Power of the Positive

I am fascinated by PSAs. I am especially interested in what I believe to be a false assumption that the more graphic the ad, the more effective it will be in delivering its intended message to viewers. I can think of recent ads from the UK regarding txting while driving, and ads from Ontario on workplace safety that received much attention due to virality and mainstream media coverage. However, I wonder what effect such videos actually have in the end. Can anyone point to a decent study on the possible correlations?

Aside: The PSA I remember most from the 90’s was about Methamphetamine. And it was not because it was graphic, but because I found the song in the advertisement to be really, really catchy. Not a good thing.

OK, so back to my train of thought. Today I came across a brilliant PSA about seatbelt safety from Sussex Safer Roads in the UK. Wow. A beautifully constructed video with a solid, touching message that hits home. Wonderful!

So I thought, why aren’t there more examples like this? I though of the recent, bizarre political ads from New Orleans and the misdirected, personal attack ads from two of our Canadian political parties. Am I naïve to believe that positive messages can bring us forward as a society, and that all of this negativity is truly a drain on our collective spirits? Maybe this ‘relatively new parenting thing’ is just rubbing off on me, giving me crazy ideas about hope and positivity.

Or maybe we just need to turn the corner.


Barack Obama has just been announced the winner of the 2008 US Election. This is an incredibly important day for the United States, and an even more pivotal time in US race-relations. Coincidentally, today was also an important day for my family. It was today that we received a letter from the Government of Canada with two distinct identification cards. The contents of the envelope will forever shape the identities and destinies of my children. The letter reads:

Enclosed is your Certificate of Indian Status (CIS) card. This card identifies you as an Indian within the meaning of the Indian Act and thus entitles you to certain benefits.


See, while my own heritage is Greek, my wife is of Ojibwa descent. More important, from the perspective of our government, she is classified as a “Status Indian” and thus listed in the Indian Register. The Register would include the information that she is also a “Treaty 4 Indian” whose ancestors signed an agreement for certain rights in the exchange for rights to land; a huge mass of territory that spread from southeastern Alberta, through southern Saskatchewan, to western Manitoba. So, for those interested in why this is important, bear with me. But first I want to explain how this all works. It’s a game of numbers, a system that was borne of assimilationist policies.

When treaties were signed between the Europeans and First Nations, in some cases, the duration of the agreement was expressed with the phrase “as long the sun shines, the rivers flow, and the grass grows.” Yet, the system was set up intentionally to assimilate First Nations people into a subset of the colonial culture so that these individuals would eventually lose this status. For instance, had I married my wife prior to 1985, she would have lost her status for marrying a non-status man. Other ways of losing status included: (i) enfranchisement (until 1960, an Indian could vote in federal elections only by renouncing Indian status), (ii) having a mother and paternal grandmother who did not have status before marriage (these people lost status at 21), and (iii) being born out of wedlock of a mother with status and a father without. (Source)

Since 1985, the process of losing status has changed. This is how it works. See if you can follow along:

1985: Amended to allow First Nations women the right to keep or regain their status even after “marrying out”, and to grant status to the children (but not grandchildren) of such a marriage. This amendment was debated in Parliament as Bill C-31. Under this amendment, full status Indians are referred to as 6-1. A child of a marriage between a status (6-1) person and a non-status person would qualify for 6-2 (half) status, but if his/her child in turn married another 6-2 or a non-status person, the child will be non-status. If a 6-2 marries a 6-1 or another 6-2, their children will revert to 6-1 status. Blood quantum is disregarded, or rather, replaced with a “two generation cut-off clause”. According to Thomas King, around half of status Indians are currently marrying non-status people, meaning this legislation will accomplish complete legal assimilation in a matter of a few generations.

So, in this case, my children are 6-2s. If either of them have children with a 6-1 or 6-2, their children will revert to 6-1 status. If they do not, their treaty status is lost forever. And as you can read above, the system is set up to fulfill a complete legal assimilation, where the promises of the treaty no longer need to be fulfilled.

So, I looked back at this brief line on the letter that we received today regarding these “certain benefits”. First, these must be understood as much more than just “benefits”. What the Treaties promised were in fact literal “rights and freedoms”, many of which have continued to decay over the course of generations. Second, it is important to understand that being a First Nations individual in Canada has all sorts of hidden “benefits”. How about systemic racism? The highest suicide rate among young people in Canada? The shared history of genocide of an entire people and culture? As someone who has served over a decade with First Nations education, I have witnessed how these hardships and atrocities continue to affect First Nations communities.

So I wonder about the future of my children as they navigate through life with these complex cultural and political identities. My children have been born into privilege, into above average socio-economic status. At the same time, their destinies will be forever linked with racial, legal, and social definitions of their heritage. How will they be treated in their classrooms by other students? How will teachers view my children as learners? Most importantly, how will my children negotiate these complex social perceptions and craft identities that are uniquely their own?

My wife and I hope that our children will learn about and embrace the cultures of their grandparents. The languages, dances, music, traditions, and rituals of both these cultures are rich and wonderful. Someday, I hope to take my son and daughter to Greece, to explore the land of my mother and father. As for the lands of their First Nations’ ancestors, we live on that very land, but these ‘nations’ and these once proud people no longer exist as before. My children need to understand why this is so, and why such crimes against humanity must never happen again.

