Bread and Circuses Pt. 2 or Finnegan Begin Again

5 weeks in and this staying home stuff is getting challenging. I have nothing to complain about, really. Lots of space in the house, tiny little green space out back (and the hope of some sun and warmth tomorrow), cats, food, music, books… more than enough to keep on keeping on as things remain dire in the outside world.

I’ve had to turn off the tv for the most part. I can’t take the broadcast news – the constant sound-bite-and-click-seeking asinine questions from (many) reporters following every press conference and the increasing dramatic dialoguing from some of our elected leaders is wearying – and I’m already exhausted. Don’t even get me started on the abrogation of responsibility of much of the media in the US – failing to hold the mass murderer-in-charge to any level of responsibility.

(I realize that last paragraph makes me seem anti-journalist. I’m not. Really, I’m not. Almost became one, myself. And I could list many who are doing a great job weeding through the bullshit and constant changes of the past month and a bit – some close friends among them. But too many are nothing more than ‘content creators’ looking for ‘gotcha’ moments, when they aren’t intentionally selling an anti-science narrative and I’m just done with that level of bullshit. Done.)

I can’t watch the updated statistics anymore, or hear about those still refusing to do the right thing and put aside their personal wants for the benefit of us all – and especially for the safety of those who have no choice but to be out there making sure we come through this thing.

I’ve made the conscious decision to avoid getting caught up in any of the myriad streaming services and the shows on offer. I’m spending way too much time sitting in front of a screen – what with the working from home and trying to catch up on some writing projects – as it is. So if it’s on, it’s in the background (now that Schitt’s Creek has run its course). I’m hearing second-hand accounts of some interesting-sounding programming – coming to us from the creators we are all relying on to entertain and distract and comfort us in our current circumstances.

But there’s some weird-ass stuff out in the ether as well, and, like all those people who flocked to Florida’s foolishly (unintentional alliteration there, but I’m keeping it anyway) reopened beaches today, it’s causing me to question some aspects of our shared humanity and alleged capacity for rational and civilized thought.

I admit that I’ve been hoping that this crisis will prove to be a wake-up call – shining lights on inequity and inanity, both, and showing us that need the one and should disdain the other. I was really looking forward to a new world order that consigned reality tv stars to the trash heap of irrelevance where they have always belonged. All of them – even if they are, somehow, Leader of the (formerly) Free World.

Given the inexplicable popularity of a show about the revolting abuse of big cats (the most apt description I head likened watching it to licking a subway pole), I’m significantly less certain about the positive strides we might be making in deciding what is worthwhile and what is detritus without which we are better off.

This dispiriting realization called to mind a post I wrote in 2015 about the Juvenalian concept of bread and circuses. Back then we were in the lead-up to a federal election, and the behaviours of the people running for office and those who fell on one side of the electorate equation in particular, were spouting a whole lot of nonsense and generally pissing me off. Juvenal used ‘bread and circuses’ to denounce what he saw as the self-involved nature of the ‘common people’ and their willful ignorance regarding wider concerns and matters pertaining to things like civic duty. Not one to pull punches, was Juvenal.

Master of satire that he was, he employed the metonym to describe the unwillingness of 2nd century CE Romans to understand, or even acknowledge, their history and the need for their political involvement in order to ensure the health and well-being of the system. He said, essentially, that the people have abdicated their duties, in favour of sitting on their butts hoping that they will be handed bread and invited to circuses – state-provided food and entertainment.

Were the people culpable for their anomie and disengagement? You betcha. But the fact of the matter is that even wayway back in Ancient Rome (one of the cornerstones of the democratic/republican – using both terms in their original senses – systems that we hold in such vaunted esteem), leaders opted to give the people what the people thought they wanted as a means of garnering support. The federal Cons were doing a whole lot of that in the summer of 2015. Sure, the election that happened the following year to the south of us would make their attempts at propagandizing and displacement and outright lying seem, well, juvenile in comparison.

But.

Plus ça change. I recycled bits of that earlier post, here, because it is resonating with me really strongly right now. And I’m all about the connections.

The satisfaction of shallow desires – for free refreshments and hollow entertainment – remains the biggest tool in the kits of contemporary politicians. And the owners of media conglomerates. And heads of national and multi-national corporations. That buffoon in the States has made a career – and managed to win the Presidency – based on these principles, such as they are.

Bread and circuses generate support that is not based in silly things like exemplary service or concern for the good of society in its entirety, and serve to distract us and take our attention away from what is really going on. Large corporations and banks and politicians and religious institutions and media groups – anyone, really, who has been given power under the social structures that these groups have contributed to building – continue to throw shadows to disguise their underlying intent of self-promotion and the furtherance of personal agendas.

