Introducing Serlingbot


My boyfriend and I were watching an episode of The Twilight Zone this week, in which a newly-minted revolutionary dictator is told by a departing member of the overthrown government that a particular mirror would show him his assassins. Of course, this leads him to kill his closest friends.

Sorry, should have said “spoilers” or something. Although really, you’ve had 56 years to see this episode. If you’re not caught up, that’s on you.

At the end of the episode, my first thought was: Trump would probably have fallen for that line too.

Inspired by that episode and of course by a Scottish newspaper immediately prior to Trump’s inauguration, I had an idea: A Twitter bot that downloads photos tweeted by the White House, turns them greyscale, overlays them with Rod Serling and tweets them again.

On my first Google search, I found a transparent PNG of Rod Serling. The Internet had also prepared a repository of json-formatted Rod Serling monologues. All I had to do was find a PHP library to connect to the Twitter API, and I was good to go!

You can follow @serlingbot on Twitter, and it will regularly send you photos from a few selected Twitter accounts that have been Serling-ed.

But that’s not all!

If you tweet a photo to @serling on Twitter, it will reply to you—with your photo Serling-ed.

And if you don’t have Twitter, I have made a non-Twitter web version of Serlingbot, where you can enter a link to an image on the web, and it will Serling your photo for your own private use.

I like to think that Rod Serling himself would have appreciated the idea of being resurrected as a post-apocalyptic robot, doomed to condemn a totalitarian government from beyond the grave. It’s something that might have happened … in the Twilight Zone.


    title = {Introducing Serlingbot},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2017-04-21,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Introducing Serlingbot" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 21 Apr 2017. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2017, Apr 21). Introducing Serlingbot [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Media literacy for the Trump era


I have compiled and explained a list of four five common fallacies that I have noticed while consuming news media in the age of Trump. These aren’t new since Trump was made president, but I feel like they are exacerbated by the current administration. They’re meant to be taken in the spirit of the “laws of the internet” that dictate “if you can imagine it, there’s porn of it,” or “any sufficiently long internet argument will eventually invoke Hitler,” etc.

The law of imputed 12 dimensional chess

No matter how demonstrably stupid Trump’s action, it will always be depicted by some as a part of an inscrutable master plan.

Every time Trump does or says something bad, it will be followed up by a series of hot takes, tweets or op-ed pieces in which we all try to guess what his real goal is. E.g. “He’s banned Muslims from entering the United States. But what is his endgame here? What is he trying to distract us from?”

Muslims being banned is the real crisis. Just because us white people aren’t directly affected doesn’t mean that the real evil is coming later. It’s not a feint to make us look the wrong way. That was it. This is not a drill. Real people are being hurt.

I think there’s a few reasons that this fallacy occurs so often. It’s hard to admit, but Trump isn’t a genius who beat the political system by being some calculating mastermind. That would be easier to take in some ways. (He’s profoundly stupid,1 but he’s wealthy and the system is just not set up to protect us from people like him.) As best I can guess, the “12 dimensional chess” theories are appealing due to: 1. simple self-centredness and latent racism (i.e. “It’s bad, but it doesn’t affect me, so the badness must be something else”), 2. a desire to avoid admitting that the left was beaten by an idiot or 3. a McCarthy-like impulse to cast the villain as omnipotent.2 Take your pick.

The law of sacrificing marginalised communities

Marginalised communities will be the ones most negatively affected by Trump’s policies, but they will also be the ones blamed for it, directly or indirectly.

Here is an example of what I mean: The February 2017 cover of The Economist3 features the profiles of Trump and Putin facing each other. Trump is wearing lipstick and there’s a kiss mark on Putin’s cheek. The implication is that Trump and Putin are gay.

The LGBTQ+ community has been betrayed by Trump’s recent executive order that rolled back protections for trans people.4 Gay men are now being turned back at the US border after being interrogated and humiliated over the private contents of their phones.5 Things are bad and I don’t know if they’re going to get better.

But of course, the joke that’s currently in vogue is that Trump is gay. (Ooh! Burn!)

Now, I get it. I’ve made jokes like this in the past, but I’ve had a change of heart on the subject. It would certainly bruise the egos of Trump and Putin to be called gay, but then they’re not going to be reading my Twitter feed. Other people will read my messages though, and they will be getting the message that it’s okay to use “gay” as an insult, or to throw marginalised communities under the bus to make a cheap shot at a world leader who honestly doesn’t care.

This is just one example of a marginalised community that’s being indirectly blamed for their own oppression, but I guarantee you that for every similar issue that comes up, there will be self-styled “centrists” or “moderates” who tell the more progressive elements of society that it’s “their own damn fault” for getting uppity and demanding something that the mainstream has had all along. You’ll often see this happen along with the phrase “This is why Trump won,” blaming progressives, women, LGBTQ+, whatever for the rise of Trump.

Watch for it. Any protest or statement with a progressive bent will be met by an opportunistic “centrist” who wants to shut you up by telling you that they agree with your general goal, but that you must be nicer about it and accept a glacially slow pace of progress, and that anything other than that “is why Trump won.”

