Saunderson’s Still Here

Berman and Saunderson
Brian Saunderson, right, with sycophant.

A week has gone by and our mayor, Brian Saunderson, has still not done the right thing by the town of Collingwood and resigned from his office. He continues to pursue his personal ambition at the expense of both the local taxpayer and any credibility he might have had.

As my readers know, Saunderson announced he didn’t want the job of mayor and is campaigning to be our local MPP (Member of Provincial Parliament). However, he announced he is staying on as mayor until he gets elected, which won’t be (if it happens at all) until June, 2021. Until then, he continues to suck at the public tit while he campaigns for his new job.

As I have written in the past, an honourable mayor would have resigned. Not doing so essentially spits in the face of his beloved judicial inquiry recommendations about apparent conflicts of interest. Such blatant hypocrisy is not un-noticed here.

Ethical politicians in other municipalities who understand how accusations of conflicts of interest and influence peddling can arise when a municipal politician campaigns for a role in a higher tier government. They have called on the province to amend the Municipal Act so that municipal politicians who run for another office must resign their municipal role. Not that Saunderson cares what other politicians think, ethical or not. This is all about him, not about what’s best for others.

The flaccid, local media ignores the issue. Saunderson’s fawning sycophants on council turn a blind eye so as not to lose his approval. A pat on the head is all they want from him to be happy.

Collingwood deserves a mayor whose focus is on our community, not himself. but there is no greater good in Saunderson’s ideology: only a greater Brian. If he wants to show he really has the community’s interests at heart, Saunderson would resign. But I suspect few, if any, expect him to do the right thing.

Musing on Making Pasta No. 2

making pastaIn its most basic form, pasta can be made from only two ingredients: flour and water. But while true, it’s deceptively simple, and far from the tastiest or most expressive pasta you can make.  (see part 1 of this essay if you missed it)

Flour is delightfully complicated; there is some interesting chemistry at work within flour and it’s fun to experiment. Wheat is classified into several categories: spring and winter (by the planting season), colour (red or white), hard or soft (high or low protein content), and durum (an amber, hard wheat). Canadian wheat has five classes for eastern wheat and nine for western, plus three milling classes for flour.

Generally, you don’t need to worry about these classifications when shopping. Commercial flours are blends of hard and soft wheat for consistency. What you should know, however, is whether the flour is high protein (hard, i.e. all-purpose and bread flours) or low protein (soft, i.e. pastry and cake flours) because this makes a difference when making bread or pasta. You should also know if the flour is unbleached (always preferred), has bran (i.e whole wheat), or additives (i.e self-rising: not used for pasta).

Commercial pasta is generally categorized into two groups: those types made with durum wheat (usually dried, made from Triticum durum) and sometimes semolina, and those made with wheat (from Triticum aestivum: used in your basic AP, bread, and tipo 00 flours). Recipes with the latter wheat often include eggs. Italian dried pastas are all made from 100% durum wheat. Of course, in your own kitchen, you can mix any flours in any recipe.

And mix I recommend. In my experience, pasta made with a blend of semolina and wheat flour provides both texture and taste. I’ll explain below. BTW, semolina from soft wheat is sold as Cream of Wheat cereal, and is not the same as semolina from durum wheat used in pasta or couscous.

There are many kinds of flour to choose from, and I’ve encountered recipes that use one or several of the popular types (aside from cake or self-rising types). “Hard” flour has 10-14% protein and is commonly used for bread, pasta, pizza; “soft” flour has 5-10% and is used for cakes and pastry, but at the higher end may also be used in pasta (see tipo 00, below). The higher the protein percentage, the more the gluten that is produced. Durum wheat, used for dry pasta, is a high-protein (14-15%), or “hard” flour, while semolina is a little lower at 12-13%.

Just to confuse things, there are differences in protein content between brands, types, and between flours from different countries. Canadian all-purpose (AP) and bread flours generally have higher protein (12% for AP, 13% for bread) than many of their American equivalents (some of which are only 9-10%, although King Arthur and some of Bob’s Red Mill flours are similar in protein to Canadian flours,). Bags labelled bread flour have higher protein than all-purpose.

Pastry or cake flour has a much lower protein content (around 9% for pastry, 6-8% for cake). While you can use pastry flour in pasta, cake flour should never be used because it won’t make a good dough. There are higher-protein (specialty) flours available, but I’ve never used them in pasta. Some non-wheat flours (like rye) have gluten proteins, but much lower levels, and may also form different types of gluten. Some flours, like chestnut, rice, and buckwheat have no proteins for gluten at all. You can use these other flours for taste and colour, but you still need wheat for gluten.

