December 21, 2004

The Return of Dad's Old Chair

Me and Dad, Carlton Lodge, 1986

(A continuation of Dad's Old Chair...)

Yesterday, I came home and saw something I didn't think I'd see again - right in the middle of our kitchen floor. It was my Dad's old wheelchair.

After my Dad passed away in 1989, my father in law agreed to keep it at his house in case it was ever needed (and plus, he had the space for it).

Back in March 2004, we learned that the Grandmother of one of my wife's oldest friends could use a wheelchair, so Dad's chair ended up going into service for our friend's dear old Nana.

Unfortunately, her Nana passed away not too long ago, and the chair came back home here with us.

Seeing it once more was not something I ever expected, and my wife Grace was convinced that I would become depressed just at the sight of it (which had happened to me before upon seeing it back in March).

But this time when I saw the chair, it was more like seeing a familiar face. I was happy to see it! I think I felt more sentimental about it as a symbol of usefulness and service than as a symbol of suffering and incapacity. It had performed it's job for Dad, and then again for our friend's Nana, and now I got a chance to see it once again and to be tangibly reminded of my Dad.

I got out my camera and took a few pictures of it, with no clear idea why, except that I wanted to have some evidence for when the chair would once again be gone, probably for good. It might sound weird, but it was very important to me at the time.

Tempting fate (and by "fate", I mean my propensity towards mild depression at this time of year), I sat down in Dad's wheelchair for a few minutes. I wheeled around a bit in our little hall and kitchen area, and thought about the effort it takes to navigate on wheels using just your arms (or in my Dad's case, using one arm and two feet).

Both my parents spent years of their life confined to wheelchairs. Even with the idea of wheels, and the mobility implied by them, it must, I'm sure, also be like rolling around inside a little steel cage. Freedom, from inside a rolling enclosure.

Maybe after a while, it becomes more like the relationship I used to have with my bicycle. Up until I was 19, I rode a bike everywhere, and almost never took the bus. When I was using it, my bike became an extension of my body and senses. On the road, I was the bike and the bike was me. When I wasn't riding it, I saw it as a trustworthy, dependable tool, without which I would be less capable.

Maybe that's the feeling I had seeing the old wheelchair again: "There's good ol' trusty, ready for another assignment."

So, I think it's likely that Dad's old wheelchair may next be donating it's services at the senior's care centre next door.

December 12, 2004

A one-man show at the Big News Cafe...

Outside the Big News cafe at Granville and Broadway, a homeless guy asked me for 2 bucks for a coffee (exactly $2.09 to be precise) and I gave it.

Inside he asked a young guy to buy him something to eat. The young guy quietly said no each time Homeless asked. Homeless gave up and, as he added cream to his coffee, muttered "You never do nothin for me. Never do nothin. Don't care about no one. You never do nothin for me."

Young guy didn't seem to notice this. It was obvious he didn't know Homeless, and to me it looked like he wasn't the real target of the older man's bitterness. So Homeless kept muttering to some personal ghost of lost Christmasses past, and then suddenly rushed out of the store as if he were trying to catch a bus (there was no bus).

As I had watched Homeless muttering bitterly at theyoung guy, it struck me that his misdirected rant was possibly a more honest display of his feelings - his psychological repetoire - than some healthy people would display. It was an overt and visible demonstration of some letdown from his past. Someone else had said no to him before - maybe someone important like a friend or family member. Now it was stuck in him like a tape loop now, waiting for the trigger to trip it into action. But at least he had an outlet, I guess.

November 29, 2004

The rank of love, Part 2: e john love

...or "SERPing high and low"

...or "Looking for Love" ("Wooking puh nub" if there are any old-school E. Murphy fans)

It is official: through some unforeseen "Act of Google(tm)", neither my personal web site nor this blog are ranked in the top 10 in Google for the search phrase john love. For an excited few weeks there, I was number one out of over 22 Million results.

A few times, I caught myself caressing the word "milliion" with my tongue like some Dr. Evil-meets-Carl Sagan love child. It sounds so nice to say "twenty two mm-mmmillllionn!" But, I knew it was too good to last for long... :(

Google finally got around to doing housekeeping in some dusty corner of whichever datacentre my site had managed to wedge itself near the top. It doubtless said "What the...?", and then flung my site's listing down into the depths of Google SERP purgatory... :D

However, hope springs eternal, as (cue the mass 'woo-hoos') I am still numero uno out of 15.7 M. results under the slightly less generic phrase e john love.

Here we go again...

November 21, 2004

The "rank" of love... Where the heck did I go in Google?

I knew it was too good to last!

Previously, my personal web site, was ranked number 1 out of over 22 million results under the search term john love
(no quotes)

...but alas, since Friday, I appear to have disappeared from Google. Sometimes Google is finicky, and my site may disappear for a day or three, and then magically reappear back at numero uno.

I wait with baited breath to see if I'll reappear or not... Google seems so dang fussy... :)

November 20, 2004

Budget Conscience

It sucks not having as much money as I'm used to (or as I used to).

I don't regret my current job, nor the friendly relationships I have made with my coworkers. People grumble about their jobs all the time. It's mostly a stress reliever, I think. Sometimes you just gotta vent. I just wish I made a bit more money.

Making a livable wage is technically all I need, but I think my mind has become used to making a little more than I need, and having some left over for long-term savings or for some short-term enjoyment. However, over the past year or so, I have started to finally "feel the pinch" as my paycheque has gone just a little bit lower than before.

I guess I had my personal equivalent to the "dot com boom", working for some high-tech startups that paid me fairly well to do what I loved. The downside of having all that lovely disposable income was the periodic stress of knowing that the company that gave me those fatty paycheques could go toes up in six months. This uncertainty, coupled with the lack of structure in small companies leads to stress and fear.

Sure, I'm grateful as hell to have a job today, even if I can't sock away as much into the old RRSP as I used to. It doesn't take much to remember the dry, coppery taste of unemployment, and not having many prospects. I told myself after being laid off a few times that, if at all possible, I would seek an opportunity that could be long-term and stable. It's unrealistsic really, but I intended to not get laid off again. I wanted a better level of job security.

I'm reminded daily of people who literally have almost nothing compared to me. Really, I'm lucky as hell to have a stable job, a warm and loving partner and home and relatively good health.

So, I do consider myself to be fortunate. One day, work will end for me. One day I will be too old or sick to work. When that happens, I will become dependent on my long-term savings. I have only been able to invest a little bit each month, at the expense (literally) of my monthly budget. But nobody else is going to pay me when I get old and grey (I'm assuming OAP or CPP will not be dependable in another 30 years), so I must try to save as much as I can.

So, it's belt-tightening time, and I must do some kind of budget and plug any holes in my pockets.

As I think about this more, I can bring even more perspective to my situation:

When I was 19, and just beginning my Foundation (first) year at the Emily Carr College of Art and Design, I had very little income. My friend Coniah and his family graciously let me rent their townhome for a meager $200 per month, and between this and some part-time jobs I was usually able to scrape together what I needed - not always, mind you, but most of the time (did I mention that Coniah's family were gracious?).

That first year was a real bitch. I worked part-time washing dishes at the Pantry restaurant, and made another $75 to $100 per month setting out the lawn sprinklers in my townhouse complex. That second job saved my bacon: the Pantry only paid me about $4.35 an hour. I think I got a raise up to $4.65 after about six months of scrubbing dishes and urinals. My Dad and my dear old Aunty Molly helped me with tuition that first year too, but by April I was flat broke. Later, I applied for a student loan for the following year, amounting to a whopping $3000. My Dad's voice echoed in my head, warning me not to get into debt.

Back then, my meals often consisted of eating the same oatmeal for a few days at a time in the morning (a big bag of it was cheap) and eating the same elbow macaroni in the evening (same reason). I used teabags for twice as many cups of tea as they were meant for, and when I ran out of margarine, I spread mayonnaise on my morning toast until I had used that all up.

Compared to all that, trimming my current monthly budget now isn't such a big deal. I think I can cut down on cell phone use, visit Starbucks a bit less and maybe even pack a lunch once in a while.

I've also decided that belt tightening should not lessen my contributions to the homeless guy that I see almost everyday, nor to the Union Gospel Mission. No matter how bad off you may be, there is always someone who could use your help.

Two bucks given to a homeless person beats the hell out of two bucks worth of coffee.

November 18, 2004

When hell freezes over...

Unapologetically copied from Martin's "Electric Blog",

- John.

"I found this while I was surfing around today and thought it was good. It shows that the education system isn't failing in all aspects as this student definitely has a creative mind.

This was supposedly an actual question given on a University chemistry mid-term. The answer by one student was so "profound" that the professor shared it with colleagues via the Internet which is of course why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well.

Bonus Question: Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle's Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

One student, however, wrote the following:

First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving.

As for how many souls are entering Hell, let's look at the different Religions that exist in the world today. Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell.

With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle's Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

This gives two possibilities:

1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose.

2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

So which is it?

If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, "it will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you, and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number 2 must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct...leaving only Heaven thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting "Oh my God."


November 14, 2004

What does your name say about you?

I dunno... seems like balderdash to me (that's right, you heard me... balderdash!), but what the heck... I gave it a whirl on both my first and second names...

