Archive for March, 2005

What the Toronto Star doesn’t want you to read twice

Tuesday, March 29th, 2005

I’m struck by the way the Toronto Star, every now and then, presents information that might actually deliver a knockout punch to its main advertiser, the car industry.

Oh, you’ll hear them on the editorial page whining about the importance of the “backbone of the Ontario economy” (by which they decidedly do not mean small business), and they certainly like to lay into cyclists, bikelane proposals, and city budget allocations for “car-free day.”

And while they fulminate in favour of the proposed bill to require drivers and passengers of “wheeled vehicles” to wear helmets, they have yet to see that unless drivers and passengers of cars are included, this bill is discrimination against human power.

All of which is music to the ears of the car advertisers who pay the Star to spread its pages.

But even so, the ugly reality occasionally sneaks in.

Take for example, the opinion page of March 7, 2005. There you can read (if you have access to the paper copy of that issue) an article called “Sprawl isn’t healthy–physically or mentally” by Jan Kasperski (executive director and CEO of the Ontario College of Family Physicians).

This article, nicely laid out across four columns of type at the top of the page, is so strongly stated and presents such indictments of the automobile industry that the opinion page editor’s job, no doubt, is now in jeopardy.

I mean, there is no way the automobile advertisers, whose handiwork fluffs up the Star’s content (and its payroll, one assumes) to such an extent, will tolerate much of this kind of abuse. Heads will roll.

Just listen to Kasperski’s heresies: “…living in car-dependent, sprawling urban commmunities contributes increased risk factors for a number of illnesses, including diabetes and heart disease.

“In addition, increased driving and thus higher vehicle emissions, contribute to air pollution, with attendant negative impacts on our health.

“The evidence shows people who live in car-dependent communities are less likely to walk and… suffer more from a variety of serious conditions including obesity, high blood pressure and cardiovascular and other diseases, at great cost to our health-care system.”

Kasperski adds: “Accidents and fatalities affecting pedestrians, motorists and cyclists increase in sprawling, lower-density communities, as do mental health impacts like stress, road rage and anxiety.

“Road accidents represent the most underestimated risk that people are exposed to in everyday life. Across North America, thousands of pedestrians, motorists and cyclists are maimed or killed each year.”

I wish I could provide a link for you to read the opinion piece in full.

But guess what? Among the thousands of stories and opinion pieces the Star presents every week, there simply have to be some that don’t make it to the on-line version. This opinion piece was left on the cutting room floor.

Of course, you can read the report itself here: Should you bother? Only if you want even more hard knocks to your car-needin’ ways: “Many people move to the suburbs in order to escape the perceived “ills of the city”. Although there appears to be many benefits to suburban life: less exposure to noise pollution, less overcrowding, decreased stigma and fear of crime, and a greater experience of nature, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that the negative health impacts are enormous and ultimately far outweigh these benefits. Escape from crowding can lead to extreme anonymity and isolation that results from a loss of community. As a sanctuary from life stress, sprawl communities have increased loneliness, inactivity, depression and commuting stress with which to contend. Ironically, the promise of increased contact with nature is contradicted by the fact that sprawling development reduces the amount and quality of natural areas.”

Toronto Globe and Mail’s opportunity

Thursday, March 24th, 2005

I seem to focus on the Toronto Star in most of my screeds. This does not mean that Toronto’s Gob and Male does not merit attention.

To the Editor:

re: MacGregor’s column March 23 2005:

MacGregor makes hay with the just-released statistics showing car salespeople and politicians neck-and-neck in a race for the bottom regarding their perceived trustworthiness. He writes at length about the used-car lot’s lot, but I think he misses the point.

Fact is, car salespeople, just like any sales profession, fall into a wide spectrum that ranges from the huckster in the corner lot to the shyster in the plateglass showroom, but it doesn’t stop there.

Car salespeople rely above all on advertising. It’s their main tool to call their “marks” onto the killing field.

