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Thoughts on the aftermath

From next week’s Hill Times column:

Everyone plays their assigned role, like we are trapped in some grim kabuki play that always, always ends the same way.  The gun nuts take to social media, bombarding everyone with all-caps variants on “guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  The bigots bleat that “lieberals” and “libtards” are to blame, because they let in Muslims and people whose skin isn’t white – you know, white as a Klansman’s sheet.

And, naturally, Ezra Levant and the winged monkeys at Rebel Media fundraise with it all.

The chiefs of police recite statistics, noting (correctly) that crime is down, insisting (incorrectly) that the police could do more if they simply had bigger budgets.  The conservative politicians tweet “thoughts and prayers,” which has become 21st Century code for “I plan to do nothing.”  And the liberal politicians wring their hands and pass laws that will also achieve nothing – because there are already nearly eight million firearms in the country.  Now.

And, by the by: more than a million of those guns – like the one the killer used the Sunday before last – are already restricted or prohibited. His was stolen in a break-in in Saskatoon a few years back, before it commenced slouching towards Toronto’s Danforth Avenue.

And we in the media?  We always play our assigned roles, too.  Those on the conservative side of the spectrum shrug, and regurgitate the talking points of the NRA and its foul ilk.  They call handgun bans “virtue signalling” symbolism – forgetting, or not knowing, that all of politics is about symbols, and the ceaseless pursuit of virtue. 

Dear CBC: what I know, what I don’t

I didn’t know Reese Fallon.

I may have met her, once, when Beaches-East York MP Nate Erskine-Smith – who did know her – held an anti-racism event in our neighbourhood.  Nate had a number of Young Liberal club members there, helping out. Reese was a member of that club.  I remember feeling sorry for these young people, because a group of neo-Nazis and white supremacists had shown up and were disrupting the meeting. It was pretty ugly.

So, I didn’t know her.  I do know, however, that she is still being mourned – she isn’t even in the ground, yet – after she was murdered on Toronto’s Danforth Avenue Sunday night.  She was there for a birthday celebration with friends.  One of her friends was wounded and taken to hospital, too.  That’s what I know.  That’s all that most of us know.

Here, too, something else I know: it was appalling, and wrong, for CBC Radio to devote a lot of time, this morning, to the killer.  In one part, they had what sounded like a professional actor breathlessly read the letter his family sent out.  In another part, they had a youth worker who knew the killer come on, and he related how the killer had “a million-dollar smile” and was “humble and reserved.” It went on and on and on like that, for a long time, on CBC Radio.

I don’t know if any those things are true, either.  Maybe they are, maybe they aren’t.  Personally, I don’t usually associate having “a million-dollar smile” with people who slaughter children on a city street.

What I do know is this: it isn’t just governments that have a role to play in preventing other Reese Fallons from being executed one night.  The media has a role to play, too.

And that role does not include treating the killer with more deference than the killer’s victims.

Before they – innocent children – are even in the ground.

Death on the Danforth

Lisa and the kids and I live a few blocks from where it happened last night. We know the Danforth – that’s what it’s called here, “the Danforth” – quite well.

In the Summertime, it’s a really busy strip, with hordes of people strolling on the sidewalks and checking out the restaurants. On a weekend night, you’ll be lucky if you can find a parking spot on or near the Danforth.

There’ll be lots of politicians talking about “thoughts and prayers,” lots of police pleas for eyewitnesses, lots of people expressing shock about what happened to their neighbourhood. Sadly, these days, none of that is anything new.

Me, I just have two questions: where did that bastard get his handgun?

And, what has changed in Toronto in 2018, to make this what it is – which is our summer of the gun?

In defence of Twitter

Maggie Haberman, the terrific New York Times reporter who is the bane of Donald Trump’s existence, is quitting Twitter. She writes about it in today’s Times, here.

“Twitter has stopped being a place where I could learn things I didn’t know, glean information that was free from errors about a breaking news story or engage in a discussion and be reasonably confident that people’s criticisms were in good faith.

The viciousness, toxic partisan anger, intellectual dishonesty, motive-questioning and sexism are at all-time highs, with no end in sight. It is a place where people who are understandably upset about any number of things go to feed their anger, where the underbelly of free speech is at its most bilious.

