Honderich’s hypocrisy

Honderich and GodfreyIn late January, the Toronto Star published a lengthy opinion piece by board chair John Honderich, titled, “We should all be very concerned by the crisis facing quality journalism.” But just in case you thought this was really just about journalism and not a political screed, there’s the telling subhead: “The Trudeau government has either ignored or rejected virtually all the recommendations proposed to help support newspapers. What particularly stings is that the vast majority would not cost taxpayers anything.”*

Honderich is the chair of the board of the TorStar corporation. His Wikipedia page says he worked at the Ottawa Citizen a year or two after I left. He was a reporter at the Star – the publisher then was his father, Beland Honderich, so no stench of nepotism there, eh? – around the same time I worked for the corporation. He rose in the ranks to become publisher, and, despite being the “author of the largest layoff, at the time in print media history,” he was awarded the Order of Canada in 2004 and the Order of Ontario in 2006. Savvy Canadian readers will recognize those years for the Conservative governments in both Ottawa (Harper) and Ontario (Eves). Conservatives recognizing a plutocrat for laying off a record number of workers was not out of step with the party line.

And, of course, the piece re-appeared in dozens of TorStar-controlled publications, like our own Collingwood Connection. Whether this was rammed down the editorial throats of local papers – a dictate to publish or else – I can only suspect. But replacing local content with this screed is very hypocritical and self-serving (especially when it appeared as it did here on the front page: opinion is not news).

Community papers have limited space that should be dedicated to local news, opinions and events, not to the bloviation of the big cheese. (Even more ironically, in late 2015, Honderich himself penned a criticism of Postmedia for dictating what political endorsements its chain would carry)

I remember the umbrage in the media community in the mid-1990s when Conrad Black demanded a letter of his – a much shorter letter than Honderich’s piece, but no less a personal political opinion – on the editorial or op-ed pages of papers he controlled under Hollinger. The outcry over corporate control, over media independence, over freedom of the press and editorial rights. Anyone see a difference here? Neither do I.
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Fire and Fury reviewed

Trump and BannonDysfunctional. Childish. Self-centred. Narcissistic. Ideologically myopic. Illiterate. Cranky. Capricious. Arrogant. Scheming. Petty. Ill-educated. No, I’m not writing about our local council (although, yes, all those words apply equally to The Block). These are some of the words that came to mind as I read Michael Wolff’s book, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House.

Dysfunctional popped into my mind most often as Wolff described the lurching, staggering, fumbling and bumbling of Trump’s staff and family advisers after their unexpected – and for some unwanted – victory. (I know: curiously coincidental how that description also echoes our own council’s meandering, aimless and destructive governance, but let’s not talk about The Block right now…). Not that it’s surprising: the amount of political experience among the core group and family that stuck together through Trump’s campaign combined was less than an hour’s worth.

It’s like reading about a train wreck described in excruciatingly minute detail: the trajectory of every rivet and bolt as it shakes loose from the engine and flies off into space is chronicled, measured and examined. Or perhaps it’s better described as reading about the antics of an entire kindergarten class where cranky children fed on high-sugar treats are not given sufficient nap time.

And despite my initial expectations, the book is less about Trump than about his minions and the limpets who cling to him. While it’s not flattering about the Ignorati-in-Chief, it scorches the hangers-on. There’s a point made that American democracy could survive Trump and manage well enough if the White House had a competent, experienced, educated and literate staff of professionals to mitigate his inabilities. But with its cast of amateurs and grasping opportunists it hasn’t a chance.

I had already read much of what Wolff described online and in newspapers and magazines (such noteworthy publications as the Washington Post, New York Times, Maclean’s, Harper’s, The Atlantic, The Guardian, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone and others which Trump labels ‘fake news’ because they fail to tug their collective forelocks and genuflect to his self-described “very stable” genius). The madcap antics, the sordid affairs, the flailing and failing of Trump’s staff are already as well documented as the president’s own erratic bumbling governance and noxious tweets. But I’ve not had it all served in a single dish before, nor had I been aware of the backgrounds of many of the players. That’s the strength and delight – and fright – of this book.

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Thoughts on reading Ulysses

James Joyce
Onomatopoeia. Odd, sometimes, entertaining too. Like speed bumps that make you slow down and silently mouth the letters. A slow smile at the sound it makes in your head. Alliteration. Anastrophe. Joycean wordplay.

What is that word? A neologism? Or some Irish colloquialism? An anachronism? Another language? Or more playful spelling? So many to stumble over.

Notes. Can’t read Ulysses without the notes. Too many Latin, too many French, too many Gaelic phrases for my monolinguistic brain. Too many Catholic references for my secular upbringing. Too many dips into the classics for my modern education. Irish politics. British politics. Contemporary culture. Jesuits. French authors. Greek tragedies. Lost without the notes.

But notes add to the work. From 930 pages, it expands to almost 1,200. A third larger, a third more to read.

