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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.

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

If Stephen Harper Were a Game of Thrones Character...

Some might say he's Twyin Lannister, but I don't think that fits.  Twyin was more about the brand than Harper has ever been.

No, if I were to peg Harper as one guy from Westeros, it'd be this one.

Trouble at our shores?  Eco-terrorists, niqab, etc?  Harper creates fights and then positions himself as the only one who can keep us safe from conflict.  He divides and conquers with abandon, attempting to create and live by his own rules along the way (everything from cutting off the media to committee disruption manuals."

As his own messes grow, his tactics and pressure become more severe - because that's what it takes to keep winning.  

And the climb, don't you know, is everything.  Regardless of the fall.

How about the other guys?  Who would you peg the other leaders as?

Monday, 6 July 2015

Star Wars: Year of the Rat

The Mouse House recognizes the financial juggernaut that is the pan-Asian film-going audience, Chinese and beyond. If you want to expand your Asian market for big-bill films like, say, Star Wars, it's simply good business to put some Asian actors on screen to increase their appeal.

There's something both funny and deeply satisfying in this.  We've seen some pretty vocal backlash against the notion of a black stormtrooper or a woman lead in Mad Max: Furiosa Road.  The people raising their voices so vociferously tend to be neither black nor women; they're the sort of folk used to comfortably seeing themselves reflected as heroes or in positions of power and are perhaps somewhat uncomfortable about that dominance being challenged.

It's the worst kind of invasion; it's like Lefty Hollywood is opening the door and letting the barbarians in.  Or like that time Apple argued in favour of gay marriage.

How the people who argue that their traditions/genetics are superior while promoting free-market capitalism and dismiss marginalized populations as whiners square their fear of being supplanted on the streets, in the work place and even on screen by lesser-than ethnicities is a bit confusing, but hey - when you're ideology is simple and straightforward, there's not much that can alter it, is there?  

That's the big secret to competition - it's not necessarily about fighting the right enemies, so much as befriending partners.  

Evolution isn't about those who are the toughest, inflexible or violent - it favours those best able to adapt.

Which is why I'm not super worried about race wars or violent clashes between ideological progressive and conservatives.  It's basic Sun-tzu; the best battles are the ones won without ever setting foot in the arena.

I can't force you to believe this, but it is good business.

Trust me.

Friday, 3 July 2015

Trudeau and the Manufactured Economy

He probably knows better than I do.  Me, I think the expectation is increasingly that people want low-cost products that do the job.  Even items that tend to be as much about image as function - cars, for instance - people are increasingly looking for opportunities to spend less, not more.

Quality, yes, but much like government procurement, it's often the lowest-cost option that's going to be the winner.

Canada cannot and shouldn't want to compete where it comes to cheaper and less safe labour.  In fact, I'm pretty sure we'd have to change some laws if we wanted to be competitive that way.

Manufacturing isn't about working creatively - not traditional manufacturing, at any rate.  It's about accuracy, repetition and speed.  

If we want to harness creativity and high levels of education, we need a strategy that focuses on markets that demand those skills - advanced manufacturing, perhaps, but also coding, tech, innovative services and products, etc.

I'd love to see a strategy that does that.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Last Night in Albenga

The wine was a spumante, some obscure label that meant nothing to any serious Italian.  Still, it was wine, golden in the light with a swirling sweet taste.  I hoped she would approve.  Stella waited for me to pop the cork and then brought forward the glasses.  After the right explosion of sound and smoke the wine pooled into the bowls, splashing up to the brims.  I wiped the lip of the bottle, set it down and took the glass Stella offered.

I looked at her.  I wanted to speak, to say something poignant, but no words came.  Stella stared back at me with those Italian eyes of her, went to speak, said nothing.  Her eyes dipped towards her wine.

“What shall we toast?”  Stella raised her eyes again and found mine. Her glance was almost a challenge.

“Let’s just toast this moment.  You.  Me. The wine, and the discreet absence of time.”

Stella nodded, her full Roman lips parting with a smile.  While her front teeth were turned slightly, it was a beautiful smile.

“Poetic,” she replied.  “Salute.”

We clinked glasses and sipped the wine.  The bubbles worked their way into my sinuses as the sharp taste prickled my tongue.  It was dark outside the confines of our room and the air was firm in its February chill.

Stella sat down on the bed.  I took the chair from under the old desk against the wall, set it down with a creak and then sat facing her. 

The collar of her sweater dipped to show all her slender neck.  I knew she’d put it on for me.  Olive skin spilled out of that sweater, her finely-sculpted collar bones disappeared behind the thick black flow of her hair.  Outside, cars shuddered along ancient cobble streets the Romans had laid.  Beyond the city, the sea was soft and eternal as it lapped the shore.

Stella’s eyes fixed on me as she took another sip of wine.  The flaking white paint of the walls and the faded cream of the hostel bedsheets were ghostly against the fullness, the vitality of her.  I felt a sudden chill roll beneath my skin from my spine out to my fingers and felt ghostly as well.

“You know I’ve come to love you.” 

Stella’s voice was tight, but her eyes never wavered.  I took a long sip from my wine to blunt the edge of her words.  It hurt to look at her, those eyes, but I couldn’t look at anything else.

“It… it isn’t fair that you go.”

“I know” was all I could say.  In my mind, I was already gone.

Sweet lies suggested themselves to me – don’t worry, Stella, I’ll be back or why don’t you come with me, knowing full-well that she could not.  I swept such poison aside with another sip of wine.  I had sworn to be honest with her, nothing but honest, and that’s what I would do.  This time, I’d get it right.

“No”, I said, perhaps more bluntly than I’d hoped.  “It isn’t fair.  It probably wasn’t fair to let this happen at all.”  I smiled sheepishly.  “I guess I just couldn’t resist you.”

Stella blushed and turned her head down to one side, a sweet, innocent gesture that sweetly and innocently emphasized the curve of her breasts.  Feeling like the Great Bastard of the World that I probably was, I relished the gesture, recalled and anticipated the taste, the heat of her skin.  I tossed back the rest of my wine and refilled my glass.

“God, Stella – you don’t make it easy.”

“Good.” Her answer was sharp and her eyes went hard as she gave it.

“I guess it’s no easier for you, is it?”

“Aaron.  Please, tell me something.  I know you’ll be honest.”

She was right.  Knowing that eased the ache, if just a little.
“Anything, Stella.”

“Did you come to Italy with a plan to be with a girl?  For a, what do you say – a holiday fling?”

“It was something I considered, yes.”

“When we first met, what did you want from me?”

“Oh Stella.”

“Please, Aaron.  Tell me.”

I paused to put words to my feelings.

“When I first saw you at the club, dancing with your friends… the way you move is very sensual.  Sexy. You know your body so well, every inch of your gorgeous curves and how to control them.  The way you looked in that outfit… it was rapture.  Do you understand this word?”

“Yes.  Go on.”

“In that moment, I could only think about what your body would look like, taste like, how that body would feel pressing against mine.  I could picture those soft lips of yours whispering my name in my ear.  When our eyes met, I felt that you were thinking something similar.  Was I wrong?”

“No.”  Stella blushed with the admission.

“Stella, please don’t be like that.  There’s more.  When I asked you to dance I wanted to have you, yes, but then we started talking, and then we were sitting down to talk, and talked for hours.  It was amazing.  The way you paint pictures as you speak, the way you described the hills of Tuscana…”

“I love Tuscana.  So much space, freedom, like a body to explore every inch of.”

“Yes!  Like that, just the way you said that.  There was so much beauty in you, too, I wanted to know it all.  Inside and out.  And you wanted to know me, too.  But when I went to kiss you, you put your fingers to my lips to hold me back, but smiled at the same time.”

“I did it as much to control myself.  I wanted you, I didn’t think I could stop myself.  It frightened me.”

