Even as Occupy protests comes under increasing pressure from local governments, the movement’s ability to gain traction remains both remarkable and largely unexplained. In a tweet last weekend, author James Glick, a pioneer of literate tech reporting, suggested an off-the-wall metaphor:

I think #OWS was working better as an API than a destination site anyway.

The Atlantic’s tech editor Alexis Madrigal expands on this idea in a fascinating way, including a lucid explanation of how APIs — Application Programming Interfaces — work (for the 97 percent of us who have no idea).

The most fascinating thing about Occupy Wall Street is the way that the protests have spread from Zuccotti Park to real and virtual spaces across the globe. Metastatic, the protests have an organizational coherence that’s surprising for a movement with few actual leaders and almost no official institutions. Much of that can be traced to how Occupy Wall Street has functioned in catalyzing other protests. Local organizers can choose from the menu of options modeled in Zuccotti, and adapt them for local use. Occupy Wall Street was designed to be mined and recombined, not simply copied.

This idea crystallized for me yesterday when Jonathan Glick, a long-time digital journalist, tweeted, “I think #OWS was working better as an API than a destination site anyway.” If you get the idea, go ahead and skip ahead to the documentation below. If you don’t get, let me explain why it might be the most useful way of thinking about #Occupy.


In defence of Baillie

Earlier today I voiced my own misgivings, and reported those of the Pictou Bee, about Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie’s campaign to slow the replacement of coal fired generation with renewable electricity. Ballie’s chief of staff, Rob McCleave, defends his boss:

Jamie’s position is far less about politics and much more about good public policy than your blog (or the Bee) suggests.

The Environmental Goals & Sustainable Prosperity Act reflected an all-party consensus, only a few short years ago, but before the NDP formed government. It balanced environmental needs with economic needs. It set fairly aggressive and world class targets for the greening of our energy use. The NDP, not to be outdone in front of many of their partisans, who understandably want us to get to green as quickly as possible, abandoned consensus. They reset the environmental side of the goals, which allowed them to claim having bigger goals than other states and provinces. This sounds like a good thing, but the very sustainability of the march to green power got lost in the equation. Having lofty goals isn’t any good if people can’t afford them, and seasoned environmentalists know, no matter how good an idea is, that developing and maintaining a consensus is critical. People must be part of the solution. If you lose touch with the parade behind you, go home.

Get to green as quickly as possible? Absolutely, but couple that with the very real  needs of the people you ask to pay for that greenness – and several other things at the same time – or the consensus will be lost.

Jamie Baillie would not go back on the EGSPA consensus, with which he agrees. And he would take the time to see if a new one could be built. What he opposes is jacking the targets, hell-bent for glory, without considering the impact on people.

Of course, reasonable people can disagree about the pace, but politicians should avoid pandering to the public impression that we can keep power down by sticking with carbon-intensive fuels. We might for a year or two, or even five, but we would be courting medium- and long-term economic disaster.

Jamie Baillie’s unforced error?

I’m a friend and admirer of Jamie Baillie from long before he ran for office, but his recent foray into energy policy makes me nervous. Granted, the climate of public (and media) hostility to Nova Scotia Power makes the utility an almost irresistible target for politicians aiming at the premier’s office, but Baillie’s demand for easing up on renewable energy targets sounds to me like a short-term anaesthetic for long-term pain.

The Pictou Bee, an NDP-flavored blog, sees it the same way, calling it Baillie’s “unforced error.”

[O]ddly, Jamie Baillie and his Conservatives have decided that attacking renewable energy is good politics (if not good policy). They underestimate Nova Scotians interest in getting off coal, and they underestimate their core demographic’s interest in good green jobs.

The Bee accuses Baillie of taking the phrase “bite the bullet” out of context from a government energy plan, then adds:

Now, Nova Scotians don’t have a lot of love for Nova Scotia Power. It was run into the ground by the Liberals and then privatized by the Conservatives. Both were mistakes. But the rate increases the UARB is awarding to NSPI actually have to do with the rising price of coal – the very thing the NDP is looking to move Nova Scotia off.

This game the Conservatives are playing wins them no votes. Nova Scotians are not rubes. They will choose a party that moves Nova Scotia forward, not one that runs into the past.

Not sure about the last point. Baillie’s attack on renewable energy targets is not admirable, but it could find traction with irrationally NSP-hostile voters.

