30 September 2006

And You Certainly Wouldn't Want Dancing in the Aisles!

Why does American Airlines ban kissing? Because it could lead to dancing.
Shortly after takeoff, Varnier nodded off, leaning his head on Tsikhiseli. A stewardess came over to their row. “The purser wants you to stop that,” she said.

“I opened my eyes and was, like, ‘Stop what?’ ” Varnier recalled the other day.

“The touching and the kissing,” the stewardess said, before walking away.

Tsikhiseli and Varnier were taken aback. “He would rest his head on my shoulder or the other way around. We’d kiss—not kiss kiss, just mwah,” Tsikhiseli recalled, making a smacking sound.

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29 September 2006

Well, We Know Where They Stand on Collaboration and Inclusion

Just arrived in my email:
A message from the Canadian Labour and Business Centre's Chief Executive Officer Shirley Seward

Dear Friends of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre,

On Thursday, September 28, 2006, the Board of Directors of the Canadian Labour and Business Centre (CLBC) voted unanimously to dissolve the organization in light of the funding cut by the federal government to CLBC’s Workplace Partners Panel (WPP) initiative.

The federal government’s expenditure review, announced on September 25, eliminated all funding to the WPP, which constituted the sustaining element of CLBC’s overall funding. With existing WPP funds running out December 1, and in order to ensure that all liabilities are met, including those to the staff of CLBC, the Board of Directors, with deep regret, made the decision to close.

The closure of CLBC brings to an end Canada’s longest standing business and labour forum, which included the full participation of the provinces, territories, education organizations, and the federal government. Since 1984, CLBC has been Canada’s only on-going national forum for partnership and dialogue on labour market and skills issues. The development of partnerships among these various stakeholder groups takes time to nurture, and the effect of the federal government’s decision leaves a vacuum at the national level.

Throughout CLBC’s 22-year history, we have been recognized for our balanced and inclusive approach. Whether exploring human resource issues in different sectors of the economy, analyzing new workplace arrangements, or surveying private and public sector leaders about their policy priorities and practices, the Centre has engaged all parties constructively.

This collaborative and inclusive approach was a keystone of the WPP initiative, which was developed in consultation with the federal government, and whose purpose was to enable business and labour to take a leadership role in addressing Canada’s labour market and skills challenges. In its first year of operation, the WPP completed task forces in Atlantic Canada and Saskatchewan, which involved the input and participation of hundreds of individuals and organizations. We sincerely thank all those who contributed their expertise and ideas. Regrettably, the Manitoba task force scheduled to be launched in October, has been cancelled. The expenditure review deemed this type of engagement of workplace partners as not providing value for money.

Over the next few weeks, we will be working towards an orderly closure of CLBC. On behalf of our co-chairs, Perrin Beatty and Ken Georgetti, the Board of Directors and all the staff at CLBC, I want to thank you all for your support over the years and for your commitment to partnership and dialogue.


Shirley B. Seward
Chief Executive Officer
I added the emphases, of course. Unlike some of the other initiatives that were cut by the Harper government (like funding for medical marijuana research), this one cannot be said to be placating the Americans. This decision is, in my view, a manifestation of pure, neo-liberal, political economic ideology. It cannot be good for the country or for unity among the various regions and economic interests. It is good for the elites. In that aspect, at least, Harper is consistent.

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Reversal of America - Courts? What Courts Edition

So let me see if I understand this. Something that has been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court is okay if it is turned into a bill negotiated in secret meetings between Republican leaders from Capitol Hill and the White House, and passed into law by a Partisan House and Senate fearing defeat in November and wanting to create a knee-jerk, emotional distance between themselves and their Democrat opponents.

