Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Something Nice for a Change

With propane companies exploding and much wringing of hands by the mayor, Toronto has been full of bad news this week.

That's why I was tickled to see something nice for a change.

Driving down the northbound on-ramp to the DVP at Don Mills Road I saw a flash of brown at the top of a treed hill. Standing there was one of the biggest deers I've seen anywhere. It was an 8-pointer, with large fuzzy antlers, just watching the morning bottleneck just starting to form before Eglinton.

Nice to know the city can still surprise you with something nice once in a while.

Brother Richard at the Olympics

I would not be a very good brother if I didn't plug my brother's Beijing Olympic blog at The Star. Little brother Richard is there for the duration and has a great eye for photos and the real, human colour of the games in his written commentary.

You can check it here:

Monday, August 11, 2008

Look Ma - No Wires!

I called Rogers about the new wireless modem USB stick for laptops that has been advertised furiously in all the paper for the past few weeks.

The answer from my Rogers rep on the phone? Never heard of it.

I was passed back and forth among the service reps (as a "valued Rogers wireless customer") for 45 minutes. Yes - 45 minutes, according to my Roger's cell phone log.

I explained that there were half-page ads in all the major newspapers - posters in the subway - TV ads where the smarmy guy beats the tech doofus for playoff tickets by sniping him on eBay. No bells. I knew I was in trouble when my phone rep said she would have a look in their "Knowledge Book". That's the kiss of death, not to mention an oxymoron.

I asked to be sent to a website (because of course there is no website homepage tie-in to the major promotion). Finally she found something in her big book, and asked me the best question of the day ' "Do you have a fax?"

A fax? Why not ask me if I have access to smoke signals? The irony of asking me if I have a fax to get details about cutting-edge wireless access was lost on her. And no, she couldn't email the details to me.

This was followed by a long discussion about the mysterious world of data / voice plans, none of which would do what I wanted. We ended the conversation with her trying to sell me an iPhone, which seems to be their solution to everything, but was probably just a diversion.

Next stop - a Rogers kiosk, where I can start the conversation all over again.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Telemarketer Don't Call List

It's not just a Toronto thing, but I can't resist a plug for my link to the new Canadian "do-not-call" registry for telemarketers at I registered it as an easy to remember alternative route to get to the sexily-named Government of Canada's site:

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hamlet It Ain't

Just in case you think municipal politics is too theatrical, have a look at this hammy performance from our mayor pleading his case to get you to sign a petition.

Whatever you think about the issue, I think we can all agree that there should be another petition pleading to keep politicians with the acting abilities of High School Musical from making videos like this.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Toronto: Canada's Safest City

According to a report released yesterday by Statistics Canada, Toronto is now the safest large metropolitan area in the country.

Statistics Canada figures show all Criminal Code offences in Toronto Census Metropolitan Area were down 11 per cent in 2007. Among urban areas with a population of 500,000+, there were fewer reported crimes per capita in Toronto than Montreal, Vancouver or Ottawa. Winnipeg had the highest crime rate, followed by Edmonton.

According to The Star, "Stuart Green, a spokesperson for Mayor David Miller, said he has not seen the report but it appears to be in line with local statistics."

My sincere apologies to Mayor Miller - I guess I was wrong about his decision to close the legal target pistol clubs in the city. It must have worked.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

I Otta Buy Lottery Tickets

Sometimes I scare myself with my predictions about how the city will seriously wrong-foot something. Either that, or our civic leaders are predictably inept.

Two days ago I wrote about a pending decision concerning a proposed Toronto Museum, which in fact is neither an museum nor about Toronto.

Today's Toronto Star confirmed my worst fears and predictions. According to The Star:

The aim is to create a "contemporary, entertainment-oriented visitor experience that will be content-rich and capable of attracting visitors who may have no particular interest in the history of Toronto," according to the business plan.

So it's going to be a fun-nasium, or a learnatorium for people who don't care about Toronto or its history. Saw that coming. So much for all the early cultural artifacts that it was supposed to be home to.

But wait, there's more...

"It isn't the Toronto story," said Councillor Joe Mihevc. "It's the Italian story in Toronto. It's the Ukrainian story in Toronto. It's the black story in Toronto."

See what I mean about it being too easy to predict the idiocies that naturally bubble to the surface? It's not about history - it's about voters.

