Saturday, December 1, 2007

Quick Review: Naomi Klein’s “The Shock Doctrine” — Brilliant!

There’s so much to say about this utterly, critically, important book. I just finished reading Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism a few minutes ago and am eager to encourage everyone on the planet to read it. So, here are a few quick words about it…

I seriously cannot think of a book that I would consider more important for people to read today.

It’s a heavy text — in many senses — but pretty much every page struck me as essential. It’s particularly crucial to read through to the end. The bulk of the book goes over all sorts of the background, the reasons and the applications, of so much of the evil in the world. But, it is the last chapter that basically says — okay, now that you’ve seen how awful it is and why, here’s what can inspire you to not only have hope that we might get out of this, but that you might be able to be a part of that difference. A “shockingly” uplifting ending to what would have otherwise been a deeply despairing and discouraging text.


Please consider reading it at your earliest opportunity.

Bonus Video:

Alfonso Cuarón produced a short video documentary with Klein, based on the subject of the book. (Warning, some disturbing images.)

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Monday, October 8, 2007

Candidate Interview: Jonathan “JJ” Sunstrum

As part of the ongoing series of candidate interviews I’ve been conducting for the municipal election in Calgary, I interviewed JJ Sunstrum last week. He’s running for mayor.

While he is not the candidate I will personally be voting for, he does have a lot of interesting ideas. One thing he talks about that particularly resonated with me is how the newer C-Train cars diminish social interaction by the way the seats are arranged. The older cars provide more opportunities for people to connect with each other (something I am very much in favour of).

Here’s the video interview with JJ (my apologies for the wind noise — I should have put a filter on the microphone):

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Sunday, October 7, 2007

James Kohut for Calgary Ward 6

I interviewed James Kohut this past week and have finally got the video up. James is running for Calgary city council (“Alderman”) in Ward 6. Of the candidates running in Ward 6 — there are five on the ballot — James is most closely aligned with my values. He is a fervent advocate for meaningful democracy, and actively pursuing environmental responsibility — both in his own life and his politics.

Here is my interview with James:

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Sunday, September 30, 2007

YouTube Group: Calgary Municipal Election 2007

I’ve created a group on YouTube for collecting videos from candidates in the Calgary municipal election.

If you know of any candidates with videos not in the group, please ask them to add their videos — or add them yourself. Thanks.

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Brian Pincott for Calgary Ward 11

I interviewed Brian Pincott last week. He’s running for city council (“alderman”) in Calgary Ward 11. Here’s the video of the interview:

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Friday, September 28, 2007

My new website for the Calgary municipal election

I finally launched a new website I’ve been planning for quite a while. It provides a comprehensive listing of all the candidates in the upcoming municipal election (including the school boards), including all the links to them I could find (websites, social networking sites, online videos) and contact information (phone numbers, email addresses, campaign offices).There’s a page for general voter resources, like maps of the wards and information on how to vote, as well as links to advocacy websites and social networking groups for the election and election issues.

Finally, I have also included a page dedicated to sharing my opinions of the campaign issues, and my views on the candidates.

Future developments

There are many ideas I have for a general website to track elections, candidates and elected officials. Maybe I’ll eventually get around to implementing some of them.

I’d love to have a way for each candidate to have a page where people can share their thoughts on the candidate. Although, there would have to be some mechanism to avoid it falling into the typical name-calling and mud-slinging. I haven’t figured out how best to approach solving that problem, but I do have some ideas and am thinking further about it.

It would also be good to be able to compile links to news stories, blog posts, message board discussions, etc., and to link those to the relevant candidates.

Eventually, a record of elected officials actions while in office would be useful, too. Especially their policy and voting histories.

Anyone interested in working with me on this project? Additional Ruby on Rails developers would be especially useful, although there are a lot of other ways to contribute, too.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Video interview with Lindsay Luhnau

On Friday, I interviewed Lindsay Luhnau who is running for Calgary city council in Ward 8. It took me a few days to fit in the video editing time, so I didn’t get it posted until yesterday. Here’s the video:

(I interviewed Brian Pincott this afternoon — he’s running in Ward 11. I hope to have that video up in the next couple of days. Hopefully.)
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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Elections and misreadings

I have been getting complaints for my membership in a group on Facebook that is opposing the campaign of Alnoor Kassam for mayor. Frustratingly, some of the things said by other members there are being taken as if I had said them (the particularly harshly-worded, and therefore attention getting statements). This is apparently being used to try to discredit some of the other campaigns I’m working on.

It is particularly frustrating since I have long sided with Miss Manners that there is no need for rudeness, including name-calling — even in politics.

To be clear, here is what I have said and am still saying:

I am opposing Alnoor Kassam’s campaign because of his having forced tenants out of their homes through rent increases. After it became a public issue, he turned around and tried to apply measures to mitigate the harms. But his initial action shows to me a strong lack of concern for the well-being of his tenants and make clear that he is not bringing an appropriate perspective to addressing the housing crisis in our city.

I have also pointed to an article in the Herald which links him to a banking scandal in Kenya. Having insufficient information on that matter, I cannot pass judgement. But, it is worth reading the article and being aware of the questions around the candidate’s past.

