Archive for August, 2006

Auto Fest, Hi! Fetish?

Sunday, August 27th, 2006

A note to the reader:

Little Blobby is no longer whinnying with us. He has informed us of his intent to dissolve his relationship with our organization and take up meditation, as he puts it, “with real intent this time.”

While we wish him all the luck, and believe he has every chance of success, we will unfortunately be foundering in some small ways as we deal with trying out new writers. Please bear with us in this difficult time.

Today’s post is being written by a committee consisting of the editor, his pal William Forsyth, and Forsyth’s aging mother, Dagmar, who tells us she has never driven in a car in her life.

Dagmar is 94 years old.

For this post, we took the GO train to Oshawa and bicycled three kilometres each way to visit GM headquarters, where they put on something brazenly called the “Auto Fest–Hi!”

Brazen, we say, because it is clear the subliminal message GM wishes to impart with their title is the transfigured message contained therein: not “Auto Fest–Hi!” but “Auto Fetish.”

What is meant by this not-so-subtle play on words? The auto as fetish item hardly needs elucidation, but perhaps it is worth examining nonetheless. Poor Dagmar, there in the corner, still wheezing from the day’s smog ingestion, has a full understanding of the automobile as consumer fetish item. Her dearly departed husband Forsyth Senior, after all, was an instructor at Northern Technical for forty years, and in that time lectured every year on the subject. He tested all his lectures on his wife and son.

So, what did we see? To quote Dagmar again, “a whole lotta nothin’.”

Fact is, the AutoFest auto be called the “WankFest,” according to Dagmar.

What we ought to have explained is that Dagmar thought we were going to Oshawa to pick late-harvest strawberries at a field she used to go to as a teenager.

What we ought to have explained to Dagmar is the field she remembers is today buried under a hundred tons of suburbia.

What we ought to explain to you, dear reader, is the AutoFest at GM headquarters in Oshawa is a celebration of antique and classic cars, and as such we thought dear old Dagmar would help us focus on the problem.

“Where’s my strawberries? You said we were coming all this way to pick strawberries! This isn’t the field I remember! This is a parking lot!”

Indeed. Dagmar really brought the problem into focus for us.

Because with cars, you can dress them up, but you can’t take them out. A parking lot full of old cars is still a parking lot.

And with Dagmar, we observe that asphalt strawberries are of no use at all.

The art of a dark mess

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

A Note to the Reader:

Some of the more astute among you will have noticed a falling-off of late in the ALLDERBLOB’s resolve. Fact is, our last entry was more a sneeze, or a hiccup, than a post.

And the entry before that, well…

The entry before that was pulled from the dustbin of history in a somewhat patchy attempt to post something, anything, to satisfy our eager readers (hi, mom!) after a week-long silence. Some of you may have noticed its odd phrasing, its second-person-singular object, and, if you followed the link, the fact that it was written about a month earlier.


Our man Blobby has not been his old self, that’s clear. In fact, something’s happened to him. Something’s changed. His usual robust prose stylings have turned greenish, his “pong” less severe.

We caught up with Blobby at his usual spot, the front table at Toronto’s Only Café. He was nursing his usual two-hour cup of black coffee, still redolent of cinamon. As we watched, he stabbed his pen at the paper in front of him, and we wondered if this was it: was this the lob we’d been waiting for?

But no, it was only the day’s “sudoku” puzzle, from the back page of the “Metro” commuter paper. Metro’s is among the easiest of sudoku puzzles around, and comes with a gauge of your relative success: “genius” level is taking 12 minutes to complete the puzzle, or about six stops on the subway.

Blobby looked wan, hardly his usual pudgy self, and when we sat down he gritted his teeth and scratched another number into one of the boxes. When for a moment he looked up, his gaze seemed distant, his eyes watery and cloudy.

Blobby. Blobby Blobby Blobby. Blobby, we hardly knew ye. What is wrong? What is up? GM, that genetically-modified car company, is failing. Fo(u)rd is recallng automobiles and laying off thousands. The lobs are succeeding. Car culture is choking. Newspapers are posting hypocritical editorials against cigarette smoking, terrorism, AIDS (or both) and handguns, while passing over the commonplace symbols of car hegemony that spread like split beavers across the centrefold. There’s grist for the dark satanic mills of the ALLDERBLOB at every turn, yet you remain silent. Tell us, dear Blobby, what has happened? What have you seen?

