Military On Ice

January 31, 2010

So there I was, minding my own business, having popped in from the cold to play some pool (badly), down some drinks (goodly), clog the arteries with some deep fried goodness (high blood pressuredly). I was quietly rocking out to an anti-John Hughes 80s soundtrack punctuated by the occasional Beatles song which may be the perfect way to listen to The Beatles. One song at a time surrounded by a bunch of music that you actually enjoy. Deep in the background on a massive TV the CBC’s Hockey Day in Canada droned on, mutedly.

Then it happened. Pre-Leafs-Canucks game, our waiter turns up the volume on the television. On it, military personnel start appearing and a Hummer pulls up outside an arena in Stratford, Ontario (host to this year’s HDC). Out steps Ron McLean, a garishly dressed Don Cherry (natch) and a similarly attired kid (ghastly). They make their way into the rink and onto the red carpet where they blather on about the Canadianess of the game of hockey, Our Game®©™. Our servicemen (and women) fill up the cutaway shots.

Jump to the ACC in Toronto where the awesome display of martialistic jingoism continues. Members of the army, navy, air force (we have an air force, don’t we?) fill the screen. Some guy who looks like Tom Cochrane in fatigues but isn’t sings some lame Canada is Hockey, Hockey is Canada, And We Love Our Fightin’ Force Who Is Keeping Us Strong And Free song. By which time, I am completely flummoxed. Who handed over pageantry planning to the dunderheaded Don Cherry?!  (Tip of the hat goes to Christine B. for that notion.)

Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse, it did. Spectacularly. Down from the rafters, a figure in full battle regalia awkwardly rappels toward centre ice. Safely landing, it is revealed to be former Leaf great, 85 year-old Johnny Bower. YEAAAAAHHHHHH! YEAAAAHHHHHH FUCKING YEAAAHHHHHH!!!!!!! Johnny Bower in army gear! YEAAAAHHHHHH!!! Wearing a fucking helmet! YEAAAHHHHHHH!!!! What’s next? The dug up remains of Tim Horton and Conn Smythe shot out of a canon? YEAAAHHHHH!!!!!

What the fuck happened to us? When did we officially become American? Isn’t hockey smash your face, beat your chest macho enough without introducing a dick swinging, I love a man in uniform element to it?

A few years back, I was wandering around Melbourne, Australia, taking in the sights. Now, Australia’s a county that shares much in common with Canada although, unfortunately, not the climate. But on the flipside, we don’t have snakes here that can kill you if you even so much as look into their dark, soulless eyes. Both countries were “founded” by European stock who barbarously de-populated their respective lands of its aboriginal inhabitants. We came of age on the international scene by offering our young men up as fodder in the completely senseless slaughter of World War I. Something in which we take a huge amount of historical pride.

In Melbourne, that pride is on display in the form of numerous cenotaphs and statues throughout the city. It struck me when I was there, how quiet Canadians were in terms of trumpeting our military past. Sure, we’ve got our Vimy monument and tomb of the unknown soldier but we always seemed humble in our acknowledgement.

That seems to have all changed now. Fight fear. Fight chaos. Fight distress. Fight. Fight! FIGHT! FIGHT!! FIGHT!!! YEAAAHHHHHHH!!!! Jack Bauer?! Fuck that. We got Johnny Bower! In fatigues! Dangling from a rope, high above centre ice!

And spare me, the whole support our troops trope. If that’s all you got, then you’ve ceded rational discourse to the lame ass, simple-minded sloganeering of George W. Bush, Don Cherry and Rick Hillier. War should only be used as a last, desperate measure and not wielded as some cheap, easy to score PR stunt. I watch hockey to watch the Leafs lose not to bear witness to our fidelity to the fighting men and women in uniform. That’s what the History Channel’s for.

testily submitted by Cityslikr

Political Thoughts From The Love Shack

January 30, 2010

For those of you assigning my absence at this site to being lost in pursuit of pure and utter carnality, having last seen me being carted off a dance floor tucked under the arm of… how was it described.. ? “… one of the [statuesque] blondes just as Come Sail Away by Styx kicked into high gear”, allow me to set the record straight.

1) While it was Styx that played me out of the bar, the song was Lady not Come Sail Away.

2) The [statuesque] blonde in question is named Cerise and while she is on the tall side, statuesque may be somewhat hyperbolic. In bare feet, she is no more than 4 inches taller than I, and I am certainly not a tall man.

3) That most definitely was an impersonator of my person in this week’s comment sections. I have remained faithful to my vow of abstinence with KFC since the retainer incident. So I would hardly be gallivanting around the countryside with a bucket by my side. Also, I have no idea what a ‘speedball’ is.

4) Holed up as we have been in her quaint farmhouse all by its lonesome in the hinterlands of Dufferin County, our intercourse, as it were, has hardly been to the exclusion of anything outside of the primal kind. After all, we aren’t base animals, blind to all but our corporal desires.

In fact, over the past week, Cerise and I have discovered a mutual love of municipal governance and civic legislative structures. (I think this one may be a keeper!) Between mouthfuls of bonbons and tankards of merlot, we debated the merits of prescriptive versus permissive powers, the nature of the so-called ‘in between’ cities, the ridiculously inflated rock star persona of Richard Florida. And, of course, we both mooned over Saint Jane Jacobs.

More to the point, it was during a heated discussion about Thomas J. Courchene that I was struck by an idea that is pertinent to the discussion here over the last few days. In his June 2005 IRPP Working Paper entitled Citistates and the State of Cities: Political-Economy and Fiscal-Federalism Dimensions, Courchene suggests that, traditionally, municipal governments – deprived of actual fiscal and legislative powers by their respective provinces – have been little more than caretakers or purely administrative units. That is to say, doing the grunt work for their superiors.

Think the British Raj in India. Local government answerable ultimately to their political masters in a faraway place. Or to bring it closer to home, as Professor David Siegel has framed it, municipalities are merely vehicles for decentralized provincial service delivery. Provinces say “jump” and cities ask “how high”. From that vantage point, Rocco Rossi’s Empire Club speech should be seen as merely an extension of that mindset.

And who’s to say that the voters of Toronto don’t share Rossi’s point of view? If the newspapers and polls are to be believed, we no longer remain in thrall to Mayor Miller and his minions’ (again, borrowing from Courchene) ‘policy-intensive and participation/accountability-enhancing’ approach to governing this city. Perhaps, Rossi simply recognizes our latent desire to want someone else to tell us how to live our lives and therefore rid ourselves of the responsibility to accept the consequences of our own decisions. Maybe deep down in our heart of hearts, we Torontonians are simply of the administrative sort; reactive rather than proactive.

There’s no shame in that. Unfortunately, little excitement either. But hey, what are you going to do? Unburdened by responsibility, we have more leisure time to eat bonbons and drink merlot.

satiatedly submitted by Acaphlegmic

Standing On Guard For Them

January 29, 2010

An additional thought to my last post on Rocco Rossi and The Empire Club.

I wonder if candidate Rocco is aware of the irony in having given his maiden speech at an establishment like The Empire Club of Canada. Actually, I wonder if it’s ironic at all as there are times when I feel my grasp of the term ‘irony’ is no firmer than that of Alanis Morissette.

Rather than ‘ironic’ let’s call it ‘appropriately symbolic’ or ‘sadly unsurprising’.

According to its website, the club’s founders were well-heeled men; Souls for whom the wind is always nor’- nor’-west as British writer Rupert Brooke called them, poetically meaning of good fortune, I gather. They came together during the early years of last century in the face of a growing anti-English sentiment within the general populace and these men were nothing if not serious Empire Loyalists. It seems that Britain’s Lord Alverstone had voted with the 3 Americans who sat on the Alaskan Boundary Tribunal against the two Canadians. This resulted in the United States acquiring several islands plus a long stretch of coastline that became known as the Alaska Panhandle. In effect, handing over 210,000 square miles (or 543 900 sq. km. if my math is right) of northwestern Canada to the Americans.

Some Canadians were pissed about such British perfidy including then PM Wilfrid Laurier who demanded Canadian control over her own foreign affairs. This was downright uppity of the masses in the eyes of the nascent Empire Club of Canada set who seemed more akin to what they called “the Imperial bond” than they did their home and native land. So they formed a club (No Girls Allowed!) and got together for weekly dinners to listen to some speechifying extolling the virtues of the Empire and denigrating popular homegrown nationalist chest beating. For example, in the club’s own words: No aficionado of early Empire Club speakers could rightfully list those who impressed him without recalling the joy of discovering Captain A.T. Hunter…with an address entitled “The Fatuous Insolence of Canadians.[Bolding is mine.]

While the names and players have changed, it is the dynamics that haven’t with Rossi choosing the Empire Club of Canada as the place to kick off his campaign for mayor. The self-satisfied, entrenched establishment cheering on a reactionary, anti-populist office seeker who, if elected, promises to take the city back from fat cat unions, know-nothing bureaucrats and 44 other elected officials. Rossi vows to return the power to where it belongs: the monied back rooms.

So no, Rossi’s speech and location of it was not ironic. Pathetically apt, more like it.

true north strong and freely submitted by Cityslikr

Cars Don’t Kill People

January 28, 2010

Beware Drivers Of Toronto! Crazed Pedestrians Running Amok! Stepping Distractedly Into Streets Like Zombies! Damaging Cars! Killing Them Only Encourages More Erratic Behaviour!

In our ever escalating war on cars, the ranks of foot soldiers grow thin. Reduced to throwing themselves at the enemy like desperate kamikaze, they are not only losing their lives but — even worse — they are losing in the battle of public opinion. No motorists have been killed so far, yet they are being portrayed as the put upon victims. Innocent bystanders subjected to the onslaught of jaywalking pedestrians, darting in and out of traffic like rabid squirrels. All that stands between the valiant road warriors and certain death is a mere 1500-2000 kilograms of motor vehicle.

Has there ever been a worse time to be sitting behind the wheel of a car?

I would expect this type of demagoguery from 3 out of our 4 daily rags but to wake up yesterday morning to hear Metro Morning’s Andy Barrie interviewing a CBC producer about the trauma she’s endured after having accidentally, and through no fault of her own, killed a man with a truck she was driving, well, it was too much. Too, too much. While I’m sure the guilt and second guessing must be painful and long lasting, hey, I’d take that over being dead, I think.

The insufferable index rose alarmingly higher when Ms. Borel talked of how, when the police investigation of the accident was over and she was cleared of any wrong doing, she got right back up on that proverbial horse and drove the truck away, fearing that if she didn’t, she might never drive again. Wouldn’t that have been tragedy! One less driver on the road.

Later on in the same show, Andy talked with the Superintendent of Toronto Police Traffic Services, Earl Witty who advised pedestrians to be more vigilant and obey the rules of the road. Even when pedestrians think they have the right of way in a situation with a car, Witty stressed, they should never assume the driver thinks likewise. You may be in the right but you would be dead right. At which time both he and Andy chuckled mirthlessly along with their listeners. Witty then talked about how the police would be on a safety blitz, ticketing jaywalkers and other pedestrian traffic offenders to get their point across.

With only two drivers apparently charged in the 14 pedestrian deaths in the GTA so far this year, I guess the take away lesson is that in 86% of the fatalities, the victim has been solely to blame; the authors of their own demise. It’s a jungle out there, people. You have to be on your toes at all times. Never let your guard down. Even if you’re absolutely in the clear, keep your eyes peeled (but certainly not your ear to the ground especially if you’re in dark clothes) because drivers can’t always see you or come to a complete stop at a red light before making a right turn or treat that stoplight that’s such a stale yellow that in fact it’s red and not speed up and barrel through it or make an illegal u-turn in the middle of the street or just throw out the anchors and stop up short in a fucking bike lane…

It’s like we’re endorsing the bully principle. Even when the sniveling weakling is blameless, he’s going to get his ass handed to him because, ultimately, might makes right.

But how come if pedestrians are being advised to operate under the assumption that danger lurks around every street corner, a similar onus not placed on drivers? They’re the ones riding around in the killing machines. As Spiderman’s uncle said: With great power comes great responsibility. Drivers should drive as if there’s a child crouching behind every parked car they pass, waiting to bolt out in front of them. Drivers should drive not like they’re kings of the road or cocks of the walk but with the knowledge of the pain and suffering they can inflict due to inattention on anyone’s part. Drivers should drive as if it’s a privilege and not a God given right.

indignantly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Rossi Rocks The Empire Club

January 27, 2010

Mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi had his political coming out at the Empire Club last week and by all non-partisan accounts he was a big hit. Reading through the text of his speech, it seems that Rossi is ceding the Crazytown turf of the right wing to Giorgio Mammoliti (and his talk of curfews for teenagers while at the same time dissing after school programs) to settle comfortably 0nto Reactionary Road. It was a speech of equal measure empty, vapid rhetoric and red meat conservative platitudes.

Rossi loves this city so much. Unfortunately, Toronto “…has the wind at its back, yet all too often City Hall acts as an anchor, not a sail.” So he wants to be mayor because he’s “… running to do something, not be something.” But if elected, don’t expect Rossi to hang around too long. For him “… public service is a calling, not a career.” He’ll just be passing through on his way to the next calling. Not to fear, though. Rocco’s a principled guy, a solid citizen. “Someone once told me if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” He just couldn’t remember if that someone was John Cougar or John Cougar Mellencamp or just John Mellencamp.*

Yes, Rossi does stand for a lot of things that Torontonians who are members of The Empire Club are all for. If elected, he will sell every city asset that isn’t nailed down and all the proceeds will go to debt reduction and into “… a few chosen priorities that benefit us all.” Hopefully, that’ll get us completely out of the red as the city’s future revenue stream will be severely curtailed from that point on. Whatever’s left for the city to run, Rossi will then outsource, further reducing expenditures, for as history has taught us, the public never gets screwed when handing over their business to the private sector.

He will get tough with the TTC and its union overlords, stopping its mindless, wanton and determined destruction of city streets, disruption of established shopping patterns and severing of neighbourhoods. To hear Rossi tell it, the TTC is like the bad robots in the Transformer movies. And he is our Optimus Prime.

Rossi sees our coddling of the TTC as part of the bigger war on cars that is presently underway. Haven’t you noticed all the motorists killed by out of control pedestrians and cyclists lately? “For too many years City Hall has been stuck in the zero-sum game that transit and biking are good, and cars are bad. Cars are neither good nor bad…cars are simply a necessity for many people.” Well, as a matter of fact, Rocco, there’s plenty of proof that cars are in fact bad and our accommodation of them makes the city less livable. They pollute our air. They occupy far more space than warrants and that could be used more beneficially for more people. They promote anti-social behaviour.

However, the single biggest off key note that sprang out at me from Rossi’s speech last week and signaled his categorical unfitness to be mayor was this little tidbit:

As long as just 12 per cent of Torontonians have confidence in the money management at City Hall, the federal and provincial governments have all the excuses they need not to invest and partner with the city – and they don’t pay a political price for this inaction.

If Toronto can arm itself with a credible fiscal plan, however, Queen’s Park and Ottawa will lose this free pass. They will have to come to the table and work with us to keep Toronto strong.

Facts, not whining, is what will truly bring Ottawa and Queen’s Park in as real partners.

In the world according to Rocco Rossi, the people of Toronto and their elected representatives are to blame for the inaction of senior levels of government. If only we’d had a “credible fiscal plan” twelve years or so ago the Harris government wouldn’t have downloaded all those social services without the appropriate levels of funding on us. We asked for it! And lacking a “credible fiscal plan”, the city shouldn’t count on Premier McGuinty being in any rush to rectify the situation.

The decades of federal neglect of public transport in this city (a level of neglect unseen by every other developed nation) could all have been avoided if only we had delivered up to them a “credible fiscal plan”. Oh wait. That happened with Transit City and now Rossi has vowed to put a hold on it pending some sort of review.

Someone should also tell Rocco Rossi that in order to come up with the 5 year financial plans he demands from our municipal pols, the city requires a level of committed, stable funding from senior levels of government that is not subject to whim and unfocused ad hockery, handed over whenever the political winds are favourable. That’s not partnership. That’s cynical politicking and willful, patronizing neglect.

