the charisma, the charm, or the deep good humour of Laurier. But King was astute, savvy, and a masterful politician. He formed a minority government in 1921 with the support of the Progressives, and outmanoeuvred Arthur Meighen in the "King-Byng" crisis of 1925-26. He brought in Old Age Pensions with the support of the Ginger Group led by J.S. Woodsworth in 1927, and after being defeated by R.B. Bennett in 1930 came back to lead the Liberals with a majority in 1935, a position the Liberals held until 1957.
TOMORROW:From Mackenzie King to Chrétien

With Thunderous Applause: How George Lucas' Dream Dies

There was a time when a young George Lucas, frustrated with the monochrome, risk-adverse model of Big Studio Hollywood decided to branch out and do something different.  With substantial risk and a great deal of creativity, he gave the world Lucasfilm.  The money he made from his wickedly successful franchises went into future projects and companies including ILM, Skywalker Sound and LucasArts.
Under George Lucas, every employee who worked on one of his films, down to the janitor, gained something.  They were part of the team.
Fast-forward to now; The Disney Empire has taken over his beloved company.  No doubt they'll deliver some whiz-bang films that will make a lot of money for the studio, but everything else appears to be going out the window, including the ground-breaking Clone Wars cartoon.  Employees are being downsized, risk is being handed off to others and as a result, the innovative, daring spark that breathed life into Lucasfilm is being extinguished.  Or perhaps I should say, "their fire has gone out of the universe."
Naturally, this is all just good business.  Business isn't about innovation - it's about efficiency and control.  If you want innovation, you don't focus on the bottom line, you focus on the value-add, as Lucas has always done.  There's no small amount of irony in how the rise and consumption of Lucas' creative empire mirrors the narrative arc of the Star Wars films.
Innovation is a bit more of an adventure.  It's a dangerous business stepping out your front door; you never know where you'll be swept off to.  Bean-counters are adverse to adventure.  Thank goodness they don't rule the world.  If they did why, there'd be no innovation at all.  They can't win, though - there is always new hope out there, just waiting to be kindled.


Lazy Religion Tackles Gay Marriage: With Liberty and Justice for Most (Timothy Kurek)

I'm hardly an expert on Christian faith, but it does seem to me that much of what gets practiced by the main stream seems to cherry-pick from the message Christ tried to deliver.  In our anxiety about change and urge for expediency, have we turned to the golden calf for validation?

