… And The Livin’ Is Easy

June 29, 2011

Due to computer technology updating and speaking engagements — and by ‘speaking engagements’ I mean cottage invites where I simply hijack the cocktail hour/dinner party conversation and run with it, paying little heed to arcane rules like listening to others and letting anyone else speak. My cottage season, unsurprisingly, is very, very abbreviated – I’ve been suffering from Blissfully Oblivious About Politics Syndrome (BOAPS), and therefore short on stuff to write about. Such an affliction used to bother me, causing great agitation and severe jitteriness. But here I sit now, serene as serenity can be without a care in the world.

A terabyte of memory, you say? My, that is big, isn’t it. What’s next? A petabyte? Come on. You’re just making words up now.

I am beginning to see the appeal of non-engagement with the wider world around me. Blood pressure has dropped. The psoriasis clearing up. Those screaming fits of outrage have dwindled to just a couple times a day, and they burst forth only after the liquor kicks in and I find myself in front of the TV watching reality shows. Storage Wars?! Really?? Colour me skeptical but I find the notion that ‘storage unit auctions are the newest and biggest untapped source for hidden treasures’ somewhat fanciful and not the least bit watchable.

Still, the anger rarely lingers. My mind turns to more pleasant thoughts. I relax. There are books to be read. Puzzles to… build? construct? piece together? Long walks to take while contemplating non-political matters. And there is a lot to contemplate outside of the political arena, as I have discovered. Most of it not nearly so taxing or contentious. What should we have for dinner tonight, chicken or fish? Is 10 a.m. really too early to have a drink? Does the lawn need mowing again?

No wonder people ignore politics. It harshes the mellow. Takes years off your life, I’m sure. More bother than it’s worth.

They’re all crooks and liars anyway. Nothing you say or do will change anything anyway. What’s the use? Just keep your head down and blindly lash out every 4 years or so in the voting booth. Throw the bums out! Keep my taxes low. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. Democracy in a nutshell.

Ahhh, the apolitical life. Free of aggravation and disappointment. I mean, how can you be aggravated when you’re not involved? And when disappointment is the constant, the baseline against which you measure all else, the expectation, then it’s not really disappointment. It just is.

It’s appealing in its simplicity, bringing out the inner libertarian in all of us. If government is viewed as the source of problems, then the less government there is, the less we think about it, the fewer our problems will be. Basic math, really.

I’m sure one might find some fault with the logic in that. I probably could if I thought much about it. But that’s the point. I’m choosing not to think about it. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t, half snapped as I am already, pondering the possibilities of the day ahead of me. Chicken or fish for lunch. Will that guy cutting grass in the place across the highway, let me take his sit down mower for a spin? Why wouldn’t he? He’s got acres and acres of it. He’s been at it for hours. Surely he’d appreciate the break.

leisurely submitted by Cityslikr

Stop Laughing

June 27, 2011

Very few times do I read something that leaves me both exhilarated and disillusioned at the same time. That’s exactly how I felt though after reading Matt Taibbi’s Rolling Stone article, ‘Michele Bachmann’s Holy War’. Holy shit, I thought. This person appears to be certifiably nuts, up from the depths of crazy swamp. She could be the next president of the United States.

Don’t laugh at the notion, Taibbi warns us. Not only is the prospect possible but our cruel laughter of ridicule only makes her stronger, makes her supporters more determined. Today’s conservatives seem to court our derision, lust for it even, as in the twisted little reality they’ve created, our dismissiveness proves the rightness of their cause.

Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a hermetically sealed bubble like that.

This is not a phenomenon unique to the U.S. We up here in Canada are suffering under the yolk of caustically laughing and mocking those politicians who, a little more than a generation ago would’ve justifiably been relegated to the wasteland fringes of ‘conservative’ thought. Toronto finds itself in the grip of an especially virulent radical, irrational right wing ideology.

What’s even more problematic and depressing about it, aside from the very fact such a state actually exists, is that it’s hard to know what to do about it. How do you fight such a slippery opponent? Reasoned debate or discussion is met with nothing more than sound bites and sloganeering. The last word is a claim that we’re all entitled to our opinions even when said opinions aren’t at all valid, based as they are on misinformation, half-truths or outright lies. If not mockery and derision to such anti-social practices, what’s left?

