On Self-Justification

Earlier this week, as part of our Municipal Election 2014 Wards To Watch series, we wrote a few words about Ward 17 Davenport councillor, defenseCesar Palacio. While certainly not flattering, it could’ve been so much worse, in our judgement, since we were writing about, well, Cesar Palacio. Still, we received a couple forceful replies in the councillor’s defence (here and here), both calling us out for being fact unfriendly, and suggesting we try to employ a little something called ‘research’.

One (which may or may not have come from a former employee of Councillor Palacio’s; we’re still waiting for a response to our enquiry about that) asked a very direct question: This is journalism?

Is this journalism.

Of course it isn’t. As least as I understand the term which itself is kind of interesting because I think we all have a slightly different interpretation of what constitutes journalism. journalism1Like pornography, we might not be able to define ‘journalism’ but most of us recognize it when we see it.

[Stops. Eyes narrow at the suitability of the above analogy. Continues on.]

What this is, what I’ve always imagined it to be, may go back further than our notion of journalism, perhaps to the very roots of modern journalism, if my grasp of the history can be trusted.

A personal story.

Back in 2009, while deep into my epic poetry phase, I was reading a biography of John Milton. Best known as the author of Paradise Lost, during his lifetime he would’ve been seen more as a political prose writer, a staunch defender of republicanism, divorce and a separation between church and state. Such views almost cost him his life when Charles II returned to the monarchy and was looking to exact some payback on those seen as responsible and sympathetic to the execution of his father 11 years earlier.

See Milton’s The Tenure of Magistrates and Kings.

At this time, I was getting much of my political news, especially U.S. political news, thehangingvia the interwebz. Not just from big name online publications like Salon and such but through these things the kids were calling blogs. Hullabaloo and Sadly, No! were a couple of my favourites. (HTML Mencken remains one of my favourite pseudonyms, a tradition, for all you anonymous haters out there, that goes back centuries, even before the advent of all this computer gadgetry.)

2009, the summer of it in fact, was also when you might remember Toronto enduring the indignities and tumult of a municipal outside workers’ strike. Some things struck me at the time. Firstly, we as a society had become incredibly soft, easily outraged at being in any way slightly inconvenienced. How dare they put upon us so! Garbage in our parks! The stench! Won’t someone think of the children!

Secondly, at the strike’s conclusion, we were immediately told that the administration had caved to the unions, given them the keys to the vault, blah, blah, blah. The fact that this wasn’t quite true seemed to have no bearing on the volume and frequency with which it was broadcast. It’s a sound bite still reverberating today, 5 years on, giving an undeserved fiscal bump of credibility to many who hardly deserve it.garbagestrike

Thirdly, it became clear to me that then mayor David Miller was being ridden out of town on the rails in a disturbingly orchestrated fashion. I was, and remain a fan of David Miller, and still believe it to be a travesty how his record and legacy has been wilfully and deliberately distorted, much to the detriment of this city. Does that mean I think he and his administration were perfect? I won’t even dignify that possible straw man of a question with a response.

In the wake of Miller’s political demise, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke was born.

Now, why am I telling you this, spooling out our origin story, as the kids like to say about their fancy colouring book superheroes? Journalism. We ain’t that. Especially not the narrowly defined and hopelessly misguided version of it media critics like to trot out. Objectivity. He said but then he said. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

We’re not even the truly good and noble form of journalism that Toronto has a lot of in its newspapers, radio, online. What you’re reading is a political tract. All subjectivity and polemic, based, we hope and endeavour, on the facts we’ve gathered along the way, the observations we make. The opinions we have about how this city is being governed, and the better ways to go about doing that.

This isn’t anything new or the result of modern technology. discourseHell, if you think that somehow sites like these, all internetsy and free from editorial oversight, have somehow degraded the public discourse, you haven’t been following along for the last, I don’t know, 500 years. Politics has rarely been courteous or decorous or, ultimately, objective. Expressed political opinion even less so.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke welcome criticism and disagreement. Encourage it, even. Just don’t pretend or expect us to be something we’re not. Something that, in fact, might not exist or never, ever existed in the first place.

mea culply submitted by Cityslikr

8 Responses to On Self-Justification

  1. Sol says:

    Fuck, yes. Whether or not this and other little corners of the internetz are “journalism” isn’t the conversation we ought to be having. Cesar’s ex-staffer can go piss up a rope.

  2. Sonny says:

    Last night I went downtown to the Trinity Spadina nomination meeting to hear Mulcair speak. Mike Layton introduced Joe Cressy who was acclaimed. In the audience about two rows in front of me someone had a light blue campaign lit that said Bravo, so she is already getting out there.

    Mike the Palacio defender criticizes you but in his post sites journalistic sources as the SUN and the Junctioneer…
    Keep continue writing!

    • Sonny says:

      In response to the Suzy defence. I would point out that Ford wants to phase out street cars so I would wonder what Palacio & Milczyn thinks about that?
      Toronto is set to receive 204 new streetcars that are larger.
      If she is concerned about the cost to cut the curbs on St. Clair West, I would recommend the TTC use the existing ones there and put the new ones on the longer routes.

  3. GW says:

    I agree with you that it’s ridiculous for someone to expect an opinion blogger to be held to the same standard as a journalist. There’s nothing wrong with what you’re doing, and the critic you refer to is definitely off-base.

    However, putting our subjectivity and biases on the table means that we can’t claim to be above the fray, as some of your loftier comments on overcoming the “urban/suburban divide” seem to suggest. It’s fine to say that we should all get along and work together for the common good, but your notion of the common good is not necessarily in alignment with that of those on the other side of the divide.

    Of course, neither side is homogenous in terms of opinion, but there are clearly two distinct sets of interests that are defined largely by lifestyle choices and what you refer to as “built form”. You can claim that you’re only condemning a technology (cars) or a built form (suburbs), but vehicles and houses don’t read blogs, people do.

    You may want peace in the conflict between downtowners and suburbanites, but you want it on downtowners’ terms. Someone who detests cars, resents motorists and wants to see the end of suburbia as we know is not and cannot be a neutral party or honest broker floating above the battlefield. You’re not Mercutio here, you’re Tybalt. If there is peace to be made, you’re not going to be part of making it. It will be made in spite of you, and you will probably be unsatisfied with the result.

    • unknown_man says:

      Agree 100%

    • cityslikr says:

      Dear Mr GW,

      We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke would like to thank you for your condescending pat on the head. It really makes everything we do here more meaningful.

      Obviously, the fault here lies not in your interpretation of what we’ve said, but in the clarity of our writing, that we find ourselves at this impasse. (You’re not the only one who can make sly Shakespearean references.)

      We have never said we detest cars, resent motorists or that we want to see the end of suburbia as we know it. What we detest is the continued prioritization of private vehicle use at the top of this city’s transportation network. What we resent is the entitlement motorists have toward being prioritized above all other modes of transport. What we want to see the end of is a suburbia that does not pay the full costs of its “lifestyle choice”.

      You refer to built form as if “built form” is something we made up or that exists only on some air quote plane. It’s a real thing with real consequences that directly affect how a city functions (or doesn’t). This isn’t about winning some war on downtowners’ terms. You seem to think being a neutral party or honest broker means setting facts aside and deeming every opinion as equally valid. It doesn’t and they aren’t.

      It’s clearly advantageous for you to see this as some sort of cultural battle between two opposing forces which is why you always attempt to couch it in terms of ‘lifestyle’. It isn’t. We’ve never suggested taking your car from you or making you move into some high rise tenement or putting a 85 tower building on your corner. This isn’t about imposing our lifestyle on you. It’s about making you hold up your end of the deal living in this city and start paying in full for that choice of lifestyle you so vehemently demand.

      • GW says:

        No condescension intended. I was simply trying to register a point of agreement before proceeding to disagree.

        I readily admit that I don’t know what’s in your head, only what you put on the page. And when that reads like your recent “We And Our Cars” (“Our cars have made monsters of us. Entitled, self-absorbed sociopaths believing only our time to be worth anything. Aggressive assholes. Pushy pricks.”), it’s entirely reasonable for a reader to conclude that you are anti-car and anti-driver. Someone who makes such Henny Youngmanesque cracks as “Take the car, please,” doesn’t come across as simply wanting to deprioritize private vehicle usage in favour of other forms of transportation. Your stance towards the car appears more visceral than that. But once again, I can’t read your mind.

        And as for wanting suburbanites to pay their fair share of infrastructure costs, we’ve had that conversation before and you confirmed at that time that simply reallocating costs would not be sufficient to warrant a ceasefire on your part.

        As much as you say that this discussion is about objective truths and not preferences and values, I’m afraid I have to disagree. If one is stating that driving a private automobile is more damaging to the environment than riding a bike or taking public transit, then yes, that is an objective scientific fact. But to then say that biking or riding a subway/LRT/streetcar is therefore *better* than driving a car is a value judgement. To say that it is worth constraining individual freedom of choice in order to further certain social, environmental or economic goals is a value judgement, not a matter of objective truth.

        You may not propose that suburbanites’ cars be taken away from them or that they be forced to live in high-rises, but you clearly want them to change their behaviour and lifestyle habits in significant ways. You want them to drive less and take public transit more. You want them to embrace density and mixed-use zoning. You want them to share your passion for the public realm. And as evidenced by your recent posts on the election, you want them to turf their current councillors in favour of ones you find more ideologically suitable.

        And how do you seek to bring about this change in behaviour? Well, throwing around words like “sociopath” isn’t a good way to bring about voluntary change, but such tactics have, lamentably, proven effective in summoning political will outside a particular group of people for imposing non-voluntary change on them.

  4. Simon Says says:

    If we are soft as a society because we can’t deal with our own garbage piling up during a strike, then we are soft having to put up with a little over crowding on the streetcar or bus.

    We are a little soft if you can’t put up with the noise from an airplane or two taking off from the island airport or a rave being held at the Dock’s Night Club.

    We are a little soft because we the library is not open during the hours we want.

    The list goes on and on…

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