Christmas Every Day

December 30, 2013

My goal was to have a City Hall-free holiday. A politics purge. Turn a blind eye. Ignore the show for a bit. Recalibrate. Regain my balance. 2014 was going to be a big year.oblivious

All things considered, I did a pretty good job.

The ice storm and its continuing fall out made it difficult to entirely look away. Serious questions arose about the city and region’s preparedness for what we should now assume will be more regular occurrences of freakish and destructive turns in the weather. Equally as serious are questions of governance. Who’s actually in charge of what? Can ‘politics’ ever be divorced completely from decision making?

Despite the importance of such matters, I remained largely disengaged and above the fray. Easy to do, of course, when you never lost power and were able to concentrate exclusively on your own personal circle of friends and acquaintances. Complaints? None from me. Aside from some slight modifications to travel plans, things remained pretty much as they were. For some of us, it’s almost as if the storm didn’t happen.

michaelstipeSummoning my best Michael Stipe, and I feel fine.

Not paying much attention to how the city gets run is remarkably relaxing. You only really notice anything when it doesn’t happen or happens badly. The default position for civic disengagement is seething boredom. 90% of the time it’s nothing more than a quick shrug at the nuts and bolts details of municipal issues and policies. The rest? Why didn’t my garbage get picked up? Where is that stupid bus? Why are my taxes so high?

Is it any wonder why so many of our local elected representatives choose to keep their heads low and shy away from any sort of decision that might cause a fuss? Don’t draw attention to what we’re doing. Don’t get people riled up. Unless you can get them riled up at someone else. Deflect don’t decide.

Having done my level best to tune out for the past couple weeks or so, I really see the easy appeal of not paying much attention. overthefenceIt’s only ever a problem when it’s your problem. Anything other than that is just added responsibility, one more thing to be concerned about, to have to put some thought into.

It’s a great approach to have in order to keep your own sanity and anger in check. It doesn’t do a thing, however, for the well being of the city you live in. We all need to shift the balance, I think, a little more toward the direction of the greater public good. Everybody will be better for it in the long run.

serenely submitted by Cityslikr


Fuck You Santa

December 24, 2013

In the spirit of the season, I’ll assume that exclamatory statement to be an anomaly. mayorfordbobbleheadSomething that was inevitably going to be said when there’s somebody standing hours in line to purchase a 2nd edition Mayor Rob Ford bobblehead doll, and a Santa Claus at City Hall, waiting to serve the mayor notice of a delivery of 30 wheelbarrows full of coal. What else could we expect? All things considered, we probably got off easy.

I mean, the crowd didn’t swarm and stomp Santa Claus to death. I’d like to think that was out of a sense of decency rather than fear of losing their spot in line.

What we absolutely shouldn’t do here is to make mass assumptions about what this all means for next year’s mayoral election race. Mayor Ford is a celebrity now, more so than an incumbent politician. Star of newspapers and the small screen, as seen on Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. Everybody wants a piece of him. coalOn the Friday before Christmas, there were two offers for the 1st run of $20 bobble heads with respective asking prices of $511.91 and $748.09.

These things are collectibles. So why are we surprised hundreds of people lined up to get in on the action? You’d be crazy not to!

Sure, Fuck You Santa guy was probably a hardcore Ford loyalist. The person who told protest Santa to get a job, while standing in line, waiting for a bobblehead during a work day, had to be one too. There were chants of ‘4 More Years! 4 More Years!’ from some of the crowd when the mayor finally appeared (about 40 minutes late, as usual). They’re out there. They’re not going away.

But let’s not fuss and fret that it’s proof of Ford Nation’s electoral power and might. That would be as bad as taking the results of a Forum Research poll seriously. Think of it more as the remnants of what was once a so-called Ford Nation, the dregs, relaxitschristmasthe last of the implacable adherents, true believers, the most zealous of the zealous.

Who else in their right mind would brazenly tell Santa Claus to fuck off in the rotunda of City Hall less than a week before Christmas?

I choose to believe that there are not enough of those types in Toronto to be much of a political force to be reckoned with.

But maybe that’s just the egg nog talking.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Yuletidely submitted by Cityslikr


The Trouble With People

December 22, 2013

1. Don’t assume that people know what they want.

2. Don’t assume people will tell the truth about their wants and dislikes even if they know them.

3. Don’t assume people can be trusted to behave in a rational way.

— The Trouble with People, chapter 2 of The Hidden Persuaders

If anything, the following half century plus since the publication of Vance Packard’s examination of America’s consumers and the advertising industry that spurred them on to increasingly dizzying heights have proven the above 3 insights not far off the mark. thehiddenpersuadersDespite our increased sophistication and awareness of the ways we are being manipulated into consumer habits, it is still fanciful to imagine ourselves as any sort of rational actors, logically calculating our best self-interest in the economic realm. I point to the current attachment we bear toward our electronic gadgetry especially cell phones as an example where brand loyalty seems to be appears to trump basic common sense.

It’s just a telephone, folks; a mode of interpersonal communication not a magical device that will confer eternal happiness upon us. But that may also just be the sad digression of a sore loser Blackberry user.

Later on in his book, Packard talks about the course of action taken to deal with such irrationality. “If people couldn’t discriminate reasonably,” he writes, “they should be assisted in discriminating unreasonably in an easy, warm emotional way.” One manner of doing so, advertisers happycity(and by extension those depending on advertising’s dark arts) needed to become ‘merchants of discontent’. Stir up feelings of dissatisfaction, restlessness and frustration with what is essentially the status quo and then deliver up the latest new and improved gizmo as the singular agent of change for a better, fresher feeling future.

Unfortunately, we may have been designed for susceptibility to such a line of negative attack. As Charles Montgomery writes in Happy City, as descendants of hunter-gatherers “…who compulsively looked ahead in order to kill more game or collect more berries than they did yesterday…We have been hardwired for active dissatisfaction.” Born to be disgruntled.

Of course, such irrationality and a tendency toward seeing the glass half empty may also play a part in the political realm. It confounds logic, coming almost as it does straight from the gut. Going negative, as they say in the campaign game, seems almost natural. Get under people’s skin, get them bristling and fussy. You don’t even have to provide any reasons why everybody’s nose should be out of joint. Just pick a sore spot and poke it. discontentedRepeatedly.

Sound familiar?

In a discouraging way, it does help to explain how, when a political movement goes bad, and by bad I mean negative, stressing anger and irritation, it’s very, very difficult to counteract it. Once the mood of the electorate turns foul, they’re not looking for sunshine. It’s retribution they want, somebody’s head on a platter.

I wish there was an easy, one sentence answer to the question of how you counterpunch that tactic. Certainly Barack Obama’s Hope/Change victory in 2008 served as a good example of the power of delivering an upbeat message. It resonated enough to get him re-elected despite some of the luster coming off at least in part because he didn’t deliver enough of the promised hope and change.

The NDP breakthrough here at the federal level in 2011 could also be characterized as a triumph of our better angels although that has to be dampened slightly by the fact that the forces of darkness attained majority government status in that election. hopeGood news/ bad news. What do you want to hear first?

I’d like to believe that there’s some sort of correlation between negative campaigns and low voter turnout but I’m just not sure how robust the evidence is to back that claim up. Toronto’s 2010 municipal campaign certainly felt like a negative one. Team Ford proved to be masterful merchants of discontent. Turnout spiked. Anger and resentment can deliver voters to the ballot box.

It hasn’t done a lick of good, though, when it comes to governance. HULK MAYOR SMASH CITY!! The natural impulse to such a situation is to try and summon a new anger, an anger at the wanton disregard of how responsible politicians should ably function in the proper running of the city.

I’m Not Him. Anybody But Ford. Sound the alarms! Mount the ramparts!

Like most anger, it’s not very inspiring. Voting against something or someone instead of voting for something or someone rarely excites the electorate. It simply plays into our natural inclination toward dissatisfaction. Hold your nose and vote. Ho-hum!

We can’t just be angry. We have to know what we’re angry about. imagineArticulate what it is we’re fighting for not what we’re fighting against. We have to know exactly what it is we want because, as Vance Packard wrote over 50 years ago, people don’t necessarily know what they want and might not tell you even if they did.

We have to be merchants, not of discontent, but encouragement. Of boisterous, positive encouragement about this place we live and how everyone who chooses to be here is offered the opportunity to live here to their fullest potential.

It’s a tall order, for sure, but the alternative is just more divisive nastiness of which we’ve had too much of over the last 3 years. Let’s start demanding more, offering more. Let’s be merchants of aspiration.

hopefully submitted by Cityslikr


Cons Gone Mad

December 20, 2013

Conservatives have just given up trying to make any sense, haven’t they. crazycatWe’ve seen it for a while south of the border but up here they at least tried to make the appearance of seriousness and being thoughtful contributors to civic life and public discourse. Now? They’ve painted themselves into a politically philosophical corner with the only route out to climb the walls in pure barmy loonieness.

Believe us at your peril, folks. We’re making absolutely no fucking sense now.

Take the provincial Tories’ white paper thingie, dropped like a load on us yesterday. Please.

Paths To Prosperity: Building Great Cities.

Almost everything any urban thinker suggests not to do to build great cities, Tim Hudak and the gang are wholly embracing. Subways? Everywhere. More Roads? We’d be crazy not to. Sprawl? Fuck yeah.

And they promise to deliver all that (and more) without raising an extra cent in taxes. snakeoilHow? Well…

Prioritizing. You want to build all those shiny new subways and traffic inducing roads? The money’s going to have to come out of other capital projects. Maybe an aging water main or two bursts here and there every now and then. So be it as long as you can take a subway from Richmond Hill to Mississauga. As we know, capital expenditures are a zero sum game.

There are also plenty of government assets to self off. Did you know that the government of Ontario currently [some number here, pulled completely from context here] which would amount to [another number that only bears tangential relevance to the previous numbers used]? Wow! That’s a lot of money. Almost enough to build a couple subway stations once we’ve eliminated the deficit in x years although by which time today’s dollar figure will build significantly less.

And let’s not forget the private sector. Public-private partnerships. Pensions. Tap into those babies and watch the cash flow. freecashmoneyExactly the way it happened here in Toronto where, just like our mayor promised back in 2010, we extended the Sheppard subway all the way deep into Scarborough in time for the PanAm games in 2015. As has been shown the world over, the private sector just loves to pay for public infrastructure. If the current Liberal government at Queen’s Park wasn’t so distracted putting out scandal fires, they’d know this.

Not to be outdone on this magical mystery tour, Councillor Doug Ford, evidently with an eye still on a provincial seat in the legislature, has pledged his own brand of fiscal lunacy for today at budget committee. As vice-chair, he’s going to introduce 3 items to amend the staff proposed 2014 operating budget. Knock the property tax increase down from 2.5% to 1.75%. Propose the 5% reduction in the Land Transfer Tax. Knee cap the TTC fare increase.

If I’ve read it right, that’s $18m + $17m + $37m = $72 million the councillor wants to take from the revenue side of the city’s budget. How’s he going to make that up because, as we all know, the operating has to balance. Every year. Even every year before this administration came to power.

$72 million less in revenue means $72 million less in spending. Where’s Councillor Ford going to trim that from? showmethemoneyIt can’t be in service and program cuts because, as we all know, we were guaranteed no service cuts. Guaranteed.

See Paths To Prosperity: Building Great Cities, above.

Prioritize. Efficiencies. Fire sale of everything not nailed down. Adjustments and realignments. Everything is on the table except for cuts. Guaranteed.

It’s all bullshit, of course. (I write that a lot when I’m writing about conservative policy). As in every other aspect of our lives that conservatives like to preach to us about, there’s no such thing as a free ride. To try and spin a tale that we can build all our infrastructure needs and provide quality of life assistance to all our residents without it costing us more money individually is nothing but fiction. Cruel, twisted, fanciful fiction.

If conservatives were really being honest, they’d just come out and tell us that we’re not a collective society. abracapocus1That we’re just an amalgam of individuals, pursuing our own self-interest before all else. That we had everything sorted out just fine back in, say, the 1950s before, you know, everything changed. And if we’re just left to our own devices. If we just keep cutting taxes. If we just keep living where we want to live, driving where we want to drive. If everybody just keeps looking out for number one with little regard for anyone else, everybody will be better off, all of our needs will be met, the streets will be clean and safe, the garbage picked up.