The first name of Ernest creates an intense personal nature. Your feelings and emotional desires are strong and consequently you are an individual, determined, strong-willed person. Your creative nature and ambition drive you to pursue success to the extent that you jeopardize your personal well-being. There is a tendency for you to dominate others. You are too certain of yourself, and you are not open to the views of others or responsive to their desires or needs. Also, this name does not incorporate qualities that enable you to be diplomatic and to compromise. In all your work and activities you are inclined to be rather unsystematic and disorderly. These characteristics spoil stability, progress, and accumulation, even though you may put forth intense effort. Tension and frustration exact a heavy toll on your peace of mind and nervous system. You are often preoccupied with the desires and demands of the moment. Temper and indulgence could become serious problems in your life. Your health could suffer through disorders affecting the nervous system. Tension centering in the head could affect the eyes, ears, sinuses, and teeth.

The name of John has made you serious-minded, responsible, and stable. You love the security of a home and family, you are fond of children, and, as a parent you would be fair and understanding. Although you have good business judgment, you are not aggressive in your dealings because you do not like to create issues. You would be successful in any position dealing with the public as you have a diplomatic and tactful manner and possess a charming, easy-going nature which puts people at ease. People are drawn to you because they feel that you are patient, kind, understanding, and responsive. You would be effective in a career or in volunteer work where you are handling people and serving in a humanitarian way. While you are honest and responsible, one weakness that is paramount in your life is your lack of self-confidence and initiative, which causes you to put things off and avoid facing issues. Generally speaking, you have few problems with your health; however, there is a weakness affecting the fluid functions of the body.

Starbucks and other Canadian retailers have no shame at all...

I cannot stand to hear fricking Christmas music while it is still November! November, people!

As I write this, Starbucks is pumping out the crappiest, set-yer-teeth-on-edge jingley Christmas shit, and it's driving me nuts! What over-zealous moron at corporate head office is responsible for this?

Pity the poor Canadian retailers who do not have a big, overblown retail holiday sales event in November like their US counterparts. They have to artificially pump up the Xmas cheer meter a month earlier in order to try and shake us out of our complacency.

So, I complained (gently) to Lady Vee, a fellow blogger and sympathetic employee at our favourite Starbucks, and by the time I wrote this paragraph, the music mercifully switched to generic 50s crooner rock and roll, without the slightest hint of forced Xmas cheer! Yay!

No... wait, it was a fluke... just a random non-Xmas disk in the CD player I guess, because now we're back to Perry Coma or Mel Torme moaning on like a lovesick moose about chestnuts on a fire. Damn! It was too good to last...


November 13, 2004

What the bleep do I know?

I think this is a good question to ask myself from time to time.

Tonight, I went to see "What the bleep do we know?", a kind of info-tainment movie starring Marlee Matlin and host of physicists, theologians, biologists and spiritualists. The movie itself was not a revelation for me. I would describe it as an attempt to popularize ideas from quantum theory for a general audience. I liked the "dramatic plotline" starring Marlee Matlin as a young woman overcoming her own negative patterns and making a conscious change in the direction of her life. Otherwise, I thought the movie was too light on the science and too heavy on new age philosophy, juvenile humour and childish computer graphics. What can I say? I love educational television. I'm a bit of a geek. But "What the bleep do we know" was generally enjoyable, and did remind me that I hadn't read much physics or philosophy in a long while.

If you have read anything about quantum physics, you might be familiar with the idea that's particles can have more than one simultaneous state or position (called "superposition"), and may even have an infinite possible number of positions. The act of observing a particle causes this superposition to collapse down into one position, which is the one we perceive. This is basically, a dang trippy idea, and must be difficult for many people to accept. It's fascinating if we extend the idea of these multiple possibilities up to a human level, because it implies that the world as we know it is not permanently fixed in form and space, but is variable and constantly in flux.

The most influential teacher in my life, British Art Educator Tom Hudson, once told me that even though many people are present in this century, in terms of their education and the core concepts they believe, he felt that many are living with a 19th Century world view. I think it's fair to say that many people probably have a 19th century acceptance of physics, in terms of their everyday experience and how these ideas affect their lives. I think I'm guilty of this myself.

In the 70s and 80s, my Dad was an electronics technician at TRIUMF, the sub-atomic research facility located the University of British Columbia. TRIUMF is most well-known for it's Cyclotron, one of the largest particle accelerators in the world, which whips particles around at 75% of the speed of light and smashes then into targets so that scientists can analyze the results. Mesons and lots of other particles have been observed and measured using this massive machine.

My Dad was a technician, not a physicist, but his scientific and technical background rubbed off on me. He taught me some basic physical laws like "energy cannot be created or destroyed, just transformed from one form to another". I absorbed other ideas from popular culture - mostly TV. Along with Mickey Mouse's ears and Groucho Marks' moustache, I grew up with the motto "E equals em cee two". Of course, when I was eight years old, I didn't understand what the formula meant, nor what an exponent was, but I read and memorized the characters and learned their significance years later. Thanks to Star Trek and science fiction, I got an idea of what a black hole is.

So, maybe many of us have some appreciation for these concepts from 20th Century physicists like Einstein or Hawking. But I have to ask myself, after more than two generations since it's discovery, just how much of quantum theory has integrated itself into my culture? How much has it affected my understanding of my existence and that of the world around me.

For example, my common experience tells me that my body is distinct from the air that surrounds it. Yet I have been told that at the super-duper small, atomic level, it would be difficult to determine where the air ends and my skin begins. If I keep this idea in mind, it's easy to think of myself as being truly integrated and part of the world around me. At that level, we're all very similar. However, I have never been at this level to experience it for myself, so in order to integrate it into my view of life, I must, somewhat ironically, take it on faith.

So, while I'm immensely comforted by the idea that modern physics can provide a scientific model that reinforces, say, the Buddhist concept of interconnectedness or interdependence, it's all too easily overlooked from my human "macro" level unless I make a regular effort to remember it.

So, if I have to make a small effort to maintain this belief in atomic physics, how much more challenging will it be to keep ideas like "superposition" in mind?

I guess that faith and discipline are needed in order to keep my non-religious world view alive and developing. Doesn't that sound a little ironic?

Some links and reviews of this bleepin' movie:

Movie Review: Roger Ebert
Movie Review: Movie Magazine International
Official "What the bleep..." movie web site

November 08, 2004

My web site is is ranked #1 in

For the past week or so, my personal web site, has been ranked number 1 out of over 22 million results under the search term john love (no quotes)

That's just flipping amazing to me...

You never know how long these things will last... Google is always growing it's database...

...but anyway... Woo hoo!

November 07, 2004

House of Bush, House of Saud

House of Bush, House of Saud, by Craig Unger

I have been reading "House of Bush, House of Saud" by Craig Unger.

I highly recommend this book if, like me and many other people on both sides of the Canada/US border, you are wary or cynical about the actions of the Bush Administration.

It seems to me that this book had a strong influence on Michael Moore. It is cited frequently in his book "Dude - Where's my country" and the US-Saud connection is the central theme in his popular documentary "Farenheit 9/11". Moore is very adept at popularizing political and social issues, and using information from Mr. Unger's book (and other sources of course), he makes a strong case that many Americans do not know (or maybe don't want to know) about the connections between the Bush family and their associates, and the Saudi and Bin Laden families and their associates. As I recall, Unger states that the relationship between the Saudi royal family and the US Republicans (particularly the Bush family) goes back almost 40 years.

Excerpts from Unger's book and other information can be found at the "House of Bush, House of Saud" web site.

October 31, 2004

Horror: Art imitates life (sort of)...

My tribute to Bela Lugosi, done when I was 17 (from 'Murders in the Rue Morgue')
I watched the Tim Burton film "Ed Wood" tonight. (Martin Landau's portrayal of Bela Lugosi is absolutely first-class.)

In the movie, it is Halloween, and Bela Lugosi answers the front door of his little suburban house in full Dracula costume, scaring all the little kids away, except for one little boy. "You're not Dracula", the little gaffer says cynically. "Those fangs aren't real." Bela is disappointed, but Ed Wood whips out his bridgework and says "These are!" and the little kid runs away shrieking.

Bela's signature character is too old school for the little boy, who is a product of television and the atomic age. The message here is that people in the late forties and early fifties are afraid of war, the bomb and nuclear mutations, not men with funny European accents and crazy eyes.

Bela calls Ed Wood in the middle of the night. "Eddie - help me..." Ed gets to Bela's house to find the furniture strewn around and Bela rambling drunkenly.

"Eddie. I'm broke. I can't pay my rent."

Bela is despondent and puts a small revolver to his temple, intent on ending it all. "Come with me Eddie. It will be beautiful!" Ed talks him out of it, and embraces him. Bela says he's sorry and begins to sob. In this scene, Martin Landau's Lugosi is a frail, despondent, drug addicted old man who has lost everything, including his dignity and fighting spirit. Lugosi's signature character and more importantly, Lugosi the man, have been largely forgotten and discarded. Ed Wood, practically destitute himself, still believes in his friend and is there to help him even when nobody else will. The helpless despondency of the old man, and the loving, compassionate hopefulness of the young man. Like the relationship of a son and his father.

* * * * * *

Eventually, Bela checks himself into a hospital to get help with his drug addiction. We watch Bela strapped in a hospital bed, shrieking and shaking - terrified and struggling with painful withdrawal symptoms.

