Monthly Archives: January 2009

Labour Relations

There are two major work stoppages going on in Ontario right now that have shown the division between labour and management in this chilled province. 

In Ottawa, the Amalgamated Transit Union, local 279 have been on strike for fifty-one days.  There is no bus service in Ottawa, the Nation’s Capital and hasn’t been since December.  Traffic is a mess and businesses are hurting, as Ottawa (like any government town) relies on public transit to get folks to the job. 

In Toronto, York University has their teachers on the picket line.  Canadian Union of Public Employees local 3903 has been on the line since November 6th last year.  For the 50,000 students, the academic year is essentially the toilet.  All that is left is to pull the handle, spray some air freshener and walk away.

Today the City of Ottawa and Local 279 have agreed to binding arbitration to settle their dispute with a three-year deal, no preconditions.  The arbitrator will settle it. 

Yesterday the Ontario Government ordered CUPE Local 3903 back to work at York University. 

The score so far?  Unions 1, Government 1.  Binding arbitration is not the best way to get an agreement, but at least it is an agreement.  Back to work legislation for anyone but firefighters, cops, ambulance and health care workers is a slap in the face to the whole concept of collective bargaining. 

We need a bit of perspective here:  Unions came into existence because companies had been behaving like demented Roman Emperors, treating their employees like possessions.  Things like maternity leave, health care benefits, overtime pay, statutory days off, retirement benefits and workplace safety are all direct benefits of ‘the unions’, so perhaps a little gratitude might be in order.  Christmas Day wasn’t always a holiday. 

Unions are not a bunch of greedy monsters, looking to work for 2 hours and be paid for 40.  That was never the style in Canada.  Things are more enlightened than the old stereotype of British mineworkers walking off the job for six weeks because someone in management moved a lunchbox.  It’s a unfair and untrue stereotype of the worst kind, so disabuse yourself of that idea.  Reality is significantly different. 

The real question is why would a union exist in the first place?  That’s easy to answer:  Treat the staff like crap and you’ll get a union in the workplace.  Ideally an organization that treats their people with respect and treats them fairly, rarely has a ‘problem’ with a union.  Even companies that have a unionized workforce, if they play nice and play fair, rarely have ‘union’ problems.

Done properly, employer and employee relations are very simple things.  The company has to recognize that the people who work for them are humans, not possessions.  The employee must recognize that the company wants a fair day’s productive work out of them, so they can make money to pay the salaries and turn a profit. 

Simple isn’t it?  It can be.  It takes a bit of humility on both sides and a bit of common sense. 

Forcing people back to work is by far the easiest way to completely crush morale in any organization.  It sends the message that "You are Meat.  We Own You.  Do What You Are Told To Do And Shut Up."  If your life partner told you that across the pot roast, would there be a loud, vibrant and unpleasant discussion in your household?  The same holds true in the workplace.

Ideally in a labour management negotiation, both sides should come out of it mildly pissed off.  That’s what a good negotiation is all about:  A compromise between the two parties. 

Back to work legislation is nothing more than a back alley beat down by the government.  Binding arbitration is going to leave both Ottawa and the Transit Union angry as binding arbitration is an imposed settlement.  Both sides get it stuck up a major bodily orifice by a third-party.  Sometimes there is a kiss and a cuddle afterwards, but not always.

The busses might start running and the classes might start up again, but there are going to be some truly angry people doing those jobs. 

The Prez O Punch List

With ex-President Jo Jo The Idiot Boy back in Crawford and Shotgun Dick Cheney being wheeled off to the Undisclosed Location/Republican Theme Park, we can now exhale. 

Eight years of quite possibly The Worst President in recorded American history has come to an end with the feeble whimper that only cowardly bullies can issue when you beat their miserable asses with righteous anger.  Americans stood up to the right-wing mouth-breathers and knuckle-draggers to put their mark in the proper place, getting a President with much potential to change things in a way that doesn’t benefit merely the rich, white, Republican, Base.

There are still a few things that have to be squared away now that Barack Obama has the keys to the joint.  Herewith, the Punch List for Prez O:

Financial Meltdown:  Christopher Cox and most of the SEC should be taken to the Rose Garden and given a sound thrashing.  They knew Bernie Madoff was running a ponzi scheme as early as 1999.  That Madoff was given a skate for eight years of the Bush administration was symptomatic of the attitude of the SEC under Bush, Cheney, Rove et al. 

The Bush White House was the one that let investment banks out of the debt to equity rules in 2004 that led directly to the housing bubble.  It wasn’t Clinton.  It wasn’t a left-leaning pinko media elite, or a Democrat hobbled Congress.  It was greed head Republicans doing their banker buddies a favour. 

Troops on the Ground:  It will take longer to unscrew this one.  Dubya got his Mission Accomplished photo op and more than 4,000 American troops have been killed.  Nobody knows how many Iraqis or Afghanis have been killed, but it’s more than 4,000.  Add at least one zero, maybe two zeros to that 4,000 and we might be near the real number. 

Under the War President, with all the fearsome technological and intelligence powers of the United States of America, they couldn’t find a six-foot-six bearded Saudi with failing kidneys somewhere in the upper corner of Pakistan.  Why?  Because they didn’t want to find him.  Osama Bin Laden was the excuse to crank up a multi-Trillion dollar war budget that made money for The Base. 

Saddam Hussein with his oddly-missing weapons of mass destruction was a cherry on the top of the money-tit sundae.  Remember that the Iraq war and reconstruction was supposed to be self-funding from oil revenue?  Oh yeah.  Sorry about that. 

Can we get that Congressional Medal of Freedom back from George Tennet and the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Paul Bremer please?     

Katrina and Ike:  Parts of New Orleans are still in the third-world.  Parts of the Gulf Coast around Houston are still in the third-world.  Nobody has told the insurance companies and FEMA to get on with the job and get it fixed.  You can’t blame this one on the left-leaning media bias or gridlock in Congress.  This pile of flaming dog poop should be sent to Crawford, where it belongs.

Homeland Security?  If it were possible to take a broken system, destroy it, then put something worse and even more unworkable back in place, then this is it.  No more than 10 percent of cargo is actually screened, while people mill around in airports in their socks as Aunt Hazel’s walker is x-rayed until it glows.  You can have as many packs of matches as you can carry, but don’t bring that Bic lighter. 

Homeland Security was the biggest federal government reorganization since 1947 and it still looks like it was done on the back of an envelope.  Hire some crack-heads in withdrawal, make them deliberately screw it up and you’ll still get a better system than Homeland Security.  Who created it?  Dubya and Tom Ridge under the guidance of Cheney and Rumsfeld to benefit their buddies selling technology to the paranoid. 

The border fence with Mexico that would stop terrorists?  It’s still in king-size Meccano parts in Brownsville because they can’t find enough unskilled labour to bolt it together.

No Child Left Behind?  Let’s see how this worked.  Sorry, you can’t actually read this posting, as you’re unable to read, because the funding for education was cut so drastically that teachers weren’t allowed to actually teach you.  Perhaps you can sound out some of the words and glean an inkling of what I’m talking about.

Veteran’s Affairs.  Oh let’s not go there.  The cuts under Dubya will ensure that a new generation of homeless vets with deep, permanent incapacitating illnesses will walk the streets because there is no money to treat them and no facilities to treat them in.  With luck only a few will go off the deep end with automatic weapons in a crowd or from a high building.

Perhaps the ailing vets can get some assistance from Faith-Based Groups.  Oh yeah, that’s only for white, protestant, evangelical vets that have a lot of money to start with.

Foreign Relations:  There is a reason Americans don’t like to go overseas on vacations.  The locals laugh at them, at least when they’re not dodging aimed fire.  Not only were Americans duped into voting for a frat-rat, draft-dodger, drunkard, daddy’s boy, illiterate, idiot, but they did it twice!  No wonder the locals laugh and no wonder Americans stay home.   

I can keep going for hours and hours, but you get the drift.  Bush was by far, the worst, most venal, corrupt and misguided leader the United States ever had and I’m including Richard Nixon in that list.  I’m actually glad, in some ways that Hunter Thompson is no longer with us.  He would have had a massive stroke in the last few months of the Bush presidency and would now be babbling in his porridge.

