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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.

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Open Tune: The Music of Something Beginning

What should we call it, folks?  This new music we're writing.  We're giving the nation a new syncopation, but every movement needs a name.
We're open to suggestions.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Mapping: the Future of Citizen Engagement

Boots on the Ground

The lesson the West took away from massive ground wars ranging from World War I to Vietnam was that the more hands-off you can be, the less costly (in terms of resources, personnel and political will) conflict will be.
Increasingly sophisticated weaponry including satellites and drones plus longer-ranged offense capabilities and so-called "smart bombs" add to the world's arsenal of arm's length weapons.
War is never an "over there" thing for those in the war zone, however.  It's immediate.  It's intimate.  It's horrifying.  And the enemy you can't see - the one who fires weapons from the office, like they're playing a video game, then goes home to their family at 5 o'clock - they are vile, despised creatures to be hated, not feared.
Switching tracks for a bit; World War II was an unpleasant war that cost the lives of many soldiers, including Canadian ones.  To this day, the sacrifices of Canadian soldiers are honoured in Northern Europe; last time I was there, being Canadian pretty much guaranteed me free drinks any time I was in a bar.
Even the grandchildren two generations removed from war remember the sacrifices made so that they could be free.  They recognize the price their freedom came at.
Back to the Middle East.  In attempting to avoid a messy conflict (for our side), we can arm rebels, impose sanctions and whatnot, but what we're doing is escalating the war and its impact on civilians.  At the end of the day, people want to live in peace - it doesn't matter who destroys your home or kills your children; when they're gone, they're gone.
So I propose something that would be very unpopular and definitely out of touch with the mood of the times.  I would propose inserting international forces on the ground with a mandate not to stop ISIS, but to protect civilians and help keep them safe and supplied with the resources they need to survive.  For strategic value, I'd want this force to comprise mostly of female soldiers and commanders.
Clearly, their mission would have offensive capabilities, too - you can't defend against David if you've not got a stone and slingshot.  Yes, there would be definitive risks and a loss of life that results; such a mission would be of strategic value with loss of life expected.
Here's the game; by putting female soldiers on the ground to help protect civilians, you're putting Western boots directly in the line of fire - suddenly, we're not the bogeyman.  These soldiers would be a natural target for ISIS, but that means ISIS will be directly targeting civilians as well as hiding among them - which sends the wrong message.  It's all well and good to say you're the only ones with civilian interests in mind (which isn't what they're saying, of course) but when you continuously put your own people at risk and when it's outsiders that have to come in to protect them, the people see the gaps of logic.
Lastly, the gender issue.  This plays the psychological card; I have no previous models to turn to for metrics, but I believe this would give the ISIS alpha males the heebie-jeebies.  It would also present the more nurturing side of the West to the civilian population (because, like it or not, women are identified as nurturers and peace makers globally) as well as providing strong female role models for women and girls being treated like chattle.
The best option ISIS would have at that point is to recruit women as soldiers themselves, which only works when those women are given a certain amount of privilege that they don't have now.  Empowering women can only detract from their end-game.
At the same time, amp up the HeForShe campaign and create a global movement of men supporting women so that we're walking the walk and nurturing a global zeitgeist change that presents a better alternative to ISIS - for everyone except the chauvinistic bullies that flock to ISIS' banner.
It's a back-of-napkin idea, one that I doubt the powers-that-be would take seriously.
But it's certainly a better plan than the re-hashed failure they're pursuing now.  So far, the West's engagement in the Middle East for a decade plus has consistently made things worse.  It's time to try something different.