As one might expect, George Orwell describes the situation very well:
"'Now I will tell you the answer to my question [, what is the purpose of power]. It is this. The Party seeks power entirely for its own sake. We are not interested in the good of others; we are interested solely in power. Not wealth or luxury or long life or happiness: only power, pure power. What pure power means you will understand presently. We are different from all the oligarchies of the past, in that we know what we are doing. All the others, even those who resembled ourselves, were cowards and hypocrites. The German Nazis and the Russian Communists came very close to us in their methods, but they never had the courage to recognize their own motives. They pretended, perhaps they even believed, that they had seized power unwillingly and for a limited time, and that just round the corner there lay a paradise where human beings would be free and equal. We are not like that. We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it. Power is not a means, it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power. Now do you begin to understand me?'
The previous paragraph could be considered a trite analogy, easily dismissed. Except, a few paragraphs further down in Chapter 3 is the following monologue by the character O'Brian that is chilling when read in the context of precisely what has occurred in other aspects of American public policy:
Obedience is not enough. Unless he is suffering, how can you be sure that he is obeying your will and not his own? Power is in inflicting pain and humiliation. Power is in tearing human minds to pieces and putting them together again in new shapes of your own choosing. Do you begin to see, then, what kind of world we are creating? It is the exact opposite of the stupid hedonistic Utopias that the old reformers imagined. A world of fear and treachery is torment, a world of trampling and being trampled upon, a world which will grow not less but more merciless as it refines itself. Progress in our world will be progress towards more pain. The old civilizations claimed that they were founded on love or justice. Ours is founded upon hatred. In our world there will be no emotions except fear, rage, triumph, and self-abasement. Everything else we shall destroy everything. Already we are breaking down the habits of thought which have survived from before the Revolution. We have cut the links between child and parent, and between man and man, and between man and woman. No one dares trust a wife or a child or a friend any longer. But in the future there will be no wives and no friends. Children will be taken from their mothers at birth, as one takes eggs from a hen. The sex instinct will be eradicated. Procreation will be an annual formality like the renewal of a ration card. We shall abolish the orgasm. Our neurologists are at work upon it now. There will be no loyalty, except loyalty towards the Party. There will be no love, except the love of Big Brother. There will be no laughter, except the laugh of triumph over a defeated enemy. There will be no art, no literature, no science. When we are omnipotent we shall have no more need of science. There will be no distinction between beauty and ugliness. There will be no curiosity, no enjoyment of the process of life. All competing pleasures will be destroyed. But always -- do not forget this, Winston -- always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always, at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face -- for ever.'

He paused as though he expected Winston to speak. Winston had tried to shrink back into the surface of the bed again. He could not say anything. His heart seemed to be frozen. O'Brien went on:

'And remember that it is for ever. The face will always be there to be stamped upon. The heretic, the enemy of society, will always be there, so that he can be defeated and humiliated over again. Everything that you have undergone since you have been in our hands -- all that will continue, and worse. The espionage, the betrayals, the arrests, the tortures, the executions, the disappearances will never cease. It will be a world of terror as much as a world of triumph. The more the Party is powerful, the less it will be tolerant: the weaker the opposition, the tighter the despotism. Goldstein and his heresies will live for ever. Every day, at every moment, they will be defeated, discredited, ridiculed, spat upon and yet they will always survive. This drama that I have played out with you during seven years will be played out over and over again generation after generation, always in subtler forms. Always we shall have the heretic here at our mercy, screaming with pain, broken up, contemptible -- and in the end utterly penitent, saved from himself, crawling to our feet of his own accord. That is the world that we are preparing, Winston. A world of victory after victory, triumph after triumph after triumph: an endless pressing, pressing, pressing upon the nerve of power. You are beginning, I can see, to realize what that world will be like. But in the end you will do more than understand it. You will accept it, welcome it, become part of it.'
The attacks on science now make sense. The attacks on sensual pleasures and the rise of puritanism in the name of Fundamentalist Christianity (so-called family values, for instance) now makes sense. Even the supposedly leaked news that the war in Iraq has fuelled recruitment of new terrorists now makes sense as an outcome that could have been desired by the current Administration through a process of reversal.

Repeat after me: Power is not a means. It is an end unto itself.
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22 September 2006

Colbert: Days of Repentance Hotline

And, in keeping with the spirit of the season, this gem from Stephen Colbert: Days of Repentance Hotline.

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Shanah Tovah Tikatevu

Not quite being out of the swamp caused by the beginning-of-semester deluge, the yamim tovim sort of snuck up on me this year (two weeks earlier than last year). But last year's thoughts are no less relevant now, and it's time to take my own advice, that I repeat here:

Regardless of whether you practice a form of religious faith, taking time to reflect on the passing of one year and anticipations for the next seems to me to be a worthwhile endeavour. In a world that has become far too busy and complicated to allow time for reflection on process as well as progress, pausing for a day or two of self-contemplation and rechecking one's place relative to one's larger community is something that I find particularly beneficial.

