Archive for June, 2005

Subliminal images in Molson Indy logo: Abu Ghraib horrors?

Monday, June 27th, 2005

We cannot be the only ones to be baffled by the strange choice of images juxtaposed on giant billboards and over the heads of subway riders throughout the city of Toronto.

We know the Molson Indy: the fumes, the noise, the bloated bellies and erect phallo-cars. We have long ago shrugged off the subliminal suggestion that when a beer company sponsors an automobile race, what’s being sold is the message “Drink Beer, Drive Fast.”

But these new posters? What are they about? What is it silhouetted against the flames? What means this hooded figure burning bright?

actual 2005 molson indy logo untouched

All that’s needed are a few curling wires and the intent becomes clear. But why? Why? Why?

All that's missing is a little MADD sympathy ribbon.

Ford Motor Company stocks fall; advertising onslaught anticipated

Friday, June 24th, 2005

It’s worth considering the situation at Ford Motor Company.

Thursday’s news reports a tumble in the value of its stocks and bonds after a “weaker outlook” for 2005 sales. Moody’s credit rating agency, a competitor to Standard and Poor’s, is threatening to lower the company’s rating to “junk” status. Standard and Poor’s already made this move last month. The latter company, which is owned by the textbook publishing giant McGraw-Hill (the relevancy of which will become clear in a moment), reports an “increased likelihood” it will cut Ford’s ratings again, according to the Toronto Star (in a report yesterday from Bloomberg news).

What lies in Ford’s future? According to the Star:

Said Brett Hoselton, an analyst with KeyBanc Capital Markets based in Cleveland: “If they don’t start producing product that is compelling for the customers, they won’t be around in 10 years.”

The implications of another junk rating are grave, we suspect–not for the profits at Ford executive suites in Detroit–we feel sure they are well taken care of, with large bonuses for jobs well done–but for the public. We are soon to be saturated with a new onslaught of car advertisements, exhorting us to buy more, faster, farther than ever before. We are likely to see jingoism of the lowest type, as Ford is an American institution of renowned stature. While “what’s good for America is good for GM” (according to GM CEO Charles Wilson), Ford is America, period. It represents standardization, repetition, mindless toil for low wages, sympathy for fascism, strikebreakers and scab labour. It holds out the ideal of endless profit and ecological ruin, two things that make America great.

But what about McGraw-Hill, the owner of Standard and Poor’s? How will they benefit if the giant car companies falter in the stock market and need to increase advertising?

The fact is, McGraw-Hill has raised the spectre of placing advertising inserts in the textbooks it publishes. While the proposal was poo-pooed by education pooh-bahs, the company has previously published ads in its texts (see this story from Stay Free! Daily) and we anticipate its resurrection before long. After all, elementary school children in the U.S. (and Canada, thanks to NAFTA) need to learn about the American way.

“See Dick drive a Ford. Drive, Dick, drive. Jane drives a GM. Is Jane’s GM bigger than Dick’s Ford? Dick will buy a new car. What kind of car will Dick buy?”

The kids are (almost) all right. But as for main street…

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2005

We’ve been mulling over a story in the Toronto Sunday Star for a couple days now. Called “Teenagers aren’t stupid…” it was an excerpt from Toronto author Ron Clavier’s book Teen Brain, Teen Mind: What Parents Need to Know to Survive the Adolescent Years. As a former teenager, we were interested in the reassurance that eventually things (will) work out. For one thing, we hope soon to decide whether to speak in the first person singular or plural. Which is more masculine, do you think?

Back to the article. It got us thinking about society, and maturity, and peer pressure, and sure enough, car culture soon emerged as the dominant theme. Why is the pesky thing allowed in polite company?

Clavier describes the work of Jean Piaget (whom ALLDERBLOB readers may know of as “the father of developmental psychology”) in broad strokes: “In his experiments, he delineated the process of how children’s ability to think becomes increasingly complex as they get older.”

According to Piaget, an infant under two years of age is at a different stage (the “sensorimotor phase” in Piaget’s terms) than a child aged between 2-7 (the “preoperational stage”) or 7-11 (“concrete operational stage”).