Prez O has a very large mountain to climb.  Prez O is starting well, shutting down Guantanamo Bay and insisting that the Army Field Manual interrogation techniques are as far as the US can go, which means waterboarding and Abu Ghirab will not happen again without some serious repercussions.

It will get better, but damn, he’s got a mountain to climb.        


Maybe This Time

President-elect Barack Obama becomes the President of the United States today.  There is much hope that it will signify a dramatic change in America, as so many are hoping that the inauguration will mark the start of something better.

One comment that stuck with me over the hype of the past week or two, is that this historical moment is the black person’s equivalent of Man walking on the Moon:  Everyone remembered where they were, what they were doing and who they were with, when Neil Armstrong trod on the Moon. 

Today, hopefully, everyone, regardless of colour, will remember where they are and who they are with when Obama gets the keys to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. It is an important day for all of us.

Looking ahead, there will be mistakes, missteps and quite possibly some truly daft ideas that come forward.  Times are strange and to find the right answer, you have to sift through the dross to find the diamonds.  As long as the successes outnumber the failures, we’re ahead of the curve.      

Maybe this time we (the collective we) won’t screw it up.  There aren’t many chances left.

To close, there is nothing more appropriate than this quote from Dr. King.

"Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: "Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"


Bye Bye Bettie

Just before the holiday season hit with the usual mad panic, there was a passing in the world that didn’t receive nearly enough mention.  Bettie Page.  She passed away December 11th, last year, aged 85.  Some of you are scratching your head right now.  Who the heck was Bettie Page?  Why should I care?  What is Dave smoking now? 

Bettie Page was a lingerie and pinup model.  Yes, a lingerie and pinup model.  Some would say that she was also a fetish model, as some of her work was what could be described as salacious and had serious kink overtones.  However, what is one person’s kink is another person’s salad dressing, so we’ll avoid making judgements.  Saucy is a good term. 

In 1955 she was a centrefold in the earliest days of Playboy as well as posing in other publications.  She never did ‘stag films’ or what we call today ‘porn’.  Nudes, yes, no issue there but she was a model who was simply knock-you-down gorgeous:  Long black hair with bangs and the kind of curves that women today spend money on harsh diets and hours of exercise to avoid. 

Bettie Page could easily be described as a legendary beauty of her era.  Contemporary artists, like Madonna, or Dita Von Teese, owe so much to Bettie Page they’ll need federal bailout money to make the payments.

Which brings us back to her passing.  She lived, at least according to her Website, a well-rounded life and passed peacefully.  What she left behind was that undeniable something not seen nearly enough any more:  Sexiness.

What we have today is multi-media access to every possible combination, permutation and perspective to every act you can imagine, as well as several hundred you can’t imagine.  And might not want to imagine let alone attempt, unless you have a chiropractor, a urologist and a good lawyer on speed dial.

What we’re missing is the erotic, the sexy, the saucy and the naughty, while remaining on this side of nice, which is where Bettie Page resided.

Consider the current crop of celebs and stars.  How many of them would measure up to the classic beauty and underlying sexiness of Grace Kelly or Lauren Bacall?  (I know this is a personal value judgement, as what presses my buttons might not press yours:  I’m a straight male.  Deal with it.)

Of our current crop of pretty-boys, how many have that handsome smolder like James Dean or Cary Grant?

So far, we’re batting 0 for 4 at least by my reckoning.  Maybe Al Pacino gets in along with Pat Weaver’s kid, Sigourney.  But Paris Hilton?  Or Brad Pitt?  I’m not seeing it or feeling it, pun intended.

Which is why it is important to recognize the passing of Bettie Page, the last of the sexy, saucy, exotic and erotic pinups.

Great Glide Job

In a good news story a USAirways Airbus 320 took off from LaGuardia airport in New York City today, heading to Charlotte, North Carolina.  Less than a minute into a routine departure, flight 1549 lost power from both engines, apparently from bird strikes.  The pilot glided the aircraft, with 155 souls on board to a water ditching in the Hudson River.  A lot of folks got wet and cold, but nobody died.

