Category Archives: Politics

News That Fact Checks

So, a friend of mine posted this video by Keith Olbermann:

“How the Media Needs to Respond to Trump Now | The Resistance with Keith Olbermann | GQ”

The video itself is interesting for a number of reasons, but I want to talk about their reaction to it.

They mentioned that they would greatly prefer to have their news fact-checked. I replied that this was already happening, just on comedy shows, that Jon Stewart started it[0], but now Trevor Noah, Rachel Maddow, Samantha Bee, Seth Meyers, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert do.

(Note that this is already starting to seep into ‘real news channels’ with Rachel Maddow and similar.)

But this got me thinking. Why is it that comedy shows can do this and ‘news’ cannot? Why did this start in comedy shows?

One could argue that the stock in trade of comedy is juxtaposition. Juxtaposition of people saying one thing and doing another, or even saying one thing and then saying the exact opposite lends itself very naturally to comedy based on political commentary.

Perhaps because comedy is built on using blunt verbal implements[1] to provoke an audience reaction, provoking audience reactions being their stock in trade. ‘News’ is not about provoking reactions, at least not as their primary goal[2].

Perhaps this blunt type of juxtaposition needed to be started on or as a comedy show, as news shows are used to being much more polite[3].

Perhaps, as Keith Olbermann suggests, the repeal of the ‘Fairness Doctrine‘ is related to all of this, where news organizations are still behaving as if the outside world is still trying to be fair, and that they can cover ‘both’ sides of an issue without checking too hard whether one of them is propaganda.

Perhaps it has to do with fact checking, perhaps it has to do with the proliferation of news coverage of politicians allowing greater opportunities for juxtaposition, perhaps it has to do with news organizations being afraid to offend their advertisers vs. comedy shows being afraid of not offending enough and thereby not getting enough attention…

Perhaps, just as only Nixon could go to China, perhaps only news comedy could start the juxtaposition fact checking.

[0]Some people say that this was started with SNL’s ‘Weekend Update‘ in 1985. I would argue that there are definite influences, but Jon Stewart’s ‘The Daily Show’ took itself far more seriously, closer to how news shows take themselves seriously. An example from the Chevy Chase Show in 1993, 6 years before Jon Stewart took over The Daily Show (and 3 years before the Daily Show existed at all):

[1]Many comedians starting out will say offensive things to get attention (or for worse reasons). I’m talking about less verbally offensive methods of getting attention.

[2]I’m not sure what the primary motivation of news is. Perhaps to inform, perhaps to legitimize an otherwise illegitimate TV network, perhaps to sell advertising. I’d say on their best days, their primary motivation is to inform.

[3]#tonepolicing

The Largest Protest in U.S. History

Women's March, Toronto Nathan Phillips Square, estimated turnout 60,000.
Women’s March, Toronto Nathan Phillips Square, estimated turnout 60,000.

Yesterday was the largest protest in U.S. history. The 2017’s Women’s March was an assembly of people gathering to tell those freshly elected[1] that they would be held to account, to be “proactive about women’s rights”, to be “a stand on social justice and human rights issues ranging from race, ethnicity, gender, religion, immigration and healthcare”.

Estimates are still fluctuating (best estimates are currently 4.7 million), but it is clear that the protest was the largest in U.S. history, and aside from pilgrimages, the second largest peaceful gathering in human history.

Love Trumps Hate.  Women's March 2017, estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.
Love Trumps Hate. Women’s March 2017, estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.

Even from half a block away, as I was approaching the march, it was difficult to not cry in reaction. All these people uniting for this cause. “You are not alone.” And all of them so invested. There were so many signs, almost all of them handmade. There were entire families, old people, children, babies.

A heartbreaking sign drawn by a child, Women's March 2017 estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.
A heartbreaking sign drawn by a child, Women’s March 2017 estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.

Some of the signs were heartbreaking. Above you can see a sign drawn by a child perhaps of four showing that children understand what we are doing, and that what is being done is wrong.

