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Why Greenland’s black ice should terrify you

From Slate

There are several potential explanations for what’s going on here. The most likely is that some combination of increasingly infrequent summer snowstorms, wind-blown dust, microbial activity, and forest fire soot led to this year’s exceptionally dark ice. A more ominous possibility is that what we’re seeing is the start of a cascading feedback loop tied to global warming.

Box mentions this summer’s mysterious Siberian holes and offshore methane bubbles as evidence that the Arctic can quickly change in unpredictable ways.

This year, Greenland’s ice sheet was the darkest Box (or anyone else) has ever measured. Box gives the stunning stats: “In 2014 the ice sheet is precisely 5.6 percent darker, producing an additional absorption of energy equivalent with roughly twice the US annual electricity consumption.”

Perhaps coincidentally, 2014 will also be the year with the highest number of forest fires ever measured in Arctic.

Box ran these numbers exclusively for Slate, and what he found shocked him. Since comprehensive satellite measurements began in 2000, never before have Arctic wildfires been as powerful as this year. In fact, over the last two or three years, Box calculated that Arctic fires have been burning at a rate that’s double that of just a decade ago. Box felt this finding was so important that he didn’t want to wait for peer review, and instead decided to publish first on Slate. He’s planning on submitting these and other recent findings to a formal scientific journal later this year.

Alberta is “under new management”

Man I really hope that makes it’s way onto the official Alberta letterhead

“As of this moment, Alberta is under new management,” Prentice told party members and reporters who gathered at Government House for the ceremony.

I’d even put “under new management” on signs entering into Alberta.

Here are some other new cabinet ministers

“Building a new government means bringing in new blood,” Prentice said. “Both are strong and experienced leaders with a record of accomplishment. Across our province, they are both held in high regard. They will begin work immediately in their new portfolios.”

Prentice said Mandel has a strong record of public service as the former mayor of Edmonton and is ready to tackle the issues facing Alberta’s health-care system. Dirks is a former school board trustee and has served as chair of the troubled Calgary Board of Education.

“Both of these ministers are people of achievement,” Prentice said. He brushed off concerns that appointing unelected cabinet ministers would cause tension in his caucus. “They are exactly the kind of sharp and disciplined minds we want working on behalf of Albertans.”

Prentice said he will prorogue the legislature ahead of the byelections, but insists it will be brought back in time to preserve the same number of sitting days as originally planned.

I think if you are in the Progressive Conservative caucus and you aren’t in caucus, you are probably muttering under your breath to see outsiders named to the cabinet table but at the same time, you also have to realize that you really need to change the reputation of your brand or you will find yourself either in very crowded opposition offices or trying to adjust to like back in the private sector.

Jim Prentice may be an upgrade to the debacle that Alison Redford made of the Progressive Conservative Party but there needs to more than a new leader elected.  He needs to put a new look and feel on that government.

Apple has become a fashion company

From Bloomberg

Today, Apple established itself as the world’s biggest fashion company by releasing a smartwatch that is more about beauty and variety than about technology.

I have been hard on Apple for putting off bold moves, focusing on incremental improvements to its products and allowing competitor Samsung to make a rather convincing grab for technological leadership. Today’s gala event in Cupertino, California, has done little to change that picture. Apple presented its catch-up big-screen iPhones, waxing eloquent about their high-resolution displays, fast-focus cameras and 25 percent higher processor speeds as if they could surprise anyone.

The Apple Watch isn’t a tech miracle. It requires a phone to work, creating an Occam’s-razor moment for the consumer: Do I need another device if I still have to carry my phone around with me everywhere? Samsung has overcome this by offering a smartwatch that doesn’t need a phone.

The Apple Watch’s functionality isn’t market-beating. It’s a basic fitness tracker that can count steps, measure the heart rate and prompt the wearer to be more active. The device can handle messaging the way its competitors do. The Siri voice assistant makes an expected appearance. Though Apple Chief Executive Officer Tim Cook seemed enthusiastic about the watch’s useful features, they are too boring to discuss — particularly in comparison to the Apple Watch’s beauty as an object.

Goodbye NFL

Most of you know how much I love the NFL.  I wrote about it a couple of years ago in this post.  Each weekend I catch a couple of games from Thursday night to Monday.  I subscribed to NFL Now.  I have a fantasy team.  I have been a fan since I watched John Elway and the Denver Broncos blow the biggest lead in Monday Night Football history against the hated Los Angeles Raiders.  Somehow I became a life long Denver Broncos fan and if I saw Raiders quarterback Jay Schroeder on the street, I’d boo him in real life.

All through the 80s I’d rage at The StarPhoenix sports desk for never posting the west coast scores of key Broncos games and would have to go downtown to the main library to find a “real paper” to find out the score (real paper was always the New York Times who hated their sports desk and make them stay up late so they could publish the west coast scores or USA Today who probably felt the same way).  I hated the sports broadcasting of first 650 CKOM and then C95 for only occasionally mentioning the occasional NFL score which ignoring the important AFC West games. (important as in Broncos scores)

Yet for some reason this year, I’ve had enough for a few years now, the cons have been piling up:

The worst part of the Ray Rice thing was that well respected GM of the Baltimore Ravens suggested that Rice’s wife was to blame and the Ravens Twitter account even tweeted out her apology.  An apology apparently for being violently hit?  The NFL could have also demanded to see the video (“umm, Ray you are suspended until we see all of the sealed evidence”) and it isn’t as if the first videos of Janay Rice laying on the floor of the elevator and Ray Rice kicking her lifeless body to the side wasn’t horrible enough.  If you haven’t seen it, it made me sick to watch it.

No, something is wrong at the NFL.  Roger Goodell is a big part of the problem.  He was going to be the new sheriff that was going to clean up the league and protect the “shield”.  Instead he became obsessed over pot (which is not a performance enhancing drug) which ignoring the bigger issue why so many NFL players are violent towards women, in a league that is trying to aggressively market itself towards women.

In fact, a lower percentage of NFL players are violent towards women than in the general population but because of wealth, status and a stable of high priced lawyers most of those charged, get away without penalty (the worst example of all time is boxer Floyd Mayweather – don’t read this link unless you have some time to get angry).  The other issue is for a NFL player, what constitutes a jury of their peers.  Many people on that jury cheered for him, wore his jersey, and was a fan of the team he was on.  The league is stuck trying to penalize it’s players.  Of course by handing out ridiculous penalties for pot use or for dog violence, you would expect them to give out severe penalties for violently hitting a women.  Nope, those are the lenient penalties which both reflect a problem with the league and society in general.

So yeah, I am fed up with the NFL.  I still love football.  Mark is trying out as a linebacker for the Bedford Road Redmen  err RedBlacks  err Red Hawks.  There is the NCAA, the CIS, or if forced to watch it, the CFL.  I’ll still have football but unless there are some serious reforms in the NFL, I am done.  How do I say to Mark and Oliver that it is never ever okay to hit a women and then sit down and turn on the NFL which condones violence against women.

It’s been a great 26 years of being a diehard Denver Broncos fan but enough is enough.  Roger Goodell has to go and until something changes, I’m out of here.

How to Die in 5 Easy Steps

You need to read this essay by Shoshana Berger’s essay on How to Die in 5 Easy Steps

There’s a lot of talk about taking control of how you die. My father had an advanced directive, but it was so crude in its instruction—basically don’t revive me if I have a catastrophic event like a heart attack—that it didn’t help us make any of the decisions we were faced with during his decline.

Some have the foresight to write elaborate directives, asking to be brought to a remote place to have a last moment of transcendence, or to be surrounded by family at home, or be bathed and wrapped in white cloth and buried in a pine box. But more often than not, people don’t write anything down or muster the courage to bring up the end of life with their loved ones at all, leaving death at the wheel, playing the dirty trick of steering for them.

I started to do this last week.  It’s a challenging and weird exercise in figuring out you want your life to end.  Do I want to keep my online presence alive or when life ends, is it all over for me online and off.  What the heck happens to the dog?  Can one play too much Bon Jovi at my funeral? Can one play too much Bon Jovi at any public event?  Should I even have a funeral?  Do I want to die around family and friends or alone?  Where do I want to be buried?

With my mom dying of brain cancer, statistically I have had to ponder that fate as well.  The reality of dying young and from cancer.  How do I fight it?  Do I take chemo and die painfully or accept death and shorten my time on earth.

A lot of stuff to think about.

Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.

– Robert Frost

What is China Building in the South China Sea?

The BBC takes a look

At the beginning of this year, the Chinese presence in the Spratly Islands consisted of a handful of outposts, a collection of concrete blockhouses perched atop coral atolls.

Now it is building substantial new islands on five different reefs.

We are the first Western journalists to have seen some of this construction with our own eyes and to have documented it on camera.

On one of these new islands, perhaps Johnson South Reef, China seems to be preparing to build an air base with a concrete runway long enough for fighter jets to take off and land.
Plans published on the website of the China State Shipbuilding Corporation are thought to show the proposed design.

China’s island building is aimed at addressing a serious deficit.

Other countries that claim large chunks of the South China Sea – Vietnam, the Philippines, Taiwan, Malaysia – all control real islands.

But China came very late to this party and missed out on all the good real estate.

Beijing only took control of Johnson South Reef in 1988 after a bloody battle with Vietnam that left 70 Vietnamese sailors dead. Hanoi has never forgiven Beijing.
Since then China has shied away from direct military confrontation.

But now Beijing has decided it is time to move, to assert its claim and to back it up by creating new facts on the ground – a string of island bases and an unsinkable aircraft carrier, right in the middle of the South China Sea.

The StarPhoenix: When it comes to transit, Saskatoon talks a better game than it delivers

From today’s The StarPhoenix editorial.

Given the fiasco involving route cancellations that greeted riders on the first day of a new school year, it’s difficult to take seriously the City of Saskatoon’s commitment to developing a bus rapid transit system, improve services to meet the demands of growth and lessen the urban carbon footprint.

