Wednesday, April 29, 2009


The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same

I'm still singing that song about "everything old is new again." What's sticking in my throat is all this nonsense about the apparent invention of frugal living. Please! When you throw in this wonderful new concept (I'm being sarcastic) of recycling and conservation, I become nauseous.
After all, there are many of us who have never overdosed on credit cards, who know that being careful with resources wasn't just invented by mouthy activists and media mouths who never bothered to find out what happened before they were hatched.
I know that for readers past the Biblical promise of three score years and ten, and for many in their sixties, this is just a return to basics, the way many of us lived when we were kids and our parents had only modest means. Even those in their thirties and forties may understand what I'm talking about because the explosion in wasteful living is only a couple of decades old.
In the 1940s, I was a kid living in a little house in Chesley, which is southwest of Owen Sound. And we lived out of necessity the way the greenies do today out of flamboyant conviction.
There was an outhouse in the woodshed, papered with big posters of the generators at Niagara Falls. A "honey" wagon was a common sight emptying the outhouses.
Oh yes, there was a compost heap in the back yard, and many scraps we also fed to the Leghorns which we ate after they got too old for laying. We even fed the chickens any preserves that had gone bad, causing them to stagger around drunkenly. My Baptist grandfather didn't appear to notice even though he once worked in a distillery.
We grew most of our vegetables and fruit on the empty second lot beside the house, which was common in towns around 1950. There was still lots of space around the houses and garages often were converted stables.
The house was heated by running the hot water pipes through the fire box of the wood stove, which was also the only heat for the house. The stove was one of those smart old ones with a warming shelf up top and a reservoir to heat water on one side. Plenty of hot water on those days when the bread was baked, since many people didn't buy store bread.
There was a pump in the kitchen for the cistern which was under the kitchen floor, fed from the eaves troughs.Now this old-fashioned house featured many of the green gimmicks which are now touted half-a-century later as the latest thing. And I'm not just talking about growing your own vegetables.
I have a Envirolet composting toilet at my cottage, and indeed there's still an outhouse tucked behind evergreens for winter use when I've drained the water pump.
I would just love to have a big old wood stove at the cottage, fed from all the limbs that fall in the winter, but they now cost a fortune. Saving rain in barrels is now so fashionable they have fancy varieties which conceal the function behind bric-a-brac.
And so it goes. Yet we are told breathlessly about how the latest fad is to live frugally and greenly.
Let me give you a few more examples of how green most of us really were 50 or 60 years ago, starting with the fact there was no need for blue boxes and grey boxes etc. because every bottle was saved for jams, preserves and nails. And boys like me trundled our wagons around Chesley collecting newspapers which we then sold to the furniture factories for packing.
No one threw away newspapers because paper was needed to start stoves, furnaces, bonfires and trash fires. (Of course that's a socialist no no today since the lefties/gliberals won't even allow clean incinerators producing watts from waste.)
When you bought groceries, every store in Chesley subscribed to the Vandervort delivery truck and your groceries were delivered a few hours later. No one walked the streets carrying groceries. The local dairy also had refrigerated lockers where you could store your meats etc. so you didn't have to have a home freezer. (And it sold buttermilk for a nickel a pail.)
The big furniture factory also owned the sawmill so a team pulling a wagon filled with sawdust plodded by my house every hour ferrying the sawdust to the factory furnace.
Now the good old days often weren't. Half-a-century ago, a major illness could bankrupt a family because Medicare and welfare hadn't yet transformed the lives of Canadians. But all of us lived carefully. Any string on parcels was rolled into a big ball for reuse. If the Post Office missed cancelling a stamp, we soaked them off and glued them to our new mail, which still drives the posties nuts as they rant about it being illegal.
So we no longer have the luxury of as much space around our homes and cottages. And new windows save us more heat than the big old wooden ones. Same with modern insulation. But when I read Time talking about a young chap whose idea of hardship is that he can no longer buy $200 ties, when I read newspaper stories about teenagers now being careful about their cell phone costs, when I see the expanses of useless space in the modern show homes, I wonder what kind of fiscal insanity infected North America before the recession/depression forced more sanity on people who never ever have had to save, who knew that life was only going to get fatter tomorrow, who have just learned they should have been living within their means.
Giving mortgages to sucker who had no down payment, allowing people to max out six credit cards, advertising even after the depression/recession hit that you could get a loan without one credit check, all these are just a few examples of the good times madness that struck every street which are now lined with leased cars that people can't afford.
Chesley was hardly a dream town, but most of the people there 50 years ago would have observed what passes for ordinary living today with amazement. What about saving for a rainy day? What about never buying on time, with exceptions for the house? What about saving 10% of everything you earn, which everyone from the wealthy barber to Dickens said was the key to happiness and prosperity? What about buying a used car (avoiding that crap about pre-owned) until you could really afford a new one? What about using the old stereos and TVs even when fancy new varieties tempt you?
History is filled with crashes of markets and dreams. Only fools would think that it would never happen again. Many thinkers have reminded us that those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.
And yet many around us did choose to ignore history. They kidded us about not living as well as them because, after all, we can't take our money to heaven/hell. They forgot that everything old should become new again, especially when it comes to living without the worry about how to pay for tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


