Apparently I’m a blue person. My old room was a horrendously light shade of blue, so I painted it a darker blue. It turned out too dark, however; this time around, I chose a better shade of blue—more blue grey, slightly lighter. My coworkers at the art gallery suggested doing three walls in a natural brown and having a blue accent wall, but I was too timid to follow up on this recommendation; I stuck with blue.
What was originally a one-man operation became a one-man-and-twins operation when my friends Cassie and Carly offered to help paint. I didn’t even have to ask!1 I woke up early that morning and moved most of my furniture out of my room. Then I washed the three walls without wallpaper before tackling that last, fatal wall.
Removing the wallpaper was tedious but not difficult. The surface vinyl came off easily, and the commercial wallpaper remover worked as advertised on the adhesive. It wasn’t difficult so much as a time-consuming, foamy mess. I finished shortly after 1 o‘clock, and then Cassie and Carly arrived in time to begin painting. After stripping off the wallpaper, I learned that the wall underneath was a light blue, and that the previous occupants of the house had decided to remind themselves it would be wallpapered. Although removing the wallpaper went better than I anticipated, I’m still never putting up wallpaper myself—it seems like an irresponsible undertaking, and I don’t want to inflict that sort of pain on another human being.
It went much faster with three people painting. I couldn’t imagine having to do it all by myself—it defintely would have taken me two days. As it was, we finished the first coat by four o’clock, then we took a break to watch an episode of jPod while the paint dried. Then we put did a quick second coat before my friends had to go—leaving me with lots of clean-up!
Here’s a before/after panel of my old and new room:
I’m going to put my shelves back up, of course. I pushed the TV stand against the other wall because I plan to put up floor-to-ceiling shelving where I only had three shelves before. Hopefully this should accommodate my growing book collection.
Two months ago I read The Numerati, in which Stephen Baker discusses how technology—particularly the Internet—is affecting marketing techniques and how businesses and individuals manage their data. Now that we have the tools and understanding to mathematically model more behaviour than ever before, there’s a new group of people—the eponymous Numerati—at the forefront of this information revolution.
One of the concerns Baker briefly addresses is privacy. On the Internet, this has always been an issue, but the surge in popularity of social networking this year makes it even more relevant. MySpace and Facebook have made headlines with the Lori Drew case and the launch of identity management Facebook Connect.1 What was once a matter of “privacy” is now a question of the most appropriate mechanism for managing the convergence of one’s offline and online personae.
And I can’t help but feel that some people are missing the point.
What is Privacy?
Like “Web 2.0”, we tend to throw the term “privacy” around quite a bit without much thought to what we actually want when we demand it. Does this merely mean we want our bank account details safe? Or do we actually want a guarantee of anonymity (if we choose it)? Is our personal data only private if we keep it secret, or is it still private if we share it with other people (such as friends or corporations) as long as it isn’t available to the general public?
Let’s face it though: in the evanescent medium of the Internet, any strict definitions regularly become obsolete. So instead, let’s define privacy as a mode of operation rather than a state of being. Online, privacy is more an ability of a user to control how his or her personal data is distributed. Privacy settings on web sites are an excellent example of this mode of operation: the web site gives the user the choice of what to reveal.
But We Just Wanna Have Fun
Then apparently you haven’t heard the news: the Internets are serious businesses. This is hard for many people to accept—it’s so easy to go online, create a fake identity, and begin fooling around. Yet at its core, the Internet is not a fictitious world or some sort of MMORPG. While you can often assume the cloak of anonymity,2 increasingly services expect you to dole out personal details and geographical information.
I can understand why this has privacy advocates concerned. It won’t be long, they argue, before everyone is chipped with evil, insecure RFID devices that allow the Google Overlords to track our every movement and even read our minds, right? After all, as soon as we tell a service on the Internet not only who we are, but where we live, it’s only a matter of time before an axe murderer shows up at our door, right?
It’s good to be wary and vigilant of flagrant violations of one’s privacy. However, these sort of overreactions are indicative, in my opinion, of a misunderstanding of the Internet as a communication medium. In that sense, the Internet really is something new. We’ve never had a communication medium quite like it. The Internet’s effect on society is tantamount to that of the printing press on fifteenth century European society—but it is also so much more. The Internet is both a library and a conference centre. When people pull out their mobile phones and say, “This is my office,” they aren’t necessarily joking.
