Albert and the Lion

There’s a famous seaside place called Blackpool,
That’s noted for fresh-air and fun,
And Mr and Mrs Ramsbottom
Went there with young Albert, their son.

A grand little lad was their Albert
All dressed in his best; quite a swell
‘E’d a stick with an ‘orse’s ‘ead ‘andle
The finest that Woolworth’s could sell.

Albert 'Arold and Others
So begins the poem, The Lion and Albert, written by Marriott Edgar. I first read it in the book pictured on the right: a book that accompanied a collection of 78 rpm records in which Stanley Holloway read the poems (click to see a larger image).

I was perhaps nine or ten years old when I first found them in the family collection of 78s, along with the book of 12 poems and their drawings. We had an old, hand-cranked 78 record player in the basement and I used to go there and crank it up and listen to the scratchy old records. I loved them.

I loved the process of having to wind it, to set the heavy head on the platter and release the catch to get it spinning. I recall we also had an electric one – trec chic – in the basement where it had been exiled to, along with other odds and sods from my grandparents, like an old tube radio that was almost as tall as I was and had a half-dozen knobs on the front. In those days, I could still walk to the corner store and buy replacement tubes for it with my weekly allowance

Holloway at that time wasn’t known to me from any other performance. He wouldn’t appear in the film My Fair Lady until 1964. But I delighted in his voice and from him I learned a bit about British vaudeville, burlesque and even about the era of the Pearly Kings and Queens.

I used to parade around in my basement, swaggering, shouting out the words of the poems and monologues that I soon memorized. “With ‘er ‘ead tucked underneath ‘er arm…” about Anne Boleyn was one of my favourites. “Sam, Sam, pick oop tha musket Sam…” was another.

That was then. Somehow, over the years, I lost track of the book, forgot the sounds and the words. We moved from the house to a smaller apartment in 1962, and the old 78s and its player vanished, probably tossed away or given to neighbours. As I reached my teenhood, other fancies and interests took hold. I didn’t even think about them until many decades later.

When my parents died, I ended up with some of their belongings. Among them was a thin, battered, old book: the “libretto” for those Stanley Holloway records. A book I had read and reread many times in my childhood. Taped and retaped, it has been in someone’s closet or drawer probably every since I last looked at it. It’s the same one you see here, in the scan of the cover. It was published in the 1930s and was my father’s. He brought it to Canada, likely when he emigrated from England, in 1949. It’s one of the few things I have left of him.
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As Elvis leaves the building, so do we all

Day of the Dead ElvisNo one gets out of here alive. We all die. And with us go into the dustbin the dreams, the values, the ideals, the culture we grew up with, we shared, we ensconced in our daily existence. And the clutter we accumulated during our lives.

Elvis has left the building and, sooner or later, so shall we all. And as we do, the value of our own material legacy will diminish with each day.

A recent story in The Guardian tells of how once-treasured Elvis memorabilia is falling in value, as collectors age and die off, leaving a younger generation to sell it off at bargain rates. A younger generation not imbued with the Elvis worship of their parents or grandparents, not prone to spending income on his waning memorabilia. They want none of this: taking on Elvis is cultural appropriation.

I imagine a grey-haired, Beatles-besotted relative chortling with some internal “I told you so” glee as he or she puts the late collector’s Elvis collection onto eBay. But their time will come, too.

It’s a very Buddhist lesson on why we should not become attached to material things. Despite our passion for them, despite our sense of connection between them and the stages in our lives, as in the George Harrison song, all things must pass. Even Elvis is transient.

The Beatles’ generation, coming so quickly on his heels, scoffed at Elvis, much the same way The Clash generation scoffed at the Beatles, the same way the Beyoncé generation scoffs at The Clash. Pick a pop movement, a fashion, a theme, a style, a fan base: from its lofty temporal perch someone looked down on someone else’s movement. It was ever thus; even Shakespeare fell from grace after he died. Tastes change, new generations come to maturity and power, new technology and new politics come into play, changing the conversation. Today’s pop culture fades into tomorrow’s nostalgia, takes on a patina of kitsch even while we fondly recall it.

I remember a set of plastic figurines of the Fab Foursome made for sticking into a birthday cake beside the candles. They originally sold for a dollar. Then as the Foursome’s star rose, they sold for dozens of dollars. When they ascended into musical mythology and eBay arrived, it was hundreds. Yet they too will join Elvis memorabilia in yard sales, as those of us who lived then pass away. Already children ask, “Paul who? John who?”

Who will pay more than pocket change for a souvenir of Al Bowlly these days? Who has collectible nostalgia for Rudy Vallee? Ruth Etting? Paul Whiteman? Guy Lombardo? Bing who?
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Sadly, it’s business as usual

Missed targets
I suppose you expect I am disappointed that not a single one of The Block had the spine, the moral compass, the ethical guts to resign after killing the hospital redevelopment. After all, I called on them all – plus the interim CAO – to resign immediately. Not doing so, I said, would prove everything I ever said about them. They didn’t budge.

Well, my compensation is that I get to say “I told you so.” Again. I suspect I will repeat those words several more times this term.

People only disappoint you when they don’t live up to your expectations. My expectations for this group are low. Abysmal, really, based on the reality of their performance to date. They constantly strive to reach mediocrity, but consistently fail to achieve it. If you expected from them secrecy, conniving, backroom deals, conflict of interest, inflexible ideology and rigid self-interest, then I suppose your expectations have been met.

I didn’t really expect any of them to actually resign. To resign would take courage, commitment and a deeply held caring for the community. Attributes that are most notable in their absence among this group. They would have to take responsibility for their own acts instead of blaming others. I hardly expected them to start doing something so antithetical to their natures now. Hyenas can’t change their spots, can they?

It’s not as if they and they alone killed my faith in humanity. After all, they are not the first politicians to be unethical, and more concerned about feathering their own nests than about the community. Nor will they be the last. There have been other politicians before them who lied to their constituents, who put personal agendas over the greater good, who used their office to conduct vendettas and who handed out sole-source government contracts to friends and family. There have been politicians before them with closed minds who refused to consider other viewpoints or to learn anything. This group won’t be the last of them, either.

Failing to resign, it will be business as usual for them, continuing to lurch and fumble and stumble their way along, tearing down as much of our town as they can along the way.
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The Block killed the hospital. They MUST all resign. Now.

The actions of The Block and the town’s administration have resulted in the Collingwood General & Marine Hospital losing its chance for redevelopment. The province didn’t include funding for the local proposal in its budget. The next opportunity for such funding will be at least a decade away, if one ever comes along.

If any of these people have even a shred of decency, of honour, they will all resign immediately. If any of these people felt even a twinge of shame for misleading the community while they pursued their own personal – and very destructive – agendas, they would resign.

There is a flaccid story about this appalling situation in the Collingwood Connection. In it, the hospital CEO blames the failure on a “lack of alignment” between the town and the hospital board. That’s his polite way of saying – as was made abundantly clear at two public meetings – the Block and the administration continued to put up roadblocks and red tape to prevent the hospital from moving to its preferred site.

Why wasn’t the mayor asked to comment in the newspaper article? She speaks for the town, not the interim CAO. Just more yellow journalism.

And as expected our interim CAO didn’t take responsibility, but expressed “surprise” that the hospital’s CEO would suggest the two were not aligned. No one who watched or attended either of those council meetings where the hospital board was confronted, grilled like felons, shown great disrespect would be “surprised” at this claim of non-alignment. Their only surprise might be at the cautious, reserved language the CEO used in describing this debacle.

They, and they alone, killed the dream.

And right after he received the news, the hospital CEO quit his job. Coincidence? After The Block killed his dream project? I don’t think so either.
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‘Senator’ Jeffrey gets more money again

Greedy piggyThe Block once again rewarded one of their own by granting Councillor ‘Senator’ Jeffrey an unlimited expense account to wine, dine and party across Canada on the taxpayer’s dollar.

The Connection story is headlined, “Collingwood councillor seeks Federation of Canadian Municipalities seat. That – like so many other Connection headlines – is incorrect. She has held the seat for the last two-and-a-half years, paid for by you, the taxpayer. This is just to extend her entitlement, a blank cheque without the messiness of accountability.

The Block think that your tax dollars should be shovelled into that maw, with no restrictions, no reporting and no accountability to go along with an unlimited expense account. These people just hate the whole concept of accountability that much.

The Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM) holds its conferences and meetings all over the country. Jeffrey gets to fly to them, to stay in posh hotels, to eat and drink as she pleases, without once having to show that this in any way benefits Collingwood. Yet there is Councillor Doherty quoted in the paper defending her friend’s excesses:

Coun. Deb Doherty said the town gets great value and Jeffery’s position keeps Collingwood connected at the federal level.

Such great value that when Councillor Lloyd asked to defer the motion while staff prepare a cost-benefit analysis to show what value it had, The Block shut him down. They trembled at the very thought of exposing their friend. They don’t want the truth to come out – that taxpayers are funding Jeffrey’s personal political ambitions with absolutely no benefit to anyone else here.

Such great value that Doherty couldn’t name a single one in public, even though she has attended FCM conferences to support her buddy’s schmoozing for votes. The result of which was a stand-up-comedy-routine report to council, but no concrete evidence of benefit to the town.
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The DM’s height of hypocrisy

There’s a story in this week’s Connection with the misleading headline, “Town asks hospital for public meeting”. The online version has it as “Collingwood asks hospital for public meeting.” Neither is correct. The “town” wants nothing of the sort. The mayor – who speaks for the town – has never expressed that on behalf of council. Actually, she voted against the request. But the real headline is buried in the opening: “Collingwood’s deputy mayor wants council and the hospital to put out a united front on the redevelopment plan.”

Well, it’s clear to see why the Connection is being called “Saunderson’s campaign headquarters” these days, don’t we? Saunderson does not speak for the town or for council and the paper should know that.

This is the same deputy mayor who was disrespectful, adversarial and confrontational towards the hospital on March 2 at a public meeting. Now he wants to be buddies. Not going to happen.

And at the next public meeting a few weeks later, the interim CAO was even more adversarial and confrontational. But it seems Brian has conveniently forgotten those meetings or the public’s reaction.

This is the height of hypocrisy: pretending that they want to make kissy face with the very people they showed such open dislike and disdain for. The only “united front” he wants is for the hospital board to bend to his will, and stay where it is.
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Collingwood deserves answers

The Most Secretive Council Ever
The Most Secretive Council Ever has never told the public why it has been so intent on damaging this community. We have never had an explanation why they are so inflexible, so hostile to other ideas, so adversarial to opinions other than their own. We have never been told why they are so focused on their own entitlement and give no thought for or support to the residents and taxpayers in Collingwood.

We have been kept in the dark about their motives and goals while The Block continues its destructive rampage against community institutions through these past two and a half years.

So much hatred, so much anger, so much selfishness, so much secrecy and deviousness in one council. This lowering of standards is unprecedented. But the electorate deserves to know why they were betrayed by the people they voted for, deserves to know why so many campaign promises were broken, why personal agendas and vendettas take precedence over the greater good.

We should and be told in public, not have The Block scurry behind closed doors as it always does when anything important or controversial is raised. And you know the local media will NEVER ask them why, or ask the tough questions about their motives.

So here is my list of things we want to know. I’m sure it’s not complete and you, dear reader, could add more to it.

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Three, six, seven, nine… how many basic plots?

Seven plots?When I was in school, back in the last century, I was taught there were three basic plots in which every story ever written could be classified: Man-vs-man, man-vs-nature and man-vs-himself. That was in the days when it wasn’t politically incorrect to use the word man to mean everyone. Today we’d say it differently, use other pronouns, but the meaning is the same.

