Anti-Union Thuggery

January 7, 2011

Can you smell that?

A slightly, sulphurous scent with just a hint of nutmeg, I believe. Nutmeg?  No. More like frangipane.

The unmistakable odor of anti-unionism.

Here we are, 2+ years into the biggest financial clusterfuck in nearly 8 decades, and the overwhelming conventional wisdom has it that it’s all because of those privileged, fat cat, parasitic unions. More specifically, public sector unions. All levels of government coffers have been sucked dry by the relentlessly rapacious demands of their unionized public servants. Enough is enough. It’s time that we decent, upstanding, put-upon non-unionists start pushing back. We don’t have job security. We don’t have pensions. We don’t get overtime pay. We’re not given two months off every summer… Man, wouldn’t that be sweet. Wonder how we could get us some of that? Maybe, a group of us get together, organized style. Go to our boss—No wait. Correct answer is: if I can’t have it neither can anyone else! Just like in grade school. You can chew gum in class as long as you’ve brought enough for everyone else.

The full frontal assault is now well under way south of the border as a host of state legislatures look to enact measures ranging from massive layoffs to outright de-certification of public sector unions. It’s a battle played out in real time over the holidays in New York City after it was buried under snow between Christmas and New Years. After serious problems clearing the snow and getting the city moving again, allegations arose in the Rupert Murdoch owned New York Post from “unnamed sources” that the city’s sanitation union, smarting from cutbacks, directed members to drag their heals in doing their jobs as sort of payback. Never mind the 300-400 less bodies in the department to do the actual snow removal. Never mind the mayor’s reticence in declaring an emergency situation; itself a possible product of a hesitancy brought on by a desire to keep costs down. Never mind that surrounding municipalities not subject to the alleged union order work slowdown but under similar financial duress had trouble contending with the storm as well. It was the union’s fault which a subsequent investigation will surely reveal.

Such anti-union rumblings resonate up here, too. Despite proclaiming himself a fiscal warrior, Mayor Rob Ford led the charge last month to get a vote passed in council to ask the province to declare the TTC an essential service which would take away its workers’ right to strike. Never mind that this could cost the city more down the road in terms of mediated settlements. It’s the opening salvo in what is increasingly looking like contentious upcoming union battles the mayor is preparing himself for.

Which is just good politics if not good governance. Everyone has a story to tell about just how corrupt/inept/diabolical unions are. All those workers hanging around, perched on their shovels, filling in one pothole. Physical intimidation of the poor, trembling public at picket lines. That sleeping TTC ticket taker! Could you believe that? Yeah, the union said he was sick or some bullshit like that… What? He died!? What was the union doing, forcing a sick man to work?! It’s the union’s fault!

And if you yourself don’t have a personal anti-union anecdote to contribute to the conversation, you need not look any further than the media to provide you with one.

Witness “Dragon” Kevin O’Leary. Making out just fine on not 1 but 2 shows on the publicly funded CBC, he cannot mask his contempt for unions, calling them ‘evil’ earlier this week on his O’Leary and That Other One Report. Evil? Why? Their labour and legacy costs have been the wrack and ruin of the North American car industry and given China a distinct advantage in the automobile market. Apparently it was because the companies had to keep paying the unions more and more that they were forced to keep building bigger and bigger cars and trucks.

Or how about “There’s Not A Right Wing Shibboleth I Couldn’t Write An Incomprehensible Screed About” Sue-Ann Levy of the Toronto Sun. Her piece from last week is a check list of heads that must roll and kneecaps that must be busted for City Hall to get its fiscal house in order because, as you know, the place doesn’t have a revenue problem, it’s got a spending problem. The main culprits? Hint: unions and their ‘mob bosses’. Ms. Levy hits that note twice so that even Sun readers couldn’t possible miss the implied innuendo. Mob = mobster = gangster = criminal = should be in jail. She throws in a ‘dictatorial’ descriptor as well to suggest that unions are anti-democratic.