When Blobby speaks though, it’s only to say “Dang. Thirteen minutes. Still only sub-genius. Dang.”

Blobby, we say again. What is it. What happened, there by the lake?

But Blobby is silent. He drinks at his tepid coffee. And studies the wall opposite: a portrait of Yoko Ono, her eyes shut. Rebrandt van Rijn as a young man. A giant snow phallus, ringed by Humber College revellers, circa 1987.

We wait. The sunlight shifts across the floor, now catching Senor Blobby’s yellowish toenails. He wears leather sandals that need mending.

When Blobby speaks, it’s as if he’s not used his voice in a while. It cracks, and breaks, more than a whisper but not quite full voice. He says, “I was out of town last week.”

This we know. But we only nod, and say nothing. Sometimes it’s better to wait.

“I was at the cottage of the in-laws. The ex-in-laws. It’s complicated. Don’t ask me to explain.”

We know a few pieces of this story, of course.

“A cousin by marriage, what’s that? Then there’s the divorce. And it’s not even the cousin, but her husband. Degrees of separation, but I’m implicated, somehow. I was there.

“I don’t know the guy. A nice guy. I was to their wedding, in New York City. Years ago. He works in advertising. He makes television commercials.”

A shudder passes through us, despite the hot Toronto day. Blobby maintains his steady gaze at Yoko, and his voice, when it re-emerges, stays level, hypnotic.

“A nice guy. A real sweetheart, you know?”

What the hell, we’re thinking, but we say nothing. We let Blobby tell his story.

“Yeah, we had a glass of wine together the last evening I was there. The cousin’s husband and I, that is. Down by the lake. Just the two of us.

“They’d been landscaping the granite rock of the shield, making paved terraces and walls. We sat off to the side, I on a tall rock, up high. I was pinned to the rock by the light that spilled from the cottage. He sat lower down, more comfortably, on the wall facing me.

“His name? I’d rather not say. It would be smarter not to say. There would be trouble. Call him Truck.

“Dusk falls early this time of year, and fast. After a few minutes of chit-chat, I became aware of how the light from the cottage beyond Truck’s head cast his features into relief. He was like some knd of stone statue, something built out of the landscape, something permanent as the granite shield the cottage itself sat on.

“Flowery stuff? Maybe. If you’d been there you’d understand. After a while I had the uneasy sense it was the rock speaking, not Truck at all. The rock itself speaking through Truck.

“Nutty, right? I know. But if not for the glowing tip of his cigarette, and the occasional drift of smoke caught in the light, you’d forget a man was there: just the granite wall, speaking.

“Yeah, he smoked. Made a big deal out of it actually. I was to keep it a secret. No telling his wife. No telling the kids. Above all, not the kids. If the kids knew he smoked, he seemed to be saying, all would be lost.

“Crazy? The guy’s in advertising, remember. They trade in duplicity. Secrets from the wife and kids? What else would you expect?

“But what a nice guy. You know, out there with his furtive smokes, his entreaties for secrecy, I felt sorry for him. I couldn’t help it. And I realized, he’s a man, not a devil. You know, he’s one of the top admen in the country; he’s in the elite, and he can’t smoke a cigarette when he wants to. Has to keep it a secret. And he’s 52, grown up in a business where age 25 is the target and if you miss a beat on that crowd there’s a crowd of other admen in line for your place. Every day he gets closer to his own obsolescence in a game where obsolescence is planned by others just like himself. He’s the architect of his own doom. You’d feel for the guy too. Anyone would.

“He got to talking about TV. You know, the kids were inside, cheering the “Cinderella Man” DVD he’d got for them to watch on his laptop. Well it’s the cottage, right? All that granite, it shields the TV signals. You can’t get diddly unless you have satelite or cable.

“Other end of the island, you know, we have satelite. Truck was impressed to hear how I’d turned the TV to the wall though. No kids are gonna spend the week in the wilderness watching the idiot box, I’d proclaimed. The kids kicked up a fuss, of course, but I set them a competition: the one who complained the least, I said, would win an ice-cream cone.

