31 March 2007

Product of American Education

Education includes more than formal, kindergarten to grade 12 and post-secondary education. Education is little-p political, seeking to impose a particular form of mental discipline and assert a particular agenda of power relationships. Ideally, at least in my book, the result of systems of education is the type of enlightened and emancipated society in which we all can live, thrive, and be fulfilled and happy. Then again, there are people with other agendas, especially when it comes to science. It's the guy's sincerity that makes this snort-out-your-nose funny.

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29 March 2007

Not TOO Mellow at the Seder

Although four cups of wine can make you mellow at the Pesach seder (or fuel the sometimes inevitable family feuds), marijuana is definitely out! According to Israel's pro-pot political party,
Cannabis is among the substances Jews are forbidden to consume during the week-long festival, which begins Monday, said Michelle Levine, a spokeswoman for the Green Leaf party. Biblical laws prohibit eating leavened foods during Passover, replacing bread with flat crackers called matza. Later injunctions by European rabbis extended those rules to forbid other foods like beans and corn, and more recent rulings have further expanded the ban to include hemp seeds, which today are found in some health oils _ and in marijuana.
This falls under the ruling on kitniyot, which does not apply to Jews who follow the Sephardi tradition.
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27 March 2007

This is Not About Blogging

I felt waves of nausea this morning as I read danah's commentary on Kathy Sierra's horror. Although I don't usually follow Kathy's blog, she is both a prominent blogger and an in-demand speaker, who cancelled her workshop at this year's ETech conference because she has been terrorized by a campaign of death threats and the worst forms of sexual violence. I won't recite the details; danah and Kathy do that quite adequately.

So-called cyber-bullying has been prominent in the news of late. In the context of the school incident, in which a principal was allegedly (it's before the courts) slandered on Facebook, I think the incident was handled poorly by officials. The fact of the use of Internet services doesn't make the show of disrespect particularly special. Rather, I think it provided a teachable moment for conflict and anger resolution that was missed by the educators in question. Similarly, the threats directed at Kathy Sierra are not about Internet services - blogging and the "culture of the blogosphere" - either. It is about the ethos of a society that remains brutal, misogynistic, and quick to use fear and threats to create power and control - in other words, a society that (not so) secretly harbours, and often encourages, terrorist behaviours.

As was reported on many years ago by Julian Dibble, the effects of such incidents - especially on women - are real and persistent. The greatest terrorist threats to individuals are not from people who live in far-away places from a different culture. They are sadly among us, looking like us, speaking the same language as us, socialized in a culture that has somehow created that obscene mentality.

Update (2 Apr 2007): Both Kathy Sierra and Chris "Rageboy" Locke have posted a joint statement on this incident that gets at the heart of the matter, and at least resolves some of the apparent enmity between the two of them.
Kathy: Chris and I are in complete agreement that it would be tragic if this incident were used as a weapon by those who would limit free and open exchange. My desire is for much more open debate on this issue, not legislated limits. The overwhelming, incredible support so many have given to this issue makes me very hopeful, and the positive result of all this has been the conversation that's taking place right now, between so many people. This could be a very important moment if we stop, think, and talk about the kind of future we really want online, and make certain we don't give up something more important in the process.

Chris: Misogyny is real -- and vile. Violence against women is wrong. It must not be tolerated. This issue should be explored and discussed, not swept under the rug, not rationalized away. At the same time, we need to look closely and carefully at the implications for free speech. The First Amendment allows and protects language that many find noxious. But there are forces in the world at present -- not least in the US -- that would leap at any opportunity to limit speech or even abolish certain forms of it. Crucial as is the current debate about hate speech directed at women, it would be tragic if this incident were used as a weapon by those who would limit free and open exchange.

