Monthly Archives: July 2013

Where Were You on Friday, July 19th, 2013?

Where were you on Friday, July, 19th, 2013?

Earth ImageI remember where I was that day. I was working at the head office of Best Buy/Future Shop Canada in Burnaby, pounding away at writing product descriptions about personal computers, so the product content department could make the deadline for publishing on the Future Shop Canada website. Around me, the marketers were marketing, the promotion planners were promoting, the co-ordinators were co-ordinating, the managers were managing, and the executives were executizing. Everyone was hunkered down in their cubicles, slaving away for the good of the enterprise.

On Friday, July 19th, humanity went about its daily business on planet Earth, just like it did for thousands of years. Ordinary people lived ordinary lives. People were born, and people died. Dreams were realized, and dreams were shattered. Hopes were raised, and hopes were crushed. The global economy continued its pursuit of profit and market share. The massive megacities roared as their populations continued running the soul-crushing urban rat race, while countless billions of people living far away in tiny rural villages tried to scrape an existence off the land to live another day. Politicians postured and triangulated their ideological policy positions in the corridors of the world’s legislatures and parliaments.  Totalitarian tyrants spent another day convincing themselves of their personal greatness and seeming invincibility. Religious people invoked God’s mercy to bring about justice for those treated unjustly, peace for those weary of conflict, and solace for those who were hurt and grieving. Meanwhile, righteous fundamentalists invoked God’s wrath to destroy their enemies, vanquish the infidels, and defend the true believers who steadfastly maintained that they knew God’s true mind, devout in the belief that He supported their version of the truth.

Friday, July 19th, was just another day for human beings on Earth, getting on with the business of living and surviving. Meanwhile, the NASA Cassini probe was moving into position under the rings of distant Saturn to record an extraordinary moment  from 900 million miles away that happens very rarely.

Earth as seen from Saturn by the NASA Cassini Satellite July 19, 2013 (Taken from a distance of 900 million miles)

Earth as seen from Saturn by the NASA Cassini Satellite July 19, 2013
(Taken from a distance of 900 million miles)

Saturn was in a position where it blocked the Sun, allowing Cassini to take a clear picture of the Earth – the tiny white speck located between Saturn’s rings and the Sun’s halo on the right side of the image. In the immense blackness of space, there’s our home – a small, shining piece of cosmic dust.

It’s moments like this where I find myself completely at a loss for words to describe my feelings when viewing this image. Our planet – our existence – is totally, utterly ephemeral. We’re perched on a cosmic gossamer strand that shifts with the solar winds. More than ever, I’m struck at how we can even exist in such a cold, vast void. Not only that we exist, but that we’re also AWARE of our existence in this universe. Somehow, some way, we created an object that was sent far across the solar system to take a photograph of Earth – from 900 million miles! At the same time, I feel the urge to run out into the street and shout at the top of my lungs, ‘WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU PEOPLE DOING TO OUR HOME? DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND?’

Luckily for us, the late Dr. Carl Sagan created a very timely message to try and help humanity understand how fragile, precious, and rare our world is. Back in 1990, the Voyager 1 spacecraft took an image of Earth as seen from – get ready – 3.4 BILLION MILES away. Dr. Sagan was part of the team that created Voyager 1. When he produced his amazing PBS series COSMOS, Sagan narrated a segment called Pale Blue Dot, which are his thoughts about this image recorded by Voyager 1.

Earth is our home. There’s nowhere else for us to go. If we don’t seriously start changing our behaviours now about how we treat this planet and the biosphere that keeps us alive, then this beautiful gem – this Earth – will become a pale, lifeless dot. Every human being, every country, has a stake in the future of our planet.

The Grumpy Ferret (Only 5% of the universe is made of matter)

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Hey Man! You’re Not in High School Anymore

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From South Park ‘World of Warcraft’ Episode

Do you want to know something? There are times when I’m embarrassed to be a man in Vancouver. I really am. This town is positively tribal when it comes to the appearance and behaviours of men. What is it with my fellow adult males dressing down so they look like tenth grade gym class rejects? You know what I’m talking about. The prevalent Vancouver man style consists of variations on hoodies, pullovers, t-shirts, sports t-shirts, the whole sports jock look, the juvenile wearing of baseball caps backwards, and the wearing your shirts over your pants thing. Jeans, torn jeans, faded jeans, faded dirty jeans, dirty torn jeans. The same variations apply to corduroys, or slacks, or even the absurdly expensive brand stuff bought on Robon Street. And the colour choices. God save us. Do you want grey, black, grey, brown, grey, faded black, blue, blue with faded black and grey, blue-grey with black. Underwear sticking out of your pants, butt crack smiling brightly when you bend over.

There is an old phrase attributed to ancient Greece, but most often quoted from William Shakespeare: ‘Clothes maketh the man‘. Frankly, they ‘maketh the men’ here in Vancouver look drab, slovenly, and bland.

Then there’s the whole facial hair thing. Three day old stubble, scraggly beards and moustaches. Unkempt beards. Unkempt hair. Men who haven’t been near a barbershop in months. Shaved heads that look like a throwback to 17th century England and Oliver Cromwell’s roundhead brigades. You know what a man with a shaved head looks like? UGLY! BUTT UGLY! HIDEOUSLY BUTT UGLY. What is it with the aggressive facial expressions that make you look like you’re angry because you haven’t eviscerated a small animal yet? It’s crass, it’s crude, and it makes you look like some form of mutated ape. Then there are the guys who use loud colours and streak their hair. Oh geez. Come on. You’re not impressing anyone. Frankly, I’ve seen better hair colouring from native tribes in the Amazon who perfected the art. They look impressive and noble. City boys like you just look – stupid.

I’m bald because I inherited my great-grandfather’s genes. I started losing my hair at 17.  I saw a picture of him from the early 1920’s. My mother says I’m almost the spitting image of him. Naturally bald guys are a hell of lot more better looking than the guys who butcher their scalps with a razor.

Here we are in the 21st century, with all these amazing cultural, social, and technical advancements, yet North American men of all ages act and look like they’re perpetually trapped in some form of high-school time warp. They don’t want to grow up and be – men. They want to be jocular little fanboys who dress in drab colours. It’s like the proletarian fashions of George Orwell’s 1984 blended with the selfish consumerism and drug taking of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World to create  a pleasure seeking society of monochromatic male drones.

Once upon a time, the thought of turning 50 made me turn cold with fear. When it happened, I spent a week ruminating on crossing that numeric threshold. My mother, who is so very wise, told me that the number of years doesn’t mean anything. She’s 80, but she doesn’t feel 80. I think I understand. Sure, I just turned 53, but I don’t feel ’53’ in the slightest. I’m active, engaged, healthy, and interested in what’s going on around me. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that I’ve gained wisdom from my life experiences. I’m comfortable with who I am. I know myself – my strengths and my limitations. Hell, I’ll never be a business executive, a senior manager, or major political figure. I’m not interested in competing against other people – life is not some kind of race where the objective is to keep score. I’m a creative individual – I like the arts, music, theatre, writing. I come from a family of creatives. I like ideas and looking at the big picture. I try to cultivate some sense of style so I don’t look like a stuffy, boring middle-aged man. I try to dress in a way that reflects my own creative sense.

Men need to grow up. Seriously. They need to put away their high-school fashions and mentality. They need to turn off the arrogant attitude. They need to get on with their lives and look forward, not backward. Put away the childish things and accept the responsibility of being an adult. There are quite a few men I know who are successful husbands, fathers, and have made significant contributions to the world. They’re cultured, experienced, sophisticated, and mature. They are busy living their lives, not ‘chillaxing’ and trying to recapture their high school days.

The Grumpy Ferret (Who actually knows his personal measurements!)

BC Provincial MLA’s Are Not Worth What They’re Paid

“I trust politicians to do what’s right. For themselves.
”
Jarod Kintz, The Days of Yay are Here! Wake Me Up When They’re Over.

“In politics, stupidity is not a handicap.”
Napoleon Bonaparte

“One of the penalties of refusing to participate in politics is that you end up being governed by your inferiors.”
Plato

trudeauAs a young man, I used to hold politicians in high esteem. I thought that these people were altruistic, intelligent, noble, and had the interest of their constituents at heart. I was kind of a political animal – I belonged to the federal Progressive Conservative party in the 1980’s during the time of Pierre Trudeau, Joe Clark, and Ed Broadbent. Canadian politics seemed exciting and really interesting. I dreamed of being a member of parliament. I actually debated on the floor of the BC Legislature, the Senate Chamber in Ottawa, and I even managed to sneak into the House of Commons and sit in Pierre Elliott Trudeau’s seat (I have the photo to prove it!). I met prominent Canadian politicians like Allan McKinnon, Don Munro, Eugene Forsey, Flora Macdonald, Joe Clark, and I once bumped into the legendary Stanley Knowles. Heck, I even arranged for former BC Premier Bill Bennett to go jogging with my high school running club! As I’ve written before, going to the 1983 Conservative convention in Ottawa exposed me to how national Canadian politics really runs – it’s about perks, power, and prestige. As the years passed, I grew increasingly disillusioned with all the patronage, the partisan rancour, and the visible lack of intelligence demonstrated by MP’s in the House of Commons.

On my 34th birthday in 1994, I realized that I was actually smarter and had more practical life experience than quite a few of those sad sacks who sat in the House of Commons. But by this stage of my life, I was a professional videogame designer working in the United States – a profession that I thought much was more challenging and exciting than politics. I was far more interested in working with cutting-edge technology and creating virtual worlds.

I’m proud to call British Columbia my home. I was born and raised here. I think it’s one of the most unique places in the world that needs to be carefully nurtured and preserved for future generations.  Unfortunately, I think that the people we elect as members of the provincial legislature are a mediocre lot who are not up to the task of effectively governing this province with an eye to future generations. This past weekend, columnist Pete McMartin of The Vancouver Sun wrote an authoritative column about what our MLA’s are paid to be the people’s representatives. The column is called “The Cost – and Worth – of our Politicians“. Our MLA’s are the third-highest paid in Canada. They receive an annual salary of $101,859.00, plus expense allowances and pensions. They don’t make as much as Alberta MLA’s who earn $134,000, or Ontario MLA’s who receive $116,000.

Christy-Clark-ParachuteWhen I read what BC MLA’s are paid, I truly felt like vomiting. There is no rhyme or reason as to why BC MLA’s deserve this level of compensation. Having worked in the private sector for almost 25 years, I can’t fathom how they’re allowed to get away with being paid so much. The poor quality of debate, their lack of knowledge, and partisan belligerence does not justify all the perks and privileges. They certainly don’t sit in the legislature long enough to justify this salary. They don’t communicate  or publish individual columns or articles frequently enough. They are not as visible to the public as they should be. The litany of poor judgement and scandals shows they’re not worth what we pay them. We currently have no public accounting of their expenses – which comes from us, the citizenry of BC.

Put it this way, Washington State is our next door neighbour to the south. Their population is 6.5 million to BC’s 4.5 million. Their state legislators receive – $42,106, plus a $90 per diem. In the state of New Mexico, their legislators get NO SALARY for sitting in the legislature. They receive a per diem of $154.

And don’t get me started about their political hacks and spin doctors in Victoria who are paid huge amounts of money as simpering party sycophants.

I know a former BC Liberal cabinet minister who served in the legislature for 17 years. He’ll receive a six-figure retirement pension under the BC political pension system. Meanwhile, I’m resigned to the fact that I will continue working for every penny I can earn until the I drop dead. No comfortable retirement for me. I’m on my own, like so many other people.

Because the BC Liberal government is so big about free enterprise and promoting a pro-business agenda, I think every MLA on the government and opposition sides of the BC Legislature should have to undergo an annual performance review under the auspices of the Speaker’s Office. MLA’s should only receive pay increases based on merit, just like in the private sector. Provincial governments should be evaluated by the citizens of this province using the Net Promoter System of customer evaluation used by Fortune 100 companies like Apple and Best Buy in North America, so they can get a daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly tracking of how people rate the performance levels of provincial MLA’s and government services. This information should be made public as well. If they’re such big boosters of business development, they should use the same rating systems to evaluate their effectiveness at serving the citizens of this province.

Take that fad wad of cash in your mouth, BC politicians, and use the same methods of evaluation as the private sector to justify your pay for performance. After all, you’re such believers in free enterprise.

The Grumpy Ferret (who rated top Net Promoter Scores for customer service)