Return To Civilization. Such As It Is.

August 3, 2011

I am the first to re-emerge from the woods.

It was an eventful few days, full of surprises, undercooked food and questionably cooked alcohol. The blindness, mercifully, turned out to be only temporary. The holes in the mind, I fear, may be longer to diagnose and repair.

Arriving at the homestead/hunting cabin/inherited family real estate/squatting place, Cityslikr and I were surprised by the presence of our long lost colleague Acaphlegmic who, judging by the lived in look and smell of the place, had been camped out there for some time. As regular readers of this site know, Acaphlegmic self embedded into Ford Nation just after election night last October to try and understand the heart of the beast we had just installed as our next mayor. To what end was never quite clear as his irregular posts (here and here) bordered on the, if not delusional, let’s call it fantastical. Instructional would not be an adjective I’d attach to his correspondence.

But there he was, in all his feral splendor, awaiting our appearance. How long he’d been there, he wouldn’t say. Why he was there, also left unanswered. He was sphinx-like with any information, saying that what he saw, what he learned, all the knowledge he’d gleaned from his time in Ford Nation was not going to be handed over to some nowhere blog without adequate recompense. There was a book to be written and he was just the person to write it. Any evidence suggesting that’s what he’d been doing out in the wilderness was scant.

What was evident was Acaphlegmic had been rolling around contentedly in his own approbation along with, as our noses hinted at, many fish carcasses that had washed ashore. The reason for such sentiment was pasted to the inside of the cabin. Copy after copy of his mayoral endorsement last year covered every inch of the walls. Standing in the centre of the room, it wasn’t as spooky as, say, Shelley Duvall discovering pages and pages of her husband typing out All Work And No Play Makes Jack A Dull Boy. Still, it was somewhat unsettling. We were miles away from anything resembling civilization and it was an awfully deep lake we had just crossed. It would take months to discover our bodies.

Fortunately, Acaphlegmic wasn’t in a killing kind of mood. Mostly. It was all about the crowing, the chest beating, the I-Told-You-Sos. “I was right, wasn’t I, chaps. Bulls-eye. Correctamundo. Fucking dead on.” Agreeing with him, even heartily, didn’t seem to lessen his demands that we agree with him.

Admittedly, given the last few months, it’s difficult not to concede he’d been accurate in his assessment of how a Mayor Ford scenario would play out. Who amongst us didn’t see that train wreck coming? Who amongst us, that is, who didn’t vote for the man. It’s all been as grisly, divisive and dispiriting as we feared it would be if such a thing came to pass. The difference is, very few of us were reveling in the situation to any degree. Certainly not to the degree Acaphlegmic appeared to be.

“It is as how I prophesized!” Acaphlegmic bellowed at us intermittently throughout the weekend. Not meaning to draw any comparisons between either Cityslikr or myself to Jesus but it did feel a little like we were in the presence of crazy John the Baptist. “Our time is soon at hand.” Yes, he did actually say that. On more than one occasion.

I will distill Acaphlegmic because I don’t think, at this point, you could handle pure Acaphlegmic.

What we are witnessing now in Toronto is the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarianism end game of the radical right wing, neoconservative, small government, anti-tax, deranged Ayn Randian libertarians. From Margaret Thatcher to Ronald Reagan to Mike Harris to George W. Bush to the Tea Party to Stephen Harper to Tim Hudak to Rob Ford with some willing and conciliatory liberals (both small and big ‘L’) thrown in for good measure. The slashing and burning, vilifying and demonizing has all trickled down to where the rubber meets the road, municipalities. This is where we all discover exactly what they mean by ‘small government’, ‘finding efficiencies’ and ‘respect for the taxpayer’.

It all sounds so reasonable and mainstream when it’s stated hypothetically. Who doesn’t want to find efficiencies? I’m a taxpayer. Hells yeah, I want respect. A leaner, meaner, smaller government? You betcha. Go right ahead. Cut our libraries. Reduce public transit. Gut environment—

No, wait. What?

At the municipal level, we’re getting all close up and personal with what these people mean when they talk about small government. It’s really all about less government. Reduce. Eliminate. Obliterate. Fewer helping hands. Less shared sacrifice. Watching the men of KPMG present their Core Services Review over the last couple weeks, the realization sunk in that it’s only about throwing citizens to the wolves of privatization and free marketeers. No guarantees we’d be paying less or services improved. And absolutely no word on any negative social impacts of guts and cuts. Not in our purview.

Trickle down neoliberalism, offloading and downloading costs and responsibilities from the feds to the provinces to the municipalities. Now with a mayor and his administration in place as willing waterboys, poised to do the dirty work, Toronto is realizing the implications and consequences of such radical ideology where everything is on the table. Everything, that is, that makes a city livable, desirable and place which encourages its citizens to reach their fullest potential. There’s no more hiding from that fact.

Acaphlegmic called it back in October. We wrote it off as the rantings of a crank and alarmist. It’s hard not to admit he may’ve been barking up the right tree.

contritely submitted by Urban Sophisticat

The Day Conservatism Died

April 19, 2011

Does anyone know the exact date when conservatism ceased operations as a productive, positive contributor to society? At what point of time in its supposed illustrious history did it stop offering up ideas and solutions that consisted of more complex notions than could fit perfectly on a placard, bumper sticker or that a two year-old could remember and recite? Was it a sudden jolt like a meteor strike that made the post-Enlightenment air toxic to the more progressives in their movement or did they just gradually rid themselves of reason, rational thought and a belief in the common good?

Was the last true conservative of the Burkian mold in the plane with Buddy Holly that fateful night in February 1959?

We know traditional political conservatism has been under attack in the U.S. since the crushing defeat of Barry Goldwater in the 1964 presidential election. It was put on the endangered list under Richard Nixon and the last species spotted during the Reagan Revolution. Our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents’ conservatism went extinct when George W. Bush move into the Oval Office in January 2001.

But here in Canada, conservatism survived a little longer, dying a slower death. Perhaps it was fatally infected with the 1988 Free Trade Deal and our closer integration with the United States. The ‘neo’ in neo-conservatism began to rub off on us. With the rise of western alienation, the Reform Party and Alberta with its U.S. style conservatism as an oil producing, economic force. The progressive in the Progressive Conservative leaked away, lapped up by the Jean Chretien-Paul Martin Liberals, eager to bolster their right flank.

Ontario dipped its toe into the new conservative waters when it embraced Mike Harris’s Common Sense Revolution in the mid-90s, rejecting and ultimately putting a bullet in the head of the red Toryism that had ruled the land for over 40 years until 1985. After 8 years, the province return to its traditional progressive conservative roots when it elected Liberal Dalton McGuinty. The actual Progressive Conservative now exists in name only.

Unlike their neo-conservative soul mates at the federal level who, with the PC-Canadian Alliance/Reform Party amalgamation, jettisoned any last vestige of progressive thought or policy. Finally, it’s Morning in Canada. Government is not the solution to our problems. Government is the problem. Taxes are bad. Science is bad. Peacekeeping is for pussies. In-depth gathering of data in order to more thoroughly define and guide public policy is an invasion of privacy and must be eliminated. An added bonus if you’re planning to build more prisons and get tougher on crime in the face of evidence pointing to dropping rates of criminal behaviour.

Statistics and facts be damned when we’ve got naked ideology to propel us forward back to the 17-century!

It wasn’t too long ago that kind of political thinking would’ve relegated you to the fringes. Yet now the Conservatives are within serious striking distance of securing a majority victory, able to count on a third of the electorate for steadfast support for what can only be described as an antediluvian outlook. Hell, in the so-called liberal hotbed of Toronto, nearly 50% of the voters rallied behind Rob Ford – the poster child for narrow-minded, anti-government, pithy slogans as policy platforms politicians — as their choice for mayor last fall. We are now in the process of witnessing up close and personal just much how respect we taxpayers should expect from neo-conservative politicians.

