Monday, October 20, 2008

The Future

I just received an email asking for money. From Stephane Dion. It's the very same email that has been sent out time and time again, and is a symptom of the paralyzing failure of leadership and strategic vision that has afflicted our party.

We cannot win by running to defeat a man, Stephen Harper.

I've been doing reading--a lot of reading-- on the activities of our friends to the South and their campaign for President. There are new tactics and strategies being developed, strategies that could only come out of the inordinately long primary and presidential campaign. Obama's specifically is predicated on two strategies: massive investment in national and regional ad buys and comprehensive neighborhood mobilization strategies.

The latter is the key, because it is a strategy, not a tactic.

Regional organizers recruit, test, and train volunteers. The test of leadership for these volunteers is the recruitment of more volunteers. But these are not just volunteers; they are leaders. Not donors, but leaders. Not door knockers... leaders. It is a comprehensive system of community organization done without the investment of HR money because it is founded on voluntary investment of time and energy, where local operations are free to develop management roles that best suit local personalities. It is predicated on canvassing by local community members first, phone calls a distant second, and mailings a far third.

This ground level involvement extends to policy discussions, leading to empowerment and ownership. It does not feel centrally organized, even though it is. It is led from the top and the bottom, facilitated through the internet. Ignatieff began to use these tactics in the last campaign, but only touched on them.

We need more. This must be the philosophy that undergirds the next campaign. It has to be a long term strategy; the building of an infrastructure that will serve the party, not just the candidate.

This leadership campaign must seek to answer in substantive terms what it means to don the red colours. It must be both a discussion and a mobilization. He must emerge to save the party by helping people to believe again--not in a man, but in a belief. Belief in the value of helping others. Belief in the apotheosis of care and compassion over fear of our fellow man.

Stephen Harper relies on fear. He relies on anger. Through mailings and a coordinated message he seeks to make Canadians distrust their neighbours and nurtures anger against those that disagree with us. Liberals have done the same, engendering anger at those very tactics.

Fear and anger mobilize voters.

However, belief mobilizes nations.

It is only through mobilization that we will be competitive financially. But that mobilization is not a result of a campaign message; rather, it is a part of it. It is that community mobilization and engagement that will distinguish the Liberal party as one of truly Canadian spirit; rooted in cooperation, stemming from the community, and founded in compassion.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

One More While I Procrastinate

I swear to God that I'll post the second part of the previous post tonight. In the meantime, I can't really communicated how exciting this is.

Click here for more.

Friday, March 23, 2007

This Ought to Amuse Anyone...

... who's desperately waiting while I finish up last night's post (read: no one). It's from Top Gear, a British car show I became addicted to while on a three day stop-over in Ireland. In this clip, a Range Rover Sport competes against a Tank.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

An Existential Reflection on What I Want to do with My Life, Part I

So I didn't get into McGill, where I had applied to do a PhD on "The Fragmentation of English Historical Writing, ca. 1640-1670".

That's not keeping me up at night. What's keeping me up is the fact that I'm kind of glad. And that's worrying.

See, ever since I was in highschool everyone just kind of assumed I'd end up in politics some day--myself included. Throughout University that was reflected in my grades (low) and in my Students' Council positions (high). I tried to learn from the odd mistake, and there were a few people that did their best to not let me forget. (Note: God bless Meg Timney.) Still, during my time in the USC it was taken for granted that I was a politician.

Note this letter to the editor taken from The Gazette:


Sinal won't stir the pot
Re: "Politically Incorrect, Minus Bill Maher?" Nov. 8

To the Editor:

I attended the Politically Incorrect forum moderated by Michael Coren last Thursday, and before the forum started, Coren wanted to put his books up for sale.

However, he was strongly rebuked and told not to do this, and that if any book was sold, the University Police Department would be called. It was quite the debate before the debate.

I'm very interested in knowing why Coren was not allowed to sell his books. Is it common practice for guests not to sell their books or was it special to Coren? And anyways, what's wrong with biographies?

Oh, yeah, on a completely unrelated note – maybe [University Students' Council] Chris Sinal wasn't informed about the title of the discussion before it started, or maybe his skills as a politician are just too refined. Chris, you were the most politically correct, smooth and uncontroversial guy I've ever heard. Congratulations. I'm sure you'll find a great career in the Liberal party.

Joel Timmerman
Political Science II
King's College


Only that's not what happened. I soured on politics. I decided that I'd had enough of the duplicity, of the careful consideration that had to go into everything I said, of the playing people against one another to get what I wanted "for the greater good". It was too much. It's not what I wanted to do with my life.