Because… Magic.

sleight of handly submitted by Cityslikr


Sheer Depravity

December 19, 2013

“The little lady won’t come anymore,” he said. “She grits her teeth and turns me loose for this one. And when I say ‘loose’ I do mean loose! I toss ten-dollar bills around like they were goin’ out of style! Horses, whiskey, women…shit, there’s women in this town that’ll do anything for money.”

The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved, Hunter S. Thompson

*  *  *

kentuckyderby

I’ve always wanted to use the word ‘depraved’ at some point of time in writing about the Fords. ‘Depravity’ too would be good. In fact, hardly a mention of them might pass without some version of the word being highly appropriate.

I don’t believe I ever have used it however and the reason is simple. For me, the word is owned by Hunter S. Thompson. Any attempt to incorporate it in anything I wrote just seemed like a desperate scream for attention. Look at me! I’m all gonzo!

But frankly, I’m at a loss for a suitable replacement descriptor to attach to what’s been going on, especially recently. lovemoneyHow else do you depict the past week or so? I cannot get ‘a pit of depravity’ out of my head.

“Just money, women love money,” the mayor responded to the hosts of radio talk show ‘Sports Junkies’ who’d asked what he was getting his wife for Christmas. “And get perfume … you give them a couple thousand bucks and they’re happy. Get some treats on the side obviously for her but she says, ‘I want cash honey, I want cash’…Oh yeah, yeah, I get a basket and flowers and a little bit of this and that but at the end of the day, she wants her cash so I give her a nice cheque and we’re all happy.”

This coming just a day after the mayor issued a full retraction and abject apology to the Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale for suggesting Mr. Dale had crept around his backyard, taking pictures of his kids and generally doing what one of those guys there’s a word for does that is the most despicable thing you can really accuse someone of being.

And what? A month after his all he could eat statement?

Set aside, for the moment, the simple lack of social filter that inhibits most people from publicly uttering such depravities even if you do hold those thoughts in your depraved mind. verbaldiarrhea(Yes. I am all in with the word today). Know who you’re talking to, who may be listening to what you’re saying.

It’s about the absolute lack of any sort of moral compass that astounds me. Never mind Oakland, Gertrude Stein (h/t Jude MacDonald and Gord Perks). There is no there there in whatever spots of the brain and soul empathy and shame reside in the body of our Fords.

I get it. Politics is a blood sport. But in what nasty, unfortunately inhabited universe is it OK to imply that someone is a pedophile? Imply it on TV and stand by every word for a week before capitulating in the face of a libel lawsuit.

Who does that?

Who drags their spouse out into the spotlight in some vain attempt to cover the soiled tracks that lead to proof of their depraved behaviour?

At least Richard Nixon – depravity personified for Hunter Thompson – only subjected the family dog, Checkers, to such public humiliation.

It could be even more dispiriting than all that. Having wondered earlier at the mayor’s inability to gauge the audience he was talking to, what if, as someone stated earlier somewhere on the social media, the mayor knows exactly who he’s talking to, who’s listening to him? Is he digging down and firming up support with the percentage of us who operate with our worst instincts first? beatbackthehordesAll the conscienceless among us whose only concern is with their own pocketbooks?

I, for one, don’t believe he’s that tactical. His brother either. Maybe back a bit, there were people around them that darkly calculating. Maybe some of that’s worn off but…

Very likely, what we’re witnessing is the massing of the truly depraved among us. Those hearing poetry in the words the mayor and his brother speak, the ones still hanging on, believing these two rich guys from Etobicoke are in their corner, looking out for them, representing them. They see nothing wrong with the things they say or do. Or maybe, they just believe it’s none of their business, it has nothing to do with the running of the business of the city.