A powerful scene for me; I watched my Mother go through it too. She was admitted for a hip operation and in recovery, she suffered severe withdrawal from the regime of medication given her as a long-term resident at Riverview mental hospital.

In "Ed Wood", Bela Lugosi's withdrawal screams are presented as part of the horror of the real world. We see a little old man screaming his head off, strapped to a hospital bed, as the camera watches him through a small window in the door. This resonated big time with me.

My mother, usually distant and uncommunicative from alcoholism-related brain damage (or medication or both) was strapped to a hospital bed, shaking it, her muscles and tendons rock solid, her face wide-eyed and screaming. After a few spasms like this, she would collapse back onto the mattress and rest.

"Are you scared Mum?" I didn't know what the hell else to say. I felt like an idiotic master of the obvious.

"Yes!" she yelled. She was so wound up, and god, she was terrified. That was a moment of real-world horror for me.

I love iconic horror figures like Dracula, but real life can be much more frightening.

October 30, 2004

A sense of fun...

At work, I usually tend to stay in my office a lot, working away at some web maintenance task and using deferred forms of communication such as email or ICQ to ask quick questions of my coworkers without needing actual human interaction.

I tell myself "I can't help it. I like email, and I prefer it to the telephone or face-to-face, at least for the little things". But underneath it all, I know that there is this little kid who really enjoyed being cloistered away in his bedroom listening to the radio and reading comic books for hours on end. I guess solitude has been a long-time companion of mine, if that doesn't sound too cheesy ;) (Christ - what a "drama boy")

However, every once in a while, something happens that throws that "I prefer solitude" self-model on its ear. Like today at work: I had volunteered to help the Activities Coordinators at our ESL school set up for a student Halloween party. I'm not the volunteering type, but this time I said yes, and was happy to pitch in. I figured I might be setting up chairs or hanging some lights or decorations - you know, helpy stuff like that, and then I'd be out and back to my workload in 30 or 40 minutes.

When the time came for me to pitch in, it turned out that I was asked to man a table in the "Haunted Room" (do I hear wolves howling?). This was Vancouver English Centre's version of a haunted house. The lights would be out and students could go from table to table trying out various (non)scary experiences. We had a Tarot card reading (although I thought it was supposed to be a Blackjack table), a Oiuja Board, a mysterious box thing, where you put you hand through one of six holes and maybe it gets grabbed by something inside (wooooo... creepy) and last but not least, me, with the "Goo Grab" table: a big salad bowl full of wet spaghetti and peeled grapes. (Maybe if one were blind and unprepared, you might momentarily be tricked into thinking it was a bowl of entrails with two scoops of eyeballs. Yum.)

Embedded deep in the bowels (eww) of my bowl were a number of white, red and black striped ping pong balls. If someone filched out a red ball, they got a big calculator. A black ball earned them the ultimate prize: an ESL grammar book. White balls were common, and resulted in a pick from the little candy basket.

Cut to the chase: I had a long line of students interested mainly in black balls and the resulting grammar books, and I had a blast encouraging them to submerge their mitts and try their luck. Wearing a black cape and some light-up deely-bobbers, I felt a bit like some kind of cheap Transylvanian carnival barker.

But, I had a great time, a hoot! And I don't mean getting some kind of thrill from watching people grope through cold pasta looking for small round items. (In fact, I never knew I liked that until just this afternoon. Who knew?)

I'm talking about the pure, simple joy of being social and having a small crowd of happy people to talk to and entertain with my witty banter and enthusiasm. It was fun and even a little exhilarating. I can honestly say that it brought out a side of me that I don't see as often as I should: that guy known as "extroverted, social, entertaining John". Maybe I need to see that guy more often. "Fussy, techie John" is certainly getting enough time in the spotlight. Maybe he should take five once in a while and let the other guy have a go.

October 29, 2004

A sense of family...

Lots of family and social themes came across my mind today.

I have been reminded of my parents - they're in my mind and heart daily; a sense of love, a sense of loss and sorrow, and every once in a while, an incredible moment of recognition of a pure feeling, like realizing that I used to feel safe and secure with my Dad, or how proud I was when my Mum dressed up in her finest clothes and mink coat.

These are like crystal clear musical notes that rarely resonate; strings plucked by some old, resurfaced association. I'm glad of them: they're the antidote to the sadness or bitter memories that are the flipside of my nostalgia.

Parents are frail. Parents love you and then sometimes hurt themselves or hurt you. Parents are humans who make mistakes. Now, the more I look back on the mistakes of their lives and how they affected me, I feel ever more compassion for two people who's struggles and mistakes shaped my early outlook.

October 21, 2004

We're number 12!

Wait a minute... We're number 12?

I just read in the Globe and Mail that Canada was judged the 12th least corrupt country by Transparency International, a Berlin organization that researches bribery and government corruption among public officials in 146 countries.

Finland, New Zealand, and Denmark are the top three. Haiti and Bangladesh are tied for last place. The USA is 17th. Iraq is waaaaay down there at 129.

Canada used to rank as high as fifth, but I guess we slipped a bit somewhere. (Can you say sponsorship scandal? I knew that you could.) Apparently, this is our worst ranking in 10 years.

Dang. Why can't we have high morals AND a strong dollar?

October 17, 2004

On the death of a super man: Christopher Reeve, 1952 - 2004

Christopher Reeve: 1952 - 2004
Christopher Reeve, the actor best known as Superman, passed away on Sunday, October 10, 2004.

Since I was a little kid, I have been inspired by Superman, whether in comic books or in the 1950s TV series. Actually, compared to the somewhat cheesy production values of the '50s TV series, the Superman of the comics much seemed more exciting and (literally) more colourful. (Sorry to you George Reeves fans, that is just my personal opinion.)

But for me, and many other fans of my generation I'm sure, Christopher Reeve was the definitive portrayal of Superman. Next to "Star Wars", 1978's "Superman: The Motion Picture" was probably the most inspiring cinematic experience I had enjoyed as a 12 year old boy. In a number of ways, the big red "S" was so much bigger than Luke Skywalker and the Star Wars world. It really resonated for me, probably due in no small part to the fact that the character was already such a huge part of our culture over the previous 39 years up until the time when the movie came out.

The theme of a young demi-god landing on Earth and living with and helping his human co-inhabitants is as old as the Hercules of Greek legend. The line uttered by Jor-El (Marlon Brando) that said "That is why I sent you, my only son..." has an obvious Biblical reference. I think these dramatic aspects, combined with the huge scope and beautiful production quality of the original film made it practically a modern masterpiece that still holds up today.

Back in 1978, after seeing the movie at the Capitol Six Theatre with my friend Curtis, we had to run to catch our bus home. As we darted through the crowds of Granville Mall towards the bus stop, I heard John Williams' Superman theme music in my head and felt high as a kite with some kind of inexplicable elation. I felt like I could run faster than the bus if I really tried. It was so inspiring to believe in a hero again! I think I really wanted to believe that Superman could fly.

The way Mr. Reeve survived his tragic accident and paralysis, and struggled for almost 10 years to heal and to reach out and inspire others with spinal chord injuries, he reminded me of that inspiration again as an adult. I wanted to believe that Christopher Reeve could walk again.

Christopher Reeve Links:
The Christopher Reeve Paralysis Foundation
Christopher Reeve: 1952 - 2004 "Why did Christopher Reeve die?"

Other Superman Links:

October 06, 2004

Personal web presence of E. John Love -

The personal web presence of E. John Love -

Personal web presence of E. John Love -

It's back after a brief hiatus...

For my site visitors:

My web server was down for a week or two, getting repaired. It's all good now. Please visit my web site again. I love you all.

For the Geeks:

My old 66 mHz '486 Linux box finally succumbed to old age (after putting in fairly reliable duty for about 6 years!) and it has now been replaced by a newer, faster, quieter and cooler (physically cooler) machine running a recent version of Mandrake.

October 05, 2004

"This was your past, but not anymore. Now go away."

Trying to revisit the past doesn't always work out

A number of years ago, my wife and I were driving and we found ouselves on the Fraser Highway in Langley. Looking at some street signs, I realized that we were actually very close to where I had lived when I was in Grades 2 and 3. I became excited and said "let's follow 248th and see if we can find my old place!"

Right before 248th crossed over the Highway Number 1, I saw a familiar narrow gravel driveway with a rusted mailbox.

"That's it! Turn down here! Turn down here!"

"But it says 'No Trespassing'" my wife pointed out rightly, but we went down anyway.

The narrow gravel road curved down to a level about 30 lower than the main road, and ended at a gated access road leading into what was like a small, green valley. My wife said "John, we should go" but I wasn't listening. Stepping out of the car, I walked ahead to the locked steel fence (with a "No Trespassing" sign) and sighed as I reoriented myself with the fields and trees that had once been part of my backyard.

This property was originally 77 acres, owned by a bunch of doctors. Back when I lived there, it was mostly dirt and low-lying scrub brush - an unfinished, industrial-looking place. It was also the transmitter site for my Dad's employer, CJJC Radio AM 800. There used to be six high-voltage radio antennas stretching 100 feet into the air, but they were long since dismantled after the radio station shut down.

