Charles Arthur & AnonymouSabu on Twitter, click on image for entire thread

Charles Arthur of the Guardian tried to get an exclusive from an Anonymous hacktivist, only to get ridiculed. While PCWorld pointed to AnonymouSabu and the Anonymous crowd being jerks, the article and the Arthur exchange show a culture clash—these journalists just don’t get it. Frankly, it’s embarrassing that anyone covering the tech beat have such a fundamental lack of knowledge of the Anonymous microculture.

In my opinion, Arthur expected his position in the institution of the media to grant him some status, by aligning interests. Unfortunately, his lack of knowledge and posturing only served to raise the ire of AnonymouSabu. This highlights the problem that much of today’s journalism is as deep as a birdbath and subject matter experts are giving way to generalists on a deadline.

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This CollegeHumor parody eTrade ad has been making the rounds. In light of the recent stock market “correction”, what is underscored is there is a two-tiered market, as Jon Stewart claimed when he had Jim Cramer on The Daily Show in 2009—one for the powers that be and one for the rest of us. Economic sociology blasts apart the naïve assumption that markets have “atomized” agents guided by rational choice. There are embedded social networks and institutional factors that create information asymmetries, with the deck stacked in favour of those “in the know”. The individual investor and those relying on the market through defined contribution plans, IRAs, etc. for their retirements might relate to this parody ad far too well. Oh, how we should long for the days of the defined benefit pension.

As an aside, as one who has ditched the ivory tower for navigating the entrepreneurial waters, I can say one thing that I knew all along, but is abundantly clear in so many ways—the system is geared towards business and doors open that are closed to individuals, save for those with great means.

In light of the threat of the “r” word—recession, it’s easy to second-guess the “jobless recovery” and US economic policy aimed at bailouts {Obama style} and propping up the capital markets. While corporations are better off than they were three years ago, they have grown accustomed to sitting on cash and extracting more out of the labour force because it’s a buyers’ market. The unanimous consensus is that the economic indicators aren’t rosy and the prospects for US GDP growth are dim. The political focus on deficits is the last thing that the economy needed.

Was the stock market yet another bubble that’s about to burst? Canada’s housing bubble should cause worries, as well, as Canadian unemployment is still relatively high. Of course, Canada’s Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty, refuses to acknowledge there’s a housing bubble, hoping the Canadian economy grows out of any and all predicaments, which is exactly what Obama, Geithner, et al were hoping from day one.

This NYTimes article brings up some interesting questions about hacktivism and whether or not it’s a form of protest. I think for many, it’s hard to be sympathetic to the LulzSec/Anonymous crowd with their taunts and adolescent antics, but the idea that many of these young people echo protesters of the 60s who may have been naïve in their understanding of the gravitas of their actions. More interesting to me is how LulzSec and hacktivism can develop into a social movement, tapping into youthful angst in the current zeitgeist in this era of diminished expectations in the West.

I’ve been thinking about LulzSec as a social movement that uses social media to tell the tale of their exploits and get the word out. Last year, Malcom Gladwell asserted that social media takes away from real social change, fostering a lazy form of “one click” activism::

“The evangelists of social media don’t understand this distinction; they seem to believe that a Facebook friend is the same as a real friend and that signing up for a donor registry in Silicon Valley today is activism in the same sense as sitting at a segregated lunch counter in Greensboro in 1960.”

Gladwell was unmoved by the events of the Arab spring, remaining skeptical of social media’s impact. I think what’s missing isn’t just the content of the communication, but the meaning of it and what it does to people psychologically. Social media can be empowering, creating {dare I say} tipping points from social contagion. In other words, people seeing large numbers supporting a cause acting as a motivator that goes beyond low commitment acts.

Hacktivism has a draw as a counterculture, given it’s a movement {evident in social media} and has the objective of pushing back on the power structures—often with adolescent churlishness. Perhaps the computer makes the seduction easier, since one doesn’t have to go outside and don a balaclava. Consequences seem remote, akin to the pirating of IP. In the Times article, Professor Spafford of Purdue was skeptical that the arrests last weeks will make a difference::

“A whole bunch of people were angry, they didn’t really think about whether it was legal or not. It never entered their minds. This was kind of the equivalent of a spontaneous street protest, where they may have been throwing rocks through windows but never thought that was against the law or hurting anybody.”