No, really. I’m asking because I have no idea.

All through last year’s municipal campaign candidate for mayor Rob Ford rode a wave of voter anger and discontent, stoked and encouraged by his own narrow-minded view of the role of government in our lives and painfully obvious bad math in construction of the mythical Gravy Train. His candidacy was initially written off as delusional based on his outrageous antics as a 10 year councillor and the fundamental illogic that formed the foundation of his campaign. Jokes were made at his expense. He and his ‘Nation’ were mocked, ridiculed, reviled and a whole lot of other words, all negative.

Like Michele Bachmann, he seemed energized by the attacks, actually believing that they only proved (somehow) that he was right, his views made that much more legitimate by simply being questioned. His growing number of supporters ran with that sensibility, taking up the martyr’s cross and using it to prove the justness of their cause. Downtown elites, fearful of losing their privileged status, were simply lashing out, realizing that their good times were coming to an end. We don’t have to defend ourselves or our ideas to you. We know what we know.

Who, aside from a child, acts like that? Imagine where we’d be if any and all criticism was invalidated simply by a shrug of the shoulders and a well, let’s-just-agree-to-disagree sentiment. You think the world is round and I think it’s flat. You think it revolves around the sun and I think we are the centre of the universe. We’d still be leaving in fucking caves.

Even then, under attack, some will revive the ghost of Galileo, claiming he too was pilloried by the elite of his time because he told the truth. The difference is, his truth was arrived at through logic, reason and a scientific approach. That’s how truth is usually found. The neo-conservative truth is the complete opposite of all that. It is the anti-truth.

It seems that such anti-truth can not only float effortlessly above the air, just out of reach in theory, it can survive a severe manhandling by reality in the minds of those ascribing to it. All those promises and pledges that candidate Ford made out on the hustings last year are already looking a little ratty. Remember this groaner? Toronto does not have a revenue problem. It has a spending problem. As mayor, he now admits the city has a revenue problem. Or how about this one? We can cut taxes without cutting services. Guaranteed. We’ve already experienced ‘minor’ service cuts and are being told to expect bigger ones next year. Guaranteed.

Rob Ford came to power on a platform built of anti-truth and now that we’re witnessing it, up close and personal, how does his flock react? We’re just a bunch of whiners, complainers, sore losers. Get used to it. Our guy’s in charge now.

Let’s call that what it is. The Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah Nyah method of discourse that most of us grow out of by the time we’re 10 and that now passes for deep political thought in conservative circles. It cannot be refuted since only eggheads refute things. I may not be a downtown/east/west coast/educated elitist but I know what I know. It cannot be challenged because if you challenge it that means you don’t agree with it, and if you don’t agree with it you’re just a downtown/east/west coast/educated elitist etc., etc., etc.

It’s beautiful in its circular insularity, free of any sort of doubt or curiosity. A veritable cloak of intellectual invincibility. That which makes you dumber makes you stronger. In some circles it would be considered a negative psychological affliction (a circle filled with whining sore loser elitists). But for the conservative movement, it’s a winning strategy.

Leaving the question still unanswered. How do we engage with that sort of alternate reality that sees any attempts at engagement as nothing short of a personal attack? There’s no room for reason or logic. Laughing and belittling in the hopes of shaming them from their stupor only leads to a digging in of heels and further steeling of determination to be unmoved. Ignoring them seems to get them elected. We’re running out of options.

Anyone got any other bright ideas?

cluelessly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Truly A Ford Nation

June 24, 2011

As a non-car guy, I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking, talking and writing about cars. I’m bored to death with it, frankly. Perhaps you too are bored with my constant car chatter.

And here I go again writing about cars.

The most recent cause for my car thoughts comes from an article written earlier this week by David Akin. In it he cited a paper given by Zach Taylor, a Ph.D. candidate, at the Canadian Political Science Association Conference last month that suggested car ownership and use may have been a key factor for those who cast their ballots for Rob Ford in last October’s municipal election. “The propensity to commute by automobile is a strong predictor of Ford support,” writes Mr. Taylor, “while property-oriented variables (the home ownership rate and percentage of housing in detached form) are shown to have a negligible influence on candidate support.”

