Charity requires sacrifice. Perhaps sacrifice is not the best word, but rather austerity and humility. Lately, I have been thinking of the nature of charity.
Today, too many charitable organizations have been turned into fundraising machines that now have money as their primary goal. While financial ressources are essential to helping others, it cannot be an organization’s primary purpose. Charitable action must be duty bound, meaning it must be an action that directly helps others with as little benefit to yourself as possible. In contrast to this principle, in recent years we have seen the dramatic rise of sporting events as means for charitable organizations to raise money for their operations, such examples include 24-hour bike rides, hockey games with former professional athletes or ski marathons. The obvious argument about these organized events is the percentage of raised money that actually makes it to the organization. While that is a fair criticism, I believe it misses the moral imperative of participation in these events.
When I was a student at McGill University, a good friend of mine started a charitable organization to build a school in war ravaged northern Uganda. This was a noble cause indeed; if anyone needed more free schooling, it was them. To raise capital for the school, she employed a number of tactics and strategies. Most of them consisted in asking for money, organizing marches and promoting the organization. But, some of the strategies included hosting fancy parties at high end nightclubs in Montreal where a portion of the bar revenue would go to the organization in question. So, 22-year old students would gleefully spend their parents money on champagne and expensive vodka with the solace that some portion of their extravagance would make it to destitute children in Northern Uganda.
To me, these fundraising strategies of sporting events and gala evenings are a false form of charity because the participants of the events are enjoying themselves first and being charitable second. While enjoyment alone is not a sin, it does pose a problem when it becomes the main driver of participation. In Montreal, a large Cancer Society organizes a fundraising bike ride from Montréal to Québec in addition to other cities. The event in question is sponsored by Enbridge, a major pipeline company who has had numerous spills of highly polluting and carcinogenic oil into the environment and who propose a dangerous pipeline across pristine natural land in British Columbia. But I digress, participants of the bike rides to cure cancer must raise a minimum of 2500$ to participate, receive a jersey, food and infrastructure. They then get to bike in the beautiful Québec countryside for two days; I’m sorry that sounds more like a vacation than a charity event. From my perspective, true charity is only possible when you decide to forgo worldly pleasures for the joy of helping others. You cannot do both at the same time.
Through that reasoning, I find it very hard to donate money to these types of events. They smack of false charity that might be successful in raising awareness and generating revenue, but fail to meet the fundamental definition of charity. Jesus did not say, “Let’s party on 100 shekel Roman wine and give 15% for the redemption of our souls and children’s education.” The ends do not justify the means.
It is important to not blindly give to charity. The pink ribbon campaign for breast cancer research is another example of the transformation of charity into a commercial practice. Companies who offer unhealthy drinks and products slap the pink ribbon onto their products in the hope of selling more and perhaps trickling some money to cancer research. Many of their products are in fact potentially carcinogenic – from hairspray to sugary drinks to products made in polluting factories in China by poorly paid workers and then transported across the world on bunker oil burning tankers that cause smog and acid rain. How can that be called charity?
Charity must come from the depths of the soul. Before you can give charity, you must first become a charitable person and it begins and ends with yourself. As Gandhi stated, “Be the change you want to see”. In our times, people like Warren Buffet perhaps best exemplify this. Despite his massive wealth, he lives modestly and plans to progressively give away nearly all his money. I have heard rumours he even refused to give money to his grandchildren for cars and washing machines, he believes that material possessions should be earned when they can be. When a person lacks the ability earn their way, due to oppression, bad luck or some other event – they deserve help.
In this world, our personal actions are the only thing we have control over and true charity must come from the person. Humility and austerity must be the foundation of giving; without it, the act of charity becomes a narcissistic event that regardless of the financial success, lacks the morality, humility and honesty required to kneel down in the mud and help our fellow human stand up.
This year, I had the great privilege of being invited to give a talk on the future of democracy at TEDxMontreal. The event was wonderfully organized and the other speakers were all fantastic. Below is the talk and the original text, from which I deviated a bit due to fatigue, stress, and talking too slow. Overall, I think it went well, but I am very keen for your feedback. Was my point clear? Was it convincing? Are you ready to upgrade our democracy?
