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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, 13 December 2014

Can you Feel It? Something is Opening


"Until we have addressed the root causes of these kinds of issues, we can expect to have to deal with these kind of issues," he said, referring to the current U.S.-led mission against the jihadist group ISIS.

Breedlove said the way to address these root causes is by focusing on bringing jobs, education, health and safety to vulnerable places, as well as figuring out how to make governments "responsive to their people."

Pandering lines for a na├»ve public?  Maybe.  I don't think so, though.  I fact, I know so.  The reality of terrorism is complex.  What we're witnessing is out generation's equivalent of the Crusades, with unhappy folk buying into ideologies that will allow them to be more as foreign soldiers than they can be at home.

If you say they need to get their act together, and they do not, what happens?  Do you abandon them?  Do you risk more crimes at home?

Of course not, you crack down harder.  It's being obeyed that matters most - that and people just doing as they're told.

Which leads to increased restrictions and proactive aggressive arrests, which exacerbate the problem until a eventually a blow up like Ferguson gets really ugly.

Government, or at least some parts of government, are trying to intervene before it's too late.  They have friends, some of them powerful, working in the Open Government space to address responsible and enable proactive.

In first and sprits it's happening; look for more public servants to remember who they truly serve in the growing future.
 

Temporal Photograph and Disturbing Trends

 
 
A lot of such stories coming to the fore these days.  The incidents themselves are nothing new, but the amount of airplay they are is.
 
We've also been hearing a lot about PTSD among police, the impacts of poor work culture/insufficient training/bad management on performance in all fields.
 
Which all ties into the rise of mental health as an issue of national, even international importance.
 
Individual agency, redesigned work, even digital tools are emerging as parts of the solution to this problem.  Some people don't really care, because they don't really think there's a problem.
 
When innocent people, racialized people are being unfairly and unjustly targeted for harsh treatment in the public spotlight, though, it's only a matter of time before the threat increases to the point where ignorance is no longer possible.
 
You'd think rational actors would proactively be planning ahead to turn these risks into wins, wouldn't you?

Thursday, 11 December 2014

What the TTC should learn from Ferguson


 * Does not reflect TTC Fare inspectors.
 
 
 
Should these situations escalate.  Hopefully they won't and all, but hey - it never hurts to be on the safe side.  Carrying a baton is like carrying an umbrella, right?
 
Wrong.  So wrong.  To plan for violent eventualities - to tell your recruits that hey, is a fight breaks out and if you get attacked, you've got this baton handy - is to frame the fare inspector's thought process in that they're looking for that situation to materialize. 
 
When you go looking for trouble, etc.

Police officers keep watch while demonstrators (not pictured) protest the death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 12, 2014. (Reuters)
Just look at Ferguson.
 
 
Why, indeed?  Why do local police need to be armed with the equipment used by soldiers in fields of combat? 
 
Of course they don't.  In fact, if public service is equitable and justice is blind, the role of the town policeman should be an easy, even friendly one.
To put such weapons in the hands of police, or transit "fare inspectors" is to beg for their usage.  It's the ultimate marshmallow test - tempting a child with something fun or tasty, telling them not to use it and then walking away.
 
And there's more.
 
The TTC's concern is not enough fares are getting collected.  They need more money and the pressure is to find it internally, but it's hard to keep hiking fares when service keeps faltering.  So how about paying money for fare inspectors to help the cause?
How much of this will be about TTC riders vs existing TTC fare collectors?  Anyone who's ridden the TTC knows that collectors aren't always 100% tuned in to the people passing through their turnstyles.  Sometimes, there's no person there at all.  In some cases, good customer service gets in the way of watching every set of the tens of thousands of hands that pass over deposit boxes, especially over open gates.
 
It's not too hard to picture armed fare inspectors getting it into their head that they are superior to fare collectors and waving their baton around (figuratively speaking, of course) over fare-related matters, even customer service. 
 
All this at an agency that is struggling with service disruptions, delays, etc. 
 
The citizens aren't the problem.  The employees aren't the problem.  People are people - they will react to their environment, whatever it may be.  A poorly designed environment results in poor results.
 
Batons are a terrible addition to an already poorly designed environment.
 
I would suggest Brad Ross stop his Michael Hayden act and start recognizing that if people have concerns, it's probably there's a reason for it.
 
Instead of adding weapons to a volatilte mix, how about better management practices, better training, better service?  You could even use open data and digital tools to empower TTC riders to be part of the structural solution.  Heck, you could use civic fundraising to help address specific transit issues.
 
Let's sort this out before the TTC's baton business gets out of hand, and ends up in the media.

Let's See Dick Dance

 
 
 
 
 
 
Let us be frank; the report is crap, key people weren't interviewed.  Discount the whole thing, people - Dick has spoken and spoken forcefully.
 
Perhaps former US Vice President Dick Cheney and like-minded individuals/organizations should invest in ads that reinforce their message.  When you dominate the airways and forcefully repeat one core message and focus on the flaws of what you dislike (with facts, cherry-picked if available or with heated rhetoric if not), the people will believe you, right?
 
That's how attack ads work.  It's how politics works; we hear that again and again.
 
You simply need to be in a position of great enough power that you have the clout, capacity and coin to get your message out.
 
 
 
Iran's Ayatollah is hardly one to point figures.  But does it matter?  He's not interested in defending his practices; that's not the point.  See the Cheney approach, above.
 
It really doesn't matter if Cheney produces a mountain of evidence that "enhanced interrogation techniques" produced information that stopped some terrorist from blowing up the White House.  Torture happened.  The US is clearly hypocritical.
 
The US declares itself a light in the dark, a beacon of civilization, a land of equal rights and equal opportunity - yet Abu Ghraib happened.  Ferguson has happened.  Eric Garner happened.  And that's all just domestically.
 
It would be simple and even fun, from a Machievellian perspective, to craft a clear, evidence-based image of the US as the embodiment of every threat they have ever claimed to stand against.  All one has to do is connect the dots.
 
Of course, those dots - cops in New York, cops in Ferguson, bombs in Iraq, CIA interrogation techniques - they're not one narrative, are they?  They're independent actors acting independently.  It's fallacious to suggest some sort of pattern or narrative from such disconnected pieces.  Just ask the rational actors being unfairly brought into the spotlight.
 
And don't listen to social media.
 
One can't but feel a bit sad for these, history's actors.  Everyone is watching; there are no more shadows to hide in.
 
If you're going to dance on the public stage, it's worth dancing like everyone's watching. 

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

Kinsella Nails It.


 
 
 
It's not a new lesson, this.  To think one can wall out the world, or freeze a moment in time is the folly of man. 
 
Yet, despite the massive supporting evidence of this truth, we choose to deny that which is clear as daylight.  We'd rather martyr a prophet than change our perception of ourselves.
 
Why?
 
Because low-hanging fruit feels easier.
 
Growing a garden, however - that's planning ahead.
 
Oogway: Ah!  I see that you have found the Sacred Peach Tree of Heavenly Wisdom!
Po: Oh!  Is that what this is!  I'm so sorry!  I just thought it was a regular peach tree!
 
Shifu: But a peach cannot defeat terrorism!
Oogway: Maybe it can, if you are willing to guide, to nurture, to believe in it.
 

Freedom is in the Practice

 
 
 
Wealth or power does not equate with freedom.  They can make hard choices easier and make pedestrian problems seem 10,000 feet below you, but they come with their own constraints.
 
We can choose not to see, we can choose not to hear, we can abdicate responsibility, but in so doing we subject ourselves to forces beyond our control.
 
Freedom isn't something you're owed, nor something you have - it's something you practice.
 
A good thing to be conscious of.
 
 
 

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Will You Drink to This?


 
 
Nowhere mentioned in this article are donations of booze to events - fundraisers, for instance, or Party parties at related venues.  No matter.
 
If we're to get to the heart of the matter of this, we need to identify the core problem.
 
People with money donate to politicians and, as a result get their ear.  Those ears are then talked into by former political staffers turned GR agents because, again, that's where the money is.
 
Money isn't the objective of politicians - political wins are.  Money is simply a tool required to achieve victory.  You need to pay for polls, expensive ad campaigns, a whole lot of pizza and car rentals and whatnot. 
 
It's the job of partisans to get elected, and that means votes.  How do you get people to vote for you?  Not by thoughtful discussion of the issues nor carefully balanced policy proposals.  Nope - it's messaging and framing that matters.  Ballot questions pull at emotions - they're not about solutions.
 
People fundamentally don't care about the doings or Parliament - or at the very least they aren't interested.  Or informed.  Or engaged. 
 
So outreach needs to be done.  That costs money.  Money that comes from folk like those behind The Beer Store.
 
What's the problem?  Politics is a sales business and voters are apparently lazy consumers. 
 
What's the solution?  Open Government.  Responsible society.
 
We can keep whining about the problem, but until we agree to be part of the solution, nothing's gonna change.



 

Free Market Irrationality


 
 
 
Of course, this is just smart planning, right?  Make healthcare expensive and people will work extra hard not to get sick.  It's simple economics.
 
Except for where other financial interests - say, tobacco or fatty food sellers - actually benefit from people engaging in unhealthy lifestyles.  But that's just a supply-and-demand thing, right?  If people didn't want it, they wouldn't buy it.
 
Rational actors aren't persuaded by slick campaigns or suggestive advertisements designed to trigger emotional responses. 
 
And that's what people are - independent, rational actors.  To do the sociology thing is to impede individual success.
 
Really, what else matters?  To discuss cyclical poverty, workplace culture or anything education-related is to chatter on about non-fundamental stuff.  So too communicable diseases, crime, emergency preparedness and so forth.
 
Stick to the low-hanging fruit and quit wasting time on frills.  Everything else just magically takes care of itself that way, doesn't it?
 

Domesticating Capitalism

 
Eat what you kill.  Focus on low-hanging fruit.  Maximum return, minimal investment.
 
That's the framing of laissez-faire capitalism and competitive politics.  It mirrors exactly the framing of hunting and gathering.
 
Imagine if the hunters of the world had final say on the value of gardening.  They'd have laughed at the idea and belittled those who came up with it.  Dumb, wasteful, takes away from the core business of life, they'd say.
 
Until the fruits of other people's labour materialized.  Then, the aggressive hunters or laissez-faire foragers would pat the innovative gardeners on the back for their tenacity and persistence.  Said innovators may even be celebrated for their foresight.
 
Which is how things stand right now with social innovators or pioneers in social finance, or civic engagement, or info tech.
 
That's the challenge we face.  It's not the first time we've faced it, nor will it be the last.
 
The only way forward is not to waver.

#WeCantBreathe - What Social Murmuration Looks Like



 
Political advertising is a powerful tool for swaying minds.  The infamous Daisy ad is a famous example of this.  Thing is, political advertising costs a lot - there's the ad buys themselves, but also the talent that goes into designing the things, and pollinating them across mediums.
 
As Daisy Consulting founder Warren Kinsella has said, though, "the most important campaigns are the ones that don't cost a thing."  These are campaigns that can be nudged by people with narrow agendas but are largely driven by public engagement.
 
Today, this concept of the public carrying a message forward that benefits an organization in some shape or form is called "user generated content" - UGC for short, because acronyms are cool that way.
 
UGC campaigns have the potential to reach massive audiences and change the narrative in ways political ad campaigns don't.
 
You may be dismissive of the impacts #beenrapedneverreported had, but you can't deny the penetration our broader discussion around harassment and, as a consequence, male/female employer/employee has blossomed. 
 
Maybe the chatter will die down - clearly, there are executives who are banking on this - but all it will take is another high-profile incident, of which there will always be some in the offings, to bring the conversation back to the fore in earnest.
 
The same holds true of #ICantBreathe, which builds on #Ferguson, #MichaelBrown and other publicly-generated narratives that emphasize the racial divide in the US and how the justice system largely lands on one side of it (meaning, it's not actually justice).
 
This is all online stuff, though.  Not everyone is on a computer and what happens online doesn't necessarily translate into real-world practice, does it?  You can play Sim City for days and never have that life touch your real life, right?
 
What happens when a hashtag or a meme becomes the focal point of civil protest?  The die ins we've seen as a response to #ICantBreathe are an example.  There have been talks and presentations and probably revitalized funding for women's rights and anti-harassment activities as a result of #beenrapedneverreported.
 
Online activity can and does translate into real-world engagement.  And what that engagement looks like is pretty amazing.

Here's a die-in:











 
What does it remind me of?  The same thing any protest reminds me of:
 
 
This is a murmuration of starlings.  To the right, you see a predator that would take out the weak links in the starling formation, if it could find one.  As it stands, however, the hawk doesn't know where to begin and certainly doesn't have the tools to break up the formation, if they stick together. 
 
Which they do.  It's a survival instinct, really - the ability to group together in the face of external threats.  The very notion of stepping out from the crowd is to risk predation.
 
Back to politics for a second.  "With us or against us" is a tried-and-true narrative; you're with Party X, or Party Y will destroy your way of life.  You're with us or with child pornographers.  There's no middle ground to stand on, no room to move independently, even if there's elements of the overall package you disagree with.  We win or they win - which side are you on?
 
The State, of course, is supposed to be on the side of citizens.  The Justice System is supposed to be beyond sides - justice, blind, etc.  Yet increasingly, the UGC narratives - the social murmurations - we're seeing are presenting a growing community beyond the usual suspects standing on the side of those they are officially told are the problem.
 
Men have gotten behind #beenrapedneverreported.  White icy league kids are getting behind #ICantBreathe.  People in the financial sector are speaking out against the failings of capitalism.  Even elected officials are suggesting our current model of democracy isn't doing its job.
 
There's a bigger picture taking shape, here, if you want to look for it.  Doing so requires a bit of sociology, mind you, but it's worth doing so - for self interest.
 
After all, altruism is selfishness that plans ahead.
 
And the only sides that matter in the long run are "that which adapts and survives" vs that which does not.
 
Inevitably, history's actors are relegated to the past. 
 
Take a deep breathe, folks, and strap in - we're in for quite a ride.  At least we're taking it together.











 

Monday, 8 December 2014

Investment and Social Impact: The Garden of Innovation

 


"Founder Henry Chong started the company Revelo Electric which specializes in electric bikes for urban settings. His idea, which started as an undergraduate thesis project has come a long way."

Technically speaking, an undergraduate thesis isn't R&D.  It isn't market research. Yet how many start-ups are emerging from ideas or needs first explored in academic settings?

Then there's Figure 1, which is a brilliant idea that bridges the gap between professional peers communicating relevant information and end-user privacy/info security.  I won't go into the massive growth potential of this App here.

How many innovative, problem-solving and potentially massively profitable enterprises have emerged from non-product oriented processes?  A ton.  Meanwhile, the money governments are pouring into financial incentives to nudge traditional private-sector players to be innovative isn't having much impact.

Also, the increased pressure on what used to be Not-For-Profits to be financially stable on their own (through sales, not grants) isn't making organizations more lean, it's denigrating services.  Pure science as a profit-focused tool?  All we're ending up with is less science and fewer idea opportunities.

 This is a good thing for the survival-of-the-fittest mentality of our current government - they feel that this shrinking of the pool increases the financial viability of what actually emerges.  But where beyond talking-points is the evidence to support this?  Where are the metrics?

There are none.  It's an ideological perspective as removed from reality as the idea of communism.

You can't motivate innovation with financial pressure.  It doesn't work; neurobiology and evidence from countless studies prove it doesn't work.  Instead, what financial carrots and sticks do is encourage more "fake it 'til you make" it hustlers who talk the talk, but tend not to provide metrics of distance covered for it.

So why do we have a government with access to massive amounts of data and professional support actually impeding the sort of innovative success that any economy should want?  Why, instead of heeding the data, is this government stifling its collection and undermining it's presentation?

It's not particularly rational, is it?

And that's the point.  When you know you're right and endlessly confident in your righteousness, anything that disagrees with you feels wrong.   When you're impatient for wins, the objective becomes the removal from your path of that which feels like an impediment to victory.

Even knowledge.

There is a world of difference between wanting economic success and wanting power.   If you see money and wealth as the conduit to personal power, then getting lots of money fast becomes the objective.  Iterative development, learning, exploration, etc. become frills, time wasters.  All that matters is the low-hanging fruit.

Innovation isn't about the low-hanging fruit; it's about figuring out how to reach the higher-up fruit.  Or teaching yourself to garden.

We're trying to solve the wrong problem.  And so long as we KEEP trying to solve the wrong problem, we're going to keep falling short of the mark.

But not the guys like Henry Chong.  They're not in it for them; they're in it for what they can do.  What we can do.
 
See, you don't buy innovation, you nurture it.  Supporting innovation is more like growing a garden than building a tower.

 And the people really interested in strengthening our economy are ignoring the Stephen Harpers of the world and spending time with the Henry Chongs.  Some are even funding them, turning Corporate Social Responsibility into R&D, merging social innovation and user-generate content.

 Something to think about.
 
 


 

#OpenWorld: Dance Like Everyone is Watching




      - Rian Malan, My Traitor's Heart

If you haven't seen the death of Eric Garner yet, watch it.  In particular, note the end where the officials start to get really defensive and are pushing people back.
 
It's like they realized they'd gone over the top and now wanted to be sure to avoid scrutiny. 
 
Which, in our day and age, is silly.  The worst thing you can do is try to shut down the signal - that only encourages people to sneak pics even more.
 
Think Ferguson.  Think Trayvon Martin.  Think Sammy Yatim.  The list goes on and on.  Whatever the context is, people are getting a big picture that isn't pretty.  More to the point, any extremist with a hate-on for the West gains immediate fodder for their "the West is evil" message, plus more justification for their own misdeeds.
 
Yet it comes down to individuals doing what they feel they need or want to do in a given moment.  It's Objectivisim.  And it doesn't work.
 
Today, there is no action that exists in a silo.  The walls have come down, except within our perception.
 
The world is watching what we do, as individuals, and making generalizations about all of us based on what they see.
 
Something to be conscious of.