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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 11 April 2014

Jim Flaherty

The news of Jim Flaherty's death quickly reached across the pond to Germany, where I learned of it at an event commemorating the liberation of Mittlebau-Dora Concentration Camp.

As the themes of death, sacrifice and nobility are very much on my mind today, I've found myself thinking about Canada's former Minister of Finance a lot. 

I've never met Flaherty, but have always had the same impression as Ralph Goodale; he was a man of conviction who pursued the policies he did because he truly thought they were the right choices for Canada.

That's no small thing.  We live in a time and age where noble intent often plays second fiddle to partisan positioning.  I never felt Flaherty crossed that line, something few politicians can be credited with.

Flaherty equally struck me as a man who truly believed in politics as a noble calling and gave his all to it.  This too is no easy thing - politics is all-consuming and doesn't allow much time for family.  I'm sure Flaherty made the time, meaning that between politics, his constituents and his family, he probably didn't have much time for himself.

You sacrifice a lot for politics.  I remember a dearly departed friend, former MPP Bruce Crozier, retiring to spend more time with his grandkids, but dying in equally tragic circumstances and being denied the chance.

I have a great deal of admiration for Flaherty's wife, Christine Elliot, another politician who is truly committed to making her jurisdiction a better place.  She and I believe in some of the same causes; in one of my most treasured political memories, we sat down in her office during a provincial election to talk about the importance of a comprehensive occupational mental health strategy, despite the fact that we were on different sides of the political spectrum.

Christine's life just got a lot harder.  While Canada has lost a well-known and respected politician, and Parliamentarians have lost a friend, Christine has lost her life partner, father of her children and the man she was supposed to enjoy many, many more years with.

I've no doubt that she will rise to this challenge - she's that kind of person - but it won't be easy.  I'm sure that she will have the support, love and friendship of colleagues within her caucus and constituency, but also the political world as a whole.

As I reflect on the friends I've made through my association with Buchenwald Concentration Camp and the shrinking number of survivors that remain, I can't help but think about how short the time we have together truly is and how much of an impact what happens to us in the present has on the future.

May Jim Flaherty rest in well-deserved peace, may his wife and family enjoy the support of friends and family as they come to terms with their loss and adjust and may the rest of us remember that no matter how different we may feel we all our, we all come to the same end.

Tuesday 8 April 2014

Not Exactly What I Meant by Value Add

Not exactly what I had in mind when I wrote this bit about value-added user generated content, but you know what? I'm fine with this.  That's the whole point of an open society - not everyone is going to produce stuff that matches your tastes.  

The trick for leaders is to encourage that which, challenging or no, promotes debate, conversation, connectivity and solutions.  For things that don't support their value sets, it's perfectly fine to say something like "I think I get what they were trying to do, but I'm positive they could find creative ways to get the message across without an attack on someone's character."

This is especially important where a leader's opponent is in the cross-hairs.  Why?  Because leaders lead, and leadership is about leaving no one - even your opponents - behind.

Dalton's advice to Millennial leaders: 1. Leadership is about service - it's not about you, it's about them.

Dalton's advice to Millennial leaders: 2. Leaders are incomplete. Take time to reflect. Struggle to be wise.

Dalton's advice to Millennial leaders: 3. Leaders take the high road and in so doing, leaders represent us at our best.

Dalton's advice for Millennial leaders: 4. Leaders put their character ahead of their reputation. Character is what you truly are.

And final piece of Dalton's advice to Millennials: 5. If you're going to lead, you must be an idealist. You must never give into cynicism.

Through A Mirror, Darkly: A Quick Lesson for Pierre Poilievre

I don't think that many Canadians share that point of view.  I don't think many of us even saw that angle as a possibility.  

You know why?  Because that's now how we think.

For someone to accuse another of being power hungry, money-grubbing and contemptuous of accountability, they've got to have at least some inclination of what that thought process looks like.

Pay attention, folks - this is Poilievre showing us his true colours.  

Back to Buchenwald

Every man for himself is not going to work.  It's time to start organizing.  We need to figure out how we're going to survive here.

Last week most of us were strangers.  But we're all here now.  And God knows how long we're going to be here.  But if we can't live together - we're going to die alone.

   - Jack Sheppard

This weekend an international group of survivors, family members, organizers, politicians, ideologues and media will be congregating in the small, historic German city of Weimar.  My grandfather Ed Carter-Edwards and I will be among them.