Twitter is now an anger video game for many users. It is the only platform on which people feel free to say things they’d never say to someone’s face. For me, it had become an enormous and pointless drain on my time and mental energy.”

All of that is true. But it also isn’t.

Years ago, I was urged by readers to join Twitter. I asked them what it was. “It’s a micro-blogging site,” one said.

I didn’t think I needed that. I had been writing on my non-blog diary-cum-web site since 2000, and I was getting two million visitors annually (I now get double that). What good is Twitter?

“You can interact with readers,” I was told. But I did that already – in comments on the web site, in emails, over on Facebook.

“It’s fast,” someone said. So is my web site, I responded. I can get stuff up on my web site in seconds – and even play a small role in breaking big stories.

“It’s anarchic and democratic all at the same time,” someone who knows me well said – and I didn’t have a response to that. I was intrigued. That appealed to my inner punk rocker.

I signed up. Someone who didn’t like Twitter asked me why. “It’s the Internet’s mosh pit,” I said. “Everyone is on the same level, which a lot of journalists like Paul Wells hate. You can get hurt, and others can get hurt. But it can also be awesome, even if only for an instant.”

Since joining, I’ve (deservedly) gotten in big trouble on Twitter – such as when I asked a stupid question about the 2014 mayoral campaign of John Tory. (We’ve since made up – but I don’t have anything to do with his 2018 campaign.)

Since joining, I’ve also felt like Twitter has helped me achieve things that my web site never could – such as helping me and others to shine a light on critically-important important #MeToo stories, like the ones involving Justin Trudeau, Patrick Brown and Kent Hehr and other powerful men who abuse said power.

Since joining, I’ve also met some amazing people (like Kristin Raworth or Laura Jane Grace), discovered things I didn’t know (usually grammar-related, at which I suck), blocked countless bots and trolls (life’s too short, etc.), and cheered, laughed and cried.

Does it suck, sometimes – or even a lot of the times? Sure. But there’s ways to deal with the haters and the trolls – and I even put together a tip sheet. Clip and save.

But, mostly, I still like Twitter for the reasons I joined it years ago – it’s anarchic, it’s democratic and it’s never static. It’s online punk rock.

And, if you remain unconvinced – and you still don’t like it?

Do what Ms. Haberman did. You’ll be missed, but you’ll be happier.

Maximum Rock’n’Roll calls new Hot Nasties EP poppy, not abrasive and like Joe Strummer!

Maximum Rock’n’Roll is the premier punk rock magazine, and has been for decades. It is the punk rock non plus ultra.

And MRR has reviewed the first Hot Nasties record in decades – calling it “less abrasive” and “poppier” and even says it recalls Joe Strummer’s 101ers! Wow!

Here’s their take:

And here’s the video for the lead tune – now available on Ugly Pop Records!

What Kathleen Wynne is owed

Steve Paikin is a nicer guy than me. As seen here, he is urging people to forgive Kathleen Wynne’s disappearance from the legislature.

I am not so forgiving.

The Ontario Liberal Party was my political home. I was proud to run its winning war rooms in 2003, 2007 and 2011, and to serve under Dalton McGuinty and Don Guy. I was equally proud to work with great people like Chris Morley, Laura Miller and Brendan McGuinty.

Kathleen Wynne – and her Wizard and her Board, the ones who pushed out dissenters and made themselves a fortune in contracts from both the party and the government – have destroyed the Ontario Liberal Party, perhaps for good.

This is Kathleen Wynne’s legacy:

• The loss of party status, and all that goes with that.

• A double-digit debt, one that will be impossible to pay off for years to come.

• The worst election performance in Ontario political history.

• A party that is reviled and despised, and with no sense of what it stands for anymore.

When the microphones and cameras were pointed her way, Kathleen Wynne was charming and exuded warmth. When they weren’t, Kathleen Wynne was just another politician: a ruthless operator, one who was willing to say and do anything to hold onto power. One who believed it was all about her.

To my friend Steve Paikin, then, I respectfully dissent. I say, instead, that this is all that Kathleen Wynne and her loathsome wrecking crew are owed:


Column: before the #TreasonSummit ends, @realDonaldTrump has already won

When we have all been reduced once again to ashes – when the web site you now peer at is reduced to digital dust – thinkers will think, as thinkers do: how did Donald Trump win?

Because, you know, he did.

Donald Trump won. He beat us all. He has dominated the politics of this era like no other, standing astride it like a Cheeto-coloured colossus.

As I type this, there are 24 news stories on the main page of CNN’s web site. Fourteen of them are about Trump. The New York Times and the Washington Post’s front pages have six news stories each – and in the Times, three are about Trump. The Post, five of the six.

In Britain’s The Times, just two stories – one about their World Cup loss, naturally, but the other is about Trump, coming to have tea with the Queen. In Germany, the verdict in a homicidal neo-Nazi’s trial is ubiquitous – and then there is Donald Trump coverage, above or near every fold. And so on.

How does one define a political “win” in these uncertain, unpleasant times? With a weighty legislative change? Not really – Doug Ford is showing Kathleen Wynne how quickly those can be undone, like the flicking of a light switch.

Is stirring political oratory a win? Not that, either. Barack Obama’s best-ever speeches came when he campaigned for Hillary Clinton and against Donald Trump in late 2016 – but the latter still won, and the former still lost.

Is opposing prejudice and division a win? If only it were so. The forces of hatred, regrettably, are on the march in 2018 around the globe, achieving real power. While the majority of us look on, despairing.

At this point, in this year in this Century, winning is simply defined as sheer dominance. Winning is not just securing power – it is wielding power in such a way that no one else can be heard anymore.

And that is why Donald Trump is the winner: he does not merely dominate the news cycle. He is the news cycle.

A Democrat, of all people, predicted all of this more than 20 years ago. His name is David Shenk, and he wrote a book called Data Smog. It posits that information, once doled out like caviar, is now potatoes – abundant and tasteless. He writes: “At home, at work, and even at play, communication has engulfed our lives. To be human is to traffic in enormous chunks of data,” he writes, adding:

“At a certain level of input the glut becomes a cloud of data smog that no longer adds to our quality of life but instead begins to cultivate stress, confusion, and even ignorance. Information overload crowds out quiet moments and obstructs much-needed contemplation. It leaves us more vulnerable as consumers and less cohesive as a society.”

If you are peering at this opinion column on your phone, you are proof of Shenk’s claim. Every day, every morning, you are bombarded by hundreds of thousands of words and images. So, you do what humans do when they are overwhelmed by data smog: you turn it all off.

The only ones who can break through the data smog are those who are LOUD. Those who are BRASH. Those who SAY OUTRAGEOUS THINGS.

Ipso facto, Donald J. Trump. He does not merely understand Shenk’s data smog theorem – he embodies it.

So what, one may say. Is dominance truly a measure of political success?

Dick Morris, an advisor to both Republican and Democratic presidents, agrees that it is. He even has a phrase to append to it: “managing the dialogue.” If you manage the dialogue, you are winning.

Political debates, for example. A simple way to measure success in a debate is to count the number of debate minutes devoted to your side’s key messages (eg. for a progressive, health or the environment) and not the opposition’s (eg. for a conservative, tax cuts or “getting tough on crime”). You win when your side’s narrative has taken up the greatest number of minutes in any given debate. That’s it.

And that is why Donald Trump is winning: not because of his messages, per se. Not because all of the world has embraced madness, and is tilting towards fascism and nativism.

He is winning because his voice drowns out all others. He is, at any given time, the most-discussed topic on Earth. Because he is LOUD. Because he is BLUNT. Because he KNOWS HOW TO GET YOUR ATTENTION.

For the Democratic Party’s mid-term war room, this means abandoning traditional approaches – scandal-mongering, inappropriate quotes and votes – and dialing the volume up to eleven. It means hitting Trump twice as hard when he hits them even once.

For progressive rivals, like Angela Merkel or Justin Trudeau, all is not lost. If they abandon the progressive’s natural tendency to always observe boundaries and to always be inoffensive – to be colourless, and therefore without passion or values – they can compete with Donald Trump. Trudeau, in particular, is skilled at attracting attention (although, lately, it is the wrong kind of attention).

In the end, however, one immutable truth remains: Donald Trump is the face of this era.

When the rest of us are long gone and forgotten, he will be the one who is remembered.