The law of conservative victimhood

No matter how empowered conservatives become, they will always find a way to make their own victimhood the focus.

This is also an impulse I can sympathise with. I grew up in a super-conservative community, and so I was taught from a young age to believe that it is Christians and conservative Christians especially who are a marginalised minority in Canada. I was taught—and I fully believed—that Christianity was persecuted, and indeed if you define Christian orthodoxy narrowly enough, one can certainly maintain that delusion for quite some time. So I understand where they’re coming from.

But it’s still stupid.

Conservatives always have the upper hand. They aren’t a persecuted minority. That’s just what conservatism is—it’s the political inclination to support the status quo. It’s the people who have power working to support the institutions that got them there. The highest office in the United States has just been awarded to a conservative. The House and the Senate both have Republican majorities. Conservatives are not victims. Not in any sense. In fact, they hold a disproportionately large amount of power over the machinery of government.

And yet, conservatives will defend their victimhood as if that were their very essence.

If there comes a day when there is a shortage of foreign workers to pick the vegetables that Americans want to eat, the tragic hero of the story when it is told will be the poor hard-working American who can’t afford how expensive vegetables have become, and not the foreign workers who were deported. Count on it. Or if a queer person is beaten, the biggest controversy will be whether or not it’s fair to label the aggressor as “homophobic.” And we’re already seeing the beginning of what I expect will be a steady stream of op-ed pieces about how people who supported Trump are the real victims of liberals who are being big meanies about the fact that their choice for President is a fascist.6

It shouldn’t have to be said, but if you supported a fascist by voting for him, and that fascist’s policies mean that your friend is the victim of hate somehow, you should have the perspective to understand that you are not the victim in this situation. You are closer to being the aggressor.

This dynamic is probably strongest along racial lines, but you also see it along the queer-straight axis as well. (E.g. “They excluded police officers from Pride? That’s the greatest injustice in the history of the queer rights struggle!”)

C.f. The “Liberal bubble”

The law of false centrism

No matter how far the political centre is pulled to the right by extremists, anyone who questions “centrism” by advocating policies to the left of where the new political centre has been pulled will be dismissed as insane.

To make a facetious example, if Trump is saying that we need death camps for Muslims at every border crossing and his opponents are saying we shouldn’t have any, the fallacy of centrism would be to say that we only need death camps at certain major border crossings.

This one makes me worried for the future because the main message of the Democratic party from 2016 seems to have been, “If you’re politically to the left of Clinton, we don’t want or need your votes, you dirty Bernie bro. You’re just as bad as Trump.” This message only leads to political victories if everyone is really, really excited about being a political moderate. And only if they’re also okay with the political “centre” being shifted to the right.

From a Canadian perspective, it’s very easy to see how the American political spectrum is shifted. The policies of the centre-right party in Canada (The Liberal Party) would be considered so far left wing in America as to be absolutely unthinkable.

The law of imperfect protests

No matter how despicable the thing that is being protested, if the protest can be criticized—in any way—”moderates” will focus on that.

This mostly goes for student protests, but you see it in other contexts. I’ve seen it a dozen times if I’ve seen it once, and sometimes from people that I would otherwise consider to be very intelligent. Usually you see it shortly after a protest, and often it starts with a somewhat strained observation that the protest is “so ironic.”

E.g. “It’s so ironic,” said the moderate, “They claim to be against death camps, and yet there’s a small amount of litter left after the protest”

This example is really exaggerated, although who knows, we may get there. The fallacy I’m trying to point out is that the violence of white nationalism or fascism or being an outright peodphile apologist is nowhere near the level of violence of a stupid student protester who breaks a window or something while protesting against it. These are absolutely not equivalent, and a protest that doesn’t go 100% perfectly shouldn’t be a reason to throw up one’s hands and say, “Well, I can’t support these protesters because they broke a window. Their position looks just as violent as the white nationalists’.”

“Moderates” love to point out The Irony of this situation, and they also love to ring their hands over how the poor fascist just wanted to speak, and how this protest has somehow damaged Free Expression itself (as if protests weren’t also speech as well).

Like the other fallacies, this is not particular to the Trump era, but it seems much worse now. Watch for it and the others, as well as their themes and variations.

Edit (2017 March 6: Added “The law of imperfect protests”)




    title = {Media literacy for the Trump era},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2017-02-27,
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Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Media literacy for the Trump era" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 27 Feb 2017. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2017, Feb 27). Media literacy for the Trump era [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Are pronouns up for debate or not?


There’s been a lot of ink spilled recently about the use of pronouns and preferred names in academia. At U of T, one professor in particular is kicking up a fuss about having been asked to use students’ preferred names and pronouns. A CBC editorial on the subject by Neil Macdonald recently provided an entertaining example of a baby boomer throwing a sputtering temper tantrum over the fact that he’s being asked to think about other people.

I could begin demanding that my colleagues refer to me as “blort” or “zonge” with the expectation that they would respectfully begin doing so.

