Stackback: My Replies To Substacks

I've been enjoying the small-company journalism made possible by the Substack stystem. I reluctantly had to admit there was no better climate coverage for me than from an American, David Roberts at Volts, which is at volts.wtf, but uses Substack for the publishing and replies.

But other than David, it's all loyally-spent on Canadian journalism: Paul Wells, a long-established top journalist with an awesome rolodex, and The Line, a near-daily column run by Matt Gurney, of National Post note, and Jen Gerson, who's everywhere. And now, I've added Justin Ling at "bugeyedandshameless.com", Jen's old sparring partner in Canadaland's "Oppo".

Here's some favourite replies, when a columnist got me going.


Paul Wells, 2023/01/27: Most Things Are Not Broken

You read enough politics, you can start to get that feeling, that Everything Is Broken. Even level-headed Paul Wells is hauling out the phrase.

But that's from reading Too Much Politics, which, almost by definition, is about "issues", i.e. things that are not satisfactory. The current issues are immigration, with poor solutions for border-crossers; everything medical; travel; housing.

I felt this need to comment, to reassure readers, that these are problems around the edges of most lives, not their core. (We saw the new "Avatar" yesterday, a people losing their land, their lives, even as the Ukraine War reminds us that such things are really happening, here, too.) I noted:

For instance, your water, sewer, electric, gas, roads and bridges (even the ones that were downed by floods in 2021, BC) are up and running reliably. Your food system has seen some shortages, under massive stress, but you aren't going hungry. We have far more clothes than we need, we throw away good ones. We have more than enough housing, it's just not equitably distributed, what with so many having second homes, and near-empty monster homes. Crime is up - all the way up to half what was in the nineties.

The above paragraph is "most of society", and half the economy. Speaking of the economy, the Canadian dollar is solid, our products respected, our economy reckoned one of the healthiest in the G7. (If you want a broken feeling, try moving to Britain.)

So, chill. Pick your next government with an eye to improving things, but not in a sense of panic and disaster. Oppositions always want you to think that.


The Line, 2023/01/26: Doomsday Dawdling

Andrew Potter on The Line is glad the Doomsday Clock is back on the job. The original job, warning of nuclear Armageddon, and, this time, blaming it squarely on Russia.

The column reminded me of one by Gwynne Dyer over five years ago, "Doomsday Deferred", where he kind of eye-rolled about the Clock. I was already a journalist in 1984... and I had already interviewed the commanders and the operators of the nuclear forces on both sides of the Iron Curtain. And I was ten times more frightened then than I am now.

Like others who lived through the more-genuinely scary times, I'm pretty sanguine about Russia and its nukes. I greatly doubt that Putin has the slightest intetnion of risking his life, and certainly bringing dire poverty even up to his level, by initiating any nuclear exchange. I doubt that his orders would be followed if he snapped and gave them. I think we can go right on "provoking" Russia with weapons system after weapons system in Ukraine; as long as we don't attack Moscow, he won't snap.

The best strategy is to not even show lack of resolve, give any hint we have a limit, just press ahead. I'm so pleased that we really are united, nearly all of the left and right, on opposing Russia. Let's not waste that.


The Line, 2023/01/25: The Near-Right Isn't Going Soft

I was pleased to give Matt Gurney a skim in The Line, today. Pleased, because I regard Matt as the least-wrong wing of the "near right" (as opposed to "far rigt" or "alt-right"), the ones who believe in elections, and not in crypto, or provincial sovereignty. It's why I picked up The Line. (I'm leaving, because what they don't believe is that Canada is competent, or improving. Depressing.)

But Matt does believe we have to stick with Ukraine, that caving to Russia isn't "just realistic". (When the Right starts to talk about "reality", I've learned that they're about to describe an invented one.)

But here's Matt's reality, and it's also mine:

There are those who object to sending tanks on the basis that it is escalatory. That's nonsense. The war itself is escalatory, but no more so than would be a Ukrainian defeat.

Matt's in for the long haul, years if need be. Polls clearly show he's in the Canadian middle, our support is solid. Whew. Who says we can't agree on anything in this polarized world? "Putin Can't Win". Agreement!


The Guardian, 2023/01/24: All of Britain's Anger in One Column

If you want to read a very quick, but somehow comprehensive, summary of what Britons are angry at their Tory party about, don't miss this incisive scream in The Guardian, from columnist Zoe Williams.

It's about the policies since Austerity, 12 years ago, running up through the pandemic that clarified the people getting enormously richer (the 1%) and the people doing the really essential work (with their hands) had no overlap whatsoever.

And it's about the messaging. You were "left behind" and had a right to anger if you were rural and white; not otherwise, then your problems were all your fault. (I guess they "stayed behind".) There were debt clocks and deficit tickers, but no "billionaire wealth" clocks, ticking up a million per minute.

Just reading these things is cathartic. It's a step back to realize that most of the daily arguments we have are about tiny fights in a bigger picture where the 99% are losing ground steadily, in a great sweeping wave - and wanting another great wave to sweep right back is a perfectly sensible attitude.

Britain has been stuck in conservatism for 20 years, from my outside point of view that judged Tony Blair by his war (which also greatly enriched the rich, at the expense of poors who did the dying). It would be a relief if they at least started to push back.

http://brander.ca/cccc#UK


Every News Source, 2023/01/23: Another American Massacre. I Ignored It.

Just wondering: am I the only one who spotted the "10 dead" headlines and didn't even click? I watched the first few sentences on the TV news that night, saw the suspect was dead, and skipped forward.

I've just got no time for the victim profiles, for the "why did he do it" speculations, the timeline, the pictures with lines and arrows.

They've become all the same.

There are, of course, a few massacres every year in other countries; as recently as 2020, it was Canada. Those I can follow, because I care about the policing, what could have gone better (in Nova Scotia, that was "nearly everything", and the cops lost one of their own) and know there's some point in talking about changes to prevent.

In the States, we're way past that, and there's no point in me following the details. The tragedies have become statistics.

http://brander.ca/cccc#massacre


The Line, 2023/01/22: Liberals are Incompetent, But Conservatives are Crooked?

The Line wandered over multiple topics, this morning. Again, I skimmed.

It seems that a little more media - and, indeed, police - interest is finally coming to Doug Ford arranging to greatly enrich some of his insiders by letting them know that some "greenbelt" land was about to become developable, so that they could buy it just before it exploded in price. The "greenbelt" was a heartfelt promise to never touch some reserved land, which was broken immediately upon victory. It's nice to write in a small blog that can just come out and say the obvious, before the police have ground through an investigation, (and probably been unable to dispositively prove criminal acts in court, and dropped it). Everybody else has to pretend it's merely suspicious, so far. But, I can just say it: Doug Ford robbed the public to enrich his friends, he's a thief.

That one is so bad, so very Doug Ford, so very populist, that it made me stop and think "one of these scandals is not like the others". The worst Liberal scandals were Lavalin - about (trying to) let a huge Quebec employer and source-of-pride get away with the same bribing of African dictators that the rest of the industry practices; and "WE" - about an incompetent, and lying, charity/business getting government charity money to distribute. Both were about popularity and staying in power. Liberals break rules and even laws, in order to keep the job.

Conservatives mostly legally funnel public money to their friends, like Alberta handing over endless tax-breaks and subsidies and contracts to oil and gas. But your Trump/Ford style of populist conservative (yes, I put them on the same spectrum) are bare-faced thieves.

The Trump naked profiting, the Jared Kushner $2 billion "investment" by Saudis, I don't need to detail. Ford's is clearly about to be in more news stories, I can leave it to them.

I'm just saying, this might be the dividing line between the "Old Guard" of conservatism that we lefties are supposed to miss, and want back, and the New Management, of Trump, Boris Johnson, now Ford: naked theft. You're supposed to be able to spot fascism as "shared lies, whereas Democracy has shared truths". But the Old Guard, the Bushes, pushed the lies to the wall, as well, selling a war with a conspiracy theory about nuclear terror worthy of Tom Clancy's worst. (Before that, it was the "babies in incubators" lie for the previous war, previous Bush).

But the Bushes peaked in their corruption at funneling no-bid contracts to Halliburton and other insiders; it was all technically legal - call your Representative, not the cops. The flaw in my argument is lack of evidence that Kenney and Smith in Alberta have promulgated bizarre, laugh-test conspiracy theories, but "merely" have Bush-level money-funnels to oil and developers, no indictable thefts, yet.

But, I'm pretty sure that Trump, Johnson, and Ford would all be indictable, in a world with as much justice for the powerful as the powerless; three out of four ain't bad. It would be nice if indictments started happening, because, otherwise, this is the New Conservatism, and the Old Guard actually will become a "fond" memory. Everybody, both sides, will jump aboard that gravy train, if we let the pioneer crooks get away with it.

http://brander.ca/cccc#crooked


Bug-Eyed and Shameless, 2023/01/20: "Woke" Cancelled "Politically Incorrect"

This is a not-very-on-topic reply to Justin Ling's "Bug Eyed and Shameless" substck, linked from the snitched graphic, where he decodes the little white-pride and Qanon symbols on the stickers of various trucks. I got off onto the one sticker that still had "Politically Incorrect" on it (top middle).

Some reporter (not worth Justin's time, does he have interns?) could probably use google cleverly to draw a graph of the usage of the eight syllables of "Politically Incorrect" being replaced by the much more convenient one-syllable "Woke" in recent years.

"Politically Incorrect" had a 25-year reign as the phantom enemy of the Right, as tightly and clearly told by Moira Weigel at The Guardian. All of the media seized upon it as a major problem in 1990, and never stopped the (frankly kind of Marxist) self-criticism over it.

But, man, when "woke" came along, "Politically Incorrect" was wiped from the noosphere, totally displaced, between the first and second Trump elections - so fast that the "White Pride World Wide" guy's window sticker hasn't had time to wear out, yet.

We have to keep up with this stuff, as Justin notes, about decoding all their little symbols and hand-signs and dog-whistles. Justin's doing some very old, respected terrorist-group-fighting with this project: it dates back to when Superman humiliated the Ku Klux Klan, a favourite story!

http://brander.ca/cccc#woke


Men Yell At Me, 2023/01/19: Grit Your Teeth and At Least Skim This

I admit, I started skimming, because it's a bit painful. I wouldn't say I get "panic" attacks, but I do have days with this low-level anxiety feeling, like a sense of foreboding in a movie that has a low bass-note playing, as the hero opens the basement door.

I can imagine how badly my sleep, and eating, and general sense of well-being would be affected if I were hit with one of those online mobs. So, I kind of gingerly read a substack called "Men Yell at Me", where the author goes over the online-mob experiences of herself and author Talia Levin.

Thing is, theirs wasn't that harrowing. No actual danger ever showed up, just lost well-being from fear of it. Paranoia about every stranger on the street, wondering if people just one level-of-separation away are sending the gross threats. Both women are basically on top of it, at this point, able to keep functioning and living their lives, continuing their work. They note the first 48 hours are the worst, and having a close-family/friends support network is vital.

It's just really hard, really unfair. The author was actually targeted by ICE, the government agency, their post of complaint about her journalistic mistake (already apologized for) causing an avalanche of threats and offenses that flares up again, every time the victim gets a little attention for work or wit.

The sheer prevalence of it, the easiness of it, the amount of effort going into it, is what got to me. I'd never heard of either of these people. It isn't just a few high-profile victims out there, major actresses or political actors; it's literally thousands of small-time journalists. The journalist's newsroom didn't stick up for her, gladly accepted her resignation. The best line in the substack is Lyz: "I wish employers knew that you can't make the mobs happy by sacrificing one of your own every fortnight. Human sacrifice doesn't appease the angry gods. They'll just come back for more."


The Line, 2023/01/16: Rose-Tinted Glasses Upon "Western Civilization"

The Line gives space today to the optimism of Steve Lafleur, long-time conservative writer for The Fraser Institute, though they just bill him as "a decade of experience working at Canadian think tanks". (Spare me your "think tanks". They're all P.R. firms for their funders - at least 90% are conservative, because the those who want low taxes above all, have most of the money.)

Steve wanted to express his new optimism after "seven years" of concern about "Western Civilization", a period neatly matching the Trump years disgracing his side of the political spectrum with open-enough fascism. But, hey! Russians on the Run, China's Chastened, things are better.

What got to me, was the guy's utter blindness at how "Western Civilization" was doing before 2015. He can only marvel at the "amazing long-term track record of wealth creation". Steve, we're now getting into four decades since that wealther creation really touched the bottom 80%, so the bottom 80% can't agree with you there. (Link to Guardian article, same day!) And you had no comment at all on the top 0.1% robbing the rest, even much of the investor class, of trillions, and paying no price for it, over 2007-2012. Those were part of the pre-2015 Good Years, I guess.

And you might want to ask the non-Western parts of global civilization (Arabs, say) if the "Western" part was living up to its UN-Charter morals of 1948, when America and Britain prosecuted illegal war that touched off a million deaths, around 2002? While the rest of us watched and muttered complaints? Bush was worse than Trump, for Levantines.

Steve doesn't even mention. Well, for some of us, Steve, it wasn't just "the last seven years" that made us wonder about whether we were the Good Guys. It's the last 20. "Prosecuting Aggressive War", was treated as the greatest crime at Nuremberg, ahead of the Holocaust; Bush sold it with a nutty, ridiculous conspiracy theory about Saddam and Al-Qaeda, paving the way for Trump's officially-sanctioned conspiracy theories. The Global Financial Collapse five years later was the minor catastrophe, comparatively.

Oh, and the same "Western Civilization" governments that pitched us into financial chaos were quite happy with the "globalization" that meant "enrich despotic oligarchs, as long as our investor class makes money, and holds Labour down", that led Russia and China to get frisky, and also helped Trump make his pitch to the blue-collars.

It's their whole worldview, blind to so many faults, that makes me start skimming, shrug impatiently at the end, and flip the page. I don't even get angry any more.


Mastodon: Best of (I)

Yes, I'm trying out "Mastodon" the Twitter-competitor. I wasn't interested in Twitter, and I can see, already, that me looking at Mastodon several times a day in hope of a good joke or bon mot, is a Bad Thing for me. But, hey, at least you get the service of seeing the Bon Mot without having to sign up.

Robert Reich @rbreich@masto.ai If Elon Musk can afford to lose $200 billion in a single year, he can afford a wealth tax.

You're welcome.


The Line, 2023/01/12+13: Can't Be Bothered

My news-reading time is limited; the amount of news - or "news" - out there, is not. The Trump Show in the States highlighted how much political "news" is just faked-up events, created drama, posturing. I'm loving news like David Robert's "Volts", that get into the nuts and bolts of long-term changes, industrial and tax policy, instead.

I was pleased to see Jen Gerson at the head of a "Part 1" article on The Line, yesterday, finished today. But, I stopped reading a few paragraphs into her intro. She's decided to clear up the controversy over Pierre Poilievre on drug policy by interviewing an Albertan closely involved in their solution, that Poilivre likes, in contrast to the, I'm sure, squishy-soft, liberal, permissive, enabling drug policy of BC.

Oh, if Alberta has physicians in this game who have a differing view from colleagues, I'm here to hear it. But the interview was with Danielle Smith's Chief of Staff(!) Interestingly, he's done time in addiction and on the street, himself. That may be useful for the job, but it's not enough.

Danielle Smith has no credibility. She's a conspiracy theorist. I don't have to listen to her anymore, don't need to take the time. That's what throwing away your credibility does, it means you lose our attention. Being her right-hand-man must take some stomach for bullshit, so this man has too little credibility to ask for my time.

Alberta physicians, with decades of experience in drug rehab, would have a call on my time, they do nuts and bolts. This guy's job is The Show.

If Poilievre is right, and Alberta is on to something, I'm sure the March of Science will spot it in short order. They're always on the lookout for success. Heart drugs are investigated for their endocrine effects; Viagra was invented to do something else entirely, and the "side effect" noticed. Physicians won't let pride keep them from changing their course. (They didn't let pride in old methods stop them from trying "harm reduction"...eventually.)

When the scientists give an interview saying they have a new approach, I'll read that one.


Multiple News Sources, 2023/10/12: Induction Cooking

A timely article in The Atlantic explained why everybody seemed to start arguing about gas stoves the other day.

A scientific report came out last December, which concluded that gas stoves are responsible for 13% of the childhood asthma cases in the USA. Fine.

But some Biden appointee then stepped in it, in an interview, opining that we'd have to regulate them more, and indeed, might have to ban them. Cue, conservative freakout performance.

There's no need to ban them. Just beat them. There's a better solution.

My wife and I have been using it for two years, and we could not be happier with our improved kitchen, our improved safety, and the huge amount of money that we saved. It involves, not just getting rid of one heating technology, but the whole idea of a combined-appliance called a "range". The "range" has been obsolete since we stopped heating food with fire.

I've shown our solution, and shopped for you the many options you have with different appliance products, right here.

You're welcome.


The Line, 2023/01/10: Ron DeSantis Clone in Canada?

Poli-Sci student Rahim Mohammed seems to think that, while Trump would never come to Canada (barely did make it in the States), that a Ron DeSantis-like Canadian might use right-wing populism to grab power in Canada.

Nah.

I'm going to be relieved in 40 days or so, when my subscription to The Line runs out. I'm still reading it, but it's getting repetitive, disagreeing with basically the same arguments, over and over.

I've posted there before, material from Michael Adams' book about how unlikely a Trump would be up here. All that data is unchanged, indeed, Canada continues to diverge from the USA in these characteristics.

We have nearly zero White Evangelicals that are the core of Trumpist electability. We have little interest in militarism and looking "tough". We have far healthier attitudes to immigrants and other minorities.

And we don't have their broken electoral system.

So: Nah.


The Line, 2023/01/09: Green Spending

Re: A long, topic-ranging post at The Line, which included concerns about the "Just Transition" to green jobs.

Any Albertan who went through the 80s - or mass job-loss, yet again, after MBS and Putin crashed the oil price in 2014 - knows that the industry itself, and its political servants in Alberta, care nothing for oil's cyclical "transitions" from "go-go-go on overtime" to "go-away, three weeks' severance". Just as there was zero "transition" for the coal miners that were automated out of work for decades. Or for farmers that were automated out of work, from 90% of the workforce to 1%, over 200 years. The whole idea of "just transition" is new.

The article seems unclear that these folks are not going to lose their jobs because of government policy; they're losing their jobs because of an industrial-technology development that is going to happen with or without R&D support speeding it along. The genie of 90% cheaper solar, wind, and storage developments of the last 20 years can't be put back in the bottle. And the transition schedule is far more affected by:

...than by the paltry few billion Canada can afford to spend on R&D.

The article also seems unclear, implying that the green-spending itself is supposed to replace all those hundred thousand O&G jobs. That's not what R&D does. It develops industries - if successful, the industry becomes 100X bigger than the original R&D kickstarts, and THAT replaces the jobs.

With the money the Americans are dropping on this technological bet, I don't see how we can afford to not keep up with R&D spending, or they're going to take opportunities away from us.


Paul Wells, 2023/01/09: A Bigger Story of Government Consulting

My post from the other day, to a Paul Wells column, about my experience watching consultants develop a system nobody needed, got a reply. Which stimulated a much, much, longer reply from me, because I realized I had a much better "government consultants" story, it was just 28 years old. Here's the reply from "Elena A", my mine to her.

Elana A
19 hr ago

Perhaps a slight nuance but, IMO, the value of consultants isn’t to get around your own staff, it’s to get around government policy and process that completely hinder efficiency and significantly hinder productivity.

Roy Brander (brander.ca/reply)
18 min ago

Indeed - consultants are a general tool, useful for very different and even opposite things. (Shovels can garden, or dig a shallow grave!)

In my case, the consultants were to IMPOSE that IT-department policy, that just happened to ensure only the IT department could provide further service in that area.

That was the 2010-ish "Attack on the Water Dept. Mapping System", detailed the other day.

