House Renovations during a time of COVID. Bring Tools

Brown Broom and White Plastic Bucket
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I pack my favorite tools in a checked bag. I fly to Victoria and successfully avoid and evade COVID in order to help our son and daughter-in law with their recent house purchase. I pour over the inspection report whose main purpose includes finding as many defects as possible. Caveat Emptor. The buyer needs a thousand eyes, but the seller, well he needs but only one. That kind of university education does shake one’s faith in humanity a touch, but I persevere.

Arriving at the house, my son and daughter-in-law beam happily. But the house remains stoic. I am pleased that the house does justice for all of the photos from the report. Any photo from the realtor seems to distort reality, while the inspector’s photos bring reality back to focus. Sometimes harshly. Like all good things, a bit of distance does make things look better. Up close, some of the flaws can be distracting. Thoreau’s mild caution comes to mind for when the couple get their house, they may not be the richer but the poorer for it and it be the house that has got them. 

At twenty-five years, the house aged well. The first owners may not have aged as well however. When the original owners sold, a contractor bought the house a few years ago and saw an opportunity to do a quick gut and turn a bit of a profit. The subsequent buyers only had the place for a couple of years and decided to move to a different neighbourhood. Unfortunately, they had to sell during the time of COVID. The virus had not peaked yet, but the fear component was quite high. And Warren Buffet did recommend along the lines of buying when others are fearful, so this seem be that situation. Not that he made it into the realtor’s report.

The contractors revamped the exterior. This meant a new coat of paint that also meant painting the roof. They advertised the roof as slate tiles, but I eventually figured out the tiles were actually cement. Did painting cement mean anything longevity wise? How well does paint adhere to concrete? Many questions and not too many answers. The house inspector did not have a firm answer. This became more of a research project as opposed to a renovation project.

All the lovely flowers in Victoria seem to be a result of all the rain. So it seems that constant November to February showers bring March flowers. It does not sound as poetic that way. A problem with houses is that they are mainly made with wood. If the wood is no longer part of a tree, then the showers contacting the wood becomes a problem. Showers also bring fungus rot. Not as pretty as a flower.

And yes, we began caulking. One of those neat words that act as a noun and as a gerund. Builders cover many of the decks with vinyl to keep the area underneath the deck relatively dry. So whenever they cut through the vinyl to make way for deck railings, it just seems to defeat the purpose. Remember National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation when Clark Griswold was happily putting hundreds of little staple holes in his shingled roof? Something like that. More Chalking.

The main living area on the second floor faces a rock hill behind the house. This attractive feature diverts all of that surface water down to the base of the house. Lovely moss and ferns cover the rock face. This suggests that lots of moisture cascades down this area. Weeping tiles seem to be doing a great job in collecting the water and diverting it around the house. Except for all of those little spaces in between the house and cement patio. More Caulking.

A few deck posts appear to have been heavily puttied. This material covers up areas that have decayed away, until the putty starts to crumble itself. Cut and replace. Way past caulking.

At the far end of the deck, one of the main beams no longer reaches its final destination. A standing post. Just a few inches shy. A post too far perhaps. The next to last post is only four feet away, so this hovering beam needs to be redone. The beam can cantilever for a couple of feet, but it can’t cantilever there forever. Cut out the old, and put in the new.

Good job for a reciprocating saw. I have a nice rechargeable Black and Decker one. Did I say rechargeable with one of those large lithium batteries that seem to catch on fire occasionally when on a plane? The battery would have to come in my carry-on while the saw itself would have to stay in the checked bag. And does anyone besides me read those little boxes you check before printing your airplane ticket? One asks are you carrying explosives? Easy no there. The next one asks about carrying power tools? Answering yes kicks you out of the main line and into the exception line for check-in. In Canada, the attendant taking the bags simply told me that a saw would be fine. I have been dragged into the “exception line” in foreign countries on occasion. These rooms have metal tables and people with automatic weapons. No reasons were ever given, and it was not a Midnight Express experience, but something to avoid.

After the outside repairs, we can now look inwards. Not for introspection, but for the problems inside of the house. The one thing that could be worse than water, which gives life and appears so attractive in photos, would be termites.

Termites have a right to live too, just not in the house. Our inspection found this little insect colony near the boiler room. Termites become the kiss of resale death for houses in the US. The Western Drywood termites there can start on wood and carry-on merrily until they are done. The Victoria Subterranean Termites require moisture and they construct tunnels in order to move from one area to another. So they constructed little earthen tunnels. Taking out small parts of the drywall, we can see that they did not affect the wood at all and simply abandoned the nest. It resembled an ancient abandoned Mayan civilization. Only the structures remain. But we got rid of the termite structures anyway.

