Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

The Summer doldrums start early.

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

It is a fixture of fixed elections. It is not the beating of the war drums in the distant jungle but the sudden silence that creeps across the land. It sends a chill down the spine. It is a time of introspection.

And there is much to think about. There is no spot on the ballots to mark: None of the above. We have to compromise. We have to weigh the dangers, the possibilities, the opportunities. Whom do you trust? Whom do you distrust?

Yet it is discouraging for the writer to see the usual drop off of regular readership at this time of year. Readership is your challenge, your raison d’etre. You are not doing this for the bucks! This is just during the time in North America when good weather, road trips and holidays interfere with keeping tabs on politics.

But we know, come September, that readership will again trend upwards, with spikes of hundreds of readers. I am reminded of the old Starch studies of newspaper and magazine readership. ‘Read most’ was the goal of most writers and I like to think I stay in that race by keeping the daily commentaries within 400 words. Keep them short, breezy and provide a few thoughts worth considering.

Not that this writer is a slave to his computer. The wife and I will be travelling about over the summer. We have places to go, people to visit, events to attend. I always have some back-up commentaries to let run while away.

Wherever we travel, we will be questioning, postulating, listening and noting. Many of the people we will be seeing will be regular readers and they hardly hold back on their opinions and objections. They love to note contradictions from one commentary to the next. They make it known when bored with a particular subject.

But consider the writer. And how many times can you write a commentary about writing commentaries? Not too often, I would expect you to say.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The Donald loves Conrad.

Monday, May 20th, 2019

This is priceless. After serving just three and a half years of his sentence in the United States for fraud and obstruction of justice, Lord Black of Cross-the Pond (or whatever) has been fulsomely pardoned by the U.S. president. There you have it. All is forgiven. Conrad Black is no longer an ex-con!

Do you think he will now come out of his modest semi-retirement in Toronto’s palatial Post Road area? Will he be lionized once again on the Toronto cocktail circuit? Will his darling wife be once again displaying her magnificent figure in her haute couture gowns for the ogling lenses of Canadian paparazzi?

Or do you think Lord Conrad will hie himself to the Brit consulate in Toronto and get himself a renewed passport to his native England. We Canadians should not forget our intense relief when he gave us all the figurative finger, told us to stuff our Canadian identity and got himself declared a Brit and appointed a British Lord.

You would even hope that the Canadian Border Services people would do their job and make sure he has not overstayed his visitor status. If he was not reputed to have a couple hundred million squirreled away somewhere, premier Doug Ford would probably demand he be sent packing before applying for welfare.

Mind you, Conrad’s pretentions, remind me of a wonderful 1949 British movie from the Ealing studios called Kind Hearts and Coronets. It was a fine example of British black comedy starring Dennis Price and Alec Guinness. Maybe Conrad did not need to use his political pull to become a lord. He could have checked those ancestor sites on the Internet to find if he was just six or seven deaths from a title and fortune.

Mind you, according to the States Attorney in U.S. District Court in Chicago in 2007, Conrad Black got his money the old-fashioned way. He defrauded his companies. The court found him guilty and the judge fined him and sent him to jail. His buddy U.S. president Donald Trump (the real estate developer) found him innocent. Who do you believe?

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Is M’Lord Bored?

Thursday, May 2nd, 2019

Lord Cross-the-Pond must be bored with his visitor status in Canada. It is not as though he does not have a suitably palatial estate in Toronto’s Bridal Path area for his retirement. I think Conrad Black gets bored easily.

Many would accuse me of being jealous. I am, a little. I will even admit that Conrad is a good writer. The ten-dollar words simply fly off his fat fingertips. He does not seem to write to inform. He writes more to impress. He also must have some rich friends willing to publish his erudite tomes.

He does not bother to have anything as mundane as his own website. I would suspect that he would consider such enterprise to be beneath him. And, after all, even Karl Marx had his Friedrich Engels to pay the publisher’s bills.

But Conrad has eschewed his epic biographic tomes recently in favour of writing his manifesto. He calls it, somewhat presumptively, The Canadian Manifesto. While I could come up with a reasonably long list of people, I would consider knowledgeable enough to discuss Canada’s constitutional needs, Conrad would not make the list.

And when he let the media have a go at chapters from his book, I went into shock at his solution to poverty in Canada. His solution bears a striking resemblance to Marie Antoinette’s “Let them eat cake.”

Black actually thinks the very rich Canadians can solve the needs of the country’s poor.  I cannot think of people less well equipped.

He proposes a wealth tax that would actually be credited to the wealthy person’s income tax—if the wealthy person did something to help the poor. Now is that not a dainty dish to set before the hoi-polloi?

Conrad seems to think that when politicians take money from the rich and give it to the poor, it is merely as a bribe to vote for the politicians who gave them the most. I wonder if he thinks corporations that pay stockholder dividends are bribing the stockholders?

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Best BSers in the English-speaking world?

Wednesday, May 1st, 2019

Though it is a rare occasion that I read Edward Keenan’s commentaries in the Toronto Star, I had a good laugh at his column the other day. It was not that his column was really intended to be funny. I was laughing at his problems with getting the word ‘shit’ past the Star’s editorial censors.

Obviously, he does not have the freedom enjoyed by his colleague Rosie DiManno. That woman is allowed to write any vulgar word she wants. I think the editors are all afraid of her. Keenan must now think that the proper spelling of ‘shit’ is ‘s—.’

But the story becomes clear when you find out that he was quoting information from an academic study by some Aussies and Brits. They obviously meant to ‘take the piss out of’ their friends the Canucks. (Taking the p— out of somebody in Australia or England is the same as taking the starch out of their shorts and bringing them down to your level.)

They told everyone that this was a serious academic study to determine which of the English-speaking peoples in the world were the best bullshitters. They said that the Canadians won. How we managed to edge out the Americans, we will never know.

Mind you, I can hardly argue against the conclusion. Deciphering bullshit is a common chore in writing speeches and literature for politicians. It is also fair to say that as a public relations professional, people assumed that I always wrote bullshit. I just made it as difficult as possible to prove.

But when you found out the people being tested in this study were 15-year old boys in each country, all the results are questionable. While 15 is a wonderful age, there are different levels of maturity experienced at that age in different countries. In England, they seem to be referenced as young gentlemen. In Canada you would think they are all eager to get their driver’s licence, so they can drive themselves to their hockey games. I guess the Aussie kids are all busy experimenting to see how much of their parents’ beer they can drink.

But our Canadian guys had us fooled. Bullshitters all!

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Delay of Game.

Monday, April 15th, 2019

There could be a serious family squabble in the offing. I might not have mentioned it in the past but the wife is the sports fan in this family. Not that I ever object to cold beer and a Blue Jays game on a warm summer afternoon but I am no fanatic.

And we are Torontonians and devotion to the Maple Leaf hockey team is in both our gene pools. Even living here in Barrie, we are ‘at home’ with all the other Leaf fans.

What is concerning me lately is the increasing mumbling across the breakfast table as the wife scans the statistics for all the Toronto teams each morning. I have explained endlessly that the paper was probably printed before she went to bed the night before. She is gradually getting the idea that it pays to check with the Internet.

But what is troubling me is the growing number of teams in contention for fan attention. There are the rambunctious Raptors, the fabulous FC and the traditional Toronto Argos already out there making Toronto famous at the same time as our hockey club has once again made it to the early stages of the Stanley Cup.

What I will not agree to in this cornucopia of sports is to support the greed of the broadcasting tsars. To be fair though, I am looking forward to the CBC continuing its tradition of bringing us Hockey Night in Canada. That was a smart decision.

But I was absolutely amazed when I saw the proposed monthly charges to the consumer to stream those hockey broadcasts through the Internet. With the costs of Internet service, with sufficient bandwidth for streaming video, constantly climbing, who can afford to watch sports.

There will be other households across the country that are going to have serious discussions about how to pay for all the specialty channels that people want to watch.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

In defence of the new capitalism.

Wednesday, April 10th, 2019

It seems like many years ago, I was standing in front of business students in Ontario defending responsible capitalism. Nobody called me a raving socialist—at least, not out loud. There was no question that what I was lecturing was more on social democracy than the bitchiness of Donald Trump’s raw and nasty version of capitalism.

Recently I was sent a copy of a Bill Maher piece called Capitalism Plus. This clip must be a hot item in democratic circles in the U.S. today. He explains how socialism is an excellent add on for capitalism. It explains why caring for others matters. It is also great to have a few good laughs as a popular and practiced raconteur explains something that is very important.

