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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 30 August 2014

Star Wars: Canon and the FanFic Rebellion

There's been a lot of hand-wringing among Star Wars fans of late.
Yes, there is a slate of new content on the horizon, spanning multiple media, with the tease of annual Star Wars movies for some time to come.  But this whole canon thing has people in a tizzy.
What will happen to the Timothy Zahn books, to the Ewoks cartoon, to the Christmas Special?  If they are officially not part of canon now (as opposed to neither officially nor unofficially anything other than stories before), do they somehow lose their entertainment value?
For many, it's as if the pharaohs of old have returned.
Not me though.  I love the idea of multiple stories all connecting together with continuity.  Like the Marvel franchise, you feel like there's really a whole galaxy of story out there; you can go micro, or macro, switch from one character to a next but still get the throughline.  Plus, as is the case with the real-world, you just never know how these stories could connect. 
Having continuity and some consistent rules provides a rich framework that grounds a story (or a society) and gives it gravity that's missing when every tale and character is a tumbleweed.
How one-world-stateish of you, some might say - you must be a liberal.
But think about this for a second.  Can you still read and enjoy all your old Star Wars content?  Of course you can; Disney isn't burning the EU history books, it's simply taking ownership of their story so that they can provide consistent entertainment.  If nobody buys in to their approach, they could very well change their minds down the road and return to the nebulous state of continuity Star Wars had before. 
We see shifts and revamps and reboots in comic books and film franchises all the time.  So long as the new product is good, we generally don't mind, after the fact.
Regardless, for Star Wars fans nothing really changes, except that you get more official.  For the personal experience, Star Wars is what each individual fan wants it to be.  The canon content is the official Lego kit; the EU stuff is other sets.  There's no reason individual fans can't mix and match and create their own continuities in their homes or on their blogs.
Do you think Official Canon is going to stop fanfic?
People can still do their own home-made videos, their mash-ups and write their own stories, doing whatever they want with the story.  If fans want to write a ret-con of the entire Prequel Trilogy, nobody is stopping them.  In fact, writing their own stories in defiance of canon might be the truest representation of the Star Wars spirit that we could see.
Disney isn't the empire, after all.  They're an entertainment company that wants to succeed and grow by offering quality content to their fans.  Disney is also smart enough to know that User Generated Content is part of that mix these days.
So fear not, Star Wars fans.  That galaxy far, far away that you loved a long time ago isn't gone; it's growing and strengthening its narrative spine.
And what that galaxy means is what it has always been - less static story silos than a force that binds us all together.

Brownout Toronto: White Saviours and the Jane Creba Effect

Let's do a thought experiment.
Imagine you are riding on the subway; at one stop, a group of teenage girls comes in.  They're talking loudly, even shouting in their youthful ebullience and oblivion.  It's annoying; you roll your eyes and turn up the volume on your iPod.
Now let's switch this for a group of white boys, same age, same gregariousness.  They're loud, they might swing on the bars, slap their friends in fun.  These lads frustrate you - it's totally not cool for them and their lack of discipline to disrupt your ride.
Finally, picture it's a group of black boys.  They're doing the same thing as the previous two groups - dressing like teens, talking like teens; do you feel any different?  Is it annoyance, frustration, or fear that grips you?

The behaviour remains the same - it's the package that changes, and that's what we react to most.
As an observer of humanity, I love the subway for the interactions it presents.  I watch individuals, and groups, and look for every tick of language and behaviour to see what it tells me.
The fact is this - groups of black kids elicit more fear and suspicion than groups of white kids.  I have literally seen a white woman feel terrorized by a youth simply for the colour of his skin and the mode of his dress. This isn't because black youth are more aggressive, or louder, or dress any more or less differently than anyone else, which means it's not about them or what they're doing - it's about us.
The truth is, as a society and as individuals, we are stigmatic.  We judge what and who we see on immediate relevance to us first; in real-time situations, we feel there is no time to commit sociology. 
We know that young black males are more likely to commit crimes, more likely to be violent and more likely to "pack heat" and therefore, they instinctively make us uneasy, especially if they're in groups. 
But do we really know that, or do we accept or feel that?  If so - how, why?  You can point to statistics about the number of black kids in prisons, but scratch a little further and you'll find that police are doing the same thing as everyone else - being harder on black people than anyone else.  Besides, the statistics can tell many other stories.