Any aircraft will glide without power, assuming all the airframe is intact.  The problem is the speed it takes to glide, to force air over the wings and generate lift.  Commercial aircraft, like the A320 are designed more for flying at cruise altitude and speed, as that is where they spend the majority of their time.  Gliders, by contrast are designed to operate at comparatively slow speeds, so the wings are designed to generate lots of lift at low speeds. 

Even with gliders, airspeed means lift.  No airspeed?  It’s called a Stall and the aircraft falls from the sky because Gravity Always Works.  A falling aircraft, if pointed nose down, will generate airspeed which means lift again.  It is part of any pilot’s rudimentary initial training to stall and recover with power off.  In a glider, that’s just another day in the air.

The dangerous part is when you don’t have a lot of space between the aircraft and the planet to dive and gain airspeed, which is exactly what the pilot, C.B. "Sully" Sullenbeger was facing.  Initial reports are he was barely at 3,000 feet.  If he was at 28,000 feet, he could potentially glide for miles, as there would be a lot of space between the aircraft and the planet:  Put the aircraft in a continuous moderate dive, to keep airspeed up, to keep the wings working, would be the principal objective.   

Sullenbeger had seconds after losing both engines, to determine where to glide towards.  The whole equation of diving enough to keep up airspeed, versus how much space was left between the aircraft and the ground started to come into play.  According to reports, the pilot hung a hard left turn and glided it into the Hudson River as slow as possible, without stalling and falling.

Imagine balancing on a unicycle, juggling a Coleman stove, a banana and a live trout, in the back of a pickup truck going down a dirt road, backwards.  Now answer your cell phone.  That’s what the crew did.

Plus Sullenberger did it in an aircraft not really designed to drive around without engines, which was full of enough gas (weight, in other words) for a flight to Charlotte as well as 154 other souls, freight, luggage, coffee, Coke and carry-ons.

The mere fact that Sullenberger and the rest of the crew got the aircraft down intact is outstanding.  That they did it as a water ditching of 81 tons of aircraft doubled the degree of difficulty.  At 160 knots/185 miles per hour, water does not give like a grass field under a glider. 

That they did it all, without a single loss of life, is a remarkable piece of airmanship.  Period.  No irony.  No smart comments.  Just remarkable airmanship.  

Charge the Bar?

Last summer, in a traffic crash, three young men died after their car burst through a guardrail, ploughed through some trees and wound up in the Joseph River.  The three men drowned; one woman survived.  The Joseph River is in the Muskokas, around Bracebridge north of Toronto.  Cottage country. 

The vehicle had peeled back 30 feet of guardrail and had snapped off some trees at a height of 25 feet along the riverbank.  Alcohol and speed were "definite factors" according to the police.  The group had been up at a cottage, then gone for lunch at a local joint, the Lake Joseph Club. 

On the face it’s just another drinking-driving ten-line story that you can predict will be written three or four times each summer, buried on page 3 of the newspaper. 

This one is different.

On Monday the Ontario Provincial Police laid charges against the Lake Joseph Club directors and 16 employees of the place, under the Liquor License Act.  The charges include allowing drunkenness on the premises and serving liquor to an apparently intoxicated person.  The charges are serious.  So are the moral ramifications. 

The quandary posed is this:  Who is responsible for the crash and deaths? 

Ontario has very strict laws for places that are licensed to serve alcohol.  Managers, servers and security staff have to take a course, called Smart Serve Ontario that teaches the liquor license holder and their staff how to spot and manage those patrons who are intoxicated.  It’s mandatory training and if you don’t pass, you lose your liquor license, or can’t serve.

Every time I’ve gone into a bar, I’ve made the choice to have two or forty-six beers.  I have been refused service for being too drunk.  The server could tell that the End was Near when I ordered a shooter called Windex, which is tequila and Blue Curacao.  I woke up so badly addled that I had to consult a carton of sour cream to obtain an approximation of the current date.

However, in my drinking career, I haven’t driven a motor vehicle while drunk.  I have left the car in a skeevy area, with a note on the windshield for the cops, explaining the situation and asking not be towed.  The car was still there the next morning.  I have climbed into a taxi, without a dollar to my name, asked nicely to be driven home and been driven home.  I have also, unsteadily, walked home, or called someone to come and get me.  Conversely, I have a standing offer with several people that I will come and get them, regardless of hour, if they’re unable to drive.