The story I had heard from my Dad was that after we left, the son of the radio station owner had lived in the trailer which had been our home for two years. Unfortunately, he accidentally burned it down. Now, the acreage was covered in green, and the properties that fronted onto 248th looked like they extended farther down onto the acreage, giving their livestock (horses, cows and bulls) all the more room to graze. It was extremely peaceful and beautiful little valley now.

Behind us, I heard a voice yell "This is private property!" I turned to see a man holding a rifle, walking towards us with a Doberman Pinscher at each side. I stammered something about how we were just leaving. We hopped back into the car and left and I have never been back.

* * * * * * *

A few weeks ago, my sister phoned to tell me that she had located another place we had briefly stayed at as children: The Blue Star Motel, also near the Fraser Highway, outside of Langley. We had stayed here maybe only a few nights until our Dad managed to find us the little trailer on the transmitter site.

My memory of the Blue Star was that it was very bright and clean, and had nicely trimmed green lawns.

Oh my god, but was I ever in for a surprise as my sister and I drove up to this dingy, faded and overgrown place, which looked like it was now condemned. The same sign was still up, but the drapes were drawn at the manager's office and a few people gathered around a car with the hood up, about 100 feet back towards the rear of the lot. It looked like a total dump now, and I didn't really want to see much more.

There's a saying that goes "You can never go home again". It means that part of what makes a place home is your connection to it, and that this can be lost with the passage of time, and the natural changes of life.

But scary people, guns, and guard dogs can have a big impact too.

"This was your home, but not anymore. Now go away."

August 25, 2004

Natalie from Toronto doesn't like Vancouver

Today, in the block between Starbucks and my job, I met this tiny little old lady, probably not much over four feet tall.

When she said "Excuse me. Can you help me?", I thought she was going to ask for some spare change. In fact, she started explaining that she was lost and looking for a place where she could get some hot food. She said that she was from Toronto, and was here because her son had recently died. She had come to collect his ashes.

"Have you lived in Vancouver very long?" she asked me.

"Over 25 years" I replied.

"I don't know this city" she said.

"Do you like Vancouver?"

"Ughh, I hate Vancouver. In Toronto, you can go anywhere and find a place to eat and to buy whatever you need, but here I don't know."

"It must be hard to be in a strange city" I said, looking in each direction and trying to think of the closest place where she could get some hot food. Then I remembered. "There's a little place right up here on the corner where you could get a hot bowl of soup or something."

I motioned ahead of me, and we started walking. She took tiny, slow little steps, and I hunched over to listen to her as she continued to talk about Toronto and Montreal - cities she knew much better than mine.

"What is your name?" I figured I should introduce myself since we had now met and had a little chat.

"My name is Natalie."

"Hi Natalie. I'm John." She held out a tiny, wrinkled hand which I shook gently.

I held open the door of the "Butler and Baker" cafe, and she said "God bless you. Thank you John" and went inside.

I have become accustomed to people approaching me on the street just asking for money (which in most cases I'm ready to give). However, it's also nice to be able to help someone by just listening to them and giving a little bit of goodwill.

August 16, 2004

On the loss of Robert Wayne Bagnell...

I am deeply saddened to learn that Bob Bagnell died during an incident with Police at the Continental Hotel on June 23rd, 2004.

I met Bob a number of years ago at my corner 7-11 store, here at Broadway and Nanaimo in East Vancouver. When I saw Bob, I decided to begin talking to him and give him a little cash if he asked for it. It's quite common (maybe almost human nature?) for people to ignore beggars or street people, at least in my experience. Although he was usually stoned back in the beginning, I saw that he had a laid back personality and a sense of humour.

When I first met Bob, he was already sick with AIDS and was still a regular drug user. What stood out to me was that he wasn't just bumming change from people, but would usually be sitting and drawing or painting pictures with a variety of pens and inks. A number of times we would talk about the places where he would sell them (or try to). He was heavily into tattoo art. I browsed through and bought some of his dark, densely-coloured images of dragons and other creatures.

Bob told me that he had been a heroin addict since he was like, 14 years old. He said he was known as "Riff Raff", and that he had been in San Quentin at one time. I don't know how much of what he told me is true, but it looked obvious to me that the man had one hell of a hard life as a drug addict, and must have spent a lot of time either on the street or in various low-rent housing.

Over the next year or two, my wife and I ran into Bob in our neighbourhood, and usually at our little 7-11. It seemed like each time I saw Bob, he slowly became a little healthier in some ways, while continuing to struggle in other ways. By his own account, he had AIDS and was addicted to Heroin when I first met him. Slowly, he got off Heroin and onto Methadone.

Later, he told me he had developed cancer, and had managed to get off Methadone. I could really see a difference in his eyes and facial expressions: his eyes were clearer and brighter as he slowly regained his health. Sometimes when I visited with him, we just said "hi" and chatted a little. Another time, we ended up talking about Stompin' Tom Conners. Bob told me his family was from PEI, and that he like Stompin' Tom.

During my last couple of visits with him in front of the 7-11, Bob told me he had been visiting the Broadway Church and that the people there had been so welcoming and supportive of him in spite of his past, his health and his appearance. In fact, as we chatted, a man from the church walked past and greeted Bob cheerfully and warmly, like a friend. I was so happy for Bob.

The last time I saw Bob, it was very brief: he had large bandages on his shins and said he had some blot clots taken out of the veins in his legs, and he was afraid that he could suffer a stroke some time. He said "Hang onto those drawings, 'cause there gonna be worth something after I'm gone." I didn't buy anything that time, but gave him a buck or two and wished him to take care.

I didn't think Bob would live for very long, really. My impression was that once he was relatively clean and had met some of the people in the local church, he started to believe that each day was a blessing. He was also grateful to the people at the Dr. Peter Centre at St. Paul's Hospital, who were letting him paint some of his art on the walls. He looked like someone who was making connections with others, and was becoming happier.

I'm very sad to hear that Bob died, and quite stunned to hear that he was on a coke bender when it happened. An article in the Globe and Mail said that it was Bob's birthday when he died. I cannot imagine how difficult it must be to live with addiction and health problems such as his, self-afflicted or otherwise. By what he told me, he had a difficult childhood and a shitty, drug addicted life. Sobriety and more self-worth came to him pretty late in his life.

I don't want the story of this person to be lost inside the whole "Taser" issue. I feel that the issues of drug addiction, healthcare and basic human compassion are even more important. I hope information about Bob's life and his death provides some inspiration and education to others with similar problems, or to those who care for them.

At some point in the future, I may post the drawings I bought from Bob on a special web page too. That's about all I know how to do to pay my belated respects to Bob Bagnell.


Other links related to this:

Vancouver Police apologize to Island woman

VPD Media Liaison Unit: "In-Custody Death", June 23, 2004

Man's death after Taser jolt fuels growing safety debate

A moments' worth of reflection on things from the past...

This is not a report of things I've done. It's just a moments' worth of reflection and reactions.

A young woman in a wheelchair reminded me of my mother today. The wheelchair itself reminded me a little of my father.

A discussion with my coworker reminded me of my mother.

The fear in the eyes of my two little cats as they are left overnight to have some minor medical attention - this reminded me of my mother's scared face when we left her at Riverview.

Vague impressions: My Mum is soft hands and a whiff of makeup, Nivea Creme. My Dad is a straight back, strong hands and sad, intelligent eyes. It just came over me: I miss them.

Sometimes, as I move farther into the future, and painful events move farther into the past, I wonder if I purposely try to find ways to remind myself about them. Maybe, I fear that if I don't feel them again, somehow, I might lose them forever.

Photographs, writing, and bits of clothing or personal items: these things are tangible, solid things. Names are also well-entrenched.

However, feelings and mental images are the hardest to keep alive or fresh. They tend to fade away if you don't take them out and use them once in a while.

One day, I'll be gone too and so will all these memories, impressions, thoughts, and feelings of association. That's the way of life: blissful or agonizing, but still temporary.

Who are you, and why do you matter? Why be here? I will try to look upon those kinds of questions in a positive way, and answer them in a positive way, because that remains my choice.

July 17, 2004

We saw Stompin' Tom!

Check out
Stompin' Tom Conners played the Orpheum Theatre last night.

What a hoot! The old "Stomper" put on a fun, all-ages concert, just like when we saw him at the Queen Elizabeth theatre in 2001. This time, like in 2001, I've never seen so many t-shirts, denim and cowboy hats at one time in a swank venue. Stompin' Tom is a real Canadian legend, celebrating his 40th year as a Canadian country/folk musician. He has continually toured back and forth across Canada, singing his own original brand of country/folk music: true, funny, sometimes sentimental, and always accompanied with his trademark black cowboy hat and big leather cowboy boot stompin' the hell out of a piece of plywood.

For an artist who has been recording and touring continually since the early 60s, I expected to see a lot of grey hair in the audience, but what continues to surprise and delight me is the number of young people who love Stompin' Tom too. There were families with young children, teens and 20-something men and women, senior couples, and one pre-teen autistic boy, who shook his hands and bobbed his head excitedly throughout the whole evening. Tom has a diverse and intensely loyal following.

Oh - and the other thing, I should mention: a Stompin' Tom concert is usually marked by the fact that the audience is often as loud as the band! This was true in the 2001 concert I saw, and in the one last night. Tom's fans are not at all shy about screaming out song requests. It's a weird, hilarious form of hysteria. In 2001, at the "Queen E", a 300 pound man near the back of the hall stood up full in his torn white tank top and bellowed at the top of his impressive bass voice "We love you Tooooom!" The audience erupted in laughter, and Tom replied "Same to you buddy. Now sit down!"

At that concert, the young man in his early twenties next to me almost gave himself a hernia yelling "PLAY BUUUD THE SPUUUUD!" Loud, crazy, loving loyal fans, having a great, rowdy time.

Last night at the Orpheum was no different. There was a half-dozen of them in the row in front of us, alternatively screaming out "We love you Tom!" or various song titles. Eventually, a screaming match of <song title><exhortation to shut up><song title> ensued, and Tom's security came up and escorted the lads out of the theatre. Apparently the lady next to us had complained. A few moments later, we saw that security had just reseated them a few rows up and way off to the side, isolating them from other audience members. This of course caused them to scream louder and more often. When Tom finally played "Big Joe Mufferaw", these six loud lads from Langley were all on their feet dancing, waving their arms and singing along. Off on the opposite side of the theatre, we saw the same display from a similarly-loud group of teen girls.

For a guy who must be almost 70 now, Tom still records, and puts on a fun, boisterous show. It's obvious that people of all ages and backgrounds can relate to Stompin' Tom, and have a lot of affection for the man and his music.

A New Zealand woman sitting next to my wife was heard to say that even though she had her Canadian passport, she had been told that she wouldn't be a true Canadian until she went to a Stompin' Tom concert.

I have to agree :)

July 08, 2004

"U.S. Soldiers apply for Refugee Status in Canada" - Hypocrisy and the U.S.

Two U.S. soldiers who don't agree with the War in Iraq have applied for refugee status in Canada.

Not unlike the draft dodgers in the Vietnam era, who fled the U.S. draft by running to Canada, these two men apparently face court martials and jail time if they return to their home country.

Wasn't it once possible to claim "conscientious objector" status if one didn't believe in the reason for going to war? I had the impression that this was some kind of option for all citizens, but I really don't know much about it, or if it even exists nowadays.

I was watching CBC Newsworld earlier tonight, and a viewer wrote a letter complaining about the irony that the U.S. would prosecute these men for their unwillingness to fight (and be put in a position to possibly kill others), while at the same time, the U.S. Air Force pilot who killed four Canadian soldiers in the "friendly fire" incident in Kandahar, Afghanistan is suing the Air Force for breaching his right to privacy when it publicly releasing his letter of reprimand. He basically got a "slap on the wrist" for actions his superiors deemed "gross misconduct" and "arrogance". He was punished with a letter of reprimand for misconduct, and had to forfeit $5,600 in pay for an act that resulted in the death of four innocent Canadian soldiers. And he has the balls to sue over his human rights?

How preposterous. This seems just a little insane and hypocritical to me.

More background on the "friendly fire" incident

June 25, 2004

Oh Baby! Webmonkey comes back to life!

The chimp with the wrench is back baby!

EEEEEE! EEEEE! EEEEEEE! (John's simian-style shrieks of pure joy!)

Wired magazine has brought it's popular "Webmonkey" site back to life!

From the Wired Web site:

"We heard from a lot of you after Webmonkey stopped publishing earlier this year. So, by popular demand, Webmonkey, the pioneering how-to guide for Web developers, is back. Wired News editors will work with Webmonkey writers to publish two articles a month. As before, these will include tutorials, software reviews and commentary by people who know their stuff. In the near future, Webmonkey will be more closely tied to Wired News, so readers can expect to see the latest on design, engineering, security and culture.
-- The Editors "

The power of being friendly...

A chance encounter with a friendly dog in New Brunswick made a man reconsider his plans for the day. He had planned to begin randomly shooting people.

He had come to Toronto from New Brunswick to kill "happy people". Being a dog lover (apparently more than people, according to reports), the happy dog must have convinced him that people had some redeeming value as well.

He turned himself in to a local policeman and was charged with multiple weapons-related offences, and will undergo a psychiatric evaluation.

Thank goodness for that friendly dog.

June 14, 2004

Karma is not currency...

A few days ago, coming home from work, I saw a young man begging for change at the Commercial Drive Skytrain Station. This in itself is nothing new, and no big deal to me, but this particular person struck me as a bit different from other panhandlers I had seen before.

He was sitting on the pavement, with a little cardboard sign that said "Karma - 25 cents". I looked at him and when he noticed me, he looked away. I think it was in shame.

His beard was trimmed, and he looked clean and fed to me, with reasonably new-looking clothes. I think this was a person who could do much better for themselves than wasting their time and other's people's money in this way.

I walked away wondering about his guilty-sounding little solicitation. I think he intended to ask for money in exchange for extra karma for me, but I believe that he could as well have been saying "Please give me some of your good karma."

As if my quarter would help him, and as if karma could be treated like a form of currency.

Dude, I hope you know that you can earn your own karma. And then, once you have lots of good karma, give some of it to someone else who really needs it. That's how it works, in my humble experience.

June 07, 2004

Oh, those poor twins...

Not long ago, I was in the lineup at Safeway, waiting to checkout. The front page of the Star or the National Enquirer caught my eye, featuring a certain teeny-bopper flavour-of-the-week sister-act.

Overheard behind me:

Woman: "Oh no. They're picking on the twins again!"

Man: "What? The Sedins?"

Woman (slightly irritated): "No! Mary-Kate and Ashley!"

At which point, the man immediately lost interest in the conversation, and I snickered into my sleeve.

Ah, priorities...

June 03, 2004

Quoth Homer: "Mmmm... Sushi..."

Ooooohhh... This is totally edible art....

Mmm... Sushi... (John drool's all over his keyboard...)

Repetitive stress syndrome, anyone?

Well, not exactly... but I did click a button named "Preview" and another one named "Publish" well over 500 times in the last two days.

Such is the life of a webmeister helping his boss to update/republish vast numbers of web pages. It's an honest living, and it's all good.

Our web site (Vancouver English Centre, was also rated #3 in the "Languages" category for the Vancouver Sun's "2004 Top Picks" of the web. I really must admit to some pride in that.

Homelessness and a provincial politician...

(John clears his throat and self-consciously steps up onto his wobbly soapbox...)


In an article published not too long ago (I think in the Georgia Straight), Bill Teilman (sp?) wrote about Lorne Mayencourt's proposed bill for tougher penalties - fines - against agressive panhandlers. I believe Bill (go Bill) said essentially said that taking this position made Mayencort essentially a hypocrite, since Mr. Mayencourt had been bankrupt twice and had had a loan or two forgiven in his day. My impression is that it was for more than mere pocket change.

Mayencourt's position is, IMHO, too extreme and counter-productive, punishing the poor without offering any contribution towards a long-term solution.

For all his own idealistic promotion, at least Svend Robinson spent a night in a homeless shelter to bring awareness to the homeless problem in Vancouver. And that was years ago, when I think it was not as bad as it is today...

Care to get your sleeping bag out Lorne?

May 26, 2004

Ah, the sweet smell of success... (Or "My PC is alive again!")

It looks like all it took to get Win '98 to come up properly (so far so good) was to deactivate autoexec.bat and config.sys.

I really don't quite understand MSDOS and Windows and how they work together during boot-up, but I guess all that really matters is that the dang thing is working properly again...

(Those of you who are running the latest version of XP can stop snickering at my Win '98 box anytime... My philosophy is "Run it into the ground! I want my money's worth from the thing!"

May 20, 2004

In Need of Unraveling...

Man. I have been feeling minor stresses starting to accumulate in the back of my head, neck and mind - pretty much all over.

Maybe my life of relative psychic leisure (meaning that I am usually a peaceful and sedate guy) has left me with a weakened immunity to the stresses of everyday life.

It's weird. Like at work, during a recent meeting, I felt frustration building inside me; I felt tired and impatient. I just wanted to go back to my desk, work by myself and not deal with other people. It's nobody's fault. I suppose that my tolerance for miniscule changes in my circumstances or expectations is really low right now. I think I used to be much better at dealing with unknown factors or unforeseen changes to my tasks or priorities.

Hell - ten years working for small high-tech startups will get you used to that sort of thing.

I'm also suffering from a bit of PC/Internet withdrawal, as my Windows 98 box has recently decided to only boot to MSDOS. What a pain. I'm certain I'll sort it out, but in the meantime, it only adds to my stress and reminds me of what a funny little techno-junkie I have become...

I think I need to do some meditation or something... I need a better perspective...

Days of Protest

For most of each day and into the early evening, I hear cars honking their support as they drive by the long-term care home next door.

The healthcare staff standing out front have been hooting back and clapping in response. The support for the HEU job action and related protests seem to be gaining sympathy and support.

My initial reaction was one of fear for the safety and health of the residents of the care home. I didn't know anything about how this would affect them. Walking by one day, I saw an elderly woman sitting out on the sidewalk with a sign in her lap. I realized that some, perhaps most, of the residents might support the perspective and actions of the staff. For elders who depend on professional healthcare every day, the staff are not just a resource, but I'm sure they are also regarded as friends, trusted co-inhabitants of the hospital.

This might sound a bit idealistic, but it's too easy to take the reactionary, anti-union standpoint used too often by the Government's PR which says "this action jeopardizes the people who rely on the service". That may indeed be true, but it is certainly not the full story - only one point of view on the whole spectrum of causes and effects.

The Liberal Government of BC under Gordon Campbell seems, to me, to have consistently emphasized primarily the non-union, employer or user-as-victim approach to rationalizing it's actions against unionized worker's rights to bargain. I saw this during the Teacher's protests, early on in the Campbell Liberals, and I am seeing the same approach now, from his Health Minister, Colin Hansen. The difference I see this time around though, is that by Mr. Hansen's body language and the tension in his delivery, it looks as though the Liberals are surprised by the mounting scale of the worker protests and public outcry of support. Maybe it's just wishful thinking on my part that this government might begin to see the error of it's ways.

I have read stories about Gordon Campbell's management style, back when he was Mayor of Vancouver. I have read that there were many more closed room meetings, and less consultation than during, say, Mike Harcourt's era. I have heard about "Gordo's" moments of arrogance and I think that this plays a huge role in how the current Liberal Gov't runs things today too.

At the end of the day, I think this current situation might have been handled better without such an early and controversial action like Bill 37, the back to work legislation. I have seen lots of strikes come and go here over the years, but was this one of the fastest, most knee-jerk responses by a provincial government yet? I think it's irresponsible of either side to act to reactively, if not enough discussion and negotiation has taken place. I have no idea if this is the case or not. I'm not that aware of the details, of who said what to whom, etc. I only know what I can see in the media.

I do know that the BC Liberals are died-in-the-wool Social Credit capitalists in my book. And thousands of union members and many more in the general populace have been pissed off at them for a long time now, so I suppose this kind of confrontation was inevitable. After the confrontations with the Teachers and other unions, the labour movement has been looking for a window of opportunity to strike a blow at Cambell's capitalists.

Carol James, Leader of the provincial NDP, issued this statement: I really agree with her opinions, but honestly, I have heard practically nothing in the media from or about the opposition party. Maybe I'm not paying attention closely enough. Perhaps the low-key approach is smart though, so as to not appear to be acting like political opportunists. Meanwhile, the Labour movement has been active and vocal as hell.

The healthcare staff next door are still out there, waving, hooting and getting honked at. I think the Liberals have finally shot themselves in the foot big-time. It strikes me that this could be the straw that broke Campbell's back.

Update, May 2, 2004 (CBC web site):

The Dalia Lama in Vancouver

We watched the Dalai Lama on webcast on Sunday morning when he addressed the crowd in the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver.

I guess I am an armchair, agnostic buddhist, trying to absorb the philosophy and integrate what makes sense into my athiestic world. However, being a bit of an idealist still, I believe that if I work hard, I can help to bring betterment to my part of it. And, by extension, if others do the same, eventually, we do have a better world, no?

I take the Dalai Lama at his word that he wishes to be considered as "just a monk". He maintains a down-to-earth, approachable and humble quality, which seems to me to be in keeping with personal growth and human compassion. That, to me, is a reminder of our finite lives and a fundamental and personal committment towards peace.

When Dad Met Svend Robinson...

The last sketch I did of my Dad, from a photograph...

Once when I was visiting my Dad in his care home, back in 1987 or 1988, he told me that some local politician had been by for a visit. Dad had never been particularly political, and didn't like or trust politicians very much.

I asked him what had happened. He told me that it was Svend Robinson who had come to visit.

"Did you talk to him?" I asked.

"Sure. He was talking to everyone. He came over to me and introduced himself. 'Hello. I'm Svend Robinson' he said. So I looked at him and said 'You're that queer fella, aren't ya?'"

Dad was smirking, proud of his little jab at Canada's first openly-gay politician.

I put my hand to my forehead in disbelief. "Jeez Dad! You didn't say that to him did you? What did he say?"

"He said he preferred to be called gay."


"We talked for a few minutes. He seemed like a good guy."

Dad looked off into the distance for a moment, thinking about the encounter with Svend Robinson, and I watched his smirk fade away, as his face became serious.

"You know," Dad said slowly, "he was the only one who came to see us." Dad meant that Svend had been the only politician who had taken the time to stop by and visit the residents at Carlton Lodge.

"Maybe I'll write him a postcard and say thanks."

Jesus, that's too much blood!

The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson

Holy Cow... I mean, yikes... what a bloodbath of a movie!! Why did Mel do this?

After weeks of prepping and some anticipation, I finally say "The Passion of the Christ" today.

I'm quite shocked and very disappointed in this movie in a number of ways. Mostly, I feel that it was excessively graphically violent. I will say that this is by far, the most brutally violent film I have watched. I suppose that this is really the point of the movie: to stun an audience who exists in a society steeped in violence from the real world, the media, games and other sources.

Is it assumed that we are so desensitized to violence that this level must be used to make an impact on us?

Maybe I am just a wimp, or too soft. Maybe I don't realize just how vicious people were back then, and are today. No. I'm just saying that - paying lip service to those views, so that they will have been said.

The fact is that I am mostly a pacifist, who hates violence. The truth is that I know that violence exists, and intolerance and cruelty exist, and I know that ideological differences are still the cause of violent conflicts all over the world. In our world today, horrible violence exists, as much as it ever did in the past. Living in one small corner of our world, inside the bubble of my urban life, I cannot say with absolute certainty that life is so much more advanced and peaceful today than it was 2000 years ago. I want to believe that it is, and I want to believe that people are not persecuted today as Jesus (apparently) was.

So, why so bloody and gory, Mr. Bush, er, I mean, Mr. Gibson? Why so sadistic a portrayal? This is a movie, so it was consciously created. Scores of people collaborated to create the story, decide on how it should be composed and shot, and overall it probably represents countless hours of research, design, and execution (pardon the pun) by people who do this kind of work professionally every day.

This wasn't a haphazard effort. Someone decided that we must see chunks of flesh flying, rivers of blood and layers of flayed skin spread across the screen. I will say that the depictions of violence were so graphic as to lessen the impact of the story for me. I did not feel that the movie adequately built up my empathy for Jesus as a person. He was represented as a healer and trusted individual, but I did not feel as though his special nature, ablities or leadership were adequately demonstrated. In this movie, I did not feel that Jesus was built up high enough as a character before his bloody descent into capture and torture. While he was being tortured, I certainly felt that I was watching someone suffer, but I did not feel as emotionally affected by it as I thought I would (or should) be.

Really, if anything, the movie presented so much graphic violence, that I felt as though I was somewhat desensitized to it.

I believe that, particularly with all the violence going on in the Middle East, this movie could have offerred more depictions of hope, compassion and love. The moments in the movie where compassion is shown (Pilate's wife bringing Mary the cloths, the man carrying the cross with Jesus, or the emotional/philosophical dillemma felt by Pilate) were few, and greatly overshadowed by shades of red.

I think the decision to portray this level of violence had to have been influenced by a fear that if it wasn't shocking, nobody would pay attention. It had to be spectacular, or we wouldn't even notice it. I think it was sensationalized in order to grab glory in the media and at the box office. Perhaps this is religion trying to compete with mass media on it's own terms? Look at "Kill Bill" by Tarantino, or any number of mobster flicks that depict gun play and blood and guts.

Is this what is necessary to make a strong impression on people? I don't think it is the only way to go. Look at "Kundun", the movie about the life of the Dalai Lama. Certainly he lived through the bloodlest time in recent history for Tibet, and there certainly was sufferring and anguish depicted, but there was also a sense of beauty and some hope that a future would grow out of the violent conflict.

Passion of the Christ is like a snapshot taken out of context - a violent scene, as if watched through a keyhole. This was a violent movie which, taken by itself, does a disservice to people who might otherwise consider the Christian faith as their belief system.

Perhaps this is just the modern equivalent of some fanfare to get people's attention... Like that joke that goes "SEX!!! Now that I have your attention..." and then goes on about real estate or some other unrelated topic. I mean, maybe that's what this movie is good for: a bloody, sensationalistic and graphic story that packs people into the theatres and reminds them about Jesus Christ. Then, once they have recovered from the shock of seeing the movie, they want to talk about it and talk about him, and maybe even open up a Bible or go to church.

However, still wearing my pessimist's hat, I think this is a rather desperate way for a religion or a film maker to draw attention to themselves.

Here are a few select web sites featuring, discussing or otherwise promoting this movie:

April 05, 2004

The Book and the Bottle... "ne'er the twain shall meet"

A co-worker recently returned from a vacation back home in Mexico. During her stay, she had asked me if I wanted her to bring me anything back. I light-heartedly said "A bottle of Tequila!"

When I was 18 and thought I was invulnerable, I helped another friend finish a bottle of Mescal right down to the worm at the bottom of the bottle, chasing with beer all the way. I thought I was such a he-man as I giggled and wobbled my way home, walking from False Creek across the Granville Street bridge.

Twenty years later, and I'm proud to say that I have a low tolerance for alcohol, and could not (and wouldn't want to) tackle a bottle of Tequila the way I did when I was a stupid, cocky young lad :)

Having said all that, the woman who bought me the bottle as a souveinir is a total sweetheart, with the best intentions. She took me at my word, presenting me with almost a full litre of Tequila this morning at my desk. I thanked her profusely for such an extravagant gift, which would have cost me an arm and a leg if bought here at a Government Liquor Store. I believe it's much less expensive in Mexico, but nonethess, a very considerate and nice thing for her to do.

Here's the punchline:

I grab this huge square one-litre bottle and jam it in my shoulder bag for the trip home, but it won't fit - something is blocking the way. I reach into my bag and pull out the offending item - the large Bible I have been studying in preparation for going to see "The Passion of the Christ".

A Bible and a litre of Tequila. Boy - talk about your clash of ideologies. Talk about your cognitive dissonance. That's some kind of bag o' conflict right there...

March 30, 2004

Not Much Faith in Faith Anymore?

In anticipation of seeing the movie "Passion of the Christ", I have been reading voraciously on Christianity and ancient belief systems from a number of different sources.

These sources have included The Bible, "The 12th Planet" by Zechariah Sitchin, The Necronomicon, and most recently, The Koran. Quite a mixed bag, I know, but I'll explain my train of thought, to assure you that it has not derailed too badly.

I will be going to watch the movie "The Passion of the Christ" in the next week or so, and contemplating this particular drama has made me aware of how little I know about the Christian Bible, Jesus, etc. My society is steeped in Christian rhetoric, sayings, holidays, and values, which have been incorporated into my personality subtlely all my life. It's such an easy habit to say "Christ!" or "Oh my god!" when I'm shocked by something. But I can honestly say that I do not believe in God. I am an atheist, and somewhat of a skeptic generally where belief systems and philosophies are concerned.

I have always been inspired by the saying "Any science, if sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic." I do think that everything can, ultimately, be described in physical terms. I do not believe in mysteries, magic or miracles, angels or devils, and I admit to feeling quite impatient with those who do believe such things. Having said that I basically believe that all things can be explained by science, I do not have any presumptions to great knowledge myself. I am just admitting that I will take reports of miracles or "acts of God" with a grain of salt.

So, my interest in the story of Jesus is that of an outsider, who wants to read the stories himself. I want to evaluate the Bible's historical (?) claims of interactions with "the Lord", and learn where these stories originally came from, and if they were inspired by earlier accounts.

So far, I am only as far as "Exodus" in the Old Testament, so I have a loooong way to go. I did skip to the end of the book once, and let me tell you, if Revelations is the end, this is not a pretty picture folks. So, I went back to the beginning again, hoping that things would somehow seem less shocking if I had more information first.

The Bible has been compiled from numerous different sources over the past thousands of years. It is truly the oldest continuously-published volume around, as far as I know. Many spoken versions of the it's stories spread around for millennia before being written down, and so they were subject to all kinds of cultural and temporal adjustments and changes with each recounting. Not to mention how the Bible has been consciously re-edited over the years by various religious orders, Kings, Popes, or whomever, in order to suit their political or religious goals.

At this point in my layman's reading the Bible, I have encountered a number of inconsistencies or things that seem plain strange to me.

In a few places in Genesis, God refers to itself in the plural e.g. "Let us create him in our image". Who was God talking to? Was there more than one God?

In other places, God (referred to as "The Lord") seems to act on quite a human scale. The Lord seems to interact with Jacob and Moses personally, speaking to them face-to-face, getting impatient or angry with them, or bargaining and promising things to get what he wants. The Lord also casually kills people too, with very little explanation given (I'll cite an example from the Old Testament at a later time).

This is far from the al-knowing, al-seeing, benevolent and omnipresent entity that was described to me in my youth. Some of the other people I have mentioned this to have had the same reaction, not liking the idea that God was so vengeful and "in-yer-face". Perhaps people prefer a more benign, compasssionate, super-being. You know, silent and invisible.

The Bible is certainly prone to inconsistencies, but then it is made up of fragments of ancient tales which have undergone countless modifications in their verbal and written manifestations. But all the same, the Old Testament God seems like quite the petty meddler in human affairs, sometimes walking around like a man, confronting people face-to-face, or sometimes whooshing around above a battlefield upon a "pillar of fire and cloud". God was definitely getting involved in things first hand.

This skeptical vision of "the Almighty" as a powerful yet meddling, human-scale super-entity spurred me to re-read the book "The 12th planet" by Zecharia Sitchen. In this, the first of his "Earth Chronicles" series, Sitchin claims that the Human race was created by advanced visitors from another planet in our solar system. He quotes lots of ancient Sumerian tablets and cylinder seals to back it up.

While I take a lot of Sitchen's claims with that same grain of salt, his views do provide a refreshing alternative to accepted stories of human creation and ancient events. Most useful to me were his statements that many of the events in the Old Testament may have been inspired by even older Sumerian or Babylonian tales. Sitchin (as well as other authors I found on the web) have compared the story of Noah and the Flood to older tales of a great deluge taken from Babylonian stories.

Cultures and beliefs tend to be fluid, influenced by other cultures as they intermingle due to commerce or other are affected by other causes. New cultures take on some characteristics of previous cultures too. So, I could see how the Jewish Torah, the basis for the Old Testament, might have adapted from or used versions of older, popular morality tales or epics for it's own purposes. The Old Testament, so far as I have read it today, is horribly vague about providing reference points that I can understand, so it's difficult to know where and when events it depicts actually occurred. I need like, a Coles Notes study guide for the Old Testmane, or "Bible for Dummies" :) But anyway, Zecharia Sitchin's work does help me get a timeline and context for certain Biblical events, and see that there were earlier possible sources for them.

I have also had a second look at the Necronomicon. The Necronomicon is billed as a book of magical incantations written by a "mad Arab" in the 9th century AD. Sounds pretty ominous. I bought it in handy paperback form at Coles books, and have recently re-read it purely out of curiousity. Having said all that, I'm a nice guy, who doesn't believe in any kind of blood oaths, sacrifices, or devil worship. (Just wanted to get that out of the way.)

I found that the Neconomicon makes *so* many references to Babylon and Sumer, whose religious beliefs pre-date Christianity by thousands of years, that it is no wonder that the Christian and Roman Catholic churches would want to suppress it or label it as evil, satanic, etc. The Necronomicon looks to me like a manifestation of old Sumerian or Babylonian stories and beliefs, recast in mystical terms, kind of like how ancient astronomy and pantheistic or shamanistic belief systems have been marginalized and recast into largely mystical terms as Astrology, Wicca, etc. So, it's not scary to me, or cursed or any of that sensationalistic crap that may have been assigned to it.

Finally, the Koran is somewhat of a breath of fresh air. It repeats some of the same messages of the Bible, but it is largely in the form of prose - a poetic format, which almost makes the Bible read like a Harlequin Romance by comparison. The style of the Koran is elaborate, slightly flowery and almost abstract, and yet remains structured in it's own way. It's not unlike the Islamic ornamental designs I fell in love with in first year at Art School. The Koran will be a difficult bok to interpret and understand, which is something I think I may enjoy.

In Summary...

I don't think I'm much more definite about my beliefs than before. I still "will believe it when I see it" as far as the Christian God, miracles, Heaven, etc. are concerned, but it makes me wonder how the Christian and Catholic Church has responded to the demands of modern society.

I think I shall enjoy staying on the fence, to study some more...

March 20, 2004

Does Organized Religion Equal Organized Division?

There seem to be so many groups, parties, organizations, sects, cults and bona fide religions around. I feel like I'm in an idealogical supermarket today.

I've had occasion to wonder what my core beliefs are - what do I actually believe in? I'll come back to that in a bit...

My Family Religious Affiliations

I never had the impression that my Dad's immediate family were particularly religious. My Dad was not a church-going man, and in fact had expressed some bitterness in how a local priest (Catholic I believe) had stopped by one day to give him advice on er, intimate aspects of his relationship with his first wife. Man - I mean, Dad was bitter and angry when he told me that story.

However, my little sister and I were christened Anglican. Did that mean that Mum and Dad were attending Anglican church at some point? I will reserve judgment on that.

As a little boy, I don't remember attending church on Sundays very much, except to sing in the choir. We may have attended though, since I do recall having a fine little green Sunday suit and long pants which were probably meant mainly for Sunday church. My sister Kim and I were periodically encouraged to attend Sunday school a few years later, when we lived in Aldergrove, outside of Langley, BC. All I can clearly remember from Sunday School was some children's bible books that depicted a blonde, clean-shaven Jesus, which I felt was all wrong. Also, some kid ate a bunch of the white library paste and stuck out his tongue to prove it, which was both gross and rather funny.

Some members of my Mother's family were devoutly religious, going to church with sincerity each Sunday, and speaking resolutely of their relationship with the Lord. Sometimes, hearing this kind of talk confused me a bit or made me uncomfortable, even as a little kid. I didn't understand the significance of it all. My Mum had brief moments where she was influenced by the spiritual beliefs of her religious relatives, and I can recall Mum coming in off the front lawn, talking (or raving) about Jesus, and Dad shouting at her to keep it down.

My impression is that Mum might have believed in God, or she might have believed in her parents more. I think my Mother was easily influenced by other people in her family, so I cannot be sure of what she truly believed in.

If my Dad ever had religion in his life, he did not have it by the time I knew him. In my teens, I asked Dad about his beliefs and if he had ever read the bible. He said that once he did start reading it, but at the part in the Old Testament where everyone was over 900 years old and still having kids, he gave up in disgust. He couldn't believe that.

In Dad's immediate family, among his brothers, parents, and his Aunt Molly, there was a strong tendency to belong to benevolent orders, like the Odd Fellows or Rebeccas, or the Shriners. These were religiously-based organizations that gave people some social and financial support, and performed charitable deeds in their local communities. The Odd Fellows and Rebeccas were Christian-based fellowships, which came out of the English Guild system in the 18th century (See The Shriners are a Masonic order (similar to the Free Masons) whose origins depend upon who you ask (See My uncle was one of those fez-wearing, red-blazer-bearing Shriners, and seemed to take a lot of joy from being part of that association. I still don't know what it's really all about or where it came from though, to be honest...

What does it all mean?

So many associations. Different group with different beliefs, and sometimes they try to discredit each other. The thing is, everyone joins one of these groups for personal reasons, and at some point may feel compelled to defend it from the views or opinions of others. Some fundamentalist Christians think that Masonic groups are based in Islam, paganism or even Satan worship, for example. I'm sure there are biases in every group, and that in many cases, they distinguish themselves from "competing" groups by their differences, which they believe to be advantageous. *sigh*

So, what do I believe in?

So, I am not interested in becoming a card-carrying member of any organized religion, fellowship, brother/sisterhood or whatever. All the special clothing, memorized oaths, and special halls or churches seem too externalized - like over-worked symbolic diversions, which I think distract from core philosophy.

Even though I am a budding Buddhist, I don't have any interest in the outside manifestations of it. I don't chant, wear robes or shave my head, any more than an average Christian would dress up like a priest. I think that the most difficult thing for someone to do is to develop their own strength in a belief system based upon personal study and introspection. By this, I mean that if I cannot find the inner strength to develop and test a belief system on my own, I will be susceptible to manipulation by others if I join an organized group. I believe in being skeptical until I feel I have enough information.

This doesn't mean I don't believe in something. I have a strong belief in science as a discipline to help us understand the patterns of nature. I believe generally in psychology and philosophy as practices that have contributed to our understanding of ourselves and the world. I believe in the right to ask questions and admit that I am finite, temporary in this world, and that I do not know the answers. I do not expect a belief system to give me those answers. I would rather be given the questions, and a means through which I can come to know an answer for myself.

March 10, 2004

Dad's Old Chair...

Me and Dad, Carlton Lodge, 1986
Last night, my brother David asked me to send him Dad's last known address, as part of a security clearance procedure for a job application. Thinking about it, and writing the address in an email for Dave brought back feelings of Dad.

Grace warned me not to look into the trunk of the car this morning, but I opened it to get the squeegee to wipe the morning dew off the windsheild, and there it was: Dad's old wheelchair, all folded neatly into a compact bundle. It was the first time I had seen my Dad's old wheelchair in many years.

I was a bit shocked at how much seeing that thing had surprised me. It was like an extension of my Dad for his last few years, and had stood folded up in a room at Grace's father's house since Dad passed away in 1989. I had forgotten all about it.

As Grace drove me in to work today, all I could think about was how much I wanted to hold the handles on the back of the chair again, like back when I would push him down the hall to his dinner.


Grace's father had cleaned it and removed all the old kleenexes and little bits of junk that were still stuffed into the leather "side saddle" pouch that Dad had kept over the side. (How considerate of him...)

Now, the wheelchair is going to a friend so that her dear old Nana can use it. Someone else should get some use from it. It's a good wheelchair.

March 06, 2004

Woman removes Windows(tm). Finds herself - "The Dumbing Down of Programming"

Another nugget from the past: "The Dumbing Down of Programming", by Ellen Ullman. This article from Salon Magazine was suggested to me by my friend Ron, back in 1998 when we were both working at TVI Interactive Systems.

At the time, I may have glanced at it, but I probably didn't read it. Here it is, six years later, and I must say, I really enjoyed reading it! (I'm also thrilled that the article is still available online after so many years. The web is typically such an impermanent space, that this kind of consistency is very satisfying.)

It's a fascinating look at the evolution of personal computer technology, as seen through the eyes of a female engineer as she strips away the layers of her Windows OS, de-evolving it down to it's BASIC brain core.

This article is a nice piece of engineering philosophy - a statement about our Microsoft-dominated computing culture, and the need for personal responsibility, choice and a sense of adventure. Back when this was written, Linux wasn't nearly as established and packaged as it is today, but the message of Ms. Ullman's article is still totally relevant: Windows, and Bill's vision of "easy-to-use" computing ain't all there is folks.

I wonder how she feels about the Mac?

"Up, up and away with 4EJ"

Forrest J. Ackerman, many years ago... (Used without permission)
Back in 1997, I just got my cable Internet connection, and was happily exploring the web, when I remembered a funky magazine I used to love in my teens...

It was Famous Monsters of Filmland, or "FM" to it's fans.

This crazy, silly, fascinating mag was filled with all manner of film monsters and sci-fi creatures, all in glorious black and white!! The editor of FM was Forrest J. Ackerman, probably the biggest horror and sci-fi fan alive anywhere! He was (and still is) known variably as Forry, 4E, or just EEEE.

FM magazine was steeped in 4E's nutty, bad puns. It was rather like Mad Magazine, but with a love of monster flicks replacing Mad's sarcastic put-downs and New York-style or in-bred cultural references ("you clod!").

Even though FM was chock full of the scary monster movie images, it was still a fun, friendly read for a kid - not scary at all. Pretty campy and silly, really.

Unfortunately, FM went out of print in the early eighties. I still have one issue tucked away from my once mighty collection of two or three dozen...

So, in 1997, in a raging fit of nostalgia, I decided to see if I could locate info about this magazine on the web.

As luck (and AltaVista) would have it back then, Mr. Ackerman had published a "virtual tour" of his personal Hollywood monster museum - "The AckerMansion" - as an interactive CDROM. I was so there baby!

I also discovered his web site and decided to send my first ever fan letter via email...

My fan letter to Forrest J. Ackerman went like this:

"Greetings 4E!

I really enjoyed the "Forry's Weird Wired World Web Site", but was dissappointed that my email to you
at that site bounced (bummer)...

So, I'll try again:

Thanks most of all for editing "Famous Monsters of Filmland", a mag I lived for when I was 12-16 yrs. old.
It gave me an escape route from the real world, and a window into the world of movies, fx, and fantasy,
and a preview of future fx greats like Rick Baker - truly inspirational!
Your cornball humour and enthusiasm kept the feel from getting too serious, and gave FMOF a familiar "face" that made it fun to read.

I just ordered your virtual tour CDROM set, and am anxiously awaiting it's arrival.
Thanks for creating this software and giving me my escape route back!

Thanks and best wishes,

E. John Love
Art Director
TVI Interactive Systems Inc.
Burnaby, BC, Canada"

The next day, I received this reply, apparently from the man himself (I hope so!)

"Enjoy the CDROM! Come back and visit my virtual Ackermansion often. You will always find a home there, at the end of your escape route......
Up, up, and away, with 4EJ!!!"

Now, seven (!) years later, I rediscovered these messages, as probably the oldest emails I still have. I assume that Mr. Ackerman must be well into his eighties or even beyond by now (talk about the undead - go 4E, go 4E!!)

...and lo, his same old web site is still kicking, in all it's 1997-esque, HTML version 1 glory, rife with his same crazy puns, and with a online guestbook bursting with loving fans like me, giving our respect.

My favourite 4E pun/joke is now "Esperanto - the tongue of cunning linguists". :)

Did you know that it was he who coined the term "sci fi"?
That's pretty cool...

Star of Tomorrow

My mother, Angela Huntley Clarke, on TV

Watching a documentary on Judy Garland last night reminded me of my mother.

Angela had her own, yet similar, beauty, musical abilities and insecurities. She loved Wizard of Oz, and, being maybe a half dozen years younger than the famous star, probably identified with Dorothy.

As a young woman, my mother had a beauty that, I think, rivaled Garland or Elizabeth Taylor. I have hundreds of photos of her, and she truly does seem to glow in most of them. Was she actually happy, or was it just a part she played in front of her father's Ricoflex camera?

Angela could play piano and violin, could sing, and acted in productions with the Victoria Gilbert and Sullivan Theatrical Society. It must have been someone's plan for her to break into the performing arts - maybe her own, maybe her Mother's. In 1956, she was a Star of Tomorrow, and had the demo recording to prove it.

"With a little bit o' luck", maybe my Mum might have flamed out gloriously under bright lights and a camera's watching eye, instead of burning out anonymously amidst depression, alcoholism and unfulfilled dreams. I wonder if she resented missing some big break along the way. Maybe she never even got that far.

I can still hear my Dad proudly proclaim "Your mother had a beautiful singing voice. They said she could have sung with the Metropolitan Opera." In my younger years, I would have loved to have had a famous and successful mother - someone in whom we could take pride for her accomplishments. Or maybe it's about wanting to see others be proud of her - to share her with everyone else.

Since becoming an adult, I have had a new wish for Mum: that she was healthy and able, and that she could be there for her husband and her kids - a wife and a mother. It would have been wonderful to get to know her live and in person the same way I knew my Dad or my sister.

Instead, I will posthumously reinvent her through album after album of someone else's dreams of who she was or who she could have been, and then build little shrines to her on the Internet.