Category Archives: Uncategorized

George Tindal, in his 95th year

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George Tindal dedicates a garden — near the 6th green of the Brockville Country Club golf course — to the memory of his wife Ruth in July 2012.

George W. Tindal, in his 95th year, after a short illness and with family at his side.

Born at Morrisburg on July 10, 1918, he was the eldest of nine children of Howard and Fannie (Gamble) Tindal. He started work during the depression, including a stint in Montreal with the Fur Trade department of the Hudson’s Bay Company.

During World War II he served with the Canadian Army in England, France, Belgium, The Netherlands, and Germany.

George was married to the former Ruth Arleen Mattice of Morrisburg, who passed away October 29, 2009, a few months after their 67th anniversary.

In a career devoted to public administration he served as Clerk-Treasurer of Morrisburg during planning for the St. Lawrence Seaway and Power Project, then became Secretary-Treasurer of the Ontario St. Lawrence Parks Commission as it developed a series of parks from Quebec to Adolphustown.

George and Ruth came to Brockville in 1969 when he took up duties as Superintendent of Business for the newly-created Leeds & Grenville County Board of Education. They were both avid golfers and enjoyed entertaining a wide network of family and friends.

In his final years George continued to embrace life and seek new experiences. He deepened a lifelong interest in music and became a frequent patron of the Brockville arts scene. He enjoyed dining out and remained very active until suffering a stroke in early February. Thanks to the staff at the Wedgewood for their years of caring support.

Without George’s keen interest in social and political affairs, newspaper Letters to the Editor columns will be diminished, and many worthy endeavours will have to struggle along without his generous (if not always solicited) advice.

He leaves two sons, Richard (Susan) of Kingston and Douglas (Mardi) of Toronto, six grandchildren, Sue, Scott (Michelle), Cindy (Ronda), Kate (Tim), Chris (Claire), and Alex; and four great-grandchildren; Michael, Julie, Emma, and Abby. He is also survived by one brother, Tom, and two sisters, Frances and Ruth, and fondly remembered by Chris Sleeth.

Jonathan Kay and Toronto Life: What’s the point?

I have no idea what point Jonathan Kay and the editors of Toronto Life were trying to make with their “almost rich” feature.

The package takes a look at what it’s like to live as a member of the one per cent—meaning an income of around $196,000—and combines a short essay by Kay with profiles of five such households. Kay’s essay especially has drawn heated criticism online, the most notable example being a masterful Gawker rant. The author of that post, Hamilton Nolan, seems to believe Kay’s main intent was to argue that those who make $196,000 a year aren’t really that rich, because the cost of living in Toronto is so high.

And Kay does make some arguments to that effect. He writes that “for many Torontonians, that $10,400 [the after-tax, monthly income of someone making $196,000 a year] disappears fast.” By way of example, he points out that living in a $1.5 million house, spending $1000 on a stroller, renovating a kitchen to add granite counters and “spending a fortune on artisanal cheeses” to host a “casual” weekend gathering is really expensive. (“No shit,” replies Nolan.)

But the profiles that follow, like Kay’s examples, don’t support this argument at all. Instead we’re introduced to one man who spends $800 a month on wine in addition to his $1,000 a month on clothes. We meet a retired couple who buy a new Mercedes every three years using cash. One family of four owns a Toronto house, a cottage and two cars including a BMW while still managing to put away $20,000 a year in savings and go on an annual $7,000 vacation to an all-inclusive resort. Another family’s reported monthly expenses only came to $5,780, presumably leaving them with a $4,000 a month surplus.

Most people would agree those sound like pretty rich lifestyles, as Nolan ruthlessly and convincingly asserts, so if the point of this feature is to argue that $196,000 isn’t that rich, these are very strange examples to hold up.

But then, even Kay doesn’t argue that point in his subsequent reply to Nolan. The “admittedly witty” take down, Kay says, “doesn’t change the fact that the growing debt phenomenon among the upper classes I describe is very real.”

Ok, so now we’re talking about debt, I guess. And in Kay’s original essay we can find examples of concern about debt: “the average GTA household is now carrying almost $40,000 in debt on top of a mortgage,” he says, and “the ratio of the average single-family Toronto home price to the income of its occupants” has risen to 5.5 from its historical average of 3.5. But the key word in both of those statistics is, of course, average. These claims that debt is a problem in general for an average household then get juxtaposed with the family putting away $20,000 a year in savings.

So I don’t see how “the growing debt phenomenon among the upper classes” can be the point either. Other than that, I’m at a loss. Is his thesis that “the city [has become] more and more the exclusive domain of the One Per Cent?” That “the era of the ‘mixed’ neighbourhood… is falling away?” That “urban life is unaffordable unless both partners are bringing in serious money?” That previous generations “did not waste a single moment worrying about replacing [their] laminate kitchen counters?”

I don’t know. And I suspect, based on the wounded “can’t we just move on from this” tone of his Nolan reply (he quotes Homer Simpson, “I like it better when they’re making fun of people who aren’t me”), Kay might not know either. Toronto Life has a knack for getting writers to produce bewildering content that’s out of character and lacking in focus. I wonder what kind of direction he was given, and how much he knew about how the family interviews (conducted by Maggie Gilmour and Jasmine Budak) would be framed.

What I do know is that the whole thing is a missed opportunity. Lifestyle inflation is a real thing, and would have made for an interesting exploration in a Toronto context. The increasing cost of housing and debt are serious problems as well, though certainly not limited to the one per cent. And the fact that pretty much everyone seems to think of themselves as “average” continues to be fascinating. It would be great if another publication did a reboot of the Toronto Life feature, this time using a more economically diverse collection of households and exploring the actual cost of living most Torontonians encounter. Maybe someone will yet take that on.

Keep your identity humble

A recent essay by Paul Graham called Keep Your Identity Small has been read and shared by a number of people in my circle. I mentioned though a Google Reader note that I disagreed with the essay’s conclusions, and a friend asked me to expand. This post is the result.

Graham argues that the reason some conversations degenerate into useless arguments—most notably political and religious conversations—is because those topics “become part of people’s identity, and people can never have a fruitful argument about something that’s part of their identity.” This means that the problem with discussing politics or religion isn’t with the topic itself, but rather with the “partisan” people who participate in a discussion. Graham explains that “you could in principle have a useful conversation about [politics and religion] with some people,” just not people who have a political or religious identity.

In his final paragraph and in a comment on his own essay, Graham even goes so far as to say that “the more labels” a person has, the “dumber” that person is, and that identity makes one “stupid.”

The foundational claims of the essay are demonstrably false in their extremism. While it’s obvious that some people who identify with a religious or political label are impossible to talk to, it’s equally obvious that that doesn’t apply to everyone with a religious or political identity. To claim that you can “never have a fruitful argument” about politics with someone who holds political beliefs is absurd. I have had many such conversations with conservatives, liberals, libertarians, devout atheists, fundamentalist Christians, etc. These conversations have borne fruit in the form of a greater understanding of (and sometimes a change to) my own identity and beliefs.

Even the strength of one’s identity is not necessarily a determining factor in whether or not that person is able to have a fruitful discussion. There are people with very strong political or religious beliefs (Desmond Tutu, Joe Clark, Bill Blaikie, Barack Obama) who are still constructive and flexible for the sake of good debate where others are rigid. (That does not mean they don’t hold strongly to their beliefs, simply that they are confident enough in their beliefs to have them tested and questioned from different perspectives.) Conversely, I have known people to be rigid and stubbornly argumentative simply for the sake of arguing, even though they’ll later admit, when pressed, that they didn’t actually believe in anything they were saying.

Graham is therefore not describing anyone and everyone with an identity, but rather people who are stubborn, rigid, extreme or fundamentalist in their identity. People in this category can have many labels or even none.

I regard the conclusion that it’s advisable to “keep your identity small” to be at best unproductive and at worst dangerous. I would rather surround myself with people who disagree with me and belong to different schools of thought yet are willing to respect diversity of opinion and belief than with people who have gone out of their way to try and not answer the questions “who am I, what do I believe in, what do I think is worth advocating and standing up for?” Those are the questions that define identity, and that drive individual and societal improvement and progress.

I therefore think it is more advisable to allow your identity to grow and flourish, but to keep it humble. Hold beliefs, but don’t stop questioning them. Find truths, but never stop seeking new ones. Create an identity for yourself, but never stop growing and evolving as you learn from the identities that others have created for themselves. Take pride in the communities you choose to belong to, and respect and admire those to which you do not belong.

And finally, in arguments, try to follow Graham’s advice on how to disagree, which I think is much more productive than his advice to keep your identity small.