Thursday, December 29, 2005

Blood on Yonge or, Whose Life Matters Anyway?

It is not all that surprising that in our milquetoast fair dominion the ugly and deadly Boxing Day gunplay in Toronto would prompt such a feckless reaction as Paul Martin’s. One might have hoped, what with his overdue promises about handgun control – promises made only when, for the first time in 17 months, he lacked the power to act upon them – in responding to the tragedy, Martin would have zeroed in on wiping up and out Toronto’s endemic street scum.

Instead what does he say? "I think more than anything else they (the shootings) demonstrate what are, in fact, the consequences of exclusion.” If only those otherwise sweet lads brandishing the Remingtons and Colts felt that the rest of us really loved them, they'd turn in their guns for frisbees, right?

Martin blubbered this out, of course, without knowing diddley about the identity and backgrounds of the perpetrators, how included or excluded this subhuman trash actually were or felt they were from Canadian society. Toronto already teems with publicly and privately funded programs on youth unemployment, the alienation and unemployment experienced by recent immigrants and their families, and a myriad of broader multi-culturalism and youth initiatives. But all Martin knows is (quoting the Globe and Mail), “... how young people in the city's violence-plagued Jane-Finch neighbourhood spoke to him about their sense of hopelessness and isolation." That cinches it, causally speaking, doesn't it? As if youth alienation isn’t ubiquitous in neighbourhoods and communities throughout Canada, the vast majority of which do not host and suffer violent gangbangers.

In this, Martin - never accused of having an original thought on his mind or lips - blindly spewed out the bilge that overflowed when those worthless hooligans terrorized Paris for three weeks earlier this fall. Punks who wanted nothing more than the fun of what Olivier Roy called playing “cowboy and Indians” with the cops, were elevated there too, to figures of existential Fanon-esque angst and disadvantage.

All this is nothing more than the widespread soft-focus and soft-headed sociology whereby criminals are implicitly and – in egregious instances as with Martin’s apologia for the Boxing Day bloodshed – even explicitly excused for their offenses.

The youth we should be caring about and protecting by coming down like a sledgehammer on young hoodlums, are ones like the late Jane Creba. If we want to talk about the system failing anyone, surely it is a 15-year old who, unlike her killers, was making something of her life, a life snuffed out by superfluous social rubbish on Yonge Street.

Consequences, friends, dire consequences – that is what the beast must have to curtail its vilest behaviours. The youth gangs of Toronto need not inclusivity, empathy and the like but to feel ultimate mortal terror of harsh consequences, something their lousy parents could never instill in them as they grew into the kind of twisted little fucks who'd run around shooting guns on a busy downtown street.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Lequesne-McKay Centre

A recent correspondent to Prince George's journal of record, made a provocative and excellent suggestion which, alas, has been summarily disregarded by Mayor and Council. It was that the ill-conceived agreement that renamed the city's Multiplex after Canadian National be rescinded in recognition of (a) the fact that the most of our citizens were vehemently against the original BC Rail sale boondoggle; (b) that CN doesn't seem to be able to keep its trains on the tracks and (c) that the corporation has shown an utterly irresponsible and reprehensible disposition towards the widows of its dead employees, killed because of CN's negligence. Mayor Kingsley and CN boss McLean were seen grinning like Cheshires last April when news of our municipal prostitution the CN John was first bally-hooed.

All over Canada, cities are sucking up to corporations who, generally for a pitifully small investment, can have their names plastered all over facilities that have been predominantly paid for by us taxpayers. I was recently in Victoria and in looking about for a grocery store, thought I had come upon a "Save-On" only to realize that that company has so prominently splashed its logo on the new memorial
centre that it looks like just another of Jimmy Pattison's stale food emporia.

What is PG getting? A whopping $1.3 million over 15 years! I mean, there are undoubtedly middling call girls in Vancouver, perhaps even Prince George, who make that for puckering it up for big shots with fat wallets.

How much more pride we could take in our facility -- and our city -- if, as the unheeded Citizen correspondent suggested, the facility were renamed after Art McKay and Ken Lequesne who died when the collapse of one CN's poorly maintained railroad bridges near McBride, BC, sent their freight train tumbling into a ravine

CBC - All Quiet on the Klander Front

Has anybody noticed the unnoticeable? Seems that Mike Klander, the Executive Vice President of the Ontario Liberals may have imbibed a bit more than his limit of Christmas cheer and committed the unspeakable crime of blogging on about what he saw as similarities between Jack Layton's candidate wife, Olivia Chow and the eponymous dog breed. As a result, the guilty party has been defrocked, forced to resign his post, no doubt to the great if belated amusement and satisfaction of Sheila Copps whose failure to win re-nomination in Hamilton in 2004 had much to do with the machinations of public relations guru Klander. (Update Flash: Sheila has now stepped out of the shadows to comment on how Klander's utterances are entirely consistent with the demeanour of Martin's locker-room's banter.)

Well, perhaps the crime and its consequence are just too shocking for the Canadian public to deal with or maybe the story just got washed away by CBC's obsessive memorializing about last year's Asian tsunami, but nary a breath of this sordid tale of candidate or canine defamation has made the cut in the CBC radio broadcasts I have heard. I would have thought that this was right up there with the beer and popcorn faux pas as evidence of just what kind of handlers our PM and his party surround themselves with!


The CBC has something to learn from the Libs on fast and timely media management, for already this morning, in a visit to the website wherein the Liberal Party of Ontario's executive is profiled, one looks in vain for the smiling face or name of one Mike Klander.

Klander in Happier Times

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Picking Your Own

The New York Times "Public Editor" column - an avenue for the recently much besieged world journal of record to confront the concerns of its increasingly disaffected readership - today is about the recent annual selection of the year's 100 "most notable" books. Each December, I carefully study that list and inevitably, despite reading the NYT Book review most every week, profit by encountering works hitherto unseen. Last week's much-awaited list however left me with a queasy feeling, for, it turned out that the recent literary endeavours of authors who double as Times' columnists was somewhat generously represented in the list. The fact that these well circulated "best lists" have an indubitable marketing benefit, adds to the disquiet.

I cannot really take credit for the Public Editor having chosen to single out and address this concern today, especially since I only muttered to myself and promptly forgot about it. But others apparently did more and so Mr. Calame, the purported "reader's representative" disgorged several hundred impeccable bons mots in response. This piece actually strayed from the specifics of "100-best" cronyism into an insightful, more general essay on how reviewers are chosen for book reviews. Interesting as this was, it is a matter somewhat distinct from the precipitating problem of, it turns out, annointing no fewer than six Timespeople to the century of the chosen for 2005.

Towards the end of his column, Mr. Calame did swing back to the procedure for the year-end 100-best, one that I find a bit less than satisfying:

"The selection starts with about 400 reviewed books that had jumped quickly to the paper's best seller list or been cited as an Editor's choice during the year..." Selling like hotcakes does not really seem a very satisying criterion of notability while the second seems to say nothing more than a Popeye-like we choose what we choose because we chose it.

Ubiquitously, less noble and less high-minded institutions grapple all the time with what is clearly and merely conflict of interest. In so doing, the twin-barrelled test is almost inevitably whether a choice is a conflict of interest, but also if it looks like one. If the New York Times wants to lift itself from the mire of recent reputation-tarnishings (the Judith Miller affair and the more general gullibility about Iraq's WMD) not to mention, be once again above the throng of lesser journals, it should deal with this no-brainer by automatic, no ifs, ands or buts, disqualifying its own "family members" from ineluctably subjective and potentially self-enriching in-house evaluations.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I don't know precisely where I was when, exactly a quarter century ago today, the news of John Lennon's death outside the Dakota on Central Park reached me. So,no, it wasn't as big as the Kennedy assassination nor 9/11 in that sense of burning a indelible brand of one moment onto my memory. But it did leave me and lot of others who grew up with the Beatles - which I guess is the notorious boomer generation - feeling utterly empty, utterly and unwillingly grown-up.

At that very moment, our youth and the long lingering twilight of the 1960s was done for. One of the three or four icons of that passing era joined history. Instantly, I (and no doubt many others) put away, at least for a respectable mourning period, our grudges towards Lennon and his (we always thought) ill-chosen life-mate. We had to accept as never before that the dream of seeing those four mop-top boys on stage together again was even more impossible than post-Yoko. The demise of the Beatles had traumatized an entire generation unused to permanent separation (in the way that our own children have acclimatized to the absurd prevalent divorce rate). Lennon's death sealed that split and we all were thrown into the hopper of the never-ceasing mills of passing time, forced to watch other bands, some pretty good, supersede our heroes. These new musical giants, like U2, the Police and Supertramp were mostly younger than us - damn it! - and we now found ourselves defending the Beatles' superiority to much younger friends and offspring, much as our own parents reacted to the fab four's "greater-than-Jesus" popularity, by muttering about how we shoulda' seen Bing Crosby or Frank Sinatra in their primes.

A few preposterous moments outside the Dakota 25 years today uncomfortably reminded us of what was already long gone. So here's to the memory of John - and, ultimately, to the memory of the rest of us for whom his death spelled belated childhood's end.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

TREVISO - End of a Short, Sweet Life

For the apparently all too few patrons of that brief flaring star of Prince George cafes,Treviso, any joys of this Yuletide not already dampened by the shenanigans of Mssrs. Martin, Layton, Harper and Duceppe, have been severely reduced by its recent closing. Apparently named for an Italian city about PG's size, Treviso unabashedly called itself, "...where Prince George meets the world." Alas, not often enough.

More than any other cafe in BC's Northern Capital, Treviso dripped ambience. Red couches arranged in little alcoves, separated by sheer curtains; avant-garde art adorning the loft-like space; even TV in the john; super sophisticated mags for your idling pleasure; Friday and Saturday night light jazz piano; fine coffee, an electic snacky kind of menu ranging from homemade wonton soup to baguette sandwiches, and - drum roll please - simply the best damn milkshakes this side of heaven. But now, like snow upon the desert's dusty face, gone, lighting a little hour or two, it's gone.

The hens-teeth scarce customers who frequented Treviso while broken-hearted, cannot be surprised at this passing. There were probably a dozen alcoves that could have seated 4 or 5 friends each and yet I never saw more than a handful of folks partaking in the whole echoing chamber. What would have been an otherwise comfy atmosphere was quite dimished by this client deficit and the sense of foreboding it created.

Like the old mostly overly simplistic adage goes, Treviso's problem was "location, location, location." The far from anything else mini-mall Treviso was in has other vacancies as well as several tenants whose customers would come and find them no matter where they were situated - All Mobile Veterinary Clinic, Ospika Pets and Papyrus printing and copying. But none of these generate the flow of walk-by traffic that Treviso desperately needed.

I never even knew the owner-operator's name but I want to thank him for his pluck, his panache and milkshakes that made a bigger person out of me.

Bologna in Kelowna

The thin altitude gathering of Canadian political and Aboriginal elites in Kelowna, B.C. last week left me uncharacteristically speechless for several days. I have recovered. I have found voice.

Together in the sumptuous Grand Okanagan, “nestled on the crystal waters” of the eponymous lake, were the usual high-rolling suspects - hotel Indians, mealy-mouthed politicians and assorted wannabees, has-beens and never-wases who have buzzed around “the Indian Problem” like shitflies these many years.

From all the bally-hoo one could naively take this to be an historic moment, a new and guiding light in a world hitherto under the "long and terrible shadow". Canada’s arguably premier cross-country Native organization, the Assembly of First Nations must be getting tender hands from all its recent clapping having first loudly “applauded” Martin’s residential school initiative and now, putting their hands together vigourously for the "historic meeting" in Kelowna.

Yet there was something very retro in the air, redolent of the old White Paper advanced by the Liberals per heap big Indian agent of the day, Johnny Chretien, back in 1969.The basic premise then as now is throw what looks like a lot of money at First Nations
and they’ll steadily transmogrify into little simulacra of the Anglo mainstream. Despite the loud noises about “healing”, this is a classic instance of choosing symptomatic relief over confronting systemic causes.

As always there were lots of aspiring beneficiaries noisily lining up for the pecuniary slop about to be poured into the acculturative trough. Indeed, media coverage of the odd dissenting Aboriginal voice turned up only little piggies who just didn’t shoulder themselves into the first row fast enough and were thus squealing predictably.

But where were the champions to decry the blatant make-shift band-aid measures that equate Aboriginal grievance with the under-servicing of any poor people and communities? Where are the heroes of Kahnasetake, Ipperwash, Gustafson Lake and Lubicon and the myriad thoughtful advocates whose penetrating diagnoses rang throughout the multi-year Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples? Where, in a single word, was the issue of land – and its theft with all the social debilitations that flow there from?

The highly manicured output from Kelowna, titled “Strengthening Relationships and Closing the Gap” asserted in opening paragraphs that immediate action was needed in “four important areas” – health, education, housing and relationships. The first three are political gimmes –sectors that uncontroversially lead the wish-list of Canadian public expenditure whether from Kitsilano or Kashechewan. Thus did the final communiqué announce a dole-out of a bit more money for First Nations in those areas although not a heckuva lot (see “Kelowna Math 101” below). Notwithstanding, agreement on health was not reached which, to my suspicious mind, looked like a pre-orchestrated agreement-not-to-agree on at least one item, lest the attending Native big-shots looked too much like Martin yes-men, lest the whole farce be seen for the concocted non-event it was.

And of relationships, that buzz word that got first billing in the title? Well, if you were expecting some mechanism that offered profound inter-cultural dialogue and healing … get serious! The First Nations' top-dogs came away with an invite to an annual pow-wow (like there haven’t been enough of these before, eh?), this time called the “First Nations Multilateral Forum”. This means that once a year the same high fallutin’ drones from the small but powerful Native ruling class will get to do it up brown, roast goose and all the trimmings, just like Kelowna all over again. That should really heal the relationship as called for in the Royal Commission.

What is really needed on the front lines is not warm-and-fuzzies betwixt the likes of Martin, Campbell, Fontaine etc., but direct and sustained dialogue between you, me and the folks living out of sight on countless reserves and in the Aboriginal urban cores where fear among and of the Native community abounds. There are serious models and approaches potentially useful for dialogue-based cross-cultural healing. But don’t hold your breath for such initiatives to arise from gourmet shindigs like the one at the Grand Okanagan.

* * * * * *
Kelowna Math 101

The commitment by a Government that had one weekend left until its mandate was inevitably squashed by a forthcoming no-confidence motion, was for 5 years, $5.1 billion. Easy math here, that’s about $1.02 B’s per annum. There are 1.3 million beneficiaries (2001 census of Canadians of Aboriginal ancestry), so there’s a whopping $3,923.08 increment of, no doubt, carefully spent and heavily administered poverty alleviation for every Aboriginal man, woman and child, every blessed year. And just by way of context, the budget for Canada’s Internal Colonial Administration (sometimes known as Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) was $5.8 billion for fiscal year 2004-5 and had actually been slated to decrease by $233 million this fiscal year.

Thursday, November 24, 2005

Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word

Yesterday, one - and I must stress just one - of the major sources of grievance for Canada's indigenous peoples was addressed through the agreement in principle on residential schools. Indeed, it was quite a day for redress of all sorts (with the keyword being Indian albeit different usages thereof ) The Honourable Ann McLellan had also reached lightning conclusion to accept Bob Rae's Air Indian ruminations and hastily name him to fill the post of commissioner of inquiry, Bob had suggested (see for comment and links the immediately preceding entry below). But the busy Min also found time to announce Justice Frank Iacobucci's hard won deal for at-long-last compensation for Natives who'd been in the residential school system.

It would be much worse than a grouse to in any way detract from the legitimacy of this belated redress notwithstanding the ambient odour of the imminent federal election. This has been a long time coming. The residential school system, along with smallpox and the various laws that long existed to consign Canada's Original Peoples to the bottom of the social heap, left a tragic legacy in native communities, one that has echoed forward into the lives of today's youth in ways that many of them -like the rest of us - can hardly fathom. (Click here for the chapter on Residential Schools in the 1996 Final Report of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples)

What I do want to draw attention to first, however, was the concurrent refusal of the Minister to include an apology as part of the announcement. It's understandable if unattractive that while compensation negotiations are unfolding, a guilty party is hesitant to say its sorry for what it did. But are we not well past that now? Could our government not show a little more class and remorse than just to mutter about regrets as if our First Nations were victims of some externally caused natural disaster rather than the targets of brutal acculturative policy?

The level of compensation is also less than impressive at least if you cast your mind back to settlements with other aggrieved parties such as...the Right Honourable Brian Mulroney who received a tidy $2 million -- and a formal apology - after suffering the indignities of the Airbus affair. Now, I am not one of the many Mulroney-bashers and did not begrudge that settlement. But I can't help but compare the level of suffering, such as it was, that the former P.M. endured to the miserable lifetimes, indeed inter-generational traumas, foisted upon Canada's native population. It has been claimed with justification that no aboriginal person alive today has been unaffected by the residential school system. So, just for a lark, take Mulroney's settlement and multiply that times the roughly estimated numbers of Canadian Natives (about 1.2 million). The resulting national bill if we were to admit that their hardships were no less than Brian's? 2.4 trillion - more than a thousand times higher than the package now being so heartily endorsed across Canada,

That should put in perspective the cost of a simple but wide and thorough "sorry".

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Justice At Any Price?

There is a common and profitable fiction perpetuated by lawyers that there must be "justice for all" and damn the costs. Members of the legal profession (and countless average joes who got screwed by the courts because they couldn't afford high priced help) know this is pure guff but the legal fraternity is better than anybody but the pols at serving up self-serving junk phrases.