This is nothing less than class warfare. More sadly, it’s class civil war with the middle and lower classes at each other’s throats over an ever decreasing slice of the economic pie brought on by 30 years of upward redistribution of wealth. The public purse has been ransacked by a frenzied rush to the bottom of tax cuts and the movement of our manufacturing base overseas in the name of unfettered, under-regulated, free market globalization. With the occasional bailout of industries deemed too big to fail. Yet somehow, it’s all the unions’ and our public sectors’ fault.

Such easy scapegoating is indicative of moral cowardice on our part. We know who’s to blame for the financial straits we are currently facing but engaging the real culprits is a much bigger, nastier battle than we’re willing to be a part of. So instead, we turn on easier targets, making ourselves feel better in the process but doing absolutely nothing to solve our problems.

submitted by Cityslikr


The Enthusiasm Gap

November 4, 2010

What exactly would it take to get what is essentially the other half of eligible voters out to cast a ballot?

I ask because in the past 10 days or so, we here in Toronto have participated in and born witness to a couple notable elections, let us call them. Hotly contested affairs with nasty slinging of mud and fundamental questions about the kind of government we want. Yet, only in and around 50% of those eligible to vote came out to do so.

Big increases from previous elections, you’ll say. A record number in post-amalgamated Toronto, nearly 53%, up about 14% from 2006. On Tuesday, just over 41% turned out, the highest for U.S. midterms since 1982.

Where was everybody else? If these two elections could not stir a massive majority of the population up and out of their La-Z-Boys or away from the gaming consoles, what will? In the States, there were candidates openly questioning Constitutional amendments. Here, it was a pitched battle between two diametrically opposed visions of the kind of city we want to live in. Nosing up on high drama, I might offer, and still, nearly 48% of those who could vote in Toronto chose not to. Almost 3 out of 5 Americans opted out of exercising their democratic right.

I lace up my empathy shoes and perform a tolerance tango in an attempt to understand what exactly de-motivates people from voting but come up empty. I’m so busy. I had to get the kids to cello practice. I work 3 jobs. Who has the time? My vote doesn’t really matter. Politicians, they’re all the same.

None of it washes. The political burdens of being a member of a 21st-century free society are far from heavy. Not much is asked of us. Showing up for even a couple hours if need be every other year or every 4th year is not really all that onerous. Hell, I’m not even asking for voters to be all that informed although it would help.

I pay taxes! How much more do you want from me?

That’s a commercial exchange, really. Money paid for services rendered. As our mayor-elect says, it’s all about respect (or not) for taxpayers. Voting is what a citizen does.

I took in Inside Job last night, a documentary about the financial meltdown that brought us to the current Great Recession. One of the take away messages I got from it was that our democracy has been hijacked by special interests, in this case the financial services industry. Money and influence in the form of political contributions and lobbyists constantly guts the will of the people, transforming government into nothing more than a tool of the wealthy and business.

Big surprise. So it is as it always has been. What’s one vote from one little person going to do to change that?

Probably nothing. But sitting at home when the opportunity arises for you to express an opinion will do nothing to alter anything either. Arguably, disengagement from the process only serves to encourage political lawlessness and disregard for well-being of the commonwealth. If you don’t care enough to bother to vote, why would those intent on bending democracy to do their bidding worry about the repercussions of their actions? Non-voters actively collaborate in the corruption of the system.

Those who chose not to vote (or forget or simply can’t be bothered) are as much enemies of the body-politic as those seeking to undermine it for their own gain. Societal parasites leaving the heavy lifting of democracy to their friends, family and neighbours who do find the time and inclination to cast a ballot. It’s nothing more than a big fuck you to everyone else trying to make this thing run right. Deciding not to vote doesn’t constitute a statement or political stance. It just signals to everyone that you simply don’t care enough to be slightly inconvenienced. It’s a mockery to all those coming before us who fought for the very right to do what you are now neglecting to do and to those throughout the world still struggling and dying for that right that you shrug off.

People shouldn’t need to be chided for not voting. No law should be necessary making it compulsory to vote. Nor should blame be laid at the feet our politicians or system for not engaging voters enough to get them to do what they should reflexively do as citizens. Voting is not merely a right. It is a responsibility. By shirking that responsibility, non-voters work in cahoots with the predators operating and scheming to undercut the democratic principles that differentiate us from the despotic regimes that deny the most basic of human rights.

If the only voting you take part in is that of Canadian Idol, there should be an exchange program to send you over for a spell in Iran or China or Myanmar (or any other place where voting really doesn’t matter) and bring us people who know what it’s like to exist without an opportunity to have a say in how the government works.

sanctimoniously submitted by Cityslikr


Smitherman’s Desperate Ploy

July 24, 2010

First, mayoral candidate George Smitherman flit over to China to attend a meeting of mayors although he had yet to be duly elected as such. Now he’s decided the time has come for a one-on-one debate with Rob Ford without outside distractions like, well, the 30+ other registered candidates in the running. It seems that George Smitherman will stop at nothing to become the next mayor of Toronto short of actually campaigning effectively for the office.

Presumption aside, it proves beyond the shadow of a doubt just how much of a bully Smitherman is. I mean, who wouldn’t want to debate Rob Ford one-on-one? It’s like picking on the slowest, dumbest kid in the schoolyard. Yes, some polls have him as the front runner right now but that’s only because no one else – including George Smitherman – has stepped up and delivered a compelling reason to vote for them. Ford is simply filling the vacuum with his focused rage at all the neo-conservative shibboleths that resonate with underthinkers. Overtaxed! Out of control spending! Bureaucrats!

Despite becoming more of a target now that his rivals are taking his candidacy seriously, Ford thrives in the present debate format. Like a whack-a-mole, he pops up every now and then to spout off bits and pieces of his anti-government tirade usually in non sequitur format before going back underground to avoid his opponents’ flurry of mallets. Perfect scattershot delivery for the sound bite age.

What could Rob Ford possibly have to gain granting more open and undiluted access? Sure, he’d assume the mantle of the lone right wing standard bearer but doesn’t he have that already? The entire mayoral field save maybe Don Andrews has bestowed that honour on him. If he turns Smitherman down, he might be perceived by his followers as running scared, poking holes in his football coach bluster. How would it go over in Ford country if they started thinking he was afraid of some fruit?

But the downside dwarves these concerns. Just him, Smitherman and a host, say for an hour. How many times can Ford talk about Kyle Rae’s retirement party or cutting council in half or killing City Hall’s indoor plants before he starts sounding devoid of any meaningful ideas? George Smitherman: So far, Councillor Ford, you’ve cut $25 million from the annual operating budget at City Hall. Not even close to a single, solitary percent of it. Now what are you going to cut? Hmm? Hmmmm?? Rob Ford: [harrumph, harrumph, harrumph, turning redder and redder] Errrr.. errrr.. errrr.. eHealth scandal! Tax and spend Liberal!! You went to Kyle Rae’s retirement party on the taxpayers’ dime!!! Probably danced with him, too!!!!!Nope, there’s absolutely no reason for Rob Ford to agree to a one-on-one debate proposal. Not with Smitherman. Not with any other candidate. He’s the perceived front runner and it’s his prerogative to decline. Ford’s in the driver’s seat right now and a desperate George Smitherman is attempting to bait him out of his comfort zone.

Smitherman’s also displaying a disturbing anti-democratic streak with this maneuver. Caught in a dog fight with an unexpected opponent, he’s trying to end run the electoral process, using some spin and optics to give the impression of it being only a two man race. Ford’s got the far off centre right vote sewn up while Smitherman’s splitting the soft centre right with Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson. Unable to differentiate himself from those two with solid policies ideas and a vision of leadership, he’s now trying to bulldoze his way with little regard for an open, varied and democratic debate.

What exactly does this say about the prospects of a Mayor George Smitherman? All politics with no governance? He is clearly trying to win this thing by setting up a situation where people vote not for him but against the other guy, in this case, Rob Ford. If he’s successful, then what? With no particular agenda or mandate, the city just flounders on a choppy sea of posturing, politics and horse trading. Pretty much the same scenario as that of a lone wolf Rob Ford mayoralty. Four years of inane bickering and inaction.

Nothing good can come of this. So do us all a favour, Rob Ford, ignore George Smitherman’s throw down. It won’t help your chances and, more importantly, it won’t do Toronto any good either.

hopefully helpfully submitted by Cityslikr


Massacre At The AGO

June 17, 2010

To cut the 6 front running mayoral candidates a little slack, one could say that they might’ve been sandbagged at the AGO’s Pug Talk: A New Mayors Vision For Architecture, Design and Planning In The City Of Toronto last night. Before the roundtable discussion commenced, Toronto’s former Tiny Perfect Mayor, David Crombie, took to the stage and warmed up the crowd with talk of a “continuation of regeneration of the public realm”. He spoke of “reimagination, reinvention and reinvestment” in the “civic magic” that makes all the difference between simply living in a city and loving living in a city. In 3 short minutes, I found myself plotting a Draft Crombie For Mayor movement.

Crombie was then followed by a grade school participant in the Pug Ed program which is “… designed to engage senior elementary school students in architecture, design and urban development…” who succinctly laid out a very green (environmentally speaking) plan of what he would do if he were mayor. As he finished up, one of the mayoral candidates said it was a good thing that he wasn’t running for office now. Truer words have never been spoken by anyone on the campaign trail.

And then came the real kick in the sack. A video clip of Councillor Adam Vaughan (clip starts at about the 83′ mark) taking part in an earlier Pug Talk where he spoke of the choice between wanting to “build a civilization or sustain a settlement” and needing to elevate the notion of city building above merely filling potholes and fixing street lights.  High falutin’ stuff, as Rob Ford and his zombie army might say if they knew what it meant, and certainly leaving many in the audience wondering why Mr. Vaughan wasn’t running for the mayor’s job.

The warm up act finished, it was now time for the headliners, and I don’t think it much of an overstatement to tell you that the next hour and three-quarters was nothing short of a big ol’ fucking train wreck.  It might’ve been more fun to watch if, you know, our collective futures weren’t riding on all of it.  I didn’t think it possible for a city that elected Mel Lastman mayor twice could find itself less than a decade later with even dimmer prospects. But it was difficult to shake off that sense after the performances I witnessed last night.

Joe Pantalone, bless his soul, I think has his heart in the right place. As a progressive, left wing voter, my sympathies are with him. It’s his struggles to straddle the middle way — distancing himself from the current administration that he’s been an integral part of but is the bogey man of this campaign, while trying to point out the positive aspects it has delivered — that leave him floundering, easy prey for vacuous political sharks like George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi. He’s fighting their fight and getting beaten to the punch constantly.

For a second consecutive night, Giorgio Mammoliti delivered what I saw as the most impassioned, least calculated performance. His wild swings for the fences never ever hit one out of the park or, quite possibly, ever got him safely on base but it seemed that he tied Pantalone for at least trying to mould their responses to the room they were speaking to. There was a sense Mammoliti believed the topic at hand was important even if he wasn’t sure about what needed to be done about it.

It was performance miles ahead of the rest of the mayoral pack.

Rob Ford was so far out of his element that it was almost embarrassing to witness. But not that embarrassing. He clearly has no mind for complex issues and his adaptive powers are equally absent. Despite having been given the questions beforehand, he answered none, only using them to launch into his now familiar spiel of out of control taxing and spending, blah, blah, blah. He was heckled by a suit just into his first rambling response and by the end the crowd was openly laughing at his answers especially the one where he claimed to have made Rexdale into Rosedale.

Was Rob ruffled? Hard to say. He always seems ruffled. For him, the crowd’s reaction had nothing to do with his performance. They were all just rude and a bunch of NDPers, he told reporters afterwards. Apparently, the man simply sees culture, education and discourse on weighty issues as some sort of socialist plot.

George Smitherman didn’t really use the opportunity of Ford’s missteps to further his cause much as he just was popping in on his way to another engagement long enough to take a couple swipes at Ford and Pantalone, buddy up with Rocco Rossi and mimic some of the key words and phrases he’d heard bandied about. Public realm. Elevated urban planning. We found it telling that the man had just returned from a trip to China that included a stop in Shanghai, arguably one of the architectural marvels of the modern world, and he made no mention of it at an Architecture, Design and Planning roundtable discussion!!! I guess his engineers hadn’t got the opportunity to program that into his hard drive yet.

As for Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson, they are little more than talkers of talking points. Rossi, the smoother of the two, seemed the most knowledgeable about the subject at hand and spoke baritonely about beauty and planning but in examining my notes, I realize I jotted down nothing of what he actually said. And Thomson still sounds as if she just recently joined the debate club. Her approach is exhaustively Wikipedian, able to talk about any topic that comes up but for no longer than 2 minutes a pop. Her ability to adjust to the crowd is as equally suspect as Ford’s. Last night speaking at the AGO to an audience with a large contingent of designers and architects, she began one statement as follows: “I don’t know if you know the ROM…” Yeah, my guess is they probably do, Sarah.

What was most discouraging about this particular evening was that it offered up the perfect opportunity for the candidates to unveil a grand vision of why they want to be mayor and how they see the future of the city coming together under their leadership. Not one of them rose to the occasion. The proceedings had started out with glimpses of heavyweights in the forms of David Crombie, Adam Vaughan and a pre-pubescent child. It ended with a choice of lightweights.

It may be time to turn our attention to our respective council races in order to send strong representatives to City Hall in the hopes of at least trying to mitigate the disaster that’s taking shape in the race to be mayor.

despairingly submitted by Cityslikr


The Debates Drone On

June 16, 2010

Walking out from Trinity St. Paul’s church… er, Centre after the latest mayoral debate, I was accosted by a young fellow who stepped in front of me, blocking my path and demanded to know if I was Rocco Rossi.

Now, I have been called a few names in my time that were not my own, many better, most much worse, but never one this curious. Was I Rocco Rossi? If I’d been quicker on the uptake, I would’ve acknowledged that, yes in fact, I was Rocco Rossi but I had no time to stop and chat since I’d just stolen Sarah Thomson’s wallet from her purse and needed to make a quick getaway. That would’ve got the Twittersphere a-buzzing.

I could then take my act on the road, doing a little door-to-door canvassing under the name of Rocco Rossi, not so much campaigning as panhandling, begging for money, claiming that my fundraising had dried up since Rob Ford entered the race. I’d accept non-cash donation as well. A nice hot meal would be nice because I was so very, very hungry.

Oh, the things I’d do if I were the pretend Rocco Rossi.

Aside from that unusual ending, the debate itself proceeded pretty much as expected except that George Smitherman was absent who, it would appear, no longer needs to debate his opponents now that China has anointed him Mayor of Toronto. Taking his spot up on stage was Howard Gomberg, one of the 24 or so “other” candidates officially registered as mayoral candidates. How the evening’s hosts (a series of Bloor Street West business improvement areas and residents associations) decided upon Gomberg remains a mystery. The debate moderator, Gus Sinclair, began to explain the selection process but then simply didn’t and moved on to the candidates’ opening remarks.

This only increased my cynical suspicion of nefarious motives in choosing Gomberg to warm George Smitherman’s seat. An actor, improv-ver, spouter of New Ageism and all round genial old guy who wows the audience with his beat poetry/raps, Gomberg might be just the candidate to scream “Fringe!” loud enough for everyone to simply ignore all the other outsiders as cranks, pranksters and jokesters. None worthy of further consideration.

That Mr. Gomberg acquitted himself to the degree of not being an embarrassment was a good thing. Aside from injecting a little levity into the proceedings, however, he didn’t bring much to the table but, at least, he was not the clown prince. How could he be, what with Rob Ford sitting beside him?

Clown, buffoon, gas bag and blowhole. All these descriptors of Ford come easily but they don’t actually do justice to the monumental ignorance the man displays in terms of governance. It’s all about customer service to Ford; answering phone calls, filling potholes, putting name tags on city employees. There’s a paucity of imagination in the man (and presumably his rabid followers) that is simply staggering. Every time he stands to speak or rather, vent, H.L. Mencken’s quote immediately springs to mind. For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

Of course, Rob Ford merely delivers the populist, grassroots version of the same song and dance sung by candidates Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thomson. Much of the evening’s talk was of fiscal responsibility, getting our financial house in order, running a tight ship, profligate spending and taxing. No degree of counter-argument penetrated their discussion.

Councillor Pantalone claimed that under the Miller administration municipal spending had risen less than government spending at either the provincial or federal levels. No matter. We must get our fiscal house in order before going to the senior levels of government, cap-in-hand. But the provincial and federal governments just posted $20 billion+ and $50 billion+ deficits respectively. They are hardly the paragons of financial probity that Toronto needs to be justifying itself to. Cities aren’t allowed to run annual operating deficits, Pantalone points out. Immaterial. Until we get serious about cutting taxes and spending, we cannot expect other levels of government to take us seriously.

So it went in circles. Ideology trumping informed debate which was especially discouraging last night as the audience largely brought their A-game, posing questions about land use development, population density strategies and socially inclusive gentrification. For his part, Joe Pantalone engaged in a thoughtful, deliberate manner, most of the time. But it’s a difficult slog as he doesn’t possess an orator’s power of persuasion, coupled with the fact his opponents were mostly content to talk trash and shit, brushing Pantalone off with the school yard taunt of Miller Lite. (No. I most certainly am not Rocco Rossi.)

Bringing me to a most unsettling conclusion: Giorgio Mammoliti came across as the evening’s most intriguing candidate. Setting aside for the moment all the man’s quirks and idiosyncrasies, he struck me as someone who genuinely is searching for a way to make this city better and more vital. Yes, his thoughts and plans drifted in and out of lucidity and he says sinister things like, I know where the money is, but he seems like a candidate who is not set in a rigid belief system. This leads to many a contradiction (even within a single statement) and backtracking which could well be a very solid indication that he doesn’t have a fucking clue what he’s talking about. Yet, on this night at any rate, it felt refreshing, popping up as it did in a sea of unyielding certainty and blinkered absolutes.

Or maybe I’m already desperate, clutching at straws, waiting and hoping for someone to step forward and give me one good reason to think that dark days don’t lie ahead for Toronto.

not yet but close to fearfully submitted by Cityslikr


The Smitherman Design Model

June 9, 2010

It’s becoming more and more apparent to us, here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke, that George Smitherman is not an actual living, breathing human being but rather a reasonably lifelike facsimile of one; an automaton programmed and hardwired to ape the sound, movement and cadence of a 21st-century politician without all the messy and complicated shortcomings like reflection, belief and the possession of a conscience. His rudimentary 1/0 algorithmic data processing capabilities deny him the aptitude of coming up with any original thoughts or ideas. The intention of his design is singular: to react, with efficiency, ruthlessness and little regard for consequences outside of winning an election race.

This realization dawned on us with the unveiling of Smitherman’s latest campaign platform this past Friday in a speech delivered to the Toronto Rotary Club. Reading through “PronTO” we were struck by the fact that it is a plan that could’ve easily emanated from the gob of Rob Ford. In fact, it did with Ford’s call for “customer service” at City Hall during the Better Ballots mayoral debate on June 1st.  Brazenly and, seemingly, without fear of being taken to task for plagiarism, Team Smitherman announced in the first sentence of their Smitherman Unveils pronto press release, Plan Will Ensure Quality Customer Service In City Run Services. [Italics and bolding ours.]

Coming on the heels of the Smitherman campaign calling a press conference to announce their candidate’s transit plans which was nothing more than a warmed over version of Transit City (which Smitherman has been mocking since announcing his intention to run for mayor) with a few subway dollops borrowed from rivals Sarah Thomson and Rocco Rossi, and a definite strategy is emerging. Steal ideas from your opponents that seem to be gaining traction with the public, repackage them in a malleable and generic language, add nothing new of your own, border it in regal purple and send the robot out to sell it as if it’s his. Repeat until October 25th.

It would be laughable if it didn’t seem to be working. The man has no vision, no new or innovative ideas to bring to the table. Nearly half way through the campaign and there’s still no real sense of why this thing calling itself George Smitherman wants to be mayor of Toronto. Yet, he remains the frontrunner, the ‘man’ to beat, even accepting an invite from the Chinese government for an all expenses trip to China for the International Mayors Forum on Tourism. Errrr, Robot George? You and your designers do realize you’re not mayor yet, right? First you get elected and then you attend global mayors’ forums.

