Archive for October, 2010

#93– The hijacking of caring.

Thursday, October 21st, 2010

In the beginning there was a disease.  The medical people were baffled by it.  They tried treating the symptoms, easing the pains with drugs as well as using leeches and popular incantations.  Nothing seemed to work.  They gave the message to the families: “We do not know.  In time, medical scholars will, if supplied with copious amounts of coin and fine facilities within which to work, study the disease and maybe, someday, they will accidently find a cure.”  They called the disease multiple sclerosis (MS).

It was not until after the Second World War that people with MS and their families started to connect with other families with similar concerns.  They found caring people out there who shared the concerns, knowledge and desperation for a cure.  They cared so much that they started banding together to collect coins and dollar bills and cheques with which to hire professional advisors and organizers to work for these people who cared.

Progress was slow at first.  Nobody knew much about this disease but these people who cared taught others about the disease, interesting doctors and care givers and researchers in the challenges of the disease.  Multiple Sclerosis came to be known as a medical mystery of major concern.

In Canada, these caring people were so successful that the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Canada became one of the best know national health agencies in the country after the Cancer Society and Heart and Stroke.  By balancing their objectives of services to patients, educating the public about the disease and funding carefully vetted research projects, they were raising the funds they needed to do their work.  In time, they raised millions of dollars each year.

The Canadian society was so successful that it could even share its success with other multiple sclerosis societies.  Canada’s caring missionaries were active in exchanging ideas with these societies, on how to raise money, how to teach people about the disease, how to care for patients and how to work with governments and medical researchers to ensure that there could be a coordinated, world-wide effort.  In time, their approach meant that many, many millions were being directed to solving the mystery of MS.

But in achieving their success, these caring people made a mistake.  They allowed themselves to be hijacked.  It did not happen suddenly.  They were hijacked over time.  It was an insidious process.  They lost control of the society they had built.  The professionals they had hired had gradually taken over.

Nobody said: “Let’s get rid of the caring people.”  That also just happened over time.  In more than 50 years of its existence, the MS Society of Canada hired more and more staff. The common excuse was that it was more convenient to do the work with paid staff.  It was more professional.

The type of people sought to be on the society’s boards also changed.  People who cared were not always the important people who could raise more money, add prestige to the boards or understand the power point presentations of the professional help.  It was not that the prestigious board people who replaced them were less caring.  They were just less connected with the disease.  They were less desperate.  Many only had an understanding of the disease in the abstract.  They were more like the paid staff who could leave work and go home to a normal life without someone around to remind them of multiple sclerosis.

And they found the medical profession supported this approach.  Medical people found it easier to deal with other professionals and with prestigious executives from leading firms on the MS boards.  Nobody really wants whiny, overwrought patients or their families adding to the noise level.

But what they forgot was the determination of these caring people.  They forgot the leadership that these people gave to driving the society forward.  We have found that the paid staff can write about momentum but they often lack the leadership skills to create it.

There will be more on this subject.

– 30 –

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to

Comment for today.

Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

The voting has started in Babel,

We have all done as we’re able,

Will voter apathy decide, Babel?


Comment for today.

Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

Democracy, it has been noted, is not yet perfected,

From those who want to fix, it better be protected.


#92– Surviving the communications age, part 1.

Monday, October 18th, 2010

(Early in my career in public relations, I found I had a talent for making complex technologies understandable to a broader audience.  I expect there is a book hidden in the recesses of my mind that can help people deal with the complexity of the communications age in which we are so lucky to live.  Until I sit down and write it, you will have to settle for these scattered blogs to answer your questions.)

There is a corollary to that fictional Chinese curse saying: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ It is:May you come to the attention of those in authority.’ And, according to a whimsical contributor to Wikipedia, there is a second corollary: May you find what you are looking for.’ All the sayings seem to come together to focus attention on our concerns with the communication age.  Just think for a minute about cell phones.

Things electronic have always fascinated me.  I have always been an early adaptor of new technologies. I had a car telephone long before they became a nuisance on our highways.  That first telephone was a full sized home phone from Bell Canada that sat on the console of a large four-door Mercury.  The many boxes of equipment that made it work filled the car’s spacious trunk and the whip antenna, rising from the middle of the trunk, was over two metres long.  There were just eight frequencies available in the Greater Toronto Area, for the thousands of people so equipped.  You fought for a line.

Getting a line was only your first problem.  There was no privacy.  I remember repeatedly trying to get a Globe and Mail reporter to stop reading to me to check a story that would be front-page news the next morning.  There could have been hundreds of people on the line getting the inside scoop without us being able to tell.  I thought I was really on to something with that phone until I met a limousine driver who had two lines; one phone was a convenience for his customers.  Analysis of calls on that radio telephone revealed that most calls were to tell people you were stuck in traffic and would be late to a meeting.  I discontinued the phone next time I changed cars.

The first cell phone was another disappointment.  It was built-in and hands-free for convenience but it still took up a third of the trunk of the sporty car that had replaced the larger Mercury.  It was such new technology that the telephone company should have been paying me to find all their dead spots in the city.  At that time, you were best to park if you were going to have a long conversation.   Mind you I really found out who among the people I talked to on the phone were long-winded.  At so much per minute, I started to tire of some of the conversations.

The first truly portable cell phones were awkward beasts that came with a carrying strap to throw over your shoulder.  The first couple arriving at a restaurant put their beast on the table so that their friends could update them on how far they were away.  And then the phones became so small, we were constantly losing them.

With the rise of the Blackberry and iPhone, the multi-media era of the communications age has landed on platforms that can handle the phenomenon.  Someone had already reasoned that cell phones would be even more useful if they sported a digital camera.  That made them useful and ubiquitous.  What surprised everyone about the Blackberry and other texting-ready cell phone devices was the number of adults so willingly typing on tiny Qwerty keyboards with their thumb nails.

Texting has certainly quieted down the incessant noise of cell phones but it is also destroying the use of written language.  Our spelling is becoming atrocious, the grammar appalling and some of the abbreviations leave the communication in doubt.  The sight of people around a meeting table who all look like they are playing with their genitals, is the phenomenon of people texting others while supposedly paying attention.

But, no matter how sophisticated the device, the essential message remains the same as that of Lewis Carroll’s white rabbit: ‘I’m late!  I’m late!  For a very important date.’ Were we always so self-important?    

– 30 –

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to

Comment for today.

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

Just learning about politics in Babel,

At least as much of it as we are able,

Opponents do not seem at all stable,

The media are living in some fable,

And the province is growing Babel?


Comment for today.

Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Entrepreneurial seeding could ease the economic stagnation,

What we also need are politicians,  we could get into motion.


#91– The curse of the communications age.

Friday, October 15th, 2010

The supposedly ancient Chinese curse saying: ‘May you live in interesting times’ is starting to make sense.  It turns out that age of communications has become a curse in so many ways.  What started as human progress has become an inexorable trip into our own Hell of perpetual communications problems that dominate our lives.

This thinking was aggravated Thanksgiving weekend when Bell Canada pulled one of its service cut-off tricks.  What Bell does is perform what is called a system audit on long weekends.  It is all done by computer today but the process is the same as going down one of the old central office frames and unplugging customers who are in arrears or have otherwise displeased someone in Bell management.  They did it last Saturday night to this customer’s Internet service.  You find out on Sunday morning when you try to connect with the Internet to update this blog: no sync, no service.

But Bell had no right to do that.  While it might be a Bell Canada line and connected to a digital subscriber line amplitude modulator (called a D-SLAM) in Bell’s local central office, it was not Bell’s to cut off at a whim.  That line and the D-SLAM connection were leased to Yak Communications, a third-party services provider.  The Canadian Radio-Television Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) has very strict rules about how Bell has to handle third-party connections and I could have arranged for a very nasty letter to Bell if I had a little more time available.

The first concern is to get reconnected.  Sunday on a long weekend is not the time to do that.  The people manning call centres on long weekends are not always from the deep-end of the gene pool.  They are, at best, able to read a script (slowly). They are so bureaucratic, they are actually funny.  You are smart not to laugh at them as they tend to hang up on you if they think you are making fun of them.

And never tell them something that might not fit their scripts.  The genius who answered our call (after an appropriate wait on hold) told me that the problem was in my router because it was not the right make.  I could see that there was no DSL signal and he blamed it on the router.  He was going to send me a $10 router for $40 plus shipping.  It would arrive in five days and then he said he could help me re-connect.  I decided not to go that route.

