Friday, May 2, 2008

Leslie Roberts's Undistinguished Intelligence

"Last year," Leslie Roberts said, "1,200 pedestrians were injured [in auto-pedestrian collisions]." Only about a thousand; or three/day in a city of millions. (He didn't say whether that number was for Toronto, Ontario, or all of Canada. But let's assume that he was talking about the GTA.) That's not such a big number. And consider that that figure doesn't differentiate between jaywalkers, people running out from between parked cars, children chasing balls, and people making legal crossings. But Roberts doesn't go that deep. He's a look-on-the-surface-rush-to-judge kind of guy.

"More often than not," Roberts continued, "drivers do not have their eyes on the road."

Really? More often than not, huh? Sunday I drove down to a football game. I play in a league; our games are on the weekend. It took me about thirty-five minutes to get there. So I guess I must've spent about twenty minutes reading a book, and another fifteen checking traffic in my mirrors. I couldn't help but notice that other drivers were doing the same. One was taking flamenco lessons, another was knitting a scarf.

Roberts's second topic today: The need for photo radar. Because there are far too many accidents on Toronto streets. "If you're not doing anything wrong," Roberts said, "what do you have to hide?" You mean if you're going 49 in a 50 zone? Thirty-nine in a 40?

That reminds me of a speed trap near my house. It's outside of a Catholic high school, on a suburban avenue. The speed limit is 40 km; not a single home or business fronts onto this street. I don't understand 40 zones, but they must have something to do with crossing the road. That's fine Monday-Friday when school's in.

But Sunday morning, on the way to buy bagels, there was a cruiser parked in the school's lot, hidden behind a tree. And he was pulling over cars at will.

The school was closed; it doesn't double as a church; there weren't any kids around. But the limit stayed 40. So explain that? You can't do 50 on a Sunday because kids'll be crossing that street on Monday?

Roberts is arguing that photo radar will prevent accidents. "People aren't listening," he claims. That's the kind of general argument that he loves. "People aren't listening." Yeah, some people aren't. Some people are.

A guy calls in to talk about the 400. "But there are some accidents there," Roberts says. No kidding. Accidents on the highway. Who'd believe it?

Earlier he'd bashed a Toronto teacher for taking his students to a protest at Queen's Park. "We can't have teachers brainwashing students," Roberts said. "We need them giving both sides."

A caller phoned in. "Leslie, how do you know he's not giving both sides?"

"I don't know the facts," Roberts said, "but we can't have this." A minute later: "This teacher is not giving both sides."

The teacher had his own agenda, Roberts said. You know what that agenda was? "He was anti-war." That's right, he'd protested the Vietnam war. Outrageous!

If you don't know the facts, then what the hell are you doing spinning the story?

Then Roberts started talking about other teachers in the system performing similar acts of ideological bleaching. What other teachers? Well, other teachers. No, he doesn't know who they are; he can't name them. But they must exist. (Of course he was supported by a range of aging, bitter callers who complained about schools not recognizing their politics. "You see how girls dress now? My boys shouldn't have to see that. They shouldn't have to see that." You know--that kind of caller.)

Listening to Roberts stumble through his sentences, you can't help but wonder how he got this job. He's like Yogi Berra doing a call-in show. "We...have to help at-risk youths...choose...a better path. We're not doing enough. This is our fault. We...need tougher sentences. You commit a crime with a go to jail. Five years? Not enough time. Ten years? Not enough time. A life sentence? It's got to be longer."

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