Thursday, December 30, 2004

Danny's Millions

From this ivory tower that is Upper Canada, I am particularly enjoying the rigmarole that is taking place these days o'er on the rock. It seems that fantastic lad 'Danny Millions' removed our dear ol' emblem from every provincial building in a sudden bout of fanatical regionalism. The sore? Words said, not said and apparently dreamt.

Uncle Danny has a long and proud history of opportunism. A Rhodes scholar by 19, Cable TV magnet at 25, practicing lawyer and most recently president of offshore oil and gas supply services company OIS Fisher (a major contractor on the Hibernia project), Mr. Millions has had the good fortune of being in the right place at the right time on several occasions and has over 300 million reasons to prove it. Thanks Dad. Contrast this with the jowled chap in the other corner. Mr. Martin is the son of a once prominent cabinet minister and recipient of a great deal of aid in the form of the gift called Canada Steamship Lines. Thanks Power Corporation.

Two peas in a pod I would estimate.

While this blog certainly has no love for Martin, I will grudgingly admit agreement this once. The flag is being used 'as a tool for partisan politics' and it has little to do with offshore oil revenues. While Nova Scotia remains at the table working toward a solution with the Feds, Mr. Millions has pulled the worn-out 'plight card' - otherwise known as the 'we were fucked in '49 and Canada will pay' doctrine. This position is carried by every man, woman and child in Newfoundland and is happily lavished on all Upper Canadians and anyone else who would listen at every possible occasion. Personally, I don't mind.

Unfortunately, this time around it reeks of something completely different. As far as I'm concerned, this eastern Ralph Klein has one goal in mind... using political expediency guised as sanctimonious nationalism to obliterate the rival Liberals from Newfoundland. After Danny and his band of PCs were elected provincially, the good citizens turned around and sent 5 of the 7 Federal MPs as Liberals. The split was pronounced. St. John's voted Conservative, everyone else Liberal - the usual townies vs. bayman shit. The blame for the poor conservative showing was laid directly at the feet of one townie in particular - Premier Danny 'Millions' Williams.

How do you counteract that kind of kick in the teeth, regain respectability and destroy your opponents all in one shot? You walk away from talks which Nova Scotia says have 'agreement on some issues', stomp your feet, pull down the national symbol and incite something that will unite all Newfoundlanders in song - the 'Fuck Canada' doctrine. Without a doubt, patriotism remains the last refuge of a scoundrel.

Usually arch-defenders of all things symbolic, the federal Conservatives are uncharacteristically quiet on the whole affair. I suppose the idea of five more seats in a minority house is a little more important than such trivial things as consistency and integrity at the present time.

If all goes according to plan, I wonder what will be in store for Millions if the Calgary School ever attains the holy grail? Fisheries and Oceans? My bets are on Ministry of Propaganda.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Social Gospel and the Legacy of the Canadian Protestant Left

At the end of the 19th century, society was at a crossroads. The laissez-faire model was not working. 1 percent of the population controlled 50 percent of the wealth and the other 99 percent mainly toiled 14 hour days - many living in dire squalor. Subsequently, restlessness [pdf] and rampant strikes became the mainstay. This was the age after all that spawned the various ideologies that preoccupied the 20th century.

Horrified at society's tailspin and the plight of a large percentage of the population, mainstream protestant religions and their middle class congregations began to question the methods and theoretical underpinnings of the era economic and social models. Resolving to remedy the ills of laissez-faire, they used their majority to reform the political landscape with a focus on institutional reform. Labeling their movement 'Social Gospel', the progressives went about assembling the modern welfare state in order to balance out the inequities of the market. The primary notion being the idea that salvation of the individual could be achieved through social improvement.

In Canada, the largest and most powerful church of the era - the Methodist Church (later the United Church) - was the most active social gospel proponent. It also served as the crucible for the creation of the Co-operative Commonwealth Federation (later NDP) and leaders such as J.S. Woodsworth and Tommy Douglas. Sweeping the Praries and the industrial heartland, the social gospel forces of the CCF/NDP and Liberals used their influence to foster social improvements such as Medicare and hydro nationalization.

While social gospel as a political force has been lost to the ages and the United Church marginalized, it is somewhat ironic that the secular progressive Canada so many covet today is primarily a Protestant construct of the late 19th century.

Monday, December 20, 2004

There goes the neighbourhood....

I've lived near Roncesvalles and Howard Park for over three years and I've loved it from day one. Where else could one get to know the King, drop by for some 'Miss Vicky's' or some 'Huckster suprise', catch a retro run of Manhattan on a random wednesday night or let some street kids do the cooking... and all within one block of home? Nowhere I would contend.

Too bad the neighbourhood is going to hell. These joints spells one thing - sanitization and sterilization via hipsters and trendys by the vespa load - and frankly it's time to get out. Call it progress, call it whatever... all I know is that it's not my bag as I don't own a trucker cap. Here's a bet the Village Meat Market will be a Starbucks by 2006.

I found a great little lane house near Christie and Dupont. I think I'll make a bid.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Weasel

As I shake my head over the latest developments in the NHL labour dispute, events which are undoubtedly season-ending in nature, indeed, as I watch this sad beast lurch its way into the courts for the agonizing denouement of what should have ended months ago, my interest as a fan has turned into a blind rage of the business of sport. Here we have, between two sides of varying guilt, a war of no scruples, of no concern for grander consequences, and containing an increasing subtext as to the job security of certain league and union officials.

Due to the daunting public profile taken on by ghastly labour negotiations, owners are often wont to say things like: "The union has finally admitted our numbers are accurate, otherwise there's no way they'd offer a 24 per cent rollback on player salaries." That such a statement is a jewel-perfect example of a non sequitur makes not a whit of difference; what matters is its rhetorical heft to the neutral observer, and a specific observer at that. That observer is the National Labor Relations Board of the United States, and they will decide the outcome of this labour war. The league will drag this sorry mess into the courts, where they will attempt to win an impasse by proving that they negotiated in "good faith".

Meanwhile, casual hockey fans continue to find other targets for their entertainment dollar, and they are as good as gone. This dispute is not about the game, the fans, the prices of tickets and concessions, the merits of the shootout, or the lustre of Kerry Fraser's mane. This is a power struggle between two stubborn minds, and the NHL is bigger, badder, and has more to lose.

Frankly, the NHL is crazy. What other business demands that its workers prevent their bosses from overpaying them? What organization takes one side's sheaf of proposal papers, spits back a single-page reply, and then talks about good faith negotiations? I am stunned that the public sides with the owners, trusts their word over that of a bunch of guys from Flin Flon and Kelowna. Don't they remember Bruce McNall? Bill Wirtz? The Rigas family of Adelphia Corp.? Michel Aubut, the great screwer-over of Quebec City?

I am appalled at the "rational" rules of engagement employed by these broke-dick courtesans: the strategic pollution of dialogue, the concentrated PR efforts, the intentional cognitive dissonance regarding the crucial concession that one side must eventually make to end this dispute, and further dissonance about the nature of this concession. Semantics, potshots through the media, gratuitous attempts to placate the other side with "independent" financial audits, figures posing as arguments strewn across news tickers. They even had meetings and then disagreed over whether they were had. It's all there. We are watching a beloved institution commit, as Dick would say, bureaucracide. And after the Union's bold attempt last week, I can place the blame only at the feet of the man they call The Weasel. And I'm not talking about Bobby "The Brain" Heenan.

I think back to the footage I saw of Gary Bettman talking to a group of hockey entrepreneurs and businesspeople in Edmonton. He speaks fraternally among hockey royalty, as their equal, of systems and realities. The crowd, mostly entrepreneurs involved in hockey, sit at their round dinner tables, nodding in silence. He sits in front of the giant Edmonton Oilers logo on the wall, and waves wild hands about "issues facing our game". Bettman's hand gestures contain multitudes about the man. He pins the air with pinched fingers as if to throw a dart at an argument, flutters his eyelids in self-defence, shakes his head dismissively. He hammers home crooked facts with the gestures of a scoundrel, a nervous comfort to his body while his mind spins marvelolus webs of inaccuracy and deceit.

He is a Commisioner that only an owner could trust. Fan loyalty scatters across both sides of the owner/player chasm, but Bettman is universally despised. No media source on the continent has ever seen Bettman characterized as a man of strength, as a leader, or even as a "hockey guy". He's a courtroom guy, a man of mandates, a silver-tongue hired to soak up equity and keep it where his constituency says it ought to be. He's never seen the shimmer of the ice except under arena floodlights.

Do not suppose that the chasm between owners and players is about philosophy. It's not even about facts. No fact can solve this dispute. Whether the lights at Joe Louis get turned on this year will have nothing to do with what's best for the game. A luxury tax may well be a sufficient drag on salaries, who knows. It may even be that a luxury tax is better than a salary cap. But that doesn't matter either, because to Gary Bettman, a luxury tax is not equivalent to a salary cap. Not in structure, not in nomenclature, and most of all, not in pedigree. It's not good enough because Gary Bettman didn't propose it. What's more, the NFL and NBA have a cap, the NFL and NBA are successful, therefore the NHL should have a cap, and he's the man to bring it to you. The high-stakes lawyer, taking a position that may or may not be defensible, and defending it to the death.

Gary Bettman has, from a chamber behind giant oak doors on Sixth Avenue, promised his constituency a salary cap. Whether by coercion or by force, that's what he must deliver to keep his job and his reputation. Fortunately, the latter evaporated into the atmosphere long ago, and as for the former, let us be patient just a little longer.

More North Pork

The new amalgamated Toronto is a primarily suburban city. The hinterlands of North York, Scarborough and Etobicoke all blossomed in those heady modernist days of separated land-use and car friendly design. As the metropolis continues to bloat, these former peripheral colonies are quickly evolving from exurb to inner suburb. Coupled with this changing social dynamic, development pressures mean that the old suburbs will have to absorb most of the additional million projected to move to Toronto proper over the next twenty years.

In order to adapt, planners have brought forward the notion of the 'Avenue'. An idea which serves as the hallmark of the new Official Plan. These mixed-use corridors are designed to transform arterial 10-lane roads rife with declining strip malls into a liveable mix of residential, recreational and commercial uses. The intent is to increase densities, promote good urban form and decrease reliance on the automobile. By and large a good idea.

But it one thing to toss around a good idea, and yet another entirely to follow it up. Increasing density and decreasing car dependency means one thing - providing comprehensive transit - and recently there has been absolutely no rational discussion on the subject. Back in 2002 when the Official Plan was being developed and the Avenues cited as the backbone of development policy in the City, politicians took the occasion to mouth the virtues of improved, integrated transit in facilitating the success of these corridors. However - as is true of all things Toronto - politics takes over when the rubber hits the road. Instead of discussing ways to alleviate existing and foreseen traffic congestion on future avenues such as Eglinton Avenue or Kingston Road, current discussion now centres around spending 1.5 billion precious transit dollars on yet another riderless stubway to nowhere. As if the Sheppard fiasco wasn't enough, now we're talking about slopping down an even less viable line to York University when a busway would suffice quite nicely at 1/60th the cost.

Even the TTC and City Council profess the gold-plated York subway extension as the top priority. $1.5 billion buys a lot of transit in this era of deficits and efficiency and it's time we started looking at ways of spending these sparse dollars a little more productively. Sure buses and streetcars don't make for fantastic photo-op ribbon cutting ceremonies - and you aren't going to get the Minister of Finance worked up enough to rob the Teachers Pension Fund - but they do sometimes make more city-building sense.

