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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 15 November 2014

Zombies? Keep Calm...

You don't keep calm when the zombies attack - you get mad and get reactive.  It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, really...

Friday 14 November 2014

There Are No Threads on #ACoyne

You're all tangled in threads.  Threads...
I once had threads, but now I'm free.
There is no Twitter on me.
Andrew Coyne's voice will be missed on Twitter, though his name will not.  He will continue to say and write things people want to hear.  Beyond this, there will be people who start assuming variations on his name to keep #acoyne alive.
That's the thing; we're never free - the best we can do is own our individual voices and be conscious of where we offer best value in the chorus.


Forget Malcom in the Middle - It's Craig at the Centre!

Trish Garner @trishgarner 5 minutes ago
All roads lead back to Craig!

Unbreakable: You Can't Stop The Signal

View image on Twitter

Remember that time Miley Cyrus shocked (shocked, I tell you!) the Internet?
#CallMeVaguely.  I remember it like a photograph, but it doesn't quite make me laugh.  When was that again?
Sometime before Canada was rocked by a shooting within Parliament, which was, of course, before Ghomeshi became #ghomeshi became #beenrapedneverreported went viral.
What's my point?
There is too much happening too fast and flooding the Internet for any one person or story to be able to "break" the thing.  The Internet has its own cadence, it's own trajectory that doesn't stop for anyone.  When people try to become the be-all and end-all, internal course-corrections happen.  The scandalous individual becomes a social conversation; the shock-and-awe cover becomes a meme.
Unless the world goes offline entirely, nothing will stop the trajectory the forming collective conscious of the internet is taking.
You can't stop the signal.  We're all on the ride.  It is going to be something special; I'm glad to be part of this with you.

Child Poverty: Why Youth Must Lead

Two headlines from today.  If you commit just a bit of sociology, you might even sense a connection between them:
Crippling child poverty.  That's a whole generation growing up in tense climates, without proper nutrition, without proper supports.  But clearly, this is someone else's problem, right?  Those parents should be doing more, working harder, hustling for cash, or something.  It's their own fault, right?  Nothing to do with us.
So long as governments keep taxes low and especially provide tax breaks to businesses, that'll create jobs - then people just need to hustle to get them and everything else will be fine.
On to story number two:
Guns.  In our schools.  What's behind this?  Are backwoods bigots from Pakistan invading our schools and using their mind control powers to make our kids bring weapons to class instead of pens? Is this a reflection of the erosion of Canadian values, or the Americanization of our culture?
Here's an idea:
There is plenty of money in Canada right now; there are 118,000 millionaires in Toronto alone.  There are plenty of services - public, not-for-profit, corporate social responsibility - that exist, offering an alphabet soup of services.
And of course, there's the prevailing wisdom of our laissez-faire model of capitalism; in Canada, it doesn't matter where you come from, what hurdles are in your way, if you push hard enough you too can be one of the 118,000.  You gotta work hard, be willing to start simple, but above all you gotta hustle.
The implication, of course, is that if you don't succeed, it's your own damned fault.
Here's a term that will be familiar to pretty much anyone in town with responsibility for managing finances - ROI, Return On Investment.  If you can't see a clear, short-term return on whatever your investment might be, you don't do it.  Low-hanging fruit are therefore preferable; the least effort required for decent gains in short time frames.
Let's reframe that a little bit so that we're all on the same page:
- If you don't have resources - if you're poor, young, accessibility-challenged, whatever, the pressure is on for you to hustle hard over the long-run if you want to get anywhere in life.
- on the other hand, if you've had some success in life, long-term investments aren't worth your time; it's all about the quick-wins, the best bang for your buck, the low-hanging fruit.
For the haves, it all makes perfect sense - you spend half your life working really hard to gain success, but when you're there, you put the pressure on everyone else and focus on quick wins.
Now, picture you're a child who lives in a marginalized neighbourhood.  Maybe your parents were born somewhere else; maybe they grew up marginalized themselves, but in either case, they've invested time and energy - time away from their kids - and have nothing to show for it.  If anything, the amount of energy they've put into trying to get ahead and the frustration they've faced in not succeeding has bled into home life, which isn't great.
This is the lesson a youth can easily take away from this - the people with resources will tell you to hustle, but the truth is it won't get you anywhere.  In fact, this whole "you gotta come to me" approach to success is pretty much an excuse for those with power to stick to their low-hanging fruit and not share their millions.
What happens when you feel the people who are supposed to be the movers and shakers in town are making excuses to exclude you and our peers?  How much effort are you willing to put into getting an education, working crap jobs if you can find them, if you are never going to get where they are because society's designed to keep you marginalized?
This is worth pausing on. 
Our society is anti-leadership, from the top down.  We have governments cutting programs, cutting taxes and cutting cheques on things like child care and mental health supports for veterans rather than making long-term investments.  We have bosses that are increasingly pressuring employees to be functionaries, content-producers, client-managers and business developers, yet training is not being provided and salaries aren't matching up. 
Even in our education system, teachers are being told it's their job to be educator, mediator, psychologist and content-creator to massive classrooms that include children with learning challenges.  Parents are being told to do more, but do they have the resources, time, or cognitive/emotional bandwidth?  Are they too absorbed with work, or too depressed and frustrated from a lack of work to give their kids what they need?
help me help you - help me help you  Pleading Tom CruiseWe can look to previous generations and say "they did it, so quit making excuses" - but without asking if it was a good process for them, or how the changing nature of work (who really has a 9 to 5 job anymore?), the rise of mobile comms devices and the soul-sucking challenges of gridlock play a role.
There is next to no leadership out there right now.  The people with power and responsibility don't want to be leaders - they don't care about their people's problems.  Sometimes they don't even care about their organizational programs, because they plan to be gone before they blow up (low-hanging fruit, remember)?