City Hall seems to be pinning the blame in part on a shortage of qualified heavy duty mechanics in the market, as well as an inability to reach a contract with its transit employees, which is forcing it to advertise for mechanics at wage rates based on the expired 2012 contract.

A month after transit director Bob Howe apologized to commuters after cancelling seven routes because too many buses needed repairs for short-staffed mechanics to fix them all, and described the situation as an “anomaly,” frustrated university students and high schoolers on Tuesday saw the cancellation of direct routes to campus, downtown and many high schools.

In addition, no buses will be added to the busiest routes at peak travel times, and transit officials advise commuters to avoid peak morning and evening trips if possible. It’s those who are trying to get to work or school on time, and return home afterward, who are creating the “peaks,” and it’s transit’s job to accommodate their needs, not the other way around.

The cancellations and delays in the implementation of new routes were announced on Friday, before the Labour Day long weekend. Transit users, who have had to cope in recent years with frequent changes to routes and services, can’t be blamed for questioning why the city cannot seem to get its act together on managing the service properly.

“We have been in an environment of labour uncertainty for the last number of months which has proven to be challenging,” noted the city’s news release on Friday.

Yet, what isn’t clear is what role Saskatoon’s policy of buying second-hand buses that other cities don’t want is playing in creating the demand for more mechanics and a repair backlog that had rendered the transit service unable to field a full complement of buses for its routes.

Mr. Howe says transit has sent as many buses as possible to be repaired by private companies. Given that the problem has been obvious for at least a month, when the previous route cancellations occurred, when did the city began to contract out the work?

Surely, transit officials should have known long before Friday that they lacked enough buses and told the public, instead of waiting until the last possible moment to disclose the fact. This is far from acceptable customer service and effective issues management.

Mr. Howe said in July that transit was upgrading its aging fleet and expects to get five new buses this fall. It’s now obvious that the decrepitude of his 158-bus fleet has reached a point where even more replacements are needed soon, making council’s decision to use for the new commuter bridge the funding slated for bus replacements seem unwise.

When it comes to transit, Saskatoon talks a better game than it delivers.

Excellent editorial but I have one bone to pick with it. I am not even sure City Hall talks a good game about transit.  If anything the message that I have heard from City Council at budget time is that transit is a burden on the city as they transfer more costs onto riders.

I have written about our aging fleet before but it is worth repeating.  Some of our busses are so old that people travel to Saskatoon just to ride of them like rolling museum pieces.  They shouldn’t be repaired by Saskatoon Transit but the Western Development Museum.  Instead of replacing them, Saskatoon City Council is building a bridge for cars.

It is to be expected.  With the retirement of Myles Heidt and the defeat of Bev Dubois, there are no councillors who are strong on public transit.  Unlike Calgary and Edmonton who both feature mayors who use and advocate for public transit, I am unaware of any councillors who actually use it.  Maybe that explains some of the problems that we have.

The other problem is the Saskatchewan government contributes nothing to the bottom line of our transit in cities.  Whereas Manitoba pays for almost half of Winnipeg’s transit costs (and injects capital for BRT), we get nothing except some money for Access Transit.  Arguably that money is spent on STC which is still needed but it means that Saskatoon, Moose Jaw, Prince Albert, and Regina are some of the few cities that are left trying to provide funding for transit with no help.  While I agree that council has handled this poorly (again), a big part of the blame lands with governments going back to the Blakeney era that ignored public transit in the cities.

Harper isolated on NATO defence spending

From Jeffrey Simpson

Mr. Harper’s isolation could be read indirectly into the reporting of last week’s phone call between him and U.S. President Barack Obama. Whereas the Canadian “readout,” or report, of the conversation made no mention of defence spending, the White House reported that “the President stressed the agreement on increased defence investment in all areas is a top priority at the NATO summit.”

A “top American priority” is always to cajole NATO allies into spending more on defence. That priority is certainly not Mr. Harper’s. He has developed an ambivalent and somewhat contradictory attitude toward the military, and it toward him. The Prime Minister and his advisers and the top military brass circle each warily, harbouring their respective reservations about each other.

To put matters aphoristically, Mr. Harper’s government likes the idea of the military more than it likes the military itself.

The idea of the military means history, monuments, medals, ceremonies, parades and repeated rhetorical praise. The military itself means buying equipment, deploying it, dealing with veterans and wrestling with a budget that always seems to go up unless the political masters get tough.

The military has produced some nice headlines to an image-obsessed government, notably from the Afghanistan mission, but it has also delivered headaches and bad headlines, especially over procurement. Delays and problems have beset such purchases as the new generation of fighter aircraft, maritime helicopters, search and rescue aircraft, ships and some smaller gear.

For this government (as for previous ones), the military seems always set on a permanent “ask,” but for the military, this government like previous ones, promises more than it delivers and takes on missions that stretch the military’s means of delivery.