Three is a bit simplistic, sure. The list has been expanded on by authors, academics and critics ever since. And by robots, too. Last summer, a story in The Atlantic told of university researchers who used software to parse through 2,000 works of literature to determine there six basic plots:

  1. Rags to Riches (rise)
  2. Riches to Rags (fall)
  3. Man in a Hole (fall then rise)
  4. Icarus (rise then fall)
  5. Cinderella (rise then fall then rise)
  6. Oedipus (fall then rise then fall)

Which is one less than Christopher Booker lists in his lengthy 2004 book,The Seven Basic Plots:

  1. Overcoming the Monster
  2. Rags to Riches
  3. The Quest
  4. Voyage and Return
  5. Comedy
  6. Tragedy
  7. Rebirth

Around the end of his book, Booker actually lists two more plots which are, historically speaking, not as common (by his assessment, they are late additions to our literary canon, although I think that could be argued against), so he discounts them as less important:

  1. Rebellion Against ‘The One
  2. Mystery

Both genres are popular today and should not be overlooked (where would we be without Star Wars or the DaVinci Code?). So it’s really nine plots. Or more? Booker has two variants under the ‘Rags to Riches’ plot: failure and hollow victory. If you include them as separate themes, the seven in the title expands to eleven.

But can one really reduce all writing to such a short list? Do all stories fit so comfortably into these archetypes? Some find it easy to poke holes in such generalizations. Others to broaden the spectrum with more items on their own list.
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This man should resign

Interim CAOCan a municipality operate effectively with a toxic relationship between the mayor and the CAO? Can staff avoid being involved in the confrontation? Can the public expect the best service and support from its leaders if the two top people are at odds?

Clearly not. A story in The Connection reinforced just how bad things have become in town hall between the mayor and the interim CAO.

Once you read it, I believe you will agree with me: the interim CAO must go. Now. Right now. He is an embarrassment to everyone. This behaviour is intolerable. It doesn’t matter that he is The Block’s darling. He should resign or be placed on administrative leave without delay.

I asked why he was still allowed to work for the town back in 2016. I asked it again earlier this April. I will ask it again: why is this man still working for Collingwood?

This story reflects badly on the town. This term, Collingwood has already suffered considerable embarrassment, a tattered reputation, hostility and disdain from our municipal partners and neighbours, and we have an adversarial position against our airport, utilities, and hospital. The buck has to stop somewhere. 

Is he behaving like this because our mayor is a woman? Or is he this aggressive to everyone? Did he behave like this in the other municipalities where he worked? The mayor should contact them and find out. But it’s Collingwood where he is now and it’s Collingwood that has to deal with him. He should go. 

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More council secrecy, more council scheming

SchemingOn Monday’s council agenda there are again two in-camera topics that reinforce just how much little respect The Block have for process, ethics, the public, legality, openness and transparency. The Block will – again – secretly discuss privatizing our water and wastewater services to the out-of-province, for-profit corporation, EPCOR, and also secretly discuss appointing new directors to the Collus-PowerStream board.

Both should be discussed and decided in public. Both should have had public input or consultation. But why should The Block change habits now?

The backroom, sole-source EPOCR deal is so shady it could have been a script for The Sopranos. No public input, no public discussion, no RFPs. Make ’em a deal they can’t refuse. It doesn’t get any dirtier than this.

The result has already been decided behind closed doors. The taxpayer is screwed. Again.

As for the board appointments, the town’s own policies, procedures and bylaws require all board and committee appointments to to publicized and open to residents. These appointments were handed out like party favours, instead.

And all applicants MUST signs an application stating they are eligible residents. Unless of course you are one of the nudge-nudge-wink-wink cronies of The Block. Then they just appoint you without the muss and fuss of legal process. And they’ve done it TWICE this term already (after first illegally firing the former utility board). Looks like they’re doing it again.

Of course, you’re not surprised. You’d only be surprised if they did something ethical, something for the good of the community for a change.

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Another imaginary roadblock for the hospital

Hissy fitIn the April 24 addendum to the agenda there is a report by the interim CAO about the hospital redevelopment you should read. It seems another council hissy fit is in the making.

Your first question should be: why is the interim CAO writing and signing a report that ought to come from the planning department? It’s a planning issue – was the planning department reluctant to submit it? Didn’t agree with the conclusions? It’s a political document and written in political language. Perhaps no one in the department felt they should take ownership of it. Planning issues should be objective, not political. To me this is suspicious.

The interim CAO’s hostility towards the hospital board, representatives and the redevelopment proposal was made very evident at the March 27 council meeting. Well, it doesn’t appears he’s softened his stance.

A Municipal Comprehensive Review (MCR)* is required if a municipality wants to change its designated “employment lands” to non-employment zoning (usually retail or residential). That isn’t the case here (read this post for more). The hospital wants similar land-use approvals provided for Georgian College.

And what’s the big deal? The proposed site is a two-minute drive from the current one, has better access for emergency vehicles, more room for future expansion and growth, serves the region better, and is on a small part of a very large bank of unused land, about a tenth of the available “employment lands” available in this town. And it won’t cost the municipality a penny.

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Collus-PowerStream responds about dividend

No dividendOn the April 24 council agenda is an addendum that includes the response from Collus-PowerStream about The Block’s questions over the lack of a dividend from the utility. I wrote about this last month in Dividends for Dummies. I’m glad to see what I wrote then has been proven correct.

The original letter from CPS back in February, stated, “The Board decision was based on the Dividend Policy of the Corporation including consideration of an appropriate capital structure and working capital levels required to continue to operate as a viable business.” Clearly none of The Block had the slightest clue what a dividend is (they aren’t a very bright lot, financially speaking), so they demanded instead a letter explaining why they didn’t get one. Hence my post Dividends for Dummies.

Before you read on, let me remind you that The Block fired its original appointees to the utility board because those appointees wouldn’t act in an unethical manner and divulge confidential, personal information about staff that is protected under Ontario’s Corporations Act. The administration and The Block had a hissy fit that they couldn’t get their way. In a tantrum, they fired the board. Illegally, of course.

The Block illegally replaced these three people with three members of the town’s administration (the interim CAO, the clerk and the treasurer – none of whom had any experience in the electricity sector). When the Ontario Energy Board slapped the town’s wrist for this unethical act, The Block removed the interim CAO and the treasurer and replaced them with two out-of-town lawyers (one from Ottawa, the other from the GTA, both recommended by the lawyer the town sole-sourced to oversee the share sale – anyone see a conflict here?).

So now all of the three town appointees live out of town, and there is no representation from anyone local who is a Collus-PowerStream customer. The whole process violated the town’s own bylaws and policies for board and committee appointments, but The Block and the administration hid behind the very Corporations Act they vilified earlier and claimed it gave them the right to break their own laws. Ain’t hypocrisy grand?

One of these later appointees is the town clerk who sits at the table every council meeting. During the whole Block bluster and blather at the table about the non-payment of a share dividend, NONE of them thought to simply turn their head and ask the clerk about it. None of them asked the board member sitting beside them. None of them were bright enough to figure out that at least one of their own appointees voted not to provide a dividend.

The town got the CPS response on April 7. It lists five points and explains in detail how and why dividends are calculated. I know what you’re thinking: it’s too much information for the Blockheads to digest. And I agree. I doubt one of them will get it even with this fulsome explanation. But you, dear reader, are smart enough to understand it, so read it now. Keep in mind while you do so that every board decision requires at least four of the six members to agree. At least one of Collingwood’s three appointees voted in favour of withholding the dividend.

You know how unlikely it is that most of The Block will actually read the whole letter from start to finish. They hate reading, hate learning things that contradict their alt-fact ideology. They had their minds made up about it before it arrived. They they will misrepresent it at the table and play the blame game. Just watch.
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Book collecting: snobbery or reading passion?

The Bibliophiles, 1879, by Luis Jimenez y Aranda, Private Collection. Photo by Christie's/Bridgeman Images
The book has always been a sign of status and refinement; a declaration of self-worth – even for those who hate to read. That’s the lead into a recent piece on Aeon Magazine about book collecting and collectors. It’s also about reading and the snobbery of readers. Fascinating piece.

For me, anyway. Pretty much everything about books and reading fascinates me, from the art to the industry to the neuroscience. I am and always have been a book buyer, proudly taking my place among those “Bookish Fools” referenced in the article’s title. But perhaps from a different part of the podium.

I spent an hour with a painter this week discussing getting a portion of our house repainted. Part of that work involves us moving a lot of books into other rooms. A lot. Many hundreds. Maybe even thousands. Plus the bookshelves. Six large and two small bookcases in the upper hallway alone. And where to put them? One upstairs room is already lined with bookcases and the other rooms have their own, too.

It served to reinforce just how many books we have to think of the time required to unshelve then re-shelve them (in some sort of reasonable order). Many days.

I got two books in the mail yesterday and this morning I ordered another online. Others are somewhere in between, on their way via the post office. I get larger shipments – boxes – from booksellers once or twice a month, plus individual titles. I haunt the local used book stores for more. I still have battered paperbacks I picked up in the 1960s, but most of my personal library is far more recent. That’s because I am mostly a reader. Compulsively, even obsessively, perhaps. But not a fetishist collector as the article describes.

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Shoulda, coulda, woulda

Coulda, shoulda, woulda...Two and a half years of calamitous mismanagement. Council motivated by wild conspiracy theories, maliciousness and personal vendettas. A rudderless, ruthless administration flailing and fumbling its way from one catastrophe to another. The town’s reputation ruined. Our municipal partners and neighbours alienated. Secret discussions determine the fate of our assets while the public is excluded from the process. Taxes and costs rising and sole-sourced contracts handed out like party favours. Ethics tossed out the window and the municipal air redolent with the stench of entitlement.

And the term is barely half-way through. What a disaster.

Any commentary or discussion on our council’s actions, morality and behaviour this term must come with a litany of things we know they should have done, things they could have done, and what would have resulted – had they followed process, law or even acted ethically.

You could have done better. Anyone else could have done better. Just imagine what you, dear reader, would likely have done in their place, what things you could have done differently. Pretty much everything if, of course, you had either a modicum of common sense or a shred of decency in you.

Of course, we always second guess what those in power are up to. But face it, it would be difficult if not impossible to do worse than this lot has.

Shoulda, coulda, woulda: what might have helped keep this government on track, and act on behalf of the people who elected it, instead of being the self-centred, ongoing train wreck it is now. How different things might have been if only they shoulda, coulda, woulda. These are some of my list, not in an particular order; I’m sure you will have your own:
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WiFi hysteria again

Scared of wifiEvery so often, old crackpot ideas, hoaxes, cons and plainly silly pseudoscience resurface online under the guise of Trump-like alternate fact. Scary stories about chemicals in your food, fake health tips, and Facebook-stealing-your-photos nonsense compete for attention with actual news and factual stories. The old bromide about wireless signals (WiFi) killing things is just one to come back to life this week on Facebook.

(You already know Facebook isn’t a reliable source of anything factual, even though factual content does get shared now and then. More common are the wingnut conspiracies, hoaxes and codswallop, along with cute kitten videos. Facebook is the place where what was once called the fringe has a cozy place alongside the mainstream, and New Age charlatans prey on fears and fantasies.)

This latest story beings pread on FB comes from a UK site called “Stop Smart Meters” originally published in 2013. SSM is one of those wacky “all wireless is evil and the government is behind it” sites that thrive despite the overwhelming scientific research that debunks their crazy notions. Break out the tin foil hats. These sites are to electronics, physics and biology what the Food Babe is to nutrition and chemistry: bunkum.

While it’s easy to scoff at this as just a fringe community, it’s more tragic that usually reliable media sites and sources (like ABC News) picked up the story and reprinted is, uncritically, without analysis or examination. This only helps spread the bunk and give it a semblance of credibility, while diminishing that of the media itself. It’s worse when these articles use words like proof or proven alongside the conjectures, allegations and fantasies.

Whether they be about chemtrails, creationism, magic crystals, auras, ayurveda, homeopathy, angels, chakras, UFOs or anti-vaccination claptrap, these pseudoscience sites all feed off each other, spreading the viruses of ignorance and fear. They share one another’s stories as if publishing on one wingnut site gives the conspiracy credibility. And they have a huge, gullible audience who treat their version as gospel and any debunking as a Satanic attack. Plus, they usually have some magic potion or bean to sell you for protection against those things that go bump in the night…
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