Or, they don't feel empowered themselves.  This can be justified in many ways (blame being a common one) but the basic fact is that they aren't, in their current condition, up to the challenge of leadership.
Some of them actually believe throwing the kids in the deep end is a good strategy, because that's how you identify the strong swimmers.  What happens to everyone else is one of those "not my problem" things.
Yet we desperately need leadership right now. 
We're hearing the same things from every echelon of society; government is broken.  Infrastructure is screwed.  Organizations are a mess.  Yet those within those institutions will step up to the mic and tell us "everything's fine, we have a bold plan, just trust us and don't mind the man behind the curtain."
Back-of-napkin plans are being sold for their commercial value, not because they make sound structural sense.  Marginalized voices are being drowned out with top-down messaging.  Rabble rousers are being silenced through defunding, firing or even eviction.
Is it any wonder that youth are taking their cues from the world around them and realizing that if they want to be safe, if they want to have power, they have to be willing to take it through whatever means are available?
A kid not investing in schoolwork, being a bully and carrying a weapon aren't defying social rules of engagement - they're picking up on the socio-cultural cues around them responding in kind.
This is it; this is where laissez-faire capitalism meets behavioural economics.  In a game of competitive escalation and a reduction in personal investment, it's who's got the biggest stick who wins power and privilege.
And as of right now, there is no way, no one who can do anything to stop this trend. 
Why?  It's the culture, stupid. 
We have a silo-based culture, full stop.  Even those who talk about disrupting silos are really just trying to stuff more stuff into their silos.  Funding is there, but getting it is so competitive that an increasing amount of investment is going into competition, not solutions.  Lost opportunities, duplication, gaps and overlaps are resulting.  There are communities in this city that are glutted with programs and players, and yet the structural issues remain.  Why aren't we learning from this?
I question whether the people leading the charge right now are prepared to wrap their heads around the enormity of the challenge.  Even if they do care, the reality they grew up in and are living now is fundamentally different than the one being faced by marginalized youth today.
The best champions of any problem are those with lived experience.
Which comes to the crux of the matter, the core component of culture change, the disruption that is most difficult but most necessary.
The way forward isn't for more downtown adults to impose solutions on youth; if those youth aren't themselves leading the way forward, whatever gets built isn't going to work.
This requires a fundamental shift in the way we look at society, at ourselves, and at the role of power.
We always look for the best-in-show to invest in; they're most likely to provide the best ROI.  We then take them from wherever they are and put them in environments considered to be good for growth.
All of this is backwards.
We have to start focusing on those least likely to succeed with minimal effort and put them in the driver's seat.  That means going to their communities, learning to speak their language, taking them serious and treating them seriously.
We have to create the best environments where these youth are - in other words, don't bring youth to MaRS, bring MaRS to the youth.  That means more investment of time and interest - which, but its nature, requires motivation to want to make things better, not for a quick ROI, but because it needs done.
Which comes to the last, most challenging, most fundamentally important component of our needed culture change.  Right now, we see power as a form of wealth to be accumulated; power is something we want because, when we have it, we can get more through giving less.
That stops right now.
From this point forward, power isn't something to be obtained; it's blood to be circulated.  The same goes for money.
Here is John Tory's challenge - he needs to be the anti-Doug Ford.  He needs to step away from the practices that have brought him success in life, because it's not about him right now.
After years of seeking high office of some kind, of being the guy at the top, now is the moment for John Tory to show true leadership by stepping back and becoming a conduit rather than a capstone.
The same holds true for every person of influence in this city; councilors, Executive Directors, CEOs and talking heads.  We need to be empowering leaders, not giving orders.  We have to be cultivating solutions from the grassroots rather than imposing infrastructure on top of.
This is not a lofty vision, nice words on a page.  It's a fundamental necessity. 
Our society is crumbling and the solutions we're coming up with aren't good enough.  We are failing the next generation, and they know it.
If we aren't prepared to empower youth to lead, there will come a day not too far from now when they will simply take what they want by force.  That is, after all, the lesson we're teaching them.
The choice is ours.  The consequences will be ours.
Either way, it will be youth that lead.

