Thursday, 27 June 2019

Media Literacy: Distraction and Subliminal Suggestion

 The CPC recently posted this ad.

In it we see Trudeau appearing to "turn off the taps". But, notice, the Prime Minister looks unusually dark-skinned in this photo. Let's take a closer look at what is happening here.

So, it appears the CPC communications people have taken a stock photo, in this particular case of an oil worker in the southern US, and photo-shopped our Prime Minister's face onto it. Additionally, the colour saturation has been increased, making the whole image more garish and disconcerting and, at the same time, darkening Trudeau's complexion.

This is a manipulated photo.

What is the CPC doing here?

The ad image appears more sinister than the original photos. The colour adjustments are similar to those used in the motion picture industry to enhance the audience's feelings of dread at scary moments in the film. Hyper-saturation gives everything a surreal and dissonant feeling.

This ad also uses a sans-serif font and all capital letters. It is "SHOUTING" at the viewer. The changing font sizes and colours add to the sense of urgency, panic, distress that is meant to be conveyed.

There is a science to producing images and formatting messages to evoke different emotional responses in the viewer. A neutral message can evoke feelings of anxiety if the font, colours, and presentation is done a certain way. Add the right background image and you can raise a person's sense of uncertainty or tension with a completely unalarming message. Because feelings about specific colours are fairly subjective, it is less the colours chosen and more the way they clash with each other that creates the desired effect. Coupled, of course, with the changing font size.

For example, look at this:

Very neutral. Information without much in the way of emotional pull.

Now, look at this:

The difference is probably slight, because it is a very neutral pair of statements. But the second example grabs your attention. The variation in colour and font size, as well as being all caps, is disconcerting. It's jarring. It's making your brain work harder because things don't fit together as one expects. Instead of simply absorbing the message as you did with the first example, you now have to also deal with the unexpected presentation. This creates the foundation for tension.

 The image itself is highly saturated. Studies have shown that saturation, or the intensity of colour, increases the impact of an image. Think of Instagram. You take a photo of a beautiful sunset and you go to post it to your Instagram. You are presented with a bunch of filters that do different things to your image. Several of them adjust the saturation. With the right filter you can take a pale but pretty sunset and intensify the colours to make it truly spectacular. That is what I mean when I speak of saturation.

Here is an example of what I mean. The first image is unadjusted.

The second image has had the colour saturation enhanced.

In studies, researchers showed subjects various images. They asked the research subjects to self-report how they were feeling upon seeing each image, and they also used physical metrics like skin conductance (skin momentarily becomes a better conductor of electricity when an internal or external stimuli is presented that causes excitement or arousal), and heart rate. So, these researchers determined that high saturation is one of several visual inputs that results in arousal in subjects. Please note: scientists use the term "arousal" to describe a state of heightened emotional and physical engagement. It is not sexual arousal.  

The ad image is heavily saturated. So they have used font style, sizes, and colour, as well as image colour saturation to elicit involuntary responses in the viewer.

Another thing they have done is to darken the image. Darkness in an image adds a sense of mystery or foreboding. Which, again, subtly affects the emotional state of the viewer.

Clearly, the photo-shop techs at CPC have used multiple tools; colour variation, font size variation, all capital letters, colour saturation in the image, and darkening the image, to prime the viewer to be in an enhanced state of "arousal", or tension. And that has happened before your brain has even processed what the words mean. So when you read them, your brain is already anxious and fretting. This magnifies the impact of the message.

Let's look at what else they have done in this ad.

They have photo shopped the PM's face onto someone else's body, in a place the PM has probably never been, doing a thing the PM has probably never done. The blatant dishonesty of doing this should be apparent to all. Laws are lagging behind our digital reality. There needs to be some controls that protect the integrity and legitimacy of one's own image. It is part of your identity. Think of the damage that could be done to a person if, for instance, someone photo-shopped someone's face into CCTV footage that shows a crime being committed. Copyright law, personality rights, rights to control the use of your own image are confusing and contradictory. Until this can be rectified, we are going to see more and more doctored images designed to vilify people.

But, let's look at Justin Trudeau in this ad. He appears to be very dark. Brown-skinned, some might assume, if they did not know what he really looks like. Of course there is nothing wrong with being brown-skinned, but some people hold prejudices against brown-skinned people. This may be an attempt to create a link between the Prime Minister and brown people in general, or more specifically, between the PM and Middle Eastern or South American refugees (depending on whichever is more triggering to the individual viewer).