Everything Old Is New Again

The politicians who don green capes to conceal their nakedness when it comes to thrift with taxes and good new ideas are the curse of our lives.
They hold special Earth Days and hire PR flacks to put out costly brochures about how great they are when it comes to the environment. Mother Earth has survived many things, and she will survive anything that these envirocrats dream up, but it does become tedious and costly.
The green hypocrites are led in Toronto by Mayor David Miller who presides over a city that throws away money to make it look good while failing completely on such basics as actually providing the basics of city services.
As just one example, the potholes and shoulder ruins of Toronto streets are the worst I have seen in my entire life. When you return after seven weeks driving on smooth roads, the disrepair of our streets is a poke in the eye.
It just intensified the rage against the city's new car tax which will collect almost $50 million this year.
While Miller struts around the city and indeed the world as chair of an international clutch of municipal leaders said to be green too, Toronto's infrastructure rusts out or sinks.
The international clutch even have a new home in London, and Toronto taxpayers are paying $140,000 towards that headquarters so Miller can visit his English roots.
On the last civic Earth Day and its barrage of feel-good bureaucratese, Miller unveiled $21 million worth of measures to make City Hall a showplace for the environment and not just for conspicuous waste. Of course, city councillors follow in the footsteps of politicians everywhere and keep announcing the same programs over and over until they become shopworn before they are even opened.
When you consider all the pronouncements with healthy skepticism, some of them unravel into mere maintenance. In other words, if you're going to spend $6.8 million to fix the place up, mainly on new windows, you call them "energy efficiency improvements" and hope people don't wonder why you're spending so bloody much on windows.
But then you say you're going to spend $2.3 million on a green roof at City Hall. Wow, just imagine, a green roof, just like they've been installing at Exhibition Place. I guess settlers all over the world, from the steppes to the prairies, didn't realize a hundred years ago just how modern they were with the sod roofs on their hovels, sheds and their barns. If they had known, they wouldn't have done their damndest to get away from green roofs because they aren't as easy as plain old-fashioned roofs to maintain. And with the price of sod these days, ordinary shingles look like a bargain.
Exhibition Place has been the showplace, or so they say, for the city's research and development of expensive green technology. The Toronto Sun headlined one of the schemes "wasting taxes while looking good," a headline that could be used almost every time the socialist/gliberal majority of council gets a so-called bright idea.
I've already written a blog on July 26, 2008, of how city politicians and senior bureaucrats are spending $935,000 to collect rainwater on the roof of a renovated Automotive Building even though one of the largest lakes in the world is just across the road. Hardly something to boast about since there won't be enough rain in the summer to flush the toilets and this radical "new" idea of collecting rain in cisterns is really thousands of years old.
Maybe Miller and Deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone need to visit more ruins, and I'm not just talking about city buildings that they have let fall into disrepair.
(The wonder is that Pantalone is still chair of the Exhibition Place Board of Governors. I know something about that board since I was once the vice-chair. Pantalone and the city have just lost the Sportsmen's Show to the provincially-run Convention Centre, meaning Queen's Park and not the city will now get at least $800,000 in annual profits. All because city council passed a bylaw against guns being displayed and sold on city property, which meant the show couldn't continue at the Ex. Pantalone tried to amend the bylaw so it covered only handguns, which is, after all, the concern, but council balked. And so we have council screwing the Ex again.)
But back to the Millerites costing us a fortune so they can look good. They're going to spend half-a-million on clean electricity from an outfit called Bullfrog Power. (I guess BS Power was taken as a name.) A good idea except they will be paying almost double the normal rates. Surely that's too high a price to pay to help the environment. But I guess the {blue) sky's the limit when it comes to spending our taxes on their environmental salvation.
The city still talks about the $1.8 million wind turbine at the Ex. It was supposed to be a brave demonstration project almost a decade ago but I voted against because turbines were already common throughout the world so why put an expensive version in a downtown park. Besides, turbines are just windmills and they've been around since the caveman. I feel vindictated every time I drive by and see that it isn't working....again.
The city has been talking about utilizing the deep lake water cooling system for almost a decade. A good idea. Now they're going to spend $2.9 million cooling old City Hall. I spent two years working there and it is already a remarkably cool building in the summer. Those thick walls! Why spend this now when the city has been leaving beyond our means for years? And they're also going to spend another $2.9 million cooling Metro Hall. That building was the headquarters for the vanished regional government and the city would have sold it years ago if it could have got a good price. Hardly a smart investment.
Oh yes, they're saving trees and paying a good buck on salaries for environmental activists. The new special environmental office has a staff of 25 to promote old measures, some of them hundreds of years old. Among their main hot but green ideas will be to encourage more of us to put grass on our roofs. Of course, you won't be able to spray your roofs for weeds and after a few dandelions and other stout-rooted weeds grow through into the attics, you will join the many of us who would just like the bloody council majority to just run the city, damn it, and stop it from falling apart.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