Below, we see one of the signs which talked about intersectionality[2]. A common complaint about feminist movements is that those impacted most are women of colour and various other ‘more disadvantaged groups’, while women’s movements tend to focus on white women. This specific sign below is talking about the (very) large number of missing and killed aboriginal women:

"Am I next?"  Women's March 2017, estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.
“Am I next?” Women’s March 2017, estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.

The only real police presence (aside from blocking traffic so that the march could progress) was in front of the U.S. Consulate:

The negative space between the March and the U.S. Consulate, Women's March 2017 estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.
The negative space between the March and the U.S. Consulate, Women’s March 2017 estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.
Horsies!
Horsies!

The Horsies! above made their own comment on the situation:

Commentary from the Horsies! on the situation, Woman's March 2017, estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.
Commentary from the Horsies! on the situation, Woman’s March 2017, estimated at 60,000 in Toronto.

I like to make up stories about people that I see. My story here is that this older gentleman grew up in Eastern Europe, saw things there happen first-hand, and so has a very personal reaction to current events.

Commentary from a man who has likely seen much, Women's March 2017, 60,000 estimated in Toronto.
Commentary from a man who has likely seen much, Women’s March 2017, 60,000 estimated in Toronto.

At Queen & University, I stopped to talk to J, who was counting the number of people in the march as they went by. (He’d estimated about 20,000 up to that point, later estimates were around 60,000.)

Continuing on to Nathan Philips Square (the first photo in this post), out front we ran into three young gentlemen in immaculate suits[3]. They seemed confused, so we decided this would be a useful teachable moment. We asked them if they wanted to know what this was about, they explained that they didn’t know about what was going on. ‘What was the march about?’ ‘What were their specific policy proposals?’ (They assumed it was about reproductive rights.) Interestingly, this was difficult to articulate, perhaps because that was the wrong question.[4] I tried anyway, talking about the normalization of violence against women, reproductive rights, healthcare, climate change, but feeling like I was losing them, turned back to the teachable moment that I thought would be most effective in getting them to pay attention[5]: “The main reason protests like this happen is…” “Awareness?” “Yes. The point of the hundreds of thousands of people marching in D.C. and elsewhere is to get men in suits to pay attention and change things.” (I pointed out wordlessly that they were wearing suits, and they showed they understood. We left them thinking about it.)

Their questions were good, in a way. It highlighted for me how little I had really expressed these ideas myself, assuming their correctness, not having had to explain them to people who did not agree.

One of the few signs which contained specific policy proposals:

Some specific policy proposals, Women's March 2017, estimated 60,000 in Toronto,
Some specific policy proposals, Women’s March 2017, estimated 60,000 in Toronto,

– Electoral Reform
– Reconciliation and Restitution
– Prison Abolition[6]
– Guaranteed Income

I’ll leave you with this inspiring photo of two powerful women:

Powerful women at work, Women's March 2017, estimated 60,000 in Toronto.
Powerful women at work, Women’s March 2017, estimated 60,000 in Toronto.

Note: There were a number of photos that I did not include because they included faces.

[1]The use of ‘elected’ is problematic, but outside the scope of this post.

[2]I’m not going to try to mansplain intersectionality more than I have here. There are far better places to learn about it than from me.

[3]From their lanyards, it looks like they were at the Ontario provincials for ‘DECA‘, “an international association of high school and college students and teachers of marketing, management and entrepreneurship in business, finance, hospitality, and marketing sales and service.”

[4]Really, we want a consultative democracy, with proper rule of law. We’re never going to get things right the first time, but talking to each other about it and actually listening will help a lot. I also think that science-based decision making is best, but proper consultation is a good step in that direction.

[5]Yes, I’m aware that the discourse has moved beyond ‘men in suits have to be convinced to make the changes, no one else can’, but if it helps a few more people think about being allies, I figured it was worth it.

[6]There is a lot of literature on this topic. Put simply, prisons are an act of violence inflicted on the people by the state. Different people have different opinions on how necessary and/or helpful this is.

Electoral Reform in Canada: What are the Options?

Last time, we talked about some of the things we might want in an electoral/voting system:

Having a say:
– Each vote should have the highest probability possible of changing the representation of the House of Commons

Quick:
– The public should know the results within hours of the polls closing.

