Saturday, October 25, 2008

Young grammar enthusiasts apply to Evil Leage of Evil

I've been watching some of the online applications to the Evil Leage of Evil this evening, and was pleased to stumble upon this submission from some young women who have as much fun with English grammar as I do.

"There is no escaping my wrath unless you live outside of the tri-state area because if you do, my mom won't drive me that far."

As a proponent of the Oxford comma, I was delighted with this video. It is always nice to be reassured that those of us with an appreciation of grammar are not alone in the world. It is also lovely to see such young Dr. Horrible/Joss Whedon fans; reminds me of myself in my younger years.

If a misplaced apostrophe ruins your day, as it does mine, you must read Eats, Shoots and Leaves.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Republicans work with Electronic Voting Machines in attempt to foil Democracy

Anyone who has spent any time with me has likely heard my long, detailed and, I would argue, well-informed rant about various methods of electronic voting (e-voting). Earlier this year, I turned my rant into an academic assignment for my Constitutional Law class, which takes the form of another blog, E-Voting and the Canadian Constitution.

Here's a huge problem for you: "A new Government Accountability Office report on voting system testing [PDF] finds that the Election Assistance Commission has not notified election officials across the country about electronic voting machine failures. And a new study [PDF] by Common Cause and the Century Foundation finds that 10 very vital swing states have significant voting problems that have not been addressed since the last election" (CNN, links added).

Not surprisingly, the machines are already causing problems in the American election, and reports out of Florida say that "ballot-reading machines failed in Duval County, while in Miami-Dade and Broward counties, Democratic Rep. Kendrick Meek is threatening to file a lawsuit because some polling places have too few voter machines to handle the crowds." Also, in Texas, "voting machines failed in several locations this week. Voters in the Acres Homes area of Houston were told to go home and come back later when the machines were fixed. Meanwhile, the computer mainframe crashed under the weight of the heavy turnout in Corpus Christi and surrounding Nueces County, election officials said. (MSNBC). At Huffington Post, Jim McKay is reporting problems expressed by Democratic voters in West Virginia who claim the machines are casting votes for McCain when they touch the part of the screen to vote for Obama. CNN is now reporting the same, though it seems the individuals they spoke to were assisted by a poll worker when they brought up the problem.

It never ceases to amaze me the degree of reliance placed on the voting machines in the United States despite the myriad of well-documented problems they cause. Why weren't the Texans who were told to go home instead given a provisional ballot? How many of them will actually return when the machines are "fixed"? If you know how many voters are registered, shouldn't you be able to estimate quite readily the number of machines you'll need on hand so that people don't have to wait in line for hours to cast their vote?

There is some good news: "Denver, Colorado, for example, is going back to paper poll book registration for this election." This is as a result of people running into difficulty due to nit-picky software that doesn't understand things like the fact that "Alex" is a valid truncation of the name "Alexander", which your average human poll worker would be able to acknowledge so that such an Alex(ander) would be able to register/vote despite this minor discrepancy in their legal name. I'm hoping/predicting that more states will display this sort of back-pedaling away from reliance on technology in the voting process.

Also, the entire state of Florida has done away with hanging chads and touch-screen voting machines, and replaced them with optical scan machines. The advantage of optical scan machines, particularly in a state with Florida's reputation, is that there is a paper trail. Individuals vote on paper by filling in a circle on the ballot, and a machine counts the filled-in circles. This allows for efficient counting and the option of a manual recount wherein those counting can scrutinize the marks made on each ballot by voters. This change, while not without problems (as seen above, the counting machines are on the fritz), is better than no change at all. (I'm not quite sure how this jives with the Common Cause report which listed Florida among the 10 states who haven't addressed their problems since last election, but I admittedly haven't read the report yet).

What is more disconcerting than long lines at polling stations is what the Republicans are trying to do regarding the advent of advance polls in some US states. In Indiana, a judge is weighing arguments in a motion to halt early voting and throw out the votes in heavily Democratic Gary, Hammond and East Chicago, where Republicans allege a procedural violation in the elections board’s vote to approve the voting locations."(MSNBC). UPDATE (25 Oct): The Republicans have lost this challenge (Indiana Law Blog). They've already lost a legal challenge to early voting and same-day registration in Ohio (Washington Independent).

It's no wonder they're trying to throw out as many votes as they can - officials in the twenty-nine states holding early voting are reporting record turnout (CNN), and it's the Dems who are turning out in droves.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Palin fails to impress on SNL

Well, I don't think we have to worry about Sarah Palin winning over any undecided voters based on her appearance on SNL this past Saturday.

As mentioned in my previous post, a successful appearance would have been one in which Palin came off as self-deprecating and funny. She didn't. In fact, she barely said a word. It's not enough for her to simply come off as a good sport by standing/sitting there while the scene goes on around her.

For the Weekend Update bit to be a success for Palin, the audience had to spend the entire rap imagining her performing the bit, but within a few seconds, all I was thinking was, "Amy Poehler is amazing; I can't believe she's leaving the show; etc." and I pretty much forgot Palin was even there. I was also annoyed that they gave her the two catch phrases.

What I've been wondering is who approached who to get Palin on the show. There's every possibility Palin's handlers thought it would do her well to show up at SNL and acknowledge the attention they've been getting for the past few weeks. If the folks at SNL didn't really want her there, or at least didn't want to help her campaign in any way, it's possible the writers intentionally gave her very few lines. Another possibility is that regardless of who initiated, Palin's team put so many limits on what she could do, the writers didn't have anything to work with. As a result, they write something ridiculous (and hilarious) that Palin would never have been able to do herself, and get Poehler to do it.

Some will argue that politicians aren't actors; they rarely perform well when they appear on SNL, so we shouldn't hold Palin to a high standard. Fine, but contrast Palin's performance with that of Gov. Mike Huckabee last season:

That, my friends, is a self-deprecating politician with great delivery capable of playing a caricature of himself. I expected that much of Palin, and she didn't deliver.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Palin to appear on SNL tonight

On Countdown with Keith Olbermann, Emily Heil provided some interesting commentary on SNL suddenly becoming relevant once again and what Palin's appearance on SNL might mean for her campaign.

In particular, I think Heil is right that while Palin is comedic gold, she hasn't shown herself to be very self-deprecating. I don't know if Palin appreciates the caricature she has become.

As Musto mentions in the above clip, Paris Hilton's appearance on Weekend Update is a perfect example of how an SNL appearance can help a person whose reputation is in the toilet. A 2-minute spot on SNL can suddenly make the audience realize that, wait a minute, she knows that people are making fun of her and she's humble/clever enough to go along with it. Hilton, in particular, has done a great job of seeming both stupid and terribly clever (through self-deprecating humour) to the point where people can never be quite sure of just how (un)intelligent she actually is. However, while this approach works for a pop culture figure like Hilton, I don't think it can work for a political figure like Palin.

Since the Katie Couric interview, a lot of commentators have been drawing comparisons between Palin and George W. Bush due to their apparent stupidity. A successful appearance tonight will, unfortunately, help Sarah Palin. If she is able to convince people that she can be self-deprecating and that she appreciates the SNL-style satire that has been lampooning her since McCain introduced her to us, she will have distinguished herself from George Bush, who has never, to my mind, shown any willingness to make fun of himself to the extent that other politicians have done.

Either way, it should make for a good laugh, and will likely reel in more great ratings for SNL.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Canada Voted 2008

Well, Newfoundland & Labrador got it right. I don't know what's wrong with the rest of the country.

Mansbridge just asked if this (minority) is a failure for Harper, and it absolutely is. I can't see him leading in the next election. This was his chance for a majority, but he's lost it, even though it seemed like a possibility when he called the election. He clearly lost it in Quebec, and we all know that it's just about impossible to win the country without winning Quebec. Harper has shown he's not capable of winning over Quebec, so he'll very likely step down before the next election.

