TTC comedy of errors

I’ve been doing a lot of biking this summer. I promised myself at least three hours a week and mostly I’ve held to it, but this week I got lazy. So today I figured I had some catching up to do, and I got ambitious. To make a long story short, I ended up at Yorkdale. Tired and sweaty, but I figured I was fine, I’d just take the subway back.

Only, the University-Spadina trains were taken out of service, due to a medical emergency: after one stop, two trains in a row kicked everyone off. Not knowing how long I would be waiting on the increasingly crowded platform, or how many stops south I would have to go before I could find another train, I got back on my bike and hauled myself from Lawrence West to Lawrence Station. Whoops, I forgot that the usual weekend closures are back on. So, it’s more sweat, but down to St. Clair I go. Nope, huge lineup of people transferring from the replacement buses. So, onward to Bloor, which I could have done originally without the detour. Sigh.

When I get to to my stop, I figured at least the buses have bike racks and I can ride the rest of the way. (It never occurred to me to use the replacement buses on Yonge because those are always packed, and I didn’t want to add to that the complication of my bike, racks or no.) The bus loop at Royal York station has been closed for construction for over a year (escalators too — fun!). They say it’ll be open again by this winter, but in the meantime everyone has to walk down Royal York and across Bloor to the street stop. Think I made it? No, there goes my bus seconds ahead of me, even though I was a bad pedestrian and didn’t totally obey the signal. Now my handy smartphone app tells me the next one will arrive in 15 minutes or some other insulting length of time (mind you, this route is part of the ‘ten-minute network’, supposedly guaranteeing that’s the longest possible wait).

Well, I made it home at last, even tireder and more sweaty. And I mean, I’ve lasted this long without a car, while knowing I’m still better off without a monthly payment, to say nothing of the side costs. But any more of this excellent, world-class transit and I’m liable to give myself a heart attack.

 

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Tha Police

(A little behind the curve of the day-to-day. The following was prompted by an online conversation.)

Police officers deal daily with the worst humanity has to offer. They guard me while I sleep. I have benefited all my life from the good work of police men and women. There’s nothing the world needs more than honest, brave police officers.

Likewise, there’s nothing the world needs less than corrupt and/or cowardly ones. That’s because the stakes are very high — the highest, in fact, because alone among all professions, law enforcement is entrusted with the discretion to use force and violence as part of their jobs; up to, and including, deadly force.

I understand the police want respect for what they do. But respect is earned. No one should be dictating the terms by which others accord them respect. If you look the world round, you basically see two different kinds of police. One kind protects the public — this kind is associated with freedom. The other kind protects itself against the public. That kind are cowards. And policing as it’s practiced in the United States of America is the second kind. In the USA, police are trained to be cowards.

Remember this?

Daniel Shaver was seen with a pellet gun on a hotel balcony in Mesa, Arizona, and someone phoned it in to the police. The responding police officers did what they were trained to do: i.e., they subjected him to a lethal game of the hokey-pokey. When he didn’t put his right foot in as instructed, they shot the intoxicated, unarmed and completely harmless man dead with an AR-15.

Contrast that with this, just a couple of weeks ago:

The police officer who responded to the Toronto van attack had far greater reason to fear for his safety than the officer who shot Daniel Shaver — unlike at the hotel, there was a chain of bodies littering the ground. The van attacker (alleged to be one Alek Minassian) further directly provoked the officer by gesturing as if reaching for a gun and pretending to aim at the officer. The officer kept his cool, and secured Alek Minassian alive. He didn’t fire shots that might have endangered bystanders. If Minassian had had accomplices, he was kept alive to give information about them. And fundamentally, this officer’s training and actions reflected a respect for the value of human life.

The death of Daniel Shaver is evidence of a police force trained to protect itself at the expense of the public: cowardice. The apprehension of Alek Minassian represents a police force trained to accept risks in order to protect the public: bravery.

Prove me wrong.

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Sacrifices

The 29-year-old hero from Waffle House shooting: ‘I saw the opportunity and I took it’

https://www.tennessean.com/story/news/crime/2018/04/22/waffle-house-shooting-hero-stopped-shooter/540061002/

A 29-year-old man credited with saving numerous lives Sunday morning after he disarmed a man who opened fire on an Antioch Waffle House said he was just trying to stay alive.

James Shaw Jr., 29, said after feeling cornered he saw an opportunity to tackle the man shooting into an Antioch Waffle House. He said he doesn’t feel like a hero.

Police spokesman Don Aaron told reporters Sunday morning that the Waffle House hero rushed the suspected shooter, disarmed him and threw the AR-15 rifle he was carrying over the counter.

“I don’t really know, when everyone said that (of being a hero), it feels selfish,” Shaw Jr. “I was just trying to get myself out. I saw the opportunity and pretty much took it.”

