Friday, November 9, 2012

Nov. 9: Fool that I am....

I begin this blog on the evening of Nov. 8 because I suddenly realized that a line in the Moncton Times and Telegraph had blown right by my attractive but empty head.

el stupido

The story on the honourees appointed to the NB business hall of fame mentioned that Mr. J. Irving had been advisor to the Minister of Finance for a time. Let that sentence sink in. Mr. Irving who, probably more than anybody else, has a personal stake in the financial policies of the New Brunswick government, was actually permitted to have access to the minister, and to advise him on what policies to follow.

That's like a shoplifter being asked to serve as judge and jury at his own trial.

What the hell were Alward and the Minister of Finance thinking of when they gave permission for that? I know that major businessmen commonly get special access to the government when they want favours. It's not a good idea. Most governments, realizing the confict of interest in such meetings, at least lie about them. But not in New Brunswick. The premier actually appointed Mr. Irving (quite likely at Mr. Irving's request) officially to act as a financial policy advisor.

Have the premier and the minister of finance never heard of political ethics? And the newspapers, have they never heard of ethics? of blatant conflict of interest? Apparently not.

The department we depend on to look after our financial futures, to protect us from profiteering, to plan for services we need, actually appointed a man whose role in this society is to look after himself, a man who was not elected by us. And the editors of the Moncton Times were so ignorant that it never dawned on them that this was unethical?

And they must be stunningly ignorant of ethical political practice, so ignorant that they were dumb enough to mention the incident casually just two days ago in a news story.

Norbert, I dare  you to write a column on that. You can either attack it or defend it. But I don't think  you have the courage to do either. And I know your editorialist wouldn't touch it. In a real democracy, this incident alone would call for the resignation of the PM and the minister of finance.

The Liberal opposition must have known about it, too. And not a peep out of them in the assembly. I think that pretty well sums up the sorry state of democracy in this province.

On a lighter note, I've been playing tag with the Department of the Environment, seeking information on contaminated sites in New Brunswick. (We know about Highfield square; but I had heard there were over  800 in the province. So I asked for a list of them. I also asked for the laws on reporting and cleaning up such sites.

First, I was told they couldn't find my request. Could I tell them to which office I had sent it? So I told them I had sent it to their office. Ah! Quick reply. They had it. But would I please write it again? So I did.

Ah, they replied, could I get the (I think they said PDI) numbers?

I replied that if I knew all those numbers, I'd know where the sites are; and I wouldn't have to ask. What they were doing was asking me to find out where the sites were so then they could tell me where the sites were.

Their  reply was to ask me if I knew the number for Highland Square. I replied a)I had not asked about Highland Square. I already knew about that. b)And wouldn't the government know the number for Highland square, anyway?

The next reply was that they didn't have a list of contaminated sites!!!!!

How the hell could the  Department of the Environment not have a list of contaminated sites when the law requires that they be listed with the department?

Then I got a post asking me to re-state my questions. It also said to expect it to take a month for a reply because they get flooded with well over a hundred requests a year.

Wow! Imagine the buzz in that office with as many as two requests a week pouring in.No wonder they couldn't find mine. Since the time I sent it, there must have another six or so piling up.

Oh, and for each site I requested, there would be a fee of some $67. Let's see, that would be some sixty thousand dollars in all for a list - if I would first find out where they were so they could tell me.

They also raised Highland Square again - the one I had already told them I knew about and didn't need any information on. In fact, this time their post gave me the impression that they thought I was asking only about Highland Square despite me writing them many times that I was not, that I was looking for a list of some 800  sites..

And they gave no indication they had noticed my repeated requests for the law that applies to reporting and cleaning contaminated sites.

I don't blame the civil servants for this. They're not the ones who set up this bizarre system. This one smells pure politician. I don't know anybody who voted for Mr. Fitch. And I'd like to keep it that way.

There's an interesting report on page A1 today. Too bad so few are going to read it.
It looks at the meat industry in New Brunswick to find out why we don't produce more of our own meat. It's a good topic; and I certainly would not fault the research. But any editor knows that the majority of readers commonly don't read even a full column of any news item. (Well, any editor should know it.)

This story runs to more than four, full pages. It's an important story. But very, very few are going to read four pages  -and more. An editor, a real one, takes an story like this, and divides it into a series to be run for several days. In this case, the division is obvious - beef, fowl, pork.

Then he or she edits (that's why they're called editors) to take out the unnecessary words - and this report is seriously over-worded. I had to read half a column to figure out what the article was about. The headline was "Where do NBers get  their meat?"  That's not only boring; it's not really what the story is about.

I suppose the boring title might work if tens of thousands of NBers were worrying frantically about where their meat comes from. But you'ld be surprised who little panic there is about that.

And then it takes at least half of the first column to get a hint, just a hint, that the story might not really be about that at all - though it still won't be clear what it's about. Most readers who have gone t his far will, very sensibly, give up, and look for Miss Manners.

What it's really about is why we import so much meat when we could surely produce it ourselves, cutting transportation costs and creating jobs for New Brunswick. That would call for a headline like, oh, "Losing money for New Brunwick - the scandalous neglect of our food industry." Or, for a real grabber, "The shocking story of the sex lives of cows, chickens and pigs."

Three, crisp, to the point stories appearing in a series with a clearly stated head would grab interest and hold it. Four plus pages with a boring head for a story that is too wordy is a loser. Any editor should know that. This is a waste of good reporting.

One of the headlines, by the way, is "Pork industry is not as vibrant as it used to be". Odd, I've applied many words to pigs. But vibrant was never one of them.

NewsToday is its usual zero, though the Your Business page has a below zero. It's another big story about a man who just got appointed to the provincial Business Hall of Fame. That must mean we are going to get the third one, Mr. Irving, in the Saturday edition. Watch for some real piles of it in that one. I wonder which slobbering peasant will get the assignment.

The first letter to the editor points out that fracking is okay because there are few reports of problems in the mainstream media. Wow! that solves that problem. If the media aren't saying anything, that must mean nothing is happening.

The editorial is the usual mix of ignorance and propaganda. Otherwise, the editorial and op ed pages are quite decent.


  1. My thoughts and peeves are with you as far as the question period at the end of a talk goes. Dr. Cleary was generous with her time and knowledge. Having to suffer the 90% of respondents which rose to pontificate at the mic was above the call. I'm sure the two hour drive home for her, Ms White and Mr. Arsenault would have been better received an hour earlier.

    As for your 'Israel' commentary, you would never make it as a prime time western newsman. Quite obviously, you cannot match their level of journalistic integrity. I'm sure you'll accept that remark in the light in which it's presented.

  2. Oh, Israeli influence may soon be an endangered species in north america. For at least twenty years, there has been a huge Jewish organization which is highly critical of the Israeli government. It's called Peace Now. It seems to have begun with liberal Jews, but has now spread to conservative Jews as well.
    Unquestioning support for Israel among Jews is far, far weaker than it used to be. Indeed, I have many friends who are Jews AND Zionists AND Israeli citizens who support Peace Now - and feel humiliated and betrayed by the behaviour of Netanyahu and his gang. (The Montreal group will soon be sharing a middle east evening with Moslems in the city.)