How not to manage a public health crisis

This was slipped under peoples’ doors in the middle of the night. Seriously.

The coordination of the medical/governmental/public response to this thing has been a five-alarm shit show. Not going to end well, methinks.



Average writing about averages

Paul Adams tweeted this – Story? Column? Op-ed? What is it? – earlier this morning.  My friend Darrell Bricker was appalled by the fact that the national broadcaster would be reduced to running stuff that could have been generated by any “grad student with a calculator.”

Me, I was appalled by the writing.  I mean, is it so much to ask that the CBC – which has more editorial staff, per capita, than any other Canadian news organization – endeavour to, you know, edit stuff before they put it out? I found the prose, here, dense and confusing to the point of being incoherent.

Anyway, it’s the new reality.  Media polls (and averages of media polls) are worth what you pay for them.




In Tuesday’s Sun: sorry, big media, but you don’t own every word that is uttered

The media are upset.

This isn’t a unique thing. It happens a lot. But what makes the latest controversy noteworthy is the subject-matter: an obscure change to Canadian copyright law, buried in a Conservative government omnibus bill. The proposed change would permit political parties to use material published and broadcast by news organizations for free in their ads.

CTV discovered the change, and many in the media are in high dudgeon about it. The Opposition parties, always hoping to curry favour with the media, say the change is “disrespectful” (the NDP’s Nathan Cullen) and “devious” (the Liberals’ Ralph Goodale).

Having crafted many, many an ad for the Liberal Party making use of broadcast clips or published reports, I laughed out loud at the professed indignation of Messrs. Cullen and Goodale. Both guys know that party operatives, of all stripes, have made use of media material in political advertising, for years.

There is a legal reason to justify the proposed change: there is no copyright in news. The presentation of it on the page or on the screen, maybe. But the actual newsworthy events? Forget it.

The media don’t possess a copyright over whatever issues from Stephen Harper’s mouth, nor any other politician. Those statements belong to the person who says them, and the public who receive them.

There is a political reason why all political parties are privately cheering on the Conservatives’ dastardly move, however. Madison Avenue’s Rosser Reeves, if he was here, could tell us all about it.

Reeves was the guy who conjured up modern political advertising.

Until Reeves came along, political salesmanship was a primitive process. Candidates for national office were obliged to submit themselves to grueling, months-long campaigns — travelling great distances by train, hollering themselves hoarse from makeshift platforms, grasping innumerable hands at innumerable rallies, and occasionally making use of radio to broadcast lengthy speeches listened to by only a few.

Reeves changed all that. He was a genius. “Certs breath mints — with a magic drop of retsyn.” And “How do you spell relief? R-O-L-A-I-D-S.” And “Wonder bread helps build strong bodies in eight ways.” And, perhaps most memorably of all, “M&Ms melt in your mouth, not in your hands.” Remember those? All Reeves.

He met with Republican bigwigs in 1952, because they were anxious about how to get General Eisenhower elected. Reeves gave them a way. He wrote a three-page memo, double spaced.

“Is there a new way of campaigning that can guarantee a victory for Eisenhower in November? The answer is: ‘Yes!’ what is this ‘new way of campaigning?’ This new way of campaigning, in essence is a new use of what advertising men know as ‘spots.’ A spot is an announcement on radio — or an announcement on television. THE HUMBLE RADIO OR TV ‘SPOT’ CAN DELIVER MORE LISTENERS FOR LESS MONEY THAN ANY OTHER FORM OF ADVERTISING. Let us repeat that. THE HUMBLE RADIO OR TV ‘SPOT’ CAN DELIVER MORE LISTENERS FOR LESS MONEY THAN ANY OTHER FORM OF ADVERTISING.”

What Reeves wrote in breathless prose, 62 years ago, still holds up. The best way to communicate with voters, then and now, is using a TV or radio spot that contains a damning bit of audio or video of your opponent. Or a stirring clip of your own leader, rallying the country. Or both.

Voters want to see and hear, on their own, what a politician says. That’s how they make important choices in elections. They don’t want the media’s analysis and bias – they want the video or audio proof.

That may upset media bean-counters, but too bad. The public statements of politicians belong to the public, not private media organizations.

And that’s why this change, while upsetting the media bosses, is good for democracy.

Forgive me for feeling somewhat vindicated

…two months after the fact. Better late than never, I suppose.

I never called him a racist, you know. I simply asked if his policies treated different people differently. If they distinguished between people based on race.

I await his apology to me, because I sure as shit withdraw mine to him.




(Oh, and here is video of his actual words. If they get the coverage they deserve, he’s done.)



Why Malala won: she is one of the few actual Christ-like people alive

At around the four minute mark.


“I started thinking about that, and I used to think that the Talib would come, and he would just kill me. But then I said, ‘If he comes, what would you do Malala?’ then I would reply to myself, ‘Malala, just take a shoe and hit him.’ But then I said, ‘If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.’ Then I said I will tell him how important education is and that ‘I even want education for your children as well.’ And I will tell him, ‘That’s what I want to tell you, now do what you want.'”


Bye-bye Globe and Mail

When I was going to Bishop Carroll High School in Calgary, my Dad subscribed to the Globe and Mail.  We got the Herald, too, but both of us thought the Globe was a better-written paper, albeit pretty Toronto-centric.  I loved reading Jay Scott’s stuff – that was a writer.  I adored that man.

Anyway. Media habits are hard to break (I guess), so when I went away to study journalism at Carleton, I kept getting the Globe delivered.  Even when Chris, Harold, Ryan and I were penniless – even when we were exchanging empties to buy K.D. or beer, not necessarily in that order – I still got the Globe.  Back home in Calgary, in law school and rooming with Bjorn, same thing: beer, Ichiban and the Globe.  That was it.

