Imitate The Sun

June 16, 2011

Yet herein will I imitate the sun,
Who doth permit the base contagious clouds
To smother up his beauty from the world,
That when he please again to be himself,
Being wanted, he may be more wondered at
By breaking through the foul and ugly mists
Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.

 — Henry VI, Act 1, scene 2

Yes, I used to know my Shakespeare, back when I believed such ‘fancy’ stuff like that made a lick of difference in this world. I was younger then. Bright eyed and bushy tailed. Hopelessly naïve. The real world had not yet set me on the more adult path of bitterness, despair and pitiful, pitiful acceptance of the ho-hum humdrum.

But I do remember this particular passage. Not so much the words themselves as the sentiment, the conceit. I am reminded of it often these days, watching in disbelief the antics of the low grade politicians that call themselves ‘conservatives’.

When the realization of their victory begins to sink in, whether in its inevitability running up to an election or in the hazy daze of their improbable win, we like to take comfort and soothe ourselves in the belief that, well, it won’t be so bad. They were just saying all that to get elected. Once in office, reality will set in. They’ll have to compromise. After all, we didn’t elect a king! This isn’t Russia. Is this Russia? This isn’t Russia.

It is the lowered bar of expectations. Not a question of how good they will be but how bad they won’t be. By anticipating the worst, we are, if not pleasantly surprised when that doesn’t come to pass, relieved at least that the world didn’t blow up or the institutions of governance remain functioning even at a diminished capacity. The sun still rises and the birds continue to sing.

The one big difference, however, between our modern day conservatives and the Bard’s heroic man who would be king, Hal, is that the fictional prince actually cleared the bar, spectacularly so, much to the woe of Hotspur and, ultimately, the French at Agincourt. This story shall the good man teach his son/And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by/From this day to the ending of the world/But we in it shall be remembered/We few, we happy few, we band of brothersAnd gentlemen in England now-a-bed/Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here/And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks/That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.

By the time Prince Harry became King Henry, his sordid youth, his delinquent past, those low expectations served only as a counterweight, a compare and contrast to the glorious achievements he would attain once he stepped out from behind “…the base contagious clouds…” that did “…smother up his beauty from the world…” and broke “…through the foul and ugly mists/Of vapors that did seem to strangle him.” Hoo-rah! Long live the King!

Conservatives these days never intend to clear that bar. They simply bull through, knocking it off its posts and insist on lowering it ever so slightly, incrementally so, to make another anemic attempt to hoist themselves awkwardly over it. We can survive the occasional misadventure but a steady stream of deliberate failures weakens us little by little, bit by bit.

In this rigged set-up, only the politicians and leaders who aim higher and exhort us to believe in the possibility of positive, inclusive change are the ones that flame out spectacularly. We expected so much. They promised us the moon but failed to deliver. Sure, we might be better off than when we started. But you promised us the moon.

Our conservatives suffer under no such illusions of grandeur. We expect the worst and appreciate it when that doesn’t actually come to pass. Oh well, we shrug. It’s bad, sure. But it could’ve been a whole lot worse. We sink back into a funk and seem content when we’re informed that we no longer want politicians who offer up grand visions or designs.

From Hal to Homer we’ve traveled. Homer Simpson that is, not the Odyssey Homer. “Trying is the first step to failure.” It is the mantra of the conservative movement. Hey. We can’t do anything for you. Stop thinking we can. Elect me. So we do and the sad fact is, we are never disappointed.

epically submitted by Cityslikr


Toeing The Line

January 17, 2011

It has been eye-opening over the course of the past week, just how much difficulty I’ve encountered attempting to write something, anything about the circumstances surrounding the death of Toronto Police Sargeant, Ryan Russell. What’s that nagging voice, tub-thumbing from the depths of my frontal cortex? No, no, no, no! Don’t say that! You can’t say that! Is that… could it be… self-censorship? Really?

Where I seem to possess precious little hesitancy in hammering away at our politicians, when it comes to the police, I have proven to be a veritable pussycat. A sign of respect? Maybe. Worse, fear? I would hope not, after all, we’re not living in Russia. This isn’t Russia. Is this Russia? This isn’t Russia. (A quiet shout-out to all you Caddyshack fans in the audience.)

Surely I don’t think that if I speak out in less than glowing terms about the police, their conduct, their budget demands, I will somehow be targeted. My name added to a list, my movements monitored, mysterious break-ins at the office. That’s ridiculous. I mean, look at former mayor John Sewell. A much more visible target, standing on a higher platform, making far more contentious comments. Yet, he continues to freely cycle around town, subject only to printed personal attacks (links h/t to Orwell’s Bastard) and not any unsolved hit-and-runs attempts. We don’t live in that kind of country.

No, my hesitancy in writing about police issues is much more internalized, bred into the bone with a steady diet of reverence and dutiful observance to the service performed by our men and women in blue. Selflessly putting their lives on the line each and every day, providing that Thin Blue Line between order and chaos. I’ve accepted the narrative and on most days even believe it. During the course of a lifetime, I’ve met a number of cops who, to a person, have been genuinely decent people.

I do not begrudge them their outpouring of grief for their fallen compatriot and the public spectacle that will be Sgt. Russell’s funeral tomorrow. A word will not be peeped about the traffic congestion created as police numbering in the thousands march down University Avenue in downtown Toronto. So it should be. (Here’s that self-censoring gnome, hammering away again.) Society must maintain a heightened shock at the death of a police officer in the line of duty. The graveness of such an act needs to be underscored. We cannot simply shrug off the murder of one who has sworn to protect citizens and uphold the laws of the land.

But… but… at the same time we seem to have become blithe in the face of the pain and suffering occurring amongst the weakest members of our society. No, Sgt. Russell’s accused killer, Richard Kachkar, did not die in the course of his arrest. He was just wounded. But over the last two decades, some 10 individuals suffering from mental illness have been killed at the hands of Toronto police.

While I’m certainly not blaming the police directly for such killings (or at least, my self-censoring self doesn’t), neither do I think we should simply shrug our shoulders and brush it off as just another crazy fuck snapping. It can hardly be a coincidence that over the course of those same last two decades, senior levels of government have cut deeply into mental health funding in their rush toward fiscal responsibility, opening wide the doors of psychiatric institutions and leaving the vulnerable to the vagaries of the streets, the kindness of strangers and the stretched-to-snapping resources of municipalities. We’ve delegated the police to be the last line of defense in our handling of those afflicted with mental illness, resulting in all too regular tragic turns of events like the death of Sgt. Russell.

It is not my intention to politicize all this but it can hardly be avoided, I guess. Witness Councillor Ford’s outburst at the budget committee meeting last week. However, it is worth noting and repeating that the Toronto Police Services budget, already comparable to what the city spends on all its social services, is not in line to be cut. Its requested increase decreased somewhat but not cut. In order to balance the city’s budget (while maintaining sacrosanct tax cuts and freezes), ‘inefficiencies’ and ‘re-allocations’ will have to be found elsewhere. With such a zero sum, dog-eat-dog scenario, it’s tough to believe that more confrontations between our police and already neglected sufferers of mental illness won’t be in the offing.

All this is not to say we shouldn’t mourn the death of Sgt. Ryan Russell. But perhaps afterwards, when all the solemn pageantry has finished, we can take a moment to consider those we’ve marginalized and left to their own devices. Initiate a discussion about this systemic neglect we’ve allowed to happen and whether there are more sensible and humane methods of dealing with those who’ve so sadly fallen through society’s cracks.

Nothing can be easier than celebrating and venerating our most powerful institutions especially when they suffer a loss. Our measure, though, should be taken by how we regard and tend to those left abandoned and neglected, with little voice to speak for their cause. Those who should be cared for not policed.

reluctantly submitted by Cityslikr