We will be there as invited guests to commemorate the liberation of the Nazi Concentration Camp Buchenwald.

My grandfather, as you may know, is a survivor of Buchenwald.

As ethnic hatred and political violence grows like a cancer in European countries like Greece, Hungary and Russia warns of war in the Ukraine as bigger players start to resume Cold War posturing, we will be remembering the tragic human toll hatred caused the last time Europe went to war with itself.

I've been to Buchenwald several times.  My first visit was in 2001 as a backpacker;  I remember vividly the first time I walked down the steps to The Hanging Room beneath the crematorium.  On the walls are meat hooks from which inmates were hung with piano wire.  

The first time I walked into that room, I couldn't breathe; it was like air refused to enter a space where such horrors had been committed.

Before that visit, Buchenwald had just been a name I'd heard associated with my grandfather - we'd never really talked about the Camp, or what he had been through while he was there.

The chill I felt just walking into that execution chamber was the catalyst that made me want to learn more.  As I've come to understand the significance of the space and its place in history, and as I've come to learn countless personal stories covering the spectrum from desperation to determination, Buchenwald has woven itself into my life as well.

Buchenwald is a cold place in April.  A damp, chill wind blows across the Ettersburg, always bringing a frigid rain with it.  It isn't hard to imagine how miserable a place it must have been for inmates in any season - no winter clothes, often no shoes and for some, no shelter to escape the invasive cold.

Many people died of the elements in Buchenwald; countless more died from starvation, illness, overwork and of course, by being intentionally killed by the Gestapo guards who ran the Camp.  The total recorded death toll of Buchenwald is 53,926.

But it's just a number.  Numbers can't convey human loss; they only numb us to the people and stories lost to man's inhumanity.

Every single survivor of Buchenwald can tell a heart-breaking story of their time in the Camp; of the horrors they experienced, the pain and humiliation they felt, how they were completely dehumanized or how they banded with others to fight back.  I don't think I've talked with a single survivor that doesn't carry the terrible, sometimes debilitating burden of survivor's guilt.

While Buchenwald is still the same physical location and even some of the original buildings still stand, it carries a different air about it now.

This is especially true at times like the commemoration, when survivors return, as they do in fewer numbers every year, to be celebrated for their endurance and embraced for their stories.

It becomes a bit of a media spectacle, with people like my grandfather getting scrummed by international media outlets all wanting a piece of their story.

The Memorial puts survivors up in nice hotels, buys their food, takes them on tours, has specially-trained guided to help make their visit as enjoyable as possible.  It's surreal; people who were dehumanized as inmates of Buchenwald get celebrity treatment when they return for related events today.

There are obviously and understandably part of these survivors who look forward to going back, to the superstar treatment they get and to see old friends.  At the same time, there is something validating about having their story actively listened to.

I know that for many survivors, including my grandfather, they were told to forget what they went on and not talk about it.  Telling a horrific story like that might scare off friends and hurt one's chances of employment.

Conceal, don't feel, keep calm and carry on.  It's a bit like expecting someone to ignore being hit by a car and carry on their lives no matter what injuries they've sustained without a proper healing/restorative process.  It just doesn't work.

One of my strongest memories from my visits back to Buchenwald is of another survivor, a friend who has since passed on.  He was a quiet man, friendly and funny in an understated way.  He loved to tell a good story and loved to pose for pictures with his grandchildren around the Camp.  We all got to know each other over repeated visits - it's like a community, the survivors, their family and friends.

One visit, we all decided to take a walk to the old Camp quarry to see what it looked like.  My friend's granddaughter had never been but knew he'd worked there and wanted to experience it first hand.

We got about half way there when my friend the survivor stopped dead in his tracks, almost like he'd bumped into a wall.

"I can't," he said, and burst into tears.  Thinking about the quarry had triggered a memory of pain and torture he'd probably suppressed for decades.  He seemed to shrink on the spot, physically reverting to the starved, beaten form he must have been when he worked there.

He could go no further.  His granddaughter brought him back to his hotel room, where he stayed the rest of the day.

At the height of its operation, Buchenwald became a very tribal place, and that by design.  The Nazis understood the value of that age-old mechanism of oppression - divide and conquer.  They separated and branded inmates by ethnicity and specifically targeted "undesirables" like Jews, Gypsies (Sinti-Roma) and Gays.  These were the minorities every oppressed tribe could look down upon, giving them an outlet other than rebellion.

