The Power of Wishful Thinking

December 3, 2010

(ed.’s note – the following post was in the pipe before Edward Keenan sorta scooped us with his article a couple days ago, Rob Ford: the illusionist. All similarities in theme, tone, intent, right down to word usage frankly is purely coincidental and, we’d like to think, a product of that old adage ‘great minds think alike’. We fully expect a Marcus Gee knock-off to soon follow.)

I like to drink. Alcohol, that is. The other stuff’s fine, life-sustaining and all that but booze is my true liquid consort.

I like that moment a couple, few drinks in when your internal stars align and everything seems just right. All the shit of the day, those niggling, unsettling concerns and qualms about your life, the world around you, all together subside. Passing bliss, let’s call it, because it is very, very brief, fleetingly so. It comes only once a drinking session (if you’re lucky) and the rest of the time you spend chasing its vapours.

I like to think that my drinking of alcohol is a healthy pursuit. Studies (mostly French) have shown that regular consumption of red wine is, indeed, good for you. Lowers blood pressure, helps digestion. It also gets the creative juices flowing on those occasions when I’m feeling a little blocked. Weakens my editorial inhibitions and loosens the reins on my muse. Our literary canon is stuffed to blasting — See? I’m drunk right now! Can’t Touch This!! — with works from writers who were drunkards through-and-through.

My doctor, however, tends to disagree. Dr. Moderation, I call him when I’m feeling agreeable. Dr. Downer when I’m not. “The road to excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” I tell him. But it falls upon his deaf, Philistine ears as he probably spent an excess of his time in school learning anatomy and biology instead of the wisdom of William Blake. (Yeah. I am really hammered here.) It is just wishful thinking on my part, I am told, to believe that drinking alcohol in anything but a moderate manner isn’t deleterious to both my body and mind.

Doctors. What do they know?

Advice is free unless it comes with a prescription, and we are equally as free to ignore it if it suits our fancy and doesn’t jibe with our beloved preconceived notions. Expert opinions are all well and good if you can understand them but they’re not nearly as comforting as our own biases and gut instincts. Wishful thinking beats the hell out of critical thinking any day of the week.

Wishful thinking is also a powerful tool in the hands of a politician. You want the stars, ladies and gentlemen? I’ll get you the stars, and the moon too. Would you like the moon too, ladies and gentlemen? Just click your heels and say there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home. Clap your hands really hard, boys and girls, and Tinkerbell won’t die!

You say you like subways, all ye taxpayers? Can’t stand those streetcars? According to the highest principles of customer service, the customer is always right. So let’s ditch those LRT ‘streetcars’ and dig us up some subways!

Saying you like subways instead of streetcars is not a transit plan. It isn’t even a Transportation City Plan. It’s a statement of personal preference, an opinion. Like saying, chocolate ice cream is better than French vanilla. There are no facts backing such a claim up.

Who wouldn’t love a NYC/Paris/Barcelona/Beijing (pick a city) style subway running under the streets of Toronto? All things being equal. Bu they’re not. No expert on public transit matters that I’ve come across has said that, given the current economic environment, population density, specific needs of certain under-serviced areas of the city, subways are the way to go here. Correct me if I’m wrong, subway lovers.

Transit City was not simply some whim of a downtown, lefty, car-hating mayor. It was a tortuously long negotiation between 3 levels of government and a multitude transportation industry analysts and professionals. Perfect? No. But far less flawed than the mirage now being floated by the mayor.

But as we have been saying since the start of Rob Ford’s candidacy he operates purely in the chimerical. A mythical, magical place where one’s beliefs are never contested and exist undented by logic, reason or reality. Of course you can cut taxes without cutting services. It’s just simple math. If you’re not gay or sticking needles in arm, you can’t get AIDS. Basic common sense. How do you deal with decreasing crime stats? Hire more police officers. D’uh! Roads are made for cars, trucks and buses. Otherwise, they’d be called ‘bike lanes’ or ‘tracks’.

