Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Lacking Credential’s 50th Post – Rob Ford the Assassin

I am happy to inform you all that after 9 months of activity, the Lacking Credentials weblog is commemorating and celebrating its fiftieth post with this facebook note. For the benefit of any anonymous readers who are smart and fortunate enough not to be on that foolish social networking machine (a goal which I am foolish to keep procrastinating hitting), I am also posting it here on the blog.

I feel that it is appropriate to do this roughly nine months after I started this blog. That the amount of time that has lapsed since then is equal to the length of the human gestational period gives me licence here to make an analogy on how this column I write has started from nothing, grown, evolved, taken shape and is now a little thing with life, life with nonetheless a long ways to go yet in its development. This "coming out" party for the blog does not aim to be significant or grandstanding, or to compare the blog's significance to that of a human life. Only to make you aware that this is something you now may want to take notice of, or get others who you think might be interested to take notice of, if for no other reason than me humbly, politely, earnestly asking you to.

In December of last year, some months into my first forays into freelance writing, someone suggested I start a blog. It hadn't crossed my mind, as I was spending more time trying to write short stories, articles and novels, and in my ignorance thought blogs were something in which people did nothing but talk about themselves, their lives, and their probably ignorant and impertinent opinions. Mastering a new technology for pointless narcissicism didn't seem to me to be a good use of time for what I was trying to do.

It turned out to be the best thing I could have done. Writing a blog ensures regular sit downs to work on thoughts and ideas, and more importantly gives a reluctant but hopelessly addicted consumer of news, articles, and editorial pieces on current a voice and a space to talk back to all the material being absorbed on an ongoing basis. Not only that, I discovered people doing the same thing as me in the blogosphere, but of course much better than me, being seasoned veterans that they are. Still, there is no feeling greater than hearing ones own thoughts and beliefs articulated by someone else and hearing voices that affirm ones own; I believe this is what all successful cultural products succeed at. I think my reading list shows how news information and current events really have become democratized by the availability of blog technology, and the work these people are doing is just an infinitely small percentile of what is available out there.

Writing "real" stuff on paper remains my principle pursuit and goal, but it requires a lot of edits, re-writes, research, and consulting with others which creates necessary delays in the creation and realization of content, especially when you're still stuck working for the man during the day. Writing fiction or non fiction you actually would want to show anybody is thus a much longer process than blogging, not that there isn't anything forthcoming from me or I'm trying to make excuses on that front. The nice thing about blogs, though, is sometimes you can write a pretty good piece sometimes in an hour if you're feeling inspired, just due to the nature of the beast.

But that nature of the beast is also a double-edged sword, and something inside me subconsciously prevented me from doing this until now. Told me it wasn't yet time to "do myself a favour" by "putting myself out there" and "telling my friends". Of course I have mentioned it to friends I see, in passing. There are issues that must be worked out, however, if one wants one's blog to be read by anybody. The ability of instantaneous publishing can lead to outbursts of verbal diarrhea. It can also lead to hyperbole and exaggeration. There is no editing or self-censoring mechanism built in, so ideas can quickly turn into long winded rants and emotion can carry away an article into several places where it might lose the reader. I still struggle with these things, and they are probably related as much to me as to the blog, but I think I have culled their occurrence to an acceptable level and the blog is consequently more readable and interesting now than it was at its debut.

Then there was of course the technology issue that kept me away for a long time. I groaned at learning that even on an idiot-proof, tech pablum platform like blogspot it is really difficult to make your blog look half-decent. Thankfully, I refused to be deterred at the very beginning and am glad at this point that save for 2 hours on a serious image clean up six months in, I am still working on a bare-bones, no frills surface. The articles are there and they are accessible and readable, and that's all I can claim to want to able to share with you. Eventually someone can maybe help me make the blog more visually exciting and appealing, but if this thing is going to have any exposure, it will have to be on the strength of its articles which all come from the same place (up here, on my throne in heaven - no, just kidding)

And outside the part of the blogosphere devoted to baby picture posting and embarassing personal droning about mundane lives, there is the problem of marketability for people wanting to get their writings out there. What "niche" are you trying to corner? How are you "monetizing" your blog? What separates your "product" from all the junk out there?

Thinking about those kinds of questions gives me an enormous headache, and I'm convinced that trying to act on them would make things worse starting with stealing the time I should spend gathering and writing ideas. I think the best shot one has is to be oneself. The blog is called Lacking Credentials because it is a play on my last name (which happens to include the verb "to lack") and the total absence of credibility I have to comment on the main subjects that interest me (politics, economics, resources, the environment, media, and culture) in a society that measure you by your credentials. I have no press credentials, no PhD credentials, no professional credentials, no artistic credentials, and no business credentials. I have no motivation or compensation to do this other than wanting to do it, than compulsively doing it.

So why should you read my blog? Because when you read the mainstream media, you get a cosmetic diversity of opinions and a token spectrum of views and perspectives. If you read enough you eventually realize that it is a crushing and demoralizing monolith of churning, status quo perpetration. The subjects I mentioned are discussed with about as much flavour as club soda and as much boldness as the weather report - or else are reduced, despite their significance, to being covered like sports. Most people can confirm things are going to shit on several of these fronts, and several commentators are skilled at documenting and providing commentary in that regard, but why leave all the fun to them? I just try to reasonably inform myself and weigh in. As I said before, there are many other excellent bloggers doing the same thing, much better and since way before I started. Some of their links are on my blog. I aspire to accomplish what many of them are doing, but from a new and different perspective. And if you don’t want to click on the link, here is the fiftieth posting right here. Without further ado

The Assassination of the Toronto Citizenry's Sense of Civic Obligations by the Coward Robert Ford

Toronto, Ontario, my hometown, is an anomaly in the category of comparably sized and populated cities on earth. It is a city that tops the charts in this group for both highest rates of car ownership and lowest amount of transit infrastructure. Its newspapers and genteel-elite continually moan about its exclusion from the planetary class of cities considered "world class", not realizing until the recent mayoralty campaign that the fundamental issue holding the city back is transit. This has become a central, if not the central issue of the campaign, but unfortunately the debate is framed in the worst possible way. A well functioning transit system on par with other global population centres (Moscow, Beijing, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, Milan, London, New York) could give Toronto some serenity to replace its current state of malaise, so great that the municipal campaign has brought the issue to the forefront…but, the municipal government is powerless to raise the cash and cut through various levels of bureaucracy to act in this regard. So, we complain on blogs and in letters to the editor. For the problem is there is no one person or even government to blame.

Toronto is the financial capital and an economic capital of Canada, yet stubbornly remains a political leper at the highest level of government – the one with the cash (or ability to borrow cash) to give it the transit it needs. No wonder, since votes in it are as meaningless as Democratic votes in New York or Los Angeles (to be precise – one fifteenth of the votes in Canada for one sixth of the population), and to boot they have been for the despised opposition liberals. The feds are thus happy to dump on the city by staging ridiculous boondoggle summits there and trashing its citizens as "out of touch elites" to consolidate their rural base. Naturally all while drawing a good chunk of the CRAs tax revenues and the country's GDP they love to brag about from the city. It is a city with a total vacuum of local leadership, vision, and priorities, which is frustrating, when you live there, and frustrating to witness other Canadians glee and schadenfraude towards when you don't. A man has now stepped into that vacuum. He is so popular he risks clogging the vacuum (pardon the pun) and his name is Robert Ford. He thinks the city can be something even better than what it is today: A parking lot. But isn't that what it is right now? No. You see, if only we took everything off the roads except cars (I'm looking at you, lousy good for nothing Kensington hipsters!), we would have unlimited space to speed down them He's talkin' tough, he's talkin' rough, he doesn't use big words, and he doesn't spend public money. The citizens of Toronto, in a twilight zone haze from being hammered day and night for decades by Sun Media about how they're overtaxed, underappreciated, and on the brink of being 3rd world, and reeling from spending their lives in never ending traffic, are confused and angry, and fleeing into the big mans arms in droves

Granted, the city's inertia can also be blamed largely on its property owning citizens, most of whom expect Port Elgin, Ontario levels of pollution, cost of living, and peace and quiet, but New York City levels of culture, amenities, and international visibility. The only city its size in the world with no train to the airport sees fierce NIMBY neighbourhood association opposition in Weston when it tries to build one. A city for whom the provinces energy grid is woefully under-capacity in terms of serving future demand sees another NIMBY blockage in south west scarborough over plans to put a weather station - a little weather station the size of a suitcase - 25km offshore in the lake to evaluate wind potential. Imagine if anything seriously futuristic happened like a biogas plant or dedicated tram lanes happened. No, Toronto is clearly in a gridlocking themselves to death in darkness mood these days. Ford's imminent election is what they want, and they will get it.

Before I go any further, I just want to clarify that his and everyone elses campaign promises are all bunk, because he is not a dictator who can decree his wishes into law the day after his election. He's a mayor who has to work with a council. So the spectre of fear hanging over Toronto progressives that their city is going to turn into Lubbock, Texas overnight is slightly overstated. Also, I want to clarify that all the other candidates are clearly non-entities not up to the job for allowing somebody like this to leap in front like he has, and I will not waste my time mentioning any of them (except Sarah Thomson, because she actually has an idea - yes, an idea! to raise money for the city. It's called tolls. Transit isn't free, so why are highways, considering the perpetual cash sucking pothole fields that they are? Again, look around the world to see examples of how these roads can pay for themselves and other things, and then look at Toronto). This article is a strictly non-partisan lament about how a guy who I'd probably have a heated conversation with at the bar, but am not going to bother taking down with straw mans because he's pretty irreproachable as a person. Just noticing a man with no ideas and nothing original to say has captured a city's imagination to the point that the populace is salivating to hand him the keys.

It is true that Ford deserves to be commended for not spending his council office budget. And it is true that his anti-waste message resonates and no other candidate has delivered a coherent narrative. But it is also unfortunate that people blame all their problems on the previous guy in charge, as if he was solely responsible for the city's over-extended and under-funded current fiscal state. I see the problems many frustrated voters see, but I recognize that they are not the product of one man's reign, but rather structural limits that prevent any real advancement or progress from being realized. A big one is the union cartels which sap the city of cash and overpay workers who have no particular value added skills other than having won the unbreakable public sector union lottery - to do jobs not beyond the average citizens’ abilities or comprehension in exchange ridiculous amounts of money and gold plated retirements which definitely are. Modernizing, environmental initiaives suffer because of it: The TTC is blocking meaningful transit expansion as much if not more than the province and the feds. There would be enormous cost savings to be realized in busting these unions, which the city have viewed up until now as sacrosanct as consequently has had to resort to slapping all kinds of fees on everything else, which has greatly annoyed citizens.

It doesn't start and end with the TTC. It spills over into other departments of the city, and indeed, other unions in all three levels of government: Police, Firemen, Teachers, Garbage Collectors, University Maintenance and moribund government office desk jockey employees have to all stop hiding and come forward to admit the enormous role they play in the unsustainably in-the-red finances of governments. As much as I am aware of the importance of taxes and hostile towards the mainstream media’s persistent framing of them as a negative, evil creation, balancing the books cannot be done on higher taxes and cuts to our vital social services alone. The cartels need to be called out, and they need to be called out soon.

So by now the Ford supporter understand that I am no CUPE shill. But the police, whose salaries and bennies I'm sure he'd never touch with a ten foot pole, have a role to play in the restoration of respectable public finances too. However, conservatives are generally hostile to government spending except when it comes to the tools of the state that could be used if necessary, god forbid, to enforce a fascist regime. But in an election about transit, in a city where transporting oneself is generally a nightmare no matter what means they choose (I can definitely attest to this), it is sad to see the front runner pounding the same message, day in and day out. Shut up, tax me less, and let me drive my f----ng car for free.

But those citizens need to realize that there is a price to live somewhere where everyone wants to be and every immigrant gets sent to. It creates enormous amounts of property speculation and inflation, as well as an overgrown populace that expects librairies, roads, garbage collection, etc. The feds firing one in three Canadian immigrants to Toronto every year, year after year, for the past thirty years, has been a major factor in its unmanageable growth and sprawl. Not that I am opposed to immigration, but for the city to continue accepting 50,000 new arrivals every year without making significant upgrades in its ability to move people and procure electricity is ridiculous.

Of course, therein lays Toronto’s real problem. Three levels of government are setting policies contrary to both the wishes and best interests of its citizenry, as well as contradictory to each other. And while voting for Rob Ford may provide some temporary cathartic relief for fed up citizens, it will not inject any new vision or comprehensive plan to deal with transit problems, finance problems or environmental problems - aspects of a decaying political system which no longer possesses the ability to work for positive change because of its multi-level, unsynchronised bureaucracy and the willingness of cynical individuals to exploit voters by pandering to their status quo instincts rather than explaining to them like adults what the f--- is going on and how they are going to collaborate with citizens to create strategies to fundamentally change how the city, province, and country’s infrastructure and political apparatuses are organized and governed.

Until then, Rob Ford looks real cool telling people to sit by themselves on the DVP for 2 hours every morning, letting their road rage rise by listening to whoever shills for him on CFRB, and taking out that pent up anger on cyclists once their Ford Expedition hits the narrow downtown streets. I, meanwhile, have no other candidate to offer you: who needs friends when this guys enemies talk about building tunnels to drive downtown in? It’s the same as the tea party, who are primed to take their rage out on America by drilling in its last remaining untouched source of oil, in Alaska. The fiercest denial from addicts comes at the end of the line. Odious individuals like these are not and will not be defeated by perhaps less offensive to certain, but no different in substance, “progressive” wannabes like the Ontario Liberals or the US Democrats. They will be defeated by $10 a litre gasoline. Or, by no gasoline, if OPEC decides to sell cheap to the end to try and maximize its gains. Either way, these guys are 100% right that transit is the issue of the century, and 100% wrong that everybody sitting in a car, by themselves, in gridlock is the best possible way to deal with it. I wonder if they realize what they are doing.
In 2007, Brad Pitt starred in a movie “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford”. It did not do very well but is a masterful movie, and is worth a watch. Jesse James, you may have heard, was a real life gangster and train robber in the 1800s. Robert Ford, who you most likely had not heard of before the film, was one of his lieutenants who suffered from a bout of delusion and killed his notorious and charismatic figure of a boss in a moment when Jesse permitted himself a fleeting second of vulnerability. Yet it was clear whose legend lived on, and who the oppurtunist suffering from an acute case of inflated ego-titis was. Rob Ford will be mayor because nobody’s stopping him now, and I’m not going to give the outgoing mayor or any of his useless opponents the credit they don’t deserve to say he’s assassinated them. No, it is surely the lack of civic engagement from a city whose structure and culture is not very conducive to it that has permitted this angry white man’s ascent. Although pockets of it have emerged from the scores of committed, concerned, engaged citizens living with the city, their voices are about to be trampled under a horde of suburban wildebeests, drowning out their shouting like James Earl Jones’ in the lion king when Mustafa fell to his death.

No comments:

Post a Comment