Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Talking Turkey (actually Chickens) in Windsor

As I said to Windsor City Councilor Drew Dilkens last week, I like my chicken in a bucket and my eggs in mcmuffins. I appreciate that not everyone feels that way and there is a small group of urban farmers who feel very strongly that they should have the right to raise chickens in their city backyards.

I'm willing to hear them out, even looking forward to it but at this point I'm opposed.

I'm far more opposed to any city councilor suggesting that this issue is too small to warrant their supposedly much more valuable time. I appreciate that with all the challenges this and any city faces it must be frustrating to have a tidy agenda taken off-course by a single issue, unexpected and out of the blue. Some councilors complain that this minor issue is taking them away from budget discussions.

That's what you campaigned for folks, a seat at this table. This is municipal politics. The quality of our city, the future of our city depends on how we approach neighbourhoods and neighbours.

Citizens first, my friends. The budget deliberations may be profoundly influenced by what you hear.

Monday, 29 November 2010

Officer Takeraway, Officer Booker - Foggy Memories of Leslie Nielsen

Back in the late seventies my friends Rob and Jim and other friends would gather at my house on Wednesday evenings at 10:00 to watch Police Squad on ABC, possibly one of the funniest TV shows ever presented. Too clever, it seems, for American tastes as it lasted only 6 episodes and then was cancelled. Years later it resurfaced as a series of movies entitled "The Naked Gun", which if memory serves was the title of one of the episodes of the TV show.

Or maybe it wasn't. That's not important right now, to quote a line from Airplane. Leslie Nielsen narrated Police Squad and starred as Lt. Frank Drebbin. Each episode would begin with the guest star being killed before the opening credits were even finished. Lorne Greene was the first to go, and another week it was William Shatner, (before he was cool again), two Canadians who no doubt traveled in the same circles as Nielsen at the beginning of their acting careers. The narrated title of the episode didn't match the title on the screen so before the story even began we were on the floor laughing.

Episode One ended with a gunfight between Nielsen and a villainous woman, who at one point threw her wig into his face causing him to struggle and writhe and fight for breath until he could pull it off, a sight-gag later repeated in the Naked Gun movies. In the end, on either side of a trash can firing shots at each other, the woman is finally subdued. It was Pepsi-out-the-nose, wet-your-pants funny, and my buddy Rob did both.

Drebbin's partner summons two beat cops to deal with the suspect. "Officers, take her way and book her!" he commands, along the lines of Hawaii Five-O's iconic "book 'em Dano" line. Two uniformed policemen enter the frame, and Nielsen nods in recognition and deadpans his greeting.

"Officer Takeraway. Officer Booker."

The episode ends in a contrived freeze-frame typical of the seventies style of TV, except that only the Nielsen and his partner freeze in mid-laugh, and life goes on in the squad room around them.

I had the chance to meet Leslie Nielsen on Yonge Street in Toronto once. I wish I had taken it.

Instead, I just nodded as we made eye contact and in my mind I imagined our interaction.

"Officer Takeraway..."

"Officer Booker…"

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Network Marketing / Pyramid Schemes / Distribution

At some point or another in the average person's life they will come across a friend who wants to share with them an amazing opportunity to become fabulously wealthy. The friend or relative will invite them to a demonstration or a gathering of like-minded people, and then a stranger will do a presentation.

I was first approached in 1979 by a friend on his way to millionaire status as an Amway rep who promised me untold wealth and success and offered case studies of doctors and lawyers who had turned their backs on vocation in favour of soap. Well, not quite soap, but a distributorship of distributorships of soap.

In the ensuing 35 years I have lost count of the number of people who are convinced I would be a perfect distributor, reporting to them, buying from them, becoming rich from the crumbs of their table. Here's what I've learned.

