Can you predict the outcome of the 2017 UK general election?

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In 2015, I posed the following question to the internet:

Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?

I collected 76 eligible forecasts of seat counts for the major political parties in Canada and analysed them.1 The answer was “no,” but the results continue to be informative, especially now that everyone looks back on the election of Trudeau to a majority government as having been a “sure thing.”

Now that there’s a general election in the UK, and their parliament is reasonably similar to ours, I’ve launched a similar project eliciting predictions of seat counts for the four major political parties listed on the Wikipedia page for the 2017 UK general election.2

The link is here:

https://www.bgcarlisle.com/uk2017/

Do it do it do it!

Tell your friends! Tweet it! You don’t need to be a UK citizen to predict. As always, the best forecaster will be offered a beer, courtesy of me (if you’re over 18).

I will be closing the page to new submissions as of 2017 June 8 at 20:30 (London time).

References

  1. Carlisle, BG. “No, you can’t predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election”, The Grey Literature, 2015. http://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/elxn42.html
  2. Wikipedia contributors, “United Kingdom general election, 2017,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=United_Kingdom_general_election,_2017&oldid=776746852 (accessed April 24, 2017).

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2017-4872,
    title = {Can you predict the outcome of the 2017 UK general election?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2017-04-23,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/04/23/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-the-2017-uk-general-election/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Can you predict the outcome of the 2017 UK general election?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 23 Apr 2017. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/04/23/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-the-2017-uk-general-election/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2017, Apr 23). Can you predict the outcome of the 2017 UK general election? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/04/23/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-the-2017-uk-general-election/


Media literacy for the Trump era

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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”)

References

  1. https://twitter.com/Kris_Sacrebleu/status/832325609132953604
  2. https://theintercept.com/2017/02/23/the-increasingly-unhinged-russia-rhetoric-comes-from-a-long-standing-u-s-playbook/
  3. http://www.economist.com/printedition/covers/2017-02-09/ap-e-eu-la-me-na-uk
  4. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/22/us/politics/devos-sessions-transgender-students-rights.html
  5. http://www.huffingtonpost.ca/2017/02/22/canadian-man-customs-gay-app_n_14928858.html
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/18/opinion/sunday/are-liberals-helping-trump.html

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2017-4823,
    title = {Media literacy for the Trump era},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2017-02-27,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/02/27/media-literacy-for-the-trump-era/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Media literacy for the Trump era" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 27 Feb 2017. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/02/27/media-literacy-for-the-trump-era/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2017, Feb 27). Media literacy for the Trump era [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2017/02/27/media-literacy-for-the-trump-era/


Are pronouns up for debate or not?

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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.”

tl;dr

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.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2016-4805,
    title = {Are pronouns up for debate or not?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-11-20,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/20/are-pronouns-up-for-debate-or-not/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Are pronouns up for debate or not?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 20 Nov 2016. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/20/are-pronouns-up-for-debate-or-not/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 20). Are pronouns up for debate or not? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/20/are-pronouns-up-for-debate-or-not/


A gift of the fae folk, I assume?

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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?

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2016-4763,
    title = {A gift of the fae folk, I assume?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2016-11-14,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "A gift of the fae folk, I assume?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 14 Nov 2016. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2016, Nov 14). A gift of the fae folk, I assume? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2016/11/14/a-gift-of-the-fae-folk-i-assume/


An open letter to Justin Trudeau about the TPP

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Dear Mr Trudeau,

I am writing to you mostly out of fear from being kept in the dark with regard to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). When this trade agreement was being actively negotiated, it was shrouded in secrecy, because “that’s how trade partnerships are bargained.” That’s fair, I suppose. I have never negotiated an international treaty, so I wouldn’t know.

Then, after certain chapters with terrifying and unconfirmed details were revealed through WikiLeaks, I asked the Liberal candidate in my riding about your policies regarding the Intellectual Property (IP) changes that will occur if the TPP is ratified. She told me that there was no way to answer, since there was no “official” document. I guess maybe that’s fair too. I can’t expect an official party policy on every rumour out there.

Then yesterday, The Globe and Mail reported that you agreed to promote the TPP to Canadians. We still don’t know what’s in it, but the most powerful person in the country—someone about to move into an office that the last ten years has proved has no accountability—has decided to make it happen. I’m not crying foul play or anything at this point, but I hope you can understand my anxiousness.

When you gave your victory speech on October 19, you proclaimed for all to hear that the reason the Liberal party won was because you listened. I am writing this letter in the hope that you will prove my cynicism wrong and continue to try to listen.

For better or for worse, Canadian parliament is an adversarial process. Our laws and policies are shaped by a system in which the excesses of the government of the day are meant to be held to account by the government’s opposition party. My worry is that with regards to the TPP, neither the government nor the opposition party seem to be interested in criticising this agreement as closely as it deserves.

