A brief update on Collus-PowerStream

Just a brief note to give my readers the opportunity to examine two documents related to Collus-PowerStream and our council’s secretive efforts to sabotage our utility. Both are in PDF format, linked below.

First is the presentation given by the Electricity Distribution Association (EDA) to AMO delegates earlier this month. I referred to this in a recent post about the opportunities this council has thrown away in their headlong rush to fulfill their petty little vendettas.

Collus-PowerStream was mentioned during the presentation (page 14) as one of the leading innovators in LDCs in Ontario. Bet you’ve never heard The Block say anything like that at the table.

Never a good word for all the hard work our utility staff have done comes from The Block. They can’t stand hearing good news about our utility they want to destroy and they never, ever pass any positive news along to you – the actual owners of our utility.

We could have been in the forefront of a remarkable exciting new development, been a player in new organization – had The Block not interfered with their petty, personal agendas. But you’ll never hear them admit it.

Second is the EDA’s weekly newsletter for August 16, 2016 which also provides a summary of the presentation. On page 2, you’ll read how our own utility was profiled for its efficiency:

Collus PowerStream’s SmartMAP which has improved outage restoration and operational efficiency.

Once again, we are being recognized by the provincial association, esteemed in the eyes of LDCs and municipalities across the province. But do you think you’ll ever hear The Block mention this at the council table? Of course not! Nor will you read in in the local media, which, sadly, does little more than regurgitate The Block’s slimy propaganda.

The weekly newsletter is also interesting because it highlights news, issues, events, policy changes and events in the energy sector. Which, of course, The Block never reads because they don’t receive it. That would require them to actually taken an interest in the energy sector and learn something. Both of which are anathema to all Blockheads. Besides, they already know everything. Actually learning something would just confuse them.

The newsletter would normally go to LDC board members, but given who The Block placed on the utility board – their administrative pitbulls – they are unlikely to pass it along to the public, either. It’s kept secret, like everything else done around, with and to our utility. But here, at least this one time, you have a chance to read what The Block doesn’t want you to know.

You’re welcome.

Collingwood deserves better. You deserve better.

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No consultation with customers or neighbours

Collus distribution areaDid you know Collus-PowerStream serves thousands of customers in Stayner, Thornbury and Creemore? More than 4,000 residences, businesses, restaurants, stores, churches, municipal facilities and farms are on the Collus-PowerStream distribution network, along with almost 12,200 in Collingwood.

Do you know how many times Collingwood has consulted with the councils of Town of the Blue Mountains and Clearview over its plan to sell our utility to Hydro One that will crucially and negatively affect those customers in their communities?

Right: none.

The same number of consultations they have had with local customers. It’s all been done furtively: behind closed doors with high-priced, unctuous, lawyers and oleaginous administration staff. A disgraceful breach of public trust.

The Most Secretive Council Ever plans to sell the service on which these customers depend to a utility that will quickly raise their rates roughly 10%. Perhaps even higher.

This will impact the living conditions and quality of life, the economic livelihood and the viability of local businesses and farms in these areas. It will greatly affect the municipalities themselves. How will it affect the already-growing problem some people have making their existing electricity payments?

Right: The Block don’t care. 

Sure, it will make it harder for everyone, especially seniors and those on low or fixed income. All part of The Block’s war on them.

My sources say they haven’t even officially informed our neighbours of anything yet, let alone included them into their secret negotiations. That shows the arrogant level of disrespect this council has for our municipal neighbours and regional partners. They’re just going to let it be a surprise when the bill-shock comes in.

Collingwood deserves better. So do our neighbours.

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It’s not the town doing this: merely staff

Yellow journalism“Collingwood laywer (sic) says town won’t sign confidentiality agreement regarding Collus employee information” says the headline in a story in last week’s Collingwood Connection. Yes, it really does say “laywer….” (ah, proofreading…)

Well, that’s wrong: it’s not “the town” that won’t sign, but rather merely three members of the administrative staff. The Block recently replaced the town’s experienced, democratically-appointed members with staffers in order to push through The Block’s destruction of the relationship with PowerStream. But it’s not “the town” behind it at all.