Which, judging by the craziness going on to the south of us at the hands of the self-proclaimed Tea Party movement, should be next to nil. The thing is, when conservatives abandoned their core principle as stated by Glen Worthington, “…the essence of conservatism lies not in a body of theory, but in the disposition to maintain those institutions seen as central to the beliefs and practices of society”, the day traditional conservatism died, all bets were off. Neo-conservatives bear no responsibility to anyone aside from themselves. What’s good for them as individuals is good for society. End stop. Edmund Burke and the like deposed by Ayn Rand. Ask not what your country can do for you because it’s going to do fuck all. And certainly don’t ask what you can do for your country as, well, that would just be an imposition, an impingement of my individual freedom and liberty.

And those of us not sharing that particularly libertarian worldview have much blame to shoulder for the current conservative-less situation. By accepting any tenets of the faith, from its creeping anti-governmentalism to the bogus trickle-down economic theory, we lent it credibility and gave it traction. We helped make the lunatic acceptable and now find ourselves having to defend against what is essentially an alternate reality where up is down, black is white and tax cuts generate increased revenue for the public purse.

An alternate reality where the likes of Ezra Levant are considered worthy of having a spot on television to discuss politics. Yes, as a matter of fact, he did compare the CBC to a North Korean state run broadcast. With a straight face!

Watching what I could stomach of yesterday’s launch of Sun TV, two words immediately sprung to mind: cable access. Back when honest to god conservatism was still alive and well, that’s where crackpots like Mr. Levant et al would’ve been relegated if they wanted to air their fetid, malignant views out in public. Or a soapbox in the corner of a park.While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly how it is traditional conservatism died, I think we can officially call time of death. It was April 18th 2011, 4:30pm EDT.

sympathetically submitted by Cityslikr

Our Rose-Coloured Glasses

April 14, 2011

Having taken the last few days off and away from the local scene, I’ve returned with a new thing in mind. Instead of reacting to every seemingly insane utterance and idea that emerges from the mayor, his kin or administration’s various mouthpieces with immediate shock, dismay and/or heart-stopping rage, I’m going to look for the silver lining. My assumption is not going to reactively be: what the fuck is he/they thinking/doing!? No. I’ll take a deep breath, set down the rock in my hand and careful weight the pros and cons of the matter at hand. Serenity Now.

For instance, yesterday’s news about a recommendation to shut down 21 of the 23 citizen advisory committees. My old self would’ve immediately sprang up in outrage and pointed out that this was just another example of Mayor Ford reneging on a campaign promise of more openness and transparency, showing absolute no respect for the taxpayer whatsoever. How could eliminating citizen access to city staff be in any way, shape or form transparent or open?

That would be the old me. The new me however spots a subtle sign of genius in it. A boldly counter-intuitive move not to simply increase citizen/taxpayer/customer/stakeholder input but to foist responsibility entirely onto their laps. You want to talk cycling strategy? Go ahead. Talk amongst yourselves. City Hall’s no longer in the listening business.

The previous administration was accused of only pretending to listen to its citizens. It would go through the motions of openness and transparency before proceeding with whatever it was intending on doing in the first place. Mayor Ford and his team are proposing to do away with that middle step altogether. They’re going to drop the pretense. Save everyone the time and aggravation.

So citizens can get together, draw up plans and strategies, all without the bother of talking to City Hall first. Instead, and I’m a little fuzzy on how this next step will work, they assemble some sort of package, let’s call it a business plan as that’s more in line with the current administrations thinking on things, and… call the mayor? “Hey, Your Honour. A few of us taxpayers met up, hashed out some details and we’ve got this thing we’d like to talk over with you. You said we could call anytime, day or night.”

Or maybe, and here’s where the genius in the mayor’s scheme may lie, citizens/taxpayers/customers/stakeholders wouldn’t have to talk to anyone at City Hall at all in the future. If you look at the plan of eliminating citizen advisory committees from a different angle, it’s all about complete freedom. Not only is the Ford administration offering to do away with government consultation, perhaps it’s thinking of eliminating government entirely. Just do it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t advise. Just. Do. It. Democracy unfettered by oppressive government intervention.

This isn’t neo-conservatism, folks. Hell, it’s even moved beyond Ayn Randian Libertarianism. We’re talking Anarchy, with a capital A.

This line of thinking would certainly be in synch with brother Doug’s musings on waterfront development. “You don’t subsidize the most valuable property in Canada to the tune of $10-million an acre,” Councillor Ford said. “You let the private sector buy it and let them develop it. We can control it. We can say we want a round building here and a square one here. We can control it but we don’t spend 1.5 billion dollars in tax dollars when everyone’s feeling pressure. It’s just common sense.”

Common sense, indeed. We all remember how great the waterfront was pre-Waterfront Toronto 2001, before the government went and got its nose in how the private sector was so ably and magnificently doing business down there. Let’s relive the 1980s glory days.

Replace ‘private sector’ with ‘private citizen/taxpayer/customer/stakeholder’ and you get the same general gist of how things would work without the unnecessary bureaucracy of advisory committees. Have citizens/taxpayers/customers/stakeholders come up with ideas about bike paths, say, or a youth program or public art installation on their own and all the city says is ‘make it round’ or ‘make it ‘square’. Done and done, and we’re off to the races.

In trying to see the world through the mayor’s eyes, I’m starting to realize that the only thing standing between an active and inactive citizenry is government itself. Its intrusive presence is nothing but an impediment to our participation in how things are done around here. The less we depend on government, the more freedom we will experience. Let’s not stop at eliminating just citizen advisory committees. Dream bigger. Imagine the freedom we’d have if we got rid of City Hall itself.

look at me I’m Sandra Deely submitted by Cityslikr

It’s An Ilu-u-u-u-sion, Michael!

July 20, 2010

I’m beginning to eye the diploma hanging on the wall beside me with some suspicion. A B.A. granted to me with a minor in Celtic Studies some time ago, the letters F-R-A-U-D now scream out at me from it. Really? I minored in Celtic Studies? What was I thinking?

Not only is the legitimacy of my university education under fire but now my politics are being question too. According to this, I could well be less left wing than I’d like to think I am.

A new study from the University of Leicester Department of Economics reveals that highly educated people make wrong assumptions about their political leanings – they are more likely to think they are left wing when they are more likely to be relatively conservative. (h/t to Andrew Brett)

Now, I could put my mind at ease and assure myself that I’m not ‘highly’ educated. In fact, I have been told as much by more than just one person. (The most recent? A Ms. Kathy Shaidle: God you’re stupid.) But let’s just assume that as an owner of said university degree, I technically qualify as ‘highly educated’. Am I mistaken in thinking I qualify as being left wing?

As a male, chances are I am (mistaken not left wing) according to the same study. It seems that men tend to skew right wing and correctly identify themselves as such. Probably all that strong, independent, law and order, Ayn Rand testosterone in their bodies. On the other hand, the salary I pull in doing this pushes me back left as the wealthy tend to gravitate right and acknowledge as much.

So mark me down as a tortured leftist, fighting both his education and hormones to maintain that belief system.

Why is any of this important outside of the small circle of me? Well, political misidentification could go along way to explaining a certain degree of disenchantment and disengagement with politics these days. The study suggests that “…some people may end up voting for left of centre parties because they hold the mistaken belief that they are left wing.” If a left of centre party, once duly elected, proceeds to enact left of centre policies, this will subconsciously or viscerally begin to bother the misinformed voters who aren’t as left wing as they imagined. They will wind up feeling betrayed and lied to.

This doesn’t happen with right of centre parties and their voters. With more accurate self-identification, they all know what to expect when they vote for a like-minded party. In fact, conservative parties can annoy their base by not being conservative enough. Ironically, left of centre parties can similarly offend their misguided base by also not being conservative enough.

Thus, we have the mushy middle. Left leaning politicians who get elected by sounding left of centre but governing as close to the centre as they can possibly get away with, ultimately looking unprincipled and lacking focus. Ladies and gentleman, the Liberal Party. Jack Layton’s NDP. Joe Pantalone.

It’s a phenomenon that may also explain the rise of fall of Mayor David Miller. Swept into office on a progressive, housecleaning wave, but when he started acting on his left of centre ideals, well, it caught many of his faux-liblefty supporters by surprise. What, new taxes? I didn’t vote for new taxes. We’re already taxed to death! Why did he cave into the unions during the garbage strike? I voted for David Miller to crush this city’s unions!

The broad conclusion of the paper must be that individuals either choose not to, or are unable to, locate their ideological positions reliably compared to those of the positions of their compatriots.

This is further evidence not just that voters are far from fully informed, but that somehow voters consistently misperceive where they lie on the ideological spectrum.

So the next time you’re bemoaning the state of politics, take a moment to ponder how we might’ve arrived where we’re at. Not so much through a case of voters getting the politicians they deserve but more of a voters not getting the politicians they think they deserve. We’ve become disillusioned through delusion.

confusedly submitted by Cityslikr

Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part V

March 19, 2010

It’s Friday, folks. Time to Meet A Mayoral Candidate.

This week: Mark Cidade for Mayor!

Right off the bat we like this candidate for 3 reasons, one of which isn’t totally frivolous. That being, Cidade seems to hate cars as much as we do here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. The other two, well, not as important to the health of Toronto certainly, but nothing to sneeze at either. 1) A guy running for mayor has the last name Cidade which is the Portuguese word for town or city. Mayor Cidade. Mayor City. City mayor. It’s tough to deny the appeal of that. 2) Mr. Cidade invited us out for lunch so he could explain in more detail his plans for Toronto if elected mayor in October. To maintain our journalistic integrity (such as it is), we had to decline. Still, he invited us to lunch. Props out for that.

Mr. Cidade is a candidate with a full-to-bursting campaign platform. Scrolling through his Facebook page, he expresses interest in a wide range of topics, from Suicide and Mental Health through to the City’s Economy, Real Estate, Water and even Robots. No stone is left unturned when it comes to the politics of the city.

Yet, so far at least, Mr. Cidade reveals himself to be a candidate more full of questions than answers. In many of the issues he raises, he leaves us with nothing more than musings followed by ???s. How is the transit situation now, do you think? Do we need so many expensive condos, shopping malls, and office buildings? Did you know that some of Toronto’s urban planners are also budding roboticists? I don’t want to see another garbage strike and I want to see Toronto’s streets to be clean again. What do we do? A mayor can’t do it all by themself. That’s why they need a council! Or do they? Toronto’s water is better-tested than anything you buy in a bottle. Of course, the pipes sort of ruin everything. New pipes maybe?

To be fair, Mr. Cidade does counter many of his inquiries with links to articles that talk about the particular matter in question but I’d like to know what the candidate thinks about them. I can read the National Post, Toronto Star or Spacing magazine to see what they think. They aren’t asking for my vote. Mark Cidade is and it’s his answers I want to know.

This leads to a bigger question I have about the Mark Cidade for Mayor candidacy. While his heart is in the right place – he is outraged that homeless people are still dying in the street, thinks more money should be in place to help with mental illness, believes immigration plays a vital role in the development of Toronto – it’s tough to figure out how he as mayor would deal with all these. Mr. Cidade refers to himself as an independent moderate yet he seems dubious of the role municipal government plays in our lives. Police, courts, lawyers, standards and licensing. Who needs them?, Mr. Cidade asks. Do we even NEED property taxes? I don’t want to raise taxes. In fact, I want to LOWER them until there are NO TAXES.

This sounds a lot less moderate and far more libertarian and leaves me to ask Mr. Cidade how we as a city can tend to the less fortunate and newcomers who have arrived looking for a better life without money coming in to pay for it and a human infrastructure in place to oversee it?

Still, his is not the only mayoral campaign in this year’s election to have its aspirations and plans for achieving them out of sync. Despite the uncertainty that underlines candidate Cidade at this point, he holds a very positive view of the city. When asked our empty-headed question that we’re posing to all the hopefuls for mayor, If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Cidade like to see his legacy written?, he answered: The mayor that makes Toronto “The Good” into Toronto “The Great”.

That’s one response that’s hard to argue with.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr