December 03, 2006

Wishing you a merry, er, everything...

Xmas is a time of mixed emotions. Most years, my cynicism is initially raised in early November by the sight of red, white and green decorations and the sound of xmas tunes played inside all the shops. It often starts that way, with my gut telling me that the once again, hungry money-makers are trying to get me into the spirit too damned early. (Canadian retailers have nothing in November to tide them over, since our Thanksgiving happens in October, not November. Thus, they want the Xmas sales frenzy to start just a little bit earlier than south of the border.)

By now, about a week into December, personal things start to seep into my brain, like the happiness of past christmases with family and friends. With these memories and expectations in mind, a personal xmas response starts to stick to my brain like a new, wet snowfall: the warm, selfish enjoyment of fatty foods like egg nog and mincemeat tarts, the anticipation of sharing food, laughter and gifts with friends and family, and the morose internal pledge to avoid depressing thoughts and let past personal holiday letdowns (or in some cases, disasters) rest on the sidelines for a little while.

Finally, for me as the next week or two bring me closer to X-Day, there's the surrender to the reality of shopping. Every year I dread the start of Xmas shopping in crowded malls. And yet, every year I end up enjoying the sense of accomplishment and in imagining the happy reactions of my recipients. "This is just perfect for her! He'll totally love that!"

It's the same way with cards and seasonal emails and letters: the list of recipients looks long, but during the act of giving each little letter, card or email, it becomes effortless, warm, real, fun, constructive and happy.

I think it happens when your head is focused on others' happiness and gratification, instead of your own.

I'm not a Christian, although that religion and it's words and songs are uncontrollably steeped in my culture. As kids, when my sister Kim and I had sort of stopped believing in Santa, my Dad tried to inflect the season with his own version of secular Christmas spirituality, telling us that Santa Claus was the "spirit of Christmas". Dad didn't go much deeper than that, but I have since decided for myself what that "spirit" means: mostly, the ideas of giving, sharing and creating happiness.

No single belief system has the last word on compassion or morality, but with or without an organized religion or philosophy, we can all make a moment or give some money or some comfort to someone who needs it. It's got to be personal, have personal meaning or resonance, or else it's just a hollow habit that won't mean anything at all. Look outside yourself and your own needs and rehumanize yourself.

And so friends, in that spirit, regardless of who you are or what you believe, take your own moment to reflect on your good fortune and then do something nice to improve the fortune of someone else.

October 27, 2006

Speak low, darling, speak low

A quiet moment sitting in Starbucks
listening to Billie Holiday sing "Speak Low" by Kurt Weill.

Finally, a moment of time together -
Time to contemplate things and time to keep
each other company while we work on individual tasks.

Separate thought processes, but bodies and hearts still together.

Speak low when you speak, love
Our summer day withers away too soon, too soon
Speak low when you speak, love
Our moment is swift, like ships adrift, we're swept apart, too soon
Speak low, darling, speak low
Love is a spark, lost in the dark too soon, too soon
I feel wherever I go that tomorrow is near, tomorrow is here and always too soon
Time is so old and love so brief
Love is pure gold and time a thief
We're late, darling, we're late
The curtain descends, ev'rything ends too soon, too soon
I wait, darling, I wait
Will you speak low to me, speak love to me and soon

October 18, 2006

Radio-Canada reports on Bagnell Taser case...

On the October 17, 2006 edition of "The National", CBC aired a very good report on the Robert Bagnell taser case. Produced by Radio-Canada, it was well-rounded and touched on many of the social, legal and ethical aspects.

It began with a brief portrait of Bob and the effect of his loss on his family, delivered by his sister, Patti Gillman. Patti told how she and her Mother had learned about Bob's death, and how the fact that a taser was involved as not released by the Vancouver Police Department until 30 days later. The VPD's position was that the Taser gun did not play a role Bob's death, and this remains their position today.

Taser Int'l has conducted many scientific reports into the safety of their products, branding them as "non-lethal weapons", classified as such by the U.S. Department of Defense. The non-lethal aspect of the Taser is strongly promoted by the company, who consider its use to be reducing deaths and saving lives. Apparently, many of the studies commissioned by Taser were done by companies paid by Taser, or using data provided by Taser.

