Saturday, December 11, 2010

A 1952 Newfoundland Christmas

by Goldie Luckey Simmonds
My name is Goldie Maxine, I’m nine years old and I just LOVE Christmas.   My  brother and I have a contest going to see who can cut the most Santa’s from the Evening Telegram.  Yesterday I was extra fast and got them all cut out  before Dad was even finished with the paper……I can’t remember exactly what he said but his face was some red!  I won’t be doing that again.

I can’t wait for Santa to come and fill my stocking.I hear that on the mainland they use store bought red felt stockings.They sound nice, but we’ve always used Mom’s nylons. I’m afraid Santa will think I’m somebody else and I’ll get scotch mints by mistake………I hate scotch mints! I have been warned though, that if I don’t watch my mouth all I’ll be getting in my stocking is a lump of coal.  I have been on my best behavior for two whole weeks now so I’m pretty sure I’ll get my usual big orange, big red apple and Purity Peanut Butter candy.  If I’m real lucky I’ll also get some Christmas ribbon candy, mom says they rot your teeth but Santa knows that they’re my favorite.
Mom has already baked her Christmas cakes including my favorite, walnut cake, and won’t even let me have a peck of it until Christmas.  Nan has made her blueberry wine, for medicinal purposes only she says (whatever that means).  All I know is that mom gets weak in the knees after a few sips.  Nan won’t let us have any though, only Purity syrup and cake for my brother and I. THEN I have to sit at the kitchen table, eat my cake like a good girl and not go wandering around.
Just before Christmas, Mr. Snow delivers our Christmas tree on his horse & sled.  He lives way in past Mundy Pond and delivers coal for Morey’s on the Southside.  My dad is the weigh-master at Morey’s.  One time when we were really little, my brother and I walked all the way over to the Southside to visit him.  After my Dad got over the surprise of seeing us so far from home, he weighed me on his big scale.  Even though he knew I was a big girl and could find my way back home, we got a ride home in a coal truck.
Our Christmas tree is always the best one on Lime Street…..…’s decorated by Santa you know, we don’t see it until Christmas morning.  Of course it will be smothered with all the toys from Eaton’s Catalogue.  I made sure our Santa lists included both the page and catalogue numbers, just to make it easier for Santa.  We don’t need to worry about our letters getting lost in the mail though, we gave them to Mom and she sent them up the chimney.
We been haunting Bowring’s Christmas window and I can’t stop thinking about the Barbara Ann Scott doll that’s right in the middle of it. She’s all dressed in red and white and has real blades on her skates.  I’ve GOT to have her!   My brother is dreaming about the big Lionel train set that goes in and out all the toys in the window.  I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, but unless Mom lets us use the kitchen too I don’t know how he’s going to have room for it.
I can’t wait for the turkey with savory dressing.  I hear that on the mainland they make dressing out of sage, can you believe that?  Dressing wouldn’t be the same without Mt. Scio Farm’s savory.  My Mom always makes peas pudding in with the vegetables and of course there’s always salt beef for flavoring.  It’s some good!   This year we have red, green and gold Christmas crackers to snap at dinner, they came in the box from our aunt in Montreal.  I wonder what will be inside of my cracker?  Probably a crepe paper hat as usual.
On Christmas Eve Mom lets my little brother & I sleep in my bed, not that we plan on doing much sleeping.  This year I am going to stay awake and catch Santa eating the syrup and cake we’ve left for him.  Some of my friends don’t believe in Santa they say their Dad buys the gifts.  I know MY Dad isn’t Santa…. he’s always too busy painting the kitchen on Christmas Eve to deliver presents to the children all over the world.  My sister says it’s a wonder we don’t all choke in our beds from the paint fumes
On Christmas night we go for a walk around town with Dad to see all the Christmas lights.  We don’t have a car, but that’s ok, I love walking with my Dad.  I like the sound of the snow crunching under my feet and listening to the Christmas carols played by the bells of Wesley Church.
On Boxing Day, we exchange gifts with our friends and relatives.  Our favorite part is when Uncle Doug comes for a visit, he’s not married and lives by himself up on the Brow.   He always makes everybody laugh and even though my mom says it’s because he’s always three sheets to the wind, we love him. He has plenty of candy in his pocket for the kids and always manages to slip some money into our hands when nobody is looking.
Adults go ‘mummering’ at Christmas, which means they dress up in costumes, knock on doors and if they’re lucky get asked in for drinks and a bit of a celebration.  We don’t go ‘mummering’, but my friends and I knock on neighbor’s doors and say “Can I see your Christmas tree?”   After oohing and aaahing over the tree, no matter what state it’s in, we’ll probably get offered some syrup and cake or maybe some candy.  I’ve had some bad stomach aches after a day of looking at Christmas trees.
The saddest part of Christmas is Old Christmas Day when the tree MUST come down; it’s bad luck to leave it up after that date you know.  Mom takes the decorations off the tree and puts them away in a special place… a place  known only to her and Santa.
                           -Goldie Luckey 2010

Sunday, October 17, 2010

A Message by George Carlin

The paradox of our time in history is that we have taller buildings but shorter tempers, wider Freeways , but narrower viewpoints. We spend more, but have less, we buy more, but enjoy less. We have bigger houses and smaller families, more conveniences, but less time. We have more degrees but less sense, more knowledge, but less judgment, more experts, yet more problems, more medicine, but less wellness. We drink too much, smoke too much, spend too recklessly, laugh too little, drive too fast, get too angry, stay up too late, get up too tired, read too little, watch TV too much, and pray too seldom. We have multiplied our possessions, but reduced our values. We talk too much, love too seldom, and hate too often. We've learned how to make a living, but not a life. We've added years to life not life to years. We've been all the way to the moon and back, but have trouble crossing the street to meet a new neighbour. We conquered outer space but not inner space. We've done larger things, but not better things. We've cleaned up the air, but polluted the soul. We've conquered the atom, but not our prejudice. We write more, but learn less. We plan more, but accomplish less. We've learned to rush, but not to wait. We build more computers to hold more information, to produce more copies than ever, but we communicate less and less. These are the times of fast foods and slow digestion, big men and small character, steep profits and shallow relationships. These are the days of two incomes but more divorce, fancier houses, but broken homes. These are days of quick trips, disposable diapers, throwaway morality, one night stands, overweight bodies, and pills th at do everything from cheer, to quiet, to kill. It is a time when there is much in the showroom window and nothing in the stockroom. A time when technology can bring this letter to you, and a time when you can choose either to share this insight, or to just hit delete... Remember; spend some time with your loved ones, because they are not going to be around forever. Remember, say a kind word to someone who looks up to you in awe, because that little person soon will grow up and leave your side. Remember, to give a warm hug to the one next to you, because that is the only treasure you can give with your heart and it doesn't cost a cent. Remember, to say, 'I love you' to your partner and your loved ones, but most of all mean it. A kiss and an embrace will mend hurt when it comes from deep inside of you. Remember to hold hands and cherish the moment for someday that person will not be there again. Give time to love, give time to speak! And give time to share the precious thoughts in your mind.
"Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away."
George Carlin

Submitted by
Roderick Brentnall is a Freelance Writer from Newfoundland.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

The Four Sisters

Just before Duckworth Street turns into Signal Hill Road, four red-trimmed stone houses follow Temperance Street down towards the Harbour. The lonely dwellings have long been surrounded by rumours of strange passageways and haunted tunnels.Commonly referred to as the Four Sisters, the houses were built in the late 1800’s by Samuel Garrett, the stonemason and designer responsible for constructing nearby Cabot Tower. Built from the Tower’s surplus sandstone and slate, they were intended as wedding gifts for Garrett’s four daughters. But only two of the sisters married, leaving the other two houses to be rented until grandchildren could take up residence. In 1982, the last residing relative passed away, and the last of the Four Sisters left the Garrett family.As it turns out, the rumours aren’t so far off the mark. The houses were built with connecting interior doorways, so that the daughters could visit each other whatever the weather. (Sadly, these were later walled over.)

According to a 2005 article in The Independent, the houses indeed sit on top of a tunnel—thought to have carried fresh water all the way from Quidi Vidi Lake. And while not exactly haunted, reports of mysterious sewer gases emanating from the tunnel have played a part in keeping three of four houses vacant for over 20 years.

R.F. Brentnall

Monday, August 23, 2010

Between The Rock and a Hard Place

I's the b'y that built the boat, and I's the b'y that sailed her,
Thanks to the fed the outport's dead,
Is I the b'y that failed her?

