Tag Archives: Canada

Downtown

Went to pick up Mrs S from her exercise class the other night and as I was driving through downtown was surprised to see a mini tent city had sprouted opposite Christ Church Cathedral near the junction of Quadra and Courtney Street. I knew things were tough, but it was the numbers that caught me off guard. We’re used to street beggars populating every street corner, but it seems a whole new influx are arriving to take advantage of the city bylaw that allows camping in city parks up to 7am in the morning. Here’s a Shaw TV special on Victoria’s problem panhandling (Begging) which barely scratches the surface.

Victoria, and BC in general has a homeless problem. To be frank it has everybody else’s homeless problems because the winters are generally mild and the culture generous and tolerant. A rough straw poll has down and outs from Manitoba, Saskatchewan and everywhere else, not just locals who have fallen on hard times. Local provision of homeless shelter places is (according to various sources) 175, with an additional seasonal 110, but it still doesn’t seem to be enough. My cynical side tells me it never will be. When the snows and real cold hits at the end of January / early February, even in the temperate climes we enjoy here, the city is going to be carting off human popsicles. As usual.

Which leaves Victorians with a problem. You can’t just let people starve and freeze to death, but how many have to turn up before downtown starts to get serious public order problems? More dependent people means more strain on local government, which has to cut other services or raise taxes to pay for all these extra mouths. Bylaw enforcement alone is currently costing the city CAD$700,00 a year and in September 2015 the figure of CAD$50 million (Now cut to CAD$30 million) was requested to build and run 367 housing units for homeless people. That’s right, fifty fucking million dollars, albeit over fifteen years. The additional taxes needed to raise this amount will put pressure on private landlords to raise rents, possibly resulting in even more homeless people. Then what? What with depressed resource prices, the economy not going anywhere fast, there will be less money overall to provide shelter and food. More beggars competing for fewer donations. Less tourism money as people get put off from return visits by being importuned at every street corner and then more cops needed to police the panhandling.

It’s got to the point where Mrs S and I are thinking of moving and buying a place in next door (and less expensive) Langford or Colwood. There’s no real economic advantage for us being this close to the downtown core, and so long as we have a viable fast Internet connection we can work from anywhere.

Now the homeless problem isn’t currently as bad as East Hastings in Vancouver or Seattle across the border, but it seems to me from an eyewitness point of view that despite all the money that seems to get thrown at the issue, homelessness is a bottomless pit. A slough of despond which takes a good chunk of determination for the afflicted to haul themselves out of, because no-one else can do it for you. I’ve been there. Had to live out of my car for a while a couple of decades ago and know how bloody cold and uncomfortable it can get, so I’m not totally unsympathetic.

It’s my observation that what keeps many people homeless are the little ‘luxury’ items like alcohol or drugs that they might take, just to make themselves “Feel a little better.” or take the edge off their misery, whilst at the same time prolonging it. I can tell you from personal experience that getting and staying out of that noisome hole takes willpower, persistence, and not a little luck. The intoxicants and non-essentials have to be ditched and every resource garnered to find work and a place to live. Anything but food and shelter has to take a back seat. Smartening up, swallowing pride and letting the slow burn fuel the push towards renewed prosperity. It’s a long, hard road with no short cuts and lots of potholes.

Sometimes I think the whole issue is like the foreign aid conundrum; give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he can feed his entire family. On the other hand; wells can be dug, irrigation taught, fish ponds created, seeds provided and the means to get produce to market improved, but if afterwards the buggers simply sit on their arses chewing Qat all day, or fight over everything, then you might as well have done nothing for them in the first place. Devil, deep blue sea…………

As for that New Years Eve business in Germany…. Can I join the Greek Chorus saying “We told you so!”

Tough love needed

Every week it seems that some entitled University student or other gets their panties in a bunch about something, whether it’s the racist ‘Rhodesmustfall’ campaign or some sensitive little petal getting all het up about ‘safe spaces’ where they are not able to see or hear anything that might possibly upset them, including people of another gender or ethnicity.   Not that there’s any such thing as a ‘safe space’. I was rather under the impression that Universities are places you go to learn things rather than just kick over apple carts, or is that just me being hopelessly naive?  Maybe the University authorities need to exercise a little tough love and ‘send down’ the odd less than diligent protestalot student once in a while. Rhodes scholar or no. I think ‘no tolerance’ for abuse of any sort (Including against University institutions, employees and faculty members) should be the policy, but that’s just me.

