Archive for April, 2011

That great speech.

Saturday, April 30th, 2011

Some people think of a speech as being an end result.  How often have you said, that this or that person ‘gave a great speech.’  What that really says is that the speech was not successful.  If the speech did not motivate you to do something, it fails.

We were thinking of this when writing recently about political stump speeches.  These speeches have changed over the years as they have moved from the ‘vote for me’ talks delivered from a stump, the back of a train, a stage in a park or in a local arena.  Today these speeches are beating the drum to refresh the effort by already committed workers.

To understand great speeches, you need to analyze speeches such as Shakespeare’s recreation of Marc Anthony’s funeral oration for Julius Caesar, Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg, Winston Churchill’s classic Some chicken; some neck! speech to the Canadian parliament and Dr. Martin Luther King Junior’s momentous I have a dream. They were not just rich in their use of the English language, nor just adept at alliterative rhetoric.  They were built on what writers refer to as power phrases and are brought to repeated and all-consuming climaxes with an unerring sense of timing.

A great speech is structured.  It is not something that is done off the cuff.  Words have to be carefully placed within the sentence to reach the listeners’ ears in the right sequence.  Words that are weak or weaseled are wasted words.

A great speech is an epic journey that travels from mountain top to mountain top.  It is interrupted repeatedly by planned, anticipated audience reaction.  It is structured for the audience to voice and indicate approval.  The speaker’s pauses are part of the planning.  Each round of applause builds on the previous.  It rises to a crescendo of approval.

And that is all in the timing.  Timing is a critical factor, not in the length of a speech, but in its delivery.  Like the great comedians, great speakers know that the crucial pause is what can make the difference between polite agreement and an ovation.

The hardest thing to teach a person who aspires to be a good, if not great, public speaker is to read the audience.  It can be as simple as; are they looking at their watches?  Are they nodding in agreement?  Are they looking bored?  Are they looking around to see how others are reacting?  Can you see puzzlement and segue in an ad-libbed clarification?  You have to think of a speech as a conversation and always be ready to adjust your remarks to fit the needs of your audience.

There are some darn good speakers today.  President Obama of the U.S. comes immediately to mind.  What is probably missing is great speech writers.

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Friday, April 29th, 2011

We embarrassed ourselves yesterday,

Admitting that we had nothing to say,

But that English wedding is oh so gay,

At least, Harper will not have his way.


Write about election or wedding? An easy choice.

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

That seems to be the choice today.  You can write about the election or the wedding.  Since we are at a low level with drivel these days, the wedding loses.  Mind you, we read in the notoriously monarchist Toronto Star that only 39 per cent of Canadians are even thinking of viewing the spectacle.

The wife had the idea that we could record the wedding and watch it the next day when we were awake.  This was discouraged when it was explained to her that seven hours of high definition blather might not be easily accommodated on our personal video recorder.  There is also no guarantee that, even on fast forward, we would be able to stay awake through the event.

That left us with the election.  That is bad news too.  We can only hope that the pollsters are proved so wrong afterwards that they are banished for all time from forecasting any level of elections.

The promised fall of the Liberals at this time, we know, is premature.  The rise of the NDP to power is even more unlikely.

Our bets are based on Ontario.  The bets all revolve around the Liberals getting better than 30 per cent of the vote in the province with more than a third of the seats in parliament.  That spells minority for Harper.

What guarantees the minority is that Harper’s hopes have all but crashed in Quebec.  The news media have probably stampeded some Liberal votes to the NDP in the Atlantic.  That part of the country is always a bit behind the curve.  And Harper is going to get the majority of the votes in the Prairies.  While the Prairies are still part of Canada, that just makes them look narrow minded and mean spirited.

And then there is B.C.  We have absolutely no idea what the voters are going to do in Lotusland.  Neither do the voters.

When younger and less empathetic, we used to say that the damn silly voters get the government they deserve.  That is a cruel statement today.  Frankly, there seems to be a difference of opinion about whether Harper is a mean, red-neck or not.  Maybe we are just too vehement in trying to keep him from being declared emperor.  We should always remember that even Napoleon started with the best of intentions.

