Brian the comedian

ClownFollowing the success of Collingwood’s Comedy Duo, whose act has taken them on tour across the nation on the taxpayers’ dollar, our Deputy Mayor has entered the ring as our jester-du-jour. And since the Duo’s main act was sidelined recently by not being allowed to keep a snout into the FCM trough, it looks like Brian’s act may be the foremost comedy skit in the council burlesque. Who would have thought a lawyer could also be a clown?

At a recent Council meeting (June 12, 2017) he had the audience in stitches with his new routines. And not just his always-risible English gaffes when he starts his speeches with “moved by me…”! You can watch it on Rogers TV starting at 1:22:23 when he presents a request for a staff report (cunningly not included with the meeting’s agenda so as to keep the element of comic surprise alive when it was presented!).

Watch and listen. Brian uses words like “accountability” and “transparency” like they are something he suddenly discovered and we need to get to them now. Like frickin’ right now. And staff better give us a report about them because these are hot stuff!

Too bad the camera didn’t pan out to catch the baffled looks on the faces of his minion Block members. Heads were shaking and rattling sounds could be heard from them. Blockheads had never heard him use those words before, at least not since the election campaign and certainly not directed at them. The Block stands for secrecy, for scurrying behind closed doors to discuss policy, to making decisions via email not in the public. For conniving and conning, for ignoring the public and blaming everyone else.

Yet after two-and-a-half years in office, here is Der Leader suddenly telling them he wants to see more “accountability,” more “transparency.” They must have piddled themselves in terror. What, they wondered, do those words mean?
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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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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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The last walk

Sophie and Bella in the snow“You have to go to the pound. They have a Sheltie there.” Susan called me from work, her voice urgent. One of her clients had told her a Sheltie – Shetland Sheepdog – had been picked up by Animal Control and was in the pound, on Stewart Road about to come up for adoption. She added, “I already have a name for her.”

This was in the late spring of 2008. It had been a couple of years since we had a dog and she knew I missed having one. We had had some great dogs in the past, including a purebred blue merle Sheltie called Wellington. Wellie for short. A beautiful, well mannered, smart and affectionate dog. Robust, working dog type of Sheltie, not one of those overbred scrawny things you see around too often. Wellie was lovely, but died of cancer too soon. It broke our hearts.

But we’d also had some bad luck.The two most recent dogs – a Papillon named Katy and a Corgi named Topper – had been neurotic and difficult. While Katy – a former breeding dog we got at age 6 or 7 – was merely timid. Topper was crazy. Severe separation anxiety made him destroy everything in his presence if we weren’t there to oversee his every minute. Katy lived out her natural life with us, loved for all her strangeness. Topper we had to return to the breeder after a frustrating year trying every tactic and therapy: he chewed up one couch, one chair, one pillow, one pair of shoes, one baseboard, too many. I didn’t think Susan would ever allow us to get another after that.

So we just had cats. I love my cats, but I missed having a dog underfoot, interacting with me. Susan knew it. I missed the companionship, the walks, the unquestioning loyalty and affection of a dog. She liked dogs, but prefers cats, and didn’t really want another dog. Yet she knew how much it meant to me. Her call came as a delightful surprise.

I left the store and drove over to the pound. There she was: a beautiful, tri-colour dog. Long hair, great ruff. Not a Sheltie, though. Close, but too big for one, even for the likes of Wellie. Maybe part. Too small for a Collie. More likely a mix. Calm, a little scared, but she let me check her out, just sat and watched me every moment. Patient. An adult, apparently a mother at least once. I liked her, but it’s not the sort of decision you make alone.

Sophie, Nov. 2008The dog, I was told, had been abandoned, right here in town. The family who owned her moved, and left her tied to a tree. A couple of days later, neighbours called animal control. She was in a kennel with another dog – a bigger, playful, somewhat loopy Shepherd cross who wanted my attention and kept pushing in between us. But I only had eyes for the Sheltie cross. She was beautiful.

