Stackback: My Replies To Substacks

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I've been enjoying the small-company journalism made possible by the Substack stystem.

I try to spend loyally, on Canadian journalism: Paul Wells, a long-established top journalist with an awesome rolodex, and Justin Ling at "bugeyedandshameless.com", a journalist who seems to be everywhere (Wired, Macleans, Postmedia), and now, David Moscrop, another independent who shows up in mulitple magazines.

The two "foreigners" are David Roberts "Volts.wtf", the indispensable (often upbeat!) climate podcast, and now CleanTechnica.com, a web magazine in the same vein - positive news about energy.

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


2024/02/20: Whew! All That Money To Get Conservative Judges Wasn't Wasted!

In her great book, Dark Money, Jane Mayer dug into the vast sums that have gone into swaying the American judiciary for decades, ensuring more conservative judges, and more-conservative conservative judges in particular, have gone to the bench. Another great read on the topic is Invisible Hands, by Kim Philips-Fein. Electing more conservative politicians was always only half the plan.

I was caught today by a paywalled WaPo Ruth Marcus article, where she was replying to a federal judge irate about being identified as a Republican, Reagan-appointed judge. (Wait, Reagan, at least 36 years ago? Retire, buddy!)

Marcus' reply was bolstered by a new study, just published, that the judge's party really does matter. In thousands of cases.

But my google to find that study in a non-paywalled page turned up a lot of prior work by that same scholar, Alma Cohen, papers published for years.

I won't weary you with searches you can do in seconds, but the next link on the search was to a 2018 article about Republican judges giving Black defendants longer sentences. The Reagan judge who wrote Marcus had no damn business doing so, not when his profession's failures had been manifest, and studied, for years. His job was to read that past work by Alma Cohen, go eagerly to symposia and conferences about how to eliminate the bias, get it fixed. Instead, he's complaining about the complaints.

It's strange he should bring up the topic, in a way. His letter implies that all that Dark Money was wasted, that you can bring the most-conservative people you can find to the court, groom them to be judges, push for their appointment - and get nothing for your troubles, just the same decisions you'd get from a committed liberal Democrat. He surely thought all those millionaires were stupid. The "Olin Foundation" started spending $68M on new libertarian-economics programs for law schools over 40 years ago; did they really keep up the spending for decades while getting nothing in return? Of course not; these are people who track outcomes and fund success - they knew the conservative judges were working for them; why didn't a judge?

I don't know if it is anything like this bad in Canada. The one Supreme Court judge that was ever spoken of as clearly leaning in decisions was the same one that had the drunken incident, lately. I struggle to think of a Canadian court decision that was protested as politically biased, nothing like the American agonies with gay weddings, abortion, and unions. (They have a huge one coming up that could cripple environmental regulation. We just don't have anything so dramatic.)

Another thing to give thanks for, perhaps. It certainly is a warning to keep that crap out of our beautiful country. It's Americans who should be feeling like "everything is broken"; certainly their elections are not respected, their courts are proven as biased, and thus, are daily political footballs. That's broken.


2024/02/18: Artificial Workers

They are not intelligent, that's the first message of every pundit and explainer explaining "Artificial Intelligences", the last year. They possess nothing like "intelligence"; do what they do, a whole other (brute force) way.

What do they do? They do work of course, they were created to do work, to do things human employers need done.

So call them by what their function is in our society: Artificial Workers.

This clarifies that they aren't here to critique poetry, (save to reproduce some really popular critique for a lame student). They are not here for a good time. They're here to displace human workers.

I suppose you could call tractors and backhoes "artificial workers", too. (Fun fact: those worthy tools mechanized jobs, but did not automate them. The mechanism must control itself to be "automation".) Both mechanisation and automation displace workers.

In the long run, always a good thing, but in the short term, the displacement externalizes a cost on all society, of dealing with the displaced peope. That's what "The Luddites" were all about.

It would help focus our thoughts on that problem, to start calling them "Artificial Workers" right now. Tell your friends.

http://brander.ca/stackback#aworkers


2024/02/16: Proof We Live in a Fallen World

At left, a treasured keepsake of Calgary's Fiesta Latina, 2005. Calgary's pride, Oscar Lopez, who was a mainstay in building Calgary's own music culture, starting the Fiesta, producer of 12 albums and two Junos. Oscar is doing lead guitar (of course) in the white shirt, at centre.

Oscar is in the news: at 70, he had to live in his car, recently, though now in a motel and looking forward to a small rental on March 1.

The rental is courtesy of a GoFundMe Page. My very first visit. Just done, $100, tipped GoFundMe $5.

I suppose that's the same amount I already spent on Lopez albums over the years, though the tickets to his performances would be much more again. It's little enough, for a guy who's given us so much.

The proof we live in a Fallen World? Apparently, there were a thousand private jets at the Superbowl. I would not imagine a dozen of them have given as much real value to the world, as Oscar Lopez.

http://brander.ca/stackback#oscarlopez


2024/02/09: A Recommended Read...Sort Of...

Mastodon social media provided a link to this Texas Observer story about a biracial couple that moved to Bonham, Texas. I couldn't finish it.

Nor do I recommend you try, but I do recommend you read the first page or two. The family ran into really naked, open racism and bias, pretty much from day one. What got to me, was the obvious, right-out-there bias shown by teachers, school officials, and police in particular.

Thing is, the story comes from 2022, fully two years after America had some time to absorb the shocks of 2020, get over the Trump era, have talks with police and teachers. It's like the racists are hunkering down, setting up barricades to change. The story made me infuriated for the family, I quit rather than be left fuming. But we all do need to be aware of how prevalent this stuff still is.

http://brander.ca/stackback#bonham


2024/02/08: I Get Postmedia for the Local News

Note to self: quit griping when you read endless crapping on government in general and liberalism of every kind, in Postmedia papers, just because you're paying for it.

You're paying for Dan Fumano, Katie deRosa, Vaughn Palmer, and Douglas Todd; the rest is no different from having paid for the horoscope, all these years. The horoscope is wrong, superstitious, anti-science nonsense, rather like a lot of Postmedia coverage of the Convoy grievances, and illusory Wokeness Worries. But you paid for it. Heck, you never read the whole Sports Section, except Curling.

But Dan and Katie in Vancouver, Vaughn and Doug in Victoria, are covering the politics that's local, the important politics. There's just no tech-bro website that's going to care about our school board or the Vancouver Parks.

The Vancouver Sun is expensive; over $500/year, more than I pay for all my substack subscriptions, The Guardian, The National Observer, The Tyee - all put together. I'm paying for stuff I don't use, and for stuff that actively offends me. I'm helping to enrich the plutocratic jerks that want the poor to stay poor, the rich get ever-richer.

It's certainly aggravating, but I think that local journalism has to be supported; all politics is local, and all that. I'm not sure if Conrad, Rex, and Zivo appreciate how much water Katie and Dan are carrying for them.

http://brander.ca/stackback#localnews


2024/02/04: Apologies Are Free

The headline I expected this morning was delivered: Mark Zuckerberg is up $28B because the market loved his latest apology tour of Washington. It mystifies me that the Obama/Trudeau politicians of the world are sneered at for making "apology tours" of offended peoples and countries. Apologies deflect problems, and yet they cost absolutely nothing. What an economic coup, and Zuckerberg is being rewarded for it.

The villains, of course, are the politicians who took their moment on TV, got their free meaningless string of words, and utterly refused to even discuss regulation of the problem.

http://brander.ca/stackback#apologies


2024/02/02: Don't Feed The Troll

Everybody is talking about Danielle Smith and her latest trolling effort. Forbidding renewables was also just a trolling effort; she could not possibly care less about either trans kids or transformers. Her only interest in either matter is the trolling: It's another "We will make liberals cry again", Don Jr.'s little plea for attention.

The smart response is to yawn; to express sympathy, of course, for the small number of families that are harmed by this assault on their rights. But, just urge support for them in the courts, to sue the government for the damage it has done, while expressing faith that the courts will guard their civil rights, because Smith has attacked all our civil rights. Leave it there.

Conservatives have been trolling liberals into defending unpopular minorities, now, for generations; their problem is that they're running out of outcasts. Gays worked brilliantly for them, for the longest time, but not any more. They're down to the transgender minority.

Just 0.6% of the population is transgender, and a large majority of them do not express their desires until 18, or nearly. Most of these "minors" are just barely so - ages 17 and 16 are the most common.

Of that small minority, a far smaller group again does not have parents that support them, at least not after a physician has weighed in and explained some, ahem, facts of life, to the parents. To be one of the parents that wants Smith to defend their "parent's rights", you have to be the sort who believes they can just discard doctors' advice because of their own beliefs. Mostly, religious extremists, of course.

It's not much of a "threat" for Danielle Smith to save Decent Normal Unperverted God-Fearing Society from. Just a small minority, of the small minority who are underage, of a 0.6% minority. It's kind of a pathetic troll, compared to her predecessors attacking the jobs of thousands of gay teachers 30 years ago.

Just express those best wishes that courts compensate them for the attack on their civil rights, and ask what Smith is doing about the crash in test scores, doing about kids coming to school hungry. Don't feed her trolling.

http://brander.ca/stackback#troll


2024/01/31: X is Our Royal Court

I spent a whole Canadaland Podcast yesterday, feeling sorry for Jonathan Goldsbie, and his lost "Scene" of Twitter. Twitter, I now get it, was a "Scene", capital-S, the way Boomers used the word when we were young. Berkley's Summer of Love was the Scene in '67, Woodstock was the Scene to be seen in, 1969. Millennials did have a Scene during Occupy in 2010, and I suppose our Convoy felt like a Scene in 2022, to the participants. Traditionally, those who were in a Scene then are nostagic about the friends and vibes of the time, for the rest of the lives, try to hold on to it. There's nothing like a feeling of Community, of having Found Your People. (Gay people speak very movingly of finding a Gay Scene when they left a small-town start for a big city.)

Jono Goldsbie and thousands of others who felt seen, by tout le monde, at the Twitter Scene, are now the nostalgia phase, and pining, as in the podcast.

But, I finally believe I understand X, understand why nobody important has left it for Mastodon, not Obama or Katy Perry, of course, but also not the L.A. Dept. of Water and Power, or a thousand (literally) other government and corporate P.R. offices. Why today's "X in the news" filler was that Sesame Street's Elmo asked "how are people doing", got inundated with cries of despair, and Joe Biden replied to say it's important we support each other, etc, etc.

So, X is now this indisputably bad Nazi bar...but the POTUS won't leave, and neither will...ELMO?

No question, X is very useful for journalists; their beta-test site where they can throw out a dozen ideas a day, and follow up for paid-work, the ones that get the most reaction. It's where journals can find them for paid-work. For most non-famous people, it's some light entertainment, and they can ignore Nazis if they want. And for famous people, X is the Royal Court.

Courts have people who belong there, and own it - and any person actually famous outside of social media - in sports, entertainment, politics - are the aristocrats of X; they just own the place. They're the reason everybody else comes.

Barack and Taylor have no reason to quit X; they never chat on it, have no time to read it. They just announce stuff on it, and they'd rather announce stuff on the platform with the most viewers. As long as that's X, nothing else needs discussion.

John Ralston Saul was speaking of journalists and lobbyists when he compared them to "courtiers" about 30 years back, in his books. He reminded his readers that the word "courtesan", which came to mean "high-class prostitute" in later centuries, is simply the feminine form of "courtier", and they were all whores, to some degree, those who hung around the Courts of aristocrats, hoping to be noticed, to have their fame boosted by the association, hoping for money that would fall from various directions if they caught the fancy of the truly powerful.

Saul's courtiers and courtesans found a place they could hang out all the time, rather than bars around Parliament Hill or Queen's Park. They can make their fortunes rise and fall with Goldsbie's "snark", which is the same "wit" that was prized in the movie, "Ridicule", about those who competed for attention in the courts of Louis. They can't leave the Royal Court for some actual "People's Network" of Mastodon servers run by libraries and schools and government departments. They can't be seen by the right people, there.

Here's what struck me, listening to the podcast: Jonathan Goldsbie was clearly very good at Twitter, very famously so among big fans of Canadian Politics Twitter, in any event. I read a lot of news, and I had no idea about this at all; no idea whom the (now former, I guess) "Twitter Stars" of Canada, are. Nobody outside their corner of X does. Only being noticed there by real-world celebrities can make them break through.

All those government agencies and corporations (even Sesame Street) that use X for public communications are the same in that respect. They have no Royal power to make courtiers and courtesans second-hand famous by boosting posts, but they also could care less if X had Nazis, any more than they care if Nazis also watch CTV when they hand CTV a press-release. It's just a one-way platform to them. There's zero advantage in the City of Calgary starting a Mastodon server for public announcements that are free of Nazi taint; it would have fewer viewers, and reaching more people is their only mandate.

The Tech Bros may again be testifying before Congress about their harms again this morning, but Congress is not saying a word about a program to replace them with a public social network, though the existing "Fediverse" has millions of participants. It's not going to come up. None of those politicians want to lead the way, making their future announcements to a fifth as many people. They want the "reach", too.

I imagined X could be replaced, for a whole year. That's because I thought the attraction was an egalitarian social network. It's not. Those who use it most heavily want it to be a Royal Court, where they can be noticed by the powerful, not some people's public square, where celebrities never drop by.

http://brander.ca/stackback#X


2024/01/30: LNG Future Imperfect

Balancing Day, I guess: having championed continued investments in the ancient, doddering, near-dead fuel of coal, yesterday, I'm against investments in the latest, greatest carbon fuel, LNG, today.

Coal's last job, steelmaking, will take decades to turn over, and we can sell some in the interval of decline, while the huge technological and industrial-policy issues are tackled. LNG can be, and is being, entirely replaced by renewables and storage. Betting that the "storage problem" won't be solved by 600 battery development projects that have already shown great promise is foolish. Unlike steelmaking, the new energy technologies are sharply cheaper than the ones they can replace, so the economic driver to push ahead with that runs to the hundreds of billions of dollars per year. Any nation that does not have gas has a huge incentive to find a replacement. Western Europe is desperate to not be under the thumb of Russia. It'll happen.

So the article in The Herald today about Canada getting a "second chance" to have another big LNG project or two, really only needs an eye-roll to dismiss.

None of the forecasts have changed from the last time we looked at this. The the frantic Western European project to switch off gas is coming along remarkably well, considering how ambitious it is. Yesterday's IEA document about coal was full of hoped-for technologies all working out. The link above is to their 2027 initiative, with a very short-term goal with entirely available, already-manufactured equipment that is available and being installed at speed.

Asia? Also, desperate to get off gas if they don't have it, which is Japan and Korea; and China is where the solar panels and biggest turbines come from. With Evergrande teetering, I wouldn't look to Asia for the short term, either.

The industry is making stuff up in hopes of a last score. They're kidding themselves, and we shouldn't let them kid us.

http://brander.ca/stackback#LNGfuture


2024/01/29: The World is Really Big, World-Changers

Just a permanent note of my reply to the National Observer article about banks still bankrolling metallurgical coal.

The article provides a great summary of all the pilot projects ongoing, many in Canada, to produce steel without loads of coking coal. It's possible, it may even be affordable, but it's just not going to come quickly. The article notes that demand for coal will drop by two-thirds in the next 26 years, according to the IEA. But when you click through to that IEA "Technology Roadmap" Document, it's clear how aspirational it is, based on rapid improvement of barely-tested technologies, massive investment in the change, carbon capture fantasies.

It's just very unlikely that we'll be able to change over a billion-tonne-a-year industry in just 25 years. The banks are not being stupid to invest in coal right now; if there are dramatic improvements in Green Steel progress in the next five years (and there may well be), they'll stop investing quickly. But the Green Steel Team have some proving to do, first. Best of luck to them.

Everybody on this topic needs to read Vaclav Smil Books, like this very good summary of his points. His points are that the world is really, really big, and you can't speak cavalierly about just changing big pieces of it (steel, cement, fertilizer, plastics, farming, heavy construction) in a decade. Or two.

http://brander.ca/stackback#reallyworks


2024/01/27: "Peaceful Muslims, Please Refudiate"

...so said near-illiterate Sarah Palin, July 18, 2010, demanding that all the Muslims in the USA who didn't want to be national enemies, reject (the word she finally picked) the notion of a Muslim-run social centre with a prayer room, several blocks from "Ground Zero".

Muslims were into their 8th year of of intimidation and endless suspicion, at the time; Maher Arar had won his $10M judgement over his torture just a few years earlier. Very few were of a mood to stick their heads up and be branded a terrorist-sympathizer by the likes of Sarah Palin, (the Trump 0.8 beta-release version), over a real-estate proposal.

The anti-liberals (I don't think the word "conservative" applies any more - "those against human liberties" seems a good term) have always demanded that minorities prove they're "one of the good ones", be it one of the good Blacks, one of the good Jews, or one of the good Muslims, to be acceptable among the majority. Suspicion automatically falls upon their whole group, so "The Good Ones" must prove a negative to dodge it.

It's not like Muslims ever had a year or two off where they were not under threat. Six dead, one in a wheelchair for life, shot in the back at prayer, in a mosque in Quebec City; four family mowed down like bowling pins by an SUV in London. That trial was just coming to a conviction when October 7th hit, handing the anti-liberals a huge club to beat every Muslim with, demanding they "refudiate" Palestine the whole time.

There's still a very narrow pathway to offer restrained criticism: the refudiating Good Ones must make clear they don't champion anybody but women and children in Gaza, all males assumed to be Hamas terrorists who deserved their deaths. The ferocity and relentlessness of knocking down whole neighbourhoods, or shooting grandmothers waving white flags, can be questioned, but not the larger war.

I don't know if there were any words of context in the speech by Natalie Knight, now-fired Langara instructor, who lost her job over the three words "amazing, brilliant offensive" about October 7; those were the only three words quoted in the news. They were not, apparently, over the line for Langara, but she was fired anyway, on the assumption her presence made Jews on campus feel unsafe. Some Convoy participants were from Ottawa itself, could go home to the 'burbs and sleep soundly while the horns kept downtown Ottawa awake. One wonders, not for long, how far downtown Ottawans would get, wanting those Convoy participants fired from Ottawa workplaces, because they once made fellow-workers "feel unsafe".

Sympathies, I have to reserve for a clearer case, the Arab-Australian sacked for apparently just posting facts.

It's unfortunate that will still live in a country where the ones getting shot in the back, mowed down on the road, are the ones having to prove and prove that they are not a danger for protesting a war. But it's the country we've got.

http://brander.ca/stackback#refudiate


2024/01/26: Sorry, But This Is Just Funny

Sorry, but this photograph is just objectively funny. I know, people are pearl-clutching and raving angrily about a provincial premier giving attention to a nut like Carlson, a literal platform for all manner of lying propaganda, worse than her own.

For me, it's just funny that all these people would actually line up to smile at a camera, and that a serving politician would be seen with them. It's like all those accusations of "child abuse" being leveled at pediatricians prescribing for transgender cases, while the accusers blithely ignore hundreds of thousands of accusations of child molestation against religious authority figures.

In this photo: a businessman who was put in jail for years for defrauding his business partners out of tens of millions of dollars. A mental health professional who continued to practice, and neglected to inform his patients, as he went deep into drug addiction...lecturing millions on personal control the whole time! And a propagandist - after the Dominion lawsuit, we can say that now - a propagandist who cost his employer over $700M in damages for defaming an honest vendor.

Danielle Smith is actually the least-objectionable dinner partner at the table; the other three, I'd really have to get up and go find a burger. Yes, yes, she's peddled conspiracy theories herself, and continues to fund the Alberta "War Room" that imagines a conspiracy between foreign oil companies and Green lobbyists. But, really, she's small potatoes by comparison.

It's been so nice to have such clarity of who the good guys and bad guys are. The conservatives always had this story to tell, that they were after the highest profits, which would bring prosperity and freedom to all, so they're the real good guys. It's just a mask that's been ripped away at this point. We can be sharply partisan, forgiving of sins on our own side because theirs is just so much worse, not give the "controversies" they make up, any of our time.

And that photograph is still funny.


2024/01/25: A Few Facts about Oil and Gas Employment

The readers of a Herald column about the end of the TMX pipeline project would appear to be unclear on a few facts, to judge by their comments. Perhaps Stackback can help clear them up.

The big LNG terminal workforce are the end, though. The big projects were all happening at once, created the last capital-project jobs in building up the "plays" that the high-capital, low-salary industry will fund; they could only fund these ruinous projects with a lot of help, and there's no more future growth. The industry will now hunker down with its last Canada plays, extracting a "long tail" of declining sales from the investment, automate ever more.

Not that petroleum engineering is a bad educational choice in 2024, because young people are leaving the field too quickly!

As shown at right, the career advice to "go where others do not go", is currently into oil and gas; Texas A&M grads in petroleum engineering have fallen off by 70% in six years, which is too soon. So all the grads that are coming out, are getting jobs, and salaries are going up to keep them.

And, here's the thing: after several years of good work and salary, you can still bail in your late 20s, switch professions to fracking for geothermal, or managing renewables construction, which is still Big Construction with many overlapping skills. It's just in your late 30s you'd find yourself pigeonholed.

It's those now in their mid-30s, with over 25 years of career still ahead, who should be looking for a graceful exit by 2030, when the long, flat peak turns downward, permanently this time.

http://brander.ca/stackback#oilfax


2024/01/22: Slumlords Are Tolerated Because They Provide Cheap Housing

I should really work on my brevity skills by starting a blog called "It's Just That Simple", where all posts are under 100 words. Tough for me, as I can't just assert things, I have to explain, god help me. (I'm learning this is the key to political success, like Trump and Poilievre: just assert simple solutions would work; let others debate at length, sounding like bureaucrats, while you sound like an Action Hero.)

My morning paper gives notice that the inquest into a DTES SRO fire starts today, but they could just listen to the "Dynasties" podcast from Canadaland, about the Sahotas of Vancouver. They run most of the SRO slum housing, and have for a long time. Everybody in power knows how their business model works, and nobody has done anything about it.

The podcast shows how one reformer after another crashed upon the rocks of cost; there isn't enough money to house the SRO customers decently, and the Sahotas provide a space to live, for the money that is there, at the cost of decency.

Until the money equations change, the system won't. Corners will be cut until people die, every time, then a few less corners for a while, until scrutiny drops. But unless some level(s) of government simply build decent housing for them, and rent it for money they do have, the story will just repeat, as it already has many times.

http://brander.ca/stackback#slumlords


2024/01/19: Facing the Enemy

I'll spare you the Trump mug shot, for illustration; we've all seen it, and know he's doing his best to look hard, courageously defiant. Face-palm me for being so dense about this, but I finally made the connection to this famous shot of him ripping off his mask in October, 2020. That link is to a special post I made to CCCC today, after a quiet month of beating my own virus. I didn't really focus, in 2020, on how important it was to all the supporters that he just show that defiance. It was such a nutty response to a virus, that I didn't catch how psychologially necessary it was, though it handed that "enemy" a free win.

What drags all this out of the swamp of fascist history is his response to his various trials. The trials are like "fighting" a virus, when avoidance is the only way to win; like "fighting" to keep the White House after losing: they're all a specialty with Trump supporters: Lost Causes. His supporters need a man who can lead them through their Lost Causes: the fading churches, the shrinking White majority - they're all hopeless fights, aren't they? And they know it, deep down.

Trump's job isn't to win, not those trials, not the '24 election: it's his job to Lose Defiantly, to go down screaming, and making as much pain for the Winners as possible. Now, all his behaviour makes sense. The pandemic wasn't "Trump's kryptonite"; it was exactly the kind of fight he specializes in. His role in American history is "Greatest Loser". Which is why our graphic today is not the mug shot, it's Hans Gruber in "Die Hard", screaming all the way down.

Now, you can quit scratching your head at Trump's court antics that hand free wins to his prosecutors, antagonize his judges and juries. They're of a piece to handing free wins to the coronavirus - as long as it lets him show brave defiance of the Lost Cause, that's all he cares about. Gruber was overcome by the calm persistence of the Law of Gravitation; for all his screaming, calm persistence with the laws of the nation should do the same for Trump.

http://brander.ca/stackback#facing


2024/01/17: America's Worst Anti-Semites

Harvard professors? Left-wing activists? Palestinian Sympathizers?

Just kidding. America's worst anti-semites, are, of course, also its worst racists, as a group: the "White Evangelicals", or "extremely right-wing Christians", as newspapers tend to say, to avoid tarring all White Evangelicals with the failings of only about 80% of their number.

The letter at left is taken from the book "You Can Be a Good Speller, or a Hater , but not Both", by Bonnie Weinstein, partner of Mikey Weinstein in the "Military Religious Freedom Foundation", which protests when American service-people are forced to make religious observances, required to come to prayer meetings, or sit in official ceremonies with Jesus up on the wall of the military boardroom.

For these protests, they get letters like these, and because Mikey is Jewish, they are littered with particularly sickening antisemitic insults. They really do betray how twisted these guys think.

The book goes on for over two hundred pages of these kinds of letters. Not all are this antisemitic, but most are. It's bubbling just under the surface. News organs are also reluctant to remind their readers of WHY the White Evangelical Christians of America are so supportive of Israel, when they are vehemently vicious in their responses to Jews who are fellow Americans talking about any topic they dislike. They believe in the prophecy that Israel exists to call all the Jews of the world there to be killed. Well, killed, or converted to Christianity on the Last Day... killed and damned eternally.

This belief has been around quite a while, and isn't discussed. "Lady, if you please, refuse...until the Conversion of the Jews" is in Andrew Marvell's "To His Coy Mistress", meaning "refuse, until the end of the world".

But you can't get away from it: the people in America with the greatest suspicions of Jews (and fondness for conspiracy theories), those quickest to start calling any Jewish political opponent ugly names, are the strongest supporters of Israel. Underneath, it's not a Jewish State at all; it's the Kingdom of Christ the King, and the temporary inhabitants can convert or die, when the time comes.

One can imagine how much they want those Jews, that are supposed to be gathering in Israel to fulfill prophecy, to stay in America. England got a Jewish PM almost 150 years ago; America will be waiting a while yet. After the White Evangelical backlash against the Voting Rights Act that ended most of Jim Crow in 1965, (they abandoned the Democrats rapidly, costing Carter re-election), and the extreme backlash by White Evangelicals after Obama got past them (they turned to Trump), the Democrats would be nuts to put forward a Jew, and they won't. Just sayin'.

http://brander.ca/stackback#mrff


2024/01/16: Time to Re-Read About American White Evangelicals

It's just a guffaw that article writers are still writing about America's White Evangelicals as if they're Christians.

They are not, by many measures. Pieties do not make the Christian, demonstrated beliefs and actions do. America's White Evangelicals overwhelmingly refuse to worship in the company of Black people. Their churches are effectively segregated, integration staunchly resisted. They have ALWAYS made the less-religious, more-racist choice in voting, 40 years before Trump. But Trump has been their perfect candidate, an "out" racist who doesn't bother to dog-whistle.

There's no reaching them. They can only be outlived, and we can only make sure their next generation does not replace them. It's working, but slowly.

http://brander.ca/stackback#whitechurch


2024/01/12: Sometimes, I Just Hate the Headlines

Talk about the "pyramid lead"; I often get angry at the news from just reading the headline. This can happen with the obviously-biased papers; the fifteenth "Trudeau is Bad" headline of the month in the National Post is just an eye-roll, not a "grrrr..." moment.

That writer knew that our system heavily leans on the free market to provide housing, that the governments are mostly thanked for staying the hell out of "interference" in the free market.

So, why isn't the headline "Industry Knew Two Years Ago That They Needed To Build More Housing"? It's always government's fault. If it's a government service, well, obviously their fault. But if the service is provided by the free market (natural gas, food, gasoline, supply chains for hardware), somehow, that is also, always, government's fault.

I have to wonder if it isn't related to the issue mentioned yesterday (just below) about CBC: are the media just becoming afraid to criticize any private industry, because they're all so shrunken into oligopolies that have long memories and a taste for payback.

http://brander.ca/stackback#headlines


2024/01/11: Who Can Criticize Giant Corporations?

There was some celebration when the 1928 version of Mickey Mouse left copyright on January first, and a few avant-garde artists hastened to make some fun.

The really heavy shots were taken by CBC's "This Hour Has 22 Minutes" the other night, when they produced the reminder of all Disney's (man and corporation) sins, voiced by the cash-cow, or cash-mouse, himself. Stackback is undoubtedly only repeating the work of YouTube and CBC's own web services, to put a reduced copy at right. I'd just like to be part of the pile-on, and provide a plug for "22 minutes", and for CBC in general.

Like Basic Black, beating up CBC is always in fashion for Conservatives. CBC reports news, and "truth has a well-known liberal bias", as Colbert said. CBC also beats up on Liberals - quite a lot, actually - and gets no credit for it, since it doesn't beat up on the right things, or hard enough.

The piece ends with Mickey pointing out that nobody can do anything about Disney, anymore: the own "everything", or certainly enough that any critic, even a giant corporation - really, especially a giant media corporation, would fear losing advertising business or contracts, from the behemoth.

Then the host points out he works for CBC, and is told he'll be fine.

And that's the nub of it: in an economy where every industry is dominated by "Seven Sisters" (the term for the big oil companies) or fewer, only a government-supported critic will not be warned off from criticizing an oligopolist by Head Office.

When's the last time you saw a joke about Rogers or Shaw? About Android or Apple? I think Saturday Night Live has occasionally shown that kind of muscle, but if you look at the "brave" comedy of Ricky Gervais or Dave Chappelle, they're braver sneering at the nebulous, lawyerless "Woke" than they are at the corporations that put them on the air.

I'll keep watching "22 Minutes" until all those big powerful corporations show similar bravery.

Technical Note: as before on brander.ca, I like to brag about how I can post video clips from the news or other TV. Those who get their TV from giant corporate oligopolists, like Rogers and Shaw, cannot: the equipment provided by the corporations will not permit this legal activity. By getting my television over-the-air, I preserve my legal rights to copy for fair comment. Oh, and my comment about "22 Minutes" is, AWESOME!

http://brander.ca/stackback#mickey


2024/01/01: New Year, New Leaf on Social Media

Over Xmas, I got quite sick (no jokes) and was housebound for a week; spent more and more time on my Mastodon account, posting more every day. Did my first "multi-element post" to explain why my unfortunately-short phrase, about the pandemic, "It's China's Fault" was just shorthand for the "[fault of] government officials in Wuhan who suppressed heroic Chinese public health officials".

My 1st "thread" ended with a withdrawal of the three-word original phrase. Which return posters appeared to accept. Alas, the original post was deleted by the moderators of "urbanists.social", my Mastodon community. I appealed to them, based on my clarifying thread. Denied, instantly.

Yikes! Every dog gets one bite, but a second slip over their line could easily subject me to "bigotry" ad-hominems. By then, I had already thanked those moderators for their volunteer time, donated (again) to Urbanists.social, which has only ever had 121 contributors - putting me well up in their top supporters on that page. After the rejection, I informed those in that thread, again, and that I accepted those are the rules. And posted that I clearly needed a break from Mastodon, will check back for any messages or whatever on February 1.

And I really do need a break; I was relying upon Mastodon for diversion, hours a day over Xmas, because I was sick and housebound. Every day, posting more and more. I have the mild mental illness of the gentleman in "XKCD 386", at left. I've always known that, and this and my pandemic blogs are examples - harmless ones, given the lack of readers. On social media, it's child's play to chop out my first post, strip it of the later context, and use it for ill. There are a lot of shameless disinformers who would. I imagine that's the reason no amount of "clarification" was redeeming.

If I go to "substack.com", I do not see a list of the substacks I've subscribed to. It takes me straight to "Substack Notes". Where I kept seeing posts that triggered the XKCD386 behaviour, and I'd reply. I've quit that, too.

So, I'm not going to "substack.com", as such, any more. I will have links I can click on for these fine journalists:

I believe that if I always go straight to those URLs, I won't be exposed to Substack using algorithms to trigger me, like Las Vegas putting slot machines in the airport while travelers wait. I'm giving up all the other substackers that I might see, but tough: I have enough reading.

This approach should also immunize me (and the journalists I subscribe to) from the ongoing concerns that "Substack has a Nazi Problem". I have already left a comment at J.Ling's column on this, noting that it's possible to treat substack as just a blog-publisher, making it like a print shop that will print good and bad material.

The thing about a printing press company, is that if they also publish Nazis, the Nazis don't get to visit all the other customers, to troll and "invite engagement" from problem cases like myself. Substack absolutely would rather be a commercial social media platform, use algorithms to "drive engagement", and I'm quite certain, eventually "enshittify" into X and Threads.

Substack will have to look to its own risks. I have to address mine by ignoring substack, save as a host for five blogs. I'll have to hear about any other good stuff from somewhere else in future.

This is even more important for 2024 than 2023, guaranteed to be an, ahem, "engaging" year. Here's to a 2024 of improved mental health.

http://brander.ca/stackback#newleaf


2023/12/26: Xmas Present for the Congress: A Trump Solution

Here's a "columnist classic" for you: I'm so excited about my Bright Idea, I'll skip the research. I'm going to take it for granted that psychologists have cognitive-ability tests that go far, far beyond Mr. Trump's "man, woman, TV camera" test easily passed by kindergarten children. They must have tests that they use to weed out who is suitable for being a Air Force pilot, who is suitable for any advanced education.

Just require that Presidential candidates be tested to a cognitive level that means they are likely to do well in college.

Trump would probably flunk a college SAT, for that matter, or anything of equivalent difficulty.

The key to this being a serious proposal, rather than just another Trump-is-stupid joke: the GOP should be happy to pass this law, requiring the test, because they profess a deep, serious belief that it is Biden who is mentally incompetent. So they would sell it as a Biden test.

The GOP will be happy to sell it as a Biden-disqualification test, knowing that it's a Trump-disqualification test, because they hate Trump,probably more than their opponents.

The bad news: again, without doing research, I'm pretty sure that Congress can't disqualify Presidential candidates, or they'd invent a test only their guy could pass. They couldn't even require a candidate take it, much less pass it; but the public refusal to take a mental competence test used in military, academia; a basic test the whole public could take the next day ("Are you smarter than a President?" "Can you pass the test Trump was scared to take?")...would cut points, when your own supporters tried it on the website and found it..basic.

Oh, and the test could come with a basic drug test, of course. For Adderall and similar "cramming" drugs. Surely Republicans would be for that.

The key is not that Trump is less-capable than other candidates; the key is that he's not as smart as his own supporters. He's almost certainly toast in '24 either way; but no harm in making it a slam-dunk. Peeling off just 5% of those hardcore supporters is the most we need for that.

http://brander.ca/stackback#trumpsolution


2023/12/19: Call the GwynneDyer!

My wife and I promptly seized upon the UK show "Call the Midwife", when the great writer, Laurie Penny, praised it as the only show on the air trying to reduce your tension.

She noted that she'd trained to write TV scripts, and the First Commandment of TV writing was to "Build Tension". Keep building it to the very last minute. She was astonished to find the one show where they are trying to reduce tension all through the episode. That the central fact of the show - somebody is going to go through childbirth, in mind-shattering pain, with two lives in the balance - was enough tension, thank you very much. A Man-versus...I'm sorry, a Woman-versus-Nature story, with all people on the same side, only in conflict about what the Right Thing might be. "Call the Midwife" was a balm, during the pandemic.

The balm you might need after reading most modern news, is to find Gwynne Dyer at the London Free Press. That's about the only place to find him in Canadian papers, since, as Dyer noted in a book introduction over 15 years back, Canada has the most-concentrated newspaper ownership in the world, and when Izzy Asper and Conrad Black both decided his views on Israel were unacceptable, he was out-of-circulation. But do look.

Dr. Dyer is the "Call the Midwife" of geopolitical journalism, two times out of three. He's sounded alarms, but more-often talks you down from the fears other journalists want you to have:

Think China is on the brink of attacking Taiwan to distract from their bad economy? Dyer flatly rejects that.

Think that Donald Trump would be the Last Election? Dyer notes how Poland had a worse, more-competent authoritarian for eight years, but is coming back.

Think you know how to solve US gun violence, and only evil opponents are preventing the solution? Dyer points to countries with more guns and less killing, and vice-versa. He recommends everybody have some humility about a problem we really don't understand.

I find even that soothing, compared to calls for conflict; he's calling for study and experiment. (How handy the worst sufferer has 50 labs.)

I often feel worse after reading "The news" and usually feel better after reading Dyer...debunk the "news" that's written like a TV narrative, ratcheting up my tension.

http://brander.ca/stackback#gwynnedyer


2023/12/18: The Real History of Canada's Conservatives, 21st Century

One of those posts that just directs everybody to one story, this about the "tragedy" of Canada's Conservatives.

In America, it was the "takeover of Trump", though you can find the love of conspiracy theory and Big Lie lying in the Bush adminstration and earlier, with Gingrich in the nineties.

But in Canada, the slide from "conservative" party, to one with radical conspiracy theories (the Alberta "war room" exists to propagate a belief that Green oppostion to Alberta oil is actually funded by competitors that want to lock-in Alberta oil) is 20 years ago, now.

They chose to merge, and, fundamentally (grin) the people that even Jason Kenney called "kooks" won the merger. The Real Conservatives might have put them down, but Trump showed their performances could bring in the votes, and now we have th performative politicking of Poilievre; Ford; and Smith, instead of governance. Ford has shown the pro-rich corruption, gentle and genteel under conservatives, will become ever-more gross and obvious.

Read it and weep.

http://brander.ca/stackback#darkalliance


2023/12/16: Overshadowed Headlines

This is like all one headline, a text-block at the top of the National Post paper page this morning:

FOR SEVEN WEEKS, THE WERE KEPT IN TINY ROOMS IN UNDERGROUND TUNNELS, WITH LITTLE FOOD AND NO SHOWERS. NOW, THE TRAUMATIZED CHILDREN HELD HOSTAGE BY HAMAS ARE BEGINNING THE LONG JOURNEY TOWARD RECOVERY.

It really is terrible, of course, those kids will have it difficult.

It's just that these headlines were written without thought for how it is for hundreds of thousands of children who've lived through the Gaza bombing for ten weeks, today. Tiny rooms underground? Well, if they can find any, that would be preferable during bombings. Little food? We've been hearing that about all of Gaza, starvation, for two months. Showers? Was that supposed to be funny? Israel cut off the water nine weeks ago.

The hostages were hostages, of course, separated from their families, in fear of their captors. But, thousands of Gaza kids have been separated from their parents, their whole family, by death itself, at this point. And none of them can possibly not be in fear of their lives; they've seen thousands of people around them die, thinking "that could have been me", with every one, because it could.

I just don't know how they expect me to read these outcries for the pain of the hostages. They're all true; they're just...overshadowed.

http://brander.ca/stackback#traumatized


2023/12/15: Why We Look For "Alternative News"

I only saw it courtesy of an angry guy on Mastodon: Al-Jazeera reporting that some Palestinians were killed "execution style" trying to hide in a school. That was two days ago. I just did a google-news search, and that story is in these news web sites:

You'll note the conspicuous lack of any large newspapers or networks. Is this because it's just not a real story, it's Palestinian Propaganda that Al-Jazeera fell for, or is in on?

Well, if you click the link to watch the video, or take one minute to skim this text report, the story is that bodies were found, people in the area gave eyewitness testimony that the killings were point-blank, that's it.

It's an accusation, and I'm quite certain that the IDF denies it, and "is investigating" as with all accusations. Journalists can write any story of an accusation that's not wildly unsupported, also report that the accused denies it, and that's fair journalism. It's not participating in propaganda.

I seem to also recall some accusations about terrible things that happened on October 7 turned out not to be true. Then that no, they really were true; babies were beheaded, just not clearly before death. In any event, that story was covered, as the accusations went back and forth.

If you feel the major news outlets are not giving you the "real, full" story, you start looking abroad. Sometimes, you can look too far.

Postscript, added 2023/12/18: The story never did show up in the major American papers, the TV, or even The Guardian.

http://brander.ca/stackback#altjourn


2023/12/11: Danielle Smith, Just Look Left

Alberta Premier Danielle Smith is being "berated" over health care.

She went on a call-in program the other day, and it did not go well. Her defense is that she "put that as a priority when elected a year ago". The article notes that she had no updates on her plan "to overhaul the system to create more governing agencies". In short, moving the executives around, there were never any announcements about "more doctors" or "more nurses" or "more beds".

If Smith would look at a map of Canada and slide her eye one province left from Alberta, and look at the news from the government, ah, left of her:

Doubled the number of foreign-nurse registrations this year;

Why? Well, policy made nurses want to work here. As noted in Stackback last April:

The nurses got a good offer they liked; a lot stopped quitting, and some came back.

That was after, as also noted in Stackback in February:

That, Premier Smith, is how you provide services to the public. You offer the professionals that can provide those services, and have options to leave, enough money to stay. Enough money to come to Canada and work. While paying rent.

You do not get the job done by shuffling the executive offices around. However many or few departments there are, patients are served by nurses and doctors and medical technicians, and that bureaucracy must serve them. You can make the bureaucracy focus on their staff by paying attention to them first, and the bureaucracy, second.

Is there some journalism failing, here? The political activists (by which I mean the staff of the National Post, along with CPC Communications) were very, very happy to compare Alberta and BC, back in the months when the opioid death statistics were so different. Now that Alberta's opioid deaths have risen 25% in a year, nearly reaching BC levels, the Conservatives and the National Post have simply shut up on the issue. Which is what they do. Never apologize, never explain, just drop the issue.

It's a journalistic failure to let them do that, if you ask me. It's a failure not to ask Smith why she isn't getting real governing done, like David Eby. Smith, the Convoy Fan, isn't even that great at "peace and order", frankly. "Good government", where she gets resources needed, in-place to solve problems, isn't even on her radar.

http://brander.ca/stackback#goodgovt


2023/12/09: So Glad To Know This is Ending

This issue is probably ending today, the Herald has squeezed six articles out of it.

How closely do most people really parse the difference between "come light a menorah" and "come support Israel, light a menorah"? Most people, not; but Gondek clearly feared that some would read "she supports the Netanyahu government" into her attendance. The Calgary Jewish and Muslim communities in Calgary are estimated at about 10,000 and 100,000, respectively. The notion that the Muslims might have taken her attendance amiss, doesn't come up in The Herald. (Actually, the Muslim community isn't mentioned in a single one of the articles.)

The nation-state of Israel can make a claim that no other government can: that criticism of their government is religous bigotry. Not even Saudi Arabia, the home of the two Holy Cities of the worldwide religion, their place of pilgrimage. The Israeli claim is hotly disputed at every invocation, but it's largely effective at pressuring western governments - right down to the municipal level!

