Archive for November, 2010

Words and stones

November 25, 2010

Free speech is a real hot-button issue in today’s world (peace to students everywhere who begin essays this way).

And it’s come home to Canada. 

A hard-hitting group of  Canadian brethren from the more conservative persuasion have been bringing free speech up any chance they get. And for some good reason, from what I can tell. 

The famous McLean’s magazine versus the Canadian Human Rights Commission case revealed just how murky the law is when it comes to a journalist’s freedom to form a thesis from premises based on statistical evidence and political position.’s_magazine

I guess it didn’t help that Mark Steyn’s thesis is out of step with the politically correct segment of Canadian society (most of us, on some things; few of us on others). 

It also didn’t help that Steyn has a strong interpretation of the issue and has a flair for intemperate adverbs;  he makes no apology, however, for his conclusion: it’s a demographic truth that, Muslims will soon outnumber (and out influence?) Europeans and people of European origin. And this is not a good thing for the West.

The Canadian Islamic Congress wanted the “Muslim point of view” to be given equal time in McLean’s, claiming that Steyn’s rhetoric was hate speech. 

Very recently, seasoned Canadian journalist, Christie Blatchford, has come under the friendly fire of political correctness gone mad at universities. 

She’s written a book critical of much of the way Canadian officials handled the native stand-off in Caledonia, Ontario. Apparently, the book is not fundamentally anti-native; it can just as easily be seen as pro- Canadian rule-of-law.  

Blatchford was prevented from speaking at the University of Waterloo because of a small but noisy protest.  Here is fellow blogger Bill Fyfe’s “quick and dirty version” of what happened. 

It’s a complicated case, but the quick and dirty version is this: Ms. Blatchford was invited to speak at the University of Waterloo.  Some people associated with the University didn’t want her to speak and they commandeered the podium.  They voiced their opposition to Ms. Blatchford by loudly chanting “Racist!” among other things.   Ms. Blatchford was told her safety could not be guaranteed and the event was cancelled.  There are a lot of other facts and blather about it, but really — who cares?  The real question is this: should we have free debate in Canada or not?

(read more from Bill’s provocative, cheeky and mostly true blog:

A not-so-political (but really quite political) friend of mine slipped me a newspaper article today with a sort of nudge-nudge, wink-wink look in her eye. She said, here’s a blog post for you.  

How did she know?

How did she know that this stuff is everywhere and really important to me when she’s busy raising children and working full-time and further educating herself and playing (researching) on her gadgets and pretending not to watch TV?

She has no political axe to grind. She doesn’t wax angrily about the corruption of verbal irony rights. She has no time to indulge in the tawdry issues of debate that seem to change and stay the same. 

Wait a minute….yes she does. 

All of the above—yes, she does. Because it’s actually quite obvious, if you think about (now, there’s the rub).

She has stacks of common and not-so-common sense and does not identify as one thing or another (except maybe being a snappy dresser). 

In today’s Vancouver Sun, Richard Foot writes that “at least 80 first nations leaders make more each year than Steven Harper” and that “at least 200 were paid more than their provincial premiers.”

Foot concedes that many native leaders do not earn high salaries, but that’s not really the point here.

It’s about public disclosure of politicians’ income.  

A call to the Union of New Brunswick Indians was unreturned,  the director of the Union of Nova Scotia Indians responded by email with a no comment and the Assembly of First Nations refused comment.

According to Foot:

Earlier this month, however, AFN National Chief Shawn Atleo lashed out at the Canadian Taxpayer Federation, calling its campaign to publicize native political incomes as “an insult that paints first nations leadership as overpaid, unaccountable local bosses uninterested in the challenges faced by first nation people…”

“One Mi’kmaq woman — a long time Glooscap resident who did not want her name published for fear of losing her job at one of the band-owned businesses — said many Glooscap residents are unemployed, and collect $110 per week in welfare payments. She said the Glooscap reserve, like dozens of others across Canada, is run by a small group of powerful families.”

In his memoir, Hitch 22, Christopher Hitchens writes about a distasteful shift in the thinking of the left that emerged in the 60’s and 70’s (and still thrives in various academic departments in 2010). 

Instead of critically engaging totalitarianism in its disparate forms,  many intellectuals and activists opted for identity politics–you know, the kind that MAKES you a warrior because of your sex, gender, skin colour, class or sexual preference (like there’s actually one!).    
The lines were drawn and it was very civilized war. The truth never existed anyway (an extremely helpful thing to process).  It’s all point of view (yes and no) and it’s all about experience (yes and no, once again). 
But almost  everyone who I find even the most remotely interesting is tired of fighting this non-war. It’s been won, processed and continues to be discussed in non-academic terms every day, everywhere, at least on the Lower Mainland.
In Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, where virtually every classroom yawns at yet another discussion of race and gender politics,  if you don’t think that war has been won to the best of its ability, then carry on.
For me, I’m pulling for Christie Blatchford to continue reporting and writing books with her pesky facts and for Mark Steyn to continue reporting and writing books with his pesky statistics and provocative interpretation of those facts.
Victimhood can be helpful. I’ve tried it, nay, embraced it —for short periods of time.
But you eventually have to put your adult pants on and think for yourself. 
There are real problems out there; and real people are trying to work them out.
All kinds of people, really. 

Bi-polar comics

November 22, 2010

My latest comedy fixation is Russell Brand, the insane British truth- teller who  upsets many people.

He openly discusses his diagnosis of bi-polar and his struggles with the worst of addictions.  

Here’s  Craig Ferguson, one of my favourites, with genius Russell Brand. 

And here is Brand in a more philosophical, gentle mood.

Happy first snowfall

November 21, 2010


Views from my balcony.

Ashes to ashes, dreams to dust (if I could just get around to it)

November 16, 2010

I don’t know about you but I’m a bit sick of hearing that if you just believe and never give up, anything can happen.  

Remember during Obama’s election coverage, bright-eyed African-American kids were regularly interviewed, saying “now I know I can be anything I want to be?”

And let’s not forget how our winter  Olympic athletes, under the stress of their lives, were obliged to analyze their hard work for the cameras by saying things like, “never give up on your dreams; they really can come true.”     

When I was in my money-bags days, I remember telling a group of friends on Monk McQueen’s deck, while sipping champagne, that I had three goals in life: to run a marathon, to net a million dollars one year and to have a romance with then president, Bill Clinton. 

Was I ever that tacky?

Apparently so. And the worst part is—-I didn’t really care about those goals. I guess I thought it sounded deliciously awful.

But, I was young and not particularly bright in the ways of the real world, and was living in a 1990s bubble where wild and crazy dreams did sometimes come true for people whose greatest talent was a recent big win in the stock market (you’re only as good as your last deal, they say).  

An older and wiser market friend of mine warned me of sudden financial bliss, where taxes are often avoided and big-ticket items seem to fly off store shelves. He said, “I once spent 2 years digging my way out of a win.”

So I guess, be careful what you wish for is a pretty good adage, after all.

My more mature dreams are fairly modest. I’ve daydreamed that Oscar would one day transform into a dog who is not the biggest asshole in my building.

This dream has been realized.  And you know how?—–he’s NINE. That means he’s 57 in dog years.

If you’re still as obnoxious at 57 as you were at 16, then something has gone wrong. And there’s probably more to come.

If Malcolm Gladwell is right, then it takes around 10,000 hours of practice at something before you become a master, or an outlier.

When I ask my students to guess at the greatest contributing factor to the success of Bill Gates and NHL hockey players,  they almost always shout out determination, endurance,  perseverance, or genius.

Then I tell them the answer is first, the month and year of their birth, and second, the circumstances that allowed them access to approximately 10,000 hours of computer and hockey practice.

It gets them every time.

This morning’s National Post ran a piece by English professor and author, Harrison Solow, who gave a student a O on a paper.  The student had blatantly lifted paragraphs from the Internet.

Instead of being backed by faculty, the professor was instructed to grant the student marks for the non-plagiarized parts.

We wouldn’t want to crush Kaytelyn or Jaysen’s dream of a degree, would we (not to mention that they are paying customers)?

Whether it’s the middle-class dream that keeps us feeling inadequate, or that Leave it to Beaver dream that keeps our parents perpetually flawed, or the literally dehumanizing one of meeting Mr. or Ms. right—-dreams can be toxic!

I wonder if mythology guru Joseph Campbell had something different in mind when he told us to follow our bliss. His target audience had already lucked out historically, mind you, by having the leisure time to dream about self-actualized bliss.

Dreams of fulfillment and happiness seem the stuff of a wealthy and idle world. The poor man’s dreams are much more concrete. Happiness?–fawgettaboudit—I’ll take the cash, please.

Whatever your dream, there’s got to be a difference between doing what excites you and believing that, if you just try hard enough, you can beat those Kenyans in marathons or become Simon Cowell’s next prodigy?

The still great Woody Allen said that “80% of success is showing up.” He also said “I don’t want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve it by not dying.” A simple dream, when you think about it.

One of my modest dreams this week is to finish painting a bookcase. The primer coat is done and my dream is to have two coats of black paint on the damn thing by tomorrow. 

Annie’s big November 15th dream

Am I dreaming too small? Have I given up all hope of becoming a somebody? Am I on the way to becoming an under-achieving, rationalizing old person?


In the meantime, my bookcase awaits. I have shrimp fried rice to whip up; and as a napstafarian (my word, Lord—not yours) by faith, I have at least one more nap to fit in before bedtime.

So don’t be afraid to dream small.

After 10,000 hours of practice, you might be surprised by what you accomplish.

Trench Gallery Stories: November 10, 2010

November 13, 2010

Stories were everywhere Wednesday night at the Trench Gallery’s inaugural show, Ouroboros. 

Trench Gallery, formerly the Helen Pitt

Of course, the big story was the late artist himself, Ron Stonier, who not only left behind hundreds of paintings and drawings, but also left an enduring creative mark on numerous students and peers.

Jim Breukelman's photo of Stonier from the event's invitation

Another story is gallery owner Craig Sibley. 

Everyone's pal, Craig Sibley

Craig, an artist himself, has some of the qualities of a great salesman; he moves effortlessly among people and is passionate about what he is selling. 

In an interview with the Vancouver Courier, Sibley spoke of Stonier’s legacy: 

“I never had the good fortune of knowing Ron,” Sibley says. “Strangely enough I have some art friends who certainly were taught by him. What I’ve learned is that he was an absolutely incredible instructor who left a huge legacy of influence. The effect that art instructors have on young artists is profound. Ron’s was quite substantial and he certainly influenced a lot of people in the way they paint, the way they think more than anything and how they approach the practice of being an artist.”
Read more:

I suspect I was one of the most artistically unwashed of the guests Wednesday night, but the layout of Sibley’s gallery made it  impossible to avoid conversation.  And the conversation was electric.

Rhubarb, rhubarb, rhubarb!

Another story that set the rooms a-buzzing was the one about two women, Sheila Cano and Suzanne Cole, who each spent 20 odd years with him.

The "two women" and me standing in front of Stonier's target series.

Sheila Cano and Craig Sibley at first seemed an odd pair. But by the end of the evening, I sensed that Cano’s work ethic and Zen-like demeanor and Sibley’s vivacious approach to art and business were a fine mix.      

At times, it felt like a 1960’s Vancouver art scene reunion. Suzanne was stopped every second step by someone wanting to reminisce or catch up. I listened more than I’m usually comfortable with; and I learned. 

Suzanne explained that Cezanne was an enormous influence on Stonier. She remembers countless discussions with him  concerning  Cezanne’s revolutionary use of colour.    

Stonier used colour and space as a sensual language.

Photographer and former VSA colleague of Stonier's, Jim Breukelman

For years,  Suzanne has talked in such terms.  And Wednesday night, I was amazed by how much more information I could absorb in one evening. The intimidating art scene at Sibley’s gallery was not so intimidating after all.   

Fellow foodie Hartley and his sculptor wife, Suzy Birstein, whose work was featured in the 2008 Academy Awards gift baskets. Hartley and I made conversational art about food.

Suzanne’s current artistic love is photography. Here are some more of her pics from the event. 

Eyes are everywhere---here, looking at one of Stonier's drawings


Art dealer Paul Kyle playing camera-shy. Does this guy ever age?


My favourite pic of the night!. Former student of Stonier’s, Dan Goorevitch, with the sharp hat and the camera and “mystery man” against the white wall.

We’ll be revisiting the exhibition before it closes on November 27th. If anyone wants to join, give us a post.

Once again, I’m surprised by life. 

With all the weighty conversations Suzanne and I have had over the years, many of them end with unlikely optimism. “You can’t ever give up,” she is fond of saying, “because you just never know what’s going to happen next!”

The unsung talent of a not-so-common friend

November 9, 2010
When I was a child, I liked organizing the willing neighbourhood kids into groups to perform plays and musicals.
I also fancied myself as an inventor; after creating a sweet treat called The Butter Bar (frozen butter and sugar filling covered in chocolate), I daydreamed that representatives of Cadbury would find their way to our house and catapult me to fame. 
In other words, in my deliciously naive child-mind, talent and great ideas would rise effortlessly to the top of society’s cream jar; and dammit, it was going to happen to me.  
Putting away childish things is never an easy task. However, I have managed to retain a fascination with talent and great ideas; when they come in the form of a tried and treasured friend, I do the obvious red-blooded thing.
I hold on tight and remember to be grateful. 
Suzanne and I have been devoted friends for a dozen years. We are both, at times, ferociously rational but always in the name of something sweeter. 
In many ways, she is a child of the 60’s but, as with most children of the counter-culture, the 1950’s can never be too far behind. I hear echoes of that decade in the voice of my friend; they whisper values of neatness, decorum and middle-class pride.
Today, she chuckles at those echoes and accepts all that is good in them. 
Suzanne has a strong, masculine voice. Her feminine voice surfaces when she talks about art, magic, synchronicity and when crouched on the floor playing like a four-year-old child with dogs.
The one and only time I’ve witnessed Suzanne in heaving, unrestrained sobs was when her beloved Bearded Collie, Ginger, died.
It was as if decades of grief and loneliness poured from her well-fortified soul. 
Last year, her Tibetan Terrier, Hayshee, went missing for the better part of a week. We mobilized immediately, distributing posters and asking questions of anyone who would stop long enough to listen. 
These were agonizing days. I’d return home to hug Oscar tight and marvel how this woman could keep going.
But you see, Suzanne is a student of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War; and we all know that a true warrior has no time for navel-gazing during battle. Rules must be followed; tears fall only after defeat. 
Hayshee returned home. Suzanne then removed her combat boots, put on a fresh coat of red lipstick and moved on to learn other things.  
Unlike me, Suzanne trained herself early in the art of self-protection. For her, beauty and meaning were everywhere, particularly in the colours, textures and contrasts of her surroundings. 
But alas, such qualities do not a compelling resume make!
We’ve both fought the good fight to understand ourselves and each other and to carve ourselves a place in a world where such quests often leave dishes unwashed and jobs un-kept.
As with many great friendships, we are vastly different yet exactly the same. No prickly problem, however trivial, is uninteresting or unworthy of discussion. 
I can now say with more than a hint of pride that we’ve each learned to love ourselves through the kindness and trust of friendship. 
Getting Suzanne to agree to this post was not as difficult as I’d imagined it would be. 
This is her time, now—not necessarily to soar in any conventional sense, but to bask in the profound memories of a 23-year relationship that formed her as an artist and as a woman. 
Ron Stonier was Suzanne’s art teacher at Emily Carr in the 1960’s. They fell in love and lived together for over two decades.   
As part of a group of Vancouver painters who were on the edge of the intermedia art revolution of the time, Ron Stonier was content (or driven) to focus on the art and not on public recognition.  
I’ve come to know this same reticence in Suzanne as I’ve pushed her to make something “commercial” of her talent. Sometimes she agrees, sometimes she shrugs and sometimes she just tells me the truth: that it doesn’t matter anyway and that she has no real regrets. 
This Wednesday evening, Suzanne will attend the opening of an art show featuring some of the 300 paintings left to Ron’s widow, Sheila, a dear friend of Suzanne’s. 
I’ll be by her side as she remembers, as she watches others appreciate and honour the talent of this unsung Vancouver artist.    
Every so often, Suzanne will casually mention (usually in the context of look where it got me!) that she was considered beautiful. 
In her dark-brown days, she was mistaken for Natalie Wood; today, she brought over this photo of her red-haired self, standing by her teacher, her man, Ron Stonier.  

Suzanne and Ron circa 1980

Now, Suzanne dons short, spiky, salt-and-pepper hair and large tattoos on both her arms. She still wears vintage, second-hand clothing, much like Leonard Cohen’s Suzanne.

To me, she will always be the epitome of survival and style.

I sometimes wonder (as I am prone to do) why she’s nurtured and stuck by me for so long. 

But I gently remind myself that maybe it wasn’t so hard after all. Maybe that’s what great friendship is—-patient, present, exhilarating, selflessly supportive, and always forgiving.    

Here’s an article from today’s Vancouver Sun on Wednesday’s event touting Ron Stonier’s “monumental oeuvre” as the exciting missing link in Vancouver’s art scene.

Once again, friends, ain’t life grand?

Yeah…uh…good luck with that

November 3, 2010

Man, I need a smoke!

Democrats have been fairly and unfairly accused of not being tough enough–not being united enough against a particularly dangerous opposition.

Well, duh! Of course they’re not united! It’s hell out there and thinking people don’t always agree on what to do about hell. 

But the feeling people?  They know for sure.

Of course I’m no political expert (though I do play one on my blog) but the kind of sentimental drivel that comes out of some of these political mouths would be laughed right out of a first year Poli-Sci course–by 18 year olds!

So no, I’m not going to claim I have the answers because I don’t. 

What I do believe is that the more power that goes to the nutties, for now—the better.

I’m still pulling for the hope and change stuff; but I’ve stopped listening to ANYONE who thinks they know someone who would have done better.

Oh sigh.