Monday, August 31, 2009

Seniors are mad as hell, and they ARE going to take more

Sounds like pissed-off seniors have found a way to express their disappointment with the way life has treated them. A Reuters report says, "Tokyo police will try to rein in a wave of shoplifting by lonely elderly people," a trend that hit a new high last year, and almost matched the number of cases involving young offenders.

According to the Japanese cops, "One out of four elderly shoplifters in the capital blamed their crime on loneliness ... Another 8 percent said it was because they had no reason to live." More than half had no friends and 40% lived alone. The guilty are usually sentenced to do community volunteer work.

Almost one quarter of shoplifting offences were by those 65 or older, a group that now constitutes 20% of Japan's population and will be 40% by 2050.

An American study found that about 15% of shoplifters are seniors.

Peter Berlin, the founder of the National Association for Shoplifting Prevention, says the motivation for the five finger seniors discount is usually not financial need. “It's payback, the world is unfair, the kids don't call and seniors feel they are owed something for all they've done.”

Friday, August 28, 2009

Hurrah for the whistleblowers

Former U.S. health insurance exec Wendell Potter had an epiphany while sitting in a movie theatre watching Michael Moore's Sicko. He was there on assignment, taking notes that would enable his employer to counterattack with its own propaganda, but he found the film contained much that was convincing.

Then Potter saw lineups of uninsured people at a Tennessee charity clinic held in a fairgrounds horsebarn, an event he now describes as "life-changing." Potter decided to bail out of his highly paid job and go vocal on the sins of the healthcare insurance industry. His story is but the latest account of a courageous whistleblower who developed a backbone after years of complicit denial.

He follows in the footsteps of Jeffrey Wigand who blew the whistle on the tobacco industry, and Dr. David Graham, who spoke out about the dangers of the drug Vioxx. Canadian whistleblowers have included Joanna Gualtieri, who exposed lavish spending overseas by Foreign Affairs staff, and Dr. Nancy Olivieri, who broke a confidentiality agreement with her research sponsor Apotex by criticizing their drug deferiprone.

While there have been quite a few who have come forward over the years, their numbers are dwarfed by those who turn a blind eye to the misdeeds of their employers, and for good reason. They usually suffer loss of livelihood, are often sued by their former employers, and are frequently pilloried in the news media before being ultimately exonerated by the facts.

We owe a great debt to those who make such sacrifices in the public interest, taking the high road despite the knowledge that it will lead to such great personal hardship.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Finessed by the fine print

Over a post-game beer a few nights ago with some golf buddies, having thoroughly discussed the Alex Rios trade, Ricky Romero's great start with the Jays, and other headline stuff, the conversation turned to fine print.

This falls into the category of "stuff we don't really understand but know should be changed."

We understand that it's a litigious world, and you need to cover your backside against any nefarious scheme the other guy's lawyer might think up. But is it really necessary to obfuscate language around activities that regular folk engage in every day.

For example, opening an e-mail account is pretty routine stuff, but Google requires you to accept a Terms of Service document that has 83 sections, subsections, and sub-subsections, and includes paragraphs like this:
You acknowledge and agree that Google (or Google’s licensors) own all legal right, title and interest in and to the Services, including any intellectual property rights which subsist in the Services (whether those rights happen to be registered or not, and wherever in the world those rights may exist). You further acknowledge that the Services may contain information which is designated confidential by Google and that you shall not disclose such information without Google’s prior written consent.
Now, how many people do you figure are reading and understanding all this before checking "I agree" in order to get their damn e-mail account. Exactly!

My credit card agreement is 304 square inches of densely packed, tiny print. You can bet cardholders all wade through that regularly, right? Cell phone terms and conditions --- 374 square inches.

You get the idea.

Here's my theory:
Lawyers write this stuff so that, if anything goes awry, you need to hire a lawyer to tell you how much trouble you're in, and to deal with the lawyers on the other side. A cycle of perpetual billings. Sweet, eh?

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How much for Howard?

As a long ago farm kid, I have a special appreciation for this joke, author unknown.
A farmer got in his pickup and drove to a neighbouring farm and knocked at the door. A young boy, about 9, opened the door.

"Is your Dad home?" the farmer asked.

"No sir, he isn't," the boy replied. "He went into town."

"Well," said the farmer, "Is your Mother here?"

"No sir, she's not here either. She went into town with Dad."

"How about your brother, Howard? Is he here?"

"No sir, he went with Mom and Dad."

The farmer stood there for a few minutes, shifting from one foot to the other and mumbling to himself.

"Is there anything I can do for you?" the boy asked politely. "I know where all the tools are, if you want to borrow one. Or maybe I could take a message for Dad."

"Well," said the farmer uncomfortably, "I really wanted to talk to your Dad. It's about your brother Howard getting my daughter, Suzie, pregnant."

The boy considered for a moment. "You would have to talk to Pa about that," he finally conceded. "If it helps you any, I know that Pa charges $500 for the bull and $50 for the hog, but I really don't know how much he gets for Howard."

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Lost in the moment

You leave home, walk a few blocks, and have no idea how to find your way back. Your father walks you to work for five years before you can do it on your own. You turn a corner and north-south becomes east-west.

You either have a severe drinking problem, or you have topographagnosia, a lifelong difficulty that is apparently the result of orientation skills never having been developed.

The condition, which can severely disrupt the daily lives of sufferers, was discovered by University of Calgary researcher Giuseppe Iaria. He says, “They usually realize it at school. Grade 1, they get lost going from the washroom back to class.” Cellphones and GPS often become important tools for coping.

Iaria believes it may be more common than we think. If you think you might have it, you can take a battery of online tests.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Do you believe in magic?

Magician and speaker Dan Trommater is usually leading corporate workshops on creativity and teamwork, but this wonderful short video shows him using his talents to create a very special moment for two people on a Toronto sidewalk this month.

More on Dan on his website.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ganja grandmas got a game plan

A group of California retirees is telling the U.S. government to butt out, and are getting into the doobie biz. Residents of the Leisure World retirement community should soon be growing maryjane on their balconies. More than 200 seniors turned out to discuss forming their own nonprofit medical marijuana collective.

According to the NPR story, "Both the American Medical Association and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society say there is a need for more research in the field. Meanwhile, 13 states [including California] now approve the medical use of marijuana. But the federal government still classifies the plant as an illegal 'Schedule I' controlled substance, with no accepted medical use — a category it shares with cocaine and heroin."

Nonetheless, when you're eighty years old and the stuff stops your MS nausea, you need a reliable, inexpensive, source of supply, something that is hard to find. Prices are high and quality questionable at the approved dispensaries.

The collective intends to sell the good stuff cheaper than the current 20 bucks per gram charged for what many say isn't exactly Maui wowie, so business should be brisk.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Talking truce in trade tussle

Hauling Ontario-made sewage pumps out of the ground in Indiana, and removing Canadian pipe fittings in California, as mandated by the "buy American" provisions of the $787 billion U.S. stimulus package, is the kind of thing that sets teeth on edge in the true north strong and free.

There were enough of these incidents back in the spring to whip up some tit-for-tat fervour. A gaggle of Ontario towns retaliated by barring U.S. companies from their municipal contracts.

Looked at from the perspective of a town in Alabama or New Brunswick, these backatcha policies make eminent sense. In tough times, why wouldn't you act in ways that support local industry and employment?

Trouble is that things are way more complex than that, and doing the "obvious" right thing may come back to haunt you in ways you didn't expect. Supply chains are global. A plant shutdown in Windsor, Ontario can idle an assembly plant in Ohio, and vice versa. If a foreign owned plant in Pittsburgh is shut out of bidding on stimulus projects, they may have to lay off their American workers. What do you buy when there are no Canadian-made alternatives for a foreign-made product if, for example, your municipal water supply will shut down without it?

The Americans shouldn't have started this fight, but behaving spitefully isn't the solution. I'm no great fan of either Ontario Premier McGuinty or International Trade Minister Stockwell Day, but on this file they both have it right.

"We're kidding ourselves if we think we can be safe by building a lifeboat just for the people in our own communities," McGuinty said in a speech to the annual conference of the Association of Ontario Municipalities this week.

Day is working with the provincial premiers to present a united front to Washington. There is also a fair amount of dialogue going on with governors of border states who have much to lose if a trade war breaks out.

So far, Canada is not feeling the love of the Obama administration, what with protectionism, stricter entry requirements, increased border surveillance, and so on. But escalating an already dangerous situation makes no sense.

My prediction: Obama, who actually seems to "get" the risks of protectionism, is spending his political capital elsewhere (e.g. healthcare), and has none left to take on Congress and the K Street bullies on this issue. Canadian tantrums will change nothing.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Is your world about to get a whole lot smaller?

“Right now, the great boogeyman for the Bank of Canada, the Federal Reserve Board, the Department of Finance, the U.S. Treasury is 1990s Japanese deflation. I think that is one huge head-fake. In the world that I see, we’re going inflation, not deflation at all. So if you’re asking what that new world will be like, well, it will be the opposite of the world we know.”

That is ex-CIBC economist Jeff Rubin speaking to NOW magazine following the book tour for Why Your World Is About To Get A Whole Lot Smaller. Rubin's views were so unorthodox that CIBC cut him loose.

How unorthodox? How about $200-a-barrel oil? How about the end of globalization? How about the return of manufacturing to North America? How about the Canadian dollar trading at $1.20 U.S.?

Nothing wrong with going against the current of conventional thinking. Most mainstream economists failed to predict the Great Recession, so mavericks get more respect these days.

Rubin's thinking goes this way --- With $200/barrel oil, shipping steel from China and tangerines from Chile will make no sense. Also Ontario and Michigan start looking a lot more attractive for manufacturing that was outsourced to low wage countries in the late 20th century.

The downside? Higher prices for almost everything. That's inflation.

Rubin says, "We will be living in denser communities, driving smaller cars, living more frugally and locally. When we travel, we may soon be boarding an electric-powered train rather than an oil-powered airplane. And with global climate change also bearing down on our energy consumption, we may soon be paying more attention to the cost not only of buying carbon-based fuel, but of burning it too, just as the Europeans are already doing."


"Get ready for a smaller world. Soon, your food is going to come from a field much closer to home, and the things you buy will probably come from a factory down the road rather than one on the other side of the world. You will almost certainly drive less and walk more, and that means you will be shopping and working closer to home. Your neighbours and your neighbourhood are about to get a lot more important in the smaller world of the none-too-distant future."

My prediction: Unfortunately for the survival of the planet, OPEC and the worldwide oil industry conspiracy will not let this happen in the foreseeable future. Oil supply will be increased enough to stabilize prices at levels that will not cause Rubin's predicted changes. A sustained increase in oil prices would be salutary, though painful, and might offer our last shot at mitigating climate change, but it ain't gonna happen soon.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fifth stage of grief for newspapers

Newspapers are scared shitless. The under-30 crowd never did subscribe to newspapers, or even to the underlying concept of large scale newsgathering and publishing. Their elders are now being persuaded that paper is an inefficient, expensive, and ecologically destructive medium for the dissemination of news, given the availability of the internet.

Craigslist and eBay have taken over the classifieds; dating websites the personals; online job boards the recruitment ads; Autotrader, AutoNet, and AutoExpert the car ads; and various multiple listing systems allow buyers to browse the real estate offerings. Those are some of the reasons your newspaper is looking anorexic these days, and is rapidly becoming just a wrapper for flyers promoting this week's sales at the local shops.

Meanwhile, newspapers have gone through denial, anger, bargaining and depression, and are now arriving at the fifth stage of grief --- acceptance that their business model is doomed. Some have gone bankrupt, and many others are on the brink.

Now outsourcing, a word that send chills through the toughest city desk editor, has come to the very newsrooms that reported its devastation of a multitude of other industries.

Canadian Press and the Pagemasters subsidiary of the Australian Associated Press are teaming up to offer an outsourcing service to embattled North American newspapers. Pagemasters already produces more than 10,000 pages a month for 35 clients in Australia, New Zealand and the U.K.

Obviously a solution designed to appeal to the desperate, it will be yet another skidding step down the slippery slope toward boring pablum centrally produced by faceless, nameless hacks with no connection to our communities.

The grand traditions of newpapering, and its central role in community building, appear doomed. We are nearing the end of the long decline. To be sure, some yet-undefined delivery system for journalism will arise from the ashes, but there will be more blood on the newsroom floor in the short run.

My prediction: The solution will come from outside the news business, in the same way that Apple revolutionized the music business with its iPod and iTunes. Smart journalists are building an online following with Twitter and blogs, getting positioned for whatever comes next.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Fire, ready, aim?

Too often, the news media shoot first and ask questions later and, in the glare of publicity, politicians join the firing squad.

We may be seeing this now as we learn more about the eHealth debacle in Ontario.

Bear with me, because this thing has more characters than a Tolstoy novel.

First we had the juicy, though petty, news disclosures about high priced consultants charging Choco Bites and other treats to the public purse. The perpetually envious, ink stained wretches in the journalism trade seem to think anyone who earns more than them must be on the take. The public, of course, hates high priced consultants on general principles, even though their expert work may result in a system that delivers substantial benefits and saves the same public hundreds of millions of dollars over a few years.

Sarah Kramer, eHealth Ontario's CEO, was sacrificed on the altar of public indignation, and the correctness of that decision was confirmed by the disclosure that other eHealth consultants had charged $25,000 for speech-writing services.

At that point, Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty piled on, allowing that Kramer's appointment had been a mistake. That, we assumed, pretty much wrapped up this particular little melodrama.

But no. First, Kramer strikes back in response to the Premier's slam of her integrity. Her statement has a whiff of credibility as she describes the "strong, intractable resistance and outright hostility" she faced.

Then, highly respected neurosurgeon Dr. Alan Hudson, former eHealth chairman and more recently in charge of reducing treatment wait times in Ontario, quit. Hudson mouthed the usual platitudes about "time to do other things," but the lines in the news report that caught my eye were his defence of Kramer. Hudson said that his successor had done the best she could. "She is not a dreadful person. Any efforts to smear her are very misplaced."

An inquiry is underway. We await the dénouement.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Act in haste, repent at leisure

"We're trapped in a web of short-termism, expecting quick answers to problems where there aren't easy answers." I found this astute observation in a Globe and Mail piece by Alison Loat.

Alison suggests that we all need to "give political leaders the opportunity and space to be truly effective" as they address problems that have been decades in the making.

But we're not geared that way any more, are we? We live in an on-demand, instant gratification, world. Marketers have conditioned us to go get whatever we want, when we want it. Easy credit means no waiting, and technology gets it into our hands lickety-split.

News media breathlessly pile onto the latest issue, frenzification in the pursuit of profits, promoting relatively minor glitches into crises demanding everyone's attention.

Google delivers the answer to any question at the click of a button. E-mail enables us to dash off a message and get a reply back within minutes. Fast food joints serve up an array of choices whenever, and wherever, the first hunger pangs strike. Craigslist and eBay help us dump our old stuff, and load up on new stuff right away.

So, we demand quick fixes for recession, climate change, hospital wait times, pandemics, international trade disputes, and a host of other complex problems. To some extent, pols set themselves up for this by promising that they can fix things if we just vote for them.

Reality is that things take time. Government is organized, properly, to move with due deliberation and sober consideration of long term consequences.

Boring, and sometimes frustrating, as that may be, to do otherwise will produce slap-dash legislation, flavour-of-the-month programs, and little real progress.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Our (new) most trusted man

Why is late night comedian Jon Stewart the most trusted newscaster in America, according to a Time Magazine poll? How is it possible that a funnyman could have inherited the mantle of the sainted Walter Cronkite, America's all-time favourite news anchor?

I think it may be because Stewart shares a few traits with Cronkite, beginning with a genuine curiosity about the way things work, the reasons powerful people make the decisions they make, and the implications of it all for the country and the world.

People sense a basic fairness in both men. Stewart makes no secret that he leans left, but he has given right wingers like William Kristol, John Bolton and Mike Huckabee an opportunity to explain their positions on hot-button issues like torture and abortion. Stewart attacks the position, not the person. This contrasts sharply with mean-spirited interviewers who bully those with opinions contrary to their own.

Stewart's appeal is not just humour, but good humour as well.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

A nose for nonsense

Wine ratings should be viewed with extreme suspicion. This is just one of the many useful lessons to be gleaned from The Drunkard's Walk, How Randomness Rules Our Lives. Leonard Mlodinow's purpose is to explain to non-mathemeticians why things we accept as "true" in modern life are frequently wrong.

Wine drinkers love numerical ratings and awards. But how can it happen that the 1999 Mitchelton Blackwood Park Reisling earns five stars and is named Best Wine of the Year by The Penguin Good Australian Wine Guide, while the same plonk was deemed "worst vintage produced in a decade" by the competing On Wine's Australian Wine Annual.

Mlodinow explains that subjective factors (influence of other judges, influence of price, the complexity of taste perception, expectations, etc.) can produce a wide range of ratings across a panel of judges. When subjected to an objective test in 1990, 1/3 of the time "experts" were unable even to identify which wine of three sampled was not identical to the other two!

In a 2008 study, in which a bottle labelled $10 and another labelled $90 were both filled with the same wine, the $90 bottle scored higher.

Surprise, surprise.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Natural selection at work and at play

The number of people who are torpedoing themselves via social media never ceases to amaze.

About a week ago, we had the YouTube upload by the parents of a 7-year-old boy they camcorded at the wheel of an SUV, with mom, dad and siblings cheering him on while they rode along without seatbelts. The family has been identified, and Quebec police are investigating.

Saturday brought news that three Saskatchewan 20-somethings had been arrested after posting a YouTube video starring themselves in an illegal duck shooting spree on a prairie pond. Predictably, there was widespread public outrage. Heavy fines and jail time are a definite possibility.

Then yesterday we came across, the following diatribe posted by a young woman to Facebook: "OMG I HATE MY JOB!! My boss is a total pervvy wanker always making me do shit stuff just to piss me off!! WANKER!" Oops, she had apparently forgotten that she was still in her probationary period, AND had "friended" her boss, so this immediately attracted his attention. The ensuing loss of employment was surprising only to her.

What the heck is going on here? Are these people just bottom feeders in the gene pool, do they have a false sense of privacy, do they fail to perceive the probable consequences of their actions, or is there some disconnect associated with social media in which users are transported to an alternative reality featuring the suspension of both laws and rules of normal behaviour?

Monday, August 10, 2009

Generation Y explained

Cameron Russell thinks Generation Y, aka Millennials, gets a bad rap, and she explains in this blog post why it is not a lost generation, too quiet, or too online.

Russell hopes her generation will "redefine and reconstruct the way our government/economy/society works" so that the ideals it was taught match reality. She thinks the world created by previous generations is seriously out of sync with those values.

An instructive opportunity to get inside the head of an articulate and observant 22-year old who has already made a mark.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Have a thought for your thumbs

Late breaking news here on the dangers of cellphone use from syndicated doctors Roizen and Oz (these are the guys from the Oprah show).

In addition to distraction that causes you to plough into an ambulance, sideswipe a kindergarten class on a field trip, or plunge into the Niagara gorge, there are less dramatic risks that aren't disclosed in Bell Mobility ads.

Blackberry thumb is not related to picking fruit. It is tendinitis in your thumbs caused by too much thumb-typing, a potentially career-ending injury for major players in the financial big leagues. Cellphone elbow involves burning, tingling or numbness, and comes from holding the phone to the ear for extended periods. Hunching over your iPhone will cause texting neck.

OMG, tell your BFF now!

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Protecting the goldfish in the cyberbowl

Today a rare shout out to a public servant who is always on top of her job and consistently works to defend our best interests. Ann Cavoukian, Ontario's Privacy Commissioner, handles many hot issues these days, including those emerging from the adoption of information technology by government.

Cavoukian first came to our attention last spring in a spirited discussion with Jesse Brown on the Search Engine podcast (recommended for all who are interested in the social impacts of technology).

That discussion centered on the security risks of RFID chips embedded in Ontario's new enhanced drivers licenses. They allow your personal information to be "sniffed" by anyone with a cheap scanner, creating an identity theft risk.

Refreshingly, Cavoukian did not follow the back-pedalling, defensive line usually taken by bureaucrats, explained the immediate need for using the risky chips (the U.S. June 1 deadline for entry documents), and committed to seeking safer alternatives currently in development.

Since then, she has tackled the opening of old adoption files, secret background checks on jurors, the recent online privacy breach at Toronto Hydro in which the personal information of 179,000 e-billing customers was stolen, and now the larger privacy issues associated with outsourcing to Google and others of key components of the much-touted "smart grid," the future of energy management here and elsewhere.

Cavoukian seems dedicated to advocating for privacy issues that are often ignored in a legislative and policy-making process that seems to focus almost exclusively on cost-cutting. She also avoids bureaucratese, and speaks in a direct, simple and forthright manner. In the process, she is becoming an international thought-leader just at the time she is most needed.

Update: On Oct. 5, 2009, Cavoukian ordered Ontario Crown attorneys to stop the widespread practice of collecting personal information on prospective jurors that does not relate to the Juries Act or Criminal Code eligibility criteria.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Secret to running profitable airline revealed

You've probably heard that the airline biz is running on fumes, with four of the major U.S. carriers going through bankruptcy in the past five years. IATA, the industry association, expects losses will reach more than $1 billion in 2009 in both Europe and Asia Pacific.

But Mike O'Leary, CEO of European budget airline Ryanair, thinks he has the "solution."

Yep, Mike's idea is to reduce the number of toilets on his airplanes to one, and then charge passengers to use it.

No concern about inflight meals causing a "run" on the bathroom because (surprise) Ryanair doesn't serve inflight meals. Mike thinks his "discretionary toilet visitors" will be OK with the new arrangement.

Stay tuned to hear how Ryanair's marketing department turns this into a plus for frequent flyers.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

A French letter and an English lesson

In the following letter, our friend, who is currently teaching in France, describes her attempt to obtain a driving license. Très drôle.

Hi Doug, Pat and Marj,

I thought you might be interested in my day:

Background: I can change my Ontario driving license for a French one if I do it within 1 year of arriving in France. After that, I have to take the French test. To change license, you have to go to the prefecture (police administrative headquarters) of the town where you live. The prefecture for Savigny sur Orge is in Evry Courcouronnes, a 30-minute, two-train journey from Savigny, and is only open from 9 to 12 Mon, Tue, Thu and Fri. I went 3 weeks ago with a stack of papers and was told that the only thing missing was something to prove I had been in France less than a year - like a letter or payslips from the place where I had worked in Bratislava. I got a letter from Bratislava.

I arrived at the prefecture this morning at 7.40 am with just 7 people in front of me. At 9am the doors opened and two people, who had arrived just 20 minutes before opening, managed to squeeze in ahead of everyone else. Even so, I got the first ticket for the "échange permis de conduire étranger" wicket. A promising start.

How misleading.

I gave the woman (a different one from last time, of course) my driving license, British passport and application form. All of what follows was in French:

MOT (Miserable Old Tart) (holding my British passport): Is this the only ID you have?
Jean: It's a passport
MOT: I need other ID
Jean: My driving license
Jean (thinking she needs other Canadian ID): Here's my Canadian passport
MOT: Bof
Jean: " " (speechless)

So the MOT disappears for a bit, then comes back, shrugs and continues

MOT: Your license doesn't say when you got it.
Jean: 1980 (hands over abstract from the real MOT - Ontario Ministry of Transport - with date license received - bilingual)
MOT: Hmm

MOT: I need a translation of your driving license
Jean: It's bilingual. Look - French
MOT: It says it is class G. I need a translation of what that is in French terms
Jean: According to the French Public Service (hah!) web site, it is equivalent to class B. Look. (shows a print-out of the page (in French) with the web site address)
MOT: Bof. That's just the internet.
Jean: But it's the French public service web site.
MOT: Bof
Jean: " "

MOT: When did you arrive in France?
Jean: September last year. (Shows letter from BTL saying I started on 8 September 2008 and letter from IH Bratislava saying I finished on 28 August 2008)
MOT: Bof. (slaps letters) I need a letter of attestation from the mayor of the town where you lived in Canada saying when you left.
Jean: But the woman whom I saw 3 weeks ago said a letter or payslips from Bratislava would be sufficient.
MOT: " "

MOT: Where is proof that you were living in Ontario 6 months before receiving your Ontario driving license?
Jean: I'm a Canadian citizen. Look - Canadian passport.
MOT: Bof
Jean: It was 1980 - how can I prove that?
MOT: " "

Somewhere in there she got another MOT who was an equally dismissive, unhelpful petasse.
Also, I kept saying "but 3 weeks ago the lady said..." and the MOT kept not replying.

MOTs: Get a translation of your driving license, a letter from the mayor in Canada and proof that you were in Canada for six months prior to getting your Canadian driving license.

Jean: " " Gathers up papers and leaves, muttering

When I got to BTL (where I work) I explained to one of the senior teachers, who said to try in Bordeaux. I'll try there when I go next week to look for a flat. With French bureaucracy it really does depend on whom you get when you turn up. It's bizarre. Every evil thing people say about it is incredibly true. Another teacher said the MOT was a "con" (stupid person).

Sequel: During one of my lessons this afternoon, my student (Fabrice) told me about his trip to Bulgaria and I told him about my trip to the prefecture and said the woman was a con.

Fabrice: "No, she was a conne - female."
Jean: Is a conne bad?
F: Yes, it is.
Jean: What's worse?
F: Connase is the worse
Jean: No, connase is worse or the worst, but not the worse. What's the worst?
F: In order of worseness..
Jean: In order of badness
F: In order of badness: conne, connase, petasse...
Jean: What's a petasse?
F: Hmm. It means someone who farts above their arse.
Jean: That's a bit like the English "she thinks the sun shines out of her arse"
F: Oh, I like that. (writes it down, checking the spelling)
Jean: Maybe we should get back to business English.
F: Maybe we should.

All of that conversation was totally straight-faced with particular attention paid to grammar and pronunciation. Sometimes life here is surreal.

I hope all is well!