Tuesday, August 17, 2010

It's all fun and games...

My preoccupation with stacking lots more books than I could ever read next to my bed recently got worse when, over at Samara, we created the List of Great Canadian Political Writing, and had over 75 recommendations in 48 hours.

To foster a greater engagement with Canadian politics, we've launched a contest where you can enter to win a book of your choice from the list. By guessing which MP said what quote, you too can add to your own stack of reading pleasure.

Details are here. This week's contest is here. Enter to win, and tell your friends.

More on the census

Over at Samara, our fab intern, Grant Burns from UBC's J School, has created some good discussion with a series of two blog posts on the media's coverage of the census issues.

You can see post one here, and his follow-up, where he addresses some of the criticisms post #1 received, here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Another census theory to ponder

Below is a slightly different take on the reasons behind the Conservatives long-form census decision then any I've seen written, courtesy of a friend who prefers to remain nameless, but has given me permission to post here. The upshot is that the census decision was a way of distorting the picture of Canadian society for electoral benefit (rather than a more fundamental ideological reason, as others have posited).

Below is his thinking. Please note this is only an idea so hasn't been researched, but I'd be curious for others' POVs.

As has been well-reported, a voluntary survey tends to under-represent certain groups, often those who "most need society's help." According to the former head of StatsCan, this includes groups such as "aboriginals, low-income earners and immigrants."

My friend wondered if the Conservatives, in thinking they were making a small change no one would notice, were in fact looking to then use the 2011 census data to prove that social and possibly economic conditions were improving under their watch. This may be short term - i.e., in anticipation of a 2012 election (October 15, 2012 is the date set by the Canada Elections Act, assuming the GG doesn't dissolve the House before) - or longer term in anticipation of prolonged period of minority or majority Conservative government rule.

The short term application of course presumes that the collection and analysis of the data would be completed in time for a fall 2012 election (which the timing of the 2006 census analysis suggests is possible), and that the Conservatives could hold the support of the House until then as well.


Monday, August 02, 2010

On the bookshelf

Followers of this blog know I love to read, and always wish I had time to do it more.

Here's what's stacked on my bookshelf right now (all in various stages of consumption):
  • Michael Lewis' The Big Short. His report on the 2008 financial meltdown, as seen through the eyes of a handful of misfits who profited from it. The choice of my largely MBA-type bookclub, and a wise one too. With a securities lawyer, a private equity guy and an ex-Goldman employee, we talked about this book longer than most of the others.
  • Tony Judt's Ill Fares The Land, on what we should learn from the 20th century. I'm halfway through and can't put it down. To give you a sense of its direction, here's the bit of poetry from which the title is derived: "Ill fares the land, to hastening ills a prey, Where wealth accumulates, and men decay."
  • Christina McCall's My Life As a Dame. I found this while searching for a copy of her no-longer-in-print Grits, the choice of one of the winners of a little contest we have over at Samara. For a long time I wanted to be a journalist, and she was one of the best from her era.
  • Sebastian Junger's War. I heard him speak at a surprisingly poorly attended lecture at the Toronto Reference Library earlier this spring. Junger lived among a platoon in Afghanistan for 15 months, and this is his report on that time.
  • Andrew Potter's The Authenticity Hoax. I'm reading this one slowly because there's so much in it, it should be read that way. It's a cultural criticism of modern society, and as you'll see from following Potter's blog, rarely a day goes by where its themes aren't echoed in the media.
  • James Surowiecki's The Wisdom of Crowds. I love his column in the New Yorker, and the thesis appeals to the anti-McKinsey part of my personality.
  • Michael Edward's Civil Society. I make my students read his 2008 critique of modern philanthropy in my course, and I really need to finish this before the next school year begins.
  • Cormac McCarthy's The Road. I know, I should have read this already. But I haven't.
  • David Smith's The People's House of Commons. I'm a devotee of Ned Franks' The Parliament of Canada, and wish more people read it. This is a slightly newer version.
  • Audrey Niffengegger's The Time Traveler's Wife. A former beau told me this reminded him of our relationship. I have no idea what this means, although will soon find out.
  • Adrienne Clarkson's Heart Matters. I had the pleasure of serving on the CEO search committee for the NGO she founded after her GG-ship, the Institute of Canadian Citizenship. I enjoyed getting to know her and am curious to understand her better.
  • From Penguin Canada's terrific Extraordinary Canadians series, Daniel Poliquin's Rene Levesque and Nino Ricci's Pierre Elliott Trudeau. I'm dying to watch the three-part series The Champions, which details the debates between these two men over the future of Canada (back when people debated on such matters). One day I want to work through all the E.C. books... I loved Andrew Cohen's on Lester B. Pearson from the series. It was so well-written that I got a little teary at the end, when Pearson died, even though I knew that was going to happen.
  • And finally, a compendium textbook, Open Government, which features an essay by my friend Dave Eaves called "After the Collapse: Open Government and the Future of Civil Service." I'll likely use it and others from the book in my course next year.
And, of course, the always-present stack of yet-unread New Yorkers.

At this rate, I'll never leave the house, but suggestions of great reads are always welcome!

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Accidental Citizen?

Most of my blogging has been over here lately (RSS accordingly please!) or here, where I've been writing mostly about political leadership, Parliament and innovations in public affairs journalism.

With others at Samara I've also been working on Canada's first-ever series of exit interviews with former Parliamentarians, and on June 15th we will release the first report from this project. It's called The Accidental Citizen? and reflects the varied, and often unexpected, ways so many MPs described their journeys to public life.

We hope this report, and those that follow, will be a basis for further discussion and will contribute to a greater understanding of political leadership in Canada. With time, we hope this effort will draw attention to the things that function well in our public life, and contribute to a constructive discussion on what can be improved.

If you have a few minutes, please visit the Samara site and let us know what you think.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

More on Mars v. Venus, in the opinion-sphere (II)

The latest installment of Mars vs. Venus in the opinion-sphere, in response to the debate posted here and here:

I certainly can't speak for Wente, nor do I intend to let her off the hook. Above all, I find it interesting that we've read different things into the same article.

First, I always read her piece to be about current affairs (i.e., see her 4th and 7th paragraphs), although I agree she could have been more explicit. And while she led by talking about blogs, to me, that was really an (albeit inflammatory) example of a larger point about ways in which the sexes express themselves.

Second, she doesn't lament that women don't have opinions. In fact, she says just the opposite: "Opinionizing in public is a form of mental jousting, where the aim is to out-reason, out-argue or out-yell your opponent. Women are just as good at this as men and, in some ways, better." Her point, at least as I read it, is that women develop and express their points-of-view differently than men, and in ways that don't naturally translate into the "opinion-sphere," be it online or off.

I think this is true. Looking beyond the financed, MSM-associated blogs, there aren't a lot of women bloggers on current affairs that have achieved much scale (i.e., only one of the top 10 political blogs is female). Also, of the first 100 contributors to The Mark, in the politics section, less than a quarter are female.

No doubt there is a structural bias against women and it's pretty obvious that the MSM folks don't hire them. What to do about it is the more interesting question. The online world naturally provides an excellent opportunity for females to establish their voices, and they are doing it in many spheres of activity. I'm just not convinced it's happening as much in current affairs, at least not yet.

I think that's partially because there's not an established "demand" for women's voices from the public (which may partially explain why there are few women in Parliament as well, although there's clearly more to it than that). I think it's partially risk aversion on the part of editors. But it's also the responsibility of women who care about politics and public affairs to speak up more, when it makes sense, even if they risk being wrong or offending.

A comment on my original post elaborates this point.

And on a final point, I actually thought her most "sexist" points were about men, not women! So I end where I began: it's always fun to see how different people read differently into the same article. Mars versus Venus!

More on Mars v. Venus, in the opinion-sphere

Over at eaves.ca is a continued discussion on Margaret Wente's column that wondered why bloggers were mostly men. Over at The Mark, David Eaves raised some great questions about the piece and Wente's understanding of blogs and online media in general.

I had a slightly different read of her column, which I thought to be more about the differences in the way men and women express their opinions, which betrayed some concern over the lack of female voices in public affairs commentary.

In his response, posted here and pasted below, Dave accused me of letting Wente off the hook:

Alison, I think you are letting Wente's off the hook by changing her argument. I'm going to disentangle your comment to address what I think is the main point:

1. What was Wente's Thesis?

It wasn't that women are under-represented in blogging or in traditional media (two very different things). No. Wente’s piece was about how women – because of something innate – don’t want (or worse, can't) engage in political debates because they don't want to share (or don't have!) opinions. You and I are concerned about the under representation of women, but this was not Wente's concern. (it later became a concern after she was shown how ridiculous her argument was - but it wasn't in the original piece).

2. Blogging and news media are primarily male worlds

So what if we are generous and we say this is what Wente was trying to raise a concern about. Here I agree. These worlds are largely male. But now we are conflating to VERY different things. Mainstream media and the online world of social media.

In the world of traditional media (or, financed blogs) women are under represented because managers – either at the Globe or Macleans - choose not to hire women. (Or, one can believe Wente – and you think women don’t have as many opinions)

In the online world there are clearly a lot of women who blog and tweet about politics (as you point out). What is more disturbing is that many of them may not be getting as much profile profile as their male peers. (note the part of the HBS articles in which men tend to have 15% more followers than women). Here we have lots of women with opinions, but not as much recognition. This is not what Wente argues. I'd argue that there is a structural bias against women – we learn to perceive their voices as less relevant. There isn’t an innate inability to have or share opinions (as Wente claims) – our society has decided not to value them as much. This is a serious problem. But it is also antithetical to everything Wente believes. She derides structural feminist critiques.

So I don't think we should let Wente off the hook. Her article misinformed those Canadians who know the least about the net (newspaper readers) about the role women play online. Worse, I believe it helped undermine women in the political space by suggested they didn't have as many opinions to share.

You can read my response here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Where are the women? Maybe Wente has a point!

Last week, Globe and Mail columnist Margaret Wente upset online commentators with her column that asked why most bloggers are men. One of Canada's top political bloggers, David Eaves, wrote a great piece that poked holes in many of her arguments.

I had a slightly different take on Wente's column, which I read less as a diatribe on the blogosphere (although there was no doubt some of that it) and more as plea for more women's voices in public affairs commentary online.

While she didn't say this in the original column, I read bits of her online discussion, where she clarified she'd written it from the point of view of current affairs. Wente wrote, " I was referring in my column to the type of blogging that refers to news and current events. This is largely -- though by no means exclusively -- a male world, just as radio phone-in talk shows and televsion panels of people analyzing and opining on the days' events."

As a woman deeply interested in matters of public policy and current events, I agree with her.

Let's take Ottawa as an example. In the blogosphere, save for Kady O'Malley at CBC and Susan Delacourt at The Toronto Star, I struggle to think of many more female commentators of any scale in Canada.

Scroll down here, to "Blog Central," at Canada's national newsmagazine, for just one example of what I mean. To be clear, these are all excellent writers who I rely on to help shape my own views on things... I don't wish any of them to stop writing. I only wish Maclean's would add a female or two to its mix.

Of the top 10 political blogs in Canada
, only one (#10) is authored by a woman.

The Mark, a online opinion journal, of the first 100 contributors in the "politics" category, less than a quarter are female.

If we take Eaves' point about columns being a type of blog, in the Globe and Mail, Wente is the only woman with a regular gig commenting on public affairs.

I know there are a lot women blogging and tweeting out there, there's just not a lot of them doing so about current affairs or politics, at least not in a high profile way in Canada. There are also lots of women reporters on the Hill (most of whom tweet, and whose reporting I follow), just not a lot with profile in the commenting scene, either online or off.

The more interesting question to me is why, and if anyone else cares about this, what to do about it. Wente "blames" it on men's propensity to step up and speak out. Maybe we women need to do a bit more of that.

I'll include myself as a guilty party - as a pretty regular blogger (mostly over here)
, I think about my blogging more as a curating and less as opining. Maybe that should change.

Or maybe editors have to do more to hire/encourage women in this way, if Wente's right that they're not naturally predisposed to opine.

Or maybe readers have to demand more of it, and encourage those who are trying.

Or maybe it's just Canada.

I don't know. But I think Wente has a point. Thoughts?

P.S. Thanks to the female-penned The Pundit's Guide and to @tideswaters for reminding me of their great work. And who can forget @withoutayard's awesome blog? If other female policy-wonks want to send me links to their blogs, I'll compile a list and share it online.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dispatch on emotion and public policy

Congratulations to the organizers of the emotion and public policy conference, held last week at U of T. A full dispatch is available on the Samara blog.