Monday, September 9, 2013

A military strike on Syria is not the best response

If indeed chemical weapons have been used, allegedly on orders from President al-Assad himself, World nations cannot sit idly and be, as US Secretary of State Kerry has said «silent spectators to the slaughter». To do so would condone such actions and invite further violations of widely agreed upon conventions on the ban of such weapons, as affirmed in the 1925 Geneva Protocol and respected by all major world countries.

Does this necessarily mean that a military strike on Syria led by the US and France, with or without the support of a yet to be determined coalition and/or of the UN Security Council, is the best response to what may be construed as mass murder?

The serious dangers of such an attack have been thoroughly explained in many media by very wise and knowledgeable people in that field of expertise. I am no military expert and have nothing to add to that debate; suffice to say that those dangers do exist and cannot be dismissed. I would rather focus on the objective of this planned retaliation and the way to best achieve it.

The objective pursued has been stated by administration officials in France and the United States: it is to «punish» President al-Assad for allegedly resorting to the use of chemical weapons against his own population.

From that standpoint, the truth of the matter is, a military strike will NOT «punish» President al-Assad; it will first and foremost kill lower rank military personnel of the Syrian army and innocent by standing Syrian civilians, both of which had no say in the matter. Let us also take into account the fact that high ranking army officers and/or government officials in Syria have most likely participated in this action. It is unlikely that a military strike will affect those people.

Other traditional courses of actions, such as a blockade or economic sanctions, either cannot be implemented or will not produce the desired effect, because the al-Assad regime has powerful international allies. In fact, I can only think of one effective way to «punish» the perpetrators and deter other tyrants from using such weapons in the future: to indict them in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Some will say that what I propose is impossible, because one must first lay hands on those people before bringing them in front of the court. True, it cannot be done overnight. However, if enough evidence is accumulated for the UN Security Council to issue international arrest warrants, it will be impossible for those responsible for the alleged use of chemical weapons to travel outside Syria, except to sympathetic countries, without being immediately detained, forcibly or not. There have even been cases where war criminals were snatched by strike teams from countries in which they felt safe to be brought to trial.

The system works: in July 2012, the International Criminal Court found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga Dyilo guilty of war crimes and sentenced him to 14 years imprisonment.

The European Union demands «strong international response» to the alleged chemical attack. I think that a trial in the International Criminal Court would satisfy the EU demand. In fact, I strongly believe that it is the only just and effective response to the alleged crime.

Let us not forget what Winston Churchill has said: «To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war». In the long term, a diplomatic, also legal in this case, solution is always preferable to military intervention.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Use of Social Networks in the Hospitality Industry

In 2011, with a team of students from the Bachelor program in Tourism and Hospitality Management at the ESG UQAM School of Management, I led a study on the use of social networks in the hospitality industry. I thank those students for their collaboration: Julie Angibaud, Gabriel Comtois, Catherine Choquette, Virginie Côté, Marie, Carmel Dambreville, Jessica Della Ripa, Émilie Laborde, Virginie Lavergne-Mayer, Maxime Péladeau, Jean-Paul Thions et Kristel Young.

In the central districts of Montreal, those featuring the largest number of tourists, we contacted the 256 lodging establishments listed on this territory; amongst those, 84 agreed to respond to our questionnaire. True, this sample is relatively small in absolute terms, but it nonetheless represents over 32% of the companies in question, which is very significant.

This study reveals several interesting facts. First, unsurprisingly, as you can see in the chart below, Facebook, with 52.4% of respondents, is by far the most widely used social network in this industry, followed distantly by YouTube (28.0%), then by Twitter (19.5%) and LinkedIn (17.3%) almost tied in third place; Foursquare (7.5%), which attracts a very specific type of user, and some others are far behind.

The next table sums the purpose for which lodging establishments use social networks. We can see that even in this age of an interactive Web, the advertising function still dominates; thus, 93.2% of respondents say that they use social networks to «develop property awareness» and 72.7% use it to announce «last minute promotion». However, the next three elements fully take advantage of interactivity on the Web 2.0; thus, 68.2% of the respondents promote the posting of comments and an equal percentage the publication of pictures, while 45.5% initiate the creation of a community amongst their clientele. Three other uses are in line with traditional functions in the hospitality industry, that is announcing «exceptional properties» in a hotel chain (38.6% of respondents), «customer service» (36.4%) and a sub-function of the latter, «concierge extension» (27.3%).

Is a presence on social networks beneficial for establishments that adopt this practice? The final table summarizes the three main benefits mentioned by respondents of our study. First, in this era of fierce competition, 50.0% of respondents say that their presence on social networks helps to build customer loyalty. Second, while profitability, the excess of revenues over expenses, is a concern of every moment, 26.2% of respondents say that their presence on social networks helps to increase their revenues. Finally, while some accommodation facilities are struggling to fill their rooms, 26.2% of respondents say that their presence on social networks helps to raise their occupancy rate.

Hence, a presence on social networks is beneficial; yet, this practice is not widespread in the hospitality industry. In a coming post, I will discuss the type of institution that makes the most use of social networks and the reasons given for not using them.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Politics as consumer goods

This is the English version of a blog post published yesterday in French. I apologize for the short delay.

This morning, electoral circumstances dictate that I deal with all of this is political, that is to say, public affairs, government practices, ways of governing, not forgetting the electoral process itself, in a consumption perspective.

You are of course aware that our governments, without exception and at all levels, now manage public affairs, not with a view of ensuring the well-being of the many, but rather to make sure that they are re-elected.

Also in view of ensuring their election, political parties, both the one in power and the opposition, support the interests of marginal ideological groups whose ideas are not shared by a vast majority of population. For a moment at least, those ideas are favoured by the media and consequently also, seemingly, supported by many people, but not necessarily be the majority of people.

This does not correspond to what democracy should be, that is to say the free expression of the will of the people in electing their representatives to exercise political power and, by extension, to exercise it according to the well-being of a majority of people. In Western democracies, this majority has always been the middle class, heavily battered for at least twenty years.

This said, how and why did this happen? In my analysis of politics as an object of mass consumption, I will focus today on a tool used to make marketing a product, the opinion poll.

This exploration technique of expectations, beliefs, feelings and attitudes, was first used in the commercial sphere in the United States, with the obvious aim to develop markets. In the 1930s, the idea of using this technique in the political world begins to emerge and, on for the presidential election of 1936, George Horace Gallup founds the American Institute of Public Opinion. This will be starting point of the now famous Gallup Polls.

If the information collected by surveys were then, and still are very useful, to develop new products and make advertising claims amongst other things, it quickly became clear that the technique could also assist in the communication effort. Indeed, the disclosure of survey results through traditional media, social networks and even advertising can influence people's opinions by means of what I would call a chameleon effect.

But in the political sphere, this chameleon effect influences the free choice of the voter. That is why France created a Commission of surveys. Unfortunately, if this commission originally prohibited the publication of poll results in the last week before the election, this constraint has been reduced to a single day in 2002. In such circumstances we cannot truly speak of democracy but rather of a semblance or perversion of democracy.

In the context of the current election, we have seen a craze emerge for Jack Layton and, by extension, for the New Democratic Party. This enthusiasm has been fuelled amongst other things by the publication of poll results on a daily basis and a favourable coverage in most media for whom this phenomenon is a windfall.

I was also swept away by this wave of sympathy and am therefore well placed to appreciate its power. This said, let us get back to democracy.

Tonight, it is essential that a party which truly represents the will of Canadians be elected, with a minority or a majority of seats. Furthermore, in addition, it is important that this forty-first Parliament has within it a strong and responsible opposition, capable of representing the interests of all constituents, from coast to coast.

Excluding marginal formations without representation in parliament, four parties are running: Conservatives, Liberals, New Democratic Party and Bloc Quebecois. As publicly admitted by many of its supporters, the Bloc Québécois has lost its "raison d'être" in Ottawa. Like many, I thus exclude that party of my choices and hope that the vast majority of Quebecers will do the same. The presence of this party in Ottawa is one of the reasons for the political instability plaguing Canada since 2004. Even if you want the creation of an independent Quebec, which is not my case, it is not in Ottawa that you must send members of parliament. It is even in your interest that Canada be politically stable.

This leaves three parties. Depending on the issues, I have affinities with all three and am aware of the fact that none of the three is perfect. To determine which of the three overall best represented my position, I used CBC’s Vote Compass. I found this tool to be very useful to restore some rationality in what has become an emotional debate without major issues.

Today, I will vote for the party ideologically closest to my beliefs.

I thus first urge you all to vote. It is not only your right, but an important responsibility. Furthermore, I encourage you not to vote for a political party in view of blocking one party or another, the Conservatives or the Bloc in today’s context. This kind of "strategic" vote is harmful to democracy and may also produce undesirable results that you may not have anticipated. I invite you to vote for one of three pan Canadian parties, the one with which you are the closest in terms of ideas and orientations. This is the only way democracy will prevail.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Human slavery to technology

In the conclusion of Consumption and New Technologies – In the Hyper World, I wrote:

«Technological tools can nonetheless be very useful to humanity, provided that we properly direct their development and use. Humans are too often made to serve machines, or at least forced to adjust their life or behaviour to them, whereas machines should adapt to humans and be useful to mankind. »

Here is an example of what can happen when humans become enslaved to technology.

On Monday, August 30, I made a purchase for which I had a $5 coupon, but did not have my coupon with me. I still bought the item because the dealer assured me I had to return to the store to get coupon refunded, without specifying a precise date to do so.

On Friday, September 3, I phoned the store to inquire about opening hours that evening, and specify the object of my visit (coupon refund). I was then told that it was impossible to refund the coupon, its expiration date being September 1st.

I then explained that the purchase having been made on August 30, the coupon’s validity date had been respected. The clerk answered that there was absolutely no recourse, because the coupon’s bar code having been disabled in the computer, the cash register’s scanner could no longer read it.

Well aware of the fact that manual procedures can often work around this kind of technical difficulty, I asked to speak to the store manager. On a rather arrogant tone, inappropriate with a client, he dryly replied that he couldn’t do anything because that’s the way the computer system had been programmed.

In the end, I mentioned the fact that I had been a loyal customer for many years and informed him that I would buy elsewhere from now on if I did not get satisfaction. He responded that I'd probably be better served in another store. This response is mind-boggling when you realize how difficult it is to acquire new customers.

You’ll notice that I deliberately omitted to mention the type of product and store name. This incident could likely have happened elsewhere, given retailers’ heavy reliance on technology. The crucial point here is that the inflexibility of a technology should never hinder a merchant from satisfying a customer, provided the latter has good reason to be dissatisfied, and manual procedures should always exist to circumvent technological flaws.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Do you know your rights regarding price accuracy?

The following applies in the province of Quebec (Canada).

In principle, the Consumer Protection Act (CPA) requires merchants to label the price on each article, but allows for exceptions. For example, because of the increasingly popular use of optical scanners, retailers are no longer required to label each article; several avail themselves of this exemption, but are still subjected to a number of constraints that include, amongst others, mandatory display of each article’s price on the shelf and of a sign about the Price Accuracy Policy.

This policy includes measures to compensate the consumer in the event of any inconsistency between the price on the shelf, and that charged by the register.

If the product price is $10 or less, the merchant must give you the item for free.

If the product price is more than $10, the retailer must sell you product at the price displayed on the shelf and further give you a $10 discount.

Buyers beware!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Successes and pitfalls of technology

Technology has invaded workplaces, homes, vehicles, portable devices of all kinds, etc. Many will say it has freed man. This is true, from one point of view; appliances greatly facilitate household chores. It has also allowed man to express his creativity far more easily; inexpensive software now allows people with limited aptitude for drawing to create dazzling presentations and websites. The illustrations they create compete with those drawn by professional designers before the personal computer era. Cars have enabled the development of North America as we know it today, by giving greater freedom of movement to the middle class. Quick and relatively inexpensive air transport has brought continents closer and allowed people with average incomes to discover exotic and distant lands, a privilege once reserved to the elite.

But the effects of technology are not always positive. Increased individualism and selfishness often results from its use. It also induces a form of addiction, which sometimes almost amounts to slavery: millions of people, staring at a computer screen, line up thousands of lines of code to teach computers how to process vast amounts of information, day after day, in many cases night after night. More simply, remember your dismay when your computer crashes or a power outage occurs. Also think about the violations of privacy and all forms of viruses and other malware. Moreover, technology has contributed to widen the gap between rich and poor nations and even between well-off and underprivileged people in Western societies, in short, it has created a digital divide.

In conclusion, we must exercise discernment in the use of technology and keep in mind that they are not omnipotent; they will never confer eternal youth, let alone immortality, on humanity, and will not redefine our values for us. They are inanimate and as such without values; they simply fall within the system of values that we privilege. Technological tools can however be very useful to humanity, provided that we direct their development and use. Mankind is too often made to serve machines, or at least forced to adjust his life or his behaviour to them, whereas machines should be made to adapt to humans and be useful to mankind.

To learn more about these issues, see «Consommation et nouvelles technologies — Au monde de l’hyper» (Consumption and New Technologies — In the Hyper world), soon to be translated in English.