That image creates an impression in the viewer's mind. Those who do not judge people based on skin colour might look at it and think, "What's up with that? He looks odd, way darker than usual." Those who do judge people based on skin colour may look at this and feel a negative towards the PM that has nothing to do with reality.

Finally, the words themselves. Now that the ad has everyone agitated and anxious and maybe feeling negative, the words are grossly inaccurate. Of course, the CPC can't say that the Liberal plan is to phase out oil and gas gradually, over time, in a responsible manner and retrain workers to do different jobs in a sustainable energy economy. Because that makes a lot of sense and would likely make people feel positively inclined towards the Liberals. Instead the CPC tells people Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are "going to take away your livelihood. They're going to put you out of work and let you and your family starve". Which is simply false.

Now, in every social media conversation I have seen so far about this ad, it begins with someone saying, "Why did the CPC make Trudeau into a brown person?" A very legitimate question. And every time the discussion quickly devolves into people arguing about the best policy regarding fossil fuels.

This is what the CPC wants. They want the Liberal supporters and Green supporters and NDP supporters to be at each other's throats about anything and everything. Because if we work together, we outnumber them.

The future of fossil fuels in Canada is an important subject. But the fact that the Opposition uses devious psychological tricks to try to control how Canadians think, is at least as important a subject, particularly with an election coming up.

Be media literate. Think about what you are seeing when you see an ad. Don't just agree and share it along. Question what is in front of your own eyes. We can no longer trust visual evidence at face value. We need to stand up to manipulative campaign propaganda. We need to not get distracted and turn to fighting amongst ourselves.

Monday, 24 June 2019

So, You're Just a "Fiscal Conservative"?

Conservatives get really upset when others think conservatives are racist, homophobic, misogynist, science deniers... They get really upset when it is suggested they might try to suppress the vote, or cheat in elections. 
They get irate if it is suggested they want to dismantle the Canada Health Act and throw us to the wolves of American Insurance "pay up or die" medicine. They don't like it when people express the opinion that conservatives only care about the wealthy and big corporations. 
I hear so many people say, "Yeah, I vote conservative, but I have nothing against queers or brown people. I'm fiscally conservative and the conservatives are better managers of our money." 
The thing is, in fact, the conservatives of late have been terrible financial stewards. Between them, Mulroney and Harper are responsible for the vast majority of Canada's national debt. 
Did you know that Harper, in a desperate effort to produce an artificially balanced budget before the 2015 election, sold our GM stocks at a loss and sold off Canadian property (that's OUR property, not his) to put money in the coffers? 
 Foreign Properties fire sale

So, really, saying the conservatives are more fiscally responsible is not a defensible reason to vote for them. If you look at what else they do, not related to money, conservatives are incredibly hard on Canadians. Our neighbours, our families, our community. 
Look at Ford's government, cutting assistance to families of children with autism. Cutting funding for health and education. cutting regulations designed to protect consumers, workers, and the environment... There is a detailed list here.
Look at Kenney's government, only a month old, and already cutting protections for LGBTQ2S+ youth, denying public service employees (that's teachers and nurses among others) the right to negotiate their contracts
Both Ford and Kenney are denying the students of Ontario and Alberta (our children) access to sex-ed that is relevant to current issues like sexting, consent, even knowing the correct names for parts of their bodies. 
And look back at Harper. What did Harper do? The list is very long. Destroyed science libraries, chose to visit pandas instead of meeting with First Nation's youth who had WALKED to Ottawa to meet with him... 
Cut Veteran's services, cut Status of Women's offices, shut off acceptance of refugees, ignored MMIWG, removed protection from our lakes and waterways, sent our young men and women into a war zone that was not our war... 
Prorogued parliament several times to save his own ass. Tried to vilify the chief justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. Cut off media access. Only held town hall meetings that allowed vetted CPC supporters.  Shut down debate over and over and over... 
Fired and vilified whistle-blowers like Linda Keen and Richard Colvin. Was the only PM in Commonwealth history to be found in contempt of parliament. Wasted our money on Economic Action Plan billboards and ads... 

