Tag Archives: commentary

David Akin: Live by the poll, Die by the…

The other week David Akin penned a commentary piece about an Ipsos-Reid poll that showed Canadians were evenly split about the census issue. It was trotted forward as proof positive that this was a non-issue that the press was blowing out of proportion.

Well, things have changed.

A more recent Angus-Reid poll shows that the numbers are shifting. Those opposed to the government’s decision (47%) has stayed constant but, in contrast to the poll Akin cited, Canadians have possibly become more aware of the issue and support has dwindled to 38% per cent. But dig deeper and the story is gets more interesting. Only one-in-four Canadians (24%) agree with the Conservatives assertion that the Long Form Census is intrusive and 58% think it yields data that is important to make policy decisions in all areas of public service, and should remain mandatory.

But wait for it… even among conservatives there is little agreement with the government. Only 31% of conservative votes agreed that “The long form census is intrusive and Canadians should not be forced to answer it” whereas 58% agreed with the statement that “The long form census yields data that is important to make policy decisions in all areas of public service, and should remain mandatory.”

And, to project into the future, things are not likely to get better. Most premiers have spoken out against the long form census decision and it will likely come up at an upcoming premiers conference. So, when citizens were asked:

“As you may know, some provincial premiers have criticized the federal government’s decision to eliminate the mandatory long form census, and the head of Statistics Canada has quit his post. Thinking about this, what do you think the federal government should do?”

the numbers jump even higher against the government’s decision with 52% saying the government should reverse and only 27% saying it should stay the course. And, once again, conservative voters are displeased with the outcome with 42% of them opposed to the governments decisions and 39% in favour.

If you are going to live by the poll, you must be prepared to die by the poll. So, given this new data, I’m hoping that David Akin will consider writing a new column about how this issue is starting to become relevant and may even be negatively affecting conservative poll numbers.

The dangers of narrow cast politics

I am going to very substantially scale back my writing about this issue. I have reached the point where I am wasting my breath. My consolation is that many tens of thousands of Canadians now see this charade for what it is; that this has turned into a very, very bad day at the office for all concerned, including a few strategic geniuses who thought they could narrow-cast their way to electoral gain while the rest of the country missed this story; and that I have managed to shine a bit of a light on some of the most squalid behaviour I have ever witnessed in 20 years as a reporter.

The census?


This was written back on February 24th, 2010 in a fantastic post by Paul Wells about… the Rights & Democracy scandal. Today, the audit promised by the government on that organization has missed three deadlines and is still not been delivered. Today the organization remains in shambles: demoralized, frustrated and tarnished.

This, I fear, could be the fate of Statistics Canada. With the census (and a number of other survey) “a few strategic geniuses” thought that in the dead of summer, on the friday of a long weekend, they could kill something that has become core to legislation and decision making for every level of government, businesses, NGO’s, researchers and ordinary Canadians.

Today we know differently. With a Deputy Minister resigned, the media sniffing blood, the country up in arms and every major newspaper running damning editorials the only difference between the census scandal and the rights and democracy scandal is the size and scope of the impact.

Someone needs to tell the PMO that narrow-cast politics is dead. At least for this government There have simply been too many mistakes and the intelligence of too many Canadians has been insulted too many times to get away with it.

I hope that message gets through. I don’t know how many more times this government intends to narrow-cast a policy to try to pick up a few points with a vested interest group but I do know that we are running out of institutions we can’t afford to have destroyed.

Minister Clement, privacy and (un)balanced views

Just moments ago Industry Minister Tony Clement, in response to growing criticism about his decision to end the mandatory long form census (now the Canadian Medical Association has come out in opposition), again cited “privacy concerns” from Canadians.

To quote Minister Clement via the Globe article:

“Just in the past 48 hours I’ve received dozens and dozens of [letters from] Canadians who despite the adverse publicity … have come forward and said, ‘We agree with your position,’” Mr. Clement said.

“I am not saying it’s every Canadian, but I am saying there are Canadians [who complained] and we should try to accommodate their concerns in a balanced way,” he said.

