The raison d’etre

Maxine“Why do you do it?” A voice asked me, momentarily distracting my attention from deciding between the firm and silky tofu in the grocery store. I looked up to find a woman close to my own age in front of me. Well, perhaps she was a teensy bit older by about 20 years, but once you cross 60, age differences between seniors seem smaller. To my aging eyes, at least.

I couldn’t easily disengage since her cart was wedged up against mine, and because I needed to find my way to the sweet potatoes across the aisle, I responded, hoping to soon untangle without appearing rude.

“Why do I do what?” Always answer a question with a question, or so I was raised. Well, maybe not raised. I think I read about that tactic in a book. I was raised to be seen and not heard, which I suppose is why I’m a writer not a singer. My parents heard me sing once, and that ended my musical career pretty toot sweet.

“Write those things. Online. You know, all those nasty things about council. Why do you do it?” I didn’t think explaining about my writer-versus-singer upbringing would satisfy her, so I took another direction.

“Well, first I don’t think they’re always nasty. Sometimes they’re funny. I hope. You can never tell about humour. Didn’t any of them amuse you, at least a little?”

“I don’t read them all. Not online. I don’t have a computer,” she replied.

“Well then how do you know about them?” I asked in my best Sherlockian fashion.

“My son prints them out and brings them to me. Not all of them. Just the ones he wants me to read. The ones about the people I voted for. The nasty ones.”

Well so much for my career as a satirist, and cultural commentator. Didn’t really connect if no one read it. Maybe I could take up singing after all. You know, busk downtown. With a ukulele. But I couldn’t start my new career until this new critic finished with me. So I responded.

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We’re Screwed. Royally.

Screw the taxpayer!By now you know what I’ve been warning you about all along: Council is selling our public electrical utility. After harassing, bullying and hectoring our utility staff, they decided to simply get rid of a 150-year-old public institution that has served this town so well all this time. We’re screwed.

And you’ve had how much input on this crucial issue? Right: exactly none. And council has no intention of giving the public a say. This is a fait accompli: an autocratic act so despicable that words fail me. These people are truly evil in the fullest sense of that word. Democracy be damned, say The Block. They will do what they want regardless of the damage it does to you, to staff, to our reputation and relationships.

Everything about our utility has been done in secret, behind closed doors, with administrative staff skulking in the shadows, pulling the strings while the Bobbleheads nod in agreement to what they’re told. Never once thinking for themselves, they’ve swallowed the corporate hook, line and sinker. But that line has been tainted with untruth.

This merely ices the cake of the unmitigated disaster this term has proven. Secrecy, lies, corruption, conniving, destruction, vendettas and personal agendas. That’s the sum total of council to date. What a legacy.

And it will get worse. Much, much worse. The screwing of the taxpayer will continue until we can elect an group that isn’t ethically challenged, in their place. Collingwood deserves much better.

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Transcendance

TranscendenceIt’s not surprising that AI replaced the biological form in the popular Frankenstein monster trope. In fact the smart-evil-machine scenario has been done so often this past decade or so that I’m more surprised any film writer or director can manage to give it some semblance of uniqueness that differs it from all the others.

Transcendence tries, tries very hard and almost makes it. But the brass ring remains out of reach. Still, it’s worth watching if you’re a scifi buff because, well, it’s scifi.* And even bad scifi is better than no scifi at all. Well, maybe not the Transformer franchise, but pretty much the rest of it.

More than that, while it doesn’t tread a lot of new ground, it does use a lot of nifty sets and special effects, even if the topic isn’t all that new.

The evil robot has been with us in film for a very long time. Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis was the first to portray a sentient robot (the ‘Maschinenmensch’). That robot was created to “resurrect” the creator’s former lover. In Transcendence, the character of Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp) is similarly “resurrected” but in virtual space: inside a computer. And of course he/it evolves/develops within those confines to something more than human.