Gondek was forced into a no-win choice, if she was getting calls from Muslim constituents about the "support Israel" words on the ceremony poster. It wouldn't have happened if our society had the attitudes recommended by my previous post, below. I wish we did.

The larger issue is very slowly coming to an end, though the progress so far in my lifetime confirms that I won't be around to see it. We've reached 41% of the population in British Columbia that don't follow religion. And only 20% here think it "very important". Those numbers are not quite as good in Canada as a whole, more like 37% irreligious and 25% "very important". But, we're in the clear majority now, and old assumptions about the power of religions are fading.

Remarkable how much power they still have, in minority. At 10,000, or 0.7% of the population, the Calgary Jewish community is about the size of the transgender community, who also complain of discrimination - but to much less effect. Meanwhile, even tinier religous communities have displayed the influence to overcome public-health regulations; and kill people here. But, then, of course, the violence: politicians fear the religious, because religions incite people to kill and die for them.

That's why they scare me.

http://brander.ca/stackback#religion


2023/12/08: Or, We Could Separate Church and State

Blogs are great for tiny, brief, intense issues like the Mayor of Calgary skipping a Menorah-lighting.

I'm all for it. Also, she should skip every other religious service that she would not attend if she were not Mayor. Heck, maybe State servants could even avoid their own church services, really bend over backwards to clarify that other religious citizens need not fear their State.

Because here's an extra problem: if the Mayor goes to Menorah lighting, and the Catholics, and the Muslims, and the Mormons, and the Sikhs and Hindus... ...what are the Seventh-Day Adventists supposed to think? Much worse, what are all those, um, ah, "small church with very radical ideas" preachers supposed to think? They would think they are a second-class religion.

It's simpler - much - to attend none. These appearances are not public service, they are not the job. The politicians who attend these things are electioneering, and should at least confine it to election seasons, with campaign buttons and stuff to clarify it isn't an official function.

http://brander.ca/stackback#churchstate


2023/12/07: Two Views of Danielle Smith's Political Stunting

The surprising one is Chris Nelson at the Herald, repeating several times during his op-ed that Danielle Smith's Alberta Pension Plan idea is dangerous nonsense, but also praising it has having gotten attention from the rest of the country.

Nelson imagines that "they have accepted this province gives more than it gets", which I don't think is even true. "We're supposed to thank them for having higher incomes that result in higher taxes?" would be a more-likely reaction. I'm not sure if Albertans understand that medical professionals could also draw a dotted line around themselves, and point out that they pay far more taxes, contribute more to the Canada Pension Plan than those outside their profession. What if they started the Canada Medical Professionals Pension Plan and wanted to withdraw their payments to CPP?

Nelson even ends with a cry back 40 years, to cut off their energy, though he avoids the words "freeze in the dark". Just "turn off the taps" to bring Ottawa to heel, their power to "dust".

And, in the end, Nelson approves of Smith's theatre, not her actual plan. He's very happy that she's spending time on theatre, to get attention to Alberta, which needs it to dust-ify those "nonsensical" pipeline laws.

The National Observer is not so sanguine about political stunting, not when the Premier is embarrassed by the oil companies themselves saying that new methane-release regulations will be no big problem - after Smith had come out doing the mama-grizzly thing to protect them from the "unconstitutional" pollution laws. (Smith might have checked that the industry had always claimed that emissions were much lower than they really are, so they have trouble really complaining.)

Smith is trying to please the industry, and trying too hard. When she "freaks out" (as one industry spokesman in the article called it) over nothing, it exposes her efforts as a show, a stunt. It's not getting any governance done, she's still electioneering after having just won.

How Trumpian.

http://brander.ca/stackback#polstunts


2023/12/06: Norman Lear: Went Woke, Got Very Rich

"Go Woke, Go Broke", was always the stupidest of meme-sayings.

I mean, of course it is more risky to offer a new entertainment that is challenging instead of familiar. People do like challenge, but it's a gamble, and many lose. So, political arm-wavers promptly arm-wave at the poor sales, chanting "Go Woke, Go Broke". (And, admittedly, we have yet to see "The Marvels", but honestly, superhero fatigue; we can't be bothered seeing "Quantumania" even on streaming.)

Norman Lear's obituary this morning showed what a joke the chant always was. TV was safe, and arguably "asleep" through the whole 1960s decade of rising political change. (Except Star Trek, 1966) Mary-Tyler Moore's show, 1970, of a single woman successful in a desk job that had recently been all-male, then Norman Lear's new sitcoms, that started in the next year, kicked off a "rural purge" of Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, and countless Westerns that had allowed TV to hide from mentioning modern American life.

"All in the Family" and its many descendants poured "wokeness" into American homes in prime-time, presenting one "issue" after another via the lens of comedy. Nixon complained about his favourite show shoving Archie Bunker's old friend, coming out as gay, into the White House living room. (Nixon called the presence of a single gay character on TV "glorification".)

By mid-decade, 5 of the 10 top shows on TV were Lear-wokeness, with MTM and M*A*S*H also on the list. Woke TV totally ruled in 1976, the year Saturday Night Live brought in a more-challenging, often "woke" humour. And Trump is still railing about Saturday Night Live, 49 years later.

Go Woke, Take a Gamble. That's the real story. You might lose. Norman Lear won really, really big - and helped change and serve his country. RIP.

http://brander.ca/stackback#kinglear


2023/12/05: What Is Our Military For?

Stackback started off replying to substacks, and today, back to The Line, and one Harrison Ruess decrying our light military spending. Ruess feels that it means we won't have "a seat at the table", that is, influence on foreign affairs. We'll not be respected, we'll miss trade and commercial opportunities.

I wish these guys would read Canada and the Great Power Game 1914-2014, by Gwynne Dyer. Dyer notes that Canada has been believing this since 1902, when they sent my grandfather, then 16, and thousands of other Canadian boys, off to South Africa to take it from grumpy Boers for the British Empire. We planted 50 of them in South African soil. For this, we got slapped in the face the next year, when the British needed American support for something, and so gave away quite a lot of Alaska to them, that the Russians had no right to sell. We lost tens of thousands in WW1, but they wouldn't give us a seat on the Imperial War Council to vote on which future imperial adventures we'd be dragged in on.

Name me the Canadian oil companies that profited from the British and American domination of Iraq and Iran. Zero. They don't cut in the junior partners on a piece of the action. The benefits that junior partners get in these deals is to not be pushed down like the less-helpful nations, and occasionally to be tossed a scrap.

And then there's Canada's touchingly naive committment to "peacekeeping". I just finished "Shake Hands with the Devil", where General D'Allaire is absolutely clear that 800,000 Rwandans died because none of the major military nations would back him up when he needed it.

We gave much, much more blood to Afghanistan, a hundred years later, than France and Germany did, but I'm unable to detect how that gave us more influence than France and Germany have in the G7. I'll wait: what did it get us?

What supporting the USA (call it "NATO" if you like) gets us, is not being punished. They would certainly economically punish us for not providing some minimum support, so we do enough to please them and avoid that. We never gotten a positive reward, so since Korea, we've just avoided punishment for doing too little. That's the bipartisan, Conservative/Liberal strategy.

Supporting our adventurous partners doesn't pay. Military doesn't get any hostages released, any Canadians kept safer in foreign lands for fear of our retaliation: heck, Israel can't release one hostage by force; using force to free hostages is a desperate last-chance gamble.

So I just have to ask Mr. Ruess for concrete examples of that influence we used to have when we had a stronger military still, the Korean War say. What was it, exactly? If you can't answer, then "absolutely minimal military spending to keep NATO happy" is an efficient policy.

http://brander.ca/stackback#milcan


2023/12/04: How Good is the Economy?

Well, if you need a dose of cheer, this morning, read this guy.

Now, "this guy" is not Paul Krugman, a famous economist, or even an associate professor of same, at a small state school. He's a political activist, says so on the substack. Such folks are not neutral scientists, they filter out the the most-supportive information. But you wanted a dose of cheer. (Also, if you want Paul Krugman, he's saying the same thing, but all carefully and scientifically, and this column is more fun.)

It has the full-size of the chart at left, showing the explosion in investment in construction of new manufacturing. Almost all in the electrical space, the new battery plants and car plants, and solar and wind, of course. But the overall effect on the economy is just what was needed to avert actual recession.

Recession was so confidently predicted a year ago, and we escaped; it's not so different from the Great Depression, when it was all public spending. This is mostly private, as rewarded by public tax spends.

The article is very American, but the other graph shows how America is leading the whole G7 at economic growth - the same graph shows Canada in number 2 spot, with higher growth than France, Germany, Italy, Japan. (Also, higher than the UK, which is no great feat these days.)

Yes, the information was selected, but it's all true, and it's an emotional counterbalance to the endless Economic Bad News being pumped at me by newspapers and TV. (Now, it's Christmas dinner we can't afford.) Very welcome.

http://brander.ca/stackback#goodecon


2023/12/02: Blah, Blah, Blah...

Well, of course COP28 is just King Charles mouthing pieties as his own government (the "his" there meaning something different from the usual) goes full, ah, steam ahead in the other direction. And the Pope mouthing pieties (arguably, his job).

Non-pieties would include: "We can't put in any more buildings or housing subdivisions with gas networks, now that there's an alternative. And we should convert existing heating away from gas, oldest first. Here's our program budget for that."

Until I hear that, I'm just hearing blah, blah, blah, and can't be bothered to read any details.

http://brander.ca/stackback#blahblah


2023/11/30: Ding-Dong, the Witch is Dead?

Pulp movies would routinely end with a question mark, as the evil sorceror would claim he'd come back. Enclosed in one newspaper, two views on the death of Henry Kissinger:Simon Tisdall points out that all his accomplishments have crumbled, that Russia remained an enemy, China has only become a more powerful enemy, Middle-East peace is very lost.

But, same day, the Guardian's "Long Read", by Tom Stevenson, points out the American Empire is still strong. Kissenger's world, where America just ordered things, for allies and enemies both, is still with us.

Stevenson admits this has to end, eventually, just as Israel can't dominate 200 million Arabs forever. But I don't think we'll see it in this end of this century, either.

http://brander.ca/stackback#witch


2023/11/29: Don't Miss Chomsky on AI (Like I Did)

I don't follow Dr. Chomsky's every thought, but he's smarter and wiser, and more appropriately cynical, than the rest of us, and I do listen when he speaks.

In particular, we should all really shut up and listen hard, when Noam Chomsky speaks on language and intelligence. No one person has done more to clarify and structure that field of biology-mathematics-psychology-philosophy (I think that's enough disciplines) that concerns itself with what "thought" even is. Chomsky's great name was made with the theory that all thought is also language, that we have to think in symbols; thought conveys meaning, which makes it language.

(I probably really muffed that, consult your actual Chomsky books and reviews for better summary.)

Because the NYT paywall will hide Chomsky's actual op-ed from you (why I missed it for 7 months, I guess), here's a link to an article about it, which contains the nub of it.

Click there for the actual quote, but the summary of his summary, is that what we are calling "artificial intelligence" works exactly diametrically opposite to how real intelligence works. Real intelligence is able to reach remarkably useful conclusions on very little data, can evaluate situations that have never before been seen. Large Language Models (don't say "AI") is only able to create similar works to what's already been done, and only if it's been done many, many times. They reach often hilariously-inaccurate conclusions, despite mountains of data. So: just the opposite of intelligence.

Don't be fooled. They're just plagiarism machines.

http://brander.ca/stackback#chomskyai


2023/11/27: Good Takedown of the "Canadian Taxpayers Federation"

...which may not even be "Canadian" (list of funders is not disclosed); definitely does not represent "Taxpayers" except the ones who vote Conservative; and is a single (opaque) organization, not any kind of "Federation". So it's one of those "Holy Roman Empire" kind of names.

The National Observer doesn't have a hard job, finding the "double standard" the CTF applies to Conservative spending.

There's virtually zero criticism of even the most-outlandish wastes of taxpayer money, when a Conservative government does it. All the CTF editorials are focused on spending proposals by Liberal and NDP politicians. That's about it, and it's obvious when they point it out.

What's also obvious is that:

That says a lot - about PostMedia - that I already knew.

http://brander.ca/stackback#ctf


2023/11/28: Just Enjoying the "Black Friday" Embarrassments Some More

I shouldn't repeat, much less post this story out-of-order... it's just funny that you can find the November 24 stories and the November 27 story in the same listing. I have rearranged them at left, so that the two "Black Friday disaster expected" stories at top, and the "Black Friday sales up 22%" story at bottom.

There was even an explanation for why the story changed so much, so fast: the second Nov 24 story up there, is written as the Friday sales are taking off, and already defying those low expections. Why? Well, customers beset by "inflation" and "rising cost of living", are, of course, looking to sales to economize.

So, to sum up: if the sales are bad, that's because of the bad economy. And if sales are good, that's because of the bad economy! Perfect.

No facts need intrude on the newsie narrative.

http://brander.ca/stackback#blackfriday2


2023/11/26: Economic Downers in the News Fail Again

They tried to turn the cheapest meal of the year, Thanksgiving, into an "Economy is Terrible" story a month ago, claiming we couldn't afford to eat it. Stackback was pleased to debunk that, at the above link.

Then, the whole last week or so, it has been Black Friday Doomcrying, how spending would be down, the economy is bad, etc etc.

The news has been pumping up "The Economy is Bad" stories for almost two years, now. Paul Krugman has been recording how inflation dropped and nobody would admit it, for over a year.

Well, I know that "Black Friday" continues, today and all week, but the early returns are in. this Black Friday was the biggest in history. Ten million purchases. I'm not surprised, though I neglected to "call" this one for bragging rights. Paul Krugman can probably do a brag column and smack the propagandists again. And we'll be right back here with another "zombie idea", the great liberal-government pandemic Depression, in a few months, I'm sure.

http://brander.ca/stackback#blackfriday


2023/11/25: VPD Not Just Withholding Information; They're Lying

It's extreme to say, but I believe I can stand by it. I used to track water main breaks, they were my primary "crime" to reduce. They used to hit Calgary at the rate of nearly 2 a day, 700 a year. Over decades, various improvements got that down by two-thirds, a mighty victory of civil engineering.

Man, did we know it. Crews had to find other jobs, work had to be rearranged.

It beggars my imagination to hear that "stranger assaults" on the streets of Vancouver, which drew so much attention when they spiked upwards in 2020, then went down from 4.5/day to under 2/day, without the police happening to notice.

Yet a police spokesman was still claiming that 4.5 number "every single day" at the time it had dropped 60%, in 2023. That steps across a line into lying. Maybe that guy didn't know, but his organization did, and made every effort to avoid reporting the statistics, when the news came calling. That's lying, too. Making sure the news doesn't report what they want to, whether by lying or "witholding" - it's all lying.

This is about tricking us into increasing their budget, "100 more officers", the stranger attacks put a conservative government into Vancouver. Let me repeat that: Police department messaging assisted a police-friendly, conservative municipal government into office in Vancouver. This really should be front-page on the Vancouver Sun, not just another story at the CTV news web site.

Do read the CTV story, though, it's a treat. The reporter is clearly upset at the cops, pushing the story on into the effect on the election, and the VPD disputing that they covered up - and finding no proof of their assertion that they did disclose.

Tell your friends, I guess.

http://brander.ca/stackback#policeliars


2023/11/17: What, Also No Weapons of Hamas Destruction?

It's like the "Weapons of Mass Destruction" giant-fail of 2003/2004. An entire WAR was sold to us with promises that it would prevent the use of weapons of mass destruction, prevent mass casualties, tens of thousands of deaths, maybe hundreds of thousands. Remember "Smoking Gun in the shape of a Mushroom Cloud?".

What you may also remember was the big disappointment of not finding any. Bush got his war, and it was too late to complain about the lie, but it did hurt him a bit, when none turned up. I agreed with Gwynne Dyer: the real surprise is tht they didn't just fake something up. Everybody assumed they'd find some old VX nerve-gas shells, already a decade past best-before-date, and any artillery captain would fear to fire them...but they could be trotted out as the dreaded WMDs, and preposterous claims made that they justified tens of thousands of deaths in war. But they couldn't even manage that; there was some embarrassment.

I'd figured something the same about the Terrorist Command Centre under the hospital. Israel has a lot of plants and informers inside Hamas, surely: if they dind't know the operation was coming, surely they do know about command centre locations and all that, stuff that takes years to build and effort to maintain.

But, wow, they really didn't. They were just guessing. I had honestly expected a kind of cool tour of the command post, starting with the narrow ladder, or staircase, downward from the hospital basement closet or false wall. (A secret catch where you rotate a light fixture would be perfect.)

Instead, the IDF is justifying all this military at a hospital by pointing to three dufflebags of weapons. There are no digs, no structures. It's probable that they took over the use of several basement rooms, but that's the whole "centre".

This just in: Israel is now showing journalists the mouth of a shaft "on the grounds" of the hospital. They say it may be days before they go in.

Pardon me if that invokes skepticism, that they hope the announcements alone will promote the story, and if the "shaft" turns out to be a hidey-hole for a few, or storage cache, maybe "the conversation" will have moved on.

It worked for Bush. He was re-elected, with the only GOP majority since 1988.

Added on November 18:
It was shown on TV. Nearly a hundred metres from the hospital building, some kind of bombed, crushed concrete structure that still has a visible opening going down. No wonder they don't want to go in a bombed tunnel (if it is). It doesn't remotely justify entering the hospital.

Added on November 24:
Has it been a week, now? We've been treated to a view of a 55-metre tunnel that starts more than 55 metres from the hospital. And views of hostages that appeared to be there for treatment. It's being compared to the Al Capone Vault disappointment.

http://brander.ca/stackback#hamasdestruction


2023/11/16: About Those University Woke Mobs and Free Speech

This is "stackback", but sometimes just "stack promoter" when an article is agreeable. Thomas Zimmer, and his substack, "Democracy Americana", has a column out, "In Defense of My Students", which is a good read. Zimmer is a professor at Georgetown, holding graduate and undergraduate seminars in just the topics that catch fire in the news commentary.

People are surprised when he tells them the discussion are open, and polite. Canadians might be surprised, too, particularly if they read our National Post, or America's major papers - and Zimmer calls out The Atlantic, and their columnist Connor Friesdorf. (I'd add another there, Yascha Mounk). It's been really, really common to see articles, for years now, about freedom of speech effectively suppressed in class, and around Universities, by activists. Mounk claimed that many teaching assistants and assistant professors are just afraid to say certain things in class; afraid for their careers. (Specifics are rarely given; I can't think of one.)

Zimmer just firmly debunks it all. Talks about the discussions about Israel in class since October 7; open to all points of view, nobody got threatened or even voices raised. Some of his students clearly come from places with right-wing points of view - some are there on a break from the military service.

I was never impressed by all the Campus Complaints. For one thing, Universities mostly teach science, engineering, medicine, business management, athletics, and education. Only the latter even overlaps with these discussions. Only high-level courses in history and sociology even get into these topics. It's a tiny issue. Zimmer has just confirmed it was even tinier than that. By far.


2023/11/15: About Those Left-Wing Radicals

I won't bother with a link, but The Line is hard at its accustomed job of irritating me, today, with a column by one Nick Kadysh to the effect that now (now?) there are also left-wing radicals to match those right-wingnuts that everybody has been afraid of since Trump appeared.

This would be about my fourth stackback on how supporting not-killing Palestinian civilians should not be a problematic position - if I were going there. This one is about radicalism and violence in general.

First, the notion that the Left has not endlessly been accused of extremism, of association with it. Of being the "Pinks" adjacent to "Reds", and being "Anarchist Bomb-Throwers" before that. Environmental Terrorism, Soft on Terrorism, the works, all this has dogged every left-wing-ish movement since they were invented. Kadysh writing even one sentence to the effect this is a new problem, that the Convoy and friends were the only ones accused of extremism recently, is just silly-sounding.

I don't recall anybody else going that far, but Palestinian activism at a time with over 200 hostages in the news certainly has many on the right trying to associate anybody left of them with antisemitism. This worked so very well against Jeremy Corbyn in the British Labour Party just recently.

But, surely the test of radicalism is violence. Which left-wing radicals are throwing bombs, setting fires, or shooting people, recently? Arab radicalism in North America has a very low casualty count indeed, post-9/11, despite two decades of bombing the Middle East.

Kadysh, for instance, makes the casual assumption that bullets fired into elementary schools recently, must have come from pro-Palestinian activists, because of the news. He's probably right, but, think of it, the only bullets fired at Jews in North America recently, were by a Trumpist who murdered 11 at the Tree-of-Life synagogue. The other murderous hate crime is in courts today, the vehicular murder of a Muslim family - from that same Trumpist/Convoy end of our political spectrum.

It doesn't take scholarly research to ask if the right-wing is way more the violent wing; there are two cases in my morning paper, not just the vehicular murder, but the guy who hit Paul Pelosi with a hammer says he used to be left-wing, but turned violent after absorbing a lot of right-wing conspiracy theory.

It's just funny to hear the "Left wing" be told to police itself - when there is no political power on the right wing in the moment that does not have to bow to Trumpists (consider Danielle Smith's crazy policy proposals that even Poilievre hates - she dares not oppose her own Trumpists who put her in). And Trumpists, currently, have their guru going on about "vermin".

Perhaps they can explain.


2023/11/14: Surprise! eV Sales Are Actually OK

Just passing along an article highlighted by David Roberts of Volts: It's just a false narrative being put out by many news stories this Fall, that Electric Vehicle sales are "slowing" or "down".

They just plain aren't.

At least, not in the sales data for the USA, 2010-2023, by month. It's quite "dispositive", as the lawyers say: September 2023, had more sales than any previous month, far more than September 2022. Sales are generally continuing to rise, month after month.

Roberts, and his informant, Jesse D. Jenkins, note that this is really just a subset of a larger narrative coming from a lot of news media for a year, that the economy is running much worse than it really is, with inflation actually far down, wages up, employment at maximum.

It would have been unsurprising if eV sales really were down: stories that have blamed the nonexistent phenomenon on higher interest rates, and the market running out of luxury-budget buyers, sounded sensible enough.

Too bad it was wrong. For them - I'll be looking at various news organs with more suspicion.

http://brander.ca/stackback#evsok


2023/11/13: Will Israel Opinions Ruin Western Politicians?

The answer to every headline question is "No". And, here, too.

This is stackback, and a substacker, Hamilton Nolan, thinks only those foursquare for Gaza ceasefire today, will have the moral mandate to Lead the Left, hereafter.

I left a tart response.

I noted just how much moral compromise piles up for American politicians. Even the beloved Bernie could only put so much energy into Iraq War opposition, since it was futile and would have cost him support he needed for domestic issues.

Americans aggressively forget their moral compromises. I only recently learned how bad the Tet Offensive was...fifty-five years ago. I told Nolan's readers how to find that America effectively killed 120,000 little kids 33 years back, by bombing Iraqi power plants and ending water treatment. There was story, and then they forgot. Again.

You wouldn't think that people could forget this dying in Gaza, the kids, the politicians who stayed silent. But they will. That's become as predictable about America as the next mass shooting. Her allies? Same.

http://brander.ca/stackback#compromised


2023/11/10: Is Israel Simple or Complicated?

So asked Justin Ling, on substack, and this was my comment back:

Simple fact: the Israelis want neither the 1 or 2 state solutions; certainly not handing 2 million votes to Arabs, and not carving out land they want to keep. (Anybody about to hand the Dakotas back to the Sioux? Then shut up.)

The Palestinians, lacking power to force them to any solution, 1-or-2 state, are attempting to use "The Horror, The Horror" as a force amplifier, see Col. Kurtz' argument in "Apocalypse Now" for how that works. Moral shaming for it is inevitable and correct, but nobody should pretend their ethnic group wouldn't do the same. See Adam Serwer's "The Cruelty is the Point". The "unholy glee" on the faces of White lynch mobs that burned a man slowly to death and posed for thumbs-up photos in front.

Another simple fact: In 2002, during the second Intifada, Moshe ('Boogie') Ya'alon, the Israeli Chief of Staff (and today the Minister of Defense) declared:" The Palestinians must be made to understand in the deepest recesses of their consciousness that they are a defeated people." (Another simple fact is that Egyptians tried that on Israel for 400 years, and it didn't work.)

So, the simple facts decree decades and generations of conflict to come, because this certainly isn't making the Israelis make any concessions, and the Palestinians will still be here in another generation.

Since I'm always quoting Gwynne Dyer, here's his "simple fact": He noted that everybody eventually rises to industrial development, and Arab countries are slowly getting there. With development will come money, with money will come military power. Israel will eventually be surrounded by very powerful Arabs that even the USA can't protect them from. The change is already coming, see this article on "drones rewriting the Middle East": https://www.mei.edu/publications/drones-are-re-engineering-geopolitics-middle-east

When Israel sees an existential threat, they will make concessions needed to alleviate the threat. Not before. Even that is simple.

http://brander.ca/stackback#simple


2023/11/09: The Story Behind the Headlines

The Trump Trial (of the moment) is about "overvaluing properties to secure loans", which sounds dull. I can't figure out why the newspapers aren't talking about the exciting end of the story, about all the Russian money-laundering and the two suicides at Deutsche Bank. Here's the background. None of this is "hidden" - all my links are to major newspaper stories of the last few years - just not repeated enough, I guess, because I just learned some of this stuff, though I follow too much news.

And that's leaving out another later-hanged-man who helped facilitate the deals: Jeffrey Epstein! You can't make this stuff up. Again, this is all been in the news, it's just not being repeated as this trial goes on. 20 years later, I can still remember the name "Vince Foster" because the Republicans wouldn't shut up about that guy's suicide, and the media seemed happy to do a hundred Vince Foster Stories. But I'd never heard the names "Bowers" or "Brokesmit" before.

http://brander.ca/stackback#bankrupt


2023/11/04: National Post Explains Why Minorities Feel Unsafe

Joe Roberts, at the National Post explains to his readers that he feels unsafe in Canada, that is family is unsafe in Canada, because of their ethnic group.

He has reasons: a Jewish home in Winnipeg, a thousand kilometres from his, in Toronto, was shot at; "the randomness of the thing smashed our sense of safety". A lecturer in Vancouver was applauded for kind words about the terrorism of October 7; there was antisemitic grafitti in a driveway.

Suddenly, "even Canada feels unsafe". The mob at a Russian airport reminds him of pogroms throughout history, when the police turn on your ethnic group, turn a blind eye to violence against them, even take part in beatings and thefts. His family grapples with, "Is it safe for us here? Is it time to leave?" Israel, despite all of Canada's traditions and constitutional guarantees, despite the ongoing violence there, feels "safer" to this Jewish family. Because the police there belong to their ethnic group, and will never, ever turn on them? At least, I guess that's the calculation; the greater safety of Israel is simply stated - as something he can assume.

There are about a sixth as many Jewish Canadians as Indigenous. So the MMIW issue would be comparable, if 180 Jewish-Canadian women had vanished or died. And the main complaint is that the police didn't police those deaths very seriously.

Mr. Roberts may also feel unsafe because of the shootings at the Tree-of-Life Synagogue in America, during the Trump administration. He must have felt a lot of sympathy when six Canadian Muslims were shot in the back, while they knelt at prayer, and understand why they, too, feel unsafe, because of that, and because four were mowed down by a truck in a crosswalk in London, Ont.

A difference, of course, is that those groups have no Israel, save Canada. The Cree of Thunder Bay have always lived there. The Muslims of Canada have often left places where the police did look like them, but where they were far, far, less safe.

The rest of us just have to stick it out here, and try to turn Canada into an Israel for everybody, where everybody is safe, and nobody's ethnic or religious identity makes them unsafe, less-protected by the police.

http://brander.ca/stackback#unsafe


2023/11/03: Anatomy of a Right-Wing Media Misinformation Narrative

The true story of the Calgary downtown office towers, shooting up past 20% vacancy in 2014-2016, is told right on this graphic, taken from the 2016 story "Calgary Office Vacancy Reaches Historic High", in the July 20, 2016, Huffington Post:

The right-wing misinformation story, the one just casually spoken of as true in economic discussions, is, for once, not just elided to, but clearly articulated by Herald editor Chris Nelson in Wednesday's paper:

Because what all business really needs from any government is a sense of certainty. To know whether to invest or move elsewhere. Even if you don't like the rules, at least you know the game's not going to change.

When you don't get such consistency, people and companies either freeze or do indeed move on - often out of frustration more than simple economic necessity.

We saw this here in Calgary eight years ago, when the incoming Trudeau government made so many grandiose, yet vague statements about curbing carbon emissions, while simultaneously axing transnational pipeline projects.

Major international energy companies that had set up shop to piggyback on heavy oil development in northern Alberta fled en masse.

"Eight years ago", from October 2023, clearly means October 2015 - the month of the federal election that brought Trudeau to power.

In Chris Nelson's narrative, it was after that election, that oil companies "fled en masse".

As the graphic clearly shows, they had already been leaving for 16 months when that election took place. The vacant floor space goes up the same month that Mohammed bin Salman lowered the price of oil, to drive his fracker competition broke, and Vladimir Putin, rather than accept lower income, also opened his taps, crashing the price down from $106 on June 15, 2014, to $45-$55 at the end of August. The vacancies were already up in July.

You'll notice how many links I've got there. These facts are not in dispute. Few things are tracked and eternally recorded better than the prices of oil and real estate. I've got the receipts on this. Hardly surprising, either: companies up to "piggyback on heavy oil development" would naturally panic when the price of oil fell below the price of that heavy oil development. $50 wasn't profitable, so they left. Clear, simple story that's the most-common one in oil!

So the narrative is simply, and very provably, wrong. Half the office vacancy space that grew after June, 2014, had done so before Trudeau was elected. It's misinformation.

I suspect that Chris Nelson is not even aware of this. The narrative is so powerful in Alberta that it's part of the background, the bedrock of "fact" upon which all his arguments take place. But, that's no excuse: he's a journalist, and accurate stories are his job. He did it very badly on Wednesday, and only in passing; that "fact" was part of that background he based another argument upon.

This kind of fact-shifting disinformation crap varies from annoying to frustrating to infuriating. They just keep pounding out the alternative-fact version over and over, knowing that over time, it becomes a truth for so many. The time-discrepancy above is about 16 months. There are worse cases.

Paul Krugman noted that there was much commentary in 2009 and 2010 that was more brazen, attempting to blame Barack Obama for a financial crash that started before his campaign began, much less his election. When challenged on the temporal impossibility of the blame, Krugman actually encountered replies that "investor confidence" had deteriorated merely at the possibility of an Obama election. There's nothing as compelling as a story you want to be true.

It's difficult enough making your argument when truthful statements are challenged with confidently stated falsities. It's worse when the false statements fly in the face of your own clear memories of a few years ago!

It's a real pleasure to have been able to nail this particular disinformation to the wall. Chris Nelson said it so clearly, when misinformation often takes the form of "vibe" statements (which Pierre Poilivre is specializing in these days).

http://brander.ca/stackback#yycrecession


2023/11/02: Apparently, Our Premier is Responsible for Gaza?

It's not in the news, which can't really send reporters to every little thing, anymore. Ed Broadbent used to be more than a little thing, but the former NDP leader has been out of power for decades now, and, at 87, we were lucky to have one more appearance from him (bent and weathered, but still gives a fine speech) as he promotes his book about "7 decades in politics". So I was there, with friends, at the main library last night, to catch the talk from Broadbent and his co-authors.

To the surprise of the audience of some hundreds, Premier David Eby showed up to introduce him. Not announced, but some Gaza protesters had clearly heard he'd be there, and the moment Eby took the stage, they jumped up with chants and posters and flags.

And after many minutes of chants and haranguing, would not shut up. The one main protester in particular, who did the "call" of the "call and response" chants, had a truly grating, shrill voice - or perhaps affected that sound for maximum discomfort, also treated us to many insults to our morals that we were not full-time concerned with the dying children of Gaza.

Of course, incessant attention to one issue doesn't give citzens of a democracy more than one vote, but the crowd, mostly lifelong NDP supporters who mostly agreed with protesters, are not about to obsess on one issue. We wanted to hear the NDP premier and then Ed Broadbent, and they just weren't even starting to slow down after 20 minutes.

They had stepped up just after a distinguished local native Elder - a relative of the famous Chief Dan George - had given the land acknowledgement. This lady stepped up to them and began talking quietly, and they had to shut up.

My companions, NDP volunteers for decades past, murmured "their worldview means they can't interrupt her without being arrogant Settler oppressors; that's why it got so quiet suddenly".

We waited patiently, all 300 or so of us, while she talked them into going outside. The fact that she wouldn't stop talking, and they couldn't make noise while she did, undoubtedly was the only reason they left without force. They did promptly start making noise again on the other side of the door, making Eby barely audible. We just listened hard.

At least we know how to shut down left-wing protesters after giving them a decent interval, anyway: always have an Indigenous Elder handy.

What left most of us baffled, was the singular inability of Premier Eby, as powerful as he might be when dropping an extra billion on medical salaries (thanks again, Dave; many lives saved), has got to be one of the least-able politicians on Earth to affect outcomes in Gaza. Oh, sure, there are provincial and state leaders in South America, Africa, Southeast Asia, with less power over Israel than David Eby, but he really is a pointless target.

Final grade: huge fail. A bunch of (mostly) previously-sympathetic people were made less sympathetic, if anything.

Reporting the story here, because the journalists were not there; nothing in the Vancouver Sun this morning, nothing googling in the news. But also, because this perfectly illustrates the split between people who are clearly on "the Left", many, like Broadbent, willing to use "socialism" aloud, and people who have supported Hamas and violence. Many of those protesters were in the latter category, to judge from their "river to the sea" chant; but they were a few percent the size of the crowd that showed up for Ed Broadbent.

I think "a few percent" is about right for the ratio in larger society, too; and that this blog has been right to complain that right-wing writers and journalists have been all too eager to tar the 97% with the beliefs of the 3% who were so loud and ready-to-fight, last night at the library.

http://brander.ca/stackback#premierprotest


2023/11/01: Crawford Killian Offers a Good Gaza Summary

BC is lucky to have Crawford Killian here, and writing for The Tyee; I noticed another of his science-fiction novels at White Dwarf, the other day, still selling; Chapters has more, and his non-fiction books.

Today, readers of The Tyee can take in his background and summary on Gaza. It's not about the news of today, but the bigger picture of why Hamas did that, what is likely to come over time from the current Israeli actions.

It is dispassionate, clear-eyed, honest. It's the kind of thing that people need to be reading now, rather than taking in the heat and passions.

Easy post today: just read this. And if you want some upbeat thoughts, Al Jazeera is pointing out that the 2 million Israeli Arabs have a moral right to the oil and gas revenues of the area, an infusion they desperately need, and is sitting right there.

http://brander.ca/stackback#gazasummary


2023/10/30: The Hamas Tet Offensive

The Tet Offensive, by North Vietnamese forces, in January, 1968, was called a military failure, by the American generals who were attacked. The offensive was defeated, completely. But to defeat an enemy that attacked in the heart of Saigon, the capital, and in some 34 provincial capitals, the Americans had to bomb "friendly" territory. They bombed Saigon itself. 19,000 buildings destroyed, 125,000 "friendly" Saigon citizens rendered homeless. The South Vietnamese got to see the brutal way of war, right up close. A lot of the bombing was in residential areas that the Americans themselves had built a few years earlier, areas like American suburbs. For the pilots, it looked like bombing Levittown, or Sherman Oaks. (At left, the Cholon district of Saigon in January 1968: it was nearly leveled.)

I have been shocked at the historical forgetfulness of modern journalists who seem to have never learned about the last war. The Hamas attack was obviously a Tet Offensive. Was it going to take over Israel? No more than 9/11 conquered America.

Tet was also intended to provoke and horrify, if not with atrocities; Americans were horrified that they were not even safe in the Embassy, and America was horrified by the bombing of Saigon, as the world is being horrified now, by the brutal vengeance upon Gaza.

But the core message is the same: in all your power, you are still not safe.

It was years before America took the message to heart, but they did. Israel, I'm not so sure. Everybody reading this could die of old age, at this rate, before it sinks in.

http://brander.ca/stackback#israeltet


2023/10/28: The New War Salesman

Noah Smith is probably deservedly described as "substack royalty"; his subscriber count certainly indicates the hard-working, hyperproductive blogger is getting rich. I realized he was rightwing liberal-troller with his vague column about "Western Leftists" whom he never seemed to identify. He reposted it, with updates the other day, and there is one "Western Leftist" identified, one Nathan J. Robinson, editor of the avowedly socialist Current Affairs. Mr. Robinson is excoriated for his repellent foreign affairs opinion that American military planning included a genocide of Russian and Chinese people.

Well, Mr. Smith, Mr. Robinson's words are harsh, but I'm pretty sure he just means that America owns some 5,000 nuclear warheads capable of killing hundreds of millions, and by default, they're pointed at Russia and China, a button-press away. I know that's become a baseline situation. Smith is sleepy and complacent about the risks of sudden genocide because we've kept the genie in the bottle for 75 years, but it doesn't mean it isn't genocide, a button-press away, courtesy of a lot of spending and, yes, planning, to make those megadeaths possible. America may have good intentions, but the nukes are what they are. He's just asking for nuclear disarmament, which is not deplorable.

(Smith's other proof that the "Western Socialist Worldview is utterly broken" is that Bernie lost the primaries in 2020, and his team got no more than Obamacare, and that they think money influences elections, when Smith could find one that wasn't. No mention of his own column about inequality decreasing and how socialist income supports in the pandemic were responsible. It's all very America-focused for a guy who keeps saying "western" socialists, when the Pink Tide in South America is doing pretty well...but, back to war.)

Today's column is about how, I am not kidding, the nation with half the weapons on the planet, the largest military, that is recently-blooded and trained, has 2500 warplanes and 12 aircraft carriers ... is "not ready for the big one" against China, which is planning to double its nuclear inventory. Yes, double it! All the way up to 500, some one-tenth the nukes of America. And, it just launched its third aircraft carrier - with the same electromagnetic catapult as the Gerald R. Ford. That would be the super-expensive one that doesn't work well.

China was sold the same bill of goods as the Americans. American generals are only corrupted by promise of future $500K jobs; China's military is as corrupt as Russia's, paid on the spot.

But, Smith is waxing eloquent about America's sleepy unpreparedness. It's amazing to read, if you're not American. If you hadn't heard it all about Commies, and about Terrorists. If you hadn't seen those dire warnings mocked by Ukrainian drones zapping 1200 tanks.

He's a smart guy, but he's got a broken worldview. Is it possible that it's catching, from David Brooks and Tom Friedman?

http://brander.ca/stackback#chinawars


2023/10/26: The Usual

That would be the worst thing about the news today all filled with a terrible mass-shooter in the United States, and continued mass-death of innocents, all over Gaza.

It's just "the usual".

What else is "usual"? Be assured, terrible things were happening in Ukraine all week; there's a war on there, too, you know. But they were pushed off the front pages by the "fresh hell" of deaths that didn't feel so usual. For a bit.

http://brander.ca/stackback#theusual


2023/10/25: What an Indictment of the "Free Market System"

Well - for some jobs, at least. The free market would be a terrible way to provide us with highways, or an army. Some things are just government jobs.

Government used to build housing; got out of the business decades ago. Now nearly all housing (95%) is built privately.

Analysts agree that they've never seen such near-desperate enthusiasm for housing at all three levels of government. At this relaxing moment for housing, the free market has decided to...abandon the field; just give up and quit.

Why? The housing they like to build requires people who can get cheap mortgages, so nothing really matters but the interest rate, and that's up. Case closed.

Well, we can't make them. But I can't think of a better reason to pile on all the existing reasons to get back to social housing construction programs. It seems the construction staff will be twiddling their thumbs, anyway.


2023/10/24: Disappointed by Some of the Right-Wing Pile-on

Commentators on the right have been really reaching for people to associate with "The Left" and tar everybody to their left with the brush of "terrorist sympathizer". Certainly, there are pro-Palestinian activist groups, many in universities, that immediately accepted the "Israel attacked the hospital" story, and stuck to it.

But, I read a lot of left journalism: The Lever, the Intercept, the Tyee and National Observer here in Canada, have a lot of lefties in my Mastodon feed, and I can assure you that the huge majority of them are merely skeptical of the Israeli claims, like Andrew Cockburn, on Substack, pointing out how many times "the other guys did it" stories have proven false. Most have adopted a "we don't know" stance as their current conclusion.

But, as mentioned here a few days ago, some just reach and reach to find anybody with an unacceptable view, then generalize that to include "western leftists" or some such construction: as many of us as can be tarred.

I did find one long substack by Jonathan Cook, a British journalist who spent years on the Israel/Palestine file. He is left-wing, if his substacks are an indication, and he really believe Israel did attack the hospital, but not because Hamas says so. He goes into the forensics, the sound and size of the missile; and he, too, goes into the history of Israeli disinformation about "whodunnit", reminding us of the dead journalist just 18 months back. Five months back, it was the quiet admission that Israel had killed 5 teenagers with an air strike it at first said, never happened. Oh, and he notes that the original Israeli video of the errant Arab rocket had to be withdrawn: the time-stamp was 40 minutes late. That's journalism at work, piling up the evidence; at no point does he quote Arab claims about the hospital, just forensics and history.

So, today, I have mention the left-wing tarring again, because "Stackback" started off as "replies to substacks", in particular, the Canadian rightwingers of "The Line" where Jen Gerson, my most-favourite righty, is really saying "The left" is mask-off as terrorists or whatever. I didn't read it.

I really don't think that Jonathan Cook ripped his mask off as a terrorist sympathizer, Jen; just as a skeptical journalist who's been lied to, repeatedly, in the past.


2023/10/23: MSNBC, The American Version of "Liberal Network"

Well, it's Iraq all over again, on the TV news. Even total failure last time, can't crack the old system. I try to avoid the nutty American news, but I do get roused by their terrible journalism about their own news. lefty news-site The Lever has an article ripped from Iraq War coverage of 2003, about the heavy inherent biases in their commentators. I'd never heard of Jeremy Bash, the security analyst for MSNBC, but I wish him only luck with his career of public support for Israel, his 29 years of work with AIPAC, the American Israeli lobby. It's just that The Lever points out that they don't even mention Mr. Bash's priors as he "explains" how Israel isn't trying to hurt any innocent Palestinians.

Bash is also wired deeply into the American military contract-and-supply business, gets richer when wars happen.

That's when the Lever mentioned that MSNBC had also sidelined three Muslim anchors.

What a surprise, MSNBC.

The allegedly liberal network may criticize the GOP, but when war breaks out, they turn full Donald Rumsfeld on a dime. their biggest name, Phil Donahue, had to be fired for his anti-war shows. Those articles don't mention what they tried first: telling Donahue that he had to have on two pro-war guests for every anti-war. And that Donahue himself counted as anti-war, so to have on one anti-war guest, he'd have to invite four pro-war. They only fired him after that didn't work.

