CBC Thinks Justin Trudeau Is Just Dreamy

There’s an argument to be made that the CBC provides a valuable service to Canadians that justifies its billion-dollar annual cost. Canada is a geographically vast country with many isolated communities, and for many the CBC is the only easily-accessible source of news or entertainment. But surely the value of the content provided by the CBC should be factored into this argument. A strict adherence to journalistic integrity and ethics, and a commitment to always serve the public interest is what distinguishes Canada’s state broadcaster from the fatuous, idol-worshipping propaganda we see in foreign dictatorships, right?

Justin Trudeau recently visited Saskatchewan to promote his carbon tax, and stopped in at a Regina firehall for speeches and a staged photo-op. The local CBC branch was immediately smitten by photos of Justin half-heartedly donning a fireman’s jacket. Fair enough, for the heart wants what it wants. Not content to doodle in their trapper-keepers though (JT + CBC = <3), or maybe limit their Tiger-Beat fawning to an opinion piece, CBC Saskatchewan published a full news story to keep Canadians informed that “things got … steamy — at least on Twitter.

What’s slightly more embarrassing than the idea that this ‘news’ article was even considered in the first place is how far the author had to search to find corroborating opinions on Twitter to validate their premise. Without someone, somewhere, making a comment about Trudeau’s looks, the author wouldn’t be able to call this mash note ‘journalism’, and so they scoured Twitter’s feed just long enough to find sufficient evidence to adhere to CBC’s double sourcing guidelines. 3 accounts with about 1200 followers apiece, (only one of which it would appear actually belongs to a Canadian) represent ‘Social Media’ in the author’s opinion.

Thank you CBC. It’s good to know that you have Canadian’s backs when it comes to reporting on events that shape our lives in turbulent times.

Just be glad to know that the CBC is not a cheap date. Sweet talk and shiny gifts are nice, but at the end of the day nothing says ‘he loves you’ like cold hard cash.

Why A State-Run News Media Is A Bad Idea

Questioning the source of news stories is always a healthy practice, a beneficial cynicism we develop through years of experience. We understand that news programs aren’t produced by Samaritans with hearts of gold, but usually by corporations, for financial gain. That story at the top of the Camel Cigarettes News Hour, revealing that 9 out of 10 doctors recommend Camels Cigarettes for their smooth flavour and low tar probably isn’t Pulitzer material, and we’d be silly to think otherwise. Ulterior motives abound and should be scrutinized.

downloadIn Canada, one of our largest news organizations, the CBC, is funded not by a private corporation but largely by the government. That doesn’t make their motives any less deserving of scrutiny though. Even though an entity says it has your best interests at heart, it may not be telling the whole truth.

Consider the apparently pressing issue of incompetent financial investors. CBC raised the alarm in February that many bank employees, paid to give financial advice to customers, might bad at their jobs. Hidden cameras and flashy stacks of cash (and non-sequitur b-roll footage of babies on rocking horses) were deployed because that’s what news-y shows do, and otherwise the viewer might not believe that people might be bad at their jobs. The CBC introduced a dramatic problem that threatens the elderly, single mothers, and even you! But what can stop this villainous evil? Won’t somebody please think of the children?

Children

CBC then escalated the story in April, with concealed-identity interviews showcasing dark silhouettes and blurred faces dropping bombshells such as ‘Banks like profits’. With its foot in the door, the CBC ramped up its sales pitch. The only sure-fire, fast-acting, guaranteed effective cure to the scourge of financial investors? “Calling on the industry’s regulators across the country to implement something called a statutory best interest standard.”

bmo-insiderLest anyone think this was the CBC’s idea, they quickly published a follow-up news item citing polls that crow “89 per cent want the titles used by people selling financial investments to be regulated“! “It’s time for governments to stop discussing, debating and delaying, and start taking concrete action.” All the cool kids want regulations! You should too! Your friends and neighbours are doing it. You don’t want to be the last person on your block to demand government regulation, do you?