“Impressed? Was Truck impressed? Yeah. But amused, too. Remember, the guy makes TV ads for a living. He lives at the dark heart of the mess. He’s an artist with nothing to say, and when he speaks, everyone hears him. To him, putting the TV to the wall only confirms its power. His power, ultimately. He got a chuckle out of it, if you want to know the truth.

“But he quit chuckling when he talked about his own kids. See, he had a dark secret to tell.

“Why tell me? I don’t know. But as I sat there in the flood of light from the cottage, hearing the rustling in the leaves from the mice and carrion beetles that scuttled in the dark beyond the granite walls, I felt exposed, open, receptive. And Truck, in contrast, was hidden, shrouded in darkness, cast in shadow by the same light that laid me open. Something about the light made Truck feel compelled to ‘confess.’ Hidden in darkness, his voice issuing from the rock before me, it was as if he wasn’t there. Only his words, floating in the breeze, and the cigarette smoke he occasionally expelled.

“I played innocent, you know. Did I speak of the ALLDERBLOB? Nah. Truck would’ve laughed, anyway. He has no time for “blobs.” He said as much: a waste of time. A waste to read, and a waste to write. A waste of energy. A sop for those who might act, to make them feel better about their inability to act. Their inability to actually effect change of any kind. Truck wouldn’t have been intimidated by the notion of the ALLDERBLOB. He would’ve laughed to hear my life’s work, my goal, my focus: the elimination of automobile advertising through the writing of ‘lobs.’

“He would’ve been polite about it, of course. A nice guy, you know? But for him, from the heart of the dark mess, advertising has nothing to fear from its attackers. In fact, it can only learn from their attacks, and be strengthened.

“Strengthened. For example, he laughed when I asked him about Adbusters. Does he fear them? Not a chance. He laughed, I tells you. He only said, ‘My god, you don’t know how far beyond harm we are from the likes of Kalle Lasn. You don’t know how we hoot about the situation.’

“He said, ‘I give annual seminars at the business school you know. That’s Harvard.

“ ‘Students there come from all over the world, from every nation. And I get up there and take questions from them, from the elite of the world. These kids are going to to back to run the soap factories in Jakarta, the woolen mills in Guan Jou, the truck parts plant in Mumbai.

“ ‘And I tell them there isn’t a minute of their lives that isn’t programmed anymore. You should see how their eyes open wide at that. And no, it’s not the jingles planted in their skulls. It’s not the images of plenty that fill their bellies. It’s beyond any of that.

“ ‘I tell them…’

“Here Truck’s voice grew whispery, receding into a shadow of smoke that shone in the air in front of him for a moment before it dissipated in the breeze.

“And though I listened as hard as I could, the words that followed were so hushed, so quiet that the rasp of a beetle drowned them out. The rustle of an earthworm clawing at a leaf in the darkness off the path was louder than the words then spoken by Truck.

“I leaned in though, and caught the last of it: ‘…the horror… The horror…’

“Odd? I’ll say. If we’d been ringed by heads on pikes instead of just crickets, it wouldn’v have been any creepier at that moment.

“But a moment later his voice was back to normal. It was as if nothing strange had happened: ‘You can’t make a move without making what you think are choices. I mean, you want headache medicine? You go to the drugstore. What you need? Sinus pain with post-nasal drip? Headache with fever? Headache without fever? Fever with cough? Be specific, damn it! Cough and a headache? Two bits! Need to drive heavy machinery? Headache and can’t sleep?

“ ‘We got you covered. You go to the drugstore feeling fine, you better have a headache by the time you leave: that’s our job. And the joke is….’ Again his voice has faded though.

“ ‘Yes?’ I say, leaning in again. ‘The joke?’ Truck’s profile has been illuminated for the moment in another reflective cloud of smoke.

“ ‘The dirty joke is, you think it’s you that’s choosing. You think you’re telling us your symptoms. Fact is, we’re telling you.

“ ‘You turned the TV to the wall?’ he says, after a long silence. He’s lit up another cigarette.

“ ‘Well,’ I start to explain.

“ ‘Good for you,’ he says. ‘It’s a start. But you can’t let yourself think that’s the end of it.’

“He’s turned his head so I no longer have a hint of his profile. In the dark, it’s impossible to tell if he’s looking straight at me, or back toward the cottage. He might be looking there, where his two boys, age 11 and 13, and the kids I’m minding, both age 12, are all whooping with delight at something in the movie they’ve been allowed to watch.

“ ‘No one I know in the industry,’ Truck starts to say, but stops. ‘Let me rephrase that: Not one of us who really loves our kids lets them watch TV unhindered.’

“My eyebrows are way high on my face. I can feel the muscles writing ‘incredulity’ on my forehead.

“ ‘You don’t believe me,’ he says.

“I start to answer, but he cuts me off.

“ ‘That’s okay. Don’t believe me. But believe this: we haven’t had a television in the house for four years. We got rid of ours.

“ ‘It’s the commercials, if you gotta know….’

“Truck’s voice has sunken to a whisper again. And it’s clear his dark secret, if I can put it that way, is out. There’s a quality of forced lightness to his voice as he changes the subject, asks me something about my life and my work, and soon after that, he’s standing, stretching his legs: the seminar is over.

“For me, though, nothing’s been the same since. It’s like a window opened into the soul of an advertiser. The real horror, if I can call it that, is seeing him as a fellow, a human being, a man driven by the choices he himself made–or thought he’d made, into an art of manufacturing a dark sort of consent.

“And you’re right. I’m off the game. Nothing’s the same anymore. I don’t know if I have it in me to keep up the attack.”

The mood in the café has shifted. The late afternoon crowd has begun to arrive, the music is suddenly too loud. It had been the Grateful Dead, now it’s Run DMC.

Blobby chews down the last of his coffee, stands, grimaces, places a two-dollar coin on the counter, and leaves: he has errands to run.

[To be continued? –ed.]

Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation

Friday, August 18th, 2006

T-CAT good–four wheels bad.

The truth about car advertising

Sunday, August 13th, 2006

The ALLDERBLOB came across this post as hit number 50 or so in a google search of the phrase “full car advertising.” We didn’t know what “full car advertising” meant, or where it would lead, but when you google it (without the quotes) you get a hell of a lot of hits. Fact is, according to our site stats, it’s a phrase that led someone to us, and we’re always interested in how that happens. But to tell the truth, we never found the link to our site from within those 80,600,000 google hits. What stopped us was your promising title.

“The Truth about Car Advertising” is a pretty potent come-on, as you gotta realize. It’s actually a brilliant and complex phrase, an oxymoron or something–you know, a phrase that contains within it a contradiction or a denial of its central premise.

But in reading your editorial we realized you have not realized the full promise of the title you chose. It’s as if you did not grasp the cognitive dissonance brought on by placing the words “truth” and “car advertising” in such close proximity.

Or maybe it’s just that The ALLDERBLOB takes a different position on car ads than your editorial does. We think car ads tell lies by definition, and their central lie is so pernicious, so destructive to society at large, so, well, evil, that there is no alternative in a society that wishes to defend itself and protect its future prosperity but to ban them outright.

Letter to the “Ad”-itor: IT’S THE CLIMATE, STUPID!

Friday, August 4th, 2006

We have to say we were excited earlier this week to return to our offices to find a telephone message from Bernie O’Neill.

O’Neill is an editor at the Mirror newspaper chain, and we had responded to a story in the East York/Riverdale version that quoted our esteemed Toronto councillor Case Ootes (ward 29) ad nauseum.

Ootes, it seems, does not like the bikelane that runs through his heart [shurely you mean “the heart of his ward?” –ed.] on Cosburn Ave.

The article, by fellow cyclist [donchu mean “typist?” –ed.] Dave Nickle, bent over backwards in its efforts at fairness to his nuttiness, councillor Case Ootes [rhymes with “odious” –ed.].

For example, Nickle tells us,

The travel time along the route during peak periods has increased, by about 10 per cent in the afternoon – 25 seconds – and by 20 per cent in the morning – 58 seconds.

Well that sounds like a pretty tough break for Case Carhead out there. Twenty-five seconds? What a slog. What a damn hard row Case has to hoe. Of course, when you put it as “10 percent,” that puts a different light on it. We take back all our sarcasm.