Thursday 13 November 2014


I'm doing a presentation on the culture of social media today and have been doing some reflecting on the concept of hashtags.
What started off as a way to flag content has become something more - it's become a form of social syntax
We use hashtags to convey mood, connect with prevailing trends, etc.  We want our content to have the broadest reach possible, so there's been a trend in using lots of tags to end up in as many streams as possible.
As a result, though, something else is happening. 
A friend recently pointed out that #TooManyHashtags comes across as juvenile - the kind of in-your-face communication that youth still developing vocabulary and theory of mind use to make sure they're not missing the mark.
Thing about social media is that it skews too far in the other direction - at 140 characters, there's not a lot of space to convey nuance or tone, which is essential in understanding intent. 
Words without body language is like food without smell - the full experience isn't conveyed.
When we have in-person conversations, there are tone, facial expressions, body posture, context - all lost in social media.  To a degree, hashtags as emoticons (as well as emoticons themselves) help round out our digital comms.
Which suggests an interesting point - in trying to build out our brand, are we organically creating more nuanced digital syntax collaboratively?

Empathy and The Mind of EzraLEvant

There's an assumption here on Keenan's part that there's a compartmentalization between whatever Ezra Levant's personal views are and the frame he chose to present with his Remembrance Day Rant.  In other words, in the perspective Keenan presents, Levant and co. intentionally hit the racist button because 1) they think that's what they're audience wants or 2) to generate controversy and get Levant some broader attention, which given his viewership numbers he kinda needs.
Given the brand hits, staff hours lost to damage control and probably billable consulting hours by high-priced lawyers, I would question the cost/benefit analysis of a cynical play like this, but there's no evidence to conclude the Sun News team do or don't do this kind of prefrontal analysis.
What we do know, however, is that people make choices, including the choice not to think through consequences.  The impetus for these choices has to come from somewhere.
So if we want to understand the root cause of these Levant rants, we have to dig a little deeper. 
Levant regularly and vindictively targets people not like him - "lefties," Sinti-Roma, Muslims.  These are people he apparently sees as a threat to Canada, rather than reflective of Canada's diversity. 
He does not vindictively target people he perceives as like him - they're the true patriots. 
How he rationalizes this to himself is his business, but looking at his actual though process is revealing.
Here's the quote that got Levant started:
"Please note that meaningful alternate activities should be provided at the schools for those families who do not wish their children to participate in any Remembrance Day ceremonies.”
I read this, I see "not participate in ceremonies" and "meaningful alternate activities should be provided."  The message I took from this was that, should families not want kids to participate in Remembrance Day ceremonies, they will be provided related alternatives.  Perhaps it should have read meaningful alternate Remembrance Day activities" for clarity, but for the intended audience of the memo, educators, the meaning was probably clear.  If not, they could always ask.
The references at the bottom emphasize Canada's diversity and how that diversity is reflected in our military.  I would imagine this was intentional - part of an educator's job is to encourage critical thinking and careful reflection, which is the opposite of emotional generalizations.  We want youth to recognize that not all Muslims are terrorists from villages in Pakistan.  We want all people, regardless of their faith, skin colour, sexuality or other factor recognized as individuals, not zombies.
Asked by a Sun editor if this policy was directed at/requested by specific groups (instead of straight-up question asking what the impetus was), the Board's PR guy Scott Scantlebury took the questions asked and tried to provide an answer he felt reflected the demand.  I think his answer wasn't helpful - the memo didn't touch on religious exemptions, so answering with reference to such a policy wasn't actually answering the question in its context.  This is a good teachable moment for him.
Levant, clearly, took the matter in a whole different direction.
By his own admission, when he read the bit about alternative activities, he jumped to the conclusion that this meant parents were being given an opportunity for their kids not to recognize Remembrance Day.  Further, when he saw the reference to Muslims, what stood out to him was not an emphasis of diversity, but a religious reference.
When Scantlebury did reference the religious exemption policy, he refers to faith "where pacifism is a tenant", which can be read as a subtle reference to Jehovah's Witnesses.  This isn't what Levant took away:
Levant either overlooked or didn't register the mention of pacifism.  Instead, his focus became Muslim, Immigrant, Canada-hater.
Again - whether he did this because he saw a potential narrative to exploit or whether he felt incensed is for him to sort out, but I would suggest the fact he was capable of thinking that way was particularly telling.
Levant makes a valid point when he says the memo - which wasn't directed at the media - didn't overtly mention safety issues.  It also didn't say anything about immigrant Muslims seeking exemptions because they don't believe in Canada.
That was a frame Team Levant constructed for themselves, completely ignoring all evidence to the contrary.
Think about that for a second; the memo was about providing children meaningful alternatives to ceremonies, which are public events.  It could just as easily be a child with social anxiety as one with religious motivations.  When religion came up, the reference made by Scantlebury was to pacificst intent, not Canada-hating. 
It's a massive leap from meaningful alternatives to backwoods bigots from Pakistan or Somalia, but that is exactly where Levant's mind went to.  Which kinda implies this is what he was looking for.
You know the expression "if you go looking for trouble, you're sure to find it?"  There's neurological basis for this.  We are hard-wired to be attracted to things which feel good for us and avoid things we see as threatening.  Emotions are tools that motivate us to respond to our environment.
To avoid potential threats, we need to know what and where they are.  This requires a bit of proactive threat identification.  In the same way wild animals will be wary of and keep their distance from people, we will try to be aware of and stay away from (or fight against) what we perceive as threats to us.
How do we categorize what's a threat from what isn't, especially in real time?
We do this through generalizations.  Certain sensual cues serve as markers that let us know where a threat is - something that looks like a tiger is threatening, and should therefore be avoided.  A car that's going too fast in our vicinity will set off alarm bells.  By the same token, if you have been abused by a person with certain characteristics in your life, you may develop a sense of wariness towards all people with similar characteristics.  These sorts of fears can even be learned.
Which brings us back to Levant.  In a memo that had nothing to do with Somali/Pakistani terrorists that that are distinctly un-Canadian, that's exactly where his mind went.  When he saw a picture of a Muslim, an alarm bell went off.  Conclusions were reached that facts don't back.
Of course, Levant himself would reject this notion.  He's not a bigot, after all, nor do his fears of the Other control his perception of the world.  He's a rational actor - it's the other guys who are all reactive, who don't do their homework.  All of 'em, together.
Like, say, those lefties in the media party.
To clarify - there's no possibility that multiple independent parties individually came to the same conclusions about Levant being a fearful bigot.  In fact, the more logical argument is that they convened through murmuration and made poor Ezra the target of their attacks.
A statement which, I'm sure, Levant carefully researched for accuracy before uttering.
In seconds, Levant has dehumanized and generalized people that challenge his views (geese), suggested they are reactive rather than thoughtful and, therefore, a collective threat.  Best of all - he's suggested that he, rather than his statements, is now being targeted by this flock.
It's a conspiracy theory that not only isn't evidence-based, it doesn't even make logical sense.
But the emotional frame doesn't end there, either.  Levant talks about the Board throwing Scantlebury under the bus (betrayal, abuse of authority, THREAT!) then plays a video where nothing of the kind happens.  What purpose does that bit serve?
By concluding that he would "go with the Superintendent's" version, Levant was backing away from his rant.  He couldn't admit that he'd overreacted, though, as that implies he's not as in control as he wants to believe himself to be, so he needed someone else to put in the penalty box.
Then Levant took a moment to talk about miscommunication, as in the Board's miscommunication to him.  Communication, of course, isn't a one-way exercise; it requires involved parties to focus on the other person; what they mean and what they're receiving.  You can't have communication without empathy; we tend not to empathize with those we fear as threats.
How do we bridge the gap between people with such different lived experiences, though?  What provides the common ground on which we can see each other not as threats, but as peers?
National identities do this; so do rituals and symbols.  These are things designed to transcend individuals and tribes to build communities. 
Canada is a multicultural country that believes in peace, order and good government.  None of these things are possible without collaboration, which doesn't happen without empathy.
Something Ezra Levant should keep in mind.