NATO not coming to Kiev’s rescue, regardless of Putin’s actions

This is exactly the news that Putin wants to hear

n an agenda-setting speech ahead of the crucial summit that begins Thursday in Wales, NATO deputy secretary general Alexander Vershbow said Russia’s military moves in Ukraine had created a new solidarity and resolve to defend the alliance’s borders. That new sense of purpose, he said, was reflected in a “Readiness Action Plan” that NATO leaders would announce this week, including the creation of a small “spearhead” force of several thousand troops that will be stationed in Eastern Europe and able to deploy to a crisis within 48 hours.

But, he made clear, that solidarity didn’t extend to non-member Ukraine, where NATO says Russian troops and tanks are now directly aiding rebels in the east of the country. Asked if there was any “red line” Mr. Putin could cross that would prompt NATO involvement in the country, Mr. Vershbow left no doubt that Ukraine would have to fight alone.

“I don’t see any red line that, if crossed, would lead to military engagement” in Ukraine, he told a “NATO after the Wales Summit” seminar hosted by Cardiff University. Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko will attend this week’s NATO meeting as a non-member observer.

“Ukraine understands that they’re not a beneficiary of an Article 5 [NATO collective defence] guarantee,” Mr. Vershbow told The Globe and Mail afterwards. “But I think we will show solidarity with Ukraine, meeting with Poroshenko. We’ll roll out some of the assistance that we’ve been working on for Ukraine… it may not be everything that everybody wants, but again NATO is not the only responder. The broad international message from NATO, from the EU, from other actors, hopefully will make a difference.”

Mr. Poroshenko asked last week that Ukraine be considered for full membership in NATO, but the request has been met with stony silence from the alliance, which is still seeking to avoid a direct military confrontation with Russia.

The EU, Canada and the United States have collectively imposed escalating sanctions on Russia in response to its actions in Ukraine. But while those measures are taking an economic toll – the Russian economy contracted in both June and July – they have not demonstrably affected the Kremlin’s behaviour.

So what is NATO to do?

Stephen Krasner, a former top U.S. State Department official, said the alliance should focus on providing the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, tiny former republics of the Soviet Union that joined NATO in 2004, with credible deterrent against any aggression. Mr. Putin has claimed the right to “defend” Russian-speakers abroad, and Estonia and Latvia have significant Russian-speaking populations.

“We can’t pretend we’re going to defend Ukraine, when we can’t do that,” said Prof. Krasner, who now teaches at Stanford University. But, he said, “there are real reasons for us to fight in the Baltic States.”

Could the southwest of the U.S. be in for a megadrought?

From Mother Jones

A new study by Cornell University, the University of Arizona, and the US Geological Survey researchers, looked at the deep-historical record (tree rings, etc.) and the latest climate change models to estimate the likelihood of major droughts in the Southwest over the next century. The results are as soothing as a thick wool sweater on mid-summer desert hike. 

The researchers concluded that odds of a decade-long drought are “at least 80 percent.” The chances of a “mega-drought,” one lasting 35 or more years, stands at somewhere between 20 percent and 50 percent, depending on how severe climate change turns out to be. And the prospects for an “unprecedented 50-year megadrought”—one “worse than anything seen during the last 2000 years”­—checks in at a non-trivial 5 percent to 10 percent.

It gets worse

his (paradoxically) chilling assessment comes on the heels of another study (study; my summary), this one released in early August by University of California-Irvine and NASA researchers, on the Colorado River, the lifeblood of a vast chunk of the Southwest. As many as 40 million people rely on the Colorado for drinking water, including residents of Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Diego. It also irrigates the highly productive winter farms of California’s Imperial Valley and Arizona’s Yuma County, which produce upwards of 80 percent of the nation’s winter vegetables.

The researchers analyzed satellite measurements of the Earth’s mass and found that the region’s aquifers had undergone a much-larger-than-expected drawdown over the past decade—the region’s farms and municipalities responded to drought-reduced flows from the Colorado River by dropping wells and tapping almost 53 million acre-feet of underground water between December 2004 and November 2013—equal to about 1.5 full Lake Meads, drained off in just nine years, a rate the study’s lead researcher, Jay Famiglietti, calls “alarming.”

Considering how much of the Colorado River Basin, which encompasses swaths of Utah, Colorado, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, are desert, it’s probably not wise to rapidly drain aquifers, since there’s little prospect that they’ll refill anytime soon. And when you consider that that the region faces high odds of a coming mega-drought, the results are even more frightening. (Just before Labor Day, over fierce opposition from farm interests, the California legislature passed legislation that would regulate groundwater pumping—something that has never been done on a state-wide basis in California before. Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to sign it into law.)

First Day of Grade 1

Oliver on the first day of grade 1

Today was Oliver’s first day of Grade 1.  After school we went for a walk by Mayfair Library and I took this photo.  Below is Mark at the same age and rocking the denim jacket.

Mark Cooper in 2006

What Saskatoon Council is Spending Your Money On (no you won’t believe it)

You aren’t going to believe what Saskatoon City Council is spending your money on now and with the incompetence they are doing it with.

Back when the city moved to their new governance model (the one they say is like all other cities but really isn’t), they created new committees as a part of that.  Committee memberships are done in one of two ways.  They are voted on or they are decided by seniority.  There are many examples of both but when I hear seniority, I tend to think of the U.S. Senate and Congressional committees which are decided exclusively by seniority (the longer you are around, the wiser you become, or at least that is the hope).  