Ah yes, the War on Cars. Great bumper sticker sloganeering that, not coincidentally, fits perfectly on the back of cars that Ford voters drive. Simple, very effective three word politics.

I will stop myself on theorizing about what I believe to be sociopathy in people’s attachment to their automobiles since it would be a gross generalization. Many folks, having either bought into the lure of a nice house in the suburbs or simply living where they can afford to live, depend on their cars. To get to work and home again, shop, take the kids to school or extracurricular activities, to simply get to where they need to go.

Even if they wanted to rid themselves of their auto reliance, many people couldn’t at this point. There’s no other reliable way to move around their parts of the city in a timely fashion. Ironically, by voting for their auto-centric way of life, they helped elect a mayor who seems determined to make it even less likely they could live car-free if they wanted with his orchestrated attack on Transit City.

No, I think the problem is much more fundamental than that. A continued attachment to cars as our primary mode of transport is a refusal to accept that the world has changed. Automobiles are the kings of the 20th-century. We designed our cities around them. They represented freedom and status. Dodge. Grab Life by the Horns. Buick: Dream Up. SAAB:Welcome to the State of Independence. Jaguar: Don’t dream it. Drive it! Honda: The Power of Dreams. Subaru. Think. Feel. Drive. Ford: Built for life in Canada.

Inundated like that, how could you not want a car? How could you not need a car?

Problem is, it’s 2011, a decade plus into the the 21st-century. The true cost of our car culture has fully manifested itself in our blighted streetscapes, loss of productive time stuck in traffic, environmental degradation and a dependence on dwindling energy resources. For many, driving is the worst way to get from point A to point B anymore.

So we split into two camps: those wanting to make driving easier and those wanting to reduce the primacy of cars in our transport system. Although there would be significant overlap between these seemingly opposing views, this is where the battle lines are drawn. Don’t touch my car versus Get out of your car. Status quo versus embracing the future.

The War on Cars should actually be referred to as the War on Modernity. Having held sway for, let’s call it 60 or 70 years, car ownership is the entrenched interest, a fact of life that was simply a given, the norm, but is now under siege. A perceived assault on the ability to drive anywhere anytime is seen as an assault on a way of life. First, they came for my car, and I said nothing. Then they came for my parking pad. You will have to pry my cold, dead hands from the steering wheel.So it’s not really about cars. It’s about change. Change will always be resisted until it becomes inevitable but the transition seldom is smooth or without – ahem, ahem – the occasional bump in the road. History, though, can only be delayed not indefinitely deferred. We, us car unenthusiasts and embracers of the future, are in a temporary holding pattern, waiting for the last dying gasp of an era.

autodidactically submitted by Urban Sophisticat

The Immoveable Mayor

June 23, 2011

Mark it down in your calendar, folks. The week of June 20th, 2011. It’s the date the mayoralty of Rob Ford officially jumped the shark. (If such a thing is possible. To jump the shark suggests that there’s a point of quality from which to jump. For example, can it be said that a Full House or Who’s The Boss? ever achieved the necessary creative heights to attempt the shark jump?)

Within a matter of days this week our very own Mayor Danny Tanner signaled that he’s unwilling, unable or just downright uninterested in reaching out past his core constituency. First, in Executive Committee he deep-sixed an offer from the province to pay for 2 public health nurses. Then the mayor announced that he would not be marching in the upcoming Pride parade, opting instead for a family long weekend at the cottage. In two fell swoops, Mayor Ford made it clear he was not the mayor of all Toronto.

I wouldn’t for a moment be presumptuous enough to try attaching a motivation for these decisions of the mayor aside from a reluctance to accept things that he doesn’t understand. Public nurses? We’ve got hospitals for sick people. Use them. T’eh Gays? Well, it’s all just a little too.. err… queer to him. Have at it. Live your life. Just don’t expect the mayor to endorse something he’s unfamiliar or uncomfortable with.