Tuesday 11 November 2014


“And even if some old bigot from a backwoods village in Pakistan or Somalia doesn’t want to respect Canada, that's where our schools come in and teach those bigots' kids and grandkids what it means to be Canadian.

I don't know whether Ezra Levant is being a cynical laissez-faire capitalist using free speech as way to drum up hate and sell t-shirts or if he's so limbically out of whack that this narrative is where his brain actually went to when he read the memo.

I imagine it's a bit of both.

What I know for certain, though, is that #BackwoodsBigot is a meme-worthy phrase is ever there was one, up there with #DuffyPickUpLines.

But I really do hope he gets some help.  It's not healthy, being so mad at everything all the time.  In fact, there's a diagnosis in it.

Health Communities

Healthcare is the narrative spine of civilization.  Everything from infrastructure to inoculations are about collaboratively improving health outcomes.  When you take care of the base of the pyramid, much becomes possible.
I may even have done a slide deck about this...

Is there, in truth, beauty?

It all depends on your point of view.
This thing about people being more aware of how we're being manipulated is absolutely true.  We're moving in the direction of social murmuration, collaboratively defending against spin of any kind.
At the same time, though, marketing is moving from visual tricks and slights of wording towards cognitive manipulations. 
We've come a long way from the days of divine kings, but the world ain't flat yet.

Shelving Time

The assertion in this statement is that there is now - and behind us, somewhere, the past.  Time, of course, doesn't function this way - it exists in it's entirety, right now.
Just as those early Indonesian explorers ventured onto uncharted waters, we too can dive into the Undiscovered Country of the future. 
The only catch is you can't discover the future with a mind that is fixated on the past.

How Young, the Honoured Dead