All posts by ritagracesmith

Postal workers are not Elections Officials: you read it here first

Ballots and letters are not the same thing.

 

If you have ever been a volunteer Scrutineer – in any election, for any party – you know the idea of large-scale voting by mail is ludicrous.

Yet Americans are now debating the idea as if it was standard operating procedure suddenly and unfairly being denied them. Well, maybe it could be standard if voting were taking place in Utopia, or Xanadu; but in the western world in 2020, there are hundreds of ways a ballot or a vote could go missing, be duplicated or tampered with.

Postal workers are not Elections Officials: you read it here first.

The first election in which I ever volunteered, my candidate signed an official form provided to him by Elections Ontario, authorizing me to be present at the poll on his behalf. When I presented the signed form to the Returning Officer (RO), she insisted I show my driver’s license to prove I was the person authorized by the form. That was my first inkling that professional Elections Officials question everything and assume nothing in the voting process.

I spent the morning in a hard chair, observing as voters filed in, presented voter cards and identification, received their ballots, voted behind the cardboard shield and then deposited the folded ballot in the ballot box.

I did not see the need (or have the nerve) to challenge anyone’s identification, although some Scrutineers do that aggressively, especially when voters present only a phone bill or a hydro bill with a name and address to receive a ballot. The RO would insist those voters take an oath and sign a form attesting to their true address and that they were Canadian citizens.

In another election, I arrived before the poll opened and the Returning Officer invited Scrutineers from every party to inspect the ballot boxes after she assembled them.

“Why would we need to do that?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“To assure yourself, and your candidate, that the boxes were empty when the poll opened,” she replied logically. “How else could you be sure there weren’t 100 ballots in the box before voting even started?”

“OhMyGod!” I blurted in amazement. “I never would have even THOUGHT of that!”

At the end of a long day of voting, the RO and Scrutineers from every party were present when the ballots were counted and recorded. Mostly this is simple, but some voters “write in” a candidate or vote for more than one. When we all agreed on the numbers, the ballots were placed back in the ballot box and sealed.

In 2010, I drove to the poll with my son David, a Captain in Canada’s Armed Forces. Because he had lived in Ontario, Quebec and New Brunswick that year and still carried a New Brunswick drivers’ license, the Returning Officer insisted he also sign the attestation that he was an Ontario resident and a Canadian citizen. I was outraged, livid that he had been challenged.

“There are people voting right now, with phone bills as ID!” I fumed. “YOU, they challenge?”

“It didn’t bother me, Ma,” he smiled. “Actually, I was happy to see them enforcing the rules I’ve sworn my life to uphold.”

Postal employees work hard, no doubt; that does not mean they can, or should, run elections.

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Cauliflower Crust Pizza: Keto-friendly and Gluten-Free

Here it is – my made-in-Ontario suggestion for pizza lovers who are cutting back on carbs, or can’t eat gluten. This has become  a winter staple: it’s nice and cozy to heat the oven and warm the house baking a pizza in January or February.

But cauliflower are in season, plentiful and cheap in summer when it’s too hot to bake if you don’t have to. July and August are the perfect time to buy and boil beautiful local cauliflower in bulk, and freeze crust portions in pre-measured amounts to have on hand all year long. I went through 40 packages last year!!

NOTE: This video is 30 minutes long – the first 12 minutes are the bulk cooking instructions. If you just want to skip to the instructions once you have boiled and mashed the cauliflower, jump to the 12 minute mark.

Proportions used in the recipe are:

  • Two cups of boiled cauliflower
  • One cup shredded Mozzarella cheese
  • One egg
  • Sprinkle salt
  • Optional: a spoonful of Pesto

This amount of “dough” will make crust for two 10-inch pizzas.

Enjoy!

George Tsinokas: Collected Words & Wisdom

Rest in peace, George. You touched so many lives. So much of what I know about love and business, I learned from you.

George Tsinokas was such an original – talented, smart, funny, with the biggest heart of any human being I have ever met. His loss is immeasurable.

I may do a better job of organizing these words later but for now, I hope to write down some of the best things I ever heard George say. If you have anything you would like to add to this list please do, and share the post with others so they can add to it too.

***

George, after taking on my unfashionable mop of hair and transforming me into a sharp, trendy professional:

“Now, Rita, you know this requires SOME effort. You can’t just roll out of bed and expect to get this look.”

***

When Lois Brown ran against Belinda Stronach in the 2006 federal election, George met us at Global News to do Lois’ hair just before an important debate. He rolled into the studio with a travel kit of tools and supplies like Warren Beatty in “Shampoo.”

Watching George comb, blow and spray Lois’ famously unkempt hair, I mused out loud “I wonder who is doing Belinda’s hair?”

“Well, it must be the Number Two salon in Durham, because I can tell you Belinda is not being done by the Number One salon in Durham,” George sniffed without missing a beat.

***

I actually live in Newcastle because George Tsinokas invested in Clarington real estate. When I decided I wanted to move out of Toronto, I originally thought that meant I would be driving north toward Barrie. Then I discovered that in opening his newest salon, George and Vasile didn’t just buy a salon in Bowmanville – they bought the entire PLAZA in which the salon happened to be located.

“I have learned,” George shared one day, “that I could never save as much money as real estate can make me.”

Those words are seared into my brain now. If someone as smart as George Tsinokas was investing in Durham, I thought, that’s where I’m investing too. I have never looked back.

***

“You are someone I really treasure,” George told me one day. Wow, what a nice thing to say! I should say that to more people, more often.

***

“Growing up, I was never ‘the best’ at anything,” George explained to me one day. “I was not athletic, I was not at the top of the class. I wasn’t musical. But once I got into the business world and found I could make money, I realized, ‘THIS is something I can do. I am good at this.’”

This should be good news to lots of young people finishing high school and heading out into the world. I thought about George’s words a lot when I was running my Junior Achievement class last winter.

***

George married a stunningly beautiful, dynamic woman named Heidi. I loved the story of how they met: there used to be a nightclub called “Staircases” which was full of staircases on which young people would mix, mingle, sit, lean across to meet and talk over loud music and alcohol.

George told me, “I spotted Heidi leaning against the railing of a staircase across the room and I knew immediately she was someone special, so I worked my way over to her.”

“What was you opening line?” I needed to know.

“I walked up to her and said, ‘Who does your hair?’” George recounted. Of course, he did! And then they talked about hair for quite a long while, and the rest was history.

Some things make such perfect sense, there can be no doubt.

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Is COVID drinking more dangerous than COVID?

Jack London is best known for telling tales of his wild adventures in the Yukon and around the globe – his perceptions of risk and danger are valuable to this day. *Photo credit: Brad Cathers, Cathers Wilderness Adventures

Has the Covid-19 quarantine left you bored, trapped at home?

Are you sick to death of unending, hysterical media coverage?

I have GREAT news for you!

Imagine this:

Possibly the best action/adventure writer of all time decides to write a spine-tingling, engaging thriller that addresses one of the riskiest and most dangerous challenges facing the Western world. The story details a health catastrophe of epidemic proportions, killing millions, destroying lives and families, causing suicide and financial failure at tragic levels.

What begins as a mystery morphs into horror as the story turns into cliff-hanger. You are absorbed by facts and details that leave you gob-smacked and incredulous; there is not a dull page in this book. You cannot put it down.

By tales’ end, it may be that the book has changed your life.

Imagine an even better offer: this book is available free, in the public domain. There is also a free audiobook, if you’d rather listen than read.

The book is a little-known masterpiece by Jack London, author of “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang.”

The book is “John Barleycorn, or an Alcoholic Memoir,” and it was published in 1913, when London was at the peak of wealth and fame as one of the most popular writers of the age. (“Jack London” is the pen name of John Griffith Chaney.)

From the matter-of-fact recounting of his first drunken experience – “I was five years old the first time I got drunk” – to the impact alcohol had on his developing friendships at age seven and social life when he set out to sea as a teen-ager, it’s easy to think that London’s relationship with alcohol was a product of the rough age in which he lived.

When you look at how alcohol is presented today, you will find unmistakable parallels. We may have more laws, more rules and regulations about alcohol consumption in 2020, but we don’t have any less alcohol or any fewer ruined lives. “John Barleycorn,” as London personifies the product, the lifestyle, and the warped decision-making processes associated with drinking, is alive and well and actually making most of the rules.

In his introduction, London makes an important point: he is not writing as a genetically pre-disposed alcoholic. His experience wasn’t exceptional: he consumed alcohol as alcohol was intended to be consumed.

“I am a seasoned drinker. I have no constitutional predisposition for alcohol. I am not stupid. I am not a swine. I know the drinking game from A to Z, and I have used my judgment in drinking. I never have to be put to bed. Nor do I stagger. In short, I am a normal, average man; and I drink in the normal, average way, as drinking goes. And this is the very point: I am writing of the effects of alcohol on the normal, average man.”

Describing how John Barleycorn slithered in to became a pervasive presence in his life, London wrote, “I sketched my first contacts with alcohol, told of my first intoxications and revulsions, and pointed out always the one thing that in the end had won me over—namely, the accessibility of alcohol. Not only had it always been accessible, but every interest of my developing life had drawn me to it. A newsboy on the streets, a sailor, a miner, a wanderer in far lands, always where men came together to exchange ideas, to laugh and boast and dare, to relax, to forget the dull toil of tiresome nights and days, always they came together over alcohol. The saloon was the place of congregation. Men gathered to it as primitive men gathered about the fire of the squatting place or the fire at the mouth of the cave.”

London’s near-magical command of the English language and gift for indelible imagery enliven every page, every perception:

“We were three tipsy young gods, incredibly wise, gloriously genial, and without limit to our powers. Ah!—and I say it now, after the years—could John Barleycorn keep one at such a height, I should never draw a sober breath again. But this is not a world of free freights. One pays according to an iron schedule—for every strength the balanced weakness; for every high a corresponding low; for every fictitious god-like moment an equivalent time in reptilian slime. For every feat of telescoping long days and weeks of life into mad magnificent instants, one must pay with shortened life, and, oft-times, with savage usury added.”

I found fascinating London’s description of how casually, quickly and completely John Barleycorn took over his daily schedule in the later years, after London had achieved great success as an internationally renowned and beloved writer. Drinking more, drinking earlier, drinking ever-more special concoctions, ever-more expensive products, with a circle of friends more dedicated to drinking than friendship, he slid into the lifestyle we see all around us in the present day.

Early on, he wrote 1,000 words per day, first thing every morning, no matter where he was on the globe. Then, he began to celebrate finishing his 1,000 words with a drink. Eventually, he enjoyed drinking WHILE he wrote his 1,000 words; and at the end, he could not write anything at all unless he had a drink first. BAM. There you go. There’s John Barleycorn for you, at work, in charge of your schedule and your life.

London was able to see what was going on, and he thought he was capable of changing it.

“It was my unmitigated and absolute good fortune, good luck, chance, call it what you will, that brought me through the fires of John Barleycorn. My life, my career, my joy in living, have not been destroyed. They have been scorched, it is true; like the survivors of forlorn hopes, they have by unthinkably miraculous ways come through the fight to marvel at the tally of the slain.”

This grateful observation might carry more weight, had London lived to a ripe old age in good health and written dozens of more classic books and stories for the world to enjoy. Sadly, he died at age 40, possibly from an accidental overdose. Whether his death might in fact have been a suicide is still debated.

More people will die from alcohol this year than will die from COVID-19. Where are the graphs?

No matter how he died, while he lived, Jack London made an observation which is perhaps even more meaningful today. As we fret about the long-term consequences of climate change or the assumed estimated projected infection rates of COVID-19, there remains a clear and present danger to people of all ages, especially young people, which we blithely ignore:

“We have with great success made a practice of not leaving arsenic and strychnine, and typhoid and tuberculosis germs lying around for our children to be destroyed by,” London observed.

“Treat John Barleycorn the same way. Stop him. Don’t let him lie around, licensed and legal, to pounce upon our youth. Not of alcoholics nor for alcoholics do I write, but for our youths, for those who possess no more than the adventure-stings and the genial predispositions, the social man-impulses, which are twisted all awry by our barbarian civilisation which feeds them poison on all the corners. It is the healthy, normal boys, now born or being born, for whom I write.”

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The free LibreVox audiobook of “John Barleycorn” is available here.

The Gutenberg Press publication of the book is here.

Special thanks to Hans Weinhold for recommending this book to me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Zoom funerals: some suggestions for etiquette

The Honourable Steven Fletcher has served as a member of Parliament as part of Canada’s federal government and Manitoba’s provincial government.

***

Zoom funerals… I just experienced my first one, and here are some observations.

My beloved Uncle Peter passed away this week. He died in New Zealand.

I wish to share some lessons that may be helpful to you when using Zoom or equivalent.

It happened so quickly and my family is all over the world, so we could only participate using Zoom. Unfortunately, it was done badly.

I will share with you some suggestions so you will not have to experience what my family did this week.

First, make sure everyone has the correct app.

Second, be very clear on which time zone is being used and everyone should know their local time.

Third, people should familiarize themselves with Zoom beforehand. For example – know how to mute and unmute.

Fourth, make sure everyone who is speaking at the funeral is speaking into the microphone. Sadly, at our Zoom event, somebody moved the microphone and no one online could hear what was being said.

Fifth, make sure that the funeral chapel or whomever is controlling the feed can be accessed by an alternate method of communication. It would have been very helpful if those who could not hear could in real time email, text or message the funeral staff to place the microphone appropriately.

Sixth, the funeral chapel staff should stay in the room to deal with incoming text messages, or microphone movements etc. The person at my Uncle’s funeral just disappeared for the family portion, which is also the most important segment.

Seventh, consider introducing those in attendance, especially if the numbers are manageable. The family may know each other, but they will not know the friends of the deceased if they live on the other side of the world.

Eighth, the camera needs to be focused. Perhaps more than one camera could be used. In this way, those online can look around the room or zoom in or out. We only had one view from the corner of the room.

Ninth, those on Zoom need to be aware of the lighting behind them: too much light messes up the view.

Remember people can see you during a Zoom service, unless you change the setting which would be rude in my view. In the same vein, since you are going to be seen, it is important to dress appropriately. If you wear a suit and tie in person at a funeral, then one should do the same on Zoom. This last suggestion is my personal preference, but my logic is with Zoom, it is supposed to be as if you were there, and if I was there, I would have been wearing a suit and tie regardless of whose funeral it was.

Finally, number ten. Let there be time to notify family, even though they may not be there. In this case, the service was only a couple of days after my Uncle’s passing. With another few hours, we could have contacted many more cousins and second cousins, and childhood friends etc.

If you cannot be at a funeral, there are ways to be there in spirit. My Uncle was a New Zealander through and through. His loss is felt.

I hope these ten lessons will be of help. Remember to record the ceremony!

–The Honourable Steven Fletcher

May 17, 2020

 

Learning how to be poor is a skillset everybody needs

Picking fruit is a fun and cost-effective way to keep kids busy on a Saturday. If you do it right, they won’t realize you have actually put them to work until they are 10 or 12 years old.

I raised three kids as a self-employed single mother. On the hardest days, I had my hydro shut off and coasted to the curb as my car ran out of gas.

The inconvenience of having a credit card declined paled in comparison to the day Bell cut off my phone, hours after I signed the biggest contract of my career. I woke up terrified that my gigantic new client would call me to find my phone out of service. I laid in bed sobbing at the imagined humiliation.

After a while, I realized, crying in bed had not changed anything. So, I got up, swallowed my pride, and went to a friend to borrow the money to pay the bill.

These are not experiences I would wish upon anyone; however, they didn’t kill me, either. They didn’t even make me a bad person: they made me a broke person.

“You need to know how to be poor,” I advised my kids as they grew up. “Being poor is a skillset. You have to know how to deal with it. You’re not bad, or stupid – you’re broke. Temporarily. Get up and fix it.”