Car advertising is the real sacred cow of this discourse. Advertising a product that kills tens of thousands of people in North America every year (and sickens or injures hundreds of thousands more), without any disclaimer about its safety, its effects on urban sprawl and the loss of biodiversity, its encouragement of war and instability in lands that have oil, and the real experience it offers (e.g. stuck in car-clogs, looking for parking spots, paying for insurance), can never do anything to improve the perceived trustworthiness of the car salesperson.

MacGregor mentions that journalists are themselves half-way down the trustworthiness chart, without really wondering why.

I have a thought. Maybe it’s because at the end of the day most of your readers know you are beholden to your advertisers. And the sleaziest advertisements of all, the one that promises the most and delivers the least, is that for the automobile. Journalists are part of that food-chain.

How do you rid yourselves of this problem? Join the growing international call for a moratorium on car advertisements. Just as has happened with smoking and firearms, the advertisment of cars will come to be outlawed.

The Globe and Mail should be at the vanguard of that progressive movement.

Yours Truly,

Jacob Allderdice

Taking heart from the Toronto Star

Monday, March 21st, 2005

I call today’s post “taking heart” because I’ve been told to look at the bright side.

Okay, no one thinks my quest to have car advertisments banned has (to quote Rick C.) “a snowball’s chance in hull” of passing (sorry, not sure I got that right), and yes, the Toronto Star has not enthusiastically called and demanded my skills on the weekly op-ed page, and Susan S, my friend whose dayjob is a negotiator for the C.A.W., did not blanche in fear when I told her of my ambitions, and actually, not one of the politicians I wrote demanding action against the car advertisement even bothered to acknowledge my note (apparently for me they even turned off the “auto-response” feature of their inbox), and, well, even among my fellow ARCistas, who in the past have taken up all kinds of lost causes with great fanfare and enthusiasm (many of which turned out to be not so lost at all, when puss came to shove) [shurely you mean “push”–ed.], and even Mez, that great beacon of hope in the pantheon of de-advertisements, had no more to offer than “keep me posted,” and finally, AdBusters has not returned my calls. So where the hell is the bright side?

My horoscope? It offered the following: “Take it easy” (I’m a Taurus).

But as David Byrne puts it, “Watch me work!” How can one not be cheerful with that thought in mind?

Letter to the Editor
Toronto Star

March 21 2005

To the Editor:

Today’s paper provides much fuel for the fire of my pet cause, the banning of all car advertisements. Let me elucidate.

1. Your front page story, “Sorry didn’t mean to &*$#!% you off” (Kevin McGran) describes a school to train drivers in “social” driving skills, with the express aim of deterring road rage. The school’s gimmick, a sign reading “SORRY” to be flashed by the offending driver, misses the real cause of road rage: cars themselves. Do bicyclists experience road rage, for example? Do transit passengers? No and No. Cyclists simply ride past the gridlock that so enrages car drivers. We get there at our own chosen pace, regardless of what’s in the way of our bulky road-mates. And as for transit riders, they have better things to do than getting enraged at inevitable delay. They have novels and newspapers tucked under their arms. They can knit or chat with a neighbour. Now, while replacing the hand-held “SORRY” sign with a permanent bumper sticker, as Sgt Cam Woolley suggests, gets closer to the point, what would really be appropriate would be a bumper sticker saying “SORRY FOR DRIVING.”

2. Page A18, where McGran’s article concludes, has the quickie CP story “No love for politicians, poll finds.” It points out how among the most admired professions car salespeople are 2nd from the bottom, just before politicians. How significant is it that only 18% (“down a point from last year”) of the population trusts car dealers? And more to the point, who are these people? Are they the same ones McGran wrote about March 9 (“20% admit they fall asleep while driving”)?

3. Same page: you have a huge ad selling your readers on the merits of some car or other. What car? Who cares? Who trusts people who try to sell cars? Only 18% of the population, apparently, and who knows if that lot can even read?

4. Letters to the editor: you publish two of note, and frankly I’m thrilled to see them. One from Steven C. Barr, headlined “Downtown Oshawa will be rejuvenated but cause will create chaos as the end of cheap oil and fall of the automobile hurt city’s chief product;” the other from Gideon Forman, “Fossil fuels bad from start to finish,” taking your condemnatory editorial against U.S. approval of drilling in the Arctic National Refuge to its logical limit.