It is interesting to me that the traditional beginning of the year in Judaism occurs in the autumn, when most of nature (at least in this part of the world) seems to be shutting down for the proverbial long winter's nap. It is, to say the least, an odd season to consider the start of a "new year." Perhaps the lesson is this: New beginnings may best occur not in bustling activity, but in quietude, with time for reflection and contemplation of oneself in relation to others, and to the world at large.

To all of you who celebrate at this time of year, my friends, colleagues, readers and random visitors, I wish you and those whom you love, l'shanah tovah tikatevu - may you be inscribed for a good year, a year filled with good health, happiness, prosperity, success, and most of all, peace.
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21 September 2006

Honest Scam Spam

I receive my (un)fair share of spam - lately it's mostly been the pump-and-dump stock scam spam. You know the type: such and so great sounding company is about to explode on the (over the counter) stock market. Buy now and get in on the ground floor. Naturally, the promoters have tons of the otherwise worthless stock and cash in when the price rises, completely collapsing the market and fleecing the greedy and gullible.

I usually just delete such messages (which have subject lines completely unrelated to the scam) from the server. But today, I saw one that was intriguing, not because of the investment opportunity, but rather for its frankness. The subject line read, "We can grow any stock up to 300%." And, towards the end of the email about some obscure biotech company with the latest in something or other medical, this clear disclaimer:
You can lose all your money by investing in this stock. In compliance with the Securities act of 1933, Section 17(b), the publisher of this newsletter discloses they received payment from an unaffiliated third party for the circulation of this report in the amount of twenty thousand dollars. Be aware of an inherent conflict of interest resulting from such compensation due to the fact that this is a paid advertisement and is not without bias. As we have received compensation in the form of free trading securities, we may directly benefit from any increase in the price of these securities. (emphasis added)
That about says it all, doesn't it? At least they're honest about their unethicality.

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20 September 2006

Political Marketing via Blog

I received an email today from a persona (not necessarily a person) named Sarah Reid of The Element Agency. This is a communications agency (a.k.a., advertising, marketing, public relations, image management) whose client list includes many liberal, left-of-centre, Democrat, environmental and similar organizations, and the Liberal Party of Canada. The email reads as follows:
Dear fellow blogger:

Today the Daily Canuck’s guest blogging series continues with an insightful piece from Jason Cherniak about the role of blogs in the renewal of the Liberal party. You can check it out at www.dailycanuck.com.

If you would like to guest blog yourself, please follow the link on www.dailycanuck.com.

Don Millar
The Element Agency
I went to the site and had a look around. And then I wrote this response:
Dear Sarah Reid (or the person behind the persona of Sarah Reid),

I certainly do appreciate you being obvious that this email comes from a communications agency. Therefore I am able to easily understand that the entire "dailycanuck" website is framed as push marketing, rather than authentic voice.

And that, of course, is precisely the type of reversal that one (or to be specific, I) would expect. (For more, you're welcome to try to find a copy of my book, McLuhan for Managers, in which I explain all these sorts of things).

The point is that Cherniak misses the point of blogs as political engagement, and the ideal of full citizen participation in the political process that is the definition of true democracy. Perhaps it is important for members of the Liberal Party of Canada to participate in an exercise of renewal via this leadership process (although the very structure of sale of memberships and the partisan nature of the leadership selection process is the antithesis of true renewal; viz. the Greek tragedy that was Paul Martin). It is even more important, I think, that the Liberal Party of Canada engage with the oft-cliched ordinary Canadian with authenticity. Only then will it see true renewal, and a renewal of the discourse within the country, something that is badly needed in the wake of the Harper government.
In other words, it's a nice try, but no cigar (ooh, what an anachronistic cliche). It is not so much the content of the posts, but the medium of the push-marketing blog-like website (first clue - no comments) that creates the disingenuous aura that hangs on the posts like the early-morning mist on the Rideau Canal. In the post, Cherniak says,
Blogs pose a threat to a unified message. Indeed, they may eventually make a unifieid message impossible. Instead of trying to control the message coming through blogs, the Liberal Party should recognize the new reality and take advantage of it. We need to view the open debate and discussion that occurs on blogs as a tool that will allow the party to better serve its membership.
The message of Cherniak's message is completely contradicted by the fact that The Agency is very much in control.