John Webster, of the University of Wisconsin, told the reporter that he believed that Tasers could deliver lethal results, if the victim has low body fat and is shocked close to the heart. An independent research team at the University of Toronto showed that the consumption of cocaine or a very high level of fear, combined with an electric discharge, could also cause cardiac arrhythmias.

The Radio-Canada report followed with a tour of the taser facility, focusing on Mr. Steve Tuttle, Vice President of Taser International. Taser's high-tech facility was emphasized as we saw the V.P. pull a taser gun out of his holster and shoot a test target numerous times. You could easily regard this sequence at Taser International as a genuine, straight-forward and factual description of the products and business of this Arizona-based company. But using "Mission Impossible" music in the background and referring to the company's headquarters as looking like "something out of a James Bond movie" might hint at a dark sense of humour on the part of Radio Canada reporter, as if someone were trying to point out that the glorification of technology should be viewed with a little suspicion.

Understandably, Taser wants to cultivate an image of corporate success and of product reliability. Being named in lawsuits and dealing with past reports about the potential lethality of Taser products has certainly had a negative effect on the company's image and stock price.

Even with his rocket-powered backpack and gadget-laden cars, James Bond sometimes still had to get his hands dirty in his job (read an early James Bond novel like Casino Royale for example). But realistic or not, that angle wouldn't sell very many Walter PPKs now would it?

Link to the Radio-Canada companion article (en Français)

In English, translated mechanically by

Bagnell Family Sues Vancouver Police and Taser Int'l over Death

Taser Controversy Refuses to Die (BBC)

September 30, 2006

Last greetings on the streets...

Walking up Beatty street towards SkyTrain, the sun was out, but it was still raining a little - you know that weird combination of sunlight and rain. I saw a nice bright rainbow coming up over the downtown East side, and it made me feel good, like that kind of magic, happy feeling I'd felt seeing a rainbow as a kid.

At Stadium Station, I saw Curtis James, a guy I've known on the street for a few years, and who lost almost all his toes to frostbite last winter. I recently switched jobs, which meant that I wouldn't be working downtown anymore. I told Curtis that I would soon be leaving the area, and that I probably wouldn't see him again.

He said "I dunno. I get around town, you know" and smiled.

"Well, it's out in Burnaby, so I dunno..."

"Well, maybe you'll help one of my brothers then. You're doing God's work, my friend. You really are."

"Thank you. Enjoy the rainbow" I said to him, feeling grateful for such a gracious personal remark. After the past few years, it had only been pocket change, but the weekly chit chats and little conversations about hope and the kindness of strangers had added up to something too.

"There's two of 'em."

"What?" Damned if Curtis wasn't right. There was a second rainbow, right next to the first one. I was really glad that he could notice something nice like that.

September 14, 2006

Coffee with Riki and Patti, Part 1

Robert Wayne Bagnell as a teen.

I had the great joy to meet some of Bob Bagnell's family in person for the first time yesterday.

Bob's sister Patti and his Mum Riki are in Vancouver to attend the Coroner's Inquest into Bob's death. We met at a Starbucks near the office tower where the Coroner's Court is located.

Knowing Bob briefly (but significantly to me) as I did, and having advocated for him in personal and social terms, I've grown to identify with these two ladies, and feel immense sympathy for their loss. I have also felt frustration at the delays and complications that have been imposed upon them while they look for answers and more information.

To me, they've expressed their gratitude for my attempts to promote a sympathetic and human image of their dear "Bobby". In simple terms, through our email exchanges and few phone calls, we've extended our hearts and minds to each other, with Bob as the glue. I suspect Bob might like that very much.

I think we fairly glowed at each other, meeting in person for the first time. They are both such lovely ladies; living reflections of a part of Bob that I had caught glimpses of here and there: humour, sincerity and a plain-spoken heartfulness. Bob has a warm and loving family, and they are still fighting for him today.

We swapped stories for about an hour and a half, many about Bob and how he was as a young kid, and how he decided to go his own way in life and explore his own road.

We talked about their son's love of art and drawing, and of his inner imagery, sometimes dark, sometimes colourful, and always passionately his own way.

We talked about Bob's struggle with addictions, and the people he'd come to know at the Dr. Peter Centre, where he was days away from having his paintings put up in an art exhibition. We talked about the people and programs at the Broadway Church, where Bob had found emotional and spiritual support as he tried to bolster himself and set his life back on the rails.

