Imitate The Sun

June 16, 2011

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.

 — Henry VI, Act 1, scene 2

Yes, I used to know my Shakespeare, back when I believed such ‘fancy’ stuff like that made a lick of difference in this world. I was younger then. Bright eyed and bushy tailed. Hopelessly naïve. The real world had not yet set me on the more adult path of bitterness, despair and pitiful, pitiful acceptance of the ho-hum humdrum.

But I do remember this particular passage. Not so much the words themselves as the sentiment, the conceit. I am reminded of it often these days, watching in disbelief the antics of the low grade politicians that call themselves ‘conservatives’.

When the realization of their victory begins to sink in, whether in its inevitability running up to an election or in the hazy daze of their improbable win, we like to take comfort and soothe ourselves in the belief that, well, it won’t be so bad. They were just saying all that to get elected. Once in office, reality will set in. They’ll have to compromise. After all, we didn’t elect a king! This isn’t Russia. Is this Russia? This isn’t Russia.

It is the lowered bar of expectations. Not a question of how good they will be but how bad they won’t be. By anticipating the worst, we are, if not pleasantly surprised when that doesn’t come to pass, relieved at least that the world didn’t blow up or the institutions of governance remain functioning even at a diminished capacity. The sun still rises and the birds continue to sing.

The one big difference, however, between our modern day conservatives and the Bard’s heroic man who would be king, Hal, is that the fictional prince actually cleared the bar, spectacularly so, much to the woe of Hotspur and, ultimately, the French at Agincourt. This story shall the good man teach his son/And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by/From this day to the ending of the world/But we in it shall be remembered/We few, we happy few, we band of brothersAnd gentlemen in England now-a-bed/Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here/And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks/That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

By the time Prince Harry became King Henry, his sordid youth, his delinquent past, those low expectations served only as a counterweight, a compare and contrast to the glorious achievements he would attain once he stepped out from behind “…the base contagious clouds…” that did “…smother up his beauty from the world…” and broke “…through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.” Hoo-rah! Long live the King!

Conservatives these days never intend to clear that bar. They simply bull through, knocking it off its posts and insist on lowering it ever so slightly, incrementally so, to make another anemic attempt to hoist themselves awkwardly over it. We can survive the occasional misadventure but a steady stream of deliberate failures weakens us little by little, bit by bit.

In this rigged set-up, only the politicians and leaders who aim higher and exhort us to believe in the possibility of positive, inclusive change are the ones that flame out spectacularly. We expected so much. They promised us the moon but failed to deliver. Sure, we might be better off than when we started. But you promised us the moon.

Our conservatives suffer under no such illusions of grandeur. We expect the worst and appreciate it when that doesn’t actually come to pass. Oh well, we shrug. It’s bad, sure. But it could’ve been a whole lot worse. We sink back into a funk and seem content when we’re informed that we no longer want politicians who offer up grand visions or designs.

From Hal to Homer we’ve traveled. Homer Simpson that is, not the Odyssey Homer. “Trying is the first step to failure.” It is the mantra of the conservative movement. Hey. We can’t do anything for you. Stop thinking we can. Elect me. So we do and the sad fact is, we are never disappointed.

epically submitted by Cityslikr


If We’re Not Going To Take Ourselves Seriously

June 1, 2011

Friends and family often question my obsession with municipal politics. While recognizing its importance in the operation of our city, they express serious reservations about the cast of characters involved.

“Municipal politicians are clowns,” I’ve heard said. “Buffoons. Bush League. The B-Team.”

In part, I think such a dismissive view just comes with the territory. Municipal politicians oversee mundane but vital matters. Sewage, snow plowing, parking, pot hole filling. It all lacks a little nobility. Like sending off soldiers to die in faraway lands.

There’s also a degree of over-abundance, let’s call it. A problem of perception. Here in Toronto, for every 1 MPP or MP, there are 2 city councillors. So there are double the chances of experiencing clownish behaviour and buffoonery.

That said, it’s very difficult to ignore the fact that Toronto, especially since amalgamation, has flirted, courted and indulged in some very heavy petting with political folly. If Mayor Ford actually serves out one term (pending campaign financing audit), 10 of our first 17 years as a mighty megacity could, and very likely will be, deemed as an abject failure to take ourselves seriously. We’re all adults. How could we not foresee the consequences of our actions and realize that no good would come from the mayoralties of Mel Lastman and Rob Ford?

So yes. There are times, too — too many times it feels like — when following the municipal politics scene can only be viewed as a mug’s game. Rubber-neckin’ at a car wreck. Assistant coaching your kid’s t-ball team and your kid is the worst player on the team.

Why bother? Just step aside and let the big boys use the field.

Such a Bad News Bears moment played out last week when federal Finance Minister and Ford family friend Jim Flaherty came to town to last week to take part in the groundbreaking or another piece in the Waterfront Toronto development, Underpass Park. “This is transformative,” Flaherty pronounced. “It’s important not just for Toronto, but for Canada.”

Not just for Toronto. But for Canada.

Or as the mayor’s brother, Councillor Doug, has said, ‘a boondoggle.’ In fact, he wrote off all of Waterfront Toronto as “… the biggest boondoggle the feds, the province and the city has ever done.

The Fords seem unable to toss up anything besides lifeless hanging curve balls about belt high for other politicians with even a modicum of ability with the stick to go yard with. It’s not even fun to watch. Switching sports analogies, remember the teachers-students rugby match in Monty Python’s ‘The Meaning of Life’? Just like that.

Even with his fresh majority win in last month’s election and a minor Conservative breakthrough in Toronto itself, it’s hard to imagine the Finance Minister taking his late friend’s sons out to the woodshed on this. But maybe there was a bull session over son beers and nachos at the family compound. “A boondoggle?!” Flaherty exclaims. “A boondoggle!? I’ll give you a boondoggle. How about a cool $35 billion for engineless fighter jets? I know my boondoggles, boys. Waterfront Toronto ain’t one of them.”

The Finance Minster along with the local MPP and city councillor then head off to witness the start of this transformative piece of waterfront real estate. The mayor and his brother are AWOL. Like the mayor has been for every Waterfront Toronto meeting he has supposed to attend as a sitting member of the board. As a councillor, he wasn’t a big fan either of the city’s involvement with the waterfront, voting against approval for private investment near the Sherbourne Common late last year. (h/t to Ford For Toronto for all the links. We swim in the beneficence of your knowledge pool.)

It takes some doing for someone to make this Conservative government seem like city builders or deep urban thinkers. Yet somehow we’ve elected that very person and his equally blinkered and terminally short-sighted brother as our dynamic duo mayors. What does that say about us, as citizens, taxpayers, residents of Toronto? That we don’t care about how this city grows and develops as long as it doesn’t cost us too much? Or are we just cognizant of the fact that it hardly matters who we elect municipally? Ultimate power doesn’t lie with us or our locally elected officials. So why not just go for the entertainment value and send in the clowns. There’s only so much damage they can inflict before the adults step in and sort the mess out.

Such a condescending view, with correspondingly low expectations for municipal politicians, invariably leads to candidates seeking only to limbo under the low bar and nothing more. High fliers and over-achievers need not apply. As Homer Simpson once said, ‘trying is the first step to failing.’ Municipal politics is only for those who dare not to dream big or are merely content to take marching orders from their betters.It may be fun to watch for a little while but like any Punch and Judy show, the spectacle grows dismal and dreary. Humour is replaced by cruelty, and you’re left wondering why the hell you continue to watch.

clownishly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


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


Asleep At The Switch

January 26, 2010

Discover the cause, find the cure.

Apparently, we have now located ground zero for the woes besetting the TTC.

Yep. It’s been right there, hiding in plain sight behind the plexiglass at every entry turnstile. Napping ticket collectors. If only I had some sort of camera with me to take a picture of this. Oh wait. I do.

For Peter Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post “…the snoozing employee is a metaphor for a transit system gone badly awry.” (To Penny out there, that last word is pronounced ‘a-rye’ not ‘ah-ree’.) Where else but at the TTC have employees ever been caught asleep on the job? I’m going to assume nowhere until I see some photographic proof otherwise.

Kuitenbrouwer’s reasoning goes as follows: if we had some sort of smart ticketing scheme like they do in most other relatively advanced public transport systems, then no one would give a sleeping employee so much as a second glance. We’d just slap our magic card against the magic pad, push through the magic gate, stepping over they supine worker as we head off to our bus or train or trolley car.

I’ve seen it with my very own eyes at some of the best metro outfits in the world. In Washington D.C., going about your business with your pre-paid card and everywhere you look, transit employees just lounging around, taking it easy. And nobody cares!!

It doesn’t take too much digging between the lines of Kuitenbrouwer’s piece to get to the real gist of what he’s saying. The TTC hasn’t brought in payment smart cards because of lazy, shiftless workers like the one caught sleeping who has a $100,000/year job (and I’d really like Peter K. to point out to us where he found that statistic of legions of TTC ticket takers pulling in 100 K a year) for life because he’s a member of the all powerful, self-serving union. If we could just bust up this union, the TTC would truly be the better way.

And hey, why stop there? This city’s descent into madness started 6+ years ago when we elected a union friendly mayor who handed over the keys to the vault to all his unionized comrades in arms. Let’s bust up all the unions. Outside workers. Inside workers. The police… no wait. We like the police. They can stay unionized.

Because, let’s face it (and to paraphrase Monty Python’s Life of Brian), what have the unions ever done for us? They are the source of all our problems and ending their reign of terror will usher in a golden age of bliss and contentment the like of which this city has never experienced.

Problem solved. It is that simple.

assuredly submitted by Cityslikr