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

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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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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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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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The accomplishments of council

Three Stooges“You really are negative about our council,” the woman said to me as I stood in the grocery store, trying to decide whether to converse or pick mushrooms from the bin. But she insisted on the former. “Your blog is always about the bad things they do. You ought to try to say something positive now and then.”

“What if I can’t think of anything?” I replied.

“Oh come on,” she said. “They can’t be totally bad. Everyone does something good. Even them. You shouldn’t just write about the bad things. Write about the good things, too. It will improve your credibility if you compliment them on their accomplishments now and then.”

Well, that’s possibly true, I conceded, and picked another mushroom button to add to my paper bag. And it made me think. She’s right. I do tend to dwell on the negatives, and even if they outnumber the positives by a sizable proportion, I should not be merely one-sided in my coverage, like the local media. I should air some of the other side, too.

So, in response to that conversation, here below, for the sake of my credibility and in the name of fairness and objectivity, is the complete and comprehensive list of all of Collingwood Council’s accomplishments to date since they took office, more than a year-and-a-half ago.

And to be fair, while this conversation took place several days ago, it took me some time to go back through the records of the past 18 months, to re-read the agendas and minutes of meetings, and the media reports in order to collate everything and be sure I hadn’t missed anything. I had to create two piles: one for those things I felt were negative to the greater good, and those that were, on fair assessment, good for the community. Sure, the former was larger, but the latter was not empty, once I applied some standards of fair and objective judgement.

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Dear Amazon…

Amazon shipping
Dear Amazon:

Hello, it’s me, Ian. Yes, that’s right, the crazy guy who orders all those books. Yeah, the history books, the science books, the philosophy books, the ones on leadership and politics… you know, the guy who spends at least $100 a month buying books from you.

Plus don’t forget the pasta maker, the PC games, the laptop battery, the kitchenware, the ukulele tuners, the gaming mice, drawing tablet, Kindle and other stuff, I’ve bought from you… 26 orders from you in the last six months alone. Yeah, that Ian.

Well, I’m at it again. I just can’t get enough. After all, can you ever have too many books? Of course not! But I’m concerned.

Six days ago I placed an order for three more books. All of them were all marked “in stock” at the time. But every time I check my order, it tells me you’re “preparing to ship” them. And trust me, I’ve checked several times.

I don’t know where you and your staff shop, but six days to “prepare” something that’s supposedly already in stock seems like a very long time to wait. Would you eat in a restaurant where the waiter took your order and told you to come back next week?

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The Crow and the Lion

Fat CrowOnce upon a time, a crafty, old crow was sitting in his nest while his dole of pet doves brought him his breakfast. He happened to look down to the forest floor and saw a convocation of animals had been called. The animals gathered in front of their leader, a wise old lion.

I don’t like lions, said the crow to himself. They’re too full of themselves. The animals like them too much. The lion shouldn’t be king of the beasts. I should be.

So he called his doves to his side. “I am far more experienced, wiser, and smarter and better looking than any lion,” the crow told the doves. “You must confront the lion. You must tell the lion to step down so I can be king of beasts.”

“But how can we do that?” asked the leader of the doves. “The lion is big and strong and has many teeth that could bite us. The lion could eat us.”

“The lion won’t dare eat you in front of all the other animals,” said the crow. “The lion respects the rules.”

So the leader of the doves flew down to the forest floor and stood before the lion. “Old lion,” the dove said. “You must relinquish your crown. The crow wishes to be king of beasts.”

And the lion laughed. “Does he? Well, tell your master I was voted into this office by all the other animals in the forest. If he wishes to be king, he has to run in an election against me. Now fly away little one.”

And the dove flew back while the other animals chuckled at his presumption.

“Wah, wah, wah,” the dove cried to the crow. “The lion laughed at me. He hurt my feelings. He made me look silly in front of the other animals. Wah, wah, wah.”

“Now, now,” said the crow, patting the dove on his head. “You’re a big, strong dove and you don’t need to take such disrespect from the mean old lion. Nasty, nasty lion. Hurting my little dovie-wovie’s feelings.”