Angry non-techies storm the castle with pitchforks and burn the whole place down. Well, okay it’s an underground data centre in the desert and they use artillery, but it’s basically the same thing. It’s a monster movie with CGI lipstick. And better yet, it’s in the $8 bin (with both Blu-Ray and DVD editions in the case…) at Wal Mart. But be prepared to question the premise. And a lot more.
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Reputation, reputation, reputation

Bad reputationReal estate agents and retaillers have a saying: Location, location, location. But for politicians that can be amended to read: Reputation, reputation, reputation. The reputation of the whole community hinges on that of its politicians. After all, the tree is known by its fruit.

Remember the Rob Ford scandals? Talk show hosts around the world used them to turn Toronto into a jokefest. People who had never visited, or never even heard of Toronto before knew about it through Rob Ford’s antics. And although it tarnished Toronto, Ford acted as if it didn’t matter. As Cicero wrote in On Obligations (De Officiis; also known as On Duties):

To disregard what the world thinks of us is not only arrogant but utterly shameless.

But centuries before Cicero, the Greek philosopher Isocrates wrote:

Guard yourself against accusations, even if they are false; for the multitude are ignorant of the truth and look only to reputation. In all things resolve to act as though the whole world would see what you do; for even if you conceal your deeds for the moment, later you will be found out. But most of all will you have the respect of men, if you are seen to avoid doing things which you would blame others for doing.

So this reputation thing is hardly new. We’ve long known that doing the right things builds it, doing the wrong things destroys it.  In Chapter 21 of The Prince, more than 500 years ago, Niccolo Machiavelli wrote:

“Nothing makes a prince so well esteemed as undertaking great enterprises and setting a fine example”

He understood that reputation was precious, and that to build it, the ruler needed to set a good example. In Chapter 8, he criticized the ancient Sicilian leader, Agathocles – not for deceiving, then murdering, the citizens, but because his actions stained his reputation:

“It cannot be called skill to slay fellow-citizens, to betray friends, to be without faith, without mercy, without moral obligation. Such methods may gain empire, but not glory… his barbarous cruelty and inhumanity… do not permit him to be celebrated among the most excellent men.”

Betrayal, lacking a moral compass, faithless, cruel… that sounds all too familiar in our local politics.

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Type amen, click like and share…

Phising postI created what proved an interesting discussion on Facebook recently when I threatened to ‘unfriend’ anyone who continued to out those obnoxious ‘type amen and share’ posts on their timelines.

Now if you’re a FB user, you have seen these things endless times. They’re as common as the “50% will get this math question wrong” and “you won’t believe what happened next!” or the “Nine out of ten can’t answer these questions” posts. Most of these are simply trolling posts that lead to pages replete with clickbait, scams and data collection bots.

Then there are those dreary click-farming posts. Press K and hit like to see the magic image. Type your age and click like to see your reward. I’ll bet she can’t get 1,000 likes. or 10,000. Or 100,000. It’s all about gathering the clicks (and figuring out which FB accounts are active so you can be targetted for advertising more easily). While they are initially posted by hackers or marketers, it’s the gullible who spread them around.

And don’t get me started on the hoaxes. Mark Zuckerberg giving away millions. Facebook is making all your posts public so share this legal disclaimer. All codswallop and easily debunked with a couple of quick searches.

As if anyone would take the time. It’s simpler to turn the brain off, click like and share. Spread the stupidity.

And of course we have the usual dreck of cute kitten and puppy posts, but they’re merely trite compared to the often dangerous stuff that leads to a phishing site.

It’s the same with the Jesus-amen-blessing-prayer posts. They’re created by hackers preying on your gullibility, not some religious message from your god. Do you really think Jesus has a Facebook account and reads your timeline? Stop spreading this crap.

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Power, ambition, backstabbing

Hollow CrownPower grabs. Backstabbing. Lust. Ambition. Conniving. Hypocrisy. A weak but well-meaning ruler. A grasping second in command who viciously usurps power. A bureaucrat jealous of the nobles, jockeying for power and trading favours to get his way. Sleazy nobles selling their loyalty for petty trinkets. A cast of despicable, grasping characters all out for themselves, oblivious of the cost of their machinations on the common people, and willing to tread on anyone who gets in their way. Machiavellian plots and secret meetings. The destruction of state institutions and facilities. Heads rolling.

Collingwood Council? No: Shakespeare’s three-part extravaganza, Henry VI. Although you have to admit I had you there, since the resemblance seems so uncanny. A Readers’ Guide to Shakespeare (ed. Joseph Rosenblum) notes of part III:

Hatred ambition and greed are keynotes, while duty, trust, tradition and self-restraint are increasingly rare.

Boy, doesn’t that sound just like Collingwood Council? In Part I, Richard Plantagenet says of the recently deceased Mortimer that he was, “Choked with ambition of the meaner sort.” Sure sounds to me like someone – or ones – we know at the council table. And this description of Henry Beaufort, the Bishop of Winchester (from part I), also has undeniable echoes in a local personality (or maybe personalities…):

Winchester is portrayed as a corrupt, power-hungry bishop who buys his elevation to cardinal and who seeks to overthrow the rightful, secular authority of the Protector.

But of course, it’s not about them. The Protector is the Duke of Gloucester, by the way (okay, you already knew that…).

Henry VI forms two of the three movies in the latest Hollow Crown series, presented by the BBC. Two, you say? I thought there were three parts… well, yes there are, but the directors pruned away some of the slower bits and condensed the whole thing into two parts. Probably a wise move; the latter two parts are considered great plays, but the first (actually written later than the first two) is considered on of the Bard’s weaker efforts. But recent revivals of the trilogy, no matter how long, have drawn praise.
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Mildly Angry Max

Mad Max: Fury RoadThe latest Mad Max movie isn’t so much about Max as it is about the political-feminist message of the film. Max himself seems somewhat perturbed, sometimes cross, but not really mad in the sense of going berserk. Mildly angry most of the time. Grumpy Max.

Not like the original, fast-quipping, fast-shooting, troubled character played by Mel Gibson in the B-flick that went viral back in the late 1970s. The new Max is more phlegmatic. And not nearly as good a shot. Despite some great effects and photography, Mad Max: Fury Road doesn’t hold a candle to the originals, mostly because of the thin characters.

Well, Mel Gibson is too old to reprise the role, and his subsequent anti-Semitic outbursts and rabid, fundamentalist Christianity have put him into the “no-film” zone for Hollywood these days. Or at least relegating him to modest roles in films of great mediocrity. But as the original Max, he was pretty damned good in the first three films of the franchise.

Mad Max was a story about a loner trying to survive in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world. Sort of like the Conan series of films, set a few millennia in the future, with guns instead of swords. It was a wild, exciting, scary place.

The new Mad Max is set in an even harsher version of that world, but one that begs more explanation. And the plot is thinner than a corn tortilla.

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Strategic planning: what we missed

Strategic planningThe July 2016 issue of Municipal World has an article on the process of implementing strategic plans. It’s called, Getting from Here to There, and it’s written by a trio of experts including the president of a company specializing in municipal strategic planning, a strategic planning professional in the public sector, and a CAO from Alberta. In the short, two-page article, it outlines pretty much everything Collingwood did wrong in its so-called strategic plan – which was neither a plan nor strategic.

Experts, schmexperts, eh? Who needs experts? Not Der Block! I mean, aside from all the out-of-town buddy consultants and ambulance chasers the town’s administration has hired at great expense… can you really think of a better use for several hundred thousand of your tax dollars than paying people to tell you what to think? Neither can I…

Because The Block cancelled its collective subscription to MW in early 2015, it won’t read the advice of experts in this and any other field. Thus it will avoid polluting its myopic ideology with information, process, education, and peer advice. After all, when you already know everything, what need is there to learn what others do?

