Thursday, May 31, 2012

Common Sense?

'Mark Twain, described common sense as “the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done.”'

We run into two kinds of common sense the true and the false. The former referenced above by Mark Twain, a common sense that is fact; simple and self evident. The other has no author to proclaim it. The common sense of belief; tortured explanation and dedicated purpose. The first born out of observation, the second, shortly there after from need.

Common sense is wearing a seat belt when you drive a car. Why? Because when your vehicle goes from 50 kph to 0 kph it will keep you from being smashed into the dash. Wearing a seat belt will save your life. If you you go out on a boat you wear a life vest. Why? Because people drown in water, life vests help to keep your head above the water. Wearing a vest will keep you alive. 

The hallmark of common sense, is that it requires, no privileged perspective, special knowledge or lengthy explanation. It is on its face obvious. It is a true thing, independent of personal desire. Which is not to say it is universally hailed or agreed upon, common sense is not a compulsion, people are free to do what the like. We all know people that won't wear seat belts or life vests. 

The utility of common sense is limited because it is factual and uncomplicated. It has limited use in persuasion unless your position is the correct one. Unless you change to what common sense is. Here is where it is transformed from fact to belief. Common sense of belief has a wider application because it conforms to your position. This comes at a cost. Common sense of belief is assailable. It is identifiable by the complicated nature of its "truth". If it requires a lengthy explanation, narrow perspective and specialized knowledge; chances are it's belief driven.

More guns mean less crime, more gun regulation means less crime; both will be touted as common sense positions, neither are, it's too complicated an issue. Marriage is only for heterosexual couples, safe injection sites promote drug use or welfare keeps people from working, longer prison sentences lower crime rates, higher taxes hurt job growth. It is no surprise that political and social conservatives, religious institutions and corporation are more prone to abusing "common sense" than the centre or the left, though the centre is quite capable of it too. In part because conservatives tends to favour restricting rights, punitive actions and the preservation of privilege. These positions are often laboured and require quite a bit of work to resemble common sense in any way.

What the reader should understand is that you are always being sold something. Rendering the complicated into the simple is just a sales tool. It is your job to be critical. When offered a truth  take it apart. Be skeptical, the more so if you like what your hearing. After all

"Common sense is not so common."
         * Voltaire, Dictionnaire Philosophique (1764)

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are You Trying to Sell Me Beer?

There are a lot of clever people in advertising. They work diligently on behalf of clients trying to convince the public to buy this or that product.What advertising does is connect a product that may otherwise be indistinguishable from its counterparts, to YOU and what YOU desire. It is done with cloths cars  and of course beer. 

Their effort on behalf of the Brewing industry can be especially stylish and witty. The Beer Commercial is a mainstay on TV and radio. Beer advertising is ubiquitous at sporting events, concerts and it seems at any large outdoor event.

Are they trying to sell me beer? That is a resounding no. People drink beer because it has alcohol in it. Addicts  sadly need no convincing. People will drink beer because it feels good. Specifically that spot between some and too many. Some claim taste is a factor. I find most beer fairly generic, the taste scale flows bitter to neutral to sweet. For me beer is beer. So why then do I "prefer" one over the other. I am being sold a lifestyle not a beer.

The message depends on target audience. But its seems males are sold too most often. Young men are pitched two primary themes, the adventure message. Outdoor activity and drinking beer. The party message contains liberal amounts of good times, music, women, friends and beer. Not surprisingly women figure prominently in commercials targeted at young males (or men of any age).The ads are conspicuous for the attractiveness of the actors. But also for the level of inebriation, the scenes never show overindulgence. Everyone in a commercial is a responsible drinker.

The goal is to attach experience by the linking of imperfect memory to brand. It is unimportant whether it is your authentic experience, only that  there exists a positive association between you and the drink; or you and any product.

So when looking at beer ads or any ad for that matter remember, it's just a beer or a couch or a car. It is not imbued with the power to make your life better, in any meaningful way. Live as brand free a life as you can eyes wide open.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Catholic Church said Something

I was looking for something to write about and I found a three week old story from Australia. It may have already made the rounds in Canada, or maybe it's just getting here now. It's a a filler piece, brief and pointed and attention grabbing. It is portal story, designed to lead the reader deeper into the paper and the ads that support it. The Catholic Church offers up the necessary headline fodder.
"Catholic Church says would-be brides are being too fussy"
The Catholic Church or in this case a spokesman for the church has this to say.

Father Tony Kerin, episcopal vicar for justice and social service in the Archdiocese of Melbourne, said women wanted the best of both worlds.

"Are women getting too choosy? I'd say yes," said Father Kerin, speaking on behalf of the archdiocese.
"I think many are setting aside their aspirations for later, but by the time they get around to it, they've missed their chance.
"In trying to have it all, they end up missing out."
The reverend Father Kerin was asked if he thought Australian women were being too choosy and h said yes then added a tiny bit of nuance to that initial statement. 
Apparently there is a shortage of  quality men for Australian women to marry. We are presented with this bare fact.
"Statistics show there are just 86,000 eligible blokes for 1.3 million females aged between 25 and 34."
A shocking statistic, that becomes less shocking when it is fleshed out lower down the page. 
"Demographer Bernard Salt calculated there are 1.3 million women aged 25-34.
But of the 1.343 million men in the same age bracket, only 86,000 single, heterosexual, well-off, young men were available after excluding those who were already married (485,000), in a de facto relationship (185,000), gay (7000), a single parent (12,000) or earning less than $60,000 a year."
There are 43000 more men than women in that bracket, yet a shortage is declared. What the statistic says is that there are 86000 single men available that meet fit the  economic description of "well-off" The definition of "well-off" is never properly defined. For the purposes of this article it doesn't have to be. 
What we get is a "hmmm you don't say" fact, transformed into an eye grabbing headline furnished by a spokesman for the Catholic Church. It doesn't rise to the level of an attack on women, so much as a restatement of the Catholic Church's position on the place, duties and obligations owed by women to society at large. Offensive certainly, but nothing new.
What get is a story about the number of economically successful single men within a certain age bracket, heroically trying to morph into something altogether different. The suggestion that women must settle for what is available rather than what they want is not being said only inferred. Rather that if women want "it all"; "IT" being jobs , husbands, kids and economic security. They are out of luck. Marry now or forever miss out, inspiring.  I'll ignore completely the suggestion that all women want to marry money, because it is a shameless stereotype. I think most people would like that, not just women. Though a think few would trade love for security. 
Women do face unique challenges, both biological and societal, non are insurmountable. We have a society and economy that has yet to take fully into account the change in relationship between men and women. Women are free and equal and our institutions need to reflect that. Our society is a made thing, not a natural entity. As such it may be altered to reflect new realities. So a women can have a job, husband and kids, though of course don't expect perfection.
The Catholic Church is always handy for stoking outrage. Quite often because their positions are by today's standards quite outdated. They also seem to make themselves available to any reporter hoping for a headline quote. "No such thing as bad press" I think the adage says. I disagree. 
What we have learned is that the Catholic Church is handy for getting eyes on ads. You need to read the whole story. That stereotypes are integral to bad journalism, and just because something appears in a paper doesn't mean it's journalism. 
Note as always the comment section that follows the story

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Out for a Run

I went out for my daily 5k but it was such a nice day out I decided to run the 8k course instead. I run outside. No gym treadmill for me, to cheap or too romantic. I run different routes depending on how hard i feel like working. The smallest is a 5.4km  distance, my usual one. I have mapped out distances up to 22k, but I save those for when I really need to run far.

I like to run. It can start hard. I warm up, get my stretches in. But it still takes a kilometer or so for the small aches to disappear. Then it smooths out, I get into a rhythm and let my body take over. It is like breathing, in that you can forget you are doing it at all. My pace is slow and steady, plenty of time to think and watch the activity around me.

On the road you need to be aware of your surroundings. Car drivers that don't look both ways. Sidewalks with  shared with bikes, scooters and walkers. What I don't see a lot of are other runners. Perhaps they are all at the gym. I said roads can be hazardous, the weather cold and icy in the winter, much to hot in the summer. You get rained, covered in grit breathing exhaust at stop lights. Gyms are starting to sound good again.

We are built to run. Our bodies finely tuned by evolution. I run like my ancestors ran, a shared act,going back a million years. Is that romantic or not.

I like feeling and hearing the world around me. In the winter as the snow falls against me melting, cooling my face. The crunch of snow underfoot. My pace checked by ice, slowing through drifts. The feeling I get when I'm done is marvelous. The seasons change around me. I'm part of it in a small way. Spring rain drenches, feeds the land,cleans the streets and prepares for summer. I feel the heat in summer. Water is my focus on those days of July and August. You can not run a kilometer with out it, some do but they pay for it. Then it's back to fall, cooling days, jogging pants instead of shorts, t-shirts give way to hoodies.

I like all the seasons. Each offers unique challenges to body and mind. But i favour cooler temperatures, after all when it get cold I can put on a jacket; when it gets hot there is only so much you can take off before it does you no good. If cornered I would pick that point in spring when the flowers and fruit trees blossom and the air is filled with a thousand scents. You can't get that in a gym.

