Dispatch from the Front Lines: After a war on Christmas, the living will envy the dead.
Well, OK, so this whole year happened, right?
Merry Christmas, Line readers!
That's right. We went there.
The Line has been publishing for five months now. It has been an absolute pleasure and, to date, a tremendous success. We are working on a new transparency report for our paid subscribers, but suffice it to say, we are well ahead of our target for the end of 2020. If you are one of those who are directly supporting us, we cannot thank you enough.
But this just means that we’re motivated to keep right on going. So if you are not yet a paying subscriber, we cannot debase ourselves enough begging you to click subscribe and send us a few bucks. We know full well that building The Line into a fully sustainable stand-alone journalism outpost is going to be a long-term project. We've never had any illusions about that. But we are hoping to do a huge part of that heavy lifting in 2021. Help us start it off the next year on a good note. Subscribe today, or give a friend a gift subscription by smashing this button right here.
... and then don't get mad when we send you nothing, because gosh, do we need a vacation.
Remember, dear readers — we are running The Line on the side. It's a lot of work, and we are fried. The second wave of the pandemic is going to dominate our attention in the early part of 2021, as will the rolling out of various vaccines. There will be many stories to tell about COVID and the vaccines, and eventually, once the emergency passes and life (and our politics) return to normal, we expect to be very busy here as we all try to get sorted after this brutal period. We will be all over this when it happens.
But for right now, we are going to take a break. The death plague will still be here waiting for us all after all the presents are unwrapped. This dispatch will be the last for 2020. We will be off the next two weeks and then back in January. So, again, Line readers, merry Christmas and a happy new year to all of you. Thanks for being a bright spot for us in this strange hell year. And please, please be safe.
Speaking of hell years, the CBC had one in 2019. Though radio ratings remained strong, the CBC's English-language TV programming fell a whopping 25 per cent in 2019 (relative to the previous year). More damning, it now boasts less than four per cent of audience share. This sharp decline was against relatively stable numbers for private-sector TV broadcasters. This isn't Canadians cutting the cord. This is Canadians changing the channel.
We at The Line are not reflexive CBC haters. (Really!) Indeed, we have been paid to contribute on the CBC, and presumably will be again. (Ker-ching!) Further, we believe in something like the CBC. But with all respect to the many excellent journalists there — that's sincere! — it is getting harder and harder to defend this particular version of the CBC.
Rapidly changing economic and technological trends are demolishing the revenue base of traditional media. Some of the reaction to this is the emergence of small, lean, new private outlets — The Line very much included — which will live or die based on their ability to convince readers to fork over a few bucks a month. Some of the reaction will be consolidation and contraction or outright closure of the traditional legacy media orgs, which is already well underway; we are skeptical that many of them will survive the process, and fear that any that do will be hollowed out to the point of near uselessness (this is why we're here, after all).
But the CBC really has no excuse for spending big bucks on publishing a mass-market product that has no mass market. Canadians need journalism they can count on, but there are many ways to deliver that journalism, and the CBC obviously isn’t making much of the model it’s sticking with. There have been a variety of suggestions for how to redirect the CBC's funding into something that preserves the core spirit of the institution while delivering better results to Canadians. We've published some of them. The need for these reforms is real and obvious. What's the delay?
Haha, just kidding. We know what the delay is. The CBC is a cherished progressive institution, and preserving it or gutting it is now basically a partisan issue. Progs dare not touch it, and any time a Tory casts a skeptical eye in its direction, there’s howls of outrage from the usual suspects.
So things will keep on keepin' on for the foreseeable future. This will leave Canadians worse off, alas. But you know who it'll really hurt? The CBC. If it keeps declining like this, sooner or later, someone will just pull the plug, safe in knowing that there's no one left to notice. It’s not too late to save it. One day, it might be.
Also in the world of journalism, this one has left us scratching our heads. In 2018, the New York Times released a well-regarded podcast, Caliphate, which recounted one Canadian man's radicalization into becoming an ISIL terrorist. It was a good podcast! It won some awards and got a lot of great buzz. The problem is, the man ... didn't join ISIL. He just made it up. And this blew a hole in Caliphate's narrative. Their terrorist wasn't a terrorist.
There had been warnings before. Journalists had noted inconsistencies in what the wannabe-terrorist loser had told the Times and what he'd said elsewhere. But the Times stuck by their well-reviewed podcast until last year, when Canadian officials charged the dipshit (who we're obviously not naming because, frankly, fuck that guy) with making it all up. That forced the Times to investigate, and once they did, they found that they (and more importantly, their listeners) had been had.
This ... isn't good. The Times has reassigned their terrorism reporter, who hosted the podcast, and that's probably prudent. But this is not a failing by one reporter. This is an institutional failure, and the Times at least recognizes this. Executive editor Dean Baquet told NPR this week that "We fell in love with the fact that we had gotten a member of ISIS who would describe his life in the caliphate and would describe his crimes ... I think we were so in love with it that when we saw evidence that maybe he was a fabulist, when we saw evidence that he was making some of it up, we didn't listen hard enough."