In short, a state-run media has gone out of its way to find a problem that not many people cared about, scare its viewers, and insist that it alone holds the solution, government regulation! What is the price of this miracle cure it’s selling? More laws, greater influence over the private sector, committees, studies, reports, debates, and new positions to oversee the whole works, employing government workers for centuries to come. All to fix a problem that could be addressed with Yelp reviews.

Private corporations are flawed, but at least we’ve developed a healthy skepticism for their tricks. Government has become so ubiquitous that we have a blindspot to the power we’ve granted it to feed us news, and the conflicts of interest that can create.

Thursday’s Child

G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday  was subtitled A Nightmare, because it follows a man struggling to navigate a world absent reason and logic in seeming isolation. Infiltrating a secretive network of anarchists, over the course of the story he gradually comes to realize that his co-conspirators and supposed enemies are in fact allies incognito, each equally afraid and convinced of their own solitude as he. His true enemy’s greatest weapon is deception, empowered only by the collective willingness of those who would fight for good to accept a lie without question.

Over a hundred years after its publication, political discussion has become similarly nightmarish, with those holding innocuous views ostracized and segregated through a deliberate attempt to make opposing opinions dangerous and shameful to hold. Rarely can discussion on a subject be left to the realm of facts and logic. Economic policy is quickly entangled with questions of sexism, so that anyone who argues against government intervention in a free market can be labelled a heartless sexist. Environmental issues are bizarrely conflated with racial concerns, so that one can’t argue against extreme environmental policies them without navigating the murky waters of race relations. Matters of immigration policy are tinged with concerns of homophobia, so that those who advocate for open borders can label as homophobic anyone who doesn’t immediately capitulate.

The goal in inserting emotional issues into unrelated political debate is to provide a powerful weapon to those whose side is otherwise inadequately armed with reason, and to shame into silence anyone who might dare disagree. They attach an unwarranted and unjust social stigma to uncontroversial opinions, and in doing so intimidate people who may share the same opinions to remain silent, lest they be similarly shamed. The result is that people feel too afraid of being labelled a sexist, racist, homophobe, or worse, to discuss pragmatic issues like economics, the environment, or immigration, and withhold valid criticisms. As fewer and fewer people speak in opposition, as dissent weakens, the false perception that more and more people agree grows in its place.

This imbalance produces a society where discussion of important ideas and topics that affect our lives in very real and immediate ways is silenced for fear of public recrimination, and faulty ideas are allowed to spread unchecked. Like The Man Who Was Thursday, people are reluctant to voice their opinion for fear of horrific consequences from their peers, and a false illusion of a much greater conformity is maintained. It’s important to recognize when unrelated issues are conflated for political gain, and to be willing to stand against this practice. The discussion of big ideas should be free from the fear of undeserved reproach from those who unfairly frame and structure the issues.

Talking freely with friends, family, and coworkers about matters both controversial and pedestrian, poisoned rhetoric removed, is important and rewarding. Often you’ll discover that, like Thursday and his co-conspirators, your enemies turn out to be allies engaged in the same fight as you.

Canada’s Electoral Reform Charade

In 2015 Justin Trudeau’s Liberals ran on a platform promising to change Canada’s electoral system from a plurality or ‘first-past-the-post’ voting system to … something else. They weren’t terribly specific with what the alternative would be, but they were darned sure it wouldn’t be plurality. Elected with 39.5% of the popular vote, they’re now obligated to provide Canadians with specific details of their plan, and are scrambling to frame their pitch.

To this end, the Government of Canada has begun the charade of staging ‘Electoral Reform Consultations’ in towns and cities across the country. Citizens who attend are, under supervision, divided into small groups, and prompted to discuss amongst themselves topics such as mandatory voting, online voting, lowering the voting age, and finally why first past the post is terrible and all other systems of voting are virtuous and noble and just plain better. Questions are framed to guide discussion to the desired response, time is limited to ensure that no substantive debate actually occurs, and the (Liberal) coordinator presents a small sermon after each discussion to highlight the approved conclusions, and ensure the crowd that ‘consensus’ has been reached. A show is made of collecting notes from each group, and assurances are given that these will be delivered to a committee who will heed their words and present their findings in December. Attendees leave believing a) the government’s preferred choice is the best, b) they came to the same conclusion on their own, and c) they played an integral role in Canadian democracy. It is Orwellian peer-pressure fuelled propaganda at its finest.