The true potential of the Internet will never be realized unless we accept that geostamping is as much of a necessity as timestamping. Since the inception of the Internet, content creators regularly date the work they publish online—yet only recently have we begun tagging that work with geographical information. Now websites like Flickr can automatically geostamp your photos using the information embedded into the uploaded photograph. While watchdogs call that a privacy violation, I call that awesome. (And you can turn it off if you don’t like it.)
Knowledge Is Slavery
The counterargument to handing all our data over to the Google Overlords is to trot out George Orwell’s 1984 and staple the adjective “Orwellian” to everything. Now, I admit I often worry about that. Giving Google my personal information is one of my favourite pastimes, but is it a dangerous pastime? Is Google going to start editing the Internet to retcon reality?
The short answer is: no. The explanation to the short answer is: you won’t let them—at least, I hope.
See, the thing about 1984 is that Orwell wasn’t cautioning us against “Big Brother” type dystopian societies—most of us were already against those at the time. He was cautioning us that those sort of societies spring up because we don’t do anything about it. That message is kind of hitting home after recent events in Canada … but anyway, I digress.
My point is that there’s still plenty of room on the Internet for individuals and countercultures to survive. That’s the beauty of the Internet: as long as you have the technology, you can rebuild it, recreate it, and make it better than it was before. You only run into problems when you have a government, like China, that begins dictating what you can or can’t do when you browse the Internet and enforce it technologically. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, however, but that was not an isolated incident in China—that sort of government restriction was present in every part of the lives of Chinese citizens. Similarly, if we see the inception of an “Orwellian Internet”, it will happpen because we the people have sold out.
In short, Orwellian society begets Orwellian Internet, not the other way around. Orwellian. Orwellian. Orwellian.
Wait, You‘re Still Reading This?
I would recommend The Numerati to everyone, not just people with an interest in this field. The book is very short and doesn’t go into the mathematical specifics behind this statistical analysis—Baker’s a business writer, not a math geek like me—so it’s quite understandable to laypeople. In his conclusion, Baker says:
So we’re going to have to reevaluate our ideas about privacy and secrets … until recently, our secrets were scattered…. Most of them, if we played it right, didn’t mingle much. Unless a detective was on the case, the bits of information didn’t find each other. Now they can and they will.
This can be scary. No doubt it will tempt a few of us to turn away from the data-spewing world altogether. Some will tiptoe around the Internet, if they venture there at all….
But with a bit of knowledge, we can turn these tools to our advantage. You may not have noticed, but as we make our way in these pages from the snooping workplace to the laboratories of love, we gradually evolve from data serfs into data masters…. We’re appealing to the science of the Numerati to protect us from falls and alert us before strokes and heart attacks…. The point is, these statistical tools are going to be quietly assuming more and more power in our lives. We might as well learn how to grab the controls and use them for [our] own interests. (204-5)
Before that, Baker makes another statement that pretty much sums up my entire view toward privacy: “The personal data can be shared but not the identity” (204). How many of you have done anonymous surveys, or checked off a box that says, “Yes, you can share my data as long as you don’t associate with my identity”? For those of you that haven’t—are you sure? How many of you honestly read through those tiresome EULAs that accompany any of the software you install—many of those include clauses that permit the software to anonymously report data about how you use the software.
As Baker explains, this sort of data is neither good nor bad. What matters is who uses it and how they use it. Unless you become a hermit3, achieving total privacy is impractical. So rather than run from the Google overlords, these Numerati, learn about them. Learn what they do with your data, and be vigilant in how you manage your online identity.
There are risks associated with any venture, and the Internet is no different in this case. Every time you connect your computer to it, you take the risk that you’ll inadvertently download a virus or be deluged with spam. But like many risky ventures, I think the Internet is worth that risk.
The debate over privacy should not be about how to keep your secrets—well, secret. That is a lost cause. Instead, the debate should be over how best to manage those secrets, and how to make sure our personal data is used to benefit us rather than exploit us.
I‘ve been very happy with my Dell Inspiron 6400 laptop since purchasing it over a year ago. I bought it online, customized it to meet my needs, and this lovely machine has performed without complaint. There’s a chip on the lower left edge of the white trim; I’m not quite sure how it got there. And I had to replace my keyboard once—Dell support was very helpful and shipped one to me by the next day.