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And in Other News, Apples Fall Close to Tree

The Star reports today that, according to a recent study, "MBA students in Canada and the United States are more likely to cheat than students in other disciplines because they believe it is how the business world operates — and because they believe their peers cheat". And thus we find the core ethos that comprises the future of business leadership in North America, and, I would suspect, elsewhere as well. The study was based on a voluntary survey of 5,000 students from a total of 32 graduate schools in both Canada and the U.S. Of course, those who cheat on assignments would never answer such a survey falsely, would they?

The BAH indoctrination is clearly at work here: At University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, where they see students as being "highly competitive with a high need for achievement", they have found an (administrative) solution: "students at Rotman must sign a form every time they submit course work for grading to ensure they comply with academic honesty policies. When MBA students work in teams, they also must sign forms stating that they didn't cheat, nor did their teammates." Ah yes, the magic talisman of the BAH mentality - the signed form. Can there be any clearer indication that a completely new way of thinking about business, management and management education is sorely needed?
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19 September 2006

Kudos! Fox and Warner Get It!

Hey Universal and RIAA! Don't have a cow, man! Especially not after Fox has begun posting full episodes of the current season of The Simpsons on YouTube. Increases the popularity of their franchise, without decreasing the ad revenue from the televised version (my family will still be watching on Sunday evening). Here is this week's episode (two clips) with The White Stripes (who record on Warner Music). It's absolutely great that these content/distribution companies understand that there's no percentage in restricting their fans, or treating them like criminals. Kowabunga dude!

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17 September 2006

Free as in Peanuts

I "downloaded" the title of this post from the great meme just created by David Weinberger in a post of the same name.
You know Richard Stallman's "Free as in speech, not free as in beer"? I think we could stand to add one more: Free as in peanuts.

If you're in a bar, speaking freely and paying for beer, the bartender sometimes will put out a dish of peanuts for free. I know that I'm capable of eating an entire bowlful and then eying the bartender waifishly until s/he refills it. But, I generally won't buy peanuts in a bar, even if they're reasonably priced. I get value from eating them, yet I won't pay for them.
This is a useful way of considering the problem of file-sharing specifically, and of intellectual creations in general. We heard last week from Doug Morris, the chief executive at Universal Music, essentially that if any residual or secondary value is created based on a product they originally produced, they should be paid.
He said he was keen to avoid repeating the 'mistake' made when cable music channel MTV was set up 25 years ago, and record companies allowed their artists' music to be aired for free.

He added that that MTV had 'built a multi-billion-dollar company on our [music]...for virtually nothing. We learned a hard lesson'.
Unfortunately, Mr. Morris did not learn the correct lesson from the MTV experience. By serving up "free peanuts," MTV created a much wider demand for Universal Music's "beer" that MTV's viewers bought and paid for in droves. Not only that, but it seems to me that Universal Music might be making a few pennies here and there on music video DVDs, thanks to a genre made popular by MTV's innovation.

It's not surprising that the recording industry should want to be paid for residuals. But, carried over to almost any other aspect of life, the logic falls apart. Should the brick company be paid a portion of the capital gains of said executive's home when it increases in value? Should the professor be paid a portion of the student's income when the student applies the knowledge learned in the class (hey, considering that's where I'm heading, that's not a bad idea!)?

Creating secondary and tertiary value is what innovation is about. I wouldn't pay for peanuts in a bar either - and, more important, I would choose a bar that doesn't demand payment for the peanuts over one that forces me to pay for every peanut I consume, even if it's offered by a friend. (Or worse, one that might reach down my throat and remove an already consumed peanut.)
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Pope Goes the Weasel

An offensive title? Well, I regret if you were offended; I was merely quoting an early text...

But weasel words worthy of a true politician are what we heard from the Vatican today (actually Castel Gondolfo, but why quibble?) as the Pope formerly known as Ratzinger attempted to spin his recent, very unfortunate and exceedingly insensitive - not to mention incendiary - remarks.

Last evening, I had a conversation with someone who pointed to the extreme reaction throughout much of the Muslim world, noting that this was nothing more than a cartoon reaction to an otherwise innocuous citation in an academic lecture to a relatively closed audience (hopefully I've captured the tenor of the person's argument). I wasn't so sure; I wanted to see the controverial sentence in the context of the entire lecture. Was the Pope making an important and useful reference - perhaps a retrieval of a now inappropriate view to illustrate a commentary on ecumenicalism?

I read the full text of the Pope's remarks, and I am left deeply disturbed. Allow me to quote the controverial section, in context:
That even in the face of such radical scepticism it is still necessary and reasonable to raise the question of God through the use of reason, and to do so in the context of the tradition of the Christian faith: this, within the university as a whole, was accepted without question.

I was reminded of all this recently, when I read the edition by Professor Theodore Khoury (Münster) of part of the dialogue carried on - perhaps in 1391 in the winter barracks near Ankara - by the erudite Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both. It was presumably the emperor himself who set down this dialogue, during the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402; and this would explain why his arguments are given in greater detail than those of his Persian interlocutor. The dialogue ranges widely over the structures of faith contained in the Bible and in the Qur'an, and deals especially with the image of God and of man, while necessarily returning repeatedly to the relationship between - as they were called - three "Laws" or "rules of life": the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur'an. It is not my intention to discuss this question in the present lecture; here I would like to discuss only one point - itself rather marginal to the dialogue as a whole - which, in the context of the issue of "faith and reason", I found interesting and which can serve as the starting-point for my reflections on this issue.

In the seventh conversation ("controversy") edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur'an, concerning holy war. Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached". The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably is contrary to God's nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...".

The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God's nature. The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God's will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
Here we see the Pope making the connection between Islam and spreading the faith by sword. He goes on to say that this defies both reason and the nature of God, and suggests (through what I find to be somewhat convoluted logic) that the Islamic view is somehow that God could will man to commit violence to spread the faith, despite such a will being incompatible with His nature.

That the head of a Church that will forever be tainted with the blood of the Spanish Inquisition accuses another faith of spreading by the sword simply boggles the mind. Certainly I don't have to remind the Pope of John 7:53–8:11 - the Pericope Adulterae in which Jesus famously says, "He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her." But aside from the hypocrisy - or shall I more gently say the gap between espoused theory and theory-in-use - that seems to stick to many organized religionists like schmaltz to matzah, I am deeply disturbed by the seeming lack of awareness of such a prominent political figure as the Pope to anticipated effects and outcomes of his pronouncements.

Being infallible and all, one would expect Il Papa to choose his words and citations with extreme care. His words are treated almost as if they came from on high, and nuance is invariable read into his encyclicals and letters. And yet, such utter disregard for offense. Unless, of course, there is another purpose.

Consider the framing of the entire piece. The lecture seeks to mitigate the attacks on faith by reason and cold rationality, pushing aside the dominant, positivist worldview that pervades Western culture. Post-positivist and constructivist standpoints maintain that there are many ways to construct knowledge, and that reality is mediated by experience and known by effects. This stand is an important one for the Church to hold: only through non-positivist approaches can religion co-exist with empiricism, and Catholicism have a hope of participating in a meaningful way in the wider world community. Indeed, the Pope concludes:
"Not to act reasonably, not to act with logos, is contrary to the nature of God", said Manuel II, according to his Christian understanding of God, in response to his Persian interlocutor. It is to this great logos, to this breadth of reason, that we invite our partners in the dialogue of cultures.
He must - at least now - realize that acting reasonably means considering the standpoints of others when choosing one's sources. And while were talking about acting reasonably, if not decently, a direct apology for creating the offense (not merely regretting that others were offended) and an invitation for dialogue with those whom he offended is called for. A little mea culpa, perhaps?

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16 September 2006

Standoff - Transmodal Reversal

This great ad for Microsoft Xbox makes me wish I was teaching undergrad media theory this semester:

But wait, I am, more or less, in my annual week at Högskolan för lärande och kommunikation in Jönköping, Sweden. And, for the first student who comes to me before the beginning of the first lecture and tells me why this ad is interesting, I'll buy you and two friends a beer at your choice of Carlson's, Harry's, or the Irish Pub (I can't remember the name right now) And Mattias - no fair telling the students about this post; see if they check me out before class starts!

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15 September 2006

Friends Don't Let Friends Buy From Amazon

The start of the new semester has been incredibly busy and hectic, with orientations for new students, organizing the deparment student association for the new year, launching the wiki-based course on organization development, and trying to get my own studying and research done. Top this off with multiple massmedia interviews on the news of the week, and I've been away from this voice. However...

Sometimes you come across something so egregious that you've just got to say, no, I won't buy from that company, no matter how useful their other services are. Sony is like that. Amazon has now become another one, like that.

