The Cat’s Pajamas

Lord knows, I am the last person who should be opining on what makes members of Ford Nation tick. It baffled me way back when upon his announcement of a seemingly quixotic run for mayor. It continues to flummox me some 18 months later as he blunders from one Ralph Kramden episode to the next. (And before all you snap to at your keyboards and start firing off offended darts at me playing the weight card, that was not my intent. The Ralph Kramden reference has to do with that character’s uncanny ability, week after week, to pursue a questionable course of action that everyone else could see would prove to be disastrous long before he did. That is, if you knew who Ralph Kramden was in the first place. If not, carry on.)

To be fair, I imagine we who remain immune to the charms of the mayor are as equally mysterious to his admirers. Non-working stiffs, champagne sipping socialists, teat sucking snobs, all lumped together in a scarf and cap wearing, bike riding amorphous mass intent only on sticking it to the little guy. Or so I hear.

We ain’t engaged in a war of ideas, is what I’m saying. It’s all about image and impulse rather than debate and deliberation. You shut up. No, you shut up. The delicate art of ham-fisted propaganda and the naked appeal to our rawest emotions.

So what to do with the picture that bubbled up from the Facebook depths this week of Mayor Ford shopping at Walmart in what looks to be a hoodie and pajamas. Let’s call them his relax slacks. Mockery and disbelief immediately spring to mind. I own an outfit like that but I hesitate to even wander out into my backyard wearing it. Hell, I wouldn’t be caught dead rolling the recycling and green bins to the curb adorned in such a downtime, post bath outfit.

But hey, that’s just me. Taking my social cues from Seinfeld rather than the sale rack at Winners. (Remember that episode when George adopted sweatpants as a look and Jerry chastised him for simply giving up?) There’s far too much relaxed fits wandering about on the streets for my taste, and I’m no Russell Smith although more and more I have pondered trying out a cravat on occasion. My sartorial bar is low but public displays of leisure wear do not clear it.

Certainly not if you’re the mayor of a major metropolitan city. That might’ve been fine when he was a fringe councillor from Etobicoke when nobody expected anything else from him. However, it’s something you have to sacrifice when you make the decision to pursue a higher office. Put on a pair of pants before venturing out in public. It just goes with the territory.

Then it hits me. The guy’s a fucking genius. And I’m being as serious as a heart attack here.

What better way to mobilize his base then to elicit howls of outraged indignation from the snotty, snobby fashion police amongst the downtown elite? His approval ratings are down, down, down. We’re gearing up for what could be an ugly budget fight full of cuts to services and labour disruption. Time to slip into something a little more comfortable and head out to the bright lights of a Walmart shopping aisle to get your picture taken.

Let the derision begin and the pushback will inevitably follow.

Because I’m going to bet that our mayor was not the only one shopping at Walmart dressed down to the non-nines. Again, I don’t say that out of any particular arrogance. Sub-casual clothing abounds up and down my street. Why wouldn’t it at Walmart?

So when we go into indulgent paroxysms of glee upon seeing the mayor attired as such, many folks wonder what the fuss is about. They wear their elastic waisted pants all the time especially when they’re off the clock. Give the mayor a break. Like everybody, he’s entitled to just kick back, chillax and shop. He’s just one of us.

Just one of us. He understands where we’re at, how we think. He’s always looking out for the little guy.

While he’s generating a simmering level of empathetic understanding (those meanies…always mocking him for his appearance) he also gets an additional bonus of diminishing the office he holds. What’s the big deal? I’m just the mayor not the Prime Minister or President or Pope. Nothing I’m doing is so important that I can’t go shopping in my pjs. Stop taking me so seriously, folks.

Then the Toronto Star runs this picture. Look at the guy. He’s stuffing his face with a patty. What’s with him and the eating in public? What a tool. What an embarrassment.

Once more, it plays right into his narrative. What’s the big deal? Everybody’s got to eat. So what if he’s lacking the media savvy to do it discretely, out of the media spot light. He’s just an everyday joe, going about his busy schedule, getting a quick bite in along the way. What’s wrong with that? He’s just like us. He gets us. He’s looking out for the little guy.

We have to stop falling into this trap. It’s too easy and ultimately benefits no one but the mayor and all his supporters who continue to see him coming under our scurrilous, personal attacks. It disables the valid criticisms we have of him and his administration. They’re simply brushed off as irrelevant, coming from haters.

We don’t have to engage Mayor Ford that way. Personal ridicule and mocking of questionable private moments is for those not in possession of valid and reasonable criticisms. And god knows, those abound here in Ford Nation. There’s plenty to pound away at.

