Saturday, November 04, 2006

The Tassé Report

The Tassé report on the Toronto Port Authority has come out, and it has dashed the hopes of Toronto City Centre Airport opponents in nearly every particular. Mr. Tassé states clearly that the disruption to business plans that companies, particularly REGCO, had made in good faith quite legitimately created liabilities for the city and the federal government. He found that the Port Authority and its negotiators did an acceptable job of containing the liabilities at $35 million. But Mr. Tassé goes further: he asserts that Toronto City Centre Airport (Toronto Island Airport) plays a useful role in Canada's transportation system, and he tells us closing it would involve unacceptable costs.

Obviously, the critics of Toronto City Centre Airport, and the allies of Mayor Miller, have no intention of accepting this report. But their reaction has three interesting omissions. First, they provide no actual evidence to refute the Tassé report. Second, they say nothing about any possibility of an alternate plan for waterfront development, which might actually accommodate the existence of the airport and still develop a vibrant, multi-use neighbourhood. Indeed, I have never seen an opponent of the airport explain precisely why we cannot build a working mixed use area, and they have yet to address the possibility that we might try. As a third omission, airport opponents have not addressed the question of whether the city and region can come up with a transportation plan that would eliminate the need for this airport.

I have no direct knowledge from which I could comment on why Mr. Miller and his allies do not provide evidence to refute Mr. Tassé, or why we have seen no waterfront plan which could accommodate the airport. But I do have some experience with the question of regional transport planning. At a public forum in this election, I asked Mayor Miller if he would agree to have a task force review the regional planning for long-range transport in the Greater Toronto Area, taking into account road, rail, and air, and report on the options available for the future, together with their fiscal, social, and environmental costs. Jane Pitfield said yes. David Miller said he didn't think he could get the civic leaders of Durham Regional Municipality to go along with it.

So there you have it. Our current mayor has shown no indication he intends to even ask the residents of Toronto for ideas about building a vibrant, multi-use neighbourhood which could accommodate an airport on Toronto Island. He doesn't think he can get an agreement to study the issues of long-range transport that we face, and lay the costs of the possible options before the people of the Greater Toronto Area, so we can make an intelligent, informed choice. And if he and the other opponents of Toronto City Centre Airport have a solid, fact-based argument to refute the Tassé report, they haven't shared it with us.

Under these circumstances, I have to ask: how long do our mayor and his allies intend to hold their (and our) breath on the waterfront issue?

Friday, October 20, 2006

People not planes?

Our current mayor, or his campaign workers, have decided that "a waterfront for people not planes" has the mindless appeal of a good political slogan. Except that if you stop to think about it, the slogan has some pretty offensive implications.

Personally, I'd like to make my neighbourhood a place for people, not musical instruments. I'd like to make my house a place for people, not art. And I'd sure like to see the city turned into a place for people, not law offices and courts. I could go on, but I hope I have made my point: people come with art, music, law, justice, and we also come with travel and technology. And it doesn't do to call planes things, from which we can easily separate people. If I take the art from the artist, the fiddle from the musician, the law books and courts from the lawyer, I have effectively undermined their freedom to express themselves; I have diminished their humanity. And if I take the plane from the aviator, I have done the same thing.

Now, I suppose you could make an argument that planes harm the downtown environment; but that slogan says nothing about the environment. And if you did try to make a case that Toronto City Centre Airport harms the environment, you'd have to address a huge body of evidence that moving traffic from Pearson to Toronto City Centre Airport actually reduces pollution in the Greater Toronto Area overall. And in any case, the mayor's campaign can hardly argue against aviation with any consistency, since he's started pushing a plan for an expo in 2015, which will depend on air travel to succeed, in the unlikely event that it does.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Aviation Dreams

One summer day, as I wandered Ontario Place looking for friends I didn't find, I looked up and saw a small high wing aeroplane descend to the runway of Toronto Island airport. Out of the haze of my late adolescence, and (let's face it) too many intervening years, the memory looms absolutely clearly: the yacht harbour of Ontario Place, with its colour and movement, the bustle of the amusement park, and the quick path of the plane's descent. And I remember what went through my mind, as vividly as I remember the sights and sounds of the day. One day, I thought, I will do that. I will fly a small plane into Toronto Island.

It took me over twenty years to make the dream of flight real. Several years ago, as my wife studied for a PhD at the University of Michigan, I took the opportunity to learn to fly. I remember, as all pilots do, my first solo. Everything began as I had expected. My instructor wrote the necessary endorsements for solo flight in my pilot's logbook, then had me taxi to the flight school ramp, got out, and told me to fly three times around the airfield. As almost every pilot ever to solo has done, I quailed at the yawning emptiness of the seat beside me. And then, as I took off, something happened that I had not expected. In a revelation that truly astonished me, as I climbed into the sky, the fear stayed behind on the ground. I had wrestled with fear many times, usually fighting it to a truce. For the first time, I simply left the fear behind me.

Shortly after I earned my pilot's license, I had occasion to take my father to Toronto, where he had a presentation to give at a church. On a grey Sunday morning, I kept the promise I had made to myself more than twenty years before, and flew an aeroplane over Humber Bay, past Ontario Place, and down to the runway of the Toronto Island airport.

Since than, I have flown into the Toronto Island airport many times. I have flown there for family visits, and business. On one memorable Christmas flight, my wife and I flew from Ann Arbor with a friend and fellow student. We calculated that we had taken nearly every form of transportation that trip: car, bus, boat, and plane.

I have taken great pleasure in flying, and it has served me as well for business. I have flown to business conferences, and I have flown my wife on research trips for her academic work. Many other people do not use their dreams of flying merely to support their career; they make flying their career. The airlines we depend on for transportation, the air ambulances our very lives may depend on, and the many essential services aviation provides for agriculture and industry, all begin with someone looking up at the sky, and resolving that one day, they too will follow that road.

Yet the value of a dream does not lie only in its fruition. My dream of flight served me well in the twenty years I waited and worked to make it come true. Harry Chapin's moving song "Taxi" reminds us of the importance of holding on to dreams, and not settling for substitutes. In "Taxi", Chapin tells the story of a taxi driver who dreamed of flying in his youth, "took off to find the sky", and then, in his disappointed adulthood, settled for "flying" on drugs. My own dream of flight made the dream that Harry Chapin's taxi driver allowed to slip away very real to me. It also made the song and its message about the importance of holding onto dreams an important inspiration to me through easy and hard times. Dreams and goals, both large and small, anchor a life. It takes perseverance to make a contribution, and nobody can persevere for long without direction and a sense of what personal achievement means.

Some people, who find the Toronto Island airport a nuisance or an impediment to their desire for a park, have called for the government to close it. This will certainly lead to a debate on the merits of the airport. As we begin the debate, practical questions will probably dominate the discussion. We will have to address questions about the feasibility of operating flight schools in the proposed single runway "commuter" airport. We also have to ask whether two airports, both well outside the city, suffice for the transportation needs of Toronto business as well as the educational needs of local flight students.

As we address the practical questions, let us not forget the importance of dreams. In our haste to banish everything noisy and dirty from the environs of the Toronto waterfront, do we run the risk of putting the dream of flight literally out of sight and out of reach of the next generation?

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Nuit blanche sur nos bicyclettes

Allison and I went out on our bicycles for Nuit blanche, Toronto's public art night. We actually started with a trip to take photographs for one of Allison's art projects. We found Queen and Dunn a delightful place, with (among many other charming features) a small Caribbean takeout which offers the dish that for me epitomises Toronto's open multicultural society: Halal jerk chicken.

We went on to 48 Abell Street, where a friend of ours wants to replace a superannuated factory full of illegal artist's lofts with a mixed-use development containing 199 units of low-income housing. Then we rode on south through Liberty Village, down Sudbury Street to Wellington, where we stopped for coffee at the charming Olde York pub. Despite its name, the Olde York actually features fifties modern decor, and a menu directly from the multicultural Toronto of today. After that, we cycled into the center of the city, did some shopping, and had dinner.

After dinner, we headed off to the Royal Ontario Museum and Philosopher's Walk for the art installations there. We found the weather cooperated perfectly with the "white night" theme of the evening, with a white sky and the kind of cool humidity that makes the fall air near the Great Lakes feel like velvet. Michael Snow had projected a video of grazing sheep onto the dome of the McLachlan planetarium; in the dark with the white sky behind we could not tell where the dome began or ended, so the field of sheep loomed eerily out of the semi-dark, like a window into a more peaceful reality.

From the front of the ROM, we went back to philosopher's walk, visiting first the silver tree. The silver tree exhibit consisted of a tree wrapped in silver paper or Mylar, with strips of paper containing hopes (peace, etc.) hanging from the branches. With numerous participants grouped around it, it had the feel of a pagan ritual. It left me thinking about the nexus between the the beautiful and the spiritual; how religious rituals so often consciously aim at beauty in their surroundings and execution.

From the tree, we went south to the fog installation. Again, the weather cooperated perfectly; in the damp air, the fog generators put out a barely penetrable haze, out of which a throng loomed in eerie twos and threes. I turned off my bicycle headlight as we cautiously walked our bikes along the path, but I left my tail light on.

Afterwards, we rode over to an opening at the Spencer Gallery, an excellent little gallery on Markham Street specialising in contemporary international art. A friend had recommended the opening to us, and we enjoyed it very much.

Afterward, we rode home, an adventure in itself. A ride to West Toronto presents an interesting challenge. The streets that offer the best bicycle route to Bloor West and Old Mill, Dupont and Annette, can prove tricky to turn on. A Toronto Councillor once likened cycling in Toronto traffic to swimming with sharks, and I rather like swimming with sharks. The adrenaline rush I felt hanging nose to nose with a BMW in the left turn lane of Dufferin Street at Dupont capped a wonderful evening.

Don't worry about your enemies, worry about your friends

To paraphrase a comment attributed to Warren Harding: politicians generally have the power to deal with their enemies; the job gets tricky when they have to worry about their friends. Mayor David Miller has to worry about his friends in Community AIR, the lobby group which agitates for the closure of Toronto City Centre Airport, a small short-range airport on Lake Ontario near Toronto's downtown. Community AIR backed Mayor Miller vigorously in the last election, and he promptly gave them what they wanted in return: a request from Toronto City Council to the Canadian government that they cancel a lift bridge to the airport. The opponents of Toronto City Centre Airport hoped that would lead to the closure of the airport, but it did not. Instead, an airline entrepreneur made plans to operate a short-haul airline from Toronto City Centre using advanced, Canadian-made turbo-prop aircraft. Community AIR goes into this election frustrated, with a victory under their belt that did not get them what they wanted. They have begun asking Mayor Miller for things he can't possibly deliver. And they have begun asking it in public.

Community AIR, and their allies, subscribe to three linked myths. The first, the myth that their anti-airport group has political strength, they believe because the mayor of Toronto regularly supports their position in his rhetoric. However, if the airport issue could really tip election results city-wide, the mayor would have a clutch of council resolutions in his pocket, demanding that the federal government ground Porter Air (the airline about to open service at Toronto City Centre Airport), that the government close the airport entirely to commercial traffic, or even that Transport Canada (which owns the airport, and operates it through the Toronto Port Authority) close it altogether. Mayor Miller has never done so, and he certainly has the intelligence to understand that a city council resolution makes a stronger statement about the position of the city than press interviews by the mayor alone. If he hasn't put a single resolution before council since the first announcement of the plans for Porter Airlines, a period of over nine months, it implies that he could not get such a resolution passed.

The myth of political strength rests on a myth of moral strength. Community AIR stakes out claims heavy on rhetoric about a “clean green waterfront”, but in the end their position amounts to a demand that one privileged neighbourhood (where most of the members of Community AIR live) get all it wants, indeed all it could possibly ask, and that others (people who live near Toronto's main airport, Pearson International) pay the environmental costs.

That leads to the third myth, the myth that Community AIR has a strong factual case. They have made a number of claims that make their position look good, but which have no validity. Their analysis ranges from deeply flawed (such as their claims about the suitability of the runways and taxiways at the airport) to outright fiction (such as their claim that commercial flights will go up the Don River Valley, right through the city, when in fact flights from Toronto City Centre Airport turn south, over Lake Ontario.

Phantom strengths, like phantom wealth, have the baneful effect of inducing people to overspend. In political terms, this usually means they refuse compromises and demand exactly what they want, nothing less. A single quote characterizes the position of Community AIR: “We'll only be happy when we see bulldozers ripping up the runway.” A position such as that doesn't leave a lot of room for negotiation and compromise, the soul of politics. It leaves Mayor Miller with neither the political strength to make demands, or the flexibility to make deals.

Going into the fall municipal election, after a term characterized by disappointed expectations, David Miller needs to have the voters see him as effective. That won't happen if supporters who badly overestimate the strength of their position make impossible demands of him.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

What I May Do with a Square Piece of Canvas

I have a basement office at home and I've been trying to make it more pleasant and organized. There is a space over one bookcase and I was thinking, "Since I am an art historian, I would like something there that will really say 'Art.'"

But how can you say Art with just one piece? Should it be a collage of art from all eras and places? Should it be the word "Art" rendered in a stylish way?

Finally I decided to make something myself. I bought a piece of stretched canvas, 12" x 12" square, and I will divide it into quadrants. An attractive border will be part of this, and along the middle horizontal divider I will write "what is art?"

My plan for the four squares is mainly inspired by the amazing painter Ben Reeves's Surrey Suburbs Project. As he explained in a talk that I heard last year (and in another talk reported online in the Klondike Sun ), Reeves "[chose] his subject matter wisely: by throwing darts at a map and painting at every location the darts hit."

So, I decided to put my local map book on a kitchen turntable (aka a Lazy Susan). I asked my dh to spin it as (with eyes shut) I first chose four numbered squares on the large-scale map. I then turned to each of those numbered pages and, with another magic spin, found a precise intersection where I will photograph and/or paint.

It is with considerable trepidation that I reveal this project. I am emphatically not an artist, I just want "something nice for over the bookcase" and to explore some corners of my city that are unknown to me. However, I do promise to reveal to you, dear reader, the results of my undertaking.

The Smiley-face method of motivation and time management

Suppose that you need to write something: a manual of cake-baking, a novel, or a Ph.D. dissertion. Are you despairing that you can't keep at it, day by day, week by week, month by month?

Here is what to do.

Take a small piece of blank paper: 4" x 6" or smaller. Keep this piece of paper on your desk, right near your elbow.

Each day if you manage to accomplish something--anything--on your project, write it down on the piece of paper. Examples:

"Signed four books out of the library."

"Read fifteen pages of Lloyd's book and took notes."

"Wrote to the cake museum in Dusseldorf."

"Wrote three pages."

"Revised seven pages."

"Sent draft of Chapter 3 to my thesis supervisor."

Now the important part: each day, when you have written down your wonderful accomplishments, draw a little smiley face on your piece of paper. Colour it with a yellow highlighter or coloured pencil. Well done!

As you fill these pieces of paper you will see that you have made progress. The work done on a single day may seem tiny, but it all adds up. When you fill a page, file it in the place where you keep your treasured mementos (mine is called "Letters and Souvenirs") and start a new page.

I followed this method to complete my Ph.D. and I have told some of my colleagues about it. May it help you also. Good luck!

Another View of the Public Interest

Warning: Local Toronto Content

Asked by a reporter what he would like to say to Robert Deluce, the CEO of Porter Airlines, a start-up set to provide service from Toronto to a variety of cities through Toronto City Centre Airport, David Miller, the Mayor of Toronto, said this:'s time that you put your private interests aside and let the public interest prevail, and the public interest is in a revitalized waterfront.

The mayor, of course, has the same right as any citizen of Canada to his opinion. I take a different view. As a member of the public who lives in Toronto, I think I have an interest in the larger issue of environmental justice. I want to see a solution that serves everyone in the Greater Toronto region, not just an articulate, relatively wealthy and privileged neighbourhood on the Toronto waterfront.

Should Porter Air succeed, passengers who might otherwise have taken a car or train to Pearson International Airport can instead take a bus or light rail from the downtown to Toronto City Centre Airport. That change has the potential to reduce both overall noise and atmospheric pollution in the GTA region. It has the potential to reduce the human impacts of noise and pollution even more. Comparison between the Q-400 aircraft which Porter Air intends to fly with the Boeing 717 type of aircraft, which Jets-Go flew out of Pearson, before they went out of business, shows the differences. Based on the published fuel consumption figures, the Q-400 which Porter intends to use will get at least 7% more passenger miles to a gallon of jet fuel than the Boeing 717, and over the distances Porter intends to fly, the advantage of the Q-400 increases to as much as 23%.

The structure of Toronto City Centre Airport will help to further reduce the local pollution produced by flight operations there. The short taxiway and small airport reduces the amount of taxiing and holding the planes will do by 50% or better, and figures published for Midway Airport in Chicago by the US Environmental Protection Agency suggest that taxiing and idling aeroplanes produce over 70% of many of the local pollutants emitted by airport operations, including volatile organic compounds and benzine.

Measurements of sound levels of planes taking off from Pearson and TCCA make it very clear that while jets taking off from Pearson produce severe noise spikes, the Dash-8 aircraft taking off from TCCA barely register over the noise levels of traffic on the Gardiner Expressway, or the streetcar on Queen's Quay. The noise exposure forecast (NEF) contour map (produced by Shawn Morgan, used by permission) confirms what the recordings tell us; that Pearson operations subject Rexdale and Malton (a total of 150,000 people) to a barrage of noise from which the Tripartite agreements protects the waterfront neighbourhoods.

As the recent withdrawal of CanJet from scheduled passenger service shows, airlines respond to competitive pressures. If Porter succeeds, it has a very good chance of diverting passengers from noisier and dirtier jet flights out of Pearson. That, in turn, will reduce noise and pollution in the city and region as a whole.

So Porter's success offers us one way to reduce the noise, reduce the pollution, and reduce the human impacts of both, while serving environmental justice at the same time. It does not offer the only way. Mayor Miller, and his supporters, have had three years to promote alternatives: everything from high-speed rail to reduce the passenger load airlines carry, to some form of direct compensation to the communities that carry the main environmental burden. They have done nothing, except promote a plan for a world's fair, which will put seven million more people (according to the official estimates) into the air over the long-suffering children of Malton and Rexdale; that works out to one takeoff or landing every two minutes for the period of the fair. Only Robert Deluce and Porter Air have a plan that stands any immediate chance of reducing the noise and pollution we subject the children of Rexdale and Malton to. Only Deluce and his backers have put their money and their energy into a practical course that will, if it succeeds, reduce the environmental burden while improving environmental fairness.

I invite anyone with an interest in the issue to check my sources. If I've made an error somewhere, by all means, tell me. But don't tell me, yet again, that the people who live in the condos on Bathurst Quay somehow matter more than the people who live in Malton; I've lived my whole life on the premise that no one person matters any more than any other person. Don't tell me that I don't care about reducing pollution as long as it get shared; I've already said that the Deluce proposal actually has a chance to reduce pollution. If the waterfront crowd have a great idea for reducing pollution and promoting environmental justice (that means reducing pollution for everybody, not just them), tell me; I'd love to hear it. If I've made some error in my calculations, let me know that, and I'll gladly correct them.

To love your enemies, you have to know them

If I had to list the columnists I admire least, Mark Steyn would rank high. However, give the man his due, he has a point when he decries the conspiracy theories about 9/11 that have gripped much of the public. Many of his arguments betray a woeful lack of imagination: he quotes a web-logger who asks why people who believe in the grand conspiracy don't pack up and leave the United States, without telling us where someone who wanted to get out of bomber range of the White House and its current occupants could go. But he makes a solid argument; it simply does not make sense, at any level, that any conspiracy within the United States government to bring down the twin towers and bomb the Pentagon could have succeeded and remained hidden to this point.

Such a conspiracy would have had to find several thousand people, many with very specialised skills, willing to commit high treason and mass murder. If they hoped to involve an expert on explosive demolition, the conspirators would have had to approach one of only a few hundred with the required expertise. If even one person they sounded out had talked to a grand jury in the five years since 9/11, the conspirators would have found themselves on a gurney at Terre Haute, following in the footsteps of Timothy McVeigh.

By Occam's razor, if nothing else, the simplest explanation applies: Al Qaeda, a terrorist organisation formed in Afghanistan and Sudan, led by Osama bin Laden, hijacked four planes. They flew two into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre, one into the Pentagon, and one crashed into a field in Pennsylvania after the passengers overcame some or most of the hijackers.

The increasing popularity of conspiracy theories that purport to offer alternative explanations challenge the Left and the Right alike. To the Right, the popularity of even the most improbable conspiracy theories indicates an clear, if unpalatable reality: huge numbers of people have so lost faith in the "War of Terror"® (now the Global Struggle against Violent Extremism"®) that they will believe almost (literally) anything of the people charged with conducting it. And why should that surprise anyone?

Perhaps the time has come for members of the right to admit the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan created Al Qaeda, and the policies of the Reagan administration bear some responsibility for that. If the Bush administration has completely lost the confidence of millions of Americans and others, perhaps they accomplished that by informing us all that we faced a struggle for survival, then voting their wealthy friends a huge tax cut and telling everyone (except the long-suffering soldiers faced with stop-loss programs) to go and shop 'til they dropped.

The Bush Administration has piled up a sad record of blundering into Iraq in search of non-existent weapons, and with an incoherent plan for democratising the Arab world. Maybe the people who believe the Bush administration rigged the towers with explosives would rather believe anything but the obvious and frightening conclusion: the events of the past five years really represent the Bush Administration's best efforts at a strategy. The Right might reassure some people, even capture some of that lost faith and trust, if they would acknowledge the problems, and perhaps even apologise for the many mistakes of conservative governments in the past.

The Left faces a different and tougher challenge. The basic premise of the anti-war left holds that we have to learn not to make war, because without an end to war, we do not have much of a future on this planet. To do that, we have to learn to love our enemies. To love our enemies, we have to face the reality that they exist, that they really hate us, and not all for good or understandable reasons. We have to look our enemy in the face, strip off all the explanations and excuses, and face the ugly truth about the Salafist Jihadists, in the same way, and with the same courage, that we face ugly truths about ourselves and our own civilisation.

Members of Al Qaeda want to kill millions of us, and enslave the rest. We have to love them anyway. The Taliban wants to impose a medieval patriarchy on the women of Afghanistan, and they have allied with Al Qaeda. We have to love them anyway. After twenty centuries in which the Christian world recited Jesus's words in the Sermon on the Mount in church, and then went out to do battle on the field, we have come to a point when heeding those words has gone from a matter of morality to a matter of survival.

In war, the biggest weapon wins. In an advanced technological society, the biggest weapons can raze cities, poison huge areas, and trigger epidemics that will kill millions, even billions of people. If we do not make and end to war, war will make an end, if not of the human species, then of our civilisation. In Christian terms, that means we have to look past the ugly horror of the ideology that motivates our enemies, and find a way to reach, and love, the human beings who hold that ideology. Evading and escaping the face of that ideology, not facing the ugly truth, will do nothing for us. Mohamed Atta took over a plane and used it as a flying bomb. The passengers on the planes hijacked that day included children too young to walk. The Al Qaeda jihadists had to know this, so they had to believe that God would reward them for child murder. Evading that fact with fantasies about some elaborate government plot will not do us any good at all. We have to look into the cold eyes of men prepared to commit any depraved act, face the anger they provoke, and then, somehow, find a way past the anger. Otherwise, their anger justifies their flying planes into towers, and our resulting anger justifies our dropping GPS-guided bombs on women and children, which justifies some other outrage, until someone feels justified in doing something which makes the whole sorry history irrelevant.

We will never break this chain of horror if we comfort ourselves with fantasies. We will have to look honestly into the face of it. We will have to forgive. We will have to return good for evil. We will have to do all the hard, hard things involved in making real and lasting peace. And we will have to begin with the truth.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

...cry peace, peace...

An increase in Canada's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan, together with the inevitable increase in casualties has both raised the public profile of the Canadian Forces, and led to questions, not only about the mission, but also about the purpose of this war, and of the Canadian military itself. As the war has made the military more visible, complaints have arisen not only about the war, but about the visibility of the military itself.

While some "exposures" of the military treat war as a game, simply making the military visible, particularly in wartime, hardly constitutes militarism. Indeed, since we have (involuntarily) gotten into a war, we have an obligation to take note of the military, and the sacrifices Canadian soldiers make on our behalf. Simple distaste for the horrors of war, or worse, blaming the military for wars, does not come close to the ethical and personal commitment required to truly make peace. To make peace here, we will have find a way to love a genuine enemy, a theocratic and political movement at odds with everything we believe. Allowing for the inevitable exaggerations in the Western media, finding a way for our society to coexist with a movement such as the Taliban will involve enormous difficulty. To argue, or suggest, that if the military did not exist, then we should have no problems living with the Taliban (and their allies) amounts to a form of escapism.

Plenty of Leftists (and some thoughtful conservatives) have had plenty to say about the "chickenhawks", who cheer-lead for the "war on terror" from a safe (a very safe) position on the sidelines. But simply saying "no" to war doesn't relieve us of the obligation we rightly deride the "chickenhawks" for shirking. In 1984, Ron Sider put it to the peace churches:

We must be prepared to die by the thousands.

Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die....

Why do we pacifists think that our way -- Jesus' way -- to peace will be less costly? Unless we Mennonites and Brethren in Christ are ready to start to die by the thousands in dramatic vigorous new exploits for peace and justice, we should sadly confess that we really never meant what we said....

Unless we are ready to die developing new nonviolent attempts to reduce international conflict, we should confess that we never really meant the cross was an alternative to the sword.

Ron Sider issued his challenge to professed Christians, but the same challenge goes to secular pacifists as well: we will succeed in making peace, but only at a personal price we cannot imagine. Some of us, perhaps many of us, will have to spend months or years working under tough conditions, far from home, doing the hard work of building peace. Some of us will have to face machetes or guns with our empty hands-- and, almost certainly, some of us will have to die.

This does not mean that everyone who writes or demonstrates against this war needs to pack their bags for Kabul or Darfur or Baghdad, or Guatemala City or Tehran, or any of the hundreds of places embroiled in lethal conflicts. But we should recognise that someone must pay the price. And if we cannot or will not take on the job of making peace, then let us at least have the decency to face the sacrifice that Canada's young warriors will have to keep making, until we finally find a way to make a lasting peace.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Civility (2): Cheri DiNovo

Warning: Canadian political content

Most people in Toronto or Ontario now know about the battle between the Liberal Party of Ontario and the NDP for the riding (electoral district) of Parkdale High Park in Toronto. The contest degenerated into a vicious partisan gouge-fest, with attacks from Liberal web-loggers escalating to a fully fledged mud-slinging and dirty tricks campaign. It ended with the Liberals getting a bloody nose, losing by 2000 votes, or 8% of the turn-out.

So what do we learn from this? We can say that the Liberal web-loggers at fault thought they could get what they wanted with a quick tool through the sewer; well boys, now you've got clothes full of sewage and a face full of rat bites, and Cheri DiNovo still gets to go to Queen's Park.

But I see a further lesson in this: ugly elections like this happen for many reasons. Most of those reasons, such as the competitive nature of the political process and the immaturity of some participants we can do nothing about. However, it seems to me that we can change one thing: we can encourage members of different parties to work together on local civic projects. People would still exist who slime the "enemy" on principle, but they'd get far less support if the other members of their party expected to work on civic issues with all-party coalitions.

For this reason, I think we should avoid having party organisations endorse candidates for municipal office. Knowing you may have to work with a member of the "enemy" party in the next municipal election can have a healthy civilising effect.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Bicycle Safety Techniques

How do you stay safe in traffic? I can't really tell you that. I can only tell you how I stay safe (or try to stay safe) in traffic.

  1. Obey the traffic laws

    Everybody says you should obey the laws, all the laws, which apply to cyclists. Count me as everybody plus one. When I follow the highway traffic act, it makes me possible to predict. Drivers know where to look for me, they can make a good guess as to where I'll go (and more importantly, where I won't go) in the next second.

    In the A&E TV reality series "Airline", the camera crews hung out at airports and taped (usually distressed or unruly) passengers. Once, they taped customers griping because the airline had held up a flight when a part didn't fit. I felt like shouting at the screen: you want to fly seven miles up, going five hundred knots, in an aluminum tube stressed to thousands of pounds per square inch, with a part that doesn't fit? Sometimes, I feel like asking fellow cyclists the same question: you ride on a public road, surrounded by two-ton battering rams going fifty feet every single second, and you don't want the drivers to know what they can expect you to do next?

  2. Stay Attuned to the Road

    I use every sense I have. I have normal hearing; it gives me an enormous advantage. I listen for traffic around me, and particularly behind me. The sound of an engine gives me a very good rough guide to the size of the vehicle behind me, and the driver's intentions. If I hear a Cummins diesel, I get ready for a truck; if I hear a car engine revving up, I make sure I give the driver every chance to safely pass me.

  3. Cycle and Signal, in That Order

    I try to ride my bicycle first. I always make it my first priority to stay upright and in control; whatever the situation, I know I won't improve my situation by collapsing in a helpless tangle in the middle of the road. Second, I try to make sure I signal my intentions. Signals come second; a driver can't respond to what I intend to do if I don't control the bike.

  4. Stay Ahead of the Bike

    I try to keep my mind the appropriate range of distances ahead of my bicycle. In some cases, such as dense traffic on a straight street ride, that means keeping most of my attention on the cars right in front of me. Coming up on a turn or a lane change, I try to look out for the state of the traffic in the other lane or the intersection in mind. I try to stay aware of gaps in the traffic, and how long I can expect them to last.

  5. Behave in a Polite But Firm Manner

    I have the same right to use the road, according to the law, as transit vehicles, cars, trucks, and pedestrians. To the greatest extent possible, I ensure people notice me. I stay far enough from the curb to avoid hazards. I allow cars go by me when I can, and I take lanes when I need to. I have a right to operate my bicycle safely and according to law.

  6. Keep Your Bike Well Maintained

    When I take my bike into an intersection, I really want to know (not just hope) that my chain won't jam, that my gears won't slip and I won't go over the handlebars, and I can concentrate on the job at hand: negotiating the cars, pedestrians and streetcar tracks. I keep my bicycle maintained. If I ever balk at the cost of two professional tuneups a year, thinking about what an accident would cost cures me of that.

  7. Wear the Gear

    When I first contemplated a bicycle helmet, I asked myself whether I considered my brain worth $25. Right, a bicycle helmet won't protect you from everything. It certainly won't replace all the other safety techniques I try to practise. I still wear one anyway. Better a helmet than a head injury.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thanks for nothing...

Unlike some people I absolutely do not believe drivers in Toronto want to kill me when they see me riding my bicycle. However, that doesn't mean I don't need cars to see me as another road user, someone with a shared interest in keeping traffic moving safely. In short, I need drivers (and the politicians who want to keep traffic flowing in Toronto) to see me and my fellow bicycle riders as allies, or at least not enemies. Enter the subject of this post, Kenneth Kidd, who writes in the Star that he wants to recruit me into a secret anti-car militia:

But we have to be a little Machiavellian here: you encourage cyclists because they make automobile travel even more inconvenient. Anybody who has ever driven on a downtown street during rush hour knows the platelet effect that bicycles have on the flow of traffic.

I have no doubt that councillor Case Ootes will quote this individual in his push to get rid of bike lanes; if I thought Mr. Kidd represented the majority of transit (or bicycle) promoters, I'd have some sympathy with Councillor Ootes. Transit exists to move people; to listen to people like Mr Kidd, you'd think the population of Toronto existed to give the TTC a bunch of people to put in those cool buses and trains. I don't think so.

In any case, I think the time has certainly come to confront the tendency of environmentalists to wander into coercive thinking. Advocates of mass transit should focus on improving their service to the point that people will gladly leave their cars at home, instead of irresponsibly pitting road users against each other.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Just the way I want it... (customising my bicycle)

One of the charms of having and using a bicycle, for me at least, lies in the ability to customise my bike- to experiment with it, to get it looking, and working, just the way I want it, to fit my needs. It helps that bicycle components cost far less than car components do; a makeover that would cost you thousands of dollars to do for your car will cost hundreds or tens to do for a bicycle. The culture of bicycling, as opposed to automotive culture, also helps. Where automobile customisation sometimes seems designed to cater to young men with far too much money and testosterone, the culture of bicycle customisation seems oriented towards people solving practical problems, and doing it without spending much money.

I use my bicycle to go shopping quite a lot, and I have hopes of using it for longer trips outside Toronto, so I wanted storage capacity on the bicycle. Accordingly, I have front and rear panniers.

The rear panniers have many excellent features, including a 56-litre capacity, but my bike has a high, narrow rear deck; it also has a bar that I can only clip to in the rear. As a result, the bags hang toward the back, which means that when I loaded them groceries, gravity tended to pull them into the wheels. Clearly, I needed a bracket to hold the pannier better.

I solved that problem by going to a local bike shop, where I acquired a two bars that had once supported a child bike seat (see photo to the left). I then bolted the bottom of these brackets to the frame, and clamped the top to the rear carrier (see photo at right). I finished up by adding red reflecting strips to the brackets (the Ontario Highway Traffic Act requires red reflecting strips on the rear of any bicycle, in addition to a rear red light). I also added a ring-bolt to give the hook at the bottom of the pannier something to grab on to.

As you can see from the photograph on the left, the brackets to the rear of the bicycle now hold the panniers quite firmly away from the wheel. As a bonus, they also support rear reflectors, which help keep my bike legal, and safe.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Civility (I): Road Rage and Automotive Harassment

While Allison and I rode our bicycles down Jane Street in Toronto, a pickup truck came by and the driver yelled at Allison to "get off the road"; not nearly that politely. It left me wondering why, in a world where a single off-colour word to the wrong colleague at work can cost you your job, a driver's license seems to carry with it an unlimited license to insult anyone you like.

What, if any, reason do we have not expect drivers to practice basic courtesy? Adding an offence of "motor vehicle harassment" to the highway traffic act would not make everyone polite right away, but it would send a clear message that behaving courteously, like fastening your seat belt, contributes to safety on the road, and we expect drivers to do it.

The National Rifle Association has a slogan: "an armed society is a polite society". By that, of course, they mean that where people have the option to settle disputes violently, they think twice about getting into them. Unfortunately, we do not think of ourselves as armed when we slide behind the wheel. We don't often reflect that the average car has more explosive in its gas tank than a lot of suicide bombers carry on their belts, to say nothing of the trauma a two-ton steel battering ram can inflict. As a result, our roads often resemble an armed and rude society. If we want to do something about "road rage", or even just enjoy the benefits of civility, making it an offence to harass other road users or pedestrians from a car would go a long way.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bear Butte

I have spent the past month in the northern edges of the spectacular Black Hills of South Dakota, at an encampment designed to defend a sacred mountain called Bear Butte, or Mato Paha to give it its Lakota name. Bear Butte sits at the northern edge of the Black Hills, where the hills give way to the high plains. It stands alone, a landmark to early travellers and a sacred place of worship to the Lakota, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and other Native American nations of the Great Plains.