I’ve been in more than a few bars in my life and have never seen the staff hold down a patron and force them to drink.  I’ve never been in a bar that insisted you get drunk pronto or get out.  I’ve never been in a bar that had a sixteen-drink minimum. 

I have been in bars that comp your soft drinks, coffee (and even your meal) if you’re the Designated Driver.  That’s quite nice and encourages sensible behaviours.  I have seen servers and bartenders discreetly confiscate car keys, or insist on cabs for patrons.  Occasionally voices have been raised, but the patron did not drive, which was the desired result.

Which brings us back to the moral issue.  Are the four people in the crash responsible for their consumption of alcohol and the choice to drive?  Certainly they are.  Nobody held a gun to a puppy’s head and insisted they guzzle it down, or the dog dies.  Nobody stuck a funnel in their mouths and dumped a half-bottle of over-proof rum down their gullets.  If the Lake Joseph Club staff did anything like that, then the charges should stand and the guilty should be sent directly to Hell for an eternity.  No question on that one. 

Should the server or the bar confiscated the car keys?  Unless the group were obviously messed up, how can you tell?  You can’t, unless the driver is trying to put his coat on over his pants, lying on the floor while singing "Who Let The Dogs Out" having consumed a litre of house red. 

Unless we have calibrated, mandatory, police supervised breathalyzers in bars, it is up to the reasonable judgement of the bar staff.  That’s the best we can do.  And, no, I don’t think we should have police with breathalyzers stationed in bars, checking every patron as they leave.  It’s completely impractical; there aren’t enough cops, too many bars and not enough equipment available.

What we do need is the families involved and the police to take a cold look at the situation.  It was a very tragic crash.  Three young men were killed.  They were killed because they chose to drink and drive.  That means the grieving families have to confront something ugly. 

Yes, it does taint the warm memories for the families of their bright eyed boys, the future laid out before them, suddenly brought to a violent end because they chose poorly.  Thirty feet of ripped up guardrail tells me other poor choices were made. 

If you need to point the finger, perhaps the ‘fault’ is with the parents, who didn’t properly teach their children that poor choices can kill you in many, many unexpected and violent ways.  

I’m sorry for their loss, I truly am, but it doesn’t change the reality.

What we need is a coroner’s finding of Death by Bad Choices.

Change I Can Believe In

The way we use our language is distressing me today, as the use of language is often an indicator of the depth of our mental abilities.  Now, far be it for me to stand as a paragon of linguistic and grammatical skills:  I’m not illiterate, as my parents were legally married, but I get irked with the way we butcher our language and obscure meanings with the mealy-mouthed non-threatening words of nanny-speak these days.

Green is mightily abused these days.  You name it, it’s got a green component.  Even gasoline is ‘green’ if a percentage is ethanol.  Back in The Day (2004) green meant environmentally friendly.  Change is another horse that has been flogged to within a millimetre of imminent demise, along with natural, organic and plant derived.  So, let us deconstruct the green-wash and the Change we’re seeing in our language.

Plant-derived:  This includes street heroin, as it is plant-derived from opium poppies.  Hashish, pot, tobacco, psyllicybin and most other recreational drugs are plant-derived.  Blue Agave cactus, when mashed, treated and distilled creates tequila.  Even purple-microdot is based on a synthesis from lysergic acid, derived from naturally occurring rye ergot.  Thanks to Albert Hoffman and Sandoz Labs for figuring that one out and giving us the permanent mental image of my grandmother climbing up my pant leg with a Ka-Bar knife in her teeth, singing "God Save The Queen".  At least it was plant-derived.

Organic:  Reinheitsgebot, the Ingolstadt Beer Purity Laws of 1516 ensured that beer was organically produced, at least in Germany.  For that matter, 150-proof moonshine is organic, as the ingredients are corn, water and yeast.  Distillation through a 1982 Chrysler K-Car, lead-soldered radiator is another matter, but hey, lead is organic so it must be good for you.  If you’re really into organics, put some white phosphorus on your foot.  Phosphorus is like, totally organic, dude.  It’s in the Periodic Table of Elements, so how dangerous could it be?  Oh yeah, it burns in oxygen.  Sorry about your leg dude.

