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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.

Wednesday 31 December 2014

Faith and Ender's Game: Let's Finish It

"It isn’t the world at stake, Ender. Just us. Just humankind. As far as the rest of the biosphere is concerned, we could be wiped out and it would adjust, it would get on with the next step in evolution. But humanity doesn’t want to die. As a species, we have evolved to survive. and the way we do it is by straining and straining and, at last, every few generations, giving birth to genius. the one who invents the wheel. And light. And flight. The one who builds a city, a nation, an empire."
What is genius?  Is a genius the person who innovates something new, or who conquers all that came before?
There's no great secret to humanity.  We are a product of evolution, a fibre in the ever-evolving ecosystem.  Truly, we don't matter, except to ourselves.
We yearn to live; more than that, we yearn to have.  But having and living are not the same thing.  The man who builds an empire, who defeats a democracy - they may be history's actors to some but in the grand scheme, they are arterial blockage.
Those who see themselves as superior, or more worthy, or at the least more capable of surviving than others miss the point entirely.  They don't matter.  Their ideologies don't matter.  Our species as a whole is an insignificant drop in the ocean.
But therein lies the real secret of humanity. 
The ideological leaders set themselves up as figure heads of causes.  The substance of their cause doesn't matter; if people buy in, then the cause becomes more than the sum of its parts.  People will sacrifice their resources, their lives, even their freedom if they feel the cause matters more than they do.
We don't matter.  Who we are doesn't matter.  Whether we're eulogized or inscribed in history books doesn't matter.
Because we're capable of so much more. 
Not on our own.  Not as islands.
We want to live.  We want to survive.
Nothing lives forever.  Nothing remains the same forever.
Change is the universal constant; genius is the ability to be that change.
Not to freeze a moment in time, for moments don't last.  Not to close off the outside world, for every island gives way to the sea.
Be more than the part you are.  Be the sum. 
That's where we end; that's where We begin.

Tuesday 30 December 2014

Stephen Harper: History's Non-Actor

Karl Rove once declared that Conservatives like himself were history's actors; progressives would be stuck studying the impacts of Conservative actions.  The basic premise of this approach is exactly the same as that of, say, a Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi or the ISIL gang, but I digress.
I don't think Stephen Harper sees himself as being in the vein of a Karl Rove, or a Dick Cheney.  He probably feels he's a lot smarter than either of them are.
And his biggest weapon, his secret advantage, the master stroke of his strategic genius has always been this - back away.  Do nothing.  Talk big about whatever, because if you say it confidently and frequently enough while denouncing your opposition, people will believe you - but when it comes to brass tacks, just stop doing things.  Wherever possible, stop things from happening, period.
Has Harper changed Canada?  Of course he has, in much the same way as Toronto Council has changed things like public transit or wastewater infrastructure.  Neglect results in change.
Harper doesn't see himself as one of history's actors - that's too pedestrian for a genius Machiavelli like him.  No, Harper is more like a producer, calling the shots from the sidelines and doing so through production cost attrition.
I'll say it again - Harper is a one-trick pony, and always has been.  His success comes through the actions of others; on his own, he's the guy pouting in the washroom waiting for someone to budge.
You can call that many things, but leadership is not one of them.


Thursday 25 December 2014

What Price, Freedom?

Watched The Winter Soldier this Christmas eve and, as always, this line stood out in what's already a pretty poignant film. 
Freedom isn't gained at the expense of other people's lives, whatever side of the line you're on.
No paradise can grow in a tightly controlled state, whether the tools are rape and torture or social media monitoring or profile cards. 
True freedom is about individual agency and the willing participation in common cause.  Emphasis on willing
When the conservation switches more towards security, it's entering the foggy territory often feared by those who mistrust mention of the public good.
To be free is to take personal risks in the moment and be prepared to live with their consequences.
I cannot ask you to be free - that's a choice only you can make. 
The price may be high, but I'm willing to bet we can whittle it down a little together.


Tuesday 23 December 2014

The Phantom Elf

Laura Pinto, a digital technology professor at the University of Ontario Institute of Technology, caused a bit of a snowstorm recently when she and Selena Nemorin -- a colleague at Australia's Monash University -- >wrote a paper suggesting that "Elf on the Shelf" may be in the service of the surveillance state.
Elf on the shelf?  Come on, that's small fry. 
Santa has been keeping his eye on us for far longer than shelf-elves have had reign over our lives. 
He knows when you are sleeping?  He knows when you're awake?  Checking lists?
Forget the Nanny State.  It's always been the Santa surveillance lurking in the backround, sneaking in chimneys - and clearly, he's in the pocket of the coal lobby.  Rumour has it he's fueled by Coke and cookies, too.
Be warned, mother's and fathers.  He's indoctrinating your children with this whole be good and be rewarded for it thing.  It undermines the foundational principles of free market capitalism.
I once had elves, but now I'm free... there are no lists on me...

It's insid


Monday 22 December 2014

Social Hygene on Government's Radar

Stephen Harper believes people need to be responsible for themselves.  If they're not, it's their own fault, full stop.  It's as true of missing aboriginal women as it is seniors without pensions.  If they'd played their cards better, they wouldn't be where they are - it's not government's role to fix their problems for them, right?
There are distinct consequences to starving education, inciting strong emotional reactions and generally playing populism.  In fact, there are historical and modern-day precedents for how this all comes about.
Does Harper think it's some sort of immaculately conceived phenomenon that extremism and horrifically violent crimes in the name of ideologies that are anti-establishment are on the rise?  That the people themselves are somehow uniquely monsterous and inhuman?
That's a bit like Europeans in the throes of the bubonic plague directing rage at Jews for not suffering to the same degree, except in reverse.
Jews practiced cleanliness to avoid getting sick - they were proactive, they avoided problems.
In this case, it's society that's getting sick because good social maintenance is being neglected.
That's the thing the low-hanging fruit crowd don't understand, don't want to understand - extremist violence is a symptom, not a disease.
And it's going to get worse.

The Spin Stops Here

What a ridiculous statement made by a clearly delusional hack.  Vikas Pota is clearly one of those social leaches who profiteers off of the backs of others through insidious social schemes.
Plus, his diatribe is so long - if what he had to say was important he'd be able to squish it into an elevator pitch.
Pota clearly has everything backwards and is putting his ideology before sound economic policy.
A sound economy is based on the principles of laissez-faire capitalism; you need to get liberal arts out of the way and minimize, if not entirely eliminate social programs - except for the retarded and the like.  The best social program, after all, is a job. 
You don't create jobs by investing in people - that weakens their natural resolve and makes them dependent on costly welfare states.  No, the real way to foster growth is to throw our youth in the deep end and make them compete for opportunity.  This competition leads to low-cost jobs and, in conjunction with low taxation (easy when you've no services but security and prisons to pay for, right?) means that companies can focus more money on wealth creating and, as a result, expansion. 
See, inward investment isn't the state to this nonsensical notion called society - it's corporations investing in themselves.  It's like how a baby will eat when it's hungry, right?  Make people hungry, make corporations hungry, and they'll all compete for the resources that exist.
Which is why this skills thing is overstated.  Natural resources is the real ticket; if you got 'em, harness and sell 'em.  Whether it's oil or trees, everyone else wants them and for your economy to succeed, all you really need to do is focus on carving them out and selling them off.
You don't need a ton of book-learning to cut trees or mine ore.  Oil companies will pay to teach their employees whatever minimal skills they need.  This is what economic efficiency looks like - spend less on the front end, focus on low-hanging fruit and have a system competitive enough that people will work harder to hear advancement.
Anyone who doesn't thrive in such a system is clearly lazy, or communist, or stupid, or a social menace.  Anyone who speaks out against such a system clearly has a hidden agenda, one that presents a risk to the natural order of things.
You have to keep an eye on such people.  You may need to put them in their place.  Heck, you might even need to throw them in jail.
If they start organzing and fighting back, well, then you've got a real problem on your hands - not one of your own creation, clearly, because that implies people aren't rational actors able to fend for themselves.  It suggests the entire frame of laissez-faire capitalism isn't compatible with actual human reality, which is ridiculous.
No, what it really means is that you have some bad people on your hands.  Bad people aren't really people, they're monsters - it's okay to eliminate monsters, or to threaten them.  Domination works better.  In fact, if you can completely break their spirit, then they become another resource.
So you want to single out these potential risks in advance, because clearly, they're born-and-bred to be anti-economic growth.  You can't do anything but remove them, but we're being efficient, so why not coral them and put them to work?  No reason your societal vermin can't add value to society, right?
We're being efficient here, so of course you want a system that requires as little maintenance as possible so as to minimize your costs and maximize your profitable opportunities.
Who could possibly have a problem with that?