“What can we do?” asked the dove, wiping his tears with a wing.

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The Swimmer

riverThe swimmer stood on the dock, contemplating the lazy current in the river. The warm spring, followed by the sunny days of early summer, had warmed the water enough to make the crossing less a challenge than a few weeks back, when he had first done it. It was still early enough in the day that the boaters weren’t on the water yet. The morning was calm and quiet, the sky clear and bright.

The perfect time for a swim.

He dropped his robe on the dock beside his towel, and prepared to dive.

“Just a moment!” a voice from the shore interrupted him. He turned to see a man in a dark grey suit striding purposefully along the dock towards him. He carried a briefcase in one hand and was holding a cellphone against his left ear with the other.

“Can I help you?” the swimmer asked, somewhat confused by the stranger’s interruption.

“Busby. George Busby. Municipal policies and planning department.” The stranger stuffed the phone into a pocket, and shoved his hand at the swimmer, who shook it automatically, but hesitantly. “You intending to swim today?”

“I am. Why?”

“Your plan, of course. We need to see your plan.”

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The Tribulations of an Evil Mastermind

Despicable MeSome days it doesn’t pay to be an evil mastermind plotting to destroy the very fabric of our community. Seriously. It’s just too damned hard keeping all the bits and pieces together.

Take today, for example. Here I was, out with my co-conspirator minions at a local restaurant this morning, trying to come up with some new, despicable act to commit and what do they want to talk about? Grand kids. The weather. Snow plow blades. Pickup trucks. The Republican candidates. Movies. Christmas dinners. New Year’s Eve plans. Monty Python skits.

Monty Python skits! How can you seriously concoct a plot to overthrow democracy when someone keeps breaking in with lines from Holy Grail or Life of Brian?  Then they go into the back-and-forth, trading lines from the cheese shop skit or the argument skit.

You just have to wait it out until the laughter dies down because you’re not supposed to bring out the whip in public places.

Worse, they had toast. Toast! Can you imagine how difficult it is to focus their nasty little minds on being evil miscreants when they’re always asking the waitress for more jam or peanut butter? And then you have to repeat everything because they can’t hear you over the crunching noises.

And don’t get me started on the interruptions for coffee refills. What kind of Machiavellian has to get up in mid-plot to go get more coffee? Everyone else has to shut up and wait until he gets back because otherwise you just have to repeat yourself all over again. As if it wasn’t bad enough doing it when they had toast.

I tell you, being an evil mastermind isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Then I was supposed to go home and print up a bunch of Evil Manifestos to distribute to the populace, and thus destroy confidence in our local government and foment the populace to revolt against them. But I ran out of printer ink.

Why does the printer never run out the day before you’re ready to run riot in the streets? Couldn’t it give you some sort of warning?

It’s really hard to get the revolution started in Staples where you spend an hour trying to figure out what printer model you own so you can buy the right ink cartridges. I mean, why can’t they give printer models names instead of those stupid code names? PRZ6103ZC2. C3PEO-455DWX. LMNOP7890.

I can’t even remember the manufacturer’s name, let alone all those letters and numbers for the model. Why don’t they make it easy? I’m an aging evil mastermind, not some twenty-something nerdy one. My computer and my car dashboard are already covered with sticky notes so I will remember to pick up milk when I’m out bringing down western society.

By the time you’ve found a sales associate (yeah, that takes a while in itself…) who can figure out which one of the 1,500 possible printer models you have and then tell you the ink’s out of stock until next week, well the glow is pretty much off the revolution by then. And even when they do come in, you have to shell out $100 for the damned things. I sometimes think I should charge people for the manifestos instead of just giving them away. Or just print them without cyan. Who needs cyan ink to ruin the world, anyway?

But then, even if I had the ink and was ready to overthrow the establishment, I have to walk the dogs first. You can’t bring down society when your dogs need to pee. You’d only have a wet spot on the carpet afterwords, if you didn’t do it beforehand.

Mrs. Evil Mastermind does not take well to wet spots on her carpet.

I tell you, I’m getting to old for this stuff. Maybe I’ll trade in my secret decoder ring (necessary for getting all that confidential information translated) and my membership card in the Despicable Me Society and stick to playing the ukulele.

Next time, I’m ordering toast, too.

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Is This Your Bar of Soap?

Firesign Theater

This is side five. Follow in your book and repeat after me as we learn three new words in Turkish:
Towel.
Bath.
Border.

So begins Waiting for the Electrician or Someone Like Him, from the first album released by the Firesign Theater, in 1968 (on later albums spelled as Theatre). Everything in it is a misdirection, a sidestep, a pun, an unexpected segue, a joke-within-a-joke, an opening to another place you hadn’t expected to be led to.

May I see your passport please?

Yes, I have it right here. (sounds of busy airport terminal in background)

Uhum. Uhum. Uhum. Look at this. This photograph doesn’t look a bit like you, now, does it sir?

Well, it’s an old picture.

Mmh, mmh. Precisely.

Is there, uh, anything wrong?

Oh no, no, no, no. Would you mind waiting over there, please? Just… leave your bags.

But my passport…

Next please.

Who can forget that journey into the surreal that starts with these words? It’s dark, it’s zany, it’s deep. Very Firesign. Within a few moments they have created a world, and an Orwellian world at that, a world that draws you in.

If you’ve never heard it, then listen to this little snippet:

I had one of those moments, recently, when writing an email to someone, an acquaintance, when a line from the FST just popped into my head. That happens with song lyrics, at times, but less frequency for FST lines than it used to. But it still does; lines that just float to the surface unbidden. Dr. Benway. Nick Danger. Ralph Spoilsport. Antelope Freeway, one half mile…

I just tossed it in, a throwaway in my letter. And to my surprise, in his response, he noted he recognized the source. So there are still some of us left out there who remember.

That sent me scampering through my library to look for The Big Book of Plays, the scripts of the first few FST albums, a book which I once owned. Apparently not any longer. Lent to someone, I suppose, years ago, and it was never returned.

I spent some time looking to buy another online only to discover it has been reprinted with another FST book under the title Marching to Shibboleth.

Of course, I had to order a copy.

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Grammatical Hell in a Handbasket

Maw of HellThe Washington Post has started the apocalypse. Yes, they have. And the whole world is about to go to hell in the proverbial handbasket because of it. The maw of Hell has opened…

The Post has decided after decades – centuries? – of editors, writers and grammarians arguing about the lack of gender-neutral singular pronouns in English, to accept “they” as the stand-in. Can you see the dominoes starting to topple?

I shudder with that. It’s a diagnosis of grammatical ebola. There is no vaccine.

The story popped up on Mental Floss today:

Post copy editor Bill Walsh explains that he personally accepted singular they many years ago, but had stopped short of allowing it in the paper. He finally decided to endorse it in house style after coming to the conclusion that it is “the only sensible solution to English’s lack of a gender-neutral third-person singular personal pronoun.”

Gadzooks! Until now, I had Walsh pegged as one of my main style-guide heroes, a no-nonsense, but literate man to whose works I frequently resorted when trying to unravel the spaghetti-like nature of our language. I even ordered his latest book from Amazon only last week. Now I’m afraid I might be burying them in the backyard compost pile with the other unwanted detritus.

Mental Floss added:

The news of the acceptance of singular they may cause a little stir, but nobody will notice the change in action, as Walsh says, “I suspect that the singular they will go largely unnoticed even by those who oppose it on principle. We’ve used it before, if inadvertently, and I’ve never heard a complaint.”

A “little” stir? Sir, the floodgates of Hell have opened! In its own pages, the Post notes even more changes to be wrought upon us. A tsunami of change! The pillars of linguistic stability shudder!

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Creating a New Citizens’ Group

ProtestRecently, I’ve been told that what this town needs is a new citizen’s action group. I imagine it will be a group of residents concerned that the precedents set by the last council might spread to this one. That’s clearly a worrisome trend to some folks. Like progress, good ideas must be nipped in the bud.

