September 14th, 2010

[LINK] "Rossi's Tunnel Vision. Rocci's Gift"

James Bow reacts fairly positively, actually, to the proposal by second-tier Toronto mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi to recreate the Spadina Expressway--that abandoned north-south highway that would have plowed through Toronto neighbourhoods and was defeated by Jane Jacobs--as a tunnel.

For me and for many others who grew up in the old City of Toronto, the decision to halt the Spadina Expressway at Eglinton Avenue was (alongside the decision to maintain Toronto’s streetcar system) the decision that made Toronto into the great city it became in the seventies and the eighties. Since then, echoes of that decision have been repeated in American cities like Portland, which famously tore down an expressway and replaced it with an LRT. American cities looking to break the cycle of dependence on the automobile and build vibrant, pedestrian friendly downtowns, have consistently looked to Toronto to see how it’s done — even today, in spite of the numerous challenges Toronto faces.

When Rocco Rossi proposed that the Spadina Expressway be completed by building a long tunnel from Eglinton Avenue to the Gardiner, one half-expected the body of Jane Jacobs to come clawing its way out of its grave and go lurching forward, zombie fashion, in search of Rossi campaign volunteers in order to eat their brains. The visceral nature of my own reaction was enhanced by the timing of this announcement: shortly following leading candidate Rob Ford’s expressed desire to eliminate streetcars from Toronto’s streets in ten years time. Put those two together, and it’s as though my own childhood is being attacked as some kind of worthless mistake.

So, why am I not as angry, now?

Part of it is the way Rossi couched his proposal. You’ll notice that he never refers to the Spadina fight, stays well away from the Spadina name (calling it the Toronto Tunnel), but he has taken steps to mitigate the worst elements of the original Spadina plan. The expressway will no longer dump its cars on Spadina Avenue at Harbord, but will continue to the Gardiner. It will be underground all the way. And he promises that “the Tunnel will not disrupt a single neighbourhood, street or family home. In fact, it will divert traffic directly downtown which currently exits the Allen Expressway into neighbourhoods, thus reducing traffic levels in residential areas”.

Well, fine. We’ll hold him to that promise.

[. . .]

All in all Rossi’s proposal is far more constructive and far more balanced between car drivers and transit users than Rob Ford’s misguided and mathematically impaired policy. Rossi hasn’t promised to take streetcars off our roads; he’s only promised to commission a study to look into the idea of building a tunnel for cars. And, as I said on Twitter, if given the choice, I would much rather deal with Rossi’s suggestion that we study the idea of completing the Spadina expressway, than Ford’s insistence that we remove streetcars from Toronto’s streets within ten years.

[LINK] "Chinese Remake the ‘Made in Italy’ Fashion Label"

The New York Times features an interesting exploration about how Chinese immigration to the Tuscan town of Prato has revitalized that city's textile industry. And yet, the people of Prato are unhapppy. Why?

Over the years, Italy learned the difficult lesson that it could no longer compete with China on price. And so, its business class dreamed, Italy would sell quality, not quantity. For centuries, this walled medieval city just outside of Florence has produced some of the world’s finest fabrics, becoming a powerhouse for “Made in Italy” chic.

And then, China came here.

Chinese laborers, first a few immigrants, then tens of thousands, began settling in Prato in the late 1980s. They transformed the textile hub into a low-end garment manufacturing capital — enriching many, stoking resentment and prompting recent crackdowns that in turn have brought cries of bigotry and hypocrisy.

The city is now home to the largest concentration of Chinese in Europe — some legal, many more not. Here in the heart of Tuscany, Chinese laborers work round the clock in some 3,200 businesses making low-end clothes, shoes and accessories, often with materials imported from China, for sale at midprice and low-end retailers worldwide.

It is a “Made in Italy” problem: Enabled by Italy’s weak institutions and high tolerance for rule-bending, the Chinese have blurred the line between “Made in China” and “Made in Italy,” undermining Italy’s cachet and ability to market its goods exclusively as high end.

Part of the resentment is cultural: The city’s classic Italian feel is giving way to that of a Chinatown, with signs in Italian and Chinese, and groceries that sell food imported from China.

But what seems to gall some Italians most is that the Chinese are beating them at their own game — tax evasion and brilliant ways of navigating Italy’s notoriously complex bureaucracy — and have created a thriving, if largely underground, new sector while many Prato businesses have gone under. The result is a toxic combination of residual fears about immigration and the economy.

“This could be the future of Italy,” said Edoardo Nesi, the culture commissioner of Prato Province. “Italy should pay attention to the risks.”

[LINK] "Double-double, with a splash of populism"

Toronto Star's Susan Delacourt argues that there's a strong possibility that Canadian politicians are no longer trying to speak to the entire population (if they ever did), but rather that they're opting for dumbed-down discourse aimed at select demographics. This worries me, and also amuses me, for I drink both Tim's coffee and coffee from cool swanky or indie coffee shops.

The reach and impact of these two different initiatives could demonstrate how far Canada has gone down the road to becoming a “Tim Hortons nation,” where citizens and consumers are seen as one and the same thing.

In the voter-consumer state, ads and marketing are the modern version of the old-fashioned political debate, and some worry that this will lead to dumbed-down discourse altogether — playing to people’s emotions, rather than their brains.

Moreover, in the fractured marketplace, where consumers are highly “segmented” according to buying preference, some worry that sophisticated political marketing will mean politicians abandoning the idea of one message for one country.

[. . .]

Mitch Wexler, head of a firm called Politrain and an advocate for the use of more consumer-type data in politics, believes that political communication can actually become more intelligent if there’s deeper understanding of how people buy.

“I don’t believe that by “targeting” certain types of people, that politicians or parties are necessarily treating people as consumers of their political product or brand, although I can understand why people might see it this way,” Wexler says.

“I see these demographics tools as a way for politicians to find relevant channels to communicate with people and build relationships with communities that need to be heard and represented. I believe these tools can help improve voter participation.”

[NON BLOG] Me at 8 am, 14 September 2010

I had seen the take-a-picture-of-yourself-as-soon-as-you-read-this meme appear on Facebook and Livejournal before I took this photo, days before, actually, but in my defense I took this photograph entirely spontaneously, a last checkup before I boarded the bus to my early morning appointment (which I made on time, incidentally) to make sure that I looked good. You can see here my glasses, my hair combed neatly to one side and still wet from the shower, with some white hair visible at the temples, my one-week old facial hair (it's that time of my facial hair/no facial hair cycle), me wearing one of my favourite blue shirts framing my neck reddened from my morning shave.

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Why popular outrage at clerical sex abuse comes from guilt (among other things)

Writing in the Globe and Mail, Doug Saunders captured what seems to be a general sense of anger and disgust with Pope Benedict XVI in his article "Concentric circles of antipapal fury await the Pope in Britain".

While the Pope’s visit – the first time a pontiff has come to Britain as a head of state, rather than a religious figure – is intended to heal a widening schism between the Roman Catholic and Anglican churches, “rarely has a religious leader’s visit been anticipated with the level of dissent, hostility and open contempt seen in Britain this week.

Police are spending record sums, estimated at £10-million per day, protecting the pontiff against expected mass protests in one of Europe’s least religious countries, where the cover-up of child rape by Vatican officials has galvanized public opinion.

But British Catholics seem equally indifferent to their spiritual leader’s visit. A public-opinion poll by Ipsos MORI showed that only 6 per cent of believers planned to attend the Pope’s masses, and only 11 per cent felt the Vatican had dealt with the child-abuse scandal well.

Another poll, by ComRes for the BBC, showed that more than half of British Catholics have had their faith shaken by the child sex-abuse scandal. And, in an indication of the country’s liberal leanings, a full 62 per cent want to see women ordained as priests, a position the conservative Pope Benedict has vociferously opposed.

Indeed, some Britons are so angry with the Pope that they'd like to prosecute him for crimes against humanity, on account of his complicity in cover-ups of child sex abuse.

This is the land that has produced the most outspoken and well-organized anti-religious voices in the world, and some of them – including noted British atheist campaigners Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens – have called for the Pope’s arrest. Stephen Hawking, the Oxford University physicist, chose the week before the Pope’s visit to declare that there was no possibility of any spiritual origin to the universe, a statement that some say was aimed at the Vatican.

More serious challenges may also await. Monday saw the release of a carefully argued legal brief by Geoffrey Robertson, a well-regarded human-rights lawyer, making the case for criminal actions against the Pope for his alleged role in covering up child sex abuse.

“He can’t be arrested on this visit because he is here as a head of state rather than a religious leader, and therefore has immunity,” Mr. Robertson said, “but he clearly falls under international law, for having assisted in the protection of sex offenders in a mass atrocity, and could be prosecuted in international law under the doctrine of command responsibility.”

While not stating my personal opinion as to the advisability of prosecuting the Pope or the legitimacy of his ideological stances, I would like to suggest that one reason why so many Roman Catholics have reacted so badly to the sex abuse and the coverups--and, indeed, other believers in other faith traditions who have gone or are going through the same process--is because they feel guilty for their role.

What do I mean? No religion is especially meaningful if it doesn't have followers, especially willing followers. Speaking in relation to this particular crisis, for centuries, if not millennia, thousands of millions of people in thousands of communities both large and small accepted their membership in a faith community with boundaries and beliefs defined by the Roman Catholic Church. In some places, like French Canada or Ireland, the Church played a critical role in forming national identities. Elsewhere, the Church helped reinforce local identities, in ways as various as the assimilation of pagan gods as the Virgin Mary in post-Conquest Mexico to the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela to the urban missions set up by enterprising priests and religious orders in industrializing cities the world over. The people who belonged to this faith community certainly defined their membership in this community on their own terms, accepting or rejecting whichever elements of dogma they wanted, but they made the choice to belong, in their own day-to-day referendum.

Then came the revelations of these crimes. People believed in the goodness of their faith community, and so also believed in the goodness of the people running and representing their faith community. That may have been a non-rational assumption, but to some extent the religious experience is non-rational. Most of the laity didn't know, but some people did know. There have been stories about individuals who had uneasy suspicions about one person or another, stories about victims whose stories were discounted as lies by their families, stories about families thinking a cleric's relationship to their child was laudable and not pedophilic, stories about communities willing to consider these cases as exceptional and not worth attacking the Church over. Without the willingness of huge numbers of people to believe that these things couldn't be happening, that the leaders of the church wouldn't enable the perpetrators, I think it's safe to say that there would be rather fewer victims.

It's at this point that the public rage comes in. People dislike being betrayed by the people they respect; people dislike even less finding out that they let themselves be played as fools, or worse, as unwitting collaborators, or still worse yet, as willing collaborators.