Sunday, December 31, 2006

On The LastDay Of Christmas, My Family Gave To Me

....A Year Ending Memory.....



Little e. has been listening to her new favorite, Louis Armstrong, all day in preparation; for Bigger E., who I picked up from her friend's C. earlier today where they went berserk with singing, guitar and bass playing, it was The Clash's 'London Calling' while cleaning the bathroom.

Guests start to arrive. One of the evening's tasks is to come up with the top stories/events of 2006, predictions for 2007, and things you would like to happen; little e says her favorite thing is.....'Today! No, wait.... my favorite is...... Everything!' I guess all Satchmo all the time will do that to a kid.

Notice a Technorati hit on 'Billmon'...It's from Philadelphia PA, original home of Dick Clark's 'American Bandstand' if I'm not mistaken....Could hit of the non-45 kind be originating from Mr. Mon himself?

Neko Case blasting on stereo; Geez that woman can sing......Everybody is telling tales of their favorite New Year's of all times...Funny how they all seem to center on ones that happened when people were twenty-two.

Tales of youthful debauchery abound....E. shows great interest....e. decides it's time to do people's nails....Me, I'm having a go at the Littlest Pet Shop Tamugachi....Those Tanya's Being Good are up now, OK I guess, but not quite the Rockin' New Year's Eve most in crowd are looking for....Maybe we can sneak Louis back into the mix soon?

OK, nobody is on top of the tables yet, but e. is doing some 'chair dancing' and she is finding willing partners....Volume of both music and conversation are increasing....I am no officially DJ.

E. mentions massages....No response...Until she mentions feet.....Appendages immediately fly-out all over the place.....Chicago up, Ode to/from Billy Flynn drives the crowd maddening...

No longer any shoes on any female feet....entire place smells like peach fizz and tsatsuma....Disco Inferno burns white hot.

Righteous Brothers wail...all thoughts of early faux New Year's for little e. have gone out the window....People are now making fun of the fact that I have a jacket on, now tie mind you, but still....Twisted Sister sends needle to, in the words of Nigel Tufnel, 'eleven, which is louder than 10 by 1'.

Little bit of a downer..... K. calls......she won't be coming before she heads for the airport to catch her wee hours flight back to Vietnam where she is teaching.....consensus Movie of the Year pick is 'Little Miss Sunshine'....hmmm....don't think Metacritics quite agrees .....'Wouldn't It Be Lovely' from My Fair Lady is the change of pace on the non-turnable turntable.

Ha! K., a.k.a. 'The Trickster', does come by for fly-by, flash-in-pan visit.....C. immediately springs into action and makes her vegetarian Gyozas for road....Asian food for a woman going to Asia - go figure.....E.'s dance mix now on; honestly, I have no idea but, then again, I am an old guy.....

'Mambo No. 5'....Total anarchy now (but never in the UK)....This may be the highest point of the evening....b/w 'Train In Vain'.

e. breaks out the fake moustaches.....C. looks vaguely like Charlie Chaplin....Sorbet comes and goes....We are now in the homestretch....I have given up on playing DJ for the moment, a mix from our friend G. is now on extended play.

At last minute our friend B., who is staying over, convinces girls to have a P.J. New Years, which is a great idea until they start running up and down street with noisemakers (see image above - maybe OK idea anyhow)....Fireworks and boat horns from harbour go off, reminding me fondly of old days in Oakland where the noises were mostly guns being fired into the night sky.....e. burns finger slightly on dead-headed sparkler....cursory round of clean-ups have begun....E. says quietly, as she heads for her bedroom.....

"That was fun Dad, Happy New Year"


Unscripted post-script of the year's passing: When I was a kid my Dad always used to say "See you next year!" when he tucked us into bed on New Years Eve......e. actually burned her thumb and index finger on the sparkler, not real bad, but bad enough to keep her awake for awhile. As a result, I had to go deep into the bedtime guitar songs, even pulled out Mr. Tamborine Man for an extended play with made-up verses about Satchmo's adventures with that Irish guy's figment of his Strongman's imagination...... E., for her part, has decided to go in the Polar Bear swim with her friend J. at English Bay; this is no idle threat, she has done it numerous times before and she actually stays in and swims until I finally stamp my feet and tell her it's time to go, don't know how many more years she will listen; film at 11.


BC Rails 'R Us


As the obfuscatory dung flung at the BC Rail fraud case thickens, it is important to remember what the charges actually are.

So, as a public service we reprint a redacted version here, courtesy one of the legally adroit Anon-O-Mice that frequent Mary's very fine house of Citizen Journalism:

HMTQ v. BASI, Aneal

011 - accepting bribe as government official

012 - breach of trust by public officer

HMTQ v. BASI, Udhe S.


001 - accepting bribe as government official

003 - accepting bribe from person dealing with government

005 - offering to influence government official

007 - breach of trust by public officer

009 - fraud over $5,000.

010 - fraud over $5,000.

HMTQ v. VIRK, Bobby S.


002 - accepting bribe as government official

004 - accepting bribe from person dealing with government

006 - offering to influence government official

008 - breach of trust by public officer

009 - fraud over $5,000.
010 - fraud over $5,000.

Two counts against two of the men in more detail:
Count 9

Udhe Singh (Dave) BASIS and Bobby Singh VIRK, between the 1st day of April, 2002 and the 28th day of December, 2003, at or near Victoria, or elsewhere in the Province of British Columbia, did by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, defraud Canadian National Railway Company, Canadian Pacific Railway, CIBC World Markets Inc., and the Government of British Columbia, of an amount exceeding $5,000.00, by recklessly putting at risk the bidding process for the Freight Division of BC Rail in disclosing to interested third parties confidential government documents and confidential government information including Cabinet confidences, contrary to Section 380(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.