Lazy Religion Tackles Gay Marriage: With Liberty and Justice for Most
With liberty and justice for most... Wait that's not it. Some? A few? Oh no, it's liberty and justice for all.
I was raised in the Bible Belt, a hyper-conservative Christian who in the past few years has had his worldview crushed and rebuilt at the hands of experience. Where I once would have fought, and ardently so, against a same-sex couples right to marry, I have been blessed to meet and be live in community with the people I was always taught to shun. My beliefs changed and changed radically, and so I sit with bated breath as I wait to hear the Supreme Court's decision in the landmark court cases that have been going on the past few days.
Right now the United States Supreme Court is about to rule on both Proposition 8 from California and DOMA (The Defense of Marriage Act). It is a truly historical moment in our young country's life. It's the moment we decide if all really are equal, or if the only citizens allowed the unalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are heterosexuals and those under the umbrella of main-stream Christendom. But what strikes me as I peruse my Facebook news feed or read the blogs of many of my friends and peers is the true lack of understanding about one crucial point. Same-sex marriage is not, in any way, shape or form a religious issue. Same-sex marriage is a matter of the state, and I am baffled by the fact that we live in a country that promotes itself as the greatest country on earth, a country founded on the principle of freedom, yet we are somehow still okay classifying "the other" as the lesser. Just how long will we allow there to be second class citizens? Did the civil rights movement of the '50s and '60s teach us nothing? These are not criminals we are persecuting, or even non-citizens. The "other" I am referring to are upstanding, tax-paying, citizens of these United States, and these citizens are suffering at the hands of one of the most toxic entities in existence, lazy religion. A few thoughts about lazy religion...
Lazy religion is obsessed with arm-chair activism and other such movements that don't require effort, sacrifice or calling. With the age of the Internet, the true causes of Christianity are being shelved, only to be replaced by political motivations that stem from a poor understanding of government and a poor understanding of the Bible. Several years ago I watched as Proposition 8 passed in California. I watched as my Christian brothers and sisters sang and danced in victory, having "struck a blow" in the defense of "traditional biblical marriage." The problem? In the days following I also witnessed mobs of angry gay and lesbian patriots marching in most major cities.
They marched in defense of their California brothers and sisters, and marched because they had to. The pain of doing nothing after Prop 8 passed would have set the cause of equality back and further entrenched the nation in an archaic and unconstitutional mindset. But more than anything I think they marched for hope. While mainstream evangelicals celebrated a victory over an issue, they never understood that they were actually celebrating the oppression of millions of flesh and blood people. People made in the image of God, possessing the inherent dignity that their humanity affords. And for what?
Lazy religion is addicted to empire and control. It doesn't acknowledge personhood. James 1:27 tells us that pure and undefiled religion is this: to take care of widows and orphans in their time of need and to keep oneself spotless from the world. Jesus also defined our focus, to love God and to love our neighbors (the other) as ourself. Is it right then that our mindset should be to politicize individuals and who they love, and to want to dictate those individuals lives through the manipulation of the state? A friend of mind, David, spent 40+ hours a week during this last election volunteering at a call center, dialing numbers and asking voters to look at this issue from a different point of view. When I asked him why he was spending so much time politicking, he told me that he felt he had to for a time... And then I could hear his voice crack and tears began forming in the corners of his eyes.
"Tim, I'm sick of being looked at as a political issue instead of as a person, an equal." I've never thought about things that way until he said that. Lazy religion doesn't think in terms of people; it thinks in terms of abstract theological concepts and issue based stereotypes. It politicizes unique and beautiful individuals made in the image of God. Lazy religion has no place in this debate...
So as we wait for the decisions to be made, and as we walk through the rest of this historic journey toward equal rights for everyone (not just in this country but also all over the world -- Australia, I'm looking at you) it is my prayer that the stances taken will be rooted in grace and consideration for all.
We can all be bigots, but we don't have to be. We can disagree and argue this issue to its conclusion but in the end it is essential we remember that lives really are at stake, and as a man of faith respecting and honoring the image of God in the other is almost as important as the issues themselves. No matter what side of the issue you fall on, you can live out the calling of love intentionally and realistically, and respect the many journeys the collective "other" have walked.

Tuesday 2 April 2013

Stephen Harper's Big Red Brush

It may be that the party’s own research suggests Canadians are fed up with negative ads and have decided to pull their punches as a result.

There are a growing number of female leaders in Ontario.  These leaders are being more transparent, more communicative with stakeholders, media and Opposition Parties.  They're relying on candour and charm to build their brand and grow the public's attachment to them.

In short - the trend in Canadian politics is moving away from everything that has defined Stephen Harper as a Reform/Conservative politician.

Thomas Mulcair doesn't present an existential threat to Harper and his iteration of the Conservatives.  While it's clear Justin Trudeau will give Harper a run for his money in terms of popularity, it's yet to be demonstrated the substance of what Trudeau offers will be what Canadians care about.

At the same time, it almost doesn't matter - Team Harper may have perfected the top-down, tightly-controlled "war room" politics of the last quarter-century, but there's a growing appetite for something else.  There's no small irony that the welfare state has probably made Canadians less comfortable with constant exposure to the anger button the Conservatives have favoured. 

Instead of getting angry and looking for "tough" leaders to fight off threats, the sea of troubles narrative has us looking to bridge-building leaders like Kathleen Wynne.  You'd be surprised how much middle-class voters in tough economic times "don't care" about deficits and debts but do want to know government cares about them and can account for the big picture.

The Conservatives are left with a bit of a dilemma; what do you do when the tried and true ceases to function?  Team Harper is in the unenviable position of trying to innovate new issues and new solutions, but doing so within their standard narrative of decentralization, reduction and tough-on-everything.  It's like insisting every problem is a nail, but successfully using tools other than a hammer to get the job done.

To their credit, Team Harper has started to address important issues like the need for a national mental health strategy, developing centralized supports for the workplace and creating a national, single-entry system for online public service access.  In short, they are talking like Reformers but implementing very pro-social, individually-supportive and strong-central-government types of policies.

But that's the kind of hopey-changey, move-forward-together stuff that Trudeau breathes every time he speaks.  Talk about cognitive dissonance - rhetoric aside, Harper has been forced to behaviour like a Liberal to gain his majority, essentially brand-building for his main opponent who is the embodiment of Canadian liberalism.  Trudeau doesn't need to delve into details; Harper's already demonstrated how liberal approaches can work. 

Worse; as the divides in his caucus are starting to show, the greatest threat to Harper's legacy will not be Liberal opponents, but potential successors who will try to undermine his key positions to appeal to their Reform voter base.

Harper can try to do what he did to Stephane Dion; focus on internal divisions that came out of the leadership race to divide and conquer the Liberals.  On the surface, it looks like Marc Garneau handed him the perfect line to use for this: Canadians need a leader with “qualities forged in the fire of life’s experiences.”  That, he could say, isn't Trudeau.

Apart from a dwindling appetite for political vitriol, the problem with this approach is that Harper isn't a forged-in-fire leader, either.  Forget his lack of real-world experience as an economist (or anything other than a lobbyist); Harper's been Prime Minister for long enough to mitigate his lack-lustre pre-government record. 

It's his in-government record that really proves Harper is fire-adverse.

Harper didn't like the gun registry, so he did away with it.  He didn't like CIDA, so he did away with it.  If a bureaucrat disagrees with him, they are fired or muzzled.  Reporters aren't even given the opportunity to challenge him.  What about when someone does challenge him, like Obama on Keystone? Harper takes his toys out of the oil sand-box and goes to China.  Harper pointedly doesn't engage with Canada's First Ministers, certainly not together.  Harper avoids the UN like the plague; instead of showing leadership by squaring off against the international community to find shared solutions on issues like African drought (and related humanitarian/terrorism issues) he simply chooses not to participate.

Harper picks his opponents and only personally takes on those he feels comfortable he can beat.  Any situation that involves compromise or debate on an equal playing field he avoids like the plague.  This is why he heavily favours scripted events and never wanders into the crowd - he's afraid of what could happen in situations where he doesn't have control.  I don't think our PM needs to be handcuffed by these insecurities, but apparently he does.

Meanwhile, Harper's tendency towards avoidance and putting economic and foreign interest eggs into single baskets is starting to show some cracks.  Harper might have a point in suggesting Canadians don't care about the ire he's received from domestic stakeholders ranging from media to scientists to human rights groups - so long as he's got control of the domestic agenda.  The problem is, Harper's team have tried to employ the same tactics with an international audience who doesn't back down so easily.  Canada has been slapped not just for neglecting our international community obligations, but for trying to muzzle foreign scientists as well.
There's a growing sentiment on the global stage that Canada is slipping, making us either an unreliable partner or worse, a mark to be milked.  The impact of this image erosion is slowly beginning to show in our international dealings - which in turn impacts our global brand, our big-picture economic opportunities and the folks back home who want to know our reputation is in good hands.
That's something we do care about.
It's a much-denied certainty that the political wheel is always turning; no Party leaves a dynasty and over the long-run, the progress of social evolution is a natural law.
There's still plenty of opportunity for Harper to keep his Party in power for another election and build a personal legacy that will see history recognize him as a a great Prime Minister.  The problem is that the only path that leads to legacy is a liberal one.

People do love stories that come full circle.  And we love hockey.  At least Harper still has that narrative firmly under wraps.