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

Saturday 17 May 2014

Be Prepared

Death by Firing Squad: The Dark Ages Redux

Efficient.  Effective.  Best bang for your buck. 
That's exactly what the Nazi Concentration Camps were about.
No, seriously - the thought was that the best use of tax dollars spent on incarceration was to profit through using criminals as labour.  Efficient, see?
You didn't want to spend a lot of money taking care of crooks anyway, so things like infrastructure and food weren't heavily invested in.  When prisoners start dying - complaining about hard work, freezing to death, whatever - you want to dispose of them the most efficient way possible.
Crematoriums were incredibly efficient this way - you could get rid of more bodies more quickly with less chance of infectious diseases spreading.  It was a bit of a PR nightmare, but people fundamentally don't care what happens to others, right?  It's not like we're a society or anything.
Of course, when your inmates are dying, you kinda need to find new ways to generate more bodies to keep the industrial/penal complex going.  By the point you get this far, you're a dictatorship anyway, so finding enemies of the state and undesirables isn't that hard.
I raise this point because we're seeing a dangerous tend emerging - union-busting, tough-on-crime legislation, chain gangs, firing squads.  States (including Canada) are getting more and more defensive, more secretive and increasingly ready to come down hard on anyone who disagrees with them.
We may look on Nazi Germany with contempt and judge the German people as somehow inferior in their capacity to allow inhuman atrocities to occur in their midst, but that's a red herring.
What happened in Germany under the Nazis can happen anywhere, at any time - the Armenian massacre, Rawanda, Nigeria, Syria, the Ukraine and yes - even here in North America.
If we choose not to care, if we choose not to pay attention and if we allow ourselves to be consumed by bitterness, we dehumanize ourselves.
Then, all bets are off.
We're an increasingly bitter bunch of bunnies. 
It's time we start asking ourselves what kind of society we want to live in; if we choose not to find ways to live together, we'll have no one to turn to when its us in the line of fire.
And there is no humane way to commit murder.

Friday 16 May 2014

Awesome Things

  1. extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.
    "the awesome power of the atomic bomb"

Awesome is one of those words that defies its own meaning.

How can seven letters convey the grandeur of a thunderstorm, the vastness of the plains, the beauty and terror of the sea?  It can't.

People are big on fish tales - always trying to outdo each other with the better narrative.  So, we've come to use the word awesome a lot - so much that maybe it's lost some of its capacity to inspire or intimidate.

We're also big on simplification; we want our narratives as non-cumbersome as possible.  Simple plans, simple solutions, sound-bites, old stories retold in new ways.

When we put our blinders on, though, we are ignoring the true gift of humanity, the thing that has driven us since before the written word - the ability to see beyond the cave and wonder at the light beyond.

That's why I love this video, especially at the 1:08 - 1:10 mark.  The editors knew what they were doing - by amping up the volume, what had been a cute experience instantly becomes something more, something transcendent.

A group of people got together, dared to be different, made music, and made other people smile.  They impacted those lives, changed their moods for the better.

People did that.

To me, that's awesome.  But then, I'm pretty easy to impress.

A Cautionary Note on Politics and Mental Health

When anger is directed at a person, that person is dehumanized in our view - meaning, we can do unto them things we would never do to a neighbour.

So, what's the lesson in this for politics?  Well, politics is full of anger, personal attacks and bad behaviour that is largely committed by people who feel like they're above others, which ties back to anger.

Hate is not a purifying force - it's a dehumanizing one.

It's time to take the hate out of politics.  When you fight fire with fire, all that's left in the end is ashes.

Building Brand for the Journey Ahead

The Open Road - For the journey ahead #0gt14

Here's how my head works.

I'm reading an article about how violence is not a product of mental illness when I see a Frank and Oak ad on the right side of the page.

What makes this add really stand out?  Why, the beard, of course.  The model's sporting one manly face carpet.

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Kinda like this gent on the right.

Mark MacDonnell is a serious dude with a seriously awesome, ZZ Top-worthy beard.  

Mark's a confident guy, comfortable in his own skin.  He commands authority with his presence, which is the look Frank and Oak was going for in their add.

This gets me curious, for reasons to be made clear shortly.

I go to Frank and Oak's website to suss out what they're all about, if their overall brand holds true to the emotional impression I've formed from their ad.

Turns out it does.

Innovation.  Entrepreneurial. Challenge Convention. Brand of Builders.

And my favourite - For the Journey Ahead.

Frank and Oak believes that every day is Day One - that's the mentality that keeps them motivated, keeps them open, keeps them moving.  They've got a mission to shake things up a little.

Which is, to a tee, what the Open Community is all about.

The tech geeks, civil servants and agents of change like Richard Pietro are all about breaking new ground, harnessing new tools and disrupting the status quo of government to build a truly responsible society with a matching Open Government.

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It's a long road, a challenging ride, but an adventure worth taking.  In fact, it's one we can't avoid.

This summer, Richard Pietro will be taking the sweet, sweet ride Mark's sitting on across Canada on an OpenGov Tour.  He's going to be exploring the country, connecting with its people.  He's also going to be spreading the word about what Open Data is and why it's such an amazing opportunity for Canadians of every rank and station.

Richard's a pretty confident guy.  He tends to have a beard, too.  And he's taking a motorcycle across the country, paving away for the journey ahead towards an Open Canada.

The connections form.  Frank and Oak represent the same basic theme as Richard and the OpenGov road tour, #OGT14.  They want to disrupt, to build, to innovate a community.  Those are the same themes that permeated yesterday's #GOOD14 conference.

How might we break down the walls that separate us, overcome the biases of the past and build an Open Community together?

Frank and Oak have the same basic mission; best of all, the look and attitude they champion is Richard's Road Trip personified.  Or vice versa.

Opportunity knocks.  A tweet gets sent.  

Now, Richard has a set of values that I respect a great deal and would never dream of challenging.  His tour is his, and his alone.  The message he carries is a universal one, but he is committed to not being a signboard for any organization.

Web Not War has provided him a great deal of funding for the trip because they believe in his mission, not for direct personal gain.  But they gain anyway, of course; altruism is really just selfishness that plans ahead.

There's an opportunity for Frank and Oak to do the same, building their brand along the way.

And the journey begins...

Caveat Emptor: Ontario's Ballot Question

I've got bad news for you, folks.  Our democracy has been hijacked.

No, it's not by self-serving politicians, conniving backroom operators or biased media.  It's not greedy corporations or naive special interest groups that are the problem, either.

It would be so much simpler if we could wrap up all our woes and hang them around one neck, then hang that neck from the nearest tree.  But the world isn't that simple.

Our democracy has gone awry not because of any one of us, but because of all of us.  

When we hear political pundits talk about what citizens care and respond to, they may sound cynical, but they're basing their arguments on experience and data.  All the messages we hear repeated on campaign trails or in sound-bites are focus-grouped to death before they see the light of day.

The reason they don't think that we care is because that's the message we're giving them.

If we only pay attention to the sensationalist stuff - over-the-top attack ads, oppositional framing, sound-bite messaging et al - that's all they're going to give us.  It would be silly of them to waste time developing complex, thoughtful policy solutions like The Green Shift if we're never going to take the time to figure it out. 

Yet we're growing disillusioned with politics-as-usual, aren't we?  Change is the mantra, again - but change to what?

The political players are trying to narrowly frame The Ballot Question as something they feel works to their advantage - jobs for Hudak, Strong Hands for Wynne, Common Sense for Horwath.  

But we don't just want jobs, or security, or a simplified bureaucracy - we want all these things in conjunction, and a whole lot more.  We want opportunity, health, movement, enjoyment.

It's time we stop letting political folk frame the ballot question as something that serves their purposes. It's time we stop tuning out between elections.

What we need to ask ourselves is - what kind of society do we want to live in?

One where we complain from the sidelines as unions fight with government, parties fight with each other, special interest groups with money set the agenda while special interest groups without suffer?