As for battery life? Well, the battery charge lasts a long time—I can get four, four and a half hours out of my laptop if I’m not doing anything more strenuous than browsing or writing—listening to music or playing videos drains it a little faster. This is a marked improvement over the twenty minute lifespan of my Toshiba Satellite’s battery, which is one of the reasons I love this laptop so much!
The battery’s life, however, could have been better—past tense. The original battery has reached its golden years in a little under a year and a half of service. Unfortunately, Dell’s batteries are covered under a separate “standard” 12-month warranty. If the battery fails after that, you have to buy a new one, which can be as much as $300! Talk about highway robbery.
So I began to use the Internet for something it does very well: finding good deals. With laptop batteries, this can be a challenge: every manufacturer designs its batteries differently, and quality is important—I certainly didn’t want to get a battery that only lasts me six months, or one that only stays charged for an hour.
Eventually I came across LaptopBatteryStore.ca. It ships from Canada, which is great, because that means no customs delays and prices in Canadian dollars. Furthermore, these weren’t refurbished batteries—these are batteries manufactured specifically to match the specs on each machine. So I found the battery designed to fit in an Inspiron 6400—it was $99. That’s a much better deal than what Dell was offering. It came with a 30-day money back guarantee and a 12-month warranty, same as my original battery. so even if the battery fails, I can send it back and I won’t be any worse off than I was at the start of this quest.
My battery arrived several weeks ago. So far, the battery life is as good as my original battery was when I got my computer. Nothing has exploded yet. I am quite happy to have found this deal!
Now that everyone in Ottawa has some breathing room, what exactly is the state of Canada as a democracy and as a nation?
With the decision to prorogue government, constitutional expert Errol Mendes believes that Governor General Michaëlle Jean has set a dangerous precedent. In the future, prime ministers who face confidence motions in the House of Commons may also request prorogation of Parliament. Mendes does suggest that Parliament itself could “pass legislation to prevent abuse of the prorogation in the future,” so that’s good news—except that our Parliament doesn’t seem too eager to pass any legislation so far.
Democracy Isn’t Dead, Just Violated
The good news is that democracy isn’t dead: long live democracy. In fact, contrary to the spin being spun by both sides, the past few days have had nothing to do with democracy. Yes, it was a political crisis and an economic crisis; it was not a crisis of democracy. It’s not business as usual, but everything that has happened has happened within the bounds of a parliamentary democracy.
But that doesn’t mean everything is fine.
As mentioned above, the Governor General’s decision does set precedent that will affect the operation of our democracy in the future. Harper’s move is the most cowardly one he could take. Oh, he cites some good reasons: he wants Parliament to cool down and start working together; he wants the opposition parties to vote on a full budget and not just the small update that Flaherty delivered last week. That’s all well and good, Mr. Harper, but the fact remains that Parliament is suspended. We aren’t getting any legislation passed. So while Mr. Harper has not killed democracy (yet), he has raped it.
How To Break Parliament
So thanks to Harper’s inept handling of this situation, this is how it went down:
- Last Wednesday, the Conservatives deliver their Speech from the Throne. No one cares.
- On Friday, the Conservatives deliver their economic update, which plans to address the economic crisis.
- The opposition parties announce that they do not support this update, which differs from what Harper had initially promised, and say, “screw this government, we’ll go build our own—with blackjack, and hookers.” Or something to that effect. On Monday, they sign a formal agreement to make the coalition official, including the support of the Bloc (who would not be a part of the coalition per se).
- Harper, after unplugging himself from his wall charging unit, says, “I‘m afraid you can’t do that, Dion.” He accuses the opposition parties of being undemocratic, un-Canadian, and power-hungry. This turns the economic crisis into a political crisis.
- The spin gets out of control during question period on Monday and Tuesday, deafening the Speaker. Meanwhile, ordinary Canadians are beginning to wake up from their post-election coma and realize that something interesting is happening in politics.
- In an attempt to sway public opinion, or perhaps just campaigning early for another election, Harper turns the economic-turned-political crisis into one of national unity as accuses the coalition of being a separatist/socialist sham.