One Of Society's Biggest Wrong Numbers

The crowd had been swept from the giant beach by the winds. I plodded along towards the only other person. When I passed, he was shouting instructions about his business to some poor sap.
Nope, you can't get away from the cell phone. No matter how remote and solitary you may be, and no matter how much you yearn for peace from the world, there is always some yahoo bellowing into a phone.
The cell phoniacs are often so rude, they really don't seem to understand when you accuse them of rudeness.Once upon a time, a cell phone would have been the answer to my prayers. As a reporter and later an editor, I was always stuck in some nook of the world frantically trying to contact the office.So you would think that I would regard the cell phone as a wonderful evolution in communications technology.
I do.
But the silly plague that has kids reporting every step they take to school, that allows the chap at the Florida pool to conduct six hours of business while you are trying to toast and tan, that has the jerk in the car just ahead of you wandering in and out of his lane while driving spasmodically, and all of the other nonsense that people pull with their cell phones, has me wishing they were hung and quartered while some supreme being yelled in their ear.
Mary and I sat in a restaurant near I-75 on a trip to Florida while the woman in the next booth, who has a business pumping out or repairing septic tanks, conducted a 30-minute interview on her cell with a customer who wondered why his tank had backed up into his house. She described in graphic detail exactly what would be the problem. When the waitress asked us what flavour of ice cream we wanted, I said anything, as long as it isn't chocolate.
It is amazing, however, just how cell phones have revolutionized journalism.
At Ryerson journalism school back in cave-man days, Ted Schrader taught us that the first thing you did when you got to a story is figure out how to get the story back to the office. Rye grads still talk about his iconic lecture on getting the story back from the Red Lake fire. He had marvelous stories, like the one about bribing a bulldozer operator to park across a mountain road so the opposition couldn't get to a phone and file his story.
The "scoops" often went to the first reporter who could figure out how to get the news back to the presses.
Of course there was also a problem with telexes, telegraphs and LD phones when you wandered the world. It blighted some of my stays in the world's beauty spots. Like the hotel converted from a monastery. How wonderful to have spent the night in a thousand-year-old monk's cell. If only. I ended up being in the room for only 20 minutes because I couldn't get a telex line to North America.
Now you can direct dial from Beijing, or send e-mails from Cape Town, or talk from the peak of Mount Everest, without having to crawl around the floor disconnecting telephones to make your old computer work, complete with its now-ancient acoustic couplers (don't ask).
How great it is in the remotest spots on earth to aim your computer's dish at some satellite and, presto, the editor has the story. Except now the office can get hold of you any time they want, meaning there is no down time. In the bad old days, at least you had peace in between the calls once a day to the boss.
There is no need to talk at length about the plague of cell phones that causes children of all ages feeling they have to talk to their friends every 15 minutes.
And there is no need to remind at length how some people have never mastered the technology and feel they have to talk in a loud voice, or even bellow.
The curse of the driver on the phone also is apparent, damn it, on every road. Even the phones that you don't have to hold can distract a driver right into an accident. Unfortunately, enforcement is spotty. The Ontario Safety League, a venerable non-profit lobby for safety (I have long been a director) was pressuring the Ontario government to crack down on cell phone use by drivers in moving vehicles, only to have the government lurch into action without bothering to spend the necessary time on drafting how the new law would actually work.
Perhaps the abuses will be reduced when the public stop using cell phones as the latest toy instead of a useful tool. Perhaps more people will join the club of which I'm a charter member. We carry cell phones but only use them to make brief calls. Unless we are expecting a call at a certain pre-arranged time, our phones are turned off. Life is simpler that way.
We get all the advantages without being bothered all the time. Now if I can only turn off the sun bather beside me at the pool, or the guy yelling into his phone on an empty beach. The golf clubs that ban cell phones have the right idea. Now if it would only spread to theatres.
On my latest trip, I lost my cell phone in the luggage (Mary takes a lot of stuff) and didn't find it for two weeks. I was kind of hoping it had been stolen.