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25 March 2007

Meet the Committee

One (among many) item(s) that was missed during last week's run-up to the conference was the news that my thesis proposal was officially accepted, and my committee was officially constituted. Three cheers and a tiger for me! (That from a classic Bugs Bunny cartoon, A Lad and His Lamp, voiced by the incomparable Jim Backus.) Allow me to make the introductions:

My supervisor is Marilyn Laiken, one of Canada's leading practitioners of organizational change, and current chair of the Adult Education and Counselling Psychology department. Marilyn was the person to whom I first wrote when I was contemplating applying for my master's degree. Since that first conversation over lunch, she has become a mentor, an inspiration and good friend. It is in large part thanks to Marilyn that I am doing the research that I am, as it was in her course on the history and theory of organization development - in my first semester as a master's student - that the seminal sparks of my doctoral research were kindled.

The second member of my committee is Derrick de Kerckhove, director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology. Derrick was the person who opened the door of academe to me, breaking the conventional rules (as is his wont) and providing me with the opportunity to explore new and strange ideas (as is my wont) in my five years as Chief Strategist at the McLuhan Program. He is my co-author of McLuhan for Managers: New tools for new thinking, and, like Marilyn, is a mentor and dear friend. Derrick and I have collaborated on many projects, and I am thrilled that he continues to be involved in my work about the UCaPP effects on organization.

The third member is someone whom I have only recently met - Ann Armstrong of the Rotman School of Management. In the short time that I have known Ann, we have had several delightful conversations, both in person and via email. Ann impresses me with a sensibility toward the research and dissertation process that is both compatible with that of Marilyn and Derrick, and conducive to providing the type of support and advice that will facilitate my completion.

Just the ethical protocol to complete and have passed by the university's ethical review board, and I'm off and running. I will soon be looking for organizations (and three individuals from each participating organization, at relatively higher, medium and lower hierarchical levels) that might want to participate in establishing the parameters of the Valence Theory of Organization. So if you might be interested in contributing to, and having an early glimpse at what might constitute tomorrow's management vocabulary for the proverbial "organization of the future," drop me a line.

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20 March 2007

Hillary Clinton, 198.... err... 2008

This is a clever mashup of the famous Apple "1984" television ad with the Hillary Clinton campaign "conversation" speech. Obviously done by an Obama supporter, it demonstrates the power of cultural zeitgeist and deep cultural references, the art of mashup (which, when used purposefully in this way, is a latter-day form of Menippean satire), and the brilliance of YouTube's dissemination model for reach.

Traditional broadcast television (by which I mean, including cable and satellite) will remain important among the pantheon of partisan political influencers... at least for now. But to reach the growing demographic of UCaPP-native voters, many of whom will be eligible to vote for the first time in the coming elections (both in the U.S. and here in Canada), the effects of social network political suasion must be fully understood. It means that the central party office cedes control to its supporters in order to extend its reach to those who have traditionally been out of reach. YouTube, blogs, Facebook and the rest are not merely ways of broadcasting (and being on) message. Rather they are places in which language and meaning translation occur - from parents' politics to "our" politics. It's an important transition - as important as the turning point of the famous Kennedy-Nixon debate was in cementing television's role in broadcast politics.

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Graduate Research Conference at OISE - March 23 and 24

I've been busy over the past couple of weeks organizing the 7th annual Dean's Graduate Student Research Conference here at OISE. I'm co-chair this year, along with my colleague, Paul Adjei. With nearly one hundred participants covering an incredible spectrum of topics and areas of inquiry, and a new format that encourages interaction between presenters and audience members, this promises to be the most exciting and engaging Graduate Student Conference yet.

The conference is open to the public, so if you are in, or close to, Toronto this Friday or Saturday, please join us for a glimpse into the future of education in its widest sense by observing the present of education research. You’ll hear about the latest thinking and research on such themes as Public Health, Leadership, Diversity, Knowledge Production and Validation, Second Language Acquisition, Technology, Inclusive Praxis, Indigenous Praxis, Identity Construction, Math and Science, New Media, Participatory Democracy, and much, much more. Wouldn’t you want to learn more about the latest research and thinking across such a wide array of ideas?

The conference runs both Friday and Saturday, March 23 and 24 (with some of the more interesting sessions happening on the Saturday). Full details of the schedule are posted. Our keynote speaker this year is Professor Gregory Dimitriadis, from the Graduate School of Education, SUNY at Buffalo. He will be speaking beginning at 17:00 on Friday afternoon, followed by a wine and cheese reception, featuring the Michael Rosenthal Jazz Trio.

Please join us for several of the sessions, or even the entire two days. You can register for the conference online, or at the door on either day. We’re confident that you will find this year’s conference a worthwhile window on the forefront of pedagogical research, right here at OISE. We're located at 252 Bloor Street West at the St. George subway station.

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14 March 2007

Net Neutrality and the View from the Cable Industry

David Weinberger entered the belly of the beast, so to speak, when he presented at the Cable Television Public Affairs Association meeting. The reaction he received was less than warm, to say the least.
But I really annoyed them when I complained about the panel's whining about competition. I said that the cable market isn't competitive. People yelled from the audience. I said that where I live, the town has franchised only one cable provider, although I think we're letting in a second. But, people in the audience said, I could get the Net by satellite or DSL. A more gracious and honest person would have accepted that, and clarified: Cable competes with other forms of delivery, but generally doesn't compete with other cable companies within a region...although they compete for franchises. I instead just got sarcastic. Yeah, real mature.
But what was particularly interesting was his exchange with a person from Time Warner on the topic of net neutrality.
During the panel beforehand, and in a conversation with a different Time-Warner guy afterwards, they kept coming back to their concern that if Net neutrality passes, the cable companies won't be able to raise capital. Oddly, the TW guy also argued that TW has absolutely no intention of violating Net neutrality. So, I said, TW ought to announce that and take the wind out of the NN sails. But announcing that, he said, would discourage investors. But, I said, it's either part of their business plan or it's not. We did not come to closure on that point. And I'm personally not convinced that that's the real reason they oppose Net neutrality. It sounds to me like a supporting reason, as is the argument that since no one has violated NN yet, we don't need a law forbidding people from violating it, as well as the "Google is getting a free ride" line of reasoning. I think — and I'm indulging my hunches here — that the real reason they oppose NN is that they want to ensure their subscribers have a "good experience," where the criteria of a good experience are those that govern expectations for how television works. They're thinking that users most of all want to be able to watch programs in high def and on demand, and so those packets need to get preference. They are frustrated by Web fanatics who want to hold back this rational load-balancing. The cable companies are in the business of selling us video content, and they see their ability to satisfy their customers being hampered by fanatics holding on to an out-dated architectural principle.

There are, of course, answers to this argument, but I think the primary response should be: No commercial entity should get to decide which experience needs to be optimized. Maybe I want to watch high def video, but you want to play video games, and someone else wants to download the high-resolution scan of the Bayreaux Tapestries. It's not obvious that video should win. The decision should not be made by the people who have a vested, commercial interest in the outcome. IMO.
I think this exchange offers some interesting insights. First, it highlights the disparate grounds of the carrier industry vs. the Save The Internet folk, and the fact that they are each talking past the other. Second, it highlights the attitude among the carriers that THEY know best what the "consumer" wants. The fact is that the people formerly known as consumers are no longer merely consumers, and the carriers are not delivering content - as McLuhan famously said, the user is the content. 'Net carriers are delivering people and their experiences to each other; hence a big difference vis-a-vis the neutrality/Quality-of-Service debate.

The corollary to this attitudinal conflict is what I'm hearing from the marketing/branding/advertising front-lines, that is, the brands must now "play by the consumer rules" (this is from the CEO of one of the household-name consumer and packaged goods companies). In the carrier industry, "playing by the consumer rules" at the very least means truly listening to the users' concerns about the loss of the end-to-end principle, which is what net neutrality threatens. This last point is not one that I'm hearing a lot of, especially from the companies that have built their fortune on that very principle's backbone.

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02 March 2007

Keith Gives Condi a History Lesson

This is priceless. (Make sure you haven't got anything in your mouth as you view this or it will end up all over your screen as you snort with laughter!) MSNBC's Keith Olbermann gives Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice a history lesson:
On the Sunday Morning interview show, Broken Record on Fox, Dr. Rice spoke a paragraph which, if it had been included in a remedial history paper in the weakest high school in the nation would have gotten the writer an F, maybe an expulsion.

(Thanks, Christine!)
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