Of course, the minister made no reference to complaints made before he made his decision. That’s because it is rapidly becoming obvious their were none. The Privacy Commissioner registered just 3 complaints in the last decade. Statistics Canada’s survey about the last census generated no feedback regarding privacy. The minister’s claim about privacy concerns is a sham – he’s veering on the edge of having lied to Canadians. Now he’s trying to cover it up by citing complaints since his decision.

It is great to hear the Minister Clement is interested in Canadians concerns since he made his announcement because in contrast to the few dozen he’s received the rest of the country seems focused on a petition in opposition to his decision that has garnered 5800 Canadians names (and that grows at about 3 names a minute) in the last few days. Will he listen to their voices too?

I can’t say I’m confident. Even with conservatives like C.D. Howe Institute President William Robson speaking in opposition. Why? Two reasons.

First, let’s take a look at the last time the Minister consulted Canadians regarding a decision. How about last year on the issue of copyright, digital locks and circumvention. During this consultation 6641 speaking Canadians spoke against anti-circumvention provisions and a mere 46 Canadians spoke in favour. And yet, the desire of those 46 trumped the 6641. Or how about on Tuesday when Industry Canada suddenly pulled the second most popular discussion (about the census long form) from the Digital Economy Consultation.

It is the second, however, that is more important. I don’t think the Minster is the decision maker. Indeed, I don’t think he even wanted to do this. I don’t always agree with him but Minister Clement seems  smart and even fun. His twitter account is personable and engaging. More interestingly, the Minister allegedly spoke in opposition to this decision behind closed doors. The real decision maker was the Prime Minister. All the more reason why Canadians need to let their unhappiness with this decision known – they need to help Minister Clement reverse it.

Irony, defined

So it appears that the Vancouver Province Editorial Page Editor Gordon Clark is not a fan of either the census or me. In a piece the other day (which someone kindly forwarded on to me) he become the lone person in the country to defend Industry Minister Clement’s decision to end the Long Form Census.

His reason? In his own words:

Clement is right when he says the data from a voluntary form may be more accurate than under the current forced scheme, which resulted, for example, in 55,000 Canadians listing “Jedi” as their religion in the last census. It makes you wonder how accurate the rest of it was despite its $567-million cost. For that kind of money shouldn’t those StatsCan folks be curing cancer or something?

Actually, Clement is not right. There isn’t a statistician in the country who would agree with this opinion. Indeed, I dare Gordon Clark to produce a single statistician at a university, or even a polling firm, who will agree with this statement. I’ve got about a 1000, and indeed, their professional organization, who feel otherwise. So Clark’s defense is built on a lie. But then, since  this whole debate is about replacing facts with opinions, should we be surprised?

But that’s reasoned fact part of this blog post, there’s a juicier little tidbit…

Over at Gordon Clark’s twitter page, take a look at his bio:

See that line that proudly states “The Province, the best-read newspaper in Canada west of Toronto.”

Interesting that, isn’t it?

So how does Gordon know that The Province newspaper is the best read paper west of Toronto? Well, he relies on NADbank, which produces regular reports about newspaper readership. But dig a little deeper. In the technical report that outlines the survey’s methodology I’ll give you one guess on how NADbank ensures it has an accurate cross section of Canadians so that Gordon Clark can accurately and proudly claim his paper is the best-read in Western Canada.

Again… one chance…

How about… the census! Yes, the census – including references to data collected by the long form – is mentioned no less than 20 times in the report and is essential to enabling NADbank to do its survey.

So not only does Gordon Clark wish to replace fact with opinion, he has no idea how the census – especially the long form – impacts almost every aspect of his life, including his ability to brag. Of course, if he wants to he could change his bio to say:

I’m in charge of the editorial pages and write a weekly column for The Province, a newspaper in western Canada that we aren’t really sure how many people read.

But somehow that doesn’t have the same punch, does it?

