Monday, December 31, 2007

Canada's Happiest City - The Tao of Canadian propaganda.

Those who know me well usually dismiss me as a pessimist. Actually, I am just a garden variety cynic. At my age I find it near impossible to trust any message without turning it over to determine point of origin. But then, some propaganda is counterfeit. You can't trust the hallmark or the shipping label. Sadly, we live in a world where almost all communication is loaded with deceit. I mean, everyone is his or her own propagandist, are they not?
Shouldn't we be smart enough, we individual products of the "greatest public education system yet conceived," to know when we have it good? If everything is so rosy why then do four levels of government annually squander millions of our tax dollars in an agitating attempt to convince us that we live in the greatest city (or town), in the greatest province, and the greatest country in the world? I don't have to be persuaded to reach for a juicy red apple. Do you?

I live in B.C. That's significant because we have four levels of government out here; three tiers are elected and one is appointed. All four entities tax us and all four generate good news messages. That's a heap of propaganda capability!

I think about the hyped messages a lot, especially as we are now in the run-up to the super-duper Olympics extravaganza scheduled for 2010 - a party which I will not attend, but a bill which I will be paying for until the year I die. I thought about MESSAGE a lot over the weekend because of a news story on Friday which reported the results of a Canadian "happiness poll". I came out to B.C. in 1981 and noticed straight away that public messages did not match many of my experiences. After being subjected to 25 years of thought shaping and other forms of social engineering, I thought I was the only one tuning OUT the messages. But I was wrong.

"Canada's most satisfied citizens found in Saint John, N.B." (CanWest News Service), December 29, 2007 [Link] Saint John! That's the city I was born into, raised and educated in. And it's also a city which hardly ever makes the news out here on the left coast. So what gives? Why was Vancouver ranked eleventh on the "happy" list? Was this just a sneaky propaganda handout from the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency ? Well no. The lead researcher on the project was John Helliwell, an economist employed here at the University of B.C. and a fellow actually born in Vancouver. A rare boast!

It turns out that Canada's great multi-cultural centres are wonderful engines of commerce, but our smaller cities, which tend to be mono-cultures, are the places where people are more content with their lives. Well, I am no liar. I admit that cultural makeup is just one factor making Saint Johners more content than Vancouverites. But this is a blog, not a book. ...Hell, many in S.J. would rankle at the suggestion that they live in a mono-culture. Everything is relative. My wife, a Taiwanese, is a devout Tao and did not enjoy her brief life in Saint John. She does not share my nostalgia.

Rather than bitch about the barrage of propaganda, I guess I'll arm myself for the good fight... with more sustained and careful reading and listening.

The City of Saint John is not a topic which jumps to the lips of the average Vancouverite or... scarcely anyone on this coast. They will simply sneer at the implications of this charming little poll. Still, Helliwell's research is global in nature and these people do love to ponder anything smacking of GLOBALIZATION. He has their ear when he compares their town to any "World Class" rival. It remains to be decided if Dr. Helliwell is a "world class" economist, but his report on Canada's happiest cities added a little zest to the conversation in our household over Christmas.

Postscript : on Multiculturalism, or why Middle and Upper Class Canadian communities may register low for "Happiness" - I shouldn't have to add, but I will, that my views are tempered by careful reading, and are not merely a reaction to news stories. If you are interested enough to dig into the subject of our national self image and the forces actively shaping it, there is plenty to read. When I studied at U.B.C. in 1983 we used a textbook called TEACHING ISSUES IN A CANADIAN CONTEXT (OISE 1982) which first opened my eyes to Trudeau's winning formula for innovating a nation without a cultural centre. In the early days, indoctrination of teachers involved getting beyond mere understanding of multiculturalism to genuine acceptance of the imperative. We are now there. After a lifetime of watching teachers in the wild, their behavior confirms they are the most effective political cadres in the country. Volunteer constituency workers may get out the vote but its the public schools which pattern young minds, and many of the "paradigm shifts" on the horizon (techno/political) will not fit the template we like to call "Canadian identity".
Exibit C - The largest mono-culture on the planet - People's China - aggressively planning for and budgeting a confrontation with the largest multi-culture - the United States. When "C-Day "comes, it's going to confuse the hell out of Canadian "nationalists" who prepared for their retirement but not for cultural extinction.
If you like to read, and can find it, try Tony Wilden's THE IMAGINARY CANADIAN, Pulp Press 1980. I highly recommend a brilliant piece of analysis by Prof. Rachel Nash of T.R.U. here in B.C. It is entitled "Legalizing Multiculturalism: Changes in Discourse, Changes in Attitude", TEXTUAL STUDIES IN CANADA 13/14 Canada's Journal of Cultural Literacy. She articulates what many of us who took Orwell's message to heart, have long understood about "debate" in a ballot box democracy. You are already winning the argument when the opponent is forced to use your grammar, your vocabulary and is constrained by your limits on time. A counterpoint, and a quick read which I often use in tutorials, is The Myth of Canadian Diversity (G&M, June 13, 1994). The three great myths it defines are easy for anyone to remember. The piece is found in a writing text called CANADIAN CONTENT, 4th Ed.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas comes but once a year...

One of the greatest thrills of my youth.... earthrise from a lunar orbit, thanks to the Apollo astronauts. From far away... she sure looks peaceful.

Defeated in two world wars, Germania found comfort in the spiritual.

Let's hope that this pompous, self-described "man of peace" finds a lump of coal in his stocking. Our world needs no political "supermen" to save it.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Upton Sinclair - Al Gore has been studying failed campaigns

This mornings ten minute research project? .... getting to the bottom of an intriguing quote.
At 8:30 a.m. I had my nose buried in a fascinating article, "Open-Source Warfare" [IEEE SPECTRUM online] how terrorist warfare is morphing into the ability of tiny groups to wage war on large nation states. I didn't find the article myself. It is flagged today in SLASHDOT, a news aggregator which is on my my morning check sheet.

The author of the SPECTRUM piece quotes Upton Sinclair, an American Socialist writer who was a personal favorite when I was still a young and impressionable student. I've read his brilliant novel THE JUNGLE (1906) at least twice. I have half a dozen of Sinclair's other works on my shelves, but not "Oil!", which has just been filmed. The buzz is that the movie, There Will Be Blood, is destined to be win Best Picture and Best Actor at the next Academy Awards.

What was the Sinclair quote and how was it used? "It is hard to get a man to understand something if his living depends on him not understanding it.” The author's thesis is that the U.S. military has been too slow to adapt to the agile and techno-savvy Muslim terrorists and worse, that the costly lessons learned will be quickly squandered once the Iraq insurgency is declared over and the U.S. military begins to shed Iraq and move on to new missions.

I wondered where a man with the author's cold background would find the time to read Upton Sinclair so I Googled his quote selection. It turns out the quote is from Al Gore's documentary essay AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH (2006). Al may not have persuaded everyone as to his "truth", but it seems clear that he resurrected a dusty old American political quote and endowed it with a hip new currency. I noticed one odd thing though. Current users are tweaking Upton's sentence to suit their taste - "living" "job" "salary" etc.

It turns out that the exact quote is "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it." The sentence appears in a book which Sinclair wrote about his failed attempt to become the Governor of California. It is entitled I, Candidate for Governor: And How I Got Licked (1935). I think it reveals something more interesting about Al Gore and his reading habits (and his stealth campaign for the Presidency) than it says about the adaptability of the U.S. war machine.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.” - Upton Sinclair, 1935.

University of California Press reprint edition of Sinclair's 1935 book, and the source for quote used in Al Gore's bio-pic AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH.

And so I learned that the musings of a rather good man (and occasionally a terrific novelist), but who was also an unhappy, defeated candidate for the Governorship of California, were recycled by a very frustrated modern Democratic Party aspirant for the Presidency. That the quote is now found useful, deemed as some sort of "truism," by a specialist in Electronic Warfare... that is the leap in logic which I must wrestle with.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Innovative B.C. Drug Smugglers Still Hammering the U.S. Border

B.C. Export Product - KOMO News was the only news desk to show a photo of the B.C. manufactured "party drug" known as ecstasy. These 93,000 pills were concealed in a false compartment of the smuggler's Ford pickup truck.