They would sign it if instructed to by council. But council is controlled by The Block. So that will never happen: it goes against the ideology.

The Block wants this information so badly it hurts them to even think about being thwarted from it. They figure there’s some secret buried there, some imagined evil lurking in the salaries of staff. Rubbish, of course. Their wacky,but viral conspiracy notions have ruined the town, but they continue with the demolition amidst the rubble.

That confidentiality agreement is meant to protect the right to privacy and confidentiality that our utility service employees have. The Block and its pet administration know that, but they want to distribute personal information among themselves and friends. It’s despicable and unethical. Just like The Block’s other actions.

Ask yourself: why does “the town” need this information? It isn’t relevant to anything, certainly not the shared services agreement (what should have been a 30-minute negotiation has taken more than two years and is still in limbo). The information is not relevant to any operational issue or efficiency issue. It doesn’t affect the share value or the town in any way. In the 25 years or so since the corporation was first set up, it’s never been needed for anything.

The utility’s auditors and accountants, the Ontario Energy Board, the former CFO (now on council), the corporation’s lawyers, the municipal partners, and former boards haven’t found anything wrong or improper in the operation that would require making public this information. Why does The Block want it, then?

It’s just part of The Block’s vindictive personal agendas and vendettas against the utility staff. Always has been. You already know that.

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Opportunities Collingwood has lost

I spent two days in the trade show at the AMO conference this week, looking at the booth across the aisle from me. It constantly reminded me of the opportunities for Collingwood this council has thrown away, of what great opportunities we have lost this term.

The booth across from me was announcing the upcoming merger of four of the province’s top utility companies – Horizon, Enersource, Hydro One Brampton and PowerStream. This will make it the largest LDC (local distribution corporation) in Ontario. The four most innovative, customer-oriented, conservation-minded, efficient and forward-thinking utilities are merging.

You remember PowerStream? They are our municipal partners in Collus. So why haven’t you heard about this venture? Because The Block doesn’t want you to know about it.

This will be the start of a powerhouse operation that changes the face of the utility sector in Ontario. It will streamline operations and combine resources – all for the betterment of their customers.

Collingwood could have been part of this exciting new development. Should have been part of it – had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the once-great relationship between the town and our utility partner, PowerStream. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed the relationship between our utility, and its excellent, hard-working staff, and the town. Had our council and administration not aggressively destroyed our town’s reputation and standing in the province.

But, of course, they did, as you, dear reader, know from reading the tragic news here. Deliberately, they pursued personal agendas and private vendettas. And we watch slip away the opportunity to be part of something new, dynamic and exciting. The opportunity to be in the forefront vanishes while we shuffle to the rear.

No one wants Collingwood at the table these days. That was driven home to me during the conference through several conversations with people in the energy sector and other municipalities. No one could understand why our council wants to alienate one of the most progressive LDCs in the province and align with the least efficient, least respected power company – the one with the highest electricity rates and lowest customer satisfaction.

No one could understand why our council insisted on shooting itself in the foot. Again, and again, and again.

To outsiders it seems like madness. Only to the small, myopic circle of Blockheads at the table does it make sense to destroy what everyone else in the energy sector heralded as a brilliantly conceived, mutually beneficial, morale-boosting partnership.

Once lost, we can never recover it. Lost opportunities will be this council’s lasting legacy.
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Why is this man still working for Collingwood?

You're firedI am appalled and disgusted, and you should be, too. In what seems only minutes after council and staff received a remedial presentation on roles and responsibilities that emphasized the MAYOR speaks for the town, no one else, the interim CAO was at it again. Speaking out about town issues and events when it is the mayor’s role and responsibility to do so. Not his.

This breach of etiquette should not be tolerated. It shows no respect for the mayor, or her office, let alone the actual events. Such insubordination undermines her authority.

In a story in this weekend’s Collingwood Connection, interim CAO John Brown is quoted as saying:

“The 50 per cent share sale has caused this council to spend money which resulted from the activities of the last council. There is always legal fees (as a) result of us doing our due diligence. I think this council is doing a better job than these figures show.”

This is outrageous and misleading.

During the discussion, Brown said the current council has incurred significant legal fees as a result of the sale of 50 per cent of the town’s stake in Collus.

These weasel words falsely attempt to put the blame for THIS council’s egregious and excessive consulting and legal fees on the former council when it is clearly THIS council’s responsibility.

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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!

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Time for council to learn the rules? Nah…

vengeance takes timeBeing a councillor is hard work. You have to scurry around in dark corners looking for places in which to hold secret meetings, you have to plan the destruction of town facilities and services, you have to spend whole minutes calculating how much to raise taxes, you have to wrack your brain for hours trying to determine the best way to discourage business, offend developers (except those who are your in-laws), you have to spend countless hours listening to staff drone on and on and on about boring stuff like planning and finances before you can get back to figuring out how much money to pump into an expense account so the Senator can party around the country without having to fly economy or eat in 4-star restaurants (answer: unlimited expenses!).

You have to plot how to make staff morale crumble even further, how to punish anyone who might have even smiled at someone on the former council, and how to squeeze more from the taxpayer to reward those out-of-town lawyers and consultants you’ve become buddy-buddy with this term.

And then there are all those secret meetings and passing along confidential information and emails to your mouthpieces and sycophants so they can fuel their whisper campaigns.

Whew. It sure is a busy life. Vengeance takes a lot of effort. Let up for even a moment and you fall off your path of malice and mayhem. Being petty and vindictive requires all your attention.

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The destruction of Collus

Council wrecking our townThere’s a story in the online Connection that highlights how much this council has spent on lawyers and consultants to further its vendetta against Collus-Powerstream: more than $400,000 so far. Half of it was spent in 2015 (I have seen a document that shows more than $249,000 spent in 2015) and the cash register is still ringing. By the end of this year it may well top $750,000-$1 million.

That’s $400,000 of your tax dollars already spent for nothing. Not in town, not on local companies or services. We got absolutely no benefit from that expense. It wasn’t spent on anything for the greater good, but to pursue a very personal vendetta.

Remember that promised savings of $500,000-$750,000 the CAO bragged about back in March? It seems it’s all going to lawyers and consultants. And they’ll be getting more, too. The bills just keep rolling in.

This week, we got the news that Collus Powerstream is one of the top-performing utilities in the province. The Ontario Energy Board released its 2015 Benchmarking Report. in it, Collus Powerstream moved from the third tier (of five) up to second. It’s quite an accomplishment – and owed entirely to the efforts of our great, hardworking utility staff (including the former CEO, Ed Houghton).

It’s ironic that Hydro One remains in tier five – the lowest-performing category. Yet this is who The Block has been secretly trying to sell our utility to: the least efficient utility in the province. Powerstream is, by the way, the second largest municipal utility in this province, with more customers than Toronto Hydro. Powerstream has even more urban customers than Hydro One.

Why do I say costs could top $1 million? Because the Block’s aggressive drive to destroy Collus-Powerstream is about to come to an explosive head. I expect that before the end of summer, Powerstream will be so fed up with the harassment from town hall they will make an offer to buy our share of the utility. And then it will be gone.

We will have lost control over our own hydro rates and services. It will relocate out of town, maybe even out of the region. We will also lose the more than $200,000 a year we get for rent from the building. And any future cash dividends. But we will have the inevitable bills from lawyers to close the deal. Ka-ching!

Now while that purchase is likely the best thing for the staff at Collus – it will get them away from the toxic relationship created by this council and administration – and it will probably benefit the consumer too* – it means we lose a valuable public asset: our electrical utility.

And you, the public haven’t been able to even hear the discussions, let alone provide your input. It’s all been done behind closed doors. Screwed again by The Most Secretive Council Ever.

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Fowler for the 21st Century

Fowler's latest editionOn the desk of every writer, every reporter, every editor, every PR director and every communications officer is a small library of reference books. A good dictionary (Oxford, American Heritage, Merriam Webster, Random House but gods forbid, never a generic Webster’s). A thesaurus (likely Roget’s). A style guide (CP for Canadians, or AP for Americans… Canadians likely have both).  A dictionary of quotations (because the print version is reliable as a source, and the Internet isn’t). And a usage guide.

That’s de rigeur for these professions, and the very minimum that they likely have in front of them every time they write or edit. To ignore these authorities or their guidance would be unprofessional and most professionals will have more of such titles than these basics.

There are many of the latter usage guides to choose from. Strunk and White. Partridge. Gowers. Flesch. Garner. Follett. Wallraff. Pinker. Dozens of books about grammar also fit the bill. The real language wonks have the encyclopedic Chicago Manual of Style (the latest 16th edition…). But Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage will likely hold pride of place. After all, it’s THE guide. We all have at least one copy of it. Writers and editors, that is.

Fowler’s has been the go-to guide for writers and editors since its first publication in 1926, now more a bit of linguistic paleontology than a working guide. It was revised in 1937. It’s still in print, though, nearly a century later. It was revised and edited by Ernest Gowers in the famous second edition, first published in 1965, revised in 1983 and reprinted many times. That’s the version most of my generation used and it’s still a workhorse. But it’s now more than 50 years old, and ,a bit fusty, but Gowers was also a canny wordsmith. As he wrote of Fowler in his introduction:

The truth is that the prime mover of his moralizing was not so much grammatical grundyism as the instincts of a craftsman. ‘Proper words in proper places’, said Swift, ‘make the true definition of a style.’ Fowler thought so too; and, being a perfectionist, could not be satisfied with anything that seemed to him to fall below the highest standard either in the choice of precise words or in their careful and orderly arrangement.

He knew, he said, that ‘what grammarians say should be has perhaps less influence on what shall be than even the more modest of them realize; usage evolves itself little disturbed by their likes and dislikes’. ‘And yet’, he added, ‘the temptation to show how better use might have been made of the material to hand is sometimes irresistible. He has had his reward in his book’s finding a place on the desk of all those who regard writing as a craft, and who like what he called ‘the comfort that springs from feeling that all is shipshape’

Grundyism? Doesn’t that make you want to read it? If so you can find it online in PDF format. Or open your own, well-thumbed edition to page 19.

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These Old Bones

Skeleton DanceThese old bones;
You wouldn’t think they’d cut a rug
dance between the rain drops but
once I could.
Once I did.
Danced to the music,
lover in hand,
that time in the park when we didn’t care
laughing in the face of the storm.
The rain, the wind, splashing in the grass.
The music was all in our heads, our breath, our hearts
beat with the tunes we sang inside.

I remember every line, every lyric.

These old bones
knew music.
These old bones knew
the hotcha rhythm of the dance.

You wouldn’t think them spry enough,
not today.
But once they raced the wind.
Lightning bugs in my pants.
Legs pumped like pistons, flailing bicycle pedals,
racing friends along the sidewalks
careening, chasing our imagination.
Look, no hands, circles round you, I’m a race car, I’m an airplane, jet propelled, look at me.
Fearless, made of rubber.
Down the tracks, by the creek, skidding into gravel driveways.
Friends laughing, falling, rising to challenge again,
scraped knees, elbows, didn’t care.

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Where is Che now that we need him?

CheMaybe it’s simple nostalgia, but it seems to me the world was a lot better off when the Soviet Union was around. Really. Bear with me while I explain.

When the USSR was the main enemy of our loudly-proclaimed free and democratic society, we struggled to measure ourselves against its yardstick.

If the USSR claimed to have the best chess players, we had to beat them with Bobby Fischer. If they claimed to have the best students in math or science, well we had to show we had the whizzes. If they claimed their medical system was better, their workers were better treated, their social services and their agricultural output was better, we had to show ours could beat theirs. They put a man in orbit, we walked on the moon.

Anti-Communist propagandaOf course, the USSR – and indeed most Communist nations past and present – were not the workers’ paradise they alleged. We knew that, but we pretended not to. Most were bleak, dreary, economically destitute, brutal dictatorships. They weren’t run by lofty ideologues seeking to craft a society for the betterment of the working class. They were run by an oligarchy of squabbling, irritable competitive sycophants and bullies in a race to see who would be last to face the firing squad.