They pre-fired one-time wrestler and movie actor, another time state-governor, Jesse Ventura. They'd hired him to do a talk show, discovered that the very Republican-sounding former governor was actually anti-war, and never let him broadcast. Ventura has a lovely house in Mexico he calls "Casa MSNBC", paid for with the $2M/year in his contract, for no work

Two million a year, they'll pay to avoid an anti-war voice; or fire their best earner. Mehdi Hasan never had a chance. Maybe they'll let him back on, if he has two pro-war guests.


2023/10/22: The NYT, the Newspaper for Bosses and the 1%

There's so much huge, ugly news this month, I feel a need for Sunday escape to the comparatively trivial: how glad I am I dropped my New York Time subscription. I'd finally realized that a lot of their opinion is just trolling their Democratic readers for outrage; and that their "liberal" coverage was relentlessly neoliberal, as it had been neoconservative while selling the Iraq War.

I noticed a headline about "work-reward imbalance", and looked at the one article. It starts off with a fascinating experiment with monkeys, where one monkey rages and throws away a previously-accepted reward, when the monkey next door gets far more, undeserved.

It goes off the rails when humans are addressed. When an employee is furious about unfair compensation, that "if you are in a union", you can address it through the union, needs only the one sentence. There's just no discussion of how unions are all over this issue, always have been. They sort out what compenation should be, for all in a given job equally; no boss favouritism, or boss's attitudes that certain jobs (often female) are just worth less than the others.

So, surely, recommendations to organize at work? A word of praise for unions, at least? Nope, we're on to non-unionized immediately, and the only example given is an employee who just has unrealistic expectations, in the boss's view, and needs a tuning up for "realistic" job progress.

The only suggestion given is to talk to your boss; none whatsoever about talking to the other employees - maybe asking the supposedly-overcompensated one more about what they do, or asking other employees if that also perceive you as really productive compared to others paid more.

That's where the article really lost me. It was already most of the way, where it seemed half the article was devoted to "Are you really sure the job is bad?" questions. But when it didn't once mention talking to a fellow employee, only to your boss, it was like it was coming from the boss. Bosses would all love us to never talk to each other about conditions of work, only to them.

Is the New York Times actually getting worse over the years, swinging Right towards the oligarchs, even as they gain power, and their reputations fall? It seems like a dumb thing for a paper to do. They are trying to give the appearance of being on-side these days: an article just last month about unions being good for America, and two years ago, it was "Why the Media Loves Labor Now", though that article merely catalogued how union stories were getting more coverage from other outlets. It does note that in the 2000s, the NYT had the only full-time labor reporter. Well, they had that - but how many reporters on investors and investments? I bet, a good hundred.

But the underlying NYT story is probably told by The Guardian, with their "Leaked messages reveal New York Times' aggressive anti-union strategy", article. The NYT management is fully on-board with every anti-union sleaze move by the heads of Amazon and Starbucks; and that attitude trickles down through managing editors, to editors, to coverage.

So glad I dumped them.

http://brander.ca/stackback#nytboss


2023/10/19: Do People Imagine Bombing Deaths to be Quick and Merciful?

When somebody is turned into "bugsplatter", as the drone pilots say, it's at least quick. But, when you drop a bomb, especially on a building, it may not be.

Suppose the bomb hits, stunning and deafening you, and you aren't sure whether you lost conciousness for a moment or not; just the sudden, excruciating pain of two broken legs, you're pinned under a collapsed wall. Falling chunks also struck you in the abdomen, breaking ribs and crushing organs.

You die over several hours of terrible pain, your internal bleeding gradually poisoning all your organs. They dig through to your dead body just as it cools.

That would be a typical experience for, oh, who knows, probably several percent of bombing victims in the last 22 years of war, where western air forces just dropped a lot of bombs on populated structures. Most die instantly, a few survive, but some really buy the farm the very hard way.

What are the thoughts of a politician, who's read a number of bomb reports, been made to understand what the bombing fully implies, when the OK is given to the next bombing. Several justified deaths, some unjustified...but also a number of slow, torturous, horrible deaths. (I forgot to mention burns. Death by burns, the worst; people jumped out of the World Trade Centre to avoid those.) Are thoughts of those deaths even considered? Or just avoided?

No torture was intended; just certain people dead, and the "collateral damage" considered OK because those non-combatants were, unforgivably, near combatants. But, what about torturous deaths? Really nothing worth us ever mentioning? Because we do take hair-tearing note when we can see cruel deaths.

We absolutely agonize and beat our breasts with horror and sympathy when torturous, cruel deaths are inflicted entirely on-purpose; but somehow, the fact that the same level of suffering happens, very often, as a sorry-about-that side effect, is given no moral weight or discussion.

But, be certain: once 1,000 Palestinian children are counted as dead, from the bombing of populated areas, it would be a lie to assume that less than a couple of hundred of them died horribly, slowly, in agony. That's drama, I know; but it's also statistical fact.

And it's fact they'll drop the next bomb, knowing it. And that we won't regard those next deaths as deaths-by-torture, either.

Maybe if we could see them, like the sickening films from Israel.

Maybe if it were our kids.

http://brander.ca/stackback#bombdeaths


2023/10/18: A Word of Advice About Public Relations

Hear me, O Israel! About the blown-up hospital that wasn't your fault.

Your message to the effect that "Oh, that can't be our bomb, dropped on a densely-populated city. The bombs that we are dropping on the densely-populated city are much larger"

....may not be the Public Relations coup you were looking for.

http://brander.ca/stackback#bombinggaza


2023/10/16: Spare Me the Defeatist Whining

It's sad when engineers have no appreciation for their own history. Michael Kelly, writing in The Telegraph, is a very distinguished old engineer. He has run some numbers, and concluded that an industrial transition is unaffordable, and impossible to implement without a soviet-style command-economy: just Too Damn Big.

I've already gotten that story about a dozen times, always with the same format: "we have to build X miles of wires, Y miles of pipe, Z factories", etc, with X, Y, and Z very large numbers, intended to intimidate.

There is an accurate version of this story, one to which professor Vaclav Smil devoted multiple books. Smil is considered depressing and pessimistic by some "green" devotees, but I find only sober, professional, engineer's conservatism. I'm more optimistic, thinking Smil's projections my worst-case scenario.

Kelly, on the other hand, is so focused on finding support for his thesis, that he doesn't bother to check the numbers he's quoting. He claims some pilot to convert residential heating to heat pumps came in at $1 Trillion/15 million people. And then multiplies by population. He might have divided the two numbers instead, to spot that it was claiming $67,000/person, so a good $150,000/household. My Vancouver Sun has a heat-pump conversion ad for a tenth that, for a largish house. It's just nuts. I don't have to read engineers that get orders-of-magnitude wrong.

No question, the 30 years from 2025-2055 are going to be very busy and costly with new infrastructure, and it'll be lucky if the "easiest 80%" of the transition is done by then, with the last 20% as hard again. (Smil is focused on that hard 20%, the concrete, steel, plastics, fertilizer, and heavy construction industries.)

But I picked 30 years, to compare to 1900-1920. 1900 is a nice round number, for a time, like now, when all the coming changes had been invented and "piloted", but had not changed most people's lives. But, in just 30 years, it did:

I'm sure that a Michael Kelly of 1900, confronted with a politician saying "we have to do this", would be utterly disparaging. "How are we going to build all those wires and pipes with horse-carts? The car plants aren't started yet!"

Also, the nation confronted with the challenge was barely 50% literate.

The early adopters can certainly afford it; people have doubled the size of their vehicle in recent decades, nothing more popular than giant trucks and SUVs. The average home size went from 400 square feet in 1900 to 1200 when I was a kid, and over 2000 today. Even though housing costs per square foot doubled!

How did we afford 650,000 oil wells in Alberta, at millions per well? How did we build 3,000 oil platforms in the Gulf of Mexico, two per week for 30 years at $100M-$200M each?

How? Well, the oil/gas industry sucks up $4T/year, every single year, of human effort. If we do not transition, then over the next 30 years, we will obviously spend $120 trillion dollars more upon it.

How can we possibly afford that incredibly large, intimidating figure, Michael Kelly?

http://brander.ca/stackback#defeatists


2023/10/15: They Thought They Were Safe?


These images are kind of missing from my TV feed. I'm seeing the horrors, I'm seeing the bombs, but I'm not seeing that place where they came through into Israel and started shooting civilians.

You look at the images of the "security barrier", or as Trump would call it, "The Wall", and you marvel that anybody could feel safe anywhere near it. Clearly, it's meant for The Most Dangerous Game.

I've almost wondered if the TV hasn't shown it very much, because they don't want to degrade sympathy for the Israelis that held a giant party a ten-minute walk from these sights. It seemed normal to them, but the picture would look a bit surreal over here.

Tell me, if you got the news that they were building a prison near your home; that the prison would look like the pictures above - very large, because the prison was to hold two million people... would you feel safe?

I'd get the heck out of town.

As I watch news about Canadians over there, Canadians killed, Canadians trying to leave, I find myself marvelling that they went in the first place. It's certainly on my list of places to avoid, right along with all Israel's troubled and violent neighbours. Yes, there are family ties; I'd beg them to come visit Canada instead.

I'm not offering any morals, any judgements. I'm just expressing surprise that anybody in Israel thought they were safe. A whole lot of human beings hate them, as a nation, human beings who live nearby. In such a situation, I don't care what you've done to make yourself safe, you are not. Human beings are just too smart and unpredictable, as the antagonist in "The Most Dangerous Game" found out.

http://brander.ca/stackback#thoughtsafe


2023/10/13: The Civil War in Israel

Why don't we call it that? Around the world, all are "standing with Israel", but everybody on both sides of the conflict, are all in Israel.

The Hamas killers are likely young. Simplify their ancestry down to one story for all: Born on Israeli soil, say 25 years ago. Two parents, born on Israeli soil, 50 years ago; four grandparents, Israeli soil, 75 years ago. All eight great-grandparents were born on there, too, but evicted into a refugee camp. All eight lived out their lives as "stateless" refugees, though they were living on the same soil they, too, were born upon, before it was called 'Israel'. The four grandparents recently died of old age: Israeli born, raised, lived, died. 75 years.

What can we call this, then, but "The Israeli Civil War"?

Imagine if the "War on Woke" in the USA took up Sarah Palin's contention that her supporters were "the Real Americans". In power, began to deny birthright citizenship, not just to immigrants, but everybody Woke. (Oddly, those designated "Woke", and stripped of passports, were rarely White.) That newspapers and other countries started referring to the conflict as "Americans fighting the Woke", and lit up the Eiffel Tower with Red, White, and Blue to support "America" when the Woke attacked them.

Why should the rest of the world go along with the notion that only one side are the Real Israelis?

The Palestinians, of course, would not want to be called "Israeli". But the rest of us have no other word, there is no nation of "Palestine", except in some people's heads. The news are in the very odd position of referring to one side by their nationality, the other side by their ethnic group.

This just hit me as bizarre in the dawn hours this morning, and now I can't ever shake it again. Start calling it "The Israeli Civil War" to friends; maybe we can get something going.

http://brander.ca/stackback#civilwar


2023/10/12: Few Knew, in Gaza

Just tossing out a point, for those who may be cheering as Gaza is pounded, today. The attack was a huge secret. That means that almost nobody outside the Hamas fighters could have known about it. Not to pretend the Gazans are horrified or anything, I'm sure many cheered Israeli death. But, they were not in on the attack, at all. Or it couldn't have happened.

It was just distressing to see one US Senator advising Israel to "flatten" the city with 2 million people, 800,000 of them kids. "Flatten" means about 100,000 dead kids. Just pointing that out.

http://brander.ca/stackback#gazasecret


2023/10/11: Andrew Cockburn and Tim Snyder: Best of Substack, Today

I can think of little or nothing to write about Israel - as mentioned two days ago, I'm simply numb to the endless bad news from the place, Canada's inability to affect it - but, a little reading about the big picture, rather than the horrors, still feels needed.

Tim Snyder has a wonderfully clear-headed column about terrorism and how it works - and how to not be the terrorist's accomplice by responding exactly as they hoped you would.

A really valuable historical review of how often this happens - a powerful nation in a dominant position, imagines itself to be safe, is completely blindsided by a surprise attack, often after they've ignored warnings - comes from Andrew Cockburn.

For added value, Cockburn's article notes how Israel's intelligence was particularly confident no attack could come without warning, because their whole system was loaded into an Artificial Intelligence. You know, those programs that predict human behaviour. Maybe not this time.

http://brander.ca/stackback#cockburnai


2023/10/10: "Western Leftists" Can All Be Lumped Together?

This is "stackback", and I just read the damnedest thing on the substack platform. That wouldn't be noted, save that Noah Smith, an economist has 160,000 subscribers, and if even 4% of them are paying, he's pulling in over a million a year from it. He's considered politically liberal, in that he follows Paul Krugman and other liberal economists.

The the baffling article certainly separates something called "western leftists" from popular Democratic politicians. But, he seems to feel the "grassroots", I guess the majority of everybody leftish - have embraced violence against Israelis. The best he can give us is "wasn't unanimous praise", and "Some principled socialists stuck up for decency" so he clearly means "a majority".

He seems to clarify it, when he separates these western leftists from Scandanavian social democracy that Bernie and AOC want. Because that succeeded, and Chavez failed, "there's nothing left to fight for"; he's talking about your actual 1930s pro-Russia Socialists that find Sweden too far right.

That is one tiny group, of course, barely worth talking about. They are not any "grassroots". It's just a dysfunctional way of lumping people together. He wants to define "western leftists" as fans of Chavez and Lenin, but say that splinter is "the grassroots".

I'm going on about this, of course, because Jeremy Corbyn in the UK. Just wanted to provide that Scandanavian-grade socialism, like Bernie. Palestinian supporter for ages, meant you could find a handful of anti-Semites in his party, and they were all lumped together and tarred into defeat.

Guilt-by-association has been the staple right-wing tactic on labour unions and every lefty political organization for over a century now, since 1917. Communists, terrorists, now anti-Semites.

People value this writer for his economics insights; but when he gets into politics, this odd view of "the Left" will having me reading with a wary eye.

http://brander.ca/stackback#westernleftists


2023/10/09: Went Numb on Israel/Palestine Years Ago

It took some years, after 9/11. Really, past 2010. After 9/11, there was no way that Bush was going to restrain Israel on the treatment of Palestinians, and things there just went from bad to worse to even worse. There was no input that was going to change it.

I suppose I held out some hope, as the Wars on Terror dragged on, and wound down in hopelessness and confusion, that the manifest stupidity and immorality of the Global War on Terror would also make people's feelings about Palestine moderate.

Obama's election made me wonder if Bush and Israel had just Gone Too Far, and the worm would turn, if Israel would have to change because the Wars on Terror were political losers. But, by 2010, it was plain that Obama had just been "shellacked" out of most of his political room to maneuver, could at most irritate Israel, that they would just run unchecked.

So I started just going numb to news from there. The same numbness most of us have about news from the worst countries in the third world, from which no good news ever comes, and you have to be able to read about 100 dead in a riot over "witches" and shrug.

I stayed numb as the, to me predictable, corruption, and assaults on democracy grew in recent years; I checked-out on cheering for all those democracy demonstrations. Now the tough guy whose downright murderous tough-guy policies that were supposed to keep them safe to start with, is predicting a "long war" with a trapped enemy that has no navy or airforce: a pre-confession of either total incompetence, or that he wanted this war, let this war happen, wants it to be endless.

I can't bear to watch. Everybody should just scream at them until they sit down to real peace negotiations that provide land, safety, prosperity for the other side - such being the only "real" peace negotiations. Since nobody with any power to affect Israel is screaming for that, it'll just go on and on.

http://brander.ca/stackback#israelnumb


2023/10/08: Thanksgiving Supper is Anti-Inflation by Nature

Yesterday's post was my longest in ages, and still not long enough. I kept getting angrier at the news media the whole day, particularly after I visited Superstore and found even cheaper turkeys, still on sale. $36 for 9-11 kg, or about $3.50/kg, on average. I nearly bought one. Such a bargain!

Here's the thing: I strolled three steps to the red meat coolers, and pork chops were $15/kg. Steaks were $23/kg. Hamburger was running $12/kg.

Turkey is the cheapest meat in the store. It's 18% protein, that's Turkey's problem: it's such dense nutrition that it's dry.

Describing Thanksgiving supper as expensive is crazy. The media have gone counterfactual, not just unfactual. They're peddling up-is-down.

Who could possibly have written such nonsense? Who could fall for it?.

The only people who would not know that turkey is your cheapest way to keep the family in meat and lots of protein, would be people who have enough money to not care whether they are eating a $1 (280g, 10oz) of turkey in a couple of thick club house sandwiches, or $6.44 worth of eye-of-round steak that weighs the same? (But has a bit less protein).

There was nothing more "elitist" and "out of touch" than claiming that Thanksgiving dinner is expensive. The centrepiece is that bird that costs one-sixth as much as steak (if you shop around), a third as much at most. The very expensive Metrotown turkey noted yesterday, at $9.90/kg, is cheaper than that $12/kg hamburger at Superstore.

The rest of your classic Thanksgiving supper is cheap carbs like potatoes or sweet potatoes, or rice; then lots of vegetables like peas and carrots, again rarely pricey. The favourites all come from that cheap turkey, the fat captured in gravy and stuffing, made with nothing but bread and onions.

The more I went 'round on it, the stupider those articles (and Mr. Poilivre's attempt to use them) looked. Enjoy your Thanksgiving. It's the cheap, anti-inflation holiday!

http://brander.ca/stackback#thx2


2023/10/07: Enough, Already, with the BS "Thanksgiving Inflation"

It felt like a barrage, as I took in my weekend news. First, it was "Sticker Shock as Canadians rethink traditional Thanksgiving meal".

But it was CBC that really went to town, with three video stories: Need a reminder of food inflation? Look no further than your Thanksgiving dinner. Then it was a little 2:30 bit of video, High cost of food hits Thanksgiving dinner table, and, they did a segment on The National last night, on "Thanksgiving Inflation".

You know what's funny? The CTV story and the first, longest, CBC story quote the exact same figures for turkey prices, because the whole thing is based on one piece by The Canadian Press. And here are those turkey prices, from both CBC and CTV, in tabular form, with the Thanksgiving dinner costs worked out.

Item/StorePrice/kg2022-2023 Inflationkgs/ThxgivingPrice/Thxgiving2022-2023 Thxgiving Increase
2022 Turkey$6.59calculated6.5$42.84 -
Metrotown Turkey$9.90 "" 6.5$64.35$21.51
Sobey's Turkey$7.69 "" 6.5$49.99$7.14
Loblaw's Turkey$5.69 "" 6.5$36.99-$5.85
Potatoes $5.69 6.8%3 $17.07$1.08
White Butter $15.189.2%0.5 $7.59 $0.64
Brown Calrose Rice$4.406.3%0.5$2.20$0.13

The article gives specific prices for turkey, at three stores. Clearly, only fools and rich men shop at Metrotown, and we can assume the canny, tight-fisted shoppers who'd bother reading the article at all, would not go there. Otherwise, I would have to admit, an extra $21 for last year's $42 turkey would be daunting.

But, if you just go to Sobey's, 6.5 kg of Thanksgiving turkey would be setting you back only an extra $7.14. The article, for me, becomes unintentionally funny when they then quote that you can find it at Superstore for less than last year's average, saving $5.85. This number is followed by the analyst saying people "wouldn't eliminate dinner altogether, that's too drastic". Definitely so, to save $7.14. Even crazier, if you can find it cheaper than last year.

The news only gets happier with the only other quotes in the CP article, the same numbers that both CBC and CTV quote. They picked potatoes, butter, and rice, which all turn up at Thanksgiving, and quote the inflation percentage for each, Thanksgiving-to-Thanksgiving. I picked a hefty 3kg of potatoes for the portion, but just 0.5kg for butter and rice.

Then I went to the Real Canadian Superstore web site and looked them all up. Here's the most weird, fascinating factoid in my story, or in theirs: The price of potatoes was $5.69/kg, the same as their quoted price for turkey.

Oddly enough, the only turkey on the website was the ad at right, which would be $4.80/kg if you get a 5kg turkey and $3.42 if you can find a 7kg in the bin. Even $5.49 was high... if you shop around.

So, with potatoes and the other two, I gave the current price for the dinner, then worked backwards from the inflation percentages.

As you can see, the potatoes, butter, and rice will be costing you $1.08+$0.64+$0.13 more this year. On top of the $7.14 extra for the Sobey's turkey, you're in for $8.99 of Thanksgiving inflation! Of course, there are many other ingredients. The entire supper might have risen in cost by more than $10, maybe $13 even.

But it hasn't risen enough to justify these articles. They do not perform a useful public service. They are promoting a narrative about food-inflation crushing families. There are always 14% of homes with food insecurity, and they barely ever cover that. They still are not, in this article.

They should be embarrassed.

Let me close by pointing out the very obvious, to anybody who's shopped at Thanksgiving, and knows how the turkey market works. If other money pressures (gas, rent) force economies this Thanksgiving, they'll look around for bargains, like the turkey deal I found on the web, at right. They will find the lowest prices come at the cost of less selection. And that the reduced selection means they have to take home an enormous, probably 10kg, turkey, and cook up the whole thing.

What, spend more money? Hell, yeah: the price of turkey at Superstore this year is the same as the price of potatoes, for God's sake. You want to put that 10kg monster in the roaster oven for half a day, then carve it up and freeze it down. Club House sandwiches, turkey and HP sauce sandwiches, stews, soups, casseroles. Protein at potato prices, you can't beat it.

That, Mr. Poilievre, is how people who need to "opt out of inflation", opt out of inflation. You won't find many hotel maids buying crypto.

http://brander.ca/stackback#thx


2023/10/04: Neoliberal Cheerleaders Can't Stop All the Dying

I was startled to see that the Washington Post had a headline "How to Solve America's Life Expectancy Problem", because it's a very big problem, and it's deeply embedded in their culture and economy.

They're just unhealthy.

Certainly, my pandemic blog, just kept harping on my one big scoop that nobody else reported: that not only did 3 times as many Americans per capita, as Canadians, die of COVID-19, but the ratio was 7:1 for people in their thirties, 8:1 in their forties. Relatively young Americans were vastly more vulnerable to COVID than young Canadians.

I tried to interest a real journalist, Justin Ling, in the topic, and he pushed back that this is just a facet of all the dying-young that Americans do of every cause. (I still disagree: diabetes deaths for 45-year-olds are not eight(!) times as bad in America. COVID ratios were about more than vulnerability, they were also about more transmission, I think.)

Americans die because of their whole system. Poor people are more desperate there, medical care is harder to get, people are stressed by more precarity and government cruelty. (Multiply the thousand Americans killed by police every year by many, to get the number injured, beaten, harassed by police. Everything we are bad at, they are worse.)

Americans die in particular because of the worst medical system in the developed world (except for the rich). The WaPo article bizarrely sweeps all that aside, by saying that as "Obamacare" improved things slightly, the death rate kept going up. The notion that it didn't improve things nearly enough, like Bernie Sander's dream of "Medicare for All", might, seems not to occur.

They go on about corn syrup and taxing it, as if all the better nations did not also have corn syrup. The big difference is universal medical care. What they do mention is that preventive care is needed, which doesn't generate as much profit as curing sickness. They just can't take the next logical step in the argument, which is that therefore you should remove profit from medical care. Just can't do it, like a True Believer asked to blaspheme: the taboo words must not cross their lips, lest they be damned.

That's all I can think of, to explain the article, which ends with no conclusion at all, much less a "how to" on fixing a deeply-embedded problem. Medicare for All would be merely a good start, for America. They need to reform their cities, policing, minimum wages, half their economy. Until then, they've just got this drag on their economy, and their very lives.

But, hey, they can't keep their government open. "Dying Young Issues" will just have to wait in line.

http://brander.ca/stackback#usalife


2023/10/03: Don't Raise or Lower The Military Budget: Set it by Need

The National Post wonders if Liberals talking about cutting the budget by a billion dollars - the way Harper did, from $21B to $20B, at one point, is "suicidal". (Harper also raised it at other times.)

Military budgets are quite unique, pointed out Andrew Cockburn in "The Spoils of War". Every other budget, you look at the problem, at affordable solutions, pick one, and have a budget. With the military, maybe some nations actually look at their surrounding risks, propose how much military you need to deter and respond, and build that. But, in nations afflicted by the parasite of a military-industrial complex, the calculation is "how much can you afford?" If you GDP goes up, your military spending has to go up, even if your risks are unchanged.

Which is nuts. That's only when your budget is chosen by the people receiving it: "How much can we tap you for, long term?"

Canada has no invasion risks. We only have a military to send them outside Canada. We have military so that we can please other nations by supporting them. We did so, in four wars of the 20th century (Boer, 1, 2, and Korea), and one so far, in the 21st. We seem to have gotten very little credit for those lives we spent, though we spent more than France and Germany put together. France and Germany, of course, are now trying to shame us for the money we spend on NATO arms dealers.

All I ask for is an open conversation. Let debaters talk about this, how we only have military at all to please the USA and Europe. Let's talk about how little good it did us, sending those guys to their deaths. Let's talk about whether the F-35 is good for anything, or is just to please the Americans by buying their problem child.

Set it the way we set any other budget. Not by strong-arming about how much we can stand to pay.

http://brander.ca/stackback#militarybudget


2023/10/02: Alberta Is Not Inventing a New Provincial Pension Plan

They're too stupid.

I don't mean low-IQ, though one could open that topic, particularly on Smith and her enablers who raised the very idea. But, no, I mean Alberta is too institutionally lacking in that crucial resource, "administrative capacity", to create a universal pension plan that could take over millions of Albertan files from the CPP.

Repeat: millions of files. The Quebec Pension Plan has thousands of employees. Thousands take dozens of supervisors, many managers, directors, a whole group of departments, to handle the files, the investments, the complaints, the cheques. The IT department would be over 100 people.

That would all have to built, and not while-you-work; the cheques have to go out every day; the bureaucracy that could do it would have to be built up-front - from experienced people, who'd already done it somewhere else.

Such a project would require commitment, and endurance: political stamina, as it were. That's what your Danielle-Smith-type of "Trumpist" governments are the worst at. Trump was the best at making a dramatic promise and forgetting it instantly. The jobs he was going to guarantee at the factories, the money he would send immediately to those in need - none of it ever happened.

Neither will Smith's little promise that was so easy to make, and so very, very hard for her to actually do.

http://brander.ca/stackback#altapension


2023/09/26: No, We Aren't Getting Beat Up Over the Nazi Goof

I won't even bother with links to the Canadian news stories about what an international shame and joke we are for mistakenly applauding a Nazi in parliament. I checked both yesterday and today, and it's a minor story, way down the page on either the Wash.Post or the NY Times (I forget which), and not on the main page of the other. Or the Times of London, or Paris-Match, or TagSpiegel.

It's getting mention, but every story clearly says it was just a mistake, didn't know the guy was a Nazi, maybe the Speaker (whose name I did not know the day before) will have to resign. That's about it.

The stories go on about how we're now a "middle power", alone against China and India, not much regarded on the world stage. Well, alas for them, that includes this incident, which is just about Canada, not American Nazis who might get power over their military decisions; and it's just about a minor mistake.

It's just not a story like the others that cause true fear and concern for national competence and morals: the rise of real, true, modern Nazis that are 38, not 98, and are actively doing harm.

Now that's a story.

http://brander.ca/stackback#naziguest


2023/09/22: The Line - Back to Defeat, Depression...Sad!

Ah, just two weeks and a few posts back, I was praising The Line for turning Left, but, that was brief. A guest post may have called out oligopoly and a new gilded age, but the gilded pen of the national business council (or some such) put out a report Matt Gurney loves for saying that we need prosperity to have security.

There's no details on that. There isn't, say, a recommendation that we get rid of inefficient, and pampered oligopolies, to increase our efficiency and prosperity. Definitely nothing about all those high profits of late that are suspected to be part of inflation. Just a call for "prosperity", which I'm sure means anything the Business Council wants.

(Chambers of Commerce, and Business Councils, and so forth are not about the health of the nation; just their own, like every other lobby. If the most-dollars in their members' pockets came from a nation with 11% unemployment and people sleeping in streets, they'd be for that.)

There's basically nothing specific enough in the column to pick on. There's arm-waving about the possibility of abduction by pirates, and a re-tread of last year's "cyberwar" vision of massive electrical outages. He writes of "reasonably forseeable threats", but mentions none - when "another pandemic" and "even worse climate disasters" are very reasonable assumptions.

There's an implication that the Indian assassination of a Sikh wouldn't have happened if they respected us as having good security. I'm not sure why ultra-secure America with its DoD and CIA got 9/11, then.

He says we need plans and training and resources, and none of this describes Canada...except we did better than nearly anybody in the pandemic, raised the forces needed to fight utterly unprecedented wildfires, and have supported Ukraine (based on GDP) as well as nearly any nation.

China and India are economically dependent on the western nations. They can't do much except nip and poke at us, to get minor advantages; any worse would hurt them, their best customers, their needed suppliers of high-tech.

It's kind of too dumb to respond to, but I've written this far, I guess I'll hit "upload". Sigh. Line, you can do better.

http://brander.ca/stackback#sighline


2023/09/20: So Much For Ethical Oil

My headline is the same as that of the National Observer, today, and the image is snitched from their front page. (The voice balloon is mine.) Max Fawcett's story, I don't actually need to read: his headline says it all. The image also links to Max's story, and they don't paywall, so you can.

But do you need to? Everybody, everywhere, has forgiven Saudi Arabia, not just for murdering an American journalist and sawing him into pieces. By the way, if it's actually possible to smile at coverage of that story, you'll smile at Gwynne Dyer's story of how badly it was bungled and easily exposed, how amateur. And reminds us that Trump bragged about covering it up as best he could.

Let's not forget that MBS also threw Alberta into employment hell in 2015, by crashing the price of oil across the end of 2014. MBS was trying to drive the American frackers broke, and he failed at it: but 100,000 Albertans were thrown out of work. It was MBS, with an assist by Putin, who also opened his oil taps in response, that drove Danielle Smith's predecessors from power after 34 years!

But, now that Putin's taps are very shut, everybody needs that sweet, sweet crude (literally) from Saudi, to power Europe and keep them from throwing Zelenskyy into the Volga. So Danielle's making nice-nice with Mr. Bonesaw's rep.

But it does rise the gorge.

http://brander.ca/stackback#bonesaw


2023/09/18: When Will Governments, at Least, Become X-exes?

Once head of "Security and Integrity" for a thing then called "Twitter", Dr. Yoel Roth had to leave, had to have guards, after being attacked by Trump personally, and later by Musk, after the 'Takeover'.

The attacks were calculated to intimidate all opposition to terrible, vicious "active speech" on social media, and its working.

I don't have a solution. I don't believe that anybody does. I have a suggestion: leave immediately. "X" is no longer a decent place for government to communicate with the public. Every official account on the system, from all three levels of government, of all decent countries, should just shut them down, and use anything else.

That would have some effect on all social media, I'm sure. And while we wait to see if that can improve their attitude, at least official, tax-dollar-supported content won't be appearing to benefit a corporation that stages such attacks.

I can't believe that so many are still using "X", while continuing to complain bitterly about it! Just leave. All of you; but particuarly, the ones spending my tax dollars. Leave.

http://brander.ca/stackback#Xex


2023/09/16: How Bad Do Women Cops Have It? You Wouldn't Believe...

I went down a kind of rabbit-hole, reading the news the other day. It felt like one, like a conspiracy theory, or something. Except the conspiracy is "nearly every senior cop" against "any woman cop who complains".

It was The Tyee story about Kim Prodaniuk, a woman officer in the Calgary Police Service, which finally resulted in an actual criminal investigation.

But the "rabbit hole" was the link to her actual 133-page affidavit, of which "only" the first 30 is her story, the rest is documentation. Even the 30 pages is artificially long, because of the numbered-paragraph, extremely-careful-wording structure of the affidavit.

But there are multiple stories, each only takes a few pages. She was harassed again, and again, and again, by many different colleagues. Then she had trouble even complaining. Then the vengeance starts, the paranoia about every colleague.

It's a truly jaw-dropping tale: these clowns, these arrogant jerks, these smug, sneering bullies...are police? My police, in Calgary, one of the least-violent places in Canada, with one of the smallest police forces, by population? No Calgary police station is "Fort Apache, The Bronx"; I can't even imagine an excuse for macho posturing.

It actually contains the great line, when she is physically kidnapped into a van and hauled to the bar, has to flee when they are checking their ID, where she says "I couldn't call the police, because we were the police".

I really recommend at least skimming a few pages of it. I think your jaw will drop, too. Try the "undercover 'training course'" where you have to fake an orgasm while riding the merry-go-round at the mall, beside little kids, to make your supervisor happy.

http://brander.ca/stackback#womencops


2023/09/13: George W. Bush, MAGA Republican of the All-Trump Party

I no longer read the NY Times or the WaPo, but I scan their headlines almost daily, just reminding myself why I quit giving them money. All that support for the Iraq War, so little for Global Financial Crisis prosecutions: they're GOP in their core, their deep DNA. Run by and for, rich people; the poor are rarely on their front pages, I noticed.

Today, the WaPo had two headlines that hit me hard; neither was very big, but the first made the second jump out at me. The first was GOP luminary Chris Christie calling the Trump family corrupt, which is obvious, but nearly unique for a Republican who needs a GOP job, or votes. None of them have shown any courage against Trump.

The second was GW Bush touting a worthy program against AIDS in Africa, (the only Black people that Republicans are allowed to be nice to). It suddenly struck me that Bush has been utterly silent through the entire Trump Era of his (one would assume) beloved political party. The Trump Era has been a disaster for his party, since the 2018 elections went badly for them. So have two since. The polls say the next can be no better.

And GW Bush, unlike all the other GOP with serious name recognition, will never ask for another vote, or a job. He has zero excuse.

My antipathy to the large papers is again validated: they gave him space for his plea for charity, but won't ask him a single question about Trump. "Is Donald Trump a corrupt politician who profited from his time in office?" is a very simple, clear, short question. Bush should at least say where he stands on it, since everybody else (not cast out from the GOP) would say "No".

Bush servants like David Frum like to rail against Trump in print, but they never mention the Big Boss. The Decider is apparently Undecided on Trump, has nothing to say.

Bush was the heart of the party before Trump became it. He's the last GOP federal official to have any respect outside the MAGAverse. If Bush, without a care in the world for MAGAverse disapproval, can't bring himself to say anything, the "never Trumpers" have to admit that the party was never anything else.

Trump did not change the American Republican Party; it was always this way, underneath, simply putting on a show, the Bush show. But the Bush Reality, the Bush Underneath, was always just Trump.

Those who studied not just the immorality and torture of the Iraq War, but the single-source contract corruption, the Halliburton profiteering, the subcontractors, know that Trump's bigotry, corruption, and lies were always there, no less than Trump's own.

I'm glad it's out in the open.

http://brander.ca/stackback#magabush


2023/09/12: The Line Goes Socialist?

I use Stackback to clap back at everything in the culture that annoys me, but I must admit, it started with reading "Canadian politics from the Right" in the Substack, The Line, which seemed to be stuck on the message that "Canada is broken" for years on end, and generally found all that was to the Left at fault for the breakage.

But not today. Today, they gave space to Nick Kadysh, who goes on about Canada being in a gilded age, beset by oligopoly. That's mostly a very left-wing viewpoint, though the right side often accepts it as bad, but blames it all on "government", without delving into details about how government was prevailed upon, to allow robber barons. I think it's the robber barons themselves, behind those government approvals of oligopoly, shadow banking, union-busting, every time; and the right-wing parties are a dutiful servant more than twice as often as the left ones, (who are being "centrist", not "right", somehow, to approve oligopoly).

Kadysh doesn't go on about that, or demonize any particular robber barons or those dutiful servants in office; but at least he identifies the problem. Recommended.

http://brander.ca/stackback#gilded


2023/09/11: Easier to Get Into Office Than College

Many are hugely entertained by Trump challenging other very old men to a mental acuity test.

Mental acuity? A pretty low bar! Why not up the game to the one faced by 18-year-olds wanting to make it into college? I'd like all politicians vying for power to take a simple, randomly-picked SAT test. Preferably, with a camera over their shoulder so we can all watch which questions give them pause.

I think we all know how well Mr. Trump would do. It's how well the others would do, that makes me wonder. I think we'd all be much wiser after the exercise.

http://brander.ca/stackback#sattest


2023/08/30: Unsafe At Any Speed

I hope that crime victim Grace Unwin suffers no violence or accident from her bad decision to stop taking transit.

Miss Unwin's fear of transit, today, is understandable. Last Saturday, the teenager got pushed around, grabbed, and bear-sprayed by two 17-year-olds who are now under arrest. She was followed onto the C-train, and attacked at the next platform, so now public transit feels unsafe, and she's never taking it again; her mother will drive her everywhere.

Which does not put Miss Unwin out of danger, but rather into more of it; and drags her mother into greater danger, as well.

Alberta drivers report about 130,000 collisions a year, all of them expensive. Over 16,000 cause injuries needing treatment, all of them very painful, many causing broken bones. Every year, many hundreds of life-changing injuries, like blinding, wheelchairs, loss-of-limb. About 300 die. The Herald has a permanent page for all the endless injury and death.

This basically doesn't happen on public transit. Miss Unwin was injured by chemical irritation that was gone the next day. If she'd suffered, oh, say, a broken nose, black eyes, and a headache from a hitting her air-bag in a minor car crash, there wouldn't have been a story in the paper; that's just too common and ordinary, in car-world. In transit world, a hospitalization injury is a front-page story. Deaths from attacks at stations or on trains are national news, they are so shocking and rare.

C-Trains do rack up a butcher's bill, but it's from the pedestrians they hit: a couple dead every year. But those are reported as traffic deaths. A pedestrian is hit by a car every day in Calgary, one dies every month or so. I sure hope Miss Unwin doesn't hit one.

Miss Unwin is leaving the system that moves about 40% of Calgary's trips, and has a few injuries a year, a death every few years. She's moving to the one that moves the other 60%, and kills hundreds per year, injures thousands. I know it may feel right, but it's wrong.

She may feel protected from crime in that car - though there are car-jackings; and she may feel less-safe when getting to it in the dark parking structure, or after-sunset parking lot. I'd rather spend time on a C-Train platform than in a parking structure!

Transit is safer than driving. News stories about people like Miss Unwin should always note that. They never quote a car-accident victim say "I'm never driving again", though I suspect many say that.

http://brander.ca/stackback#unsafecars


2023/08/27: "Greedflation" Nailed Down, Proven

"Stackback" and the photoblog "Dora's Page" join hands today, as Dora's presents irrefutable evidence of "Greedflation", the huge increase in price to a local product with only two inputs, both local, no supply chain at all.

You're welcome.

http://brander.ca/stackback#greedflation


2023/08/24: "Laughably Impossible" Power Generation Quite Possible

The National Post really hates the idea of electricity. Good 'ol oil and gas, all the way, to the end of time, that's their motto, apparently. The most recent, and frankly just nutty, attack on electrification with renewables is an opinion piece by Adam Pankratz, that a "net-zero" plan for the electrical grid is "laughably impossible".

Doing it by 2035 is certainly a heavy lift, and I wouldn't bet even odds on it, but it's anything but laughable.

Pankratz' own figures are actually conservative, he just notes after giving them that population and electrification will increase them further. In numbers, he asks for a mere 114 terawatt-hours in a year, that's just 13 gigawatts running 365x24. Let me just round that up to a new 20GW of 365x24-equivalent generation, to give myself a challenge.

Pankratz, quite incredibly in the face of rapidly growing wind and solar generation, ignores them entirely, neither word appears in the article. He flatly calls hydro and nuclear the "biggest realistic" options.

But the actual strategy, is not addressed! It's the best case of "strawman" I've seen in years.

The actual strategy is to massively overbuild cheap wind and solar, balance them with hydro (which may need some changes to be more dispatchable, rather than always-on; let the dam back up while the sun shines, or wind blows), and batteries.

Then there's the recently tested Enhanced geothermal, at which Alberta is going to be a champion.

But, to the economics, the capacity factors for solar and wind can drop as low as 20%. You have to put in five times the capacity that you'd need if your generation ran 365x24. Heck, let's say, six times. Your 20GW need might be met by 60GW of solar and another 60 GW of wind.

Solar is now under a dollar per watt, though, and wind, about $1.50, and coming down. Over 15 years, $1/watt average is a round number, so figure $120B for the generation. And I'll just round up to $200B for all those batteries, pumped-hydro, and giant transmission projects.

$200B divided by 40 million people and 13 years is $384/person/year. Or about $250/person/year, financialized over the usual 40-year utility bonds.

Your power bill gets to subtract the current fossil costs of generation, of course, as they are replaced. If the replacement is actually cheaper than today's sky-high natural gas costs, of course, your bill actually goes down.

The plan is expensive and difficult, and the timeline is (nearly) impossible; but doing it is not "laughably impossible". I really am astonished, over and over, by how innumerate journalists can be. And how they can display their ignorance of simple arithmetic on a national stage, all unknowing.

http://brander.ca/stackback#possible


2023/08/23: Can't They Just Say "Don't Trust Facebook"?

Just a few words of questioning. Why are Eby, Trudeau, various politicians, pleading with Facebook to restore their news feed? Why not just tell people that "Facebook is not a trustworthy or complete source of news. Don't trust it. Go to news sites or government sites for news updates. Facebook has deliberately sabotaged its news feed, which has been highly questionable for accuracy, for years."

Enough goddam pleading. Their customers plead for service all the time, and get the back of their hand.

http://brander.ca/stackback#hatefb


2023/08/18: The Media Love the Trump Drama, Will Cling Bitterly

I was reading my 99th "Trump scare headline" (sample at left from the Times, Post, Salon) when it hit me: how, exactly, is this danger going to arrive? To the nation, I mean, not just to a few unlucky people, as terrorism showed up in our lives after 9/11.

We were all terrified of mass-casualty events after 9/11: would it be the first of many, getting worse? Anthrax bombs? Dirty bombs? Actual nuclear bombs? Bush sold a war for fear of them, with the help of such headlines. But all the terrorism, after that one lucky surprise hit, thought up no other ways to get real mass-casualties. We got London and Madrid bombings, we got the horrors at the one hotel in Mumbai. The worst was actually right-wing terror in Oslo, with just one gun. People died in dozens, not in thousands. Frankly, the Americans had it worse with their endless mass-shooting events. "Terrorism" doesn't even appear on those lists of popular concerns like "environment" and "economy", not for years.

A large modern society is very hard to attack with less than 100,000 attackers; there's just too much ground to cover. Where, exactly, would the Trump Terrorists stage their major attack? Fort Bragg covers nearly 200 square miles, you'd need a lot of attackers just to keep in sight of each other. And there are so many Army bases. And Navy. It would have to be Washington. Again. Who are ready.

Trump was very proud of his huge crowd on January sixth; over 10,000. Less than half marched on the Capitol, not all of those went in, fewer still committed actual violence. It seemed large, but it was no threat to a nation, only got as far as it did on one building, because of a very weak police response.

Trump could bring a full 10,000 and not make a dent, if Washington were geared up and ready; we all know what American cops can call upon, after the BLM marches; military helicopter hovering close over the crowd, armed troops in formations, drones everywhere. A mob would be scattered and broken up in minutes.

The more I thought about what Trump even could do, at his worst, the more I realized that January sixth was it: the only time you could really disrupt a democratic process and have it be more than an annoyance. Just stopping a Congressional session, a Court sitting, forcing an evacuation of the White House, none of that would really stop America in her tracks.

Are the papers scared of another round of terrorism, then? We've already had a fair bit: the CNN pipe-bomber, various shooters, Canada even lost six at a mosque, to a Trump terrorist, just a week after his inauguration. But, like the 9/11 terror, no mass-casualties are going to happen.

So, what are they scared of? "Democracy is cracking"? What does that even mean? Canada and Washington have both learned that 10,000 people can paralyse one city until police actually respond proportionately to the offense, but that's the extent of their powers. "Democracy" was untouched.

Democracy is safe. You are safe. Read the scare headlines with a smirk.

http://brander.ca/stackback#trumpscares


2023/08/17: Oil & Gas Have Read Smil: "We Can Just Be Bond Villains!"

I've been reading my Vaclav Smil books since deciding not to go to his talk a few days ago. His numbers lean a bit, and there are some counterarguments, but his point is very sound: we can't entirely get off fossil fuels for many decades.

The devil in the climate details is whether we can, indeed, reduce their usage by, say, 80%, in just a couple of decades. That Smil's hardest problems - long-distance flight, construction equipment, concrete and steel making - for the late 21st century.

Chopping the industry down to a quarter of its current size, in just 2-3 decades that it will take to replace all the cars, half the trucks, all the fossil generation plants, seems possible, indeed, almost inevitable if the iron batteries work.

I think that the industry has decided that the jig is up: "Let's just be the upfront bad guys!" ...seems to be the Suncor message, as they drop all pretense of "transition" to post-carbon technologies.

Note that they're sitting on a historically-large cash cushion, after a year and a half of skyrocketing prices. They didn't move any of those into new green projects, it was all straight to the investors.

They know they can't convince people to not-transition any more, not with the constant weather news. All the poll numbers have shifted to over 50% for change. Why spend money on continuing to bullshit to closed ears?

They know Vaclav Smil's numbers better than he does, I suspect: what he calls 'research into our culture and technologies', they call 'market research', and can put a battalion onto it; have for decades.

Knowing what they know, the strategy is obvious:

  1. Continue to bullshit, but inexpensively, just words, not projects;

  2. Fearmonger about green technologies;

  3. Lean on government to protect utility monopolies, keep us on gas;

  4. Stop exploring for products that will never sell (i.e. past 2040 when existing reserves will go from a decade to three, or four, because of declining sales)

I'll put that forward as a prediction to future behaviour. We need them for a while yet, so they can be as bond-villain as they want.

http://brander.ca/stackback#villains


2023/08/14: I Don't Even Need to Read David Brooks Any More

I pay for The Atlantic, and value it as a place that publishes reasonable discussion on both left and right. More on the right, in recent years, since former Carter speechwriter James Fallows handed over the editor chair to Iraq-War-salesman Jeffrey Goldberg and his neocon friends.

The doyen of right-wing apologists to liberals is of course, David Brooks, who wrote in The Atlantic 20 years ago about how liberals were losing the real America, by not following NASCAR or country music. (NB: Trump displayed no interest in either.)

Brooks has a new article out, "How America Got Mean", with the sub-head "In a culture devoid of moral education, generations are growing up in a morally inarticulate, self-referential world."

I don't need to click on it. That sub-head says it all: America got mean because of liberals and their moral relativism, their lack of old-fashioned, Judeo-Christian moral certainties and clear "moral education". Those darn liberals, preaching relativism! (In grad seminars, anyway.)

I'm not clicking so I can place my bets on what David Brooks does not blame for America "getting mean":

  1. 90 Years of Jim Crow and treating 10% of the population as inferiors to be "kept down".

  2. Making up a bunch of lies to frighten America into war with Vietnam, killing thousands in war crimes, and nearly every war criminal got away with it.

  3. Protecting police when they commit murder on camera.

  4. Making up a bunch of lies to frighten America into war with Iraq, killing thousands in war crimes, and nearly every war criminal got away with it.

  5. Running large, official torture programs, and everybody got away with it.

  6. Holding up lying, swindling financiers as icons of success and letting them get away with swindles that crashed the global economy.

  7. Via the electoral process, elevating a famously-mean, insulting, lying bigot to the Presidency itself, who was promptly mean and insulting to nearly all America's allies.
The "getting away with it", over and over, is key. That was such a strong, clear, generations-long hymn to the ethics of Money Talks, Might Makes Right, and Meanness is Strength, that I'm amazed so many young people today actually have higher morals than their elders. They have more tolerance for the different, more compassion for the poor and weak. The soul of "meanness", bullying, was considered "good for you, toughen you up" in my childhood; it is fought now with that "moral instruction" in schools.

Those that Brooks protects and defends with his apologetics, and liberalism-blaming, are the ones who turned "wokeness" into an insult, and forbade any moral instruction that resembles it.

If any of my near-zero readers would like to read the Brooks article, and tells me that I guessed wrong, that he didn't blame liberalism, and did mention wars, and torture, and killer cops, and the powerful getting-away with it all, I will buy you lunch. And apologize to all the other readers. If any.

http://brander.ca/stackback#brooks


2023/08/13: An Unfortunate Cost-Benefit Analysis on Vaclav Smil

It's just about the anniversary of my fond memories of the August 17th "Quantum Gravity Conference" I was able to attend all day for a stiff but worth-it $137. Included lunch. It also included three Nobel Prize winners: Canada's own Jim Peebles, the very famous Kip Thorne, who advised upon, and calculated the black hole image for, "Interstellar"; and the equally-famous Roger Penrose, who Zoomed in from England at 4AM his time, in his nineties. We amateurs got a gentle introduction to what the heck "Quantum Gravity" is, why it may be the final secret of the universe. Big stuff. The cost of seven trips to "Avatar", but worth it.

Vaclav Smil has no Nobel Prizes, but should probably have some prize of equal status, for just patiently and clear-headedly grinding all the numbers to add up the state of the world, in energy production and use.

If there were an overarching summary to the professor's impact on climate and energy-transition discussions in the last decade, it would be: "Caution! This is a daunting, gargantuan job that will take many decades, not one or two; and some parts of it require speculative technologies that may just not work."

Smil's work is highly convincing, hard to argue with, and he's no oil industry shill. So it's unfortunate that this talk is sponsored by Shell. The first YouTube that grabbed my attention this morning was Al Gore's just-out scorching of the fossil fuel industry's bad-faith "help" with climate, like the bullshit years of experimentation with "algae fuels" that they spent as much on advertising as doing - and just abandoned. Now it's "Carbon Capture", but still bullshit.

And, sponsorship and all, the evening run by a non-profit would still cost me some $317.49. (That must be the difference between the Convention Centre and the Hotel Vancouver: double, for just dinner, what the Centre charges for a day.) Ouch, for just a dinner with a 20-minute talk. Well, you also get a "round table discussion" and a brief Q&A, so short I suspect I wouldn't get a question in. ("Moderated Q&A" means pre-submitted questions, and 45 minutes total is about ten questions, so not even half the submissions will be answered.)

But, they don't say whom anybody on the panel is - will there be robust challenges to Smil's claims, will he have to answer a critic? They don't say, so I fear it might be just "how true" and "tell us more".

Instead, I think this talk is falling below 1.00 on the cost-benefit analysis; I'm sure that Smil would understand that way of thinking. I'd actually pay $150 to just see the man deliver what I already know from his books; or $300 to see a real debate about it. But the lack of announced panel, and the bad-faith sponsor of this talk, makes me fear I wouldn't get that debate. So it's not worth $300. Maybe they'll announce names for that panel that will change my mind. But I think I'll just get his new book from the library.

http://brander.ca/stackback#smil


2023/08/11: OK, Now The Discussion Is Over, Right?

Hah, hah, I'm just kidding. Of course, even this won't flip anybody who's hung on to whatever explanations they've been telling themselves for, ah, unusual weather. I argued for years, with some very close to me, heard it all: "there was a warm spell centuries ago" (but that was just in North America); "it's just the sun cycle peaking" (that was good through 2014), and "it's just natural variations". I'm not sure what they're saying any more. I notice that folks like Danielle Smith, the ones making the actual decisions to ignore the need to transition industry, simply don't address it at all.

It's true that the "Six Americas of Climate Change" have shifted in 10 years from 38% "alarmed or concerned" to 53%. The 22% that were "doubtful" or "dismissive" in 2012 are all still there, however!

The story of the graph at right is that, over 10 years, 12% of America shifted up from "cautious" to "concerned"; but the "concerned" group is the same size, because another 12% of America moved up from "concerned" to "alarmed". The 70% who had at least concerns 10 years ago, are now much more so. The 30% who were either unconcerned or outright dismissive, are unchanged.

Fortunately, that's enough. We are now getting action on climate; the shifts have been enough to give courage to courage-free politicians. Please note how cowardly and submissive to money they were ten years ago: they only had 30% against or disengaged, but still didn't act. It took way more pressure.

But I have to pause to marvel at the intellectual reslience to incoming facts that 22% have held up. I thought in 2019, when Australia was burning down - and for the second time, basically - that "this will do it". Of course, I'd already absorbed that Ft. Macmurray itself could burn down, and all the papers talking about karma and just-desserts, without denting their certainty. Next year, the California "Camp" fire was their fifth huge fire in a decade, and then, in 2021, BC had both the massive fires and floods, losing bridges and sections of railroad. Surely THAT would do it?

And, now, this year has yet, again, still, more, more, more massive fires and heat waves, over and over. All over the world. Finally, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, surrounded by water, a city known to millions of American tourists.

Surely that will do it? Again, Hah. No. Unbelievably, it won't. Danielle Smith's rhetoric will not change between two days ago, and tomorrow, not by a word.

That, too, is "alarming". It's all of a piece, of course. It's the same folks who just couldn't believe that tax cuts pay for themselves, not with 40 years of evidence. Couldn't believe immunologists who'd spent their careers preparing their knowledge and advice. Couldn't believe an election was won, with 60 judges ruling it was. Couldn't believe a crowd-size on a photo under their noses.

What do Danielle, Doug, and Pierre think of Trump's crowd-size and election? I don't know; I'm saying that you have to be the sort of person that can deny a crowd-size photo, to deny the fires and heat-waves are new, and clear proof. And they are. There's a need for the rest of us to move from "contemptuous" to "alarmed".

http://brander.ca/stackback#maui


2023/08/10: American Problems

I just had the pleasurable sensation of being able to shrug and ignore an unpleasant news story. Slashdot, today, brought me the Wall St. Journal story that American colleges are spending like crazy.

Briefly, their student loan program kept handing out loans as colleges kept raising their rates, because they could. The extra money had to be spent on something, and it sure wasn't going to be teaching assistants, they must remain on ramen. So they've been putting in buildings, pools, renovating Italian monasteries into foreign campuses.

I checked: Canadian tuition remains below $5,000 American. It is funny that Canadian tuition so clearly relates to how pleasant the province is to live in. Lovely, clement BC is the worst, with undergrad tuition hitting $10K this year. Perhaps we're also taking advantage of the large number of foreign students, who are charged even more. But wintery, barren Manitoba clocks in at half as much, barely over $5K Canadian. Quebec and Newfoundland clearly subsidize more, their tuition down around $3K. (One could note that Manitoba will also have far cheaper accomodation, and I think St. John's, too: about $1500/month for 2 bedrooms is easy enough to find.)

In short, America has an entirely American-made problem with this one. Self-invented, self-inflicted. Like their endless expenses on guns, on their military, on their health-care system that costs twice what ours does, for less results. Like the wars they lied themselves into, were never necessary.

Canada has a bunch of problems, many of them "self-inflicted" in the more-common, more-forgivable way: you let them build up, ignore things getting worse - like care-homes, infrastructure, and climate (that last, an example of the whole world doing it). But we have very few where we just invented a mess that we had to build ourselves, spend money to build up the problem.

When you read about American problems, you have to see them as a giant entertainment show that America is putting on for the world, including all the thrills, chills, and spills, including a lot of dead Americans, some of them. At least the college kids are only having their futures limited.

And they're welcome in Manitoba.

http://brander.ca/stackback#americanproblems


2023/07/11: Nothing More Addictive Than Being The Addiction

As mentioned the other day, journalists have been almost ignoring Mastodon, but flocked to "review" Threads immediately. I trolled that "Journalism Just Loves Giant Corporations", but of course they don't.

They love self-promotion. They have to, in their shrinking, suffering business.

I realized it was all about the journalist, when The Guardian put out yet another Threads-promoting piece, by Margaret Sullivan, claiming to "join against her own better judgement", and spending half the column on how bad the Facebook corporation is.

Then, she admits she absolutely must join, because "it's a professional necessity - as someone who frequently writes about media - to be where the action is."

Now, Mastodon is much smaller, but 13 million people is a certain amount of action. It's more people than see most movies, or sports contests. But - it hasn't had one-seventh the coverage, in proportion to Threads; it's had about none.

I wrote back to The Guardian, that joining a site as "JaneDoe999" would allow her to monitor what's going on at the site, fulfill that professional obligation. But joining as Margaret Sullivan, famous journalist, is not watching a debate to report; it's joining the show, up on stage, being part of the entertainment.

Margaret Sullivan, famous journalist, does not have to lend her name, and work, to the giant corporation, help it sell ads. "JaneDoe999" is all she needs.

At the largest sites, though, full participation gets clicks to her articles. She gets a piece of the action; so does The Guardian.

That's why journalists have made it clear that those seeking a job or promotion, are judged by their Twitter follower count, their post-count, their engagement. That's her actual "professional necessity". When they start judging her on her Threads numbers, she has to have them up.

Mastodon is more like joining a union: nobody owns it, democracy rules, you can leave for another union if your local branch doesn't satisfy. You'd think it would have been jumped on by all the lefty, corporate-critic, pro-union journalists out there. And I do give huge kudos to Canada's Justin Ling and The Tyee, who participate fully in the network.

But, alas, no interest from Canadaland, the National Observer, or, as noted, The Guardian: union-boosters all, at other times.

I guess they can't spare the time, since there's less payback. I'm pretty sure that "self-interest" explains the whole thing. It usually does. The affected person doesn't even have to be aware of it; the pressure is just there in their subconscious.

http://brander.ca/stackback#twitteraddicts


2023/07/10: Indigenous Science Fiction

I won't bother with obvious links: the names alone are enough. I found both "Blood Quantum" and "Slash/Back" at my local library, and so can you.

Blood Quantum is pretty much your classic zombie movie, with nods back to original "Night of the Living Dead" scenes, heroic guys who stay behind to keep 'em busy while the young get away, the works. It's well done.

Slash/Back is fairly classic alien-creature-feature, but with whole new twists from the very engaging cast that, rather like the alien in the movie, just appeared out of nowhere. They have no other entries in the IMDB. It mentions that filmmaker Nyla Innuksuk just found some of the cast in Nunavut, and the Wikipedia says that this includes the stars. So it's Iqaluit teens Tasiana Shirley and Alexis Wolfe, and Nalajoss Ellsworth, that carry the movie? Because they really do; I was mesmerized by how real and teen-accurate all their bickering, laughing conversations were.

It's a movie about being a teen, about being a teen in the very tiny (pop. 1500), incredibly isolated (fly in, multi-hour flight costing thousands), bare-looking community of Pangnirtung, and having fun just riding around with your friends, learning to hunt. (The scenes of the four girls on their bikes will bring a grin to every Stranger Things fan.) It's about being proud of your town - and also about kids not being particularly entranced by the old beliefs of their elders, and who instead love their phones. That bit alone reminded me that kids, with their phones, are not calling Singapore; they're just texting each other. They only need the local connection.

We saw these two movies the same weekend, making us feel like there was this new genre, "Indigenous SF". We can only hope for more.

http://brander.ca/stackback#indigsf


2023/07/06: Journalism Just Loves Giant Corporations

Journalists have spent several years now, hating on Facebook for all its sins. Covered the scandals, the whistleblowings, they've just tut-tutted every tut there is. More recently, they've been crapping on Twitter, perhaps even more harshly, because they use and like Twitter themselves. Which, apparently, has only gotten them this far:
Dan Froomkin (PressWatchers.org) @froomkin@bird.makeup

Where I'm at, at least for the moment: Twitter is too important to give it up to the loonies, despite who owns it and how much he fucks it up.

...the fascinating thing about Froomkin's post is the sense of ownership, that he owns Twitter to some small extent, his patch of it. It's like a tenant with an abusive landlord, imagining that he does actually own the place he merely rents...even while acknowledging he doesn't own it.

I don't know of any working journalists (or celebrities) that have entirely left Twitter, they just can't. Some are posting also to Mastodon, manually, but most are like Dan, above: using some service called "bird.makeup" to echo their Twitter stuff to a Mastodon account, which they otherwise totally ignore.

Mastodon has been fun, and even useful for news-finding, for me for several months now; a daily habit. I post something, usually a funny remark or maybe a critical comment, almost daily. (Today was making fun of "Dune" vs "Foundation".) It does what most people actually want out of Twitter, and could do more with more participants. However, you are getting more review of Mastodon, in this very paragraph, than I've seen in any other popular journalism. I've never seen an article with "Mastodon" as the whole topic, much less "How do I sign up?" answered.

Mastodon has been mentioned, mainly in articles about Twitter. Mentioned as being an alternative that isn't remotely as good, for lack of important customers. Which brings us to the introduction, today, of a Twitter competitor. From Facebook! Surely, it'll be hated on sight.

So, The Guardian is a left-wing rag that hates all giant corporations, if you believe their political commentary. They promptly responded with a full-court press of journalists to give it free coverage. See the tech-section's top five stories, at left!

The "We Tried Threads" story has the sub-head, "Kari Paul tested the social network minutes after its launch - did it fail to impress, or should Elon Musk be shuddering?"

Mastodon has been around for years, has seen this surge in popularity up to 13 million users - more people than live in London - since last fall. And it can't get arrested, even in a left-wing paper. But Mark Zuckerberg's latest baby, after the Metaverse catastrophe, was "tested within minutes", and heavily covered on its first day.

This is when I realized that Cory Doctrow's parents were correct: This isn't the kind of fight you win. It's the kind of fight you fight.

There's no way for Mastodon to win, over corporate titans. Even nominal allies just assume that the public volunteer projects are automatically the losers you can ignore, and the titans are the winners you must pay immediate and constant attention to.

It's important to accept that so you can deal with the world.

http://brander.ca/stackback#threads


2023/07/04: Israel: I Can't Even

I am completely unable to even.

I've given up. I read Israel news these days, and it's always terrible, and there's absolutely nothing I can do to affect it in any way. It's a rare situation where I just turn away from news, but it's mental self-protection.

Yup, even writing this, my mind is wandering away. I notice most American news is still fixated on their indignation about their Supreme Court. I don't want to wander there, even to get away from Israeli news. But, oh, well:

Americans, it was probably always a mistake to say "Damn, we don't get as much democracy from our President and strong Senate system, as everybody else gets from their parliamentary democracy. We can't even protect women's rights. I know! We'll concentrate enormous power in nine elite people who went to our snobbiest schools. They'll protect the little guy, for sure!"

At least you aren't in Israel.

http://brander.ca/stackback#israel


2023/07/03: National Post, Protecting the "Laurentian Elites"?!?

This just in: Canada does indeed have things like American "affirmative action": special tracks and programs for Indigenous, Black, and other minorities provide extra chances to get into medical and law schools, or just get into the University at all, with minimum qualifications.

There's almost zero case-law on it; basically, just about nobody has sued because they were injured by the programs, kept out because somebody else got in. If we just expand the seats a bit when somebody extra qualifies, proving injury would be pretty hard.

(Oh, also: not that many American universities are that affected by it, either: only those Ivy League "name" schools really come down to the limited-seats problem.)

But, still: the National Post has to protest. Another of their "opinion" articles that's given the top-of-main-page position of a major news story, reads like news for the top half, then descends into highly-opinionated language about the racist evils of American Affirmative Action. Since Canada hardly has any, the topic only switches to the damage to Canadians in the last 173 words out of 1300. (Or trying to, at least: "There are far fewer court challenges of racialist equity policies in Canada, so it's hard to point to one. ")

Only after finishing, did the humour in all this strike me. You just can't find journalism in Canada that is more-hostile, more-contemptuous, more-furious at "Laurentian Elites", than the National Post. Invented by a National Post writer, incessantly repeated by all their opinion staff, the feckless, clueless, sneering Laurentian Elites are the official enemy of the National Post.

Except that the National Post is now defending the factories that pump out Laurentian Elites, from being diluted by less-elite students. The National Post wants those Laurentian Elites to continue totally dominating the Elite Schools, with totally marks-based criteria that advantage those from the best tutors, and prep schools. That "Real World" experience you get from growing up without wealth, and assured safety, must not be counted, only the kind of life-experience that Young Elites can get with Elite Money: special summer schools, travels, internships with Elite employers.

It's a new look, for the National Post, and I think it suits them better.

More honest.

http://brander.ca/stackback#EliteProtection


2023/07/01: Canada, Where American Dramas Aren't Even Relevant

The American papers are all upset over no less than three Supreme Court decisions.

Student Debt is not nearly as large a problem in Canada, because our schools are not half, not a quarter, so expensive.

The whole "can't force me to make gay wedding cakes" issue, and six more like it, aren't big issues here. I can't imagine them reaching the Supreme Court. We save them for people being fired for being gay.

Here's the funny one: I have no idea whether Canada has "affirmative action". It probably needs some, we certainly have prejudice - but, again, only a few of our universities are that hard to get into, that it's a big stress. (I also can't recall any Canadian scandals about fake jai-alai or rowing expertise, to sneak in to a snobby school.) The point is more that, if Canada has decided to have some affirmative action, it's just uncontroversial, just not in the papers - probably because it's not keeping that many people out, either.

Three for three: your whacko, invented, own-goal American problems basically don't exist in Canada, not as problems of magnitude, anyway.

No wonder that, with the departure of Russell Brown, I have lost one of the two names on our Supreme Court that I can remember. And Richard Wagner's is obviously easy to remember. Maybe that's why we made him Chief Justice.

The National Post is giving us a break from importing American drama, today. Perhaps for Canada Day, they're actually appreciating the lack of that crap in our country. The top dozen-odd stories in that paper, remarkably, don't even mention the big three American topics-for-today. Also, no comment on America's topic four, "The out-of-control SCOTUS". Today, Canadian and American papers, on Canada Day, are a Venn diagram with no overlap, no stories in common.

Cool.

(Sorry, I don't know whom Jesse Case is, just happy to repeat his excellent observation, today.) http://brander.ca/stackback#YayCanada


2023/06/30: Vancouver Sun: Does Emery Barnes Park Need Saving?

A condo wants to get rid of a drug-treatment place next door. I can't agree. With some of the ideas I got from a local, I think it can be tolerated.

I spent some hours around the place to determine if it really is as bad as the lawsuit says. I got great comments from a guy across the street about how the problems, which are real, could be mitigated pretty well. There's no need to move the centre. The tedious documentation of how little trouble the area has - most of the time - is here, in a long series of nearly 100 photographs, taken over four and a half hours circling the area, one afternoon, and an hour this morning. This almost-65-year-old was not alarmed by anything.

http://brander.ca/stackback#EmeryBarnes


2023/06/29: Reformer Tips for Roseanne Archibald and Brenda Lucki

If you hope to reform a boy's club, ladies, the first tip is to be one of the boys. It's like that dating tip, "Be handsome". You should just "Be male".

Your task was never impossible, but you certainly gave yourself a heavier lift, with the built-in handicap.

I laboured under a "toxic" female boss, once. No gratuitous toxicity at all, no invented drama; she was just ambitious, and pushed her staff, in an age of growing care and kindness at work. (By "age", I mean my whole career, and years before it; when I started working in 1980, there were tales of how much less-kind-and-sympathetic work could be about time-off for family and personal needs in earlier years; how many more bosses would haul you in for a loud shouting-at, even at Manager levels. It seemed to me that bossing became slowly but steadily more sensitive, the whole 35 years. Just my perception.)

She would press staff for more results, be critical, ask penetrating question after question, very direct gaze. It was more pressure than I saw nearly any boss put out, in my career. Think Helen Mirren's "Jane Tennison" detective, interviewing her "Prime Suspect". I was exempt from it, since she was bossing a work-area that I'd invented: created my own job, and a few others, so my work was perfect by definition. But, I recall sort-of apologizing to a fellow employee, years later, for not sticking up for her somewhat, when she was under what I felt was undue stress. Trouble was, it wasn't toxic, just ambitious. We were a public utility. In a video game company with perpetual "crunch time", it would have been light pressure, not even demanding free overtime. My 1980s male bosses would have merely called her "direct and forceful".

So, she was promoted. Well. Straight up a level, to where only a handful got; and she was put in charge of the Boy's Club, the construction section, first female Construction Manager ever. Perhaps she felt more pressure up there, responded even more, ah, "forcefully".

And then she was fired, not much more than a year later, over her "toxicity". I'll skip the details, of which few were given out anyway. I'm sure the stories about Roseanne Archibald losing her job, this morning, are close enough. Complaints from staff. Hurt feelings. The crucial question, I asked of somebody closer to it than I: would she have kept the job if she'd been male? A beat, and the answer was "yes". Another beat, then "yeah, they'd have found a way".

I had friends on the other side of it, too, who wanted her gone; and from my own experience, understood their point. I just think that a male would have been given "counselling" and a rotation to a "special project position", a route to redemption.

In fact, exactly that happened, about 20 years earlier. Guy promoted to head of Construction, started giving religious lectures in the field, made everybody uncomfortable, and was also clearly over-promoted, not handling the problems. They found him a special project. My first boss, whom I quickly realized wasn't that useful. He retired after a full career, though they edited his retirement speech, the part about his sidelining.

My wife just added a story about a boss of hers, 21st century. Repeated complaints from women, repeated "sensitivity training" sentences that did nothing. He was able to stay well past his nominal retirement date, not even encouraged to go.

All it takes, is not being given that last, extra chance, that benefit of the doubt. It helps that subconscious minds find a woman being aggressive far more offensive than a man being so; identical behaviour gives more offense. It's not conscious, and it would be denied if you asked.

So, I've seen it, personally. Archibald would still have her job, were she a man. Or had she not attempted reforms. Archibald's demand for forensic audits, which should be a yearly routine for every single First Nation large enough to have books at all, is completely legitimate. But, we're talking about all the chiefs pulling down six figures; one, from a Nation of 80 residents, made a million dollars one year. Archibald was a serious threat to them.

Brenda Lucki didn't call out for reforms; she was installed when report after report, and scandalously-bad investigations, made a need for reform very clear. Since the report was about treatment of women, she was the first reform. And, clearly, they hate her.

They hate her, because even I, who know so little about police investigations (mostly from watching "Prime Suspect"), know that there was no special reason to criticize Brena Lucki. She asked that the guns used at Portapique to be exhibited in public, the way the guns of Coutts were all over the news, the same night of the arrest. Her (in)subordinates claimed this interfered with an investigation into where he got them. First point, how would it interfere? Second, there was no real "investigation" into where he got them, not if they had no more information two years later. No arrests. There has still never been any more news about those guns. Well, there was from the CBC, who told a story that did not need any suppression for investigation. We got nothing from the RCMP, except maybe their contempt for our intelligence. And, it was a totally legitimate use of the RCMP to further public policy goals of the government, to improve public safety through gun-control.

The RCMP investigators hauled out that scurrilous accusation, to take media attention away from their own apalling failures at Portapique. As the inquiry went on, nobody was talking about the Nova Scotia RCMP, how badly they did, how to fix their failures - it was all about this woman, and her "political interference" in an investigation.

I'm still not aware of any RCMP reforms. Brenda Lucki has her head way down.

I read about First Nations corruption - where a few elite families in every nation have all the good jobs and contracts, while the majority of the nation lives in the worst poverty - from Judge John Reilly's books about the Stoney Nakoda Nation. Recent news is about Nation members now suing for financial transparency, 30 years later. Reforms still not begun, really. Roseanne Archibald is not going to bring in any, now.

I hope that both the RCMP investigations, and First Nations financials, can get reforms. But, in our current cultural moment, reformers wanting results should probably hire guys; they just have an easier lift. "Woke"? We are still half-asleep.

http://brander.ca/stackback#toxicwomanboss


The Tyee, 2023/06/28: Poor Chinatown

The residents of Chinatown have been trying to improve their neighbourhood for years. They don't think it's a real "improvment" to have a new, expensive condo built. They're concerned about the lower-income residents being priced out of Chinatown.

When I looked into whether only rich people can live downtown, a few months back, I was not startled to learn that Calgary's poorest neighbourhood is her Chinatown. What could be surprising? It was a nice word for an ethnic ghetto, always. Calgary and Vancouver both have Chinatowns that specialize in the elderly and poor.

So the people of Chinatown have been demonstrating and delaying approval of the upscale condo for years. They just lost. The development-approvals board chair, Theresa O'Donnell, explained it simply, how they'd always been delusional:

"The board has no authority to require social housing or below-market rental," said O'Donnell. "The board has no authority to deny this project based on the zoning. Neither does the board have the authority to require the property owners to sell the property to the City of Vancouver or to swap with the property with another property owned by the City of Vancouver."

When you read that, you wonder why the protesters ever bothered. I put in the first comment on the story:

"This board does not have the power" should be engraved over the door. It has the power to let richer people keep poorer people from moving in, via zoning, but zoning confers no power to get poor people housed.

If you wanted a simple statement of how societal institutions promote and extend inequality, look no further than the previous sentence.

Nobody has good solutions to housing, apparently, but Olivia Chow was singing my favourite song last night in her victory interviews: government will just have to build it. Social housing doesn't pay, or doesn't pay enough, the private sector will always fail us; simply can't do the job; good-as-useless.

Olivia hasn't much budget for that, but BC, a province, could start, and we seem to have, however, briefly, a provincial government that might be that desperate, to bring back the decades-forgotten, abandoned idea of social housing. One can but sigh at today's predictable failure of the current system, and hope.


2023/06/27: Today is not Peak Lithium

Just a few words today, of general crankiness and amusement. About 20-some years back, there were years of fears of "peak oil" taking us back to the stone age.

The worst of it was debunked by your Serious Science guys, like the IEEE Spectrum article linked above. But it went on for some years after fracking had changed all the assumptions. There was the 2008 Thriller, "Burn Up", with Brad Whitford and Neve Campbell, partly filmed in my workplace, the Calgary City Hall, about the year where American oil production took off - but was about all the oil running out imminently.

There was unquestionably a sense of "hope" about peak oil, among environmentalists - that End of Oil would save us from climate dystopia, if at the price of poverty and dislocation.

I'm not going to go dig up the links, but I certainly know that many on the political right were dismissive of "peak oil", on the grounds that, even if no more was actually apparent, oil would be found, because when the price rises, people get smarter, look harder, become more efficient. And so it was. Fracking did get invented, and more sources were found, America became a net producer again, indeed the world's largest oil producer(!) and the price of oil actually dropped. A lot.

So, it's kind of funny when energy-transition activists are challenged today, by those with a clear right-wing, pro-oil agenda, with the concern that there won't be enough lithium/nickel/cobalt/whatever, to feed the "green transition", I have to laugh. They were so recently on the other side of the same issue, philosophically.

Props, of course, to Tyee writer Andrew Nikiforuk, who is concerned with peak everything - oil and lithium both. I disagree with him, but salute the consistency.

http://brander.ca/stackback#peaklithium


2023/06/25: Globe and Mail vs. Nearly Everybody

My head-shake over The Globe and Mail is that the main page - digital and paper, I think - has big sections marked off for "Report on Business" and "Investment", and none for "Wages and Salaries", which are surely some 90% of the citizens.

The side they take in the inevitable war of labour against investors rarely takes long to spot. I just had to scratch my head today at their editorial about the "economic emergency" of Canada's labour productivity.

That "emergency" itself, has been hard for most to spot, next to Britain's 9% inflation ongoing, while Canada is regarded around the top of the G7.

They compare Ontario unfavourably to Alabama, which apparently has "higher labour productivity" with its lack of minimum wage, using the US Federal $7.25 an hour, its deep poverty making for eager workers, I'm sure.

Everybody knows that Alabama, which came in 8th worst state in the pandemic, with over 4X the death-rate of Ontario, is one of the furthest-behind states in human health and welfare. Alabama has high death rates from every cause, poor education, and high crime - just over five times the murder rate of Toronto.

To point to the dollars made, per dollar paid to workers, as the one true "economic indicator" is to declare "the economy" the enemy of the human race. "The Economy", for the Globe and Mail, has an inverse relationship with human happiness. The joke(?) was made in the pandemic, when we were supposed to "open up" and accept casualties for "the economy", was that "When I hear 'the economy' these days, I read it as 'profits for rich people', don't ask me to die for that."

Incidentally, Globe and Mail, you were just aiming for a pungent comparison, I know, but did you stop to look at how Alabama "makes" money? A quick Wikipedia moment gives this list of their six top employers:

  1. Army Base
  2. U. Alabama
  3. Air Force Base
  4. State itself
  5. Mobile Schools
  6. Army Depot
The next was AT&T. Finally, a private firm, so I'll quit listing. Alabama mostly makes money off of American tax dollars that flow in from states with more genuinely-productive economies, states where people pay more in federal taxes than they receive in federal spending.

Blue states, that is.

Red states are more-dependent on their federal government, and I think those stats are entirely about federal spending on citizens; it doesn't count, in that article, as "federal free money" to have them put a military base in your state. So, comparisons to Ontario, with all its private-sector factories, and mines, are pretty lame.

I'm going on too long, because the longer I go on, the more mendacious and audacious that GM editorial feels; it's trolling. But the main effect is to remind us all that when they say "the economy", we should be hearing "the enemy", because they mean only the investors' part of it.

http://brander.ca/stackback#alabatario


2023/06/24: The Whine?

Yesterday, I actually complained about a favourite journalist, Jen Gerson, at The Line, complaining about stupidly-wrong environmental regulations. Jen's complaint is quite legitimate, and her insults and rage at the nameless bureaucrat(s) that made the mistake was meant as humour, and worked. The complaint I wrote to Jesse and Canadaland is that it doesn't seem to have crossed Jen's mind that she's a well-known journalist and could have kept phoning until she drilled down to the office or committee that made the call. You'd think journalists only existed to complain, let the bureacrats remain nameless? I asked Jesse if the feds were now that good at total stonewalling, if you can't get past "Communications" any more.

The previous column at The Line had called Toronto a "dump", addressed here about a page down, on June 20. Funny thing - Toronto today appeared on a list of the 10 most-livable cities on Earth, Canada being the only nation to have three. ((USA, Britain: none). And the list is from The Economist, definitely not a squishy-liberal source.

And, so, today I see this bit of teeth-gnashing by Twitter warrior (and favourite climate journalist) David Roberts:

As I've said a million times: in ANY situation where there's a neutral arbiter, reactionaries will complain they are being treated unfairly. It's as predictable as the tides. But over & over again-- in journalism, social media, the courts, etc.-- establishment elites fall for it.

The media treats them unfairly. Corporations treat them unfairly. Twitter. The IRS. The Justice Dept. On & on, perpetual aggrievement, perpetual whining, forever.

It's just part of their psychology. Fucking ignore it.

That does not describe The Line, at all - but the common feature is the complaining about, well "everything". Your basic, familiar lefty complaint is often specific: environmental regulations; police violence; trees being cut; a project approved; a government program underfunded or absent. These complaints at least can be addressed. When the left complains about "racism" and public attitudes, of course, they get nothing.

It's hitting me that The Line has carved out a role just complaining a lot that "Everything is broken", and "We can't deliver" and "We're feckless", and "We're not respected around the world", and similarly-vague complaints that no one person or body can ever really address. What can be accomplished, aside from making the readers frustrated and cynical?

I'm working up a notion of turning this blog into "The Whine", a parody of The Line, that would make fun of their every post, instead of my own complaining about an opinion-venting site that makes its readers happy (in a "glad to be unhappy" sense, I mean). But that's just because they troll me. Fact-accepting, pro-vaccine, pro-democracy (non-MAGA, if you will) conservatives are the ones that can annoy me.

It's similar to that "Uncanny Valley", where simulated human faces that are not quite right are less-acceptable than outright cartoons that your mind judges differently. The Line doesn't accept the obvious fictions about American elections, vaccines, or Globalist Conspiracies; but it has an, um, uncanny way of believing that only rich elites live in city centres, that crime is outta control, that military failures in Afghanistan can be laid at the feet of politicians, never mentioning a General or Colonel, that Canada isn't one of the best places in the world you could live, particularly through the pandemic. All of which successfully trolls both my patriotism, not to mention my love of scientific accuracy.

Which does make this "The Whine", only it's mine, and not a parody at all. I really should just quit reading.

http://brander.ca/stackback#thewhine


The Air India Memorial, 2023/06/23: Try to Remember

The pictures for today are on Dora's Page.

I read little bits of news today, and nearly tossed out a blog post on a trivial issue that just irritated me (as so often). Then I was reminded that today is the anniversary of Air India, that the families would be gathering just minutes away from my house, tonight.

I went over, and took some pictures. See above.

But today is not a day for trivial concerns. It's a day to remember. I won't link to the stories that came out this week, that a survey showed most Canadians have forgotten the story, or never knew it. (We must remember that in 38 years, nearly a third of Canada are post-disaster immigrants. Maybe it should be required history that they are urged to learn during immigration...)

Not much to say about it, but I'm going to be there at 6:30.

http://brander.ca/stackback#airindia


Canada Energy Regulator, 2023/06/22: Again, Seven Good Years, Seven Bad

The report from Canada Energy Regulator, called "Canada's Energy Future 2023" is out, and the National Observer is there to cry doom.

I actually went over all this with a different report less than a week ago, when the Herald took only the most-positive news from a more-positive report by an oil industry research group.

The regulator's report has a range of prediction scenarios: all the way from continued good sales until the late 2030s, if nobody changes behaviour; to the peak hitting in 2030, declining through the 2030s and 2040s to a small fraction of current size by 2050. That latter scenario is based on the "Net Zero by 2050" concept, which would have maximum effort, (and some waste) spent, to aggressively switch to electric cars, heat pumps, green steel, concrete and fertilizer. That strikes me as the more-likely one, based on the almost-shocking growth of electric car sales, the Algoma steel switch to arc furnaces, the soaring exponential curves of renewable electricity. It would be dumb to bet your career on it not happening.

So Stackback can stick by its biblical prophecy of "seven good years, seven bad". Alberta should be saving up like crazy, and encouraging post-carbon industries like drilling for geothermal.

The report mainly talks about sales, not jobs. There's a big difference in oil and gas. The jobs come from setting up the sand-mines, drilling the wells, not from just running them to failure, as discussed by the previous stackback post. The Alberta carbon-sales peak may be a long, flat peak, lasting much of the 2030s. But the jobs will go away - rapidly, if the industry follows its usual pattern that jerked the rug out from under my whole generation of engineers and techs in 1982 - as soon as they calcuate that existing facilities, run to failure, will last out their remaining sales window.

Take ye warning of the prophecy.

http://brander.ca/stackback#regulator


The Atlantic, 2023/06/21: Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook

Go read the excellent, short piece on Sheryl Sandberg and Facebook by Caitlin Flanagan at The Atlantic.

Flanagan is the routine call-out to write about feminism, work, family, and women navigating same. So she was called to review the book by Facebook ruler Sheryl Sandberg, that one about "leaning in".

I hadn't understood Flanagan to be such a critic of "corporate hellfire". Her piece, though only partly about the evils of Facebook, neatly summarizes just how bad they were, and how evil Sandberg was in her defense of them, harming critics. How Sandberg's sin isn't neglecting her family, but lionizing Goldmann-Sachs and their crimes, being at the centre of Facebook's.

Go. Read.

PS: I didn't write about her here, only on Dora's Page, about meeting Frances Haugen, the Facebook Whistleblower, when she passed through Vancouver three weeks back. Much luck to her new book.

http://brander.ca/stackback#facebook


The Line, 2023/06/20: Finding the Conservative View, No Matter How Small

I should just admit that I started Stackback because I am so very trolled by The Line. It hits the sweet spot for them, the sour spot for me: its arguments are just reasonable enough to be worth responding to. I don't have to argue with anti-vaxxers or climate "skeptics", as explained in posts the last few days. They've been responded to forever, and argue in obvious bad faith. The Line keeps sounding sincere.

But for yet another day in a row, it's an eye-roller today, and that's without even finishing the paywalled column. The headline says that "Toronto is a Dump" and it's clear within 100 words that the reason is crime and safety. The Line upholds the candidacy of one Anthony Furey as the real thing to watch, as the very NDP-progressive Olivia Chow cruises to easy victory. Is her being the leader, with twice the polls of any other, the story? No! Boring!

THE story is, amazingly, not that Toronto, who last elected a conservative actually named "John Tory", and is a majority, all by itself, of the province that re-elected Doug Ford - is about to elect the wife of Canada's most-popular-ever NDP politician, who tanked on her last attempt. Sounds like a story about an abrupt swing to the Left by voters...worth considering...but nope.

The story is that an extreme conservative, running on a law-and-order platform (hiring 500 police officers, snitching the successful "100 police officers for Vancouver" of mayoral winner Ken Sim), is doing well.

I looked it up. He did impress people in May, soaring up to fifth place, with 9%. In the month since, he's faded to 7%, holding on to fifth place.

Talk about a reach.

The true concerns of voters are found only in the fifth-place guy, who's fading.

Spare me, The Line. Torontonians are obviously triggered a bit by all the heavy stories of subway violence, though more people die driving than riding; the traffic deaths are so routine they get a hundreth the coverage. But, even so, Torontonians have some sense that it was worse in the nineties and one of the safest cities in North America. Some dump.


