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‘Religion is a tremendously powerful social technology’: The best comments from Hub readers this week

Commentary

This past week, Hub readers had dynamic discussions on the carbon tax, rising antisemitism in Canada, Doug Ford’s Ontario budget, and why Holy Week also matters for the non-religious.

The goal of Hub Forum is to bring the impressive knowledge and experience of The Hub community to the fore and to foster open dialogue and the competition of differing ideas in a respectful and productive manner. Here are some of the most interesting comments from this past week.

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Don’t bet on low interest rates returning anytime soon

Monday, March 25, 2024

“If there was a model, let alone a simplistic one, that predicted the future of interest rates accurately, it would currently be at the heart of somebody’s endless money-making machine. Economists who make their predictions publicly certainly don’t have it. Investors make their bets on it using a risk-based analysis, but they invariably win and lose.

Our global economy is an incredibly complex system, perhaps more so than climate given that human behaviour, rational and irrational, across billions is a core contributing factor. This incredibly complex system responds in real-time to new, good or bad, information (events, actions, speculations, aggregate emotions), making anything but short-term predictions a crap shoot. Even if there were a reasonable accurate model, the system would likely adjust organically to make it inaccurate.”

— Paul Attics

“One hopes the Central Bankers will have learned enough to avoid making that mistake again. Reasonable interest rates are essential to help guide productive investment and sensible behavior.”

— Greg

The carbon tax was never worth the cost

Tuesday, March 26, 2024

“However the economic costs work out on paper, it’s hard to imagine that people in the future (and maybe even today’s young people) are going to be happy to be left with 3.5 degrees warming in exchange for growth and current consumption. (This is even leaving aside the fact that the global differences in impacts are likely to be a huge source of instability.)”

— Valerie

“I would comment on the point late in the article about possibly ‘implementing border adjustments that tax the imports” from countries with lower carbon taxes. The author fails to note, that if we do that, those countries will most likely increase duties on imports from Canada, and it will hurt Canadian manufacturers while doing little if anything to ‘help the environment.'”

— Dave

Justin Trudeau speaks during a news conference announcing the construction of an electric vehicle battery production plant by Volkswagen Group’s battery company PowerCo SE in St. Thomas, Ontario Friday, April 21, 2023. Tara Walton/The Canadian Press.

“The essential idea behind the carbon tax was that prices can influence behaviour. Obviously, this can work if the price accurately includes all emissions and if there is a cheaper alternative. If we look at home heating for most Canadians, electricity is much more expensive than natural gas. The carbon tax is not influencing the buying behaviour of richer Canadians who can afford it, while poorer people get colder because they have to dial back the heat.

Looking at EVs, which are heavily subsidized, the carbon footprint for their batteries and metals is not included in their prices. Similar to solar panels, all are part of a magical conception. Again, the rich are okay—the poor not so much. If our governments focused on making truly low carbon products cheaper rather than making existing products more expensive, maybe Canadians would be a bit happier.”

— Greg

“The tax, indeed the whole suite of policies, has been designed and implemented very poorly and, in the absence of a global carbon price, Canada is only inflicting economic harm on itself. History shows us that rich nations can afford strict environmental regulations and enjoy cleaner environments. We are slipping economically and are fast losing our rich nation status. Let’s make wealth creation our priority and saving the planet a secondary, or even tertiary, objective.”

— Colin Wright

Empty words are not enough to combat antisemitism

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

“A solution, which will require a combined and concerted effort by those tacitly approving (or ignoring) antisemitism in their organizations and society broadly, is to publicly, plainly, and repeatedly denounce antisemitism and those individuals and groups who practice and encourage antisemitism. This perhaps needs to be labelled a whole-of-Canada action.”

— Ian MacRae

Doug Ford’s disastrous budget

Thursday, March 28, 2024

“Premier Ford’s ongoing poor performance should not be a surprise at this point.”

— Paul Attics

“Sadly, Boomers (including myself) are more consistent voters than younger Canadians. Therefore Doug will continue to favour us oldsters with budget goodies. Collectively Ontarians need to agree 1) we need to pay higher taxes if we want all the stuff we get from the province or, 2) we decide what we can do without. We’re all adults, we need to be honest with ourselves.”

— Ian MacRae

“It’s certainly unfair to young people (and other renters) to be solely responsible for making environmental sacrifices that existing homeowners were not expected to.”

— Valerie

Holy Week matters for non-religious people too

Friday, March 29, 2024

“Religion is a tremendously powerful social technology that has continued to evolve since its inception. Across human history post-religion, the details (rituals, costumes, god-like figures, stories, rules, dogma, answers) are irrelevant as they change as religions come and go, fading out, splitting, and changing over time. As a technology, it can be used for good or bad. The important and good part of religion is the cohesive force for defining and leading moral lives for individuals, families, and whole societies. It continues to do this today.”

— Paul Attics

Malcolm Jolley: La Bourgogne earns its reputation

Commentary

Last week I visited the Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in Burgundy, France. By which I mean I drove by the buildings in which the winery is housed, catching a glimpse of what was inside the gates. From that flash observance, we continued out of the village of Vosne-Romanée to the stone cross at a T-junction of a single track road, going up the ridge, that marks the approximate centre of the nine Grands Crus Clos, or walled vineyards, from which the Domaine makes wine. These include Romanée-Conti itself, and the equally famous Richebourg and La Tâche.

The visit was a wino pilgrimage and produced something like the Jerusalem syndrome, wherein an otherwise (more or less) sane oenophile begins to believe he has glimpsed at the holy and sacred and will never swill a stemware quite the same again. Looking at plants had never seemed so profound.

The pilgrimage to the DRC terroir was a half pit stop in a very busy itinerary that made up my trip to participate in and cover Les Grands Jours de Bourgogne. I travelled as a guest of the Bureau Interprofessional des Vins de Bourgogne, which markets and promotes the wines of the region on behalf of its winemaking members. Les Grands Jours is a biennial celebration of Bourgogne wines, including intensive tastings, by appellation, of what’s coming to market. This year it meant tasting a lot of 2022 vintage wines, as well as some 2021 and 2020, but there were always opportunities to taste older vintages here and there.

Back on the clay and limestone-y ground, once I had regained composure, sense prevailed. From the roadside of the low stone walls that enclose the various vineyards from which Grand Cru is made, I saw to the north the Clos Vougeot and its neighbouring castle, and to the south Nuits-St-Georges, all running along a continuous ridge of about 300 meters above sea level. These lieu-dits, these places, are variations on a theme in la Bourgogne (the name in French the Bourguignons fiercely insist English speakers use instead of the more familiar BurgundyTouchiness among the Bourguignons about what English speakers call this famous French wine region has been a thing for at least the 20 years that I have been professionally writing about wine. I am not entirely clear why precisely, though I was told on this last trip it may have a lot to do with the fact that the French word for the colour Burgundy is “Bordeaux.” As the recipient of limitless hospitality from the vignerons of la Bourgogne, I will honour their wish and keep it en français.), where the “côtes” refer to the sides of the ridge and its contiguous hills that slope eastwardly.

The man who drove me and two colleagues from Quebec past the gates of DRC was Bourgogne expert and guide Nicolas Tacquard. From another vantage point towards the top of the hill, he explained the history of the vineyards of la Bourgogne in a quick summary while we looked at the patchwork or mosaic of different plots stretching around us. In the Middle Ages, when the landed aristocracy in the Duchy of Burgundy wanted a blessing to do something, like go on a crusade, they might donate some land to the local abbey in exchange for the benediction. They inevitably gave the monks this hillside land, stony and steep and unsuitable for important crops like wheat, but good for growing vines, which the monks needed for sacramental wine, anyway.

With the French Revolution came anti-clericalism and the church lands were seized and sold at auction to a new kind of person who had the right to own land called a citizen. As the Republic transformed into Napoleon’s Imperium, the newly codified laws of land inheritance were changed from a system of strict primogeniture, where the eldest son got everything (while his younger brothers went to the military or priesthood), to a mandatory equal division between all male heirs. Within a few generations the vineyards were divided into small holdings so that by today there are something like 4,000 mostly family growers and producers in la Bourgogne. There are also larger landholders and negociants and cooperatives who buy and consolidate grapes from the small holders.

Apart from ownership, throughout la Bourgogne, the land itself is divided into classifications, which refer to the quality, or at least potential, of particular plots. In descending order of importance, they are Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Villages, and Regional. Though not always, the top-tier plots tend to be in the middle of the slopes, where one might find a Goldilocks mix of limestone and clay soils. Further up and the land becomes too stony; further down and it’s not stony enough, since the lighter soils migrate downwards with gravity.

Counterintuitively, the large number of small producers spread around many small spots results in a relative uniformity in winemaking styles. Given the demand for the wines of la Bourgogne and the prices they fetch, this may simply be a case of not wanting to deviate much from the tried and true. It carries for both the red wines, made with Pinot Noir, and the whites, made predominately with Chardonnay but sometimes with la Bourgogne’s lesser-known white grape Aligoté (or, in one small appellation only, Saint-Bris, Sauvignon Blanc).

Vineyards outside of the village of Vosne-Romanée in la Bourgogne, France. Credit: Malcolm Jolley.

Typically, Grand and Premier Cru wines will see some new oak and are accordingly built to age. The Villages will see old, large-format oak or other neutral elevations, and the regional (i.e. plain old Vin de Bourgogne) will generally be made simply and ready to go. Variance, as it comes between different wines, even or especially from the same village area, is expressed by differences inherent to the character of the specific place where the grapes to make the wine were grown. These sites are also sometimes called climats, a nod to the importance of the effects of temperature and sun exposure on the maturing of the fruit.

I spent six days in la Bourgogne and tasted hundreds of wines including the traditional method sparkling Crémant de Bourgogne. I began in Auxerres and Chablis which is the northwest pocket of Bourguignon wine appellations around the Yonne River, a tributary of the Seine. Then, based out Beaune, which is more or less between Dijon and Lyon, tasted through from Gevrey through the Côtes and Corton, southwards toward Mercurey, Santenay, and the Macônnais. I will get into greater detail on the wines and some of the people who make them in future posts.

Through the hundreds of wines, at formal tastings, large and small meals, and even a picnic, I don’t remember a single one I didn’t like or questioned the quality of the viticulture or winemaking. The 2022s were a bit chewy and difficult since they are years away from being in their drinking window. Some of them hadn’t even been bottled yet, and others had been just bottled a few weeks before. Still, there was always the presence of fruit and hints of elegance to come. Bourgogne holds its reputation—and the prices that come with it—for good reason. Enjoy them, if you have them.