Saturday, April 28, 2007

slovenly, but cute

I've just spent half an hour flipping between Fashion File and Fashion Television, followed by 2 minutes watching a short film about pretty people. Conclusion #1 - I am reeeeaaally not stylish. Conclusion #2 - I'm okay with that.

Case in point, this morning I went down the road to pick up a Tim Hortons double double, a muffin, and a Jamaican patty from the local West Indian grocery shop. I rolled out of bed, exchanged my pjs for black sweats, red glasses, and pink running shoes, then headed out the door.

As I ambled down the street, it took just 2.5 blocks to realise just how fashion-challenged I really looked. Perhaps it was the once over and frown of disapproval I received from the corner bag lady. Yeah...that might have been a clue.

Undeterred, I paid for my coffee and boldly walked into an art gallery en route back home. I'd seen a gorgeous cityscape in the front window last week, and wanted to find out more about the collection.

Sadly, it appears the gallery was hosting an open house day - wine, beverages, and freshly baked goods. Which means that I maaaaay have given the impression that I was a homeless person come in for the free food.

It was shame alone that stopped me from gobbling up all of the chocolate chip cookies on display. Which is fine, because I already have a pint of chocolate brownie fudge ice cream waiting for me at the corner store.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

belinda chooses private sector

Belinda Stronach announced today that she will be leaving politics to return to an executive position at her family's company, auto parts maker Magna.

In her interview with CTV's Mike Duffy, she reiterated her commitment to fighting malaria through spread the net, her commitment to transforming the Liberal Party to a one person one vote system of electing leaders, her commitment to contributing to the community her family and her family's business are based in, and she spoke about the need for young women to get involved in politics.

Classy dame.

At the end of the day, Belinda said she thought she could make more of a difference in her role at Magna than she was making as an MP. Alas, I fear I have come to I agree.

How to strengthen the position of civil society and public sector leaders? The private sector continues to pave a seductive and influential path.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

what's goin' on

When I lived in Toronto I spent a year working at a legal aid clinic representing women in domestic violence, workplace harassment and general dispute resolution files. It was then that I decided I didn't want to practice law. I just couldn't bear how impotent the law was to address day-to-day conflicts in a meaningful way.

Fast forward to this afternoon - I'm scanning the NY Times and I see three articles on the same page that spark this issue for me again.

First headline, the members of the Rutgers University women's basketball team have agreed to a private meeting with radio host Don Imus, who called them "nappy headed hos" last week.

NBC News suspended Don Imus following the broadcast, and others are calling for him to be fired. Today's story was accompanied by photos of team members looking somber and the coach shedding tears.

But the team's captain said "we do hope to get something accomplished during this meeting."

Below that story was a report that a Serbian court has convicted 4 members of the Serb paramilitary police for the execution of six Muslim men in Srebrenica in 1995. The killings were caught on videotape and released in 2005 by Serbia’s leading human rights group, the Humanitarian Law Center. Until then, the Times reports, the majority of Serbs did not believe that the executions had taken place.

Which got me thinking about police brutality in the States and then about race relations more generally south of the border.

The next story to catch my eye - Catholic schools in East Harlem closing down, only to re-open as expensive private schools for newcomers to the gentrifying neighbourhood.

“They just want us out to make room for the new and improved people,” one parent said.

"[The pastor] wants the black and Hispanic children out first. Ninety-sixth Street is an up-and-coming area. But 30 years ago, it was us, the immigrants and the working class who donated our little pennies faithfully. He is turning his back on this community,” said another.

And finally, “I am all for progress, but do they have to push us out?”


Can facilitated meetings, legal action, or citizen pleas heal the wounds of military injustice or even feelings of having been betrayed? How far can truth and reconciliation proceedings succeed in righting wrongs?

Today's music line up - Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Al Green. I guess the Motown era's got me remembering the struggles of the times.

Monday, April 9, 2007

mozart effect

I elected to work from home today in order to benefit from the extra brain waves I get when I'm wearing comfy clothes, wrapped in a blanket, and blasting the music of my choice. I've since moved on to Prince's Purple Rain, but earlier today it was all about Jill Scott.

(Right now I'm working on helping a client prepare to appear as a witness before a Parliamentary Commitee regarding Canada's Access to Medicines Regime. We're going to offer MP's our observations on working in developing countries and how best to increase access to affordable medicines in developing countries.

Of course, Stephen Lewis will be appearing as well, so no doubt he'll steal the show. Check out what happened when B saw him speaking in Vancouver a few weeks ago.)

In any case, Ms. Scott is just what the gods of productivity have ordered. I give you the following - delivered with the precision of a Maesha Brueggergosman or a Charlie Parker, mind:

"You're here/I'm pleased/I really dig your company/Your style, your smile, your peace mentality."


"Let's take a long walk around the park after dark/ Find a spot for us to spark/ Conversation, verbal elation, stimulation/ Share our situations, temptations, education, relaxations, elevations/ Maybe we can talk about Surah 31:18"

"Or maybe we can see a movie/ or maybe we can see a play on Saturday/ or maybe we can roll a tree and feel the breeze and listen to a symphony/ or maybe chill and just be/or maybe/ we can take a cruise and listen to The Roots/or maybe eat some passion fruit/or maybe cry to the blues/or maybe we can just be silent..."

raise the wage

The other day my friends and I were discussing how it is possible for one of our acquaintances to be getting by on what we estimated is a salary of $17,000 - $22,000 per year. We spent considerable time wondering how this guy affords rent, cable, clubbing four nights a week, and the drinks that go with it.

K thought it just wasn't possible. I suggested that we used to buy books, pay tuition, and lounge about at spring break on just $12k per year.

In the end, I stumbled upon this article regarding average incomes in Canada, which once again shed light on just how far out of the mainstream politicians and university-educated professionals really are.

It seems that the median income of Canadians in 2004 (that is where half the population makes more, half less - including all income from employment, RRSPs, investments, etc) was $24,400.

If you made more than $35,000 in 2004, you were in the top third of incomes in this country, and if, by chance, you made between $50,000 and $75,000 in 2004, rest assured that some 87 percent of Canadians were making less than you.

Of course, then I remembered that after the BC government privatised non-medical hospital workers in the province, staff incomes dropped to about $18k a year - this for mature, long standing employees, many with kids to support.

So a single guy with no responsibilities, expense-sharing roomates, and free food on the job, holding it down on $17k to $22k a year? Looks like he might be ahead of the game.

But MPPs in Ontario were making approximately $88,771 during the time the median Canadian salary was tallied for the article above.

An after-tips salary of $17,000 to $22,000 per year might be near-average...but it doesn't seem right. M's party is working on a campaign to raise the minimum wage to $10/hr*.

You can help by signing here.

*yes, yes, the inflation implications of such a move are hugely significant. but how to counter them?

Thursday, April 5, 2007


Two quick points of interest:
  • Check out my interview with A Blog Without A Bicycle regarding feminism and social media (and the links there to a cool feminist carnival)
  • Barack Obama recieved donations from 100,000 donors, whereas Hilary Clinton had just 50,000...the race is on

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

barack at the first quarter

Barack Obama has raised $25 million in the first quarter of his campaign for President of the United States. And he's raised it without taking money from political action committees (PACS) or federal lobbyists.

Just keeping you in the know.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

new favourite quote

discovered on the site of one of my colleagues in NY:

"be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work."

- gustav flaubert

the age of the tribe

I attended a two day symposium on digital communications last week, put on by my firm.

One of the guest speakers – Mitch Joel of Montreal’s Twist Image – blew my mind with his presentation on the trends in communications, the impact of Web 2.0*, and the need for those in the communications industry to either get ahead of the current changes, or to become irrelevant.

Among other things, Mitch argued that whereas communications professionals used to be able to control the message because they were the only ones who could afford the means of distribution (eg. advertising, press releases on the wire, creating coalitions of supporters to advocate as a single voice*), the Internet has now made it possible for anyone to distribute a message – for free.*

Today's Internet has changed the dynamics of the game from a one-way communication from the professional to the target audience, to a two-way conversation between the speaker and her audience – and between the audience members themselves.