Sunday 21 December 2014

News Flash: No One Ever Thinks They're the Bad Guy

This is the government that has taken active steps against any group that attempts to provide Canadians with perspective other than their own - including Parliament.
Even as cracks show in their policy framework - like his oil as Canada's economic anchor idea - Stephen Harper holds stubbornly to his ideology.  He's Father Knows Best.  What other people tell us is bad for us, but we need to accept as fact every bit of narrative his team feed us.
I think there are many malicious bones in Harper's body, but I don't think he is actively out to sabotage Canada.  That is what he's doing, though, but doing so in good conscious because he is functionally fixated on his own perceived superiority.
The United States invasion of Iraq was based on information received from torture.  Of course, we know now that there were no Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq and that the information provided was false. 
This is what happens in torture.  When you break a human being with pain, it's not about fearing reprisals for not being forthright, it's about domination and as a result, pleasing your captor with whatever you think they want to hear.
The evidence has told us this again, and again, and again.  But the Dick Cheneys of the world are adamant that, as history's actors, what they did in good conscious was right, produced valuable information - and that they'd do the same again.
In any other story - in our own stories - these individuals would be the bad guys.
As with any good story, however, the bad guys exist so that the protagonist may learn something about themselves.

Friday 19 December 2014

Sounds Like a Hero to Me

Depression is toxic - it eats at a person's soul, but can also make them particularly uncomfortable to be around.  Many of the "energy vampires" out there battle with depression or anxiety, which absolutely can be contagious.
We're taught and encouraged to avoid people who are a drain on us (at the same time we're told this mental health thing has to be addressed).  Ha didn't follow this advice and, through persistence, patience and positive reinforcement, helped a vampire become a contributer.
If that's not an act of heroism, I don't know what is.

Thursday 18 December 2014

Graphically Open

It's so much easier to understand how amazing this stuff is when you map it out like this, isn't it?

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This and That

A couple of things that are sticking out for me today:
US Torture:
Dick Cheney is confident they did the right thing and would do it again.  He's not willing to entertain opposition to that perspective.  As one of history's actors, it's the job of others to understand that he is right and they aren't bright.
What has the cost of the War On Terror been to the US Economy?  What ROI have they received from their investment?
It's not about money, it's not about safety or whatnot, because if it was they'd be using methods that were more effective and as a result, landing on practices that had better outcomes.  But they aren't.
Putin and the Bear:
He's firmly in control of the country and gosh, people love him.  When things go wrong, it's not his fault - it's someone else's fault.  The story is whatever he wants it to be, right?  He's the boss and people are happy with letting him be the boss.
You Don't Know What You Don't Know
I'm a former Queen's Park staffer.  I've been involved in the appointment process.  And I had no idea there was a law against this - I'm still not 100% clear what the law actually states, but then I'm not compelled to spend the time looking it up, either.
Political staff aren't trained on this stuff, nor, would I imagine, are Party staff.  Are Members?  If so, by who?  Do they get a test to make sure the knowledge registered?  I'm sure Party lawyers have knowledge of such matters, but what of it?
Cronyism is an established part of politics and has been in perpetuity.  Does offering a leadership opponent a Cabinet post if they drop out fit into this legal framework?  How about offering internships or jobs to the kids of big funders? 
Big picture - who isn't guilty of playing politics in politics? 
And don't get all indignant about this.  Most voters don't know and don't care about how nomination process work, or laws get passed, or the actual rules of accountability in Parliament. 
Ignorance is bliss, right?   We pay experts so that we don't have to worry about the minutiae.  Or at least, we pay people we're confident are experts to take care of the details for us.
If they're confident, then they're likely to have a firm hand on the rudder, be in control.  Not waver or waffle in their positions.
I'm sensing something akin to a cycle here, but I'm sure it's all in my sociology-committing head.  Otherwise, the folk like Cheney and Putin would have recognized and responded to it accordingly - right?

Wednesday 17 December 2014

Know Thyself.

I have often said, and will always maintain, that this question isn’t about our enemies; it’s about us.


Fear the Zombie apocalypse, you become that which you fear.  The enemy is your teacher.

When you fail to understand this, you fail to understand yourself, and your foe.  Then, you're lost.

Why History's Actors Need to Study History

“Physical abuse or other degrading treatment was rejected not only because it is wrong, but because it has historically proven to be ineffective.”

Until the aggressively competent get it into their heads that social gravity applies to them as much as everyone else, this cycle of stupid mistakes will continue.

Has Nick Gone Nice?

