On The Road To Nanjing

May 16, 2010

Reluctantly leaving Shanghai behind us, we set off inland for Nanjing, twice the nation’s capital. Perhaps the exquisite trains and subways had spoiled us but the bus ride was pretty well unbearable. Long, bumpy, jolting. It’s a sad fact that rather than see western car culture as the blight on society that it is, China has embraced it, buying into the lethal notion of car as status. Traffic in these parts is truly awful, making us homesick for the relative pastoral quality of our roads and highways.

It is the better part of a five hour trip and once I’ve quelled an unusual wave of nausea due to the bouncing and swerving and honking and smoggy air, I begin to take in the surroundings. Shanghai extends for fucking ever. We are still fully urban 3 hours into the trip. It goes on and on and on and on.

As I look closer, I realize entirely new cities are being built on either side of the freeway. Blocks of high rises, some 10-15 St. Jamestowns in number, some other more townhouse like low rises, roads, highways, major infrastructure rising up at breakneck speed for miles on end. Empty land is being gobbled up. Older settlements have been levelled or built around. New communities (most of which are surprisingly green and treed throughout) springing up relentlessly.

A passing billboard catches my attention. Export Processing Zones. In amongst these communities and cities, I begin to spot factories and plants (of the very non-green type) dotting the landscape or, in some cases, dominating it. Hey, look! There’s a Makita Tools site. Clearly what we are witnessing is the making of modern company towns right before our very eyes.

Moreoever, we are travelling through the destination of lost, well paying North America manufacturing jobs. That is not a condemnation of China (in case anyone’s listening in.) This is simply the outcome of the deal made by our titans of industry and signed on by us twenty years or so ago, in return for access to cheap trinkets and gewgaws. Here lies the remains of our healthy middle class, may it R.I.P.

What boggles the mind upon further reflection is that we’ve really learned nothing from this whole situation. We’ve applauded the Chinese for reaching out and embracing western style, free market capitalism while choosing to ignore the fact that the state, in fact, still holds a mighty heavy hand on the economic tiller of the nation. When the global economic meltdown occurred nearly 2 years ago now, fuelled by our laissez-faire attitude to financial regulation, lack of government oversight and a blind zeal for the market knows best thinking, it was China that weathered the storm more stably, didn’t dip as deeply and has come out the other end more vigorously.

Us? We stood by and watched as our governments came to the rescue of short-sighted failed businesses and bailed out greedy, reckless industries, saving our entire economic system from yet another cataclysmic collapse and then immediately upon spotting a possible turnaround started demanding that they step back, pay their bills and allow everything to go back to normal. No harm, no foul. Because remember, as St. Ronnie told us: government is the problem not the solution.

All the while, China marches forward, continuing to build its cities.

— also shamefully submitted by Cityslikr


Someone Should Stick To Food Reviewing

April 15, 2010

Maybe it was because I was awaiting major dental work that the article in last month’s Toronto Life got right up in and under my craw. “The case for privatizing the TTC” declarative on the front page under a tasty looking plate of pasta most certainly caught my eye as I was sitting in the reception area. Bold, I thought. I will attempt to set aside my reservations about the idea and listen to a well thought out argument on the subject. Go ahead, impress me, convince me, sway me, Mr. Chris Nuttall-Smith.

It did not take long for that openness on my part to dissipate. Never trust an argument that begins its journey with a long preamble full to bursting with aspersion casting and name calling of those that would be against said argument. It takes me back a quarter century or so to the 1988 federal election that was fought primarily over the proposed free trade deal with the United States. The anti voices expressed concern about the flight of capital southward to lower cost regions, taking good paying manufacturing jobs with it. Lily-livered, knee jerk, head in the sand, backward looking, parochial, old time nationalists came the studied response. Don’t be ridic-uuu-lous, to borrow a TV catch phrase of the time.

Cue irony machine and Homer Simpson D’oh! What’s that you say? Good paying manufacturing jobs? Never heard such crazy talk.

So goes Nuttall-Smith’s argument in favour of TTC privatization. Those who are against it are well-meaning but ill-informed, ill-equipped, fearful of the future and, worse yet, engineers. Why engineers have been bad for the TTC Nuttall-Smith never bothers taking the time to explain. He even calls TTC chair, Adam Giambrone, ‘Chairman Himbo’. That’s early on in the article and Nuttall-Smith’s argument never really rises much higher than that.

