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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 24 May 2014

Preventing Elliot Rodger


The haughty tone, the forced laughter, the cheesy-dialogue; if this was the sort of approach Rodger took in his quest for sex and affection, it's no wonder he was a virgin at 22.
Let's be clear - Rodger may have a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum, but there is no correlation between the narcissism and God delusions manifested in that video.
Autism is a cognitive condition that relates to expression, understanding of social etiquette, and ability to interact in a pro-social way.  Demanding sex, bad villain laughs and the pulling out a gun and shooting people are activities with no connection to autism.
No, I'd be more interested in looking into those narcissistic traits and expressions misogyny over the course of this guy's life. 

Instead of focusing what or who or how to blame, what can be learned from this experience to prevent the next one?
Rodger would have interacted in certain ways in person, had his videos and all his stuff on Facebook.  There were plenty of triggers there to suggest a person with a morale compass that pointed in the wrong direction.
What process is in place for students to pass information of concern on to authorities?  Does the school maintain ties with local police?
How could Elliot Rodger have been flagged as someone in need of intervention before it was too late? 
Elliot Rodger wanted to be better than others, so he got himself a gun and opened fire.  The gun, you see, was the tool of his power.  Something in that the NRA doesn't want you thinking about.

Friday 23 May 2014

Ontario's NDP: Laissez Faire Governance at its Worst

It's a fair assessment Radwanski makes, but a terribly cynical one.  Assume the people don't care, aren't interested, and use that as your starting point.  Then, make yourself look big and imposing, assuming that makes you leader-like; brand everything with your name so it looks like you're an omniscient superhero.

It's what Harper's done.

Is it any wonder we're in a Tragedy of the Commons?

Stephen Harper: The Grim Reaper

You know what they say - you reap what you sow.

Harper's Conservatives, impatient with democracy and fixated on winning at all costs have pushed the already stretched envelop of acceptable campaign behaviour to the limits.  Bribing a dying man, lying about the Constitution, patently false robocalls, firing whistleblowers and attacking via words, ads and cut funding anyone who disagrees with them has become par for the course.

The message has been clear from day one - either you're with them, or you're against them, and therefore against Canada.  That includes the elected members of the Opposition Parties, civil servants, and a growing list of organizations and individuals both domestic and foreign.

If you don't want to be bullied, get out of their way.

Here's the fundamental problem with creating a culture so fixated on aggression, animosity and doing whatever it takes to win.  That mentality can't but sift down to the people on your team, who will follow the lead set by their leader.

After all, this is the approach the PMO wants, right?  Fight tooth-and-nail for what you want, no sympathy, no mercy.  Look at the way they attack their own Budget Officer or even a Supreme Court Justice.

Surely an elected MP, already part of the empire, is entitled to do what she pleases on the backs of unelected wannabes?

Fight makes right, doesn't it?  It always has in Harper's Canada.

Which brings Harper into a quagmire of his own design; his own caucus is aping internally what he has done to Parliament, the Civil Service and countless other groups externally.

I feel no sympathy for Harper, as this was an inevitable by-product of his top-down, autocratic style of leadership.  I do, however, empathize with him.  

If only he'd made the effort to commit a little sociology, all this could have been avoided.

Thursday 22 May 2014

The Meme Machine: Sad Batman

It had to happen.

In his new, dramatic pose, Batfleck does indeed look a little sad.  Where can you take that?

My personal favourites:

I take full credit for this one, as I tweeted Synder about lost keys directly (to quote the trolls, prove me wrong on that)!


Up was such a beautiful little gem of a film, with one of the most heart-ripping openings of any cartoon, ever.  Batman's pathos over lost keys only adds to the sadness.

Maxime Bernier on Canada

There's a bit of cognitive dissonance between the first statement and the second, and that's before you get into the pervasive trend of the government Bernier serves working hard to centralize power into the PMO.

Co-operation is the way forward, though.  Strong individuals working together to build strong communities that collaborate, innovate and adapt together lead to a stronger society for all.  That's the goal.

While I agree it's a bad idea to put all control, decision making and resource-dissemination power in one place, there is definitely merit to having some sort of hub through which regional activity gets supported and empowered.  Society needs government the way the body needs a brain.

Which is why the first statement is key - assertion not as a tool to push for more of what you want, but to step up as an equal, engaged partner in the social fabric.

We should all want to collaborate and encourage, support and enhance collaboration from our peers.  This is the trend being established with flat organizational hierarchies as much as it is through the growing OpenGov/Open Data movement.

As I've written elsewhere, a major impediment to realizing this responsible society comes down to communication, emotional resiliency, stigma and other things generally associated with mental health. We've got a long way to go before we're ready to bridge that gap.

Regardless, the trend is promising.  I wonder if I'll live long enough to see this world emerge - it would be awesome to see.

Open Data Solutions for Toronto's Transit Mess

Toronto transit is a bit of a mess, but it's a problem that stretches beyond infrastructure.  When everyone is traveling the same arteries at the same time of day, each impatient to get where they're going and intolerant of delays, problems happen.

We can blame Public Works and Infrastructure for shoddy repair plans; we can blame aggressive drivers for clogging up intersections by racing lights; we can blame pedestrians, politicians or whoever else we want for the general congestion of our roads, but that doesn't help matters.

Instead of focusing on blame, let's look for solutions - which, in turn, present opportunity for entrepreneurs.

Players involved in our transit nightmare include:

- commuters
- planners
- business owners (who set work hours and, as such, standardized commute times)
- politicians
- business owners and residents (who dislike construction that impedes traffic to their venues/homes)
- construction firms (eager to make coin doing the work)
- police and Emergency Services (direct traffic, deal with accidents, etc)
- Metrolinx and the TTC - planning side, comms side, front-line workers, etc.
- Taxi drivers.  Oh, those taxi drivers.
- Bicyclists and the organizations that represent them
- Tourist/conference authorities in town
- the airports
- Municipal governments of bedroom communities
- anyone else?

There are lots more than this.  If you want a thorough assessment of who's impacted and who needs to be part of the solution conversation, go talk to Bianca Wylie at Swerhun - she's a world leader at this stuff. (She's on twitter - @biancawylie)

The two main, unavoidable factors here are 1) people need to get where they're going and 2) the roads have to be up to par for transit to happen.

Do the people need to get where they're going at the same time?  Do they need to get where they're going all the time?  What role can staggered working hours, work-from-home schedules, etc. play in reducing gridlock and related lost productivity?

There are big, structural challenges in here that, if politicians were to bring to stakeholders in different sectors, creative, shared solutions could be developed for.  

But let's get real - that's not going to happen any time soon.  People are way too focused on their own, micro problems to pay attention to how their behaviours play into the macro problems we all share.

Which brings us to Transit and Open Data.

If you're not familiar with RocketMan, it's worth checking out - an App for your phone that tracks public transit via Open Data provided by the city.  Instead of waiting for a bus that may or may not be on time, you can check your App and see where it's at in relatively real time, saving you from standing around needlessly.

Think about this for a second - free, public data made available resulted in an innovative solution that helps the public but also made an entrepreneur money.

How cool is that?

Back to transit construction.

It's a given that construction is going to happen - there's now way around it.  It's also a given that this construction is going to impede transit flows.  

But what if you had an App that mapped out construction zones for you and helped navigate around it? 

If we had real-time congestion metrics (recorded by cameras at busy intersections, for instance) you could feed that data into the App too.  Someone commuting from Etobicoke to downtown Toronto would be able to check their App, see where construction was happening that day and determine a couple of alternative routes to get where they're going and figure out (roughly) the time required.

In an ideal world, you'd get scenarios where an employee could tell their boss the commute time looks to be a dismal 3 hours of lost productivity; the boss would then say "work from home today so you don't lose productive hours" and then any direct communication could be done virtually.  And, you'd have one less body on the road.

It's all doable.  With the App side, if there was an entrepreneurial App designer out there they could get started on this immediately.  Talk to Keith McDonald at the City of Toronto's Open Data team (@COTkeith on Twitter) or check out Make Web Not War (@WebNotWar on Twitter) to find open data sets that could help you with planning.  They may even be able to offer you advice.

The key point to all this is that we don't need to be so reliant on politicians to come up with one-size-fits-all plans on our behalf; we have the tools we need to make positive change happen ourselves.  We just need the will and support to get moving.