Post-COVID-19, millions of Canadians are about to find out what it means to be broke through no fault of their own. It’s gonna be ugly, and painful. Credit cards will be declined; phones will be shut off; friendly banks will start bouncing payments and adding $40 NSF fees with gleeful abandon. There will be bankruptcies.

(Tip#1: immediately stop automatic payments from your bank account and make payments yourself only when the funds are there – or you will NEVER get out from under the NSF charges.)

Those who have never learned how to be poor risk confusing being broke with being worthless. Don’t make this mistake! Don’t confuse the consequences of the approaching economic pain with your own self-worth. The two things are mutually exclusive.

The true mark of your character over these months won’t be whether you endure financial hardship; it will be HOW you weather financial hardship. This will be especially true if you are a small business owner, self-employed, or working in a service deemed non-essential.

The night I ran into a pharmacy to buy lice shampoo so my kids could return to school and had my credit card declined, I wanted to crawl into a hole and die. (Tip #2: Cash is king. Hoard it.)

Thirty years ago when I was scrambling, there was very little talk about the horrific mental health impacts of financial hardship. Now we know it is a major cause of depression and even suicide.

The ones to suffer first and hardest will be the entrepreneurs and risk-takers that drive wealth creation in our society. These people aren’t worried about numbers on a balance sheet: they are terrified that both their dreams of success and their worth as a person are evaporating before their eyes.

My advice to them is: don’t confuse being broke with being worthless. Fear and stress will harm you more than penalties and interest.

Swallow your pride. Avoid credit cards. Avoid alcohol. Embrace overtime. Love your family.

Adjustments end; life does not.

As Major David Smith points out whenever I talk about rough times when they were younger: “Don’t worry, Ma. It all worked out.”

 

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Life hack: Coronavirus Survival Humour

We are staring down the barrel of another month of Coronavirus media coverage.

Is it even possible to endure the stress of the 24/7 news cycle, full of hysteria and doom?

To survive, do what I do: make the best satire sites part of your news feed. The Beaverton, Genesius Times and the Babylon Bee are probably better for your mental health than antidepressants or therapy, and cheaper, too.

Although I am a media junkie, I allow notifications from only one news site: Canada’s own, the Beaverton.

“Despite suspended NHL season, Leafs somehow still eliminated from playoffs” the Beaverton announced on March 13th.

“Toronto fans have taken the news in stride,” the Beaverton reports encouragingly. “‘Despite the virus shaking up our normal daily routines and activities, it’s comforting to see the warm familiarity of the Leafs again having no chance to win the Cup,’ said local attorney, Marla Danvers. ‘Makes you realize that things will be back to normal soon enough!’”

The Beaverton’s Canadian identity allows it to deliver sly, witty political satire non-Canadians would never write:

“Aides restrain Trudeau to prevent him resolving Wet’suwet’en blockade with ‘perfect costume,’” was a headline instantly appreciated  by every cringing Canadian.

“As Wet’suwet’en railway blockades across Canada continue with no end in sight, PMO aides have reportedly been forced to physically restrain Prime Minister Trudeau to stop him from delving into his costume chest in an attempt to aid negotiations,” the Beaverton deadpanned.

After the Beaverton, my personal favourite is the Genesius Times, which proclaims itself “the most Reliable Source of Fake News on the Planet.” (Disclosure: I publish stories in the Genesius Times under the pen name Doreen Tipton.)

It has an unapologetically raucous sense of humour; in tone and in spirit, it reminds me of the MAD magazine I loved as a kid.

“CDC: Current outbreak of stupidity may be worse than the outbreak of coronavirus.” Genesius Times announces in a headline with which many readers might agree.

“Due to the recent outbreak of stupidity and panic-purchasing by complete idiots, the nation is currently experiencing a shortage of toilet paper and common sense…we expect supplied to be replenished once these sheep-minded morons have all staved to death in their homes surrounded by toilet paper but without anything to eat.”

“Local biological men dominate International Women’s Day” blares another, above a photo of five “women” straight out of the Jonathan/Jessica Yaniv School of Burly Man’s Fashion.