Fair:
– Political parties should not be significantly inconvenienced by the electoral system for not having money.
– Any barriers to entry should be reasonable (number of candidates to be a registered party, number of votes to get deposits back, percentage of popular vote to qualify to get seats, etc…)
– The system should not unduly give power to very small groups (49/49/2 split, the 49 and 2 have equal power).
– The system should be ‘simple enough’ for people to understand. Currently, people vote for one person, one party with the same vote. A similar system being successfully used elsewhere in the world is a reasonable way to determine ‘simple enough’.

Representative:
– There are a number of ways to be representative:
– Geographically
– Representation of party by population
– Minority groups
– Diversity of opinions

Resistant to cheating:
– Secret ballot to reduce intimidation and coercion as factors
– Reasonable voter ID laws to increase voter turnout while keeping the risk of personation low.
– Distributed counting makes the current system quite resistant to cheating. One would have to mess with the voting tally computers in real-time to change this. The fact that there is an anonymous paper record of every vote cast in the ballot boxes is also an important check on this system.

As the Canadian government has (very likely) decided that whatever the parliamentary committee has decided will go to a referendum, I’m going to add one more criterion:

– Able to pass a Canadian referendum

For many people, the choice of voting system is not clear, as you can see by this table.

For options, I’ll start with the options considered by the New Zealand Commission on the Electoral System[1]:
– First-past-the-post
– Single transferable vote
– Supplementary Member
– Alternative Vote
– Mixed member proportional.

First-past-the-post:

This is the current system in Canada. The country is divided up into ridings (currently 338) of approximately equal population (generally geographically larger ridings have less population per riding.

Advantages:
– Simple
– What we’re currently doing

Disadvantages:
– Vote splitting by riding (candidates can win a riding with less than 30% of the vote)
– Vote splitting across the country (a party can win a majority government with less than 40% of the popular vote)

Single transferable vote:

Single Transferable Vote (STV) is used for elections in Ireland, Malta, much of Australia, and various other parts of the English-speaking world.

Basically, the country or region is divided into single-[2] or multi-member ridings. In each of these ridings, voters rank the candidates on their ballots. Each candidate who receives more votes than the number required to be elected is elected, and all of their ‘extra’ votes are passed on to other candidates proportionally. If there are no candidates who have the number of votes required to be elected, the candidate with the fewest number of votes is eliminated and their votes are redistributed as above. Example here.

Advantages:
– More proportional representation than First-past-the-post
– ‘wasted votes’ guaranteed to be less than (1/(# of seats per riding)*100%), or for example <33% for a riding with three possible elected candidates Disadvantages: - You have to have all of the votes in one place to count them - Ridings must have many candidates per riding to reduce the number of 'wasted votes' Supplementary Member or ‘Parallel Voting’:

Technically, Supplementary Member Voting or Parallel Voting is defined as combining any two (or more) voting systems in parallel. Most often, it is used to combine some proportionality with a First-past-the-post system. Voters would vote twice, once for their local riding, and once for a proportional slate of candidates. These votes would be separate, leading to the results being more proportional, but not fully proportional.

Advantages:
– More proportional than First-past-the-post

Disadvantages:
– Not really that proportional
– More complicated than First-past-the-post

Alternative Vote or ‘Instant-runoff voting’:

Instant-runoff voting is used in various elections in Australia, India, Ireland, Papua New Guinea, and various local elections around the world, as well as by some political parties.

Similar to Single Transferable Voting, voters rank candidates in order on their ballot. If one candidate has a majority of the votes, that candidate is elected. If no candidates have a majority of the votes, candidates are eliminated and their votes are redistributed according the the voters’ preferences until one candidate receives a majority of the vote

Advantages:
– More votes count than in First-past-the-post, as no candidate can win without the plurality of the votes in a riding.
– ‘Vote splitting’ is much less of an issue, as parties or candidates who would normally ‘split’ votes would tend to be likely to be the second choice of those voters.

Disadvantages:
– You have to have all of the votes in one place to count them
– Up to half of the votes in each riding can be ‘wasted’

Mixed Member Proportional Voting or ‘Additional Member System Voting’:

Mixed Member Proportional Voting is used in Germany and various sub regions of the United Kingdom. It was the subject of the failed Ontario referendum of 2007. In most implementations, voters have two votes. One vote for a local candidate, and one vote for a party. Local candidates are elected using a First-past-the-post system. There are an additional number of representatives elected to bring the results in line with the popular vote. These additional representatives are generally based on party lists, but some proposals have them selected on a more regional basis, to allow better regional representation.

Advantages:
– In most cases, as proportional as electoral systems get
– Includes a strong local representation element
– Should be easy to describe to the public

Disadvantages:
– Already failed one referendum in Canada
Party list seats are susceptible to collusion

Thanks for reading! Next time, we’ll go more in depth, and start to figure out which of these we might prefer. Stay tuned!

[1]New Zealand being a Westminister System country which had recent (1992,1993) referenda on changing its voting system from First-past-the-post.

[2]If there is only one seat per riding, STV is the same as ‘Instant Runoff Voting‘.

Lesser-Known Parts of the First Amendment

There have been a number of political scandals and events this week. Particularly:

Donald Trump settling the Trump University fraud case for $25M
The ‘Stay to Play’ scandal
The non-blind ‘blind trust’

I would invite you to read about those, care about them, and act on them.

In the meantime, I wanted to talk about the ‘other scandal’, the one which is distracting everyone from the real issues above.

My understanding of what happened is that Mike Pence went to see ‘Hamilton’ in New York. It was an interesting choice, especaially given the diverse cast and his political stance on related issues.

At the end of the show, as you probably know by now, a member of the cast made a statement to the Vice-President-Elect Mike Pence.[1]

People are arguing about whether that was the time and place for a statement[2]. Those in favour will likely cite the First Amendment. However, they would likely reference the part which says ‘Congress shall make no law […] abridging the freedom of speech’. And this statement would certainly fall under that. But under this clause, they could have made the statement to anyone.

There is another clause:

“Congress shall make no law […] abridging […] the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

This is what was happening. The people had assembled. There were clear grievances. They were petitioning the one of the most powerful members of the government to be.

This is what the Bill of Rights really means.

This is Democracy.

[1]Mike Pence’s later reaction.

[2]Democracy is messy. People are going to say things that other people are not going to want to hear, at times that they’re not going to want to hear them. They waited until the play was done, then took their opportunity to speak directly to the person who might actually have some power to change things

Global Warming is No Longer A Joke

“The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old.”

By now, many of you will have read the obituary for the 25-million-year-old Great Barrier Reef.

From the collapse of the Atlantic cod fishery, to soil erosion, to peak oil, to deforestation, human systems are good at squandering natural resources and bad at understanding how long it takes for them to replenish.

Today, it seems that we can add the Great Barrier Reef to that list. As the obituary poignantly puts it:


The Great Barrier Reef of Australia passed away in 2016 after a long illness. It was 25 million years old.

The reef was born on the eastern coast of the continent of Australia during the Miocene epoch. Its first 24.99 million years were seemingly happy ones, marked by overall growth. It was formed by corals, which are tiny anemone-like animals that secrete shell to form colonies of millions of individuals. Its complex, sheltered structure came to comprise the most important habitat in the ocean. As sea levels rose and fell through the ages, the reef built itself into a vast labyrinth of shallow-water reefs and atolls extending 140 miles off the Australian coast and ending in an outer wall that plunged half a mile into the abyss. With such extraordinary diversity of life and landscape, it provided some of the most thrilling marine adventures on earth to humans who visited.

No one knows if a serious effort could have saved the reef, but it is clear that no such effort was made. On the contrary, attempts to call attention to the reef’s plight were thwarted by the government of Australia itself, which in 2016, shortly after approving the largest coal mine in its history, successfully pressured the United Nations to remove a chapter about the reef from a report on the impact of climate change on World Heritage sites. Australia’s Department of the Environment explained the move by saying, “experience had shown that negative comments about the status of World Heritage-listed properties impacted on tourism.” In other words, if you tell people the reef is dying, they might stop coming.

This last paragraph is perhaps the most damning. That we selected (and continue to select) leadership that actively works to put our collective heads in the sand, and that we fail to take them to task for it.

But maybe, like the cod stocks, we can stabilize the situation, (perhaps also at 1% of the original), and then start to reverse the damage. This article suggests that the Australian government is starting to pay attention, still far less than is actually required, but perhaps a start.

So, what are you doing to make a difference here? How are you influencing decisions that actually make a difference here? Who are you publicly calling out for making short-sighted long-term damaging decisions?

The Great Barrier Reef is dying. Bumblebees are dying.

It is time for us to actually do something about it.

It is time for you to actually do something about it.

Electoral Reform in Canada: Introduction

During the last Canadian federal election, two of the three major parties made electoral reform* part of their platform.

The goal was to find a better system for electing members of parliament than the current ‘first past the post’ system. Under the current system, a candidate can win a seat with (28.6%) of the votes in that riding[1], and a party can win a majority of the seats in the country (54%) with a bare plurality (39.5%) of the popular vote.

This tends to lead to voter disillusionment, as many voters (rightly) believe that their vote has no chance of influencing an election. The ‘Per Vote Subsidy‘ was one attempt to rectify this, by counting votes to fund political parties, so voters could feel that no matter where they were voting, their vote was doing something.

So, we want to change this system. What do we want out of a voting system?

At its most fundamental, the goal of a voting system is to provide a system for a peaceful transition of power. The way voting systems do this is by making people feel like they have a say in that transition of power.

At the same time, you want the system to be quick, fair, and resistant to cheating (as there are millions of lives and hundreds of billions of dollars at stake).

(I’m also assuming that we will continue to have a representative democracy, and the number of representatives will remain approximately the same. I’m also assuming that there will be political parties in whatever new system we come up with.)

So: having a say, quick, fair, representative, and resistant to cheating.

Having a say:
– Each vote should have the highest probability possible of changing the representation of the House of Commons

Quick:
– The public should know the results within hours of the polls closing.

Fair:
– Political parties should not be significantly inconvenienced by the electoral system for not having money.
– Any barriers to entry should be reasonable (number of candidates to be a registered party, number of votes to get deposits back, percentage of popular vote to qualify to get seats, etc…)
– The system should not unduly give power to very small groups (49/49/2 split, the 49 and 2 have equal power).
– The system should be ‘simple enough’ for people to understand. Currently, people vote for one person, one party with the same vote. A similar system being successfully used elsewhere in the world is a reasonable way to determine ‘simple enough’.

Representative:
– There are a number of ways to be representative:
– Geographically
– Representation of party by population
– Minority groups
– Diversity of opinions

Resistant to cheating:
– Secret ballot to reduce intimidation and coercion as factors
– Reasonable voter ID laws to increase voter turnout while keeping the risk of personation low.
– Distributed counting makes the current system quite resistant to cheating. One would have to mess with the voting tally computers in real-time to change this. The fact that there is an anonymous paper record of every vote cast in the ballot boxes is also an important check on this system.

Interestingly, the current system seems to do most of the above well, except for representative part (and the current voter ID laws).

Next time, we’ll look at a list of options to increase the representativeness, and see how they affect the rest of the criteria.

[1]Far more likely to induce voter disillusionment is when the party or parties that a voter supports has no way of winning a seat, such as the Conservative party in Trinity-Spadina, or the Liberals or NDP in Red Deer.

The Hollowed-Out Middle America

This presidential election has been described as a new realignment[1] of American politics, where social pressures mount so high that demagogues[2] appear, and politicians abruptly shift to actually mirror their constituents for a time.

First Bernie Sanders appeared[3], giving voice to the frustrations and the hope for change felt by Millenials and others who had been left behind by globalization and the regulatory capture by the banks.

Later emerged Donald Trump, who gave voice to the anger felt by blue collar white workers, who felt betrayed by decades of free trade and globalization/outsourcing/immigration[4] policies, exacerbated by trends towards more and more automation.

But they are really railing against the same issues (and these are very real issues), which is some of the reasons[5] why so many Bernie supporters are moving to Trump, even though Hilary and the Democrats[6] have basically adopted Bernie’s platform.

Much of why Trump has found such fertile ground is that *both* parties have been ignoring Middle America for decades, as Michael Brendan Dougherty says:

“To simplify Francis’ theory: There are a number of Americans who are losers from a process of economic globalization that enriches a transnational global elite. These Middle Americans see jobs disappearing to Asia and increased competition from immigrants. Most of them feel threatened by cultural liberalism, at least the type that sees Middle Americans as loathsome white bigots. But they are also threatened by conservatives who would take away their Medicare, hand their Social Security earnings to fund-managers in Connecticut, and cut off their unemployment too.”

To me, it seems that in general, anger comes from frustrated expectations, often expectations that are not conscious, where people are not encouraged to really look at the forces in play keeping their way of life the way it is. Then, when one or more of these forces change, life suddenly changes, and you get anger. (It could also be because people know exactly what is causing things, they’ve been electing politicians who say they will fix things, but never actually do, so eventually the people get angry.)

One thing I’d never really thought about (in such words) was that Middle America was really a class protected by political forces (Michael Brendan Dougherty quoting Francis):


Middle American forces, emerging from the ruins of the old independent middle and working classes, found conservative, libertarian, and pro-business Republican ideology and rhetoric irrelevant, distasteful, and even threatening to their own socio-economic interests. The post World War II middle class was in reality an affluent proletariat, economically dependent on the federal government through labor codes, housing loans, educational programs, defense contracts, and health and unemployment benefits. All variations of conservative doctrine rejected these…

and it was inevitable that this would wane, but it was in few politicians’ interest to actually confront and solve the problems.

So, here we are. Maybe, with Hillary adopting Bernie’s platform, things will get better, and we’ll work together to solve some of these problems. It will be interesting to see how the rest of the realignment works itself out.

(This other linked story talks about how the Democrats are becoming the party of globalization, as the Republicans become the party of isolationism, where):

“This difference in worldviews maps neatly into differences in policy. Nationalists support immigration and trade deals only if they improve the living standards of citizens of the nation. For the new, globally minded progressives, the mere well-being of American workers is not a good enough reason to oppose immigration or trade liberalization. It’s an argument that today’s progressive globalists have borrowed from libertarians: immigration or trade that depresses the wages of Americans is still justified if it makes immigrants or foreign workers better off.

[snip]

Likewise, the current opposition of many Democratic politicians to free-trade agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership reflects the residual influence of declining manufacturing unions within the party According to a March 2016 study by the Pew Research Center, by a margin of 56 percent to 38 percent, Democratic voters believe that free-trade agreements have been good for the U.S. Among Republicans, those numbers are almost reversed: by a 53 percent to 38 percent margin, a majority of Republicans believe free-trade has been a bad thing. Among younger Americans, who tend to prefer Democrats to Republicans, support for free trade is high: 67 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds say trade agreements are good for the country. Even progressives who campaign against trade deals feel obliged by the logic of ethical cosmopolitanism to justify their opposition in the name of the labor rights of foreign workers or the good of the global environment.

[1]Or perhaps the end of a 50-year-long realignment.

[2]Trump for sure, but remember that Bernie Sanders appeared first, in his quiet(er) way, giving voice to the frustrations of many. In a way, both sides of the same coin, hope and fear.

[3]Yes, I know he’d been saying the same things for decades, but that was the first I’d ever heard of him.

[4]As Michael Brendan Dougherty writes in The Week:

“Chinese competition really did hammer the Rust Belt and parts of the great Appalachian ghetto. It made the life prospects for men — in marriage and in their careers — much dimmer than those of their fathers. Libertarian economists, standing giddily behind Republican politicians, celebrate this as creative destruction even as the collateral damage claims millions of formerly-secure livelihoods, and — almost as crucially — overall trust and respect in the nation’s governing class. Immigration really does change the calculus for native-born workers too. As David Frum points out last year:

[T]he Center for Immigration Studies released its latest jobs study. CIS, a research organization that tends to favor tight immigration policies, found that even now, almost seven years after the collapse of Lehman Brothers, 1.5 million fewer native-born Americans are working than in November 2007, the peak of the prior economic cycle. Balancing the 1.5 million fewer native-born Americans at work, there are two million more immigrants — legal and illegal — working in the United States today than in November 2007. All the net new jobs created since November 2007 have gone to immigrants. Meanwhile, millions of native-born Americans, especially men, have abandoned the job market altogether. [The Atlantic]


For decades, people have been warning that a set of policies that really has enriched Americans on the top, and likely has improved the overall quality of life (through cheap consumables) on the bottom, has hollowed out the middle.

[5]The other reasons are generally sexism.

[6]This would either be a terrific or terrible band.

Burning Man in Pictures XXXIV: How Many Fucks do You Give?

[link to previous post]

Burning Man culture is generally not political. By this I mean that Burning Man culture may have strong opinions, but they are generally outside the normal/mainstream cultural framework.

In general, the art pieces are things for people to participate with and enjoy, monumental sculptures, oases in the desert, places for people to gather, etc…

This is why it was so surprising to see specific, pointed questions about real world things in a Burning Man installation.

They were still setting up, so you can see the insides, as well as how it looked something like one of those ’80s science centre push-button quizzes:

Questions 1-6, construction in progress.
Questions 1-6, construction in progress.
Questions 7-12, construction in progress.
Questions 7-12, construction in progress.

Exoplanets. Not really controversial science-wise, but I can see a lot of controversy about whether their study is important:

How much do you care about exoplanets?
How much do you care about exoplanets?

I’ve always enjoyed both the word and the concept of ‘orrery’:

I've always enjoyed both the word and the concept of 'Orrery'.
I’ve always enjoyed both the word and the concept of ‘Orrery’.

Vaccines, a surprisingly controversial topic:

How about vaccines?
How about vaccines?

Sports and religion. Different opiates for different tastes?:

A Popepourri of sports.
A Popepourri of sports.

From my family background, I have very strong opinions about the integrity of the election process (the first amendment is also pretty important to me):

Responsible franchise and the first amendment.
Responsible franchise and the first amendment.

People on different sides of political issues have often tried to paint the other side as being somehow ‘different’. Now it seems that science is starting to show that this may actually be true:

Attempts at describing the psychology of various political leanings.
Attempts at describing the psychology of various political leanings.

Regulation of automobiles. Perhaps another example of how peoples’ brains take much longer than you think to develop?:

Unsafe at many speeds?
Unsafe at many speeds?

Next time, more exploration of the night!

How do You Measure Inflation?

Inflation is supposed to be one, measurable number. There’s a number that’s quoted in all the newspapers, and is used all over the place, to help determine how well the economy is doing, to index pensions, to negotiate union contracts, etc, etc…

This is generally known as the ‘CPI’, or ‘Consumer Price Index’. I’ve reproduced the numbers for Canada from Statcan[1] below:

Consumer Price Index, historical summary
(1996 to 2015)   	All-items 	Change from previous year
  	2002=100 	%
1996 	88.9 	1.5
1997 	90.4 	1.7
1998 	91.3 	1.0
1999 	92.9 	1.8
2000 	95.4 	2.7
2001 	97.8 	2.5
2002 	100.0 	2.2
2003 	102.8 	2.8
2004 	104.7 	1.8
2005 	107.0 	2.2
2006 	109.1 	2.0
2007 	111.5 	2.2
2008 	114.1 	2.3
2009 	114.4 	0.3
2010 	116.5 	1.8
2011 	119.9 	2.9
2012 	121.7 	1.5
2013 	122.8 	0.9
2014 	125.2 	2.0
2015 	126.6 	1.1

These numbers should dovetail well with what you read in the news. They even nicely break the CPI down by type of item:

