Wednesday, December 6, 2006

What's good for the Greens?

I've seen a number of articles on the web suggesting that the election of Stéphane Dion as leader of the Liberal Party of Canada will somehow be bad for the Green Party because he has come out strongly for the environment.

If the Greens were like the traditional parties, we might see it that way - but we're not like the other parties. Getting elected is not our goal - it's just a tool. Our goal is to advance the green principles. If that goal can be advanced by other parties, that's a good thing.

That said, the Green Party is not a one-issue party. Yes, the environment is at the top of our priorities - given the current extreme global crisis we are facing. However, there is a lot more to the Greens than just the environment.

That most of the other parties in Canada are increasing their attention on environmental issues is good, but doesn't change the fundamental structures and ideologies of those parties. They are all still rooted in the political modes of past centuries.

One of the key things distinguishing the Greens from all of the other parties is that we don't assume we have "the answers" for every single community out there. The other parties all bring a paternalistic assumption that they know best. The Greens bring the cooperative assumption that every situation needs the dialogue of all those affected in order to determine the best choices to make.

That's participatory democracy, rather than the old representative democracy the traditional parties are based on. I, along with Greens around the world, believe it to be a far better way.

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Friday, November 24, 2006

On being hard to reach

I've given up on the idea of dealing with all of my email. I don't even read the majority of non-spam email I get these days. It would take many hours a day to deal with it all. Then there's the added problem that replying to email only encourages people to send more!

I've let myself become so busy that I even ignore some of my voicemail.

So, please consider this a blanket apology to everyone who feels ignored by me. I just don't have the capacity to deal with it all.


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Monday, November 6, 2006

Revolutionary Knitting Circle still drawing attention

It's pleasing to see the knitting manifesto still making the rounds.

A fairly new blog, the yolk - which seems to be associated with some sort of academic studies at the University of Alberta - has
a post discussing links between the Revolutionary Knitting Circle and DIY.

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Saturday, November 4, 2006

If only...

Lately, there's been a notable increase in people telling me things that start with "If only you...". Things like "If only you knew what I know..." or "If only you would follow this method..." etc.

Frankly, my back goes up whenever something like that is said to me. It's kind of like statements that start with "you should". There's an arrogance there - an assumption of superior knowledge.

The way I view things, there is no one answer to anything, so there can be no "if only" way to a perfect outcome. There are myriad paths to good outcomes, and there are many different ways to find appropriate answers to the questions we face. When someone claims to have the "only" correct knowledge, my internal attitude becomes very dismissive of what they are saying because to me they've already declared themselves to be wrong.

Note that I said "internal attitude". I try very hard to not externalize that dismissive feeling I have regarding what the person is saying - and actually try to push it away to let myself be open to hearing their perspectives. There are things to be learned from everyone and I don't want to cut off a dialogue that could still contain valuable understandings. So, I struggle to restrain my inclination to respond rudely, and instead take the situation as an opportunity to work on my listening skills.

Another challenge in all this is that belief in an "if only" answer is basically just an expression of ideology. I loathe ideology. Ideology is the death of questions. Why question things if you already have "the answer"?

If I have anything resembling an ideology myself, it's that questions, listening and dialogue are the only comprehensive answer. To give up on questions is to give up on the hope of understanding.

Answers, or questions?
In my experience, people seem to generally dislike being told what to do. This is at the root of my personal antagonism toward being told "you should..." or "if only you...". Someone telling me what to do is inherently assuming that they know better than me what I should be doing. It's hierarchical and patronizing - two highly displeasing things for me.

A far more effective approach, in my view, is to not come to the discussion with answers, but to come with questions. Where 'answers' function as unidirectional commands, questions open up dialogue and make people participants in the pursuit of understanding.

One of the things that has made knitting in public such a successful outreach tool for the Revolutionary Knitting Circle is that it invites questions. Whenever I knit on public transit, someone will inevitably come up and ask me something like "what are you knitting," or "you're a guy, so why are you knitting?"

