Friday, 29 July 2011

Jack Layton is sadly ill, however, opposing the Harper government remains a priority.

Thinking about Jack Layton. More thoughts of a Liberal-NDP merger may have room to surface.
by Tom Thorne
I wanted to take 48 hours to let Jack Layton’s announcement about his fight with cancer sink in. It’s hard to really fathom the implications of his illness and the effect it will have on the NDP and how parliament operates until we know more about his prognosis. Many have commented already that he is the NDP. I don’t agree. No one is that indispensable.
If Jack’s finest hour was his performance during the last federal election that would be enough legacy if he is gone permanently. The way he rolled up Quebec was very much a personal triumph. Whatever happens now he will always be remembered for his personal appeal to Quebec voters who frankly were simply fed up with semi-separatists who provided wishy-washy direction for how Quebeckers live and work each day in a North American and Canadian context.
Jack Layton has passed the temporary leadership to Nycole Turmel a rooky MP from Quebec. Many thought Thomas Mulcair would receive the nod.  Turmel is an interesting choice as interim NDP leader. There is four years of a turgid Stephen Harper governing style ahead of us and Turmel may be an interesting contrast against the heavy handed Tories with their doctrinaire agendas . It’s also refreshing to get a woman leader in parliament. Jack may have considered that when he endorsed Turmel.
Quebec will love Jack’s choice. It is not what the Conservatives would have expected and she may very well turn out to be great as a counterpoint to the dullness and predictability of the Tory benches.
Will Jack Layton return?
The real question is whether Jack Layton will ever return to parliament. If he doesn't, the question will be asked whether the NDP can maintain its momentum without him. The answer will always to be yes from the loyal hardcore NDP standpoint. Jack Layton is a great asset but the NDP is now a forced to deal with both for the Conservatives in ascendancy and the Liberals who now have an opening but with their own prospects still dimmed.
Some of us who still see Liberal-NDP merger possibilities sometime in the near future may now have seen that prospect as more likely to happen than ever before.  This is especially true if Jack Layton does not return. A merger would bring together the more progressive elements of Canadian politics under one tent as the Conservatives did when they merged The Reform Party with the Progressive Conservatives. That action has served to polarize Canadian politics.
The Liberals still say no because they not able to escape old ideas of returning to power as Canada’s Natural Governing Party. The NDP in respect of their leader's current situation will not bring up any prospects of a merger especially when they have achieved Official Opposition status. However, as I have written before, this merger is inevitable if the Conservatives are to be bested at the polls four or so years from now. 

Without Jack Layton both the Liberals and the NDP will be doing rebuilding providing the Harper government with a lot of majority government clear sailing. Is there an opportunity for political middle ground to emerge?  It is at this moment directly related to Jack Layton's health.
Bob Rae as the caretaker Liberal leader is sympathetic to a merger with the NDP by his earlier admission after the last election. However, the very temporary nature of his tenure will not enable him to start this process. It will have to come from the senior Liberal party officials. Not even that will happen as long as the prospect of Jack Layton's recovery is a possibility.
The status quo is what we will now get from the NDP as the Official Opposition. If they show any disorganization the Conservatives will eat them alive and as the memory of the Layton years as leader fades they will take off the gloves for bare knuckle rounds in the House of Commons and on the hustings splitting the vote again in their favour. That is why the Canadian middle and left political parties in this country must merge.
Sudden illness is always a change element both personally and for any organization the sick person leads. The reality is hard. Naturally we all want Jack Layton to recover and return to the Canadian political stage. However, the brutal truth is, no one, no matter how good, respected and loved they are is irreplaceable. The gritty business of providing an opposition against a right wing agenda endorsed by only 38 percent of the Canadian electorate remains no matter what leaders come and go.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, 23 July 2011

Elwy Yost O.C. 1925-2011. How to be a respected public figure and enjoy what you are doing.