- When it becomes clear that only the intervention of the Governor General will resolve this situation, the economic-turned-political-turned-national unity crisis becomes a constitutional crisis as experts and laypeople alike speculate what sort of precedent the Governor General will set for future generations of aspiring power-hungry dictators.
- This Wednesday, Harper meets with the Governor General behind closed, then open, then closed, then open doors at Government House. CBC Newsworld has nothing better to do, so it teaches aspiring reporters how to report when one is waiting for a story to break.
- Governor General prorogues Parliament on advice from Prime Minister Harper. This makes a lot of people very angry/happy and is widely considered a bad/good move.
To summarize: a problem that began in the economy became a political one that became a question of national unity that turned into a constitutional matter that is now back to politics. Oh, and we haven’t fixed the economy yet.
Quebec Cage Match Still Set for Quarter-Past Never
The Conservatives made quite a fuss over the Bloc Québécois’ involvement in the Liberal-NDP coalition, going so far as to call the coalition “separatist” (or if they were talking in French, “sovereigntist”). Unfortunately, this tactic has resonated with many Canadians outside of Quebec who do not support the coalition. There are plenty of valid reasons to be against this coalition, but because it’s a “separatist” coalition that plans to break up our country is not one of them.
It’s a good thing that no one in this country is bilingual, or else someone would realize the Conservatives’ duplicity on this front. And I pity the Conservative candidates in Quebec come next election….
Null Output: Try Again? y/n
In the end, you’ll notice that we haven’t actually gotten anywhere as far as governance is concerned.
It remains to be seen if the coalition can survive until the Parliament reconvenes on January 26. While most of the Liberal and NDP MPs insist that the coalition can remain intact, some such as Jim Karygiannis, suggest that the coalition will not survive, especially if Dion remains leader.
The House of Commons sat for so short a time before Parliament prorogued that they managed to pass no legislation nor do anything for our economic crisis—the very crisis that started this whole mess. We have to wait until January for new laws and a new budget.
So yeah … lots of stuff to look forward to in January. More Chuck, more Battlestar Galactica, more Parliament.
I will be the first to say that the Governor General’s decision to prorogue Parliament is the worst of the possible outcomes we could have seen today. It is not a solution to the crisis. Rather, it is a stall tactic that delays a confidence vote—a vote Harper’s Conservatives will likely lose. Moreover, how is this helping our economic situation, which is supposedly so dire that it needs immediate action? If Harper really thought the economy mattered more than his ego and desire for power, he’d seek a better solution—not necessarily yielding to a coalition, sure, but definitely not suspending our legislative assembly!
That said, I‘m glad that we now have a concrete decision, even if it’s an ambiguous concrete decision!
I respect that in our parliamentary democracy, the Governor General’s role is to make a decision like this, and I do not envy her this responsibility. No matter what she decided today, she would have upset some Canadians and set a precedent for future governments. I disagree with her decision, but respect it as a democratic one.
This is why I prefer parliamentary democracy to any other system, such as the American one. We have this check on the power of the Prime Minister’s office. Notice that the politicians are not blaming the Governor General; they blame Harper. Not only is this a smart move (since Harper is publicly elected; the Governor General is not), but it is symbolic of our democracy: it’s Harper’s fault that the situation has degenerated to such a degree as to require prorogation. The Governor General weighed the options and decided that this would be the best for Canadians.
In answering reporters‘ questions outside of Government House, Harper implied that the opposition parties are required to work with him to produce a budget that will help Canada’s economy. Well, the opposition parties are already working with each other, and they outnumber the Conservatives—Harper should work with them. Perhaps a coalition isn’t a good idea right now; maybe it would be unstable. But that does not mean that the Conservatives can rule like a majority government.
Don’t blame the Governor General if you’re upset with her decision. It isn’t her fault that our politicians are self-serving and shortsighted. We have a dearth of great leadership in our country right now. I am not disappointed in Canada as a democracy. I am disappointed in Canada’s political leaders for squabbling like children instead of running our country.
At this point in the game, I feel sorry for small C conservatives. Part of the problem for liberal voters in the last election was that we had a choice for whom we could vote. Aside from abstaining, voting for a conservative independent, or voting for someone who is probably more left of centre than one’s ideology would like, conservative Canadians are stuck with Harper. And that sucks.
Stephen Harper has wrought considerable damage to the Conservative Party of Canada. He has tarnished its reputation and diminished its influence. The Conservatives had a real opportunity in the past years after the fall of the Liberals and the adscam; Stephen Harper squandered that opportunity. The result? There may be another election in a couple of months!
In Question Period today, rather than try to address tangible disadvantages to a Liberal-NDP coalition—and there are such disadvantages, for sure—Harper led the Conservatives on a spurious, ad hominem attack round against the opposition parties. He accused the leaders of being un-Canadian because they refused to sign their coalition agreement in front of a Canadian flag—this accusation is also false, incidently. Of course, accusing one’s opponent of being unpatriotic is the last defence of a desperate politician; we saw similar tactics in use during the American presidential election.
Similarly, the Conservative party line regarding the coalition is that it is a “separatist coalition”, a coalition in which “a separatist party would have veto power.” These phrases came up over and over during Question Period, and Jim Prentice repeated them during his interview on CBC Newsworld. The Conservatives insult the intelligence of Canadian voters by promoting such nonsense. Yes, the Bloc Québécois supports the coalition. But they don’t get veto power—on the contrary, the agreement binds them to support the government on confidence motions until June 30, 2010. Recall that the Conservatives currently have a minority government, and the Liberals and NDP don’t feel too amenable right now. If the Conservatives hope to pass any legislation, they need another party to support them—by alienating all the opposition parties, they are essentially guaranteeing an election or a coalition government.
Mr. Harper does Canadians a disservice by engaging in such slander and rhetoric. In order for Canada to be a strong democracy, we need dissenting points of view: liberal and conservative. So my heart goes out to you, Canadian conservatives, for what you are enduring right now, what amounts to the mockery of a once proud founding party of this country. We can only hope that whatever the outcome of the current situation, it will result in improvements to the leadership of the Conservative party.
And that pigs will fly.
Let’s talk now about those possible outcomes. There are essentially three scenarios, and it rests largely on the shoulders of our Governor General. Firstly, Harper could ask the Governor General to prorogue Parliament. Should the opposition parties defeat the government, the second and third options, respectively, would be to call an election or invite the opposition parties to form their proposed coalition.
Many politically savvy Canadians, myself included, were not familiar with the term proroguement until this week. When parliament is prorogued, the current session ends and all bills die, but Parliament is not dissolved and we do not have an election. Harper could request the Governor General to prorogue parliament in order to avoid losing a confidence motion.
To me, this seems like the least democratic of the three options. Essentially it’s Harper requesting a do-over of the past two months. Since we do we give politicians do-overs? The promise that Harper made was that his stronger minority government would work with the entire parliament to actually govern. Harper has failed to deliver. Now instead of changing his tact, he’s just going to delay governing more.
Plus, I fail to see how this will solve anything. It seems like it will delay the inevitable: barring a major dispute, I doubt the opposition parties will abandon their coalition plans in the course of a couple of months. So they will just defeat the government at the first opportunity in the next session of parliament. Harper can’t stall forever. I suppose he could wait until the economic crisis grows dire enough that the parties have to support whatever economic plan he proposes, simply to take action to help the country. But since when has holding the country hostage been democratic and in the best interests of Canada?
It Was So Fun the First Time
Some of the rhetoric today in Question Period leads me to believe that Harper has already geared up his campaign machine again. Let’s just go back to the polls—October’s election was too ambiguous; let’s do it again. Because it was so much fun the first time around. Let’s see: same leaders, same platforms, essentially the same (if not worse) economic situation. How is the outcome going to change significantly? Moreover, last election saw the lowest voter turnout in history. Somehow I suspect that an election so soon on its heels would break that record.
Let’s Work Together
By now it’s obvious that I’m incredibly biased in favour of a coalition. Let me quickly point out why that is so before I take a moment to critique such a coalition.
Aside from the reasons I mentioned yesterday, a coalition carries with it the implication that we will get things done. Many Canadians expressed anger at our last election because it meant several more weeks without any effective governance from … well, from our government. Similarly, many Canadians now are angry at all our parties for playing games with our political system. And rightly so.
But as I pointed out above, prorogument and an election both result in further delay. A coalition has no such delay: together the three opposition parties can pass legislation whether the Tories like it or not.
