Fine line between stupid, and uh…

Spinal Tap fans celebrate cult-classic comedy

I came across this article on Huffington Post’s website about a one-time only celebration on 11-11-11 – Nigel Tufnel Day.

Tufnel, a character from the absolutely hilarious cult-classic movie Spinal Tap played by actor Christopher Guest, has had the honour bestowed upon him by fans of the comedy (they even created numerous Facebook pages).

The choice to have the celebrations on 11-11-11 is based on a reference to the fictional band’s amp settings. Enjoy the clip, it’s funny as hell.

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Should’ve gone as Dracula

I’m not saying Rafi Torres is racist, he just lacks common sense

Now, I understand that Halloween is a time for people to dress up, but Raffi Torres’ costume crossed a line. Most people would instinctively know that dressing up in blackface is in incredibly poor taste, but somehow this fact alluded the Vancouver Canucks forward.

The NHL player dressed up as rapper Jay-Z for Halloween – complete with darkened skin (he’s reportedly a huge fan of the rapper), and his wife dressed up as Beyonce.  Many were quick to say the player’s decision was harmless, while others criticized his judgment.

Torres’ agent, Eustace King said that the intent of his costume wasn’t malicious. Speaking to Post Sports columnist Bruce Arthur on TSN Radio, he said that he understood where people were coming from. “Do I understand where people are coming from? Absolutely. And there’s an education side to it. In Canada, the culture is different. You’re not taught this in school […] Raffi had no clue there was a direct connection.”

Arthur went further, stating “Canada has no notable tradition of blackface, and it is not exactly taught in our schools. For many Canadians, how would we know?”

Answer: We just know it’s wrong and in poor taste.

Thomas Drance of Canucks Army criticized Torres’ lack of judgment. He wrote, “Seriously people, don’t do it, don’t wear blackface on Halloween, or ever. It’s stupid, it’s ignorant, and it just doesn’t fly. […] Even if Raffi’s Halloween costume bears little resemblance to the blackface of minstrel shows, the subject is too loaded to be a source of humour. It’s off limits.”

I tend to agree with Drance. Torres’ decision was in incredibly poor taste, and frankly, he should’ve at least been aware that this would upset people.

But that’s just my opinion – I welcome yours.

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What’s so peaceful about it?

Canadians seem to have a common misperception about the role of the military

The Canadian government announced that it’s planning to spend as much as $477-million to participate in a U.S.-led military satellite program, according to an article in the National Post.

The Wideband Global Satellite system has been advertised by the U.S. Defense Department as a communications system for “U.S. warfighters, allies and coalition partners during all levels of conflict, short of nuclear war.”

The idea is to have as many as nine military satellites hovering over different parts of the world, ready to provide high-frequency bandwidth for U.S. and allied forces wherever they may be operating.

Understandably, reaction was mixed on the paper’s message board. I’ve come to really appreciate the discourse in these forums – from intelligent and thought-provoking comments, to the unbelievably asinine rants and tangents that have no connection to the articles – and, predictably, one comment really irked me.

One reader posted, of the government’s decision to spend almost half a billion dollars on satellites, that it was:

“An endless money pit……for a nation that was well known as a Peacekeeper! Wow, has that changed once Harper moved from Alberta to Ontario.”

There seems to be this perception in Canada that we, as a nation, are nothing but peacekeepers. Granted, there is a fine military tradition in this country of defending Canadian values overseas, but these roles aren’t without risk, and potential combat.

To be blunt, there’s nothing peaceful about peacekeeping.

Whether our troops are peacekeeping or participating in joint military ventures with our NATO allies, this satellite program will undoubtedly help protect our troops and eliminate the fog of war by enhancing communications lines.

I think it’s fair game to criticize the program because you think it’s too much money, or that you’d rather see an investment in another program, but to use a  lazy internationalist argument that Canada’s troops are peacekeepers before soldiers is counterproductive.