The allure is empowerment through destruction for a cause. It isn’t all destruction, though. The legal targeting of PayPal in a boycott, due to not allowing Wikileaks to collect donations, will be interesting to watch. While it may not result in any real change, it may be part of a meaning system that attracts more followers and emboldens them, perhaps in the spirit of a Palahniukian Fight Club.

While the Toronto G20 protests serve to remind us that even lawful assembly can get you locked up, I wonder if in the wake of that, counterculture activists are rethinking their strategies. Will there be an allure of civil disobedience behind a proxy IP? Disrupting the communication technologies we’ve all grown reliant on, in order to bring attention to their cause or block the powerful’s media access through denial of service attacks.

I think it’s early days to make any statements about whether or not social media is a bust when it comes to social movements. I don’t think there is a restriction on what types of activities can be fostered with social media, so the beliefs that it cannot spawn anything requiring commitment and that it takes away from “real” social movements seems premature. While hacktivism may seem distasteful, I feel it can develop into a decentralized counter culture movement that delights in destroying the house of cards of data we’re all dependent upon.

I’ll leave you with two thoughts. It will be hard for governments to control the activities of people, particularly as computer security knowledge diffuses and when there are sufficiently large numbers of people acting together simultaneously or relentlessly. The former narrows the information asymmetry between user and law enforcement and the latter is contagion overwhelming the order. We live in interesting times.

This is the second instalment of a three-part series of posts on the media:

  1. Media & the Selective Outrage Machine
  2. The Culture War Is Not Really Taking Place
  3. The Big Hit:: CBC v. The Canadian Cancer Society

My last post was the media’s role in creating a dramaturgical stage of manufactured outrage that’s affecting how people behave within institutional contexts. This post is about media manufacturing a reality by presenting stylized facts and selectively using the “culture war” to do it. While partisan punditry becomes increasingly popular, I would argue that what’s bound to evolve is a news positioning that’s market-driven in more ways than one. The free market is reified and deified, but in a way that’s meant to appeal to advertisers {subscribers and pageviews} and consumers {an economic orthodoxy based on neoliberal views or views positioned as such}. The market is both subject and object. A media culture war has already emerged along specific faultlines, with “code” used by the combatants to frame the rhetoric on both sides. And, it is a war. There’s no room for civil discourse on the battlefield, but perhaps more aptly, there’s no patience for it.

Given the recent News of the World scandal, journalists are getting scrutinized for their ethics, but aren’t the nefarious and illegal tactics allegedly used by NoW the logical progression in an era of extreme coverage that’s meant to evoke visceral reactions and tap into raw emotions? I would argue, in the vein of Jean Baudrillard’s The Gulf War Did Not Take Place, that the institution of journalism helps to construct a configuration of society, often based upon, for example, lurid details, scandal, fail, and the polarities of the culture war. Currently, the drawn battle lines tend to cleave along political party affiliations::

  • rural regions/suburbs v. cities
  • social & cultural programmes v. market fundamentalism
  • traditionalism v. progressivism
  • fiscal conservatism v. “tax and spend”
  • multiculturalism v. “anti-political correctness”
  • Pro-immigration v. xenophobia
  • Pro choice v. pro life
  • Marriage is between “Adam & Eve” v. “Adam & Steve”
  • Unions v. management

Canadians will be subject to another divide::

  • Québec v. ROC (rest of Canada)

You get the picture. The idea is to exploit wedge issues by fostering controversy. But, the culture war isn’t really taking place—we seeing is a media manufactured manifestation of it and what we know about the opposing position is a fiction created by media rhetoric that places the values of those who don’t share our views as on a different planet. A few select juicy quotes here or a controversial soundbite there serve as empirical truth of what’s going on. After all, how many people know that the post-Katrina violence in the Superdome & Convention Center were vastly overstated? I would hazard to guess that many who heard the initial stories of anarchy in the Big Easy in the wake of the storm still have the perception that the city decended into a Hobbesean state akin to the Lord of the Flies. Of course, how this is framed means that cultural logics can be cued without saying anything outright, which is part of the theatrics.

