Thursday, 12 December 2013

Lenore Zann's dangerous gamble

The CBC ran a story tonight [link] regarding an upsetting run in Nova Scotia MLA Lenore Zann had with a 17 year old victim of the patriarchy. In case you don't feel like giving the CBC a clickthrough, Zann was an actor before entering political life. You may have seen her on the L Word or as Rogue on the X-Men cartoon. She has done some nude scenes over her career and we now face the unfortunate fact that it is being used against her.

In its most recent surfacing, an image of Zann was posted by a 17 year old two weeks ago, and much drama ensued. Many have cried sexism and brought up the patriarchy, and rightfully so. To treat Zann differently and attempt to demean her using sexual innuendo or messaging in my opinion is deplorable and immature, to say the least.

Had Zann and her supporters taken this opportunity to educate the public on the impacts of the patriarchy, that's probably where this story would have ended. But Lenore Zann made one critical mistake: she called the police.

Was Lenore Zann the victim of tacit sexism and mean spirited behavior? Absolutely. Was she bullied? It could be argued.

So then why was it wrong for her to call the cops?

Cyber bullying laws in spirit are meant to protect people from life crippling harassment. Intimate image laws are meant to protect people from 'the angry ex' who might publish an image that was intended to be private, as well as horrible situations like that of Rehtaeh Parsons. 

But the picture in question originates from a scene intended for public consumption. Zann appeared nude on camera with the intention of other people seeing it. The fact that she's a politician in my opinion makes this a case that is fraught with risk to freedom of expression.

As I asked in July when this came up last time, what if Rob Ford had been nude in the crack video? While a disgusting thought, in theory he could prevent said video's release. Hell in theory he could have prevented the release of the real one considering how broad some of these laws are.

In a democracy politicians have to be willing to face the public regarding the decisions they have made. If in that context Lenore Zann was a victim of cyber-bullying then so too was Rob Ford, and for that matter everybody who has ever worked in the political-media complex.

Our political representatives have a duty to be thoughtful in their proposal and application of the law. The kind of precedent this could have set honestly frightens me. Joseph Howe fought this fight 200 years ago for us, to ensure we could always tell the truth about a politician no matter how vile. Thank goodness the police had the sense to see that despite how the law was written, even if Lenore Zann didn't.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Rob Ford, Fear, and the overthrow of the 4th Estate

Where is Chris Farley when you need him? That's the hit I keep hearing when someone mentions the mayor of Toronto. Anyone who remembers Farley's comedic genius can crack a smile at it. A powerful image for the mind's eye: Mayor FarleyFord rolls on the ground with an abundance of energy not thought possible for a 300 pound man, before gutturally croaking for more crack.

Despite that image, Ford's support is rising. The political class keeps asking 'how could this be?' But some can see the answer plain as day. I think it's time for us to admit an inescapable truth: we see politics as a farce.

There is a great quote some PR folks will spout to sound edgy and sage:

"In a closed society where everybody's guilty, the only crime is getting caught. In a world of thieves, the only final sin is stupidity." - Hunter S. Thompson.

The mechanics of that quote worked for spin-masters like a physical law of the universe. Fifteen years ago a political strategist could devise their plan on a foundation of closeted skeletons. Entire campaigns have been built around the strategic release of foul smelling personal dirt. Princes and Princesses of Darkness alike have milked that concept for generations.

But something isn't right here. There's one thing bending the picture frame... Rob Ford is still employed. There are no masses of pitchforks ousting him from office.

In private, those who work in media and politics react as most would over this. They display embarrassment, anger, humour, the full gambit. But there's one other emotion I see running just under the surface, like a tapeworm shifting after a big steak. Fear. That rising fear you think you can push to the side, but just won't go away. To me this fear is as palpable as it would be among physicists if they discovered the laws of thermodynamics had changed overnight.

To any politician or journalist, smoking crack on video -if nothing else- should be enough to force someone out of their job. Right?


Lights. Camera. Action. These make up the three walls of reality for the political-media complex. I've always noted with interest how some old school media types call interacting with the public 'breaking the fourth wall'.

The fourth wall analogy is perfect for traditional media, because the wall between the show and the audience was invisible. Like a force field you couldn't see but was somehow holding you back. So to me it's no surprise most people haven't realized the fourth wall no longer exists. How could it when anyone with a computer is both a viewer and a broadcaster? The 4th wall now only exists in our minds.

