* Cross-posted from On Memory And Desire*

One of my favourite advice websites, Captain Awkward, has a commenting rule: no remote diagnoses. No matter how much the letter writer’s annoying aunt reminds you of your mother, you can’t diagnose someone with Borderline Personality Disorder based on the description of a biased third party.

This is good advice, but rarely followed (even on Captain Awkward). Unless you’re living under a rock – and if you are, I might come join you for a weekend just to get away – you will have by now heard of Toronto’s mayor trouble. For the journalists of Toronto, Rob Ford and his antics have been the gift that keeps giving, as the man continues to reach new highs or new lows or just new levels of weirdness. It’s easy to treat the story as entertainment, and it’s difficult for those of us who are not fans of the mayor to react with anything other than schadenfreude. Or, to repeat a phrase coined all the way back in 2008, Schadenford (Noun: Perverse pleasure derived from observing the foibles of Toronto mayor Rob Ford).

But I am going to attempt to follow the good Captain’s advice and keep my itchy fingers off the DSM. I mean, it is pretty obvious that Rob Ford has psychological problems ranging from addictions to rage issues to some reeeaaally dysfunctional family dynamics – I hope if I am ever caught smoking crack my mother doesn’t take the opportunity to appear on national TV and call me fat! – but let’s leave the specifics up to the trained professionals when he finally makes contact with them. Plus that article’s been done already.

More interesting is the psychological profile not of the man himself but of the city which elected him. A brief history for the outsiders: (more…)

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Last night, moved by my own inerrant sense of my own correctness, I wrote a whole page of unsolicited advice to someone I know who is having a Life Problem.

And I am very proud of myself for NOT SENDING IT.

…Partly because I couldn’t find this person’s email address, BUT STILL.

So I’m going to get it all out of my system and give all the advice I’ve been aching to give people for, like, ever, but without any identifying information:

– Quit your job, you hate it and you can get something better.
– Nooooo, don’t quit your job, you might hate it but you would hate ANY job because you just hate working, get some therapy and learn how to be a frakking adult
– You are right about this four-day-long flame war you are engaged in, but FOR THE LOVE OF GOD JUST DROP IT
– You know how you asked if describing your sex fantasies to relative strangers was creepy? Yeah, it was creepy.
– Don’t beat yourself up! Please stop beating yourself up! Life is so much better if you stop hating yourself!
– That hard thing you want to do? You can do it!
– That hard thing you want to do? Huh, maybe start with something easier?
– Your baby should be wearing a hat!
– Your baby is wearing WAY too much for this weather!
– [additional baby-related advice redacted because nobody cares]
– Put a goddamn coat on your goddamn dog if it’s 20 below unless it’s a goddamn Husky

…And I think that covers it. Leave your own vague, anonymized unsolicited advice in the comments!

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So this morning my Twitter feed exploded with the latest iteration of the eternal, asinine debate: should we allow strollers on public transit? In this case: should we charge extra for strollers?

Because there is NO OTHER POSSIBLE REASON for our system to be overtaxed than the selfish choice of your Roncesvalles and Leslieville yummy mummies overloading it with their little Peytons and Vanessas in their Bugaboo Frogs, right?

SO LET’S STOP FOR A MINUTE. I haven’t got a lot of time to write this because I have to take Gus to the vet for a follow-up ultrasound – DOGS ON THE TTC! – but I have pretty much exactly three things to say about this.