The Destruction of Newfoundland's Outport Communities
On July 1, 1916, at Beaumont-Hamel, on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, no unit suffered greater losses than that of the Royal Newfoundland Regiment. Afterwards, the Divisional Commander said an odd thing: "It was a magnificent display of trained and disciplined valour, and its assault failed of success because dead men can advance no further." Of the eight hundred and one men to face that hell on earth, just 68 answered roll-call next morning. If anything, the remainder of the century would treat Newfoundlanders with less courtesy.
Proudly calling itself "Britain's Oldest Colony," Newfoundland's semi-autonomous status was ordained by King Henry VII's letters patent to John Cabot. The Cod-fishing grounds of the Grand Banks were a known and jealously-guarded secret among a few close-mouthed Basque, Irish, and Viking fishermen -- but the immediate effect of Cabot's 1497 voyage was to spread the word: In the New World there were fish to be had in such unimaginable profusion a man might almost walk upon them! In his 1620 "Brief Discourse of the Newfoundland," Englishman John Mason remarked, "Cods so thicke by the shoare that we heardlie haue beene able to row a Boate through them." It is impossible to overemphasize the historical significance of the Codfish. Called the "Faithful Friend" by the Portuguese, this boneless, skinless staple would not only sustain Catholic Europe over centuries of Lenten seasons and meatless Fridays, it alone kept far-flung colonies (including slave colonies) nourished and productive. Something never before seen in such abundance would reliably feed the world over the next 500 years.
For three hundred of those years, English, French, Basque, Spanish and Portuguese fishermen arrived on the Newfoundland shore for a share of seasonal plenty before heading back to winter in European ports. Since most of these sojourners were themselves, employees or indentured servants, Newfoundland's permanent population growth remained sluggish until the Napoleonic Wars at the close of the eighteenth century. The sudden inrush of southeastern English and southwestern Irish settlers introduced to Newfoundland cultural traditions that would endure as if preserved in a bell jar. Between 1804 and 1884, the island population increased ten-fold, to 200,000 souls, with immigration slowing to a mere trickle after 1840. A hundred years after that, with the highest birth rate in the country, the native-born comprised over 98 per cent of Newfoundland's 1940 population. Fishing had by then evolved into a family affair and a way of life wholly dependent on the annual shoreward migration of the Northern Cod. As James Yonge, Plymouth Surgeon, remarked in 1670: "The middle or end of June came the capling, a small sweet fish and the best bait, and when they come we have the best fishing, the cods pursuing them so eager that both have run ashore." By 1934, 1,292 small fishing settlements straggled along Newfoundland's rocky coast. Only 100 of these had populations over 500. So scattered and strung-out were the small outport settlements that the only outfitters prepared to set up shop in such commercially rugged climes were those who relied upon the autocratic "truck" system of credit. When, at some crucial juncture, a demand for payment was made, the usual solution was to "pay" with precious finished fish -- allowing unscrupulous merchants to "buy low and sell high" at every turn. Each year the merchants raced to dump fish in the market as early as possible, each hoping to get the kind of prices that prevailed before the dumping began. Such ruinous competition inevitably led to gluts of poorly cured fish. These gluts drove down prices, but the merchants continued to profit; controlling as they did the prices of supplies they bartered for the fish. It was a system that kept the market depressed and fishing families and real money-in-hand relative strangers for centuries. According to a 1760 English description, the Newfoundland merchants were "infamously intent on Trade, proud of their quick raised fortune, unsociable amongst themselves and envious of any success that strangers who settle among them meet with. Remember, we are not in Newfoundland to buy fish but to sell goods." - Newman and Company, 1850

Under such conditions, the Depression of the 1930s would hit Newfoundland folk especially hard, and for the first time, one-in-six were "away" looking for work. Among those back home, there was a growing sense that the whole world was beginning to pass them by -- with some justification. Given the eccentric outport settlement patterns, electric, telephone, water and sewage services were virtually unattainable. A 1934 health survey found that there was just one hospital bed for every 644 Newfoundlanders -- a poor showing against the then-American rate of one bed per 130 persons. With the establishment of WWII bases and the arrival of tens of thousands of American and Canadian servicemen, the long years of privation came to an end, but as always, the price was unjustifiably high: Newfoundland contributed more than its fair share of War Brides. By 1949, there were 1,187 (mostly mission) schoolhouses in Newfoundland -- of which, 778 were single-room affairs. While much of this poverty could be laid at the feet of an archaic and inefficient economy, there's little doubt that Newfoundland was ready for big changes. What it got was Joey Smallwood. Socialist, journalist, union organizer, publisher, and pig farmer, Smallwood was the best-known personality in Newfoundland, broadcasting nightly on radio as "The Barrelman". He would single-handedly dominate provincial politics over the critical years 1949 to 1972. In 1950, a visiting British wag observed how he towered above his colleagues: "Mr. Smallwood obviously enjoys his position as the head of a one-man government." Desperate to bring Newfoundland into the Canadian fold, he played shamelessly on the yearnings and ambitions of the outport fishermen. Smallwood's confederation movement was generously, if anonymously, underwritten by the federal Liberal Party and, having once achieved the barest victory in the confederation referendum, his hastily-organised provincial Liberal Party urged voters to "let Joe finish the job!" There were, in fact, two votes: in the first referendum, a return to responsible government won, but as there had been three options (independence, Canada, or Britain) a run-off referendum was arranged to decide between independence and confederation with Canada. Hasty infusions of money meant that before the campaign was out, Smallwood and his confederate forces had spent almost five times as much as the combined opposition. Smallwood found his strongest support among the fishing folk of the outport communities, and -- by a stroke of incredible good fortune or something else -- electoral boundaries, redrawn after 1949, gave a preponderance of seats to those very communities! In the time-honoured way of Canadian politicians, this "man of the people" would repay voter loyalty with betrayal and the utter destruction of their way of life.Note fish drying in foreground
Don't vote confederation,
Now that's my prayer to you,
We own the house we live in,
Likewise our schooner too;
But if you vote Joe Smallwood,
And his line of French patois
You'll always be paying taxes
To the man up in Ottawa.
- a fisher boy's plea to his mother
"The Hero of '48"

While he did, indeed, deliver a massive programme of public works, infrastructure upgrading, unemployment insurance for fishermen and a host of other social welfare state goodies, in true Newfoundland fashion, these came at incalculable cost. There were other, scandalous endeavours, like the Stephenville linerboard mill, the Come By Chance oil refinery, and the Rothschild-backed Brinco scheme that, even in Canada, might well have toppled a less messianic politician. Worse, for the first time, the fishery was being professionally "managed," by far-distant Ottawa bean-counters, more attuned to flow-charts than the joyous, primordial ebb and flow of the Cod themselves. The length of the Cod fishing season was determined, not by anything so prosaic as the life-cycle of the Cod, but by requisite employable earnings weeks to qualify for pogey. In due course, politically correct mainland sentiments would condemn both the logging and sealing industries, and, shamed out of their more traditional sources of income supplementation, hard-pressed fishermen only grew ever more dependent on a ruinous cycle of sole reliance on the already hard-pressed Cod. Unsurprisingly, the Hibernia Oil Fields were likewise deemed a federal, not provincial, resource. The island's loss of autonomy would by no means deliver those elusive economic securities: on the contrary, as poverty and unemployment mounted, out-migration became a permanent feature of post-confederation Newfoundland.
Meanwhile, the fact that Atlantic Cod stocks were in trouble was, by unanimous consent, simply ignored. In the 1870s, the fishery accounted for over 95 per cent of Newfoundland's annual exports; by 1920, seventy-one per cent; by 1930, thirty-seven per cent. Nor had Newfoundland developed any alternate economic base over those years -- the fish stocks were simply being systematically depleted by increasingly sophisticated foreign fishing fleets and increasingly desperate domestic fishermen. It was a problem with a long pedigree. Over the furious protestations of Sir John A. Macdonald, Britain and the US concluded the convivial Treaty of Washington in 1871. Under this instrument, Americans were free to fish Canadian waters for twelves years, and Britain walked away with a cool $5,500,000 weighing down its pockets. Since Newfoundland was technically a British -- not Canadian -- possession there was little Macdonald could do, other than mourn: "Here go the fisheries ... we gave them away." Britain would assuage Macdonald by extending a loan to help get his CPR up and running. That didn't help the Cod. As usual, the costs to Newfoundland were incalculable. There was an enforced moratorium on the fishery during WWII, and the tremendous recovery of stocks indicated that the resource badly needed a break it was just not going to get. In 1949, Joey Smallwood declared: "The fisheries are NOT finished. Anyone who says they are, is wrong." Thus, the typical Northern Cod catch, 150,000 tonnes in the 1940s, peaked out in 1968 at 810,000 tonnes. From this killing spike it was all downhill until July 1992, when the Cod Fishery closed.
But Cod don't vote. On April 17, a scant 10 days before the 1997 federal election call, Liberal Fisheries Minister Fred Mifflin announced that 6,000 tonnes of Cod might now be taken from the northern Gulf of St. Lawrence and off the west coast of Newfoundland, and 10,000 tonnes from the southern Newfoundland coast! And Atlantic voters fell in line. Such games -- with Cod and fishermen serving as pawns -- have prompted scientists to call for "a complete separation of science and government" (an odd spin on science as secular religion). One scientist said: "Irrespective of whether or not cod should be fished, this process stinks." The September, 1999 Marshall decision by the Supreme Court has only exacerbated fishy politics, putting large numbers of native fishermen on the water, in season and out. In PEI, the Department of Fisheries is actually buying back non-native licences to present to native band councils. The current Fisheries Minister, Herb Dhaliwal, a Sikh, brings to the embattled fisheries department a wealth of experience -- in the taxi industry. But worse, after fifty years of stupendously poor management, the Canadian fishery is not even about fish anymore -- it's about native land claims. It might have all been so different had Canada chased off foreign interlopers in timely fashion and resisted the urge to underwrite our own giant masticating factory trawlers, but managing the world's biggest Cod fishery was a complex and subtle affair. As always in Canada, it is meddling and social engineering that puts a spring in the bureaucratic step. In the end it would not be the foreign fishing fleets that were "dealt with," but local fishermen.
Joey Smallwood swore he would "drag Newfoundlanders kicking and screaming into the twentieth century." And, in a bitterly ironic way, that's just what he did. The last Father of Confederation's solution? In a word -- resettlement.
In 1949, a bare half of all Newfoundlanders enjoyed electrical services. As far back as 1933, the Amulree Commission noted that Newfoundland, "has always been, first, and foremost, a fishing country; the settlements are, therefore, situated in places from which fishing could most easily be conducted. The original settlers, in making their homes, paid little attention to what they considered relatively unimportant factors; such as, ... the lack of amenities." Well, if it was inconvenient to bring utilities to the outport residents, why not bring outport residents to the utilities? Better yet, why not put modernized filleting, freezing and cold-storage fish-processing industries at the hub and heart of these progressive centralized "growth centres"? After all, despite the many warning signs, the fish would always be there, wouldn't they? Under federal and provincial auspices, three major resettlement programmes took place between 1953 and 1975.
Sorting scallops, 1965 The first most outport people heard about the scheme was when Smallwood made a public announcement that hundreds of small communities and thousands of people could expect to be affected by "centralization". Stalinist implications aside, it's almost impossible to imagine the havoc such an announcement would wreak on small, insular communities: all the old enmities would be revived as rumours flew that this one or that had made application for relocation. New enmities would percolate as the most ambitious prevailed upon his neighbours to sign up. Adult children and their parents might well find themselves on different sides of the dispute, thanks to differing compensation schemes. Additional pressures were brought to bear once it was known that a certain proportion of the community had to agree to move or all would "lose out". After all, the province had said it could not guarantee medical, educational, or utility services to hold-outs. Hadn't Smallwood said he was discontinuing coastal ferry, postal, and freight services? There were rumours too, that government agents would be sent out to see to it that there was nothing left to return to. No one knew whether or not his particular community was on the block, but underlying it all was the heartbreaking prospect of leaving your centuries-old home place -- the font of your earliest memories, -- and abandoning the graves of your forefathers to the whistling winds.
It is a mark of just how impoverished the outport communities were to think that between 1953 and 1965 alone, 110 outport settlements vanished utterly, the residents given the pitiful sum of just $150 from welfare services to pull up stakes. Clearances in all but name, sudden demand drove up housing prices in the new "growth centres" and one study estimated it would take the displaced a minimum of 20 years to replace all that had been left behind. The sight of a house being towed across the bay was commonplace throughout the resettlement years. No one seemed unduly concerned that poorly educated fishermen might not be able to compete in urban areas where unemployment rates already averaged 20 per cent -- or that fishing grounds around settled areas were reserved for long-time residents, not penurious newcomers. Even the much-loathed merchants lost out: not only did their customers vanish overnight, there was no compensation plan for shops, stores, wharves or sheds. Under a final scheme, the householder's pay-off reached a magnanimous $1,000 (plus $200 per household member), but under this disposition, government officials would dictate where the newly-homeless would be permitted to settle. In other words, the household would only receive assistance if and when they agreed to move to a region approved by a committee of federal and provincial bureaucrats. Between 1965 and 1972, 3,876 households and 19,197 persons were "evacuated". More and more, federal health dollars were dedicated to addressing "lifestyle problems" associated with the relocations.
Towing a house, Bonavista Bay, 1961 "They cheat us and rob us and continue to say, that our only salvation is leaving the Bay." - Joe Byrne
Predictably, no good came of the massive uprooting of the outport people. The centralized fish processing industry would die with the Cod. Subsequent polling found that in some cases, no single member of a dispersed community was willing to admit that he or she had ever wanted to move. Those who went willingly felt they had been seduced with false promises, while the remainder continued to feel they had been pressured and driven out. Some Canadians now regard Newfoundland as a fiscal sinkhole of doomed regional development schemes -- but honestly -- is that attributable to some previously unseen innate Newfie sloth and profligacy, or the congenital genius of the federal-provincial decision-making mob? For too many, resettlement was just a first step on the way to leaving Newfoundland for good. Faithful to some few traditions at least, the latest (2000) election had the Liberal Party talking about a limited Cod fishery in the near future, despite the fact that Cod stocks are showing absolutely no sign of recovery. And Atlantic voters fell in line. Through it all, Newfoundlanders endure with characteristic good grace, good humour, and, as always, ever more out-migrations. From the highest in the land, Newfoundland's birthrate today is even lower than that of its old rival, Quebec (the other lowest birth rate in the country).
Newfoundland Child with Cod For some peculiar reason known best to themselves, federal politicians prefer to reserve their gushing sympathy and generous funding for the ubiquitous Third World refugee. As we're told, "shattered lives" and "displaced people" are defined as -- and ONLY as -- UN Convention refugees. Too many well-meaning Canadians would seem to agree, viewing the Third World refugee as an inherently noble, suffering protagonist. In contrast, the ill-used Newfie, after generations of battling the vicissitudes of the Atlantic, is relegated to the butt of jokes as the eternal simpleton and clod. Outside Newfoundland, the deportation of the Acadians and the internment of the Japanese excites much disapproval, but in terms of forced population movements, these pale beside the destruction of the outport communities. The same thing was done to traditional Eskimo settlements, and with the same result: traditional life-styles do not survive population centralization.
O hear us when we cry to
Thee For those in peril on the sea Just why the Liberal Party wants all Canadians to feel ashamed about the treatment of all minority groups -- past and present -- is mysterious enough. Why we must at the same time, remain indifferent to the shabby treatment of one of our oldest distinct resident groups is a certifiable imponderable. For some perverse reason, we just don't care that these programmes eliminated 300 traditional Newfoundland communities, (about a quarter of the whole). So what if resettlement finally affected 30,00 to 40,000 Canadians? So what if more than 40,000 Atlantic Canadians lost their livelihood when the Cod moratorium was imposed? Perhaps Atlantic and B.C. fishermen are too busy trying to find work elsewhere to ask Ottawa for their very own "family reunification" plan. What matter if Newfoundlanders were displaced and remain uniquely disadvantaged by the bargain they made with "The Canadian Wolf"? And if Ottawa mismanaged the Cod out of existence in fewer than 50 years, who really cares? Certainly not the UN: did they censure Canada, as when illegal Chinese boatpeople were "forced" to wear prison garb of supposedly ill-omened colour? It's easier to import votes than to restock desertified oceans. The shameful lesson of the demolition of the outports is not much taught outside of Newfoundland -- for once the resettlement programme had come under a cloud, it was allowed to die in peaceable disgrace and no official statistics have ever been published.
Watch in particular the attractive bait which
will be held out to lure our country into the Canadian mousetrap
    Her face turns to Britain, her back to the Gulf.
    Come near at peril Canadian wolf.
    - Anti Confederate Toast
Shouldn't we all have felt some protective sense of kinship toward places like: Bareneed, Famish Gut, Here and Now, Empty Basket, Calves Nose, Cow Head, Topsail Head, Cape Onion, Horse Chops, Little Cat Arm, St. Jones Within, Nancy Oh, Come-by-Chance, Run-by-guess, Heart's Desire, Heart's Content, Heart's Delight, and Little Heart's Ease?
If you read the sundering of Newfoundland as a metaphor (or blueprint) for the ecological and cultural destruction of Canada as a whole, it only proves that -- when we really apply ourselves -- we can overcome almost any natural advantage.
Deemed to be one of the three best movies of all time, How Green was My Valley laments the passing of another traditional way of life -- that of a Welsh mining family. It was not the sea that provided for their wants -- but that passing was at least noted. Like the peal of church bells from the bottom of a lake -- listen: "I can close my eyes on my Valley as it is today -- and it is gone -- and I see it as it was when I was a boy. Green it was, and possessed of the plenty of the earth ..."

            A wet sheet and a flowing sea,
            A wind that follows fast
            And fills the white and rustling sail
            And bends the gallant mast.
          • - Allan Cunningham(1784-1842)

Sunday, August 22, 2010

History of American Scams

The lords of Enron cooked their books. They overstated their profits by hiding a billion dollars in losses, thus driving up the price of their stock. Their accountants winked at the subterfuge, then shredded the documents. Before it all came crashing down in the largest bankruptcy in history, the executives got rich while their employees and stockholders got screwed.

