Constructive Disengagement

April 29, 2012

I am swearing off futile Twitter fights. Again.

In January, I resolved to do just that. Our friend David Hains wagered I wouldn’t stay quiet more than a couple weeks. His guess was off wildly. I was back at it in a matter of hours, not content to just let stupidity, ill-informed opinions and spinning smears go unanswered.

My rational was a variation of the quote attributed to Mark Twain, A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes. Even the most egregious untruth and piece of outright fiction can gain traction if not aggressively contested. Don’t let bullshit lie.

I’m not unaware of the niche market Twitter currently occupies in terms of social media in general and political discourse specifically. Edward Keenan wrote about the divide between the on the ground reality and Twitter bubble in The Grid last month. What may seem of the utmost importance to those of us getting much of our Toronto political news via Twitter is but a passing blip on the radar of a great majority of the city voters.

So don’t sweat the small stuff, I guess I’m saying.

Besides, I’m referring to the mindless, robotic, ideologically rigid wall of nonsense that I no longer think worth engaging with. On Friday I was having some Monty Python back and forth with Sol Chrom and was reminded of the I’d Like to Buy An Argument sketch. “That’s not an argument. That’s contradiction.” “No it isn’t.” “Yes it is.”

This is what I’m attempting to avoid. Why continue a conversation if you already know what the response is going to be? It’s not so much informed discussion where ideas are batted back and forth on the way to forging an agreement. Ironically, that occurs more between those on the left of centre bubble on Twitter than it does across the entrenched partisan divide.

No it isn’t. Yes it is. No it isn’t. It is too you, you lying sack of shit. Repeat and escalate.

There were a couple instances over the last few days where a Twitter argument descended into little more than ad hominen nastiness and vituperative outbursts. To what end? Oh guess what? So-and-so is racist/homophobic/misogynist/fill in your hater of choice here. No shit, Sherlock. Tell us something we don’t know.

It’s ultimately not only a time and energy suck. It’s also more than a little soul deflating. There’s always going to be rank odium existing out there, always surprising and always more pronounced and widespread than you ever imagined possible. Why bother giving it a platform? Don’t hand it a louder voice or the impression of legitimacy by continually responding to it. You already know what the answer is going to be. Nothing’s going to change it.

That’s not to say I don’t want an open and lively debate with those I am not politically simpatico with. Yes, please. But I’m simply not getting it on Twitter currently. Hell, at the municipal level, I’m of the opinion that right wing conservatives simply don’t have it in them to put forth a reasoned, fact based case, taking their cue from Team Ford. We Deserve A Subway is an assertion that needs no numbers or facts to back it up. It’s simply an unsubstantiated declarative that has little interest in consensus or compromise.

So I’ll go about my Twitter business with an eye open for those with differing opinions or who take exceptions to mine, hoping to have a civil discussion but willing to shut it down at the first sign of mindless intransigence. Like this one, that came up on Thursday. A name showed up on the #TOpoli feed I didn’t recognize. Their tweet declared a big fat NO! to road tolls with the claim that motorists already pay more than their fair share for the privilege of driving. I replied suggesting I’d like to see some numbers, studies to back that up. (Hint: probably an impossible request.) A day or so later what I got into my feed was No road toll for Toronto Liberals to waste.

Yeah, OK. So we’re done here. What’s the use of pursuing that line of circular reasoning and baseless opinion? It only leads to burning disappointment and befouled discourse that further digs already intractable divisions.

That’s not something I really set out to contribute when I began writing about municipal politics. So, I’m out of the Twitter tit-for-tat. I’d appreciate it if you remind me of this pledge if I break down and stray from the path.

Thanks.

seriously submitted by Cityslikr


Austerity. What Is It Good For?

January 29, 2012

Austerity is in the air.

Can you smell it? It’s acrid, like burning hair, with a hint of pungency as if wafting upwards from Satan’s unwashed bum. Unpleasant. Vile. But an absolute necessity in these days of economic uncertainty.

Or so we are being told at the turn of every newspaper page, radio channel, and at every level of government. Prepare for the Big Cut. We’ve been living too high off the hog for too long, living way beyond our means. Poke another hole further along your belt and tighten up.

