Governance and the Internet

April 18, 2015

Orwell, Assange and  Snowden

Skill testing question…..what do these three have in common? All have been concerned with the state using technology to spy on and control its citizens. When George Orwell wrote 1984 in 1948, he recognised the issues, but had no idea of how the technology would develop to allow the state and others to spy on and influence citizens. When Julian Assange and Edward Snowden showed what and how the US government in 2014 actually collected, stored and used information in to spy on people at home and abroad, they confirmed Orwell’s warnings. Today, Assange shelters in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London to avoid arrest and deportation to Sweden; to avoid US authorities, Snowden resides in Moscow, where he was recently interviewed by John Oliver for a US television broadcast. Snowden had been the subject of a documentary film, CitizenFour.

In January 2013, Laura Poitras received an encrypted e-mail from a stranger who called himself Citizen Four. In it, he offered her inside information about illegal wiretapping practices of the US National Security Agency (NSA) and other intelligence agencies. Poitras had already been working for several years on a film about monitoring programs in the US that were the result of the September 11 attacks. In June 2013, accompanied by investigative journalist Glen Greenwald and The Guardian intelligence reporter Ewen MacAskill, she went to Hong Kong with her camera for the first meeting with the stranger, who identified himself as Edward Snowden. Several other meetings followed. The recordings gained from the meetings form the basis of the film. (Wikipedia).

 

Fast forward to today and the topic of the internet, what it is, what it does and what governments should do about it is the subject of numerous studies which bring together specialists from different disciplines to provide their analysis and recommendations. This material is extensive and often repetitive. One example of a paper providing an informed succinct survey of many of the issues is Melissa Hathaway, Connected Choices: How the Internet is Challenging Sovereign Decisions (Paper No. 11, April 2015 for the Global Commission on Internet Governance, CIGI and Chatham House. The Economist provides informed content of developing issues in the field.

The question posed here is whether we have been here before in dealing with a similar range of issues concerning the introduction of new communications technology. If so, then the caveat that “everything old is new again” may be a useful point of departure in discussing internet governance.

The Internet provides a means to create, store and transmit information which can be used for multiple purposes – messaging, banking, education, health services, news, book and magazine publishing, blogs, entertainment, delivery of government services, control of power grids, national defense, making and breaking criminal activities. Anything that can have an e- placed in front of it has internet implications.

Each of the listed activities has a formal and/or informal governance structure, sometimes one or more government departments or agencies, or governance organized by those involved in the activity. Thus, in Canada, the CRTC does it for telecommunications, and private producers for deciding whether food is “organic” or “gluten free.”

Given the pervasiveness of the internet, it may be ambitious to expect that it would be either easy or possible to arrange for its governance as a whole, as opposed to a particular activity which is internet related. Exhibit 1 summarises the difference between governance and government.

 

Exhibit 1.

“Governance refers to “all processes of governing, whether undertaken by a government, market or network, whether over a family, tribe, formal or informal organization or territory and whether through laws, norms, power or language.” It relates to “the processes of interaction and decision-making among the actors involved in a collective problem that lead to the creation, reinforcement, or reproduction of social norms and institutions.” 

To distinguish the term governance from government: a government is a formal body invested with the authority to make decisions in a given political system. ” (Wikipedia)

 

The case of publishing

Consider publishing as one activity impacted by the internet, and the governing regimes which have grown up over time. Publishing has a long history from development of speaking, creation of letters, alphabets and words, preparation of documents first by hand, then the printing press and now electronic word processing and distribution.

Scribes in monasteries fought the introduction of the printing press which went through changes from the setting of lead type to the use of typewriters and computers. In the UK, it took a Rupert Murdoch to break the grip of unions representing lead typesetters, some of whom were retrained to type on keyboards. This was a labour issue related to changing technology and largely unconnected with regime change except for any relevant labour laws.

 

In this industry, governance comes to the fore when considering copyright:

 “The history of copyright law starts with early privileges and monopolies granted to printers of books. The British Statute of Anne1710, full title “An Act for the Encouragement of Learning, by vesting the Copies of Printed Books in the Authors or purchasers of such Copies, during the Times therein mentioned”, was the first copyrights statute. Initially copyright law only applied to the copying of books. Over time other uses such as translations and derivative works were made subject to copyright and copyright now covers a wide range of works, including maps, performances, pantings, photographs, sound recordings, motion pictures and computer programs.”

 

Other rights, such as the moral rights of authors, evolved to increase the returns to authorship. Copyright was also used as censorship to assist the sovereign in managing news and opinions.

The terms of compensation and length of copyright ownership rights are constantly debated today, with authors lobbying to extend the protection granted to them by law. Note, a similar argument relates to patent rights, and is used by pharmaceutical and other firms to protect their intellectual property.

The accumulated protection has been weakened or undermined by the internet. It has reduced the ability of copyright owners to protect their rights. There are continual attempts to revise the laws and copyright regimes which exist to deal with electronic publishing and the use of material. This is red meat for the legal profession, which is paid to protect both owners and those seeking to introduce more competition into the intellectual property market. Economists have not done badly either as consultants in this debate.

A history of the regime for authorship, publishing and distribution, shows the way the regime has changed and is now affected by the new technology. In order to establish governance for the internet as a whole, it will be necessary to address each aspect of its impact, that is each industrial, social and political activity which is affected by it. Constructing one overall regime would seem to be a challenge to say the least. And considering there are around 200 countries in the world, each of which claims sovereignty in some sense, the challenge may be overwhelming.

 

The case of broadcasting

Fast forward to Canada in 2015, where debate swirls around the domestic regime for television. The broadcasting regulator has ruled that Canadians should, at last, be allowed to pick and pay for the channels they want to watch – as they do for food when they buy groceries in the supermarket. Previously, the regime has required that consumers be offered TV channels in bundles regardless of whether they wanted them, and some of these channels would be required to carry a certain amount of content that was branded as Canadian.