The Line, 2023/06/19: Wrong on BOTH Sides of The Line?

Man, now I know I'm glad I dumped The Line, it can cover "both sides" of an argument, and be wrong both times. Twelve days back, I called it "trolling" (sort of) when Rahim Mohammed claimed there that Gen-X had taken some lurch to the right...and it just hasn't, as that post mentions.

The Line has a new tradition "Flipping the Line", opposing views to a previous post. Today's, by Hamish Macaulay, not really disagreeing. Macaulay also sees right-wing activism in Gen-X, has also not looked at the polling indicating that on every public policy issue, the middle-aged poll exactly between the younger and older cohorts. He starts off agreeing with his "opponent", that Gen-X has gone to the Right; his disagreement is about why.

The article, like its opponent, has no numbers, no stats, just words about, umm, concepts. Something about coming of age in an era of "post-politics" that became "hyper-politics", so they lost the ability to effectively engage in politics. I think he's on about them only interacting as individuals, not joining parties and movements. Do they? No stats. Beats me. Here's some damn numbers, not words words words:
There's a whole story in that bottom black line on the left, about Americans age 18-24. The way I read it: They showed up to vote at 50% when they were being drafted to die into Vietnam, but then steadily lost interest, through the 70s and 80s, all the way down to 35%. Then Clinton, in 1992, got them up to 40%, but he was a disappointment; they plunged to 30%, lowest ever, and stayed there for Gore. Bush's war got them right back up to 40% again, and Obama up to 45%. But then he was a disappointment like Clinton, I guess; they dropped back to 40%. That upticked only a few percent when Trump ran..but Trump's reign took them back up to Vietnam numbers, some 50%.

You just can't get more than 50% of American 'kids' to vote - not with four more years of Trump, not by threatening to blow off their legs with a Vietnamese land mine.

On the right chart: in Canada, our 18-24s were already at 55% back in 2011. Trudeau made them jump up another 12% from that, to 67%. Since Trudeau, more Canadian teens and early-20s show up at the voting box than Americans ages 45-64 did in 2020. Our participation is even higher, for older, of course: our 25-34 group votes at greater rates than their senior citizens.

Also of note, the "18-24" group for the 2021 election is an entirely different bunch of people from 2015; those had aged out of this band, that 67% of kids who voted in 2021 had been 12-17 when Trudeau first ran. Canadian youth are continuing to vote when their 18th turns up.

That should be a topic for The Line, for Postmedia, for everybody. Why do so many more Canadians vote, than Americans, and why, in particular, do our youngest voters show up so very, very much better than American youth? Does it explain why we got a carbon tax?

The notion that they aren't engaged seems fanciful to me. Why would they engage at the voting box itself, but not join political parties and activist groups? Show me numbers for the party-participation decline, Mr. Macaulay, if that's your point.

The numbers on the right frankly astonished me, I didn't know they were that dramatic. Am I wrong in crediting the young, dashing Trudeau with the huge jump in youth vote in 2015 and since? What other explanation? I dunno, the papers never talk about that factoid, I just learned it today.

Anyway, The Line should be called The Tangent, if you ask me. That's their relationship to the actual issues, which are on clear display in the two charts above.

http://brander.ca/stackback#genz


Justin Ling and Paul Wells, 2023/06/18: Just Stop Arguing Vax, Too

I enjoyed Justin Ling's column about arguing by retreat and concession, if I may paraphrase him. He compares to to jiu jitsu, winning by relaxing, by making your opponent's weight work against them.

And then the next day, Paul Wells did a a nice summary of a recent meeting to discuss Canada's pandemic response, and was immediately hit by a long anti-vax post. So I just replied to that with a short note that people were getting bored with the topic, and would rather not get into it.

Alas, several people did reply to him, basically an argument erupted. So, I've just tried a long post - in reply to a PRO-vaxxer, begging them to please stop, that argument could cause Wells to just shut down comments, as they were at The Line.

Needless to say, the original anti-vax commenter replied to that, with concerns about being "silenced". (Hah. Who is less-silent?)

Which I will ignore. I really like this policy.

http://brander.ca/stackback#vaxover


Slashdot, 2023/06/17: I Can Stop Arguing Climate, and Said So

The earliest social media site, aside from USENET, is still going well. Slashdot has its own internal votes for how popular posts are, and that seems to suppress the trolls, the argument-inciters. Today, there was a subject about the wild weather in North America, and where it comes from, a main driver is warming.

So of course, the first three posts were from Slashdot's still-strong libertarian community, who have been snarking at all climate change stories for 30 years. What I've noticed, the last several years, is that Slashdot is no longer so libertarian, and the anti-warming voices are fading. So I figured it was time to post this (and promptly got voted up to the top post):

First three posts are all "this isn't climate change" and also "stop talking about it".

Guys, you've gone from frustrating and aggravating to eye-rolling to kind-of-funny. Not because the debate has changed - we've been pretty clear all along on our side, though your reasons have shifted (away from solar cycles, after two of them) -- but because you've lost. People are barely listening any more.

At least, the ones who make the real decisions. The private backers of $20B renewables+powerline projects in North Australia, Morocco, Libya are not betting tens of billions of dollars on a fairy tale. They believe. So do all the people who just voted in the three giant climate acts (Infrastructure, IRA, and CHIPS are all climate acts) and failed to more than scuff the paint on them with the debt hostage demands.

This very year is estimated to be Peak Gasoline. Peak Transportation Fuels hits in 2026. Less oil will be sold, worldwide in 2030 than 2028. It's already happening. And weather like this is just going to usher that along. The dates I just gave may even be timid, because every time somebody has predicted the pace of renewables and batteries they've been too timid. (That said, we're down to such sort timelines, they're probably accurate.)

You've lost, it's all over but the shouting. Can you please stop shouting?

http://brander.ca/stackback#itsover


Calgary Herald, 2023/06/16: A Prophecy of Seven Good Years, Seven Bad

The most-respected analysts just predicted end of oil sales growth. 2028 will be the year where growth is barely detectable, though they don't dare to predict that 2029, or perhaps 2030, will actually be smaller sales, smaller consumption, less carbon emitted. But, that's true, of course. Indeed, the only wrongness in these kinds of predictions, recently, is that they're too timid. I'd lay money on 2027.

The progress, by the way, will have immediate milestones: peak global gasoline sales next year, peak for all fuels, including diesel, by 2026. The bell is ringing, oil industry; and it does toll for thee.

The Herald opinion article rigidly refuses to look at the real story. It's kind of funny to skim over the article, looking for discussion of what the report implicitly predicts for Alberta of 2030s. It only has eyes for the new jobs coming in 2024, not the layoffs starting a few years later.

I'm no analyst, and these are just guesses, but it's hard to believe there will still be new jobs in Alberta for building up oil infrastructure, in five years. The industry will go to maintenance-only, run-to-failure. I'd expect the most-expensive oil producers will start to shutter mines and plants, across the 2030s. The few running in 2040, will run on duct-tape and bailing wire. There will be good jobs for the bailing-wire people: squeezing the last working years out of dying equipment is a creative art as well as a science. But not many jobs, and they'll go to the old guys who know the plant best, just hanging on to retirement.

It would be a folly, as a life-choice, to start off an Alberta oil career this year. Those under 35 should have transition plans. The layoffs will be coming thick and fast in 10 years, and only the most-valuable over-45s will be kept around for that last decade. The Herald should be warning its readers.

The article should have referenced the Bible, the story of Joseph warning Pharoah that Seven Good Years were to come, and saving should be maximized for the Seven Bad Years to follow. After the transition, things get better again in Alberta; it isn't some permanent doom coming. My grandfather's whole career was digging coal, but the next generation got different jobs.

The Herald, and the Alberta government, really need to face the facts.

http://brander.ca/stackback#oilend


Everybody, 2023/06/15: News Should Be Subsidized by REALLY Big Tech

The phone company. Perfect. We can subsidize news by skimming off the phone company. They really suck, anyway: the highest telecom costs in the world, practically, Canada is infamous for our vampiric phone oligopoly that gives us Rogers service at Prada Prices.

I won't even bother with any link. I didn't read the stories, yet, just the headlines: Bell Canada firing a bunch more journalists, cutting away at Canada's immune system against corruption and crime in high office, because of "economics". It's the "economics" of a company isolating the public-service part of their job to a separate budget item that's conveniently negative.

Canadaland explained it when Lisa LaFlamme was fired: Bell Media can barely be bothered to notice CTV in the corporate pyramid: it's about 5% of the revenue of the overpriced, unreliable phone service business. They could fund CTV lavishly with a flick of their corporate budget wand, just move a couple of percent over the line.

Never mind subsidizing news with the johnny-come-lately monopolies that didn't exist last century and may not exist next decade: demand the phone company keep a high level of news service subsidized, if they don't want federal regulators to tear all their books apart, maybe 100 accountants and lawyers on the team, every year, looking for why their prices are so goddamn high.

I think they'd cave in seconds. Just threaten that sweet, sweet cash-river of monthly phone bills, I bet around $1B-2B per month, and we'll have great news forever.

http://brander.ca/stackback#CTVnews


Herald and Tyee, 2023/06/14: Thinking of Calgary Today

At The Herald, I'm reading Naheed Nenshi praise me and my fellow City staff of 2013, for how we worked like heroes in The Great Flood of 2013. Ten years ago, next week, and still a proud moment. Readers may not know that new flood-control measures all along the Elbow were completed at least a year ago, and it could now handle a 100-year flood without overflowing. The journals do one story on our successes; ten on our failures.

Meanwhile, at The Tyee, I agree with the four reasons the NDP lost Alberta. Which boil down to, 'Run on your left-wing policies, trust they really are popular'. Oddly enough, it relates to a third link from just yesterday: David Moscrop, reviewing a book on the 'Death of the Left', and offering the same have-courage opinions.

The notion has been that liberals bore audiences with long policy discussions, and the conservatives have a tight little, not-very-true emotional message, like "We'll stand up to Ottawa". It's possible to create such tight little messages on the left, too. Notley could have said, "We want Alberta to be prosperous now, with our energy industry of today, and we want to transition that to the 21st century energy industry so we can be prosperous tomorrow. Our opponents want to keep Alberta in the 20th century forever. This is the window for transition, and they're going to miss it." 58 words. The last sentence is 12 words, made into a catch-phrase.

http://brander.ca/stackback#Calgary


The Tyee, 2023/06/13: The Last Conservative Government in Alberta

I really thought that the NDP would win this time in Alberta, for a while there. But that story of Adem Campbell left me unsuprised by the loss. Still I think that Calgary writers Gary Picketts has the right of it in The Tyee this morning, with his analysis that this is the last UCP government.

Things change more slowly than political journalists wish they did, so I wouldn't expect any landslide in 4 years. But, he's right on the demographics, and about the changing industry.

Oil will just never again dominate Alberta as it has for a century. The huge price spike of the last year stimulated little new hiring; awash in cash, but none for the peasants. When the Adems of Alberta realize that "success for the oil industry" no longer means a thing for them but the same layoff schedule for the late 2020s and all the 2030s that is already in the corporate planning, they'll stop looking for somebody to protect "them" (oil) from Ottawa.

And the demographics just keep shifting - more urban, more "cosmopolitan" (originally a dog-whistle for "jews", now just for "diversity", mainly from India) - and demanding urban services.

He's right, and Albertans should be advised.

http://brander.ca/stackback#lastUCP


Wall St. Journal, 2023/06/11: Journal Justice

This story is about the journalism, not the crime.

Mastodon was alive yesterday, with journalists noting the contrast in Wall St. Journal headlines, at left. I chipped in a reminder that, a dozen years before Clinton, the GOP "accidentally" deleted all 22 million Emails on their private server, to avoid turning them over as Presidential records. The time period was when the Iraq War sales job was being worked up, "The Lies That Led to War".

(I couldn't find any evidence that the WSJ had ever covered the Bush Emails, or the pretty well-covered story about Trump staff using private email servers.)

Consider how insulting that second headline is to Republicans, how complimentary to their opponents. It assumes that the opponents are adults, and the Republicans are like children, no decision-making powers of their own, you just have to punch their buttons. They have no ability to restrain themselves: only Democrats can "leash" them, by tiptoeing around them.

James Comey clearly had the same contemptuous view of his fellow Republicans. He simply wasn't worried about the reaction of Democratic voters to one revelation; only about Republicans, so he broke rules to calm them, probably costing Clinton the election. He feared, umm...violence in the streets? Rampaging angry mobs? Basically, James Comey was already afraid of "January 6 and worse", back in 2016.

And the WSJ is still afraid, I guess, of rampaging mobs, or some political equivalent. It doesn't actually threaten rage in the streets, only in the Justice Department and Congress. It explicitly threatens that Republicans taking office will now use this new(?) power of, well, prosecuting a president, to prosecute "the entire Biden family".

I guess even the highest-level Republicans have no agency, ability to restrain themselves. When provoked, they'll lose themselves to rage so completely that they'll just have to engineer fake indictments against family members of political opponents, couldn't stop themselves.

Even if Trump were entirely innocent, and the Justice Department had been "weaponized", then the honourable thing for the WSJ to do was to call for the next administration to fix and legitimize the DOJ. Surely the headline, if that was their concern, should have been "The GOP Must Never Weaponize the Justice Department to Retaliate". But, no, Republican politicians have no decision-making powers of their own, I guess, they're just dumb, panicky animals too, and now "unleashed".

Just by assuming that the GOP would use the fascist tool of political trials as obvious, the WSJ could not have been more contemptuous and insulting to Republicans.

http://brander.ca/stackback#GOPagency


The Far Side, 2023/06/10: Can They Do That?

The Far Side put it most-elegantly, for me. Most thrillingly, was in the end of the first Game of Thrones, where Eddard Stark finds that there's no magic obedience-fairy keeping everybody loyal to the King: they'll kill him and the King both if they can get away with it, if nobody makes them obey.

The classic statement of it is Thomas Hobbes "Leviathan", the book with the "nasty, brutish, and short" description of life without civilization - and the "Leviathan" is the one Greatest Power in the land, that can force all others to obey the law and not hurt each other.

And, today, the link is actually to the article "Accountability is Everything", in The Atlantic:

The ubiquitous question posed during the Trump presidency - can he do that? - continues to be the wrong question. The real question is still: If he does that, who will hold him accountable?
The settlers in the Far Side, might as well be Iraqis in 2003, asking "Aggressive War? Can America DO that?" Or Ukrainians now, asking the same about Russia. The UN Charter forbidding war does not actually apply to nations that are powerful enough to not be held accountable by the UN. Nobody even discusses "holding America accountable" for defying the UN in 2003.

Trump simply wants the status as a person that America has as a nation: above the laws that others are subject to. (Iraq was invaded by 35 countries, to enforce the UN Charter against aggressive war, after Kuwait charged them with it, in 1991.)

So, America: the very existence of your laws depends upon enforcement. Claiming that the price of it is too high, we might have unrest, is to claim you can't have law any more. America gave up one law when it never charged Steve Mnuchin for breaking federal law by withholding Trump's tax returns. Mnuchin said, "this will be determined by a court", but it never was, as he was never charged. So that law is a dead letter, now.

They may want to protect their other laws.

http://brander.ca/stackback#cantheydothat


The Line, 2023/06/06: I Am Too Easily Trolled

No links today. I'm tired of doing a ton of research to debunk some claim that amounts to trolling, using cherry-picked information to discuss a largely imaginary world view.

The Line hosted Rahim Mohammed, yesterday, claiming that Gen-X is the "beating heart" of the American GOP, that the MTV Generation became Generation GOP.

Say what? Younger people that are to the right of generations before and after? Contradicted everything I had thought, which is that attitudes on most issues - and, consequently, voting probability - went further right with age.

A whole age cohort to the right of an older age cohort, statistically? Again, no links, but I found various surveys by age, where I would always find the Gen-X number about halfway between the Boomers and the Millennials, on any issue of spending, civil rights, environment.

Mohammed gives a link to a nine-year-old article about white Gen-X Americans (italics mine). He doesn't mention that Gen-X is just 61% White. I could do some amazing stats about any group, if I could ignore 40% of it. (The 61% of the US population that are urban and under 50 are overwhelmingly Democrat!)

Second, Mohammed has a whole theory on why Gen-X would be Republican-leaning and the beating heart: because Gen-X is a rebellious generation, and rebellion, today, consists of rebelling against The Man, who are: "Hollywood, academia, and activist corporations". Their answers to social justice questions suggests those are minor concerns.

I've got a theory, too, Mr. Rahim: it's because Gen-X is now 45 to 60, and people 45 to 60 are the "beating heart" of every political party. In the US, less than half of people under 40 even vote, the 40s are the age when people get involved, and keep getting more so until retirement.

One thing about the article is so bad that it's kind of funny: "activist corporations" wouldn't even have been part of the conservative explanation until a couple of years ago, when Trump took the party into constant attacks on minorities that made corporations uncomfortable for customers and staff. It wasn't even a phrase in 2015.

The novel claim had me searching away, and noting stats, yesterday, and compiling them all and providing the links, making a proper argument...it's a bunch of work. And it would be stupid to bother with, as the Mohammed's article will be forgotten in a few days; it describes something that's not really happening - no rightward lurch of Gen-X - it'll just fade away, like all those right wing arguments for how well Iraq would turn out. Just not worth my time.

http://brander.ca/stackback#genx


CBC, 2023/06/05: What If We Burned Down The Church?

Pretty near the definition of "iconoclast", and "anti-establishment", that question. But my suggestion is a program, that would be done entirely by the church congregation, after community shaming.

Being a Christian is about confessing your sins, making yourself clean and whole again, by redemption. Honest church people know that you can't just grant absolution like it was a magic spell: it has to be earned.

So here's my program: it would apply to churches where a pastor, employee, or formally-recognized church volunteer had been convicted of a sexual assault, on that church property. There should be some response where it was off-property, too, but for now, just on the property.

The congregation would congregate; move out the religious icons, take down the cross at the front, remove paintings, even some furniture. And anything that would produce toxic smoke.

And then burn it down.

The assault survivor and family would appreciate never having to pass that building again. More, the burning would be gesture: an admission of complicity, of shame and sorrow that it happened. It would be a financial fine, though of course the property and pipes would remain, most of the value.

And it would be symbolic of how the church has been damaged and humbled, and needs to rebuild in more ways than one.

Do I need to provide links for this story? Well, today was this story about a Manitoba community asking the Catholic Church to just pack up and leave. The other day, is David Roberts linking to this story with the comment ANOTHER ONE?. So I put "youth pastors" into google news, and the top six stories about "youth pastors" were all about "youth pastors" committing sexual assault. This connected to this story about the Southern Baptists releasing a list of hundreds of rapists in their church. It was similar to the Jesuits of Canada releasing a list of dozens of accused. Enough, already? Enough!

Congregations and church bureaucracies shouldn't get to shrug this stuff off as "not who we are". If there were a price for everybody in the church to pay, churches would be run differently.

Burn your own churches down in shame, congregations. Cleanse your souls, cleanse your church, redeem your sins.

http://brander.ca/stackback#churchburning


David Moscrop, 2023/06/04: I've Got to Get David Moscrop, Too

I'm trying to support all Canadian journalism. The worst is my paper paper, the Vancouver Sun, over $500/year. By the time I've added in Canadaland podcasts, the National Observer, The Tyee, and (they have a lot of Canadian news) The Guardian, plus the Ling and Wells, and Volts substacks, and I've blown a self-imposed budget. It also sucks a lot of time.

Maybe if I ask for him as a birthday present, I'll be able to add the substack for David Moscrop. David's a "real journalist", who does research, compiles facts, digs in. I have zero subscriptions where somebody just reads the news and vents opinions (now that I've dropped The Line). Moscrop also does that, sometimes, as do we all; but the bulk of his work, is work.

David did the right thing on social media, last month: he asked Corey Doctrow what might work better, and provided his readers with a tight summary of how the "federated", distributed, non-monopolizable "Mastodon" social media system works. Finally. Nobody else did. They'd mention Mastodon, mostly to shrug off the very idea.

On the opinion side, Moscrop has the honest, hard-eyed take on the Stellantis and Volkswagen mega-subsidies in Ontario, though I had to comment there, that at least these subsidies, while undoubtedly waste-promoting, are at least subsidies in the direction of Saving The World, unlike fossil subsidies blowing private money to do harm.

http://brander.ca/stackback#readmoscrop


Justin Ling, 2023/06/03: Don't Argue Vaccination, Just Research the Grift

Not much comment, today, just the recommendation to read Justin Ling's deep-dive (3700 words) into, not anti-vaxxers so much, as the grifters that prey upon all the people who believe in "alternative medicine", and buy endless quack nostrums instead of believing doctors.

It annoys me to no end that real journalists like Ling, who work hard at research and documentation, provide sourced facts to their readers, often have much smaller substack audiences than those who mainly traffic in venting their opinions after reading the real news.

We were all concerned about the alternative-medicine cranks during the pandemic, because we feared them spreading disease to us. But we should be concerned for them all the time, as fellow citizens that are simply being robbed using their mental problems, like gambling places taking advantage of problem gamblers. Ling managed to move me to some pity for them, by the end of the article.

http://brander.ca/stackback#readling


The Atlantic, 2023/06/02: The Journalist's Favourite Topic

On the social-media posting system, Mastodon, I follow several professional journalists. Today, they were all pointing, not just other journos, but all readers to this story of the new guy who runs CNN.

So, it's a journalist's story about journalists and their news network - and it runs fifteen THOUSAND words. Journalism almost never runs 15,000 words. David Roberts once did about six thousand on how to redesign how the whole electrical grid connects, I think his longest ever. A typical magazine article is 1500-3000, most opinion columns are 700-900.

God, journalists think nothing is more important than journalism. If only readers would absorb 15,000 words on tax policy, we might get a fair one. I can't imagine 15,000 words on my own profession making it into The Atlantic, though water treatment saves tens of thousands of lives every day.

I read a few pages, skimmed and skipped. It's interesting that the guy, who is making CNN shift to the right in faint hopes of getting more-right-wing viewers, last worked for Stephen Colbert. He's simply chasing eyeballs, the article isn't about anybody's politics. But, I ended up just skimming even the sum-up paragraph. I need journalism's results, but I'd rather read about water treatment.

Postscript, Next Day: We have, of course, journalists now doing stories about the giant long story.

http://brander.ca/stackback#selfabsorbed


The Line vs The Tyee, 2023/05/31: Who Has The Clear-Eyed View?

In the right corner, ladies and gentlemen, we have Jen Gerson at The Line, who figures that Smith will be premier in Alberta for only 18 months, or for 8 years, entirely depending on whether she can "channel the more boisterous right-leaning factions in her party" (Kenney's "Kooks").

In the left corner, we have Andrew Nikiforuk of The Tyee, who thinks that Alberta is a "petrostate", with Smith's longevity dependent entirely upon the world-price of oil.

I find The Tyee's case hard to refute: the UCP was obviously much, much, stronger before the pandemic, before the nuttery of Smith, before the almost-as-nutty Kenney. The same Rachel Notley beat them, when oil prices had been falling hard for over a year in 2015.

So, the demise of the UCP can be predicted from whenever oil prices trend down again, for at least a year. Analysts can't really tell when generally rising industrialization and wealth in Asia and the "global south" will be countered by falling use of oil for transportation in wealthier countries. China's amazing production of electric vehicles, may advance the date a bit.

I read a lot of guesses of "peak oil sales" for the late 2020s, not many for the next few years. So I think Smith is in for four years. What happens then, may depend on whether the then-imminent fall in prices is believed by Alberta voters. By then, the NDP may be able to make the speech that I put into the Tyee comments column:

Nobody likes a party-pooper. Politicians want to be popular, and it's unpopular to just come out and say it: "The party is ending for all those places that got rich from oil, my fellow Albertans. There's another decade or so of money flowing, but it's downhill after just a few more years. We have to start planning now, or we'll be like the grasshopper that did not believe in winter. Our opponents will tell you happy stories that summer will never end; we'll be the realists who will warn you that Winter is Coming".

I'd say that, if I were running the NDP, and I'd probably lose badly.

http://brander.ca/stackback#petrostate


Everybody, 2023/05/30: Energy Transition Will Barely Notice Danielle Smith

The one or two friends that read my posts (checking for whether to call health authorities) must think I'm aghast and appalled at the Alberta UCP win. It's more of a tired shrug: I spent 20 years going to the federal polls in utter pointlessness, to cast a hopeless vote against Rob Anders. Now that we're calling fascists fascists, that may be the word to use for Rob, who's now shown himself to be an actual crook (see the link), and went down to the States to learn "dirty tricks" and gay-bashing at the feet of the American masters.

Stephen Harper protected Rob Anders repeatedly from being thrown out of the party, as he just gave his unstinting support to Danielle Smith, as he has always protected his homies in the preston-manning-nutcase end of the Conservative spectrum. (Don't forget Stephen's political mentor, Manning, is now being paid a cool quarter-million just to bash lockdowns.) I'm shocked neither addressed the Convoy, frankly, back when Poilivre was backslapping them. The Reform party are all still around.

So that's why I'm fatalistic. They're still around, and as long as they ARE the Conservatives in Alberta, they'll probably be victorious because of guys like Adem in my post "No True Conservative", a while back. I was ready for this.

The tar sands oil was going to ship either way, of course - the only climate difference between the NDP and UCP is how the provincial level would help or hurt "the energy transition". I'm now very convinced that is just rolling ahead, regardless. I believe that the American "IRA" climate bill passed - and the main transition-subsidies in it just survived the GOP attack - because the money guys can see it is inevitable, because it's money-making. If it were government money that had no chance of making rich people richer, it wouldn't have been passed to start with.

The climate transition is a huge industrial project in which great fortunes will be made, so it'll happen now. Not because any political arguments were won, only because the scientists made it the cheaper energy - investment will seek the profits to be made from "cheaper". Governments can slow it or speed it, but not stop it. And Smith has little power to slow it.

Sucks to live in Alberta, of course, and we'll be monitoring the medical system to see if Smith starves it even worse, or caves; we may have to evacuate elderly relatives. The worst victims of Smith's reign, aside from poorly-served medical patients, will be the inhabitants of 2030s Ft. Mac. If the place doesn't realize that oil is going to abandon them, as a kind of giant work-camp with the job over, they may settle in and have a hard time leaving. That'll be hard on Adem Campbell; but, as that post says, I mainly feel sorry for him.

http://brander.ca/stackback#smith


The Line, 2023/05/28: Preparedness: Has The Line Forgotten Katrina/Maria?

I'm (a bit) into "prepping": a few weeks of food, days of water, around at all times, that sort of thing. I read up more on "preparedness" on a societal level, for the talk I did on cyberwar last year.

This year is the 10th anniversary of the Calgary flood of 2013; warm memories, now, as we celebrate that we responded very well, had just one casualty, got back on our feet in two weeks flat for Stampede. Two years now, since the great atmospheric river floods in BC, which we also handled well, with minimal casualties; the roads and bridges are about back up already, if not all the houses rebuilt.

So I was not in fine form to read this - to me, frankly bizarre - viewpoint at The Line, May 27. The title says we actually disdain security, that we hate being prepared, thinking about disaster. Oh, and that maybe this is because Americans are really good at security, and we disdain all things American.

I'm just bewildered by these assertions, frankly:

...it goes beyond what we would think of as defence and security, and go all the way into emergency preparedness. Canada and Canadians are chronic under-investors on emergency preparedness and underpreparers because Bad Things Don't Happen Here, They Happen Somewhere Else, Thank You Very Much. Our typical emergency response plan is "Don't worry, that won't happen."
I'm tired of doing research to debunk claims that had no research behind them. This is just Matt Gurney's belief system, like he believes below-average-income people don't live in city centres. But I suspect you'd find disaster-preparedness budgets and staff are about the same between Canada and America.

They famously, of course, threw out their pandemic prepardness plan, we executed ours such as it was, and we had one-third their pandemic casualties, one-seventh for ages below 50. They really do spend a lot on police and armies, but they aren't safer for it. Ask Katrina veterans; or the folks in the Texas power outage that lasted days, just recently; 246 dead, versus 35 dead in our Quebec ice-storm that took power for weeks.

The same essay calls for inquiry after inquiry, into almost everything, because, as Justin Ling said, the credo of The Line is that "everything is broken". Well, guys, we already had two inquiries into each of our army, and our national police, the organizations most-responsible for our protection and disaster preparedness. They said they were badly run, can't even root out bad actors that make the whole organization toxic for new hires.

Why not first call for reform of the RCMP and the Armed Forces, the needed reforms specifically outlined in the giant reports that have been ignored for years? This would, obviously, require taking these organizations in hand: firing some people, scaring the rest into actually responding to orders, promoting unpopular reformers up from the ranks. And pissing off the RCMP and CAF brass that the government officials currently work with. Difficult.

Liberals aren't keen on that, because it's hard, and conservatives aren't keen on that, because they don't agree with the reforms, at heart. The reforms are to liberalize how the forces deal with women and minorities, how the RCMP serve Indigenous people, and those are not in the conservatives' top thousand priorities. You can count on Poilievre - and The Line - not bringing it up, in opposition, or in power. They just aren't, ah, prepared to go forward at this time.

Postscript: Canada actually did its first First National-Level Disaster Risk Assessment, just two weeks ago, May 11. The public report runs seven megabytes and 178 pages, comprehensively examines all the most-likely risks. The only journalists to pay attention were the Weather Network.

I will now, of course, actually have to read the thing, unlike journalists. Matt Gurney pisses me off with these casual assumptions, but he does drive me to be a better person.

Post-Postscript:
As I did some reading on that Canadian preparations report, I finally recalled that I shouldn't just be comparing our disasters to the recent Texas power outage, but also to their Katrina hurricane, with 3,000 dead because GW Bush ignored advice to shore up the levees, and because the disaster response was so lame and weak. Next, 20 years later, the Hurricane Maria response in Puerto Rico, with another 3,000 dead, probably over 4000, as "excess mortality" continued for months - they went an average 84 days without power, and very poor medical services.

Post-post postscript:
At end of day, I've finished reading the government documents - which admittedly just outline the problems, rather than getting budgets increased - and one thing stands out: the best disaster preparation is to have a high level of essential services, all the time.

Have more doctors, nurses, hospital beds than you need, above all: have some slack in that system. Have better essential services in every area, though: have paving materials and pipes stockpiled, concrete. Have extra cops and engineers, not people run off their feet even in good times. Power companies are learning on-the-fly, from new ice storms, just how many spare transformers and cables they need to keep ready for repairs. Outages and their duration are both increasing. There's going to be more preparation and money needed, all the time.

Man, I'd love to see conservative columnists championing all that.

http://brander.ca/stackback#prep


Jacobin, 2023/05/27: To "Honour" Kissinger Today, Read A Socialist

Not sure who Daniel Egnus is, I just wanted an, ah, "appropriate" portrait of Henry Kissinger, gleefully murderous war criminal, overthrower of democratic leaders. The article starts off quoting Anthony Bourdain, who visited Cambodia at length, and said you'd "...never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissenger to death with your bare hands".

I won't attempt to duplicate any more of the Kissinger "memories" you can find in the papers today. But, my advice, make an exception just for today, if you normally don't go all the way down to reading the outright socialists of Jacobin magazine. On this occasion, their very strong views are just correct.

Jacobin isn't just further to the left in the economic sense, from most more "mainstream" news publications, it also notes that America is an empire, that it casually assumes it can oppress or change any other government that it disapproves of, that America's disapproval is similar to just becoming illegal. (Most "illegal aliens" live in other countries, thinking they own them!)

He really was that bad, he really thought that America as a new Roman Empire, with the whole world on its knees, was a good thing, and any number of deaths to achieve it, were all good. Which makes it a good day to again review that page of Iraq war cheerleading, which was Kissinger-mentality all the way.

http://brander.ca/stackback#kiss


National Observer, 2023/05/26: Bravo Buses

Just a link to a postive, feel-good story in the National Observer about electric bus-ification of Canada.

Everybody's jumping on-board, so to speak. The article is about Quebec's aggressive program, but also covers efforts in Metro Vancouver.

The only sad note is that we haven't ramped up our electric-bus production that much, yet, so it'll be past 2030 before every new bus purchased is electric. We citizens should be leaning on them about that. Electric cars will be a choice for a while yet, but there's really no excuse, in a city, for a non-electric bus any more. China, backpatted for electrification yesterday here, doesn't so much lead the world in electric buses, as be almost all of the world: 138,000 of them just last year, and over 90% of the world market.

We don't like China much right now, but maybe we should be buying their buses anyway. There are just 2,000 buses in Metro Vancouver - five days of Chinese output. There are Americans, an easy drive south of us, dumb enough to buy used internal-combustion buses, at least for a few more years. We should sell off the newest ones to them, take the loss, replace with electric, as well as the 5-6% that wear out every year. When they smarten up enough to stop buying, we'll be way ahead on total replacement, be done in the 2030s, though buses last almost 20 years.

http://brander.ca/stackback#buses


Mastodon, 2023/05/25: Just a Joke

Connie laughed for a full minute, so I think I'd better pass this one along:
"Marriage is a sacred bond between one person who is telling a long story, and another person, who is trying to figure out whom 'Dave' is, in this context"

Comparable was the Mastodon reply: "Love is patient, Love is kind, Love deals with how I've told you 16 times that 'Dave' is my college roommate's best friend's son, the one who started the biotech firm."

Oh, and if you want to be just friggin' blown away by the good things China is also doing, check out Noah Smith's blog post about "China beating the world". It's in three ways. You just won't believe his graphs on how much high-speed rail, how many eVs, and how much solar, that they are slamming in.

http://brander.ca/stackback#sacredbond


The Tyee, 2023/05/24: Lougheed Tried For "Norway". Alberta Got "Nigeria".

I can't believe, given how often I disagree with Andrew Nikiforuk (never mention AIDS), how often I find myself shilling for his work at The Tyee. Just recently, I was all contrary in his comments about his concerns over mining. But, I have the highest praise for his him calling Alberta the petrostate that it is. But, more importantly, the article reminds readers that it did not have to be this way: Peter Lougheed saw this coming, and tried his best to avert it, to make Alberta a state that uses petroleum for its benefit, like Norway, rather than letting itself be used by the oil industry, like Nigeria.

I won't attempt to summarize the article, just read it. If you bog down, skip down to the boldface points of the Lougheed principles for managing oil wealth. I'll just quote one sum-up: "In 2021, David King, a former minister in Lougheed's government, referred to the province as a 'failed petrostate'". (Linked to King's article in Alberta Review - a great read if you want to remember that Alberta's Conservatives used to be very different political animals).

http://brander.ca/stackback#petrostate


Calgary Herald, 2023/05/23: So Relieved to Not Be Albertan

My great-grandfather was a real Alberta pioneer - the territory's second lawyer, after James Lougheed. My grandmother was born in Lethbridge in 1890. But I'm glad, this year, to not be an Albertan any more, though I happily spend over a month there, every year, visiting. I can't think how to have a birthday party, every July 13, except as a Stampede party, so I'm always back in Calgary.

It seems so brutally obvious, that sensible, decent people can't vote for the Conservatives, validating their choice of Danielle Smith. Surely to God, the Conservatives need a spanking, a warning that you don't wander away from reality itself while providing essential services to four million people.

But, apparently it's a Sword-of-Damocles anyway, hanging above everybody's heads. I'm so glad its not hanging above my head, and that I don't have to look around at neighbours after election day, wondering what their problem is. I spent 20 years voting fruitlessly against fruitcake Rob Anders, federally, and it was a moral burden to bear, living in that riding.

Good luck, Alberta - you poor, poor souls.

http://brander.ca/stackback#abrelief


National Observer, 2023/05/21: New Brunswick Power Sitting RIGHT There...

New Brunswick's Minister of Energy wants to know how he is supposed to power the province without gas or nuclear.

I'm not against nuclear, but gas gotta go. And it can be ushered out the door with available technology, and vast resources that are about the most-visible thing in all New Brunswick: the Bay of Fundy.

No, I'm not talking about harnessing those amazing tides; that's not available technology (maybe next decade). Just the wind. The Bay of Fundy is reasonably windy; over 60% of the time above 8 knots, when the turbines need only 5, and that's in mid-summer, when wind is lowest - just when solar is at max, by luck. In the mid-winter, the wind is up over 80% of the time, almost base-load reliable.

The province has some peaks over 500m tall, should be able to do a fair bit of pumped-hydro storage, if the hoped-for grid batteries don't appear.

A small study has shown that Canada's offshore wind resources are so good, they could power much of Ontario and the Northeastern United States. The wind regime up north is better than offshore for the US. New Brunswick could be turning a tidy profit, if not a tide-profit.

I've grown to love the Volts Podcast above all my other news, because it's positive: it discusses solutions, like this one. It reminds me that news is not all gloom. We plucky humans keep beating our "world-ending" problems, like starvation and nuclear armageddon; and it's better to focus on what to do, than what to fear.

http://brander.ca/stackback#fixnb


The Line, 2023/05/20: Journalist Notices Visible Poverty

I'm not even subscribed to The Line, anymore, and so can't finish Jen Gerson's complaint about the horrors of Vancouver's Downtown East Side. But I can guess, from her intro. It's gotten much worse; larger, more people, more addiction, more dangerous behaviour. We Vancouverites know, of course, it's all over our local papers and TV.

My fear is that Jen is only calling it "failure" now, because of the increase; I don't recall any earlier articles. It was always a failure, back when she was in high school, too. It's of a piece, for me, with everybody doing articles on people struggling to feed a family, because of inflation.

But the recent bout of inflation only increased (and temporarily, I think) the percentage of households worried about food, from 14% to 16%. What was so special about that extra 2%? They were, before inflation, already on tight budgets, already struggling with other expenses, if not yet food.

Why were the 14% not a major journalistic concern? They should have been seven times as interesting as the 2% newcomers-to-food-insecurity. They should be on the journalistic agenda all the time.

The "problem" with the DTES is that it is visible. Invisible poverty is OK for journalists. That 14% was always OK with journalists that watched our society grow and get richer, wealth grown with new technologies like the Internet and smart phones, without ever losing that 14%, who never saw a penny.

There's a general societal failure to care enough for the poor and hapless; the long-existing DTES ensured that a larger one would come from the stresses of the pandemic.

There's also a very specific failure that is never, ever discussed by the conservative complainants about addicts and tents, almost as rarely by liberals: we failed to protect the population from predatory drug companies that gamed the system to sell viciously addictive chemicals as if they were safe. We don't want to punish the drug companies, or look too hard at how they got away with it, past the regulators.

I'll respect journalism that acknowledges all of this; I'm just getting tired of the facile complaints that ignore the history.

http://brander.ca/stackback#visiblepoverty


The Atlantic, 2023/05/18: "Gay Agenda" Nostalgia, Anyone?

I got a weird moment of almost-nostalgia, or reverse-nostalgia, I guess, reading a darkly funny review of a British arch-conservative conference in The Atlantic this morning. The author made a joke that some immigrant-bashing, quasi-racist rant "probably sounded better in the original Hungarian". She credited long-lost Texas journalist Molly Ivins, whose most famous joke was that a 1992 speech by ultra-conservative, quasi-racist Pat Buchanan "probably sounded better in the original German".

What got me was the "1992" date on that Buchanan speech. It was one of the first blows of "cultural conservatism", deflecting all talk of millionaire taxes, and public service budgets, to endless rants about "our culture" being ravaged by sexual deviance and communist anti-racist tyranny.

1992; over 30 years of this. You can be a 45-year-old who got politically active in their teens, and not remember a time when politics was mostly about bread-and-butter issues. The bigger issue, your whole life, has been the, umm, "spiritual damage" inflicted by "political correctness", which they began screaming about in 1990, a third of a century ago. The corruption of academia, by left-wing professors indoctrinating children, goes back to Wm. F. Buckley's "Man and God at Yale", 1950 - that year's freshmen are now 91. (Weird, how all those indoctrinated Yalies went on to invent Reaganism and Wall Street deregulation.)

They've had to change issues, and never mention the old ones again. The "Gay Agenda" went on for about 10 years. Agendas like a civil right to not be fired from teaching jobs, were really because "The Gay Agenda" was to work in schools, trolling for childish flesh. Conservatives of the time are still around, of course, just not talking the old complaints. Jason Kenney bragged about working in the US to overturn a law that let gay men visit their dying partners in hospital.

So, when you're barely-listening to them going on and on about the dangers of transgender people, just remember how the Gay Agenda is never mentioned these days. They lost. They'll lose this.

But, over 30 years now, facing a firehose-blast of invective that one is not just wrong about taxes or something, but is horrible, sick, twisted, evil. I only hope it's as tiring to spew, as it is to endure.

The Atlantic article is by Helen Lewis. Her best line, about a UK Conservative party that's won elections for years, got their Brexit:

This movement cannot ever admit that it has won, because that would involve taking responsibility. Far better to dwell forever in the arcadia of the culture war, a perpetual-motion machine of grievance.
"Perpetual", exactly. 33 years is just a start.

http://brander.ca/stackback#gayagenda


The Tyee, 2023/05/17: Surgical Improvements Elusive

You may need the help of an almost-unread blog to direct you to the Tyee story about Alberta not improving surgical wait times.

The outcome of Jason Kenney's plan to reduce waiting by outsourcing to private clinics only worked for cataracts, an outcome predicted by numerous experts.

That's the super-short version, you're done, and can just read the article. I brought it up because the story showed up in The Tyee, and at a dedicated site, "albertapolitics.ca", but not in the giant chain of Postmedia papers, like the Calgary Herald.

Not that they're biased, or anything; I'm sure there was just no room for the story, today.


Noah Smith, 2023/05/16: What Technological Changes Really Affect Us?

There are some technological changes that are a big deal for some product maker, make the product better or cheaper, but don't actually affect you that much. The industry may grow a bit, maybe you'll buy more T-shirts because technology or China makes them a bit cheaper: but it's not the introduction of refrigeration.

Substacker Noah Smith was opining that the last 30 years of technological change have been massive.

I'm more circumspect. Those giant changes were my career, my whole career was spent bringing in massive change - to offices. Word Processing, Spreadsheets, Databases, GIS and CAD, networking and email, portable computers, work from home. Yes, my generation really revolutionized the office, all right. Nearly as much as the same technology revolutionized media and entertainment, wiping out chemical film, vinyl, and having to wait for reruns if you missed an episode.

But they just were not refrigeration, is my point. Life in the office got more convenient, documents look far better, but insurance and road paving are still insurance and road paving.