It’s true, however, that a coalition is not without its disadvantages. There is the uncertainty surrounding leadership: Dion lost the confidence of the Liberal party, but under the current plan he would become prime minister (at least until the Liberals choose a replacement in May). Will a synthesis of Liberal and NDP economic plans successfully help see our economy through these difficult times?
I can see why some people just want the Governor General to call an election—they don’t necessarily want an election, but since one of the above three scenarios has to happen, an election is, to them, the least of the three evils. I’m still in favour of a coalition. It’s the most interesting of the three options, and I like interesting.
And hey, at least the three opposition leaders are trying something innovative! All Harper has been doing is whining. It’s getting very tiresome.
I love this country, and I love our politics.
Canadian politics are often not as exciting as American politics. And that’s true—due to the two-party system in America, the political landscape is a vast minefield of polarized partisanship. In Canada, while we do have two major parties, we have two other parties who exert a strong influence in Parliament.
But this is why I love Canadian politics: it may not be as exciting as American politics in general, but it can get exciting at any time. Due to our parliamentary system, the government can be defeated on any motion considered a “confidence motion”. So in America while the President is elected independently of the legislature every four years, and is generally stuck in office for four years, our leader changes as the government does, and our leader can potentially change at any time.
Last Friday, Canadian politics got exciting again. The three opposition parties announced that they were in talks to form a coalition government. That means that rather than any one party forming the government, two or more parties would work together to form the government and pass legislation. In order for this to happen, the opposition parties would first have to defeat the government. Their first opportunity to do this was supposed to be today, but in response to this coalition talk, Harper pushed the vote back a week.
At this point, I’ll digress for a moment to talk about how monumentally poorly Harper has managed this situation. While it’s true that the election gave him a stronger minority than before, that’s no reason he should be able to govern like a majority government. The opposition parties have timed this move in response to the lacklustre economic plan that the Tories introduced last week; accusations that this is a “backroom deal” that’s been in the works for months are irrelevant—who cares? The opposition parties have many other legitimate grievances other than the Tories’ economic policies; they would have found a reason to defeat the government eventually.
Harper went on to accuse this coalition proposal of being an undemocratic attempt to seize power with a clear mandate from the people. I‘m wondering in what book a minority government comprises a clear mandate from the people. I’m also wondering how this situation has changed from when Harper was a signatory to a letter to the Governor General proposing a possible coalition if Paul Martin’s government were defeated. Lastly, Harper accuses the opposition parties of being undemocratic, yet he is the one who is delaying this confidence motion and who may even prorogue Parliament to prevent his government’s defeat. Yes, because not assembling the democratic assembly is so very democratic.
Plus, postponing the vote just gives the opposition parties more time to organize. It became pretty clear that the three parties were amenable to a coalition idea and were close to working out the specifics, but the wild card was still who would lead it—since the Liberal leadership isn’t exactly solid right now.
Today, however, marks the end of Mr. Harper’s rosy little minority government. The three opposition leaders appeared in a press conference where they signed a formal coalition agreement that would outline the terms of the proposed government. The Liberals and NDP would form the government with the support of the Bloc, who would agree not to vote against the government on confidence motions until at least June 30, 2010. The coalition agreement between the Liberals and NDP will be effective until at least June 30, 2011. Both of these dates can be extended if so desired. The NDP will receive 25% of the cabinet posts, although the deputy prime minister and finance minister will be Liberals. Stéphane Dion will be prime minister for the interim until the selection of a new Liberal leader on May 2.
It’s almost an underdog story, the stuff out of Disney movies: the little Liberal who could! Here Dion “leads” the Liberals to their most crushing defeat in history, steps down as leader, and now faces the prospect of being prime minister! What a great come back.
The question now is not if the government will be defeated, but when. Once the government is defeated and Parliament dissolves, it will be up to our Governor General, Her Excellency Michaëlle Jean, to decide to call an election or to invite the opposition parties to form a coalition government. Until the parties signed this agreement, I was sceptical that a coalition could come to fruition. But now it looks pretty likely—I doubt many Canadians would want another election so soon after the one this October.
This is history in the making, a nearly unprecedented event in Canadian politics. The proposed coalition government is democratic, no matter what the pundits say, and it is such a Canadian solution to our political problems.