Monday, June 26, 2017

These five Canadians created the Digital Revolution

With Canada 150 upon us, I’ve been ransacking 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. Yesterday I turned up half a dozen Canadians, among them Margaret Atwood and Joni Mitchell, who spirited the Sixties into the 21st Century. Today I discover that five Canadians created the Digital Revolution.
Marshall McLuhan: Recognized internationally as the Prophet of the Electronic Age, McLuhan was an obscure English professor when, in the 1960s, he published two visionary books: The Gutenberg Galaxy and Understanding Media. He anticipated a “global village” of instantaneous communications. Look around: we all live in a World Wide Web.
James Cameron: After creating the blockbuster movie Titanic (1997), Cameron began developing  the digital 3D Fusion Camera System he would use in Avatar (2009). That movie, which relies heavily on computer generated animation, revolutionized the film industry when we weren’t looking. It replaced traditional 35 mm celluloid with digital 3D technology. Movies are different now.

Mike Lazaridis: In 1999, after creating a series of increasingly sophisticated mobile devices, this electrical engineer invented the Blackberry, the world’s first widely used smartphone. Today, more than 1.2 billion people use smartphones to access the World Wide Web, and many rarely use any other device to go online. Misplace your smartphone and you feel sick inside.
Douglas Cardinal: Best-known for creating the Canadian Museum of Civilization (aka the Canadian Museum of History), Cardinal pioneered the use of digital technology in architectural design. Drawing on his indigenous heritage, he created curvilinear buildings that drove him to develop Computer-Aided Design and Drafting (CADD). Can you imagine these fancy new skyscrapers without it?
Don Tapscott: The author of Wikinomics and Macrowikinomics, the visionary Tapscott explorers and champions the collaborative innovations made possible by the Internet. He argues that the Millennials, born between 1977 and 1997,  are “digital natives” who are changing the way the world does business. 
You can find out more in 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, available online by clicking here (Chapters-Indigo). Oh, and if you worry that the book might be short of women or visible minorities, check back tomorrow.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

These awful Canadians spirited the 1960s into the 21st Century

The 1960s get a bum rap, here in 21st-century Canada. All those awful Boomers who came of age back then have destroyed the economy, the housing market, job prospects, let's just say the whole shebang. But just imagine where we might be if the international “counter-culture” that emerged in the Sixties had never happened. With Canada Day 150 upon us, I’ve been ransacking 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. Here I find world-beaters who challenged authority, rejected consumerism, marched for women’s rights, investigated consciousness, and led the way “back to the land.” I discover Canadians who spirited the Sixties into the 21st century:
       Stephen Lewis. Embodying the anti-materialism of the 1960s, this activist-humanitarian created a foundation that leads the global war against HIV-AIDS.
Margaret Atwood. A feminist leader since the 1960s, she has been hailed internationally for exploring not just women’s issues but political oppression and the exploitation of nature.
David Suzuki. Since the 1960s, when as a young scientist he became aware of threats to the environment, Suzuki has been a leader in awakening the world to climate change.
Leonard Cohen. Having proclaimed early on that Magic Is Alive, this Zen-monk troubabour sang the spirit of the Sixties into his eighties: The Old Revolution, Waiting for the Miracle, First We Take Manhattan, Halleluleah.
Pierre Elliott Trudeau. After emerging onto the political stage in the 1960s, this fluently bilingual intellectual turned Canada into a global beacon of pluralism:  multicultural, multiracial, and multinational.
Joni Mitchell. Not only is she the Picasso of Song, but Mitchell has never ceased to speak out against the double standard applied to female musicians. And one of her lyrics has become an environmentalist refrain: “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”
Where in 2017 would we be without these half dozen Canadians and others like them?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Five Canada Day lessons: Sometimes you have to lie to your mother