Of course, the notion of "each man for himself" - Jedem das Seine, the phrase on the Camp's gate - didn't stick.  Even in the worst of conditions and faced with a constant struggle for survival, or perhaps because of this struggle, people came together for common purpose; to regain their humanity.

I stick to this point, because the reality of it haunts me.  Each man for himself was engraved in the door of a Concentration Camp where divide-and-conquer was a method of control.  Are divisive, partisan politics and micro-targeted campaigns not on this same spectrum?  Where will the path we're on lead us?  What state will we leave our nation in for our children?

I'm lucky my grandfather survived Buchenwald.  

At one point in his stay, he became very sick with pleurisy and was sent to the "infirmary" which, in practice, was really just a place of dying.  It was through the efforts of another inmate, a doctor, that my grandpa survived.

The doctor, at great risk to himself, found a syringe and extracted fluid from my grandpa's lungs.  That, and he helped him connect with the Camp resistance who got him out of the infirmary, got him listed as "deceased" and then hid him in one of the barracks.  It's really an incredible story - one of risk, redemption and heroic deeds in a dark time and place in history.

Stories like my grandpa's are common to Buchenwald - among the inmates, but even in some cases among the guards.  I've heard more than a few tales of Gestapo who conveniently missed when they were ordered to execute prisoners.

Why they did it, we'll never know, but part of me likes to think that those guards recognized that they were losing their humanity too and decided that was something too valuable to let go of.

This will likely be the last time I visit Buchenwald with my grandfather.  I don't say that with certainty, because my grandpa is one incredibly resilient man.  I've made the mistake of thinking "he won't be well enough to return again" a couple of times and he always proves me wrong.

Ed Carter-Edwards have proven  a lot of people wrong in a lot of ways.  He has every reason to be bitter, resentful and even hateful to Germans; he isn't.  Equally, he has every reason to despair the heart of darkness that many lies just beneath the surface of the human condition; he doesn't.

Most importantly, to me - he has never lost his belief that the world can and must be a better place and that only by working together can we, as people, make that happen.

Despite everything he has been through, Ed Carter-Edwards has escaped the horrors of Buchenwald unjaded.  I think of this every time I hear a tough-minded political operative or business person justify cruelty by saying "that's just the way it works."  It may be the way the system functions, but it doesn't have to be that way.

This weekend, a dwindling group of survivors will be going back to Buchenwald.  With them will be family and friends - people like me who have come to know and become part of the inescapable presence that is Buchenwald.

We will trade stories and develop new memories for the sharing.  Most importantly, we will remember the lessons that Buchenwald and all places of human atrocity echo throughout time:

Each to their own doesn't work.  What makes us resilient isn't our ability to compete against each other, or eavesdrop on each other or bomb each other from a safe distance - it's our ability to survive the ravages of history through the stories we create.

The past cannot be forgotten, but we are not doomed to live there.

The future?  Let's write that story together.

O Buchenwald, ich kann dict nicht vergessen, Weil du mein Shicksal bist.

Monday 7 April 2014

The Social Matrix: This Will fuck With Your head

I love that there is a growing amount of research that is actively questioning itself.  I love that there are researchers who feel deeply troubled by their own findings.

At the same time, I understand why this emerging cognitive dissonance is happening at a time of increased partisan tribalism and shorter-sighted policy positions.

Of course, I've thought through all this social lekking, partisan tribalism and the evolutionary cognitive matrix behind our so-called conscious thought.  I keep doing so, because I know the rabbit hole only goes deeper.

And I would be happy to share with you, point-blank, the startling, comforting conclusions I have found.  I try to do so on this blog, regularly.

If I've learned anything, though, it's that there's purpose behind this little bit of aged wisdom:

Anyone can show you the door; you're the one that has to walk through it.

What happens when you let go of the tribe?  You become part of something infinitely more satisfying.

But don't take it from me - I'm just a messenger.

99 Problems but Electoral Control Isn't One of Them

Isn't this just an extension of "if your boss is the Party, why would you listen to your constituents with regards to your instructions?"

Partisanship and government - Church and State.  But as with all things in a reactionary society, things need to get really egregious before people act on points of change.

Naked Politics: Partisan Data Mining and Open Government

Don Tapscott
“Institutions are becoming naked, and if you're going to be naked … fitness is no longer optional. If you're going to be naked, you better get buff.” — Don Tapscott

Of course a narrow focus on micro-targeting voters over niche issues relevant specifically to them will result in unsustainable, rag-tag policy solutions.  Nobody's doing narrative any more, they're doing one-offs - to our collective detriment.

