Thursday, December 29, 2016

Worth Reading - December 29, 2016

With the holidays just behind us and New Year's just ahead the news cycle has been sort of slow. I've been using my time to read for pleasure and play video games. I hope everyone has a safe and pleasant New Year's celebration.

The New York Times lays out some of the possibilities of the Trump presidency.

The Washington Post is hiring five dozen more journalists. In an era where the media is contracting it is pleasing to see critical journalism is finding a market.

The educational YouTube channel Kurzgesagt recently released a video on overpopulation, check it out.  

The Toronto Star gives Mayor Bonnie Crombie high marks for her stewardship of Mississauga. 

MP Peter Julian has tepidly entered the race to be the next NDP leader


Conservatives in Alberta (Wildrose and PCs) will have to fight it out in 2017 if either hope to supplant the NDP government

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Top Video Games, Books, and Television of 2016

Normally at the end of the year I write a blog post reflecting on the year. For months now the common consensus among many is that 2016 was a trash fire of a year. The combination of dismal international news, terrorism and tragedies, a stagnant economy, the deaths of many prominent and beloved public figures/entertainers, and the concerning outcome of the American elections is enough to make it a dark chapter in the twenty-first century for many. With no disrespect to the recent deaths, including Carrie Fisher today, if you're measuring this year by that alone, you need to give your head a shake and consider the recent massacres and tragedies in places like Syria, Istanbul, Orlando, Berlin, Nice, Nigeria, Iraq and on, and on. But I digress.

And now for a sharp, and graceless turn. Various media were important for mental relaxation and de-stressing during 2016. I would like to share these with you and perhaps it will encourage you to explore them yourself. I hope you can get as much pleasure from them as I did.

Video Games

#3 - Cities: Skylines (Plus After Dark and Snowfall DLC)

Cities: Skylines to many, myself included, is the city-building video game that you've wanted since you tinkered with SimCity, or sketched maps in the margin or doodled skylines from your fantasies. Released in 2015 I purchased the game this year and it was greatly enhanced by the release of two pieces of DLC, one of which came out in 2016. The game allows an incredible degree of specialization and detail work. It is incredibly open to mods. Artists (there is hardly a better word for them) have meticulously reconstructed real cities or designed environments the feel very real. In some ways it's more of a sophisticated model-maker for some.



I play the game as a city manager and simulation game. The sensitivity and responsiveness of the game is remarkable. There aren't just roads, there are roads of different widths and intents. You can have roads with bus lanes or bike lanes, country roads, or arterials. The freeway system is essentially freeform and allows an incredible degree of individuality. It permits a degree of experimentation to figure out what configuration of roads and transit work. Transit options include taxis, buses, trams/streetcars, heavy rail, and subways. Properties and land grow and develop based on many factors and are redeveloped to more sophisticated and denser buildings.

Perhaps on the best additions to the genre is the district system. You can cater laws, incentives, and regulations to give each neighbourhood a unique feel, just as in real cities. Unlike SimCity the game feels grounded and far less cartoony. When one of my cities are successful and well-designed I feel like I've created a realistic place that could find a home in our world. The progress system and intrinsic rewards make it a great way to invest leisure time.

#2 - Stellaris

I am a science fiction nerd. I love the genre. When Paradox Interactive announced their plan to make their own space strategy game I was incredibly excited. Crusader Kings II , Europa Universalis IV, and Victoria II are among my favourite games so I was interested to see how Paradox would tackle this subgenre in their unique style. They did not disappoint.


Stellaris breathes in all the major science fiction influences. Events, anomalies and story elements are torn from Asimov, Heinlein, Dick, Clarke, Star Trek, Star Wars, and many more. It comes across as loving homage. Players are given a wide set of tools to create a unique species. As with Cities: Skylines mod support is broad so already Mass Effect, Star Trek and other mods are in place to introduce beloved species.

The randomness in each galaxy I have played on creates exciting new options. The tech tree means that there is not a "correct" way to play. Like the Civilization series there are any number of ways to win. However, I would say that playing a game of geopolitics in space (astropolitics?) there is no clear end. Victory doesn't seem like owning the galaxy from one end to the other, in my opinion. The answer this problem the game designers introduced late game crises. Intergalactic invasion or artificial intelligence uprising can be the final challenge for your space empire, star republic, or democratic galactic federation.

If you love science fiction and strategy I think this game offers a great deal. Earlier this week I was playing my space empire of retile-like imperialists. I encountered a signal from a gas giant. A group of non-corporeal beings begged for help to migrate to a new home. I transported them to a new gas giant... but then later they asked to move into a gas giant in my territory. I do not know if this will go anywhere, but I love playing it out. First contact, space battles, xenophobia, uplifting, it has it all.

#1 - The Witness  

Released early in the year I may have dedicated the most mental processing power to this game during 2016. On the surface The Witness is a simple puzzle game but as you play you uncover more and more meaning. There are multiple layers of puzzles in the game and meaning. The game contains thoughts on truth and reality. According to the designer Jonathan Blow The Witness is about truth. The world is built to be consistent and coherent. An underlying logic holds the game together.


Puzzles and mysteries are at the core. Unraveling the game became somewhat an obsession for me. At times I have considered meticulously documenting the entire game, including things like the statues to see if there is any meaning I could extract. Bringing up the statues I should take a moment to talk about the art. I love the visual aesthetic of the game. I love the bright colours, the diverse environments and the... magic for lack of a better word. There is a serenity in The Witness.

There is an immense sense of satisfaction in peeling back the layers of the island and in solving individual puzzles. Portal 2 is perhaps my favourite game of all time and The Witness is the first time I felt the same way in a long time. I have a feeling it will stick with me for a long time.

Books

Non-Fiction

Paris 1919, reviewed on this blog, offers incredible insight in how World War I shaped the world we live in today. For all the attention given to World War II, the First World War has done a great deal to determine the world we live in today. Diplomatic history is fascinating in how the petty relationships of a handful of men determine the fate of states and nations. There is a great value in better understanding this period.

Honourable Mentions: Pyongyang by Guy Delisle, Origins of the European Economy by Michael McCormick, Irresponsible Government by Brent Rathgeber.

Fiction

The Wind-Up Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi was a unique take on the future. In a world decimated by climate change and resources are scarce the human and political drama in Thailand is enthralling. The world is alive and horrifying, yet it feels like a possible glimpse into our dark future. The story follows a western business man trying to operate a factory in the corrupt Kingdom of Thailand but through his actions, the actions of others, and random circumstances gets caught in web of rivalries, treachery and violence.

Honourable Mentions: The Return Man by V. M. Zito, The Witch of Hebron by James Howard Kuntsler, Rot and Ruin by Jonathan Maberry,

Television

Westworld, HBO

Artificial intelligence is a topic that captures my imagination. A series that is built upon mystery, AI, incredible visual and social commentary is going to appeal a great deal to me. I was not into LOST at the time, but I imagine the excitement I felt discussing the show and theories with friends was what drove the popularity and affection for that series. The incredible performances of actors like Jeffrey Wright, Ed Harris, Anthony Hopkins and Sidse Babett Knudson made sometimes flat writing gripping. Westworld raises questions that demand reflection in regards to AI. The season was by no means perfect but it was perhaps the most enthralling television I watched in 2016.

Honourable Mentions: Black Mirror, Stranger Things, Pitch, The Circus.


Thursday, December 22, 2016

Worth Reading - December 22, 2016

As 2016 comes to a close the media turns its attention to reflective pieces. Here is Paul Wells writing that Trudeau and the federal Liberals have delivered on few of their promises

The headline is hyperbole, but The Nation writes about the concerning fact that Donald Trump is surrounding himself with retired generals in key cabinet posts and advisors. 

Braddish Chagger (LPC - Waterloo, ON), the Liberal House Leader, said that the House of Commons is not the place to discuss the evolving controversy of Liberal fundraising

Paul Wells suggests that the removal of Tom Mulcair from the leadership of the NDP has echoes of Brexit and Trump. 

The Ontario PC leader faces more questions about his party's positions on social conservative issues


Perhaps there is more to this story, but it seem the Laurier Graduate Student Association was overly sensitive and acted harshly over a joke, even if one thinks it is ill-conceived. 

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Long-Term Thinking: The Question of Artificial Intelligence

A few years ago Andrew Coyne gave a speech and he talked about why he thought Parliament would be increasingly important and why our consensus on certain issues meant that politics would transform. He argued that the neo-liberal consensus would lead to new debates, debates about the nature of humanity and address the questions that new technology has and will raised. Mr. Coyne seems to have been disproved, at least for now, and my own theory is that the global consensus on neo-liberalism is fracturing. Still, there are a number of issues that the Canadian Parliament should start weighing before we are overwhelmed.

Artificial intelligence is one of my favourite themes in science fiction. Over the last couple of years popular culture has latched onto this concept and a number of films and television series have come out exploring humanity's relationship with artificial intelligence/sentience. The majority of these depictions are negative, or threatening. The public clearly has some anxiety over the creation of artificial intelligence. Writers like Nick Bostrom seem to be suggesting that there are tangible dangers to AI and that precautions are required to protect us. 

As far as I am aware there are no laws governing/regulating the development of artificial intelligence. It would not be unreasonable, for example, to insist that artificial intelligence be developed on air-gapped computers, or that all programs or automatons have a built-in kill switch. The dangers of rogue AI are so extreme that even modest precautions should be accepted at face value.

Beyond paranoia (healthy as it may be) about the development of artificial intelligence there are inevitable questions that will arise if we successfully develop artificial life. If we create independent, autonomous beings as represented in fiction like Westworld, Ex Machina, Her, etc. what rights will be extended to them? Should any? Should artificial beings be treated like biological citizens, or should they be treated like, say, corporations? Corporations are legal persons but they are not allowed to vote and do not exert other rights as living beings. If you kill/disable an AI is that murder, property destruction? Will androids/AI be owned? Is that slavery?

One of the big questions about artificial intelligence is how will we tell if it is real. Artificial intelligence designers may merely create things that are very capable at imitating people, rather than genuine sentience. Then you get into debates about sentience and the nature of humanity's consciousness.

One of my concerns for years is that the creation of androids will exacerbate issues of sexism and inhumanity. When you have the ability to exploit and abuse things that are indistinguishable from humans the threat to broader society seems fairly obvious. Creating intelligent, responsive beings for the sole purpose of our pleasure and violent impulses is unsettling.

Obviously the Canadian Parliament does not need to pass laws on these matters immediately, but it would be wise to start raising these questions and laying some basic regulations to protect ourselves from the worst case scenario. This might be the perfect work for the Senate to take up. As much as this may sound like science fiction, I think the trend lines are fairly clear we're heading in that direction, so why not prepare for it?

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Worth Reading - December 15, 2016

Apologies for missing the Tuesday post. I spent the day taking care of my sick niece and then went to work. I planned on writing something up on Wednesday, but it was a repeat of Tuesday.

Vision Zero is a movement to end pedestrian deaths in vehicular accidents. The Toronto Star reports on Peel Region and the risk imposed by transport trucks

Andrew Coyne on the Liberals, special access and fundraising

More on how the Liberals have bungled the democratic reform file. 

Citylab writes about how white neighbourhoods are whiter than their metropolitan regions and resist integration. 

Dennis Pilon writes at iPolitics that the entire electoral reform debate is based upon a fear of voters


Filed under the "Wake up in a cold sweat" category, Donald Trump will soon gain control of Voice of America, and perhaps use it as a propaganda tool for his administration. Excuse me as I breathe into a paper bag.

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Worth Reading - December 8, 2016

Kurzgesagt, an impressive YouTube channel, has released a video advocating that humanity change its calendar, and I find the argument compelling. 



Portland is often held up as an ideal in North American planning. Chuck Marohn of Strong Towns visited in October and offers up some thoughts and cold-water criticism. 

Desmond Cole writes that Canadians should never compare their domestic politics to Trump's America and feel prideful. 

How the rhetoric of the Trump movement is infiltrating the Canadian Conservative leadership race. 

Scientific American reports that ice sheets the size of India has vanished from the poles

Chris Selley put together a selection of articles highlighting the Liberal failure on electoral reform over the last couple of weeks. 

As an example, critics are out for the MyDemocracy.ca survey

The Toronto Star did a profile on Sam Oosterhoff, the youngest MPP in Ontario history. 


The Brampton Guardian gives Mayor Jeffrey a report card half way through her term. 

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Is Electoral Reform Designed to Fail?

When the Liberals won their majority government I was consoled by two things: Harper would leave office, and hopefully end constitutional rot; and Trudeau had promised, unequivocally, electoral reform. As I have written on this blog before, electoral reform was the animating issue that got me involved in politics. There is growing evidence that the Liberals are preparing to break that promise.

The Electoral Reform Committee released its report last week. The committee recommended a referendum on proportional representation. Though the NDP and Green representatives provided a supplement saying that they did not believe a referendum was specifically needed. The result may be the worst of both worlds for the Liberals. They didn't want a referendum and prominent voices within the party do not want proportional representation. Aaron Wherry wrote an excellent summary of the direct fallout here. Following the report's release Minsiter Monsef began to mock and distance the government from the committee's report saying the was disappointed that they had not recommended an electoral system. This was rich given that it was not in their mandate.

Monsef further embarrassed herself and her government by mocking the formula the Gallagher Index, which shows how closely a government represents the proportion of votes received by each party. Monsef was prepared with printed copies of the formula. This wasn't a fluke, it was a plan. Electoral reform often wrecks on the shores of complication. For all the problems with First-Past-the-Post it is simple. Trying to explain an alternative quickly to a disengaged public is very difficult.

Yesterday, claiming that the government required further consultation, https://www.mydemocracy.ca/ was launched. I would encourage any reader to take the survey, because why not? But as you take it I think you'll find that there are some serious issues on the questions.  They fail to tease out what voters actually want in terms of their electoral system, i.e. do you want the House of Commons to reflect the percentage of votes the parties receive? Should a party that does not get a majority of votes receive a majority of the seats in the House of Commons? Perhaps I am revealing my own bias with the second, but the questions are at times "push" questions designed to illicit certain responses.

Canadians on Twitter took to mocking the Trudeau government with the hashtag #rejectedERQs (rejected electoral reform questions). It is amusing but also disheartening because it is more evidence that the fix is in. With the conclusion of this survey the Liberals will be well poised to suggest that a) more consultation is required, b) there is no consensus, c) that Canadians are content with the system as is.

If electoral reform is to happen it will almost certainly not occur before 2019 now. Stalling by the government seems to make that clear and if a referendum is going to happen the laws surrounding referenda needs to be updated. To be clear, I want to give kudos to the member of the Electoral Reform Committee, including the Liberals. At the end they seem to have engaged in the process in good faith. I believe it is the government who is meddling now. I haven't abandoned hope yet, but the government holds all the cards on this one. Electoral reform will only under rare circumstances become an issue of importance. However, PEI's recent vote may be a sign of hope, though their government's reaction may be the ultimate warning. The status quo is hard to overturn.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Worth Reading - December 1, 2016

Canadaland investigates whether or not the Canadian media is falling into the same trap with Trump and excessively covering Kellie Leitch

Steve Paikin writes that John Tory has shown rare political courage in supporting highway tolls

The new Progressive Ontario MPP for Niagara West-Glanbrook has delayed his swearing in to celebrate his victory. The new MPP is getting a lot of attention for his age and policy positions.

Jeet Heer writes about Donald Trump's illogical statements and lies continue to damage the American political sphere and fact-checkers are powerless to stop it

London, Ontario is moving to ban police carding

From Maclean's, Trudeau's clumsy statements about Cuba has embarrassed him and made him a laughing stock

A campaign veteran wants to put together a package for first-time municipal candidates


Martin Regg Cohn writes that some of the investigation and allegations into Liberal corruption has spiraled far from decency

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Defining and Naming Political Ideas

In the lead up to the American election and in its wake there has been considerable debate over labels, meanings, and how we use terms and language. It may be some bizarre combination of ignorance and knowledge of the past combines to result in tying ourselves in knots with definitions.

Before we jump into a more blatantly political side let's use writing about "Facebook news posts" as an example. In most media the false and misleading "news" posts propagated on Facebook has been labeled "fake news". While technically accurate it ignore our context. Fake news as a term has been closely associated with satirical programs like The Daily Show, This House Has 22 Minutes, and the Colbert Report. It communicates harmless mischief, purposefully exaggerating, or mocking. The fake news posts are actively misleading at best and bald-faced lies more often than not. There is a more accurate term for this - propaganda. Definition: "Information, especially of a biased or misleading nature, used to promote a political cause or point of view." If anything the definition may be too soft, but far clearer. Why does the media hesitate to use this language? Is it because the word propaganda is associated with totalitarianism and the twentieth century?

After the Cold War and the ascent of liberal democracy and neo-liberalism ideological labels seemed to matter far less. In North America words like communist, totalitarianism, fascism and even socialism, liberalism, and conservatism became fuzzier, ill-defined and less relevant. In Canada the differences between our "left" and "right" became marginal. Then things seemed to change.

In the American mainstream a growing number of politicians expressed views and positions beyond the centrist consensus but we seem ill-prepared to label these movements. Take the Tea Party. I have never heard a satisfactory explanation of their ideology aside from the vague "right-wing", "conservative" (absolutely inaccurate), and "populist". Populism comes up a lot, but it is not a set of policies/ideology. Politicians from Rob Ford to Tommy Douglas have been called populists.

This language barrier has resulted in problems as a culture when discussing these times. Recently the media has avoided calling a Nazi sympathizer, who says "Hail Trump", and receives the Roman/Nazi salute from the audience calling him a Nazi... because why? Because Nazis are a thing of the past, right? 

I do not like the growing use of the term "alt-right" because it too has a fuzzy, imprecise definition. It really just means far-right, or radical right-wing. As I wrote immediately after the election Trump and his supporters may be best understood as anti-liberal. I think there is a growing case to call the Trump's movement's radical element American fascism. To be clear that is not descriptive of all of those who voted for the Republicans. Speaker Paul Ryan is not suddenly a fascist because he will try to work with Trump's presidency. As political cultures we need to come up with accurate terminology and language to discuss our politics. Right now we are either in denial or wandering around in the darkness. There are going to be times when the New Right, in whatever country, will resemble normal governments, but it is important to call out when they use nationalism, authoritarianism and jingoism to impose harmful policies.  

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Worth Reading - November 24, 2016

Althia Raj writes that Minister Monsef is misleading Canadians on electoral reform. 

Chantal HĂ©bert writes that trouble is about to hit the Liberals on three sides

From the New York Times an Italian writer suggests how Americans should resist Donald Trump's presidency

Martin Regg Cohn writes that the Ontario Municipal Board needs to be reined in for the sake of our cities. 

Changes in election laws means that Ontarians will soon directly elect their regional chairs. This could cause more trouble for local politics and conflicting interests.

Mayor John Tory announced support for toll roads

Royson James writes about John Tory's chances for re-election, and begs him not to take the easy path


Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are getting caught up in a cash-for-access scandal

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Book Review: Paris 1919 by Margaret MacMillan

Were you to ask most historians what event was most consequential for the world today I believe many of them would say World War I. It wasn't just the conflict itself, but the peace that ended it has defined so much of the 20th and 21st centuries. MacMillan specifically focuses on the six month period in 1919 during which the key negotiations took place between Prime Minister David Lloyd George (UK), Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau (France), and President Woodrow Wilson (USA). Never have three men been so critical in determining the state of the world. In her introduction though MacMillan says that there was a bilateral relationship between the negotiations at Versailles and conditions on the ground. As much as the 'peacemakers' shaped the map of the world it had to respond to political unrest, revolutions, and shifting military situations in the lands they were sitting in judgement of.

Read how flawed men shaped the modern world

The book is divided into thematic chapters focusing on different countries/regions, and then arranged into a rough chronology. It is an imperfect method. The developments in Yugoslavia profoundly impacted Italy and Italy impacted upon Greece and Turkey. Discussing each in isolation can lose the thread, i.e. because Yugoslavia's gain resulted in Turkey's loss, indirectly. MacMillan puts considerable attention on the personalities and characters of the peace conference. Given the degree to which personal relationships decided the fate of nations this seems entirely appropriate.

Of the Big Three Wilson by far comes off as the worst. In many ways he seemed to blunder into the negotiations at Versailles. His grand notions about how the treaty should be negotiated was not reinforced by basic knowledge of the world. His vague commitments led to substantial misunderstanding. When Wilson and the Treaty of Versailles betrayed the Fourteen Points it triggered outrage across the world from China to Germany. This was further complicated by the fact that America was a late entrant into the war and France and the United Kingdom had made commitments to allies that Wilson had no interest in keeping.

The blame, or perhaps more appropriately the responsibility, of Versailles and its accompanying treaties should not be laid exclusively at the feet of the Allied leaders. At several points the events on the ground dictated their approach. The collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire was not the intent of the Allies. They quickly embraced the successor states of Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, but how to respond to Austria and Hungary was a source of major consternation. This was made even worse when Hungary fell briefly to a Bolshevik coup. The Allies had no notion of how to deal with Russia or the Ottomans either, and to a lesser extent, Germany. They did not foresee the collapse of these empires.

While it is commonly thought that the Treaty of Versailles led to World War II MacMillan takes a slightly different tact. It seems to me that MacMillan suggests that the negotiations, not the treaty itself, led to resentments, political changes and demographic tensions the helped set the stage for the Second World War. It's a fascinating approach. The evidence is clearest for Italy. Italy was the fourth of the Big Four and often maligned by its allies. It sought imperial gains out of the war which the other three rejected. The port city of Fiume in particular became a point of contention and a rallying cry for nationalists and the proto-fascist movement. Japan learned from the experience that they could not expect fair treatment from the European Powers and so instead sought to create their own path in Asia going forward. Germany's ham-fisted treatment by the Allies radicalized moderate elements and gave rise to the myth that Germany was never defeated and delegitimized key aspects of the Weimar government. However, MacMillan says that the terms for Germany were not as harsh as common history would have one imagine. Her evidence is the fact that Germany violated the spirit of the treaty immediately and quickly began rebuilding for the next war well before Hitler came to power.

The consequences of Versailles and the other treaties are still evident across Europe, Africa and the Middle East. It is incredible how much can be traced back to the First World War and the treaties that ended it. MacMillan's writing is clear and accessible, though an understanding of the underlying geography and the First World War would greatly aid the reader. I would highly recommend this book for those interested in the subject, diplomacy, 20th century history, and current events.




Thursday, November 17, 2016

Worth Reading - November 17, 2016

Following the presidential election I started to see posts and articles about people wearing safety pins. Out of curiosity I looked up what it was. My feelings on it were immediately mixed. Christopher Keetly writes that the safety pin movement has far more to do with liberal and white guilt and the person wearing it than making social change. The part of me that disdains symbolism over action is inclined to agree, at least in part.

A number of unpleasant incidents have occurred in Canada since the American election. One example is the posters that were put up in East York challenging multiculturalism and defending whiteness

Tensions sparked this week in the Canadian Senate between Trudeau's point man in the Senate and the leader of the Senate Liberals.

Ashley Csanady writes that the two by-elections today in Ontario have evolved to become important contests for all three parties. 

The Independent reports that the Trump transition team is considering registration for Muslims immigrants. If such a travesty occurs I think non-Muslim Americans should register in a sign of protest, opposition and in solidarity with their fellow Americans.

Andrew Coyne looks at how the electoral system produced a Donald Trump victory. 


I watched this video this morning, and somehow I thought it fit here. Adam Ruins Everything is a series that came out of College Humor. The host lays out why the common thinking on a topic is wrong. This week he answered the question 'why is weed illegal'. I found the Nixon answer the most compelling aspect. 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Trump, Brexit, the New Right: A Rejection of Liberalism

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump I had some heady conversations with friends about what the election might mean. I think it was my way of dealing with the heady consequences of the election. Even now when I think about what might be in store for America, North America and the world I cannot help but feel a sense of dread. This sense was only exaggerated by the surprise of the outcome. If you read my piece from last week I state the possibility of a Trump victory, but I accepted the conventional wisdom that Hillary Clinton was on her way to victory.

Both the direction of the election and the unexpected outcome caused many to draw comparisons to the Brexit referendum. How do we explain the victory of Donald Trump? Much like the Brexit vote, people who attribute the victory solely to bigotry and ignorance are dismissing the greater picture here. There are proximate causes which are easier to explain but these should not be conflated with deeper, structural causes.

Let us briefly discuss the immediate causes. Hillary Clinton was a deeply unpopular candidate. She may have been the best known candidate to run for office who was not already an incumbent. She had the baggage of years of experience and conflicts. Her greater asset, experience, was also her greatest liability. Her gender should not be dismissed; it is possible America was less ready for a female president than suspected. Donald Trump was the Republican candidate in a two-party system. Since he won the nomination there was, in essence, a 50% chance that he could win. Early reporting I watched on PBS commented that Trump was winning like a traditional Republican, which in many ways is unsurprising. Research in Canada has suggested that negative campaigning suppresses progressive voters more than conservative voters. After the last 18 months it is hardly surprising that Democrats failed to turn out in some ways.

The more I thought about Trump, Brexit and the new right in general I began to sense a pattern - a rejection of liberalism. By liberalism I mean the classical liberalism defined by free markets, freedom of movement/immigration, equality and (recently) globalization. Since the 1970s and '80s Western countries have been moving towards a more liberal version of their economies and policies. Sometimes this has been called neo-liberalism. NAFTA and the EU are products of this thinking as are the pro-business, low tax ideology dominant in most countries. This school of thought expanded with the end of the Cold War. With the defeat of Soviet-style communism it seemed that liberal economics and liberal democracy was ready to dominate the world.

Things have progressed down this road, but not without consequences. In the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Canada there have been stark winners and losers in the liberal era. If you want to know where look at the maps of the election results; Remain and Clinton voters tend to be concentrated in places doing well. But a new Silicon Valley is not taking root in the Rust Belt or the Great Plains, nor in the North of England. These regions have suffered incredibly during the period from the 1970s to present. Deindustrialization has stripped away their economic base and wealth. I recently heard on the news that Trump did not win the working-class demographic, but he did win the middle-class, who feel even more vulnerable to these changes. They're the ones with mortgages and kids in college with debt.

Many (fairly) have accused Trump have having confused, schizophrenic policy positions. If you look at his stances as a rejection of liberalism/neo-liberalism the picture becomes much clearer. Trump has expressed anti-global sentiments, both in terms of diplomacy and trade. His adoption of America First should indicate his thinking on America's place in the world. Trump's supporters are clearly nationalists, and perhaps white nationalists. Subsuming nationalist impulses to international and global organizations was a huge component to liberalism. Trump has committed to renegotiating NAFTA, America's most important free trade agreement. NAFTA is blamed for killing manufacturing jobs that hurt places like Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, and Wisconsin.

Much like trade, open borders and immigration are components to a liberal vision of the world. Liberals want a free flow of commerce, goods, and people. Both Brexit and Trump arose in response to uncertainty of migration. I studied the history of immigration in North America at Brock. The working class has often had discomfort with new immigration and view them as their rivals. American businesses' relationship with undocumented migrants is exploitative and the reaction from those who have been living in declining areas is understandable. That said, race clearly played a role in the feelings about Muslim and Mexican immigration to the United States. In the case of Brexit race is less clear, perhaps migration and migrants would be more accurate.

Anti-equity is a harder trait to pinpoint. Obviously we could look at treatment of non-whites as evidence, or Trump's comments about women as evidence. Questions of equity have always been controversial in the United States. Policies designed to address inequity are highly controversial, i.e. effective school segregation, affirmative action, criminal justice reform.

Anti-liberalism is not unique to Donald Trump and the Republicans. One could argue that the appeal of Bernie Sanders is a product of anti-liberalism, just from the other side. Socialism is not extra liberalism, in many ways it is anti-liberalism.

