Sunday, 5 January 2014

In Defense of the Right to Be Outrageous

"Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I'm white!"
Justine Sacco via Twitter.

The viral reaction to the above tweet resulted in Justine Sacco losing her job. Many condemned and judged her as racist and agreed with this as just punishment.

My reaction to that sentiment, "What the fuck is wrong with you people?"

I don't find that statement racist. I find it to be beautifully satirical. It brilliantly illustrates white western privilege and how we view other cultures through our sheltered personal lenses in less than 140 characters. When reading that tweet, I didn't use it to judge her behaviour, I used it to judge my own. And I found myself wanting. And I laughed, because it has a kernel of truth in it, as all great satire does.

And that is the point of outrageous commentary. Professional comics use it to devastating effect to yes, get laughs, but also to poke fun at themselves, their audience and our society in general. Outrageous satire has been part of human culture for as long as we have an oral history. And with the dawn of the internet, the great voice of the people, we all now can participate and share our comments with each other. Satire, sarcasm, parody, exaggeration are all tools that should be available to us to use. But a new troubling social order is arising.

For now that we have given a voice to the mob, we have also given the mob a tool by which it can render a perverted sense of justice. Say something that offends someone on the Internet, and the mob will judge, condemn, and sentence you all within a matter of hours. You have no presumption of innocence, you are not even allowed to defend yourself. You have been judged, found wanting and you must be punished, and the preferred current punishments are that you lose your job, be hounded into suicide or
at minimum just hounded off of the Internet. We have lost the right to be offensive.

And people condemn those that choose be anonymous on the Internet.... I say we have damned good reason. The biggest threat to my person is not the NSA, nor corporations, government or other agents of the state. The biggest threat to my safety is you, the common citizen. For by viewing any statement through the lens of racism, sexism, homophobia etc. we automatically discard the notions of satire, sarcasm, parody and exaggeration. Those tools are not ours to use, because they be misinterpreted. And we just can't have that.

(I cannot understate how ironic I find that Justine lost her job, while those that condemned her by calling for her rape or murder get to keep theirs. The mob's sense of justice is very selective and very arbitrary about what is fair to say and what is not.)

There's been quite the amount of mob outrage lately, and some of it has been over truly honest and hateful comments. But our efforts to wipe out hate are so widespread, so instantaneous and so arbitrary that we have lost any notion of justice. In every other aspect of western society we are distrustful of vigilante justice because we know it can go so horribly wrong. So why do we put so much faith in it when dealing with online communications? Why can anyone lose their job over something they said that anyone else can deem hateful and offensive? Because of the various self-righteous "tribes" on the internet, anything anyone says can be hateful to someone else. And if everyone is hateful....

"The path to hell is paved with good intentions." A statement that should serve as a warning to those that mean well, but haven't thought through all the consequences of their actions. And this trend of involving a person's employer is a thoroughly hellish journey.

Consider for a moment the repercussions of threatening a company's brand over something an employee says. This notion therefore means that a company must police all employee online communications; whether at work or in private and shutdown any behaviour that threatens the company's reputation. The best defense is a good offense, so every organization should monitor and control what employees are allowed to say or access online while in the office. Not only that, but they probably should put in their employment contracts that employees must allow the company to monitor all personal devices for any activity that could harm the company. This is the logical conclusion. If the mob threatens a company over an employee's actions, then that company has a right to prevent those actions from happening. And before hiring an employee, it is only right and just that all online communications be handed over to be judged by HR for troubling commentary. Why hire potential trouble?

By threatening corporate brands, the mob citizenry is giving the very power to corporations that they most loathe corporations for using. Not only giving them that power, demanding and pleading that corporations take it and use it.

Mob justice, just as frightening as it ever was. Maybe when you see something that offends you, pause and reflect a moment. Will your actions truly act as a public service? Or will you just be adding another brick in that path to hell?

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Mayor's Weather Event Guide. Coles Notes Edition.

When faced with a major weather event, keep this shortlist handy. The full guide can be found somewhere within city records somewhere, but what mayor has the time to read? Instead keep this one-page list handy as a quick reference guide.

Remember: There's a fine line between being a leader and making people dependent on you. You must teach the core principals of self-reliance and independent thinking. Follow these steps with that thought foremost in your mind.

Weather Event Coles Notes - For Mayor's Eyes Only

  1. If forecasts call for a major event (E.g. an ice storm) several days in advance, do not formulate an emergency response plan. Do not update the populace as providing them information may cause a panic. People in a panic will run out and empty store shelves as they build up supplies. It is absolutely critical that you have first crack at liquor, beer and drug-house merchandise. If anything, take this opportunity to build up your own emergency supply. (In the hours leading up to the event, take the opportunity to get absolutely blotto. You will not have much time once the event hits. Enjoy yourself while you can.)
  2. Do not prepare any city resources in advance. This encourages laziness in your staff. A sharp crew has to think on their feet.
  3. Lead by example, take care of your own family first. And second and third and fourth. Then deal with the city.
  4. If a widespread power outage occurs, move your family into an expensive hotel. A man of the people cannot be seen to be taking $85 a night rooms away from his fellow citizens. Take the expensive option, the poor will thank you. The rich will be inspired by your selfless example.
  5. Contradict and disagree with city staff. Appearance of effective government teaches dependance.
  6. During press conferences, do not know the answers. Guess. Teach people to rely on themselves and investigate the solutions themselves. For cripes sakes, they have the Internet and the city pays for libraries. Don't make them rely on you.
    • Always be late for press conferences. A busy leader has a hectic schedule. Do not appear to be readily available, especially to the press. They're not doing anything to help, so feel free to waste their time.
  7. To appear to be an effective leader, show that you are taking some action. Find the hardest working crews in the city and pose for photo opportunities with them.  
    • Note for male mayors: Do not pose with women. Doing so may remind people that you are staying home, while women are out saving the city. This is bad for your image.
  8. User your own situation as a barometer on whether to declare a State of Emergency. If you are safe and sound, assume everyone else is.
Above all: Do not ask for help. This causes other people to take charge and start offering solutions. Control the situation, the only person that can decide your level of usefulness is you. It's your image at stake here, own it.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Government Investment in the Technology Sector

You all regularly read Mike Moffat and are aware of his opposition to Ontario Premier Wynne's announced investment in Cisco, right? If not, fix that will you?

While I don't necessarily agree that “this easily ranks as the worst public policy of 2013” I do agree that it is a horrible policy that will not do anything to decrease unemployment. And I also think this is one of those times over-the-top hyperbole helps make the case.

Harris Berton attempted to challenge Mike's argument. The gist of his rebuttal is that this will help grow "jobs in export sectors that can sustain the service sector."  I.e. High wage earners will spend their money locally, thus sharing their wealth with the service sectors they spend their money in. I agree with that principle, but disagree that directly investing in Cisco will help achieve that goal.

The ICT (Information and Communications Technology) sector is a growing sector on it's own. It is hard to run any company without utilizing ICT professionals as consultants or permanent employees. ICT professionals are now as essential to any organization as accountants and lawyers are. It is this central truth that is ignored when "growing a knowledge economy" is discussed. It is assumed that ICT professionals only work for the Blackberrys, Nortels, Microsofts and Ciscos of the world. The reason those companies exist is because consumers and businesses are increasingly dependent on technology to conduct their daily affairs. Any economic growth automatically increases investment in ICT.

Ironically, focusing on wooing Cisco relies on the traditional bricks-and-mortar employment model, the very model ICT is slowly destroying, and a model Cisco's technology in particular is utilized to destroy. The benefits of technology is that where you choose to live can be completely independent of where the result of your labour is realized. Hewlett Packard is the most famous ICT vendor that adopted a decentralized labour model. As an example, the engineers that collaborate on designing and support HP's storage solutions are located all over the world. They do not all work out of the same office in one city. Process that for a second. Realize that a team of highly-skilled professionals no longer have to work in the same building, they no longer need to reside in the same country. And then realize that Cisco is not run by stupid people tied to old employment models. They will use this agreement entirely to their own benefit, and when the 10 years is up, who is to say any jobs created will remain in Ottawa or Toronto? 10 years in ICT is a very, very long time.

What we need to realize is that we want high-income employees to live in Ontario. We don't necessarily want their employer to be located in Ontario. Employers relocate on a regular basis, it is the talent that says behind. We need to foster a competitive talent pool that companies want to hire, regardless of where that company is located. And ICT enables that exact employment model. While there will continue to be bricks-and-mortar type organizations that will locate in Ontario, convincing ICT organizations to stay within that model is a fools errand. And Cisco is not run by fools. Our Governments on the other hand....

If premier Wynne truly wants to increase ICT investment in this province, she needs to invest directly in creating the competitive talent that firms need to employ. Make the firms come to us, rather than hoping that the talent follows the firms. Because under that logic, anyone willing to move to Ontario to work for Cisco is just as willing to move away when Cisco leaves. We should focus on encouraging firms to hire Ontarians, not on making Ontarians wanting to work for Cisco.

Habitual Driver Alert

"Snow doesn't actually make some drivers worse, but it sure increases the contrast." @vickersty

Ever feel your mind suddenly shift how it conceptualizes a topic? That tweet did that for me. It was that proverbial "puzzle piece clicking into place" moment authors like to describe in their novels.

Every winter, right after the first snowfall, there's an annual griping about how drivers start driving worse. And now what I realize is drivers don't drive worse in snow. We don't drive any better.

It's an important distinction. Driving is very habit forming. Truly safe, defensive driving requires very active participation, which takes a lot of energy and concentration. The problem is that driving gets very monotonous. It is very easy to lose focus and just stare at the taillights ahead of you while your speed creeps up and the distance between you and the vehicle in front of you decreases. Add in other bad habits such as failing to check mirrors, properly signalling lane changes, unmaintained vehicles, etc. and when the weather turns for the worse these poor habits are more likely to result in catastrophic results. We don't realize that clear roads and good conditions forgive us of many of our bad habits.

When driving conditions deteriorate, drivers have to increase their concentration, increase their situational awareness and better forecast the potential repercussions of how their vehicle is interacting with traffic flow. Drivers have to actively decrease and reverse the accumulation of bad habits to minimize the threat to themselves and to others because the chance a bad habit having a negative consequence has increased dramatically.

And when it is stated that way, we now realize how hard this is, why the situation never seems to improve, and why we are repeating this cycle year after year. Habits are damned hard to break. And just maybe, we can focus on training to deal with this. When we stop blaming "the stupid idiots" and start realizing "hey we all collectively need to avoid bad habits" we might actually make that important step towards safer driving for all.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Smoke 'Em If You Got 'Em?

Why is it when drugs are involved, people suddenly get stupid?

"A veteran RCMP officer was stripped of his uniform and chastised by the federal justice minister Thursday after he was filmed smoking medical marijuana in what he said was a bid to to raise awareness about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in the RCMP."

And doubling down we have Justice Minister Peter MacKay:
An RCMP officer smoking marijuana while in uniform “sets a very poor example for Canadians,” “My observation is the same as for politicians, police: They fall in a similar category in the sense that ,it sets a very poor example to flout the law,” MacKay said in an interview Thursday. “It sets a very poor example for Canadians.”

To be absolutely clear here, there's nothing illegal about what Cpl. Ronald Francis was doing. He has a medical marijuana prescription. Peter MacKay is playing the Conservative Party of Canada "Stupid Outrage beats Facts" trump card.

But to be honest, Cpl. Francis's position isn't entirely logical either: “There’s no policy in the RCMP that prevents me from smoking marijuana. There’s no policy in the RCMP that says I cannot smoke in public. I have the right to smoke it in my red serge.”

Royal Canadian Mounted Police Regulations, 1988

51. (1) A member shall not

(a) while on duty, consume, possess or be under the influence of alcohol or a drug or any other behaviour altering substance, except as required or permitted in the performance of a specific duty or as authorized for personal use pursuant to a medical prescription; or

(b) report for duty while under the influence of alcohol or a drug or any other behaviour altering substance, except as authorized for personal use pursuant to a medical prescription.

52. A member shall not

(a) use any controlled or restricted drug set out respectively in Schedules G and H to the Food and Drugs Act, or any narcotic set out in the schedule to the Narcotic Control Act, except as authorized for personal use pursuant to a medical prescription; or

(b) possess any controlled or restricted drug set out respectively in Schedules G and H to the Food and Drugs Act, or a narcotic set out in the schedule to the Narcotic Control Act, except as required or permitted in the performance of the member’s duties or as authorized for personal use pursuant to a medical prescription.

I think it is entirely sensible to interpret that to mean that a supervisor must authorize the duties an officer may perform when that officer may be under the influence of any behaviour altering substance. The public, and fellow officers must be confident that any officer they come in contact with is fully capable of performing their duties. Anything that may impair that could be justification for putting that officer on desk duty, or other administrative duties. This applies to pain medication, anti-depressants and yes, marijuana. Hell, if the officer had a prescription for 3 beers a day, this wouldn't even be a public discussion; that officer would be on desk duty, and that would be the end of it.

So in this instance, the RCMP just needs to treat medical marijuana the same way they would treat any other behaviour altering medical prescription, on a case-by-case basis. And the officer with that prescription needs to shut-up and do the job assigned to them.

Oh and CBC, this is the poll you choose?

Smack yourself with the stupid bat, this isn't a "public image" problem, this is a "is he capable of performing his duties?" problem. Marijuana or Codeine, I don't care which drug is prescribed, I just want Police departments to ensure their officers are fully capable of doing their jobs safely and effectively.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Property Tax Cost of Living Comparison

A quick discussion on Twitter about relative property tax rates between Edmonton AB, London ON and Cambridge ON started me wondering, what do these various property tax rates mean to a homeowner's bottom line? Property taxes are a tax calculated using a rate and the assessed value of a home. What determines their affordability is your income. Ideally you want to live in an area where your property taxes are low, the house prices are low and the incomes are high.

Using publicly sourced data, I compiled a quick comparison using average/median income (Yes I know there's a difference, I couldn't find a consistent source and had to use both as equivalent. First dose of salt alright?), average home prices and available tax rates. All of these sources have caveats as the numbers may not have been all reported or collected in the same manner. The cities chosen reflect ones that I could find information for.  All source data and my calculations are available here.

Now that the list of caveats is done, lets start where we can make the big bucks; cities sorted by average or median income (click images to embiggen)

Out of cities listed, the top three are Calgary and Edmonton AB followed by Cambridge ON

Now where are the cheaper places to buy?

Fredericton, NB followed by Windsor and London, ON

Interesting, so what are the property tax rates?

Whoa. So Fredericton and Windsor are looking bad all of a sudden. But percentages aren't dollars.

Applying those tax rates to home values really changes the chart. But remember the income chart? How affordable are these taxes?

Well S.O.B. As a Cambridge resident, I may want to consider moving....

*Note: Huge caveat to these calculations. I calculated the property tax by simply multiplying the tax rate and the average home value. Municipalities do not use that calculation and they use an assessed home value, not the current resale values. So remember figures don't lie, but liars can figure.

Update: Via Jesse Helmer I learn of the BMA Municipal Tax Study The numbers on page 12 indicate that my quick analysis might be on target.

Wednesday, 9 October 2013

We Move About in a Bubble

Two posts in a row inspired by a Rosie DiManno article.. This is a trend that has to stop.

I have a simple observation. As a general rule, drivers are not thinking of cyclists and pedestrians, cyclists are not thinking of pedestrians and drivers and pedestrians are not thinking of cyclists and drivers.

I drive, walk and cycle and have come to the conclusion that 1 in 5 people are inconsiderate assholes (or that everyone is an inconsiderate asshole 1 time out of 5). As a pedestrian and cyclist I've almost been hit by cars. As a driver and a cyclist I've had pedestrians step into my right of way. And as a driver and a pedestrian I've had near misses with cyclists ignoring traffic laws.

The point is, there is no such species as "cyclist", "driver" or "pedestrian". They are all, each and every one, human beings. And human beings are an accident prone, unaware, self-absorbed species. Does not matter what mode of conveyance they are using, human beings can be just as annoying and dangerous standing in a crowd blocking off a sidewalk. We don't even have to move to be an inconvenience and create dangerous situations for others. "People are morons" may be very simplistic, but it's a sight more accurate and is what people forget when they curse "drivers", "cyclists" and "pedestrians" as if they are another breed of humanity.

The one lesson I try to imprint in myself and my children is always think and be aware of other people, period. Always assume the other person is an idiot and is not paying attention. Be the smarter person, and be prepared. That's all you can do. I've even stopped raging on people that offend me, I've realized that is ineffective and all it does is get their back-up. The last thing it does is teach them the error of their ways so that they stop.

Stop thinking of people by their mode of conveyance, and start thinking of them as people. Even try to look at it from their perspective and see what you could have done differently. If it's a recurring threat, work with the municipality to see if a safer system can be devised. But in the end, always be aware and keep yourself safe.

What do you get when you mix a driver, a cyclist and a pedestrian? Three morons and a whole bunch of curse words.

Monday, 7 October 2013

My Life, My Choice.

"Death to death with dignity, It’s our own distress that we can’t abide, not that of the dying." A curious argument against euthanasia by Rosie DiManno.

Contrast this sentence "dying, with all its miseries, is a part of living; that we do not and should not get to choose the moment of our death any more than we chose the moment of our birth" with the prior paragraphs, "My own father, through half a year of hospitalization and multiple surgeries, was in unbearable agony in his final weeks of consciousness. He screamed from the pain and I screamed watching it. But when he begged to make it stop, he didn’t mean “end my life.” And it never crossed my mind to think, “Kill off this man as an act of kindness.” What I wanted to do was kill the medical men and women around him who were failing so monstrously to alleviate his pain. My father did not need assisted suicide. He needed assistance to manage end-of-life traumas that assaulted his body."

"Dying, with all its miseries, is a part of living" if we provide "assistance to manage end-of-life traumas." Drugs that eliminate pain for the dying, OK. Drugs that eliminate pain and life, not OK. Because dying is part of living. But not dying in pain, that's not part of living. Or is it? I'm so confused here.

Rosie makes of her father and uncle not asking for death a virtue, an ideal everyone should aspire to, because it's a "spiritual moment we all need." She misses that she is making a huge assumption there, and that assumption is "a desire not vocalized is a desire not felt or thought of." I would hope (assuming euthanasia is still not permitted) that if I were dying and in pain, I would not vocalize that desire; not because I did not want it, but because I did not want my family to suffer through me wailing "let me die please, for pity sake, let me die." I would internalize that part of my suffering to spare my family more of their own. But I would certainly want the release death would give me. I know myself well enough to know that for certain. Just because I won't say it, doesn't mean I don't want it.

I believe a graceful death released by drugs can be just as "spiritual", hell, even more so than a screaming descent driven by pain and suffering. Since personal anecdotes trump all logic, I watched my Oma and Grandmother die. My Oma was brain dead long before her heart stopped. There was nothing left for a long time while machines pumped in nutrients keeping a husk of a body alive. My Christian relatives (I was an atheist at this point) were all talking about how she was already with God in heaven because she was brain dead. We all realized it was pointless keeping her alive, but that's what was required. And so we all watched a brain dead body linger. Wasn't all that spiritual.

My Grandmother on the other hand, died in pain. Once she no longer could care for herself and wound up in a nursing home, she lost her will for life, started starving herself and committed a kind of slow suicide. Her death was eased through the use of pain killers, but she decided she no longer wanted to live. I don't know if she would have opted for euthanasia, I doubt she would have passed a mental competency test, dementia had quickly set in. But she still opted to die, and nothing anyone could do could stop it.

If I could choose the manner of my death, I would want something like my Grandpa. He turned on a Leafs game on the TV, sat back in his La-Z-Boy and just died a quick death while watching the game. Of all the deaths in my life, that is the one that was the most "spiritual".

But we don't get to choose the manner of our deaths. Death can be quick and clean and it can be a long lingering painful process. I could die in a car accident tomorrow and have a short, messy and painful death on the side of the road. But if I were suffering a lingering inevitable death, I would like that death hastened. I would like it to be graceful and painless. And what Rosie has not managed to do, is convince me why I cannot choose to have that. Why is she arguing for what kind of death I should have? My life, my choices. I have to live by them, and I should be able to die by them as well. So Rosie, please tell me why you and the rest of society are in charge of my death. Not your death, or that of your friends or relatives. Mine. Why am I beholden to your will?

My life, my choice. And when it comes to the manner of my death, it would do everyone well to remember that.