I didn’t know that” I replied as she blushed.  “It felt like you were in complete control – of me as well, I couldn’t resist.  You gave me your number and kissed me on the cheek, then you left.  That night all I could do was think about staying, for you.  I’m a backpacker, a tumbleweed – I’m not supposed to think of staying.”

 “But you did. You’ve been here a month.”

Stella could put such emotion into her voice. I closed my eyes and could see the her face looking at me filled with love, like the Madonna.  Her fingers grazed my cheek, gently bringing me back to the moment.  I opened my eyes to see her kneeling forwards on the bed, resting on one hand, her face close.

“Oh Aaron… my friends, they told me to watch out for you, that you only wanted sex.  I knew better.  If it was only sex you were after, you would have found someone else that night.  You wouldn’t still be here with me now.”

I couldn’t help but chuckle. 

“Here I thought your friends didn’t like me because I’m not Italian.”

Stella slapped my knee and laughed, a sound that rolled across the room like the waves on the shore close by.

“No, they thought you were the devil.”

“They were right.” I smiled my best, wolfish grin and kissed the back of her hand.  Shortly after I started courting Stella, one of those friends had taken me aside and explained she had recently been hurt by a boy who cheated on her.  Stella didn’t need a foreigner like me licking her wounds with a fleeting tongue.

The defensiveness felt like an attack and stung.  It was important to know, though.  It wasn’t until the end of the second week that we allowed our passion to erupt in a flurry of kisses and touches.  Even that had filled me up; we had gone no further, holding that taste in our mouths and savouring it.

We said everything with our lips and eyes, our fingers both exploring and texting the feelings growing within and between us. 

I had told Stella my flight home was coming up fast, but we both chose to ignore it and focus instead on the intoxicating love we were brewing.  Time would wait.  At least, it was good to think so.

Time ignored us and came anyway; in the morning, I would leave.  This night was all the time we had left.

I felt sad that it would happen in a paint-flaking hostel room and with a cheap bottle of Spumante. There was so much we still needed to share, to say, to feel together – all the things that could only be absorbed through osmosis over a lifetime spent together.  And I was leaving.  I felt the burn of truth in my eyes and licked them with hers.

“Stella, I am grateful this wasn’t a fling.”

“Aaron – what am I to you? What is this between us to you? Does it mean anything?”

“Too much.  Leaving is like tearing roots from the ground, but I have to.  I’ll go home, you’ll stay here.  I’m sure that somewhere down the road, we’ll have moved on with our lives.  But right now, I can’t feel it.  All I can feel is you and I don’t want to go.”

“Are you saying?”  There was desperate hope in her voice that shattered me like glass.

“No.  I did the long distance thing once, it was horrible.  And I’m not going to live in Italy. And I know you don’t want to leave, either.”

For the first time, Stella looked frail, like a blossom caught in the first snowfall of winter.

“Then… this is all we have?”  Her eyes began to water.  Picking up the pieces of my shattered self I went to her, wrapped her in my arms.  Stella’s control collapsed and she gasped in sadness, the warm tears pouring out onto her cheeks.

“Stella, no.  We will always have this, this moment” and my words sounded hollow in my ears, like brittle candy.  I shoved them aside and took her face in both my hands.  What needed to be shared was beyond the limits of words.

Our lips joined, tender at first but the stream hurtled forward and became a torrent.  There could be no barrier between us, and we tore away the layers of clothing and fear until we were revealed to each other completely.  With eyes open wide we joined, started directly into each other’s souls, salt tears of sorrow and joy staining our cheeks and mixing together sweetly.  We soared together and grasped each other and cried out as though in the embrace of death.  When it was done there was the sick feeling of things which have withered and died.  We held each other in the silence, warm where we touched beneath the cool air.

Stella got up on unsteady legs and dressed.

“Don’t”, she said.  “Please, don’t.”

With one last kiss she let go.  As I closed the door behind her, all warmth left the room.  My sleep was empty and stale, like the glass on the desk.  The air was still cold the next morning when I left for Rome.

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Forget Moonshot - Let's talk Boss Fights: #WOW meet #OpenGov

What Melissa is talking about here is brainstorming, solution-building at a scale that has here-to-for been impossible.  

At least, that's the case when government uses new tools in old ways, Plato's Desktop-style.

Which is why World of Warcraft is so interesting.  Forget moontshots - maybe what we need to do is look at Wicked Problems as boss fights, the big challenges we need to marshal our resources to beat but, when we do, new worlds of engagement opportunities open up for us.

Make Web Not War is already a thing - what would you call a World of Open that has a better acronym than "WoO?"  Me, I'm still a fan of Community of Civic Engagement.  

Monday, 22 June 2015


 - Irwin Cotler

What is justice?

Is it punishment for crimes or sins committed?  Is it an eye for an eye?

Is justice something external, imposed by a court or a king?

Should justice be equal for all?  Should justice be focused on individual acts, or on broader context?

There is no justice in this world, as per the Littlefinger above.  There's no justice in the same way that there's no true "perfect", no examples of "zero", no black-and-white right and wrong.  These concepts are all human constructs that we have imposed upon this world.  When a lion kills prey, there is no justice; there is survival.  When a cuckoo bird steals a nest, there's no justice - only competition.

We tend to view justice through narrow lenses - our own perspective, how it relates to our family, or from the frame of "our people," whether it's a religion, an ethnicity, a nationality or a political party.

Justice has become a zero-sum game that profits those with power and entitlement more than anyone else.  How many scandals have emerged of powerful, wealthy people committing wrongs - misusing public money, bullying their staff, committing sexual assault - with little in the way of meaningful punishment for the perpetrator?  Is it assumed that a public shaming and the (often wilful) giving up of position, if not notoriety, counts as justice for them?

Meanwhile, how many youth are stopped and carded for nothing more than the colour of their skin? How many racialized youth are ticketed for minor crimes like speeding where peers of a different ethnic background are merely chastized?

Political centralization has resulted in less direct connectivity between people and their representatives.  Laissez-faire capitalism has quietly closed the door to anyone who can't aggressively hustle, regardless of what they have to offer.  Despite all the talk about breaking down social silos, the walls are growing taller.

Yet there is a movement out there that takes the wisdom of Irwin Cotler's mother to heart.  Justice is not something seized, with the responsibility for justice lying on the shoulders of those who feel wronged; it is a social construct, something that only exists when we build and maintain it together.

Justice is an idea, a human ideal, a belief that we are more than the sum of our individual parts and that civilization requires give and take from everyone.  The more power you have, the more responsible you become - but that's not a burden, that's a gift.  One that brings its own rewards.

Empower your employees and you build loyalty, increase productivity and build brand and market share; empower your community, and you have safety, peer support and resiliency to whatever the world throws your way.  Pride of community also results in better maintenance of both private and personal space.  Your infrastructure lasts longer.

When we put selfish interests first, those who are more competitive win and those who aren't, for whatever reason, lose.  That's not justice, but that's how society has chosen to operate.  Our silo walls blind us to the structural reality; we fail to see that a me-first approach erodes public infrastructure, public confidence and our social fabric.

Justice isn't imposed from without; it's something we have to practice, every day, and it begins with simply being conscious of context.  Next comes empathy, optimism and the will to collaborate.  How might we build that equitable world so many speeches allude to?

There is no justice in the world - it's a theoretical construct.

Unless we make it.  We - that means all of us.

Sunday, 21 June 2015

Greater Power, Narrower Lens

You know, Canada stands accused of committing cultural genocide.  ISIS stands accused of committing genocide.

Lots of folk in this country getting their wrists slapped after double-dipping or misspending public dollars or blatantly abusing power.

"I don't think about anything unless I'm paid to" I've heard more than one high-priced consultant say - sometimes in conjunction with that merry line, "you don't have to know what you're talking about - just sound confident while you say it."

Yet, of course, there's no lesson in what the Pope has to say - not for history's actors.  They are smart, we are dumb, as one of them told me years ago.

We are repeating mistakes that could and should have been prevented, with even a tad more foresight.