And of course it is going to be housed at the foot of Bathurst street, that bustling hub of tourists that is so inviting by the lake in February, in the crumbling, structurally unsound malting silos for an amount no one can figure out and no idea where the money will come from.

Who put these people in charge of the city? I know it wasn't me. I didn't vote for a single one of them. Unfortunately it doesn't stop them from spending my money.

Nice Place for A Non-Museum

(except it has no transit, amenities, infrastructure
tourist traffic, and is -30 all winter with a wicked wind
that comes off the lake like the Siberian steppes)

Monday, June 2, 2008

The History of Tomorrow

I've often thought it's criminal that there is nowhere to see Toronto's history. There are a series of plaques around town telling you where things used to be. Every once in a while you'll see a historical board plaque on a sterile glass office building telling you that they knocked down a founding father's birthplace to build it.

The Royal Ontario Museum has shelved a good part of its displays because all that old stuff was getting in the way of finding space for holding corporate fundraisers. There are a few places like Mackenzie House on Bond Street, but you have to look pretty hard to find much in the way of relics of Toronto's history.

So the City has been kicking around the idea of a museum dedicated to our history and artifacts. But of course in this point and click world, you can't just have glass cases full of interesting things from days gone by. The City has been thinking about a "highly interactive" learnatorium where busloads of bored kids can be dragged in to push buttons, or put on a helmet and virtually experience getting typhoid.

The site chosen is the desolate and unworkable foot of Bathurst, where the old Canada Malting silo sits mocking any useful purpose, but are in some twisted universe now considered "historical".

The rub is the City wants someone - anyone - to pay the $100 million they figure it will take to make it useful, with the obligatory mixed housing, restaurant by some obscure chef who makes everything out of moosemeat, fiddleheads and maple syrup, and an observation deck on the top, where on a clear night you will be able to see Hamilton.

The museum is already planning to "emphasize Toronto's multicultural fabric" according to the Toronto Star, which means large, shame-inducing sections on the handful of early minority settlers and virtually nothing devoted to the English, Irish and Scots who made up 99% of the population.

Speaking as if the museum has already passed the many financial and intellectual hurdles, Rita Davies, the city's executive director of culture, says: "It's not a museum that's just rooted in the past."

Say what? A museum not about the past? Let's see what the dictionary says about "museum":

museum, noun
depository for collecting and displaying objects having scientific or historical or artistic value

So Toronto's museum is going to be about the history of the future, and not about the artifacts it is being built for?

Apparently that's right - it is going to be about "looking ahead to the future of cities around the world" according to the Star. And of course Toronto is such a great example of a city with a great future due to its forward-thinking policies, sound fiscal planning and good management.

Here's an idea - how about putting the City's collection of artifacts on-line? Get a couple of summer students to photograph them and put them up on a website so we can enjoy them while the City goes cap in hand to a series of corporations for the right to sell burgers to student groups and searches for a community board that knows nothing about history but comes in all the right social flavours.

That would show a commitment to history.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Drop That Gun

The mayor, at a loss for real ideas and solutions to Toronto's relatively insignificant gun problem, announced he wants to close the few existing legal gun ranges in the city.

U of T already succumbed to this idiocy by closing the Hart House range, deep in the bowels of the ancient building. My Alma Mater announced last year that there was "no place for guns on a university campus".

Oh really? Maybe they haven't walked through the Hart House bell tower and seen all the names of dead alumni who gave their lives in WWI and WWII. The University was a training ground for soldiers, and I'm sure they appreciated going to war knowing which end of a gun to point at the enemy, and being able to hit a target that was trying to hit them in return.

Besides, from my time as a member of the Hart House pistol club, I can tell you that you won't meet a nerdier bunch of guys and gals. They treated their guns like violins - no quick draw, stunt shooting or weapons of mass destruction. They did their best to make shooting boring. Most target guns actually look pretty dorky. No self-respecting Gangsta would ever pull one out to satisfy his honour or protect his turf. Everyone would laugh at him, and then pull out a gun really meant to kill someone that was smuggled across the border in someone's trunk. Something from a Quentin Tarantino movie - not a blocky .22 made for punching small holes in paper.

And the paperwork required to be a target shooter? Enough to choke an elephant. There's the acquisition permit, the restricted permit, the transportation permit, permit to buy bullets. It's much easier to buy one out of a trunk behind the 7-11.

