28 January 2008

From King David's Thesis Defense

Psalms 35: 11-12
11. Ruthless witnesses come forward; they question me on things I know nothing about.
12. They repay me evil for good and leave my soul forlorn.

(Seen on a forum at PhD Comics)

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Kudos to Rx Canada

Some of you may have seen my previous posts about my confidential prescription information being released by Shoppers Drug Mart, apparently without my authorization, to a third party relationship marketing fulfilment organization, Rx Canada. I contacted their Privacy Officer, Wendy Nelson, (who is also the President of the company according to her voice mail message - an appropriate place for the role of Privacy Officer to reside). She informed me that there is supposed to be a procedure in place that required the pharmacist to obtain a written consent before enabling the transfer of prescription information. She also said that in the few cases she has seen previously, the pharmacy did indeed have a signed consent form, and that the patient had forgotten about. Ms. Nelson offered to follow up with my local Shoppers store and report back. She also said that my information was completely purged from their database, with no trace remaining. (She was most emphatic about the purge, as opposed to a mere deletion of index pointers, for example. Points for a good understanding of the technical issue.)

Today, I heard back from Wendy Nelson. I am apparently the first patient who has reported a concern about this program for whom there was not a signed consent. No big surprise to me - I wouldn't sign such a thing. But she did say that Shoppers (presumably corporate) is taking this breach very seriously as a procedural and systems problem in their organization. Apparently for most pharmacies that participate in the Rx Canada program, registering a patient is a two-step process, requiring extra work for the pharmacist, but necessitating the explicit systems entry of the informed consent information. In the Shoppers system, enabling the transfer of information is a one-step process that accompanies prescription order entry, making it easy to omit the necessity of obtaining the patient's consent. In a busy dispensary, or with inadequately trained staff, or in a moment of lapsed concentration... *poof* Confidential prescription information magically reappears on another company's computer, just like, well, magic.

Wendy Nelson lit a fire under Shoppers to address this problem, and to do it quickly. She takes this issue very seriously, as it potentially undermines both the basis of her business, and a useful mechanism to provide patient support and information to those who want it. She promises to follow up with Shoppers - including mounting an examination of other patients whose information may have been passed without consent - and to keep me informed on the progress, as she (correctly) perceives that my concern is systemic, and not merely personal. Kudos to a responsive, and responsible, organization.

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More Toronto Stupidity

Officials of the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant had better watch out or they could find themselves carrying a curse - and not just the curse of ignorance, bigotry, and religious intolerance that Karen Murray, Miss Toronto Tourism pageant director shamefully displays. As The Star reports today, Stephanie Conover, winner of the Miss Canada Plus Pageant last year, was first invited and then uninvited as a judge of this year's pageant. The reason? Over to you, Ms. Murray: "We just got her bio a week ago and we don't agree with it," said Karen Murray, Miss Toronto Tourism pageant director. "We want someone down to earth, not someone into the dark side or the occult. We need a judge who has an upright reputation and we would be proud to introduce to the audience," noted a Jan. 24 letter to the Miss Canada Plus group from Murray and another official with the Miss Toronto Tourism pageant.

"Our board of directors has eliminated her as a judge as tarot card reading and reiki are the occult and is not acceptable by God, Jews, Muslims or Christians. Tarot card reading is witchcraft and is used by witches, spiritists and mediums to consult the dark world."

The letter went on to quote a couple of passages from the Bible, including one from the book of Leviticus that warns, "Do not turn to mediums or seek out spirits for you will be defiled by them. We hope that Stephanie Conover will turn from these belief systems and will repent from her practice of them," the letter reads.

Turn from these belief systems? Repent? Repent?!!

Since when did Toronto turn into the Bible Belt? Since when is it the place for Toronto officials an independent group representing themselves as promoting Toronto tourism (Update: according to Torontoist, this group has no affiliation with any Toronto officials) to pass judgement on someone else's belief system (besides which, doesn't their good book claim that judgement belongs exclusively to the Lord? Look it up, Ms. Murray).