Jonathan Brun says it’s time to upgrade our democracy.
Do you remember the future? I am talking about the future we used to dream of: The flying cars, the miracle cures, the smiling families, spotless streets and monorails. What happened to it? Where is it?
I mean, part of it is here. We’ve sent a man to the moon, we’ve got devices that allow us to talk with anyone in the world, and we can easily procure the most exotic foods. In fact, anyone of of us can walk out of this room, down the street and for twenty bucks you can buy spices from India and vegetables from China. And even at minimum wage that’s only a few hours of labour.
Yet, if your city is any I know of, on your walk to the supermarket you’re likely to cross a person asking for money and possibly needing medical and psychological help. So, while we still have homelessness in our wealthiest cities, we can purchase 3$ spices from India. Let’s face it, our imagined future is not yet here – we still so many of the problems we thought we would have solved by now – poverty, access to education, affordable healthcare or equality between men and women. These problems we have failed to solve are communal failures, it’s not a single person or group’s or political party’s fault, it is our fault. If we all agree homelesness is bad and we don’t want it, why can’t we get government and society to act? We need to start talking better.
In 2011, a borough in the city of Montreal tried something new and innovative. They created an online budget simulator. Citizens could modify the budget, reduce certain services such as library hours and increase others, like pothole repairs. However, before submitting their budget, they had to balance it. This exercise played two important roles. First, it educates citizens about the costs of services. Secondly, it put the citizen in the same shoes as the public administrator. The borough received over 500 balanced budgets that allowed them to make representative decisions on behalf of the citizens. This hard data from the citizens was structured around facts, making the city administration accountable.
Contrast that to an in-person budget consultation, where people physically go to a consultation, maybe a dozen people in this room have been to one. They typically cost 10 times more and receives far less valuable data. The people who come to in person consultations often are the most outspoken, engaged and vocal. They all seem to unicorns and money trees, who doesn’t!
How do you reach that single mother of three working two jobs? You certainly can’t ask her to travel 45 minutes to speak for two minutes during a four hour town hall meeting. The barrier to participation is just too high for her.
This budget simulator allows her to participate and voice her priorities. And that’s the key, we need to get government and all citizens, from the single mother to the bike riding hipster, talking in a constructive manner. We need social feedback loops. The private sector has great feedback loops, they’re called products. You like something you buy it, you don’t you dont. Companies that sell products prosper. In democacy our best feedback loop is voting and we know how well that works.
Many municipal elections only get 30% participation, that is 1/3 people – just in case the math wasn’t clear! How many of us can say we voted at your last municipal election. Democracy advocates promise various solutions to this problem – changes to the electoral system, education, awareness, or instilling civic responsibility, etc – they aim to bump those participations by 2, 3, or 5%. I’m sorry, that’s a pathetic goal. I will not be satisfied until everyone in this room feels they can have an impact ont heir communities.
Not so long ago, we were debating if women should vote, I mean they’re only half the population. Emma Goldman was a militant feminist of the late 19th and early 20th century. When that debate was going on, she wrote an essay where she stands against woman suffrage. Not because women are incapable, or uneducated or too emotional, but because voting is a distraction from true democracy. She worried giving the right to vote would lead to apathy. I often hear, “Hey I voted, I participated, now let me watch TV!” But democracy is not a 20 minute exercise every 4 years.
The main reason people seem apathetic is simple is not because they don’t care, they do. People feel they don’t have an impact.
People tell me all the time – they’ve tried, they sent a letter to their elected official, participated in a consultation and nothing came of it – they go home feeling government is this massive structure of immovable size and even if they spent all of their spare time trying to affect it, they’d fail. The feedback loop for government is too slow. And that apathy is born out of perceived powerlessness.
Occasionally, we do rally together for change – most often in movies where we’re attacked by aliens or our when our underdog sports team wins the championship. With those external threats and victories, we become one, we engage in a common project, look in the same direction, our differences melt away and we focus our energy on the task at hand. But the real hard problems are not external to us – it’s not the Taliban, communists, or an alien race that threaten us; it is our own shortcomings, our own crime and injustice done upon our neighbours.