As an aside, it is worth noting that while NADbank has The Province as the most-read newspaper in western Canada the Canadian Newspaper Association survey shows the Vancouver Sun has a bigger paid circulation (by quite a margin). I suppose if you give away enough free copies, you too can boost your readership…

Minister Moore and the Myth of Market Forces

Last week was a bad week for the government on the copyright front. The government recently tabled legislation to reform copyright and the man in charge of the file, Heritage Minister James Moore, gave a speech at the International Chamber of Commerce in which he decried those who questioned the bill as “radical extremists.” The comment was a none-too-veiled attack at people like University of Ottawa Professor Michael Geist who have championed for reasonable copyright reform and who, like many Canadians, are concerned about some aspects of the proposed bill.

Unfortunately for the Minister, things got worse from there.

First, the Minister denied making the comment in messages to two different individuals who inquired about it:

Still worse, the Minister got into a online debate with Cory Doctorow, a bestselling writer (he won the Ontario White Pine Award for best book last year and his current novel For the Win is on the Canadian bestseller lists) and the type of person whose interests the Heritage Minister is supposed to engage and advocate on behalf of, not get into fights with.

In a confusing 140 character back and forth that lasted a few minutes, the minister oddly defended Apple and insulted Google (I’ve captured the whole debate here thanks to the excellent people at bettween). But unnoticed in the debate is an astonishing fact: the Minister seems unaware of both the task at hand and the implications of the legislation.

The following innocuous tweet summed up his position:

Indeed, in the Minister’s 22 tweets in the conversation he uses the term “market forces” six times and the theme of “letting the market or consumers decide” is in over half his tweets.

I too believe that consumers should choose what they want. But if the Minister were a true free market advocate he wouldn’t believe in copyright reform. Indeed, he wouldn’t believe in copyright at all. In a true free market, there’d be no copyright legislation because the market would decide how to deal with intellectual property.

Copyright law exists in order to regulate and shape a market because we don’t think market forces work. In short, the Minister’s legislation is creating the marketplace. Normally I would celebrate his claims of being in favour of “letting consumers decide” since this legislation will determine what these choices will and won’t be. However, the Twitter debate should leave Canadians concerned since this legislation limits consumer choices long before products reach the shelves.

Indeed, as Doctorow points out, the proposed legislation actually kills concepts created by the marketplace – like Creative Commons – that give creators control over how their works can be shared and re-used:

But advocates like Cory Doctorow and Michael Geist aren’t just concerned about the Minister’s internal contradictions in defending his own legislation. They have practical concerns that the bill narrows the choice for both consumers and creators.

Specifically, they are concerned with the legislation’s handling of what are called “digital locks.” Digital locks are software embedded into a DVD of your favourite movie or a music file you buy from iTunes that prevents you from making a copy. Previously it was legal for you to make a backup copy of your favourite tape or CD, but with a digital lock, this not only becomes practically more difficult, it becomes illegal.

Cory Doctorow outlines his concerns with digital locks in this excellent blog post:

They [digital locks] transfer power to technology firms at the expense of copyright holders. The proposed Canadian rules on digital locks mirror the US version in that they ban breaking a digital lock for virtually any reason. So even if you’re trying to do something legal (say, ripping a CD to put it on your MP3 player), you’re still on the wrong side of the law if you break a digital lock to do it.

But it gets worse. Digital locks don’t just harm content consumers (the very people people Minister Moore says he is trying to provide with “choice”); they harm content creators even more:

Here’s what that means for creators: if Apple, or Microsoft, or Google, or TiVo, or any other tech company happens to sell my works with a digital lock, only they can give you permission to take the digital lock off. The person who created the work and the company that published it have no say in the matter.

So that’s Minister Moore’s version of “author’s rights” — any tech company that happens to load my books on their device or in their software ends up usurping my copyrights. I may have written the book, sweated over it, poured my heart into it — but all my rights are as nothing alongside the rights that Apple, Microsoft, Sony and the other DRM tech-giants get merely by assembling some electronics in a Chinese sweatshop.

That’s the “creativity” that the new Canadian copyright law rewards: writing an ebook reader, designing a tablet, building a phone. Those “creators” get more say in the destiny of Canadian artists’ copyrights than the artists themselves.

In short, the digital lock provisions reward neither consumers nor creators. Instead, they give the greatest rights and rewards to the one group of people in the equation whose rights are least important: distributors.

That a Heritage Minister doesn’t understand this is troubling. That he would accuse those who seek to point out this fact and raise awareness to it as “radical extremists” is scandalous. Canadians have entrusted in this person the responsibility for creating a marketplace that rewards creativity, content creation and innovation while protecting the rights of consumers. At the moment, we have a minister who shuts out the very two groups he claims to protect while wrapping himself in a false cloak of the “free market.” It is an ominous start for the debate over copyright reform and the minister has only himself to blame.

The Myth of the Open Data Mob: a response to Mike Ananny

I recently discovered that Mike Ananny wrote this response to a piece I initially posted here and then on The Mark titled Let Us Audit Parliament’s Books. I encourage you to read both my piece and Ananny’s thoughtful response. And, in the spirit of dialogue, I have two thoughts in response.

First, Ananny misrepresents the thrust of my argument. He suggests that I only want crowds and that my goal is to replace public institutions with amorphous “crowds.” Nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, I say, at the end of the article, that the Auditor General should do her own audit – using the same information that is available to everyone. I’m not in favour of replacing institutions with crowds, or democracy with populism. What I am in favour of is ensuring their are checks on institutions.

Second, Ananny creates a straw man of my arguments painting the picture of a single monolithic crowd. These misrepresentation can be found in lines such as this from his piece:

It’s okay that we do this. But in the kind of crowd-sourced audit Eaves describes, who are the “others” that we trust to discover on our behalf and teach us what they learn? At least we know who the auditor general is and how – cumbersome as it might be – she and the government can be replaced.

This is certainly not what I sought to describe nor is what I think I did, but as an author I share responsibility in being clear.

Do I believe there will be no single amorphous crowd? No. I believe there will be the public much like today. And it will discern the debate in the same way it currently does. What does this mean? I suspect that if the expensess were public there might be numerous audits, and that those will find it easiest to earn the public’s trust will be those conducted by “others” who first and foremost declare who they are. The most obvious candidate for this would be the Globe and Mail. (Wouldn’t it be nice if they had access to MP expenses)? Of course, the Globe may not have the resources to go through every line of every MP’s expenses so they may ask people to flag lines that seem to be of particular importance. This is, of course, how  The Guardian newspaper in the UK exposed some of the most problematic expenses in their MP expense scandal. In short, this isn’t a single faceless mob, this is about allowing numerous people, from public institutions to the media to self interested private citizens. Some will self-organize, others will not. But there will be a diversity of perspectives.

Second, and more importantly, is that these competing audits would be good for democracy and for public institutions. I completely agree with Ananny’s quote from Bentham. A perfectly knowledgeable public is a myth. Yes, most of us, on most issues, knowingly or not, do delegate responsibility for forming our beliefs to others. The challenge is, to whom to delegate? Ananny seems confident he knows exactly who it should be (an AG who, actually, only has the power to shame). He wants us to place our faith in a crowd of one – the AG – who no one gets to choose and who herself has no oversight.  I’m interested in a different outcome. We live in a world where it is easier to allow more than one resource to which citizens can delegate their trust. More importantly, by sharing the expenses different parties can assess how others conduct their audit – biases, different assumptions, flaws and more clear comparisons – in short a public debate, could take place. Giving everyone access to MP expenses will, admittedly, be messy, but then so is democracy. The point is you either believe in public debate or you don’t.

Encouragingly, this is ultimately what Ananny seems to want as well, as he states:

I know we don’t have to choose between crowds or experts – I want both – but if it’s a question of emphasis, I’d much rather be the constituent of an AG who can be legally reprimanded and dramatically fired than an unwilling patron of a crowd that may or may not know what it’s doing.

I want both as well. I’d also love to see a supportive infrastructure that helps people contribute to audits. Indeed, this was the thrust of my June 10th piece Learning from Libraries: The Literacy Challenge of Open Data. But you don’t create that infrastructure by not sharing the the accounts openly. As my libraries piece argues, sharing is a precondition to developing such an infrastructure.

So if, as suggested, this is a question of emphasis, why did Ananny choose to use my piece as a launchpad for his own? We seem to be on the same page (we both appear to want to improve public institutions and public debates). I think the ultimate reason lies in this last point. Ananny’s examples refer to crowds or institutions that are deemed expert by somebody. But the public’s trust in an institution or resource or even a crowd isn’t granted or ordained, it is earned. Ananny’s solutions keep returning to the notion that we need to ordain trust and delegate whereas mine is that we need to enable emergent systems so that many actors can attempt to earn trust and we can debate. This is why I agree that the AG’s office should, as he suggests, provide a program to help people learn how to do audits. But I also I think society will be best served when a diversity (of particularly emergent) approaches are possible, perhaps involving actors like accounting firms and universities. This would allow others to be a check on the AG which will enhance, not destroy confidence. But again, this is only possible if we all have access to the information.

And that ultimately is my point. Access to information is a precondition that enables us to engage in better debates, foster systems that support alternative perspectives and also provides a check on public institutions. It is these checks and debate, not blind delegation, that will improve confidence.

On Policy Alpha geeks, network thinking and foreign policy

In the past few weeks the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC) and the Canadian International Council (CIC) both launched new visions for Canada’s foreign policy. Reading each, I’m struck by how much overlap both documents have with Middle to Model Power, the Canada25 report written 5 years ago by over 500 young Canadians from across the country and around the world.

With Middle to Model Power, a group of young people largely self-organized to lay out a vision and selection of ideas around how Canada could rethink its foreign policy. Take a look at this selection from its executive summary, including an overview and the first recommendation:

We submit that Canada should cease assessing its influence on the basis of its size or position within an obsolete global hierarchy. Instead, Canada25 calls on Canadians to look at the world as a network, where influence is based on the capacity of an individual, company, non-governmental organization (NGO) or country to innovate and collaborate. Building on this perspective, we propose that Canada become a Model Power—a country whose influence is linked to its ability to innovate, experiment, and partner; a country that, by presenting itself as a model, invites the world to assess, challenge, borrow from, and contribute to, its efforts.
In pursuit of our vision of Canada as a Model Power, we outline three priorities for action. These, accompanied by some of our recommendations, include:

MAKE CANADA A NETWORK NODE. Enhance the ability of Canadians to create, nurture, and tap into international networks:
• Issue five-year work visas to foreign graduates of Canadian universities • Reach out to Canada’s expatriate community by creating an international network of
Canadian leaders…

You can download the full report here, but you get the idea. Remember this is a group of 23-35 year-olds writing in 2005.

Now, quickly compare this to the summary’s of both the LPC and CIC’s new reports.

The LPC report, called a Global Networks Strategy opens by stating:

Networks define how the world works today, as hierarchies did in the past. Influence is gained through connectedness, and by being at the centre of networks. That is good news for Canada, because we have a reputation for being able to work with others, we have shaped many multilateral organizations, and our population today reflects the diversity of the world. The Global Networks Strategy is designed to leverage these assets. It sets priority areas in which the federal government must collaborate with the full range of players who contribute vigorously – and most often in networks – to Canada’s presence in the world: other governments, non-governmental organizations, the private sector, young Canadians, academia, faith- based groups, artists and others.

And in the CIC report, titled Open Canada: A Global Positioning Strategy for a Networked World, has as one of its opening paragraphs:

Canada will never be the most powerful nation on Earth. But we live in a digital age, where might is measured in knowledge rather than muscularity. If we keep building on our openness—attracting the best and the brightest citizens, generating and exchanging new ideas and new ways of doing things and welcoming investment in our economy—Canada can position itself at the centre of the networked world that is emerging in the 21st century.

And, unsurprisingly, the deeper details of the reports offer many similar prescriptions.

