September 23rd, 2010

[LINK] "Tunnels and Transportation — how commuters get downtown"

I've made a couple of posts about ill-fated Toronto mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi, most recently on his rather ill-judged mafia-themed radio, video, and print ads, the first on his remarkable plans to build a very long, and very expensive, tunnel through downtown Toronto. Spacing Toronto's Dylan Reid has posted this morning about how this project doesn't even speak to the needs of the large majority of downtown commuters.

it's also worth looking at Rossi's underlying assumption about why the tunnel is needed. More car access to downtown Toronto is required, he says, because people have such a hard time driving to jobs in the downtown core. “Companies and workers would rather establish in the 905 than fight their way into downtown Toronto every day,” said Rossi. “I want our kids to have a chance to live and work at good jobs in the city of Toronto.”

The fact is, however, that despite the presence of both the Gardiner and the DVP feeding cars into the downtown core, only a minority of people who work downtown drive there. The vast majority -- 71% -- of people who travel into work downtown don't have to fight their way through car traffic -- they take GO Trains, the TTC, or they walk or cycle.

Here's the breakdown for people commuting to Ward 28 (which includes most of the downtown business district) from outside the ward (all figures are from the Transportation Tomorrow Survey, 2006 (PDF)).

Local transit (TTC): 38%
GO Train: 26%
Walk/Cycle: 7%
Car driver/passenger: 28%
Other: 1%

The numbers are similar (more TTC, less GO Train) in Wards 27 and 20, which border the business district.

There's no doubt that driving into downtown during rush hour is a pain, but if there is concern about commuters having a hard time getting downtown to work, it would benefit far more people -- and increase the overall capacity of the transportation network much more -- if the tunnel money was spent, instead, on enhancing rapid transit options to the downtown.

[MUSIC] Einstürzende Neubauten, "The Garden"

A recent Russell Smith article in the Globe and Mail reminded me, in a good way, of my teenage years. It's all about Einstürzende Neubauten, you see.

This year is the 30th anniversary of the formation of Einsturzende Neubauten, the German band that could have been the most important – and certainly was the most cerebral – pop-music ensemble of the fin-de-siècle, a band whose hysterical pessimism was the soundtrack for the collapse of the Berlin Wall and the last gasp of highbrow modernism. To celebrate the date, the band is doing an international tour that promises to be a multimedia art spectacle, and it will include two stops in Canada (both in Toronto; sorry, sorry, sorry).

It’s surprising they’re all still alive, given the insanity of what they lived through in the 1980s alone: They specialized in noise and mayhem, using found machinery and objects to bang out their tunes, and their stage shows often involved spinning sharp objects and sparks. (They were once kicked off a stage in New York for setting pans of paint thinner aflame.) They were the first to create a sound called “industrial” – a word that from then on was used to describe an entire genre, a post-punk, electronically driven, neo-futurist movement that gave a metallic edge to the 1980s, and became the choice of music for goths in the 1990s. Its presence even made disco music harder-edged: Without industrial, there would have been no techno.

[. . .]

Their association with earlier musical movements such as the noise concerts of Dada and Futurism, and with the found sounds of musique concrète, placed them on the line between the high art world and the low. They were the embodiment of despairing, Cold War, West Berlin angst, and of the alienating themes of performance art (chanting, repeating, mutilating, always in dark basements and warehouses). They were easy to parody as relentlessly serious Germans. There was little irony in an EN performance. (Bargeld was particularly adept at producing a painful shriek. Nick Cave said in an interview that when he first heard it he thought it was not like anything human: “It was more like a strangled cat.”)

Their name means “collapsing new buildings,” but with a particularly German subtext: “neubauten” were postwar buildings, often built quickly and cheaply, and the word connotes grey concrete to a European. Bargeld’s own name was a joke, Blixa being a brand of felt-tip pen and Bargeld meaning cash (a loose English translation might be Bic Bucks). Despite the gloomy Germanic seriousness of most of EN’s noise-music and video experimentation, and their severely black, vampiric aesthetic, he has shown himself unafraid to laugh at himself.

Back in 1997-1998, I was briefly involved in UPEI's student newspaper, The Cadre. I couldn't sustain it--I found the politics exhausting and terrifying--but one thing I did do was review was review CDs. One of these CD was Einstürzende Neubauten's 1996 album Ende Neu. It was an interesting album, if one entirely foreign to my experience to date with popular music. The track I particularly liked was "The Garden."

I remember reading, perhaps in the liner notes, that the lyrics were drawn from something one of the bandmembers overheard one museumgoer say to another. "You will find me if you want me in the garden, unless it's pouring down with rain." The song felt unusual, mysterious, sad; the song clicked with me.

[LINK] "'It's Like a Safari, and We're the Zebras'"

Jeremy Stahl's Slate article describing the apparently frequent and high-profile visits made by tour groups in New York City to the black churches of Harlem--to their services, no less--explores the boundaries of what's acceptable in cultural tourism and what's not. On the one hand, the visitors get to experience a key experience in African-American history and the proceeds from the visit help keep the churches open; on the other, the visits risk being profoundly voyeuristic experiences, even exploitative. It's well worth reading.

At least 60 of Harlem's 338 churches take part in the gospel sightseeing trade. Twenty-five years ago, the thought of sending visitors to Harlem for any reason was abhorrent to New York's tourism board. Now, thanks to all of the tourists in the pews, Harlem is one of the top places for international vacationers to visit in New York.