Stream of consciousness? Misleading. That implies a beginning and an end; a source and a destination. A collective movement towards a goal, words flowing in harmony like fish spawning. A direction towards the final outcome. Ulysses is more explosive. A torrent of consciousness. A tsunami. Volcanic eruption of words.

Who would have thought the minutiae of bodily functions so worthy of literature? So many words dedicated to base biological acts.

Was Joyce’s world really so repressed? Were men really so uncomfortable with women and women’s sexuality? If this this the world my parents grew up in, it explains a lot about them – and how they handled my own childhood.

Of course, it’s set in 1904, the hump of the Edwardian era, before the Great War that would sweep away the last vestiges of Victorianism from Europe (although not the USA, where it still has hold). Literary archeology. And it’s Dublin, even further outside my cultural frame of reference than London or New York of that time.

This was banned? This was controversial? This sparked howls of outrage? My, weren’t we close-minded back then. A single episode of The Sopranos has more profanity, more irreverence, more sex. But a lot less introspection.

Who is speaking? Who is thinking? Not always clear. Joyce ignores the niceties of form and eschews formality at the expense of clarity.

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Our civic centre the Block forgot

Death of cultureDuring the January 15 council meeting, there was a lengthy presentation of a strategic planning exercise (a real one, not the bogus one The Block call our “community-based strategic plan,” which was neither community-driven nor strategic) for the Parks, Recreation and Culture department (read more about it here). The presenter asked council to answer three questions. The third of which (starting at around 1:17:30) was about what Collingwood is missing or needed in its PRC facilities or services.

Skip past the self-aggrandizing yatter of Councillor Madigan, past the insulting comments and architectural ignorance of Councillor Jeffrey, the vapid blather of Councillor Edwards and stop at 1:23:30. That’s when Deputy Mayor Saunderson says one of the “huge gaps is the lack of a community centre.” He then meanders into a blather about operating costs. Of course, this is meant to drive home his one-size-fits-all $35 million Taj Mahal dream (well, a nightmare for taxpayers…)  he proposed last term.*

We already have a community centre: our public library. It runs programs for all ages, hosts talks, events, concerts, activities, clubs, chess matches, it’s an art gallery, a computer lab, and more. I know, I know: you’re going to remind me The Block don’t like to read so it’s unlikely that most of them have been in the building aside from the committee meetings on the third floor. Like you, I have a hard time imagining them using a library or even opening a book – much less actually reading one.

And, ironically, we have a council rep on the library board: Councillor Ecclestone. Alright, stop laughing now. Maybe he didn’t come to the library’s defence because it was his nap time.

The library is and has always been the community’s cultural centre. If The Block paid attention to their role as elected officials, they’d know this. Yes, there are private cultural facilities too, especially on Simcoe Street. These complement, rather than compete with, the library.

The library was, at least a few years ago, the town’s most-frequented municipal facility. I suspect it still is. But not by The Block. All those books, those words closing in on them, the seep of knowledge from between the pages – it’s a scary place for our council non-readers: they stay away.
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Madigan’s motion jeopardizes town

Conflict of interestOn January 15, Councillor Bob Madigan made a motion (seconded, of course, by his puppetmaster, Deputy Mayor Saunderson) to limit the progress of the Indigo/Eden-Oak/McNabb development at the south end of town.

Madigan’s motion demanded that,

…council provide no further approvals to the Eden Oak/McNabb development until such time as council as a whole has the opportunity to review the concerns expressed by the neighbouring residents and agree upon any mitigation options.

(Yes, I wondered who wrote it for him, too… whoever did it wasn’t very bright because he or she failed to identify what those mitigation measures should entail, who would oversee them, or if there was any deadline or timeframe for approvals – or what would happen if one councillor went on vacation and couldn’t “review the concerns” for several weeks. Very sloppy and nebulous; an amateur’s wording.)

This motion sets a very nasty precedent for the town: in future, any NIMBY group of neighbours who don’t want a development to go ahead, can stall it indefinitely as long as they can get someone on council to side with them. Or to say they don’t agree with any “mitigation options.” Or isn’t available to review anything.

In this case, there were seven on one side, as you might expect from the groupmind Block. But just one person in opposition or away would mean council “as a whole” isn’t in agreement – that’s what the motion reads – and can hold up a development.

Second, it puts the town in a significant financial and legal liability. If you were the developer and found your work was being held up for weeks or even months while councillors hem and haw over an approval (one they clearly don’t comprehend), all the while you are paying for workers and equipment to sit idle  – think you might want to sue the town for the costs?  Or if you’re one of the buyers and had planned your move-in date, but now found it delayed for an indefinite period, and had to find new accommodations and storage for your belongings while you wait – get enough buyers together and you have a class action suit against the town.

And that means taxpayers will have to shoulder the costs of any OMB or legal challenge by the developer, or its prospective homeowners (councillors have taxpayer-paid insurance against these lawsuits). Yes, I know: The Block don’t care about how they spend your money or what it costs to get their private agendas embedded in town policy. They’ve been spending like drunken sailors on leave in a whorehouse throughout this term, so why stop to think about it, now?
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