A farewell to 2017

Cicero books, and othersTwenty seventeen has a special significance for me, beyond merely another year in the ever-lengthening calendar of my life. I find it difficult, sometimes, to believe I am as old as I am – who, after all, lives this long? I used to think that. Back then, back in my salad days of my misspent youth, fifty was impossibly old. Sixty? Ancient. Beyond that? Methuselah old.

Or perhaps I simply don’t act my age. I still listen to the Beatles and the music of my youth, and play computer games. I still watch Godzilla movies and play tag with my dog. But my joints tell me a different story some days. What is it about time and age that we never see ourselves as others do? That wrinkled old guy in the mirror is someone else, I swear. The real me is killing orcs and invading dungeons online or running through the park with the dog.

As I age, however, I tend to grow more philosophical, and my attitudes about life and death have trended more and more to the Stoics of late. As I write this, a small pile of books by and about Cicero are stacked nearby (hence the picture above, shown with some other books I’m also reading). I haven’t quite found the meaning of life in the Stoics, but I do lean their way. And I sometimes find my own muse too, in reading Cicero. He was passionate about good governance and would have railed against our current, inept council with all his rhetorical might.

Late December marked 35 years since I met Susan. We met in a bar in Toronto, a serendipitous chance event on a cold evening, and we’ve been together ever since, closest of friends and lovers. I am daily surprised she stuck with me through everything, but it speaks to the iron in her soul. And a quirky compassion for a sometimes obsessed, grumpy old fool. More than half our lives spent together.

We both still recall quite clearly our very first dinner date … but that’s another post. We still go for mini-holidays to Toronto every year, visiting the AGO and ROM, Kensington Market and several bookstores. Always we are happy to return, laden as we are with bags of books.

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Collingwood’s culture of secrecy

Soviet politburoFor the past fifteen months, I have been trying to get a copy of the Request For Proposals (RFP) sent out to potential buyers for the purchase of our public utility. For the past fifteen months, the town has fought me, has refused to hand it over, has challenged my appeals to the Information and Privacy Commissioner (IPC). The public is not allowed to see it, even though it affects us and our once-public utility. Even though it is in the public’s interest to know what has been going on.

Why not? After all, the RFP was released in August, 2016, the responses were received that fall, and this council decided to sell our utility to the for-profit corporation, EPCOR, shortly after. All done, of course, behind closed doors with no public input or engagement. So why not release the RFP? It’s not a legal document, it has no bearing on the sale nor the conditions of proposals. The process is completed.

Seeing the RFP now surely has no effect on any of the already-completed negotiations. But the town still says no. The inescapable conclusion is that the town is hiding something. Something devious, unethical, something The Block don’t want revealed to the public.

The public can’t see it simply because of the deeply entrenched culture of secrecy and deception in town hall. This culture is so ingrained in everything this council does that it acts more like a Soviet politburo than a supposedly open, democratic government.

The RFP was crafted by the sole-sourced lawyer hired by the administration (with The Block’s unanimous approval). He sent it out, not the town, and it was not shared with council. This is not merely highly unusual: it was a deliberate act to ensure the secrecy of this document. Not only can the public not learn to whom the RFP was sent, but what it asked for because now the town can hide behind client-solicitor privilege. Very devious.

That’s right: this was set up to deliberately block public scrutiny. But as you already know, the entire process has been done behind closed doors to avoid all public scrutiny and input. As I wrote before, this council held at least 37 (and possibly more) closed-door meetings about the fate of our public utility yet in three years has never ONCE said why they want to sell it, has never ONCE asked for public comment on the sale. An open, transparent government would not behave like that.

Who can forget the promise made by candidate Brian Saunderson – now deputy mayor, in the Connection before the last election:

Ensure all major decisions seek out community input, and ensure there is rigorous staff research and due diligence before any decision is made.

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What became of Better Together Collingwood?

GullibilityRather amusingly, the Better Together Collingwood website is still online. The latest event noted on the site is a rally for Monday March 25, 2013. Its Facebook page also remains intact, although the most recent post there is dated Jan. 15, 2015. But what are stale-dated entries about non-existent activities of a fake association among friends, eh? Well, it seems the only friends left for BTC are at the council table.

It’s amusing because as a group it ceased to be a functional entity the moment the last municipal election was held and Brian Saunderson won his seat as deputy mayor. That’s because the real purpose of the group – in fact the sole purpose – was to get him and his minions elected. Which it did. After which any pretence of it being a community or citizens’ group was immediately dropped. The gullible people who tagged along thinking they were working collaboratively towards a better community were no longer needed and there was no need to string them along any more.

And it wasn’t as if the organizers sent emails or letters to all members or supporters saying, “Thanks for your efforts, keep up the good work.” Nothing was said about how the groups was supposed to make sure their candidates ALSO toed the line and behaved as they had promised. The Block just turned their backs and walked away. They never looked back. They were too busy taking things apart and breaking Collingwood.

Apparently the organizers and site manager(s) were too busy celebrating their victory to bother to attend to the infrastructure they used to get into power. So the site and FB page remains as ironic reminders of how easy it is to fool some of the people all of the time. You joined? You were conned.

BTC’s sites exist to rub people’s noses into the fact that they actually believed in Brian and his cabal at one time. Few would admit to that these days, of course. Not after three years of deception, secrecy and pursuit or personal agendas and vendettas at public expense by this council.

And where, oh where was the local media coverage of this debacle? Oh right: no harm or criticism ever done to your friends.
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Brian suddenly realizes there’s a budget process.

PerplexedOver on BBFFWS (Brian’s BFF’s Web Site) is a sort-of-a story about Collingwood’s 2018 budget. It’s really just some comments about a document this council won’t even get a peek at until sometime in late January, and won’t get through the approval stage until late spring or even early summer. Even though all of our municipal neighbours, the county and indeed most of Ontario, have already approved their 2018 budgets, Collingwood continues to slog along, months behind the process curve. And nary a word of complaint from The Block. Well, to be fair, nary a word they even noticed was uttered.

But apparently the news that there is actually a process involved in budget approval surprised The Block, who had in the past three years merely raised their hands to hike taxes at staff’s request (while, of course, granting themselves a pay hike at the same time). I suspect the idea that there may be something deeper, something more complex, something that involved reading, bemused them. Maybe even shocked them.

Who knew budgets could be so difficult? Well, everyone except our Blockheads.

This week the treasurer told council that there is already a surplus of $1.75 million. That over-taxation represents about a 6% tax increase. In other words, had anyone on The Block been paying attention, they could have held taxes at zero percent these past three years, or even (gasp) lowered them. But paying attention isn’t their forte. Like actually reading the full budget isn’t a practice they have adopted. Or ever will.

Of course, a lot of that surplus will be used in paying off the excessive costs the town shouldered when it broke the shared services agreement, created a new IT department, bought tons of new hardware, hired three new staff persons and then still had to contract out some of the services we got from Collus IT staff for a third the cost. Oh and then there’s the pesky costs of the sole-sourced layers and consultants the administration hired to justify selling our publicly-owned electrical utility to a private for-profit corporation (without any public discussion, or course). Plus the costs of paying the former interim CAO a consultant’s fee after he “retired.” And hiring new staff in the treasury department (yet which department still can’t produce the budget on time). Plus there are hundreds of thousands more in legal bills to come to go through the legal application process to sell our utility. And then there’s the promised $700,000-plus savings from taking the water utility away from its partnership with the electrical utility – which instead seems to have become an expense to taxpayers, not a savings.

So will we really have a surplus for 2018? Not likely. If that were true why would the treasurer have asked council to approve an automatic 1.7% cost-of-living increase on our taxes this fall, months before the budget was even discussed? And that, by the way, was ON TOP of the automatic annual 0.75% levy The Block approved previously.

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The Block do it to themselves. Again.

Double FacepalmSome readers may be tired of me pointing out how dim-witted The Block on our council are, how little they understand, how little they know, how they dislike reading and learning, how they don’t understand even simple consequences of their actions and how they always blame others for their mistakes and their destructive acts. So this post, let’s let a couple of them do it themselves. In this piece it will be Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson and his lickspittle Councillor Bob Madigan.

The headline on the Collingwood Connection piece reads, “Collingwood council wants reason for Clearview’s exit from airport board.” Well  like many other newspaper headlines, that’s not correct: the mayor and Councillor Lloyd know the reason: it’s the other seven – The Block – who are apparently so gormless they don’t understand that what they did to our neighbouring municipalities and to the airport development has serious consequences.

I realize that none of the Blockheads campaigned on regional cooperation, even though getting along with our neighbours and working towards mutually beneficial goals has been a successful and effective core principle in Collingwood prior to this term. This group wants none of that. Playing well with others isn’t in their game plan. Or vocabulary. The Connection article notes:

At the Dec. 11 Collingwood council meeting, Coun. Bob Madigan wanted to know if their neighbours had given any official reason.
“I knew the money was taken out and I know why they did it, I was just wondering if they gave us reasons why so we can continue to better ourselves and partnership with other community rather than just saying no, we’re done, thank you, bye,” he said.
Madigan said with the airport being located in Clearview, they benefit the most from a regional airport.

I know, I know: it’s a facepalm moment. They don’t get it. They just don’t get it. The Block expressed similarly fatuous comments about our regional hospital while they did everything they could to kill its redevelopment plans. The Blockheads couldn’t understand why people were upset about that, either.

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Oumuamua: just a piece of rock

If you can watch the whole bit of this piece of New Age woo hoo without flinching or giving up, you will likely shake your head at the utter, mindless gullibility of humankind. And it’s not even political. But by now you know the Net is crammed full of conspiracy theories, pseudoscience, food fads, creationism, homeopathy and other claptrap. And you already have seen how the wingnuts can easily bend and twist everything, taking stuff out of context or simply making it up to suit their wacky beliefs.

Oumuamua
That blue circle shows the best magnification from the biggest Earth-based telescopes of the rogue asteroid Oumuamua.

The latest codswallop is that scientists claim a tumbling cigar- shaped (or was that penis-shaped?) chunk of rock that passed through our solar system in October was actually an alien spaceship. Well, no, they didn’t. And they certainly did not CONFIRM anything of the sort no matter what some UFO-addled wingnut claims.

Oumuamua – or more technically, 1I/2017 U1 – zipped by us about 33 million kms away, reaching a speed of 87.71 km/s (196,200 mph) before slowing. The eccentricity of its path made astronomers hypothesize that it came from outside our own solar system and thus was the first recognized interstellar traveller we have encountered. That’s only a hypothesis based on its trajectory, not even a full theory yet, because no one has seen it close up, let alone sent a probe to examine it closely. And never will.

The minimal data available says it’s a chunk of rock, roughly 180 by 30 meters (600 ft × 100 ft) in size. Even if it did come another stellar system, and even if it’s oddly shaped, there’s nothing to indicate it wasn’t natural.
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Shin Godzilla: the reboot

I’m almost embarrassed to admit that, of all the Godzilla films I’ve watched, I can recall the exact details of few. I cannot remember, just by looking at the title, which monsters were battling which. I need to look at the slipcase cover to see a picture to remind me which foe Godzilla was battling this time. Or foes, because there’s often more than one. In many ways, I prefer the original premise: a single Godzilla versus the world rather than Godzilla versus other monsters. Easier to keep track of the players that way. But that hasn’t happened in a Godzilla film since 1984. Until now, that is (I trust you have already read part one of this article).

Shin Godzilla posterIn my previous post I wrote about the original Godzilla film, Toho’s 1954 Gojira. This post is about the last (or rather, the latest, not including the recent anime release) film in the franchise.

Toho Studio’s Shin Godzilla (aka Godzilla Resurgence) rebooted the series once more after a 12-year hiatus, again returning to the root story to start afresh. It quickly proved the highest-grossing Japanese film in the series and received critical acclaim in Japan when it was released. It even won Picture of the Year and six other awards from the Japanese film academy.

It didn’t fare as well in the west, where many critics were lukewarm and some even hostile. Indiewire called it Godzilla’s “weirdest movie ever” although it recognized it as “a story about the logistics of dealing with an unimaginable disaster, and how the infrastructure of our society is the last line of defense we have in the face of a real crisis.” Empire magazine called it, “A sometimes shonky mix of puppetry, model-work and performance capture, the creature is still awe-inspiring in its size and city-stomping, skyscraper-roasting fury. Sadly, it also wears itself out quickly and then goes to sleep for an hour.”

That last is mightily unfair, but predictable in a Western review, because the film switches from action to character and theme development, something many North American viewers either dislike or misunderstand (perhaps the days when critics gushed over non-action (aka art) flicks like My Dinner with Andre may be well past us, or maybe it’s just a new generation of online critics who think Bruce Willis or Jason Statham have to be in a film to make it worth watching). But that development is core to Shin Godzilla because it’s not just a monster movie. It’s a subtle political satire and commentary, too.

