Centre for International Studies at Cape Breton University

My letter of support in a campaign to secure continued funding for Cape Breton University’s Centre for International Studies

I was a student at CBU from 2001 to 2005. Early on, I started attending CIS events, and it wasn’t long before I was playing a small role in helping to organize and promote those events. Soon after (2006 approximately) I joined the advisory board as one of its non-academic “community” members – a role/title I maintain to this day.

There are several parts to this history: opportunity, experience, and effect. CIS gave me opportunity – to get involved in the life of my university, the life of my community, and the life of the world in which I live. It also gave me experience – both work-like experience in organizing events and creating media and art to promote those events; as well as, later, governance experience as a member of the advisory committee.

And lastly, and perhaps most importantly, through those events CIS opened my young eyes, mind, and heart to the diversity, injustice, and possibility in the world.

I met, listened to, and learned from academics and activists and workers and journalists from Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, not to mention other parts of North America and other voices from CBU and Cape Breton Island that I might otherwise not have been exposed to. I heard their stories and internalized their lessons – often inspiring, often harrowing, often both. Whether at a lecture hall, a pub, or a conference off-island – where I was joining, in solidarity, with new friends I had met through CIS – I could describe several instances where a CIS event (or an encounter with one of the speakers perhaps at a party or dinner afterward) had a profound effect on me.

There was the conference about media and communications where I suddenly felt a deep solidarity with my steelworker grandfather who had passed away the year before.

There was an intense, late-night debate at a pub, between a military journalist and my future wife, that seemed to involve a life’s-worth of ambition.

And there were countless events where, knowing I was in a safe environment, I found my voice, and even surprised myself at what I said. I won’t detail these encounters, or attempt to do justice to the ensuing epiphanies and their effects. They were profound experiences for a young student, and as a result very personal. But I list them here (a terribly incomplete list) for the purposes of this testimonial: every student, at CBU or any university, should be able to look back at their time and say they had the kind of life-changing opportunity and experience that I can say I’ve had at CBU, due in no small part to CIS.

Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014

The world is being built and rebuilt with computers and robotics and the code that controls them. It’s a paradigm shift that affects the entire economy, not just private sector business and employment, but public health care, government, education… everything.

It’s a brave new world characterized by the digit(al)ization and commodification of data, including personal information, resulting in a wholesale reconceptualization of privacy and a radical shift – and accompanying redistribution of wealth – from manufacturing to knowledge-based economies, especially knowledge that can be codified.

It’s important to remember that this shift is neither an accident nor an inevitability. After all, computer code doesn’t write itself; it’s written by humans: individuals who make certain decisions, and have certain agendas; individuals who decide what problems to solve for, and what the solutions should look like. Whoever writes the code, controls one of the primary means of production of 21st century economic life – creates the operating system of 21st century life in general. Program or be programmed.

But it’s also important to remember that access to the skills and tools necessary to make the decisions and set the agenda has, generally speaking, been unevenly distributed. This ranges from computer programming skills to physical infrastructure and machinery like computers, 3D printers, robotics, even internet access.

Access is one of many issues addressed during Global Entrepreneurship Week. For example, at events like:

  • “Brilliant Labs” which supports the creation of makerspaces in classrooms and after-school programs;
  • “Social Storm” Global Hackathon which brought together students from 10 international post-secondary institutions to collaborate on technology-based solutions to real-world problems around global access to education.

Other examples include a Women Entrepreneurs lunch & learn; the recent Girls Learning Code; the Lego Robotics tournament at NSCC Marconi; and the UIT Startup Immersion program.

Universities like CBU, in supporting or leading these initiatives, have a particular obligation and imperative to ensure the greatest possible access to 21st century tools and skills both within their walls and in the communities in which they’re located. And I’m not just talking tools of profit but tools of personal and social health & well-being; cultural & environmental sustainability; education; governance… everything.

After all, technology is not just about selling a sleeker smartphone; and entrepreneurship is not just about being able to buy a fancier car. It’s just as often about making the world a better place. 

Here are some great counter examples of those stereotypes.

Happy Global Entrepreneurship Week 2014!

The Score on Canadian Student Journalists

During my undergrad, I worked at the Caper Times, CBU’s student-run campus newspaper. I wrote a column called The Bike Lane, which was published every two weeks between 2002-2006, and was editor of first the Arts & Culture section and later the Features section.

One of the perks of being on staff was getting to attend a national Canadian University Press (CUP) conference in Montreal, and two Atlantic Regional (ARCUP) conferences: one in New Brunswick, and one at CBU, hosted by the Caper Times.

The Caper-Times-hosted conference was, I think, during the 2005-2006 school year. That was of course in the dark ages of the Internet, when most campus newspapers didn’t even have a website, so Google isn’t much help jogging my memory. But whenever it was, 2013 isn’t the first time the conference has been held in Cape Breton, despite what the current Caper Times staff seems to think about the ARCUP conference they recently hosted.

Not that it matters. It just made me chuckle. After the first-first CBU-hosted conference, I wrote in my column that Canadian student journalists are getting it all wrong. (Not my exact words — my tone back then was at least 100x more caustic.) It was after a panel billed as “The role of campus newspapers.” The question that ended up being discussed was more like, “What even is news? And how should student journalists cover it?”

Opinion was divided. Between one wrong and another.

The first (wrong) argument goes like this: Every news story is made of facts and nothing but. The student reporter’s job is to observe and report these facts. According to this argument, news exists as if in a vacuum, the objective reporter need only reach in and pull it out — and then get it to press as fast as possible before it gets contaminated with bias or opinion!

If this were true, robots would be reporting the news, and all journalists (student or otherwise) would be out of a job. All except opinion columnists. But opinionated robots wouldn’t be far behind.

Thankfully, news stories are not like this. Instead, news stories are a reporter’s interpretation of an event. The reporter is, hopefully, more authoritative than any old joe. But that authority, like all authority, is not absolute; it is open to challenge and criticism from other perspectives.

If you’re a student journalist reading this, and this idea of news makes you uncomfortable, get yourself reassigned to the sports or business desk (or the college equivalent). You can report game scores or stock market stats or whatever…

These are facts. They are observable, verifiable, simple and static, i.e., if the score of last night’s game was 51-49, it will forever have been 51-49. Just don’t interview the players and coaches. They might tell you why the game was 51-49, and chances are their stories will differ from those of the players and coaches on the other team.

And while that might not be a particularly interesting example of a news story, it’s what the news fundamentally is: slippery, debatable, complex and dynamic.

Consider another example given by one of the conference participants back in 2005/2006:

Two public figures, Person A and Person B, dispute a budget expense. Was it X or not-X? The intrepid student reporter must look critically at the claims of both sides, and tease out the truth of the matter.

Bored!

Just as the score of last night’s game can’t be both 51-49 and not-51-49 at the same, there can only exist one correct number here. It will be observable, verifiable, simple and static. So first, find that number. And where will you look for it? Not with either of the “Persons”, dummy!

There now. Got it? Good. Great. Now that the boring “truth” part is over, let’s get down to the interesting part. The news here is not which number is correct. It’s that either someone is lying about budget numbers, or was misinformed by a subordinate, or is bad at math, or… or… Or maybe — shit — maybe both numbers are true(ish), depending on how one interprets the guiding policy!!

The intrepid student reporter may not have uncovered any secret truths about sinister motives, incompetent subordinates, or poor math skills. But he or she may have shined some light on the secret ideology of various public figures, given how they seem to interpret policy. So let the debate begin! (Oh and good for you, intrepid student reporter, for getting the debate going. Seriously.)

Speaking of ideology, this brings me to the second (wrong) argument, which goes like this: campus and community newspapers should seek out and cover stories that have been marginalized by the mainstream / corporate / Right-wing media. In a nutshell, push the Left’s agenda.

If the first position was about objectivity, this second position is about revealing the hidden conservative bias in the mainstream media’s so-called neutrality — its ostensible objectivity.

I’m all for uncovering bias disguised as truth, but it goes further. According to some, the role of campus newspapers is to provide something called counterbalance. But if you start with a deliberate agenda, how can this balance be anything other than ironic? It doesn’t straighten the slant of the Right-wing mainstream media; it merely creates a mirror-image slant in the opposite direction.

It doesn’t matter whether this pseudo-balance can be achieved in practice. We shouldn’t desire it even in theory. Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore on a teeter-totter. Nuff said.

So what is news?? And how should student journalists cover it??

News is storytelling. It’s hermeneutics (the art of interpretation). It’s also facts, and plenty of them — but facts in context. Two plus two will always equal four, and the score of last night’s game will always have been 51-49. But if the context changes — if a steroids scandal is revealed, for example — then everything changes. Except the score, that stays the same. But now it means something new and different.

The facts aren’t the end of the debate, they’re just the beginning. The goal is to neither do away with bias (false objectivity) nor embrace bias with wholehearted irony (false balance). The goal is to negotiate bias — your own and others’. To hold it up in the light of your intuitive sense of fairness. And then negotiate your intuitions. Rinse. Repeat.

I know, it’s probably an infinite regress. But, as my wife says, just waking up in the morning is a slippery slope. No one said this would be easy. But you can deal with this slipperiness either by diving in or letting it trip you up like a banana peel. (How’s that for a mixed metaphor.)

Either way, your chances of getting a job in Canadian journalism are probably 51-49.

Kimberly Rivera and the War Resisters Support Campaign

In Saturday’s Globe & Mail, there is a “Open Letter to the Prime Minister” from the War Resisters Support Campaign. The letter is signed by over 60 public figures, including Nobel laureate Dr. John Polanyi and the chair of the Council of Canadians Maude Barlow.

It describes the plight of Iraq War resister Kimberly Rivera, who was deported from Canada in September 2012. She was arrested upon crossing the border back into the U.S., and is currently confined at a U.S. army base, separated from her four young children, two of whom were born in Canada.

“Kim sought asylum in Canada in 2007 after she decided she could no longer be complicit in the war… a war which had no legal sanction.”

“Canada did not participate in the Iraq War. The majority of Canadians opposed the war. Our current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, admitted on national television that the war in Iraq was ‘absolutely an error.’ Two parliamentary resolutions were passed in the House of Commons calling on the government of Canada to allow U.S. Iraq War resisters to stay here, and polls have consistently shown a majority of Canadians support the right of U.S. Iraq War resisters to stay.”

And yet, “members of the current Conservative government applauded when the news of Kimberly’s departure and arrest was announced in the House of Commons.”

Here’s how you can help:

1. Contact Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism asking him to make a provision to allow Iraq War resisters to stay in Canada.

Jason Kenney, Minister of Citizenship, Immigration & Multiculturalism
325 East Block, House of Commons
Ottawa, ON
K1A 0A6

Phone: 613-954-1064 | Fax: 613-957.2688

Email: jason.kenney@parl.gc.ca, minister@cic.gc.ca

2. Send a letter of support to Kimberly Rivera. The support she is receiving from Canada, the U.S., and internationally is helping her during this difficult period while she is separated from her family and awaiting court martial. Letters can be sent to:

Kimberly Rivera
c/o All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church
730 N. Tejon Street
Colorado Springs, CO
80903

3. Make a donation to help support the campaign to allow U.S. war resisters to stay in Canada.

I wrote about another U.S. Iraq War resister, Darrell Anderson, after he visited CBU in 2006 as part of a national speaking tour. Canada denied his claim for refuge status, and soon after, Anderson surrendered himself to U.S. authorities. He received less-than-honourable discharge from the army, and was shortly released. He did not receive prison time or a court martial.

This was originally published in the Caper Times, CBU’s campus newspaper, of which I was an editor from 2002-2006.

Broken Contract: American War Resister Seeks Sanctuary in Canada

When an unidentified Iraqi car came screeching to a halt a few feet away from American soldier Darrell Anderson, sparks flying and just moments after it had a run a blockade, he was ordered to open fire. He refused, and by doing so, may have risked his own safety and the safety of his fellow soldiers. Scared, but sure he was doing the right thing, Anderson’s conviction was rewarded when the car’s black-tinted windows came down and he found himself face to face with two small children.

Despite the perceived threat, his instincts told him not to fire, Anderson says, while recounting the story to a rapt audience in CBU’s Royal Bank lecture theatre last week. Thanks to him, that family lived to tell the story too.

The story of how non-combatants (the American military’s classification for innocents) are nonetheless considered “guilty by proximity” (if not lawfully, then practically speaking), and how their only crime seems to have been being scared and confused.

Anderson was reprimanded for his actions, and told in future to “shoot first, ask questions later.”

Now it was his turn to be confused. “These were innocent people,” he says. How could what he did have been the wrong thing?

He was beginning to become convinced that this was not the war he had signed up for. And later, while on leave, and telling these and other stories to family and friends, he knew it was not a war in which he could continue to participate. He didn’t return, and instead fled to Canada, just as 50,000 draft-age Americans did between 1965 and 1973 when they refused to participate in what they believed to be an immoral war. Then Prime Minister of Canada Pierre Trudeau welcomed them, saying, “Those who make the conscientious judgment that they must not participate in this war… have my complete sympathy, and indeed our political approach has been to give them access to Canada. Canada should be a refuge from militarism.”

Thirty years after Vietnam, Canada is faced with the same moral choice to give refuge to those who refuse to be accomplices in the U.S.-led war on Iraq — a war which many legal opinions have deemed illegal under international law. However, this time around, resisters such as Anderson have been forced to apply for
refugee status.

According to the War Resisters Support Campaign, which is funding Anderson’s speaking tour, this barrier serves only to punish objectors who exercise their conscience by refusing to continue to fight once they witness first-hand the unbearable conditions in Iraq.

Despite having to sign a contract as part of his service — which, loosely speaking, includes not talking to the media, or even holding dissenting political views — Anderson is on a speaking tour of Canadian universities. His goal is to raise awareness of the human rights violations being committed in Iraq on behalf of the American government, and the obstacles facing those who refuse to participate in that war.

During his presentation at CBU, he described first becoming involved in the military. Coming from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in his city and with an equally poor excuse for an education, but with a newborn daughter to raise, he simply needed the money. He says he easily fell prey to the unfair advantage the military has in being allowed to send recruits into schools in the most impoverished parts of American cities, whereas peace advocates are often considered “too radical” and denied access to those same high-
risk kids.

About his personal experiences in Iraq, Anderson spoke simply yet passionately, including details of the two years he spent in Germany before war broke out. He was in training, totally cut off from all outside media. As a result, all he knew going into the war was what he had heard from other members of the military.

His most disturbing yet moving stories were about getting to know those other soldiers while in Iraq — hearing about their families and friends, husbands and wives, girlfriends and boyfriends, sons and daughters — and the grief involved in knowing some of them wouldn’t return home from duty.

Finally, he shared his gruesome impression of how “non-combatants” were dealt with in the area. For emphasis, Anderson recounted how a soldier from another company, when asked whether innocent women and children had been among those killed during an attack, replied: “We don’t know; we just count the bodies.”

Maybe not surprisingly then, what with the “shoot first, ask questions later” mentality that so shocked him at first, it wasn’t long before Anderson found himself refusing, as he puts it, to “take part in war crimes.” Ultimately, this is what kept Anderson from returning to duty. The reasons are different, obviously, in the case of each individual resister. But if refused refugee status in Canada and forced to return to the United States, all face the potential for persecution, incarceration, and possibly even the death penalty.

Due to the severity of the possible punishment, it rests with the War Resisters Support Campaign to enlist the help of local groups sympathetic to the cause, who can then be counted on to take the message out to their communities, and raise awareness of these and other issues facing war resisters.

A handful of CBU students took up this cause and set up information booths on campus and at local malls, from which they continued the country-wide circulation of a petition aimed at Canada’s federal government to give refuge to US war resisters who refuse to continue to fight in Iraq.

The refugee claims, however, reach beyond the soldiers’ own personal cases, and challenge the very legality of the entire war. For example, Anderson’s contractual obligation as a soldier in the American military, which he went against when he fled to Canada, is the basis for his criminal status in America. But Anderson argues that the United States is fighting an immoral and illegal war, thus breaking their end of the bargain first and invalidating the contract.

Anderson reminds us how the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime was first marketed by the Bush administration as a necessary campaign to rid the country of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD), and when it turned out that WMD’s were not present in the country, the spin on the war became that of a mission to bring democracy to America’s favourite part of the Middle East.

But it didn’t take long for these claims to be considered farce by, among others, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, who deemed the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq “illegal”.

The sentiment is increasingly being shared by American soldiers, including war resisters, but also those who remain in service despite growing opposition to the cause they represent (perhaps, according to Anderson, due to a very real fear of persecution).

Granted, Anderson says, Canada opposes the war. But “not enough”. Few still hold the American government’s claims about Iraq to be true. But despite the fact that the majority of Canadians did not support the war in the first place, and nor did the Canadian government, Anderson wonders what it will take for Canadians to really take notice of the atrocities occurring in Iraq. And more importantly, for them to take action.

The War Resisters Support Campaign is calling on the Canadian government to “demonstrate its commitment to international law and the treaties to which it is a signatory, by making provision for US war objectors to have sanctuary in this country.”

As for those who oppose the war but continue to “support our troops,” Anderson has a few final words: “If you really want to support these troops, bring them home safe.”

Using Twitter in university research

@CBUresearch recently shared a “Guide to using Twitter in university research, teaching, and impact activities” [PDF]. It’s published by the London School of Economics.

Twitter is a free social networking service that lets you write 140-character messages, called “tweets”. These can be read by anyone in the world, and they look like this:

You might ask:

“…how can such a brief medium have any relevance to universities and academia, where journal articles are 3,000 to 8,000 words long, and where books contain 80,000 words? Can anything of academic value ever be said in just 140 characters?”

In fact, Twitter is quite versatile. It can be used to promote your research, and related events like public talks. It can be used to solicit feedback on your research. It can even be used during the research phase itself:

“Twitter provides many opportunities for ‘crowd sourcing’ research activities across the sciences, social sciences, history and literature – by getting people to help with gathering information, making observations, undertaking data analysis, transcribing and editing documents – all done just for the love of it. Some researchers have also used Twitter to help ‘crowdsource’ research funding from interested public bodies. You can read more about crowdsourcing at the LSE Impact blog.

You are an expert. And Twitter is a medium people often turn to, to find experts in the field of their interest. If you’re not there, they can’t find you! Those people might be PhD students, other researchers, or lay people. You can use Twitter to not only strengthen your reputation as an expert, but to expand your reach beyond the confines of the university.

“Making links with practitioners in business, government, and public policy can happen easily. Twitter’s brevity, accessibility and immediacy are all very appealing to non-academics.”

The guide starts with the basics:

  • How to create an account
  • Useful terminology
  • Examples of writing styles, and the pros and cons of each style
  • Tips on how to increase the number of people who might read your ‘Tweets’

Read the guide, experiment a little, and see how Twitter can work for you.

Sustainable Happiness

Dr. Catherine O’Brien took the principles of positive psychology and wrapped them around the concept of environmental sustainability. The result is “Sustainable Happiness,” a contribution to both fields and a novel concept in of itself:

“Sustainable Happiness is happiness that contributes to individual, community and/or global well-being and does not exploit other people, the environment, or future generations.”

Dr. O’Brien, a professor in the department of education at CBU, developed the concept “with the aim of stimulating discussions regarding the relationship between our pursuit of happiness and sustainability.” CBU is the first university to offer courses on sustainable happiness.

The research paper in which Dr. O’Brien first described the concept of sustainable happiness focuses on transportation, particularly school travel planning, and how “children’s view of transportation reminds us that transportation is not only about ‘moving people and goods’. It’s about wonder, discovery, joy and happiness.”

That’s right, “reminds” us! Because as this Globe & Mail article points out, “many of the conclusions of happiness studies seem obvious. It’s just that we have forgotten.”

You can remind yourself with this online course: sustainablehappinesscourse.com. The course was developed by O’Brien and her colleagues Rick Foster and Greg Hicks (authors of several books including “How We Choose to be Happy”). The website was designed by O’Brien’s husband Ian Murray, and coded by yours truly.

Social Enterprise Bootcamp at CBU

I was invited along with two others speakers to kick off the Social Enterprise Bootcamp at CBU. Meghan Farrell of Nova Scotia Coop Council and Leah Noble of Dream Big Cape Breton spoke first about looking for assets in our communities rather than deficits and from there gaining the confidence to say “Yes, we can do this.” They gave great examples from their own lives and work, and made for a tough act to follow. Because we’re expecting our third child any… minute… now… I couldn’t stick around for the weekend-long event. So I used my time to give the participants some advice:

Starting a conventional business is an uphill battle. And when you’re in social enterprise, dealing with three bottom lines and not just one, the battle is uphill both ways, in the snow, with no shoes.

But you persevere because you are confronted by some set of circumstances, you are compelled by some social need, to come up with a solution. Essentially, you look at a problem, and you don’t ask yourself “Can this be solved?” but rather “How can this be solved?”

In this way, you are like designers. As a web designer, I work with non-profits, artists, and locally-owned businesses. I’m also on the board of New Dawn Enterprises, a social and business development organization. Both in my business and on my board, we deal in solutions; we’re in the business of saying ‘yes’ to problems. If I said ‘no’ too often, I’d be out of business; if my board said ‘no’ too often, New Dawn wouldn’t fulfill its social mandate of community service, and would render itself irrelevant.

But saying yes is only the beginning. Then you have to set about finding a practical solution — an impractical solution being no solution at all. This can be daunting. Social needs related to poverty, mental illness, employment, housing, health-care, the environment — these can make you feel like you’re David versus Goliath.

But that’s where it’s important to remember that David won.

A friend recently shared an article with me by New Yorker writer Malcolm Gladwell called “How David Beats Goliath – When Underdogs Break The Rules.”

It starts with a story about a girls basketball team, with very little talent or skill, and their coach, whose unconventional approach brought them all the way to the national championships. The coach was an newcomer to the game, so he saw it from an outsider’s perspective. He watched as game in, game out, one team would score and then fall back to defend their court, while the other team picked up the ball, brought it across court, acted out their pre-rehearsed playbook, scored, and then fell back to defend their court… and so on, back and forth.

What the coach perceived was how this conventional approach to the game favoured the team with the better offence: the bigger, taller, faster team with more skill and resources at its disposal. And the coach knew his team stunk. So he had them adopt an unconventional approach: the full-court press. Instead of falling back and yielding most of the court to the opposing team, the underdogs would defend the whole court: at the start of a play, when the other team only has a few seconds to get the ball into play, the underdogs would block every angle and force a bad pass; and then, when the other team only has a few more seconds to get past half-court, the underdogs would play hard defence. Suddenly, the bigger, better, faster team wasn’t playing against a smaller, weaker, slower team…. they were playing against the clock. And they were losing.

The underdogs took this method all the way to the national championships.

I won’t stretch myself to suggest an analogy between basketball and social enterprise. But there is something to be said for thinking like David when staring down Goliath.

So let’s apply this to what you guys are going to be doing this weekend. You’re working in groups, to design a solution to a problem. The conventional approach to group work is the brainstorming session. Brainstorming is about filling up a flip chart with as many ideas as possible. And conventional wisdom tells us that in order to do this there must be an effective ban on criticism and negative feedback, because if someone thinks their idea might be ridiculed, they’re less likely to share it. And that would prevent your group from reaching that critical mass of ideas necessary for success.

But here’s the problem. The conventional wisdom is wrong. Brainstorming doesn’t work. A psychologist at Washington University summarizes the science as follows: “Decades of research have consistently shown that brainstorming groups think of far fewer ideas than the same number of people who work alone and later pool their ideas.”

Now you might offer anecdotal evidence to the contrary. You might say, I’ve seen my fair share of impressive-looking flip charts from brainstorming sessions. But the research isn’t comparing ideas; it’s comparing good ideas with bad ones.

And most ideas are bad. Most ideas are plain crap.

Most ideas — for a social enterprise, for a business, for a product, for anything that people consume or engage with in one way or another — most don’t amount to anything, if they even materialize in the first place. Most businesses are based on bad ideas. That’s why most businesses go out of business. And most do it rather speedily.

In fact, we shouldn’t think of bad ideas as ideas at all. They’re just writing. Like I said at the beginning, an impractical solution is no solution at all.

So what should you do instead? How should you approach the design process in a group setting?

First, you should avoid the trappings of brainstorming by allowing some time this weekend to do some work individually, and then come together to criticize it. (Avoid ‘Groupthink’. Instead: Think. Regroup.)

Second, by “criticize”, I mean constructive criticism. The research doesn’t suggest that you shouldn’t still be a good listener, shouldn’t be open-minded, shouldn’t be a generally respectful human being. It just suggests that you shouldn’t shy away from putting ideas through the fire, from putting pressure on them. Respect is reserved for the person who came up with the idea; don’t respect the idea itself until it earns your respect. What the research shows is that, in fact, imagination thrives on conflict. So if you truly want to respect your teammates, you should rough up their ideas a little.

Conventional wisdom also tells us not to reinvent the wheel. This feels intuitive because our natural inclination is to be afraid of the new. And so we often start by looking for existing examples of an enterprise, we then label them ‘successful’ (they must be successful or else they’d have gone out of business already), and then we replicate them.

Now, y’know, the wheel…. someone would’ve eventually come up with that idea. And the wheel… it is pretty hard to beat.

But your goal should be to design a solution to a problem that needs a solution; not to look for a solution to a problem that already has a solution. As I said at the beginning, the question you should ask yourself is not ‘can this be done?’ but rather ‘how can this be done?’

We have all sorts of ‘solutions’ to problems that don’t really exist. In philosophy these are called pseudo-problems. I don’t want to discount anything so I’ll leave it up to you to decide what is and isn’t a pseudo-problem in the real world, but I’ll give you one quick example from philosophy: a topic called “Vagueness” wherein one tries to answer the question “How many grains of sand would you have to remove from a heap of sand before it is no longer a heap?” The answer to this question is, of course… why would anyone ever need to know this?

If you were attracted to social enterprise in the first place because you want to do something meaningful with your life, don’t shoot yourself in the foot right from the get-go by solving pseudo-problems.

Now there’s nothing implicitly wrong with replicating or importing a solution. But look closely because that successful enterprise you’re modelling may be just that — a successful enterprise — it may not in fact be a successful solution. So again this is where your critical faculty becomes absolutely… critical.

Don’t pick something easy. Social enterprise is about making positive change in your community and the world; it’s not about looking cool while doing it. Gladwell points out that when that girls basketball team was playing the full-court defence, they often looked ridiculous, waving their arms in the air. He suggests that, even though this style of play got an underdog team to the national championships, it’s the uncool factor that explains why such a successful style of play isn’t adopted more frequently.

Bruce Mau, the celebrated Canadian designer, in his “Incomplete Manifesto for Growth“, says, “Don’t be cool. Cool is conservative fear dressed in black.”

Mau goes on to talk about “Collaborating,” saying that “The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife, exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.”

I would simply alter that slightly to say: IF The space between people working together is filled with conflict, friction, strife — respectfully — THEN it will also be filled with exhilaration, delight, and vast creative potential.”

Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Parish

“Mnohaya lita! Celebrating 100 Years of Ukrainian Faith in Cape Breton” is an exhibit honouring the centenary of the Holy Ghost Ukrainian Catholic Parish in Sydney, Nova Scotia. An in situ exhibit is installed and open to the public, February 2nd through November 17th 2012, at the Cape Breton Centre for Heritage and Science (The Lyceum), 225 George Street, Sydney.

The website I made features a ‘virtual exhibit’, with photography by Corey Katz.

The exhibit was curated by Dr. Marcia Ostashewski, a postdoc fellow in CBU’s department of History & Culture; and the creative director (who designed the banner on the website) was Darene Roma Yavorsky of The Word & Image Studio.

My dad grew up in the Pier, and his first school experience was a kindergarten operated from the basement of Holy Ghost Church by local Ukrainian nuns. In this picture he’s front-row-left.

Richard Florida’s Creative Classism

In the Community Economic Development MBA program at CBU, our Economic Geography professor tested our reading comprehension by having us summarize one of the assigned readings. I chose Richard Florida’s “Cities and the Creative Class”.

The City as an object of academic study has been marginalized in the last several decades by scholars whose myopic view of regional development has led them to see only companies, firms, and industries as engines of innovation and economic growth. Richard Florida has corrected this egregious error, rescuing the city from undeserved obscurity, and effectively filling in a giant blind spot in economic geography as a discipline that has existed ever since Jane Jacobs stopped writing about the city and started writing about the planet.

If it weren’t for Florida’s heroic effort to return the city from oblivion to its rightful place at the centre of regional development theories of economic growth, policy makers would spend another wasted generation misplacing their energies (by attempting to influence and attract firms with incentives); and lesser scholars would misplace their energies by studying non-economic functions of places. Policy makers and scholars alike should instead look to the city as the new way of organizing geographies. And here’s why.

Not only is geography not “dead”, but in fact the people responsible for economic growth in (mainly) the US are concentrating in a handful of places. The question then is whether favourable economic conditions (jobs, etc) bring those people to those places, or whether those people actually bring the economy with them. Indeed, Florida argues that firms cluster in places, spurring the huge economic growth and spawning the advancements in innovation that characterize booming economies, precisely because those people are there, all at once, together. The best and the brightest, they are. Look at ’em! They’re almost glowing. They’re called… The Creative Class.

There are several important things to know about this important group of important people. First, they don’t care for bowling, church, politics, group sports in general, trusting people, caring about strangers, knowing people outside of their class and specialty, or having meaningful connections to humans that might in any way inhibit the economic growth of the economy.

What they do like is “networking” with people who share their interests, which allows them to socialize while simultaneously pursuing their own interests.

In this way, not only are they highly motivated technological innovators, but indeed social innovators. They spontaneously create the very lifestyle conditions required to reproduce themselves: a diverse, open society where anyone is welcome so long as you don’t try to get to know others too well (i.e., invasive-ness is taboo) or do anything else to inhibit the production of novelty leading to economic growth (like, say, promote stability or obligations).

While Florida places cities at the centre of regional development theory, he places these people, the Creative Class, at the centre of the City. No longer are cities important because of their centrality in a distribution network nor their proximity to natural resources. The new economy is still structured around resource extraction, but of a radically different resource, what Florida calls “human capital”.

Being human is not enough to endow a human with human capital worth extracting: a human must first be enriched with high-grade education, and pressurized to a level of productivity not found outside the lab, in nature. The resulting human product is called “talented”, and as specimens accumulate in a place, yet remain unattached so as to easily reconfigure in novel combinations, we see economic growth.

As noted, only some humans possess human capital. And only some humans with human capital possess the kind of human capital, “creative capital”, necessary to drive economic growth. And still fewer of these creative humans possess highly enough concentrated levels to be considered super-creative. These include scientists, artists, designers, and Richard Florida.

In order for someone’s output to be considered super-creative, it must meet the following dual criteria, both of which are necessary and neither of which is sufficient on its own: it must be highly original, yet highly reproducible.

Among the creative class as a whole, Florida counts almost 1 in 3 Americans. There is a high degree of probability that the remainder are creative human beings. But they aren’t required, or allowed, to employ this creativity in their jobs — because they stayed in their hometown which is ethnically homogeneous and sparse in technological assets, and they didn’t graduate from university, like Steve Jobs.

Florida is not uncritical of the new cities, and notes some of the contradictions of the rise of the creative class: as university graduates relocate to join the creative class, we can see intensifying economic inequality between a few fast growing regional economies and the shrinking regional economies of the various backwaters where they grew up; and within fast growing economies, anyone not a member of the creative class can no longer afford their rent and must move to those hollowed out communities that the creative people just evacuated.

Worst of all, members of the creative class must check their email frequently, causing mental disorders that will lead to social breakdown in the absence of support structures like bowling leagues, Kiwanis, church, community, friends, and family.

To summarize, the Creative Age is distinguished by the movement, accumulation, concentration, and infinite reconfiguration of “human capital”. The creative class is, in other words, capital incarnate.

Protest Songs

When marches and street parades celebrating working class solidarity began springing up with increasing regularity at the turn of the 20th century, it seemed to provide “historic proof that the workers of the world were to unite in a common cause.” That’s how J. B. McLachlan biographer David Frank put it.

Here’s how radical union organizer J.B. McLachlan himself described May Day parades in Cape Breton coal-mining towns in the 1920s:

“The workers of this land are our comrades and brothers, the capitalists of this land our robber enemies. The complete solidarity of the former is our hope, the complete extermination of the latter our aim.”

An essential part of the labour movement — in times of struggle and celebration alike — were the songs of protest that miners and steelworkers sung as they gathered and marched. 18 of those songs, the only surviving parts of which were lyrics published in the Maritime Labour Herald in the 1920s, are now brought back to life on protestsongs.ca.

Richard Mackinnon from the Centre for Cape Breton Studies at CBU worked with local musicians — like Colin Grant, Ian MacDougall from the Tom Fun Orchestra, and Nipper Macleod of the Men of the Deeps, among others — to set the lyrics to music.

The result is a collaboration of sorts, across almost a century. (Although sometimes the struggles of the past don’t seem so distant.)