(Imagine wanting to be treated with respect! Hilarious! Also, for the record, the singular “they” is not some newfangled invention of “those damn SJW’s.” There’s at least one example of it in Shakespeare. See A Comedy of Errors, Act IV, Scene 3.)

It’s almost not worth saying that this is a generational thing, and when the boomers have passed on, their faux indignation over being asked to be a decent human being will die with them. In a couple decades, this debate will seem as weird to us as a prof who insists that freedom of expression means that he has the right to use the n-word to refer to students who are people of colour.

But let’s take the question of whether we should debate another person’s pronouns at face value, just for fun. Academia is supposed to be an anything-goes bare-knuckle cage-match of ideas, right? Are there legitimate reasons why we might not want to have a debate over pronouns?

I’ve come up with two.

Intellectual honesty

Let’s start with the example of smoking and lung cancer. I’ll get back to the debate at hand, I promise.

Smoking causes lung cancer. This is a fact.

Yes it’s a probabilistic thing; yes, it’s true that not all smokers get lung cancer; yes, it’s true that not all people with lung cancer smoked. But the causal link between smoking and lung cancer is so well established that it is now beyond doubt.

If, in 1950, there was a formal debate at McGill called “Does smoking cause lung cancer?”, that might have been an appropriate debate to have. There was genuine uncertainty over the issue at the time.

However, if I saw a poster on campus today in 2016 for a debate with the same title, I would take it to be a major failing in terms of either scientific judgement or intellectual honesty on the part of the organisers. I would question either their motives or their competency. For a person who wants an answer to the question of whether smoking causes lung cancer, the appropriate response is to point them toward the library, where there are reams of good data on the subject. A debate would not be appropriate.

The reason for this is that a formal public debate presupposes a certain equipoise between the sides being debated. Just framing certain issues as needing to be discussed by academics in the manner of a debate can be dishonest, like in the smoking/lung cancer debate example.

And so sometimes when a person says that something is “not a matter of debate,” it’s not because that the person is some insecure authority whose policies cannot bear scrutiny and they wish to stifle dissent by barring discussion. Sometimes when a person says that something is “not a matter of debate,” they just mean that it would be irresponsible and dishonest to use the machinery of academic “debate” to introduce unwarranted uncertainty where the issue has already legitimately been settled.

As academics, of course we need to be ready to defend any position we take. If there is anywhere that debates should happen over difficult, offensive or extremely technical subjects, it’s within a university. And yet, not all debates are intellectually honest ones to have. Sometimes when a person says, “Let me play devil’s advocate,” the correct response is, “The devil has enough advocates.”

Yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded theatre

Not all speech is benign. The famous example is that if you falsely yell “fire” in a crowded theatre, you could kill people.

The same goes for other forms of speech, including academic or political “debates.” After Harper dredged up the niqab debate in the 2015 election, there were violent physical attacks on Muslims in Montreal. The Brexit and Trump campaigns also both arguably brought about spikes in hate crimes in the UK and the US. If you have debates like, “Should we ban Muslims from our country?” those can—and we have seen recently that they do—incite violence against Muslims.

Other sorts of speech can cause harm even more directly. Let’s imagine the example of a trans student in a small class who doesn’t want to be outed as trans to her peers. Imagine that the student goes to the teacher on the first day of class and says, “I know the class list has my name as ‘John,’ but I go by ‘Jane,’ and I’d like you to use ‘she/her’ when referring to me.”

Let’s further imagine that the professor is of the type who refuses to respect a student’s preferred name and pronouns on principle. Just by exercising their “right to freedom of expression,” this professor could out the student to their peers against the student’s will, which could directly put them at risk of harm. This student might be threatened or harmed, but even if the student is lucky and nothing bad happens, she might just feel threatened by this behaviour, which is a harm in itself.

Part of the problem is that discussions that can cause harm or risk of harm to others are often initiated by people who don’t bear any of that risk themselves. So for example, when Harper decided to “have a debate” on the niqab for his own narrow political ends, he did so knowing that he would never be the target of the anti-Muslim violence that followed. Similarly, a cis prof who refuses to use preferred names and pronouns will never be on the receiving end of violence against trans people, and they aren’t even in a good place to evaluate the level of risk that they may be imposing on other people against their will.

The prof at U of T wants to paint himself as the brave intellectual, bucking the orthodoxy and asking questions that no one else has the courage to ask, while his opponents won’t even meet him for an honest discussion. All I see is a guy who doesn’t have any skin in the game, who can afford to debate the level of respect owed to other humans because it will never affect him personally.

What does it mean when someone says their pronouns aren’t up for debate, then?

When a person says their pronouns “aren’t up for debate,” they are not saying that there is no defense for the position they’re taking. There is a field of study that has considered, among other things, the question of pronouns and preferred names. In a lot of academic institutions, it’s called “Gender Studies.” You’ve probably made fun of it. But the fact that you’re ignorant of an entire academic discipline and decades worth of research doesn’t mean that there is a genuine question to be considered. It might just mean that you need to go to the library.