Looking around the world at the rise of new right parties, the results of Brexit and election of Donald Trump it is not too far of a leap to think that the global movement towards liberals from the 1970s/90s is facing a backlash. Evidence has existed for years, such as the rise of China's state capitalism and Russia's backslide away from liberal democracy. The scary thing is that anti-liberalism on the right is sometimes known as fascism. The last time there was a global rejection of liberal economics and liberal democracy was the 1920s-40s. I want to be clear, I am not saying we are short years away from a world war. Beginning in the 20th century we have transitioned from periods of openness and closeness on the global stage. The early 20th century was quite open, and then the rise of socialism/communism and the Second World War and Cold War led to a closing, until the 1970s. Perhaps we are entering a world when things are closing. That said, new technologies likely means that things will never close again as much as they have in the past.


Liberalism has left many people behind, and it is not unthinkable that these anti-liberal movements could find a place in Canada. I think this is one of the few ways to make sense of some recent trends. Do not accept overly simplistic explanations of election, we are motivated by complicated factors as voters. Perhaps winds of change are blowing and who knows where it will take us. 

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Worth Reading - November 10, 2016

I'm sure many of you are tired of reading about the American election so I'll try to make my selections good.

For my first selection here is something different. I want to share my friend Sabina's thoughts on the presidential election's result. She is a financial analyst from the UK and prepared analysis for her colleagues:
For those of you still interested in reading what I have to say - from tomorrow's internal note
The most timeless analysis of American political culture was provided by Alexis de Tocqueville, who wrote the following of American democracy:
“The election becomes the greatest and, as it were, the only matter which occupies people’s minds. Then political factions redouble their enthusiasm; every possible phony passion that the imagination can conceive in a contented and peaceful country comes out into the light of day… As the election draws near, intrigues multiply and turmoil spreads. Citizens divide up between several camps each of which adopts the name of its candidate. The whole nation descends into a feverish state; the election becomes the daily theme of newspapers, the subject of private conversations, the object of every maneuver and every thought, the only concern of the present moment. It is true that as soon as the result has been announced, this passion is dispelled, all returns to calm, and the river which momentarily overflowed its banks returns peacefully to its bed.”
Now the Burkean conservative in me wants to agree with de Tocqueville: the passions unleashed by this election will hopefully once again, go back into their box for the next three and half years, only to be stirred up again the next time the electoral cycle comes around. Still, there are two elements of this week’s vote that do raise discomfort.
1) Back in 2004, John Kerry had made the theme of his campaign the problem with the “Two Americas”. And of course, back then Kerry referred to the rich and the poor. But this vote illustrates that the US really is dividing into two countries as the gulf in voting patterns widens along income, education, gender, class, and urban/rural divides. Increasingly, Americans seem to live in self-reinforcing echo-chambers where they solely interact with people who hold the same beliefs and values. Combine this new reality with the news filtering capacity provided by social media algorithms and it is clear that growing parts of the country will never have to confront uncomfortable facts, or opinions. Illustrating this is the fact that, while a generation ago, the median US congressman was elected by a margin of less than five percentage points, once again in this election the median US congressman will be elected by a sizeable double digit margin. This cannot be a healthy development.
2) However one cuts it, the unique feature of the 2016 election has been the rise of the populist vote; Bernie Sanders’ insurgency was by far the best a red-blooded Socialist candidate has done in any big western democracy in recent years. Donald Trump’s solutions to the challenges confronting our societies are broadly in line with those offered by France’s National Front. Although, not even Marine Le Pen would dare propose a ban on Muslims entering France. Clearly, we have entered a new era where domestic discontent, not just in the US but across the Western World, is sky high. And behind this discontent sit factors such as technological disruption, dislocations caused by the ascent of emerging economies as industrial powers, the ageing of Western societies and the shift that immigration has caused to the cultural make-up in these countries.
And this brings us to the timeless observation by Arnold Toynbee who, in A Study of History argued that the role of an “elite” in any society is to handle challenges that allow the group to survive and so move on to the next phase of their shared journey. If bad solutions are offered up then problems intensify and rising pressures eventually trigger a change in the elite. This can happen in various ways. Needless to say, elections are by far the best case scenario (no bloodshed or destruction of property). But if elections do not trigger the required changes (e.g. France during the Fourth Republic and the challenge of decolonization), then this can engender a change of regime (a distinct possibility across euro-land?), or even revolutions. Judging by Donald Trump’s likely win in the US presidential race, it would seem that the US for its part does not believe that political dynasties should be left to solve the country’s problems. Looking forward, the hope must be that the new president will rise to the huge challenges facing the US and the wider world with genuine solutions to real problems.
But I am doubtful, which is why we prefer countries and markets that have the advantage of small scale as entrenched interests tend to run less deep and finding common ground for the “shared journey” is politically easier. It is also why we prefer overweighting countries with the Queen’s head on the banknote.

Sarah Kendzior warns that Trump's election is America's moral loss and a victory for fascism. She certainly speaks for a segment of the American public.

David Remnick writes of the election result as an American tragedy

The New Republic's Jeet Heer writes about the ultra-right Stephen Bannon/Breitbart CEO's plan to transform American politics

Andrew Coyne writes that nothing really matters anymore when it comes to campaigning

Shawn Micallef writes about Toronto's intolerance of apartments

Related to the above, from Strong Towns, the story of a man's attempt to renovate and intensify a property

Candidates for the Niagara West-Glanbrook by-election met in Vineland. The PC's social conservative positions drew attention. 

From Strong Towns, putting your town on the path to good public transit


Finally from Strong Towns, how locally-owned businesses contribute to their communities. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Big Day, the 2016 Presidential Election

Today is the day. Millions of Americans will cast their ballots to select their next president. After two years of polling, debate and drama it has all come down to this. I am not sure anyone in 2014 could have foreseen how this race would shake out, but here we are. Pundits and journalists have gone on and on about how unpredictable this election cycle has been but as we enter voting day I am sure I am hardly alone in anxiously awaiting the results.

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump will be competing to win the electoral college. As a brief explanation, each state is allotted a certain number of votes based upon its population/size of its congressional delegation. The smallest states, Wyoming, and Alaska, for example, have 3 electoral votes and California is the largest with 55. A presidential candidate wins the state by receiving the most votes across the state. A candidate does not need to win the most votes nation-wide to become president.

In the final moments the election has tightened. This is normal. How much it has tightened is a matter of conjecture. It is widely assumed that Donald Trump is behind, which most polling supports. However, as was shown in the last Canadian federal election polls can be inaccurate and how polls play out on a local level can be unclear. This is because getting out the vote (GOTV) is a critical component. It has been said that the Trump campaign has very little ground game. He won the nomination through a mass appeal to voters who were often disengaged from the process. The grassroots support then is suspect. He is unlikely to have rooms full of old church ladies who made calls for George H. W. Bush doing the same for him. An exceptional ground game is what won the presidency for Obama in 2008 and 2012.

The Clinton campaign has a stronger campaign but a dangerous problem. Her voters are not enthusiastic about her candidacy. They fear a Trump victory and that is driving many of them, but for some it is hard to be excited about Hillary Clinton.

That all said, Five Thirty-Eight, a blog that got its start tracking elections, gives Clinton 2/3 odds of winning the election. There is no doubt that her path to victory is clearer, but it is hardly inevitable. One thing I worry about is that Trump voters may be reluctant to express their support to pollsters given the negative associations he has. The 'silent majority' phenomena may be at play, or the Bradley Effect. The American public may be less willing to accept a woman president than they let on.

For those watching at home, there are fourteen swing states to watch for. In order of their polls closing: Florida, Georgia, Virginia, North Carolina, Ohio, Maine, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Arizona, New Mexico, Colorado, Iowa, Nevada. Some of these are closer than others, but given the unpredictability it is wiser to keep the list wide. For information on all the polls there is RealClearPolitics.

One of my biggest concerns going into this election is the obsession with the presidential race. A third of the Senate, all of the House of Representatives and number of governorships are up for grabs. I haven't heard anything on these races. I have no doubt that a number of odious candidates are sneaking by with help of the distraction Clinton and Trump have provided. In the fallout of the election, assuming no crisis ensues, attention will likely turn to the new Senators, Congressmen and Governors who America has to deal with.

This presidential election does not reflect the Americans I know and I am sure the overwhelming majority will be glad to have it behind them. I hope a high turnout and lack of issues ensures that the election ends with a clear winner. Best of luck, America, make good choices.



Thursday, November 3, 2016

Worth Reading - November 3, 2016

This Tuesday the America people will vote to select their next president. I have been staring at electoral college projections. Join me in my suffering. 

Dave Meslin writes about the ranked ballot initiative available to Ontario municipalities

CGP Grey released a video talking about the mechanics of power and how dictators and representatives maintain power. I've found myself thinking about it a lot this week.

Mayor John Tory takes criticism for Smart Track

This is an unusual piece. Mark Manson writes that the American Dream is a problem and comes from an earlier era that doesn't fit America's present. Get past the lemonade metaphor.

Beyond all sense of rationality, the Ontario government was pondering getting rid of Civics

The Ontario Liberals face charges over the Sudbury by-election. 


In light of the above, Steve Paikin asks if the Liberals have one scandal too many

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

One Year Later, the Election and Trudeau Government

Two weeks ago the anniversary of the 2015 federal election passed and in three days the first anniversary of the Trudeau government will pass. A great deal has changed (or not) since October 19th and I think it might be valuable to reflect on where things currently stand. Let's begin with the Liberals.

For the Liberals and their supporters there are a lot of things to celebrate still. The Liberals are sitting high in the polls, the Trudeau honeymoon seems to be continuing, the media continues to gives positive coverage and around the world Canada and its shiny, new PM is mostly seen as positive. In my opinion many of the voters who supported the Liberals were motivated by two main factors: the desire for the removal or Harper and the desire for a change in tone. The Liberals beat the NDP as the anti-Conservative Party and that is why they are in government today. Liberals supporters may remain in line as long as the new government does not come to resemble the old government.

While writing that I could hear the old progressive refrain rattling in my head "Liberal, Tory, same old story." In recent weeks the Trudeau government has placed support that may be showing very little difference between itself and its predecessors. The LNG pipeline in BC was approved in British Columbia and Aboriginal representatives are beginning to feel betrayed by this government on a number of issues. Prime Minister Trudeau recently caused a controversy by seemingly backing away from his commitment to electoral reform and there is a long list of promises that the Liberals have failed to keep.

The Liberals made, according to Trudeaumetre.ca/, 219 promises. Of those 34 have been kept, 64 are in progress and 26 have been broken. The Liberals overburdened themselves in their platform and it is likely that the most sensitive voters, or one-issue voters, may peel off and return to the Greens, Conservatives and NDP. For example, Bill C-51 was a major issue in Toronto, yet no amendments have been moved. There is no sign that the Liberal coalition is fracturing, but it seems a growing risk for them.

A year after the defeat I think it is hard to say that the Conservative Party was utterly routed. The Conservatives have a strong core in the House of Commons. In the first by-election of the forty-second parliament the Conservatives managed to gain on their wins a year previous in Medicine Hat-Cardston-Warner. This is Conservative territory, but a stronger Liberal support would be a healthy sign. There are fourteen candidates running for the Conservative leadership. The healthy number suggests that there is a great deal of interest and that it is a prize worth having. The Tories still have strong fundraising and the parliamentary leadership has been solid in confronting issues that matter to their supports: spending and the economy.

While Trudeau's popularity seems unassailable at the moment, Stephen Harper will not be on the ballot next time. A new Conservative leader will be well poised to make at least limited gains.

The fortunes of the Green Party are unclear. Elizabeth May had to do battle over the soul of her party this year when they adopted a strong anti-Israel stance. May was most effective as a critic of the Harper government. Most of her focus has been on the electoral reform committee. The success of the committee will dictate to a great degree the future of her party.

Finally, the New Democratic Party. The future of the NDP is unclear at the moment. Since the election the party kicked out Tom Mulcair, though he remains on as interim leader. The party seems uncertain if it wants to contest for power still or return to the role of third party and conscience of the Parliament. Fundraising has plummeted since Mulcair was removed as leader. I think much of that is the membership sitting on their hands, saving for a leadership contest, or to see what the party will do next. Unfortunately, and very worryingly, there are no declared candidates for the federal race. However, it appears that Peter Julian (NDP - New Westminster-Burnaby, BC) will enter, and there are a few others in the wings. Mending the party between moderate and leftist and French and English will be a daunting challenge.

There is opportunity for the NDP. The Liberals ran on a fairly left-wing platform, but appear to be governing from the centre. Progressive voters will be disappointed. There is plenty to criticize, so just as the Conservatives are minding the pennies the NDP should be minding the broken promises to young people, Aboriginal Canadians, etc.

It has been a dramatic year since the election and the formation of the Trudeau ministry. I assume that things will have stabilize as we enter the second year, but by this time next year the Conservatives and NDP will have new leaders and once again the stage will be set for the future going forward.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Worth Reading - October 27, 2016

Apologies for missing my usual Tuesday post. I came down with a fever that knocked me out of commission for the last two days. 

From the Toronto Star, millennials want to engage in politics, but parties and politicians won't talk to them

Nine new Senators were named this week further transforming the upper chamber into... whatever it will become. 

The province of Ontario announced funding for new universities in Milton and Brampton

How the Scarborough LRT fell in favour of the subway. 



The Progressive Conservative Party of Ontario nominated a candidate for the Niagara West-Glanbrook riding. They chose a 19-year-old student over a veteran MP. 

Friday, October 21, 2016

Worth Reading - October 21, 2016

Apologies for being late, between a cold that won't leave me alone, poor sleep, and work I didn't have it in me on Thursday night to put it together. On the plus side, there are a lot of great articles below. 

This piece on Kim's Convenience highlights the need for greater diversity in Canadian media. Oddly, it's a show like Degrassi that best shows New Canada, to my opinion, in recent years.

Strong Towns, whose praises I sing often, recently had a week dedicated to biking. They put together this list of all their articles. I will highlight a couple that caught my eye below.

Gracen Johnson writes about her experiences entering the biking sphere

Another Canadian contributor wrote about how riding a bicycle made her more aware of life in her city and local concerns/issues. 

How to make a city more bike-friendly for $0

A Chicagoland case study of the Housing Crash of the 2000s

Politco reports that Donald Trump's chances in the electoral college are narrowing



Canadian reporter Daniel Dale has been following the Trump campaign. Notably he reports the numbers of falsehoods/lies he says every day. In this article he shares what he has learned

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The 2016 Election and the Duty to Represent

Over the last couple of weeks it is hard to watch the American election and not feel like at the presidential level (at least) there has been terrible failing of their system. Polling broadly suggests that both parties, somehow, managed to nominate the least liked candidates in their history. It's as though they wanted to see what a LBJ vs. Nixon match up would look like in 1976, though those comparisons are far too charitable.

When I think of the Americans I know I have a hard time seeing them in either of the candidates purporting to represent them. Obviously there is a difference of degrees here. Clinton's checkered past as a career politician, as was recently written in the Huffington Post, is likely exacerbated by the fact that she is the first woman to run for president. I think that's a simple excuse and more could probably be gleaned from the long public life and her husband's presidency. Clearly, by far and away, it is the Republicans who have disappointed their electorate.

Conservatives and critics of the Obama administration have valid opinions that should be voiced in the public sphere without being subsumed by sexual assault allegations and tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. The transformation of the Republican Party over the decades has left a growing segment of the electorate without a coherent voice. That all said, I have written previously that Donald Trump is clearly speaking for a segment of the American public and those who dismiss them do so at their own peril.

Perhaps as America becomes a majority minority nation one must consider if the two-party system still serves them well. Previously there were strong factions within the parties, i.e. moderate New England Republicans, Dixiecrats, etc. While on a national level the parties were not necessarily consistent the local variation allowed for political competition to a certain extent. With a diversifying population and interests it is hard to imagine that two parties can successfully encompass them all. For instance, on a political compass calculator Hillary Clinton is considered a right-of-centre politician. Yet the Democrats have to find a way to bring in the most left-wing element of the country within that tent.

How different would America look today if they used a different electoral system? What if they used a run-off system, like France? The country as a whole could choose rather than a slim slice of voters in primaries/caucuses. What if they had a parliamentary system? Would a Socialist Party under Bernie Sanders, and Green Party be prepped to form a coalition with centrist Democrats under Clinton while the Trumpists, Tea Party and Republicans are pushed to the opposition?

In a sense political parties have no obligation to anyone but themselves. Yet in a two-party system the static nature makes their failures a much greater risk. As much as I hope 2016 is an abject lesson to the parties in America I fear it will be one more point on their downward trend.