no more political attack ads

An election hasn’t even been called, but The Harper Government has been running ads nonstop, trying to discredit any alternatives to The Conservative Party of Canada. The attack ads have to stop. I [just signed the petition by the Green Party](http://greenparty.ca/change-the-channel) to try to reign in this madness.

For the likely 2011 federal election, I refuse to vote for *any* party that runs attack ads. Stand *for* something, not against.

The Whale and the Reactor: Mythinformation

More notes on Langdon Winner’s *The Whale and the Reactor*, published in 1986. A decade before the internet really began to take off.

Chapter 6 deals with “mythinformation” or the myth that increased access to information via computers and networks leads to increased individual democratic power.

On the great equalizer:

> The computer romantics are also correct in noting that computerization alters relationships of social power and control, although they misrepresent the direction this development is likely to take. Those who stand to benefit most obviously are large transnational corporations. While their “global reach” does not arise solely from the application of information technologies, such organizations are uniquely situated to exploit the efficiency, productivity, command, and control the new electronics make available. Other notable beneficiaries of the systematic use of vast amounts of digitized information are public bureaucracies, intelligence agencies, and an ever-expanding military, organizations that would operate less effectively at their present scale were it not for the use of computer power.

on conservatism rather than revolution in the computer age:

> Current developments in the information age suggest an increase in power by those who already had a great deal of power, an enhanced centralization of control by those already prepared for control, an augmentation of wealth by the already wealthy. Far from demonstrating a revolution in patterns of social and political influence, empirical studies of computers and social change usually show powerful groups adapting computerized methods to retain control.

on political arguments for digitization:

> The political arguments of computer romantics draw upon a number of key assumptions: (1) people are bereft of information; (2) information is knowledge; (3) knowledge is power; and (4) increasing access to information enhances democracy and equalizes social power. Taken as separate assertions and in combination, these beliefs provide a woefully distorted picture of the role of electronic systems in social life.

on public participation in politics:

>Public participation in voting has steadily declined as television replaced face-to-face politics of precincts and neighborhoods. **Passive monitoring of electronic news and information allows citizens to feel involved while dampening the desire to take an active part.** If people begin to rely on computerized data bases and telecommunications as a primary means of exercising power, it is conceivable that genuine political knowledge based in first-hand experience would vanish altogether.

on social paralysis by ubiquitous monitoring:

>Confronted with omnipresent, all-seeing data banks, the populace may find passivity and compliance the safest route, avoiding activities that once represented political liberty.

on removing social buffers:

>One consequence of these developments is to pare away the kinds of face-to-face contact that once provided important buffers between individuals and organized power. To an increasing extent, people will become even more susceptible to the influence of employers, news media, advertisers, and national political leaders.

I’m guessing the book read like a breathless fringe manifesto. It’s surprising how accurately Winner’s predictions describe modern society. Passivity and complacency, the illusion of connectedness in the face of isolation, real democracy collapsing under the weight of increased media exposure and ubiquitous monitoring of citizens.

on democratic leader’s debates

It appears as though 3 of the 4 major national political parties have balked at the suggestion that Elizabeth May represent the Green Party at the televised leader’s debates.

The Green Party is a valid national party, now with a seat in Parliament (although the member was previously an Independent who switched to Green, not an elected Green MP).

According to The Canadian Press,

But Prime Minister Stephen Harper said Monday that letting May into the debate would be in essence allowing a second Liberal candidate to participate.

He said it would be fundamentally unfair to have two candidates who are essentially running on the same platform in the debate.

Really?

Harper gets to decide on who gets to participate in the debate based on his assessment of the uniqueness of their platform? That’s not how democracy works. The leader does not get to decide which voices get to be heard, or which issues will be discussed.

All this exercise tells me is that the televised leader’s debates are nothing more than sanitized synchronous press releases. If it was a valid and honest debate, the Green party would be represented (as well as, perhaps, a few other parties).

And Harper wasn’t the only leader to threaten to boycott the debates if the Greens were allowed to participate. The only leader that welcomed May was Stephane Dion. Which means that Layton and Duceppe are right up there with Harper in avoiding a real, meaningful, democratic debate.