The avenue concept is a great idea and I'd hate to see it die on the delivery table. Cause of death... pork-barreling.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Strøget, Copenhagen. August, 2004.

Monday, December 13, 2004

For no particular reason other than reason itself...

And thus spake Zarathrustra. The mysteries of this cult classic are as many as functional uses of the black monolith. Did Kubrick foresee 9/11? Is Man on the verge of the realizing the 'star child'? Are some computers born gay? Who knows.

That aside, why have conspiracy theories become so rampant as of late? I personally blame it on a disinformation campaign orchestrated by none other than the nefarious reptilians.

Friday, December 10, 2004

"And this... from the Mouth of Babes."

Once the darling of mainstream Canadian self-deprecating highbrow, is Murphy losing his edge? Frankly, I like the new Rex. He is seriously becoming a throwback to the mid-century newsies of old... verbose, surly and sauced.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

The Agrarian Revolt starts here.

The most selfish bastard award of 2004 has to go to the York Federation of Agriculture. This opposition to the proposed greenbelt legislation reeks of everything I disdain. Wrapped in the sugar-coated idea of 'property rights' and public access issues lies the true intention of these scallywags:

"Even long-established farming operations face a large loss of equity if the use of their farmland is frozen in an agriculture zoning, he said. With an erosion of equity, most farmers would be unable to finance expansions or improvements to their farming enterprises or ongoing operations, according to O’Connor."

Seems the good agrarians of York Region are only interested in one thing... the fact that their land is 'frozen' in agricultural zoning and won't be able to sell it for zillions of dollars to any ol' developer that saunters up the lane. God forbid. What kills me is that these 'stewards of the land' want compensation for their troubles. I assume by 'financing expansion' they mean they won't be able to take their newfound millions, inflate land prices further afield - and then sell it again in down the line to make more millions. I wonder what the 'equity' of land value is for farmers in Lanark, Bruce or Kent Counties? This is bullshit of the tallest order.

What drives me nuts about the 'industry' is just that. It has ceased to become a way of life and is just another profit-driven sector of the economy - terms like 'agribusiness' and 'agri-industry' have become pervasive. It wouldn't be so bad if these characters didn't portray this squeaky-clean media image of Farmer Joe out plowing on his 1952 International H and Ma Kettle's baking pies for the lads when they come off the field.

New flash urbanites: farmers haven't given a shit about the land for years... they're out to make a buck anyway they can... just like the rest of society - and here is confirmation they'll happily fuck the environment to do it. I think it's high time they quit wrapping themselves in this 'noble steward' notion and just came out and say it.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Poutine, Like Wu-Tang, is For the Children

MONTREAL — Premier Jean Charest promised to re-engineer Quebec society when he took office. But his government's latest idea may be too much for Quebecers to digest.

It wants to ban the province's schools from serving poutine, that gooey concoction of french fries, gravy and cheese curds that really does prove Quebec is a distinct society. The move is a response to rising levels of juvenile obesity and early onset of diabetes, not to mention recent reports that many Quebec children are suffering from malnutrition because of too much sugar and starch.

But many Quebecers see it as heresy, like robbing Americans of apple pie or depriving the English of their tea and crumpets.

"Really, I don't think it's such a good idea to ban poutine," said Sophie Kiliaris, the manager of the Green Spot, a downtown greasy spoon that serves up the Québécois classic at least 50 times a day.

"Poutine is part of Quebec culture and people need it. A little poutine at school, once in a while, doesn't hurt anyone."

Full article here [þ:]

Oh Jean, with political suicides like these, is it any wonder you're off the federal scene? Dick's dream of Charest as NDP leader just died with this, the mere suggestion of banning poutine anywhere in Quebec. Banning unhealthy foods in schools is one thing, but to publicly single out poutine, that gooey emblem of Quebecois joie de vivre...Jean's lost his mind. Of course, if more robust poutines are what you're after, Mr. Charest, why not suggest an alternative?