I arranged for the officer to hold her until the evening when Susan could join me. As soon as she saw the dog, Susan was in love with her. Sophie, she called her. We never regretted it for a moment after.
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Thank you and Happy New Year

Twenty seventeen will arrive one second later than expected, thanks to the addition of a leap second added to balance the atomic clocks with the Earth’s actual time. One more second for my readers to browse, I suppose, although 2016 was such an awful year that few folks want it to stay around any longer. One more second of Donald Trump or Brexit is unbearable for most of us, but there it is.

For my readership, however, 2016 was good; the number of visitors was up 15% overall from 2015 and continues to climb. Thank you, everyone: I hope my humble scribblings entertained and maybe even informed you. At the very least I hope they opened the door for conversations. And this year I met and conversed with several regular readers, and even received a gift basket as a thank-you for exposing the ugly underbelly of local politics. First time that has ever happened.

To date, I have written 918 posts (this is 919) with over 1.4 million words in them. The longest is post more than 8,700 words. I know, I know: I’m a yappy bugger but writing is what I love to do and when I can bolster it with research, why, I’m in intellectual heaven. That count doesn’t include the words I pound out for my work, for my novels (several in the works, none likely to see publication), for my published articles, what I write on social media, or my Machiavelli blog, or my correspondence. Several tens of thousands of words were written outside this blog. That’s why this blog is called Scripturient: having a strong urge to write.

A lot of readership in 2016 came from my posts about local issues: the unethical, immoral or even illegal behaviour of the group of seven on our local council we call The Block (so named not simply because they block vote, but because The Borg was already taken and much over-used). Sadly, much of that activity was either ignored or glossed over by the local media. But I believe it’s important the public is made aware of the shady dealing, the secret meetings, the conniving and scheming, the nest-feathering, the personal agendas and vendettas of this group. They are aggressively destroying so much of this great town, and as a result of complaints they are under investigation by the Information & Privacy Commissioner, the Ombudsman and the Ontario Energy Board. And possibly the police (if rumour proves true). Our reputation with our neighbours and developers has never been lower. But I digress.
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More council Christmas carols

A few preliminary verses for your consideration this holiday season… perhaps my readers might like to offer their contributions or extend the verses below.

To the tune of The Holly and the Ivy:
The folly of our council,
So evident to see
Fumble, flail and bumble
Of this we all agree.

O the rising of our taxes
And consultants not a few
The lawyers that they hired
Block vendettas to see through.

To the tune of: We Three Kings of Orient Are:
We the Block of Council votes are
Conflicts of interest we bring from afar
Sell our airport, sell the utilities
Follow our CAO…

O we don’t need your public voice
No consultation or input
We know what’s best, we know what’s right
The meeting door stays closed shut

To the tune of Silent Night:
Silent night, in camera night
All is secret, that’s our right
Round yon interim CAO
Gather and listen to what he says so
We do his bidding, we must
In his deep wisdom we trust

To the tune of Good King Wenceslas:
Cam Ecclestone he raised his hand
And voted to defeat it,
When recorded vote was called
He stood. It was approved.
Could not recall his vote that night,
When the media asked him.
Brian had to lecture him,
On The Block’s agen-en-da.

To the tune of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear:
The Block they went in camera
They wanted no public to hear.
When selling our utility
Their private agendas were clear.

To the tune of Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer:
Kathy’s a happy councillor
Her expenses she thinks are fab
She flies around the country while
Taxpayers pick up the tab.

All of the other Blockheads
Voted for her to play
She parties without restrictions
While the rest of us must pay.

Council’s 12 Days of Christmas

Collingwood Council
On the first day of Christmas my council gave to me:

An interim CAO.

On the second day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the third day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Five insults to the CGMH, four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Six airport rejections, five insults to the CGMH, four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Seven hundred dollar an hour lawyer, six airport rejections, five insults to the CGMH, four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Eight outside consultants, seven hundred dollar an hour lawyer, six airport rejections, five insults to the CGMH, four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Nine ethical violations, eight outside consultants, seven hundred dollar an hour lawyer, six airport rejections, five insults to the CGMH, four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my council gave to me:
Ten in camera meetings, nine ethical violations, eight outside consultants, seven hundred dollar an hour lawyer, six airport rejections, five insults to the CGMH, four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my council a gave to me:
Eleven phony reports, ten in camera meetings, nine ethical violations, eight outside consultants, seven hundred dollar an hour lawyer, six airport rejections, five insults to the CGMH, four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my council gave to me:
Twelve attacks on Collus, eleven phony reports, ten in camera meetings, nine ethical violations, eight outside consultants, seven hundred dollar an hour lawyer, six airport rejections, five insults to the CGMH, four integrity investigations, three sole-sourced contracts, two tax hikes,
And an interim CAO.