Threatening to boycott a debate if another valid candidate is invited to participate? Childish and undemocratic.

Update: And for the Canadian media outlets that decided to not invite May to the debate so as not to upset the other candidates – you just lost any shred of objectivity. You are no longer a separate, objective, impartial media. You are nothing more than media outlets. You are not journalists, you are not unbiased. You are a press-release distribution network. The right thing to do would have been to respond to the 3 candidates that they are welcome to participate in the debate, and would be missed by the voting public if they choose not to show up.

Update 2: w00t! score one for democracy in Canada! The Green Party will be at the debates!

Agents Provocateurs

This week, at the North American Leaders Summit in Montebello, Quebec, 3 undercover police officers pretended to be protesters in an attempt to provoke violent incidents. The entire series of events was captured on video, and shared via YouTube. The cops are the three goons with bandanas over their faces. None of the real protesters wore disguises. One of the cops is carrying a rock.

Agents Provocateurs with a rock

Agent provocateur with a rock in his right hand.

The real protesters intervene, trying to prevent violence. Somehow, they realize that the agents provocateurs are cops, and accuse them of that. The fake protesters stop dead in their tracks, and one of them can be seen leaning over and talking with one of the uniformed riot police – over the riot shield – and shortly afterward, the three “protesters” are yanked out, “arrested” and carried to the safety of the police side of the line.

The Quebec Provincial Police have admitted that the 3 “protesters” were cops in disguise.

Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party of Canada (and, one can only hope, future Prime Minister of Canada) wrote a description of the event on her blog (the Green website is Drupal, by the way…) Similar events allegedly happened in Seattle and Quebec City. Police either staging or allowing violence in order to justify cracking down on protesters.

This is unacceptable. I expect all police officers involved in this action to be summarily fired. And the entire chain of command, up to whoever ordered this. We can’t stand for our police forces to be instigating violence. Thankfully this didn’t happen this time. But it was damned close.

As a Canadian citizen, I demand an inquiry. I demand it to be public and open. And I expect for this to never, ever happen again. We are above this.

What scares me is this – what would have happened without YouTube to get the video out? There was video taken at Seattle and Quebec City, but it stayed on analog tape and didn’t get as widely circulated. This is why “Web 2.0” is important. Never mind personal publishing for cat blogging, and ego surfing and identity management. The reason Web 2.0 is changing the world is by putting the power back into the hands of individuals. Democracy is mass media, in action.

Political Faux Pas

On Monday, I attended a memorial for a family member that passed away recently (part of the reason I was in a bit of a funk during Northern Voice). It was the culmination of a long illness, but was still a shock.

At the memorial, a friend of hers stood up to say some words. Not a bad speech, and a nice gesture. They had met while working to pass some legislation to protect self employed individuals in the province. I talked with him after the service, at the reception upstairs. And then he did something that really unsettled me. He handed me his card. He is a politician, working he crowd for support. I saw him handing out cards around the room, making sure to talk to everyone at every table.

At the time, it didn't bother me too much. He was a friend of the deceased, trying to make contact with other friends and family members.

But, the more I think about it, the more incensed I get. Dude. You're handing out BUSINESS CARDS at a MEMORIAL??? I don't care if you're the freaking widower. That's just plain and simple NOT COOL. I don't care if you're a politician, a salesman, or a dotcom billionaire. Using a family memorial to work the crowd to gather support (no matter how subtly done) is a huge faux pas in my book.

I was asked by several people during the reception about the "guy handing out cards" – people were surprised that anyone would have the gall to do that. I'm stunned. Even though I could never bring myself to vote Progressive Conservative in the next provincial election, I will not be able to vote Liberal either. If this is the type of person selected by the Liberal party of Alberta, it isn't a good sign.

Not cool, Len. Not cool. 

On Monday, I attended a memorial for a family member that passed away recently (part of the reason I was in a bit of a funk during Northern Voice). It was the culmination of a long illness, but was still a shock.

At the memorial, a friend of hers stood up to say some words. Not a bad speech, and a nice gesture. They had met while working to pass some legislation to protect self employed individuals in the province. I talked with him after the service, at the reception upstairs. And then he did something that really unsettled me. He handed me his card. He is a politician, working he crowd for support. I saw him handing out cards around the room, making sure to talk to everyone at every table.

