A Treme View

“No TV reviews!” our fearless leader shouted as he headed off for the weekend.

“This is a political blog!” he continued yelling on his way down the stairs. “There’s no place for pop culture on a political blog!” His belief is you can’t do both and do both well. “Just read NOW magazine if you don’t believe me.” (Not an opinion shared by everyone around the office.)

But now he’s gone and left me in charge. It’s kind of like tossing your kid the keys to the liquor cabinet as you leave town for the weekend with the warning, And no drinking. (As if your parents never did that.) I know I shouldn’t but it’s almost like a dare. Besides he can’t ground me although there have been times he’s tried.

While away recently up in the wilderness, I seized the opportunity to watch the entire first season of David Simon’s Treme on my hosts’ extremely large HD TV. I was a huge fan of his earlier masterpiece, The Wire, and probably overstayed my welcome in my drive to watch all 10 episode of his latest effort. But it was worth the risk of not ever getting invited back again. Otherwise I was going to have to wait until the show came out on DVD and would have to impose on someone else who owned a DVD player.

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Treme follows a diverse cast of characters (a Simon show trademark), from the upper crust who view the disaster as an opportunity to “reshape” the city down through those who have lost everything but their lives. It is a city at the proverbial crossroads, much of its past washed away — some of it storied, some of it checkered — when the levees broke and facing an uncertain future, caught in a stranglehold of competing visions. The old New Orleans versus the new New Orleans.

I bring this up not to show off my skills as a reviewer, for none do I possess outside of I like it, I like it, I don’t like it (and isn’t one Rob Salem enough, frankly?) It is the politics at work in Treme that I think is interesting and more than a little relevant. Not that I’m in any way trying to equate Toronto’s recent troubles with Hurricane Katrina but there are some interesting parallels.

An outside force beyond the city’s control blows into town and inflicts great damage, both physically and psychologically. In its aftermath, there is a scramble to be the first and loudest to deny responsibility. Victims are criminally mistreated. Those charged to protect and defend, do neither. Once a sense of normalcy returns, there’s the slow realization that nothing’s going to be the same again.

There is a feeling that for those who live in a city, whether its New Orleans or Toronto, events happen in which they have no say. Key decisions that will affect their lives are made without any input asked from them. Cities deal with the consequences and results of actions taken at a distance.

That’s the reality of politics at the municipal level regardless, it seems, where that municipality is. We elect clowns, do-gooders, politicians of the noblest intentions as our local representatives and ultimately it doesn’t matter. They have no role beyond carrying out the marching orders from those who have seized the true levers of power through a historical process that has remained frozen in amber, impervious to the imperatives of change and adaptation.

You’re doin’ a heckava job, Brownie.

A statement of obliviousness and indifference that resonates far beyond the boundaries of Orleans parish.

reviewedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Pardon Our Parking

It seems that nothing gets citizens’ knickers in a twist more than a parking ticket. While death and taxes are seen as the inevitably ugly aspects of going about the business of living, the acquisition of a $30 parking fine is nothing short of an outrageous assault upon our fundamental freedoms as car drivers and pop in shoppers. They are unfair, arbitrary and never, ever anyone’s fault but that of power mad traffic control Nazis and quota crazy, money grubbing local politicians.

So imagine the outpouring of bile when it came to light last week that there’s a whole ragtag system in place outlining in black and white who gets tickets, who doesn’t, who’s targeted, who’s exempted and how exactly one can go about fighting City Hall if one is so inclined. And guess what? It is unfair, arbitrary and there really is a quota system in place although, according to the Toronto Star, municipal pencil pushers call “the performance benchmarks for ticket issuance… ‘targets’”.

Targets alright. Like bulls-eyes on the backs of John Q. Driving Public everywhere unless of course you live in the tonier parts of town or work as a courier or are in desperate need of a religious fix. Not all drivers are created equally and if you know your way around the rules and regulations or have the money to pay someone who does, you are free to park wherever and whenever you want in Toronto.

That anyone would find any of this particularly shocking comes as a bit of a shock. Power and money buys privilege. Check. There are at least as many exemptions to the rules as there are rules themselves. Check. City Hall seeks to maximize profits through its parking enforcement arm. In the business world, that’s simply called increasing the bottom line and keeping shareholders happy. With  government, it’s considered overreaching and intrusive.

What’s most striking to me about the Secret Handbook On How To Beat Parking Tickets is the hodgepodge nature of it. Like much of our municipal jurisdictional structure, parking enforcement is still waiting to be streamlined into one unified code out of the 5 or so that were mashed up with amalgamation a dozen years ago. North York, for example, has a couple rules in place that don’t apply elsewhere in the city. So while we’re one big metropolis in name, we remain a place of neighbourhood specific parking regulations. It’s easy to see where that might get under an oblivious driver’s skin who’s just received a ticket for parking in a manner that wouldn’t be an infraction elsewhere in town.

And parking policies are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of defacto unamalgamation in Toronto. One city, many regulations.

Still, the empathetic bone I have for errant, ill-parking drivers is very brittle and far from set. There’s nothing more annoying than the plaintive noise coming from an aggrieved driver who’s just been issued a ticket.“What right do they have to give me a ticket for parking on a public road?! I pay my taxes. It’s my road too. I should be able to park wherever I want.” Yeah well, the flipside of that is who gave you the right to park your monstrosity on my public street? I pay taxes too. I’d much rather see that space being taken up for bikes or wider pedestrian walkways.

In case anyone’s still unclear of the concept, driving is not a right but a privilege and with that privilege comes responsibility. One of which is acquainting yourself with the parking rules in place when and where you decide to throw out the anchors. Most are pretty straightforward and when they’re not, well, you puts your money in and takes your chances. As the Secret Handbook shows, there are plenty of opportunities available to the enterprising, scheming freeloader who thinks just because they own a vehicle and some place is paved, it is their right and sacred duty to park there regardless of what any stinkin’ sign says.

idly submitted by Urban Sophisticat

Do Not Forsake Us, John Tory

Draft John Tory for Mayor?

So asks Royson James in Tuesday’s Toronto Star.

Draft John Tory for Mayor??

Apparently the tongues have been wagging about it for months now in the mouths of “unnamed armchair quarterbacks, radio talk show hosts” (of which John Tory is one) and “political pundits” (of which Royson James is one). “Average citizens and king-makers regularly fill Tory’s ears and stroke his ego by pleading that he run,” so James claims. I’m assuming that the “average citizens” are regular listeners of Tory’s radio show who, once vetted, are allowed on air to plead for Tory to reconsider his decision not to run for mayor. The “king-makers”? Step out from behind that curtain, Royson James. You’re just referring to yourself in the third person again, aren’t you.

In the impolite circles I run in, there’s been very little begging, pleading or praying for John Tory to get into the race and claim his rightful crown. And, as has been stated in the early pages of this site, I was a John Tory supporter back in `03. So there’s no overt hostility toward the man. It’s just that, nothing he did in the political arena subsequent to that instilled in me any fervor to see the man as mayor of Toronto. What have others seen that I’ve missed?

Have the candidates who are running proven to be so underwhelming that we are left to merely clutch at straws in the hope of becoming more excited and energized about the race? Even Mayor Miller who, by the time last summer’s garbage strike finally wound up was thought to be so unelectable that even someone like George Smitherman would defeat him, is now thought of having a good chance of keeping the mayor’s chair if he had another election fight in him. It’s an appealing prospect if for no other reason than to watch both Royson James and Sue Ann Levy’s heads explode, Scanners style, if that were to occur.

Instead of hitching our hopes to ultimately disappointing ain’t-gonna-happen wagons, however, maybe we need to reconsider why voters aren’t rushing en masse to embrace any of the mayoral candidates. Much has been made about the lack of a unifying, invigorating figure from the left of centre since David Miller’s announcement last fall that he would not be running for re-election, and again after Councillor Adam Giambrone’s implosion earlier this year. There’s been a stampede of candidates to the right. Yet, voters remain under-wowed.

Could it be that the problem isn’t so much the messengers as it is with the message itself? After nearly 6 months of campaigning and listening to an unrelenting stream of anti-incumbent, anti-government rhetoric from 5 of the 6 front running candidates, maybe the song just isn’t resonating with a majority of voters. If conservatives are really honest with themselves, they would have to admit that the dilemma they’re facing right now is that Councillor Rob Ford is the one candidate that is saying out loud what they’d all like to be saying: too much taxing, too much spending, too much government. That’s their message coming from the wrong messenger and, to paraphrase Barack Obama, no amount of lipstick on the pig, either with Rossi, Thomson, Mammoliti or Smitherman, can mask it. It seems that regardless of how fed-up everyone insists that the electorate is with the present state of things, not enough of them are willing to chant the conservative mantra.

So how exactly is bringing in another centre-right candidate with a dearth of new ideas going to change that fact? As opposition to the exiting Miller regime begins to soften and his Deputy Mayor, Joe Pantalone’s campaign begins to find its sea legs, maybe right wing candidates need to realize that the political ground isn’t as fertile for them as they had originally hoped, no matter how hard they plough or the number of farmers there are willing to pitch in and help toil in the field.

hopefully helpfully submitted by Urban Sophisticat