Does Canadian federalism amplify policy clashes?

Interesting analysis by Érick Lachapelle, Éric Montpetit, and Simon Kiss of how values may play a more important part than regions on a number of policy issues:

Another example comes from the recent debate over the restriction of religious symbols, which is often interpreted in Canada as an issue that pits ardently secular Quebec against English Canada. But examining new data from over 5,000 Canadians interviewed from across the federation, we find that Quebec is not that distinct when it comes to this issue.

As indicated by the relatively flat slopes in the left panel of Figure 2, egalitarian values do not appear to shape public opinion on religious dress as much as one might expect. This finding probably reflects the tension that exists between egalitarian predispositions toward framing this issue as one of gender equality on the one hand, or of protecting minority rights, on the other. Meanwhile, we find that a greater predisposition toward legal rigorist values is associated with greater support for restricting religious symbols across all regions. In fact, the strongest support for restricting religious symbols is not found in Quebec, but rather among legal rigorists living on the Prairies, and to a lesser extent, in Ontario and British Columbia.

On a range of other issues, from abortion to foreign policy, we find remarkably similar patterns across regions — the same values explain the same contentious policy disagreements across Canada, which suggests that a weak form of regionalism best characterizes policy disagreements in the federation. Moreover, compared to other explanatory factors, we find that values explain a considerable amount more of observed differences in the preferences of Canadians. This holds in models that control for age, gender, religion and partisan affiliation, which account for much less of the overall variation in policy preferences.

The upshot is that there may be a tendency to exaggerate the role of regions as the primary source of policy disagreement in Canada. Our paper thus highlights three main implications for thinking about policy disagreements, and how they might be surpassed.

Regional differences might be overcome through carefully reframing issues in ways that mobilize the value predispositions present in all regions.

Those who seek support for policies may wish to develop regionally sensitive communications strategies, notably to appeal to a region’s dominant value orientation or to appeal to values that have been overlooked in specific regions by policy-makers in the past.
Provincial policy-makers may find it beneficial to exchange with their counterparts in other provinces when developing policies and strategies. This may enhance their capacity to frame proposals in ways that appeal to specific sets of values and to build cross-regional support.

To be sure, policy disagreements are a legitimate part of any well-functioning democracy. However, when they become too entrenched, or are exaggerated by the media, they may be distinctly unhelpful when it comes to developing policy solutions to complex problems. Although regional differences cannot be ignored, our research suggests that paying greater attention to values has much to offer in terms of better interpreting policy disagreements, and that appealing to shared values may actually attenuate regional clashes over policy. This may, in turn, enhance the quality of public debate in Canada, as well as the legitimacy of public policies and programs.

via Does Canadian federalism amplify policy clashes?

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Jordan Peterson and the big mistake of university censors: Maher

One of the better commentaries:

Unfortunately, it is time for people outside the academy to stand up for the free speech rights of Jordan Peterson, the irritating University of Toronto psychology professor who has become a star by producing tedious YouTube videos complaining about people trying to silence him.

Peterson, who is wrong about almost everything, is right when he says, over and over again, that he has a fundamental right to speak. The well-meaning people who try to silence him are making a big mistake, and need to listen to people outside the ivory tower.

On Nov. 1, Lindsay Shepherd, a teaching assistant at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, showed first year Communications Studies students a video clip from TVO’s Agenda, in which Peterson debated the use of non-gender-binary pronouns with another professor.

The classroom discussion must have upset a student, because Shepherd was censured by faculty and diversity and equity officials, who said she was “transphobic” and had created “a toxic climate.”

Shepherd is afraid that the university may fire her.

“Universities are no longer places where one can engage with controversial ideas,” she told the Waterloo Record. “They are echo chambers for left-wing ideology.”

Shepherd is right and the scolds at the university need to stop their censorious ways, not least because they are playing Peterson’s game.

Peterson, who makes tens of thousands of dollars a month fund-raising online, became famous in basements around the world when he spoke out against a University of Toronto policy requiring professors to use non-traditional pronouns like “ze” to address non-gender-binary students.

He argues that the university shouldn’t force him to use language he doesn’t like—misusing the plural, for goodness sake—and that his academic freedom is imperiled by the social justice warriors running the universities.

I think he’s wrong. Professors should do what they can for students who fall outside traditional gender categories, who have a much tougher life than powerful straight white men like Peterson. If that means that professors need to spend a little effort wrapping their tongues around new words, too bad.

I think it’s difficult for many straight, cisgendered people to deal with trans people because thinking about gender identity threatens their own identity in some way, and it’s lazy and selfish for them to refuse to deal with their own issues. Because gender is so emotional, young trans people face huge challenges being accepted, which is a matter of survival.

Peterson is the very picture of white straight male privilege, griping about being told what to do by people that were once subordinate to people like him, ignoring the pressing needs of people who need to be accepted if they are to survive.

For that reason, though, he is performing a valuable function. When society changes, as it is changing now, thankfully, in the way it treats trans people, we need to have a debate about it. To have a debate, someone has to be right and someone else—Peterson, in this case—has to be wrong.

What is worrying is that universities are trying to stop the debate from taking place.

Activists, who are right to demand that society treat trans people with respect, are wrong to think that that respect should extend to silencing those who disagree with them.