Certainty is never having to say you’re wrong. It is a specialty of those who share our mayor’s political persuasion. A big tent of closed-minded true believers standing firm in the face of anything that questions their faith. Such a cloistered view treats any and all contrary information as suspect which must be discredited quickly and with extreme prejudice, usually by vilifying the messenger. They see things not as they are, to paraphrase Don Quixote’s Dr. Carrasco, but as they’d truly like them to be. Unlike the book’s errant knight, however, these conservative pedants aren’t looking to make the world a better place for anyone else but themselves.

Life is easy inside that kind of bubble where there are always uncomplicated yes or no answers to whatever question is asked. Answers that, invariably, validate your own bias. Where troubles melt like lemon drops/Away above the chimney tops/That’s where you’ll find me. Such blinkered thinking has no basis in reality but does have very serious adverse consequences in the real world. Here in Toronto, we’re only beginning to get a glimpse at some of those and it’s only just a few days into Rob Ford’s mayoralty.

It’s enough to drive us to drink. Don’t mind if I do. It is Friday, after all.

suddenly soberly submitted by Cityslikr


More Michael Moore

November 29, 2010

I don’t make a point of watching Michael Moore’s films. It’s not any problem with him as a filmmaker. It’s his politics.

I tend to agree with him.

He doesn’t challenge my views and opinions. He merely reconfirms them. I am part of the choir he’s preaching to. So, why bother?

But then comes a lazy Sunday afternoon when I probably should be working and there I am, in front of the TV, watching my Toronto Raptors get crushed. I can’t stands it anymore and begin flipping. Just in time for the start of Capitalism: A Love Story. No, no. I really shouldn’t. Really. It’s just going to get me all worked up, mad, angry which, I already am after the Raptors’ drubbing. Suddenly, Iggy Pop starts singing ‘Louie, Louie’ and it’s over. How can I resist? I mean, I’m only human after all. A weak, easily swayed, quick to excite human being.

Sparing you a movie review, let me just say that we need more polemicists like Michael Moore. And by ‘we’, I mean those of us on the left side of the political spectrum.Unswerving, uncompromising, irate, unreasonable, intemperate, pissed-off motherfuckers fed up with having ceded the apparent middle ground to the likes of crackpots from Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., talk radio, our very own Toronto Sun, corporate backed think tanks and university economics’ departments, etcetera, etcetera, etc.

Our political and economic discourse has been infected by an ideological mindset impervious to rationality or quantifiable truth. No amount of reaching out and trying to find common ground will succeed. The very act of attempting to have a reasonable debate only gives credence, lends a cloak of legitimacy to what is nothing more than superstitious, mythical lore and cant. It is no longer helpful to engage or participate in such corrupted civics.

People, a lot of people, are angry. They have every right to be. Watching Moore’s film and its agitprop addendum, Inside Job, it is painfully obvious that our economic system is rigged and has slowly over the course of the last 30 years or so poisoned our political system with it. Class war? Hell yeah. And it’s becoming more uneven with every concession we allow to happen in the name of “market realities” or “austerity measures”. We should be angry. It’s just that our anger’s misdirected.

Why?

Because the other side, the evil side, those representing corporate interests over those of the country or taxpayers and customers over citizens, are louder, richer, better organized and more unbending. They’ve seized the megaphone and shaped the dialogue. They don’t seek compromise. They demand acquiescence. When you possess the power, you don’t negotiate. You dictate.