Ignoring, for the moment, the fact that Wicca is as valid a belief system as any of the Abrahamic religions, Tarot cards are a relatively harmless practice right up there with reading one's horoscope in the paper, or attributing personal traits according to the annual Chinese association with various animals. And reiki? Give me a break.

As much as beauty pageants are somewhat retrogressive, and don't quite rank with garbage as an issue, this bonehead move by Karen Murray, or any group claiming to promote Toronto tourism, is not only unacceptable, it is shameful, and brings ridicule and disrepute to Toronto. Mayor Miller, if you have a few minutes to spare after bringing down your first balanced budget (congratulations, by the way), please help Ms. Murray see the light, as it were. Anyone else is free to encourage Ms. Murray and her cabal to... ummm... repent for their own evil intolerance. And contacting their sponsors isn't a bad idea, either. And do the charities that this group claims to support really want to be affiliated with such intolerance?

After all, let she who is without fault cast the first stone.

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26 January 2008

Toronto: "If Wishes Were Horses..."

If wishes were horses then beggars would ride, goes the old nursery saw. And, having made this city my home for my entire life, I would say that this sentiment characterizes the way planning is done in city hall here. And given that almost every case put before a council that seems to pride itself in its lack of collective grey matter is rife with wishful thinking, Toronto is awash in unintended - more correctly, un-thought-about - consequences.

The latest nonsense coming out of City Hall is courtesy of Geoff Rathbone, the city's head of solid waste management, and his Rath-bonehead plan for new garbage bins. According to an article in today's Star,
Geoff Rathbone, Toronto's director of solid waste management services, confirmed that all households are expected to start using the new [large and too heavy for a person to actually carry] bin from day one, and provided some good explanations why everyone needs to get with the program.

The city is shifting to fully automated collections, Rathbone said, in which the worker driving a garbage truck never leaves its cab. Each year, the city replaces about one-eighth of its garbage fleet, with the most recent trucks coming equipped with mechanical arms that reach out to bins waiting at curbside, he said. The arms will pick a ban up, flip it upside down and empty the contents into the back before returning it to the boulevard.

Some of the older trucks have been retrofitted with arms, which means automated collections will soon become the norm across a fairly wide area of the city, said Rathbone. But the arms can't deal with bags, he said, and the efficiencies figured into automated pickups don't allow time for drivers climbing out.
Brilliant. Plan for a fully automated garbage collection system that might work well in the suburbs. Cut back the budget so that all collection trucks have one operator/driver instead of two. Then go and try to collect trash, recyclables, and compostables in the old City of Toronto proper, with on-street parking. For half the year, cars park on one side of the street for two weeks each month, and on the other side for the other two weeks. No automated arm can negotiate around or over parked cars. And the new bins will be too large, heavy and unwieldy to be carried between parked cars, as are the current garbage receptacles. So much for time efficiencies and the theory that one driver/operator can run a garbage route.

To add insult to the inevitable injuries that will occur with these new monster bins, many homeowners in the city core simply don't have space for the extra large bins. Rathbone's solution? Use the same bin, but alternate the contents on alternate weeks - one week fill it with recyclables, and the other week fill it with trash. And what are we supposed to do with the garbage and recyclables on alternate weeks? Did someone actually try to hire Marie Antoinette for this position?

And for all areas of the city, but again, particularly affecting the narrower downtown streets, what happens when it snows? How will the average homeowner negotiate the large bins to the curb? How will the automated arms fare through plowed windrows? In the presentation given by Mr. Rathbone to council, the identified "similar programs in North America" are located in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Jose, and Vancouver. Not exactly places known for narrow streets and snowbanks. Did it occur to anyone to critically question why this sort of program only exists on the west coast, and nowhere else on the entire continent?

As with any good bureaucratic sell-job, the presentation is filled with all sorts of flawed reasoning, errors in logic, and good, old-fashioned sophistry. Perhaps the best is the "Feedback from Pilot Areas" slide, that euphemistically compares "Positive" feedback (including "easier to use," "fewer trips to the curb," and "tidier") with "Challenges" such as "difficult to navigate" and "cumbersome for seniors." Three positive points, and two "challenges" - I guess it's a go! As with all city surveys that I've seen, I expect that this one, too, was conducted under the ideal conditions to obtain the desired result, and had questions framed more like a push poll.