So is there a problem with gun ranges in the city? Are their guns being misused, stolen or otherwise inconveniencing the citizens of this fair burgh?

No - but what would you expect from a city that prizes posturing and empty gestures over and above rational thinking and cause and effect?

Saturday, May 31, 2008

The Horror... the horror...

The Toronto Star reported on May 31st that the TTC currently has 319 "TTC drivers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder", presumably on medical disability.

This severe form of stress is typically found among survivors of combat, natural disasters and rape. But bus drivers?

Sure, they have to drive in Toronto's traffic clogged streets made worse by the city's inept roads planning. And people aren't thrilled by the TTC at the best of times, not just when they are threatening strikes in order to get an extra slice of cake on their birthdays and pet medical insurance. Plus so much money goes into their payroll there isn't much left over to maintain vehicles and clean stations.

So passengers get cranky with them. A few whackos even take a poke at them, which no one deserves. But most TTC drivers and ticket takers I've encountered lately haven't exactly been graduates of charm school. It takes a small nuclear device to get them off those stools they sit on by the cash box or inside the booths, and human communication is limited to grunts and sign language Koko the gorilla would find primative.

But over 300 of them currently suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder? I wonder how that compares to Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan?

Oh, and the TTC announced in December that it had hired the same company NASA hired after the Challenger shuttle exploded to review safety procedures. Not that the TTC is overly dramatic when it comes to the tough life its brave employees face.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Something Good For A Change

Just in case you're thinking all I do is whine, just to skew the average slightly the other way, let me tell you about something really nice.

About two weeks ago I noticed on my daily drive up the DVP that someone had planted a long strip of daffodils in the middle of the grass median just south of the Eglinton cutoff. There must be 100 feet of them, about 4 feet wide.

So congratulations to someone, whether city or province or masked midnight gardener, for this random act of beauty in a city that otherwise has no sense or budget for making things look nice.

By the way, I also notice that whoever cuts the DVP grass managed to trim a foot off the edge of the daffodil field. Nice work chucklehead.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Nothing to do with Toronto

Okay, it has nothing to do with Toronto, but I saw something in the paper and couldn't resist -

Apparently a security guard found an 18 month old boy wandering between the security clearance area and the departure gate early Monday morning at the Vancouver airport. His parents forgot to board with him on their flight to the Philippines, and left him behind to be found by Vancouver airport security.

All I could think on reading the story is the child, who speaks no English, is damn lucky he wasn't tasered.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Grainy Sasquach Photos

Not really, but it is a rare sighting of the TTC's now defunct "Worth A Million" campaign. Trust TTC laziness to not actually pull the ads from inside the subway cars.

Considering how many of the inside ads on TTC subway cars and buses are self-promotion, I guess there isn't a lot of replacement cash to be made from real advertisers, so there's no incentive to rush to pull the ads down. Plus it would make their backs hurt.

Anyway, here are a couple of grainy phone snaps I took last week just to be sure I wasn't dreaming the whole thing up. Notice the defunct website is still shown, as well as a contest for free monthly metropasses daily until April 30th - except the website was down by then.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

Worth A Million

Anyone notice the lame and insulting "Worth a Million" PR campaign brought to you by the TTC union has disappeared without a trace?

Don't believe me? Click on its dedicated website link:

Unveiled just before the "we have a deal / we have a strike" PR fiasco, ATU Local 113, which represents most TTC workers, put big bucks into the campaign, with posters, commercials and a fancy website.

But I guess people looked at the poster of ten TTC employees they had in subway stations and decided at $100,000 a year each in pay, they were indeed worth a million.

I suppose whoever was behind this campaign never heard of focus groups - that basic idea in the ad biz that you show the campaign to some ordinary joes and ask them what they think. If they had, this Rosemary's baby of a campaign would never have seen the light of day. What it really shows you is how disconnected the TTC union is from reality.

If I was a union member, I'd be asking how much of my pension fund was spent to bring this short-lived monster into this world. Of course, starting the campaign in advance of contract negotiations was probably seen by some union rep in a suit from Moores as a good way to soften up the public for the next round of extortionate pay demands - show the public why they should love and respect the TTC workers and we'll pony up. Proof they've been spending too much time in the unventilated subway tunnels.