I’m constantly reminded by a comment a former professor of mine once said whenever I read comments about Canada’s military (I’m paraphrasing): The concepts of peacekeeping, reconstruction, and nation-building are still new. Canada’s military is above else a fighting force, and we mustn’t forget that.

I don’t think we’ll be able to shake off that misperception until Canadians disassociate investment in the armed forces with necessarily hostile intentions.

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Health (s)Care

When a critical incident occurs that could affect countless lives, the most important thing to do is provide timely information.

This was not the case in Ottawa.

According to an article in the Montreal Gazette, Dr. Isra Levy, the city’s medical officer, said the specific clinic was not initially identified on Saturday because the city’s medical system would not have been ready to respond on the weekend to concerns of everyone who might be at risk.

He said, “”It would have been irresponsible to release information before the necessary and important supports were in place.”

Now, I realize the seriousness of the issue, but that being said, there should have been measures in place specifically for a critical incident such as this. The response from Dr. Levy seemed to do nothing but fuel mass speculation and fear in the Ottawa region. It also gave the negative perception that it wasn’t equipped to deal with the situation, even if it may have been acting with the utmost deliberateness.

All in all, the situation could have been handled in a better way.

Your thoughts on what Dr. Levy could’ve done better?

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The Great Blackberry Outage of ’11

Phones weren’t the only things that went silent

Blackberry users around the globe were fuming after email and messaging services went dead for four days. According to Wired, email and messaging services went dead in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East due to a failed core switch, and after a series of events that have yet to be explained, the service went down in the U.S. and Canada.

The AP reported that although the underlying issues were quickly repaired, the system had built up a backlog of emails and messages that needed to be wound down.

The way in which Research in Motion (RIM) – makers of the popular mobile phones – responded to the crisis drew sharp criticism from bloggers, and PR practitioners. Most acknowledge that RIM did a poor job in responding to a growing crisis by going silent.

RIM co-CEO Jim Balsillie said that RIM wanted to wait until the problems were nearly fixed before coming out publicly in a bigger way to address the massive disruptions.

In an article from the CP, he said “It’s a priority, but I do want to say our priority right up until this moment was making sure the system was up and running and operating globally.”

However, going silent in a crisis situation is the last thing RIM should have done. At the very least RIM should have updated the public as to the technical issues it faced as often as possible, which would’ve helped the company come out of this crisis in a more positive way.

Blogger Gordon MacMillan was quick to declare RIM’s handling of the crisis situation a public relations fail. In an article posted on The Wall, he describes quite adeptly how RIM failed to communicate to its customers on multiple platforms.

MacMillan pointed out that there were no updates on the Blackberry help blog, staff weren’t responding to questions on help forums, Facebook questions were apparently being blocked and removed, and the company’s presence on Twitter was virtually non-existent.

I did however object to one of MacMillan’s comments:

“So what are we to learn from all of this other than Blackberry appears to be pursuing a text book version of how not to respond in a crisis. Maybe it is a Canadian thing. Maybe it is what failing companies do.”

– I can assure him that it’s not a “Canadian thing,” just a bad PR thing.

I have no doubt that Balsillie’s main priority was to get his system operational, but keeping his customers in the dark for days will undoubtedly hurt the company’s brand at a time when its market share is decreasing because of increased competition. Even a minor stumble can push Blackberry users to rivals.

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Results don’t paint the whole picture

The Manitoba provincial election produced a few surprises.

Greg Selinger (Image from Global News)

Although most political pundits weren’t surprised that the NDP won – Greg Selinger and his political machine were quite aptly able to frame the election on their terms while the PCs response was timid – the manner in which they won was interesting.

The NDP saw its share of the popular vote decrease compared to the previous election, yet it still managed to gain seats in the legislature. The NDP won its fourth straight majority, gaining one seat in the process. The NDP finished with 37 seats, the PCs with 19, and the Liberals with a single seat. On the surface, it would appear as though the NDP cruised to a comfortable win.