[Disclosure: I have been friends with Jamie Baillie for years, and I have done contract work, mostly writing, for NS Power and the NS Dept. of Energy.]
H/T: May Zhang

Silver Don: How a progressive mayor might have handled OccupyNS

On his Green Interview website, Silver Donald Cameron imagines how an innovative, creative mayor might have responded to OccupyNS: He starts by quoting the late Allan O’Brien, mayor of Halifax from 1966 to 1971.

The Mayor has very little actual power – but he has the power to bring people together, to encourage action on matters that he considers important. He has the power to influence the public agenda. He has access to the press. And if you use those powers strategically, you can accomplish quite a bit.”

Cameron muses:

Imagine if Peter Kelly had that kind of awareness, that sense of direction, when he looked out the window in the middle of October. Imagine if he’d gone down there with his eyes and ears open. Who are you? Where do you come from? What do you do? When I asked those questions, I found I was talking with some very interesting people. An education graduate from St. Francis Xavier University who was playing a mad scientist in a children’s theatre. A sustainability consultant. A young boutique farmer. A Mi’maq veteran. A postal worker. A filmmaker.

Silver Donald Cameron at the Remembrance Day eviction

Okay (the Mayor might have said), let’s not talk too much about things that are clearly national or provincial. What are the things that municipal governments actually can affect? Food? Maybe we need an innovative urban agriculture policy. What do you think such a policy might look like? Homelessness? Let me get a couple of property developers and someone from the province down here, and let’s brainstorm a little. Tell me about youth unemployment. Say that again, will you – there’s an organization in Winnipeg called Build that trains street people to do energy refits? Fascinating. Let’s get someone from Winnipeg down here to talk about that. How can I reach them? (Answer )…

What if the Mayor had treated the occupiers respectfully, as though they were actually citizens whose voices deserved to be heard, whose ideas might have merit, whose concerns might reflect the concerns of other citizens? What if the city had welcomed the arrival of new ideas, new insights, a passionate commitment to a better future? What if the Mayor had paused to reflect that the young people among them were not aliens or monsters – or bums or dregs or scum, as they have been called by adult commentators who should know better? These are our own children, brought up in Dartmouth and Moser River, Blandford and Fairview. What if the Mayor had contemplated the possibility that those young people probably are the future?

What if the Mayor had acted not as a short-sighted enforcer of petty bylaws, but as the wise, patient leader of a functioning community?

If he had acted like that, Peter Kelly would have taught the occupiers that civic engagement actually works, that change is possible, that older people can and do welcome the energy of youth in the quest for a better tomorrow. Instead, he taught them the exact opposite – that their concerns are not of interest, that their involvement in politics is not welcome, that civic leaders cannot be trusted, that violence is just fine as long as it’s the police who start the brawl.

If Peter Kelly had found a fresh, positive way to engage with Occupy Nova Scotia, the news would have gone around the world – just as the news of the eviction has gone around the world. Other cities that are also trying to figure out what to do next would have taken note. Halifax would have looked like the thoughtful, creative community that it is. And Peter Kelly would have been a hero, a prime contender for higher political office had he chosen to pursue that.

Like I said, history just tossed Kelly the political opportunity of a lifetime. He blew it. And we are all diminished by his failure.

The prematurely old lady of Argyl— er, Armdale

Sounding old before her time, Marilla Stephenson follows up the Chronicle-Herald’s ringing endorsement of the status quo with a ringing endorsement of middle class sensibilities. The protesters just had to go. They just had to. There had been an overdose in Vancouver or something. Enough is enough.

To this we respond:

Dear Marilla:

You walk into a room
With a piece of paper in your hand.
You see somebody naked,
And you say, “Who is that man.”
You try so hard,
But you just don’t understand.
Do you, Mrs. Stephenson?

With apologies to Robert Allen Zimmerman.

Cartoonist Bruce MacKinnon, on the other hand, gets it right.

A sympathetic reporter’s honest account of OccupyNS problems

Lots of reaction to HRMs forcible eviction of the Occupy Nova Scotia protesters. The best piece of actual reporting comes from a blog post by Bethany Horne, news curator for the recently launched indie website Openfile Halifax. A recent King’s grad with a progressive sensibility, Horne didn’t flinch from describing some of the incipient problems at the encampment:

[I]f the events of November 11 hadn’t happened, I’m not sure how much longer the gathering would’ve lasted. At the November 9 general assembly, tensions were high. The camp’s reputation for accepting anyone, giving them shelter, food and a makeshift community was attracting more people who needed help than people who were able to offer it. People who are homeless used the facilities at the camp: the medical supplies, the food, the kitchen, the common “hang-out” area. People are homeless in Canada for many reasons, but there is usually an addiction in their past or present, or a mental health issue. Homeless youth are usually fleeing the addictions or abuse in whatever house they escaped from.