Communist propagandaContrary to the way the Communists portrayed the West, we weren’t all imperialists, capitalists without a conscience, greedy, warmongering expansionists. At least Canada wasn’t. Mostly. But they weren’t entirely wrong about the West, either. And if they could see us today, they’d be saying the same thing they said back then. To America in particular.

Both sides of this political divide ignored the full reality of the other because it made for better propaganda campaigns. And it was much easier to justify wars, coups, and interference in other nations’ business. The threat of the other side’s emergence was often sufficient. Propaganda was at its pinnacle.

Fischer-SpasskyBut at the same time, the competition between two opposing systems also brought out the best in both. It created the space race and some of the most important scientific and technical developments in a century. It spurred the Civil Rights movement. It created a half-century of exploration, achievement, education and science. It made chess international news: the Fischer-Spassky match briefly put an intellectual pursuit ahead of the corporate sports news. And into headline news at that!

Under pressure from the West, Soviets had to lighten up on dissidents and writers, allowing some to escape to the West. And both sides curbed their nuclear strategies for fear of mutual annihilation.

And because most wingnut terrorist groups were allied to one side or the other and dependent on that side for arms, money and direction, there was at least a modicum of control over what they were allowed to do. There was never an ISIS back then.
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Designing Type

Designing TypeKaren Cheng’s 2005  book, Designing Type, is the third of the recent books on typography I have received*. Of the three, it is the most technical, appealing to the typophile and design geek more than the average reader. But it’s also a reference for layout and graphic artists looking to choose a specific font for a work.

If your goal is to actually design a typeface, she helps appreciate the subtleties of design that differentiate and separate typefaces and letterforms. But it’s not a book about design.

Most books on type and typography focus on the result: working for the combination of readability and legibility that create an emotional, psychological and intellectual effect on the viewer. Cheng takes us on an almost microscopic tour of type, zooming in on the minute parts.

There is a prevailing theory that type should be ‘invisible’ in that the reader doesn’t see the face, simply benefits from its effect. And, I suppose, for the average reader that makes sense. Designers usually don’t want the narrative to be interrupted by a closer examination of the font. Writers don’t want readers to lose track of the plot or theme in order to puzzle over the lack or presence of serifs. But a lot of work and time goes into creating a typeface that accomplishes that goal.

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Whatever became of that angry mob?

Defending our honourLast term, council was presented with an angry, 14-page screed from the “Friends of Central Park” (aka “Build the YMCA a Taj Mahal at Taxpayers’ Expense,” later called Better Together Collingwood…yes, you know who was behind them both!).

The mouthpiece attacked the honesty, the credibility, competence and the behaviour of the former council – all because we chose to build new recreational facilities that were not the expensive option a group of well-off residents demanded we build. And because we didn’t raise taxes or incur significant debt in our choice.

I realize it’s not often one gets lambasted by taxpayers for not raising taxes, but we were severely criticized for choosing the path of fiscal responsibility. Can’t win them all, I suppose. But I think it’s time to see if this current council – elected by that group and their minions – has followed through on the demands made of us last term.

I have deleted some of the specific rec facility-related content in the letter because it isn’t relevant any more. But I think you’ll find what remains (shown in italics) very informative and relevant. My responses follow. I’m sure you’ll chuckle over the evident hypocrisy.

That Council ask staff to report back on the following best practices in municipal good governance.
Answer: Not seen in these first 21 months in office this term. Likelihood of ever being seen: same as winning the lottery twice in a row. Municipal good governance would get in the way of personal agendas and entitlement.

I. clarify the values and respective actions that they interpret to embrace good governance and share these with the public;
Answer: Ditto. Okay, first you have to know what good governance is. The Most Secretive Council Ever has no idea because that would require coming out from behind closed doors. And learning. Toss this one in the bin.

ii. direct staff to revise the Procurement Policy to reflect more stringent guidelines and procedures reflective of other municipal, provincial and federal procedures; specifically articles on sole sourcing amongst a more robust review;
Answer: One of the very first things this council ever did was to approve a sole-source bid for a taxi contract, to the company owned by Councillor Fryer’s brother-in-law. So it’s do-as-I-say, not-as-I-do with this lot.