It's an outrage! It's a scandal! And it is, of course, a time-honored American tradition.

America has a grand and glorious history of stock chicanery. In the early days of our history, stock market skulduggery was a perfectly respectable way to achieve wealth, although not quite as respectable as slave trading or stealing land from the Indians.

Much of America's awesome industrial colossus was built o­n financial scams. The 19th-century railroad barons considered stock fraud an indispensable business tool, as much a part of their working lives as bribing legislators or hiring Pinkertons to beat the bejesus out of union organizers.

Stock scamming is the kind of crime that attracts people who are well-bred, well-dressed, well-mannered. Financial crooks tend to be respectable, patriotic folks who demonstrate their patriotism by giving large sums of money to America's hardworking politicians, asking nothing in return except perhaps the teensy tiniest little amendment to the tax code.

Some of the greatest names in American history made their fortunes through shameless chicanery—Vanderbilt, Morgan, Rockefeller, Stanford, Gould, Kennedy. But you don't have to be a blue blood to succeed at financial swindling. America is the land of opportunity, a place where a poor Italian immigrant named Charles Ponzi could rise from rags to riches by inventing a scam so beautiful that it still bears his name.

"Really, there is no limit to the cons and swindles that have been seen over the years," says former labor secretary Robert Reich, a connoisseur of big-money scams. "The human mind is capable of inventing very innovative products and services—and also extraordinarily innovative swindles."

The Enron scandal brings back fond memories of the great American scams of yore. Here is a rogue's gallery of America's financial crooks, a small sampling of the scalawags, schemers and scoundrels who have bilked and swindled Americans over the centuries:

Wall Street's First Scandal

In the 1790s, when stocks were sold outdoors o­n Wall Street, speculator William Duer nearly destroyed the fledgling market.

British-born, Eton-educated, a former member of the Continental Congress and a New York judge, Duer had made his fortune selling supplies to George Washington's army. After the Revolution, Alexander Hamilton appointed him assistant secretary of the treasury, but Duer quit the job when he learned that federal law prohibited Treasury officials from speculating in federal securities.

Free of this inconvenient rule, Duer promptly began using his inside knowledge of the Treasury Department to speculate in bank stocks, using large sums of money borrowed from banks and his rich friends. Meanwhile, an audit of Duer's books at the Treasury Department found $238,000 missing. Hamilton ordered the Treasury to sue Duer for the money.

That caused Duer's financial empire to collapse, which bankrupted many of his creditors, bankers and brokers, which in turn caused a financial panic o­n Wall Street. While Duer went to debtors' prison, 24 Wall Street brokers met under a buttonwood tree in 1792 to draw up the first rules to regulate trading.

" 'Tis time," Hamilton wrote, "there should be a separation between honest Men & knaves, between respectable Stockbrokers . . . and mere unprincipled gamblers."

"Finding that line of separation," wrote John Steele Gordon in "The Great Game," a history of Wall Street, "has occupied the finest minds of Wall Street and the government ever since, with mixed results at best."

Robber Barons

The Civil War was quite unpleasant for many Americans but it was great for Wall Street.

Many of the era's foremost robber barons—J.P. Morgan, John D. Rockefeller, Andrew Carnegie, Jay Gould—dodged the draft by paying $300 to hire a substitute. This modest investment left them free to spend the war years getting rich instead of getting shot. Many o­n Wall Street, including Morgan, made a fortune speculating in gold, the price of which rose against the dollar with each defeat of the Union Army. Appalled, President Lincoln announced that he hoped every gold speculator "had his devilish head shot off."

Meanwhile, Morgan was financing a deal to buy 5,000 rifles from an Union Army arsenal in New York for $3.50 apiece, then sell them to the Union Army in Virginia for $22 each. The rifles were defective—causing soldiers to shoot their thumbs off—but a judge ruled the deal legal. Morgan earned a 25 percent commission, plus interest.

But those profits were peanuts compared with the money made in the railroad business after the war.

In the 1860s, the federal government subsidized the building of a transcontinental railroad by granting millions of acres of free land to two railroad companies, the Union Pacific and the Southern Pacific. Eager to line their pockets at the expense of their stockholders, Union Pacific management formed a dummy construction company with an impressive-sounding French name, Credit Mobilier, and hired Rep. Oakes Ames as president. Credit Mobilier charged Union Pacific about $100 million to build the railroad—nearly twice what the job actually cost. The rest of the money went to Credit Mobilier's stockholders, a group that included many of Ames's congressional cronies and Vice President Schuyler Colfax, who had been bribed with cheap stock to look the other way.

There were congressional hearings and angry editorials and a federal lawsuit, but ultimately the scammers of Credit Mobilier went free, considerably richer for their very modest labors.

Fleecing the Commodore

The most colorful stock swindle in American history came in 1868, when Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt, proprietor of the New York Central Railroad, attempted to take over the rival Erie Railroad, which was controlled by three of the most crooked rascals ever to sell stock—Daniel Drew, Jay Gould and Jim Fisk.

Vanderbilt, o­ne of America's richest men, instructed his brokers to buy every Erie share they could find. Drew, who was Erie's treasurer, responded by printing up more Erie shares—tens of thousands more. Peeved, Vanderbilt prevailed upon a judge he had o­n his payroll to issue an injunction forbidding Erie to issue any more stock. Drew responded by getting a judge who was o­n his payroll to order Erie to keep printing stock.

"If this printing press don't break down," said the flamboyant Fisk, "I'll be damned if I don't give the old hog all he wants of Erie."

When Vanderbilt's judge issued a warrant for the arrest of Drew, Fisk and Gould, the trio fled across the Hudson River to New Jersey with $7 million of Vanderbilt's money. They took up residence in a Jersey City hotel and hired cops armed with cannons to protect them from arrest.

Next, the battle shifted to the legislatures of New York and New Jersey, where agents for each side generously spread around bribe money, hoping for favorable legislation. Gould himself appeared in Albany, carrying a trunk that was, the New York Herald reported, "stuffed with thousand-dollar bills which are to be used for some mysterious purpose in connection with legislation."

Ultimately, Vanderbilt failed to take over the Erie. But he wasn't hurt too badly: He managed to unload his 100,000 Erie shares in London. The real losers in the affair were Erie's other stockholders, who saw the value of their shares diluted by nearly half.

Ponzi's Scheme

Charles Ponzi came to America around the turn of the 20th century, a poor Italian lad armed with nothing but a dream and a devious mind.

He started out with small swindles that didn't always pay off—he was jailed in Atlanta and Montreal—but he refused to give up his dream.

In Boston in 1919, Ponzi founded the presciently named Securities and Exchange Co. and guaranteed investors a 50 percent profit in 45 days. And he kept that promise—for a while. The first investors were paid with money obtained from later investors. Thrilled, they touted Ponzi's magic to their friends. By the summer of 1920, Ponzi was taking in $250,000 a day—so much cash that he was stashing it in desk drawers, file cabinets, even wastepaper baskets.

He bought hundreds of suits, a dozen gold-handled canes, a limousine and a 20-room mansion in the tony Boston suburb of Lexington. He should have taken the money and run. He couldn't keep paying early investors with the money from later investors, particularly since he wasn't actually investing the money. The Boston Post unmasked his scam and he spent a decade in jail.

On his way to prison, a reporter asked him to explain his actions, saying that the public deserved an explanation.

"The public deserves exactly what it gets," Ponzi replied. "No more, no less."

Master of Hounds

After the stock market crashed in 1929, Congress investigated Wall Street, exposing countless instances of chicanery, skulduggery and plain old fraud. Liberals called for the creation of a federal agency—the Securities and Exchange Commission—to regulate and police the market.

Richard Whitney, president of the New York Stock Exchange, disagreed. Whitney told Congress that the stock exchange could police itself without any interference from meddlesome bureaucrats.

Alas, Whitney proved to be an imperfect spokesman for his message. Despite his impressive Establishment credentials—Groton, Harvard, master of hounds at the prestigious Essex fox hunt—Whitney was as crooked as a pretzel. He formed a company to produce an apple liquor called Jersey Lightning but the hooch didn't sell and the company's stock tanked. So Whitney started stealing. First he stole $150,200 worth of bonds belonging to the New York Yacht Club. Then he stole $667,000 from the Stock Exchange Gratuity Fund, which had been set up to aid the widows and orphans of brokers.

Caught by stock exchange officials in 1937, Whitney demanded that they cover up his crimes. "After all, I'm Richard Whitney," he said. "I mean the stock market to millions of people."

When he was sentenced to five to 10 years in Sing Sing, cynics chortled as they recalled the title of his much-quoted speech to the Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce: "Business Honesty."

Slippery as Oil

At first, Anthony "Tino" De Angelis was known as "the salad oil king." Later, he became known as "the great salad oil swindler."

A former Bronx butcher, De Angelis was the president of Allied Crude Vegetable Oil, a major player in the commodities markets of the 1950s and '60s. Allied borrowed millions of dollars to speculate in vegetable oil futures. The loans were secured by warehouse receipts for millions of pounds of salad oil that Allied stored in huge petroleum tanks in Bayonne, N.J.

