Eheu fugaces, Postume…

Old ageAlas, Postumus, the swift years slip away. Those words are one translation of the opening line of the 14th Ode in the second book of Horace’s carminas, or songs: Eheu fugaces, Postume, Postume/labuntur anni… *

For me, it’s his most moving piece, a bittersweet acceptance of mortality; the inevitability of age and death. Something no one in his or her sixties cannot help but think about. And about which Horace wrote several times.

Many of Horace’s poems are moving; very down to earth. His most touching odes read not so much as poetry meant for a wide audience, but rather as personal meditations on life. Perhaps that accounts for their continued popularity.

I’ve been reading a lot of Horace of late, thanks to a very personal and entertaining book about the poet by Harry Eyres (I reviewed it recently and more about it, below). Being an unlettered autodidact struggling to look ad fontes (to the sources), I find it helps to be introduced into the classics by those who know them better. Once there, I may find my own way or search additional help in understanding.

(Why, I ask myself, did I not take these in school, why was my education so thin on the classics? Remedial self-learning is required…)

For me, these poems also cement a connection across the millennia that divides us. There’s a comfort in knowing that the Romans and others in the past were concerned about the same, basic things that still concern us today, that they wrestled with the same thoughts, worries and joys that keep us awake at night. Once stripped of our shell of trivia, technology and consumerism that often cocoons us, our core focus is still small, biological and deeply personal: life, death, love, sex, relationships, friendships, pleasure, pain, food. Horace writes about them in a very matter-of-fact manner.

And while the ancient Greeks and Romans were also deeply immersed in debating faith, politics and war, Horace for the most part ignores them. Sure, he mentions people, battles, gods quite a lot, but they appear as (for him) common cultural signposts on the journey, not matters of deep concern or belief. Which helps both his continued relevance and allows modern writers (like David Ferry) to translate the poems into something that speaks to us now. Perhaps the continued rewriting for a new audience is why, as Horace wrote, his poems would outlast bronze.

Viktor Frankl wrote that our most deeply held drive is our search for meaning. We all to greater or lesser degree, question why we’re here. What differs, I suppose, is how we choose to deal with that questioning. Do we accept a fixed ideology, a faith, a belief as the unalterable bedrock of meaning, and stop looking further? Stop questioning, stop diving into the dark, unanswered depths? Or, as the Buddha admonished the Kalamas, do we question everything, build our own meaning from the individual blocks of knowledge like some philosophical Lego set?

I prefer to find my own way, even if it means stumbling in the dark for some time (and, yes, I have stumbled, and continue to stumble because it’s a journey with no real end). I personally like to look into the mirror of what others have found to see if I can find my own reflection. Sometimes I can recognize the face peering back. Other times it’s a fun-house mirror that stares at me. What matters is that I keep looking, keep peering into the glass. True my personal, philosophical Lego construction looks a bit dodgy and unstable a lot of the time, but at least it’s my own.

Frankl wrote, “Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible.” So I keep looking, keep walking into the dark passage using for a light the works of someone who went before me. Horace is just one of those candles.

But a comforting, increasingly familiar one these days.
Continue reading “Eheu fugaces, Postume…”

Collus share bid received

My sources tell me PowerStream submitted a bid to purchase the town’s share of the Collus-PowerStream utility, late on Friday, December 9. While the amount was not stated, I am told it is a “very fair” bid. This is so far going as I predicted in my earlier post.

PowerStream paid $8 million cash for half the share in 2012 (with another $6.4 million coming through Collus from notes and recapitalization), but since then The Block and town administration gutted the board (twice), joyfully ruined the shared services agreement, and happily took away the water side thus reducing the utility’s revenue considerably. Done over two years of secret conniving behind closed doors.

IT services is hanging by a thread – town hall pulled the plug and secretly contracted (apparently sole-sourced without RFP or RFQ) with a Barrie company to do the work. And council approved Collus buying the remaining hardware so the cord has been almost fully cut. The IT relationship with Collus and the town is likely to be cancelled by January 1.

For many years, the town got exemplary IT service at a hugely discounted cost from Collus. The new contract with the out-of-towners will cost taxpayers tens of thousands more every year, but hey, it’s only money, right? Your money, of course, but what do our Blockheads care about you?

All that’s left is billing for the water side, still done by Collus, but thanks to town administration and our Blockheads, is about to cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars more a year when the share sale goes through.

Given the Block’s active and aggressive devaluation of the utility since the 2012 sale of 50%, I doubt the book value of the utility is more than $5 million now. However, PowerStream may offer more than that if for no other reason than to end the harassment and bullying and get away from the town as quickly as possible.

The deadline for the town to accept or reject the bid is, I believe, Friday, January 6, 2017, just under a month away. And that’s with the sword-of-Damocles shotgun clause hovering over their heads. Not very much time for a council whose term has been showcased by flailing inaction, and gormless dithering to make an actual decision. I bet the Blockheads do what the administration tells them to do, just like they always have.

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A Cup of Mao Jian

Mao Jian teaThe tea bag is an example of remarkable serendipity; an unexpected, simple invention that changed the world. But it was entirely unintended.

Tea, from the camelia sinenis tree, is the most popular beverage in the world after water, and the most popular hot beverage period. Before the tea bag appeared, barely over a century ago, all tea was sold loose. Today more than 90% is sold in bags (if you include tisanes, or herbal “teas” that figure is about 70%*). For what is arguably the most popular drink in the world, that’s quite a change in a few decades.

At the turn of the 20th century, New York tea and coffee merchant Thomas Sullivan was shipping samples of his product to customers in small silk bags. He expected them to pour the loose tea out before brewing it. But customers didn’t know that and instead plunked the bag into the pot with the tea inside. They quickly found it easier and more convenient than messing about with measuring and cleaning. Sullivan saw the opportunity, and worked on perfecting the design. By 1908 he was selling his bags.

A century before social media accelerated ideas and products, tea bags went viral.** Other American companies started selling hand-sewn fabric tea bags around the same time as Sullivan. In 1930 Salada brought out the first heat-sealed, paper fibre tea bags. The design – a thin flat pouch either round or square – didn’t change much until the 1980s when the pyramidal design was invented in Japan (although not widely used, the design is gaining popularity for whole-leaf teas through companies like Tea Pigs).

teabagWhile big in the USA, it wasn’t until the 1950s when the tea bag took off in Britain, in the post-war, post-rationing bloom of convenience and newness. In 1953, Tetley was the first British tea company to offer bags and the rest quickly followed. Even in the 1960s, tea bags represented only 3% of all tea sales. But by 2007 that was at 96%!

(The Brits have many tea habits that are well described here and you should read George Orwell’s essay on tea here)

Tea bags meant convenience: tea became easier to buy, store, and to shelve. Speciality store sales gave way to supermarkets. The image of tea as an elite drink was eroded by the democratic nature of the easy-to-use tea bag. ***

What changed in the tea world was not just the packaging. The bag changed the way consumers saw, evaluated and purchased tea – by brand as opposed to actual product. This meant marketing became an overriding factor in sales.

Tea leaf readers went out of business. Who reads tea bags? The whole art of tasseography has pretty much vanished. (okay losing some cons and carnies isn’t a great loss to society, but we also lost a useful literary trope and cliché…)

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Stumbling towards the utility’s demise

The Return of ChanduThis week, Collingwood Council met in a special meeting to discuss an request from its utility partner, PowerStream, to waive some conditions of the shareholder agreement. This meeting appears to have been called by the interim CAO, which seems to me to usurp the mayor’s authority, but we know the administration – in partnership with The Block – has long been pulling the strings in this town to serve its own ends. Plus the meeting was held mid-day at the fire hall; a time and location that appears intended to deter both public and media presence.

Well while the public was deterred, the media were present, but nothing appeared in either paper. That doesn’t surprise me in the increasingly lax EB, but I expected better from the Connection. Finally, a story appeared in the online Connection, Friday. And it – as is too often the case with local media – doesn’t tell the whole story.

First read the waiver requested by Powerstream here. It asks the town to waive, “…Article 7, Article 8 and Article 9 thereof, for purposes of the Offer up until December 14, 2016.”

Got that? No, probably not. What it means is that PowerStream intends to present its offer early next week, but doesn’t want the offer to invoke terms in the agreement that would trigger the shotgun clause. And what, you ask, is the shotgun clause? Well, let’s do a quick review of the history first.

In 2011, the former council initiated a public process to explore opportunities to sell all or a portion (up to 50%) of our electrical utility. After several public information sessions in which public input and comment was sought, and after the issue was discussed in public at the council table, requests for proposals (RFPs) were sent out to prospective LDCs across the province. A strategic committee consisting of the utility board, staff, the mayor and KPMG Consultants was created to oversee the process and report to council and the public. All of the RFPs came in for purchase at EXACTLY 50%. No one wanted to buy less and the direction from council was to sell no more than half.

