Archive for December, 2009

#62 – Babel is best at fireworks.

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

Few cities do as good a job as Babel with celebrations. It adds an especially good effort in fireworks. You always know when the events are over by the fireworks display. Babel is ideally suited to fireworks with its waterfront situated in a valley in the centre of town. People in the condominium towers around the bay feel even more fortunate as they have front-row seating to all the pyrotechnic spectaculars.

An additional treat each year is the double whammy of New Years Eve when a special shorter program is launched earlier in the evening for the children who cannot stay up for the big event at midnight. That is a special consideration for our young families that is really appreciated.

Regrettably, many people were indignant last year when the Wise Men of Babel (our city council) cancelled the fireworks on the long weekend when we were celebrating Queen Victoria’s Birthday. (You need to be a bit older to remember when English-speaking Canadian children sang the ditty: Twenty-fourth of May, the Queen’s birthday, if we don’t get a holiday, we’ll all run away!) It seemed that the Wise Men were being a bit cheap in that regard. It is noted, they appear to have the money for special events: like the Olympic Torch Run.

But maybe Royal Bank paid for these fireworks? One hopes so. As the bank is referred to in its advertising as the ‘enthusiastic’ sponsor of the run, we can only hope it covers all expenses. Why a bank wants to have people run all over the country with over-sized cigarette lighters in promotion of an Olympic event that is probably already sold out, we have yet to fathom. Maybe it is just one of those feel-good things that will make us all more friendly towards the Royal Bank when the Canadian women’s hockey team wins another gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics. It’s a reach but makes sense. Goodness knows, the bank has more than enough profits that it can take the money from petty cash.

The big fireworks event each year in Babel is Canada’s birthday celebration on July 1. There is no dicking around allowed on that day. We go all out. Chairs are lined up on the balcony. No doubt a healthy charge could be levied for those seats but we always give them freely to family and friends (as well as supply booze and small flags to wave). The fireworks are ignited on a barge that moves to a position to best take advantage of any breezes. Most often the barge parks near the Centennial Fountain and all the big dramatic stuff in fiery color bursts right in front of us.

In winter, the lighting of the fireworks is done from the downtown waterfront and our bedroom window affords the warmest (and more intimate) view. We are getting far more than our usual share this week as the Olympic Torch Run came through on Tuesday evening and then Thursday night is New Year’s Eve.

So Happy New Year 2010, everybody.

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#61 – Pete’s wrap-up tweets for 2009.

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

I really like the format of the tweets you put on Twitter,

With just 140 characters allowed, what could be fitter?

If you go into the Woods today, with Tiger by your side,

You’ll find that he’s not gay but you’ll piss off his bride!

The Prime Minister went to Copenhagen to keep the world green.

But when push came to shove, he went to dinner with the Queen.

The TV sequels are hitting the wall with the CSIs in rerun,

The public wants desperate husbands: sex is far more fun.

Michael Ignatieff was handed the Liberal leadership on a platter,

After his year of ups and downs, he asks, “What does it matter?”

Premier McGuinty has said he is introducing an HST

It seems to me that he should not be quite so hasty.

Bill Gates has introduced another wonderful operating system,

If the bugger had fixed the one I had, I would have kissed him.

The Governor General ate raw seal liver to please the Inuit,

She swears she did not hurl and said there was nothing to it.

You’ll get a very boring answer if you ask if Local TV Matters?

A better question is: Who gets the money? That really matters.

Mr. Obama got a peace prize because of good intention,

His moves in Afghanistan are no Rotary Club convention.

Mr. Colvin told his bosses about torture in Afghanistan,

Don’t bother us with tribal stuff, that’s the Harper plan.

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#60 – A wonderful gift from Canada’s Supreme Court.

Sunday, December 27th, 2009

It is a rare event. Just three days before Chistmas, there was a fleeting announcement that perked up the ears of writers. The Supreme Court of Canada had finally repaired the rents in Canada’s libel laws. Libel chill is not completely off the table but the honest belief of the writer in what he or she is reporting can now be considered over the supposed damage to the reputation of the subject.

The laws of libel have been a serious challenge to Canadians learning the truth since the days of George Brown, Father of Confederation and founder of Toronto’s Globe and Mail newspaper. People such as Conrad Black have used Canada’s old libel laws to mock reporters in search of the truth with easy threats of libel action. The law previously put the onus on writers to have a legal definition of the truth ready for their defence. To our shame, it took a Chicago district attorney to finally bring down the high flying Black.

For the first time, Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin wrote in her report for the nine jurists that bloggers were also included under the definition of reporters. The fact that it was a unanimous decision gave considerable strength and substance to the opinion.

In a career as a writer, there is a new feeling of freedom evinced by the ruling. It will not mean as much to the reader at first because the differences are still in the arcane language of jurisprudence. To a responsible writer, there is an opening to name names when before you could not do so. For example, if you asked before, I would not tell you, in writing, why Robert Rymell, P. Eng., operating as RBS Consulting Engineering Group Inc. of Innisfil, Ontario, is not my first choice as a swimming pool engineer. I would not have been able to tell you that he cost two condominiums in Barrie more than $750,000 to replace a swimming pool that a better qualified engineer has reported as unnecessary. Nor would I have been able to write about his approving additional payments to his contractor without the approval of the client or the errors he made in approving construction mistakes—that the client also had to pay for. While it will take some time for stories such as this to make their way to newspapers and other old-style media, blogs can move faster with the times.

That felt good. I am going to enjoy blogging even more in the New Year.

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#59 – God Rest Ye Merry……….

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

In discussing the need for a Christmassy type blog for Christmas Eve with Snake and the Corporal, they took a very mellow attitude. “It’s a happy time,” urged the Corporal, “You want to tell people how much you appreciate them.”

Snake was not as generous but still thought the tone throughout should be warm and forgiving. “After all, Gramps, you’re an experienced businessman. You know how people can screw up. By being forgiving, you are showing the rest of them how they should be generous and caring at this time of year,” he said.

I looked at them with a steely eye. Sure, I knew they were right. They usually are. I could not help my response though, I said the two awful words with an expression as though I was taking vile medicine: “Stephen Harper.

“How do we forgive that guy? He went to the climate conference in Copenhagen and embarrassed us. He had his minions tell the conference that we would do whatever the United States of America would do. People around the world used to respect Canada and look to us for leadership in creating a better world. All they could do at the conference was make jokes about us and hold our country up for ridicule.

“And for that matter, what can I say about Opposition Leader Michael Ignatieff? He’s a nice guy. He’s bright and he’s caring and what’s he doing?” I let that tail off. What is the point?

“Guys, you’re absolutely right. We have to come up with some positive thoughts for Christmas 2009. You first Corporal, tell me something good.”

The Corporal screwed up his face in concentration. “I think I have the prettiest Mommy in the whole world,” he finally said.

You have to love that little charmer. He got no argument from me or his brother.

“Okay Snake, you’re under the gun.” I said, pointing at him.

Snake, who by the way is 12, did not seem flustered. He first looked thoughtful as he framed his response. And then he looked determined as he replied: “Gramps, I think you are looking at this through the wrong end of the telescope. You are looking at individual Canadians when what you really need to look at is all Canadians.

“Canadians had a heck of a scare coming into this year. The world economy was in a shambles. We had elected a government that refused to recognize the economic problems throughout a nasty and unhappy election process. When the opposition tried to take action a year ago, the Prime Minister forced the Governor General to shut down the House of Commons until his minority government could rethink where it was going. And even then, they proved themselves inadequate for the job.

“Despite the constant growth of unemployment, it was Canadians from every walk of life, from every town and city and farm, who stared down this recession and helped keep our economy moving. They have done it with a positive attitude, hard work and a strong belief in their country.

“We’re not out of the woods yet,” he concluded. “The Corporal and I will be looking for productive, well-paying jobs by the time we finish university. We will want to see our country back in its leadership position—as a peacekeeper, as a leader in saving the environment, in developing renewable energy, and as a leader to the world in showing how democracy can work for people.”

“What are you going to add to that?” I asked the Corporal.

“I’d just say ‘Merry Christmas’ to all,” was his response.

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#58 – The wise men of Babel save Christmas.

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

It will soon to be Christmas in Babel. Snow and slush are gathering in grey and muddy piles along Dunlop Street. The merchants of the town gather atop the more sturdy piles looking east and then west in search of the elusive last-minute Christmas shopper. A knot of the more aggressive Babel shopkeepers have met in the middle of the street to discuss their concerns.

“Where are the shoppers?” queried the ladies wear emporium owner. “We only have hookers for lookers these days.”

“Where are the drinkers?” complained the bar owner. “Shopping is dry work and we are waiting for shoppers to quench their thirst with us.”

“We must go see the Mayor,” said the guy who owns the pour-your-own-wine store.

That decided it. They were off to see the Mayor. Gathering strength in numbers as they went, from up and down Dunlop Street, the merchants marched in unison to City Hall.

There was hardly room for all of them in the Mayor’s office so he met with them in the neutral ground of the main rotunda. “What’s yur problem?” he demanded to know.

It was the ladies wear emporium owner who had been chosen spokesperson. “Where have all the shoppers gone?” was the wailing response.

“Is that your problem?” the Mayor asked the rhetorically. “We have a solution to that and all other problems of our citizens. We just turn the problem over to the Wise Men of Babel. They are also known as your City council.”

The call went out to the City Councillors: ten Blackberries vibrated simultaneously, nine male councillors struggled with their costumes to retrieve the irritant while the lone female watched her 19th Century handbag dance across the floor. They had been in the middle of a lovely rendition of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen for the shoppers at Bayfield Mall. Their carolling ended, they headed quickly for the bus to take them back to City Hall.

The Mayor had moved everyone to the Council Chambers as he thought he looked his best in there. The councillors, as they were in the right costumes, danced a quadrille into the chamber, gathered in front of the Mayor and broke into a rousing version of Good King Wenceslas.

“Shut up and siddown guys,” demanded the Mayor when they finished. “This is an emergency meeting of council to help our downtown shopkeepers find some Christmas shoppers. They seem to be missing,” he told them.

Council quickly went into committee of the whole and then into an in-camera session, without the shopkeepers listening in.

The Mayor came out to announce the decision:

“Hear Ye, hear ye,” he proclaimed. “The wise men of Babel have convened and determined that shoppers have been going to the malls instead of downtown because there is lots of free parking at the malls. Therefore from this date forward until New Years, the downtown parking lots owned by the City will not charge for parking. It is free for the Month of December.”

The shopkeepers left happy and only one elderly gentleman was left sitting in the council chamber. One of the councillors went over to see if he was alright. The old man grabbed the councillor by the wrist and said, `What are you guys doing? You need the revenue from those parking lots to balance the books for the year. Now you are giving it away to please a lot of shopkeepers who don’t know the future is in the malls.”

“Not so,” said the councillor with a smirk. “People will think we have forgiven all the meters downtown as well as the parking lots. We’ll make a killing on ticketing the expired meters. And besides, half of our downtown is bars. If we encourage people to park around the bars, the cops can nail them when they start to drive off after being in a bar. It’ll be like shooting fish in a barrel. Merry Christmas.”

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#57 – The new low for Babel’s Member of Parliament.

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

It seems appropriate to extend seasonal greetings at this time to Babel’s current Member of Parliament. It is most likely that he will be history before another Yuletide is upon us. Nothing seems to emphasize it more than the unusual column he ran in the Barrie Examiner this past week. His column suggests that the province still has time to rethink its foolish imposition of the Harmonized Sales Tax.

Who writes this guy’s stuff? Does the writer not check the Member’s voting record in the House of Commons? Has the writer not read a newspaper in the past year?

If the Member actually wrote that column, he would have to be a blatant liar and a fool. The column says `The federal government did not decide to harmonize Ontario`s PST with the GST.` In as much as the federal government (in the person of Jim Flaherty, the Conservative Finance Minister) offered to give Ontario $4.3 billion if the province would agree to the harmonization, whose idea was it?

Is it possible the Conservative party writer was joking?

This writer has already said he does not like the HST. In the last posting, I said I do not believe that the HST is revenue neutral. I also said I do not believe that it is all that good for business in Ontario.

But Premier McGuinty does not ask me for advice. I am a liberal and I do not believe in consumption taxes. Taxes on goods and services are taxes on the poor. They do not fairly tax the rich. To legislate income tax relief and increase consumption taxes is a way of putting more of the tax burden on the poor in our society and Premier McGuinty should be ashamed of himself.

The Member of Parliament for Babel (Temporary) does not feel shame. Even if the item in the Barrie Examiner was not written by him, he must have approved it. It bears his signature. He thinks he can split hairs and lie to the voters. He is wrong. He thinks that type of chicanery is fair in politics. He is wrong. He thinks that he can keep doing and saying whatever he wants to get re-elected. He is very, very wrong.

And there are very few Conservative Members of Parliament who are that stupid. Mr. Brown is supporting the blatantly right-wing approach of the new Ontario provincial Conservative leader Tim Hudak. Hudak is fighting a deliberately hypocritical and losing battle against the HST because, no matter what happens, a Conservative government in Ontario would never remove the tax. Hudak is making the same dishonest case as Babel’s Member of Parliament.

There is a new lower level of sleaze in Canadian politics and Babel’s Member of Parliament has shown us how low he can go. It is time to do something about it.

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#56 – Ontario is going to have a harmony tax.