1297874296513_original
Democracy isn’t about being cajoled like school children

One wonders why the Liberals would go to the effort of public consultations in this format when there already exists a precise and well-understood mechanism for polling the will of the population, which has worked for humans for millennia and Canadians specifically since 1867: a vote. A referendum on the issue would obtain the opinion of a far greater number of Canadians than their series of small consultations, and voters would be free to express their opinion from within the sanctity of a polling booth, not surrounded by a group of their peers. The Liberal Party is dead set against the idea though, one suspects because this may not produce the answer they want. Referendums are loud, visible and most of all binding. By hosting ‘Consultations’ they are free to entirely ignore any feedback they don’t like, while maintaining the appearance of listening to their constituents.

As Liberals are so fond of inverting election results, let’s consider the result from 2015: 60.5% of Canadians didn’t vote for the party with electoral reform as their platform, and of those who did, it’s entirely unclear what percentage consider electoral reform necessary, and what their preferred alternative would be in such a case. For the Liberals to claim that they have a clear mandate from Canadians is preposterous and entirely self-serving. There are benefits and detriments to any electoral system, and every eligible Canadian deserves a say in the matter, in a manner which respects the importance of the issue. That is a referendum, not orchestrated and choreographed round tables.

7
I’m pretty sure that votes are already counted in FPTP. You just don’t like the totals.

 

Or, if the Liberal party (or even the NDP) is truly so upset at the notion that plurality voting can lead to parties winning without 50% of the vote plus one, perhaps they could make the noble sacrifice of disbanding entirely. Presented with a choice between the two remaining major national parties, Canadians would surely elect one with the majority of votes that they insist is so vital to representative democracy. Although they will make impassioned speeches in town halls about the need for a fair voting system that solves the problem of minority governments and represents the diverse opinions of its people, I doubt they would be happy if their consultations produced this bit of feedback.

Jagged Alliance 2

So proud of the Witcher series is the country of Poland that Prime Minister Donald Tusk famously presented a copy of The Witcher 2 to visiting US President Barack Obama in 2011, in honour of its release. In Poland, The Witcher is a cultural touchstone, and the video game series it spawned redefined what gamers should expect from narrative, gameplay, and world-building in a video game. If there were any justice in the world, Canada would similarly laud Jagged Alliance 2, a tactical, systems-based open-world strategy game developed by Ottawa-based Sir-Tech in 1999. Unfortunately, the world is a cruel and dark place, and JA2 has yet to receive so much as a commemorative stamp, roadside visitor museum, or 3-part tax-payer funded documentary miniseries starring Gordon Pinsent. I’m looking at you, CRTC.

 

Jagged Alliance 2 was one of the last great sprite-based games, released at a time when 3D was starting to hit its stride, and games like Half-Life and System Shock had begun rubbing elbows on store shelves with old-guard 2D games like Planescape: Torment, Baldur’s Gate, and any of a dozen iterations of the Command & Conquer series. While 3D games were busy nailing down concepts like strafing, mouse look and auto-aim, 2D games were taking advantage of established and well-understood paradigms to focus on grander gameplay concepts.

jascreen1

After a brief cinematic hastily sketches out a thin plot, Sir-Tech quite literally dropped the player into their world, rappelling a player-sculpted avatar onto the sun-parched soil of Arulco, a country in civil turmoil. Although ostensibly hired to restore freedom and democracy and honour, the player was truly a for-profit fixer in charge of a hit-squad with one target: Deidranna. The player could grapple with patrolling squadrons and train resistance fighters ’til the cows came home (to be punched repeatedly for cheap XP), the game only ended, the credits only rolled when Deidranna’s heart stopped beating. It was the job of the player to make that happen, in any manner they saw fit, and therein lay the grizzled but beautiful soul of Jagged Alliance 2.

jascreen3

The game wants the player to form a squadron of likeable rascals, to wage a campaign of hit-and-run ambushes across the deserts and forests of Arulco, to meet and join forces with its citizens and explore all its hand-crafted locales. It wants the player to surge, to stumble, to be beaten down and rise in triumph, and experience every minor side quest into which the developers clearly poured hours of toil.

But what if the player doesn’t do what they’re told? What if the player wants to forego the vast majority of the game’s content, ignore practicality and hire a single mercenary, to laboriously sneak him under the cover of darkness past outposts and patrols, into the heart of Deidranna’s compound, to kill her unceremoniously with surgical precision? The game’s systems can and do handle this. Deidranna dies, end scene, roll credits, no lectures or complaints.

Sir-Tech respects the player enough to adhere to their own established rules, no matter how the player tests them. There are no invisible walls that funnel the player down an accepted path, no scripts that have to be triggered in a proper order to advance the plot, no one-way scenery gates that ensure the player experiences the game’s set pieces and speeches. There’s a target hiding somewhere within a country at war, and it’s up to the player to reach it, using only their wits.

jascreen2

There are admittedly scripted events to be found in JA2, some that just play short cutscenes, and others that actually impact the player (Surrendering in battle teleports the cowardly mercenary to a prison facility). New characters are introduced, weapon shops made available, and enemy reactions triggered, but all of these are only little surprises for the player to introduce new challenges, and none hamstring their actions.

 

screen-shot-2016-09-24-at-5-22-14-pm

The source code behind Jagged Alliance 2 was released to the internet years ago, and it’s fitting that the instruction set that makes up its intricate systems be laid so bare, like a pocket watch’s mechanical cogs and gears laid out across a workbench for repair. Briefly skimming through some of the files reveals the simple algorithms that govern how bullets ricochet, how corpse decompose over time, or how soldiers react to strange noises. Understanding the rules doesn’t diminish the fun of testing one’s mettle within them though, it only deepens one’s respect for they variety of battles and mouse-gripping stories they can generate. There may be no atheists in foxholes, but at least when your team is pinned down  by .45mm ACP rounds in a corrugated metal shack and your covering sniper has passed out from lack of sleep, you know empirically the game’s enemy are playing fair.

Though the years since its release have seen many attempts at remakes and reboots, none have quite recaptured its magic. Fan-made mods have chaperoned the game onto new operating systems, polished away any rough edges, and added features like cooperative multiplayer and a refined AI. The sprite graphics are as not-beautiful as they ever were, but they let the player read the battlefield quickly and easily, even when shrunk down on higher-resolution monitors. The game has been lovingly preserved for posterity, and deservedly so. People who know strategy games know Jagged Alliance 2, and recognize it importance, even if our politicians think trivial things like the economy or human rights are more deserving of attention.

 

 

 

Government-Mandated Paperwork Is Never Cool

Stephen-Harper-January-26-2012During the 9 years in which Stephen Harper server as Prime Minister of Canada, the official opposition loudly opposed his every act, as is their wont and their duty. Elected in 2015 in his stead though, they found themselves with a long history of loud complaints, and a dim recollection of why they had complained in the first place.

Wasting no time, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau began implementing his principled plan of do-the-opposite-of-whatever-Harper-did-regardless-of-logic-or-reason. Tax free-savings plans were an early target of attack, because despite people’s fondness for keeping their own money, this was a policy that Harper had championed, and any record of his deeds must be stricken from the history books. Where Stephen Harper had a plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees, the new Liberal government would bring in 25,000, because despite obvious logistical problems, 25 was a bigger number than 10.

Their next target became Stephen Harper’s bold, authoritarian decision that his government wouldn’t send people to jail for not filling out paperwork. In Trudeau’s Canada, this maniacal stance of not incarcerating people could not continue. In December, Trudeau’s Liberals proudly proclaimed the return of jail time and fines for anyone who dared to not fill out a census. They used the phrase ‘robust communication plan’ instead of ‘propaganda’ though, so some weirdos got excited by the promise.