As Clavier puts it:

The most noticeable development in the preoperational stage is the use of language. But despite this outward sign of sophistication, the preoperational child is still working with a relatively immature brain. While he may be able to describe the world around him, there are plenty of basic concepts that he still can’t grasp. Take reverse logic, for example. Ask a 4-year-old if he has a brother, and he’ll tell you yes. Ask what his name is, and the child may answer “Jim.” Then ask, “Does Jim have a brother?” The answer might be no.

Try it out on some kid you know. Good for some laffs, believe me. No, believe us.

Clavier goes on to describe a Piaget experiment that demonstrates the increasing sophistication of the “concrete operational stage” child. In it, two lumps of plasticene of identical size and shape are shown to the child. Then one of the lumps is rolled into a different shape, in full view of the child. The preoperational kid will tell you the amount of clay has changed, while the concrete operational kid will understand that only the shape has changed.

The older kid may even laff at the younger one. He (or she) may even call him (or her) “stupid.”

This too is normal, apparently.

In Clavier’s deathless prose:

This simple experiment demonstrates that, no matter how hard you try, you simply cannot convey an understanding of “amount” to someone whose brain is not ready. It would be like trying to explain “red” or “green” to a colour-blind person: They aren’t stupid, but they won’t get it. The best you can hope for is an awareness that other people are capable of understanding something they [younger ones] are not. But even that can be asking a lot.

The emphasis is all ours.

And we’re getting to the car question. Be patient.

While Piaget focused on the development of children, Clavier has applied the research to older youth. He asks:

Have your teenagers ever said something like this? “If you stopped bugging me so much, I’d do better in school.” “I’m not going to smoke forever, you know. I’ll stop before I get addicted.” “My teacher sucks. She doesn’t like me. She wants me to fail.”

Clavier urges us not to call such utterances “stupid:” “To characterize them as such will result only in hurt feelings, anger, and rebellion. Please understand this: It’s not stupidity in evidence here; it’s brain immaturity. ”

The owner of a teen brain is simply too immature to perceive that his beliefs are incorrect, and he certainly cannot grasp the full implications of his incorrect beliefs. You cannot convey the subtle implications of social situations like those above to someone whose brain is not ready for it.

At about this point in the Star article, which (to be frank) was starting to lose us, the editor threw in the following “pull-out quote” (as we in the newpaper biz like to say):

Inability to see consequences.

Aha! Say no more!

See, Clavier’s point is that human beings mature at different rates and along different trajectories.

And we suddenly found ourselves on a trajectory of our own: that of the inability of some people to recognize car culture for what it is; the inability to connect action (own a car) with consequence (poison the planet, pave paradise, war in Iraq, ruin the world for your children); the sheer stupidity of so many people out there.

Clavier writes:

Now let’s think about teenagers for a moment. Teenagers often seem oblivious to the possible dangers associated with their behaviour. Whether they are cutting class, using drugs or becoming sexually active, it’s as if the adolescent is unable to see the future consequences of their actions. As a result, they are unable to use that information to avoid the associated danger. In fact, that’s exactly what’s going on! The future is part of that pretty complicated fourth dimension — time. Teenagers who appear unable to grasp a full measure of comprehension of time are not unlike the younger kids who were either unable to “conserve” the amount of Plasticine, or to escape the literal meanings of proverbs. In the same way, the time-challenged teenager is being asked to grasp a concept — a dimension really — before her brain has matured sufficiently.

But for us–and for you, gentle reader–it’s not teenagers we’re concerned with, but people like Clavier. Let us ask Mr. Clavier, for example, what kind of car he drives. Is Mr. Clavier able to grasp the dimension of time in the way that we (the ALLDERBLOB and its readers) have?

Clavier writes:

The part of the brain that allows us to “see into the future” and inhibit impulsive behaviours is the prefrontal cortex. It’s a thin sheet of neurons that lies just behind our foreheads, and it’s proportionately larger in humans than in all other species. Many scientists and clinicians call it the brain’s “executive centre” because it is so instrumental in how mature humans make decisions. …In our daily lives, we all have things that we want to do. Sometimes, these are things that we could do, but we don’t. For example: Some guy cuts you off in traffic. You want to get him back by being similarly rude and dangerous. You want to … but you don’t.