Count 10

Udhe Singh (Dave) BASIS and Bobby Singh VIRK, between the 1st day of January, 2003 and the 28th day orf December, 2003, at or near Victoria, or elsewhere in the Province of British Columbia, did by deceit, falsehood or other fraudulent means, defraud(1)Macquarie North America Ltd. and OmniTRAX Inc.,(2)a consortium which included Canadian National Railway Company, Canadian Pacific Railway and the Vancouver Port Authority,(3)TD Securities Inc., and(4)the Government of British Columbia, of an amount exceeding $5,000.00, by recklessly putting at risk the bidding process for the Port Subdivision of BC Rail in disclosing to interested third parties confidential government documents and confidential government information including Cabinet confidences, contrary to Section 380(1)(a) of the Criminal Code.

See the word 'grow-op' in there anywhere?

Me neither.

Image courtesy of the very interesting 'Live Steaming' site.
Also, if you need a primer to get ready for the coming (we hope) 'Trial of the Century', Bill Tieleman has a number of his previous posts archived here.
The complete text of the charges can also be found archived at Sean Holman's place where you still won't find any reference to a grow-op, or Mary Jane for that matter.


(a)Typical Winter Question


Ever wonder what would have happened if Dave from the Stewart Maclean 'Dave and Morley' stories had a slightly wilder twin brother who moved out west to say, I dunno, Lake Cowichan, where he put down roots, rode motorcycles, ran wild in the woods, and started philosophizing?

Well, if he did, he'd probably be at least a little bit like our favorite skeptic, Thursday:

Giving a "scientific" religious book published in 1985 to someone who occasionally wanders off to see what silliness Answers in Genesis is up to this week, it's a bit like, well, playing DOOM in God mode (so to speak); or appearing on Celebrity Jepoardy; or possibly as challenging as dropping a ball in a downward direction.



Saturday, December 30, 2006

Dead Is Dead


Riverbend, the young woman blogger who has chronicled the Bush-driven Baghdadian death spiral from the very beginning has a very eloquent post up, written pre-lynching, that ends like this:

Here we come to the end of 2006 and I am sad. Not simply sad for the state of the country, but for the state of our humanity, as Iraqis. We've all lost some of the compassion and civility that I felt made us special four years ago. I take myself as an example. Nearly four years ago, I cringed every time I heard about the death of an American soldier. They were occupiers, but they were humans also and the knowledge that they were being killed in my country gave me sleepless nights. Never mind they crossed oceans to attack the country, I actually felt for them.

Had I not chronicled those feelings of agitation in this very blog, I wouldn't believe them now. Today, they simply represent numbers. 3000 Americans dead over nearly four years? Really? That's the number of dead Iraqis in less than a month. The Americans had families? Too bad. So do we. So do the corpses in the streets and the ones waiting for identification in the morgue.

Is the American soldier that died today in Anbar more important than a cousin I have who was shot last month on the night of his engagement to a woman he's wanted to marry for the last six years? I don't think so.

Just because Americans die in smaller numbers, it doesn't make them more significant, does it?

Of course there can only be one true answer to a question like that.



Hang 'Em High


I know this is going to sound crass, but based on the Rovian's past performance in the InfoDom game it is impossible to not at least contemplate the following......

Is it possible that the ultimate Friday document dump that just arrived at the front end of the longest long weekend of the longest Iraqi year, ever, is actually not made of paper but rather of former flesh and blood hitting the pavement with a thud after it has been cut loose from the gallows pole?


Friday, December 29, 2006

That Sh*t Eating Grin?


After a couple of thousand envelope-pushing posts Billmon has finally crashed and burned, this time apparently for good.

Thus, there will soon be a whole lotta wailing and gnashing of teeth across the entire depth and breadth of Left Blogistan.

Which is understandable, especially if, like Dennis Quaid/Gordo Cooper in the Right Stuff, you really and truly do think that Billmon was the best there ever was.

But I for one am not worried because, if you really want to know, I think Mr. Mon has gone off and hooked himself one King Hella book deal.

All of which has me wondering if you can pre-order something on Amazon that hasn't even been written yet.



Wednesday, December 27, 2006

On The 11th Day Of Christmas, Mr. Hahn Gave To Me


.....A Hundred Dollar Trip On B.C. Ferries.....

Well, actually, it was $101.60 to be exact, for Tsawwassen to Swartz Bay.

Which works out to a $200 round trip for a family of four with a standard-sized vehicle.

And that doesn't even count the sixty or seventy bucks spent on 8 crappy meals, newspapers and a trip to the message chairs in an attempt to lower my soaring, P3-induced increase in blood pressure*.

It's like Great Aunty Bertha has said many times before......

'Ridership down, profits up......Guess who get's screwed?'

Or something to that effect**.

*And/or take a shot at playing the 'Rolling Zeros' game with the roving hordes of urchins hanging around the instant portrait machine.
**Alison also takes a well-justified run at the latest spinorama performed by Mr. Hahn and his minions.


Saturday, December 23, 2006

On The 10th Day Of Christmas, My Students Gave To Me

.....Fantastic Data To Hang On The Tree....

It's a funny thing about the science business.

You spend fifteen years training like a whacked-out obsessive-compulsive to actually do it.

Then, if you are any good at it, you soon stop doing it.


Because if you are lucky enough to start up your own lab (and make no mistake luck plays a huge part in it) you soon find out that it is like running a small business where the papers you publish are the currency you use to get the grants to buy the stuff (like this)(link to Olympus confocal) to do the experiments that are no longer carried out by you but rather by the post-docs and the gradual students that work with you.


I still remember the exact moment I decided to become a science geek for real.

It was a beautiful spring morning in 1986.

I had just started gradual school* and was doing my first big experiment on my own. As such, I had spent the previous day, all 16 hours of it, teasing apart tiny amounts of minced tissue so that I could enzymatically digest them in an effort to release a few hundred thousand steroidogenic cells into a solution containing a magic mixture of insulin, selenium, transferrin, pituitary extract, and fetal bovine serum. After that, I loaded the cells onto a density gradient column and centriguged them before I finally plopped them gently onto coverslips coated with a super-special goop containing extracellular matrix molecules, chief amongst them a variant of Type I collagen that my boss of the time, a crazed women from Yugoslavia by way of Vienna who was both an inspiration and the second smartest person I've ever met**, was convinced would postively regulate the transcriptional expression of the mitocondrial P-450 dehydrogenase.

Did you get all that?

Well, if not, it doesn't really matter because, truth be told, it was nothing but a small indulgence in science-geek flim-flammery/show-offery.

Because on the day in question all I really wanted to know was whether or not I'd managed to isolate a bunch of cells and keep 'em alive overnight.

So, when I looked down the barrel of the microscope and saw those little 10 micron blobs with the teensy-weency refractile droplets of cytoplasmic lipid that signals steroid production, I was hooked for good.


The thing is, when you are no longer actually producing the data yourself, but instead are just analyzing it, you still enjoy it, but you are no longer obsessed by it.

Instead, pretty soon, you begin to marvel at those who are.

And so it was this morning when I stopped by the lab to finish one last administrative duty, a report on a thesis that a colleague had been badgering me about for weeks, before heading off for the duration of the holidays.

When I was done, I wandered down the hall to check on the incubators and heard murmuring from the confocal room.

And when I poked my head in the door, don't forget this is Saturday morning on Christmas Eve-Eve, I found M. and J. jabbering away while pointing excitedly at the dual monitor display.

What they were so excited about doesn't really matter.

Well, actually it does if you care anything at all about small mucins that can regulate how cells interact with that super-goop I mentioned above, but that's another story for another time.

Instead what really mattered at that exact moment was their excitement.

Which is just about the greatest gift students can give to their teacher.


The colorful orb at the top of the piece is not actually a Christmas tree ornament but rather a hollow ball of cells held together by little strips of molecular velcro stuck to their outer surfaces (green). They have a thin layer of mucin on the inside (red) and their DNA is blue. The image was generated by M. on a confocal scanning laser microscope earlier this year.
*Gradual school is a place you go to work and work and work, both with your hands and your head for very little money, until you finally decide that you don't want to go anymore. It's also the place where, if you want, you can find out what University is really supposed to be like, both in terms of really digging into something intellectually (ie. there are no multiple choice exams in a real Ph.D.) and the finding truly kindred spirits (ie. you forge real, lasting friendships with people you are stuck in a hothouse with for 5 years or so - artistic co-operatives are like that too, or so I've been told).
**The smartest person I've ever met was my next boss who was a crazed, inspirational woman from Tehran Iran by way of Boston Mass and Berkeley California.


Friday, December 22, 2006

On The 9th Day Of Christmas, E. Gave To Me

...A Parental Epiphany....

Yesterday was our oldest daughter E.'s last day of school before the holidays.

And what a term it has been - her first in highschool.

Now, those of you who read these pages with any regularity whatsoever will know that I have been filled with angst over the coming of E's teenagerdom.

In fact, anyone who knows me well will probably tell you that this is an issue that is driving me, well, just a little bit batty.

For which I apologize, both to you and, more importantly, to E.

Because it is her life, not mine.

And yesterday when she shared a little bit of that life with me I was truly amazed.

Not that what she had to tell me was earth shattering or anything, at least in terms of her personal life.


It was just a bit of homework.

Specifically, she had been preparing for a debate.

And the debate was about abortion.

And within minutes it became clear to me that she had already worked her own way through all sorts of facts, angles, twists, turns, and points of view.

In fact, she had become so-well versed on this complex subject that when she asked me what I thought I had very little of substance to add, although with my science-geek background I was able to explain what 'quick' meant, at least in biological/developmental terms.

Which is not to say that I haven't thought hard about this issue myself, it's just that E.'s unexpected brilliance temporarily blinded, and blindsided, me.

Later though, while riding my bike to work, I let my mind wander back over our conversation and was suddenly struck dumb by the realization that it might actually be kind of fun to have a smart, thoughtful kid who is growing-up, fast.

Not to mention the fact that I would soon have to be prepared for the time when she would know a whole lot more about a whole lot of subjects then me.

And with that I began to pedal as hard as I could, just like I used to when I was a kid myself trying to clear my mind completely so that I could get ready to see the next big thing looming over the horizon.


The image at the top is the first page of a draft of Associate Justice Harry Blackburn's opinion for the US Supreme Court in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. The red pencil comments are those of the Chief Justice of the time, Warren Burger.


Thursday, December 21, 2006

On The 8th Day Of Christmas, My Barber Gave To Me

....Some Middle Eastern History....

When he's done, the amount of hair on the floor says quite a bit about how much my barber has just taught me.

And this afternoon there were small mountains of dead keratin all over the place.

And precious little left on my head


My friend, and barber, F., is from Lebanon.

And despite the fact that he has not had an easy life, or perhaps because of it, F. is more full of life than just about anyone else I know.

Today, for example, he was very excited to tell me about the arrival of snowshoe season.

Turns out you can get a full calendar year gondola ticket for Grouse Mountain for only $97 and F. plans to get the fullest use from his this winter tramping around in the snow like a middle eastern madman in gortex.

But please do not misunderstand me; unlike stupid snowboard kids F. always stays in-bounds.


Most of F.'s family still lives in Lebanon and he has often regaled me with tales of the olive groves and the vacation spots.

In fact, last year, when I was pondering a trip to Israel for work, he had pretty much convinced me to take a side-trip to visit the Bekaa Valley.

But then worldly events intervened and ended all and sundry thoughts of that.

But those events were not so worldly for F.'s family.

Because when I asked him about them today he was clearly saddened. All his relatives are O.K. physically, but fiscally, not to mention emotionally, they are crushed.

Then, at my urging, F. launched into a detailed history lesson filled with tales of sectarian strife, civil wars, and occupations, both benign and brutal.

He was still going strong a half hour later when the old lady who owns the second-hand store next door brought in a round of Christmas Caesar's that signaled the beginning of cocktail hour.

