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/


Gotcha! This is why piracy happens

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Stata

This summer, I took a two-week long course on systematic reviews and meta-analytic techniques for which there was some required software, in this case, Stata. As a McGill student, I was encouraged to buy the student version, which was about $50 for “Stata Small.” Not bad. I’ve paid more for textbooks. So I got out my credit card, bought the license, installed it on my computer, and ran the very first example command of the course. I immediately got a string of red letter error text.

The error message was telling me that my license did not allow me enough variables to complete the command. I checked the license, and it said I was allowed 120 variables. I checked the “Variable manager” in Stata, and I had only assigned 11 variables. (I checked the variable limit beforehand in fact, and made sure that none of the data sets that we’d be working with had more than 120 variables. None of them came close to that limit.)

So I emailed Stata technical support. It turns out that the meta-analysis package for Stata creates “hidden variables.” Lots of them, apparently. So many that the software cannot accomplish the most basic commands. Then they tried to up-sell me to “Stata SE.” For $100 more, they said, they would send me a license for Stata that would allow me to run the meta-analysis package—for realsies this time.

I asked for a refund and decided that if I really needed Stata, I would use the copy that’s installed on the lab computers. (Now I’m just using the meta package in R, which does everything Stata does, just with a bit more effort.)

For the record: I am perfectly fine with paying for good software. I am not okay with a one-time purchase turning me into a money-pump. I thought that the “small” student license would work. All their documentation suggested it would. If I had upgraded to “Stata SE,” would that have actually met my needs, or would they have forced me to upgrade again later, after I’d already made Stata a part of my workflow?

It probably would have been okay, but the “gotcha” after the fact soured me on the prospect of sending them more money, and provided all the incentive I need to find a way to not use Stata.

iTunes

A few years ago, I bought a number of pieces of classical music through the iTunes Store. I shopped around, compared different performances, and found recordings that I really liked. This was back when the iTunes store had DRM on their music.

I’ve recently switched to Linux, and now much of the music that I legally bought and paid for can’t be read by my computer. Apple does have a solution for me, of course! For about $25, I can subscribe to a service of theirs that will allow me to download a DRM-free version of the music that I already paid for.

This is why I won’t even consider buying television programmes through the iTunes Store: It’s not that I think that I will want to re-watch the shows over and over and I’m afraid of DRM screwing that up for me. It’s because I’ve had some nasty surprises from iTunes in the past, and I can borrow the DVD’s from the Public Library for free.

For the record: I do not mind paying for digital content. But I won’t send you money if I think there’s a “gotcha” coming after the fact.

I’m really trying my best

People who produce good software or music should be compensated for their work. I don’t mind pulling out my wallet to help make that happen. But I don’t want to feel like I’m being tricked, especially if I’m actually making an effort in good faith to actually pay for something.

Since DRM is almost always fairly easily circumvented, it only punishes those who pay for digital content. And this is why I’m sympathetic to those who pirate software, music, TV shows, etc.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4459,
    title = {Gotcha! This is why piracy happens},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-05-22,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/05/22/gotcha-this-is-why-piracy-happens/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Gotcha! This is why piracy happens" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 22 May 2015. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/05/22/gotcha-this-is-why-piracy-happens/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, May 22). Gotcha! This is why piracy happens [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/05/22/gotcha-this-is-why-piracy-happens/


Yes, it’s racist

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Judge Eliana Marengo recently told another human being that she had to be stripped of her identity and publicly humiliated in order to have her case heard in a court in Québec. That is to say, the judge refused to hear the case while she was wearing a hijab.

For clarity, Article 13 of the regulations of the Court of Quebec make no reference to headscarves. This was just one judge’s decision to make life harder for another human being. And it was racist.

Wait, how was it racist?

This is a point that people keep refusing to understand. I have written previously about how you can be substantially racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, etc. without ever actually making reference to a person’s race, sex, orientation, gender, etc. This is exactly the same thing.

A policy that makes life harder for one group of people is discriminatory against that group, regardless of how obliquely that group is singled out in the wording of the policy itself. And it’s still discriminatory even if that policy contains an ostensibly non-racist/non-sexist/etc. counter-example to ward off suspicions of racism, sexism, etc. (Cf. the Charter of Values and conspicuously large crucifixes).

It is laughable that Marengo invoked equality to justify her racist abuse of power. She deigned to instruct us in righteousness by telling us, “The same rules need to be applied to everyone.” To get an idea of how the rules are applied to everyone in Québec, I have compiled Table 1, below.

White people do religious stuff in the public sphere in Québec all the time. Nobody minds. Nobody gets upset. Certainly nobody refuses to give them the basic justice that all humans are due. But when one private person of colour wears a hijab to court, suddenly a) it’s fair game to publicly humiliate them and strip their identity, and b) it’s hitting below the belt to call it “racist” when it happens.

Table 1: A convenience sample of conspicuous religious accommodations in the province of Québec, indexed by race

Religious thing Private or public? Who did it? (Race) Is it okay in Québec?
Prominent crucifix in legislature Public White Okay!
Giant cross overlooking biggest city in province Public White Okay!
Big white cross dominating the provincial flag Public White Okay!
Nearly every street and city named after a Christian saint Public White Okay!
Private person wearing hijab in court Private POC “This is unacceptable! Religious people are always demanding more and more accommodations. This is not about race at all!”

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2015-4434,
    title = {Yes, it’s racist},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2015-02-27,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/02/27/yes-its-racist/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Yes, it’s racist" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 27 Feb 2015. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/02/27/yes-its-racist/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2015, Feb 27). Yes, it’s racist [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2015/02/27/yes-its-racist/


The morally tone-deaf handling of the Gee-Gees scandal by CBC and The Ottawa Citizen

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The University of Ottawa hockey team was suspended recently as a result of being implicated in a sexual assault scandal while at an away-game in Thunder Bay on the weekend of Feb 1, 2014. Today, The Ottawa Citizen and CBC both published articles highlighting how terrible it is that this happened—for the hockey team. They couldn’t be bothered to even consider the actual rape victim in either of their articles or CBC’s video.

For clarity, I’m assuming that the guys in these articles are just as innocent of the sexual assault as they say they are. The hockey player in the CBC video wasn’t even in Thunder Bay. This is not the issue.

But even if they had nothing to do with the sexual assault and even if they were completely ignorant of the whole thing, these articles and the CBC video are absolutely inappropriate and morally tone-deaf to the situation.

Names “smeared”

Burns, who wrote an open letter to the president of his university, complains that his good name has been “smeared.” The players’ names have not been smeared. University-level hockey just isn’t that big a deal to anyone who’s outside of it. No one knows their names, and anyone who does will be close enough that they can defend themselves.

Somehow CBC wants us to simultaneously believe that the suspension has irreparably hurt the future of the young man in the video while we sympathise with the lack of closure that he must be facing, due to the fact that he’s going on to semi-pro hockey abroad in a couple weeks. (Wait, I thought his future was ruined?)

Anyway, it’s not like we’re living in a world where being the perpetrator of a sexual assault carries much stigma. (C.f. CNN’s coverage of the Steubenville rape case.)

Betrayed by the university

These hockey players say they feel betrayed by their university. The university did not betray them. The teammate who committed a sexual assault betrayed them. The university is taking an appropriate action by holding off on honouring a team that has been implicated in an accusation of sexual assault. Can you imagine being the victim of the assault and knowing that your school was throwing a party for the hockey team, or holding a special ceremony in their honour?

These athletes won’t get to go to a couple of parties, and they might have to settle for having their jerseys mailed to them rather than being presented at a big ceremony. These are emotional wounds that will heal in time, I’m sure.

Basically, these articles are about some star athlete who, in light of someone having been raped, decided to write a letter to the media, and rather than writing a single word about how terrible it is that someone was sexually assaulted, he complains about how unfair this all is to him. In four words, his letter can be summed up as: “But what about me?”

Even though he’s a big-man hockey player, this whole situation just isn’t mainly about him, and he should have the perspective to see that. No, it isn’t fair that he doesn’t get to go to these parties, and I can understand him feeling frustrated. But by writing a letter like this, he is turning the situation around to focus on the plight of the “poor star athlete who doesn’t get to go to a party,” when in the big scheme of things, that is nothing compared to a woman who has to go through life dealing with the fact that a member of his hockey team raped her.

Media ethics—or, how CBC and the Ottawa Citizen failed

If I was just meeting one of these hockey players and we were hanging out casually, and he was saying how he wished he could go to the athletic department party or have his jersey presented at a special ceremony, I think I would totally sympathise with him. That’s natural—he’s supposed to enjoy those things. That doesn’t make him a bad person.

The problem is that the guy is publicly demanding that he be given these honours, and that in the face of an ongoing rape investigation. And to make it worse, reading over Burns’ letter, it’s not clear that he understands or even cares that someone was raped. It’s not mentioned once. It’s not even an afterthought. The letter, and the articles by CBC and the Ottawa Citizen lack a certain perspective that should be present when considering the consequences of an investigation of a sexual assault.

Despite its handling by the Ottawa Citizen and by CBC, the Big Story here is not (or shouldn’t be) “rape complaint ruins party for innocent hockey players,” and the big moral concern isn’t that younger hockey players might be discouraged from playing. Trust me, kids will play hockey whether you throw fancy parties for them afterward or not.

The Big Thing that we should be worried about is whether or not this kind of story discourages victims of rape from reporting it, and what this says about how we view sexual assault. By taking the focus off the appropriateness of the university’s response and pointing toward the “terrible injustice” done to these hockey players, we are implicitly saying that one complaint of rape is less important than 26 guys being denied the chance to go to a couple of parties. I don’t think that is the message that CBC or the Ottawa Citizen wanted to send, and I don’t think that’s the kind of world I want to live in.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2014-4106,
    title = {The morally tone-deaf handling of the Gee-Gees scandal by CBC and The Ottawa Citizen},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2014-04-2,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/04/02/the-morally-tone-deaf-handling-of-the-gee-gees-scandal-by-cbc-and-the-ottawa-citizen/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "The morally tone-deaf handling of the Gee-Gees scandal by CBC and The Ottawa Citizen" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 02 Apr 2014. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/04/02/the-morally-tone-deaf-handling-of-the-gee-gees-scandal-by-cbc-and-the-ottawa-citizen/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2014, Apr 02). The morally tone-deaf handling of the Gee-Gees scandal by CBC and The Ottawa Citizen [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2014/04/02/the-morally-tone-deaf-handling-of-the-gee-gees-scandal-by-cbc-and-the-ottawa-citizen/


Collected #XmasTips to help you Christmas better next year

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I'm ever so good at Christmas!

I’m ever so good at Christmas!

I keep getting fan-mail from people asking me how it is that I’m so good at Christmas. I can’t give away all my secrets, but this year I’ve made a conscious effort to tweet when I have a good holiday tip that other people can use to make this terrible season a little bit better.

  • Buy a Christmas tree that branches into two at the top. That way, you can put an angel on one branch and a devil on the other. (Dec 8)
  • When a Christmas song includes “fa la la la la,” that means the original lyrics were censored. Add your own obscenities back in! (Dec 9)
  • Tired of Christmas already? Get in a fight with family now and cancel it—then, take the money and have 2 Christmases next year! (Dec 11)
  • Wrapping up a gift of a pair of mittens in an old iPad or MacBook box is an economical way to spice up your gift-giving! (Dec 11)
  • Next year, Christmas falls on Friday the 13th—tell your friends and family about it now, before you think it through very clearly! (Dec 13)
  • Nephew asking for a new PS4? Wrap up an old PS2 and give it to them with instructions to play it twice! (Dec 18)
  • Express strong disapproval of anyone who doesn’t like Christmas! Nothing says “holiday spirit” like stifling dissent. (Dec 21)
  • Unwelcome holiday houseguest? Play on repeat and discuss the homoerotic potential of the Michael Bublé version of “Santa Baby!” (Dec 22)
  • Need a costume for your Christmas party? Nothing says “Christmas” like “pregnant out of wedlock!” (Dec 23)
  • Hurry and clean up as fast as you can before they arrive or your family won’t love you as much! (Dec 23)
  • Mass infanticide, although part of the Christmas story, is best left to fantasy only. (Dec 24)

Of course, by the time this post is published it will be too late for you to abort your impending holiday failure, but if you heed my suggestions next year, you may also be able to Christmas like a pro and win the respect and adulation of your peers and familial relations!

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3878,
    title = {Collected #XmasTips to help you Christmas better next year},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-12-24,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/12/24/collected-xmastips-to-help-you-christmas-better-next-year/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Collected #XmasTips to help you Christmas better next year" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 24 Dec 2013. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/12/24/collected-xmastips-to-help-you-christmas-better-next-year/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Dec 24). Collected #XmasTips to help you Christmas better next year [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/12/24/collected-xmastips-to-help-you-christmas-better-next-year/


Unpaid internships, minimum wage laws and hockey helmets

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In the past few weeks, there have been high-profile legal cases on both sides of the border involving unpaid interns taking legal action against their former venue of unpaid work. (I hesitate to call them “employers.”) Recently, a US judge ruled that the interns working on Fox’s Black Swan should have been paid for their labour. Bell Canada has recently been accused of breaking labour laws with regard to its unpaid interns. This has sparked a great deal of debate, and in what follows, I will respond to the most common defence of unpaid internships: That the intern consented to it. I will not be making a legal argument, even though I will be talking about laws. I am not a lawyer. I am a philosopher by training. I will be making a moral / political / economic argument.

What is the point of a minimum wage law?

The point of a minimum wage law is that we have decided as a society that even if the job market were to deteriorate to the point where a prospective employee was willing to agree to be employed for wages lower than the minimum wage, such an agreement would not be legal. That is the point of a minimum wage law. That is what it means. It is a law. It is not a suggestion or a guideline that can be ignored if both parties agree.

The consent of both parties does not make it okay, and as I will argue below, if a person could just consent to waive her right to a minimum wage, making it optional, that would undermine minimum wage law entirely. Defenders of unpaid internships routinely point to the fact that such programmes are “voluntary,” and that the intern went into the arrangement with her eyes open, knowing that she wouldn’t get paid, and that the interns agreed to work without compensation. They argue that the consent of the unpaid internship voids her right to claim a minimum wage.

While it is true that these programmes are voluntary, consent doesn’t get Bell out of its moral obligations to its employees. The fact that the interns weren’t slaves—kidnapped and locked in an office building to work for Bell against their will—doesn’t mean that what Bell did wasn’t exploitative.

The argument boils down to the proposition that if a person decides to work for $0 per hour (or “for job experience” or “for the networking opportunities”), she has every right to do so. After all, what business is it of ours to say that she can’t spend her time the way she likes?

The economics of hockey helmets

Economists and game theorists call these sorts of things “coordination problems.” A famous example identified by Thomas Schelling is the Hockey Helmet Problem which goes as follows: In the 1970’s, NHL hockey players were allowed, but not required to wear helmets, and most did not wear them. A secret ballot of these hockey players confirmed that they would prefer to wear them, but did not because they worried about losing the competitive advantage of peripheral vision as well as a certain “tough guy” image. As Teddy Green of the Bruins said in 1969, “It’s foolish not to wear a helmet. But I don’t—because the other guys don’t. I know that’s silly, but most of the players feel the same way. If the league made us do it, though, we’d all wear them and nobody would mind.” (Schelling, “Hockey Helmets, Concealed Weapons, and Daylight Saving”, The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 17(3):381–428, 1973.)

By making helmets mandatory, NHL players no longer had to choose between their personal safety and their hockey performance. By making the helmet rule, the NHL was saying that players shouldn’t even have to make that choice and that it was wrong to even ask them to do so.

Let me emphasise—now that the rule about hockey helmets is in place, NHL players can’t just choose to play without helmets, even if they want to. If that were allowed, it would make helmet-wearing optional again, and it would undermine the point of having the rule in the first place. This is a good analogy for minimum wage.

Analogy to minimum wage

In most cases, we rightly take what a person would consent to as a pretty good proxy for that person’s own idiosyncratic values. That is to say, in most cases where a person is willing to consent to something, she has made a subjective appraisal in favour of it, according to her own values. This is why we think it’s paternalistic to impose many restrictions on what a person can consent to do with her time / money / body / etc. This intuition is what gives the “it was voluntary” argument its moral force. A person’s self-interested behaviour is usually well-aligned with her own values.

In the Helmet Problem, the self-interest of NHL players was actually working against their own values, and so, a restriction that could have been framed in terms of a loss of freedom on the part of the players (“Who are you to tell me that I have to wear a helmet?”) was actually necessary to enable the players to coordinate and allow them all to do what they wanted to do. Put in moral terms, it was wrong to even make the NHL players choose between them in the first place.

Similarly, the self-interest of unpaid interns has been used against them in a morally problematic way and coordination through regulation will best respect their values and best interests. If a company is allowed to get away with offering an unpaid internship, a prospective intern has to choose between getting job experience / networking on the one hand and supporting herself financially on the other. If anyone is allowed to get away with working for less than the minimum wage (like at an unpaid internship), the minimum wage becomes optional for everyone. This defeats the purpose of having a minimum wage law in the first place, which is to ensure no one has to compete in a job market with free labour.

By having a minimum wage law, what we are saying is that in the same way that a hockey player shouldn’t be made to choose between his personal safety and his performance, an intern shouldn’t be made to choose between getting job experience and getting paid. Further, by having a minimum wage law, we are saying that an intern doesn’t get to make that choice, even if she wants to. That’s the whole point of the law.

I still disagree with you

If you don’t want to live in a society where there is a minimum wage, that’s fine. We have a democratic process for passing legislation that allows us to change laws as we see fit, but at least in 2013, in Canada and the US, the law is that work must be compensated with a minimum amount of money per hour, whether you’d be willing to work for less or not.


