Book Club IV

January 17, 2015

Entering this world at the very, very tail end of the baby boom, I’ve constantly felt that I just missed out on something special. whatdidimissThe party ended moments before I got there, pot still stinking up the room, a little cold beer remained at the bottom of the keg. Embers glowing in the campfire outside.

Subsequent generations, the Ys and the Millenials, well, it might as well have been Mount Vesuvius. Ancient history, told by their smug and self-satisfied elders. Man, you just had to be there. Yeah, yeah. Thanks, gramps.

I was this close. So my life is haunted by The Wave passage in Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.

Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era — the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run…but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant…

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time — and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights — or very early mornings — when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L. L. Bean shorts and a Butte sheepherder’s jacket …booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change)…but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that…

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.

What was it like to be to be part of a moment that seemed like everything could change, could change for the better? To be in the grips of a truly revolutionary era. To believe whole-heartedly in “…a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning…”? Instead of this slow playing out of counter-insurgency, fearandloathingthe golden age of reactionism, a half-century roll back?

Why did the ‘high and beautiful wave’ of upheaval break and how come it did before I could get me some of it?

I think the only way to answer that is to settle the still lively debate over who was better, the Beatles or the Stones?

(Wow. That was a long set-up for something of a limp punchline.)

Yes, John McMillian’s Beatles vs. Stones was my holiday, kick back and don’t think much read. And I will tell you that while I was reading it, the unfulfilled promise of the 60s did feature prominently in my thinking. These two bands probably best reflected the mainstream zeitgeist of the era. What was interesting is that both of their images they projected were largely manufactured. beatlesvsstonesThe Beatles were the scrappy, working class bunch the Rolling Stones would morph themselves into. While certainly not the squeaky clean lads the Beatles portrayed, most of the original Stones, save perhaps Keith Richards, were largely middle-class.

That’s not to say the music was inauthentic or any less vital. It’s just got me to thinking about the bigger picture.

None of the original members of either band was, by the strictest definition, a baby boomer. Most were all wartime babies, born to parents of the great depression. In England, they grew up during a time of severe rationing.

These were part of a demographic who knew only a sense of the collective, pulling together to defeat the Nazis, to sustain themselves through the depravation of the pre-war depression and post-war rationing. It would be logical to imagine this kind of perspective to continue through their coming of age in the 60s. Together, we can change the world!

Certainly, when it was advantageous to their careers, both bands embraced the youthful call for change. That was the Stones’ trademark, their schtick. “Hey! Think the time is right for a palace revolution.”

But it’s hardly surprising that that’s what most of it was, schtick, a pose. beatlesvsstones2Ultimately, these guys were all about money and fame, fame because it meant more money. And that’s the other side of it. We were looking to people to lead the charge who were really in it for themselves. Finally, prosperity, crazy, crazy prosperity, was within their reach after a lifetime, generations of doing without. Their time was now.

The Beatles and Stones provided the soundtrack to rebellion. They weren’t going to risk being on the losing side if it all went to shit.

By 1968, John Lennon sang about changing minds and heads not constitutions and institutions. The Me Generation of the 70s had begun. Revolution was left to the crackpots.revolver

Martin Luther King dead. Bobby Kennedy dead. Vietnam kicking into gear. Richard Nixon back from the political grave. With the right kind of eyes, you saw the wave break.

And me, puberty still a few years off. Oh come on! You have to be kidding me.

How did we get here?

No, I mean here, on this particular train of thought. The mind does wander so when you get to a certain age.

Oh right.

Beatles vs. Stones is a pleasant enough read, probably revealing nothing new on the topic. It’s one of those books that you wind up feeling was either too long or too short. I could’ve done without a lot of the gossipy aspects of it or put up with it in a more substantial recounting. The sidelining, firing and death of Brian Jones is a defining story of the Stones and it almost gets lost in McMillian’s telling. thebeatlesalbumYou could see it coming, building and then, it’s just happened. Sort of like the book.

As for my preference, the Beatles or the Stones?

Well frankly, the Beatles were finished before I turned 10, the Rolling Stones’ best work done just after that. By the time I hit my musical stride, they both represented my dad’s music. (Actually, not my dad’s music. He discovered the joys of Lennon-McCartney by listening to Percy Faith’s The Beatles Album. But that’s another story.) We didn’t need the Rolling Stones. We had Aerosmith!

Decades later, I conducted my own retrospective and found myself to be more of a Stones guy. I appreciate the Beatles, understand they were the real trailblazers in many aspects of the industry. Without them, I think it’s safe to say, there would be no Rolling Stones. In McMillian’s telling of it, disturbingly so. I own Rubber Soul, Revolver and the White Album but rarely listen to them.exileonmainstreet

The Stones’ 4 album run from 1968-72, Beggars Banquet to Exile on Main Street, is perhaps the greatest successive output of pop music ever. The only rival I can think of off the top of my head is The Clash, eponymous debut to Sandinista. Forget the old guys still out on tour, waxing Jumpin’ Jack Flash nostalgic. Sympathy for the Devil through to Soul Survivor, 47 songs that, to me, stand for an era in all its glory and ultimate disappointment.

A glory I missed out on. The disappointment continues to resonate.

still bitterly submitted by Cityslikr


On Self-Justification

April 11, 2014

Earlier this week, as part of our Municipal Election 2014 Wards To Watch series, we wrote a few words about Ward 17 Davenport councillor, defenseCesar Palacio. While certainly not flattering, it could’ve been so much worse, in our judgement, since we were writing about, well, Cesar Palacio. Still, we received a couple forceful replies in the councillor’s defence (here and here), both calling us out for being fact unfriendly, and suggesting we try to employ a little something called ‘research’.

One (which may or may not have come from a former employee of Councillor Palacio’s; we’re still waiting for a response to our enquiry about that) asked a very direct question: This is journalism?

Is this journalism.

Of course it isn’t. As least as I understand the term which itself is kind of interesting because I think we all have a slightly different interpretation of what constitutes journalism. journalism1Like pornography, we might not be able to define ‘journalism’ but most of us recognize it when we see it.

[Stops. Eyes narrow at the suitability of the above analogy. Continues on.]

What this is, what I’ve always imagined it to be, may go back further than our notion of journalism, perhaps to the very roots of modern journalism, if my grasp of the history can be trusted.

A personal story.

Back in 2009, while deep into my epic poetry phase, I was reading a biography of John Milton. Best known as the author of Paradise Lost, during his lifetime he would’ve been seen more as a political prose writer, a staunch defender of republicanism, divorce and a separation between church and state. Such views almost cost him his life when Charles II returned to the monarchy and was looking to exact some payback on those seen as responsible and sympathetic to the execution of his father 11 years earlier.

See Milton’s The Tenure of Magistrates and Kings.

At this time, I was getting much of my political news, especially U.S. political news, thehangingvia the interwebz. Not just from big name online publications like Salon and such but through these things the kids were calling blogs. Hullabaloo and Sadly, No! were a couple of my favourites. (HTML Mencken remains one of my favourite pseudonyms, a tradition, for all you anonymous haters out there, that goes back centuries, even before the advent of all this computer gadgetry.)

2009, the summer of it in fact, was also when you might remember Toronto enduring the indignities and tumult of a municipal outside workers’ strike. Some things struck me at the time. Firstly, we as a society had become incredibly soft, easily outraged at being in any way slightly inconvenienced. How dare they put upon us so! Garbage in our parks! The stench! Won’t someone think of the children!