So F. decided to finish-up quickly instead of giving me a full-length lecture on the life and times of Michel Aoun, not to mention a buzzcut like I haven't had since my Mom first got her hands on a set electric 'Mohawk' clippers back when I was seven years old.

As I was tightening up my bike helmut the three notches it took to take up the slack generated by the mass of missing hair, F. slid into his barber's chair and began to gnaw on the celery from his Caesar.

Not wanting to miss my chance, I decided to ask him how the Americans could do the right thing and really, truly help the people of the Middle East.

As I did so I got ready to sit myself down again in one of the waiting area chairs figuring I was in for a long and convoluted answer.

But I needn't have bothered.

Because F. just sighed and gave me an answer that was shorter than my hair.

'All they have to do is leave, and leave us alone.'

Then he smiled wanly, took a gulp of his drink, and wished me a Merry Christmas.

On the spot, I made a mental note to get F. a nice pair of gloves, and maybe a really warm toque as well, before my next visit.


The image above is a pencil drawing by David Floyd who, as far as I can tell, was never actually a barber or a cast member of 'The Andy Griffith Show'.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

On The 7th Day Of Christmas, My Neighbours Gave To Me

.....Caroling Way Off Key.....

When we first moved back to Vancouver half of our possessions went to Bismark North Dakota while the other half sat in a warehouse on the waterfront docks in West Oakland for a month or so.

So we decided to stay with our friend, and guardian angel, K.

At the time K. lived in a neighbourhood of old, dumpy rowhouses with wild, wide open yards.

It was a place where kids ran free and neighbours borrowed sugar, books, TV sets, washing machines, time, joys, and even sorrows, at the drop of a hat.

They also regularly pulled their picnic tables together for parties and celebrations of all kinds, rain or shine.

In other words, it was a small town oasis smack-dab-in-the-middle of the big city.

As a result, C. and I decided it was the place we wanted to raise our kids.

And for seven years we did.

Until the greedheads finally did us in.

Not that we didn't try our best to fight them, including putting together eight-figure financing and winning the local government, as well as the much tonier surrounding neighbourhoods, over to our side.

But in the end we lost for all kinds of reasons, including one that was purely provincial (ie. ideological).


Anyway, the old neighbourhood is all gone now.

And in its place high-security condos and townhouses with postage stamp-sized, fenced-in, no-fun, no-roam-patio yards are being built to sit empty so that they can subsequently be flipped-out at $500 a square foot.

Which means that everybody that used to live there has scattered to the four winds.

Including K., who has landed the farthest away, in Vietnam, where she is a teacher.

Most of the others are dotted throughout the Lower Mainland.

And last night many of them, including K. who is home for the holidays, came to our new house in the near-Eastern Townships so that all the kids could once again run up and down the street, careen across lawns, leap onto porches, and bang on doors before stepping back to sing Christmas carols with the rest of us.

Now, it is important for you to understand that we actually sang very, very badly indeed.

And some of the songs, as Little e. pointed out to me later while she was brushing her teeth before bed, were pretty boring, especially 'the slow ones about God'.

But none of that mattered one little bit.

Because we all had a great time even though the wind was just starting to howl and the rain was plopping drops into our rapidly cooling hot chocolate.

And most of our new neighbours seemed to enjoy themselves too, including the lady down the street that disappeared for a moment and came back to her front door with a huge box of brandy-creme filled chocolates for all of us.

Which, I guess, is just another way of telling you that it sure is funny how a bad moving company and something that cost less than zero in the beginning can ultimately come to be something worth way, way more than anything money can ever possibly buy.


The image above is from the old neighbourhood; a picnic table gathering in sunnier times.


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On The 6th Day Of Christmas, HST's Ghost Gave To Me

.....A Carbuncle Under The Tree.....

   "I remember one Christmas morning in Manhattan when we got into the
Empire State Building and went up to the Executive Suite of some
famous underwear company and shoved a 600-pound red, tufted-leather
Imperial English couch out of a corner window on something like the
eighty-fifth floor....The wind caught it, as I recall, and it sort of
drifted around the corner onto Thirty-fourth Street, picking up speed
on its way down, and hit the striped awning of a Korean market, you
know, the kind that sells everything from kimchi to Christmas trees.
The impact blasted watermelons and oranges and tomatoes all over the
sidewalk. We could barely see the impact from where we were, but I
remember a lot of activity on the street when we came out of the
elevator.... It looked like a war zone. A few gawkers were standing
around in a blizzard, muttering to each other and looking dazed. They
thought it was an underground explosion -- maybe a subway or a gas

Just as we arrived on the scene, a speeding cab skidded on some
watermelons and slammed into a Fifth Avenue bus and burst into flames.
There was a lot of screaming and wailing of police sirens Two cops
began fighting with a gang of looters who had emerged like ghosts out
of the snow and were running off with hams and turkeys and big jars of
caviar....Nobody seemed to think it was strange. What the hell? Shit
happens. Welcome to the Big Apple. Keep alert. Never ride in open cars
or walk to too close to a tall building when it snows ....There were
Christmas trees scattered all over the street and cars were stopping
to grab them and speeding away. We stole one and took it to Missy's
place on the Bowery, because we knew she didn't have one. But she
wasn't home, so we put the tree out on the fire escape and set it on
fire with kerosene.
  That's how I remember New York, Jann. It was always a time of angst
and failure and turmoil. Nobody ever seemed to have any money on
Christmas. Even rich people were broke and jabbering frantically on
their telephones about Santa Claus and suicide or joining a church
with no rules....The snow was clean and pretty for the first twenty or
thirty minutes around dawn, but after that it was churned into filthy
mush by drunken cabbies and garbage compactors and shitting dogs.

Anybody who acted happy on Christmas was lying -- even the ones who were
getting paid $500 an hour...."
Fear and Loathing in Elko, Hunter S. Thompson
Rolling Stone #622, January 23, 1992

This was actually Thompson's second screed that centered on a road trip to Elko (ie. not Las Vegas) Nevada.

