Archive for the ‘unlikely versions of reality’ Category

Live from China

Friday, December 29th, 2006

Those of you who pay attention to these things will notice a certain quiver to the typing pattern: our scribe writes from the freezing cold lobby of a “budget hotel” in Beijing China.

Outside there’s a skiff of new-fallen snow on the ground, and the policy of the place is to leave the front door open–with one of those plastic dividers that you know from walk-in freezers as the only barrier to the weather outside…or is it the weather inside, who knows which is colder!

We arrived yesterday, after 18 hours in the air (including three hours in Newark waiting for a flight). Then we had the pleasure of another two hours sitting in a taxi in rush-hour traffic, negotiating the intricacies of car, bus, bicycle and yes, even horse-drawn cart, all mixing and mingling in some fashion or other. We had no idea where we were headed, just a name of the hotel and a phone number. The driver spoke no english (or cantonese) and we spoke nothing he recognized either. He called the hotel as he got closer, missed his turn by a block, and backed up into oncoming bicycle traffic in the “slow” lane to deposit us at our place.

Everywhere is a pall of coal smoke. The city is scrambling to build a transit link to the airport in time for 2008, but it looks like they’re on track. For the sake of the triathlete lungs, it’s a start. Meanwhile Toronto could learn something from them about accommodating bicycles: we saw a wide bike lane paralleling the airport road, with all manner of human-powered vehicles making use of it, all the way back to the city.

We headed out for dinner with our friend, the well-known urban designer Xao Pei: he took us to a 200-year-old restaurant that had a chinese opera house (with an opera playing we could peek at through the crack in the door) adjoining it. Turned out it was spicy sechuan cooking, which set us back in our chair somewhat, but perhaps for the best: we were jet-lagging all over the table, our hairs trailing in the soup, until the spicy stuff came.

Pei is hard at work these days: a kid, really, but with the strength of the U Toronto Urban Design degree behind his name he’s rocketting: right now he has responsibility, he told us, for the design of three new towns at the north of Beijing, to be built this year. His main concern is the idea of a ring-road outside the towns, with the inner core maintained as a pedestrian-friendly sector.

We’ll be joining Pei tonight for Peking duck. We shall see if they know how to make it in Beijing the way we Torontonians like it!

There was karaoke music playing loudly somewhere in the hotel or in the streets outside as we headed to bed, but we didn’t notice it much. The diesel noise of construction equipment working through the night was our lullaby.

Recounting the Odious struggle to date

Friday, November 24th, 2006

Joe Cooper, “Watchdog” columnist at the Riverdale/East York Mirror and Car Advertiser, has joined our call for a recount in Ward 29.

In addition, the lead editorial in that paper today claims “Recounts should be automatic in close election races.”

From all across the globe in fact, cries are being heard: “Enough Ootes already!”

Well, all across the Danforth Peninsula, anyway. The rest of the city hasn’t exactly noticed.

In fact from most of our readers, it’s not a cry of folks fed up with that “embarassment of Ward 29,” Case Ootes [phonetic pronunciation: “Odious” –ed.], but of folks fed up with the ALLDERBLOB’s fascination with a foregone conclusion.

For most of our readers, it’s a call triggered by people who long for the glory days of the ALLDERBLOB, the days of Jessica Rabbit and Margaret Wente, of Jacob Richler and Gord Perks: the days, in other words, when our straying from the call to “ban car ads” led to (self) flagelation, (righteous) indignation and (character) assassination, not (Case) Ootesination.

“Enough,” people are saying.

And we are listening.

We hear the fact that the city’s national “media and car advertisers” have yet to pick up the ALLDERBLOB holler for “Justice in Ward 29:” no calls from Royson James of the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser, or Jeff Simpson of the Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser; the CBC’s Metro Morning with Anti Bikey did not break stride to present our well-founded suspicions of dirt-cheap dirty deeds north of Danforth.

We get it. You’re fed up and want us to turn our gaze elsewhere.

You want to know how car advertising plays a part in the double bruising Toronto received recently when the Federal government both declined to back our bid for the 2015 World’s Fair and agreed that the Toronto Port Authority does not comprise the “creeps and rascals” everyone knows them to be.

You want to know our take on the State of California’s bid to sue its six biggest car manufacturers for knowingly and deliberately contributing to global warming.

You want to hear what we think about the latest attack on big tobacco–their having to stop calling some cigarettes “mild” or “light” because it suggests some smokes don’t cause cancer–when the car companies can go on pretending that some cars are “less bad” for the environment than others, as usual.

You’re fed up with us lobbing at the shadows thrown by Toronto city clerk Ulli S. Watkiss and councillor Case Ootes, dancing their mysterious tango.

You get it: we’re implying that to call a margin of 0.17% (i.e. 20 votes out of a total of 11,560 cast for either Ootes or Alexopoulos) a victory, not a “tie,” (where a tie vote would have merited a recount) means “someone” owes “someone” a favour.

You were there when we turned up the fact that it was Ootes himself who announced Wad-kiss’s hiring in 2001. But you also note that Ootes was deputy mayor at the time (and therefore would have been the point-man on announcing such hirings). Might this not explain his name and glowing words on the press release? Are Wad-kiss and Ootes drinking buddies? We have no way of knowing, and you don’t seem to care. Does Wadkiss have allegience to Odious that predates the current term of Mayor David Miller? We can’t say, and you want us to move on.

Okay, you say. Her call, that “no request for a recount would be granted,” was unfathomable. Okay. Enough.

We hear you. We’d be saying “enough,” too. We would.

Only, now we’ve unearthed another obvious tidbit on the Ward 29 drama.

It is a question of how Alexopoulos snuck up on everyone to come so close to the prize. Nobody expected it. Mayor Miller’s handler, Chris Phibbs, famously told our ace the struggle against Ootes was a waste of time. Adam Vaughan, who cleaned up in Ward 20 against the entire NDP machine, declined to run against Ootes out of fear of being “buried.Look at the margin of victory Case Ootes enjoyed over his competitors in the last election, in 2003:


Papadakis was ‘buried.” Folks who worked for him “wasted their time.”

But look again at those numbers: Ootes earned 9,352 votes in 2003. This time, he won 5,790. The fact is, Alexopoulos, who won 5,770 votes the other day, picked up just 563 votes over what Papadakis got three years ago. If Ootes had been his old self, he would have creamed her by a margin of 3,582 votes.

In other words, the election was Ootes’s to lose, not Alexopoulos’s to win. For all the stumping Ootes claims NDP leader Jack Layton and MPP Peter Tabuns did on Alexopoulos’s behalf, for all the post-election fretting about a “demon-dialler” he says Alexopoulos employed on election day, the resulting 563 votes that went to Alexopoulos would not have meant squat if Ootes himself had bothered to show up this time around.

Instead, his regal indifference to the rigours of an election campaign almost sent him to the employment line. It has made him the laughing-stock of city council. It may yet prove his undoing, if and when a recount is ordered in the new term that starts in January.

But we hear you. We do. Enough on Case Ootes and Diane Alexopoulos and Ulli S. Watkiss. Enough.

Instead, let us catch up on breaking news from all over:

Our colleague at Afterbirth of the Cool has raised the lid on the World Toilet Organization (WTO), noting that World Toilet day was celebrated at a variety of dumpsites this past week.

At the Culture Change headquarters, the latest screed addresses the Ivan Illich quandary about speed, urging readers to reconsider how fast they go in a car when they factor in the time spent earning the money for all that car culture incurs.

David Rees, whose drawings grace the monthly pages of Rolling Stone magazine and, more potently, his own website, has made hay with the latest travails of the fascists who propel politics in our neighbour to the south.

And not Rees but Reis, this one Martin, has daily Bikelane diary entries to savour. We loved the YouTube movie “history of Oil” (complete with bicycle-powered klieg-lamps).

And finally, always remember:

driving vs non-driving?

Twenty votes give Ootes his seat back

Monday, November 13th, 2006

Dateline: Ward 29, November 13, 11:44 pm.

And the votes are in. All polls reporting.

Ootes, Case* 5,790 (Elected) 46.3%
Alexopoulos, Diane 5,770 46.1%
James, Andrew 518 4.1%
Wilson, Hamish 183 1.5%
Richardson, John 137 1.1%
Smith, Darryl 114 0.9%

It looks like the last laughs are on us.

Please, Diane Alexopoulos, tell us you are going to demand a recount.

