Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

Bad bidness

Mike Myers as Dr. Evil

Someone clearly thinks I am more of an evil genius than I have ever claimed to be.

Remember the business owner who accused me of breaking into their office and stealing their credit card? The one I chose not to name?

Well, the story has taken an even stranger twist: I have now been accused of fabricating the whole thing to make business owners in general look bad.

As a friend said, “That’s meta.”

This theory was expressed to me in a three-page, typewritten, anonymous letter mailed from the East Bay Post Office a couple of weeks ago.

The writer chastised me for “attacking” my “betters” and went on at some length about my generally negative attitude toward business owners before congratulating me for starting a business before telling me how pleased he was to hear it wasn’t doing very well.

His main grievance was that I am insufficiently critical of New Dawn, which is apparently “subsidizing” my (failing, according to his sources) publication. New Dawn is not subsidizing my publication, but I will admit to being a fan of the arts center in the old convent. I like seeing artists supported and historic buildings saved. I will take the writer’s warning to heart, though, and try to be clear-eyed in my reporting on New Dawn, as on all other issues and entities.

I’m referring to the writer as “he” because, by the oddest coincidence, I FIGURED OUT WHO HE WAS! Yes, I Nancy Drew-ed it. I happened to have a conversation with someone who had also been on the receiving end of one of his missives, only he’d signed hers, and as she was describing the contents the penny dropped.

If this journalism thing goes south I may have a career ahead of me as a private eye.


Stephen Harper

In February 2018 in Madrid, former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was elected chairman of the International Democratic Union (IDU). I must confess, I knew next to nothing about the IDU but a quick visit to the organization’s web site remedied that:

The IDU connects freedom, people, it CONNECTS FREEDOM. (All I can think of is Absolutely Fabulous‘ Eddie Monsoon explaining what she did as a PR person: “I PR things, places, concepts…I PR darling!”)

Elsewhere the website explains that the group was founded in 1983 by British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, US Vice-President George Bush Sr, Paris Mayor and later President of France Jacques Chirac, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl and “other party leaders” to provide:

…a forum in which Parties holding similar beliefs can come together and exchange views on matters of policy and organisational interest, so that they can learn from each other, act together, establish contacts and speak with one strong voice to promote democracy and centre-right policies around the globe.”

I searched the New York Times archives for mentions of the IDU and they are strikingly few in number, although I did find a 27 July 1985 article about the organization’s second annual meeting in Washington. The reporter quotes Richard V. Allen, a former national security adviser to Ronald Reagan, as saying:

To be a member of the I.D.U, Mr Allen said, a party must qualify as “mainstream” conservative. “We are liberals with a small ‘l’, the classical liberals, the real liberals, not the so-called liberals of today,” he said. “It would be slander to call us right wing.”

Fast forward 33 years and you find Harper, in his role as IDU chair, congratulating the leader of a decidedly right-wing party on his election win:

Harper’s assistant told John Geddes of Maclean’s — who had criticized the tweet — that it was simply one of Harper’s duties as IDU chair to congratulate members on their victories. To me, though, the fact that Fidesz is considered a “mainstream” or even “centre-right” conservative party by the IDU is an issue.

And it gets even stranger: later in 2018, Harper published a book, Right Here Right Now: Politics and Leadership in the Age of Disruption, that is ostensibly about what conservatives should do to prevent populists like Orbán coming to power.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (second from right) met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for a tour of his anti-migrant fence on Hungary's border. Photo: Hungarian government press office.

Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini (second from right) met Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban for a tour of his anti-migrant fence on Hungary’s border. Photo: Hungarian government press office.

I haven’t read Harper’s book (although I’m tempted by the audio version, which he reads himself), but I read Paul Wells’ review and Geddes’ review and an excerpt published in the National Post and watched an hour-long interview he gave in November 2018 (about which, more in a moment) and I feel like I get the gist of it — his premise is that to avoid losing voters to the “populist” right, conservatives must:

…build an agenda that, while based on our enduring values, is focused on the issues that working people and their families are facing today. It must especially address populist concerns about market economics, trade, globalization, and immigration.

As Canada’s prime minister, you may recall, Harper’s method of addressing “populist concerns” about immigration was to establish an RCMP tip line for Canadians wishing to report “Barbaric Cultural Practices Against Women and Girls.” Viktor Orbán addressed such concerns by building a razor-wire fence and installing water cannons at his borders. And in the interview I mentioned earlier, which was with the American libertarian pundit Ben Shapiro, Harper pointed to Donald Trump (who cages immigrant children) and Nigel Farage (who was railing against “mass immigration” when Maxime Bernier was nothing but a lowly minister of state in Harper’s cabinet) as “people fundamentally trying to fix what they see ailing democratic capitalist societies.”

The Shapiro interview is a trip. The host’s views are so rigid (he’s said he considers universal healthcare to be a form of tyranny) that Harper, who has actually run a government, has to explain things like, “everybody can’t build their lives from scratch,” people face “real challenges” and they must rely on “family, community and sometimes government” to get by.

Best of all, Shapiro has to interrupt their conversation periodically to turn to the camera and read advertising copy from his sponsors. I was listening to the interview without watching most of it, so the effect was really startling:

SHAPIRO: So, I remember, during the 2016 [US] election…President Trump talked about populism, he wasn’t super clear about what he meant by that and so this created a serious rift between sort of the conservative side of the Republican Party and the populist side. I want to talk about that and whether that is America-specific or whether you think that that is breaking out in other places too. First, we have to talk about that face of yours, I mean, c’mon, the saggy jawline…

It turned out to be an ad for “Genucel” jawline treatment (Text ‘CHIN” to 77453), not a mean-spirited attack on our former PM’s appearance. It’s probably my favorite moment in the whole interview.

The bottom line is the same one I landed on in my post-election musings: flirting with the kind of forces Shapiro and Orbán and Trump and Farage represent is dangerous. I hope our former PM knows what he’s doing.



There’s an interesting article in The Independent questioning whether “targeting the NL oil industry” is the “most effective way to fight climate change.”

The writer, Tom Baird, a Memorial University math professor, crunches the numbers (as math professors will) and suggests scaling back the Newfoundland oil industry is not necessarily the best first step in combating climate change. Baird’s argument (which you should read) is based on the assumption that if production is reduced in Newfoundland, roughly 65% of it will simply move somewhere else. And if that somewhere else is the Alberta tar sands (Baird’s term, and he starts the article noting that he’d attended the September 27th climate strike march in St. John’s), the oil produced will be dirtier.

Baird says climate action at the provincial level is best based on reducing local consumption by pushing to “electrify everything.”

He doesn’t link this to Muskrat Falls and the possibility of turning a boondoggle into a boon, but I have been thinking for years that electrifying everything makes sense for the entire Atlantic region.

Baird linked to an interesting Vox story about the latest in electrification technology that I want to say will shock you because that would be such a great way to end this item but I don’t actually think you’ll find it shocking and, sadly, I can’t think of another applicable electricity reference to make, so I’m just going to trail off…


Bob’s Red Mill

Bob Moore

Bob Moore, founder of Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods, photographed for Whole Foods Market Wednesday 10/31/12. © 2012 Fred Joe /

A friend pointed me to this excellent episode of the NPR podcast How I Built This (which I keep calling by the far less catchy How Did You Build That?) about Bob Moore — the Bob of Bob’s Red Mill cereals and grains.

The synopsis of the episode is as follows:

In the 1960s, Bob Moore read a book about an old grain mill and was inspired to start his own.

Using giant quartz stones from the 19th century, he ground and packaged dozens of different cereals and flours, quickly positioning his company at the forefront of the health food boom.

Despite a devastating fire in the 1980s, Bob’s Red Mill grew into a $100 million business – and although Bob is nearly 90, he goes to work at the mill every day.

The whole story is fascinating and I don’t want to give anything away (other than the parts about the fire and the 19th century quartz stones and the growth into a $100 million business) but I do want to say that what most impressed me about Moore is that, on his 81st birthday, he introduced an employee stock ownership plan that gave ownership of the company to his workers. (His biography is called, People before Profit.)

Do I have to underline that this is me being enthusiastic about a business owner?

Fine then, I will:

This is me being enthusiastic about a business owner.


Last election item

This is just cool: