Wednesday, January 27, 2010

What Cause Today?

I’m not sure who dreams up these ‘National-Whatever-Day’ designations. And I suppose if it weren't for the Internet, we'd never hear about half of them.

Apparently today is Family Literacy Day in Canada. Although literacy was one of Gordon Campbell’s dearest causes and loudest promises, the government quietly slashed funds for that too. The announcement was tiny. All I ever saw was this eensy notice in the Vancouver Sun. Campbell's government must have rethought the funding when they realized a literate populace might speak out against too many of their policies.

In the U.S., it seems to be National Chocolate Cake Day. As if I need more calories; I'm still fighting the leftover flab roll from Christmas.

If you poke around further, you'll discover that it’s also Thomas Crapper Day, observing the 100th anniversary of the death of the man credited with inventing the toilet (or, at the very least, marketing it). Whatever his role, I’m glad this device caught on, and am especially grateful for this contribution when it’s raining or snowing.

But then in Surrey, where I live, it’s a Day of Caring for Right to Play. This is an organization I believe in. I even made a donation to them, using money I saved by not buying lottery tickets.Ironically, even though they do so much to encourage athleticism by bringing the gift of play to children around the world, Right to Play isn't permitted to have a presence at the coming Olympic games. Something’s not quite right with that picture, but then, so what else is new.

Most notably though, it’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day that requires all of us to pledge we’ll never forget. Unfortunately, I can’t give credit to the speaker, but I did hear a wonderful message regarding today’s observance. He said, “We must not be bystanders. We must be upstanders.” And to that I can only say, Amen.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Prorogue? No thanks.

The mood at yesterday's gathering was clear: prorogue is not in the best interests of Canadians.

We gathered at what's become the traditional spot, north side of the Vancouver Art Gallery, and made our way through the downtown streets to Victory Square.
There were a few politicians in attendance, among them Adriane Carr and Hedy Fry (and it's worth clicking on the 30-second video posted at her site). But aside from this handful of NDP and Liberal MPs (and of course, the Green candidate), can you imagine? Not a single Conservative showed up. You'd think they'd have wanted the chance to enlighten us as to why they think proroguing is the right thing to do and not just the avoidance tactic it appears to be.

The mood of the day was positive, with lots of conversation among strangers. Even the police riding along on their bicycles were mellow and ready to chat. Funniest sign was the one that read "Canadians want perogies, not prorogues" with the best part being the fact she was handing out perogies to those who wanted a snack.

Now, if only the government could get the message that people do care about how we are governed -- and that we want our elected officials in Parliament to get back to work. If you feel like phoning Hunky Steve and reminding him that there's lots to do, his number is on the final photo on this post.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Travels of the Mind

I spent this afternoon leading a class of creative writing students. For me, that's not too out of the ordinary, though the students weren't the typical everyday ones. They were inmates at a nearby women's penitentiary.

One of the exercises we did meant imagining a place you'd like to visit. No credit card limits or lack of time -- or, as was pointed out, no restrictions on travel from having a criminal record.

We covered the globe, from Africa to Vienna, with Egypt and Mexico tossed in for balance.

It was a terrific stretch of the imagination and led everyone to employ all their senses in their writing -- hanging fruits, gritty sand underfoot, and even the sound of a bird calling coo-coo-roo.

A cheap way to travel, and one that may have even provided a brief escape for today's writers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gateway Project

Big plans are in store for a transportation mega-project, one that would link our southernmost port site to a major expansion of our highway system. Costs are projected in the billions. As with everything else, it's hard not to think they'll double before the end.

In reality, it would make more sense to develop port facilities at Prince Rupert. A rail system for cargo is well in place. Besides, Rupert is closer to Asia than Vancouver and that means lower fuel costs for transport ships.

It's all supposed to be part of a plan to alleviate traffic in Metro Vancouver. But, as the past seems to have shown, more roads tend to lead to more cars not fewer. One of the oddest parts of this project is its failure to consider where the new multi-lane highway will lead its army of commuters -- to a bottleneck intersection without room for expansion. When all those cars that zoomed over the bridge try to turn off at the Grandview exit, hmmm.

The ten-lane bridge that's part of this vision is planned as a toll bridge. It's used by many daily commuters -- ordinary folks who drive to their jobs, ones who currently lack a viable mode of public transit.

So, I can only ask again, Why isn't the new, improved Sea-to-Sky Highway from Vancouver to Whistler being tolled? Most people who use that road aren't daily commuters, but people heading north for recreation. Discretionary travel (especially when so many of the users are better off than your average Joe) seems a better justification for charging tolls.

Already, if you're driving on Highway 1, you can't ignore the torn-up medians -- bulldozed miles of what used to be mostly-green divider.

Where they've torn up all that centre section, why don't they install tracks and run public transit along that corridor? Chicago has a train that zips along between lanes of traffic. No doubt, other cities have found this a solution. Sure, there are 'future plans' for light rapid transit, but they're down the road, not part of any initial, necessary stage.

As with so many projects, environmental impact is a major issue. And with a project of this size, the magnitude of this impact is far-reaching. Sensitive river frontage will be affected; flooding and erosion would seem logical results, especially if climate change predictions are considered. But even more at risk is the currently protected Burns Bog, a sprawling peat bog. Campaigners are currently working to have it designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

For all of our provincial government’s talk about decreasing our carbon footprint, cutting off part of the bog (often called the ‘lungs of the Lower Mainland’) seems contradictory. Is increasing truck traffic really a goal we should pursue?

Saturday was a public meeting on the Gateway Project, which incidentally, has not yet been officially approved. And no, I didn't attend. I'm realizing I can't go to every protest or information meeting I'd like to be part of. Instead, my Dear Man and I did our own gateway project. A homely little gate, built with all recycled materials, that blends in as if it had always been there.

If only the bigger Gateway Project could do so little harm.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

What's wrong with Canada!

There's been a huge earthquake in Haiti, but Canada is still fiddling, trying to decide whether it should send DART, its emergency aid team.

This is the same thing that happened after the Boxing Day Tsunami.

You'd think they'd have figured out that the time to send help is immediately, not after dawdling and letting days go by.

Especially considering the fact that our Governor General, Michaelle Jean is Haitian, you'd think they'd have the DART guys on the first available plane. Oh, but I forgot, they'd have to be cleared by the ViewMasters at the airports. Besides, Parliament's on yet another prorogue holiday, so nothin's happenin' mon.


Monday, January 04, 2010

Looking ahead

Soothsayers have long used crystal balls, tea leaves, ashes in the firepit.

But even though Harry Potter saw the face of Sirius in the fireplace, looking into the fire (especially when it’s 'the log’ on tv) isn’t one of the many methods of divination that I found.

Predictions are generally based on leaps from what is to what might be. The flying car juxtaposes the idea of the plane onto the automobile. Very few predictions anticipate something completely new. None of my predictions claim to be very new or even original, just ones I see as trends I think will pan into something more than they are now.


I don’t believe that the gap between rich and poor can continue growing the way it has – at least not without dire consequences. When the average CEO makes 174 times the average worker’s wage, revolt seems bound to occur. Sure, CEO's have big responsibilities, but that much bigger? Lots of workers have big responsibilities, ones involving more than looking after financial dividends – bus drivers, teachers, electricians, caterers...


In a similar vein, I can’t believe society will continue to endorse the kinds of wages given to film stars and athletes. Does someone who loves the game of golf as much as Tiger Woods (or at least as much as he once did) deserve that much compensation to spend his time out on the links?


Back in his first book, Generation X, Douglas Coupland proposed ‘Use jets while you can.’ Travel is going to become much more difficult – both because of carbon footprint concerns and because of increasing security measures. A recent newspaper cartoon pictured travellers passing through the screening arch, wearing nothing but a puzzled expression. If that came about, I’d want to stay home (and the security workers would probably appreciate it if I did).


The most worrisome resource concern won’t be oil or other fossil fuel, but water, the basis of life on this planet. My first inkling of this came when I lived in South Australia, the driest state in the driest country in the world. That’s where I learned to wash my car on the lawn, permitting the water to do double duty. The latest Christmas letter from a friend there said things had improved, that there’d been a bit of rain, but that car-washing was still restricted to the bucket method. I suspect meters will be required and that the 15-minute shower will be viewed as obscene, that it'll be a sin to flush when it's only pee. Even now, in places such as Mexico City, regulations aren’t enough to ensure secure supplies. Rain barrels, grey water collection - these ideas are sensible and will soon be commonplace.


The population bulge known as Boomers is approaching old age, and Alzheimer’s sounds as though it could be the next unofficial pandemic. The solution? Aside from legalizing euthanasia (which will likely happen too, though I hope it will be regulated very clearly), one can only wish that medication might be discovered. Aside from that (and a more likely solution) I believe we'll see more elders living in co-operative settings – small groups in great big houses or clusters of cabins – where peers can help each other and share the services of caregivers who will cook and help look after them.

Group meetings with physicians and other health care providers will also become more common. This would allow patients with similar symptoms (think, for example, people with fibromyalgia or diabetes) to spend more time with a professional, rather than their specified 10.2 minutes (or whatever the allotment might be). Besides, questions would likely overlap, so everyone would benefit from hearing the response. Support groups might also result from such encounters. Again, I see co-operative efforts as part of the answer.

Local Economy:

The economy? British Columbia could be well served by legalizing marijuana. According to many sources, it’s already a huge factor in the provincial economy.

Wouldn’t it make sense to tax and control it (like alcohol)? In truth, I’m surprised this didn’t happen back in the days following the LeDain Commission Report. And think how that might boost our not-so-hot tourism industry. Can you say 'Vansterdam'?


When it comes to fashion, I'm pretty much out on my own limb. My preferred garb, depending on the temp, is sweats or shorts with a hoodie or sweater and T-shirt. If the unisex coverall comes along, I'll want to sign up.

Technology/Personal Devices:

Smaller, faster, less expensive, with more and features. But there's no surprise in that. What will be different is that I think we're going to see these devices being surgically implanted -- a palm pilot becoming literally, a device in the palm of your hand. Finger tip or wrist implants to replace credit and debit cards. Cash? Wasn't that the name of some guy who did duets with Bob Dylan?


On an optimistic note, we seem to be becoming more honest. Maybe it's thanks to the group-mind of sites like FaceBook that let us join groups expressing outrage over political actions/inactions. So maybe there really is hope for change.

Whatever happens, it'll come about despite, not because of predictions. Still, it's fun to think about what might happen. Want to toss a thought or two into the mix?

Friday, January 01, 2010

If we all believe...

Not very original, I suppose. Still, I can't think of a better goal to believe in at this time of new beginnings -- new year, new decade, new hopes.