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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 11 October 2014

The Common Ground of Alpha Ignorance

Munira Abukar is a Councilor candidate in Ward 2, home turf for Ford Nation.
She was born in Toronto; Toronto is her home.
The two-step irony in this - the angry Canadians claiming to be Muslims and heading overseas to join ISIS are doing so to escape and vanquish the "filth" they detest here in Canada.  In ISIS-land, women have no power and are actively oppressed, abused, controlled.
Here in Canada, as elsewhere, the Other is being stigmatized - and, as always, women bear the brunt of discrimination more than men.  They also carry the torch of hope more frequently than men - look at Malala as the favourite example of the present.
Angry populists tend to have a couple threads in common - they dislike knowledge, for it threatens instinct; they think fighting is the only solution to any challenge; they fear the notion of powerful women.
If home is the issue, then it's that the walled castle (or Cave) the ignorant crave is in the past, before sociology, before female empowerment.
Everywhere women are empowered, there is education, infrastructure, wealth, prosperity.  Wherever women are impressed, barbarism, ignorance and illness thrive.
Now is the time for leaders like Abukar.  Ignorance belongs in the past

Friday 10 October 2014

The Doug and Ari Goldkind

Doug Ford has said he is prepared to debate John Tory any where, any time.  That's all fine, except for the fact that Ford doesn't debate - he takes potshots and pushes out platitudes.  Ford shows no in-depth understanding of the issues, nor interest in them beyond how they feed into his soundbites.
Ford's interest isn't discussing issues and presenting visions - it's in tearing people down.  He's a bully.  Like most people, I'm not over fond of bullies.
It's fitting, then, that Doug has found his foil in Ari Goldkind.  Ari, a defense lawyer (and Jewish, too, so you'd think Doug would be friendly with him), is used to standing up against bullies on behalf of those less well-off.  He's got a powerful personal story of why he's running for mayor, too.
Ari is an ideal voice to hear from at a debate that focuses on the issues faced specifically by Neighbourhood Improvement Areas - he's studied these issues and debated these issues and brings important ideas to light around them.
At a recent Why Should I Care?, for instance, he dug beneath the headlines around police carding and explained why it's not just the practice, but the whole database of information already collected needs to go.
Given his chosen narrative as being the guy to protect "common folks" from City Hall, you'd think Ford would relish the opportunity to wade in to all the issues and depth Ari will bring to the Inner City Union debate.
Which leaves the question - why did he back out?
Doug Ford doesn't care about the issues or the substance of the debate.  What he cares about is taking down rivals to win - and not being taken down himself.
Ford is afraid of having his integrity torn to shreds by Ari in front of a supposedly friendly audience.  Ford is afraid of the headlines another encounter with Ari could produce, yes, but he's got to be terrified of having his brand as "fighter for the little guy" exposed for the lie it is.
Rather than engage with an opponent over issues that matter in front of an audience he needs to win, Ford has run away.
Yes, Ford continues to take his pot-shots at Tory and is trying to bait-and-switch the story from being about his weaknesses, but it all comes across as so much posturing in light of how desperate he is to avoid another confrontation with Ari Goldkind.
Tory knows full well that he's going to be square in Goldkind's sights in debates where Ford is absent - but supports his participation in the Inner City Union debate on principle.  The narrative here is clear; John Tory has the back of the underdog whereas Doug Ford does not.
Bullies rely on the appearance of being undefeatable to succeed.  Doug Ford has been publicly bested by Ari Goldkind and is now clearly running away from him.
We're not going to end up with Doug Ford as mayor, folks - and for that, you can thank Ari Goldkind.

Thursday 9 October 2014

Doug Ford: A Case Study in the Failings of Messaging

For sure the media is misleading the public.  Just ask Ford's Jewish mother-in-law about how misleading and opportunistic the media is.
Ford has confidence, sound-bites and a remarkable ability to push people's buttons.  That's great for getting headlines, but when you scratch the surface, there's nothing there.
Populism isn't leadership; at it's best it's pandering, at its worst its blatant bigotry.
Messaging isn't enough - people deserve substance. 