Branding meant application of a formula regarding such things as the nationality of the inputs used in the program. Requiring Canadians to view these programs proved impossible to enforce, and is even more so now with services like Netflix, YouTube and material available on the web.

The point is that the regime for broadcasting has evolved with a complex set of rules which benefited certain groups but ignored the interest of others, viewers in this case. The same thing is likely to happen when developing a regime for the wide range of activities which make use of the internet. Governance of individual activities is often complex, governance of the whole will be a Herculean task. Today about 40% of the world’s population of seven billion have internet access. In the next few years the figure is likely to rise to 80%.

An Older Adult?

April 14, 2015

In a neighbourhood park, the City of Ottawa has kindly placed a new bench. It is inscribed for the “Older Adult.” Not the old person, senior, pensioner, retiree or even old man (sorry person), shrively, wrinkly, old fart (or even something a little earthier).  I know I belong to the ranks of older adults. But is it not possible to use a phrase which describes clearly who I am? And how am I to know how old an older adult has to be to use this convenience?

Do Empires make a Difference?

April 5, 2015

The Ottoman and British Empires
Two decades before I was born, the Ottoman Empire ended and evolved into a group of new countries superimposed on old real estate. About the same time (1918-1960s) the British Empire also wound down. These large entities, both of which had had centuries of global political and economic influence, came to an end. They were followed by two superpowers or kind of empires, the U.S. and the USSR which exist today (the latter as Russia), both with waning influence, more so in the case of the USSR, and both engaged in international conflicts.

Fast forward to 2015. How are the influences of these two empires reflected in today’s geographical areas and issues of conflict? Empires make a difference, but often in unpredictable ways. Is it the case, that the toxic situations which now exist in the Middle East, North Africa, Greece, the former Yugoslavia and the Ukraine for example, can be linked to events surrounding both but especially the Ottoman Empire?

My schooling was deficient (probably in many ways). It exposed me to the history of the Roman and British empires, but with little attention paid to the Ottoman Empire. Understanding the rise and fall of the Ottomans may be a crucial factor in appreciating what is happening today. Those interested can view a three part BBC television series (available on the web) which provides an excellent summary of the rise and demise of the Ottomans.

Similarities and differences

  1. The genesis of the Ottoman Empire was a town in Turkey, whence it expanded to rule parts of Europe, North Africa and the Middle East. A map shows the furthest scope of the Ottomans with its boundaries of influence waxing and waning over six centuries from the 1300s. See:

http://peter.mackenzie.org/history/maps43.htm (other maps on the web provide similar information.)

 

  1. Today’s Arab Spring and recent conflicts in the former Yugoslavia, and southern parts of what was the USSR such as the Ukraine and the Crimea, coincide with areas once controlled by the Ottomans. Post hoc ergo propter hoc is a risky form of argument, but it may be worthwhile seeing whether the circumstances of the Ottomans help explain today’s conflicts.

 

  1. Another major player to consider at least for part of this period is the role of the British Empire. As a maritime empire with its lands spread around the world, the British, English at first, had a variety of preoccupations. North America evolved as a colony of settlement, at first with people mainly from what became the UK, and then from other European countries and later those from Asia and Latin America. Australia and New Zealand were also settlement colonies, unlike the Indian subcontinent where the British went mainly for reasons of trade in competition with other European countries, especially Portugal, France and the Netherlands in the East Indies. Maritime power and control over trade routes were crucial to Britain’s imperial development. In India, England interacted with an ancient civilization.

 

 “In the beginning there were two nations. One was a vast, mighty and magnificent empire, brilliantly organized and culturally unified, which dominated a massive swathe of the earth. The other was an undeveloped, semi-feudal realm, riven by religious factionalism and barely able to feed its illiterate, diseased and stinking masses. The first nation was India. The second was England. (Indian Summer, Alex Von Tunzelmann, 11).”

 

  1. Places like the West Indies, Gibraltar, Malta, Hong Kong and the Falkland Islands were colonised for reasons of either control over trade routes or for trade itself. British actions involving the Suez Canal were also trade related. While the Ottomans were not uninterested in trade, part of their motivation was to expand political control over neighbouring lands, and to tax the subject peoples

 

  1. The religious dimension was different for the two empires. While Christian missionaries were active in parts of the empire such as Africa, in India the British rulers were content to let the local religions (muslim, hindu, sikh) operate with minor interference to prevent practices like suttee (widow burning), which was outlawed by the British Raj in 1829. Trade predominated in British territorities, and different religions could pursue their traditional customs if they didn’t interfere with trade.

 

  1. The religious dimension of the Ottoman Empire was different. The lands they ruled embraced Christians, Jews, Muslims and other religious sects, and the holy places of worship in Mecca, Medina and Jerusalem. The Hagia Sofia, originally a Christian place of worship for the Greek Orthodox Church from 537 to 1483, converted to an Imperial Mosque until 1931 when it became a museum. The Ottomans appeared adept at ruling peoples of different religious faith. They extended their reach to neighbouring lands, but had little interest in developments taking place further afield, such as across the Atlantic. They appear to have imploded but for reasons other than religion. I am not sure why, but while the British Empire was continually revitalising itself, until it finally became overextended at least financially, the Ottomans were more inward looking and were gradually pushed back, especially after their defeat by the Austrians at Vienna in 1683.

 

    The two empires cooperated and competed at various times after 1800. The Crimean War (1853 – 1856) pitted Russia against an alliance of France, Britain and the Ottoman Empire. Competing religious factions saw the Russians promoting the interests of orthodox Christians and the French the rights of Catholics in lands controlled by the Ottomans. The British and French also allied to prevent the Russians gaining territory and power at the expense of the Ottomans who were declared “the sick man of Europe.” In particular, the British wanted to prevent Russia getting access to the Mediterranean which could threaten its trade route to the east. The Suez Canal opened in 1869, but the Mediterranean was seen as part of the trade route before this. Three Afghan wars were also fought by the British in order to prevent southward expansion by Russia, a country short of warm water coastal ports.