Are there black youth who sell drugs or break property, so on and so forth?  Sure.  There are white people, and East Asian people and all kinds of folk who do the same thing, but they don't make the same self-reinforcing headlines because they don't feed are pre-existing narrative of blacks = dangerous.
Dangerous, or lazy.  That's another stereotype - the lazy black youth, not committing to education, not hustling to find a job, etc.  Expecting the world to be handed to them, carelessly impregnating women and then taking no responsibility.
Again, what's this based on? 
I know really smart, passionate and action-oriented black people.  I know lazy, reactive white people.  I know tall East Asians and short Northern Europeans - so what?  Strengths and weaknesses can crop up anywhere, regardless of social setting.

There are modestly capable sons and daughters from Rosedale who will have incredible opportunities dropped in their lap because of factors other than their actual skills.  There are also wickedly passionate and intelligent youth in places like Lawrence Heights who will get arrested for standing up to police using nothing but legal arguments.

Shouldn't we be looking to support the strengths/mitigate the weaknesses of all youth equally?  If we don't, how's that good for the whole of our economy or society - or is the whole public good not the goal?    
When it comes to talent recruitment or problem identification, we have internal lists of usual suspects.  It's a stereotype that pervades employment and crime: an Asian kid applying for a tech job has an inherent advantage over a white or black one based on cultural sterotypes for the exact same reason a black kid committing a misdemeanor will be, on average, treated more aggressively than a white one.
Why is this?  If you're a racist, you might assume it really is a black-person problem, or a First Nations problem, etc. best contained so as not to cause harm to the rest of us.  Besides, this means there will always be a source of cheap labour to do the jobs we don't want to and just needing strong supervision to keep them in line.
If you're a sociology-committer, you may peer back in time and look at the pervasive socio-cultural context of imperialism, slavery and segregationist policies and come to the conclusion that we have a structural problem that has been imposed on black people, forcing them into a sort of learned helplessness and, where individuals stand up or push harder, the barriers between them and success are far greater than for Euro-Canadian peers.
We find both of these frames present in the current Toronto electoral conversation, though on the margins as such issues have yet to grab headlines.
Cops need more resources to tackle pervasive crime perpetrated primarily by black youth.  Tough on crime, safe streets, isolate the problem for the convenience for the rest of us.
Or, there's the line of the White Saviour - I can help those black kids and, in turn, keep them from doing you harm.  Only I can stop the problem; they won't go anywhere without me.
It's retail politics, this - a reinforcement of the broader frame of our times which, ironically, is rather similar to the narrative of learned helplessness that impacts the city's marginalized communities: you don't worry about it, let me take care of everything. 
There's something to this narrative of learned helplessness or inaction - something pervasive.  Job opportunities for youth in marginalized neighbourhoods are subsidized and tend to be focused on the low-end; programming tends to be imposed, rather than co-developed and focus on things like bbqs and basketball games instead of processes that build leadership, financial and planning skills. 
Services are provided, programs are implemented - the communities have learned that these come and go.  What they don't see so much of, however, is empowerment.
If you think that a given group of people (including your own) aren't able be leaders of their own success, you're stigmatizing them.  It's as easy as that.
It's just as true as a perspective we impose on others as it is on the one we accept for ourselves.  You can blame it on whoever; the main thing is, these imposed perspectives of helplessness - an inability to overcome personal/imposed challenges or to do anything for the challenges of others, expect through being the boss - are a problem.
Not the people.  The perspective.  When perspectives change, so does the capability of the people.
Thing is, we are loathe to change our perspective (especially when doing so points out uncomfortable truths about ourselves).  What catalyzes us to action tends to be trauma; think of the flurry of programs that were created in the wake of Danzig, or the concern that was raised following the murder of Jane Creba.
Danzig was as much a political perception exercise as anything else; we generally don't consider it acceptable for our political leaders to shrug their shoulders as a response to an incident that impacts multiple people.  Unless, that is, we can personally identify with the perpetrator and feel that their being accused somehow threatens our status as well.  For some, Palestine (or Israel) are Danzig; for others, they are Ferguson; for others still they are Darren Wilson.
It all depends on your point of view. 
However all of this is reactive stuff - treating the lead poisoning instead of looking upstream at the pipe. 
What is our goal here - to isolate a threat so it doesn't bother us?  That's segregationist, period.  To build our personal brands, or political brands, as saviours?  That's not sustainable, either - one, it doesn't work and two, even if it does in minute fashion, as soon as that saviour is gone the community will revert to how it was before.
If either of these are the case, we've identified the wrong problem.  The goal should always be sustainability; teach to fish rather than provide a fish.
This, of course, requires a massive change of perspective.  We need to stop looking at those black kids on the subway as a potential threat and instead, understand them as opportunities for success. 
We're making soup - or, more aptly phrased, we're helping marginalize communities and their individual community members make their own soup.  Accepting that people are people, we start at the basics:  What are the barriers to success?  What are absent resources and opportunities that could lead to success?
How might we profit (and reduce both social strain and personal stress) by supporting the right kind of growth within and between communities, both physical and ethnic? 
It's time we stop supporting policy that continues to marginalize communities, both externally imposed and internally head.  When we focus on strengths - when we look at the passions, talents and dreams of black youth as diamonds in the rough - we can help them shine.
Fortunately, there are some candidates for Council that get this - because they are young and black, but more than that because they have the discipline and drive to empower the change we want in the world.
Council needs to be more representative.  Successful people from marginalized communities have a better understanding of what barriers and bridges look like and, therefore, are better positioned to do something about them.
And since they have that direct level of connectivity, this wouldn't be a political once-in-four years exercise, but something ongoing - like actual engagement.