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

The Province of Ontario and the Federal government have been working in harmony to involve us in what they call a harmonized sales tax. That will be HST for short. It is really just a combination of the Ontario Sales Tax (OST) and the federal Goods and Services Tax (GST). While it is called a harmonized tax, it is in reality a tax that will cause a great deal of disharmony.

It is important to understand the difference between an HST, OST and GST, before we can explain why the new tax should be called the Harmony Tax (HT). If you are still in doubt on what all this means, you will find out the hard way on July 1, 2010. You will be able to celebrate Canada’s birthday and your awakening all at the same time.

It will be a cruel awakening. The first thing to regret on July 1 is that the former OST was a sales tax on goods. The federal GST is on goods and services. The operative word is services. It was about 20 years ago that Canadians discovered what it meant to be taxed on services as well as manufactured goods. The GST was brought in by Brian Mulroney as Prime Minister and Michael Wilson as Finance Minister. Neither could get himself elected again.

While Premier McGinty and his people might actually have designs at another run for the brass ring, they are not helping their chances. The problem is that they could not resist the blandishments and bribes from Harper’s Conservatives in Ottawa to put it in.

But nobody wants to recognize that it was the federal conservatives who pushed the harmonized tax on Ontario. The last person who wants to recognize that fact is Tim Hudak, the rabid Harrisite who won the Ontario Conservative leadership this year. The new NDP leader is also fighting against the tax but nobody can remember her name.

Hudak, in recent years has been standing stud to Deb Hutton, who, as executive assistant to the Premier, was reputed to be the brain behind Mike Harris’ Conservative regime. The thought of a possible repeat of that experience is enough to make Ontario voters’ skin crawl.

This leaves nobody to call Premier McGinty on the size of the tax increase he is inflicting on the voters. The claim from McGinty and his fat finance minister that the HST is cash neutral could be several billion dollars short of the truth. After many years in the business world, this business person has a very difficult time understanding how the harmonized tax will be good for business. (And do not ask your lawyer or accountant that since they will start to charge eight per cent more for their services on July 1.) Just wait until a voter has to buy a funeral and finds out what the new tax is on that. Only the deceased will be uncaring but will not be voting for McGinty again anyway.

All this voter knows is that living in a condominium, that uses electric heat, 90 kilometres from the city, the harmonized tax will not be user friendly.

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#55 – A Seasonal note to Babel drivers.

Saturday, December 12th, 2009

I really need to send a seasonal card,

To Babel drivers who do try so hard.

Hope you’ll try to get out of my way

You’re lucky, you don’t hear me say:

What fool told you to drive that way?

The thing that quite drives me insane

You always drive in the passing lane.

I wouldn’t care but I’ve got to know,

Why the hell you drive there so slow?

Don’t drive, if you don’t know snow.

Another very irritating driving trait,

Your turning at best, isn’t too great.

You will not go into the intersection

Until there’s no cars in any direction!

Then change your mind on direction.

But the seasonal message isn’t that,

It’s about an elf, who’s jolly and fat.

He’s on the road at this time of year

He might’ve downed too many beer

It’s for your safety that I really fear!

Seasonal Greetings from Peter Lowry

#54 – Christmas time in Babel: A short story.

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009

“But you gottta have snow,” Snake tells the younger Corporal.  “It isn’t Christmas without snow.”

The Corporal might only be ten but he is more philosophical about it.  “Are you going skiing on Christmas?” he asked.  “Or tobogganing?  If there’s no snow, you change your plans. Go for a ride on your bike.  What’s the problem?”

“No, no, no,” Snake responded with the certainty of all of his 12 years.  “You’re missing the whole point of Christmas.  With adults, like Mum and Dad, or the grandparents, it’s all in the spirit of the occasion.  Adults need snow to get into the right mood.  If they don’t feel Chrismassy, we’ll be lucky to get a few puzzles or some dumb clothes on Christmas morning.

“Remember last year?  There was more than a half metre of snow in November, even more in December and we cashed in.  The grandparents must have robbed a bank to come up with all the stuff they gave us,” he said to a nodding Corporal.

“And Mum and Dad went all out.  Remember the lecture I gave them on wasting my inheritance on childish toys,” he added.

“Well, I thought you were a bit too hard on them on that score,” the Corporal commented somewhat thoughtfully.

“Naw, they deserved it.  Did you know that Dad hocked his GPS to buy Mum a zircon necklace to match the earrings, he got her for her birthday.  Which was even funnier when she admitted she had sold the earrings to buy him an updated map package for his GPS,” Snake laughed.

“Grampa said it reminded him of a story by a guy named after the Oh Henry chocolate bar,” the Corporal told him.  “It had something to do with someone called a ‘Magi.”  It sounds like a short magician,” he added.

