Three Card Monte is a “short con” confidence scam. A team of seemingly unrelated people who are actually shills, confederates and conspirators, trick a victim into betting a sum of money that they can follow a sequence of events and pick the ‘money card’ from a group of three cards.
It’s a shell game, but with cards. The victim has almost no chance of winning. The rules of the game, the players, the environment, and even when the game begins and ends, is in the control of a well-run mob that attracts the marks, sucks them in, and convinces them to put their money down.
Three Card Monty Government
I twanged my way through my 20’s playing music. I was mostly responsible only for myself. But then something amazing happened. A baby. A little girl. She made me think outside myself and I became increasingly concerned with the welfare of others (particularly her), the problems of the day, and the shape of things to come.
It changed my life. 20 years ago I got a 'real' job. I saved some money. I worked harder on family, friends and community. Eventually, we had $2,000, enough to put a down-payment on a little worn-down salt box house on Allan Street right at Chebucto Lane. I put an old time wooden screen door on the front and started to dream. As I worked to fix the place up one thing became clear. The quiet residential street was only quiet most of the time. Every couple hours, day and night, taxis and other “shortcutters” avoiding the lights on Quinpool, which runs parallel, would rocket up and down the street. The dream was not real. The little girl would never be able to safely run out and bang the screen door to play. The street was too dangerous.
I went to see my municipal councilor, Howard Epstein. The Municipality which includes Halifax is run by a city government of councilors, like a citizen elected board of directors, who direct the work of a City Manager who is like the CEO of the city. Mr. Epstein was the councilor for my neighbourhood. It seemed a simple matter of traffic calming – we could put in a stop sign at Chebucto Lane, or a cross walk, or some speed bumps, or even just a children playing sign. There were lots of possibilities. Not expensive. Others on the street agreed. It was a problem that had gone on for years.
Mr. Epstein scoffed at me and treated me like I was the stupidest bumpkin ever to move to the city. "That’s not a ‘city’ problem" he said. "That’s decided by the Traffic Authority and He is empowered to work by the Provincial Government." Mr. Epstein looked over his glasses and down his nose at me - unhelpfully.
That was the first time I ever spoke to anyone about government. Lesson one.
About a year later there was a provincial election and Mr. Epstein became the MLA of our neighbourhood. The province of Nova Scotia is governed by 51 Members of the Legislative Assembly. Well, actually by about 5 of the 51 members and a bunch of insiders who run various siloed departments. He moved from City to the Provincial level of government. Now, I thought, our Provincial elected representative Mr. Epstein – a really smart, committed, community advocate – will be able to help. I did my citizen part. I got out and voted for him. Now we’d get somewhere with the traffic calming. I went to see him.
“You don’t understand” he said, “That’s in the control of the Traffic Authority. He’s paid by the City. He works for them.” I would have talked to him more. But as before, he was mean-spirited and speaking to me in a harsh tone. He still seemed super smart. He still seemed to champion many community issues. He was short and angry, and was pretty clear that I was the stupid one. I was self-interested. I was the one, selfishly, who wanted my daughter to be able to walk out the front door and play. He had much more important work to do. He was saving the world and dealing with issues I couldn't conceive of.
I thought about going to the top – to my Federal Member of Parliament, Alexa McDonough. But of course she was in Ottawa and had become leader of the Federal NDP party at that time - representing not just Nova Scotia but all the 'real' working people of Canada. I eventually got an assistant, assistant on the phone who dismissed me saying that was just not an issue a federal MP could speak to – the federal government funds roads but does not manage them.
The House Of Cards
So, I got up my nerve and went off to see the Wizard... The Traffic Authority. A man. A King in his kingdom. A petty potentate. Accountable to no one. Empowered to work by the Provincial Motor Vehicle Act, under the Department of Transportation, paid by the City of Halifax as part of the Halifax Regional Municipality. A man who has more impact on your day to day life than you can imagine. If you live on a street; if you cross a road, if you drive or park a vehicle, if it snows, if you see a parade or community event; if you've waited at a light or circled a roundabout, waited at a bus stop, rode a bicycle or walked on a sidewalk; the Traffic Authority has directed your life or you've paid the price in fees and fines.
Though it may seem I'm setting up the Traffic Authority and politicians to be the villains of this story they are not. The villain is the citizen who is willing to delegate their worries about the world to officialdom - to leave democracy to a leisure class radical fringe because they're are busy and have stuff to do. They assume that only the people in authority are in a position to know and act. They believe if something is done by government it must be right and for the greater good. They believe that if vital information essential to the making of public decisions is withheld, it can only be for a good reason. They believe if it is not happening to them directly it is not their concern and they should not have an opinion or part in the matter. They scoff at others who question why and doubt - who critically ask for more and better. If there is math or work to be done, if a problem is wholly or partially scientific in nature, they will ask no questions even though the consequences of the problem are political or social.
Their mediocrity is the villain. Mediocrity is the enemy to beat all things and more dangerous than the vivid perils we imagine.
Next post... off to see the Wizard.
Writing about life, citizenship, and Nova Scotia.