However, when examining the parties’ shares of the popular vote, it seems apparent that Manitobans were almost evenly split between the NDP and the PCs – but that isn’t exactly true. The NDP had 46 per cent of the popular vote – a decrease of 2 percentage points – while the PCs gained 6 percentage points since the last election to sit with 44 per cent of the popular vote. In essence, it was virtually even.

That being said, Manitobans as a whole weren’t as divided as these figures would seem to indicate; rather, what these numbers prove is that there is a clear split in the civic-rural vote.

Some individuals will look at this as a great example as to why we need proportional representation in Manitoba. Proportional representation is an electoral system in which parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them.

However, I disagree with such a move. Proportional representation isn’t the electoral cure-all to our Westminster system as its proponents often argue. I am by no means arguing that individuals living in rural communities don’t deserve equal representation; rather I believe the first-past-the-post is the appropriate electoral system – despite its flaws. PC leader Hugh McFadyen would seem to agree with me on this topic.

McFadyen rubbished the thought of changing the electoral system when the question was posed in a scrum after his concession speech. That’s because he knew full well that the popular vote doesn’t matter, it’s where the votes are coming from.

Elections are won in urban centres, where people are concentrated. McFadyen unfortunately didn’t win in key urban battlegrounds, which accounts for the disparity in seat distribution.

Proportional representation wouldn’t change the fact that he didn’t get the job done in Winnipeg, plain and simple.

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Flag flap

It’s not every day that I agree with interim Liberal leader Bob Rae – in fact this might be the first time I’ve ever – but it’s hard to disagree with him on this issue.

Rae accused the Conservatives of distracting the public with symbols rather than focusing on an impending economic crisis. In an article in The National Post, Rae said, “Canadians are worried about an economy. You just wonder what it is that drives them to do these things.”

Rae was reacting to a private member’s bill introduced by a Conservative member John Carmicheal. The proposed law would punish anyone forcing a flag to be taken down with a fine or up to two years in prison.

To answer Rae’s question, what motivated the Conservatives to introduce this bill right now is to deflect attention away from the economy.

The loonie’s value is dropping vis-à-vis the American dollar at an alarming pace, and economic uncertainty in Europe and the United States risks harming the Canadian economy.

Conservatives are using this issue to deflect the electorate’s attention away from more concerning economic issues. Canadians won’t forget about a potential financial crisis, but the flag flap is enough to take some attention away from bleak news.

Plans to improve Canada’s economy usually elicit a divisive response, but everybody can rally behind patriotism.

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Social media and politics

The use of social media by politicians has increased in recent years as more and more people flock to sites like Twitter and Facebook. In fact, Bill Curry from The Globe and Mail referred to last year’s federal election as “Canada’s first social media election.”

I wanted to see if Manitoba politicians were using social media during the provincial election campaign. I did some very basic research, and quickly discovered that very few politicians used Twitter as a two-way communication tool. Rather, for the most part, politicians on Twitter used the social media platform to rehash their parties’ campaign announcements.

I also tried sending direct messages to a few politicians to see if anybody would answer me. To my chagrin, I am still waiting to hear back from all of them.

The question then lends itself: If politicians and candidates aren’t using social media effectively in their campaigns, should they be using it at all?

Image from

In an article on NPR’s website written by Linton Weeks entitled Politics In The Social Media Age: How Tweet It Is, Facebook employee Adam Conner states that using the social media website is an excellent way for a candidate or campaign to keep everyone – constituents and the media, in particular – up to date on goings-on.

Although social media sites such as Facebook are important, Matthew Hindman, assistant professor from George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, noted that updating social media sites is cumbersome. Referring to the American political experience, he said that “many candidates just use them as window dressing.”

Both Weeks and Hindman’s assessments are quite accurate when considering the use of social media in the Manitoba election.

Can using social media effectively work to a politician’s benefit?

Simply having Twitter and Facebook accounts isn’t good enough anymore. Politicians who use them as platforms to communicate with their constituents reap the rewards.

To use a Canadian example, Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi’s campaign was fantastic. He used social media effectively to build-up a grassroots movement that swept him into office. As his chief of staff Chima Nkemdirim stated, online followers could expect personal responses from Nenshi himself regardless of whether the post praised him, or was critical.

