Wednesday 30 March 2011

Tear it down! (urban improvement through destruction)

If you read blogs -- and I have reason to believe you do -- you have probably read a great deal about urban density and the preservation of buildings downtown. There are dozens of posts on different blogs lamenting the destruction of certain buildings, or heralding the preservation and redevelopment of others. That is all great, but if you are sick and tired of the usual urban revival shit and crave something different for once, I bring to you:

Buildings that must be torn down
There are certain buildings that are just so ugly -- so disfiguring to the urban streetscape -- that they must be destroyed, even if it means replacing them with a gravel parking lot. (note: I was
going to do this post later in the spring when I had a chance to get out with my camera and snap some photos, but a recent event has prompted me to fast track it using Google streetview images...)

The Fat Angel

Three years ago on Bryan Scott's blog I typed: "Actually, wouldn't mind seeing the Fat Angel dynamited, and a new Blue Note Cafe built in it's place. That would be awesome." Well,
sometime in the last 24 hours the tractors moved in, and by the time I
passed it on my way to work this morning it was nothing but rubble.

Sure, the building was over 100 years old. Sure, it was once a classic blues bar. None of that matters because the building was a also disaster. Worn pale yellow paint covered the steel facade, the door was boarded up, and there was tattered parcel paper covering the mess that was left inside when the Fat Angel ran screaming from the rat infested shit hole. That could all be cleaned up, but it's a little harder to clean up the giant cracks in the exterior walls and the structural problems made apparent by the fact the building had a noticible horizontal bend in it.

Nobody was ever going to lease this building again. The building died. Period. We have to move on.

The APTN building

What kind of a demented architect would design a building with blue plastic panels on the side and a giant windowless ribbed concrete wall facing the street? I have seriously considered getting my pilot's license for the sole purpose of flying an airplane into this hideous building.

The plastic panels are tacky, but if that were the only crime I could live with that, just as I can live with the 4Play sports bar building a block away or the Newport building across the street. However, when you take a tacky building and add an industrial concrete front with no windows except on the bottom and top floors, you get something that is so ridiculously fugly that it should be evacuated immediately and imploded.

If that weren't bad enough, the current tenant grafted on a huge TV screen that juts out from the wall as though it was impaled from the back by a giant chisel. A TV screen which, by the way, either shows nothing but the APTN logo, or programing that is completely useless to somebody walking down the street.

Now, there will probably be architecture geeks who would say "oh, but this building is such a great example of mid-century brutalist modernism" or some crap like that, but you know what? I don't care. It's a disgrace and should be bombed without further ado.

Surprisingly, those are the only two buildings that I want destroyed at the moment, and one has already happened! If I think of any others, I'll post a follow-up. What buildings do you think should be wrecking-balled out of existence? Any suggestions?


So what becomes of the Fat Angel? The Blue Note was almost before my time, but I do recall being in it once or twice. I caught the tail end of it's life after I moved to Winnipeg, and although it's not as historic as I originally thought, it would be awesome to see it rebuilt. The neon sign is still kicking around somewhere .. apparently at the Manitoba Museum.

source: flikr

The location is an interesting one: sandwiched between the ancient Winnipeg Hotel and a twin pair of similarly old three story brick buildings, one of which houses the Times Change(d) High and Lonesome Club. (By the way, Bryan, I hope they got your permission for using that picture on their web site.) I hope that whatever gets built here is better suited to it's neighbours than the old building was.

... That's if something new gets built. There's no guarantee. The location has it's drawbacks too: one being located next to the Winnipeg Hotel, with it's riffraff-ish clientele. Another being next to a vacant building on the other side. Not exactly a hot spot for money spenders; however transit access is good. There is always the threat that it could turn into a vacant lot or a "temporary" parking lot. Like Main street needs more parking lots.

This spot isn't the only concern, but the vacant building to the north as well. I can't remember the last time I saw somebody walking into that place. Is it doomed to a future of demolition by neglect? Could it be revived with the help of TIFs? Would it be an acceptable compromise to allow the Fat Angel space to be used as a parking lot if it meant saving the brick building to the north?

Perhaps I'm getting ahead of myself a little here. The main thing is that the Fat Angel eye sore is gone. Hoo-rah.

Sunday 27 March 2011

Illegal advertising, the Insiders, Twitter

One more post about this political advertising thing, then I'll leave it alone. I think I've finally got to the bottom of the matter. To recap:

o Two posts ago I discussed a Hugh McFadyen-bashing mail ad that came addressed as an official-looking government communication. I thought to myself "this can't be right .. what are the rules about this?"
o Last post I discovered that advertising rules don't apply to advertising if they're paid by the taxpayer instead of by the party. This loophole was one of Gary Doer's first accomplishments as Premier back in 2000.

In the comments of the last post Steve Lambert pointed me to The Legislative Assembly Act, where they have some rules about how these tax dollars can be spent by a caucus. Specifically: section 52.23 says that this money may not be used for advertising ... but ... only within 60 days of an election. So right now they can spend it on whatever they want.

But!! What about this whole thing about disguising partisan ads with a Manitoba Legislative Assembly address and the Manitoba coat of arms? Isn't there some rule against that? Well, there is one more thing: the expenses authorized under section 52.23 are subject to yet another act (the fifth one I've looked at now):

The use of money received under this section is subject to the criteria or guidelines established under section 6.1 of The Legislative Assembly Management Commission Act
Makes you wonder why they can't put all this shit in one place. Anyhow, let's mosey on over to this other act and see what kind of criteria or guidelines have been established:

6.1(1) The commission must, as soon as reasonably practicable after the coming into force of this section, establish criteria or guidelines to ensure public funds are used appropriately in respect of

(a) material printed, mailed or distributed electronically; and

(b) advertising in newspapers, magazines or other periodicals, on the Internet, on radio or television, or on billboards, buses or other property normally used for commercial advertising;

by members and by caucuses of recognized political parties.

That's it. That's all there is, except some crap about how this supposed commision is to come up with these guidelines "in a timely fashion". This section was created in 2008, and they haven't even created guidelines yet. They don't even have interim guidelines. Apparently "as soon as reasonably practicable" is somewhere north of three years.

So the bottom line is this: The rules about advertising using tax dollars are: THERE ARE NO RULES.

Good to know...


As part of the Free Press' election coverage, they had a bit in the Saturday Free Press called "The Insiders". Theses guys -- one from each main party -- are supposed to give us their "analysis and insights of the campaign."

The concept is a good one. I like listening to party insiders on TV share their views and perspectives, and it adds to the coverage, but only if their views are actually insightful.

Of the three Insiders that the Freep assembled, only Orange Crush had what I would call a good write up. In fact, the NDP insider's analysis was excellent. The commentary was reasonable, it wasn't patrionizing or overly biased, and he or she even tossed in a little joke about Viagra. Well done.

True Grit's commentary wasn't bad, but had a fair bit of Harper bashing that wasn't entirely accurate, and it was kind of snarky. But it was a masterpiece next to the Conservative commentary...

Big Blue gave us no insight at all; just talking points mingled with insults of the opponents. Instead of giving us a "best opening salvo" like the other insiders, Blue gives us a "worst opening salvo" by ranting about the "sheer stupidity" of the opposition parties. The whole thing was meanspirited, and this insider is doing his party no favours by giving people the impression that the inside of the Conservative party is ugly.

My advice to Blue is to read Orange's column and learn from it. Both for my sake as a reader, and for your party's.


Guess who's on twitter? Yes ... you're right ... Charlie Sheen is on twitter, smart ass. I mean: guess who else is on twitter? Me! @cherenkov_blog I don't know what I doing yet. I'm not following anybody. I don't have any followers. I don't know how the stupid thing works. I just thought I should reserve my place in the twittersphere in case I should need it, with elections coming up and everything.