The exact quotes of my words:

The single post I had made to the Facebook group prior to this becoming an issue:
The Calgary Herald has an article today, “Challenger takes on Bronconnier dollar for dollar in this campaign”. It talks about the massive amount of money Kassam is spending on the campaign, as well as covering some of his questionable past (including involvement in a major banking scandal in Kenya and massive rent increases he imposed on tenants).
The text I posted to the Wikipedia article on the election, along with a reference link citing the Calgary Herald article:
Alnoor Kassam (mayoral candidate) was connected to a banking scandal in Kenya, including admitted acts of bribery, prior to moving to Canada. He has denied some of the accusations, and claimed others to be part of the political culture of that nation. Kassam has received negative attention for increasing rents significantly (more than tripling in some cases) in an apartment building he owns in the Mount Royal community.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Election Workshop videos in one playlist

I’ve compiled the various videos from the election workshop into one playlist on YouTube for (hopefully) easier access. I’ve also added another video to the set (part 6, featuring sitting city councillor Druh Farrell). Only a few more to go.

These are from a workshop on municipal elections that the Arusha Centre hosted back in 2004.

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Pam Krause in Municipal Election Workshop video (part 3-5)

Back in 2004, Arusha hosted a workshop on municipal elections in Calgary.

In parts 3-5, Pam Krause talks about some of the things she has learned about campaigning over the years. She has worked as on election campaigns at all levels of government — from the school board to the federal government.

Part 3:

Part 4:

Part 5:

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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Calgarians are needed to stop incumbent city councillors from running uncontested

Incumbents set to be acclaimed — candidates needed

Calgary municipal election nomination day is this Monday, September 17.

There are two sitting city councillors (still calling themselves by the gendered “Alderman” title) who do not have anyone running against them. They are Andre Chabot in Ward 10 and Rick McIver in Ward 12.

If you would be willing to run against them to prevent their acclamation, we’ve got people willing to try to help you get the 100 signatures and may be able to help with the $100 deposit over this weekend.

You do NOT have to live in the ward. You just need to be an adult Canadian citizen resident in Calgary to run. You don’t even have to commit to running much of a campaign — at this point, we’re just hoping to at least prevent these two incumbents from coasting to an effortless victory.

If you are interested in running, please pick up nomination forms from the election office (1103 - 55 Avenue NE; phone 221-3888) on Friday. If you are interested, but can’t get the forms, please contact us at the email/number below and we’ll try to get the forms for you.

Nomination Signatures Needed

It will be challenging to get enough signatures before Monday. If you live (have your home) in Wards 10 or 12, and would be willing to sign a nomination form before Monday morning, please contact us.

Contact us

Learn More About Being A Candidate:

There are videos up from a workshop the Arusha Centre hosted, featuring a presentation by the city’s election coordinator. These can help clarify what it means to be a candidate.
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More of the Municipal Election Workshop video (part 2)

Back in 2004, Arusha hosted a workshop on municipal elections in Calgary.

This is the second part, where Barb Clifford, Returning Officer for the City of Calgary, answers questions from the audience about the municipal election process in Calgary for candidates and voters.

Because of length limits on YouTube, Part 2 is split into two parts:
Part 2.1:

Part 2.2:

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Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Municipal Election Workshop video

Back in 2004, Arusha hosted a workshop on municipal elections in Calgary.

I’m processing the video I have from the event and posting it on YouTube.

Here’s the first part, where Barb Clifford, Returning Officer for the City of Calgary, discusses the municipal election process in Calgary for candidates and voters.

Update: Part 2 is now available.

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Monday, September 10, 2007

The Ten Commandments aren’t Christian law

A long time bug up my butt is self-proclaimed “Christians” touting Jewish law — especially the “Ten Commandments” (Exodus 20).

Let me be clear, I am not a “man of faith”. I am not a member of, or believer in, any religion (except maybe Star Wars and Lego). I think religion is a bad idea. That said, I do have a Christian background (although I was not raised “in the church”) and have long been fascinated by the stories and theology.

Anyway, we’re frequently hearing about ‘Christians’ trying to force the Ten Commandments on everybody. But they apparently haven’t actually paid attention to their own theology. The Jewish text is called the “Old Testament” for a reason. In Christian theological terms, it describes the way things used to be before the whole crucifiction(sic) deal. Christian theology says that Jesus created a “New Testament”. If you actually read “The Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John), you’ll find the two (not 10) Christian commandments:
Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
—Matthew 22:37-40, King James Version
The second is actually so important that it gets restated later in John:
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you.
—John 15:12, KJV
So, unless they want to adhere to Jewish laws of the Old Testament, Christians who tout the Ten Commandments are failing to stick to their own theology.

Particularly hypocritical are those who selectively tout Old Testament rules that serve their agendas, while ignoring many of the rules that they don’t care to bother about. They’ll haul out homophobic crap like Leviticus 18:22, but conveniently ignore parts like Leviticus 11:7-8 because they happen to enjoy eating bacon.

Now, I happen to like the second Christian commandment. Love everyone — act from love — is really a pretty good principle to live by. I just wish those blustering ‘Christians’, like Emperor Bush, would follow the actual christian commandments…

Deriving the ten from the two

You can actually derive — in general — the intent of most of the Jewish commandments from the christian commandments.

The first chunk of the ten focus on being devoted to ‘God’, not putting ‘Him’ down, and all that. Those kind of go along with the christian commandment to “Love the Lord thy God…” (although certainly not an exact mapping).

The other, non-God-focused, commandments mostly follow if you are sticking to the second christian commandment. For example, if you love your parents, you will “Honour thy father and thy mother”. “Thou shalt not kill” generally makes sense as it’s usually not a loving thing to kill someone (although there may be exceptions such as “mercy killing” or assisted suicide which could potentially be loving acts).

“Though shalt not commit adultery.” Well, adultery typically harms someone — or multiple people — such as whomever is being cheated on. Those being harmed aren’t being treated with love, so that’s definitely a christian no-no. (In this context, I wouldn’t classify fully consensual multi-partner relationships as being adulterous.)