Why am I thrilled by these letters? For the same reason I take heart at your allowing the investigative journalism of Kevin McGran on your front page, and your willingness to print the facts about peoples’ distrust of automobile salespeople: because it tells me despite your newspaper’s role as lead salesperson for the auto industry, it may be you can yet be trusted. It may be your paper still has some integrity, regardless of your source of revenue.

It suggests to me I am not tilting at a windmill in my quest to see a ban on car advertisements–or at the least, that the wind direction is changing. It may be yet that the 82% who distrust car salespeople would be happy to see the seller’s propaganda banished from the media.

Now, if only they can be mobilized.

Yours truly,

Jacob Allderdice

(533 words)


Thursday, March 17th, 2005

This is it. The Allderblob starts a new thang in cyberspace. Or rather, a new name for what many are doing out here anyway. Look at or at for example. Not logging, but lobbing. As in throwing clumps of earth at stray targets. That’s this lobsite. And there’s another metaphor in waiting: the lobsite would be the precision instrument that allows for the aiming of those clumps of earth to be lobbed.

There’s a myth about lobs, that they are easy pitches, intended to make it easy for the batter. But lobs can be deceiving. Their nature is to come at you from unanticipated directions. Maybe, like the stick the zen master whacks intransigent pupils with, the lob will knock some enlightenment your way.

Allder is German of course, it means “all the” as in “all the lobs” [all the time? shurely you jest–ed.]. It’s also my name, in part–Jacob Allderdice.

At the right are some “pages” which is geekspeak, apparently, for pieces of screen with words on them. If I can figure out how to do it, I will change the category to “lobs.” Go ahead. Try and hit them out of the park.

Below is the first entry to the Allderblob, which constitutes a letter to the editor of the Toronto Star. Note the cc list.

Today’s lob is about car advertisements, which the author considers a dangerous incitement to violence. They should be banned, just as cigarette and firearm advertisements are.

Toronto Star
Letters to the Editor

March 9, 2005

Re: “20% admit they fall asleep while driving” by Kevin Mcgran

Nice: four million drivers a year fall asleep at the wheel in Canada. Almost half of these pass out within an hour of getting on the road, well within the average GTA car commute. Talk about the “end of

Am I the only one who sees in this figure yet another reason to discourage car dependency among our citizenry?

To point out that drivers asleep at the wheel pose an immediate danger to themselves, to their passengers, and to other innocent road users including pedestrians and cyclists, is to state the obvious. But will we ever read this in a Star editorial? Not likely.

Instead, we get the usual: the overwhelming attitude of the media is “cars are great; cars give us freedom; cars drive the economy; cars make us cool.” The Saturday Star devotes two whole sections to
“Wheels” (by which it means “motors,” because you’ll never read about anything without one in those pages).

Imagine the outcry if the Saturday Star had sections labeled “Tobacco” or “Firearms” each week.

Like cars, tobacco and firearms are facts of life in Canada: “necessary evils,” as the cliché has it. Like cars, they are responsible every day for deaths and hospitalizations. Like cars, they are regulated and licensed in recognition of their inherent danger.

So why is the car celebrated? Why is advertising it even tolerated?

Today’s story was buried on page A20, following two full-colour car advertisements: one full-page and one centre-fold. Imagine if you opened the pages of the Star to a full page advertisement for a handgun. Imagine a centrefold cigarette advertisement.

Well it wasn’t so long ago that both were considered “normal,” a legitimate source of advertising income.

It’s time to take our nation’s sick addiction to the automobile seriously, just like we did with cigarettes. It’s time to “uncool the car.”

Please join with me in calling on government, at the very highest level, to ban outright the advertisement or promotion of automobiles in print or broadcast media, just as was done for tobacco.

Jacob Allderdice

Prime Minister Paul Martin
Jack Layton, MP, Toronto-Danforth
Marilyn Churley, MPP, Toronto-Danforth
Paula Fletcher, Toronto Ward 30 councillor
David Miller, Mayor of Toronto

(339 words)