The church services—and the neighborhood itself—became mainstream attractions after the Harlem Chamber of Commerce realized it could tap into the mythical place that gospel and jazz music—and African-American worship services—hold in the minds of many foreigners. In the 1980s, Lloyd Williams, president of the chamber, went to Europe with former New York Secretary of State Basil Paterson—the father of the current governor—to promote Harlem as a tourist destination. "The further we got away from New York, the better the image of Harlem was," says Williams. French and German publications began covering Harlem tourism and the churches, encouraging more tourists to venture above 96th Street. Eventually the city's established tourism industry—the hotels, the guide books, the tourism board, and the guided bus tours—recognized the neighborhood's economic potential.

Since then, tourists have flocked to the churches by the busloads, sometimes as part of guided tours and sometimes individually on the advice of guidebooks, hotel concierges, travel agents, and friends. Many of the churches have well-developed systems for welcoming visitors, with special greeters at the doors and prominently displayed house rules forbidding flash photography, eating, drinking, shorts, and flip-flops. Ceremonies usually start at 11 a.m., and most visitors take in the choir performance and announcement portions of the service before departing prior to the start of the sermon.

[. . .]

When we were back on the bus, our tour guide, Sheila, asked if anyone had any questions. There was just one: "They weren't offended?" Frances Van Ewyle, an Australian, asked awkwardly. Sheila responded that these programs help churches fight against rising attrition by allowing them to renovate and grow—and that they enjoyed having the tourists as guests. But Frances, who had taken the "Sex and the City Tour" the day before and was directed to Harlem Spirituals by her hotel's concierge, told me that she still felt like an intruder and now questioned her decision to attend the service.

Of the dozens of tourists I spoke with, Frances' perspective came up only a couple of times. Filipe Lima, a 29-year-old Portuguese Catholic and a regular churchgoer, told me that he felt like a gatecrasher after having visited Mother African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, which was packed when I visited in June and August—but with 80 percent of the seats occupied by tourists. His instinctive reaction was that the few remaining flock were being taken advantage of by the ministry.

[LINK] "Anti-intellectualism: Political venom moves North"

Oh, joy. The Globe and Mail's veteran columnist Lawrence Martin has identified a trend towards populist conservatism, or Conservatism, in Canada at least partly influenced by the Tea Party's issues.

Remember two years ago when the liberal Obama tides were sweeping the U.S.? Many of us thought there would be a wash-over effect into Canada, an infusion of liberal idealism of the type of a John F. Kennedy or a Franklin Roosevelt. Barack Obama would stir the Canadian political imagination. Younger generations would be politically awakened. Old conservatism would fade into Bushian disrepute.

To the surprise and disillusionment of northern liberals, there has been no such reverberation. Remarkably enough, something closer to the opposite is in play. Mr. Obama appears to be helping Canadian conservatives. Some of the populist anger he has stirred south of the border is channelling north. The success of Toronto mayoralty candidate Rob Ford is an example, as is the furor over the HST in British Columbia. The tenor of the Harper Conservatives’ pitch on the gun registry, on law and order, on census-taking, on science is in keeping.

It’s a play to bumper-sticker populism, to an anti-intellectual spirit that crashes against the Obama promise of enlightened governance, civility, global perspective. A few months ago, Ekos pollster Frank Graves was talking about a culture war. Given the ugly nature of the political polarization here, who can doubt it? It’s a smaller version of America’s. But it shows signs of growth.

Partly. Thankfully, certain issues aside--the census, the long gun registry, et cetera--the content of Canada's Conservative Party, and of the actions and backgrounds of its membership, remains quite different. Thank the legacies of British-derived evolutionary conservatism, I suppose.

Mr. Harper is a lot of things but no visitor to this galaxy in recent years would declare him a populist. The input of conservative rank and file into policy-making in Ottawa is infinitesimal. Policy conventions of the old Reform Party sort have disappeared. The PM runs one of the most top-down governments in history, which is hardly in the spirit of the tea baggers. Moreover, he has expanded the size of government, a cardinal sin in their play books.

Last week, Mr. Harper’s House Leader, John Baird, a limousine Conservative, tried to nail the Liberals with the elitist charge but was laughed out of one of his chi-chi bars for being a hypocrite with a cap H. Intellectually, Mr. Baird is no fool which, given the down-with-erudition approach of his party, presents problems for him as well, not to mention Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who has to cope with the burden of having a degree from Princeton.

[BRIEF NOTE] McAleese, St. Patrick's Day and diasporic cultures

This news item has gotten a fair amount of attention.

The organisers of the world's largest St Patrick's Day parade had invited the President to be grand marshal to celebrate the 250th anniversary of the event next year.

A statement from Aras an Uachtarain said the President had attended the New York St Patrick's Day parade in 2002 and was honoured to be considered as grand marshal for 2011.

"Unfortunately, due to scheduling constraints in a very busy final year in office, it is not possible for the President to travel to New York next March.

"The President has conveyed to the organisers her deep appreciation for the invitation as well as her best wishes for the success of the parade in this significant anniversary year."

But Irish-American commentator Niall O'Dowd insisted yesterday that Mrs McAleese's decision was connected to the issue of gays being refused the right to march in the parade under their own banners.

"I think she made her decision based on the fact that she has a great relationship with gay groups in Ireland and this would be a hugely controversial move for her because of the ban on gays in the parade," he said.

She had made her decision and many gay groups in Ireland would probably agree with her, Mr O'Dowd said.

As the above article notes, it may well be that McAleese really is unable to attend because of scheduling issues. Then again, it does seem--here, say--at least somewhat plausible that McAleese is staying away because of the St. Patrick's day parade's ban on GLBT groups. Can anyone Irish chime in on the relative plausibilities of the two motivations?

At any rate, the contrast between Irish and Irish-American officialdoms on GLBT issues seems noteworthy, illustrative of the principle that diasporas often exist isolated from changes in the countries where they live and the countries that they come from. One Irish expert noted on the irony that the New York City St. Patrick's day parade barred queer groups at the same time that a GLBT float won first prize in the Cork parade.