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Eeeexcellent, Smithers!

CUPE threatens disruption if TTC declared an essential service.

This is just pure gold:

Sid Ryan, the head of CUPE, Ontario’s largest union, said he won’t sit idly by and watch people’s right to strike be taken away.

“The right to strike is a fundamental right in any democracy,” Ryan said in a news release issued late Monday. “If you take that right away, workers are little more than indentured servants. We are not prepared to allow that to happen to any workers in Ontario’s public or private sectors.

Ryan promised the special designation would result in province-wide labour unrest.

— CTV Toronto, “CUPE promises labour unrest if TTC deemed essential“, April 29th, 2008.

First let me play against type by stating that I support the proletariat’s right to strike.  I recognise that even in our modern age, there may be certain situations in which the labour pool needs to express its dissatisfaction by hitting management where it hurts.  Fine.  Conversely, I believe that management also may need to stress its point of view via lockout, termination, or the like.  And finally that consumers can also express their displeasure for either (or both) by refusing to purchase the goods or service, and impoverishing management and labour alike.  And of course any of these parties may be subject to entirely justifiable public ridicule as a consequence of their actions.

That said, ATU 113’s weekend strike was legal but incredibly, mind-numbingly stupid.  After promising 48 hours forewarning and giving only 2, they stranded a few thousand people all across the city at 10pm last Friday evening.  Note to strikers: failing to keep your word rapidly drains the public’s reservoir of goodwill.  Who relies on weekend transit?  Shift workers, students, the elderly, people who can’t afford cars (or the routine use of cabs).  Note to strikers: disproportionately affecting the young, the old and the poor rapidly drains the public’s reservoir of goodwill.

After that stunning display of good judgment and shrewd public relations skill, CUPE has decided to back up their transit brethren by threatening labour unrest should Toronto City Council move to declare the TTC an essential service.  Well-played, CUPE.  Backing the strikers who have disproportionately affected the young, the old, and the poor is a marvellous public relations stunt.  Threatening the public’s duly elected representatives (and its citizens) with more labour disruption is frankly hilarious when one considers how thoroughly the strike antagonised transit supporters in Toronto.  If a vast right-wing conspiracy were formed to brand public-sector unions as greedy, overprotective and out-of-touch with the common man, they could hardly have crafted a better response.  If such a conspiracy existed, I would be a charter member of it; instead, I’m trying to do you a favour here.

So here’s a hint, CUPE.  ATU 113 lost the PR war, and it lost badly.  Transit staff may have had the legal right to strike, but they ceded the moral high ground completely by breaching their word and subsequently stranding people all over town.  Whether or not the TTC ought to be considered an essentual service is, quite properly, within the purview of our elected officials.  Trying to strong-arm them on behalf of the ATU makes you the bad guys in the story, too.  Think twice.

Category: Aut disce aut discede, Industria  Tags: ,  Comments off

Journalistic fact-checking in action!

Oh for the love of…  Listen up, CTV:


First, the name of the community in your story is actually Fort Albany, not Port Albany.  Port Albany could refer to places in New York state or Australia.  Fort Albany is on the southern shore of the Albany River (near James Bay), in Ontario.

Second, the name of the helicopter pictured in the story is a CH-149 Cormorant, not a CH-146 Griffon.  Griffon helicopters (as well as CC-130 Hercules transports) were on the scene, but image you’ve got attached to that story is neither.  It’s a Cormorant.

I know looking up stuff is hard and all, but you are getting paid to do it, right?

291448Z APR 2008: Kudos to somebody for going back to that article to correct the name of the town and excise the “Griffon” bit from the photo caption.

Category: Media  Tags: , , , ,  Comments off

This is why whisky-drinkers hate the LCBO

Before you start saying, “How can any Scotch possibly be worth that much?” remember that velcro and digital clocks were yet to be invented the last time this $30,000 bottle of The Balvenie was mere barley and water.

Also, this is the Ontario price we’re talking about. This same Scotch sells for £6,000 (about $12,000) in the U.K. — so it’s not a $30,000 Scotch; it’s a $12,000 Scotch with a 150% Ontario liquor bureaucracy markup.

— Adam McDowell, “Libation Station: $1,750 a shot“.  National Post/Libation Station, April 3rd, 2008.

[emphasis mine]

Yeeouch, one hundred and fifty percent.

Similarly one of my favourites, the (comparatively) more reasonable Macallan 18, costs £69.50 (about $140) in the U.K., but at the LCBO, it’s $279.95.

(Hat tip to Patrick Metzger of Torontoist )

Toronto’s 2008 budget: balanced or bailout?

Reading the newspapers (or online equivalents) these days is a frustrating exercise, because the articles tends to generate so many more questions than answers.

Every media outlet is hailing Toronto’s first balanced budget since amalgamation, but is failing to specify certain qualifying criteria.  For example:

When the Toronto City Council unveils its budget Monday morning, many expect it will mark the first time since amalgamation that T.O. will be out of the red, largely thanks to roughly $200 million of the provincial government’s cash.

— CityNews.ca staff, “Toronto’s ‘Balanced’ Budget Means Higher Taxes For Homeowners And Drivers“, January 27th, 2008.

