Political Genius Genus Evil

November 1, 2010

In the afterglow of Rob Ford’s surprisingly convincing mayoral victory last week came the inevitable outpouring of ink and bytes about the whys and hows of his win, complete with a revelation of a “dirty tricks” controversy. Actually, let’s call it more of a contretemps or set-to, to lessen it slightly from such a harsh moniker but mostly to cement my downtowner elitist status. Kelly Grant’s exhaustive piece in the Globe and Mail revealed a campaign team that was highly disciplined, relentless in ferreting out where its support was, tireless in punching the divisive hot-button issues that set the agenda from Ford’s entry into the race.

While I hesitate to use the word ‘genius’, as its constant misapplication drains all meaning from it, for my purposes here, let’s do so. Political genius. Eliciting the question, why does so much political genius manifest itself as the evil variety? Squandered as it is, attempting to make silk purses from sows’ ears, foisting upon the voting public candidates clearly unfit for office and out of their depth. George W. Bush. Sarah Palin. And now, Rob Ford.

Imagine if the likes of Lee Atwater (may he be roaming swelteringly the halls of Hell still), Karl Rove and now the boys of the Rob Ford brain trust applied their significant skills to the betterment of society rather than to the detriment of it. But, of course, that instantly answers the above question. They have no interest in contributing positively to society. Their political genius comes from having to mask that simple fact. On a mission to drive back the gains made for the greater good by FDR’s New Deal, LBJ’s War on Poverty and PET’s Just Society (or any other government intent on making life a little fairer and more equitable), they dance and sing populist songs, with generically uplifting titles like Respect For Taxpayers while exemplifying none of it.

They are the political ‘Hidden Persuaders’, Vance Packard’s 1950s term for the marketers and ad men who convinced the public that cereals were the only breakfast food, cigarettes were the epitome of cool with health benefits to boot, and that consuming more of everything than we needed put us on the path of enlightened happiness. We applaud them for doing their jobs well, for convincing us to go against our best interests and better instincts and buy into a truly toxic, detrimental world view. Yep. They got us to put the shotgun barrel in our mouths but, damn, were they smooth!

I have little doubt that Rob Ford, like George W. before him on Ronald Reagan before him, truly believes that government in all its forms is the source of much that is wrong in society today. Raised on the teat of neo-conservatism with his beloved late father a small part of the Common Sense Revolution, Ford may be many things but disingenuous about his politics does not seem to be one of them. He is the perfect spokesman and front man for the movement of the privileged class to be embraced by a big chunk of the population that shares absolutely nothing in common with it.

What’s even more remarkable about this political sleight of hand is the timing of the current version of the trick. Economic calamity brought on by overly zealous free marketeering combined with governmental lapse of judgment and negligence of duty. Crushing private sector debt piled into the public purse, followed by immediate calls of out-of-control government spending and demands for cutbacks and rollbacks. A mere two years after a deep lingering recession brought on by neo-liberal/conservative politics, we’ve already internalized the counterintuitive belief that only neo-liberal/conservative policies and politicians can dig us out of the hole they helped us dig. It is truly a bravura performance, delivered by masters of their profession who should be richly rewarded for their outstanding efforts in pulling such a feat off.

Except that, they are amply enriched by the narrow interests they serve and protect. Except that, inevitably they’re much better at campaigning than they are governing and tend to leave big, heaping piles of steaming crap in their wake. Except that, society is that much worse off because of what it is they do, the dark arts they practice.

You can admire, even applaud, those whose brilliance is obvious even though their purpose is contemptible. The great villains are always our favourite characters. But what we really have to stop doing is handing them the keys to power. They aren’t in it to make the world, the city, the neighbourhood a better place for anyone else beside themselves, and those sharing their perspective, regardless of how much they try telling us otherwise.

People who use their talents for evil should not be expected to do good. It’s not in their nature. We need to stop expecting anything else from them. Experience should’ve told us that a long time ago.

full of goodnessly submitted by Cityslikr


Resist The Darkness

October 2, 2010

Sitting here in the quiet of the office, the Goldberg Variations playing soothingly, at least in part to help drown out the snoring of Acaphlegmic who’s crashed on the couch having just returned from what he thinks was last night’s Nuit Blanche. Who knows what passed as art to him on his peregrination throughout the city.

There is a truly autumnal feel outside today and a kind of grayness fills the sky that crushes any last hope we might have still been harbouring that summer is not yet over. The peaches I bought yesterday aren’t nearly as sweet as the apples were. This means it’s now time to get back to business, nose to the grindstone, flip-flops replaced by wingtips.

Conventional wisdom had it that once Labour Day was past us, the serious campaigning for City Hall would begin with people setting aside their Harlequin romances and picking up a newspaper. We’d see a determined focus descend upon the proceedings; all ant and no grasshopper. It’s go-time, laggards. No more messing about. We have a mayor to choose.

Maybe because we here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke have been at it since the very beginning, way back on January 4th, but we’re just not feeling it. There’s no palpable sense of excitement or anticipation in the air. It’s much more like, dread and resignation. “Holy fuck. Do we really have to do this?”

The exception, of course, is over at the Rob Ford camp. They seem absolutely juiced about getting their guy elected mayor so that he can finally mete out some long overdue justice against all us downtown elite, tax and spenders. Yeah, it’s our turn, baby! You’re going to feel our rage. Positively negative, in other words. Building a brighter future through petty short-sightedness.

I’m sure there are those working for the other 3 “major” candidates who are just as passionate about their respective standard bearer but, frankly, at this stage it looks more defensive than anything. It’s in reaction to the Ford surge rather than proactive. Despite the glaring shortcomings of the front runner, neither Smitherman, Pantalone nor Rossi have been able to convince enough voters that they’ve got the goods to not only prevent a Ford win on October 25th but also ably lead this city in these trying times.

Leaving those of us still luxuriating on the gravy train with the dismal prospect of voting against someone not for them. There’s nothing upbeat or invigorating about that. It certainly doesn’t prime our pumps as we gaze anxiously into the future. At this point, things look as dreary as it does out our windows today. Damp. Dark. Dismal.

It’s also discordant (to continue my alliterative string). As we prep our plans to participate (can’t seem to help myself) in the actual Nuit Blanche, the energy and verve that will be out on the streets tonight runs contrary to everything we’re hearing from the front running mayoral candidates, save Joe Pantalone. Toronto is a city that feels like it just might finally be growing comfortable into its skin. Problems? Unquestionably. But I hazard a guess that they’re problems most cities around the world wish they only had.

So between now and election day, we need to take a moment to seriously consider whether we really want to vote for someone — under any circumstances – who thinks otherwise.

undisheartedly submitted by Cityslikr


Newwwwww York Is Where I’d Rah-zer Be!

April 21, 2010

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke are off to New York today on a fact finding mission. Our task? To suss out just what the big deal is about the place anyway. NYC. Gotham. The Big Apple. The Empire City. Father Knickerbocker. Simply, The City.

How come it gets so many nicknames? What exactly has the place got that makes it so fucking special, I guess is the job we’re setting out to discover. That, and Acaphlegmic scored us tickets from a friend of a friend who knows a guy who knows a guy that runs a website, and we’re going to a couple Yankee games over the weekend against their arch rivals, the Bosox from Beantown. The Walking City. The Hub. The Athens of America.

So we may be a little light with the postings over the next six days or so. There will be our regular Meet A Mayoral Candidate column this Friday, of course. And since we won’t be getting much rest as the city claims to be one that never sleeps, the odd occasion should pop up, allowing us to deliver a progress report or two about our research.

Also, keep your eyes peeled over to the right side of the page here for our Twitter entries (or easier yet, sign on and become a slavish follower.) We’re going to be spending the time away, trying to master the technology. Apparently, it’s all the rage with the younger set. And if there was ever a place that could be summed up in 140 characters, it would be New York City.

So, until next week, toodles. As they say in the outer boroughs.

Frommerly submitted by Cityslikr


Meet A Mayoral Candidate — Part VIII

April 9, 2010

Don’t know about you people but here it’s Friday, and here Friday means: Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

Up this week, Keith Cole for Mayor. So just Get Over It!

If ever a mayoralty campaign in Toronto needed the panache and zazz that Keith Cole brings to the table, it is this one in 2K10™®©. To date it has been a largely dreary affair, damp and musty with pessimism and hostility. Everything, it seems, is negative and out of control at City Hall and without severe measures, our future will be bleak.

With most of the frontrunners adhering to this narrative and vying to prove themselves the meanest, toughest, cuttiest and slashiest som’bitch out there, Cole is all about the positive. He is the can-do to the others’ can’t. We can’t think big in terms of public transit, they say. We can’t provide secure, well-paying jobs to our public employees. We can’t stand up to the egregious neglect shown us from the provincial and federal governments.

Well, colour candidate Keith Cole unconvinced and unimpressed to such unconstructive sentiments.

A performance artist, Cole is naturally passionate about the arts and what they contribute to the well-being of the city. “Toronto is more than TIFF, LUMINATO and Harbourfront Centre,” Cole told us. “Our city has more events (often free) in one week than anyone could ever attend. We have to foster, care and support the arts in our city. We are so lucky to have this vibrant artistic culture in this city but we have to care for it or it could disappear.” A timely thought, what with the battle now waging over how to use the revenue from the new billboard tax. Lead by the organization CityBeautiful.ca , there is a call for all the money to be directed towards the arts, a notion championed at City Hall by Budget Chief Shelley Carroll and mayoral candidate Joe Pantalone. That’s not going to happen this year but we have a pretty good sense which way a Mayor Keith Cole would vote on the matter.

But it’s not all about the arts for Cole. The overlying theme of his candidacy is civic engagement. Imagine JFK in a wig, dress and pumps, invoking his fellow citizens to ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country, and then tap dancing to Michael Sembello’s Maniac. That’s candidate Cole.

“Think of what Toronto could be if more people just got involved,” he said. “Educate yourself. Figure it out for yourself. Get involved with politics and your politicians, your community and your city.”

And pick up your own fucking garbage, we might add, agreeing whole-heartedly with Cole’s assessment of the city looking dirty, inundated as it seems to be with litter. True civic engagement means not thinking others are going to clean up after you. Or assuming someone else has called about that burnt out streetlight in the back lane or the huge pothole in the middle of the road. Engaging means participating and Keith Cole sees that as the first step toward living in a healthy, exciting and fair society.

Like many of the candidates running for the mayor’s office, Cole’s campaign is full of ideas and short on matters of implementation. How does one demand and get increased civic engagement from the population? In a city allegedly strapped for cash, how would a Mayor Keith Cole ensure that funding for the arts is maintained, even increased, in the face of competing demands from other sectors and the philistinism of a council filled with Rob Fords, Giorgio Mammolitis and Doug Holydays?

Granted, the task of building and strengthening is much more complex than the simple wielding of an axe to hack and diminish as many of Cole’s mayoral rivals advocate. Even though the theory goes that it requires more energy to frown than smile, the opposite is true when it comes to governing. Keith Cole stands for optimism, engagement and a heaping help of civic pride in Toronto. That’s an uphill, rockier road to travel compared to the easy and smooth sailing of political destruction and reactionary malevolence that has been the main theme of the campaign so far. This race needs to hear more from Keith Cole and the little ray of sunshine he would bring to the proceedings.

When asked to answer our feeble question, If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Cole like to see his legacy written?, Cole initially expressed surprise. “Is that what David Miller wants?” Thus, he became the first profiled candidate to call us out on the issue. We… think so, would be our response. Pretty sure we read that somewhere. Let us get back to you.

Having not had that cleared up for him, Cole gamely proceeded. Keith Cole Art Mayor, he told us but also wouldn’t rule out being The Bicycle Mayor before finally settling on a legacy. Art. Bikes. Green.

Now if we can only get the other candidates espousing such positive, constructive and proactive ideas.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Why We Love This City

April 7, 2010

Prone as I am to impulsive acts of merriment and derring-do, some of which have taken me far afield for weeks on end, I’ll be the first to say that there is a time and place for such pleasure seeking. One has to set boundaries or else it’s all play and no work. That, my friends, is the slippery slope on the road to pure hedonism, and take it from someone who has been there, done that and purchased the tank top to prove it, it is a tough, seductive slog back to the land of the dreary everyday.

So it was last night. We decided to take our editorial meeting out from the fetid confines of the office/media viewing room, pungent with the smell of non-stop sports spectating, chocolate ingesting and the agony of defeat. It was necessary to find a TV-free venue if we hoped to accomplish any semblance of work; jonesing as our colleague was with an insatiable need to cheer for someone, anyone.

We discovered just the place at the northern tip of the hot, hot west end strip of Ossington Street. The Painted Lady, it’s called. Had I known it would ultimately live up to its alluring name, I would’ve insisted on returning at another time when work wasn’t the reason we were looking for a bar.

Pure hindsight, unfortunately. It all stared innocuously enough. Ossington was quiet, what with it being the Tuesday night after a long, long weekend. The weather had returned to spring-like conditions from the blast of summer we’d received over the past few days. The Painted Lady was sparsely occupied, perfect for a work meeting. One could see, however, the appeal of it with a full crowd crammed into its fairly narrow confines. A slightly elevated stage sat at the back of the room past the long bar, underneath a ceiling decorated with deliberately gaudy baubles. Was that a picture of 70s icon, Xaviera Hollander aka The Happy Hooker peeking out from the back wall behind the drum set, slightly obscured by a heavy velvet curtain?

You want to say that The Painted Lady has a very lower, east side Manhattan feel but NYC comparisons are as futile as they are useless. It reveals a paucity of imagination on our part which I have just done by pursuing this thought out loud. So I’ll stop.

Things went swimmingly at first although it was a task to keep distracting Cityslikr from peering longingly up at the empty TV screen hung over the bar. We amassed future civic issues to follow, politicians and media personalities to praise and chastise. We even found ourselves downing delicious (if slightly sweet) pulled pork sandwiches prepared by our friendly if slightly reticent bartender who told us that this was something we could not expect when crowds filled the place.

Fair enough. But on this particular evening, all was well for the brain trust of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

That is, until the band arrived.

Why I didn’t insist at that very moment on paying up and heading out, I can’t honestly say. That the meeting was at an end was beyond doubt. There would be no more work talk to be talked. The bigger concern was for tomorrow (now today) and perhaps a few more days after that. I can personally attest to situations like this spiraling out of control and wanted no part of it now. My colleagues could not see (or chose not to see) the danger lurking. They were deaf to my protestations.

The band called themselves Rambunctious and were an ad hoc group of musicians featuring mainly horns and woodwinds with a drummer and accordion thrown into the mix. Only after it was too late did we learn that Rambunctious got together every Tuesday for an improv jam. And jam they did.

My best description of it was a sort of Broken Social Scene gathering playing dirty jazz. It immediately took me back to my days auditing religious courses at Loyola University in New Orleans where I frequented a down and dirty place called The Maple Leaf Bar, listening to the likes of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. It was that good.

Which is why I had to leave. Eventually. Someone had to be the responsible one and it was quickly obvious that neither of my colleagues would be up to the task. I gathered together my meeting notes and took one for the team, calling it a night prematurely. Bidding the other two adieu (which they barely acknowledged), I ventured out into the drizzle, looking back one last time to witness as they shared a round of Jägermeister shots with the band. No, they would be of no use in the morning.

As I made my way home, I wrapped myself in the self-righteously edifying cloak of being the responsible one in the crowd. Besides, there would be other Tuesdays for me. At The Painted Lady. With Rambunctious.

longingly submitted by Acaphlegmic


Meet A Mayoral Candidate

February 19, 2010

If today’s Friday then it must be Meet A Mayoral Candidate day here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

What’s that, you say? Meet A Mayoral Candidate? Since when? Since today, silly. It’s our debut posting of Meet A Mayoral Candidate where we shine a light on the neglected and overlooked candidates who are aiming to replace David Miller as Toronto’s mayor.

There are 23 of them in the race at last count. Candidates, that is, not neglected and overlooked ones. Since the race officially started in early January we’ve heard plenty from the likes of frontrunners like George Smitherman and Rocco Rossi. Giorgio Mammoliti and Joe Pantalone have soap boxes of their own. No, this is for those not given a fighting chance and thus ignored so far by the mainstream media as well as by nobodies like us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke. But today, that all changes.

So let’s get ready to Meet A Mayoral Candidate!

First up, Sonny Yeung. Vote Sonny Yeung!

A seasoned municipal candidate with two runs for councilor in ward 41 under his belt, this time around Mr. Yeung is vying for mayor because the race is wide open with no incumbent to overcome. Incumbency is an obstacle many new candidates face and at the municipal level it is almost an insurmountable one. Points should be doled out to any newbie who gives it a whirl.

That is not to say that Mr. Yeung is in the race purely due to the fact there is no incumbent to try and unseat. Looking through his website and talking to the candidate, he has ambitious plans if he becomes mayor with priorities being on the environment, education, job creation and cross cultural diversity. He pledges a solid commitment to public services that are vital to a healthy city especially those for low income families.

How this kind of social program heavy platform gibes with his avowed fiscal conservatism caught our attention. When asked about this, Mr. Yeung responded with talk of improving work flow processes, small modules and Master Budgets, leaving us floundering far out of our depth of understanding. It was more detail than we’ve been given by the frontrunners so far. Having already read through the proposed city budget, Mr. Yeung said he had thoughts on how he would limit increases to a 1-3% range for the following year, his first as mayor if he wins in October.

No armchair candidate, he has blazed a hectic schedule so far including participating in such grassroots projects as ChangeCamp, a citizen led event with the stated goal to “re-imagine government and citizenship in the age of participation.” While jokingly referring to himself as the Mayor With Hair (let’s keep that one to ourselves so that Sue-Ann Levy doesn’t try and run with it), Sonny Yeung does not come across as a frivolous, fringe candidate. He is serious minded and genuinely appears to want to make his city a better place to live.

The only mayoral candidate hailing from Scarborough (which we won’t hold against him), Mr. Yeung is also so far the lone candidate of Chinese descent which, given the abysmal visible minority representation at City Hall, presents another uphill battle to his candidacy. When asked to answer our lame-ass generic question we’ll ask of all candidates (If the present mayor would like his legacy to be that of the Transit Mayor, how would a Mayor Yeung like to see his legacy written? – OK, bad but not If You Were A Tree, What Kind of Tree Would You Be? bad), Mr. Yeung responded: I would like to see the Mayor Yeung legacy ushering in a golden era of change following the almost Great Recession.

Not pithy perhaps but a grand plan from a candidate worthy of further consideration as mayor of Toronto. Hopefully, he’ll get a chance to show his stuff on a bigger stage as we get closer to election day. Sonny Yeung deserves that opportunity.

dutifully submitted by Cityslikr


Don’t Be Alarmed, Folks

February 9, 2010

It’s still us, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

Same site, different look.

Why?

Well, we’re going for zazz, for edgy, for menacing. Like the city itself, we want to be seen as dark and moody. Besides, the theme name we’re using now, Black-LetterHead, is really close to an album name, Black Letter Days, by Frank Black and the Catholics. And Frank Black is edgy, menacing, dark and moody. Not to mention that he ROCKS!!

We’ve also switched some stuff around on the page, introduced an archives section which, hopefully, will allow you easier access to older posts when you’re looking for them. Over the next little while we’ll also be putting up a Blogroll with lists of other sites we like and follow. Maybe you’ll like and follow them too.

So, just sit back and stare at the new look. Enjoy. Because that’s all we’ve got today. I mean, it took us forever to get everything looking just right. There wasn’t really time for anything else. We have lives, you know. It’s not all about you…

huffily submitted by Cityslikr