Godless – The Truth Beyond Belief

Religious tolerance?“Godless – The Truth Beyond Belief” investigates one of the last frontiers in civil liberties and human rights: Atheism. So reads the opening sentence on the website of a new film about atheism and society. It asks, “can you be good without god?”

Well, yes, you can. That’s the whole point of secular humanism, philosophy and the entire Buddhist faith. Morality is a choice we make, not a divine command.

It also hides another question within its folds: can you be good and still have free will? If you need a god to be good, that suggests you don’t have free will. You’re simply some deity’s meat puppet. If you have free will to be evil, then morality is clearly a choice, a human construct, not divine.

Despite what the religious right say, being good is not necessarily a part of being pious. I briefly mentioned this in the footnotes of my previous post on Horace’s Ode 2.14. The two attributes may be complementary (in some people), but history is equally replete with examples of pious people who were predatory, con artists, killers, torturers, rapists, thugs and murderers. They call their evils “doing God’s will.” Atheists never have that hypocritical motivation.

The two attributes of goodness and piety don’t always coincide, and as noted above, religious belief can even make it worse. Just think of the Spanish Inquisition and the witch hunts of the Reformation or anything ISIS does. As Blaise Pascal, said, “Men never commit evil so fully and joyfully as when they do it for religious convictions.”
Continue reading “Godless – The Truth Beyond Belief”

Council’s report card: Year 2, part 1

Blind leading the blindAs we reach the end of our Council’s second year in office, halfway through its mandate, it is time again to assess the collective performance and list the accomplishments of our elected officials.

To avoid accusations of egregious negativity, I will list council’s accomplishments first. And to avoid further accusations of meandering through overly long diatribes (mea culpa, I do ramble a bit…), I will split this post into two pieces. The good (this post) and the bad (a subsequent post).

For a historical comparison, you might wish to refer to my analysis of council’s first year prior to reading this piece. It will give you some context. And maybe a reason to drink, too. It was that kind of year.

So here it is: all of the remarkable achievements and accomplishments of Collingwood Council by the end of its second year:

  1. You can no longer toss birdseed onto your driveway or patio.
    Now don’t be misled into think this legislation isn’t a significant achievement. Consider the ramifications of having people toss their birdseed willy nilly around their property. It would be chaos. And it might attract squirrels. The very notion that squirrels might get at the birdseed makes some folks at the table apoplectic. It must have taken hours and hours of in camera discussion and secret negotiation to get this passed. Given the calibre of the minds at the table, this is The Block’s greatest intellectual accomplishment this term and could possibly be council’s most fondly recalled legacy for decades to come.
  2. Public discussion, input or consultation has been shut out.
    Democracy is far too messy already to allow the public to hear what council is saying about major policies and operations, so everything worth discussing has been moved behind closed doors where public scrutiny won’t embarrass anyone at the table. And why should the public be allowed to comment on things that affect them? Better they don’t know and so they can’t respond. That way the oily gears of governance and patronage won’t be slowed down by having to deal with messy public input or media oversight. So what if it’s your utility, your airport, your taxes? The Block will decide what’s best for us without asking our opinion. You don’t matter: only their opinion matters. And just in case you thought you could complain, The Block fired the Integrity Commissioner. Why have public scrutiny when you avoid public input? And forget those election promises of openness and transparency. You knew they were just kidding, right?
  3. Our reputation is ruined and our relationships with our municipal neighbours is in the dumpster.
    Utility boards have been alienated. The hospital and medical staff enraged. Developers infuriated. The OEB is investigating council. The Information and Privacy Commissioner is investigating council. The Ombudsman is investigating council. PowerStream hates us. Collus hates us. Clearview hates us. Wasaga Beach hates us. New Tecumseth hates us. The airport users and developers hate us. The hospital board hates us. It can only be a sign of strength to stand alone. The Block has proven Collingwood can go it alone without regionalism, support, allies, partners or friends. The town’s strategic goal has been to emulate our governing Blockheads and be friendless and mirthless. And in this endeavour they have been highly successful. You don’t think that’s impressive? The Block and our administration put unstinting effort into making Collingwood is the North Korea of Ontario municipalities. Imagine how little we’d care about Kim Jong Un if he had international friends or was a competent ruler. He’d be like us. And now we’re just like him. Well done!

There you have it. Everything this council has accomplished this term. Three major accomplishments that in olden days would merit a rousing song from a bard, and plaques or even bronze statues scattered about the community.

With the positives safely out of the way, in an upcoming post I will examine the downside: the Blockheads’ failures and debacles, their endless efforts to destroy people, institutions, and relationships, their gobsmacking waste of tax dollars to pursue petty vendettas and personal agendas, their arrogant self-interests, their conniving, their secrecy, their blatant dishonesty and their egregious ineptness and all the rest. But so as not to keep you in too much suspense, here’s a quick preview of all the things council did wrong, all of their evil, malicious and underhanded actions to date this term:

  1. Everything else.

See you next post.

Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 2

Keystone councilAs promised, here is the second part of the Gong Show analysis from December 12th’s council meeting. Like I said earlier, it’s perhaps more like a Keystone Cops or Abbott and Costello skit than the TV show.

As always, you can follow along on the Rogers Community TV broadcast, starting at 2:16:30. Laugh aloud at the zany, misinformed antics of your elected representatives as they fumble and stumble their way through an agenda of items they clearly have no clue about. You should start with part 1 of my review, if you haven’t already read it.

And by the end of this post you can decide which of these titles best suits our Blockheads:

  1. The Most Secretive Council Ever
  2. The Most Inept and Ineffective Council Ever
  3. The Most Devious Council Ever
  4. The Most Disrespectful Council Ever
  5. The Most Corrupt Council Ever
  6. The Most Underhanded Council Ever
  7. The Most Petty and Vindictive Council Ever
  8. All of the above.*

So first take a look at a letter that appeared on the consent agenda of the Strategic Initiatives Committee from Dec. 7 (SIC is one of those dysfunctional and inefficient council committees created by the interim CAO, yet embraced by Blockheads at the table with no experience in process or politics who prefer to flail and fumble rather that govern efficiently). See page 96 for the letter, which says in part:

Please accept this letter as confirmation that Collus PowerStream will not be renewing its existing computer rental agreement with the Collingwood Public Utilities that expires December 31st, 2016.
With regard to the existing equipment, the Board of Directors at our November 25th meeting authorized me to offer a one-time payment of $23,920.00 plus any applicable taxes for the attached listing of user workstation equipment and associated accessories (keyboards, mice, cables etc.) we are currently using and are interested in acquiring.
We ask that you please confirm acceptance of this offer by end of day December 15th, 2016. This will allow us sufficient time to make alternate arrangements prior to year-end for replacement hardware should the Town choose to not accept this offer.

Some key concepts here to keep in mind:

  • The board authorized the request and amount offered;
  • The agreement to rent equipment ends Dec. 31 at the same time the shared services agreement ends;
  • CPS needs to know by Dec. 15 and it’s already Dec. 12;
  • The offer is more than three times what the equipment is worth.

Simple, right? Apparently not for everyone.

Some history: Collus always provided the software and the technical support for the town’s computers as part of the shared services agreement. The agreement ended in 2014 but was extended until the end of 2016 so the interim CAO could present an update agreement. It still hasn’t been done.

The town (in this case the water department) purchased the hardware and rented/leased it back to Collus (later Collus-PowerStream, CPS) for just under $22,000 a year to provide a revenue stream to the town. With the unrelenting harassment of the utility and its staff by The Blockheads and the administration, CPS wants to get as far away from this viper’s nest as possible. CPS offered to buy the remaining hardware – mostly used notebooks, monitors, mice, cables and keyboards – from the town. And end another revenue stream to the town from the utility.**

used computersNow, keep in mind that this is all equipment CPS is using, not another town department or service. Whenever a department needs computer equipment, that department head purchases it. No department head has asked for any of this equipment, not least of all because it’s old and used and they can get new with a signature on a slip of paper.

