The Naked Untruth

July 8, 2011

I’m not going to lie to you, folks. It’s really and truly getting damn near impossible to come up with new and exciting ways to have this discussion. Concerns over kicking a dead horse, jumping the shark and all that. The trouble is, it just needs to keep being said. Over and over again in the hopes that finally somebody clicks and gets a big, bright idea. The proverbial lightbulb. A sudden gush of much needed and long awaited wisdom.

It always starts with the same question.

What is it with fucking right wingers and their refusal to deal with the truth? I’m not necessarily talking about outright lies although that plays an integral part of their everyday discourse. It’s the half truths and distortions of facts and figures that really do the trick. Dissembling, prevarication, misdirection and misleading statements. Their reliance on what Stephen Colbert dubbed ‘truthiness’. If it looks like the truth and quacks like the truth etc., etc.

Witness the Twitter exchange for the last couple days over the plan to remove bike lanes on Jarvis Street. On one side are those against the move. The other comes from Mayor Ford’s side of the fence offered up by Mark Towhey, the mayor’s director of policy and strategic planning.

From Towhey’s twitter feed (@towhey):

  • Actually, wrong. Staff report shows travel times are up by 1/3, ie 130% on average #justthefacts
  • Wrong, actually. Report says 2-3 mins is average over 8 hour survey period. Peak delay is much, much higher #justthefacts
  • But your argument was about environmental impact, not social activism. Even the lefties say you’re, in a word: wrong #sosad
  • Pembina Institute says Ford plan reduces more GHG and takes more cars off road compared to Transit City #topoli
  • When did TEA stop being about the environment and start being an NDP front group? Was it always?
  •  #justthefacts 94% of Jarvis commuters use cars not bikes. Commute times for cars have increased; 33% Gridlock costs T.O. $billions each year

It’s hard to know where to start. There are so many distortions, cherry picking of facts and misuse of statistics at work here that it reads like a lesson plan on How to Win an Unwinnable Argument. Mr. Towhey obviously isn’t interested in having a debate but, instead, wants to print off bumper sticker slogans.

The Pembina Institute report he makes reference to does indeed suggest that the mayor’s transit ‘plan’ would take more cars off the road and reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than Transit City. That is, once the Sheppard subway is built. You know, the mystical, magical subway that the mayor believes will appear if he claps hard enough. Otherwise, the plan such as it is now is simply Transit City with more of the Eglinton LRT buried underground minus the Sheppard and Finch LRTs which, according to the Pembina Institute will take fewer cars off the road and won’t reduce more greenhouse gas emissions than Transit City (not to mention serve less riders.)

Towhey also attempts to conflate the very real problem of congestion in the GTA with the bike lines on Jarvis. He does this by taking reports that traffic times along Jarvis Street during peak rush times have risen by 1 or 2 minutes since the bike lanes were installed and blowing them up to eye-popping but meaningless numbers. 33%! 130%!! The power of Big Numbers and False Analogies. Congestion is costing us money. Jarvis bike lanes are causing congestion. Therefore, bike lanes equal money lost.

He does all this with such condescending assuredness (“Wrong, actually.” “Actually, wrong.”), utilizing dismissive Twitter hashtags like #justthefacts, #wrongwayonJarvis and #neverwasaplan that any reasonable person would conclude that he couldn’t possibly be bullshitting. Only someone absolutely certain would state things so emphatically. But remember what the master of modern propaganda told us. It would never come into their heads [the people] to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously.

For the Twitter uninitiated, you might be thinking that serious debate cannot occur in 140 characters. That’s true, but imagine Twitter as a delivery system for abstracts. Here’s a thought. Here’s a link. Let’s have a discussion.

Note how in none of Towhey’s tweets does he link to any of the data he’s citing. It’s all about flooding the social media with empty talking points that supporters can run with. Unlike someone like, say, Matt Elliott at Ford For Toronto. He tweets and links to reports and articles that explore issues fully, thereby making a deeper discussion possible. Read through just a couple of his takes on the Jarvis bike lane issues (here and here) and then let the debate begin.

But that’s the nub of the matter. Right wingers don’t won’t a serious debate. Why? My instinct tells me that, again citing Stephen Colbert, ‘reality has a liberal bias’. They can’t win on facts and figures. Their politics are based purely on ideology not reason or logic. So they must do what they do best. Fudge facts. Disfigure figures. Misstate. Misrepresent. Dissemble. Prevaricate.

So we charge into next weeks’ city council debate on the fate of the Jarvis Street bikelanes. An item that arose in stealth near the end of the last Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting when another lackey of the mayor’s, Councillor John Parker, sandbagged his colleague, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam whose ward the bike lanes are in, with the removal motion after the deputations about the wider bike plan had finished. No debate. No discussion. No transparency.

Mayor Ford said on the campaign trail last year, “It would be a waste of money to remove it if it’s already there, that is unless there was a huge public outcry in the area.” So, where’s the ‘huge public outcry’? Funny you should ask. Just this week the mayor stated that 70% of the phone calls he’s received have been in favour of removing the bike lanes. But as HiMY SYeD tweeted today, when he called to register his pro-bike lane view a staffer for the mayor informed him they weren’t keeping track of who called or their position on the matter. Where’s the mayor’s information coming from then?

Bringing us back full circle here. How do fight a phantom? If the old saying is true that ‘a lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes’ (and that was pre-internet), how do we rein it back in? Do we start hitting back below the belt, fight fire with fire, and heap on layers and layers of bullshit? It seems counter-productive and, more disheartening, takes us further and further from the truth.

After all, that is what we’re trying to achieve, isn’t it. Arriving at the truth. At least, that’s what I was raised to believe.

reasonably submitted by Cityslikr


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


Signing Off On Mayor David Miller

November 25, 2010

David Miller’s legacy? Rob Ford.

So conventional wisdom has it as our out going mayor gives way to our incoming one, again glaringly revealing our backward belief in the fallacy of correlation proving causation. (Simply because one thing follows another does not mean the first caused the second, people. How many times do I have to tell you that?)

Listening to Mayor Miller’s interview this morning with Matt Galloway on Metro Morning, I couldn’t help thinking that those waiting for His Worship to aurally prostrate himself before them and humbly admit defeat and beg their forgiveness for a job poorly done were going to be sorely pissed off. He did nothing of the sort. And good on him, frankly. Because if you are seriously going to look back over the past 7 years and conclude that this city is in worse shape than when Miller first took the mayor’s office than you are suffering from one of a host of ailments and quite possibly a combination of a few of them. Amnesia. Mental myopia. Congenital stupidity. Blinkered ideology. Factual debasement.

And your pants may even be on fire because you are a big fat liar.

Is that to say that everything the mayor touched turned to gold? Let’s not run aground on the shoals of false dichotomy here. To expect anyone, let alone our elected officials, to perform perfectly is unreasonable and the surest cause of disappointment.

The way Miller lead the charge in sweeping police actions at the G20 meeting in June under the rug was, for me, the low point in his mayoralty. No one truly concerned with civil rights could’ve urged the city to “…put what happened over the weekend behind us…” regardless of how politically expedient. In comparing police behaviour at similar gatherings around the world “…the only conclusion you can come to is that we have a police service that respects peoples’ rights, that acts with incredible professionalism…” Miller said at a post-summit press conference. That obviously wasn’t true when the mayor said it and it’s painfully obvious 5 months later.

Yet it does not make me regret twice voting for him and certainly would not have stopped me from doing it again had he sought another term. Others were not so forgiving. For those writing the history of Mayor David Miller will invariably point to the Toronto Civic Employees Union strike in the summer of 2009 as his undoing, his Waterloo. As the garbage piles grew, his support dropped and when he didn’t crush the unions into oblivion, well, the only conclusion you could come to was that he caved and handed over the keys to the vault to them.

Complete and utter nonsense, of course. Pure bullshit in fact. But no matter. “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes,” as Mark Twain suggested. The unions won. Miller lost. He had to go.

Never mind that in engaging with the union so aggressively, Miller went where no municipal politician dared to go before. Certainly not our previous mayor, Mel Lastman, who never made a peep about such contentious matters as banking sick days when he faced a strike by the same union in 2002. He still couldn’t come to any sort of agreement, needing provincial intervention to end that strike which, arguably, gave much more to the union than Miller did.

This is what should be the hallmark of David Miller’s time as mayor of Toronto. His resolve to wade in and deal with messy matters of governance that had to be faced for this city to progress.

Transit City. Bringing workable public transit to parts of the city that are dying on the vine without it. The mayor rightfully points out that it’s the biggest transit development the city’s had in 3 decades. Why? Forging agreement and the financial resources necessary is not very easy at the municipal level, let alone bringing the other two levels of government into the mix. So previous administrations ignored it or took half-measures to appear as if they were doing something.

Urban renewal. Especially in his 2nd term, Miller took to heart the social/economic divide within the city and endeavoured to initiate steps to address it. Thus the redevelopment of Regent Park and the proposal to do likewise with Lawrence Heights. The Tower Renewal Program to revitalize Toronto’s aging high rises. Targeting 13 priority neighbourhoods – most inherited from the pre-amalgamated inner suburbs that had created them – in order to address issues of poverty, crime and isolation.

Of course, the irony is that these same neighbourhoods and communities Miller had attempted to reach out to soundly rejected his initiatives and voted heavily for the anti-Miller, Rob Ford. As has been written at great length both here and elsewhere, there was a failure to fully sell these accomplishments to those areas most benefiting from them. Actually, it was probably more a failure to beat back all the misinformation about them.

It also suggests that politicians of David Miller’s caliber aren’t a dime a dozen. Without him on the campaign trail, trumpeting his agenda, it withered under the assault from those seeking to undermine it for their own political gains. We somehow expected another David Miller to step from the shadows, displaying similar skills and smarts. Now we should realize he may be the exception not the rule.

The simple fact of the matter is, David Miller didn’t elect Rob Ford. We did. He has nothing to apologize for. He presented us a vision of the kind of city he wanted Toronto to be and, after 7 years, we bailed in a shocking failure of nerve. We chose easy sentiment over hard work, pithy phrases over complicated solutions. David Miller is not responsible for the next 4 years. We are.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr