The Reichstag was the home of the German parliament until 1933, when it burned down just one month after Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor. The Nazis immediately blamed the fire on the Communists – their main political rivals – and used the event to suppress their opponents, repress opposition and dissent, consolidate power, while deflecting public scrutiny from their more hideous acts.
Many historians believe that the Communists weren’t involved, but rather the Nazis set the fire themselves to help promote their own agenda and enable their vendettas. They used propaganda tactics to enrage the public, and consolidate their position.
The Reichstag fire became a worldwide symbol of those in power: using a “false flag” attack which Wikipedia describes as, “…a covert operation designed to deceive; the deception creates the appearance of a particular party, group, or nation being responsible for some activity, disguising the actual source of responsibility.”
Sound familiar? Sound like something that recently happened here in Collingwood with a CBC exposé about alleged wrongdoing? A story with no wrongdoing but a lot of sly allegations and innuendo? A distraction from the real, important stories?
That’s Collingwood’s own Reichstag fire. Or its false flag, if you feel more comfortable with that name.
By now I expect you’ve read the scurrilous CBC story written by Dave Seglins or at least one of its local spin-offs. For me, the best line in the CBC piece is the description of Seglins by David O’Connor, a “veteran criminal defence lawyer,” who called Seglins a “… f—— sleazeball.”
Eloquently said, and certainly an opinion shared by others in town. I would have added a few other expletives, but I already stand guilty of egregious verbosity, so I’ll let the description stand on its own merit.
It’s a story full of allegation and innuendo, but not guilt. The story cunningly tells you some of the details from the 219-page OPP report, just enough to make readers think someone was guilty without actually saying so. And what it does say is couched in language that seems designed to further the interests of a group of council candidates, the unemployed Steve Berman in particular. (Berman has long been the easily-duped catspaw for others who also have interests in the upcoming municipal election).
In their book, The Elements of Journalism, third edition (2015) authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosensteil say the purpose of journalism is “to provide people with the information they need to be free and self governing.” Well, this story doesn’t even get close to that lofty goal. They add (p. 9) that the first of ten items journalists need to fulfill this task is, “Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.” Not selective truth, not opinion, not sly innuendo or unfounded allegation: truth. Another miss, it seems.
Start at the top with the headline. It’s misleading and incorrect, but it sets the oleaginous tone for the rest of the piece: “Ex-MP received ‘secret’ cut of $12.4M deal in resort town run by his sister, OPP probe alleges.”
Sandra Cooper is mayor. She isn’t a mafia boss. She doesn’t “run” the town: council and the town administration do collectively. In fact, Sandra voted against many of the initiatives of Lord Voldemort Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson and his marionette Block minions, including sidelining the hospital redevelopment, privatizing our electrical utility without public consultation, twice extending the contract of the much disliked interim CAO, calling for a judicial inquiry that could cost taxpayers $6 million or more, and the last two budgets. All of which passed because of The Block’s unanimous votes.
Yes, that’s right: they mayor voted AGAINST the town’s budget and pretty much all of Saunderson’s initiatives. But they passed anyway. So how can she be said to “run” the town? You’d think a reporter would ask those questions. But maybe the CBC doesn’t follow that sort of journalism these days.
And, no, the OPP probe doesn’t allege anything about the mayor. The story makes it guilt by association.
When I saw Cam Ecclestone’s self-aggrandizing flyer, I was strongly reminded of the opening of Chapter 24 of the Tao Te Ching, which in my latest translation reads,
Blowhards have no standing,
The self-promoting are not distinguished,
Show-offs do not shine,
Braggarts have nothing to show,
The self-important are here and gone.
(The Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation, trans. Roger Ames & David Hall, Ballantine Books, Jan. 2003)*
As the least active member of council, the vain Ecclestone’s main contribution to the process this term has been to make the motion to adjourn at the end of a meeting. True, we’re thankful that he calls for an end to a painful, and often unethical process, but it’s hardly noteworthy.
In fact, he is so silent and unmoving that some council watchers often wonder if he is even awake during the meetings. And when he does speak – a rare occurrence – it’s usually to stutter and stumble through his unflagging if sometimes incoherent support for something from his leader, Brian Saunderson.
It’s amusing to read this brochure for several reasons, not least is his taking credit for things he had nothing to do with – and some that this council didn’t start, simply watched continue. If you didn’t know better, from reading his flyer you’d think he was mayor, or at least someone who actually did something.
Most of the credit for positive things on his list goes to the previous council. In his egotistical way, Ecclestone fails to give any credit to town staff for actually doing the work while he sat at the table, nose in the air, consuming precious oxygen.
In retrospect, the entire list of things Ecclestone has raised or initiated this term, has championed or advocated for is coincidentally equal to the number of times he has voted independent of Brian Saunderson this term: none. His contribution to the greater good has been equally lacking in substance.
As a writer and editor (albeit retired), I also wonder who did his brochure’s editing because it’s so full of grade-school errors, bad capitalization and punctuation, and clumsy phrasing that I suspect a grandchild had a hand in it. If Ecclestone himself was responsible for the atrocious writing, then he desperately needs some remedial English lessons.**
A good government in operation is like a symphony: disparate parts, dozens of different instruments and performers, each in their own space and place, all working together under the benign management of a conductor. When working in harmony, they are a delight to hear and see. There’s no “me” in a symphony: it’s the result of a remarkably efficient collaboration and trust of everyone involved.