That’s why we need more Michael Moores and his ilk. As direct and aggressive challenges to the status quo and what is embraced as conventional wisdom. While peaceable and fair-minded give-and-take would always be preferable, it’s been some time since any of that has actually happened. The post-war social contract that was drawn up to highlight the rights and responsibilities accorded to citizens and corporations alike has been shredded into pieces, bit by bit, over the past 3 decades. In my humble opinion, we’ve all helped with that by trying to place nice and get along. It’s time that we started to kick up a fuss. Just like Mike.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


ExTreme Makeover: New Orleans

November 20, 2010

Its [New Orleans) frauds and farces represent some of American’s worst excesses and affronts. But, day by day, year by year, New Orleans also conjures moments of artistic clarity and urban transcendence that are the best that Americans as a people can hope for. That is, if we who bare witness to them are not too jaded, too spent, too stupid to recognize them for what they are.

— Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), Treme.

I’d hardly think to offer a thoughtful analysis of the city of New Orleans after a quick jaunt there that left me less full of insight than it did life threatening fatty foods and rum induced bleary-eyed incoherence. But its future fate is something anyone interested in urban affairs should watch with keen interest. The dynamics that once made the city a cultural touchstone – race, economics, an international port of call – are currently undergoing highly charged changes that are either necessary for its survival as a vital, forward looking city or nothing short of an ethno-class cleansing. Or do such divisions have to be so starkly drawn?

The worry to some is that, post-Katrina, New Orleans simply becomes a gentrified tourist destination. A Cajun Orlando where the world comes to party like they’re all still college undergrads and watch the inhabitants perform nothing but past glories. Play When the Saints Go Marching In again while I eat a bag of beignets, will you? Museum New Orleans, monument to past glories.

There’s little room for innovation or adaptation within that framework. New Orleans as it was not how it could be. If you’re not part of that (re)vision then there’s no place for you in the new New Orleans. Play music. Wait tables. Deal blackjack. Hail taxicabs. If you don’t want to be part of that, well, there are other cities in other parts of the country that you can move to. Here, the past is the future. Minus, of course, the unsavoury, unpleasant bits.

That’s all too harsh and in no way so black and white. But it is a struggle that we should all be aware of, not just in New Orleans, but wherever we live. How do we embrace those things that made our homes, neighbourhoods, communities livable, vital and, in some cases, great without smothering them or not allowing for new ideas and approaches to help bring about necessary improvements to all our lives? Building on the past instead of plaster casting it and elevating it on a pedestal to be gazed upon but not touched.

Or maybe that’s just the whisky sours talking.

almost soberly submitted by Cityslikr


A Labour Day Thought Worth Repeating

September 6, 2010

Because it’s the last long weekend of the summer, and because it’s rainy and dreary outside, and because we’re lazy, and because we’re still reeling from the realization that Nicholas Cage can actually still act, having watched him in Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant last night, because of all this, we’re bringing you our first, official repeat column.

Hey. Everyone’s doing it. It is still summer after all.

We’re not entirely laying a turd on you or anything. It will be topical. Since it’s Labour Day, we’d thought we’d replay the column written by our colleague, Acaphlegmic, on May 1st. The Other Labour Day.

It’s just as pertinent now as it was way back then, perhaps even more so. As our municipal campaign has heated up, the anti-labour/anti-union rhetoric has only intensified. To some of our politicians and their rabid followers, city unions and workers are a big part of the myriad of problems the city faces. Just like the auto workers were when they were asked to take pay and benefit cuts to help out their poor, beleaguered employers. If only they wouldn’t demand so much, maybe the industry wouldn’t have found itself in the dire straits  it did.

Yeah. That was the problem.

The face of labour may be changing but we should take a moment today and stop to remember that much of what we have, like the first day in September being work free for many of us, is not due to the munificence of the markets or the beneficence of our bosses. It is because of the sacrifice and willing to risk life and limb of those who were truly fighting for the little guy. Lest we forget.

A Good May Day To You

It’s May 1st. May Day. International Workers’ Day.

It always brings to mind the scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian where the revolutionary groups are discussing life under the Romans.

To paraphrase slightly: What have the unions ever done for us?

