We Are Still Here

October 23, 2011

A week into Toronto’s ‘failed copycat protest’ (aka #OccupyTO) and the vultures are circling. Everyone needs to quite loafing around, dye their hair back a normal colour and go get a job. It was all so unnecessary, you see. There are no problems in Canada that need fixing. The banks here have all been model citizens, never once asking for any help from the government. I mean, what’s a little liquidity injection between friends?

Besides, the national editor of Macleans magazine, Andrew Coyne, has informed us that ‘Occupy Wall Street Has It All Wrong’. All wrong. None of it right, apparently. What were we thinking?! Maybe, just maybe, agitators in the U.S. have something to complain out, what with their higher level of unemployment and diabolical financial institutions. Coyne grants them his sage nod of approval. But here, north of stateside? Everything’s as it should be. Go back to your pods, protest people. Nothing to see or complain about here.

The mind reels at just how blinkered those framing our national narrative are. As if there’s no connection between this and that. Our banks are fine, proper regulation and oversight is in place and, technically, no bailout was necessary. It’s all good.

But the occupy movement isn’t just about bank bailouts and regulations. It’s about the whole corporate agenda that has subsumed our national interests. The placement of capital above citizens. Tax cuts and infrastructure deficits. Business before democracy.

Banks are not the only targets to be ‘occupied’. Toronto is home to the country’s non-renewable resource industries that continue to hamper any serious climate change discussion in this country. Mining companies that besmirch our country’s already tattered reputation at an international level. What’s good for Bay Street has become less and less good for Main Street.

So it’s never just been about the financial sector and bailouts. To think so seems like a deliberate attempt to compartmentalize and wish our problems away. Deriding and writing off the occupy movement smacks of shutting down an uncomfortable discussion you don’t want to have. Never mind those crazy, feet smelling, bongo playing deadbeats hanging around in the park. They don’t realize just how good they’ve got it.

steadfastly submitted by Acaphlegmic

The Golfing Age

July 7, 2011

So at our bi-monthly Golf Haters gathering last night, the conversation turned, unsurprisingly, to how much we all hate the game of golf. A few developed their animosity from a distance, never able to understand the appeal of the sport. Invariably, they’ll wind up mangling the quote attributed to Mark Twain, ‘a good walk spoiled.’

Another faction of the group were once in love with the past time but the affair soured, owing to either nagging shoulder or back injuries, liver breakdown, marital discord or the simple realization that they sucked and could no longer deal with the mental anguish it caused. More likely, there’s a co-mingling of those various factors. Whatever the reasons, these were lovers scorned and harboured a deep, deep hatred of golf.

Then there’s Tad Cromartey (or Thaddeus Reginald Stafford Cromartey V – actually he’s just the Fourth but prefers the feel of the Fifth). Tad was born to the game. In fact, he boasts of a driver and 3-wood as part of his family crest. Golf was the only game he ever played and he had played it ferociously in his day, even landing a scholarship to some school stateside way back when despite having absolutely no need of it. So ingrained was it that he had taken to wearing knickerbocker pants while playing as a sign of his fidelity to the tradition.

Now, not so much. When asked why, his answer’s straight forward and bold in its unflagging arrogance.

“The wrong element has taken to it.”

“The ‘wrong element’?” someone will ask, never tiring of the response it evokes.

“The Yahoos. The Yobs and Yobbos.”

“The Great Unwashed,” someone will chime in. “Those who can’t pull off the knickerbocker look.”

“All I’m saying,” Tad jumps to his own defense, “is that if you can’t make it through 9 holes just drinking from a flask, you don’t belong on the links.”

You see, for the Tads of the world, golfing in Ontario began its desultory decline after Mike Harris legalized drinking on the courses not long after taking over the Premier’s office. Up until then, the manicured greens were the sole domain of the Flask Drinking Set, golfers who liked the occasional nip after a drive gone wrong or putt improbably sunk. They were golfers who drank rather than drinkers who golfed. Tad initially took great pleasure from nailing a lout or two with an errant ball but the novelty wore off after a few years and his golfing days were numbered.

As an avowed Golf Hater myself, I too saw dark dealings in the Harris move to make outdoor bars of our golf courses. But my wariness, naturally, was more political. Amidst all the slashing, burning and downloading of social programs that comprised the early days of the Common Sense Revolution, the seemingly innocuous move to legalize drinking while golfing in this province crystallized what the conservative movement had become and would continue to be throughout the course of the next decade and a half.

Harris was a golfer. Duffer, he was called and he’d worked for a spell managing a golf club before entering politics. While he spearheaded what was to be a major societal upheaval that we’re still feeling the effects of in 2011, he found the time to make a hobby he enjoyed even more enjoyable.