So how, on a shoestring budget, can a group of young Canadians many of whom were not foreign policy experts, write a report that identifies an organizing principle that 5 years both a major political party and one of the country’s newest and best funded think tanks would put at the hearts of their own reports?

A few ideas come to mind:

1) The Medium is the Message: Middle to Model Power was not written on a wiki (in 2005 none of us knew what a wiki was!) but it was written over email. The authors were scattered across the country and the process of organizing local events was relatively decentralized. People raised whatever topics that mattered to them, and during the drafting phase they simple sent me their ideas and we batted them around. There was structure, but were were a pretty flat organization and… we were very connected. For Canada25 a network wasn’t just an idea that emerged out of the process, it was the process. It should hardly be surprising that the way we saw the world reflected how we organized ourselves. (When I say that Canada’s digital economy strategy will fail unless written on GCPEDIA this is part of what I’m hinting at). The medium is the message. It’s hard (but not impossible) to write about networks deep in hierarchy.

2) Look for Policy Alpha Geeks in resource poor environments: So why did Canada25 think in terms of networks? How was it that before Wikinomics or GPS or pretty much most other things I’ve seen, did Canada25 organize itself this way?  Well, it wasn’t because we were strategic or young. It was because we had very little money. We couldn’t afford to organize any other way. To get 500 Canadians around the world to think about foreign policy we had to let them self-organize – we didn’t have an org structure or facilitators to do it for them. We had to take the cheapest tools (email) and over use them. Don’t get me wrong, Canada25 was not poor. Our members were generally very well educated, we had access to computers and the internet and access to interesting people to interview and draw ideas from. But the raw infrastructure we had at our disposal was not significant and it forced us to adopt what I now see were disruptive technologies and processes. We became Policy Alpha Geeks because we had to innovate not to be relevant, but to ensure the project survived.

3) It’s not about the youth: People presume that our thinking emerged because we were young. This is not entirely correct. Again, I submit that we got to thinking about networks because we were operating in a resource weak environment and had exposure to new tools (email) and a risk tolerance to try using them in an ambitious way. This isn’t about age, it just happens that generally it is young people who don’t have lots of resources and are willing to experiment with new tools. Older people, who frequently have more senior titles, generally have access to more resources and so can rely on more established, but more resource intensive tools and processes. But again, this is about mindset, not about age. Indeed, it is really about the innovators’ dilemma in policy making. Don’t believe me? Well, as lead author of Middle to Model Power I can tell you that the most influential book on my thinking was Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock which I read in the month preceding the drafting of the report. It was written in 1970 by an author who was, at the time, 42. In sum, young people can be a good guide, but it is environmental factors that you can replicate, not intrinsic qualities of being young, that allow you to innovate.

Both the LPC and the CIC’s documents are good and indeed, more up to date than Middle to Model Power. But in terms of core organizing principles the three documents are similar. So if you are genuinely interested in this take a look at all three documents. I do think they put forward what could become an emerging centrist consensus regarding organizing principles for Canadian foreign policy. Certainly that was the ambition back in 2005.

Canada's Digital Economy Strategy: Two quick actions you can take

For those interested – or better still, up till now uninterested – in Canada’s digital economy strategy I wanted to write a quick post about some things you can do to help ensure the country moves in the right direction.

First, there are a few proposals on the digital economy strategy consultation website that could do with your vote. If you have time I encourage you to go and read them and, if swayed, to vote for them. They include:

  • Open Access to Canada’s Public Sector Information and Data – Essentially calling for open data at the federal level
  • Government Use and Participation in Open Source – A call for government to save taxpayers money by engaging with and leveraging the opportunity of open source software
  • Improved access to publicly-funded data – I’m actually on the fence on this one. I agree that data from publicly funded research should be made available, however, this is not open government data and I fear that the government will adopt this recommendation and then claim that is does “open data” as the UK and the US. This option would, in fact, be something far, far short of such a claim. Indeed, the first option above is broader and encompasses this recommendation.

Second, go read Michael Geist’s piece Opening Up Canada’s Digital Economy Strategy. It is bang on and I hope to write something shortly that builds upon it.