Instead of me going up to people and telling them "there are terrible things in the world today that we need to work to change", a space for dialogue is opened up by the questions and whole conversations come out that let both of us share our experiences and understandings - and hopefully both gain a wider perspective.

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Sunday, October 22, 2006

Cam Penner & The Gravel Road

Cam Penner Cam Penner & The Gravel Road performed in Calgary last weekend (Saturday, October 14, 2006).

It was the first time I actually got to see Cam perform live. Even though I've known him for a number of years, I've always either been out of town, or had some other event booked whenever he's performed here before.

Cam and his bandmates are really good live - better than is captured on recordings. I took my dad to the concert and he was particularly impressed with the keyboardist (who's name I unfortunately can't recall offhand).

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Affordable housing Town Hall last night

Photo: Calgary Housing Crisis Townhall I was on a panel last night at a Town Hall on Affordable Housing put together by Dave Taylor, Liberal MLA for Calgary Currie.

My work on housing issues with the Calgary Housing Action Initiative is sure keeping me busy.

Photo: Tavis Ford.
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Wednesday, October 4, 2006

U.S. Truth-speak in action

Fox News has been revising history again by calling recently disgraced Republican Congressman Mark Foley a Democrat instead. Foley resigned last week after it was revealed that he "sent sexually suggestive emails and instant messages to males under the age of 18 who had served as Congressional pages."

One of the messages printed on the Fox screen was "Did Dem[ocrat]s ignore Foley e-mails to preserve seat?"

So, an accused Republican child sex offender gets outted and Fox decides to pretend he wasn't a Republican at all but rather to shift the blame onto the Democrats.

As the folks over at Boing Boing put it, "we have always been at war with Eurasia."

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Tuesday, September 26, 2006

The Market is annoying

One of the most annoying statements I keep hearing in relation to the housing crisis in Calgary is "it's just the market."

As if the market were just some mysterious force outside of human control. "The market" is simply the consequence of human decisions in interaction with the environment. When people are being evicted (whether outright or through "constructive eviction" via severe rent hikes) from their homes in a "market" that does not have much - if any - options for them to move to, "the market" is not right.

Take the example from this weekend's news of an 87 year old woman whose rent is set to nearly double as of December. She's lived in her home for 40 years, but now she's being forced to move because of "the market."

Blaming the market is a denial of responsibility.

If a property owner evicts a tenant from their home, it's not the market's fault - it's at least partly the property owner's fault, and certainly partly the governments' faults (all three levels that we have in Canada) for not providing adequate infrastructure, supports and protections. And it's probably also the fault of a complicated list of other people's choices - from corporate decision makers to business owners to individual consumers, etc.

I wish people would stop blaming the market and instead look at how we can bring about changes to end the crisis and start living up to our collective responsibility to ensure that everyone has their basic subsistence met (food, clothing, shelter).

As it is, we (not the market) have set ourselves up for a real disaster - social and economic - that will leave record numbers homeless in this city, and worse when the freezing nights of winter arrive.

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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Calgary Housing Action Initiative

The housing crisis in Calgary is massive. Last year alone we lost 2.2% of the total rental units in the city - at a time when we are experiencing record population growth. We have the fastest growing homeless population in Alberta - if not in the whole country.

The scary statistics, and disturbing personal stories, just keep piling up.

I've been super-busy (even by my workaholoic standards) since early August with the Calgary Housing Action Initiative (CHAI), a new coaltion that's come together to try to address the crisis both in the short-term, and to make some substantive changes to try to prevent it from happening again over the long-term.

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Thursday, August 10, 2006

My graphic design work - all over the place

The Calgary Dollars newspaper is included as an insert in this week's FFWD Magazine (free on the streets and various venues in Calgary). I do the layout and design of the paper.

Also in this week's FFWD is an ad (on page 8) that I designed for the Peace march & rally this Saturday. I really like what I put together for this one in terms of design. Very striking. (Remember, I'm the guy who always says "modesty is just another form of lying"....)

