27 September 2008

Requiescat in Pace - Paul Newman, 1925-2008

One of the greats - a remarkable actor, and a remarkable human being - is now bringing his memorable and vivid characterizations to heaven. I imagine they're serving fresh salad, with Newman's Own dressing, at God's table. And speaking of meals, here is the classic scene from Cool Hand Luke, "no man can eat 50 eggs."

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24 September 2008

It's the Economy, Stupid

For me, it's 1991 all over again. Today, yet another client cancelled a scheduled engagement because of economic belt-tightening. That's the fifth cancellation this year, all because of economic conditions, representing a 50% drop in my income this year compared to last. 50%! Given that the economies in both Canada and the U.S. has been managed (and I use that term loosely) by right-wing, neo-liberal economics, I would say that the term "Conservative" is a misnomer.

For me, an ordinary Canadian, Harper's fiscal policies have been disastrous. Would I take a risk on Dion? Well, he certainly couldn't be much worse than Harper and his puppet finance minister, Jim Flaherty, who, come to think of it, really fucked things up in this province under Harper prototype, Mike Harris. I would risk Dion, Layton, May... hell, bring back Paul Martin!

Or, to paraphrase a certain campaign slogan, I'm not better off with Harper!

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Fighting Harper's War on the Arts

Marshall McLuhan was not one of Stephen Harpers vaunted, if mythical, "ordinary Canadians." He was an extraordinary Canadian, possibly the most famous Canadian our country has ever produced. Anyone who could have predicted the effects of the Internet era from the vantage point of 1964 is extraordinary in my book. So what the man - McLuhan, not Harper - has to say might merit listening to.

Here's McLuhan on the arts and artists:
  • "Art is anything you can get away with." (MITM)
  • "Art … like media of communication, has the power to impose its own assumptions by setting the human community into new relationships and postures." (UM)
  • "The artist is always engaged in writing a detailed history of the future because he is the only person aware of the nature of the present." (UM)
  • "The artist is indispensable in the shaping and analysis and understanding of the life of forms, and structures created by electric technology." (UM)
  • "The artist is the man in any field, scientific or humanistic, who grasps the implications of his actions and of new knowledge in his own time. He is the man of integral awareness." (UM)
  • "The artist makes new perception that changes all the social ground rules. The inventor creates products and processes that transform environments." (TT)
  • "Each new technology — new environment — is a reprogramming of sensory life. … The new one is always unperceived. We see the Emperor’s old clothes. Only children and artists are antisocial enough to see the new ones." (CB)
  • "Most discoveries are unexpected by-products of activities quite unconnected to them. Every artist makes breakthroughs as soon as he meets a difficulty." (TT)
  • "Poets and artists live on frontiers. They have no feedback, only feedforward. They have no identities. They are probes." (CIOB)
  • "The reason that “mission-oriented” research and development drowns in the superabundance of available data is very simply bypassed by the artist. He asks: What precise effect do I want to have on my public? What precise emotion do I wish to evoke and define? The artist starts with the effect, since the means to such an effect are everywhere." (TT)
  • "It is the distinction of the “artist” in any field that he commands this power to convey the effects of things when the ordinary person is merely numbed or robotized by things." (TT)
References: (UM) Understanding Media: The extensions of man; (TT) Take Today: The executive as dropout; (MITM) The Medium is the Massage; (CB) Counterblast; (CIOB) Culture is our Business.

And now, here's what Stephen Harper has to say: "I think when ordinary working people come home, turn on the TV and see a gala of a bunch of people at, you know, a rich gala all subsidized by taxpayers claiming their subsidies aren't high enough, when they know those subsidies have actually gone up – I'm not sure that's something that resonates with ordinary people."

The choice seems simple: a visionary on the arts, or an anti-intellectual, divisive politician on the arts.

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18 September 2008

My Plan: Kidnap Obama, Have Him Run for Prime Minister

Why, oh why, do none of our politicians sound like Barack Obama in his clarity and non-partisan vision for the future?

By the way, U.S. Secret Service? Just kidding on that whole kidnap thing. We're cool, right? Right?...

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17 September 2008

What is School For?