Are you talking to me? ARE YOU TALKING TO ME? Because I don’t get your drift. Am I stupid? Or do I just not own a car?

Some kid wrote a letter to the editor that was printed in today’s Star. It makes a similar point to ours:

Teens stereotyped in Sunday article

Teenagers aren’t stupid

June 19.

I am 15 years old and would like to express my distaste for this article and, also, my confusion as to why it was ever published. This article is not only hugely stereotypical, but also very immature and childish. I am fairly sure that I am acquainted with many more teenagers than the author of this article and I can tell you for sure that many of them are much more mature than most of the political leaders of the modern world.

As far as I am concerned, neither adults nor adolescents have the right to accuse the other of being “incorrect.” What is correct in the mind of one may very well not be correct in the mind of another. For example, according to the article all teenagers cannot see the consequences of their actions. A teenager could just as easily be correct in saying that all adults cannot live in the moment and not care about the consequences of their actions, when we all know that both of these stereotypes are incorrect. After all what were the consequences of the war in Afghanistan or Iraq?

Brian Cormier, Mississauga

Keeping up with the Jones Ave

Monday, June 20th, 2005

One of the pleasures of writing a blob has got to be that of wringing forth a clever title occasionally. “Keeping up with the Jones Ave” is one of those times when I feel certain my parents, who lived on beans and rice for five years while paying my way through a bachelor’s degree in English Literature at a private U.S. liberal arts college, are shaking their heads with pride, smiling at each other and saying “It really was worth it.”

It’s inspired by Jones Avenue in Toronto, near where I live, which has been described (in the aforementioned eye magazine) as “the ugliest street in the city.”

Jones Ave, which used to run from nowhere on the Danforth straight down to nowhere on Queen East, with four lanes of car traffic and a bus route that connected Donlands subway station with the Leslie Street Spit, had a makeover about five years ago, with the removal of two lanes of car traffic and the installation of bicycle lanes on both sides.

Jones Ave is still among the ugliest streets in Toronto (given the forced amalgamation of the five Metro cities about the same time as the Jones Ave. bicycle lane installation, many more ugly streets have been added to the trove, so I can’t give it top honours). I once held out hope that with the bikelane installation, a kind of “thickening” of the street would occur, with slower traffic creating an off-shoot increase in programs and street activity similar to the “thickened ” streetscape of “Greektown on the Danforth” or “Olde East York Village” (a stretch of small shops and community activities is at the north terminus of Toronto’s Coxwell Ave).

This hasn’t happened. Instead, the Toronto Transit Commission eliminated Sunday service of the Jones Ave bus.

But what has happened, and I think it is related, is that the aforementioned “nowheres,” at Danforth and Jones and at Queen and Jones, have begun to blossom. Queen and Jones has emerged as the nexus of Leslieville, a hip stretch of art galleries, cafes, busy restaurants and antique stores. Danforth at Jones is jumping, with the three-year-old Sakawaya Bistro (known to some as home of the best, most inovative Japanese food in the city), a two-year-old bookstore with the embarrassing name “Books R Gold” that sells hardcover art books and other new books at half-off the cover price [alas, too embarrassing for even Jones Ave: the bookstore pulled up stakes and left us with the “Elite Music Academy” in its place: a nice place to buy a guitar or learn to play a musical instrument –ed.] , and now, the assurance that the corner has truly “arrived,” a new Starbuck’s where the Gino’s pizza used to be.

But what is it, to keep up with Jones Ave? Will all streets that install bicycle lanes have this effect on their start- and end-points? What are we saying about Cosburn at Broadview or at Woodbine? What are we predicting for Dundas at Kingston or Broadview? What about Royal York at Lakeshore or at Bloor? These streets have bikelanes; will their termini develop into “hot zones?”

The short answer is “yes.”

And it’s not just me who says so.