This is what Nick Kouvalis is saying today.  And here's what he said November 5th, 2010:
In the new version, Tory was out anyway - Kouvalis was just playing games to make sure that was true.
In the original version, he cleverly boxed Tory out of the race.  If that's folklore, it's folklore he created.
I'm less fussed about the fact that he's changing gears - all people do that, all the time.  New positions are regularly defined as refinements of old ones (floor-crossing being my favourite example).  We want to see ourselves in different lights at different points of our lives and can/do interpret the past in ways that are convenient for our present (if not our future, but that's why we have cognitive dissonance and confabulation in the first place).
Kouvalis could be reinterpreting his past for public consumption alone - that's what spinsters do - but it's possible he's trying to convince himself as well.
What would make me think that?
While he still comes off as supremely confident in this interview, his wording borders less on arrogance than we've seen in the past.  Additionally, he's less belligerent and more proactive.
There may have been faked calls and other shenanigans in this campaign - I've no doubt there was.  What's more interesting is the fact that Kouvalis isn't talking about those things; in fact, this is the most policy-oriented interview he's done that I've read.
People age and mature.  They are influenced by the company they keep, and clearly Tory runs a completely different ship than Rob Ford did.  At the same time, some tigers never change their stripes, but recognize the benefit of appearing as though they did.
The variant of Nick Kouvalis we see in this interview is not the same one we're used to.  Whether maturity, context or an ability to read the landscape and know what's going to work in one's interest for the foreseeable future, this says something.


#StreetMirrorTO: A Perspective Art Project

There was the Nestle Bra Cam, with it's twist at the end.  There was 10 Hours of Walking in NYC as a Woman.  Both providing revealing insight into how we look at the world around us.

It's a subject I think about all the time.  What do people communicate to each other with their body language - and what impact does that have?

We all know the expression "don't judge a person until you've walked a mile in their shoes" - what if you could spend a couple of hours seeing the world through their eyes?  Would that change your point of view?

It occurs to me this would make an interesting art project (not one I have bandwidth to lead right now, so feel free to crib this idea): fitting people from different perspectives with cameras and creating a snapshot of how the world looks at them.

My first thought was to see the world through the eyes of a homeless person, which not surprising, has already been done elsewhere.

It'd be fascinating to do a comparative analysis between genders, ethnicities, ages as well. 

If it could be done in a way that was non-exploitative, it'd be interesting to see the world from the eyes of someone with mental illness.  I suspect we'd see more correlation between erratic behaviour and external shunning than is comfortable to imagine.

Anyway, there it is.  Have at it, folks.

Tuesday 16 December 2014

Harper Logic

So, the plan is this - reduce research opportunities, pillory education at home, but sell citizenship to wealthy potential immigrants who have picked up education abroad.  And know how to find workaround to spend their money however they please.
If you're already a Canadian, you know, you gotta hustle.  If you can't, too bad, so sad.  We'll give your spot to someone who's made their money elsewhere, possibly off of saps like you.
That's bound to go over real well.

No Joy in Oilville

This is no biggie, Stephen Harper will tell us.  The information being provided misses the mark, or doesn't cover some aspect of his plan, or something.  At the end of the day, oil is too big to fail, right?
Harper has been involved with oil since his very first job.  He's a pretty obstinate (sorry, determined) fellow.  He's an economist, remember?  Plus he's the smartest guy in the room (that conveniently never includes Kathleen Wynne).  People just need to do what he tells them or go away. 
He knows exactly what he's doing, confident fellow that he is.
If people can't accept that, it's because they're looking at the wrong facts, or cherry picking the right ones.  Reduce the flow of useless data and that problem starts to go away, right?  The only story left is the one you're selling.  The only facts left are the ones you're using.
It's easy, right?  Keep your eye on the oil, that's all that matters.  Don't commit sociology by looking laterally or thinking ahead.
Harper has been politically successful, but he has bungled a whole host of files.  It's only by exploiting the fact that Canadians focus on the low-hanging fruit that he's kept from serious challenges to his competence.
He's probably assuming this is another one of those situations he's gotten so good at stick-handling; trot out a couple of Ministers for comments, or offer no comment at all.  Attack Trudeau, release some ads.  Move on.
Except, when it comes to the economy he has no other eggs and no other baskets.  He also has been stifling social sustainability, so if things go really sour, the safety net will fill up fast, and then people will start spilling over.
And those people are going to be pretty pissed.
Harper's once again at bat, telling us not to worry, he's got this.
Now, more than ever, it's us who must be asking:
What if he's wrong?

Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright,
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light;
And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children
But there is no joy in Mudville—mighty Casey has struck out.