I would argue that this use of the culture war will evolve into a more complex mapping that transcends traditional party lines, in both the US and Canada. In this current era, journalism isn’t rewarded for reporting on the issues, but for shaping and manufacturing them in an often desperate attempt to garner subscriptions and pageviews. Something may start as “grassroots” or may “go viral”, but as soon as the media gets a hold of it, it morphs into a piece of an agenda. You can blame it on the 24/7 news cycle and the rise of infotainment that successfully monetized the “news”, but it doesn’t matter; the genie is out of the bottle. The culture war is perfect fodder to whip readers into a frenzy by presenting the extremes and those across the divide as a polar opposite, while constructing a reality that may not even exist. This works by tapping into our values and attitudes and framing stories to get maximum polarity. It’s an economic imperative for the business model.

The above list of culture war wedge issues isn’t a continuum in practice; it’s binary. The opposing view is characterized as a polar opposite, often with inflammatory rhetoric. This is exacerbated by the fact that the public is less interested in news on a purely factual basis, particularly in the realm of politics and the economics, given the attention economy {the scarce commodity is our time}. We often seek information that’s been pre-digested in a manner most palatable to us. The function of news media now is to present the extraordinary with an emphasis on the sensational. The “cultural products” of the news media are soundbites and sexy attention grabbing headlines, increasingly important as Internet headlines can persuade and “inform” without even being clicked on.

Up in Canada, while many media outlets will stoke the fires of the culture wars, merely invoking the term invites criticism. When pollster Frank Graves of EKOS used it last year to identify a strategy for the Liberals, all hell broke loose. After all, why would anyone want to bring the ugliness of US-style politics to Canada? Well, the truth of the matter is that the news media has much to gain from the culture war and the class war that’s nested within it, but don’t want to ever get caught promoting it. Graves’ great crime was putting a possible strategy out there that could  be used against the Conservatives that some construed as distasteful::

“I told them that they should invoke a culture war. Cosmopolitanism versus parochialism, secularism versus moralism, Obama versus Palin, tolerance versus racism and homophobia, democracy versus autocracy. If the cranky old men in Alberta don’t like it, too bad. Go south and vote for Palin.”

The “controversy” of Graves’ statement was manufactured and used as evidence of his partisanship, but it’s hardly shocking. Graves wasn’t talking about anything new in terms of Canadian political marketing, he just dared to put it out there in such stark terms. He unmasked the great Oz and violated the social compact by showing how the persuasion sausage is made.

The US is more accustomed to journalists, pundits, and politicians invoking the culture war and I would argue that the heated rhetoric dividing the left and the right is a product of the media manufacturing realities so that groups become extreme caricatures. Underlying all of this right now is a general uneasiness of the future of the middle class and partisan rhetoric is shaping a class war by using the culture war.

Canada has a few journalists who are exemplars of what I see as the future of this trajectory. What might this future be? Look to journalistic statements in magazines like Maclean’s magazine {a Canadian weekly} and by journalists like its national editor, Andrew Coyne and his ilk, e.g.Margaret Wente, are couched in false dichotomies with the volume turned to 11. The emphasis is on commentary, as opposed to hard news, but there’s a sly twist. Journalists like Coyne and Wente position themselves as iconoclasts that defy partisan lines, but know how to sniff out controversy and milk it for all it’s worth. They would scoff at this idea they’re exploiting the culture war, which is also part of the shtick. In this era of social media and conversations, Coyne prefers to use all media at his disposal {Maclean’s, Twitter, CBC-‘At Issue’ panelist on The National} like a megaphone aimed at the masses and that’s too bad. What’s lost is nuance and real dialogue. What this brand of journalism does is foster people shouting at each other, because, after all in a Charlie Sheen world, it’s about the winning—and the drama. The name of the game is staying relevant and Coyne and Wente are making a play with their centrist, iconoclastic approach. It would be brilliant if it weren’t so utterly sloppy in its execution, but I’ll be blogging more about this in a future entry. The result is that it’s hard to take either Coyne or Wente seriously.

My lament for what’s lost with this journalistic divisive theatre is somewhat half-hearted because what else should we expect when the fourth estate is tied to business models and financial imperatives? George Monbiot, in his “A Hippocratic Oath for Journalists”, makes some interesting observations in the wake of the NoW scandal::

“Journalism’s primary purpose is to hold power to account. This purpose has been perfectly inverted. Columnists and bloggers are employed as the enforcers of corporate power, denouncing people who criticise its interests, bullying the powerless. The press barons allowed governments occasionally to promote the interests of the poor, but never to hamper the interests of the rich.”

Monbiot’s words may sound a bit strong, but given that journalism is a business trying to keep its head above water these days, it makes perfect sense that the institution will use whatever means to ensure its own survival. I agree that journalism’s function these days is anything but holding power to account and would argue that most of the time it has functioned as chief architect in the fabrication of an elaborate cultural reality—a simulacrum embedded within media economics.

There is room for pushback. Big media are subject to the constraints of mass markets and by ultimately who pays the bills, i.e., the consumer and advertisers. Technology can enable a cost-effective end-run around the prefab strategies and canned approaches that are more about marketing than news. The target market being people wanting in-depth analysis, as opposed to dramaturgical showmanship. In essence, the long-tail of news. The Economist noted back in 2006 that hard-hitting journalism won’t die and there will be a market for it, but I would argue that in order to serve the journalistic function of holding power to account, alternative models will need to offer substance over infotainment. Ironically, it may well be the mainstream media and its reality distortion machine to produce the future that serves to create a consciousness that rejects it. What could possibly break the bonds of the news-consumption cycle? Prolonged economic doldrums that sow the seeds for a bona-fide class war, not an imagined one.

Twitterversion:: [blog] How the culture war “isn’t” really taking place & how angry “iconoclastic centrism” is journalism’s next big thing @Prof_K @ThickCulture

This is the first of a three-part series of posts on the media:

  1. Media & the Selective Outrage Machine
  2. The Culture War Is Not Really Taking Place
  3. The Big Hit:: CBC v. The Canadian Cancer Society

While it’s not new that news journalism is a business in financial dire straits and the newspaper already has its death date set in 2043, the pressure to remain relevant has pushed it from infotainment into a neo-Hearstean monster. While William Randolph Hearst would engage in fabrication, known for his quote, “You furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war”, news these days is about dramaturgy in the narrative in a cynical grab for viewers, subscribers, and pageviews.

Jon Stewart coined the term “selective outrage machine” to characterize Fox’s outrage at the Common-White House controversy. In order to be fair, the same tactics can be seen on MSNBC, as well as on the far right and left of the political spectrum. It’s how the game is played in the attention economy.

I think in our current culture of optics, the other side of the “fail” coin is the blatant attempt to manipulate the news media’s thirst for the dramatic. It’s a Goffman world, ruled by the tenets of The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life.

DSK & Roman Polanski

Watching the Dominique Strauss-Kahn rape allegation was particularly cringeworthy. I thought Cyrus Vance’s {Manhattan District Attorney} mouthing off to the press was setting the stage for disaster. While some were playing the angle, I was thinking of the Duke lacrosse players. Let’s face it, the story as it unfolded was red hot. A rich, powerful champagne socialist with a history of womanizing rapes an asylum-seeking Islamic immigrant  housekeeper at in his pricey suite at the Sofitel. It was one of those divisive stories where even being neutral was deemed as tacit complicity in violence against women. The media frenzy created an indefensible whipping boy in DSK, which, to me, seemed premature given that the facts surrounding the case left some ambiguity with respect to its supposed airtight nature. The case started to unravel, with allegations that the accuser lied and had inconsistent stories, along with supposed assertions by the NY Post that the victim was part of a prostitution ring. has annoyed me over the years by actively creating an adversarial mosh pit, where feminism is positioned in ways to extract maximum ire. I would argue that Kate Harding’s 2009 piece on Roman Polanski, reminding readers that the self-exiled director raped a child, served the single purpose of invoking the outrage machine against someone Harding deems as indefensible. Rather than explore the nuances of the case and the strange prosecutorial and judicial circumstances of 1977 that was the crux of the matter in 2009, readers were reminded what a monster Polanski is and implying that due process be damned. My post on Roman Polanski was a reaction to Harding’s piece, which I felt was troubling to say the least, in its knee-jerk simplicity that plays to generating controversy. Then again, 722 comments and 236 Facebook likes probably added up to mission accomplished.

Fast forward to this month. Salon posts an OpenSalon blog entry by Heather Michon in the same vein as Harding’s as a Editor’s pick. The focus is on the discrediting of the accuser because of her past lies, some of which are more material to the case than others. Michon is concerned that there’s a gulf between what transpired and whether the government thinks it has a case to make a conviction. This supposed “disconnect” is due process. So, how does this all play out? Salon selectively ignores the accuser’s conflicting stories that can sink the case, while focusing on the scrutiny of the accuser’s past. Meanwhile, others in the media pat the system on the back for “working”, by eventually coming to some “truth”. The reality is that this is all pure theatre and a theatre that’s entering into the logical calculus of those within the institutions that should be above using the media to generate hype for publicity and political gain. This isn’t new, but the ubiquity of media is and this should concern us. The alignment of interests of the media and the state is the logical extension of infotainment presaged by Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities and my sense is that the genie is out of the bottle with little that can be done to put it back.

Casey Anthony & Nancy Grace

The public outrage regarding the Casey Anthony acquittal was pretty predictable. The stage was set for this generation’s OJ trial, fuelled by another media frenzy. The most interesting article I read in the aftermath was Brian Dickerson’s column on how Anthony’s #1 detractor, Nancy Grace, made her acquittal possible.

Nancy Grace became part of a media hype machine, using her punditry soapbox to paint Casey Anthony as incarnate evil, complete with the derisive moniker, Tot Mom. Dickerson argues that the publicity given to Anthony vaulted her from indigent defendant obscurity to a criminal defence lawyer career maker. Grace used Anthony as a punching bag in her well-orchestrated drama of the indefensible defendant. Polanski raped a child and Anthony killed hers. Manufacturing the outrage provides for a clear and easy target to direct the hate in the name of justice. Through the outrage, everyone can participate in meting out justice for the victim, Caylee Anthony.

The problem again is that due process takes a back seat to the hype. Let’s face it, due process isn’t sexy. Particularly when it evokes examples of “technicalities”, allowing the “guilty” to go free.

In another media twist, the defense team used social media to fine tune their approach by analyzing public sentiments. While the efficacy of such maneuvering is still up in the air, crowdsourcing opinions of testimony in high profile cases is likely to be de rigueur.

The selective outrage machine has the potential to morph how we the public form opinions. Appealing to a sense of justice in a juicy narrative is where the media is at, while social media digests it and puts it back out there. This further influences others and serves as a feedback loop into social institutions, such as the courts. I don’t see news as getting better or journalists becoming more ethical about their craft because, frankly, the market could care less and I don’t see any way of legislating style or professionalism, in light of free speech.

Vision for the 51st. State, Jeff Stone (R)-Riverside County Board of Supervisors.

While not a new idea, Jeff Stone, a California Republican on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors, wants to explore the idea of secession. The idea is to create a utopian conservative enclave that can address issues of improved border security, balanced budgets, better schools, lower taxes, and a stronger economy. While actual secession is very unlikely, a debate can address worthwhile issues of governance and policy, particularly the distribution of tax revenue. The geography of this new state would be rural and agricultural, with vast tracts of desert, akin to a neighbouring state to the east. So, it was fitting that Democratic Governor Jerry Brown’s spokesman, Gil Duran, served up this diss::

“It’s a supremely ridiculous waste of everybody’s time. If you want to live in a Republican state with very conservative right-wing laws, then there’s a place called Arizona.”

Speaking of Arizona, let’s be clear where low taxes leads a state in an economic downturn. This Harper’s article from last summer highlights the problems in a state loathe to raise taxes and where selloffs and privatization only goes so far::

“Although dozens of states are facing budget crises, the situation in Arizona is arguably the nation’s worst, graver even than in California. A horrific budget deficit has been papered over with massive borrowing and accounting gimmickry, and the state may yet have to issue IOUs to employees and vendors. All-day kindergarten has been eliminated statewide, and some districts have adopted a four-day school week. Arizona’s state parks, despite bringing in 2 million visitors and $266 million annually, have lost 80 percent of their budget, with up to two thirds of the parks now in danger of closure. The legislature slashed the budget for the Department of Revenue, which required the agency to fire hundreds of state auditors and tax collectors; lawmakers boasted that these measures saved $25 million, but a top official in the department estimated that the state would miss out on $174 million in tax collections as a result.”

While Arizona flounders, the article notes political attention has drifted to culture war topics like immigration.

The idea of a “South California” brings into sharp relief the problem of governance in a diverse state—a state with several distinct regions, each with their own demographics, industrial bases, access to water resources, and political cultures. If California’s budgetary woes continue, which is very likely given the slow recovery prospects, it’s natural that geographic alignments become stronger and influence political discourse. In the past, this has invoked the culture war, but this can be dicey terrain. Ask Pete Wilson, who played that card only to get hammered for it later and estranged by his own party.

Vidcap of Saltspring Island teacher Kristi Kallip attempting to keep the crowds at bay,
sitting atop a police car being smashed while holding out peace signs.

Originally posted on r h i z o m i c o n

I’m not sure why, but I just had a feeling the Canucks were going to lose Game 7 of the Stanley Cup. It may well be from my experience in the 2002 World Series when San Francisco went up 3-2, only to lose two straight and series. So, when I was flipping around in the wee hours of EDT to catch the score, the Canucks loss was overshadowed by the riots following the loss. The Province has an interesting article on how Vancouver hasn’t progressed since 1994 [see 1994 footage of 40-50,000 rioters taking to the streets], when the Canucks experienced a heartbreaking game 7 Stanley Cup loss. A Vancouver constable summed things up::

“People complain that this is a ‘No Fun City,’” said Const. Colin Naismith, lifting up his riot-protection mask. “Well, they had their chance. This is what happens when you let the floodgates open.”

Rioter wielding a hockey stick takes out some frustrations on a Bank of Montréal branch.
I think the Vancouver Police made the right call in how they handled things, given that there were estimates of 100,000 people watching the game on Georgia St. on bigscreens in downtown. The scale of people out on the streets was immense and giving the crowd a reason to escalate the violence would have been a bad move. Imagine the use of coralling with 100,000 people on the streets. In contrast, during last year’s G20 protests in Toronto, there were only 10,000 protestors and allegedly a splinter group of 2,000 black bloc was responsible for damage caused through vandalism. While it may be disturbing to see vandalism and property damage, it’s a delicate balance between ensuring public safety and not pouring gasoline on the fire, given the huge crowd, and ensuring civil liberties. Moreover, a heavy-handed approach, a characterization levied at the Toronto Police for their handling of G20, can result in a PR fail and a sense that free speech rights within the Canadian Charter of Freedoms are being undermined, in the name of public safety. The Vancouver riot had nothing to do with public safety, but with a brutish Hobbesean state fueled by social contagion—as rioters sense a lack of consequences for acting out given the sheer scale of the mob, it gave more people the courage to act out. The best thing for law enforcement to do would be to focus on stopping any assaults and getting out videocameras to add to the panopticon of visual surveillance in the city consisting of about 1,000 cameras. Let the rioting crowd simmer down and document the vandalism and sort it all out later—criminally and civilly. Imperfect? Sure. Some scofflaws might get away with their vandalism or worse, but as evident in this case of a Toronto officer accused of assaulting a bystander during G20, the panopticon can catch up with you long after the emotion of the moment and the criminal deeds were done.