Is that $200 million subsidy from the province an annual or one-time payment?  If it’s annual, then this is indeed worth trumpeting because we have achieved a state of balance.  If it’s a single non-recurring payment, then it’s the same bailout we’ve been getting for the past few years.  The only difference is that this time, the provincial bailout occurred during the city’s budget planning process rather than after it.

How much extra effort would it require for a reporter to ask “are these provincial funding commitments annual, short-term or single-instance?”

The Post does not ask the question.  Neither does the Globe, although it does print a real knee-slapper in the budget highlights:

A continuation of savings and efficiencies in the range of $70-million
to $80-million, following cost-containment measures in 2007 to
stockpile a larger than usual year-end surplus. No loss of front-line
services is expected, with only modest new spending in selected
priority areas, such as parks and economic development.

Toronto does not, as a rule, have budget surpluses.   City council always appeals to the province for additional funding, but usually receives word on that that funding after it has planned, fasted, prayed, rent its hairshirt,  and finally voted on the city budget.  The province has never (thankfully) refused.  If Toronto ever ran a “usual” surplus, it would not be appealing to the province for bailouts in the first place.  Proof from the Star:

Still, this year’s budget process is a big change from past years, when the city opened its budget review period not knowing where it would find $300 million or so needed to cover increases in staff wages and materials, debt repayment costs and service enhancements. Last year’s budget was $7.8 billion.

The city ended up pleading each year for a financial bailout from the provincial government. The bailouts have averaged $150 million a year over the past five years.

Together with raiding reserves, hiking property taxes and trimming costs, the 11th-hour assistance has allowed the city to scrape by each year.

— Paul Moloney, “City property taxes up 3.75%“.  Toronto Star, January 26th, 2008.

Of all places, CBC (!!) comes closest to hinting at the truth.

Miller’s opponents on council are not impressed.

They say the 2008 budget is just as unsustainable as the ones in previous years, with the only difference being that the provincial bailout came early in the process instead of late.

— CBC News, “Balanced budget for Toronto“, January 28th, 2008.

Bingo.  We have a winner!

Why didn’t anyone else decide to do their homework on this story?  Seriously.

Category: Culpae Poenae Par Esto, Media  Tags: , , ,  Comments off

Fortunae Nihil

The natural function of the wing is to soar upwards and carry that which is heavy up to the place where dwells the race of gods. More than any other thing that pertains to the body it partakes of the nature of the divine.

— Plato, Phaedrus, 370 B.C.

snap0002CC-177 nearing downtown Toronto in evening snow squall.

Okay, it’s official.  I’m in love with Flight Sim again.  I forgot how awesome this thing could be once all the third-party stuff is installed and everything is tweaked within an inch of its life.

snap0001CC-177 virtual cockpit (from aircraft commander’s seat).

This is the FSD International C-17 with a CF 8 Wing / 429 Squadron paint scheme.  The Toronto scenery is stock FS9 with some significant enhancement by Flight Ontario and Ultimate Terrain.

Category: Aeronautics, Games  Tags: , ,  Comments off

Fairmont Château Laurier

Our room, from the collection of mud huts which Ottawans mistake for a five-star hotel.

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I kid—it’s actually a very nice hotel with supremely competent staff and decent food.  As Ferris Bueller would say, if you have the means, I highly recommend it.

The only flaw is the bathroom.  Why the designer felt the need to put the towel racks on the other side of the room from the his-and-hers sinks is beyond me.  Pure ergonomic stupidity.  And the shower stall with glass door does not seal (has about a half-inch gap around all edges), so you are going to get water all over the floor, no matter how careful you are.

But beyond that minor quibble, I’ve got nothing but good things to say about the Château Laurier’s facilities or staff.

Category: Amor Patriae, Diversions  Tags:  Comments off

Porter Airlines

Random observations from the flight:

No surly flight attendants.  Air Canada, take note.  Also, dig those pillbox hats.

It’s quiet. On the DH4 (Dash 8-Q400), I would estimate there’s about a 60-70% reduction in engine / airflow noise compared to the original DH1 (Dash 8-100).  You can actually carry on a conversation at normal volume, which would be unthinkable in its predecessors.  The only downside is that if there are crying/screaming brats on your flight, you will be able to hear them quite clearly, too.

Stupid BlackBerry tricks: I have no idea why the BlackBerry’s camera is trying to tell me that the aircraft is a many-tentacled Japanese manga monster.  Contrary to the image (below, on the left), the fuselage is not spontaneously growing another set of propeller blades and those are not prop-tentacles snaking their way out into the slipstream.

Beside it (below, on the right) is the six-bladed composite Dowty propeller as seen via a real camera, with absolutely no tentacle-porn content.

img00007 dsc_0006

Incidentally, Dowty Propellers has a long and honourable history as a British manufacturer of prop blades and parts.  It is now a component of GE Aviation.

Porter’s in-flight meal box. Contains one turkey-and-swiss sandwich on whole-wheat submarine-style bread, one roundel of Mini Babybel cheese, one piece of Melba toast, and one double chocolate chip cookie.  Libation options include soft drinks, water, or wine.  Note that drinks are served in actual glasses, not disposable plastic cups.