Make sure to click through for the full story.

“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” so they say. Usually, a statement that definitive is expected to come with some kind of evidence. Failing that, it should at least come in for re-examination when something in the real world contradicts it as clearly as this incident does.

You’d think, but I’ll lay money you’d be wrong. The claim about stopping bad guys with guns can’t be disproved any more than it can be proved, because it isn’t about facts — it’s a profession of faith, and what’s more, faith in a notably blind and pitiless god that hungers for what we hold most dear.

Congratulations and best wishes to Mr. Shaw, and peace to the victims in Antioch, TN and their bereaved friends and loved ones. Take care of yourselves and each other, everyone.

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Holes

The current occupant of the Oval Office certainly is having an effect on the discourse, isn’t he? Seriously, who ever thought the Word of the Day in the USA would be “shithole”, courtesy of the President of the United States?

I for one take no position on whether the countries he referred to are, in fact, cloacas and latrines. But no matter how false and artificial it so often seems, diplomatic language has never been seen as optional for POTUS before now. That’s because there are consequences when the leader of a society makes such characterizations — consequences that aren’t good for anybody.

Here’s an anecdote: Smith meets Jones on the street. Says Smith to Jones: “Why, Jones! How are you, you worthless prick? And that filthy whore you married, how is she doing? The squalling brats, are they well? My goodness, it has been some while since I last visited the miserable hovel you piss and shit in. What are the odds of us meeting on a day like this?”

Now here are a few questions: Will Jones punch Smith in the face? Will Smith deserve it? Maybe Smith intended his remarks as badinage, or at any rate, maybe he claims to do so. Does that matter? What if Smith has a history of violence and hostile behaviour? Does it even make a difference whether what Smith says about Jones and his family is true or not?

Multiply these complexities, ambiguities and power relations by: the value of advantageous trade relations; the need for cooperation from your neighbours on things like border security; and the existence in this world of such things as nuclear weapons. You can see why Donald Trump maybe should think before he uses the hole in his face.

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#TakeAKnee

The #TakeAKnee movement is only superficially about race, class, or the effrontery of well-remunerated football players. The reason why it provokes such passions is because it’s really about religion. Namely, the American civil religion: its rituals, its iconography, and especially who is or isn’t allowed to influence them.

The basic mistake that affirmative atheists of the Richard Dawkins / Sam Harris variety make is that they think the driver of religion is its intellectual content. Let the Catholic church make claims about the body and blood of Christ and “No, no,” they’ll say, “you’re doing it wrong. Remember Copernicus, remember Galileo, that so-called blood is still chemically indistinguishable from wine, etc.”. But religion isn’t about what it says; it’s a mechanism for forming and maintaining identity. No two religions make exactly the same claims about humanity, God or gods, or the nature of existence; but they are as one in providing their adherents a way to understand who they are. On the one hand, think of Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland bitterly divided from one another, no matter that they don’t look any different. On the other, think of Malcolm X returning from Mecca with a new understanding after meeting blond, blue-eyed fellow Muslims for the first time.

The American civil religion is no different. The USA has its own Last Supper, its own communion of saints and martyrs, its version of the Rapture, and its master narrative to which it requires that all others be subordinate. But the long-simmering conflict over the American identity is now surging toward a boiling point, as control of the narrative slips ever further from those who have long held it. (And to hold something is to deny it to others; that’s the definition of property.)

More than fifty years after the March on Washington, there are still those who feel the need to rise up and demand that the nation “live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.'” In response, there are those who say: “No, no, you’re doing it wrong. Asians learned to fit in; you need to learn to fit in too. Fix the way you talk. Act respectable.” And, unspoken but clear: “Stop making me feel threatened by you and your demands.”

It’s not going to stop. African Americans, and other minorities as well, are part of America and have been from the beginning. They and their experience are part of the substance of the nation — just as they are, not as scolds and remonstrants would have them be. What they want is for that fact to be recognized.

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Home Capital Group

Canadians need to be paying close attention to how their government addresses what just happened with Home Capital Group. The way this unfolds will tell us whether we have an honest and reliable cop on the beat, or if the thieves are now running the store.

Back in 2014, HCG announced that it was letting go of some mortgage brokers due to concerns of fraud. A couple of weeks ago, the Ontario Securities Commission moved ahead with allegations that the company delayed disclosure, made misleading statements and falsely certified an annual report in the wake of those frauds. This move by the OSC caused the company’s stock price to tank and prompted a run on deposits. (Here’s the Financial Post blaming the OSC for doing its job.)

To cover its obligations, HCG has turned to the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan (HOPP) which is furnishing a $2 billion line of financing. This deal comes with a $100 million non-refundable fee, and has 200% collateral in the form of mortgages held by HCG. In other words, HOPP may gain $4 billion worth of mortgages for a $2 billion outlay. Meanwhile this financial stopgap bears an interest rate of at least 15% on funds drawn, plus additional interest on funds not yet used. This spells doom for HCG, while allowing HOPP to strip assets from the company at basically no risk to itself, leaving nothing for HCG’s creditors come the eventual bankruptcy.