After a week of tearing some things apart and rebuilding others, I return home. The young adults seem pleased. Job done. At least for now. I pack away most of my tools. I leave some behind since I seem to own 4 or 5 of the same tool. I can’t resist shiny things.

Later that month at home our daughter calls. She just bought a nice turn of the century house. Come and have a look she says. Bring tools.  

The Nature of Corporations

People and entities in search of a soul

View of Dark Hallway
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Corporations must remain flexible and capable of reacting to any opportunity that falls within its own strategic positioning. A Shamrock style of corporation with categories of staff ranging from casual, regular and contract staff assists in this flexibility.[1] One can immediately see the same need within individuals, but we are constrained somewhat since we cannot hire additional units of ourselves. However, we can additional external units of assistance to deal with other issues that are preventing us from achieving our personal goals. Having someone cutting the grass or cleaning the house can open up the necessary time to refocus our own priorities.

Does one really want to emulate a company? Can we look at their successes to determine whether we should consider this approach? From a number of criteria, companies have become the major factor in global economic development. There may be a time that companies exceed nations in overall impact on society and economics. It may be hard to believe that any corporation will ever approach the U.S. in overall GDP and cultural impact. But if you look at the top grossing corporations and countries, of the top 50, there are 13 corporations. The largest corporation earns more that either Finland or Denmark, and that really makes it a world player. Certainly nation states, with the U.S. leading the way, will probably always be the major economic force in the world, but not in the same way as global corporations, which have far greater autonomy and much narrower objectives than nations.

Some are concerned that the rise of the modern corporation has overwhelmed the citizen in civil society and in political action. The corporation is especially advantaged against the citizen in the determination of foreign policy. Putting these two advantages together accounts for the peculiarly dehumanized values which are frequently manifest in U.S. foreign policy and international economic relations. A major issue today is how should moral guidance be provided to social entities such as the corporation? One does not have to look farther than the Enron example to see the depth and breadth of the problems that today’s corporations face.

But why should moral guidance apply to corporations? Why do corporations exist but to facilitate commerce and provide a return on capital for those that have provided the funds? Why should the investors have to pay for some social enterprise when they are mostly interested in getting the best return on their investment? Anything else would be unethical as that is simply diverting money that the company is in a way holding in trust for the shareholders. It would be a breach of fiduciary duty to do something with the corporate resources which didn’t maximize profits.

In applying the corporate model to life, we have to clearly differentiate the profit model of a traditional business to more of a non-profit model for life. The business model as it applies to an individual would be more along the lines of a charitable non-profit model. Charities must achieve some sort of positive revenue flow, so non-profit does not mean no profit. It merely refers to the fact that charities have greater objectives in mind. Their mission and vision could be the relief of poverty, the education of children, or the protection of the environment. All of these require money of course, but in their revenue generating activities, excess revenues over expenses goes back into the business instead of dividends to shareholders.

Is there is more to life than just money?

Although that may sound a bit heretical to some/most people, there are more things in life than simply money. Another criteria that we are trying to avoid when using the corporate model of life is the accumulation of power. This appears to the be the driving force for a number of individuals in business, and sometimes politics in thinking that you can get the most out of life through power. Either by creating it, or having other people give it to you. And, in a lot of situations, that is what it mainly boils down to; other people have to accept in giving power over themselves to you.

[1] Handy, Charles.

#soul #motivation #inspiration

How to make all lawyers look bad

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One could not miss the flurry of litigation that followed the latest U.S. elections, which appear to be continuing weeks after the result seemed certain.

One could also be amazed at the lengths some of the Trump campaign lawyers have taken in order to argue their case. Certainly, lawyers must fiercely advocate for their clients, but this advocacy must have limits. A lawyer should not contort facts, law or themselves in an unbridled zeal to get a favorable decision.

Philadelphia attorney Jerome M. Marcus contorted himself in arguing that Republican observers did not have an opportunity to oversee the vote counting.

Judge Diamond: “Are your observers in the counting room?”

Marcus: “There’s a non-zero number of people in the room.”

Non-zero. I stopped and thought about that for a while. A helpful definition from states that any number, whether positive or negative, that does not equate to zero essentially represents a nonzero number. Therefore, in theory, the Trump campaign could have had a negative number of scrutineers. Theorizing further, negative people — in space, not attitude — take up less room. So they could have had even more negative scrutineers.