Yet another sizeable drug bust occurred on the 49th Parallel, Thursday November 15, and it underscores the fact that B.C. drug smugglers are continuing to find innovative ways to breach the security systems of the Canada- U.S. border. The Bellingham Herald reported the arrest with a brief newser "Ecstasy found in gas tank": "BLAINE — A Delta, B.C., man was arrested Thursday [Nov 15] at the Peace Arch crossing after U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officers said they found more than 93,000 ecstasy tablets — about 53 pounds — hidden in the gas tank of the truck he was driving. The border agency identified the suspect as Tavinder Singh Randhawa, 28, a student at Bellingham Technical College. Randhawa had used a NEXUS frequent traveler card for daily trips across the border, the border agency reported in a press release. According to documents filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle, an X-ray inspection of his 1991 Ford pickup truck detected the hidden gas tank compartment and led to his arrest on suspicion of possession with intent to distribute the drug, plus a conspiracy charge. Randhawa appeared Thursday before a U.S. magistrate in Seattle and was kept in custody pending a hearing on his suitability for pretrial release. "

In keeping with the media imposed blackout on showing the faces of British Columbia drug smugglers, no news outlet even bothered to secure Randwana's arrest photo. He will remain an anonymous shape shifter, along with the legion of his clever and prosperous friends who live happily among us.

Bellingham Technical College is now shy one Canadian "student". Delta, B.C. resident Tavinder Singh Randhawa has been arrested and charged.

Another recent case, which I had missed but tripped over when reading about Mr. Randhawa, is that of a female drug smuggler Robbyn Dee Blankinship. A few details of her story are found in the Blaine, Washington newspaper, The Northern Light, on September 6:

"Border agencies seize cocaine at Blaine crossing -
A Canadian woman will face federal drug smuggling charges after a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) outbound inspection found a million dollars worth of cocaine in her car. “We nailed ‘em,” said CBP public information officer Mike Milne.

Robbyn Dee Blankinship, 29, is a Canadian citizen living in Vancouver who was returning to Canada on Labor Day when CBP officers searched her Ford Explorer and found 77 pounds of cocaine packed in and around the vehicle’s spare tire. She was arrested at the port and had an initial appearance in U.S. District Court on September 4th. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is continuing to investigate the case.
“This case illustrates the bi-directional nature of smuggling along the U.S.-Canadian border here in the Pacific Northwest,” said acting port director Jay Brandt.
Milne explained that CBP officers intercept smugglers with bulk currency, marijuana and ecstasy as they enter the U.S. while Canadian inspectors pick up smugglers with “cash, cocaine and guns."

This is a photo (from a U.S. Gov website) of Ms. Blankinship's 77 pounds of smack, worth a million dollars on the streets of B.C. This is the shit which "lifestyle" conscious B.C.'ers just can't get enough of... the toot which gets dozens of people shot in the head each year. Oh, and by the way, we're not allowed to see what Blankinship looks like. It's a secret. Shhhhh!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Just Another Corrupt Border Guard?

November 8, 2007
Seized during the Kandola bust were 208 kilos of cocaine, an HK 9 mm pistol and HK .45-cal. pistol, a Sturm Ruger .44 magnum revolver, forty rounds of ammo, and about $200,000 in cash.

Yet another Canadian border guard is facing drug smuggling and corruption charges. Unfortunately we the public are refused any substantive personal details about the accused. Armed with facts we might connect the dots and come to our own conclusions about the illegal drug industry in the province. That ugly knowledge might deny our criminals their full libation from the great steaming cauldron of Canadian Human Rights protection. We might learn to pick a gang banger out of the crowd, and thus deny him his basic human dignity. Can't have that!
Law enforcement agencies, the CBSA in particular, have closed ranks - claiming that a corrupt border guard is a one-off phenomenon, and are releasing no arrest photographs or personal history of the disgraced agent or his two Sikh cohorts. Worse, the Vancouver media, is not even pursuing the case. Not one media company sent a reporter to the arraignment hearing at Surrey Provincial Court last week.

Baljinder Kondola is facing six charges including importing cocaine and guns, breach of trust and bribery. And get this... Kim Scoville, Pacific Highway District Director for the Canada Border Services Agency, told reporters that he had "mixed feelings" about the probe into Kandola's activities. "It was a successful investigation. Unfortunately, one of our officers was a key figure." He added that "this is an incident involving a single officer and does not diminish the pride and confidence that we have in the men and women of the Canada Border Services Agency." Really?

At a news conference in Surrey an RCMP Inspector named Malo also gave up very little. The long investigation is alleged to have resulted from a "tip" in early 2006 that a Canadian border guard was allowing drug mules to cross with impunity. (This specific corruption investigation was dubbed Project EPELL.) Scoville would only say that Kandola was a full-time employee who, after completing recruit training and passing a "reliability check" in June 2001, has worked at the truck side [Pacific Crossing] of the port ever since.

It is not revealed if Kandola is related to the infamous Robbie Kandola, the cocaine mobster who was ambushed two years ago in swanky Coal Harbor and executed on the sidewalk. A few private photos of Kandola had once been posted on the Net, but a loyal family member deleted them on the morning he was taken into custody. As well his clan was planning an expensive Caribbean retreat for November. So sad he had to cancel his travel plans. You will probably never see his face. Arrest photos are never made available unless our drug lords happen to get captured on the American side of the border, and even then the Vancouver media do not try to secure copies.

In December of 2005 border guard Atlaf Merali, was sentenced to one and a half years in prison for smuggling $1 million in drugs. Merali tried to brazen a crossing with his Canada Customs uniform on display in his van - "a random search of his vehicle uncovered about 90 kilograms of marijuana in four hockey bags in the back seat – covered by his uniform jacket." Merali is already back on the street, but no longer working for law enforcement.

Mindi Nedermeiser was another CBSA border guard "let go". Incidents stretching back to 1996, including her firing for breaches of security at Vancouver airport, did not preclude her being reinstated and then being offered trusted work at the Canada-U.S. border... not until someone ratted her out for associating with the Hell's Angels.

The police of course are exasperated by the exposed connections between drug gangs and uniformed members of law enforcement. Almost all of the weapons used by the gangs are smuggled into Canada along with the cocaine and heroin, and the outlaws are fully prepared to murder people with those guns. Execution-style murders of drug gang hustlers and soldiers are accelerating in Vancouver. There have been four in the last two weeks - a Vietnamese, a Punjabi, an Iranian and a Cantonese. Not a red head in the bunch, but at least someone zapped a Big Circle Boy. That's progress. These extra-legal executions have reached such hilarious proportions that the official spokesman for the V.P.D., Constable Fanning, was reduced to firing this squib on Monday -"If anybody is in that lifestyle and has information that they want to pass on - because they could be next. It is obviously a very dangerous, dangerous way to live when you are involved in criminal activity because the end result is ... death." Now the V.P.D. is begging career criminals to turn informer, in attempt to save their own necks.

The police make no headway in these killings because they are facing many of the same socio-political realties which prevented the Canadian State from convicting the Sikhs who blew up the Air India 747. Police can corner and arrest, but the hapless prosecuters fail to convict. Why? Because Canadians have created an "anything can be tolerated" society, and they are doomed to live with the monster they mothered. In B.C., we were just told, only 39 per cent of recent gang-related killings were cleared by police (compared to 68 per cent of non-gang homicides). But these statistics are just as meaningless as those which also claim that overall, murders are down. (Really? How many old dames are falling down stairs or choking on their spinach now that their houses and city lots are worth $700 - 800 K.? Anyone keeping stats?) This week the police and the politicians are making all the obligatory noises about setting up special investigative units (they've existed for years) and toughening the laws. Stand down fellahs... we all know the killings will only abate when the gangs are exhausted, and forced to call a temporary truce. The Lower Mainland is only getting a small taste of what the future holds in store. A money-culture is the natural setting for organized crime.

Even mouthy NDP careerists are now demanding that our streets be cleaned up. It's all too funny. Back in the 1990s when the Reform Party of Canada still existed, it was the only political movement which advocated building new prisons and sending gang bangers away for life. Local NDP and Liberal politicians filled their scrapbooks with generous press coverage in which they were allowed to condemn "scary" Reform MPs as "dinosaurs" and "right wing extremists". Fine. And the cities have now gone further to hell. Enjoy. That history of organized neglect is also the reason no one today believes the childish prattle of those same politicians. Wally Oppal is going to get tough on crime? Give me a break! The poor sod is just trying to live long enough to spend the three fat pensions in his portfolio.

Let's just hope the drug outlaws, who this week are driving around our city with loaded their guns in their cars, trying to get the drop on each other, will manage to shoot only themselves in the face. For that blessing we law abiding citizens will be truly grateful.

Update November 10th - I note the publication in the Vancouver SUN of rare honest commentary on politicians, gang violence and murder: "POLITICIANS PLAY THE HOT AIR GAME ON CRIME" Peter MacKnight wrote,"But we don't need to rely on anecdotes, since the research confirms that the problem is not a lack of punishment for gangsters who get caught -- it's that many gangsters are never apprehended. Indeed, the only "justice" many gangsters face is at the hands of their fellow gang members." (read his piece)

And further comment in a hard hitting editorial published in The Asian Pacific Post, October 26, 2007: " Police information says there are 129 gangs active in B.C. with many other small gangs seeking to establish themselves. Today’s gang violence is the result of yesterday’s complacency when politicians and police insisted on playing down gang activity in BC. Our benign view of smoking pot is another major contributor to the violence that has taken so many innocent lives and injured others." Absolutely!

And lest anyone dare think or remark that I am trying to denigrate law enforcement.... I can only respond that you don't "read" me at all. To the contrary, I am 100% behind law enforcement efforts at drug interdiction and serious prosecution. Creeps like the criminals I describe in this Blog were NEVER law enforcement professionals. They were INFILTRATORS who always intended to illegally profit and to subvert justice while employed in privileged duties.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Apt. 1505 - that butchery on the 15th Floor

Who says people don't read newspapers any more? Here in Vancouver several social "types" actively read and clip stories from THE SUN and THE PROVINCE - but today it's the criminals who are in the spotlight. Do you recall that last Wednesday (October 17th) STATISTICS CANADA released its corrected analysis of figures for homicides recorded in Canada during 2005? You can find the report, with charts and graphs here. The stats in the report support a claim that "murder" in Canada is down. Maybe. I guess it's fortunate for many that the emergency responders are so proficient at their jobs. Plugging holes and pumping in fluids seems to save plenty of targeted victims. But why the urgency in trying to assure us that unlawful killing is in decline? Remember that in Canada three cardinal institutions lie, and they are accomplices... politicians, lawyers and statistics.

You probably read the story on Thursday (October 18th). According to the Stats Canada handout there were 108 murders in B.C. in 2006, and an average of 104 murders in B.C. for each of the preceding ten years. So officially there were about 1050 "murders" in B.C. in the past ten years. So I won't carp and suggest that a lot of violent deaths here are mislabled and do not lead to charges. That would imply that I am unhappy with the administration of justice. What I am happy about is that the gangsters do to themselves... ie. administer justice, which the legal system has not been able to accomplish since the 1960s.

Now getting back to my point. A few local gangsters seem to have read their newspaper on Thursday and said "Oh Ho, things are too quiet man!" The next day the sassy readers visited Apt. 1505 , (Balmoral Tower) at 9830 East Whalley Ring Road, Surrey, and executed six men with gunshots to the head. Four of the men were participants in the drug trade but two innocents were caught up in the attack and that is sparking outrage. Likely they fell victim to blood lust (a jacked up gunmen with a full magazine of cartridges, whose mission is to wipe out an entire crew) because there is no particular need to kill witnesses hereabouts. A senior RCMP drug investigator recently told me in private conversation that these shooters are not in the least intimidated by Mounties on their trail or by the possibility of prosecution.

One of the six bodies brought down from 15th floor suite in the Balmoral Tower block in Surrey, B.C.

The last execution of a murderer in Canada took place in 1962. To remove the possibility that public outcry might restore the hangman, in 1976 Capital Punishment was torn out of our Criminal Code. By my rough calculation, there are now about 36,000 released or paroled murderers living in Canada. Every major city now has a resident population of a few thousand released murderes, but our experts tell us that there is very little likelihood that those men and women will kill again. What we might fear, they admit, is the rise of the new gunfighters - reckless street thugs who have demonstrated an appetite for killing their opponents - often in drive-by's or attacks in nightclubs or restaurants. What the experts will never admit is that the new breed of urban outlaws are emboldened by the lack of a death sentence. The only thing they have to fear is retaliation from a rival gang. I for one hope that a couple of outlaws are loading their "nines" and they get to the Balmoral Towers killers before the Red Horsemen do. That my friends IS justice.

Update: October 24 - the names of the four criminals murdered last week are Edward Sousakhone (Eddie) Narong, age 22, Corey Jason Michael Lal, age 21, Michael Justin Lal, age 26, and Ryan Bartolomeo, age 19. All were part of the same street crew and all had prior arrests for weapons and drugs offences. All were caught repeatedly by law enforcement technicians but then released back into the criminal stream. (Am I the only person sick of the cutesy-bootsy phrase "They were known to police." ?) Why weren't their names on the Internet so that owners and tenants at Balmoral Tower might detect their presence and take precautionary measures? (Police have revealed that the LAL Crew were all tenants of Apartment 1505, and the registered owner of the condo is not cooperating with the investigation.)

Here's the amusing news, from THE SUN today. Saturation media coverage of the execution-murders has forced B.C.'s Solicitor-General John Les to make a statement. He (natch!) called for tougher penalties for Balmoral-type mass killings. "There are not adequate provisions in the Criminal Code to deal with multiple murders." The B.C. Liberal government is not going to do a thing to stop these killings, but they will spend more money and talk it up. Likewise the Federal Tory government is going to talk it up, but I notice in Montreal's The Gazette today that Amnesty International is crowing success at the U.N., predicting that Canada will climb onboard a European proposal for a worldwide ban on Capital Punishment. ... The message to our local gang bangers? "Have at 'em boys, but for Gawd sakes no collateral damage. It doesn't play well with the voters."

Update Jan. 22/08: According to reports in the SUN, four of the six slain were members of the "Independent Soldiers," drug gang. Two of the dead were innocent bystanders shot to prevent them from becoming witnesses.
Recorded as "the largest gang slaying in B.C. history," police believe it was "in retaliation for the murder nine days earlier of drug dealer Dylan Becker, who subcontracted his meth-cooking skills to a biker gang.
Becker was shot in the parking lot of a Scott Road McDonald's, only to die as his friend raced him to Surrey Memorial Hospital

Update June 6, 2008 Kim Bolan researched and wrote a fascinating backgrounder to the Apt. 1505 murders. "Shocking story behind six murders in a Surrey tower". It was published in the Vancouver Sun on May 30th. It drew a massive response from readers, some of whom supported the victims who had extensive criminal backgrounds. Others attacked the messenger, calling Ms. Bolan names and ridiculing her credentials. (If the link becomes broken search Google cache.)

Bolan researched the ownership of the condo, No. 1505, Balmoral Tower:
"Suite 1505 is owned by real estate agent Ceasar Tiojanco and his wife, Myrna. They bought the apartment in 2003 for $82,000. Land title records show the couple own six other properties across Metro Vancouver with an assessed 2008 value of almost $2.8 million. easar Tiojanco,
There had been no complaints made about suspicious activity in 1505, according to Janice Abbott, head of the Atira Property Management, which has run the building since December 2006

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tibetan Leader Honored in U.S.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan Nation waves to the crowd in New York.

An official White House photo from the 2003 meeting of His Holiness and President George Bush. The two leaders met again in the same room on Tuesday, (their fourth meeting) undeterred by sabre rattling of the Chinese Communist Party.

Today the United States Congress did a good thing. In a powerful symbolic act, emblematic of the universal spirit of freedom, Congress welcomed the 14th Dalai Lama, born Tenzin Gyatso, into its chamber and awarded him its highest civilian honour - the Congressional Medal. For weeks Communist Chinese officials have been blustering over the planned U.S. recognition of the great Tibetan leader, threatening dire consequences if the Americans honoured their hated adversary. It's too bad the PRC directs so much hostility at a holy man, but we can be sure he bears nothing in his heart but peace and brotherhood for the Chinese people.

There is further trouble on the horizon for the Tibetan people because the Dalai Lama is exhausted and seeks retirement from public life. While the Chinese Communists respect neither his authority, his culture or his religion, they are determined that they, the Communist authority, will choose his successor. We will witness Orwellian political aggression from Beijing in future, when they impose a spiritual leader on the occupied Tibetan people, and the exile community chooses a new leader based on age old cultural practice.

There is a good wiki page on His Holiness which can be found here.

There is a genesis to every political viewpoint we hold, and looking into my own past I do believe that my interest in the Tibetan genocide began in when I read a book by Michel Peissel in the early 1970s. The French bestseller was entitled (the U.S. edition) The Cavaliers of Kham, and it was expose of C.I.A. assistance to the Tibetan freedom fighters in the 1950s. Peissel is a true Runagate, and the book landed him in a deep vat of hot water. I was a junior high school student in Saint John, N.B. and the astonishing account of wholesale executions of Tibetans by murderous regular units of the Chinese army, appalled me.

A few years later I was a student at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton when St. Thomas university invited the Dalai Lama to visit and to receive an honorary doctorate. It was his first visit to Canada, Oct.-Nov. 1980, starting in Vancouver and ending in Fredericton. (St. Thomas shared our campus on the hill.) As I recall, my mentor Prof. Larry Shyu pulled some strings and arranged for his Asian Studies students to meet with His Holiness for a chat on Tibetan issues. I recall being sly in crafting two questions designed to get him to express outrage at the continuing Chinese occupation of his country. A diplomat as well as a kind heart he deflected each of my clumsy attempts with a smile a hope for peace. His answers, which reflected the quiet strength and resilience of the Tibetan people whom he represented, squashed my plan to write an arresting article for the UNB paper - but he also made a friend. I will always live in the hope of his exiled people being restored to their homeland.

Update: October 29 6:45 pm - Prime Minister Harper receives the Dalai Lama today. Finally a little support for Tibetan Indepence from the Canadian Government. At last! Pleeeeaaase Beijing. Ban our national team from your Olympic Games. That would be sublime.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

1966 Bill Clinton Artifact Reveals the Good 'Ole Boy

An autograph auction house in the U.S. is offering an interesting artifact this weekend. It's a postcard Bill sent to his grandmother Edith Cassidy, his "Mammaw". At the time he was attending an elite school in D.C. At 7 p.m. Pacific time bidding had already reached $1,044. The curious thing is that he would mail such an insensitive image from Washington during the height of the Civil Rights movement.

The Catalog Description says:

Early ALS signed “Bill,” on the correspondence side of a 6.75 x 3.5 picture postcard, no date [postmarked February 2, 1966]. Clinton, then a college student at Georgetown, writes to his grandmother,Edith Cassidy, whom he addresses as “Mammaw.” In full: “Thought I would send you one of your cards just to prove I am using them! My tests are over and I’m just starting the second term. Hope you are well and happy, Say hello to Buddy & Ollie—See you at Easter.” Clinton has addressed the postcard, “Mrs. Edith Cassidy, Hope Nursing Home, Main Street, Hope, Arkansas,” adding his return address, “Wm. J. Clinton, Box 289, GUDG, 20007.” The postcard bears a ballpoint notation under the address, “Feb. 3, 1966,” possibly in Cassidy’s hand. Apart from the early date, the most notable feature of the postcard is clearly the image: a grossly stereotypical caricature of a young African-American boy wearing an idiotic grin as he “shines” a watermelon. A throwback to the outrageously broad portrayals of African-Americans of a century earlier, Clinton’s choice of postcard is startling on a number of levels: not only was he writing in the midst of the most active civil-rights movement in American history, but he himself would go on to earn a reputation as one of the greatest champions of racial minorities among modern American presidents. The postcard is housed in a handsome custom clamshell box together with a copy of Clinton’s correspondence and two portraits. In fine condition, with a small brush to first letter of signature, a bit of mild toning, and a light vertical crease through address panel. A most remarkable and revealing item from a president whose legacy only continues to evolve!

Of course Bill has had forty years to shine his apple. This 1998 image is the one he always intended for himself.

UPDATE - At 2:50pm PST Oct. 18 - bidding was at $5,724.

Monday, October 8, 2007

"Flaneur" - A word to Cherish

One of the joys of working with students is that they often return the favour, and teach me something valuable. It's been years since I finished university and students are now my only link to structured learning. New words and phrases fascinate me and I find that a few hours with a style conscious student or with a trendy newspaper, like say The Village Voice, will yield a bumper harvest. Last year's favorite vocabulary acquisition was a useful term encountered during some work I did for an Architecture student. The word was "Subtopia," and I had a lot of fun with it because it puts a neat label on a cultivated interest of mine and one of long standing. I was startled to discover the wealth of fresh discovery available to me once I acquired the term.

I had a similar experience on Saturday when Michael, a very bright U.B.C. student, shared a fascinating article from one of his fourth-year Film Studies courses. It describes a thought provoking Italian film on unique cityscapes. More interesting was its explanation of the French concept of the flaneur and its importance in our understanding of the modern (post 1848) city. Michael was enthused because we had recently studied City of Glass, in Paul Auster's novel The New York Trilogy. Michael had recognized a character in the novel as a flaneur and believed that the Auster must have studied the theories of Baudelaire, Roland Barthes and others. It was a good catch because a little Googling did verify that many scholars had drawn the same conclusions about the character and Auster's influences.

I was instantly possessive of the term Flaneur because at long last it gave a name to about about forty years of fond experience and habit - and it finds me at the stage in my life when I'm sorting through my past. I am originally from the ancient Canadian city of Saint John, New Brunswick and I retain a mass of vivid memories of boyhood scrambling all over my hometown, restless eyes absorbing every detail. Between the ages of ten and twenty I criss-crossed the city, often alone, hunting for novel experience among Victorian streetscapes, along the river shore, atop rock faces scourged by glacial flow, and in the bush beyond the suburbs. Frequently I took risks, as boys must do, but the point is that for me the city was a living thing, a constantly interesting companion.

By the age of fifteen I was already trying to photograph and research some of the abandoned industrial architecture and old tenements, convinced that only I had an eye for the beauty in cockeyed, unpainted wooden homes, rotting brickwork, overgrown lots and leaking hulks moored on the St. John River. I relished every opportunity to speak with elderly residents who were always amused by my insistence on recording their threadbare anecdotes. I kept walking, afraid to miss any detail before it was snatched away by the wreckers ball and his bulldozers.
"During his city wanderings, he took in visual fragments, turning his stroll into a prolonged, intense visual experience. A true protagonist and witness of modern city living, “a kaleidoscope with a conscience”, the flaneur incarnated a photographic mode of operating, perceiving the whole city as a visual universe, moving like a water diviner to go straight to the images in the midst of urban reality."

I started my urban scrambling in 1968, at the age of ten. There were still whole neighborhoods filled with this type of rude architecture, lightly anchored to the living rock. In some locations geologic history competed with the architecture - deep striations in the rock face evidenced the direction of glacial flow during the last Ice Age.
In Paul Auster's NEW YORK TRILOGY, Quinn, a writer of detective stories, accepts the assignment of tailing Dr. Stillman, a deranged historian whose daily wanderings through the city seem random. Yet when carefully mapped they reveal clues to Stillman's agitated thought processes. Scholars of literature debate whether the character is a true flaneur.

I have not had as much travel as I would like, but the cities I have enjoyed most were those I could explore at my leisure -the flaneur instinct runs deep. I explored Hong Kong with tremendous interest, several times. In the 1980s I walked every street on H.K. island savoring in the sheer taste of the place. Amidst and beyond the towers and concrete flats I found everything from overgrown gun positions to oddities of Chinese - Colonial architecture. I know I found foliage concealed relics which even locals were unaware of. In Taiwan I explored the city of Taipei on foot for almost two years, and learned its corners, its edges and its stinks, almost as well as my Canadian hometown. One of my fondest memories is of climbing over a high wall, which was topped with barbed wire, located very near a naval base. There I photographed the graves of Legion Etrangere officers killed in the 1884 Sino-French War. I was only in Tokyo a few times but I spent most of those visits on my feet and because I did I found small hidden wonders that will stay with me till death.

What, I wonder, did those Taiwanese and Japanese make of me? Would my wandering across, over, around and under their city structures have seemed as illogical as Stillmans pattern in Auster's novel? Did they find it insulting that I loved their homegrown monstrosities and their debris more than than marvelous new architecture financed with profits generated by the "Asian Miracle".

Now that Michael has introduced me to this wonderful concept - I understand that I too am a Flaneur. I believe I am going to have fun exploring the philosophy behind it. More, it is already helping me to understand myself just a bit more and is certain to contribute to some of my future projects.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Aurora Cyber-Attack - destroyed $Million dollar generator

Generator room at the Idaho National Laboratory was remote accessed by a hacker and a $1 Million diesel-electric generator destroyed. (U.S. Homeland Security photo)

A dozen or so newspapers yesterday (September 27) published a story on a simulated cyber attack on U.S. power grid infrastructure which succeeded in destroying the test generator. The "Aurora Generator Test" was
conducted in March 2007 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and involved the remote accessing of a generator control station by a foreign hacker. It resulted in the partial destruction of a $1 million dollar large diesel-electric generator. The Associated Press based its story on a copy of an official videotape it obtained on Wednesday. The full A.P. story can be found at the CHINA DAILY website

The simulated cyber attack was at the Idaho National Laboratory which is principally a nuclear powerplant testing facility. The massive diesel generator used in the test was removed from the Alaska power grid and transported to the vast testing complex located in the desert near Idaho Falls. Details of the Aurora test were leaked within a few days of its completion by a loose-lipped Homeland Security employee who showed it to a conference in Atlanta. The A.P. persisted for six months until they secured a copy of the tape.

Vancouver Incident:
Coincidentally, Vancouver, B.C. suffered its own "Aurora" attack yesterday, which is alleged to have been perpetrated by one of the 5,000 striking members of C.U.P.E., the civic employees union that has been picketing the employer for 71 days. The municipality's central computer system was hacked and the control of dozens of downtown traffic signals was sabotaged. The computer's clock was reset by seven hours, and it began to direct Left Turning signals downtown to revert to shorter night time intervals. The saboteur then called to an All Traffic AM radio station to boast. He identified himself as "C.U.P.E." and warned that traffic snarls would continue until the strike is over.

This is the type of emerging crime which will interest cyber-security experts here at the campus of B.C.I.T., where they maintain British Columbia's premier database on cyber-attacks on industrial and public infrastructure. [It's called the Industrial Security Incident Database] An interesting PowerPoint presentation was prepared by Eric J. Byres, B.C.'s leading expert on SCADA threats and it is a quick read. It can be found at: Back in 2003 Mr. Byres provided expert testimony to an investigatory panel of the U.S. Congress on "Security of Industrial Control Systems in National Critical Infrastructures", and he is likely consulting on critical U.S. research initiatives such as the Aurora tests.

Experts in Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) system vulnerability have long believed that the major threat was internal - disgruntled employees seeking revenge or perhaps staff who recklessly share access data with political activists or criminals. That was the case between 1982 - 2000 but changes have arrived along with commonality of software used in control systems and the greater reliance on employee remote access. Many attacks are now arriving via the Internet but there are other vulnerabilities managers do not like to discuss. More interesting, the B.C.I.T. team has noted a new vulnerability. Specialized I.T. equipment mated to equipment at point of manufacture - compressors, cooling units, valves, and electric generators, are being sniffed out by hackers and in some cases tampered with. (As demonstrated in the Aurora Generator Test) Foreign or domestic terrorists will employ the same knowledge as hackers, and as we saw with the recent Russian cyber-assault on Estonia, an entire country country can live in misery for weeks before the intruders are overcome.

Update Oct13 - I had crossposted this to a MILnews site... I just checked and saw it got 1,350 reads. Goes to show I should crosspost more often.

Update: Jan. 13, 2008 - Since writing this blog I've collected many examples but
a new (January 11/08) story out of Poland is my favorite. "A Polish teenager allegedly turned the tram system in the city of Lodz into his own personal train set, triggering chaos and derailing four vehicles in the process. Twelve people were injured in one of the incidents. The 14-year-old modified a TV remote control so that it could be used to change track points..." Described as an electronics buff and an exemplary student, the lad had notebooks full of observations made of the tram system. In other words he picked his target, did his reconn, and then modified a simple household device which gave him control over a public utility.

Monday, September 24, 2007

THE GRAHAM IDENTITY - what's his War Story?

Scottish-Canadian freelancer Patrick Graham exposed in his natural Celt hair colouring. A rare sighting, as he seems to dye his hair as often as Captain Sir Richard Francis Burton did in trying to get into Mecca.

I thought the BIG story this week was the Israeli raid on the Korean-Syrian nuclear material site inside Syria, but only the Sunday Times is covering it. Instead everyone is pointing at that abortion of a story perpetrated by MACLEAN'S, Canada's aging and sometimes cranky newsweekly. I think they all miss the point. Who cares about another piece of Bush-bashing tripe? It has no significance beyond giving a podium to a reporter who hasn't earned his stripes. The point is that the Canadian media want a piece of the upcoming U.S. election and are willing to be extreme in order to grab some market share. The issue of MACLEAN'S released to the street on September 20, features a forged image of Bush as Saddam and vicious text by one Patrick W. Graham a freelance journalist who has written for a half dozen papers and who (significantly) also has a book being readied by a publisher. Since we know our media is, like any labour union, intensely conscious of seniority, how did this guy get to the top of the pile?

I hadn't heard of this journalist, so I thought I would spend a few minutes Google-sniffing, to discover his claim to fame. My web harvest was helpful, but it made clear that he is concealing his past and has reinvented himself in the style of Richard Francis Burton - the Victorian adventurer journalist, who used disguise to gain access to Mecca and the tents of the Sheiks. His articles frequently refer to the use of disguise and he seems to have a bit of Tarantino in him, because he loves to put Hollywood flavored pop references into the mouths of terrorists and the Muslim faithful.

I note that Mr. Graham was first thrust into the spotlight in 2002 as a guest panelist at WAR STORIES, a gathering of Canadian “War Correspondents” here in Vancouver. It was convened by staff from the University of British Columbia, and held on January 31, 2002. According to one account the event attracted fully 300 people, perhaps because it was strategically sited at Robson Media Centre, amid the downtown hotel towers. I wondered how a fellow with relatively little experience qualified as a veteran war correspondant. Was it because of his connections in Ottawa? After all Mr. Graham's father, Liberal Cabinet Minister "Bill" Graham had just recently been appointed to the Foreign Affairs portfolio by Jean Chretien.
Journalism student Peter Tupper covered the UBC event for his own campus magazine, the Langara Journalism Review. In his piece Tupper gives us just a hint of Graham’s background: “Patrick Graham, who has a master's degree in classical Greek studies, and claims to have taken Islamic courses, described Afghanistan as a "vendetta culture," precisely the kind of reductionist-generalizing statement about Muslim society criticized by historian Edward Said.” Tupper also demonstrated that he had his Poli-Sci jargon down pat. The big evening was characterized as a “managed event”, with the celebrity panelists offering stories which seemed “rehearsed”. Global TV cameras recorded the event. Some of the "War Stories" Tupper heard seemed to him “a testament to the journalist's "self-imposed sense of bravado", and in obvious disappointment he chose to pin a few journos to the wall with the dismissive dart of “Great White Journalist”. (By the time I finished Googling I decided that Mr. Tupper was correct in his suspicions.)

UBC student journalist Sara Newham also reported on WAR STORIES, but was less critical: “Patrick Graham, a National Post correspondent, told the audience how he befriended arms smugglers and dressed head to toe in a woman’s burqa to get across the border into Afghanistan. "You’re always involved in a hustle or a con," said Graham of war reporting, adding, "The trick was to find someone who would take us across the border."

Ah sooo. It’s not only Taliban bomb smugglers and firebrand Muslim clerics like Lal Masjid of Red Mosque infamy who use the burqa as tactical garb! Canadian journalists do it too. This is how he begins his article BEYOND FALLUJAH: A YEAR WITH THE IRAQI RESISTANCE, published in Harper's magazine June 2004:
"Early one morning in April, a Monday, an Iraqi doctor and I piled medicine for the Fallujah hospital into the back of his car. I had dyed my hair black, and a friend had made me a fake Iraqi I.D. By then, various groups around the country were holding dozens of foreign hostages; driving out of Baghdad was like slipping into a shark tank. Ahead of us on the road were convoys of trucks, carrying aid and probably weapons. Men from all the Sunni areas, I was told, were coming to Fallujah to fight, a situation that one U.S. Marine had called the Sunni “Super Bowl.” Inside the city itself, the resistance had set up checkpoints every 100 feet. At the tenth checkpoint we were stopped and interrogated. A gun was put to the head of the doctor's uncle, who had accompanied us. We had planned for this eventuality: I was to pretend to be the doctor's mentally ill brother. For this reason I was wearing a suit. I muttered my Iraqi name to the guard. They took us to a mosque at the edge of the industrial zone, where the fighting had been the heaviest. Occasionally a bullet pinged into the asphalt. 'Snipers,' said the guard."

The famous HARPER'S article, and which won Graham a prestigious journalism award is constructed largely around interviews supposedly conducted with a thirty-something insurgent leader leader he named "Mohammed", claiming that the man's surname was too distictive to be revealed in print. I think Graham is lying, and the editor at HARPER'S let him get away with incredible howlers. Consider the following in which Graham alleges that a committed Iraqi guerrilla leader searched for metaphors not in his own culture or history, but in mythology which matches Graham's own Celt past?!
Did you see Braveheart?” he asked me. “They throw out the British and the corrupt nobles. It is about hope. The people in the movie want freedom, and so do we. In the movie, the problems start because the British invaded and take the beautiful women and hurt the people. Because of the hard times, they gather weapons and get rid of the spies and traitors, isn't that right?”
Mel Gibson's movie had struck a chord with Mohammed on a number of levels. Not only did his own grandfather fight against the British but, like the Scottish nobles in Braveheart, many of the area's important sheikhs worked with the British occupiers
I would have been more impressed with Graham's "year with the Iraqi resistance" had he not been carrying a "Get Out of Jail FREE" card. At the time he was supposedly researching the Fallujah story Chretien had made his father was Canada's Minister of National Defence. Now there is a huge kick in the teeth for our closest military Ally. Liberal MP's were crapping all over George Bush and the U.S. military in Iraq, while Bill Graham's son is in bandit country assuring the terrorists that Canada has THEIR back. Well we DON'T any more.
I could go on and on, but that's enough. Patrick Graham said it best when he described his own work in 2002 - "You're always involved in a hustle or a con." I think that young journalism student at Langara College got it right when he reacted negatively to the WAR STORY panel and their "self-imposed sense of bravado." Patrick Graham undoubtedly has nerve. He'll need it as he's embarked on a career that may yet kill him. Good Stuff! But that doesn't mean we have to swallow ALL of his bullshit. Braveheart indeed!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Kerouac ....Again. Forgive me.

Jack Kerouac was one of the biggest "hand jobs" in modern American literature, and it is sickening to realize how few critics have got the balls to say ANYTHING negative about the guy. In my last Blog, which covered the masterful Hubert Selby, Jr. I was almost tempted to mention that he and Kerouac once shared literary Agents... not because I thought it significant (quite the opposite) but because somebody else had emphasized that factoid. I wrote about Kerouac in March, 2007 using his work as one example of Creative Non-fiction (CNF)... not quite fact, not quite fiction.

I mentioned that the original scroll-manuscript for ON THE ROAD was itself clocking mileage on a national tour. Just recently I found out why, by reading an interesting piece on a V.O.A. website. VIKING and PENGUIN have published special 50th Anniversary editions of the original scroll manuscript, for the completest among Jack's legion of fanatics. As for me, I have no more time or shelf space for the man. I have Ann Charters' excellent 1973 book KEROUAC: A Biography which convinces me that Jack's most interesting period was during World War 2, when he offered some indifferent service to the Merchant Marine and the U.S. Navy and was having trouble keeping his crackers from crumbling. I know there is a whole book in the 1940-45 years if any American writer has the guts or investigatory skills to handle it.

Kerouac in civilian clothes. A portrait from his WW2 U.S.N. file.

The U.S. Merchant Marine experience is something which Kerouac and Hubert Selby Junior do have in common, but Jackie Boy worked so vigorously to obscure his past that it will take skill to pin the tail on the donkey... not that I expect it anytime soon. As I've written before, "We expend more energy on making our lies persuasive, than we do attempting to make the truth work for us." Much of Selby's fiction is unquestionably drawn from personal observation, and in limited cases personal experience. The difference is that it is honest fiction and he made no attempt to "define an age" or stage-manage a public persona which might risk dominating the work itself. In simple terms Selby was an honest man. Pity poor Jack.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Genius is Pain : Hubert Selby JR and my Brooklyn Fetish

The women finished their shopping, took the beer home and returned to their bench. Mrs. Olson, who had had a stroke 2 years ago when her husband died, came out and as she hobbled by the women laughed. She leaned forward slightly as she walked and dragged her right foot. She was unable to lower her right arm and it was bent at the elbow and stretched across her chest, her hand partially closed and jerking up and down. The women loved to watch her, wondering if she picked up chewing gum and dog shit with her right foot. She oughtta wear steel toe shoes. She probably got that way from jerking her husband off. Laughter. Maybe thats what killedim..."
H.S. Jr., 1965.

There are dozens of reasons why I buy books, and the only valid reason not to buy them is lack of shelving space. Perhaps 80% of what I have collected is non-fiction but I must have at least 2000 novels stacked about the place. With enough books on hand to barricade my doorway against the assault of any loony serial fictioneer (Stephen King?, J.K. Rowling?) one might think I spend all my time with my snout in a paperback. But only two things seem to compel me to read novels and I attribute both to the effects of a boyhood raised in poverty.
I learned when still very young not to waste resources, and that included time and book paper. When my attention is drawn to a particularly fat novel, one which does not have Melville or Tolstoy or Dickens embossed on the spine, I am apt to flinch, much like those pretty schoolgirls who fail to disguise their horror a fat nerds in the corridor. I can get a chuckle out of the fact that though I failed to get through MOBY DICK (twice) I did read all of Volume 1 of Hershel Parker's exhaustive biography of Herman Melville, a scholarly tome as lengthy as Ishmael's own tale.
Like most readers (I assume) I am drawn to very specific elements of the story and believe I will enjoy the taste and fibre of its language. (When the sentences get caught between our teeth and we're forced to re-read passages in order to dislodge the pith of the unfamiliar with our tongue, that's high fibre!) A novel need not be built of two pounds of paper to convey an eternal message.
Often my choice of story is based on knowing some detail of the novelist's biography, and I get to satisfy an earlier craving, by returning to fiction I bought when I wasn't even in the mood to read. To illustrate I would point to the so-called "Spy novel". I do like reading good espionage fiction - (in fact I started in Junior High by reading the entire Ian Fleming "James Bond" series) but I seek out authors who have first hand experience with the tradecraft, and not those who merely possess creative imaginations.
The second reason I read novels is a tad harder to admit. I am of occaision, prone to falling into a particular funk when the day in front of me looks like a fraud. Alternatively I may rise to a state of needy agitation, which is actually the bottled up energy of suppressed aggression. Like a junky needing his fix, I'm always conscious of the onset of these needy moods and long experience has taught me they must be assuaged by full immersion in some clever fiction - I guess most call it "escape". I simply describe it as my "need for a fast read". My stash of novels matches the more predictable of my moods, but I still thrill to chance finds. Perhaps that's why I ignore booksellers which over-categorize or even alphabetise (shudder) their stock.

This week I bumped into a trio of novels in a thrift store that begged for my attention. They were paper editions, spanning 1965-1971 and in crisp condition. "Oh Ho!" I thought. "Someone loved you and kept you safe all these years." (Later confirmed by an artifact of ownership - an original, yellowed, 1966 cash register receipt.) I had never heard of THE ROOM, but in five minutes of page turning I realized it was mood-specific. Lovely Kafkaesque descriptions of confinement and interrogation written in a quirky style which indicated genuine distress. (I'll save that one for the Christmas holidays.) On the same plank was a copy of LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN - by Hubert Selby Jr. and the the third gem was a copy of NAKED LUNCH. Now I already had a Grove first edition of Burroughs' novel, but the p.b offered extracts recovered from testimony at the famous Boston obscenity trial. (I'm a completest - always a valid reason to buy.)