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.

Tough Times for Print Media

NewspapersIt’s not like the halcyon days when I first started writing for newspapers, back in late 1969. Today, print media is struggling to survive in a world dominated by digital media and mega-corps owners (although not so hard it can’t pay its CEOs and executives several million dollars while they slash real jobs).*

Print media has long been losing its advertising share, a trend exacerbated by the internet. Newspapers now have about 11% share, compared to about 35% for the internet, according to a Globe and Mail story. A Pew Research study in 2015 showed newspaper advertising in the USA dropped 4% in 2014.

But for Postmedia the picture has been consistently bleaker: a drop of 17.6% in advertising in three months of 2015 alone – and advertising represents 57% of the company’s income. Plus it lost $3.2 million in circulation revenue (excluding the Sun papers). Even its digital revenue (excluding the Sun) dropped by $5.9 million in that quarter.

This year has been a particularly tough one for Canadian media: in January Postmedia announced 90 job cuts and the merger of several, previously competitive newsrooms. But no cuts were made to CEO Paul Godfrey’s $1.4 million salary plus bonus package, of course. No share-the-pain momentum in the upper echelons. As the CBC reported:

Postmedia’s finances have been sagging for several quarters under a large debt load, much of which was accrued when the company bought the entire Sun chain of newspapers from Quebecor in late 2014 for $316 million.
That move consolidated most of the English-language newspapers in Canada under the Postmedia banner, with the notable exception of the Toronto Star and the Globe And Mail.

And the pain wasn’t over yet. As the CBC story continued:

A big problem for the chain, Waddell noted, is that Postmedia paid for the Sun Media purchase with debt loaned by U.S. backers. Those debts must now be repaid at a time when the Canadian dollar is worth much less, which means it costs more money to repay at a time when the chain has less cash overall.
“This is an organization that is losing money and losing a lot of money,” Waddell said.

Even though I despise Postmedia’s misplaced affection for the uber-right and its kowtowing to its American hedge fund owners, it’s a sorry day for Canadian media when any paper closes, when any journalist gets laid off. And that’s been happening a lot of late.

In January, with as much fanfare as one can have at a funeral, the Guelph Mercury – a Metroland paper – closed its doors after 150 years. Or rather, had its doors closed by its parent company.

That same month, TorStar closed its printing plant in Vaughan where it had printed the paper for the past 25 years, cutting almost 300 jobs.

In June, Postmedia closed the printing presses at the London Free Press and outsourced the work to its competitor, Metroland, cutting 139 jobs in the process.

In August, TorStar announced it was cutting 50 jobs, mostly “…from its newsroom and tablet edition, amid increasing pressure from declining print advertising revenue” according to a CBC story. That was followed by an additional 26 employees. TorStar’s operating revenue has been falling for several years in a row, its annual report shows and its subsidiary, Metroland saw losses as well (revenues down $37.1 million, see p. 5 and 19, with an operating loss of more than $250 million in 2015, p. 20).

A popular Postmedia Vancouver paper, 24 Hours, laid off all its staff of eight, including its three reporters, in September. The paper was repurposed to merely regurgitate content from other Postmedia papers.

Also in September, the Globe & Mail asked that 40 of its 650 employees take voluntary severance packages, the third time in as many years that the newspaper has tried to slash its payroll. Sixty employees took the first offer in 2013, one site reported.

In September, Rogers Media stopped printing four of its magazines and moving them to digital-only platforms. The company also reduced the number of editions of others, noting that print advertising revenue had dropped 30 per cent in the past year. Number of jobs last was not reported.

And then earlier this month, PostMedia announced it was cutting its salaries by 20%, and layoffs loomed if enough employees didn’t voluntarily resign. Postmedia had 4,733 employees at the end of August, 2015, according to CTV News, but was down to around 4,000 about a year later.

