May 30, 2013

What good is saving the planet? asks ExxonMobil CEO

To be fair, the issue is complicated.

However, yesterday, at a shareholders meeting, Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil Corporation, the world's largest oil company, said

Mr Tillerson was responding to issues raised by activists wanting the company to establish some simple greenhouse gas emissions targets.

Shareholders voted down that motion by a margin of 3 to 1. They also nixed a proposal to ban discrimination where sexual orientation might be a factor. Apparently ExxonMobil already has that covered.

Makes a person wonder if buying anything from a company like this is a good idea. In Canada, and throughout much of the world, the company is known by its Esso brand name.

And about that suffering thing... Mr Tillerson might not have to suffer as much as others. He recently received a 15 per cent pay raise bringing his salary for the past year to 40.3 million dollars.

May 29, 2013

Sarah McHugh's moose hide slippers

The loyal follower of The Murray Chronicles will remember the Dawson City Journal, my photo journal of three months spent in Dawson City, Yukon, and the popular post: Annie Smith's beaded moose hide slippers. Those beautiful slippers continue to be worn by the writer on an almost daily basis.

Just before leaving Dawson in late December, I found some slippers at a local market. They were crafted for me by the artist Sarah McHugh. The slippers arrived after we returned from Argentina and were well worth the wait.

Sarah learned her craft from two elders: her mother and mother-in-law. She has sold hand-stitched slippers and mitts to local Yukon residents, to visiting tourists, and has sold and shipped her products to people on four continents.

Sarah uses only traditionally tanned moose hide because it provides a softer and much more aromatic hide with a strong wood-smoke smell. Her hides come from local tanners and include moose, elk and caribou. She uses furs, such as beaver, fox, wolf and wolverine, all sourced from Yukon trappers.

My slippers are moose hide with beaver fur and beaver tail leather, and the smell really is fantastic: wood, smoke and moose, a constant reminder of my time north of sixty.

Sarah operates under the name Mad Mitters Luxury Furs and you can see more of her work by visiting her Mad Mitters facebook page.
photo of Sarah McHugh by the river: by the artist

May 27, 2013

Strange signs in Vancouver

Hmmm... it doesn't look invisible to me.

Roswell North?
Or strange craft
from the Golf Islands perhaps.

Well this could be confusing. Especially since the sign 10 metres further shows the avenue as being 46th.

Maybe a compass would have helped. 

May 26, 2013

10 years on ~ the Kirchners in Argentina

Yesterday was yet another national holiday in Argentina, a nation that has more public holidays than most other countries, certainly many more than Canada. Revolution Day celebrates the revolt 203 years ago that ended Spanish rule.

May 25 was also the anniversary of a decade of Kirchner presidency, first by Nestor Kirchner, who died in 2010, to be followed by his partner, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner.

La Presidenta addressed several hundreds of thousands in central Buenos Aires last night, amid a festival-like atmosphere of music and celebration, of speeches and more speeches. With inflation increasingly proving to be a nasty thorn in the side of her government, she called the past ten years a victorious decade "won not by a government, but by the people."

The Kirchners began an era of what they called social inclusion, by transferring some wealth to the poor (some would say they also transferred much wealth to themselves) and bringing to justice the criminals of the "dirty war." They initiated significant state intervention into the economy to create jobs and wealth, the exact opposite of the privatisation and "anything-goes" kind of capitalism that held sway in Argentina during the 1990s. Unemployment decreased significantly, and pensions and minimum wages increased substantially over the past ten years. The government legalised abortion and same sex marriage, established a Universal Health Benefit which lifted about four million people out of desperate poverty. Over the past decade 1200 schools have been built in Argentina, compared to only 100 in the previous twenty years. Good things happened under the Kirchners.

Yet high levels of poverty persist. Income disparity remains dramatic. Transportation networks outside Buenos Aires limiting the potential for economic growth. Anti-corruption policies for government and business remain largely non-existent.