My fear is that the first time that Canadians will get to see the official wording of the TPP document will be when the entire multi-chapter trade deal is presented to parliament as a take-it-or-leave-it package that’s to be voted on as a single bill that both the government and the opposition support. The more pessimistic part of me wonders if you will even slide it wholesale into an omnibus bill along with other unrelated legislation, like the last update to Canadian copyright laws was.

From what I’ve seen of the TPP in leaked documents, this trade deal runs counter to the public good in a number of ways, and secures only the good of a few who are already very wealthy. I will outline only three points that are very concerning for me, although there are certainly more reasons to be sceptical of the TPP. I admit that these are based on only the information that I have read from leaked documents and nth-hand reports. Such is the state of Canadian democracy, apparently: that citizens need to rely on rumour and WikiLeaks to know what laws their government plans to pass!

  1. The TPP would extend copyright from 50 to 70 years after the death of the author. This is terrible news for Project Gutenberg Canada, for example, which exists mostly because the American counterpart doesn’t have legal access to digitise and publish books from authors who died between 50 and 70 years ago. There is absolutely no argument to be made from the public good to justify this reduction of the Canadian Public Domain, aside from over-reaching corporate greed. It is not an exaggeration to say that this policy is one that will literally steal books from children to benefit large corporations.
  2. As far as we know so far, the TPP would also include harsh penalties for circumventing digital rights management (DRM) measures, and it would make internet censorship easier. These sorts of encroachments on personal liberty are most likely to be abused against those who are already least privileged, and in any case, personal liberties should not be given up lightly. Our current, balanced, made-in-Canada approach, for all its faults, is a significant protection; something to be proud of and something we should hold on to.
  3. Lastly, and the area of my personal interest as a medical ethicist, the IP provisions in the TPP will cost lives, both in Canada and around the world. It will make it more difficult for people in developing countries to get medications that they need, and it will drive up the cost of healthcare in Canada. The IP policies in the TPP could be fairly described as a wish-list for pharma lobbyists, and a more balanced approach is needed.

So with all that in mind, here is what I want to ask you, Mr Trudeau:

At what point will there be some meaningful democratic input into the proposed changes to Canadian laws that are in the Trans-Pacific Partnership?

Will there be a free vote in the House of Commons on each of these individual changes? Or will you put it all together as a single bill and tell your MP’s to vote for it?

By “meaningful democratic input,” I don’t mean “industry consultations” or “lobbying.” I mean, getting the opinion of Canadians on the changes after you have explained that the TPP doesn’t just mean some-billions-in-trade, but it also means gutting the Canadian Public Domain, threatening the internet as we know it and having to make more tough decisions about who gets the medicine they need and who doesn’t.

I have the highest hopes that your answer will be honest, principled and in the best interest of this country’s people and not another country’s corporate interests.

My kindest regards to you and your family,

 

Benjamin Carlisle MA
fe’o mi’e la .myrf.

P.S. Please forward this message to whoever you will appoint as the relevant minister for this sort of question. I understand your cabinet has not yet been sworn in.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4620,
    title = {An open letter to Justin Trudeau about the TPP},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-11-2,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/11/02/an-open-letter-to-justin-trudeau-about-the-tpp/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "An open letter to Justin Trudeau about the TPP" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 Nov 2015. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/11/02/an-open-letter-to-justin-trudeau-about-the-tpp/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Nov 02). An open letter to Justin Trudeau about the TPP [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/11/02/an-open-letter-to-justin-trudeau-about-the-tpp/


The answer to the question

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On October 9, inspired by the STREAM research group’s Forecasting Project, I posed a question to the Internet: “Do you know how the election is going to turn out?” I tweeted it at news anchors, MP’s, celebrities, academics, friends and family alike.

I’m very happy with the response! I got 87 predictions, and only 11 of them were what I would consider “spam.” I took those responses and analysed them to see if there were any variables that predicted better success in forecasting the result of the election.

The take-home message is: No. Nobody saw it coming. The polls had the general proportion of the vote pretty much correct, but since polls do not reflect the distribution of voters in individual ridings, the final seat count was very surprising. This may even suggest that the Liberals got the impetus for a majority result from the fact that everyone expected they would only narrowly eke out a victory over the incumbent Tories.

You can view the final report in web format or download it as a PDF.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4616,
    title = {The answer to the question},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-10-25,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "The answer to the question" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Oct 2015. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Oct 25). The answer to the question [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/25/the-answer-to-the-question/


Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?

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The STREAM (Studies of Translation, Ethics and Medicine) research group at McGill University, of which I’m a part, has been working on a project for the last year or so in which we elicit forecasts of clinical trial results from experts in their field. We want to see how well-calibrated clinical trialists are, and to see which members of a team are better or worse at predicting trial outcomes like patient accrual, safety events and efficacy measures.

Inspired by this, I borrowed some of the code we have been using to get forecasts from clinical trial investigators, and have applied it to the case of Canada’s 42nd federal election, and now I’m asking for you to do your best to predict how many seats each party will get, and who will win in your riding.

Let’s see how well we, as a group, can predict the outcome, and see if there are regional or demographic predictors for who is better or worse at predicting election results. The more people who make predictions, the better the data set I’ll have at the end, so please submit a forecast, and ask your friends!

The link for the forecasting tool is here: http://www.bgcarlisle.com/elxn42/

Just to make it interesting: I will personally buy a beer for the forecaster who gives me the best prediction out of them all.* :)

* If you are younger than 18 years of age, you get a fancy coffee, not a beer. No purchase necessary, only one forecast per person. Forecaster must provide email with the prediction in order for me to contact him/her. In the case of a tie, one lucky beer-receiver will be chosen randomly. Having the beer together with me is conditional on the convenience of both parties (e.g. if you live in Vancouver or something, I’ll just figure out a way to buy you a beer remotely, since I’m in Montreal). You may consult any materials, sources, polls or whatever. This is a test of your prediction ability, not memory, after all. Prediction must be submitted by midnight on October 18, 2015.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4597,
    title = {Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-10-8,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election?" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 08 Oct 2015. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Oct 08). Can you predict the outcome of Canada’s 42nd federal election? [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/10/08/can-you-predict-the-outcome-of-canadas-42nd-federal-election/


Stephen Harper’s “soft on torture” agenda

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A longstanding policy of the Conservative government has been reliance on information gathered from, and outright complicity with the torture of human beings. Since we’re deep into an election, and elections are one of the most clear ways that we’re supposed to be keeping our government accountable, let’s have a look back at the Conservative government’s “soft on torture” agenda.

As Man-in-Blue-Suit would say, let’s be clear. I’m not talking about metaphorical torture. I’m talking about purposely imposing literal pain, humiliation and deprivation on actual living human beings in order to elicit information, or to otherwise bring about some political gain. This is serious, and to call it “torture” is not an exaggeration in the slightest. And Stephen Harper has made sure that the Canada is a part of it. To sum up, as Harper said himself, we might not recognise Canada, now that he’s had his way with it.

To start with, this is not a one-off thing. This is a policy that the Cons have crafted over the course of years. Far from being an accident or an oversight, parts of this “soft on torture” policy were implemented in secret, which suggests that they understood the enormity of what they were doing, but they wanted to get away with it anyway.

Contrary to Harper’s patronising dismissals, this is not a conspiracy theory either. This is well-documented by internal government “watchdogs,” military memos, Parliamentary debate and even reports from foreign powers.

The following is not an exhaustive report, but just a convenience sample that I came up with. The earliest article is from the Globe and Mail in 2012, saying that Harper covered up the delivery of prisoners to be tortured more than 5 years prior, and the most recent is the response to the CIA report in December of last year.

Fortunately, Canada is a democracy, and one of the things that we citizens of Canada have is the right—and the responsibility—to hold the government of the day accountable for its actions at the polls.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4566,
    title = {Stephen Harper’s “soft on torture” agenda},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-09-2,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/09/02/stephen-harpers-soft-on-torture-agenda/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Stephen Harper’s “soft on torture” agenda" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 Sep 2015. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/09/02/stephen-harpers-soft-on-torture-agenda/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Sep 02). Stephen Harper’s “soft on torture” agenda [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/09/02/stephen-harpers-soft-on-torture-agenda/


A guide to federal politicians’ hair

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A federal election is many things, but perhaps the most important is that it is a nation-wide referendum on whose haircut we want to see on the news every week. Hence, I have compiled a guide to our current slate of federal politicians, with easy haircut mnemonics to help you remember which one is which.

Politician Which one it is How to remember which one it is
Papa Bear “Angry” Tom “The Papa Bear” Mulcair The angry beardy one
Tru-beau Justin “I have personally punched a Canadian Senator—you’re welcome” Trudeau Justin Tru-beau, amirite? … heh … seriously, nice hair though
May Elizabeth “I’m not a comedian” May I have declined to make a joke about her physical appearance, because the last thing the internet needs right now is one more male blogger making unsolicited commentary about the physical appearance of women in politics
Hurr durr Man in blue suit Haircut: LEGO man standard

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4521,
    title = {A guide to federal politicians’ hair},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-08-2,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/02/a-guide-to-federal-politicians-hair/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "A guide to federal politicians’ hair" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 Aug 2015. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/02/a-guide-to-federal-politicians-hair/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Aug 02). A guide to federal politicians’ hair [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/08/02/a-guide-to-federal-politicians-hair/


Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015

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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.

tl;dr

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: https://medium.com/moral-and-political-philosophy/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-canada-in-2015-394af9bf7ac9

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4507,
    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 = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/07/25/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-2015/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 25 Jul 2015. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/07/25/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-2015/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Jul 25). Things that I wish were the election issues for 2015 [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/07/25/things-that-i-wish-were-the-election-issues-for-2015/


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