Secondly, at the strike’s conclusion, we were immediately told that the administration had caved to the unions, given them the keys to the vault, blah, blah, blah. The fact that this wasn’t quite true seemed to have no bearing on the volume and frequency with which it was broadcast. It’s a sound bite still reverberating today, 5 years on, giving an undeserved fiscal bump of credibility to many who hardly deserve it.garbagestrike

Thirdly, it became clear to me that then mayor David Miller was being ridden out of town on the rails in a disturbingly orchestrated fashion. I was, and remain a fan of David Miller, and still believe it to be a travesty how his record and legacy has been wilfully and deliberately distorted, much to the detriment of this city. Does that mean I think he and his administration were perfect? I won’t even dignify that possible straw man of a question with a response.

In the wake of Miller’s political demise, All Fired Up in the Big Smoke was born.

Now, why am I telling you this, spooling out our origin story, as the kids like to say about their fancy colouring book superheroes? Journalism. We ain’t that. Especially not the narrowly defined and hopelessly misguided version of it media critics like to trot out. Objectivity. He said but then he said. The truth is always somewhere in the middle.

We’re not even the truly good and noble form of journalism that Toronto has a lot of in its newspapers, radio, online. What you’re reading is a political tract. All subjectivity and polemic, based, we hope and endeavour, on the facts we’ve gathered along the way, the observations we make. The opinions we have about how this city is being governed, and the better ways to go about doing that.

This isn’t anything new or the result of modern technology. discourseHell, if you think that somehow sites like these, all internetsy and free from editorial oversight, have somehow degraded the public discourse, you haven’t been following along for the last, I don’t know, 500 years. Politics has rarely been courteous or decorous or, ultimately, objective. Expressed political opinion even less so.

We here at All Fired Up in the Big Smoke welcome criticism and disagreement. Encourage it, even. Just don’t pretend or expect us to be something we’re not. Something that, in fact, might not exist or never, ever existed in the first place.

mea culply submitted by Cityslikr


The Conservative Public Transit Blues

April 9, 2014

What is it with conservative politicians and their loathing and disregard of public transit?robfordstreetcars

Granted, I’m going out at the far end of the political spectrum and south of the border, referring to the comically diabolical but somehow frighteningly real Koch Brothers – equal parts Montgomery Burns and Lionel Barrymore’s Henry F. Potter – and a bunch of southern Republican lawmakers. Together they set out to push back a Nashville plan, where only 2% of daily commutes are made by public transit, for a Bus Rapid Transit route.

The Tennesse state senate passed a bill with an amendment that read:

This amendment prohibits metropolitan governments and any transit authorities created by a metropolitan government from constructing, maintaining or operating any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system on any state highway or state highway right-of-way unless the project to do so is approved by the legislative body of the metropolitan government and by the commissioner of transportation. This amendment also prohibits such entities from loading or discharging passengers at any point within the boundary lines of a state highway or state highway right-of-way not adjacent to the right-hand, lateral curb line, or in the absence of curb lines, the right-hand, lateral boundary line or edge of the roadway.

None of your fancy dedicated bus lanes in these parts, you stinkin’ communists.

Now we get the Koch Brothers’ angle. Oil industrialist types, private vehicle use fuels their empire. overturnbusPoliticians taking donations from them or their arms length groups like Americans for Prosperity, or simply those relying on them for information, such as it is, will do their legislative bidding.

That’s pretty straight forward.

But the otherwise conflicted conservative attitude toward public transit couldn’t be on better display than in this interview with William Lind, director of the American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. From a fiscal, free-market standpoint, the upside to public transit is clear. Mr. Lind also notes that the more people you get onto public transit, the less cars there are on the roads and, thus, less congestion.

On the other hand, buses and… race. Seems the whiter shades of the middle class don’t care to darken the doors of a bus because… well you know where this goes.poorbus

Race and class are never too far from a transit debate. In the battle over the Nashville BRT, some folks were concerned about transit bringing the ‘riff raff’ into their neighbourhoods. An invasion of ‘burger flippers’ needed to be guarded against.

In Los Angeles, the wealthy enclave of Beverly Hills has fought off a subway expansion and peak hour bus rapid transit only lanes along Wiltshire Boulevard. Swimming pools, movie stars. But we certainly don’t want the help messing with the ambience of the place, getting here more quickly and easily. There is a dark whole of nothingness on the city’s transit map in much of the north-west side of LA where the rest of Los Angeles’ subway, lametromaplight rail and bus expansion fears to go.

Up here, I think, such issues are not so overt, the question of race not so fraught with history. Still, there’s something about the push for subways as ‘1st-class transit’. The whole Scarborough subway fight was underpinned by a certain social status anxiety. If downtown gets a subway, why not Scarborough. Vaughan is getting subway? Why not Scarborough?

Anything less, even those sleek, reliable, iPads of transit, LRTs would not be good enough. (Even a bona fide, bike riding lefty can get all caught up in transit envy.) It would be an indignity, a slight, a civic slap in the face. What, Scarborough isn’t good enough for a subway?

Of course, a certain conservative faction at city council grabbed hold of the fight for not only political reasons but, ultimately, as a way to kick building public transit even further down the road. Promise subways, subways, subways everywhere and, the reality is, you won’t have to build them anywhere, at least not in the foreseeable future. A subway on Sheppard. A subway on Finch. A subway in every backyard. The more ridiculous the claim, the better because the less likely it will ever be built.fingerscrossed

Back in 2010, how many subways did the mayor promise to have built by now, 2014? And how many have been built? Rinse, and repeat.

The conservative leader of the opposition at Queen’s Park has taken a similar tack, promising subways to everywhere throughout the GTA, LRTs to none. When’s that going to happen? When the provincial deficit is eliminated. Uh huh. And how’s he propose to pay for them? Finding efficiencies and waste.

So yeah. Don’t be counting on subways any time soon.

Suckers!

It’s hard these days to reconcile conservative politics with sound public policy especially when it comes to public transit. Maybe that’s because their base has dwindled to regions where public transit remains negligible, sweetridein rural and suburban areas. But I think the harder truth is the conservative movement has been hijacked by those who simply believe there is no such thing as the greater good. We’re all just self-interested individuals making our way alone in the world.

There are no free rides, just sweet rides. If you want to get anywhere, you don’t do it, sitting at the back of bus.

fed uply submitted by Cityslikr


We And Our Cars

April 6, 2014

Earlier last week, I was in the car, on my way to the airport. For those of you familiar with the route, you’ll recognize the drill. carsgarynumanWestbound on Lakeshore, heading for the Gardiner, stop at a red light. It’s four lanes, I believe. On the left, two continue along Lakeshore Boulevard, on the right one exits north to Jameson Ave. The one lane with all the cars takes you onto the Gardiner Expressway.

Now, I’m not saying the layout is badly designed. It was just intended to carry a lot fewer vehicles than use it currently. Inevitably, at almost any time of day, it seems that interchange is a mess. Traffic snarled, taking forever to get from Lakeshore onto the Gardiner.

Of course, such a frustrating scenario can’t help but lead to some conflict. Drivers frequently shoot up the less occupied lanes on the outside and push, sneak or dart their way into the on-ramp lineup ahead of the more patient ones. Which is what happened to us while we sat there, dutifully waiting our turn.

A car slowed down right beside us and just eased its way right in front of ours. No indicator. No wave of thanks from the driver as we let them in. gardinerlakeshorejamesonNo acknowledgement we were even there, in fact. Just eyes front, carrying on as if no big thing. That’s how we do.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so thin-skinned but it just seems to me that very few of us would behave that way outside of our vehicles. How many times are you waiting in line for, I don’t know, a coffee or at the post office (if it were 1996) and somebody just casually steps in front of you? Shoulders in without so much as a please or thank you and continues going about their day. This line starts wherever I put myself.

Our cars have made monsters of us. Entitled, self-absorbed sociopaths believing only our time to be worth anything. Aggressive assholes. Pushy pricks.

Allow me some hyperbole (more so than usual) for a moment here. If you want to point a finger at what ails us these days, the root of all our unhealthy lifestyle choices, the lack of civic and political engagement, there’s no better place than at our auto dependence. pushy“We can have a city that is very friendly to cars or we can have a city that is very friendly to people,” Enrique Peñalosa said. “We cannot have both.”

By prioritizing vehicular over human traffic, we’ve diminished our capacity to act in even the most basic of respectful ways. As we spend more and more time behind the wheel, we become more and more like drivers and less and less like people. Can I just get that at a drive-thru?

Whoa, whoa, whoa, I hear you saying. Extreme much? (I warned you about the hyperbole, didn’t I?) It wasn’t all rainbows and lollipops before the first Model T rolled off the assembly line. St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre wasn’t carried out by a bunch of minivan driving savages. Small town America could not be considered a model of tolerance and acceptance back in the days when trolleys and the horse and buggy reigned. Hell, even the rise of the Nazis occurred pre-suburbia sprawl.

Sure, but tell me those 30s vintage Maybach Pullmans didn’t foreshadow the evils and horrors to come.maybachpullman

Hmmm. I’m not sure but I think I may just’ve Godwinned myself.

Look. I guess what I’m trying to get at is not only do we scar our streetscapes and hamper our ability to move the most people the most efficiently when we buy into the car commercial pitch that the automobile is the key to our freedom, we promote an unhealthy and anti-social lifestyle. With a [insert favourite brand here], you can get anywhere, anytime, whenever you want. Just like that. There’s no one else on the road. Zoom, zoom.

Where I ended up when I was making my way to the airport last week was Orlando, Florida. From the airport there you can drive two hours west through the state to St. Petersburg to Tropicana Field, home of baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays, without leaving a freeway. You practically pull off into the parking lot of the stadium, a stadium surrounded by an asphalt moat.

Beware any sporting arena that boasts kick-ass tailgate parties. It usually means the primary way of getting there is to drive. tailgatepartyTropicana sits pretty much in downtown St. Petersburg but the area around it is fairly lifeless. We had time enough to park our car at the hotel and walk the 20 minutes to the stadium which would be great except for the fact it was an uninteresting walk along what seemed to be mostly retail although trying to grab a drink proved to be oddly difficult. Isn’t America the land of the big gulp?

To be fair, there are strips of the city that make for a pleasant stroll. Boutique shops and a couple restaurant rows. I get that St. Petersburg isn’t a mega-metropolis. But the space between the more pedestrian friendly areas are pockmarked by parking lots, a lot of parking lots, both open and covered structures. metrospeedwaysThe main streets are wide but built mainly for vehicles with plenty of, you guessed it, places for parking.

Bike lanes pop up here and there, some even fully protected, but I couldn’t get a grasp of any sort of network.
I might not have been seeing the place at its best since some of the area closer to the waterfront was still cordoned off for the — wait for it – Indy car race that had roared through town the previous weekend. Hey! We’ve got all this road space. We should definitely figure out ways to put more cars on it.

On the trolley trip we took around town, the driver/tour guide told us that the St. Petersburg area was known as God’s waiting room, in reference to all the retirees living there. It didn’t strike me as a place built for old people. The broad streets didn’t make for leisurely crossing. Not sure I came across a grocery store during my travels. carcommercial1There was that one mall I didn’t go into, so it was quite possible I missed a few of the amenities.

Come to St. Petes. The weather’s great. Don’t forget your car.

After the game and dinner and drinks, on the way back to the hotel, we came across a movie theatre. It was late-ish, for a Monday night, but we checked to see what was playing. Happily, we found a movie we wanted to see and our timing was perfect.

It’s those kind of pleasant accidents that occur when you’re not travelling at 25 miles an hour. They don’t happen in a place designed for cars, where speed and distance are what matters. I mean, you’re retired already. What’s the rush?

On the way back to Orlando, the clip was a little more leisurely, relatively speaking since we were still driving. I started to notice the massive amount of new road construction going on. Just what the area needed.cardestruction

This in a place where you have to pay exorbitant prices to get into a theme park in order to experience any sort of public transit aside from buses. Just more roads for more cars because, well, just because. That’s the way it’s always been. Since the 1950s.

There would be no turning back now. Cars were Florida’s future. Cars have always been Florida’s future. Everything else, merely a destination, a place to get to. See the Sunshine State from behind the wheel of a car just the way God intended.

unfriendlily submitted by Cityslikr


Olympic Ideals?

February 24, 2014

Can we move along now?

After more than 2 weeks I have tried, Lord knows I have tried, to keep quiet out here in public with my disinterest and disdain of the 2014 Winter Olympics. zipitIt’s only 17 days, I said. (Not counting the year long media blitz leading up to it). Head down, eyes averted. It’ll all be over quicker than a polar vortex cold snap.

I don’t remember always being this Grinch-like when it comes to the Olympics although, over dinner a couple nights ago, I was reminded otherwise. Maybe that’s true. All the chest-thumping nationalism makes me a little queasy. It’s something Americans did.

Of course, perhaps that had more to do with sour grapes. Americans always had something to thump their chests about. 1980. Lake Placid. A ragtag bunch of U.S. college level hockey players and NHL rejects stunned the mighty U.S.S.R. Red Army team. The team Canada stewed over since it was obvious they were clearly made up of professional players. And it was the Americans who beat them.

Canada, well. It always felt like moral victories, pride in unexpected 2nd place finishes. Greg Joy. Elizabeth Manley. Ben Johnson. corporatenationalismKudos for just showing up and doing your best. That was the Olympic spirit, right?

But I have to tell you, since we went and joined the elite, at least in terms of winter athletics, with the whole Own the Podium and We Are Winter, the nationalism is just as creepy. CA-NA-DA! CA-NA-DA! doesn’t sound a whole lot sweeter than U.S.A! U.S.A! A tribal chant is a tribal chant is a tribal chant.

National identity defined by the prowess of a select few athletes. Hey world. Bow down before us. We Are Winter, don’t you know.

Sure. But then again, we aren’t Sparta. And the outcome of the Peloponnesian War does not depend on the fitness of our warriors.

Perspective, people.

It’s a bunch of games played in the snow and ice. Fun to watch for a bit but hardly worth pinning our national pride on.sparta

Wouldn’t it be great if we showed such enthusiasm, if governments and corporations showered the same kind of attention and cash on solving our looming environmental crisis, our homeless crisis or growing income inequality crisis. Infrastructure. African debt. Worldwide poverty.

Etc., etc.

I know. I know. I find it trite to even be writing this. Apples to oranges. Can’t something just exist, free from politics? Let us just enjoy this for what it is. Uncomplicated, easy-to-follow and pick sides, us-versus-them, root, root, root for the home team. Just for two weeks, every other year.

But…But…None of this is free from politics, is it. Nationalism never is. Especially this time around. If the Sochi Olympics weren’t driven by politics, then the word politics is meaningless.

We all know this by now.

The growing authoritarian regime in Russia. lookawayTheir anti-gay legislation and detaining of activist protesting against it. The suppression of dissent in general there.

And, of course, the Ukraine, and Russia’s indirect involvement in the chaos and killing going on there. While we are celebrating golden days at the Olympics, people are getting gunned down in the streets in Kiev. So shocking that it even managed to push Olympic news from the headlines or at the top of the TV news hour. For a couple minutes or paragraphs. Then it’s Back to Sochi for the ice dancing competition!

We have somehow miraculously separated one type of nationalism from another. You can root for Canada. You can root against Russia when they compete against Canada. But do not meddle in the politics between the two. Do not impose your non-sports opinion into this particular arena.

We’ve arrived at a point where people, influential people will state with a straight face that politics has no place in an international sporting event like the Olympics. With a straight face. It’s all about the athletes. It’s not about politics.blackpower

The Olympics have rarely been devoid of politics. Twenty-two African countries boycotted the 1976 summer Olympics in Montreal to protest the inclusion of New Zealand in the games after their rugby team had toured apartheid-era South Africa earlier in the year. An apartheid-era South Africa that had been banned from participating in the Olympics because, well, apartheid. The U.S. led boycott of the 1980 summer games in Moscow to protest Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan. The so-called Black Power salute by American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the podium in Mexico City, 1968. Jesse Owens in Munich, 1936.

Exactly, right! Jesse Owens goes over to Germany, wins a bunch of medals, giving the finger to the Nazis’ Aryan ideals of some master race. Up yours, Herr Hitler!

Yeah well, what the fuck did we just show Vladimir Putin by showing up in Sochi? (Check out Andrew Wheeler’s Hitler Had A Circus and You Bought A Balloon for a much more thorough analysis of that point.) jesseowensBy giving him an international stage to smooth out the jagged edges of his growing totalitarianism and return to Soviet-style repression. What notice did we just finish giving the world? Hey everybody! There are absolutely no repercussions to any of the actions you take, no matter how brutal or anti-democratic. At least as far as the IOC and medal loving people everywhere are concerned.

The Games must go on!

What about the athletes, often goes the argument. What of their tireless efforts and determination in becoming the best that they can be, and their desire to compete with the world? Why should they be punished because of our political differences?

That’s like attempts to paint critics of a war as somehow being against the troops. Direct the focus to only one aspect of a much bigger issue in order to shut down that larger, more divisive discussion.

We’re told the Olympics encompass more than just sports, aren’t we? Our drive to amass medals and stand atop the podium to hear our national anthem played stands for something greater and higher than simply being the best at hockey or going fastest down a hill, doesn’t it? brokenolympicringsOtherwise, it hardly seems worth the rah-rah we put into it. The glory fleeting and limited, the need to defend it the only lasting thing four years hence.

I thought Olympic athletes were supposed to represent all aspects of a country’s ideals and aspirations not just the fun, sports side. What’s that say about us that we simply shrug off any political implication of sending our delegates, our sports ambassadors to perform for tyrants, despots and thugs without so much as a word of dissent? Core values? What core values?

Owning the podium doesn’t mean much if you can’t even claim to own a conscience.

self-righteously submitted by Cityslikr


Demons

February 3, 2014

I was shocked. Equal parts to the news, and with my reaction to it.

Actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of an apparent drug overdose.

Ah, shit. Fuck, even.

demon

As my interest in movies, once pretty much an obsession, wanes, Hoffman was one of the few names that would peak my interest in any project he was involved in. Upon hearing of his death, the top 10 list of his best work immediately filled up to overflowing. He was at his best in [fill in the blank]. No, but wait. What about [fill in the blank]?

But this isn’t a celebrity obituary. I’ll leave that in the hands of the professionals, like Norman Wilner over at NOW. “The landscape of American cinema is hollowed out.

Some of the disbelief at the news was due to a matter of his age. We are of similar vintage. So your natural reaction (at least, I hope other people reacted similarly and I’m not just some self-absorbed asshole) went something along the lines of, Holy shit, that’s young! Followed by the macabre relief that drugs, a certain kind of celebrity levelling drug in fact, may well have been the cause. Phee-ew! At least that’s not one of my vices that’s going to kill me.

I know, I know.

Even more unfortunate, I think, is the next response.

He had so much to live for. Three young children. A limitless professional future. What a shame.

While all true for sure, it seems to suggest that for only those with something or someone to live for should we mourn their untimely exit. Such risk taking behaviour in those possessing a bright future strikes us as inconceivable. There must’ve been some terrible demons. What sort of demons was he battling to take such risks?

Demons.

Something we’re either running away from or trying desperately to catch hold of.

And something we know plenty about currently in Toronto, watching our very own tragic morality play unfold in real time with our chief magistrate in the lead role. Today’s release of Robyn Doolittle’s book about the mayor, Crazy Town, will only beef up the narrative of a man chased by unhealthy family dynamics into a life of unhealthy behaviour. He has it all, wealth, power, fame. What drives him to such extreme, outrageous behaviour?

Demons.

(In the odd irony of this particular situation, Hoffman was often touted in the Toronto parlour game of Who Would Portray The Mayor in the imaginary film of the Rob Ford story. The second choice after Chris Farley who was unavailable due to having died from a drug overdose more than 15 years ago. Like an onion, peeling back layer after layer.)

The thing is, very few people go through life without a demon monkey on their backs. Some are lighter to carry than others. Some people develop the tools to better deal with them. Many of us are just genetically luckier, hardwired in such a way that makes coping with the demons easier. Or our environment just so happens to be such that we aren’t battling those demons on our own.

Not many of us, at least at some point of time in our lives, don’t have something to live for. For lots of folks that time may drift further and further away as they struggle more and more with the demons haunting them. But any death resulting from addiction needs to be mourned as a terrible waste because it is a terrible waste, no matter if it happens in a nice Manhattan apartment or in a dark alley beside a dumpster somewhere.

Compassion and empathy arise out of the acceptance that each of us is bedevilled in some fashion or another. That doesn’t mean we continually excuse bad or outrageous behaviour, shrug it off as just some coping mechanism. We all have to live with one another after all. But we also need to make space for our slip-ups and missteps in the hopes that all of us can find some peace or equilibrium before that one mistake ends any possibility of that ever happening.

sadly submitted by Cityslikr


Christmas Every Day

December 30, 2013

My goal was to have a City Hall-free holiday. A politics purge. Turn a blind eye. Ignore the show for a bit. Recalibrate. Regain my balance. 2014 was going to be a big year.oblivious

All things considered, I did a pretty good job.

The ice storm and its continuing fall out made it difficult to entirely look away. Serious questions arose about the city and region’s preparedness for what we should now assume will be more regular occurrences of freakish and destructive turns in the weather. Equally as serious are questions of governance. Who’s actually in charge of what? Can ‘politics’ ever be divorced completely from decision making?

Despite the importance of such matters, I remained largely disengaged and above the fray. Easy to do, of course, when you never lost power and were able to concentrate exclusively on your own personal circle of friends and acquaintances. Complaints? None from me. Aside from some slight modifications to travel plans, things remained pretty much as they were. For some of us, it’s almost as if the storm didn’t happen.

michaelstipeSummoning my best Michael Stipe, and I feel fine.

Not paying much attention to how the city gets run is remarkably relaxing. You only really notice anything when it doesn’t happen or happens badly. The default position for civic disengagement is seething boredom. 90% of the time it’s nothing more than a quick shrug at the nuts and bolts details of municipal issues and policies. The rest? Why didn’t my garbage get picked up? Where is that stupid bus? Why are my taxes so high?

Is it any wonder why so many of our local elected representatives choose to keep their heads low and shy away from any sort of decision that might cause a fuss? Don’t draw attention to what we’re doing. Don’t get people riled up. Unless you can get them riled up at someone else. Deflect don’t decide.

Having done my level best to tune out for the past couple weeks or so, I really see the easy appeal of not paying much attention. overthefenceIt’s only ever a problem when it’s your problem. Anything other than that is just added responsibility, one more thing to be concerned about, to have to put some thought into.

It’s a great approach to have in order to keep your own sanity and anger in check. It doesn’t do a thing, however, for the well being of the city you live in. We all need to shift the balance, I think, a little more toward the direction of the greater public good. Everybody will be better for it in the long run.

serenely submitted by Cityslikr