At least this user is smart enough to have his web site located in New Jersey, his Montenegro e-mails based in San Francisco and a book of codes.  There are other computer hook-ups for emergencies.  One option was to go to a new supplier.  That was investigated.

This one was one for the books.  I called Rogers Cable.  I had a benevolent attitude towards Rogers that day because, through a fluke, I called Rogers recently and actually got a sentient human who understood the problem I had with their cable TV billing and struggled to fix it.  Not being a curmudgeon, you appreciate efforts such as that.  An add-on of high speed Internet service would have been an easy sale for Rogers.  I called a Rogers Internet call centre and got a gentleman who was eager to make a sale.  We agreed on what was needed.  The offer was made to connect that same Sunday afternoon.  The only problem was price.  Yak sells 6 Megabit Internet service for less than $25 per month, when you know how to negotiate.  Rogers thinks their equivalent service is worth $47 per month.  The gentleman from Rogers had no power to negotiate.  He lost the sale.

It took until Wednesday to fix the problem through Yak.  Despite the disapproval of my router, it works just fine thank you.  We are up and running.

But we need to talk about this unsavoury slavery to communications.  It is insidious.  We will have more to say.

– 30 –

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to

Comment for today.

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

In bidding for a Security Council seat, Canada was rebuffed.

The world’s answer to Harper’s foreign policies: Get stuffed!


Comment for today.

Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

In the GTA, P-Oed voters are everywhere,

Candidates want a Rob Ford mask to wear.


#90 – Political brochures have to be read carefully.

Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

There is nothing more boring than brochures that tell you what a great representative someone will be if you just put all your faith in them and elect them to a job for which taxpayers will pay them a disgusting amount of money.  These brochures can be cheap first efforts or glossy magazines prepared by professional writers.  No matter which, they often tell you far more about the candidate than the candidate wants you to know.

It is not so much what the brochure says but what it doesn’t say that tells the story.  One of the most obvious is in the biography that is supposed to tell you how well educated and trained the person is to represent the voters.  What you need to look for is statements such as the candidate took a particular course at this or that university.  If it fails to say the candidate earned a degree, the candidate probably flunked out.

Our problem as voters is that as untrained as we might be in human resources, we are making a serious decision about hiring the person.  There is no recall for municipal or provincial politicians in Ontario so you can have many years to regret your choice.  If it is a mayor of Babel, for example, you are making a commitment to pay the person over $400,000 over the next four years.  This is not something you want to do on a whim.

One of the classic promises politicians make in their brochures is that they are going to lower taxes.  It always pays to check on how they intend to do that.  An interesting example of this is the recent literature from Babel’s own Joe Tascona who is running for mayor.  Joe served an apprenticeship under that famous Mike Harris at Queens’ Park.  As Premier, Mike Harris cut costs for the province by dumping welfare, regional highways and other costs onto Ontario’s municipalities.  Mr. Tascona complains that Babel’s municipal taxes went up 24 per cent while he was at Queens’ Park.  Mr. Tascona seems to have a convenient memory.  He helped Mr. Harris do that.

He is even more foolish when he tells the reader how he will reduce taxes.  He says he is going to introduce ‘zero-based budgeting’ to city hall.  It would have been smart to check what zero-based budgeting meant before making that promise.  His literature says departments would base their budget requests on the prior year’s actual expenditure—which is basically what they do now.  Zero-based budgeting is a much more demanding budgeting technique that starts from nothing and the department has to justify every item and dollar of expense.  Zero-based budgeting is not as popular as it was once because of the serious amount of employee time required for the exercise.

Mr. Tascona’s literature also shouts at you in print that he will be cutting out `WASTEFUL SPENDING` on expensive consultants.  This is treating the reader as ignorant.  Or maybe Mr. Tascona appears ignorant in his literature in that he does not know why the city sometimes uses consultants.

Just once it needs to be said: consultants can bring a special expertise to a task so that the city does not have to hire someone with that special skill.  Would you rather hire someone at $100,000 per year for their special skill and knowledge or borrow them for a couple weeks at a time, when needed, for a few thousand dollars.  Your choice!

Joe Tascona’s literature uses the slogan at the end: We Can Do Better.

Yes Joe, we can.

– 30 –

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to