Thursday, January 30, 2014

Running Programs At A Loss

"Neither snow or rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."

The above, of course, is the motto for the United States Postal Service, and, to some extent, serves as a motto for any other mail delivery service. I quote it here because the service forgot about one thing that could prevent all those noble objectives being achieved -- government meddling.

Now in the past I have had some issues with the postal service, particularly with the Canadian Union of Postal Employees, or its better known acronym, CUPW. 

My issue, however, extends beyond CUPW, and has to do with any public (as opposed to private) unions. To be specific, no public union should have the right to strike. In that three parties are involved -- management, union members and the public, it is the latter that suffers. As I phrased it once in a court hearing, this was a "slaughter of the innocents". Goodness, even school children have been held as ransom by over-zealous teachers' unions.

But I digress from the point I wish to make.

The government in its wisdom -- stop laughing, you elected these bozos -- wishes to cut postal service in Canada because, as a spokesman said, "It is running at too great a loss."

Let's stop right there, and think for a moment. First, ALL government programs run "at a loss". This is why we have taxes. Secondly, these programs all have service at their core, not profit*. Health care, as an example, is provided for all, but entails a huge fiscal loss. So does the maintenance of Canadian armed forces, as well as the provision of country-wide infrastructure in the form of roads, bridges, sewers and the like. All of these programs run "at a loss".**

In terms of the postal service, the question then arises, is the "loss" too great, particularly when the use of the service is in decline owing to technological advance, particularly e-mail.

This is a valid question.

The government's solution? Curtail door- to- door service, and create "hubs" where mail can be retrieved from personal boxes.

Yet it must be remembered that those who will be hurt most by this, individual posties and invalid seniors, had nothing to do with causing the situation. The only saving grace in this whole mess is that job loss will be through attrition rather than abrupt firing.

But it is a pity the government acted so hastily, since this would have been a fine opportunity to bring the public into the decision-making process. Could mail be delivered only twice a week? Could regulations be put in place that would ensure a proper privatization of the service?  Could there be a delineation of certain areas that the "hub" approach wouldn't work, for example, the rural north? Could there have been another way to bring costs down?

In one sense, then, the issue itself was a "loss".


*It is truly horrific that the profit motif serves as the foundation for U.S. health care. How on earth can U.S. citizens stomach those who make money from sick people? -- LSS.

** So does the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, but its service role seems to have totally disappeared into a Liberal Party black hole. --LSS.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Fairy Tales Cavorting With Social Media

Social media is really getting out of hand.

This came to my attention when my daughter Victoria informed me that I was being vilified on the Internet as a main supporter of fostering cruel treatment of geese.

"What on earth are you talking about?" I replied. "I cannot ever remember being for cruelty towards birds, animals, or whatever. The only group I have been vilifying recently are the sub-humans that comprise Al-Qaeda. Someone, or some group, is playing silly buggers."

"Just have a look, Mum. On U-Tube. Under "goose"."

I did, and there I saw posted a video of a flock of geese, along with a diatribe against me and my alleged support of their treatment in making pate de foie gras. I was baffled, and turned to an IT specialist who might be able to determine where this all had originated.

The specialist, my Israeli colleague Rachel from my days in The Trade, was expert in her ability to hack into most anything.* She herself was intrigued, and went at the task with a vengeance.

What emerged was the following.

Apparently someone with cruelty to geese as a "Cause" was at a dinner party some weeks ago where I had led a conversation on the importance of fairy tales in assessing and understanding current political trends and figures. In buttressing this point of view, I had drawn on two sources, Bruno Bettelheim's The Uses of Enchantment and -- wait for it -- Mother Goose.

The first source gave a certain academic gravitas to my position; the second allowed all present to recall familiar examples. What had never occurred to me is that someone could so mis-interpret my citing of Mother Goose into a position favouring the practice of force-feeding geese.

Rachel at that point rather exceeded her authority, inserting some  heavily photo shopped pictures of a number of animal rights proponents in various pornographic positions into my accuser's Facebook page, then drawing this to the attention of senior officials in the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, or, as it is commonly known, PETA.

"That should keep him busy for awhile." she said with some satisfaction.

I had no doubt. I mean, what I was about was really innocence itself, drawing parallels between politicians and those fairy tales that best encapsulated their essence. Jack and Jill, for instance, recalling Dalton McGuinty and Kathleen Wynne, or Humpty Dumpty recalling Rob Ford.

No geese in sight.


* Rachel's astounding ability to hack has led at least three intelligence organizations to engage in a world-wide manhunt (womanhunt?). She remains at large, and only a very few know precisely where she is. The Lady is one of those. -- Ed.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Explaining The Delay

Apologies for the latest delay. Some four days ago, I opened up the spot where I correspond with you all, and was greeted with that wonderful Internet sentence, "THIS PAGE CANNOT BE DISPLAYED."

After saying "Up yours" and other like phrases, I began, along with a little help from my friends, to address the problem. Took five days to get things running again, and even now not even the techies could figure out why things suddenly collapsed. Maybe the NSA is finally on to me.