1. If millionaire status is so possible, why are we always meeting in something less than a mansion, with a car somewhat less than the dream Porsche sitting in the driveway?
2. If there are so many doctors and lawyers who have abandoned their vocations for soap, why can't anyone introduce me to one of them? Wouldn't this presentation be so much more effective with even one millionaire in the room?
3. As a professional sales person, I can tell you that the most difficult challenge for most sales people is prospecting. It takes a great deal of courage to approach even known associates and ask for business; no one enjoys rejection. The professional sales person gets used to it, and some face 10 or more rejections for every appointment accepted, and 10 or more meetings for every sale. Is the unprofessional up to the task?
4. Some math shows that if every distributor really does recruit 10 underlings, and they really can recruit 10, and they can recruit 10 - in that first three moves our entire city and county would be distributors. In 10 moves, the entire planet. Is that even possible?
5. And finally, if Amway really is the answer (and face it, everyone else is just trying to imitate them) then how do they manage to keep bellhops and housekeepers and valets at the Four-Diamond hotel they own in Grand Rapids? Shouldn't it be impossible to find minimum wage help in the very birthplace of distributor marketing?

I guess not everyone's cut out to be a millionaire. I've got more bad news for my starry eyed friends - not everyone wants to be one either.

Friday, 26 November 2010

Local Retailers Fight Back

A men's clothing store in Windsor is fighting the cross-border "Black Friday" (I hate that term) shopping by offering price reductions so great that the Canadian dollar, for the next three days, is actually worth $1.50, using their math.  Good for them.  Instead of whining about patriotism and local economy, they are actually playing the competition's game.  I doubt you could find a better deal stateside.

But here's the thing.  It wasn't that long ago that this same store wouldn't, literally wouldn't serve you if they found out you were Canadian.  Oh sure, there were exceptions - the CEO of a credit union could have his ego stroked there, the once portly boss of the CAW could find plus sized suits and fawning sycophants within it's doors, but the rest of us were literally ignored.  I once had a sales person ask me where I lived, and when I indicated that my humble abode was only a few streets away, he turned his back on me and pointed in the direction of "the cheap suits".

Now I get served because they're so desperate to have any customers at all that even I will do.  My son, however, can't get the time of day and has given up trying.  Age discrimination, I think, and the last time he was rebuffed he had more available cash to spend than I did that same day, and ended up spending it elsewhere on some rather nice suits.

This place has a long way to go and if they are truly working on turning things around, it will take years until they are freed from a very bad reputation of horrible service, but if they're serious I wish them well and look forward to many years of shopping locally.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

University of Windsor plan jeopardizes core, says Mayor Eddie Francis

University of Windsor plan jeopardizes core, says Mayor Eddie Francis

I know what we could do! What if we built the new arena downtown? Would that help the core? That would bring, like 7,000 people downtown twice a week or so during the hockey season. And then they'd eat in some of the restaurants, maybe shops might spring up around the arena.

Just a thought.

Monday, 22 November 2010

Not in my Barnyard

Windsor city council, in lame duck status at this point, will be in a crowded council chambers this evening with future backyard farmers who want to influence a recent decision not to allow farm animals, specifically chickens, in city limits. 
I'm doing my part to be as granola-crunching, tree-hugging, bohemian and little-house-on-the-prairie as one can be with a nice home, a decent income and a nice car.  I've got a rain barrel, and I also share a rain barrel with my neighbour.  I have a composter, and he sends me his scraps (which could just as well feed my future herd of pigs as go the composter, I suppose).  I use one of those whirly-gig lawnmowers like the one that I begged my dad to replace with an electric model back in the mid-seventies.  It is ironic that I had to beg my wife to let me buy one 30 years later, but she did and gave it to me for Fathers' Day a couple of years ago.
Yes, I'd love organically fresh chicken eggs daily.  Here's the reality of chicken farms in Windsor.  Our city can't even get tough with the existing property standard by-laws, from clearing snow to parking cars on front lawns.  Our city doesn't have any by-laws that require garbage to be put in containers, so I walk past garbage bags torn open every week on my way to work.  You can leave a burned out shell of a building standing for years, next to homes of nice people who can no longer enjoy their backyard because of the increased "wildlife" that has made a home in the junkyard next door...and no one in local government seems to mind or notice.
Until we can enforce existing by-laws I'm not willing to risk my neighbours raising chickens improperly, inviting pests, emitting odour, and diminishing my enjoyment of my backyard.  I refer of course not to our really cool rain barrel sharing neighbours on one side of our place, but to the uncool others.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

On condoms, a lesson from Humanae Vitae

This Pope assumes a certain intelligence, something we've become quite unaccustomed to and is therefore quite controversial.

Still, a little truth never hurt...(read more)

On condoms, a lesson from Humanae Vitae

"Kirk to my Car Rental Agency, Come in Please..."

My designated rental car agency, which shall go nameless, has alerted me that it doesn't matter to them how much and how often my company rents, it's first come, first served. Translation: you may have reserved a larger vehicle to transport your people/things, but if Mr. Stranger walks in the door for the first time, asks for the Impala and gets there ten minutes before you do, well, enjoy your subcompact, Mr. Frequent Customer. Enjoy it with a smile from the kids in ties behind the desk.

All of which is annoying enough, but add to that the habit the youngsters at said agency have developed in calling me by my first name, and variations on it in uncomfortable familiarity. Only a few of them ever ask me how I'm doing, instead they incessantly natter about their employer, apparently the best car rental agency EVER, and how they're all MANAGERS on a meteoric career ascendancy (managers who vacuum and wash cars, managers who chauffer clients around town, managers without subordinates...) Getting picked up by the verbose uber-cool young executives in training is something I avoid if I can. There are exceptions, unfortunately very few, but some are genuinely very wonderful young people. My only question to the rest of them (if I could get a word in edgewise) would be to ask them why I've never met managers in their company much over the age of 30, just an endless rotation of youthful idealists.

Shame on their company for taking advantage of their enthusiasm. This particular enterprise may be wildly successful, but on the backs of the white collar working poor. They can't pay rent on hope and dreams, which they eventually figure out and finally move on. They might as well list on their CVs under "Experience" the word BAD. The one thing they have to show for their time wasted is hopefully a lesson learned. My credit union is guilty of the same thing, with an ever changing array of University business students working as tellers, pardon me...Customer Service Managers (in training). You never see any of them make it past entry level, somehow.

The solution? Be real. Tell them they're starting at the bottom. Give them a career development program. Train them, support them, encourage them, and reward them. If they must drink your Corporate Kool-Aid, at least tell them to wipe their faces before they serve the customer.

Saturday, 13 November 2010

The False Gods of Secular Pseudo-Christianity

Friday was “random acts of kindness” day. It was a day when those participating went out of their way to do something kind for someone else. Can you imagine sitting at the drive-thru at Tim Horton’s and the stranger in front of you pays for your coffee? I have heard that it has happened, although not to me, but I believe it. People are that nice, and they really do want to be that nice.

This day tracks back to the early eighties. It’s a concept that’s been described in a book and movie called Pay it Forward, where the concept is that when someone does something nice to you, you do something nice for someone else and the world becomes a whole lot nicer place.

Seems benevolent enough, doesn’t it? It’s a movement that has grown across society, and it’s taking hold in our schools, and when I say “our” schools I mean even in our Catholic schools, and people do nice things just because they feel like it, or someone did for them, but there’s no mention of God. God is not the motivation behind it.

We probably all have friends or family or coworkers and neighbours who wonder why we go to Church every week. They might even say things to us like “I’m not a practicing Catholic, I don’t go to Church, I don’t need to go to Church to pray! I’m a nice person, I do good, isn’t that what God wants?”

Well yes, I think God does want us to be nice to each other, and with random acts of kindness we can seem to be headed in the right direction – but hang on, are we really?

Jesus us teaches us to be kind, in his name. “Whatever you do to others, you do unto me.” Jesus teaches us to love one another always.

That’s where the fully engaged Catholic should be cautious about the concept of Random Acts of Kindness. For one thing, it’s random. Another word for random might be sporadic, or occasional, or unpredictable, or rare, unexpected. Secondly, the kindness comes entirely from within.