Finally, and this is on a completely different tack, but if you are up for “clicking your mouse for change,” please also consider joining the facebook group I recently created that encourages people to opt out of receiving the yellow pages. It gives instructions what to do and, the more people who join bigger a message it sends to Yellow Pages – and the people that advertise in them – that this wasteful medium is no longer of interest to consumers (and never gets used anyways).

War makes facists of us all: Would you like to know more?

Starship_TroopersOver the years I’ve taken my lumps from friends for loving Starship Troopers. Most who haven’t seen it assume it is a dumb sci-fi action movie. But listen to the directors commentary and the first two things you’re told is that the movie is about “how war makes fascists of us all” and that the Federal Network “media sequences” are based on US World War II anti-Japanese propaganda films. Now that’s dark.

How dark? Well, I’ve always felt that Starship Troopers was to the film medium what 1984 was to books. Yes both are sci-fi, but more importantly they are bleak looks into how technology and power can merge to create a nightmare future (indeed, on a wild tangent, 1984 may be one of the best arguments for why we need an open web).

So if you’ve never thought of Starship Troopers that way (or any way!) I can’t say enough good things about Scott Tobias’ revisit and analysis of the movie 13 years later. It is brilliant.

In fact, stop reading me, go read him.

Not only a far better articulation than anything I’d have written but it also goes places I’d never gone: Tobias’ observation that Starship Troopers is an allegory for September 11th before it happened is brilliant.

As an aside I also love Tobias’ analysis of Starship Troopers faux network television/internet – the Federal Network:

Yet the key to the Federal Network’s power isn’t necessarily the clips themselves—which feature such great cultural advancements as televised executions (after whiplash-swift justice) and barely censored “censored” violence—but the prompt at the end, “Would you like to know more?” That’s what makes it effective as propaganda: the illusion of knowledge, the illusion of choice, the illusion that people have control over their own destinies.

Sometimes that feels exactly like what we get from CNN/MSNBC and especially FOX News… but then willingly or unwillingly, in the first decade of the 21st century war has already made fascists of us all.

Yellow Pages (and White Pages) are Spam – You can block it

Yellow-pages-are-evilUpdate: I decided to create a facebook group to help people stop getting yellow pages. No pressure to join, just another way to share with others the good news and let Yellow Pages know how ridiculous you think they are. No idea if it will take off, but no harm in trying.

Great news! If you live in Canada you can stop the Yellow Pages from delivering their redundant, wasteful over-sized paper weight to your home. Simply fill out this form.

I was renewed in my hunt for such an option after I saw this pile in my friend’s condo. Pretty much everything about this photo makes me angry.

I have not used the Yellow Pages in over a decade and will never, ever, ever, ever use them (even their website which I am decidedly not linking to here) so long as they give them to virtually every Canadian address (I suspect that there are at least 20? 25? million, more? of these things printed every year?

In our world this is spam. It isn’t mail I want, I didn’t ask for it and if I receive it, I delete (recycle) it upon arrival. I only wish the damage done by these books was as limited as online spam.

At least now we can request that it not be delivered. Of course, this solution is far from perfect. Consider that:

1) the fact you have to hand over personal information to a private company to stop receiving a service you never asked for is beyond offensive.

2) this opt out is not permanent. As the Yellow Pages Group FAQ (which is weirdly a PDF and not HTML like the rest of the site) notes:

3. Is my registration permanment?

No. Your registration is valid for two directory deliveries. After that time, you must inform us that you would like to continue to opt-out by completing the same form at http://www.ypg.com/delivery or calling 1-800-268-5637.

3) better still, when, in two years, your opt out expires will Yellow Pages remind you? Or will they simply start sending you yellow pages again? Again their FAQ provides a sad answer:

5. Will Yellow Pages Group send me a notice when the registration period expires?

It will be your responsibility to register again to receive more directories or to be removed from the distribution list after two directory deliveries.

Everything about this company is broken. With luck it will either change or not be with us much longer (also check out its shrinking stock value and declining dividend here).