What An End To The Year

December 31, 2010

The day after I got back from hospital, my computer hard drive decided it just couldn’t go on.  Without warning it turned turtle and scuttled away into oblivion.  VCV Computer on Commercial is probably the best repair shop in the city but even they have to take Christmas off!   So it is only today that I have the machine back with a brand new — and empty — hard drive.

I have spent much of this NYE re-establishing contact with the system.  Luckily all my truly important files — the books I am writing, my photographs and art work — are on an external drive;  but I have lost years and years of email history and my carefully constructed and indexed thousands of Firefox bookmarks.  Oh well; as the headline on this blog says “the most important post-modern expression is the ability to just start again.”

Firefox, Skype and my second monitor are all working well, and I have an old version of WORD that should see me through. Losing my apps means I have to track down online or otherwise free versions of Excel, Powerpoint and Photoshop.  Now, if I could just get contact with my web cam and the external drive, I’d be in great shape.

Many cultures believe it is good to start clean and renewed for the new year.  With what the hospital and the computer have done to me this past fortnight, I should be in great shape for 2011.  Happy New Year!


December 24, 2010

Teepee” (2008), acrylics on canvas, 16″ x 20″, in private collection.

Where Is Christmas?

December 24, 2010

One of the “pleasures” of being in St Paul’s Hospital over this past week was being on the 10th floor with one of the very best southward looking views over Vancouver. English Bay is laid out on the right and Burrard Bridge straight ahead. Almost without obstruction one can see a wide swathe of the West End and, across False Creek, all of Kitsilano and Point Grey all the way to the 37th Avenue ridge. A magnificent view.

However, looking out on the evening of December 22nd, across that immense section of Vancouver, you could not possibly tell it was Christmastime. Apart from one solitary balcony on a West End high rise, I could not see a single decoration or light or Christmas tree. I’m not upset by that — Christmas these days is nothing but commercial nonsense after all — but I sure was surprised at the absolute lack of signs.

Local TV stations seem to spend an inordinate amount of time showing off massive house decorations of dubious value, so I guess the decorating thing is alive and well in the suburbs. But not here in the big city.

Thanks For BC’s Great Health Care

December 23, 2010

For a guy with COPD like me, winter can be like crossing a frozen lake; most of the time it is perfectly OK, but sometimes thin ice in the shape of heavy cold can send you plunging into the depths.  So it was this last weekend as a cold developed into a chest infection and I was suddenly in serious trouble.

I spent the last four nights in St Paul’s Hospital — and I have the bruises and puncture wounds all over my hands and arms to prove it!

Now, I don’t tell you this to garner sympathy — although get well cards including suitable financial tokens would of course be welcomed.  No, I write this as an excuse to once again praise the extraordinarily fine medical system we have in Vancouver.

My wife called 911 at about 3:30am and within five minutes we had half a dozen eager and thoroughly professional responders in the house, along with enough equipment to support a man on the moon.  They did everything possible to make me comfortable, keep me and my wife calm, and deal with all the consequences of restricted breathing.  They were all magnificent.

With 30 minutes I was downtown in St Paul’s trauma unit and in the hands of an equally proficient and pleasant suite of emergency doctors, nurses and technicians.  Once again they did all they could to stabilize and improve my medical condition; and, like the EMS folks before them, answered every question clearly and immediately.  It is this interaction with patients on a human level — and which continued throughout my stay on the ward — that I really appreciate.  It is so widespread throughout the Vancouver hospital system that it must be an integral part of their training — and it is wonderful.

This emergency is the first I have suffered since 2004, but in the early years of the decade I was in and out of St Paul’s and VGH on an annual basis with pneumonia and other COPD-related complications.  On each occasion I got the same incredible treatment as I did this week.  I hear so many complaints about Canada’s and BC’s medical system that I just have to shake my head in disbelief about what people must expect.  I simply cannot believe that I am the randomly fortunate one.

I’ve said it before and I’ll happily keep saying it — the BC medical system as represented by our Emergency Services and our major hospitals in Vancouver is world class and I am proud to say it is ours.

Light At The End Of The Path

December 17, 2010

Light At The End Of The Path” in Sun Yat Sen Gardens, Vancouver

We Should All Be Wikileaks

December 14, 2010

No Time, No Time!

December 13, 2010

It seems to have been an age since I blogged here.

I have been gearing up the research schedule for my next book and I just don’t seem to get time or energy to post here so often. There is so much interesting stuff going on (BC politics, wikileaks etc) that I know I am missing the chance to have my say on important happenings, and I have to make a better effort.

However, having gotten back to it, I am reminded just how much I enjoy the research part of writing history books; every day I am surprised by new revelations, new insights.  I am also reminded how helpful and courteous the folks in the Special Collections Department of the main library are — it is a welcoming environment for researchers.

Back soon, I hope!


30 Years After

December 8, 2010

England’s Wonderful Victory

December 7, 2010

Since the decline of the glorious 1960s West Indies team, Australia has seemed to be the powerhouse of cricket. The Australians were the team every England captain needed to beat to be judged a success; and at least since the 1970s, the English team has always entered these contests as the underdogs.  Until 2010.

With a reasonable — if somewhat unsteady — record of success against good teams in the last couple of years, England traveled to Australia for this edition of the Ashes with their heads high and hopes even higher.  Several of the Australian players who had been the strength of their team for the last decade have retired recently, to be replaced by less tested youngsters.  The five game series is to be played on Australian pitches which gives them an advantage but, all in all, England began the series as favourites.

The first game in Brisbane ended in a high-scoring draw but it was generally agreed that England came out of it with the momentum.  This week in Adelaide that momentum swept Australia away.  It took almost the full five days — especially as rain threatened to save the Aussies — but eventually England prevailed by an innings and 71 runs — a huge margin.

Because England currently hold the Ashes a drawn series allows England to keep the trophy.  Therefore, Australia now need to win at least two of the final three games and, in their current state of disarray, that doesn’t see likely.  This could be a marvelous winter!


Gull No.2

December 7, 2010

Gull No.2” was lording it over a Steveston pier.

Deathly Hallows At The Rio

December 6, 2010

We went to the movies yesterday afternoon, to see the latest Harry Potter film.  I am not a big Potter fan; I’ve seen a few of the films and read none of the books.  But the Boss has read them all and seen every one of the movies. She loved it, thought it was just great.  It certainly was well made, but I would have had no idea of the plot without having at least seen the first couple of films. As it was a lot of the background story passed me by.  Still, it was good to be out together.

We went to the Rio at Commercial and Broadway.  The last time we were there was ten years ago when we went to see a documentary about the D’Arcy Island Leper Colony, and the seating was fold-up chairs.  Now, I am happy to report, the Rio has wonderfully comfortable seats, perfectly good for a nap if your mind wanders.

I was also very impressed by the efforts they have made to get local small business to advertize between shows.  The Van East Cinema could learn some useful lessons from them.

Reason #200 For Not Using Facebook

December 6, 2010

One in five divorces now include Facebook as a component of the breakdown, according to a new survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers:

“It used to be the tell-tale lipstick on the collar. Then there were the give-away texts that spelled the death knell for many marriages. But now one in five divorces involve the social networking site Facebook … A staggering 80 per cent of divorce lawyers have also reported a spike in the number of cases that use social media for evidence of cheating …

‘Desperate Housewives’ star Eva Longoria recently split from her basketball player husband Tony Parker after alleging that he strayed with a woman he kept in touch with on Facebook. An American minister also made the headlines recently when he called Facebook a ‘portal to infidelity’ and insisted that his congregation delete their accounts after revealing that 20 couples attending his New Jersey church had been led astray through the site.”

To speed the process, perhaps Facebook could institute a new status:  zipper up or down.


[earlier reasons here]

Obama’s Brave New World

December 5, 2010

I am one of those who believe that the various Wikileaks document dumps of the past year or so are pivotal historic events.  They are key events by the very nature of the leaks and publication themselves made doubly important by the content of the documents.  Of equal importance is the reaction of the key players within the American empire — and that reaction has been disturbingly authoritarian.

I don’t just mean the very public calls for the execution of Julian Assange, and the political arguments being established for unilateral action by the US in some other nation to seize Assange and his team.

I also don’t just mean the un-American anti-freedom activities of Amazon and Paypal acting as surrogates for Joe Lieberman and Homeboy Security.

But I also mean the insidious Big Brother nature of the State Department telling students that to read any coverage of the leaked cables threatens their future employment with the US Government. And I mean the Brave New World news-speak of the Defense Department telling all their millions of employees and contractors that to read anything about the leaked material — even coverage in mainstream media — opens them to the threat of severe disciplinary action.

I know this is the futile kicking of a dying empire, but that doesn’t make their claws any less dangerous today.


Red Tulips No. 1

December 4, 2010

Red Tulips No.1” — one of a series.

Judgment Day — Bookings Being Taken

December 3, 2010

You will be relieved to know, I am sure, that while surfing the web today I discovered the date that Jesus is coming to judge us all.

Judgment Day is May 21, 2011.

Don’t go making vacation plans for after that date. Time will have come to an end and you will never get your deposit back.

How can I be so sure of the date? Easy — these folks on the Internet (so you know it must be true) told me. They are so certain about it they are renting billboards to let us all know.

Don’t say you weren’t warned!

Happy Birthday Neon!

December 3, 2010

Vancouver was for a long time known for the quality and quantity of the neon signs that decorated buildings throughout the city (see this Vancouver Sun story, for example.)  When I first arrived in 1979, there were still considerable amounts of neon downtown and eastside.  But they are few and far between now, and those that survive are treasured.

It seems suitable therefore that we should celebrate the 100th birthday of the neon sign today.

The birth is generally agreed to be the display of two 12 metres (39 ft) long bright red neon tubes at the Paris Motor Show on 3rd December 1910 by George Claude’s Air Liquide company.  This was an air liquefaction company that produced the first industrial quantities of neon gas as a by-product of their process.  Two of Claude’s patents are still integral to the production of neon signs.  Neon arrived in the United States only in 1923 when an auto dealer in Los Angeles spent $2,500 for two “Packard” signs.  But it quickly took off, becoming a mainstay of street decoration on Main Streets across the continent.

By the 1980s, perhaps even the 1970s, the plethora of neon signs in some cities began to be seen as trashy, and their popularity quickly faded.  Some businesses — beer sellers, for example — continue to use a lot of neon, and neon in moderation is coming back into fashion — or maybe that’s just wishful thinking.

Happy 100th birthday neon!

Remembering Bhopal

December 2, 2010

On the night of 2/3 December 1984 the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, released toxic gasses that led to the worst industrial accident in human history.  Estimates of deaths caused by the gas are between 12,000 and 15,000.  In addition, the Government of India claims that there were more than 500,000 injuries directly related to the incident.

In June 2010, seven ex-employees, including the former company chairman, were convicted in Bhopal of causing death by negligence and sentenced to two years imprisonment and a fine of about $2,000 each, the maximum punishment allowed by law.  The sentences are, of course, now under appeal.  More cases are still “pending” in US courts 26 years after the event.

In 1989, a settlement was reached under which the company agreed to pay US$470 million (the insurance sum, plus interest) in a full and final settlement of its civil and criminal liability. In other words, this immense human tragedy cost the company nothing.

Capitalism at its best.