Continue reading “Tough Times for Print Media”

552 kWh? We can do better

Power conservationI received a report in the mail from Collus PowerStream giving me an overview of my electricity usage for the one-month period of August. A hot, humid August that no doubt had us running the air conditioner and ceiling fans more often than we normally do (we actually like it warm most of the time).

I really appreciated getting the notice because we care about conservation. I always want to know more about our energy and water use, especially as the utility rates continue to escalate. Anything we can do to keep the bills low is something we examine carefully. I wish our water utility would do the same. *

For that one month, August, we burned 552 kWh (kilowatt hours). In comparison, our neighbours burned an average of 888 kwh each. But out more “efficient” neighbours only burned 395. **

Who these neighbours are is never stated. There is no demographic or other data to properly compare with. Are they full time or part time residents? What ages and do they have children? Do they own and use air conditioners? Do they have electric or gas heating? Electric stoves and dryers? What is the geographic range of the zone that defines them? What does the term “efficient” mean? All of these would help me understand my notice. The information doesn’t really let us compare our use against theirs in any meaningful way.

The annual summary on page two shows we were about the same usage last October (why then?) but we stayed below 400 kWh from then until July, when the heat and humidity soared. We were actually below our more “efficient” neighbours for five of those months and about the same for two. So for seven out of 12 months we were at the forefront of local conservation.

But what could we have done better? It’s hard to understand what we can still do. We’re very conservation-minded for both water and power and have done a lot already.

Continue reading “552 kWh? We can do better”

The bucket list, kicked

Kick the bucketNowadays the “bucket list” concept has become a wildly popular cultural meme, thanks to the movie of the same name. Subsequent marketing of the idea to millennials has proven a successful means to derive them of their income, with which they seem eager to part.

I don’t like the concept. The list, I mean, not necessarily the plucking of the millennial chickens who willingly hand over their financial feathers. They get what they deserve.

Bucketlist.org has, at the time of this writing, more than 5.317 million “dreams” for you to pursue. Contributed by more than 450,000 people. And your individual dream? Part of the Borg’s list. Pretty hard to think of something original that the previous 450,000 folks didn’t already add to the list.

Just search “bucket list” on Google and you’ll turn up close to 52 million hits, and a huge number of them are selling something, from New Age codswallop to travel to high-tech gadgets and everything in-between. Nowadays, “your” bucket list is everyone’s bucket list and has become part of a slick campaign aimed at your wallet. At every corner there’s some entrepreneur eager to play Virgil to your hollow life’s Dante, for a price.

A bucket list is, we learned from the film, the wish list of things you want to accomplish before you kick the metaphorical bucket  – i.e. die – as a means to give your previously pathetic life some substance. That notion quickly morphed into a commercial selling point, and it seems I encounter it every day in some new form, usually on social media. It’s up there with posts about puppies, angels, magic crystals, and nasty troll posts about liberals.

The movie is about two seniors undergoing an end-of-life crisis trying to figure out the Meaning of It All. They resolve to avoid dwelling on their inevitable end by taking very expensive trips around the world (Jack Nicholson plays a billionaire…). It’s a cute, moving film. It’s fiction, but also a great marketing idea. We are all susceptible to Hollywood, after all. And, of course, we all have billionaire friends who will buy the tickets, right?

Okay, I get it: we all want life to make sense, and to have meaning that makes the 9-5 grind worthwhile. But even if our lives are meaningless, we don’t want to die, either. We want to be able to say something we did made the journey worth the effort. But is this the way? Is life simply a series of boxes we check off? A list that keeps growing with more and more items to check? Your self esteem will suffer if you don’t check this off. And this. And this. And this…

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Old habits, old junk

My current ukuleles and guitars.

Old junkThe past couple of weeks I have been trying to turn my office (one of our spare bedrooms, once upon a time) back into my office. A working space I’ll need when Susan retires this winter. My man cave, so to speak.

Over the past few years, since I sold the store and went back to home-based freelance work, I have spread my tools and toys around the house, an inexorable sprawl, rather like moss overtaking a pathway. Books litter the house, while my office became more of a walk-in storage closet. Until you could no longer walk into it and it was more like a squeeze-into space.