There seemed to be as many examples of good companies back in the 1970s and 80s as there are examples of bad companies today. Take the General Motors situation for example. I think the giant company has shot itself in the foot to remove the Oshawa plant’s manufacturing from Canada.

In the 1970s and 80s, there were companies throughout the United States and in Canada that believed in the social responsibility of business. They treated their employees as responsible partners in the enterprise, sharing the benefits and financial success.

And there were lessons to be learned in failure at the same time. There are different ways of handling layoffs as assembly lines become redundant. A company I worked for ran to the end of a product cycle and we had some good employees on that product line without work. One day some of them were repainting the hallways of the plant and they asked me why there were no layoffs. All I could do was ask them to be patient.

What we had done was ask our personnel people if they would like to try out their sales skills. We sent them out to similar type companies in the municipality to sell them on interviewing some of our employees. The only layoffs that took place where when everyone had a new job.

But call it democratic socialism, social responsibility of business or capitalism plus, business wants to be part of a stable environment where it can plan ahead and grow its opportunities. Canada offers that. We hardly need to tell anyone that we are open for business. Nor do we always need to attract business with lower taxes or incentives. We know that business will come.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Can bad software crash a 737 Max?

Sunday, March 17th, 2019

In a career of explaining computers to people, I always deferred to my brothers as to what it was all about. I had four brothers who, each in his own field, was an expert. My oldest brother is the systems guy, the next brother (now deceased) developed innovative computer equipment for film and television, the next developed operating systems and languages and the youngest is an expert in computer encryption. That left me the job of explaining all these developments to the world.

And I have not done a good job. Nobody is really interested when you tell them the last real improvements in computer software happened about 45 years ago. Now, there is a headline for you. Who cares?

The point is that the computer industry and everyone else is starting to reap the rewards of ignoring software development. When the Lion Air crash last October killed 189, the most likely answer was: software.

What we have today is a hodgepodge of programs written over the years and rarely, if ever, updated. And the worst aspect of this is the lazy programmer who copies a line of code that might or might not have extra notations in it to do something that nobody cares what.

I remember one time returning from Vancouver to Toronto on a new, at that time, Boeing 767. The chief pilot invited me to the cockpit and he was showing me all the bells and whistles on the large cathode ray tube displays that had replaced banks of switches. We even had some macabre fun putting in impossible destinations for the plane and seeing where it would tell us we would crash for lack of enough fuel.

But the point the pilot was really making was that this was the first aircraft that he had flown with software that was able to take off, fly the plane and land at any suitable airport without a human hand on the controls. I remember looking at him at the time and saying, “Thank you, but please save that demonstration for some other time.”

We have to remember that as we computerize more and more of the systems around us, we are putting lives at risk with every careless bit of software programming. As we listen to and read the comments of aviation experts about the 737 Max 8 crashes, it is becoming more and more obvious that the software involved needs to be just as up-to-date and fine tuned as the equipment it controls.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Saving the Scenic Salish Sea.

Monday, February 25th, 2019

To nobody’s surprise the other day, Canada’s moribund National Energy Board (NEB), once again, approved the expansion of the Trans Mountain pipeline. And once again to the barricades my friends to stop the tripling of the ocean-going tankers manoeuvring under Lions Gate Bridge, through Vancouver Harbour to the Second Narrows and into Burrard Inlet to fill up on highly polluting tar sands bitumen.

The NEB approval comes with the caution that the traffic will harm the killer whales, annoy some of the aboriginal groups (probably the ones that could not be bought off) and cause significant greenhouse gas emissions. Since nobody has figured out a way to provide emergency measures services to the endangered Orcas, you would think this advice alone from the board would come with a negative on the project.

But, no. The NEB obviously made note that the federal government now owns and operates the pipeline and the government can do what it wants anyway. And since this is also the government that appoints the board members, you can assume that they would not bite the hand that feeds them. And, at the same time, it pleased their friends down at the Calgary Petroleum Club. This was a win-win for those guys.

The funniest response was from Alberta premier Rachel Notley. She took a cautiously optimistic approach. She figures it’s an important step, though she did not seem to be rushing to call out the brass bands.

But the federal government still has 90 days to make a final decision. It can take its time. Notley and the tar sands exploiters have spent a great deal of money on the false advertising for their part in the tar sands charade. You would think that with how Notley and her government have stood up for the lies, there would be some payoff. They have cut themselves off from the federal new democrats and crossed the country telling us that ‘bitumen is good for you.’