Let the man eat. Let him wander around in public as a private citizen dressed however he wants. That is not how he’s inflicting damage to this city. Layoffs, cuts to services, the general all-round denigration of the public sphere will not happen because we find him embarrassing. We only help to increase the possibility of all that by making a social martyr of him, a put upon figure rather than the destructive force he truly is.

That’s why we oppose him, right? Not because he’s overweight and déclassé. Right? Right?

almost beratingly submitted by Cityslikr

Citizens As Monetary Units (Hee, Hee. Hee, Hee. He Said ‘Unit’)

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke… and by ‘we’, I mean ‘me’, still all alone in this office for months now… I’ve been pondering upon this taxpayer vs. citizen notion. Probably much of that having to do with our Walmart manager mayor, Rob Ford, and all his talk of ‘value for money’ and Respect For The Taxpayer and “Good morning, sir. Can I help you? Linen and nachos? Aisle 37.”

It’s a monetization of citizenship.

The issue reared its head again recently, with the questions of spending over at the TCHC and the mayor’s own words a week or so ago when he was sputtering out blather in an attempt to cover yet another homophobic gaffe. He’d been the lone voice at council to vote against taking provincial funds to provide STI awareness and screening. His publicly stated reason? “Everyone says it’s provincial money. No. It’s taxpayers’ money. So, you know what? In the big picture, they say it doesn’t cost the city a dime. Well, it costs people money…”

That’s when it hit me. No, Mayor Ford, it isn’t the taxpayers’ money. Taxes are the rent we pay to live in a civilized society. (h/t Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr..) We pay so that we can walk/drive/bike on safe, clean streets. We pay to have potable water come directly into our homes and to have the sewage taken away. To have our garbage collected. The snow plowed. To educate our children. Etc., etc. etc. Taxes are what we owe in order that we can inhabit a hospitable environment and more easily get on with living our lives.

Take a look at this and see the breadth of services this city offers in return for the taxes we submit. I’d call that pretty good value for money. And if you still aren’t convinced and resent handing over your money, let me paraphrase a Tweet I saw awhile back. Go live in the fucking woods.

Yes, there are always hiccups. Misuse of funds. Sometimes even illegalities. That tends to happen in organizations that deal with billions of dollars a year. So far, though, even in gravy laden Toronto, it is a very small fraction of the overall money spent and, as the Auditor-General report shows, mechanisms are in place to root out and curb excesses.

How taxes are allocated and who pays how much is all part of the negotiation of living in a liberal democracy. Parties form around that particular issue. Some elections hinge on it. (See, Toronto municipal election, October 25th, 2010.)

I attended a transit seminar earlier this week at the Institute on Municipal Governance and Finance where one of the speakers was Barry Watson, President and Chief Executive Officer, of Environics Research Group. In his presentation, he stated over 2/3 of people expressed a preference for better services to tax cuts. In fact, in a survey done last December entitled Focus GTA, just as the Ford Nation was forming, more than 3 times the people asked cited transportation concerns over the issue of taxes. According to Dr. Watson, for most Canadians (both inside and outside Ford Nation presumably) the issue of taxation is not a major fixation. 70% of us see taxes as mostly a force for good, and that’s down noticeably over the past 5 years. I wonder why that could be.

Cue the anti-tax crusaders.

For, it seems, taxes do become a dominant issue when we start to believe that they are being squandered by our government, when all we hear about is wasteful spending, disrespect for the taxpayer and, yes, Teh Gravy Train. It’s almost as if our one note mayor and his crack team of messengers researched this and realized they could put together a winning formula by just harping on, over and over and over and over, about waste, excess and disrespect, using big numbers and de-contextualized anecdotal evidence, to blow the situation out of all proportion and beyond the actual reality on the ground. If one tended to cynically believe in that sort of crass politics, that is.

That is in no way to diminish the problems that arise like we’ve seen this week with the Toronto Community Housing Corporation. But we need to step back and take a more measured response, to try and understand its actual scope and the true degree of malfeasance at work here. Over-reacting and baying like bib-and-tuckered bloodhounds (for all you Christopher Fry fans out there) is counterproductive. It only plays into the mayor’s hands and his anti-tax/government spending histrionics. Without our indignation and outrage, he’s got nothing.

To survive, Mayor Ford needs to de-couple the notion of citizenry and taxation. He needs to reduce our relationship with government to nothing more than a straightforward financial transaction. He needs us to accept his view that taxes are extortion. Money unjustly and, quite possibly, criminally ripped from our wallets and fed into the gaping maw of an overweening and insatiable alien life force that serves no other purpose than to suck us dry.

We know better than that. Let’s stop falling prey to this nasty appeal to our worst instincts. It benefits no one in the long run except exploitive politicians bent on delivering us whole hog to the vagaries and indifference of pure, unfettered free marketry.

citizenly submitted by Cityslikr