Okay, maybe not so subtle, but it’s not an in-your-face satire like The Thick of It.
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War for the Planet of the Apes considered

Pierre Boulle never imagined War for the Planet of the Apes, the latest film in the remade franchise. In fact, it would be fair to say the author of the original book never imagined any of the series, from the first in 1968 to the latest, released in 2017. They were far, far from what he had envisioned in the early 1960s. Warning: spoilers ahead.

Boulle’s 1963 novel, Monkey Planet, was basically a satire and a social commentary. And it wasn’t based in America: the astronauts came from France (and their last view on landing was of the Eiffel Tower not the Statue of Liberty… oops. Spoiler alert!). But it had a lot of contemporary themes common to both, including Cold War jitters.

The novel was scripted into an action movie in 1968, starring the hammy Charlton Heston, with Roddy McDowall (and others) in chimp makeup. Rod Serling of the Twilight Zone fame had a hand in the writing, but so did others, and it ended up a sort-of reflection of Boulle’s original. A fun-house mirror reflection.

While the lumbering Heston would (mercifully) only have a cameo role in the first sequel (Beneath, see below), McDowall starred in the remainder and set the tone for the series.

In the 1968 film, Heston plays a heroic American astronaut who fights to win freedom for the humans and stir up a revolution against ape dominance (ironic that the US was so hep on such concepts when they did them, but took umbrage when anyone else – such as Che Guevara – did it). (Heston went on to become a mouthpiece for the NRA.) The other films have no less histrionic plots.

Although Beneath ends with a “divine” bomb blowing up the planet (apes and mutant humans both), the series went on for three more films, the writers providing a “miraculous” escape for apes Cornelius, Zira and Dr. Milo via an astronaut’s space ship, arriving back in time to 1973. The former couple have a son they call Caesar, who becomes the lead revolutionary in the subsequent two movies, culminating in the final overthrow of humans in Battle for the Planet of the Apes.
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Gojira, the original kaiju

At the end of most Godzilla films, the audience is led to believe the giant reptile has finally been killed off. Blown up, defeated by another monster, killed by technology, sunk to the bottom of the ocean or suffered some similar fate. And yet there he*** is, hale and hearty in the next film, rampaging through Japan once again, and facing yet another kaiju (giant monster) – or often several. After 32 films, Godzilla still comes back. And so do I.*

I was thinking about Godzilla this week, today in particular. This is the 100th anniversary of the Halifax Explosion. My grandfather was there, and was injured in the blast. Seeing images of the city after the event made me think of images of Hiroshima, and that in turn made me think about Godzilla rampaging through Tokyo. I imagined Godzilla stomping through the low-rise Halifax, a century ago. Funny how the mind works, sometimes.

director Ishirô Honda on the set of 1954's GodzillaIt began in 1954 with Gojira, the original black-and-white Godzilla movie and still one of the (if not the) best. Film number 32, the animated Godzilla Monster Planet, was released in November, 2017, making this the longest-running film franchise in history.

Gojira was an early tokukatsu film – special effects – that features suitmation (also called suitamation) or actors wearing suits, rather than stop motion, claymation, puppets or CGI. It’s not unique to Japan, but certainly mastered there.

Gojira – the creation of Tomoyuki Tanaka with writers Shigeru Kayama and Takeo Murata, director Ishiro Honda, and special-effects designer Eiji Tsuburaya – was originally produced as a metaphor for Japanese fears about an uncertain, post-Hiroshima future and where science might lead us without moral restraint. Honda had been a soldier in the war and seen Hiroshima after the bomb, first hand, in 1946.

The film itself was an allegory about the dangers of nuclear war and radiation: the monster himself represented both the bomb and its effects. It was, like Kurosawa’s later 1955 film, I Live in Fear, about Japan’s national “atomophobia,” although not always directly. Godzilla is more than a film monster; he (it) becomes the symbol of Japan’s fate, raising the philosophical question whether Japan deserves his wrath because of its wartime aggression.

As Tim Martin wrote in The Telegraph, it was, “…a sober allegory of a film with ambitions as large as its thrice-normal budget, designed to shock and horrify an adult audience.” The original film still has some of that power.

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