Woke, schmoke

Two things, woke folks.

One, I read this with extreme interest, because in recent days, quite a few folks have “canceled” Yours Truly for, you know, (a) doing opposition research at an opposition research firm (b) opposing racism and anti-Semitism (c) trying to help a marginalized group pro bono.  It’s been something.  And it’s mainly why I turned off Twitter and Facebook.

Two, I fully expect no one will heed Obama’s words, here.  But I will post the New York Time’s report about them, just the same.  Maybe someone will listen.


Former President Barack Obama made a rare foray into the cultural conversation this week, objecting to the prevalence of “call-out culture” and “wokeness” during an interview about youth activism at the Obama Foundation summit on Tuesday.

For more than an hour, Mr. Obama sat onstage with the actress Yara Shahidi and several other young leaders from around the world. The conversation touched on “leadership, grass roots change and the power places have to shape our journeys,” the Obama Foundation said, but it was his remarks about young activists that have ricocheted around the internet, mostly receiving praise from a cohort of bipartisan and intergenerational supporters.

“This idea of purity and you’re never compromised and you’re always politically ‘woke’ and all that stuff,” Mr. Obama said. “You should get over that quickly.”

“The world is messy; there are ambiguities,” he continued. “People who do really good stuff have flaws. People who you are fighting may love their kids, and share certain things with you.”

Mr. Obama spoke repeatedly of the role of social media in activism specifically, including the idea of what’s become known as “cancel culture,” which is much remarked upon, but still nebulously defined. It tends to refer to behavior that mostly plays out on the internet when someone has said or done something to which others object. That person is then condemned in a flurry of social media posts. Such people are often referred to as “canceled,” a way of saying that many others (and perhaps the places at which they work) are fed up with them and will have no more to do with them

“I do get a sense sometimes now among certain young people, and this is accelerated by social media, there is this sense sometimes of: ‘The way of me making change is to be as judgmental as possible about other people,’” he said, “and that’s enough.”

“Like, if I tweet or hashtag about how you didn’t do something right or used the wrong verb,” he said, “then I can sit back and feel pretty good about myself, cause, ‘Man, you see how woke I was, I called you out.’”

Then he pretended to sit back and press the remote to turn on a television.

“That’s not activism. That’s not bringing about change,” he said. “If all you’re doing is casting stones, you’re probably not going to get that far. That’s easy to do.”


No GOTV, no ID = no big V

This writer started hearing about CPC problems with voter ID and GOTV efforts well before voting day. In a tight race, there is simply no excuse for that.

Akin, naturally, is the first to report on that.

Conservatives who believe that a mere switch in leaders will vanquish the Liberal foe will likely want to face some other realities, the most important one being that the much-vaunted ‘ground game’ that helped propel Conservative electoral machines from 2006 through to 2015 has rusted and is in dire need of an overhaul.

To wit:

In the Greater Toronto Area, local Conservative campaigns had not done their homework by August to identify their committed support while Liberals had, in fact, done just that. Identifying your support is a crucial and critical job of all local campaigns.

Multiple Conservative sources who worked on GTA campaigns say the pre-writ work was simply not up to previous standards. Jenni Byrne, the veteran of Harper-era Conservative election war rooms, is on the record saying the ’supporter’ lists in the GTA had the kind of numbers on it that the party had in its first election in 2004. That meant that the 2019 version of the Conservative party gave its opponent a significant head-start in this crucial battleground.

There was a significant mid-campaign malfunction of the software that manages the national Conservative voter identification database. The Constituent Information Management System or CIMS (pronounced ‘sims’) has been a key part of Conservative campaigns for more than a decade. But in this election, data collected at the doorstep by Conservative campaigners using a mobile “CIMS-to-Go” app went missing in transmission from the doorstep to the servers at national HQ. As a result, the door-to-door work of thousands of volunteers was not being captured and used properly by the central campaign. For the local campaigns, that also meant they had to re-do many canvasses and thus wasted precious time and resources during a writ period.

At some point in the campaign, local campaigns were asking the CIMS database at HQ for lists of what Conservatives call “likely accessible voters” — the key group of persuadable voters any campaign wants to focus on. But it quickly became apparent to many campaigns in the GTA that what local campaigns received from headquarters in Ottawa was not lists with thousands of names of “likely accessible voters,” but was, in fact, lists of avowed Liberal or New Democrat supporters. So at some point, Conservative campaigners were either wasting their time, or worse, were actually pulling the vote for their opponents. CIMS had to be shut down or curtailed as a result, leaving local campaigns with a huge data blind spot that would prove to be fatal for some campaigns.


I’ll always be proud to work with those who oppose racism and anti-Semitism and homophobia and misogyny and Islamophobia. Always.

I’ll always be proud to help those who have a just cause, and no resources, and need help getting heard. Always.

That’s all I wanted to say about that stuff.

But stay tuned.

That too.

Google’s secret plan to privatize everything – and spy on you

This Globe report, by Josh O’Kane and Tim Cardoso, is just extraordinary.

In essence, the US-based multinational wants to privatize cities and turn them into profit centres. Everything. Along with control over taxation and transit – like they want here in Toronto – Google even wants control over our system of justice, schools and even people’s’ “behaviour.”

This thing reads like a science fiction/horror movie script.

How can anyone at Waterfront Toronto – or Ottawa, or City Hall – continue to treat Google’s ambitions as benign?

They can’t. They shouldn’t.

A confidential Sidewalk Labs document from 2016 lays out the founding vision of the Google-affiliated development company, which included having the power to levy its own property taxes, track and predict people’s movements and control some public services.