“This International Women’s Day is so important because we’re finally realizing that women who are women are great, but even better than that are men who are women,” the perfectly politically incorrect text points out.

Photo from the Jessica Yaniv School of High Fashion.

After checking the Beaverton and Genesius Times, I make sure to read the Babylon Bee, which has more of an American political focus but still lots of laughs.

“Biden: ‘I Am The Only Candidate Who Can Beat Ronald Reagan’”

“Fresh off his afternoon nap, presidential candidate Joe Biden gave a fiery, high-energy speech in Houston today, claiming to be the only candidate who could beat incumbent Ronald Reagan.”

There you go: Pandemic Media Survival, 2020. Read two articles, and call me in the morning.

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RIP, Accessible Taxis and equitable service

Toronto didn’t pay for this taxi; Co-op Cabs didn’t pay for this taxi. THE OWNER/DRIVER paid for this taxi, and all the costs associated with it. They can’t afford to do it anymore.

 

Disabled passengers left feeling like ‘pawns’ in B.C. taxi vs. ride-hailing war

This article ran originally ran in the Toronto Sun July, 2017

Toronto still stings from the infamous 2010 “à la Cart” experiment, in which bureaucrats planned to bring 15 healthy ethnic food options to Nathan Phillips Square.

Staff with no restaurant experience brainstormed to develop a standardized cart and a list of foods which could be sold. Vendors were required to pay for permits, purchase $30,000 carts and have menu changes approved by Public Health. Several vendors were financially ruined and at least one declared bankruptcy.

Now, Toronto is financially devastating a group of people which is 45 times larger and has invested over $40,000,000 serving a much more important market: vulnerable customers who need Accessible taxis.

As Council’s need to meddle in business knows no bounds, it decreed in 2014 that henceforth, 100 per cent of new taxis would need to be accessible. This decision was not based on any research or needs analysis; it was purely a virtue-signalling exercise. The industry had already met the goal of making six per cent of cabs accessible, despite the fact that Accessible calls account for less than 1 per cent of requests received.

In 2014, Council voted to release 500 additional Toronto Taxi Licenses (TTL) plates. Purchasers were aware that they could ONLY put these plates on Accessible vans, which are customized with wheelchair ramps, cost almost double the price of a sedan taxi and guzzle a lot more gas.

Operators stepped up in good faith to purchase the licenses and the vans. People who need Accessible taxis often need lots of help in and out of buildings, cars, and appointments. This segment of the market is not as simple or lucrative as business or bar calls, but enthusiastic entrepreneurs, largely immigrants, stepped up to deliver services Toronto does not want to pay for itself.

Amazingly, 551 men were OK with this proposition. We should thank them.

Instead, in 2016, Toronto pulled the rug out from underneath them when it adopted Chapter 546, the new Vehicle for Hire by-law. Two years after it insisted upon 100 per cent Accessible taxis, Toronto decided it didn’t need ANY REQUIREMENT AT ALL for Accessible taxis. It cancelled the TTL program, and instead brought in a two-tiered system allowing Uber use its own fare structure without offering Accessible service.

Overnight, all the men who bought TTLs were stranded, competing with 30,000 additional vehicles which were not required to buy $65,000 vans.

They have been devastated, financially and emotionally.

Latif Gowher, who heads up a group of TTL owners asking the City to convert their TTLs to Standard plates, calculates that under the new Chapter 546 market reality, there is no way an owner can pay off the van in the seven years it is allowed to be on the road.

“We signed up when there was one law for taxis. Now there are two laws, and Uber is not required to comply,” he notes. “This is not what we signed up for.”

Several of those who purchased the plates have returned them to the City, or sold their vans and plates at a loss.

This is a serious problem for Accessible taxi owners, but even more so for the clientele that need them.

Instead of making continued progress toward meeting the 10-minute equitable service goal set by Spinal Cord Injury Ontario, Toronto is likely to move in the opposite direction as taxi operators have realized bureaucrats and politicians are nonchalantly using them as a political football.

Risky business, indeed.

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