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I am experiencing Deep Feels.

When I moved to Toronto 15 years ago, it was like a weight lifted off me. I’m from London, Ontario, and I went to one of those high schools they set teen movies in, all football and sexual coercion and mean girls. I felt like the weirdest person in the world, largely because I liked reading and classical new music and didn’t want to drive absolutely everywhere I went or give myself skin cancer in a tanning bed.

So I came to Toronto, and I didn’t feel weird anymore. I felt positively normal. Everywhere you went there was someone at least 3 times weirder than me. You think nose rings are weird, London? Why, that guy on the streetcar has a hole in his ear you could fit a towel rod through. You think my unfortunate tramp stamp tattoo is an abomination unto the Lord? Well, I know someone who has two full sleeves and is trying to find someone who’ll fork her tongue for her.

Anyway. It’s been 15 years and I’m starting to feel weird again. (more…)

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* 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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The Jarvis bike lane is gone. Well, most of it…some brave people (including Ben for a little while) sat down in it and blocked the eraser truck yesterday, and today the truck actually broke down during the protest, so a few stretches remain…but most of it is gone, and soon it will all be gone.

I’m not going to go through the numbers on this, because this should be obvious – this was a dumb move. Bike lanes are win-win, not only for cyclists but for drivers. Safer cycling=more cyclists=less traffic. Honestly. I’m not even going there with the whole “we just built this damn thing and now you’re spending a few mil to remove it to shave maybe 2 minutes off of Karen Stintz’s commute? What?” thing.

But this was never a logical decision. It was an emotional one.

I’m sure I’ve mentioned Nixonland before. If you haven’t read it I recommend the audiobook – sign up for a free trial at Audible and get it as your free book. It’s a million hours long, so it’ll feel worth it – as the meatspace book is a weighty 1400-page doorstop that will cramp your style when you’re reading it on the subway/at the beach/in the dentist’s waiting room. Anyway, to make a very long story short, Nixonland covers not only the life and very interesting times of Richard Nixon, but explores his political genius: viz, taking the sense of outrage and oppression that arose from the women’s and civil rights movements and making it available to your ordinary middle-class schlub.

That is what Rob Ford has done for the drivers of Toronto: tapped into their (I’m sorry, but wholly unearned) feeling of oppression. It’s not hard to do – driving may be the ordinary, assumed form of transport, it might be subsidized by every level of government, and bad drivers may take lives with impunity, but it is still boring, expensive, frustrating, and dangerous. I can totally see how, taking car culture for granted, your average middle-class schlub would be livid at the implication that he should drive less, or she should pay more for the upkeep of the roads, or they should pay more attention to cyclists and pedestrians and take more responsibility for the safety of our roads.

So when a Richard Nixon or a Rob Ford comes along and says “These elitist downtown hipsters are taking away your right to a marginally faster commute!” it sounds good, it feels right. Never mind that it is actually wrong. Never mind that it is fiscally irresponsible and undemocratic and will without a doubt cause a few deaths. It allows the poor oppressed driver to strike a vicarious blow to that irritating cyclist who, undeservedly and with willful arrogance, takes up space on the road by having the nerve to want to get from point A to point B under his own power.

And this is why I kind of fear for our time. Never, ever, ever forget, we are monkeys who have convinced ourselves that we are gods. We like to think of ourselves as creatures of pure reason when we are ruled by the basest manifestations of our id, spitefully taking from others not because we need to but because it makes us feel good. Interesting times, yo.

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Note: If you don’t know who John Yoo is I suggest starting with his Wikipedia page. Then listen to The Torture Memos by my band, the Parkdale Revolutionary Orchestra. As you ought to know, this is a piece of creative writing that in no way reflects on the life or experience of the real John Yoo. I’m sure he has absolutely no trouble looking at himself in the mirror these days.

 

 

JOHN YOO STARES INTO THE ABYSS
A dialogue

YOO

I am not an evil man.
In fact I am rather a good one,
kind to animals, generous to beggars,
a good son, a timely taxpayer, a good neighbour.
I always pay more than my share of the dinner cheque,
I never leave my bins out after garbage day,
and my house is well-kept, neat, painted,
in accordance with the bylaws
of my Home Owner’s Association.
So tell me, Abyss, why I see your face
in this perfectly clean mirror
on this perfectly ordinary day. (more…)

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I know I haven’t posted in roughly forever, and no, I haven’t had the baby yet. I am currently three days overdue, uncomfortable, and cranky.

So perhaps that’s why this article from January’s Toronto Life irritated me so much.

I suppose I should have more sympathy for people getting by on a mere $10K or so a month, but I can’t help but find the entire exercise one of the more execrable things to appear in print in a very long time.

By way of an analogy: a couple of years ago a friend of mine dated a guy in his mid-twenties who still lived with his parents. She told me once that she was wary to get too deeply involved with him, because he had no life skills.

“He’s never had to pay rent or do his own laundry or buy groceries,” she said. “If I moved in with him I’d have to teach him how to do everything.”

So I offered to make him my intern – he could come and learn my domestic routines and budget skills. Because while I would not exactly call myself the proverbial Excellent Wife, I do have a shit ton of experience running an establisment on an income that has never quite crossed the boundary from inadequate to adequate.

Anyway, shortly after that she broke up with him for calling her a cougar in public (she was a few months shy of her 30th birthday at the time, FYI), so I never got to gather that bit of karma for myself. So in the spirit of positivity and all that crap I offer to share my experience with the cash-strapped upper-upper-upper middle class:

Budget tips for the 1%

If you find that your 10-15 grand a month just isn’t cutting it any more, here are a few simple money-saving tips from someone who is living on just a fraction of your income! In the exact same city as you, no less.

– Those really expensive cars you have? You might consider getting rid of one and sharing between the two of you, with an Autoshare membership as a back-up for when you really, really can’t do without two cars. It costs at minimum about $8000 to run a car in this city, so you’d save a lot even if you used Autoshare two or three times a week. You can also get a Metropass for about $1300/year.

– That expensive gym membership you have? You can cut seriously down on your need for that, cancelling it altogether or going for a cheaper option, by investing in a wonderful contraption called “the bicycle”. This can also take care of some of your transportation needs (see above), and will give you instant street cred with your kids, as well as something to feel superior to others over, which is clearly very important to you. (Note: I don’t recommend this to the couple in their 80s, clearly. I would suggest that if they want to save a bit they stop buying new Mercedes every three years and either stick with the cars they have or buy something a bit more modest, but hey. They’ll be dead soon enough, might as well splurge.)

– The several hundred dollars/month you spend on eating out? Because you’re too tired to cook when you get home from work? I suggest you suck it up and cook. I am frequently too tired to cook when I come home from work. I cook anyway, because I do not pull in $10000 per month and I can only rarely afford to eat out. You might want to stock up on some quick pull-together dinner things like prepared pasta sauce, prepared soups, and frozen entrees. These are less than ideal but cost a hell of a lot less than dinner out, even at Swiss Chalet.

– That $400/month you spend on wine? Buy cheaper wine. Or if you are already buying cheap wine, seek treatment, because if you’re averaging $11/bottle that’s 33.33333333 etc bottles of wine/month. If two adults are consuming more than a bottle of wine/day every day between the two of them, one or both has a problem. However, if you’re spending an average of $30/bottle that comes out to a more respectable 13.333333333 etc bottles/month. If you limited yourself to a couple of $11 bottles a week and one or two $30 bottles a month, you’d save about $250.

– That $5000 that one couple (who had no savings) spent on a chair? Buy a perfectly good chair for a couple hundred bucks and put the rest in your RRSP. Seriously. That is just dumb.

– There’s not an awful lot you can do about your mortgage, because real estate in Toronto is very expensive, but if you have the opportunity to do so consider moving to a smaller and/or less expensive house. Also turn your lights off when you leave a room and keep your furnace and air conditioning at reasonable levels, and if you run the A/C all day while you’re not there because it feels so nice to come home to a cool house, get a programmable thermostat and set it to start cooling 30 minutes before you get home. Or I will come over and beat you.

– Those nice designer clothes you wear? Wash them less frequently, every two or three times you wear them rather than every time. Trust me, no one will know, and not only will you save big on your energy bills, they’ll last a lot longer.

– Those vacations you take? Consider taking less expensive vacations. It’s nice to get away and all, but $7000/week is a bit much. You might think of travelling somewhere within Canada – hell, somewhere within driving distance – which is usually a lot cheaper than going overseas.

– And if you have kids, send them to public school. Trust me, they’re actually good here! There are even special arts and alternative schools that are hard to get in to, so little Peyton and Florence can still be superior to most children without it costing you $30000/child/year.

Anyway. I feel the need to add that I’m not hating on rich people (or marginally rich people, or people on the border of the upper-middle-class and the rich). I know a good number of people who fall into this income bracket, who have expensive cars and send their kids to private schools,  and the vast majority are very nice people who don’t complain about not having enough money. (At least not to my face.)

But this article made me feel like a bomb-throwing 19th century anarchist. It is a loathsome apologia for privilege. It exists, like a lot cultural ephemera, to massage the feelings of the well-to-do, to make really quite wealthy people feel hard done by. And like a lot of cultural ephemera it works, which is why we live in a city where it’s apparently unconscionable to ask drivers to pay $60/year for the privilege of polluting our air and clogging our streets, but totally OK to raise the price of a transit pass by that exact same amount while cutting service. Where outlying areas of the city deserve subways that will never be fully used, but poor seniors don’t deserve discount walkers. Where a cyclist’s life is put on par with a driver’s feelings. Where it’s legal to arrest and brutalize peaceful protesters, but not to peacefully protest.

I wish there were an award for the most despicable piece of journalism, because this would be a shoo-in. Well done, Toronto Life!

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– I didn’t expect to take 6 months off podcasting!
– Couldn’t talk about it and didn’t want to talk about anything else, then inertia took over
– There should be a law against child of former president becoming president – it’s unpleasantly monarchical
– Our own slow catastrophe in Toronto: Rob Ford
– He appears to be slowly turning Toronto into someplace where you drive everywhere and then go home and watch TV and you have to pay for everything and poor people are totally fucked
– Someday I’ll look back at this time and think “It would have been a different world”…

Link.

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The police are like antibiotics.

I am very grateful to live in an age where a simple infection isn’t a death sentence. Likewise I understand that some form of policing is necessary to maintain civil society.

However, antibiotics have side effects, can cause problems more serious than the ones they solve, can accidentally create super-bugs that they are powerless to stop, or sometimes just straight up kill people on their own. Likewise, unrestrained police can stop being guardians of the public and become the thing the public needs to be guarded against.

So just like we need to ration our use of antibiotics, the police need strong external controls to stop them from acting like complete thugs and, oh, I don’t know, pepper-spraying unarmed non-violent protesters in the face or cracking the skulls of war veterans.

*

In spite of my love of detective fiction, I am not a big fan of TV police dramas (though I have watched a lot of Law and Order in my time). Almost every cop show at some point or another runs a plot that goes like this:

– Sympathetic cop solves heinous crime (child murder, human trafficking, what have you)
– But can only get vital evidence by beating up/illegally searching/otherwise violating the rights of the bad guy
– Who then gets off based on cop’s misconduct
– And this is a bad thing which adds to the cop’s existential angst, as well as reinforcing a belief in the inherent corruption and evilness of the world.

This type of narrative, where you see police misconduct through the perspective of the misbehaving officer (whose intentions are scrupulously pure throughout), and this is presented as the only way for justice to be done, functions as propaganda for police overreach. The protections that keep all of us safe from unjust prosecution are the villains in the story; you can’t help thinking how ridiculous and evil it is that a child murderer got away because of a stupid rule of evidence.

In real life, of course, there is no omniscient author who knows who really did it, and gruff but kindly policemen are fallible humans like everyone else, blinded by their own prejudices, willing and able to fool themselves as to the justice of their actions. As we all are, don’t get me wrong.

Only most of us don’t go around in riot gear armed to the teeth.

So think about that tonight, Toronto, when the police step into St. James Park. Don’t imagine yourself as one of the cops, bravely defending us from lawless communism (or whatever). Imagine yourself as one of the defenceless, unarmed, unresisting people, who have decided to take a stand for something they believe in. Even if you don’t agree with the protesters, imagine you are one of them – someone with an unprotected skull, face, and limbs, facing down someone in a helmet, gas mask, and armour. And then tell me that linking arms and sitting on the ground is such a crime – is such a threat – that it requires violent retaliation.

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