Cross-posted to: https://medium.com/moral-and-political-philosophy/50b748d35dfb

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3619,
    title = {Unpaid internships, minimum wage laws and hockey helmets},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-06-24,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/06/24/unpaid-internships-minimum-wage-laws-and-hockey-helmets/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Unpaid internships, minimum wage laws and hockey helmets" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 24 Jun 2013. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/06/24/unpaid-internships-minimum-wage-laws-and-hockey-helmets/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Jun 24). Unpaid internships, minimum wage laws and hockey helmets [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/06/24/unpaid-internships-minimum-wage-laws-and-hockey-helmets/


Carrying suspicious-looking quidditch equipment on the metro

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Mark-3-quidditch-hoop-base

Mark-3-quidditch-hoop-base

This morning, I brought two brand new Mark 3 quidditch hoop bases to campus via the métro. The McGill Quidditch Team now has a full set of 6 freestanding quidditch hoops! They are reasonably easy to carry and just the right weight to prevent tipping. They are also made of ABS pipes, joints and couplings, and so they look awfully suspicious.

I’m still working on updating the construction manual so that it reflects the most up-to-date version of the base.

I got off the métro at station Peel and crossed the path of two uniformed police officers. They looked at me, they looked at the mess of ABS pipes in my hands, and they looked up at me again. Although they didn’t say anything, I could tell from their expression that they were thinking something like, “If this guy wasn’t blond with blue eyes, we would totally preemptively arrest him under the brave new anti-terrorism legislation that just passed.”

I just tried to look casual.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3499,
    title = {Carrying suspicious-looking quidditch equipment on the metro},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-05-6,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/05/06/carrying-suspicious-looking-quidditch-equipment-on-the-metro/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "Carrying suspicious-looking quidditch equipment on the metro" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 06 May 2013. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/05/06/carrying-suspicious-looking-quidditch-equipment-on-the-metro/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, May 06). Carrying suspicious-looking quidditch equipment on the metro [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/05/06/carrying-suspicious-looking-quidditch-equipment-on-the-metro/


On parliamentary accountability: An open letter to Thomas Mulcair and the NDP

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My Twitter bot was suspended

My Twitter bot was suspended

In February of 2013, I wrote two Twitter bots. These bots are pieces of software that retrieve the XML from the Library of Parliament website for each vote in the House of Commons, and tweet whenever there is a vote for which Stephen Harper or Thomas Mulcair is not on the list of voters. I called them @absenteeharper and @absenteemulcair, respectively. Originally it was only Absentee Harper, but I made Absentee Mulcair, just to be fair. These Twitter bots worked perfectly for nearly a month, when today I tried to log in to my Absentee Mulcair account and was greeted with the message, “Your account (@absenteemulcair) is currently suspended. For more information, please visit Suspended Accounts.”

I contacted Twitter Support to ask why it was that Absentee Mulcair was suspended:

Dear Twitter Support,

My Twitter account, @absenteemulcair does one thing. It tweets whenever the Canadian Library of Parliament posts an XML file indicating that there was a vote in the House of Commons for which Thomas Mulcair was not present. Thomas Mulcair is a public figure. He is the leader of the Loyal Opposition to the Canadian government in Ottawa. This Twitter account is doing nothing more than keeping a democratically elected official responsible to the people he represents.

This Twitter account does not use the “@” symbol—it doesn’t even use Mulcair’s Twitter handle. It does not tweet anything that is not already publicly accessible.

I would like to know who it is that requested my Twitter account be suspended, and on what grounds it was suspended. This is a serious affront to democracy itself, and I would like to know who is behind this.

With love,

Benjamin Carlisle

In short order, I received the standard automatic response that my account broke some of the Twitter Rules, so I wrote back as follows:

My account does not engage in any abusive behaviour. It does not impersonate Thomas Mulcair. It does not use any business names or logos. It does not post any copyrighted material. It only posts information that is processed from the XML file from the Canadian Library of Parliament, which is distributed for the very purpose of being used by the Canadian public in keeping its elected officials accountable—which is exactly what this Twitter account is meant to do.

I have not broken any of the Twitter Rules. The suspension of my account was a politically-motivated and indefensible suppression of my free speech. I would like to know who it is that requested my account be suspended.

I am still waiting for an actual human to read my messages to Twitter Support, but I don’t hold out much hope that Twitter will be forthcoming with the name of the party who requested that Absentee Mulcair be shut down.

I realise that in the big world of Canadian politics, my Twitter bots are pretty small potatoes. Absentee Mulcair had five or six followers at the time it was shut down.

That said, my Twitter bots are legitimate expressions of my freedom of speech. It is not asking much to be able to publish whether or not an MP even shows up to do his job. The very reason that information is published is so that Canadians can hold their elected officials to account. The reason it is published as an XML file is so that it can be easily machine-readable and so that processing the information can be done automatically. The information that Absentee Mulcair published was not private information about Mulcair’s life. It was public information, obtained through legitimate public sources on the subject of a minister of parliament in his official capacity as a minister of parliament.

This is fair game.

My question to Thomas Mulcair and the NDP is, Who requested that my Twitter bot, Absentee Mulcair be suspended, and why? If it is a member of your political party who made this request, I ask that you would have the courage to admit it and justify yourself.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3322,
    title = {On parliamentary accountability: An open letter to Thomas Mulcair and the NDP},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-03-7,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/03/07/on-parliamentary-accountability-an-open-letter-to-thomas-mulcair-and-the-ndp/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "On parliamentary accountability: An open letter to Thomas Mulcair and the NDP" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 07 Mar 2013. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/03/07/on-parliamentary-accountability-an-open-letter-to-thomas-mulcair-and-the-ndp/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Mar 07). On parliamentary accountability: An open letter to Thomas Mulcair and the NDP [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/03/07/on-parliamentary-accountability-an-open-letter-to-thomas-mulcair-and-the-ndp/


“The Psychopath Test” applied to evangelical Christianity

by

Kai Winn is an amazing villain

Kai Winn is an amazing villain

The Psychopath Test is a fascinating book

The Psychopath Test is worth the time to read. Jon Ronson, the author, took Hare’s standardised test (Hare, 1991) comprised of 20 questions, each scored from 0–2, and applied this test to a number of corporate CEO’s and other such leaders. The prevalence of psychopathy is around 1% in the general population (Coid, 2009), but since psychopaths tend to be very goal-driven and often very successful, they show up at even higher rates in the upper echelons of business or politics or other such endeavours.

The author’s idea was that a lot of the bad things that happen in the world are due to a lot of greedy, power-hungry, scary people, and these people suffer from psychopathy. And this becomes apparent when they end up in places like CEO’s offices at major financial institutions, bankrupt them, break the law and yet still demand large bonuses, for example.

This dovetails nicely with some of the things that I’ve recently read in a couple of other books. I just finished reading Harperland (a book about the rise and consolidation of power in Canada under the Harper regime) and The End of Wall Street (a book about the people and policies that brought about the 2008 financial crisis), and I’ll let you make your own guesses about who I suspect of psychopathy now.

Psychopathy and religion and Deep Space Nine

While reading through the book, one of my first reactions (after the obligatory, “I hope I’m not a psychopath!” response) to the descriptions of the psychopaths was that they reminded me of Kai Winn (not to be confused with Kathleen Wynne, the new premier of Ontario). My apologies for making an obscure Star Trek reference, but Kai Winn is one of the best recurring characters in Deep Space Nine. She’s a power-hungry hypocrite of a religious leader. What’s great about her, is that she’s not a typical villain—there are shades of grey in her character—she can charm and manipulate you at times into thinking she is not the bad guy. But in the end, she’s a pathological liar with a grandiose sense of self-worth, who has no ability to empathise with others or feel remorse or guilt. When she lashes out at her political enemies, it’s not out of the passion of emotion. It’s cold. Calculated. She’s just very good at mimicking certain behaviours to benefit her own self-interest.

Modern evangelicalism would make a great hiding place for a psychopath

I think that psychopaths like Kai Winn exist in real churches in real life. Evangelical Christianity would be a great place for a psychopath to “hide out,” especially at the top of a modern evangelical mega-church. Let me explain.

Item 1 on the psychopath checklist (PCL) is “glibness or superficial charm.” Psychopaths, when you meet them, are very like-able. They have an ability to ape the emotions of normal people, and they are often very successful at speaking publicly and in very endearing ways. They are good at telling jokes and influencing other people. The pulpit would be very attractive to certain psychopaths.

Item 2 on the PCL is “grandiose sense of self-worth.” What better place to have your ego stroked for your entire life than in a church where you can be taken seriously when you say things like, “God placed it on my heart to tell you …” or “God gave me a vision that …” Evangelicals eat that stuff up. Even if it’s ridiculous, if you say something like that at a prayer meeting or Bible study, you’ll never hear anyone say, “God didn’t tell you that. You made that up.” I guarantee it.

In this way, a psychopath could claim the authority of God Himself and it wouldn’t even seem strange to anyone else there. I know I have personally witnessed a great many people saying things like that (none of whom I would suspect to be psychopaths), but many examples of such behaviour I would have called manipulative (which turns out to be item 5 on the PCL). Even stranger claims—that God has given explicit instructions, foresight or the like—have been made by evangelical Christians in high positions of leadership, and sometimes more famously (e.g. Harold Camping) and sometimes less famously, these turn out to be lies. (Pathological lying is item 4 on the PCL.)

Item 13 is “lack of realistic long-term goals.” A psychopath who said that he wanted to “change the world for Christ,” or that he was “sent by God to call the nation back to Him” would not raise any eyebrows among evangelicals.

Item 6 is “lack of remorse or guilt,” item 7 is “shallow affect,” and item 16 is “failure to accept responsibility for own actions.” If you want a good excuse for not feeling remorse or guilt and for not taking responsibility, you can hardly do better than “Jesus died for my sins, so I shouldn’t feel guilty about them.” A spiritual leader who skips over his own personal failures without missing a beat could attribute it all to the grace of God, and this wouldn’t raise suspicion in the slightest.

Item 8 is “callous / lack of empathy.” You might not think this would go very well with Christianity, but modern evangelical Christianity can have a very pronounced mean streak. Just talk to one of today’s neo-Calvinists—a disciple of Piper’s or Driscoll’s—and I can guarantee you that they will all-too-gladly be able to explain why it is very good news that a literal physical hell of eternal conscious torment awaits those who do not accept Christ. Or think about the drive to “win” people through evangelism—it is highly praised among evangelical Christians. Imagine a psychopath who goes around telling complete strangers that they’re going to hell unless they say a prayer, and more-or-less treats them as objects to be collected and scared into submission, in a display of a complete lack of empathy. If the psychopath was able to do it with the requisite amount of charm and sophistication, this person would likely become a superstar in a local evangelical church in short order.

Item 9 is “parasitic lifestyle.” Among young evangelical males looking for a potential wife, one of the most often cited criteria is that the wife must have “a servant’s heart.” When you ask most evangelicals what they mean by that, they usually don’t have anything quite as misogynist as this initially sounds like it would mean. That said, if there was a psychopath hiding among evangelicals, he could honestly say, “I want a wife who has a servant’s heart,” and mean that he plans to take advantage of her for her entire life.

Item 11 is “promiscuous sexual behaviour”, item 17 is “many short-term marital relationships,” item 12 is “early behaviour problems,” item 18 is “juvenile delinquency,” and item 20 is “criminal versatility.” These four might seem difficult for a psychopath hiding among Christians to mask, but then there’s nothing an evangelical likes more than a shocking conversion story. Evangelicals teach their children from a young age to polish and prepare their “testimonials” (story of how one became a Christian), and visiting guest speakers at a church often begin their testimonials by waxing eloquent over the depths of their depravity before their conversion. What this means is that for an evangelical, a history of sin and evil can be spun into the mark of a great dispensation of the grace of God. A clever psychopath could very easily convert a fairly clear mark of their mental illness, “early behavioural problems,” into a compelling part of his conversion story.

All you have to do is find a person who has all the character traits I described above, and you’re already at a score of 28 out of 40 on the PCL. Generally speaking, 30 is the “cut-off” that’s generally used for research purposes to say that someone is likely to be a psychopath, although pretty much everyone agrees that psychopathy occurs along a spectrum, and every case is, of course unique. But it’s remarkable to think that a person could not only get away with having all these classic marks of psychopathy, but actually use them to his advantage and rise to considerable influence within a church because of them.

An exercise for the reader

  1. Choose a public figure. Here’s a few suggestions:
    • Steve Jobs
    • Mark Driscoll
    • Mitt Romney
  2. Look up Hare’s Psychopathy Checklist (it’s on Wikipedia, I think)
  3. Using quotes from the figure you choose, make your best argument that the public figure in question is, in fact, a psychopath
  4. Post what you find in the comments, if you like!
  5. For bonus points: what are the dangers/downsides that might be associated with using a psychopathy checklist to decide who is a psychopath and who isn’t?

Weird thing about the copy of The Psychopath Test that I borrowed from the Bibliothèque Nationale

The ebook was formatted weirdly. I think that every single page in the book was an image—a picture of the published book, rather than a text file. I couldn’t increase the font size, and I couldn’t select text on the page, which would make sense if it was actually just a series of images of text. It was a little hard to read on the Kobo due to the tiny font, but zooming in on every page on my Kobo was a frustrating and terrible prospect, so I just sucked it up and read the tiny text on each page.

Just weird is all.