Tools, Terrorism and Totalitarianism

Make no mistake: preventing terror is a good thing.  A populace that lives in fear is not a healthy one - whether that fear is of seas of troubles lapping at national shores or domestic terror-mongers. 
This is, however, dangerous ground.  As social service budgets are shrunk, charities are being de-listed and government becomes both more opaque and obtuse, there are a lot of people who are understandably unhappy with the decisions being made by the current government.  They are swelling the ranks of those who are already underserved by government and have found community outside of the commons - through gangs for extremist groups.
The security apparatus has the advantage and perhaps desire to press home the point of clear and present dangers, which justify the strengthening of their budgets and mandates, but also give them cause to suggest they need more free reign to do what must be done.
Remember the G20?  Remember Ferguson? 
This is why it's so critical to spend time committing sociology, ie understanding the whole context and not just sticking to a pat ideology.
There is a simmering stew of civic discontent and mistrust in both law makers and law enforcers out there - much of it is justified, but not all.  As always, though, we look for that which validates our fears more than we seek common ground to build upon.
More "tools" in the hands of the intelligence/security apparatus must not come at the expense of the individual freedoms this government likes to tout themselves as champions of.  Political parties and law enforcement must not seek to mitigate their risk so severely that all risk ends up on the side of the public.
Really think about this.  In Canada, control is increasingly being consolidated in the hands of a few; debate is being stifled and rhetoric is being amped up.  This is a variant on the same theme we're seeing play out in the Middle East, only we're relying on character assassination instead of beheadings.
Our democracy is being eroded by those who find it too cumbersome or too onerous to participate in.
Democracy is the system being rejected by ISIS.  They want us to give up on democracy.  When we cease to believe in the basic idea of Canada - that diversity is a strength to be harnessed, not an evil to be vanquished, they've won.  When we place safety and strength above freedom and engagement, they have won.
The price of freedom is high; it always has been.
If we can't see the ROI in democracy, then we've lost.
Now, more than ever, we need leaders who reject the tools of oppression and willingly take on risk themselves.  There job is not to pander, preach or oppress - that's totalitarianism.  That's what breeds terror.
It's not the government's job to stand on guard for the people - it's our job to do it ourselves.
The leaders we need today aren't going to come from the top, they're going to emerge from the grassroots.  And we need them, now.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Ari's Why

Ari Goldkind

"Something wrong with your eye, Craig?" Ari Goldkind asked me at the recent campaign office opening for Ward 20 candidate Terri Chu. 
I told him he had a good eye, that I'd been putting in a few too many hours at computer screens of late and was suffering some eye strain as a result.
Not realizing that the man I was talking to only had one eye.
"I tend to notice details," Ari replied.  Which is true.
I've gotten to know Ari a bit over the past couple of months, primarily through Why Should I Care, where he has twice been a speaker (once on the issue of police carding, the other in our Mayoralty debate).  He's a thoughtful, informed guy who - true to his message - cuts right through the crap.
Police Carding Database Should GoAri is a great communicator - he's got a folksy style of engaging, but what he engages with and over is more about substance than platitudes.
One thing Ari isn't great at (and has so observed himself) is the political verbal trickery that helps politicians avoid landmines.  Ari doesn't bridge, he doesn't bait and switch - he doesn't even pontificate which, seeing how he's a defense attorney, is pretty special.
Ari doesn't do pretense. 
So when he says things like "I realize that, as a driver, I'm more a cause of gridlock than the people on public transit" you know he's not feeding a line; it's true, and he believes it.
When he says "I've been lucky in life, I have money, I am totally comfortable with paying a bit more to help others reach the same quality of life", he means it. 
I understood all this about him before today - but what I didn't know, what I hadn't heard clearly articulated was his why. 
Every person standing for political office needs to have a "why" - a reason why they have chosen to run for office.  Fighting the status quo doesn't cut it - you can do that from the outside more effectively than the inside.  In my experience, most politicians who start with "fighting against" are primarily interested in replacing the incumbent, not changing the status quo.
Though Ari has used similar messaging, I could tell that wasn't his core motivation; if it was, he'd have spent more time working on finessing his political presence, on hobnobbing with those who could fund or otherwise support his campaign and would have been more aggressive in his recruitment strategy.
So what's his motivation?  Why does he want to be mayor of Toronto?
I wonder no longer.
Ari is a self-made man whose journey has nevertheless been a rough one.  His family has been rocked by mental illness, as so many families have.  I can't say I know many people who've been shot in the face by a camp councilor, though. 
Kids are supposed to have the comfort of looking up to parents and persons in position of authority and knowing they are in good hands, safe hands. 
Ari learned early and learned hard that such is not always the case.  It's clear he's thought about this a bit and gets the contextual nature of personal misfortune.
With true grit, hard work and a fire in his belly, Ari's life has evolved in to a purpose, as is the case with all the best leaders out there.
Why is Ari running to be mayor of Toronto?  It's pretty clear to me now - he knows what hardship is like and knows how to come out of it on the other end.  He recognizes that he's pretty lucky to have had that revelation - and now, he feels a responsibility to empower others so that they, too, can move forward.
Ari Goldkind has always been one to notice details and look out for others.  He doesn't draw attention to his own challenges, nor do they jump out at the people he engages with - even people like me, who tend to be pretty detail-oriented.  It's never about him with Ari - it's always about his purpose, and that shows.
I'm glad to see that he's starting to turn eyes in this mayoralty race.  Whatever happens on the 28th, his purpose won't change, nor will his commitment.
That's leadership.

Tuesday 7 October 2014

ISIS: The Hermit Imperialists

Let's start with a bit of common ground.

Truth is, there are a lot of people who aren't happy with the status quo in the West.  We are disillusioned about policy makers and the policy making process; we're frustrated with the bleed of work into personal life, or vice versa; we worry that some nebulous other is taking away our identity.
That's the starting point.
Clearly, though, folk like Toronto-born terrorist Farah Shirdon have steered way of course, clearly.  I mean, bullying your employees, talking down to a service person, even being racists or homophobic - it's convenient, it's an ego boost, it's funny in an ignorant way.  But beheading people alive?  Where does that get fun?
There is understandable concern at all levels about the emerging threat of radical Islam among young, Western-born youth.  Part of this is practical - one of these kids could do on a murderous rampage, or become a suicide bomber.  Part is more grandiose - is radical Islam an infection, creating a zombie hoard of mindless beheading monsters who will stop at nothing until everyone they see as not them is dead or enslaved?
Another part, however, is existential - if kids born and raised in an imperfect, yes, but better-than-the-alternative democratic society are willing to give this up, move to the desert and take up barbarism, what does that say about the system itself?
I get the concerns, and totally appreciate the connection to radical Islam.  I'm less worked up about the infectious ideology as Islam, though.  It could just as easily be Christianity.  In fact, it was, in a previous time period - if anything, the ISIS migration can be seen as Islam's version of the Crusades.
There's no doubt that youth are buying in to the messaging ISIS is spinning; paradise, destroy the infidel, burn the corrupt west, so on and so forth.  But what, really, is it that they are buying in to?
Let's step back a second and look at a couple of the myriad inconsistencies of the ISIS ideology.
They want to have "their" land and be left to it.  Fine, they're North Korea.  But they also want to fly their flag over the White House.  That means they aren't content to have "their" land, they want to take over the world.
Even if you frame this as killing infidels, it actually amounts to imperialism, which is not part of standard Islamic ideology.
Young ISIS recruits are "tired of oppression" at home and joining ISIS, where they get to oppress the population of countries they frequently have no familial link to.  Again, it's not about rejecting a system of oppression so much as wanting to be the oppressor.
The same applies to wanting the freedom to practice Sharia, but rejecting the choice of others to not practice Sharia.
Asked about the beheading, Shirdon went on an "eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth" rant - only the West doesn't do beheading, so what they're really about is escalation and terror tactics.
Take all of these points - rejection of someone else's oppression, wanting to be the oppressor; inconsistent premise of wanting to be left alone, but wanting to be in control, the distaste with decadence and wanting not to be exposed to it, the belligerence, ignorance, superiority complex, on and on it goes, the intentional, anger-drive brutality - the picture this paints isn't the one ISIS would have us see.
This isn't God's army imposing Armageddon.  Quite the opposite - it's a group of primarily disenfranchised men rejecting not democracy or Western decadence, but self-regulation, discipline and the thin veneer of civility that separates us human animals from other animals.
Which brings us to another key element of what ISIS is about that these young recruits tend not to boast about so much - women.
Part of the "filth" they are running away from is clearly the preponderance and power of the opposite gender.  In this regard, these recruits aren't much different from Elliot Rodger.
Seriously - listen to Farah Shirdon's interview, then watch Rodger's rant.  The aggression, the tone - there's more than a little bit of similarity there, wouldn't you say?
ISIS is absolutely a threat, but not for the reasons we think.  As such (and not being part of any security/intelligence apparatus) I'm not sure we're setting up to combat it in the right way.
The ideology of ISIS is about submission to the limbic brain, not god.  You can't stone reactive fear and anger further into the stone age, but you can both cure and inoculate the Heart of Darkness with a little bit of light.

Or put another way - what these misbehaving boys need is a woman's touch.


A Conscious Choice

What's the difference between breaking into someone's personal files online or breaking into their house at home?  What's the difference between stealing a picture or shoplifting a CD?
There is none.  There is the act, and there is the justification.
It's not that we live in a permissive society so much as we have chosen to focus more heavily on freedom and gain without equal attention to responsibility and personal contribution.
By wanting to be consequence free, to give in to whatever temptations pull at us, we are giving up the gift of humanity - the ability to be more than the sum of our parts.
To some extent, this selfish way of living is what western jihadists are rejecting (although what they are embracing is far, far worse).  The trick, however, isn't to cover up or eliminate all temptation, creating a "paradise" bereft of gardens, but the mastery of self in the face of temptation, whatever form it takes.
It's what we teach children, even if we don't practice what we preach - be mindful of consequence, think ahead, be patient. 
To be conscious is to be cognizant of the push and pull on our limbic selves; to live consciously is to have control over those reactions. 
We always have a choice.  When we allow circumstance to choose for us, we aren't in control.


ISIS - What Would Picard Do?

If we act, we're damned.
If we don't act, we're damned.
We're damned equally if we use proxies or wade in directly.
There's only one thing for it; if we're damned, let's be damned for what we really are.
It's time we stop defining ourselves by what we stand against and decide what it is we stand for.


Politics Done Different: Why We Should Care

If you live in Toronto, you may be aware that there is a municipal election going on.
As candidates for Mayor, Council and Trustee all jockey for position, endorsements and votes, we're being bombarded with soundbites and potshots on the airwaves and via social media.
This one stood out for me this morning:
Doug Ford Campaign @DougFord2014  ·  12 hours ago
Tonight Mr. Tory said he doesn't support tolls, but in 2013 apologized for fighting against them

While I appreciate Doug Ford's team giving some free promotion for Why Should I Care, the civic engagement group founded by Ward 20 council candidate Terri Chu, I would suggest they missed the point.
If you actually listen to the clip, what you hear isn't John Tory talking about road tolls, but rather John Tory talking about the silliness of gotcha-politics and the corners it backs politicians into (which is exactly the stunt Team Ford attempted with their tweet).
I was there that night in January, 2012 in my role as a WSIC board member.  I was very impressed with what I was hearing from Tory - a kind of self-reflection that's unfortunately not that common in politics.
John Tory took a strong stance against the kind of simplistic populism Doug Ford tends to champion.  Tory admitted to having played the game earlier in his political career, but as he has matured as a public person, he has recognized the destructive and demoralizing nature of crass partisanship.
The reason he was there to speak at Why Should I Care wasn't for political gain - he wasn't running for anything at the time - but because he believed in the principle of civic engagement.  Tory candidly recognized that people have lost faith in the political process and suggested that less messaging and more engagement is required.
Which, of course, is why Terri Chu founded Why Should I Care, and why it's become such a popular event.  We bring in speakers from across the political divide, from the public service and from the grassroots to discuss the issues rather than pick apart personalities.
Turns out there's a healthy appetite for conversation.
Busy as we are, as bombarded by data and advertisements and political soundbites as we are, people get that the issues facing society are complex and require complex answers.  A frequent reason given for why people don't vote is because they recognize they aren't as knowledge on issues as they could be and don't want to make ill-informed decisions.
The role of leaders isn't to stoke populist emotions and polarize society, but to empower people to get informed, get engaged and be part of the democratic process every day, not just once every four years.
I give John Tory props for having the guts to chat directly with people about issues and for bringing an open mind to the table.  He takes the time to understand and communicate context, which shows a level of respect for us "folks" lacking in certain other candidates.  That's the kind of engagement we, as citizens, should be encouraging.
We can't solve our current structural problems with the same gotcha politics that landed us here in the first place.  We all need to care enough to get informed, get engaged and make a difference.

"Respect for taxpayers" is a bumper sticker.  Respect for citizens involves engagement.
If we want politicians to take their job seriously and move beyond sound-bites, we have to be willing to do the same.
"We far too often reject things before we open our minds to consider them."
       - John Tory, Toronto mayoralty candidate

Monday 6 October 2014

Time for Mental Health

I just got off the phone with a school administrator, discussing the emotional strain teachers go through trying to be educators, advocates, parents and administrators all at the same time, often with large classes.
Then there's ongoing conversations about occupational mental health and how poor work design is impeding productivity/innovation and actually increasing healthcare costs.
Nowhere is this conversation more salient than in the Public Service.
We focus on this problem as a dirty secret, a demon best swept under the carpet.  We do this at our own peril, given the big-picture context involved.
Worse, this is a problem that doesn't need to be - certainly not in the scale it's emerging now.
Mental health is health - with the right diet, exercise, conscious control and external environments, we can all lead healthier, happier, more productive lives and be more resilient to the inevitable crises life throws at us, be they personal loss or the next big ice storm.
There are plenty of tools, programs, best practices, vendors, volunteers, survivors and practitioners to call upon.  Mental resilience is a science now, whether we recognize it or not. 
Until we do, though, more people will suffer and spread further suffering as a result, like a virus.
It doesn't have to be this way.  It can't stay this way.
But change won't happen all on its own, laissez-faire style; we have to will it to happen.

