Saturday, February 28, 2009

Obama Vows to Fight Lobbyists

In a blog post titled Keeping Promises, the White House released President Obama's weekly video address. In this video, President Obama stated that Lobbyists are gearing up to fight over the budget, but he promised that he was ready for a fight. (Image: White House) There's no two ways about it, Obama delivers some fighting words to lobbyists. His goal is to get a budget through that will represent fiscal responsibility that he has campaigned for. Video after the jump...

There is no doubt that the changes proposed in the new budget are dramatic enough to cause many on Capitol Hill to break a sweat. Whenever a bill as big as the budget goes through congress and the senate, there are many interests looking to tack something onto it. Regardless of whether they are valuable or pork, these measures need to be put on hold.

If Obama can get this bill through, without earmarks or pet projects being tacked on, he will have accomplished something significant. That's a sad state for the political system in the United States, but it is the truth. I'm unclear as to whether Canada is as bad, with the exception of the governments of cases like Brian Mulroney or Jean Chr├ętien, but I doubt it. Maybe we don't have enough money or the political culture is just different.

If Canada does have such problems, I would say that they are worse because we don't know of them. Hopefully someone's keeping an eye on Canadian Members of Parliament, but for now I'll feel good for Americans who are witnessing their government wage war on corruption.


Friday, February 27, 2009

Republican Chairman Steele Sharing Republican Values

Michael Steele, the recently appointed chairman of the Republican party, made a curious comment during a recent interview. Referencing the film Slumdog Millionare, the interviewer asked if Steel had any "Slum Love" for Bobby Jindal. (Image: Huffington Post) In case you missed my post yesterday, Bobby Jindal is the Republican Governor of Louisiana who has been viewed as a front-runner for 2012 presidential nomination. What's the connection between Jindal and Slumdog Millionare? From what I can tell, only that he is of Indian descent.

Let's be clear though, as Bobby said in the video in my post yesterday, he was born in America to immigrant parents. Jindal is not from the Mumbai slums, the area which is referenced in the title of the film. He is not even from India, yet Steele got quite a kick out of the reference and sent "slum love" to Jindal.

Below is a transcript of the interview along with an audio clip. Both come by way of Huffington Post that got the tip from Politico:

SLIWA: Now, using a little bit of that street terminology, are you giving him any Slum love, Michael?

STEELE: (laughter)

SLIWA: Because he is — when guys look at him and young women look at him — they say oh, that's the slumdog millionaire, governor. So, give me some slum love.

STEELE: I love it. (inaudible) ... some slum love out to my buddy. Gov. Bobby Jindal is doing a friggin' awesome job in his state. He's really turned around on some core principles — like hey, government ought not be corrupt. The good stuff ... the easy stuff.

This is the latest in the campaign of Chairman Steele that is being referred to as "street talk" by the media. That alone I think is ridiculous, especially since Steele embraces and uses the term himself, but he continues to play into it more and more.

Just yesterday, Steele's campaign had two other similar "street talk" incidents. First, Steele admitted Republican mistakes with the statement, "We know the past, we know we did wrong. My bad." After this, Congresswoman Michele Bachmann told Steele, "You be da man!"

What do you guys think of this? I really don't know what to make of it. I may be reading it wrong, but is Steele parodying tolerance? I can't understand why else he would be continuing with this.


It's That Time of Year...

If you guessed I was talking about the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), you were right! No relation to the privately-owed public service channel in Canada, this conference is not directly affiliated with the Republican party but featured Dick Cheney in 2006 and 2007 then George Bush in 2008 alongside all Republican presidential contenders besides John McCain. (Image: Yahoo) With no conservative government leading the way this year, who will headline CPAC? Well, as terrifyingly twisted as it sounds, this conference will be headlined by Rush Limbaugh.

Not only will there be a featured keynote of the man who many see as the figurative leader of the Republican party, he will be receiving an award. Many of you are probably either laughing by this point or shaking your head in disbelief at this choice. What award will he be getting? Oh, nothing too important. Just The Defender of the Constitution Award.

Yes, that's right. The man who said he hopes the current president fails, is CPAC's defender of the constitution for 2009. Did CPAC miss the memo that the Republican party and American conservative movement want to turn the page on negativity and partisanship. I guess the 2012 front-runner Bobby Jindal missed it too, but isn't this a bit much?

For context, this honor was recently bestowed on the US Military at the last CPAC. So what do you all think?


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Jindal Responds to Obama (and I respond to him)

Soon after Obama's great speech to the congress that was acclaimed universally, Bobby Jindal, the new Republican poster boy and front-runner, delivered the response. I will offer my critique of this response in this post along with videos of his speech to look at yourselves. (Image: YouTube) If there is one point I want to draw your attention to from the start, it's Jindal's continuous and bluntly hypocritical statements throughout the speech. I'll warn you now this post is long, but mostly funny and not too heavy. Part 1 of his speech after the jump...

Off the bat, did he say forty-four and a half months pregnant or am I hearing things? I know people make mistakes when under pressure, but that's a bit much. I found his introduction of Obama as a "success story" to be a bit patronizing. Obama is the President of the United States, not a bed time story hero.

We now get to the first instance of hypocrisy: Jindal explains that he doesn't care what party politicians are from, but he delivers a divisive speech on how democrats are irresponsible and wrong-headed. As the speech continues you will hear his comments along these lines. It is astounding that he claims to be so bi-partisan, but has nothing but negativity towards democratic values.

Jindal next relates a story that happened during the Hurricane Katrina fallout, and proceeds to thank the government and every American for their support. Generally, this support was billions of dollars. He accepts this with open arms from the federal government, but refuses stimulus money? Why does he refuse it? Because it is against the Republican philosophy. That is hypocritical on two counts -- for accepting money for a natural not a financial disaster and for again proving to be a partisan.

He calls the stimulus wasteful, but his two examples are spending to create or keep jobs. Building a railway makes jobs; monitoring volcanoes keeps and makes jobs. Ask your partisan friend in Alaska if she think monitoring volcanoes is wasteful. He also claims it grows government, but doesn't say how. Spending and reducing taxes, which is what the stimulus includes, does not grow government.

He also accuses democrats of effectively asking for a loan from America's children by passing the stimulus. Who believes this? This is a bit excessive. On to the second half...

I was actually in total agreement with Jindal's discussion of energy until he mentioned the need for drilling. Everything else I agree with, but why do we need drilling? It will have a tiny effect and will be nothing but trouble for the environment along the U.S. coast.

Being a Canadian, this next section on healthcare was a bit amusing. Can any anti-universal healthcare American point to a failed universal system? Or any universal system ranked lower than the U.S. private system for healthcare quality? What Obama is proposing in healthcare isn't even universal care, it's subsidized slightly, but not government run. That's what makes this part even more ridiculous. There is no nationalization, only the government regulating pricing under the Obama plan.

I generally agree with the sentiment that they need to improve schooling, but from this point the speech goes even further down hill. He accuses Obama as having misplaced hope in government and claims that he (Jindal) is the one who has hope in the American people. He then goes on to accuse Obama of saying America can't recover. Clearly Jindal wasn't listening to the speech he's supposed to be replying to. This is extremely offensive and continues his partisan, divisive message.

I won't correct his view on American history and I wasn't going to talk about his "American can do anything" line, but by my count he said it 6 times: Americans can do anything 4 times, American children can do anything once, and American fighting men and women can do anything once. This whole speech was over the top and Jindal's delivery was terrible. If anyone managed to get through this whole post, let me know what you think of his speech.

Update: Corrected video order.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

So, Is This Obstructionism?

When one party holds power, the powerless opposition has two options: be a productive, vocal opposition or define the party by being everything the majority isn't. As biased as I may be, I don't see the Republican opposition in the United States being very productive. (Image: Wikipedia) I was critical in my earlier post The Rescue-Bailout-Stimulus Plan, but I believe this week the level of obstructionist behaviour has increased. Why? because the GOP governors are defying the legislative branch.

Well, maybe that's a bit strongly worded. What's happening is that some Republican governors are rejecting stimulus plan money. The governors of Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas are all questioning whether they should take the money. Frankly it sounds like they've already said no judging by their statements.

