Sunday, January 30, 2005

Winter Snowstorm on the Egremont Road

A Return to Urbania.

It is a long known fact that Toronto in many respects wants nothing more than to be New York. The same holds true in the world of planning. While smug Toronto may consider itself culturally progressive in its urban outlook, the reality is that it falls somewhere this side of the stone age in comparison to the culturally influential - and citizen led - city building forces of New York City.

Mass involvement in Toronto planning activities revolve generally around one gravitating issue or project and fade away as quickly as they were instigated. In general visionary terms, the citizen-led city building initiatives of the early 70s represent the culmination of civic involvement and improvement in the City. It's been downhill ever since. Today's civic interest is choppy, reactionary and unsustained at best - to the detriment of any semblance of a cohesive urban agenda.

Not so in New York. Citizen-led civic improvement organizations have been part of the urban realm for over a century and have helped influence and shape the activist role of the public in maintaining and enhancing a viable and livable city. These constant, active and organized urban affairs groups have sustained a consistent urban agenda and ensured the political follow-through of countless projects and policy endeavours.

While its great to have a grandiose and elaborate plan, its realization fundamentally depends almost exclusively on citizen buy-in. Mass grassroot support of initiatives is imperative in making the long-term fulfillment of something as intangible and politically susceptible as a vision possible. Despite the recent efforts of politicians and bureaucrats at creating a road map, Toronto remains a beta city for a reason. Less than three years in, citizen ambivalence has already led to political wavering.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make 'em drink.

If we ever want to be the 'world class city' we so desperately seek to become, a sustained informed engagement by the citizenry in all matters urban will be the primary prerequisite.

A large urban centre which is socially and culturally complex enough to sustain such a progressive vision of itself defines its external and internal status as an international city... and Toronto ain't there yet. Not by a long shot.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

"This Shit Grows the Fine Tobacco!" and other revelations of our latest saviour.

As noted in the post below and a claim which Stompin' Tom would surely endorse, the finest swill does indeed come out of the true GTA... the Greater Tillsonburg Area. This quote about sums up the whole non-event... "He’s been frowned on by media and other farm groups," Schonberger said. "I think Hillier is a true leader and stands for all of rural Ontario." A true virtuous leader in the sense of the Inquisition - but then again, different strokes for different folks.

I particulary enjoyed these acidic Hillierisms:

"The bureaucrats run the bloody government. Peters is like every other politician down there and like a puppet on a string. We need to cut some of those strings."

"We’re not going to lose, it’s going to be him (McGuinty)... We don’t need some downtown bureaucrat telling us what we can do to our land."

"It’s not going to be a talk with McGuinty we want. It’s going to take a lot more than his word he will fix things. We want some concrete public statements on what he’s going to do and we’re going to tell him what he’s going to do."

Speaking of 'concrete public statements', there's nothing I love more than the timeless practice of couching the devil's work in those old well-worn 'statist' generalizations of faceless 'bureaucrats' and corrupt 'puppet' politicians.

Complete with throbbing red vein, there's no doubt that this man means business. Given the keen accuracy and intelligence provided in each of the above statements however, my fears regarding his brand of 'rural' revolution have all but evaporated. Charlatans come and go... hopefully sooner than later in this particular case for the sake of everyone involved.

Through his unbridled vehemence, it's beginning to become obvious that he's doing nothing more than bleeding a gullible constituency for a run at public office. Provincial politics perhaps? Here's to Hillier winning Ottawa West-Nepean in the 2008 provincials.

My bets are he's first at the trough.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

And this brought to you live from the Tillsonburg Film Fest...

This blog is steeped in tradition like a well-warmed pot of orange pekoe tea... astringent, virtuous and oxidized. With an excellent cup by my side, I present the holy grail of the Velvet Lounge award season - the 2nd annual 'Fallen Angel' Award. Setting the bar with last year's recipient, this tribute is bestowed annually in the harshest depths of winter on the individual who once captivated us with a vigour befitting a rousing icon - and who has subsequently fallen on the hardest of times.

And with that preamble behind us, the 2005 award winner needs no introduction. This character dominated hockey through the 1990s like no one ever will again. This universally beloved powerhouse known for his finesse and style raked in an amazing 23 points over 9 seasons, earning himself a lofty overall rating of 32 in NHL '94. His career succumbing to a motorcycle accident in 1999, our recipient retired - to a sold out crowd of idolizing fans no less - to open and operate the legendary tough-ass biker 'Twisters Iron Bar Saloon' in quaint Imperial, Missouri.

But our story doesn't end there. For a while things went according to plan and graceful obscurity seemed assured. The bar prospered and our hero kept content co-hosting an afternoon radio show on KLSG. Yet, things were brewing in far off Phoenix which would soon consume our champion. His good and wholesome name had been sullied and his character defamed. In the 'Twister' spirit of tenacity and deference we had come to respect and love through his playing years, our hero would seek nothing short of unequivocal redemption.

At first, the year 2004 wasn't looking good as his long anticipated heroic comeback was arbitrarily cancelled. While crushing, things were about to change for our recipient. After eight years of sweat, tears and four long legal battles, the 'Twister' - the Edmonton native - found himself finally vindicated by a court of law from the pen of that nefarious Calgary born McFarlane. While all about the honour and never about the money, T.T. was awarded $15 million and MacFarlane found himself in bankruptcy court.

So here's to Tony Twist - our 2nd Fallen Angel Award victor. Edging out Mike Danton for the honour, Tony exemplifies the award as from the heights of hockey 'superstardom' to the depths of suburban biker-bar ownership, Tony has seen and been it all. His gladiator comeback foiled, radio contract terminated and second job as professional griever complete, Tony's flailing attempts at rectifying his once stellar career are finally fading out of view. It's tough languishing in the shadows. All I can offer is to take solace in the fact that you're still Imperial, Missouri's favourite son.

Monday, January 17, 2005

Rarities and Oddities

I've been locked to my computer for nearly five hours straight. Thankfully, a taste of the Grand Napoleon coupled with the gentle sounds of Sufjan Stevens' Michigan rolling through ITunes makes a thesis proposal nearly bearable. It's time for a break:

Despite a proliferation of lackluster ramblings in the world of blogging (not to say the velvy is excluded), odd gems occasionally emerge. Today's notables include this Nick Drake inspired offering and an update on the Sudbury Industrial Art scene. Enjoy.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Choice of a Generation - The Rise and Fall of the Cheese Sandwich

Ask anyone over 75 what they had for lunch and the response is more than likely to be a cheese spread sandwich. My grandfather - god rest his soul - never went a day without porridge for breakfast and a cheese sandwich for lunch. He developed the daily routine with the Princess Pats and followed it religiously to the day he died.

Cheese spreads were born as an oddity of the early century. The financial difficulties of the Great Depression and a rationed world war ensured that this simple food became the life-long staple of an entire generation. Maintaining and enhancing their culinary love through the prosperous post-war boom years, these hardy folks happily adapted to technology and embraced such modern wonders as processed sliced cheese and 'cheese whiz' into their daily diet. Unsurprisingly, even the lowly cheese sandwich has been yuppified.

Over the years, this delight - better known as 'croque monsieur' when a slice of ham is added - has become a cultural icon and developed a 'religious reverence'all its own.

While scorned today as trite and boring, here's an ode to the lowly cheese sandwich and the generation that embraced it so.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Counterurbanization and the 'Rural' Right

The flagship of the supposed 'Rural Revolution' - the Lanark Landowners Association - has finally set a date for action. Unless their 11 demands are met, January 14th has been set aside as a day to block the 401, while February 28th is the day that the fully-loaded 4x4s are to roll over Queen's Park.

Accordingly, the LLA is not particularly interested in the true causes of rural woes such as global economic realities and foreign subsidization. Instead, these hobby-farmers and their band of 'rural' ideologues are bent on combating what really affects their niche special interest group and its landed gentry way of life - property rights. Namely wetland protection, 'Species at Risk' and those damn commie land use designations.

Counterurbanization is a phenomena which has been gaining steam. Better transportation, telecommunications and early retirement have allowed urbanites to move to rural areas while still maintaining links to the city. Their prime motives are to 'escape the disamenities of city living or to experience life in a more 'rural' environment'1. As in the Township of Wilmot outside of Kitchener, the majority of households in many rural areas are predominated by urbanites. To boot, many isolate themselves from their adopted community, choosing to remained focused on their social and economic contacts in the city. While this may be good for the economy, without a doubt it significantly alters the existing economic and social linkages. With their higher incomes and education coupled with a zest for the ideological rural idyll, former urbanites have the means and time to frame and control the political sphere. This may be why they hate amalgamation so much...

One of these urban migrants and leader of the Lanark Landowners Association, Randy Hillier, is as stereotypical a newcomer as it gets:

"Randy Hillier was born in Ottawa in 1958 and has lived in Lanark County for 22 years. He is a licensed construction electrician. He has a degree in electrical engineering technology and worked for eight years as a project manager with the federal government."

A 'newcomer' is the academic term for an rural resident who has been raised in an urban area. Highly educated and financially independent from the land, many newcomers are generally vehemently individualistic and are in search of the ideological - yet elusive - 'rural idyll' where apparently everyone can do what they like, when they like and however they like. In fact, Mr. Hillier fits the bill quite nicely.

How do I know this? Read the premise of this diatribe.

"Our forefathers cultivated a lifestyle of individual liberty, independence and self reliance through sustainable fishing, farming and forestry."

Too bad it never existed. Having grown up in a small farming community which predominantly consisted of full-time farmers and few newcomers, I can safely state that there is no other place on earth which is as communal, interdependent and 'in your business' as a rural township. Remember the UFO and CCF? The F stood for Farmers. I think Mr. Hillier's urban-formed notion of the rural idyll is clouding the reality. Wearing suspenders as a fashion statement doesn't help either.

Paradoxically, it's been my experience that after a century of cutting and draining, the full-time farmers are now the ones who have voluntarily fenced off their waterways, maintained forest cover and protected their wetlands. The recent land use interventions are directly aimed at the new class of urban migrant and factory farmer who contrary to past rural practices, are ideologically inclined to see no harm in theoretically destroying environmentally significant aspects of a landscape - all in the name of property rights. As usual, ruralites are caught in the 'line of fire'.

While many will sign-up to the Hillier scheme, I can't see all farmers buying into the radical notions of property protection as expressed by this newcomer special interest group. I'd like to think that farmers understand that regulations are imperative to agricultural economic viability and the preservation of agricultural land. When a wetland is drained, my water table drops. When a woodlot is cleared, my soil capacity declines via increased erosion. When manure streams down a field and into the river upstream, it affects my surface and groundwater quality - not to mention river bank stability. I'm not about to wait until an environmental feature is destroyed so I can spend 10 years in court proving hardship as frankly I lack the resources. Besides, it's even more onerous to have to put a wetland back in. And I'm certainly not about to put my family's economic viability and my ability to succeed on the line simply so somebody from Ottawa, Toronto or wherever can clear their property and play farm - just because they can. Farming is not operating a Bed and Breakfast or making soup cans, it's environmentally interdependent by its very nature.

If the LLA were truly interested in the viability of agricultural land, they would at least acknowledge the fact that environmental protection at least makes good long-term business sense. Besides, it's about time the agriculture industry got around to instituting some semblance of minimum standards.

"Farmers and small businesses are being held accountable to ideas that are dreamed up in the city by government bureaucrats who don’t understand the rural way of life."