Besides, when you want outside advice, the administration will happily buy some for you that matches your own ideology.

But for my readers, I’d like to examine the process as outlined in the article and compare it to Collingwood’s. Keep in mind that what The Blockheads risibly call a “community-based strategic plan,” I usually refer to as a poorly defined, committee-based wish list. But let’s move on to the comparison.

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Bumble, Fumble, Stumble and Mumble

EcclestoneCouncillor Cam Ecclestone did an unusual and unexpected thing this week at Collingwood Council. He spoke. Normally, the intrepid but mute councillor is too busy to open his mouth. Like his colleague, Councillor “Sponge Bob” Madigan, he takes seriously his duty of holding his chair in place in case gravity ever lets go, while laboriously turning oxygen into carbon dioxide. At both tasks, these two excel beyond normal expectations. Yet this meeting, they stepped out of character.

Take a look at the Rogers recording of the Monday night meeting, starting at 1:35:00. Read the story in the Connection, too (the EB didn’t even bother to write it up…). It’s entertaining, in a sad sort of way. The title of the piece refers not to some comical law firm or accounting agency, but to my interpretation of the missteps and sidesteps taken in this little dance.

A novice to the Collingwood table, Ecclestone is noted mostly for his unique, naive approach to the procedures and rules of meetings: he ignores them. When not speaking out of turn, he is usually frantically trying to figure out where in the agenda the rest are. But for the most part, he stares fixedly into space, clearly in a meditative state. Or is that vegetative?

During the election campaign, Ecclestone alleged he had been a “head of council” previously, as well as chair of various political committees (see here for a video of him making these claims) and in the private sector was “very responsible for managing committees.” He claimed to have “learned a lot about the political system.” Except, it seems, the basic rules of procedure and meetings. Well, process is probably overrated. Learning, too.

At 1:35:05, Ecclestone declares he has a “prelude to an actual notice of motion.” No, he has a motion to waive notice so an actual motion can be presented. There will be no notice. That’s what the waiver is all about.

He then starts to read the motion, but quickly backs up to begin again with the proper process of first identifying the mover and seconder. He calls it the “procedure bylaw” at 1:35:14, rather than the correct “procedural bylaw.” But I’m sure that’s just a minor brain fart, and we’re all subject to them from time to time.

At 1:35:34 he beings to speak; out of turn of course, and has to be interrupted by the mayor, bringing him back to the proper process and explain to him what he’s doing. The motion to waive passes, and at 1:36:38 he reads the actual motion: to ask council for $5,500 (1:37:20) to go to Japan and represent the town for the 35th anniversary of the Katano-Collingwood Sister City relationship. Whew. That was like pulling teeth, if you don’t mind the metaphor.

Sister City relationships, as you will soon read, seem to mystify The Block. They can’t figure them out, as if they were some sort of complex, difficult alchemy. Nor, it seems, can they figure out the crafty mechanics of a timeline. But I’ll come back to them. And watch how they eat their own.

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Collingwood’s comedy duo

Abbott (top) and CostelloAbbott and Costello. Laurel and Hardy. Pegg and Frost. Wilder and Feldman. Jeffrey and Doherty. Great comedy duos of our time. Such memorable moments they have given us.

Who can forget the timeless Abbott and Costello skit, “Who’s On First?” Or Laurel and Hardy’s “Soda Fountain” skit? W.C. Fields and Jody Gilbert doing “The Diner Skit” in Never Give a Sucker an Even Break? Or Jeffrey and Doherty in “How I Spent Your Tax Dollars Partying at FCM” at the last Collingwood Council meeting?

You can watch the skit here on the Rogers’ broadcast of the meeting. It starts about 1:52:58 and runs on for a laugh-a-minute pace until 2:21:05. That’s almost 30 non-stop minutes of side-splitting hilarity!

And to think, regular delegates only get a maximum of 10 minutes to entertain council. But when you’re part of The Block, you get to keep them in stitches three times that long! Oh, the lovely, lingering stench of entitlement.

And it’s well worth it, for you comedy fans. You’ll howl, you’ll guffaw, you’ll roll your eyes and snicker as our crazy comediennes stumble and fumble through their lines to justify why Councillor “Senator” Jeffrey was given a blank cheque by The Block for her unlimited expense account. Now she can fly her solo act all across Canada, wining and dining in style at your expense. After even a few minutes of this uproarious skit, you’ll want to throw money at her, too!

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Dirty politics takes its toll

Ed HoughtonBy now you probably have already heard that the CEO of Collus, Ed Houghton, has ‘resigned’ after 39 years of excellent, dedicated service to this community. It’s a huge loss to us, and we should be collectively embarrassed and ashamed at how it happened.

Forced out is more like it; the inevitable result of another evil act by an evil group determined to destroy everything good, effective and efficient in this town. And they are succeeding all too well.

Ed is only the latest casualty in The Block’s ongoing war on our utilities and their staff. The continued, unrelenting harassment finally drove him away. The COO of the water side, Marcus Firman, left in 2015 for much the same reason. And there have been others, too.

Many of those still at Collus and in our water utility are actively looking for work in less hostile, more progressive municipalities. After all, there’s only so much of this unmitigated bullshit and interference one can take. Morale at both utilities is extremely low and no one wants to be the last one left.

You’d know more about it if The Block didn’t have the local media in their pockets. An unbiased investigative reporter would have exposed it all. But you’ll have to settle for my reports, and frankly I am not unbiased about The Block and their malfeasance. Nor should you be. All of this has already wasted several hundreds of thousands of your tax dollars for out-of-town consultants and lawyers whose reports are used to justify the destruction.

Most of this has been conducted in secret, The Block plotting behind closed doors, for the past 18 months. And there’s no end to the damage in sight.

By the end of this year, maybe even by the end of the summer, I expect Collus will no longer exist: the utility will have been sold to Hydro One (secret negotiations are already underway). After which, your electricity rates will be “harmonized” up another 10% or more. Many of the remaining staff will leave. A century and a half of good service and low rates will be gone.

The Block will use the proceeds from the sale – plus millions from our reserves and debentures – to build the Taj Mahal rec centre in Central Park and turn the keys over to the YMCA. Your taxes will go up, of course, to pay for it.

And you, the residents and taxpayers, won’t have a say in it. How’s that for open, accountable government?

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Rules for The Block, different rules for us

Application formEver apply to sit on a town board or committee? If so, you’ll be familiar with the form to the right. It’s the town’s application form. Click on it to see or download the full form. Everyone who wants to sit on a town board of committee must complete and sign it.

Everyone, that is, except the people The Block appoint to the committees and boards they want to control. One set of rules for The Block, another for the rest of us. How very accountable and transparent.

In June, The Block illegally (not to mention unethically and immorally) “fired” the democratically appointed members of the Collus PowerStream board and replaced them with their own selection of tame staff, ones they could cow into submission. I wrote about this naked power grab earlier.

(I say illegally because there is no mechanism in the town’s Procedural Bylaw to remove appointees, and it clearly states their term is concurrent with the term of council. So to me, it seems they have broken the law. But laws don’t apply to The Block, do they? They’re above such petty considerations. Besides, you’d have to be a lawyer to really understand what they say, anyway…)

The town’s policy has (as long as I’ve lived here and for the entire three terms I served on council) is that all appointees must fill in the form and go through the selection process. Except, it seems, when you’re a Block toady. Then you just get parachuted into the position and screw the public input. We don’t need no steenkin’ rules… laws are for losers.

But wait. It gets more interesting…

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Misleading mouthpieces

StinkyContrary to what you might expect, I am not surprised that the Enterprise Bulletin recently printed a letter replete with disinformation and disingenuous claims from someone who might be best described as one of The Block’s more rabid mouthpieces. Call it an editorial fart.