As for safety, should we not be teaching these ‘Childults‘ that there is no such thing as a ‘safe space’ because all risk is relative?  If these people truly want to be safe they’d never consider even crossing a deserted street because who knows what might come along.  They shouldn’t even think about applying for a driving licence or getting into a car because have you seen the UK road death figures lately?

Deaths for 2013
Pedestrians; 398
Cyclists; 109
Motorcyclist / Pillion; 331
Car occupant / driver; 785
Other; 90
Total road deaths; 1,713

Overall UK deaths data sheet here.
The Guardian’s accidental death comparison for 2007 and 2011.

That’s without examining the ROSPA reported approximate UK death toll of 6,000 every year(2002 figures), of people in their own homes. Hold hard a minute! Six thousand people a year, in the UK alone dying in home accidents? Most of which happen in the ironically titled ‘living’ room? That old grim reaper must have a hell of a job keeping his scythe sharp. If you can’t find safety in your own living room, where can you be ‘safe’? You’re ‘safer’ on the pillion of a drunk biker riding at 100mph plus? Who knew? Which isn’t strictly speaking true by the way, but statistically it might seem so. In the comparative period for 2010-2011 there were 636 homicides, 60 of whom were shot. That’s including one mass shooting incident where 12 people were killed. Of the total homicides 232 died from wounds given by a ‘sharp instrument’. Official UK report here.

For comparison, with official sources where available:
2011 US Death Stats Domestic (Unintentional deaths 96,753), Road (32,479), Homicide
2011 Canadian Death Domestic (No comparable figures), Road, Homicide
Now compare those with the rest of the world (Mapped data by worldlifeexpectancy.com)

So much for ‘safe spaces’, eh? By the way, around eight (8) people in the UK die by accident in their own bed every year. That’s twice the death rate of bee, wasp or hornet stings. Blood and sand.

Personally I’m not averse to a modicum of risk taking because you have to die of something. It’s part of the human condition. I will die, as will everyone else currently breathing. Mortality is built into our very DNA. We all have a ‘sell by’ date whether we like it or not. Death is a capricious beast and all we can do is manage our risks because if the statistics teach us anything, they show that there cannot be any such thing as a ‘safe space’. Life isn’t ‘fair’, never has been or will be. All you can do is keep your eyes open, grab a little ‘fairness’ for yourself and have some fun in the meantime. If it’s your time, then that’s that. Who wants to live forever?

A nice day out

I like Vancouver. It’s my second favourite city on the planet. Well at least of those I’ve visited. Although I’ve got a soft spot for Berlin, and haven’t had time or money to visit Auckland, Sydney, Melbourne, Hong Kong, Singapore etcetera. Despite there being a Starbucks or Tim Hortons on every other corner. To be honest I prefer Tim Hortons coffee to Starbucks, firstly it’s cheaper, secondly it’s less bitter. Their doughnuts aren’t bad either. Although I’m more partial to an Apple or blueberry fritter for a cheap carb and calorie treat.

While we were in Vancouver we hopped on the Skytrain and I popped into the Telus ‘Science’ Museum because the Animals Inside Out exhibit was on, which I was interested to see. I was to be disappointed. What I found was somehow redolent of a 19th and 20th century travelling carnival freak show. Plenty of ‘Euw’ factor with the anatomy of people and animals on display, but woefully short on detail. For example; the Mako shark exhibit made little mention of what the Blue Dynamite with the short fuse was all about. Nothing about how it is one of the fastest sharks in the sea (Able to swim in bursts of over 80Kph), or that they run over 3.2 (12ft) metres long and more than 600kg (1300lb+). Little about habitat and diet (Apart from being a sea creature). The split down the middle Giant Squid display was impressive, As was the trifurcated Camel, but was there any information about the curious structure of the giant squids eyes? Not really. There was one museum staffer wandering around with an anatomised and plasticised human arm, inviting visitors to examine it, but as far as information was concerned, I found myself thinking this was the intellectual version of junk food. While the exhibition promised much in the way of mental nourishment, all it delivered was hollow emotion. The same was true for the the rest of the displays at ‘Science world’. Rather than have layers of information where, if interested, displays could direct people to where they could find out more, all they had were toys for toddlers, of which there was a plethora. Shrieking and pressing buttons, aimlessly playing without actually seeming to learn anything. A sort of Fisher Price level of ‘Science’. Which is a bit of a shame. Shrieking toddlers tend to put off older children and even young adults who want to know more about science in general.

Now all these observations could be dismissed as the rantings of an “Ignorant, angry old white guy”, a description which incidentally hits the quadruple target of being incorrect, ageist, sexist and racist by the way, but for the fact that what is on offer is a solution. A solution that is easily and more importantly affordable and which does not shut out key demographics like simply catering to noisy toddlers with toys. All that is required is a few bar code links and a web site with all the information you need to share, or perhaps about associated exhibits there isn’t room to display. All the kids have Smartphones capable of reading barcodes, right? Print out one of those rinky dinky square barcodes and paste next to a short description of the exhibit. Link the square barcode to various web sites containing more in depth information about said exhibit, and Robert, as they say, is the male sibling of your biological parents. Ta-daah! Using such a barcode while visiting should also enlist the visitor on the Museums Twatter, Crapchat, Instagrunt and Farcebook feeds so that if they’re interested, previous visitors will know when to come back again to see a real exhibit up close and personal. Thus generating much needed extra visits and gift shop revenue. A useful tool for Parents, Teachers and those who simply like to see real science and history stuff on display.

The same principal could be applied to Theatres, Cinemas, grocery stores, Aquaria, and Zoos for a relatively low overhead. Latest production or movie release, new product line, birth of a rare baby sea creature or mammal, all the novelty of the world can be brought rapidly and in depth into the public eye. For those interested of course. All the components are out there, all the institution or business would have to do is a little regular link maintenance. But then I’m just an “Ignorant, angry old white guy” with a broad technical education covering well over twenty years and a deep seated love of technology, so what do I know?

Any old road up. Mrs S and I had a nice day in Vancouver, and despite missing our bus for the ferry (By five minutes) and spending fifty minutes hanging around in the cold, got home with much to think about. We did pass by the Cirque Du Soleil, but as we’ve already seen one of their disappointingly lowbrow shows of mugging contortionists a couple of years ago, I declined to repeat the experience.

North America is more civilised than you think

Made the mistake of reading a clickbait article in the Barclay Brothers Beano this afternoon where an unrepresentative sample of New Yorkers were asked about that particularly English delicacy, Sausage rolls. Astonishment, surprise and dare we even say it, dicombobulation were expressed by those who were told that you cannot purchase Sausage rolls in New York, and thus by imputation, the whole of the USA. Just so some ignorant English people (Who are so stupid they believe everything printed in English newspapers) can giggle at the Yanks’ lack of knowledge of that quintessential savoury, the humble Sausage roll.

The article is, as must be expected from such airheaded space filler, complete balderdash. I have been to New York and seen a wide range of foodstuffs produced for consumption, including, yes, you guessed it, Sausage rolls. Just because Starbucks don’t have them in stock, or the New York Times ‘introduces’ them to the North American diet does not mean they haven’t been available for yonks. For example; Myers of Keswick on Hudson Street, has been making said delicacy in New York for nearly thirty years. Then there’s ‘The Tuck Shop‘ and ‘Parkers‘ in Buffalo, New York. Unlike the much lamented Pie Face eatery that once graced Broadway until 2014, these are still going concerns.

You could recycle said article and say the Belgians are astonished by the mention of English savoury pastries. Or the Germans, Swiss, Italians, French or Danes. But I know quite a few places in Paris and Frankfurt where you can get a form of Bacon sandwich or sausage roll even if it goes under another name, but this does not mean the French or Germans are culinarily ignorant or deprived, merely disdainful about the lower meat content of English sausage.

To conclude; just because there isn’t a Greggs on every bloody corner doesn’t mean the Yanks have never heard of the British taste in Savoury pastries. Here in BC, Thrifty’s and several other grocery store chains do a very nice example, although getting decent flaky pastry over this side of the great divide is a bit hit and miss and they do tend to put more sausage meat in the pastry than the classic English version, but that is no bad thing. On my travels south of the 49th parallel I’ve seen such sundries as Scotch Eggs and Pork Pies on delicatessen displays in Eugene, Oregon and elsewhere. True, Sausage rolls etcetera, are not as widespread in the USA and Canada as the UK, but then we’re not in Clapham any more, Dorothy.

Red tide

I greeted my wife with one word this morning; “Trudeau.”
Her response; “Oh, fuck.”

Yes it’s true. A toxic red tide of votes has swept the nation and there’s another brain dead Trudeau as Canadian Prime Minister. God help Canada.
red tide warning
Well I know that Harper wasn’t the most popular choice, but picking a party headed by a Trudeau? Seriously? That is soo coming back to bite us all. Mulcair would have been better as a national leader.