Friday 29 August 2014

The Start of Something Big

I met Andray recently; he was a speaker on a Why Should I Care chat about municipal policy and at-risk youth.  I thought he was informed, got the issues, knew how to articulate them and had that secret sauce of charisma that makes it so much easier to listen to policy discussions.
After the event, we chatted a bit about youth engagement, entrepreneurship and some of the cool things happening in this city that could, if united under a single banner, make a positive structural difference in the GTA.
To my surprise, I got an invite to come meet him at his office in Rexdale this week.  I assumed it would be about his campaign.  Having some political background and no particular allegiance to any camp this time out, I get such asks periodically.
Instead, I had the extreme pleasure of hearing more about his vision for a Youth Entrepreneurship Centre that provides resources, training, mentorship, etc. to youth in his community. 
It's a solid vision that just happens to fit perfectly as that pot that partners ranging from Microsoft to CSI to PUSH Elite can add their green to.
“It’s not just for kids to play basketball or read, but to create a pipeline into different industries,” he explains. “If you start investing in infrastructure to build libraries and fix roads, you attract more businesses out to the area, you’re also attracting blue-collar jobs.”
I walked away from Andray Domise's office wanting the guy to win because I knew he'd be great at the job but even more than that, because I know just how powerful his vision and ability to unite stakeholders is.
He never sold me on himself; he empowered me with a vision of what we could create together.  I want him to win - not to stop someone else, but because I can clearly see what people like me can do with representation like him at the Council table.
That, friends, is what leadership is.
Learn more about Andray here.

Please Don't Challenge Me

... to do the Dothraki Gold Bucket challenge!

Better out than on, you know.

How MSM Helped Ford Win Again

Traditional wisdom suggests that political leaders should be cautious about the amount of attention they get during their reigns; too much exposure can be a good thing.  Especially when it's exposure on their gaffes.
Not so Rob Ford, but then Ford has never been a leader - he's a celebrity.  People laugh at his antics, relish the opportunity to rant against his latest outrage, etc.  More than just being a lampoon of what's wrong with modern politics, Rob Ford is a living, breathing meme.
He's not news, but he's a hell of a story.
News outlets across Toronto have been competing with each other for the most in-depth, creative coverage of Ford's follies, frequently at the expense of actual news.  When David Soknacki, a mayoralty candidate with more substance than support held a news conference around a Land Transfer Tax reform proposal, most of the press flocked to see Ford do card tricks with a magician.
You can picture the logic: "Ford stories sell and besides, Socnacki's not gonna win anyway."
Exactly.  Why cover substantive policy conversations from serious candidates that aren't already headline-grabbers?  It's the job of the press to give people what they want, not to inform them about what might be useful to know and consider, right?

