Fast & Curious: Short Takes on Random Things


As you may recall from Wednesday’s edition, CBRM CAO Marie Walsh assured me I’d be receiving, that very day, the “lion’s share” of the 890 documents I’ve been waiting for as a result of the NS Privacy Commissioner’s ruling on my 2015 FOIPOP request.

I received nothing on Wednesday.

I also received nothing on Thursday.

But this morning, just as I was starting to question Walsh’s understanding of the workings of the animal kingdom, I received (by courier) what appears to be 859 pages — that, plus the 14 already received brings us to 873.

Port docs released through FOIPOP

James Gogan, the outside counsel handling the file, writes:

We are presently reviewing a small number of remaining documents which will be released (either in whole or in part) on or before January 31, 2021. These documents relate to attachments to earlier released emails that have been recovered by the CBRM through a subsequent search.

So I know how I’ll be spending my weekend…


Campaign donations

Hand holding fanned out Canadian money.

I haven’t had time to do a deep dive into the campaign contribution disclosure statements that have been posted on the CBRM website (watch for Tom Ayers’ coverage today) but a couple of things jumped out at me from the mayor’s race.

First, Cecil Clarke’s losing campaign raised $91,750 while Amanda McDougall’s winning campaign raised $55,340 — meaning Clarke outraised McDougall by $36,410. In fact, Clarke’s fundraising was closer to that of Halifax Mayor Mike Savage ($104,635). I think it’s also safe to say Clarke’s campaign outspent McDougall’s but unlike Halifax, which requires candidates to provide a list of expenses as well as contributions, the CBRM requires only a list of contributions. Also of note: HRM requires candidates to report any surplus, which they can either donate to charity or hold onto for the next election.

Clarke’s single biggest donation — $10,000 — came from Cape Breton Eagles owner Irwin Simon. (Fun fact: this donation would not have been permitted in Halifax, which caps donations to mayoral candidates at $2,500.)

Clarke’s executive assistant Mark Bettens, one of the mayor’s two controversial “political” hires, donated $2,500 to his boss’s campaign.

I will have more for next week’s edition.


Netflix and swill

I canceled my Netflix subscription last week, which means I now have 17 days to watch anything I actually want to see (Pretend It’s a City, Martin Scorsese’s limited series about Fran Lebowitz and New York, is kind of worth it, although her jokes and observations have been worn awfully smooth through repetition. I guess that’s the danger of speaking for a living.)

I canceled because I realized I was more likely to spend an hour trying to find something to watch on Netflix than actually watching something on Netflix. (Which apparently is just fine by Netflix which counts a title as “watched” if you choose it and let it play for two minutes!)

Netflix logo

I’ve been trying to figure out why there’s so little I want to watch and it’s led me down a rabbit hole of podcasts and financial blogs where I’ve discovered that Netflix is just following the tech company playbook — namely, burn through piles of cash in an attempt to become a monopolist, at which point you can pay creators as little as possible while charging subscribers as much as possible.

Netflix is still in the “trying to become a monopolist” stage of its development and has hit a few snags. For one, companies with actual back catalogs of content have realized it’s more profitable to offer their own streaming services than to lease programs to Netflix (see: Disney Plus, HBO Max, NBC Peacock, CBS All Access) while competitors have sprung up offering a similar mix of existing shows and originals (Amazon Prime, Hulu).

So Netflix is borrowing billions of dollars and paying huge amounts to creators — like Scorsese and Shonda Rhimes (whose awful Bridgerton helped convince me to cancel) and Ryan Murphy and the Obamas and Harry and Meaghan — in an attempt to build its own library of original content and attract subscribers.

But, as financial analyst Kyle Guske explained in January 2019:

…Netflix’s subscriber growth has not generated enough revenue growth to cover the increase in content spending. Since 2011, revenue has increased by $12.6 billion, which is half the total increase in expenditures over the same time…The difference in revenue and expenditures means Netflix has burned through nearly $13 billion since 2011. For the Netflix business model to work, subscriber revenue growth has to cover the cost of increased expenditures. To date, the model is not working – not even close.

COVID helped, of course. In the first half of 2020, Netflix gained 25.9 million subscribers globally, according to The Motley Fool. It also raised subscription prices in the US. (The Motley Fool thinks Netflix has a “massive runway” and nothing to fear from the discovery of a COVID vaccine.)

But this is Netflix’s problem. My problem is that, at any given moment, there isn’t much I want to watch on Netflix. And much of its original content is just not very good. I’ve heard a grab bag of explanations for this: there isn’t that much good material out there waiting to be greenlighted; Netflix will greenlight a grocery list in its race to build a library; Netflix is gobbling up everything just to ensure no other studio or streaming service gets it; high-paid content producers — like Rhimes and Scorsese — have too much clout. Probably it’s all of the above and a few more factors I haven’t run across.

The fact remains, though, that much Netflix original content is unwatchable. And I’m not seeing a whole lot to change my mind in the list of movies the streaming service plans to release in 2021. Movies like Penguin Bloom (“When an accident leaves a young mother unable to walk, she and her family bond over taking care of a baby magpie chick they name Penguin.”) A Week Away (“Featuring original music and reimagined versions of contemporary Christian songs, this musical is set over the course of a pivotal summer for troubled teenage boy…When given the choice to attend a juvenile detention center or a Christian summer camp, he chooses the latter—and the story unfolds from there.”) The Starling (“After suffering a tragedy, Lilly…attempts to heal through gardening, and then becomes consumed with nest of violent starlings in her backyard.” What’s with all the birds?)

So I canceled Netflix and put the money into podcasts.

We’ll see how long I last.



Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang

Premier Stephen McNeil and Dr. Robert Strang, COVID update, 26 June 2020.

If you read that heading and are still reading this item, I applaud you — you have true grit.

I’ll keep this short: I’ve decided not to cover the provincial COVID-19 updates anymore, mostly because they tend to happen on Tuesdays which is a really bad day for me to take an hour to watch and a couple of hours to summarize a press conference. Also because the updates are well covered by other media. I’d add that I feel less of a sense of urgency around COVID now than I did when I began covering the updates but that seems like tempting fate — I know things could go sideways tomorrow.

If things change dramatically (and I really hope they don’t), I will revisit my decision.



Spokesperson Update

Still no word on who has been hired as the CBRM’s Information/Communications Officer.