It is a shame so few people are out there sharing the roads with me. I see so many that could benefit.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Slut Walk

Yesterday women in Toronto marched in protest. Its was called the slut walk and it is the second one. It was sparked by the comments of a police officer who said at a seminar last year that

“women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized”.  

What the officer was saying is that it's your fault, in whole or in part if you are assaulted. Women have been subjected to this particular belief for a very long time. It's not you it's you outfit, but since you chose to dress that way i guess it is you after all. 

Around the world the dress code for women can differ greatly. In less free nations laws require women to cover their entire bodies. In some other countries modesty requires covered heads and plain dress. In my country and much of the West there are no laws regarding dress. That does not mean women are exactly free to dress as they like. Women face cultural and social pressures to conform to a standard of dress.

Moral and religious codes displaced from our time by thousands of years and a chunk of geography, urge women  dress modestly. As an outward sign of Chasity, Obedience and Submissiveness. It is uniform; marking out Good women from Bad women. 

So women are to dress modestly as a protection against sexual assault. How offensive is this? The temptation of the female body is so great, that men are powerless to restrain themselves. Men as victims? Women as wanton sexual creatures? We are all powerless in the face of biology and desire. The message is that Men can't restrain themselves. So women must cover up, avoid certain situation and above all comport themselves with modesty; so as not to tempt men. 

That kinda of thinking needs to stop. It is why they had the slut walk. There is no justification or provocation for any type of sexual assault. It is a decision made by one man to attack one women because he wanted to. She dressed a certain way is an excuse, she was drunk is an excuse, she was in the wrong place is an excuse. No women is ever asking for it.

A reworking of how culture and society describes and defines women is occurring. This time it's in their hands.  Everything from the right to choose, to pay equity. The right to dress as one likes is just one of many fronts that women are fighting on. The purpose is to end the "woman as a possession or object". Equality.

A note on the comment sections following the slut walk articles. Even if you discount trolls, there are a large number of people that still find fault in females that don't safeguard themselves. A position that ultimately excuses the assault. 


Friday, May 25, 2012

Baird on Religious Freedom

Foreign Minister John Baird said recently that Canada has gone soft on defending rights like Religious Freedom. He said this in front of an American audience at the Religious Liberty Dinner. Canada went soft on religious freedom after world war two, the Harper government intends to reverse that trend, was the message They have a plan to fund a religious freedom office within Foreign Affairs at the cost of 5 million dollars. The purpose is to help Canada support religious freedom throughout the world. It is an ambitious goal. And a worthy one.

In his speech he spoke of defending all religious groups for persecution, though the body of the speech dealt with Christian and Jewish persecution. He noted the thousands of years of persecution of the Jewish people. Throwing in the he ubiquitous your with us or the appeasers Baird saying;

 "The world cannot take the words of Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime as mere rhetoric and cannot risk appeasing these malicious actors in the same way as it once appeased the Nazis."

He is right, on the issue of appeasement, it tends to embolden the aggressor. He is wrong on directly comparing the situation Israel with Nazi era Europe. 

Or here where Baird levels the usual charge, though muted slightly, that criticizing Israel springs from bigotry.

"We contend that modern anti-Semitism is alive in the disproportionate criticism Israel receives, and the refusal to accept its right to exist." 

This part of the speech was an affirmation of Israel and Canada's unwavering support for them. With Baird saying,

"Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and under this foreign affairs minister, Canada will stand with the Jewish state and people as they struggle to protect their very right to exist." 

Israel is in a tough spot no one can disagree. That it is partly of their own making can also not be argued. But they are lucky enough to have over 200 nuclear weapons, the best trained/technologically advanced armed forces in the region, and the support of the United States of America. 

He makes mention of repression of Muslims,

"Burma, despite recent reforms, the regime continues to discriminate against certain forms of Buddhism and restricts the activities of Muslims."

But as he is addressing a Christian group he moves on quickly to the plight of Christians. 

We have grave concerns about the persistent and serious violations in Iran of the rights of Iranian citizens to practise Christianity, including those facing charges of apostasy."

A nod is thrown out to the neocons in the crowd.

"In Iraq, where the United States has fought mightily and paid dearly to combat tyranny and secure for the people a better, brighter future, many challenges remain. Fundamental freedoms are the domain of the select few. And Christians are not always among the few."

The speech includes a veiled shot at Liberals for i guess, abandoning the theme of religious freedom.

"Canada has a tradition that some in our country seemed to forget during the latter half of the last century: a tradition of standing for freedom and fundamental rights, a tradition of standing against oppression."

"So I’m proud to say Canada no longer simply “goes along to get along” in the conduct of its foreign policy."