Recently, here in Montreal, a high school student was severely beaten by a classmate. The fight, or rather the pounding, was announced in advance – by text message. The time and location were set – everyone knew what was coming, except the victim.
The students, friends, congregated outside, and waited. The bully, twice the size of the victim, grabbed him and then proceeded to punch and kick his classmate until blood stained the cement school yard. The kid’s eye was shattered, his jaw broken and everyone just stared. This vicious violence was not done by a gang, or a criminal, it was done by a classmate, a neighbour.
And while this student’s face was being smashed in, fifty of his classmates looked on and taped the savagery on their smart phones, all eager to upload to Youtube. This spectacle of unbelievable apathy happens all the time at schools around the world.
I was picked on at school, called names, pushed around – discussing democratic reform in second grade was not as popular as you might think. My guess is many of us were bullied, or saw it happen, or even participated in it. When bullies strike, we can blame the school for a failure to intervene, or blame the bully for hitting the classmate or blame the onlookers who dont intervene. The answer of course is that everyone is to blame.
Injustice always starts at the personal level, but it can quickly become intitutionalized and grow – like a cancer.
My jewish name is Joseph, I’m named after my grandfather, Joseph, who I am told was a strong Polish man with a thick neck and a mean temper. He was born in Poland in 1920, in 1939, with dark clouds descending over Europe, his father Moishe and mother Clara decided to emigrate from from south eastern Poland to Canada, just east of Winnipeg. They fled Poland just in time.
The situation for jews in Europe in 1939 was so bad, so dire, that my great grandfather’s family was willing to give up all material possessions, board a ship, travel to a land they did not know – simply for the hope of escape. We all know Europe’s tenuous democracy completely disintegrated in the 1930s. But, it did not collapse in one night or with one man, it crumbled under collective apathy. The rights of many of its citizens were slowly and then quickly removed – the feedback loops that I spoke about earlier, that are essential to strong democracy were methodically dismantled. And people stood by.
Cities with 25% jewish populations, that is 1 out of 4 people, again – for your math, emerged from the war with nary a jew in site. With the exception of two of his cousins, my grandfather’s entire polish family was killed.
Killing 6 million people is hard; much harder than you might think. In case you were thinking about it. These 6 million people had to be identified, categorized and transported from throughout Europe to extermination camps where they were methodically sorted, worked to the bone and killed. That is a complex task and the only way to do it, is with computer technology. In fact, the use of IBM punch card technology was absolutely essential to finding, moving and killing these innocent citizens of europe. It was so important that the founder and CEO of IBM, Thomas Watson, received the Merit cross of the German Eagle, a high honour from the Nazi Regime.
So, let me be very, very clear. Technology is definitely not our saviour, it can be used to either end – good or bad.
Clearly, technology is not THE solution, it is just a tool, it is amoral. In many ways, we have avoided using technology for bad, instead we have used it for entertainment. But if we use our technology for 3D movies, never-ending video games or social check-ins won’t solve poverty. They are closed feedback loops that have no impact on real life.
Not only is it entertainment. We’re surrounded by technology – HD Tvs, the internet, cars, text messaging. When i can text my friend in China and get a intentateous response, I have different expecttions. Consequently, people’s expectations have changed. We demand instant gratification from our technology and government bureaucracy is anything but instant.
How can we ensure our technological innovations are used to improve democracy? You see, the opposite of war or conflict is not peace, it’s dialogue. As long we’re talking we can’t be fighting. And talking can change things, words matter.
Just as Emma Goldman had said, a truly democratic society is not one that votes every 4 years – it’s one that cares. Cares about the disenfranchised, the poor and the criminals. To solve our hard issues, our common problems that we talked about earlier, we must hold a continuous discussion that allows us to make constant adjustments to our policies and traditions. Yes, definitely easier said than done.
How do we focus that lost energy, that human potential spent watching TV into something productive – something that make’s society better. How do we help thousands of homeless people get off the streets and into jobs, how do we ensure a clean environment and a balanced budget. How can we get you engaged in solving our common problems?
Because civic engagement’s competing product is not apathy, it’s entertainment. As long as it’s easier to come home after a day’s work and sit in front of your TV than to improve your community, we’re gonna fail. So making it easy to engage is part of the solution.
Not only does it have to be easy, but people need to feel rewarded for participating. They need to feel the same high when greening their neighbourhood as someone does when they attain level 54 Magic Orc in the online video game World of Warcraft. What no warcraft players here?
Until we close that gap of reward, we cannot solve our communal problems. No amount of education is going to change that.
Because, we live in a competitive world, our attention constantly drawn to the shiny new toy. Clearly our capitalist feedback loops work great. We get a new iPhone every year. If the metric for capitalist success is money, what is government’s metric?
Data. Hard information on our environment, our prisons, our education – that is how we will measure our success. We need government to open up their data so that engaged citizens and organizations can see what is happening. whats broken and whats working. We need Data about budgets, contracts, infrastructure, services, immigration and everything government touches. This is the currency of society, it represents something deeper and more meaningful than money ever can.
We need to change the default setting of government. Today, governments are still in the 20th century. They are closed by default. They don’t publish information unless they feel it is essential, easy or have to by law. We need to switch government from a closed by default position to an open by default position. That is the beginning of a real conversation that matters.
All non personal, and I mean all, data needs to be made accessible in an open and digital format so it can easily be processed, visualized, digested and fed back into society in a way that allows us, the citizens, to mobilize, dialogue and close that feedback loop.
Once we all have access to the same knowledge, structured around the cold hard facts, we can begin to have a real conversation. We can remove government procedures and formalities that inhibit true conversation, remove red tape. We can ask our elected officials to enter the discussion on equal ground.
Now organizations around the world are working to make this happen. I mentioned an interactive budget earlier that is done by Open North here in Montreal. But groups are also building databases of elected representatives so other non-profits can mount advocacy campaigns.
These groups also work with media organizations to expose government contracts and route out corruption. They help citizens find clean restaurants, safe neighbourhoods, and easily file access to information requests. In short, these groups are laying the demoractic infrastructure of the 21st century. And it’s already changing things.
In 2007, Kenya had a contested presidential elections, which erupted into ethnic violence. Some intrepid Kenyan hackers built Ushahidi, an amazing tool to mobilize the public. The Ushahidi platform allows people to text in reports of violence, issues or anything really from their mobile phones – the information is then aggregated and displayed on an interactive map. This tool helped limit the ethic violence in Kenya and is now being used around the world for everything from clean water issues in native reserves to violence in the slums of Haiti. It is a tool, built by activists, that mobilizes citizens against the excesses of hatred. Is genocide possible with mobile phones and Ushaidi?
So that’s a start, but we need to spread these solutions to from rural villages in Bangladesh to the upper east side of New York City. We need to build a dialogue inside communities and amongst communities.
As technology and society’s expectations continue to accelerate, it is clear traditional forms of centralized government cannot keep up. People’s expectations are far ahead of what traditional government structure can provide.
The budget simulator I mentioned earlier helps public administrators understand their citizens needs in a simple, tangible and actionable way. What’s great about that example is the data you get, you see citizen profiles: drivers, cyclists, families, singles and then see issues where over 85% of the population was in agreement. This is what society is made up of – variety. We can see correlations between priorities, identify statistical significance and find many, many areas of agreement. The areas where we agree are the low hanging fruit, no government should hesitate to act on them.
But that is one thing, to get our flying cars, our monorails and our clean streets we need a new social contract between citizens and between citizens and government. Information, data, and therefore power, has to be handed back to the people.
Because, the next democracy is not some sort of new governing form based on an iPhone app. It’s a deep and fundamental opening up of government using techology. We go from a suit and tie periodic committee to an ongoing conversation with our elected officials and public services. It is a return to the roots of democracy, where apathy is the exception, not the rule, and where we can all meaningfully contribute to our communities.
So, no matter your day job or your interests – whether it’s security to clean water to a robust economy; wether you’re left and right wing, government matters, collective decisions affect your life and your children’s. We need to embrace techonology to close our society’s feedback loop and start meaninfgul dialogue amongst ourselves and with government. Because, we are the government, it is our and no one else’s to build that society of tomorrow. It’s time to upgrade our democracy.