And when a person says their pronouns “aren’t up for debate,” they might mean that what seems like an abstract, academic discussion to you could mean harm or the risk of harm to them. They’re not saying, “My position cannot stand up to criticism.” They’re saying, “I don’t want to be a casualty of this discussion.”


Everything should be open for debate—in principle—but not all debates come from a place of intellectual honesty, and not all debates are benign.


    title = {Are pronouns up for debate or not?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-11-20,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Are pronouns up for debate or not?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 20 Nov 2016. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 20). Are pronouns up for debate or not? [Web log post]. Retrieved from

A gift of the fae folk, I assume?


What is this thing?

What is this thing?

I tried to go to the Snowden talk at McGill a couple weeks ago. The lineup was too crazy huge for us to get in, so we went to Thomson House, the McGill grad students’ pub, and hooked a laptop into a TV there to watch.

Seriously, what?

Seriously, what?

On the way back, in a pile of stones upturned by the construction between the Leacock and Brown buildings on the McGill campus, I found a little medallion marked with strange symbols. It has a pentagram on one side and Death on the other.

I don’t know what to make of it. I assume it was left for me by the fairy folk, and that it’s a good omen?


    title = {A gift of the fae folk, I assume?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
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    date = 2016-11-14,
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Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "A gift of the fae folk, I assume?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 14 Nov 2016. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 14). A gift of the fae folk, I assume? [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Break-in data from the SPVM


Montreal Break-ins Week-by-Week

Montreal Break-ins Week-by-Week

Just today, the SPVM released some crime statistics for the island of Montreal.

CBC already did an interactive map, so I took the data set and made a histogram of break-ins by date!

It’s a PDF and you can download it and look at it RIGHT NOW. There’s also a version where it’s lumped by month, which is also instructive.

And then, I made a week-by-week animated GIF of the locations of the break-ins! (Click the image attached to this post to see.)


    title = {Break-in data from the SPVM},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-04-27,
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Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Break-in data from the SPVM" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 27 Apr 2016. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Apr 27). Break-in data from the SPVM [Web log post]. Retrieved from

It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review Bayes Theorem.


Figure 1

Figure 1

It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review your knowledge of Bayes Theorem. Here’s a fun exercise to do: Calculate the probability that a gay man is HIV-negative, given that he tells you he’s HIV-negative.


First, let’s define our terms.

h: Does not have HIV
~h: Does have HIV
e: Says he does not have HIV
~e: Says he does have HIV


So let’s imagine that you’re a gay man, and you’re going to hook up with a guy for Valentine’s Day. You might be interested in calculating the following: P(h|e)

This expression, P(h|e) represents the probability that a gay man does not have HIV given that he says he does not have HIV.


The base rate of HIV infection among gay men who have sex with men is 19%.1

Hence: P(~h) = 0.19; or P(h) = 0.81

See Figure 1 for a graphical representation. The entire square represents all gay men who have sex with men. The blue rectangle takes up 81% of the square, which is proportional to the CDC’s best estimate for the number of gay men who are actually HIV-negative.

From the same source, we can also determine that the probability that a person says he does not have HIV given that he does have HIV to be 44%.1

Hence: P(e|~h) = 0.44

In Figure 1, this is represented by the green rectangle. Given that a person is HIV-positive, there’s a 44% that they don’t know, and so they would likely say that they are “negative.”

The remainder, the yellow rectangle, is the proportion of gay men who are HIV-positive and who know that they are HIV-positive.


I am considering only the population of gay men who have sex with men.

Built into this is the assumption that men who have HIV and don’t know it would report themselves as HIV-negative, or that there wouldn’t be anyone who just says “I don’t know.”

I am also assuming here that 100% of gay men who don’t have HIV will say that they don’t have HIV. Put another way, there is a 0% chance that someone will say he has HIV if, in fact he does not have HIV. This is a simplification, It’s possible that someone is confused about his status, but very unlikely. Hence:

P(e|h) = 1; or P(~e|h) = 0

Bayes Theorem

To calculate our desired value, P(h|e), we should use Bayes Theorem.

P(h|e) = P(h) / ( P(h) + P(e|~h) * P(~h) / P(e|h) )

P(h|e) = 0.81 / ( 0.81 + 0.44 * 0.19 / 1 )

P(h|e) = 0.81 / ( 0.81 + 0.44 * 0.19 )

P(h|e) = 0.91

To illustrate this graphically, in Figure 1, this would represent the chance of your prospective hook-up being in the blue area, given that the only thing you know about him is that he’s either in the blue area or the green area.


Your risk of HIV exposure can be informed by your prospective sexual partner’s response to whether or not he is HIV-negative.

If a person tells you that he’s HIV-positive, he knows his status. No one goes around claiming to be HIV-positive unless they’ve been tested and got a positive result. The best evidence we have indicates that HIV-positive people with an undetectable viral load do not transmit HIV.2 So with a sexual partner who’s HIV-positive, you’re not getting any surprises.

