Be the best “you” that you can…

12 12 2015

Oscar Wilde is famously quoted (and may perhaps even have really said) “Be yourself – everyone else is already taken”. Whether or not he really said it, it’s an interesting statement. Sometimes being true to yourself is not as straightforward as it may at first appear. Even before our recent tailspin into Political Correctness and all the inanity (and even occasionally: insanity) that that produces, it hasn’t always been easy to say and act in accordance with one’s true thoughts and feelings.

The other night I was driving home late and was listening to CBC’s “Ideas”. The episode was called Shame on You(Tube). Now to be brutally honest I wasn’t listening VERY carefully to it all, but there were a few interesting ideas. Like how perhaps the concept of shame within a group helped us evolve as a species into the highly co-operative (usually) social animals that we plainly are. It is used to bring peer pressure to bear and encourage “acceptable behaviours” as defined by the larger group.

The age of the internet has made “the group” pretty much the entire species… at least those with access to WiFi or a cell signal. This has warped the concept because it is now so easy to use Twitter or FaceBook to yell “J’accuse!” when we see a perceived injustice – real or imaginary. The radio programme gave examples of a web site in China that encourages people to “out” folks with bad table manners or performing other indiscretions. They are publicly humiliated (personal details are published) in an apparent effort to bring them back in line to supposed social norms. Of course, the dark side of this is the mental effect it has on many of those “outed” and almost predictably there are several reported suicides – particularly of teenage girls – of people who see this shaming as worse than death itself.

As is so often the case in my blogging, these two ideas hung like unrelated iota in my consciousness until a third mote of an idea hove into view and created a triangle of related thought. In this particular case, it was some cheap tat of a website I happened across (“10 historic photos you’ve never seen” or “9.37 random images you couldn’t care less about”, something of that nature). This particular site had an image from 1936 of a crowd of Germans at the Blohm + Voss shipyard in Hamburg. It was taken at the launching of the naval training vessel Horst Wessel on 13 June 1936, and the group were obediently all making the Nazi salute. All, that is, with one defiant exception! The photo was published on 22 March 1991 in Die Zeit, and though there are one or two others not saluting, this individual is quite obviously not doing so with some amount of defiance.

Source: Wikipedia

It turns out that this gentleman is actually quite well known by historians. His name was August Landmesser, and he was not exactly a fan of the Nazi regime. His wife was Jewish (their marriage was not recognised at the time but was retro-actively recognised in 1951), but he’d joined the party in 1931 anyway in the hope that it would help him get a job more easily. As you might imagine in such times, he later ended up being put in a penal regiment and met his death in action in Croatia in 1944. His wife was placed in several concentration camps and died in 1942.

His story is familiar. It was lived in one way or another by literally millions of people under the Nazi regime for a decade or so. But this man impresses me. Despite the huge social pressure to conform (surely all those around him making the salute were not all dyed-in-the-wool Nazis), he stood by his principles and simply chose not to raise his arm. He felt scared, I’m quite sure… but not shamed into conforming. A simple, but incredibly brave act. If anything, I was saddened that today, 12th December 2015 was the first time I became aware of his story. Almost 80 years later.

I’m sure August Lanmesser was not a perfect person.

I’m sure he had as many faults and foibles as any other person we know. But he was not shamed into giving public support to a political system that relied as much on passive submission as it did on active support for its growth in power.

Sometimes being yourself has dire consequences. That doesn’t necessarily make it wrong.

CBC poking fun at Hipsters

11 09 2015

You can’t put a price on quality.

So many of us are throwing any old piece of wood on our stove when we could be buying hand-crafted firewood…

Laugh if you will, but remind me how much you just paid for your last cup of flavoured hot water from Starbucks… :oP

Loblaws and dodgy paperwork

27 06 2015

A week or so ago, a Canadian supermarket chain – Loblaws – was in the news and being demonised by the media machine.

The gist of the story was that one of their Surrey supermarkets was being re-branded to one of their other lower-end shops. As a result the existing staff were offered a one-time deal to compensate them for the on-going lower package the cheaper brand would pay. The news story was around the fact that Loblaws had over-paid ~20 workers and was now asking them to repay the additional money.

Many of the affected people had already spent/invested the additional money… several thousand dollars on average.

Now, I regularly get my news from the CBC because, like their UK model the BBC, they tend to be more objective and use less hyperbole. That said, and despite the story running for a few days, it was never actually made plain whether the original offer was more than it should have been (in which case those affected would obviously make their decision as to whether to accept or not based on an inflated number) or whether the offer was correct but Loblaws had actually overpaid the stated amount (in which case one has to ask whether the recipients were actually immoral in spending/investing it without checking whether it was an error). Now the dust has settled, it seems the latter is the case, and these people, having agreed to some payment actually received more, spent it, and are now complaining that the company is asking for it back.

Am I missing something? Sure the company might have been a tad heavy-handed in asking for immediate repayment. But, I’m sorry, these employees knowingly cashed cheques for more money than they were expecting… and neglected to question whether, perhaps, possibly, some mistake had been made, and potentially this additional dosh wasn’t actually theirs to have. We’re not talking a rounding error here. I too might not blink if I received a dollar or two more than I’d been led to expect, but we’re talking THOUSANDS of dollars here! This feels more like wilful neglect bordering on knowing theft. Loblaws took the higher ground and backed right off. Hurray for media-led justice. Not.

OK, so enough in defence of Loblaws. One of their local brands is Canadian Superstore. We recently bought a packet of bread-buns. They are magical. They have an infinite best-before date! Miracle food indeed. It could solve world hunger.

Best before... WTF?!

Best before… WTF?!

If – as is more than likely – you’re not as anal and detail-oriented as QE, you may need a hint. Go look at the June page of your calendar. See any date missing? Aha, there you go.

Of course, it might be good until 15th June 2031 which, though not infinitely far away is still pretty good! (Canadian date formats are inconsistent at best due to British DDMMYY history, but US MMDDYY proximity. Japanese YYMMDD is not uncommon, as here, to try and avoid the issue altogether).

So – what have we learnt?

I reckon we’ve learnt that Loblaws are paying rock-bottom wages and as such employ people with only a tenuous grasp on the way time works and what morals are.



Hamish the Hooligan and other Gen. Zers

15 03 2015

I’m a regular listener to CBC’s Radio 1. It’s broadly similar to the UK’s Radio 4, though I listen to it much more than I ever did to Radio 4. Perhaps it’s a sign of old age. Extensive research on my part has confirmed that the calendar does seem to inexorably advance a whole day every 24 hours or so. The waistband on my trousers seems to shrink too, I’ve noticed. You’d think these days they’d have figured out a way to stop that happening…

Of course my listening to Radio 1 it could also be a testament to the low quality of alternatives on the airwaves. The CBC, like the BBC is advert free and therefore owed much tolerance for that blessing alone. Depending whether I have early morning con-calls with Europe, my drive to work can begin at quite  a variable time each day. Often though, I catch a current affairs programme called “The Current”. Despite the annoying assumption that the vast country of Canada is irrelevant once you’re outside the Greater Toronto Area, it does have some thought-provoking issues discussed.

This last week there was an episode dedicated to “Generation Z”. This is the current batch of late teenagers, also known as “post-millennials”. To be honest, I could only listen to part of it before I arrived at work, but click on the photo below to stream the entire episode if you’re interested.

CBC: Generation Z on The Current

Despite only hearing a portion of the piece, I’d heard enough to confirm my opinion. No matter how much the marketing engine would like us to believe otherwise, teenagers of any generation are not unique. They are in fact just the same as teenagers of any other generation. Sure “times, they are a-changin’” and the opportunities to monumentally screw up are arguably wider with every generation, but then so are the opportunities to do profound good.

Teenagers have felt misunderstood and alienated since well before the word “teenager” was coined in the 40’s by Reader’s Digest. Go watch Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet if you doubt me. Or West Side Story or even China Girl if you prefer a more modern rendition. In fact Shakespeare was something of an expert on teenagers. Check out Twelfth Night (She’s the Man) or Taming of the Shrew (10 Things I Hate About You). In fact who’s to say the invention of the wheel wasn’t due to some prehistoric caveteen trying to leave home (again) because his parents just didn’t get him/her?

So anyway, convenient though it is to believe each generation is somehow unique, I’m afraid my own opinion is that each generation is simply a reflection of its time. Not surprisingly I’m often annoyed at my teenage son’s love affair with video games. I suspect it’s actually more envy on my part that he has way more choice than the single “Pong” option I had at his age… though Space Invaders was around by the time I was in my gap year, with Galaxian being widely available by the time I graduated. He’s also a caring, considerate individual when it suits him, and on balance I think he turned out quite well considering he was stuck with me as half of his parenting team.

He’s just spent a week or so of Spring Break with one of his sisters in Montreal, and by all accounts they’ve had a great time snow-tubing (it’s still well below zero out east), hanging out and being “Generation Z”. More interestingly, they visited the anthropology museum and much to my student daughter’s chagrin, he was loathe to leave until he’d thoroughly digested each and every fact on the notice boards. Yup, my video game playing 16 year old son was more interested in the anthropology museum than my anthropology-studying daughter. Don’t go making assumptions I think is the lesson.

Which brings me to Friday evening. Having just got back from the gym, I harnessed up the dog to take her for a spin around the estate. I was still in my running gear, with a lightweight rain jacket. Mrs E had decided to join us, and off we set around the environs. Approaching on the other side of the road was a group of 3 late teenage boys. Laughing and in good spirits, they were a tad rowdy, but nothing offensive or bothersome. The leading lad started to jump up in an attempt to grab one of the low-hanging branches of the crescent’s many cherry blossom trees. In itself, this wasn’t anything of particular note. I remember seeing how high up I could reach on lamp posts as a kid. However, on the third or fourth attempt, he succeeded in grabbing the branch. At this point, he grabbed it with both hands and started very deliberately pulling and twisting it with the obvious intent of snapping off the limb.

With three decades of experience as a Scout Leader, dealing with teenagers and reasoning with their better nature, I of course interjected. Ha! Training be buggered – I yelled “Oi! Stop that,  you bloody hooligan!”

Mrs E was horrified at my interjection and tried to get me to disengage. Her fear was grounded in several reports of “older men” being set upon by youths both in the UK and here in BC. I justified myself by misquoting some old statement about “evil only needing good men to do nothing”, and thankfully the yobbo let go after one of his oppos yelled “leave it Hamish, leave it alone”. This avoided me having to decide whether to press my position any further.

I was a little taken aback by the aforementioned Hamish then spouting a load of bad English (though Mrs E claims Australian) stereotypes of the “gor blimey mate” variety. After 15 years here I consider myself Canadian and sometimes quite forget how I must sound to others. The joke of course being that I have a quite distinct Yorkshire accent that to those of a more cosmopolitan outlook than poor stoned Hamish would easily identify as being neither cockney nor antipodean. I suspect, given his name, his own parents or perhaps grandparents might even be recent immigrants from Scotland.

My forceful insistence that perhaps he might like to go forth and multiply (in the shortened Anglo-Saxon form) caused his lieutenant to even more urgently suggest he might like to call it a day and continue on their way, which thankfully he did. Number three shuffled along and didn’t seem to be engaged in anything at all. As we rounded the bend, a fourth member of the hop-head crew was stood in the gutter, long-board tilted under his foot, studiously messing with his iPod and blaring music to the neighbourhood. Hamish’s insistence that “Ivan” hurry up and join them provided his name also. Plainly this was not a hardened criminal gang by any measure. 🙂

I was angry at the wanton damage to the lovely tree, especially given that several young saplings have been completely destroyed in our local park. I felt it was not negotiable that I should intervene. Mrs E had a much more sanguine concern for our safety in the presence of four much younger lads of dubious intellect and reason. Oddly, I didn’t feel any fear. To me they weren’t being aggressive, despite the damage. They were bored.

They were Generation Z. And arguably they were representative of Generation Z. Not because they were causing damage – that has been the place of bored teenagers since before Roman times.

Wikipedia: Ancient Pompeii graffito caricature of a politician

No they were Generation Z purely because they were teenagers. Labelled not due to any particular trait but because of when they were born. They weren’t “bad lads” as my dad used to say. One made a brief bad choice. He was easily dissuaded by one of his friends. Who knows, he may go on to become a leading member of society. Or he could after all turn out really bad and become a lawyer. Either way, it has little to do with when he was born and what label demographers gave him.

Liquid Sculptures: Pierre Carreau

4 05 2013

Sometimes I wonder why I even try to take photographs! These are just stunning captures of water (and light) in motion.

Liquid Sculptures: Powerful Waves Photographed by Pierre Carreau Seem Frozen in Time | Colossal.

I’m just reading a book at the moment from an old work colleague. (Read about it yourself here). One of the things I’ve taken on board is that you can take a negative experience and make it a positive one. I know, I know – a bit obvious, given that I work in marketing. Just look at the way Loblaws  is handling the Bangladesh factory collapse. I’d say a +40% delta in profits is “a disaster well managed”, wouldn’t you?

Anyway – I choose to remain in awe of the skill of M. Carreau, happily accept that I am unlikely to ever match it, but still be inspired to try. Not to replicate his work, but to know it is possible, and therefore that I should never stop trying to attain better than what I can do today.

Talking of doing more of what we’re capable of – I made my first ascent of The Stawamus Chief for the year today. First time up First Peak too. That’s all three peaks now “in the bag”. Lots of firsts. It was a lovely warm day. I think I even caught a bit of sun. Lululemon were doing their usual endless parade, sponsored by the young ladies of Greater Vancouver, and distracting all the old blokes like me who refuse to know better. I am supposed to be doing the Grouse tomorrow too, but it’s forecast to be 30 degrees! That’s 86 degrees Fahrenheit in “old money”. I know a lot of it is in and out of tree shade, but I don’t know… I might need some serious persuasion for that. And not all of it in Lululemon!



2 04 2013

Just heard about this on CBC when they interviewed Simon Berry.


Essentially he was working in very remote places in Africa, yet could always find Coca Cola for sale. This in places where basic healthcare was not available for kids. Only 1 in 5 was making it to their 5th birthday. Many died from diarrhea. He hit upon the idea of using the “dead space” between the bottles in the Coca Cola crates to piggy back on Coke’s distribution to these places without increasing transportation costs. Enter a very cleverly designed packaging to fit between the bottles.

Then though, it became apparent that the real driver was simple capitalism. Make it worth the while of all the distributors, and create the demand, and voila! Retailers were ordering the kits by the box-load – whether they went with Coke or not.


The Tyee – Doug Christie: The Unauthorized Obituary

16 03 2013

It has been said that I am sometimes self-destructive in my honesty. (My boss recently advised me to remove a description of only a partial achievement of a goal from my annual review.) I do think honesty and transparency are important. However, I am quite sure I still harbour as many dark secrets as most.

That said, I do believe there is benefit in admitting when you’re wrong, or at least admitting you’re no longer quite so sure you’re right. Especially when you take a stance in a public forum such as Twitter or a blog. In a comment recently, I made reference to Doug Christie, a lawyer who recently died in BC. At the time, I’d only just recently heard of him (I’m still learning to be a proper Canadian), and my information was based solely on an interview he gave to the CBC that I’d heard shortly before his demise. In the interview he stated  “Free speech is the one thing you have to give to your worst enemy if you want to keep it for yourself.”

Source: The Tyee – Doug Christie (deceased)

This struck a chord, and my “support the under-dog” genes kicked in. I am often prepared to support a stance I don’t personally agree with merely to ensure a fair airing of all views and a level playing field for discussion. However, since then, I came across this article in The TyeeThe Tyee – Doug Christie: The Unauthorized Obituary. In it a case is made by Tom Hawthorn that Mr Christie was actually quite adept at suppressing free speech when it didn’t suit his own goals, and that perhaps his personal views were more aligned with the extremists he’d defended than he’d indicated in the CBC interview. The article basically says that many (self included obviously) had taken this “free speech” element from the CBC interview and spread it to the 4 internet winds… without knowing the background and alleged hypocrisy of Mr Christie.

So, not wishing to be seen to only share half a story, I offer you the above link to the Tyee to at least obtain another perspective. As I mentioned – I’d never heard of the guy prior to the CBC interview, so claim no information or personal agenda beyond those two data points. I merely meant to use the reference as an example of supporting a principle not always being personally beneficial, and that its ramifications could include supporting someone whose view you fervently do not support.

However, hypocrisy (though I’m quite sure I entertain it in myself) is never worthy of support. I leave it to you to make your own decisions regarding Mr Christie… and perhaps lend me some better examples of a principled stance in support of another person that is perhaps self-harming.

Chris Hadfield, Barenaked Ladies song from space premieres – CBC News

8 02 2013

I wonder if David Bowie ever imagined someone really singing from space when he channelled Major Tom.

Here’s Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and The Barenaked Ladies (now firmly sans Steven Page) singing together with the girls from Toronto’s Wexford Collegiate School for the Arts glee choir.

Chris Hadfield, Barenaked Ladies song from space premieres – Arts & Entertainment – CBC News.

It’s actually quite touching to see him glancing out of the window at earth rushing past at twice the speed of a bullet.

You’d almost think the entire ISS was a Canadian affair… except, being Canadian, the song makes a big deal of it being 15 nations in co-operation.

Full video at the CBC.

It was 25 years ago today…

28 01 2013

Today I got a shock. I’d even go so far as to say it was a nasty one.

Driving home, I heard a news piece about how today was the 25th Anniversary of a legal decision in favour of Dr. Henry Morgentaler. He’d been running an illegal abortion clinic in Toronto I believe, and had finally won his case that denying Canadian women timely access to safe abortions was a denial of their rights under the Canadian charter.

My shock though was that 25 years ago… was 1988!


That was when I bought my first house in the UK. Surely it was too recent. Surely abortion in Canada can’t have been illegal that recently. Actually, it turns out that it was actually de-criminalized in Canada in 1969, following the passage of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, amending section 251 of the Criminal Code. However, this only allowed abortions to take place at accredited hospitals, and even then it was subject to the approval of a three-doctor committee, when the health of the mother was at stake. Unfortunately “health” was not well defined, and so it basically came down to who was on the committee as to whether a woman got access to safe and legal abortion or not.

In the UK, a similar law was passed in 1967. According to Wikipedia, it said “…a person shall not be guilty of an offence under the law relating to abortion when a pregnancy is terminated by a registered medical practitioner if two registered medical practitioners are of the opinion, formed in good faith … that the continuance of the pregnancy would involve risk, greater than if the pregnancy were terminated…

So – broadly similar, except the registered medical practitioner performing the abortion need not be in an accredited hospital, and only 2 medical practitioners were needed to decide.  The clincher seemed to be the following:

In R v British Broadcasting Corporation, ex parte ProLife Alliance, Lord Justice Laws said: There is some evidence that many doctors maintain that the continuance of a pregnancy is always more dangerous to the physical welfare of a woman than having an abortion, a state of affairs which is said to allow a situation of de facto abortion on demand to prevail.

It took nearly 20 years for Canada to catch up. That, dear reader, I find shocking.
To be clear – I am not suggesting abortion is a trivial thing in any shape, size or form. But a woman must surely have the right to safe choices where her own body is concerned. Of course she should have access to counseling and be made aware of other options. But ultimately that is the point I believe. She should have access to options, and sympathetic support to help objectively make the choice that is right for her.

Historical Morgentaler decision marks 25th anniversary | The Current with Anna Maria Tremonti | CBC Radio.

Supriya Dwivedi: Morgentaler 25 Years Later: We’ve Come a Long Way Baby.

25 years on, Canadians don’t want to reopen debate on abortion, Ambrose says – Health – Times Colonist.

Times Colonist: DR. Henry Morgentaler addresses a news conference in Montreal, Oct. 27, 1999.


27 01 2013

Not for the first time, I found myself in some backwater or other of the information stream that flows unceasingly through chez moi. This time I ended up at CBC, ironically itself a relatively new influence on my opinions. And there I came across this image. Provocative to be sure. Of thought, opinion, debate. “Art” by pretty much any definition.

Judgments artist Rosea Lake | Q with Jian Ghomeshi | CBC Radio.

So – who is “Rosea Lake” (aka rosea posey on Tumblr)? The CBC tells us she’s a Vancouver-based artist and student, and clicking on the image or link above will take you to a CBC page letting you hear her 12 minute interview on the Q programme.

The image it seems has “gone viral” (despite “PRUDISIH” – what do they teach kids in High School these days?!), so I suppose I am actually showing my lack of coolness by having only just discovered it, and even then on the website of the national broadcasting corporation! Despite her being a local, to-boot.

It seems she simply posted some of her old High School work on Tumblr to show people her work. By lunchtime it had 30+ hits and she was really happy. By midnight it had 100,000!

She’s a first year at Capilano Uni, but the image was created while she was still at High School in May 2012. The 12-part project only got her a B. I bet some teacher is smarting at THAT one…

There’s also a piece in the local Vancouver Province, along with a lovely portrait of the young lady herself.

Rosea Lake

An up-coming book about SlutWalk has asked permission to use the image on the cover – kudos! The whole point of the piece it seems was to comment on Rosea’s own reflections on how readily she judged women based on what they wore. It didn’t sit comfortably, and so she made a piece to illustrate societies judgmental attitudes.

San Francisco SlutWalk

I am often drawn (largely unprepared) into discussions and debate on sexuality, gender roles and the like. It’s a discussion that often becomes emotional and entrenched and therefore ultimately unrewarding. But I do think it’s an important one. I am reminded of Robert the Bruce and the tale of the spider. We need to keep trying, to keep opening the discussion – it matters!

Even if a particular discussion ends in repetition or stalemate, I nearly always learn something about myself, my views, prejudices… and judgments.

I wish Rosea much success in university and her subsequent artistic quests.

UPDATE: For another interesting twist, read On Curvy Kate’s gaffe on BRAVOLUTION