All a great heaping pile of steaming bullshit, of course, from the root causes right up to the tip of the stiffy we’re being screwed with.

[Don’t believe us? Put Alex Himelfarb, Trish Hennessy and Sol Chrom on your immediate reading list. – ed.]

What I don’t understand about this coming age of austerity is how it’ll help anyone other than those who’ve already benefitted most from the supposed bacchanalian descent into debt that we’ve all been participants in. How will everyone spending less turn things around and grow our economy? I get the whole government cuts reduce deficits pitch but that’s only a part of the whole equation. Those cuts result, usually, in lost jobs and, ultimately, further lost revenue to governments in the form of taxation. Lower revenue means more cuts. A vicious, downward cycle; the snake eating its own tail.

Austerity2Prosperity is another mythical kingdom bordering on the Republic of Debtfreetopia that baffled Urban Sophisticat here earlier this week. Sounding good on paper or up on a blackboard but how exactly does it work in real life? It would be nice if someone could point to an actual occurrence of this theory working in practice. And if you’re about to write ‘Canada in the mid-90s’, don’t bother. You’ve already pounded back the koolaid and are blindly singing along to the set playlist.

We here in Toronto are looking down the barrel of some serious labour disruption next month entirely because we have a mayor who wants to dismantle city workers’ unions in order to contract out city services to private companies that pay their workers less, provide fewer benefits. The goal, we are told, is to save the taxpayers’ money although the case for that in many circumstances is actually quite iffy. For every example of, say, contracted out waste collection, there’s a counter example of municipalities contracting waste collection back in house. It’s a wash.

Instead of busting up unions on the theory that private sector workers can do any job more efficiently for less money, prove it first. Being wrong about that will wind up costing us all much more in the end. Mistakes always do.

Even if a case can be made that contracting out government services does save the said government money with the savings passed along to taxpayers, what is the bigger societal cost that comes with workers making less money? For the sake of pocketing 25, 50 cents per weekly curb side collection, how does a community benefit having workers make half of what they were paid before? I’m catastrophizing, you say? That won’t happen. Fearmonger.

Exhibit A. Caterpillar Inc. A company tax incentivized up the wazoo and how do they pay the economy back? Demand to cut themselves some $30 million in labour costs, thank you very much. Take it or leave it, and by leave it, we mean, the province for a more pro-low wage jurisdiction.

“That’s the game. That’s just the way the game is played,” claimed Metro Morning’s business commentator, Michael Hlinka. [Just a ‘yo’ away from claiming gangsta character status on The Wire. It’s all in the game, yo.— ed.] To Mr. Hlinka’s point of view, organized labour is a monopoly. And poor ol’, put upon free marketers like Caterpillar Inc. with only their 58% 4th quarter earnings increase and record revenues have no choice but to freely move their capital elsewhere if their workers insist on demanding their fair share of the wealth.

That’s the game. That’s just the way the game is played. Which leaves us with this kind of headline on a regular basis: More Canadians in low-paying jobs.

I am old enough to remember and to have voted in the 1988 federal election. It was the Free Trade election, and those standing in opposition who said that it would be the start of a rush to the bottom were labelled knee-jerk, parochial, backward-looking nationalists. [If you say so, old man. – ed.] Free trade was the way of the future. Glorious wealth will be sprinkled on more people. Don’t fight the future. It is inevitable.

Yet here we are, nearly 25 years later and more Canadians in low-paying jobs. Income inequality has grown to a degree that has not been seen here since the 1920s. And now we’re being told to prepare for austerity.

Tell me again, how that’s going to make everything better.

lavishly submitted by Acaphlegmic


What’s In A Name?

January 10, 2012

You know, for a bunch of bona fide name-callers, the radical conservatives marching under the banner of Mayor Rob Ford sure are thin-skinned when it comes to taking what they love to dish out. Oh, I’m sorry. Did I hurt your feelings? Offend your delicate sensibilities? Yeah well, put that in your pipes and smoke it, you right wing zealots, ya.

As the hardest of the hardcore Team Ford members on the budget committee pushed through further proposed cuts to libraries, closed pools, daycares, homeless shelters and TTC service, they managed to find time to take umbrage at the clearly orchestrated use by their councillor opponents of various iterations of the term ‘radical conservative’ thrown in their collective direction. (‘Umbrage’, you say? The dumber of you budget committee lot can ask the more bookish to explain it for you. Councillors Peter Milczyn and John Parker will know… and speaking of Parker. How rich was it, how fucking rich to listen to him mewl defensively about being referred to as a ‘radical conservative’? The very same John Parker who, as a member of the very right wing Mike Harris government, helped impose amalgamation on an unwilling 6 municipalities in Toronto along with an asymmetrical downloading of services, both of which remain root causes of the fiscal squeeze this city is currently experiencing. ‘Radical conservative’? Moi? Nonsense. Oh yes, amidst all the slashing and burning that Councillor Parker referred to as ‘reasonable’, he managed to secure city funding to build a 2nd ice rink in the Leaside neighbourhood of his ward.)

It’s as if they all felt that name calling and labelling those with different political views was their sole domain. Proprietarily they voiced indignation at having the tables turned on them. We’re the ones who take intellectual shortcuts and brand those we disagree with in bumper sticker slogans not you, you teat-sucking, trough swilling silly socialists.

Remember Stop the Gravy Train?

Now, I don’t know where I sit with the ‘radical conservative’ moniker. We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have certainly played with variations of it at least since then Councillor Rob Ford announced his candidacy for mayor back in March of 2010. Far right wing. Radical right wing. Neoconservative Ideologue.

The problem is, their actions don’t seem particularly radical for conservatives these days. They are simply doing what conservatives have been doing for over 30 years. Transferring wealth upwards. Using the guise of fiscal responsibility to shrink government in size and efficacy. Privatizing everything not nailed down. Check, check and double check. It’s just what conservatives do. We shouldn’t expect otherwise regardless of what they tell us while campaigning.

Our good friend, Sol Chrom, has argued that what passes as conservative now has nothing in common with the ideals of traditional conservatism as espoused by Edmund Burke back in the days of yore. To attach any version of ‘conservative’ to the likes of Rob Ford and his enablers is to render the word meaningless. From that point of view, a ‘radical conservative’ is actually a radical non-conservative.

But honestly, we haven’t really seen much of traditional conservatives for some time now unless they’re calling themselves Liberals. At the federal level, the last real ‘progressive’ conservative was Joe Clarke. Provincially, the concept died in the wreckage of the Big Blue Machine. In fairness, Toronto has maintained a short supply of these radical non-conservatives and, usually kept them far from the reins of power. And I don’t think it out of line to say the city’s been the better for it.

The one shred of traditional conservatism this gang retains, the one all neo-conservatives in the country and continent maintain in their political DNA, is a distrust and dislike of anything to do with cities and urbanism. They prize individual ease over community comfort. How else to explain their axe wielding at public transit, libraries, daycares, community centres? One of the mayor’s favourite mantras goes something along the lines of ‘The city shouldn’t be in the business of…”, and if it isn’t anything to do with immediate personal safety or clean and wide open streets to drive on, the city shouldn’t be engaged in it.

What the mayor is, and everyone who helps further his agenda as well, is radically anti-urban. Let’s remove the political ideology from the equation. Team Ford is only conservative as far as it has declared a war on a liveable, equitable city. That’s the extent of their traditional conservatism. So, let’s start calling it what it actually is.

Radical anti-urbanism.

Let them try to defend themselves against that label.

elitely submitted by Cityslikr


The Problem Of Weight

October 1, 2011

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. I was the one who instigated the “late-night beer-enhanced” conversation that led to Sol Chrom’s post over at Posterous, Why making fun of Rob Ford’s weight isn’t cool. For the record, it wasn’t just some idle intellectual exercise, ‘late-night, beer-enhanced’ chatter about the use and nature of language, positions of privilege, etc., etc. Although it was indeed late at night and most definitely beer-enhanced.

The discussion stemmed from an actual exchange I had earlier in the week. Let me take you back (cue squiggly lines) to Monday September 26th, 2011. Taking a break from the special city council meeting, I wandered down to the south end of Nathan Phillips Square to take in the Stop The Cuts rally. Making my way through the crowd, sussing out the situation, firing off occasional tweets with my trademark pithy observations. One such came about when I couldn’t help think that no matter how loud these people yelled, no matter how hard they beat their drums, regardless of the justness of their cause or their fearful certainty that the city they love will be that much worse for wear if this current administration has its way with it, the mayor couldn’t give a shit about them.

That wasn’t thought in any fatalistic way. I wasn’t questioning why these people would be bothering to protest given it was all falling on deaf ears in the mayor’s office. (I don’t imagine the intent of the rally was to change Mayor Ford’s mind anyway. It was to try and change the minds of more and more city residents). I made the observation out of anger and frustration at the fact the mayor was so willing to run roughshod over public opinion, touting some mythical mandate that was nowhere near as strong as it once was and based almost entirely on false pretenses.

Looking around, I spotted a chip truck parked nearby on Queen Street. I then tweeted something to the effect that the mayor wasn’t going to listen to anyone in this crowd until we overturned the chip truck. Just before pressing send, I was struck by the possibility someone would read it and assume I was making fun of the mayor’s weight. Fuck it. That wasn’t my intent. I sent it out.

What was my intent, you might be asking? I spotted something trivial amidst the crowd brought together in a fight against the crucial. Daycare cuts. Library cuts. Emergency service cuts. Cuts that made the already vulnerable even more vulnerable. And I thought the only thing that would get the mayor’s attention would be if the crowd did something out of the ordinary, like overturn a fast food truck. Not because of the food inside but because of the unexpected gesture.

As with any attempt at humour, once it gets put under the microscope for a detailed analysis, it kind of loses its core of funny. Or, very possibly, it was never really that funny to begin with. I’m perfectly willing to accept that. What it most certainly wasn’t, I can assure you, was a shot at the mayor’s weight. I would’ve thought the very same thing, fired off the very same tweet if either dancer thin Doug Holyday or muscle bound Giorgio Mammoliti were mayor. It had nothing to do with the food.

Yet, soon after, I received a reply from what I would assume to be normally a politically aligned point of view. Let’s not descend to fat jokes (or something to that effect). Yep. I guess I should’ve trusted my instinct and not sent out the tweet. Notice how I refrained from saying ‘gut’ instinct lest someone think I’m taking another shot at the mayor’s weight?

So now any reference associated in any way to food can be construed as making fun of Mayor Ford’s weight? Or how about this? Mayor Ford did not exercise acute political judgement on the waterfront issue. What do you mean, the mayor didn’t exercise? Are you making fun of his weight again? See: previous paragraph’s ‘gut instinct’ discussion and make up your own example.

Really? It’s come to that? Those are the eggshells we must walk on when criticizing the mayor?

The thing is, I don’t see Rob Ford as your average person with weight issues. I see Rob Ford as the mayor of this country’s largest city. I see Rob Ford as a highly entitled politician whose approach to public service is to protect wealth and privilege. I see Rob Ford as a politician catering to our basest instincts. I see Rob Ford as many have seen his type of politician:

Any attacks I might make on Rob Ford using his weight is not an attack on anyone else who considers themselves fat. I’d like to think any criticism I may level at the mayor referring to his weight would be seen as more attitudinal toward his politics than his person. To my mind, it would be entirely germane to refer to Mayor Rob Ford as a fat cat or fat head without having to fend off those who might accuse me making issue with his weight.

But the issue is so fraught with emotional landmines that I have been very, very careful to steer clear of intentional references to the mayor’s weight. I’m sure a search of this site will reveal that early on we were less careful. I know we made constant comparisons to then candidate for mayor Rob Ford and the late comedian Chris Farley. We have attempted to heed the advice of many who have rightly pointed that there is so much more to criticize in the mayor than his weight.

We will continue to do so for three main reasons despite still believing that the mayor’s weight, through his politics and attitudes, is fair game.