Of course, all these ‘leaders’, public and corporate alike, will claim that the distractions are well-intended and meant to protect us and our best interests. Certainly, right now, we need all the entertainment and distraction we can get. It is keeping us inside and safe. But there is so much that is better out there than that trailer park trash fire that is making the rounds.

In my favourite book by my favourite Canadian author, one of the primary characters, a military leader and soldier (among other things) entertains two small children in his care by casting shadow hand puppets on a wall. The show is meant to divert the children’s attention from the assassins that have been sent to their house to kill them – and to cover up the sounds as the men under his command dispatch the ‘bad men’ and keep them safe.

As in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the shadows on the wall are meant to distract from the reality of circumstances. In the situation in Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan, the attempt is well-intentioned – they were protecting children from political machinations, after all – but ultimately doomed to failure. Though young, one of the children understood the puppet show for what it was – and asks, at its end, if the bad men have gone.

We are not children – and yet we seem to be more than willing to let our leaders distract us with shadows on the wall, with bread and with circuses, rather than to pay close attention to the irrevocable damage that they’re doing and attempt to free ourselves from the cave of superficial perception.

The light of the fire that is the source of the shadows may be hard, and uncomfortable, to look at, but we need to stop shying away from those things that are ‘hard’. We have to accept our responsibility, as citizens who participate in the structuring and furtherance of our societies, to weather the discomfort of escaping the cave and the pain of the initial exposure to the sun and its light, in order to clearly see it in all its truth – and to take that truth back to those who remain entranced by the shadows on the wall. They will resist – Plato had that much right (and how little has changed) – since the journey is full of challenges and inconveniences and we have become intellectually lazy-beyond-belief. But we still have to try. Once we are freed from our actual ‘caves’ we need to work on getting the hell out of the figurative ones.

In the background as I write this the local sports channel is showing Game 5 of the 2015 ALDS (seems to be a 2015 sort of a night). For those who might not remember (if you’re not from Toronto) it’s the game with the craziest 53-minute 7th inning in the history of the sport. A game that lives in the hearts and minds of every fan Jays fan. The game that featured the bat flip heard ’round the world – and solidified my abject hatred of Texas’ 2nd baseman (I really hate that Odor asshole). Our Canadian catcher-man was behind the plate, and that weird dude (he was our weird dude, though) who would go on to be MVP that year was on third. Out in right field was the guy who hit the run (and flipped the bat) that took us to the next level – and who had kept baseball a thing through too many years of mediocrity in Toronto, and in centre was a fielder who was well on his way to earning his cape. Our DH DH’d and tied the game in the sixth – running the parrot around those bases. And then that 7th…

When it was happening in real time, I was a bag of nerves and tension. Sudden death for the Jays in their first post-season in a thousand or so years (felt that way, anyway) was a Big Deal. Watching it tonight is a different type of distraction – it’s nostalgia and comfort and excitement and remembrances of a great group of guys whoo held the city captive for a season (or two). It is real entertainment seeing it now – not the potential end of a run that brought this town together for a time – a warm memory made more poignant as we are all forced to be separate right now (I’m choosing to ignore the shameful 18+ minutes during which people threw stuff on the field. I maintain that they weren’t real fans. Probably not really Torontonians. They certainly don’t know how to behave). I know the good guys are going to win. I need that sort of thing right now. We all do.

Other than spending time with my boys of summer in repeats, I’m spending a lot of time listening to music – and watching some of my favourite artists sing and talk to other favourite artists from their living rooms – and reading. The value of creators and what they bring to our lives has never been more apparent to me than it is now. Those same creators are paying a heavy toll – as tv shows can’t be produced, theatre and music cannot be performed live, visual artists can’t have showings of their art, craftspeople of all kinds are unable to share their work, writers can’t support new releases by touring and doing book shows and signings. We need to support the ones providing the talent – not the conglomerates that benefit from their gifts. They need to be supported to the extent of the support they provide to us at the least especially now when we are desperate for their creations.

I wrote about calliopes right around the same time I was thinking about old Romans and their take on society. Interestingly, that post remains one of my most frequently read (people searching for the Boss and ending up with me). Calliopes – with their associations with the liminality that has always been a feature of the carnival and sideshow – can draw us to things better left unvisited. Stray tunes, carried on the wind – or drawn from memory – can be harbingers of a great deal of trouble. Figuring out which song is safe to follow can be dangerous business. The value of distinguishing the art from the purposefully-designed chaff is something we all need to keep in mind as we look for distraction to fill all this time we have to hand.

What’s it worth to you?

I am reallyreally angry that I’m having to write this. Really.

