Top New York Times Commenter Enjoys His 15 Minutes of Fame

Bob from Calgary is actually Robert from Edmonton.

University of Alberta professor Robert Summers kicked off 2016 in most unexpected fashion: by authoring an op-ed in Toronto’s Globe and Mail that explains what he meant by his reader comment. His Sept. 10, 2010 contribution to a Paul Krugman article was recently ranked as the paper’s most popular reader comment of all-time.

From the Summers op-ed:

I’m surprised that the comment was so popular, and a bit embarrassed that I hadn’t taken better care to write it more eloquently and accurately. I admit to a little bit of unbridled Canadian patriotism, and to not fully reflecting the many challenges we face in this country.

With that said, I still hold true to the underlying intent of the comment, which is that a great many individuals in both Canada and the United States are happy to pay taxes in order to ensure an equitable and well-run society. It’s a simple reiteration of the 1904 quote by the American Oliver Wendell Holmes: “Taxes are the price we pay for a civilized society.”

A funny sideline element of this story North of the border is that although Summers signed in from (he thinks) a Calgary hotel to post the 2010 comment, he is actually from cross-province rival city Edmonton. That’s been big chuckle-news in Canada, finally gaining some attention this weekend from Edmonton Journal columnist Dan Barnes:

After the Times called Summers two months ago to let him know about the impact of the comment, Summers had taken steps to properly identify himself as an Edmontonian.

He was born here; he launched the university’s urban planning program and works in the department of earth and atmospheric sciences; and is a lifelong Oilers fan. So being “Bob from Calgary” was a bit odd for him.

“I love Calgary, but I hate it in the fan sense. I hate the Calgary Flames. I actually respect them, but I have to hate them. It’s my job as an Edmontonian.”

In the Journal interview, Summers also explains why he provided the Times with what he calls “a little clearer restatement” of his original comment.