This seems to be half the point of a lot of left wing campus activism in the 21st century: trying to prevent people you disagree with from speaking. It is mistake, because it plays into the hands of the troll army of hateful troglodytes who lose every argument so long as you don’t try to force them into silence.

I get it when the people you disagree with are actual Nazis, like Richard Spencer, and I can see why exuberant young people aren’t always scrupulous about the distinction between showing up to oppose a speaker they dislike, which is healthy, and trying to stop that person from speaking, which is not.

But there is something sick-making about the growing bureaucratization of safe spaces, the culture of human resources departments imposing itself on campus, the idea that the universities must protect students from being confronted by uncomfortable ideas.

You can’t learn to think without debating. Learning to think doesn’t mean having your head stuffed full of whatever orthodoxy the profs have settled on this week, because you can be sure that will change, and then what will you do? Go back to school for re-education?

Learning to think means learning to entertain opposing ideas, defend your views and discard the ones you can’t defend.

There is no room for compromise on this, and that means there’s going to have to be a nasty fight with well-meaning but mistaken censors.

Campus activists have weaponized fragility, imposing the safety culture of the elementary school where it does not belong.

An earlier generation of activists made gains by forcing society to confront their reality. They said Black is Beautiful, or We’re here! We’re Queer! Get used to it! Today’s activists seem to invest a lot of energy in prosecuting micro-aggressions, preventing offence, imposing orthodoxy.

There’s something disturbing about this, beyond its implications for free speech. As a society, we are becoming increasingly risk-averse, embracing safety as the highest value, wrapping our children in bubble wrap, helmets securely strapped to their chins, safe from sexism, transphobia, bullying and peanuts.

It’s hard to speak out against any of it. Helmets are a good idea. Transphobia is bad. Peanuts are life-threatening for some kids.

But the world is not an elementary school, and we’re not doing students any favours by pretending that they can go through their lives without ever having their feelings hurt.

via Jordan Peterson and the big mistake of university censors – Macleans.ca

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s new rule: ‘We do the right thing. Period.’

Not a bad list. The test will be in implementation (e.g., Google’s earlier commitment to “do no evil”):

For those interested, here’s the whole list of new rules:

Uber’s Cultural Norms

We build globally, we live locally. We harness the power and scale of our global operations to deeply connect with the cities, communities, drivers and riders that we serve, every day.

We are customer obsessed. We work tirelessly to earn our customers’ trust and business by solving their problems, maximizing their earnings or lowering their costs. We surprise and delight them. We make short-term sacrifices for a lifetime of loyalty.

We celebrate differences. We stand apart from the average. We ensure people of diverse backgrounds feel welcome. We encourage different opinions and approaches to be heard, and then we come together and build.

We do the right thing. Period.

We act like owners. We seek out problems and we solve them. We help each other and those who matter to us.

We persevere. We believe in the power of grit. We don’t seek the easy path. We look for the toughest challenges and we push. Our collective resilience is our secret weapon.

We value ideas over hierarchy. We believe that the best ideas can come from anywhere, both inside and outside our company. Our job is to seek out those ideas, to shape and improve them through candid debate, and to take them from concept to action.

We make big bold bets. Sometimes we fail, but failure makes us smarter. We get back up, we make the next bet, and we GO!

via Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi’s new rule: ‘We do the right thing. Period.’ – Recode

Canada urged to fund program to send students abroad

Is is availability of funding or willingness to study abroad? The International Experience Canada program for 18-35 year olds also has an imbalance between those coming to Canada to work/study versus Canadians going abroad.

That being said, funding may help:

Canada should launch an ambitious new program to send college and university students abroad in an effort to prepare tomorrow’s work force to drive trade and economic relations with emerging markets, a new report says.

The report released on Wednesday was co-authored by one of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s former advisers and the former president of Canada’s primary international development agency. It recommends the federal government spend $75-million a year for the program’s first five years to help tens of thousands of students study and work abroad as part of their undergraduate education.

Rather than focus on typical U.S. and Western European destinations, students should be encouraged to study at institutions in emerging economies, a move that will help diversity Canada’s global trade links, the report says.

“If you look at the trends in Canada’s trade relationships and trends within the global economy, it’s quite likely that we are going to be dealing with a shifting set of trade partners in the coming years; we already are,” said Roland Paris, one of the report’s co-authors and university research chair in international security and governance at the University of Ottawa. “This is a long-term investment in the ability of our country to be engaging with those societies, and not just economically, but in other areas as well,” he said.

Dr. Paris wrote the report with Margaret Biggs, a former president of the Canadian International Development Agency who is now a fellow in public policy at Queen’s University. Dr. Paris was a key adviser in Mr. Trudeau’s election team and throughout the government’s early months in power and drafted the Liberal foreign policy strategy leading up to the 2015 election.

Canada will succeed on the world stage by “building bridges” through engagement with international organizations, Dr. Paris has said.

This is not the first report to argue that Canada must redress its lagging investment in outbound student mobility. Such proposals have come annually for the past several years from a variety of educational groups and federally-appointed task forces.

But the authors of the new 40-page report hope to restart a stalled discussion by trumpeting the benefits of study-abroad programs for an audience outside the postsecondary sector. The report’s recommendations have been crafted with the help of corporate leaders, and it emphasizes the benefits of foreign education to the country’s economy.