This community of needy people became a sometimes violent place. There were clashes. The healthiest residents, from luckier backgrounds, who were there because of strong political convictions, were being attacked, a lot of times by the residents of the camp who were frequently in need of help. Either the healthy help-givers were not helping the help-needers enough, or they had made some mistakes that tend to happen when you’re overworked and only human. On Tuesday night, many Occupiers had been sick, throwing up in their tents. Sanitation had become an issue. Too many people eating, not enough people doing dishes, or not doing them well enough. Some people had been threatened, verbally or with weapons, and due to weariness some key political organizers had taken to spending more time away from the camp than at it.

In effect, Utopia was already being saddled with the ‘problem people’ our general society has major challenges assimilating. They had to host the rejects we sweep under the rug into jails, homeless shelters and the foster system all over the country.


That retreat away from the square and to the park had already affected the morale of the camp in more ways than was acknowledged to the press. The space was bigger, and camp had been allowed to spread out more. Divisions that already existed were allowed to geographically materialize. The centre of camp life was the paved square at the head of the park, facing the busiest pedestrian corner in the city. The living quarters of the Occupy camp sprawled South, down a narrow and long green space bordered by a much quieter street, residential towers, and a hospital. The deeper into the camp you went, the further away from the public. That’s where kids went to do drugs, and where it felt a little dangerous walking past sunset.

Predictably, many OccupyNS critics took this honest reporting to mean Horne supported the eviction, which she obviously did not. But she had the gumption to report problems on the side of the issue that drew her sympathies, and for that, good on her. The Chronicle-Herald and others could learn from this example of integrity.

Anyone but the incumbents

Contrarian reader Dana Doiron writes:

I remember listening to Peter Kelly giving early warning that the occupiers would have to leave the Grand Parade to accommodate Remembrance Day and seasonal activities. He spoke of respect for the rights of the occupiers and the importance of dialogue on issues confronting us collectively. I was impressed with his search to accommodate the occupiers elsewhere and then with the assistance provided to relocate them to Victoria Park.

I visited the assembly at Victoria Park and was pleased to see the civil interaction with other Haligonians and, particularly, with police officers.

I also heard the Mayor of Montreal speak last week about the difference between the Arab spring and Montreal where the respect the rights of individuals to gather to address common problems would trump inconvenience and appearances. I was proud that Halifax and Montreal at least, were united in civility and mindful of priorities.

That went down the drain on Friday. The fact that the vote to evict was unanimous will probably make it easier at election time: almost anyone but the incumbents.

Councillor Watts sides with Kelly — update

HRM District 14 Councillor Jennifer Watts has issued an apology for her role in Saturday’s forcible eviction of Occupy Nova Scotia. She still believes the parks bylaw trumps Charter guarantees of free speech and the right to assemble peacefully, but she now regrets the Remembrance Day timing and the failure to explore alternative resolution methods. Her silence on those issues, “was a serious error in judgment on my part for which I sincerely apologize.” Full text here.

Here’s the Halifax I love

While puffed up pols and media toffs worked overtime this week to present Halifax at its snotty, hidebound worst, one local business demonstrated the city’s best spirit. During tonight’s Occupy Nova Scotia rally on the Parade Grounds, a carload of free pizza arrived from Freeman’s Little New York, together with a note:

And how did the Occupy Nova Scotia kids respond? They voted to donate one of the pizzas to the HRM cops. Now that is classy.

Photo: Bethany Horne; H/T: Chris Lambie

This is your brain on… ahem

Last year, we published a snapshot of Contrarian’s brain as he listened to Costas Halavrasos on Maritime Noon. Psychobiologist Barry R. Komisaruk of Rutger’s University in New Jersey has done me one better, by releasing a stop motion animation showing sequential MRI brain scans of 54-year-old PhD student and sex therapist Nan Wise as she manually stimulated herself to orgasm.

It is not known whether Wise was listening to Halavrasos at the time.

The first portion of the video shows a sequence of 20 snapshot fMRI images, taken over a 12 minute period, during which Wise approached orgasm, achieved orgasm, and entered a refractory period.

The scan detects oxygen levels in the blood that reflect the varying activity in 80 different regions of the brain. The animation uses a “hot metal” colour scale, beginning with dark red (low activity) and progressing through orange and yellow to white (highest activity).

H/T: Vicky Salazar