“No its not,” exclaimed Snake.  “Grampa said that there was no connection with chocolate bars.  The writer lived before the candy bar with that name came along.  And it was O. Henry, without an ‘H.’  The story is called The Gift of the Magi. Grampa wrote it down for me so I could get the book at the library and read it.  He said there will be other great little stories with it.  It seems that this guy, O. Henry, wrote what are called short stories.”

“You mean, short like me?” demanded the Corporal belligerently.

“Naw,” said an exasperated Snake.  A short story is one where you tell people what happened and then you stop.  It’s like an early form of blog, before there was an Internet.  They are not supposed to take long to write or long to read.  That makes the writer happy and the reader even happier.”

“Well,” said a mollified Corporal.  “I like stories that end happy.  Happy stories are what Christmas is really supposed to be about.”

(With acknowledgement to O. Henry.)

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#53 – We’re going to have our seven minutes of fame!

Thursday, December 3rd, 2009

The e-mails have been flying. The civil servants of the Canadian Radio-television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) have been busily slotting this supplicant in here and that supplicant in there. They are allocating time slots for the people chosen to address the commissioners at next week’s public hearing (December 7 to 11) on paying broadcasters for local television signals.

Getting to address the commissioners is like winning a lottery. More than 14,000 Canadians filed comments with the commission. To be picked to actually speak to the commissioners is something of an honour.

But we are only getting seven minutes to state our case. When I quibbled about a Wednesday morning slot because of the drive time from Babel, I got moved to late Friday afternoon. And then they told me I had to be there at 9 am or I would be counted as absent for the day.

The problem with Friday afternoon is that if they run out of time, I could be left on the table. That is certainly an ugly prospect.

They also told me that I have to send the commission my remarks ahead of the hearing so the commissioners will know what I am going to say. I have therefore decided to send them the following:

Remarks for CRTC Hearing – December 11, 2009

by Peter Lowry

Chair and Commissioners:

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. You asked for a response to four questions and these are addressed in my written submission of October. Today, in my few minutes, I would like to touch on your role as regulator.

I watched some of your meetings two weeks ago with people in the businesses of broadcasting and distributing television across Canada. I was concerned, at one point, when the chair, talking to the Rogers’ representatives, said there must be a way…. “to find a solution where we can carve up the pie…”

There is only one pie, Mr. Chairman. You’re talking to it this week. And I don’t think we like to be carved up by anyone.

I was also concerned when it was reported that you said to the industry people, “We’re not the industry experts, you are.”

That puzzled me. You were talking to accountants and people with business school backgrounds. They might throw out some technical jargon from their industry but the only expertise they might have is in profit and loss statements.

Their current problems are hardly technical. They are whining to you that they are in financial trouble. That can be of concern only because you look bad if you give broadcast licenses to people who cannot manage their money.

But their financial problems are not your fault. You are the regulator. Their financial problems are not the pie’s fault either. We all have financial problems these days.

In times past, the sovereign would issue Letters of Marque to loyal citizens. A Letter of Marque was a license as a privateer to go out and rape and pillage on the high seas. I expect a broadcasting license is somewhat similar to a Letter of Marque. Only with a broadcasting license, you do the raping and pillaging on dry land.

It used to be that the sovereign got a healthy cut of the booty from the privateers. Well, some of them got hung but that was hardly the sovereign’s fault. It’s just like the broadcasters: it’s not your fault if they can’t manage their bottom line.

You didn’t tell the Aspers to max out their credit cards buying publishing companies as well as Canwest Global. You didn’t tell CTVglobemedia to pay $153 million dollars to grab the Olympics away from the CBC.

If the broadcasters sincerely come to you for help, you could, maybe, cut up their credit cards for them. The best answer might be for you to tell them to start living within their means or you will give those broadcasting licenses to people who can.

You’re the regulator and you let that guy from CTVglobemedia sit in the hearing and threaten to pull the plug and not feed the cable or satellite companies. You should have told him to go ahead. In fact, you have the power to pull the plug for him.

You’re the regulator and you wonder why carriers such as Rogers and Bell are ignoring you as well as the broadcasters. You license those carriers. You let them pipe inferior television signals to their customers, charge whatever they want to charge and ignore their customer’s complaints, and you call it deregulation. Why should the carriers pay any attention to you or the broadcasters?

Mr. Chairman and Commissioners, speaking for the pie, I would like to assure you that there is no problem. Your job is really simple. Technologies advance and the players change. The business people you regulate win some; they lose some. Governments come and go. You are paid to look after the public interest. That is all Canadians expect of you. Please do it.

The pie thanks you.

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