But as Hunter S. Thompson wrote and may well have lived as an example of, you can’t be depraved in just some aspects of life. It’s bone deep, past that into the genes. You can’t compartmentalize depravity.

depraved

The hope is that we’ve kept it contained to a small, negligible segment of the population. One that can’t inflict much damage but serves as a helpful reminder of what can happen when we unhitch ourselves to the moorings of morality.

savagely submitted by Cityslikr


Return To Pretender

December 18, 2013

There was a point of time during yesterday’s council meeting, in the afternoon, hours after the Morning of Apologies, one by Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti and two from Mayor Ford, both full of heaping disrespect for their colleagues and almost any sentient being listening in at the time, when the sensation definitely came upon me that it wasn’t my life I was leading. I’d been cast as an extra in a movie, some sort of Charlie Kaufman-The Truman Show mashup. Reality was under constant assault and I couldn’t just shake my head and clear a way back to normal.

“Recapping the past 10 minutes,” Paisley Rae tweeted. “McConnell confrontation. Dancing to One Love. Dale Drops a Nope. Integrity Commish presentation. Mammo shows.”

If I wrote it up in a script or tried to submit it as a short piece of fiction, it would be rightly rejected as too much, too outrageous, too unbelievable. A little over the top? Try, a whole lot over the top.

The sequence basically went as follows. For realz.

In between, I don’t know, either a vote or an item, one of the mayor’s young staffers approached her boss on the floor of the chambers. A protocol no no, no staff on council chambers floor, although Mayor Ford, 13 years into being on city council, insists it’s all good. It isn’t. Councillor Pam McConnell rose to ask the speaker to send the staffer back to her seat. Some back and forth ensues, even long after the staffer sat back down.

The tone rises above where it actually should be, through a combination of the mayor’s bull-headed insistence he was right and, I think, Councillor McConnell’s exasperation. Watching her, she seems tired and a little beaten down. Earlier in the day, she’d responded to the mayor catcalls during a vote about how she was in favour of tearing down a heritage building. She tried to explain what the vote was actually about but the mayor just tuned her out and repeated that Councillor McConnell was in favour of tearing down a heritage building.

Shaking her head, she turned to Councillor Jaye Robinson who sits beside her and said, Why do I even bother trying to answer him?

Why indeed, Councillor McConnell.

Anyway, when things settled down, the councillor walked over to where the mayor’s staff sat to apologize for putting the one staffer on the spot. Well, doesn’t Mayor Ford see this and comes bellowing out of his chair, telling Councillor McConnell to get away from his staff. He’s right up in her face, accusing the councillor of trying to intimidate his staff and advising her to walk back to her seat.

Now recollect, this is the very same councillor, tiny, older councillor who the mayor accidentally bowled over during one of the frays at last month’s council meeting. You remember, right?

Evidently, Mayor Ford doesn’t because there he is again, pushing menacingly into her space, yelling at her to back off. You want intimidation, old lady? I’ll show you intimidation.

Moments after Councillor McConnell returns to her seat, it’s the Jimmy something something jazz trio from Scarborough with a couple songs to lighten the council mood and instill a little holiday cheer! And wouldn’t you know it, first up is Bob Marley’s One Love. Let’s get together, it’ll be alright…

As we all know and have seen by now, Mayor Ford was immediately up on his feet, dancing like he’s never danced before or, at least, since Sunday when he was dancing in church. As if nothing unseemly had just transpired on council floor. One Love. One Love. Let’s get together, it’ll be alright…

It was sometime during the dance number that Daniel Dale of the Toronto Star let it be known that the mayor’s earlier apology for suggesting in an interview with Conrad Black that Mr. Dale was a pedophile was not going to cut it and that the libel suit against Mayor Ford was going to proceed.

“I asked Mayor Ford to 1) retract all of his false claims about my conduct,” Dale wrote, “and 2) issue an unreserved, abject, complete apology. His statement today didn’t come close. I’m proceeding with a defamation lawsuit.

And the mayor continued to dance.

On his own political grave? To dance his cares away? Because he’s a maniac, maniac on the floor?

And then, before you knew it, council’s on to a presentation from the Integrity Commissioner, all about incumbent campaign Dos and Don’ts. The mayor mopped his brow. Councillor Mammoliti reappeared to ask if it was alright with the Integrity Commissioner for him to hand out to his colleagues some panettone somebody had given to him. Hee, hee, hee. That’s funny because, well, yeah, panettone is the least of Councillor Mammoliti’s problems currently.

How many times can you watch such a travesty and say, You can’t make this shit up? You want more? During the lunch break before all this transpired, Mayor Ford’s lawyer advising him about the libel action, appeared at City Hall and told the media that his client had lost 26 pounds in 5 weeks and then he left toting two bags of the new batch of Mayor Ford bobbleheads.

The complete disconnect with reality sets in because you can’t believe that adults would really and truly act like this. There’s nothing about their behaviour that seems reasonable at this point. Nothing has prepared us for such an assault on civility, decency and personal responsibility.

The mayor has clearly given up governing, his clown prince sidekick Mammoliti has joined him in doing little more than pissing on the carpet of council chambers. I’d argue that councillor-brother Doug was never interested in governing as much as he was ruling.

All it is to them right now is theatre. Not even political theatre as it’s utterly devoid of anything political. It’s purely personal. We’re witnessing three charlatans pretending that everybody else is the problem. Play acting.

And we’re caught up in their weird psychodrama, tragicomedy. This can’t be real, can it? Sadly it is but, fortunately, it’s only for a limited run.

serlingly submitted by Cityslikr


That’s Just How They Roll

December 17, 2013

400 p.m. 1600 hours for you more militarily/Europeanly inclined. rollupyoursleevesDay one of city council’s December meeting. The business of municipal governance grinds on.

Item 2 of the day, questions to staff about preserving designated employment lands in the Official Plan. Earlier, user supported water rates. 9 in 9. 8, 8, 8.

This ain’t the fireworks we’ve come to expect here at City Hall. But it is how local politics usually works. Slow. Slog. Mundane day-to-day details. Deadly dreary boring.

And then…and then. There’s always an ‘and then’ these days, isn’t there.

During the prolonged stage of site specific motions to exempt certain developments in certain wards from inclusion in the city’s official plan on employment lands, where procedural protocol may well have been breached forcing city staff to express their views after councillors had asked questions, during voting of motions, the bottom fell out of the calm that had descended. turnfortheworseNot in one fell swoosh of the toilet flush. Much more disintegrative than that. Bit by bit.

The disorder started, as it usually does, with a Ford, Councillor Ford this time. In defending his motion for an exemption for a place of worship in his ward or it might have been when he was questioning Councillor Joe Mihevic on his motion to try and keep the official plan intact — I’d have to go back and check the records to make sure — but on this point it doesn’t really matter, Councillor Ford brayed something to the effect of, Have you ever been to Etobicoke or Do you even know where Etobicoke is?

Hello, Monday. The urban-suburban divide hadn’t been thrown in our face yet, had it? Well, here you go.

From there it was a slow 45 car pile up on a slippery, sleety road to nowhere. Just after the official plan item was passed and we’d limped toward a conclusion of the day’s proceedings, during the relatively benign stretch of quick releases by the councillors, Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti took exception to something that was said on council floor and wouldn’t shut up. youroutoforderIt became Giorgio against the world, with the councillor reverting to talking in the 3rd person about himself. Ignoring fairly strong admonishments from Speaker Frances Nunziata to just zip it, he refused. And when the speaker said he needed to leave the chambers, he stood firm (but certainly not tall), going as far as to say he would defend himself if security tried to remove him.

For good measure, Mayor Ford joined in, suggesting that only the corrupt councillors got to stay in council – take a moment to digest that statement from the mayor… only the corrupt councillors… in defence of Giorgio Mammoliti… only the corrupt councillors… This, from Mayor Ford.

That was it. Rather than follow through, the speaker simply adjourned the meeting. Probably not a bad move as tensions had risen, there was no way this would conclude in anything but ugly fashion at the end of a long day. Still.

What could’ve been, should’ve been an uneventful meeting of council wrapped up like so many of them have over the course of this term. burntothegroundIn disarray, leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. The only ones somehow triumphant are the ones whose sole intention is to render city government dysfunctional and beyond repair.

The wrecking crew. Their job? To make sure city council could not do its job in any sort of quiet, effective and agreeable manner.

of coursely submitted by Cityslikr