All that said, “Thou shalt not kill” and it’s compatriots are not christian laws. They can be useful in helping us analyse and, hopefully, understand the christian laws. But, they are just points on “the map”. “The place” is the two actual christian laws (of which, I only personally care about the second since I don’t believe in any “God” or “Gods”).

The map is not the place

A core problem I see with much Christian analysis is the classic human problem of “the map is not the place”.

Throughout the Gospels, whenever the character of Jesus tells people something (usually in the form of a “parable”) they are always confused and he has to go into explanations — shifting from principles to examples.

In my reading, I see the whole of the Gospels as being the same pattern. Jesus tells folks his core message, “Love one another”, but they are confused and don’t understand what he means. So, he elaborates, providing examples to illustrate what acting from love can mean.

The problem comes when people start to take the examples as the law. We end up with things like the “good Samaritan law” — which isn’t really christian law. It’s just an illustration, a map. The Gospels aren’t saying you have to help injured people on the side of the road. They are showing an example of what acting from love might look like.

The map is not the place. The example is not the law.

Christianity’s misstep

Those who’ve studied the historical context from which the Christian texts emerged, or who have read works like The Pagan Christ by Tom Harpur, will be familiar with the reality that the content of “The Bible” mostly reworked from earlier religions (perhaps most notably, the Egyptian Osiris myths which feature the 3-day resurrection the Jesus crucifixion story is based on). There are a few extras tacked-on to keep people (especially women and slaves) in line, such as enforcing hair lengths based on sex, but the text is largely cribbed.

The thing that particularly stands out about the Christian approach to these mythologies was their imagining that the stories were somehow historical reality rather than just illustrations of ideas. The texts of Christianity were not seen as fantastical works to help us explore understanding our existence, but rather as the literal truth in our physical reality on Earth.

While the content of the text was all derivative or outright plagiarized, this extremely problematic thinking was the thing that truly set the Christian religions apart from their predecessors.

The tragic mistake of Christianity is that they took a map, and saw it as being the place.

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Saturday, September 8, 2007

Why I didn’t buy any apples tonight

[Photo of apples] This evening, I walked to my local Calgary Co-op grocery store for some groceries.

I usually try to pick up most of my produce from Sunnyside Market — a small, locally-owned, grocer that focuses on environmentally responsible and healthy food choices (and they accept Calgary Dollars for part of any purchase). However, that didn’t work for me today, so I went to Co-op (who are open longer hours).

As it was, of the various things I was looking for, most came from other parts of the planet. I was particularly disappointed by the selection of apples. Nearly every variety came from literally the other side of the planet (New Zealand). There was only one variety I could find that was from this continent — and that came from the U.S. which I am avoiding as much as possible.

So, no apples.

It’s ironic (as is so much of what goes on in the world) that Co-op touts being “Locally owned and operated” while apparently avoiding local growers. I did take the opportunity to fill out one of their customer feedback forms to encourage them to try for local sources instead.

Photo by Annette Elisabeth Rudolph. Licensed under the Creative Commons.
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Friday, September 7, 2007

Racism continues

I strongly encourage you to read Lower Manhattanite’s posting about racism in the U.S., “Do you understand where you are?”

It addresses the current story of the Jena Six, as well as L.M.’s family’s experiences with overt, explicitly violent, racism in the 90’s.

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Thursday, September 6, 2007

Issues with Facebook

There are numerous issues with Facebook. From privacy concerns, centralized control of data, lack of user control of our own info, the annoyances of app invites, rumours of CIA involvement, etc.

I just came across a few postings going into detail on some interesting concerns:These are good contributions to trying to understand why Facebook falls short of being a good approach to “social networking”.

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Friday, August 24, 2007

Lobbying for Library Use

The public library continues to rock my world.

A friendly co-worker and I ended up having a good chat yesterday — much of which centred around books, movies and the public library. Having had bad experiences with large overdue fines as a youth, they had not acquired a library card for many years.

These days, it is a lot easier to avoid problems like that. The online account management the Calgary Public Library offers are quite useful. You can check on what books you have out, when they are due, whether there are holds on the book (which determines whether you’ll be able to renew) and how many times you’ve renewed (limit of 2 times per item). You can also renew right online (including at 11:59pm if you remembered at the last minute that you have a book due the next day).

Mac OS X users can also take advantage of the great tool “Library Books”. It makes accessing your library account very easy (along with great visual reminders that help you avoid forgetting when a book is due). It works with many library internet systems around the world. Highly recommended.

In conclusion: Get thee to a library!

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

More SPP protest news: Provocateurs try to create violence

This video shows provocateurs, disguised as members of the Black Bloc, trying to instigate violence at the SPP protests in Montebello, Quebec. The video highlights CEP President, Dave Coles, confronting the men and stopping the effort to give the police an excuse to attack the real protesters.

Sadly, this is an all-too-familiar tactic of police and government forces. I remember seeing amazing footage of police in Genoa, during the 2001 G8 Summit, dressed as Black Bloc, starting violence and then pulling back while the uniformed police then used the excuse to violently attacked the real protesters. A diligent independent journalist managed to track the provocateurs and took pictures of them later casually milling about with uniformed police — making clear their true affiliation.


The mainstream media and others are picking up on the story:
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Monday, August 20, 2007

Anti-SPP protest in Calgary

Photo: “No North American Union!!” The anti-SPP protest held in Calgary on Sunday went very well. We had somewhere around 50 people in attendance (maybe more — I only did one spot count). That’s a great turnout by Calgary standards — particularly for the middle of August when so many people are out of town.

The energy was really good. The speakers didn’t go on too long. The weather was excellent.

For more background:I’ve posted a bunch of photos from the protest.

Here’s a video Nathan has posted with footage from the rally and commercial media coverage:

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Shifting the blame to cities, a distraction from the real issues of military poverty

The headline on today’s Calgary Herald reads: “Calgary lags behind in providing support for military reservists and their families”. My question is this: Why should cities be expected to pick up the slack when it is the federal government that is being viciously negligent in properly supporting the working people who make up the armed forces?

Why are we blaming the cities when it is the federal government which is not providing adequate benefits to soldiers and their families? Why should cities have to foot the bill when our federal government decides to send our soldiers overseas to kill and be killed?

I am extremely opposed to war, and generally pretty-darn anti-military. But, it is also my belief that if we are going to have a military, we had better pay them a living wage and give them decent benefits. It is a criminal choice on the part of our federal government to have soldiers and their families living in poverty.

Let’s put the blame squarely where it belongs: With the Conservative Party-led federal government that is happy to risk the lives of Canadians, but leaves those same Canadians in poverty.


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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Internet Action: Support Pro-Choice for Canada

The CBC is hosting “The Great Canadian Wish List” on Facebook. The top wish will get a bunch of coverage on the CBC.

The anti-choice folks have been hard at work trying to take away women’s rights to make their own reproductive choices, and are currently in the lead with the top wish being anti-choice.

The current second place wish is pro-choice, and I strongly encourage you to support it: “I wish that Canada would remain pro-choice.”

Voting ends on Saturday, June 30, 2007.


More Wishes to Support

Some additional progressive wishes I encourage you to support (supporting multiple wishes is a good thing - it’s not zero-sum voting):





First nations

Gender & rights





Poverty & housing

Update: The Tyee has an article about the CBC’s Wish List: Is CBC’s New Populism Perverted?

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Youth activism websites

[Photo: Peace Rally: Dijla] A recent posting on Feministing (one of my favourite blogs these days) mentioned a few new websites for youth activism. I was pleasantly surprised to see one of my photos in the header of one of the sites, Future5000.

Future5000 looks to be of similar intent to the Activist Network project I started back in 1999, but focused on youth activist organizations in the U.S.

Another site from the article is the Youth Media Council. It “builds communications power and defends the communication rights of youth, communities of color, and organizing groups working for racial and economic justice.”

Finally, “BLOC (Building Leadership Organizing Communities) is a national network of young organizers and activists working in communities of color as ‘alliance builders’. BLOC brings young people into the youth movement as community workers, develops their political analysis and strategy, and supports them in staying healthy and continuing to fight for social justice.”

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Saturday, June 9, 2007

“Free Speech” on Message Boards

I participate in a message board for web-based community organizers. We’ve been having a discussion about people trolling, and otherwise disrupting, discussions on message boards. I figured my latest contribution to the discussion would make a good post here:

I’m extremely tired of people claiming “free speech” as their excuse for disrupting a discussion, particularly when they go “off-topic”.

The thing is, free speech does not apply to message boards (or email lists or what have you) unless those boards are specifically set up as open free-for-all’s. Message boards are private spaces, even if you can freely join and anonymously read them on the net. Would it be “free speech” for me to walk into a public church and start shouting down the preacher with an attack against the evils of religion?

Without rules of order and constraints of topic, there can be no reasonable communication on message boards. If someone has something they want to say that is outside the scope of a particular message board, all their “free speech” gives them is the right to go to, or setup, a different message board where their message would be on topic.

Also, it’s like with the principle of “the rights of my fist end where the rights of your nose begin”—free speech does not extend to statements that cause harm to another person. That is why some countries have explicit laws against “hate speech”, for example.

I sometimes setup an “off-topic” board on sites where I setup message boards so that I can readily point people to a place where they are free to post on subjects not covered by the ‘main’ boards. That helps in making it clear that they can say what they want, but it has to follow some constraints in order to facilitate a reasonable flow of dialogue. Without those constraints, all we would have is noise and communication would stop.

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Sunday, April 29, 2007

Odd little dream about a comic-book story idea

Had a dream, during an afternoon nap today. In it, I came up with a comic book story idea where Superman fights a villain called the Gamemaster. The Gamemaster would get Superman to play a Dungeons & Dragons type game where rolling the dice to set your character’s skill levels would magically transform your actual skills. In the story, Superman would roll a low number for “strength” resulting in him actually becoming a weakling.

I didn’t dream much further than that, but I figure the story would end up with Jimmy Olson or Lois Lane saving the day because they would have rolled high on some key skills. The style would fit in with the late 60’s to early 70’s style of superhero comics.

It’s a little odd that this dream came up, given that I haven’t played any role-playing games (other than videogames) since I was a kid.

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Friday, April 27, 2007

IconBuffet: A fun variation on “social networking”?

My latest bit of fun diversion on the web is a site called IconBuffet. It’s a little bit social networking, a little bit of a game, and a lot about getting free icons.

The basic premise is that you’re collecting icon sets. You get one free set a month, and the rest you have to ‘trade’ for. There’s a bunch more to it than that (badges, points, collecting tokens and stamps to be able to trade,…). The point is that it ends up being surprisingly engaging and fun.

I’m (flimsily) justifying my time on it as ‘research’ for ways to improve some of the web projects I’m working on. I think it does some things really well in terms of encouraging participation that could apply to all sorts of social networking web projects.