The 1995 "End of Departmental IT Employees" involved something more McKinsey-sized, the $600/hour (in 1995) 20-somethings working 80 hour weeks. They quickly and efficiently "gathered data from all stakeholders" that relentlessly narrowed down all options to the New IT Order that the IT Department wanted: not an IT-helper guy in every office, down the hall when your printer stopped working, and already knows you and your computer, but, rather, a cadre of IT-helpers all in an IT pool, just call the one number, and one will come out. MUCH more efficient, clearly, like big-box hardware stores replacing mom & pop!

But it was actually a huge service-reduction on the ground, because those "department IT" people hadn't been hired as IT support, they were pre-existing departmental employees, with their own jobs, that got to involve more and more IT support as the 80s and 90s went on, and the whole office got computers, many to their dismay. They were hybrid employees, who knew water/roads/finance/etc work, but could computerize it. And had personal relationships with their customers.

(It was part of the "specialization" of our society, our workplaces, that increasingly hate the jack-of-all-trades, or dual-specialty workers, that are hard to replace. Everybody should be specialized, pigeonholed, and plug-in replaceable by HR.)

As a P.Eng. with an additional Comp.Sci. degree, I was about the perfect guy to design the mapping system, and kind of the Last Stand of the multi-specialty people; it really did take about 3 positions to replace me. That's not bragging: it's a condemnation of the workplace design. I COULD have been replaced by one person, if they'd been willing to hire one.

I'm on about this, because I should have told this story instead: it was comparable, and 20X larger, than my own little story of the mapping system. About 50 people had to change jobs, from, say, "Valve Crew Work Scheduler, and Part-Time IT Support", in Water, to "End User Support Analyst" in IT, and be sent off to Finance to re-install Excel. Many quit or took early retirement, were happily replaced by non-specialist 20-something DeVry graduates.

Anyway, that was a million bucks of consultants, used in 1995 to "re-organize" the workplace to "higher efficiency", that wasn't. It was just a departmental grab for 50 employees, and of course also an existential fight for the IT Department itself, which saw itself simply being replaced by small computers, and local staff, when the mainframe ended. They replaced the mainframe with highly-centralized corporate control of the new desktop/server technology, and got to keep existing. They used the consultants to fake up a justification for it, design the new IT workgroup, work out all the personnel shifts, all the administrative work for the re-org.

You tell me if that was good. It didn't seem to improve a thing at the time, and had many lost-opportunity costs.

Sorry for the length, everybody - but I notice these discussions rarely have concrete examples of what consultants actually DO, in nuts-and-bolts terms. That's my story.


Most Of The Media: 2023/01/08: "Equipment" Failure in Football

I haven't followed football since my teens (University did in most of my teen time-fillers: TV sports, music lessons, girls...). But nobody could miss the media avalanche surrounding the football player who nearly died on the field. Having watched "Concussion", the devastating 2013 movie about CTE in football, I only skimmed the headlines, but the media uproar really was amazing, considering how much damage happens in football, so routinely.

But the article in The Atlantic, by former NFL player Nate Jackson, "I Saw Horrific Things When I Played in the NFL", cleared it up for me. We can ignore a lot of damage, when the football players themselves have this very stern, soldier-like ethic of ignoring it themselves. We haven't even done much about the long-known findings about CTE, dramatized in a movie ten years ago.

But, death is different. Death is final. Death cannot be denied. As Nate Jackson relates:

Nearly nine minutes of CPR happened on that field as Hamlin's teammates circled him and watched. The look on their faces told the real story: They believed they were watching their brother die - something most football players never consider as a possibility. An injury? Sure, we've all seen plenty of them. But not a fatality. It was shocking. So, frankly, was the fact that the NFL adjourned the game. The game always goes on.
That "the game always goes on" is the theme of Jackson's article, and its conclusion. The game went on, in the fictional case, a Doonesbury comic from over 48 years ago:

Garry Trudeau himself must have forgotten this one, over nearly five decades. Or it would surely be the featured comic at Doonesbury.com, all week.

What brought the cartoon back to me was that last panel, "What a hand he's getting". Not that many had heard of this NFL player before the hit; he had a little local charity, toys for kids in his neighbourhood, that hoped to make $5,000 or some such - its now been crowdsourced with millions. You'd almost think that the larger, national football audience was working out some guilt over a gladiator dying for their entertainment.

Thing is, fans, the players have been dying for your entertainment all along; they just don't die on the field. The movie, "Concussion" is kind of depressing watching, of course, because it shows the players just a dozen years after retirement, wracked with pain, and insomnia, and endless thundering headaches that drive them to drugs and death.

May I recommend, from just five years after the Doonesbury cartoon, Nick Nolte and Mac Davis in the comedic drama "North Dallas Forty", which depicts those football players who didn't take so many head shots, and may live to old age. But, for them, old age starts at 30. Nick's character is shown, frightening his girlfriend by getting out of bed at 2AM for ten minutes of painful stretching, so that his pains will go away enough to let him sleep. He and Mac Davis have a day-off ritual of hitting the hot baths with a fistfull of pills, to just be out of all pain for an hour or so. The pills are pushed at them; the plot revolves around the players taking enough injection painkillers to get through a play, possibly a play that will cripple them for life.

A key line that still rings in my memory, a good forty years after the last viewing, is "We're not the team! [The managers and owners] are the team! We're the equipment!"

Read Jackson's article. A man who gave his young life to football, asks why any father would let a son play it. That's the conclusion I felt at the end of "Concussion", too. This week's events will raise the topic again, but if Doonesbury, and North Dallas Forty, and Concussion all failed to really do much, neither will this.

http://brander.ca/stackback#mcafee


Paul Wells: 2023/01/04: Contractors in Government

Paul Wells posted a long article on the misuse of, the incompetence of, and the unaccountability of, government contractors.

I posted what I thought was a TL;DR personal story of my worst career experience, in which use of contractors to manage projects was a key to the mismanagement.

It got 18 "hearts" from other readers already, for me a Substack record. (Some of us get paid to write, some are thrilled by 18 happy readers.) So, I'm preserving it here, partly of pride, partly because it's a personal story I've never written in any greater detail, because so many story-characters are still working. Here it is.

Roy Brander (brander.ca/reply)
Jan 4

It's no coincidence that some of the most-spectacular failed projects are in I.T. : the payroll system, ArriveCAN, the original "ObamaCare" web portal. (The TIME magazine cover on the latter is illuminating, describing jaw-droppingly stupid failures that the I.T. newbie can spot at once. The first was that the database of recipients wasn't "indexed" - that's like a library card catalog being in random order, so that you have to search the whole library list for each book found.)

Custom I.T. , you see, was turned over to consultants nearly 30 years ago. Larger companies had "data processing" departments, programmers who spent a career managing the mainframe payroll system, after writing it. But, computing got more complex, and the Data Processing Department struggled to keep everybody on their beloved mainframe. Their "customer departments" that did the actual corporate function, broke out to use PCs and small servers, started calling consultants if the DP department refused to help.

So, about 1995 (in my case), our IT Department flipped to embracing the PC as more than a word-processing toy, started getting programs that ran on servers - which they didn't really understand, so more and more programming moved to consultants.

By 2010, I was begging my bosses to believe that a 2005 system I'd had done for $400K, was meeting all needs, had no complaining customers (by "customers", I mean our draftsmen and our internal map-users - it was a drafting system for city maps of water and sewer), didn't really need replacement, just some upgrades and tweaks.

But the IT consultants, very much at the behest of the IT Department that hated that Water had done its own IT, insisted that the system didn't use the coming paradigm of mapping, ESRI GIS; it was based on a CAD program that was going to go obsolete, had to be replaced entirely. Budget: $10 million.

Three years later, with the project about to need an impossible amount of everybody's time for testing and transition, they cancelled it entirely, with $8M spent.

I retired two years after that, after struggling and begging to get $200K spent on those tweaks that were all that were ever needed, content that the system would be fine for a decade to come. Nearly 8 years later, my 2005 system is still the one running. Nobody speaks of the deliberately-forgotten project that was never needed.

This is 13 years after the replacement-attempt, 10th anniversary of the cancellation is this summer. The 17-year-old drafting system is still used for mapping every pipe in Calgary.

And, no, no accountability for anybody, and certainly no "I told you so" was allowed for me.

The IT Department had gone straight up 3 levels above me, to the Director of Water, and told him, Director-to-Director, that the project was needed. After that, every objection could be batted down with "your Director has signed off". At a "Lessons Learned" meeting afterwards, I did get to say "I told you so" to some lower staff, and one Manager. I asked how there could be no statement that the Director had made a bad call, that a top-down order from a non-IT guy was a key problem. (He was retired by then.)

That one Manager came up to me right after everybody left, and told me how unacceptable it was that I tried to bring up the Director, how he was still around there, consulting, had many high-level friends, and naming him was a very career-limiting move. He did not appear in the final report.

A few days later, another Water employee, who dealt with a lot of Managers, told me that she'd asked the Fire Director, at his retirement, why he didn't step in to the mess that became of our 911 system, basically another IT project that collapsed. He had told her that at $5M, it was "too small" for him to spend much time upon. And yet, his approval was needed for anything. That system meant that such projects were turned entirely over to consultants as soon as they'd convinced the Director it was on.

Which explained a lot about why all my protests - from the guy who'd managed the previous system - fell upon deaf ears. The Director was just waiting for me to wind down in the climactic meeting I asked two levels for, with him; he'd made his decision a year earlier, planned to spend no more time upon it. If he'd accepted my story, he'd have had to do a hundred hours of work.

Your phrase about demoralizing the staff really hit me. It was the biggest disappointment of a career that I couldn't stop the train-wreck, made me realize how little I was *really* respected, for all the praise heaped upon me.

reply to my own comment, the next day

Wow, never had so many "hearts" on a substack comment. I'm emboldened to add a tentative conclusion: I think that the value of consultants is to go around your own staff.

Say what? Well, look at the British series "Yes, Minister" for how staff can go limp on their own top management. LBJ warned future presidents that you can shout at people, and they say "yes, sir"...but nothing happens. When you want something, and your staff goes limp, hire a consulting firm to say "yes, minister" and actually do it, including the endless meetings to impose the solution on the staff.

http://brander.ca/stackback#glacier


The Atlantic: 2022/12/12: What is WRONG With You This Morning?

I depend on The Atlantic for the really sane, thoughtful commentary, not the "hot takes" of today's news. In particular, I've admired Derek Thompson, who either has a whole team behind him, or demon research-skills. But, today, I can't follow his argument. At all.

"Why the Age of American Progress Ended?" Really? Revolutionizing the whole world with ever-more uses for computers and networking not enough for you? Not mRNA? You think that the Chinese invented OLED? They just build them for you. And don't get me started on all the green tech that's coming, I'm really studying that. Derek seems to feel that America is falling down at deployment of its inventions, bogged down in red tape, or something. If only Facebook deployment in Myanmar had been bogged down.

But I ask about The Atlantic in general because the other top story today was how badly last night's SNL went. I checked with my wife, since we just watched on our OTA-DVR last night. She said, "I recall laughing, a lot". So did I, at the sketches they were trashing. It's a live show, sometimes half the fun is how badly they're slipping and blowing lines. It was just a mean article. For a nicer review, this journal was ecstatic about the episode.

How glad I am to be venting about such things, rather than fascism, stolen elections, global pandemics, or cruel wars of choice. We've got another bedbug-evacuation-and-gassing to endure today, so this is self-care.

http://brander.ca/stackback#atlanticnuts


CBC, Jason Markusoff: 2022/12/11: It Was NOT Aaron Sorkin

Surprising article from Jason Markusoff at CBC News on Saturday.

He uses an Aaron Sorkin script for The West Wing as his hook, claiming Sorkin invented the phrase "Let Barlet be Bartlet" for a decision to let his fictional president express his true views, not moderate ones. And then claims the line has been used by journalists about "every president since" with links to "Let Bush be Bush", "Let Obama be Ombama" and "Let Trump be Trump" headlines.

I didn't know Jason was that young, there's some grey hair in the photo. He apparently doesn't know that Sorkin got that line from real life, three presidents earlier. Ronald Reagan's Secretary of the Interior, James Watt, used it in a speech. It promptly became a 1987 New York Times Headline, and the rallying cry for the True Conservatives who thought the GOP too liberal. (Boy, did they get their wish.)

Watt was perhaps the most extreme of Reagan's appointments, called an "anti-environmentalist" for his eagerness to sell that Interior for development, with an infamous remark about not having to steward the Earth for much longer "before the Lord returns", anyway. Google him now, and you get only the more-famous steam engine inventor; he survives on YouTube with two speeches, and a vicious SNL cold-open about how everybody hated him ... and making fun of his open prejudices.

This Baltimore Sun story from 2017 tells the story of Watt's speech, and how it actually had further ancestry, a film called "Let Poland be Poland".

So, there's your history lesson for today, Jason Markusoff.

http://brander.ca/stackback#smithbesmith


The Line: 2022/12/08: Indo-Pacific Strategy?

Criticism of our "Indo-Pacific Strategy" for being unformed, unclear, and minimal. The author doesn't offer one, either, alas. He can't criticize efforts to generally have good relations with everybody, keep channels open, promote prosperity; just that it's not enough. But, he offers no suggestions himself: bases in Japan, like America? "Fighting Pirates of the South China Sea" sounds exciting and noble, that's my suggestion!

None of these articles ever mention that the comparable nations of Spain and Portugal have much more going on than we do. Is everybody expected to have multi-billion-dollar military efforts going on in every corner of the world? Is the author (a 3-star) a bit envious of the Americans, who can and do? How have America's military adventures been going this century? Maybe a very light presence, promoting general welfare and communication, will work better, particularly for the money expended.

http://brander.ca/stackback#indopacstrat


The Line and Everybody: 2022/12/07: AI Writers

I must have seen 3 columns elsewhere, and 3 substacks today, marvelling at GPT-3, the AI that can answer questions in natural language, with natural language, and make sense.

I think that GPT-3 is really affecting journalists, in particular: it's what they do, answer questions. And try to be comprehensible about things the reader doesn't know. All had to speculate what work would be changed - or eliminated - by this automation. Click on any journalist name in the National Post - takes you to a page with their last four story links - and, at the bottom, something like '1 of 173'. They have to crank out hundreds of words a day, mainly explaining some event, new topic every four hours or so. I can see the want for, and fear of, automation.

Count me skeptical. By coincidence, the same day, I skimmed back over the great article about computer programming. It's titled, "No Silver Bullet", by the recently-deceased Fred Brooks, of "The Mythical Man-Month" - the greatest book on software project management, ever. You'd think it was a too-fast-changing field to have 48-year-old "classic" works. No. All still true, even where his technological examples, from mainframes, are hilariously dated, the wisdom is not.

"No Silver Bullet" was about how there's no way to really automate computer programming, though the people who do it are the most-enthused about automation, know the topic the best. Programmers love nothing better than creating themselves new and better programming tools. They love inventing languages, programming assistants, "autocomplete" for code.

But it never got that much easier, not with all they could do, and Brooks predicted in 1986 they never would find the "Silver Bullet" to make programming quick and easy.

Brooks might as well be talking about any human work we truly value, pay highly for. It is the opposite of predictable, mechanical; it is inherently creative. Brooks notes that it involves "reducing complexity", to seeing patterns, finding rules. Machine-learning programs do this while they are training, by brute force, rather than the processes humans call "intelligence". As they say about AI, asking if it thinks is like asking if a submarine swims well: the point is the result, not how you get there.

An AI could write a computer program to solve a word-problem after you gave it many examples of that problem, and the code that solved them. AI can solve, again, solved problems. It can't invent new solutions for problems nobody ever solved: not in code-writing, not in talking to humans.

The creators of GPT-3 are not claiming that it can write new computer programs. Or new novels that say something they haven't literally already read a hundred times (because that's how they learn, brute force).

Humanity is still safe; and it's nothing new that what some humans currently do, for a living, is not safe. One article actually made me guffaw by ending with how partially automating writing chores will leave humans more time for hobbies and art and life: the exact same thing we've been saying since the steam engine.

It's other humans who promptly find ways to keep us hungry and needing a job.

Postscript:
By amazing coincidence, an AI that writes computer code was announced barely a day later. But! The comments of my colleagues at "Slashdot.org" will stand for my comments. It's an interesting exercise, but not useful. It may assist programmer productivity one day, though.

http://brander.ca/stackback#ai


The Line: 2022/12/06: Ralph Klein Had Some Nice Qualities

I'm glad of the Rahim Mohammed article in The Line, a journalistic hagiography of Ralph Klein.

I'd hardly been aware of Ralph Klein's journalism, really: he was a TV guy, and I was a Herald reader. TV journos mostly just report basic daily news from City Hall, and the police blotter. But, I guess he did some fine long pieces on Calgary's Hell's Angels, and the poverty and woe of the Siksika First Nation, actually being inducted into the Nation for his interest.

Cool. Now that Rahim mentions it, I remember being glad that Klein beat out a wealthy, connected, developer-pal guy, Ross Alger, for Mayor, when I was in college.

But I was a municipal employee through the Klein Mayoral years, and my main memory is all the dandelions in the parks, when the budgets were cut. As premier, Ralph cut public services so sharply that the damage is still felt today. (The linked article notes how the cuts were needed to continue oil and farm subsidies, not because there was nothing else to cut. And that Klein also paid off provincial debt by selling off public assets, but never raised the continent's lowest oil royalties.)

Alberta's Conservative government eliminated tens of thousands of public sector jobs between 1993 and 1994 while cutting the wages and benefits of the workers who remained. The 1994 budget delivered a 20% cut in health care, a 21% cut in post secondary education and a 12.4% cut in K-12 education. Welfare rolls were cut in half over one year. Within two years, Alberta program spending declined by over 21%. Homelessness climbed 740% during the Klein years in office.
(From Canadianlabour.ca)

Ralph the journalist may have shown some concern for "those left behind" by the 70s boom, but when he himself had power - first municipal, then provincial - his policies did everything to ensure that those left behind, stayed behind, while preserving the limited oil-industry jobs the industry didn't feel like eliminating.

Ralph was a good guy to have a beer with - literally. When I was there, the employees would talk about Klein's drinking sessions at "The Louis"; they were legendary. It was how he got stories, of course, but alcohol was revealting, too. "In Vino, Veritas", and Klein's real feelings towards the poor - when he wasn't just broadcasting them with a national controversy about declaring that "Eastern creeps and bums" should stop coming to clog Calgary streets and alleys - came out in a drunken evening where he visited a homeless shelter. There's not much dispute that he was insulting, profane, and threw some cash, contemptuously, on the floor. (Claimed not to remember it when it got out days later.)

It's all in the wikipedia. It's all history. It's still absolutely correct to compare him very favourably as a journalist and premier, to the dumbfounding dumbness and delusions of Danielle Smith. I hated his budgets, his oil subservience; but his government was competent. He didn't pick fights with Ottawa - heck, he got Jean Chretien to subsidize the oil sands! That's bipartisanship.

Alberta Conservative Premiers are re-running the recent American joke about GOP Presidents: every new one makes the last one look good.

http://brander.ca/stackback#klein


All of them: 2022/12/05: I Need a Break. So Do Many Others

I've been worrying about my blood pressure, lately - which is a great way to raise my blood pressure. A wise doctor years ago told me to quit measuring it all the time, like it was a test to pass in school, by taking it over and over.

I clearly need to take a break from the most depressing, outraging, negative news I read. It's Bad For You. Provably. Medically.

So, today, I'm outraged at nothing. I wonder how many positive newsy posts I could make if I tried. Normally "Good News is No News". But there are many good things happening. A lot of the "outrage news" (Kanye and Co,lately) is really good news, because you see the reaction to the outragers is pretty solid and well-based.

The whole Convoy Controversy, viewed correctly, is a reminder that 70% were actively pro-vax, pro-mask, pro-distance.

So I need to buck up, little camper, and lose the high BP.

http://brander.ca/stackback#bp


Matt Taibbi: 2022/12/04: The Pursuit of Hunter Biden

Matt Taibbi has been increasingly a head-scratcher, for me, since he went to Substack. That coincided with him going on a real warpath at liberals in the media, and in the deep bowels of Twitter, all bent on suppressing the story of Hunter Biden's Laptop, and a few other stories, I think.

I'm not sure if Matt has any sympathy at all, for journalists hearing a story that certainly sounded like over-hyped, not-much-of-a-scandal BS, and thinking it untrue, don't want to repeat the big hype of Hilary's Emails in 2016.

Matt's right, and they're wrong, and Matt Taibbi, of all journalists - Matt Taibbi, who forthrightly declared that he'd sent money to Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to make plain his own non-neutral, very-left position; who'd done multiple books about the troubles of the poor and disenfranchised - can hardly be accused of right-wing activism.

My only problem with reading any more of it - Twitter, blogs, journals, books, anything - is that there's no story at the bottom. Yes, the "coverup" is the story, just like Watergate - but even there, the "coverup" means that it merely got into the New York Post, every other Murdoch paper, and Murdoch TV network. The suppression was not at all effective.

And you can't tell me that every single congressperson, governor, heck the state sewer commissioners - don't have any issues with their kids getting good jobs because the employer hopes to meet the parents, and let them know how ready the firm is for government work. That's "soft corruption" that isn't a crime, at most is embarrassing - and not much, since it is so common. As long as Hunter didn't talk Joe into handing out government contracts or other public goods, it's just not worth my time.

I do obsess over journalistic scandals. The press should have caught that the babies-in-incubators nurse was a fiction to sell the Gulf War. They really, really should have caught the Bush Administration for lying up a conspiracy theory (Saddam conspring to with his archenemies in Al Qaeda to nuke the USA). There was a whole movie about that journalistic failure: Shock and Awe, (which lost 99% of its investment - $16M budget, $182K gross. People really hate being told they've been tricked, is my guess.)

Those scandals cost a million lives and more. The "Trump team didn't get to imply Biden was corrupt except in Murdoch media" scandal is real enough, but so very, very much smaller. Go be a Hunter (of bigger game), Matt.

http://brander.ca/stackback#taibbi


Everybody: 2022/12/01: The Sovreignty Act

Nope. Can't be bothered. Too stupid. It is a stunt, will go nowhere meaningful, will just generate journalist-fodder, without affecting real people's lives.

http://brander.ca/stackback#sovereignty


The Line, 2022/11/30: Deliverology

No need for new word, Matt: we're all still getting used to "Administrative Capacity" meaning "get things done", be it fill the potholes, or deliver 100 million vaccine doses.

What a "Groundhog Day" column, where Matt marvels for the 100th time that we didn't anticipate something (Afghan collapse, Russian invasion, pandemic) and weren't ready for it, marvels that we aren't ready for things despite warnings.

Well, there weren't just official warnings of the pandemic, there was a whole Soderburgh movie, Contagion, warning the world. There was no lower nadir of that "deliverology" than the Trump administration response, shown in "Totally Under Control" by Alex Gibney, where the stocks of PPE were left unsupplied, the pandemic playbook thrown out, the team de-staffed, and Jared Kushner was telling unpaid 20-somethings to shop for PPE with their own cell phones, and no purchasing power.

The USA, on the other hand, is very, very prepared for military conflicts, at least, and has been able to keep up with supplying Ukraine for months, but is running low. Of course, absolutely nobody in the whole western military and intelligence community warned us that Putin was doing more than sabre-rattling. (Somehow, these screeds never blame intelligence and military, certainly not naming specific names responsible. That would be the end of "access".)

The core of NATO, are Germany, France, and surrounding countries that NATO was founded to protect. How unprepared were they for Russian aggression? They laid themselves utterly vulnerable to it, building Russia two pipelines to ransom their energy with. Man, that's feckless and unprepared. Canada doesn't compare.

What have we been warned about? Well, conditions, staffing, and funding in our care-homes is clearly insufficient. We were warned about that for up to 20 years, by report after report, in Canada. I think the same in the States. Then came the pandemic and proved how bad the care-homes were. And I see precisely zero journalists still holding political feet to the fire on that file.

If you want to criticize us for not heeding warnings, there's one for you, Matt: you can get out ahead of the next care-home crisis by caring about it now, before the horse leaves the barn.

If you guys forget, Matt, will others remember? There's a cycle here where bad things happen, journalists claim that government should have seen it coming, then lapse back into the same obliviousness that allows it to happen again: part of the problem.

http://brander.ca/stackback#deliverology


The Line, 2022/11/28: Nuance and Scholarship from a Prof!

Today The Line gives space to Phillipe Lagasse, a law professor who comments with knowledge and nuance about the Emergencies Act, and the role of the Executive. Only one comment: Bravo.

Please, more professors, fewer journos.

http://brander.ca/stackback#lagasse


The Line, 2022/11/27: Still On About the Convoy. Yawn.

Today marks two weeks since I opined that the POEC Inquiry Into the Convoy Response was Pointless. Because the government can't be punished in any way, save bad public opinion costing them at the polls. And that won't happen, because nothing has changed since the start of the commission, since the middle of February. Depending on how you ask the question, between 65% and 75% of the population were against it, against their cause, in favour of their eviction from public squares.

But, The Line has another 6500 words on it today. Which I had the computer count, because I'm going to spare myself more chewing on it. Not to mention the comments.

http://brander.ca/stackback#poecyawn2


National Observer, 2022/11/26: Two Very Different Protest Responses

The POEC journalism is all about whether the Emergencies Act was OK at all, but I've seen nothing about how much damage it actually did to the protesters. Violating "civil rights" generally comes with some tangible harm to person or property.

I gather it was 284 accounts that were frozen. Were "most" commercial, so that the personal money of the victim was untouched? Nearly all? Half? How long was the average freeze? Days, or weeks? It's not a topic.

I suspect if the full "damage" were assessed, it would be a very small number of personal accounts affected for more than a week or so. That's the time on which you can run off food in the house, a few bucks borrowed from friends - real damage doesn't start until you can't pay bills for weeks. So, I suspect that a full accounting would make much of the story go away, because readers would shrug, and say "suck it up, buttercup". That's my theory for why we haven't had the accounting even requested: it would water down interest in the whole story.

The National Observer, by contrast, has a story about an RCMP officer who just couldn't stomach mistreating Fairy Creek "tree-defending-hippies" any longer. Massive pepper-spraying, stealing and destroying their property, driving them hours away and dropping them.

It just strikes me as quite the contrast, that the 1% of the Convoy supporters that had any action taken against their property at all (no trucks damaged), is getting an inquiry, and the Fairy Creek hippies get the back of the hand.

http://brander.ca/stackback#rcmpvshippies


PastPresentFuture, 2022/11/26: "Best Year" is Very Local, For Me

One of my free subscriptions is to Dan Gardner's "PastPresentFuture" substack, he writes about recent history. He was surprised to find that his readers picked '1976' as a 'Golden Year', and did a column about all the Bad News of that year, surprised they hadn't picked some point in the 1980s - that decade all the Gen X middle-agers are now nostalgic about.

Here was my comment, today.

I have to throw in a comment, without reading (most of) the article. It was my high-school grad year, and it's hard to see a year badly through that lens of youth. But my comment is because the article pretty much doesn't apply to my life in Calgary, Canada, which was the 1970s/1980s "Upside Down". When the rest of the continent groaned under massive recession caused by a 500% increase in the world price of oil, Calgary was delivering that oil - growing at a staggering rate, for an already-large city. Everybody who could do anything useful had a job, and wages kept going up. My high-school friends thought me mad to go into University, there were so many good construction jobs at high wages. Then the 1980s were a decade of pain, poverty and shame for Calgary, when the price of oil fell, all the contracts ended, there were 5 pages of "dollar sales" of underwater mortgages in the Calgary Herald. The population dropped for the only time in in its history, in 1982, and the houses were down 25%. 90% of my engineering firm was laid off. Imagine our dropped jaws and clenched fists at Reagan running on "are you better off now" in 1984. Everybody else's cheap-oil, end-of-recession joy was our lost houses. So, picking a "best year", man, is a VERY, VERY local decision, for some localities.

Wow. Matt wrote back, barely minutes later, to explain the project was not really to pick "Golden Years" overall. I wrote a contrite reply, with a little more info on Calgary's Upside-Down-ness. All at the link to his stack.

http://brander.ca/stackback#bestyear


The Line, 2022/11/25: Bravo For the Thompson References

I don't know Steve Lafleur, a "public policy analyst" with think-tanks, who put a funny little column into The Line today. He drives down to Deepest Darkest Trump Country, and secures no meaningful interviews or new data there, but does listen to some truly awful talk-radio. But he does these really great Hunter Thompson references, to "Fear and Loathing", and it's a pretty funny, easy read. Strongly recommened; I read to much depressing politics, and it's a dark, stormy, depressing day here in Vancouver. Is the discussion of lies and gullibility about right-wing-nutjob talk radio depressing? Nah. That, I've gotten used to.

http://brander.ca/stackback#lafleur


The Line, 2022/11/24: I've Been Complaining About conservative Pessimism for a Year?

Matt Gurney must have been in Hog-Heaven, wallowing in threat analyses at the Halifax conference last week; great fodder for his downbeat Dangerous World vision. (That's an interesting article link: both liberal and conservative minds see the world as "dangerous", but in different ways: the liberals fear "unfairness" in civil society, the conservatives fear threats to civil society.)

Rather than yet another post to say "I disagree", I have to just laugh, because Matt mentioned a link to his nearly his most-read piece on The Line, a year back.

I looked back to it, and there's a long comment from me, disagreeing. (copied here) It's all I ever needed to say about the topic; I'm just repeating myself, now.

Which is a great reminder that anybody who does read my stuff knows all this, I can stop. Not like I'm going to reset Matt Gurney's mind about Canada's incompetence, fecklessness, and general incapacity, or the dire threats we face.

There's good writing at The Line, but just so much conservatism pessimism, I might have to drop it - it's repetitious, and making me repetitious.

http://brander.ca/stackback#mativersary


The Line, 2022/11/23: Danielle Will Make Her Own Luck (Bad)

Jen Gerson makes a welcome return to The Line today, with a piece on how lucky Danielle Smith is. By the same token, she marvels at the bad luck of Jason Kenney, getting tossed just as Alberta receives windfall royalties to bribe voters with, courtesy of Vladimir Putin and Mohammed bin Salman.

I dunno. Come the election, I think Notley can point out that anybody in power can spend that money on the needy populace, and that the NDP has a way better record of actually doing it.

And Jen has previously been very kind and generous to Smith by calling her crazy enthusiasms a "lack of discernment". It's much worse than that; Smith is guaranteed to keep alarming people with off-the-wall proposals and policies. I think she can overcome her good luck, handily. It's Notley that has had the huge burst of luck, recently, with Smith's elevation.

http://brander.ca/stackback#notlucky


The Line, 2022/11/20: Canada Known For "Preening and Self-Importance" Huh?

From "The Line Editor" today, though surely this is Matt Gurney's writing:
Far from being a paragon of "soft power" or the great global "convener" of our fantasy, Canada is probably better known for preening and self importance. This is made all the worse by the fact that we're weak and ineffectual; these are facts that are increasingly hard to ignore as we’re left out of the major military and intelligence alliances of countries we once considered brotherly.

That's an interesting take. I wonder if Matt Gurney can come up with a single supporting quote for the notion that foreign affairs people of other countries consider ours, and our politicians, to be "preening and self-important". It's just the first time I've heard that very contrary a take. I was sure, for decades, that Canada's image was of people who are too-polite-if-anything, and always apologizing. Images like that are really hard to change. (Germany's image as cold, militaristic heavies took decades to fade.) So, I'll need some evidence of our new image, Matt. An article? A quote? Frankly, I think you're just inventing it all.

I did find a Foreign Policy magazine story on Canada's diplomacy for Ukraine. It's very positive about how hard we're working on it, opening four new embassies in the area, reinforcing all our troops in the area, 450 to Latvia, 3,400 on standby, comparable to troop increases by Germany and the USA.

There's no dismissiveness about our work; on the contrary, I would call this paragraph:

Canada, which has one of the world's largest Ukrainian diasporas, has played an outsized role in crafting the Western response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine and has committed to sending military supplies and economic assistance to Kyiv, as well as finding ways to address the global food security crisis sparked by the war.

...very positive. Our role is only "outsized" relative to our resources, of course. This statistical tracker page on Ukraine contributions has us behind the United Kingdom in proportion to our smaller population, and way behind the USA, but about in proportion to our smaller military budget. (6% of the American contribution, rather than 11% as our population might suggest).

But for everybody else, we're ahead. Barely 10% behind Germany, which has over double our population (and is much more at-risk from Russia!), and double France's contributions, though they are bigger (and closer).

With my relatives there, I'm always conscious of NATO-members Spain and Portugal, some 56 million people, all told. Bigger than us. Nowhere in the ranks of NATO members you hear about at conferences, or putting forward proposals. They have one-sixth of Canada's Ukraine contributions, between them. If you want to point to middle-level powers with little input, Matt, there's lots of Europe in that category.

So, honestly, between the raw numbers and the Foreign Policy article, I think we're about respected in proportion to our size, and maybe a little more so, particularly on Ukraine. (Only a little more so, though: I wouldn't want to be preening and self-important).

This is just more of same from this worldview: Canada is hapless, ineffectual, incapable. We're just bad at things: bad at the economy, bad at the pandemic, bad at foreign affairs. It's just an endlessly downbeat narrative, that "conservative mindset".

It doesn't go away when conservatives take power, either. Then, we remain bad, but at least the government is trying to make things better; the complaint with the left in power, is that things are bad, and getting worse.

Things are never really good, it's never time for a self-backpat, for a chest-thump of pride. Find me an example.

The standard mindset just requires one more element: the notion that we used to be better than this string of failures, and you have "Make Us Great Again". Standard conservative mindsets segue very naturally into an alt-right mindset, with that one addition.

I would rather subscribe to the mindset that we're pretty good, better than our pasts, slowly getting better still (if often with steps-back). Our only challenge is to progress more quickly. And, I can show you figures, from people like Stephen Pinker, from conservative-applauded writers like Bjorn Lomborg and Julian Simon, to back up that "sunny ways" worldview.

How Matt Gurney gets through a rainy day, I have no idea. On top of the worldview, a day like today would give me crippling depression.

http://brander.ca/stackback#notpreening


The Line, 2022/11/18: No Hair-Trigger Cold-Warriors Left

Matt Gurney works through his fears of nuclear war in print, today. Wondering how the world leaders felt when they heard the news of missile impacts in Poland. I bet they were fine.

Matt relates the great story of Stanislav Petrov, who couldn't believe an attack was actually happening, not with just a few missiles; so he reported sensor failure instead, and saved the world. Matt also worries aloud about the loss of all the experienced former cold-warriors who actually trained to fight nuclear war.

But that's actually a good thing, Matt. Those old warriors were the ones on a hair-trigger, believed Tom Clancy novels where the Soviets were willing to risk death to take over the world, when we now know they were just terrified for Russia. Everybody now gets that nobody would attack NATO, with less than every weapon at their disposal, in hopes of not being immediately wiped out. Hearing two missiles landed is to be sure it's just a mistake.

Now, Matt, we're all Stanislav Petrov, and the danger of a nuke-fest is lower than ever. Yes, even today. While tensions are high, and maybe Putin is crazy, the inability of Russia to SURVIVE, much less "win" a nuclear war, has been made much clearer - clearer to the guys who would have to actually hit the buttons if Putin did go completely insane, and give such an order. They won't do it.

So, calm down and get your coffee.

http://brander.ca/stackback#nonukefear


The Line, 2022/11/17: Jen Gerson for a Socialist Health-Care System?

Over at The Line, today, a very welcome return by Jen Gerson, who's a busy parent, beleaguered by childhood diseases that keep coming. She despairs, eye-rolls, at following advice to mask at home around kids. (The advice is surely impossible with a 2-year-old, but a school-going 9-year-old that can dress themselves, it's not crazy advice, Jen. Just not doable for you.)

I flinched at a line she wrote about us staying in for two years to protect the old, and now the kids are paying the price with 3 years of disease all in 3 months. True, Jen, but few kids are paying a price with their very lives, as the old were. It was still a good decision.

And, amazingly, her whole point is that we need a health-care system good enough that she can breathe on her kid. She stops short of saying "We need a much bigger health care system, must spend much more government money. Huh: I've just turned socialist, I guess, for my kid."

But I don't know what other conclusion to draw.

http://brander.ca/stackback#jensocialist


Noahpinion, 2022/11/17: Battery-Powered Appliances?

A friend recommended the substack Noahpinion by Noah Smith, an economics blogger. I'm not subscribing, as he's mostly on about American topics, but many articles are worth a skim. Today, he's enthused about battery-powered appliances. Say what? There are batteries that can discharge very fast - so you could charge up your stove or your dryer for several hours at easy-plug-in 120V sockets, then have 10,000 Watts blazing from it for the hour you need to cook or dry clothes in a hurry.

Fascinating idea - but, is the stove able to handle, not just an ordinary meal, but hours of cooking Thanksgiving supper? What I'm asking, the only reason I'm posting a reply at all: should the owner of a battery-powered stove have, ahem, range anxiety??

http://brander.ca/stackback#batteryapps


The Line, 2022/11/16: Afraid of Your Own Activists?

Mitch Heimpel, Canadian Conservative Consigliere to many of our governments and their campaigns, has a curious blindness to Conservatives in his comments about political parties that fear their own activists.

He didn't mention the internal victories of Danielle Smith and Pierre Poilievre, that may turn out badly in general elections. Smith is particularly of concern to any Conservative with election hopes, as polls show she rates very poorly among Albertans in general, lower than her NDP rival.

But, Heimpel's example was the NDP of BC, frightened by an activist challenge from Anjali Appadurai. This was the same problem as Poilievre: people from outside the party, hauled in to vote for a specific party direction.

The Conservative example really was the better one. We lefties have three choices for our leftiness: Liberal, NDP, and Green. Canadian conservatives too right-wing for a moderate Conservative party have nowhere to go; like the Trump Republicans, they have to take over the one party they can.

Unlike the Poilievre conservatives, the BC NDP already had seen the proposed new platform tested against its own voters, because it was the Green Party platform, which had won two seats in the 2020 elections. Without getting into whether the new NDP sign-ups were actual Green Party members, they were Green Party voters, for sure - and the NDP doesn't need them to win.

Conservatives need their extremists to win, certainly in the USA, and maybe in Canada, these days. In BC, the NDP can shrug at losing "the Green vote" to actual Greens, and still win. They can, and will, always rally to toss out extremists who might cost them the general. Conservatives might not dare to.

Heimpel's concern is surely that Poilievre and Smith will drag their parties into defeat, and necessitate painful rebuilding. Which is an old Conservative problem, in Canada, at present, decades after Reform. They could keep going in cycles, Poilievre just the latest Preston Manning.

Conservatives should just split their party, as "the left" is split between three Canadian parties. Then they could afford to let Danielle Smith have the "Alberta First" party, or whatever. Poilievre would not want to lead a smaller, populist party - Bernier already tried.

I think that staying as one united party is a mistake, and they'll pay for it; certainly we lefties will be happy with that.

http://brander.ca/stackback#activistfears


The Line, 2022/11/14: Right-Wing Mayors? Canada?

Today's The Line is by an American professor, who wrote about the right-wing shift in municipal races, in recent months. I would agree that Ken Sim in Vancouver is to the right of most recent candidates, in that he's more friendly to developers. His "Hire 100 police (and nurses)" oddball promise got him a police-endorsement, yes - but that was quite transparently about hiring, not about what they should do.

Municipal elections can barely be called "left" and "right" except for development issues. Cities have no property tax, little ability to regulate corporate strategies or environmental rules. The most-lefty of them barely ever get in the way of development. (Show me the drop in square footage developed per year, if you can find a real lefty. No drop in Calgary, however much they hated Nenshi and wanted to RatF*ck him.)

As for "Defund the Police", please: that never caught on in Canada, not in any of our demonstrations of two years ago. The BLM march and talk I attended didn't get into it.

I have to wonder if the American professor brought some American thinking with him to a discussion of Canadian municipal politics.

http://brander.ca/stackback#kensimright


The Line, 2022/11/13: POEC Pointless?

The Line had three topics, Sunday, and the top one, getting some 1300 words, was the POEC, the commission reviewing whether the Emergencies Act was really, truly necessary.

One could get into arguing this issue, but it's pointless. Yes, I could comment on "the fog of war", and how they had to make the decision without really being clear on what was going on. Yes, some people told them there was no risk, some said there was no need - but there were also voices of great alarm. As long as there were multiple possibilities to sort out, you don't get to point at one voice saying "all's well" and claim they had no reason to fear.

There's also the present-bias in any evaluation later: now we know that they didn't come back to Windsor, or Coutts, or Ottawa, but there was no certainty of what they'd do, at the time.

But it's pointless. It's pointless, because there is no court to actually punish the government for this, there's just public opinion, and the next election. (It's possible that a completely egregious use of the EA, where people were thrown in jail without charges, could result in later criminal charges, perhaps - but for freezing bank accounts for a few days? Come on. The inquiry is just about public opinion.)

And the public opinion is settled. There was never any need for the POEC, because the whole thing happened on the front page, and the TV cameras. Everybody knows what the government did, and why. POEC is dotting i's and crossing t's of their reasoning. Fact is, two-thirds of the public agreed, still does, will vote for those who did it. Political case closed.

http://brander.ca/stackback#poecyawn


The Line, 2022/11/13: Doug Lost

As with the post above, this is about the perception of the great majority of the public that can only give you 25-words-or-less on even the front page news.

For we news-junkies, The Line felt a need to expend some 700 words - as long as a "normal" newspaper column - on the thesis that Doug Ford didn't really "lose" the encounter with the labour unions, when he went all nuclear on them with the notwithstanding clause, but then had to back down anyway, because unions really held the line and applied pressure.

Normally, I could debate the "lose" thing, but not when he went so over-the-top Mr. Heavy with the most-extreme political device in our constitution - and was forced to cave in a day or so.

Come on, guys. Lame.

http://brander.ca/stackback#douglost


The Line, 2022/11/13: Cord-Cutting Sneered At AGAIN

This one's personal for me, because I made a whole project out of cutting the cord and saving over a thousand dollars a year on TV.

I got almost no traction, even with the club of techie friends I presented to, because setting up an antenna, a gizmo, and software on your computer to get the TV video files from the gizmo, is too much trouble for most people, they just pay the thousand-and-more per year.

Everybody just puts up with the high prices, and crappy DVR products, forced upon us by the oligopoly of cable/sat TV providers. It's almost impossible to get a package that doesn't cost you that thousand a year, even without any Disney+.

So, after making fun of spending too much print on minor issues, I find myself rising to defend Chrystia Freeland's fumbled mention of her household budget-trimming.

Canadaland was at least charitable enough to put Freeland's comment in context; she was really talking about how the government had to look carefully for money for programs by trimming everywhere they were spending in places that no longer really needed it. She was giving her family budget-cutting as an analogy. But you had to follow a long paragraph to get there, and it certainly did sound like she was telling people to trim their household budgets by amounts like $13.99, while discussing inflation - and, as Canadaland cringed to note, had to apologize abjectly for a remark she didn't really make.

The Line, of course, just took the comment at face-value, as more clear proof of her "out of touch" nature, as noted just below, the other day. Well, of course they would. Gleefully!

For the record, this is how much good it does. I quickly found a stats web site that claimed that iconic family-of-four was spending $1158/month in 2021; another that said food-inflation alone had now hit 11% since then. So, that family-of-four has to come up with another $127.80/month for groceries this Fall, over last.

$13.99 plus Ontario's 13% HST is $15.81/month, $190/yr, so you can only save about one-eighth of a family-of-four grocery bill increase. You'd have to cancel seven other streaming services. Which, I'm sorry to say, is possible, since I'm certain that a few people are signed up with that many, costing them thousands per year.

Mind you: Disney+ costs the same for one person, so a single can save 50% of her grocery inflation with one streaming cut!

Never mind. My real problem with this "out of touch" criticism, is that it jumps on the whole process of budgeting, of trimming luxuries you were barely aware were costing you more than they appear. If you add up that $13.99 - and four or five other minor luxuries like it, if you look hard - you can often save a thousand a year or more, cutting things you barely miss.

Home economists are united on this: a clear-eyed, Marie-Kondo-cleaning view of your expenses, ("cut spending that doesn't really spark joy any more", Marie might say) is the most painless way to save a few thousand a year, and retire a few years earlier.

That should never be disparaged.

The whole discussion was about nickels and dimes - the feds putting out a $500 GST check here, a $1000 saving on child-care there, it all adds up for people who already have it tight. Are the ones talking about that the ones out-of-touch, or the guy who thought that union janitors could accept a 1.5% raise without a fight?

http://brander.ca/stackback#disneycost


The Line, 2022/11/08 and 2022/11/01: Would Asprin Poison Children Now?

I'm feeling some Boomer-based chronological dissonance, these days, as parents around the country fret over the lack of "children's" acetaminophen or ibuprofen. My Vancouver Sun says that "particularly in the liquid or chewable forms, easier for children".

Here comes the uphill-both-ways rant: When I Was a Boy... there was no acetaminophen. Or ibuprofen. There was Asprin, and advertising lead many of us to believe that "Asprin" and "Bufferin" were actually different drugs.

There was children's asprin, I remember it being advertised, with a little pink pill, looking like candy, which my father promptly decried. "If we got that, you'd be in the medicine cabinet, taking them all".

What we got was half an asprin tablet, of course. Why pay more to have them cut the dose for you?

It's not that there's no adult pills, that could still be broken in half. And if the kids whine about swallowing, "A Spoonful of Sugar Helps the Medicine Go Down", was a hit tune when I was six.

http://brander.ca/stackback#kidstylenol


The Line, 2022/11/07: Is "Car-Free" a Privilege of Wealth?

At The Line, they do podcasts about once a week; not the tightly-scripted kind, just two journalists ruminating. Then, they summarize it into a 3,000 word ramble of a multi-topic column, and publish as print, and it's the only type of column they welcome comments at any more.

The other day, one topic went into something that, as far as I can news-google, made no impression at all on the rest of the newsreading public:

"Freeland went on some kind of ramble about how she, nobler-than-thou, lived in downtown Toronto, owned no cars, and used transit and her bike. She was utterly oblivious to how tone deaf this was.

Firstly, the vast, vast majority of Canadians cannot afford to live in a high-density downtown community where they would not be dependent on cars. House prices in such areas range from $1 million to a bazillion dollars, ensuring that these enclaves are reserved for the wealthiest, most elite Canadians.

Freeland almost certainly imagined that bragging about owning no car was indicative of her humility; she seemed totally unaware of the notion that it was, in fact, signalling a social status that very few of us could ever hope to achieve. "

As a guy who commuted by bike for 45 minutes each way (car: 25) to work in summers, and ran 20 minutes to the 20-minute train ride in winter, for the last 15 years of my career, from the Calgary 'burbs, I had to protest. We were not "car-free", but we were a one-car family because of all that, rather than two, and we were saving a good $5000/year. It made a big difference in our retirement.

So, I wrote this reply:

Today, I had to take umbrage at a classic conservative trope of dismissing the inhabitants of large cities as Not Regular Folks. If it was elitist for Freeland to note she lives in downtown Toronto, then there are 250,000 other elitists, right around her. My base in Vancouver's West End has 40,000, but, really, all of Vancouver, (600,000) if not the rest of the Lower Mainland, can pretty much go car-free because of our bus and train systems, the car-sharing "Evo" system, (and, admittedly, weather that allows about 9 months of cycling per year).

15,000 moved into Calgary's Beltline in the last decade, they hardly need cars for anything, either.

For young parents like Matt & Jen, outside of Europe, there's a powerful need for single-family-detached, and a car (van, really) for the kids. But for everybody else, living downtown isn't so much about being rich, as being willing to sacrifice square footage for location, location, location - and there's literally a million very middle-class people that have made that call. All old people should, before they lose the ability to drive a car. It's not out-of-touch to recommend that tradeoff.

Well, the "Line Editor" (probably Matt Gurney, I think he does more of the admin work than Jen) disagreed. Flatly. Though "my own math" above has a quarter-mill in Toronto alone, ascribes all 600,000 in Vancouver to be capable of car-free life (an exaggeration, as many are those young parents I excuse), Matt figures it's just 0.7% of the population in "downtown enclave(s)". His reply:

Using your own math, the number of residents who live in a downtown enclave measures, perhaps, 300,000 in a country of 38 million. By definition, anyone living in Freeland's hood is "not a regular folk."

Also, at this point, I was somehow banned for life, for some reason; they're banning people right and left at The Line just now, for making replies to others, and I inadvertently got caught up in it.

Since this would be my last comment at "The Line", I might as well finish it up much more properly. Because I actually stopped to read the transcipt of the Freeland interview they were trashing as "rambling" and "incoherent".

And it's kind-of the opposite of the message they were selling.

With the above link, read for yourself, but I think these excerpts are helpful:

(on making retail more affordable):

Well, there are a couple of specific measures that we took yesterday that should help. One is action on credit cards. Credit card fees impose a real burden on small businesses and credit card fees if those are passed on to consumers, impose a real burden on consumers. ... Bring them down because Canadians really can't afford to pay that premium.

(about grocery store prices and worker-pay in those stores)

The government is doing its part with the Canada Workers Benefit, moving to an advance payment system that is going to make a huge difference in the lives of our hardest working, worst paid, most essential workers. We're now going to get to 4.2 million Canadians covered. That's one in five working Canadians.

(about the carbon tax)

Eight out of ten Canadians get more money back than the price on pollution costs them. And, you know, if you live in Ontario and a family of four, you're getting 745 bucks. And I personally live in central Toronto. Our family doesn't have a car. We use the subway, we ride our bikes, we walk. And that is how a lot of Toronto families live. The price on pollution actually is helpful to people in Toronto across the country. A family in Saskatchewan. They're getting $1,000 back. (boldfacing mine)

The "out of touch" "ramble" occurs in the middle of a statement about families that regard $1000 or even $745 as a significant sum. It does not, as The Line incorrectly quotes, mention "downtown Toronto".

If you google "Central Toronto", you get a clearer story, of some 16 districts, four of them (Rosedale, Deer Park, Parkdale, Clubland) are all-residential. And certainly, pricey.

But that refers to buying a detached house. As "BlogTO" noted last February:

With even the suburbs growing unaffordable for most young first-time home buyers, the only places left to go for those looking to own in recent years have been away (to other cities) or up into vertical communities, and the data is showing clear evidence of this trend.

...and a link to that "data" indicates that condos in "the core" are again moving briskly. But, even there, we're talking about people who can afford to buy, at all. What about those who can only rent?

Jumping from Toronto to Calgary, I found the median rent for a one-bedroom in Calgary's "Beltline", (downtown-adjacent, walkable-transit neighbourhood), is $1600 right now. And I found a one-bedroom for rent, half an hour from downtown, for $1200. And it costs over $400 a month to own a car. This is the exact trade-off that Freeland was talking about: spend on rent to save on car.

Some 17% of Canadian households have no car. I'll concede that half of those are old people who cannot drive - but are they not "regular folks"? Many of the rest, are simply poor, and put up with much mass-transit inconvenience.

The Line just reads the news and does comments from their own background knowledge, which is often enough. But they're just dead flat wrong on this issue, and I can prove it. Below, a map of Calgary, with statistics about the central-city neighbourhoods below each community name: the population, the percentage that rent, the average household income, with Calgary's average back in the 2014 census being $97K. (All figures from The City of Calgary Community Profiles page, using the 2014 census.

I put in big red arrows to highlight the only three neighbourhoods that are even sort-of walkable to downtown, that have more than that average $97K income. Ritzy Old-Money Scarboro is one of the richest in Calgary, to be sure, at $221K. And only 12% rented, when Calgary's average is 29%. That's the kind of elites that Matt is thinking typical "downtown enclave" inhabitants. But they're alone.

For the other communities, not one of them has above-average income, not one has less than 50% rentals. These are not rich landowners; these are lower-middle-class renters from rich landowners. These are the people that much-appreciate the ability to save money on commuting.

Both Eau Claire, with it's very new, great-view apartments, and West Hillhurst, have slightly above-average incomes of $114K. The whole rest of the map is lower-middle-class. Next door to Eau Claire are all the retired people in Chinatown, scraping by on $37K, somehow. The next poorest are the very centre of the centre, the downtown commercial core is 92% rentals to those averaging just $54K, only little over half the Calgary average. Those are your singles working tables, from a one-bedroom or studio, I'm guessing.

Adding up the five downtown communities, you get over 15,000 people in 2014, and nearly 21,000 in The Beltline, just south; another 20,000 in the walk-to-downtown other communities on the map. Nearly 60,000 people, about 5% of Calgary, can walk to downtown. But others can go car-free, or our "one car instead of two" solution that still saves $5000 a year.

In Calgary, where the urban-planning strategy has been intensive about building dense condo blocks right beside every new C-train station, there are, of course, tens of thousands of units available that are 30 minutes from downtown, but five from a mall, and from a C-train station. Those are some very regular folks - I see units near my old family home in Brentwood, at the Brentwood Mall and also C-train, going for under $300,000.

But, to sum up, the take on Freeland's interview is pretty easy to criticize: when you read it, her main topic is concern for working-class Canadians, for whom quite small benefits are important. She opens, by talking about that same allegedly elitist neighbourhood of hers:

(interviewer Matt Galloway): Do you think that what you are offering is enough to help the broad sections of the public who are struggling to buy groceries?

CHRYSTIA FREELAND: I think that is a great question and that is something that I think about and wrestle with every single day. And actually, my church in Toronto, around the corner from my house, has a food bank that the church sponsors every Wednesday. And I've what I'm not- I'm in Ottawa right now. I'm not in Toronto that many Wednesdays, but the times that I've been home, I've just seen that the lines are longer. And, you know, our friends who go to church, the congregation who work at the food bank, have talked to us, to me and my husband and our kids about how more people are there. So I'm just at just a personal level on my street, very aware of that and very worried and we all should be.

How can this "elitist neighbourhood" be having long lines at the church food bank? Maybe only some are millionaires - and the rest are renting small apartments?

Going entirely car-free is a challenge: we kept one car, though it got little work, because we also lived near a big mall with a grocery. It's likely that most of the 80,000 Calgarians that use the C-train also live near a mall, can thus go car-free or one-car, for big savings.

But those 80,000, and the 60,000 or more that don't even need the C-train because they already are central, are not to be dismissed; there's actually quite a lot of us, and we're a lot less elite than most who commute by car.

http://brander.ca/stackback#rentvscar


The Line, 2022/11/05: Podcasts of Agreement

I skipped the early Jen Gerson / Matt Gurney podcasts at The Line, after getting it clear that these were not scripted, tight presentations like Canadaland, but the two of them ruminating casually. I've half-listened to a recent few, because The Line is definitely starved for Jen Gerson content this year, and she's my main reason for subscribing. Her last really great piece was on housing - back in April.

Dialling her efforts back to chat with Matt isn't much improvement. I found myself skipping ahead a minute at a time, when the conversation meandered, here and there. I stopped to listen carefully when Jen articulated a thought that Doug Ford and his notwithstanding clause, to overturn the constitutional right to strike, was still on solid legal and moral(!) grounds, because the "right to strike" is nowhere in the constituion, was only added in by our Supreme Court in 2015. Before that there were back-to-work legislations all the time.

Jen, gay rights also do not appear in the constitution; they were "read in" back in the 1990s, and conservatives far and wide hit the roof over that. For years. They're much more settled rights, now, hey? How long before the right to strike is a "real" constitutional right, in the minds of those who hate it? Will another 23 years be enough, maybe the 30th anniversary of the decision?

I like how certain people (school janitors?) are "essential" (heroes! bang a pot!), and therefore, cannot strike. True. But can they demand infinite wages to not strike? Oil and Gas can. They're essential. Absolutely essential, for life itself, not just most economic functions. When the price of oil went up five-fold in 1973, we just had to pay.

Right now, fossil consumers must just pay whatever is asked, even though we have "energy independence" now, unlike 1973: we could theoretically, just order our fossil companies to sell us their product at the 2019 price, like Doug Ford ordering workers to accept 1.5% after a year of 7.5% inflation.

Unthinkable! (Literally, nobody is even discussing it, the way people did in the 1970s.)

Saying that essential workers must provide their work at a price set by their employer, the purchaser of their work, is not different from me saying that vendors of an essential resource, must sell it to customers, at a price set by the customer.

That, too, is legal and constitutional: wage and price controls are a thing. But, for some reason, wage controls are happening, are being argued as moral as well now, but price controls on fossil fuels are not up for same.

Should we have price controls? I have no idea. But I'm not even getting the discussion on it, the arguments. It's a narrow "Overton Window" on the subject. What I'm noting is that wage-controls are totally up for discussion. So much for heroes. I guess the real heroes were Exxon and BP investors, all along.

The problem with the podcast, is that it's two pretty like-minded people agreeing with each other a lot. There's nobody in the room to make the constitutional argument, or the price-control argument, I just outlined. That would have been a fun discussion, which we didn't get.

I miss Jen and Justin Ling doing "Oppo" for Canadaland, I guess. This is very weak tea by comparison.

Oh, and guys: not everybody living in a downtown is a rich elitist. Most just sacrificed square footage for location, location, location. I know it's inconceivable for a North American parent of young kids to live anywhere but single-family-detached. (Unlike my niece in Spain, raising a 6-year-old and 2-year-old in a busy city flat; but, for North America, out of the question.) But a lot of people are not raising young kids. Calgary's own Beltline added 15,000 people to walkable neighbourhoods in the last 10 years. Most of 600,000 in Vancouver can commute without a car, if they want. That Downtown Toronto you snicker at, has a quarter of a million people.

Sacrificing space for good location is not an elitist choice. It's just a choice.

http://brander.ca/stackback#scocrights


The Line, 2022/11/04: Andrew Potter Heroically Dodges Evidence

Potter's guest-column today at The Line, to super-summarize, explains "state capacity" and opines (I agree) that part of it is societal trust in the state. He then says ours is poor and lame, by example of the ArriveCAN system, though he spends as much time talking about how the pandemic was this great test of state capacity, and how the pandemic showed up nations, regions, and cities that had poorer or better state capacity to fight it.

As I spent two years documenting, over and over, Canada was a star, if not superstar, at pandemic-fighting. We did better than not just the hapless, bumbling United States (factor of three, factor of seven for those under 50), but most of advanced Western Europe. Multiple articles talked about how much of this was due to Canada's rule-following population, our societal trust, our high vaccination rates.

Potter had to ignore all that to proceed to his usual (I really think, invariable) thesis that it's Canada that's the bumbling, feckless, disorganized and incapable country to live in.

So after going on for five paragraphs, 500 words, on how state-capacity showed up in pandemic results, Potter promptly drops the whole disease topic to talk about how ArriveCAN wasn't very good (for the minority of Canadians that could both afford to travel, and wanted to in a pandemic).

He finishes by talking about "declining trust" as if (a) this existed, when there's no surveyed proof of it, and (b) this is the fault of ArriveCAN (?) or maybe vaccine mandates making 10% of the population angry (he doesn't say).

Potter's latest book is called "On Decline", so at least he advertises where he's coming from. Potter needs some politician to declare "Morning in Canada", I guess, though it will have to be a conservative, as he'd never believe a liberal. If he didn't believe the pandemic showed us to be one of the most trusting, all-in-this-together nations the world has got right now, he won't believe anything.