The Good Soldier

Veterans - retired soldiers - have a hard time speaking up on their behalf.  Will get to why in a second.
In a day and age where there is an increased emphasis on individuals to spend a huge chunk of their time and energy on promoting themselves (networking every evening, meaning no time for family; pushing the boss for promotion at every opportunity, rather than working harder; spending time and capital on branding and ignoring everything that doesn't help them get ahead) the mentality of the soldier seems a bit old-fashioned.
Especially when we have a government perfectly comfortable with spinning any position to suit their partisan interests, enabling their leader to take credit for everything and blame for nothing, the quaintness of the quiet veteran seems pitiable.
Now back to the why.
Soldiers are our nation's first line of defense against the fabled sea of troubles lapping at our shores.  They are the footsoldiers of freedom, representing Canada's values overseas in defense of those unable to defend against themselves.
To function, to survive, and to move forward, soldiers need to function like a team.  They will fully place their own survival in the hands of their comrades, knowing that if everyone has each other's back, odds of staying alive are greater.
Soldiers aren't enamoured with position; they are focused on accomplishment.  In a situation in some remote Afghani village where a non-ranking officer has better rapport with the local headman, he become the leader in that situation.  Adaptability is critical.
Above all, though, soldiers are loyal.  Forget the weak-kneed "omerta" of political partisanship, where individuals will hold their tongues knowing that silence suits their own self-interest; soldiers are trained to put mission before all else, even themselves.
To be disloyal to the cause they believe in is almost a sin.
The role of a soldier is to be a servant of the people, a barrier between us and what lies beyond, our feet on the ground in theatres of conflict.  Soldiers give themselves entirely to the cause, because they must - it takes that level of dedication and belief to survive and win against threats like ISIS.
Part of this social contract, however, is that Canada has their back. 
This is where the structural problems start to emerge.  What happens when you have a government that likes to tout military strength as a way to puff out their chest feathers, but also believes that the state has no responsibility for individuals, even soldiers?
The Harper government has a long history of attacking and character-assassinating anyone who challenges their method of operation.  They seem to think that title and power should mean they are supported unquestioningly.  More than a few of Team Harper have opted to attack veterans because it seemed convenient at the time, no matter the sacrifices those veterans and their families have made with the understanding that their country had their back.
Here's a little reminder to Team Harper, given in good faith.
Canada's military is charged with upholding Canadian's values, as written in documents like the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.  Their duty isn't to a person or a party, but to an institution. 
Veterans have had a hard time speaking in their defense because to do so goes against every fibre of their being.  Yet faced with governance that will do anything to promote it's own brand, veterans are starting to speak out.
This isn't an act of treason.  It's soldiers doing their job. 
Think on what that means big-picture for a second and you'll see it's not the veterans who are the problem.

Ari Hits Home

Ari makes a damned good point here. 
Bigotry is something that exists in every society, seething just beneath the surface.  It's particularly prominent in places where a population or subset of the population feels like they're getting the short end of the stick.  Bigotry is always looking for validation by people of position, which enables it to push the envelope that much further.
There's a lot of anger out there right now, bitterness at the economy fueled by hyper-partisan populist nonsense at all levels.  And as we all know, Jews are history's favourite scapegoats.  At this particular juncture in history, our leaders don't get the luxury of "being human," if that means setting the wrong example for others to follow - which Rob Ford has unquestionably done.
The Fords don't see themselves as bigots, of course - from their point of view, they call a spade a spade.  Black youth are in need of a white saviour, but make for good slumin' buddies; gay people are a menace to society; anyone who believes in social responsibility is clearly a weak-minded fool.
That their supporters feel empowered to use the Ford Nation brand when sending in hate-mail to elected officials is deeply disturbing.  For elected officials to brush off or bait-and-switch on such issues of hate committed in their name is truly alarming.
While more polished candidates have been hesitant to poke the Ford Nation bear for fear of reprisal, Ari has the guts to call out bigotry for what it is.
Good on him.  Now's not the time for good folk to do nothing.  It's the time for them to speak out against bigotry with a strong voice.
As tension mounts globally and locally, we're going to need leaders like Ari unafraid to speak truth to power, even when personal risk is involved.
Ari's not the kind of guy to pick a fight - but he's certainly showing the willingness to end one.
I'm glad he's increasingly being included in the debates - his is a voice we need to be hearing more often.

Sunday 5 October 2014

'Cause this never goes wrong:

One hopes this is a bit of rhetoric rather than an expression of actual panic, but the danger is there nonetheless.
Who are they, this faceless hoard we have to kill off really really quickly lest they get us first?
What are the lengths we're willing to go to in the urgency of this situation?   What of collateral damage?
What is the price we would pay for acting rashly?  Who's worked that through?
Faceless, zombie-like hoard of an enemy that may be among us, body-snatchers style?  No time to lose?  It's us or them?
This isn't how wars are ended - it's how they're started.