Using the rewards model from video games in social networking has a lot of potential to stimulate people toward maintaining involvement beyond the initial excitement period (and subsequent drop-off rate) that typifies most web usage. Watching the responses from members as new badges are introduced, and new special point rewards, indicates that people are getting really hooked on the site—just like with a video game.

The IconBuffet developers have also setup a nice split between free and paid accounts. The perks for paid accounts are strong enough to lure a lot of people to pay up, but the free accounts have enough functionality and features to be engaging without having to switch to paid. It is, in my view, an excellent approach to including revenue generation for websites while still maintaining useful free services and attracting a lot of people (especially those who wouldn’t bother signing-up with pay-only sites).

Another site that got the free/paid account split right is Flickr. You get enough functionality on the free service to make it quite useful, but there’s enough benefit to the “pro” accounts to make them worth buying.

Anyway, IconBuffet participants get 50 points for everyone who signs up from a referral, so please feel free to sign-up using my referral link (heh):
Join IconBuffet Thanks!

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Thursday, March 22, 2007

Eliminate voting age restrictions

I just found out about the Vote16 campaign to lower the voting age in Canada, and to encourage greater participation by youth in politics.

Democracy, fundamentally, should be about bringing together the diverse voices of the community to come to the most informed collective decision we can. By deliberately excluding an entire range of perspectives from the discussion, we reduce the quality of our decision making.

The excuses for excluding youth from voting closely parallel the excuses that were used for excluding women to vote. Prime examples:
“They’ll just vote the way their husbands/parents tell them to.”
“They don’t understand politics so won’t be able to make an informed choice.”

If we were going to exclude people from the dialogue because they’re not experts, we’d be left with only a handful of voters. Besides, I’ve known some kids who were way more informed (and interested) about politics than most adults in our society.

The Vote16 campaign is just targetting lowering the voting age to 16. Personally, I would like to eliminate age restrictions on voting altogether. Not surprisingly, I tend to get rather defensive arguments from people when I suggest this “extreme” viewpoint.

I get responses like “So you would let a two-year-old vote?!?” My answer is yes, if they choose to. Just as I would let an adult with a brain injury, a mental illness, alzheimer’s, etc., vote. Why should we be so afraid of different perspectives? Why should we be afraid of including all voices in the dialogue of our community?

We provide supportive voting for people with disabilities, for illiterate adults, etc. Why are we willing to go to extra effort to include their differing viewpoints and not the differing viewpoints of those who stand to have to deal the longest with the consequences of our decisions?

The children of today have the greatest stake in the decisions we make now, because they will still be dealing with the costs and benefits long after the current adult generation has passed on.

It is a tremendous loss to our community and our future to disenfranchise the youth of today. I believe the current generation is paying the price of the same failure on the part of previous generations. How much better off might our world have been if we had included those perspectives in the decisions of generations past?
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Monday, March 19, 2007

How to be a media darling in a thousand easy steps

My media saturation is getting ridiculous.

Today alone, I was in the Calgary Sun talking about rent control the National Post talking about the Revolutionary Knitting Circle, the Orlando Sentinal (Orlando?!?) being not entirely accurately presented in talking about the Revolutionary Knitting Circle (they got my name and the founding year of RKC wrong). I also was in a press scrum at City Hall after the morning session of the Land Use Bylaw hearings. I’m not sure what ran (or will run tomorrow) from that, but it seemed like all the local commercial tv, radio, and papers were there.

Tuesday’s Calgary Sun is to have an article where I talk about the city’s land-use bylaw. I’m also scheduled to appear on a CHQR 770AM talk show for about 20-30 minutes to talk about affordable housing issues (Just after the 3:00PM news on Tuesday). Then on Thursday (or maybe next week Thursday) FFWD is planning to run a profile of me.

How did it come to this?

The formula for getting this much media attention is relatively straight forward.
  • When the media asks for a statement, give them one.
  • When tv asks if you would be available for an on-camera interview, make time in your schedule to accommodate their schedule that day. Don’t forget to groom yourself and dress nicely. I’m generally lazy about shaving, but I try to always be clean shaven for the cameras.
  • When radio asks if you’d be willing to come to their studio for a pre-recorded or live-to-air show, show up a little early (even if it’s in the morning).
  • Speak clearly and concisely with good grammar. What you say has to read well and communicate well in isolated chunks (“sound-bites”).
  • Show up to things the media are interested in (such as city hall when there’s some “newsworthy” issue coming up, or a public event such as a large protest).
  • Get enough information on a sufficiently wide range of issues that you can sound authoritative—or at least present what comes across as “an informed opinion.” Never lie, though. If you don’t know, be honest and tell them that.
  • Get to know a wide range of people who really know the issues so you can refer reporters to them when the story needs more than you can give, or needs additional voices.
  • If you don’t have the information they’re asking for, offer to track it down. If they accept your offer, drop everything to get it for them within the hour (or sooner).
  • Consistently do the above over many years.
In summation, bend over backwards to give them what they want, when and where they want it. Make it as easy as you can for the media to get content from or through you. they’ll start to recognize that you are a reliable source of usable content and turn to you when they need a story.
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Sunday, March 18, 2007

A personal crusade against ageism

Someone I’ve met through local activism just connected with me over MySpace. Before you lash into me, let me say that, yes, I’m using Myspace—one of the worst designed and yet successful sites I’ve ever seen. I use it to try to connect with people for local activism since, unfortunately, there are so many people using it these days.

Anyway, my contact happened to notice that my MySpace profile page currently lists my age as 67.