My sum up was to compare the jumps between generations, from my grandfather to my father, to me. My grandfather, born 1883, grew up without plumbing or electric light. A refrigerator blessed his house in his early fifties.

My father, after Depression and War, saw so much prosperity in the 1950s and 1960s that he was able to put his 3 sons (and a cousin) in a 1600 square foot house, which he paid off, by his 50s, with his job that required no degree, while two cars were in the garage to take us to the Calgary Winter Club for our swimming and badminton lessons, our music lessons. He flew his whole family to Disneyland and Mexico for a vacation; went to Europe many times in retirement.

My life is richer again than his, but the increment from his to mine is just nothing comparable to the jump from his father to him. The Age of Digitization has been a wonder, of course, but the Age of Oil and Mass Production (just round that to 1900-1950) all that much more so.

http://brander.ca/stackback#progress


The Tyee, 2023/05/15: Could There Still Be Some Sexism in Politics?!?

The next Premier of Alberta will certainly be a woman, giving Alberta the title of "province with the most women premiers, ever". Are we finally free of sexism in politics?

Well, The Tyee reports Ipsos reporting that Notley enjoys a 9-point lead with women, and Smith, a 17-point lead with men.

Those men are supporting a woman over a woman, of course: surely not sexist?

But the sex-based difference in opinion raises the question, anyway: why would men and women have different politics? There's no women's-rights issue prominent in the horse-race.

If you're honest, there's no getting around it. Statistically speaking, conservative parties are male parties, and liberal parties are female. It's not a huge effect, but it's significant.

Why would that be? The question answers itself. Women are see self-interest in liberalism, threat in conservatism. Statistically. Significantly. The effect runs across provinces, states, nations, cultures.

If you want to support women, lean left - they do.

http://brander.ca/stackback#sexism


Noah Smith, 2023/05/14: Great Article on Electric Vehicle Prospects

Noah Smith is scary in his productivity. These huge, deep-dive articles, nearly every day. One assumes that his impressive substack income (he just bragged yesterday about hitting 10,000 paid subscribers, so, several hundred thousand per year) pays for research assistants.

Today's long article knocks down one objection after another, to electric vehicles. It has links to more work by substacker Hannah Ritchie, on the amount of battery metals that are out there in the world, to be dug up. (Stackback recommended Ms. Ritchie a week ago, on a related post; see below.)

It's 14 pages if printed, but more than half are big, colourful charts and maps; it won't take much of your time, and should ensure you don't even think of getting a petroleum car again, even if you're buying this year.

http://brander.ca/stackback#evs


Every Journo and His Dog, 2023/05/12: CNN Clearly Read My Blog Post

Everybody in every paper is mad at CNN for helping Trump. Clearly, CNN just read my blog post.

To be angry at people helping Trump, you have to believe that guy might just come back and win. Those who scoff, are reminded that everybody believed that about 2016, and paid a bitter price for helping him all they could with free coverage and light criticism.

It's important, then, to keep repeating that this carelessness extended to the voters themselves, and now does not; that his 2020 loss was far more decisive than his 2016 win; and that his stories since (January 6; no new ideas; legal woes) are uniformly negative. If he can't make gains on 2020, if people again show up to deny him, it'll be 2020 or worse.

Name one event that has bolstered Trump's odds in the last year. Nothing but economic progress, upward; war clarifying that Democrats are the ones on the side of plucky, freedom-fighting underdogs, Trump was friends with the overbearing, war-criming dictator. Popular bills passed, including those that smite unpopular China. Trump has very little to work with, except good 'ol immigration and race. And immigration is not a bread-and-butter issue when unemployment is low.f

Obviously, some economic disaster could change everything, but the odds are just so solid, for now.

So, I'm still on Team "he's a dead-man-walking", and consider him a useful idiot to damage the Republican party with. In that good work, only wish him the best of luck - and thanks, CNN!

http://brander.ca/stackback#helptrump


National Observer, 2023/05/11: The Best, Cheapest Climate Project

It's anything but hi-tech and cool, it's simple, and cheap, and, frankly, boring. It's also by far the best climate project: just insulating buildings and making them cheap to heat, then installing heat pumps.

The two jobs are independent: you can install a heat pump anytime, and you can upgrade the insulation. Normally, it's the latter first, and the easier-to-heat building then can install a smaller heat pump.

Big commercial buildings are the best hit: most-governed by regulations, cheapest by the person to upgrade, more people served per construction project. We're talking 200,000 long-term jobs, good ones.

It's a very positive, reassuring article to read; no risks, no chance of failure, just a good thing to do, payback for doing it, we can start today. It should top the climate agenda.

http://brander.ca/stackback#bestclimate


Ed Zitron on Substack, 2023/05/09: Absentee Capitalism

Another simple recommendation, a nice little read. I like Ed Zitron, because he's angry for me. Ed writes very angry prose, enough so, that I don't feel the need to get angry along with him: he's doing better at it. This is in contrast to all the writers that want to make you get angry, so they tug at your heartstrings.

Today Ed's post is about the writer's strike, and how that relates to over-grown news sites that then collapse. It's about the inability of capital, when it owns a revenue-producing business, to be a good winner, take the win, and just run a profitable business.

The urge for capital is always to expand, relentlessly. Hollywood can't stop using changes in technology to wrangle the last few percent away from the creatives who make them money; they just. can't. stop. At news sites, it's that they crank up a profitable-enough news business, but can't handle the fact that markets have limits; they expand staff and services way up to unsustainable levels, then pull out when it all goes broke, even the originally-profitable parts.

It's a great, short look at the underlying problems in all equity-capital ownership. And angry.

http://brander.ca/stackback#absenteecapital


Hannah Ritchie on Substack, 2023/05/08: Electric Cars Go Whoosh

I should do more positive blogging, where I just recommend a good read I approve of. Just a nice read today, which I skimmed because I was already familiar wit the argument of A Substacker, Hannah Ritchie, writes about how Electric Cars are going to sell faster than any of the predictions.

Her piece compares electric vehicles to solar, which was predicted, over and over, to grow more slowly than it has - much. And they made the mistake over and over. She has graphs of six and eight timid projections.

There is this "status quo bias", we have trouble believing in great, fast change, even though we Boomers grew up in the "Space Age" with the book "Future Shock" on every bookshelf.

I was also reading today how Facebook is struggling to be anything but the Old Folks Home - a status it degraded to in about five years, after exploding from nowhere to super-hip in ten years. It's only 19 years old this year.

So, I believe Hannah: insane rates of change can happen. We are very, very good at whipping up new manufacturing capability and mass, mass, mass producing things. The Blackberry, now an item of history and nostalgia, has a movie out to remind people that it ever existed. But, if it were human, it would be too young to rent a car; it turns 25 next year. And "25 years" is the time-scale that some electric-vehicle predictions are working on. Blackberry went from zero to 85 million subscribers in 12 years, then was beaten out by competitors that have a way over a billion sales, in just 15 years after they started production.

So, on cars: fasten your seatbelts.

http://brander.ca/stackback#evs


Every News Media, 2023/05/06: Very Pleased By the Modern Monarchy

People so don't get what's the important story about the Monarchy. It's not that they are prissy, precious, dull fashionistas with dumb little family fights everybody should ignore. It's that that is all they are...now.

The front pages of the Times and Post and big UK papers are mostly about Power: who's got it, who's trying for it, who has polls that might hand it to them, who has been appointed to it. The comings and goings of those with Power are closely followed, because they can tank your job, make you lose your house, make the police come calling.

It's so important that the Royals cannot; that they peacefully transferred all that power away. They now serve an important purpose of controlling power. Ronald Reagan spotted the value of how the US President is treated like a King, and that he could enhance his power, make re-election more likely, by leaning into that, and all his TV appearances became structured around it - always walking down a long hallway of flags and heraldry to step up to the White House podium.

The US President has a giant palace, his own billion-dollar airplane with only one bed. (Clinton let GHW Bush use the bed, and slept on the carpet, when they attended a funeral, beginning their bonding.) Prime Ministers are not given these Royal perogatives, have the "strut like a King" public-relations persona taken from them.

There have been two kinds of leaders, historically: appearing in the Bible in the book of Judges, then the book of Kings - when Israel fell to dictatorship, instead of the leadership of wise councils. David, like any King - and the US President - are warlords, the head of the armed forces. That's the excuse for even having Air Force One at all, that it is a war-command centre. Kings always nakedly exercised power by force; not from anybody's respect, or need for their leadership - which is what the show "Game of Thrones" made brutally clear.

We tamed our warlords, made them subservient to democracy, and cut the deal by agreeing to pretend that they were always our beloved leaders by dint of respect, even though they never actually were. I'm happy to pay off the debt, for my generation, and recommend it to the next, the way I recommend eternal respect for war dead and Holocaust dead. Never forget that we were ruled by force - and overcame that force with peace and diplomacy. It's the best thing we've ever done.

There was no hope of the British Empire being freed, peacefully, from Britain, when it was ruled by Kings that regarded every imperial possession - certainly Canada - as a profit-making asset and nothing more. Britain had to free itself, before anybody else could be. The process is ongoing, and keeping on with the Monarchy as a symbol, like the flag, while the process continues, is just prudent.

And a fun show.

http://brander.ca/stackback#promonarchy


Tim Snyder, "Thinking About" Substack, 2023/05/04: Russian Confusion? Read Tim

Good advice all the time. Lots of us are following Tim Snyder, wherever he pops up to lecture us all about his specialty expertise in Russia and Ukraine. He has an excellent substack, and today's post is about that mysterious explosion over the Kremlin.

To busy for 3 minutes there? Here it is in 25 works: he's hugely skeptical that it is anything but Russian posturing and performance. Don't worry your head about it unless something far more convincing shows up.

And we're done for today!

http://brander.ca/stackback#russiatim


David Frum, The Atlantic, 2023/05/03: Thanks, Frum, for being Dumb

The Iraq War anniversaries of last month reminded me that I haven't been bothering to hate on David Frum in recent years. The Iraq War salesman has redeemed himself a fair, bit, first because he actually wrote a long article of apology, though the good comment on those was in the same magazine, years before he wrote it. And, second, because he has distinguished himself by leaving the Republican party and criticizing it for Trump. Which, when you think about it, is very little. Anyway, Frum was back to defending his Iraq bullshit in time for the anniversary, and The Atlantic let him do it (no, no link), so I have been reminding myself to not read him.

Despite that, I got a page into his article on the costs of Brexit, when I ran across his contention that it was just about trading prosperity for sovereignty, like his own nation of Canada, which would "dramatically increase its prosperity as part of the US", but is sovereign instead, to its cost.

Yes, Canada is "poorer" than the States, on the average, if not on the median income of actual people. This is not because we are like Britain after Brexit, no trade agreement. We are like Britain IN the EU, because of NAFTA. There was a lot of talk about our loss of sovereignty during NAFTA, just like the EU had. (Most economists point to our vast size/population ratio, inherent costs of being two cultures, and lack of a conveniently-cheap third world workforce just across a land border, instead.)

I was able to stop reading immediately. Why bother, when I just caught him being dumb, in service of his neocon belief system? It never served me before.

http://brander.ca/stackback#frumdumb


Andrew Cockburn, Substack, 2023/05/02: Crew Saved Gary Powers

Many know the story of Francis Gary Powers, the U-2 spy plane pilot who was captured by the Soviet Union, was traded at Checkpoint Charlie for a Russian spy, as dramatized in the recent Tom Hanks movie "Bridge of Spies".

Andrew Cockburn is the author of "Spoils of War", which everybody should read, and that's also the title of his substack. I'm just going to steal His whole post from Substack Notes

Sixty three years ago today, May 1, the Soviets shot down a U.2 spy plane piloted by Francis Gary Powers. When the U.S. government learned that the U.2 had disappeared over the Soviet Union, they lied that a "weather plane" had strayed off course after its pilot had "difficulties with his oxygen equipment".. They were supremely confident that Powers could not have survived the shoot-down.

Why? Because the CIA had rigged Power's plane so that, if he tried to eject, the U.2. would blow up, killing him instantly, thereby saving his cold-hearted employers the embarrassment of a live pilot telling tales.

But, as a senior air force official once confided to me, the crews who serviced the plane knew its secret. They liked Powers, and so proffered friendly counsel. "'Gary,' they told him, 'whatever happens, don't ever eject.'"

Heeding this advice, Powers stayed away from the ejection lever, climbed out of the plummeting plane and parachuted to safety - much to the chagrin of the spymasters.

Please note: the Hanks movie pointed out that Powers was harshly criticized for not committing suicide, much less avoiding his own murder. (There's no way to construe that as a legal death under the military code of justice, sorry.) But, really, nothing bad happened to the United States because of his capture. No territory was lost; nobody was killed; no strategic or tactical information was given away. Powers only knew how to pilot a plane, not where JFK kept the nukes. I guess they did lose one Russian spy, though that mainly saved on prison costs.

The would-be murderers, those who called for his suicide, just wanted to avoid some embarrassment. Powers died in 1977, in a helicopter crash, while working for a news station.

http://brander.ca/stackback#garypowers


The Atlantic, 2023/05/01: Schadenfreude for the Evangelicals

I'm afraid I descended into schadenfreude, reading the lamentations and grief of Evangelical journalist, Peter Wehner, and his "The Evangelical Church is Breaking Apart" article in The Atlantic, today.

Wehner made it easy to look down on him, by writing about "The" Evangelical Church, while it became clear throughout that he was only talking about the White Evangelical Churches, because it was mostly about how their politics had become more important than the religion - that White Evangelicals had left churches because their politics were offended; nobody ever left their political party because their religious feelings were challenged. Politics is the greater of their religions.

And, as I wrote five years ago, Black and White Evangelicals are political opposites, the Black Evangelicals as against Trump, as the White Evangelicals supportive. That essay references The Atlantic itself as a source. Robert Jones article, "White Christmas, Black Christmas", stressed how similar the two Evangelical groups are in religious observance, how opposite in politics.

So, Wehner is off on the wrong foot, with his mission of outreach to the liberal readers of The Atlantic: he writes as if the White Evangelical Churches were the only ones, ignoring the Black brethern entirely. Which is pretty normal for a White Evangelical, alas. (The phrase "white evangelicals" does appear in the text: in a referenced book title, and a quote from another writer. Wehner knew what topic he was skipping over.)

Wehner writes of nearly every (White) Evangelical Church riven by inside groups screaming about too much "wokeness" and "left" values (political correctness, if you will...) Preachers have been run out; more have resigned; some not just for one Church, but the whole calling of ministry; and Wehner notes that 29% of them said they'd given serious thought to quitting.

Well, good. That book title Wehner quotes, is being re-issued; it came out in 1994. The anti-Christian beliefs of these alleged Christians has been plain for a long time, a whole generation. Wehner writes of pastors leaving, but none are starting their own church, however humble, that would follow true Christian ideals - which would include worshipping alongside Black people, welcoming caravans of starving refugees, advocating that government care about the poor. They, and Wehner, know there would be nobody in the pews, in the places where White Evangelical Churches are dying.

So, it actually reads as a happy story, if you believe these churches have been irredeemable, political clubs that make a show of religion, for a long time. They are both shrinking away, and breaking up. They deserve it. I just wish they'd go more quietly.

http://brander.ca/stackback#christkarma


Calgary Herald, 2023/04/29: Smith Provides Clarity

When Canadians read about grandstanding American politicians, who appear to spend their days thinking up new ways to abuse and offend minorities, it's generally to scratch their heads at the sheer gall.

American political rags remark on how different our Conservatives are, our whole system less extreme, less money-driven. Donald Trump is the most-polled figure, of course, and the most-clear result: 15% of Canadians like him, which rises to 32% with Conservative voters. Donald Trump could not win an election in Alberta's most-Conservative riding.

Nevertheless, she persists - Danielle Smith is now going about praising the only politicians in America more performatively-extremist than Trump himself. The Florida governor who sits up at night, thinking up new anti-minority bills, is her "hero".

It's great of her to provide such clarity. There's already extra clarity in an Alberta with no functioning Liberal party, only the even-more-left NDP for a choice. The NDP were handed Alberta that had already experienced soaring job losses in 2015, which continued for two years, but unemployment then dropped for the rest of their term. It's not a bad record to run on, if voters get even a little nuance.

Of course, as the papers will also tell you, it's a toss-up, with Calgary as the city for the NDP to flip. Nutty speeches and all, solid oil-industry employees like Adem (two posts below) will validate her. I have hopes, just from the microscopic sample size of friends and family in Calgary, including two regular Conservative voters that won't touch them this time. They have some clarity.

http://brander.ca/stackback#clarity


The Line, 2023/04/28: No True Conservative

It's not about how right or wrong the fine parsing of what a True Conservative is, in The Line, this morning is: it's how pointless it is.

It's pointless because politicians and academics can argue forever what Conservatism is, and whether Danielle Smith is just a populist and libertarian, the voters don't care. For the voters, she's the conservative choice. She certainly is for the very good-hearted, likable, community-focused Conservative, Adem Campbell, in yesterday's post, below.

Adem is not about to vote for Rachel Notley, who bought thousands of tank cars to keep the oil flowing, because the not-so-Conservative, libertarian populist Smith successfully tarred Notley (sorry) as anti-tar-sands, anti-Ft-Mac, anti-Adem-Campbell. Adem has only room to vote for his Conservative choice, and his anti-Conservative choice, he can't do any parsing. Adem could read their whole piece, and Just. Not. Care. He's voting Conservative, and the Conservatives of Alberta very, very enthusiastically chose Smith, and "True" Conservatives like the authors let them. That makes her their representative, whatever they think of her. You leave, or you stick. They're sticking. They just want to whine about it.

There was a time for this article: when the Conservative party was picking its new Leader in Alberta. That's when you say this is not a True Conservative, and also, you leave the party if it isn't Conservative anymore. It's not just Danielle Smith that is not a "True Conservative", guys: it's the party that picked her and supports her unreservedly (except for you). You should leave.

And yes, I checked, The Line simply had no opinions on the Alberta Leadership race when it was happening. After Smith won, Boosenkool wrote a bit about how this was disasterous, Notley would win, but nothing about it being morally wrong, nothing about her not being Conservative, nothing about anybody leaving. Gerson did do a bit about her not having "discernment", waving away any moral issues with Smith's beliefs, only concerned with their political unpopularity.

Today's theorists can only end with the line "The coming campaign will therefore be a real test of what it means to vote conservative." They still can't say the forbidden, things-that-cannot-be-said line "Danielle Smith is so far from a conservative, that real conservatives should vote for the NDP, they're actually closer."

By not going that far, they're throwing in their lot with her, like Stephen Harper, like the rest of their party, whether they have some fine parsing to do on their way into her pocket, or not.

http://brander.ca/stackback#notrue


CBC, 2023/04/26: What A Great Reminder That The "Bad" Voters Are Your Neighbours

Adem Campbell sounds like as nice a guy as I could meet. And he's voting for the crazed, unhinged right-wing nutjob, Danielle Smith, in a few weeks.

Adem's piece, at CBC, extols the virtues of Ft. Mac as a great place to live, mainly because of the great people, who were so generous with him during the losses of the great forest fire that burned down 20% of the town. Folks were so helpful to the kid's teacher, that he decided to settle permanently. That, and the baseball league. He's settled there; married. (Actually, the heartwarming marriage photo inadvertently provides the one off-note in the presentation. It's surrounded by text about how unbigoted, diverse, and native-reconciling the Ft Mac populace are. The large wedding crowd, though, happens to be 100% White.)

So, Adem became a Ft. Mac supporter, and that means supporting oil and gas, supporting, alas, a government that will "stand up" to Ottawa - the words appear three times. He's completely bought the notion that the Liberals, who dropped $4.5 B on a pipeline that they will now go on to lose another $10B on, are the enemy of oil companies. Their carbon tax affects no foreign sales, and hasn't affected domestic consumption - that wasn't even much affected even by his real enemy, Vladmir Putin, who made every consumption of oil or gas twice as expensive, and three times as unpopular. His UCP choice, of course, has spoken some fairly positive words about Vladmir Putin.

Beyond pointing that out to Adem, there's not much you can do. Mostly, I feel sorry, not for him and his generation, but all the kids growing up in Ft Mac, a happy childhood in this nice, prosperous, fresh-built town. After that, it's doomed, of course: the oil sands will be among the first oil-sources to be shuttered. It'll be plainer to them all in a dozen years, when 2040 is in view, and the layoffs start. Even by 2030, the schedule for the shutdowns will be plain to analysts: no new infrastructure, only last repairs. There will be some construction work in the 2040s, breaking up the plants and salavaging some of the equipment. But no kid reaching maturity after 2030 will be planning a life in Ft Mac: they'll be looking for the exits.

The 2040s will be a "Detroit story" of managed decline, abandoned houses that can't be sold. Actually, Adem's generation will suffer one harsh penalty: retirements are often dependent on housing value, and by the time this 30-something is a 60-something, his house won't have any. So, mostly, I feel sorry for him, not angry: he's fallen for a narrative about electrification being a "choice". It doesn't make him a bad guy.

All of that has nothing to do with who wins the next election, or the one after that, or on any politician, any industrial strategy. It's baked-in by changing technology, geopolitics, and recognition of environmental certainties.

In the short run, enjoy the baseball, Adem.

http://brander.ca/stackback#adem


The Line, 2023/04/25: The Fox Political Campaign

When Fox is in the news, it's helpful to go back to its source, one of the five founding staff of the company, and Dan Cooper, who wrote a little book about the founding, stressing that Fox was never designed, structured, or built to be a "news" channel: it has the structure and function of a 24-hour political campaign.

Political campaigns do very little research, and neither does Fox, which has few actual research reporters. Mostly, they react to news coming from other sources. If the news is campaign-favourable, it gets hyped, exaggerated, highlighted and endlessly repeated. If unfavourable, it's ignored if possible, denigrated if it must be mentioned at all. And that's what you see, where whole major stories in other places, are ignored; and stories that simply don't exist anywhere else, though, are turned into literal hours of obsessive repetition.

It's 20 years now, since the Pew Research Centre tested various news consumers, and found the otherwise-incredible result that those who watched Fox were not only the least-well-informed of basic facts about the Iraq War, but that those who watch a great deal of Fox were more ignorant than those who watched a little: it actually subtracted from your chance of having your facts straight if you watched hours per day.

It's not even annoying, any more, to read a supposedly moderate, fact-based journalist like Peter Menzies, in The Line, discuss the recent firing as if it were about "going too far" with rhetoric, when that was always the job at Fox, every "too far" offense accepted for years. (The WaPo figures that his comments about his management, as revealed by discovery, were the real problem...). It's just funny to find him comparing the CNN and Fox firings, as if the networks were comparable, much less the two staff.

That a lot of our news people can't even discuss Fox as a political campaign - when a founder has written a book explaining it, when sociologists have tested how disinforming it is, in peer-reviewed statistical papers decades old - it says more about the rest of the news, than it does about Fox.

That Menzies can review Carlson's work as a peer, noting that his kind of work "In the beginning, it's usually honest and innocent enough." Say that he's just presenting "perspectives...other media have ignored", and "sacred cows being slaughtered"; that that all of that just went a bit too far - is pretty much a stand-up, yell-it-out declaration that "Tucker Carlson and I differ only in degree, not in kind". And that is a bad thing to say about "a senior fellow with the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, past vice-chair of the CRTC and a former newspaper publisher".

http://brander.ca/stackback#foxgop


The Line, 2023/04/23: Screw our "NATO Commitments"

In Afghanistan, Canada did the heavy lifting, paid a bitter price in blood. We handled the Helmand and Kandahar provinces, all Pushtuns, the ones who were fighting. Much of the rest of NATO handled the easier jobs up north, with little fighting. Germany and France lost fewer soldiers than Canada, far fewer by population.

That was a serious NATO commitment.

The money commitments rarely go to the soldiers, to any fighter. They go to buy comically (no, tragically) overpriced American war products, like the $88B for the F35. Canada does not need the F35 for defense of Canada. All our heavy war equipment has always been bought to support Western fighting overseas. Like the Iraq War that America tried very hard to talk us into, and now they never mention, because we were right and they were so very, very wrong.

I have very little concern for whether Canada is "taken seriously" because we don't care very much for making General Motors, Boeing, and Raytheon very rich.

We already showed how much we really care. The NATO partners can walk along the gravestones, explaining why they weren't there in Kandahar and Helmand, before calling us weak, or lacking in commitment.

http://brander.ca/stackback#nonato


Every Paper, 2023/04/04: Good News, Bad News - What's Your Focus?

I'm about to take a two-week(ish) vacation to Calgary, which disrupts my blogging, though "Stackback", when text-only, I could do a post or several. I'm starting to admit, zero-comments blogging is just running a diary that lets your friends call for the butterfly-net when you 'round the bend at last. Self-diagnosis comes first: do my arguments make sense, even to me, when I articulate them plainly, with my data?

And, why have arguments? Why do I spend so much time on the news? When a piece upsets me a bit, I find I have this dumb need to clap back at it. Frankly, I blame the news. It's also entertainment, and the writers love "engagement", and, when they aren't picking the most painful topic, so as to beat you up with guilt over your comfortable life, with the troubles of those worst-off...they start outright trolling.

Most news just highlights the pain in the world, of which there is a near-infinite supply - read a very international paper like The Guardian (and almost no North-American paper), one that digs into problems across the developing world, and there's just no end to the pain.

But, people can check out on that, from overload, or it's just too far away. I see "trolling" as their last resort: find your pain-point, and step on it. Trolling isn't just the really low stuff - I regard what Bret Stephens and Mark Thiessen do for the Washington Post as trolling their 90% Democratic readership. I cancelled my Times and Post subscriptions when I could see that I, and everybody, were commenting back the same comments at their same positions - there are only so many issues, and a paper to publish every day, soon you can see the repetition.

It's not healthy. I know it, but, like a gambler or other addict who keeps coming back, there's some attraction to letting yourself be angered, clapping back at it, and dusting-your-hands. Please note, my arguments are often that Journalists intentionally ignore all the good news, have a dystopian view of one of the world's best countries. Even when negative, I like to think that most of the comments in Stackback have some use, make an argument, clarify it in my own head, at least, so I'm confident in my position. But it's a very slippery slope from that goal, to just arguing to argue because it feels good - a pathology.

So, as I take a break, nothing but good news, to follow up on the "Good News About Government" post of five weeks back. That post celebrated all the public-service contracts that had been settled, with the Unions optimistic that staffing problems can be improved. The other day, it was a big one: the Nurses. There's still some concerns, but things are looking good in BC right now.

Today brought the announcement that two more major efforts were started, to improve housing. It's hard to spike the football on that issue - so many efforts have been made to improve housing, and kept failing. Jen Gerson's truly brilliant piece on how "No one is going to fix housing", is coming up on it's first anniversary at The Line, time to re-read.

The BC efforts may avoid stepping on toes of existing homeowners, but they are trying various things. At least, in BC, we have a government who is "on it", working to help with the most-pressing public problems.

There is good news. That's where I need to spend more time focusing. Recommended to all.

http://brander.ca/stackback#goodbadnews


The Narwhal, 2023/04/03: Same Old Story from Smithers

UPDATE: The day after I wrote this, Economics blogger Matt Yglesias published a relevant substack column about the "Willow" oil project in Alaska.

It notes that a majority of Alaska natives supported it, for the jobs, and said so, so climate activists funded a minority of the natives to oppose it. Also contains a fascinating poll showing the White and Black Democrats disagree on shutting down fossil projects - the latter a likely approving them for the jobs.

The Narwhal covered recent arrests of Wet'suwet'en protesters very typically.

(You can't find a better single article to brief you on the overall story, with maps, than this 2020 CBC article on all the dramatis personae.)

Most of the journalism about the years of protest from five Hereditary Chiefs of the Wet'suwet'en Nation, and some dozens or more of their supporters, has followed the same pattern: they are land defenders, the RCMP are forcibly, often with quite unneccesary force, shutting down physical protests, and there's never an implication that the protesters are anything less than representative of their Nation.

I was in general support of all that, until, over the last few years, that viewpoint has been shaken by some countervailing points. The Delgamuukw decision that placed Hereditary Chiefs as land-negotiations leaders, did not hand all power to them; it stated that the land title was vested in the Wet'suwet'en people - and that Hereditary Chiefs were recognized as representatives, via traditional customs of choosing them (they are only somewhat hereditary),just as a Band Council might be recognized via their democratic legitimacy. Chief Delgamuukw had pulled all the Hereditary Chiefs, and all the Band Councils, behind him, which is what the Supreme court respected.

There was another court decision that handed CGL the support for their pipeline, and all the power to the RCMP to arrest protesters.

Justice Church noted the lack of unity in this case. The decision mentions the "Matrilineal Coalition" of former female Hereditary Chiefs that complained they were unlawfully (under their customs) stripped of their titles, usurped by males that wanted to protest the pipeline. But, much more, that five of six Wet'suwet'en Band Councils had signed deals with Coastal Gaslink. The Delgamuukw unity, this was not.

Funny side-note: Delgamuukw died just a year ago, January of 2022: there was an obit in the Globe and Mail, but none in the Tyee, Narwhal, or National Observer, which have followed the issue so closely, otherwise. The protests were at a peak at the time, a cabin being chainsawed-into. Not sure why.

Another commenter at the Tyee pointed out to me that these Band Councils signed those deals many years ago, now: some have been re-elected four times since. If they were traitors to the Nation, wouldn't they have been tossed out, and land-defenders elected?

The news stories only ever interview land defenders. I've never seen a comment from a dissenting Chief, a Band Council member defending their decision, or a Wet'suwet'en citizen who got one of the Coastal Gaslink jobs that swayed them.

Quotes should have at least been sought. Most stories mention the 5 Band Councils, but I don't know a single Council member's name.

That's not some conspiracy, I'm sure none of those people want to talk. There may be dissent in the community, but they want to only show unity to the enemy (us colonial settlers). Would they like to try to shout down the land-defenders, in hopes of a unified pro-pipeline front? That would never happen, it would just show disunity.

But, the pipeline deals didn't require anybody to actively speak up for the pipeline, fight with their own community members. They can collect whatever benefits and bribes CGL offered, while just staying silent, and letting only the protesters talk to media. What's in it for them to speak up? Nothing.

Nothing, and perhaps much community trouble, in a small town. Many of the Nation live in Smithers, population ~5000. And then this came out 18 months ago. Na'moks, or "John Ridsdale" apparently got upset at a neighbour, went over to her house, and shot her dog on the porch, killing him. He got off with $1500 and a three-year suspended. The Vancouver Sun story noted the Indigenous court elders asked the BC court to handle it because it was "too politically sensitive" in Smithers.

Funny to read that the day before the Trump arraignment. A court intimidated by local politics. If the local elders are intimidated, if the neighbour is now on anti-anxiety medications, I have a theory about why the presumably-existing pipeline-accepting Wet'suwet'en are never quoted. It's easier to stay quiet and let the protesters have their protests. Who knows? Maybe they'll squeeze something more out of Coastal Gaslink.

This piece is about the coverage. I'm sad to see the pipeline itself go through, though I think the world does need gas a little longer, to power the planet while we transition. I'm not actually against the land-defenders! I'm just disappointed that Canada has progressed to having some Indigenous journalists, but very little journalism about internal politics in the First Nations. In particular, if an internal dispute has a side that would advantage any colonial-settlers, nobody wants to be, visibly, on that side. So we only get the other one covered.

http://brander.ca/stackback#smithers


One Useful Thing, 2023/04/02: Who Ordered All This AI Content?

A friend recommended to me a good substack post this morning, a substack called One Useful Thing, this post about practical things you can do with AI, right now.

To summarize, one useful thing is to summarize. I remarked 34 years ago, in the maybe-worst episode of Star Trek NG, "The Royale", that the huge use of Data as an AI was when Riker handed him a novel with the one-word command "summarize", and Data flips through it in half a minute. We've just got there! (If it can summarize a novel - I suspect the author was talking about non-fiction journalism.)

If it can't summarize long, multi-arc, complex material, it's not a big deal for most: summaries for journalism are usually found in the pyramid lead; for academic papers, in the abstract.

The rest of it was about generating content - text, pictures, even videos, but new, literally predictable, content.

So this was the comment I left:

I am baffled that anybody wanted to automate the production of more content. Be it text content, images, videos, we have far too much now. I was recommended this substack, and may never be back - not because it isn't good and interesting, but because THERE ARE TOO MANY SUBSTACKS.

I'm subscribed to two of them, and four web newspapers, and one paper newpaper, and I watch TV news. I have that much time. I'm a retired news junkie. I do not have time for even more. What I'm saying, is that everybody seems afraid that AI will help Steve Bannon "flood the zone with shit", and I can't see why: it would only save him $9/hour on Macedonian troll farms.

An individual (one of my substack subscriptions, say) using this to generate content faster, and more cheaply, is helping themselves: a million writers doing the same thing, are just reducing the cost of writing even further. Also true of shovels and backhoes, automation is great in the end! But this time, it's the *product* that we don't need more of, and is extremely cheap already.

What I repeat to every discussion about AI, is that the vast ocean of content means that the AI most-badly needed is *filtration*. Why can't the same technology be used to throw out content? I'm getting very, very, tired of reading articles by female-or-minority journalists that were bombarded with shit for some innocuous cultural offense.

Why don't we all have FilterGPT, that lets through every message you do need, even from a stranger, and tosses all the shit? Or, better yet, pre-reads my substacks for me, and throws out anything David Brooks was saying about Iraq in 2003, now about Syria? If they can generate blather, surely they can spot it.

http://brander.ca/stackback#AIfilters


Bug-Eyed and Shameless, 2023/04/01: Can The Internet Duplicate "La Passaggiata"?

Justin Ling challenged his readers to articulate what a better social media environment might look like, in his latest post, about the follies and hopes of social media conversations.

I've made other responses there (too many, this is a hot-button for me), but here's one more: A photo-essay of the social scene on a typical Wednesday evening, central Madrid, February 17, 2019.

As the essay-page will tell you, "La Passaggiata" is a common custom throughout southern Europe and Switzerland; the word is Italian, but all use it. It's the custom of everybody coming out to public space to enjoy each other's company, to meet friends by accident or intention, to stand about chatting, and then grab a drink or supper - these streets being packed with options for food and drink.

That's one successful social scene, in the analog world, Justin. People can meet in public space, where nobody will hassle them to order stuff, or leave. They have the option to meet in cozier spaces, which offer more-clement environment for socializing: chairs, tables, drinks, coffee, food, shelter. Going into the commercial space is worth it for those things. But talking is free.

"Talking" may be economically free on social media, but we are discovering what a heavy charge it is to pay with our "attention economy". It's not just the ad space; it means the advertisers are paying the piper - and calling OUR tune.

The bars and restaurants make money, no citizen is forced to pay them just to be there, everybody is happy. The situation has endured for centuries, as technologies come and go.

Our current social-media environment has very little public component. Now it can be pointed out, that I run "brander.ca", so that I don't have to deal with any corporation at all, except server rental - which I actually get for free from my membership in the Calgary Unix Users Group; it's a small fraction of the few dozen dollars per month a minimal server costs. It's as close to "public" as it gets on the Internet. If brander.ca had objectionable content, too bad; only actually illegal content could cause a service provider to not-rent a server.

If brander.ca were on a social media site like Facebook, I would ultimately be under their control. Stories are legion of people being shut down, not being able to talk to a human, or get any reply except "you've broken our private rules".

It's all the difference between depending on a bar for your table, and having your own table. So, for starters, it should be easier to have your own table. Facebook was created because it gave you a free "home page" like my brander.ca main page, but also because connectivity with other home pages took zero effort.

I think that Facebook is possible with all-public space, just some open-source software to do for privately-owned home pages what Facebook does for their internal ones.

And then, from your public space, you should be able to retire to smaller spaces where everybody knows your name, you feel safe, and have bouncers if anybody gets too frisky.

Creating those "salons", as they used to be called, is a long-established, centuries-old art of picking good people, and throwing out bad people. If you don't like the rules, find another salon.

I would stress that the bars frequented by La Passaggiata in Madrid, include fascist bars. In Madrid, that's an unremarkable statement. The whole old generation, and not a few Boomers, plus some older Gen-X, are fascists, rue the day that Franco's party lost power at last, and the Socialists took over. People use both those political terms, without a lot of rancor, the way we say "Liberals" and "Conservatives".

But still, in a land with those who openly describe themselves as Socialists, and those who don't use the term, but do vote for a clearly Fascist party that retains much of its old policies - they get along. They nod politely in La Passaggiata, they go to different bars, police are almost never called - certainly not over politics.

There's your ideal, Justin. Not sure how we replicate that online, but we've built it in the real world, though great cities like Rome and Madrid take centuries to mature.

http://brander.ca/stackback#lapassaggiata


The Line, 2023/03/31: The Bad News Bearers

How appropriate that, on the same day I did one last giant post for "COVID Cup Colour Commentary", on the topic of how much better Canada handled the pandemic than America, The Line should haul you yet, still, even, one more post about Canada being "broken".

Matt Gurney really chews on the issue, concerned that others are only comparing Canada to the USA, rather than Canada-now to Canada-2000, to past decades. That's just as dicey, of course: those were different times. Crime soared in the 70s and 80s, plummeted in the 90s, has been going up again - and doing so all across North America, conservative and liberal places alike. A zillion pundits had to admit that their "reasons" this was happening at the time couldn't be the real explanations. Demographics, in particular, are destiny.

Towards the end, Matt has had a lot of trouble finding the "broken", even by measuring against the past. Crime, education, economy, health - the changes are not that dramatic, or one-directional.

After writing that CCCC take on how great we responded to the pandemic, down at a deep,personal, in-family level, not just with our governments, I'm going to extend the same take to everything else.

I think that my country is a deeply good, mentally healthy, strong nation. A Neal Stephenson character (in "Cryptonomicon", character "Dengo Goto") explains to somebody after gold that "real wealth isn't gold: it's committed, smart people getting up early every morning to work hard all day long".

Canada has those people. Canada has been educating and raising people to be like that, and, let me stress, Canada has been carefully selecting for such people to immigrate here, at one and two percent of our population, every year.

The people of Canada beat the pandemic, in their daily behaviour, their care for each other, their respect for science. The governments of Canada can be incompetent and venal - but they cannot remain so for long, with the people of Canada to satisfy. They can endlessly lag behind our expectations, frustrate us, serve poorly. But we will always be pushing them to be better, because we are better than them.

Just as a for-instance, Matt, on your ongoing "deliverology" complaints about getting infrastructure fixed and upgraded. Have a long look at the BC Budget and Spending for the coming year. I was impressed. I didn't do a post about BC getting all that infrastructure destroyed by atmospheric rivers, fixed up, or Calgary getting new infrastructure to make it "100-year floodproof", because those were routine events. In Canada.


Bug-Eyed and Shameless, 2023/03/30: Justin Ling Outs "4Chan" Funder

I didn't even know much about "4chan" the group of message boards that make Twitter look benign and civil, couldn't imagine going there, assumed very few did. This post by Justin Ling was a real eye-opener.

4chan is even more ugly and contemptible than I thought, and there are no filters for children joining in. The Christchurch shooter started there at age 14. Endless vomit about minorities and women, and how to plan your Big Day of Shooting. Yeah, they exchange notes on how to do it. Wow.

The article has a link to a previous "Dispatch #2" that has the details on 4chan itself, which I needed (but did not want). This one is about who owns 4chan, and doesn't care what it does: a toy manufacturer with many links to Disney.

Ain't that something?


Ed Zitron, 2023/03/29: Ed Zitron Defends Twitter

Not the Twitter of today, mind you, he ends with an insult for Mr. Musk. But the often-hilariously-bitter Ed Zitron, whom I kind of think of as a Hunter S. Thompson rage-cryer for office IT workeres, has explained his love of Twitter.

It's really good, I got it. I almost felt wrong to have never gotten on to Twitter, and I feel better about how the free/open alternative, Mastodon, is starting to suck up an hour of my day.

Ed points out that it's very human to want to please an audience, to find a joke that everybody likes and passes on to friends, and that, unlike other networks, he has made "real world" friends there that he sees in real life.

That's all pretty fair, and that it was democratizing, with everybody having a chance at going-viral being famous for 15 minutes. Not like TV allowed that.

But, then, he points out how such a social scene can go downhill, just as a party or bar evening can turn sour. And the kind of person that causes that, and how that was the kind that bought Twitter.

It's a little rosy for me - I never joined Twitter for a reason, it had many concerning aspects long before Musk. But I do get now why some very good people do love it.

Or did.


Post Media Papers, 2023/03/28: Oily Alberta at Frontiers of Electification?

The comments I posted at the bottom of the article got only "oil will never die" replies, but the article speaks for itself: Alberta may be a massive source of lithium for batteries. It was world-wide news, a few weeks back, that India had found 5.9 million tonnes of lithium deposits, most of which can be mined in the coming decade or three.

Well, the Alberta "find" - both are, of course, estimates based from sampling - is that the water/salts brines down all those thousands of expired drill holes have another resource we can pump out, dry out, and refine: up to SIXTEEN million tonnes of lithium carbonate. I had to look up, of course, that lithium carbonate has a molecular weight of 74, lithium itself, 7. So, if we can recover "only" 10 million of those 16 million tonnes, we may have "only" a million tonnes of lithium metal recoverable from those holes. It's still more than the identified resources of the rest of North America!

Thing is, an electric car needs less than 10 kg of lithium to make the batteries, under current technology. If you get a decent-sized smaller car, just 8 kg. That means there's enough to make anywhere from 100 million to 125 million electric cars with the lithium down those Alberta wells.

The switch to electric, at some point soon, could have car sales soaring; they're been heavily subsidized. We may go up from a previous peak of 18 million cars made per year, to 20. (Currently at 13, depressed by the pandemic.)

I'm sure it will take 5 years just to start up production in Alberta, by which time that 20M/year could be happening, and lithium prices could be very, very good. Then Alberta could be supplying like a quarter of their lithium needs, for the following 20 years. At today's prices, that's about $4B/year for 20 years.

That was yesterday's news. Today's is yet more Alberta progress towards electrification. Alberta needs lots and lots of storage, says the experience of the last Longest Night of the Year. Last December 21, there was not only very little solar, with an 8-hour day where the sun barely clears the horizon, barely detectable through the clouds - and the wind died, for days, all across the prairies. Alberta was about 98% on gas for power and heat.

Alberta does have, however, another natural resource for storage: mountains. They're all along the western border. And you can pump water uphill to store energy cheaply enough. Alberta is now starting such projects, says this article in the Vancouver Sun. Yeah, the Sun, and not in the Calgary Herald. Maybe they're embarrassed to report work on renewables. What's really bizarre is that the Sun story is an advertisement for the greatness of TransAlta, presented as news. I'm not mad - it is news! It's atrocious it isn't being reported as such.