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Electing atheists

Anti-atheists billboard
trust meterA recent story on Religion News discusses the DNC’s concerns about former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders’ religion. Not that he was Jewish, but that he might be a closet atheist. And that send the DNC-crats over the roof. Scary, eh?

You can’t elect an atheist in America. You can elect liars, cheats, adulterers, misogynists and creationists (and sometimes all in the same person…). But not atheists.

Even Donald Trump, whose murky religious beliefs remain cause for much speculation, overshadowed by his overt worship of power and money, hasn’t strayed into atheism, at least publicly.

And it’s been that way since the late 1960s-early ’70s. American religion and politics somehow became entwined around then, and today they are inseparable, Constitution notwithstanding. The right paints anyone who isn’t Bible-thumping along with them as atheist, leftist, socialist or liberal (or all four…). The recent Republican presidential-candidate race often seemed more like a series of fundamentalist, revivalist prayer meetings than political debates.

Not that America is unique in this. Despite a growing percentage of the population claiming no religious affiliation running as an atheist in politics taints any candidate. As the article continues:

Raising a candidate’s religion or questioning his or her faith is beyond the pale. One reason the email is so damning (pun intended) is that atheists are among the least-liked groups in America. There is a wide gap between public opinion toward Jews and feelings for atheists.
How much are they disliked? The average American feels warmer toward Congress than toward atheists. That’s as low as you get in public opinion.

Statistics show that roughly 20% of Americans claim no religious affiliation, but that doesn’t mean they’re atheists. In fact, the large majority of them believe in a deity or have some spiritual belief. A Pew Research poll suggests only 3.1% of Americans are actually atheists and 4% are agnostics.

Although 23.9% of Canadians claim to be ‘irreligious’, the list of openly atheist politicians in Canada is pitifully small (and all of them are from Quebec…).

An Angus-Reid poll also indicates the troubling notion that a lot of Canadians who consider themselves non-religious or ambivalent about religion also believe in superstitious claptrap like astrology, reincarnation and psychic powers.

Overall, though we don’t much care for prayer in public meetings, regardless of what we believe. And that’s a good thing.

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Everything Flows

Everything FlowsTonight’s book-with-wine discussion is about Vasily Grossman‘s novel, Everything Flows (New York Review Book, USA, 2009). It was his final work, and left unfinished at the time of his death, in 1964.

It’s not a difficult read, only 250 pages, but it isn’t easy. Readers unfamiliar with Soviet history, particularly the Stalin era, will not understand much of it. And it’s hardly a cheerful work. Not that everything Russian is a slit-your-wrist work, but it’s certainly Dostoevsky-like in its darkness.

Grossman was a Soviet war correspondent during WWII and travelled with the Red Army through Moscow, Stalingrad, Kursk then into Eastern Europe, and finally Germany, where he covered the Battle for Berlin. He was the top war correspondent of the USSR and his articles were collected and translated in a 2006 book, A Writer at War. His pieces offer a very personal look at a side of the war we usually know more from military and official sources.

His mother was murdered by the Nazis in 1941, as they blitzed across the Ukraine. As a Jew, Grossman suffered Soviet racism and prejudices, increasing in the late 1940s as Stalin grew more paranoid and anti-Semitic. His artistic views were also molded by his war experiences and his ability to see the people in the carnage. He was among the first to see Treblinka and was one of the earliest to chronicle the Holocaust.

He was a good reporter and became a good novelist. He wrote honestly about what few of his contemporaries have dared write: life in Soviet Russia; the life of individuals slogging through an unrelenting system they didn’t fully understand, about their core of human will to survive. Honest, moving stuff. And for that he would become persona non grata, one among many artists whose work displeased the State.

After the war, he wrote two novels, both about the war: For a Just Cause (1952) and Life and Fate. The former was a fairly standard work for its day and was published. The latter has been compared to a modern War and Peace – it is huge, sweeping and complex. But because it was also critical of the Soviet government, and exposed some of the army’s atrocities as it advanced into enemy territory, it was too explosive for the then-Soviet censors (and the party’s chief ideologue, Mikhail Suslov). The government had it banned. Life and Fate would not be published until 1980, after his death.

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