Conservative government hubris chequed.

I think that the Conservative Party of Canada wants to remain in a permanent minority position.

For a couple of weeks, they had the Liberals on the run, with the media and NDP ganging up on Liberal Leader Michael Ignatieff. The Liberals’ popularity was sagging in the polls to below-Dion levels. The terrible mistake in judgment from the Liberals – announcing that they wanted to force a Fall election – pretty much guaranteed clear sailing for the Conservatives until Christmas. But no. The Conservatives made a giant communications error. Someone in the PMO thought, in his or her wisdom, that displaying hundreds of giant faked-up cheques in Conservative-held ridings across Canada was a great idea. It’s true that that sort of prop is fairly common fare at this sort of announcement, but it is completely unprecedented to have the cheques display the logo of the Conservative Party of Canada or to have them signed by the local MP, or by the Prime Minister. It was just simple misrepresentation. And it backfired. And it will have legs.

The surprising hubris and arrogance of this minority Conservative government began to be brought to light by the targeted communications campaign carried out by Gerard Kennedy. He went on tour and engaged in something that sells like hotcakes in political communication: evidence-based politics. Mr. Kennedy, his staff and volunteers gathered, parsed and then distilled the data about where the Conservatives doled out the infrastructure money into catchy narratives and punchlines. Then they targeted specific ridings where the most egregious offenses stuck out. It was easy pickings, but brilliant none-the-less.It resulted in some great coverage.

If the Liberals want to make some headway against a Conservative government that, even in minority, is behaving bloated, entitled and arrogant, they need to learn from Mr. Kennedy’s example and behave more like an Official Opposition party and engage in more evidence-based political communication.

It’s easy pickings out there. The Conservatives have left lots of low-hanging fruit. The Liberals just need to get organized and grab the golden apple.

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Variables, Sampling and Content Analysis

I had a seminar class today with my Communication Studies 4N03: News Analysis class. It was great. We focused on units of sampling, variable selection and defining the population. I really enjoy teaching this class, because it is problem- and project-based. The class is divided into 7 groups, each of whom is taking on a specific news analysis challenge. Some are looking at digg.com, some are examining the tonality of Olympic coverage in leading Canadian and American newspapers, others are examining colour schemes on popular news websites, others are looking into equally fascinating research challenges. All of the projects are fascinating and should yield relevant results. I spent most of the class making the distinction between three often confusing elements of a content analysis research design: the units of sampling, data collection and analysis. Then we talked about different sampling techniques. Unitization and sampling are often the pitfalls in content analysis research design and have to be very well thought-through. We went around the class and worked out the units for each study. I left the three-hour class confident that they got it.

My first MCM student defends his thesis.

Today was a truly a happy day. I woke up early and met my thesis student in the Master of Communication Management program, an executive MBA program offered by the DeGroote School of Management at McMaster University, in which I am an adjunct faculty member. We rehearsed a little and drove into McMaster for the presentation. He did a fantastic job – no nerves, no fear. Just a great speaking style, a great defense of his ideas and, of course, great data and analysis. I was so pleased to see him succeed. It was just excellent – very insightful and full of humour. He even included a clip from the Beatles song, “The Taxman” and a clip from “Corner Gas.” Excellent job, Don! Congratulations. After that we went for a celebratory drink at the Collins in Dundas and then a long walk out to see Webster’s Falls and Toews Falls in the Spencer Gorge. So beautiful. The leaves were aflame with colour and seemed to glow as the fading light of the evening gave way to crepuscular gloom. Then dinner at the Bean Bar, where we tried the most decadent chocolate cake I have ever had – I think it was called Utopia. Highly recommended.

An evening at Rosewood Estates Winery

I had a beautiful day today. First, my parents surprised me by coming over and helping me clean my house in exchange for a lunch of couscous with tilapia, red bells, tomato and garlic that I prepared. I love cooking and it was my pleasure to whip something up for them. They left at about 5pm, and then I drove over to Rosewood Estates Winery in Beamsville, Ontario, where I joined the MCM students (Master of Communication Management, in which I teach) for a case study about the winery by Eugene Roman, who is also the owner. It was fascinating.