Riki said that her son Bobby had become "the poster child" for the whole Taser issue. Riki and Patti also could not say enough in praise of their lawyer Cameron Ward, referring to him as "a Wizard". He is obviously a tireless champion of their cause.

The following was reposted (without permission) from the web site of Cameron Ward, solicitor for the Bagnell family in this matter:

Bagnell Inquest adjourned amid controversy
September 14, 2006

Coroner Stephen Fonseca today adjourned the coroner's inquest into the death of Robert Bagnell and ordered a ban on publication or distribution of a letter dated September 14, 2005 from Victoria Chief Constable Paul Battershill to B.C. Police Complaint Commissioner Dirk Ryneveld and Vancouver Chief Constable Jamie Graham.

Yesterday, the coroner's jury heard that the two Tasers used on Bagnell were tested by Intertek ETL Semko and that one of them generated 30.42 joules/pulse of energy in conditions designed to simulate contact with human skin. This is 84.5 times greater than the manufacturer's specification of 0.36 joules/pulse. The author of the report was scheduled to testify today.

Robert Bagnell died June 23, 2004. On July 25, 2004, VPD Detective Faora advised his mother that he died of a drug overdose. On July 23, 2004, after the body had been cremated and the ashes delivered to the family, the VPD issued a media release advising the public of the death and stating that Bagnell had been "Tasered" and had died in police custody. On August 16, 2004, VPD Deputy Chief LePard issued a follow-up media release stating that the Taser was used to rescue Bagnell from a fire in the building.

Tasers are a controversial electrical weapon linked to the deaths of at least 215 people in Canada and the U.S.
Bagnell inquest continues
September 7, 2006

The five man jury at the coroner's inquest into the death of Robert Bagnell has heard that VPD homicide investigators did not interview any of the 12 VPD members who were at the scene when Bagnell died. Instead, after "decompressing", the police officers submitted brief written accounts later. The four ERT members who were in physical contact with Bagnell when he stopped breathing delivered their statements to investigators on July 9, 2004, seventeen days after the incident.

The deceased's mother Riki Bagnell testified that she learned Tasers had been used on her son about a month after his death, from TV news accounts. She said she asked the investigator why the police didn't just leave her son alone to calm down and his response was "That's a good question, Mrs. Bagnell". A few weeks later the VPD held a news conference to explain they Tasered Bagnell to rescue him from a fire in the building.

The VPD media accounts of the death are archived at

The Province of British Columbia allows police departments to investigate their own members in cases of serious injury and death despite recommendations of a coroner's jury in January 2004 that such investigations be done independently.

It's too easy for people to hear phrases like "drug user" or "cocaine" and place a human being into a negative or dehumanizing frame of reference. There are lots of people like Bob Bagnell in the downtown/Yaletown area, and I have had the pleasure to meet and know some of them a little bit during my daily commutes. They all seem to be struggling with something or other, but without enjoying the same tools and resources that many of the rest of us consider essential.

People are complex and contradictory, and cannot be reduced to a sound bite. I knew Bob Bagnell on and off for about a year or so, and saw a slightly messed up guy who was also an artist. He was struggling with his own problems, yet had a friendly nature and a sense of humour about life. He lived downtown, yet was one of the people in my residential East Van neighbourhood.

I saw the evidence of Bob trying to pull himself up into a clean, drug-free, more spiritual way of living. He was still HIV positive and apparently had some form of cancer. He had a lot of strikes against him, but with the help of people and various agencies or programs that cared about him, he'd gotten free of heroin and then methadone, and had begun seeking counselling and spiritual support. He had been actively involved in putting himself on a better, more hopeful path. If you or anyone you've known has struggled with an addiction, drugs, alcohol, or even tobacco, you must know that it can be difficult to stay clean. It can be a daily challenge. I'm certain Bob fought with that same thing, and that it was not easy for him. He was on the right path, except for his final fall from grace and his tragic, violent end.

Read more about Robert Wayne Bagnell here if you are curious:

September 10, 2006

Dalai Lama: Dialogues in Vancouver, September 2006

The 14th and current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso

World peace must develop out of inner peace.
- Dalai Lama

On Saturday September 9 2006, His Holiness the Dalai Lama of Tibet spoke to 12,000 people at GM Place in Vancouver, BC. The title of his talk was "Cultivating Happiness.
The Dalai Lama is the only person for whom I would personally use the word "role model" - someone whose words, examples and actions have inspired me on a personal level.

My wife and I were seated in the top-most row of the upper level of the stadium - right up in the "nose bleeds", but the large-screen monitors made it very easy to see everything happening down below. The event began with performances by a Vancouver-based Tibetan Children's Choir, a group of kids ranging in age from 5 to 14, who had learned traditional Tibetan songs, dance and musical instruments. For me, the highlight of this performance was the duet of a 5 year old boy singing, accompanied by a 10 year old boy playing an eight-stringed instrument that looked like a bass guitar. At one point, the older boy played a kind of guitar solo, plucking his strings for all he was worth. His obvious joy and proud, almost swaggering body language showed on the big screen for all to see, and the crowd roared and applauded his performance with the loudest cheers of the event.

Next, Emcee Kevin Newman announced Vancouver's Mayor, a federal minister and His Holiness. He was then told that they were delayed. After telling some stories and joking with the patient crowd of 12,000, there was a few minutes' pause while the organizers deliberated on bringing out the Tibetan children's choir again.

Then, quietly from the other side of the stadium, we all heard the murmur of a familiar song. It got louder and more definite, and swept around to my wife and me like a gentle wave. The entire audience in GM Place had begun gently singing the Canadian national anthem. It was a lovely and moving moment of spontaneity.

Not long after, everyone finally arrived on stage. Author and organizer, Victor Chan, a long-time friend of the Dalai Lama and a Director of the Vancouver-based Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education, spoke of the way his life was personally transformed by meeting the Tibet leader 30 years ago. Mr. Chan wrote an excellent book entitled The Wisdom of Forgiveness.

Vancouver Mayor Sam Sullivan spoke warmly of his private meeting with the Dalai Lama, and of the singular honour bestowed upon our city to be the first and only one to have an education centre named after the Tibetan leader. The Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education is due to open in Vancouver in 2009.

While he personally might be genuine in his respect and admiration for the Tibetan leader, I believe that Mayor Sam Sullivan's office also has a vested interest in cultivating stronger trading and tourism relations with China. The Vancouver Mayor's office has been criticized publicly for asking Falun Gong members to remove a makeshift shelter and protest signs from in front of the Chinese Consulate. The speculation was that this was an attempt to appease Chinese government officials. It must be a real challenge for a politician to balance trade, politics and ethics where China is concerned.

Federal Immigration Minister Monte Solberg took the stage, and told us that the Canadian Parliament has unanimously voted to sign a motion granting His Holiness with honourary Canadian citizenship, and that this honour had only been granted two times previously in our history. Kevin Newman the Emcee, joked that any Canadian would attest to how difficult it is to get members of our Parliament to agree about anything.

At the federal level, China and Canada have long had differences over Tibet. Recently, China has made slightly threatening remarks in response to the Harper government's unanimous decision to grant honourary citizenship to the Dalai Lama.

The presentation at GM Place, and indeed the tone of the Dalai Lama's entire visit, was very non-political and not limited to one particular culture or nationality. Nobody mentioned the ongoing Tibetan crisis, or the new Chinese railway which will help move tourists and Chinese citizens into Tibet faster than ever before. The rail cars were built by Montreal-based Bombardier.

The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of millions of Tibetans, a recipient of the nobel peace prize and and an internationally recognized promoter of peace and non-violence. By his own admission, he is a simple Buddhist monk. He spoke in general terms about achieving peace of mind by exercising compassion and kindness in daily life. Praying for peace is a nice idea but achieves nothing without concrete action, he stressed. Referring to Muslim Terrorists, he reminded us that the actions of a minority of "mischievous" people claiming to act in the name of a religion should not spoil the image of that religion for everyone else. He also said that since 9/11, he has become the unofficial spokesman for persecuted and victimized Muslims everywhere.

On this trip, his primary mission seems to have been to open dialogue with citizens about the benefits of peace, love and compassion and to raise awareness for the new centre which will bear his name. Vancouver was chosen because of it's combination of Eastern and Western influences; a multicultural makeup, which includes Chinese and Tibetan. So we may hope this will be the right place to open educational dialogues and learn to live together and work for peace.

The Dalai Lama's 2006 visit to Vancouver, BC.

Dalai Lama to build education centre

Dalai Lama Centre for Peace and Education

August 31, 2006

The return of John and his little PC...

After what seemed like an eternity (2 or 3 weeks), my pc is finally back to normal, or better.

While I do work with computers every day, I don't care much for the "bleeding edge" of the technology. I tend to keep using computers long past their expiry date, long after they have acquired that stale aura - the aura that PC gamers and Best Buy salespeople recognize as the sour stench of the undead pc.

Soon after I upgraded from my old Tungsten W to a new Treo 650, I discovered that the Treo's desktop software would not run under Windows 98 (yes, I was also clinging tenaciously to that outdated operating system, reluctant to change or rebuild the system which have served me well since September of 2000, when I bought it at London Drugs in Kerrisdale. Basically, I don't do the whole change thing often or very well).

So, in order to use my Treo and other USB stuff like my MP3 player with my PC, I had to bite the bullet and upgrade to Windows 2000. Of course, this isn't a real big deal except that I hadn't done it before, and didn't want to be kept away from my various online obsessions for very long. There never seems to be enough time in the evenings to do "maintenance" on my beloved old tool (or my PC), but after backing up everything I could think of to CD, and with the help and advice of more knowledgeable friends (thanks Victor -, the deed was finally done.

Now, my beloved Treo (nicknamed "The Precious") can talk to my somewhat senior-citizen computer, which has now received a new face and a new lease on life. My hands feel like they are finally untied. Is that weird? One normally doesn't need a hand to gaze lovingly into their own navel. :)

Related Past Posts:

August 20, 2006

White Whiskers - a sad old man?

After a few days without a shave, I can see white whiskers sparkling on my cheeks. Truth be known, at 45, I'm grey as an old man. My temples are pure white, Reed Richards style, and I'm more salt than pepper across the top of my head too. My chest hair is going white. WTF. When I was a kid, I felt more mature than my years, felt more mature than my friends, and longed for the day when I could be my own independent person, and have my own life.

I get my hair coloured by a pro every month of so, and the only painting I do anymore is to apply "Just for Men" to my beard. Only my hairdresser (bless her) knows for sure.

It's funny how white whiskers on my own face kind of spook me. I just want to scrape them off. It's been a couple of days since I last shaved, and much longer since I dyed my hair or beard.

The white hairs make me think of my Dad. All my life he'd been silver-haired. I remember being a little boy, and getting "whisker burns" from him when I'd kiss him goodnight. I'd lean in to kiss him on the cheek, and he'd suddenly, sneakily scrub his rough face into mine and say "whisker burn", and we'd both laugh.

At other times, his unshaven white whiskers would signal that the weekend had come, or some other time when his appearance didn't matter to him so much, or if he'd been drinking or just didn't give a damn.

Sometimes those white whiskers were a hint that he wasn't at his best, that perhaps I should be careful or cautious around him - that maybe he'd be angry, drunk, or lose his temper or maybe he'd be feeling sad or regretful. It usually made me a bit uneasy whenever he'd let himself go in little ways like that. Now I understand that it can't be easy to carry an emotional burden or an addiction with nobody your own age to unload on.

Grey and white are the colours of old age, and reminders of the finiteness of life, and of my genetic heritage (my Mum went grey early in life as well). For each of us, the clock is ticking.

I'm not overly obsessed with my looks or appearance, and I don't have a ginormous ego or anything, but I will adjust my image, and try to keep some aspects of my persona - little secrets - under my control. Then, when I'm ready to look like an old man, like my old man, I will let it happen...

June 23, 2006

Bagnell Family Sues Vancouver Police and Taser Int'l over Death

Jun 22, 2006: Family of Robert Wayne Bagnell sues Taser Int'l, Vancouver Police Chief and other VPD officers for gross negligence in death of Robert Wayne Bagnell.

"Taser International Inc, the maker of the X26 Tasers used on Bagnell, is named in the lawsuit, along with the Vancouver Police Department, police Chief Jamie Graham and five other Vancouver police officers.

"The statement of claim, filed Thursday, said two police officers repeatedly shot Robert Wayne Bagnell, who was unarmed and represented no threat to anyone, with two weapons manufactured by the defendant Taser International.

"The lawsuit accuses the police department of unlawful acts and gross negligence for failing to train its officer in the use of the Taser."

A Tribute to Robert Wayne Bagnell - Links to Related Pages

June 08, 2006

Coroner’s Inquest into the Death of Mr. Robert Bagnell Scheduled for September 2006

Robert Bagnell died in Vancouver on June 23, 2004 after being Tasered by police.

Republished from A Tribute to Robert Wayne Bagnell:

Jun 05, 2006: Coroner’s Inquest into the Death of Mr. Robert Bagnell Scheduled for September 2006

"VANCOUVER – The British Columbia Coroners Service will conduct a Coroner’s Inquest into the death of Mr. Robert Bagnell. Mr. Bagnell died while police were attempting to remove him from a common bathroom in a hotel at 1390 Granville Street, in Vancouver, on June 23, 2004.

The inquest will be held at the Coroners Court in Burnaby commencing at 0930 hours on September 5, 2006, and is expected to last several days.

This inquest will allow for the public presentation of all relevant evidence relating to Mr. Bagnell’s death. Coroner Stephen Fonseca and a five-person jury will hear evidence from subpoenaed witnesses in order to determine the facts surrounding the death. The jury will have the opportunity to make recommendations aimed at preventing deaths under similar circumstances in the future.

Contact: Stephen Fonseca Coroner
Office of the Chief Coroner
604 660-7753"

May 15, 2006

The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail

In anticipation of the upcoming movie, I've read "Da Vinci Code".

If the book or movie get people thinking about their spiritual beliefs and spur open and reasonable discussions about it, then I think it can be quite useful. Certainly the Christian church is smart enough to leverage pop culture to fill seats on Sunday or in their Alpha courses. "Passion of the Christ" was extremely useful to them for that, although I expect that "The Da Vinci Code" won't be quite as useful, since its story is complicated and multi-layered and not of a kind that is easy to refocus into a positive message for Christian beliefs. Brown's book essentially makes the Catholic Church the big bad guy, responsible for completely re-spinning Christ to suit their own needs.)

There is a lot of criticism of Brown's novel. I have recently read a book (one of the "Rough Guide" series) that flatly denies the claims of Pierre Plantard and says that all of his "Priory of Sion" evidence is fake. Indeed, Mr. Plantard (who passed away in 2000) seems to have very little credibility, and likely no connection whatsoever to the fabled Meringovian royal bloodline, counter to his claims and manufactured documents, much of which influenced the research of Leigh and Baigent in their 1983 book, Holy Bood Holy Grail. Their book was in fact a major inspiration for Dan Brown's novel "The Da Vinci Code".

The possibility of Jesus Christ being a mortal - a human - leader, is appealing and makes total sense to me. I've never been much on mysticism or things like life after death. However, human history proves we have a fascination with the supernatureal - with the idea of beings with powers and levels of existence greater than our own. Like children, we may look for their to be a greater authority to guide us or lead into our future. Our sense of "faith" tells some of us that this must exist, and that we can touch it and depend upon it. As an individual, I have never felt this way. I see that humans lead other humans around, for a variety of selfless or selfish reasons. My experience says that the mysterious is just something we couldn't explain when we saw it. To me, it does not mean that it can never be expained or cannot be understood by humans.

The authors of "Holy Blood, Holy Grail" also wrote a book about the discovery, interpretation and politics linked to the Dead Sea Scrolls. Generally, I agree with their (and other researchers') claims that biblical revisions have occurred throughout history to suit the political/social needs of various rulers or of the Christian Church.

For what it's worth, I think "A History of God" by former Nun Karen Armstrong, is also an *excellent* overview of the historical development of "God" as interpreted by Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

April 20, 2006

What about all those addicts and homeless people?

During lunch with coworkers today, the woman to my left said that a lot of crime could be attributed to less Welfare support, which contributes to addicts tendency to do crime. She said that if they could get Welfare, they'd be less likely to steal. She mentioned that many of them are mentally ill, and can't get medicine or don't take it when they should.

The fellow to my right said that all thieves should have their hands cut off.

Another coworker added that the beggars he sees on Hastings Street everyday probably make more money than him every day, and that they're probably too lazy or apathetic to get a job.

After a while of listening to this debate, I felt stymied - trapped in between these extreme views.

I pictured one of one of my oldest friends who has struggled with multiple substance addictions for years now. I thought of my parents who abused themselves with alcohol and ruined their lives and jeopardized mine. I thought of my dear sister, who worked her way out of the Welfare cycle and into a career that could support her family. I thought of some of the guys I've met on the downtown streets over the past three years: Curtis, Keith, and Dean. They are not a threat to me, and honest as far as I can tell. I thought of Bob Bagnell, who, to me, represents someone who was lost in addictions but tried to get his health and his future back on track. In spite of how he died, I believe that Bob did succeed completely because he had started to gain physical and spiritual health and new hope.

I tried to say that it's not realistic to stereotype Welfare recipients as lazy, or drug addicts as thieves, anymore than it would be realistic for me to ignore the fact that these stereotypes exist for a reason. I don't think I got the words out right, because here I am writing about it.

Rightly or wrongly, a few conclusions come to my mind from all this:

  • Everybody has their own story, and their own reasons for why they are where they are. I think stereotypes are a convenient substitute for people who don't have (or don't want) actual first-hand experience.

  • I think some people understandably resent those whom they see as a drain on society, but they may also be a bit afraid of what they don't understand. I consider it dehumanizing to label and presume about people if you don't try to learn a little something about their background or some of the factors of their situation.

  • Finally, in my city, we do have more people than ever suffering well beneath the poverty line. Our municipal, provincial and federal governments should provide them with a more effective social service and education.

Maybe what the rest of us can try to provide is a little more understanding and compassion.

April 15, 2006

A Tiger Too Sweet

Tiger, one of my two cats, has diabetes. This was comfirmed recently by our veteranarian, the excellent Dr. Emily.

I used to call Tiger "Tubby Tee", since he was kind of fat until the last year or two, when we noticed his trimness rivalling that if his brother "skinny Sylvester".

Apparently, diabetes is not uncommon in cats. Noticeable weight loss and increased need for food and water are symptoms, and Grace noticed them first and pegged them as indicators of diabetes. A blood test confirmed it, and a blood glucose test showed Tiger's blood sugar at 23. The vet said she wants to see him down between 9 and 13.

So, starting tomorrow, our beloved boy starts getting an insulin injection once a day. Oy - I'm going to have to do it, but it doesn't seem very difficult or complicated at all. I just have to pinch the loose skin at the back of his neck, and inject just one cc with a syringe - a tiny amount.

His blood sugar level must also be measured to see how the insulin is affecting him. Grace has diabetes too, and must test her blood everyday, using a little blood glucose meter that you can buy at any drugstore. It's the same process for Tiger, except that instead of using the little spring-loaded lancet widget to quickly pierce the skin and squeeze out a drop of blood, I must find a little vein in his ear, and prick it manually with a little needle. It looks quite easy to do, and Tiger seems not to notice it very much (thank god, said the atheist). The lttle insulin injections must be done daily, but the blood tests won't need to be done too often.

I gave Tee a practice poke at the vet's office and he didn't seem to even feel it (thank god, said the atheist again).

So, tomorrow, the daily insulin regime starts. Next Saturday, we must check Tiger's blood sugar level every two hours, and record it on a chart. At the end of each week, we must give the results to theVet, who'll decide to raise or lower the insulin dosage depending on trend in Tiger's blood sugar levels.

April 09, 2006

Dean's Philosophy of Life

Today I met a guy named Dean, and I spent 20 minutes learning about his background and his philosophies of life:

1. A negative attitude won't get you anywhere. Learn to enjoy and appreciate the little good things that happen.

2. Believe in yourself even when nobody else does. Care for yourself when nobody else seems to care.

3. Don't judge a book by it's cover. Don't judge a person by their appearance, or by what you think you already know about them. People can surprise you.

Dean really surprised me. I had seen him on the street a few times in the past week or two, usually holding a paper cup on the hook that serves as his left hand.

Dean told me that at one point, he had been working as a well-paid tradesman. He said that he got too arrogant, worked too much and spent too little time at home with his wife, and eventually, the relationship fell apart. Later, he ended up living on the street for 11 months, and as a result, spent many weeks in hospital recovering from double-pneumonia.

He told me that when he was in Nanaimo, he estimated that maybe 1 in 300 people who walked by him on the street would stop and talk to him. In Vancouver, it's much, much worse. Most people just ignore him - even avoid eye contact.

Once, he found a big plastic bag of clothes outside BC Place Stadium. The men's clothes he kept for himself. The women's clothes he gave to some of the women he encountered out on the streets.

Not long ago, Dean saw a necklace in a water fountain down by the T&T Market, near the Stadium SkyTrain Station. He dug into the water, amidst all the pennies, and fished out an inexpensive necklace - the kind that young girls buy themselves. He could have sold it for a few bucks, but for some reason, he decided to hold onto it.

Later that day, while Dean was panhandling near Georgia and Granville, he was approached by a Japanese lady and her young daughter. The little girl went up to Dean and carefully put a loonie in his cup, while her mother watched her.

Dean told the little girl "Wait a minute. I have something for you." The girl was unsure and a little nervous until she saw the necklace he placed in her hand. She was thrilled to get the gift from him, and in return gave Dean a big smile, dropped a chocolate coin into his cup and walked back to her mother. Dean said they waved to him all the way as they crossed the street.

Dean now has a place to stay and welfare to help things along, but his main goal is to get back into a trade and get his life back on track.

He told me that he is on his way up, slowly. He knows that it will take him a long time to dig his way out of the hole he's in, but he absolutely convinced me of his resolve to do it.

He said that it's the people who believe that the despair and sadness is all they have left - the ones who either have given up or can't see the hope anymore - they are the ones who are really lost. "You can't lose your humanity" he told me, and he hasn't.

February 02, 2006

Robert Pickton: Canada's Worst Alleged Serial Killer

photo | 68 Vancouver women have gone missing since 1978First-degree murder charges have been laid in the largest serial killer case in Canadian history. 27 women have disappeared from Vancouver's Downtown Eastside between 1995 and 2002.

The prime suspect, Port Coquitlam pig farmer Robert "Willy " Pickton, has been in custody since his arrest in February 2002. In British Columbia Supreme Court in New Westminster on January 30th, 2006, Pickton pleaded not guilty to 26 of the 27 charges. Canada does not have the death penalty, so Pickton faces multiple consecutive life sentences if convicted.

The number of at-risk women missing from Downtown Vancouver since 1978 stands at a shocking 68. DNA from 31 of those women was found on the Pickton property by investigators.

How did it ever get that far?

Relatives of deceased women whose remains have been found on the Pickton pig farm have vocally criticized the Vancouver Police and the joint V.P.D./RCMP Missing Women Task Force for an initially "shoddy" response to women going missing, or for apparently not taking earlier complaints about the pig farm seriously enough.

Quotes from the Vancouver Metro, January 31, 2006:
"These women were victimized by a system that is intent on marginalizing them."
"...every time we read of hear about the case, the same issue comes up: many of the women he stands accused of killing were drug addicted prostitutes from the troubled Downtown Eastside... I keep wondering why is it that the media keep bringing that up as if it was the only thing that defined them. These were women who were also mothers, daughters, friends, they worked, they loved, and they deserve the same protection as everyone else. ...If we allow the police and state to make judgements that justify the violence committed, then we're treating them as "disposable" women."
Could a controversial Geographical Profiling method have identified the prime suspect sooner? Ex-V.P.D. officer Mr. Kim Rossmo thought so back in 2001, and testified so in a civil trial against members of the Vancouver Police Department. Mr. Rossmo had earlier suggested that a serial killer might be responsible for the disappearances, but some of his superiors in the Vancouver Police publicly denied this theory, and fought his promotion.

In 1996, then Detective Inspector Kim Rossmo, was a 16-year Vancouver police veteran whose research in geographic profiling attracted world-wide attention. He earned a Doctorate for his thesis, "Geographic Profiling: Target Patterns of Serial Murderers". At the time, he was the first Vancouver police officer to graduate with a Doctoral degree. Since then, his geographic profiling technique and related software tools have piqued the interest of the F.B.I. and Scotland Yard.

Meanwhile, the Crown has probably done as thorough an investigation of Pickton's property as possible, painstakingly sifting DNA and other evidence out of the acres of dirt on the Pickton pig farm. This will be a messy and gruesome affair, but relatives and friends of the missing women have been waiting for this process to begin for a long time.

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