If you don’t even ask about your prospective sex partner’s HIV status, you can be 81% certain that he’s HIV-negative, just because of the base rate of HIV prevalence. If you do ask and he tells you that he’s negative, that is a useful piece of information—it allows you to update your estimation of the probability that your prospective sexual partner is HIV-negative to 91%, but there’s still about a 1 in 10 chance that he’s HIV-positive, has no idea, and is not being treated for it.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!


  2. Attia S et al. Sexual transmission of HIV according to viral load and antiretroviral therapy: systematic review and meta-analysis. AIDS. 23(11): 1397–1404, 2009.


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    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
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Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review Bayes Theorem." Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 14 Feb 2016. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Feb 14). It’s Valentine’s Day! Time to review Bayes Theorem. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

It’s Movember! Review your knowledge of Bayes’ theorem before getting your PSA test.


Background info

There are 3 million in the U.S. currently living with prostate cancer. There are approximately 320 million people in the US today, roughly half of whom will have prostates. Hence, let us take the prevalence of prostate cancer among those who have prostates to be approximately 3 in 160, or just under 2%.

The false positive (type I error) rate is reported at 33% for PSA velocity screening, or as high as 75%. The false negative (type II error) rate is reported as between 10-20%. For the purpose of this analysis, let’s give the PSA test the benefit of the doubt, and attribute to it the lowest type I and type II error rates, namely 33% and 10%.

Skill testing question

If some random person with a prostate from the United States, where the prevalence of prostate cancer is 2%, receives a positive PSA test result, where that test has a false positive rate of 33% and a false negative rate of 10%, what is the chance that this person actually has prostate cancer?

Bayes’ theorem

Recall Bayes’ theorem from your undergraduate Philosophy of Science class. Let us define the hypothesis we’re interested in testing and the evidence we are considering as follows:

P(h): The prior probability that this person has cancer
P(e|¬h): The false positive (type I error) rate
P(¬e|h): The false negative (type II error) rate

P(h) = 3/160
P(e|¬h) = 0.33
P(¬e|h) = 0.10

Given these definitions, the quantity we are interested in calculating is P(h|e), the probability that the person has prostate cancer, given that he returns a positive PSA test result. We can calculate this value using the following formulation of Bayes’ theorem:

P(h|e) = P(h) / [ P(h) + ( P(e|¬h) P(¬h) ) / ( P(e|h) ) ]

From the above probabilities and the laws of probability, we can derive the following missing quantities.

P(¬h) = 1 – 3/160
P(e|h) = 0.90

These can be inserted into the formula above. The answer to the skill-testing question is that there is a 4.95% chance that the randomly selected person in question will have prostate cancer, given a positive PSA test result.

What if we know more about the person in question?

Let’s imagine that the person is not selected at random. Say that this person is a man with a prostate and he is over 60 years old.

According to Zlotta et al, the prevalence of prostate cancer rises to over 40% in men over age 60. If we redo the above calculation with this base rate, P(h) = 0.40, we find that P(h|e) rises to 64.5%.

Take-home messages

  1. Humans are very bad at intuiting probabilities. See Wikipedia for recommended reading on the Base Rate Fallacy.
  2. Having a prostate is neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for being a man. Just FYI.
  3. Don’t get tested for prostate cancer unless you’re in a higher-risk group, because the base rate of prostate cancer is so low in the general population that if you get a positive result, it’s likely to be a false positive.


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    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
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    date = 2015-11-18,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "It’s Movember! Review your knowledge of Bayes’ theorem before getting your PSA test." Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 18 Nov 2015. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Nov 18). It’s Movember! Review your knowledge of Bayes’ theorem before getting your PSA test. [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Why Christians shouldn’t vote Conservative


Holy Bible

Holy Bible

I have spent quite a bit of time among conservative Christians in my day, and one of the things that I didn’t understand even when I counted myself among the super-conservatives was the single-minded political alignment of some of them with the Conservative party. I remember having conversations with people—smart people—who would tell me that they couldn’t vote for anyone but the Conservatives, and for religious / moral reasons, primarily that they were against abortion and against gay marriage. Below, I will give two arguments that run counter to this widely held view among Christians.

I will begin by arguing that it is irrational to vote Conservative if your reason for doing so is to vote against abortion or gay marriage, and my second argument will focus on the abuse of Christianity by Conservative politicians.

1. Moral issues that seem to be most important to conservatives are not even a part of the Conservatives’ agenda

For whatever reason, super-conservative Christians have chosen abortion and gay marriage as two big political issues that influence their voting. I do not want to start a debate about the moral permissibility of abortion or about the rights of LGBTQ+ people. I’m just going to take it as given that many conservative Christians see these as legitimate issues that are informed by their interpretation of Christian theology. That is to say, for whatever reason, whether anyone agrees with them, super-conservative Christians are against abortions and against LGBTQ+ rights.

