Thursday, September 13, 2012

What Do You Believe?

Ontario politics seems to be in the process of radicalizing itself, which I find baffling.  Radicalism is an inefficient way of thinking, it closes too many possibilities.  I've never found it a comfortable way of thinking, yet it seems to be becoming increasingly popular in Ontario politics, and feeds partisan firestorms that the media licks up.

The angry right winger seems to be dictated by their emotions, letting anger rule their judgement.  The righteous left winger also seems to be a creature of emotion, enjoying a self created sense of superiority that makes their politics a public event.  Both play well in media bites where emotive, irrational displays get you tens seconds of air time well before a thoughtful response.
I've been reading the Tao Te Ching in relation to politics.  The simple common sense and humility presented in this tiny classic seems as far from the spin and manipulation of Ontario politics as one person could possibly get from another.  Where we manufacture crisis for personal benefit, Lao Tsu's masterful governor quietly does what is best for everyone, then retires.  Our politics are all about self aggrandizing, cynical manipulation.  The  Taoish ideal is the opposite of that.

Call me old fashioned, but I'd like to think my way through issues and not follow dogma in developing opinions.  That approach may lead to some less than popular positions - especially if most people make decisions designed to serve their own tribal interests rather than looking to maximize the efficiency of society as a whole.

With all the vitriol and drama in Ontario politics around my job this summer, I now know more clearly what I hold as self evident truths, so at least all of the emotional trauma and intellectual violence has led to some clarity.

I believe that human beings are our most vital resource.  Even in a world bulging with population, I believe our minds and hands can resolve any problem we create; I'm an optimist at heart.  Because people are the most powerful resource we have as a society, I believe that it is government's first and most vital duty to attempt to develop its citizens to their maximum potential.  There are other factors in society (racism, capitalism, classism) that cause people to fail to reach their potential.  Government must be dedicated to reducing those inequalities.  A government that throws citizens on the fire to serve economic interests is no representative government at all.

Any time a government uses its power to tend to its own tribal concerns, it hurts society as a whole, reduces people's ability to make the best of themselves and creates a less even playing field.  When a government attacks workers to reduce their rights, they are setting a precedent that concentrates power and wealth in a smaller group.  I don't see that this is a good idea, ever.  Maximizing a few people's wealth to ludicrous proportions causes many others to not have enough.  The damage from an expanding poor class hurts a society more than the benefit gained from the wealth of a few.

It's a myth that rich people use their wealth primarily to benefit society.  The first goal of a rich person's wealth is to maintain their wealth, that's how they got, and remain, rich in the first place.

This may all sound very leftist, but I don't believe in government as a solution to all ills.  As important as it is for the government to act to spread wealth in society and even out the inequities of the greedy, it is more important that citizens are active in their duty and focused on recognizing their own potential.  Without an individual side to this equation, people get lazy.  They have gotten lazy.

I occasionally re-read Robert Heinlein's Starship Troopers as much for the sci-fi military futurism as for the political value theory.  In Heinlein's future, democracy collapsed under the weight of leftist forced equality where soft, socialist thinking set the standards so low that society was destroyed by the dangerous, feral children it created.  The idea that all people are actually geniuses and there is no common standard of citizenship causes the failure of representative democracy in the 20th Century.  Heinlein goes into great detail about this in the novel, and it's hard not to sympathize with the thinking.

The rebirth of democracy in Heinlein's future democracy is never handed out because you were born somewhere.  All citizens have to earn the right to vote by demonstrating that they are willing to put societal need before their own interests by joining government service for two years.  This kind of responsibility really appeals to me as an immigrant who had to earn his Canadian citizenship.  Watching the lackadaisical home-grown Canadian makes me realize that anything that is handed to you doesn't have a lot of value to you.  A veteran would know what I'm talking about, as would other new Canadians.