And it’s all at least 3-4 years old (which means the laptops may not even be up to running Win 10) and may not be in the best shape after daily use for that time. Much of it would normally be replaced with new equipment in the next 12-28 months as per the town’s hardware replacement cycle.

But our Blockheads are apparently experts on IT, even though some of them can’t even configure their own home wireless without IT intervention.

And don’t forget: the shared services agreement to provide IT services to the town ends in January, 2017, before that vaunted mid-month report from the consultant. Second, the recent PowerStream offer to buy the Collus share has a deadline of Jan. 6. If accepted, there will be no relationship of any sort between the utility and the town. And if not accepted, PowerStream will invoke the shotgun clause and the whole shebang will unravel 30 days later.

This where the fun starts – be prepared to laugh and roll your eyes. And to shake your head in wonder at the pettiness of our Blockheads.

And then gasp in disgust at the backstabbing and deviousness that happened a mere two days later. Of course, you won’t read any of this in the local media. You’re welcome.
Continue reading “Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 2”

Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 1

The Gong ShowHas there ever been a more inept, ineffective group at the council table in Collingwood? Certainly not in the 26 years I’ve been here. Not in the dozen years I covered it for the media, not in the 11 years I served on council have I seen anything so comical.

Rogers TV really should put a laugh track on their broadcasts of council meetings. They could call it the Gong Show – had that name not already been taken by a more serious TV show.

But until then, you should watch the December 12, 2016 meeting. You’ll roar, you’ll chuckle, you’ll guffaw over the zany antics of our madcap councillors as they flail about trying to understand what they’re doing. It’s funnier than a Marx brothers’ skit. And it will take more than just this one post for me to cover this slapstick madness. So here’s part one…

Start at 53:14 into the show (I’ll deal with the pointless waste of tax dollars on a peer report about the hospital that says nothing at another time). This is about a letter on the consent agenda (A8) from Collus PowerStream about the final closure of the IT services provided to the town. It says:

We are hoping that we can agree to a very early discontinuation date. We understand, the Town has created specific IT job descriptions with the intention of recruiting for those positions in the very near future. In addition with your recent acquisition of an outside IT consulting firm we believe it is time to operate independently.

At 53:28 Deputy Mayor Saunderson reads the motion, saying, “Moved by myself…” (here’s your first big chuckle of the night: none of the Blockheads know that it should be “moved by me…“! Yuck, yuck, yuck… I guess they don’t teach English in law school…) and then says the town will utilize (why use the solid one-syllable “use” when three bloated syllables will do?) the IT services provided by Collus PowerStream “up to June 30, 2017… or until mutually agreed upon earlier.”

Yep: lotsa laughs already. The Blockheads gutted the shared services agreement and their interfering this term will cost taxpayers at least $1 million more a year starting in 2017. But now they’re in panic mode because they didn’t plan for this.

The agreement actually ended some time ago (end of 2014, I believe), but on the promise of an updated agreement coming, it was extended to January, 2017. So Collus-PowerStream has no obligation to provide ANY services (including billing for water) in 2017. And last Friday PowerStream put in a bid for the town’s share of the utility with a deadline of January 6. After that, there will be no Collus-PowerStream left, just PowerStream. With no obligation to the town whatsoever.

Not to mention that this council and administration have connived behind closed doors to sell our share of our utility without any public input. The administration sent out RFPs trying to find a buyer (ignoring PowerStream’s first right of refusal in the contract…). Hardly conducive for continued relations.

The town already sole-sourced the IT services this fall to a Barrie company (and again without public input). So who do they think is going to going to do the work to complete the transition? And after two years of harassment, bullying and a $500,000 morale-destroying witch hunt cooked up by The Blockheads, everyone at Collus wants to get free of any relationship with the town as soon as possible. January is late enough to be in this viper’s nest.

But The Blockheads press on, oblivious.

Continue reading “Collingwood’s own Gong Show, part 1”

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.

Continue reading “Collus share bid received”