I stand by my earlier observations on the products of our education system.

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25 January 2008

Meanwhile, Elsewhere in the Zeitgeist...

Things are indeed getting sort of scary!

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What Did They Know and When Did They Know It?

The Harper Administration is trying to have it both ways on this Afghanistan detainee torture file. For a government that is renowned for its tight control of information - everything including the lunch menu for the Parliament Hill cafeteria seems to go through the PMO - to deny knowledge of Canada's complicity in torture simply strains credulity. In trying to avoid the critical embarrassment of not acting as soon as the fact of torture was discovered by a Canadian diplomat, they conveniently hide behind the problematics of bureaucracy (which attracts my attention like a red flag attracts a bull):
When asked whether it was true that the military did not tell the government that the transfer of prisoners had been suspended, [the Prime Minister's communications director, Sandra] Buckler replied: “Yes. This is an operational matter and is the responsibility of the Canadian Forces. The military exercises discretion concerning the transfer policy and agreement.”... There was no need for approval from the high command because the ground commander in Kandahar had the authority. “The task force commander made his decision independently,” [senior military officer, Brigadier-General AndrĂ© Deschamps] said.
All of this is compounded by the conspicuous-by-its-absence mention of torture practices by the Manley panel. But why should we be surprised at this? The panel's conclusions had been previously published last October in the journal, Policy Options, long before the panel was a realpolitik twinkle in the Prime Minister's cynically partisan eye. Manley didn't know about torture then, so clearly, the panel wouldn't know about it now.

One of the justifications for Canada's continued role in Afghanistan is that pulling out a year from now would damage Canada's reputation in the eyes of the world. Commissioning a sham panel that used its chair's preconceived opinion as the findings to inform public policy doesn't damage reputation? Attempting to sweep our complicity in torture under the chair in a dank dungeon (which is where the torture implements discovered by the Canadian diplomat were laying in plain sight - what additional signs of complicity do you need) doesn't damage reputation? Prime Minister Harper, hiding behind bureaucratic plausible deniability, hiding behind the PMO communications officer, who hides behind email doesn't damage our country's reputation?!

The White House could learn a few lessons from Stevie.

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Learning to Research vs. Learning to Think

Lots of interesting news today – the creation of so-called artificial life by the J. Craig Venter Institute, and an opinion piece in the Globe about research skills in the age of Google. And to me, (wouldn’t you know) the issues have an interesting, but complex, connection. (The other interesting piece of news, namely, the controversy over Canada’s military policy with respect to detainee transfer in Afghanistan and the government’s denial regarding knowledge of systemic torture, will wait for the next post.)

Let’s start with the research skills item. The column reports on a study conducted by the British Library in collaboration with University College London that,
...spent years poring over its online resources' visitor logs to determine how young users were behaving. They discovered that – surprise, surprise – kids might not make the best researchers, even with a Google assist.

“Digital literacies and information literacies do not go hand in hand,” the report says. “A careful look at the literature over the past 25 years finds no improvement (or deterioration) in young people's information skills.
In fact, the study (and the column’s author) conclude that new technology doesn’t turn us all into information-seeking mavens, tacitly suggesting, as one would expect, that there is still an important role for libraries and people who are information-seeking mavens, namely, librarians.

There’s an old adage: seek and ye shall find. In the research game, this often means, ye shall find that which ye seek. Even those with admirable and well-honed research skills like those who conducted the study on behalf of the British Library and University College missed the larger context within which this question of understanding the world makes sense. An education system that teaches today's youth (and taught yesteryear's youth, as well) that finding a "right answer" and moving on to the next question is entirely culpable in fostering poor research and contextualizing skills, even among otherwise capable, professional researchers.

When history, for example, is taught as a collection of "right answers" set in a frame of winners and losers, when quantitative and post-positivist qualitative methods are overwhelmingly favoured among scholarly journals and policy makers alike, when the limitations of the scientific method are ignored, students are systemically trained that the world can be explained in a relatively straight-forward, deterministically causal manner, and that the name of the game is to efficiently find that answer. In an ironically reflexive way, there is little wonder that each new technology is embraced as a type of ultimate knowledge machine.