I want to highlight one governor here due to the hypocrisy of her message. Judging by the picture of this article, I'm sure you can guess that that governor is Sarah Palin of Alaska. Not only did she lobby for the original stimulus, specifically measures to help Alaska, she went on to announce her opposition to it after it passed.

To clarify this, she lobbied to pass the bill, but only for specific parts that benefitted her. Then spoke out in opposition of it, after it passed. Okay, that cleared up, what is this all about? How can these people claim to be looking out for their state by rejecting money that would prevent their budgets going into the red?

This type of behaviour is not productive. How can it be productive to reject money that has been committed to your state? Especially given the fact that the money will simply be redistributed to other states. That is playing politics. They aren't saving the country money, in fact what they are doing is robbing their citizens on a return of their tax dollars. The tax payers of Alaska, Idaho, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas have paid as much as citizens in any other state, but now are funding projects and creating jobs elsewhere.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

CBC Floats Over Details

It is interesting to me that a public media outlet such as the CBC would downplay a left-wing concern that even Drudge put on his front page. Is the CBC being neutral or being sloppy? (Image: CNN) Hilary Clinton, Obama's Secretary of State, has been visiting Chinese officials this past week. Instead of focusing on a controversial remark that has many bloggers frustrated and concerned, CBC decided to stay positive.

During the trip to China, Clinton made the controversial remark that the economic situation takes precedence over humanitarian concerns. This comment was not in the headline of the CBC article, as it was with many other mainstream versions of the news.

The concerns are being relayed in the mainstream press, except CBC's that report placed the controversy low in the inverted pyramid. The AFP wire story was headlined "Activists 'shocked' at Clinton stance on China rights" in comparison. Why did CBC do this?

To me, this statement by Clinton should raise alarm bells for anyone acting in the public interest. How could it not be a concern, as explained by many responses to the news, that this stance will allow China to feel less pressure in future dealings? CBC did not act in the public interest in this article.

Some may not be surprised by this failure by CBC, but as someone who has had some respect for its work, I am a bit concerned by it. Some might not even see this as a failure, but I can't agree with that stance. The structure of the CBC article downplays the importance of this development. Even if there is significant information and background it is after the proverbial fold.

It baffles me that the CBC would publish such an article. With such an important issue of public interest at stake, the public media failed to act in a way in line with its "not-for-profit" goals.


Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Crazy Socialist Communism of Canada (Not.)

So, Canada is a bunch of money hungry liberal socialists, eh? Not so fast. Recent reports have shown how Canada, the "Tax and Spend" capital of the world (or so say the neighbors to the south), has avoided the recession due to its active regulation. (Image: CBC) Crazy, eh? Well, I can't say I'm surprised. If there's one thing that U.S. style deregulation causes, it's chaos. There's no two-ways about it, regulation works -- deregulation doesn't.

So, how did Canada remain so prosperous despite it's lack of fiscal conservatism? Truth be told this success has little to do with the government. All the government had to do was pass laws requiring that financial institutions do things within certain constraints. No bailout or handouts, simple legislation.

Why those interested in the success of the financial system (read. right-wing politicians) don't believe in regulation confuses me greatly. The crash of a financial system benefits no one, especially not the private sector. It also doesn't prevent government growth. Regulation, it would seem, is fiscally conservative in its roots.

Being proactive costs nothing. Now, Canada's banks are some of the healthiest on the stock market, which means that Canadians who use these banks are safe from their money and savings disappearing. It also means these banks can continue to loan money without fear.

The article cited at the beginning of this post quotes an economist, Craig Alexander, who points out how regulation forces banks to think long-term. While it may have limited their short-term gains, it benefitted them in the long-term by forcing them to evaluate who they are loaning money to. This is a great success for the country and benefits everyone who has their money in Canadian banks.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Does Everything Get Worse or Do We Just Get Older?

"Both you fool!" would be the response of many. However, I can't help but think that things don't really get any worse and we just outgrow them as we grow up. (Image: Gamespot) I mean, the kids still like the new video games, don't they? I think this is a question most people come to at many points in their life. I was just flipping through some old games and thinking about how much better they are than the games I rarely get to rent these days.

I realized, after firing up a few of the old games, that they were not perfect at all. In fact there were quite a few problems with the games I had idealized in my mind. I often notice this with TV shows too. The thing is that the problems with these things are alright because they are our things. We hold them to a different standard than we do something we encounter for the first time today.

