Articles I'm Digesting 24/4/2009

Here are some pieces from around the web that I’ve been digesting this week.

Why the bluster has given way to bland by Patrick Brethour in the Globe and Mail

This excellent article summarizes what I think is the most exciting trend in BC right now – the race for the pragmatic centre in our politics. Those from outside BC often fail to understand its politics (if I’d got a nickel in college for every time I was asked: how can the same people vote for the NDP provincials and The Reform Party federally???). This piece goes some way in explaining the province’s political history to those not from here.

Also of note… despite the claims of some reformers, British Columbia has already experiment with a Single Transferable Vote (STV). In twice in 1952 (the first election generated an unstable government that lasted 9 months) with the Social Credit Party winning out both times. This isn’t to say that we shouldn’t discuss electoral reform, but let us not pretend that it is something untried and completely novel.

Clinton says US shares responsibility for Mexico’s drug violence by By Warren P. Strobel in the Christian Science Monitor

This isn’t a fancy or insightful piece – but it is important. For the first time in memory a senior figure in the US administration has said what everybody has long known, that:

“Our insatiable demand for illegal drugs fuels the drug trade. Our inability to prevent weapons from being illegally smuggled across the border to arm these criminals causes the deaths of police officers, soldiers and civilians,”

The war on drugs is now so deeply a part of the American political way of life I have little hopes of seeing a dramatic shift anytime soon (no matter how good or accurate the movie Traffic was). Nonetheless, this is a critical step. More importantly, it starts the US down a path where discussions around address addiction as well as curbing and managing demand become more plausible strategies.

As many of you know, I’m sadly confident we are never going to “win” the war on drugs and drug violence, especially by curbing supply – indeed, as I wrote the other week, not even the RCMP believes this anymore. This is what makes strategies like Harm Reduction, and places like the Insite injection site so important. They don’t replace policing and prevention, but as the last 40 years have helped demonstrate, progress will be impossible if harm reduction is not part of the mix.

hbus, the transit day tripper by Holly Gordon in The Coast

He’s a great little story about a scrappy programmer in Halifax who is trying to build a parallel – and better – transit route planner on line. Cities should be begging for people like William Lachance – the create of beta – which “scrapes” bus information from the official site and repackages it in a more helpful and useful way. Imagine that – a citizen helping the city deliver a service more effectively!

Sadly, the City of Halifax doesn’t see it that way:

“We can’t give our information out for somebody else to put up and run their own Metro Transit trip planning because we ultimately are accountable for it,” she explains.

This concern is of course, nonsense. By her logic, she should be preventing someone from calling a friend and asking them to look at the bus schedule and telling them when the next bus will come because… well now that friend “controls” the data and not the City of Halifax. This really is 19th century thinking run amok.

Of course ask William what responses he gets and you hear a slightly different answer:

“You get one of two responses,” says Lachance of Metro Transit’s replies to his friend’s—and later his own—requests. “One is just ‘no.’ The other one is that they give you their policy on the dissemination of geographical data, something on the order of ‘give us a lot of money and we’ll give you the information you can basically only use for personal use.'”

While both responses sound different, they are functionally the same. “We, the city, will not give you data your taxes paid to create.” Why? Because we don’t want to, or… because we think we can extract still more money from you. This despite the fact that most local governments actually lose money trying to sell their data. Heavens forbid that actual citizens try to make their city easier to navigate.

The No-Stats All-Star by Michael Lewis in the New York Times Magazine

This is one of these delightfully insightful pieces about how really digging into the numbers can reveal truths that often go unseen. Here is the story of Shane Battier, an NBA player who is relatively unknown and whose basics stats suggest is an ordinary player. And yet… dig a little deeper and it is reveal that when he is playing the stats of players on his team are better, and those of players on opposing teams are worse.

Battier clearly has some basketball styled “soft” skills that make him effective, but that would likely be ignored or remain unseen to the majority of sport’s scouts and observers.

I’ll admit, one reason I really enjoyed this story is that I think there is a little bit of Battier in all of us, and in certain special people around us. There are people in my life who are like Shane Battier, I perform better, react faster, think more clearly, when they are around me. In addition, I’d like to think that there are boards I’m on, people I work with that, while no one can say “yeah, David is excellent at doing that” that nonetheless I help the group work more effectively… Indeed, I often fear this is most of what my professional life is like – that I help everywhere, but in a way that is to hard to pin down in manner that is tangible or recognizable.

2 thoughts on “Articles I'm Digesting 24/4/2009

  1. Patrice Collin

    Thanks my friend, I always appreciate these posts…always find some gems that I would have otherwise. I know it's work to pull together but I appreciate it!Patrice

  2. Alex Derry

    I agree completely with your comments about people who are good team-builders. I recall the roundtable at Samara last summer, and the ideas and contributions of each individual were at such a high level that it got me thinking faster, harder, better, stronger, etc.You might be interested to know that I'm currently working on my MA thesis at Maastricht University on the role of new media platforms in contributing to an European public sphere and addressing the democratic deficit in the EU. One of the case studies is a blogging competition run by the EJC called Th!nk About It ( which brings together aspiring bloggers from each Member State to debate European ideas as a lead-up to the European Parliament elections. Many of your posts have been extremely helpful in generating new ideas and research, and I should be citing a few in the main paper, FYI. In general, I really want to thank you for this blog, David, it's a really useful resource and keeps be abreast of new opportunities and ideas. For example, your posts about negotiation strategies helped immensely when I was preparing for a negotiation simulation on the TRIPS agreement, representing Venezuela (a tough position). Who would have thought, a blog you can use? Cheers!

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