Elwy Yost 1925-2011
What manner of man was Elwy Yost?
When Elwy’s name is mentioned everyone thinks of movies and particularly TVOntario’s Saturday Night At The Movies  the program that Elwy hosted for so long.  I knew Elwy before he got on the air with this famous program cooked up with Jim Hanley TVO's programming director. 
Elwy had done guest shots on CBC game shows and other series, but when I started at TVOntario he was the Manager of Regional Relations. He was in charge of a public relations job to introduce TVO (then the Ontario Educational Communications Authority) to the public across Ontario. There were five regional councils and that job kept him very busy. There may have been thoughts of movies but it was very much a sideline interest.
The Avro Arrow
Elwy came to public relations with great credentials. He had managed the Avro Arrow project’s public and media relations flawlessly. He was not a bitter man but he would grit his teeth when Prime Minister John Diefenbaker’s name was mentioned. After Diefenbaker canned the Avro Arrow so unceremoniously Elwy was never the same. It was a dreadful moment that haunted him because as he once said at lunch to me, “I am not a vindictive man, but the destruction of that project and that wonderful aircraft was a bleak moment that slapped Canadian expertise in the face and cut me very deeply.”  Elwy was the last paid employee of that ill fated project. He was there to the bitter end trying to do something decent during the destruction of all the planes and their parts.
At TVOntario, about 1975, I got to work with Elwy doing press work with him throughout the regions and also explaining our promotional plans to the Regional Councils we had set up to advise us. We went all over the province together. One week we would be in Thunder Bay, then Sudbury, then Ottawa, then Toronto and the Golden Horseshoe (now the GTA) and also in London and Windsor promoting the new Ontario Educational Communications Authority that morphed later into TVOntario and its 22 channel satellite fed network. 
Elwy had come from the defunct Metropolitan Educational Media Association (META) when the province decided that educational media would be concentrated into an  crown corporation the Ontario Educational Communications Authority (OECA). The public relations job he got after META was folded was Regional Relations for the new OECA.
The enthusiastic promoter...
Much later when Saturday Night At The Movies was very successful I could always rely on Elwy to appear with his season all done and teeming with promotional ideas for each week. He would show up at my office with his plan for the new season and he would take us through the entire Fall and Winter showing how he acquired movies that were relevant to the educational themes he had dreamed up. He also had his guest list organized for the interviews between the two movies.  He knew that
our attention was on getting excellent listings with the TV guides and coverage the media television writers. Elwy's attention to detail certainly helped us to do a long range plan to get  media coverage.
“Now I know you are not a bottomless pit of budget’ he would always start off “ But Saturday Night is a flagship program and you can link other promotions to us as useful cross promotions.” He had a smooth tongue but unlike other programs he was so organized we naturally wanted to help him.   He was always aware of budget restraints mainly because he stretched his own budget by buying huge packages of movies put together by wanton film distributors for local TV channels. “Those movie packages are like a gold mine”  Elwy enthused once at a meeting with my department, “we only use 10 to 15 percent of the titles, but those cheap packages are pure gold because we get the likes of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, and La Strada! ” His enthusiasm was infectious. 
Besides being a colleague during the exciting start up years at TVOntario, Elwy was always a decent upbeat person who loved what ever he was doing. I am certain that he put the same energy and devotion into the Avro Arrow, META that he put into his first TVO job and what the viewers saw on air as he hosted Saturday Night At The Movies  and his wonderful experiment cutting feature films into episodes for Magic Shadows. I was glad when he received The Order of Canada for his unique achievements utilizing films to provide educational opportunities. Rest well my friend.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Monday, 18 July 2011

The medium is the message is all about technical influences on culture.

Culture changes when new techniques are applied.

Probes into our times. Taking up Marshall McLuhan’s ideas.
What if your only communications medium was story telling? You were so good at it that members of your band or clan remembered your stories and passed them on. You are prehistoric because you have no permanent way to record your history. In fact recording anything is a completely foreign idea to you. You live in the moment and important things in your past experience are encoded in stories and tales for the campfire. 
Your history is only as good as your oral traditions. You had no phonetic alphabet and no way of recording your culture for the future except by orally transmitting it to your smartest child to remember and then pass it on again. That condition sets up a certain mind set and way of looking at the world. The concept of future may not be in your experience because you live each day at a time. The oral medium is the message.
Contrast the prehistoric situation above with your own today. You are surrounded by media, personal computers, all connected on the internet. You possess all manner of ways to record and transmit your culture. You are also your media. The media are the message because your culture is created by their existence. Media builds an influence that is separate from any content the media may carry.
If this basic idea is true then the technical environment created by media is the message. The form is more important than the content. Content is altered by the media and seen by its transmitters and receivers in the context of their technology. If your technology is oral then you rely of memory and stories. Even an oral culture with language changes or perhaps contributes to the evolution of humans and certainly it alters how they think.
Using this argument then our high technology culture must be having an evolutionary or at least a profound alteration to the culture itself. We cannot be immune or stay the same surrounded as we are by ubiquitous information and knowledge techniques. 
Lets return to our prehistoric example. I do this to simplify the argument that the medium is the message or the technique is the message. Stone technologies abound in prehistoric times and this technique as it developed altered how culture developed.
It is one thing to chip a pebble into a cutting edge to slice meat or into a hand ax to split bones for their protein rich marrow but it takes insight and knowledge passed on orally to create the next level of stone technology -pressure flaking. Stories can be practical.
A culture steeped in oral transmission of information and knowledge created pressure flaking. This technique transforms stone into ultra sharp razor edged implements. It’s a good idea with high utility and so it is readily adopted by all who see it.  Because it is useful they want learn how in prehistoric times. In contrast how do we learn our current high tech communications environment?  The medium is the message. 
Pressure flaking creates a very sharp edge. The flint stone is literally squeezed off the edge by another piece of flint or wood in smaller and smaller refinements until the edge is very sharp. Spear points made in this way penetrate large game and stay in. Combined with a spear throwing stick -the hunters transform their ability to safely kill big game from a distance. Hides could also be scrapped easier and faster for making clothing. The medium is the message. The technique itself transforms the culture. It also demonstrates another McLuhan idea "learning a living".
If this argument has merit then imagine just how much our culture is being transformed by sophisticated techniques not only in communications, information and knowledge at the speed of light. McLuhan called this the ‘Electric Age”. However the subtle influences of techniques in our times such gene, genome, and nano techniques may be worth pursuing so we can understand the influences of our tools on our lives.  An excellent pressure flaking demonstration. This information was only available at the campfire in prehistoric times.
A visual (images) Google search “pressure flaking”. How does this ability to pull up such a comprehensive array of information and knowledge alter how your culture works?
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Friday, 15 July 2011

Scour your house for your old gold. Melt down your memories of the past.

The gold bull market continues

Gold at $1600 US per ounce.  Is it such a good idea to be so bullish? 

by Tom Thorne
The price of an ounce of gold is nearing $1600 US ( actually yesterday $1589.56).  For someone who is old enough, like me, I can remember when gold was $32 US per ounce. The rise in price reflected in US dollars over the last 50 or so years is incredible. In those days major currencies were supported by gold reserves at this $32 value point. So what has changed?
Coupled by the debts of governments and individuals and the shaky world economic recovery, gold is seen by many investors as a hedge against loss of value of their personal assets but those assets are seen in old economic terms. Currencies without a gold standard to back them, are now simply pictures of Queen Elizabeth II, US presidents, or in our case in former Canadian prime ministers and are represented by virtual dollars on trading computers. They are only important because people, businesses and governments accept them. 
The truth is that the price of gold could fall and fall quicker than it went up to its current price. Is gold worth $1600 an ounce? If it is then the US is sitting on huge assets of 9300 tonnes of the stuff. That makes their concerns about debt ceilings look pretty small if they decided to use gold to settle their debts or back their currency once again. But it is all a house of cards.
If the US or other governments holding gold reserves flood the market with bullion then the price would drop as the supply increases. So no one seems to want to do that. In addition, Germany has 3400 tonnes, Italy 2450, France 2400, China 1200 and Switzerland about 1100 tonnes. Perhaps with these reserves currencies should revert back from being pretty printed pictures to being backed by gold reserves? Not likely.
Environmental and social costs mount
At $1600 per ounce it is profitable for companies to tear down mountains, destroy environments in the third world to find more or rework with toxic chemicals the tailings of old gold mines long forgotten as “mined out” when the price was much lower. Television commercials for companies willing to buy old gold jewelry to melt down are seen daily. The demand outpaces the supply and creates the inflated $1600 price point.
We seem to be in a Gold Rush these days. The real question we need to ask is how long is this gold bubble going to last?  In my view it will lose steam unless there is another fiscal foible like 2009 or the US Congress decides to play chicken politics with debt ceilings and debt reduction. Gold just sits in vaults and so it has little impact on day to day economics.
Faith in pretty picture currencies is only as good as people’s faith in their future and whether they are prepared to accept these shabby notes to as a medium for their transactions. The economy, now instant and 24-7, is not really based on perceptions of the public as it is by computers that are programmed to trade when conditions are right for profit. Since those perceptions are now being altered literally at the speed of light, time to decide what to do is the most valuable commodity we have. Perhaps it should be assigned a value to trade?
Time to think needed.
If time was valued by the nano second it would be a priceless on any commodity market. This valuable commodity is now so compressed that decisions are made by machine program trades as key variables for any commodity to rise or fall in value. Time is the most undervalued commodity now in use. It has a lot of demand and it is in short supply. In an information knowledge economy time is literally of the essence if useful decisions are to be made.
Gold like any other demand commodity is traded 24/7. If we had a simpler economy say when it was $32 per ounce, when this commodity traded at a leisurely pace and its price was fixed to maintain the value of major currencies. The price was not pure form without substance as it is now, it supported value and as a result economic stability.
When gold was removed as the basis of currencies these currencies became pretty pictures and began to fluctuate wildly and then constantly under the control of computerized systems. Governments turned on their currency printing presses. Gold began its rise in value as the currencies came off the printing presses in ever mounting inflated amounts. As these currencies began to trade on their own and there was more of this stuff around the price of gold rose in terms of value against these inflated printed pretty pictures. Hence gold is nearing $1600 per ounce.
Because the pretty pictures are inflated that is the value needed to trade one commodity against another. The pretty pictures are not worth a whole lot.  The real value is something less given the debt of those central banks printing the pretty pictures. That real value will find its value expressed in some kind of new perhaps virtual value system that will replace those piles of dog eared tangible bank notes.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Marshall McLuhan: Dead for 31 years and still relevant.

Marshall McLuhan 1911-1980

Celebrating Marshall McLuhan on his Centenary 1911-2011

by Tom Thorne
Marshall McLuhan was born in 1911. He died in 1980 after a stroke took away his ability to speak.  This year is his centenary year and in light of developments at our current stage of the “Electric Age” it is appropriate to celebrate this famous Canadian who in many ways saw our culture as it is now long before it happened.  You can take a look at the Marshall McLuhan website This site offers video clips of many interviews and speeches.
In addition, Penguin Books published a new biography in 2009 in their Extraordinary Canadians series edited by John Ralston Saul. The writer of this small but intriguing volume is Generation X author Douglas Coupland.
Learning our living at the coach house
As a Ryerson University student in the mid 1960’s studying broadcasting and journalism I often attended Marshall McLuhan “probe nights” at the coach house on the University of Toronto campus. The coach house had a fancy name, The Centre for Culture and Technology, but it was an informal place to meet and discuss media matters.
McLuhan would throw out “probes” to see where they led. One night his probes were directed at the cadre of attending Ryerson students who he saw as “media practitioners” albeit still in training. He considered us to be masters of technique and technical aspects especially of television. Questions like “had we noticed how television is an involving cool medium” as we produced programs and did we see the difference between radio’s “hot nature” and television’s “coolness” in our practical work?
The story I told that night to indicate the cool nature of television concerned sitting in a chair so my colleagues could set the studio lights for a two seat interview.  A classmate, sitting in the other chair, and I were having a heated discussion about Richard Nixon who that point had lost to President Kennedy in 1960 a few years before and it looked as if he had ambitions to run again for President which in did in 1968.  
Hot and cool media
As we sat in the chairs my classmate was heatedly going after some fatuous point I had made and losing his temper in the process. Other classmates in the control room recorded our argument which they found amusing. 
On the tape I was sitting back appearing relaxed as my classmate’s heated barbs and excellent debating points bounced off me. Throughout I looked really good and very relaxed, while my classmate looked hot and bothered.  I was stuffing a pipe with tobacco and then I lit it and I instantly became involving for the viewer. As a result I was unscathed by his excellent points and I had really said nothing of consequence.
On tape I was the winner because I was “cool” and he was “hot”. Content had nothing to do with it. It was clearly evidence for another McLuhan aphorism “the medium is the message”. McLuhan loved this story and we dubbed a copy of the tape for the Centre.

Marshall McLuhan is one of Canada’s greatest thinkers about our present times and yet he has been dead for 31 years. Here is a quote from Douglas Coupland’s book that drives this point home. It dates from 1962 and of course predates any notions of personal computing or the Internet by almost 20 years.
“The next medium, whatever it is--it may be an extension of consciousness--will include television as its content, not as its environment, and will transform television into an art form. A computer as a research and communications instrument could enhance retrieval, obsolesce mass library organization, retrieve the individual’s encyclopedic function and flip it into a private line to speedily tailored data of a saleable kind.”
Now that is prophetic since it is almost 50 years old.
© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All Rights Reserved

Saturday, 9 July 2011

A Napkin Note® concerning the future of information and knowledge.

The Future of Information and probably knowledge. A Napkin note for a new ebook.

Friday, 8 July 2011

This just in from Wikileaks...Obama napkin notes reveal US Debt plan.

Napkin notes reveal Obama plans for containing the Republican congress and getting them to pass an increase to the $14.3 trillion US debt load. The notes speak for themselves. CLICK ON THE PICTURE OF THE NOTES TO INCREASE SIZE.

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All rights reserved.

Will America go broke on 2 August 2011?

An economist thinks about what will happen when the American government can no longer borrow money after 2 August 2011. Will Congress allow President Obama to exceed the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling? Will Obama have to make deep cuts to spending? Is anyone too big to melt down? No one appears to know the answers. 

© Copyright 2011, Tom Thorne, All rights reserved.