But the tanks were not full of salad oil. They were full of water, with just enough oil floating o­n top to fool the inspectors. De Angelis had conned some of America's biggest banks and investment firms out of $175 million. When the scandal broke in 1963, it nearly bankrupted two large brokerage houses.

De Angelis spent seven years in federal prison—years he later described as among the best of his life. "There you had peace. It was tranquil," he said. "You come outside and try to make a living and all the big guys try to shoot you down."

Phony, Phony, Phony

"It was like fixing a horse race," recalled o­ne of the masterminds of the Equity Funding swindle of the 1960s and '70s. "We were always rigged to win."

Equity Funding sold an investment package that was a combination of mutual funds and life insurance. Customers bought a mutual fund whose dividends paid the premiums o­n the insurance policy. Equity then sold the insurance policies to reinsurance companies. This was profitable but not profitable enough for Equity's officials. They decided they could make more money by creating fake insurance policies, selling them to the reinsurance companies and pocketing the money.

This fraud worked well for nearly a decade. Equity officials made millions and Equity's stock rose from $6 to $90. But in 1973, says Charles R. Geisst, author of "Wall Street: A History," the scam collapsed when an Equity employee, dissatisfied with the size of his Christmas bonus, blew the whistle. After that, Equity went bankrupt, investors lost $300 million and a dozen Equity honchos went to prison.

The Wall Street Journal explained the scam to its readers in o­ne of the most delightfully surreal paragraphs ever to grace its august pages:

"The customers didn't exist. Their mutual fund shares didn't exist. The funded loans didn't exist. The phony customers' phony pledges of their phony fund shares to buy phony insurance ultimately became numbers o­n a computer tape, which then printed out phony assets for Equity Funding Corp.'s phony books."

Greed Is Good

"Greed is all right, by the way—I want you to know that," Ivan Boesky told an audience of business students in 1985. "I think greed is healthy. You can be greedy and still feel good about yourself."

Boesky lived those words. He made hundreds of millions of dollars trading in stocks and bonds but he always wanted more. In an interview, he admitted that he fantasized about climbing atop a huge pile of silver dollars: "Imagine—wouldn't that be an aphrodisiac experience?"

Seeking ever more wealth, Boesky paid Dennis Levine, an investment banker with Drexel Burnham Lambert, millions of dollars for inside information o­n corporate takeover bids. Boesky then used the information to speculate in the companies' stocks, making tens of millions more. It was insider trading at its most lucrative.

When Levine was caught by the SEC, he ratted o­n Boesky. When Boesky was caught, he ratted o­n several other Wall Street wheeler-dealers—including Michael Milken, Drexel's legendary "junk bond king." Boesky even lured Milken to a hotel room, where they discussed their illicit deals in a conversation recorded using a microphone hidden in Boesky's clothes.

When the smoke cleared, Boesky served about 18 months in prison and paid a $100 million fine. Milken did three years and paid $200 million. Drexel went bankrupt.

Boesky's story inspired the 1987 movie "Wall Street," with Michael Douglas playing a reptilian character named Gordon Gekko—who recited, nearly word for word, Boesky's now-legendary "greed is good" speech.

Wall Street's Next Scandal

The list of financial scandals goes o­n and o­n: Ivar "The Match King" Kreuger, Bernie Cornfeld, Robert "Fugitive Financier" Vesco, the savings and loan crooks of the '80s. Now, as congressional committees, investigative reporters and the SEC struggle to unravel the Enron scandal, concerned Americans might be forgiven for wondering:

Given the history of wheeling, dealing, scheming and scamming in the world of high finance, can we expect to see more of these scandals in the future?

"It's never going to change," says Gordon, the Wall Street historian. "As long as there's a great deal of money to be made o­n Wall Street, there will always be people of dubious morals coming up with new ways to fleece the sheep. Welcome to capitalism."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

War Veteran Honoured

Lieutenant-governor unveils plaque for Gambo PoW

Lt.-Gov. John Crosbie was in Gambo last Sunday to help unveil a plaque honouring the life of a Second World War veteran who spent three years overseas as a prisoner of war. Matthew Thomas Brown, 87, died at his home in Gambo on Jan. 4. Known as Uncle Matt within the community, he was predeceased by his wife Mabel Brown, who passed away three years ago.
“It is an honour to be asked to honour such a man as Matthew Brown, with such a distinguished record he had serving in World War II,” said the lieutenant-governor following the unveiling of the plaque during a ceremony held at the Village Green. In addition to the plaque, a tree has also been planted in Mr. Brown’s honour.
The event was held as a part of the annual Smallwood Days celebration.“Anybody who has been to Beaumont Hamel knows what all our veterans of World War I and II suffered,” said Lt.-Gov. Crosbie.
At the age of 17, Mr. Brown left Gambo and his forestry work for the United Kingdom to train with the British Royal Navy in England and Scotland as part of the Second World War effort. He was deployed to serve on the HMS Bedouin, a Tribal-class destroyer. It served in the 1940 Battle of Narvik off the Norwegian coastline.
The ship, on its way to Malta, was sunk by a pair of Italian torpedo bombers on June 15, 1942, leaving 28 dead.
After nine hours in the water, Mr. Brown was one of 213 men taken as a prisoner of war by the Italian Navy, the beginning of what became a three-year ordeal for the young man.
He was brought to Italy, and once British forces gained control of the country, he was transported to Poland, where he took on forced labour duties in a coal mine for 19 months.
On Dec. 26, 1944, Mr. Brown began what was called a ‘death march’ through Germany, Czechoslovakia, and Austria. The forced winter march went on for 1,600 miles. He obtained his freedom on May 1, 1945.
Nelson Granter, a member of Branch #41 Royal Canadian Legion in Eastport, said it was hard not to know Mr. Brown through his continued presence in the community, particularly at events recognizing past and present war efforts.
“He has been a tribute to the Royal Canadian Legion, and he has constantly encouraged and pushed for remembrance.”

Hardships at home

Mr. Granter put into perspective how Mr. Brown’s experience in Europe affected himself and those at home. Initial letters sent home said he was missing, with no information concluding whether Mr. Brown was dead or alive.
“We seldom think of the home front. When Matthew Brown and his good buddy, Sylvester Hiscock, sailed away to war, they left people at home – people who were concerned and worried.”
Mr. Granter read a letter sent from the Royal Naval Barracks in Chatham, England shortly after the events on the HMS Bedouin.
“Dear Madame. I deeply regret having to inform you that your son, Matthew Thomas Brown, ordinary seaman, has been reported as missing while on war service. There is insufficient evidence at the present time to show whether your son may be alive or not.”
A letter dated July 12, 1942 offered a more encouraging story, as read by Mr. Granter.
“Dear Madame. With reference to my letter of the first of July, official information has now been received that your son is a prisoner of war in Italy.”
Communications were eventually received from Mr. Brown, but were heavily censored to paint a more pleasant picture of what took place during his stint as a prisoner of war.
“In the postcards, everything sounded so rosy. They said, ‘I am doing great. Everything is good. I’m well cared for.’ But that was a false-front, because from prisoner of war camp, postcards would be censored.”
In fact, Mr. Granter said Mr. Brown spent 13-hour work days cold and hungry. The hunger reduced him to eating lice, and Mr. Granter said Mr. Brown used to jokingly refer to the lice as his best friend, as it was the only item a prisoner had plenty of.
In the years since the war, Mr. Brown was known for appearing at Remembrance Day ceremonies, and at the most recent one prior to his death, he spoke to students at Smallwood Academy in Gambo.
“He presented his original navy (beret) to the school. Uncle Matt didn’t normally say much, but that day ... it was just awesome,” said Mr. Granter. “There was absolute silence, and I think even the youngest children knew they were listening to someone significant. “Unfortunately, two months later we lost Uncle Matt, but Uncle Matt’s memory will live forever in Gambo.”

Published on August 5th, 2010 by  "The Gander Beacon"
Submitted by Roderick Brentnall

Saturday, July 31, 2010

David French: A Newfoundland Gem

David French is the best known of a group of playwrights associated with the Tarragon Theatre, one of four "alternative" theaters which revitalized Toronto drama in the early 1970s. While not a technical innovator, French successfully combines convincing Canadian situations with well-made, realistic conventions accessible to a broad audience. The enormous success of his first stage play, Leaving Home, did much to convince a popular audience that Canadian drama could be worthwhile. The working relationship between French and Bill Glassco, artistic director of the Tarragon, has had profound effects on Canadian theater and script development. While playwright/director teams and symbiotic relationships between writers and theater companies are common in countries where theater is well established, such collaborations were quite rare in Canada until French and Glassco demonstrated their worth.
Born in Coley's Point, Newfoundland, to Edgar Garfield and Edith Benson French, the playwright moved to Toronto with his family at the age of seven, experiencing himself the tension between regional and urban values that later became central in two of his plays. In his mid teens, French developed an ambition to write; several of his early short stories appeared in youth magazines, and one was included in an anthology of work by young writers. He began his theatrical career as an actor, training with Al Saxe and Roy Lawler in Toronto and, briefly, at the Pasadena Playhouse in California. French performed in several radio plays produced by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation from 1960 to 1965. In 1962 he wrote his first television play, and during the following ten years he completed many short plays for radio and television; most have been broadcast by the CBC.

What started as a television play became French's first full-length play for the stage. Set in Toronto in the 1950s, Leaving Home explores father-son conflict in a working-class family, intensifying the conflict by contrasting Jacob Mercer's Newfoundland speech and values with those of his two sons, who have been raised in the city. All the characters "leave home," one son, Billy, to marry a girl pregnant by him, and his brother, Ben, to escape their father's oppressive hand. Jacob also "leaves home" as the conflict with Ben forces him to abandon the spiritual values of the Newfoundland fishing village he left behind physically several years previously. While Jacob is proud of Ben's academic achievements, he cannot refrain from mocking Ben's inability to meet the fishing village's measure of a man; when Ben moves on, he leaves Jacob no one to whom he can pass his values.

Leaving Home's premiere (Tarragon Theatre, 16 May 1972) was the beginning of the working relationship between French and Glassco's company: French found the theatrical support he needed, and the Tarragon achieved a commercial success to bolster its shaky first season. The play immediately struck a responsive chord with the popular audience; in the season following its premiere, Leaving Home was produced by thirty-five theaters across Canada, consolidating the reputations of both French and the Tarragon.

French's next play, Of the Fields, Lately (first produced at the Tarragon Theatre, 29 September 1973 and later by The Avion Players of Gander Newfoundland as their 18th entry into The Newfoundland Drama Festival) , is a sequel. Several years after the events depicted in Leaving Home, Ben Mercer (Roderick Brentnall) returns for the funeral of one of his aunts and again attempts to communicate with his father, a few weeks, as it transpires, before Jacob's (Ross Goldsworthy) own death. Father-son conflict is sharpened by the imminence of death. Also in the stage production were veteran James Lewis playing Wiff Roach.Although only her second appearance on a Canadian stage Ruth Simms Ferguson playing the role of Mary Mercer won a much deserved Best Actress award.Many theater goers of the 70's would also agree that the award was a consolation prize for having played Trese Delaney the previous year in Tom Cahills "As loved our fathers" to an exquisite and captivating degree.Of The Fields, Lately was also a runaway success. It won a Chalmers Award, was adapted as a CBC television special, was produced across Canada and abroad -- including a critically-acclaimed run in Argentina in Spanish translation and a production on Broadway.

French redresses the imbalance of Leaving Home, in which the father is responsible for the failure to communicate. Ben has left home but to no great purpose, and on his return, his values are revealed as superficial. He is ashamed of his father's rough manners and working man's appearance. The old is dying, and French questions the validity of that which is replacing it. When Jacob dies, father and son have managed no more than fleeting human contact.

In Of the Fields, Lately, French departs from the conventions of realism through a framing narrative device. In the cinematic structure of his third play, One Crack Out (Tarragon Theatre, 29 May 1975), French goes still further. The play depicts the Toronto demimonde of pool hustlers, conmen, marks, pimps, and prostitutes. In a series of short vignettes, Charlie Evans engineers several scams in a progressively desperate attempt to evade the dire consequences of a bad gambling debt. Unfortunately, the realism of dialogue and situation are incompatible with the short, choppy scenes, and One Crack Out fared badly with critics and audiences alike.

Despondent over the failure of One Crack Out, French attempted to start new plays, without success. Then, at Glassco's urging, and with the assistance of Russian scholar Donna Orwin, he translated Anton Chekhov's The Seagull, joining a growing number of playwrights adapting plays from the international repertoire for Canadian audiences. His confidence restored by the success of The Seagull, produced by Tarragon in 1977, French fulfilled a long-held ambition to write comedy.

Jitters (Tarragon Theatre, 16 February 1979) is set in a small, Toronto alternative theater and employs a play-within-a-play structure to reveal the world of rehearsals and opening nights. In comic scenes ranging from slapstick to witty infighting, French shows the company struggling against everything from jammed doors to personal and artistic insecurity. The play's central conflict concern's Jessica Logan's attempt to make a comeback in a new play, "The Care and Treatment of Roses," while her leading man tries to sabotage the production for fear it might be transferred to New York, exposing him to a more demanding audience.

His next play, The Riddle of the World (first produced at the Tarragon in 1981), was a disappointment. Described by some as a philosophical postsex comedy, the piece concerns a young man whose lover joins a cult that requires celibacy. Most critics thought that the protagonist's attempts to cope with his dilemma and his attempts to persuade a friend not to convert to homosexuality were overly burdened with quotations from psychologists and philosophers and too far removed from the comic confrontations that the script seemed to call for.
French returned to his Coley's Point source with Salt-Water Moon (My personal favourite and first produced at the Tarragon in October 1984). This, his latest play, concludes the so-called Mercer trilogy by returning to the Newfoundland of 1926. Jacob returns to his hometown after a year in Toronto to confront the ghosts and resentments he left behind and to try to win back Mary, who has become engaged to another man. Both previous Mercer plays included anecdotes about the courtship. In the course of this long one-act play, Jacob does win Mary but never quite comes to terms with his past, thus laying the ground, in retrospect, for Leaving Home and Of the Fields, Lately . Salt-Water Moon makes full use of regional dialect and imagery to achieve its lyrical charm.
French has won several awards and prizes, including the 1973 Chalmers Award for Of the Fields, Lately; the Lieutenant Governor's Award for Of the Fields, Lately in 1974; Canada Council grants in 1974 and 1975; and, for Salt-Water Moon, the Dora Award in 1985, the Hollywood Drama-Logue Critics Award for best play in 1985, and the Canadian Authors Association Literary Award for best drama in 1986. He is currently working on a new translation of Alexander Ostrovsky's The Forest.

While most of French's plays have proven popular with general audiences, critical response has been divided. Supporters admire his craft; Urjo Kareda, for example, describes him as the most significant Canadian playwright of his time. Detractors, such as Michael Cook, find French's work derivative and dependent on sentiment for its effects.
Michael Cook has never received acclaim outside of Newfoundland.

R Brentnall

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Microsoft Word Sucks

Microsoft Word Sucks

For reasons which are completely beyond my control, I've spent half a week writing a document in Word 2003.

I have never in my life seen, heard of, or even imagined a more malodorous piece of steaming shit than this little slice of Microsoft. Words fail me, and all that follows is the faintest Platonist shadow-on- a-wall of what is, in my heart, the Ideal Peeve, perfect in its sincerity, bottomless in its depth, and unassailable in its accuracy.

This bloated, pestilent gigabyte-swamping piece of ordure takes up enough computational resources to accurately model the world's weather for the next billion years, and what do you get for it? Something that will format and display text? Don't make me fucking laugh. What you do get is a profusion of bells and whistles thrown in a careless heap, each bauble lovingly designed to make the straight path crooked, the intuitive arcane, the simple impossible.

Take the ``Help'' for example. It's not just help, it's a new friend!

I don't want a new friend, you shit-slurping choad-munching bunch of retards; I've all too many as it is. What I want is something simple where I can find a technical detail with a minimum of fuss and interruption. I don't want animation. I don't want natural-language interpretation. I don't want to be led by the fucking nose. Give me a fucking index and get the hell out of my damn face. If I dismiss a window, I want it gone. I don't want it to wave goodbye, or hesitate, or sneeze. I want it gone.

The document I was working on was very simple. No images, no tables, no nothing. One font, one style, that's it. It would be perfectly simple in other system, even earlier versions of Word, but, oh no, not in this latest magnum opus of the word processing world.

This helpless, hapless, hopeless, buggy piece of offal insisted on changing my fonts every couple of minutes for no reason. Random chunks of text, at random times. And bullet points, don't talk to me about fucking bullet points. It's a little known fact that in the bullet-point mode of Word 2003 every single button on every single toolbar is the ``Fuck Me Over Now'' button. I've got bullet points going left, I've got 'em going right, and down and up, I've got 'em changing indentation, and style, you name it.

You'd think in 20 or so megabytes of RAM there'd be room for one scenario in which it doesn't actively do anything wrong, but for that you'll have to wait for Word 2023, which will have a user interface like a retarded version of ``I have no mouth, and I must scream.''

And don't try telling me that one need only configure the options to avoid these problems; I'm not a fucking moron. I quickly configured the preferences so as to minimize all this bullshit, at which point Word promptly changed them back. Lather, rinse, repeat. If you don't want fast saves, then fuck off, you're gunna have 'em. Don't want your grammar constantly corrected by some shitty little subprogram that doesn't know the first goddamn thing about grammar? Tough shit. Empty your wallet and move off to the side.

How did this come about? It can't be incompetence, at least not the usual mundane sort one is constantly immersed in simply by having to share a planet with a bunch of fucking primates. This is either some transcendent type of incompetence, or active malevolence.

My money's on malevolence. This software was obviously created by a company who's motto is ``We're Microsoft, and you, the customer, aren't worth fuck to us.'' It matters not one iota what their official motto is, watch the hands, not the mouth. Well, Microsoft, your time will come. It may not be Linux that does you in, it may not be the DoJ, it may not be this decade, but you're going to go the way of the dodo, and I for one will cavort naked on your grave, pissing effusively on your memory, and screaming, ``Animate this, you bastards!'' to the sky.

But in the here-and-now, I shall finish this document with the quiet dignity with which I have always comported myself, and then I shall un-install Word, and swear a terrible oath that I would rather daub dung on paper with a stick than write a document using a Microsoft product.

I have been using word processing programs for 11 years, mostly with WordPerfect. Recently at work, they are trying to convert us to Word. Why does this program have to be so complicated and hard to figure out? I've NEVER used a program of ANY type that is so difficult to use!

Half the time I can't find what I'm looking for, and even the Help feature is no help. Why do I have to change the margins under the Print command? Why are Tab and Indent the same key? Why can't I get the page numbering to start on a certain page even though that's what I told it? Why can't I make more than one label at a time with different names on them? Why can't I just print an envelope without having to print a page along with it? Why can't I just Center one line without having to change the Justification on the whole document? Why can't I see the codes such as Line Spacing and Font? Why is it so hard to edit Headers? Why can't I Center and Right Justify on the same line? How do you put in a Hard Page Break?

In my opinion, this program needs a LOT of help before it can be rated up there with WordPerfect, which is so easy to use and find what you're looking for. A person who has been using word processors and other software shouldn't have to struggle with this program.

UPDATE: As of 2011, I still hate this program, and it is still difficult to use!

Well wasn't that interesting!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

For Pop Kelly...The Badger Drive.

There is one class of men in this country,
That never is mentioned in song;
And now, since their trade is advancing,
They'll come out on top before long.
They say that our sailors have danger,
And likewise our warriors bold;
But there's none know the life of a driver,
What he suffers with hardship and cold.

With their pike poles and peavies and bateaus and all,
They're sure to drive out in the spring, that's the time;
With the caulks on their boots as they get on the logs,
And it's hard to get over their time.

Bill Dorothey he is the manager,
And he's a good man at the trade;
And when he's around seeking drivers,
He's like a train going down grade.
But still he is a man that's kindhearted,
On his word you can always depend;
And there's never a man that works with him,
But likes to go with him again.

I tell you today home in London,
The Times it is read by each man;
But little they think of the fellows,
That drove the wood on Mary Ann.
For paper is made out of pulpwood,
And many things more you may know;
And long may our men live to drive it,
Upon Paymeoch and Tomjoe.

The drive it is just below Badger,
And everything is working grand;
With a jolly good crew of picked drivers,
And Ronald Kelly in command.
For Ronald is boss on the river,
And I tell you he's a man that's alive;
He drove the wood off Victoria,
Now he's out on the main river drive.

With their pike poles and peavies and bateaus and all,
They're sure to drive out in the spring, that's the time;
With the caulks on their boots as they get on the logs,
And it's hard to get over their time.

So now to conclude and to finish,
I hope that ye all will agree;
In wishing success to all Badger,
And the A.N.D. Company.
And long may they live for to flourish,
And continue to chop, drive and roll;
And long may the business be managed,
By Mr. Dorothey and Mr. Cole.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Danny Williams is right…The people are wrong!

His going to the U.S. has stirred a great volume of controversy and comment -- almost as much, by informal measurement, as the propogation of Parliament. Both here and in the U.S. Heavens, it's even been brought up in that Shangri-La of Socratic disinterest,FOX News' Bill O'Reilly show,now there's a Judas. Not surprising, many might say. Danny Williams is a lightening rod of his own construction. He's aggressive, combative, partisan -- and back home, largely without any real opposition. My own personal take on him, for what its worth, is that I admire the ferocity of his feelings for Newfoundland while I sometimes deplore the bullying and bluster it occasionally leads to.

But I see it as more than awkward that his surgery, and his choice -- perhaps on the advice of his Newfoundland doctors -- of where to have it, has become the great political football that it has. I've never been a fan of that wretched slogan "the personal is political" for the very obvious reason it demolishes the barrier that should -- must -- exist between our genuine private lives and the wide-open, reckless and supercharged arena of politics.

It's his heart, it's his surgery, and it's his choice. Danny Williams, Premier or no Premier, and his family are the only ones at this point who have any real say about where he chooses to have life-threatening surgery. Further, as most commentary admits, the actual facts upon which he made his choice, and the counsel he has received from his Newfoundland doctors is not known to us -- nor, by the way, should it. So the river of commentary, both here and in the states, is taking place in a vacuum of fact.

A larger reason for refusing to politicize ;the moment however is a simple one: It parallels Trudeau's dictum that the state has no business in the bedrooms of the nation. Likewise, politics should stop at the edge of the operating table. It's his life and it's his business.

He hasn't, using his standing as Premier, jumped some queue, lined up an MRI by cutting off someone less connected, hasn't displaced some other Newfoundlander waiting for surgery. Something like that would make a genuine case for debate of condemnation.

So -- the decent civil course would be to wait till the operation's done, wish him the best, wait for his recuperation -and if then, he wants to unfold his personal circumstances, and offer some thoughts on the "politics" of his choice, we can all hear him out.

Here is a man who obtained the portfolio of Premier of Newfoundland,
Took no salary and fights tooth and nail for the cause.The operation as I have read it was paid out of the pocket of the premier himself and not by the Canadian taxpayer.If all policians were to repeat this gesture the media would have no political news.I am beginning to think that you can never please the public.If you are crooked its bad,If you are honest it's bad.It's a no win situation.

Danny Williams is by far The greatest premier Newfoundland has ever had.Joey's dead and Danny's in. Politics, as I've said, should stop when the man in the white coat is reaching for the scalpel.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

"Firefox just got better"

May 4, 2010 -Roderick Brentnall
A while back, a major feature was added to the pre-release versions of Firefox 3.1, called Private Browsing. I've been working for quite some time on this, so I thought it may be a good time to write about what this feature is and how to use it.
As you may know, while you browse the web, your browser usually records a lot of data which will later be used to improve your browsing experience. For example, it records a history of all the web pages you have visited, so that later if you need help remembering a site you visited a while back, it can assist you in finding that site. Now, that is great, but there is a downside: those data can be used to trace your online activities. For example, if your coworker sits at your computer, she can view all of your browsing history, which may not be what you want. This feature comes in real handy for online banking too.
Now,don't you feel just a little better already?
Suppose you're doing something online, and you don't want your coworkers to know about it. An example scenario would be looking for a new employer while at work! One option would be to do your work, and then clear the data that Firefox has stored for you, such as history, cookies, cache, .... But the problem is that this action will also remove the parts of your online activities data which you don't want to hide, so the history that Firefox records can no longer be used to find a web site you had visited a month before. Private Browsing will help you here.
Private Browsing aims to help you make sure that your web browsing activities don't leave any trace on your own computer. It is very important to note that Private Browsing is not a tool to keep you anonymous from websites or your ISP, or for example protect you from all kinds of spyware applications which use sophisticated techniques to intercept your online traffic. Private Browsing is only about making sure that Firefox doesn't store any data which can be used to trace your online activities, no more, no less.
So how does one actually use this feature? It couldn't be simpler! To start, just select Private Browsing from the Tools menu.

You will see a dialog box which asks you whether you want to save and close all of your current windows and tabs, and start the Private Browsing mode. Click Start Private Browsing to start your private session.

After you do this, your non-private browsing session is closed and a new private session is opened,
showing you the screen below. (Before you mention, the ugly icon you see there is something
I created as a placeholder! This icon will be replaced in the final release of Firefox 3.1.)

As you see, not much is different in the Firefox window inside the Private Browsing mode, except for the (Private Browsing) text added to the title bar at the top of the window. That is intentional: after all, if you're doing something online that you don't want your coworkers to know about, you don't want to raise their attention with a big sign saying PRIVATE as they pass by and glance over your shoulder.
At this stage, you can start browsing web sites, without ever having to worry that Firefox might store something on your computer which can be used to tell which pages you have visited. Once you're done, just uncheck the same menu item in the Tools menu to close your private session.This action discards all of the data from your private session, and will restore your non-private browsing session, just like it was before entering the Private Browsing mode.

Now, as I mentioned at the top of this post, this feature is available in pre-release versions of Firefox 3.1 (what we geeks call nightly builds). This feature will be included in Firefox 3.1 Beta 2 which will be released soon, so if you want to try it, you can give it a shot then. And of course, it will appear in the final release of Firefox 3.1, so if you're not the type who test beta software, you can wait until Firefox 3.1 is released.

Update: As many people seem interested in knowing this, there is a way to make Firefox always start in Private Browsing mode. Go to the about:config page, click I'll be careful, I promise, type browser.privatebrowsing.autostart in the Filter text box, double click the entry to make its value true. After doing this, the next time you start Firefox, it will start in private browsing mode automatically. To turn this off, use the same steps to change the value of this preference to false. There is a plan to provide an easier method to set this option in the final release of Firefox 3.1.You gotta Love Firefox! See ya Now!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The do's and don't of Contractors

Many, many moons ago I posted a list of five basic rules contractors should follow. I just stumbled across it, added a sixth rule and decided I should probably re-post it on my new weblog. Now, before anyone thinks me a bitter contractor ranting about clients, how I approached this needs to be explained.
First off, I view every miscommunication, dissatisfied client, and broken relationship as my fault. At a very basic level I believe that there’s always something I can do to avoid or mitigate problems in a working environment. Even if the client turns out to be Attila the Hun, I go back and look at how I could have performed better. Sometimes that means I should have never taken the job. Other times I may conclude that despite doing everything a reasonable person would, there were still things that could have been done and I should have at least given them a try. That doesn’t mean that I’m a martyr. I’m just one of those people who believe that for every problem there’s a solution. Now, I may decide that the solution isn’t feasible but I want to at least figure out the course of action that would have brought about a better result.
Second, I think a lot of projects/contracts go wrong because the consultant doesn’t manage the relationship well. As you can see in Rule #2, the contractor often sets the stage for conflict by trying to be a nice guy/gal. If they simply did what they were contracted to do they could avoid this kind of potential relationship killer. The purpose of this list of rules is not to provoke confrontation but to avoid it.
Lastly, if you’re a customer of contract services, you should understand that while you may be the most ethical and honest client in the world, the fact of the matter is that a significant number of customers/clients aren’t. As much as you fear an unethical contractor, contractors fear clients who stiff them or take advantage of their desire to just do a good job. I don’t believe that any of my rules advocate anything more than protecting the interests of both parties. Several of the rules are specifically designed to help contractors avoid putting themselves into situations where they may expose themselves to undue legal and other risk. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

1. Never take on a client who has fired more than one previous contractor to do the same job.
There’s only one constant in this equation; the client. I had a client who during the negotiation process began showing me some of the work done by a graphic artist that he had hired so I could get an idea about the look and feel he was going for. When I asked if I could contact the artist about obtaining the images he said that it probably wasn’t a good idea and went on to explain how he offered to pay the artist to do some mock-ups but he really wasn’t 100% happy with the work and wanted the artist to make some more changes before he paid him. He also briefly mentioned another artist who he had hired to do the same work and had similar results with who he also didn’t pay. Needless to say, when we delivered the final product to specifications, the client wasn’t 100% happy (he had come up with new requirements after the contract was signed) and refused to pay for the work.

2. Never agree to do any work that is outside the scope of your agreement.
First off, this doesn’t mean be a jerk about it. It simply means that if you’ve been contracted to do one thing and the client needs additional services, you should work out a separate agreement for the new services. Many clients (and some might argue all clients) have a tendency to view you as one of their employees. They don’t really understand where the contract ends and the freebies begin. Of course, you do and every time you do something above and beyond the terms of your contract you think you’re throwing in a freebie with the goal of either earning more business down the road or keeping the client happy (or both). This mostly pertains to contractors doing work on a fixed bid but could apply to hourly contractors who decide not to charge the client 15 minutes here or an hour there for things outside of the scope of what the client has agreed to pay for. The problem comes up when the account becomes too far out of balance. Since you’ve never said no to the client’s request many clients will take advantage of that and keep asking for more and more. Eventually, any smart businessman is going to see that they’re losing money on the client and become frustrated. That frustration will grow, especially if you have employees or sub-contractors who become increasingly frustrated with the extra work and begin taking their frustrations out on you. So, you eventually have to say “no” and not just to the current request but to all future requests. Now you’ve materially changed the relationship. You’ve made the client feel like you’re angry with them (otherwise, why such a drastic change in policy?) and since this is more likely to come near the end of the project than the beginning this may significantly impact the prospects for future work with the client.
Another danger is that this may expose you to confusion about what constitutes a deliverable for contract purposes or leave you open to legal responsibilities that you were unaware of. Whether it was actually your fault or not, you’re now facing a whole laundry list of possible problems for something you were not under contract to do. The client could claim that your entire work product is defective and refuse to pay for it. They could also demand that you fix any problems with not included which could prove to be a time consuming task to diagnose and remedy, for which you’re not being paid. But had you said to the client “We have no problem doing that but it does fall outside of the scope of this agreement. Perhaps we should work out a separate agreement at an hourly rate for one-off type of tasks like this so there’s no confusion later.”
The bottom line is that the saying that “no good deed goes unpunished” is applicable for most contractors. You need not nickel and dime a client but do make a distinction between what the contract requires you to do and what the client is asking you to do. Any client who balks at that will usually prove to be more trouble than they are worth.

3. Bill in 1/4 payments.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve been burned more often than I care to share on this one. I used to do 50% up front and 50% on delivery but the risk you take is if they refuse to pay for the last 50%. You have 50% of the job costs floating out there, which puts the client in a very powerful position. Most clients are honest but there is a large enough percentage of dishonest people out there to make it imperative that you never put yourself in a position where the client has that much power over you. Some would argue that you can just withhold delivery or stipulate in the contract that they cannot use your work until it’s paid for and I would argue that neither of those two will protect you sufficiently from a dishonest client. For one, if you withhold delivery, you’ve still invested the time in creating it. You can’t get that time back (and that’s what you sell) and you usually can’t turn around and find another buyer for it. You may run into dishonest clients who figure out at some point during development that they completely screwed up the requirements and the final product is of no concern to them. They’ve just found a way to eliminate 50% of their cost. You’re stuck with it. The other major danger is that they take your work and have someone duplicate it at a fraction of the cost. Your code or configuration files or other work are now a very solid blueprint for a less experienced contractor to come in and knock-off as easy as a Gucci bag in Hong Kong. You have very little legal protection there.
Instead of exposing yourself like that, develop project milestones and break them out into 4 parts. Bill ¼ upon signing of the contract, ¼ at milestone 1, another ¼ at milestone 2, and the last ¼ on delivery. If they balk at paying any of the milestones, you can either remedy the problem or walk away with minimal loss. Your honest clients will appreciate not having to come up with ½ or 1/3 up front and your dishonest clients will be kept in check.

4. Never discount your rates for a new client in the hopes of getting future business down the road at full rate.
There’s really no bigger sucker’s bet. Once you establish precedent for discounts the client will always expect them. Once you do a job for the client at a particular price they know that you can do the work for that price. If something costs X then charge X for it and be willing to walk away unless the client is able to give you a reason for discounting the price. You can explain to the client that having a steady workflow for the next 12 months is worth something to you and if they give you the business now instead of making you bid out 6 two month contracts you can bring your rates down but don’t offer to do it on the promise there will be more work down the road because you’ll probably still be jumping through hoops and competing against other vendors who are just as willing to undercut you in order to get their foot in the door and make the same mistake. If this is your first project with the client and they don’t want to enter into a long-term agreement until you’ve proven yourself, at least get a letter of intent or better yet, word the contract in such a way that they commit to the entire work package but can end the agreement after any time if they do not feel the work meets their standards.

5. Never let the client take critical processes out of the contract in order to save money.
We all know the drill. The client looks at your budget and asks why QA is three weeks or why you feel you need so many days to complete something that, to them, looks so simple. Sometimes the client will even offer to take on certain responsibilities themselves in order to get the cost to fit into their budget. Be very, very wary of this. The only thing this leads to is you doing more work for the same amount of money. If QA takes three weeks showing it on the schedule as two weeks only means that you’ll have to do three weeks of work in two weeks. Worse yet is the fact most people underestimate contracts to begin with so it will probably end up being closer to three and a half weeks and now you’ve promised close to four weeks of work in two weeks. If the client needs to cut the budget cut features not process. And never allow the client to take on roles just for the sake of cutting the budget. Not only do you have the issues previously mentioned but you also now have to manage your client as if they were an employee. If they fail to deliver and hold up other parts of your schedule there’s only so much pressure you can apply since they’re the client.

6. Be very careful in lending a helping hand.
This caution might be a sub-warning from several of the previous rules but I think it needs to be separated out for clarity. I once had a client who insisted that they would take on the task of setting up the servers on a software development project. Over a two-week period, I received, literally, over 100 emails asking me configuration questions. How do you do this? How do you do that? The worst part was that when I pointed the client to the documentation that would answer their questions they got a little huffy with me mentioning in their reply that I had told them that I was an expert on the job they were having problems with and that they expected me to give them the answer instead of pointing them to documentation. I am an expert on that building, but I wasn’t being paid to offer that service. In fact, I was specifically not tasked with that portion of the job because the client wanted to save money. In the end, I spent more time educating the client on things that I was not responsible for than I did on the actual paying portion of the assignment.
Final thought: Obviously I can’t offer advice on every situation one may encounter but I do plan on expanding this list as I think of things that may be useful..