Now, holding consciousness of this reality hasn't seemed to make any difference, but it is interesting to think about. How does this reflect how we encounter other issues in life? Do we flock to what's familiar and more readily criticize what is not? The common sense concept that people like to avoid change would suggest that we do this.

I believe the most important thing we can take from personal revelations such as this is that we do need to focus on how open we are to new things. We also need to remember not to idealize the past or past experiences. If we can't think critically about our past, how can we hold the present and future to a higher standard? We need to keep this in mind to truly move forward.


Monday, February 16, 2009

How Do More People Get Involved?

Okay so, as I discussed in my last post, democracy requires a lot of work by citizens for it to be fully effective. The question becomes, how do you motivate people to spend the time required? (Image: CNN) Well, the question puts the onus on the politicians and other concerned bodies to make people care. Though this is not how it should be, it is how it ends up being. How do we deal with this and make the best of it?

Politicians need to make an effort to reach out to the masses on issues that count and get people to believe they're serious. Though this can lead to these politicians being dismissed as all talk, a solid base needs a strong presentation to get anywhere. To see this issue in action we can return again to the often-cited case of Barack Obama.

Early in his campaign, Obama got noticed because he reached out to his audiences at speeches and debates by discussing issues they cared about in a way they cared about. He didn't jump into a typical political speech, but spoke of why these things mattered. This strategy was effective in gaining support early on and motivated some people who would otherwise not have have become involved in the presidential race.

This method got heavily criticized by his opponents during the primaries and general election campaigns for being not specific or substantive. The critics claimed that the message of reaching out and motivating people could not contain the complexity of the issues at hand. This attack is hollow in that it is simply not the case. It is hard to disprove it because there is no evidence to prove it. In the case of Obama, he did not sacrifice being specific for firing people up.

Some pundits, along with his opponents, drilled it into the minds of many that he was not direct and specific, but compared to all of his competitors he was the most substantive. During the election he was also criticized by some pundits for making lofty claims. These doubts too were shown to be false, or at least minor in comparison to John McCain's stubborn view on the supposed strength of the economy.

Though the efforts by some politicians to make the public more active in the process of democracy may leave them open to attack, the public usually makes the right choice at the booth. There is no way to measure the effect of Obama's strategy on voter turnout, but this election had a very high turnout during a grim time. Compared to Canada's turnout around the same time, the United States turnout is all the more impressive. This turnout results in a better democracy; the turnout relies on making citizens care.


Sunday, February 15, 2009

So, is it Really Just a Popularity Contest?

Following up on my wishful thinking on the student government elections at Western and my annoyed rant at partisan thinking, I got to thinking about the system in general. Is it really possible for politics to be anything but a popularity contest? (Image: The Huffington Post) If the answer is yes, how can anything ever get done without trying to win over or trick the public? What would make democracy not merely a popularity contest? Would it be viable? It really does open a can of worms to ask these questions.

I would take the position of many scholars who study the effects of media on democracy regarding the question of how there can be democracy in today's society. Simply put, this argument is that the voting public needs to be educated about the issues. The problem becomes that the educator in society on such issues is the media, which undoubtably has a bias.

Some believe that the Internet is a solution to the issue of bias because balance will result from the combination of many ideas and contributors. The general idea of this theory makes sense. There are problems, as I mentioned in an earlier post, due to an echo-chamber effect forming isolated groups of readers. In my opinion, the onus is on the citizen to break from these groups and educate themselves about all sides of the issue.

In democracy I believe the responsibility is in the hands of the citizen when all the tools exists because it would be undemocratic to force breadth on someone. They need to actively choose to venture onto other sites and seek out other opinions. Whether they do it to reinforce their own view or with a genuinely open mind doesn't matter. What matters is that they pay enough attention to be an informed voter.

If the information isn't available, the citizen is responsible to demand it. In this day of convoluted government and a mediating press, the citizen needs to be made aware that they are who the government answers to. They have a right to know and need to make themselves informed. The viability of a system of informed votes is driven by citizens. If they want their elections to be any more than popularity contests they need to step up.


Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Rescue-Bailout-Stimulus Plan

As ridiculous as my article title sounds, CNN's Saturday evening headline was "Stimulus bill limits bailed-out execs' earnings." It seems that they don't mind crossing the wires of public perception. (Image: Newsday) Republican commentators call the bill a "bailout" while Democratic pundits call it "stimulus" or "rescue" package. Both talk about a financial crisis; the Republican position is that the bill will cause it, while to the Democrats say that it will prevent it.

I won't pretend to be an economist who understands the ins and outs of the financial situation we are in now. In all honesty, I doubt there are more than a handful of economists who understand what is happening enough to know how to fix it. Instead, I'm discussing this bill in terms of common sense and as a critique of the current U.S. government.

Common sense would dictate that it will benefit the economy to have more money flowing with less restraint through the system. The Republican philosophy on this is that it can be accomplished by leaving more money in everyone's pocket by cutting taxes. The Democratic philosophy is to spend on projects that create work.

Both systems have flaws, but, as I'm sure most of you guessed, I would lean towards the spending approach because it is guaranteed. You pay into a project and it creates jobs for the unemployed. Cutting taxes is not guaranteed to change anything because people may simply sit on the money. That aside, I'm more concerned about the general situation of how the government is operating.

I'm not going to criticize the executive branch because President Obama and his staff have very little sway at this point. He may be a bit behind the Republicans in the media war over the issue, but he's stayed on course with what he said during his campaign. The legislative branch is the real disappointment in this situation.

Thus far, no Republicans in the House of Representatives have voted in favour of the stimulus during both votes. This is in spite of numerous changes made by the Democrats, such as removing lots of spending that wouldn't simulate the economy and adding more tax cuts. This clearly didn't sway a single Republican to see the need for a stimulus.

Though the leader of Republican house thinks it's appropriate to dismiss a vote because the latest draft was compiled in a hurry after already stating his intentions to do so regardless of content, that attitude is the opposite of what we need. Though he says no one has read the bill, it is practically the same bill presented the week earlier with most of his previous complaints trimmed off. That said, I agree with his sentiment that people should know what they're voting for.

The problem is that this man, John Boehner, does not care whether the stimulus is good or bad. He would vote against the bill even if it included and spending instead of tax reduction. I also am annoyed by this man's charade because he complains of partisanship when the Democrats already gave into Republican pressure. I might even let him off the hook if that was all the hypocrisy, but not when combined with the fact that not one Republican in the house voted yes while several Democrats acted with freedom to vote no.

The bill has been sliced and diced down to a lean package, relatively speaking. Some top economists think that the bill was too small to begin with, and now the bill may become even smaller to appease Republicans into breaking the line. Ultimately, I believe the government needs more top economists working on this bill and less politicians who are using their votes as bets on issues to run on in the next election cycle. That's wishful thinking though, the chance of most law-makers seeking expert advice is next to none.


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

A Little Bit of Democracy

I know that university student council elections are often dismissed as popularity contests, but I think that might be a bit more under control on a campus as large as Western's. But how important are these elections and does it matter who wins? (Image: USC (Screenshot)) I would like to think that these elections do carry some weight and that the candidates have real differences that matter, but I can't help but be a bit skeptical. The candidates on both the campus-wide council and the faculty-council all seemed competent, but it's hard to judge the platform they aim to execute on their word alone.

Unlike most other elections, student council elections typically are based on how the candidates present themselves now. Other elections would include an element of notable experience that could be verified and examined. Another challenge in student politics is the ambiguity of candidate platforms. While they all put effort into defining their vision, the visions are all very similar.

That said, the ambiguity of a platform is beneficial as there are no "parties" to draw battle lines that hinder compromises on plans. Without battle lines set in stone, the elections are theoretically more democratic than others. In my eyes, there are flaws – such as dis-interested students lowering participation – but the flaws in this system are no different than those in other elections.

I would also argue that these elections offer greater democracy on a continuous basis by including votes on issues. During this year's elections, the ballot had two initiatives to vote yes or no on. These were both very important choices, and I believe that it is great that students are given the chance to vote on issues, not just for a candidate.