In 2007 the President's office interfered with the statistical department of the government and now no one believes the numbers coming out on inflation, unemployment or poverty. And no one includes the IMF and the World Bank and most transnational corporations, all of which Argentina needs on-side if economic growth and social inclusion policies are to continue. Inflation, since 2007, according to official figures, hasn't gone over 10 per cent per year, yet citizens see the escalation of prices, sometimes doubling in a single year. Unofficially inflation is considered to be around 30 per cent yet the government refuses to budge.

Economic uncertainty has created huge waves of resentment within Argentina. There is much at stake for this democracy and its citizens. The lavish spending on a national holiday, and its obvious self-promotion of la Presidenta and her government, had little to do with the poor of the country. Would  the cartoneros, the poorest of the poor in Argentina, have the time to look up from their work to enjoy the fireworks?

photos from AP/Clarin

May 24, 2013

Bird Land

Moving is wonderful. People leave things behind. Like this cactus left on our balcony. We have moved more than just a few times during the past year; to Dawson City, Yukon, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and places in between and beyond. It has been nice to finally begin to settle into a more permanent residence here in Vancouver.

Living, finally, in one place gives us a chance to create something of our own, including setting up a bird feeder from a great store on Broadway called Wild Birds Unlimited. Initial results were disappointing. No one came. Maybe it was the food we were offering, or the slightly political tone of our bird feeder. Maybe it was a generational thing, or that the polls were wrong.

With the provincial election now out of the way (an election for the birds if ever there was one) the birds have started to appear. In large numbers as it turns out.

Apparently the word is out, at least among sparrows and finches: Jeem y Sherry offer a great mix of ... well, seeds actually. Sometimes in English. Sometimes in Spanish. And always with a progressive accent.

May 20, 2013

The BC Election ~ Fear and Loathing in Lotus Land

A week ago this Tuesday, about fifty per cent of the eligible voters in British Columbia decided to vote in a provincial election. All indications were that later that night we would be celebrating a new provincial government. Apparently it wasn't that easy.

The re-election of a worn out, mean-spirited and corrupt government under the BC Liberals was not supposed to happen. All the polls told us so. Instead we were supposed to see a business-friendly version of a very green NDP. Its new government, under Adrian Dix, would  lead us into the promised land, one practical step at a time.

Bill Tieleman, writing in the commuter paper 24 hrs, said he was bitter. "Not because the BC Liberals won - political opponents have to accept that sometimes the other team had a superior campaign, more ideas, a more effective leader... No, bitterness comes only when the other team plays dirty..." And wins.

The politics of fear and anger, of deception and lies, has won and we are worse for it. Get ready British Columbia. It's going to be a long four more years.

May 19, 2013

The face of evil: Jorge Rafael Videla

Jorge Rafael Videla died a few days ago, unrepentant and unforgiven. While not as famous as his counterpart in Chile, Augusto Pinochet, it was certainly not from a lack of trying.

Videla was one of a number of military tyrants who seized power in Latin America in the 1970s, often with the aid of the United States. At a regional gathering of military thugs in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1975, he said "As many people as is necessary will die in Argentina to protect the hemisphere from the international communist conspiracy."  Only months later, on March 24, 1975 he and his cronies overthrew the incompetent government of Isabelita, the widow of Juan Peron. Making good on his promise, over the next six years teachers, students, grandmothers, union leaders, shopkeepers and a host of others were "disappeared," turning that word into a transitive verb.

About 30,000 were murdered, and another 500 babies stolen from their "disappeared" mothers and adopted to members or friends of the junta. All of this in the name of "national reorganisation" and western, Christian civilisation.

When the junta fell in 1985 Videla and others were tried for human rights violations. Videla received a life sentence, subsequently pardoned five years later by President Carlos Menem. In 2007 a court overthrew that amnesty and he again went to prison, where he died, in his sleep apparently, on May 17. He was 87.