In any event, normal service will resume next Thursday or Friday, unless another attack is launched. For now, I leave you with the following:

With a single flick of microscopic cilium, a one-celled animal will propel a stream of microbes towards the next living logic gate. Another of humanity's dreams, long deemed impossible, will be realized: flesh and blood that actually thinks."*


* James Marten in Datamation, April, 1984. Yes, I've used the citation before, but it can always stand repeating. -- LSS.

Friday, January 10, 2014

In Defense of Frugality

I didn't really want to go to the dinner party. I enjoy my neighbour Eustacia, but cannot say the same for some of the company she keeps -- a preponderance of left-leaning types. Why we hit it off so well is a bit of a mystery, although it may be that she requires a good conservative point of view to offset what she gets all the time from her crowd. In any event, I did not want to disappoint her.

Eustacia's friends tend to be from the University at which she teaches 19th century literature, with the works of Thomas Hardy her major interest. This did not surprise, given her name and numerous references to The Return of the Native. In fact, her father was -- but I am guilty of digression. Thomas Hardy will have to step aside for the moment. This is about taxpayers and frugality.

This topic emerged shortly after the formal dinner, at the port and liqueur phase of the event. A professor of political science,* whose stentorian tones had dominated most of the dinner, was confessing that he could not understand how Toronto's beleaguered Mayor, Rob Ford, could run for a second term.

"I also confess," he continued, "to being unable to explain how on earth the man is polling between 45% and 60% of voters, depending on what poll you look at. I mean, the man is a menace, an admitted user of crack cocaine, probably an alcoholic, and a vicious temper to boot. I confess it's a mystery."

"Well, " I put in, "I am happy to hear you confess so much. Very good for the soul, confession. Not enough of it around."

The Professor sniffed. "I wasn't so much talking about confession per se, but making a point about the unsuitability of the Mayor. His popularity remains a mystery."

"I don't find it so," I replied.

At this point Eustacia shot me a warning glance, but I was not going to let the Professor's views go unchallenged.

I said, "What a great many people, particularly in the fields of academe and the media, have lost sight of is the tremendous weight taxpayers give to the sound use of their money. The present Mayor is certainly, like Becky Sharp in Thackeray's Vanity Fair, "no angel,"** but he has never personally benefitted from any municipal funds, and, indeed, has brought the city a balanced budget while at the same time always stressing the importance of value for money. Taxpayers appreciate this frugality, and are loathe to return to an era where their money is used to benefit a councillor's pet project, rather than the city's needs. Surely you would agree.?"

"I continue to say the man is a menace."

There being little chance of a to and fro discussion being able to occur, and there I left it, to the palpable relief of Eustacia. Later, however, when most had departed, I asked her just what area of political science the Professor fancied himself an expert.

"Oh," Eustacia replied, "He's a noted scholar on Karl Marx."

And suddenly all became clear.


* An oxymoron if there ever was one. -- LSS.

** I had deleted the Thackeray reference as unnecessary, but the Lady wanted Eustacia and the others who might read this missive to know that she was not exactly an ingénue when it came to English literature, and insisted in its inclusion. She can be insistent at times.... -- Ed.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Multiples of Multiples

A bit late with this post, given the nature of travel today, plus weather that was about as uncooperative as you can get. Oh, all was well in Hawaii. No, the problem was everywhere else. Even my strategy of chartering a corporate jet didn't pan out. Aimed at Toronto, got to Des Moines.

From that jewel of an Iowan town, we then tried again for Toronto, and this time at least made the Canadian border, then on to -- North Bay. Finally reached Toronto, where the airport was slowly getting back to normal after a behemoth of an ice storm.

What made all this bearable was a absorbing conversation with a Swedish diplomatic attachĂ© who had been assigned to Ottawa, and had asked to accompany me. He had offered to cover all his expenses, but I waived any payment in this regard. You never know when you might need a Swedish friend. Besides, he knew mystery writer Henning Mankell, and we had a good discussion on just what drove Mankell's all-pervasive sense of gloom. Something to do with a type of meatball, but I digress.

What we also discussed was, to me, fascinating. My travelling companion mentioned the work of a little known but very brilliant geneticist, whose name I purposely refrain from mentioning. You will see why in a moment.

This geneticist has claimed proof that there are only twenty-three people in the world. The current world population, then, are multiples of these twenty-three basic types.

At first, I rejected this. I mean, really. Twenty-three out of billions?

Further reflection, however, gave me pause.  I recalled an incident not that long ago where I thought I saw my Aunt Maud at an estate sale. (I was after a Modigliani that I knew was on offer.) I leaned forward and in a too loud voice said,  "Hey, Maudie, it's me!"

The woman turned, annoyed, and I realized it wasn't my aunt, but a complete stranger. I apologized, but the resemblance was uncanny.
I then remembered several other instances where something similar had occurred. Multiples. Goodness, what if the geneticist is right?
And, dear reader, I invite you to think of any instances in your own experience. Just for devilment, say.

Oh, and I was successful in obtaining the Modigliani.