What the education system does relatively poorly is to train the critical thinking skills necessary to do proper and complete research. And for those who might jump to the conclusion that I'm anti-science, check out the John Ioannidis article from 2005 called “Contradicted and initially stronger effects in highly cited clinical research” in the Journal of the American Medical Association (vol. 294, no. 2, pp. 218-228), or his companion article in Public Library of Science - Medicine called, ”Why most published research findings are false.” You might also want to have a look at my article, How do we know: the changing culture of knowledge. And speaking about critical, when will the education system begin to teach an introduction to critical theory - issues of voice, power, marginality, inclusion and exclusion? With all of these as base preparation, then having instant access to a wealth of information online becomes truly useful.

Which brings us to the growing debate over the creation of the artificial bacterium, m. genitalium (which sounds like a South Park punch line if there ever was one). There will undoubtedly be much sturm und drang over the ethicality of creating life, and the potential for terrorist use, counterbalanced by its potential for (finally!) creating utopia and solving all of the world’s problems (notably in the current reportage, cast as a replacement for fossil fuels and a cure for global warming). Notice how this is set up as a debate between two polarities, rather than as a more reasoned examination and understanding of contexts. One answer will have to be right (so that the other one is wrong) – we just have to find the right answer, and then we can move on to the next question, just like we’ve all been trained to do.

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22 January 2008

In Valence Theory, Are There Really Third Parties?

My post on Creep-Out Marketing has attracted a lot of attention from the good folks at AstraZeneca, who have made that post the number one landing spot for my blog today (and number two after the main page, yesterday). Good to see that they're paying attention to what folks are saying about them among the blogs.

I have yet to receive any information from Rx Canada, the marketing organization that is in receipt of unethically obtained personal medical information. The opt-out phone number leads to a voice response system that invites the caller to enter the extension of the person I want to reach, or to access a corporate phone directory of names. Unfortunately, there's no entry for the Chief Creepiness Officer. The extension for the "Privacy Officer" (extension 222) listed on the website leads to a voicemail telling me that the person is away from their desk. Apparently all day long...

AstraZeneca, the company that seems to be paying the most attention to this, is perhaps the least culpable, since they are only a "partner" in Rx Canada's enterprise, providing what it thinks might be useful patient information. Somehow, I find it hard to believe that my local pharmacy staff went out of their way to release my personal information of their own accord. The dispensary staff are always keen to provide in-person counselling to customers, especially when filling a first-time prescription, so the need to take this initiative without first asking seems entirely out of character. Since this is clearly computer-driven, this seems most likely to be a corporate initiative, especially since it has the hallmarks of corporate marketing written all over it.

In a traditional BAH construction of organization, each party has plausible deniability for this infraction and violation of the College of Pharmacists Code of Ethics. Each distinct organization - AZ, Rx Canada, SDM Corporate, and My Local Pharmacy - is merely fulfilling its function. AZ supplies materials that are optionally available for patients. Rx Canada receives a supposedly vetted list of patients who supposedly opt in, with no responsibility for verifying that list. Indeed, RxC would have no way of verifying the list while staying within the bounds of confidentiality of medical records. SDM Corporate provides the infrastructure (and most likely the upload defaults), and My Local SDM Pharmacy Assistants, who hand me my filled 'script, are probably unaware of the defaults, or of the need to ask if I want the additional information, or any number of other excuses for how "the computer system" happened to pass my information up the marketing supply chain. In a BAH conception, each organization is distinct, each is doing its appropriate job, and the problems happen at the boundary interfaces.

As a valence organization, the emergent organization comprised of all of the above parties, and me, holds the responsibility for the systems-level screw-up. There are no so-called third parties, since the end customer is as much a part of the organization as the marketing department (and arguably, is a member of the marketing department), as are the others previously known as partners or suppliers. In a valence organization, you can't pass off responsibility because, by definition, you are all in the same boat and equally responsible for the effects. I must have missed seeing the invitation to the meeting at which the implementation plan for all of this was discussed. Damn spam filling up the inbox... One of these days I ought to go out and... Get off my lawn you hoodlums...