I'd extend that requirement for competence to many things beyond citizenship.  Unless you can build a car and understand how it works, you don't get to drive one.  Until you can build a computer, you shouldn't get to use one.  Too many people with too little ability of their own are empowered and amplified by the brilliance of others.  It creates an odd sense of equality not based on anything real.

There is a harsh side to my politics that demands excellence from people.  In that regard I find myself quite comfortable with some progressive conservative ideals.  If the government is dedicated to maximizing everyone's potential, I believe it is a citizen's duty to participate in the state to the best of their ability.  A citizen who does nothing of value should not be considered a citizen.  As I've already said, being given something as powerful and important as Canadian citizenship, itself paid for in blood by others, shouldn't cost you nothing, yet it does, and then if you choose to do nothing with it, or use it to support your own interests at the cost of many, people come to believe that this is all citizenship is - a license to serve your own interests.

So here I am, demanding a government that doesn't protect its own interests, but rather works tirelessly for the good of society as a whole, even willing to risk their government in order to do the right thing.  Here I am, demanding that citizens take their responsibilities seriously, or not have them.  You choose not to learn what is needed and vote in an election?  No tax return for you, and we'll take that money from the selfish and resolve societal problems with it.  Better still, citizenship is valued because you've committed yourself to it by offering to serve your country.  This does not mean military exclusively, it could mean any number of social services.

I expect better from government, and from the citizens that support it.  Democracy is an ongoing experiment, and I hope Democracy 2.0 brings us better access to each other through social media, so that more voices can be heard beyond the spin of organizations in broadcast media.  Any technology that de-centralizes the ability for political parties to spin big media is an improvement in my mind, even if it's messier.  Most traditional organizations, political, governmental, business, are terrified of this sharing of the message.

A messy, active, honest, engaged democracy would be ideal.  Instead we have less than half the possible voters showing up and voting out of habit.

Act Like You Give A Damn

There were some complaints about the effectiveness of OSSTF in presenting our side of things in the media last night at our school meeting.  I tried to explain (maybe using a few to many expletives - I've spent the summer trying to make D18 OSSTF more visible in social media and it irked me to get criticized by someone who hasn't lifted a finger) that the media will always go to flashy, emotional appeals, even (or especially) if they are factually wrong.

If someone lies, professional journalists no longer feel it is their duty to fact check and call out the discrepancy, they just quote the person and call the quote a fact.  Cynical right wing interests know this and constantly present calculated, manipulative, often complete inaccurate emotionally charged comments that they know will get air time.  The poor right wingers eat this up.  The unions reply with calm, reasoned, accurate information and then wonder why they aren't broadcast.  We need to take a page from Winston Churchill, some powerful rhetoric and emotionality would help our cause.

"...we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end, we shall fight in France, we shall fight on the seas and oceans, we shall fight with growing confidence and growing strength in the air, we shall defend our Island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender..."  
Winston Churchill, 1940.

Love that speech.  It's passionate, it's powerful and it enables an underdog to get back on its feet in the face of a terror much stronger than it and face the fight.  But at its bottom it's a speech about commitment and belief.  If you believe in what you say, instead of trying to cynically manipulate words, you will have out.  It's that kind of belief and commitment to action that I'd love to see from teachers.

What has hurt OSSTF's (and the other union's) ability to affect real public change is the centralized structure they still cling to.  It makes them appear closed, which the media loves to jump all over.  Unions are still clinging to a single voice with a single message.  The mediascape is changing, and I hope we're willing and able to evolve with it.  We have a fantastic resource in our members, who if only used to silently back a single (simple) message, are woefully underused.  We need participation, passionate participation.  When teachers and friends of education passionately present their side of the case online, in letters to the media, in letters to their MPPs, in conversations with friends, it becomes a lot easier for OSSTF to gain the attention of mainstream media and have some hope of tipping the scales of public opinion.

I know this is a change - the union, like most traditional institutions, prefers a single voice with silent support.  That doesn't jive with the social mediascape that is evolving around us, and it's not particularly democratic either.  We need to get used to the idea of many voices, otherwise we aren't leveraging the power of our educated, savvy members in social media.

Anyone watching mainstream media has noticed the change in how they address social media, they are trying to integrate it.  If you want to influence media, speak out in social media.  But do it passionately, like you give a damn.  The only thing better than a cynical, targeted emotional plea designed to attract media attention would be an honest, passionate emotional plea based on the truth of your work.  You're using the same mechanics in a more honest way, and you'll get your sound bite.

What we have instead are passionate Tim Hudaks getting sound bites on media because they are emotionally charged.  The media will always take showy, emotionally charged nonsense, even if they are outright lies, over a reasoned, logical and accurate argument.  If more (all?) teachers and their families and friends communicated passionately about what they do and how this summer has treated them, it would give we communications people much more wood to throw on the fire.  This isn't only a matter of social media.  If you've ever just shrugged and said, "yeah, we have it easy" at a dinner party when the resident jackass goes off on teaching, you've chosen to hurt our position.

Is the dark side stronger? Nonono. Quicker,easier, more seductive.
In short: you can't whine about how OSSTF is presenting the case if you're hoping everyone else will present it for you.  It's your profession, your work, and I hope your passion.  If we got a bit more of that out of membership, we'd have a multitude of teachers' voices echoing about in the media, and the forth estate wouldn't be monopolized by cynical, well rehearsed, angry, manipulative, right wing voices.

Now I have to ask the hard questions.  Have you written your local newspapers, your MPPs?  Have you contacted your favorite radio program, TV news program?  Have you been forthright with friends and family about what your job is and how you feel about the media's portrayal of you and your work?

Find your voice, express your passion for your work, it doesn't even have to be in a political context, but act like you give a damn and do something to get us out from behind this image of a walled garden that the politicians, the media and our own union habits have painted us into.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Bill 115 letter to Queens Park (twice)

From: Timothy King <t***>
To: <>
Cc: <>
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2012 13:47:39 -0400
Subject: Fwd: does everyone in government believe that collective bargaining is wrong?

Mr McGuinty & Miss Broten.
This is one of those moments that will haunt the future.  Do you really want to be remembered as the government that tried to destroy a worker's right to participate in how their work place is run?
It's antidemocratic.  With a political system that lives in an uneasy alliance with a capitalist economy that seems intent on redesigning itself to serve a smaller and smaller wealthy class, do you really want to be the peoples' representatives who gave away this important democractic protection?  There is nothing wong with sharing power in a democracy.  The only system this serves is dictatorial, it serves the few by disenfranchising the many.
In years to come you will look back on this moment and wonder at how it has coloured the future of so many people.
Please make the fair decision and support worker's rights to collective bargaining.
Tim King
Elora, Ontario
this sent to my MPP Ted Arnott in August:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Timothy King <t****>
Date: Fri, Aug 24, 2012 at 11:02 AM
Subject: does everyone in government believe

Hi Ted,

I was your son's English teacher last year.  He's an outstanding fellow.  I can't wait to see what he does with himself when he graduates.

I'm writing today knowing this is a  long shot, but I have to ask anyway.  Is it general consensus at Queen's Park that the right to collective bargaining is bad for Ontario even though it is enshrined in the Canadian Charter?

I'm a bit baffled by a democratically elected government's willingness to toss out something that is supposed to be a fundamental right in our country, and then observing the backing of this apparently immoral act by other parties.

Does anyone at Queen's Park actually think the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is worth upholding?

By the way, if there happens to be an election in the coming months, McGuinty has lost hundreds of thousands of voters who actually bother to vote.  I'm ashamed that I voted for him last time 'round.  I should also note that I voted for Mike Chong nationally, so the idea that all teachers are staunchly left wing isn't true.  Actually, I'm a Liberal at heart, but I don't know what they stand for any more.

At this point, I'd vote for the party that stands up for our basic rights and freedoms.

Thanks for the ear.