The elevation of terrorism. 

"Just as fascism and communism were the great struggles of his generation, terrorism is the great struggle of ours."

The remainder of the speech talks about the importance of religious freedom. How Democracy and religious freedom are inseparable. 

"Simply put, societies that protect religious freedom are more likely to protect other fundamental freedoms.

They are typically more stable and more prosperous.
When you have religious freedom, other freedoms follow."

The inference here is a bit blurry but i get the idea that Baird is trying to say that without religious freedom there is no Democracy. True, but i can say that about freedom of speech, press, against unreasonable search and seizure, etc. The core idea of Democracy is recognition that the citizen has rights that the state may not unduly abridge.

Since Baird was talking to a religious audience it is not unreasonable he would emphasize that aspect of democracy.

This was a political speech. It's content directed towards a conservative audience. I won't fault the idea behind the speech. It is important that people are free to practise their beliefs; that minorities are safe from persecution. That tolerance of the other is a key democratic principle. The coating of the speech is just not to my liking.

A last note, atheism made no appearance. In many places it is also unsafe to express no belief.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Back Bench Blues

Conservative David Wilks MP for Kootenay-Columbia was meeting with his constituents to discuss the CPC budget. He went there to answer questions and talk to voters. This is one of the things he said.

"At the end of the day, in my opinion, they’ve made up their mind and this is how we’re going to vote. One person is not going to make a difference, one MP is not going to make a difference.” 

I was never under the impression that the back bench was a seething pool of dissent, waiting like a coiled spring to strike out against Prime Ministerial over reach. In Canada the back bench is where you sit while waiting to cast a vote for government bills. You cheer what ever the government says boo the opposition. You occupy the background looking interested,in case the camera pans your way, your role is to provide a solid wall of support for your government.

The back bench is necessary as it provides vote support for government bills. But it lacks any effective power. The caucus does not chose the party leader, as a result the Prime Minister has no need to play to his caucus. The size of parliament in the United Kingdom allows the government greater leeway in dealing with dissident MPs. There the government can afford a few independent minded people without fear of losing close votes. In Canada the small size of parliament calls for greater conformity. Even at the committee stage their work is to see bills on their way, not to advise or amend the legislation.

So it is easy to see how an MP can get down in the mouth. What bothers me is the resignation he showed. He has in effect given up trying. I don't know why he got into politics. I don't know what fired him up enough to put his name in to the hat. But it seems like that fire is gone out of him. Mr. Wilks is  just a seat warmer and that is sad. Sad for him and sad for us. We need dedicated men and women in parliament. People willing to sit when they need to but also willing to rise up and be heard when it gets to hard to hold their tongues.

There will be fallout from this. Mr. Wilkes has already had a statement issued regarding his support for the budget. You can find it at the bottom of the article referenced by this piece.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Monetising Users Is An Ugly Phrase

I was watching CNBC, when the phrase “Monetizing Users” was uttered. I took immediately dislike to it. It came up during a discussion of Facebook, mobile media and advertising. The questioner was wondering how Facebook was going to turn its user base into cash. It was noted that the internet was becoming mobile, smart phones and tablets are being taken up by people at a phenomenal rate. These platforms especially smart phones make advertising difficult due to a smaller screen size and the way they are used. A basic description of online advertizing is one where the host gets paid by the number of unique page loading, targeted ads to specific users or clicks. It is much more complicated than that but the basic nature is getting eyes on ads. This is how formerly “bricks and mortar” media like magazines or newspapers are trying to create profit, though some are trying pay walls or subscriptions. This is also how “free” social media applications pay the freight. Advertizing has been around for over a century. It has infiltrated, (I hate to use that word but it seems so right), every part of our lives. Our attention has been the price we paid for such things as, newspapers and magazines. They filled their pages with ads that we look over while catching up on the latest news or gossip. Radio and TV were “free”; sitting through commercials was the actual cost. It didn’t seem an inconvenience, the advertisers got their audience and we were entertained. It was a fair trade. We could always turn the set off and walk away. Telemarketing made things a little worse tying up our phones and junk mail over flooding our mailboxes. Now we employ “do not call list”. We ban what mail we can. Now it seems different. Social media and mobile internet are not just in our lives but very much part of it them. The young are firmly entrenched in the net. The older generation is fast taking up their place in the web too; the difference is only in degree. Advertising doesn’t feel the same way. It seems intrusive, demanding and at times alive by the way it can target likes, tailoring ads to the specific person. We have become commodities. We have been monetized. Even as the advertiser sells to us we are bundled up and sold by Facebook, Google or any number of mass media outlets. We can’t walk away from the net the way we did the Old Media. So we need to learn to live with it. The situation is not dire. There is no looming danger from some rising internet tyrant. We citizens (not consumers, don’t get me started) encountering a new way of doing things. We have the intelligence to plan the future of the internet commerce and define our relationship to it. We can install proper safe guards and regulations that will Take the all the Ugly out of the phrase “Monetising Users”.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Naked PM

Art is comment. Satire is a tool of the artist. “Emperor Haute Couture” is the title of a nude painting of Prime Minister Harper, by the artist Maggie Sutherland. It presently hangs in the Kingston Public library. It depicts a nude Harper stretched out over a chaise lounge, surrounded by suited attendants, depicted without heads, offering the PM a Tim Horton’s coffee. Oh and a little dog too. The PM did not sit for painting. It is a work of political satire. I would know this even if the artist had not said it herself. Harper, depicted nude surrounded by headless advisors or conservative MPs being served a Timmies couldn’t be anything else. Opposition piped in with “It's probably the only double-double in the picture,” said Liberal MP Scott Brison. “Nudes have been part of art for hundreds of years, so I don't find the painting morally offensive. Perhaps aesthetically offensive. This is a case where we need a Conservative cover-up.” The PM’s office made a little joke about Harper being a cat person. Added a pundit, “This is a shot at everyday Canadians who do begin their mornings by going to (sic)Tim Hortons. It's the artist's way of showing disdain for those people the way she is showing disdain for the prime minister,” said Brian Lilley. Thank you Sun News for telling us what the artist was thinking. From the Kingston Whig-Standard we get this from the Artists Agent. “This piece is an anomaly,” said Sutherland's agent Mary Sue Rankin, owner of the Edward Day Gallery in Toronto. “Maggie is not a sensationalist. She's actually very shy.” “But when she told me about this piece, she said to me 'this is my only form of protest,'" Rankin said. “She was just fed up with all the cuts to arts programs by the Harper government." You need to do a little digging to find the “Disdain for Everyday Canadians” that Lilley was inferring, a lot more digging than I was prepared to do. If you look to the comments section that follows on articles about the Nude PM we see the response from “Everyday Canadians”. As you might suspect the opinions and level of upset were split ideologically. The media outlet you read the story from plays a large part in that too. The conservatives, outraged at the depiction of our PM. The usual complaints about “Lefty Artists”, 5 dollar lattes and “if this happened to your leader you would not be laughing”. The other 61 percent were in fact, laughing. The painting sums up nicely this Prime Minister and his government. Headless suits, depicting the role conservatives MPs are allowed to play, that of vote caster. This portion could well apply to advisors, research councils or the public. Harper does the thinking so you don’t need a head. The coffee is for some pundits, the authenticity test of whether you are an “everyday Canadian”. Take no mind of the ubiquity of Tim Horton’s. Every corner has one. This is how it is used by political parties. Tim Horton’s has become short hand “I’m like you are can’t you see me holding a coffee”. I see the artist’s use of the coffee as a way to explode that touchstone. Showing me you understand takes more than a coffee, a donut and a hockey jersey. The nudity is interesting. Harper shows no shame or discomfort at his nakedness. We know that nakedness is often a tool of humiliation and subjugation. But here is a depiction of a man with nothing to hide no secrets, comfortable and completely at ease. We have been told of Harper’s hidden agenda, this pose puts paid to that. His agenda and ambition are there to see. Harper has nothing to hide and absolutely need to try. There are quite a few countries where this painting would have earned the artist exile, many years in prison or death. Luckily Canada is not on that list. One of the benefits of living in a democracy is the right to laugh at your leaders. We have the right to hold those deserving of derision up to public ridicule, and to argue whether such ridicule is deserved.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

To Blog

I have a perfectly good blog just sitting there, yet i don’t write. I certainly have plenty of opinions, ask my friends. I will endeavour to write more. It's not that i think the world needs another blogger, it doesn't, but it couldn’t hurt either. Writing down your thought has a therapeutic affect. Getting the concerns of the day off your chest and onto paper. Diaries and journals have been around for sometime, today paper gives way to digital but providing the same salutary effect. Allowing you to organize your thoughts into some semblance of coherence. Appearing on "paper", concerns take on a different perspective, being outside the author, no longer entirely theirs. In the case of public journals, the blog , we have an ecosystem of ideas, concerns and opinions being argued, refined or abandoned. A diversity of thought. Democracy, thrives on diversity, is made more resilient and healthier, just like a biological ecosystem. So more citizens engaged, in as many ways as possible with their communities is a good thing. That is a jumble of thoughts, ideas and possible directions for further posts.