You Can Run But You Can’t Hide

Turns out, even for a somewhat political obsessive like me, it’s remarkably easy to switch off the electronic gizmos and happily walk away without so much as looking back. Head off to some place where people haven’t the foggiest idea what #TOpoli means and might just stare blankly at you when you respond to their query about where you’re from. “You mean, New York?” Places our country itself is but a vague notion. “It’s big, yes? With big mountains?”

Admittedly, it wasn’t complete cold turkey. I did find myself on occasion plopped down in a fully licensed free wifi zone, casually, very casually, checking in on what was going on back here. More disconcerting gunplay. More a-one diplomacy with the province from our mayor. The mayor’s big birthday surprise.

All the important stuff.

Still, despite such self-imposed exile (yeah, that’s what we call ‘vacations’ in these parts), politics does seep in, largely unnoticed at first. Knocking around Madrid and then more southerly spots in Spain as well as unOlympicized parts of northern Great Britain, it’s difficult not to see the economic distress. En alquiler, en venta, for sale, to let. Precio reducido. We won’t be undersold.

Everywhere. Along with boarded up storefronts and abandoned buildings. I tweeted about a moment in Grenada. Wandering through some alleyway, we encountered two bins on wheels outside a five storey walk up building. Both were full to bursting with what could be seen as stuff pulled out as part of some pre-renovation demolition. But it was all too intact and too many personal items for that to be the likely case. Repossession and salvage was our guess.

A man walked up the stairs past us and, very likely hearing our English prattling, turned back in our direction as he passed the bins and said, This Is Spain. Twice. Not necessarily angrily although it wasn’t simply a passing remark. Sad wouldn’t be how I describe it either. Resigned? Disappointed? Disbelieving? How the hell did it come to this?

Sitting in one of Madrid’s main squares, Plaza Mayor, we chatted with our waiter about the quiet atmosphere of the place. Granted it was a Monday night and it was only midnight or so, things do generally pick up later in Spain than they do here, but it was July. It was a gorgeous evening out. Que pasa?

Apparently, the place is packed and jumping on weekends but come the week nights? Nada. Unsettlingly subdued. On the upside… yeah, no. There is no upside.

The parts of northern Wales and up into Scotland we travelled didn’t look a whole lot more robust. Plenty of places for rent or sale, deserted and derelict properties. Sales galore! Of course, all that gloominess could’ve been on account of the greyer skies and cooler temperatures.

For its part, Edinburgh seemed chock full of vital with infrastructure construction going on all over the place. Sure, most of that was to do with the building of a tram system but even that will sound familiar to those of us who’ve been living in Toronto for the past 5 years or so. Initially, the system was supposed to run from the airport down through the town centre and onto the portside community of Leith. The whole enterprise was put on hold a couple years ago due to concerns over funding. A more modest version is now well underway. What was once a War on Cars has been scaled back to a mere skirmish.

Hanging over all of the UK now is the shadow of a double dip recession. It seems the austerity measures of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition haven’t quite worked out as hoped. Or, depending on your political perspective, it’s all gone swimmingly. Growth is down, unemployment is up and angry eyes have turned toward the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne. Fortunately for him and his government, the Olympics have got Britons’ hearts a-beating and their flags a-waving; their minds momentarily diverted from the economic crisis taking firmer hold of their green and pleasant land.

(That’s not hokey now if Danny Boyle used it.)

I couldn’t have been happier travelling in my relative Canadian anonymity than I was during the past two weeks. Who wants the rest of the world to know what our government is saying about their situation right now? Smugly tsk, tsk, tsking the Euro-region for the dire condition of their books and urging more, deeper austerity despite all indications pointing to this being the worst thing we can do at this moment. It’s working so well for us, right? What’s that you say CIBC?

Thank god I didn’t have to explain to anyone the nonsense going on here in this city where we’ve had to fend off a faux-financial crisis entirely manufactured by those who see almost any government spending as the root of all evil. Fiscal dimwits gravely invoking the names of Greece or Spain every time they sense any pushback to a proposed cut to services or programs. As if library spending rather than LIBOR fiddling was at the root of the global economic malaise. (Woo! Did I have to work for that one.)

It’s ugly out there which causes me to think the situation isn’t nearly as rosy for many of us here as we’re trying to convince ourselves. Pretending that it is, pretending all that stands between us and future prosperity is a tax cut here, a service efficiency there is nothing short of fucking delusional. Delusional, and if you’re an elected official, bordering on pure negligence. No, we’re not Greece or Spain. We’re not Great Britain. But the surest path in that direction is to advocate slashing and burning as the way avoid their grim fate.


Vacation’s over, I guess.

grumpily submitted by Cityslikr

Running For Our Lives

Standing at the back of a throng of 14,000 or so people, waiting to run Sunday’s 10k race, just over 12 hours after the failed car bomb attempt in Times Square, I am struck at just how vulnerable we are as a society. Despite the increased surveillance and information gathering in our post 9/11 world, it seems we cannot cast a net wide enough to ensnare all those looking to do us harm. (Nor is that something we should aspire to, given the assault on our liberties and freedom it would involve.) We are sitting ducks for those determined and intelligent enough.

Take this situation for example. At any point of time along the race route down one of Toronto’s main arteries, Yonge Street, cars are parked on side roads close enough to inflict serious destruction. Someone could easily drive a vehicle loaded with explosives straight into the crowd, killing a lot of people. Hell, you wouldn’t even need the explosives. Just driving a car alone into the crowds would result in a great many casualties.

Yet it doesn’t happen with any great frequency. Why is that? There is certainly enough hatred out there. Obviously the events of 9/11 along with the Bali, Madrid and London bombings have made us a little more vigilant than we were before, on our toes for shady behaviour. It was a t-shirt vendor in Times Square who first spotted the suspicious SUV (although, all SUVs look suspicious to me) on Saturday. So we now think the unthinkable and expect the unexpected.

However, a bigger reason we live essentially terrorism free, I assume, is that organized large scale attacks simply aren’t that easy to pull off. What made 9/11 so spectacular, along with the high death and injury count, was the very fact it was executed to such a degree of perfection. It was dependent on a level of coordinated planning, dedication, selflessness and luck that doesn’t coalesce all that easily or often. The fact that United flight 93 was interrupted by passengers and brought down before it hit its target in D.C. speaks to how important the element of surprise is for such plans to work.

Of course, I’m spending much more time thinking about all this now than I did yesterday. It was merely a fleeting thought as I made my way down Yonge Street much less fleetingly.

What a gas to have the street all to ourselves, running through red lights, marveling at the cars waiting on the side streets. I mean, seriously folks. This is going on for a couple hours. You don’t want to turn around, find yourselves a detour?

To sing a very familiar refrain: Toronto is a far more pleasant place without vehicular traffic. Of that, there can be no argument. There’s less noise and pollution. A more easy going vibe fills the vacuum of their absence. As I make my way along Richmond Street, I think to myself, what a wonderful world it would be without cars. If there is a war on cars going right now, it should not only continue but escalate. If there’s not, there should be.

All of which I have a mind to tell mayoral candidate George Smitherman as he and his purple shirted entourage pass me at about kilometre 8. However, I am immediately consumed by a competitive edge. If I beat no one else in this race across the finish line, it will be George Smitherman and his pack of shiny-faced campaign workers. That will be victory enough.

I’m still lagging behind as we make it to 9k and then up and over the Bathurst Street bridge just south of Front Street. Turning onto Fort York Boulevard, however, I turn the jets on, blowing past the Smitherman team with the finish line in sight. There is no counter attack and I leave the Smitherman team in my dust.

Rival candidates take note. It seems that George Smitherman is vulnerable down the home stretch of a race.

victoriously submitted by Urban Sophisticat