Stackback: My Replies To Substacks

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 "", a journalist who seems to be everywhere (Wired, Macleans, Postmedia)

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

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

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 "", 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 had objectionable content, too bad; only actually illegal content could cause a service provider to not-rent a server.

If 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 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.

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.

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.

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?

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., 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.

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.

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.

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.


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.

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.

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.

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, 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.

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., 2023/03/14: Plug for

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 "", 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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!)

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?

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.

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.

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.

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?


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.

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.

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.

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!

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.

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.

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.

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.

Every News Outlet, 2023/02/13: Solar Dirigibles

I guess 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.

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.

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 "" 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.

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.

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. " 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.

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!"

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.

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.

( - 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?

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 desireable. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Line, 2023/01/26: Doomsday Dawdling

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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!

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 If Elon Musk can afford to lose $200 billion in a single year, he can afford a wealth tax.

You're welcome.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You're welcome.

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

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


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 (
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, 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.

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 (
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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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??

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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.

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.

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.

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.