This element of presumption has infected the mayoral campaign far beyond Team Smitherman’s arrogant certainty of victory. The range of discourse is as limited as the number of ‘credible’ candidates. It is presumed that the city’s spending is out of control. It is presumed that we are over-taxed. It is presumed that all our services are poorly run and bureaucratically inert. It is a closed loop, a limited buffet of choices and narrow breadth of discussion. The Smitherman campaign’s cherry-picking strategy is nothing more than the 1st Law of Political Thermodynamics: no issue can be created or destroyed, only transformed. Merely a regurgitation of easily exploitable hot button bullet points that keep new, innovative or even radical ideas from entering the debate and drowning the democratic process in its wake.

While this may be good for Team Smitherman and their walking, talking, sometimes overheating political replicant, it is doing absolutely nothing for the people of Toronto or their local democracy.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


A Night At The Opera

May 22, 2010

Sitting watching Bizet’s Carmen at Beijing’s National Grand Theater on our last night here in China, my mind wanders over a few things as this amazing trip draws to a close. For one, why am I at an opera? It’s not even the Beijing Opera which is what I thought it was going to be when Urban Sophisticat said he’d secured us a couple tickets to the opera. We are in Beijing after all. If not now, when?

Otherwise, this is just opera opera and I fucking hate opera. There, I said it. It is nothing more than an elitist art form that has long since outlived any purpose whatsoever other than serving to build grand edifices like the one we’re sitting in, listening to Bizet’s Carmen. Oh for chrissakes, Don José, run, run!! The woman is nothing but trouble!

The National Grand Theater or, the Egg as it has been dubbed, sits just east of Tian’an Men Square, behind the Soviet style Great Hall of the People. Designed by French architect, Paul Andreu, this wonder is yet another example of the architectural boldness we have witnessed in China. While Beijing is somewhat more subdued than Shanghai, it certainly hasn’t shirked from embracing modernity when the opportunity has presented itself. In a matter of minutes, pedestrians can stroll through a 15th-century, Ming dynasty gate into an alarmingly open space lined with mid-20th Brutalist buildings before turning the corner to find themselves staring directly into the sci-fi future.

China seems undaunted by its 5000+ years of history, at least architecturally speaking. Instead of being weighted down by centuries of tradition, China today has little trouble obliterating whatever it perceives to be standing in the way of its progress. It is not an approach I embrace wholeheartedly to be sure. In this mad dash to assume a spot at the head table, lives and communities have been completely overturned and not everyone is sharing equally in the country’s dizzying growth spurt.

Still, I could go for a pinch of the Chinese gusto, their dispassionate disregard for the past when it becomes a hindrance. China remains a conservative country in many ways, especially politically and socially. Yet in others it is bold in facing the future. We, on the other hand, think of ourselves as progressive and forward looking while displaying all the attributes of cringing, cowering, unbending obdurates. (No, that isn’t an actual noun but I like the sound of it so I’m going to use it in a willful rejection of convention. See how easy that was?)

If they need to modernize their transit system, they modernize their transit system. Us? We fuss and fart, wring our hands and gnash our teeth. We can’t afford it, we mewl. What about the businesses that’ll be affected if we tear up the streets? Drivers are going to be so pissed off at more delays, detours and congestion. Change is difficult. Outcomes aren’t always predictable. But there are points in history when standing pat is no longer an option.

And right now we are quaking and quavering in the face of necessary change, clinging to tried and untrue ideas and philosophies in the vain hope of ineffectually staving off the inevitable. Maybe we were nothing but the luckiest nation on earth, chasing off the original inhabitants just in time for the resource boom that rocketed us into the modern age. Our number came up and we cashed in.

That’s all about to change, however. Only those that recognize that fact and act accordingly will prosper and thrive. Tradition and history strengthen us as long as we recognize that neither is immutable. What once worked is no guarantee of future success. Sometimes throwing the baby out with the bathwater becomes an absolute necessity if the infant is actually the devil’s spawn.

The fat lady has begun to sing. In fact, it feels like she’s been caterwauling for some time now. As tempting as it might be, we ignore her aria at our peril. Time to step up and move forward. China is showing us that it’s possible.

prophetically submitted by Cityslikr