So let’s imagine a voter who wants to vote along these these moral lines (without passing judgement on whether or not this is the sort of thing that we should be using the machinery of government to regulate, or even whether or not Christian theology supports these positions). For whom should this voter cast their ballot?

Not the Tories. Or at least, not for that reason.

Practically speaking, the Tories are indistinguishable from the NDP or the Liberals on these issues. Regardless of what they say in their platform about “traditional marriage” or opposing abortion, the only policy that matters is the one that gets voted on in parliament, and despite having a majority government since 2011, gay marriage and abortion are still 100% perfectly legal in Canada. The Tories had 4 years to pass a law against abortion and gay marriage, and they didn’t do it. At this point, it is safe to say that they will never do it.

No matter how much the Tories want to manipulate you into thinking that they are the righteous and moral party to vote for from a super-conservative Christian perspective, they are undeniably, from a practical perspective, exactly the same thing as the NDP or Liberals as far as abortion and LGBTQ+ rights go.

To re-iterate, abortion and gay marriage are political non-issues in Canada, and it is irrational to think that a vote for the Tories is somehow a vote for “traditional marriage” or a vote against abortion. I’m not saying anything about whether it’s rational to be against gay marriage or abortions. I’m just saying that if your goal is to elect a party that will pass a law against them, you might as well vote for the NDP or the Liberals, since they are equally likely to do so, but they’re not insulting you by pretending that there’s any chance it will happen.

2. The Tories are getting into the habit of twisting the Scripture for political gain

There are some things in [the apostle Paul’s writing] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

2 Peter 3:16

When the House of Commons was sitting, the Conservatives seem to have gotten into the habit of pretending to cry in order to atone for their sins.[Source] [Source] Now that we’re in full campaign mode, the go-to seems to have become explicitly contorting the Christian faith in order to serve narrow partisan ends.

For example, in July, Tory MP Wai Young told Harvest City Church—with a straight face—that passing the recent controversial bill C-51 was what Jesus would have done.[Source] Last week, Nigel Wright, Man-In-Blue-Suit’s sometime lieutenant compared his actions, namely the giving $90 k of hush money in a cover-up of a political scandal, to those prescribed in Matthew 6:3.[Source] For the record, Matthew 6:3 is rendered in the ESV as “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.”

As Man-In-Blue-Suit would say, let’s be clear. We’re talking about a pair of politicians who, within weeks of each other, decided to spin something politically unpopular as Christian virtue.

Regardless of what you think of Wright’s actions regarding the $90 k cover-up cheque (it’s currently before the courts for bribery etc., so make of that what you will), and no matter what you think about bill C-51 (it was recently denounced by the UN for being a human rights problem but maybe you’re into that sort of thing), it is non-controversially wrong for politicians to abuse a religious group’s holy text in order to justify their own questionable political actions and manipulate the members of that group.

You just don’t do that.

Far from being the party that supports and aligns itself with the Christian faith, the Tories are unique among the major political parties in their attempts to paint the corpse of their jaded partisan politics with the make-up of false Christian piety. If you are a Christian who cares at all about politicians abusing your faith—if you want your faith to inform your vote at all, the Tories are the last party that you should vote for.


    title = {Why Christians shouldn’t vote Conservative},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-08-15,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Why Christians shouldn’t vote Conservative" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 15 Aug 2015. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Aug 15). Why Christians shouldn’t vote Conservative [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015


Whenever you hear politicians talk in the run-up to an election, everyone already knows the sorts of things they’re going to say:

“No, you would be a worse fiscal manager! The state of the economy is your fault!”

“No, truly, you would be a worse fiscal manager! The state of the economy has always been your fault!”

What they say is always so disconnected with what I feel is important, that I made a list of things that I wish we could start talking about honestly as a country. These are my “dream election issues,” and with a few exceptions, they’re not the things that politicians (of any party) really like to talk about too much. I’ve divided these things into four broad categories, and I have included a “tl;dr” at the bottom for those who don’t want to read my very wordy ramblings about Canadian politics.

Broadly speaking, I wish that we could be talking about human rights, the state of Canadian democracy, corporate influence on politics, and a guaranteed basic income.

1. Canada’s human rights record, and what can be done to help make things better for our country’s First Nations

The current government is embarrassingly bad at these sorts of issues, despite Canada having a reputation to the contrary.

The Harper Government’s reaction to the Truth and Reconciliation report, for example, was shameful. Canada is a country that literally committed a genocide against a racial group, and the minister in charge of that portfolio decided to stay sitting during a standing ovation for a call for a national inquiry on missing missing and murdered aboriginal women. The lack of movement with regard to an inquiry is inexcusable.

The government’s passage of C-51, with the help of the Liberals, has also recently been deemed a human rights problem by the UN. Naturally, the Tories have shrugged off any such criticism.

And as long as we’re talking about human rights, trans rights are human rights. Considering how smug we as Canadians like to be about LGBTQ+ stuff, (“We have gay marriage, so everything is perfect here, right!”) we’re pretty bad at actually making things better for trans people. A promising trans rights bill was killed by the senate, because … “Meh. Can’t be bothered.”

(Don’t get me wrong, gay marriage is great and all, but if there was such a thing as a Maslovian pyramid of Things that LGBTQ+ People Need In Order To Be Equal To Everyone Else, gay marriage would be pretty much at the top of it. Sure, it makes things better, but mostly for people who have got things pretty good in the first place.)

It would be healthy to finally have an honest national conversation about what kind of a place we want Canada to be. How do we want history to judge us, when they look back at the way that we have treated our First Nations? Wouldn’t it be better if we were talking about the details of an inquiry into missing and murdered aboriginal women, or even making plans to help preserve the culture of the First Nations, by making their languages official?

Or maybe we should sit down and talk about what kinds of powers we want to grant to a peacetime government. Do we want to be constantly at war with “terror,” or to have a government that demands 3 terror-related statements per week in order to keep us properly terrified? (How about this for a rule regarding the powers of the police and our country’s spies? If a police officer in 1950 would have probably needed a warrant to get access to that detail about your personal life, spies and polices officers in 2015 aren’t allowed to scoop it up in mass surveillance, or obtain that detail of your life otherwise through electronic means.)

2. Re-establishing some semblance of democracy in Canada

Over the past little while, democracy in Canada has gone downhill, fast. Before some neckbeard tries to say, “We are a democracy. We have elections, and that makes us one,” democracy is something that a country has in degrees. Just because a country has elected leaders doesn’t make it an ideal and perfect democracy. There are a number of institutions, practices, conventions and expectations that all work together to ensure that a country has a government of/by/for the people. The simple fact of an elected government, while a cornerstone of democracy, does not exhaust the meaning of the word.

This means that a number of changes to things that seem to be unrelated to whether or not Canada is a democracy can become real threats to Canada as a democracy. For example, the muzzling of Canadian scientists. If Canadian scientists can’t communicate their findings, or if only findings that can be spun to support the government of the day are released, then that eliminates a legitimate means that Canadians have to make their own opinions about how the country is run, what they communicate to their representatives, how they vote, etc.

Further, our prime minister is inaccessible to reporters and journalists. This is actually a problem for democracy itself. The media exists in part to hold the government of the day accountable, and the less accountable a government is to its people, the less democratic it is.

Same thing goes (in principle) for Question Period. The nearly comic performance of “Crocodile Tears” Calandra wasn’t just an exercise in partisan buffoonery. The whole point of parliament is that one of the mechanisms by which laws are made in our system is by talking about them. This is why omnibus bills are also fundamentally un-democratic. The process by which bills become law is supposed to be one where a government has to answer publicly for why it is making the rules that it is. An omnibus bill skips over that whole process, and is antithetical to democracy itself.

3. Corporate influence, intellectual property and protecting the public domain

As long as we’re talking about omnibus bills, let’s talk about what the Tories slipped into the last one and hoped we’d never notice. Up until recently, recordings were protected by copyright in Canada for 50 years after the death of the artist. Harper has quietly upped that figure to 70 years after the death of the artist. There was no debate on this issue. I have never heard a good justification for it. But now it’s law.

For books (at least for the time being) copyright still only extends to 50 years after the death of the writer, and after that point it falls into the Public Domain. (In the US and the UK, it’s already 70 years for books.) The fact that books eventually become Public Domain is why Project Gutenberg can exist. Project Gutenberg is an initiative to make available online—for free—books whose copyright has expired. You can download them, share them, edit them, make fanfiction, whatever. The books are free in every sense of the word.

The fact that copyright expires 20 years earlier in Canada is why Project Gutenberg Canada can exist. Authors like Ian Flemming, CS Lewis, George Orwell, etc., who died more than 50 years ago, but less than 70 years ago, can be downloaded legally for free in Canada, since there are no laws here protecting their copyright. THIS IS A GOOD THING.

There is absolutely no reason, other than corporate greed, to extend copyright after the artist has died. I mean, if copyright is protected for 70 years after the artist has died, everyone that artist ever loved or ever knew would also likely be dead before the copyright expires. The rationale, I take it, for copyright is to encourage new creative works. I am extremely sceptical that the profits of recording or publishing companies, decades after an artist’s death, is a motivating factor for any artist.

Copyright extensions are just one fairly minor issue, but they are like the canary in a coal mine. Copyright extension laws don’t try to pretend to be about the public good. They are absolutely not about the public good, and they are so transparently against the public good that they have to be snuck into law through the use of omnibus bills. The reason they are being legislated is because of corporate influence on our politics. There is no other reason. And that’s why they should be opposed—not just because I like free books (although there is that too), but because as a law that has absolutely no basis in the public good, they stand as a really simple metric for how corrupt our politics are.

4. Guaranteed basic income for all Canadians

I would love to see a guaranteed basic income as a part of a party’s election platform. To me, the phrase “make a living” is absolutely abhorrent. I just can’t justify in my mind the idea that if a human being doesn’t contribute enough to our economy, then that person literally deserves to die of exposure or starvation.

We act like poverty is an intractable problem that we can never solve. Meanwhile, the city of Medicine Hat recently eliminated homelessness by just … giving houses to those who need them. It’s supported in principle by the current mayors of Edmonton and Calgary, and by economists from all political stripes, including ones as far to the right as Milton Friedman. Basic income is not some lefty fantasy.

A few decades ago, Canada didn’t have socialised medicine, and now it’s a point of national pride that no Canadian has to stress about going broke from a healthcare emergency. I would love to see a party campaign on a promise to introduce a guaranteed basic income for Canadians, so that in a few years, it’s a point of national pride that no Canadian has to stress about going broke, ever.


The things I’d love to see become “election issues” for Canada in 2015 are the following:

  • Missing and murdered aboriginal women
  • First Nations languages as official languages of Canada
  • Trans rights
  • The powers of a peacetime government against private liberty
  • Muzzling of Canadian scientists
  • The legality of omnibus bills
  • Copyright extensions as a proxy for corporate political influence
  • Guaranteed basic income

Edit (2015 July 27): Added item #4, basic income.

Cross-posted to:


    title = {Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-07-25,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Jul 2015. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Jul 25). Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015 [Web log post]. Retrieved from

Short story prompt for Lojban enthusiasts: la cizra mensi


Short story prompt: la cizra mensi

The hero of your short story has found a way to summon the Weird Sisters of Macbeth fame to inquire after the future. Worried that the witches will try to trick your hero by giving a prophesy that can be favourably and plausibly read one way, but that also has an alternate, surprising and terrible interpretation that is consistent with the words of the prophesy, your hero finds a way to force the witches to speak in Lojban.

Unfortunately for the hero of your story, a witch’s prophesy can backfire in unexpected ways that still respect the letter of the prophesy itself, even if it’s delivered in a language that’s syntactically unambiguous.

Macbeth 1.3

In the spirit of this short story prompt, I have rendered the first part of Macbeth, act 1 scene 3 into Lojban for your enjoyment. Corrections and suggestions welcome. :)

termafyfe’i 1: [1] .i doi lo mensi do pu zvati ma

termafyfe’i 2 .i lo jai bu’u lo nu catra lo xarju

termafyfe’i 3 .i doi lo mensi do zvati ma

termafyfe’i 1 .i lo fetspe be lo blopre pu cpana be lo galtupcra ku ralte lo narge

[5] gi’e omnomo gi’e omnomo gi’e omnomo .i lu ko dunda fi mi li’u se cusku mi .i lu ko cliva doi lo termafyfe’i li’u lo zargu citka cagna cu se krixa .i lo nakspe be lo se go’i pu klama la .alepos. gi’e bloja’a la .tirxu. .i ku’i ne’i lo julne mi lo te go’i fankla

[10] .ije mi simsa be lo ratcu poi claxu lo rebla ku co’e gi’e co’e gi’e co’e

termafyfe’i 2: .i mi dunda do pa lo brife

termafyfe’i 1 .i do xendo

termafyfe’i 3 .i mi co’e pa lo drata

termafyfe’i 1: [15] .i mi ralte ro da poi drata .i je’a lo blotcana cu bifca’e ro da poi farna be fi lo makfartci pe lo blopre ku’o zi’e poi se djuno .i mi ba simsa be lo sudysrasu bei lo ka sudga ku rincygau

[20] .i lo nu sipna ku ba canai lo donri ku .a lo nicte ku dandu za’e lo galtu dinju canko gacri .i zo’e ba dapma renvi .i ba ca lo tatpi jeftu be li so pi’i so cu jdika lo ka stali .e lo ka pacna .e lo ka gleki

[25] .i zu’u lo bloti to’e pu’i se daspo .i zu’unai lo go’i vilti’a se renro .i ko viska lo se ralte be mi

termafyfe’i 2: .i ko jarco fi mi .i ko jarco fi mi

termafyfe’i 1 .i mi nau ralte lo tamji be fi lo blosazri

[30] poi ca lo nu zdani klama ku bloti janli morsi

[.i ne’i damri]

termafyfe’i 3: .i damri .i damri .ua .i la .makbet. je’a tolcliva

ro da poi termafyfe’i: .i lo cizra mensi noi xance jgari simxu zi’e noi klama be fo lo xamsi .e lo tumla be’o sutra

[35] cu klama fi’o tadji tu’a di’e .i ciroi klama lo tu’a do .i ciroi klama lo tu’a mi .i ciroi ji’a klama .iki’ubo krefu fi li so .i ko smaji .i lo makfa cu bredi

[.i nerkla fa la .makbet. .e la bankos.]


    title = {Short story prompt for Lojban enthusiasts: la cizra mensi},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-07-1,
    url = {}


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Short story prompt for Lojban enthusiasts: la cizra mensi" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 01 Jul 2015. Web. 24 May 2017. <>


Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Jul 01). Short story prompt for Lojban enthusiasts: la cizra mensi [Web log post]. Retrieved from


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