Despite all her efforts, I hear there will be nothing but bad news for Notley in the election she has to call.

Maybe Justin Trudeau will be even more of a chump. Does he really think his liberals will hold all three seats they now hold in Alberta after the October election?

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

Corporations can be citizens.

Thursday, February 21st, 2019

In last Sunday’s Toronto Star there was an interesting juxtaposition of two letters-to-the-editor on the SNC-Lavalin affair. It reminds me of the time I spent over the years lecturing business students at Ontario universities on corporate social responsibility. Despite the assumption by the public that you cannot charge a car for someone’s careless driving, you can certainly charge the manufacturer with liability if the fault is in a manufacturing defect.

Companies are people too, as far as the law is concerned.

And companies can also suffer double jeopardy as they have their own judge and jury when they are found at fault. The company that has just paid a fine or a court ordered recompense, is hardly going to say, “It is just the cost of doing business!” The company’s reputation is an asset and you besmirch it at your peril. I have helped carry boxes of a few careers to the parking lot and have seen how it can be an object lesson for others.

And while baksheesh can be considered a tip, a small gratuity, or a charitable donation in many countries, in large amounts, it is a bribe.

While many think corporations lack a brain, a soul and a moral compass, the truth is they have many. From the night cleaning staff to the chief executive officer, everybody has an investment in their company. And they do not always look favourably on people around them who disrespect the company’s moral compass.

People who invest in shares of companies for their retirement years should always look beyond the public relations department’s hand-outs. How employees think of their company, the rate of turn-over of staff and how their suppliers feel about them tells you far more.

Thinking of another example of corporate social responsibility, I am disappointed that General Motors Corporation has broken faith with William C. Durant’s vision for the company and certainly the deal made with Sam and George McLaughlin when GM bought their company in Oshawa, Ontario and made Buicks and Chevrolets there for the Canadian market. GM gave up more than just market share when it made the decision recently to end a hundred years of Oshawa manufacturing and leave North American production to the U.S. and Mexico. People do not buy your products quite so readily when you disrespect  them.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me

The dynamics are different.

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2019

When talking about dynamics in politics, we are talking about what will influence the political outcome. And in looking at the upcoming by-elections in three federal electoral districts on February 25, we have to deal with each district as a separate entity.

Reading the tea leaves for the three by-elections is especially important because these will be the last federal by-elections before the general election scheduled for October, this year.

The complexity starts in Burnaby South. The electoral district in Vancouver, B.C. was previously held by Kennedy Stewart of the NDP. Mr. Stewart resigned to run successfully as an independent candidate for Vancouver mayor. He strongly opposes having the Trans Mountain pipeline expanded and coming through the city to transfer diluted bitumen from the Athabasca and Cold Lake tar sands to ocean tankers in Burrard Inlet.

Despite the resignation of the initial liberal candidate, her replacement is a former Speaker of the B.C. Legislature, also of Chinese heritage. With 38 per cent of the district population of Chinese descent, he has the same base as the previous candidate.

If the NDP’s Jagmeet Singh can get out the word forcefully that he opposes the Trans Mountain, he will likely get a lot of help in getting out his vote. Mind you he will have the prime minister and lots of cabinet ministers in the riding smothering the voters with kindness.

Pipelines are of nowhere near the importance in Montreal’s Outremont electoral district. The NDP consider this riding important in that it was former NDP leader Tom Mulcair’s seat. It is also a must-win seat in October for the liberals if they are to hold their majority in parliament.

The third by-election is in Ontario’s York-Simcoe electoral district. The fiefdom of federal conservative Peter Van Loan for the past 14 years, York-Simcoe was a cake-walk for conservative Caroline Mulroney in the recent provincial election. The conservatives could be too confident.

Like all by-elections, the key in all three districts is identifying your voters and getting them out to vote. To do that in February takes far more volunteers than the areas can produce. They will need help from other electoral districts. In by-elections, it is the party with the best ground game that wins.

If the liberals win none of the by-elections, they are in trouble.

If the liberals win just one of the by-elections, it will mean the October election will be hard fought.

If the liberals win two of the by-elections, it means the status quo in October.

And if the liberals win all three of the by-elections, the Toronto Maple Leaf hockey team is also likely to win the Stanley Cup.

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Copyright 2019 © Peter Lowry

Complaints, comments, criticisms and compliments can be sent to  peter@lowry.me