To be good, to sound good, they all have to watch the baton, to play and move in syncopation and in harmony. They all need to be tuned to the same pitch (A440). Singers need to listen to the cadence, the pitch, and sing in tune and on time. There’s a lot going on in every bar, so they all pay attention. They all need an implicit trust in one another that – without each one having to oversee his or her neighbour – they all work together to achieve a common goal. It is a remarkable experience.
But a symphony is not simply an auditory experience: it’s something to be seen, to be felt, to be experienced. That is quadrupled if it is an opera, or choral piece. In the video above, the metaphor shines: here is Verdi’s familiar Anvil Chorus from his opera, Il trovatore, performed by the The Royal Opera Company. It’s a stunning production that looks as lovely as it sounds. Who can help but be moved by it?
That’s what good, effective and efficient government should be like: hundreds of pieces moving together towards a common goal under a single conductor. A symphony, metaphorically speaking.
Life coach Michael Hyatt has a blog post on why life is like an orchestra, but it applies to government as well. He says there are five components to an orchestra:
Ultimately an orchestra is judged by its results: the musical performance, and for that performance to achieve its goal (that is: audience appreciation), all those parts have to be in synch. Most of the audience pay little attention to the individual performers, to the space or diversity or the parts listed above: it’s the music that they attend to. It’s the final result that matters.
This is equally true of government: most people pay little attention to the processes, the procedures, the codes of conduct, the staff reports, the flatulent ruminations of sole-sourced lawyers or the dreary pontifications of CAOs. They see only the result: whether the community is working well. Is it safe? Clean? Are there places to work and play? Schools? Are taxes affordable? Are sidewalks and roads in good condition? Can I drink the water from my tap? Is there housing? Are there jobs?
Imagine for a moment the conductor in the performance above waving his or her hands randomly. Imagine different parts of the orchestra trying to play different songs. Imagine the performers striking the anvils at will, each on his or her own time. Imagine the instruments playing at different time signatures. Or different sheet music entirely. It wouldn’t be a symphony: it would be a cacophony.
Such is the state of Collingwood’s municipal politics today. While council should be the collective conductor acting through the mayor, we instead have multiple conductors, each trying to force the orchestra (staff) to play their own tune. While Mayor Cooper tries to wave the town baton in time with the municipal music, the deputy mayor has gone rogue, madly waving his own baton to a tune only he can hear, while behind him the interim CAO props up Brian’s arms to control the motions according to his own corner-office theme song. And there are sole-sourced lawyers and consultants brought in to wave their batons at the same time. It’s chaos.
Ruling a great country is like cooking a small fish.
Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching, verse 60.
This is also translated as an imperative: “Rule a big country as you would fry a small fish.” (Lin Yutang translation). In other words: delicately. With subtlety and attention. Carefully. Not the hamfisted stumbling and fumbling of The Block. Not with the flailing clumsiness of the deputy mayor and interim CAO duo. Continue reading “The symphony of government”
Ann Coulter, that spewing harridan of hatred, bigotry, malevolence and xenophobia makes most thoughtful people cringe. Hell, she makes even rabid, right-wing frothers cringe. She makes the Westboro Baptist morons cringe. She makes the Duck Dynasty wingnuts cringe. She out-froths them all.
Coulter represents the worst of human behaviour and thought in so many areas, blackening the eyes of even the most fervent right wing, which she alleges to defend. But you have to admit this thick-as-a-brick viper is sometimes good for a laugh.
Coulter recently endorsed Donald Trump as the Republican presidential candidate. Which isn’t surprising: they are siblings in vehement hate speech. But I bet it made all the other candidates relieved: her endorsement would be the kiss of death to any reasonable or moderate candidate (yes, that description is a stretch for the lot of them: they are only moderate in comparison to the frontrunners… that doesn’t reduce their collective reprehensibleness…).
It would be a better political strategy to declare themselves atheist, gay and stricken with Ebola than to accept Coulter’s endorsement. That, at least, might appeal to some voters.
I was overcome this weekend with an urge to re-read Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities. I suspect it’s because of its brilliant, powerful opening. That opening epitomizes for me Collingwood’s municipal election and the dichotomy between the two camps: positive versus negative. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…
I was downtown Saturday, shopping in the farmers’ market and local stores when the urge came over me. Ducking into Sandra’s little used-book store on Ontario Street, I found a copy. I sat on a bench downtown and read the first two chapters while Susan browsed in a nearby store. Wonderful stuff.
I carried it home (where it joins a couple of other editions of the same title). It’s actually a nice edition (shown in the cover image on the right); paired with another superb novel by Dickens: Great Expectations. Which title might also be said to reflect the overall tone of this election: all the expectations every candidate and his or her followers have for the outcome (I’m sure Terry Fallis would do it justice…).
The opening paragraph of Dickens’ novel reads:
IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.
That could easily be said reflect claims and counter-claims this election. It doesn’t need to be changed at all to be framed in a modern context.*