Thanks to the wonder of the Internet, you can still read cached pieces of the pages from the site to remind us how wonderful our TTC employees are:

[Photo missing] ATU Local 113 President Bob Kinnear (centre, blue shirt) with the stars of the union’s Worth a Million television and transit advertising campaign. They come from many different areas of TTC operations, including Maintenance and Wheel-Trans. Some are here because they did something special and noteworthy while on the job. The rest are here because just in doing their daily jobs, like all their fellow ATU 113 members, they make Toronto a cleaner, safer, and more prosperous city. Read more about them here.

The Special Report by leading environmentalist and former Ontario Cabinet Minister Marilyn Churley [still available on YouTube - a must see - ed.] calculates that the economic, environmental, health and other benefits of the TTC to Toronto total at least 12 billion dollars. And that’s a conservative estimate. Many benefits of the TTC are literally incalculable, but real.

Since about 11,000 people work for the TTC, that means each contributes, on average, more than a million dollars in benefits every year. Most TTC workers are represented by ATU Local 113, the sponsor of this site. We’re proud of the work our members do, work that deserves public recognition. Each one is literally Worth a Million.

Well, at least a tenth of million.

TTC Gets Its Money's Worth for Information Technology

If anyone doubts the TTC is getting its money's worth out of its Information Technology budget, just have a look at their slick website:

It's amazing what the TTC can do with IT expenditures of $170.4 million.

Our Mayor in the Dark

Okay - it's old news now. In politics it's positively ancient history. But still, it bears repeating often and deserves to live on in the infinite pass-along world of Internet searches.

The date was March 29, 2008. Specifically it was 8 pm.

Earth Hour - a cult-like ceremony of national hypocrisy when we feel better about our year-round Kultur of incredible excess and wastefulness by turning off our lights. We were led in this exercise by the city's high priest of hypocrisy, the Mayor.

The Mayor even posted an Earth Hour video on YouTube, where he sits by a flickering gas fireplace, wearing an earth-friendly brown suit and tie, and says:

“On March 29, at 8 p.m. for one hour, I encourage you to switch off all non-essential lighting, and watch as other cities around the globe power down as well. Just one hour of your time to help people around the world realize the difference each of us can make and what we can accomplish when we work together. Switch off for Earth Hour and see the world in a whole new light. The issue is real. Your actions will count. So join me in the dark.”

At 8 p.m. he stood on the stage in front of City Hall with Jagoda Pike, publisher of the Toronto Star, and pulled a ceremonial switch to plunge City Hall into actual and not just intellectual darkness.

“I want to ask you all to do one thing tonight,” His Worship told the crowd. “Be a leader.”

Curiously, "Leader" is defined in the dictionary as both: "a person or thing that leads" but also "a duct for conveying warm air from a hot-air furnace to a register or stack".

What happened next was reported the next day by a journalist who dared follow the Mayor off the stage. As NP writer Peter Kuitenbrouwer reported:

"At 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, Mayor David Miller got in a car and drove from City Hall to a Shoppers Drug Mart on Eglinton Avenue West. He bought a card for the bar mitzvah of a family friend. Then he got back in the car, driven by his press secretary, Don Wanagas, and went to the bar mitzvah."

Questions about this amazing display of hypocrisy where rejected by press secretary, Don Wanagas as "petty", who said there was nothing wrong with the Mayor's actions, which are after all, just "symbolic".

One question then - why haven't we been able to find the YouTube video posted by the Mayor's office? It hasn't been pulled by them, has it? Like a gun used in a hold-up thrown in the river?

If anyone can find it, let me know, and I'll post a link.

So sleepy...

There are so many metaphors I could use... The poetic and heroic one is King Arthur being awoken on Avalon where he sleeps until such time as he is needed by a nation in trouble. More appropriately, I'm probably more like a bear awaking in the spring wondering what the heck has been going on during hibernation.

Okay - so its just a pretty way of saying I've neglected my blog and now I'm back, and the last thing you need is one more Blogiste opining on how hard it is to keep at one these things. After all, 12 year olds can keep a blog going, and in the words of Zap Branagan, "they seem pretty sharp".

Plus I lost my password for a while.

So what has escaped my facile interpretation and glibly snide comment in the past few months? You name it. The TTC, pool closings, yapping city councillors - the list goes on. It helps that it is the same list from before.

Read on, and all will be revealed.