It also stresses that studying abroad must be accessible to students of all means and backgrounds, a message likely to resonate with a government that has made it clear that its financial contribution to postsecondary institutions, such as research grants, depends on the schools’ commitment to equity and diversity. “We are hoping that this will ignite interest not just in the usual circles, but in the private sector,” Ms. Biggs said.

To kick start the discussion, the report, titled Global Education For Canadians, recruited representatives from Manulife, Royal Bank of Canada and Power Corporation, among others, along with college and university leaders.

But the report highlights how global education can help even small and medium-sized firms, said Sue Paish, a member of the report study group and chief executive of LifeLabs, a health-care company.

“I think we are at the early stage of Canadian business learning that finding the people who can comfortably and effectively navigate the ambiguity in the business world … can be accelerated by hiring people who have had an international study experience,” Ms. Paish said.

In spite of the national and individual benefits, convincing students to go abroad has been difficult for many countries that are part of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. High-quality education systems in their own countries and concerns about costs abroad keep more than 95 per cent of students in Britain, Australia and the U.S. at home. Less than 3 per cent of Canadian postsecondary students currently study abroad for any length of time, according to statistics from the Canadian Bureau for International Education.

But unlike those other English-speaking countries, Canada lacks a national strategy to raise its number, the report points out.

“Our peer countries have already recognized that international learning provides important strategic advantages to their young people and to their societies. We need to have that conversation in Canada; it has barely even begun,” Dr. Paris said.

There is one advantage of Canada’s lack of attention to outward mobility so far. Any future program will learn from the mistakes other countries have made and ensure that studying abroad does not become another advantage for privileged students.

Both Australia and Britain have increased supports to underrepresented students after studies found far less participation in studying abroad.

“The gap between the rich and the poor is only going to get wider if it’s only the affluent students who can make those connections and develop those skills,” Dr. Biggs said.

The report was released by the Centre for International Policy Studies at the University of Ottawa and the Munk School of Global Affairs at the University of Toronto.

via Canada urged to fund program to send students abroad – The Globe and Mail

What happened to respectful debate in Canada? Erna Paris

Great commentary by Erna Paris, notably regarding the Writers Union of Canada and the more recent Dalhousie controversies:

Will Trumpism come to Canada? When asked over the past year, I’ve said no. Canadian respect for diversity, an economy that has stayed afloat and our reputed politeness have made such an evolution improbable – at least in the near term.

That’s still true, but we’re seeing ground-level challenges.

Yes, Ezra Levant’s hateful website, The Rebel, fell into disrepute after its coverage of the white-nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., last August. Yes, the federal NDP has elected a Sikh man as its leader. And yes, the recent outing of men with a history of predation may actually kick-start change to the oldest status quo in history: the demeaning of uppity women who think they’re equal.

But, starting with the kerfuffle at The Writers’ Union of Canada last May, there have been troubling signs – not because the concerns being raised are inappropriate, but because of the way they’re being handled.

In an issue devoted to Indigenous writing, the editor of the house magazine, Write, said provocatively that he believed in cultural appropriation. Writers must be encouraged to imagine other peoples, other cultures, other identities, he explained, before flippantly calling for an “appropriation prize.”

Those of us who hope to build a new relationship with First Nations peoples recoiled at his insensitivity, but the brouhaha that followed, including his immediate firing and a public apology on the part of the union erased his central point: that it is the work of writers to imagine and interpret the world.

This used to be self-evident. Was E.M. Forster appropriating Indian culture when he wrote A Passage to India? Did this year’s Nobel Prize winner, Kazuo Ishiguro, appropriate British culture in The Remains of the Day because he happened to be born in Japan? Was I wrong to circle the globe to write Long Shadows, a comparative look at how different cultures re-imagine their history after times of crisis? Limitless vision used to be the hallmark of good writing. If this is now being contested, the editor’s remarks ought to have triggered a serious public discussion about the nature of writing itself. This didn’t happen. The Writers’ Union correctly took action, but it simultaneously curtailed the conversation.

Another distracting development has been the self-serving effort to redefine common words, such as the term “racist.” According to a teenager of my acquaintance, some Ontario teachers are using the word to apply uniquely to those who are presumed to hold power, meaning that only white people can exhibit the flaw. It has been a near-universal understanding that anyone, regardless of skin colour, can harbour hatred and hold racist views. How will children learn to think with nuance about difficult questions if their teachers eschew history, context and moral complexity?

Last month, another indication of the emerging zeitgeist took place at Dalhousie University when its student union condemned Canada 150 celebrations because of the country’s exploitative history with Indigenous people. After a student launched an obscenity-laden tweet in support, engendering a complaint, the university decided to investigate, but withdrew when mounting anger seemed to preclude a mediated solution.

There was much that was disturbing about the Dalhousie affair. The student motion was certainly open to debate, but the tweet was not. It was, on the contrary, an attempt to silence speech in the name of free speech. The second problem was the capitulation of authority when faced with intimidation. The retreat of the university leadership sent a message that balanced discourse on a sensitive matter would not be possible, leaving everyone without recourse. The third concern was gross incivility in the public sphere. How many will risk engaging publicly if their interlocutors are more likely to hurl insults rather than debate the issue?

Because Canada is a diverse society largely sustained by historical compromise and the goodwill of its citizens, it will always be a fragile place, one that needs vigilant oversight. We must accept the anger that has been released by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and listen with respect to unpleasant truths. We must also have a respectful national debate on the complex historical issues being brought to light. At the same time, we cannot lose sight of the larger picture – the flawed beneficent country that sustains us.

via What happened to respectful debate in Canada? – The Globe and Mail

Canada stays civil amidst the polarization of American media: John Ibbitson

Good piece by Ibbitson:

CNN has a new commercial that features a picture of an apple. “Some people might try to tell you it’s a banana,” says the narrator. They might even scream that it’s a banana. “They might put BANANA in all caps. … But it’s not. This is an apple.”

The ad was, of course, immediately attacked by right-wing columnists. “Trump Derangement Syndrome has struck CNN and is taking a terrible toll,” wrote Thomas Lifson at American Thinker.

The American media have become so deeply polarized that each side has now lost any ability to listen to the other. Each accuses the other of committing fake news – stories based on false facts that are intended to deceive. But the deeper problem resides in columns and editorials and blogs and tweets that take implacable stands, distorting facts and belittling opponents, ignoring or disrespecting other points of view.

On Thursday, on the RealClearPolitics aggregator website, you could find headlines such as “The Bone Spur Bozo in the White House,” and “Does the Dems Dossier Trick Count as Treason?”

So why aren’t Canadians screaming at each other the way the Americans are?

One answer is that “we don’t have Donald Trump as prime minister,” observes Janni Aragon, who teaches political science at the University of Victoria. The President personifies the anger embedded within American discourse. But Prof. Aragon adds that the differences in media reflect differences in the political cultures of the two countries.

America, she says, is a land divided. In Canada, “divisiveness is not as strong.”

There isn’t a single political leader in Canada whose platform mirrors the nativist, anti-immigrant, authoritarian strains that we see in President Trump and his supporters. Nor, with a few minor, on-the-fringe exceptions (We’re talking about you, The Rebel), do Canadian media cater to racist phobias.

Why not? There could be several reasons.

Since the first Loyalist settlers arrived in the late 1700s, Canadian political culture has been tinged with what has been called a “tory touch,” an upper-class British tradition that stresses collective obligations over individual liberties. This sense of noblesse oblige underlies many of the value assumptions of the mainstream media.

Our small and scattered population also contributes, says Kirk Lapointe, who held a variety of positions in Canadian media (he was once my boss), and who teaches journalism at the University of British Columbia. There are so many Americans, he points out, that fringe publications can profitably publish, giving extremists a voice. But Canadian publications must cater to more moderate views in order to win a large enough audience to make a profit.

Mr. Lapointe hosts a Vancouver radio talk show. In his experience, extremists don’t attract listeners. “I see a fair amount of revulsion when someone like that tries to grab the microphone,” he said in an interview.

Canada’s large immigrant population is also a steadying influence. With four in 10 Canadians either an immigrant or the son or daughter of an immigrant, nativist voices have little hope of dominating the print, broadcast or digital conversation.

Pollster Michael Adams has published a book, Could It Happen Here? that compares Canadian and American political and social values in the age of Trudeau and Trump. To cite just one powerful statistic: According to one poll, 50 per cent of Americans believe that “the father of the family must be the master in his own house.” In Canada, the figure is 23 per cent.

To explain these differences, Mr. Adams refers to a chronic streak of paranoia that has long run through American politics, and Horatio Alger-like belief that anyone can make it to the top – so if you don’t, the system must be conspiring against you. He also cited the baleful influence of evangelical religion, gerrymandered Congressional districts and increasing income insecurity.

“In this paranoid atmosphere, people feel entitled not only to their own opinions but also to their own facts,” he believes. “And now, in the age of the internet, each is his own publisher and editor locked inside an ideological bubble with fellow travellers.”

This paranoid polarization infects the right more than the left in American politics. There is no progressive equivalent to Rush Limbaugh or Breitbart News. But the left is not immune to intolerance.

At the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) last week, a small group of protesters self-identifying as antifascists interrupted a forum on, of all things, how best to challenge hate speech. “No Trump, no KKK, no Fascist U.S.A.” they yelled, shutting down a question-and-answer session that resumed later in another room.

The discourse in Canadian politics and journalism is far from perfect. Indigenous Canadians, especially, do not see their values and priorities reflected in either Canada’s political culture or its media. Newsrooms are far less diverse than the communities they cover.

And Prof. Aragon warns of the tendency of American cultural influences to “trickle up” across the border. Polarized American media risk polarizing Canadian media through the sheer power of proximity.

Nonetheless, as President Trump sends out one angry tweet after another, Canadians retain deeper wells of moderation and goodwill than their American cousins.

In this country, just about everyone seems to agree that an apple is not a banana.

Source: Canada stays civil amidst the polarization of American media – The Globe and Mail

Facebook’s chief security officer let loose at critics on Twitter over the company’s algorithms – Recode

Interesting and revealing thread regarding some of the complexities involved and the degree of awareness of the issues:

Facebook executives don’t usually say much publicly, and when they do, it’s usually measured and approved by the company’s public relations team.

Today was a little different. Facebook’s chief security officer, Alex Stamos, took to Twitter to deliver an unusually raw tweetstorm defending the company’s software algorithms against critics who believe Facebook needs more oversight.

Facebook uses algorithms to determine everything from what you see and don’t see in News Feed, to finding and removing other content like hate speech and violent threats. The company has been criticized in the past for using these algorithms — and not humans — to monitor its service for things like abuse, violent threats, and misinformation.

The algorithms can be fooled or gamed, and part of the criticism is that Facebook and other tech companies don’t always seem to appreciate that algorithms have biases, too.

Stamos says it’s hard to understand from the outside.

“Nobody of substance at the big companies thinks of algorithms as neutral. Nobody is not aware of the risks,” Stamos tweeted. “My suggestion for journalists is to try to talk to people who have actually had to solve these problems and live with the consequences.”

Stamos’s thread is all the more interesting given his current role inside the company. As chief security officer, he’s spearheading the company’s investigation into how Kremlin-tied Facebook accounts may have used the service to spread misinformation during last year’s U.S. presidential campaign.

The irony in Stamos’s suggestion, of course, is that most Silicon Valley tech companies are notorious for controlling their own message. This means individual employees rarely speak to the press, and when they do, it’s usually to deliver a bunch of prepared statements. Companies sometimes fire employees who speak to journalists without permission, and Facebook executives are particularly tight-lipped.

This makes Stamos’s thread, and his candor, very intriguing. Here it is in its entirety.

  1. I appreciate Quinta’s work (especially on Rational Security) but this thread demonstrates a real gap between academics/journalists and SV.

  2. I am seeing a ton of coverage of our recent issues driven by stereotypes of our employees and attacks against fantasy, strawman tech cos.

  3. Nobody of substance at the big companies thinks of algorithms as neutral. Nobody is not aware of the risks.

  4. In fact, an understanding of the risks of machine learning (ML) drives small-c conservatism in solving some issues.

  5. For example, lots of journalists have celebrated academics who have made wild claims of how easy it is to spot fake news and propaganda.

  6. Without considering the downside of training ML systems to classify something as fake based upon ideologically biased training data.

  7. A bunch of the public research really comes down to the feedback loop of “we believe this viewpoint is being pushed by bots” -> ML

  8. So if you don’t worry about becoming the Ministry of Truth with ML systems trained on your personal biases, then it’s easy!

  9. Likewise all the stories about “The Algorithm”. In any situation where millions/billions/tens of Bs of items need to be sorted, need algos

  10. My suggestion for journalists is to try to talk to people who have actually had to solve these problems and live with the consequences.

  11. And to be careful of their own biases when making leaps of judgment between facts.

  12. If your piece ties together bad guys abusing platforms, algorithms and the Manifestbro into one grand theory of SV, then you might be biased

  13. If your piece assumes that a problem hasn’t been addressed because everybody at these companies is a nerd, you are incorrect.

  14. If you call for less speech by the people you dislike but also complain when the people you like are censored, be careful. Really common.

  15. If you call for some type of speech to be controlled, then think long and hard of how those rules/systems can be abused both here and abroad

  16. Likewise if your call for data to be protected from governments is based upon who the person being protected is.

  17. A lot of people aren’t thinking hard about the world they are asking SV to build. When the gods wish to punish us they answer our prayers.

  18. Anyway, just a Saturday morning thought on how we can better discuss this. Off to Home Depot. 

Source: Facebook’s chief security officer let loose at critics on Twitter over the company’s algorithms – Recode

Penguins’ White House decision means Crosby can’t ‘stick to sports’ – Sportsnet.ca

Good analysis:

The president’s call for the release of NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem to protest racial injustice caused widespread backlash across the league this weekend. According to the Chicago Tribune, more than 200 players took a knee or sat on the bench while the anthem was played. Three teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers, remained in their locker-rooms for the anthem. (Steelers offensive lineman, Alejandro Villanueva, an Army veteran, stood at the mouth of the players’ tunnel for the anthem by himself, though he has said that was due to a mistake.)

The president also disinvited the Golden State Warriors from visiting the White House as NBA champions, because the team’s star player, Steph Curry, said he wouldn’t attend — causing further backlash from NBA stars, like LeBron James and many others.

Curry says Trump’s comments just cement Warriors stance on White House visit

In the midst of it all, the Pittsburgh Penguins released a statement saying that they would, indeed, be attending the White House in celebration of the team’s Stanley Cup victory. That decision — not to mention the timing of the announcement — resulted in an outpouring of both criticism of and support for the Penguins.

When he was asked for his thoughts on visiting the White House by reporters after an exhibition game on Sunday, Crosby faced a polarizing question — whether he realized it or not.

“I support it,” the Penguins captain said. “It’s a great honour for us to be invited there.”

Despite Crosby’s honest efforts to be inoffensive, there was simply no way around it this time. He was going to offend one side or the other regardless.

And in that moment, Crosby made a statement about what he, his team and, yes, the NHL stand for.

Because in Trump’s America, sports and politics are inextricably linked. They’ve been mashed together like two mounds of Play-Doh in the hands of a toddler. And so Crosby was handed a discoloured pile of highly political mush, courtesy both of the president and of his own team’s decision to make an announcement about going to the White House.

This is the kind of discomfort that neither Crosby nor the NHL is used to.

Hockey is the least diverse of the major North American pro sports leagues. It is a sport that is by and large dominated by white people. And it is a sport that, for the most part, only the affluent can afford to play.

For those reasons, the NHL has less connection to the issues that are at the forefront in leagues like the NFL and the NBA. The majority of NHL players don’t face the systemic racism that their counterparts do. And so, in all its whiteness, the NHL doesn’t carry the social conscience that other leagues do. In fact, it deliberately tries not to.

Commissioner Gary Bettman has expressed his preference that players remain apolitical when representing the league. Meanwhile, Adam Silver, the NBA commissioner, has encouraged the players in the league to use their platforms to express their views.

The NFL, NBA and WNBA all have players who have long used their platform to protest the systemic racism that people of colour face in the United States. Some prominent baseball players, like Adam Jones, have also spoken out against racism. Oakland Athletics catcher Bruce Maxwell also knelt during the anthem on the weekend.

Although hotly debated, these protests have all been peaceful, respectful and eloquently explained by those who take part or support those who do. But the NHL has slipped through the controversy relatively unchallenged. Questions of race are left to black players such as P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds.

Still, hockey hasn’t been completely devoid of opinion. In recent years, several players in the NHL have shared their views about politics and social issues. Tim Thomas refused to meet with President Barack Obama when the Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup. Earlier this year, Toronto Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri was critical of President Trump’s ban on people entering the United States from specific Muslim-majority countries. Mika Zibanejad of the New York Rangers spoke about the difficulty the ban created for his family still living in Iran. This weekend, Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler slammed the president on Twitter for his comments regarding protesting athletes.

Source: Penguins’ White House decision means Crosby can’t ‘stick to sports’ – Sportsnet.ca

Robyn Urback’s take, after correctly calling out those using intemperate language criticizing Crosby:

Personally, I would have liked to see Crosby turn down the invite for any number of reasons: Trump’s attacks on athletes, women, immigrants, the U.S. Constitution and a normal news cycle, or for appearing to declare war on North Korea over Twitter. Take your pick.

I suspect Crosby assumed, rather adorably, that accepting the White House invitation was the less political of his two options. And after theexcoriation Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas received for skipping his team’s White House visit in 2012, it’s not hard to see why he might think that.

Two wrong choices

But in 2017, there is no such thing as an apolitical move. Crosby was damned either way. He’d either be a Trump sympathizer by accepting the invitation, or a rogue liberal by turning it down.

Ideally, there would be room for some nuance, but we seem to exist in a climate now where there’s this impulse to characterize everyone — athletes, actors, co-workers, etc. — as either “with us” or “against us,” which is absolutely being encouraged by the guy in the White House.

Indeed, separating people into “good” and “bad” is straight from the Trump playbook, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to play along. We don’t have to see an athlete who visits the White House or chooses to stand during the national anthem as a de facto Trump sympathizer; perhaps he disagrees with Colin Kaepernick’s method of protest, or fears being seen as anti-American, or maybe he just wants to try to stay out of it, to the extent that’s possible.

There is an argument to be made, however, that someone who does nothing in the face of injustice is himself guilty of perpetuating that injustice. It’s a fair point, which is why Crosby doesn’t exactly deserve a high-five for shrugging off the president’s bizarre views on the free speech rights of athletes.

But it’s unrealistic to expect every prominent figure in the world to declare his or her position on this presidency. Some people just aren’t built for it (which, granted, speaks to an extraordinary level of privilege, since some people have to be political, whether they want to or not). Hockey players are not exactly known for their thoughtful takes on social justice.

In any case, Crosby is not the enemy. If there is an enemy here, it’s his indifference, which won’t be challenged by sending him a tweet calling him a moral leper.

You don’t change minds by dividing people into camps and declaring as enemies those with whom you disagree. And you don’t change minds by yelling at strangers on the internet.

Change happens when those with whom we disagree are seen as potential allies, not hopeless adversaries. Crosby could be an ally. Or else he’ll just be a pretty good hockey player.

 

Facebook’s Frankenstein Moment – The New York Times

Good and sobering analysis and how Facebook and other social media were caught unprepared for the darker side of human nature and societal impact:

On Wednesday, in response to a ProPublica report that Facebook enabled advertisers to target users with offensive terms like “Jew hater,” Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s chief operating officer, apologized and vowed that the company would adjust its ad-buying tools to prevent similar problems in the future.

As I read her statement, my eyes lingered over one line in particular:

“We never intended or anticipated this functionality being used this way — and that is on us,” Ms. Sandberg wrote.

It was a candid admission that reminded me of a moment in Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein,” after the scientist Victor Frankenstein realizes that his cobbled-together creature has gone rogue.

“I had been the author of unalterable evils,” he says, “and I lived in daily fear lest the monster whom I had created should perpetrate some new wickedness.”

If I were a Facebook executive, I might feel a Frankensteinian sense of unease these days. The company has been hit with a series of scandals that have bruised its image, enraged its critics and opened up the possibility that in its quest for global dominance, Facebook may have created something it can’t fully control.

Facebook is fighting through a tangled morass of privacy, free-speech and moderation issues with governments all over the world. Congress is investigating reports that Russian operatives used targeted Facebook ads to influence the 2016 presidential election. In Myanmar, activists are accusingFacebook of censoring Rohingya Muslims, who are under attack from the country’s military. In Africa, the social network faces accusations that it helped human traffickers extort victims’ families by leaving up abusive videos.

Few of these issues stem from willful malice on the company’s part. It’s not as if a Facebook engineer in Menlo Park personally greenlighted Russian propaganda, for example. On Thursday, the company said it would release political advertisements bought by Russians for the 2016 election, as well as some information related to the ads, to congressional investigators.

But the troubles do make it clear that Facebook was simply not built to handle problems of this magnitude. It’s a technology company, not an intelligence agency or an international diplomatic corps. Its engineers are in the business of building apps and selling advertising, not determining what constitutes hate speech in Myanmar. And with two billion users, including 1.3 billion who use it every day, moving ever greater amounts of their social and political activity onto Facebook, it’s possible that the company is simply too big to understand all of the harmful ways people might use its products.

“The reality is that if you’re at the helm of a machine that has two billion screaming, whiny humans, it’s basically impossible to predict each and every possible nefarious use case,” said Antonio García Martínez, author of the book “Chaos Monkeys” and a former Facebook advertising executive. “It’s a Whac-a-Mole problem.”

Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and public policy, said in a statement: “We work very hard to support our millions of advertisers worldwide, but sometimes — rarely — bad actors win. We invest a lot of time, energy and resources to make these rare events extinct, and we’re grateful to our community for calling out where we can do better.”

When Mark Zuckerberg built Facebook in his Harvard dorm room in 2004, nobody could have imagined its becoming a censorship tool for repressive regimes, an arbiter of global speech standards or a vehicle for foreign propagandists.

But as Facebook has grown into the global town square, it has had to adapt to its own influence. Many of its users view the social network as an essential utility, and the company’s decisions — which posts to take down, which ads to allow, which videos to show — can have real life-or-death consequences around the world. The company has outsourced some decisions to complex algorithms, which carries its own risks, but many of the toughest choices Facebook faces are still made by humans.

Even if Mr. Zuckerberg and Ms. Sandberg don’t have personal political aspirations, as has been rumored, they are already leaders of an organization that influences politics all over the world. And there are signs that Facebook is starting to understand its responsibilities. It has hired a slew of counterterrorism experts and is expanding teams of moderators around the world to look for and remove harmful content.

On Thursday, Mr. Zuckerberg said in a video posted on Facebook that the company would take several steps to help protect the integrity of elections, like making political ads more transparent and expanding partnerships with election commissions.

“We will do our part not only to ensure the integrity of free and fair elections around the world, but also to give everyone a voice and to be a force for good in democracy everywhere,” he said.

But there may not be enough guardrails in the world to prevent bad outcomes on Facebook, whose scale is nearly inconceivable. Alex Stamos, Facebook’s security chief, said last month that the company shuts down more than a million user accounts every day for violating Facebook’s community standards. Even if only 1 percent of Facebook’s daily active users misbehaved, it would still mean 13 million rule breakers, about the number of people in Pennsylvania.

In addition to challenges of size, Facebook’s corporate culture is one of cheery optimism. That may have suited the company when it was an upstart, but it could hamper its ability to accurately predict risk now that it’s a setting for large-scale global conflicts.

Several current and former employees described Facebook to me as a place where engineers and executives generally assume the best of users, rather than preparing for the worst. Even the company’s mission statement — “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together” — implies that people who are given powerful tools will use those tools for socially constructive purposes. Clearly, that is not always the case.

Hiring people with darker views of the world could help Facebook anticipate conflicts and misuse. But pessimism alone won’t fix all of Facebook’s issues. It will need to keep investing heavily in defensive tools, including artificial intelligence and teams of human moderators, to shut down bad actors. It would also be wise to deepen its knowledge of the countries where it operates, hiring more regional experts who understand the nuances of the local political and cultural environment.

Facebook could even take a page from Wall Street’s book, and create a risk department that would watch over its engineering teams, assessing new products and features for potential misuse before launching them to the world.

Now that Facebook is aware of its own influence, the company can’t dodge responsibility for the world it has helped to build. In the future, blaming the monster won’t be enough.

New Antifa Book: Only Bougie Wimps Oppose Left-Wing Violence Against Fascists

Good review and critique of those on the left who justify violence:

Thanks to the well-timed release of his book, Antifa: The Anti-Fascist Handbook—a thorough study of anti-fascist activism—Dartmouth lecturer Mark Bray has become an in-demand media presence. His authoritative point of view has been featured by Meet the Press, The New Republic, and also (along with two self-professed antifa) in a debate with me on Al Jazeera over antifa violence.

A former Occupy Wall Street organizer, Bray utilized his contacts among the pan-leftist activist community to interview scores of international antifa. Their perspectives, combined with Bray’s rigorous historical research and his unabashed advocacy for antifa’s battle against amorphously defined “fascists,” constitute the bulk of Antifa’s pages.

Bray’s book dispels certain misperceptions about the group. Not merely defined by violence, antifa devotes much of its energy to the investigation and outing of various white supremacists. Taking a historical long view of the movement, Antifa details how communities of anti-fascists rousted racist skinheads out of the punk rock and soccer scenes in a number of cities, and recounts some notable historic antifa victories, such as “The Battle of Cable Street,” when in 1936 over 100,000 anti-fascist protesters stopped a march through London of over 5,000 black-shirted fascists.

Bray eschews any pretense of objectivity. And there’s nothing wrong with that—he chooses to use history in service of advocacy. Yet because of its glorification of antifa violence regardless of justification or effectiveness—Antifa is more hagiography than history. For example, Bray neglects to point out that “The Battle of Cable Street” led to electoral gains and a surge in membership for the British Union of Fascists (BUF), and he devotes exactly one paragraph of his book to concern over a growing “culture of insurrectionary maschismo” that fetishizes black bloc tactics at the expense of non-violent anti-fascist activism.

Though critics of antifa’s violent “no-platforming” tactics include Noam Chomsky, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren—and despite substantial evidence that such actions increase the prominence of the very speakers antifa seeks to silence—Bray insists that non-fascists need not fear the fists or fire of antifa. But the fact is that some victims of antifa violence have included people that only someone who sees Nazis on the insides of their eyelids could define as fascistic: journalists, photographers, and people of color.

Just as many mainstream liberals did, Bray lauds the well-publicized antifa sucker-punch of alt-right leader Richard Spencer as a contributor toward “legitimizing anti-fascism.” This was on Inauguration Day, when Spencer was giving an interview to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and an antifa member punched Spencer as he was being interviewed on a Washington street. Footage of the reeling white supremacist went massively viral and triggered a wide-ranging debate over the righteousness of “Nazi punching.”

But Bray also writes glowingly of “the most iconic moment of the day… when a limousine was set ablaze.” Bray neglects to mention the immolated limousine was occupied by a Latino driver who suffered minor injuries in the attack, and the vehicle was owned by a Muslim immigrant, who asserts he was later harassed by individuals who mistook him for a Trump supporter.

Antifa is not a paramilitary group, nor does it have a hierarchy. This fact leaves the deployment of violence to the discretion of individual participants. Docu-journalist Leighton Woodhouse, who has written favorably of antifa, covered the demonstrations against a right-wing “free speech” rally in Berkeley this past August and wrote of how easily mob violence in the name of “justice” turns innocent people into collateral damage. “Anybody who challenged the Black Bloc made themselves a target, whether they were a white supremacist looking to stir shit up (and there were maybe five or six of those in a crowd of thousands), or a liberal who yelled their disapproval at their tactics, or a reporter taking pictures after being commanded to stop,” he wrote. “If you pissed someone in the Black Bloc off, and someone came after you, the rest of the bloc followed. Suddenly you were facing a hostile mob, the time for arguing your case expired, literally fearing for your life.”

Though Bray dismisses concerns about potential antifa mission creep—insisting that average foot soldiers in the fight against fascism are disciplined and sophisticated enough to distinguish actual fascists from less threatening right-wingers—he and other advocates continue to lower their own bar for acceptable violence.

Case in point: After antifa rioted to shut down a scheduled speech at Berkeley by far-right commentator Milo Yiannopolous, the group’s supporters cited unnamed sources claiming Yiannopolous intended to publicly out undocumented students. Though Yiannopolous’ noxious politics are unabashedly anti-immigrant, he issued a public denial that he intended to dox (although he admitted he liked the idea). He never did do it. Significantly, this unsubstantiated rumor continues to be cited by pro-antifa journalists to justify the violence.

Following neo-Nazi violence in Charlottesville, Bray and other advocates have made conflicting claims, arguing on one hand that a fascist takeover is imminent unless the rest of us tacitly approve of masked vigilantes acting as judge, jury, and executioner of anyone they choose in the streets. On the other hand, such advocates boast of scores of alt-right rallies subsequently canceled because of the counter-threat posed by antifa. (The latter claim is likely inflated due to one anti-immigrant group’s decision to cancel one day of 67 rallies in part because they didn’t want neo-Nazis and alt-rightists co-opting their cause.) A more likely supposition, suggested by Kill All Normies author Andrea Nagle, is that Charlottesville made any association with the alt-right so toxic that once sympathetic alt-light trolls are running for cover.

Bray never explicitly accuses President Trump of being a fascist, but he argues that the alt-right’s influence on Trump further justifies antifa action, and as a revolutionary socialist group, Bray notes antifa could not be bothered with the lamentations of mainstream Democrats who worry the group could provoke an electoral backlash. Though he doesn’t claim to be a part of antifa, Bray shares the group’s illiberal view of civil liberties and supports its goal of a “revolutionary socialist alternative… to a world of crisis, poverty, famine, and war that breeds fascist reaction” which they believe would create a crime and prison-free “classless society.”

Ultimately, Bray addresses nearly every argument by invoking the fact that Hitler and other far-right insurgents began with small followings, but then some of these groups did what had been previously considered unthinkable—assuming political power and murdering millions. Therefore, Bray persistently relies on the counterfactual argument that because countless fascist movements have been “nipped in the bud” by anti-fascist activism over the past century, non-violent protest can be blithely dismissed as a bourgeois obstruction to the true justice only antifa is brave enough to deliver.

As an advocate for a cause he believes in, Bray comes loaded for bear with historical precedent. But because of his assertion that the ends justify antifa’s means—period—his perspective is hampered by a willful obtuseness and a refusal to address inconvenient facts.

Source: New Antifa Book: Only Bougie Wimps Oppose Left-Wing Violence Against Fascists