Here’s some video footage from The Province, showing vandals, along with some concerned citizens trying to stop the violence::
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Well, it makes one wonder what would have happened if Canada lost the hockey gold last February in the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver {although the crowds on the street were in the tens of thousands, not 100,000} and also what would happen if election results were big screen televised public spectacles with large gatherings.

Finally, all of this reminds me of Paul Thomas Anderson’s video for Fiona Apple’s cover of “Across the Universe”, on the soundtrack for Pleasantville {1998}::

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Twitterversion:: [blog] #Vancouver Riots-Critical Mass & Contagion:powder keg w/ safety, property, civ liberties, & exacerbation at stake @Prof_K
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Writer/Producer Sameer Asad Gardezi is behind a trio of videos that are a response to a video entitled “Hate Comes to Orange County” {below}, where protestors and local politicians {Ed Royce [R-40], Gary Miller [R-42] and Villa Park Councilwoman Deborah Pauly} expressed their views about an event at the Yorba Linda Community Center. The event in question was a fundraiser held by the Islamic Circle of North America, an America Muslim relief group, raising money for women’s shelters. The controversy about protest centres on the taunts, including derogatory comments about Muhammad being a pervert, references to wife beating, and the ever popular “go home terrorist”.

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Gardezi is using these satirical videos to push back on this divisive speech::

“I can’t say that this was my revolutionary stance to vindicate a group of people…It was the only way I felt I could react to the situation in a way that could satisfy me — if other people felt the same that was the cherry on top.”

He’s using humour, on a YouTube channel titled teapartyyouthla, in the Aladdin videos [see part 1] to take a Disney pop culture icon and turn the extreme rhetoric against it::

“We weren’t explicitly unveiling anything or trying to provide a new truth, just trying to break down something that already exists and use satire as a way to showcase that.”

There’s also a Facebook page with this gem::

“Let’s never forget a kabob is an evil hot dog. Nonetheless, thank you for the post KABOBFest.”

Gardezi noted the use of humour with the blowback from the Alexandra Wallace debacle, where a notorious fameball UCLA student posted an anti-Asian rant to build an audience–further questioning the adage that any PR is good PR. Sameer wanted to tap this satirical vein with his videos. I think this is an interesting addition to the discourse, using hyperbole and projecting context on to a sacred cow of sorts. I also think that this shtick is a whole lot fresher than Stephen Colbert’s, which is getting stale and sharing far too many jokes with The Daily Show.

MaRS, College Avenue nr. University, Toronto, ON

The province of Ontario is increasing funding for 6,000 graduate students in high demand areas such as engineering, health, and environmental sciences. Dalton McGuinty’s Liberal government is set to increase funding for 60,000 total students by 2015-2016.

I think this is a step in the right direction for Ontario and Canada to address the innovation and productivity gaps that plague the economy. AnnaLee Saxenian, author of Regional Advantage, examined the innovation clusters of Silicon Valley and Route 128 in Massachusetts. Historically, both are areas with strong technical universities that were generously funded during the Cold War, but what emerged in California was a culture of innovation.

“In the 1970’s both the Route 128 complex of Boston and the Silicon Valley were centers of high technology industry, but by the 1980’s the Route 128 area was stagnating while the Silicon Valley, after experiencing economics shocks, was moving ahead to become the unchallenged global leader in high technology. The difference in the two areas was not in resources or location but in their commercial culture. Route 128 firms tended to be insular and proprietary, whereas the Silicon Valley firms were open and linked by social and economic networks which enabled them to adjust to the vissitudes of market shifts.”