But that's not the main piece of interest in this.  It's that the powers that be seem to be missing the fact that, as the public becomes increasingly susceptible to personalized persuasion techniques, the reverse is true too.

What happens when the successes of individuals and organizations get so densely interwoven that they cannot hope to rise or fall in isolation.


Which is why committing sociology is really just smart business.

Canadian Spring in Bloom

Dobbin spares no rhetorical flourish in his piece and makes a point of tying "true democrats" with the NDP, but he also makes a lot of interesting points.  

Like the fact the Conservatives seem hell-bent on catalyzing a movement against them and spitting sparks on our convoluted electoral/democratic system.  All because they've gotten it into they're heads that they are an empire now and therefore entitled to a Divine Right of Government.

I find it interesting, though, that like most commentators Murray is focusing on the aggressive, noise-making critics like Idle No More.  There's copy in this because such groups already have traction, but there's a broader shift in public consciousness that, thanks to social media, is fundamentally changing the way the political game is played.

People who sell and those who profit by highlighting them are not paying attention to the emerging notion of UGC - User-Generated Content.  This is something businesses have started capitalizing on and bureaucracies are proactively starting to harness through the Open Data movement.

What's the opposite of a functionally-fixed government pushing policy that works for it, but nobody else?  A conscious and engaged public/public service collaboratively designing the policies they want and demanding government to implement them.

2014 is going to be an interesting year in terms of various threads weaving together - Open Data, Civic Disengagement, Social unrest and of course, elections.

Making this summer a perfect time for a Road Trip to explore and connect these various movements and populations through collaborative discussions and social media promotion of OpenGov.

Should the political big dogs be paying attention to this?  Probably not - they have bigger fish to fry.

But more on that later.

How to generate income from your blog (Catherine Connors)

How to generate income from your blog

Generating income from your blog isn’t easy (after all, anyone with Internet-connection and an idea can start one), but it’s certainly not impossible. Here are ten steps that can help you make money from doing what you love:
1. Identify your niche. The single most important part of having a successful blog is to find the thing you are passionate and genuine about; otherwise you won’t be able to sustain content. You need to be willing to think and write about this topic almost every day – or at least a few times a week. Find a unique angle to help you stand out in your niche.

2. Content is king. The main rule about content is that it be good: well-written, well-produced, well-edited. There are great blogs about obscure subjects that do well because the content draws readers (see craftastrophe. net - funny posts with great pictures about bad crafts). Great content does not necessarily imply high-literary writing or gallery-ready photography. It means having a distinctive and well-honed voice that engages readers and leaves them begging for more ( - Amy Storch's voice is what carries her content. She's funny, and you feel like she could totally be your best friend).
3. Display ads. Companies will purchase space on your site, usually along the top, bottom or side. These are called banner or button ads and are a source of recurring revenue. You can do this independently or through an ad network. Be aware, this only pays well if you have high traffic. You cannot make a living off of ads alone; unless of course you have page views in the multiple millions.
4. Affiliate marketing. This is where you sell someone else’s product (usually a person or company that you trust or value) on your site. It’s a “clickthrough” form of advertising. Your readers need to take some form of action, from signing up to a newsletter to buying a product before you see revenue. Amazon is the best-known and easiest. You host a simple widget and your readers can click and make purchases based on your recommendations; you get a commission. Again, you won't get rich doing this.
5. Sponsored content/content-integration. A company pays for placement or product-association on your blog (always disclosed, of course). Be aware, you will need to work hard to develop your audience, your brand, and to promote yourself. If you make a name for yourself in your niche, trust me, companies will notice you. That said, you can always approach them yourself – you'll need to have a well-developed pitch for this - or make yourself known to PR companies, and let them know that you're open to working with relevant brands they might represent.
6. Text link ads. This is where a word, or series of words, on a blog or website are hyperlinked to a specific page on a different site. You can either get paid per link or have a flat fee for publishing the link. Be warned: Google has rules about irrelevant links, and bad link ads can lower your Google Rank. Limit the number of these ads, and make sure they fall within Google guidelines (for example, they're coded as 'no-follow'). These aren't hugely lucrative, so many bloggers forgo them entirely to avoid the hassles.
7. Google ad system. This is one of the more popular forms of revenue generation, but not a lucrative one. Unless you have outrageous traffic, you will see little income; maybe enough for a pack of gum. Google displays simple text and images on your blog that are targeted at your content and reader demographics.
8. Sponsored blog/blog section. Some companies will sponsor a page or section of your blog, if the content is relevant to their brand. You can set up a fixed price and period of time for the relationship. The amount charged varies by blogger. This kind of arrangement commands higher rates than display ads because the company 'owns' a portion of the blog. It doesn't compromise integrity any more than any other kind of advertising does, as long as there's clear disclosure and a good 'fit' (i.e. fashion or beauty brand sponsoring a style section).
9. Sell your services. We all know blogs are a great platform for sharing thoughts and opinions with others. But how about using it to generate new business? You have a captive audience, so why not take the opportunity to demonstrate your skills and business moxie. If your blog is about style and you are a style consultant – let people know. Perhaps they want to hire you for some extra help. Create a page on your blog that outlines your professional skills and gives contact information for anyone who might want to engage you.
10. Social media consulting. Hire out your expertise in social media, once it’s developed. As a consultant you know more than how to blog, Tweet and use Facebook – you know details about specific communities and what motivates them. Promote yourself on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or tap contacts in your community. If you want to be considered for spokesperson gigs, speaking or other media-related activities, consider reaching out to a PR, talent or speaking agency.

Functionally Fixed Antagonism is not Leadership

Two news stories that stuck out for me today:

Hudak did back down (at least for the camera) on his Right To Work push but by and large, he's got a track-record of obstinence.  It's his way or the highway; there's no middle ground.

Rob Ford doesn't back down, period.  He doesn't waver, no matter the evidence that negates his positions or demonstrates the harmful nature of his actions.  He is, after all, Rob Ford.

There is something to be said for an unyielding commitment to a vision or set of principles; the road forward can be fraught with hardships and temptations.  But neither of these gentlemen have a vision, not is there anything in particular that they stand for.

Both men are vocal about what they stand against - government, social service, consultation, anyone they deem as opponents, anyone who thinks differently than they do, anyone who calls them to task for their own mistakes.

They are equally quick to attack and demand others take ownership of errors, but both are hesitant to personally take ownership of anything other than wins.

Hudak, by his own words, has never lost an election - some other organization has always interfered and taken victory from him.  Ford didn't lose his mayoral powers because of his erratic, illegal, disruptive behaviour - it was taken from him by greedy leftists.  It's almost like they're begging for power enough to silence these competitors permanently.

There is clearly an appetite for this sort of reactionary behaviour; on every single campaign I have door-knocked on, I have heard tales of resentment from parents who feel their kids can't get jobs because immigrants have preferential treatment, disgruntled taxpayers who don't think they should be subsidizing social services for people with disabilities and voters mad at private corporations for hoarding capital and yet bemoaning taxation.

Bitter and disfranchised voters aren't looking for structural solutions - they are looking to see someone else face some form of punishment.  This is the resentment that the Fords and Hudaks tap into, pouring gas on social unrest and promising to crack down on those a given voter block dislikes.

It's cheap, populist politics, but more than that - it's what Tim Hudak and Rob Ford believe themselves.  
They are the embodiment of how they think the world should work - attack, deflect, claim all wins, blame others for all faults and failures.  In this model, victory is achieved by being the last man standing - which is hardly a good model for leading a city or a province.
The grand irony in this is bears repeating: both men claim to be champions of individual responsibility, but are allergic to accountability.  

This may be good practice in terms of advancing one's career - we're all greasing the squeaky wheel and all - but leadership isn't about personal advancement.  It's about leading.

Leaders study the entire terrain and understand how various paths intersect; they can't afford to put their blinders on, because they plan for long-term sustainability.

Leaders are conduits, not stumbling blocks - they actively seek out the opinions of others and constantly seek to empower people to be part of the solution in collaborative fashion.

Leaders are unafraid of taking responsibility for failures, because they understand mistakes for what they are - prototype experiences and opportunities to learn and improve.

Leaders have no interest in blame; that's regressive.  They are focused on solutions; instead of saying "you were wrong, you're a bad person" they say "what led to the result we have and what can we do to improve the outcome next time?"

Most importantly, leaders do not give in to cynicism or bitterness and certainly don't express such feelings to the people they lead.  People don't look to leaders for desperation - they can and do despair all on their own.  

They look to leaders for inspiration.

Neither Tim Hudak or Rob Ford care a whit about inspiration; they are far too busy fighting against to see where their antagonism leads.  

Which is why neither one of them will ever truly be a leader.