You can see how Nickle is trying to make Case Ootes look less like a lunatic with this “percent” analysis.

He’s trying to be fair, just in case someone finds out he rides a bicycle.

But a little later in the piece, he tells about the effect the bikelanes have had in increasing bicycle use:

Prior to the bike lanes being in place, 42 cyclists were counted. With the bike lanes, the number of cyclists increased to 94.

Hey! Nickle! Hey! Aren’t you leaving something out? Like, “That’s an increase of over 100 percent?”

Naturally, we set the rapier of our resident urban designer to the task of crafting a publishable response, to wit:

To the Editor,

re: Bid to rid Cosburn of bike lanes put on hold (East York Mirror, July 28, 2006)

Case Ootes states he will re-open the debate on Cosburn’s bikelanes in the new term of city council. Where have we heard this before? Oh yes, it’s exactly what he planned before the last election, when he let known his intention to reach into the neighbouring ward and rip out bikelanes on Dundas St. E.

Of course, he failed in that quixotic quest, and it’s safe to say he will fail again, but it’s an odd re-election strategy in the meantime.

Is this what constitutes leadership for Ootes? I have news for him. He is out of touch with Ward 29. Is this because he doesn’t actually live in the ward, but knows it mostly as a place he must drive through on his way to city hall? His focus on whether there’s a 28-second delay on Cosburn because of bikelanes does not cut it with the people of Riverdale. In fact, like people all over Toronto, they want to know what steps the city is taking to reduce its contribution to greenhouse gases. They want to know what they can do, personally, to deal with the climate crisis that is upon us, before it is too late. Riding a bike is one simple step that anyone can take toward reducing the
threat of global warming, and bikelanes make riding bikes safer for everyone.

If Ootes doesn’t get it now, maybe he will when protest signs start showing up at his meetings: “It’s the Climate, Stupid.”

The people of Ward 29 don’t really mind a slower street, one where it’s safer for the smallest and most vulnerable to participate as an equal vehicle in the road, on a bikelane. Is a 28-second “delay” really so bad for people like Case Ootes, and other residents to the east and north, as they rush through Ward 29 in their cars on their way to “somewhere else?” Maybe it’s time for them to try cycling: they may find out why bikelanes make life better.

The fact that over a few months the installation of bikelanes on Cosburn has nearly doubled the number of cyclists using it should speak louder than any survey Ootes can wave around. It’s a reminder that people all over Toronto have expressed a desire for safer transport by bikes for work and play, and that the best thing to do is not delay in implementing the rest of the city’s fully-approved bikelane masterplan.

It’s past time, in fact, for a bikelane up Donlands to link with the bikelanes on the Overlea bridge and the part of East York north of the Don Valley, and south to the bikelanes on Jones Ave and the lakefront. If Ootes wants to demonstrate leadership, instead of reactionary backsliding, let him push for bikelanes on Donlands at the next meeting of council.

Jacob Allderdice

So this explains our excitement at getting a call from Bernie O’Neill, the Mirror editor. We were happily anticipating the thought of Case Ootes reading the letter and defecating in his trousers in horror.

Instead, it was we who had to make an extra trip to the lavatory. For imagine our sadness when we turned to the letters page to see not our letter, but the snaggle-tooth grin of our sordid twin, his odiousness himself, in a paid advertisement:

letter to the \"ad\" itor?

Sick as it may seem, it is also true that just below the snap of Ootes’ leering jowls was a car advertisement.

Is there a hint of bright in the day’s sickening news?

Well, yes.

And we don’t just mean the recall notice sent to 800,000 Ford car owners.

The Mirror columnist Joe Cooper, our hero, managed a fairly credible response to the piece, however without once mentioning his foulness’s name.

We give you Joe Cooper, East York’s “Watchdog:”

On the issue of the Cosburn Avenue, I use that road on a daily basis (either car or bike) and every time that I do so I see one or more people on bicycles using the bike lane.

More importantly, I see people using the bike lanes in the rain, in the middle of winter, at night and all through the day.

However, what is very disturbing to me is the absolutely appalling behaviour of some people I have seen using motorized vehicles on that street.