After a lengthy review and analysis of the offers, PowerStream was chosen as the winner. The offer was reviewed by their lawyers and accountants, our lawyers and accountants, the lawyers and accountants and council members of their three member municipalities. The process then moved to the Ontario Energy Board whose lawyers and accountants reviewed it. And then Energy Probe’s lawyers and accountants reviewed it. Everyone approved it, the finances were clean. The deal was sealed.

In the agreement were two important clauses. First, each side had the first right of refusal to buy the other half, should the partner ever want to sell its share. Second is the shotgun clause: should either party want to sell or buy, it can make an offer to the other party. If that offer is not accepted, then the rejecting party is bound to purchase the remaining half at the amount stated in the offer. And do it within 30 days.

So why did Powerstream want to waive these clauses? Well, first of all, the town sent out RFPs to several other LDCs in the province, totally ignoring PowerStream’s first right of refusal. Yes, it’s highly unethical and sure looks illegal to me, but that’s the way things are done here this term.

I suspect PowerStream – being an honourable company highly regarded by everyone outside our town hall – decided not to drag the bad faith shown again by our town into a legal battle which would further tarnish our badly tattered reputation. And one we would lose. Badly.

Second, PowerStream clearly wants to put its offer in along with those expected (or possibly already received) from the RFP, and not force the shotgun clause. In other words, to have its offer considered in context with the rest, not start the irrevocable process the shotgun clause will effect.

And guess what The Block did? Yep: they voted NOT to waive the clauses. The Block demanded 45 days to consider the request. Which is risible since the letter clearly states an offer is coming December 14, not sometime in February. 

Continue reading “Stumbling towards the utility’s demise”

Those pesky costs The Block forgot to mention

Hidden costsWho sends out your water bills? Collus-PowerStream. It’s all part of the shared services agreement. Yes, that simple little agreement that for 15 productive, cooperative years linked our water and electrical utilities with mutual resources. That same agreement The Block dismantled and handed over to the interim CAO two years ago to rewrite and update. A 30-minute job that still hasn’t been completed. And never will be.

Who takes the data from the meters, calculates the charges, prints and folds the bills, inserts them into envelopes and puts them through the postage meter? Collus-PowerStream.

Who handles the automatic payments, the credit card and debit card payments, cashes the cheques and takes payment in person? Collus-PowerStream.

Who applies the payment it to your account and calculates any credit or debit? Collus-PowerStream.

Who answers the customer calls, explains the bills, makes changes of address or ownership to bills, opens new accounts, closes inactive accounts? Collus-PowerStream.

Who chases delinquent accounts and who works with customers in difficult situations? Collus-PowerStream.

Who banks the money and pays the town their share? Collus-PowerStream.

Our share of the electrical utility is about to be sold – YOUR utility – even though you never got even one chance to voice any say in the matter. It was all done in secret, connived behind closed doors with lawyers and consultants without any public discussion. 

Who pays for the cost of billing and mailing once the deal is closed? YOU will. Oh dear, did the administration neglect to warn you about this?

Continue reading “Those pesky costs The Block forgot to mention”

Corruption, Collingwood & the Collus Board

See no evil...The Most Secretive Council Ever has comfortably assumed the mantle of The Most Secretive and Corrupt Council Ever. As I warned in a previous post, The Block was going to appoint someone’s friends to the Collus-PowerStream board – and do it both illegally and unethically. And last Monday, they told us they had done it. Fait accompli.

But as you have learned this term, laws, procedures, ethics and morals are for others to obey, not for The Block.

According to a story in The Connection (apparently the EB couldn’t be bothered to report on it online and I don’t get their print version…):

Michael Pace and David Goldsmith were named to the board, replacing Collingwood CAO John Brown and treasurer Marjory Leonard. Clerk Sara Almas remains on the board, serving as co-chairperson.

Know who these men are? Of course not. Only The Block knows. These men don’t live here. They didn’t even have to fill in an application to sit on a local board like the rest of us do. They were handed the appointments. Isn’t that usually called “patronage”? *

Who recommended them? The public has the right to know who is pulling the strings in those back rooms. It is an offense to public trust not to tell us.**

So now all three members of the utility board supposed to represent our local interests live out of town. According to the Connection story, one is a lawyer with “experience in mergers and acquisitions” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink…) but no experience in the electricity sector. The other is a consultant from Ottawa (we have already employed so many consultants this term, I’m surprised we just didn’t use one of them) and engineer, whose background (based on his website) seems mostly in steelmaking, with some experience in industrial-electrical relations.

How either can represent the interests of some 17,000 local residential customers, plus all the small businesses and commercial operations in our area was not explained. Nor will it be.

Nor were we told why the municipalities Collus PowerStream serves outside Collingwood have never yet been informed, much less consulted, about these changes in board membership that affects their residents and businesses, too.

But guess what else? You will have to pay to bring these two to any board meeting – paying the costs of their transportation, time and accommodations. One lives in Ottawa, one in Toronto. Imagine paying those expenses, those per diem costs for their trips here. Right: you got screwed by The Block. Again.

Councillor Lloyd questioned the process:

Coun. Kevin Lloyd questioned the process used to find the board members. Lloyd felt they should live in Collingwood, but Almas said Collus PowerStream is governed by the Ontario Business Corporations Act.

This Administration cried crocodile tears over not getting access to personal and confidential information so they could share it among themselves and watch it inevitably get leaked – information that is protected under the Ontario Business Corporations Act. Now it is riding on that high horse to justify breaking town procedure and our bylaws, but it won’t tell us who’s behind these choices. Ain’t hypocrisy grand?

You can watch the whole discussion on Rogers TV here starting at 1:36:43.

Continue reading “Corruption, Collingwood & the Collus Board”

No, Brian: Elvis isn’t in the CBSP

SaundersonAt the Nov. 28 Council meeting (seen here on Rogers TV), Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson blathered on in cliché-rich, lawerly manner (starting 1:14:05) about how much the Elvis Festival means to his “Community-Based Strategic Plan” (1:16:18) – that committee-based wishlist which was neither strategic nor a plan.

What does he mean when he claims that a report has “galvanized the question quite nicely”? Galvanized? Does he know what that word means? It’s not what he appears to think it does… it means to “shock or excite (someone), typically into taking action.” A staff report is seldom shocking or exciting, and even if it were, a question doesn’t get galvanized, nor the report, but rather the reader does.

When he claims he wants the festival to be a “self-sustaining entity unto itself…” I simply cannot grasp what that tautology means. Can you? It sounds like something from the Department of Redundancy Department.

And no, Brian, it doesn’t “beg a larger question” – begging the question doesn’t mean to raise one. It means to make “…a conclusion based on a premise that lacks support.” To beg the question would be to assume, for example, that because Elvis drank water, the festival should be hosted on the waterfront. The word you want to use here is “raise.”

Is he “hardened by the fact” or heartened? Sure sounds like he says the former… maybe some folks at the table find staff reports of a more prurient nature than I ever did.

But where does this fit in with his vaunted yet curiously flaccid CBSP? In fact it fits nowhere.

Number of times Elvis is mentioned in the CBSP: NONE.

Continue reading “No, Brian: Elvis isn’t in the CBSP”

Muzzling the airport board

spinelessThe Collingwood Airport Board wants to get its own legal opinion about the Clearview Aviation Business Park request for a non-binding letter of intent to negotiate access to the airport. Seems reasonable for the board charged with oversight of the airport to want to make sure that any decisions made best represent their mandate and the viability of the airport itself.

The Block and Collingwood’s administration are opposed to them getting one. Are they afraid of what that opinion would say? That it wouldn’t come from a lawyer already instructed as to what to say? That they couldn’t control the message as they have with Collus-PowerStream?

Or do they simply want – as all dictators do – to want to muzzle the opposition? As they did with Collus-PowerStream?

Probably both.

This cabal certainly appears eager to kill the economic growth at the airport – or at least threaten to do so in order to blackmail Clearview into buying the airport in order to save the jobs and tax revenue. Bully tactics.

For two years, against all common sense or concern for the greater good, Collingwood Council has obstinately done everything in its power to prevent a $300 million development – the largest rural Ontario has seen in many decades – from going forward.

All of their discussions about the airport and selling it have been done behind closed doors (despite the campaign promises made by Brian Saunderson and others to get public input on every major decision). It’s your airport, a public asset, and you have been shut out of not only hearing the discussions, but from having any say in its disposal.

A story in the Connection online this week tells reader just how intolerant this cabal is towards openness, and the lengths they will go to muzzle anyone who challenges their personal agendas. The town is stepping well outside its authority in its efforts to block the board.

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