Aside: I don’t make or eat anything that is gluten-free. Aside from not following a pointless, cult-like dietary fad that lacks a solid scientific basis, the few gluten-free products I’ve tried all taste like sawdust. Besides, gluten-free anything depends on using other additives like xanthan gum to mimic gluten’s natural effects.
Continue reading “Musing on Making Pasta No. 2”

Musings on Making Pasta No. 1

My pasta booksLong-time readers here may recall that I used to post about making my own pasta and bread quite frequently some years back. Last spring when I was diagnosed with cancer and then went through surgery and then radiation, I stopped doing both. This week, I finally got back to my pasta-making— not quite as adroitly as I had in the past, mind you; the old skills were a mite rusty — and expect to get back to bread shortly. Both activities provide me a sense of tactile creativity and pleasure, and give me some opportunity to learn. All cooking is a chemistry experiment.

And, not surprisingly, I like to read about pasta. I have a lifelong love of learning. I started by digging out my pasta books (pictured above), plus my recipe notebook, and made tables of ingredients and quantities to compare recipes and techniques. I read the technical stuff, too, about flours, hydration, temperatures, and so on. What I don’t have in my library, however, is a good, technical book on wheat and flour. I’ll have to look for one. However, there is good information in several of my pasta books.

I thought I might take a moment and discuss here my thoughts on pasta, making it at home, and what I’ve learned from my books and personal experience.

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English as She is Spoke

English as She is SpokeOne of the more delightful books in my personal library is a reprint of the 1883 American edition of English as She Is Spoke, described by Wikipedia as, 

…intended as a Portuguese–English conversational guide or phrase book; however, as the “English” translations provided are usually inaccurate or incoherent, it is regarded as a classic source of unintentional humour in translation.

Even a quick glance at its suggested English phrases and you’ll see the humour. It reads more like a guide for the speech of the beloved character of Manuel in Fawlty Towers than a guide for visitors and immigrants: “We will first to see him in outside, after we shall go in there for to look the interior.”

The book was originally published in France in 1855, with Pedro Carolino named as the sole author. Later editions added José da Fonseca as a co-author. The original title translates as “The New Guide to Conversation, in Portuguese and English, in Two Parts.” A British edition came out in 1882, with the title wittily translated as English as She is Spoke, and it stuck in English editions thereafter.

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Why Saunderson Should Resign Now

Imagine an issue so important, so utterly non-partisan that both the National Post and the Toronto Star — two newspapers of widely divergent politics, perspectives, and ideology — agreed. That issue is that municipal politicians running for higher office should resign from their municipal roles on council.

But our own Mayor Brian Saunderson, running for the Progressive Conservatives, has decided he’s above all that, and will stay in office. I’ve already written that I see his resignation as the only honourable and ethical acrion.

Imagine, too, you’re an employer. A worker comes to you, says his job sucks, and boasts he has sent his resume to another company. But, he says, he will stay on and collect his paycheque from you while they look it over. And before you can say anything — your employee is not a person to tolerate public input on anything — he adds that since they won’t be hiring him for another year or more, he will stay at his lousy job with you, collecting his salary, until they take him. How would you feel?

That’s exactly what Saunderson has told local residents and taxpayers. Even though he’s told us, in essence, he hates his current job, we are still on the hook for his salary while he campaigns for another one. Yet, provincially-elected politicians (MPPs) who run for federal office MUST resign from their position in the Legislature. It strikes me as very hypocritical for a municipal politician running for provincial office not to follow the province’s mandate. *

It is too much to ask of our mayor that he consider the potential accusations of conflict of interest and influence peddling that could arise as he campaigns for support and donations? Is it too much to consider the taint his campaigning could put on the other members of council and town staff, and every one of their decisions? Or how it might polarize his fellow county councillors? Is it irrelevant for him to consider what his fellow councillors must think being told that, assuming he wins both (nomination and provincial election), four months before the next municipal election, he will leave? Collingwood will be without a mayor and council left to squabble over the leadership and filling the vacancy he left behind. Is that mayoral behaviour?

And what happens if Saunderson doesn’t get nominated? He gets to stay in office as mayor, likely a disappointed, and bitter wannabe, with no interest in pursuing his municipal role. We’ve already seen from the $9-million-judicial inquiry how vindictive he can be. And it will be worse if he gets the nomination but doesn’t win the provincial election.

Why are local media silent on this and the potential conflicts of interest Saunderson’s announcement raises? Or how it trashes the recommendations about such conflicts in his beloved, vindictive, judicial inquiry? Where are the howls of outrage and contempt?

