Jumpers

Turned in from engine smoke,
the commuters look outward,
trying not to search and spot
bodies suspended in air over
the rails and thundering metal.

Little glowing plastic, dimmed
hieroglyphics, shoes removed –
stowed under seats. These things;
the constant shelling of rain,
unavoidable and mundane,
not the planes on invisible wires
or the limb washed out sewer
or novice eye contact.

A polite, meaningless exchange,
waiting for an empty train.

Hello Again

Okay, so I can’t just pretend it hasn’t been a long time. I can’t pass you by on the street and act like nothing has happened. I must pay tribute to this inexorable truth; I have not blogged since June. I know, I’m sorry. While you’ve waited with bated breath while summer turned to fall I’ve been, inexplicably, absent. Sincere apologies. And as for a reason why I’ve been unreachable for comment? Or where I’ve been? There is no simple answer. I certainly can’t provide any concrete alibi, nothing that would hold up in court anyway…

Perhaps, after the long death-rattle hum of the G20, a yawn that mutated seemlesly into the Toronto Mayoral Race, which if anything, has only inspired mass grief and apathy, I’ve just been a little worn out. I have been brought back to my small incarnation of public life by the need to share music. I’ve been up tonight writing a paper due tomorrow (the action that most typically comes immediately before a post), and I’ve been listening to some great music. The first song is a cover of Feist’s 2007 track “Limit To Your Love” by James Blake.

At first glance I thought the artist was James Blunt, which made me cringe, rather instictively. However, as would be impossible for Blunt, Blake’s version of the song is fucking warped. It is interesting almost to a fault. It is a song that I think I will grow to love, one who’s strangeness will haunt me for weeks, much like the first time I heard “Motion Picture Soundtrack” off of Radiohead’s oft-blogged-about “Kid A”.

Limit To Your Love – James Blake by funktional

Next is another, more ambient track by Blake, “I only Know (What I Know Now)”. This is what the ghosts in the parlour at that moment halfway through The Shining should have been listening to. It sounds like the drug trip scene in a P T Anderson film. Or something. I love this guy.

James Blake – I Only Know (What I Know Now) by Strange Moss

There’s more coming I promise. Goodnight for now.

Life in the Militarized zone, How Toronto has failed to negotiate the line between civil liberty and safety:

‘Revolution is mankind’s way of life today. This is the age of revolution; the “age of indifference” is gone forever. But the latter age paved way for today; for the great masses of mankind, while still suffering the greatest oppression and the greatest affronts to their dignity as human beings, never ceased to resist, to fight as well as they could, to live in combat”

–       Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism, uttering a sentiment that now seems woefully inaccurate. Perhaps today is the second coming of the “age of indifference”.

After the torchlight red on sweaty faces

After the frosty silence in the gardens

After the agony in stony places

The shouting and the crying

Prison and palace and reverberation

Of thunder of spring over distant mountains

He who was living is now dead

We who were living are now dying

With a little patience

–       T. S. Eliot, The Wasteland

… Thunder rolls in from the west… suddenly a steady downpour obscures our Beautiful city by the lake; the ominous nature of this pathetic fallacy does not go unnoticed… Protesters, voyeurs and exhibitionists, spectators, provocateurs and passers-by; they’re all wet, rattled and stranded in the empty, decontaminated streets… The Police Presence, an uncountable force, starts to act and react like a confused and angry drunk… the curiously Orwellian-named ‘Free-Speech-Zone’ was tear gassed and cleared out, while, at another junction entirely, the goon-squad of dumb beasts who call themselves the Black Bloc proliferated their platform of destruction for destruction’s sake. Questions about the sheer possibility of democratic organization in our time, and our seemingly involuntary desire to surrender our own liberty in the face of sudden militarization, have become inexplicably unanswerable. Where are we? Surely these are no longer “our streets”.

Allow me to come clean. In attempting to name the nature of these recent events in Toronto I will invariably inject bits of bias here and there. After all, this is an emotional time and many of our reactions are more visceral than rational. I am disheartened, frustrated, annoyed, angered, and saddened by what has been presented by the TV news media as the ‘two sides’ of these confrontations.

On one side there are the protesters.  Some of which are of the Black Bloc persuasion, a group united more by its tactics than any one ideal. They snake their way through marches until, suddenly, they unleash havoc on their surroundings, apparently to demonstrate their opposition to our political structure as a whole. This is not exactly an anarchist group; they are, unbelievably, even more reactionary.

There are what some media outlets have called the “legitimate protesters”, who are the ones, for the most part, who leave me disheartened. If anything these marches and half-hearted sit-ins have proved, to me at least, that the great protests of the civil rights movement era are perhaps now impossible. Their marches seem to be equal parts protester and voyeur; chock full of random spectators attracted more to the allure of possible ‘action’ than by any intellectual qualm.

On the other side there is the establishment, represented physically by the police. In a strangely ironic fashion, Harper’s one billion dollar security force was inexplicably absent Saturday night when the city was in chaos, and if anything, it was overwhelming the following day in response to protests that were essentially peaceful. I watched with grim fascination while, at the Pape and Eastern sit-in at the foot of temporary detention centre, a young woman was thrashed around by police and then thrown into the black depths of an unmarked van by men in plain clothes. She was driven off wildly into the distance, and after that, who knows?

The police maintain she was wanted, but I have to ask where in our constitution or criminal code is this kind of due process described? Is being in the g20 not some  (regardless of its validity) ostensible declaration of a nation’s democratic progressiveness? How do we reconcile the disparity between the civilized, if not stuffy character of the Summit with the dour implications of the Oceanic madness barking at its front door?

While many Torontonians and residents of neighboring communities have tried to conceptualize this event in a purely one-sided, black and white sense, I think it is important we pay tribute to the obvious poly-sidedness of this weekend. We have to remember that in addition to each march involving different movements of people, there are significant ideological and methodological differences between individual protesters. By calling them wholly disruptive or destructive, or to say, as one City24 caller did, that they are merely unkempt and unemployed youngsters, one misses out on a truly rich intellectual experience, one whose confrontational nature is rarely experienced in this, I daresay, often unnecessarily polite country.

Between the Black Bloc’s parade of destruction Saturday night and the police’s use of undue force on Sunday, in addition to the obvious restrictions on freedom of speech, the right to assemble, and the liberties of a free press (see: 5 CTV employees unlawfully detained on Sunday) Toronto now feels foreign to me. Protesters today chanted “whose streets? Our streets!” which feel less true now more than ever.

Torontonians did not want this summit, nor did we want to be temporarily transported to a militarized wasteland, divided against each other, and forced to listen about the destruction caused by ‘protesters’ and the heroism of our one billion dollar police force. The Black Bloc are not protesters, they possess an over abundance of the necessary passion and conviction of a good activist without any of the intelligence or moral scruples. And our police force, in my eyes, has shown no heroism. In a more cerebral, roundabout way, the federal government is above all else to blame for this g20 catastrophe. And that, at this time, appears to be the only applicable moniker; catastrophe. The cost of non-binding political posturing has been the sacrifice of personal liberty, a startling assault on the very conceptual foundation of our rule of law, and a disgusting display of wanton criminality committed by lost souls dressed in black.

May I add that their use of masks is unfortunately cowardly? If memory serves me correct, I don’t recall ever hearing that the Kent State students, who were shot in Ohio while protesting the Viet Nam War, were wearing masks, nor did the Black Panthers, suffragettes or Malcolm X ever don black bandannas.

Even the so-called legitimate protesters are mostly members of the generation of identity-politics (my generation I suppose). You know, the arguments that invariably begin with “speaking as a […]”, and then continue on with a sentiment utterly devoid of any substantive, progressive thinking. Even our activism has become vain and self-obsessed. Case in point; the protest marches compiled mostly of docile onlookers, snapping camera phone pictures, taking only keepsakes from these actions of political and moral autonomy.

9:14 p.m. Queen St. W. and Spadina Ave.

A young man in his early 20s said he was merely crossing the intersection and watching the commotion, when he was scooped up by riot police.

The man, who wore only a T-shirt, jogging shorts and runners, said he’s on vacation in Canada from Ireland. He shivered in the rain, with his hands handcuffed behind him as an officer told him he had a right to call a lawyer. He shrugged his shoulders and smiled faintly. “Some vacation,” he said in a broad Irish accent.

Police are doing their paperwork in the shelter of store doorways. They ask the detainees if they have any medical conditions they should know about. One young woman shivering was wrapped in a silver Mylar blanket.  (thestar.com)

This is not the Toronto I know and Love. I can barely remember her face.

“It was safer; though, as he well knew, even a back can be revealing.”

– George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty Four

A Quick Note on an Incident in International Waters

The notion that recent events in the waters bordering Israel and Gaza can be understood or ‘solved’ politically is an attempt to apply reason to a conflict that has none. What was once a far simpler political issue, relevant only to geography, boarders and social-political life, in other words, tangible things, has since been, via the supplement of religion, transformed into an inexplicable problem with no foreseeable solution.

A long time ago, some fifty years ago to be more accurate, distributing the land equally in two parts might have solved this conundrum– maybe. But now, alas, that ship has sailed. Now we are entrenched in a fight rich with the insuperable dictates of religion. An argument that, for the spiritual, can only be discussed and solved by rules grounded in the mystical, which inevitably requires bloodshed. So why be surprised when Israeli troops board a vessel containing protesters and humanitarian aid in international waters, killing 9 people?  How else is one to approach a conflict supported by a mutual belief that can be confirmed only by faith? It is ineffably convenient that the Messiah both sects believe in is said only to arrive once the other is gone. How does reason compete?

It is heartbreakingly frustrating that supposedly secular countries are dragged into this conflict, and forced to deal in dogma, superstition and unctuous blood lust. It’s frustrating because we are not allowed to propose the obvious solution; split the land up, and, as a sidebar, stop talking about annihilating each other in the name of God.

It is funny, perhaps only if you share a certain dark sense of humour, that a thing that proposes to be both the foundation and firmament of morality end up not just slightly corrupt, but fucking-kids-and-burning-people-alive-corrupt. Under a system that can reasonably (I daresay I’m using the term loosely) justify just about anything in the name of itself, how is one to make the quiet moral suggestions necessary to keep it ethical? In other words, to use this current example, how is the international community (if such a thing truly exists) to recommend a solution void of religious sentiment, one that looks at the problem objectively and attempts to solve it equally so? They cannot. Or, at least, neither side will listen. So we are doomed to be the innocent bystanders to a war of pure wind. And as long as it is a conflict that is structurally about politics, and verbally about religion, there will be no peace, no resolution, and no reason at all.

The Convenient Society; How Hard Work Could Save Us.

Yesterday I had two conversations of note. I personally respect each party involved equally, although they have opposite dispositions. One I would call true a progressive; naively hopeful, convinced the world can actually change – she is sure we will be saved. The other is a pure isolationist.

While I see the appeal of both sides, I am forced to ask how these two contentious positions can be tempered and reconciled. As for me, I am maybe somewhere in the middle, and while that appears to be more balanced I feel it might just be a compromise that lacks the conviction and scruples of my colleagues.

I write quite a lot about being progressive, so much so that perhaps I’ve lost sight of what that means. I might have never known at all. I merely want to live in world I can be proud of, and to enjoy a balance of the internal and external. I understand and can respect the notion that one’s immediate surroundings are all that is truly important: a hometown, your friends, your family, your daily grind. I get it. But I can’t pretend to prescribe to such a lifestyle. These external forces are always finding their way in. I am caught looking at the machine as a whole, rather than at its moving parts. However, I do understand that each bolt and each screw has a purpose, and that the machine’s operation is partially dependent on at least one person caring for and maintaining those small parts. I think it is high time that I stop merely proposing how and why the machine has become a failed project, and propose some way to fix it.

Sometimes, when I glance over my body of work, which admittedly only encompasses roughly 5 years of writing, I am discouraged to find merely trifles; a discomforted under-my-breath tangent about everyday evil. I believe, and quite earnestly so, that I have been after the heart of something, and in searching for it, have overlooked all those distinct moving parts.  And perhaps therein lies the fault. I may have made a grave error in avoiding the specific happenings that spell our collective doom in favor of focusing on what it all really means. I thought I could eat my dessert first. O what a fool I’ve been…

A myriad of writers and artists have admitted that it wasn’t an obligation to inform or enlighten that drew them into their line of work, but a need to expel feelings that, over time, grew to a critical mass, until they felt they would suffocate if they continued to starve the beast within. In short, it is not communication I’m after. I’m not trying to enlighten you, or teach you, or even engage you. I only feel a certain way, and hope you feel that way too, or at least that you understand what I feel and why I feel it. So when I say that when a member of an independent militia kills a doctor who offers safe abortions in Kansas, that America enables terrorism by not forcing the disbandment of militias, I hope you agree, or at least see why it is a valid argument. We need to be vigilantly proactive.

But this isn’t the point. The point is that I am spinning my tires. In fact, it appears to me that all those like me, let’s call us ‘progressives’, because to call my self a liberal would be a grave misnomer, are moving backwards into extinction. There’s an oil geyser in the Gulf, a growing fascist movement at home and abroad, and even here, in the great-white -leftist-north, we have moved inexorably further right and continue to do so by the day. For Fuck’s Sake, our government is refusing to offer the third world safe abortions because an invisible man in the clouds frowns upon it. Where do these words get us?

Sure, there are solutions. And it’s not having an open mind so much as it is having a level one. Until we can do something worthwhile as a species, together, we aren’t getting anywhere as individuals. Not moving forward. Not advancing. The advent of the Internet was an impressive one, but while we use it to watch rape porn and argue about that fat woman from Britain’s Got Talent, it’s not exactly solving our problems. It is convenient though, and that’s all that really matters. Ah, here’s that truth I was mining for. The problem with both of those positions I brought up earlier; one is too convenient, the other, not convenient enough.

We live in an age and place where convenience is our monarch, and he rules with strict authority. Convenience is a religion, a philosophy, a policy, and a stringent way of life. It has made us fat, stupid, and incompetent. But it has less to do with the specific parts of our convenient society than it does with a general desire to be withdrawn. It is by any means necessary that we stave off serious toil and resign to be taken care of. Eventually we will live in pods and pay a slave to work for us, and feed us intravenously.

Your New Home

But in all seriousness, this may be one of the reasons why the news-media has become terminally ill. It’s not just that people show a categorical lack of interest in the world around them; they consciously choose not to care. If people really engaged with the world around them, and examined their own political life they might revolt. If we had some spontaneous cultural reformation and suddenly awakened to the stark truth that our society is constructed to make us consumers first, humans second, I’m sure people would feel obligated to affect some kind of change. Or if people truly understood that one company, Monsanto, essentially owns the worlds food supply, and can manipulate it in anyway they choose, we might feel different about the direction our planet is going. But it seems that nothing can shake us from our slumber. Even news that our environment is eroding, that we are destroying our habitat at a near irreversible rate, is insufficient impetus for action.

We either have the privilege or the burden to be alive right now, in a time when we have the wherewithal to understand the dooms that approach, but lack the courage to stop them, or perhaps the ingenuity. Maybe for all our brilliant designs we have failed to construct the instruments necessary to prolong our species. While we may look around at our immense urban sprawl, while taking our anti-anxiety medication, and marvel at the capacity of our race, should we not remind ourselves that it is longevity that indicates the success of a species? We sure have created a lot. We’ve made our lives so convenient. But we’ve also reduced them to pure wind.

Photo Credit: Gus Powell, The New Yorker

We’ve become empty. And this emptiness is at least partially the fault of a lack of effort. Many things become simple and intelligible through labour. And without that frontier we forget the most basic principles of our existence and we become distracted by the tools of convenience.

Consider the notion that our constant traveling has impeded even our understanding of space. We naively expect that we’ve created some kind of ridiculous ‘global village’, where we are all equal citizens, where we could not (as good pious folk) stand idle while members of our village suffer. Except we do. And this, although having much to do with a historical context of subjugation in the name of profit, coupled national and personal entitlement, has a great deal to do with resignation. The world as we have re-constructed it is severely solipsistic. We have been trained, as a culture of consumers, to think chiefly about ourselves, and this has made community essentially impossible. Recently an elderly man was mugged on the TTC, in a full train car, in broad daylight. The response of the other passengers: nothing.  This is the risk of isolation. This is life in a brave new century, where the Citizen’s obligation is primarily to himself. After that, he can only be expected to help his fellow human beings at his own convenience. This was not even our ‘extended-village’. It was our geographical village. A single train car.

How do we stray from this pattern? It may be as simple as hard work. We need to make conscious decisions to better ourselves, to engage with the tribulations of our generation rather than conveniently ignoring them. There has to be some desire to live a virtuous life – something that means more than simply enjoying yourself. A person ought to strive for more, should she not?