I’ve just read an interesting piece in the New York Times Business section from Monday, June 13 2005. It’s the “All Consuming” column by David Leonhardt, available here (for the time being anyway; and you will need (free) registration to access the piece). The headline reads: “See the New Car in the Joneses’ Driveway? You May Soon Be Driving One Just Like It.”

Leonhardt’s argument, based on just-released statistics from the United States, is that we are more influenced in our consuming habits by our immediate neighbours than we are by advertising or media relations. The article is aimed at that ALLDERBLOB nemesis, General Motors, but its conclusions would seem valid for many other modes and means of consumer behaviour.

Leonhardt argues that “…among all the other hurdles [GM vice-chair] Mr. Lutz and his colleagues face, including health care and pension costs and growing foreign competition, a less obvious one may be the biggest threat to their marketing plans: the unforgiving nature of consumer behavior.”

He continues:

Marketers have long understood that groups of friends and relatives tend to buy the same products, but understanding the reasons has been tricky. Is it because they are so similar in how much money they make and what television ads they watch that they independently arrive at the same decision? Or do they copy one another, perhaps out of envy or perhaps because they have shared information about the products?

Leonhardt goes on to describe recent research of Finnish and American economists, who found, in a nutshell, that car-buyers “do not covet thy neighbor’s car so much as they ask their neighbor about his car. ”

In other words, it’s word of mouth and leading by example that drives the convergence of taste and consumer behaviour.

Which is to say, as bikelanes get painted in greater number across this fair city, expect the emergence of little fiefdoms of nonconformity to spring up in their wake. People see other people biking to work and ask them how they do it, what route they take, what bike store they frequent. Then they get a bike and start riding too. Soon the block, then the street, then the neighbourhood becomes a neck of bicyclists, walkers and fans of “slow” culture.

And at the beginning and ends of the bikelanes, where modes shift and the current of traffic churns around corners, little shops and restaurants and boutiques find new homes.

It’s not just the ALLDERBLOB that says so. We read it in the New York Times.

NOW magazine, eye weekly, take that!

Thursday, June 16th, 2005

NOW magazine used to be the “alternative” weekly of record in Toronto. Then, about 15 years ago, along came eye weekly” (which contrasted itself with NOW from the outset by insisting on the lower-case title, if little else). Lots of people see that cute lower case as camouflage for the fact that eye is owned by a huge media corporation, Torstar. Then again, NOW ain’t exactly mom and pop stuff anymore itself. Today there exist a few more alternatives to NOW, such as the cheeky free daily subway papers metro (part-owned by Torstar) and Dose (owned by Canwest media).

But NOW and eye are where people turn to know what’s happening in the arts, in the bar scene, and in politics. Lately they’ve been the target of some negative attention from cycling advocates and opponents of automobile hegemony.

THIS WEEK we love both papers, and here’s why:

NOW published this letter to the editor about the need to ban car advertisements:

Smog alert: ditch car ads
It was nice to see two items about smog in your last issue (NOW, June 9-15). Maybe next time when Nissan wants a full-page ad on page 9 you’ll say no. And then you can say no to GM-Chevrolet when they try to book a full-page ad on page 19. It goes without saying that Mazda will have trouble finding ad space at the bottom of page 92. As for the car giveaways by Walkman on page 16 and Z103.5 on page 73, well, they know the “alternative press” won’t support them, so they won’t even bother trying. In fact, NOW is doing such a kick-ass job of promoting transportation alternatives, I’m surprised there are any cars left to advertise.
Rick Palidwor

while eye printed this one:

eye – 06.16.05

Gord Perks, in his biweekly Enviro column, lays a big fat turd all over page 16 (“Car-culture contradictions,” June 2). Is it worth reading? Only if you’re willing to watch a grown man squirm. It appears Perks came under some heat as a result of what he wrote last time out (“Nothing personal, but we can’t be friends,” May 19).

In that column, Perks went on at length about how the petroleum industry’s bad because it encourages car dependency and other unsustainable practices, without fessing up to his own complicity in car culture.

But to the astute reader, there it was, in plain sight, leaving traces of ink across Perks’ column whenever you closed the magazine: a full-page ad for some car or other on the opposite side.