Thus, neo-conservatism in a nutshell: what’s in it for me?

I wouldn’t call it selfishness. It’s more of a hermetically sealed self-centredness. Instilled is the idea that what benefits you will benefit others. The atomization of the political impulse to its simplest, purest form. The individual. Me want this. Me no like that.

That’s the opposite of consensus building. It’s more fomenting mob rule, whipping up emotion based on our two most primal instincts: fear and want. If you find yourself in a constant state of amazement at how successful such a strategy has been, don’t be. It’s fucking easy. We should stop labeling those who operate tactically in such a fashion ‘geniuses’. Real genius is the ability to quell that insidious wave of anger and build one on bigger, more affirmative principles.

But currently we’re living our lives in the Golfing Age whether we play the game or not. Highly individualistic, we wander around on artificially maintained green, green grass in groups of no more than 4, our direction based on the last, single shot. When we land in the rough or plop one in the drink, we’re entirely left to our own devices. We’ll see you at the next tee, guy. And watch out for the ticks while you’re over there.

And it suits us, too. According to a recent issue of Macleans magazine, “Could there be a better indicator that Canada is one of the world’s most prosperous, contented and civilized nations than this? We have the highest golf participation rate in the world.”

It’s difficult to argue with such solid, fact based metrics although my fellow Golf Hater, Tad Cromartey, might disagree with the civilized aspect of the claim. We are doing just fine because we golf. We golf because we can drink while doing it. For that, we have self-serving neo-conservatives to thank.

bogeyedly submitted by Cityslikr

Calling The Horserace

October 13, 2010

Is it just us here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke or is everyone covering this municipal campaign running out of gas? With under two weeks to go, it seems the news is now filled only with strategy ploys, endorsements, advertisement assessments and the candidates’ personal foibles. Although, to be fair, some of the candidates’ personal foibles have played a major role throughout the entire 2010 race.

Is this an unsurprising consequence of conducting such a long, long municipal campaign?

Some 40 weeks in and the front runner’s internal polling numbers were the big news story late last week. And guess what? Team Ford has the election in the bag, his victory so big that it’s going to cause a Fordian ripple affect, causing many pro-David Miller councillors to lose their seats. Yes, uh-huh, that’s right. Rob Ford’s got coat tails.

The timing of the poll really should’ve been the story. Ford’s face is on the cover of Macleans magazine with a less than flattering portrayal of the candidate inside. His morning press conference last Friday to paint in further details of economic strategy (ha, ha, ha) is a flop. He leaves staff to answer questions from curious reporters. And then suddenly, ta-dah, as if out of nowhere, their internal poll is released — old news apparently from 2 weeks earlier — showing Ford having increased his lead to almost 50%, pointing towards a landslide victory on October 25th, and a transformation of city council into more Ford Country friendly.

Only a few news organizations ran full-fledged with the story as if it were actually newsworthy (the Toronto Sun and 640 AM on your radio dial). But it dictated the tone and space of other coverage. Was the poll valid? Should we be taking the time to even talking about it? Ooops. We just did. What were we talking about before the poll was released? Oh, right. Rob Ford’s shitty, shitty economic plan.

Yesterday, Joe Pantalone released a proposal to give community councils more say and fiscal control (thus, in theory at least, more power) over certain local aspects of the city’s overall budget. An attempt, it would seem, to bridge the disconnect people are expressing they have with City Hall. Interesting. Let’s take some time to examine it and suss out the merits and—

Too late. Out jumps a poll that suggests Joe Pantalone is nosing up on the 20% mark while Rob Ford’s numbers have dropped back down into the low 30s. And suddenly, it’s now a 3-man race! Looks like a case of Joe-mentum.

But wait. What’s the deal behind the poll? Is it even real? Pantalone campaign manager, John Laschinger, once wrote a book and there’s a quote about making up a fictitious poll in order to breathe life back into a campaign. And what about this company who supposedly conducted the poll, Logit Group? They once were commissioned by Rob Ford for his own dubious poll. Maybe he’s behind this one too, in order to cut away at George Smitherman’s own support.

Speaking of Smitherman, did you hear a handful of former Rocco Rossi staffers are now supporting him?

Truthfully, this is the first campaign that we’ve covered in this kind of depth (as shallow as it may be. You should’ve seen how uninformed we were previously). Maybe this is simply par for the course. Accusations of horse race coverage with other elections are not unusual. Marks given purely on style. Some deducted for trying to introduce substance.

Yet, it’s not too far off the mark to suggest that there has been a general paucity of ideas, a lack of that vision thing, if you will, throughout this entire campaign. The narrative structure was built on a faulty premise or, at least, a grotesquely delusive one of a free spending, insular City Hall who had lost all touch with reality and the people it was supposed to be serving. Feeding anger rather than addressing it.