Here in British Columbia we have or have recently had two of the most costly prosecutions (and correspondingly dear defenses) seen anywhere in Canada. One is the ongoing case of Robert Pickton the disintegrata of whose alleged victims is being painstakingly recovered so that we can be sure that the accused is hit with many dozens of murder charges. It could be asked whether the same funding applied to the policing and policy change needed to prevent future murders of prostitutes might be better spent. But, no, justice, you see, must be served. Pickton needs 40 not 20 life sentences. That will make the families of missing women feel so much better.

Even more lavish expenditure was pissed away on the botched investigation and trial of the Air India bombers. Today, B.C.'s head justice honcho Wally Oppal spilled
the beans on what that fiasco cost: $57.8 million, 30M of which Victoria will pay for, with Ottawa springing for the rest. That included the extraordinary expense of building an entire court facility so that Mssrs. Malik and Singh would be safe, much safer than you or I dear friend whenever we sally forth into the not-so-friendly skies.

And, hold on to your wallet, that doesn't even include what was anted up for the two killers' defense costs. Well, at least that wasn’t frittered away ‘cause the bastards walked.

Fork over millions to mount the best possible legal defense to get such monsters off? What the heck is that about, you ask? That brings us straight back to the "justice must be served at any cost" rationale. The Honourable Mr. Oppal has his solemn lecture in civics and fairness at hand to hastily explain how it was only right to spend big. After all, the bigger the crime, the bigger the dime.

Imagine the inequity if if we had skimped a little on that defense and the Bombsy Twins went to jail! What kind of a country would let that happen? Besides, Wally continued, all due vigour and diligence will be used in to recover about $16 million of that from the defendants.

That's a comfort. When Wally and his staff match wits with two chaps that dirty who still got away with the biggest murder in Canada's history, who ya gonna like?

Oh, but comfort and relief are now on the way: That Most Eminent Person, Smiling Bob Rae, having had his own lengthy slurp at the public trough to chum up to the victims' families, wringing his hands and saying how simply awful it must have been, today is reporting back that -- goodness gracious -- the murdered and their survivors didn't get much of a fair shake in all of this.

Rocket science, that. Mind you, according to Bob, we still don't need a real get-to-the bottom-of-it no-holds-barred inquiry, but rather a "streamlined" version, that will pin blame on no one, but ask, “how might we do better?” You know, when Malik, Singh or the like-minded free-ranging terrorists in our midst get the gelignite together for another "go". Oh, and another thing according to Bob: only one solitary commissioner is needed to do all this. Second opinions can get so messy.

The tit-for-tat for concluding on such a vapid no-fault approach to shut off real investigation of the high level mishandling of this blatant mass murder case was this: Faster than you can say "Bob's your uncle", federal Justice Minister McLellan was blabbering on about how Rae is the only possible guy for the very job he has proposed. Nice work if you can get it.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

42 Years Ago Today

In memory of a flawed, great man from a sadly brief era when being U.S. President meant chutzpah.

Vancouver - Some Olympic City That!

Those of my readership who know my not so small prejudices shall be unsurprised by my saying that I have very little use for the city of Vancouver or for the economic sink-hole otherwise known as the 2010 Olympics. Thus, it raised my always wry eyebrows and tickles my always chagrined grin to hear on CBC this morning (Tuesday, Nov 22) that disgruntled Lions football fans are avidly peddling their Grey Cup seats just because the Leos came up short against Edmonton in Sunday’s semi-final.

And this parochial, bloated backwater is going to play host to the world’s premier sporting spectacle!

Time was that that it mattered not a whit to local demand for seats if the home team happened to make it to the Grey Cup. Good thing too, because at least during the heyday of the 1950s and on to 1967, the site alternated just between the old CNE Stadium in Hogtown and Empire Stadium in Vancouver without either city making it once to the fall classic. Indeed, between 1952 when Toronto won in Toronto and 1972 when the Ticats triumphed in a rare Hamilton-based Grey Cup, no home town team ever made it all the way. Impact on ticket sales and local attendance? Zero.
The event was an institution not much short of Christmas and probably equal to or exceeding every other special occasion in this country.

Against this background, today’s Lotus-land whiners show just how classy Vancouver isn’t as a venue for top flight sports events. What are they going to do come 2010 if local boys and girls aren’t well represented at the Winter Olympics?

Of course, the real laugh is that this fair-weather fealty to the home team is directed to a bunch of not-quite-good-enough-for-the-NFLers who, by and large aren’t from Vancouver, B.C. or even Canada. Today, the Grey Cup is little more than a chance to cheer the best second stringers from Chattanooga Collegiate on against the undrafted heroes from Sam Houston State College. And I’ll bet ya' an unsold ticket (they come cheap in Vancouver) that most of the fallen heroes have scooted on back to Des Moines or Lubbock from where next Sunday they will most definitely not be watching what used to be Canada’s premier sports event.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Gutsy and Goldy

Botanicidal Coincidence? You Tell Me.

