Why I like RT

Hint: I am not a Russophile.  Ironically, foreign coverage of domestic events is less susceptible to bias.

North-american commercial news broadcasts have become largely infotainment portals: entertainment dressed up to look like news. Local commercial and political influences have neutered them and extracted their teeth.

This introduction of bias is easily understood. Either the news outlet is directly controlled by vested interests who control the message (the corporate pattern of influence), or more subtly, the news outlet is dependent for access (the government pattern of influence).  A third alternative is the litigation pattern, in which the threat of illegitimate court action makes a media outlet shy of reporting legitimate, but unflattering, details and opinions on a topic.

Any huge and profitable company can afford to invest in a media company, or find other ways of direct spending that profit media companies.  Naturally, a media company that finds its income stream tied to a controversial manufacturer will be reluctant to risk its existing business by publishing something that the manufacturer’s customers might interpret in a negative light.  For this reason, you are unlikely to read starkly negative commentary about directed-energy weapons; it is not because these cannot kill.

Similarly, law enforcement is always eager to buy new toys, and space age gizmos are a particularly alluring. Citizens are easily cowed by framing  the weapons “need”  in terms of fear, uncertainty, and doubt.  Buying these favourite toys helps to keep budgets where police want them: expanding.  A media outlet that dares to question the official story quickly finds itself an outcast, cut off from all sources of crime reporting, and cut off from the corresponding juicy revenues.  Naturally again, a media company in this situation will self-censor to protect its revenue stream.  It cannot be otherwise in a capitalist society.

Foreign news outlets are less sensitive to these influences, though their immunity is far from complete.  And it is dwindling.

Which brings me full circle to RT.  I like RT because it gives me news with less North American bias. Being a foreign news agency has its advantages for domestic readers, largely because they are less beholden to the above influences.

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Venality: a word whose time has come (again)

Venality: a word whose time has come (again).

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Book Review: The Wisdom of Psychopaths

At the bookstore, I flipped through the new book by Kevin Dutton, “The Wisdom of Psychopaths” (ISBN 9780385677202). Fascinating.

I was particularly struck by the table on page 162. It enumerates the top ten career choices for psychopaths, as inferred from Great British Psychopath Survey. A few choices stood out among the usual suspects. 

Most surprising to me were these two: Police Officer, and Clergyperson. The glaring disconnect is between their cultivated public personas, and the interpretation of their scores on the Levenson Self-report Psychopathy Scale. These professions go to great lengths to present their people as selfless community servants who want nothing more than to “save lives” and “help people”. But this analysis suggests that nothing could be further from the truth. The other side of the coin suggests that these professions actually select in favour of psychopaths. 

The scary part is that our education systems routinely demand that our children trust strangers in these suspect vocations: church, government, police.

Keep this in mind the next time you hear someone say, “Trust me, I’m a cop.”

And the study’s number one career choice for psychopaths? CEO. Unfortunately, that function is not qualified by any terms that might be cause for optimism. It includes billionaire board members as well as well as the leader of your local charity or condominium. Power positions attract psychopaths. At least, in England they do.

So the sad paradox is that we have created a system where the most effective leaders are exactly the people you would least want to be led by. We’re screwed.

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A Peace Plan

A radical idea for world peace: reinstate the draft in USA.

Think about it.  No enemy nation has threatened American soil for hundreds of years (since the civil war). There has been no draft in USA since Vietnam.  If they have any personal experience of war at all, most voting-age Americans today have the seen the horrors only through through the lens of the Call of Duty, a video game they play at leisure from their quiet suburban living-rooms. 

That sham reference point is completely divorced from the realities of death and destruction brought on by bombings, artillery, and ground troops.  Burned out homes.  Rape.  Pillage. Taken. Collateral damage.  Refugees.  Nights sleepless fearing a knock at your door.  The Disappeared.

Such emotional distance makes it very easy to accept foreign wars.  That they are conducted literally by remote control from a comfortable and anonymous distance lends a surreal, even cartoon quality to the whole affair.  Yet it is reassuring to know that this messy business is controlled and supervised by individuals – professionals – wiser and better informed than ourselves.  Though the other side may resort to crimes, we are secure in the knowledge that God is on our side, and most of us need never get close enough to look the enemy in the eye.

It is against this background that we should consider the Radical Idea.  Where conflicts are concerned, military draft is a great equalizer, an equal opportunity employer, the lottery of a lifetime, and an education for the whole family.  It personalizes war. 

It is only when enough of us have a personal experience with war that we become sufficiently equipped and educated to say a collective, Hell No! 

Bring back the draft.  That is the key.


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Law enforcement expansionism

At bottom, law enforcement agencies, including the military, accomplish their goals using the tools they have been given and have been trained to use. Force, violence, fear, uncertainty, and doubt are the necessary tools of their trade. Law enforcement accomplishes its goals by imposing restrictions and curtailing the individual liberties that it deems hazardous. It is called to action when softer diplomatic efforts have failed to realize its objectives.
We need to recognize that these same tools can be used to further law enforcement expansionism and militarization. Police budgets rarely shrink, even when crime is down and though a plague of austerity has descended on the city. Elected officials are on the Chief’s wavelength when she announces she will acheive fiscal responsibility (imposed by civilians) through a program of “strategic and surgical” budget cuts. Her subtext telegraghs hardship for the electorate and pain for the politician. Though police departments may have copied this tactic from other civil-service labour unions, elected government reprentatives know in their hearts that, on a bad day, the “thin blue line” is all that stands between them and an angry mob. As Caesar noted, it is prudent, and far easier, to keep them fat and happy.
This is not to say that individuals in that community are bad – far from it. However, the culture of law enforcement does have a particular prism for looking at the world, and that prism does colour their interpretation of what is best for everyone.
The key thing to remember is that our lawmakers need not accept law-enforcement’s cultural biases. Law enforcement must be our servant rather than our master. We need lawmakers who can maintain a healthy skepticism about the advice they receive and the threats that are advertised. We need lawmakers who will take the twin threats of lost liberty and uncontrolled expansion at least as seriously as the enemy-du-jour.
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Tools of Law Enforcement

At bottom, law enforcement agencies, including the military, accomplish their goals using the tools they have been given and are trained to use.  Force, violence, fear, uncertainty, and doubt are the tools of their trade.  Law enforcement accomplishes its goals imposing restrictions and curtailing the individual liberties that it deems hazardous.  Law enforcement is called to action when softer diplomatic efforts have failed to realize its objectives.  
We need to recognize that these same tools are being used to further law enforcement expansionism.
This is not to say that individuals in that community are bad – far from it.  However, the culture of law enforcement  does have a particular prism for looking at the world, and that prism does colour their interpretation of what is best for everyone.
The key thing to remember is that our lawmakers need not accept law-enforcement’s cultural biases.  Law enforcement must be our servant rather than our master.  We need lawmakers who can maintain a healthy skepticism about the advice they receive and the threats that are advertised.  We need lawmakers who will take the threat of lost privacy at least as seriously as the enemy-du-jour.
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Privacy Bomb

So, here’s what I don’t understand.  The whole world knows that anything they send on the Internet will be read by America’s spies.  Ergo, anyone who has serious secrets to keep will avoid the Internet like the plague.

A careful plan to kill people certainly qualifies as a “serious secret”.  Those planners will avoid the Internet  and find another way.  The hundreds of $B that USA spends annually (!) on surveillance technology will therefore capture  traffic  only from terroristas of the non-serious variety.   Where is the value in that?  There has to be more to NSA’s business case than this.  Would it be out of character for NSA to harbor an ulterior motive?  Now there’s a puzzle.

And part deux:  With all that valuable information at their disposal, how long will an administration and its functionaries, any administration of any color, how long could they resist the temptation to put all that info to – ahem – “good use”?

Think of the “good works” that America could accomplish if this info is “re-purposed”!  We’re talking candid communications containing personal and intimate secrets that had been uttered with the expectation that they would stay secret for life.  Think of how helpful that trove would be to governments for things like: tax collection, persuasion and negotiations, civil and criminal litigation, “social persuasion” aka propaganda, social-science research, vetting party membership lists, soliciting political donations, controlling personal enemies, investigating crime and pre-crime, etc.  And my list is not particularly creative.  This is the kind of ammunition that gives a hard-on to policy wonks and wannabe autocrats everywhere.

Modern behavior research reinforces the truism that experience taught our ancestors long ago:  power corrupts.  And NSA’s info collection is like a nuclear bomb: it bestows powers that no one ought to have, and temptations that nobody can be trusted to resist.

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ManuaLife: Masters of Compliance

An acquaintance related this story.  It gives me a newfound respect for the management style that has made ManuaLife the efficient and profitable company that it is today.  Allow me to tell the story from my friend’s observations, though I cannot personally confirm the details.

ManuaLife owns and operates an office complex in Toronto’s Hogg’s Hollow.  They run a tight ship, and it shows.  Very by-the-book.  Nothing is left to chance.  A clear partitioning of initiative keeps innovation in its proper place.  Decisions are made at the highest levels by a small group of well regimented managers.  Policies are reviewed beforehand by teams of lawyers whose job it is to eliminate any possibility of liability or accountability.    The corresponding procedures are carried out by a small army of functionaries that do exactly what they are told, without any deviation whatsoever.    This careful compliance with policy at every level enables ManuaLife to derive maximum profit from its people-friendly image and green-earth branding.

My friend’s story made me realize that it is the kind of company to which a standards’ auditor longs for an assignment.  It begins at the private gym in the complex, a place where workers in the building can take  a break from their busy workday to stay healthy and clean, in keeping with a commercially desireable cultural imprint.

Using these exercise facilities is likewise a matter of careful and deliberate policy execution.  Every six months, workers can pay a small fee, and submit an application (8-pages) to be considered for fitness and shower priviledges.  Again, nothing is left to chance.  Forms are standardized, and forms that do not meet print standards are rejected: they must be one page per sheet, single-sided, letter size, to fit in a letter-size file box in case they are ever needed again.  The requirements have been carefully crafted according to ManuaLife’s policy needs, and in accordance with ISO-recognized risk management frameworks. The representative explains this fitness for purpose: double-sided forms will not fit in the file box; forms printed 2-pages per letter-sized sheet won’t fit either.  Whereas other companies might be tempted to stray from these precision specifications, careful analysis has no doubt determined that the artistic value of a harmonious filing system is worth any conceivable savings that might be realized by a 75% reduction in printing or storage costs.

Attention to detail exends down to every line on the application.  Every form-field demands a response consistent with with the ManuaLife Way.  For example, employees without a specific workplace supervisor, or department, are considered suspicious and are disallowed from using the showers.  This helps to weed out undesireable individuals and companies that do not conform to ManuaLife’s image of how a company should be organized.

Examining this one tiny microcosm of corporate behavior provides great insight into the masterwork of compliance that is ManuaLife.  The astonishing part of this story is the utter glee with which the front line functionaries engage with their tasks while maintaining this level of detail.  I doubt few other companies could compete on this basis.


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On Condominium Governance: bylaws, declarations and sales agreements

I get disappointed about the thought process when I read, from managers and condo boards, that a policy is a certain way because of ” bylaws, declarations and sales agreement schedules which dictate” what the residents – the owners – can and cannot do. Managers sometimes give this line as a last resort justification, as if owners existed to serve the rulebook. To me, serving the book is a twisted, biblical way of thinking: it should be the other way round. That very verbage [“dictate”] conjures an unflattering image of the governance model.

Declarations and sales agreement schedules were informative and served a purpose for the builder and sales organization during the initial offering. But those documents were NOT were not written by the current owners; those original authors, if they are still involved at all, are now merely minor stakeholders. Rather, the authors of those documents had their own interests top-of-mind, and certainly were not thinking of the needs of purchasers five years after registration. The terms contained were accepted by the original purchasers on a take-it-or-leave it basis: arguably by adhesion. If you wanted to buy an East Lofts condo, you had no choice but to accept what was written. Moreover, the dictats of the original paperwork need not be forever binding on subsequent owners: circumstances change, and there are ways to changes these rules if the owners (collectively) desire.

As for the Bylaws, their purpose is to reflect the wishes of the owners about things like the use of common elements and common behaviours. They are a management tool. These too can be changed; boards commonly do make changes to the default bylaws (which were handed down from the goverment when the condo was registered).

I agree that change can be difficult and time-consuming, especially for those who volunteered for the corresponding administrative roles. But the effort is often worth it if it bring the rules more into agreement with the wishes of the owners. On the other hand, shying away from desireable and beneficial rule changes, however inconvenient, should make us each ask ourselves, “Who does make the rules here?” If we the owners, through our board of directors, are afraid or unwilling to change the rules for our own benefit, then the answer can only be, “No one here”.

Cruising on governance autopilot is certainly the route of least resistance, but it is no way to build a community. Why are we so reluctant to make rules that reinforce our our community vision?


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Study: At-Risk Teenagers Interested in Online Health Record Access

Study: At-Risk Teenagers Interested in Online Health Record Access

Interesting review of original research that suggests teenagers are a frequently overlooked community in terms of their interest in their own health care.

Related article at FierceIT: http://www.fiercehealthit.com/story/study-high-risk-teens-open-online-health-records/2012-10-22

Original research: http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2012/10/15/peds.2012-1653.abstract?sid=4a341515-ae0c-4137-94e4-f6aa6f403f72 

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