And we all want to keep moving, don't we?

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Tragedy of the Commons: Harper's Crusade

I find this a fascinating peek into the man that we already know, but whose demons we seem to fundamentally not care about.

Harper decided Canada had a patriotism problem because Canadians weren't conservative enough - i.e., they didn't see the world the way he did.  In Harper's mind, the "true" Canada had been hijacked by Liberals who'd snuck their brand into the bedrock (or bedrooms) of the nation.

In pursuit of smaller governance, a truly free Canada and proper patriotism, Harper set out to do to Canada what he felt his opponents had done - remake it in his own image.

"You won't recognize Canada when I get through with it," he said.  It's not that he hated Canada, whatever Canada is - it's that he detested what Canada represented, believed in and held dear.  But that wasn't what Canadians actually felt, in his mind - it was imposed by outsiders.

Team Harper has set out to shape the agenda, rewrite the past and tightly control the potential directions Canada has available to take in the future.  The way to ensure the natural order of organic conservatism, it seems to be their view, is to force it - rechristening Canada, as it were.  This is their Third Crusade.

Of course, by becoming what he once fought against, Harper has become the villain he used to stand against.  By functionally fixating on the things that make emotional sense to him, due to his life experience - oil, for instance - he has started to build firewalls around Canada's economy, stifling its growth potential.

The sad part is that the things he is trying to brand as "Conservative" are, in truth, non-partisan, part of the rich lineage of what makes Canada great.  At the same time as he's remaking Canada's Government into Canada's Harper Government, he's drawing attention to symbols that unite us as different people building on common ground - which is the exact narrative he wants to avoid.

The War of 1812?  It was about differing groups coming together to defend something they only truly came to appreciate through the fighting - Canada.  Like our involvement in the World Wars, 1812 is indicative of Canada the determined, Canada the collective, Canada the defender.

So too is Peacekeeping, a Canadian initiative that happens to have Liberal ties.  Does that really matter?  Tories have cribbed Liberal policies in the past (after attacking them) - why does that rule not apply to symbols?

The Constitution could equally be associated with Liberals, making it taboo - but hey, wasn't Canada's first Prime Minister a Conservative?  Isn't his face on our currency already?  Canada was formed through diplomacy, not through conflict - another defining characteristic of what sets Canada apart that Harper appears uncomfortable with, but is none the less part of who we are.

I love his focus on the Arctic - Inuit, open space, adventure, community in the face of adversity - all things that aren't exactly staples of the Conservative narrative.

Or how about his attempt to stifle data that opposes Conservative ideology and shut down organizations that act in a "Liberal" way?  Truth be told, what he wants to see happen is happening - the social services the government once dominated are starting to be delivered/pursued by the Private Sector.

An unintended consequence of making Canada's government more structurally Conservative is that Harper is forcing the Private Sector to liberalize.  

In truth, Canada's government has issues that precede Harper and will continue to fester after he's gone. He was right when he said "Canadians don't care" - we've never had to, and that's the problem.

What we need right now are leaders focused on rebuilding community, reminding Canadians that what makes us great isn't any one symbol or partisan brand, but the way we have always found balance between perspectives and opinions, building better solutions for ourselves - and the world.

That has always been our strength:

 - not our determination just to pitch our natural resources, all though that's certainly been part of what we do

- not our toughness in combat, for which we are well known

- not our gorgeous, bountiful landscape, though we pride ourselves on the beauty of our home

- not our sports, our coffee or our poutine, though these are things we relish and promote

What has always been at the core of Canada's often-obscured identity is our ability to take the best from everywhere else and make it uniquely our own.  We are curious, compassionate, a bit righteous but always politely persistent.

Canada is not defined by what we hold internally, but by what we have to offer.

Anyway you shape the narrative - whether you call it liberal or conservative or green - the moment you start looking for symbols that Canadians of every rank and station can get behind, you're creating community.

It doesn't matter what his motives are - by trying to take back the precious Canada he feels was taken from him by tricksey Liberals, Harper is serving purpose in a bigger picture he doesn't quite see.

Of late, Canada has turned inwards, caring less about our own symbols, our proud role on the global stage and even the health of our own democracy.  On that, Harper was right.  This isn't a reality he shaped - it's a national atrophy we are already experiencing.

By trying to remake Canada in his own image, Harper has unintentionally loosened a number of small stones that are trickling down the hill, picking up momentum as they go.  

While our government becomes stagnant and constricting, new movements are rubbing against this tired skin, seeking to break out.  It'll be a messy process, as evolution always is, but it's a necessary one if we're to get out of the tragedy we've fallen into.

Harper is catalyzing a Canada that we won't recognize as the one we're used to today.  But what he will consider a win is actually a small part in a much bigger, emerging solution we all need.

Govern Together, Fall Alone

Harper is Prime Minister.  Whether you believe our political system works or not, he has elbowed his way to the highest office of the land.  In essence, he won.

Yet he still feels like he's in an epic battle against the forces he despises - forces that, in his mind, seem to be growing every day, calling for tougher and tougher measures against them.

This says something about the man, I think, which we'll go into in the next post...

Tuesday 20 May 2014

The Noble Sacrifice and Toronto

Rubbish, of course.

See, we don't believe in society any more - there's no "Toronto" any more than there's a "Canada." That's leftist pandering, trying to manipulate you into committing sociology.

Politics is a free market, right?  To each their own, compete to win?  That which isn't fit doesn't make the cut?  Any candidate who truly believes in a competitive democracy and freedom of choice should fight to the bitter end and do their best to elbow anyone in their wake.  

That's what it takes to win.  

This is the approach increasingly being embodied by Political Parties, but also by voters.  Our laissez-faire approach to politics is exactly why we have a tragedy of the commons.

It's also, I might note, the mindset that landed us with Mayor Rob Ford in the first place.  

Ford, a populist, promised simple solutions, personal wins and an opportunity to punish people you didn't like.  So long as you didn't scratch the surface or connect the dots, his approach sounded great. 

Maybe it still does.  Big-figure cuts and simple solutions still seem awfully popular these days.

This, despite the fact that we know where reactive, selfish choices collectively lead us.

Leadership isn't about individual wins, its about collective success.  Until we start to accept and support this kind of leadership (which exists out there already) we will continue to atrophy as a society.

You get what you pay for, don't you know.

Tomorrow's Leaders: #WeAreOpen to Change

That's the leadership we need.  The leadership we have, by and large, sadly, is moving in the opposite direction.

They aren't interested in being aware - that's too much like committing sociology.

Trust isn't something they feel the need to earn - they figure it'd owed them by virtue of being in charge.

Credibility, character, integrity are seen as buzz words to be spun, not values to be lived.

Fortunately, this isn't the whole story.

There are a ton of people out there who aren't leaders, in the traditional sense (big titles, lots of brand) but are leaders in the truest sense of the word.  Right now, they're out there trying to engage, empower and support the next generation of leaders who will, ideally, be hybrids - brand-savvy but wholly committed to growing their communities.

Polling keeps telling us that we, the people, are open to change and not overly fond of the different shades of status-quo currently on the menu.

Something for tomorrow's leaders and the people looking to support them should keep in mind.

Empire Canada

Do you stand with Canadians or with the criminals?  


It's time we stop letting the uniformed bosses at the top push our buttons and take some ownership of our nation's policy agenda.

Canada isn't an empire, after all - we're a democracy.

Warren Kinsella, Autism and the Art of Nudge

This, from the always-insightful Warren Kinsella - a guy who gets the irrational nature of politics if anyone does.  

Partisan politics isn't designed to appeal to logic, create debate or develop shared solutions - it's about winning, period.  By it's competitive nature, partisan politics is tribal.  The focus almost inevitably shifts from what one side can do (proactive) to preventing what the other side would take away (reactive).

The problem is, even the informed get swept up in this.  More person-hours and sweat get put into things like lawn signs when there's no real evidence that they have any impact.  The same can be said for any GOTV initiative.  Yet these are the sorts of activities that get picked apart by analysts as indicative of a winning campaign.

For the pols, it's about keeping up with the Joneses - you don't want to be the one guy who doesn't play the game; it just feels too much like falling behind.  What if it really does make a difference and you cause your side to fail by dropping the ball?  That's an uncomfortable feeling to have.