However, the lawyer simply avoided answering the court’s question. Judge Diamond pressed the point. 

Diamond: “I am asking you as a member of the bar of this court: are people representing the plaintiffs in the [counting] room?”

Marcus: “Yes.”

(Having the court remind you that you are member of the bar is equivalent to your mother calling you by your first, middle and last name. You are in trouble.)

Diamond: “I’m sorry, then what’s your problem?” 

Trump’s team conceded the point and the two sides agreed to increase the level of access[ER1]  for scrutineers. The Trump lawyer lost the case and most of his credibility by this time. The attempts to rephrase the factual situation reminded me of the doublethink reference in George Orwell’s novel 1984: “Doublethink means the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them.”

The Sticky Note hearsay evidence case provides another great example of advocacy limits. In a further attempt to prove fraud, the Trump campaign submitted an affidavit that seemed to contain questionable physical facts. I could feel the embarrassment of campaign lawyer Thor Hearne attempting to extend the law of hearsay to Michigan Court of Claims Judge Cynthia Stephens.

Judge Stephens: So I want to make sure I understand you. The affiant is not the person who had knowledge of this. Is that correct?

Hearne: The affiant had direct firsthand knowledge of the communication with the elections inspector and the document they provided them.

Stephens: Okay, which is generally known as hearsay, right?

Hearne: I would not think that’s hearsay, Your Honor. That’s firsthand personal knowledge by the affiant of what she physically observed. And we included an exhibit which is a physical copy of the note that she was provided.

After a bit of discussion, Judge Stephens reviewed the note and seemed to channel Judge Diamond’s exasperation:

Stephens: I’m still trying to understand why this isn’t hearsay.

Hearne: Well, it’s, it, I –

Stephens: I absolutely understand what the affiant says she heard someone say to her. But the truth of the matter … that you’re going for was that there was an illegal act occurring. Because other than that I don’t know what its relevancy is.

Hearne: Right. I would say, Your Honor, in terms of the hearsay point, this is a firsthand factual statement made by Ms. Connarn, and she has made that statement based on her own firsthand physical evidence and knowledge —

Stephens: “I heard somebody else say something.” Tell me why that’s not hearsay. Come on, now.

Hearne: Well, it’s a firsthand statement of her physical –

Stephens: It’s an out-of-court statement offered where the truth of the matter is asserted, right?

Just to confirm, the courts south of 49 do not occupy a separate legal reality. The U.S. case Subramanian v. Public Prosecutor (1956) found that hearsay evidence is any statement, either written or oral, which was made out of court, but is presented in court to prove the truth of that statement. Judge Stephens’ ruling upheld a situation that should have been obvious to a second year law student. Or anyone that streams movies dramatizing trials.

In a later written decision, Stephens went further and dismissed the evidence as “inadmissible as hearsay within hearsay.”

The Code of Professional Conduct of the Law Society of Manitoba suggests limits to such advocacy: “When acting as an advocate, a lawyer must not: knowingly attempt to deceive a tribunal or influence the course of justice by offering false evidence, misstating facts or law, presenting or relying upon a false or deceptive affidavit … ”

The court managed another admonishment with the “Come on, now,” which is reminiscent of Barack Obama’s admonition of Donald Trump: “Come on, man.”  These expressions are directed at people who contort the reality of the situation.

This type of contortion becomes a concern if the court record somehow becomes mudded with “alternate facts.” The novel 1984 provides another warning: “And if all others accepted the lie which the Party imposed — if all records told the same tale — then the lie passed into history and became truth.”

Manitoba’s code of conduct provides guidance on how lawyers should be balancing these two solitudes of client and society: “When acting as an advocate, a lawyer must represent the client resolutely and honourably within the limits of the law, while treating the tribunal with candour, fairness, courtesy, and respect.”

# trump #election

The Bay store is dead. Long live The Bay.

A view of the HBC department store in Winnipeg (1931) by Bridgens
Source: Hudson’s Bay Company Archives, 1987/363-W-315/102.

I remember Winnipeg’s Hudson’s Bay Company store. The way the store used to be back in the 1960’s which formed part of my own upbringing.

By 1910 Winnipeg’s new economy moved to Portage Ave and The Bay wanted to be where the future commerce was going to be.

Montreal architects Barott and Blackader designed the building as a fine example of Beaux-Art styling. The construction used materials almost entirely from Manitoba. This called for 125,000 cubic feet of Tyndall limestone from Gypsumville. Workers removed 150,000 tons of earth with 120 teams of horses, twenty trucks and two steam shovels. They pounded in 151 piles to the bedrock. This building became part of the earth, part of Manitoba and part of Winnipeg.