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Wednesday, April 27th, 2011

The media think Jack Layton is on the brink,

Those who dreamed that up, need a shrink.


Will you be enjoying the nuptials of Kate and Bill?

Tuesday, April 26th, 2011

It is certainly a counterpoint to the current election campaign in Canada.  The wedding of the year will soon be upon us.  Luckily, it is at 3 am on Friday morning when wise people are partaking in a nightly ritual of a sound and healthy sleep.

It is the monarchists among us who cannot miss the nuptials.  Ye shall know them by the dark circles under their eyes the following day.  The rest of us will still have to forego watching television news for a few days to avoid the sugar high the event offers in reruns.  And the election news will also be in reruns by then so you will need to stock up with a few good books.

Not since we saw some of the solemn procession that buried the groom’s mother, have the Royals had the chance to capture such a world-wide audience.  It is really most embarrassing.  Do we colonials have to mind our manners and continue to tolerate this farcical royalty?

The royals are not only an anachronism but they went out of fashion more than a century ago.  When the Weimar Republic sent the old Kaiser off to farm in the Lowlands, after the end to the First World War, the English should have been smart enough to rid themselves of the spawn of Victoria.

It was the attitudes and repressiveness of the Victorian and Hapsburg era that tried so hard to contain the surging demands for change in Europe. The dichotomy can be traced to the rise of Bolshevism and fascism.  And ultimately, it triggered the horrors of the Second World War.

Nobody is innocent in foolishness.  The constant foisting of the royals on Canadians is an aggressive act.  It is not just done to resist change but to prevent it.  It is a causative factor in driving apart Quebec and the rest of the country.  It is a cause of alienation of youth when we promote such a double standard.  It blocks progress to true nationhood.

The fact of the monarchy continues to make the point that Canada must have a Constitutional Conference.  We must provide ourselves with a modern, democratic government, with political parties that are equally modern and democratic.

Our institutions must have their leadership chosen in a democratic manner.  We can no longer, for example, allow the Supreme Court judges to be chosen by the Prime Minister without democratic confirmation by Parliament.

The Senate of Canada had proved itself an intestinal blockage in the body of Parliament long before Mr. Harper turned it into a farce.

We have the opportunity to learn from the governing errors of the Americans.  We have an opportunity to do better.

It is time for Canadians to ‘Rise Up’ as Michael Ignatieff said.  Not just against the myopic mismanagement of the Conservatives and their vicious cabal of a government, but against the entire structure and idiocy of how we are governed.

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Monday, April 25th, 2011

Jack Layton, you are being had, man,

When did you become a pollster fan?

You want to believe, if you really can,

It’s an election scam you gullible man.


How random is my sample?

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

In many years of doing election polling and as a frequent client of research firms, one learns to be a bit sceptical.  In fact, today, you have every reason to be downright suspicious.  It appears that people are using selected poll results to try to stampede voters.

The voters have no reason to believe these pollsters who are trumpeting their polls.  There is absolutely no way those polls can be accurate.  Think about how you react to someone on the telephone asking you how you are going to vote.  Do you graciously tell the caller everything they want to know?  Are you kidding?

The problem today is that there is no way to get a truly random sample of Canadian voters.  And if you could achieve that, it would still have to be a large enough sample to allow for breakouts of regional influences.  The Bloc Quebecois in Quebec skew the figures there.  If you include that 10 per cent of the vote with the rest of the country, it is not relevant.  When you consider it can be 40 per cent of Quebec’s vote, you see why it can translate into more than 40 seats in the House of Commons.  In the same way, the disproportionate Reform/Tory vote in the Prairies skews the national figures.

As the old chestnut goes, figures do not lie but liars can figure.  To understand a poll, start with the bias of the person reporting it.  Mind you, the person does not have to lie.  All they have to do is be selective about the figures they give you.

With one-third of the House of Commons seats in the Province of Ontario, when have you heard in this election about polling in Ontario?  That is because it is the toughest area in the country to predict.  It is also the toughest area in which to get a statistically viable sample of voters.  The pollsters do not want to expose themselves.

The current flurry of polls showing the NDP strengthened, are more a phenomenon of the news media than any real hope for an NDP breakthrough.  This is not 1990 in Ontario.  You have to be smoking some fairly strong stuff to imagine Jack Layton as Prime Minister.  Jack is a small potatoes municipal politician who has not grown in his current role.  Most of that supposed growth in NDP support is in Quebec where tired PQ voters are searching for some answers.

But what the pollsters fail to explain is that about 30 per cent of the potential voters are unlikely to go to the polls.  Nobody can be sure who they are.

We used to.  Back in our early days of political polling, we used to know how the voter would vote before asking them the specific question.  It was done with qualifying questions.  Their actual voting intent helped with the equation used to determine their probability of going out to vote.  We used to do some amazingly accurate surveys.

The poll that interests us was where we lined up yesterday at the advance poll in our electoral district.  There never used to be advance poll line-ups like that.  It bodes well.  There is going to be a good turnout of voters in this election.  That is bad news for Mr. Harper.  He wants sleeping voters, not voters eager to go to the polls.  He wants a vote like 2008 when large numbers of Liberal votes did not make it to the polls.  They have much more to vote for this time.

The most accurate election surveys are traditionally what are called exit polls.  They are a quick survey done as voters are leaving the polling station.  They are more likely to tell you the truth then.

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Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

The people at Ipsos Reid have taken a poll,

Find out our voting intentions is their goal,

And how Catholics will vote, bless our soul!

And what breakfast cereals are in our bowl?

Ipsos Reid’s jokers will soon be on the dole.


Babel blog bids bye-bye to Brown.

Friday, April 22nd, 2011

The headline could be wishful thinking but Brown really needs to go.  He has been the Member of Parliament here in Babel for five years.  He is, beyond a doubt, one of the sorriest Members of Parliament we have ever seen.  And we have known some really bad ones during almost 50 years of activity on the political scene.

We have seen the vindictive, the incompetent, the shrill, the self serving, the stupid, the egotistical, the dishonest and the overly partisan.  They can be of any party.  Nobody’s perfect.  A friend once gave a speech defending the ignorant people who are elected to Parliament.  He insisted that ignorant Canadians deserve representation in the House along with the intelligent.

But there is no question that the average I.Q. in the House of Commons could improve when Brown is gone.  And despite the humour of what our friend espoused, the voters of Babel do not deserve Brown.  Nobody deserves that.

In clinical terms, Brown might be a case of arrested development.  All a layman can do is note the symptoms and hope he gets professional help.

At 32, he certainly does not act his age.  Maybe one of the reasons that he comes across as so juvenile is that he has never held a job.  He lacks life experience.  Women in his age group do not appear to like him.  Men his age often seem uncomfortable with him.

One of the better aspects of Brown’s door-knocking during the election campaign is that more voters are meeting him.  It does not improve his vote.

His campaign is very shallow.  In a four-page letter he had ready to mail to Babel voters at the beginning of the campaign, it was amazing how little he had to say about his time in the House of Commons or on House committees.  He seems to have never had an idea, a suggestion or a strong belief other than to be at his party’s beck and call.  He certainly does not represent his electoral district.

As would any callow youth, he tends to fabricate his stories for the voters.  As he is a heavy advertiser and water boy for the local media, they are hardly critical of his fabrications.  Their preferences are all too obvious.

As a member of the House of Commons Heritage Committee, that is responsible for the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission, we watched him appear before the Commission earlier this year.  He gave them a silly story about his grandmother watching him on city council and he lauded CTV’s /A Channel for providing the coverage of city council for the people of Babel.

The only problem with his story—as we pointed out to the Commission after he left—any Babel resident knows that it is the Rogers Cable channel that has always provided regular coverage of city hall.

What is worse, Brown thinks he is still on city council.  That is another story.

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Thursday, April 21st, 2011

Bob Rae got up at 5 to have breakfast in Babel,

He gave us a talk here, he was more than able.