And what were the effects? An simple analysis of what happened according to Effect-ive Theory demonstrates that the principle of reversal has kicked in - the effect of the marketing initiative is precisely the opposite of what was intended. Instead of a post from an avid blogger saying, isn't the service and support from this drug manufacturer and this pharmacy retailer outstanding, you have a series of posts questioning the thinking of AstraZeneca's and Shopper's Drug Mart's marketing departments, and the ethicality of the intermediary third party's business endeavour.

Update (28 Jan 2008): Resolution of the issue is here.

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20 January 2008

Up Close and Personal With AmberMac

Via blogTO, an interview with Amber MacArthur done by Digital Journal Television about her history with CityTV, her recent firing by Rogers, and the future of newsmedia. I love her musings about the unsustainability of conventional TV news reporting:
I just can't understand how a format is sustainable when you need a cameraman, an editor, and a reporter, all to work together all day long to put together a minute and fifteen long piece as far as a story that will only air once, maybe twice, and disappears into the ether. Now, I'm no rocket scientist, but to me, that model does not seem to be sustainable, and I don't think that model can necessarily be profitable for very long when you have people out there producing content who are maybe one person, or a two-person team who can produce content that is really leveraged and used in multiple ways.

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19 January 2008

Are You Late to the Internet Party?

So now I'm wondering, who are Google's parents who aren't home for this?

Thanks, Christine.

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18 January 2008

Relationship Marketing? Try Creep-Out Marketing!

I recently changed lipid medication, effectively beginning a new prescription for a statin manufactured by Astra-Zeneca. Today, I received a thick envelope with the bold title "Inside: Important information you requested from your pharmacy." Strange, I thought. I didn't request any information from my pharmacy. Inside the envelope were several brochures, including a "Patient Information" brochure branded with the medication name, a "Daily Tracker" brochure to log what I eat and how much I exercise, a "My HealthyChanges" push-survey to "test" how much I've learned from the aforementioned brochures, and a pseudo-personalized letter from "Your Shoppers Drug Mart pharmacist" welcoming me to the Brand-Name-Drug "My HealthyChanges(tm) program."

Oh yes, there's also the disclaimer paragraph saying that if I want to opt-out, I can send in the opt-out card.

My question is simple: At what point in the prescription-filling process did I give my permission to opt-in? In other words, Shoppers Drug Mart, When did you ask, and I give, my written permission for you to disclose my prescription information to a third party marketing company?

This is wrong, bordering on corporate evil, in so many ways, and I will trust that the Ontario College of Pharmacists, the Ministry of Consumer and Corporate Affairs, and the Ministry of Health, will point out the error of SDM's ways in response to the letters I will be writing to each of them.

This program is run by a marketing consortium called Rx Canada, an unholy cabal comprised of the retail pharmacy industry, and the big pharmaceutical manufacturers. There is, of course, the obligatory Privacy Statement, not a word of which I believe for a second. They claim, " RX Canada only receives identifiable patient information if the patient agrees to participate in our programs. " I gave no such permission. In fact, the letter I received from Shoppers suggests that this is an opt-out program. And patients that choose to opt out are reminded, among other things, that "Canceling [sic - note the American spelling; does this give a clue as to where this comes from?] your participation means you will no longer receive ... telephone consultations with your pharmacist." Really nice customer service statement there, Shoppers.

Let me be clear: I am all for patient education and information. I am all for those with chronic conditions to maintain an healthy lifestyle, monitor key health indicators, and take appropriately prescribed medications regularly. Indeed, the majority of patients who are initially prescribed medications for chronic conditions do not maintain their medication regime beyond the initial prescription. This is, of course, what the companies involved with Rx Canada are seeking to address. Shoppers, AstaZeneca, and the rest of them don't really give a damn about my health. They just want me to keep buying: "By becoming an Rx Canada member, pharmacies and pharmacists can benefit in many ways [including] ... Supporting a pharmacy for pharmacy business model where program revenues are returned to pharmacies for professional services provided."