In other words, as we pointed out in [an unpublished] letter to eye and to Perks himself, Perks is hypocritical to condemn the very agency of his “free” speech.

We went further, of course: Perks, by virtue of his wife’s membership, benefits from all the rights and privileges of membership in the Canadian Automobile Association, a screwy bunch of pavement fanatics if ever there was one.

In “Car-culture contradictions,” Perks wants to have it both ways. The jerky motion of his prose is no doubt a result of his left hand writing a cheque to the CAA while his right dabbles on the keyboard. Or vice versa.

The point is, maybe something got through to Perks. Dare I hope, even my letter of two weeks ago? Because on June 2, on page 17, there’s no car ad to be seen. Is it possible, just possible, that Perks’ editor (ha!) woke up to the hypocrisy of placing car porn cheek by jowl with a column that would kick straight up the goalposts of car culture? Until Perks tells us himself, we’ll assume it’s just a coincidence, and keep trying.


Oh, if the writing in that last one looks a little familiar, perhaps it’s because you read it here first.

NOW magazine also printed a letter from me this week. It’s on the subject of bikelanes, and the city’s move to install sub-standard bikelanes on a street in the west end, (about which you can read more here, on the petition “Toronto cyclists deserve better”).

Today’s letter to NOW is appended below:

If a tree falls on Royal York
I appreciated your item about Ben Paskus (NOW, June 2-8), and your pointing out that Horner Avenue should by rights have a bike lane. The local councillor, Mark Grimes, is not one to take proactive steps to bring in the needed bike lanes, and you’re right to aim a boot his way.

But Don Wanagas, in his article about bike lanes on Royal York (NOW, June 2-8) and his kissy-face interview with Adam Giambrone, is another issue.

The expert councillors turned to for advice on the subject of whether or not trees would have to be cut down to make room for the bike lanes was unable to say if those trees would be saved or not by the road width that was agreed upon. In other words, it really was not a case of cyclists versus tree-huggers.

The ratepayers association that Councillor Peter Milquetoast (sorry, that’s Milczyn) kowtowed to on this issue is led by a rather familiar character: none other than Mike Harris’s former pot-scrubber, bootblack and official thug Guy Giorno. The same ratepayers group apparently insisted that the sidewalks remain at 120 centimetres instead of the 150-centimetre standard. Call Mr. Milquetoast. Ask him about that.

And finally, why was there even a question of taking out trees? Royal York in this section has four lanes. Why not take a few centimetres from each car lane to make room for the bike lane?
Jacob Allderdice

Zerbisias acknowledges the chill of car advertising

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

In a piece ostensibly about former counterspin producer Paul Jay’s much-vaunted plans to launch a commercial-free international cable news station, Antonia Zerbisias (columnist at the Toronto Star, with a Star– sponsored blog) writes “This is beyond public broadcasting. This is TV by and for the people and not the soap, suds and SUV-makers.”

You can also read about Paul Jay in this week’s Toronto “eye weekly” (which ALLDERBLOB readers will know of as the home of that famed ambidextric, Gord Perks), in a story by Nicole Cohen.

It appears Jay has the help of some of the same folks who so creatively utilized the internet to raise money for the shoulda-been democratic candidate for (U.S.) president, Howard Dean. He also has a powerful lineup of backers: “intellectuals, media activists and progressives from around the world, including Naomi Klein, Gore Vidal, UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa Stephen Lewis, Harper’s editor Lewis Lapham and actor-turned-Air America radio host Janeane Garofalo,” according to Cohen.

What interests the ALLDERBLOB, of course, is the tacit acknowledgement, both from Zerbisias and from Cohen, that a car-free media would be a warmer place. As Cohen leads off, “Two weeks ago, a CBC/Environics poll announced that one in three Canadians has little or no confidence in the media, and only 11 per cent of Canadians have ‘a great deal of confidence in what the media have to say.'”

She goes on to say “this is not news to Paul Jay.” It will not be news to readers of the ALLDERBLOB either. Take a look at what we wrote back in March. In a letter addressed to the Globe and Mail’s Roy McGregor, we stated in part:

McGregor 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.

We think Zerbisias knows this too.

Court rulings clarify meaning of “car dependency”

Tuesday, June 14th, 2005

Okay, let’s say you go hunting in your pickup truck at dawn some day. There, in the mist up ahead, partially illuminated by your truck’s headlights, you see something.

Naturally, you shoot at it.

Turns out it’s not a deer, but a buddy of yours who got there first, and his leg is destroyed (lucky you’re not a good shot).

Do you 1) leave him there to die or get home on his own, since he’s not a deer and you can’t eat him 2) load him into your truck and drive to hospital, since your gun blast probably ruined any chance of good hunting in the area anyway or 3) call your insurance company to report a claim under your third party liability coverage?

Stumped? How about this one:

You’re driving along an interstate highway with your dad, say, down in the good ol’ U.S.A. when out of nowhere a tremendous flash of light and crash of shattered glass rips through the front of your vehicle. You’re left blind and brain-damaged, and will need millions of dollars in care.

How did it happen? Well, some local kids were tooling around at the outskirts of the suburb in their car when they came across a boulder and thought how cool it would be to drop it from the overpass. If only they could get it down the road somehow… Of course! They heave it into the trunk of the car and just drive it there.

Now what to do? 1) go home to Mississauga and moulder away in self-pity 2) sue the pants off the dirt-poor perpetrators in court 3) apply to your own car insurance company, under your “Family Protection Coverage endorsement, which comes into play when a driver who causes injuries has inadequate liability coverage.”

If you answered (3) to both questions you could be a million dollars richer!

In both cases, as reported by James Daw in today’s Business section of the Toronto Star, the precedent is a 1995 case known as Amos v. Insurance Corp. of British Columbia.

In that case, a man was shot before he could flee in his van from a gang of car hijackers. He was found eligible for no-fault benefits because his injuries resulted directly from ‘the ordinary and well-known activities to which automobiles are put.’

Which brings us back, I suppose, to the question of car dependency. Not that you’ll see a car advertisement trumpeting these uses soon, but courts of law don’t make things up:

Let’s see. Without a car, you would be unable to 1) use your headlights to blind and startle big game beside the road when you go hunting; 2) transport huge boulders to highway overpasses in order to drop them on unsuspecting motorists below; or 3) experience a carjacking.

In effort to appease the ALLDERBLOB, GM to cut 25,000 North American jobs: But is it enough?

Thursday, June 9th, 2005

The big news in the business pages is how General Junk Bonds (a.k.a. the scourge of L.A. Transit) will be laying off 25,000 workers in an attempt to make its stockholders happy.

The Toronto Star devoted its mainstage editorial to the story today, repeating the line about how “one in seven” Ontario jobs are “directly or indirectly dependent on the auto industry.”

Question: if I live in a suburb where it takes me 35 minutes to walk the twisting streets and cross two major “carterials” to reach somewhere to buy a carton of milk, does that mean the guy who sells me the carton of milk has a job “directly or indirectly dependent on the auto industry?” If so, maybe “one in seven” is an understatement.

But if, like the ALLDERBLOB, you see the illogic in that premise, maybe “one in seven” is a gross overestimate.

The fact is, it’s past time for Canada to reduce its dependency on the auto industry. It’s time for folks in suburbs to challenge the zoning that disallows corner stores within sane walking distance. It’s time for the chainstores to recognize that smaller is better, and having a smaller “shoe” (i.e. not a two-ton “boot”) to accomplish our basic needs is only a starting place for creating a smaller ecological footprint.

When will we see this advocated in a Toronto Star editorial?

Maybe when the editorialist’s salary stops being paid by ads for GM?

Jun. 9, 2005. 01:00 AM
Editorial: Province will feel automaker’s pain

Oshawa’s three General Motors assembly plants rank at the top of the North American auto industry for efficiency and productivity. Combined with Canada’s 80 cent dollar and our government-run medicare system, these advantages allow GM to produce its cars and trucks here in Ontario at a much lower cost than at its 54 plants in the United States.

But the superb reputation of our GM assembly plants and workers cannot insolate Ontario from the company’s deep-seated troubles.