Why? Because I remember the economic disaster Tony Blair made of the UK, and Trudeau is a politician very much out of that mould. So we can look forward to higher taxes, extra ‘Carbon’ levies, more foreign involvement of our (Canada’s) armed forces and a deeper economic downturn caused by ‘capital flight’ as investors seek safer, or more profitable havens for their hard earned cash. On the plus side, he’ll probably cancel the problematic F-35 and legalise Marijuana, so it’s not all bad news. Even if Trudeau’s policies will probably squeeze out the little guys on the Grow-op front and put up the price of groceries.

For my part I’ll be keeping an eye on real inflation and currency fluctuations over the next year or so and keeping my European funds out of Canada until I’m sure which way the wind is blowing. As I observed to Mrs S this morning, it’s not time to pack our bags just yet. There may yet be a silver lining under this cloud. Canadian dollars ran at 2.15 to the pound sterling back in 2006. Due to the economic downturn in the oil and gas industries occasioned by the Saudis dumping their oil at ridiculously low prices, CAD to GBP is currently about two bucks to the pound. With a Liberal government in power, I can see that value dropping to about CAD$2.20 per GBP along with a drop in local property prices as the canny move their money elsewhere.

Looks like I’ll be using my ‘get a free apocalypse’ card sooner than I thought.
Apocalypse gift card

Naughty

It’s Federal Election day in Canada, and Mrs S and I took a walk down to the polling station to cast our votes like good Canadians. In and out inside five minutes. We’d done our research and both independently decided who was getting our ballot. Unsurprisingly, we both went for the least worst candidate. Yes, I know we shouldn’t vote because it only encourages politicians, but nowadays I like to have a say rather than hide in my burrow muttering ‘snot my fault guv’nor when everything goes south.

Now Canada used to have fairly strict rules on political campaigning until this month. No campaigning on polling day (At least on TV). Which was supposed to allow the voter to make as informed and non-coerced a decision as they are capable of on the day. This afternoon, I watched Mulcair and Trudeau supporters waving their candidates signs in the middle of the main drag through Quadra village. One, carrying a ‘Vote Mulcair’ banner was even waylaying passers by, presumably to solicit their vote. Which I still feel is a bit naughty on polling day. I say chaps, that’s not Cricket, or even Hockey. At least with Hockey the Umpires can send offenders to the sin bin.

Not that such polling day pranks can have any effect apart from a negative one. I think most Canadians, even some of the superannuated hippies out here on the Wet coast wouldn’t fall for it. Or would they? Surely not? Although speaking from personal experience, if I see anyone campaigning on election day, that is a high level motivator not to vote for their candidate. This time round they’ve had seventy eight days to get their point across and if they haven’t done so by now, bad luck. Seventy eight days of blitzing the gullible on social media. Seventy eight days of speeches, conferences and photo opportunities. Blood and sand. I’m so glad we don’t have Cable.

This time round I actually bothered to read all the manifesto’s and electoral leaflets before doing a bit of old fashioned joined up thinking and making my choice. Which I hope was a sober and informed decision. So who did I vote for? Ah. No-one’s business but mine. My vote is strictly between me and the ballot box.

And today…..

……Nothing happened on the Interweb. At least nothing that piqued my interest. Just the usual.

In the real world, all our recent guests are home safe, with airplane adventure tales told over Skype. Which now lets me off the hook to catch up with a little work and to generally chill out after the last few days chasing my tail. I don’t really mind since we only get to see Youngest once or twice a year, and it was her birthday week. What sort of parent would I be if I didn’t help her celebrate? Apart from Pizza cremation and a few other minor happenstances, like coffee machines almost, but not quite, going foom! All went swimmingly, and our stock rides high with our recent guests.

All is now settling down. I hope. Apart from Cougars in the back yard. Seriously. Actually I missed the Downtown fun. The conservation officers tranquilised it and now doubt the oversized moth eaten moggy will be dumped up island to annoy another community. It’ll be back. Who knows? Maybe it’ll have a chew on one of the local animal rights groupies. Don’t you just luurve natural selection?

On the work front I’ve just finished prying my good lady down off the ceiling, and she is recovering slowly from a recent upset. New software, no project plan, no staff training, deadlines cut; need I say more? I’ve had to restock the Tylenol and tissues twice. For the moment things are settling down before the next crisis digs into my schedule. That and credit cards being stuck in the Freezer to cool off after a months frenetic activity. A decent batch of curry has been prepared for the freezer, as has a similar sized block of home made chilli bolognese. I’ve done enough cooking for a while.

What else? Oh yes, I’ve received my voting card for the Federal elections and remain staunchly unaffected by sundry faces mugging out of billboards all over the place. Eeny, meeny, miny mo, who to vote for? Not telling. It is after all a secret ballot don’cha know, but despite my history as an ex-green party member (A youthful error of judgement on my part) my ticked box won’t be for the Greens. As some are given to say locally; Elizabeth May, but probably hasn’t. I’ve also put a ‘no soliciting’ sign at the front door. First to ring the bell gets a free earful of colourful Anglo-Saxon invective and a stern lecture on the parlous state of their reading skills.

Candy for Halloween is being purchased from Bulk Barn and left in a bowl on the doorstep for the kids to help themselves or next doors cat to shit on. I may leave out some beef jerky in the hope that a passing Cougar or Bear will spend some quality time on my front porch. Failing that, next doors surly moggy will do. Bad tempered animal. I shall leave a besom broom outside for effect. Perhaps with a sign saying; “Warlocks to Witches.” or “Prey, do not disturb.”

What can I say? I’m not allowed to put out Claymore Mines for the unwary or hard of reading.

TTFN

Double standards

I’ve just had a stressful morning trying to pay a bill online, spending valuable vacation time on the phone to my bank in Canada. All safe and sorted now (I hope, but you can never tell with banks) and way more expensive than I wanted. I lost out on charges and exchange rate differentials. When I tried to pay the bill you’d think I was staging a smash and grab on a diamond deposit the way these guys carry on. You tell your local branch you’re going away (“Have an awesome time!” With a big happy smiley face). Use your secure ID to transfer funds between your accounts, all the while on the phone (International call, telling them who and where you are) to Bank tech support. Yay! Easy peasy. Try to transfer via the banks byzantine international money transfer? “Sorree. Security flagged it up as unusual activity and cancelled your transfer.” Which has led to much grinding of teeth and tugging of what little hair I have left. FFS! Whose fucking money is it? My bank are quite content to accept funds from my Brokers, yet ask them to pay exactly the same company so I can do a quick, efficient, less than 24 hour transfer? You got it – no fcuking way. When I get home my banks customer service department will be getting an ear bashing. My money has to work, to move, to breed, and they’re getting in the way.

Large companies use currency brokers all the time. I know because I used to run tech support on the applications side. Transfers of millions went through every day and the banks never blinked. Try that as a private citizen. Even after double confirming your identity and bank details. Go on. Clucking bell. The big guys use third party money transfers all the time, yet can I do so as a private individual? No. I run headlong into the brick wall of ‘money laundering’ restrictions, even when I’ve already jumped through all the hoops of account verification, exemption forms and the like. Then I have to pay the banks extortionate charges and loaded exchange rates, which can lose me up to a hundred bucks a transaction. I can buy a lot of wine with that. Especially here.

To make matters worse, we’ve run out of wine to lower my blood pressure, so I’m off out in a few moments to replenish supplies. At this rate I’ll be making a serious dent in the much-vaunted EU ‘Wine lake’. Well, at 2-5 Euro’s for a half way decent bottle I can do that. A lot. To add insult to injury, I haven’t smoked for over thirty five years, but I’m eyeing the displays of cigarillo’s right now with fond nostalgia.

Maybe I need a better bank.

Pain

Canadians, without making too much of a broad sweeping generalisation, aren’t used to manual gearboxes or clutch operation. Over here, motoring tends to be of the point and click variety. Most vehicles sold are automatics. Even our little Subaru is one of those half breed four speed gearboxes. We’ve had a 4×4 with a manual box, but that was 1970’s vintage. Nowadays if you pointed most North Americans at a vehicle with a proper clutch and gearbox, they’d look at you as if you were asking them to operate a nuclear power plant. Most cars over here have Column shifts or centre console gear levers that only get shifted out of gear to go straight to ‘park’. It makes for lazy driving.

Today this was brought home to me when we pulled up alongside what looked like a Yamaha YZF-R6. Nobody was going anywhere fast as the speed limit varies between 40-60 Km/h on that section of Hillside Avenue.

Yet what had me wincing was the guy on the Yam totally failing to change gear. It was awful. Whilst the rider could stay upright and seemed to have the hang of gentle cornering, he hadn’t quite grasped the correct coordination of left hand and foot. He pulled away from the lights in second gear, he accelerated from 0-60km/h in second, did he change up or down a notch to third gear or down to first? No. He seemed not to have mastered the concept of a non-automatic gear box. It was actually painful to hear, even when we had all the car windows shut. I’ve had more fun having my teeth drilled. God alone knows what it was doing to the engine.

If there were a BC Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Motorcycles I’d have reported him on the spot.