Eugene explained how he has applied the same sort of innovative thinking that led to his success at Nortel, Bell and now at Open Text. He focused on how thinking differently has always been the key for him. The winery is just stunning. Château Rosewood is beautiful – I was struck by Eugene’s comment that “I wake up every morning overlooking the Riesling vines.” These words took me back to the time that I lived in Montpellier, in the Languedoc-Roussillon in France when I was 17. I spent many happy hours both on the seaside near Palavas-les-Flots and also at a winery owned by the father of a close friend. I too remember waking up to see the clear morning Mediterranean sun spill its soft yellow light over the vines. We would sit and drink espresso, and sometimes play pétanque – that lazy version of bocci that has filled countless quiet afternoons for southern French men.

Eugene served us an extraordinary dinner of butternut squash soupe aux poires accompanied by a scrumptious venison stew with gnocchi so light that they floated in the  russet broth like little cumulus clouds. Dessert was a crème brulée with blackberries and blueberries. What a wonderful feast – just right for a brisk fall evening. Many thanks to Niagara Gourmet for catering the tasty fare. It was a nostalgic experience for me to dine on heavy, rustic, French-style wooden tables, surrounded by the oaken casks containing the vineyard’s wines.

I took home a wonderful Sémillon and two bottles of Ambrosia honey wine, which I particularly loved during our tasting. I also took home one of Rosewood’s cherry-honey wines to experiment with. I look forward to enjoying them with friends.

Honey wine over vanilla ice cream, anyone?

A visit to the AGO

Yesterday, I went with a new friend to visit the Art Gallery of Ontario, specifically to see the Edward Streichen fashion photography exhibit (In High Fashion, the Condé Nast Year 1923-1937). The photos were beautiful, stunning, really. I was particularly struck by the fact that the photos showed the models bodies in an unvarnished, unphotoshopped style. Obviously those technologies weren’t available at the time – but there was a comforting realism, or was it unrealism that moved me as I was looking at them They were stark and yet they had so much more depth than the poses that models are most often captured in now. These women had complex expressions on their faces – they were often looking off into the quarter or middle distance, and seemed to be thinking real thoughts. Sometimes, you could see that Streichen had caught the model in a moment of reverie, of private transport. Like I said, they were emotional – moving. After that we went for a yummy dinner at Jules Bistro. It was one of the best days I have had in a while. Life should be full of days of art, food and great conversation, shouldn’t it?

Snowy Edmonton – Content analysis and old friends.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure of visiting my old friend and mentor, Geoffrey Rockwell. It was a great trip. I stayed at a beautiful hotel, the Fairmont Macdonald Hotel, where I spent a good part of Saturday with my laptop in the great room, looking out the window and writing. The talk was interesting. It has been a while since I have co-delivered a talk with someone, but Geoffrey and I see eye on most issues, so we were able to segway between our parts quite well. We presented on the idea of whether the actual product of a text or content analysis is a new cultural or scientific artifact, separate from the texts or corpora from which it was pulled. One of the strong points of the argument, I think, was the idea that content analysis, because of its use of human coders, but also the very structured and bounded form of reading that is imposed on the coders retains the best of the interpretive, human, subjective element of reading, while integrating the order and rigour of the scientific method. I left Edmonton inspired to get back to work, but a little nostalgic for the good times that I used share with Geoffrey at McMaster. He was one of the reasons that I initially joined the faculty there and was always a trusted friend. At least the Maple Leaf Lounge in Edmonton was really pleasant, and since it was Thanksgiviing eve, the Air Canada staff offered us vin à volonté. Nice.

Everything starts somewhere…

Well, I have thought about blogging for an awfully long time. A lot of people have asked me to start using a blog as a tribune for my ideas, the interesting things I do and come across. So I have decided to plunge into the world internet commentary. This blog will be eclectic. I’ll talk about communications, multimedia, linguistics, cognitive science, politics as well as any random (and presumably interesting) things that happen in my life. Let see how this goes…