With Canada Day looming, I’ve been revisiting my book 50 Canadians Who Changed the World.  A cursory inspection reminds me that these outstanding individuals have a lot to teach the rest of us.
 1. Don’t be afraid to wade in a swamp.  Because, as a boy, he felt like an outsider, David Suzuki took refuge in nature: “My main solace was a large swamp a ten-minute bike ride from our house.” The youth was fascinated by plant and animal life, especially insects. “Anyone who spotted me in that swamp would have had confirmation of my absolute nerdiness as I waded in fully clothed, my eyes at water level, peering beneath the surface, a net and jar in my hands behind my back.” Suzuki would build on those early experiments to earn a doctorate, become a science broadcaster, and awaken the world to climate change.
 2. If you really like a movie, go see it ten times.  As a fifteen-year-old, James Cameron was knocked out by the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. At the local theatre in Niagara Falls, Ontario, he went to see it ten times. He decided that, instead of a comic book artist, he wanted to be a filmmaker. He borrowed his father’s Super-8 camera, started shooting film, and didn’t stop. In Hollywood, he helped lead the shift into the digital world. And in 2009, when he released the 3-D movie Avatar, he made digital technology the bedrock of the modern cinema experience.
 3. Sometimes you have to lie to your mother.  Just before she flew into Somalia, which was a war zone, Samantha Nutt left a series of post-dated postcards to be sent to her mother from Kenya. Having a wonderful time on safari. Seeing tons of lions, zebras, giraffes, and elephants. Wish you were here. At age twenty-five, she was researching an advanced medical degree on women’s health in failed states. What she discovered shocked her, and galvanized her into co-founding War Child Canada. By delivering aid to war-torn nations, this charitable, humanitarian organization changed the world.
 4. Do not dismiss your premonitions.  On December 30, 1981, while driving to the arena with a team mate, twenty-year-old hockey player Wayne Gretzky turned to his fellow Edmonton Oiler and said, “Geez, I feel weird. I might get a couple tonight.” Gretzky was chasing a record set in 1945 by Maurice “The Rocket” Richard: fifty goals in fifty games. With thirty-eight games behind him, Gretzky had scored forty-five. But on this night, he wrote later, “it was almost eerie the way things happened.” He registered four goals, “but then the magic suddenly left me.” He missed three point-blank chances. As the game wound down, he mounted one final rush. With seven seconds remaining, he took a cross-rink pass and then fired the puck “into the world’s most beautiful net.” Having scored fifty goals in thirty-nine games -- a record that has yet to be broken -- Wayne Gretzky went on to bring hockey into the mainstream of North American sport.
 5. When all else fails, go lie on a beach. When he was twenty-four, Guy Laliberte went to Hawaii for a holiday. He had been performing with a street festival in small-town Quebec, specializing in juggling, stilt-walking, and fire-eating. The year was 1983, and the provincial government had announced that it was funding projects to celebrate the 450th anniversary of the arrival of French explorer Jacques Cartier. While lying on a beach in Hawaii, watching the sun go down, Laliberte conceived of mounting a Cirque du Soleil (Circus of the Sun). That vision, inspired by a Hawaiian sunset, would enable Laliberte to transform our conception of the circus and give rise to a global empire that today employs thousands of people from more than 40 countries.
 [50 Canadians is available here online and in all the best bricks-and-mortar bookstores.] 

Friday, June 23, 2017

Meet the Inuit activist who made climate change a human rights issue


In December 2005, Inuit author and activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier launched the world’s first legal action on climate change when she presented a 167-page petition to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. Signed by sixty-two Inuit elders and hunters, it charged that unchecked emission of greenhouse gases from the United States had violated Inuit cultural and environmental rights as guaranteed by the American Declaration of the Rights and Duties of Man.
Watt-Cloutier changed the world by making climate change a human rights issue. So I argued, rightly I think, in 50 Canadians Who Changed the World. I had organized my Outstanding 50, all born in the twentieth century, into six broadly inclusive groups. Watt-Cloutier I profiled as primarily an activist. In presenting the petition, she  drew on an exhaustive Arctic Climate Impact Assessment (ACIA) prepared over four years by 300 scientists from fifteen countries. It attested that the Arctic is experiencing some of the most rapid climate change on earth. It predicted that the change would accelerate and produce major physical, ecological, social, and economic consequences, and that these would lead to worldwide global warming and rising sea levels. Some marine species would face extinction, and the disappearance of sea ice would disrupt and might destroy the Inuit’s hunting- and food-sharing culture.
 Identifying the Inuit as “the early warning system for the entire planet,” Watt-Cloutier put a human face on the facts, figures, and graphs. “Climate change affects every facet of Inuit life,” she said. “We have a right to life, health, security, land use, subsistence and culture. These issues are the real politics of climate change.” In 2008, when Time magazine hailed her as one of a handful of “Heroes of the Environment,” Watt-Cloutier said: “Most people can’t relate to the science, to the economics, and to the technical aspects of climate change. But they can certainly connect to the human aspect.” Her aim is to “move the issue from the head to the heart.”
The following year, while accepting an honorary doctor of laws from the University of Alberta, Watt-Cloutier reviewed how the Inuit “have weathered the storm of modernization remarkably well, moving from an almost entirely traditional way of life to adopting ‘modern’ innovations all within the past sixty or seventy years.” But rapid changes and traumas “deeply wounded and dispirited many,” she said, “and translated into a ‘collective pain’ for families and communities. Substance abuse, health problems, and the loss of so many of our people to suicide have resulted.”
Through all this, the Inuit drew strength from “our land, our predictable environment and climate, and the wisdom our hunters and elders gained over millennia to help us adapt.” Now, however, climate change has made the environment unreliable and capricious: “Just as we start to come out the other side of the first wave of tumultuous change, there is yet a second wave coming at us. We face dangerously unpredictable weather, unpredictable conditions of our ice and snow, extreme erosion, and an invasion of new species. These changes threaten to erase the memory of who we are, where we have come from, and all that we wish to be.”
Writing in 2012, I added a lot more. But obviously, I could not include anything from The Right to be Cold, a national bestseller Watt-Cloutier published in 2015. Seems to me that, along with 50 Canadians, we all should have that book on our bedside tables. 

