Monthly Archives: June 2013

If Wishes Were Horses, Then I’d Own a Stable!

West BoulevardWhen I think about my life, I’m actually a pretty darned lucky guy. I’m healthy, my faculties are all intact, I have an interesting, steady job that keeps food on the table and a roof over my head, I have friends and acquaintances, and I live in a nice neighbourhood here in Vancouver. Kerrisdale is one of Vancouver’s older neighbourhoods, located in the southwest corner near the University of British Columbia. The environment is very green; there’s beautiful gardens, plants, and trees all around. Living here, you’re not even aware of downtown Vancouver which is about 12 minutes north via the Canada line rapid transit system. The “village” of Kerrisdale has everything you need within walking distance. It’s very reminiscent of Oak Bay on southern Vancouver Island where I grew up.

stock upThere’s a coffee shop called Stock Up on West Boulevarde  and 45th Avenue where I go for breakfast and coffee on the weekends. It used to be an old general store dating back to the early 1900’s. Now it’s a really nice place for meals and where you can buy food and sauces to go. The place has a heritage character and the staff are very friendly. It’s here that I read the weekend edition of the Vancouver Sun newspaper and take my time going through many of the excellent, well-written columns. But if there’s one thing about reading the Vancouver Sun that’s bittersweet, it’s that I’m reminded about the wishes for my life that still haven’t come true. Before I go any further, I want to repeat that I really do consider myself to be very fortunate in many respects compared to what’s happening in the world today. But at the same time, I do get wistful about a few things.

There’s an old saying, “If wishes were horses, then beggars would ride“. In my case, if this saying were true, then I’d own a stable 🙂

What are my wishes? In no particular order:

Visit the great universities of Europe as my overdue reward for completing my Master’s degree

There used to be an old tradition of graduate students from European universities taking a grand tour of study and travel when they completed their graduate degrees. It’s something I wanted to do when I completed my Master’s degree in 2011. I would just die to spend two months travelling and visiting places like Oxford, The Sorbonne, The University of Heidelberg, and other famous historic places of learning.

Own a little place on Vancouver Island near the ocean

oakbayI’m a Vancouver Island boy at heart. That’s where I was born and raised. At this stage of my life, I would rather be back on the Island near the ocean, where life isn’t as frenetic and erratic as Vancouver (an expensive, smug city that’s pre-occupied with competition, social status, and wealth). I’ve never owned real estate in my life, so I don’t have the financial means to even scrape up a down payment for something. When I was young, our family lived on waterfront property in Victoria. I so very much wanted to have my own small place by the sea when I grew up. All these years later, that wish is now out of the question.

Go back to Japan and become fluent in Japanese

mt-fuji-viewThe best thing I did in my life was take a chance and live in Japan for several years. I loved my life in Tokyo and the many Japanese friends I had there. Getting away from North American society taught me about self-reliance and experiencing other cultures. The history and geography of Japan intrigued me. I walked on the grounds of 2,500 year old temples, climbed the Japanese alps, bathed in live mountain hotsprings, took part in ritual festivals, attended sumo tournaments, and travelled around the country. Looking back, I think I should have toughed things out for a few more years, rather than run back to North America in 1994.

Own an Italian Piaggio Motor Scooter

piaggioI miss not driving a motor scooter – it’s been almost 30 years since I stopped using one. There’s something about travelling through the air and feeling it rushing past that I found invigourating. I loved how your bike responded to the slightest shift in bodyweight, like you’re flying. When you’re in a car, you’re confined. Automobiles never appealed to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve never owned a car that I’m not keen on them, but I’d much rather prefer the feeling of travelling on two wheels instead of four.

There’s quite a few other wishes I have, but that’s for another time 🙂

The Grumpy Ferret (Who still hopes that wishes can come true)

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Despicable Me 2 – The Gru is Back in Town

Come on, admit it. Don’t you look forward to the summer movie season? For a few short months, Hollywood delivers a visual buffet of motion pictures that range from stunningly entertaining, to the ones where you’re fighting the urge to stand up in the middle of a crowded movie theatre and scream:

‘THIS FILM IS COMPLETE CRAP!

ARE YOU ALL OUT OF YOUR MINDS?

  GET YOUR DAMN FEET OFF THE SEATS!”

Go on – you know you want to stand up and show the world you’re not some sheeplike moviegoer who blithely sits through two hours of pre-packaged movie formula in the darkness.

I think the summer of 2013 is a bumper crop of some great movies. My viewing list this year includes Star Trek – Into Darkness, Man of Steel, Monsters University, and I’m actually planning to see Guillermo Del Toro’s mecha masterpiece Pacific Rim. Of course, what I think is an entertaining movie may be quite different from what you like. Last summer I loved Pixar’s movie Brave. I really liked the story, the Scottish setting, and of course, the characters. There’s Scottish ancestry in my blood – clan Mackenzie to be exact – so I was thoroughly entertained by it.

The film I’m most looking forward to is Despicable Me 2. What I really liked about the original when it debuted in 2010 was how it blended every James Bond stereotype about super-villains, spy gadgets, taking over the world, and made it utterly comical with a colourful, whimsical storyline that was just too ridiculous for words. That was the charm of the movie. A good story, great voice over acting by the likes of Julie Andrews, Steve Carell, Jason Siegel, Russell Brand – and a charming style of computer graphics animation. The icing on the cake were those clever, erratic, and utterly hilarious minions.

This time around, the plot is a bit different. Gru is out of the super-villain business and being a father to those three little sweethearts Agnes, Edith, and Margo. Wouldn’t you know it – just when it seems he’s actually adjusting to the domestic life (sort of), opportunity comes knocking in the form a wigged out super spy played by none other than the talented comedienne Kirsten Whig . Gru is recruited by a secret organization known as the Anti-Villain League to save the world from a diabolical new supervillian known as ‘El Macho”.

What’s going to happen with the minions this time? I always suspected they had a Jekyll and Hyde personality lurking underneath their banana exteriors. Of course, maybe it would be more fun just being an out-and-out evil minion so you can let your true colours show – in purple!

Forgive me, but the evil purple minions deserve one more mention. I think they speak for how we’re all really feeling about the current state of modern North American life in the 21st century.

The Grumpy Ferret (BA-NA-NA!)

Christy Clark – BC Voters Get What They Deserve

I’m not a professional journalist or political pundit. I don’t belong to any provincial political party. I consider myself a fairly moderate guy who tries to be open minded about things, although I do have some pretty strong opinions when it comes to education, economic inequality, the environment, social welfare, science and technology. I’m an honest man who doesn’t manipulate other people or get involved in political gamesmanship. What you see is what you get.

In otherwords, I would make a lousy politician.

Vancouver Courier, March 27, 2013

Vancouver Courier, March 27, 2013

I didn’t vote for the BC Liberals in the May 14th provincial election. None of their political policies made one beneficial iota of difference in my personal life in the last 12 years, with the one-off exception of the $100 carbon tax offset cheque every British Columbian received. The 25% personal income tax deduction launched in 2001 made a negligible difference on my tax returns. I watched them commit acts of corporate cronyism, condone environmental destruction for badly planned resource development, gross patronage, conceal public information, and cause unnecessary pain and suffering on ordinary people in the name of public policy. They’re a group of small-minded economic conservatives who are incapable of developing a comprehensive long term vision of what British Columbia should be in 15 years, 25 years, or even 30 years. Everyone and everything that resides in this province is simply a number to be manipulated on a balance sheet. They are a Canadian offshoot of the American Republican party in thought, word, and deed.

So I must not like conservative-minded people very much. You would be right. What passes for conservative thought in North America is authoritarian, callous, narrow minded self-interest. Anyone who threatens that self-interest is to be attacked, bludgeoned, and cut down. Conservatives react out of fear.

Copyright Ken Campbell 2013

Copyright Ken Campbell 2013

British Columbians are fearful for the future. That’s why Christy Clark won the election. She appealed to fear. And fear is what many British Columbians face. Fear of losing a job. Fear of a future for their children. Fear of an opposition party that hasn’t governed for many years taking over in a time of uncertainty. Fear of the unknown.

I don’t like Christy Clark. She’s a conservative populist in the Bill Vanderzalm style. There is no substance to her, only a manicured facade finely honed in a talk radio studio. I suspect Christy Clark doesn’t have the intestinal fortitude to deal with difficult, long term issues. I cite the fact that she attended three prestigious universities in Canada, France, and the United Kingdom,  and failed to complete her degree requirements in all three of them. She attended Simon Fraser University, the Sorbonne in Paris, and the University of Edinburgh. Many deserving students would literally kill to attend any of these institutions and earn an accredited degree. But not Christy.

British Columbians voted for fear. And that’s exactly what they’re going to get from the BC Liberal government of Christy Clark.

The Grumpy Ferret (Hey Christy! I graduated from SFU with a REAL Master’s degree!)

I Don’t Own a SmartPhone – And I Feel Fine!

I don’t own a smartphone. Yes, you read that sentence correctly. I have never owned one. I am free range and untethered 🙂 You would think that someone so technologically savvy would obviously be a proud owner of one of these little wireless digital darlings. After working 3 1/2 years at an Apple Store, I’m pretty darned familiar with iPhones and helping people to troubleshoot them (Your internet service isn’t working, you say? Were you using Airplane mode? What’s Airplane mode? Did you check your General Settings? You don’t know how to use General settings? Oh dear…). I mean, it just seems glaringly obvious that an Apple expert would own an iPhone!

I don’t own a smartphone. I don’t need a smartphone.

And do you know what? I’m perfectly fine without it.

I love not being plagued by e-mail, phone calls, or text messages. I like being consciously aware of my environment and what’s going on around me. I like listening to the wind, hearing birds sing, and watching the world go by. I like being able to take the time to think about things without being distracted by technology. Every time I read another report about how most North Americans own a smartphone, I consider it a personal badge of honour NOT to be one of the iLemmings!

I’m definitely not a communications hermit. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you Exhibit A – this blog. I check my personal e-mail once in the morning, at noon, and late in the afternoon. I have voice mail on my LAND LINE phone. There’s the biggest lie perpetuated by the pompous little techie geeks and telecom snake oil salesmen. LAND LINES ARE NOT DYING. If you think for one moment that I’m going to give up my land line for wireless technologies that are easily disrupted by power outages, fluctuations in Earth’s magnetic fields, or from solar radiation, forget it. Here on the west coast, when the electricity goes out in a major storm, your land line still has power, so you can call for help.

I think too many people are overly reliant on smartphones. They’re becoming isolated from other people and the world around them. Wait a moment, I hear you protest. E-mail is communicating with other people. Texting is communicating with other people. Phone calls are communicating with other people. These statements are all true. But in all three instances, you’re communicating from a distance. You’re controlling the terms of the communication. You’re keeping the other person at arm’s length. You don’t see their emotional or physical reactions to you what you’re saying. I think that electronic text displayed on a small screen is devoid of context and sterilized of meaning. The very convenience of electronic communication makes direct physical presence seem unnecessary. But don’t take my word for it. Go online and you’ll see articles posted by angst-ridden 20 somethings who talk about the terror they feel of actually talking to someone FACE to FACE! I don’t know whether to laugh hysterically, or despair at what’s happening.

One of the biggest challenges I face as a writer is how to communicate the meaning of my words to you – the reader – over an electronic screen. Not only do I think about what I’m going to say, I also consider how I’m going to say it. The sad truth of the matter is most people don’t do this when sending e-mail or texting on their smartphones. I feel pretty safe saying that 99% of the time, people just stream words wirelessly without thinking about what they’re saying, or how the meaning will be interpreted by the person reading it.

A line has been crossed in this world when we spend more time communicating in isolation than actually being together. We’re social creatures that depend on each other for survival. What’s happening now in 21st century industrialized societies is that we’re increasingly isolating ourselves from each other because  information technology makes it terribly convenient. As I often point out to people, a smartphone is NOT a telephone. It’s a very powerful computer that also lets you make telephone calls. For a smartphone, phone calls are dead easy; they require very little technical power. It’s an extraordinarily powerful mobile computer that can perform all kinds of activities.

In my darker, satirical moments, sometimes I think it’s a pity that there are no 21st century predators prowling about to chow down on distracted human beings who plug up their ears and glue their eyes to the screen constantly. We could use a good culling.

 The Grumpy Ferret (There’s a dinosaur in our backyard)

Dear Vancouver – Would You Like More Plastic With Your Plastic?

Dear Vancouver,

Excuse me, but I think you dropped this:

Environmentally conscious Vancouver? Really? Or are we just lazy plastic pigs?

Environmentally conscious Vancouver? Really? Or are we just lazy plastic pigs?

What’s that, you say? That’s not your garbage? Really? That’s not the disposable plastic bag you asked for at the organic grocery store? You know, the one that you promptly tried to toss into the outdoor trash can – which you missed – so the bag just floated into the middle of the street.

That’s ironic, isn’t it? Disposable plastic bags from an ORGANIC grocery store.

Or how about all those styrofoam Chinese and Japanese food takeout boxes from last weekend you just nonchalantly tossed into your apartment’s dumpster? Just think about the THOUSANDS of takeout boxes delivered to homes in Metro Vancouver every single day.

I wonder whatever happened to them?

Where old Chinese styrofoam takeoud food boxes go to die. The Metro Vancouver dump

Where old Chinese styrofoam takeout food boxes go to die. The Metro Vancouver dump

I know, I know. Some of you are thinking I’m making too big an issue of this. You’re all responsible adults. You recycle regularly. Well, kind of. You all use recyclable coffee cups, don’t you? You use composters, right? You all drive environmentally efficient cars and regularly take transit, don’t you? You’re actively telling your politicians to draft more environmentally responsible policies, aren’t you?

You think about where all that waste goes. After all, we’re a big, modern city with the latest in environmental technology. Yeah, that’s it.

Technology will solve everything!

Technology will make all the bad environmental problems disappear - like magic!

Technology will make all the bad environmental problems disappear – like magic!

These images are not from struggling developing countries. These are from our own dumps right here in southwestern British Columbia. Two and a half million British Columbians continue to pollute our local environment without thinking about it. We’re tremendous hypocrites. On the one hand, we scream bloody murder about energy pipelines and large scale mining operations here and in other countries. Then we call up for takeout in a self-congratulatory mood and promptly contribute another mass of chemically manufactured waste that will take centuries to decay, not to mention leach all sorts of toxins into the ground.

Don’t forget all the animals who end up ingesting the trash as food, either.

Feed the birds - tuppence a bag - of trash. Don't you feel good about that?

Feed the birds – tuppence a bag – of trash. Don’t you feel good about that?

I don’t want to say people are lazy. But I’m going to say that – people are lazy. I don’t want to say people are ignorant about how their patterns of consumption affect the environment. But you know what? I am going to say that. People don’t care how their consumer behaviour impacts the environment. I really don’t want to say that the economic growth of a massive global consumer society is going to end up choking the very eco-system that we depend on.

But I am going to say it – We’re choking to death on our own waste.

Out of sight, out of mind. And willfully ignoring the results

Out of sight, out of mind. And willfully ignoring the results

In case you’re wondering about Canada’s contribution to the global plastic pollution problem, here’s a ‘Canadian Heritage Moment’, courtesy of comedian Rick Mercer:

Humanity created this problem, and it’s up to us to solve it because there’s no magic bullet. If each of us made more of an individual effort to change our behaviours about how we use everyday items, we can collectively improve the situation. Talk about the situation. Read. Make yourself aware.

The Grumpy Ferret (Now 100% organically grown. Contains no artificial colours, flavours, or plastic packaging!)