The dogshit dilemma

No more dogshitWe have a problem with dogshit. Well, all municipalities do, of course, but ours is increasingly evident: it’s everywhere. And with the growing popularity of pets and our growing population, it’s becoming worse.* How do we deal with it?

We pick it up, of course, as we dispose of it in our own garbage bins or in those provide by the municipality downtown or in our parks. That’s not merely what the bylaw says we have to do: it’s what responsible, mature pet owners do. Sadly, we seem to be in the minority.

Way too many folk leave it for others to pick up, or step in. And get sick from it. Dog owners know all this. You really have to be a sociopath not to pick up after your own pet and let it shit wherever, with no regard for the rest of us.

Worse, it’s a deliberate affront to the community, even more so than the smokers who stub their butts out on the street and sidewalk. Leaving your dog’s shit behind is like spitting in the face of everyone else here.

But there’s another type of dog owner we find here: those who pick up, then throw the bag of dogshit on the boulevard, onto lawns, over fences into yards or into streams, parks or gardens for others to have to pick up. Sometimes they just drop it in the middle of the sidewalk. That takes a real anti-social asshole with a special form of arrogance. They know that the baggies are far more visible than the shit itself, that it won’t decay or get washed away in the rain. They know some of their bags will get caught in our stormwater system and become a problem for our water workers to contend with. They know the bylaw says that dogshit has to be picked up and properly disposed of in a suitable container. But they do it anyway.

Thiers is an even nastier assault on common decency and community than those who simply refuse to pick up because this involves intent to harm, to vandalize and to insult. It’s deliberate and malicious.
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True Integrity? Not The Block…

IntegrityThere’s an interesting article online called, 13 Traits of People With True Integrity that opens with the (unintentionally?) funny line:

Integrity, for those who are not familiar, is quite important.

After you guffaw at that bit, the author continues, “People who have a strong sense of integrity are sadly a rare breed. However, there are still some people left in this world with integrity, and usually, they share the following 13 traits.” Integrity in this article is linked to the meaning, “adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty.” (Yes, I know we’re talking about The Block, just stop snickering and let me finish.)

We all agree that integrity is sorely lacking these days, particularly in our politicians. And I’m not talking just about Donald Trump and his gang of sociopathic liars. No, I mean locally, where the Trump mini-mes form The Block on Collingwood Council. Integrity, it seems is not as important here as it ought to be.

So let’s look at those 13 traits and see if we can measure The Block against them. How well do they collectively live up to these standards? Or do they fall below the bar? And if so, how far? Here’s number one:

1. They value other people’s time.
Okay, we’re not off to a good start. First, they don’t value anyone except themselves and the interim CAO. And maybe the sole-sourced lawyers and consultants the interim CAO hired to provide The Block with a foundation for their wild and paranoid conspiracy theories. But Brian and his Block certainly don’t value the time of the hospital board and staff, otherwise why would they waste it in their futile, confrontational efforts to block the hospital’s redevelopment plans? They certainly didn’t value the time of the Collus-PowerStream board or the water utility board – otherwise why would they appoint them only to fire them (illegally) and replace them with pro-Block stooges? They didn’t value the time of Collus-PowerStream staff whom they harassed and made increasing demands for information that they already had (If The Block actually read anything, they might have realized they were asking for information that had been provided several times previously).

So for number one, they fail the test. Well, maybe they can make up for it in the next twelve.
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Montaigne and The Block

MontaigneI do love reading Michel de Montaigne.  And writing about him. In 2014 alone, I wrote ten separate posts about him and his famous book, Essays. But since then, my reading habits moved on to other writers and topics. I hadn’t actually been reading Montaigne in the past few years, but recently while sorting some of my books, I found him again. I started re-reading the Essays last week (and reading his travel journal, included in the Everyman edition – Frame translation, which I had not read previously).

He is such an inspiration at times. Witty, observant, genteel, curious, passionate, learned, and wise. And seemingly prescient, too.

Consider this, from Chapter 27, Book I (M.A. Screech trans):

It is not perhaps without good reason that we attribute to simplemindedness a readiness to believe anything and to ignorance the readiness to be convinced…

Consider when you read this today’s “alternate facts” being spread online, and con artists like Alex Jones, David Avocado Wolfe, the Food Babe and Gwenyth Paltrow who make their living by lying and scamming the gullible. Consider US President Donald Trump, who seems incapable of telling even simple truths, yet managed to fool millions into electing him – who still are fooled by him after his deceptions have been revealed over and over. 

Consider the anti-vaccination, anti-GMO, anti-fluoride, anti-climate change movements. Consider the people who believe in chemtrails, bigfoot, UFO abductions, angels, New Age magic, Niburu and pyramids in the Antarctic. Consider televangelists like Joel Osteen who prey on their flocks and make themselves millionaires off the backs of the weak and hard of thinking.

Consider, too, The Block on our own Collingwood Council falling for all the bizarre, paranoid conspiracy theories about the hospital, Collus-PowerStream, and the share sale. Simple minds, all. Montaigne continues:

…belief is like an impression stamped on our soul; he softer and less resisting the soul, the easier it is to print anything on it… The more empty a soul is and the less furnished with counterweights, the more easily its balance will be swayed under the force of its first convictions.

Substitute soul for mind if you, like me, don’t believe in them. How soft and unresisting the minds of The Block when the administration or Brian feeds them patent nonsense. And they believed, wholeheartedly and unreservedly, in every wild and wacky idea from day one. They still do.

Montaigne really had their number, eh? Pretty remarkable for a guy writing more than 440 years ago and half a world away. But Montaigne had no stomach for fools. Three centuries later Henry David Thoreau warned,

No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof. What everybody echoes or in silence passes by as true today may turn out to be falsehood tomorrow, mere smoke of opinion… (Walden, Ch. 1)

Yet The Block have continued blind faith in their paranoid conspiracy theories even without the suggestion of a hint of a shred of proof. Nothing will sway their pure, unquestioning faith in either Brian or the interim CAO. Like Trump’s fanatic fans, they cannot be dissuaded from their beliefs by reason or truth. They are the True Believers, foot soldiers who march into battle never questioning their orders (a la Eric Fromm’s classic work).

Donald Frame translates Montaigne as continuing:

The novelty of things incites us more than their greatness to seek their causes.

By which he means people are easily distracted by baubles, by glitter, by bling, and seldom look beyond to uncover the truth behind the glitter. Again, just like The Block: they never once attempted to verify a single claim, or uncover actual facts about them. Actually, they have consistently done the opposite: avoided or prevented every opportunity for truth and facts to be made public. I’ve written about this before, many times. It’s all part of a deeply embedded culture of secrecy in town hall.

In Chapter 10, Book III, he writes,

Just watch people who have been conditioned to let themselves be enraptured and carried away… They become involved indiscriminately wherever there is a task and obligations…

Well, Collingwood Council watchers get to see The Block enraptured with themselves every meeting, drunk on power and indiscriminately handing out sole-source contracts like party favours. Simply because the administration tells them to. No questions asked, even by those who remain awake at the table.

It is a dangerous and fateful presumption, besides the absurd temerity that it implies, to disdain what we do not comprehend. (Chap. 27, Book I, Frame trans.)

Disdain is a regular affliction among The Block. They did not comprehend the efficient working relationship between our electrical and water utilities, so they disdained – and ended – it. At greater expense to the taxpayers, too. They didn’t understand the airport development, the water pipeline, the hospital redevelopment, the sale of the share of Collus, the new recreational facilities, the code of conduct, the Municipal Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, dividends, conflict of interest, ethics, openness and transparency – so many things they disdained.

In C.10 B.III, Montaigne also writes of his father, who was asked to be the mayor of Bordeaux (as was Montaigne himself, many years later),

He had heard it said that we must forget ourselves for our neighbour, and that the individual was not to be considered at all in comparison with the general.

In other words, before his father (and in his turn, Montaigne) took the job, he understood that it entailed elevating the greater good over his own selfish wants and needs. There was no place for a personal agenda in municipal politics. Montaigne said of his father, “…there was never a more kindly and public-spirited soul.”

How very unlike Saunderson’s Block. In our council, personal agendas and private vendettas have dominated the time at the table. The greater good has no place because The Block have no public spirit. They raised our taxes three times in order to pay themselves more each time. They voted Councillor Jeffrey an unlimited expense account to fly around the country pursuing her personal political goals (yes: unlimited expenses, with no oversight or need to justify them).

But what have they done for the rest of the community? For the greater good? Nothing, of course. They ruined the town’s reputation, ruined our relationships with our municipal neighbours and partners, they alienated the hospital, destroyed staff morale, incurred enormous new expenses and hired unnecessary staff, delayed an airport development with hundreds of jobs, and created a rift with the Ministry of Health – all to serve their personal agendas.

The brave public spirit of Mayor Cooper and Councillor Lloyd are no match for the power of the selfishness and the unrelenting nastiness of The Block.

In this chapter, Montaigne also makes a salient point that relates well to all those sole-sourced consultants and lawyers the interim CAO has spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars on:

For it is not new for the sages to preach things as they serve, not as they are.

Screech translates sages as “clever men,” but the meaning is the same: these people tell you what you pay them to say and their advice is as valuable as the ink and paper wasted to print it. As the old saw goes, a consultant is someone who borrows your watch to tell you the time. And a lawyer is someone who keeps the watch. They’ve been bought to reinforce the administration’s preconceptions, and reinforce the conspiracy theories, nothing more.

There is one quotation in Ch.10 in which The Block align perfectly with Montaigne. It involves his municipal administration:

I am accused of doing nothing when almost everyone else was guilty of doing too much! (trans. Saul Frampton)

The public continues to compare the many, community-minded accomplishments of the last council with the utter lack of them in this term.