I will probably start following some of you and getting the hang of it, but I have no plans to be a hard-core twit. I am very wary of The Twitter. I have seen The Twitter suck people right out of the bloggosphere, like Hacks and Wonks and Policy Frog. Beware the power of The Twitter.

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Illegal advertising or unlimited advertising?

Hey boys and girls, how would you like to go for a walk through the tundra of obscure government regulations? Watch out for the loop holes...

Last post, where I discussed a fascinating little ad that I got in the mail from the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, I wondered if this was legal and all. My concern was that partisan material was being sent as something resembling an official government communication, and was almost certainly being paid for with tax dollars.

A commenter, Paul St.D, suggested that using the legislative return address might be a violation of section 54 of the Election Finances Act. I had a look at section 54 and didn't see it. I saw something else that looked like a possible violation though:

54.2 tells us that advertising by a registered political party must be authorized by the party's chief financial officer, and that this authorization must be printed on the advertisement.

This is clearly advertising by a political party (see 54.1(6) for descriptions), but there is no authorization to be found anywhere in the ad, unless it's written in microscopic type using carbon nanotubes. Is that not a violation? Looks like one to me.

... and then I read the very short, one scentence, sub section 54.1(5) a little more carefully. It says:
If an allowance is paid under The Legislative Assembly Act respecting an expense incurred by a member of the Assembly or by the caucus of a political party, that expense is not an advertising expense under this section.
Now I'm not a loophole-ologist, but that looks like a loop hole to me. The way I read that is: if you bill the tax payers for your ad, then it isn't an ad. The rules of ads, like spending limits and authorizations, and so on don't apply to you. That one sentence apparently renders the entire section of the act null and void -- but only for the party in power of course. Good luck to any opposition party getting allowances for your ads.

Surely there must be some limit to this? I scanned the The Legislative Assembly Act and was unable to find anything relevant. Maybe you have sharper eyes. My impression is that this loophole creates a no-limits advertising free-for-all for the ruling party.

This loophole, by the way, was part of the ammendments that Gary Doer enacted his first year in office. Just thought you might like to know.

I am sure I am interpreting this incorrectly. I am not a lawyer. I am not familiar with navigating the dull and cold terrain of government acts. Still, something doesn't pass the sniff test here. Maybe I should just keep my nose out of this stuff and concentrate on more useful things like perfecting my mojito recipe before summer arrives. I like the smell of mint.

Thursday 17 March 2011

Bipole disorder: the games politicians play

Good thing I snoop through my neighbour's mail, otherwise I would never have seen this...

It's a glossy ad knocking Hugh McFadyen's plan to route the bipole III power line down the east side of the province (in case you weren't able to figure that out). It came delivered in an official-looking addressed envelope from the Manitoba Legislative Assembly, with the Manitoba coat of arms in the top left corner.

Interesting that it's packaged this way. Almost as an official government communication. It does say "NDP Caucus" in smaller type below. Did anybody else get this thing?

So here's the main part (click to see full size):

They get off to a great start, comparing the east side route to the BP oil disaster. (Oh, by the way.. for newer readers, I posted some great pics of that here.) A comparison I find somewhat insulting, and maybe even distasteful given the hardship caused to many by the BP disaster. There is no comparison to begin with, but if you insisted on making one, the NDP's west side route would come out on the losing end -- both in terms of pollution to the environment and inconvenience to people. (I've been through that so many times, I am not going to rehash it here.)

The second paragraph makes it sound like Hugh McFadyen is ass-raping a virgin forest. The third paragraph serves us the dire warning that should this happen, the forest would be gone! FOREVER!!! Not only that, international groups and lobbyists will sue us. Somebody please explain to me how an international group could have any jurisdiction to sue a Canadian provincial government, supposing they had any interest in doing so to begin with.

It's quite a piece of work. The release of this thing is obviously timed to coincide with the "feel good ads" that Dan Lett wrote about in the Free Press. The TV ads soften you up, and the mailers knock you down in a vicious 1-2 partisan propaganda punch, paid by you, the tax payer. (Wow .. went a little crazy with the alliteration there.)