Having met me, they naturally questioned the veracity of that number (since, I can say with full confidence that, I don’t look a day over 60). Here’s part of my response:
No, I’m probably not 67 :-) I don’t put my actual birthdate on websites because I’m on a personal crusade against ageism. I almost never tell my age and almost never ask anyone their’s.

We, as a society, find far too many ways (such as age, gender, finances, ethnicity, etc.) to separate and compartmentalize each other and I see that as being at the core of the problems in the world. We are divided and, therefore, conquered. Meaningful and sustainable social change can only come to the extent that we see each other as part of the same and come together, rather than as apart and separate.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Encouraging movement at First Calgary

First Calgary—ostensibly still a credit union—seems to be moving toward a more socially responsible practice. There’s still a very long way to go to bring it to the standards of Vancity—one of Canada’s most active in social change credit unions, and also one of the most profitable. However, the changes I’ve observed this decade are at least encouraging.

There has been a significant increase in the use of the language of corporate social responsibility by the executive and board members. While this has not yet translated into any signifiant structural change to the organization, that I’m aware of, it has made room for some small projects to emerge that point to some positive possibilities.

At this past evening’s AGM, a number of projects were highlighted that indicate an increased willingness to move toward efforts for positive social change. This is a stark contrast to the first First Calgary AGM I attended about 5 years ago where the only “social responsibility” discussed were some contributions to traditional charities (the bandage vs. cure problem).

All that said, there are still numerous major problems with the anti-democratic policies and practices of First Calgary. The board election campaign needs a significant overhaul in order to actively engage the membership in dialogue with the candidates.

Currently, candidates for the board are strictly prohibited from any campaigning outside of a measly 150 word printed statement (far less than a typical cover letter—let alone a resumé), and a one-minute video statement. There is no opportunity for members to ask any questions, or for candidates to fully present their personal background and their ideas for First Calgary’s direction.

How can one be expected to make an appropriate decision about who to vote for without such information and dialogue?

There are numerous other problems with the current board structure, but that’s enough for me tonight. In any case, I’m still more encouraged now about the possibility of moving First Calgary in a positive direction than I have been since I started working to change it some years ago.
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

The Kyoto Rally was Fantastic

Photo of Raging Grannies in the crowd The Canadians For Kyoto rally here in Calgary on Sunday was one of the most enjoyable protest events I’ve ever been to. All the participants seemed enthusiastic and energetic. I guess it helped that the weather was great, too.

Something that worked really well was going into a facilitated drum circle right away after the speakers were done. I’m going to push for us to do that at most of our rallies here from now on. It was a very positive and energizing way to close out the event.

You can check out all of my photos from the event.
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Saturday, March 10, 2007

Knitting Peace

Photo: Peace Knits banner at Nelson Knit-out in the Park I quite like yesterday’s Knitting peace post in the Sand gets in my eyes blog.

I completely agree that knitting can foster peace on many levels. These range from the calming and meditative effect it has on me personally (particularly in the more intense activist and political meetings I attend), to the larger social impacts groups like the Revolutionary Knitting Circle strive for.

(I’m quoted in the post.)
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More knitting celebrity

On Friday evening, I picked up the current issue (#34) of Bitch magazine, “feminist response to pop culture”, because I’m quoted in an article by Wendy Somerson on knitting and activism (“Knot In Our Name” pp.36-41—my stuff is on pp.40-41).

Having now read the article, it’s given me some stuff to think about—particularly regarding mainstream culture/media efforts to minimize the progressive aspects of the recent popularity of crafts, especially knitting. Hopefully I’ll manage to convince myself to write more about that once I’ve thought it through…
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Friday, March 9, 2007

First Calgary Board of Directors Election

Members of First Calgary (allegedly still a Credit Union) have until Saturday to vote for the board of directors. Voting takes place in the branches during regular business hours (note that the downtown branch is closed on Saturday).

I’m not running this year, but there are a couple of progressive candidates and I strongly encourage you to vote for both of them (and none of the other candidates). There are 4 seats up for election this year, but I encourage you to leave two of your votes blank to give stronger support to the two progressive candidates.

Given the extreme campaign restrictions imposed by First Calgary, I have to be careful about what I say or write publicly to avoid compromising the campaigns of candidates I support. So, if you want to know more about my views on First Calgary and these elections, you’ll have to talk to, or email, me privately.


Thursday, March 8, 2007

Blog Against Sexism

Blog Against Sexism Day Today is Blog Against Sexism Day. This is my contribution…

When I was attending university, I participated in a consciousness raising group there called “Men Challenging Sexism.” That experience has played a big part in my activism and personal life ever since.

We would meet every week for a few hours on Friday afternoons to discuss sexism and patriarchy and our own roles and experiences in them. By taking a direct, personal, look at the impacts of sexism on our own lives and the people close to us (family, friends, partners), I came to a quite visceral understanding of the intensely negative impacts that patriarchy has had, and continues to have, on my life and on the lives of the people I care about in my life.

That patriarchy has devastatingly horrific effects on the lives of women in the world is enough reason to dedicate oneself to its erradication. However, many men fall for the lie that patriarchy somehow works out in their favour and so accept the oppression of women (and other non-male genders). This failure to recognize that patriarchy is also harmful to them is part of the failure to recognize what patriarchy is and how fundamentaly awful it is.

By understanding the terrible loss and harm patriarchy has caused me personally, and then understanding that it’s even worse for the women in my life (and all other women), I have held a motivation to work for the eradication of patriarchy that has carried me even through the worst “activist burnouts” I’ve experienced.

