Weekend Retreat

July 29, 2011

If you’re reading this it means that we have retreated to the woods. Our annual-ish withdrawal to the primitive, sleeping in hollowed out logs and defecating in holes of our own making. Replace the grit of the city with nature’s more perfect grime.

But it’s not going to be all rest and relaxation, running naked through the trees, dancing in the moonlight. We will be settling down in earnest to begin beating out our thoughts and aspirations about a little something we’ve been kicking around in our heads. Project 23.

Judging from what I’ve read about the marathon Executive Committee meeting at City Hall yesterday/last night/this morning, actual hands-on democracy has woken up from its slumber in this city. People are afraid. People are angry. People are speaking out. While it may be for the most unfortunate of reasons (the mayor and his gang’s attack on the city they were elected to serve), any up tick in citizen participation can only be a good thing.

We want to be a part of that, to help sustain, to make it impossible for Mayor Ford and his cronies to simply continue to shrug off people’s voices as coming from ‘special interests’ or all ‘union backed’. So over the next few days, we’re going to be brainstorming, fleshing out ideas, writing them down in the dirt at our feet in order to bring them back to begin a wider discussion with anyone interested in protecting everything we love about this city from those who appear to not like very much about it all.

So rest up. Take a deep breath and get ready to keep on keepin’ on. This fight we now have on our hands has only begun.

Until next week.

beat at retreatedly submitted by Cityslikr


The Age of Ralph Kramden

July 27, 2011

A wise person (with a tendency for using somewhat salty language) once said to me: If you want people to stop calling you a dick, stop being a dick and stop saying dickish things. Ahhh, granny. Never one to pull her punches.

Seems straightforward enough but I guess some people can’t help themselves. Being a dick is just part of who they are, it’s in their DNA. Dickish by nature.

On a completely unrelated note, what a past few days for Mayor Ford and Brother Doug, eh? The mayor driving around, talking on his cell phone, and may or may not have given another driver the finger when confronted about his illegal activity. Not to be outdone Councillor Ford continued his War on Books, slagging Margaret Atwood (who he may or may not know of), making up any old shit about the usefulness and numbers of libraries in his neck of the woods and just generally running neck-and-neck with his brother in a race to earn the biggest WTF?! headline.

Most people might be a bit, I don’t know, embarrassed by such glowing for the wrong reasons behaviour. But embarrassment doesn’t seem to be a particular Ford family trait unless it’s foisted upon them and then reluctantly mouthed because there is no other way to worm out of it. Enforced contrition, let’s call it, rarely worth the paper it’s printed out on.

Back in my day, such willful disregard of the truth, criticism and civility was greeted with a large degree of disdain and righteous mockery. I’ll even use a big word here. Opprobrium. In fact, such displays on my part might mean me, granny and a switch meeting behind the woodshed. People were not celebrated or esteemed for ignorance. Well thought out, well articulated ideas weren’t scorned as being elitist or out-of-touch egghead-y.

Or is that just me, looking back foggily through misty nostalgic eyes?

I don’t remember anyone arrogantly touting their know-nothingness. Except, of course, for the actual Know-Nothings, and they were a little before my time. We didn’t shy away from leaders who were smarter than we were. We didn’t resent them for their knowledge, education or erudition. Even the inveterate liar and all-round snake, Richard Nixon, knew stuff although it should be noted that he was a trailblazer in stirring up and appealing to the resentment that fueled his Silent Majority. Nixon was many things but a dummy was not one of them.

Not so, our current crop of politicians. They stumble over themselves to prove that they are as ill-informed, myopic and just-one-of-youse as the part of the electorate they successfully woo. We’re no politicians, they assure us, as they seek public office. Elect me and I’ll see to it that nothing smart, innovative or progressive is ever enacted while I’m in charge.

Let me confess at this point that I am not a Margaret Atwood reader, having never recovered from the imposition of Surfacing upon me against my will as a schoolboy. In fact, my fiction reading over the last few years has been in shockingly short supply. Neither do I attend the theatre much anymore. Atom Egoyan be leaning on my last nerve, yo. I’ve never been a fan of dance, modern or classic. And don’t get me started about opera.

I tell you this with no sense of pride or in boast. In fact, I consider it a serious character flaw on my part. Something I should try and rectify if only I could stop watching so much baseball on these sultry summer nights.

But I am not suspicious of those who are fiction fans or opera enthusiasts. On matters that I am interested in, I seek out those who know more about subject than I do. I want to learn from them to increase my own knowledge. To better myself as a thinker and citizen. Sure, it can be intimidating and you have to let go a little of the ego that keeps telling you you’re the smartest guy in the room. I’d like to think it’s worth it, though, in the long run. How can striving to be more intelligent or, at least, informed be a bad thing?

Or wanting that inclination in our elected officials? Where exactly does dumbing down get us? Into a litany of quagmire wars and occupations throughout the world. An economy teetering on the brink of insolvency. Anti-innovation. Antiquated urban development. Regression, regression, regression at every level of public policy.

This jonesing for anti-intellectualism is seemingly impenetrable too. Any questioning of it is seen as an attack from snobby elites. It’s not a debate or discussion. It’s denigration. You think you’re smarter than me? Yeah well, go fuck yourself. I knows what I knows and nobody’s going to convince me otherwise.

So being bull-headed and mentally intransigent is not a vice but a virtue. Honest deliberation and compromise is a weakness to be exploited. Gut beats brains, hands down. Dickish behaviour is now a proven winning formula. Girls swoon. Boys emulate. A Nation forms behind it.

Where once we succeeded in sending a man to the moon, we now endeavour only to send Alice to the moon. One of these days, Alice. One of these days.

gleasonly submitted by Cityslikr


A Question Really Worth Asking

July 26, 2011

For some masochistic fun and long overdue penance, I put on my figurative hair shirt and subjected myself to re-watching Mayor Ford’s CP24 interview with Stephen LeDrew from last Friday. Its staggering shortcomings have been analyzed to death so I won’t bother with anything further along those lines except to say that it came across as less a piece of television journalism and more of an infomercial pitch. Not an in-depth interview; a Johnny Carson-Ed McMahon routine. (Yes, I am that old.)

Aside from his self-satisfied certainty and shocking inability to articulate anything that isn’t printed out in front of him or committed to memory, what jumped out at me most about the mayor’s performance was his constant rhetorical refrain of, ‘Should the city be in the business of… ?’ Rhetorical because we all know what the mayor’s answer to that question is unless you fill in the blanks with ‘policing’ or ‘keeping streets clean’. No. No, no, no, no. Absolutely not!

We need to change that question ever so slightly, so he’s unable to provide an easy Yes or No answer. So instead, we frame the question as Why Shouldn’t The City Be In The Business Of… ? The one word answer, Because, will not be accepted nor will its slightly extended version of Because It Costs Too Much And The Private Sector Can Do It Cheaper unless accompanied by actual evidence proving the claim that doesn’t just make use of numbers entirely pulled from your ass/hat.

Now I know the idea might get the likes of Stephen LeDrew’s bow tie a-spinning as he’d actually have to occasionally challenge the mayor but I think it might be an adult conversation worth having as we move toward this fall’s budget discussions. Take any service the city now provides and ask not, should the city be in the business of… ? but, why shouldn’t the city be in the business of… ?

Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of maintaining parks? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of providing affordable daycare to low income families? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of handing out cultural funds that both enhance city life as well as provide economic spin-offs that usually dwarf the initial cash outlay? Why shouldn’t the city be in the business of… ?

If the mayor is choosing to opt out of established programs, then the onus is on him to explain why. And saying we simply can’t afford it doesn’t cut it. At least not without facts and figures to back it up. The moment he resorts to his standard mantra of receiving 100s of calls a day, 70% of whom approve of what he’s doing, you know the actual answer is we can afford to fund these programs but we are simply choosing not to.

At least let’s force Mayor Ford to be honest about the choices he’s making. (Why now? Why not 12 months ago?) During last week’s infomercial with Stephen LeDrew, the mayor claimed that the people want just three things in return for the taxes they pay. Safe streets. Smooth, freshly paved streets. Clean streets.

According to the mayor’s self-selected numbers, the citizens taxpayers of Toronto have no or little interest in libraries, public spaces, public transit, visual arts, street festivals, smart planning and development or anything else that doesn’t make the drive time from home to work and back again easier. If they are, the private sector can provide them more efficiently and cheaply. Unless of course, you actually use them. Then hey, you’re on your own.

We often joke here how the mayor and his cadre of regressives possess a 1950s, Mayberry urban view. No traffic except the easy purr of car engines. Aunt Bea knowing her place at home, taking care of all the domestic chores. Happy town drunks. Creepy barbers.

But we’re off. Way off. In truth, Mayor Ford and his ilk maintain a medieval village mentality. A gathering of huts, together solely for commercial exchange, each paying a tithe to the local strong man who offers them protection from the scary notions roaming the nearby woods and builds a smooth(ish) road for them to conduct their business. Ties only extend as far as family. Everything else is just transactional interaction. Should the city be in the business of being a city? For Mayor Ford, the answer is resoundingly to the negative.

inquiringly submitted by Cityslikr


A Sheepish Admission

July 25, 2011

Standing outside the tent on Saturday night, listening to The Sheepdogs rip through their 2nd set of the day (the first being an acoustic one in the blazing sunshine) at Hillside, my thoughts turned to the 70s. How could they not? Here was a band channeling the spirit of Southern Fried Rock in both sound and look with a touch of The Black Crows and My Morning Jacket thrown in for good measure to a capacity crowd that consisted largely of folks who weren’t even born when this sound first emerged.

Kids these days, with all their rap and bleep-blop electronic music, enthusiastically embracing the more countrified roots rock sound of their parents. Nothing wrong with that although, for me, if I want to listen to the Allman Brothers (an impulse which occurs almost never – my musical taste tends more to the bands that bracketed The Sheepdogs, Hooded Fang and Hollerado) I’ll listen to the Allman Brothers. But certainly, there are worse things to adopt from the recent past as I await the re-arrival of wide, wide ties with some trepidation.

I have mixed emotions about the decade I came of age in. While many of us benefited from the social and political freedoms that opened up as a result of the upheavals of the 1960s, we also wound up stunting them, stopped the march of progress far short of its goals, twisting and bending the ideals into an almost unrecognizable shape that called itself the Reagan (Neo-Conservative) Revolution. In 1969, America put a man on the moon. By 1980, we’d convinced ourselves that government was a problem not the solution. The 1970s just don’t hold up well in that light.

I was still mightily in my pre-teens during the tumultuous year of 1968 but I do remember that mixed sense of fear and, if not hope, a curious anticipation of what might be right around the corner. Protestors derailed a presidential re-election bid in a fight against an illegal, immoral war. Cities exploded in riots, set alight by inequality and racial oppression. Assassinations. First, Martin Luther King. Then, Bobby Kennedy. More riots.

It was Kennedy’s death that we can now see as something of a turning point for progressivism. Not that it was any more important or devastating than the slaying of King but RFK’s journey from his privileged, elite upbringing and early rabid anti-communism to the moral conscience of a country as presidential candidate signaled that the old order was rotten to the core. A fundamental change of course was needed and underway.

And then he was dead.

The politics of spite and tribalism filled the void and prospered. Even the downfall of the petty tyrant of vindictiveness, Richard Nixon, in 1974 only served to temporarily delay the triumphant of reactionism. It emerged in its full blown hideousness with the ascent to power of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, Ronald Reagan in 1980 and so on and so forth.

So by the time those younger Sheepdogs fans began sitting up and noticing the wider world around them, radical conservatism had become the entrenched orthodoxy. We who had benefited from progressive ideas in action – livable wages and working conditions, accessible and affordable health care and education, reasonable expectations of fair pensions and a well earned retirement, all that solid middle class claptrap – had decided that enough was enough. No longer would or should we extend such luxuries. They only served to sap our work ethic and encourage lolly-gagging and freeloading. Nose to the grindstone, pull yourself up by your boot-straps and all that.

The flagrant hypocrisy of such I-Got-Mine-Jackism manifested itself to me last week when I came across a video of Paul Ainslie’s maiden speech at Toronto city council (h/t Jonathan Goldsbie) after he was appointed councillor in 2006. Ignoring for the moment his vow never, ever to run for council in ‘Ward 41 or any other ward in this city’ after his interim time was up (he did run both in the 2006 and 2010 election, successfully unfortunately), what really got my goat was Ainslie’s citing of a Bobby Kennedy quote as a source of his political and public service inspiration.

The task of leadership, the first task of concerned people, is not to condemn or castigate or deplore; it is to search out the reason for disillusionment and alienation, the rationale of protest and dissent — perhaps, indeed, to learn from it.

Councillor Ainslie is a nose-pick of a politician who is a certified member of Mayor Ford’s wrecking crew, intent on dismantling much of what makes this city work so well. Rather than searching out and learning from ‘the reason for disillusionment and alienation’ as Robert Kennedy implored, Councillor Ainslie, the mayor and his other enablers only seek to exploit the disillusionment and alienation in order to reduce government to impotency. The exact opposite of what RFK was seeking to do.

That a politician of Ainslie’s low caliber was able to co-opt the words of Robert Kennedy goes a long way to explaining our modern political dynamic. The Reactionary as Revolutionary. I’m a neo-conservative politician and Robert Kennedy would endorse these words I’m about to speak.

It takes me to the words of another icon of the 60s, Hunter S. Thompson. The best known passage from his best known book, and perhaps the best analysis of the end of what we now think of as the end of the 60s and the birth of a generation of swine.

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

And it’s been rolling back now for over 40 years, slowly and surely drowning much of the progress that had come before it. Just when you think it’s crested, unbelievably you’re hit with another surge. Stephen Harper. Rob Ford. This has to peak too, doesn’t it? That’s the way waves work. Where is the neoconservative ‘high-water mark’? Have we just not seen it yet? Are we lacking the ‘right kind of eyes’?

So kids, follow in our musical steps all you want. Remake it. Remix it. Rejig it. It’s all harmless, nostalgic fun. But stop listening to our politics. We’re sell-outs and con artists. We’ve shirked our duties and responsibilities, leaving us all worse for wear. Our taste in music far exceeded our sense of citizenship, and the sooner you learn that the better.

guiltily submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Our Summer Farce

July 24, 2011

(Since summer is the season for repeats, a rebroadcast of our post at the Torontoist, looking at the Core Services Review of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. Re-enjoy.)

*  *  *

The good news emerging from yesterday’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting was that there was no last minute, duplicitous motion put forward by any of the mayor’s men to derail or erase projects in other councillors’ wards. In May, Councillor David Shiner (Ward 24, Willowdale) nixed the Fort York bridge, pulling the rug from out under Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina). Last month, it was Councillor John Parker (Ward 26, Don Valley West) blindsiding Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) with the news that plans were afoot to remove the Jarvis bike lanes.

The bad news, however, was three-fold.

First, the KPMG core services review report was revealed to be wholly unsatisfactory in addressing our alleged budget crisis. Under questioning from committee members, councillors Layton and Gord Perks (Ward 14, Parkdale-High Park), as well as visting (i.e. non-committee member) councillors like Shelley Carroll (Ward 33, Don Valley East) and Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), the report and its corporate authors (along with City staff) went limp. It quickly became clear just how narrow the report actually is, offering only the broadest strokes of possible “savings opportunities” (a.k.a. cuts), with little to no examination of the impact or implications of taking such opportunities. (For instance, the health impacts—and subsequent economic burdens—of rolling back fluoridation in the water or scaling back environmental programs were not included in the report that recommended those cuts.) The validity of the report’s comparative analysis with other cities came under question too. Aside from size, why Melbourne, Australia? An entirely different beast, structurally and governmentally; where were the instructive comparisons? And why were no other municipalities in Ontario examined in the report? They suffer under the exact same provincial handcuffs as Toronto does. Wouldn’t that be more helpful?

Even worse was how the subject of waste diversion was handled. The report clearly ignored key relevant numbers—such as the amount of money the city receives from recycling, which brings down the actual cost to us of collection—in assessing the financial benefits of potential cuts. Additionally, KPMG’s suggestion that our target rates were too ambitious was questioned by a deputant who claimed, in fact, the city of Toronto lagged behind almost ever other municipality in the GTA and was still below a proposed provincial target of 60 per cent.

Such deficiencies just begin to scratch the surface of the problems with the KPMG report. After nearly eight hours of listening to presentations, deputations, questions, and answers, it was hard not to come to the conclusion that the report is little more than a big ol’ softball for the mayor to hammer for extra bases. Big, scary cuts will be dangled out at us with no intention of ever implementing them, so that other cuts will actually happen and we’ll all breathe a heavy sigh of relief, telling ourselves that, well, it could’ve been a whole lot worse.

Bringing us to problem number two. The right wing on the Public Works Committee doesn’t give a shit about any of that. To a man (and they were all men) they couldn’t have looked less interested in yesterday’s proceedings if they’d pulled out blankies and pillows and taken a nap right on their desks. At one point of time, three of them—councillors Grimes (Ward 6, Etobicoke-Lakeshore), Parker, and Shiner—left the room entirely, bringing things to a halt due to a lack of quorum. The questions they asked of staff, KPMG, and deputants were few and far between. Committee chair Denzil Minnan-Wong’s (Ward 34, Don Valley East) sole purpose, it seemed, was to run interference for staff and the KPMG representatives when the line of questioning from other councillors got a little too aggressive or demanding.

All of which leads to the third and most damning problem of the committee meeting. After all was said and done—reports given, deputations made, questions asked—the councillors on Public Works voted to punt the report to the stacked-with-mayoral-allies Executive Committee. Except for seeking further information on snow removal (a big item in places like Shiner’s North York ward), street cleaning, and water fluoridation, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee decided to make no decisions or even recommendations on the KPMG report, leaving it entirely in the hands of Mayor Ford and his executive. It is a move that will quite likely get repeated at every committee meeting over the course of the next 10 days or so. There will be much posturing and posing, ignoring of deputations, blowing smoke and spinning narrative, sound and fury signifying nothing, only to have each and every decision handed meekly over to the mayor to deal with as he sees fit. A complete and utter abrogation of responsibility by the majority members of the City’s standing committees.

Perhaps, that’s overly harsh. Maybe it’s a gambit on some councillors’ part to try and make the mayor show his hand, to be the first to go on record saying what he wants cut. Either way, it seems that the committees are telling us that tough decisions have to be made. Just not by them.

resubmitted by Cityslikr


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