You always hear Saskatoon politicians speak of the “made in Saskatoon” solution.  Our solution was to draw names from a hat for one of City Council’s committees.  It was done in executive committee so it was supposed to be confidential but instead of deciding on a committee by seniority or by merit (as decided by colleagues), names were put into a hat and drawn out.  I first heard some rumours from other media and city sources soon after executive was done who didn’t think it was normal (it wasn’t).  After confirming the rumour with some people from council (who were less then impressed that I knew), I tweeted it.

That upset some on council who were frustrated that council went down that course of action and others found out about it.  As I said to more then one, “If you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns”.  From that the city solicitor was asked to draw up a memo/report to remind council that they were not supposed to be leaking confidential executive committee stuff.  I assume that the term, “acting like a bunch of clowns” was not used in the report.

A couple of weeks later, I was to appear on the regular Saskatoon Afternoon with David Kirton roundtable with David and Bronwyn Eyre.  Show topics are emailed to us by the producer Brittany Higgins.  I like Brittany as she does a good job of politely refusing topics that I suggest that would take David, Bronwyn, myself and a panel of foreign affairs experts a week to talk about and instead sticks to her 5 minute topics which are way better radio.  That day she sent us a link to Charles Hamilton’s article about the Mayor again mentioning that we should have a Twitter Wall in City Council.

I don’t know why the Mayor is always asking for a Twitter wall in City Council chambers.  First of all Twitter is public already.  All of the interesting posts can be found at #yxecc and can be read by anyone at anytime.  Thirdly and I mean no offense to the Councillors that tweet, it’s pretty boring stuff.  You will get the occasional link posted to a report or something but other than that, they may be reading comments but they aren’t making that many comments in council.  Whatever it is that the Mayor wants, is already there, all they need to do is turn on a projector and go to the #yxecc link.  I doubt very much I’ll get credit for this in Council Chambers.

So Bronwyn and I start talking about the Twitter wall and it wasn’t our best segment.  On a good segment there is a sense of flow and cadence and it wasn’t there.  I also called out some on the school board for tweeting during meetings which wasn’t expected and in the end I walked out of the CKOM studio and tweeted something like, “I wish the mayor would stop talking about this stupid Twitter wall”.  If there is a topic that I never want to talk about again, it is the Twitter wall.

(This is a media roundtable gone wrong.  You really haven’t had a fight on air until this or this happens)

Apparently at that exact time, the Mayor was in executive committee and was talking about the Twitter wall.  So the conclusion was made by our wise political leadership that someone had to be leaking to me the contents of executive meetings to me.   It never occurred to anyone to listen to David Kirton’s show or to read the mornings StarPhoenix or just ask me, “what’s up with that tweet?”

A simple subscription to Google News Alerts would have told city council the truth but they decided they needed a leak investigation to find out the source of the leaks.  Or they could have asked me who told me.  While my sources are confidential, I would have no problem telling them that the source for the Twitter wall leak was CHARLES HAMILTON, you know since we talked about it on air and it him that published the Mayor’s on the record comments made during an interview to The StarPhoenix.

Well council couldn’t let this stand and decided to hire a private investigator to investigate the leak.  After rejecting some local retired cops, they rejected this guy for having too high of travel costs.

They rejected these guys because they couldn’t tell them apart.

They also wanted this guy but an agreement couldn’t be worked out with STARS over helicopter parking.

They really wanted this group of guys but they couldn’t find them.

So they hired a retired RCMP officer with the ability to question councillors and examine phone, computer and email records to see if they have been the ones that have leaked The StarPhoenix to me. If they were serious (and I don’t think they are), they would have a conversation about the FOI requests that were filed in the lead up to the 2012 elections.  Those FOI’s filed by The StarPhoenix and other media outlets covered @saskatoon.ca emails and there was a lot of embarrassing things said in those emails.  Since then councillors rarely use @saskatoon.ca email for non constituent communications.  Therefore they fall out of scope of the investigation.  Also since there are some precedents of government provided phones being able to be FOI’d, some councillors use two phones or don’t have the city pay for their own phone.  Thirdly, there is a thing called a manilla envelope and it works really well.  Some are just left in my mailbox late at night or mailed to me with no return address.

I have heard the questions that have been asked, the good cop, bad cop routine, and even the follow up questions.  I recently found out that I wasn’t supposed to find out about the investigation because that would compromise it (doh!) but that was after councillors phoned up to ask me if they had sent me anything they might have forgotten about.  Quite the investigation.  The ones that are calling for the investigation then go out and immediately undermine it.

Saskatoon City Council can’t even do a leak investigation properly (someone needs to do a Tumblr for things Saskatoon City Council can’t do properly).

Why is council doing this when most already know the truth?  Here are the answers I have gotten so far.

  • I need to be put in my place.  I am unsure how investigating each other is putting me in my place.  I have been accused (along with other media of making city councillors life more difficult before and apparently them attacking each other is supposed to change that.  While I am disappointed that they are wasting time doing this, I am unsure how this is putting me in my place.  I learn stuff and I write about it.  I am not sure how that changes.
  • This allows for frank discussions in Executive committee.  This is close to the truth.  Saskatoon City Council is the most secretive city council and city hall in Western Canada.  No one else comes close.  Executive Committee’s in camera proceedings are often used to hash out issues away from the public eye to avoid political backlash.  With confidentiality clauses, no one can voice the opposing decisions.  It’s also why media and people pack City Hall chambers from time to time to see a big issues passed without discussion.  John Gormley used to talk about the Gang of Five, now there is a Gang of Eleven.  By comparison, take a look at the Manning Foundation’s Council Tracker which looks at a much criticized Calgary City Council’s actions.  Saskatoon City Council is so secretive we can’t even track how secretive they are.
  • To weaken other councillors.  I have heard from a few councillors, “I know who your source is and they will pay”.  Umm, again… the source is the Mayor as told to Charles Hamilton?  Is this a power play against His Worship, Hamilton, Brittany Higgins, maybe even David Kirton.  I can’t keep track anymore.  In other words it is an investigation using taxpayer dollars for political games.  The truth js that some think that either Darren Hill, Zach Jeffries, or Pat Lorje are my sources.  If they are right (and they are not), then those councillors are weakened going up for re-election.  Pretty amazing work environment that they have going there. 
  • The weirdest explanation is that this will keep Darren Hill from running for the federal Liberals in Saskatoon West.  Apparently he had so muh fun running under Ignatieff and getting 11% he wants to do it again (I could be wrong but I think I was being flippant there).  Even with a 15% Liberal bump from Trudeau and the seat stays Conservative.

My favourite is the accusation that I am sort of a shadowy behind the scenes operative because I am never seen at political events.  This one makes me angry but I can understand it.  When you are a hammer, everything you see is a nail.  When you are a politician, everything is political.

First of all, I am non partisan.  I get attacked by liberals and conservatives (often at the same time).  I have a bias toward a lot of policies but the politics of council make me bored and sad for the city.  One of my most dearly held theological beliefs is best articulated by Stanley Hauerwas and Will Willimon in their book, Resident Aliens

When politics is brought to the attention of Jesus (Luke 20:20-26), the whole discussion is portrayed with such jocularity as to suggest that we are to take none of this with seriousness. When wanting to trap Jesus and hand him over to the police (Luke 20:20), they ask Jesus, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Note that was our question, not Jesus’.)

Jesus answers (Luke 20:24), “Who’s got a quarter?”

(Note that Jesus’ pockets are empty.)

When a coin is produced, Jesus asks, “Whose picture is on it?”

We answer, “George Washington.”

“Well, if he needs the stuff so badly as to put his picture on it, then give it to him, ” says Jesus. “But you be careful and don’t give to Caesar what belongs to God.”

Okay. We give up. Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not?

From this we learn that a primary biblical way or treating politics is as a joke. Certainly, politicians can make much mischief, but it would be a liturgical and ethical mistake to take them too seriously. Idolatry is as big a problem for democracies as for non-democracies.

If you ask me what I think about politics, I don’t take it very seriously.  If someone, even a politician wants some advice, I give it to them.   I guess it’s why I enjoy commenting on it.   I love policy but the politics side is nothing more of a joke.  I also like most people and I hate the partisan process.  I like going out with people and sharing ideas.  It’s gets brutal when partisan lines are drawn and it interferes with friendships.

I want our city, province, and country to be a better place but at the end of the day, I’ll give that advice to their opponent or anyone who reads this blog, my columns, listens to me on air or a podcast.    Saskatoon is a weird place in that not only are we largely ignorant of best practices of other cities (even winter cities), when we find out about them, we reject them in favour of a “made in Saskatoon” solution.  In other words most of what I suggest is ignored which is fine, even if it does seem to cost us more money as a city.  The only piece of legislation I have ever tried to change was a flawed piece of affordable housing policy that myself and other housing providers opposed.  That’s it.  A public email sent to 10 councillors and the mayor.  10 of the replied.  The mayor did not but the motion failed.  That is what is important.

Provincially I once wrote a letter Premier Brad Wall about the problems of mental health and homeless.  One of his hacks replied with a letter about about hip replacements waiting lists.  I learned two things, writing the government is a HUGE waste of time and my lobbying powers aren’t exactly immense.  I have some sway with Cam Broten.  When I say “sway”, he doesn’t reply back with letters about hip replacement waiting lists.  My big piece of advice to him is that is to never by a Rider jersey without a number because they look stupid.  I also suggest going with a classic number like Ron Lancaster, George Reed, or Ray Elgaard so if the player you choose gets in trouble with the law, you don’t look like an idiot.  There you go.  That is my expertise in provincial politics.  I hate blank Rider jerseys.  That is my shadowy behind the scenes maneuvering.  Rider jerseys and homeless issues.

As for why I am never seen, this is a bit more personal.  Wendy has long struggled with depression and it is getting worse.  She wrote about it here and this has been by far the most difficult year we have ever had as a family.  Not only is her depression worse but it affects Mark in more significant ways as he grows older.  There are many times that we have plans and either Wendy can’t go out in public or Mark has asked if I wanted to hang out with him and Oliver.  The are other times when I come home after just cleaning the house and it is a disaster again.  When there is chaos in Wendy’s mind, there is chaos in my world and it hard to keep up.  So yeah, it means that I don’t go out a lot because I am trying to keep the family together. (why do you think I write about mental health issues as much as I do.  It is largely over how hard it has been to get Wendy good help). It is this and Hauerwas’ writings (which is actually rooted in John Howard Yoder’s writings) that I will never run for political office.  That and Mike Duffy has killed many options for fat bald guys from the media.  (Full disclosure, I was a long time member of the Progressive Conservative Party of Saskatchewan  growing up and ran in 1995 for the Tories in Saskatoon.  I was 21.  My views, hairline, pant size, and opinions on politics have changed since then).

So after I help Wendy deal with her day, help the kids with their world, I sit down on a chair and I read, write, and research.  No shadowy meetings.  No late night phone calls.  Nothing.  Most of it is spent trying to figure out who we get through tomorrow and hoping it isn’t as bad as today was. I don’t drink.  Urban planning, systems theory, and photography are my escape.  The photography gets me out of the house and the books and looking at things through a different lens and experiencing the city in a whole new way.

Considering that I have said in many columns that politicians are psychopaths, plotting world takeovers with them isn’t really high on my to-do list.  

Yes, politicians are more likely than people in the general population to be sociopaths. I think you would find no expert in the field of sociopathy/psychopathy/antisocial personality disorder who would dispute this… That a small minority of human beings literally have no conscience was and is a bitter pill for our society to swallow — but it does explain a great many things, shamelessly deceitful political behavior being one.

As an aside, if any world dominating villain offers me the Denver Broncos, I will accept them with more grace than Homer Simpson did. 

I care about homeless issues, affordable housing, and challenging growing inequality in cities.  The stuff I write about is what I care about.   I don’t care if someone from the right or the left carries that stuff out, as long as it is done.

Maybe that is why I am so disgusted about this freaking leak investigation that isn’t a leak.  It’s cheap political games that are a pain to deal with, cost us as the City of Saskatoon citizens, and is a sham right from the start.  Plus by the fact that I know about it and councillors are actively undermining it, a city solicitor who doesn’t know realize this a game, and an investigator who doesn’t realize how the game is played, it is a massive waste of time and money at a time when the city has much more pressing concerns than finding out that I read The StarPhoenix (and apparently they don’t read Saskatoon’s paper of record).  As I have written and said before, I don’t think we are hiring (or electing) the best and brightest at City Hall.  Amateur hour shows it.

Leaks happen all of the time in Saskatoon, Regina, and Ottawa.  By the time I have heard something, I know The StarPhoenix has heard it, Rawlco has heard it, and CBC has heard it.  Even the television stations with constantly changing reporters hear the gossip because it goes right from counsellors to reporters.  It always has, it always will.  To stop all of us from finding out about what Council is up to, they have decided to do leak investigation.

My answer is the same as it always has been, if you don’t want to look like a bunch of clowns, stop acting like a bunch of clowns. We deserve more from our City Council than a bunch of silly political games but this is what passes for leadership in Saskatoon.

So in summary

  • I follow a confirmed a leak about Saskatoon City Council behaving ridiculously and that embarrassed them.
  • Saskatoon City Council is full of a bunch of gossips.
  • I read The StarPhoenix and discuss it on the air.  
  • Sometimes Bronwyn Eyre wins those debates (okay many times) and I tweet about it.
  • In summary, it would be cheaper for councillors to sign up for Google News Alerts then hiring private investigators.  It would also be helpful to somewhat aware of what you say to reporters of The StarPhoenix.
  • If council is going to authorize a sham investigation, telling me about it immediately undermines it.

Oh yeah, I emailed Mark Rhogstad at the City of Saskatoon to ask how much the leak investigation was costing us.  He didn’t return my email.

Grade 9

Mark Cooper in 2014

Mark starts high school tomorrow.  He will wander out of here around 8:30 a.m. and is headed towards Bedford Road Collegiate where he will spend the next three and a half years of his life.  He is talking about joining the Royal Canadian Navy after that so he can see the world before deciding on a career.  We will see if the RCN has any floating ships left before he decides on his next step.

It was a hard decision for him to go to Bedford Road.  He had wanted to go to E.D. Feehan High School but the lack of a football team doomed that decision.  The lack of many sports made it exciting for him to go.  He looked at Mount Royal and Marion M. Graham Collegiate and Bishop James Mahoney as well but the time on the bus was going to be significant.  No one wants that long of commute just to go to high school.