Or one where we all pitch in, give a little, gain a little, try to understand and build shared solutions - strong individuals for a strong society?

They - the politicians - can't do that for us.  How could they?  They are part of us.

If we can't live together, we're going to die alone.

That's the message we need to be hearing.  That's the big secret that's missed by all these people trying to position their bosses as the solution.

Leadership isn't about solving problems - it's about empowering the people to do so together.

If we want to reclaim our democracy, it's time we all start taking some ownership of it.  

When we choose to outsource our democracy, well - we get what we pay for, don't we?

Have An Awesome Day

There's lots out there to be concerned, frustrated and angry about.  I don't need to give examples; we're all good at picking our own poisons.

Which, really, is what hatred is - not a "purifying force" but a toxin that narrows your view and diminishes your existence.  I once heard it described thusly - hatred is poisoning yourself and waiting for the other person to die.

I don't want you to die, and I don't want to be the agent of my own limitation.  In fact, I think we can have a pretty fruitful existence when we open ourselves up to each other.

Have an awesome day, people out there - I know I will, thanks to you.

Have an awesome day, people of Toronto
Have an awesome day - you know you really wanna
Have an awesome day with the TTC man
Have an awesome day, we're your biggest fan
Have an awesome day, pretty lady
Have an awesome day - will you call me, maybe?
Have an awesome day in the sunshine
Have an awesome day - will you be mine?
Have an awesome day - YOU ROCK! :o)
Have an awesome day, I like your socks!
Have an awesome day, if you wanna play
Have an awesome day; today is your day

Today is your day
Today is your day
Today is your day

Have an awesome day
Have an awesome day - today is your day

Have an awesome day, people!

Thursday 15 May 2014

Et Tu, Tim?

Hudak was part of the Mike Harris government.  The Walkerton tragedy happened on his watch.  Is it fair game to associate what the last Conservative Government did (while Hudak was a Minister) with what a future Conservative Government would do?

Hudak's answer seems to be no, when it's about him, but yes, when it's about Wynne.

Whoever said laissez-faire, competitive politics had anything to do with consistency, eh?

Singularity (Renewed)

The reality is messier than that.  Singularity, you see, isn't a fictional concept - it is the world of the real.  

Plato's Cave and a world beyond our perception?  The Matrix, with our creations surpassing us?

We've been the butterfly all along - cells in the cosmos, which is not an aggregate of silos but a system. The mass of our bodies was consumed, gets expelled, becomes other forms.  

It's a tough thing, realizing we're not separate, but part of a greater whole.  When we consciously accept this, though, we will spend less time trying to be what we're not and more time becoming what we have it in ourselves to be.

That is when we'll truly be free.

UPDATE: There are two of them.

One, I thought this was rather interesting:

The demon is within us all - anger as a genetic disposition that we can control when we accept that we're all part of the same species.  Sounds a bit like Original Sin and finding salvation through a god, doesn't it?

An unintended consequence of the whole individualist movement and free market capitalism is that we have all become increasingly competitive with each other - not a state humans were ever designed to live in.  But then, who could have predicted how far we'd grow?

That's thing 1.  Thing two is this.

I've read some reviews that pan the trailer as simplistic, earth-huggy and dull.  To me, it's anything but. 

The themes teased through the trailer are ancient, current and transcendent - the whole as more than the sum of its parts, inheritance, responsibility, growth, outgrowing, death, emergence, return.

Does it all connect?

Of course it does.  Just think how awesome it would be if we could fathom how.

Hudak's Brushfire

Here's the deal, cabinet - my priority is jobs; your priority is to cut things.  If you don't cut things, you lose money.  So you better be serious about it.

Minister of Community Safety and Correctional Services?  Cut, cut, cut - delay infrastructure repairs, reduce correctional staff, cheaper foods for inmates.  Tough love.

Ministry of Community and Social Services?  Reduce service access points - less footprint, less staff.  If people really need help, after all, they'll make the effort to come all the way to you, right?

Ministry of the Environment?  Studies cost money and besides, you're getting in the way of developing the Ring of Fire.  Do less with less.