In the intervening (many) years, I kept getting the Globe delivered.  I got all the other papers, of course, but the Globe was the constant.  So, when I wrote for the Post, I’d buy it on the street, and then I stopped reading it entirely – I don’t think I’ve looked at it since 2008 (and I don’t think I’m alone, in that regard).  I got the Star for a while, too, but I eventually got fed up with their self-congratulatory “Star Gets Results” crusade crap – and, when they threw out my friend Fergie like he was trash, I cut them off for good. (If Doug Ford gets elected, you can mainly blame the Star, by the by.)

The Sun, who has been wonderful to me for four years, I of course read daily – but I buy it on the street, like you’re supposed to with a good tab.  I don’t know how much longer I’ll be writing for them, however.  After this week’s developments, not long, I suspect.

The Globe, through all of those years, has been the constant.  I stuck with them, even as the ads started to disappear and the actual journalism started to do likewise.  And then, in recent months, my paper simply stopped showing up on my doorstep in the East End.

Ladurantaye, when he was still writing for the paper – and boy, did they ever miss my friend this week – tried to get the problem fixed.  I got the papers again for a while, and then they started bypassing my doorstop again.  Then Steve left the paper for Twitter, which tells you plenty.

So, again this morning, no paper.  Again.  I called the Globe switchboard on the way in to work.  No one answered, naturally, so I was transferred to a lady in or near Mumbai (which, again, tells you plenty).  She read off a screen, trying to strong arm me into staying on with a paper that doesn’t deliver.  After a half-dozen refusals, I finally got her to listen to me.  Cancelled.  Review that for quality assurance purposes, newspaper marketing experts.

Anyway, it makes me a bit sad, but that’s the way it is, in this era where U.S. hedge funds will soon be controlling what every Canadian reads – except, perhaps, in Toronto or Montreal.  It sucks. It totally sucks.

The moral of the story, for the dwindling number of people working at a dwindling number of newspapers, I suppose, is this: when you don’t deliver – both literally and figuratively – you’re going to lose people.

Today, after forty years, the Globe lost me.





In Friday’s Sun: certainty is the first casualty of war – not Justin Trudeau

It was “Justin Trudeau’s lousy week,” declared the Globe and Mail editorial headline. “Justin Trudeau is war’s first casualty,” wrote Chantal Hebert in the liberal (and Liberal) Toronto Star. “Liberal strategy on Iraq suffers from incoherence,” wrote Postmedia’s Michael den Tandt.

And so on, and so on. Those were the headlines in media corners that are typically friendly to the Liberal leader. Elsewhere – such as here (unsurprisingly) at the Sun – Trudeau’s critics were even more critical than usual.

Hebert’s column was noteworthy, because of the source and because it was so scathing. “By almost any standard, Justin Trudeau is the immediate political casualty of the war of words that attended the debate over Canada’s role in the international coalition against the Islamic State,” Hebert wrote.

“…the Liberal performance [Canadians] were given to watch this week was more reflective of a third-place opposition party than of an aspiring government.”

When one adds to the chorus of condemnation the public dissent of assorted Liberal notables – former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy, former General Romeo Dallaire, former party leader Bob Rae and revered party statesman and human rights expert Irwin Cotler – it all adds up to, as the Globe’s editorialists opined, a lousy week for Justin Trudeau.

Are they all right? Has Justin Trudeau irreparably harmed his chances in the 2015 election?

No, he hasn’t. There are three reasons why.

Firstly, and just as he warned us shortly after he won his party’s leadership, Justin Trudeau makes mistakes. Some of his mistakes – the Chinese dictatorship remark, the Ukraine joke, the Commons curse, the more-recent CF-18 stumble – caused great consternation in the commentariat.

But among Canadians themselves, the verbal gaffes haven’t had a measureable effect. Trudeau has remained ahead, or far ahead, in successive polls.

Secondly, public opinion is notoriously difficult to measure, these days. And assessing public opinion during times of war, or anticipated war, is even harder.

No poll has emerged to suggest that Trudeau’s internally-contradictory position – against ISIS, but seemingly against doing anything militarily against ISIS – is out of sync with the views of Canadians. It is, in fact, reflective of the paradoxical way in which voters assess war.

For example, in the U.S. in January 2003, approximately two-thirds of Americans wanted George W. Bush to wait for U.N. weapons inspectors report on the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. But at the same time, almost the same number of voters enthusiastically supported using force to remove Hussein from power.

In effect, don’t do anything yet, but do something now. One thinks about it, that more or less approximates the current position of the Trudeau Liberals.

Thirdly, dramatic things happen in times of war. What seemed both logical and moral at war’s outset becomes less so as war grinds on, and as the casualties mount. One need only recall Stephen Harper’s infamous declaration that Canadians who opposed joining Bush’s aforementioned war were “cowards,” quote unquote, to know this is so.

Harper reluctantly came to admit that his earlier enthusiasm for joining Bush was a mistake. This, perhaps more than anything else, explains Harper’s exceedingly modest contribution to the intended campaign against ISIS: the Conservative leader has learned from his mistakes.

Will Justin Trudeau be hurt by his apparent mistake? Will his “incoherent” position, as den Tandt put it, impede Trudeau’s long march towards 24 Sussex? To this Liberal – who is decidedly onside with Messrs. Axworthy, Dallaire, Rae and Cotler – the answer is no. It probably won’t.

Incoherence, in times of war, is everywhere. It is epidemic, in fact.

Justin Trudeau may have had a lousy week, this week. But, in the fullness of time, who is to say that his critics and his opponents won’t, too?