I also did a nice simple poster for the rally & march. The design was kept pretty limited so the poster would be easily photocopyable without getting mushed. These posters have been going up around town to promote the event.

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Saturday, August 5, 2006

Embracing my inner-geek

I just had a geek-tacular moment. I'm doing some experimenting to try to improve the long-term security of my internet servers. I issued a command in the Terminal with "verbose" output. So, there's this rapidly scrolling text spewing through my terminal window ... and I'm getting totally giddy and excited. I was thrilled just to be seeing the output from my command scrolling unreadably fast through the terminal.

Geek and proud!

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Tuesday, August 1, 2006

Open-sourcing Wayground

Well, I finally posted the source to my in-progress website Content Management System (CMS) - Wayground.

I'm building it with Ruby on Rails. I'm pretty new to both Rails and the Ruby language, so the code is far from my best ever. But, I hope to improve as the project develops.

This project is the immediate descendent of my previous Wayground code which was built on PHP. That was a descendent of the website management system I built in PHP for the old Activist Network (that system has been taken down and replaced with just a static page). Finally, that in turn was descended from the first version of the Activist Network website which was built using the Filemaker Pro database and Tango Enterprise.

This work has come a long way.

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Friday, July 21, 2006

massive knit nyc: knitting and activism

I came across a listing of some knitting and activism groups. There were a couple groups I hadn't heard of before: The Anarchist Knitting Mob in New York City and microRevolt. (They also listed the Revolutionary Knitting Circle, of course, and another site I already new about - I always take delight in finding out about other groups engaged in craftivism.

I found this listing on the Massive Knit NYC site. They did an amazing action back in May, protesting development threats against Washington Square Park by knitting various parts of the park together. Inspiring text and photos from the event are at their site.

Friday, June 9, 2006

Is nuclear energy clean?

The topic of nuclear power came up in an email discussion last night. Here's how I responded:

Contrary to the industry mythology, nuclear energy is not anywhere approaching clean.

There is a lot of fossil-fuel based energy used in everything from building the plants and mining the various materials involved, to shipping supply materials and waste around and moving workers around to support the plants.

Leaving that aside, there's a tremendous amount of environmental destruction in the wastelands created by uranium mining, and wider areas of impact due to water flows and airborne effluents. Then there's the pollution of water systems and air by the nuclear processes at the plants.

There's also tremendous waste and inefficiencies from the building of mega-projects like nuclear plants. One of those inefficiencies that results in a lot of waste is that the plants are kept far away from the major centres that use their generated electricity. So a massive infrastructure for electricity distribution has to be maintained, and a lot of the electricity is lost in the transport.

It's true that the nuclear process itself does not produce the pollutants associated with "global warming", but that does not mean it is not having a negative environmental impact.

Then there's the myth of "cheap" energy. I was listening to a report that said the last nuclear plant built in Ontario went from initial projected costs of about $3 billion to over $18 billion. That's just the cost overruns in building it - nevermind the debt build-up from running it. All energy bills in Ontario come with an added tariff that is specifically for paying down a little of the nuclear debt in that province.

That's not even accounting for the costs associated with the eventual decommission of reactors, and long-term management of the wastes.

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Friday, May 26, 2006

My new web design for the Green Party of Nova Scotia

 I got a call last night asking for me to do a quick 'pretty' interface for the website for the very new Green Party of Nova Scotia (who just formed in March and are now running a whole pile of candidates in their provincial election).

So, I ended up spending a whole bunch of time last night and this morning rushing up a design. It was less than 14 hours from the time I got the contact email for the web developer in Nova Scotia until he had my new design up and running this morning (along with some changes I contributed to the website's PHP code). Record time!

The design is very bare-bones, but (in my utterly biased opinion) it actually looks good. Yes I committed the terrible sin of using tables for quick & dirty layout (with the election already on, they needed something - anything - up like "last week"). But, I did make sure that my code is 100% valid XHTML & CSS!

That makes three provincial Green Parties I've done election support for since (and including) the Alberta election in 2004 (which I also ran as a candidate in). Not to mention various things for the Federal party over the past few years, too.

My status? Situation normal - insanely busy.

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Thursday, May 25, 2006

Back in the photographic saddle

I finally got a new camera this evening! It replaces the one that passed away about four months ago.

I was really getting anxious about this, so I'm very relieved that it's finally here. Now I can get back to taking photos of all the events I go to. (Which ties in well with my efforts to develop the Canadian Activism Archives.)

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

You know you've got a right-wing government when...

The federal 'Conservative' government tabled their new budget yesterday and it, unsurprisingly, favors the rich at the cost of the poor.

Of the three tax brackets, only the lowest-income group see a tax increase in this budget (from 15% to 15.5%). On the other hand, rich individuals and corporations see the elimination of the "federal capital tax" which only applied to "taxable capital in excess of $50 million". There's also a more than 9% reduction in the "general corporate income tax rate over the next four years (from 21% to 19%). Companies also will have access to new tax credits.

There's a bunch of new/expanded spending on military and border security, while some other government areas will see budget cuts (and, undoubtedly, layoffs of workers).

They're throwing money at the so-called "child-care benefit" with a flat amount ($1200) per child under the age of six. That includes for families that are rich and don't need support, and isn't enough for low-income families that don't have enough. Keep in mind the statistic from a couple years ago (I haven't heard the most recent numbers) that 20% of children in Calgary are living below the poverty line - that's about 1 in 5.

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Friday, April 28, 2006

Canadian Activism Archives

 Today I launched a new web project for collectively building historical archives of, and useful guides for, social justice and environmental activism in Canada. The Canadian Activism Archives are running as an open wiki, so anyone can contribute to the content.

This project has been on my list of ten million things to do ever since I started the Activist Network in 1999. I believe that we (activists) lose too much when we fail to keep and share our histories. It can be deeply empowering to be aware of the incredible successes of activism that has gone before - not to mention the many lessons learned which we only benefit from if we can collectively remember them.

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Friday, April 21, 2006

Why I use the Non-Commercial Creative Commons license

[Creative Commons License] I fully support the Creative Commons licensing project as a counter to the represive regime copyright law has become.

I generally go with the Non-Commercial license, though. I believe that people deserve to be paid for their work. The licenses that allow free commercial use of work mean that commercial enterprises don't have to pay for content if they can find free versions of what they're looking for.

I'm particularly worried about the impact this has on the photography profession.

[Zombie Walk photo] A while back, I was contacted by a newspaper (not local) that was interested in running one or more of the photos I took at the Zombie Walk here in Calgary last year. When they found out I was using the Non-Commercial license instead of the free for commercial use one, they lost interest. I don't want my volunteer/hobbiest photography to get commercial publications in the habit of not having to pay for the content they use - thereby potentially putting some people out of work. I also don't want someone to be making money from my work without me getting a fair share.

Over a decade ago, when I was still developing commercial and shareware software, I licensed my "Grant's CGI Framework" for free to those who weren't profiting from what they built with it. I charged a (negotiable) licensing fee to those who were making money from it. That project was "open source" (before the term was coined), but even then I figured I should get a cut if people were profiting from my work.

To me this kind of "fair share" approach is the best. I'm glad that non-profit publications are using my photos freely, but I'm not going to help commercial interests "maximize" their profits at the expense of workers (including myself).

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Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Campaign to elect Juliet Burgess

Photo of Juliet Burgess, Green Party candidate. A big part of why I haven't posted much recently is that I've been very busy. Most notably, I'm working as the campaign manager for Juliet Burgess, who is the Green Party of Canada candidate in the Calgary-Nose Hill riding.

At 18, Juliet is the youngest candidate running for the party in this election, which has made for some interesting responses from people. Many have been very supportive, although ageism has made a few appearances.

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