Modern May Day “celebrations” can be dated back to the late-19th century as a commemoration of Chicago’s Haymarket Massacre in 1886. Twelve people died (including 7 policemen) when a bomb was thrown during a labour demonstration that was held calling for an 8 hour workday.

How quaint. An 8 hour workday. What kind of starry-eyed idealists were these that believed such things possible? If there are those out there reading this who pay their rent/mortgage, put food on the table and are ready to finance their childrens’ university education, all on an 8 hour workday, raise your hands.

It’s one thing to ask to work only 8 hours a day/5 days a week but another thing entirely to expect to earn a proper living on it. For at least the last 30 years wages have stagnated for the middle class as it shrank in size, squeezed from both burgeoning top and bottom ends. Simply to maintain economic ground, most people have had to work longer and take on increasing amounts of debt.

Occurring simultaneously, union membership has fallen. In the United States, more than one-third of employed people belonged to unions in 1945. By 1979, union membership had fallen to 24.1 percent. Thirty years later, union workers only made up 12.3% of the work force.

A coincidence? Perhaps. We are not unaware of the fact that correlation does not imply causation. There have been many factors, oftentimes interrelated and interdependent, over the past 3 decades that have contributed to the growing fiscal imbalance between work and pay. Still, it is funny that in these days of economic struggle unions and those that belong to them are derided and dismissed as lazy fat cats, bloodsuckers and artifacts of the past.

Of course, May Day festivities and revels long pre-date unions and workers. They go back to pre-Christian, pagan seasonal rituals denoting the end of the long, dark winter in the northern hemisphere. According to Celtic legend, bonfires were set alight at strategically important sites to “mark a time of purification and transition”.

Maybe the time has come to meld the two traditions, modern and ancient. How be we burn some shit down to purify and transition to a more fair and equitable era? And then we can all dance happily around the Maypole.

revolutionarily submitted by Acaphlegmic


Drive, He Read

August 26, 2010

To avoid any appearances of a conflict of interest or accusations of log rolling, I have been tapped to write this post today. I am not a reviewer of books. My métier of TV and movies is more passively pleasing to me. But since both Acaphlegmic and Cityslikr are, if not friends, than certainly amiable drinking companions of Tim Falconer, it was felt that perhaps we needed a more objective take on his 2008 book, Drive. My lone encounter with Mr. Falconer was just after he’d had a pedicure and kept demanding to see my feet which didn’t make me partial to liking his book.

Although of all of us who toil away here under the All Fired Up yoke, there’s little question that my voice is loudest when it comes to making anti-car noises. So Drive is really up my gasoline alley, as it were. It’s almost as if Mr. Falconer wrote the book with me in mind. Quite a feat since we had never met during the course of the writing.

But the author and I do share a similar non-car background. He didn’t get his full on, non-learners driver’s licence until his late-30s. I got mine when most red-blooded males did back in the day. At the age of 18 when you needed it as picture ID to get into bars and buy booze in the stores. I’ve not had much use for it since, living as I do, along with Mr. Falconer, in downtown Toronto and its wide range of transportation options. (Note to ed.: I don’t live with Mr. Falconer but rather we both live in downtown Toronto. In completely separate abodes.)

Unfortunately, a few years back Falconer broke down and sold out, buying a 1991 Nissan Maxima despite considering himself first and foremost a pedestrian. In it, he headed off on a 9-and-a-half week, nearly 15,000 K road trip from Toronto to the heart of car culture, Los Angeles, and back again; a journey that is the narrative basis for Drive. Like any good road trip (and I would never claim that there can’t be good road trips), the tale Falconer spins is a meandering affair, never doggedly adhering to a rigid map route. Along the way, we get a thorough history of the automobile and its immense impact on the development of society especially after World War II.

The subtitlely thingie of Drive is “A Road Trip Through Our Complicated Affair With The Automobile” and truer words have never been written after a book’s title. What was most startling to me while reading this book was, for every sane person who either hates cars or doesn’t put much thought at all into their existence, there seems to be a dozen who absolutely love them. I mean, really, really loves them. These self-proclaimed car nuts never outgrow their adolescent fascination with their toys.

If there’s one complaint I had with Drive, it’s that too much time is given over to these car freaks which, to my deaf ear on the subject, began to sound all the same. After yet another outing Falconer takes with the Rocky Mountain Mustangers or Gateway Camaro Club, I found myself growing increasingly irate and finally snapping. I KNOW HOW MUCH YOUR CARS MEAN TO YOU, PEOPLE! BUT THEY’RE JUST THAT! CARS! I COULDN’T GET ENOUGH OF CRACK COCAINE EITHER. I JUST HAD TO STOP DOING IT FOR THE SAKE OF EVERYONE AROUND ME!! YOU SHOULD TOO!!!

The beauty of Drive is that it seems to anticipate that reaction in many readers and delights in turning the tables on them… er, me. It’s not surprising that I reacted so violently negative to yet another pot-bellied, middle-aged car jockey waxing nostalgic about his Ford Falcon because early on in the book, Falconer provides data that shows Canadians are more prone to see their cars as little more than appliances to be used in getting to where they need to go. Americans revere their cars and treat them accordingly as potent symbols of freedom and mobility. So naturally, I’m going to see them as completely out of touch with reality and vile, brainless materialists. Thus, Falconer deftly manages to shine a glaring light on my prejudices.

That makes the real heroes of the book the ones Falconer meets who have a much more rational approach to the car conundrum than I do. Hell, some of them even like driving but have concluded that urban planning around the needs of cars is the surest way to inflict the greatest amount of damage on cities.  There’s James Kushner, a teacher at Southwestern Law School in Los Angeles and perhaps the only Angelino who does not own a car. His two books, The Post-Automobile City and Healthy Cities are in the mail as I write, destined to the growing pile of books I need to get to in order to truly start understanding urban dynamics. Donald Shoup, ‘America’s Parking Guru’ (and who we featured here back in March. You may recognize my colleague’s dining and discussing partner) is a joy to listen talk so academically about the problems of parking and how to fix it. (Heads-up: we aren’t paying nearly enough for it.) His book, The High Cost of Free Parking is already on my book shelf.

But the nucleus of the post-automobile future city truly emerges in the last 8 pages of Chapter 16 (San Francisco, Man versus the Internal Combustion Engine). Mr. Falconer talks with two members of the Sierra Club. John Holtzclaw chairs the organization’s Transportation Committee and Tim Frank is the chair of the group’s Challenge to Sprawl Campaign Committee. Together they put together an urban environment where private vehicles will slowly and naturally be squeezed out or, at the very least, be severely reduced in importance. How will this come about? Our growing urbanization and need for higher density. (A ‘variety of densities’, according to Holtzman.)

Presently, density is a hot button issue but those resisting it appear to be on the wrong side. Frank argues that density could, ironically, wind up uniting right and left. He sees density appealing to the left because of its tendency toward social justice if things like mixed income housing are part of the plan. The right will take to it as denser communities make various government services less expensive to deliver and need fewer people to deliver them. Increased density equals smaller, more efficient government.

More exciting still for those of my political stripe, John Holtzclaw believes that increased density creates a more tolerant, liberal-minded society. “People who live closer together and are less dependent on the automobile develop a different attitude toward citizenship and activism,” concludes Falconer. So take heart, all you who grow dismayed in the face of Rob Ford’s spike in popularity and Stephen Harper’s relentless push to neo-con Canada, for they are fighting a losing battle. The slow march of history is on our side.

How cool is that? A political manifesto rising up from a book about cars. That’s quite something to pull off but is exactly what Tim Falconer does in Drive. So run, don’t walk (and certainly don’t drive although cycling is encouraged) and pick up your copy. The revolution (or – a-ha, a-ha — the rpms) has begun.

car-freely submitted by Urban Sophisticat