Where does one take such a distorted view over the course of 10 months or so? By building bigger fabrications and offering questionable solutions to problems that exist nowhere near the degree that’s been claimed. Eventually (hopefully), reality rears its head and forces some sort of step back from the apocalypse. The artificial edifice creaks a little under the ponderous weight of heavy falsehoods and misrepresentations.

But the story is firmly set. Time to talk policy turkey is over. Candidates have found their places and it’s now all about how they finish. Can they close the deal? What are the latest numbers suggesting? I have it on very good authority that…

Rumours and speculation are easier to report and discuss than analysis. That takes time and work. Implications become more obvious in hindsight. There’ll be plenty of time for that after the fact. Four years to be precise. After we all catch up on some sleep. For now, let’s just stay glued to the race and all its crowd-pleasing machinations because it’s sure shaping up to be a real nail biter!

photo finishingly submitted by Cityslikr

Reeve Rob Ford

October 12, 2010

I take no solace in the wilderness. Small towns strike me as neither quaint nor cozy. If they were so great, why aren’t more people living in them? There’s life enough for me in the city where I live and those that I like to visit.

So it was as much a surprise to me as it would be to anyone that I found myself on the shores of Lake Erie this Thankgiving weekend with a friend I had not seen in sometime. How had such a turn of events come about you ask? Well, with barely a warning, ___________ showed up atop his brand new Honda Gold Wing cruising bike on Friday a.m., wanting to take me for a ride. Initially I demurred, having not been on a motorcycle since an ill-fated trip through Morocco sometime during my undergraduate years. But the bike was big and shiny, and I had no particular plans this long weekend. The weather was supposed to be glorious. If not now, when?

___________ and I had become acquainted when he appeared at my high school for a couple years there in the middle. He had a brilliant mind, effortlessly understanding the more complicated regions of math, physics and chemistry. Probably not coincidentally, he also had an affinity for mind altering substances, the more exotic the better. It was clear even back then that there was going to be a battle waged between academia and narcotics for ___________’s heart and mind.

Over the course of the next ___ years, he would flit in and out of my life. At times I was never sure how exactly he discovered my whereabouts, only adding to his mystique. That, and the fact he was always very circumspect about what he was doing for a living. Weapons development (including biological). Alternative energy research. The last time we chatted, he’d talked fondly of MBSs and CDOs which, when I questioned him about over pie on a break from the ride, he smiled either grimly or smugly, I couldn’t judge, and said, “High finance is not for the meek. And I’ve dealt with anthrax, buddy.”

How this all relates to you and this site comes from the Friday night of my trip. We wound up in the little lakeside hamlet of Port Stanley at a friend of __________’s. Let’s call him __________2; an organic farmer who, when I asked what he farmed, smiled a similar smile I’d seen on the face of __________ when I asked about his role in the financial crisis. Part of me wondered if this whole trip had been planned to make me the fall guy for whatever it was these two were involved with. But that was probably just the paranoid stage I was experiencing at the time.

We’d finished a delicious dinner cooked by __________2’s live-in cook, an elderly gentleman hailing from Japan, and were sitting around, watching the news. __________2’s satellite system piped in a news feed from Toronto with an item featuring Rob Ford’s press conference earlier in the day where he further attempted to outline his economic plan if elected mayor. I had been enjoying an election-free few hours and was hoping that the story would pass unremarked upon as I just didn’t feel up to getting into all the gory details. Alas, it was not to be.

“Toronto’s going to elect that dude to be its mayor?” _________ asked. First, I was caught off guard realizing that there were people out there who weren’t aware of our situation, who hadn’t been following along to every twist and turn in our municipal campaign. Rob Ford had even made it onto the front cover of last week’s Macleans magazine. This must be national news.

Recovering from my deflated sense of place, I then had to admit that, yes, there was a good possibility Rob Ford might be elected mayor. It wasn’t a done deal but there would be no surprise if it came to pass. Silence ensued and it looked as if that was going to be the extent of the conversation. It was a couple stories afterwards before __________2 piped in on the topic.

“That Ford guy doesn’t look like a big city mayor. He looks like a county reeve.”

It turns out that __________2 hails originally from Dutton, Ontario, a farming community some 35 kilometres inland from Port Stanley. He explains that a reeve is similar to the mayor’s position but for sparsely populated counties. “Interesting fact,” he sidetracks. The word ‘sheriff’ is derived from the term ‘shire reeve’.”

“From my understanding,” he went on to explain, “reeve positions were mostly taken by the dumbest sons from the more prominent local families. The ones most likely to hurt themselves or somebody else on the farm. They’d send them off basically just to occupy their time and be front men for the family’s interests.”

Both _________ and _________2’s cook laughed. I wasn’t sure if I was being fucked with. Some down home, rural humour I had no way of plugging into.

“Yeah, these Elgin county folks,” _________2 continued, “they used to spit out farmboys in droves, each looking just like the previous one but a little bit dumber.”

“Like Multiplicity,” ________2’s cook piped in. A reference neither ________ nor ________2 seemed to get as they turned back to watching the news without comment. ________2 started up his story again after a bit.

“By the fourth or fifth son, man, they were flat out stupid and if they stayed around the farm, inevitably something or someone got chewed up and spit out by the combine harvester that shouldn’tve. Or they cut off somebody’s ankles with a scythe. Usually their own. Fell through the barn roof and onto a prized dairy cow, breaking its back and having to put it down.”

At which point the three of us turned to stare at him, convinced we were all now being screwed with. Evidently not.

“Oh yeah. Elgin County. The Twin Peaks of southern Ontario. The tales of misadventure I could tell you…”

We then turned back to watch the news on TV and the start of a very odd Thanksgiving weekend.

And there you have it. Rob Ford, For Reeve of Toronto.

rurally submitted by Urban Sophisticat

On A Midnight Train To Beijing

May 19, 2010

A definite theme of this trip is beginning to emerge.

Sitting on the overnight train to Beijing from Nanjing, I can’t help thinking that I am a member of a society on the decline. If the 20th-century belonged to America (one in which we’d hitched a ride on the coattails of), things are most definitely not trending that way in this one.

I mean, come on! Here we are on what is a regular high speed train route, covering 1,100+ kilometres, in relatively comfortable if cramped quarters, as a simple matter of fact. At least, I assume it’s matter of fact based on the ease with which our two Chinese, non-English speaking cabin mates share their bottle of clear, solvent tasting but with a hint of blue cheese liquor with us. They regale us with grand stories of adventure, I assume, given their reaction to the tales they tell. We all sleep like babies until I stumble out to the bar car a couple of hours before arriving in Beijing in order to take in the passing scenery.

At home this kind of trip is treated as a novelty. Train travel as a throwback to an earlier time; something to do when you’ve run out of other vacation options. A relic of the past that has no real bearing on the future.

A side blurb in a Macleans magazine issue last month talked of China’s negotiations with 17 Asian and European countries to develop high speed train travel traversing the two continents, culminating in a Beijing to London link over some 8,100 kilometres in 48 hours. And we can’t even get our shit together enough to come up with a comprehensive plan to build a modern rail system throughout the GTA and Golden Horseshoe region. No, diesel does not qualify as a comprehensive plan, people. It’s merely indicative of small-minded, short-sighted thinking and a lack of leadership and balls. (The emerging theme for those who just tuning in.)

Oh sure, I hear you mumbling out there, a half a day behind me, we could be all out on the forefront and cutting edge too if we gave over to authoritative, autocratic rule. Making the trains run on time is easy if you set aside democracy. If China’s so great, why don’t you just move there, you slavering, pandering, useful idiot Sinophile? (Huh. A passing side thought. If you’re a fan of Chinese movies, does that make you a Sinocinephile?)

You know that’s not what I’m having you suggest I’m suggesting. It is far from perfect here. Even ignoring the political reality for a moment, China is still very much a developing country in many, many aspects. It is dirty, polluted and does consume an ever increasing amount of the world’s resources although it does seem to realize that and is investing heavily in alternate sources of energy to a much larger extent than we are in the west. There is a sense that by watching the emergence of China we are being offered a glimpse through the window of what our very own industrial revolution might’ve looked like. It is a very relevant question of whether or not China is attempting to sustain what is not sustainable.

But this is not about China. It is about us, the former masters of the universe, the west in which the sun is very much threatening to set upon. We are being eclipsed not because of imbalances in trade or democratic principles. We have simply lost our way, locked as we are in a useless and unimaginative ideological either-or standoff. Money, and the accumulation of it, has replaced vision and grand dreams of progress and enlightenment. There is an assumption of superiority on our part owing to the fact that we have already overcome the battles China is now waging. Been there, done that. We are waiting for greatness to return, assuming somehow that it is our birthright. This is how it shall be for it has always been thus.

History doesn’t work like that. It is largely trial and error, learning from our mistakes and adapting to new and varied environments. Past success does not guarantee future success. In fact, as we who once were giants might slowly be realizing, resting on our laurels is the surest, quickest way to find ourselves standing at the back of the que as the rest of the world blows on past us faster than, well, a high speed train on its way to Beijing.

wistfully submitted by Urban Sophisticat