Works cited

  • Ronson, Jon (2011). The Psychopath Test. United Kingdom: Picador.
  • Hare, R. D. (1991). The Hare Psychopathy Checklist—Revised. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: Multi-Health Systems.
  • Coid, Jeremy et al (2009). Prevalence and correlates of psychopathic traits in the household population of Great Britain. International Journal of Law and Psychiatry 32:2, pp.. 65–73.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3288,
    title = {“The Psychopath Test” applied to evangelical Christianity},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-03-6,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/03/06/the-psychopath-test-applied-to-evangelical-christianity/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "“The Psychopath Test” applied to evangelical Christianity" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 06 Mar 2013. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/03/06/the-psychopath-test-applied-to-evangelical-christianity/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Mar 06). “The Psychopath Test” applied to evangelical Christianity [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/03/06/the-psychopath-test-applied-to-evangelical-christianity/


How to tell when democracy in your country is in trouble

by

Here’s a short quiz—try to use only news items from this week:

Then democracy in your country might be in trouble.

The police and democracy

When the police abuse their power, it is a major affront to the democracy of a society. The police are one of the most important front-lines of power that the state has over its citizens. They are invested with the authority of the state, training, equipment, as well as the legal and physical protections that are a part of wearing the uniform of a police officer. There is a huge power difference between a police officer and a non-police citizen.

Put simply, if I’m going to continue to live in a society governed by laws, I need to know that when I call the cops, it’s the “good guys” who show up. And right now, given the beatings that have happened in recent memory and the allegations of corruption, I don’t know that I can trust that to be the case. To be honest, things would have to be pretty bad before I called the police to intervene in a situation, and that’s just because there is now part of me that can’t help being afraid that I will be needlessly beaten by them on arrival.

This is a problem for democracy because when a police officer abuses this power, she puts a wedge between normal citizens and the fundamental trust they have in the proper functioning of the state. On a really basic level, I am (we all are) less inclined to appeal to the state now, and more likely to try to take things into my own hands, and this is a serious undermining of the rule of law.

I used to live in China and now I have dangerously pro-communist sympathies that conflict with the Harper government’s policies

I don’t actually have any pro-communist sympathies, but it is true that I used to live in China. I just wrote that because I’m curious to know whether CSIS is going to show up at my door now.

When I was a teenager taking Civics class in high school, one of the really basic things that they taught us was that democracy meant that you could safely have unpopular political views. Canada is supposed to be one of the world’s great democracies. We are a country where, for part of when I was growing up, our democracy even stretched so far that the official opposition party in Ottawa was the Bloc Québecois—a party that was committed to undoing the union of the provinces that make up the country itself. If that is not democracy, nothing is.

The use of Canada’s intelligence service to intimidate Canadians who have political views contrary to the Harper orthodoxy is not only an undemocratic affront to some of the most basic freedoms that are guaranteed to Canadians, but it is also a spineless and dirty way to achieve partisan political ends. Rather than fostering debate or even allowing disagreement, this act shows a contempt for the basic principles on which this country functions, and for other citizens as human beings who often have useful and legitimate things to add to a nation’s political discourse.

Nitpicking language police

This is a symptom of a larger problem. The language police eventually backed down on this issue, but the overzealousness of these officers has to come from somewhere. Xenophobia is a great way to try to get votes in an election—if you get the French-speaking majority in Québec afraid enough that their language is going to disappear, they’ll even vote for Marois, but it’s super-scary being in the minority.

In many ways, a good measure of how democratic a state is, is how it treats its minorities. When the language police unnecessarily makes life difficult for minority citizens, that reflects poorly on us all.

I don’t know the answer is to these problems. It’s much easier to identify problems than solutions. But Canada seems to be turning into a place that I don’t recognise as being particularly democratic anymore.

BibTeX

@online{bgcarlisle2013-3257,
    title = {How to tell when democracy in your country is in trouble},
    journaltitle = {The Grey Literature},
    author = {Benjamin Gregory Carlisle},
    address = {Montreal, Canada},
    date = 2013-02-22,
    url = {https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/22/how-to-tell-when-democracy-in-your-country-is-in-trouble/}
}

MLA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. "How to tell when democracy in your country is in trouble" Web blog post. The Grey Literature. 22 Feb 2013. Web. 22 Nov 2017. <https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/22/how-to-tell-when-democracy-in-your-country-is-in-trouble/>

APA

Carlisle, Benjamin Gregory. (2013, Feb 22). How to tell when democracy in your country is in trouble [Web log post]. Retrieved from https://www.bgcarlisle.com/blog/2013/02/22/how-to-tell-when-democracy-in-your-country-is-in-trouble/


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