But they certainly don't encourage me to continue filling my prescriptions at Shoppers Drug Mart if I can't trust the pharmacy to safeguard my medical information from marketing companies.

From both the ethical* and marketing perspectives, this is wrong, wrong, wrong.

*Principle Three of the Code of Ethics for Members of the Ontario College of Pharmacists explicitly states, "Each member preserves the confidentiality of patient information acquired in the course of his or her professional practice and does not divulge this information except where authorized by the patient, required by law, or where there is a compelling need to share information in order to protect the patient or another person from harm."

Update (21 Jan 2008): This post was the number two "landing" page on my blog today, just after the main page itself. The vast majority of those hitting this page came from AstraZeneca and Shoppers Drug Mart, with no apparent referring URL. Fascinating.

Update 2 (22 Jan 2008): Today, up to the number one "landing page" by a 2:1 margin over the main page. The vast majority of landings are from AZ IP addresses. To all the AstraZeneca folk who are visiting, welcome! You may also be interested in this post.

Update 3 (28 Jan 2008): The resolution of the matter is here.

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17 January 2008

Before It's Too Late

A "friend" sent me this warning... before it's too late!

(Apropos the commentary on this thread over at Leigh's blog.)
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12 January 2008

Why Obama Will Win

Because the pilot was successful:
Now we come to Barak Obama, who may (God wiling) become the first Black President of the United States. Unbelievable.

But if it does come to pass, the unsung hero in all this (IMHO) will be Morgan Freeman. Morgan Freeman who has played the President of the United States more times than Ronald Reagan did (and better).. who prepared the American people, in their mind’s eye, for a Black President so well.

In America, we pilot reality in the movies first - if it plays, we go for it. If it doesn’t we kill it.

Like that series on TV about the Woman President. Did not rate.
He's got a point.

Update (3 Feb 2008): And he's got a stirring anthem!

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Royksopp - Remind Me

And while we're on oldies but goodies, here's one that won an honourable mention at Ars Electronica a few years ago.

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Vegetable Orchestra

I know I'm late to the meme party on this one, but for any of you whose mother said, "don't play with your food," remember that she didn't say, don't play your food.

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11 January 2008

Bullying in School (Boards)

One of the outcomes of the Falconer report into the tragic death of Jordan Manners at my own high school alma mater, C.W. Jefferys, is the revelation that
Teachers and school staff are too intimidated to speak out about violence in Toronto's public schools, a damning report charges. A school safety panel revealed yesterday that employees of the Toronto District School Board told them they feared that revealing school safety issues or anything that would reflect negatively on the board would be "a career-limiting move."

As a result, hundreds of incidents that should have been reported were not. This "culture of fear" led to a failure of the system and its overseers to protect students from violence, including robberies and sexual assault, on school grounds, the report said. "Jordan Manners died on May 23, 2007, of flat neglect, pure neglect," panel chair Julian Falconer said yesterday, referring to the 15-year-old whose shooting sparked the inquiry.
A bureaucracy's prime instinct is for its own survival, a priority even greater than that of the nominal mission or function of the enterprise itself (and note how I make the distinction between the two). In systemically suppressing news of nearly 200 violent incidents since the beginning of 2006, the Toronto District School Board's bureaucracy maintains the facade of so-called Safer Schools, even as it makes a show of suspending primary school students for such infractions as throwing snowballs. Ignore-ance is bliss, especially when image-conscious administrators can demonstrate that they get tough on problems with a "zero tolerance" policy on potentially life-threatening snow.

This behaviour on the part of the organization as a distinct entity, considered apart from the people who comprise it, can both be explained, and corrected, when a Valence Theory eye is cast toward it. In VT terms, the BAH (Bureaucratic, Administratively controlled, Hierarchical) school board has over-emphasized its Identity valence relative to the community at large, concurrently weakening its Socio-psychological valence, among all of its members - students, teachers, staff, and community. When deciding what to do about those who might report a violent incident, BAH-survival calls for maintaining Identity at all costs. A balanced valence approach, more consistent with a UCaPP organization, would consider the effects on Socio-psychological (not to mention Knowledge and Economic) valences, that would likely have resulted in doing the right thing. In the case of the TDSB, perhaps reporting and acting on the 177 violent incidents would have resulted in truly "Safer Schools" (which is the name of the Zero-Tolerance-Means-Zero-Thinking-Let's-Suspend-Children-of-Colour Act) and, critically, one more young man who could otherwise have thrown a snowball this winter.