Cory from boingboing reports on the unbelievably horrible licensing agreement associated with Amazon's new movie download service, Unbox, in a post appropriately called, Amazon Unbox to customers: Eat shit and die. Here is a summary of the terms you must agree to in order to "purchase" (more like rent with a permanent live-in security guard thrown in) movies via Unbox.
Once you install [Unbox software], it does what other programs that remote-control your PC against you do: stays resident and refuses to budge. It might phone home, it might check and re-check your licenses. Who knows? This is a cop that you're installing on your machine, and you're the perp. Its job is to watch everything you do and keep you in line.

The software you're agreeing to install today isn't the software you're going to have to run. Tomorrow, the day after, next week, and ten years from now, we plan to be forcing you into ever-tighter nooses. You don't have to install the updates, but if you don't, kiss the movies we sold you goodbye.

Click "I agree" and you've just signed away permission for Amazon to wiretap all of your viewing habits, and to search your entire hard drive continuously and report back on all the software you've installed. The entertainment industry can produce a blacklist of legal software that it just doesn't care for -- say, software that lets you take screenshots, or screen-movies -- and refuse to allow your movies to run if you've installed it.

If you delete our software, we delete your movies! Imagine if selling your old DVD player gave Jack Valenti permission to come over to your house and take away all your DVDs, too. [Of course, Jack is no longer president of the MPAA; only the poster boy of MPAA-wrought evil - MF]

Remember when you used to watch DVDs in the break-room at work, or in the common room at school? ... Forget about it. These movies can only be watched where and when we say.

We will put commercials on your computer without your permission. But you can't keep the good ones. ... If you move, or if you travel, we'll take your movies away.
Now, compare all that with, say, renting from Blockbuster or Netflix. Or, to consider the reversal that occurs with almost any form of DRM or "Technology Protection Mechanism," compare allowing Amazon such control and access to your computer with downloading the music, video or movie from, say, The Pirate Bay.

When is the entertainment industry going to learn that when you make things reasonably priced, trust and work with your customers, and offer real value, it's actually better for business. Punish those that are willing to pay the freight like Amazon Unbox is doing? How long do you think that business model is going to work?

(For those that are interested, I could explain what's going on using my Valence Theory model to demonstrate why Amazon is definitely not an organization of the future.

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11 September 2006

Net Neutrality and Valence Theory

Last week David Weinberger was on a panel with several representatives of the telecom world debating aspects of net neutrality. For me (oversimplifying, of course) the argument comes down to one of economics vs. hypothetics/ethics/moral suasion. The telecoms make the argument that they can offer valuable services in exchange for valuable money if the net is not "neutral" (let's not get too semantic about the meaning of neutral - that's not my point right now). The folks in favour of net neutrality (closely related to the world of ends) argue that differential service for differential price in access to basic infrastructure results in the ability for incumbants (not to mention service providers) to control the market and eliminate all but the most well-heeled potential competitors. (Note that I am not talking about differential pricing based on usage or consumption; rather the ability to effectively slow down a competitor if you pay enough.)

The telecoms' position makes perfect sense. As a matter of fact, according to almost every established business principle, it makes sense. There is no argument in favour of network neutrality that would stand the scrutiny of a class of MBAs (unless some social scientists happened to sneak into the lecture). And that's the problem.

Our current theories of organization - the ones that are being taught in countless business schools around the world - are inadequate to completely account for the net neutrality arguement. On the other hand, for organizations that are framed and theorized according to my valence theory, the net neutrality debate takes on a number of useful perspectives and nuances.

Along the economic valence the argument (and exchange of value) is clear, but only among the boundary set of organizations - the telecom companies and their customers. Extend the economic valence to include potential start-ups in the cluster and we see the breakdown (loss of value) in overall economic valence.

Socio-psychological valence is negative for a non-neutral net; positive otherwise (pre-emptive, anti-competitive behaviour may make the individual feel good, but in secondary or tertiary connection with others, is a negative).

Knowledge valence is reduced, since a non-neutral net arguably stifles innovation (preventing those who are not already in the game from gaining critical mass with innovative offerings before larger competitors can react - a non-neutral net will always give the advantage to the organization with deeper pockets); likewise identity valence, both for the innovators, and those who construct identity via social networks enabled by a neutral net.

Valence theory of organization allows us to understand specific effects that are likely to occur among the many constituencies with whom organizations interact, and anticipate a wide variety of environmental effects of the changed environment. As much of the dysfunction in the world brought about by corporations has been excused as "unintended consequences" it behooves us to ask, if they were unintended, why weren't they anticipated? The answer, I think, has much to do with our collectively limited understanding of organizations, and our inadequate frames of thinking about relationships and effects.