Sufferin'juxtapositions! This week brought into the limelight amazingly parallel stories of sacred vegetation, their demise and their virtual and even literal rebirth. One was somewhat indirect and a bit of warmed over news - with young John Vaillant of Vancouver walking off with the Governor General's 2005 literary award in non-fiction literature for his gripping account of one big tree's felling on the Queen Charlottes aka Haida Gwaii.

This was the Golden Spruce, the great mythic symbol that appears to have made its rather belated debut in Haida cosmogony roughly concurrent with its decapitation by a wacked-out Queen Charlottes resident (if that is not an unforgivable redundancy). That most peculiar event brought forth - and few groups can do it like the Haida can - a great cultural gnashing and outpouring, quickly creating yet another potent symbol of the white man's insensitivity to the ethnological patrimony of indigenous peoples. That of course was a more intriguing and marketable narrative than the banal reality that, before its razing, the golden spruce seemed a lot more significant for the tourism sloganeering for a logging-dependent non-Native village than as an icon in the pantheon of local indigenous tradition.

Well, lest Vaillant is now running on empty for topics of comparable ethnobotanical import, he need no longer worry: for another horrendous act of vegi-cide has sprouted up far across the vast Pacific from the Misty Isles. Recently the town of Aioi, in the Japanese prefecture of Hyogo, watched admiringly as a massive daikon (white radish) indomitably thrust itself through untold layers of pavement into the sunshine and, likewise, into the hearts of locals who dubbed it (one presumes in some dialect of thereabouts), "Gutsy". Like the golden spruce, albeit at a scale in all ways of shorter stature, Gutsy quickly became the subject of local folklore, even idolatry. Defying the oppressive overlayers of that abominable foreign devil, road asphalt, it rose, a veritable phallus puncturing the alien substance! But then - O day of infamy! - last Thursday, an unseen maniacal phyto-assassin, working in the dead of night, just as on the Charlottes, hacked the top off Gutsy leaving his severed remains hither and yon. And as with the felling of the spruce so far away, outbursts of horror and tears were then globally reported.

Can all this be just coincidence?

As you may or may not remember the perpetrator back in the Charlottes, one Grant Hadwin, vanished shortly after the crime, whilst kayaking across Hecate Strait towards his arraignment. Lost at sea? Well you might have thought, but if our literary Holmes, Mr. Valliant can use his acumen and some of that prize money to patiently stake out at Aioi, the bigger truth that is out there may, at last, spring forth like the offspring of Gutsy and Goldy themselves that now are being nurtured through the skills of culturally competent botanists.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

On Not Winning a CBC Contest

I don't suppose my wide readership was holding its collective sweet breath as CBC's North by Northwest ran through a few entries and announced the winner of a trip and weekend for two to Victoria yesterday morning (Sunday, Nov 13).

I was. I worked my figuratively wide butt off responding to Sheryl McKay's siren call for stories about "homecoming." Quite a long time ago, I'd written an elegy to Prince Edward Island and especially to the two homesteads there that, as a child, I visited long and happily - one uncle and aunt's farm and another uncle and aunt's tourist cabins. So I kind of cannibalized that ode and pumped out the latest contest entry of an unreformed contest addict. And, to be clear, doubters, I wasn't just sucking up to Sheryl who just happens to be from PEI.

One kind of contest I don't enter much however is a "draw" from a hat. I'd far rather depend on my middling talents than on lady luck. So I was not amused this morning when, after all the entries were in, Sheryl cheerily announced that she was now going to pull the lucky winner out of the proverbial hat. Thus today a grouse which is certainly not on the scale of Chretien's follies nor, most certainly, the ubiquity of cinnamon in apple pastries ...that CBC clarify the rules a little more explicitly before we unseen, unwashed, highly talented but never-that-lucky bards are lured from our garrets by promise of our justly deserved 15 seconds of fame.

Naturally you are dying to see what I fashioned and sent and so without further introduction...

___________The Road Home_____________

Watch carefully for it as you come off the Confederation Bridge at Borden, P.E.I. Just past the truck scale – there on the left! - you’ll see a general store and, along side it, a rundown and abandoned garage. Humped against that paint-peeled building is a sloppily pushed up mound of red earth and dry weeds. Once, it was a lawn with swings for tourist kids, close trimmed as a putting green.