Here’s the fun part: The CEO of HOPP, Jim Keohane, is an HCG board member and Kevin Smith, HCG’s chairman, is on the HOPP board as well. For these men to use HCG’s distress to serve HOPP is a glaring conflict of interest and may constitute fraudulent conveyance, or hiding of assets from creditors. (For more, read this article from John Hempton.)

There’s a lot of talk that the downfall of HCG is the beginning of the end for Canada’s real estate bubble, and that may be the case. But bubbles are one thing, while honest governance is another. People entrust their livelihoods and futures to financial institutions. When insiders serve themselves by playing fast and loose with other people’s money, that trust is abused. We’ve seen a lot of financial chicanery go unpunished in the last few years. I’m going to consider this case a test of whether our country is capable of keeping its financial industry in hand and not the other way around. Let’s see if our regulators have it in them to do what needs to be done.

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On bathrooms

I read James Howard Kunstler’s blog regularly, but being busy in real life this week, I haven’t taken the time to engage with the comments section. So I don’t know what the tenor of responses to Jim’s pensées about gay and transgender people, the acceptance of gay marriage, et cetera has been. But I just did a quick text search and the word “vomit” only matched once, in the text of his post, but no responses. So no one appears to have taken up what to me was the singular point that I took away from reading him this week.

In brief, Jim Kunstler holds gay and trans people to be the human equivalent of plastic vomit. Regarding transgender people in particular, he offers the following options: “a psychological disturbance, a developmental problem, an extreme fashion statement, or a fantasy.” Why any of these should render trans people fit targets for discrimination or disqualify them from the full protection of the laws isn’t spelled out. It seems that, since they’re a parody of humanity (“plastic vomit”), not actual humans (Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass), the notion of them enjoying equal status with the rest of us just rubs him the wrong way.

Regarding homosexuality as distinct from transgender, Jim’s attitude toward “that behavior” is likewise dismissive, implicitly attempting to define or demean it out of existence. When I first read A History of the Future (I have my copy here), I was struck early on that the character Andrew Pendergast is introduced as a ‘reformed’ homosexual who has basically wised up and gotten real. In Kunstler’s depiction, if not in reality, the discipline required to survive in the new times just doesn’t leave space for such fripperies and affectations. Likewise in this week’s posting, Jim denounces “state approbation of homosexual behavior” (the Windsor decision) as motivated by “feelings” and thus illegitimate. One might note in response that in the past, and to a great extent in the present, homosexuals have faced relentless social pressure and the most extreme legal sanctions. In Europe they were burned at the stake; in Britain within living memory, Alan Turing, one of the great geniuses of the twentieth century, was forced to take hormones in an attempt to ‘cure’ him; today in Saudi Arabia, gay people face fines, years in prison, and hundreds of lashes with a bullwhip. Yet despite all this, gay people have continued to be gay and to act like it.

Whether the phenomenon of people who don’t fit the gender binary corresponds to any of Jim’s characterizations or not, one thing they clearly are is part of the spectrum of humanity, whether or not we deign to recognize “actually a real sexual category”. That gay people continue to be who they are in the face of everything straight people, backed by the power of the state, can throw at them ‘feels’ to me like an authentic expression of their humanity as they live it — their “pursuit of happiness” — not an affectation. Might this not constitute a rejoinder to Kunstler’s dismissiveness?

Jim’s final point is about the elimination of boundaries. In his view, the DOJ apparently has overstepped itself and “antagoniz[ed] large numbers of males and females by coercing them to consort with transgender people”. Consort! As if transgender people haven’t been here all along, urinating and defecating like all us humans do. (Land sakes, they’ll be using the drinking fountains next.) Which bathrooms trans people happened to use hadn’t been an issue until bigots in state legislatures decided to make it one. Then the federal government stepped up and reminded everyone that it has laws of its own, and won’t neglect to enforce them. The effrontery.

It’s true that when you push people’s boundaries, they push back. That makes for trouble and ruckus, and sometimes controversies that people feel passionate about really can destabilize societies. That’s not a trivial issue. But some boundaries deserve to be pushed, and pushed hard — especially the kind of boundaries that accord people on one side full humanity, and others not. Mr. Kunstler may imagine that he’s being generous in extending the olive branch of civil unions, but the question of “separate but equal” was settled in the courts decades ago: it’s not fit for a free society.

It’s not “extreme relativism” to insist that America live out the meaning of its creed and accord equal treatment to all under the law. It’s the exact opposite. I hope Mr. Kunstler will consider the truth of that statement.

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