Ministry of Infrastructure?  Let's just delay wherever we can, shall we?

Minister of Children and Youth Services?  Actually, why do we need this Ministry at all?  Do youth create jobs?  Duh.

You can see how this works.  It's basic behavioural economics; if you reward people for reduction, reduction will be their focus - not efficiency or sustainability, just cutting.

This will reduce costs in some places, exacerbate them in others and create a growing series of long-term costs as the consequences of thinking small take their toll on our children.

But we're focused on jobs tomorrow - what do we care about the day after?

Like his federal brethren, Hudak aims to implement an ideology he believes in, regardless of what evidence has to say about the infeasibility of that ideology.  It may not be a recipe for disaster, but it's a great way to spark the social brushfire many people think we need.

Personally, I know we don't need to tear the whole thing down - society's not a tower, after all, it's a garden.

But Hudak's not listening to me - or most anyone else, it seems.  I do hear tell he kowtows to one person, though.

It's a pity.  As with all brushfires, though, the catalyst will get consumed and new growth will emerge. 

Call it an evolution.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Systems, Not Silos

Of course he did.  It's bumper-sticker simple and lends itself to repetitive messaging - kinda like subways, subways, subways.

But job creation is tied to education which is tied to occupational mental health, family resources, transit, so on and so forth.  Our problems aren't simple; it might be easier to sell a simple solution, but like a fresh coat of paint on a beaten up car, it's not enough.

We shouldn't want simplicity from our politicians - we're failing them when we let them off the hook that easy.

Hudak's Tragic Mental Health Irony

I really think Hudak's heart is in the right place, but it's his head that needs to step up a bit here.  

I'm hoping he's familiar with the federal workplace standards for mental health; a great initiative supported by the federal Conservatives, I might add.  The reason this is such an important undertaking at this point in time is that mental health is a growing cause for disability claims, absenteeism and lost productivity

If you want to talk about cost savings - mental health-related concerns cost the Canadian economy some $50 billion annually.  That's a lot.

The elephant in the room around mental health, though, is that it doesn't work the way we think it does.

For one, conditions like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia are genetic, which means they aren't actually illnesses, but inherited traits, like pigmentation or height.  You can be pale and prone to sunburn or too tall to fit in small cars - they're not considered illnesses, but conditions to be accommodated.  They're also manifested physically and therefore clearly discernible by the general public.  

Life can be harder for left-handed people, but society has become far more accommodating.  When society isn't understanding or accommodating, however, we tend to react to behaviour rather than explore the causes beneath that behaviour.  ADHD kids and adults have greater trouble landing and retaining jobs; some autistic folk will have amazing, never-harnessed skills because of communications challenges that some teachers and employers feel no need to come half-way on.

For people like this, accrued mental illness becomes much more likely.  Common examples of these are forms of anxiety and depression, which are increasingly related with family and work stress.  With the right supports and accommodations, workplaces don't need to be illness-inducing; families can have the supports they need to cope with mental illnesses at home.

You don't need to have extra-normal cognitive function to accrue a mental illness, though, any more than you need to be an albino to get a skin burn.  Every day, people are developing accumulated mental injuries at work in the same way repetitive psychical stresses-related ailments like carpal tunnel syndrome develop.

It makes no sense to tell someone with carpal tunnel to suck it up and exacerbate their injury more; it really makes no sense to pressure mentally injured people to push themselves to the breaking point.  That's in no small part why we've got a mental health crisis in the first place.

Here's where the irony part comes in.

By focusing on economic competitiveness, Hudak is envisioning more sales-focused workers, more laissez-faire employers and more carrot-and-stick discipline for workplace behaviour.  These sorts of conditions have helped foster the rise in occupational mental illness claims we're witnessing.

Are these people faking it?  Are they slacking off, not working hard enough, whatever?  Do they need to get tough to get ahead?  Where does Hudak draw the line between workplace behaviour and mental health? 

There is precedence for this sort of conundrum; unions, oddly enough, arose in response to poor workplace conditions related to physical well-being.  It was due to union engagement that workplace safety standards and things like reasonable work hours and washroom breaks were implemented.  It's because of unions that these things continue to this day.