He quotes Giambrone’s response to calls for privatization of the TTC back in 2008 after it was subject to yet another unionized workers strike: “Aside from London, England, he [Giambrone] said, ‘There are no major centres that run privatized operations – there’s a reason.’” Nuttall-Smith quickly swats that claim aside, telling us, in fact, there are dozens of them and, after some more name calling, eventually gets around to listing a few although aside from a couple of exceptions, he reels off countries who have gone the privatization route rather than cities which doesn’t really refute Giambrone’s assertion about ‘major centres’. That’s called comparing apples to oranges, Mr. Nuttall-Smith.

He does have a couple examples of ‘major centres’ in his back pocket, though. Copenhagen and Stockholm have privatized aspects of their transit systems. And they’re both great! Although, strictly speaking, transit operations in the Swedish capital are only partially privatized. If I understand the gist of Nuttall-Smith’s argument, the buses and subway are public owned while the maintenance of them and actual moving of people has been contracted out to private firms. The whole operation is overseen and regulated by a public body.

An operation that is heavily subsidized, Nuttall-Smith quietly admits in a quick paragraph after all his ejaculatory swooning over Stockholm’s “private” transit system.  “Granted,” he states, “Stockholm does this with an annual operating subsidy of $900 million – more than double what we drop on the TTC every year…” Hello. What? More than double the TTC funding?! And didn’t you tell us earlier on in your article, Mr. Nuttall-Smith, that the Stockholm transit handles half the daily traffic of Toronto? So they get double the money to move half the people.

“But great transit systems cost money.” Chris Nuttall-Smith informs us.

Well then, how about this, Mr. Nuttall-Smith. Why don’t we first start funding this city’s transit system properly and see what happens. If things don’t pick up and turnaround after that, then we can begin to have the privatization conversation. With someone who can put forward a coherent case in favour of it instead of just ideologically driven drivel.

hungrily submitted by Cityslikr


If It’s 2010 The Olympics Must Be On Somewhere

February 12, 2010

But where?

As of now, this here is officially an Olympic no-go zone.

If you’re dropping by to get updated medal counts or the skinny on if there’s snow up on Sugar Mountain or wherever, don’t. We could care less and realize now with horror that we should’ve booked the next 2 weeks in someplace warm with an affinity more for dengue than Olympic fever. So loath are we of the whole shooting match that we have come to detest the normally soothing velvety tones of Canadian actor Donald Sutherland, due to his ubiquitous voice over plugs of CTV’s Olympic coverage. What is with you and Dirty Sexy Money, Donald?

And no, we are not petulant, bitter Torontonians who have looked on helplessly as the Olympic fairy has touched down 3 times now in Canada without ever alighting upon our humble burg. After the public fleecing and bequeathing of monstrously useless behemoths like the Big O on Montreal in 1976, we should’ve learned a valuable lesson and taken a pass on any further buggerings. Thanks but no thanks. From here on in, how be we just send a contingent of passable contestants and watch the proceedings on TV. Is what we should’ve said.

Instead we are all aflutter over hosting what has to be the biggest corporate clusterfuck after free trade, globalization and neoliberal economic theory. (Boo-yeah!!) It is simply faux patriotism; more benign than war but still mindless in its own right. How be instead of measuring the worth of our country in terms of its gold medal haul, we take pride in being the greenest country in the world? Or having the fewest people living below the poverty line? Or the fewest people dying homeless in the street? Or having the best educated high schoolers the world has ever known!?

But what about the athletes who have been training so hard? Hey. We all make choices what to do with our lives, and if you choose to spend your time hurtling down an ice chute at 4000 k an hour, my hat’s off to you. I don’t think we should be spending too much of our tax money so that you can do it faster than anyone else in the world. No, you aren’t that much of an inspiration to our youth. You are an inspiration to our videogame makers who will create virtual simulations of your sport for our youth to “experience” the thrill of from the safety of their couches without the fear of suffering massive head trauma. At least not of the physical kind.

So to all you Olympic haters out there? Let the ignoring begin!! It’s going to be a long, dark 2 weeks but there will be a brighter future after Vancouver 2010.*

*(Brought to you by the official sponsor of The Olympic Resistance Network. OK, not really. But we think you should give the site a read anyway.)

proudly submitted by Cityslikr