Sunday, June 28, 2015


I just watched Ascension on Netflix.

Spoilers, Sweety..   It is really hard to discuss this show without giving something away.  Please consider watching the miniseries before reading, and come back..   It's only 6 episodes long...

The show reminded me of many Joss Whedon series like Firefly and Dollhouse which really aren't made for broadcast television.  They are smart, and have longer stories that evolve where you really don't have a clue what the show is about until many episodes in.   And like those shows, there is a superheroine that really surprises the audience.

The 6 episodes are in 3 2-part chapter pairs, with some pretty amazing reveals at the end of each chapter.

Chapter 1 ends with the revelation that the ship never took off, and that this is an experiment being held on earth.  What is the experiment?  Is it really about learning about the human impact of multi-generational space flight?

Chapter 2 ends with the X-men style superheroine girl reading someone's mind, after clearly exhibiting many other traits that suggest that she has evolved well beyond what we are currently aware of.

Chapter 3 ends with someone having really "gone into space" -- but not through a spaceship, but possibly by teleportation initiated by accident by the superheroine.  And it seems the man who's father was behind this multi-generational project predicted that this power could evolve.

Chapter 4?  Will we ever see one?  There are some very interesting possibilities of where they could take this type of story.  More government conspiracy type stuff that this was really about evolving a biological weapon?  Or a more positive spin of a new era of human space exploration without the environmental impact?  Or maybe for once an X-men style evolution of humanity where the normals encourage rather than hunt down the genetically advanced -- with the results of the experiment used to further enhance all of humanity (ya, I know -- highly unlikely storyline).

And who was that honey-pot agent really working for who said the child must be born?  That didn't seem like a throw-away line, but the beginning of a new thread in the story.  We are supposed to believe she works for the same agencies, but I'm not sure.

I suspect there will be others like me that really loved the show, but that it won't have "mainstream" appeal. This is where more niche programming can come in, and where broadcast alternatives like Netflix really shine.

Oh, and this is Canadian -- produced in Montreal -- did I forget to mention that?  Yes, Canada comes out with some pretty great programming, but only a few survive.  Out of Vancouver in the SF category we saw great things from BSG, the whole Stargate franchise, and Sanctuary.  We have a crew in hibernation with Stargate Universe that could be woken up, and Sanctuary could be resumed at any time -- two shows I would love to see new episodes from.

Unfortunately I suspect Ascension will be left like Defying Gravity (Vancouver) -- great potential that never makes it past first season.  On the chopping block when it really started to get you hooked....

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Works of cultural industry are nothing like "Happy Meal" toys.

When discussing cultural policy you will sometimes bump into individuals who seek to diminish the value of culture by comparing it to consumer products.  To them, one creative work is no different than another.  To quote Mark H. Goldberg who consults to the telecommunications industry (including "regulatory and government relations") and organizes the Canadian Telecom Summit:
As an author (mostly of software) who recognizes the value of the creative works of others, and as an audience and sometimes major fan of creative works, it is an understatement to say I disagree with that attitude.

Creative works obviously have economic value, and we creators deserve to be materially rewarded for our contributions, but creative works have value far beyond economics.  Whether you are the author or a fan, these works are part of who you are -- part of your identity, personality, and how you see yourself in the world.  Anyone who knows me knows I am a big fan of Doctor Who, and that I quote from Monty Python skits or Rush lyrics to express ideas.   I am obviously not unique in this, and culture should always be recognized as having value within society far beyond economics, and that these works permeate and are part of authors and audiences.

I could go on, but I suspect my point is clear: The idea of comparing cultural works, such as video content, to a "Happy Meal toy" is offensive.

There is a practical reason why many people who represent the interests of intermediaries express this view.   If creative works remained a conversation between creators and their fans, then the control (and thus the bulk of the economic value) would stay within that conversation.  Contrary to the rhetoric you will hear from these intermediary representatives, fans want creators to get paid as they want those creators to have the ability to create more.   In my experience it is far more likely some artificial barrier created by an intermediary is in the way of that payment, rather than some desire for audiences to access without compensating creators.  I'm not saying that people not paying never happens, but that this is by far not the greatest barrier to authors receiving the material rewards they deserve.

What these intermediaries are doing is abusing the intimate relationship between creators and audiences for the private economic gain of that intermediary.  They exploit the ways in which cultural works are not like consumer products to the detriment of both creators and their audiences.  In my view some of these business practices go as far as interfering with both parts of Article 27 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights:
Article 27.
  • (1) Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.
  • (2) Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.
This is the article that justifies copyright and patent law, and why there is a UN specialized agency currently called WIPO. While I believe this agency required major reform to respect and protect the entire article (and not primarily the economic interests of intermediaries), I strongly agree with this article and the need for national and international laws and agencies to protect it.