The result, Mitch argued, is that the age of marketing to demographic groups is over – we are now in the age of the tribe.

By this theory, consumers/voters/individuals are no longer best (or most usefully) defined according to age, race, gender, location, income level, etc, but by their ideas, interests and approach to life.

Our job as communications professionals is to identify which tribes the people we want to target belong to, where they congregate, and what they’re talking about when they’re there. Then, to join their conversation, and get on with our usual business of building relationships and trust.

I’m still grappling with the social, political, and business implications of this concept.*

But over the last month or two I have noticed three concrete examples of how the evolution from demographics to tribes has begun to change the landscape:

1. Politics
In his book The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama asserts that although he identifies as black, he also believes that his race is not necessarily the most influential aspect of who he is:

“…I’ve never had the option of restricting my loyalties on the basis of race, or measuring my worth on the basis of tribe.” (p. 231)

Contrast this view with how obsessed the U.S. media is with whether or not Americans are ready for a black president, and with the debate amongst African-American civil rights leaders and thought leaders as to whether a man raised by a white woman and born of an immigrant African is really a member of the African-American community, shared legacy, or experience.

We might be moving towards a community of tribes online, but we’re clearly not there yet when it comes to politics.

2. The Arts
I attended a solo performance last night that was promoted as “a powerful exploration of isolation and difference" by a Brazilian dancer-choreographer, using original music and a blend of Mozart, Lauren Hill and others. The audience included a sprinkling of black youth who complained bitterly and vocally during the intermission that they had been deceived - the performance was less dance than “idiosyncratic movement style” together with sometimes-alienating narrative, better targeted to lovers of the radically modern and avant-garde than to those looking for more accessible hip hop or funk-tinged ballet.

The organizers had marketed based solely on the demographics of the dancer, but her performance would have been better suited to a more specific tribe.

3. The Personal
I write and think a lot about personal identity and finding a like-minded community that also lives where I live, because I notice that it has happened only once in the seven regions I’ve worked or studied in over the last 15 years.

Social media tools like Facebook, Linked-In, MySpace and blogs allow users to present an image of themselves and then to find others who may share the identity presented. It also allows them to hear back from these people as to what they’re thinking about at the moment.

This intertextuality* not only allows us to connect with others, but to shape each others’ perspectives - it pushes us forward and helps our thinking evolve.

But what is the tipping point from change of outlook and opinion to change in consumer choices?

Implications for Business
Social media tools lend themselves well to grassroots mobilisation, sure – but is there a limit to how well the traditional techniques for mobilising individuals can be applied to consumerist goals?

How can those communications professionals who are marketers, not lobbyists, avoid the sheen of artificiality when social media are used as tools to bring people together - not around policy, emotion and ideas - but around merchandise?*

And how can pure-PR practitioners identify which members of a tribe have the disposable income to act on their suggestions?

Those of us who are lobbyists might have it a bit easier because using the techniques of social movements translates well to campaigns for changes to government policy.

But, still, a question remains - how can we leverage the support built through social media (i.e. after we’ve raised awareness and cultivated grass-roots support for a policy shift), and turn it into political support if the politician can’t identify which members of the tribe are relevant sources of votes or financial support?


*digital communications and Web 2.0 meaning using the Internet to create or use tools that allow individuals not only to access information, but to find and communicate with each other – and to give timely feedback on how well what they've heard has resonated.


*of course, we’re only talking about people and societies who have access to computers

*Mitch Joel is an upwardly mobile acknowledged guru and white guy, which might influence his view of the declining importance of demographics in the purchase decision. Me, I still find it disturbing that there are so few members of my demographic group to be found in my tribes.

*Intertextuality – another Julia Kristeva gem, developed pre-Internet, but even more relevant now I think.

*I am reminded here of the way Mac owners feel about their Macs. A quick search of Flickr or of Apple’s emotion and tribe-based advertising campaigns pokes an slight hole in my argument/query, but I maintain that many communications professionals are not hired to promote the industry underdog – so can the same marketing techniques be successfully applied to a Microsoft or a Bell?