This is a legit thing that happens. Trust us. There is a real danger in refusing to see the flaws in a story that you really want to tell. Sometimes you really want to tell it for genuinely good reasons, sometimes it’s honestly just vanity — all that good buzz can go to your head. We at The Line have struggled with this here already, and have erred on the side of caution. So we understand what happened at the Times.
We just don't quite understand how they let it happen.
It wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t spend just a little time poking at Canada’s International Man of Trollery. In case you were blissfully unaware, one of the Washington Post’s go-to Canada hands is fellow by the name of J.J. McCullough. And while we don’t always share the Twiterati’s reflexive dislike of the guy, this week he came up with a doozy.
“Unlike the United States, much of how Canadian democracy is ‘supposed to work’ isn’t constitutionally codified. This forms a troubling vacuum where a close election could easily spawn a legitimacy crisis just as ferocious as post-2020 America.
At the root is an indefensible fact: Canada’s constitution, and relevant legislation, do not outline basic facts on how or when a prime minister assumes or leaves office — allowing competing theories of precedent and propriety to fill the vacuum.”
Just … no, J.J.
The absence of a codified constitution is not the same thing as an absence of rules. The Westminster parliamentary system doesn’t run solely on gentlemen’s honour.
The party that holds power in a parliamentary system is the one that can maintain the confidence of parliament, as evidenced through a confidence vote — like a throne speech or a budget, or a simple confidence motion. A losing prime minister who abused procedural chicanery to eke out a few more weeks at the helm would rapidly find that this play generated lots of drama and not much else. He would have no power to pass laws or budgets.
Sooner or later the standing order that legally authorized the government to spend money during the election period would expire, forcing parliament to reconvene to either extend the order, or pass a budget.
If an incumbent prime minister lost a confidence motion put before the Commons and then tried to use any of his powers, he would likely face dismissal from the governor general — who would be entitled to refuse to act on the prime minister’s advice by historical precedent. If the opposition parties could not hammer out a new workable coalition, we’d have another election.
Also, contrary to J.J.’s implication, there’s nothing undemocratic or untoward about a coalition government helmed by a party that did not win the popular vote. That’s …literally the state of our government right now. Remember?
Despite many tales of possible constitutional crises that almost came to pass in immemorial political legend, our system is remarkably stable — built, as it has been, on a parliamentary system that has enjoyed stable transfers of power since fucking Cromwell.
Now, our system is as vulnerable as any other stable democracy to outright political cheating — ballot box stuffing, or military coup (ie; Not very!). And considering that would require the Liberals to actually allocate funding to the military on something shorter than a 40-year procurement timeframe, we at The Line have our doubts about Justin Trudeau’s ability to play that long a game.
The Line’s first merchandise run has been a success, and for this we remain grateful to our readers. Here’s a mug happily arrived and holding court in an empty office. Thank you all, again.
In a refreshing Flipping The Line, Lindsay Amantea has had enough of Jen Gerson's doomy prognostications. "Even if we are sitting in our houses, we don’t have to sit idly by while the world happens around us. There are actions we can take to shore up ourselves, our families, and our communities. The physical and emotional damage that this disease and the associated restrictions are causing to people and businesses alike can be mitigated," she writes. Amantea goes on to offer several practical suggestions for those who have been laid low by COVID-19. She then goes on to, rightly, chastise Gerson for failing to bake her some damn cookies.
Are psychadelics the next frontier? Well, we already know that the answer to that is a groovy: "yes." But industry insider Nicholas Kadysh warns that the psychedelic umbrella is awfully wide. Expect magic mushrooms to get an easier ride than, say, MDMA. And also don't hold your breath for trippy dispensaries similar to what cannabis connoisseurs now enjoy. Those pushing for psychedelics legalization will probably be successful — but they will only be available in controlled clinical settings.
On Thursday, Maziar Ghaderi offered a compelling quasi-defence of Toronto Star editor Evy Kwong, who undoubtedly drew backlash after portraying a local eatery as problematic for selling Pho and "sexualizing" hot sauce. Ghaderi could relate: "A younger, more insecure version of myself can relate to this feeling. I learned to formulate my own vindictive version of a protective, anti-white ethnocentrism as a way of coping with anti-brown/anti-Middle Eastern racism. After living abroad, learning new languages and, quite frankly, maturing, I began to shed the baby teeth of petty “punching up” racism and replaced it with a hard-earned self-actualization that made me more resilient to negative emotion.
CORRECTION NOTICE: The essay initially misspelled Kwong's name. We've updated the piece with the correct spelling. The Line regrets the error, but enjoys Pho. So we guess this one comes out a wash.
Lastly, Line columnist Jen Gerson attempts to be aggressively reasonable in her analysis of C-6, a law to criminalize coerced conversion therapy. "The niggling concern I do have with C-6 is that it collapses several very different things into the rubric of 'conversion therapy.' ... Sexual orientation and gender identity are not the same thing. The evidence gathered about ‘conversion therapy’ as it relates to sexual orientation can’t be retroactively applied to legitimate queries of gender identity." RIP your mentions, girl.
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Hey Jen and company - love the newsletter, very unique happy to subscribe. Wishing you a relaxing Christmas - come back batteries fully charged
I read JJ's column. Your portrayal of his core message is incorrect. But I get your core message too.