December 15, 2007

The Christmas Spread...

It's feeling like with each Christmas season, my list of cards and gifts for relatives and friends gets just a bit smaller.

Stuff I'll miss or regret this year:
  • Christmas Gift Exchange and dinner with my sister and her kids. This will be my number one Christmas bummer from now on... I miss them all so much.
  • Buying presents for my parents. They're long gone (but always loved and never forgotten...)
Stuff I'm looking forward to and am thankful for this year:
  • Christmas Gift Exchange and dinner with my wife's family (they're really my family too). This is the best time, with lots of laughter, jokes, silly faces and funny photos. I can't wait.
  • My first cup of Egg Nog and my first mince meat tart. Those tastes often "lock in" the old Christmas feeling...
  • Christmas Eve or Christmas morning: on one of these, my wife and I will exchange our gifts.
  • On Boxing Day, my wife and I will do our Boxing Day tradition: Watch a movie trilogy - either Lord of the Rings or Star Wars.
...well, at least the "thankfuls" outweigh the "regrets". I'm going to suck it up and donate some money and unwanted goods to the needy. Doing something for someone else is the antidote to feeling blue over your own little problems.

No matter how bad you feel, there's always someone else who is doing worse than you, so help them already...

As for the somewhat shrinking card and gift list, I'll add a few new friends to that too...

November 27, 2007

Swansons.... Grrr...

How to make your "Hungry Man Dinner"
(by John)
  1. Remove tray from box. Look at the different compartments for each food group: fried chicken, corn, mashed potato (in theory) and chocolate brownie. (What - no cobbler?!?)
  2. Remove frozen corn from the other compartments and return to the corn compartment. (We can't have any inter-food-group mingling.)
  3. Remove plastic covering from everything except the corn. Poke holes in plastic over corn. (You'd have to be a surgeon to get this part right the first time...)
  4. Replace pathetic, hacked, torn flap of plastic over the corn compartment, and hope that the corn doesn't somehow get over-cooked or spoiled due to your lack of skill. (You ruin everything you touch!)
  5. Put dinner in microwave for Phase One of cooking sequence: 3:30 minutes. (Hurry up! "Heroes" is just starting!)
  6. 33:30 minutes later, take out dinner. According to package, "carefully remove brownie from tray and set aside".
  7. Finish cursing and place scalded fingers under cold water for 20 seconds.
  8. Place broken-yet-still-atomically-hot, molten brownie pieces onto side dish, after picking them up off the floor.
  9. Remove remaining piece of plastic from the corn compartment (free at last!) and replace tray in microwave for 1:30 minute burn to cook the Swanson's chicken and potatoes to their yummy completion.
  10. Run to couch to catch a few seconds of Heroes before the second commercial break.
  11. Blow on fingers. (Cold water didn't work that well.)
  12. Return to kitchen and throw brownie parts away. Who are you kidding? It was on the floor.
  13. Remove dinner tray from microwave. Watch out - the tray is hot!
  14. Pick up tray from counter. Blow on fingers. Repeat Step 7 if necessary.
  15. Read label: "Let stand for 1 minute before serving."
  16. If potatoes have the taste or consistency of wet cotton candy, scoop out and throw down the sink.
  17. Re-read label: "Stir potatoes before serving."
  18. Run to couch to catch a few seconds of Heroes before the third commercial break.
  19. Wolf down Hungry Man dinner before end of the third commercial break.
  20. Make some toast to pack in the corners.
  21. Heroes is over, Hungry Man.

November 17, 2007

Digging on the Family Roots - Part 2

One of the  few pics of my family together...
Since March of 1999, I have been developing my "True Life" web site as a repository of my personal family history and of my extended family history, while I discovered it.

The story section of my True Life site has progressed slowly but steadily over the years, with over 50 illustrated personal tales online in various "story albums". There will be hundreds and hundreds of stories added before the project is anywhere near complete. I figure this will be sometime just before I die, due to the slow rate of my writing, but still - it's progress...
(To read my various life stories, go here:

On the other hand, the Genealogical side, the family tree aspect, had never really progressed much as part of the web project until just recently. For years, I've been gradually entering data from family records, photographs, films and correspondence into a Family Tree Maker database. This has been an on-again-off-again effort, done a few hours at a time, here and there, whenever the urge compels me, or something inspires me. (The most recent inspiration came from Alex Haley's "Roots" mini-series and novel, neither of which I've ever seen until recent weeks.)

I'm happy to report that a family tree and browsable index of names are now on my "True Life" site here:

See Also...

"Video opens old wounds" - The video of Robert Dziekanski

My response to the post on Patti Gillman's blog, "Truth, Not Tasers", on the despicable tasering of Robert Dziekanski by RCMP at Vancouver Airport ...

"The video of Robert Dziekanski showed a disgusting level of excessive force being used on a confused, desperate and defenseless man. One media commentator has described the RCMP on the scene as acting like "bullies", and another has stated that the officers stationed at YVR as being among the poorest trained or something. (Maybe it was that the cops posted at YVR were among the least experienced.) In any case, the airport, customs and the cops all failed in their job to help someone in need. It is disgusting that it takes deaths made public to embarrass our public servants and officials into a sense of moral outrage and accountability. Meanwhile this Robert's mother, and you and yours, continue to suffer."

November 11, 2007

Digging on some Family Roots...

As a kid, I often felt detached, as if I didn't have a strong sense of family to be associated with.

A good deal of this feeling must have come from my typical pre-teen angst and my constant impression that everyone else had gotten a better deal in life than me. But also, and very significantly, I think it evolved out of the fact that I really didn't have a very close extended family. My Dad seemed to only contact his brothers or his sister once a year (like a phone call on Christmas Day) or less often. By 1977, after we'd been in Vancouver for a few years, my Mum had also lost a lot of her family connections: her mother, Edna, had passed away in 1971, and her father Ernest, after whom I am named, had recently also passed on.

In my Dad's case, he tended to move us every few years for a new job or for some other reason. My Mother, as an only child, hadn't had very much direct family in the first place - a couple of cousins with whom she had been close as a young woman, before marrying my Dad.

It seemed like marriages, jobs, and life in general all tended to pull people apart as a family, but what was done to bring them back together?

My Dad told me stories about his upbringing in Price Rupert, his family, and my mother's family, and it's primarily because of his storytelling that I became curious about my roots and began to form some sense of who I was and who else was in my family.

As I have grown older (and hopefully wiser), it has become easier to cultivate a sense of family identity, heritage or common background. I discovered Genealogy in 1998, and began doing a little research on some family names and birthplaces using the Web. I realized that it was also far easier and more gratifying to write about my direct experiences and memories from my immediate family, than just to research dead relatives, and so my True Life web project was born, and launched in March of 1999.

The story section of my True Life site has progressed slowly but steadily over the years, but the genealogical side, the family tree aspect, had never really progressed very far until just recently, and I can thank Alex Haley for it, sort of.

My wife and I have been watching the mini-series "Roots" and "Roots: The Next Generations" on DVD. I never did see much more than a glimpse of Roots when it first aired back in the late 1970s, so I've always been curious about it, and have wanted to watch the whole series from beginning to end. When I finally did this year, it is a great experience - moving, inspirational, and eye-opening in many ways. Watching Roots motivated me to put more effort into getting my family tree online as part of my True Life web site.

I've always had a picture of my family tree - a graphic chart of it - since the time I hit my teens. My family tree is a yellowed mimeograph of a hand-drawn chart, originally produced sometime in the 1960s by a cousin of my father, a gent named Osborne Love. Cousin Os's family tree chart sat rolled up in a cardboard tube in my Dad's briefcase for years and years, tucked away, and mostly forgotten. Dad showed it to me and my sister once, and we did talk about it. It was interesting, but I didn't know what to do with the information beyond the fascinating first moments of presentation. So, we were descended from the MacDonald clan back in Scotland. Some relation to a woman who helped a guy called "Bonny Prince Charlie" (whom I did know was some kind of Scottish Royalty). Cool, but not connected to my current concerns very much, and so nothing much came from it after that. I now believe that Dad's Cousin Os did a great deal of research over the years, and appears to still be actively pursuing it. (A *huge* tip of my hat to you, Os, for all your hard work!)

Other members of my family have also taken an interest in the family history, researching Love family roots back in Prince Edward Island, citing books that mention old relatives, and giving me details of various people's births, deaths, and life details. Once I started my True Life project, the various documents, stories and records began to take on new significance. Using the paper family tree charts from Dad's briefcase as a starting point, I began building a family tree using a program called "Family Tree Maker", and have updated it that way on and off ever since.

After publishing an initial version of my family tree database to an online "World Family Tree" project, it was discovered by a distant relation named Audrey, with whom I shared a great-great grandmother. Her introduction, how she found me, and our shared relation was a major revelation to me, and I was delighted to receive her grandmother's photographs of my great-great-grandfather, Edward Bright Love, and his son, my great-grandfather, Albert Henry Love, and others. Combining Audrey's photos with cousin Os's documentation, anecdotes and dates gave me, for the first time, a picture of people I had never known about, and it was quite exciting.

Recently, relatives from my mother's side of the family discovered me and my web pages in a similar way, and have offered their comments, memories and inspiration for me to continue onward. Most recently, I finally published an interactive family tree on my True Life web site.

In my past, there is a good deal of English and Scottish culture on my Dad's side (the names being Clanranald, Love, Owens, McConnell, MacDonald), along with, I believe, some English and Jewish heritage on my Mother's side (the names there being Clarke, Gillman, Huntley, and Marks).

There's still so much more to learn, but I do now have a clearer picture of my lineage, going back seven generations and 250 years! Even though a lot of it is in the abstract historic realm, I do feel a sense of belonging - of being part of the history of a large, extended family.

October 05, 2007

Monorail! Monorail! Monorail!

An interesting theory... (not mine!)

"When a cat is dropped, it always lands on its feet. And when toast is dropped, it always lands with the buttered side facing down.

I propose to strap buttered toast to the back of a cat; the two will hover, spinning inches above the ground. With a giant buttered cat array, a high-speed monorail could easily link New York with Chicago."

-John Frazee

September 30, 2007

The drama of "Shake Hands with the Devil" brings Rwandan tragedy into focus, again.

Roy Dupuis, as Gen. Romeo Dallaire in 'Shake Hand with the Devil'It's not sensationalized, and there are no real heroes in the "rah-rah" Hollywood sense. It's an international co-production starring a Canadian actor. I doubt that "Shake Hands With the Devil" will be widely exhibited or receive much media attention in the United States, although I sincerely hope that I'm proven wrong about that.

This movie can only remind the viewer of the devastation of armed conflict and how the innocent invariably get caught in the middle and suffer for the sake of other people's agendas.

In the movie "Shake Hands With the Devil", actor Roy Dupuis portrays General Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian leader of UNAMIR, the United Nations peace-keeping mission in Rwanda, with incredible sensitivity, humanity and smouldering frustration.

The movie takes a natural, straight-forward and inglorious approach to telling the story of the horrific Rwandan genocide. This is just like the tone and style in which Romeo Dallaire himself described it in the book on which the movie is based. As in the book, you feel as if, in some small way, you have witnessed the suffering and death of the innocent, have seen the ineffectiveness and lack of commitment of the United Nations (and many major world governments including the U.S.), and have felt Dallaire's frustration and helpless torment at not being given the mandate, people or equipment with which to prevent the deaths of almost a million people.

You truly feel as if you are walking with Dallaire through his experiences, and to some small degree are bearing witness yourself to a horrible series of human tragedies. I think it is a credit to the movie and to the measured and restrained portrayal of Roy Dupuis. The movie is as inglorious as it is beautiful and hauntingly realistic. There is such a prevailing mood of cold, depressing bleakness, that when there are moments of heroism, like when Dallaire and his second-in-command get out of their vehicle and walk the gauntlet, or when Dallaire saves a few goats from being slaughtered because "something has to survive", you feel a mix of relief and emotional exhaustion, as if the respite is too little too late.

That is, I think, the point that Dallaire made about the response of the world to the Rwandan tragedy as well - it was too little, too late.

Shake Hand with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda
After watching the movie, I highly recommend reading Dallaire's excellent book, Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. This is his tragic and awe-inspiring first-hand account of his experiences inside the Rwandan genocide.

My original review of Dallaire's moving book is located here:
Book Review: "Shaking Hands with the Devil"

Related Links:

September 13, 2007

Ode to a Dead Bird on Sept. 11th

A few days ago, on September 11th, 2007, a co-worker and I discovered a dead bird outside our office window.

It was the anniversary of the September 11th attacks. Images of that morning here in Vancouver came into my mind, as I'm sure it did for many people. But other than that, September 11, 2007 had started out as a weird morning too, full of nagging little annoyances and discomforts...

Not long after waking up, I got something small and painful stuck in my right eye - like a whisker. My eye went red and watered so much that I couldn't open it much for an hour. This irritation developed into a nagging, annoying headache behind my right eye, which lasted the better part of the day.

My co-worker Victor and I discovered a little chipping sparrow laying dead on it's back, on the second floor balcony right outside my office window. It's little eyes were open, and it's feet were straight up - rigormortis. It must have hit the building pretty fast and died from the impact. Very sad. I love to feed the sparrows and chickadees whenever my wife and I go to the Reiffel Bird Sanctuary out in Ladner. They'll land right on your hand and eat the seed out of your palm if you stand still for a moment or two.

Victor and I discussed the idea of burying the bird somewhere. I thought that burying it under the dirt in a large ceramic planter on the balcony would be quick and reasonable, and might provide some kind of acceptable burial for the poor little thing. Victor suggested that on the ground under a nearby tree would be better. I pictured one of the ladies who manages our office complex trying to dispose of it. Neither of us did anything, but I resolved myself to give the little bird some kind of burial/disposal.

By the time lunch came, my headache was bugging me more, and I felt that I didn't want to be around too much light or noise. I felt a bit anxious about it, but decided to go with my workmates for a quick walk of a few blocks so I could pick up some lunch and return to the office. Vancouver is enjoying a truly delayed summer and it was a beautiful, hot and sunny day. Walking outside with my workmates, the bright sunlight and intense heat really started to bother me. This is a rare thing. I normally love being in the sun, having a walk and getting some fresh air. But this time, all I could think about was getting back inside some dark, air conditioned place as soon as possible. I was maybe a tad over-hungry or dehydrated as well. I just wanted to get away from excess light and noise, and find somewhere quiet to cool off, eat my lunch and get some work done. My reactions are basically a mild form of migraine headache I think. It has happened periodically since I was a teen.

On the walk back to the office, I visualized myself picking up the dead bird and dumping it in a hole in the large planter. I was a little worried that people might see me, and not know what I was doing. It could work, I decided, if I was fast enough. Someone had to take care of that little bird.

I holed up in an unused office and closed the door. Thank god for air conditioning, I sighed, as I felt myself cooling down. After popping a couple of Tylenol (thanks Victor!) and eating lunch, my headache finally went away, and the little bird came back into my mind. I worked alone in the office for a little while more, and then decided that the dead bird wasn't my responsibility, and why did I have to always go worrying about stuff like that anyway? Someone else can deal with it.

So, it's been a couple of days now, and the dead bird is still out there. When I turn my head to the left, I can kind of see it laying on the deck. Maybe I'll dispose of that little bird tomorrow. This is just going to get worse...

August 14, 2007

Tripping on my favourite names in Google...

Using Google, search for the name of someone you know, or search for yourself.

The essence of the web is going from one idea (or "place") to the next via links. Your name, or parts of it, is connected to other people in webspace in the same way.

It's weird for me to take something, a label that I have always thought of as my own, and see it attached to someone else. It makes me question my own label. I keep picturing someone else wearing my name on a sign around their neck, like it doesn't belong to me...

That whole "sense of self" thing...

John Love
So many, but I like this one ("John Lee Love", inventor of the pencil sharpener):

Ernest John Love

James Evan Love (my Dad) led me here...
James Evans - Open Frequency artist

Angela Huntley Clarke (my Mum) led me here...

Okay, I admit that last one was a bit self-serving...

...and here's another:

Where did the name "Love" come from?

Some search results:

Other names in my family...

(Boy, except for those Markses, my heritage is pretty darn WASPish...)

August 13, 2007

How Should Vancouver Deal with Violent Panhandlers?

Recent news stories have reported violent attacks by homeless people. This is disturbing on several levels.

Of course, my heart goes out to the victims of this violence. Society should help those people first, immediately, as they are the obvious victims of crime in that moment.

However, in addition to providing that immediate relief to them, we must also look at circumstances that helped to create the conditions in which the violence arose. This may get muddy and vague on an individual basis, but might be easier to identify when detected as part of a larger urban trend.

For example, Mr. Homeless Jones beats on a more vulnerable person, takes their money and blames their behaviour on a lousy upbringing, or some mental illness. At street level, it becomes a criminal/legal matter which prosecutes the offender and seeks some restitution for the victim (in theory). Law enforcement also has a vested interest in seeking the contributing factors, as an aid to prevention or mitigation.

But if there's seen to be an upsurge in the numbers of crimes caused by homeless people, what larger scale patterns are contributing? Drug addiction? Mental illness? Desperate poverty? Doctors, social service workers and law enforcement all are aware of these factors.

I have in the past become familiar with a few street people - folks who beg for money every day - and over the past five or ten years, I have never experienced any violence of any kind, and have only ever had someone get "in my face" once. I have rarely felt threatened. Nonetheless, everyone must make their own judgments about other people, and about how safe they feel personally.

A few of my close friends recently mentioned the news stories about violent beggars to me. They just read the headline to me out loud, and I swear I can detect a bit of an "I told you it was dangerous" tone of voice from them. To me, this is just an indication of their own fear and concern for their own safety, which, while I respect their point of view, does not dissuade me in the least. If I was going to get attacked by someone, there have been lots of other circumstances under which it might have happened and did not, like in the Downtown East side just walking down the street, on the grounds or in the wards of Riverview when I was used to visit my Mother, or in many other places. The homeless or mentally ill do not scare me too much. I think they're the ones who need the most help. They're at the bottom of the food chain, getting beaten up for scraps by bigger badder people. It's the gang members or crime-oriented people, who live well hidden within the lower and middle class - the social and economic predators who have all their faculties and coping skills down to a fine art and know how to effectively camouflage themselves inside the beats of everyday society - those people are the real danger, not the poor, brain damaged bastard who is trying to scrape together fifteen bucks for a bed for the night.

My heart goes out to the elderly gent who was beaten up for not giving his homeless acquaintance a few bucks. From what I've heard, this old gent had been helping this guy in his own way for quite some time. I just hope that the "crime and punishment" approach isn't used indiscriminately as a blanket answer or to in effect, punish street beggars for being on the street.

I believe the biggest reasons behind these problems are:
  • Increasing numbers of mentally ill people who are not under proper care. (Inadequate facilities? What will replace large institutions like Riverview? Are current facilities and programs adequate? What role do the Provincial Government and the Health Care providers play in this?)
  • Huge drug addiction problems throughout the downtown Vancouver core, and growing out into the surrounding municipalities. (Where are the rest of the pillars in the "four pillars approach"?)
I sincerely hope the mainstream media discusses the broader, larger issues, and helps to educate people on the big picture, and doesn't just fan the flames of fear and discontent, which would just lead to NIMBYism.

Related Links:

August 05, 2007

The Greatest One-eyed Hero of Them All...

...or "I yam what I yam, because he is what he is."

I've been going through my latest Popeye phase. I go through an infatuation with Popeye the Sailor every few years (similar to my recurring obsession with Devo).

Popeye the Sailor was introduced to readers of the Thimble Theatre newspaper comic back in 1929. His creator, E. C. Segar, is widely considered to be a master of the comic strip, influencing generations of later artists in mainstream and underground comics. (Wikipedia has some very informative articles on both Segar, and Popeye.)

I probably got my first images of Popeye from those low-quality "King Features" cartoons made in the 1960s - you know, the ones where the bad guy was named "Brutus" instead of "Bluto". They looked so cheaply made, and every episode had the exact same story arc: Popeye and Brutus would start off as buddies, Olive would entice each of them (like the spindly little siren that she is), and before you know it, Popeye and Brutus would be in a battle to the death to win her affections. Popeye would inevitably chomp down some spinach (how many cans of that crud did he have stuffed down his sailor shirt anyway?) clean Brutus' clock, and get a big smooch from Olive. That's the gist of most of the episodes I ever saw.

I think that most of my generation (boomers or before) probably got their introduction to the Sailor through his cartoon adventures. Of all of the cartoon series produced, the Fleischer Popeye cartoons from the '30s are the best Popeye cartoons ever made, and in fact are probably among the best cartoons ever made of their time. The Fleischer Brothers also made some incredible Superman cartoons back in the 1940s, placing two of pop culture's most popular characters under the roof of the same animation house.

I've read that back during his newspaper strip heyday, Popeye the Sailor was more popular than Superman. Maybe it was the Sailor's humanity and earthiness that appealed to reg'lar folks. To be honest, Popeye really was a superhero in his own right, being tough as hell and practically invulnerable to bullets himself.

In his first adventure in 1929 (a number of years before Superman appeared in the newspapers and almost ten years before Action Comics #1), Popeye easily withstood 16 bullets after rubbing the head of Bernice, the magical Whiffle Hen. His invulnerability was magical, but still pretty impressive. And after he started eating spinach on a regular basis in the '30s, forget about it - nobody could touch the guy. He routinely clobbered guys three times his size, in the boxing ring, in Rough House's Diner, and anywhere else for that matter. Bullets would just stick into his back causing him a mild irritation, which he compared to prickly heat. That's one tough swab.

But, aside from his fantastic abilikies and adventures, the Sailor also retained his good natured humanity. In the Segar newspaper strip back during the depression years, Popeye literally gave the clothes off his back (plus a thousands of dollars) to a destitute widow and a poor single mother who was clothed only in rags. Superman might be able to fly, move mountains and turn back time, but I never once saw him give up his cape to a homeless person. Superman usually flew above that sort of thing, while the Sailor waded right into it.

As a kid, I didn't know how old and influential Popeye was. When I was nine, I remember my Mum joking "I yam what I yam". I knew that it was something that Popeye said, and I knew that people quoted him for fun because they liked him. My Mum and Dad had enjoyed Popeye when they were kids back in the 30s and 40s, the same way I did in the 70s.

Popeye appealed to "the salts o' the ert'"; regular people (maybe blue collar more than white collar), because he didn't look down his nose to anybody. People could relate to him. No grown-ups I knew ever ran around quoting Superman. That would have been too silly.

Back in Segar's daily newspaper strip, Popeye was really quite a little roughneck, practicing diplomacy with his fisks on a regular basis. He was the image of the tough little one-eyed runt beating the hell out of the town bully, and thus endearing himself to the whole town. Back in his mid-30s newspaper strip, Popeye took weird risks too, like starting his own country and experimenting with radio propaganda to encourage immigration, or running a newspaper and beating up bullies in order to drum up new readers. Built with equal doses of slapstick humour and social commentary, it had a lot of messages for the grown-up reader, aimed at the perspective of the masses.

Beyond the original comics and cartoons...

For me, Robert Altman's 1980 movie "Popeye" with Robin Williams and Shelley Duvall was a very big event. It was a fun, silly and (IMHO) well-crafted musical movie in the slapstick genre, but with subtle symbolism and social themes which adults could appreciate without taking anything away from the kid appeal. In many ways, it stayed more true to the original newspaper strips than the Fleischer cartoons. The live-action movie really brought the world of Popeye to life for a new generation. The movie woke me up to the original incarnation of the Sailor as developed by Segar.

Underground cartoonists like Robert Crumb and Gilbert Shelton were obviously influenced by Segar's work too. Just look at Olive Oyl walking. There's "Keep on Trucking" and "The Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers" right there.

Popeye has certainly mellowed out a bit over the years, mostly in order to not give little kids the wrong messages. The fact is that the world can still be a hard and unfair place for both kids and adults, and Popeye presents different faces to appeal to different audiences. Kids see a funny looking, good-hearted guy who protects woman and children ( But, it also seems like tattoo lovers, bikers, sailors and rugged individualists can identify with Popeye as well. Today's adults can enjoy the tattooed little roughneck sailor who never gives up his independent streak (

Other Links About Popeye:

June 24, 2007

Freedom and Opportunity for the future: Fun and a bit scary...

Yesterday, my wife and I joined a sort of timeshare club called AviaWest. Instead of owning a piece of a particular property, and getting a window of a week or more scheduled in which to stay in the property, the membership fee earns you an annual allotment of points which can be used to pay for lodging at any of AviaWest's accommodations. They have a luxury high-rise hotel on Robson Street in Vancouver, an English-style B&B in Victoria and large nature-oriented resorts in Tofino and Parksville. You can also pick from thousands of resorts and hotels all over the world, through AviaWest's parent organization, RCI.

At best, we've only ever been able to afford one big holiday trip every few years. In between those, we may take smaller local trips around the lower mainland or be tourists in our own town by getting an off-season room at some classy local hotel.

Over the years, my wife and I have discussed a number of different retirement scenarios:
  1. Sell our condo one day and buy or rent a high-rise in False Creek. Travel more often - at least one trip per year.
  2. Get out of the city a bit and get a place somewhere on the island, near Nanaimo, Parksville or SaltSpring Island. Travel more often - at least one trip per year.
  3. Stay put, pay out the mortgage, and live there for free. Travel more often - at least one trip per year.

All those scenarios share a common element: increased travel. I see travel as the only way to really learn about other places and to meet other people. I get so much information about other cultures and places from the media or entertainment, that I feel as if I've experienced them, but it's not true - just an impression.

So, it seems likely that this timeshare-like points membership thing is a good deal. It will save us money on travel expenses and motivate us to vacate more regularly. This is definitely the fun part. I still want to do some price comparisons of my own to see how soon this membership will pay for itself. It's basically like an investment, and I guess a long-term view is the best approach.

The only scary part (just a little scary, mind you, not much) is upfront membership cost. The membership fee and other one-time fees, total over $17,000. This is the one-time initial membership, plus first-month's maintenance fee and other things. The fact that this is a lifetime membership and that the annual renewal is comparatively very cheap, really softens the blow. I think taking our first trip or two and seeing the bills afterwards will definitely put my mind to rest too.

The ability to travel and see new places and meet new people is a luxury and a privilege that we're fortunate to be able to enjoy.

June 20, 2007

Palm Sketch: June 20, 2007

Man reading at Starbucks, June 20, 2007.

Man reading at Starbucks, June 20, 2007.

This sketch was done on a Palm Treo PDA.

May 27, 2007

Fortunate to have a diversity of friends...

It's been a busy, social week...

This week, I reconnected with some old friends...

Visited my friends Azlim and Shahiroz, who'd invited me to see Chahar Bagh, an Ismaili art and cultural exhibition, at the Roundhouse Community Centre in Yaletown.

I first met Azlim back around 1989, through a local computer club. We were both young guys energized by the possibilities of technology and keen to learn and apply it to further personal spiritual or artistic goals.

At Chahar Bagh, I felt enlivened by the singing of the youth choir, and fascinated by the examples of "cultural pluralism" in painting, photography and sculpture. This brief exposure to some of the philosophy and values of the Vancouver Shia Ismaili community impressed me greatly.

Had dinner with Patti and Riki, the mother and sister of Bob Bagnell.

They are two lovely ladies who are "fighting the good fight" on behalf of their son and brother, Robert Wayne Bagnell. They were attending the Coroner's Inquest into Bob's death in 2004 in an incident involving the Vancouver Police Department and the use of Taser guns.

I first met Bob sometime around 2001, when he would hang out in front of my local 7-11, drawing pictures and being a character. Bob was a good guy. His mother and sister are living examples of his dedicated and loving family.

Had dinner with my friend Ricardo and his lovely wife Yukari.

Talking with them about their relationship and family/cultural backgrounds reminded me of the backgrounds of my wife and I, and also reminded me of how much I appreciate living in a relatively free and multicultural city.

I first met Ricardo in 2002, when he came from Mexico to work for my employer as our network technician. Ricardo is a sincere and genuine person who treats himself and those around him with respect and dignity.

I have some family and a few other friends, both old and more recent, with whom I need to reconnect. It sure feels good to do it...

May 24, 2007

Coffee with Riki and Patti, Part 2

Robert Wayne Bagnell as a teen.Bob's Mum, Riki Bagnell, and his sister, Patti Gillman, were in Vancouver to attend the second part of the inquest into Bob's unfortunate death three years ago. It seems mind-boggling that it has taken three years to get this far with the inquest into Bob's death.

Fighting the Fight...

In spite of their sad personal loss and suffering, they have continued to advocate not only for their own interests, but on behalf of current and future victims:
  • They want to see Amnesty International's recommendation come to pass: A moratorium on Taser use pending independent research into the risks associated with Taser use, and for
  • They called for funding for families of Taser victims, so they can afford to pay a lawyer to represent their interests at an inquest.

In May 2007, The official Coroner's Inquest into the death of Robert Wayne Bagnell finished. Although the proceedings of the inquest are closed, there seems to me to be little closure on the issue in concrete terms.

In a May 25, 2007 Vancouver Sun article titled "No recommendations from Taser death inquiry", it said:

The five-man jury concluded Robert Wayne Bagnell died on June 23, 2004 of a "restraint-associated cardiac arrest" due to acute cocaine intoxication and psychosis.

But that's not the whole story.
Here's a synopsis of events from Cameron Ward, the lawyer for the Bagnell family:

"Robert Bagnell, 44, died on June 23, 2004. Two days later, Vancouver police contacted his next of kin to tell them that Robert had died of a probable cocaine overdose. A month later, Mr. Bagnell’s family learned for the first time from media reports that Vancouver police had used a Taser gun on him. Chief Jamie Graham defended the late disclosure, saying that he had waited for toxicology results before going public with new information. (Despite numerous requests, the family still has not received any toxicology reports). Then on August 17, 2004, the Vancouver Police Department held another news conference to announce that their members used the Taser in order to rescue Mr. Bagnell from a fire in his rooming house. (The Bagnell family has since learned that the “fire” was a minor electrical fault on the first floor, and likely not a threat to anyone on the fifth floor, where Mr. Bagnell was)."

"...the VPD acknowledged that [Bagnell] was not a threat to anyone and that he was not involved in the commission of a crime when they sent an ERT (SWAT) team into the washroom Robert was in. The police said Bagnell was shocked with 50,000 volts so they could "rescue" him from a "fire" in his building. Although the family doubts these claims, they have been unable to obtain copies of police or autopsy reports and they have been unable to get an inquest scheduled."
So, in my mind, the questions to ask are:
  • Why didn't the Vancouver Police tell the Bagnell family that Tasers were involved in Bob's death? Although the VPD did notify the family of Bob's death two days afterwards, the cause given was 'cocaine overdose'. Why did his mother and sister have to learn about the Taser connection through the media 30 days after his death? (Read more...)
  • One of the Taser guns used by VPD ERT members in the incident put out over twice as much electricity as it was supposed to. The other Taser gun tested put out of eighty five times it's specified energy! Are there any safety standards in place for Taser guns? (Read more...)
  • The jury at the coroner's inquest classified the death as an accident and was "unable to agree on any recommendations". Really?

So, who ends up being accountable for these issues? Who's going to stand up? Neither the Vancouver Police nor the Taser manufacturer seem to be taking responsibility, at least from what I've heard and seen in the media.

Riki bagnell and Daughter Patti Gillman in Vancouver, May 2007Being the Light...

Again, it was my great joy to meet with Riki and Patti, Bob Bagnell's family , for the second time, on May 24th.

We met for a dinner in Metrotown Mall on the day before they flew home back east. We talked about the inquest of course, which had taken a long eight months to finally resume.

They again praised the tireless efforts made by their lawyer, Cameron Ward, and we griped about the reluctance of corporate minds to stand up and admit to mistakes.

Although we agreed that the media seems to have a one-week memory span, Patti did have words of praise for Irwin Loy of 24 Hours (Vancouver), who reported on their inquest proceedings during each day.

If anything, this whole experience has been a lesson in overkill.

If what I've heard is correct:
  • Back in 2004, there were over a dozen members of the Vancouver Police Emergency Reponse Team on hand at the Columbia Hotel, all to extract one occupant (Bob).
  • Bob Bagnell was tasered by a Police Officer who outweighed him by approximately 100 pounds. How much force was needed? How much was enough?
  • Taser International and the VPD both had Lawyers present to protect their interests, versus the two women with their one lawyer.
All of that could easily be mistaken for overkill, I think.

From what I can see, in spite of everything, Riki and Patti have not given up on their concerns over Taser (mis)use, and continue to fight the fight, and light the light.

(Patti, keep on going! Write a book about this or something. I think you've still got a lot more that you want to say.)

May 14, 2007

Mothers Day 2007

Me and my wife are sitting in the cafe at the Royal BC Museum in Victoria.

A woman is sitting across the aisle from me, looking out the window at the sunny, windy day outside.

Her hair is full and wavy, almost pure white. Her figure and flowery blouse remind me of something my mother once wore. Mum had some of those crazy 70s-patterned blouses.

Somewhere, in some alternate universe, my Mum is sitting in a quiet cafe, enjoying a drink and watching the sunny, windy day outside.

May 01, 2007

Second Life: My New Life in Pixels, Part 5

Law and Order in a Virtual Society, or "Whose Second Life is it Anyway?"

After a few of weeks in Second Life, I have learned about the vast number and variety of residents and locales. There are millions of potential inhabitants (although maybe only about 25,000 or so are actually online at any given time).

Environments and public spaces in SL vary from benign, empty and pastoral garden spaces, to raucous, busy urban malls where the sheer density of avatars brings out the best and worst in online behaviour. If you want to sit alone in an empty Japanese-style temple surrounded by gold dragons, you can do that. If you want to be in a frenetic mob of rejects from a superhero novel creating spontaneous pyrotechnic displays, you can do that too.

When I first joined SL, I was quite surprised by the sense of hedonism and the lack of structure that some of the residents seemed to enjoy. Generally, I consider SL to be a surrealist's wonderland and truly, one of the largest ongoing costume parties in the world today. I call it a costume party because in it's essence, unlike online role playing games, SL does not require it's participants to take on a particular game-play sort of role, or pursue or contribute to any pre-set goals. SL is more like an empty, undefined environment that, over time, becomes structured by it's inhabitants, according to their own needs. In fact, according to Linden Labs, much of the content in Second Life today has been created by it's residents.

Inhabitants Shaping Their Environment: One Early Experiment

Back in the early '70s, before the beginning of the MIT Media Lab, Nicholas Negroponte's Architecture Machine Group created a simple interactive kinetic sculpture/installation comprised of a terrarium of gerbils and tiny metallic-covered boxes. A robotic arm positioned over the gerbil cage would occasionally reach in and change ("adjust" or "correct") the position of a box. The gerbils had their own needs, and would move boxes on their own to create little living spaces or simply as a consequence of their natural movement and activities. The robotic arm was, I guess, metaphorically, like the "hand of the creator". I suppose the whole piece was an experiment in the interactions between two systems in a shared environment. (This experimental environment was described in Stewart Brand's excellent 1987 book The Media Lab: Inventing the Future at MIT)

We've come a long way from the gerbil cage. Each of SL's regions requires it's own dedicated server. As of March 2007, Linden was running about 2000 servers located all over the United States, with plans to be able to scale up to handle something like 100 times the user activity they are handling today. So, Second Life is quite a massive virtual space.

Still, I think the existence of SL poses the same kind of question posed by Negroponte's gerbil cage experiment: With the ability to dynamically change and define their environment, what will the environment's residents decide to do?

The Culture and Ethics in Second Life

Unlike the simple walls of the gerbil cage, in SL, the boundaries and controls of the environment - what it will and will not let it's residents do - are multi-layered and can be rather complex.

The physics of the world (usually) include gravity, solidity, acceleration and visibility (e.g. atmospheric effects like fog or turbidity).

Ethics and morality however, are defined by a list of rules. There is good, social behaviour and bad, anti-social behaviour in SL, just like anywhere else.

Second Life has it's own stated set of Community Standards, which advise in a nutshell:
  • In public, "PG" rated areas, public nudity of residents is frowned upon. Billboards advise new residents to not walk around naked.
  • No intolerance, harassment or assault permitted to other users
  • Indecency is relative to the stated rating in each SL region. Some areas are rated "PG", so have different standards than areas that are rated "Mature" or "Adult"
Negative Feedback, or How the System Controls Itself Socially or Ethically

Officially, Linden instructs residents to use the in-world "Report Abuse" feature to complain about the behaviour or actions of another resident.

Unofficially, I have also discovered that groups of residents have formed their own voluntary law enforcement associations - self-appointed cops on patrol - in order to discourage unacceptable or anti-social behaviour. They wear cop uniforms and have some kind of weaponry or powers that allow them to control (or subdue) misbehaving residents. I found this fascinating.

In one of my first visits to Orientation Island (a popular PG hang-out for SL residents), I saw a cop, introduced myself and asked him about his role in SL.

Me: "So, are you Linden staff? Are you authorized or sanctioned by Linden?"
Cop: "We organized ourselves."
Me: "So how do you enforce? Do you have weapons or something?"
Cop: "Yes. We have weapons."
Me: "So, you can arrest people?"
Cop: "You want to be a cop?"
Me: "Nope - I'm just curious. Never met a cop in here before."

Suddenly, a red biplane flew down low next to the crowd. The cop ran over to the shouted to the pilot not to fly so close to the onlookers. After a few moments, the cop returned.

Me: "So, you guys just decided to become cops?"
Cop: "Sure, It's Second Life."

A third resident, standing 10 yards away, pipes into the conversation:

3rd Res: "Second Life doesn't need cops. If you have a problem with someone, just report it to the staff."
Cop: "F*ck that. Some people are animals. We're cops! It's Second Life!"
Me: "As long as people are being helpful and constructive, it's all good to me."
3rd Res: "You can play cop if you want to, but Second Life doesn't need cops."
Cop: "I have to go. There's a shooting."
Me: "A shooting!? Can residents get injured here?"
Cop: "Some areas have games with guns. Some users don't respect where they can and can't use them."

I found this exchange fascinating. I don't think there's any concept of mortality in Second Life - you cannot die per se - but there is a concept of right and wrong, and punishment. According to the SL Police Blotter, users who have broken the rules have been penalized with temporary suspension of privileges to enter SL - like 2 or 3 days, but usually, many small penalties consist of a warning.

A number of social, economic and cultural issues and problems have arisen in Second Life which seem similar to the kinds issues arising in small countries in "Real Life". In SL, residents have broken the law and some have tried to test the social or ethical frameworks of their world.

In 2006, residents of 400 regions voted to ban certain types of false or exploitive behaviour by commercial business residents.

The Linden Dollar-based virtual economy of SL has suffered from hyperinflation, and the complexion of SL has also changed as a result of active commercial exploitation of SL as a marketing and revenue generating space. To me, these are all direct evidences of how this virtual society is evolving and how it's residents are expressing their needs and are testing the boundaries of it's existence.

Just so you don't think I'm taking this whole thing too seriously, Second Life was parodied brilliantly by Vancouver blogger Darren Barefoot.

April 23, 2007

Second Life: My New Life in Pixels, Part 4

On my fourth visit to SL, things go not quite as planned. On an innocent visit to Porn Island to grab some pictures of the Hot Dog Stand, I was the victim of a sneak-up er, "yoga session".

On this visit to SL, some kind of bug caused me to be rendered as a female in a skin tight version of my regular "Male Furry" Fox costume. I didn't want to be a chick, but apparently, SL had made up it's own mind.

I visited a grassy area and clicked "Sit Here" on a coloured dot, and found myself doing this pose. I guessed it was some sort of Yoga or stretching exercise.

I hit "Print Screen" pasted the pic into Photoshop, and began cropping it to fit in this blog.

After a few minutes, I flipped back to the Second Life screen, and discovered that another avatar had come up behind me on the blanket, and was, er, participating in the exercise with my avatar. Completely uninvited, I must add.

No words passed between us, and while nothing was actually happening per se, I felt this was inappropriate, so after taking a moment or two to collect my thoughts, I flew way up in the air, above the scene of the sordid encounter. He watched me fly away.

In Second Life, you can talk to people, or you can shout at them. I shouted "I'm a guy!"

A system error, combined with a minor error in judgement on my part (e.g. sort of being in the wrong place at the wrong time) resulted in a bizarre, slightly uncomfortable moment in SL.

I felt dirty.

Standing out in the rain for a bit, seemed to make me feel better.

April 20, 2007

Second Life: My New Life in Pixels, Part 3

On my third visit to SL, I did a search for "porno island" - and found it.

Strolling down what resembled a carnival midway, with little booths on either side, I did see a lot of barren, lifeless little huts - mini shops, advertising a variety of online adult services - all completely bereft of customers, except for me.

Walking down the midway, I saw what was on sale at many of the little kiosks: genitalia. In SL, avatars are born naked and without genitalia, kind of like a Barbie doll, or G.I. Joe.

As a pre-teen, my favourite action figure was the curiously-named "Big Jim", who had permanently attached swim trunks which, while intended to de-sexualize him, actually amped up the curiosity factor on account of Big Jim's big bulge. But I digress. In SL, you have nothing down there - not even a "Made in Japan" stamp on your butt.

So in Porn Island, female avatars can purchase the vagina or their choice, and males can buy the dick of their dreams. Oh, and you can buy some kick-ass gold chains and other bling there too, because in addition to having a big fake, snap-on wiener, you're apparently expected to dress like Mr. T on spring break.

Speaking of wieners, I found an Oscar Meyer hot dog cart, and got myself a large hot dog. I discovered later on that this hot dog could talk, as it proceeded to tell me how tasty it was. My avatar just kept on eating the thing, while I watched in fascination. I had been hoping for a corn dog, not a porn dog, but remembering where I bought it, I considered myself lucky that all it did was talk dirty to me.

I decided that, except for the genitalia kiosks and talking tube steaks, Porn Island reminded me a lot of the Richmond Night Market.

The main structure on Porn Island seems to be the triple-X night club, a black two level structure that was also deserted when I walked in. Downstairs was all about the dance floor, disco atmosphere and the bar. Upstairs, as I began to expect, was a series of small private rooms. Each room was windowless and devoid of furniture or decoration except for a single chair, bed or clump of pillows. In each case, the furniture had a couple of small spheres - hotspots of a sort - that were labelled for a man or a women. Right-clicking on a hotspot and selecting the 'Sit Here' menu option placed me in whatever position was programmed into that spot. So, all by myself, I was on top, I was underneath, pumping and humping the empty air. Now, my avatar resembles a 5 foot tall Fox wearing baggy plaid pants and a party hat, so my pre-scripted auto-erotic (?) contortions looked completely ridiculous and did nothing for me. Sex, if you could call it that, is stupid in Second Life.

I capped of my session on Porn Island by laying on a nearby beach listening to a digital sample of a crashing surf, eating my talking hot dog, and enjoying the colour gradation of a lovely fake sunset.

April 16, 2007

Second Life: My New Life in Pixels, Part 2

On my second visit to Second Life, I began to notice the wide diversity of shapes sizes colours and species of fellow inhabitants: Winged, fiery, ghoulish, punkish, cute, normal, and in a few cases, large, hairy and stark naked.

Nudity seems to be frowned upon generally in SL - at least in the places I've visited. Billboards ask citizens to stay clothed. It's nice to know some things are just like the real world.

I suspect that SL probably has a nudist habitat or a "porno land" where nudity is a hard and fast requirement, but I have not yet found seen it in SL.

So, I just ended up doing the same thing in Second Life what I usually end up doing in Real Life:

Check out this guy's less-than-thrilled first visit to Second Life. Maybe he was the naked lard-butt that I saw walking and flying around Help Island...?

April 15, 2007

Second Life: My New Life in Pixels, Part 1

After hearing about it on Daily Show and on the web, I decided to join the online community known as "Second Life".

Second Life (also called "SL") is a virtual world in which apparently millions (!) of online citizens live virtual lives, interacting with each other in a variety of 3D landscapes. I think that some citizens even buy "real estate", build "homes" and run "businesses". I placed quotes around those words because, like the characters, objects and effects in The Matrix, none of those things have any reality in the physical world. At least I don't think they do.

Second Life is a 3D simulation that offers a great escape: an alternate existence in a virtual world using a custom-designed character ("Avatar"). Second Life could be considered a form of social networking, but with significant differences: In social networks like LinkedIn, you can sort of see who you are networked with. You can often read their names and who their contacts are.

In Second Life, you will likely run into other citizens, but unless you chat with them (or interact in some other way), they might just ignore you or act in some slightly anti-social way. You know - like hanging out at the mall or any other public space. I think that in SL, you probably get out what you put in.

After signing up, I picked my character and name. I was born into my Second Life as a cartooney, fox-like character named 'Earnest Oh'. Initially, simply wandering around the world, admiring the scenery and inspecting nearby objects was enough to keep me interested. I also spent a few fruitless moments trying to talk to a rat on the street in front of me. Someone must have created the rats and bits of garbage on the streets, but who, and why?

Looking around me, I began to notice the rats on the street, graffiti and something that resembled trash on the ground. Why did my first corner of town have to resemble a ghetto?

After reading some instructional signs, I drove an abandoned car around the block a couple of times, and then headed out to explore the rest of the world.

I learned that in Second Life is comprised of various islands and regions. Some regions are rated PG and some are rated Adult. The run-down little city block I had been exploring was actually part of a tutorial island on which I was beginning my new existence in pixels. There are multiple such newcomers tutorial islands in Second Life, and many other regions to explore once you're ready.

Characters can "talk" to each other by text chat, and you can see their chatting on the screen when you're close enough - rather like overhearing a spoken conversation. Soon enough, I did "hear" two women characters talking about me as I watched them for a moment ("He must be new", etc). Surprisingly, I hadn't expected even this natural sort of human behaviour in SL.

April 14, 2007

Palm Sketch: Starbuck's Afternoon

Girl at Starbucks, April 14, 2007.

Girl at Starbucks, April 14, 2007.

This sketch was done on a Palm Treo PDA.

April 08, 2007

Palm Sketch: Sylvester's Head

The back of Sylvester's head, April 2007.

The back of Sylvester's head, April 2007.

This sketch was done on a Palm Treo PDA.

March 27, 2007

Running with Scissors

"Running with Scissors" is an amazing, crazy film about an amazing young man named Augusten Burroughs, who grows up surrounded by crazy people in crazy circumstances.

Augusten is played with great directness and sincerity by Joseph Cross.

As a young teen, we see Augusten survive the apathy of an alcoholic, absentee father and the delusions of his self-absorbed, implosive (and possibly manic-depressive?) mother, a struggling and frustrated writer.

As an adult, Burroughs turned his heart breaking and witty observations into a novel and then a feature film. In the film, Annette Benning is mesmerizing and somewhat haunting as Augusten's mother, Deirdre. I watched with a mixture of shock and sympathy as she started out as an egocentric, frustrated writer, certain that the publishing world would soon discover her artistic genius, to a defiant and fragile single parent who jettisons Augusten, adopting him out to the quack psychiatrist who has her on a bathroom cupboard full of prescription drugs.

I felt Augusten's love and sympathy for her, as well as his fear and uncertainty - the trap of loving someone who's erratic moods and unpredictable circumstances continually affects your life.

Augusten says it all when he tells himself that he wished that his life had structure and rules, "because without that, every day is a surprise".

Profile of Augusten Burroughs - Washington Post

March 25, 2007

Palm Sketch: Granville Island Cafe

Seen at the Blue Parrot Cafe, Graville Island, Vancouver, BC.

Seen at the Blue Parrot Cafe, Graville Island, Vancouver, BC.

This sketch was done on a Palm Treo PDA.

March 10, 2007

Does music connect us through Time?

What is it worth that I know a song that my parents or grandparents knew?

Whether or not there's any real purpose or reward in such a moment of sentimentality, I still have it. It is little bit of obsessive curiousity that my heart and mind goes into whenever a piece of music or drama arouses old memories. Some tune or other blows a little air across a few old embers, bringing out fresh feelings, and it's always a little bit of surprise just how much they resonate like new each time, just for a moment.

Miles Davis plays "Autumn Leaves", and as I listen to his bop-jazz rendition, I hear someone's voice in my head, saying "That was your Grandmother's favourite song". "Sam", my mother's mother, liked music but I doubt that bop jazz played by a heroin-addicted jazz musician would have been Sam's cup of tea. I think she'd have been into Benny Goodman or The Mills Brothers.

Music and drama can underscore moments, they can draw people together. People usually sing when they're happy. Driving to Safeway one weekend a long time ago, my Dad and I sang along to "Dream" by the Everly Brothers. On their 13th anniversary, my Mum and Dad sang "You are my Sunshine" while Mum played the ukelele. My sister and I still remember that song. She sang it to her daughters, and my wife and I have sung it together too.

I can remember the theme song to "The Avengers" or "Are You Being Served?" - two TV shows that my Mum's father liked to watch on PBS. We all watched those together as a family. Without Poppy's influence - maybe his wish to have a family around him - perhaps we wouldn't have had that family time. Dad was too proud, and often a bit of a loner. He didn't tend to draw people around him that way. Living like that makes those moments of connections all the more rare and beloved.

It's like I need something to connect myself to these people - to have something, anything in common with them. I want to have a sense of connection with this family. "We all like music" or "we all sang that song together" - something like that.

Today, I get the same feelings when I hear those songs - like a time capsule has been opened in my mind, and there they all are inside, sitting and waiting for me to join them.

Thinking about Addiction and Personal Suffering

I've been thinking about addiction today. On March 8th, it was the 12th anniversary of my Mother's death. She is the biggest example of addiction that I've had in my life.

Through my Mum, I saw some of the results of addiction:
  • the selfishness,
  • the loss of interest in or sympathy for family or friends,
  • the guilt, denial and defensiveness,
  • the aftermath from the loss and betrayal of self.
If there are behaviours or contributing factors common in addiction, I can only guess at them. I am a layman, with just my own experiences with family to refer to.

I suppose I must include things like gambling, internet use, and anything else that people might do to extremes, which could hurt themselves or those around them. It does sound from my tone that I'm hesitant to acknowledge these vices as addictions - maybe that's my own ignorance at work. Perhaps compulsions is a more accurate term.

I do believe that substance addiction doesn't start or develop in a vacuum - there are always other people involved, encouraging or enabling the process. Each family member or friend who is involved in the addict's life may have to ask themselves what they can do to help.

Underneath it all, in each of us, is the issue of personal angst and suffering.

Buddhists see suffering as a fact of life, and encourage people to first accept it, and then to develop personal and practical methods to transform and transcend it. Words like enlightenment and nirvana tend to seem too fantastic for some people, but basically, Buddha was teaching inner understanding as a basis for happier living. His form of self-help therapy was first laid down in India over 2500 years ago.

Some people blame society for their addiction (my friends got me into it, drugs and booze are all around me - I thought it was normal /okay /expected of me). At the end of the day, we each must take some measure of personal responsibility for our health, both physical and mental, and for how our life and our behaviour affects those around us.

All the same, everyone has a time when they need to ask someone for help. We're all connected, so helping someone else is like helping yourself.

January 11, 2007

Personal Programming, Personal Conditioning: I See 1002 Everywhere.

Some people see the face of Jesus in a tree trunk, or Nixon in a potato, or maybe they see their destiny in the fiction of L. Ron Hubbard.

Me, I happen to see the number 1002. Everywhere.

I'm not into numerology and usually don't assign any symbolic or spiritual significance to numbers. I did want to have a lucky number back when I was a kid. Seven is the classic one, but for a personal number, I always thought four was more elemental - maybe because it's that much closer to one, the smallest whole number.

Anyway, I digress. Long story short: four is dead to me now. But I can't help seeing 1002 everywhere I look. Most of the time, it's 10:02 on a clock face - any clock face. I just look, and BAM - there it is.

Occasionally, I'll see a 10:03 or a 10:04, and once there was an 11:20 (I don't know what that was about), but these little faux pas have happened only ten or fifteen times in the past dozen years. Considering that 10:02 can be seen only twice within the 1440 minutes in each day, or up to 730 times within the 525,600 minutes in each year, it seems to me that statistically, observing that exact minute that often must put this little phenomenon somewhere outside the limits of dumb luck or random chance. (In fact, there's a 1 in 720 chance of it happening, if I were to see it each time twice per day.)

(Perhaps to be more accurate about the odds of this, I'd need to factor in an average of how many times per day I tend to look at the time. I think that would be hard.)

But none of this really answers the question: Why the hell have I been noticing 10:02 or 1002 in the world around me for the past dozen years?

Thanks for asking. Here are a few theories I have come up with:

  1. Clairvoyant dreams about which episodes of Friends and Simpsons would be on TV tomorrow no longer satisfied me. I subconsciously wanted more mystery and quirkiness in my life.
    (Likelihood: Possible.)

  2. The number has personal symbolic significance.
    (Likelihood: Getting Warmer.)

  3. I am so susceptible to suggestion that I have actually programmed myself to notice this particular number everywhere possible.
    (Likelihood: Ding ding ding! We have a winner!)

Yeah, yeah, okay. But... Why?

In the process of writing about my younger years growing up (see, I have enjoyed reliving memories of the times when me and my Mum, Dad and sister lived with my maternal grandfather, Ernest Huntley Clarke ("Poppy"), in his home in Victoria, BC. His address was 1002 Cook Street. Actually, the way I hear it is " Ten Oh Two Cook Street". Ten o'Two. Ten-o-too...

Maybe this is a way of my brain being conditioned to not forget a small piece of him. Every time I see that number, I do think of good ol' Poppy.

My wife is correct when she says it's kind of weird. But it's kind of cool too.