Stop your car; get out and walk about. You have arrived at the Borden Inn and Cabins.

In the 50s a dozen or so brightly-painted cottages formed a gentle arc around that garage and what was then its restaurant, now that general store. Above the garage was an apartment, crafted just after the war with love and care by my uncle and his friends. That’s where he, his wife and my maiden aunt lived until 1962, running a gas station and the cabins. That’s where my siblings and I spent weeks, even whole summers a half century ago.

Small children remember the oddest details - what I recall best was the gravelly sound of sliding cupboard doors in the little kitchen. Inside that cupboard was an oversize mug reserved just for me: a Johnson Brothers china pattern called “The Road Home”

Not so long ago, unwisely ignoring Thomas Wolfe’s counsel about going home again, I got the present owner of that property to let me in for a look-about. I climbed those stairs that wound up to the suite above the garage. Well, it was sadly obvious that a sequence of ever less prosperous tenants had done the place in. The once-lustrous hardwood floors were now covered with a cheap and quickly tattered oilcloth. The walls hadn’t seen new paint in the countless generations of the beetles and woodlice now scurrying about. It seemed vacant in every sense of the word.

That cupboard was still there and like an infirm, aged friend, fallen on hard times, croaked out a weak but recognizable facsimile of its old gravelly song as I slid the door open. Then, I closed my eyes and could hear again the footfalls of my uncle coming up from the garage for his afternoon break. He carries some sweets, a thank-you left by one of those tourist families checking out of the Borden Inn and Cabins. “Time for tea” he says. Instinctively, I reach into the emptiness of that cupboard, looking for The Road Home that is no longer there.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Those Ole' Cameron Street Bridge Blues

(For the many hundreds of avid Grouseophiles who have not the privilege of a Prince George domicile - a quick intro to what I'm raving about: Prince George stands or sits or lies at the confluence of the mighty Fraser and the reasonably mighty Nechako. Downtown and the bulk of the city is south of the Nechako but Urban, suburban and rurban development grows steadily on the north side. Not insignificantly, the north side also is home to a pack of major industrial facilities - several pulp mills and refineries operated by the likes of CANFOR and Husky Oil. Until last month, residential and industrial traffic had three choices in crossing the Nechako - from upriver down, the quite new and modern Foothills and John Hart Bridges and the old Cameron Street Bridge. The latter has had a series of maintenance shutdowns for quite some time but in early October the city announced an indefinite closure as a result, t'was said, of some "rot" discovered during an inspection)


Prince George, like all B.C. municipalities is abuzz about upcoming municipal elections. The fate of a 75-year old one lane bridge is a surprisingly center-stage
issue. When the local broad-sheet, the almost equally venerable Citizen, interviewed the candidates on the leading issues, a set question that shall allow the electorate to choose wisely concerned the position of each would-be bearer of the local democratic torch, concerned the Cameron Street crossing. And, a credit to local
politics (and a distinction largely with federal same) was that positions dotted the virtual landscape – some would demolish this little piece of transportation nostalgia and rebuild. Others who still favour a serviceable third Nechako River crossing, were for another location and rededication of the old bridge to softer purposes, socially admirable ones like biking and hiking. And there were some whose principal concern was that whatever be done not become a new cesspool into which municipal money would be interminably poured.

Into the foreboding mists of this issue, a bright light of hope and charitableness has now shone. Canfor, one of the companies that spew jobs and smoke into the Prince George environment and whose monster trucks, until recently, rumbled many times a day across the ancient bridge, has announced that it is not going to sue for compensation from our city government for the hardship of having to use a longer route. Well let’s see if we can find a public site that still hasn’t been named for some corporate wrongdoer and call it after Canfor! A cynic might assume, however, that the brass at the forestry giant has already asked for and received from its legal cadre, a less than encouraging assessment of the prospects for such getting such compensation.

Throughout B.C. and Canada there are many little rickety old bridges from which today’s massive tractor trailers trucks are permanently proscribed. It shocked me right from my first acquaintance with the Cameron Bridge that such a steady flow of very heavy vehicles was permitted. Closures have been frequent in my three years here and I have always assumed that this has at least something to do with the inappropriate passage of that industrial traffic. The option that should be seriously looked into, to my mind, is repairing the crossing for non-industrial cars and up to, say, 5 ton trucks and let the big guys “go ‘round”. Of course, the cries from the PG Mill Road would be long and raucous with inflated estimates of what it cost to tack on the extra miles and driver time. But this city already provides an extraordinary subsidy to the mills and refineries – our atmosphere as a free dumping ground for noxious and nauseating gases and particulates. Isn’t that enough without allowing further compromise of a lovely old bridge never designed for modern mega-trucks?