Zombie Hoards: Define or Be Defined

See what Netanyahu did there?
ISIS is not a recognized state.  They really really want to be recognized - that gives them legitimacy, an ego boost, a win to feed their propaganda machine with.  We don't want to call them a state for all those reasons.
Netanyahu, however, has different priorities.  His enemy is Iran; he wants the world not to forget Iran.  So, calling ISIS a state suites his interests; it makes for a bridge to the line "Islamic state of Iran."
That was his first mistake.  It gets worse.
If it looks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's a duck, right?  What do ISIS, Hamas and Iran have in common?  Islam.  Different forms of Islam, mind you - and is we get down to it, the people perpetuating war in the Middle East are breaking faith with Islam with their actions.
This doesn't make for a simple narrative, however, and we all know how important sound bites are.  Netanyahu has found his; "it's us vs. the Muslims."  Israel has international allies like the US and Canada; what Netanyahu is doing, intentionally or no, is choosing a ballot question for those allies - you're with us or you're with the Muslims.
Though there are Muslims and non-Muslim citizens/residents of Israel's Western allies who may disagree with that black-and-white frame and may get mad at their government for declaring them or their friends as enemies of the state.
Politics is all about framing; you want to identify yourselves as the good guys, but your foes as the bad guys.  Part and parcel of this game is picking fights to stir up your base.
Well, what's good in politics is also good at polarizing society and building the kindling of war.  When you frame them as an intractable, inhuman enemy to be vanquished - a zombie hoard of Muslims, if you will - then you're helping them to define you and your allies the same way.
This is how escalation happens and war erupts.  And it's going to get a lot worse before it gets better.
It's no consolation that they can't say "nobody could have seen this coming."

Monday, 29 September 2014

Id vs Super Ego: The Conscious Tonic

Populism is like the teenage brain; emotion runs high and drowns out logic.  It's Id vs. Super Ego.
There are all kinds of examples of populism out there right now, from the crass to the dangerous.  The former, unchecked, invariably leads to the latter, which is why we have a conscience in the first place - it's how we plan ahead.
Therein lies the big secret that's being missed.  When you focus on messaging and attacks both verbal and non-verbal, you're trying to control an opponent or audience.  You want to limit their frame and stoke emotional responses - which is likely what they're trying to do, too.  It's political escalation.
How we redress this isn't through force or functional fixedness, but through the application of behavioural economics.  You can't teach the old maestro a new tune, but you can twig them with a familiar refrain. 
Our is not to do or die - ours is to question why.
Why matters.

The Wrong Tune for the Times

Once again, we're hearing reports of new Conservative TV attack ads in Quebec. 
With less than 24 hours left before tonight's critical fundraising deadline, this dramatic development illustrates what's at stake in this fundraising drive.
OMG!! Attack ads! Critical fundraising deadlines! Dramatic development!
Look, we get it; people aren't paying attention to politics, so a bit of drama is required.  You need a lot of money to reach people via ads and whatnot, which is much more controllable than empowered local riding associations and the like.  And yeah, all parties are guilty of the same damned thing.
But let's maintain a little bit of perspective, shall we?  It really helps with the credibility angle.
Canada is country filled with people both born elsewhere and with families in foreign countries.  Even those with no direct roots overseas are surely exposed to a little bit of international news.
The Middle East is one fire and the fire is spreading.  What's happening in the Ukraine with Russia - are we back in the Cold War?  What will happen with the massive protests in Hong Kong?  The conflicts in Sudan or Somalia?  The drug war in Mexico?  Ebola?
What about job opportunities for our kids instead of us giving money to monied people to spend pitching us for more money?
Attack ads aren't pleasant, but they're not dramatic, either.  Partisan fundraising isn't "critical" - few Canadians know who the players are, or even what issues the policy discussion is focused on.
What we are worried about is a world that increasingly feels like it's spiraling out of control.  We want to have confidence that our political leaders are paying attention, are hearing our concerns and have some idea of how to weather this storm and maybe help tame those troubled seas a little.
Are we getting that?  If the question was asked, not on a candidate-vs-candidate basis, but in general: "do you feel Canada's politicians are up to the global challenges facing us?" - what would the answer be?
I get in trouble for suggesting that maybe there's more to politics than partisanship, that maybe what the people think is critical is less about political coloration and more about the world we live in.  Nobody likes a party pooper.
But I've been right before, haven't I?

I Support This

TBS CanadaVerified account @TBS_Canada Sep 1
Canada’s Open Government Action Plan 2.0 is coming together. Are you in?

Hey, Canada!  We recognize the need for change and have rolled up our sleeves to get it done.  First, we talked with you, reaching out in as many ways as we could think of.  Now, we've taken your ideas and culled them into some potential action items.
We have to move forward on this - we will move forward on this.  Canada deserves nothing less.
But you are Canada; we can only be sure we've made the right choices with your participation.
Open Government is for you - all we ask is that you join us in creating the change we all want to see in the world. 
Are you in?
I am.  I'd love to take this journey with you.
It certainly beats the other way.