Ghost Dam is a perfect place to put a pumped-hydro project, with mountain tops right beside an existing hydro plant. But the project is to add batteries! At least they'll have lots of lithium. It's hard not to bet that pumped-hydro won't be added in due course.

The story does report on a great pumped-hydro project: it seems a huge coal mine has left enough water 300m up a mountain to make storage of 320MW for 15 hours a straightforward project. Alberta needs twenty times more, but it's a good start.

http://brander.ca/stackback#yayalberta


National Post, 2023/03/27: Canada, America Just Very Different

I finally have an explanation for why I do all this responding to journalism. It's when journalism hits a kind of "uncanny valley" for me - when it almost describes reality, but twists it a little off. It's very grating. (The realization came when my wife got as upset as I do over journalism, but it was a letter related to a condo matter, that took the actual situation and twisted it a bit, twisted her own words; it makes people a bit crazy.) I want to argue back to restate my sense of reality.

It wasn't very hard with the weird Tristan Hopper piece in the National Post this morning. It's so weird, I'd hardly want to respond, but the NP made it the centrepiece of the Monday front page. It's beyond "twisted" and just doesn't mention most of the differences that would occur to any other observer.

I checked by searching the page, and an article about the differences in Canadian vs. American politics does not mention the words "Black" or even "race". Extra weird, because he does mention that our Indigenous issues are much larger than theirs. So how could he skip that one of their political parties is 95% White, that voting patterns then closely follow racial lines, and basically do not, here?

Neither country has official segregation, but both have "ethnic neighbourhoods". In Canada, it's where recent immigrants often cluster for mutual support. America has some of that, but, mainly, they still have all the >80% Black and >80% White neighbourhoods, even today. This then allows voter suppression in the US, by restricting voting in some areas, and gerrymandering, which Elections Canada makes basically impossible here.

It also means that American schools differ wildly in funding and quality (Check that link for "Hartford spends $6000/student more than Bridgeport", both in Connecticut.) And, of course, the "rich vs poor neighbourhoods" are often White vs. Black. That's just a big difference. Spending way more on your house, not for the house itself, but for the school it gives you, is an American thing, but not a Canadian thing. (That Atlantic article notes that the USA is one of the only countries that allows local economy to determine local school budgets. And that Nixon wanted to change it all 50 years ago.)

Health-care, way too much discussed, already. This is where Hopper may stray into outright-lying (by just picking your data source carefully). He claims that they have the most-expensive health care system, we have the second-most(!) News to me. Mostly, you find lists or bar charts like this, with Canada in the middle of a pack of European nations with good health care for $4000-$6000/person. (Germany and Switzerland both more-expensive than ours.) America's is double that, they're "abnormal", and we are industrialized-nation "normal" in our cost vs outcome.

The recent pandemic highlighted deep psychological differences between the two nations, if you ask me; I don't think it was just the health-care systems that caused them to lose three times as many people to the same basic societal challenge! It was in how we behave, how we act at work and school, how the society works together. Their system, in a pandemic, works one-third as well.

American also stands out for double-and-more the military spending, which goes without mention. Again that divides them from all other industrial nations, not just Canada. Hopper does compare our gun ownership - but not our gun deaths. Or police deaths. Both ten times higher.

So: that's health care, schooling, military spending, and domestic violence, five areas where America is different from all her peers, including Canada. Any such comparison story is more about America vs anybody than it is about which "anybody" rich nation to you pick.

I could go on. And on! Michael Adams has, in multiple books. With stats to prove his words. But this post is now the longest "stackback" ever, and I might as well stop, having hit the high points.

It's just a twisted, weird article, funhouse-mirror stuff. It says more about the National Post, than about Canada, or the US.

http://brander.ca/stackback#canamdiff


Noahpinion Substack Plug, 2023/03/26: Canada as a Chip Fab?!?

Not really a reply, just a plug - Canadians should read this substack from economist Noah Smith, who used to write economics for Bloomberg. Sharp guy, and terrifyinginly prolific, it seems a long, new, fact-filled article every day or so. Hard to keep up with!

But I read through this one, as it astonishingly fingers Canada as a great place for manufacturing. Not just car parts, about a fifteen-minute drive from the American factories that need them in Detroit, but chips.

No sense summarizing his argument, he makes it short and clear enough - all about our geology, water, and power, not to mention our political reliability.

A heartening thought. Almost certainly won't happen, but wouldn't it be nice?

http://brander.ca/stackback#canuckfabs


Politico, 2023/03/25: Canada Key To "Attack" on China

After the last 35 years, it's like anything that doesn't hand a ton of work and purchasing to China is an "attack".

Warlike words are in the air, as western nations grapple with how dumb it was to depend on dictators for energy and manufacturing. Worse yet, to depend on them for mining, too, and at least Canada can offer an out for that.

It was just easier, all those years, to get everything from China; cheaper! From now on, an attitude of "if we must" should be switched in.

Freedom from cheap manufacturing may well come from automation; freedom from dependence for crucial minerals could come from Canada. The article in the American politics-obsession mag, Politico, gives about all the technical detail most people want. Canada just has a ton of minerals, including several that the US does not. We can save them from having to go begging to Chinese dictators.

Early days yet, but if we can overcome the greed (and, one wonders, actual affinity for dictators) of our own ruling classes, to pay just a little more for domestic supply, and be a bit less under their, ah, influence. Canada is being noticed by Politico because Biden is visiting, but the deals we should be signing soon are vital to both nations. More so, to Canada.

We've been doing a lot of talking about "Chinese Influence" for weeks. We haven't yet starting talking about how you really get free of it: not economically depending on them.

http://brander.ca/stackback#chinattack


Readpassage.com, 2023/03/24: Canada's Newspapers Would Have Invaded Iraq

Because the Canadian people didn't support the Iraq War (well, about 40% in favour, not a majority) and because the Canadian government didn't go to war, I'd forgotten that the Canadian newspapers were largely just like American papers: totally convinced by the Bush messaging, accepted all the lies.

They were totally for it, and would have gotten a whole lot of Canadian soldiers killed!

I was going to let the Iraq topic go, though it deserves, surely, 20 posts for 20 years of horrors over there. But then A journal called "Passage" showed up in a google news feed with the above article.

I'll have to get to know more about Passage, perhaps even subscribe. This is the only such article I've seen! Hardly a surprise, I suppose (he said, wearily) that Postmedia hasn't the humility and honesty to write an article calling itself out, reminding its writers of today how the writers of 2003 got it so very wrong.

But, I'm surprised my more-lefty subscriptions to the National Observer, The Tyee, and some substacks didn't turn up this valuable reminder.

Journalists tend to buy stories from authority. They claim their job is to question authority, but evidence shows that they really don't, not even when it's most important. They were not just both-sides-ing, not just dutifully quoting what he said as well as she said: the opinion columnists mostly actually believed it. They'd been convinced by the Bush lies, which were pretty thin.

Matt Taibbi may be on the wrong side of a lot of fellow journalists right now (and mine, for comparing Trudeau to Ceausescu, come on..) but his complaint that journalists are vulnerable to groupthink has real merit.

http://brander.ca/stackback#iraqcan


National Post, 2023/03/23: Who's Feeling "Influenced by China", Lately?

(I figured to give a plug to a fave 80s movie instead of the usual 3 monkeys)

Why were the Chinese dictators trying to get influence over our politicians and politics? (I'll be using "Chinese dictators", rather than "China", or even "Chinese government", always, when discussing the geopolitical actions of "China" - 99.999999% of whom are not involved in the decision. That figure is exact, as I believe about 13 people out of 1.3 billion have any real power there. People like Mr. Xi rarely trust more than 12 others.)

Well, the Chinese dictators wanted favourable treatment for all their projects that involve Canada. Canadians buying their stuff, moving business to China, working together with Chinese scientists, Canadians giving diplomatic support to their projects around the world.

Well, all that's screwed, surely. We'll just stop listening to them, stop looking at them for direction on anything. Hear no evil, see no evil, stay safe from evil. Whatever Chinese dictators are now into - whatever company, business, project - we will be suspicious of it.

This "influence" stuff only works if it's completely out in the open (like America's influence on us, which is huge) or completely in the dark. The Chinese Dictators are neither - and, worst of all for them, they are determined to stay in the "neither" category. If they came out and admitted that they'd like all that business and goodwill, were just trying to engage with Canada, we'd probably start to pretend it was all OK. After all, the big government scandal is that it was pretty much OK, with Liberals and Conservatives both. Not just the electoral support, the actual engagement.

It's not like our leaders were not willing to screw millions of jobs, to the benefit of Chinese dictators! They always were. They just don't want the Chinese going too far, and they really didn't want them found out.

But now they are found out, it's bipartisan consensus that they are bad, and we should disengage as much as economically affordable.

I'm just saying: all our inquiries and recriminations shouldn't proceed with a sense that this is urgent, that damage is being done until we "get to the bottom of it". The real damage, our complacent attitude, is already ending.

http://brander.ca/stackback#noevil


Aren't They All Fox News, In the Right Circumstances?

Democracy Now, 2023/03/22

Let's try the YouTube embedding again, make it one click easier for you to have a look at this. The sales job for the Iraq War, eagerly supported by that "liberal" media I complained about yesterday, has been given a "supercut" by Amy Goodman and Norman Solomon at Democracy Now.

Man, it took me back. Tightly edited, all those famous TV moments, with the "VX, Sarin, nerve agents", the "smoking gun", the "greeted as liberators", "just trust me", how few troops, how little it would cost, how soon over. They're from a documentary of a book by Norman Solomon, who's been critiquing the news for decades.

It's fortuitous that I got to review all that so closely, this week, had it repeated to me that CNN and MSNBC, and all the big three networks, felt very pressured to provide pro-war coverage. Not so much by the government - though the psychological pressure there, to go along or be weak-on-terror, was high. Nope, the top bosses at the networks felt pressure from viewers.

Phil Donahue is interviewed, above, on his firing, despite having high ratings. Even so, his executives characterized "anti-war voices" as "The American people disagreed with us; we weren't good for ratings".

This article about MSNBC makes crystal-clear the executives were more worried about viewer pressure than government pressure. As to CNN, this article from March 19, 2003 is gloating about "The CNN effect" where everybody turned on CNN to watch the Gulf War - talk about incentive to sell war! Massive profits.

As this look-back notes, the CNN news chief had his commentators approved by the Pentagon:

"I went to the Pentagon myself several times before the war started and met with important people there and said . . . here are the generals we're thinking of retaining to advise us on the air and off about the war, and we got a big thumbs up on all of them. That was important."
I don't believe any of those commentators were against the war in any way. Neither was anybody else on TV. What the documentary notes is the study from FAIR back in 2003: they four top nightly news programs had 267 guests on, 75% from the military or government backgrounds; just one (1) expressed skepticism about the war.

CNN executives expressed these concerns, because their viewers might slip over to Fox, which literally had a waving-flag GIF as its logo that spring. So, the TV media went all-in on a pack of lies, despite some media voices getting it right - and they did so because they were afraid of losing viewers.

How, exactly, is that different from Fox News lying about election theft and Dominion Voting Systems, because they were afraid of losing their viewers? There's a difference in degree, but not in kind.

http://brander.ca/stackback#allfox


The "Liberal" Warriors of Iraq, 2023/03/21

I idly clicked on a YouTube that was presented this morning, of Rachel Maddow's MSNBC news show from yesterday. I don't watch, normally, but I was curious whether America's most famous liberal newscaster had noted the anniversary of the Iraq War, perhaps had a few harsh words for Bush - or even for the fellow liberals that supported it. Maddow had done a whole book, a good one, "Drift" about the War on Terror and its effects on the military.

Well...NOPE. You should only click on that YouTube link if you want twenty straight minutes of Trump Troubles. Rachel's on to today's issues, Iraq forgotten.

The most important remembering should be of how alleged liberals supported that war. A lot of them. The anti-war liberals were a beleagured minority. Her MSNBC station stifled their most-popular host, the Rachel Maddow of his time, Pat Donohue - and finally, fired him. A new host, former wrestler, movie star, and governor, Jesse Ventura, was hired, until they found out the conservative-seeming muscleman was anti-war. They paid him out millions to remain silent, for 3 years.

That was the "liberal" cable network. CNN was worse, lots of flag-waving, and you all know about Fox News. The main networks focused on the drama and excitement of war, and the procedural horse-race to OK it in Congress. Very little about Iraqis, very little about international law.

That's your American liberals. Here's some screen snaps of some very respected liberals in very respected liberal publications, all for war.

I have to admit I got this from Twitter. I go there, grumpily, to check on my favourite blogger/podcaster, David Roberts, who has yet to migrate to Mastodon.

He linked to a journo who went off on all the liberals, or "liberals" who supported the Iraq War, wrote long pieces justifying how bad Saddam was, how we "had" to act.

Oh, those arguments. It's all such a pile of crap now - their fears of his weapons, his intent to attack, his links to terrorists - all three were wrong. Zero for three. There was NO reason for the attack. All their fine ivy-league degrees, all their training in thinking and rhetoric; it was all put to the service of inventing justifications, so that they could "go along" with everybody else. The power of social pressure was incredible, warping people around 180 degrees. Or not. For many of them, it was just a revelation that their liberalism ended when American dominance was threatened. It's clear in their assumptions that they thought America dominating the world was liberalism. America's the good guys, so if you put them in charge, liberalism reigns.

So I'm posting up some of the liberal walk-of-shame clips from Twitter, and ending with the Edward Said (Sa-yeed) quote that should have humbled them.


The Intercept, and Foreign Affairs, 2023/03/20: 20th Anniversary Coverage

I wondered if yesterdays "Crickets" post would be invalidated today, because the major papers that helped sell the war were saving up their coverage and mea-culpa columns for today, the 20th anniversary of the invasion.

Nope.

The word "Iraq" is in two places on the NY Times page: an American journalist saying she hasn't forgotten, even if everybody else has, and another writing about how Iraq is a freer place today (if not hopeful). Nothing from Iraqis.

The Post does better, keeping on its "20 years later" section, with yesterday's story about American kids of lost troops, a journalist memoir of his exciting embedding, one piece on Iraqi kids that had an Arabic name in the byline(!) Maybe Post readers did hear from one actual Iraqi.

Nothing about how the liars that invented the war have all prospered, all the journalists who helped sell it were promoted instead of disgraced for enabling lies. For that, you have to go to the dark humour of Jon Schwarz at The Intercept.

The Intercept has really cut loose, today, making up for the others. It's free, not paywalled, do check out:
James Risen on how the Iraq War lies led to Trump.

Even more cutting, is the direct indictment of the whole population, in Americans Don't Care About Iraqi Dead...or Even Their Own. (Foreshadow of the Pandemic!)

Jon Schwarz brings the sarcasm, but the most-direct indictment of the press failure is in the prestigious journal, Foreign Affairs, where John Walcott from Knight-Ridder tells the story of the press who got it right.

You can also see that story as a movie! Find "Shock and Awe", with Woody Harrelson, James Marsden, and Tommy Lee Jones as the journalists who saw through the lies, and tried to warn their country.

I have to keep reading this stuff, to remind me there are good Americans, too. Some days it's harder to believe.


American Major Papers, 2023/03/19: Crickets. War? What War?

That's not entirely true. The Washinton Post, which had 27 editorials to support the war (9 in February 2003), and The New York Times, which actually did post a small apology for their upfront sales job by Judith Miller "the poster girl for journalistic malpractice", both had "Iraq: 20 years later" segments on their main page.

Both were way down from the top. Neither even touched on the 20th anniversaries of all their sales pitches. Nothing on how the war started. The Times has "The war in pictures", and a piece on how it was Iran that really won it. WaPo has "children of lost soldiers, grown up", that's it.

Not one of the opinion columnists, so active when the war was being sold, mentioned the topic. That's 17 column slots, and crickets.

In the Times opinion section, but not a columnist, space was given to two veterans with their article entitled "George Bush Owes Me a Beer, At Least". Social media commenters had to call that one out as breath-takingly belittling and dismissive.

Not one story about somebody missing half their body. Absolutely zero coverage of Arabs. None. Nothing about the effect the war had on Iraq and Iraqis, just on Americans, and a bitter hat-tip to Persians.

I'm glad to say that this is when my subscription to The Guardian is a life-saver. You wonder, reading the American papers, if your calendar is wrong, if you've lost it. Then The Guardian reminds me of the Real World this morning, with:

"The US Army Destroyed our Lives" - by five Iraqis.

"War, Insurgency and Instability" - Iraq for the last 20 years. It's about Iraq, where the war was - not about America.

And the crucial comparison with today's news:
"The Invasion of Iraq was a turning point on to a path that led towards Ukraine" - Peter Beaumont on the uncomfortable fact about Putin: George Bush had the same lying complaints. Iraq's Ba'ath Party was compared to Nazis and "de-Ba'ath-ification" was a stated goal, just like Putin wanted "de-Nazification" and regime change.

All I wanted was for the Times and Post, and all the American networks, (particularly "left wing" MSNBC, that fired Pat Donohue, and paid out Jesse Ventura, rather than let them speak against war), to have a day of saying "This is our day of shame, we feel responsible and are very sorry". Was that so much to ask?

Oh, Fox News had "Iraq" on their front page - a tiny link near the bottom to a story on how, to honour the lost veterans "we should set aside debates about why we fought". Yeah, we fought because Fox News lied intensely and incessantly, so that the Times and Post just had to drag along a third of the liberals with their own bullshit. I'm not about to forget Fox News.

http://brander.ca/stackback#crickets


Robin Cook Speech, 2023/03/18: He Broke the Truth Gently

Re-watching the resignation speech of UK Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, 20 years ago, I was struck by how gentle he was.

He couldn't bring himself to say a nasty word about Tony Blair, who was on the brink of becoming a war criminal by dragging his nation into aggressive war.

Cook's opposite number in America, was Colin Powell, their Secretary of State. Powell prostituted his credibility by lying to the United Nations, giving a speech of which he said of the first draft "I'm not reading this; this is crazy" (February 1). He gave the speech four days later, and by Sept. 8, 2005, was already calling it "A blot ... it's painful now". He spent the rest of his life apologizing, almost daily; every time he spoke.

The now-late Robin Cook, on the other hand, sits in a glorious place in this history. He did his best to avert the war, gave an excellent (but gentle) speech calling for peace, and had no more to do with Tony Blair and his crimes.

In a week devoted to condemnation and sorrow, it's a nice break to offer some praise.

http://brander.ca/stackback#cook


Yesterday's Leftovers, 2023/03/17 : The Nukes of March

St. Paddy's Day, I guess the Liar Choir of 2003 (now it's Fox News; in 2003, it was the White House) took the day off for a few beers before they buckled down to the illegal invading.

I couldn't find a great quote from March 17, 2003. But, I ran across another from March 16, 2003, that I missed, yesterday, but it mustn't be skipped, it's such a doozy. It wasn't long into the invasion before the lack of WMD findings caused them to retroactively pick a new reason for it. (Humanitarian concern for the victims of dictatorship, I think.) But, just three days before the tank-treads rolled it was still this:

"We know he has been absolutely devoted to trying to acquire nuclear weapons, and we believe he has, in fact, reconstituted nuclear weapons".

- Richard B. Cheney, Jr. Vice-President of the United States, March 16, 2003

Man, that was so extra-untrue, so especially untrue. They had no information of the sort. They had none about a nuclear program, much less a successful one. And they knew it.

Not quite two months later, the new quote was from Donald Rumsfeld: "I don't believe anyone that I know in the administration ever said that Iraq had nuclear weapons". No, really. Not even two months.

The same month, May 2003, another quote is "For bureaucratic reasons, we settled on one issue, the weapons of mass destruction, because it was the one reason everybody could agree on." - Paul Wolfowitz.

And they started selling in September, 2002, because White House Chief of Staff, Andy Card, noted that you "don't roll out new products in August". (Sept 7, 2002).

Honestly, Donald Trump's lies were just performative little quips, by comparison. Those were off-the-cuff, mostly. This was a sales campaign, carefully planned and executed.

But, hey there is one thing that happened Twenty Years Ago Today, exactly. March 17 was the day that Bush gave Saddam Hussein and his sons, 48 hours to leave Iraq. They still would have invaded, of course.

http://brander.ca/stackback#nukes


Profiles in Courage and Contempt, 2023/03/16

Actually it's TWO anniversaries today. Today, alas, is the 55th anniversary of the My Lai Massacre. This 1989 British Documentary about it tells the story the Americans can't stand to. There's a great "Profile in Courage" at My Lai, though: we'd never have heard about it, and hundreds more would have died, but for a helicopter officer, Hugh W. Thompson, Jr., at left, who got them to stop. Thompson then wouldn't stop reporting it, until people were arrested, and Seymour Hersh, who is still taking crap for reporting US government malfeasance, all these years later, made his career by reporting it.

But, this is "20th Anniversary Week" for the Iraq War. Thirty-five years to the day after Hugh W. Thompson, Jr. displayed his courage and humanity, a very different American, Dick Cheney, displayed his talent for barefaced lying, and contempt for the gullibility of his audience. He uttered not only the particularly infamous prediction at right, but the great line, "I think it will go relatively quickly. Weeks rather than months."

That line is part of a page on my "The War in Quotes" from Doonesbury.com, the image is from the cover. The page is about "duration" and starts off with quotes like the above. The facing page are all the quotes from 2005, 2007, about how it could go on for many years yet. And how Americans don't care! Honestly, that's a good sum-up for that whole war: Americans didn't care. About why it was done, how long it went on, what it cost, who got hurt. Most of them, today, could not answer any of those four questions accurately.

http://brander.ca/stackback#profiles


G.Bush on Radio, 2023/03/15: "Twenty Years Ago Today" Week

I'm going to have a "Twenty Years Ago Today" post for the rest of the week, to commemerate the illegal invasion of Iraq.

Twenty Years Ago Today, George Bush took to the airwaves for a radio address. He said many harsh things about Iraq, many of them true. These things, not so much:

We know from prior weapons inspections that Saddam has failed to account for vast quantities of biological and chemical agents, including mustard agent, botulinum toxin and sarin, capable of killing millions of people. We know the Iraqi regime finances and sponsors terror. And we know the regime has plans to place innocent people around military installations to act as human shields.
As it turned out, there were some war gas shells, which Saddam hadn't dared use 12 years earlier, not even under mortal threat. But it took the US about ten years to find them, because the Iraqis couldn't find them either. Mostly, they'd been buried near military bases by commanders who were afraid to mention them, because Saddam had ordered their destruction years earlier.

Saddam sent some money to Lebanese militias, which can be designated terrorists by the other side, as every militia in Lebanon was at one time or another. But Al-Qaeda? Islamic fanatics were poison to Saddam, hated him - Osama bin Laden ran off to Afghanistan in a huff when his Saudi superiors refused to let him push Saddam from Kuwait, as he'd pushed Russians from Afghanistan over years of guerilla warfare. The Saudis wanted quick results, and hired America for the job. But bin Laden and Saddam remained deadly enemies; the notion of Saddam handing a nuke, of all things, to his own enemies, was comically silly. Saddam captured, tortured, and killed Islamic fanatics whenever he could.

Never did hear about those "human shields" again! No evidence for it, you see. There was nothing to shield, of course, since there were no "WMDs" as the Americans saw them.

Gwynne Dyer has noted that including gases in the same bucket as nukes is nonsensical, anyway. They don't create any more "mass" destruction than artillery levelling a neighbourhood. It was all a monumental pile of bullshit; the media ate it up (they always love a war),and a whole population believed what they wanted to believe, after 9/11 gave them a thirst for vengeance.

The lack of "20th Anniversaries" in the large-audience news (by my standards, 10 readers is "large audience", I have a low bar) indicates that they'd rather let this go. I just can't.

http://brander.ca/stackback#iraqweek


CleanTechnica.com, 2023/03/14: Plug for CleanTechnica.com

Google news just tosses lots of clean-energy-related journalism at me. Some of it is right from the labs, stuff that will never turn up in products, or not for decades. A lot is investor-seeking hype and "hopium". I'd seen a number of articles from a journal called "CleanTechnica.com", but today was blown away by the well-informed, astute summary of the Kinder Morgan Pipeline Debacle in Canada.

I subscribed to the journal, though I've sworn to stick to Canadian news. The author of that one article Michael Barnard, is Canadian. CleanTechnica itself is very international. Principal contributors are American, most live in America, but one in Poland, others across Europe.

I was trying to figure out whether it was a Canadian company by reading the bios of the principals, and they were all impressive. I've long had the opinion that journalism, like IT, should (mostly) not be a "standalone" profession. Everybody in those professions should have another expertise. (I was an Engineer/IT combination.) I'm down with Thomas Patterson and his "Informing the News" book. Journalists should be expert in some other area, do most of their reporting there.

The principals of CleanTechnica aren't primarily journalists: they're subject-matter experts in various clean technologies. Most of them are doing CleanTechnica articles in their spare time, and the subscription is very cheap (I'm on the minimal $1.50/month) because they aren't doing it for the money. They're startup founders, investor consultants, engineers.

But, back to where I started, do read the Kinder-Morgan article; it cleared up my whole understanding of the issue, and has firm, date-stating predictions of the year it will shut down, most of the money wasted.

http://brander.ca/stackback#cleantechnica


The Atlantic, 2023/03/13: Crazy American Militarists

Somebody else read this, so I don't have to. Just a quick summary, please.

It would appear to a be straight-faced claim that America has ceded the seas to pirates, or dictators, or somebody. Yes, the nation that has 11 aircraft carrier groups (aircraft carriers never travel without about six other ships and two submarines to guard them) out of 29 on the whole planet, is tightly allied with nations that control 8 more (UK, Australia, France, Spain, Japan), has no control over the seas. Another Great Depression looms as there is no way to keep China from taxing all bulk-carrier traffic, other nations from taking bribes to allow passage, pirates.

I just stopped reading. It's nuts. You get this stuff in their magazines, particularly in The Atlantic, which offers a home for some amazingly extreme conservatives to speak to its (basically) liberal audience sometimes. I remember Mark Bowden, of "Blackhawk Down" fame, writing a long article about how cancelling the F22 would leave America almost defenseless, at least if they ever have that two-front war against two superpowers. Which is part of their doctrine, that they need equipment for that.

I can't even imagine what this guy's justification is, or why the $80B added to the defense budget in the last few years is just not enough support for him.

But it's like reading an argument for cutting public health budgets even further, right after the pandemic, to want even more militarism when they are increasing budgets even as they shut down wars.

Americans. Sheesh.

http://brander.ca/stackback#crazynavy


Dan Gardner, 2023/03/12: Segways versus Scooters

The image links to an interesting substack essay by author Dan Gardner, who blogs about getting projects done.

Dan emphasizes how the Model T was the result of a very customer-focused plan, a clear goal to serve the common man with the cheapest, simplest car that will work well. That this plan needs to be clear on day one.

I weighed in with some side-comments, really, about my own career having a more exploratory development process, where finished products (for just a few customers, with whom I was tightly embedded) were designed along the way, not at the outset. I argued past him a bit, but we got in synch with his reply. It wasn't about planning, it was about knowing the real customer need.

We came to agreement that a great example of "cool technology-focus" versus useful customer-focus, was the Segway that came out in 1999 versus the many models of ultra-cheap e-scooter that came out ten years or more later. The Segway is a very expensive, very easy-to-use device that uses five gyroscopes to balance itself, to sense your weight shifts,and steer automatically the way you lean. They are just very cool tech.

E-scooters are utterly dumb by comparison: the only thing automated is spinning the wheels with a motor. They just fall over; you have to balance yourself and steer yourself, and I'm sure they aren't as safe. But, at one-tenth the price, they exploded in numbers, while the Segways went under and became a joke.

The Segway asked "how much can we automate getting around", and the scooter asked "how few parts can we get away with". Sometimes people want simple operation, sometimes they want a simple (and cheap) product.

http://brander.ca/stackback#segwayVscooter


Everybody, all week, 2023/03/11: Interference by Our Oligarchs OK, I Guess

What I can't get over about the "foreign election interference" problem, is that they only seem to care if it is foreign, and because it is foreign, not because it was malign.

Wacky thought experiment: what if America's allies, just hating to see America with a poor health-care system, made efforts to promote health care more like ours? That would be foreign interference, but not-malign, in the view of over half of Americans. Chinese interference here seems to have promoted some Liberals and some Conservatives for election. Why? Well, the Chinese want more business engagement with Canada, and that's a bipartisan goal - the reason it hasn't been stopped is clearly that some in both parties are actually for it, just as many Americans would "treasonously" help foreigners get them better health care.

On the other hand, nobody is talking about domestic election interference, because that is part of the system, accepted and legal. But, really, should it be legal for Exxon to not only lie about global warming for fifty years, but spend hundreds of millions to affect our election outcomes for that whole time, promoting the election of people who believed their lies because they really wanted to believe them? When it's legal "election interference" is just called "lobbying" and "donations", and "support".

It's not that China's interference is OK. All the steps being discussed should go forward, the "agent registry" as a minor first step. It's that China's interference is actually pretty minor compared to all the interference I've seen before it. The interference with the pandemic fight, a lot of it by very foreign and very malign disinformation farms in eastern Europe, cost a lot of lives. (And most of the dreck out of Macedonia wasn't even for ideology; it simply made money.)

Go beat up on China. But we have worse enemies right at home.

http://brander.ca/stackback#interference


Washington Post and Wall St. Journal, 2023/03/10: Democrats Cause Debt

The "debt problem" is raised by The Washinton Post, at left, which the Wall Street Journal is illustrating with a front-page video about piles of pennies.

Democrats must be in office! And about to spend money on government services for the people! Well, some on infrastructure and stuff. Government stuff.

We wouldn't be seeing much about debt, if it were Republicans cutting taxes, or about to spend $6 trillion on a war.

At least, I can't recall a single question raised, twenty years ago, as we pass one twentieth-anniversary after another of the decisions that lied America into war, about how much it would all cost. Except for Paul Wolfowitz claiming it would pay for itself. (March 27, 2003, Congressional Testimony - anniversary in 17 days!)

It's very, very hard to call a newspaper "liberal" or even "balanced", when it only decries debt for Democratic spending, not for Republican tax-spends, or when the Pentagon budget goes up another $70B. That's about $500 per American household, on top of the $5000/household they already pay for their military and intelligence services. They aren't having to shell it out with tax increases on the spot to counter Pentagon budget increases, obviously - most of it is debt.

http://brander.ca/stackback#demodebt


Racket News, 2023/03/09: "Twitter Files" Hard for an OG to Grasp

I'm a fan of Matt Taibbi, who is giving Congress 1150 words of testimony today, about his "Twitter Files" story.

Taibbi notes that he's written ten books. I've bought seven, three in hardback. I'm a fan. When Matt attacks the Democratic Party, it's mostly from the Left, from the Warren/Sanders territory; certainly so when Democrats were covering up for Wall St. before, during, and after the Great Financial Crash. He's anything but a conservative activist.

It's not so much that I flat-out disagree with his sort-of-censorship complaints; it's that I can't work up much worry about them, not even for a slippery slope.

Part of it was the "suppression" of the "Hunter Biden Laptop" story, that was confined to suppression on social media, for one day. Large-audience mass media, like the networks and non-Murdoch big daily papers, also barely mentioned it, but on their own judgement that it was untrue; heck, at Murdoch's NY Post, that ran it prominently, the journalists ordered to run it didn't want their names attached.

Much of the rest of the Twitter complaints were about individual posts being reduced in number seen. That is, reducing the free Twitter service of amplifying your reach. Twitter does this for "engaging" posts that often anger readers, but hates to do it for "offensive" posts that drive away eyeballs. Gaming Twitter was all about being "edgy" (and thus, engaging) for the poster, and "claiming injury" for those who would suppress him.

The problem comes from those very few companies' status as "public spaces", because they're monopolies. Because they're monopolies, it matters much whether they have a right-bias, a left-bias, a pro-government-bias, or just a maximize-money-bias. The cure for that is to end the monopolies, not to accept that they are now part of the de-facto "government", and hold them to government fairness standards.

And, for us old folks who use social media less, and trust it not at all, it's baffling to think of somebody being censored by the loss of a platform that did not exist in 2004. Everybody still heard about the Hunter Biden story. Every story that Matt found to be "suppressed" in various algorithmic ways, got out. It's hard to see algorithmic "reduction-of-audience" as taking away a fundamental right, when getting your little story out, without owning a newspaper or TV station was impossible until a few years ago.

It's just such a lame-looking complaint, compared to the very theatrically guffaw-inducing confessions that have been coming out of Fox News for weeks.

http://brander.ca/stackback#twitterfiles


Deseret News, 2023/03/08: Bad Citizens

It is now 26 years since I published this "editorial" for the monthly newsletter of CUUG, a Calgary computer group. It mentions work down by sociologist Edward Banfield, the year I was born, 1958.

He found villages in southern Italy very different from those in the north; in the south, there was almost no public spirit, no charity, no volunteerism. Which, he pointed out, means really no democracy as we think of it. The only reason to vote is that the winner will help you personally. The ethic is "maximize the short-run prosperity of your own nuclear family, devil take the rest of the community".

Deseret News, writer Tom Nichols, has a much-longer article on this crucial subject.

I could actually put this article over at the pandemic blog. I've been writing there for some days about how you can't actually see what policies made Canada so much more successful than America, Britain, even Germany and Switzerland and Denmark, at the pandemic. I'm concluding it is found in small things, not mask mandates and vaccination percentages (we did better than places that did as much of both). It's got to be that Canadians were just more considerate, gave each other more space, thought more about limiting times together, stuff you can't find without the most intensive surveys and observations.

Canadians, I'd like to tentatively conclude, are pretty good citizens! We care for the commonweal, and it shows up in small ways, not just 10% more voting every few years.

Because I literally can't show you data, I'll leave that thesis there. But the article itself - the issue of "citizenship", in its fullest meaning of being part of the community, not parasitic upon it - being a Deep Culture issue, that takes generations to build - or destroy, I hope - is one you should understand.

http://brander.ca/stackback#badcitizens


The Atlantic, 2023/03/07: GOP-Haters, Gather Ye 'Round For a Smirk

I try to avoid American news, but it's difficult not to take a smirky moment to take pleasure in the sadness and dullness that is the American GOP conference, called "CPAC", this year, where it is "dead" and Trump has become boring.

A low pleasure, but sometimes one does weaken.

http://brander.ca/stackback#gophaters


Noah Pinion, 2023/03/06: No, The Iraq War Was Not Just Naughty

The extremely popular and much-quoted American political substacker, Noah Smith, posted a long one the other day about "The 2000s", cataloguing America's crushing troubles of that decade: 9/11. Iraq. Financial Crisis. Katrina.

He's able to admit that Iraq and the Financial Crisis were "self-inflicted", but like most Americans, can't see 9/11 that way. That kind of talk was shut down as victim-blaming in 2001 and never re-appeared. (Heck, even Katrina being "self-inflicted", by the country host to most of the oil giants that lied about what they really knew about climate for 50 years, is at least arguable, somewhat.)

So is all their political polarization, distrust of government, political violence, gun massacres, and bad health care. And the financial pressures that come from their dumbfounding military budget.

It's weird to me, when American liberals "criticize" their country, and still can't see about half of what foreigners see to criticize. Anyway, one thing he wrote really torqued me - that Iraq was a mere "violation of norms", and I responded:

"...invasion itself flagrantly violated the norm ..."

No, it flagrantly violated the law. It was illegal.

By America's own argument at Nuremberg, "aggressive war" is the ultimate war crime, the "kingpin crime that makes all the other [war] crimes possible". It's why the UN exists. It's really a treaty, co-signed by 190-odd that all agree (Article II.4) not to use force against other members. America's constitution (I.9) makes ratified, signed treaties are "the Law of the Land", which makes it American law to not invade other countries. (Most countries have such constitutions, which gives meaning to the term "International Law", as one enforced by every country, each separately.)

The exception is "permission of the UN Security Council", which the US asked for in 1990 - by charging Iraq under Article II.4 for invading Kuwait. Permission was given, by Article 1441, so 35 UN Members got together, and pushed the aggressor out, and stopped.

Powell asked for Security Council permission, and was denied. (Obviously superceding Article 1441, for the "1441 excuse" apologists out there). This was ignored, and America invaded anyway.

This is not an unfamiliar opinion in British press, or discussion forums. Tony Blair's status as "the war criminal", as many popular columnists called him, is up for discussion. Americans to quite a distance left-of-centre, don't even think to discuss Iraq as a crime; it was merely a blunder. Baffles me.

For the rest of the list, I agree with reed hundt: nearly all self-owns, to one degree or another, and all coming from the right-hand-side of your very, ah, exceptional, politics.

http://brander.ca/stackback#iraqcrime


Chartbook, 2023/03/05: Some Amazing Substacks Out There

Justin Ling offered me the unsurprising estimate, that anywhere from 5%-15% of "Substack" newsletter subscribers are paying subscribers - almost all at $50/year. So you can take the number of subscribers, multiply by five, and get the yearly income estimate, though it could be half that, or half-again that.

Now that I'm following some Substacks, I'm getting recommended ones in my Substack "inbox", by the people I am following, like Justin, James Fallows, Paul Wells. Now that I have an estimation technique, I'm seeing many smart people, who can do good research and write well, are doing pretty well from Substack.

Adam Tooze is a distinguished historian and professor, does books and speaking. But now, he also has the "Chartbook" Substack, with 82,000 followers. Yeah - that's got to be a quarter-million a year, and may be over $400K. Real money.

But I notice that "Chartbook" seems to have another long, well-researched article every day or two, which is impossible without employees - I'm thinking his own grad students, a fellow professor or two. Substack would appear to be a way for anybody to become a very small newspaper, just as many people with specific knowledge (mostly about investing) have been able to live well running "newsletters" for ages. Hope for journalism!

This article, runs over 3700 words, and has five "dense" charts that take some minutes of study, each, to take in. It'll give you a pretty thorough briefing on how much work there is to do, to "de-carbonize" all industry and human work, where the hard parts are. It's pretty daunting to see, graphically, how little of our energy comes from that much-ballyhooed solar and wind, so far; we have a very long way to go.

http://brander.ca/stackback#tooze


Bug-Eyed and Shameless, 2023/03/04: The Fox Summary From Outside

Canadian Journalist Justin Ling, of the "Bug-Eyed and Shameless" substack, is fast becoming my favourite journalist. Favourite Canadian, for sure, and I'm really trying to confine my debilitating news habit to Canada, these days.

American news is just too-too-much. So much of their "news" is manufactured, with their politicians trolling the libs with invented outrages. More Canadian news, is actual news about changes to public affairs.

It's been impossible to avoid the American tales of their Fox News network, the "7x24 GOP campaign", as founding producer Dan Cooper called it.

But, I've tried to avoid details, avoid wallowing in it. It's so American, so foreign. Canadians who attempt Fox-News efforts ("The Rebel", Alberta's "War Room" propaganda group) tend to be mocked, ignored, and go broke. Proud of that!

But, Justin, via the link at top, has poured the whole story into just under 4,000 words, which go into all the detail anybody needs, and only a little more than Canadians - who have to go to some effort to care about the American issues on Fox news - want.

Recommended. Read this and you can ignore the rest.

http://brander.ca/stackback#lingfox


The Intercept, 2023/03/02: Just Missed Another 20th Anniversary

There's so many of them, in the runup to the Big Anniversary, of the actual invasion of Iraq.

But, Jon Schwarz at The Intercept wrote this terrific article on real "political correctness", that mentioned a recent 20th anniversary. Pat Donoghue being literally cancelled on February 25, 2003, 20 years ago last week.

That article in turn links to the 20-year-old story in a web archive, from the time.

The article deserves a skim, but there's a joke embedded in it, unknown at the time. Not only was "the liberal network" MSNBC firing its most-popular host, its biggest money-maker, because he was against the upcoming war in Iraq, they were hiring new conservatives, like (Tea Party founder) Dick Armey, conservative radio host Michael Savage, and former wrestler/actor/governor, Jesse Ventura.

The joke was, that the conservative-sounding Ventura wasn't conservative about the Iraq War. He wanted to speak out against it. So, after a few broadcasts, they took him off the air and paid him $2M/year for three straight years to remain silent. At least he got paid to be cancelled, for his political incorrectness.

http://brander.ca/stackback#20th


The Line, 2023/03/01: Oh, Bull, That It Was "Good Convoy Logistics"

The Convoy utterly embarrassed the police at three levels of government. The Ottawa police couldn't even stop the horns, they needed help from a young law student. The OPP were little seen, their Premier boss vanished for the duration. The RCMP couldn't "control the border", as the American conservatives say.

I find it easy to believe that the aftermath review would have them saying that the problem was really huge and hard. So, colour me skeptical when Matt Gurney finds reason in the POEC report to say the Convoy were so successful because of their "expertise in logistics and planning".

For sure, they set up a logistics centre at a park a ways off, to provide food, tents, toilets, with various retired police and soldiers providing that expertise. Not disputing they had logistics. But so did other protests:

This would be the Black Lives Matter protest in Vancouver, 18 months earlier. Notice the row of toilets, far more than needed. Notice the whole stage, and the labour it took to set all that up! Not just a stage and video wall, speakers, but all the fencing to keep the performers and speakers safe from the COVID-concerned crowd. Occupy and the Wet'suwet'en protest that blocked rail tracks also had logistics. The people sitting in trees for months to protest Vancouver Island logging have a whole supply chain.

No, Matt, the logistics meant that it could go on, but food and toilets have nothing to do with the police not clearing them out. The reason for that, I thought abundantly clear.

The police were afraid. All three levels. Physically afraid of harm.

Their reports are clear upon it. Just read the Global News story from February 9. Police "warned" of arrests, but made none. Always humiliating to have to back down. But they had to. As the story says: Police attempting to seize fuel downtown were 'swarmed' by a group of demonstrators, he said, resulting in minor injuries to some officers.

No police were ever afraid of being "swarmed" by BLM or Occupy demonstrators. The Convoy were sure the police would not use deadly force, so they felt brave enough to swarm. The guns would remain in the holsters. The police had no such assurance about guns that might be in the hands of Convoyers, should violence get serious.

So, they did nothing, and hoped they would go away on their own. No more complicated than that.


http://brander.ca/reply#blmconvoy


Just My Opinion, 2023/02/28: Why Not Some Good News About Government?

...just for a change.

It's another Snow Day here in Vancouver. Government is beset on the left by interfering Chinese agents, on the right by Nazi-adjacent lunch partners.

But, I've been adding up a few things about our new slightly-lefter NDP government here in BC. In recent weeks, they've done this:

The news on nurses is still out, but the very satisfactory public-sector-worker news since October is certainly encouraging. They're also getting results, finally, on reconstruction after the disasters of 2021.