1) Let’s check our class assumptions for a moment, shall we? The so-called “rich bitches” pushing those $800 strollers are a minority of mothers. (They are also not necessarily rich – there is a thriving second-hand stroller market and grandparents will frequently buy a nice stroller. They are also not necessarily bitches. I know a fair number of these ladies and they are the same mix of awesome, normal, and awful as everyone else.) Also those $800 strollers are usually much more compact than the $150 Safety 1st stroller you get on sale at Walmart. The woman you fume at for taking up so much space on transit with her infant probably has no choice when it comes to transportation. [Note: this paragraph has been edited to correct some unfortunate implications. “Rich bitches” is a common characterization of certain mothers, not my opinion of them. -kmh]
2) AND EVEN IF SHE DID – even if she has a nice safe car at home to whisk her child around town without exposing you to the indignity of having to share space with a tiny human being, she still has the right to use public services. As does her child. And be honest, when you see a woman driving a car with an infant in the back, do you say something like “Look at that selfish bitch, polluting the environment”? I bet you do.
3) AND HEY SPEAKING OF BABIES BEING HUMAN. Babies are human. They are not miniature robots designed with the express purpose of annoying you. They are human beings and members of our society, they have legitimate needs and desires, and have the right to use the same services as anyone else.

No matter what they do, mothers can’t win. I tweeted about this extensively this morning, so you may want to skip this if you follow me on Twitter, but I feel the need to go into it again. You are excoriated for being environmentally irresponsible by procreating, but also for being environmentally responsible by taking your child on public transit. You are told over and over again that you have to breastfeed or you’re a horrible selfish parent, yet people give you everything from the side-eye to the horrified stare to outright discrimination if you do it in public. You are expected to bring up a perfectly socialized child…without ever bringing them into society, because you can’t expect people in stores or restaurants or, hell, streetcars to put up with your child crying or whining or running around or otherwise acting like a child. Mothering is expected to be perfect, joyous, and invisible.

And I am really, really done with trying to live up to that impossible standard. Let me tell you a story.

Last May I was home alone with the baby for several days. Ben was away on tour for almost a month, but I did have either my mother or my mother-in-law here for a lot of that time. Anyway, during the time I was alone, Cecil knocked over my phone and broke the screen. The only place I could take it to be repaired was near the goddamn Skydome. I also had to get a birthday present for my dad (Bobby Flay’s Grill It!), and the only place I could find it for sale downtown was the Eaton Centre. So on a Tuesday towards the end of May I put Cecil (then about 3 months and 12 pounds) in the ring sling and went out to do these errands.

Have you ever slung a 12-pound weight around your neck and carried it around in 27 degree weather for four hours? It gets really, really heavy, and really, really hot, and really, really squirmy and uncomfortable when it’s a living creature who would rather not be confined in yards of fabric on a hot day. (To top it all off I was wearing giant rubber rain boots because the forecast called for a thunderstorm AND IT DIDN’T EVEN RAIN. Bastards.) But I did it, because the only stroller I could use with him at the time*, a giant plastic monstrosity, was much too large to take on the subway and streetcar.

And you know what? I still got funny looks and judgement and assholes questioning my right to exist in public space with my infant. No matter WHAT you do, whether you drag your huge-ass stroller up and down the subway steps or bite the bullet and carry your infant in a decidedly un-ergonomic sling for hours and hours on a hot day, SOMEONE will feel they have the right to tell you to GTFO.**

I still take (11-month old, almost 20 pound) Cecil around in a carrier – an Ergo, because he’s long outgrown the ring-sling – but if I need to, I do not hesitate to take my stroller. For one thing, he will only put up with being in the carrier for so long, being a very active near-toddler, and for the other, I do not want to carry 20 pounds of unhappy human if I don’t have to. And I shouldn’t have to in order to access a public service that is as much mine and Cecil’s as it is yours.

And if people are going to be assholes to me no matter what I do, I might as well do what’s most comfortable for me and my child.

For all the gains women have made towards equality, for all the strides men have taken towards being more active and involved parents, things are still not equal. Women are still much more likely to be primary caregivers of their children. If you limit the access of children to a public service, especially infants, you are limiting the access of women to that service. And if that isn’t a feminist issue I don’t know what is.

*The little umbrella strollers people talk about when they say “why don’t they use those little strollers you get for $30 at Walmart?” are not suitable for babies under the age of 6 months as they don’t provide head support and can’t recline enough. We started using one with Cecil about a month earlier than you’re supposed to because it was SO HOT that it was unsafe to take him anywhere in the sling, and his head control was pretty good.

**This story, of me going really above and beyond to avoid inconveniencing my fellow transit riders, I liken to my sex ed story. Due to the woefully inadequate sex ed I received at Catholic school, when I needed to know more I went to the public library, found the Sex for Dummies book, hid in a corner, and read it cover to cover. Good for me for taking responsibility for my sexual health, I guess, but you can hardly base a system around the assumption that everyone is resourceful and a good problem-solver. You cannot expect parents to do what I did any more than you can expect teens to do what I did.

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YES I WILL EVENTUALLY WRITE SOMETHING NON-DEPRESSING/NAVEL-GAZING/MOM-ESQUE. This is not that day. For some reason Cecil has decided that he wants to wake up at 6 or 6:30 and I CAN’T DEAL, GUYS. My brain, it is dead. I just cannot get to sleep before 11 and I don’t have time to nap anymore. I really hope this is just a phase.

Anyway, now that I have six months of parenting under my belt, I thought I would weigh in on the eternal controversy…well, eternal for the past 20 years or so when disposable diapers became common…should you use cloth or disposables?

I use cloth diapers myself, and I’m happy I made that choice, but there are reasons it is not for everyone. (more…)

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Anyone else out there following either the #ows or the #occupytoronto streams on Twitter? Yes? No? What do you mean, you’re not on Twitter? It’s like Facebook, only you don’t have to be friends with boring people you don’t like! (Just kidding, Facebook friends. I love all of you.)

Well, I have been following them, especially since I’ve come down with a bad cold and am on Day 2 of Staying In Bed and Doing Nothing (with the help of two masters of that art, Madeline and Gus). About 25% of the streams are news about the occupations, relevant articles, calls to action, etc; about another 40% are retweets of the same; about 10% some kind of legitimate criticism; and the rest pure trollery.

I’m not going to post screenshots, because I’m writing this on my Android tablet and I’m not going to run the risk of rooting it just so I can take a screenshot (seriously, Google, PUT SCREENSHOT CAPABILITY INTO THE NEXT ANDROID RELEASE), but just go look for yourself.

Anyway, the troll comments seem to break down thus:
– Occupiers should just get jobs!
– Occupiers are hippies!
– Occupiers smell bad!
– Occupiers are smelly hippies!
– The whole thing is a union astroturf operation! People aren’t really sleeping there!
– The police should just go in and beat them all up!

And since Twitter is the natural home of the Gish Gallop, I will respond to each of these in turn. Here, where nobody will read it. Oh well.

Get a job! – Um, putting aside the whole “massive unemployment thing”, lots of occupiers do have jobs, and go to the occupations when they’re not working. There is this thing called “free time”, you know. Some people use it to watch Dancing with the Stars. Some people try to effect social change. Vive la difference!

Hippies! – What is this, 1965? How is this even an insult?

You stink! – This may be true for individual occupiers, but as a whole I have not noticed an unusual odour coming from Occupy Toronto. And I have the super nose of a pregnant lady.

Stinky hippies! – WTF? Are you four? First of all, you are making assumptions about the personal hygiene of the occupiers, then judging them based on that assumption without verifying it against reality. Not only is it not really true, it is completely irrelevant – because even smelly hippies HAVE CHARTER RIGHTS. Christ.

Ooga booga UNION ASTROTURF – this is the oddest one. Apparently dear old Ezra Levant went to Occupy Toronto with a thermal camera and concluded that most of the tents were empty, ergo this is all a nefarious plot on the part of CUPE to do….something or other.

I don’t know what percentage of tents are occupied every night, but it is true that not everyone spends every night at the park. That’s because of my first point: A lot of the occupiers have jobs, families, and other stuff to do. Ben has been sleeping there about 50% of the time, because as much as he believes in this he has to work, see me occasionally, and continue fixing up our house so it’s not a disaster area when the baby gets here. Plus it’s hardly some ringing denouncement of the occupation that some of its members sometimes have other stuff to do.

But if this is a union astroturf operation and I didn’t know about it, Ben’s cheque is way overdue, CUPE! Hop to it! We need a new washing machine!

I hope the police beat you up – Well, that’s nice. Haters gotta hate, I guess. I really hope the police *don’t* sweep in and beat everyone up, and I think I would feel the same way if this were the Occupation In Favour of Kicking Puppies and Stealing Candy from Babies. Because I’m one of those weirdos who doesn’t want to see their political opponents assaulted. Call me crazy.

The gist of the trolls’ remarks (except for the out-of-left-field union conspiracy thing, which is I think a response to the very real astroturfing in the Tea Party movement) appears to be: I hate the occupiers because they are worthless and disgusting people. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that they keep talking about smells, even if they’ve never been in whiffing distance of St. James Park – for these people, the concepts of physical disgust and social value seem to be intertwined. (There is actual legit psychological research showing that exposing people to a foul odour makes them more conservative, btw.) It’s logically backwards – instead of looking at this movement, thinking it over, and coming to a conclusion about its merits, these trolls deciding the movement is valueless because the participants are valueless. And the participants are valueless because of their participation, which though nonsensically circular explains the baffling nature of some of the insults. Because if you were a good sort of person, you wouldn’t be occupying, so you must be a stinky unemployed hippie pariah who deserves nothing more than a good beating. And I know this even though I haven’t seen you, talked to you, or even smelled you.

There are legitimate criticisms of the Occupy movement. These are not them. These are a mishmash of weird essentialism, nonsense carried over from the 60s (seriously, can we stop it with the hippie thing? I wasn’t even a sperm in 1967 and I do not care about Woodstock), and straight-up authoritarian bootlicking. But like I said, haters gotta hate, so I don’t forsee them going away any time soon.

The Internet. It’s great, but jerks can use it too.

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So after the mammoth joke of a public consultation we had last week, the Powers That Be have spoken.

They didn’t raise TTC fares or cut daycare, but this is what they did do (via Now Magazine):

– No more free garbage tags. This actually makes sense – it’s not like they cost a lot or anything, and hardly anyone seems to use them. I didn’t use mine last year and can’t find the ones we got this year even though we could totally use them now. (Tags are only for extra bags that don’t fit in your city-provided garbage can.)
– Turning over the running of city zoos and farms (we have farms?), excluding Riverdale Farm, to private companies. Um, why? What’s the rationale here? Will the companies be paying for the concession, or are we talking groups of amateur enthusiasts here?
– Something about not trying as hard as we were to plant trees. Apparently Toronto had a goal to “improve our tree canopy”, increasing the tree cover in the city by 30-40% over the next 50 years. Now there’s no deadline, just like there’s no deadline on building bike lanes. Because fuck trees!
– Maybe cooling it with the planters on major streets. Because fuck flowers!
– In a Scrooge-esque note, turning The Christmas Bureau into a private charity, then cutting off city funds. Jesus, what’s next, taking crutches and wheelchairs away from poor people?
– Yep! No more Hardship Fund. Because a $60/year car tax is too much for drivers to afford, but a $2000 wheelchair is entirely within the means of someone struggling to get by on disability because they have MS. WTF, Toronto? What kind of assholes are we?
– Selling off the Toronto Centre for the Arts, the Hummingbird Centre for the Performing Arts (the Sony Centre), and the St. Lawrence Centre for the Arts. This seems really short-sighted to me, because these theatres cost an arm and a leg to rent and are booked year-round, so they must be turning a profit. You keep them, you get the revenue indefinitely. You sell them, you get the cash once and then it’s gone. (If the theatres ARE unprofitable, that’s probably fixable by raising the rental rates. It’s not like non-profit community groups are using them anyway.)
– Selling the Toronto Zoo. WHY? WHY ARE YOU SELLING THE ZOO? THIS IS EVEN MORE STUPID. Aside from the fact that, as I pointed out above, turning a long-term source of income into a one-time windfall is short-sighted, I don’t like the idea of a private company having control of, say, tigers. I don’t like the idea of Rob Ford having control of tigers either, but at least there are checks and balances in place to keep him from bringing one to council meetings and threatening Adam Vaughan with mauling. If the zoo is privatized ANYTHING could happen. It just takes one eccentric billionaire CEO and an unfortunate incident with the orangutans to lead to a Rise of the Planet of the Apes situation, people.
– Transferring the operation Black Creek urban farm to the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority. Again, I didn’t know we had farms. No opinion on this one.
– No more police officers at construction site. This I am totally in favour of. We do not need to pay cops $65/hour to guard holes in the ground. This was a sheer waste of money and I’m glad they cut this.
– Turning Heritage Toronto into a private charity. I don’t really know anything about Heritage Toronto, but they seem to be all about promoting and preserving Toronto’s, um, heritage. Don’t really have an opinion on this one either.