Please, Case Ootes: recognize that the ABC vote has spoken: 6,772 votes for their camp, 5,790 for yours. You lost by some twenty less than a thousand votes. Concede to the runner-up. Let Alexopoulos rule ward 29.

Give it up old man. Imperial Oil has moved to Calgary. Isn’t it time you headed west with them?

Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation launched to great fanfare: Margaret Wente a no-show

Wednesday, November 1st, 2006

The following press release came our way today:

For immediate release
Nov 1 2006

Toronto ON, October 31: Glen Murray, chair of the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, Dr. Alan Abelsohn of the Ontario College of Family Physicians and Gil Penalosa of Walk and Bike for Life will be joining the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation (TCAT) today at a press conference to demand that the next City Council make Toronto a truly enjoyable and safe place for cycling and walking.

Etcetera, etcetera.

The press release was distributed to an elite body of journalists, typists, and massagers of keyboards of all stripes all across the august city of To-ron-to. Naturally, the ALLDERBLOB was not among that number, however we have friends in high places and so we “found out” about the TCAT launch—among other things.

The simple fact is, Margaret Wente did not answer her invitation, so it was left to the ALLDERBLOB to ask the difficult questions on her behalf.

And you heard it here first that the typist gathering, which landed with a subtle “plop” in the two-storey atrium at MEC (that’s “mountain equipment co-op” for those of you out of the loop) could be counted on the fungus of one hand: there was Jeff Gray, Toronto Global Male and Car Advertiser’s self-titled “Traffic Guru;” there were Steve Wickens and David Bruser, competing for column inches from the same paper (the Toronto Rats and Car Advertiser); there was a woman from Novae Res Urbis (yes that’s its real name, but you need a million bucks to read the damn thing), a paper which my handy translation tool gives as “If it’s in Latin, it must be important.”

There were others present, but we are not at liberty to divulge their names. Suffice it to say that Sally McKay, Steve Brearton, Rick Conroy, Paul Young, all familiar to the elite cycling set that sets the agenda within today’s city hall, along with Ron Fletcher of Toronto Bicycling Network, J.P. Warren of the Conservation Development Alliance, and someone hovering at the back, eyeballing our reporter (who had absconded with the pen provided for signing in), completed the gathering.

At the head of the room, at a longish table our pals Marty Collier, Martin Koob, and Nancy Smith-Lea bookended the three distinguished complainants mentioned above: Dr. Abelsohn, Mr. Penalosa and Mr. Murray. Marty Collier did the introductions.

We snoozed.

However, our rest was to prove fitful, and our dreams lively.

Martin Koob interrupted our revery with his presentation of the work of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation. We have talked about them elsewhere and will not bore you again, however it bears mentioning that TCAT has done a yeoman’s job of creating a questionaire about attitudes toward cycling and walking for the current crop of wanna-be municipal councillors, and an even better job of getting the questionnaires into the faces of the polititicians.

After Koob, first to speak was Dr. Abelsohn, who co-authored a study called “Public Health and Urban Sprawl” in 2004. The findings of that study made the startling conclusion that folks who live in sprawl are car dependent. Being car dependent makes them tend to be overweight. Being overweight leads to a host of problems including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and the need for large trucks to accommodate their large behinds. It’s a vicious circle, one which Dr. Abelsohn abbreviated by saying his prescription for the large body of patients he sees who present these characteristics is “physical exercise.” When the inevitable answer comes back that there is not enough time to get to the gym, he responds, “incorporate exercise into your daily life by walking and cycling.”

The Margaret Wente in us put up her hand at this point: “Sirrah,” she screeched, not even waiting to be recognized. “First of all, I have seen plenny fat persons on bikes. Second, why you targeting fat people? Isn’t it time to re-evaluate “fat” anyway? If, as you say, to be obese is defined as being 30 pounds over one’s ideal weight, why not get together with your physician friends and redefine the ideal weight. Wouldn’t that be a lot cheaper than building all these trails and bikelanes everywhere, things society doesn’t really need and things that drain money away from roadbuilding?”

However, the discussion went on over these clear-thinking objections.

Next up was Mr. Penalosa, who you will know as the brother of Enrique although it did not come up in discussion (we are sure they are on the best of terms). Gil Penalosa was commissioner of Parks, Sports and Recreation during his brother’s mayoralty in Bogotá Colombia in the late 1990s. It’s Enrique who usually gets the credit for the construction of over 170 parks, the closure of 91 km of roads each Sunday, and the development of bus transit ways to rival anything in the developed world, but it’s Gil to whom credit is apparently due.

Today Gil lives in nearby Mississauga, the sprawling city that’s seventh largest in Canada (and yet forever in the shadow of Toronto), where he’s a planner “building the city for the 21st century.” He also directs the non-profit “Walk and Bike for Life,” under whose umbrella he has served as keynote speaker at the recent Madison Wisconsin Pro-walk/pro-bike international conference, and the American Trails Symposium in Davenport, Iowa. He left the press conference today enroute to Krakow Poland, where he is to speak at the “Great Places, Great Cities” conference next week [note the project for public spaces, the organizer of this conference, is also among brother Enrique’s biggest fans–ed.].

Mr. Penalosa had barely begun speaking when our inner Wente burst out in bitter complaint about his fumbling PowerPoint dependency: “Who are you to tell me not to take cellophane calls in my SUV,” she said out loud, “when you cannot even operate a computer safely in a clean, well-lit room.” But Mr. Penalosa plodded on, heedless.

It seems he is a believer in the notion that creating walking trails, and treating cyclists as valued members of the transportation family, will truly enhance the quality of life in a city. It seems he truly believes that a city like Portland Oregon, Chicago Illinois, or Vancouver B.C.: cities that make traveling by bike and on foot safer and more pleasant; these cities will prosper even as other cities, ones that ignore the safety and comfort of the active transportation sector, will fail.

Margaret Wente slammed her foot to the ground at this point, and the whole room turned to see the source of the noise. “I want you to know,” she said, “when I puts my foot on the gas I burns calories. I want you to know I get exercise when I climb up into my truck. I want you to know I am just as active as you cyclo-fascists when I reach across to shut off the damn CBC on the radio. Look at me. Look at my butt. Tell me I’m not gorgeous. I’m in just as good shape as any of you.”

The dead silence that followed was taken by Ms. Wente as assent. You will shurely read about it in her Global Male column tomorrow.

The final speaker was Glen Murray, the former mayor of Winnipeg who today charts his own course as partner in “Navigator Ltd.” There he is leader of AuthentiCity, the cleverly named [Bricoleurbanism, Sit Down! –ed.] “full-service urban management consulting practice.”

Now, we like Mr. Murray. We were impressed with the way he spoke without notes and without fancy gadgets. We could feel his sincerity as he told us “Active Transportation is central to any solution to climate change. Cyclists and pedestrians emit no Greenhouse Gases.” We feel sure he went on to say other things that were logical, well-thought-out, and heartfelt. However, Margaret Wente at this point stood up and interrupted:

“Cyclists and pedestrians emit no Greenhouse Gases? Who you kidding? Excuse me, but since when was your exhalation pure oxygen? No, I’m sorry, I won’t shut up. Are you not an animal? Do you not breathe in air and expel carbon dioxide? Are you not aware that trees and cows are responsible for most of the greenhouse gases that the loony left believes can be eliminated by—ptui!—cycling and walking? Well excuse me for exhaling, but my carbon dioxide needs a place to go, and as far as I am concerned that’s what the atmosphere is for. As far as I am concerned you can take your Alternative Transportation and put it where the sun don’t shine. I’m outa here.”

The applause that followed, led by Wente’s colleague Jeff Gray, was taken by Margaret as approval, but it was soon drowned out by the engine roar of her silver-gray Escarole. The scent of her perfume was lost in the burnt rubber she left on the sidewalk where she’d mounted the curb in her haste to arrive on time. The yellow leaves that scattered in her wake were no more riotous than the yellow of the parking ticket she let fly in the breeze behind her.

Inside M.E.C. meanwhile, the press conference went on apace. Jeff Gray was asking questions about the cost of the proposed bike routes and walking paths called for by TCAT. Martin Koob answered with a series of roundish numbers: “Six million in 2007. Six point two million in 2008.”

Rick Conroy had a question. He asked Gil Penalosa what the difference was between Bogotá and Toronto: how was it that so much could have been accomplished in Bogotá in just three years, with substantially less money than Toronto has when it farts, when in Toronto we can’t build more than one km of bikelane a year.

We winced at the prospect of another fumbling diatribe from Penalosa, but were pleasantly surprised at his passionate response. Turns out in some people’s hands, PowerPoint is truly evil. “In a word, Leadership,” he answered. “In Bogotá we elected people who had vision, political will, and the management capability to get things done. It doesn’t have to cost millions and millions of dollars.”

The woman from Nova Res Urbis had a question, but was interrupted by Jeff Gray: “What’s it going to cost,” he said. He really wanted to know.

But then Gray had his shining moment. Not for nothing is he known as the “Traffic Guru.” He asked about the questionnaire TCAT created and presented to all candidates in the current Toronto Municipal election. He was interested in the fact that Mayor Miller’s answers, a progressive voice in city hall, were indistinguishable from Councillor Rob Ford’s answers: Ford, who never saw a Ford he didn’t want to drive. Gray asked Martin Koob: “It would be more interesting to know the thoughts of those who didn’t respond to the questionnaire: the Case Ootes’s of this city.”

A rumble of “boos” and “Anybody But Case” washed over the room like an evening breeze. And it was only noonish.

Martin Koob, who had already claimed the high ground in responding to a previous question about which candidates TCAT thought should be elected, said only “the questionnaire will show voters they have an option. There are others in Ootes’s ward who did answer the questions.” [case in point: Hamish Wilson, anyone? –ed.]

But Glen Murray was unafraid of the potential controversy. He fielded Gray’s question with panache [now hold on, there –ed.]. “The question is always the same,” he said. “How do you hold politicians accountable? Leadership isn’t just for politicians. We’ve forgotten how to be citizens. We have become consumers. But you can’t “buy” transportation choices, so voters have to make themselves heard.” He gave the example of the “twenty-two” lawn bowling aficionados who regularly sat in on city council meetings when he was mayor of Winnipeg, and ensured that nothing was done to disturb their green and pleasant lawns. “The two hundred twenty-two cyclist advocates in Toronto have to do the same in this city,” said Murray. “The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”

Or something like that, anyway.

Fact is, the press conference carried on around us, but we were fretful and suspicious by now. We really had to use the toilet, and the MEC clerk was still eyeing us, eager to retrieve his pen. Fact is, we needed a cup of good strong coffee and a tasty chocolate chip cookie. Fact is, we weren’t really there anymore, in the strict sense of the word. We heard the occasional mumble and chirp, and we think Penalosa told a funny story about how the folks in Oakville Ontario consistently supported cycling and walking in every survey, but the city translated that to new hockey arenas when budget came to crunch: organized sports have organizations making phone calls to councilors; anarchic transportation choices do not.

We aren’t sure, but we think there’s a moral here. We think TCAT is a necessary and useful “organization” to ensure that the squeaky bike wheel, and the squeak of shoe leather, are what gets the grease in Toronto in the new city administration after November 13.

UBU: The Kingmaker in Toronto’s Ward 29?

Wednesday, October 11th, 2006

Just one question matters in the imminent vote for city councillor in Toronto’s Ward 29:


Is it Case Ootes [um, sorry, website “under construction”–ed.], who immigrated to Canada from that cyclist’s Nirvana, the Netherlands, at age 13?

Is it Diane Alexopoulos, whose campaign literature tells us she wants more “green space” in the ward?

Or is it Hamish Wilson, among whose chief involvements this past year has been the call for a “bicycle expressway” from East to West along Bloor/Danforth, the Tooker Gomberg Memorial Bikelane?


It’s not Mr. Odious: he of the gilded Mercedes Benz (vanity plate: “CASE”); the record of threats against hard-won bicycle infrastructure throughout the east end (his call to “scratch out” the bikelanes on Dundas East, with its massive Mercedes Benz dealership alongside, still resonates); his successful push for motorcycle exemption from on-street parking meter payments across Toronto (his son thanks him); his employment history as a highly placed lackey at Imperial Oil (Mr. Odious, did you happen to glance at this month’s Business Executive journal?–but more on that subject later).

It’s not Ms. Alexopoulos: she decries many lacks in her analysis of ward 29: public green space; public library branches; public housing; but never mentions the public denigration of the bicycle under Councillor Ootes’s reign. She touts many an endorsement: from Paula Fletcher (and Paula’s husband’s Labour Council); from Jack Layton and the Toronto Firefighter’s Association (they share mustache secrets). But she is on record with resounding silence on the subject of the incumbent’s spite of the bike. A wink is as good as a nod, Ms. Alexopoulos.


Hamish is more than a cyclist, of course: he’s an organizer and a writer, a single father and an urban missionary of the Jane Jacobs school. As a green party member it has to be acknowledged that he “gets” the connection between one’s consumption choices and the climate we are bequeathing our children.


What you want to know is, who are those people who ride bikes? What are they? What can we say about the bike riders of this town? What are their characteristics? What is it about the potential of cyclists in Ward 29 that should have Mr Ootes and the other non-cyclist candidates defecating in their trousers and running for cover?

First of all, it must be said that in previous ward 29 battles, the lines have never been so clear. Yes, we had the same odious bike-hater running ward 29 in 2003, but back then we had just Mr. Papadakis running against: Papadakis, with his weird cop-love, his secret desire for the police helicopter, and his political posturing as a born-again progressive when his political baggage had always been even more regressive than that of Mr. Ootes. It’s interesting that he garnered even the 56% of the incumbent’s vote that he did, given the then-deputy mayor’s “power” and “prestige,” for many folks must have stayed away, not convinced there was even a real choice.

Today we have a real choice. We have a Real Cyclist to vote for.


A statistical analysis of bicycle riders in Canada has recently come to our attention. Entitled CROP Research Profile of Cyclists in Canada, it was published in the October 2006 issue of “Business Executive” journal [shurely you know it, Case? –ed.]. It identified a number of pertinent facts.

1. Cyclists (those who ride “regularly” or “occasionally”) number 37% of Canadians.

2. Canadian Cyclists are more affluent and better educated than the general population.

3. Cyclists are “very involved” in their community. “They seek to help those in need and are sensitive to environmental issues.”

4. Cyclists are “liberal, tolerant, and value freedom over discipline.”

5. Cyclists “do not measure their worth by means of their possessions and are insensitive to others’ opinions. Cyclists are moreover suspicious of advertising and of the models it sets.”


What they will want to know is twofold.

1. Are there sufficient cyclists in Ward 29 to give the seat to an upstart on a bike?

2. Can cyclists–proud, independent thinkers to a one–be convinced to vote en bloc for a candidate who self-identifies first and foremost as one of them?

In other words, is there a Union of Bicycle Users (UBU) in Toronto who can take the Odious throne? Is UBU the king-maker in Ward 29?

We don’t know the answer to this question. We do know that in 2003, Sr. Odious defeated M. Papadakis by a vote of 9,352 to 5,207 (a third party received 480 votes). We also know that in Toronto at large, just about 40% of eligible voters cast ballots. If this ratio held true for Ward 29, there would be some 37,500 eligible voters in the ward. Let us suggest that, in accord with the CROP data printed above, 37% of those self-identify as cyclists. If that group could be reached on election day, that would represent 13,900 voters.

Which is to say: if UBU can only struggle from its sleep, there could be a real upset in Ward 29 this fall.

Case Ootes, you can sit down. Diane Alexopoulos, relax. The Cyclists want this prize.

Case Ootes is so going down. And we don’t mean that in a good way.

Thursday, October 5th, 2006

News flash: the ward 29 race just got a little more piquante.

We have received word that Hamish Wilson, he of the offal puns (“Carmegeddon,” anyone?) and the stout heart, has put his good name on the line against Mr. Case Ootes.

Wilson is a Green party member, but don’t hold that against him (Mr. Ootes’s buddy Paul Charboneau also ran under the Green party banner for MP against NDP Peter Tabuns, but was never more than a closet Liberal [the East York Mirror caught up with Mr. Charboneau “congratulating” Liberal Ben Chin, the close runner-up to Tabuns, on the night of the election–that’s all we need to know–ed.]).

Wilson is to be commended for his staunch support (some would say “windmill tilting”) for the Tooker Memorial Bikelane project, a dedicated “bicycle thruway” parallelling the Bloor/Danforth subway, to connect Toronto for bicycles from east to west.

Wilson has been consistent and logical in his opposition to the proposed Gardiner Expressway Extension (aka Front Street Extension), a proposal many (including Mayor Miller) have “reluctantly” backed.

For that alone Wilson deserves Case Ootes’s seat at council.