 

    The British and Ottoman empires came into direct military conflict when Turkey allied with Germany against Great Britain during WW1. Churchill promoted the action which led to the British defeat at Gallipoli in 1915, but overall defeat of the axis powers resulted in the final dismantling of the Ottoman Empire in the peace negotiations after 1918. Gallipoli also saw the rise of Ataturk as the Turkish ruler who would create a modern Islamic state where Christians and Muslims coexisted, although not always peacefully. Today Turkey has a leader who is leading more towards Muslim side of the coin.

 

  1. Today, the footprint of the British Empire is found in the Commonwealth, an association of 53 countries, two of which Madagascar and Rwanda were never part of the Empire. The member countries account for 25% of the world’s land area, about one-third of the world’s population and 17% of world GDP. If the US is added, the share of world GDP climbs to 35%. Before its rebellious exit, the US was the jewel in the imperial crown. The Commonwealth countries are united by a combination of language, history, culture, shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

 

  1. A similar report card for the Ottoman Empire would be viewed less favourably in most parts of the world. The most obvious difference is that today, racial and religious violence is taking place in many of the places which were once ruled by the Ottomans. Even if there is not global acceptance of universal human rights, which are seen by some to be western-oriented rights, there is universal horror of the torture, beheadings and genocidal tendencies taking place in parts of the world. Most of these places were once part of the Ottoman Empire. Maybe it’s a coincidence and I repeat, post hoc ergo propter hoc is a tricky path to follow,but its worth thinking about. It coincides with David Pilling’s conclusion (Financial Times Feb. 27, 2015) that “The Middle East is completely imprisoned in the past. Nobody can let go.”

 

Lee Kwan Yew and post colonial nations

March 26, 2015

“Lee (Kwan Yew) would surely regret not having survived just a few more months to witness Singapore’s 50th anniversary celebrations this August. But he can rest in peace knowing that the country he led from 1959 to 1990 is the world’s most successful post-colonial nation. Gulf monarchies are laden with bling but vulnerable to wars, coups, and falling oil prices. Africa needs another half-century to heal its colonial scars. India is only beginning to get its act together. Meanwhile, Singapore has grown from having a per capita GDP of $516 in 1965 to about $55,000 today.” (Foreign Policy, March 22, 2015)

 

In many ways Singapore is a gem, but rating it in contrast to countries like China, India and the US is an apples and grapes situation. There are just too many differences (Singapore 4.6 mil v. China 1.4 bn population) to make comparisons interesting except in a few ways. Singapore is politically stable, if not wholly democratic, efficiently managed, has experienced continuous economic growth, is safe and willing to try policies such as road pricing, and prepared to drop whatever does not work. Its civil servants and politicians are well paid and severely punished if they engage in corruption. The statement that it is “….the world’s most successful post-colonial nation…,” and that “Africa needs another half-century to heal its colonial scars. India is only beginning to get its act together,” which caught my attention.

Much is written about the impact of the British and other European Empires, and it will always be possible to provide both glowing as well as highly critical assessments. Mine takes countries in today’s world and looks at some of them in the light of their former imperial connections. To what extent can the good and naughty parts be assigned to previous colonizations? How are these countries working today?

  1. Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United States all rank highly in various political, economic and social country league tables. There is plenty to criticize in each but they rank way above countries which are obvious dictatorships like Russia, China, North Korea and those in the Middle East. Areas of today’s Middle East, such as Egypt, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq were parts of the Ottoman, British and French Empires, but it was the Ottomans who had the longest sway over these areas until 1918.

 

  1. The Indian subcontinent with today’s India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Myanmar and merging into Malaysia, Singapore and Borneo have all been part of the of the British Empire and now Commonwealth; all have experienced economic and political progress with improved human rights, some obviously more so than others. Each has had to combine different racial and religious groups.

 

  1. Africa is a more difficult region to assess. It is a land area with enormous physical differences from the northern Mediterranean coast to the desert region to the south, and then to South Africa. Dutch, British, French, Portuguese, Belgian, Spanish, German and briefly Italian colonization took place. Only in a few of these areas such as South Africa and parts of East Africa, did political and economic progress occur. Bechuanaland and Mauritius are often held up as examples of successful development but these have relatively small populations, 1.8 mil and 1.4 mil respectively – the Singapores of Africa.

 

  1. Those who travel from East to South Africa today tell of the poverty in urban and rural areas, and mainly subsistence farming which is labour intensive with little mechanization. In many places, especially in rural areas, nothing much seems to have improved in centuries, either where there has or has not been an imperial presence. My overall impression is that, while not much improved with colonization, without it these regions would be living in the tribal type circumstances which prevailed before the colonists arrived. These people would not be living where a contemporary version of the universal human rights is recognized as it is in many parts of the world. Foreign aid has attempted to promote development but it may be that it is a deterrent and countries should devise their own path to development.

 

  1. There are other parts of the world which were touched by the British Empire, such as the Caribbean and parts of South America with investment and trade. The empire also traded with China (opium), Japan, and Russia amongst others. And western Europe was drawn into economic relationships as well as wars involving the British Empire. While the outcome reveals a mixed record which does not lend itself to accurate measurement as there is no agrred upon metric, it is probably a better one than would have existed without the British presence.