Building a genuine and personal connection to your constituents is the only practical way to use social media. Without two-way communication, the use of social media to persuade them to act – whether by volunteering, contributing funds, voting, or otherwise – is squandered.

So, should politicians use social media?

Yes, they should use it only if they are willing to engage voters rather than rehashing press releases.

Though it is impossible to truly measure how successful and important the use of social media is in political campaigns, we can draw one undeniable conclusion: If politicians aren’t willing to make the commitment to use social media as a two-way communication tool, there is very little point in using it at all.

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Stadium scandal?

Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act (FIPPA) obstruction to getting to the bottom of Manitoba’s growing debt-crisis

If I’ve learned anything studying politics and public relations, is that full-disclosure will spare you from embarrassment and scandal. It is precisely this lack of disclosure that could ultimately hurt Selinger’s NDP.

The PCs have long-argued that the NDP’s been cooking the province’s financial books. As Bruce Owen detailed in his blog on the Winnipeg Free Press’ website, it would appear as though there is some credence to their claim. (I’ll spare you the financial mumbo-jumbo, but refer to his blog for a detailed explanation).

As Tom Brodbeck noted in his article in the Winnipeg Sun, the true nature of the debt is unknown and the Selinger government is hiding behind FIPPA to prevent anybody from performing more in-depth analyses.

The NDP is refusing to disclose documents related to the new Winnipeg Blue Bombers stadium at the University of Manitoba. Government spokesman John Thorpe was quoted as saying ““As these documents have some details that will likely be protected under law, your best method to obtain as much information as possible is to file a request under FIPPA.”

It seems rather disingenuous to hide behind FIPPA. Far too often it seems to be used as a tool to prevent journalists from getting to the bottom of a story, rather than protecting sensitive information.

If the NDP wishes to dismiss claims that it has cooked the books, the only way to do it is to go public with the information.

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Mobile Mania

Companies are increasingly turning to mobile applications to build brand

There are tens of thousands of mobile applications, or apps, out there. Some of them are fun – take for instance Angry Birds – and some of them are seemingly useless – ie Lightsaber! (do yourself a favour and don’t download it).

However, other apps are fulfilling integral parts of multifaceted marketing and public relations campaigns. As people become more and more connected to social media and glued to their smart phones, apps have increasingly been used as an effective way to reach a group’s target audience, and promote its brand.

But as Tyler Ransburgh noted on his blog, “building an app that promotes (a company’s) service without actually mimicking it is probably the most difficult.” He added, “there has to be a hook to download and use the app.” In other words, companies have to persuade individuals to download the app.

A good example is the Coleman Campfire Tales app. I kind of stumbled on it by accident when I was browsing Marvel Comics apps… As it turns out, Marvel developed the app for Coleman.

The Coleman Campfire Tales app is a collection of scary stories that you read when you’re out camping and huddled around a campfire. It has stories for kids, teens, and adults, and even has sound effects that you can use to make the stories “creepier.”

So why is it good? 

Coleman and camping are synonymous. If you’re out in the wilderness, you’re likely going to be using a Coleman stove to cook your meals. Rather than providing its customers with a platform to do business, Coleman is providing them with something they will want to use for free.

This type of app is phenomenal when it comes to creating brand exposure. The stories on the app are really geared towards families. Coleman’s logo is plastered all over this app and children will likely associate the company with a positive family experience out in the woods.

The Coleman Campfire Tales app completely adheres to the principles of persuasion:

  • Identification: Free stories the whole family will enjoy.
  • Action: The app is available on the iTunes store, and it’s easy to read and use.
  • Clarity: Individuals will recognize the Coleman logo – which is featured prominently.
  • Familiarity and Trust: Coleman is synonymous with camping, and its stoves have been around for almost a century.

As noted, the app provides Coleman with an alternative method to interact with its customers while improving its brand recognition and reinforcing brand loyalty.

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