He’s an excellent writer, especially when he gets a good editor [hey! how come you never call anymore? –ed.]. His work has often graced the pages of NOW magazine. He can speak well, though in the City Idol competition he fizzled for some reason.

Is Wilson to be backed over Diane Alexopoulos, the “Team Miller” candidate? We haven’t heard boo from her about cycling, we will say that. Can Wilson beat Ootes? That depends. Can Alexopoulos? We don’t know.

What we do know is the NDP can not be counted on to support the long term interests of the climate over the short term interests of jobs in the auto sector. We do know the NDP is scrambling for union support, especially since the high profile defection of CAW boss Buzz Hargrove in the last federal election. And Alexopoulos is NDP as far as she can throw Jack Layton. She describes herself as “Director of Development and member of the senior political staff of Canada’s NDP.”

Where does Wilson stand on the call to Ban Car Ads? We don’t know, but we can guess that he will get it: there’s a connection to be made between a destructive addiction and the advertising that sells people on that addiction. We wonder if in Wilson the ALLDERBLOB has finally found the candidate who will back our call to “expand the non-driving zones of the city?” Could it be Wilson who will start the rebirth of the Danforth Peninsula? Will we have Wilson to thank next year when Nuit Blanche includes something east of the Don River?

Such high hopes. So little time.

We will be following up on this one.

Nuit Blanche in Toronto: Replace Art with some “thing” nicer

Monday, October 2nd, 2006

Most cities have a part of town where everything seems to happen. We mean everything. Theatre, beautiful parks and open spaces, universities and other civic places like museums and galleries. They’re where people work or wish they worked, where people live, or wish they lived. They’re where people’s friends all seem to move to, leaving behind only longing and anger.

Meet Toronto’s west end.

Nuit Blanche, the all-night “art thing” that we wandered around in on Saturday night, sat its situationist-inspired butt (and we’re not the only ones to say so) down on three zones of the city, all of them west of Yonge Street. How come? Simple.

There is no art east of there. Get over it.

You want art? You want restaurants? You want happening scenes? You gotta go where the action is: and that means leaving the “Danforth Peninsula.”

So that’s what we did the other night, and we can’t say we’re sorry we did.

We had fun.

Adrian Blackwell’s swirly meeting place, behind the Art Gallery of Ontario in Grange Park, was our starting point. There we made some music with a circle of people we hardly knew. The music consisted of mutterings, creaking, stomping, pattering feet, all under the direction of a guy in the middle of the swirly place holding up coded messages for all to see. The sounds we made were amplified and augmented by electronic microphones and three guys playing brass or reed instruments. What a gas.

It sounded great from afar, too, as we wandered away to the Settlement House where a bunch of 10-year-olds were D-J-ing a rave. This appealed to the kid in us in a big way, but we couldn’t stay too long because the place was warm. Too warm.

Outside under the Sharp Centre (or whatever you call Architect Will Alsop’s black and white-splotched cow blimp on oversized pencil crayons that hovers over the Ontario College of Art and Design) we watched someone sleep, and waited our turn for the marble tournament, and used the toilet near midnight inside the Art Gallery.

Fun! Did we say fun? What a nuit blanche we had!

And all in the West End!

We saw lots of people, all walking, stumbling, crawling, wandering. We saw uniformed security guards tangoing on the street. We lined up with hundreds of others to remind ourselves of a foggy night we once walked through in the south end of Halifax, many years ago.

We saw nearly everyone we know in Toronto.

Who wouldn’t have been there? It was great!

One other thing jumped out at us–we mean besides the fact that we had to take the subway back home, a long way in the east, when it was over.

What it was was people were bicycling and walking and scooting from place to place on buses. No one did the Nuit Blanche in a car. The people in cars were looking for a place to park, in order to get out and live for a while.

The advertisers got it too. The event went off under the sponsorship of some bank or other.

No car advertising required.

Did our Mayor, David Miller, have anything to do with the success of this Nuit Blanche? We haven’t heard him take credit, exactly. But we saw the weird slogan that’s come to be associated with the Miller era: “Toronto: Live with Culture,” everywhere. We suspect the Nuit Blanche has sealed his victory over Jane Pitfield, just like that last mayor, Mel Lastman, sealed victory over Tooker Gomberg with his “Moose in the City” imagery.

We hope so, anyway.

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.