The History of England by Peter Ackroyd, that is excluding Scotland, Wales and Ireland which later combined with England to become the United Kingdom, concludes that England was itself a colonized country with invasions mainly from folk in Scandinavia and north-west Europe. These were assimilated with those who were native to England to morph eventually into England and later the United Kingdom. Whatever the ingredients were which allowed this small piece of real estate to create such an empire was itself the product of colonizers. Maybe geography had something to do with it. Centuries earlier England was joined to the French mainland, and the 26 mile stretch of water between England and western Europe did not exist. If it had, perhaps the history and geography of western Europe would have been different and Britain’s empire never existed.

News Reporting – the search for quality

March 22, 2015

News reporting, print, radio and TV, has morphed into another form of entertainment with actual news buried in other content including advertising. The 24 hour news cycle is the result of radio, TV and internet delivery which needs material to fill a greatly expanded carriage capacity. But because there is not enough genuine news to fill the space available, the carriers create or invent news and views to fill the pipes. By genuine news, I mean items which are of interest to viewers interested in topics typically found on the pages of a printed daily newspaper. Of course there are many other interests such as the hobbies which people enjoy and which could and often do fill the space, but the delivery of traditional news has taken a turn for the worse…in my view.

 

There are some redeeming features. The 24 hour news cycle has spawned programs like the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, delivered on the US Comedy Channel (available on CTV in Canada) and using material from Fox News, CNN and MSNBC to highlight the often biased and ridiculous nature of the reporting by these news channels. These tend to fabricate news if it does not exist. John Oliver does a similar program financed by HBO. Unfortunately English-language Canada has no such show. Rick Mercer operates in a somewhat similar vein but without Stewart’s bite. This is a bit surprising in that Canada has produced probably more comedians per capita, but they often make their name in the US, such as Sandra Bee and Jason Jones On the Daily Show, and others on Saturday Night Live.

 

News reporting is and always has been mixed with commentary, with the comments often reflecting a particular political or other viewpoint. One difference now is that the news channels look for people who will be deliberately provocative, which is fair game, but their provocation can come in such a biased or unbalanced way that it undermines any value their comments might have, and casts doubts on the reliability of the delivery channel as well as the commentator.

 

I suppose it is time to provide names to illustrate my view. In Canada, I find the commentary and reporting of Andrew Coyne, Geoffrey Simpson and Christy Blatchford amongst others to be well researched, argued and presented, even when I don’t agree with the position taken. Accordingly I am inclined to read the general editorials of the publisher or broadcaster who would hire such journalists.

 

At the other end of the scale, when I read the rants of Michael Harris in various news outlets, I read the contributions of a man who could not see a good conservative if one was placed under his nose, and would be unable, perhaps unequipped, to examine the implications, good as well as bad, of conservative policies past and proposed. Some may like his reporting. For me he is a disgrace to the profession of journalism, if that is his calling. Accordingly, it casts a shadow on the news outlets which carry his and other materials.

 

Another scribe with similar attributes is Robert Fife who moderates Question Period on CTV. A moderator’s role is to poses question about issues of the day and to ask informed panelists for their opinions. CTV’s panelists are usually well informed but they are presented with issues where the moderator exposes his own opinion instead of just the question. The panelists often try to provide balance but constant interventions are made by Fife to guide them back to his viewpoint. The consequence for me is that Question Period is no longer a useful Canadian news program. Fortunately there are other news sources to interact with, increasingly on the internet, which compete with the established news channels.

 

There is an alternative model operating in Canada and the US. Steve Paquin, the moderator of TVO’s The Agenda performs in a manner which appeals to me. He selects tough issues, assembles an informed panel, often with opposing views, and poses questions to them without inserting his own opinion. Perhaps this is why he is often chosen to moderate leaders’ debates at election time. In the US, the PBS Newshour and Washington Week in Review provide balanced reporting overseen by an informed and intelligent moderator. Charlie Rose is another hour long interview program on PBS which has the interviewer asking the questions and the guest rather than the interviewer answering them.

 

While the 24 hour news cycle is responsible for the reduced quality of news reporting on traditional channels, there are bright spots. Individuals rather than large news organizations can post material on the internet which is instantly available. It is a challenge to determine who is worth reading or listening to, but the menu of reporters and commentators is expanding and word of mouth directs members of the audience to quality reporting and commentary. The world has changed because of technology, but this is a good news story which can improve the operation of news reporting as well as news organizations.

Cows and Content

March 18, 2015

Milk from contented Canadian cows and TV programs from contented Canadian producers are two items which remain protected by Canadian policies. While dairy products can be labeled Canadian if they come from a cow residing in Canada, no such clear labeling attaches to Canadian TV content. It might be based on a story written abroad, contain foreign composed music, foreign words, foreign actors but still be considered Canadian if it attracted enough brownie points in each of these areas to make it Canadian according to a carefully administered set of policies. While people consume milk and its products whatever its national origins and ask no questions, they have to be offered only Canadian milk to make the dairy quotas work. This happens and a shrinking number of dairy farmers are enriched by the policy at the expense of consumers.

 

When it comes to TV programs, viewers choose on the basis of taste, quality and what they consider as good entertainment regardless of where it originated. This often comes from abroad. There was a time, decades ago now, when there were only a few channels to watch, and viewers would be forced to select from this limited menu. This has now changed with the growth of internet delivered programming (Netflix for example) and Canadian programs face stiffer competition which decimates the means to administer Canadian content regulations.

 

The regulator, the CRTC, can always force TV stations and cablecasters to carry Canadian programs even when few watch them. This exists today with, for example, religious, ethnic and gender channels, where the audiences are often so small that they cannot be supported by advertising. The regulator can require stations to broadcast them, but viewers cannot be required to watch, at least in numbers which make them commercially viable.

 

Communications technology has now evolved so that viewers no longer have to select programs received from TV antenna or cable, but, as noted, can choose from internet offerings with Netflix, Amazon and Apple providing three viewing and listening options. The CRTC (in March 2015) has recognized the inevitable and proposes to adjust their Canadian content rulings to current circumstances.

 

Patrick Doyle provides an excellent survey of what happened, why past CRTC policies don’t work and why the proposed CRTC actions are inevitable, and too may not work.

http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/television/john-doyle-crtcs-new-plans-good-luck-with-the-blue-skies-and-cul-de-sac-thinking/article23432611/

Canadian content rules

The policies no longer achieve their objectives, which in my view were outdated many years ago and only ever had limited effectiveness. It may have made sense to have a Canadian national broadcaster and content policies for commercial operators when radio and TV were infant industries from the 1920s through perhaps to the 1960s. In the early days foreign, especially US programming swamped the Canadian airwaves for radio and TV and some Canadian backed input was required. But like any subsidized activity a lobby grew for its continued and expanded support, hot-housing a group of beneficiaries who are protected from the competition they need to face in order to survive in a commercial marketplace.

 

If the CBC had been funded solely by government as opposed to a combination of government and commercial revenue, then it could perhaps justify its operation which has a declining audience share for its English and French language services. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation has been financed entirely from the public purse, does not have to justify its audience share, and is not in competition with commercial broadcasters. The BBC and PBS have different financing models which have survived public and commercial scrutiny. However all these models will need to be and are being revised in the light of today’s technology. Not only viewers but content producers will benefit once they adapt to the opportunities of the new technology. Some producers are already doing so.

Technology comes to post secondary education

March 10, 2015

 

Introduction

The plight of sessional lecturers is a lesser issue, compared with the probable plight of all lecturers and the universities where they work. Online degrees at a fraction of the cost of on campus degrees pose real competition. So far online has not eaten into the on campus experience, but it will as soon as these course are seen as providing an official credential. And that will begin to happen soon – or another of my predictions will be proved wrong.

You can stop here and read Kevin Carey’s New York Times article of March 5, 2015, “Here’s What Will Truly Change Higher Education: Online Degrees That are Seen as Official.”

 

The potential of online

Higher education has become ridiculously expensive with the combination of fees, away from home living costs and lost income from not working. The on campus experience has features not available from online learning, but there are other ways of gaining this experience. Many students today are on campus and on their cell phones and pads anyway, interacting with other people and web material electronically rather than face to face. Universities, in order to compete for students, have turned the on campus experience into a country club-type ambiance with athletic facilities, social clubs, sports medicine clinics, restaurants, shops and services not directly related to traditional delivery of disciplinary learning.

 

Those who want this full monty educational experience will have to pay for it, and the Ivy League and Oxbridge experience will be less affected. Those more concerned with an education in a narrower sense will now be able to afford it with a credential which employers recognize. I know, the narrower experience is not what education is all about, but there are now more efficient ways to get a sound education in a cost efficient manner, plus the time and means to buy the other aspects (the country club trimmings) as well. At least, that is what Kevin Carey argues and it seems to make sense.

 

The tsunami-like technological changes which have hit the banking, movie, music, television, telecommunications, publishing (books, newspapers and less so magazines), retail and manufacturing industries is coming to education. Many instructors in schools and colleges are already embracing the technology in their teaching in traditional institutions. Classroom lectures are often available as power-point presentations, sometimes online before the live lecture. A student has the option of attending the live lecture but need not, and online discussion groups may also exist.

 

Off-campus learning started way back with correspondence courses, and in the 1960s with televised courses, the Open University in the UK, and today online courses. (Carleton University was one of the early providers of televised courses with tapes available for student use, but it never experimented with the technology to develop other options. I once attended a lecture where the course was given on a screen in a lecture room, darkened like a movie theatre. A student next to me watched for a few minutes, and unimpressed said she was going to the do her laundry. I have no idea whether she watched the tape later, but it forever reminded me to try to be interesting when lecturing, or as L.A.G.Strong, a literary critic wrote “Think of the reader not yourself. Make everything interesting. Write about everything – even linoleum.”)

 

This raises the current dispute involving part time or sessional lecturers who argue that their work load has increased without a commensurate increase in remuneration. If their contractual terms have been broken, or if they want to strike for better terms, the procedures are available to do so. Here I want to take note of the market for university instruction.

 

Teaching as a type of outsourcing

Outsourcing abroad and temporary foreign workers are two sides of the same coin. If the price is right, work will be sent from Canada a high wage country to a low wage country. If the work has to be performed in Canada, then foreign workers are brought to Canada. The latter occurs for agricultural workers especially at harvest time, for home helpers and in areas like Northern Alberta where there is or has been a resource boom. All use some temporary or part time workers. A form of this takes place in universities.

Opportunities occur for part-time workers in higher education where two types of teaching labour are employed. Tenure track employees receive detailed screening and are evaluated in their first years of employment before being granted tenure, a contract which provides a high degree of income security. Some may not receive tenure. A second type of worker are part-timers, sessional lecturers hired to teach a particular course or series of courses at a much lower salary. These are not expected to undertake administrative chores or research, and so they perform a different type of job.

 

Since at least the 1960s, classes in Canadian universities, especially at the first year level in the arts and social sciences, have been taught by sessional lecturers. Over time, their use has increased as student enrollment has risen in total and as a proportion of the 18 to 24 age group.

 

The economics of this process is straightforward. More students require more resources, teaching and other. This is paid for either by raising student fees or through taxation. There is no free ride and “water bed” economics applies – change in one area inevitably causes changes elsewhere. When a change occurs in one part of the educational market, say more students, increased resources are required to supply the demand. Full time faculty is the desired path but teaching can be provided at a lower cost with sessionals. The quality may not be the same but as Quebec students have shown, many are not prepared to pay higher fees. The quality of their education will suffer but this seems to be acceptable, at least at the moment.