Not to mention ads bought in Eastern Europe to tell Roma people they were not welcome in Canada. And ads in the US to promote the CPC and the pipelines
He brought in draconian and unconstitutional sentencing laws that have been shown in other jurisdictions to be completely ineffective in making communities safer. Apparently to satisfy a primal urge for vengeance among his base. 
He brought in boutique tax credits to pander to people who already had money and ignored those who didn't. He brought in a taxable child benefit. He suggested a "barbaric cultural practices tip-line" "Hey Old Stock Canadians! Report your ethnic neighbours!" 

During Stephen Harper's watch, there is a list of Canadians who suffered at the hands of foreign governments while Canadian officials did nothing. These included Omar Khadr, and also Abfousfian Abdelrazik, Mashir Makhtal, Huseyin Celil, and Suaad Hagi Mohamud. Perhaps their names were too foreign-sounding. Perhaps Harper and his government could not bring themselves to really believe these people were real Canadians. I mean, really, real Canadians. Old Stock Canadians. Like, say, Brenda Martin, a white Canadian woman who was jailed in Mexico and who the Harper Government went to bat for, even flying her home on a government aircraft after obtaining her release.
It reflects an absence of compassion or empathy. It reflect a callousness towards others that is alarming. When it comes down to it, that is a trademark of the current conservative parties. A callous disregard for the value of life unless the person is someone they approve of or someone who could be useful to them. And if you think the CPC is under new management, well, conservative insiders say Harper is still pulling the strings and running things from an un-elected position behind the scenes:
Andrew Scheer hired Hamish Marshall, co-founder of the racist hate-propaganda site, The Rebel, as his campaign manager. Georgette Burke, founder of an anti-Islam group is one of his advisors, A Trump campaigner is now a UCP MLA in Alberta. 
The CPC freely associate with racist/misogynist/homophobic groups. They want US gun laws and US nukes on our land. 
They cheat in elections. In 2006, with the "In and Out" Scandal.  In 2008, with the CPC Ethics Minister convicted of breaking spending rules.

In 2011 with voter suppression and robocalls.

In 2013, Labrador MP Peter Penashue was forced to resign over illegal campaign donations.
Even their own leadership election within the CPC appears to be suspect.
They show no regard for the environment. They pander to their base and their donors. No one else matters. 
If you can know all this and still say you vote CPC because you are only fiscally conservative, you are saying one of two things. Hint: neither reflects well on you. 
You are either saying you actually are a racist/homophobe/misogynist and it just makes you mad when other people know it, or you care more about money than people. There's no way around that. That's really sad. 
Essentially, in case I did not make it clear earlier. if you vote CPC you are complicit. You don't get to cherry-pick parts of a platform. It you vote CPC you are saying you agree with all that they are. Racist, homophobic, misogynist. It's a bundle. No substitutions.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

The Great Alberta Equalisation Myth

Kenney has announced that if he doesn't get a pipeline to an ocean he's going to launch a constitutional challenge against equalisation. He says he doesn't object to equalisation, but the feds have to give Alberta the tools to make the money to pay for it. 
In saying this, he is pandering to the (apparently) unshakable misunderstanding many Albertans have about equalisation. There is this perception that Alberta writes a big cheque to Ottawa which Ottawa then turns over to Quebec and other provinces...
That is not how equalisation works. It does not work that way. Everyone in Canada with a high enough income pays federal income tax. This goes into a big pool of money which is used for all sorts of things. 
Some of it is used to top up the funds in provinces that are not doing as well financially and have no other means to raise more money, so that everyone in Canada has access to the same level of services regardless of where they live. 
Alberta has the most people with really high incomes in Canada. This is why charts make it look like Alberta is shouldering this burden. But it isn't like that. A person in PEI who makes, for example, $200,000 a year contributes exactly the same amount to equalisation... 
as an Albertan who makes $200,000 a year. There's just more people making a lot of money in Alberta than in other places. Alberta, btw, has no provincial sales tax. Therefore, the province has not exhausted its options for funding sources. 
Unless Alberta imposes a provincial sales tax, LIKE EVERY OTHER PROVINCE ALREADY HAS, Alberta is ineligible to receive equalisation payments. Albertans are vehemently opposed to a provincial sales tax, but complain because we don't get equalisation payments. 
You don't get to have it both ways. Alberta has no sales tax, plus the greatest per capita wealth of all the provinces, and complains bitterly about how tough they've got it. Honestly, I find myself reminded of this:
Anyway, every time Kenney perpetuates the myth that Alberta is supporting the rest of the country, he fans the flames of "Western Alienation". Which, in itself, is mostly a product of decades of right wing governments telling Albertans they are being abused by Ottawa and Albertans themselves not realising how good things are economically in Alberta compared with many regions of the country. Kenney is also saying that Albertans do not want to contribute to providing services to other Canadians who are less well off. 
I wonder how he thinks that would look... How does Alberta opt out of equalisation? Does he envision Albertans being exempt from federal income tax? Does he feel the income tax Albertans pay has to go into a separate fund, not to be spent anywhere but in Alberta? 
Beyond trying to appear to be standing up to Trudeau to appease his base, what does Kenney really want from this grandstanding? Will Scheer campaign in Alberta on a promise to get Alberta out of the equalisation program? That won't play well in the rest of Canada... 
Jason Kenney knows any constitutional challenge of the equalisation system is unlikely to go anywhere. It's all grand sounding words, sound and fury, signifying nothing. So, what is his real goal? 
A constitutional challenge would cost Albertans a great deal of money. Public money. Who benefits? And how? Conservatives are very fond of litigation, I recall from the Harper years. 
I suppose they would rather all that money go into the pockets of lawyers than support for the poor and the vulnerable. Earmarking huge wads of cash to pay lawyers comfortably keeps that money tied up and not being used for social programs... 
But other than satisfying a general mean-spiritedness, what is the end-game? I feel it is something more than posturing, positioning himself as the hero. But what? What does Jason Kenney/the UCP/the CPC stand to gain from this?
Perhaps they hope to drive voters to the CPC in October. But most Albertans will vote CPC anyway. Perhaps they hope to lay the groundwork to gain acceptance for the gradual take-over by the US, should Scheer get elected. Or maybe they just like to keep Albertans enraged. Blind fury and mob mentality keep people from thinking critically, thus making them more suggestible and less likely to question anything their "hero" says or does...

Friday, 21 June 2019

An Open Letter to Jason Kenney RE: Earplugs

Premier Kenney,

I did not vote for your UCP candidate. I do not like your platform or policies. Nevertheless, you are the Premier of Alberta and you won with a solid majority. Those of us with different points of view are, I believe, handling this with considerably more decorum than many very vocal conservative supporters after Rachel Notley and the NDP won the last election. As I recall, there were calls for a “kudatah”, along with many suggestions that our then Premier should be executed, along with her caucus.

You have a majority government. You can pass whatever legislation you want. Apparently, that is not enough for you. You feel the need to demean the opposition, and the Albertans they represent, while you do it.

Your stunt last night with the ear plugs was not “funny”. It clearly signalled that you, as leader of the government, were not interested in what the opposition (who also represent Albertans) had to say. The job of the opposition is to represent their constituents. One of the ways they do this is to consider the legislation you put forward and, if they feel it is necessary, point out problems with that legislation. Vehemently, if necessary.

Your job, and the job of your caucus, is to LISTEN. And to consider what they have to say. The purpose of this is that legislation is crafted which best represents the views of all Albertans, not just your supporters. That is how democracy works.

When you were elected you made a speech in which you said “We will strive to be a government for all Albertans, not just those who voted for us.”

Last night your actions said, “We have no interest in anyone who disagrees with us. We have no interest in Albertans who did not vote for us. We have no interest in working with the opposition to create legislation that is good for all Albertans. We don't want to hear the views of other Albertans. In fact, we refuse to hear their views.”

This is very disappointing, Mr. Kenney. We had hoped that you would be bigger than this.

I feel, along with many I have communicated with today, that you don't care about ALL Albertans, only the ones who see the world as you do. I feel that those who do not share your ideology are not welcome here anymore.

What you called just a bit of fun to lighten to mood is sending a clear signal. It is not signalling respect for others. It is not signalling that you value all Albertans, or see our ideas as equal. It is signalling that you do not want to hear any questions or disagreement. That there is no room for discussion on any of your ideas or plans. That those who do not share your vision are, from hereon in, disenfranchised in this province.

If you ever meant what you said, that you would strive to be a government for all Albertans, you failed last night. And this should concern all Albertans, even the ones that voted for your party. Because there may come a time when they may not agree with you. And you have now made it clear you don't want any disagreement.

That isn't how a democracy works, Mr. Kenney. Only allowing one point of view is a different form of government. It is called a dictatorship. So much for that “grassroots guarantee”. But that was only to get votes, right?

Last night you demonstrated clearly who you are and how Albertans who disagree with you should expect to be treated.

I am very disappointed. But not very surprised.

Splitting the Vote - Canada Election 2019

So, here's what is puzzling me. People are upset today about the pipeline getting approved. I get that. Governments should have begun heavily investing in the transition to green energies 20 or 30 years ago. Things would be radically different now if they had.
However, here we are. We have much of our infrastructure still dependent on fossil fuels. We have a lot of people still dependent on fossil fuels for their livelihood. Approving #transmountain while committing all profits towards transitioning to renewables was a compromise.
The government is in a very difficult situation here. There are conflicting demands from different groups of Canadians, demands that cannot be met fully on either side without causing hardship on the opposite side. 
That much is obvious. What puzzles me is the people who say they will campaign against the Liberals in the election because of this pipeline decision. Because, you see, the pro-pipeline people will already campaign against him for the simple reason that he is not "conservative", and his last name is Trudeau. But the people who don't want the pipeline... you do realise, don't you, that if you convince people to not vote Liberal, we will get a CPC government? 
And a CPC government not only will NOT be on your side on any pipeline discussions, but they will also come after other things you may value, like healthcare and education. 
The CPC have proven again and again that they do not care about the environment. 
I could go on and on about the egregious acts of the former CPC government against Canadians and Canadian institutions. Veterans, scientists, women,... They sent the CRA after birdwatchers, for goodness sake! 
Do any of you really imagine the CPC led by Andrew Scheer would be somehow different? Especially if, as some conservative insiders have said, Harper is still calling the shots from behind the scenes? 
Andrew Scheer employs Hamish Marshall, co-founder of the Rebel, as his campaign manager. One of his advisors, Georganne Burke, helped found an anti-Muslim group. So there is racism and Islamophobia within Scheer's inner circle. 
It is scarcely any wonder that Michael Cooper still maintains his position as deputy justice critic in Scheer's caucus , even after reading the Christchurch shooter's manifesto into Parliamentary Committee minutes. 
The truly ugly elements that we are seeing now in Scheer's caucus and among his advisors and associates is not new. Harper just did a better job of muzzling people. Now, with racism and misogyny sweeping through legislative bodies in the US, these elements are emboldened. 
Honestly, if you would rather have our health care, our education, our environment, women's rights and LGBTQ rights and Indigenous rights be consigned to the scrap heap because the Liberals approved a pipeline there probably isn't anything I can say to change your mind. The Greens, the NDP, and yes, the Liberals, all would work for the good of Canada as they interpret that. But neither the Greens nor the NDP will hold power in October 2019. 
That is an immutable fact. Conservatives always vote. They make up roughly one-third of the Canadian population. This means that if you do not want a reprise of The Harper Government, only nastier than ever, you need to vote to keep them out. 
You need to figure out which of the candidates in your riding seems most able to keep the seat away from the CPC candidate. Who has the best chance to beat the conservative candidate? And you need to vote for them. 
Because, even if we hate to vote strategically, the alternative is worse. We are under siege, just as surely as if there was a hostile army at the gates. And we will continue to be under siege, election after election, until we figure out how to change the paradigm. 
A lot of that may come through education, through addressing inequalities, through solving points of contention. We need a new paradigm. But electing a CPC government is exactly not the way to achieve progress towards that. 
The CPC have no interest in raising people out of poverty or ensuring every Canadian child gets a great education. That does not work in their favour. Their whole strategy depends on people not being sufficiently educated to see through their misinformation. 
We all want to vote our conscience. I cannot in good conscience vote for any candidate in my riding that increases the chances of a CPC government. We can't afford a CPC government. Our children and grandchildren can't afford it. Our planet can't afford it. 
And not voting is not a protest. It's not an act of rebellion. It's surrender. The CPC would like everyone who isn't going to vote for them to stay home. Why would you do exactly what they want? 
If you think Trudeau approving a pipeline is heinous, just wait until Scheer creates his militarized "resource corridor" across the country. Just wait until the CPC and the provincial conservative parties open up the constitution and charter... And rip out our rights, except for the ones they like, like "free speech" (but only for those who agree with the CPC government). Oh, and add a few, like the right to bear arms. 
Governing is hard. No party is perfect and all parties will disappoint at some point. But only one party in Canada appears bent on dismantling the things that make Canada wonderful. The CPC must not be government.