Now, developers intent on a quick profit eye Bear Butte as a spectacular backdrop for giant party venues designed to serve the motorcycle rally centering in the nearby city of Sturgis, SD. Campgrounds and huge musical amphitheaters have begun going up, surrounding Bear Butte on three sides and destroying the peace, quiet, and beauty essential to a sacred place and a place of prayer. For a long time, the Lakota have pleaded with campground owners, civic officials, and motorcycle enthusiasts to respect their sacred site. When a bar owner and music promoter decided to call a new camping, party, and music complex “sacred ground”, the Lakota saw this as a clear insult. They decided to actively assert their right to pray at Bear Butte. Together with their allies, they have camped at the foot of Bear Butte, at a lodge owned by the Rosebud Sioux, and right next door to one of the biker bars and campgrounds. There they pray, bear witness, and there they will peacefully protest the desecration of this sacred place.

The Lakota have invited Christian Peacemaker Teams to accompany them in this work. Our roles include mobilizing the local Christian (and the wider) communities in defence of the right of the Lakota people to pray in peace.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Egret, etc.

I am not much of a naturalist, but I know that you can see a lot by standing completely still and waiting to see what happens.

Standing for 5 minutes by the river near my home, I saw: a great egret, a white butterfly, a red-wing blackbird, and a monarch butterfly.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Witty Church signs (1)

Seen today outside St. John's Norway Anglican Church in Toronto:

"If God has a refrigerator, he has your picture posted on the door."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Lawsuits and political debates...

The Toronto Port Authority has sued a local lobby group called “Community Air” for defamation. The Port Authority operates a small container terminal, a marina, and a reliever airport on the Toronto waterfront. “Community Air” has dedicated itself to closing the airport and moving air transport operations, together with the attendant air and noise pollution, to the north-west corner of Toronto.

“Community Air” claims to speak for the whole community, but in fact, they speak for wealthy, articulate, and highly privileged downtown residents. They certainly do not represent the people of Toronto who live near Pearson International Airport. In fact, despite their progressive sounding title, “Community Air” actively promotes environmental injustice.

“Community Air” has a history of making inaccurate claims. In a recent effort to stop a new airline opening at Toronto City Centre Airport, they claimed the airport did not meet appropriate safety standards, and strongly insinuated that the Port Authority had compromised the safety of the traveling public. Most of the claims made by “Community Air” about the safety of the airport have proved either wrong or misleading.

So should the Toronto Port Authority sue or not? That question pits two principles against one another. On one hand, I do not believe that public bodies, or even corporations, should use the courts to influence public debate. On the other hand, any public body that provides a transportation service, such as an airport, depends on skilled professionals, including engineers and managers. For these people, their reputations constitute an important personal asset. If a lobby group has an unlimited license to engage in personal and professional defamation, they can make it difficult, if not impossible for an agency such as the Port Authority to carry out is mandate.

In other words, this lawsuit pits two cherished rights and principles against each other: the right of people to do their jobs and serve the public, free from coercion, against the right of citizens to engage in a free-wheeling debate.

In the long run, the solution to this dilemma lies in two directions: an honest discussion of Toronto’s transportation needs, and the most cost-effective and environmentally fair way to meet them, and an application of simple civility. As long as the debate over transport policy in this city remains driven by local groups contending for nothing more than their own interests, we will continue to have ugly debates. When these debates cross the line and defame people with a serious investment in their reputations, it should surprise nobody when lawsuits result. A healthy public debate, on this topic, depends on the political leaders and the citizens showing some willingness to engage in principled debate.

Who I am and how I will contribute to this blog

John Spragge, my dear husband, invited me to join him in this blog. Thank-you, John!

I am an art historian specializing in nineteenth-century French art, and I also have a keen interest in art and architecture of all eras. I am forty-something and an independent scholar.

Although I am new to blogging and hence, I wish to keep my future contributions somewhat open-ended, I expect I may contribute some of the following to this blog:

1) reviews of art exhibitions and of new architecture in Toronto and further afield;
2) reports from my travels;
3) news about wonderful and amazing sites that I find on the web, as well as the, um, er, opposite;
4) book reviews, musings about middle-aged life, and who knows, maybe even the odd recipe.

I am less philosophical and abstract than my husband. I am an INFJ and John is an INTP. 'Nuff said.

Now I have errands and the Toronto traffic may or may not release me for future blog notes.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Introducing myself (John Spragge)

I have a small business doing programming and systems design in Toronto Ontario Canada. I have volunteered in the past with Frontier College, the Canadian literacy institution, with a telephone help and befriending line, and with various peace and justice groups. I currently do a lot of work with Christian Peacemaker Teams.

My interests include the criminal justice system (I did prison literacy tutoring for eight years), Aboriginal justice work, peace (as in the presence of justice, not just the absence of violence), and freedom and personal responsibility. I have a personal and professional interest in meta-politics, looking at the way people form and discuss political ideas, and how we build communities (on the Internet, as well as in real life). I also have a pilot's license, so I write about aviation issues from time to time.

I do not promise to post (or refrain from posting) on any particular issue. I do not claim to tell the truth any more often than anyone else, or even to know the truth very well. I make only one effort: to try to post according to my understanding, whether or not the truth (as I see it) delights my enemies and infuriates my friends.