“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is my new article in English Studies in Canada‘s just-published special issue on the automated body.
While an article about Harper might seem like a political postmortem, the former prime minister’s popular caricature as a robot speaks to widespread fears about the implications of technology for democracy. These alarming implications have been analyzed recently in tech CEO Berit Anderson’s article “The rise of the weaponized AI propaganda machine.” Anderson’s article is a must-read for appreciating the extent to which digital technology now poses a real and present threat to democracy. Anderson’s article sort of picks up — and dives in — where mine leaves off, as a discussion of how that threat has been growing in Canada for some time now.
Stencil by “myheadhurtsalot” (https://i.imgur.com/JFfG3.png). My thanks to this Redditor for their permission to reprint their image in my article.
“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is currently available online via the Project Muse database, but ESC‘s decent open access policy means the article will be publicly available soon, in 6 months to a year (that’s soonish, for academia). But in the meantime, if you want a copy and can’t access Project Muse, leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail at academicalism[at]gmail[dot]com.
in solidarity with #SteFoyMosque;
in outrage at terrorism & the dogwhistle politics stoking hate;
in sorrow with Canada, where #WeAllBelong.
Following the annual conference of the Association of Canadian College & University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) at Congress in Calgary, ACCUTE has posted to its English Matters blog a condensed version of my conference talk on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (#TPP):
“The TPP will invalidate millions of dollars of tax-payer funded research in Canada”: Implications of the TPP for Canadian literature and literary studies
The article identifies many major authors whose entry to the Canadian public domain the TPP will interfere with; and it highlights a few publishing and research projects that the TPP will kill, thus posing a waste of public funds and a cost to Canadians’ social literacy and access to knowledge.
The article ends with links and resources for how to “stop the TPP and the mess it would make of the Canadian public domain (not to mention the Internet).”
A full version has been sent to Canada’s Minister of International Trade, and submitted to the Government of Canada’s Public Consultations on the TPP.
What follows is a letter I’ve just sent to Prime Minister Trudeau, International Trade Minister Freeland, and several MPs, about my concerns with the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the need for meaningful public consultation on it. (This letter is adapted from a template provided by the Council of Canadians for mobilizing public action on this Charter-trumping, corporate-rights deal.)
TO: Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister; Chrystia Freeland, Minister of International Trade
CC: Rona Ambrose, Leader of the Conservative Party; Thomas Mulcair, Leader of the NDP; Rhéal Fortin, Leader of the Bloc Québécois; Elizabeth May, Leader of the Green Party
Subject: Please hold meaningful public consultations on the TPP
Dear Prime Minister Trudeau and Minister Freeland,
Concerning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), you have promised to consult meaningfully with Canadians and act on what you hear. I commend you for this promise, and take you up on it now that the agreement is public.
I have serious concerns about the TPP. Your previously stated support for it contradicts your stated commitments to strengthening the middle class, the arts, and Canadian democracy. The TPP’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) mechanisms would privilege and entrench corporate rights over citizens’ Charter rights (see Dr Ariel Katz’s recent column in the Toronto Star); it would exacerbate the middle class’ destruction; and it would, in effect, impose US laws to trump Canada’s own.
As a professor who researches copyright, I have particular concerns with not only the TPP’s ISDS provisions, but more specifically with its Intellectual Property (IP) chapter. That chapter will needlessly cost Canada billions in pharmacare by toughening patent protections for vital medicines. That chapter will also seriously damage Canadian arts and culture by extending the term of copyright protection from 50 years after the creator’s death to 70 years. 50 years is already far longer than what economists argue is necessary to incentivize new creation, which is more like 12-14 years at most (see the UK government’s 2011 Hargreaves report, p. 19). There’s no economic justification (beyond sheer corporate greed) to lock down culture and impoverish the public domain for generations to come. Furthermore, that chapter will reintroduce Internet-censoring and access-denying provisions much like those of the USA’s 2011 SOPA bill that was roundly defeated after global public outcry.