And both were bought and paid for by Jann Wenner.

The first, in 1974, was full of hope and light and the Power of the Freak banging up hard against bigtime politics in The Age of Nixon.

Heckfire, back then the going was so good that Thompson even had Patrick J. Buchanan on his side.

Sort of.

The piece on the second trip to Elko, however, was in many ways the polar opposite of the first because it was totally devoid of hope. In fact, it was so over the top in its meaness and misanthropy that I rarely read it even though it is filled to bursting with many fine examples of Thompson's technical wizardry as a wordsmith.

And the excerpt above, which is little more than a digression at the end, is actually very mild compared to the extremely vile and ugly main vein of the thing.

So why am I bringing it up here, smack dab in the middle of the Twelve Days of Christmas, if I figure it means less than zero thematically?

Well, something happened today that made me realize that a good dose of colon-cleansing misanthropy is sometimes the only way to deal with these, the times of the new dumb.


It all began when the Internets told me that it was my duty to swallow my pride and head for Toy'sRUs, which is located on the old BowMac lot on Broadway.

I arrived on my bike in the dying light of a gloomy, mist-laden Vancouver afternoon in December.

The sidewalk was awash in beggars, people begging for cabs, glistening puddles filled with cigarette butts, and the stomach-churning scent of a Mr. Tube Steak stand.

But, if truth be told, the time actually spent within the bowels of the store itself wasn't so bad after all.

In fact, for the first 15 minutes or so I had a blast gawking at all the board games before I finally got down to brass tacks and found what I was looking for, an old-style blitzkrieg-boppish action figure thing that my brothers and I played with as kids, and will now be playing once again in six days or so.

Even a long wait in the check-out line was relatively pleasent as I chatted with a harried looking, but extremely nice, woman with a fully laden cart who told me that she has 4 kids under the age of ten. As a result, she trys her best to get 90% of her shopping done in one shot.

But all the niceties evaporated when I began to move through the funnel aisles that shot me towards the single exit door which was blocked by a woman dressed in what looked like a modern version of the shrink-wrap variations.

The woman was screeching at a cluster of 5 or 6 teenaged staff members who were doing their best to haul a huge box the size of two shower stalls out onto the sidewalk.

My first thought, as I lent them a hand getting the thing through the door was....

'I didn't know they sell fridges at Toys'RUs.'

But of course it was not a fridge, or even humungous version of that old standby, the Easy-Bake Oven.

Instead, it was a motorized, to-scale, full-metal jacket version of a Cadillac Escalade.

And the vehicle the kids shoved it into was a full-sized version of the real thing.

As I backed away from the scene a bum emerged from the shadows to ask for spare change.

Shrink-wrap woman attempted to curl her lips in disgust, but the whiff of the botulinum left her face frozen half-way between a smile and a leer as she turned away without acknowledging either the bum or the young kids that had just slid the hunk of mini-metal into her giant-sized hunk of metal and fetishized chrome.

And suddenly I realized that maybe, just maybe, the good Docktor's prescribed medicine to stave off the worst of the madness of our waygone world was not all flim-flam and quackery after all.


The image at the top depicts the final launching of Thompson's ashes into the strat-o-matic-o-sphere.


Monday, December 18, 2006

On The 5th Day Of Christmas, An Angel Gave For Free

....A Backpack Full Of Necesseties....

The angel's name is Gab Laurence and she's been helping to keep folks from getting infected by all manner of microbes on Vancouver's Downtown Eastside.

And now, on top of all that she's decided to give some of those folks backpacks full of stuff they need.

Gab Laurence, 23, has been handing out (clean) needles with DEYAS for the last year and made it her mission to work on Christmas day and help the people she's come to know so well.

"I really felt more and more connected to the community," she explained. "My goal is to work the Christmas shift and make them feel more appreciated."

Laurence's idea was to give out a backpack full of necessities - toques, mitts, socks, deodorant and treats - to 50 people but she had no idea how to come up with the supplies for the gift packs.

"I needed some way to spread the word to my local community," she said. "My plan was to just send out a mass e-mail until I was told about and posted [it] on the blog.

The 'blog' is actually a cluster-dome of individual folks announcing how they are trying to do the right thing, and it's sponsored by Vancity.

Now, normally, I don't go for this sort of quasi-corporate co-optation, but this one looks to be a reasonable facsimile of the real thing.

And Ms. Laurence's page details how she is already way ahead of her initial goal.

She also has the details about how you can help her help others if you are so inclined.

Thanks to the ever altruistic Rob Cottingham for the original link.


On The 4th Day Of Christmas, The Whackos Gave To Thee...

....A Very Bad Alternative To The Gun Registry....

A national firearms lobby group is urging Canadian women to obtain concealed gun permits in the United States and then use those permits to seek the same right in Canada, in order to protect themselves and reduce crime.

"Women will be able to protect human life from criminal violence," David Tomlinson, president of the National Firearms Association, told in an interview on Monday.


Sheldon Clare, president of the NFA in British Columbia, told CBC News his group believes that arming even a few women in Canada will deter assailants.

Allowing women to carry guns, he said, will send a message to would-be criminals that "what they might perceive as formerly defenceless women … might now not be so easy of a target."


And what's worse, they have apparently enlisted a Vancouver School Trustee to lobby the Prime Minister on the issue.

So forget about Afghanistan for the moment, because it seems to me that this type of thing best demonstrates why we really need tohave a non-confidence vote, like, yesterday.


Because the whackos are wriggling and writhing their way out of the woodwork and the most CRAPtacular members of Mr. Harper's government just may be their very best termitic enablers.



Saturday, December 16, 2006

On The 3rd Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me

.....A Visit From The Tree Baby.....

Back in the days before we were married C. and I used to house-sit and take care of other people's kids.

A lot.

I like to think it it had something to do with my highly superior, if somewhat waning, skills obtained as a camp counsellor.

Of course, the real reason people trusted us with their most prized possessions was because C. has real life childcare abilities, not to mention a gift to play the role of the pied piper at the drop of a hat.

The latter gift has never left her, and in the intervening years C. has become an Elvis-like icon for the younger set. In fact, it has gotten to the point where you can't go anywhere with her these days and not be mobbed by little ones.

And because she's been at it for a while now lots of those little ones have since become big ones.

And C. remembers them all, including their names.

And they remember her too.


One of those now grown-up kids that C. once mezmorized with tunes like 'Animal Party' and 'Joshua Giraffe' was at our house for dinner last night.

When she was little we used to call this kid 'Tree Baby' because she would climb anything with foilage.

Anyway, T.B. and her slightly older sister have now become the kind of truly interesting, and interested, young women of composure and self-confidence that you hope your own kid might choose to emulate.

And our oldest kid, E., appears to be doing just that.

So, when the formalities and the dinner were over, it was great fun to hear them all down in the basement wailing away on E.'s little karoake machine.

And E., or course, was beaming when the girl formerly known as Tree Baby asked if she could borrow the little machine for her 19th birthday party that is looming just over the horizon.

As for our youngest kid e., well, she lent T.B.'s younger brother her own 'Simon-Says' toy just as they were all going out the door.

Then e. got her pyjama's on and climbed into her lower bed on the bunk.

And then E. climbed up onto the top bunk where she used to sleep when we lived in the old house back before she got her own room.

And then E. told e. a story, made-up right out of her own head.

Imagine that.

And then I played the guitar, and while I am no pied piper I do know three and-a-half serviceable chords or so.

And all was right with the world.

At least for a moment or two.



Thursday, December 14, 2006

On The Second Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me....

....Utterances From My Two Kids Named E.

So, yesterday our oldest daughter, Bigger E., asked me which of the following I liked better, because she has to tell the 'Pun of the Day' in English class today:

'What do you call a melon that can't get married?'

......A Can't Elope.


Where is graphite made?

......In Pencil Vania.

I chose the latter, but either way I know she'll do a good job because E. is the real actress in the family.

Did I mention that E. is thirteen?

Which brings up something else that E. mentioned yesterday, and that is the fact that her 13th year seems like it has been the longest of all the ones she's had so far.

At first I didn't get it.

But now that I've thought about it for a bit, and mentally flipped through all the things she's done and gone through in the almost year she's been 13, I think I do understand because, Wow!, life sure changes for a kid that age.

Which is both exciting and kind of melancholy-inducing at the same time, especially when you realize that she can never really go back again.


A few minutes later, we were sitting around the Christmas tree reading 'Scooby Doo et Les Fantomes' while listening to a Louis Armstrong Christmas album when our younger daughter, littler e., suddenly stopped reading, looked up, and said:

'That's what I want to do.'

'What?', I asked, puzzled, thinking perhaps that e. actually wanted to become a french immersion version of Casey Kasem playing Shaggy in Summerstock in the Laurentians.

'Play the piano,' she said.

'But you already play the piano,' I replied (e. is taking piano lessons right now).

'But I wanna play the piano like that, ' she said.

'Like what?' I asked.

'Like that,' she said, pointing emphatically to the CD player.

We were listening to a really funky duet of Armstrong and Velma Middleton doing a live version of 'Baby It's Cold Outside', and in the background of the track you could just barely hear some deep-freeze cool tinkling of the ivories.

Did I mention that e. is only seven?


Gone Flippin'


While big Rich Coleman sets the hook with no substance comments about a social housing catastrophe he and his colleagues did their best to create, it turns out that treaties are not the only way British Columbia's LINO's have been flipping crown land out to developers:

By —Andrew MacLeod
Dec 13 2006, Monday Magazine

Ray Zimmerman draws a finger across the topographical lines on a map showing land in the Highlands near Mount Finlayson that changed hands betwen the provincial government and Western Forest Products in 2001. “The crown got the land that wasn’t much good for development because of it’s steepness,” he says. “The chunk that’s given away is the developable one.”

WFP turned around within a few months and sold the land it acquired to the developers of Bear Mountain resort, where part of it is now home to a golf course. WFP sold the 45 or so hectares for $1.05 million, the same amount they’d paid the government.

Zimmerman, who was active in the effort to save the Sooke Hills greenbelt in the 1990s, asks, “Why were they giving Crown land away in an urban area at that time?”

According to Jim Stephen, who works on land management for WFP, the area in question was part of a larger deal. The province wanted land in the Varney Bay area to add to Marble River Provincial Park near Port Alice on northern Vancouver Island. In exchange, says Stephen, the government offered various properties that were attractive to WFP, including the area the company later sold to Bear Mountain.

As for the timing, he says, it was coincidental that the deal completed within months of the B.C. Liberals taking office. “These deals take a long time to come together,” he says.

Yes, the company flipped the property pretty quickly, he says, but it was at a time when WFP was having financial trouble. “The company was trying to generate money,” he says. “We went through a period of time where we were identifying surplus land and selling it to generate cash.”

A man named Bob Flitton worked on the deal for WFP. Interestingly, he now works for Bear Mountain. He did not return calls.

Sound fishy?

Sure does.

And if this is a good deal for British Columbians, why do I keep seeing adverts for the land we used to own in the 'Escapes' pages of the New York Times?

Update: Reader Big Audible Dyn-O-Mite reminds us that Paul Willcocks wrote about a much bigger give away, both in terms of hectarage and money, that the LINO's recently gave to another lumber company, Weyerhauser, on central Vancouver Island. Oh, and the ultimate point man on that one just happened to be none other than the afore-mentioned Mr. Coleman.


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

On The First Day Of Christmas, My True Love Gave To Me....

.....A Charlie Brown 'In-The-Stand' Tree

Last Monday, that day of super wild wind, lashing rain, and traffic lights out all over the place, I finally made it across town, the seemingly endless array of (no)four-way-stops notwithstanding.

Almost immediately my two daughters, Bigger E. and littler e., and me headed out to our local Lion's Club treelot at 41st and Fraser.

When we got there the old guys running the place were soaking wet but still as jolly as ever as they helped us choose our own special ball of needles.

And the choosing took awhile because at first E. wanted a behemoth that couldn't possibly fit in the house while e. was momentarily smitten by one of those cultivated treebots with branches denser than lead and a trunk the diameter of a dinner plate.

Then, suddenly, they settled on a stubby six footer that would be, as e. said, 'just perfect because it would be easy for Mom to put the angel on top.' E. agreed, but also mentioned that she liked the way the 'branches were sort-of crooked at the bottom'.

E. is now a teenager who likes the Ramones and creative dishevelment.

I was skeptical in the extreme, but the girls persevered, and so in the end we lugged Stubby over to the rickety sawhorses where the the old guys argued about how much to saw off the bottom while we slapped down our $23.00.

Which was probably at least four, maybe even five, bucks more than we would have spent if we'd gone to IKEA instead.

But if we'd done that E. and e. wouldn't have received candy canes and a cheering section when they carried the tree out of the lot to the VW (not so)Microbus.


When I was a kid, my Dad worked on boats that towed logs up and down the Westcoast.

And because the big lumber companies were always in a frenzy in December trying to get as much wood out of the bush as they could before winter set in, Dad was often at sea until right before Christmas.

Which meant that my two brothers and I often had to wait..... and wait......and wait......and then wait again before we could finally get our tree.

But the wait was almost always worth it.

And never more so than in 1968, when I was nine.

If I'm not mistaken we walked to the lot tucked in behind the old Oak Bay Theatre on December 23rd that year.

It was so late in the season that there were hardly any trees left to choose from that night.

Which didn't really matter because, for some explicable reason, Dad let us choose the largest one they had.

And we, my brothers and I, carried it all the way home ourselves, for the first time I think, because my youngest brother was only five that year.

Anyway, what really made that walk great and memorable was the fact that it started to snow about half-way home.

And it didn't stop all night long.

And it didn't melt the entire Christmas holidays.

And even better, it was actually cold enough for our Dad to lay down huge sheets of summer camping plastic in the back yard that he flooded with water to make us a skating rink.

So, while Apollo 8 circled the moon I alternated between pretending my bedroom closet was a Command Module and pretending I could skate.

After all, this was Victoria, a place where prolonged cold snaps were very rare indeed.


The stubby little tree that E. and e. picked out this year did not go up on Monday night because we had to rush off to littler e.'s Tapdance show at the Scottish Cultural center down in Marpole, which is a story and-a-half in and of itself.

Then on Tuesday I couldn't find our rickety old tree stand stand with the leaky bucket and Bigger E. had to go to Musical Theatre in Richmond that night.

As a result, when I finally got home late, as usual, on Wednesday I was prepared for a brutal heckfire and brimstone evening involving a trek to Canadian Tire to fight the crowds followed by an hour-long struggle trying to put up the tree in a straight and non-tilted fashion with a minimum of protrusion from the crooked branches at the bottom.

So imagine my surprise when I walked in the door and found that little e. and her mom C. had rushed home from 'Meet-The-Teacher' day to put up the trees all by themselves.

I was so relieved and so happy that I actually momentarily lost my head and agreed to do a job that I hate even more - putting up the lights.

After much untangling, cursing under my breath, and coerced rearranging, I finally got the bloody things up without electrocuting myself and even managed to connect them all to one cord with a foot switch, which made C. very happy indeed.

And then E. organized and directed the putting up of the family heirloom decorations; my two favorites are a miniature cedar-strip canoe and a cubist giraffe.

So now, after some very bad carolling, from me at least, the kids are finally both in bed.

And I must head back upstairs from the subterranean blues room where I am sitting hunched over in front of monitor's dull glow.

Because I have a foot switch to hit before I head to bed to officially thank my true love for putting up that very fine little tree.



Sunday, December 10, 2006

Delta Lands Goin' Down?


Mary has an interesting take on the Tsawwassen Treaty Deal:

"On December 7, 2006, a critical step in the sale of BCRail was celebrated because it was made to look like a Treaty settlement. The Campbell government has given 207 hectares of prime Delta farmland, situated beside the Roberts Bank port, to the Tsawwassen First Nations.

The Tsawwassens have agreed to give up their Reserve status and to begin paying property taxes. How are they going to do that? Well ... the Campbell government has removed this land from the Agricultural Land Reserve making it OK to pave the richest, blackest soil in B.C. (Only 4% of BC land is arable.)

And for what? So that the Tsawwassens will be forced to make deals with industrial developers, even selling the land to industry if they so decide.

And for what? So that the industrial developers (who probably would like to buy Deltaport and Roberts Bank someday) can build warehouses for the shipping containers arriving and departing via the adjoining port facilities.

In other words: the farmlands will become a functioning part of the port facility ... the BCRail port facility ... making it all the more pricey (in cash terms) when a future government again puts Roberts Bank up for sale."

Which is an interesting way of looking at things, indeed. And if Mary is right in her assessment this certainly would be a mighty creative, some might suggest anti-democratic, way of fusing the "Treaty" and the "P3" processes.

Me, I'm not yet entirely sure what to think about all of this.

But there is one thing I do know, from personal experience.

And that is this.

When there are previously protected public* lands involved that have the potential to become hugely lucrative once liberated, the vultures/developers are rarely far from the scene.

*How's that for a flipside definition of 'P3', eh?


Friday, December 08, 2006

All Your Bases Are Mine


Gloria Galloway
Globe and Mail, Dec 08/06

OTTAWA(SH) — Prime Minister Stephen Harper has declared the contentious issue of same-sex marriage to be permanently closed.

After a Conservative motion calling on the government to restore the traditional definition of marriage was defeated yesterday by a resounding 175 to 123, Mr. Harper said he will not bring the matter back before Parliament.

"I don't see reopening this question in the future," he told reporters who asked whether same-sex marriage would return to the table if the Conservatives won a majority government.

Now, of course, there is a whole lotta noise being trumpeted, ink being spilled, and bloggodomosborgs being gorgified in an effort to describe how Mr. Harper kicked his base in the teeth on this one.

Which, in a way, is true I guess.

But when you have a good dentist like, say, the one Sir Larry played in 'Marathon Man', you know the critical question, "Is it safe?" was answered way before the first drill went into Dustin Hoffman, errrrrr......the Canuckistani People's collective mouth earlier this week.

Because Mr. Harper knows his Base has nowhere to go but to him.

And, like every good Rovian laparoscopy dog, Mr. Harper also knows that it is actually to your great advantage if you do not fully deliver on the Base's most fervant, and fevered, wishes.

And what's more, how would the Fund-O-Matics, both political and Teevangelical, continue to herd their sheep and separate them from their money if there were no fever wishes to dupe them with?


Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Where He'll Stop, Nobody Knows.....


Rick Barnes, who knows of what he speaks, makes an excellent point regarding the same sex marriage issue:

The real greivance of the social conservative religious movement is that they lost last time out. Now they are seeking to pressure Members of Parliament to undo the law. If they succeed here the Government's bill will require the use of the Charter of Rights "Notwithstanding Clause". It will not stand up to a court challenge as Appeal Courts across Canada have all ruled in favour of equal marriage. Over 12,000 people have been married since the Ontario court recognized that Canadian marriage law discriminated against same-sex couples.

Lets suppose that the Conservatives manage to change the law and invoke the "Notwithstanding Clause" this time or after an election when they have either a larger minority or majority government. What will stop the social conservatiuves from seeking change to other laws protecting gays, lesbians, bisexual and trans (GLBT) Canadians? Would adoption, immigration, education or housing and or employment protection be on the agenda.

These people, the Christian right and social conservatives, are not happy with the idea of same-sex couples having any rights equal to marriage let alone access to marriage. Many would forbid GLBT persons from teaching or child care, no involvement in youth sports or boy scouts or girl guides.

Some of you may think it wouldn't happen. It can happen. Once the "Notwithstanding Clause" is utilised, it will be easier to justify its use again. The Conservative government led by Stephen Harper may be saying thats it, no more changes after this one, but will they be able to enforce that. The pressure on the Conservative party within its own membership made up increasingly more with social conservitives and members of the religious right have an agenda of their own. return to the days when queers were harrassed and stuck in closets if they knew what was goof for them.

So forget all the ink being spilled about how this thing of Harper's is actually a step towards the middle because, in my opinion, it is actually his first step down a long and lowly road.

And he knows he can count on the base pushing him, hard, from behind.

Way, way behind.


The Globe and (nolongerEmpire) Mail gets it right on what how 'shoddy' Mr. Harper's motion is, but what they can't bring themselves to do is to contemplate the true motivations for his machinations. Alison, on the other hand, gets right to the heart of the matter.


Friday, December 01, 2006

Serendipity In Science


A significant proportion of breast cancers that are carried in families arise because of a mutation in a hunk of DNA known as the Breast Cancer gene #1, or BRCA-1 for short.

This is the gene that women get tested for if there is a concern about the possibility of hereditary breast cancer arising because two or more close relatives have had the disease.

Now, just to get technical for a moment, the mutations almost always muck up the DNA just enough to keep the gene from producing its normally functioning protein in cells.

Which has been the crux of the problem in treatment terms.

Because it is always much easier to develop a drug that disrupts something than it is to develop a drug that fixes a complicated thing that is lost.

Thus, nobody has been able to figure out how to fix the damage caused by the mutational loss of BRCA-1.

Until today.

It turns out that one way to do it is to use a drug that blocks progesterone action, which normally makes breast cells grow, especially when they don't have any BRCA-1 protein.

The data are quite striking, and they were published today in the rigorously peer-reviewed (ie. evidence-based) journal Science (warning: gobbledy-gook alert - however, a decently readable summary can also be found in the WaPo)

So where does the serendipity come in?

Well, it turns out that the drug that does the best job of blocking progesterone action is also known as RU-486.

What is RU-486?

Well, it is also known as mifepristone, a compound that can be used as a very early abortifacient because it blocks implantation and disrupts very in the first portion of the first trimester (ie. for the first 6-7 weeks of gestation).

Which just goes to show........The Goddess works in strange ways sometimes.

Don't you think?

Cliff posted up the WaPo link. And, just for the record, a note of caution - so far this has only been done in mice and cells in a culture dish, not people, but the data are very solid. Trust me on this one - for a change I actually really and truly know what I'm talking about here.
Thanks to Johnny B. who corrected my sloppy verbiage in the original version of this post with respect to the how RU-486 is used in the real world (as opposed to how it works biologically) - a more complete explanation of this is available in the comments.


Je Suis Un A Quebecker!


In our last post we remarked, only half tongue-in-cheek, that the current big Bossman of the American Democratic party and the prime mover behind the wildly successful '50 State Strategy, Howard Dean, came to Montreal this week to speak french at the opening of the Liberal convention.

Now, if you watch the video, you'll see that Mr. Dean's francais is pretty darned awful.

But that's not the point.

Because, freedom fries aside, it turns out, as our good friend and Quebec correspondent Eteba pointed out in the comments, Mr. Dean actually has close ties to La Belle Province.

1) He is the former governor of the next-door neighbourhood of Vermont

2) His wife, Judith Steinberg is an M.D. who trained to become a hematologist at McGill.

3) Their son played hockey in Montreal.

4) For 10 years Dean was a regular on a PBS public affairs program called 'The Editors' that was taped in Montreal. that wall between Quebec and Vermont up yet?

Because if it is maybe HoDo should climb up on it and let fly with a scream that will be heard all the way to Berlin and/or Sandra Buckler's office in OttaWash.