Thursday, October 11, 2007

Remember Old Stuff?

And he's single, ladies!

The year is 1998. A phone rings in Patrick Ewing’s living room. He dashes from the kitchen to answer it.

Ewing: Hello?

Executive: Hi, is Patrick Ewing there?

Ewing: This is he.

Exec: Hi, Patrick, it’s Jim Taylor of the shoe company.

Ewing: Oh, hey! I’ve been meaning to call you guys! Listen, I got some great ideas for new colours for the line of suede shoes you put out in my name!

Exec: Yeah, Pat, that’s sorta what I was calling about.

Ewing: Oh, great!

Exec: Listen, Pat, we’ve been thinking maybe it’s time to… not make the shoes anymore?

Ewing: What the hell are you talking about?! I’ve still got a promising career ahead of me, man! I caught my second wind!

Exec: No, hey, I’m sure that’s true. But the fact is it’s 1998 and nobody really wants suede shoes with Patrick Ewing’s name on them anymore.

Ewing: Bull cookies!

Exec: Pat, I am right there with you. It doesn’t make any sense, but that’s what our figures are showing. I really wish it wasn’t true, but there’s no way around it.

Ewing: Well, goddamn it, see if Patrick Ewing does any favours for you again!

Exec: Alright Pat, there’s no need for that.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Do What I Say

"Of course, this is just a television poll which is not legally binding - unless Proposition 304 passes, and we all pray it will."

It’s time I, a man with a blog, weighed in on the MMP debate. Ontarians everywhere can now breathe a sigh of relief.

Suffice it to say, I reckon you ought to vote No on the referendum, and I’ll tell you why (note: almost all these points have been culled from various op-eds I’ve read in the past week or so, so don’t try and think I’m especially too clever).

1) The proposed system will lead to nothing more than a string of minority governments beholden to one-issue fringe parties elected by unhinged nutjobs from across the province. Ever drive around rural Ontario during election time and see those signs for the Family Coalition Party? Well, weirdoes like them will have a minority government by the balls under MMP.

2) If first-past-the-post is so awful, why are we still electing 90 of the 129 MPPs under MMP this way?

3) Under MMP, ridings in Ontario would increase in size. This is less of a problem in, say, downtown Toronto, but once you start heading up to Northern Ontario we start running into problems. These ridings are mind-bogglingly huge as it is, and I can hardly see how the interests of the people living in remote, isolated towns up north are going to be served by decreasing their parliamentary representation. Quite possibly, we might see them forming their own Northern Party, again feeding into the pizza parliament problem.

4) The 39 “list” MPPs – the ones elected by percentage of the popular vote who don’t represent any ridings in particular – just who selects these people? A bunch of power brokers we’ve never heard of? To who are they held responsible? What do they do from day to day, anyway? In what way could a guy who represents nobody in particular have the same authority as an MPP elected in a riding?

5) Proponents of MMP say that the system is more just, more representative of the popular vote. And, obviously, that’s correct. But should that necessarily be our prime concern? What about forming stable, long-lasting governments who can accomplish their mandate? I reckon there’s something to be said for that, too. Consider the situation outlined in my first point, where minority governments would have to answer to extreme little parties operating from the margins of society. Just what is “more fair” about this scenario, one where a little party’s influence greatly outstrips its meagre share of the popular vote?

6) Reportedly, the reason why Germany adopted MMP after the War was to assure that no one party would be able to hold absolute power ever again (you know, cause of Hitler). In other words, getting a bunch of minority governments for all time was the entire idea for the Germans. Now, I don’t see many similarities between Ontario today and post-Nazi Germany, but feel free to fill me in.

I may have taken this comparison too far

7) In some countries that use MMP, coalitions aren’t decided upon until after the election. So voting for a party whose ultimate alliance isn’t going to be known until after you’ve cast your ballot somehow leads to more transparency?

8) Listen, I’m sure the guys who came up with FPTP thought of about a million other ways to do things, but this is what they came up with. It’s lasted for hundreds of years without causing too many problems. It seems to me that the current referendum is the brainchild of a bunch of granola-munching NDP and Green voters who were fed up with their permanent minority status (fair enough). Somehow they roped McGuinty into arranging a referendum nobody else cared about, and I can’t for the life of me understand why he fell for that one. Yeah, we knew that the legislature didn’t necessarily reflect the popular vote, but I hardly heard anyone complain about it. I think it says something when everyone from the Post (right wing rag) to the Star (bulwark of modern progressivism) side with good ole, time-tested FPTP.

This Wednesday, vote to repeal Prohibition. And against MMP, too.

Monday, October 08, 2007


London's famous landmarks, Congress and Large Bill.

As fun as the continent was (oh yeah, I’m using their terms), it was time for us to move on to London. The real London, this time. Sure, the one in Ontario has its Covent Garden, River Thames and underground subway system, but these are pathetic imitations of the real things. London’s a real fucking city, one that makes your entire vacation beforehand seem like nothing more than a useless, forgettable preamble to the real thing.

Trafalgar Square at night. Andrew worked not 2 minutes from here, which hardly compares to a summer in the SubWay at King and Townline.

Lucky for me, Andrew had just come from living and working at a pub there for two months. He’s really quite knowledgeable about the city, knowing all there is to know about attractions, plays, pubs, clubs, sights, the underground, directions… everything. Quite how he picked it all up in two months is beyond me. In addition, he even developed a nice little circle of co-workers/friends that we were able to hang out with for a bit. Undoubtedly, having him there made things pretty easy and enjoyable.

I could go on some more about London. And I will, lucky for you!

Nelson's Column, as seen from an angle no tourist has ever attempted to capture. Until now.

The nightlife is a mixed bag. Near as I can figure out, this is how things work: First, you’ve got a clear separation between pubs and clubs – something I don’t think you can necessarily say of over here. In general, people seem to go out to the pub until last call at 11. And when they say last call, they mean it. They’re like the SS when it comes to serving after the bell (minus the… killing you bit). There is simply no budging them, even if you worked with them for two months. After the pubs are done, people make their way out to the clubs for the dancing and whatnot. These, as with most establishments in Europe, don’t close until the wee hours of the morning. And don’t think that’s so great, either. I mean here, at least you know by at the latest 2ish if you’re going to be, erm… splitting the cab fare, if you know what I mean. In Europe you’re left wondering until 3, 4… 5 o’clock in the morning! And, Jesus, your back is killing you, your hair’s a mess… who the hell wants to put up with that?

This is the National Gallery, looking north from Trafalgar Square.

I find on busy nights that you really have to get out of those pubs well before last call in order to get a decent spot in line for the clubs afterwards. Doing this means you miss out on a nice evening at the pub, unfortunately, so I can’t say the system they’ve got working is the best in the world. Sometimes you like to just get to a place, stay there the night, and leave at a reasonable hour.

This is where Churchill and his cabinet ran the War. That man has been standing there since 1945.

Luckily enough, my visit coincided with the Great British Beer Festival (or somesuch). Extra lucky is that it was being held at the convention centre at Earl’s Court, not 3 stops down the Piccadilly Line from Hammersmith! One shows up, rents a glass, and goes around sampling the… hundreds of beers and ales and ciders on tap. I know nothing of the brewing industry either here or in England, but I gather they have a shitload of independent brewers, whereas we have… one? Two? One could go the whole week and not sample every drink they had to offer there, whereas I think in an evening here you could blaze right through Lakeport, Steamwhistle, Carling and Keith’s pretty damn quick. To top it all off, they had an all-housewife string quartet (who had previously performed for the Queen!) to play a bunch of old standards, including a Bond song. Just about a perfect evening, if you ask me, and I even managed to screw a girl on the underground on the way back home.*

As initially scheduled, I only had a day and a half in London. After doing what little I was able to, though, I just… had to stay the whole week. Just had to.

I have to do it. Just have to. I have to talk at length about London’s underground. First, I mean, I love it. At no point did I ever stay anywhere remotely near the action; tube rides were usually 20-30 minutes if I wanted to get somewhere, yet I loved every minute of being on that thing. Even going home after a long day walking around, it was exciting to walk down into those stations and hop on the train. Westminster station, hell, you could just sit there and look at it all day. It’s like the set designer from a Michael Bay movie made it.

Which of these is Toronto's subway map? You decide!

I really like the signage they’ve developed for the whole damned operation. Everything in the same font, every stop noted in the distinctive Underground-style manner (the blue bar through the red circle). Individual stations have their own character, unique designs in the tube walls (yes every subway station in the world has this, but Baker Street, appropriately, has a Sherlock Holmes motif going on). Every line has a cool name and its own colour (again, not unique to London but they invented the damned thing). An automated voice tells you what stop’s up next, and whether you should “alight” there to check out various points of interest. It’s so simple to calculate a route from one part of the city to the other through multiple stations on multiple lines. Hell, the oyster card. Why the TTC doesn’t use this is beyond me. Even the “O” in “oyster” is a clever little reference to the Underground logo.

And the newspapers! Sure they’re fairly tabloidey, but immigrants hand them out for free outside the Underground entrances! Everyone reads the stupid things cause there’s nothing else to do down there. As such, you’ve got a populace always plugged in to the same info (which can be not necessarily a great thing, I understand). Reading them makes me feel like I’m part of the wider British society, marching in lockstep beside them. Kinda like what Mosley must have had in mind.

Looking south from Trafalgar Square. It sure was nice of people, not offering to take photos of me along with this stuff.

It’s nice to finally get that out of my system. Seeing London, I mean. It’s in every book, every movie, ever TV show you ever watch. And now, finally, I actually know what it’s like. From my childhood till this summer, I had these mental images of what certain Londonian landmarks looked like. Some I was pretty close to, but others (Trafalgar Square, in particular), I was way off the mark. But it’s weird, how these little places I carried around in my mind for 20 years no longer exist. The city itself is a huge, hulking behemoth. Everything has a certain weight to it that I hadn’t anticipated. I’ll have to get back sometime soon.

* Replace “a girl” with “my left hand”, and this statement becomes more accurate.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Almost Done. Honest.

(Disclaimer: I know all of this is terribly boring. Do try and bear with me)

Our last evening in Rotterdam we met up with a fellow Canadian, and the three of us took the train to Amsterdam in the morning. I guess one has to figure that the place is pretty unique among cities. First, it’s built atop a network of canals. I can’t quite recall if I knew this before I showed up, but it must surely be similar to Venice in that regard. Second, all the buildings were made for height; they’re all crammed in together, sacrificing length, but rise 4-5 storeys high. The stairways inside are all pretty vertical, and I wonder how the elderly manage to get around. All of this means that Amsterdam has character in ways that Rotterdam, perhaps, did not.

In my defense, it's terribly difficult to lean against one of these things and not look gay

The three of us made our way to the Heineken Brewery the first day we got there. It was less a museum than an advertisement that you have to walk through, and I have to say I was disappointed to find out that it hasn’t been a working brewery since the 80s. Still, something to do, right?

Not long afterwards, we headed to the red light district. Gotta say… a bit underwhelming. I was expecting this giant neighbourhood spread out across many city blocks, a hooker displaying her wares in every window. I wanted to come out feeling like a bad human being for having set foot there. As it turns out, it’s small and actually pretty clean to the point of feeling… antiseptic. It just doesn’t feel like you’re walking down a street staring at a bunch of paid, filthy whores eager to do the things to you that 49.9% of you wants to pay them for. And, I mean… it’s legal. And they’re clean! I’m not a bad person! And, sorry Ror, but I guess you lost that bet.

Amsterdam has other stuff besides hookers, like Anne Frank’s house. It all seems a bit silly, lining up with tourists in their touristy t-shirts and cameras to walk around in there. Once you get into the place, though, and realize you’re literally walking around in their footsteps (as opposed to figuratively hiding from the Nazis for two years, I guess), I have to say it sorta gets to you. It’s surprisingly effective, too, the way they’ve blocked the windows with these heavy screens; you can sorta see outside, but not enough to distract you from what the space you’re in means. By the time I left, the museum had become less a place to have been to just to say I did, and more of an actual, honest-to-goodness touching experience. In these cynical, post-Letterman times, isn’t that saying something?

Towards the end of our stay in Amsterdam, Andrew and I took a day trip into Zandvoort to sample its beach on the North Sea. Nothing like being on an ocean, and now I’m up to four of ‘em, baby. It’s hardly a half-hour from Amsterdam, and it’s funny to think of what Toronto would be like if we were only a train ride from water worth swimming in. There would be no point in doing anything else. Another great thing was the three topless chicks just lying out there, one of whom I had sex with in the beachside changeroom.*

For all to see and do, though, I find that my limit for most cities is about 2 days. We did 4 in Amsterdam, and I have to admit that it was wearing a bit thin towards the end. You can’t be on your feet the whole damn time, and Andrew and I took advantage of the quiet moments to read a few books between us. I don’t think I’ve read that much in such a short period of time, and I guess it reflects pretty poorly on me that I’ve hardly read a page since I got home.

Next: London!

* Demonstrably false.