Sadly, he won't be the only new leader next time around. I truly came to like Mr. Dion over the past few weeks. One cannot question his sincerity and he is undoubtedly one of the most genuine politicians around today. However, the knives will be out in the weeks and months to come. Someone will have to answer for the numbers we're seeing tonight, and people in the party will be looking to Dion. On the bright side, Dion has succeeded where Harper failed - in Quebec. One of my favorite commentators, Chantal Hebert, just mentioned that this election marks the point where the Liberals in Quebec have turned the page on the sponsorship scandal. Maintaining this resurgence will be important next time around.

Now, let us sit back and see how long this one will last...

Highlights and Low Points

The NS:

While I'm not surprised by Megan Leslie's win in Halifax, I was holding out hope for Catherine Meade [there aren't enough (read: any) lesbians of colour in the House.] I thought the race would be a bit tighter with Alexa's departure.

I was so excited when that first poll came out of Central Nova and Elizabeth May was in the lead. Sadly, it didn't last, but Ms. May did succeed in the way I predicted she would - the Green Party can no longer be perceived as a one-issue party. I saw May speak at Dalhousie a while back after she'd become leader of the Greens; I knew that night that the profile of the party would change under her leadership, and it has.

Back for another kick at the can

Glad to see Eyking & Cuzner back in their seats on the Cape, though not surprised. There was some buzz in Sydney-Victoria about the Conservative candidate, Kristen Rudderham, early on, and later the NDP candidate, Wayne MacKay. Rudderham's stock started to fall fairly quickly when it became apparent that she forgot she was running in Cape Breton and ran a dirty campaign against an incredibly well-liked incumbent. Redirecting your incumbent's domain name to your own Blogspot might work in some places, but certainly not in Sydney-Victoria. I see the typical CB voter as my grandmother. If you visit her and have a cup of tea (and you're a Liberal), you've got her vote.

My MP for Dartmouth-Cole Harbour, Mike Savage looked like he was being given a run for his money for a while there, but he pulled ahead of Brad Pye (NDP) nicely. Geoff Regan and Scott Brison also held onto their seats in Halifax-West and Kings-Hants. Wish we could say the same for Mr. Thibault in West Nova, but I think the Liberals were somewhat prepared for this loss.

The Rest of the Country:

Disappointed to see Belinda's Newmarket-Aurora riding go Conservative again. Third time's the charm for Ms. Brown, I guess.

All my least favourite Conservative MPs are back: Jason Kenney (can't wait to see if Harper's mouthpiece will run to replace him); Diane Ablonczy; Rona Ambrose; John Baird.

Another least favourite, Maxime Bernier, gets his own paragraph. The fact that this guy even ran again disgusts me to no end. I am astounded that he is so well-liked that he's been elected with a healthy majority. Harper hasn't got much to choose from in Quebec for his Cabinet, but if he has any sense, Bernier won't be doing anything of importance in this Parliament.

Voter turnout looks to be abysmal. It's depressing. Ormiston's tweets (for what they're worth) are blaming Harper and calling for electoral reform. I've thought a lot about proportional representation (not as much lately as during my undergrad days in the Poli Sci department), and while I like it in principle, I don't think it's the be-all-end-all; it's also an incredibly hard sell to most of the general public. I'd like to see what difference preferential ballots could make first. It's much simpler to understand; it seeks out what the majority want, or at least prefer; and it's still fairly easy to count, even with paper ballots. In the current climate, it would also help to unite the right without the Liberals and NDP necessarily embracing one another in any formal way.

I'm sure I'll have more thoughts once I can get more thorough results, but that will have to wait until tomorrow.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

I always preferred CBC anyway

Yesterday morning, having become incensed over the way in which CTV Atlantic chose to air Steve Murphy's interview with St├ęphane Dion, I sent the following e-mail to CTV Atlantic, CTV News, and Mike Duffy Live.