What this town needs, it seems, is a group of citizens who will eagerly file OMB challenges to stop any chance at growth, development, prosperity and jobs before they become endemic. Citizens who will fight to retain our brownfields, to ensure we have store closings, half-finished developments and the slow withering away of the downtown.

Citizens who want the town to work aggressively against businesses, event promoters and developers for the long-term failure of this community. Citizens who demand council be at loggerheads with anyone who wants this town to grow and prosper or, gods forbid, open a business here. Scare them away. Close the door and keep them out.

So I’ve been thinking about what we might call this group and the causes they might stand for (and against). I’ve come up with a few ideas, based in no small part on reflecting on the groups that masqueraded as ratepayers’ groups in our past:

CARECitizens Advocating to Repeal Everything. In the next four years this council has plenty of time to revisit every decision the last council made – and I’m sure the bigger decisions will come back to the table in short order to be reverted or repealled. But why stop there? Why not repeal the whole Official Plan so we could remake the map of Collingwood from scratch? This group would be dedicated to the proposition that, just because a decision made by the last council wasn’t wrong or improper doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. It might even go right back to repealling the town’s name and changing it back to Hens & Chicken Harbour. One might even think the majority of this council already belong to this group.

I had thought to call this RDROEDDFPResidents Determined to Re-Open Every Damned Decision From the Past  – but it’s too hard to remember.

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The Story of Chicken Little

Chicken LittleChicken Little was out one morning walking around town. It was a fine morning, and he decided he wanted a cup of coffee. He wanted one so much could even smell the coffee in the air. So he walked into a local restaurant. But then he stopped and his mouth fell open in horror.

He saw three horses sitting together at a table. Chicken Little didn’t like horses in general, but these were the Three Horses of the Apocalypse. The Three Horses he hated more than any other horses in the whole wide world. The most evil, nastiest, ugliest, horses he had ever seen. Talking. Laughing. Drinking coffee.

Clearly plotting. That’s what horses do: they get together to talk, to laugh, to drink coffee, and to plot. And when horses plot, it means the sky must be falling.

“My, oh, my,” he said to himself. “They’re talking. They’re laughing. They’re drinking coffee. The sky is falling. I can feel it. A piece just hit me! I must run and tell the Weasel about it!”

And Chicken Little skedaddled out of the restaurant as fast as his little legs would carry him while he sent text messages to all his friends.

“They sky is falling!” he texted.

“WTF?” they texted back, but he was too much of a hurry to explain.

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Thurber’s Writings & Drawings

James ThurberBooks of James Thurber‘s cartoons and writing were always on the shelves at my grandparents’ home, as well as on my parents’ bookshelves. I read them, as I did everything else on those shelves, when I was quite young.

I still remember his odd, eccentric cartoons with their primitive lines but sharp and bizarre wit, although I can’t recall much if any what stories I read of his back then (and I am looking forward to reading today what I haven’t read since I was in my early teens).

Yet despite my fuzzy memory for literature of my past, I still recall the enjoyment of doing so at my grandparents’ home during the Sunday dinner; a house full of family; uncles, aunts and cousins bustling about. Me sitting in a stuffed chair reading while the adults fussed in the kitchen and drank wine, and the younger kids played on the living room floor. The books were worn, hardcovers well-thumbed and a little yellowed. Some had tattered dust jackets, others none. I loved their feel and their smell.

There were other titles I recall, too from that era: Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan, Boys’ Own Annual, Don Marquis (Archy & Mehitabel), Beano comic collections (sent over every Christmas by my English grandparents), encyclopedia volumes, The ABC & XYZ of Beekeeping, a big family bible, some pre-war books on engineering and mechanics. I eagerly read them all.

That redolent warmth of family get-togethers; the shared, noisy space and the pleasures of reading and playing, followed by a homemade meal and then crowding around the TV to watch Ed Sullivan – it all came back to me when I recently found a collection of Thurber’s works in a local used book store – mint condition, too!

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