The Wave Considered

December 5, 2010

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda….You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning….

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave….

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark —that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.

– Hunter S. Thompson, 1971, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

For some reason, I sit and read over this passage whenever I’m feeling particularly depressed, politically speaking. Not sure why. By no means is it an uplifting passage. In fact, you might call it ‘eulogistic’. Maybe more ‘elegistic’ if the word actually existed.

I first came across it probably, oh, 5 years or so after it was written. Some nearly 35 years ago, yikes. As a tail-ender of the baby boom, my initial impression was full of, I don’t know, disdain, let’s call it. Another old hippie, waxing all nostalgic about how great it was back in `68, blah, blah, blah. Eat it, grandpa. Haven’t you heard? Phony Beatlemania has bitten the dust.

But now those words carry a little more resonance for me. Either because they’ve aged well or I haven’t. From this particular vantage point, looking back and with the right kind of eye glasses, it seems as if ours is a regressive age, politically and economically, as Thompson’s passage predicted. The wave broke and the promise of 1968 seems unattainable.

Is that too melodramatic? I don’t know. We’re still invading and occupying foreign countries both militarily and economically, plundering them in the name of advancing democracy. The rights and responsibilities of consumerism have trumped those of citizenship. We’ve raised a generation of children with lowered expectations because we hate paying taxes. And the fucking Rolling Stones are still on tour with almost the exact same play list they had 4 decades ago!

So no, that ain’t progress, folks.

And the politics, oh lord, the politics. As a society we’ve disengaged and into the void has rushed… no, that’s not the right word… slunk? oozed? gestated?… Yeah, let’s go with gestated… into the void has gestated a breed of politician who make very few, non-fiduciary demands on us and rarely appeal to the better angels in our nature. Politicians test marketed and prepackaged in order to smooth over the rough edges of intellectualism, erudition or worldliness that might make the public feel self-conscious about their own lack of any of those traits. Keep it simple, stupid. Always avoid complexity. Hell, scorn it if given the opportunity. Nothing more than can fit on a bumper sticker. Slogans and jingles, if you don’t mind, with the depth of a radio advertisement.

None of which should come as a surprise since, like almost every other aspect of our lives, politics and those that dwell within have been fully corporatized. Advertising and marketing is the lifeblood. Without that, well, it’s all just shit we don’t need at a price we really can’t afford. And I’m not just talking money.

In a corporate world, we put our personal comfort and security above all else. If those we bestow positions of power on ensure us our comfort and security, everything else is negotiable. Free speech. Civil rights. Public space. Compromised government. When a government’s compromised, those it purports to lead cannot claim to be free from the stain or stench of it.

Now I’m not bemoaning our fall from a 1960s paradise. I am well aware that it was an era never as pure and clean as some vocal boosters maintain. Yet, as the above quoted passage suggests, in the ongoing battle between progress and the status quo, revolution and reaction, Bilbo Baggins and Sauron, there was a point of time in the not-too-distant-past when the new guard had the old guard by the throat, demanding and receiving concessions in the way the world was run. It must’ve been heady times.

But we eased up, started taking things for granted, and it’s all been pretty well in retreat since then. Sure, there’s been seismic shifts since then but mostly elsewhere. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet empire, much of it bloodlessly. Latin America has shaken off its heavy coat colonialism, dictatorship and military rule to become a growing global force. China and India have fully embraced modernity in both dizzingly positive and ghastly ways.

Still, sitting here on this particular Sunday, darkness pervades much of my perspective. We’ve abrogated our duty as citizens and voters by our fierce insistence on being ignorant of matters of vital importance. Economic. Environmental. The democratic process. (Coalition in a parliamentary system? Anarchy, I say. Anarchy!) In so doing, we’ve handed over the keys of power to those who don’t have society’s best interests at heart. Demagogues. Rightwing, anti-government populists. Corporate lobbyists and big business technocrats. Ill-educated scions of the wealthy. Those claiming to stand in opposition to all that but who cave at the first sign of conflict.

It is darker still to me because as a child of the 60s (technically) but whose heart and head are really of the 70s (don’t hate me for that), I feel responsible for the present state of affairs. Me and mine were the first wave of defectors from the cause of informed and engaged citizenry to that of consummate consumers. I didn’t fight the law, so of course the law won. There wasn’t even a fucking contest. Now, I’m struggling to figure out how to make amends.

And I just can’t help feeling that I was the one who let Hunter S. Thompson down. I was part of that Generation of Swine. No amount of booze, drugs or shooting at things can ease the pain of that realization although they do help dull it somewhat.

self-indulgently submitted by Cityslikr


Mayoral Endorsement II

October 23, 2010

My Endorsement For Mayor: Joe Pantalone.

Although I may still vote for George Smitherman. I mean, David Crombie just endorsed him. Come on!

But I’m still endorsing Joe Pantalone.

I am that living, breathing, mushy middlist voting cliché everyone has been on about for the past week or so. The Smitherman team wants me. The Anybody But Ford coalition hounds me. We few, we unhappy few, we band of political brothers (and sisters) apparently hold the key to the outcome of Monday’s election. In our hands, lies the future fate of our city. Oh, the weight of such responsibility.

I, for one, know that George Smitherman will make a more capable mayor than Rob Ford. What I’m not as convinced about is if the city will be any better for that. Yes, Smitherman’s decked out his outerwear finery with the bow of John Sewell and ribbon of David Crombie. Perhaps that’s the silent signal to me that Smitherman will not ignore my concerns if he’s elected to City Hall. Just cross my fingers and hope that all the other stuff he’s been far more vocal about throughout the campaign, the right of centre meat and potatoes of tax freezes/cuts and job elimination through attrition, is just political posturing, necessary in the negative atmosphere that’s polluted election 2010.

It’s a leap of faith I’m just not sure I’m prepared to take.

I like living in Toronto. The past 7 years have not struck me as the dysfunctional quagmire many pundits and electioneering candidates have tried to make it out to have been. I’m not alone in that assessment. Check out here, here and here if you don’t believe me. There have been hiccups, no question. Some self-inflicted, others far beyond our control (i.e. the economic meltdown and subsequent recession). All things considered, I feel better about living in Toronto than I did in 2003.

I bought a house and had to pay the then newly instituted municipal land transfer tax. Came with the territory, as the city tentatively tested new powers granted to it through the City of Toronto Act.  The Vehicle Registration Tax had no affect on me as I don’t own a car and if there’s one major difference I have with Joe Pantalone it’s his pledge to remove it if elected. People may not like it. It may be regressive. But I think we should use all the tools at our disposal to make owning a car in this city a grind.

My garbage and recycling is picked up as often as I need it to be. I don’t mind the exercise shoveling snow from my own walk. I can walk home at night through a back alley, slightly drunk, playing with my telephonic gadget with very little fear of having harm done to my person. I spend more money per month on my Rogers bill than I do on services the city provides to me and I am much more satisfied with what the city delivers.

As you’re probably thinking as you read this, yes, I am one of the fortunate people living in Toronto. Indeed, I may do even better under a fiscally conservative regime at City Hall, what with all those taxes being cut and frozen under either a Ford or Smitherman administration. Except that, what I see emerging from both these candidates is a city more desperate. They’ve said little to absolutely zero about combating poverty, about continuing to work on fixes for our high priority neighbourhoods. Their transit plans are woefully short of properly dealing with congestion. One term of either a Ford or Smitherman mayoralty will result in a city that’s less livable. So all of us will be the worse for it.

Since I am also convinced that out there in the bigger, wider world, we may not yet be through the economic shit storm that started blowing through back in ought-8, and senior levels of government seemed pumped to begin budgetary slicing and dicing at the behest of what should be discredited neo-liberal voices that they are still mysteriously listening to, I trust neither Rob Ford or George Smitherman when the inevitable calls for further cuts start to ring out. I can already here the post-election statement from Ford or Smitherman. It’s much worse than I thought it was but don’t worry, it’ll only hurt a little.

No, in what will inevitably be a rough next few years, I am much more comfortable with the idea of Joe Pantalone as our mayor than anyone else. He will not turn on us. He’s had 30 years fighting for a fairer, more equitable and livable city, through good times and bad. He has the city’s best interests at heart. That, I know, is not true of Rob Ford. George Smitherman has not convinced me he does, either.

Read these Pantalone endorsements at ChangeToronto and blogTO. They are much more eloquent and thorough in their endorsements of Joe Pantalone than I’m being. Then for fun, take a glimpse at NOW’s Alice Klein endorsement of George Smitherman.

If there’s anything that’s pushed me more firmly into the Joe Pantalone camp, it’s the hectoring self-righteousness coming from those who’ve decided strategically voting in order to stop Rob Ford from winning is our only recourse. Hey. Fair enough. I wouldn’t be so presumptuous as to tell you who you should or shouldn’t vote for. Yes, Rob Ford is a despicable man. Yes, he’ll make a despicable mayor. But spare me the hysteric he’ll be Sauron who actually gets hold of the ring and transforms Toronto into Mordor if he gets elected mayor narrative. It leaves me cold. We will live to fight if this grisly scenario comes to pass.

In answering for my self @arvelomcquaig‘s quandary, I can’t decide if a Ford mayoralty is more worse than a Smitherman mayoralty than a Smitherman mayoralty is worse than a Pantalone mayoralty, yes, yes I believe a Mayor Smitherman would be significantly worse than a Mayor Pantalone than a Mayor Ford be worse than a Mayor Smitherman. Or, to put it another way, a Mayor Ford and Mayor Smitherman are more closely related than are a Mayor Smitherman and Mayor Pantalone.

For that reason (as convoluted as it may be) I, Urban Sophisticat, am endorsing Joe Pantalone as Mayor of Toronto.

endorsingly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


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