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09 January 2008

A Picture of the Valence Organization

A person who is a member of one of my participant organizations asked if I could give her a diagram that illustrated my concept of the valence organization. Since the lingua franca of that organization is PowerPoint, I whipped up an infographic using PowerPoint that illustrates the concept.

You can read many more blog posts about Valence Theory, or just go for the nitty-gritty.

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08 January 2008

Stewart vs. Colbert - The "Anti-Unionist" Wins

It was clear last night that Jon Stewart is himself a member of the Writers' Guild of America, the union that is currently on strike to win a slice of Internet revenue for their repurposed content. The lameness (lame-ity?) of his return show demonstrated that he was still on strike and had nothing to offer his fans. His guest, a labour relations professor from Cornell, was as boring as he probably is in a lecture hall. The best Stewart could do was to change the "The" in "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" to "A."

Contrast this performance with that of Colbert (pronounced last evening as "Col-Bert in support of WGA). He was as sharp and acerbic as ever, lampooning not only his own tropes, but the intransigent position of the Alliance for Motion Picture & Television Producers, against which the WGA is striking. One of his guests, author Richard Freeman, an economist and author who argues for strong unions, could barely contain his mirth sitting opposite Colbert, delivering his simple but effective lesson with good humour. His other guest, Andrew Sullivan, delivered the sharp political commentary we have come to expect from Colbert (and Stewart) during the marathon run-up to an American election. For his part, Colbert clearly showed that he needs neither unions nor writers to make his true position eminently clear. His "The Word" segment was ironically silent - a succinct Menippean commentary on the situation. But in an odd way, Colbert is indeed correct. His return to the air showed that his ultra-right-wing persona can do quite handily without writers.

(And, of course, you do know that I argue that unions are obsolescent in a UCaPP environment, right?)

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06 January 2008

I {Heart} AmberMac

Ever since the first time I did an interview for Amber MacArthur I've been in love. Smart, sassy, insightful and knowledgeable about what's going on online, and the effects of the online on the offline world. Leave it to the bright lights - or should I say dim bulbs - at Rogers to deep six Webnation, Amber's show on CityTV, and her spots on CityNews International. Of course, Amber can still be seen and heard on commandN, her now two-year-old 'netcast. And that, of course, is Rogers's problem.

In a comment posted to blogTO, a "senior Rogers exec" named Kevin Bartus argues Rogers's position: "For us to really get behind something, it [a weblog] has to tip in above 100K at some point. Keep in mind that internally everything fights for attention with stalwarts like Sportsnet.ca, CityNews.ca, 680News, Chatelaine, Maclean's, etc. And that's not even counting the ISP, Cable and Wireless groups, which are organizationally separate."

See what I mean? Completely clueless as to what Amber does and how she does it. Despite protestations that "we're investing pretty heavily in the web," they simply don't understand that the Internet is not broadcast as in few-to-many; it is all about being Ubiquitously Connected and (therefore) Pervasively Proximate - in other words, many-to-whoever. It is all about being able to bypass the large content conglomerates, not to necessarily reach hundreds of thousands of viewers (which means conventional broadcast advertising revenues), but rather being able to reach the hundreds of people who are specifically looking for YOU, but don't necessarily know it yet. For Rogers, this might translate into crossover viewership and subsequent revenue - TechTV (another new Rogers property) which also formerly hosted Amber's show is another right place, making a wrong decision.

Having dealt with a Rogers senior exec myself, and sharing stories out of school with people who consult to Rogers senior execs, I can definitely say that they are not the brightest lights in the Canadian business marquee. The company may be successful based on their sheer marketing aggressiveness (been the target of some of that, too). But that doesn't mean they understand the cultural and societal changes stemming from UCaPP that will render them obsolescent.

Good luck AmberMac. Love ya, babe!

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