The real takeaway message here for me is that Mayor Ford doesn’t feel a need politically to broaden his appeal among Toronto voters. He’s perfectly happy wallowing in the pond of support that brought him to power, and that shares his uneasiness with extra front line health workers and homosexuality. These are his people and the decisions he made in both cases make perfect sense to them. His intransigence might even solidify his reputation as a straight-shooting, uncomplicated, apolitical, little guy. Our mayor doesn’t bend to special interests. Just like us hard working, taxpaying, regular Joes.

Or something like that. We who are flummoxed by the choices our mayor makes need to get used to it. He ain’t ever going to change, so stop expecting him to. That trait may be his greatest strength, his best political asset.

So, let’s stop trying to find common ground with the mayor. It is a small and barren patch of land. A my way or the highway mentality means that the only compromise we can ever hope to reach is all on our part. We give. He takes.

We need to set our sights elsewhere. The time has come to turn up the heat on those at city council who continue their willfully blind support of Mayor Ford and who continue to enable him to do the things he does. If the standard operating procedure so far has been to back the mayor or suffer the political consequences, we have to find a way to point out that such unstinting support will also come with adverse political consequences. A light must be shone on those councillors who have, so far, been quietly cowering in the safe shadow the mayor casts.

Sure, Team Ford is made up of a handful of councillors sharing the mayor’s limited view of politics and the city. Brother Doug, for one, and the Deputy Mayor. They will be immune to such pressure. You might throw in Budget Chief Del Grande and Councillor Shiner as well although, they like Speaker Nunziata and QB Mammoliti, former Ford non-allies present now because the going’s been good but alert to any changes of fortune that might come if the mayor’s destructive and narrow-minded policies become something of a drag on their standing with the electorate.

Even in toto that’s a pretty small group and won’t be able to help dig Mayor Ford out of any holes he gets himself into.

The councillors I’m talking about are the rookies who haven’t established any sort of real foothold besides being the mayor’s flunkies. There’s Vincent Crisanti, Gary Crawford and James Pasternak (the two latter elected in 2010 with the slimmest of pluralities, within the margin of error.) Councillors Michelle Berardinetti and Jay Robinson, undistinguished members of the mayor’s executive committee. And the deadweight veterans, Cesar Palacio, Mark Grimes, Frank DiGiorgio, Chin Lee.

Then there are the moderates from both sides of the political spectrum that have already started bucking under the weight of Mayor Ford’s missteps. Peter Milczyn, Michael Thomspon, Denzil Minnan-Wong, Norm Kelly, Joshes Matlow and Colle, Ana Bailão, Mary-Margaret McMahon. TTC Chair Karen Stintz could be counted on to bail out if things get a little rocky.

Let’s refocus a grassroots effort from the mayor to these councillors, the non-ideological hidebound and opportunists, and start holding them accountable for participating in this war against the city. Alert their constituents with loud announcements of their collaboration and facilitating of this ruinous administration. We need a catchy name for it. Project 23 comes immediately to mind but may not be ominous enough.

Mayor Rob Ford is a lost cause for anyone hoping to build a strong city. It doesn’t interest him and he wouldn’t have the slightest idea how to even if he had the inclination. That’s not going to change.

What can change is the support he now has at City Hall if more councillors begin to realize a price will be paid for their ongoing association with a mayor determined to do his thing and his thing only.

start a firingly submitted by Cityslikr

An Open Letter To Councillor Josh Matlow

June 21, 2011

Dear Councillor Matlow,

I am desperately trying to like you. Or, if not like you, to respect and understand your point of view and manner for navigating the very partisan grounds upon which City Hall currently sits. You seem like a nice enough fellow, open-minded, wanting to understand both sides of an issue, a consensus seeker.

Yet, you oftentimes give me cause to pause. Fence-sitter, I find myself thinking regularly. Ass-coverer when I’m feeling less generous. Going whichever way the political winds are blowing.

Most recently it’s been your indulging our budget chief’s moronically empty symbolism of his little red piggy bank that’s put a burr up my ass. Do you really think it brings anything substantive to the city’s budget problems? Councillor Del Grande himself has referred to the situation as a threatening ‘tsunami’. How is a child’s piggy bank going to help us in the face of such an onslaught?

Stop being so humourless, I’m sure you’re saying to me. It’s just a gag, a little joke to lighten the mood. Hell, maybe I’m missing your point altogether. Your constant referencing and social media photo sharing of the cute little plastic porcine is actually a subversive method of mocking the budget chief. If so, apologies and my hat is off to you. I probably would’ve just ignored the stupid pig altogether, and left it to the likes of the Toronto Sun to treat with the significance it doesn’t deserve.

More troublesome to me, however, is your habit of invoking the phrase, the truth lies somewhere in the middle on issues that divide city council largely on its right-left axis. That axiom is only meaningful if both sides are equidistant from the truth you are seeking. Do you actually believe that to be the case in many of the matters that come before you at council? That truth and good governance can always be found by finding some middle ground? It kind of makes you a patsy for those who have little interest in seeking compromise or even honestly debating issues.

By giving serious or legitimate weight to ideas or opinions that don’t necessarily warrant any seriousness or legitimacy, you skew the so-called middle in an unreasonable direction and distance it from the apparent ‘truth’ you are seeking. If one side claims that black is white while the other says, no, in fact, black is black, what colour do you arrive at? Greyish? Surely that can’t be the truth or consensus you’re aiming for.

Thus you find yourself having voted to repeal the vehicle registration tax and make the TTC an essential service (both money losing propositions for the city) and a few short months later, standing up to defend the selling off of TCHC homes out of fiscal necessity. As we have said here many times previously to the likes of Budget Chief Del Grande, you can’t cut sources of revenue and then sorrowfully plead being broke later as a reason to not to live up to your responsibilities. Well I mean, you can. It just looks a little fishy. Disingenuous. Hypocritical, even. Not really the appearance of someone looking to find the truth.

It doesn’t make you a hardcore, intransigent ideologue to hold strong opinions if they are based on well-informed reasoning peppered with facts and data. You’re only a hardcore, intransigent ideologue if your strongly held opinions aren’t based on those things. Giving equal bearing to these two very different approaches lends credence to prevarication and legitimizes what is otherwise pure propaganda. You enable those who are intent on distorting the truth you so desperately seek to find.

After some six months on the job at City Hall, surely you don’t still believe that the city’s fiscal problems are due to spending excesses rather than a lack of revenue, do you? Or are you going to fall back on the notion of it being somewhere between the two? Look at all those chocolates the former TCHC board bought for themselves versus the maw still gaping wide open by the refusal of the province to resume funding their portion of the TTC’s operational budget. You see what I’m getting at here? Those two situations do not carry equal weight. They shouldn’t, at any rate. One represents, perhaps, a culture of entitlement amounting to thousands of dollars while the other displays a complete and utter abrogation of responsibility to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars that has helped render our transit but a sad shadow of its former self.

Spending problem small, revenue problem HUGE. Suggesting that the two have equal significance to our fiscal problems, that the truth lies somewhere in the middle between the two does nothing more than aid and abet those whose main goal is to gut and shrink the size and scope our local government. That isn’t a show of bi-partisanship. It’s encouraging reflexive ideology to run roughshod over reasoned political debate.

Your predecessor as councillor in Ward 22, Michael Walker, was thought of as being a true independent voice at City Hall during his 28 years there. A maverick even, Mr. Walker never seemed to cater to the pressures from those in power, choosing instead to represent ‘the needs and aspirations’ of his constituents. More often than not, this designated him an outsider regardless of the political stripe of the administration that was in charge. “I have actively promoted community organization,” Walker notes, “and input in the development of a fiscally sound and socially progressive city”.

So far, Councillor Matlow, your performance has been one of the courtier rather than a maverick, seeking not to step on the toes of the mayor and his crew on important issues. You’ve led the charge in staking out the middle ground, the so-called mushy middle, ultimately transforming it into the pliable middle more prone to siding with political expediency instead of principle. As the old saying goes, you’ve got to stand for something or you’ll fall for anything. I’ve yet to see exactly what it is you stand for, councillor.


Yours truly,