Not Free At Any Price

I have been a soft-spoken critic of the OLPC project; it is hard to critique something that gets technologies into the hands of children. Yet, I’ve had two main issues. First, I have my own XO and I have complained from the day I received it that I felt the machine to be a piece of junk. I never got the machine running well, although I know others have reported much more positive experiences. But, I thought, what should I expect for $100 $200. Second, I voiced the opinion that the project is a type of techno-colonialism, and although well-intended, it instills particular values and tools on cultures we patronizingly regard as “developing”. Yet, on this second point, there was something that made me feel a bit better when I knew that these machines would be loaded with free and open source software. At least then, we could avoid exporting even more of our corporatism. But that OLPC goal began to fall apart earlier this year when Negroponte confirmed that Windows XP was to be available on the XOs. For myself and others, this move marked the end of the OLPC as an educational project and it simply became just another laptop project.

I just came across this article by Richard Stallman in Boston Review. Stallman, once a proponent of the project, rejected it once “the project backed away from its commitment to freedom and allowed the machine to become a platform for running Windows, a non-free operating system.” For those of you who do not know Stallman’s work, this article is a good backgrounder that includes Stallman’s four essential freedoms that should be available to all users of software, as well as the distinction between “free as in beer” and “freedom of knowledge and action”. And my favourite quote from the article has to be, “Teaching children to use Windows is like teaching them to smoke tobacco—in a world where only one company sells tobacco. Like any addictive drug, it inculcates a harmful dependency.

These are important issues to think about. Learn more about free software at the Free Software Project.

Money As Debt – Animated Video

I just finished watching Paul Grignon’s 47 minute animated video, Money as Debt. The video is at least a year old, but has regained some popularity with Bush’s proposed 700 Billion dollar financial sector bailout dominating the news. The video describes, in very understandable terms, some of the underlying issues with our monetary systems. It describes the history of the current monetary system, describes how fractional reserve banking began, identifies the problems inherent in our debt-based credit system, and suggests several alternatives for monetary reform.

Sounds a bit boring? Actually, it was very interesting. I recommend the video, and as always, view with a critical mind.

How To Create a Pencil …

Here is a classic clip of legendary American economist Milton Friedman explaining “the magic of the price system” (free markets) as being responsible for the distribution of knowledge and skills necessary to make everyday goods such as the pencil.

Although I am not personally a fan of Friedman (see Klein’s Shock Doctrine), I appreciate this clip at a topical level as it helps to describe complicated processes before us.

Vote Swapping

It appears that some Canadian voters are using Facebook and other websites to swap votes, also known as vote pairing.

Vote pairing (also known as vote swapping) happens when a voter in one riding agrees to vote tactically for a less-preferred candidate or party who has a greater chance of winning in their riding, in exchange for a voter from another district voting tactically for the candidate the first voter prefers, because that candidate has a greater possibility of winning in that riding.

The CBC and the Star are reporting that Elections Canada officials are watching these groups closely and trying to determine the legality of these arrangements. Vote pairing appears to go back to the American election of 2000, and has proven to be legal under the American legal system.

It will be interesting to see if vote swapping will have any effect on the coming election. In any case, its mere possibility is an interesting commentary on the potential of social networks and self-organizing groups on important matters of politics and governance. It also demonstrate that our current electoral system is badly in need of reform.

To see how vote pairing works, go to www.votepair.ca.

Thanks to Marc for the story, who is my idea man without a blog.

EC&I 831: Island Hopping Cruise Ship

I’m finally getting a chance to go through some of the data collected from the study of my EC&I 831 graduate course. I absolutely love this passage from former student, Cindy Seibel, who describes her learning experience in the course.

To me this course was a personal journey loosely coupled in a community. I liken it to an island-hopping cruise ship. When we were on the ship on Tuesdays and Wednesdays there was an array of activities for us to participate in. Then we would stop at an island, get off and go on a personal investigation. We could sit on the beach and reflect, or go off an investigate something that had been triggered for us on the last ship’s activity. Our reflections and learnings were captured in our blogs and we would seek out each other through those expressions. Others outside the course would also participate in the same way, joining us randomly on the island or the ship. Then we would get back on the ship on Tuesday for a new buffet. So could we have done that with a closed LMS? I don’t think so. The public blogs were absolutely key to this experience. The open wiki was important as it forced us to “put ourselves out there”. That was an important part of the experience. We learned that there is a network out there if we choose to participate. The tools are almost secondary. Connecting to the network was key.

I love the cruise ship analogy. As well, I want to pay close attention to Cindy’s description of a “personal journey loosely coupled in a community.” It is an important distinction.

Girl Who Silenced the World

The title on this Youtube video reads “the girl who silenced the world for 5 minutes”. This is Severin Suzuki, daughter of David Suzuki, speaking to the United Nations at the age of 13 in 1992 on behalf of ECO (Environmental Children’s Organization). This is a wonderful speech, spoken beautifully, emotionally, and truthfully.

This is worth the six minutes to watch, and so much more. Pass it on to your colleagues and your students.

Patent for a Pig

It has been a bit slow here lately as I have been getting started on a few research projects, going to conferences, and teaching a new undergraduate course this Spring.

I watched this short documentary on Monsanto’s pursuit of breeding patents/DNA patterns found in pigs. Of course, Monsanto has been infamous for patents relate to genetic modifications to wheat, but I have not closely followed this trend toward livestock.

See also: Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5.