I wanted to be an academic. I wanted to invest my life to thought. To helping people and Canadian society. I can't really put into words just how much I wanted, and still want, to be a part of higher education in this country. In a 1975 letter to the General Secretary of the Czech Communist Party, Vaclav Havel described culture as "the main instrument of society's self-knowledge"; "It is culture," wrote Havel, "that enables a society to enlarge its liberty and to discover truth." I aspire to be a party of that creative process through the development of new ideas. Or something.

When this started in 2002, it was a new development. To those professors that knew me it came as no surprise, and they encouraged my efforts to get into grad school. That said, my time spent in early modern history was really kind of an accident. I fell into it.

That was never really a big deal, until two things caused me to question it; not getting into McGill, and the recent work with Ignatieff. Now, the siren song of politics is once again drawing me towards the rocks. Question is, are they any more dangerous than those of academia?

How have these two things conspired to bring about the titular crisis existential? That's for tomorrow, when I'm actually awake.

In the meantime, check out this interesting batch of statistics that I discovered in researching this post:

From the 2003 UWO Gazette Sex Issue:


9. Do you have the Chris Sinal fantasy?

Yes No
HeteroFemales 7.5% 92.5%
BiFemales 9% 91%
Bi Males 25% 75%
HomoMales 33% 67%


It's always nice to know that I'm a hit with the dudes.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Pulp Fiction in Typography

This is just brilliant. Beware young ears: they will be forever burned by the dulcet tones of Samuel L. Jackson screaming colourful nouns like "bitch" and "motherfucker" (admittedly, also a verb, adjective and adverb).

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Why Battlestar Galactica, Lost, and most other serial dramas are really starting to suck

The first televison show I ever loved, and I mean adored, was Babylon 5. Despite its stupid haircuts and dialogue that sometimes threatened to offend kosher sensibilities with its hammyness, it was awesome. It used physics in space combat. Articial gravity didn't exist. The bad guys were vampires, or something.

And it was a serial drama. One of the first. The whole sucker was mapped out from the beginning to be five years, and that's all it was. It was a novel for film, with five discrete chapters, thematic arcs that could be traced throughout, and payoffs in season three that you could see--in detail--foreshadowed in the first season. Its sometimes rediculous costumes belied a narrative tightness that was beyond anything on television.

Other shows pretended to offer the same. X-Files promised a grand narrative that spanned years, but quickly devolved into a mass of killer bees, alien assassins, and plot machinations that rivaled a Cretan labyrinth in their complexity. Without a planned narrative arc, the showrunners were left to make up plot twists on the fly, struggling to fit them within the vaguest of plot threads dribbled along the way. The longer the show went on, the larger the twists needed to be, both in number and in dramatic punch. The premise of "an FBI agent struggles to discover the secrets behind the mystery of his sister's abduction" certainly seemed promising; I'm sure that in the writers room there was much excitement over how the conspiracy would unfold, and the shock the audience would experience when they discovered that at its root was the survival of the human race.

The fault, however, was in mistaking a premise and a conclusion for a complete narrative. It's true that the heart of a story lies not in its conclusion, but in its middl--in the development of characters and the unraveling of the plot. Television shows are about questions, not answers, after all. However, the development must be building towards something cohesive. If, at the show's end, the final revelation of the dramatic conflict requires a table drawn from a Tolstoy novel to make sense of it, it belies lazy writing rather than narrative conplexity.

Planning ahead allows the small answers dabbled througout the show to be genuinely earned, and worthwhile when viewed over ones shoulder at the end. A narrative plan should allow some viewers to actually predict the ending of the show with the evidence provided, and that number ought to increase as the show continues. This, I think, is the mark of a genius (and genus) of storytelling that has been absent for some time.

That is, until shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, and Heroes offered a glimpse of promise. A chance for a serial drama that held a grand arc, as well as the appetite of the North American viewer for such an idiom. Alas, the former two have each shown symptoms of falling to the same disease that plagued the X-Files: revealing the mystery of Jack's tatoos while ignoring innumerable untended plot threads concerning the shows greater mystery has long ailed Lost, and it may be reaching a terminal point. Battlestar Galactica, too, is showing signs of increasingly sloppy writing and a failure to show foresight that only undercut significant revelations when they finally occur.

Heroes is the best bet on television for what I'm looking for: a serial drama that puts effort into planning its stories in such a way that the viewer's payoff at show's end (of, failing that, season's end) is built on the foundation of the episodes that came before.

Rumor has it that Lost may limit its run to only five season, and plan the rest of the show with that in mind. One can only hope.