Stackback: My Replies To Substacks

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

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

Sometimes, I wish I could save a reply I put in, that I quite liked. Others, replies are turned off for the substack. I wish I didn't have a problem of needing to clap back at columnists. But I do love to write those comments, so when I want to save them, or when substack won't allow them, I'll stash them here. Well-knowing I have no readers! It's just this dumb itch that I'm scratching.


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.


Everybody: 2022/12/01: The Sovreignty Act

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


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.


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

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

Please, more professors, fewer journos.

http://brander.ca/stackback#lagasse


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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#poecyawn2


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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#rcmpvshippies


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

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

Here was my comment, today.

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#bestyear


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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#lafleur


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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#mativersary


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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#notlucky


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#notpreening


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

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

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

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

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

So, calm down and get your coffee.

http://brander.ca/stackback#nonukefear


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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#jensocialist


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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#batteryapps


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#activistfears


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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#kensimright


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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#poecyawn


The Line, 2022/11/13: Doug Lost

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

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

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

Come on, guys. Lame.

http://brander.ca/stackback#douglost


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That should never be disparaged.

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#disneycost


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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#kidstylenol


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So, I wrote this reply:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(on making retail more affordable):

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

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

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

(about the carbon tax)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#rentvscar


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://brander.ca/stackback#scocrights


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

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

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

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

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

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

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