May 16, 2013

Vancouver Cityscapes

Vancouver is a beautiful city from almost any perspective. Including the view from our balcony, below.

May 15, 2013

Vancouver Street Art

Vancouver is full of graffiti, yet this city has nothing on Buenos Aires. In BA, graffiti is absolutely everywhere. It can be obnoxious or political, simple scrawl or beautiful art. Street murals in Buenos Aires are a beautiful expression of life and the creative energy of the artists.

In Vancouver the graffiti is often less political, just as mindless, and sometimes more humorous than what we saw in BA.

The murals of Vancouver, often encouraged by the municipal government, are eye catching and impressive, and like those in Argentina, provide a positive and creative expression for young artists.

The murals shown here are located near Granville Island in central Vancouver.

May 08, 2013

Vancouver Coffee Shops ~ part 2

Near the corner of Broadway and Main in Vancouver is an interesting neighbourhood coffee shop called Kafka's. Urban, chic, hip and youthful, Kafka's serves good coffee and almost nothing else, though some of their baked goods are worth a look. There are a variety of brew styles offered including the syphon type, which is well worth a try. Local art works, good music and a friendly bunch abound at Kafka's.

At Granville Island Market we find our second favourite coffee shop in Vancouver; Elysian being still our  first choice.

J J Bean has thirteen locations throughout MetroVancouver and this one seems to serve the best coffee, and truly not much else.

Other locations have a variety of bakery items and sandwiches, and even comfortable seating. This location offers the best coffee on Granville Island, from an efficient and amiable crew, under rather crowded conditions. You have to find your own seating elsewhere; no one should stand and drink coffee from a paper cup.

Order your coffee "for here" and get it served properly, with water and a spoon. And for those having a difficult time finding a decent cappuccino, J J Bean offers a traditional cappuccino in a small cup, which is much more to our liking. At least the former Berton House writer-in-residence seems to think so.

May 06, 2013

Ten Thousand Villages ~ an example and a solution

The Bangladesh garment factory tragedy that killed over five hundred has initiated discussion about the ethical nature of where we get our clothing and all the other stuff corporations will us to buy. The Gap and Crate & Barrel, Canadian Tire and Mark's, Hudson's Bay and Walmart, are all full of products of varying degrees of quality and value, and nearly all come from a factory in China or Pakistan, India or Philippines. The factories aren't owned by the retailer. Nor are they usually owned by the maker of the actual product: Ralph Lauren for example, or Joe Fresh. Most often these factories are contracted to produce items for Canadian Tire, or Nike, or Starbucks. True enough, our Canadian and European companies, including retailers, nearly always have codes of conduct and certificates of some sort of standards. No one should expect a Canadian company to be party to unfair labour standards, nor unsafe working conditions, yet through contractors and sub-contractors the issue can, and does, become blurred. To its credit Loblaw Cos. Ltd., maker of Joe Fresh clothing (a company directly implicated in the Bangladesh disaster) has taken an approach worth applauding; it will, in future, put monitors on-site, to ensure standards of safety and labour.

There is a company that has operated for many years in Canada offering quality gift items at reasonable prices and with standards of safety and fair trade: guaranteed. Ten Thousand Villages is a not-necessarily-for-profit company run by the Mennonite Central Committee, the people who brought us the best selling more with less cookbook series. 

Ten Thousand Villages live and breath fair trade, and has developed relationships with artisans, suppliers and customers alike. While some of our largest companies are only now discovering the value of taking a hands-on approach to the production process, the MCC has been doing just that for decades.

The global economic crisis of 2008 caused problems for Ten Thousand Villages throughout its operations in Canada and the USA; stores have closed and head office functions have been consolidated. Their mandate remains the same, regardless of the situation; they remain true to their values and mission. The stores are always worth a visit.

The Granville Island location in Vancouver is always busy and fun, and like all the other Ten Thousand Villages stores they are part of the solution to the way we look at global trade and how we should act as responsible consumers.