Once we make a personal connection with understanding these issues, it becomes almost impossible to walk away from the obligation to do what we can to make things better.
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Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Blog Against Sexism Day

Blog Against Sexism Day Tomorrow is Blog Against Sexism Day. I’m planning to contribute.
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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

More on work camps in Calgary

Following on from the CBC report, I was interviewed by Doug McIntyre at the Calgary Sun about the work camps proposal.

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Monday, March 5, 2007

Work camps in Calgary

I was interviewed by the CBC on Friday about the proposal for creating temporary work camps in Calgary (or the surrounding area).

Unfortunately, the resulting article used only one small statement and left out my damning indictment of the use of work camps and the failure to actually address the problem of long-term housing needs.

The only way I would consider looking at work camps as anything other than exploitation of workers’ desperation for companies’ short-term interests would be if at the same time, those companies were doing concrete work to build permanent housing for those workers.

Without permanent housing, we’ll just end up with a bunch more homeless people when the companies close down their work camps (such as when the next crash hits). We need to build up our permanent housing infrastructure now to ensure that everyone has a place to live. Now is the time because now we have the wealth and resources (although neither the political nor the public wills) to do it.

If we don’t take care of this critical infrastructure need now, then the next crash will be even more catstrophic. We need the politicians and the people of this province to take the long-term view to see that providing housing for all will give us a much more viable society and economy and bring us closer to sustainability so that our community can thrive well into the future.

Without working toward long-term housing solutions, work camps are just a mortgaging of the workers’ (and the community’s) futures.

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Thursday, March 1, 2007

My presentation at the Affordable Housing Task Force

This is a cleaned up transcript of my presentation, as coordinator of CHAI (Calgary Housing Action Initiative), to the Affordable Housing Task Force on February 28, 2007:

There are a few things I want to recommend today. Some of them are to address the immediate housing crisis and can be looked at as short term measures to deal with the fact that we’re having so many people forced out of their homes by the complete lack of regulation of our housing market. Those include moderated forms of rent control and a freeze on condoization. These are really critical to address the emergency today. And, frankly, ‘emergency’ is a bit of a mild word in my view.

Photo of Bill Phipps speaking at the task force. We heard earlier today from Bill Phipps talking about the moral imperitive that we have to deal with housing. Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—to which Canada is a signatory and therefore obliged to follow—specifically identifies housing as a human right. We are failing to meet the human rights of people who live in our society.

One of the other things that we absolutely need to do is revise the MGA, Municipal Government Act (I know it’s currently under review) of the provincial government, which governs what municipalities can do. Because the municipalities, when we approach them to say “Okay, we need some measures to address the housing crisis,” we keep hearing from them “Well, our hands are tied—the Municipal Government Act doesn’t allow us to take these measures.”

So, they need to be freed up to do things. Particularly inclusionary zoning—which, I recognize, the ideology of our current government kind of rejects because the ideology of our current government is around the invisible god of the market. But, the reality is that, if we had inclusionary zoning in place twenty years ago, we would not be in this situation because there would be an adequate stock of diverse housing options to meet the changing needs of our society.

Inclusionary zoning isn’t just about affordable housing. It’s about accessible housing, and it’s about providing a diversity of options from single family units to multi-family units, to individuals, assisted needs, and so on. Those are very critical to our society as a whole because we have such a monocultural mode of development in our city now, where we have these cookie-cutter neighborhoods going up that do not meet the changing needs of our society. They may meet the needs of the exceedingly wealthy people at the top right now, but after the next crash what are we going to be doing to meet the needs of the diverse number of people in our society? Particularly when we’re experiencing record growth?

Diverse housing, I think, is really a key phrase here. Not just affordable housing—but a diversity of housing options.

The single family bungalow, these 2000 square foot things that are going up all over the place here, that’s not adequate to meet the needs of a healthy community. We need to change what we allow in terms of development in our city. We need to integrate it across the board. It can’t just be “Okay, we’ll make the inner-city diverse and the suburbs can be these monocultural monstrosities that the are now” No. We need this entire city to be diverse at all levels.

One of the things I consider to be a really critical point of view on this is that, currently, those in power in this society, are treating housing as something that is just part of the market and that to address anything about housing is a cost.

Photo of me speaking at the task force Housing is not a cost. Failure to ensure that everyone in our society is housed is a cost.

Housing is core infrastructure. We don’t scoff at the notion of paying for roads—that’s infrastructure to make sure we can get around. Well, we need infrastructure to ensure that we can actually survive in this community and, hopefully, thrive.

Someone who is in a shelter cannot thrive in this community. Someone who has a home has tremendous potential to thrive in this community. And we are wasting so much of our potential as a society.

So, again, I really want to emphasize the importance of integrated communities across the board. Every single community in this city should be seeing transformation toward inclusionary zoning.

We have to acknowledge our collective responsibility. This isn’t something where “oh, those poor people—maybe this charity will help them out.” No. This is us. We as a society are responsible for all of the members of this society.

Government is intended to be a collective voice and the collective action of our society. And our government, frankly, has failed miserably and is reflective that we as a society are barbarians. The way we treat—and we’ve heard stories today of the treatment of—children who are being shunted from church basement to church basement. That’s ridiculous. They don’t treat people like that in other societies, so why would we do that here when we are supposidly so rich?

But, we aren’t rich. We’re in terrible poverty.

Hopefully you will recommend some genuine actions that reflect the actual needs of our society. And some significant change not only to address the immediate crisis—which is critical—but also to address the underlying infrastructural needs so that we can move forward for the long term in a sustainable and diverse manner to meet the needs of all people in this society.