I’m not so much a hoarder as restlessly obsessed with learning and as a result I accumulate along the way . I simply can’t stop learning, can’t stop exploring the intellectual horizon. Which means I’m always chasing information, data, images, content. And saving it to read later. Which all too often doesn’t happen because I’ve moved on to some new subject of interest, like a magpie distracted by some shiny bauble.

The detritus of my previous efforts and explorations pile up, collecting dust. Thousands of printed pages, collected in binders or bound in Cerlox, each one a silent monument to some pursuit or learning experience I engaged in. Plus hundreds of pages on municipal agendas, reports, emails, notices, Municipal World magazines…

It was time to let go. To admit that I simply won’t go back to that place and space again. To make new space for new purposes. De-clutter. All those lovely platitudes and euphemisms.

It’s been a slow, agonizing and emotional process. Physically, it was like one of those wooden puzzles where you have just so many pieces and they have to assemble into a particular shape. The room is small – really a kid’s bedroom, not something for an adult with eclectic tastes. And I have stuff. Lots of stuff. So what to keep and what to let go takes some time and consideration.

Who knew I had so many guitars and ukuleles? Fourteen ukes, four guitars, one bass. And cases. And harmonicas. Flutes. Stands, microphones, cables, amplifiers, effects, Tibetan singing bowls… stuff I mostly want to keep. I will sell off some, but will keep many. Where will even my soon-to-be diminished collection reside?

Creating space means discarding other stuff; stuff that had – or even has – meaning to me; stuff that I gathered for a particular voyage into knowledge or experience.

Continue reading “Old habits, old junk”

Dilbert, Dogbert and Collingwood

I’ve often commented that the cartoon strip Dilbert, by Scott Adams, is closer to a documentary than it is to a cartoon. Not just about the quagmire of corporate life: Dilbert applies equally to the sodden bureaucracy of government. And here are some strips to prove my hypothesis, at least on the local level.

I culled these strips from around the web, from many, many sites, but the copyright and credit all belongs to Scott Adams. I hope he won’t mind me using his work as an example of how things work in Collingwood. It’s very, very instructive, after all. And true…

For this expository, I’ve chosen strips about lawyers, consultants and management. The former two reflect how our Council depends on these two species of barnacles to tell them how and what to think. The Block has opted to abdicate its responsibilities onto the shoulders of outsiders and let them do the work. But clearly, as the strips show, this is not unique to Collingwood. It is endemic in every poorly-run, top-heavy, bureaucratic corporation. See below if you agree…

Here, for example, is how town administration might have approached one of its chequebook lawyers to re-concoct the Shared Services Agreement with Collus PowerStream:

Lawyers 01

I’m pretty sure that’s why a simple 30-minute task is still not completed after two years. And this is how one of those lawyers might have reacted to the original Collus share sale agreement:

Lawyers 02

Then the lawyers work on it, busy little minions gleefully tabulating the hours they get paid, working to the pleasant musical hum of the cash register. And when they’re done, the administration dumps the result on staff.

Imagine, say, Collus staff being presented with the administration’s revised concoction about the share sale, a frightening dog’s breakfast of wild imagination, egregious fiction and paranoid fantasy:

Lawyers 03

And of course the staff have to live with the consequences when this toxic material gets into the media. Imagine Collus staff being subsequently ordered to manage that codswallop by town administration (for whom they do not work but who demand of their time and energy regardless):

Lawyers 04

Continue reading “Dilbert, Dogbert and Collingwood”

What did the former council ever do for us?

What have the Romans ever done for us?
TIM: What exactly are the demands?

BRIAN: We’re giving Powerstream two days to dismantle the entire apparatus of the Collus utility, and if they don’t agree immediately, we execute the shotgun clause.

TIM: You mean, cut their nose off?

DEB: Cut all our noses off. To spite our collective faces. Show them we’re not to be trifled with.

BRIAN: Also, we’re demanding a ten foot mahogany statue of the former mayor with his conflicts hangin’ out.

KATHY: What? They’ll never agree to that, Brian.

BRIAN: That’s just a bar– a bargaining counter. And of course, we point out that they bear full responsibility when we sell our utility and the rates go sky high, and that we shall not submit to blackmail!

BLOCK: No blackmail!

Continue reading “What did the former council ever do for us?”