Mr. Goldberg was trying to justify on twitter one of these artificial barriers that reduces the ability of audiences to access creative works.  Specific companies within the broadcast, telecommunications, or consumer electronics industries want exclusive deals with content producers to tie the ability to legally access cultural works to the purchase of their products or services.  It is obvious why this scheme might be good for these intermediaries, but it should be equally obvious why it is bad for everyone else.

In this specific thread it was the inability of Canadians to legally access HBO video content near the time it is broadcast without paying for the services of a few select companies (Broadcast Distribution Undertakings - BDU's like Bell, Rogers, etc) who force bundles of expensive unrelated services (Cable/etc) that people otherwise don't want.   We are told we either have to financially support business practices we find offensive, not access the works, or be driven to infringing sources.  I believe these business practices induce copyright infringement as much if not more than services like ISOHunt or Pirate Bay, and as an author I consider it the responsibility of the government to step in and deal with this contributory infringement.

For the HBO shows I follow I wait months or years later until I'm finally allowed to buy the DVD. I would be happy to pay a $10/month monthly fee similar to what I pay for the much larger Netflix catalog to watch HBO shows in a more timely manner. I would still be buying most of the same DVDs as I enjoy having that catalog in my home. What we want is a Netflix-like service which is not tied to a specific Internet provider, brand of consumer electronics, or unrelated broadcast related service. While HBO is experimenting with this in the USA, exclusive deals with BDUs make it unlikely to happen any time soon in Canada without government intervention.

My strong desire to pay isn't the issue, and it is barriers created by intermediaries blocking my ability to pay.

Far from being a legitimate business practice, these exclusive deals are something that the CRTC, Competition Bureau, and Parliament should clarify as illegal.  Section 77 of Canada's Competition Act prohibits this style of activity, but unfortunately the bureau has largely left manipulating markets for creative works inadequately regulated.  While creative works are more deserving of protection than traditional products or services due to their additional importance to the cultural lives of Canadians, current interpretations of the Intellectual Property Enforcement Guidelines (IPEG - See my submission to the bureau) appear to discourage the bureau from adequately intervening.

At this time of rapid technological change, regulation against this tied selling is the most critical form of protection that the cultural sector requires.  Regulators need to get past thinking that CANCON style rules that only applied to broadcasting will be of any help (more likely a hindrance) as multimedia creators and audiences move past broadcasting as a primary distribution method.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Why my strong reaction against the Liberals for voting for bill C-51?

I've had people comment on my strong views against the Liberals for voting for Bill C-51.

It was not a surprise that the Liberals supported Harper's alleged "Anti-terrorism" bill, given the Liberals had multiple times in the past proposed similarly flawed Lawful Access legislation.  The agencies that have been granted additional powers by C-51 are not new, and this only represents an update from what I consider to be mistakes of the past.

The Liberal response to Bill C-51 only served as a reminder of things I have not liked about the Liberal party for a long time. 
  • They fall prey to the "something must be done, this is something, so it must be done" type of politics. They don't want to be seen as soft on [bad behavior flavor of the month], so push forward policies such as lopsided "lawful access" where citizens outside of agencies get additional scrutiny, but not citizens within government agencies.
  • They get caught by the "you are either with us, or with the [bad behavior]ists" rhetoric, whether in government or opposition, which feeds into the "this is something" problem.  They don't come out with what I consider to be reasoned policies, just policies which appear at first glance to be tough on [bad behavior].
  • Since I became politically involved in the 1990's, Liberal election campaigns have been based on fear: vote Liberal or [some "scary" opponent] might win (under "first past the post" generated vote-splitting of course). This federal election the "scary" opponent will be Harper, but in BC it is the NDP (The BC Liberals are a coalition of what other Canadians might call Liberals and Progressive Conservatives), in Quebec it is the "separatists", and so-on.  This frees up the Liberals to not have rational policies, as long as their policies appear slightly different than the "scary" opponent.    While the Liberals will claim yet again this federal election that it is the Harper Conservatives that are the party of fear, it has been the Liberals that have been the party of fear since long before the Reform/Alliance/Harper party even existed. It is time Canadians voted for something, not against something -- the status-quo means we never get good government, just theoretically (with little evidence) less bad government.

I mistakenly held my nose and voted for the Liberal nominated candidate in my riding in some recent elections, and the C-51 vote reminded me why I should not do that as it only weakens what I believe it is to be Canadian.

I'm not suggesting I believe the NDP is a great party, or that I am certain they would make a good federal Government.  I never even considered voting for them before this election. What I am saying is that voting Liberal yet again because you did in the past isn't going to get you something different. The federal Liberal party has been in decline in recent decades, and it is false to suggest that its new post-election caucus or leader would be "more tested" than an NDP post-election caucus and leader.   It is people who make up political parties, not theoretical place holders. The exact membership of the caucus is what matters, not some distant memory of a previous caucus that doesn't apply to the current situation.

I'm also not suggesting people vote for Harper's party.  If C-51 wasn't a deal breaker for you and your choice is between the Conservatives and the Liberals (as it has traditionally been for many Canadians), I would suggest you take a close look at your Conservative candidate.  The conservative movement in Canada has gone through some radical changes in recent decades.  While I believe the Harper conservatives have major flaws that make them not worthy of the conservative name, change is obviously possible as it has already happened. Take a close look at your local candidate and see if they are someone who would be better described as a Progressive Conservative than a Harper conservative. That person as an MP might become part of the group that will fix the Conservative party from within. There is a growing list of cabinet ministers that won't be running in this election, and this may allow for positive change -- more change than having a Liberal keeping a House of Commons seat warm could.

If the Conservative party moved closer to the center from the right, coupled with the federal NDP already moving so close to the center from the left, it really leaves no room for the Liberals under those traditional left-right policy lines.  The Greens still offer something different that doesn't always fit on that spectrum, but the Liberals don't offer anything unique or interesting.

Liberals do continue to offer fear and vote splitting....

Please also read:

Justification and criticism for lawful access legislation like #BillC51 two sides of same coin.

The justification for Lawful Access sounds like:

  • There is some small percentage of people within Canada who might commit [bad behavior], so we must more closely monitor Canadians to find those outliers and stop [bad behavior].
The critique many of us have against most Lawful Access implementations sounds like:
  • There is some small percentage of people within government agencies who might commit [bad behavior] with the help of additional powers granted to those agencies, so we must more closely monitor government agencies to find those outliers and stop [bad behavior].
The specific [bad behavior] doesn't really matter, and has changed over the years as the politics of the day changes. Some years it is generically "crime", sometimes "child pornography", sometimes "hate crimes", and these days the most widely abused is "terrorism".

Fundamentally, I believe legislation that add more power for government agencies to monitor citizens that doesn't come with additional monitoring of those government agencies can never be claimed to be anti-[bad behavior].  Granting the regular human beings who work for these government agencies more inadequately monitored powers makes it more likely that [bad behavior] will occur, just this behavior will be within rather than outside government agencies.

I am not suggesting people who work for the government are bad people, only that they are real-life people and not academic theories.  People don't become some sort of different species simply because they train for and are accepted into a specific profession.  It might be easy for some eggheads to speak of theoretical government, law enforcement and intelligence workers, but some of us live in the real world.  As only a few examples I have a cousin married to an police sergeant, the uncle of my god-children is in the RCMP protecting the Prime Minister, and this month I went to a cottage with the family where the husband works at the "spy palace" here in Ottawa.  These are great folks, great parents where I have watched their children grow up, but they are clearly not some different species from other Canadians.

I have many friends who believe that agency workers will be targeted by those who want to corrupt them to access the additional powers they have at their disposal.  After all, these are regular human beings who can be tempted by money or swayed by threats against their family and friends.  I don't believe we need to take this reality into consideration to recognize the flaws of legislation like Bill C-51, although it would be appropriate to consider when eventually drafting laws to protect Canadians. Having inadequate scrutiny of agency workers puts their and their families lives at risk, while if anyone who might otherwise want to corrupt these workers knew the power couldn't be abused they wouldn't have any reason to threaten these people.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Harper promoting Liberal Brand as: A vote for the Liberals is a vote for Harper

The most important aspect of this years Canadian Federal Election campaign is the fact that Canada is still using an antiquated horse-and-buggy electoral system known as First Past the Post.  Under this unfair and divisive system a politician does not need to have the support of a majority of constituents, they only need to divide and conquer the opposition.

Harper's election campaign has been clear from the start: promote the Liberal brand and Justin Trudeau as if it were the "opposite" of the Harper brand.  This way voters who agree with Harper will stick with Harper, but those who oppose will go to the Liberals which is Harper's second choice.

Harper will promote the Liberals for a number of strategic reasons:
  • The Bill C-51 vote demonstrates that the Liberals are weak in opposition, and they can be trivially frightened by "you are with us, or with the terrorists" style rhetoric.  Harper knows that both Thomas Mulcair and Elizabeth May are adult and more seasoned politicians who aren't going to be so trivially manipulated.
  • Under the current voting system the Liberals split the opposition vote, which is the most effective way for a Conservative party member to win.  Harper realizes that there are only a few ridings where the Conservatives have the support of a majority, and he must prop up the Liberals in order for the Conservatives to win over the NDP or Greens in most ridings.
  • Without Harper's active promotion of the Liberal brand, more Canadians might notice the polls of other Canadians and realize that it is the NDP that are more likely to win against Harper. In Alberta it was the NDP that dethroned the Progressive Conservative party, with the Liberals nowhere to be found.
  • Harper wants less engaged voters to believe nothing has changed in recent decades. He wants people to either vote Liberal or (no longer Progressive) Conservative, as had been the case for decades. This distracts people not only about the changes in other parties federally (Growth of center-left NDP, and center-right Green), but the radical differences between the Progressive Conservative party and the Harper Conservative party.

I can only prey that Canadians become engaged in this election, and not fall for Harper's trap.

  • If you don't like Harper's policies, then stay away from Justin Trudeau and the Liberals as they would make a very weak official opposition or government.
  • Don't trust the Liberals who claim that you need to vote for them to avoid splitting the vote and allow someone else in.  It is the Liberal candidates that split the vote, and who if they were really concerned would be saying something very different (Lets start with not sabotaging attempts in Ontario and BC to modernize away from the antiquated system which creates the "vote splitting" problem)
  • Please pay attention, and realize that between the Liberals and the NDP it is the NDP in the lead.  If your choice is between candidates from those parties, then don't split the vote by voting Liberal.
  • If you were a supporter of the Progressive Conservative party, please recognize that the Harper Conservatives are a very different brand.  As a past member of the federal PC party, and as someone who voted in federal PC leadership races, I do not recognize myself in the Harper Conservative brand.  No self-respecting conservative Canadian should support Harper's intrusive big-government policies such as we see with C-51 : who needs a long-gun registry when far more information about all of us will be freely shared between government departments for purposes we all know will have nothing to do with "terrorism".  Harper has duped you if you believed the rhetoric he abused in debates around the long-gun registry or the long-form census.

Ontario Municipal Elections Act Review - Ranked Ballots!

The following is a cut-and-paste of my comments on the Ranked Ballots part of the Ontario municipal elections act review.
As you can tell, I am excited by the possibility as I believe ranked ballots for either single or multi member districts is the best option for municipalities.  This is a system that fixes the flaws in the antiquated first-past-the-post system which creates the concept of "vote splitting" and encourages negative campaigning (and thus more negative and less effective government).
It also doesn't encourage political parties to form at the municipal level, a flaw that some of the so-called "proportional" systems would encourage. Whenever we hear the word "proportional" we need to ask "proportional to what".  If it is proportional to the support a voter has for a political party, this grants more power to political parties in the system. Additional power to political parties has its own harmful effects which we also need to be minimizing.
I have an additional concern, which is that we need to avoid allowing incumbent politicians having undue influence on whether a municipality modernizes to a ranked ballot.  We already saw incumbent politicians sabotaging referendum in Ontario and BC.  Incumbent politicians who were dependent on flaws in the current system to win will oppose (publicly, or subversively) modernization that would close that loophole.

What are your thoughts on using ranked ballots for Ontario municipal elections?I am excited. It is something I have been dreaming of since I first became aware of the fact that Canada was so far behind the rest of the world, and that it was our antiquated voting system that caused "vote splitting" and the negative campaigning.
Should municipalities be able to use ranked ballots for certain offices and not others? For example, only for mayor?No. It should be usable for any single or multi-member position.
Should public consultation by a municipality be required before implementing ranked ballots or before changing from ranked ballots back to the current system?No. This would allow the incumbents of that municipality who might be dependent on the legacy system to sabotage the consultation.
What form should that consultation take?If there must be a consultation or referendum, then the incumbent politicians should have little or no say in the process. Education around the system needs to be independently funded, so that incumbents cant sabotage the process through under-funding education.
Unlike the current system, ranked ballots can involve multiple rounds of counting before all the seats to be elected have been won.
How much information would you want about election results? For example, where there have been multiple rounds of counting would you want to see the results of each round of counting or just the final results?I would personally want access to full anonymised data. This isn't different than what I would want for the current system, but am unaware that level of data being released.
There are a number of other important decisions that the province will need to consider when determining how ranked ballots could work in Ontario. Throughout this review we will be consulting with Ontarians, municipalities and experts on ranked ballots to help us make these decisions.
Are there other ideas you wish to share on ranked ballots that you would like us to consider?Suggest to municipalities that implementation be gradual. For instance, move to a ranked ballot for existing positions first before moving towards creating multi-member positions which didn't already exist. Change is hard for people, and it would be unfortunate if a too large change caused people to want to go backward.