The Star tries to make up its mind

[January 28 update: the Star‘s public editor addressed my complaint in her column today. Here’s my reaction.]

[January 26 update: the Star finally prepended a correction to the article yesterday, more than a full day later. I’ll have more to say about it in a couple of days.]

Although the Star is somewhat notorious for its editing mistakes, it’s not often that you see the same story covered under two completely contradictory headlines. But such was the case today when a story about a raise for town councillors in Whitchurch-Stouffville first appeared and was later updated:

Town council votes itself a giant raise. Or not.

Half an hour later:

Town council votes itself a giant raise. Or not.

I didn’t have a chance to read the first version of the story, but it’s clear that at least a couple of the early commenters on the article saw a story about a 43% raise. Based on the headline alone, a correction should be appended to the online article. No such luck. It’s worth noting that the URL for the story also changed, from:–whitchurch-stouffville-council-votes-itself-43-per-cent-raise?bn=1


Both URLs currently take you to the same version of the story, but that’s only because to the Star‘s chosen content management system, this is also a valid link to the story:–the-toronto-star-cant-get-its-story-straight?bn=1

A lot of minor corrections are fixed silently and go unnoticed, but an error on this scale requires some sort of acknowledgement.

I’ve written an email to the Star‘s public editor, Kathy English, in the hope that this kind of situation may be addressed in the future.

Tip creep

It’s still early days but I’m going to go ahead and award restaurateur Tom Earl, co-owner of a restaurant that I will never patronize, the prize for boneheaded quote of the year for 2012. He was quoted in yesterday’s Star defending his restaurant’s standard tip rate of 20%, up from the usual 15%:

“We feel we are providing great service. Waiters don’t get paid too much.”

So Earl, owner of a business, feels that his underpaid employees deserve a raise. Good for him. Oh, wait, he expects me to pay them? What’s wrong with that picture? Shouldn’t the business owner be the one rewarding his valued employees?

I’ve been questioning the whole tipping convention over the last several years, especially as it grows outward to new businesses and services. I consider myself a pretty good tipper at sit-down restaurants. But tip jars have become ubiquitous on quick-service food counters, in doughnut shops, and at take-out windows. I always tip the pizza delivery guy, but why am I being prompted for a tip when picking up a slice to go? Should I be reading something into the fact that my change from a ten was two toonies and a loonie instead of a five? Am I really supposed to flip a little something to the guy at the coffee shop for handing me an empty cup that I have to fill myself? I get more service (and exact change) from that vending machine that slides a cold bottle of Coke down the chute and into my waiting hands. Why do I have to look at the stupid sign on the counter at the local gelato place informing me that “Tipping is sexy”? That may work on horny and naive teenaged boys, but I’m 42, jaded, and really don’t care what you think is sexy. What I do think whenever I see that sign is that you’re in the wrong business if you believe that my giving you money is sexy.

I tip my haircutter, even though she owns the business and is free to set a higher price if she feels she isn’t making a living wage. In fact, I think her price is way too low, so I top her up by almost 50%. But really, who am I to make that decision for her? Movers and taxi drivers, okay; but is that courier at my door rubbing his thumb and index finger together because he’s cold? Then get moving back to your truck!

The thing I dislike about tipping is that in the quarter of a century that I’ve been giving tips out of my own pocket, the very act of tipping has changed: where it used to be a reward, it’s now an expectation. It’s not a bonus, it’s part of an employee’s wages. It used to be that I thought I was rewarding someone for attention to service when I gave him or her a good tip. Now, I feel that I’m rewarding restaurant owners for failing to pay employees a living wage.

So if, as restaurateurs like Earl and countless workers contend, tips are an essential component of employees’ wages, why don’t we abandon the concept of the suggested/mandatory gratuity, get rid of the minimum wage exception for food service workers, and incorporate their higher wages into the base cost of a meal? Earl obviously knows how much his employees rely on tips and is even telling me how much he thinks I should top up their wages. So why doesn’t he just do it for me?  I see two objections to getting rid of tips in favour of better base wages:

  1. Tipping encourages better service. I call bullshit. I may have been swayed by this argument when tipping was a reward, but in an era when tips are little more than semi-organized extortion, it no longer holds true. Besides, it’s not up to me to police your employees’ performance. As a good businessperson, you should be doing that yourself and rewarding them accordingly. In virtually no other business are employees’ wages and performance evaluations left to the whims of customers. In fact, in most other businesses, accepting money on the side from customers would range from unethical to illegal. What’s so special about restaurants that normal rules of business don’t apply?
  2. Restaurants can’t afford to pay higher wages. Again, I call bullshit. Restaurants choose not to include the full cost of employees’ wages in the advertised product cost, instead encouraging/forcing customers to make up the difference. But the cost to me is the same: at the end of the day, a $50 meal and $10 tip is indistiguishable from a $60 meal and no tip.

What’s needed here isn’t yet another bump in the “standard tip rate,” but a common-sense look at the outdated custom itself. In the meantime, I’ll continue tipping where it’s warranted and ignoring the proliferation of tip jars and “Tip Y/N?” prompts on debit terminals.

Still raking in the dough

Mackenzie King's grave is gathering money again

I wrote about the comings and goings of money on Mackenzie King’s grave last month. When the cash disappeared again in October, I figured that the mystery of the pennies was over: in the five months that I’d been keeping an eye on the waxing and waning of Mackenzie King’s fortune, the empty ledger stone stayed that way unless I anted up a few cents to get the penny collection started again. And since I’m no longer a daily passer-by, my ability to assist and document the phenomenon has suffered. But I was alerted last week that something may be up when someone arrived at Dodgeville after Googling “why pennies on mackenzie king’s grave.” Sure enough, when I rode by this week, Mackenzie King’s ledger was as overflowing with money as it ever has been. Apparently, someone’s been seeding the account in my absence.

It also made me wonder about what started this cash bonanza in the first place. As I’d written in my previous post, I have no idea who placed the original eight pennies in June that started Mackenzie King’s cash collection this year. At least one person noted a single penny on the ledger as early as August 2009, but that certainly didn’t blossom into the same kind of ongoing investment that I’ve seen this year. Placing money on Mackenzie King’s grave may be an old tradition, but it’s one that’s been taken up by many more people this year than in the past.

Danforth Avenue in Whoville

One of the popular trends in Christmas decorations this year seems to be the Whoville-inspired Christmas tree with a comparatively giant ornament hanging off the top and pulling it over toward the ground. I don’t pretend to understand why these have made the leap from illustrations in a  book to real life but I freely admit that they’re cute/odd enough to make passable small table decorations:

Miniature Whoville trees inside

However, The Danforth BIA has driven the trend firmly into the absurd, with trees and planters standing 7 feet tall lining the street this month:

Whoville Tree on the Danforth

I’ll chalk this up to an idea that looked better on paper but failed somewhat in execution. The Grinch has already paid a stealthy visit to remove ornaments from some of the trees.

Future mayoral material

The Star has been running a series of articles about the sights and history along the 501 streetcar route.  Today’s installment is an online quiz that asks readers to identify intersections along the route based on clues about nearby buildings or infrastructure. I scored seven out of ten (once again, my relative lack of detailed knowledge of the west end does me in), which makes me a Torontophile on the Star‘s grading scale, just one grade below master Google cheat. But the best thing about the scale is the wonderful snark reserved for those who get just one or two answers correct:

Future Mayor, slightly better than Vancouverite

I guess that having actually ridden the 501 means that I’m just not mayoral material. I’d agree with that sentiment judging by the current administration at City Hall, but I sincerely hope that we’ll have learned our lesson by the next election.


I saw this sidewalk sign outside a restaurant on Danforth when I walked past around 2 p.m. on Friday afternoon:

We live in an age where pizza arrives at your door before the police

At the same time on Friday afternoon, a woman in Vaughan called the police about a home invasion and they took 50 minutes to respond. Maybe she should have told the cops she’d order some pizza for them. But the real question is, exactly what and when did the sign writer know? I smell an inside job.

The unbearable stress of parking lots

Mall Madness tips

In the latest edition of Lifetime, a segment on the local CTV newscast, Pauline Chan gets some advice from psychotherapist Nicole McCance on coping with the stress of mall parking lots. McCance recommends that drivers prepare in advance for the stress: her advice on controlling lot rage is to eat a meal before you go to the mall, wear comfortable shoes, and make a shopping list. In the clip, McCance says that traffic in a parking lot is beyond people’s control, but that “they can control whether they’ve gone to the bathroom or eaten.” The segment summarizes her points in a bullet list that includes items like “breathe” and being “aware of [your] body.” This is hard-hitting stuff.

Okay, I know that it’s busy at Yorkdale at this time of year, and that finding a parking spot can be stressful. But seriously, if you need a therapist to remind you to breathe while prowling the lot and to eat a meal in advance so that you don’t starve to death while hunting for an elusive 150 square feet of asphalt on which to park your automobile, I feel comfortable making two statements about your quest:

  1. You’re doing it wrong.
  2. There’s a better way.

Strangely (or not), none of McCance’s suggestions involved avoiding the stress entirely by not driving a car to the mall, shopping online, getting your act together so that you can shop in the weeks before the holiday crush, or simply opting out of the annual consumer frenzy.

Me, I’m going to cope with mall parking lots the same way I always do: by taking a three minute stroll down to the Danforth where I’ll do what little Christmas shopping I still do. And I won’t have to perform breathing exercises, talk myself down from sidewalk rage, or circle the block endlessly looking for somewhere to park my conveyance. I feel the stress melting away already.

Two bucks to fiscal responsibility

Via Torontoist, Councillor John Parker was quoted by the National Post advocating for user fees on using swimming pools, visiting Riverdale Farm, and a variety of other things that his family never does:

Quite honestly, just off the cuff, I can’t see that a two dollar fee for anything is anything that should get anyone too riled up.

I’d like to agree with John Parker: two bucks is nothing to anyone. And in that spirit, I think that the councillor should advocate for the following non-riling fees to help fix this mythical budget crunch:

This may all seem radical, but hey, it’s just two bucks, right? And a two dollar fee for anything is nothing to get riled up about, right? Hell, I’ll even register and license my bike for a toonie. Whaddaya say, councillor?

Highway fun, now at home

Now, read highway signs without having to put on pants and go outside.

One of the fun things about doing research is occasionally stumbling upon something wholly unexpected and completely unrelated to your original task. Such was the case the other day when I realized that I could read all of those electronic highway signs without having to get into a car and drive on any of the local highways.

On the city’s road restrictions map, you too can click on any of the amber circles dotting the city’s highways to read the message that’s currently displayed on that particular sign. You never need to miss another “obey traffic laws” or “drive according to road and weather conditions” again.

When is it acceptable to delay someone's commute?

I always marvel at how it’s okay for non-car commuters to suffer “minimal impact” to their travel times, but if a car commuter suffers the same “minimal impact,” everyone screams like it’s the end of the world.

I believe that the language people use says a lot about their beliefs and intentions, so I find it interesting that someone like Rob Ford, in the two quotes linked above, basically sits on opposite sides of the congestion fence at the same time. In defending TTC cuts (or as he calls them, “service level modifications”), he co-opts the reasoning of cycling advocates who defend bike lanes, saying that a few extra seconds of waiting isn’t a big deal. But in his case, he’s applying it to transit riders instead of drivers. It’s a perfect example of windshield perspective: delaying my commute by a few seconds is a travesty; but it’s okay if it happens to those other people. All those buses and bikes just get in my way anyway.

My guess is that Ford will always rail against congestion while simultaneously taking actions that will only make it worse, all in the vain pursuit of saving a few seconds and/or dollars. The only question is how long this council will let him get away with it.