Wednesday, November 27, 2013
Most anything that is popular, or ubiquitous, is bound to have a dark side. This is the way of the world, manifest in the madness of crowds.
Whatever the mania, you can be certain that credentialed egg-heads, professional do-gooders, and compulsive busy-bodies will claim access should be curtailed, controlled or even cut off, “for the children.”
A generation ago, it was television. Today, the culprits are the Internet, and social media in particular.
Nevertheless, social media are essential to young people today, just as television was a necessary evil for those of us who came before.
In 1961, in his first address as President John F. Kennedy’s Chairman of the Federal Communications Chairman, Newton Minnow famously referred to television as a “vast wasteland.” Indisputably, the same can be said about much of the Internet.
Recent news stories of “cyber-bullying,” sometimes with tragic consequences, are reminders of the cruelty with which humanity infects most any creation, no matter how miraculous. Likewise, the career-threatening conduct of some young people online is worthy of concern.
The Internet unbridles society’s id, with results relatable to the axiom that it is unwise to discuss politics or religion in polite company. To wit, people take all their frustrations from the entirety of their lives and try to jam them, camel-like, though the eyes of those needles. This is the principle on display in most any Internet comment thread that runs more than a couple-dozen entries.
This informs the decision taken by some to divorce themselves from the entire enterprise.
Doubtless, you have seen some friend post a manifesto as to why they are taking leave of social media, written as though they were Washington bidding farewell to his troops. These pledges rarely last and are a fairly nascent happening, much like the medium itself.
The forswearing of TV, however, has a long and irksome history.
Something about not having a television makes people decide they are experts on everything. For instance, some of the harshest opprobrium I have heard regarding, say, Fox News, has come from people who simultaneously boast they do not own a TV.
That sort of illogic speaks for itself, and if adults wish to strike the supercilious pose of know-it-all hippies, so be it. But children deserve better.
Parents who impose television-free regimes presumably imagine their liberated offspring prancing, fawn-like, across some bucolic meadow, perhaps playing the pan-flute, pausing only to recite lengthy passages of Dickens by heart.
Conceding that “data” is not the plural of anecdote, I cannot help but reflect on my own contemporaries for whom television was prohibited, or severely restricted.
As adults, I have found them to be socially stunted, frustrated by their inability to converse fluently in the language of their generation.
For example, if you were born in the 1970s and require Mr. Carlson’s “I thought turkeys could fly” subterfuge to be explained to you, then you find yourself at a disadvantage. Likewise, if you cannot identify the genesis of “jumping the shark,” you are at a loss. One can only imagine how baffling an episode of Family Guy must be to such people.
This is not to aver, retroactively, that appreciation of the Seth MacFarlane canon or the scripted witticisms of Gordon Jump would be sufficient reason to permit increased television viewing (although that case could be made). Rather, it is to suggest that denying access to the common communications of one’s day, however well-intentioned, limits a person’s capacity to relate to his or her peers.
To modern youth, therefore, my unsolicited advice is to continue to embrace social media, or at least participate, such that you are somewhat literate in its argot and aware of its phenomena. Social media are where today’s causes are championed, its jokes are told, its hoaxes perpetrated and revealed, and its stories played out.
Most of it is perfectly idiotic, but it’s what’s happening. You don’t have to join causes, sign petitions, or even approve – but you ought to know.
In this way, as you grow old together, you will be able to relate more fully, sharing points of reference and speaking a common tongue.
Such commonality can smooth all manner of relationships, including and especially when affection or high regard are otherwise absent. In my own case, I have a number of friendships based largely on shared appreciation of The Simpsons. We freely admit that we do not much care for one another’s personalities but, in a vast and changing world, knowing the proper response to “Who makes Steve Guttenberg a star?” is like a secret handshake.
For older people, social media can be helpful in promoting a business, preserving long-distance friendships, or simply forestalling the inevitable day when we are pronounced “out of touch.” For today’s youth, however, social media are not only useful, but necessary.
My generation is just past the point where we are required to partake of “The Twitter,” in Betty White’s parlance. But it’s different for us, we already know turkeys can’t fly.
Wednesday, November 20, 2013
It was easier for Arthur Fonzarelli to say he was “wrong” than it has been for many to admit that President Obama “lied” when he repeatedly stated his eponymous health care law would allow people to keep their insurance, or their doctors, if they so wished.
Of course the president lied. Politicians lie. And birds go tweet. If some of those placard-hoisters who spent eight years accusing George W. Bush of lying on a military-industrial scale could summon the same clarity of language now, we could dispense with this semantic silly-bears and move on to more important matters; namely, the continued dismantling of personal liberty in America, of which Obamacare is just a recent and conspicuous example.
The Supreme Court upheld Obamacare’s individual mandate, calling its sanction a “tax.” Finding this appellation politically inconvenient, the White House and an obliging media continue to refer to it as a “penalty” (thereby contravening the very Supreme Court they point to for validation of their favored law – discuss).
Abortion advocates have insisted for two generations that politicians should not come between a woman and her doctor. Today, thanks to Obamacare, you’ve got the IRS poking around in there. Happy now?
The point is, even in making the most personal of life choices, you must do as the government deems best, or you will be punished. While Obama’s mendacity should be as shocking as the discovery of gambling in Rick’s Café, the paternalism this represents is true cause for alarm.
Modern America is a land in which most everything is mandatory or forbidden. Columnist Mark Steyn often notes that the essence of such tyranny is not iron-fistedness but caprice. No one can know when or how the rules will be enforced, or even what they are. But rest assured, whatever you wish to do in pursuit of your American Dream, there is a law to demand or prevent it.
Laws run thousands of pages; and their attendant rules, tens of thousands. The authoritarian convention affects everything from health care, to education, to taxes, to just getting around.
Entering the United States, or even traveling within it, requires interaction with an ever-growing army of “security” personnel, whether actual law enforcement or not (who can tell, nowadays?), who imagine every border crossing, railway platform and airport gate to be Checkpoint Charlie. Hopped up on a noxious cocktail of Red Bull and self-regard, utterly convinced of the institutional rhubarb that they “put their lives on the line each and every day” to keep people “safe,” these costumed paragons of self-parody are the most conspicuous sign that liberty has been banished from the Land of the Free.
Islamist terrorists will continue to wish harm upon the American citizenry, but so long as it is easier to corral the latter group as a pretense to combating the former, this conduct will continue, and worsen.
This is not merely a function of laws and mandates; it is also a mindset. If America’s is truly a government of, by, and for the people, a president is a reflection of the nation’s condition. The fact that America elected a person like Barack Obama, twice, says more about the country’s civic bankruptcy than it does about him.
The question becomes, then, are the American people ready to reconsider the nature of government to which they give their consent?
Many are still forming an opinion on men like Senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, but they bear mentioning because, among the oft-discussed presidential candidates for 2016, these are the only ones from whom you’ll hear a peep about abolishing the ubiquitous IRS or the odious Department of Homeland Security, or shuttering the Eye of Sauron known as the NSA.
Yes, every Republican contender will find new and exciting ways to tell you how he’ll disembowel Obamacare, such that they sound like ranting professional wrestlers (or perhaps Rob Ford). But how do they feel about government collection of private communications, or the IRS demanding taxes from Americans who do not live in America, or a prosecution system so aggressive the United States, with barely 5 percent of the world’s population, holds 25 percent of the prisoners on the planet?
If they object, they do not say. And if they cannot perceive the momentous threat to liberty in the land, they have no claim to be called Leader of the Free World.
In 1920, Warren G. Harding ran to replace Woodrow Wilson, America’s original progressive president who, like Obama, considered the Constitution an inconvenient anachronism and believed the will of the people subordinate to the wisdom of bureaucrats. Harding’s winning slogan was, “A Return to Normalcy.”
To win the White House in 2016, America’s next president should offer a Return to Freedom.
Tuesday, November 12, 2013
I voted for Rob Ford. Normally, I embrace the sanctity of the secret ballot and disdain columnists who announce their personal choices as if they were somehow important. But in this case, an exception is in order.
Having recently described to a largely American readership how the mayor of Toronto brought Canada’s largest city to its current condition of international punch-line, I heard about it from the hometown crowd. While there were some who have never much liked Ford and were happy to agree with my criticism, many Ford supporters were animated that I had joined the media chase-group that has hounded him for years.
Ford’s defenders aver that people do not appreciate all the mayor’s good works. Some repeat the Clinton-era trope that a politician’s personal life – in Ford’s case, this includes a growing video library of bizarre antics, aided by various substances, controlled and otherwise – has no bearing on his ability to do his job. This is bollocks on stilts, always has been, and willfully disregards the fact that a public leader’s personal conduct is, by definition, part of the job (more on which below).
It bears repeating that Ford won an overwhelming victory in 2010, claiming almost half the vote in a crowded field. Oftentimes when a conservative candidate triumphs in a left-leaning locale, which includes almost all urban centres like Toronto, it is a reaction to spendthrift, nanny-state liberalism evinced by his predecessor.
This was the case with Ford, who replaced an unreconstructed socialist who had caved to unions one too many times to mount a credible bid for re-election. Many voters were aware of Ford’s outlandish behavior in the past but, as a sitting member of city council with a clear message of fiscal responsibility, he was given a mandate.
All that is tickety-boo, right up until the point when your mayor starts smoking crack. After denying a report by the Toronto Star in May of 2013 that he had been videotaped doing just that, Ford has since been contradicted by the chief of police, and other unflattering footage of the mayor has recently surfaced. Nevertheless, his supporters insist this is yet more unfair media targeting of an otherwise effective limited-government advocate.
Having been a right-of-centre participant in public discourse since the dawn of this century, I get it. We are routinely subjected to greater scrutiny, harsher criticism, and reflexively portrayed as stupid, evil and always, somehow, racist. All that said – this isn’t that.
I am acutely familiar with the phenomenon of journalistic swarming (I eschew the word "bullying" as it seems a modern day catch-all for every politically correct fetish), particularly of conservative figures. I pointed this out in my earlier column, with passing reference to George W. Bush. But Ford's conduct bursts the dam of mere liberal media bias.
Some have suggested that the latest video embarrassment to emerge, showing Ford raging around a private residence, issuing profanity-laced death threats against some unidentified unfortunate, is in fact an impression of Hulk Hogan, pertinent to their public arm-wrestling match.
Now, having wasted more weekends than most watching the WWF in the 1980’s, such that I could recite the history of the Intercontinental Title from its inception with Pat Patterson (note, also, that I would rather die roaring than call it the “WWE”), I testify that Ford’s rendition of Hogan is so terrible as to call the entire subterfuge into doubt. But, to be charitable, let us assume it is true.
While poor impersonations of professional wrestlers are no basis on which to judge politicians – although, I am reliably informed that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s impression of Randy “Macho Man” Savage is impeccable – Ford’s raving strengthens the consensus that he is deeply troubled.
Many who are urging Ford to “get help” have not the slightest concern for his well-being and are merely using modern-therapeutic shorthand to call him a drunk and a reprobate. This is cousin to how a Southern conservative might patronize, “I’ll pray for you.”
Personally, I am no more than somewhat concerned about Ford. Yes, I should cherish him as a child of God, whose fate makes all Heaven weep, but readers can pore over my oeuvre until their eyes fall out and find no passage in which I claim to be a good person.
As an estimate, my worry over whether Rob Ford gets help is considerably less than my concern for the Leafs to make the playoffs and slightly above my angst over whether the Jonas Brothers patch things up.
Others have suggested Ford should be commended for finally admitting what he has done (sort of), confronting the fact that he has a problem, and floating the idea of entering rehab.
Candour is good; self-examination is also good. But doing the job you were elected and are paid to do, on behalf of a whole city of folks whose jobs require them to maintain a higher standard of conduct than you have shown is also good; indeed, crucial.
And it is not as though Ford’s record is so stellar that it cancels out any shortcomings. Perhaps, in theory, there is a level of public stewardship so outstanding that it entitles one to smoke drugs, maunder about and embarrass one’s constituents on a global scale. If such a status exists, Ford has not attained it.
As mayor, Ford has done a fairly good job – but no more than that. While he has kept taxes from the preferred and demented trajectory of others on council, they remain high, streetcar lanes still snarl major streets, environmentalist commissars demand costly compliance of property owners to combat “climate change,” the increasingly militarized police treat the public as the enemy, and driving in the city remains a dog's breakfast.
But of particular relevance to this imbroglio is the portion of the job that includes representing the city. There is a reason we have mayors cut ribbons at openings and greet dignitaries. Mayors stand for us. It does not suffice to say he has behaved poorly, but since he saved tax money he is, ipso facto, a good mayor. Representing the city to others is part of the portfolio and, while arguably not the most crucial element, its significance is not eliminated by the pecuniary aspects of the job.
Herewith, a policy for Toronto: You can smoke crack, or be mayor, but not both.
Wednesday, November 6, 2013
Sometime during my adolescence in my hometown of Toronto, municipal do-gooders began referring to the place as a "world class city." The Canadian self-consciousness of the appellation was immediately apparent to critics, who pointed out that, say, Paris doesn't bang on about being "world class" because it's, y'know, Paris.
To wit, if you have to say you are a "world class city," you probably aren't.
Even so, Toronto is a splendid spot, the 4th-largest city in North America, and has plenty of which it can be proud. While it has been almost 50 years since Toronto won a Stanley Cup (that's hockey), it boasts a couple of World Series' and some Grey Cups (that's football, played properly). It also has an NBA team, named during the heady 90’s when it was assumed people would never, ever cease to be fascinated by Jurassic Park.
At last, however, Toronto is receiving the attention it craves, but for none of the reasons it wanted. City fathers (or “city parents” as they would likely prefer to be called) wish they were being recognized for their nonpareil recycling programs, or for banishing automobiles from the roads in favor of streetcars and bicycle lanes, or for a flawless, carbon-neutral hosting of the Olympics (they have had to make do with something called the Pan Am Games instead).
But no, the eyes of the world are fixed, albeit briefly, upon this sleepy Hogtown (as Toronto was known well before this current pig-fest) because its mayor has admitted to smoking crack.
To the uninitiated, it may seem incredible that a character like Rob Ford could have been elected mayor in the first place. But, as urban dwellers across North America are aware, modern cities are overtaxed and hyper-regulated, with precious few leaders willing to be frugal with public funds and prioritize the prosaic needs of municipal governing, such as ensuring snow gets cleared and trash gets collected. In Toronto, the usual parade of horribles toward the mayor's chair consists of tearful, lefty, bike helmet weenies who make New York's Bill de Blasio look like Edmund Burke.
In this context, Ford was a welcome contrast. Since winning about half the vote in a crowded field in 2010, Ford has been the bete noire of the city's leftists (essentially, the half who didn't vote for him). Unable to claim his overwhelming victory was illegitimate, they have obsessed over and magnified his failings, real and perceived.
I recall attending a home game of Toronto's NBA thunder-lizard squadron with a prominent liberal journalist pal a couple years back. Between educating me on player biographies and lamenting that they don't call traveling anymore, he peppered me with questions about my feelings on Mayor Ford. I mostly shrugged in response and my left-wing interlocutor was flabbergasted that I was not as preoccupied and outraged by the man as he was.
At that point, while we could agree Ford's bombastic style and nose-painting were a bit much, I never considered limited-government reforms at City Hall worthy of hyperventilation. In fact, I agreed with them. And, like many observers of the media, I am familiar with the phenomenon of journalists lambasting someone whose ideology they despise, while lionizing lightweights who share their values (example: George W. Bush is smarter than Barack Obama – discuss).
But smoking crack, lying about it, then claiming victimhood while clinging to your job like grim death are several bridges too far.
In May of 2013, the Toronto Star published explosive reports of a video showing Ford smoking at a known crack house. Things got very ugly, very quickly. Ford denied the allegations, saying he had not seen the video and it did not exist. During the intervening months, accusations of perfidy and harassment were hurled between both sides until, last week, Toronto’s Police Chief Bill Blair stepped forward to corroborate the Star’s claim.
Specifically, Blair says that in the course of a criminal investigation of which Ford was a target, police have obtained video footage, "consistent with what has been described in the media,"
Now, confronted with this powerful testimony, Ford allows that he “may” have smoked crack, "in one of my drunken stupors."
Ford's Homer Simpson, "I thought the cop was a prostitute" defense should be plainly problematic. The subterfuge is, in essence, "Sure, I may have smoked crack but, in fairness, I only did so because I had gotten so knee-walking plastered, as you do, that I didn't know what I was up to." Oh, well then.
In a press conference this week, Ford lamented his misfortune and said he would not wish for anyone to endure what he has had to go through. Apart from the egregious conduct itself, this attitude of Ford’s is perhaps most troubling – as though his difficulties were some disembodied quirk of fate, rather than the result of his own behavior.
Some recent polls have shown a rise in Ford's approval ratings, likely owing to sympathy among those who feel he has been hounded by the press. These people are correct, up to a point.
He's "only human" and "a man of the people," Ford’s defenders insist. These claims are true, but irrelevant.
Botching a speech, snapping at a constituent – these are the all-too-human mistakes of a prominent politician. We’re none of us perfect, but Ford’s conduct exceeds the foibles of an overworked public servant, and breaks the boundaries of liberal media bias. How many of you readers would keep your jobs after behaving in this way? (Marion Barry, you are excused from this question, sir).
Nevertheless, Ford insists he will stay on, and even seek re-election in 2014, evincing that even small-government politicians can give in to the conceit that they are somehow irreplaceable.
Toronto is tasked with navigating the Scylla and Charybdis of finding a leader who respects the value of a taxpayer dollar, but who also doesn't smoke crack. It should not be so difficult.