Understanding a fellow person’s point of view is often extremely hard, yet it can be extremely powerful. Beyond our opposable thumbs, language and large brains – our ability to coordinate our actions into group priorities is probably the most defining human skill. We are remarkably good at discussing, finding compromise and choosing a path of action for a collective group. Yes, we have a war here and there, but we’re generally good at it.
I recently read three great books on negotiating, discusing hard issues and understanding another person’s moral perspective. Getting to Yes is a quick and easy read on negotiation tactics, it could be boiled down to: discuss principles, not positions. This classic negotiation book outlines easy skills you can employ in any negotiation.
Difficult Conversations is the follow up to Getting to Yes. It explains how to understand another person’s history and perspective on an issue. It walks through how to put yourself in the some else’s shoes and find solutions – or at least communicate better.
The recent book by Jonathan Haidt, The Righteous Mind, lays out a six pillar moral fondation that all humans use to evaluate decisions. It is an amazing book that is already having an impact in the political world. The six pillars he identifies through various studies are Care for the other (poverty), Harm to others (golden rule), Sanctity of institutions (church), Respect for Authority (father-son), Loyalty to a group (sports team, military) and Liberty and oppression (government, laws). You can read a detailed description of these pillars here and you can see Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk where he summarizes his findings. Haidt argues that Liberals (lefties) put much more emphais on the first two, while social conservatives place an equal(ish) emphasis on all six. There is a lot more meat to it than that, so I encourage all to take a look.
These three books are well written that really help you see where you’re priorities and concerns lie and where someone else might be speaking from. As with many great books, these ones analyse and then systematize many ideas and principles we know in the back of our mind, but have difficulty implementing or applying. I’m personally looking forward to using these tactics in a charged political discussion soon.
If all of us – especially those in the political world – read these books, the world would be a much more civil place. Of course, we will never agree on everything and political parties and opinions are here to stay, but these books paint a fascinating portrait of the human condition and how it alters our perception of the world.
A blog post entitled “Why the ‘Open Data Movement‘ is a Joke” is making the rounds. There are already excellent rebuttals by David Eaves here and Socrata here and frankly, I don’t have much to add. One thing I will say is that Open Data does risk becoming a PR stunt by government authorities, so we must be vigilant. True and meaningful opening up of government (not just data), must be enshrined in law, there is no other option. In fact, government transparency should be constitutional or in Canada, part of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms so that it remains out of reach of closed minded governments with things to hide. It should be every citizen’s right to obtain real-time digital and open data from the government.
Let’s be clear, the ultimate goal of the open data mouvement is simple: transform government from a closed by default position where citizens request access to information to a government that is open by default and which must defend why a non-personal piece of information SHOULD NOT be made public.
Using fluffy open data (transit, sign-posts, wait times at hospitals) might seem dangerous, but I believe it will set an expectation on the part of citizens. This expectation is a foundation to continuously request more serious, meaningful and higher quality data. Time will tell, but I have no doubts concerning the seriousness and intent of the open data mouvement.
P.S. We see more and more access to information advocates at open data conferences, so the future is hopeful.
As a resident of your riding, I would like to raise my voice to say the Liberal government’s position on the tuition fees is causing far more trouble that it is solving.
While the violence around the protests is unacceptable, so too is the government’s unbelievable inflexibility. The government seems to treat over 150 000 citizens in the streets as a small detail that should not affect its policies. Who else has ever brought that many Quebecers together?
From the start, the Liberal government should have spread the tuition hike over a longer period – perhaps 10 years. Making one generation of students pay for the entire hike was inevitably going to upset them.
I implore your party to resolve this situation which has become unacceptable. The current state of affairs is an embarrassment for Québec and the Liberal party. From Lafontaine and Baldwin in 1848 to today, Canada prides itself on a peaceful and responsible government – it’s high time the Liberal Party try and live up to that history.
The New York Times just ran an essay competition about why it is ethical to eat meat. The essays are short, go read them, ok, good.
I think the arguments are great. Personally, I am a failed vegetarian, or as I said in 2008: a quasi-vegetarian. I try to avoid eating meat whenever possible, but I do eat meat when I am invited to someone’s home or when the meat will be thrown out. That being said, my personal goal is to avoid harming sentient creatures as much as possible. For now, I am too addicted to butter and cheese, which do cause pain to animals, to give those up.
Each essay has a different argument, but with the exception of one, they all seem to say the same thing, “Eating meat can be ethical when the animal is raised in a holistic and sustainable manner”. That massive transformation should be our society’s first goal.
However, I do not think killing an animal raised in a sustainable manner is less morally wrong. Death is death, regardless of the purpose. There is no such thing as a painless death and to cut an animal’s life short for our pleasure, when there are easy alternative nutrient sources, seems selfish at best. There are exceptions – the far north where little vegetables can be grown and the arid deserts – but generally speaking, you can find easy alternatives to meat. One essay goes as far as to say that the only ethical meat is one grown in a lab, the essayist is probably right.
As I write this, the Quebec student protests seem to be getting more and more violent. First, let me say I am incredibly impressed by the organisation, length and structure of the protests so far. Generally speaking, I am for free higher education, if many European countries and Mexico can offer it, why can’t we?
However, the way the student protests are going right now, I am not optimistic. As the protests turn violent, the mainstream population is removing their support and the students’ cause will be lost. Students must unequivocally condemn all violence by all students and all participants, even if peripheral, in the protests. No amount of violence by police forces justifies violence by students. Beyond the moral reasoning, there is a simple pragmatic truth; if the students start using violence, they will lose. The police have many more tear gas cannisters than the students.
Recently on Facebook, I saw a number of people endorsing the J.F.K quote, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable” – that is a very big mistake, especially in the context of a democratic Québec and students’ modest demands for a tuition freeze.
Student union leaders should pay close attention to other non-violent mouvements. When protests for Indian independence turned violent in 1922, Gandhi did not hesitate to call the entire independence campaign off. And they were fighting for independance, not 1500$ a year in tuition fees!
“Non-cooperation” enjoyed widespread appeal and success, increasing excitement and participation from all strata of Indian society. Yet, just as the movement reached its apex, it ended abruptly as a result of a violent clash in the town of Chauri Chaura, Uttar Pradesh, in February 1922. Fearing that the movement was about to take a turn towards violence, and convinced that this would be the undoing of all his work, Gandhi called off the campaign of mass civil disobedience. This was the third time that Gandhi had called off a major campaign.
Gandhi also fasted in an attempt to stop the violence in 1948 during the Pakistani-India separation. Anyone trained in non-violent protests should understand that the moment you go violent, you’ve lost.
During the anti-apartheid mouvement in South Africa, Mandela confronted the Indian Congress claiming that their non-violent tactics had failed and the African National Congress should resort to a violent revolution. The Indian Congress responded, ”Non-violence has not failed us, we have failed non-violence”.
All students wanting to change the system should read Gene Sharp’s book on non-violent tactics, “From Dictatorship to Democracy“. In the past week, I am afraid the students have lost the public’s support; the vandalism of storefronts and the bricks on the metro are too much for a lot of working people. Students should not underestimate the value many people and business put on ‘stability’, see Jonathan Haidt’s TED talk.
Closer to home, when the FLQ went violent during the October Crisis, the widespread popular support for their cause evaporated overnight. The same thing is happening to the student mouvement as we speak.
Have you seen the latest Katy Perry music video “Part of Me”? Remarkable would be an understatement. It’s a poorly kept secret that mainstream pop stars, actors and news media promote the establishment’s vision of society and often glorify the military force, but Katy takes it to a whole new level. Many movies and videos use product placement as a way earn additional income, but this video clearly advocates changing your life and joining the marines – not just buying a new brand of Coke. I have never seen such a blatant advertisement for the military and I wonder how much they paid and what impact it might have.
With an all volunteer military, it is essential for the forces promote themselves as a life altering and epic mission to maintain democracy, freedom and our way of life. Even Canada, which has never boasted of its military power, has moved towards glorification of the armed forces. This started sometime ago, with a drawdown of our United Nations peacekeeping mission efforts over the past two decades and a lack of enthusiasm for risky intervention. Couple that with a Conservative government and celebrations for the war of 1812 and our national perception of the military’s role could be considered confused, at best. This fantastic Walrus article outlines how that happened and what it means for Canada.
The military is smaller in size than ever before and has been struggling to define itself in the post-communist era. Should Canada’s military be primarily peacekeeping (i.e. Bosnia), emergency low-risk interventions (i.e. Libya), hybrid missions (i.e. Afghanistan) or something else? Intervention in a time when a dozen lost soldiers causes national polemic is very challenging. The ever-excellent Munk Debates hosted a discussion on the pros, cons and risks of intervention and interestingly the audience remained pro-intervention despite General Rick Hillier and John Bolton’s objections. However, I would venture that if the audience members were asked to volunteer themselves or send their children for the proposed missions, they would baulk.
People say they want a better world, but far too often refuse to get their hands dirty or make real sacrifice. Running the military, policing the oceans and securing troubled countries is very expensive, challenging and dangerous. It’s clear that the Marines, which Katy is promoting, are not a peacekeeping force. I would hope Katy’s propagandizing of military life would provoke some discussion and debate amongst her youth based audience, I’m not sure it has.
The military is not guts, glory and bullets – as many people tend to believe. The Onion satirical newspaper got it right when they described a “true life” military video game as being 80% hauling equipment and 19% filling out paperwork, and 1% fighting. To better understand what the military really is and isn’t, I highly recommend the PBS mini-series, Carrier. It follows life aboard the USS Nimitz, a US nuclear aircraft carrier that’s home to over 2 700 military personnel. The series follows the lives of sailors at all levels of the ship, from the captain to the toilet cleaners. The show interviews smart sailors for and against the war in Iraq and clearly shows the importance of the military as an escape route from abuse and poverty.
So with all that in mind, what is Canada’s military’s role in the 21st century? Should pop stars promote the military and is anyone ready to truly sacrifice for their country?
Bonus point, guess how many aircraft carriers there are in the world and who has them.
My blog has been a bit quiet of late, due largely to the launch of a new citizen initiative for open data – Québec Ouvert. This effort follows a similar format and model to the successful effort in Montreal (Montreal Ouvert).
One notable difference will be the strategy and the data sets we target for release. By nature, provincial services are more removed from the citizen’s daily life than municipal services. Municipalities offer street cleaning, public transit, roads (some), and parks. Provinces most used services include healthcare, education and larger infrastructure. It could be said that you interact with municipal services on a daily basis, with provincial services on a monthly basis and with federal services on an annual basis. Consequently, we will be working with a different strategy and a wider perspective, while trying to bring our narrative to the individual level – hospital wait times, road construction and high quality education. Specifically, we will be encouraging the province to embrace open data as a tool to fight corruption.
Yesterday, Canadian parliament passed the omnibus C-10 Crime Bill, which includes 9 laws the Conservative party of Canada failed to pass as a minority government. This is possibly the worst thing to happen to Canada in a long time; we might not see the consequences soon, but they will be large, wide and deep. Tens of thousands more people in jail, clogged courts and thousands of lives ruined for no good reason. This law was created and passed without consultation or without the slightest respect for science and analysis, 100% ideological nonsense. Good job Conservative Party of Canada. The quick passage of the bill is not surprising considering the Conservative Party’s past accomplishments (see my old 6 point summary of why Harper is probably not the best prime minister we’ve ever had).
Recently, Bryan Stevenson of Equal Justice Initiative gave a formidable TED Talk (below) on the cruel injustice of the American penal system. In the States, 13 year olds are tried for life and handed life sentences and many states do not allow convicts to vote, even after release from prison. While C-10 is not as bad as US penal law, it is a step in that failed direction. Fundamentally, a good justice system is one that focuses on prevention and rehabilitation; Canada has a decent system, though not perfect. C-10 and the conservative ideology behind it proposes that punishment is the best penal system, that ‘whipping’ people with harsh uncompromising prison terms will reduce crime – it has never worked, and never will. Nearly every group – lawyers, judges, social workers and provincial governments – opposed this law, but Conservatives paid no heed.
Not much to add, but this is indeed a sad day for the fair and just Canada that I hope to live in. At least some judges are starting to oppose the law and hopefully it can be overturned through charter rights, or a new government.