As a result of the steady erosion of its market share and uncompetitive cost structure in the U.S., General Motors is sinking in a tide of red ink. In the first quarter of this year, its losses exceeded $1 billion (all figures U.S.). Where it accounted for one of every two cars sold in North America in the 1970s, and one of three in the 1990s, GM now accounts for one of every four. And for each car it sold in the first three months of this year, GM lost $2,300. For every car rolling off one of its U.S. assembly lines, GM must pay $1,500 in health-are costs alone for its U.S. workers and retirees.

Plagued as the giant automaker is by excess capacity, GM chairman and CEO Rick Wagoner announced Tuesday that the company would close an unspecified number of its plants and shed 25,000 workers by 2008 in an effort to pare its annual costs by $2.5 billion.

Although Wagoner targeted the U.S. for all of the cuts, union leaders and industry watchers here are unanimous in predicting that Canadians will share the pain. Even if our top-ranked assembly plants are spared, the fact that the North American industry is fully integrated means Canadian parts suppliers, including GM operations in St. Catharines and Windsor, will feel the effects of the cutbacks. The Canadian Auto Workers union also can expect to face intransigent company negotiators seeking concessions in coming contract talks. And regardless of Canada’s economic advantages, American political pressures will no doubt dictate that GM Canada take a hit in terms of job losses as well.

As unwelcome and unfair as these near-term impacts on Canada may be, Ontarians need to recognize that they face an even bigger issue. With one of every seven jobs in the province directly or indirectly dependent on the auto industry, we all will pay a far higher price if General Motors fails to regain its financial health and halt the loss in market share.

As for GM, it should take a closer look at its Ontario operations for answers on how to get back on the road to long-term success. Company-union co-operation on plant changes and an overall improvement in labour relations have sparked big gains in productivity and quality. Oshawa is becoming a hub for GM engineering and innovation, designing better, more efficiently produced vehicles that people will buy.

Tragedy on Horner Avenue

Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

It’s bikeweek in Toronto. Appropriately enough, we have something “not on the agenda” happening: a kid riding his bike on a road build for speed was killed, hit by a recycling truck on contract to the city of Toronto.

Toronto’s NOW magazine out today mentions it in its “Upfront” section. They write, in full:

Lanes would save cyclists

The tragic death of preteen cyclist Ben Paskus on Horner Avenue is another horrible reminder of how unsafe our streets remain for people on environment-embracing bicycles. The young man died on a street that has been slated for a bike lane. Construction of the Horner lane remains stalled, along with proposed bike routes on literally hundreds more kilometres of roadways, by budget cuts and a lack of political will.

A group I belong to, Toronto’s Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, held a memorial yesterday for the kid. About twelve of us turned up, a long ride along sun-burnt streets to the far edge of the city, the TREC windmill whipping around above us and then receding out of sight as we pedaled West. The kid’s mom turned up too, along with her two other little boys, who played on the verge and around a dead tree strewn with flowers and mementos while ARC took a lane of traffic with our timeworn banner, “A cyclist was killed here last week.”

NOW shakes a stick at the bikeplan and dull-witted politicians over the kid’s death, but when you go to the site you see the situation is much much worse than that. The situation is so bad it would make a grown man rend his hair and want to poke out his own eyeballs.

In fact that’s just what “Abdul,” the man who drove the truck that killed the child, spent his day doing the next day. They say he had to be literally dragged from the site at 11 pm the next night by his family. They say he was in the hospital on a suicide watch. The plot thickens with the fact that he’s a new father, with an infant son.

And the dead boy’s mother, meanwhile, is as stoic a person as you can imagine: “There are two victims here,” she told us at the memorial. “At least my son is dead; the driver has to live on in pain.”

It would seem not by coincidence have we a Stoic Mother and a Grief-Stricken Father. In fact the whole story plays out like a Greek tragedy.

There was an inevitable outcome to a) a truck on contract to the city of toronto: i.e., one guy driving a right-hand steered truck with the job of both driving and looking out for blue boxes (why one guy? to save a salary, of course–it’s the low bid that gets the job after all); b) a four lane road that, like a moat, divides a leafy green residential zone on the North, a grid of neat blocks and quiet streets, from a major industrial zone on the South: a huge grey blob on the map that in reality has driveways instead of sidewalks and a continuous “just on time delivery” of 18-wheeled trucks; c) a kid riding home from his friend’s house, on the sidewalk, doing just what mom said to do because if you were to ride on the road in that area you would have to cross four lanes of roadway to get to your street; d) a street as wide and empty as any in the city, but with a throb, regular as a pulse, of motorized traffic beating from a traffic light three blocks over to the one three blocks on; e) bus lay-bys: just the thing to get the buses out of the way of car traffic while they pick up their lonely freight, but here placed just so the right-turning garbage truck, with the driver by the curb eyes peeled for blue boxes, is in direct line with the 6:40 sun, 30 million miles away, blinding him to the kid on the bike hurtling across his path, regular as clockwork.

In Greek tragedy originally the audience could not separate themselves from the action. They had no understanding of the concept of “actors;” for them it was really the gods on stage before them.

As we rode home along Horner, the wind seemed to come down from the East and slow us down. We passed a traffic light three blocks over that’s new: it was put in place about three years back when another eleven-year-old boy was crossing the four-lane street and was killed by a car.

The wind gets in your face you know, it blows dust, into your eyes.

Gord Perks wriggles while car ads burn eye

Thursday, June 2nd, 2005

Gord Perks, in his biweekly “Enviro” column for Toronto’s eye magazine, lays a big fat turd all over page 16. Is it worth reading? Only if you’re willing to watch a grown man squirm.

Me, I don’t get my kicks that way, but hey–the ALLDERBLOB has a job to do.

It appears Perks came under some heat as a result of what he wrote last time out (see below, at “nothing personal, but we can’t be friends”).

In that column, Perks went on at length about how the petroleum industry’s bad because it encourages car dependency and other unsustainable practices, without ‘fessing up to his own complicity in car culture.

But to readers of the ALLDERBLOB, there it was, in plain sight, leaving traces of ink across Perks’ column whenever you closed the magazine. A full-page ad for some car or other on the opposite side.

In other words, as we pointed out here (and in a letter to eye and Perks himself), Perks is hypocritical to condemn the very agency of his “free” speech.

We went further, of course: Perks, by virtue of his wife’s membership, benefits from all the rights and priviledges of membership in the Canadian Automobile Association, a screwy bunch of pavement fanatics if ever there was one.

So we were interested to see what Perks would have to say for himself today.

Excuse me while I wipe some of the froth off my lips and beard.

That’s better.

In today’s column, called “Car-culture contradictions,” Perks wants to have it both ways. The jerky motion of his prose is no doubt a result of his left hand writing a check to the CAA while his right dabbles the keyboard. Or vice versa. Or maybe he’s wiping something, himself.

He accepts at face value one of the first tenets of the gospel of the car ad, which states “the car is a necessary evil.” What he actually says, believe it or not, is “[the car is] as necessary as the air we breathe.”

Does he really believe this? What I think he means is “The car pays my salary, and that’s a good thing for everyone.”

Because I don’t think he really believes it. Because a few breathless paragraphs later [oh eye weekly! Oh for an editor!] he begins again: “There is nothing fore-ordained about car culture.”

But he wants us–or someone–[shurely not the car companies whose porn graces the pages just prior to his column?–ed]–to believe he believes it. Because a few paragraphs later he’s at it again: “Next time you look at a car, see both the necessary evil of today…” blah blah blah.

Huh? Was I saying something?

Oh yeah.

The point is, maybe something got through to Perks. Dare I hope, even my letter of two weeks ago?

Because today, on page 17, there’s no car ad to be seen. Is it possible, just possible, that Perks’s editor [ha!] woke up to the hypocrisy of placing car-porn cheek-by-jowl with a column that would kick straight up the goalposts of car culture?

Until Perks tells us himself though, we’ll assume it’s just a coincidence, and keep trying.

Because you can’t on the one hand decry society’s car dependency, and on the other take cash from the very industry (i.e. advertising) that promotes and stimulates that dependency. Not if you don’t want to be seen as a hypocrite.