The new media age has arrived. A silent revolution is taking place before our eyes. Throughout history we have seen the various estates of power overthrown. Usually this involves at least threats of violence if not outright warfare. But who'd have thought such a revolution could occur simply by giving people networked computers and tacit decision making power in the affairs of the media? Certainly not the owners of media companies.

There is no sense in hiding it anymore. No need to hold these cards close to the chest: the media has been successfully overthrown in their dominance of the public discourse. Rob Ford just happened to be the one crazy enough to prove it to us all completely by accident.

We're now at a point where there is no single broadcast system that has an audience larger than facebook's network. There is no news channel that can deliver information as fast and far as twitter. And there is certainly nothing else available providing people the power they deserve to direct media outlets and political parties in their efforts.

For a generation that gets most of its political news from satire and comedy, this is a watershed moment. It demonstrates clearly the farce we see politics to be. Telling pollsters we support Rob Ford is the best possible collective middle finger Canadians could raise to the power brokers of the world.

Through his mental illness and illogical action, Rob Ford has shown everyone that the rules of old media only apply now in so far as a person is willing to follow them. Yes, despite all odds, Rob Ford is still tweeting. Still engaging with people. Still displaying good humour in the face of what should be a career ending scandal. He's starting a youtube show. Your move, Olivia Chow.

When Justin Trudeau admitted to smoking pot at a dinner party as a sitting MP, journalists were titillated. Political allies raised their eyebrows and opponents voiced their disapproval. But what did the nation do? It applauded his honesty. Why? What has changed the rules of reality so much for these things to happen?

By now I hope you know the answer: The Internet.

Once it became possible to bypass the mainstream media to engage with voters, the process was complete.

People like to think the new media age hasn't arrived yet. "It's coming, but main stream media still dictates the rules." If you think that way, you need to think again. The largest media outlets now trawl the internet on an hourly basis for their content. By some estimates we have surpassed an important point, over half of the stories generated by media are now produced via online search as opposed to employing true investigative journalism.

Hunter's gem of wisdom has now been replaced by theories like The Streisand Effect, where the act of suppressing information online causes it to spread further. But researches like myself are beginning to think our understanding of the Streisand Effect is extremely limited. Indeed, I believe it is one small piece of a larger puzzle. This story spread far and wide beyond Canadian borders, just like another of 2013 that involved the perceived suppression of information. The sexual-assault and suicide of Rehtaeh Parsons in Halifax, Nova Scotia.

To deny the role of the Parsons story in the utter trampling the presiding government received in the subsequent election would be a folly of epic proportions. In both cases the Streisand Effect was a critical factor in the spreading of the story. By common sense, both should give us a change in government.

But Rob Ford's support numbers are rising.

In the Parsons story, we were dealing with a government notorious for its closed doors and thinking. In Rob Ford's case, he's the mayor of a world class major city, and he still personally returns phone calls. All while allegedly consuming a variety of dangerous substances at levels capable of slowing a bull moose mid-charge.

Rob Ford isn't a scandal or a mayor or an addict. He's a legend. He's become a way of conveying a message.

The politicians who gain support in this age are the politicians who give people a voice. And while he may have bumbled into it, Rob Ford is doing just that. Which means one simple thing: unless you're actually representing the people and giving us a stake in the affairs of the nation, you may as well be Rob Ford. He might be a crackhead, but at least he returns our phone calls.

For a poll whose results will be viewed around the world, nothing seems to be making a Torontonian feel heard right now more than saying they support Rob Ford. That feeling trumps everything else. Even crack addiction.  

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

On the campaign trail with Mark Furey in Bridgewater

(Bridgewater, NS) Last night I made a quick trip down to Bridgewater to help Liberal Mark Furey and his team with the logistics of their reddit ‘Ask Me Anything’. Mark is practically adored in the office in Halifax and now I understand why.

 His campaign office is just over the bridge on King Street, and even after supper on a Tuesday it was still buzzing with activity. As everyone knows I’m a big free internet and good discussion guy. I pitched reddit to the team because I believe it’s one of the few places online that provides the potential for substantive discussion.

 I believe Nova Scotians of all political stripes deserve the opportunity to directly ask questions of their candidates. Reddit AMAs provide the opportunity to bypass the soundbites, enabling real conversation between people and politicians.

 I walked into his campaign office to find three volunteers who were thrilled to see people they knew from their riding registering on reddit to ask their question.

 Mark researched and worked hard on every answer. With each new question he would dive back into the massive amount of documents he has about The Liberal platform with one goal in mind: give people the answer they want, the real one.

 Naturally, there were some softballs and hardballs thrown. But what really struck me is neither really mattered to him. The most important thing to Mark was providing the answers.

 Before researching he’d stop for a moment to think about why the question was being asked, then dive into his documents so he could provide the most detailed answer possible.

 Towards the end of the evening I noticed an engraved quote on the back of his computer:

 “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

 I think that says it all.

Tuesday, 23 July 2013

The "I just finished my manuscript, what next?" Megathread project from /r/writing on reddit (Part 1)

Crosspost from

This has been a common topic lately. I have also just completed the first draft of a manuscript I intend to seek a publisher for. In the coming weeks, I'm going to have to make up my mind if I intend to take a standard publishing industry approach, or take a go online and in the self publishing realm.

I was thinking it might be helpful (to the community and myself) to expand this into a focused conversation on 'what to do next'. I do not claim to be an expert, but I have been practicing my craft for over 15 years, and have been carefully researching how I could eventually make the move from hobbyist to professional.

I'm in the process of creating a very large to do list, for both research and actual work that needs to be done. Since there are seemingly more than a few of us in the community who are at this point right now, perhaps we could try working on one together?

Tell us about what's on your to do list! I will keep a record of what we come up with on my blog.

I've broken mine down into categories to start:

Publishing industry research & work

1. Write draft query letter
2. Write draft back book cover
3. Write draft “what qualifies me to write this book”
4. Write draft “why will this book sell & what does this book compete with”
5. Find the names of 10 large agencies seeking submissions in my genre
6. Research each of the agencies
7. Find the contact information for 3 major publishers and 3 minor publishers
8. Research each of the publishers
9. Create list of all possible networking contacts in publishing field

Promotional work

1. Create Social media accounts, generate good & appropriate content for each platform: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Reddit, Tumblr
2. Create a blog on a topic of which you can speak well
3. Build social networking contacts

Self publishing research

1. Research kickstarter
2. Research indiegogo
3. Research costs of self publishing
4. Research self publishing on amazon
5. Research & price possible graphic designers
6. Research & price possible editors

Actual Manuscript work

1. Print off paper copy for initial editing
2. Mark where foreshadowing is required or can be placed
3. Mark where more description is required
4. Re-create character diagrams based on what the characters do and say in what you have written

Time Breakdown

1 hour each day on editing
1 hour each day on promoting social networking accounts or building contacts
1 hour each day creating content for social networking accounts
1 hour each day writing blog pieces

Monday, 22 July 2013

At The Intersection of The Rehtaeh Parsons Case and Freedom of Expression


The Rehtaeh Parsons story took another turn last week with the release of a report by new Canadian Federal Justice Minister, Peter MacKay. The report calls for a new law and vague investigative powers to cover a 'gap' in the criminal code regarding the 'sharing of intimate images'. [CBC Article]

While this may sound good on the surface, what lurks beneath is a connection to the conflicting feelings of The Conservative Party in regards to privacy and freedom of expression. In case it needs repeating there are existing laws to cover this case: Child Pornography and sexual assault. Those laws may be inadequate and outdated, but they exist. So why create a new and tangentially related one?

The laws in Canada covering the recording of conversations and images are remarkably open when compared with American law. In the United States, I can't record a phone call without notifying the other party. In Canada it's a bit more complex, but a simple test determines if you can clandestinely record a conversation in video or audio.

Section 184(2)(a) of the Criminal Code of Canada covers the exceptions, and the first one is that if you are one of the intended recipients of a private communication, you may record it.

You can record any interaction you have -public or private- and publish it, without notifying the person you are recording. Permission is not required. The kicker is that you have to be an active participant in the event. So I can walk into a mechanics shop and record the conversation I have with the mechanic. However, if I leave the camera behind without permission to record them while they work -that constitutes spying- which we also have laws to cover. A more detailed explanation can be found here.