Natural:  What a fertile ground this is.  The Sydney Tar Ponds are natural, as bitumen tar is a naturally occurring substance.  Lacing bitumen with more chemical toxins than there are letters in the alphabet, is not.  Weapons-grade Plutonium is natural as the compound exists in nature, just not in useable concentrations.  Plastics are not natural, I’ll grant you that, unless you make plastics out of renewable sources, like soybeans, then you can paint yourself as a environmentally responsible corporation.  By the way, avalanches are natural, so the eight back-country snowmobilers killed in BC last week, were killed naturally.  Taking a crap on your boss’ desk is supremely natural, especially if you used that recycled office paper to wipe up with, but will still get you fired.  

Renewable:  Your skin is renewable.  Crops are renewable. Oil is renewable, as long as you’re willing to wait 6 million years and push the next generation of dinosaurs into a swamp.  Even the Hummer is renewable.  Destroy the one you have and go buy another one, which is great for General Motors.  Plus, it’s made from recycled steel, so you’re rollin’ Green baby. 

Recyclable (where facilities exist).  Technically, we’re all recyclable.  Except the human recycling process involves death, so it isn’t quite as popular as one might initially think.  Recycling humans without permission is also frowned upon, as the government tends to call it serial murder.  Where facilities exist is a bit of a hook.  I just haven’t found the right municipality to live in, so I can recycle my stock of unused non-weapons-grade plutonium.  For some reason the folks in Mississauga don’t want to take a 142 pound mound of glowing, smoldering nuclear waste on Blue Box day;  What a bunch of sissies!

Fair-trade:  It depends on who is defining fair.  Some folks will label their sweatshop t-shirts as fair trade as they define fair, as in fair for them, not the workers.  Fair enough.  One supposes that we could label anything from Europe or the US as fair trade goods.  Green Giant Fair-Trade Niblets Corn?  It’s grown and canned in Iowa, so sure, why not?  Your Guatemalan nanny is obviously fair trade, as you are paying her almost minimum wage for a 100 hour week, which is so much better than she would be making back home.

Carbon Footprint:  You get a carbon footprint from walking through a pit of charcoal.  If the pit of charcoal is still flaming, then you also get burns.  You can also get into trouble by walking on a white carpet after walking through the charcoal.  That demonstrates your personal carbon footprint for all to see.  Being alive means you have a carbon footprint.  Some even argue that being dead has a negative carbon footprint, as it takes years for the casket and your remains to completely disappear.  Comforting isn’t it, to know that your dental work will be your eternal contribution to your perpetual carbon footprint.  Generations from now, carbon anthropologists will be calling me a shitheel because I have a partial plate.  Makes me want to engrave a message on my dental work along the lines of "Bite Me!"      

Change You Can Believe In. If you substitute the word ‘toothpaste’ for ‘change’, you’ll see exactly how simple-minded the statement is:  "Toothpaste You Can Believe In" would get you laughed out of every marketing class in the world, except at Yale, where you would be lauded as a friggin’ genius and invited to run the Republican party.  I choose not to have a close, personal, faith-based relationship with the seven pennies, the dime and the quarter I have in my pocket right now.  I choose to believe that if I collect my change once or twice a year I can roll it up and take it to the bank.

Which leads me to this unlikely scenario:  I roll up my Change I Can Believe In, walk to a local, unionized, store, buy a recyclable (where facilities exist) glass container of sustainable, plant-derived, organic, ethanol with natural flavenoids, pay for it with the Change I Can Believe In, put the bottle in my sustainable, free-trade fabric cloth bag, walk home to reduce  my carbon footprint and open the bottle.  Then I pour three fingers of the contents over ice made with solar-purified water and drink it. 

After a few repetitions, I’m in the midst of a sustainable, organic, natural, plant-derived drunk.  I’ll feel tempted to call up a couple of green guerillas and invite them to walk to my place and kiss my freshly-bathed (with unscented natural soap) pink, puckered, high-fibre arse.  Unfortunately, it isn’t in a nut-free zone.