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Saunderson’s Role in Blocking the Hospital Redevelopment

DilbertDuring the previous council’s four years (2014-18), I documented the aggressive efforts to stall the local hospital’s desperately-needed redevelopment by a group of those on council (aka The Block*). Every other municipality in the region enthusiastically supported the hospital’s plan; only this group on Collingwood council put up roadblocks. And they were significant roadblocks raised at great expense to the taxpayer.

Collingwood council SHOULD have taken the lead to promote their own hospital, but couldn’t get past their self-importance. As a result of the former council’s pettiness and negative interference, the hospital’s plans were set back as much as a decade, perhaps even more. Voters here should not forget that. **

Brian Saunderson, one of those who erected the roadblocks, is now running for the nomination for the local Progressive Conservative party to be our next MPP while stubbornly remaining as mayor; a situation rife with potential for conflicts of interest and accusations of influence-peddling. Yet he refuses to do the honorable, ethical thing and resign from office while he campaigns. That speaks volumes to his character. (in 2011, Mississauga council passed a motion asking both provincial and federal governments to require municipal councillors to resign their seat before running for higher office.)

I thought it might be a good time to remind readers about that earlier story and his part in it. On the next page is a list of all the stories I published here about the hospital issue, The Block’s objections and stalling tactics, their fight against the hospital’s plans, their closed-door meetings, and the final vote-grabbing turnaround they made as the next municipal election approached.

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An Honourable Mayor?

DilbertMayor Brian Saunderson has announced he is running for nomination to the provincial Progressive Conservative party in our riding to be able to stand as the candidate for MPP. According  to a story in Collingwood Today, he is not stepping down from his role as mayor, and will not do so even if he wins the nomination:

Should Saunderson receive the nomination, he said he would not be stepping back from his duties as mayor of Collingwood unless he were to be successful and elected in 2022.

I believe that this poses a threat of both real and perceived conflicts of interest and that an honourable, ethical politician should step down immediately after announcing his or her candidacy to another office. Here’s why:

Being mayor is a full-time role even though it is paid as a part-time job. The mayor cannot decide at any time not to be mayor and act as an individual or claim his acts were personal, not official. The Municipal Act does not allow that. The same holds true as a county council member: he is always a representative of the county, even when away from the county council.

A specific date for the local nomination meeting has not yet been set, however Saunderson said the riding association is planning to have it done by the beginning of April.

Saunderson will be in campaign mode from now until the provincial election in June, 2022. Stepping down as mayor shortly before the next municipal election does not absolve him of public scrutiny over his potential conflicts before then. No one can be effective and diligent serving as mayor, county councillor, and outside political candidate and still fulfill the expectations of all three.

And shouldn’t every member of a municipal council be non-partisan? Municipal mayors and councillors do not run for election on party lines. Declaring openly your allegiance to a party, and then serving (should he win) as the party’s nominee is certainly very partisan and in opposition to what I have always believed is the spirit of fair, non-partisan municipal politics.

Saunderson will be campaigning for support and funding for both his nomination and, if he wins it, for his provincial election campaign. During the next 18 months, he or his team will approach individuals and businesses for donations and support. Some of these will be companies that bid for or provide services for the Town of Collingwood or Simcoe County. These may include local engineering and contracting firms, waste management, construction, automobile vendors, and so on. No one will not see him as aw-shucks-plain-old-Brian-the wannabe-MPP: they will see him as the influential mayor of the municipality who also sits on the county council. 

Saunderson’s team during both his campaigns should also be considered as his business associates when considering conflicts of interest. Politics is not a recreation: a campaign is a business venture with large financial rewards for winners at the upper tiers. And some of those team members will be paid for their participation, not simply be volunteers. This adds yet another layer of potential conflict to his position.

In essence, following his announcement, Saunderson became a lobbyist for himself and his party. One has to wonder if he has listed himself as such on the town’s lobbyist registry. Methinks not. And did Saunderson discuss the potential conflicts with the town’s Integrity Commissioner as would be appropriate according to the judicial inquiry’s recommendations? The reporter does not say (nor is it clear if she even asked him).

Continue reading “An Honourable Mayor?”

Striving for Mediocrity

DullardsOn a council laden with dunces, deadwood, and dullards, it must be some consolation to our elected representatives, that they can at least claim to be less mediocre than Councillor Steve Berman. We all need someone to measure ourselves against, I suppose, and a low bar is so much easier to rise above.

Berman’s first year in office was spent mostly consuming oxygen at the table and saying nothing of consequence. Of so little consequence were his words that even the normally sycophantic local media hardly ever bothered to reprint them. But when the pandemic struck and council retreated into virtual Zoom meetings, he rose to the occasion by occupying a video rectangle with a look of dazed incomprehension. That is something of an accomplishment for him, I guess.

To be fair, I suspect none of our council was elected for their brains, but rather for their unbending loyalty to our mayor: eight wannabe-Guilianis to their wannabe-mini-Trump. And has been made clear in their past two years in office, they clearly were expected not to show actual initiative or advocate for any projects or goals that might transfer the lustre to them and away from their leader. And in that role, Berman has shone along with the rest.

But Berman broke from the herd this week, going far enough into the fringe that Collingwood Today reported him “pushing for town staff and council to make more of an effort to stop the spread of misinformation in the correspondence section of council and committee agendas” and he “referenced the actions of Twitter to add flags to its users’ tweets when the information in the tweet was disputed.”

By which he is referring to Twitter tagging Donald Trump’s outright lies, but that suggests he must think that local residents are also lying when they write their concerns to council. 

Does that strike you as a call for censorship? Berman took to task two local residents whose mildly critical letters had appeared in the council’s recent  “consent agenda.” (Methinks he must be secretly reading my blog, too. Or maybe having someone summarize it for him because it has a lot of words in every post. Well, I welcome all readers, regardless of their literacy.)

And yet, most curiously, he didn’t include for his “fact-checking” tags the letter from Claire Tucker-Reid, on another consent agenda, which I found rife with the sort of “alternate facts” Berman claims to want to correct. But then, she was on the committee that recommended the $35 million corporate handout. And he was all for council making that donation. Not hypocritical of him at all, right?
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The Cancer Diaries, Part 24

Finish line aheadMy final week of radiation treatment is here. I should have felt elated that I would no longer be required to drive every day for an hour or more each way as I have for the past six weeks. Everyone told me it would go by in a flash, but it seems to have dragged on and on. I felt curiously empty when the new week dawned and the end was in sight.

It’s been a difficult time — almost a year since my PSA test showed something was seriously wrong, and seven months since my surgery. While most of the time, I’m optimistic, some days it’s hard to be upbeat. I guess that’s in part because there are still a lot of unknowables about my condition; I don’t know yet what my future holds. There is still more hormone treatment coming, and a likelihood of further treatment, like chemotherapy. Not looking forward to that.

Yet man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.
Job 5:7

Emotionally, physically, and mentally this treatment process has sometimes been draining. A lot like walking uphill in knee-deep snow: you have to keep pushing yourself forward, one step at a time. Some days I feel fine; others I drag myself out of bed, stumble through my ablutions, and fall into the car to drive for treatment. All without any enthusiasm or optimism.

It’s been modestly expensive for a retiree, too. The cost of drugs, diapers, and pads, coupled with the daily cost of driving and parking have added up. I keep reminding myself that if we lived in the USA and had to pay the full costs of everything rather than have most of it covered by our healthcare system, we would either have become bankrupt, or I would have died without treatment. Probably the latter, since I would not want to put Susan into poverty. The number of Americans who claim bankruptcy because of medical bills is staggering. I am glad to live in Canada.

During the past year, I’ve not engaged in several of the activities I have previously enjoyed, because I was either in a frail, post-operative state, encumbered with a catheter and urine bag, or simply feeling listless and sore. I can’t recall the last time I made bread or pasta, two things I used to love to do. I missed a lot of long walks around town with Susan and our dog, too. I didn’t exercise — the rowing machine in the basement went unused. At least I’ve kept up my reading. Perhaps come spring I will be back to a more ‘normal’ life and recovered enough so that I can do everything as I did in the past.

I can take heart that my fears about bad weather have not materialized this winter. It’s been unseasonably dry and warm these past few weeks. Were I a religious man, I would thank whatever weather god(s) I followed for the lack of snow — Wikipedia lists dozens of weather deities, including Thor, Jupiter, Raijin, K’awiil, Horus, Marduk, and many more, but none listed specifically as a snow (or no-snow) god. However, different searches gave me Chione (Khione), Ullr, Frau Holle, Morana, Skadi, Boreas, Hoder, Iokul Frosti, Morozko, Polivah, and a few others who controlled the snow. Who knew there were so many? I suppose I should just thank them all. Isn’t it usual to sacrifice a politician at an altar for this?

But, I remind myself, as Dr. David Orenstein recently asked in a piece at the Humanist.com, “Doesn’t rational truth sustain us better than magical thinking?” He also asks,

Are we so stymied by the present that we neglect learning about the past? Or are we so consumed by the present that we cannot collectively imagine a positive future? And why, for instance, is science and expertise viewed by many with suspicion or as a threat?

Traditional winter weather will come later in the month, starting a day or two after my treatment is over. I take heart that spring is only seven weeks away (cue the laugh track). The next big, province-wide lockdown also gets put in place this week.

Continue reading “The Cancer Diaries, Part 24”