Friday, November 1, 2013

Rob Ford: Should he resign?

Rob Ford's politics are repugnant to me.  I've made no secret of my distaste for Ford's ideas.  I abhor his ultra-conservative ideology and his good ol' boy approach.  Yet, as much as I wish he weren't Toronto's mayor, the man was democratically elected by the people of this city. Although I disagree with almost everything he says and does, I have never wanted him removed from office unfairly. My hope has been that he would be voted out of office in next year's municipal election.

Now, however, I think Mayor Ford has crossed the line.  Given yesterday's extraordinary events, he should resign or at least take a leave of absence until he sorts out his problems.  It appears that the mayor is in need of professional help and I am not the first person to express those sentiments.  Even though Ford is in denial, he has shown many of the signs of someone with a substance abuse problem.  Toronto is sorely in need of leadership and Ford is incapable of providing it.  His antics have become a distraction, preventing this great city from moving forward.

Yesterday was a Halloween to remember (or forget) for Canada's largest city.  Toronto is receiving world-wide attention for all the wrong reasons.  Rob Ford has simply become an embarrassment and a liability to the city he professes to love and wishes to serve.  Unfortunately, the mayor has no intention of leaving office and claims that there is no reason for him to resign.  He acts as if it's business as usual  and that all the dirt can be swept under a rug.  It can't, as Mr. Ford will eventually discover.  The chickens will come home to roost and he will be held accountable for his behaviour - if not by the law then by the electorate.

Yesterday, Toronto police Chief Bill Blair confirmed that Mayor Ford has been under police surveillance for some time.  The Chief also revealed that the infamous video tape in which Ford appears to be smoking crack cocaine and allegedly spouting racist and homophobic remarks, exists and that the police have it in their possession.

Blair stated that Alexander "Sandro" Lisi,  Mayor Ford's friend and sometime driver, was charged with extortion related to the video.  Lisi, 45, is an alleged drug dealer. According to police documents, Ford and Lisi had more than 100 seemingly clandestine meetings.  Police surveillance succeeded in capturing the two men with a mysterious package of which the contents remain unknown - for now.

None of this will change the attitude of Ford's loyalists, they will stand by their man through thick and thin.  It doesn't matter that he has lied to them and to the other citizens of Toronto.  As Toronto Star columnist Royson James put it, "A hardcore subset of residents, dubbed Ford Nation, care only that Ford is intent on keeping taxes down and care nothing about his moral compass."

In the eyes of Ford Nation, the mayor is quite a guy.  He arm wrestles with Hulk Hogan and, oh yes, he hosts great barbecues.  Don't forget, by golly, that he's going to ensure that the Scarborough subway is built. Just don't ask how it's going to be done without raising taxes.  No! No! No!  Don't go there! Leave the mayor alone. Rob's a regular guy, not some aloof intellectual. He's not one of those snooty downtown elites. You won't catch him riding a bicycle or reading Canadian literature.  

Ford Nation believes that the media has been hounding their man, especially the Toronto Star. Although Mayor Ford has nothing but disdain for the Star, the paper's investigative reporters deserve high praise for bringing the story of the "crack cocaine" video to light.  It was due to their diligent work that the police investigation into Ford's activities was undertaken.  Accused of having a vendetta against Mayor Ford, the news organization went before the Ontario Press Council and stated its case calmly and clearly. Yesterday, the paper was vindicated.

Sadly, Toronto's chief magistrate is his own worst enemy.  It's about time he took responsibility for his own actions and stopped blaming the media for all his woes.  Mayor Ford should note that all four daily newspapers have called for his resignation, including the Ford friendly Toronto Sun. Thank goodness for a free media.  Without it, how would people learn the truth about their elected representatives?

- Joanne

Robert Louis Stevenson, Lighthouses and Fanny

Robert Louis Stevenson

Lighthouses have always fascinated me.  I had the opportunity to visit many of them when I toured Newfoundland's Avalon Peninsula  in the summer of 2001 and I also visited the famous lighthouse at Peggy's Cove, Nova Scotia back in the 1990s.  It was, therefore, interesting for me to learn that Robert Louis Stevenson, author of such classics as Treasure Island, Kidnapped and Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, came from a family of lighthouse designers.  In fact, 14 lighthouses dotting the coast of Scotland were built by Stevenson's ancestors.

Robert Lewis Balfour Stevenson was born in Edinburgh, Scotland on November 13, 1850, the only child of Margaret Isabella Balfour, the daughter of a minister of the Church of Scotland, and Thomas Stevenson, a prominent lighthouse engineer.  Thomas's brothers, Alan and David, were also lighthouse builders.

Thomas Stevenson was an expert in optics as applied to the illumination of light houses.  He designed many lighthouses in and around Scotland with his brother David and with David's son, David Alan Stevenson.  A man of great accomplishment, Thomas was also a meteorologist.  He invented the Stevenson screen, an enclosure that shelters meteorological instruments from rain and heat radiation.

Thomas Stevenson (1818-1887)

Robert's paternal grandfather (also named Robert Stevenson) was a civil engineer and the designer of the Bell Rock Lighthouse on the Inchcape, off the coast of Angus, Scotland.  The Bell Rock Lighthouse has the distinction of being the world's oldest sea-washed lighthouse.  The quality of the masonry work on this lighthouse is of of such high standard that it has not been replaced in more than two centuries.  Since 1988, the operation of the Bell Rock Lighthouse has been automated.  Canadians should note, however, that its lamps and reflectors were replaced in 1843 and are now in display in the lighthouse at Cape Bonavista, Newfoundland.

Bust of Robert Stevenson (1772-1850)

Bell Rock Lighthouse
                                                                   Attribution: Derek Robertson

Robert Louis Stevenson was a thin, sickly child.  He suffered from lung ailments and nearly died of gastric fever in 1858.  Despite his ill-health and weak constitution, he frequently accompanied his father on official visits to the lighthouses on the Scottish coast.

At about the age of 18, Stevenson dropped his baptismal names of  "Lewis Balfour" and began referring to himself as "Robert Louis."  His close friends and relatives, however, addressed him as "Louis."  In 1867, he entered the University of Edinburgh with the intention of following the family tradition and becoming a lighthouse engineer.

In 1868, as a student engineer, Robert Louis Stevenson travelled to the Scottish coastal villages of Anstruther and Wick.  Prone to ill health since childhood, Robert was not the most robust fellow. Although he tried to be an engineer, he didn't have the stamina required for the outdoor work. More importantly, his heart was not in it.   His preference was for a career in literature.  He could no longer ignore his passion and his great talent for writing.  Around 1870, much to the disappointment of his father, Stevenson abandoned lighthouse building in order to become a writer.

In Underwoods, his 1887 poetry collection, Stevenson reflects on his decision to turn away from the family tradition.

Say not of me that weakly I declined
The labours of my sires, and fled the sea,
The towers we founded and the lamps we lit,
But rather say: In the afternoon of time
A strenuous family dusted from its hands
The sand of granite, and beholding far
Along the sounding coast its pyramids
And tall memorials catch the dying sun,
Smiled well content, and to this childish task
Around the fire addressed its evening hours.

It is obvious from the these line of poetry that Stevenson did not make light of his decision to leave the family profession.  He even wrote a book called A Family of Engineers in which he chronicled the Stevenson family tradition.  Thomas Stevenson, for his part, accepted his son's wishes with sadness and resignation.

According to Life of Robert Louis Stevenson by Alexander Harvey, "Thomas Stevenson, after his first outburst of natural and profound regret, countenanced the literary ambitions of his only son, and gave up with a sigh his one paternal dream.  Nevertheless, the notion that his Louis should grow into maturity without even a nominal profession - literature being inconceivable as the avowed calling of a respectable person - was opposed to a strict Calvinist’s sense of duty to a son."

In order to placate his father and have a "nominal profession," Stevenson reluctantly switched his area of study to law.  Although admitted to the Scottish bar in 1875, he never actually practised law or became involved in the legal profession.  Instead, he went to France.

It was in Grez-sur-Loing, an art colony south of Paris, that Robert Louis Stevenson met the love of his life. She was an American named Fanny Vandegrift Osbourne whom Alexander Harvey describes as "a small, dark young woman with clear-cut delicate features, and endless sable hair. Indianapolis-born Fanny was the wife Samuel Osbourne, a veteran of the American Civil War. They had married when Fanny was just 17 and had three children, although their son Havey died of tuberculous in Paris on April 5, 1876.  The family eventually settled in Virginia City, Nevada where Samuel began cavorting with saloon girls.

Angry at the repeated infidelities of her husband, Fanny had come to Grez with her two young children, Isobel and Lloyd, to study art.  Stevenson became enamoured with the American. Against the advice of friends and without the knowledge of his family, he urged her to leave her philandering spouse and pursued her relentlessly.  Fanny eventually divorced Osbourne and she and Stevenson wed in San Francisco in May of 1880.  For years, the couple searched in vain for a place to settle that would be conducive to Robert's health.  In 1890, they finally purchased a large estate in Upolu, one of the Samoan Islands in the South Pacific.


Robert Louis Stevenson passed away on December 3, 1894 at his home in Vailima, Samoa. While opening a bottle of wine, he collapsed and then died of a probable brain hemorrhage.  He was 44 years old at the time of his death.  His wife Fanny passed away in Santa Barbara, California on February 10, 1914. She was 73 years old at the time of her passing.

Below is s photo of Stevenson's home in Vailima, Samoa, showing him on the veranda.


* Robert Louis Stevenson's stepdaughter Isobel (known as Belle) became a successful playwright. She died in 1953.  His stepson, Lloyd Osbourne, was an novelist who died in California on May 22, 1947 at the age of 79.

Although Stevenson did not remain in the family profession, he remained deeply affected by lighthouses as is evidenced by the following poem he wrote.

The Light-Keeper
by Robert Louis Stevenson

The brilliant kernel of the night,
The flaming lightroom circles me:
I sit within a blaze of light

Held high above the dusky sea.
Far off the surf doth break and roar
Along bleak miles of moonlit shore,

Where through the tides the tumbling wave
Falls in an avalanche of foam
And drives its churned waters home
Up many an undercliff and cave.

* Author Bella Bathurst has written a book about Robert Louis Stevenson and his family's lighthouse building.  It is titled The Lighthouse Stevensons: The extraordinary story of the building of Scottish Lighthouses by the ancestors of Robert Louis Stevenson.  The hardcover edition was published in 1999 by HarperCollins.  A paperback version came out in 2007.

- Joanne