Even if you don't know where the candidate you vote for stands on each issue, you get a chance to throw your voice into the discussion. I am eager to see the results of the election, and hope that I made the right choices based on the information I had. Then again, it may be a while before we know that.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Embarking on a Marathon (of sorts)

Anyone who is taking, or has taken, Business 2257 at the University of Western Ontario knows what time of year it is. It's time that feasibility projects are due. (Image: Ivey course page) As hard as we have been working over the past month, especially the past two weeks, here we are. About to stay up all night finishing a project that is tediously tricky. I guess we should have expected this.

This isn't the first late night working on this project, but heading into this meeting I know that the sun will be on its way up by the time we're finished. The sun might even be halfway across the sky by the time we finish. I don't know how it is that we all end up in this situation, but it is quite funny that it happens every year.

The Business Feasibility Project, in which we create and evaluate a business venture, is something of a social enigma. On the surface it is very simple and straight-forward, but there are always set-backs for every group and sooner or later we're all in Weldon the night before it is due. I'm starting to think that there's a conspiracy theory here aimed at breaking us down by driving us to this point. How else would it happen year after year?

Maybe students really are that predictable. I'd like to think that I'm a bit more unique and that there is really a conspiracy, but the reality is that we all end up here because we all under estimate the project. Time to go get this done.


Monday, February 9, 2009

Social Networking or Social Fracturing

I really do enjoy spending some time on Facebook writing on friends' walls or sending messages, but I can't help but wonder if these sites are to some extent de-socializing. (Image: Wikipedia) I raise this question because they all encourage the use of remote communication instead of face-to-face discussion or even calling friends on the phone. To me, as much as I would advocate the utility of the internet to community, this raises alarm bells about how we communicate.

This topic has been tossed around a lot by "concerned parents" organizations and many others to no avail. Apparently, people simply don't see it as problematic for kids to be spending hours on FaceBook. But to put this into perspective, I believe that those who doubt the significance of this need to remember how the time in question was spent before FaceBook and MySpace.

Before the children (and teens) were sitting in front of their computer screens, they would be out and about with friends taking part in far more active pastimes. FaceBook time is increasingly overlapping what used to be hanging out with friends time.

But to stop worrying about the children for a few moments, there are also questions about how these social networking sites affect groups like university students and even older groups. The main concern I have is that the loss of 1-on-1 communication, in an unmediated way, limits how genuine our connections truly are.

When you have the time to look over something you wrote to a friend and get to edit out a bad wording or misstatement, you are mediating something that would have otherwise been communicated unfiltered. The filtration of debate is important because it presents the opportunity for communications to be less genuine because they are so heavily moderated.

Saying the wrong thing before you realize its the wrong thing is a very important part of friendship in my eyes. By removing these Freudian slip moments through moderation, the dialogue becomes a misrepresentation of what you were thinking at the time. So in some ways I believe that FaceBook communications are de-socializing because of this effect. A world where it becomes hard to make a mistake, is not a very human world in my eyes.


Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Top 5: Musicians Who Have Influenced Me

A lot of people think musicians should talk less politics, but I think that it's great. In my eyes a musician can only write so many meaningful songs about love and other feelings -- at some point they need to have some other thoughts. (Image: CBC) I have nothing against musicians singing about love and whatnot, but I think covering a variety of topics leads to more meaningful art; I would equally criticize a band that made music about Communism every song. The bands and individuals I have highlighted in this list contribute something original on a consistent basis. Their music is not just singing about issues; they put it in context.

Without further ado, here's my top 5:

  1. Red Hot Chili Peppers

  2. The Beatles

  3. Rage Against the Machine

  4. Tom Morello

  5. John Lennon

5. Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are a unique group with a unique sound to match. Their music covers topics such as love, friendship, loss, addiction problems, and much more. Though very down to earth, the Red Hot Chili Peppers create a disorienting world with heavy funk influences. Though their music doesn't typically feature feel-good lyrics, the songs generally have a sense of completion or satisfaction. (Image: Wikipedia)

4. The Beatles
Anyone who isn't influenced by The Beatles is not my type of person. Seriously though, I think we would be hard pressed to find someone who doesn't at least have an appreciation for the influence of The Beatles on music. The Beatles sang about so many important issues it's hard to list something they didn't sing about. Though they didn't usually infuse opinion in an obvious way, they raised issues in ways that got observant listeners thinking. (Image: Wikipedia)

3. Rage Against the Machine
Unlike The Beatles, Rage Against the Machine did nothing to hide their opinions. Though I'm not always in total agreement with the specific messages, the attitude of the band is greatly amusing and empowering. Rage has a totally unique sound that, in much the same was as the Red Hot Chili Peppers, creates a world of its own. Bordering on hard rock musically, Zack de la Rocha adds poetic lyrics in a rap-like style that come across as totally genuine and natural. (Image: Wikipedia)

2. Tom Morello
Going solo as "The Nightwatchman" after the break up and Rage, during and after being part of Audioslave, Tom Morello took on a folksy style and sang of oppression and war. The music is hard to like for some due to Tom's vocal limitations, but the lyrics are packed with eye-opening references that get the gears inside my head spinning. Tom has proven himself again and again in many different genres. (Image: Wikipedia)

1. John Lennon
Again, even though I already mentioned The Bealtes, John Lennon is a great artist and a great thinker. He had a lot of interesting thoughts on many issues and expressed them in totally artistic style. Many people who disagreed with him still listened to him because it was great music. John was funny in both ironic and good natured ways, though usually the former. He's really been a big influence on me in many ways; his music is extremely genuine and stands out to me above all others. (Image: Amazon)


Thursday, February 5, 2009

Take Your Pick: YouTube or Hollywood

No, I'm not literally asking you to pick, or suggesting that one will die in battle with the other. When recently listening to discussions about the "social web" and citizen journalism, I got to thinking that, while some believe we're witnessing an evolutionary step, we're really just playing into the old system. (Image: Digg) YouTube is a great example of a Web 2.0 site that is often directly compared to, what are now called, "old media" counterparts. Some hold the belief that YouTube is a viable replacement for the Hollywood studios, television networks, or broadcast news. This is simply not the case.

As mentioned by Michael Wesch, YouTube's content is not directly comparable to television content by any means. While there is explosive growth in the amount of content, most of the content is not meant for mass consumption. There are a few standout examples of people putting up high quality products for mass consumption (usually created during YouTube contests), but generally the content and production are not that great.

YouTube can provide endless hours of entertainment, but I would not pick it over the few TV shows I watch regularly. Likewise, I would never sacrifice CNN, or more broadly the Associate Press or Reuters, in favour of the Huffington Post or Daily Kos. Though both are great and tend to provide excellent background mainstream press tends to glide over, I would be uncomfortable relying on the Web community to not only produce opinion, but also to gather news as it happens in a credible and responsible way.

What I find more interesting than blogs, YouTube, or collaborative content is the concept behind sites like Digg. While Digg is primarily fed by mainstream sources, users control what content gets featured. What surprises me about Digg is how quickly stories can explode to the top of the list; many sites are competing for that spot and, more often than not, the best site for any given news item usually is the one to catch the wave of Diggs.

In some ways I see Digg as more democratic than citizen content creation because it is not a shouting match to get your voice heard, but a collaborative effort to pick out what's newsworthy or entertaining. It's an entirely different beast, and it's really something special. When it comes to the future of democratic media, I believe it will be the content presentation (via sites like Digg) that is far more valuable than the direct contributions of the blogosphere.

The blogosphere is a great thing in many ways and blogs really are a liberating force in allowing opinions to flow freely. However, what brings order to this is the power of collaborative filtering -- both in the form of Digg and in the form of social bookmarking like Stumble Upon or Delicious. Everyone should have their say as to what's newsworthy.


Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Incase You Missed It (I Did): The Budget Got Through

Stephen Harper's government lives to die another day, but how did a threat of non-confidence end up passing 211 to 91? Are we still heading for a massive federal deficit? (Image: National Post) Well, as reported by CBC, the Members of Parliament got down to business and passed a budget. After all the hubbub over the past couple of months, this seems a bit anti-climatic.

The country is still heading towards a deficit, which is projected to continue until the 2011 fiscal year (at the very least). There are plenty of spending initiative to kick-start the economy, which have been so effective in the United States. Of course there are some positive features to note...