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06 September 2006

Shame on Air Canada - and Some of its Passengers

I heard about this on CBC radio yesterday.
An Orthodox Jewish man was removed from an Air Canada Jazz flight in Montreal last week for praying, the Canadian Broadcast Corporation reported on Wednesday. The man was a passenger on a Sept. 1 flight from Montreal to New York City when the incident occurred. The airplane was heading towards the runway at the Pierre Elliott Trudeau International Airport when eyewitnesses said the Orthodox man began to pray. "He was clearly a Hasidic Jew," said Yves Faguy, a passenger seated nearby. "He had some sort of cover over his head. He was reading from a book. He wasn't exactly praying out loud but he was lurching back and forth," Faguy told the CBC. The action didn't seem to bother anyone, Faguy said, but a flight attendant approached the man and told him his praying was making other passengers nervous.
I'll tell you what was making some of the other passengers nervous, and it wasn't the Orthodox man praying. Certain governments, formerly known as democracies, have been so successful at creating an environment of terro-noia that what would otherwise be ignored is now grounds for suspicion. Beware the "other" - the person who looks and acts different is a threat! Welcome to the Deep South, circa 1950s and 60s (and Toronto-the-not-so-good, circa the same time) courtesy of leaders who - not coincidently - were socialized precisely then.

For shame.

Update (6 Sep 2006): An anonymous commenter brings to my attention that a similar incident involving a Muslim doctor from Winnipeg occurred on a United Airlines flight last week (United is a Star Alliance partner of Air Canada). The shameful official statement from the airline completely misunderstands the issues and the stakes involved:
Brandon Borrman of United Airlines told the Winnipeg Free Press this week that the airline is obliged to take any allegations threatening passenger safety seriously, particularly in the wake of last week's arrests in the alleged bomb plot on flights from Britain to the U.S. "Whenever these types of claims are made we have a duty to investigate," Borrman said. "Our flight crews are trained to make safety the No. 1 priority."
It's their obligation to investigate praying?! It's unthinking, knee-jerk reactions like these that make all of us considerably less safe! I've got news for the "trained" flight crews: Real terrorists don't overtly pray on board flights before perpetrating dastardly deeds!
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05 September 2006


I just love Piled Higher and Deeper.

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Back to School, but Leave Your Web Access at Home

Two converging forces conspire to create the imperfect storm over the academy. Coming from one side is Access Copyright, the cartel representing the content production and distribution industries (but not necessarily the actual content producers themselves). And coming from the other is the Council of Ministers of Education of Canada. The issue revolves around the intent of those who produce content for the web, including me, and perhaps even you.

Access Copyright has proposed the notion that a license fee has to be collected from the relatively bare coffers of educational institutions - from K-12 primary and secondary schools through post-secondary institutions - to cover the use by students of material published on the web. The idea of diverting taxpayer money intended for education to line the pockets of Access Copyright's member organizations might not seem completely unreasonable, until one realizes that the vast majority of material put up on the web is not produced by their members, and is put there by folks with an intention that it will be shared and used largely for personal, non-commercial purposes.

The Education Ministers, on the other hand, reacting to Access Copyright's blatant cash grab, have proposed a specific educational exception for publicly available materials on the 'net. According to Michael Geist, the ministers' proposal is better than Access Copyright, but is still problematic in its own right. In his opinion, the specific exception is not needed because of the Supreme Court ruling in the CCH case, and may violate international law. In fact,
the implication of the exception is that using publicly-available Internet materials is not permitted unless one has prior authorization or qualifies for the exception. This is simply wrong - an enormous amount of online content is intended for public use or qualifies as fair dealing - and to imply otherwise sends the wrong message.
In the larger corporate sense, there is a feeling in some circles that everything on Earth should be under corporate control, even if that apparently means that a corporate cartel ends up appropriating what has been produced for the common good. Ultimately, such a move represents the end of knowledge production and innovation, and runs counter to the dominant forces of our post-industrial-age society. As Michael Geist says, "Everyone is entitled to fair use of content on the Internet. Canadians should let Minister Pupatello [Ontario] and her fellow education ministers know that their proposal will result in great harm to Canadian education from kindergarten to universities and colleges."

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