Simpsons
Smile wider.

To add a level of Orwellian creep to the matter, the publicly-funded CBC corporation published news stories claiming that everyone was super excited to be filling out their mandated paperwork. Census employees phoned and visited citizens to hound the delinquent. School teachers were provided lesson plans to lecture their students about how exciting the census is, and the importance of prompt acquiescence to authority.

It would be easy to argue that the government gets all the accurate head count data it needs annually via Revenue Canada, and that any information regarding language, ethnicity or education could be easily extrapolated from voluntarily collected data using the ancient and arcane practice of statisticsIt would also be easy to make the argument that the government has no practical way of enforcing an obviously empty threat, and that one could easily lie, dodge, or bluff their way out of answering the census questions.

ObjeyJustin
No one who takes selfies could be bad, right?

The purest argument against this silly charade though is that in Canada the government should not be jailing people for the crime of not answering a questionnaire. Incarceration is a serious and severe form of punishment. Accurate census data is undoubtedly valuable, but surely not worth a person’s freedom to secure. Even if this is merely an empty threat designed to improve turnout, the Canadian government should not be in the business of threatening its citizens.

Most of all, Canadians should be wary of a government that dispatches its own media and education system to push a message, and should question the reasoning behind any such campaign. Sometimes it’s just a petty feud to support the ego of a party more defined by their opposition than any sensible policy of their own.

 

 

Rachel Notley’s Social Tinkering

Premiere and leader of Alberta’s New Democratic Party Rachel Notley has a peculiarly favourite phrase to use when discussing her government. “We have already embarked upon a budget that is geared to giving us levers that we can pull”, she told Metro News in a December interview reflecting on her party’s progress. Discussing her party’s energy policy with The Globe and Mail in January, she explained that “we need to have as many options, as many levers, at our disposal as we can.”

It would seem that, to Mrs. Notley, the purpose of government is to create and finagle ‘levers’, to wrangle its population as one would an ancient steam engine, tweaking and fine-tuning society’s behaviour with a goal of steering it towards a destination decided upon by those behind the wheel. If the release of carbon dioxide is a bad thing, for example, the government must spare no cost in reducing it. If farmers are at risk of injury, it’s the job of the government to protect them. If a worker is at risk of being replaced while on strike, only the government can save them. The question is never ‘why?’, only ‘how?’.

21172125083_aedf15f1a9_z

In the months since their election, these levers of which Mrs. Notley spoke have taken form in new taxes, new regulations, and new reasons for the government to raid and confiscate private property. Is it coincidence that so many of the world’s ills can be solved only by a more powerful, invasive government?

The belief that the world would be a perfect utopia if only the government had sufficient control over its citizens is central to the NDP, a party which only removed references to socialism from their official constitution 3 years ago, not in response to any change in their core beliefs, but because they realized that it looked bad. The NDP is still a socialist party, they just don’t like to brag about it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABy this point in history it should go without saying that socialism doesn’t work, but even in the golden-plained, resource-rich western paradise that is Alberta, there are those who stubbornly fight against logic or reason, and strive, heads held high, towards the miasma of human suffering which socialism produces. The economic collapse of Venezuela is a stark, current example, if any more were needed, of a government that tried to control its populace through regulation and taxation. Neither noble nor effective, this philosophy slowly strangles a population while those who work the knobs insist that just a few more adjustments will solve everything (though they are of course shielded from the effects of their own failed experiments).

Parallels between Alberta and Venezuela are few, but they should not be ignored. Oil-rich and once booming, both found themselves with leaders (with similar views on climate change no less) who underestimated just how much havoc an over-bearing government can wreak. Believing that “only socialism can really create a genuine society“, Hugo Chavez was quick install his own levers, to steer his country towards his imagined utopia, with inevitable and dire consequences. Alberta is now similarly flirting with socialism, placing in power those with the same misguided philosophy  that bankrupted Venezuela. Though the outcome will be depressingly predictable, one hopes it will be delayed long enough for sanity to return to the province.