Consumer Price Index, by province (monthly)
(Canada)   May 2015 April 2016 	May 2016 April 2016 to May 2016 May 2015 to May 2016
  	2002=100 	% change
Canada 	  	 
All-items 		126.9 	128.3 	128.8 	0.4 	1.5
Food 			140.8 	143.8 	143.3 	-0.3 	1.8
Shelter 		133.2 	134.9 	135.1 	0.1 	1.4
Household op & furn. 	119.7 	121.6 	122.1 	0.4 	2.0
Clothing and footwear 	95.0 	96.0 	96.0 	0.0 	1.1
Transportation 		128.0 	127.8 	129.4 	1.3 	1.1
Health and pers. care 	120.7 	122.2 	122.3 	0.1 	1.3
Rec, ed, & reading 	109.9 	110.3 	111.7 	1.3 	1.6
Alc. & tobacco products 151.9 	156.5 	156.8 	0.2 	3.2
Special aggregates
All items excl. food 	124.2 	125.3 	126.1 	0.6 	1.5
All items excl. energy 	124.8 	126.9 	127.2 	0.2 	1.9
Energy 			152.4 	143.4 	146.9 	2.4 	-3.6
Source: Statistics Canada, CANSIM, table 326-0020 and Catalogue nos. 62-001-X and 62-010-X.
Last modified: 2016-06-17.

But many peoples’ experience of inflation can be very different.

I’ll use an example near and dear to my heart:

Today, I had the

Vegetable Chow Mein from my favourite food truck: Wokking On Wheels!
Vegetable Chow Mein from my favourite food truck: Wokking On Wheels!

I first visited the Wokking on Wheels food truck sometime during the fall of 1996, when I was working on Calculus with J (Thanks, J!). At that time, they had five daily specials which, if I recall correctly, they were selling for $3.75. These included the special Thursday special, ‘Singapore Fried noodles’, which you could persuade them to add red sweet sauce to. Delicious!

Anyway, the Vegetable Chow Mein was the least expensive thing on their menu today, at $7.

So, 20 years later, how has inflation fared? By the CPI deflator above, you would expect a $3.75 item in 1996 to cost $3.75*128.8/88.9 = $5.43, about $1.50 less than the actual.

Even if you use the ‘food’ number above, you get: $3.75*143.3/88.9 = $6.04, or about $1 less than the actual.

There are a number of reasons for this (which are beyond the scope), but it’s enough for now to note that there are reasons that people have a different feeling of inflation than what is ‘official’.

[1]The numbers for Ontario seem to be about the same to me.

BrNegotiations

In my some recent posts, I’ve talked a little bit about the implications of the ‘Brexit’ vote, an what I thought the actual outcome would be (a re-negotiation of the EU-UK treaty/treaties).

It turns out that some other people have similar opinions:


Almost alone in continental Europe, Merkel tried to slow the rush to get Britain out of the EU door. Europe’s most powerful leader made clear she would not press Cameron after he indicated Britain would not seek formal exit negotiations until October at least.

“Quite honestly, it should not take ages, that is true, but I would not fight now for a short time frame,” Merkel told a news conference.

“The negotiations must take place in a businesslike, good climate,” she said. “Britain will remain a close partner, with which we are linked economically.”

Others say that Brexit is a warning, but not a catastrophe:


Brexit is a Bear Stearns moment, not a Lehman moment. That’s not to diminish what’s happening (markets felt like death in March, 2008), but this isn’t the event to make you run for the hills. Why not? Because it doesn’t directly crater the global currency system. It’s not too big of a shock for the central banks to control. It’s not a Humpty Dumpty event, where all the Fed’s horses and all the Fed’s men can’t glue the eggshell back together. But it is an event that forces investors to wake up and prepare their portfolios for the very real systemic risks ahead.

(For those of you who don’t know who Bear Stearns and Lehman Brothers are, they were the two largest investment banks which fell because of Mortgage-Backed Securities during the 2007-08+ financial crisis.

Finally, for the most cogent response to this crisis, we turn to Chuck Tingle, and his most recent novel on just this subject:

Pounded By The Pound: Turned Gay By The Socioeconomic Implications Of Britain Leaving The European Union Kindle Edition[1]

[1]If you’re not sufficiently warned by the title of that novel, I don’t know what to tell you.