Contrast that with Air Canada Jazz’ usual snack option of stale pretzels, a soft drink, and no booze and no cheese.

dsc_0007 img00010

What the hell is all this white stuff doing on the ground already?  When I left Toronto, it was the beginning of our rainy season and indigenous beachcombers had just finished harvesting mangoes from the tropical rainforests along the Don River.

Trip time: about 45 minutes.

Nice MMP sales pitch

Ontario’s referendum on electoral reform was an “unmitigated disaster” plagued by voter and media apathy, a poor education campaign, and an impossible threshold for passage, proponents say…

“This has been an unmitigated disaster,” said Dennis Pilon, assistant professor of political science at University of Victoria and author of The Politics of Voting: Reforming Canada’s Electoral System.

“I don’t think ever so much money has been wasted in educating people so poorly.”

Mr. Pilon said too much of Elections Ontario’s referendum education campaign focused on the mechanics of MMP and not on why voters should care about electoral reform.

“Selling a voting system is like selling a car. Most of us don’t look up under the hood. We recognize that there are professionals who will take care of that. What we want to know is performance.”

— Brodie Fenlon, “Referendum on electoral reform an ‘unmitigated disaster’“.  Globe & Mail, October 10th, 2007.

[emphasis mine]

Translation:  Voters are morons.  Don’t tell them about the unique features of this model—show them the horsepower rating, mileage… and shiny chrome rims!

Gee I feel all warm and fuzzy inside after this sterling appraisal of the voting public’s intelligence.   Sure makes me want to hand the keys of the kingdom over to professionals who will “take care of all that”.  Idiot.

Category: Miscellania  Tags: ,  3 Comments

Epic Journey

Some 13-year-old kid in Ottawa stole his foster parents’ car and went on a joyride to Cornwall, 160 kilometres away.  He got halfway there, got spooked by the sight of police cars, and then attracted their attention by speeding away.  Smoooooth.  This reminds me of a story.

In his youth, a friend of mine once took his parents’ car out for a joyride, also at an age too junior to get a driver’s licence.  His mom and dad were out with friends and had left the family vehicle at home.  But my friend could barely see over the steering wheel (even sitting on couple of phone books) and his nascent adventure immediately attracted the attention of John Law.  Who then pulled him over and kindly inquired what he was up to.

Well my friend is no slouch and concocts a story about sitting quietly at home when suddenly he is set upon by two burly fellas who burst through the unlocked side door.  Fearing for his life, my friend had to get away as far and as fast as possible, so he bolted for the front door, grabbed the keys on the way out, and jumped in the car.  Then he sped off and encountered this very cruiser from the Metropolitan Toronto Police.

The police took him to the station and got in touch with his mom and dad, who were quite concerned, naturally.  At least until they got the police’s side of the story.

When the family reaches home, his dad—a sharp-witted fighter pilot for the Canadian Forces—asks my friend to go over the details again.  Sitting comfortably in the dining room, my friend carefully relates his story in great detail, getting to the part about racing out the door with keys in hand.  “And I suppose you grabbed THIS on the way out!” interrupts dad, slamming the phone book down on the dining room table. 

So here’s my advice to Ottawa Joyrider and others who will follow in his footsteps.  If you’re going to engage in a dauntless odyssey whose retelling will Astound your Peers and Future Kids, the first thing you do is don’t chicken out.  Get to the freaking objective.  There is no glory in half-done deeds.  As Lord Nelson once said, “The bravest man feels an anxiety ‘circa praecordia’ as he enters the battle, but he dreads disgrace more.”1

1  Locker’s Greenwich Gallery, article “Torrington.”  As quoted in The Life of Nelson, Vol. II, by Alfred Thayer Mahan.

Category: Culpae Poenae Par Esto  Tags: ,  Comments off

Neighborhood of Make-Believe

A few weeks ago, a cabbie related to me that His Worship the Mayor was my neighbour—in fact he resides on the street behind mine.  Some precision-guided Googling reveals that apparently it’s true.

I am not Mr. Miller’s biggest fan, but I do consider him a better administrator than his predecessor, Mr. Lastman.  Miller’s stock went up significantly in my books after the city’s purchase of the Green Lane landfill, but languished thereafter.  The frustrating thing about his tenure has been the overwhelming lack of vision (and action) on the mayor’s part.  You get the sense that Miller knows he wants to be mayor, but beyond that, doesn’t have a clear idea of what he wants the city to look like, or how he thinks it should operate.

Now I don’t buy the old chestnut that the personal is political, so I’d never blab his residential details on a blog for the Google-cache to retain forever.  I’m too old and cynical about municipal governance to get any mileage out of it, but if I were the firebrand of my youth, I might have tried to offer some suggestions.  Maybe a flyer (with advice) stuck in his mailbox:


And no Dave, sticking your hand out to the province and feds, asking “Spare any change?” doesn’t count.

Category: Miscellania, What Really Grinds My Gears  Tags: ,  Comments off