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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Affordable Housing Task Force

The provincial government's Affordable Housing Task Force will be in Calgary for two community meetings today:

1-3PM and 7-9PM
in Hall B of the MacEwan Student Centre at the University of Calgary

It's very important that as many of us as possible attend these sessions to advocate for serious positive action on the part of our government. They need to be told, over and over again, that housing must not be left solely in the hands of "the market" and that it is in fact a critical social infrastructure that we, as a society, must take collective responsibility for.

These sessions are "open mic" - speakers will be allowed 2 minutes each to speak.

Also, whether or not you attend the sessions, please send your feedback to the task force through their website or by email to:

The deadline is today!

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Where is your focus?

“Whether you are offering a workshop or a website, it’s not about you being smart or cool, it’s about the audience being smart or cool.”
This closing remark from Tara’s blog post really struck me as being quite on the mark.

We often get off-target in so many things. In activism, there’s a strong tendency to narrow our focus to tightly defined issues, or to shift our attention to process and tactics rather than goals.

There’s a phrase that I keep coming back to in much of my thinking around activist efforts (and life as a whole):

The map is not the place.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Ticketing SUVs for environmental offense: ATSA Art Attack

Ticketing SUVs on CBC’s “The National” A few of the Calgary Culture-Jammers went out around downtown Calgary this afternoon, ticketing SUVs (and limos) for their high inefficiency - with additional penalties for idling vehicles.

We used the tickets ("Citizen's Statement of Offense") that the Montréal arts collective ATSA gave us last month when they were presenting in Calgary.

Some folks from CBC television's The National news program came along, with their reporter Mark Kelley joining us in ticketing vehicles.

They're filming a documentary on Hummers to air on The National - probably in March.
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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Odd little connections ... Community building

So I'm reading a post on Tara Hunt's HorsePigCow blog about community building when I come to a part where she's quoting from the Wikipedia article on Community building. The quote strikes me as oddly familiar, so I go dig into the article history (have I mentioned how much I appreciate Wikipedia's data setup?).

Sure enough, the quote is something I wrote back in April of last year when I created the first version of the Community building article. It's always neat to see how things come back around.

BTW, Tara's blog is worth checking into if you're interested in how community building has become important in the technology sector (and some other businesses), as well as how technology is supporting community building.
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Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Revised Activist Network

I think it was just last month that I ported the website over to my new Wayground software (using the Ruby on Rails web application framework). That enabled me to add discussion forums to the site, and look to adding more modules as I expand the Wayground code.

Now I've 'refaced' the site, giving it a (hopefully) cleaner look than the raw dump of web links it was previously. This is in preparation for a possible revival of the site into an active part of local activist organizing again.

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Friday, February 9, 2007

My speech at ACAD on February 7, 2007, day of action

A students national day of action was held across Canada on February 7, 2007. I spoke as part of a panel at the Alberta College of Art + Design in Calgary.

One thing reviewing the recording of this has made clear to me is that I say "you know" far too much. You know?

Here's a cleaned-up transcript (with most of the "um"s and "you know"s omitted. Contact me if you want the uncleaned transcript...):

Poverty is a reflection of many of the problems that we face in this society and, more-so, a reflection of the core problem that we face--which is the way we dissociate everything, the way we separate things, the way we distinguish between us and them. Left and right, Calgary - Edmonton,… At every opportunity we're dividing things into separate notions. And it is in creating those separations that we're able to allow ourselves to not be together, and in that space is where all these forms of oppression--such as poverty--emerge.

We fail to recognize as a society that everyone in this society is all part of the same thing. We're all a part of the same thing. Our molecules are even together. We're all breathing in air that's been in everybody else. We've all got water in our bodies that's been in everybody else.

In choosing as a society to ignore that reality, to see each other as separate beings--with "I've got my own interests and your interests are somehow completely separate from that"--is where we allow things to come to the point that they have now. Where Calgary has the fastest rate of growth in homelessness in Alberta if not the country. (I haven't seen the numbers for the country, so I can't say for certain. Although I, I would hazard a guess that we're the worst.) Where we have among the highest tuitions. Where we have students being turned away from school--not because of an inability to perform in school, but--because of an inability to afford it.

I worked recently with a youth group in town here where a number of them graduated about a year or so ago from high school. And, you know I, I don't think it was even 10% of them that went on to post secondary. And the thing I kept hearing--and these were some pretty bright kids--the thing I kept hearing from them was "can't afford it--it's too expensive." "Why would I burden myself with so much debt for so long." So, they're now in the workforce--but their capacity to be fully engaged in the wide variety of things that our society needs to deal with is diminished because their education has been cut short.

So, poverty is a critical issue in education. Because if students are being prevented from going into education because of money, or if they're being burdened with extreme stresses because they're having difficulty with housing, they're having difficulty getting food. I mean, to me, the clearest sign that we have utterly failed as a society in dealing with our long-term responsibilities is the fact that campuses now have food banks.

What kind of barbaric society are we when we're putting things in a situation where students are having to go to a food bank—just to get food.

It is true. We are a society that has failed to recognize that education is not a cost. Housing is not a cost. Food is not a cost.

The costs are when we fail to educate, when we fail to house, when we fail to feed the people of our society. That is where the costs are.

So we need to turn around that thinking. Bring the perspective that every time we fail to feed someone, every time we fail to educate someone, we are costing our society a lot and that's a debt we cannot afford.

So, I'll wrap it up there and leave it for the questions later.

Thank-you very much.