In today’s Toronto Star, an article on a Toronto Board of Trade report cited a need for increased regional coöperation among the economic development entities in the Greater Toronto Area. The report cites the regional transportation planning of Metrolinx as an exemplar of regional planning. I think there’s a tremendous opportunity for the development of Toronto as an innovation cluster, but I think the big challenge won’t be in terms of funding, but in terms of creating an innovative localized culture that permeates the regional institutions, including government, higher education, hospitals {in medicine and healthcare}, and business. So, I can see the Ontario Liberals touting plans to integrate their higher education policy with one for regional innovation incubation. The MPP for Toronto Centre, Glen Murray, is the Minister for Research and Innovation, which runs the Ontario Network of Excellence (ONE). One on the ONE members is MaRS, an organization designed to bridge science, government, and business, which the Ontario Liberals have committed funding to::

“To continue to foster that environment, Murray announced a $2.25 million commitment over the next three years for MaRS so that it may continue its mandate to foster innovation in Toronto by harnessing expertise from across academic and business sectors to aid in launching and developing companies. MaRS will become one of 14 centres in the province-wide ‘Network of Excellence’ being built to foster innovation.”

Toronto is a confluence of different types of capital and global flows, with high levels of educational attainment, being a landing area for immigration, serving as a financial centre, and being a hub for the culture industries. What I’ve been reading is that much of Canada’s innovation occurs in extraverted industry clusters, which would tend to dilute regional advantages that take advantage of localized networks. The exception being the entertainment and culture industries. What I don’t know is what the business culture is like in innovative sectors in Ontario–is it more like California {informal, open, networked, greater mobility} or Massachusetts {formal, closed, hierarchical, and path dependent} in the 70s and 80s? The stakes are high, given the state of the economy and hopes pinned on innovation for future growth in GDP and jobs, which Murray is keenly aware of::

US Unemployment & Interest Rates

Today, the Canadian Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled a budget with plenty of emphasis on reducing the deficit, much like what’s going on in the US. This, despite the fact that the interest rates are telling a story where financial markets are not that concerned about the deficit. This pattern is evident in both Canada and the US. Interest rates are showing there’s no crowding out—government spending taking up capital and resources that businesses can use. The reality of the situation is uncertainty and a dearth of good prospects is causing the business community to sit on huge stocks of capital.

Nevertheless, for various political reasons the deficit is touted as a menace that must be dealt with, not just in North America, but globally. The media is contributing to the Jedi mind trickery, dubbed the “Beltway Deficit Feedback Loop”. The WaPo blog by Greg Sargent states::

“The relentless bipartisan focus on the deficit convinces voters to be worried about it, which in turn leads lawmakers to spend still more time talking about it and less time talking about the economy,”

while linking to a National Journal study examining the gap between mentions of “unemployment” versus “deficit”::

“the broadening gap demonstrates just how effective conservatives have been at changing the narrative of economic policy from one dominated by talk of fiscal stimulus to one now in lockstep with notions of fiscal austerity.”

In Canada, the opposition parties aren’t on the same page with the Finance Minister and the Conservative Party, but don’t have the votes to stop the budget. While ink is being spilled about how fast the deficit will be reduced in Canada and whether of not the Conservative projections are wide of the mark and overly rosy, the elephant in the living room is the lingering high unemployment rate::

2008-2011 Canada unemployment rate

The problem with the deficit discourse is it fails to address the issue of unemployment and real economic problems, with the only way the issue goes away is if the economy grows. In fact, I feel being a deficit hawk in this economic climate is playing with political dynamite. The economic indicators do not support deficit reduction, given that the business community is loathe to expand. So, if the deficit hawks are wrong and unemployment and economic stagnation persists, they are opening themselves up to criticism. I think the hope is that a business cycle upswing will render the deficit issue moot, so the perception is that it’s “riskless” to jump on the deficit reduction bandwagon.

In the US, both Democrats and Republicans are viewing the deficit as the evil menace that must be thwarted at all costs with ample help of the media. While a Republican presidential candidate would differentiate themselves by embracing a populist and expansionary economic approach, it would be political suicide. Any politician advocating increases in government spending would face an uphill battle and be forced to educate the public on matters many don’t have the time and the patience for.

The jury is still out on how the New Democrats and Liberals play the deficit card in Canada in the future, but it may be an easy one to play if unemployment remains relatively high, businesses remain tentative, and the economy continues to stagnate.