How did Canada become multicultural, multi-racial, multi-national?

"Most developed countries tolerate plural identities. But what they struggle to accommodate, Canada embraces and proclaims." So I wrote four years too early. "This is partly the result of necessity: ours is a country of minorities. But it derives also from historical timing."
In the introduction to 50 Canadians Who Changed the World, published by HarperCollins Canada in 2013, I then clarified and elaborated. The original thirteen colonies of the United States of America adopted a constitution in 1787. Inevitably, that document reflected eighteenth-century ideas about the nation state: one nation, one state, one national identity.
As a result, the United States became proudly one and indivisible, and it fought a civil war to stay that way. Citizens of the U.S. have a single, over-riding identity: they are Americans. Canada, by comparison, did not even begin to emerge as a state until late in the nineteenth century. The country reached a political milestone in 1867 with Confederation. But even then Canada remained subject to the British North America Act, a document that Britain could repeal at any time.
Only in 1982, under Pierre Elliott Trudeau, did this country gain control of its own constitution. By then, Canada was too complex to fit into an eighteenth-century constitutional mould. Trudeau recognized that the country had become pluralistic: regional, multicultural, multi-racial, multi-national.
But wait!  I'm sparing you quotation marks, but I'm drawing from the book. And 50 Canadians Who Changed the World can still be found in better bookstores, among them Chapters-Indigo (which carries the paperback online at this link.) So maybe the timing is right for a few quick hits from the book. In the introduction, I continued:
Trudeau realized that, as a pluralistic state, Canada could become “a brilliant prototype” for the civilization of tomorrow. He convinced Canadians to reject the ethnocentric model (one nation, one state) championed by Quebecois nationalists -- and adopted in the 1700s by Americans -- and recognize that freedom is most secure when two or more nations co-exist within a single state. This pluralistic vision, rendered into reality by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, makes Canada unique among developed nations. That reality means individuals have room to grow, no matter their roots, no matter their complexities. It explains why so many Canadians have changed the world.
It also explains why, instead of arguing ideas, I decided to focus on individuals. That, I reasoned, is where the stories are. I quickly discovered a multitude of extraordinary individuals -- far too many. And so I adopted two basic criteria. First, because I hoped to paint a portrait of contemporary, cutting-edge Canada, I confined my selections to Canadians born in the twentieth century. This meant excluding remarkable figures from an earlier era, but opened up space for those changing the world today. Second, I wanted to focus on Canadians who have made a difference globally. This ruled out people who have worked miracles here at home, but have had little impact in the great wide world. A third criterion emerged as I wrote. 
But I'll produce examples as we approach Canada Day.


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Scottish front pages highlight wet, rocky path through Brexit forest



Our guidebook described the hike to Steall Falls as "a pleasant walk with good views of the river." It did concede that the "grass/stone path can be slippery when wet." But as the rain came down, and we found ourselves scrambling up and down a rough, rocky trail that winds through a forest, we realized that we were struggling through the perfect metaphor for Scotland's post-election trauma. 
Which way to turn? What do the signs say? Judging from today's front pages, they aren't easy to read. The 
Scotsman tells us: "SNP admit independence / lost them election seats." But The Inverness Press & Journal delivers a counter-spin: "‘Brexit disaster will boost independence.’"
The Scottish Daily Mail declares: "Tories turn on Theresa." But the Scottish Daily Express claims: "Sturgeon on the Retreat."
The Daily Record tries hard for exhaustive clarity: "The Fate of May // Heaven help us/ because she can’t." But then it delivers the worst pun of the day: "Elephant Indy Room."
The good news is that we kept slogging and saw some spectacular sights. Not only that: as we arrived back at the car park, the sun came out. Visibility? All clear. Full speed ahead.


Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Smaller than the Crystal Serenity, yet too big for a Scottish port

As we approached Oban on the ferry from Barra, I mistook this ship for the Crystal Serenity, which is slated to sail through the Northwest Passage later this year. But no. It's the MV Artania, which was anchored offshore because it is too big to enter the port. This particular Motorized Vessel is 231 metres long and weights 44,348 tons. The Crystal Serenity is larger still, at 250 metres and 68,000 tons. Oban is a port city of 8,575 people, and is designed to handle great numbers of visitors. The Serenity, which carries more than 1,000 passengers, is slated to put in at Cambridge Bay in Nunavut, population 1,766. You do the math. I whole-heartedly support adventure tourism in the Arctic. It brings money to Nunavut, and also increases awareness of northern issues. But these numbers? The smart move might be to control ship size by limiting the number of passengers per voyage to maybe 250. Just a thought.