On Monday, I had the opportunity to once again be a panelist on TVO's The Agenda with Steve Paikin. I love doing Steve's show because he is one of the best panel moderators in the business, and the long format of the show allows for a good exploration of the issues among the panelists. This show was the beginning of TVO's Growing Minds Week, an examination of issues surrounding public education, appropriate for the beginning of the new school year. It asked the question, "Getting along or getting the right job, creating critical thinkers or creating citizens ... what is the purpose of a K-12 education?," and had Ben Dachis (C.D. Howe Institute), Donna Dasko (Environics Research), Usha George (Dean of Ryerson's Faculty of Community Services), Veronica Lacey (President, The Learning Partnership), Joel Westheimer (Professor of Education at University of Ottawa), and moi. Steve said afterwards that he knows it's been a good show if he's not tired at the end, that the guests have taken the topic and run with it. Monday evening, he was full of energy after the show, and I agree, it was a lively, stimulating and thought-provoking conversation among all of us.

Here's a link to a downloadable video of the show (it's a 112MB .mp4).

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15 September 2008

This Election Will Not Be Copyright (Unless Harper wins and then all bets are off!)

I've not blogged a lot about this election. There's really not much for me to say. The Harper Party has framed this election about image, and he's winning in that frame, although Jack Layton is a strong second.

Harper's agenda is no longer hidden - it's well known but mostly ignored by Canadians, who tend to focus on his authoritarian and doctrinaire leadership style as desirable - although for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Few of us individually would stand for Harper's style and methods in our respective families and workplaces; why should we stand for it collectively as a country?

To gain an insight on what Harper-style legislation might look like, consider the impact of former Copyright Reform Bill C-61 on your life, and then apply this to other, perhaps more important aspects of public policy:

For those who enjoy the Conservative Party scandals and playing fast and loose with the rules (until caught), the squandering of the fiscal surplus, the obvious futility of the Afghan military mission (tell the Taliban we're gone in just over two years, and they'll continue to pick off our soldiers, biding their time without incurring heavy losses on their side), the dismal ecological record, their record of anti-women policies, and on... well then, yes, go ahead and vote for Stephen Harper.


If you are choosing not to vote for Stephane Dion's Liberals because he doesn't appear as leaderly as Harper, or are choosing not to vote for Jack Layton because the NDP can't possibly form a government (I'm guessing that people will not choose not to vote for Elizabeth May or Gilles Duceppe and otherwise stay home), please reconsider what your apathy might mean to your day-to-day life, and vote ABC.

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Bad Reactions

I read the story about the undernourished (not malnourished) infant with some dismay and considerable disgust. Here is yet another example of the poor judgement exercised by the staff at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, yet another inappropriate and reactionary intervention by the Children's Aid Society, and yet another episode of bull-headedness by Toronto Police Service.

For those not following the news, here's a brief synopsis, not spun from the self-righteous perspective of imposed authority: An infant has multiple allergies to the various sources of nourishments, including prepared formulae, solid food, and even his mother's breast milk (which itself suggests that there's likely something in the mother's diet that's causing problems). He suffers from severe eczema (which is usually a manifestation of a systemic allergic reaction). The mother seeks treatment from a naturopath since the family's religious beliefs eschew conventional medical interventions. After some unsuccessful attempts, the naturopath recommends going to Sick Kids for some further tests. The mother takes the child for tests, and the hospital insists on admitting the child for a medical intervention. The mother chooses to think about the recommendation, leaves the hospital, and then returns a few days later, prepared to agree to the intervention (connecting the child to IV). In the meantime, a city-wide parent-hunt is launched to find this family, and upon presenting themselves at the hospital to have their child treated according to the medical staff's recommendation, the child is seized by CAS, and the parents are arrested by the police.

There was no evidence that this child has been abused, neglected or otherwise mistreated - in fact, all evidence and witnesses to the child's life tell an opposite story. Why, then, the over-reaction by authorities? Why the self-righteous proclamations about rescuing this child and putting him "in care."

The key has to do with that very elusive word, "care." What do the authorities at Sick Kids Hospital, the Children's Aid Society, and Toronto Police Service actually care about? As organizations, they sure don't care about parents, children or families. That's not to say that there are not individuals who care deeply about parents, children and families. Institutionally, these organizations are incapable of caring about people - they are designed to care for their own preservation and demonstrating the correctness and justification for their actions.

If the child (God forbid!) were to have succumb to malnutrition and the institutions did not act to "rescue" the child, the organizations' lack of action would (once again) be held up to public scrutiny. So they acted in the only way they know how: extreme use of force and coercion to preserve the integrity of their mission, and the correctness of their objectives and actions. Did the hospital obtain a proper, holisitic history of the family (as opposed to a simple medical history)? Did medical authorities, upon learning that the child was apparently allergic to his mother's breast milk, call in an expert from La Leche League to counsel the mother on allergens potentially passed from mother to child? On her first visit, did the hospital authorities treat the mother with compassion and understanding for her dilemma regarding treatment, and arrange for follow-up contact as she considered her alternatives, instead of immediately acting to confiscate the child - a terrifying act of aggression against any parent? Was the Emergency Task Force with its flak jackets, heavy armament and terrifying demeanour really necessary to deal with an already intimidated mother who is, and always has been, demonstrably concerned for the welfare of her child?

The parents appear in court this morning on charges of obstructing police, since that is the only thing with which she could possibly be charged - notably she is not being charged with any offence relative to the child, since she did nothing wrong, except possibly trusting the medical establishment to do right! I sincerely hope the justice who hears the case severely reprimands the hospital, the CAS and the Police Service for their inappropriate and heavy-handed action here. According to the unspun facts, it seems to me that the mother was acting both according to her conscience and in the best interests of the child. The institutions involved are culpable in doing neither.

(I could go into a Valence Theory explanation for the institutions' behaviours, but I think that it's fairly obvious - extreme focus on mission, objectives and outcomes, with no regard for the Identity and Socio-psychological valence relationships that the parents have in their religion.)

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04 September 2008

A Simple Choice

After watching a couple of days of the RNC, following hard on the heels of the DNC, it seems to me that the electoral choice for our neighbours to the south is relatively straight-forward. The Republican theme this time around is partisanship and patriotism: the positive version of Bush-the-Younger's "if you're not with us, then you're with the terrorists." It's easily seen: the continuously playing visual image of the stripes part of the stars-and-stripes fluttering on the big screen, the singing of the national anthem wrapped around the Pledge of Allegiance, the music that ranges all the way from country to western, the sneering pot-shots at the Democratic nominee (Giuliani was incredibly juvenile throughout his speech) and the predominant colour scheme in the room of red, white, and blue - with the emphasis on WHITE. And old (the middle name of the GOP).

In contrast, the Democrats staged an incredibly well choreographed convention, with a narrative arc worthy of any historical novelist. The theme of their campaign is unity and bipartisanship, and restoring the U.S. as the property of all Americans, not just those who are privileged, white, and well off in their retirement. Each of the speakers sounded like themselves, bringing their unique perspectives and personal contexts to the exigencies of campaigning. Contrast that with what the Republican nominee for Vice-President served up last evening - something that seemed like microwaved leftovers from the White House speech-writing kitchen, eagerly gobbled up by a convention hall that seemed to have many of the same characteristics of a wild-eyed lynch mob.

So it really seems to be a simple choice: do you vote for separateness, divisiveness and blind patriotism, or cohesiveness, welcoming diversity, and rebuilding? I recently saw a poll that indicated that 66% of Canadians would vote for the Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, if we had a vote. But sadly, we don't. Even more sad is the realization that we don't have a leader from any of our political parties with Obama's stature, vision, and true leadership ability to inspire (rather than what passes for leadership these days, namely the ability to dictate and bully).

But come to think of it, in our election we have exactly the same choice: divisiveness and bullying "leadership" with Harper's Conservative Party, or cohesiveness, cooperation and rebuilding with Dion's Liberals (and with due respect to Jack Layton, Elizabeth May and Gilles Duceppe, I'm only mentioning the two with the actual potential to become PM this time around). Unfortunately, 66% of Canadians won't be voting for the latter choice, but close to that amount will likely vote against the former choice. And, come to think of it, the election does come down to the simple choice of what style of leadership we want for our country - divisive and partisan, or inclusive and welcoming. A simple choice, I think.

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