Bedford Road Collegiate

The response from teachers and educators over him going to Bedford Road was tepid at best and downright hostile and discouraging at worse.  Neighbors and friends had reservations.  A friend of the families kid was robbed and then hit hard with a chain.  Another kid was robbed at knife point.  Saskatoon Public School Board teachers called the kids “rough”, “unteachable”, and talked of physical intimidation in the classroom.  Two teachers told me they would resign rather than be appointed to Bedford.  I don’t know if that was just talk but there are some polarizing feelings about the school. Considering it wasn’t a decision I was fond of in the first place (bad things always happened to me when I was in Bedford Road when I was a student) we really spent some time looking at our options and deciding what was best for Mark.  

In defence of Bedford I was told of crime and thugs everywhere in the city.  That may be true but according to Saskatoon Police Service crime maps, there is a propensity of violent and serious property crime in 2014 (and continuing throughout the spring) in Caswell Hill (and Mayfair).  Assaults, robberies, drug related offences.  It is all there and in a higher concentration then in other surrounding neighbourhoods in the city.  Crime happens in the neighbourhood and the neighbourhoods where it’s students come from.

At the end of the day, crime is bad in our neighbourhood which has not been fun for the boys (it was last summer they were accosted by a high prostitute at 2:30 p.m. on a Tuesday) and of course 2013 was the summer of gunshots and prostitutes working our street (which has stopped thankfully).

So yeah there is a basis for teachers to be concerned, I am not sure why all of the negativity that goes around Bedford (well I do actually, I have disliked the school since my friends stereo was stolen and then the guy tried to resell it back to us which there for a basketball game) and from westside teachers in general about being in inner city schools.  I have heard the complaints about the lack of fundraising from parents (I was foolish enough to think that taxes paid for my kids education) to school fees not being paid on time (We know of one kid that was picking bottles to pay for his school fees this year), to a lack of school supplies.  I am not sure it’s right to hate the kids for the environment that they come from.

I can’t speak to the physical intimidation part.  I am 6’4.  I am not physically intimidated by much anymore yet Wendy who is a foot shorter doesn’t feel a lot of fear in her workplace and it can and often is violent (shoplifters, drunks, drugs, mental health).  Maybe there is a desensitization that happens that I am missing and that some don’t have.  Maybe they shouldn’t be teaching on the westside and perhaps it is a flaw of the system that allows teachers to teach kids they don’t like or fear.

I also think the city does it weird with allowing Mark to go to any school he wants.  It creates a system where his friends who want to ride the bus or have parents that wish to drive them daily, can go to any high school in the city and creates a weird feeling for those that “have” to go to their neighbourhood schools.  In the case of E.D. Feehan, you have a school in a slow death spiral because why would you want to go to a school that has no amenities when you can go the new and cutting edge Bethlehem High School.

Finally, I think the school board has a morale problem when you have teachers speaking so poorly about Bedford Road and about the westside to parents and students.  Those teachers are speaking about not just a school but their own colleagues and are prejudging students before the summer is over and the school year has begun.

Oddly enough the extremely poor teachers Mark has had previously makes it easier to disregard the advice about Bedford (he has had more good teachers than bad but he bad one was so bad I don’t think he would have survived a second year).  Despite the degree, some people aren’t wired to teach some kids.  Hopefully he finds teachers that are wired to teach, coach, and mentor and they out number the ones that don’t want to be there.

Mark will do fine but the process leading up tomorrow left me with a bit of a sick feeling in my stomach.

MSN Messenger to end after 15 years

Here is the BBC Obit

MSN Messenger was a hard-working internet visionary which taught a generation to touch-type and lol, writes BBC technology reporter Dave Lee.

It touched the lives of millions of teenagers who, in an age before real social networking, were just getting accustomed to what it was like to live on the internet.

MSN Messenger heralded a new era: a time when chatting up a classmate no longer meant the terrifying prospect of actually having to say something to them.

It meant no longer would young teens have to endure the torture of ringing the landline number of their newest crush – knowing there was a high probability that dad would pick up.

But after all the “ASL?”s and “u there?”s, Messenger’s loyal subjects became less dependent. “I’ll brb”, people said… but they never did.

Other sites, smarter and better looking, would see Messenger cast aside. In an age of exciting digital discovery, Messenger became the web’s wooden toy.

After a long career, it spent its final year enjoying a comfortable retirement in China. Its less well-regarded relative, Windows Messenger, still battles on on work computers the world over.

“It’s like MSN,” office workers say, “…just not as fun.”

MSN Messenger is survived by Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Snapchat, Skype, Google+ and Instagram.

180 South

The trailer for 180 South which Mark and I watched the other night on Netflix.  It’s a great adventure documentary about an epic journey to Patagonia.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth watching.

Chris Malloy’s film strikes so deeply into the heart of Patagonia’s wilderness we come to feel at home there. 180° South: Conquerors of the Useless follows Jeff Johnson as he retraces the epic 1968 journey of his heroes Yvon Chouinard and Doug Tompkins to Patagonia. Along the way he gets shipwrecked off Easter Island, surfs the longest wave of his life — and prepares himself for a rare ascent of Cerro Corcovado. Jeff’s life turns when he meets up in a rainy hut with Chouinard and Tompkins who, once driven purely by a love of climbing and surfing, now value above all the experience of raw nature — and have come to Patagonia to spend their fortunes to protect it.