I couldn't tell you if this mailing is even legal, but the packaging, with the Manitoba crest and "Manitoba Legislative Assembly" return address, leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I'm not a fan of negative ads, but I accept them as a part of politics. What I really don't like is the government spending my own money to lie to me and everybody else for partisan gain.

Will they work? The absurd comparison to the BP disaster could backfire on them, much like the "Hugh is going to pee in your mouth" ads that the NDP put out earlier seemed to. As I recall, Hugh's numbers went up after that.


This made me wonder: has Hugh done one of his Hugh TV episodes about bipole III yet? In Episode 1, if you'll recall, he was talking to Ladybug Girl about the homeless. Episode 2 has him talking to Paramedics about heart disease, and in episode 3 he's talking to firefighters about muscular dystrophy. Still no talking to Hydro engineers about bipole.

Though it might not matter: with only 145 views for E2 and 83 views for E3, these things don't seem to be drawing many eyeballs. Unless large numbers of people are tuning in to Shaw TV, this campaign might not be making much of an impact. Perhaps if he started putting out something with actual policy or vision, as was promised...


I actually have to give a plug to NDP fanatic, very frequent Free Press commenter, and blogger Brian Oakley. He did a pretty good remix of Hugh's episode 1 and stuck in You Tube. It has almost as many views as the real thing:

I mean, good lord dude .. do you have a job? (Or is this your job?). in any case, that's not bad.


Final note: Our sympathies go to Winnipeg Girl who slipped on ice this morning and can't sit in her favourite chair.

Tuesday 15 March 2011

The Quiz Master

The Anybody Want A Peanut fashion department, especially Carlos and Jean-Louis, would like to thank Bartley Kives for the fabulous new chapeau:

This vibrant blue head gear is made with state of the art materials, and sports the City of Winnipeg crest on the front. If Jean-Louis would give the damned thing back to me I could wear it around town and proudly declare that "I am part of Team Winnipeg".

The hat was the grand prize for Bart's March 6 'Sharpen your pencils' quiz. The quantity or quality of the responses must have left a little to be desired if this could pass as the winning entry:

A: a little bit of Gaga marketing genius

A: because watching Glendale try to keep a doomed franchise reminds us that it is possible to have worse leadership than our current mayor and council.

A: They were shocked, as we all were, to hear that the Conservatives are targeting South Asians. A political party trying to win over the minority vote in Toronto? Unheard of!!

A: Because at some point he might accidentally explain the meaning of life.

A: Known as the Phil-Ass Duo, they are an intrepid super-hero crime fighting tandem (if good planning and management can be considered a crime.)

This may spell the end of Bart's quizes, but I hope not because rumour has it he has a plasticine Benjamin Netanyahu on his desk. That would be so cool to win.

(This is not the first time that we've added a hat to our wardrobe.)

Saturday 12 March 2011

How do you fire a senator?

Imagine if you were so bad at your job that you were disowned by the people who hired you, and actually forbidden from working. That is more or less the case with disgraced senator Raymond Lavigne, who was kicked out of the Liberal caucus and suspended from Senate in 2007. Yet for over three years he has collected his $130,000 salary as well as tens of thousands of dollars in various perks including travel expenses.

One Ottawa egghead stated, in reference to Monsieur Lavigne, “Every public officeholder has to be held accountable to a higher standard than the normal population”, yet that is far from the truth here. Any member of the "normal population" would have been kicked out on their ass long ago. Under Canadian law an employer is able to terminate employment without notice or severance in lieu of notice if there is just cause. I have some examples from my own employment travels to illustrate some of these instances, if you don't mind:

Insolence or insubordination
I don't know how this might apply to Raymond Lavigne, but I once worked with a guy who was prone to angry outbursts in which he would threaten coworkers and management. After one such outburst, he was called into the office, informed of his termination, and promptly escorted out of the building.

I worked at a department store where I was being trained on how to assemble and fix bicycles. One day I went to work and my mentor did not show up. "Where is he?", asked I. "He was caught stealing a video game last night". Just like that, his job was gone.