So overall, a couple of good ideas, a couple of meh/probably dumb ideas, some REALLY dumb ideas, and some egregious assholiness.

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Friends! Torontonians! Fellow bike-riding pinko latte-sipping weirdos! I have some news.

Did you know that you were a COMMUNIST?

In a refreshing blast from the past, City Councillor Giorgio Mammoliti went on the CBC, claiming everyone who came out to the all-night council meeting on July 29 was a Communist, quite possibly a card-carrying member of the Communist Party.

Because if you care about defending city services? You dirty commie! If you care about the arts or culture? Back to…um…whatever Communist countries are left in the world! (I guess China, though how communist China remains is highly debatable.) If you’re 14 and want to tell the Council how much your local library means to you? I HOPE YOU LIKE IT IN THE GULAG, LITTLE GIRL!

Because if you WEREN’T a Communist, you would have been working! All night! Every night! Only capitalists have jobs! Commies just sit around all day on their fat welfare cheques and annoy hard-working councillors in their noble struggle to turn Toronto into Detroit, only with slightly better weather!

Now I feel scared. Ben was at that meeting. Have I been married to a Communist for almost 6 years and I never knew it? He always told me he voted NDP, but how can I possibly know for sure? What else is he hiding from me????

Anyway. I should feel sorry for this poor fool. He is clearly losing it, badly, in public:

“I don’t want to hear from communists,” he said. “I won’t be calling them communists on the site, but I will be using the word ‘whatever’ to reply to them. If you see that word you can be pretty sure they’re a communist and I’ll be cutting them off of the site.”

In the 1980s, Mr. Mammoliti served as a leader for the Canadian Union of Public Employees. Later, he served as an MPP for the NDP, where he became something of a pariah for opposing same-sex benefits.

“That’s where I learned how communists smell,” he said. “They are the ones who tried to brainwash me then at a younger age. It was 25 years ago. I know how they think and feel and speak. I just don’t have the time for them. Their attempt to brainwash me back then didn’t work then and won’t work now.”

He maintains a broad definition of the term “communist” as “anyone who is able to work, doesn’t want to work and wants everything for free,” he said.

The page he’s talking about is his ill-fated Facebook page Save the City..Support the Ford Administration (double period most decidedly [sic] – it appears to be Mammoliti’s preferred punctuation mark. Ben actually got banned from the page for pointing out that ellipses are not generally used in place of commas), which he set up in order to hear from the “silent majority” of hard-working Torontonians who support our poor excuse for a mayor and his warmed-over right-wing policies.

The use of the term “silent majority” is a dead giveaway: Ford is our Nixon. Have you read Rick Perlstein’s Nixonland?  The description of how Nixon appealed to average, not particularly successful white people by making them feel as if they were being victimized by hippies and feminists and the civil rights movement sounds eerily familiar to anyone living in Rob Ford’s Toronto. Just replace “hippies” with “cyclists” and “feminists” with…well, “feminists”, and “civil rights” with “gay pride parade”, and there you go. Mammoliti’s batshit red-baiting is just an extra retro touch.

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