Add 'newcomer' to 'government bureaucrats' and I think we get a clearer picture of reality.

It is indeed a 'revolution', unfortunately there's too little rural and too much special interest group. I find it especially interesting that these 'landowner associations' are mainly cropping up in areas with high urban migration.

I do agree with them on one point... rural amalgamation has indeed been a disaster.

1. Thomson, M. and Mitchell, C. (1998) Residents of the Urban Field: A Study of Wilmot Township, Ontario, Canada. Journal of Rural Studies, Vol 14, No. 2 pp. 185-201

Monday, January 10, 2005

Let's Party Like it's 1993!

Let me be the first to congratulate Bernie and Lonie back to Ottawa!!!


Sunday, January 09, 2005

Tidal Wave!!

While the 'tsunami' may be the correct snob term, they'll always remain 'tidal waves' to me. In 1929 after a 7.2 earthquake, 27 people died as an 'earth-shock' and tidal wave nailed Newfoundland. $23,000 (Newfoundland dollars) worth of salt cod was also lost - which of course was the real tragedy - as it was most certainly the cause of the stock market meltdown later that same year.

And this from the T-Bag.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

"Welcome to the globalized ghost town."

'The Take - A Film by Avi Lewis and Naomi Klein.' This recent NFB release by the king and queen of anti-globalization has been getting good reviews. While the Washington Post and New York Times applaud it as 'radical' and 'stirring', leave it to the hometown Star to be the lone fart in the wind.

Set in Argentina during the economic meltdown a few years back, 'The Take' chronicles the lives of industrial workers left behind thanks to the national economic retooling courtesy of the IMF. While workers here would whine all the way to the pogey line, these characters suck it up, buy the plant with their back wages and operate it themselves.

Now that's solidarity!!!

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

As Big a Dick There as Anywhere

So the Velvet Lounge's favourite American media poltroon, Tucker Carlson, has gotten himself canned from CNN.

CNN will probably fold "Crossfire" into its other programming, perhaps as an occasional segment on the daytime show "Inside Politics," said Jonathan Klein, who was appointed in late November as chief executive of CNN's U.S. network.

Klein on Wednesday told Carlson, one of the four "Crossfire" hosts, that CNN would not be offering him a new contract. Carlson has reportedly been talking with MSNBC about a prime-time opening replacing Deborah Norville.

Carlson did not immediately return a call to his cell phone for comment.

The bow-tied wearing conservative pundit got into a public tussle last fall with comic Jon Stewart, who has been critical of cable political programs that devolve into shoutfests.

"I guess I come down more firmly in the Jon Stewart camp," Klein told The Associated Press.

While Jonjon is surely at the present time pumping his fists madly in the air and screaming "I DESTROYED CROSSFIRE!", what will happen to our favourite whipping boy? Carlson -- I've taken to calling him "Penis Ennington" in my head lately, for I am not a well man -- is out of a job, and we're not sure the talking head industry is an employees market. Now that Carolyn Parrish has shed her party colours, how about teaming them up for some more deft commentary on HondurasCanada-US relations?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

The Honky Tonk Man.

Remember The Honky Tonk Man? His old boss Vinny is certainly remembered. I wonder if the godly Million Dollar Man would approve of such purveyance of smut? If anyone is interested, MDM will be appearing at the (in)famous Toronto Airport Christian Fellowship on March 23rd.

With Nikolai Volkoff and the Iron Sheik still willing to attempt a comeback, Honky Tonk seems content to remain the same bitter heel in life as he portrayed in the ring. It might have something to do with picking cotton as your first job. Myself, I always liked that nasty Mr. Fuji - although Hillbilly Jim was always kinda cool.

After one too many beers I have quickly come to the all too often noted realization that wrestlers always end up one of four things - disillusioned and bitter, a Reverend, dead by 50 or a cokehead... but then that could be said of most professions.