Therefore, the TPP requires rigorous, independent review to assess whether it is in Canadians’ best interests.
Specifically, I request that you:
1. Ask the Parliamentary Budget Officer to conduct a comprehensive, independent analysis of the TPP text. The analysis must assess the deal’s impact on human rights, health, employment, environment and democracy.
2. Hold public hearings in each province and territory across Canada as well as separate and meaningful consultation with Indigenous communities and First Nations. No agreement can be ratified without full consent.
3. Protect any progress made in Paris at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP21) from the investor-state dispute settlement provisions (ISDS) in the TPP. Furthermore, ISDS must be excised from the TPP.
Thank you for considering these comments and exhortations.
Mark A. McCutcheon, PhD
“An ‘Anti-Niqab’ Campaign is Anti-Canadian” is a lipogram about Conservatives in Canada’s current federal election, which I’ve written and published at Medium.
A lipogram is a poem with specific language constraints; this lipogram uses only the vowels A and I. For instance, the poem opens as follows:
Barbaric capitalists and patriarchal partisans spin fascist charisma, baiting and panicking nativist Canadians with rabid, atavistic claims: against migrants; against statisticians’ gravitas (as if trivia)…
Read the whole piece at Medium.
Over the summer, I read The President, a 1946 novel by Nobel Prize-winning author Miguel Angel Asturias. The novel is set in an unnamed nation usually read as Asturias’ native Guatemala, and it recounts the manoeuvres and psychological distress of citizens, under the rule of a despotic dictator, The President, in the aftermath of an officer’s murder.
Although the novel is set in a fictionalized Central American nation, over half a century ago, I was struck by the unsettling, contemporary familiarity of one particular detail: the rhetoric used in a “large printed notice” posted in a bar to campaign for The President’s “re-election” (which much else in the novel suggests is a fixed and foregone conclusion). Despite the incommensurate historical, political, and social differences between early 20th-century Guatemala and early 21st-century Canada, and despite some of the obvious creative license and exaggeration Asturias uses, I find it profoundly disturbing how familiar the language of fascism sounds now: the rhetoric of masculine strength; of law and “order”; of coded, Orwellian uses of “freedom” and vigilance (i.e. surveillance); of party loyalty as morality; of allegiance to other parties as treason; of populist morality and fear-mongering against an imagined hostile Other. I’ve excerpted the text of the fictional re-election poster below. Does any of this sound familiar to you too? Any of it sound like the rhetoric we’ve been hearing about “#BarbaricCulturalPractices”?
“Merely by uttering the name of the President of the Republic we shed light from the torch of Peace upon those sacred interests of a Nation which, under his wise rule, has conquered and will go on conquering the inestimable benefits of Progress in every sphere, and of Order in every form of Progress!!!! As free citizens, conscious of our obligation to watch over our own destiny (which is also that of the Nation) and as men of goodwill and enemies of Anarchy, we hereby proclaim!!! That the welfare of the Republic depends upon the RE-ELECTION OF OUR ILLUSTRIOUS MANDATORY AND ON NOTHING ELSE BUT HIS RE-ELECTION! Why hazard the ship of State in unknown waters, when we have at its head at present the most accomplished Statesman of our day, whom History will salute as a Great Man among Great men, a Wise Man among the Wise, a Liberal, a Thinker and a Democrat??? Even to imagine any other than Him in this high office amounts to an attempt upon the Destiny of the Nation (which is our own destiny); and whoever dares to do so — if any such there be — deserves to be shut up as a dangerous lunatic, or if he is not mad, tried as a traitor to his Country according to the law!!! FELLOW CITIZENS, THE BALLOT-BOXES ARE WAITING!!! VOTE!!! FOR!!! OUR!!! CANDIDATE!!! WHO!!! WILL!!! BE!!! RE-ELECTED!!! BY!!! THE!!! PEOPLE!!!” (254-55)
Asturias, Miguel Angel. The President (1946). Trans. Frances Parridge. Long Grove: Waveland P, 1997.