At the time, it didn't bother me too much. He was a friend of the deceased, trying to make contact with other friends and family members.

But, the more I think about it, the more incensed I get. Dude. You're handing out BUSINESS CARDS at a MEMORIAL??? I don't care if you're the freaking widower. That's just plain and simple NOT COOL. I don't care if you're a politician, a salesman, or a dotcom billionaire. Using a family memorial to work the crowd to gather support (no matter how subtly done) is a huge faux pas in my book.

I was asked by several people during the reception about the "guy handing out cards" – people were surprised that anyone would have the gall to do that. I'm stunned. Even though I could never bring myself to vote Progressive Conservative in the next provincial election, I will not be able to vote Liberal either. If this is the type of person selected by the Liberal party of Alberta, it isn't a good sign.

Not cool, Len. Not cool. 

Death of a Dictator

I had a long post written up about the execution of Saddam Hussein. I decided at the last minute to not click the “Submit” button. But, my friend Niran wrote up an eloquent post that says it much more clearly.

One thing I’d add is this: I’m truly curious about the proportion of the American population that think Saddam was executed as part of the War on Terror, or to grant democracy in Iraq. His execution had nothing to do with either (no WMDs have ever been found, and execution by a foreign power – even through a fledgling local puppet government – is no way to instill democracy).

I had a long post written up about the execution of Saddam Hussein. I decided at the last minute to not click the “Submit” button. But, my friend Niran wrote up an eloquent post that says it much more clearly.

One thing I’d add is this: I’m truly curious about the proportion of the American population that think Saddam was executed as part of the War on Terror, or to grant democracy in Iraq. His execution had nothing to do with either (no WMDs have ever been found, and execution by a foreign power – even through a fledgling local puppet government – is no way to instill democracy).

Justin Trudeau Speaking at the U of C

I just checked in on weblogs.ucalgary.ca, and was greeted by a wonderful surprise. Justin Trudeau was on campus on Friday November 24, and the full audio of his talk was posted to weblogs.ucalgary.ca as a podcast. I’ve grabbed the file, and have listened to the first couple of minutes, but this should be a great talk.

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name Justin Trudeau, he is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and is making quite a name for himself as both a public speaker and leader of youth activism.

I’m really interested to hear his thoughts on Quebec as a “nation” as well as his take on what we can do to address environmental issues. (my own take on the Quebec “nation” issue is that it only acts as a divisive instrument – instead of what we need, which is something that is unifying)

This is the kind of thing I’m hoping we can put into a itunes@UCalgary service, once we get that off the ground. For now, it’s hosted on our weblogs service.

I just checked in on weblogs.ucalgary.ca, and was greeted by a wonderful surprise. Justin Trudeau was on campus on Friday November 24, and the full audio of his talk was posted to weblogs.ucalgary.ca as a podcast. I’ve grabbed the file, and have listened to the first couple of minutes, but this should be a great talk.

For anyone who doesn’t recognize the name Justin Trudeau, he is the son of former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau, and is making quite a name for himself as both a public speaker and leader of youth activism.

I’m really interested to hear his thoughts on Quebec as a “nation” as well as his take on what we can do to address environmental issues. (my own take on the Quebec “nation” issue is that it only acts as a divisive instrument – instead of what we need, which is something that is unifying)

This is the kind of thing I’m hoping we can put into a itunes@UCalgary service, once we get that off the ground. For now, it’s hosted on our weblogs service.

Garth Turner for Prime Minister!

Sami beat me to the punch, but it’s worth publicly repeating. Garth Turner, MP for the Halton Constituency in Milton, Ontario, was booted out of the Conservative Party yesterday. For blogging. An elected member of parliament was Dooced.

Here’s the comment I posted on Sami’s blog, but I want to repeat it here as well (in case someone like the MP for my riding happens to see it):

It’s strange. This is our Government, and they boot someone out for documenting meetings and voicing honest opinions. Isn’t that what we do every day? Isn’t that what we should expect, even demand, from our representatives? The MPs represent US, not Harper. They have (IMO) an obligation to be honest (and open, and public) participants, not party mouthpieces.

Turner was booted out because he was openly communicating with his constituents, even when he disagreed with the Prime Minister (who happens to be the leader of the party to which Turner was a member).

We need more people like Garth Turner, who put the people ahead of power. Who believe it’s more important to be open and honest than to tow the party line. Politicians aren’t on The Hill for their own purposes. Nor are they there to serve their Party. They are there to represent us, the citizens of this kick-ass country. One way to do that effectively is to communicate. Blog the hell out of meetings. Politics is a conversation, and all of that Cluetrain stuff.

Now, if he’d have been blogging in-camera sessions, that might be a different thing. If he’d posted Top Secret Plans For Canada’s Troops in Afghanistan or something, I could see sanctions. But from what I’ve seen, he’s simply been posting his thoughts and critiques of his own government’s actions and policies. Which is his right to do, but apparently not as a member of the Conservative Party.

Sami beat me to the punch, but it’s worth publicly repeating. Garth Turner, MP for the Halton Constituency in Milton, Ontario, was booted out of the Conservative Party yesterday. For blogging. An elected member of parliament was Dooced.

Here’s the comment I posted on Sami’s blog, but I want to repeat it here as well (in case someone like the MP for my riding happens to see it):

It’s strange. This is our Government, and they boot someone out for documenting meetings and voicing honest opinions. Isn’t that what we do every day? Isn’t that what we should expect, even demand, from our representatives? The MPs represent US, not Harper. They have (IMO) an obligation to be honest (and open, and public) participants, not party mouthpieces.

Turner was booted out because he was openly communicating with his constituents, even when he disagreed with the Prime Minister (who happens to be the leader of the party to which Turner was a member).

We need more people like Garth Turner, who put the people ahead of power. Who believe it’s more important to be open and honest than to tow the party line. Politicians aren’t on The Hill for their own purposes. Nor are they there to serve their Party. They are there to represent us, the citizens of this kick-ass country. One way to do that effectively is to communicate. Blog the hell out of meetings. Politics is a conversation, and all of that Cluetrain stuff.

Now, if he’d have been blogging in-camera sessions, that might be a different thing. If he’d posted Top Secret Plans For Canada’s Troops in Afghanistan or something, I could see sanctions. But from what I’ve seen, he’s simply been posting his thoughts and critiques of his own government’s actions and policies. Which is his right to do, but apparently not as a member of the Conservative Party.

Thailand coup, as told by Flickr users

My brother has a house in Phuket, Thailand, so I've been trying to follow news on this week's coup to see what's going on. I had no idea there was an ongoing corruption scandal of that magnitude. It seems unclear whether this coup was a good or bad thing. Some people say it's bad because it's "against democracy" – others say it's good because it gives a chance to reboot a democracy after cleaning out the garbage first.

I'd been following the story via Wikinews, which has been more useful than local/national newscasts. And then I stumbled across the Flickr coverage, linked from the Flickr Blog. They assembled photos from various Flickr users located in Bangkok, added audio from an interview with one of the photographers, and the result is a very powerful photographic slideshow.

Thailand Coup, told by Flickr users Thailand Coup, told by Flickr users

In our North American State of Heightened Alertness, I doubt we’d be allowed to freely pose for photographs with active tanks in the streets, if such a thing happened on this side of the Pacific…

My brother has a house in Phuket, Thailand, so I've been trying to follow news on this week's coup to see what's going on. I had no idea there was an ongoing corruption scandal of that magnitude. It seems unclear whether this coup was a good or bad thing. Some people say it's bad because it's "against democracy" – others say it's good because it gives a chance to reboot a democracy after cleaning out the garbage first.

I'd been following the story via Wikinews, which has been more useful than local/national newscasts. And then I stumbled across the Flickr coverage, linked from the Flickr Blog. They assembled photos from various Flickr users located in Bangkok, added audio from an interview with one of the photographers, and the result is a very powerful photographic slideshow.

Thailand Coup, told by Flickr users Thailand Coup, told by Flickr users

In our North American State of Heightened Alertness, I doubt we’d be allowed to freely pose for photographs with active tanks in the streets, if such a thing happened on this side of the Pacific…