Thursday, 28 April 2011

Replace "Labour" with "Liberal" ...

... and this pretty much sums up the state of The Natural Governing Party of Canada.

While it's way too early to tell how accurate the polls are, it's safe to say that the Liberal Party won't be forming government. Which is really embarrassing, given the treasure trove of scandals and strong-arm screening tactics the Conservatives have displayed throughout the campaign.

It was a colossally stupid move to choose someone who's defended torture and the Iraq War at a time when a supermajority of Canadians are proud of not getting involved in Iraq  (Harper's statements on Iraq, thus, are immediately off the attack ad material table) and who's public image is that of a national carpetbagger as leader.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Bob Cox, WTF??!!

Bob Cox: Publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press,
in front of machines designed (in part) using
theories and principles derived from evil

Image Source: The Uniter
 Bob Cox is the publisher of the Winnipeg Free Press. On the paper’s website, we can find an article attributed to him on statistics and public policy. While it’s pretty old (Feb. 2, 2011), the sheer stupidity it represents is timeless and thus has to be addressed. The article is named “Focus on Crime, not statistics” (How the hell do you do that without knowing anything about the nature and cause of crime, something only statistical analysis can determine?).

Lies, damn lies and statistics.

The old line about how easy it is to manipulate statistics came to mind again this week as yet another critic of Statistics Canada took aim at the agency's data on crime rates.

Statistics Canada has been reporting falling rates of overall crime and violent crime for some time, a stance that is at odds with the federal Conservative government's efforts to toughen criminal laws and build new prisons.

There are exceptions to the overall trend. For example, Manitoba's violent crime rate increased by 10 per cent in 2009, primarily due to a 25 per cent increase in robberies. But Statscan data show national rates of crime reported to police dropping.
... The Macdonald-Laurier Institute added to the Conservative argument with a report that says crime is increasing and Statistics Canada's methods are suspect. Among the criticisms: the agency's reporting on crime rates does not account for unreported crime, even as other Statistics Canada data show people are increasingly not reporting crimes such as break-ins.
... It is easy to criticize crime statistics
... A prime example of this happened last Christmas in Winnipeg. Take a look at the statistics and they seem to show drunk driving increased dramatically. What really happened is that police targeted locations, such as bars, that are more likely to produce impaired drivers, so they laid more charges.
Police themselves said it is unlikely that the prevalence of drunk driving changed in a single year. In fact, the new enforcement strategy could end up reducing impaired driving in the longer term by acting as a more effective deterrent.
... In all areas of crime, we would do better if we focused on discussion on how to curb illegal activities, rather than whether the statistics are accurate.”

So, because Cox has miraculously found out that statistics aren’t infallible and need proper context, we should chuck them out altogether? And, for that matter, why is the report of one Rightwing Think Tank the end all be all for the non-partisan and world renown Statistics Canada Agency? The report, had Cox bothered to dig a little deeper, ignores the effect of including “threats” as violent crime,showcases total number of crimes rather than per capita rate, and is full of other holes.

There’s serious stupidity in Cox’s reasoning, a sort of “throw out the baby with the bathwater” mentality. Because statistics aren’t infallible, we should focus on the qualitative nature of crime and the best mechanisms to fight it. What are the best ways to measure these? Statistics is, because everything else tends to be either horribly anecdotal or based on ungrounded intuitions.

Most statisticians know statistics can be misleading if there are various sampling biases, which is why the science works to minimize these. Because Bob Cox is either just learning about these, too lazy to learn more details, or too intellectually rigid to learn anything new does not mean this generation should throw out some of the best, most effective public policy tools around.

And, finally, it would be useful to keep this in mind:

It is easy to lie with statistics, but easier to lie without them.
(Quote usually attributed to Frederick Mosteller)

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Students MUST Vote

Vote Mob: A Non-Partisan Organization encouraging
 student voting.

