Friday, December 09, 2022

Today's News: From the Substacks

Before I get into the rest of this piece, I just have to follow up my previous Tridemic post with this terrible story: “This baby died on the floor, on the floor of the Emergency Room because there were no stretchers. When I put my dog down it sounded more ethical and beautiful than what happened to this child” The Ontario coroner is now investigating what happened. No matter what details may get changed a little, it is a tragedy.

Now that Twitter is dying, I really can't do my "From the Bookmarks" posts very well anymore. 
But I have taken advantage of Substack free subscriptions to check out a bunch of substacks - I go through their sometimes-daily newsletters to gather news and views. 
 And yes, its sorta amusing, really, that what is old becomes new again: Here are the stories I have been noticing lately: 
Paul Wells: Paul Wells is doing an OUTSTANDING job covering what is happening at the National Gallery lately, where four of Canada's most respected art curators were fired in November, apparently because they can't get behind a new "strategic plan" apparently drafted by an "interim" gallery director who has no actual curatorial experience.
(On a side note, one of the reasons I was looking forward to retirement was so I never had to hear the words "strategic plan" ever again - because no plan ever survives first contact with the enemy!)
What is happening at the Gallery sounds pretty bad to me. Wells reports today that Heritage minister Pablo Rodriguez is being deluged with letters from the Canadian art world - both staff unions, private art galleries across Canada, major donors, former members of the gallery's board, former curators -- all complaining about the chaos, as he reports in National Gallery of Canada: It's Unanimous:
... I am aware of no public correspondenc by anyone with long knowledge of the Gallery who supports the board or the new staff leadership.
Senator Patricia Bovey has some advice for Rodriguez. Bovey, a Trudeau appointee from Manitoba, is a former director of the Winnipeg Art Gallery and a former board member of the NGC. So she knows board responsibilities, the work of a museum CEO, and the legislative process. She’s just sitting there in the East Block waiting for someone to ask for advice. What’s her advice for Rodriguez? The prompt creation of a search committee to look for a new permanent director of the NGC. Public announcement of that committee’s members, who should include people with superb records in art history and museology.
Honestly at this point, the minister shouldn’t need to be told to do that. But Sen. Bovey has another tip: Rodriguez should meet, and publicly announce he has met, the seven former senior curators who wrote him to sound the alarm. Mostly so they’ll feel heard. Also because they are heroes of Canadian art. They include Diana Nemiroff, who co-curated the Gallery’s first major Indigenous survey exhibition 30 years ago and who literally wrote the book on women leaders of the Gallery. And Charlie Hill, who was the Gallery’s chief curator of Canadian art for 34 years and who marched for gay rights on Parliament Hill in 1971. Hill has spent his life seeking — and not shying away from — brave conversations. I remember when a minister of Canadian Heritage would have met a group like this in the first few days of a national controversy.
Scrimshaw Unscripted: Evan Scrimshaw is talking about next Monday's federal byelection in Mississauga-Lakeshore:
...The Federal Liberals are defending their least-safe Mississauga seat, won by just over 6% in 2019. If the Tories are going to win the next election, they don’t have to win this seat, and anyone who claims that a theoretical Liberal win says very much about Poilievre’s appeal is full of shit, but they need to win some number of seats kind of close to this. It’s a suburban seat, obviously, and the kind of seat where the Tories have struggled in recent years because of the Global Fucking Realignment (start the drinking game now, I guess).
My instinct is the Liberals will win it, but that it doesn’t matter. The Liberals are running Charles Sousa, Kathleen Wynne’s former Finance Minister and MPP for the seat, while the Conservatives are running a cop of seemingly limited notoriety. Byelections in recent years have been wonky...
...Poilievre has been nowhere recently and Lakeshore isn’t exactly fertile ground for Skippy’s brand of conservatism.
...A Conservative win is absolutely possible for two reasons – it’s the kind of seat that would be very close on provincial swing and byelection turnout effects are wild and can be extremely variable – but there’s nothing that makes me think that this potential result would be indicative of much....
To be entirely consistent, however, a Liberal win is nothing to write home about and shouldn’t be taken to mean fuck all for 2025.
Routine Proceedings: Dale Smith is covering the arguments between the Auditor General and the CRA over whether Canadians have really been doing so much cheating with pandemic government support funds - The Auditor-General is not Infallible:
...My bigger problem is the fact that this disagreement is somehow scandalising because we have an unhealthy veneration of Officers of Parliament and the Auditor General most especially in this country. A virtual cult has been built around them, particularly by media, who love nothing more than watching the AG go to town on criticising the government of the day, no matter which stripe of government it is, and they will uncritically believe absolutely everything the AG says because they are independent, and therefore must be inherently credible. There are similar problems with this lack of critical engagement with the Parliamentary Budget Officer (and the current one has been a real problem around that, as he picks methodologies out of thin air), and again, his word is gospel. But they’re not infallible. The previous AG ballsed up the Senate audit really badly, and it was an absolute mess, but nobody wanted to talk about it because you can’t badmouth the Auditor General. It’s like a cardinal sin in this city. And departments should be allowed to have disagreements, because the AG isn’t going to get it right every time. That’s just a physical impossibility, and we should acknowledge that fact, but as we see, when it happens, it’s like heresy. People need to grow up, and media needs to be more critical of these Officers, because media is the only check they have.
For all of their flaws, the federal pandemic support programs were both outstanding and absolutely necessary: Drezner's World: Daniel Drezner has an interesting article about Back to Old School Blogging:
... three things killed the old blogosphere good and dead. The first was money. Big-time bloggers were willing to “take the Boeing” and work for more established media outlets. The second was Twitter, which (compared to blog updates and comments) was a far superior focal point for finding quick links, reactions, and responses to those reactions. The third thing was the advent of the smartphone — not just because of the dopamine hit, but because the vertical shape of the screen made normal-sized paragraphs look like tedious blocks of unindented text. This further encouraged tweet-length ideas over anything longer.
As it turns out, each of these trends has now been partially reversed. A lot of mainstream media outlets that had previously embraced blogs are now spurning them. I left the Washington Post because the Post didn’t want to renew my contract. WaPo’s more recent decisions suggest that this was part of a larger trend to focus on news and investigations at the expense of analysis or commentary. At the same time, the Substack phenomenon has enabled some to earn an income without the constraints of mainstream media editors.
As for Twitter, well, there’s no need to recap what is happening there since Elon Musk took ain’t good. The site has not completely crashed but it’s starting to get pretty buggy. An awful lot of the folks who made the site entertaining for me have taken their ball and gone to Mastodon or Post. I’m at those places too, but the proliferation of microblogging sites dilutes the focal point advantages of Twitter and makes old-style blogging a more viable enterprise.
Finally, Substack’s subscription-based distribution has also conquered the phone problem. Folks read blogs as newsletter emails straight to their phone. I know it seems like a trivial difference, but if folks read emails on their phone they’ll rad Substack posts in the same way. That makes it more accessible to general readers.
Phillips's Newsletter: Military analyst Phillips O'Brien now has a substack where he discusses the broader impact of Ukraine's attacks on Russian airfields - How one might judge the importance of a 'battle':’s a calculation between the cost of forces deployed versus cost of forces destroyed. An engagement therefore is only of value if the losses inflicted on the other side are worth the cost to inflict those losses. If its not, it’s a real problem.
That’s why the Bakhmut offensives for the Russians have struck me as very strange since June. There have been regular bloody attacks for months to seize a town/area of no strategic importance. Yet to take Bakhmut (so far unsuccessfully) the Russians have launched attacks for months and seem to have suffered significant losses. ...
Another thing I am generally skeptical about is seeing something as a ‘political’ success. Yes politics matters, but the taking of a small town, or indeed the launching of some drones on Engels airfield, are unlikely to make a significant difference to the political calculation of the war. Only something that would affect the political willingness of the two sides to keep fighting—or (and this really is important) the political willingness of outside powers such as the USA or China to aid either side to keep fighting, really matters. That kind of major political success/failure in war is rare. Its important when it happens, but too often small events are described as politically important when they are not.
Which brings me back to the attacks on the Russian airfields. Ultimately I think they are only important if they deprive Russia of the force needed to attack Ukraine (unlikely), if they divert Russian resources to now defend those airfields thus distorting the way the Russians fight in the future (maybe a small amount) or politically make a difference in how the Putin government prosecutes the war (doubtful)...
Finally, here's some other commentary on the day:

This is absolutely crystal clear to me: Alberta is rapidly becoming the laughingstock of Canada - keep Wexiting, guys: This comment is relevant too:

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