Catholics, and all followers of Christ are actually about planned and deliberate acts of everyday kindness. We’re about universal caring, and kindness. We’re not supposed to be occasional, or unpredictable. Jesus taught us to live a life of anticipated caring, reliable love for each other, humble service others can count on, and a noticeably different way of living the Gospel with every word we speak, kindness we share, job we do and every stand in defense of the defenseless.

There isn’t anything random about it, if you think about it. If it happens spontaneously it’s because we’ve been living it every day, every hour, with the Holy Spirit as our guide. We can’t help ourselves.

With a random act of kindness on a given day, we choose who we’re going to be nice to. The opposite must also then be true. We can choose not to be nice. We can look at other people and decide we don’t like them for whatever reason – their youth, their attitude, their ethnicity, their faith practice.

But that’s not what Christ taught us. Christ tells us to equally love every one. We don’t get to choose who to love, Christ commands us to love God, and to love our neighbour. Christ taught us, through his very example, to put others first, all other first, always.

When we forget that and embrace the false gods of secular pseudo-Christianity – to be Christ-like on our terms and when it suits us, in fact we have failed to heed his warning in the Gospel. “Beware that you are not led astray!” We must be cautious not to trade in our faith for something that sounds like what Christ said, but doesn’t attribute the source.

By constantly renewing our faith, together, as a community we are able to more clearly recognize those activities which are in keeping with the Catholic belief, those which are contrary, and those that chip away at our faith by sounding a lot like what Christ taught us to do, but as I said, without attributing the source.

It’s not that we shouldn’t practice random acts of kindness, we can and do, and we celebrate when a whole community does, too. It’s that the fully engaged Catholic does not ONLY practice kindness on specific days, and in circumstances only of our choosing.

Monday, 1 November 2010

Sorry for Making You Wait

I lined up for about 20 minutes at the Ministry of Transportation today to return the plates to a decommissioned car. People ahead of me were making sure that no one cut the line, even accidentally. People, mostly ladies, behind me hissed "this is ridiculous" at the long wait, as only a woman can hiss. I mentally mocked the idiots who waited so long only to reach the wicket and discover they weren't prepared - incomplete paperwork, incorrect information, lack of identification - all reasons to be rejected and sent grumblingly away to fix the problem and come back and do it all again.

People bemoaned that our city is down to only two places to come and renew licenses, plates, change ownership while others speculated on the fast spreading rumour that it is now actually possible to renew plates and licences on-line. On line, like this was some sort of LL Beanable experience. Not in-line, on-line! I started to consider that maybe this line didn't need to be so long if only some of these fools would apply their facebooking, e-baying skills to an annual government ritual. Imagine! I, of course, didn't have that luxury for what I needed to do, but come February, I promised myself, I'd be organized this time and do it with time to spare on line!

The number of rejects grew and stormed out blaming the employees who dared to ask that they come back prepared. Three of us in line engaged in discussions about how it "used to be" when we all lined up on the same day for plate renewals that actually got us new plates annually. My memory is of a kinder, happier time where friendships were renewed in a small town atmosphere of collegial bureacraziness. Actually, that conversation was the best part.

And then my turn came. And I wasn't prepared. No, I didn't have both plates. No, I lied, I'd lost the front plate in a ditch somewhere. (Actually we're keeping it for a souvenir - but the "lost in the collision" fib seemed original). She had that look on her face like she'd heard that one before. And she sent me packing to consider my transgressions and return either with both plates, or with the proper police info to prove that what I was saying was, if not a verifiable truth, then an officially recorded previously reported lie.

I'm betting that all I needed to know was available on the Ministry website, had I cared enough to investigate ahead of time. And as I cheerily slumped out the door, (no sense taking it out on the clerk), it occurred to me that the line would have been a lot shorter if everyone who should and could know better, did.

With apologies to those behind me who were prepared, I, for one, shouldn't have been there today taking up space.