A Council Divided

 Original shorter version written for Just Sayin’ Caledon

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“A house divided against itself cannot stand.” Abraham Lincoln

Lincoln spoke those words in 1858 at the Illinois State Capital in Springfield after he had accepted the Illinois Republican Party’s nomination as the state’s U.S. Senator. Those words ring just as true today, and they apply as equally to governments great and small as they do to citizen movements, and to family clans, and to canoe trips.

 Picture a canot du maître in historic times with nine paddlers heading down the swollen Humber River, most of whom are paddling hard in one direction, a few  paddling in another, and one perennial lily-dipper on board. Not only is the forward progress slowed but the course becomes an erratic zig-zag despite the best efforts of the avant standing in the bow and the ­gouvernail in the stern, both trying to steer a true course.

Their route and the goods in their trade canoe have been selected by a talented team of mapmakers, clerks, accountants, and artisans, each a professional in their own right, and highly valued by the Company. They want to get those goods to markets quickly and efficiently.

Ask yourselves how successful those fur trade entrepreneurs would have been if those trade goods had not reached their outposts in the northwest of Canada or the trading posts on the Bay, or if the returning bales of beaver pelts had not reached the chapeau fashionistas of Europe. Which is why you need all the paddlers to be sharing the same vision – a successful journey for their employers, a journey most successful when all the paddlers are pulling in the same direction.

Now, apply this analogy to our Caledon Municipal Council where one of the members recently remarked that they were “very divided.” The paddlers are our Mayor, Area Councillors and Regional Councillors, the avant, the bow steering paddler, is our Town Clerk and the gouvernail, the stern steering paddler, is our CEO. The team backing them are our Town Staff, and the employer is the taxpayer, a minority of whom get off their couches to vote every four years. An even smaller minority of whom bitch and complain about every paddle stroke taken and every decision that the team makes.

Some of the “paddlers” are beginning to signal their intentions to return for another voyage. Others are getting ready to move on to other ventures. And the selection of the nine newly hired voyageurs will be decided by the good townsfolk. However, their decision this season must be to select a very competent crew for a four-year journey into the unknown.

On this voyage the canoe will travel into the uncharted waters of the 2018 to 2022 years, years of sweeping technological innovations, complex population growth, and social diversity challenges.  It will be as challenging as it was for our First Peoples when the European farmers arrived in Caledon in the early 1800’s.

As challenging as when their fur trade rivers were harnessed by grist mills and saw mills. As challenging as when their forests teeming with country foods were razed for farms. As challenging as when their spirituality and culture were almost destroyed by missionary zeal, colonial arrogance, smallpox, and broken treaties. And as challenging for us now as we face nuclear button insults, waves of environmental refugees, and the unpredictability of accelerating climate change.

Given the scope of those challenges, the new crew of paddlers must have the qualities of endurance and strength of character. They must have a skill set that will help them guide our canoe through turbulent waters as we draw our own map into the future. They must possess the qualities of an adaptive mind: curiosity, creativity, initiative, multi-discipline thinking, and empathy. These are the skills that will take them beyond being simply paddling machines in a canoe. These are the skills that make them, and us, truly human.

Hindsight gives us the wisdom of seeing what we should have done a little differently too late. Like, “Well, in hindsight, maybe we shouldn’t have built our downtown core in a river valley floodplain.” As 500-year storm insurance guidelines rewrite our town plans, we begin to realize the 10,000-year wisdom of the elders who built their villages on the high ground. Wisdom and foresight. Something we need to use in selecting our next paddlers.

We have seen the patterns in the paddling styles of our current crew. We need to take a very careful look at those who are signing on again because we can’t afford any lily-dippers or divisive contrarians who might sabotage the venture. Great people make a great team. It’s going to be a long and challenging journey – let’s pick the paddlers who will take us through safely.

A Council divided may fall, but a canoe united will carry our Town on a phenomenal journey into the future.

 

 

 

Skid Crease, Caledon

 

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* images from Heritage Canada

 

 

 

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Fire and Fury in Journalism

The recent tsunami of attention devoted to author Michael Wolff’s exposé “Fire and Fury” has sparked a debate on the “truthiness” of his journalism.

However, the book was never intended to be a factual news report; Wolff clarifies in his opening that the novel is his perception and synthesis of the interviews and events that took place during his “blue badge” days at the White House. Therefore, readers should be expecting something closer to a lengthy editorial essay, a style of journalism that permits writers to communicate the truth as they interpret it.

In journalism, there is a great deal of difference between a news report (inform) and an editorial (inform and persuade) and a political satire essay (inform, persuade, and entertain). Editorials are essentially short essays meant to influence public opinion, promote critical thinking, and sometimes cause people to take action on an issue. In essence, an editorial is an opinionated news story.

Fire and Fury, is simply a novel-length essay written from Wolff’s personal point of view. It contains learned arguments, observations of daily life in the White House, recollections of events and interviews, and reflections of the author. Some may argue that it is a political manifesto largely spewed from the mouth of a now apologetic Steve Bannon. However, It is not, nor has it ever claimed to be, a factual news report.

Let us create a hypothetical scenario to make these differences in journalism easier to understand. A journalist covering the political beat overhears a controversial political leader accept a family vacation offer to the private island of a wealthy junk food magnate. The wordsmith in question is aware that approval for a natural sugar substitute to replace the artificial one currently causing explosive runs in their sugar-free Gummi Beavers is up for review by the Ministry of Bowel Safety (the Ministry of BS). The writer is faced with a dilemma. Besides having to decide if she is going to write a news report or an editorial on this scoop, she is also the only outside witness to this apparent lobbying. Should this  be reported to the Ethics Commissioner for investigation?

The answer to that question is an immediate “YES.” As a citizen you are never off duty; as a writer, you can check your pen at the door. That decided, she writes two versions of her story.

First, the News Report: “On December 21, 2017, the Premier of Duffedon took advantage of the government’s winter break, and accepted a vacation invitation from candy magnate Lycasin Maltitol. The Premier and his family will be staying as guests at Mr. Maltitol’s Candyleaf Plantation on the island of  Haribo off the coast of Brazil. When asked about the choice of vacation destination, the Premier noted that he and Mr. Maltitol had been friends for years.

That’s it. When? 2012/12/21. Who? The Duffedon Premier, his family, and Mr. Maltitol; What? A family vacation. Where? Mr. Maltitol’s Candyleaf Plantation on the island of Haribo. Why? Opportunity to viisit with a family friend.

Now, the Editorial (with just a touch of political satire): “While most of us were shoveling snow and recovering from frostbite, our embattled Premier escaped to the sunny Island of Haribo off the coast of Brazil. Our editorial staff find this difficult to accept. Is it fair that some entitled Duffedonians get an invite to the tropics from rich corporate friends while the 99% are shivering in the cold dark days of December coping with high electricity prices? Yes, on December 21, fittingly the shortest day and longest, darkest night of the year, the Premier and his family jetted off to Candyleaf, Mr. Maltitol’s Stevia rebaudiana plantation.

 It should be noted that stevia, a sugar substitute, is the replacement recommended by the Ministry of Bowel Safety. The health catastrophe caused by the artificial “sour gas” sweetener in our famous Duffedonian sugar free Gummi Beavers had caused a collapse in the global market, a market second only to our manure exports. The government and particularly the Ministry of BS is under a great deal of pressure to reverse this economic Armageddon. Whoever gets the sweetener contract stands to make millions of our devalued dollars.

 The government claims that it has been open and fair in accepting all bids on the sweetener replacement contract. However, Opposition parties are calling foul, claiming that the trip is directly connected to the upcoming bill in the House recommending stevia as the replacement sugar substitute in Gummi Beavers. The Ministry of BS claims that stevia was simply the healthiest choice for Duffedonian bowels. The Ethics Commissioner, alerted by our timely news reporting, has promised to look into this matter.

 Is it not time that Duffedonian’s deserve honesty and transparency and clarity in our governance? Is it too much for hard working, tax-paying, Gummi Beaver consuming Duffedonians to expect a straight answer to a simple question? We think not! We call for the Minister of BS to resign and keep the government out of our junk food choices!  The Editor

There you have it – an editorial can rant and rave a little as long as it doesn’t cross the libel line. It can appear to be intelligent, but has to be careful of falling prey to the two parts of the Rex Murphy Syndrome. Part One is using so many big words that your audience is bedazzled by your eloquence but really has no idea what you are saying. Part Two is being caught getting paid on the side by individuals and groups seeking to influence the tone of the news.

What if we discovered that our hypothetical Editor works for a publishing group linked to influential corporations, linked to influential fundraisers, linked to whatever political party is in office. As CBC noted, “When journalists get paid to speak to or on behalf of powerful advocacy groups, it is hard to argue that this does not lead to a perception of conflict of interest.”

Fire and Fury in journalism, the way I see it.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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2018, the UN International Year of … Our Choice

Written for the King Sentinel. Thursday, January 11th edition

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For the first time in recent history, the United Nations has not made a specific designation for the year 2018.  In fact, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issued a statement calling for global unity to overcome growing challenges:

“On New Year’s Day 2018 I am not issuing an appeal, I am issuing an alert – a red alert for our world. As we begin 2018, I call for unity. We can settle conflicts, overcome hatred and defend shared values. But we can only do that together.”

While the UN has already gone ahead and declared 2019 to be the International Year of Indigenous Languages, for which we say, Miigwech, it appears that the designation for 2018 is left up to us. To those who seize the initiative go the spoils, so let us step up and declare 2018 to be the International Year of Environmental Literacy.

Readers should be reminded that we previously defined “environment” as being “everything that surrounds us, everything with which we interact, everything that we are – in short, everything.” Environmental literacy, therefore, is our ability to move through the stages of awareness, knowledge, and critical thinking about “everything” to wisely put our values into action. This becomes particularly challenging in an era of “truthful hyperbole”, “fake news”, and a global leadership that boasts, “My nuclear button is bigger than your nuclear button!”  Challenging, but even more necessary than ever.

Our 2018 is a world of extremes where one part of our home planet is experiencing Arctic weather bombs, hurricane force winds and historic flooding, while another part is experiencing heat waves and drought. One part of our world is giving the richest corporations historic tax breaks while another part has left 5 million people in urgent need with a hundred thousand on the edge of starvation. While the global population growth is predicted to slow as fertility rates drop, we are at the same time predicting close to 50,000 new births in Rohingya Muslim refugee camps – that’s the population of King Township and Bolton combined – refugee camps rife with cholera and dysentery.

It is hard for us to comprehend the realities of accelerating global climate change and a steadily warming planet when we are shoveling snow. To put that into perspective, my wife and dog and I went hiking yesterday in the Happy Valley Nature Reserve where the wind chill temperature dropped to under -25ºC while the temperatures in Sydney Australia soared to over 45ºC. A temperature differential of 70ºC makes it even difficult to comprehend the realities of daily weather.

It is difficult for us to understand the cries for water, food and safety from those who have none when we are putting out our excess once a week in garbage bins, blue boxes and municipal composters. It is mind-boggling for those of us who believe in a just society to witness the rise in xenophobia and populist misogynistic nationalism in democratically elected governments.

The only cure for a world suffering from these extremes is for those who espouse positive, inclusive values to stand up and be counted, to speak up for those whose voice has been devalued, to offer solace to those who have none. Equally important is for us to use our democratic rights, while we still have them, to elect literate well-informed, respectful candidates to public office so that they make intelligent decisions on our behalf. And that requires us to be literate and well-informed citizens.

Our children tell us that they want to be the change, a change for the better. They remind us that we should be able to tell them that everything is going to be OK, that we are taking good care of them and their world, and that whether they live in King or Caledon or Syria their future will be bright.

But our children aren’t stupid. As young environmentalist Severn Suzuki reminded us at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro 25 years ago: “My dad always says, ‘You are what you do, not what you say.’ Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown-ups say you love us. But I challenge you, please, make your actions reflect your words.”

Perhaps then there is only one resolution to make for this New Year of 2018.

To finally accept that challenge, and to be the best we say we can be. Perhaps it is not so much a resolution, but a revolution and an evolution to environmental literacy. To a higher ground from where we begin to comprehend the incredible interconnectedness of our planet and the consequences of our actions. Considering the recent red alert from the United Nations Secretary-General and the remembered plea of a child, it is clear that the time has come for people of goodwill to defend their world together.

As the old biblical adage reminds us: As we sow, so shall we reap.  Here’s hoping the 2018 harvest is a good one.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

 

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Fighting Fire with Fire, Part 2

More educational political satire, first released for Just Sayin’ Caledon

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Actually, the sky is not falling over Caledon‘s backyard hens, but free-run egg enthusiasts should not go blindly into that food coop.

After Henny Penny pressed the panic button, we managed to track down the residential chicken coop fire story and it turns out it came from one of our favourite sites, My Pet Chicken. Jordana, their wonderful Customer Service Supervisor, informed me that the article in question was “written by one of our employees after a heat lamp caused some dust or lint to catch fire in their coop.

She went on to add, “As far as heating a coop, it is generally not advisable, not only from risk of fire but because it makes it difficult for the chickens to acclimate to the outdoor temperatures and could lead to other health concerns. My Pet Chicken offers safe alternatives to heat lamps to help keep chickens warm enough, but not too warm. These include the Cozy Coop Heater and the Sweeter Heater.

Rather than getting a price from My Pet Chickens, I directly contacted the Sweeter Heater supplier, and this is what their representative, Holly, told me: “Thank you for your interest in Sweeter Heater! The cost of our smallest heater (11”x11”) is $127, plus a $15 shipping & handling fee for our Canadian friends. This is in US currency and does not include any duty.  Basically, we ship the heater via UPS to customs, then they take it from there.  We have many Canadian customers!

Holly was very enthusiastic, as indicated by her exclamation marks, about supplying Sweeter Heaters to Canadian friends in Caledon. If you decide to go this route, be cautious of the foul and outrageous prices charged by UPS for shipping, customs and duty fees. Let’s be realistic here, even given the extremes of our recent cold snap, you may need to moderate the heat in your coop for only a few days a year, and not at all in a mild winter. Considering the very little time you may need to moderate a severe temperature drop, the 60W reptile basking bulb in a guard cage hanging from the ceiling of your coop is a safe and economical alternative at $20. The choice is yours, chicken lovers.

And remember, the lamp that started the fire in the My Pet Chicken employee’s coop story was a 250W heat lamp – not recommended under any circumstances for small residential coop heating, and even known to be responsible for fatal house fires when improperly used. Once again, it is hoped that the caregivers are more intelligent than the chickens.

Get ready for your feathered friends this spring by reading Gail Damerow’s newest edition of Storey’s Guide to Raising Chickens, get your FREE resource kit from the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food, and Rural Affairs at  ag.info.omafra@ontario.ca – everything you wanted to know about backyard poultry titled “Keeping Your Birds Healthy” : and visit the My Pet Chicken site for their tips and tricks and fowl stories.

As for those poor hens that got BBQ’d in the My Pet Chicken coop fire, reflect on the immortal words of Rooster Cogburn in True Grit:

The ground is too hard. If they wanted a decent funeral they should have got themselves killed in summer.”

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Skid Crease, Caledon

*cartoon from climatedepot.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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To Integrity and Beyond

A New Year’s social commentary

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Vizzini: He didn’t fall?! Inconceivable!

Inigo Montoya: You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

These quotes from The Princess Bride could just as easily have been about the word “integrity” – it does not mean what many of us think it means.

Integrity is defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “the quality of being of sound moral principle; uprightness, honesty, and sincerity.”

Integrity comes from the Latin integritas, meaning complete and entire. It was the word the Legionnaires would listen for when they struck the armor above their hearts to test its material wholeness. If the Centurion heard a solid ring, he would shout “Integritas” indicating that the armor was sound and that the soldier was protected in his service of the community.

According to the historical researcher J.D. Kern, the less than moral Praetorian Guard, the Roman emperor’s equivalent of the Nazi S.S., changed this ritual to a “Hail Caesar” indicating their devotion to a man and not to an institution and its code of ideals. In modern times, this bastardized tribute to integrity was replaced with “Sieg Heil” in 1930’s Berlin or “Heil Trump” in 2016 Charlottesville.  Integritas had lost its integrity.

Let us propose to take back the origins of this wonderful word. The synonym for integrity is ethics, which means “morality, morals, decency, principles, values; a code of right and wrong, a categorical imperative. Let us further propose that we demand integrity from ourselves, our family members, our community leaders, and the professionals with whom we deal for education, health care, news, and appliance repair.

Now, keep in mind, integrity can be a double-edged sword. If you define integrity as “firm adherence to a code of moral principles” then Donald Trump could be said to have integrity – he has not wavered from his code of “Lie, sue,

and attack until you win!”  From his perspective it would show a total lack of integrity if the Donald told the truth.

We often take the moral high ground with the phrase, “Speak Truth to Power!” The truth, it appears is dependent upon one’s perspectives and code of ethics, or lack thereof. Fundamentalist religious terrorists and mercenaries could be said to possess integrity, as we said of the Crusaders during the “Holy Wars” of the Middle Ages. If you were Christian, these men were heroes; if you were a Muslim Saracen defending the Holy Lands with integrity, the Crusaders were barbarian savages.

If the truth is all about perspectives, then integrity is a moving target, as difficult to achieve as going beyond infinity.

That phrase, “To Infinity and Beyond” comes from Buzz Lightyear, the Toy Story character who is shouting to everyone that he can do the impossible. Perhaps “To Integrity and Beyond” is an impossible dream. If one person’s commitment to truth and integrity may be perceived as another person’s road to hell, then everything is relative.

In the end, we can only judge those measures of truth and integrity by our own beliefs. Perhaps others do not share what we consider to be our search for intelligent dialogue and fact-based reports. Perhaps some see as “true” what we see as incendiary “Breaking News” and sensationalized gossip and innuendo and alternative facts and truthful hyperbole.

I asked a wise mentor years ago, what I could do as a young teacher to make the world a better place. He responded simply, “Teach your students First Aid. Then they will see others as people they can assist and protect. They will see themselves as people who care for others.” It sounded so simple, but he was right.

We still struggle with that level of care. Call us judgmental, but when we see a bully threatening someone, when we encounter prejudice, when we see someone in need of first aid, do we intervene or walk away? What is the shade of integrity that moves our values into action? We realize that all cats are grey in the dark, but sometimes we just want to see the world in an easy choice of light versus darkness, good versus evil, “us” versus “them”.

As my mother used to say, “Sometimes there are just bad people in the world. Karma will thin the herd.” Sometimes, we have trouble waiting for Karma. We dream longingly, every once in a while, about the hungry, impatient vulture sitting in the bare tree branches of a Gary Larsen cartoon, “Patience my ass! I’m gonna kill something.”

Perhaps when we ask our elected representatives. our media spokespeople, our fellow citizens to show us “Integrity and Beyond,” we are asking them to do the impossible. Perhaps, but it’s worth a try. I

Like the ancient Legionnaires defending Rome, it’s worth the quest this New Year 2018 to rediscover the true meaning of integritas. iAnd it would be so much easier if we all learned First Aid.

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Skid Crease, Caledon

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