While there are some smart employers taking behavioural economics to heart and properly designing work, workplaces and management techniques to foster greater productivity and innovation from mentally health (and supported) employees, this is far from the norm.  

Most employers still think the tough-boss model works best.  They also oppose unions who "coddle" employers and reduce a company's ability to cull less-able staff or find efficiencies by getting more for less.  

But this is what unions do.  They're as behind the times on mental fitness as anyone, but they're still best positioned to champion the causes of their members in much the same way a political caucus does.
So here's Hudak's conundrum; it's great that he wants to afford more mental health support for those who need it, but by cutting into the existing, proactive support structures, he's guaranteeing worse mental health outcomes and an increased cost.  

You can't treat mental health supports like a Jenga game, but that's what Hudak is doing.

I applaud his commitment; it's absolutely the right priority for the times.  But his plan not only won't work, it'll make the situation worse.

If not, I know someone else who could be.

On Youth Employment, Chow is Half-Way There

Let's skip past the candidate fun and games, because there's a real challenge here with tangible solutions that are pretty awesome.

Here are the facts:

- Particularly in the work culture we have now, employers want low-risk, low-commitment and cheap hires.  Only a few firms are getting ahead of the curve and recognizing that "spend money to earn money" applies equally to investing in your workforce

- What are the training opportunities that exist for youth out there?  We can talk about a specific trade - construction, for instance, or programming - but we're moving back towards a top-heavy, laissez-faire market where would-be employees are expected to do all the sales and convince the employers of their value (on the golf course, as an example).

- Customers, for their part, are looking for more than products - they want experiences.  They want to engage with firms, products and services where they get to be a bit of the process and can tell that the teams love what they do and feel empowered to take ownership of their work.

- Canada's corporate culture is largely stuck in a 20th Century, Industrial Economy mentality; they don't get the dynamism, interactivity and post-transactional relationships that are defining modern HR practices and economic opportunity.

- One-off employment opportunities for youth, especially marginalized youth, isn't translating into full-time offers; too often it's companies taking the matched, cheaper labour costs for a short-term project then moving on, which doesn't help youth at all

That's all the bad news.  The good news is that the tide is turning.  

- There's a move towards Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) not just as a branding exercise, but a means to add value to a companies work, empower employees and develop in-kind partnerships

- User Generated Content (UGC) is a growing thing - corporations, political parties and a growing host of organizations are making users part of their solution and part of their team, with engaged staff serving as the interface - this is what the whole Open Data and Open Government building a city that thinks like the web thing is about

- Many organizations, such as Make Web Not War, are looking at doing CSR through in-kind donations of time and expertise rather than just donating cash.  It's a bit of the teach an individual to fish mentality 

- instead of a lump-sum grant, dedicate staff hours to do organizational, communications and other activity while teaching the tricks of those trades to members of the team being supported

- youth with great ambition but less access to specialized skills training or traditional job opportunities are trying to strike out on their own through entrepreneurial efforts - what they lack, more than anything else, is the refined skills to excel at and sell what they do

So, with all that in mind, here's something for Team Chow to consider:

Don't just hire youth for government infrastructure projects; match those contracts with entrepreneurship/life skills training opportunities.  Find partners (maybe Swerhun, Exhibit Change, Canadian Training Institute - build up some vendors of record) you can put on retainers that get funded by successful applicants to go in and provide life-skills, communications, etc. training for hired youth.

A company landing a city contract will have access to a cheaper pool of youth labour, but those youth are going to walk away with more than just a line on their CV; they'll be spending some of their time in class, at events or in the field learning and applying the value-add skills that will really help them succeed in the future.

Start wiring these engaged, empowered youth into social movements like SoJo, Girl Geeks TO and Open Data TO, you're actively shaping the next generation of community leaders, and they will remember you for it.

There's a market for this; there's precedent for this; there's a need for this.

Chow's half-way there, it seems; just imagine how much further she could go if she committed to bringing Toronto's youth along with her.