To whom it may concern:

I am disgusted by the way in which your network chose to air Steve Murphy's interview with Liberal leader St├ęphane Dion Thursday evening. I am equally disgusted by Mr. Murphy's inability to properly phrase a question using clear English grammar, particularly when he knows the subject of his interview speaks English as a second language.

Steve Murphy (or whoever wrote the question posed to Mr. Dion) is at fault in this matter. The question "If you were Prime Minister now, what would you have done...?" mixes the present tense with the past tense. Such phrasing is unclear (even to an Anglophone) and, thus, open to interpretation. It is understandable that Mr. Dion would have difficulty understanding the intention of the question and he was entitled to clarification on what exactly was being asked. The question should have been rephrased so that it was grammatically clear.

The fact that Mr. Dion asked to re-start his answer so that he could answer the question that was meant to be asked does not reflect his party's policy. To air Mr. Dion's requests for clarification as if no interview subject has ever done such a thing before is unbalanced and makes it appear that CTV is trying to influence the election in some way. The use of confusing phrasing could also be seen as an effort to intentionally fluster Mr. Dion. CTV and Steve Murphy owe an apology to Mr. Dion and to all voters for interfering with the electoral process in this way and undermining the media's duty to present balanced coverage of an election campaign.

I suggest you clean up your act and learn to speak English.


Lisa Buchanan
I was offended not just because I'm a fan of Dion, but because I truly feel that this constituted CTV meddling in the electoral process and providing a ridiculous piece of ammunition to the Conservatives, who failed to make any productive use of the clip. I think it's clear to everyone that Dion had an answer to the question; he simply didn't know what he was being asked. CBC Newsworld spent a good deal of time talking about the matter yesterday morning and Dion had the opportunity to respond to the incident in a live interview with Heather Hiscox. CBC's Julie Van Dusen was quick to point out that it was difficult to understand what Harper was getting at since everyone knows about Dion's 30 day economic plan to the point where she can recite it in her sleep.

I wasn't the only person to complain. On the CTV National News last night, during the brief mention of the issue almost 15 minutes into the broadcast, Graeme Richardson reported there was "a strong negative reaction from the public; CTV was deluged with calls and messages."

Last night I received the following response from Jay Witherbee, News Director at CTV Atlantic.

Dear Ms. Buchanan,

Thank you for your email. I would like to take a moment to respond to your concerns to give you a better understanding of why we aired the interview with Stephane Dion in its entirety.

The economic crisis is a central issue in the federal election campaign. We posed a question to Mr. Dion regarding the economy and while it was unfortunate that he struggled in answering the question, upon review and reflection it was decided that we had a responsibility to run the footage so that our viewers could decide for themselves.

We would like to emphasize that Steve Murphy is not personally responsible for this decision. CTV News has an editorial review process in place. There was a great deal of consideration and discussion that went into making this decision. This process also included numerous other people from various departments within CTV News, as decisions of this magnitude are never made in isolation. We assure you that we do not take these issues lightly.

Thank you for sharing your point-of-view, as feedback from our viewers is extremely important to us. We sincerely hope that you will continue to watch CTV News in the future.


Jay Witherbee
News Director
CTV Atlantic
I don't often write letters about these sorts of things, but I'm glad I did in this case.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Palin likely to need a life line in VP debate tonight

Tina Fey has nailed her impression of Sarah Palin yet again. What is most striking about this skit is that there are many portions that the folks at SNL didn't even have to write. It's almost a verbatim transcript of the interview at times, particularly her response to the bailout question. While it is terrifying how well-liked Palin seems to be, she is fascinating in her sheer inability to make any coherent sense. She repeatedly failed to answer Couric's questions without being asked three times, and she claimed to have read "all of them" when Couric asked her what newspapers and magazines she read to stay informed and understand the world in advance of being put on the ticket, and yet she refused to name even one news source and just started talking about Alaska. I hope someone counts the number of times she says "Alaska" in the debate tonight.