A $50 video game in exchange for a job, but that's how it works. Or, that's how it should work. Raymond Lavigne stole from the tax payers. He claimed travel expenses that he did not incur, and used office resources for personal reasons. Perhaps he thought that using his office assistant to cut down his neighbour's trees somehow benefitted the people of Canada.

You cannot just fire somebody for incompetence if they have been on the job for more than 3 months or whatever probationary period they agreed to. That is why, at one place of employment, we had something called the "Performance Improvement Program". In theory, the Performance Improvement Program was a warning that you had to get your act together or you would be let go. In reality, it was your three month notice that you were getting canned for incompetence. I don't think anyone was ever able to retain their job after getting PIPed.

Wouldn't it be great if we could PIP Raymond Lavigne?

In all three cases above, the person was walked out the door with no severance. You were a BAD employee. You lost your job. Bye bye. Why can't we do this with Raymond Lavigne? Because Raymond Lavigne has lawyers. He would sue for wrongful dismissal until the legal costs to the Crown ended up exceeding his salary, and in the end some lame-ass judge would probably award him millions of dollars in compensation. That is why "any move to throw Mr. Lavigne out of the Red Chamber is only expected to come after he exhausts all avenues to appeal his conviction." -G&M- Because only then can we be sure that he would not win a wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

But there is one other option: Reasonable alternate work. I have an anecdote for this one too:

I used to work for an IT company doing helpdesk reporting: average speed to answer (ASA), abandon rate, and so on. They let me make graphs. It was good. Anyhow, there was a fellow on the helpdesk (ie. he applied for, and accepted this job answering phones) who, sometime after his probation period had passed, had to go on sick leave because he was afraid of telephones. I am not shitting you. This really happened. I guess the stress of not knowing when the phone would ring caused him so much anxiety that he had to go on short term disability.

He eventually came back to work, but was unfireable because his incompetence was a result of a medical condition. Thus, he was reassigned from the helpdesk to an alternate job doing shift work down in tape ops. This job involved staying up all night mounting and unmounting storage tapes for the server farm. Fun stuff. Three months later he was gone. I don't know if he quit or if he was fired for being incompetent at this new job, but either way the company was rid of him.

I submit that since Raymond Lavigne is unable to do his job, being banned from the senate chambers and all, that we should find alternate work for him. Like, perhaps, personal bathroom assistant for Steven Fletcher. That's right, Ray. You are now on Steven Fletcher doody duty. Gretchen here will show you the ropes. Literally. There are ropes involved. Have fun!

Thursday 3 March 2011

Royal Canoe

Okay, every time I bitch about something in the Free Press I feel kinda crumby afterwards. Even if it was about a Francis Russell column. Not because the criticism wasn't worthy, but just because I don't like being Mr. Negative all the time.

Now I know in the past that when I have expressed similar concerns some of you have told me not to be a pussy. Literally. I can't help it. Maybe I just need to pick my targets a little more carefully and then unleash both barrells when I find something that really deserves getting hacked to peices in the bloggosphere. No more of this coffee break blogging when something slightly annoys me and I write about it, more to take my mind off work than anything else.

So, to change the tone a little bit, let me introduce you to Royal Canoe. This local band created by Matt Peters from The Waking Eyes has a very, um, unique sound and is starting to make some waves. Below is the new video, hot off the presses.

At first you might think "what the fuck is this?", but shortly after the time the guys in the orange ski masks start to pour in you will probably start thinking "you know, this isn't bad", and when it's over you will be thinking "I still don't know what the fuck that was, but it was pretty cool!". Enjoy:


FASD and reading polls

It must be a slow news day.

Mia Rabson, staring at her empty in box this morning, was forced to manufacture a story that only half of Manitobans know what causes FASD. This willful misinterpretation of a poll should never have been published, or perhaps should have been written as "Between 97% and 100% of Manitobans know what causes FASD" ... but that wouldn't really be news-worthy.

