Turning the Ignition Key

I’m going to just start typing, and bear with me, because it feels a bit like starting up a car that’s been sitting in a garage for several weeks. Not rusty, but a little creaky and not quite ready for the open road for a few minutes, at least until it starts to warm up…

Speaking of temperature, today was chilly, and for the first time, it truly felt like fall was in the air. Never mind that summer has officially been over for 3 weeks. Vancouver doesn’t get the spectacular display of autumn leaves that we used to see in New England, and it was partly what made it my favourite season. Now, I’m not quite as fond of it as I used to be, but I still do like the seasonal dishes and produce: Ratatouille, roasted squash, pears and cranberries, and I also like the fact that it’s typically the time of year when I feel as if everything’s starting up, that the year is really beginning. January 1st may be the official kick-off of the calendar year, but as the son of two teachers and now sometimes one myself, the academic calendar always seems more appropriate.

Back to classes here also means the return of the Fringe Festival, and I’m a fan. That’s over and done with now, but I did make it to a few shows. It was gratifying to see that the annual festival of intimate theatre that takes place nearby us on Granville Island as well as throughout the city was more popular this year than ever. I’m afraid that I didn’t get to the International Film Festival, which usually comes on the heels of the Fringe, but it also looked to be well attended.

So what’s coming up? I’m looking forward to BarCamp, the yearly unconference where everybody gets to be an expert in something. I think I have a subject to talk about this year, and I’ll be putting some of that up beforehand, mainly to tease those who might be interested in it. I’m also anticipating the Cassoulet festival that Oyama Sausage Company celebrates. I’ve written about it before, and perhaps I will again. After all, it’s not ever day that you get to eat what’s probably the most sublime dish ever made with beans, herbs and meats.

I’m not looking forward to the election back in the US. Politics and government in the US has reached the point of complete and utter absurdity. The American electorate is now by and large so irrational and driven by Public Relations manipulation that I don’t expect any sane outcome in November. I’ve been listening to the audio version of the book The Age of American Unreason by Susan Jacoby, and I’m becoming convinced that she is right on target. Political culture in the US is a reflection of general culture, which has become less and less informed, knowledgable and reasoned. Americans have stopped talking about anything important, except the latest scandal, goofy YouTube moment, or gaffe. Instead of calling the Tea Party out on their ignorance of what the Constitution says (like for instance, the separation of powers which makes it clear that a President can’t send in soldiers to another country without the approval of Congress, which is exactly what George W. Bush did in Iraq), the TV networks focus on entertaining people with sound-bites. Americans don’t read newspapers any more, much less books. With entertainment trumping real information, it’s clear to me that the most powerful voice in US politics is not any of the politicians, but Fox News. During my US trip, at certain motels, Fox News was the only cable news channel available on the television. That would be like Pravda being the only newspaper available at a news stand (for those who aren’t familiar with the name ‘Pravida’, it was Russian for ‘Truth’, and was the official news source of the USSR). With Fox the most widespread and popular source of info-pablum, the US is now effectively being led by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

There, it looks like my motor is running again.

Did She Just Say That?

Happy July 4th to all of my friends and relatives back in the US. Pam and I tuned in this morning to the news and political talk shows, expecting a pretty uneventful roundup of pre-Fireworks chatter, and were surprised to see some newsworthy items. One was a final reaction by pundits to the Republican National Committee’s head, Michael Steele. For the past couple of years, Steele has been ‘the gift that keeps on giving’ to Liberals like myself, and it was always hysterical when he came out with one of his either undignified or ridiculous statements. The latest one, however, seemed to go over the line. At a fundraiser in Noank, Connecticut, someone caught Steele in the following video that became one of those gaffes heard round the world:

Transcript:
“The [General] McChrystal incident, to me, was very comical. I think it’s a reflection of the frustration that a lot of our military leaders has with this Administration and their prosecution of the war in Afghanistan. Keep in mind again, federal candidates, this was a war of Obama’s choosing. This was not something that the United States had actively prosecuted or wanted to engage in. It was one of those areas of the total board of foreign policy [that was at least?] that we would be in the background sort of shaping the changes that were necessary in Afghanistan as opposed to directly engaging troops. But it was the President who was trying to be cute by half by flipping a script demonizing Iraq, while saying the battle really should in Afghanistan. Well, if he is such a student of history, has he not understood that you know that’s the one thing you don’t do, is engage in a land war in Afghanistan? Alright, because everyone who has tried over a thousand years of history has failed, and there are reasons for that. There are other ways to engage in Afghanistan…”

Now I won’t go too much into how wrong that is on so many levels (not the least of which is that it’s historically inaccurate – there was no ‘choice’ involved and the US, led by George W. Bush, attacked Afghanistan after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001), but the condemnation from Democrats and Republicans has been pretty severe, with the exception of the always-surprising Ron Paul, who said that Steele, “has it right and Republicans should stick by him.”
At any rate, we did a double-take when we heard this from Cynthia Tucker, the Pulitzer prize winning reporter of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Wow! It’s not often you hear someone deliver as blistering a critique as that. In fact, I dare say if anyone else had said what she said, (particularly someone who wasn’t also black) they might have been accused of being racist.

It’s pretty clear that Steele is toast. As I hinted earlier, that’s a shame for Democrats (Al Hunt a few moments before this clip suggested that Steele was actually a Democratic Mole). However, he (and Ms. Tucker) did provide some early fireworks for this July 4 morning.

Tomorrow

July 5 is also a big date, at least for Pam and me. On this date, 5 years ago, we left Cambridge, MA and began our journey to Canada. While I’m always a little pensive on the 4th, remembering those long afternoons on the bank of the Charles river getting ready for the fireworks and singing patriotic songs, I also remember how excited we were to be starting a new chapter in our lives. These days, I don’t introduce myself as a ‘new Vancouverite’ any more. I now consider the lower Mainland my home, and despite more than a few glances back at the US, we have no plans to return to living there. The July 4 of 2005 will probably be the last one we spent as US residents.

Happy Canada Day 2010!

It’s that day of the  year again, when we all wear red and white T-shirts with Canada on them, head down to Granville Island to get temporary maple leaf tattoos and celebrate Canada Day (or as it was originally called, Dominion Day).

Thanks to Heather for some photos of us in our regalia (well, the T-shirts anyway). The island was jammed, despite less-than-perfect weather. It sprinkled on and off all day, but that didn’t dampen the spirits (and appetite) of people, who chowed down on all sorts of goodies: we got some oh-so-traditional barbecued squid and tofu and bubble tea; others had Chow Mein noodles and Pork Dumplings, Vietnamese coffee, hot dogs, shaved ice and Butter Chicken. I’m always thrilled at how so many people born in Canada and  immigrants like us celebrate and share in the good fellowship of ‘Our Home and (nearly) Native Land.’
Pam and I show off our Canada Day Tattoos

Pam and I show off our Canada Day Tattoos

Canada Day on Granville Island

Canada Day on Granville Island

The Seal pokes up his head

The Seal pokes up his head

Canada Day Cookies

Saw these cookies cooling off a few days before

Good-bye to the Oughts

While the past year has been good, I must admit that I’m in complete agreement with those like Time Magazine, who dubbed the first 10 years of 2000 as The Decade from Hell. It was a decade that belonged to Bush, whose ascendancy to the White House I have often said was the worst single event in US History. It was for us, a great leap into the unknown, leaving the city of Boston and the country of our births. It was definitely scary in the beginning, but we’ve slowly climbed back, at least in terms of our finances, to where we were when we left, more or less. We dodged much of the housing bubble, and although Pam and I both saw time out of the work force, I suspect that would have been just as bad (or worse) if we had stayed.

After the election of Obama, many people have asked us if we were considering returning to the US. After all, we were ‘Bush Dodgers’, according to some. Well, the ridiculous debate on Health Care reform had us constantly shaking our heads in bewilderment. The fact that the US still fails to acknowledge health care as a human right (like the ones of religion and guns that they extoll so often), is something we’ll never understand. The lack of acknowledgement that the proliferation of guns is causing more and more violence and death throughout America is also baffling to us. Whenever we see people being interviewed on the US evening news constantly refer to God, their belief in religion and other magical thinking also seems further and further from us. Nope, we’re not going back to all of that.

Good-bye to 2009, Then

Looking back on just this year, I do have some events that I’ll remember fondly. Here’s a brief list:

  1. The Concert of works for and by Dutch composer Louis Andriessen for his 70th birthday. Back in April, I got to see and hear him (and one of his works), as he reminisced about performances by airport runways and mused that the bass line in Bach Chorale Preludes is “like a cow mooing, interrupting chirping birds”.
  2. Riding the brand spanking new CanadaLine all day on my Birthday, and playing Foursquare (and ‘tourist in my own town’) as I went all the way from the south of Richmond to North Vancouver without burning any gasoline (not counting the fuel on the Seabus).
  3. Actually not one but several fun and stimulating Meetups for bloggers, graphic designers and Social Media folks. Several were at Caeli’s Pub, which has become one of the most popular social watering-holes in town.
  4. An after-hours tour of the newly-renovated Arctic Ocean exhibit of the Vancouver Aquarium as part of the local chapter of the Interaction Design Association (IXDA)
  5. Excellent meals at Provence at Marinaside, a tea (thanks to Tiny Bites) at the Fish House in Stanley Park and this past week, a warming Hot Pot (Shabu Shabu) at a new Korean Restaurant, Dae Bak Bon Ga, on 4th Avenue in Kitsilano.
  6. The Inauguration of Barack Obama (of course)
  7. BarCampVancouver, which was a blast this year at Discovery Parks.
  8. Helping to run and participate in UXCampVancouver, the first User Experience ‘unconference’ in the Vancouver area. Many thanks to Karen Parker for providing the leadership and guidance. Next year, it will be even bigger and better. This was, perhaps, the big highlight of the year for me.

And a few sad losses:

  1. The loss of Workspace, a marvelous public/private space that hosted many great techie get-togethers. It was the closest thing to a ‘parlor’ that the Geek Scene in Vancouver had. I’m hoping that another will come, but sometimes these things take time to replace.
  2. The closing of a bunch of restaurants: Chow (which I reviewed in this blog), O Thai (which was replaced by another Thai restaurant in the same spot that is decidedly poorer), The Fish Café (on 4th Avenue in Kitsilano), and a few others that I forget at the moment (maybe for that reason, they should have closed).

When I look back on 2009, I know that I will sadly have to note that it was the year that Becca Hammann died (see previous entry), and it will be some time before I am used to that fact.

I also note the birth of many babies by friends and relatives, and once again, our orchid is blooming.

My next post, will be about next year. Oh look: the clock says that it’s here already. Well, come in, 2010. Make yourself at home.

Happy Thanksgiving to the US

While here in Canada we celebrated our Thanksgiving back on October 12th, this one is ‘the big one’ that we hear about from the South. With that in mind, I thought I’d send a little bit of Beethovenian Good Will (by way of the Muppets) your way, my American friends and family:

(Thanks to Brenda Cadman of October 17 Media for finding this. )

I haven’t been blogging much this month (maybe it’s the rain — 22 days of it this month!, maybe it’s the time of year — very busy). I will make a serious effort to get something more substantial here this coming week. In the meantime…

Seid umschlungen, Millionen!
Diesen Kuß der ganzen Welt!

Be embraced, you millions!
This kiss for the whole world!