Most news is bad news. I've been seeing lots of bad news from the UK, from America, from Doug Ford's Ontario (good-bye, Greenbelt). But, where I live, I have to admit that most news is pretty good.

Just for a change, I'm going to wallow in that, for one day. (Do read the linked article about how certain the most-involve marine biologist is that the salmon pen news is wonderful. It's a happy story!)

http://brander.ca/reply#goodnews


Every Paper, 2023/02/27: The Fall of Dilbert

Why? That's the question that's the head-scratcher. It's not Scott Adams job to pop up and comment himself on public affairs: he has his own cartoon platform. It's fine and good for any celebrity to use it to comment on some pressing issue in the news, that everybody is on about, and they want to participate in their society. If Scott Adams just had to jump up and comment on the war in Ukraine, train safety, the pandemic, I wouldn't be saying "Why?".

But, why surface for an utterly gratuitous comment on the general issue of, um, "Black people"?

This question can only be amplified by a billion - as in dollars per year owing on Tesla's loans - about Musk pro-actively jumping up, unasked, to defend Adams when it was obvious the position was monumentally unpopular. Hundreds of newspapers can be wrong about Iraq, but not wrong about public opinion of the day. (Indeed, they were wrong about Iraq, because they thought it would be popular.)

Baffling. I admire cartoonists above nearly every other writer, because they both get a laugh, and address and issue, in 25 words or less. For a babbling rambler like myself, that's deep magic. Adams has been doing it for 33 years. The cartoon still often scores a smile from me, in the Vancouver Sun.

I noticed one thing: I have all the collections of my faves: complete Doonesbury, Calvin and Hobbs, Far Side, Bloom County. My Dilbert collection was unbroken from the first through 2003, then stopped. I got one in 2009, and stopped for good. I guess I really hadn't noticed that it was no longer a delight worth $20 every year. Thinking back, 2003 was the year my office moved (down, if you ask me) from cubicles, to the "open plan". I lost my office-with-walls and never got it back. My office began to resemble at Dilbert cartoon more, as more-clueless bosses were rotated rapidly through different work groups they never really understood.

That should have made Dilbert more searing, but really, Adams was over a decade away from anything but cartooning by then, and I think he was no longer listening to the "corporate madness" stories he wrote about being inundated with; he was starting to pick what he believed. Dilbert was less and less about the actual employee abuses that were going on, getting worse in tech. He was stuck in the 90s. My fandom had faded away, unnoticed. Huh.

Now this. I'm not going to stop reading Dilbert, if the Vancouver Sun cares to keep it; it's 30 seconds of my day, and I honestly don't know how many terrible people are behind my entertainment, my food, my clothing. The Trump elections showed us how many people I'd dislike are all around us.

But, Mother of God, how can so many of the smart people I see in my news feed, be so crazy and dumb?

http://brander.ca/reply#dilbert


Bug-Eyed and Shameless, National Post, 2023/04/25: Autocrat Avoidance

Well, both parties are flirting with fascists, in my morning news. The National Post is predictably sickened, horrified, outraged by Liberals getting electoral help from China, and it is worrying. A bunch more progress than that, and they might really affect party policies. For now, it's a few backbenchers, who are infamously powerless, so we have time to respond.

Which is easy. It may be difficult for China-business-loving Liberals to finally admit the party is over, and take open action against China in Canada. That foreign-agent registry that everybody else has, they really must cave on that; we clearly need one. And, from now on, how about every candidate signing an affidavit that they have no knowledge of any foreign help with any part of their campaign. Sunlight should disinfect this one, easily.

Meanwhile, Justin Ling is concerned about the Conservatives meeting with a fascist-adjacent German pol. That one is even easier, and we get to do it all week; the offenders need to be beaten around the block a few times, with condemnation and mockery, for doing even this much. Max Fawcett at the National Observer notes that Poilievre has to "choose between the Convoy and Canada", but of course he doesn't. He just has to skim by contact with the most-objectionable people and ideas, deny all, be outraged at the accusation, and go back to promoting Convoy-like politics with less-harsh rhetoric. It's worked every other time.

All told, the reaction to this stuff, and the low level of threat I'm seeing, are actually kind of reassuring. Compared to the news from the UK and America, anyway.

http://brander.ca/reply#no2autocrats


New York Times and Washington Post, 2023/02/24: Crickets

I was reading, not with much interest, the coverage of how the New York Times is not liking internal criticism of its coverage of transgender issues.

Disputes arise over whether the coverage is somehow a "workplace issue" because some staff actually feel threatened by the (alleged) anti-trans attitudes from senior staff. Can coverage, mere speech, cause harm? If the anti-trans attitudes are there, will muzzling them make staff safe from the anti-trans staff? (Not a question I saw asked; I'm trying to follow the logic.)

When, suddenly, it hit me that these were the papers that really did cause harm. To Iraq. With their credulous coverage of a previous Republican fake issue, fake threat to Americans: the fake threat of Saddam Hussein's fake nuclear program. The one that Knight-Ridder didn't believe in, the lies that they warned us about. The Times and Post ignored the Knight-Ridder story, the GOP got their war sold, millions died.

Spotting those lies was their damn job. They failed. Spectacularly.

What we have now, about Iraq, are crickets. On the 20th anniversary. It's coming up, on March 20, but we've had a dozen journalistic 20th-anniversaries already. The anniversary of the State of the Union with the 19 words about uranium enrichment. The anniversaries of both the Editorial Boards sanctioning the illegal war. That would be just nine days ago, February 15, for The Times Editorial Board.

Of course, in the past, but after the war was going badly, the Times especially specialized in revisionist history of Bush's actions, and its own coverage.

What connects these stories, is that the senior editors lashed back at the trans complaints with the criticism that this is not journalism, it's activism. And they will protect their journalists against activists.

The clapback there, is that fighting for the status-quo is also activism. Giving oxygen to the activists in the GOP that invent issues, like uranium (not there), "CRT" being taught to little kids (not), and the new trans-agenda stuff, is enabling and supporting activism, unless you spot lies, and call them lies, every time, as prominently as the lies themselves.

The people who swallowed the GOP stories on Iraq, were also treated as journalists merely getting a story from powerful politicians and repeating it; whereas anti-war voices at the paper were being "activists". But nobody was more "activist" than the people who helped sell an entire war, using lies cut from the whole cloth.

Here's a 10th anniversary that's coming up: The 10th anniversary of this "10th anniversary" article mocking the Post for not remembering that its the tenth anniversary of their shame. And we are just three days away, coming up on February 27, of the 20th anniversary of "delightful" response from the WaPo editorial board, to their outraged readers, about their support for the upcoming war. "Delightful" in the snarky sense, because they describe "no action" as "backing down against Saddam Hussein", who was not threatening anybody at the time.

And they might be able to see that they are activists, again, if they had the humility to "celebrate", well, acknowledge, the 20th anniversaries, now passing, of their worst disgrace of the century.

http://brander.ca/reply#nonews


The Line, 2023/02/23: A Nice Summary of Putin

This is just cherry-picking out a line I liked in Andrew Potter's obvious comment that the West is supporting Zelenskyy more than ever. I actually disagree with the point of the column, that we were weakly-supporting before Xmas. But I did like this tight summary of Putin:
"...obvious fact of the invasion, which is that Putin had, and still has, no clear and acceptable political goals for his "special military operation", in the Clausewitzian sense. Putin lives in a propaganda-fuelled dreamscape of historical fantasies, existential paranoia and twisted psychological grievances, but nothing that could be reasonably subject to rational disagreement, let alone negotiation. "
Well, for sure, what about it? Well, change "Putin" in the last sentence to "Trump", or almost any promient, much-quoted figure in the American GOP, recently. Everybody has been talking about how their Democrats are passing bills about infrastructure and industrial policy, while the GOP rails on about the dangers of transgender people (0.6% of the population) and the deleterious effects of "wokeness". We are also not able to have rational disagreements about the dangers of "wokeness" causing, say, military incapacity to shoot down balloons.

I'm seeing a Venn Diagram, three circles in a row with small overlaps, like the top three of the Olympic Rings, so that the left circle has no overlap with the right one, both a little overlap with middle one.

The left is Putin, the middle, the American GOP, and on the right, Candian Conseratives of late that spout kind words for cryptocurrency, vaccine denialism, and, yes, wokeness. They're quite a ways away, on the spectrum, but once you get into supporting the anti-vaccine Convoy, you're on that spectrum.

http://brander.ca/reply#putinGOPoilievre


The Tyee, 2023/02/22: We Make Housing Hard

What does it cost, to develop land into rental housing that people will want? What would you have to charge them, to pay back that cost, and make a reasonable profit?

NO DEVELOPER ASKS THAT QUESTION.

Every developer in her right mind, asks the question "how much can I make from this land? What's the maximum?", and they sensibly do that. That's how our free market system works, it can do no other.

The Tyee, having published a plea for "vacancy controls", this week publishes "The Case Against Vacancy Controls" that comes down to the same argument as against rent controls: take away money from the owners, and you'll soon have less rentals.

Many figures are tossed around, but not the figures I called for above: what's it cost to provide the need? And what, in a societal sense, is the case for charging a penny more than needed?

The free market, itself, is against charging a penny more than needed: labour never gets a penny more than needed to keep them from quitting, in any situation where management can determine what that number is - and they make strenuous efforts to find it.

The free market, in Vancouver, is being distorted from the outside. A thought-experiment could be performed, in which a very poor country cannot create housing for a single citizen - because richer people from outside are keeping every house empty for possible vacations. (The thought experiment, nearly, is being fought now in Portugal, a much-poorer place than Vancouver, with many rich neighbours.)

We can't know what the distortion is - maybe its not that bad, maybe we're being xenophobic to blame them - until we just answer the question. Bluntly, I don't know how to do that without creating a buyer exempt from the free market, one that will be happy with 5% return on investment. The government buying land and becoming a landlord has been tried, and generally hated - but we could at least do it temporarily as an experiment in cost-determination.

My suggestion, anyway. This is housing: Everybody has one.

http://brander.ca/reply#rent


Everybody, 2023/02/21: Black History Month

I celebrated Black History Month by accident.

No kidding, I was in the library in late January, and happened across whatever shelf is Dewey-Decimaled for "American Current Affairs" or history, or whatever. Anyway, right beside each other: a book I'd been meaning to check out for a year, and another I didn't know existed, but was glad to find.

For quite a while, I've meant to read "The Sum of Us", by Heather McGhee. Heather details all the ways that American White people suffer because of racism against American Black people. All the public infrastructure that is never built, the hospitals, the swimming pools they filled in to avoid integration. The number of ways this affects are astonishing.

But, beside Heather on the shelf, was Adam Serwer, and his book "The Cruelty is the Point".

I grabbed it gleefully. I've been reading Serwer at The Atlantic for years. His original essay there, "The Cruelty is the Point", clarified, crystalized, many people's understanding of the Trump rallies and their shocking emotional waves: "President Trump and his supporters find community by rejoicing in the suffering of those they hate and fear." It's shocking to hear it stated that baldly, but Serwer's connections to the emotions at lynchings (glee and pride, they posed for photos to keep), are indisputable, and it makes the rallies make sense.

So, I took both home, was just finishing Adam and starting Heather, when some news show noted I was in Black History Month.

Don't let it take a special month to read these books. Everybody should.

But - because it was Black History Month - when I finished Heather, I noted that the "Daily Show" guest-host of the other week, D.L. Hughley, put out a book of his own, "How To Survive America", where he manages, usually, to pull humour out of hatefulness.

It's been a big reading month for me, I like to keep a non-fiction and a fiction book going - the latter to escape to, when the subject matter of my usual non-fictions gets me down. It's stay-in-and-read weather! Get to it.

http://brander.ca/reply#bhm


Stephen Wolfram, 2023/02/20: ChatGPT Under the Hood

Almost nobody is "smarter" than Stephen Wolfram, on the figure-out-hard-maths axis of "smartness". (Whether he can "read a room" or comfort a crying baby, whole different axes. Elon Musk has recently reminded us to consider different axes of smartness.)

So, unsurprisingly, Stephen Wolfram, scholar and inventor, is the guy to walk mere laypeople through the nuts-and-bolts of "why ChatGPT works".

As accessible as it is - I'd have been able to follow along if I put in the time, I'm sure - I dropped out several pages in, which was still not a quarter of the trip. What I was clear upon, by that point, was just how very blindly mechanistic the algorithms are, building up the reply one word at a time, continually asking "what's the most-probable next word that will make this look like similar documents"?

Wolfram notes that the database includes significant amounts of "comprehension", in that it knows concepts like more-generic and more-specific words, that "pine" is a subset of "tree", and all that. But it's all in the context of the probabilities that words are related. It doesn't really know that trees make oxygen, only that documents often line up words about that subject, together.

This blog has already weighed in on AI, not to let hype over-promise. I'm writing again to drag out a memory from 1985, just before the "AI Winter" set in on AI research funding, one of my CompSci teaching assistants threw a party to celebrate her doctorate in AI, her departure. The "winter" no doubt meant that Laurie didn't get work in her field, though nobody with a doctorate in computer science was about to go hungry from 1985-2000. Or since.

Laurie made a flat statement to a circle of congratulating admirers: "There's no AI with the comprehension of the world as great as a human 3-year-old - and no research prospects of any". They're all just clockwork, not consciousness, not even close.

Wolfram's explanations show the amazing depth and complexity of ChatGPT and its fabulous 187-billion-point database of knowledge of word-strings. But he also confirms they're still looking for that breakthrough comprehension-of-a-three-year-old, after another 40 years.

http://brander.ca/reply#chatgpt


The Atlantic and Raw Story, 2023/02/19: Surprised? REALLY?

I'm dumbfounded by some of the journalists, the last few days, that seem to be expressing surprise that Fox News analysts knowingly lied to their viewers. "Raw Story" Headlined it "Newsflash", sarcastically, but, still, the story contains the surprising sentence:
In a limited space, it is impossible to convey the full impact of these disclosures, which have vaporized the reputations of Dobbs, Bartiromo, Carlson, Hannity, Ingraham and their bosses like a nuclear blast. While their deranged viewers may remain, they are forever diminished.
...umm, diminished from what respected status that they previously enjoyed? What the hell did other journalists think of them before?

Meanwhile, over at The Atlantic, very former CNN analyst Brian Stelter isn't being sarcastic in the headline, which says "I Never Truly Understood Fox News Until Now", and he was the head of a show called 'Reliable Sources'.

I learned nothing new about Fox this week; I could have written those 'shocking' emails, with a fair degree of accuracy, any time since they were written. It was reported at the time that they were clearly panicking over their viewers moving to Newsmax as Trump criticized them.

I guess I have learned something new about the other media, but I'm not sure what it is: that they are incredibly stupid and naive? That they are very good at double-think, where they know Fox, yet pretend to treat them as fellow journalists so hard they internalize it?

The "mainstream media", the largest audience news sources, do have to be very good at double-think not to call American politicians war criminals and servants of plutocracy most of the time, so maybe the Orwell skills slop over to journalists - since they need such forgiveness-for-lies themselves, every war and crisis.

Heavy words. Let me end more lightly, by commending Adam Serwer's take on the story, also in The Atlantic. Serwer pretends to no surprise, just walks his readers through Fox's reasoning, which was all to be expected, if you're Adam Serwer. More on him, and "Black History Month", tomorrow!

http://brander.ca/reply#foxduh


Paul Wells, 2023/02/18: Crapping on Private Research

Paul Wells had a substack column on innovation, and how the government was very poor at it. As part of the debate, I contributed three longish replies about my contention that government support has been essential to the biggest innovations of the last century. In America, in particular, the massive military budgets, plus 1960s NASA budgets, really help a company get going (and the CIA got Oracle started, Sergey Brin on an NSF grant when he invented the main Google algorithm). This was the first (briefest) of those rants:

Of course, the record of *any* entity just rolling up its sleeves and creating-the-future by intent, scaling it up to a huge business, is simply awful.

The Giant Brains of Microsoft, the Smartest Guys in the Room at Google and Facebook - every time any of them stepped outside the original cash-cow that they pretty much happened upon by accident, they fail to innovate anything successful. Microsoft and the Internet is a famous fail. Facebook and VR, Google and, well, everything, all their dozen-odd companies. (Google did *develop* a mail product and a GIS map product, but those products already existed, needed little research.)

Hell, oil companies can't successfully become non-oil "energy companies", none of them are anywhere in wind or solar.

The only thing that works, alas, so far at least, is to have public-supported basic research that does not have to pay off. People come out of that coddled world with a burning idea, 80% of whom fail, and 20% succeed, unpredictably at the development of idea into product. Then everybody regards the lucky winners as geniuses.

http://brander.ca/reply#privaterd


Volts Substack by David Roberts, 2023/02/17: Calling All Nerds!

I haven't heard the podcast yet, and I'm already advertising it, though I was unaware of the issue five minutes ago. David Roberts' "Volts" Newsletter is my favourite news site.

Readers of CCCC know that I'm looking for positive news, these days, after years of wallowing in disease, death and fascism news. Roberts pulls off the incredible trick of running a positive, hopeful, only-occasionally-outraged news source about climate change, because Roberts covers the very nerdy, research and development stories about the solutions.

Today's is a standout, even in that good company, because I recognized as I read his blurb for the new podcast, that he was right about an exciting new development: the digital circuit breaker - after over a hundred years, a "no moving parts" upgrade to the electromechanical device patented by Edison. And it's very digital: with programming, it can be not just a superior, faster, safer replacement for the circuit-breaker itself, but other power-management systems like load-controllers, meters, surge protectors.

I'm excited to hear this one. Volts is free, and ad-free. David just hopes for support, and I'd urge all who like this nerdy stuff to join me in subscribing.

http://brander.ca/stackback#digitalcircuit


Sy Hersh Substack, Slashdot, 2023/02/16: Nobody Cares About Your Scandal

I remember that the other 10-year-olds in my 1968 class knew about My Lai: it was that big a story. Of course, it involved American soldiers shooting kids about our age, so it grabbed our attention. The My Lai war-crime scandal made Seymour Hersh's career, but he's had other big scoops.

He believes he has another one, and started a substack to tell it. Sy is putting forward anonymous leaks that the USA definitely blew up the Nordstream pipeline.

Meanwhile, at the same time the World Health Organization is dropping its investigation into the start of the COVID pandemic.

That story hit the top journal, Nature, two days ago. Today, neither that story or the Nordstream story can be found mentioned on the covers of the Times, the Post, the Journal, CBS News. Yahoo News has a special page for COVID-19 news, and it doesn't mention it, either.

Some stories just don't catch on.

People, quite frankly, don't give a crap who hurt Russia's pipeline and stopped them keeping Europe hooked on their gas. And CCCC has long been of the view that it doesn't matter whether COVID is China's fault because they can't run a food market, can't run a Level-4 biolab, or can't stop using wild animals as Viagra, IT'S CHINA'S FAULT. And we can't do too much to them, except all the economic disengagement we're already doing, for various reasons.

That would include this one - the WHO investigation isn't stopping because they're feckless, but because China is very much not cooperating. "Their hands are tied", says one virologist that had been hoping for the report.

It's a shame for the journalists involved - I bet it would have been sweet for Sy to get another Pulitzer at 86, and he deserves more (I read his book the other year - what a career).

But, news is what it is. We've decided we don't care.

http://brander.ca/stackback#nobodycares


Geoff Greer, 2023/02/14: Car Review for Unusual "Gasoline" Propulsion

I have no idea whom Geoff Greer is, as his web site says only that he lives in Vancouver, WA, loves computers and motorcyles. He writes just a few little essays a year, on his own little web site, like this one of mine, and unlike me, he's a really funny, inventive writer. Hats off.

Well, this one article is amazing, anyway. It's been years since he wrote, and more of them are articles about arcane computer issues ("conserve vertical pixels", an he's right, there, too) or serious topics.

I'll be checking out his other work, because somebody on Mastodon today (I am becoming a bit of an addict, though it takes up little time) pointed us at his hiliarious and brilliant "Gasoline Car Review".

One of the best ways to look at a situation of change from one way to another, is to turn the tables: review American health care from a European perspective, and most American arguments vanish.

This one is priceless, written as if electric cars had been around forever, and the gasoline engine was the new innovation:

The car seemed dead. I pressed the accelerator (Mazda calls this the "gas" pedal) but again, nothing. I called their support line and quickly figured out the issue: Unlike a normal car, a gas car needs to be "started".

...

I succeeded on the first try, causing the car to jump to life and emit all kinds of crazy noises. Imagine if a steam locomotive had a baby with a machine gun.

I won't turn this into a bunch of quotes, but he points out all the odd-from-outside things, like the battery running down if you don't manually turn lights off; the difficulty of "jump-starting" with no charging port, you could blow acid all over your face, an explosion next to this flammable gasoline stuff.

Great start to your morning, don't miss it.

http://brander.ca/stackback#gascar


Every News Outlet, 2023/02/13: Solar Dirigibles

I guess brander.ca will have to be the only news outlet to break this untouched fact: those recently-noted UFOs are awesome and cool!

Important terminology: stop calling them "balloons". They are not just floating around in the wind, they are ships that are powered and steered. An airship that can be "directed" is a DIRIGIBLE.

We love dirigibles, few months go by without some filler piece about how maybe, with the right technology, we could get back to flying low and slow and elegantly, looking out the dining room windows, as passengers did in the Zepplins of yore. ("Zepplin" - trade name of one brand of dirigible from Count Zepplin's company.)

But, advances in solar power and communications had made a whole new kind of dirigible possible: a solar-powered dirigible that can stay up indefinitely. 20 kilometres high is the perfect place to fly on solar power: above every cloud. With enough solar cells and some battery for the nights, you could fly around the world, and I suspect they have.

About the only thing this development is useful for, is surveillance, or providing a very high cell tower. Not sure why the latter idea hasn't come up, but the "surveillance" is why they got so developed, without anybody hearing about them. Spies don't brag. But I totally believe the Chinese claim that the Americans have sent them 10 dirigibles, and the 2019 Guardian story about the Pentagon testing surveillance "balloons" across many American cities.

Which need not be alarming for most: we're already surveilled by very expensive police helicopters, why not get the same law-enforcement service far cheaper? We could at least defund the single most-expensive police.

http://brander.ca/stackback#solardirigibles


Paul Krugman Twitter Thread, 2023/02/12: Backing Up Uncle Joe

A different thing today, for Stackback. Mastodon reading had me clicking on Twitter, to find Nobel Economist Paul Krugman doing a "Twitter Thread".

A "Twitter Thread" is among the stupidest forms of computer communication I can imagine. I mostly ignore them. But - Paul Krugman is my drug, man. He is so often brilliantly succinct and effective at conveying economic ideas.

So, as a service, here's the material from Paul Krugman's 12-post Twitter thread on how, yes indeedy, Republicans have always, always been trying to kill Social Security and Medicare, the most income-equality-promoting government programs, the ones that rich people hate to be taxed for.

I'm pleased to do this diversion to American politics. I try to avoid them. But, if you've been following news for decades, it's just flat-out, plain-stupid obvious that American Republicans have always been trying to cut Social Security and Medicare. To hear them claim they never did, is to sputter in disbelief at a bald-faced lie. I have to thank Krugman for hauling out this history.

Where Krugman got out of chronological order, but couldn't take it back because it was already Twitter-posted, I've repaired the order. Also fixed up the grammar and punctuation.

Amid the desperate attempts by Fox News and its subsidiary, the Republican Party, to insist that Biden's true claims about GOP efforts to cut Medicare and Social Security are false, worth remembering some history.

Ronald Reagan tried to make significant cuts in Social Security in 1981, but backed down in the face of a huge public backlash .

In response the Cato Institute called for a "Leninist" approach (their term), setting the stage to exploit future crises to dismantle Social Security .

Cato also created a "Project on Social Security Privatization", which drew up plans for that happy event.

In 1995, Newt Gingrich shut down the government in an attempt to force Bill Clinton to make major cuts in Medicare and Medicaid .

In 2005 George W. Bush tried to move forward with that plan, although conservatives insisted that calling it "privatization" (which polled badly) was a left-wing smear; meanwhile Cato quietly changed the name of its privatization project .

After the Republican takeover of the House in 2010, Paul Ryan pushed a plan to convert Medicare into a voucher system, although as with "privatization" he insisted that calling vouchers "vouchers" was a left-wing smear .

So now we have Rick Scott saying that just because he called for sunsetting Medicare and Social Security, he wasn't calling for sunsetting them. Biden used the same words Scott did .

Let's also add that if you have absolutely no intention of ever cutting Social Security and Medicare, you don't set up a process where the entire programs have to be reapproved every five years. As Biden might say, "C'mon, man" .

So let's not act as if Biden was engaged in some kind of gotcha. For more than three decades Republicans have been trying to eviscerate SS and Medicare whenever they thought they had a political opportunity to do so.

(End of quotes from Paul Krugman Twitter thread).
Wasn't that easier than going through 12 messages? And the links were built in to the text. You're welcome.

http://brander.ca/stackback#krugmanss


Clyde's Newsletter, 2023/02/10: Interesting Read on China

The Substack system is starting to scare me a bit, because it's grabbed the most-cunning aspect of social media like Twitter and Mastodon: recommendations. When I bring up the plain "substack.com" web page now, I don't just see the few substack columnists I've subscribed to: it presents me with other substacks those columnists recommended.

I always like the gentle commentary of James Fallows, formerly editor of The Atlantic, subscribed to the public, free version of his column, which I usually just glance at (he's big on aviation stories, me, not so much). Today, it threw at me a recommendation from Fallows, A "Clyde's Newsletter" from Clyde Prestowitz, who specialized in China Trade Policy. Fallows lived in China for a while, is a minor China "expert" - that is, he understands how little "China Experts" know, and is cautious. So his recommendations are worthwhile.

Some excerpts that caught me:

For about twenty years, it [Apple] produced most of its products in California using well paid American labor and meeting strict American environmental requirements. The company and Steve became very wealthy in this way while also providing lots of well paying jobs with good benefits for employees in California and elsewhere in the United States. ...

Then, in 1998, Steve hired logistics whiz Tim Cook to run Apple's production and logistics. Cook had had experience in China and convinced Steve that he was throwing away money by manufacturing in California. The decision was made to fire all the California workers and move all production to China with its low wages, absence of environmental restrictions, and absence of labor unions.

Wow. Apple quickly made even more short term money than anyone could have imagined. In fact, it became the world's most valuable company.

But it also became something no one had anticipated. It became a hostage, a hostage to the government of China which operates without a rule of law and to the Chinese Communist Party that owns the government and that has openly announced its main objective to be the global displacement of the United States and of the democratic governments of the world.

Fun fact! The hiring of Tim Cook in 1998, his ascension to the COO chair in 2007, almost exactly coincides with the 2002-2007 "Think Different" advertising campaign. They should have said "Think Different! Unless there's money to be made. Then, think like Detroit in 'Roger and Me', 20 years back - Screw America!"

Karl Marx noted that the thing about a capitalist, is that he'll sell you the rope to hang him with. A country with a 'national trade policy' and long-term thinking, can always beat out a company, even the biggest one on Earth. By "beat out", I mean, eventually dominate and control their relationship. And our relationships are just a bunch of corporate relationships; there's no common ground between the governments at all; it's entirely, pardon me, transactional.

Hopefully, that long quote grabs your interest. The column is several times longer, and has a fascinating final paragraph, to a Canadian:

In short, unless your country is a big mining or farming country, you really do not want it to be among China's major trading partners.
The thing is, Canada really is a very big mining and farming country. No wonder our governments were all a-swoon to placate China, stay on their good side, no matter what they did at home, even how many of our people they kidnapped.

But, I am very glad that Western governments are changing their China policies. It's late, and we'll be years digging out of the hole we made for ourselves, becoming dependent upon them.

http://brander.ca/stackback#clydechina


The Line, 2023/02/09: Surprise Optimism From The Line

I'm strongly thinking of dropping The Line substack when it comes up in a few weeks. I've had less and less joy from the place as they began to seem repetitive in their opinions, which are mostly about incompetence, decline, lack of "deliverology" and general Canadian failure. I've subscribed with enthusiasm to substacks from David Roberts (the only American here), Paul Wells and Justin Ling, all of whom do original-research news journalism, whereas The Line is mostly opinions.

And my news budget has now topped $1000/year. (Well over $500 to support the ever-shrinking PostMedia staff, over $200 for CanadaLand, $60 each for The Guardian, National Observer, The Tyee - it's adding up.) I hate to see the news business losing staff and coverage, but there are limits. And the opinion-only site goes first.

I wrote the above to talk myself back into dropping them. Because, today, they actually printed a positive opinion, that all will likely work out OK for the human race. His material could have come from Stephen Pinker, and some probably did.

I love Pinker's books for cheering me up, reminding me that so very many things are getting generally better, that the probability we will overcome our troubles is high. (I love David Robert's climate coverage at Volts for the same reason, my one American news buy.)

You get the wikipedia link, because nearly every other link to Pinker is to controversy and complaint over his views. I'm sure Pinker's not all right, but the "we will make it" story is hard to find in the news, we need more Pinkerism.

I'm glad The Line eases up on the gloom now and then, but my mental health guides me away from them entirely, towards the light - because I honestly feel it's a more honest view of the world, as well. Everybody knows that "Good news is no news", to most newsies. I don't have to pay them for it.

http://brander.ca/stackback#fine


Popular Information, 2023/02/08: Media Fall For Koch Bull, Again

Substack is set up to expose you to a lot of substacks, like any other good attention-seeking system, trying to grab my eyeballs. Today led me to a substack called "Popular Information", media criticism by three journalists.

What they spotted today was that the whole media reacted to a memo from the Koch network of Republican political funding, that clearly indicated they were not impressed with Mr. T. "Billionaire..Group..to Move Past..Trump", etc.

What the journalists note, is that Koch has been pulling this routine for years: claim they want to move away from partisanship, even. Two years since Koch gave WSJ an interview saying he wants to "build bridges". And then 87% of their funding went to Trump-Endorsed Candidates.

So, I wouldn't believe this one, either. What Koch will do, is act to minimize Koch's tax burden. If that involves supporting candidates that are horrifying in every other respect but willingness to vote tax cuts, they'll still support. Count on it.

The bald-faced lies are only equalled by the doe-eyed credulity.

http://brander.ca/stackback#koch


Sydney Morning Herald, 2023/02/07: Everything is Stressed. Just Stressed.

If 67% of Canadians surveyed agree that "Everything is Broken", we Boomers have a problem.

How do we explain to these younger Canadians, 1982, with its double-digit inflation, unemployment, and interest rates all at once? Much less, growing up with parents who lectured about WW2 and sharing single beds in the Great Depression - to people who think that NOW "everything is broken"?

This story in the Sydney Morning Herald is about Britain, where things are much-nearer to broken. But, even there, I would use the word "stressed", not "broken".

I have high standards for "broken", after all that Depression stuff. I got a reminder of Mom's stories, about the dust storms hitting Drumheller, when I saw "Bound for Glory" last week. Woody Guthrie among the Dust Bowl refugee Okies, who had to sneak past the border guards at the illegal California border stop. California wanted no more migrant labourers - sound familiar?

The Okies certainly had no surgery, barely any doctors, and dentistry would be extraction with pliers. They were barely above starvation. It was 1938, the year the USS Enterprise aircraft carrier sailed, and nylon was invented. We think we have "income inequality".

Air travel is "broken" when you stop using it, have to take the three day drive. Normal air travel is 12 hours door-to-door, only six hours in the air; the rest messing with airports. But it saves three straight 16-hour days of driving, so you endure it.

Recently, if you took an extra 12 hours to get there, 24 total, spent some time on the airport carpet napping. Awful. But! You still didn't consider driving, so the right word is "stressed", not "broken". Same with medical services, and supply chains. The story speaks of Britons taking patients to the hospital in their own cars - the ambulance service is "broken" for them, they switched.

It flabbergasts me, how people can see recent images from Turkey, from Ukraine, and use the word "broken" about our 12-hour inconveniences.

Maybe it really is the fate of every generation to think the next one are wimps. What will they say to their kids? "In my day, vehicles all stank and broke down a lot more; the cell connections could go down for a whole day. Energy prices for our own energy jumped up and down depending on a war around the world!"

http://brander.ca/stackback#stressed


Ed Zitron, 2023/02/06: Funny and True

If you want to read the outraged, profane, funny Dr. Hunter S. Thompson of the tech-bro coverage, have a look at Ed Ziton's Substack and Mailing List. I get all the Zitron I can handle, just with the free subscription and the newsletter. But if you really want to follow the ugly underside of the tech-bro Silicon Valley world, subscribe: he's just terrific. 'Nuff said.

http://brander.ca/stackback#zitron


Volts, 2023/02/04: The Morals of Models

David Roberts interviewed an author of a book about mathematical models and their dangers, for his "Volts" newsletter. The topic was near to my heart, and I put this into the replies:

Hugely appreciated. My job involved "building a model", which took 20 years.

( http://brander.ca/#watermodel - only interesting if you replace water mains for a living, and want to guess which ones are the worst, to be replaced next year, with only the limited data you have about things ten feet underground.)

All these issues came up, though it was such a simple thing compared to the million-variable problems in economics and climate. Are you just demanding it echo back your assumptions? Your prejudices? Is the model for getting at the truth, admitting past failures - or just justifying the guesses you've already taken? Is it for giving your boss an excuse to spend more this year, or (more often) for spending less this year?

And, having built it variable by variable, tested ranges for everything, I could "play" that model like a violin, have it tell you anything, just name the conclusion you want. And, indeed, "reasonable" ranges of assumptions were wide enough to increase, or decrease the water-main budget.

It was obvious to me, from contacts with my managers, that they weren't the ones to morally trust with such responsibility, nor did they want it. They would subject any assumptions that recommended budget increase to the strictest of "prove it" standards, but the opposite would just make me a trusted SME ("Subject Matter Experts", whose word stands behind most model 'assumptions'.)

So, I just stuck to the best numbers I could really justify to myself. And I was the lowest guy on the tree. A "senior engineer" with no staff reporting, in Management world, is a nobody.

So, when the discussion got to be about how those assumptions that go into the model ARE our values, our standards, our morals, I was cheering - because I was the guy that had to have them.

We had a whole exercise, went on for years, about picking our morals: how much money was a "day without water" worth to people? How much should we spend to avoid a 15 minute traffic delay? (I picked $250/house and $10/car, respectively.)

It might be a valuable follow-up to interview the people at EPA, the highways designers, the airplane regulators - how, how exactly, when the number will be public and top people are questioned about it, do you pick a monetary value on human life?

http://brander.ca/stackback#models


The Line, 2023/02/01: The (Non) Impossibility of Non-Growth

Jen Gerson is very worried about population decline.

I am not. I agree with her whole column - that decline is coming, already-baked-in. I agree with the crucial problem statement, she quotes a forum called "Effective Altruists":

The economic systems of virtually all developed countries are predicated on an assumption of constant growth, which means that a decline in the working population has a high probability of leading to system-level collapse.
...except that the only "system-level collapse" I can imagine, is a collapse of the parts of the system that demand growth. Society will just change to provide goods and services, in existential priority order (water, food, clothing/shelter, etc) in an environment of negative growth.

There may be fewer luxuries, if it's such a bad economic situation. More people busy in elder care, fewer available for destination weddings and safari vacations. I can't see the economic drag becoming so high that anything important is imperiled.

The real fear being expressed is that somebody's existing very-good economic situation will decline. That somebody currently rich will not be so rich. For instance, the real estate, and housing-construction, industries will all but collapse when houses start a long decline in value, and no new subdivisions are needed, far more renovations than rebuilds.

But - most of our employment is not for those basic necessities. Just a few percent of our society is needed, these days, to grow all the food and fiber, run the clothing factories, the utilities plants. (Calgary Water and Sewer employed 0.1% of Calgary full-time, another 0.1% or so as contractors.)

Canada will be one of that last countries to see actual decline. Even after the overall globe is into population-decline (a few decades from now, at least), Canada will continue to attract immigrants because we are just so darn desirable. It will give us decades to plan, and re-shape the economy for less construction, more eldercare.

It's going to be different, maybe very different. But it won't be bad, not for non-rich people. If your income depends on investments, and the future is not one of growth, your income will be down. But if you work for a living, you can't tell me that a future in which people are scarce is one with few jobs! The huge majority will be fine. We'll have the necessities; anybody who can work will have all they need, and everybody will have work opportunities.

The (many) too old to work are a concern; we might have to change the economic system to do so. So what? Will the change be as big as the one that Reagan and Thatcher oversaw, the one that moved 99% of that lovely growth money to the 1%? Maybe it will just involve reversing that change, go back to 1975 income distributions, so that the poor will be OK.

So will the rich, come to think of it. They always are.

http://brander.ca/stackback#shrinkage


The Line, 2023/01/31: "Tough Budget Talk" for the Poor, Not The Rich

It's not that Christopher Ragan, writing about Budgets in The Line, is a right-wing activist. He's been in public policy analysis for some time, with no record of partisan leanings in particular.

He's just a part of the overall worldview of the status-quo folks, Paul Krugman's Very Serious People, the ones that don't lean to any radical ideas.

When Ragan says "tough", therefore, he only means tough on the lowest-income people who benefit the most from government efforts. It's not that the word "tax" does not come up, it's that it simply isn't the solution:

"There are limits to how much spending can be financed through higher taxation, as increasing income-tax rates is both politically unpopular and economically damaging." Debt is similarly dismissed in the next sentence, and the other other mention of taxes is that "This requires a challenging discussion of how to reform our tax system".

And then stops. No details on that.

No radical tax ideas, then, like discussion of a wealth tax. Specifically, that National Observer article noted:

The poll found 89 per cent of Canadians want to see a wealth tax of one per cent paid by the wealthiest Canadians as part of Canada's pandemic recovery, with 92 per cent in support of closing tax loopholes and making it harder for corporations to strategically book profits in tax havens.
Ninety-two percent. Eighty-nine percent.

If you can't be bothered to discuss ideas of great interest to nine Canadians in ten, Mr. Ragan, perhaps you should stand aside and let others talk.

http://brander.ca/stackback#ragan


Associated Press, 2023/01/30: Is "After You're Dead" Good Timing For You?

Some envy could be directed at France, where the controversy is raising the retirement age up to 64.

As a sixty-four year-old preparing to change medical insurance and other financials when I hit the big six-five in six months, I notice the numbers. Retirement age is a big deal.

Here's the numbers: I am entering a time when 2% of men and 1.5% of women die, every year.

If you lower the retirement age by a year, 2% more people get any money at all. And another 10% get significantly more - the ones that would have died after a few years of money, get one more year.

I just read the really opposite take in the New York Times. Two columnists banter every week, write it down. The designated liberal asked the conservative if he could ever sign on with ending the $160,000 cap on income you have to pay social security tax on, so that guys making a million a year would be paying that 6% or so, on their next $840,000. The conservative said he could handle that - if the retirement age were raised about 4-5 years.

Five years would condemn 10% of the population that makes it to 65 to zero retirement income, they'd die at 2% a year for five years, get nothing. Another 10% that made it to 75, would see their retirement cut by 50% to 90%.

It would really be a huge saving, though I guarantee it would greatly increase the number of elderly street people, living their last years in misery. I can tell you that it would be very tough for me, to just keep getting up early and in to an office job for the next five years; I can feel what the last five have done to my morning vigor, my energy at day's end. I can't even imagine holding down a blue-collar, or other on-your-feet-all-day job, from 65 to 70. Many, many people would fall off the cart, and into the gutter.

Technology improves every year, efficiency goes up, as we automate and computerize things that used to use up human hours. Globalization happened because international shipping dropped to a tenth of its previous cost, with containerization. We are getting richer and richer. It's all, infamously, going to the top. It should be going, in large part, to better public service and infrastructure, to more culture, to shorter work weeks...and to shorter work-careers.

We Boomers will probably not win shorter careers, like France did, and is now fighting to keep. But the generation after us, can, if they start fighting for it.

http://brander.ca/stackback#retirementage


Nobody in Particular, 2023/01/28: Rebuild the Party with a Green Screen

This is random, just a blog post for myself, I guess. I ran into a four-month-old tale of the resignation of the then-president of the Green Party.

It's a very classic story, if you're a right-wing troll: party can't get organized because it's Too Darn Woke. The President resigned when multiple party dignitaries, including multiple candidates for next leader, piled on her for misgendering the Interim Leader, Amita Kuttner - using the wrong pronoun. Paging Jordan Peterson and Ezra Levant, your gloating opportunity has come.

The President became the latest of many to declare the party dead or otherwise hopeless. Anybody reading the stories would tend to agree.

The party obviously needs to rebuild from scratch. And, if a sympathetic observer might be allowed a suggestion, rebuild with a "green screen". No, not the cinematic device that everybody in "Avatar" had to spend a year in front of; a screening process for only selecting party officials (and urging members) that focus exclusively on Green issues.

A party does not have to be a full-service party, ready to take over government if the next election brings a miracle. A political party can serve only the one narrow interest, and say "We'll vote with the NDP on most issues, or even have Free Votes for our elected members. Party discipline will only apply to stated Green Issues, votes on bills we declare Green."

No need for a position on Israel, pronouns, or even on poverty. There's no need to stand for a "Just" transition, not really. Honestly, if the only way to save the world was to put up with a few more decades of poverty and injustice, shouldn't we still save the world? They don't need positions on anything but carbon and other pollutants.

And they sure don't appear to be mature enough to have any.

http://brander.ca/stackback#greenscreen


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.

http://brander.ca/stackback#notbroken


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.

http://brander.ca/stackback#nodoomsday


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!

http://brander.ca/stackback#rightnotsoft


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/stackback#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/stackback#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/stackback#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/stackback#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, 2023/01/12: 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 revealing, too. "In Vino, Veritas": 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 Sovereignty 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.

I expressed some of this in a comment on the column, and Matt Gurney replied, in part:

By definition, anyone living in Freeland's hood is "not a regular folk."

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. This wasn't researched. 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.

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, of average or below income, too.

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.

For a great discussion on saving up, read the story of the couple who planned to live so cheaply, they could retire at 35. One of their strategies, a direct quote:

Most of what we did was simple, like stopping grocery delivery, cutting out restaurant meals and frivolous spending on things "just because." Other things were more difficult, like finding a cheap place downtown where we could walk to work so that we didn't need to spend money on public transit or a car.
Those 80,000 in Calgary, don't even need mass transit to go downtown, are like these two young people. In Calgary, they'd probably find a place in Chinatown, surrounded by other people living on half what most do.

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 constitution, 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.