 

Over time the number and share of courses given by part-time teachers has risen. What are the consequences? For the university, teaching cost increases are reduced. Flexibility is maintained by the nature of the sessional contract. Quality control of teaching can be managed for sessionals who are evaluated after each course by the students. Poor ratings result in teachers not being rehired. It is far more difficult to dismiss a tenured employee even with poor student course evaluations.

 

There are issues which arise with the use of student evaluations with students and their parents lobbying and expecting to get high grades, and faculty catering to these expectations. Research on this topic shows that there has been grade inflation not only in schools but in universities. Both full and part time university teachers are subject to these pressures. With online courses, the pressure for grade inflation should be reduced. Firms will want to show that the credentials they issue are seen as valuable and informative to employers.

 

At the high school level in Ontario, the proportion of graduates who are Ontario scholars has steadily increased since the late 1960s when province wide exams were abolished and now each school grades its own Grade 12 students. Those with an 80% graduating average has risen from 20% in the 1960s to 60% today. (I have discussed this in a Aug. 12, 2014 posting.) The Ontario government is reluctant to provide the time series data for this conclusion, but teachers and former students will confirm this.

 

Another aspect of the teaching market is that while university courses may be taught by teachers who may not have a tenure track position, some are taught by those who have a full-time job in another area, but want to do some teaching and are willing to accept the terms and lower university payments.

 

As suggested above, the future will likely see an increased delivery of online courses which will affect both the demand for regular university courses at particular institutions, and a reduced demand for faculty both full and part-time. Today’s dispute over sessional lecturers relates to conditions prevailing in the past not the future.

 

Kevin Carey notes that full time enrollment is increasing, as universities are still seen as the places where credentials are recognized by employers. It will take time for universities to incorporate online teaching and for other institutions to establish the value of their credentials. My guess is that the changes will come from the demand side as students (and their parents) discover ways to reduce educational costs and still get recognized credentials.

 

Uber alles

March 7, 2015

It’s here to stay

Taxi drivers in many North American cities are feeling the pinch from “uber” competitors. Viewed as unfair competition by some, the “uber” process makes a more efficient use of resources. By increasing the use of underutlised facilities, “uber”, an organizational process – in some ways an innovation, has increased the employment and value of an asset. For example, a car which is used 20 per cent of the time may now be used 40 percent by making it available for hire. The car, a physical asset, can now be used to provide more transportation services by being part of “uber.” An organizational innovation provides a benefit to society.

 

Consider your home and items in it. It may contain unused and/or underutlised rooms. These could be rented out to others on a part- or full-time basis. This is what AirBnB does (Wikipedia)

Airbnb is a website for people to rent out lodging. It has over 800,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries. Founded in August 2008 and headquartered in San Francisco, California, the company is privately owned and operated by Airbnb, Inc.

Users of the site must register and create a personal online profile before using the site. Every property is associated with a host whose profile includes recommendations by other users, reviews by previous guests, as well as a response rating and private messaging system.

A home has other items such as appliances, clothing, furniture, books, pictures etc., all of which are underutlised to some extent and could be shared, although this would be easier and more practical for certain items than others. Extending this to commercial activities, the modern economy is awash with underutlised assets such as machinery, buildings, laboratories, movie theatres, concert halls, universities, schools, stadiums, the list is lengthy. All look for ways to increase the utilization of their fixed assets and spread these costs. A modern economy incorporates many types of sharing of goods and services and often the amount of sharing could be increased for any of these assets as well as for a car.

 

A taxi service itself is an “uber” type business based on the sharing amongst different users, the customers. Private individuals (uber owners) now do the same thing for money which they previously may have done for free, when they drove their family members or friends to catch a plane. Of course there are safety and liability issues involved but experience will sort these out. Even with official taxi services, passengers have been assaulted and driven a roundabout route to their destination, either deliberately or through driver ignorance.

 

Underutlized assets are a feature of all but especially wealthy economies where consumers are willing to pay for choice as an option, even if they do not use the asset intensively. A similar process occurs in the arts. Take authorship for example. Each year I receive a cheque from the federal government under the Public Lending Right (PLR) program. The cheque gets smaller each year as more writers participate and titles increase, and program funding remains unchanged.

 

Notes on PLR program:

Initiated in 1986

Total Payments made in 2014   $9.7m

Total eligible titles  92,000

Av. payment per author $525.00

 

The logic of the program is to reward authors for use of their work when it is borrowed from libraries, a case of one book shared by many users who use (borrow) this asset at different times. If all readers purchased the book outright, the publisher and author would share the revenues earned, the author’s share being her royalty payments. When a library purchases the book, the same copy is used sequentially by readers who share its use. With the growth of library borrowing, the PLR program was introduced to benefit authors from this form of asset sharing. An automotive company could make a similar case for the purchase and use of its cars as taxis, where the car is bought once and then used by many riders with no direct return to the manufacturer. This has not happened, but another type of asset sharing has evolved with the “uber” arrangement.

 

When viewing economic activities, especially in high income economies, there are numerous examples of underutlized assets which lend themselves to different methods of management, and could often be used more intensively than at present. How that is done depends on the features of the assets and the ingenuity of entrepreneurs to find new ways to use them. The IT revolution has resulted in many organizational changes in the production and distribution of goods and services. Trying to stop “uber” taxis would require putting the genie back in the bottle. Less developed economies, which have fewer assets per capita, already make more intensive use of what they have. Sharing underutilized assets is a way of promoting efficient forms of growth and should appeal to conservationists.

How are we to use history?

March 4, 2015

“The Middle East is completely imprisoned in the past. Nobody can let go….The great thing about Southeast Asia is really exactly what you‘re pointing out, that people are able to let go. I remember being in Vietnam and asking people what do you think about the war? And they said, ‘which war?’”(David Pilling in Financial Times Feb 27, 2015).

 

Pilling’s article on Indian author Amitav Gosh provides insight into how to view the past and present in different parts of the world. For the past, my interest is the impact of the British Empire on today’s world, an enormous topic which requires a lifetime of study, but which even a stab at learning can provide some understanding of our current world.

 

As for the present, try to comprehend religions in a comparative sense. What does each believe and practice and what happens when followers of different religions come into contact with each other? In India, the country with the world’s second largest Muslim population (Indonesia 209m, India 176m, Pakistan 167m, Bangladesh 133m), the interaction is mainly peaceful, except for a few outstanding past exceptions.

 

All religions encourage their followers to read certain works, but as far as I know only Muslims require devout followers to memorise large portions, in their case, of the Koran. Given a person’s limited time for study, this can only be done at the expense of reading more widely in other fields of learning. This practice helps explain Amitav Gosh’s view that “the Middle East is completely imprisoned in the past.”

 

History and the empire; history of the empire

The list of British Empire horror stories is well documented such as the slave trade, opium trade, racial events in South Africa, Kenya and Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), the Amritsar massacre, the Bengal famine, and the treatment of native peoples in North America and Australasia. But there is another side. What the empire left behind helped to shape countries which have prospered politically, economically, and socially. Not all the countries, but the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand had strong imperial connections and are doing reasonably well, as is India. Former British colonies in Africa have a more mixed record, but are probably doing better than any likely counterfactual set of circumstances might portray. Without the empire, my guess is that people would have often remained living in tribal societies not known for their adherence to today’s recognized human rights. The rise of ISIS/ISIL is in some sense a return to or reappearance of tribal type religious conditions.

 

History of the empire or parts of it is described in Arnold Smith with Clyde Sanger, Stitches in Time, The Commonwealth in World Politics, (General Publishing, 1981). The Commonwealth (originally the British Commonwealth and now the Commonwealth of Nations, as opposed to the Commonwealth of Independent States made up of former Soviet republics) is the country club for imperial alumni.

 

Today it includes two countries which were never part of the empire, Madagascar and Rwanda, but which had neighbouring ties to it. It excludes the US which before its rebellious exit was a jewel in the imperial crown. The Commonwealth today consists of 53 states, covering 25% of the world’s land area, with about one-third of the global population and about 17% of world GDP (measured in PPP). The countries are united by a combination of language, history, culture, shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law. If the US was added, the share of world GDP would increase to 35%.

 

There have been five secretary-generals of the Commonwealth since its establishment in 1965. For the first ten years, Arnold Smith, a Canadian, held the position followed by persons from Guyana, Nigeria, New Zealand and presently India.

 

Stitches in Time is a valuable account of the first ten years. It shows how the empire morphed into the Commonwealth, by breaking, but not entirely severing, the political bond with the UK, while maintaining the ingredients for nation building required for the creation of states with values ascribed to by members of the UN…even if not practised by many of them.

Several of the initial Commonwealth countries had rocky starts as described by Smith and Sanger, including Singapore, Malaya, Kashmir as part of India and Pakistan, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Pakistan and Bangladesh, Cyprus, Uganda, Nigeria, and Papua New Guinea. The secretariat helped ease these national growing pains. Today it describes its activities as follows:

“Commonwealth organizations are involved in diverse activities, from helping countries with trade negotiations to encouraging women’s leadership, building the small business sector, supporting youth participation at all levels of society and providing experts to write laws.

The Commonwealth Secretariat promotes democracy, rule of law, human rights, good governance and social and economic development. We are a voice for small states and a champion for youth empowerment.

The Commonwealth Fund for Technical Co-operation (CFTC) was set-up in 1971 and is the principal means for the Commonwealth Secretariat to provide technical assistance to Commonwealth countries. Our approach emphasises country ownership by delivering technical assistance on a demand-driven basis.” (from Commonwealth website).

 

In The Royal Commonwealth Society Journal, Dec 1961, Arnold Smith concludes on a positive note:

 “In my judgment the peoples of the little island of Britain have probably accomplished more for the social and political advancement of mankind than any other people: the development of English as an approximation to a world lingua franca, the development and spread of parliamentary democracy, the industrial revolution. Decolonisation involved some temporary ambivalence of attitude and outlook, but compared with other empires it was accomplished remarkably gracefully. A hundred years from now, I suggest, historians will consider the Commonwealth the greatest of all Britain’s contributions to man’s social and political history.”

I leave it to the historians to debate this.

 

What Stitches in Time contributes is to show how facets of the British Empire, which, despite starting in Elizabethan times, only flourished for a brief period from around 1800 to 1914, have become embodied in today’s societies and nations in what I would consider to be positive ways.

Today, there are a variety of global indices which could throw light on the impact of Britain’s imperial past. Aside from national economic data such as GDP, employment, and income distribution, various organizations publish a range of data:

Economic Freedom of the World Index (Fraser Institute)

Worldwide Press Freedom Index (Reporters Without Borders)

Freedom in the World (Freedom House)

Freedom of the Press (Freedom House)

Index of Economic Freedom (Wall Street Journal and Heritage Foundation)

CIRI Human Rights Data Project (University of Connecticut)

Democracy Index (Economist Intelligence Unit)

Polity Data Series (Polity Instability Task Force funded by the CIA)

 

While each index may be promoted by those with some axe to grind, considerable information by country exists for an assessment of the contribution of the British and of other empires past and present.

Empires and Caliphates – anything new here?

February 27, 2015
Introduction
It is a struggle to sort out who dislikes whom in the Middle East what with Al Quada, ISIS/ISIL, Sunni and Shia Muslims and warring factions within each group. It appears to be both a series of civil wars going on within the Muslim community and a wider conflict which at times carries to the outside world, to other religions and to other places. Its aim is to spread the faith, or a version of it, globally, and thereby change people’s way of life, and destroy the faith of others.
 
An informative article by Audrey Kurth Cronin, “ISIS Is Not a terrorist Group,” appears in Foreign Affairs, March/April, 2015. A principal argument is,
 
But ISIS is not al Qaeda. It is not an outgrowth or a part of the older radical Islamist organization, nor does it represent the next phase in its evolution. Although al Qaeda remains dangerous—especially its affiliates in North Africa and Yemen—ISIS is its successor. ISIS represents the post–al Qaeda jihadist threat.
 
While Al Qada is described as a terrorist organization, ISIS is a pseudo state. It has an estimated 30,000 fighters (of varying quality), currently controls territory in Iraq and Syria, has military capabilities which allows it to engage in sophisticated military operations, funds itself through sale of oil, hostage taking, black market dealings, revenues from supporters abroad and other means. It aims to establish a caliphate with its own version of the Muslim faith.
 
What is a Caliphate?
 
There is much more to learn from Cronin’s article. Here, I explore the idea of a caliphate and how it relates to the region’s history. According to Wikipedia, a caliphate is a type of Islamic government which can have a Sunni and Shia version.
 
”… led by a caliph or leader as a successor to the prophet Muhammad The  Sunni branch of Islam stipulates that, as a head of state, a Caliph should be elected by Muslims or their representatives. Followers of Shia islam, however, believe a Caliph should be an Imam chosen by God from the Ahl al-Bayt (the “Family of the House”, Muhammad’s direct descendants). In 2014, the extremist group Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant declared itself a Caliphate; …its authority remains unrecognised by any country.”
 
A caliphate is a form of empire with religious overtones. ISIS/ISIL operates in a region which was once part of the Ottoman Empire. It covered a geographical area of today’s Middle East, extending westwards into parts of Europe, including some of Northern Africa and eastwards towards the Indian subcontinent. An illustration of this is contained in
http://www.euratlas.net/history/europe/1300/entity_6084.html from 1300AD to 2001Ad (type in Ottoman Empire in the search box).
 
This website shows over time the geographical spread and shrinkage of the Ottoman Empire until its demise at the end of WW1 leaving Turkey as a separate country. At its height it covered not only a large land area but a population of different religions which often engaged in civil wars as well as fighting against each other. The crusades pitted Muslims against Christians; protestant and catholic Christians often opposed each other as did Shia and Sunni Muslims. The present is a continuation of the past over much of the same territory.
 
Today’s narrative tends to take its starting point as the postcolonial borders of countries which emerged from arrangements drawn up after 1918 by mainly the French and British under the eye of the League of Nations. They delineated countries like Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, and later on Israel and Jordan emerged as separate countries. But the story and conflicts did not start then. They are mainly a continuation of what happened in previous centuries including the crusades from the eleventh century which involved Christians, Jews and Muslims fighting themselves and each other. Religion is often a bloody sport. The latest proposal for a new Muslim Caliphate provides a footnote (at present) to this historical record.
 
What’s different today?
 
Each generation, encouraged by academics, thinks that what they are experiencing is new, but this is seldom the case, or only new in particular dimensions. Geographically, land and sea areas remain the same over centuries. One difference is that demographically there are far more people in the world and Middle East today than there were in the past. Up to 1900, the world population had remained for centuries at around one billion. It is now seven plus billion and expected to climb to over nine billion. That is change worth noting especially when you consider its location, religion, economic and social wellbeing. For example, in 1900, a world population of 1.6 bn was located 60% in Asia in contrast to 2000 with a world population of 6bn and 54% in Asia, that is almost twice the world population 100 years earlier.
 
Today over half the world’s population is in a smallish area of the world including China, the Indian subcontinent, Indonesia the countries of south-east Asia. A map of the globe shows how geographically concentrated half of the world population is, and how spread out is the remainder. Today, China and India each has a total population only slightly smaller than the global population in 1900.
 
The other area to recognize as being new is technological change. Summed up in terms like globalization, this change includes the impact of transportation and communications both of which have experienced declining costs of moving people, goods and services. The use of social media, foreign outsourcing of production, employment of temporary foreign workers, and the “uber” sharing method of producing goods and services have all changed the location of production domestically and globally, and made more efficient use of existing resources. At the same time it has changed the demand for different types of skills and altered the career patterns for individuals.
 
What has this got to do with the Middle East cauldron of violence? At the moment (Feb 2015) the violence is conducted as guerilla warfare or terrorism. This is a far cry from WW1 trench warfare, WW2 trench, air and naval warfare with recognizable troops who wore uniforms, and when captured received some protection from the Geneva Convention rules of warfare. These conflicts saw guerilla tactics used, but generally opponents would give prisoners reasonable care. There were exceptions. Japanese treatment of prisoners was often similar to those meted out today by ISIS/ISIL.
 
Today ISIS/ISIL engage in unconventional warfare using whatever weapons they can buy or capture from their opponents. They execute their prisoners in a brutal fashion, unless they can sell them back to their native countries or trade them on a black market. ISIS/ISIL fighters can be called guerillas, terrorists, criminals, the label does not matter. It’s what they do that matters as are their actions reported daily in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and now parts of Africa including Egypt, Libya and Nigeria.
Summary
 
The violence taking place in the Middle East and in countries with connections to the Middle East, for example in Europe, North America and Australia is not new in general terms. Religious conflicts fill the pages of history books. What has some newer aspects are the means by which the conflict is conducted, and that is because of technological developments. Some people remain as evil as their predecessors, but they are now able to perform their acts in different ways. Whether they are called terrorists or criminals is immaterial. Their actions are horrific including to most of those who profess the same religion. This too has happened before, for example, when Germans of the Christian faith supported the murderous actions of Hitler. At the moment, prospects for the success of a new Caliphate may seem remote but this does not mean there will no more violence in and outside the Middle East……and responsibility cannot just be assigned to post-colonialism.

 


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