And yet Rocco Rossi seems oblivious to the finer points of municipal governance. He doesn’t want to be mayor of Toronto so much as he wants to the delivery boy for factions demanding the progressive movements within this city are brought to heel. Rocco Rossi wants to be mayor of the Empire Club of Toronto rather than the mayor of all of Toronto. Rocco Rossi’s just another Mel Lastman minus the hair plugs and weaves.

* The actual quote, Those who stand for nothing fall for anything, has been traced back to Alexander Hamilton.

peevishly submitted by cityslikr

Asleep At The Switch

January 26, 2010

Discover the cause, find the cure.

Apparently, we have now located ground zero for the woes besetting the TTC.

Yep. It’s been right there, hiding in plain sight behind the plexiglass at every entry turnstile. Napping ticket collectors. If only I had some sort of camera with me to take a picture of this. Oh wait. I do.

For Peter Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post “…the snoozing employee is a metaphor for a transit system gone badly awry.” (To Penny out there, that last word is pronounced ‘a-rye’ not ‘ah-ree’.) Where else but at the TTC have employees ever been caught asleep on the job? I’m going to assume nowhere until I see some photographic proof otherwise.

Kuitenbrouwer’s reasoning goes as follows: if we had some sort of smart ticketing scheme like they do in most other relatively advanced public transport systems, then no one would give a sleeping employee so much as a second glance. We’d just slap our magic card against the magic pad, push through the magic gate, stepping over they supine worker as we head off to our bus or train or trolley car.

I’ve seen it with my very own eyes at some of the best metro outfits in the world. In Washington D.C., going about your business with your pre-paid card and everywhere you look, transit employees just lounging around, taking it easy. And nobody cares!!

It doesn’t take too much digging between the lines of Kuitenbrouwer’s piece to get to the real gist of what he’s saying. The TTC hasn’t brought in payment smart cards because of lazy, shiftless workers like the one caught sleeping who has a $100,000/year job (and I’d really like Peter K. to point out to us where he found that statistic of legions of TTC ticket takers pulling in 100 K a year) for life because he’s a member of the all powerful, self-serving union. If we could just bust up this union, the TTC would truly be the better way.

And hey, why stop there? This city’s descent into madness started 6+ years ago when we elected a union friendly mayor who handed over the keys to the vault to all his unionized comrades in arms. Let’s bust up all the unions. Outside workers. Inside workers. The police… no wait. We like the police. They can stay unionized.

Because, let’s face it (and to paraphrase Monty Python’s Life of Brian), what have the unions ever done for us? They are the source of all our problems and ending their reign of terror will usher in a golden age of bliss and contentment the like of which this city has never experienced.

Problem solved. It is that simple.

assuredly submitted by Cityslikr

We Got Totally Punk’d

January 25, 2010

Yep. We got played. We got duped. Flim-flammed, hoodwinked, bitch slapped with our dress shirts at the cleaners.

We were had, is what I’m saying.

Hang the rich.

It seems that the invite we received for a weekend in the country (and wrote about here on Friday) was extended with fingers crossed behind the back and tongue firmly planted in cheek. After packing up our gear and heading north to Caledon, we found ourselves on a muddy trail, staring out at an abandoned, dilapidated barn. Thinking maybe we had misread our Google map and retracing some of our steps, 45 minutes later we were back in front of the same barn. Suspicions now aroused, we called the number we’d been given only to discover that it was the automated system for road conditions in Peel county.

At which point of time, all hell broke loose in the car. Accusations were hurled. Fingers pointed. One punch was even thrown, but wildly and the only damage inflicted on the rearview mirror. Things might’ve turned really ugly if we hadn’t been interrupted by a truckload of men with shotguns, wanting to know what we were doing on their property. When they realized we weren’t a bunch of local teenagers looking for someplace to get drunk but rather 3 lost Torontonians, well, things turned rather ominous. It was only by offering up the turducken which we had planned to cook for Saturday dinner that saved us from a grisly fate, I believe. So distracted by the concept of a chicken stuffed into a duck and stuffed again into a turkey that the men in the truck temporarily forget their complete and utter hatred of anyone from Toronto and they allowed us to go free with the promise of never setting foot in the Peel region again.

A promise I was happy to abide by starting immediately but found myself outvoted on the issue. It turned out Acaphlegmic had spent a magical month one summer a few decades earlier with a beloved great aunt in the nearby town of Orangeville. Why waste the weekend and all the packing and planning we’d done to just head home again? Besides, Orangeville was in Dufferin county not Peel, so the men in the pickup couldn’t possibly take issue with our presence there if we happened to encounter them. Could they?

I for one was all for not finding out but again was outvoted. So off to Orangeville we drove and with Acaphlegmic’s photographic memory we found his great aunt’s house, not far from the main drag of the older part of town. What Acaphlegmic had failed to remember, however, was that his great aunt had died nearly 20 years ago, so no longer owned the house where we found ourselves on the porch, knocking at the door. The current owner hadn’t known Acaphlegmic’s great aunt but seemed to be nice enough although we made sure not to mention from where we hailed given the previous reaction to our place of residence.

With our plans foiled once more, I suggested heading home only to find myself in the minority again. Before departing his former great aunt’s house, Acaphlegmic inquired as to where we might find ourselves some suitable lodgings for the evening. The man simply chuckled, saying we’d have no luck on that front as there was snoball tournament in town for the weekend and everything would be booked up.

Snoball?” Urban Sophisticat inquired, surprisingly interested, it struck me. Apparently snoball is the game of softball played in the inclement weather of January. There would be 50 or so teams from all over the place playing in the tournament. So accommodations would be at premium.

Figuring that would be the end of it, I stepped from the porch back toward the car only to be stopped up when the man offered us room in his old camper out back with a little space heater for warmth. “It’ll only cost you a couple sawbucks,” he said. “Each.” Surprised my traveling companions were even discussing it, for the third time that night I was on the losing end of the decision and found myself unpacking my suitcase into a pop-up trailer that smelled of barbequed something. “Do we even know what a sawbuck is?!” I asked the other two. They didn’t but weren’t particularly concerned. (Turns out a sawbuck is worth $10.)

This is when the evening and weekend got especially strange.

After settling into the trailer, we headed out to grab a bite to eat and catch a little of the Orangvillian nightlife. We wound up at a place called T.J. Hangar’s in a stripmall-y area of town. “It was impossible to miss,” we were told because of the big yellow airplane stuck into its roof. It was true. The place was impossible to miss.

Inside was packed with what I assumed to be snoballers. My guess is many of them were also snowmobilers, given the large numbers of adults running around in suspendered snow pants. It was a heavily muscled, tattooed, paunchy crowd of men, ranging in age from mid-20s to their 60s. The female folk were a little less generic although my guess is every one of them who played in the tournament smoked cigarettes. There was also a short, squat contingent of an indeterminate gender that made their presence felt with frequents bursts of “Oh yeah! Fuckin’ eh!!!”s.

All of which led me to believe that our stay there would be short but again I was caught unawares. Turns out Urban Sophisticat was a bit of a ball player in his day and he fell in with a team from Grimsby who adopted him and by the time the games started on Saturday morning, he was filling in for them. Playing under the name ‘Rusty’ and outfitted in a wacky hat and yellow pants, he held down the position of shortstop, replacing the real Rusty who’d fallen into a boozed induced coma much earlier in the weekend than usual.

For his part, Acaphlegmic took to the dance floor and was soon shaking his booty with a bevy of statuesque blondes that I learned later weren’t part of the tournament. The last I saw of him was on Friday night as was carried out of the bar under the arm of one of the blondes just as Come Sail Away by the Styx kicked into high gear. I’ve heard hide nor hair of him since and if he’s reading this now, just drop me note to let me know you’re OK.

Me? I spent the rest of the weekend alone in the trailer, reading the Toronto newspapers that I found around town. My host, Joseph who went by the nickname Billy (no, I didn’t ask why), stopped by regularly to make sure I was enjoying the trailer. I tracked down Urban Sophisticat to watch a couple of games but when the rain started on Sunday and he was vying for the championship of Division C, I’d had enough. Assured that he’d have no trouble finding his way back home, I hoped into the car alone for the hour or so drive back to Toronto.

And I vowed to myself that I would never leave the city again under any circumstances whatsoever.

exhaustively submitted by Cityslikr