As of this afternoon I am officially on ‘staycation’- some time off work that was booked ages ago, before the Canadian dollar started its slide downdowndown and made us re-think a US holiday, at this time. Even though I’ll be taking some work home with me, it’s the first more-than-an-extra-long weekend I’ve had off since last years’ trip to the UK (which included my meet-up with the incomparable Anne-Marie, who lovingly and poetically remembered our pub night last week).

I’m okay with the ‘stay’ part. Especially since at 3:37 this afternoon my home team began its ‘Hunt for Blue October’ (whatever ad company came up with that little gem deserves a round of applause) and 3rd run at becoming World Series Champs. Some might think I’m jumping the gun, since they still have to win the AL, but if the atmosphere in this town has any effect on the Boys in Blue then they’re going all the way. All. The. Way.

It’s electric around here. You can feel it in the streets. And, apparently all across the country, as even those who purport to hate Toronto (obviously people who have never spent any time here. Obviously.) rally behind our one Canadian Major League ball team.

It was a rough and scary Game 1- Josh Donaldson (soon to be known as ‘MVP Josh Donaldson’) got knocked in the noggin on his way into second, and Joey B- after a lovely home run- left the game with a strained hamstring- but we will rally and come back in full force tomorrow (Josh WILL be medically cleared and good to go- keeping the faith).

Baseball angst notwithstanding, here I was, looking forward to a bit of a break from dealing with the day-to-day, serious stuff, while watching my Jays and getting some things done ’round the house and ’round the town. It’s Thanksgiving weekend, so there will be time with family, and one of my favourite musical dudes is paying us a visit on Sunday night at Lee’s (unfortunately conflicting with a Jays game, but I’ll miss that one to hang with Jesse – interesting that I first wrote about him in the context of some concerns I had with the federal bureaucracy), some spa time, a little wandering around and enjoying the change of the season (and storing up memories of relative warmth before the horrors of winter set in. I don’t like the cold, have I mentioned that before?).

I talked a bit about our federal election last week – and emphasized the importance of everyone getting out there to cast a vote. Preferably a vote against our incumbent government and its leader. I thought I was done with yelling about the dangers of maintaining this particular status quo.

Yeah no. Evidently not.

In the realm of dirty politics- a place that is a second home to our current PM- he is hitting new and ever-more egregious lows. I’m not being rhetorical or alarmist when I use that word- or any of its synonyms. Words like shocking, appalling, abhorrent, terrible… All of the above are applicable.

His always-borderline misogyny, racism and xenophobia has crossed the border. He is vocally demonstrating that he lives in the heartland of overt racism and elitism, now. He can’t even see the border any more. And I say that as someone who is pretty ‘old stock’ (4th generation Torontonian, on Dad‘s side).

I’m not even talking about C-51, or his unwillingness to investigate the disappearances and deaths of scores of indigenous women in this country (and I certainly won’t mention the former Tory MP who said that they had it coming), or his inexplicable hesitancy reevaluate his policies about refugees – even in light of the humanitarian crisis that is happening in Europe (that is a whole other rant in itself- one that sits, temporarily languishing, in the drafts folder until I can achieve some level of relative coherence about it all).

With indicators that his ‘popularity’ is sliding (hard to measure the true popular vote in our outrageously out-dated ‘first past the post’ electoral process- THAT’S something that needs to be overhauled by our next government… but I digress), Harper is looking to reiterate and maximize his politics of division- especially in parts of Quebec, which, as we have seen, has its own issues with xenophobic and racist policies.

He is focusing his attentions on an issue that affects such a small proportion of the population that I’m amazed (and, frankly, dismayed) that it is being given any airtime at all. Yet, for some reason, his ongoing emphasis on wearing the niqab is dominating discussions and has escalated to the extent that he has declared that, if he is re-elected (avert!), choosing to do so would not be permissible for federal employees. Even though it has never been raised as an issue in the public service. Ever.

Didn’t work so well in Quebec, but hey, I’m the last person to suggest that he not shoot himself in the foot by alienating more members of the public. His proposed ‘rat on your neighbours‘ policy? THAT should go over well…

As Justin Trudeau said in the preamble to the Current, women are being attacked in this country for wearing the hijab and niqab. ‘This is not Canada,’ he said. You know I’ve had my issues with Mr. Trudeau, at times, but that point is indisputable.

Especially since women don’t have to be wearing an outward manifestation of their faith in order to come under attack, apparently. This reality became personal to me this week, as my dear friend, Farah, was subjected to an Islamophobic verbal attack in our city’s main downtown mall. In, irony of ironies, that most-quintessential of Canadian stores, Roots.

In addition to being a brilliant and caring friend, Farah is an inspirational social activist with an impressive history of using her powerful voice in support and effective aid of those who are, often, voiceless. She also has a pretty big Twitter following. That social media presence- active since her quest to have the Iranian government release her friends from illegal captivity – and her fearlessness, shine a light on the disturbing effects of Harper’s policies and rhetoric- including the ‘uptick in anti-Islam sentiment since the niqab became an election buzzword.’

Ya’ll know I love Stevie Stills. I write about him a fair bit. Back when he was with a band called Buffalo Springfield he penned a little ditty.

The title is taken from an idiomatic statement that is, generally, used to moderate an opinion that may differ from the opinion of its audience, and to emphasize humility while prompting the audience to provide their judgement of worth against the statement being made (my thanks to Wikiwords for helping to parse the phrase and its origins).

A whole lot of people- myself included, once upon a time- thought that the song was sourced in anti-war sentiments. It was certainly adopted by those who protested American involvement in Vietnam, and it became inextricably linked with the events at Kent State in 1970 (odd, since the song was written and recorded in 1966. I’d be the last to argue that Stephen isn’t prescient, but I don’t think he’s quite that good).

It was about civil disobedience in the face of prejudicial lobbying and ordinances against a portion of the population. Young people, who regularly gathered on the Sunset Strip (where Buffalo Springfield were the house band at the Whisky a Go Go) protested the actions of local residents and business groups who successfully worked to have curfew laws imposed, in what began as a series of peaceful rallies. As is too often the case, the unrest became violent as clashes between the protesters and police escalated.

It’s an assessment of a lack of social justice.

There’s something happening here
But what it is ain’t exactly clear
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware

I think it’s time we stop
Children, what’s that sound?
Everybody look – what’s going down?

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking’ their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
Step out of line, the men come and take you away

Perhaps Stephen (Stills, not that other guy) is more prescient than I credited, earlier. His song transcends time and is as applicable now (sadly) as it was in 1966. Harper’s Conservatives are drawing battle lines, inciting paranoia and repeatedly telling us we need to beware. Of our fellow citizens.

None of that has a place in MY Canada.

So. In the midst of celebrating- Thanksgiving AND Blue Jay wins (I’ve got your backs, lads)- we need to take the time to stop, listen and look at what’s going down.

Rick Mercer came back from his summer holidays this week and, unsurprisingly, had a few things to say about this election campaign. The words of the immortal Sam Gamgee stand true, and, as Rick said, the main job we have, as Canadians, is to show up and vote for those good things we want to see enacted.

Which doesn’t include men coming to take us away if we step out of line. Especially since that line, as they draw it and cross it, is becoming increasingly un-Canadian, in the way in which I measure such things.

It certainly doesn’t include a PM whose leadership example encourages racist and xenophobic behaviours that destroy safe spaces for all Canadians. Instead, I will follow the example of one I’m privileged to call friend and use my voice to shout, without breaking for ‘vacation’ if necessary, in order to ensure that we preserve and enhance that which is good.

For what it’s worth.

A change in the weather

It’s raining here in TO. It’s also raining at Camden Yards, a reality that caused the cancellation of my plans for the evening. As much as I loved the last double-header my Jays played (suck it, Yankees)- and will enjoy watching two in a row tomorrow, I was looking forward, after a day that saw me quite comprehensively flattened by a migraine, to watching the wonder continue tonight.

This team. My favourite player changes daily- I’m not usually fickle- so I’m saving all the love for the squad in its entirety. Although the one-on-one with Joey Bautista they showed before the Royals’ game started had me leaning toward right field. I love how he has embraced Toronto as his hometown- and stuck it out through the lean years (oh-so-many lean years) to finally receive his just desserts for the loyalty- and the always-solid performance he, at least, has given us. The thought of his free-agency, still a year away, is more than a little concerning.

Anyway, since the weather- at least partially complicit for the on-going pain in my head- has further conspired to keep me from watching some ever-increasingly-engaging baseball, my thoughts have turned to the transfer of seasons that this particular front is bringing in its wake. Temperatures are set to fall- after warmer/more humid-than-usual days over the past little while.

For the first time in years, my annual September camp-buds cottage weekend did not require layer-upon-layer of winter-type clothing to prevent perishing from hypothermia- so that was nice.

The warmer temps served to extend a summer that was a mixed-bag of positive and negative. There’s the stellar entertainment and together-bringing energy that my next-door neighbours are providing- this is nothing but good.

But I had to make a hard decision a couple of weeks ago and say goodbye to one of my beloved cats. I miss him- and still wonder if I made the right call. He’d been through a lot- we’d been through a lot, together- and prognoses did not support recovery.

He was a good boy, my little Dude.

His name was Enki- after the Mesopotamian god of, among other things, wisdom- a vain attempt to counter-act some of the attributes of the self-fulfilling name I’d given his sister, Tiamat. If she was chaos embodied in the body of a princess (and she is), then he was supposed to balance the crazy, somewhat. But, instead, he was just silly. And loving. And with such a good nature tempered by just the smallest soupçon of wildness, that I adjusted his name somewhat. To Enkidu. The Wild Man. The beloved of Gilgamesh- that imperfect-yet-searching king-above-all-other-kings.

But even that adjustment didn’t seem quite right. So, in time, he became, simply, The Dude. Not necessarily in homage to that Lebowski guy, but not completely dissimilar in character, either. Laid back, goofy, and always in search of new friends.

Small things, perhaps – in the overall, larger chaos which the world, as a whole, seems determined to continue to suborn while permitting credulous, superstition- and fear-based insanity to flourish – but markers, like the rain outside my window, of change.

And change can be hard. Even when it’s reallyreally necessary.

Following the footsteps of a funeral pyre
You were paid not to listen now your house is on fire

Our house IS on fire- and a little September rain isn’t going to help significantly. Whether or not we want to be awake to that little fact. As mentioned, I’ve been, admittedly, distracted. So I haven’t weighed-in much – around here, at least – about the federal election race that has been going on now for what? Six months? Feels as if. It has been the longest in modern Canadian history. Thanks to our current-but-soon-to-be-former (if people are paying attention) PM, the mud-slinging has been going on for weeks upon weeks now.

No surprise we feel sleepy and disengaged after listening to the same ideological soundbites for the entire summer.

Harper’s latest tactic, now that the polls (useless, all things considered, as they may be) seem to indicate that he won’t be running away with anything, is to delve further into his dirty-tricks bag to expand upon the politics of division and hyperbolic rhetoric that have been the hallmarks of his too-long tenure as leader of this country.

He is sticking to ‘issues’ that emphasize our need to ‘protect’ ourselves from the Other– as he, and his speechwriters and lackeys, define that term. He is extremely concerned, for example, about the clothing that Canadian (or soon-to-be-Canadian) women choose to wear. CHOOSE to wear.

I won’t even attempt to illustrate the hypocritical and alarmist elements of his immigration policies and the complete and contemptuous disregard of the human tragedies playing out as refugees struggle for survival and escape in Europe. (Okay, so he’s not as bad as Trump – but I still can’t bring myself to believe that THAT guy is anything like a serious contender for political leadership).

The systematic deconstruction of those elements that have brought us, as a nation, global respect, continues unabated through the attack ads and inflammatory language he has employed over the course of the leaders’ debates and interviews with various news outlets. The damage he has done over the last decade or so has tarnished our image – and we are letting him get away with it.

For the price of some savings come tax time and an illusion of ‘national security’.

‘Paid not to listen’, indeed.

We are a little over two weeks away from a day of vital importance to all who call themselves ‘Canadian’.

I’ve seen an encouraging ramp-up of pleas pitched to those that are too-frequently under-represented in the voting booths. There are movements afoot pushing for voter presence from among our indigenous peoples (and what group, as a whole, have been treated as dismissively by this government?) and our young people (despite the fact that residency regulations make it difficult for those university students, away from their regular places of residence, to vote while at school).

A Canadian expat, unable (like Donald Sutherland– one of my favourite Canadians) to vote since he lives outside of Canada, has registered to run against Harper in his Calgary riding. While the ridiculous rule has been in place since 1993, Harper is the first to require that Elections Canada actually enforce it. Seems like even some from among his traditional power base aren’t completely happy about that particular policy…

Wake me up when things get started
When everything starts to happen

It’s happening. And we’re running out of time.

My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out
My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out

When the wind blows, when the mothers talk
When the wind blows
When the wind blows, when the mothers talk
When the wind blows, we can work it out

It’s not that you’re not good enough
It’s just that we can make you better
Given that you pay the price
We can keep you young and tender

Following the footsteps of a funeral pyre
You were paid not to listen now your house is on fire

Wake me up when things get started
When everything starts to happen

My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out
My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out

Some of us are horrified
Others never talk about it
But when the weather starts to burn
Then you’ll know that you’re in trouble

Following the footsteps of a soldier girl
It is time to put your clothes on and to face the world

Don’t you feel your luck is changing
When everything starts to happen
Put your head right next to my heart
The beat of the drum is the fear of the dark

My features form with a change in the weather
Weekend, we can work it out
My features form with a change in the weather
But in the weekend never, there’s a change in the weather
We can work it out

When the wind blows, when the mothers talk
When the wind blows
When the wind blows, when the mothers talk
When the wind blows, we can, only we can work it out 

Roland Orzabal said this about his lyric: “The song stems from two ideas. One is something that mothers say to their children about pulling faces. They say the child will stay like that when the wind changes. The other idea is inspired by the anti-nuclear cartoon book When the Wind Blows by Raymond Briggs.”

Mothers’ advice and a cautionary tale about the destruction that comes with war and war-mongering. Timeless themes, really. The song retains its status as a clarion call.

It’s October. Historically, not one of my favourite months. I’m looking for that, among other things, to change. We are post-season-bound for the first time in over two decades. We have a federal election in a few weeks that I have to believe will mark a shift in the direction that this country has been dragged.

Please. If there was ever a time to listen to the wind blowing, now, for Canadians, is that time. We have a decision to make- and a new direction to establish. In 18 days.

I saw a silly meme earlier today:

Some of us ARE horrified. So we’d best be putting on our grown-up clothes and make the effort to acknowledge the realities of the world- and those in whom we put our trust to lead us as a national and global community.

Unlike too many other places on our shared planet, we have choices. Please take the time to make sure you’re making one that best represents our shared vision of Canada.

Editorial note: the migraine I referenced waaaay up there ^^^ returned full force- rendering me unable to complete the post a couple of nights ago, and I spent last night well-engaged in the double-header that saw my Jays clinch the AL East (for the first time in over two decades) and then celebrate that reality (after a joke of a second game- Baltimore felt the need for some redemption, I’d guess, and the Boys in Blue were just eager to get to the party), so I wasn’t able to complete this little piece o’ something until tonight (after another Baltimore win- not that it really matters, now).

The evening has leant itself to writing- especially since I’m avoiding all media at the moment, not feeling capable of coping with the latest horror to stem from an American gun culture that is a nonsensical and it is repugnant.Especially since the last thing I saw about it seemed to indicate that the shooter was interested in the religious beliefs of those who were slaughtered. Politics of division+accessible weaponry? As that admirable POTUS said, ‘prayers’ ain’t gonna cut it (I’m paraphrasing).

The change in the weather has happened- I could have done with mittens this morning on my walk to work. Let’s hope it marks those political changes we NEED to see made manifest hereabouts over the next few weeks.

We can

Only we can work it out 

Bread and Circuses

Sticking with thoughts about calliopes*- in particular, their ability to draw in the listener, their encouragement of us rubes to come and join the fun of the midway- and the chasing of said music machines, I’ve noticed a certain thematic recurrence featuring circuses and such like things ’round these parts.

It’s partly the time of the year. Any day now- with the summer spectacle of the Pan Am and ParaPan Am Games a fading memory (a hearty ‘well done’ to all the organizers, volunteers and athletes, by the way)- the ads for the CNE will begin to dominate the airwaves (if they haven’t done already- I’ve mainly avoided the airwaves lately. More on that later) marking the end of the summer.

It’s not feeling like the summer is anywhere near its end right now- we’ve had a stretch of crazy hot-and-humid sort of days (all fine with me)- but there is a shift in the type of energy- and a definite sense that back-to-school and the winding down of all things summery is in the air.

It’s hard not to get caught up in a new energy. My next door neighbours are creating quite the sensational fuss, what with being (currently) two games behind the Yanks in the AL East and turning up the heat as contenders for the first time in decades. There were 40+ thousand people down around my house every day last weekend as the Jays hosted those guys from NYC. That’s a whole lot of people creating a whole lot of buzz (I’ll refrain from stating the obvious- that more than a few were certainly ‘buzzed’- on expensive SkyDome beer…).

Please don’t think I’m hopping on a bandwagon here. I’ve never, really, jumped off. Not fully, anyway. Some of my fondest memories are of shivering in the cold at Exhibition Stadium in the days when the Jays first arrived in town- and before they moved to the Dome (sorry Rogers-types- it will ALWAYS be the SkyDome, as far as I’m concerned), with its ability to shield us from the elements somewhat.

1985, for example, was a banner year for the club- marking the first time we won the division championship- and the accomplishment was marked on the weekend with a celebration of the players that made that happen. The nostalgia was pretty phenomenal. Good to see all the faces that marked the shift to the Jays becoming contenders and welcome them back with some big love.

And then there was ’92 and ’93. I was in the early years of my exile in the Nation’s Capital (what was I thinking?!? Hindsight and 20/20 and all that), so I missed the electricity that powered the city as the Jays won back-to-back World Series- led by some of the greats of the game (Joe Carter remains a personal hero of mine- for reasons that go way beyond his ability to swing a bat and catch a ball- but, oh, that home run and that catch…). But I yelled and screamed my support from various couches and sports bars in Ottawa and cried with the rest of my hometown when the boys of our northern summer brought home the Canadian bacon (as I laughed at the ineptitude of the folk in Atlanta who hung the flag upside down. Ah, ‘Mericans. Gotta love ’em).

And I’ve attended a few less-than-stellar outings since I came home and moved in next door. Even bought a cap with their ‘new’ logo a few years ago (although I really like the one with the Maple Leaf a whole lot better).

I’m getting cautiously optimistic. Torontonians are wise to temper their sports enthusiasm with some caution- our teams are notorious for their shared ability to trounce all over our raised hopes and dreams. But I am getting a little caught up in the excitement- while yet holding on tight to my oft-broken heart.

I’m also a little distracted, and I’ve now distracted you with my talk of my local sports heroes… Let’s bring it back to the point, shall we?

The late-season surge in energy and hope for contention is also indicative of the fact that we will be setting aside our summer-dreaming (for those of us privileged enough to have been able to take breaks from the norms associated with ‘making a living’ and all that adulting-type stuff) as the cooler practicalities of the fall start to set in. A last hurrah, as it were.

Although I’m now five full years out of the classroom, I still feel that back-to-school pull- the nervous energy that comes from course set-up and the preparation to meet all the new minds that I might be permitted to influence. A new year- in a sense that is more real, somehow, than the changing of the calendar that we mark in the dead of Canadian winter.

As I’ve mentioned, I’ve been suffering from a significant pulling-back and sitting-out of late. Through an (on-going) process of introspection and general examination, I’ve isolated some of the reasons behind this ennui. One cause that keeps rearing its head is a need I’m feeling to distance myself as much as possible from the calculated distractions that are offered up everywhere we turn. It may seem a tad hyberbolic, but I really think that my recent avoidance of things of import is a reactionary and somewhat unconscious recoiling from the nonsense on television and elsewhere in the media these days.

The lead-up to the election is a big source of disgust disquiet- and I’m certain that our soon-to-be former PM is not unaware of the general public malaise that is sure to be the foregone result of a campaign lasting eleven freakin weeks.

Which calls to mind that wondrous old Juvenalian concept of ‘bread and circuses’. He used it to denounce what he saw as the self-involved nature of the ‘common people’ and their willful ignorance about wider concerns and matters pertaining to things like civic duty. Not one to pull punches, was Juvenal.

Master of satire that he was, he employed the metonym to describe the unwillingness of 2nd century CE Romans to understand, or even acknowledge, their history and the need for their political involvement in order to ensure the health and well-being of the system. He said, essentially, that the People have abdicated their duties, in favour of sitting on their butts hoping that they will be handed bread and invited to circuses- state-provided food and entertainment.

Were the people culpable for their anomie and disengagement? You betcha. But the fact of the matter is that even wayway back in Ancient Rome (one of the cornerstones of the democratic/republican- using both terms in their original senses-systems that we hold in such vaunted esteem), leaders opted to give the people what they think they wanted as a means of garnering support.

Plus ça change. The satisfaction of shallow desires- for free refreshments and hollow entertainment- remains the biggest tool in the kits of contemporary politicians. And the owners of media conglomerates. And heads of national and multi-national corporations.

If they all, together and separately, keep us diverted by the next big show streaming on Netflix (or by a story about a wonderful show- one that was produced with the intent of making early education accessible to children from all socioeconomic backgrounds- moving from a publicly-funded broadcaster to a pay-for-service cable channel), encouraging support for the local college football team (as we funnel money into such programs while things like actual educational standards at the same college suffer from lack of funding), or just by being a buffoon that appeals, inexplicably, to the ‘real’ people, then we mightn’t be inclined to delve deeper into the issues that are driving the continued inequities and flat-out wrong directions in which they are attempting to take us.

Bread and circuses generate support that is not based in silly things like exemplary service or concern for the good of society in its entirety, and to distract us and take our attention away from what is really going on. Large corporations and banks and politicians and religious institutions- anyone, really, who has been given power under the social structures that these groups have contributed to building- can continue to throw shadows to disguise their underlying intent of self-promotion and the furtherance of personal agendas.

The other day a friend posted a link to an article talking about how a developer is planning on building a hotel on the grounds of the CNE (former home of those Blue Jays). Jaded as I am by the state of development in this city, it didn’t really surprise- although it did appall more than a little since that place is sort of sacred ground for a lot of Toronto-folk. When I thought about it a little more, though, the symbolism of such a thing seemed insidiously apt- building towers so that the populace can actually stay overnight ON the circus grounds? Why didn’t someone think of this before?

Of course, all these ‘leaders’, public and corporate alike, will claim that the distractions are well-intended and meant to protect us and our best interests.

Sure.

In one of my favourite books by one of my favourite (Canadian) authors, one of the primary characters, a military leader and soldier (among other things) entertains two small children in his care by casting shadow hand puppets on a wall. The show is meant to divert the children’s attention from the assassins that have been sent to their house to kill them- and to cover up the sounds as the men in Ammar’s command dispatch the ‘bad men’ and keep them safe.

As in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave, the shadows on the wall are meant to distract from the reality of circumstances. In the situation in Guy Gavriel Kay’s The Lions of Al-Rassan, the attempt is well-intentioned- they were protecting children from political machinations, after all- but ultimately doomed to failure. Though young, one of the children understood the puppet show for what it was- and asks, at its end, if the bad men have gone.

We are not children- and yet we seem to be more than willing to let our leaders distract us with shadows on the wall, with bread and with circuses, rather than to pay close attention and free ourselves from the cave of superficial perception.

The light of the fire that is the source of the shadows may be hard, and uncomfortable, to look at, but we need to stop shying away from those things that are ‘hard’. We have to accept our responsibility, as citizens who participate in the structuring and furtherance of our societies, to weather the discomfort of escaping the cave and the pain of the initial exposure to the sun and its light, in order to clearly see it in all its truth- and to take that truth back to those who remain entranced by the shadows on the wall. They will resist- Plato had that much right (and how little has changed)- since the journey is full of challenges and inconveniences and we have become intellectually lazy-beyond-belief. But we still have to try.

I needed to re-learn that piece of Socratic/Platonic wisdom. When chatting with my wee sister on the way to Sunday dinner, I admitted that I have had to ‘unfollow’ certain friends on the facebook, what with the lead-up to the federal election. I’m having issues with seeing posts in support of certain soon-to-be-former PMs and the rest of his merry misfits.

Wee sister commented that she keeps such peeps around in her feeds- since she likes to examine arguments from all angles. Ouch. That one stung. I like to think that I am past-master of hearing all sides before deciding my own perspective, but I have to say that certain attack ads and the front-and-centre-ness of a whole lot of rhetoric on the parts of all of the federal political parties has made me want to turn off the tv and tune out of the written articles permanently.

That, combined with a little article I saw in the New York Times yesterday morning, have reminded me that the examination of the whole has to be taken in consideration, regardless of how obvious our own conclusions might seem to be. Overcoming confirmation bias- when we aren’t even aware of it- is a trickytricky thing, sometimes. It’s easy to see all those places in which we are right. Identifying the wrong bits… that involves looking at things from all sides- and in all lights.

Which means checking back in. I’ll have a look at and listen to all the posturing and politicking- whether or not it reinforces what I already think is the right answer- and re-engage in the process. Looking beyond the shadows on the wall isn’t always fun, or easy, but it beats becoming blindly subject to the bread and the circuses that they use to mollify us and keep us quiet. And maybe, just maybe, by doing so I might manage to drag a person or two out of the cave to join those of us who aren’t satisfied with what the mollifying shadows might be selling.

(Yes, it’s that Mike Oldfield guy again)

Treat me like I’m evil
Freeze me ’til I’m cold
Beat me ’til I’m feeble
Grab me ’til I’m old

Fry me ’til I’m tired
Push me ’til I fall 

Treat me like a criminal.
Just a shadow on the wall

The plan: ignore the shadows on the wall- flailing desperately, as they do- while they try to convince of their ‘truth’, and head back into the light, and reality. Pulling whomever I can grab along with me.

And what the hell. What’s life without a little hope?

Go Jays Go!

*Another indication- should you need more- about that whole interconnectedness thing about which I tend to go on and on and on… Having eschewed television (for the most part- baseball games don’t count- and they lost to the Phillies (!) last night- I popped on my rally cap and everything!- so I might have to rethink my optimism a little. Although it was an interleague game, so it doesn’t really count…) I’ve been reading a whole lot lately- and that reading has been focused on authors who create great characters.

Since Mr. Stephen King is pretty unmatched when it comes to introducing us to people who leap off of the pages, I decided to give ‘It’ a go. I thought I’d read that one- years ago, actually- so I was expecting a re-read (I definitely remember the cover of the novel- with Tim Curry as Pennywise) but this is my first immersed visit to the town and its folk. My memories of the story come from the miniseries- which starred EVERYBODY! What a cast that was!- so getting to know the characters through King’s written words has been excitingly brand new.

Anyhoo… one of the characters first encounters the big nasty that plagues the town of Derry after he follows the sound of a calliope playing ‘Camptown Races’. Fortunately, Stan manages to escape the manifestation of the festering source of all that is wrong in Derry, but the incident marks him for the rest of his life. Calliopes- with their associations with the liminality that has always been a feature of the carnival and sideshow- can draw us to things better left unvisited. Mr. King is wise in his warnings. Stray tunes, carried on the wind- or drawn from memory- can be harbingers of a great deal of trouble.

Figuring out which song is safe to follow can be dangerous business. Yet taking a risk has to be better than stasis and stagnation…