This massive 675,000 square foot department store occupied a prime piece of real estate. The store faced Portage Avenue along with the newly constructed Manitoba legislature just down the street.

The building used three boilers to provide hot water and steam for the turbines which generated its own electricity. It became the model of self-sufficiency. The building was the largest concrete enforced structure in Canada at the time. Looking at the Tyndall stone exterior you can see fossilized shells. A touch of irony as the store would eventually become a fossil itself.

The store opened on November 18th, 1926 to thousands of customers with thousands of staff. With an arcade, restaurants, beauty salons, furniture, clothing and of course furs, The Bay could satisfy almost any consumer desire.

Several decades later, The Bay became part of my childhood. Our father returned from a stint with the RAF and entered the Bay management program. Our mother worked in the Bay’s personnel department. They met, fell in love, and produced two other life-time Bay customers.

The Bay sent our dad and family on a whirlwind tour of the country. I was born in Toronto, but I eventually lived in eight cities across Canada. We ended up in Winnipeg. Three times. Most people leave Winnipeg not to return, but we managed to come back on each occasion.

When we lived in Winnipeg the second time, our father became the manager of women’s fashions. He had a great office and a big leather chair. On Saturdays, I would hop the bus, and spend the day in the store. It transformed to become my playground. Being 11 years old, I was entrusted with a bus ticket to get downtown, and another to get back home in the off chance I couldn’t get home with my dad.

During this time I would run up to the Paddlewheel restaurant. Burger and fries please! And a chocolate milk! The restaurant of course resembled a traditional ship with a moving, slightly dangerous paddlewheel churning away. The ceiling painted blue for the sky and white for the clouds. You can imagine an 11 year old going on imaginary trips for all of lunchtime. The restaurant became a precursor of things to come as it closed on January 24th 2013. For its last meal, the restaurant ran out of food. One of the few times when demand out ate supply.

The rest of the staff always knew who I was and always smiled at me. I hope it was because I was a pleasant quiet child. Not the delinquent son of a senior manager.

Winters brought in the most magical time. Christmas. The Bay showed over exuberance in the way of decorations even though they must have eaten away at the profits. The store windows were sights to behold. The best ones used animatronics for little cartoon like animals and the celebrations they must have had. Inside the store amazed young and old. Of course Santa appeared in a makeshift workshop at the North Pole. Exhilarating and terrifying all at the same time.

Even if I can’t remember the exact decorations or what I asked Santa to bring me anymore, the sense of wonder I felt still remains. I over romanticize the past, but rarely do senior adults feel that sense of wonder. When you encounter such a person, sit and listen. You can still feel the passion within.

Eventually we left for Montreal, but returned one last time to Winnipeg. Eventually dad retired. We didn’t seem to have a driving reason to go downtown any longer. The other malls were opening up. I even worked in one of the suburban Bays for a period of time in sporting goods.

The new economics slowly drained away the life-force from what used to be the flagship store for the Bay.

Over the past few years, The Bay closed off the top floors of the store. Now The Bay only occupies the main and second floor. The store used to service thousands of customers in a day. But now the aisles seem mostly empty. Customers look to their on-line gods now.

The store intends to shut its doors in February 2021.

The City of Winnipeg granted the store a historical designation in January 2019. So the exterior must remain, along with some of the outside canopy and the interior curved elevator lobby. Mostly everything else will have to be eviscerated. It seems like a favorite eccentric uncle with dementia. The exterior is still there, but everything that gave it character has been removed.

Developers may be thinking of installing atriums which would bring light to the interior of a structure well past its prime and well past its place in this new economy. Creative destruction. The tearing down of the old to allow the reallocation of freed up assets. Economists have a way with words.

Appraisers place a zero price on the building. What with the taxes and improvement costs, this is likely a generous price. But the value of the Flagship Hudson’s Bay Company building goes beyond the price. And with 151 piles, the Bay remains part of the province and the city.

I’ll sadly watch the old Bay transform, but I look forward to its rebirth. And remember.

Leading your Life: Chapter 3

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What Opportunity appears to lie for this approach of using business skills for your life?

There are numerous books on getting an MBA in various business areas already. There are also several books on developing a balance between work and life. However, there are no books that apply business skills to organize one’s own life. Developing a personal vision and mission statement are sometimes mentioned, but they are not mentioned in the way of an entire life strategic plan. A good life simply does not happen. You have to figure out what that means to yourself and how you are going to achieve it.

The primary market would be those deeply involved in business seeking additional self-help books. The title would be sufficient to bring to mind that those individuals should be giving further thought on organizing their own lives. In the traditional self-help section, there would be looking for a bit more of a systematic way to approach life. They may not have ever read a business book before, but if it were in the traditional self-help section for life skills, they would have a greater opportunity to learn about what a strategic plan was all about if the planning was about something that interested them.

A typical user would be the middle-aged business man and woman. Following the largest demographic hump, these people have been working in business all their lives and some have made tremendous sacrifices. They are now looking to work on their own lives now that they have succeeded in business. Some of them may have been great economic successes while they left the rest of their lives enter a form of emotional and physical bankruptcy.

The book would help those that have the greatest of skills but are still lost in trying to apply them to their own lives. These people may be inclined to read the occasional self-help book, but they may be lost in trying to determine what direction to go in. Having a book that aligns with their own personal interests and applies the relevant skills they already possess in order to maximize the returns to their own lives would be a logical extension.

Leading your life-Chapter 2

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Can a business model help your own life?

The question then becomes what is the connection between how a corporation runs and how an individual can run their own life. Corporations have always used objectives such as profits, return on investment and dividends paid amongst other criteria.  Can this somehow predicate the happiness of the Corporation or do we have a similar kind of dichotomy between man and business?

Does the satisfaction of these corporate criteria also refer only to contentment?  The satisfaction of these various corporate objectives does lead to the payment of dividends, wages and bonuses, which can lead to the contentment of individuals.  If indeed the Corporation’s soul is made up of the individuals that run the organization, then we could have an argument that a similar dichotomy exists between contentment and true happiness within a corporation.  This would suggest that a corporation having the values of the individual would also seek to maximize its happiness by leading a highly moral life.

If a corporation could somehow be happy in the satisfaction of its mission and vision statement, then it stands to reason that a similar achievement of a personal mission and vision statement would lead to the happiness of an individual. However, there’s a further questions of whether or not happiness of the individual is somehow separate apart from the individuation or actualization of the individual. 

It would seem that an individual would want to become fully actualized through the accumulation of skills and wisdom and perhaps wealth.  If it individual wishes to become actualized through work, this is somehow consistent with leading a highly moral life.  One should be able to lead a highly moral life and still become actualized.  Actualization may have to do more with the contentment of the individual and the resolution of various desires of that particular individual

Rusty Rudy Giulani

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Most lawyers know not to ask questions in court in which they don’t know the answer.

The next most important one is to not use a word in which you don’t know the meaning.

Rudy tripped himself up over the meaning of “opacity.”

Giuliani: “In the plaintiffs’ counties, they were denied the opportunity to have an unobstructed observation and ensure opacity. “I’m not quite sure I know what opacity means. It probably means you can see, right?”

Judge Brann: “It means you can’t.”

Giuliani: “Big words, your honor,” Giuliani said.

Once you start tripping over the details, the major premise you intended starts to collapse.

Leading your life.

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Examine an analogy between the standard corporation and the nature of men and women. The soulless corporation depends upon the values of those that run the organization to determine its own values. One would think that the values of individuals align with the Corporation’s. Perhaps the true happiness of an individual may be analogous to the happiness of the organization.

The happiness of an individual can be divided into two main criteria. The first requires finding happiness in the satisfaction of the various desires that individuals have. An individual could be happy either based on the satisfaction of these desires or the elimination of these desires. However happiness could be far more complicated. The resolution of various desires would be more clearly defined as contentment. Happiness of the individual would then be dependent upon the moral values of that individual and leading a highly moral life. This may be a bit too simplistic since leading a highly moral life is insufficient. Having good fortune is also relatively important. Sickness and poverty are severe overlying factors that can prevent or mitigate against leading a moral life and true happiness.

So we need to lay out some specific goals to keep centered.


Can you lead your life like you lead your business?

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Trying to figure out life’s purpose in the midst of a pandemic can be disheartening.
One wonders if a business approach might help show you how to systematically find this out on your own.

Why a Business Model?

One might think that using a business model to one’s own life simply allows the problem to take control over a larger portion of your existence. But what if there were a way to try and apply what you have already learned to living a better life? Most people are involved in business in some fashion or another in order to earn income. Would applying those business skills somehow be of help to strategically lay out your own life to achieve your own personal vision and mission statement? Doing what you know and do best applies to most things. Certainly this would also apply to life, and using those honed business skills would make your life one of the top organizations for years to come.

I am going to focus on this for a while and let you know what we can find.