The document, which The Globe and Mail has seen, also describes how people living in a Sidewalk community would interact with and have access to the space around them – an experience based, in part, on how much data they’re willing to share, and which could ultimately be used to reward people for “good behaviour.”

Known internally as the “yellow book,”the document was designed as a pitch book for the company, and predates Sidewalk’s relationship and formal agreements with Toronto by more than a year. Peppered with references to Disney theme parks and Buckminster Fuller, it says Sidewalk intended to “overcome cynicism about the future.”

But the 437-page book documents how much private control of city services and city life Alphabet leadership envisioned when they created the company, which could soon be entitled to some of the most valuable underdeveloped real estate in North America.

Since 2017, Sidewalk has been in negotiations with Waterfront Toronto to redevelop a section of the city’s derelict eastern waterfront…

The book proposed a community that could house 100,000 people on a site of up to 1,000 acres, and contains case studies for three potential sites in the United States: Detroit, Mich., Denver, Colo. and Alameda, Calif. It also includes a map with dots detailing many other potential sites for Sidewalk’s first project, including a dot placed on the shores of Lake Athabasca in northern Saskatchewan.

From the beginning, generating real estate value was a key consideration for Sidewalk.

The company presents “enormous potential for value generation in multiple ways,” according to the document: “As a global showcase, as an adaptable testbed for innovation, as a generator of new products, and as perhaps the most ambitious real-estate development project in the world.” It includes profitability estimates for all three sites…

To carry out its vision and planned services, the book states Sidewalk wanted to control its area much like Disney World does in Florida, where in the 1960s it “persuaded the legislature of the need for extraordinary exceptions.” This could include granting Sidewalk taxation powers. “Sidewalk will require tax and financing authority to finance and provide services, including the ability to impose, capture and reinvest property taxes,” the book said. The company would also create and control its own public services, including charter schools, special transit systems and a private road infrastructure.

Sidewalk’s early data-driven vision also extended to public safety and criminal justice.

The book mentions both the data-collection opportunities for police forces (Sidewalk notes it would ask for local policing powers similar to those granted to universities) and the possibility of “an alternative approach to jail,” using data from “root-cause assessment tools” that would guide officials in finding an appropriate response when someone is arrested. The overall criminal justice system and policing of serious crimes and emergencies would be “likely to remain within the purview of the host government’s police department,” however.

Data collection plays a central role throughout the book. Early on, the company notes that a Sidewalk neighbourhood would collect real-time position data “for all entities” – including people. The company would also collect a “historical record of where things have been and vector information about where they are going.” Furthermore, unique data identifiers would be generated for “every person, business or object registered in the district,” helping devices communicate with each other.

There would be a quid pro quo to sharing more data with Sidewalk, however. The document describes a tiered level of services, where people willing to share data can access certain perks and privileges others may not. Sidewalk visitors and residents would be “encouraged to add data about themselves and connect their accounts, either to take advantage of premium services like unlimited wireless connectivity or to make interactions in the district easier,” it says.

Shoshana Zuboff, the Harvard professor emerita whose book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism investigates the way Alphabet and other big-tech companies are reshaping the world, called the document’s revelations “damning.” The community Alphabet sought to build when it launched Sidewalk Labs, she said, was like a “for-profit China” that would “use digital infrastructure to modify and direct social and political behaviour.”

While Sidewalk has since moved away from many of the details in its yellow book, Prof. Zuboff contends that Alphabet tends to “say what needs be said to achieve commercial objectives, while specifically camouflaging their actual corporate strategy.”

According to the document, personalization would increase as users contributed more data, leading to “more complete or personalized services from Project Sidewalk in return.” An example states that people choosing to share “in-home fire safety sensor” data could receive advice on health and safety related to air quality, or provide additional information to first responders in case of an emergency.

Those choosing to remain anonymous would not be able to access all of the area’s services: Automated taxi services would not be available to anonymous users, and some merchants might be unable to accept cash, the book warns.

The document also describes reputation tools that would lead to a “new currency for community cooperation,” effectively establishing a social credit system. Sidewalk could use these tools to “hold people or businesses accountable” while rewarding good behaviour, such as by rewarding a business’ good customer service with an easier or cheaper renewal process on its licence.

This “accountability system based on personal identity” could also be used to make financial decisions. “A borrower’s stellar record of past consumer behaviour could make a lender, for instance, more likely to back a risky transaction, perhaps with the interest rates influenced by digital reputation ratings,” it says.

The company wrote that it would own many of the sensors it deployed in the community, foreshadowing a battle over data control that has loomed over the Toronto project.

And Canada becomes a little less of a country

And our federal leaders say nothing.  Oh, and our Prime Minister says he’s okay with “values tests.”

Does anyone care about what is happening, here?

Immigrants who want to settle in Quebec will soon be required to pass a values test.

Starting Jan. 1, they will have to prove they have learned “democratic values and Quebec values” in order to obtain a selection certificate, the first step toward permanent residency for those who want to live in the province.

The test was a key election promise made by the Coalition Avenir Québec.

It is still unclear exactly what questions will be asked on the test, but the values are defined as those expressed in Quebec’s Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms.

Premier François Legault was able to bypass Ottawa by deciding to administer the test during the selection process, which is Quebec’s jurisdiction, instead of during the permanent residency process, which is Canadian jurisdiction.

All adult immigration applicants and their accompanying family members will be required to pass the test if they want to move to Quebec, the government announced in the official Gazette Wednesday.