Look, I get it - the press has an admitted Ford-addiction, as do thousands of people around the world, literally.  He's a thing, like Game of Thrones - you can't not look away, anticipating the next horror.
If they weren't in a position of some particular importance to our democracy, I may be more forgiving - but seriously, how can they pick on Ford for his lack of substance when they don't give us more about the other candidates, the issues, the ground-level conversations?
It gets worse - because the press keeps feeding their Ford habit, they keep feeding ours.  The second-worse-case scenario for the press and the public is, Rob Ford loses - many will rapidly lose interest in city politics and the press, so used to Ford fun as reliable fodder will start looking for the next titillating hit.
The worst case scenario, of course, is Ford wins again and the process continues, only at an even more cartoonish level.
People vote for the name they know.  If Ford wins, it'll be in no small part to the notoriety the press have enabled him with. 

Is that a headline we really want to be reading?
Something to think about.

Please help me set my #OGT14 table! (UPDATED)

Events take place starting at 6:30PM in Jean Pigott Hall at Ottawa City Hall, 110 Laurier Avenue West, Ottawa. The doors will be open at 6PM.

I have to fill a maximum of 8 minutes of speaking time saying something poignant about why you can't have Open Government without a Responsible Society.

What I wasn't counting on was this - I've been assigned a 2 x 6 table that I need to populate with something.  Here are my directions:

Embedded image permalinkRemaining d├ęcor is up to your imagination. Bring your own displays, banners, posters, props, pamphlets, swag ... Etc, but be aware that they will need to be free standing or on the table.
Here's where I need your help.

My firm Wakata Inc. is dedicated to public affairs with a social purpose; I like to frame my partner Jen Li and I as the stone in the soup, bringing people and organizations together and facilitating shared solutions.  While I'm going to #OGT14 as me, not as Wakata, I want to hold true to what I believe in.

So - what should I display on my table?  Who can I promote, what shared solutions can I hint at in my space?

M first thoughts were that I'd like to promote the following:

Samara - democracy renewal
Why Should I Care - civic engagement
Exhibit Change - improving communication and comprehension
SoJo - a cool web platform that will create community and help individuals turn ideas into action.
MaRS Solutions Lab - anyone planning policy past the four-year cycle deserves some space!

I would have included Make Web Not War, but I imagine they have their own table, being the patrons of #OGT14 and all.

Those are my first thoughts, though I would need some resources from them to put on my table around the stone I just asked Richard Pietro to pick up for me somewhere between Vancouver and here.

What do you think?  All cool suggestions are welcome - and feel free to share them on Twitter using #OGT14!

UPDATED Sept 2 2014:

And the gold star for first carrot goes to Samara!  Samara has offered materials about their Everyday Political Citizen project for my #OGT14 table.

Samara is a perfect compliment for what OpenGov and Responsible Society are all about - our politics can do better, but not without an informed, engaged public.  Their Everyday Political Citizen project is designed to recognize and celebrate the democratic catalysts in our midst; the people who ask questions, who encourage you to get informed, who believe that it's through direct engagement that we can make a difference.

My #EPCitizen nominee for this year, as it happens, is Richard Pietro.

Richard has picked up a stone out west for me to use as the centrepiece of my table, the thing that brings groups like Samara (and hopefully, SoJo, WSIC, Exhibit Change, MaRS) together.  This is appropriate, because his #OGT14 tour has served the same role this summer - bringing together an incredibly diverse community from across the country around one shared theme:

Open Government.

Richard's brought the stone, Samara the first ingredient - but there's lots of space left!  Who's up next?