1) I’m not sure my argument is rigorous enough to withstand oppositional scrutiny even within my own head.

2) Because I read this in the above Sol Chrom post. My issue is with the mayor, his views of government and those who support him. I hardly want to inflict emotional damage on others because I’m going for an easy, obvious shot.

3) Finally, and to show that my politics trump both empathy or any concern about being an intellectual lightweight, I try to refrain from going at the mayor with weight references because it gives succour to his backers. It gives a line of rebuttal where otherwise there would be none. As Sol argued in his piece, it puts the mayor in the position of being the underdog, the little guy, the put upon people’s spokesman dismissed because he doesn’t look the part, the anti-politician. It gives him justification to chase much better men from the room.

thoughtfully submitted by Cityslikr


Skirmish Won. Battle Still Ongoing. Victory From From Secure.

September 27, 2011

(As we were in absentia for Team Ford’s waterfront retreat, we turn to colleague Sol Chrom for a summary of last week’s important but very, very fluid victory on the waterfront.)

*  *  *

If Team Ford’s Port Lands plans are truly dead, would someone mind driving a stake through them?

The plans, that is.

That’s how a tweet from Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan is describing things, linking to a quote from Councillor Paula Fletcher.

This is a triumph for the public…This is a Toronto moment, a Jane Jacobs moment.

Can’t argue with the sentiments, but I’m inclined to agree with a comment left on the Torontoist site by one dsmithhfx:

Don’t celebrate quite yet… I don’t trust this cabal of scumbag opportunists as far as I could throw them. It’s a setback, to be sure. And much as we’d like to think of it as a turning point, the point where the wave of ignorance, resentment, stupidity, and short-term greed that the Ford approach taps into finally broke, let’s not start the happy dance just yet.

The Port Lands/Waterfront fiasco has captivated our attention for several weeks, to be sure, and we can’t underestimate its symbolic importance. But it’s also possible to think of it as this week’s Shiny ObjectTM – something thing that attracts our attention and keeps us all occupied while other things are going on.

A thoughtful essay by Dylan Reid in Spacing last week discussed the slow decline of a community through a process of dozens of little cuts. Cancel a minor program here, put less resources into something else there, cut back on the scope of something else over there. The examples Reid cites include things like litter pickup, tree planting, neighbourhood improvement programs, snow clearing, and making bylaw enforcement reactive rather than proactive. As Reid writes:

Individually, the impact of each of these is small. And it’s quite possible some of them could be reasonable proposals for a city with a screwed-up budgetary process if they were thought through properly (e.g. all parks could have citizen committees that take care of flower planting and care, if the city provides the flowers and eases up on regulation). But done all in a rush, and all together, the overall impact will be a gradual degradation in the walking environment. It will get dirtier and trickier, and many programs that make it more attractive will be abandoned. People will still be able to walk, of course. They just won’t want to walk as much, unless they have to. And since walking is how people experience their city most directly, Toronto will feel a little bit more like a city in decline — which, given the amount of building going on and people moving in, it really shouldn’t.

By themselves, these measures may not amount to much. They don’t have the impact or the visibility of the Port Lands clusterfuck, because they don’t carry the same scale or price tag. That’s why they’re mostly off the radar. Cumulatively, however, their effect on our quality of life could be just as serious. The places we love and live in, whether they’re downtown or in the suburbs, would become dirtier, more threadbare, and less welcoming.

But this is what happens when the function of government is entrusted to people with no commitment to the public sphere. I’ve already written that the current administration seems colonized by people with no interest in using the power of government to advance the common good, and the events of the past few weeks have done nothing to suggest otherwise. When you start pulling at the threads that hold a community together, you never know when the whole thing’s going to unravel.

This is not to take anything away from the the people whose efforts forced a retreat on the waterfront, of course. And the folks involved in CodeBlueTO deserve a special shout-out. Let’s just remember, though, that this is a long war that has to be fought on many fronts. These guys aren’t done yet. There’s still a long slog ahead.

submitted by Sol Chrom

(Not only is Sol Chrom an occasional commenter here but he’s also been known to blog over at Posteroustumblr and OpenFile.)


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