Tim King
Elora, ON

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Broadcast Value Theory

Watching broadcast media, one of the giants birthed of industrialization in the Twentieth Century, struggle with the recent Olympics was enjoyable.

Wimbledon Flashmob
Early on, CTV's London desk was showing video of a flash mob at Wimbledon.  The broadcast anchor said, "I don't get this at all, why would people do this?  What a waste of time."

He doesn't get why people would do back flips to get on mainstream media?  Dude, your entire career is predicated on what they are doing... did you enjoy getting made up for your camera time today?  Does your agent do what those people are doing all the time just to get your mug in front of more cameras?  Do you throw a fit when they bring you the wrong tie?

The 'let them eat cake' distance that the corporate broadcast media has from a bunch of sweaty fools having a good time on a hill at Wimbledon underlines how truly out of touch they are.

Technology has miniaturized, communications have become a widely distributed two-way medium, yet the corporate broadcast media cling to their unidirectional economic model, frantically milking it for all it's worth before the weight of inevitability forces change.  I'm not saying there won't be a place for professionally created media, but technology is allowing for smaller, niche groups to make what they want, how they want, and do it well while still making a living selling to niche audiences.  The days of centrally controlled media are ending because the need for expensive corporate backing are no longer a technical necessity.

Where once an artist had to gather the corporate power of a massive enterprise behind them in order to get their hands on the technology needed to broadcast their story, they now find themselves increasingly able to create their vision and distribute it themselves, assuming the wallowing dinosaur doesn't have a room of lawyers on hand, which they do.  Deinnovation by legislation.  Deinnovation by lawsuit.

Sita Sings The Blues
A couple of years ago I came across Quinn Norton's brilliant column in MaximumPC on the calamity that was Nina Paley's attempt to express her own miserable breakup using a brilliant mash up of Flash animation, Annette Hanshaw's blues, and The Ramayana.  To call this copyright theft is ridiculous... this mash up is insane (and brilliant - I use it every year teaching media arts).  Yet Paley was run out of business by copyright trolls (lawyers) who look for out of date art, copyright it, then lay in wait, hoping to squeeze money out of something they purchased from other copyright lawyers - an open market of dead artist's work being held to prevent new art from forming.

If that isn't an example of the desperation of the broadcast media system, I don't know what is.  They are so intellectually bankrupt that they can only recycle and steal other ideas.  The corporate media machine continually pumps out near identical films at virtually the same time, desperately trying to tap into cultural memes that they aren't agile enough to keep up with.  Indy and social media media create far more current, personalized and pertinent media in the early 21st Century, and younger viewers are cottoning on to it, even while everyone tries to dodge the wallowing dinosaur's departments of lawyers.

There will always be money to be made in a good bit of story telling, and digital media is nothing if not a good bit of story telling (even the news).  What we're seeing now is a slow, painful adjustment as the habits we invented around expensive, industrially driven broadcasting give way to cheaper, individualized, technology supported media.  Professional media isn't dead, but we don't require millions in corporate backing to produce it any more.  Don't expect an industry worth more than two trillion dollars to give up on squeezing it though.

I'd hope that instead of trying to cobble together another massive production, corporate mega-media would be trying to spin off divisions that support small, agile groups feeding niche markets, but I don't imagine that's the case.  The problem with really big animals that are ideally suited to a specific environment is that they are horrible at adapting.  They're great while the ecosystem stays the same, but the minute the social media asteroid appears, they just keep trying to do what they've always done, thrashing around, hoping to hold off the inevitable, until they are extinct.

Note: thanks to Quinn & Nina, Sita will be shown again in the middle of our Flash animation unit this year.  I'm looking forward to another year of grade tens wrestling with who owns what, what art is, how no one is free from influence, how The Beatles could steal other people's musical influences and then lock down their own for ever, what is appropriation of voice, and the future of media art. That one little column led me to a wonderful teaching piece that is still raising hard questions for hundreds of students years later.  Thanks!