There is a wonderful story behind the glowing NEWSWEEK review. The TIME magazine review (Oct. 30, 1964) had dismissed the novel. "This is Grove Press’ extra-special dirty book for fall." A constant and opportunistic rival, NEWSWEEK magazine gave Selby an interview as well as the good review. In fact the book is sexually graphic but most of the characters Selby created use sex as a weapon or in their attempts at gallows humor. Portions of the book may have excited me in my virgin teenage years, but today I find not a single "turn-on" in the entire novel. It wouldn't even qualify as S&M fiction.

Within an hour of arriving home I realized THE ROOM had been my excuse to buy, but I was LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN which had me intensely curious. I finished it in two sittings and it was an memorable experience. I sat on my back deck under a flawless blue sky, reading of some of the most hellish encounters an unarmed city dweller might encounter - tales of horrific gang rapes, brutal stomping of off-duty soldiers and sailors, the harrowing physical abuse of dependant wives and the ugly neglect of trusting children.

My wife, a tender hearted mother who is innocent of urban domestic terror, sat opposite me reading her own novel, oblivious to the inevitable flashbacks triggered by Selby's scalding prose. I guess my face didn't register what Selby was putting me through. His astonishing characters and their coping strategies stirred up long dormant memory - the abuses of a man who is dead to me now - whippings with his heavy belt, kicks to my shins with army boots, smacks to the face with heavy spoons, punching a mother in front of four frightened witnesses. (I well recall the blood streaming from her nose and the salty epithets of my anguished Grandmother, helpless and rooted to the head of the stairs... just as I remember the chop to the throat he received from a tough Saint John cop. They tossed him into their car. I was five years old, and confused. Still needing I cried, "They took my father."

It was certainly the "fast read" I sought, searing and very ugly, and yet so unpredictable and exhilarating. An honest witness never trivializes authentic experience and Selby offers us no happy outcomes. Many of the characters who populate his lightly fictionalized Brooklyn simply ride out their misfortunes. The term "closure" had yet to be coined, methinks. Equally tough, we got though our long trial of poverty in Saint John. We were never defeated, and we never forget. True I haven't gone back in 25 years, but I know that the old neighborhood has been revamped. The current residents would not recognize any of the ghosts I know intimately.

I should have netted a copy of this novel long ago, because the word "Brooklyn" has long been a personal literary fetish. Since Junior High School I have picked up any unfamiliar book with the word "Brooklyn" in its title, to examine its contents. Selby's novel was famous enough but I had never spotted a loose copy till now.


On further reflection:
It amazes me that I have never gotten closer to New York than a backseat trip south to visit relatives in Boston. That was years ago and nostalgia does not explain my Brooklyn fetish. Old reading habits do... In the late 1960s, AFTER the divorce, we were a returned family living on Welfare in the old port city of Saint John, New Brunswick. My mother was a North End Catholic girl who bore me out of wedlock. (It was more common an experience than her generation will admit.) Suffice it here to note she was exiled far upriver to Grand Falls to hide her disgrace, and where she double-crossed the doctor who had brokered my adoption. In her youthful desperation she married a guy from Ontario who gave her three more. He beat her and whored around, but my mother proved indomitable and plotted to take what she loved and that was hers. She took us home with her to start over. Our first flat in S.J. was in a decrepit, century old tenement on Main Street (it leaned drunkenly, six feet off centre) until we could get into a public housing project in a neighborhood called the Rifle Range - a tract of postwar veteran's housing given a second life as refuge for society's walking wounded.
The North End of Saint John in the 1960s was working class and decaying. My mother's family, Joyce and Brown, arrived on the immigrant boats from Sligo, Ireland circa the 1830-40, and then stayed put. I left in 1981.

Life was raw for several years. A freezing apartment, toast and molasses breakfasts, a busted up B&W television, handed down clothes, bitter arguments and fights over childish nonsense, Christmas dinners supplied by the Empty Stocking Fund, a few cheap toys bought with a Welfare voucher... and the constant fear of being beaten up by the 3 or 4 families of tough Black kids who owned our street. One winter's day a Black tripped my little sister, knocking her front teeth out. The following summer I watched his obese sister running down the middle of the street flailing a twelve inch butcher knife. The behemoth was tackled by four brave paramedics who sedated her. The frequent combats beneath our windows drew massive crowds, but only one incident proved fatal. (Years later when I took a Criminology course with a Saint John policeman he told me that on the job our street - Churchill Boulevard- was known to cops as the "Boola-Boola-vard".)

We kids lived in front of the TV but I also became a maniac for books. A fond memory is the busy display rack at the entrance to the Free Public Library, which invited patrons to exchange their unwanted paperbacks. Though I had nothing to offer in trade, I swear I read every book I took home. I then had no direct exposure to American media (we had one TV station - a CBC affiliate) and certainly no concept of contemporary American literature. I needed more guidance than was available to me, and at the very least Hubert Selby Jr would have helped me appreciate the fact that urban decay and soul crushing poverty were not Canadian inventions. Sad that I never found his work.

Instead, one day in the early 1970s I discovered Betty Smith's novel, A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN and therein the first fictional family I could identify with. It's a rather tame novel by today's standards but I delighted in the resilient characters and family trials which seemed familiar. It struck a cord with a fourteen year old Canadian who had forfeited much of his boyhood to assume partial responsibility for three siblings. It's safe to assume that I idolized the resilient mother character, comparing Mrs. Nolan's survival strategies to those of our own experience. My mother kept returning to work as a cashier, calling home frequently, but when the neighborhood threatened to consume her youngest sons she chose to be waiting at home. It wwere threats and tears aplenty, but she saved them. I found a soul mate in Francie Nolan, the Brooklyn girl who used her reading life to chase away the spectre of poverty and like her, I walked half-way across town to attend a better high school.

My forebears had arrived in Saint John in the 1830s and 40s and crowded into Irish Catholic ghettos within a few blocks of the docks. There they stuck, perhaps devoid of imagination, for seven generations. The genealogy bug bit me early and having no male line to honour, I dug solely in my matralineage and of necessity the history of Saint John. When you sense that nothing of value may lie ahead, you can sometimes unearth some ancestral accomplishment to take pride in. My second big "Brooklyn" book was David McCullough's THE GREAT BRIDGE, a thrilling history which I recall as one of my favorite reads in junior high. Because I actively searched for the connections between our two port cities, I found parallels buried in the layers of of Brooklyn history and of my hometown.

Down deep I knew that Betty Smith's novel left unmentioned much of the pain and violence inherent to the despair of the dependant poor. We had many visitors and I was picking up on snippets of conversation. Enough at least to realize that sex was the principle preoccupation of adults, and that far too often men were a threat rather than a savior. Our street too had the "Women's Chorus" Selby records in LAST EXIT. I heard their salatious gossip about Welfare case workers who were "screwing" neighbor women in exchange for welfare vouchers. Actually I didn't yet comprehend what screwing really was, and masturbation had yet to be (badly) explained to me. I recall that the son of my mother's friend downstairs once showed me a deck of pornographic Dutch playing cards, but the tiny images made no lasting impression. (I would later study the gatefolds of PENTHOUSE and PLAYBOY very intently.) We kids existed in a world of vulnerable divorced women who somehow managed to horde a few dollars to finance their precious nights out in the Saint John clubs - a chance to nurse two or three bottles of beer, clinging to the dream of a second chance. A lucky few did find good husbands ... certainly my mother did, after several false starts. The rest of the gals were reduced to cackling over favorite stories of women who wasted their blow jobs in uptown parking lots, or let bums "move in" for the sake of having a man in the house.

LAST EXIT TO BROOKLYN certainly matched my mood this week, and it actually managed to help me feel better about a dismal chapter of my life. I am in fact grateful to its author because I realize now that hell has a sub-basement reserved for the poor which we Jack kids were never forced to explore. I now have Selby's THE ROOM at hand, a novel which some claim was his best. And while I am certainly receptive, I am resigned to waiting for mood to motivate. My wife assures me that I shouldn't have to wait long.
Hubert Selby Jr in his last apartment. He died in 2004.