I could go on, picking up lines to quote and comment on, but I will stop for now. My point, I think has been made here and in previous posts: authors have been writing about politics, about human behaviour, about morality and ethics and responsibility since writing was first invented. Little good it has done us, in no small part because The Block Don’t Read. And even if they did, their ideology doesn’t allow them to accept anything that contradicts or informs them otherwise. Facts have as little place in their ideology as ethics or the greater good.

But some of you, dear readers, are considering running for council next election (I already know a half dozen who have made this claim). For all our sakes, I encourage you to read about politics, ethics, laws, morality, responsibility and, yes, philosophy. There is always something to be learned by those – unlike The Block – with an open mind.

I hope you will also choose – because it’s always a choice how we act – to put the community first in all your decisions. To break the culture of secrecy and be open, honest, transparent and engage the public. To ask questions, to use reason and to assess all options and get facts before deciding. What a difference that would be from this term.

Collingwood deserves better and you have a chance to be helps us get it back.

Why not to run for council

Silly season starts this fallA recent article shared with me on Facebook, titled “Five Terrible Reasons to Run for Municipal Officelists many – but far from all – of the reasons people should not run for office. It’s a good read and, since the silly season will be on us soon enough (some of The Block are already in campaign mode), you should pay attention if you plan to run for office next year. Knowing why not to run is as important as knowing why you should.

The author of this piece is Danielle Klooster, self-described as, “… a leading Alberta provider of professional community development, economic development and strategic business planning consultation and support…”

Klooster’s five terrible reasons are:

  1. “People are ready for change!”
  2. “I’m going to clean house!”
  3. “I’m going to fix the [insert pet peeve such as snow removal/pot holes/bike lanes] situation!”
  4. “We have to get rid of the current corrupt/secretive/self-serving/incompetent bunch!”
  5. “I’m going to make lowering taxes my number one priority!”

She then fleshes out each element with her explanations why you should not run on these. Overall, it’s a pretty good exploration of the inappropriate motivations behind some people’s decisions to campaign for municipal office. Locally, of course, there have been other reasons, not least of all The Block’s decision to collectively use the municipality and your tax dollars to enforce and fund personal agendas and private vendettas.

The Block was especially big on number four – they built a whole campaign on innuendo, rumour and lies about the former council and promised to “drain the swamp…” but instead, they became the alligators. This council quickly proved itself more corrupt, secretive, self-serving and incompetent than any we’ve seen in this town previously.

They still harbour conspiracy theories about the former council and some now-departed staff and blame them for everything (Yes, I know: The Block blame their own faults and mistakes on someone or something else, all the time because taking responsibility is an adult act).

Time has shown the public that the former council was none of these things, and in fact The Block have shown themselves time and time again to be the most closed, unethical, and corrupt councillors in our town’s history. In the past three years, The Block’s single positive accomplishment has been a bylaw that makes it illegal to throw birdseed on your porch or driveway. Compare that to the lengthy list of positive, pro-community actions and accomplishments last term.
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Why are they called The Block?

BlockheadsSeven members of our council are collectively referred to as “The Block” in common parlance. A fitting nickname for a group that includes its leader, the deputy mayor, Brian Saunderson, his five core minions (all newly elected to council this term), and one veteran wannabe (nicknamed the “pledge” in frat house terms).

Most folks assume they are called The Block because they vote as a block. Once Brian raises his hand, the rest raise theirs like obedient little puppets. No need to think, no need to question, analyze or debate: they do what they’ve been told. For which they are also referred to as The Blockheads (not to be confused with the Minecraft-like game of the same name, although a review of the game noted, “A total lack of community renders the game relatively hollow…” which could equally refer to The Block’s behaviour on council).

No, the nickname doesn’t mean they are a crazy, harmless sitcom family acting their antics for the delight of the audience or clunky game ‘toons whose antics you control. Those this term antics have been destructive, self-serving, unethical and often illegal. The harm they have done to this community is more than all other councils in the past 30 years combined. Sadly, we have to put up with more of this for another year, when we can toss the whole lot out on their corrupt ears in the next municipal election. But I digress…

True, sometimes a few of them do seem to act independently at the table now and then, but it’s an illusion, like a ventriloquist’s dummy seeming to speak by itself or a marionette appearing to dance independently. These sycophants use their speaking time to express their oleaginous adulation of The Leader with an ingratiatingly smarmy statement of support. Councillor “Fluffydog” Madigan comes to mind as very well experienced in this practice.

However loudly The Block proclaim their everlasting love of The Leader, however long they bloviate in his honour – eerily similar to speeches made of Stalin by his pet Politburo in the 1930s – these are just verbal piffle. They have no real content or depth, just use up precious oxygen in the council chamber. They are to real democratic debate what farts are in a crowded elevator.

Nor do these comments ever suggest any of The Block might rebel and vote against The Leader. They won’t and express their own opinion, because they have none, aside from what they have been told. These statements are meant to show how firmly cemented to his backside they are. The solidarity of Blockdom.
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