I have seen excessive speeding, people passing on the solid line, people passing in parking lanes, and far too many people deliberately driving or parking in the bike lane.

Say no more.

David Olive, Toronto Star writer: “Big city, small minds streets”

Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006

In a piece on the front of the Toronto Sunday Star the other day, David Olive [who he? –ed.] wrote: “T.O needs a Department of Fun,” (subhead: “SMALL MINDS BIG CITY : Why is Toronto so hostile to the dramatic, bold decisions that could transform the city?”).

Now, we’re as fed up with the small ideas that get choked to death in this city as the next blob, but when a senior business reporter for the nation’s biggest newspaper rants about it, we know we’re mainstream: haleleujah and amen to that, brother.

But then we read what constitutes “fun” for David Olive. What for him would be considered a “big idea.”

Yeesh! What a creepazoid!

Now, he starts out on the right foot. He quotes our colleague Daniel Burnham [Hey! –ed.], who famously said of his design for Chicago’s massive waterfront park:

Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will not die.

What’s not to agree with about that?

Problem is, a lot of wackos and fascists throughout history have made “no little plans,” and the world is the worse for it.

So in making “Big Plans” we at the ALLDERBLOB say it’s best to tread carefully: car-lessly, that is.

Because Big Plans that include big highways are no more than big bummers for folks who prefer living to driving.

David Olive would disagree. With the rest of the car-headed set that passes for Toronto’s “intelligentsia” [bettur chek speling –ed.], a.k.a. the folks that say what’s fit to print in our newspapers, David Olive has yet to meet a road he didn’t like.

Naturally we put our resident urban designer, a man who’s never met a bikepath he didn’t like, to the task of crafting a response:

To the Editor:

re: David Olive: “Big City, small minds” (July 30 ’06)

First thought: Bravo David Olive for calling attention to the “Ideas Deficit Syndrome” that has our leaders in its grip.

Second thought: David Olive would not recognize a “big idea” if it smacked him upside the head.

I mean, come on: the Front Street Extension? That qualifies for a big idea in Olive’s book?

There’s a reason the Front Street Extension was rebranded by opponents as the Gardiner Expressway Extension: we saw it for what it was: a simple way of getting more cars into the city, with no clear “exit strategy” except more roads, more parking lots, more blight.

Instead of the expressway extension, today we have people repopulating the downtown core in droves, delighted to find there the walkable and coherent neighbourhoods the suburbs can never provide. We have former mayor June Rowlands to thank for the zoning changes that made possible this development, but despite this smack upside the head, Olive never mentions the special “Kings” zoning.

Olive’s big idea is a city for cars, not people. It’s a vision most clearly expressed in places like Detroit and Buffalo.

Olive is welcome to those places, if that’s what he prefers.

In fact, it appears Olive is among the growing line of people showing up at the playground to kick sand on the memory of Jane Jacobs. His heralding of Robert Moses and former Toronto Mayor Fred Gardiner as champions of the “big idea” clarifies the matter: Moses took a meat ax to New York City, just as Gardiner did to the Toronto Islands, both in the name of car access. Moses, famously, designed bridges on his New York City parkways to be too low to allow for bus traffic: you’re welcome to visit Jones Beach if you can afford to rent a car.

Gardiner, meawhile took his meat-ax to the Toronto Island, a viable car-free residential community that was decimated under his watch. Of course, we also have him to thank for the expressway that Olive today recognizes needs a new “big idea” to fix.

Now, just to show I’m not just some kind of NIMBY armchair critic, carping from the sideline, here’s a big idea, David Olive: let’s divide the city into “driving” and “non-driving” areas.

Just consider: “non-driving sectors” with sidewalk cafes where you can hear the birds sing, versus “driving sectors” where stepping off the curb may be a death sentence; “non-driving sectors” with windows you can throw open to fresh breezes and sweet smells, versus “driving sectors” where the roar and clank of cars, and the belching of exhaust keeps your windows shut tight; “non-driving sectors” with children playing and cyclists wheeling, versus “driving sectors” with sidewalks empty and teeth gritted? Which will you choose?

Jacob Allderdice, M.Urban Design
member, CAFE (Citizens Against the Front Expressway)

We have appeased the non-smokers. What about the non-drivers? Andy Singer CARtoon