My faith in any objectivity, neutrality of, or fact-checking by the EB was long ago disabused. The EB has been The Block’s tame outlet even before the current editor took the job. That the EB continues to run a similarly biased, inaccurate column by another of The Block’s mouthpieces (albeit one of lesser talent) merely underscores my impression of overt bias.

I am, however, annoyed that no one who knows the facts has come forward to challenge these outlandish assertions.

For example, “The CAO of our town spent 15 frustrating months trying to obtain documents pertaining to the sale of Collus from its CEO.” This is simply incorrect. Any information in the hands of Collus/Powerstream was provided to the town, sometimes several times over.

Frustrating? Yes, for the utility. How many times do you have to keep giving out the same material to the town before it stops demanding what it already has?

The utility could not, however, provide such information as minutes of council meetings because they were the responsibility of town staff to record and keep. But let’s blame the utility for not doing town staff’s work for them.

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Uncommunicative again

front pageDid you receive your “spring” newsletter from the town? The one delivered on the first day of summer (or later), lacking any actual news… yes, that one. To me it appears as clumsily formatted and poorly written as all the previous issues. Another one that likely wouldn’t even get a passing grade in a high school art class.

Since the town continues its race to the bottom of the design barrel, I won’t reiterate all the problems in detail, since they just repeat those already exposed. I’ll just throw in a few comments (read here and here and here for my previous analyses). Needless to say, nothing has been corrected, nothing improved, at least in content, design, layout or copywriting.

front pageThat grinding sound, by the way, is my teeth as I peruse this. Sorry for the noise. Bad design combined with bad typography always sets my teeth on edge.If it does for you, too, you may wonder who is responsible for this?

That’s easy. In any corporate hierarchy, the person at the top is where the buck stops. It’s a matter of corporate honour and ethics for the leader to take responsibility for his or her staff’s actions and output. The captain goes down with the ship. After all, that’s what a real leader does.

So here we expect the interim CAO reads and approves every communication that reflects and represents the town. As the top staff member, paid $225,000 a year, this is his responsibility.

A cunning planSo why does he permit what I perceive as a supremely shoddy effort to be issued again; one that is so easily open to criticism, not to mention snickering and guffawing? It remains a mystery.

A cunning plan must be at work, as Baldrick might say. Let me imagine some scenarios for you…

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The Postmortal

Grim reaperMortality. We all get it. It’s the one one incurable ailment all humans succumb to without a chance of succor. Mortality is always 100% fatal. No medicine, no therapy, no diet cure or magic pill. But as you read this, scientists are researching, seeking clues to unlock the mystery and, potentially, cure us of aging,of death by mortality. And they might achieve it.

Having officially reached the two-thirds mark in my life this past weekend (based on my family history, my health and my lifestyle…), mortality is more often in my own thoughts these days. Not morbidly so, but certainly more common than when I was half my age. So when I picked up Drew Magary’s novel, The Postmortal (Penguin Books, London, 2011), I was intrigued by the subject: immortality.

What if a simple, easily administered genetic treatment could stop you from aging from this day forward? Would you take it? I suspect the answer for most folk would be an immediate yes, especially if you’re under 50.

It wouldn’t reverse anything, wouldn’t protect you from disease, cancer, liver damage or falling down the stairs. It wouldn’t protect you from the increasing number of gun nuts who can easily get automatic weapons and spray night clubs, movie theatres, hospitals, clinics, schools and churches with bullets (well, in the USA, they do it, if not always in other nations where the NRA doesn’t own the politicians…). But, barring those things, it would freeze you in time at your ‘cure age.’ You would be 39, 35, 42… or 60, 75 and even 89 for the rest of time.

Assuming that civilization doesn’t fall apart and eat itself alive as a result of this new treatment. Which, Magary suggests, it’s likely to do. Very likely. But he makes the journey to that end a compelling, entertaining and very thought-provoking read. It’s not so much a fall, but a slow stumble into the dark.

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