"You could trust Selby because you knew he’d been there, and because he wasn’t there anymore. Whenever he mentioned past or present agonies, it was never to complain. It was to illustrate some cosmic joke. The cosmic joke. And the story usually ended in a cackle."
- Jerry Stahl

Exactly Jerry. Why trust any novelist who doesn't have scars on his ass or keloids on his soul. I have never found a Canadian novel which captures the authentic language of urban poverty... the trash talk, the despair, the pettiness and larceny, the sharing and the comforting, the bottled rage and brutality, and often the suicidal laziness which I witnessed in my youth.
Mordecai Richler was before my time, and the parodies of Maritimes culture frequently produced by the CBC fiction-factory are in an insult, and tantamount to pissing in our wounds.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The Perks of Driving a Hybrid Car

There was so much bad news to absorb this morning that it was pleasant to read one story that allowed me to step into my wife's office and put a smile on her face. It seems some people are complaining about hybrid vehicles. What we have heard most is that they are expensive or that they are "unproven" technology. But today's belly aching was something new... that hybrid drivers are getting special treatment with parking spots. It seems that IKEA has reserved two spots beside the front door, in front of eleven stores in Canada. One tag line I read whined "Niche consumers get special treatment."

My wife bought a Toyota Camry Hybrid six weeks ago and is very happy with it. Hell I'm happy with it! She's a busy realtor and burns gas like we have our own refinery in the back yard. Since she bought the hybrid she's only refilled the tank three times. That's terrific. The cream in the coffee took place when we took a trip into the U.S. last month. There was better than an hour waiting time to cross in each direction, but while we lost time we didn't lose money. As we inched along car length by car length, to get to the customs window, I was on battery power. Nice!

Buying a Toyota Camry Hybrid was almost as difficult in Vancouver as buying a Nintendo Wii. Originally I tried to persuade her on a RAV but the helpful Winson Wu, a salesman at Westminster Toyota, allowed us to demo his personal vehicle. We weren't even thinking of Hybrid in spite of the TV ads. We were hooked with a thorough examination of the vehicle, a test drive, and the salesman's informed responses to my hardest questions. None of the Toyota lots in town had one to sell her so in the end my wife ordered a car from Winson. It took three weeks to arrive from the factory in Kentucky but we're glad we waited. The environmental incentives were great too - a $3,500 purchase tax discount. $2,000 off B.C.'s PST and a further $1,500 rebate. Moreover Winson taught my wife every feature of the vehicle, allowing her to maximize on her investment. My first EVER car salesman recommendation -

So what if we get a break on parking. They are plenty of people, great and small, who get parking breaks. Take the mayor of our city for instance. He has his own VIP parking stall and yet when I went over to pay my property tax in June I noticed that Mayor Derek Corrigan was parking at the front entrance where anyone else would get ticketed. The other thing I noticed is that he drives a big SUV - a robust Mazda Tribute, licence # 875-EEG.

Now Derek is not just a lawyer and a mayor, he's also a really big bug with the NDP - a man who is in the forefront of pushing big ticket, fully unionized mass transit networks and who professes to hate urban sprawl, ANY new highway construction and is dead against building new arterials and bridges ANYWHERE in Greater Vancouver. Now THAT is guy I would expect to see driving a hybrid or even a hydrogen powered car. After all, Burnaby is home to BALLARD POWER, makers of cutting edge (taxpayer funded) hydrogen fuel cell technology. But then BALLARD was in bed with the Liberal Party - Jean Chretien was their bosom buddy until the Grits got the heave ho in the last federal election. Maybe Derek holds a grudge. Politics here abouts is notoriously vicious.

Here's hoping that other companies start throwing hybrid owner's a few crumbs and maybe a few cities. Vancouver for instance is such a nasty anti-car municipality that the downtown has been losing business for five years running. Hybrid free parking zones might be the only way to draw back some of the exasperated people who now avoid going "downtown" at to shop.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Harper's Bogus Resolve to Protect Canada's North

RCAF Lancaster bomber on its belly, Resolute Bay, Aug. 1950

Did any of you get excited last week about the possibility of the Canadian Forces finally getting serious about our Northern Defence? I certainly did. Recall how Stephen Harper's staff scattered a trail of breadcrumbs in front of the Ottawa press corps, which gave the Tories a week of free headlines speculating about a huge military announcement in the offing. The Feds, the media brayed, were about to make a big commitment to enforcing Canada's Arctic sovereignty. The international media loved it and the BBC even suggesting "Rambo" was packing his snowshoes. Parliamentary staff leaked "training cenre" but the media predicted we would build an Arctic "base". What a load of crap! In fact we are going to build NOTHING.

Why Resolute Bay? Well we already have a gravel airstrip at Resolute, built just after WW2 to supply our weather station. 6,500 feet of its length is still in service. For years we also had an RCAF detachment on site and today the bones of several aircraft are still found scattered around the field. Currently the runway is controlled by the Nunavut aboriginal government and it is used by Air Canada to fly in the mail, frozen pizzas, the occasional clutch of scientists and oh yeah - politicians needing to make token announcements.

The existing Resolute Bay air terminal, 2004. Not much traffic.

This morning's Globe & Mail tells us: "The military training facility at Resolute Bay will house 100 Canadian Forces personnel. It will cost $4-million to refurbish the existing federal buildings, with a further $2-million a year to operate the centre that will employ 12 full-time staff." So that's it! They will "refurbish" an existing facility, get it? What they are talking about is the Polar Continental Shelf Project, established in 1958, and which operates an 80 bed hostelry for visiting scientists and adventure film crews.

This polar ice research center (photo) is now designated a "military training centre". It will be upgraded from an 80 bed hostel for scientists, to a 100 bed hostel for military trainees.

Keep this in mind: the Canadian Forces once had as as many as 6,000 to 10,000 personnel in the Arctic, depending on the scale of annual exercises using our military installations, and also NORAD's evolving early warning operations. The village of Resolute Bay, created by our military, once had a weather station and added the aforementioned Polar Ice Shelf project. The RCAF operated the airfield with an ATC detachment and it was also host to the old Airforce Arctic Survival School. What happened? Well the military pulled out of Resolute when the politicians decided the Arctic had little strategic value. Hell, they even gave the Northwest Territories away to the aboriginals, renamed it Nunavut and informed Canadian schoolkids that it's now "there land". No wonder the Kremlin has become emboldened. They're taking their cues from Ottawa. Expect Mr. Putin or his successor to open negotiations with his real northern neighbors - the Inuit.

So now our DND is authorized to assume the annual operating costs of feeding the white elephant, and to "refurbish" the existing facility, which was always seldom used. The military will ADD 20 BEDS and guarantee the payroll for twelve full-time caretakers. Big deal! And this is the exciting force projection which the Prime Minister has the gall to term a "training facility," - a super-hostel that won't have enough beds to accommodate an infantry rifle company??? What sort of deployment are they thinking of to intimidate Mr. Putin? In fact the message to the Russkies is "Please don't embarrass us, and we won't harass your Arctic operations".

Oh yes, our Arctic phalanx does include troops of sorts. The G&M reports:

"As well as the two military posts, the 4,100-member Canadian Rangers patrol – the rifle-toting Inuit volunteer force – will be increased by 900 members. The expanded Rangers program will cost $240-million over 20 years, an average $12-million a year. The program will take on new patrol routes and have its equipment – which consists of trademark red uniforms and antique rifles modernized."

Well I discussed this very issue in June. The truth is that the Ranger program is tapped out. Experts here in Vancouver who work among the Inuit, say the tiny communities simply cannot offer any more bodies to the program. They prefer high paying mine jobs, and the holiday trips to Toronto which high wages can buy.What are we going to get for $12 Million per year? Nothing.

What the Rangers will get is cool new snow mobiles, satellite phones and M16s. Good for them, but the Russians know the truth. If Ottawa is unwilling to position genuine military units in the north, (and that seems to be the case) then Canada is signaling our response to the Kremlin's territorial claims. The Tory government's political posturing will scarcely annoy the Russians or delay their industrial deployment to the polar sea. What the Americans initiate in Alaska will be more significant to any geopolitical wrestling match at the North Pole, and generate the kind of hard news stories we are waiting for.

A local landmark greets aircraft decending to Resolute Bay strip.