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Who Threw That Chicken at Johnny Chretien?!

There was an urban (or is it a rural?) myth in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia about a destitute and elderly chap named Jim Jacks who lived in a squalid hut on the edge of town. To supplement his non-existent income, Jim was favourably disposed towards what we, as kids, called "five-finger discounts". As the story goes he was an artist of the lift with a special penchant or perhaps special capability to spirit tins of tuna and salmon into his oversized rain-or-shine trenchcoat and make his way out of the local Sobey's undetected.

One day, emboldened by years of incident-free shoplifting, Jim targeted a substantial chicken but, alas on the way out of the store, the slippery fowl escaped from its precarious perch under Jim's coat and landed with a sickening thud on the floor, in plain view of all. Old but never dull, the geezer immediately struck an Oscar-worthy display of self-righteous indignation and bellowed accusingly: "Who threw that chicken at Jim Jacks!?"

I hadn't thought of that story or strategem for many a year until last Tuesday when I saw the clips of Jean Chretien's lightning reaction to Gomery's Phase I findings that the P'tit Gar sat atop a seething stinkpile of greedy minions who turned the sponsorship program into their own private retirement fund.

Still trying to bask in the aspenglow of a political career whose most memorable feature, other than figurative and even literal nepotism, was endurance (his and ours!) Chretien considered a pre-emptive attack the best line of defence as damning evidence gathered around his recently departed East Block coterie. Nothing has changed. Probably Chretien's preference would have been the more direct approach used in 1996 when a scrawny little protester got in his way.

But Gomery is not scrawny nor without other extra-physical sources of power. Alternative means to seizing the man by the throat were required. The nasty spirit of last spring's ploy to have Gomery removed, followed by the cameo golf ball performance (for which Gomery should have acquainted the literally contemptuous Chretien with the inside of a cell)continues. Chretien will now spend our money again - this time from his gold-plated federal pensions rather than directly from the public purse - to petition the federal court as allies in covering up his regime's misuse of...our money. Given the superfluity of Chretien appointees on that august body, this arrogant defense-by-offense just may work, again.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

A Blow against the Tyranny of Cinnamon

Don't get me wrong: I actually love cinnamon and so did my sainted mother, gone on these 16 years passed. I remember the buttery toast scored with a cinnamon sugar mix allotted to us on the rare occasions when our good behaviour coincided with her having the inclination allow a breakfast chock full of unhealthful sweets. Years later, during my "curry phase" - a time when, influenced by a good friend's infatuation with a girl from what used to be called Bombay - I was spending untold hours mixing spices and fussing over the likes of machcher jhoi or tangy vindaloos. And cinnamon was almost always there, sweet even subtle handmaiden lending its unique mouth to my creations.

BUT - my Mama never would let the cinnamon bottle even step down from the cupboard when she composed her magnificient Northern Spy Pies, the gustatory pinnacle of my first 4 decades. Her lovely face would scrinch in disgust not only at the very thought of contaminating the tart with cinnamon but, more so, at the unfathomable ubiquity of this barbaric practice of adulteration.

And the abomination continues. Not long ago I was in a truly magnificent little restaurant here in Prince George (yes, Vancouver, there is good food beyond Hope!), Cimo's where they served up a dessert themed on apple pie that would have been magnifico without the seemingly mandatory conspicuousness of that tropical bark.

Actually, to be uncharacteristically fair and honest, I need admit that the dessert was still magnifico even with, perhaps because of the damn cinnamon. But my concern and point stands that as soon as any prospective betrothal of apples and pastry is contemplated, even the best of pastry chefs reach for the cinnamon like a mindless automatons. I wish that some of the better ones, whose handiwork otherwise brims with originality would try just once to be cinnamon-free.

And, lo, my wish has been granted. yesterday on British Columbia's CBC show, All Points West, gourmajournalist Don Genova and the host waxed on about a serendipitous creation, Tarte Tatin Benoit, kind of an upside down apple pie baked in a skillet. I damn near ate the radio! This morning I hustled on down the information highway to the good Don's website and found the recipe which to my consummate delight, is "sans canelle". Merci to Benoit (who, it turns out, was not our Canadien icon, Madame Jehane Benoit but rather an epicurean maestro. name of Benoit Guichard of Jamin in Paris's 16th arrondissement). Like his forefathers who stormed the Bastille, Guichard has struck a telling blow to the a great tyranny that cinnamon has exercised over apple desserts. Vive la liberte!