Highlighted by the CBC in its article, perhaps the single most important change to the budget bill, is the provision that forces the Conservative government to update parliament on the progress of the budget initiatives. This provides the opposition with a chance to see what's going on, and, perhaps, ground upon which to start a non-confidence vote if the budget is mishandled.

Also of note is the movement by the NDP and Bloc to strike down this amendment when the Liberals proposed it -- though they obviously failed, the sentiment is starkly apparent. Similarly, with a few special exceptions the Liberal party supported the budget in the vote earlier today while the NDP and Blog stood their ground voting against the budget.

Now, while I'm sure there are many of you who dislike the coalition initiative -- and as hard as I try some of you may never hear any of it -- but the opposition should not split like this. In effect, the result is a Conservative Minority against a Bloc + NDP alliance with the Liberals in the middle, effectively holding the power. This is far less ideal in a democracy than a coalition government.

We'll have to watch how this plays out closely. Maybe Ignatieff will make his plans known now that this is out of the way. I find it hard to believe there is no hidden powerplay beyond what has come out today.


Monday, February 2, 2009

Venturing to the Right

It should be apparent by now that my political ideology leans left more often than it leans right, so I thought I might share with you a recent experience of reading the other side. As you may know, some of the rhetoric is beyond belief. (Image: Brietbart) I like to read a wide variety of opinions -- obviously taking some more seriously than others in the process. In a recent read through the Drudge Report, which provides some of the funniest moments of my days, I came across an article on Obama's move to talk to Iran and Syria. Feeling more adventurous than usual, I decided to take a look at the comments.

The first thing that shocked me was the number of posts with the insane belief that Obama is a Muslim. This type of fear mongering isn't surprising and shows some true ignorance on the part of those that defend this intolerant and hateful point of view or believe it to be true. If any other religion was insulted continuously in such a way, there would be site bans and complaints filed until the site overloaded. Not only has this rumor been proven untrue, it shows how intolerance relies on total ignorance.

It was a bit surprising to see a few divergent voices calling foul on these statements. Sure they were outnumbered by a lot, but those who stuck to it were putting up a fight. Regardless of this tiny minority speaking from the left, many posters simply posted their favourite lines from the right-wing rhetoric playbook.

However, this example shows the weakness of blogs to create an echo-chamber of narrow ideology that drowns out conflicting voices. The same thing obviously happens at left-wing blogs, which I am sure a right-wing reader would point out with the same annoyance I write with now. The problem with the internet is that it makes it very easy for us to pick sites that match our opinion.

If I didn't read Drudge frequently, I would have no clue about the latest liberal-flub I will be hearing about on the news networks and from hard-core right-wing political junkies I talk to. I suppose that there is value in reading the other side of the blogosphere if your nerves can take it. It never hurts to take a look -- well, at least not usually.


Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Blogosphere: Reflecting on a 2007 Snapshot

For several years, Technorati has provided a wealth of data on the development of the blogosphere. After recently reading a slightly dated State of the Blogosphere, I got to thinking about how fast this movement has taken hold. (Image: Screen shot -- Flickr) The State of the Blogosphere posts are by David Sifry, the founder and CEO of Technorati. These posts highlight some of the many statistics his site gathers.

The post I read was from April 2007, but it revealed continuing trends in the blogosphere. The one that Sifry identifies as most important is the tagging movement. I agree with this assessment, and in the nearly two years since this State of the Blogosphere tagging has gained more traction.

What Sifry describes as the "Live web" is built around the ability to tag items. Tags can be broad or specific, but their basic function is simple: tags link items together. Networking pages by common topics through tags is invaluable to the casual browser as it exposes them to a variety of sites by following natural language links.

Social networking has introduced many users to the notion of tagging by tagging people to specific items like photos, videos, or notes/blogs. Media-sharing services, such as flickr and YouTube offer tag-based browsing or encourage tagging to organize content, as demonstrated by the links, respectively.

Since 2007 bloggers have gained on Mainstream Media (MSM). On the day of U.S. Election, a TechCrunch traffic survey revealed 3 non-MSM sites in the top 15 news sites. This shows the power of non-MSM outlets to survive the fierce competition with MSM conglomerates.

For the blogosphere to remain competitive it will need technologies such as tagging to boost the flow of users to non-MSM sites.