29 April 2010

PSA: Challenging a YouTube Take Down with Fair Use

A Public Service Announcement regarding the Fair Use dispute process on YouTube. Fair Use and Fair Dealing not only preserve our freedom of expression, they also preserve the freedom to observe, to create, to collaborate, and to produce - not merely consume - the culture.

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28 April 2010

Juxtaposition: The Future of the Future is the Present

Two items caught my eye today and together, they portend a dismal future that has already begun. I had optimistically hoped that politics and public opinion would shift to a more reasonable tenor after the last US presidential election. Sadly, the elevation of a progressive, man of colour has seemed to polarize the public even more than the divisive policies of the GWB era, intensified irrational fears, and strengthened the cynical politics of ideologues and would-be demagogues, both in the United States and here in Canada. Without carrying on a thousand words of diatribe and polemic, allow me simply to direct you to the recent bill signed into law by Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer, that mandates at-will, racial profiling and harassment by law enforcement officials in the name of stopping illegal immigration. In a country in which the right-wing discourse has been most recently dominated by an irrational fear of so-called socialism and the zombie-like bogeyman of communism, it is beyond ironic to me to see such a retrieval of a totalitarian practice emblematic of the former Soviet Union (not to mention the Stasi of the former East Germany). Recent acts of civil disobedience recalls a no less totalitarian regime from the opposite side of the political spectrum.

The second item portrays a dystopian present that represents a direct translation of such policies, and those promoted by the likes of fear, uncertainty, and doubt monger, Glenn Beck, the poster child of simplistic populism, Sarah Palin, their promoters at Fox News, and their myriad followers in the so-called Tea Party. The video is not safe for work, and not safe for younger or sensitive viewers. It is, however, worth thinking about with respect to very real possibilities in the United States, in Canada under a continued mandate (or God-forbid, a majority government) of Stephen Harper, and most certainly in the UK, Australia, France, Italy, and many other Western, supposed democracies.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Yes, this is a pessimistic view, and I will admit to a certain amount of dismay over the regression of civil discourse among what used to be called civil society. It is long past time for us all to seriously query our fundamental values and the ways in which we enact effects in the wider social, material, natural, and spiritual environments.

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19 April 2010

Job Opening: Director of the Movement for Happiness

Are you a happy person? Interested in promoting happiness among others and throughout society in general? Then this might well be the job for you! The Movement for Happiness is seeking a Director (although you need to apply quickly because the application process closes today; sorry if that makes you unhappy).

The Movement's objectives are quite serious, and outlined in its Manifesto:
We have a whole new science of happiness. Some of this confirms the wisdom of the ages, but much of it goes beyond. And the most striking finding of this research is that in Britain and the U.S. happiness has not risen over the last sixty years, despite the massive improvement in material standards of living. There has also been a sharp rise in the number of unhappy and disturbed children.

All this shows that our society is on quite the wrong track if its primary aim is to become richer. If we want to become happier, we have to exploit the other sources of happiness – above all the quality of our human relationships and our potential for inner harmony. 
Much of what the Manifesto describes is, not surprisingly, consistent with my thinking on Valence Theory in its wider context. And, in a very real sense, my planning for The Institute for Organizational Healing may well go a long way to support the aims and aspirations of the Movement for Happiness.

So even if you're not planning to apply for the directorship, you may well be interested in signing up, connecting with others interested in the promotion of happiness in a holistic way among relationships, health, personal values, personal freedom, and fair income. As the Manifesto concludes:
The time is ripe for this Movement. Our society is unnecessarily harsh and full of unnecessary suffering. We can surely move onto a higher plateau, with more happiness and less misery. But two things are needed for this to happen. First, we have to agree that that is the objective. And then we have to use all the available knowledge and all our spiritual strength to get there. In this Movement individuals who participate are likely to become happier. But, more important, they will have helped to create a happier world.

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11 April 2010

Culture as the Context of Science, Behaviour as its Consequence

Paul Ehrlich, professor of population studies at Stanford, provides an interesting perspective on the connection between the gap in understanding complex science (and its effects on humanity - resource and habitat depletion, climate change, and the rest) and what he calls the culture gap in understanding the complexities of diverse, contemporary life. For example, he writes,
For most of our species’ existence, all members of hunter-gatherer bands possessed virtually the entire body of their group’s non-genetic information—its culture. But since the agricultural revolution, and especially in the past century or two, that situation has changed completely. No living person knows even a billionth of the cultural information possessed by humanity. No reader of Seed could assemble a 747 from its parts, let alone tell how each part was manufactured, where, and from what. Of course, there’s no way to close that enormous culture gap now. But critical parts of it could be filled in, so that most people would know, for example, what an ecosystem service is, the difference between ozone depletion and climate disruption, the biological significance of skin pigmentation, and the importance of the second law of thermodynamics.
His proposal is an interesting one: the social sciences and humanities should be restructured - "rebooted" as Dr. Ehrlich suggests - to be more integrative in providing an understanding of human behaviours and motivations in order to deal with practical approaches to complex, contemporary problems. He describes it like this:
Our civilization must move toward the formation of a sustainable, empathic, global family. Its members must be able to cooperate intensively to deal with global problems before it is too late.

That’s why a group of natural scientists, social scientists, and scholars from the humanities decided to inaugurate a Millennium Assessment of Human Behavior (MAHB, pronounced “mob”). It was so named to emphasize that it is human behavior, toward one another and toward the ecosystems that sustain us all, that requires both better understanding and rapid modification. The idea is that the MAHB might become a basic mechanism to expose society to the full range of population-environment-resource-ethics-power issues, and sponsor research on how to turn that knowledge into the required actions. Perhaps most important, the MAHB would stimulate a broad global discussion involving the greatest possible diversity of people, about what people desire, the ethics of those desires, and which are possible to meet in a sustainable society. It would, I hope, serve as a major tool for altering the course of cultural evolution.
A worthwhile proposal, I would say. Most important, MAHB recognizes the problematics inherent in disciplinary separations that emerged from the 17th century, laid the framework for modernity, and provide the constricting boxes in which we're now stuck (and attempting, often in vain, to think outside of them without falling into cliché). New, perhaps radical, models of human systems might well do the trick, since our models are generative, not merely descriptive. And from my corner of the world, it sure seems like we've generated a bit of a mess up to now.

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