Image Source:

 In this Federal Election there’s been quite a bit of buzz about student voting, with “vote mobs” organized on various campuses to get out the vote, a special polling station at the University of Guelph, and Rick Mercer’s video. But there is one thing that needs to be said: it’s (collectively) suicidal stupidity for students not to vote.

To understand why one must understand Stephen Harper and his goals. Harper was calling for austerity at the G8 meetings along with UK Conservative Party leader David Cameron. Cameron, backed by Nick Clegg (his junior partner in the UK’s Coalition Government), started off an austerity era with massive cuts to postsecondary education. Students in the UK are rightly furious with the higher burden and tuition this entails, given that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats party signed a National Union of Students pledge not to raise tuition. The Conservative-Liberal Democrats Coalition could safely ignore British students*, because as a group they didn’t vote.       

Marni Larkin: Campaign staffer
for various small c- conservatives
at city hall, large C-Conservative candidates
and Conservative Party  of Canada National
 Councillor for Manitoba.
Called the University of Winnipeg a
"no-fly zone", advising Conservative
candidates to avoid it.

Image Source:
Stephen Harper has similar near-term goals of austerity. His proposed budget** was merely an election tool. Though it contained some measures to help low-income Canadians, it was chalked full of tax credit goodies targeted mainly at middle to upper middle class Canadians who could afford to send their children to private arts lessons and the like. In future years, especially if Harper obtains a Majority, he will ram through an austerity agenda with an eye to permanently disabling Canada’s social safety net. As a matter of fact, he’s already started down this road by defunding select inner-city programs, shrinking the Government’s revenue base, and crippling the administrative ability of the Canada’s Public Service by scraping the mandatory Long-Form Census and cutting the Canada Revenue Agency’s budget.***
Slashing subsidies for Postsecondary education, however, would be the crowning jewel of any Conservative plot to dismember compassionate and good government. Canada has the highest portion of University graduates in the world, a figure that’s not very good for Rightwing populist ploys (Census-gate wouldn’t be a big deal were it not for the educated standing up and making their voices heard). Broad access among various social classes to postsecondary education also hurts the Conservatives by giving people a means to see how policy affects predicament and helps people of all classes identify their interests. While a small elite with legacy wealth attending university is harmless to the Tories, a broader base of educated youths is anything but.

Marty Burke (Guelph Conservative candidate, left) and
Michael Sona (Burke's communications director, right):
According to several witnesses, Michael Sona attempted to steal
a ballot box at Guelph University's Special Polling Station.

Image Source: Guelph Mercury

If not for anything else, students must exercise their civic right to vote in order to put a check on the contemptuous attitude Conservatives have displayed towards students. Marni Larkin (email here) referred to the University of Winnipeg as a “No Fly Zone” in a letter to Winnipeg Conservative candidates. There’s small c-conservative Mayor Sam Katz’s avoidance of University debates like the plague (guess who his campaign manager was). And then there's the outrage of Conservative candidate communications director Michael Sona's attempted robbery of a ballot box. Unfortunately, it seems this intimidation and other Conservative Party complaints have twisted Elections Canada into discontinuing special polling stations at campuses. What a world we live in.
For the future of broad and equal access  to education students MUST vote.  
*Okay, in subsequent mass demonstrations there was quite a bit of vandalism against the UK Conservative Party HQ. But I mean “safely” in the sense of “safe from the threat that votes would be lost”.               
**The budget wasn’t voted down, by the way. Rather, the Conservative Party was forced to call an election (due to a loss of the confidence of Parliament) on a motion where they were found to be in Contempt of Parliament.  This is the first time a government has gone down this way in any country that has a Westminster style Parliament.
*** In terms of “fiscal responsibility”, slashing the Canada Revenue Agency budget makes no sense. Revenue Canada’s budget of $7 billion in 2009-2010 fiscal year was nowhere near enough to enforce the payment of $25 billion in overdue taxes that had accumulated by March 2010.  Overdue taxes are 357% the size of Revenue Canada’s budget!