As an activist, this law has shielded me on numerous occasions. It affords Canadians an important tool when it comes to personal activism, journalism, and posting content to the web.

Following an article in the Chronicle Herald, Anonymous helped propel this story to international status. The nebulous collective of activists now notorious as 'Hacktivists' are the experts at getting attention. But in this case one of the few universal beliefs of Anonymous -Freedom of Expression- is about to collide head on with the pet cause of a large subset within itself: Rape Culture.

Anon in Uncomfortable Position

I reached out to a very active Anonymous activist intimately familiar with the Parsons case, and asked him a direct question: “Do you have any concerns that the proposed 'Intimate Images' law could impact freedom of expression in Canada?”

ANSWER: “I'm concerned it would be really broad. We have to think about the big picture though. I don't want to wade in on how various elements of Anon could clash over this, but censorship does have its place. We don't want to limit freedom of expression, but sexual pictures of thirteen year-olds should have no place on the internet.” - Anonymous

The Rob Ford Connection

But this law wouldn't only be for child pornography, it would cover consenting adults as well. This development leads to a dangerous question many of us have feared to ask ourselves: what if Rob Ford had been smoking a crack pipe while nude? 

Clear cut situations like a 15 year old Rehtaeh Parsons vomiting out of a window while being sexually assaulted should be relatively easy to cover. The problem is, it's also easy for a reactionary law to be used for unintended purposes. Unless it is incredibly well written and specific, such a law could have in theory protected the dear leader of Toronto in his video scandal. 

It also provides an easy sound-byte sized attack against anyone who opposes it. This proposed law is a conservative political strategist's dream. All they need do is tinker with a few words, and Prime Minister Harper will have a political weapon to fight his opponents with... if anyone dares to criticize it.

**TW; means trigger warning, to advise sexual assault survivors of potentially upsetting content.

Sunday, 21 July 2013

A service with the Great Priest, Xavier Rudd

Before the show, I asked someone "who is Xavier Rudd?"

“He's insane. And Australian. So it's the good kind of insane.” Was the answer. 

Rudd is among those rare musicians whose music you cannot describe with a genre label, because he's invented his own. All parts of reggae, electronica, folk, rock, and Aboriginal spiritual, to name a few.

Xavier Rudd played at the Olympic Hall on Cunard St. in Halifax this passed Thursday to a packed house of all types. Mohawks, sundresses, business casual, and beards that haven't seen a razor in years. The tension in the crowd was palpable as a ten minute track of bass level beats grew with intensity over an empty stage. When he finally emerged, he was greeted with the kind of furor reserved for musicians accustomed to playing much larger venues.

The musical setup on stage was a dizzying array of didgeridoos, drums of all kinds, bells, a harmonica, and stringed instruments. While he had great support from another drummer on stage with him, it's clear that Xavier Rudd is a one man band.

Xavier Rudd (left) with his hard to name drummer
I was introduced to his music by a friend and had been thoroughly impressed. Great music to work or relax to. But it is a rare thing for a performer to be better live than in studio. He gave samplings from all of his work and albums, moving from rock infused songs like 'Footprint', to melancholic yet hopeful solos like 'EnergySong'

Clearly in the zone, he gave genuine surprise when the slowest song of the night was greeted with a near frantic and totally deafening cheer from the crowd. To almost everyone in the room, Xavier Rudd is a man who understands.

The Olympic Hall is a high school gym sized place with a second floor balcony that stretches around the outskirts of the room. It has a great 1950s vibe to it. By the time he was half way into his set, the center of the crowd gave off a familiar intoxicating aroma, and Xavier Rudd said “Halifax, I like the way you smell.” 

Between songs he would either stop and casually engage the crowd as an equal, or later as a minister giving a sermon, asking for thanks to Mother Earth. After a brain jarring five minute demand by the crowd for an encore, Xavier Rudd returned to deliver a ten minute solo performance of 'Spirit Bird', his new album's title track. Ending the night with his hands stretched in the air like the priest that he is, he lead a lengthy prayer asking for harmony and a better world. The room sat stone silent as he delivered a talk perfectly devoid of any specific dogma other than a love of life, music, and people.

Xavier Rudd is currently touring in Nova Scotia and the North Eastern United States on his vegetable oil powered tour bus.