The poll asked: In your opinion, how much alcohol, if any, would you consider a "safe" amount for a woman to drink at one time while pregnant?
none: 88%
1 drink: 6%
2 drinks: 1%
don't know/unsure: 3%

So it appears that at least 97% of Manitobans realize that drinking alcohol at some level is unsafe. The remaining 3% may also know this, but may not be sure what the "safe" level is. This is understandable, as scientists don't know either. You may question that 1 or 2 drinks is safe, but there have been a number of studies including a well publicized British study late last year that determined that moderate drinking actually appears to be safe:

Children whose mothers have one or two drinks per week during pregnancy are not at any greater risk for developing behavioral or cognitive problems than children whose mothers abstained completely. -link-
... not that I would recommend drinking anything.

The reason Mia says that half of Manitobans are stupid neanderthals who live under a rock, is because of this question:

"The only way to get FASD is by drinking during pregnancy"
Strongly agree: 46%

Like I wrote in the Freep comments: "
"It sounds like a trick question. Maybe you can get the same condition by drinking gasoline or smoking salvia or hanging upside down for 8 hours a day while pregnant. Who knows?"
Or, like a different reader more coherently writes:
"People who know FASD is caused by alcohol consumption during pregnancy may answer "neutral" or something south of that answer because they don't know if there's possibly another way to get FASD. Drinking heavily just before pregnancy, perhaps? Drinking while breast feeding? Although I believe they are not ways to get FASD, a reasonable non-medical person might think it's possible, and not want to answer definitively that alcohol during pregnancy is the ONLY way to get it."
The survey itself is flawed and probably not worth reporting on. Mia's mangling of the results compounds the flaws to such a degree that the reader is left less informed than if they had never seen the article in the first place.

Come on, Mia. I know you can do better than this.

Tuesday 1 March 2011

Updates: film fest and rent controls

Once again my spongee game has been post-poned, this time because of blowing snow, so I have a chance to follow-up on a couple of subjects:

Reminder, the 2nd Annual Afghan Film Festival & Mini Market is this Saturday.


I really wasn't planning on writing anything more about rent controls, because it's really not a subject I'm all that passionate about. I haven't rented for over 5 years, and the last time I rented I had the laziest landlord in the city who never bothered to increase my rent by any amount.

But, alas, I am compelled to give an update on the rent control issue because fellow blogger and media insider Miss Martin made me aware of a new position paper released by the Winnipeg Realtors org. You can find the paper here.

I do not have time to go into the kind of detail that I did with my previous posts, but you probably won't be surprised to find out that it arrives at different conclusions than the government comissioned paper by Prof. Hugh Grant did. In fact, it points to rent controls and what it calls a "cumbersome and unbalanced Residential Tenancies Act" as the main culprits behind the low vacancy rate.
What became abundantly clear in meeting a number of the REIN (Real Estate Investment Network) members was how reluctant they are to consider Winnipeg as an investment opportunity, knowing that their private capital will fall under a rent control regime.
There's an idea. Want to know why developers aren't building apartments? Talk to the people holding the chequebooks!

The paper does not recommend getting rid of rent controls entirely (perhaps knowing it would be politically unfeasible) but it does recommend implementing "softer" rent controls, as can be found in some other provinces.
The Ontario experience of softening rent controls in 1998 has resulted in steadily growing new rental construction. ... CMHC has reported that Toronto vacancy rates went from .8 per cent under a system of rent controls similar to Manitoba’s in 1997 to 3.8 per cent in 2003. They still remain much higher than Winnipeg’s at 3.1 per cent in 2009 and 2.1 per cent in 2010.
It also recommends reforming the Residential Tenancies Act and other regulations, implemeting portable shelter allowances to assist low income renters, and jump-starting construction with development incentives.

Keeping in mind that Winnipeg Realtors may not be an unbiased organization, there is a lot of common sense in there. Not much in the way of number crunching though. I still wouldn't mind finding something unbiased with more statistical analysis, but for now I might just put this puppy hibernation.

/* Google Tracker Code