The salesmen are just as good at selling themselves - often, even better.

People, whatever their knowledge base, are simply not rational creatures.  In fact, the more informed they are, the better they tend to get at justifying their existing positions.  

Where this varies in politics is when a partisan, for whatever reason, switches teams.  A floor-crosser can confabulate changes to emotional positions in ways dug-in tribal partisans can't, rebranding old friends as untrustworthy foes - which is fascinating.  It's almost like a conversion process.

What does this have to do with autism?

Do you believe this?  If you already feel autism has no correlation to inoculations, the answer is probably yes.  If, however, you're suspicious of inoculations already, the answer is probably no - instead, you'll be questioning the research.

Climate change, the effectiveness of social intervention on crime reduction, even homophobia are all similar examples - if we feel something, or if our feelings can be poked and inflamed, the facts against our position (or lack of facts for it) don't matter.

9 times out of 10 we'll go with our gut, which really means we respond to the drives of neurochemistry over external information.  This makes sense, from an evolutionary perspective - our ability to react quickly to potential threats is a big part of why our species hasn't died out.

At the same time, though, we don't live on the African plain in small herds anymore - we're socialized, specialized, technology-dependent creatures that rely on knowledge to survive in our current context. We might not feel like taking out the trash, or following the rules of the road, but we know there are consequences if we don't.  

This is the perpetual problem of public policy - how do you design systems and processes that appeal to how people actually make choices rather than how we'd like to think we make choices?

In an age where some governments are starving the public (and themselves) of facts so as to not confuse their ideological leanings, this is a huge problem the public service is trying to grapple with.

Herein, to me, lies an interesting problem - what determines success in our current political culture is to appeal to the limbic brain of the public; troubles at shores, illegal coalitions, dangerous schemes, common sense, etc.  You can win this way, but you can't effectively govern this way.

The elements of society seeking more effective governance and policy have to find a different approach; inoculations carry some risk, but far less than not getting them.  More to the point, not inoculating your own children puts other children at risk.

Autism, on the other hand, isn't leprosy or a zombie curse - it's a variation on cognitive wiring in the same way skin tones are variations on pigment.  The right understanding allows for the right accommodations.

While not every autistic person (because autism is part of the person, not some kind of virus) will become a Jacob Barnett or Temple Grandin, how many world-changers are we losing out on due to our own emphasis on avoiding a potential negative instead of supporting a potential positive? 

How might we shift gears between the growing trend towards instinctively-appealing presentation in politics, marketing and beyond and the need to promote debate, critical thinking and emotional self-regulation?  

I suspect the confabulations of floor-crossers or team-leavers will offer some insight into how this might be accomplished, but I don't have the definitive answer.  Neither do you.  

Between us, though, I know we could come up with something amazing and effective.

Your neighbours are getting on board the Open Movement - can we count on you, too?


Sunday 18 May 2014

Truer Words

That, from a journalist.  He is, in essence, talking about the addictive quality of getting a win on Rob Ford.  He's out there, non-stop, providing fodder, hooking you, baiting you. 

Anyone in politics and it's increasingly never-ending cycle will know the feeling.  What they may not have thought of, though, is that fear of starting to put the win ahead of the purpose.

What does this have to do with addiction and dopamine?

That's something you're going to have to wrestle with yourself.

Dopamine in Toronto Politics

Unless, of course, Glodsbie feels compelled to follow the Ford fiascos, politics in general, sports, comments or perhaps his smartphone.

If he does, he can empathize entirely with the Fordian addiction.

Ontario Election Prediction

That's a stats guy, doing what he does - what he's been repeatedly recognized as doing well.

The Liberals stand a good chance of holding Ontario, despite the cons in their record.  Is it their pros that will win over voters?

The pundits will pick their targeted poison - that's what they do.  Whatever serves their narrative gets raised; whatever doesn't, doesn't.

Hudak has been true to his brand - he has a really, really hard time resisting a quick hit.  Horwath has been true to her brand, too - committing isn't her strong suit.

While Team Wynne hasn't been as clean as they could or should be - lots of junior staff, lots of half-committed senior staff - they stand a good chance of winning for reasons that are more than the sum of their parts.

But the title refers to a prediction.  What do I mean by that?

I've got several posts that hint at what's to come next.  If you are enough, you can find them here.

Doug Ford the Sociopath Gets Challenged

You might think Doug Ford would take counsel before opening his mouth about issues of mental health and cognition given that his brother is, among other things, a drug addict.  I wouldn't - like many others in Toronto, I have suspicions that Doug Ford is a sociopath.

 - superficial and portray themselves as smarter than others
- delusional
- figure they can get away with anything (like blatant cash bribes)
- they lie, all the time, with ease and confidence
- feel neither guilt or shame
- don't learn from mistakes; they double-down
- their heart "goes out" to no one - not even their own brothers

Does that sound at all like Doug Ford, the Worst Brother Ever?  You see where I'm coming from then.

So, back to Ford's comments about autism.  He mentions "violent behaviours" like screaming.  How does he feel about punching your own friend, beating a friend, barrelling through an elected official to go join a fight or saying things like "get her a shot right now or I'll fucking break her..."?

Autism is not a cause of violence.  That's a facile, ignorant comment made by simpletons looking for a quick answer.  Violence is not a product of mental illness, the way we tend to view it.  If that were the case, we'd have to label a lot of hockey players and fans as mentally ill, wouldn't we?  They engage in violence and calls for violence all the time. 

Violent behaviour is a response to that which makes us uncomfortable, which we feel threatens us.  We respond to threats reactively, the same way we pull our hand back from a hot stove or feel an urge to lie down while in high places; this threat-response behavior manifests as stomping on a bug, smacking a child who talks back, promising consequences to employees to question us or screaming at a world that feels threatening, seems not to make sense.  Like Rob Ford does, or like some autistic kids do - depending on their circumstances.

There's really no difference - the reactive behaviour is the same whether you're flipping out at Pride or screaming because nobody's communicating the way you do.

Which is what happened to Jacob Barnett for ages.  Haven't heard of him?  You will - he's the autistic kid who many think will be the next Einstein/Newton.

Temple Grandin was misunderstood by many - now she does TED Talks.

Winston Churchill had mental health issues.  Abraham Lincoln had mental health issues.  It's quite likely that Stephen Harper could be diagnosed with a "mental illness" - as Bob Rae was.  These aren't weak men - they're dynamos, catalysts, outliers.  You'd be surprised how many "mentally ill" people have shaped the course of human history.

What we don't get - what people like Doug Ford, pathologically incapable of understanding others as they are don't get - is that different isn't bad.  It's different.  It's the interaction that defines good and evil.  The more empathy you have, the less sinful you become.

Being black, or gay, or tall, or autistic doesn't make you good or bad.  These are all aspects of the elephant, one trait amongst the many combinations that make us all unique. 

When we focus on the negative, we become angry, fearful, reactive (and violent) to. 

When we seek comprehension, we are inquisitive, patient, engaging and, ultimately, powerful in that special Ender Wiggin way.

Rob Ford has, through his illness, shaken a status quo that was desperately in need of being shaken.  He is a parody of all the norms we have come to accept of politicians.

Doug Ford is something even more extreme - a glimmer of what we could become, as a society, if we choose to focus on what irritates us instead of seeking common ground.

We can opt to stand against that which we disdain or makes us uncomfortable, as the Fords do - but that's a path that history teaches us has a dead end.

The alternative is to get beyond our own stigmas and learn how to understand, rather than react to.

When we learn to look beyond ourselves, that's when community truly begins.

Doug Ford sees himself as tough, better-than, shiny, independent.  There's nobody better than him - certainly not some autistic upstart.  Why, Dougie could wipe the floor with an autistic nobody, physically or verbally.

Hey Doug - I've been diagnosed as on the autism spectrum; that makes me your inferior, right?  But I'll bet you're not brave enough to go toe-to-toe with me in the arena of ideas.  You've got nothing but bluster; I've got everything, including the facts.

I've called you a sociopath, Dougie - I'm telling you that you're a lesser-than.  Are you going to take that?  Want to prove you're smarter than I am by disproving everything I've written here?

I'm betting you aren't.  Shows how weak your position is, doesn't it?