March 30, 2015

Do you really want to defeat Harper?

If you are like me... you want to see a change in government in Canada. Under our system it's possible, in fact, likely, that a government is formed without a plurality of votes across the country. How we vote against the governing party does make a difference.

The election of 2011 was an incredible achievement for Canada's social democrats: official opposition and the chance to provide real change in Ottawa in 2015.


Come October, British Columbia will be crucial in defeating Stephen Harper and the Conservatives. All the polls since the beginning of the year show a three-way race. The most recent polls indicate a decline for the Conservatives and the Liberals and growing strength for New Democrats.

2015-03-24   26.315.727.427.5EKOS

British Columbians can't afford to split the centre-left vote between Liberals and New Democrats, and voting Green is really just helping the Conservatives. Moving from second place to first place in a number of BC ridings can be done ~ if we don't waste our votes on the Liberals or the Greens.

We can make a difference. Find out the stakes in your riding. Contact a constituency office. Get involved. It is up to us.

By Jim Murray. Copyright 2015.

March 29, 2015

Canada, Islamic State & Syria ~ Haven't we learned anything?

The Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, is keen to expand Canada's up-to-now token military mission in the Middle East to Iraq and Syria. Not that we have been invited, but that's another matter.

According to Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson, extending our mission is a matter of "moral clarity."

We should take a brief moment to look, and possibly learn, from the recent past.

Today's mess, and the mess we are about to commit our nation more fully, began decades ago when the Excited States, understanding nothing about Afghanistan, decided to arm local militias against the Soviet Union. They funded people like Osama Bin Laden and other warlords in a twisted attempt to unseat a regime that was simply on the wrong side of the Cold War. It seemed a good idea at the time. However. The warlords quickly turned on each other and against the Excited States, and produced al-Qaeda, the Taliban, the attacks of September 11th, and unspeakable atrocities against the people of Afghanistan. Canada, for reasons only Jean Chretien might understand, sent military forces to Afghanistan and stayed for twelve long years. Over 2000 Canadian soldiers were injured and 158 died during our war in Afghanistan, and today the country is pretty much the way we found it all those years ago: a narco-state mired in corruption, violence and misogyny.

In 2003, the Excited States under W, along with Tony Blair, cooked up a bunch of lies to launch a war against Iraq. Saddam Hussein was deposed and the country promptly self-destructed. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis died. The social structure of the nation crumbled. The ultimate winners appear to be Islamic State, and probably Iran, though one can never be certain in this part of the world. That the Saudis were happy with the original effort  by W and Blair was probably reason enough. To this day, the country remains chaotic.

Just as a variation of Arab Spring broke out in Libya, various western countries, including our own, decided to remove a former ally in Moammar Gadhafi. Again, as in Afghanistan, we created a lawless state of rogues, gangs and thugs. The military arsenal that once belonged to our former ally, indeed Petro Canada's former ally, was distributed, for a fee, across Africa and the Middle East, quite likely to Islamic State and Boko Haram. Libya, for all our best efforts at ridding the nation of Gadhafi, is in anarchy, and its citizens suffer in ways, we, in Canada, cannot imagine.

So now it's off to Syria. Canada will aid its allies in attempting to destroy, or at least degrade Islamic State, or whatever other name we, or they, use. We will be seen as supporting the rulers of Syria, who are themselves guilty of war crimes against their own people. Why would Canada want to rally to support an despicable dictatorship? The Saudis are happy with our intervention of course, they the shining light of how best to conduct public beheadings.

Our Foreign Minister speaks of a moral clarity and he is right. Canada's mission will involve participation with mass murderers, fanatics of the worst kind, and diabolical lunatics. How else can we possibly describe the leaders of Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq. That is morally clear.

Does our government have a plan? Exactly how will a Canadian mission do anything to make Syria, or Iraq, better in any possible way? Islamic State currently operates in Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen, Tunisia, Pakistan and Nigeria. Is our goal to hunt down and kill all of them? And what if we don't?

Sometimes things can't be fixed. Sometimes violence in response to violence only escalates and promotes even more of the same. Creating martyrs is great for recruitment.

In the end, is Canada's expanding war on terror simply political posturing in an election year? Is this something to appeal to a large swath of  Conservative and Liberal voters, rather than offering anything substantial in the fight against Islamic State? Moral clarity indeed.

Copyright 2015 by Jim Murray.

March 19, 2015

Tom Mulcair in Vancouver

Tom Mulcair, fresh from a major rally in Toronto on Sunday, brought his road show to Vancouver and had a great rally at a downtown hotel on Wednesday night.

There were over 1200 NDP supporters out for the hour-long event in Vancouver. Long before Tom Mulcair appeared, every seat in the hall was taken and hundreds were standing along the sides and the back. There was an air of excitement in the gathering that only built as the crowd grew. Something has definitely changed since I first met Tom at Kwantlen Polytechnic University in February 2014.

The first election campaign speech I attended was one given by Pierre Trudeau when, as a sitting PM, he visited Weyburn, Saskatchewan, in aid of the candidate, and my father's friend, who ultimately won the riding on the coattails of Trudeaumania. My dad, a long-time member of the federal Liberal Party, was Chair of the local public school board at the time, and he made sure all public school kids had the afternoon off, in order to attend the rally. His argument in allowing and encouraging school children to attend a partisan political meeting during a weekday afternoon when they should have been in school was "When will a Prime Minister ever come to Weyburn again?" He had a point. As kids, we certainly appreciated the afternoon off, not really caring about the reason. As excited, screaming and youthful faces, we were props for the media who followed the election campaign. I don't recall the leaders of the other parties being provided the same aid from the Chair of the School Board when they came to town, but they weren't sitting Prime Ministers of course. Nor were they Liberals.

Our present-day election campaign, which isn't yet official, is certainly underway. The props are in place at every rally, the teleprompters and videographers ready. My flirtation with the Liberal Party is but a vague memory of my youth. Trudeaumania ended with the declaration of the War Measures Act in 1970, and if not then, certainly with the flip-flop on wage and price controls in 1975.

Like most campaign rallies of the past, this one was slightly slow in starting, yet just like my introduction to the campaign rally in 1968, the people present on this night were patient. There was a buzz in the crowd; they came to see Tom Mulcair, and there was an expectation of something special happening tonight.

After a brief warm-up act featuring candidates Constance Barnes (Vancouver Centre) and Scott Andrews (Vancouver Quadra), we rose and looked, and looked for the man of the hour. Tom finally took the stage and after exclaiming his appreciation for the fantastic crowd, the teleprompters guided his speech.

Tom Mulcair is thoughtful, intelligent and passionate about his cause, and it shows.

On the face of it, there's not much charisma going on with Tom; there's that beard which might need a trim, and in spite of coming from the fashion capital of Canada, he's no fashion plate.  Yet, there is an appeal to this gentle man from Quebec who speaks flawless English and French, and switches effortlessly between our two languages.

At the end of his address, while We're All in this Together by Sam Roberts blared from the speakers, Tom entered the crowd and the real fun began.

A crowd of all ages surged around him as he slowly, very slowly indeed, made his way out of the hall. In fact: the leaving part probably took longer than the actual rally.

Everyone, young and old, seemed to want a photo with Tom, and in this age of social networking, his handlers made it easy, getting phones from people and taking the picture for them. All those photos, hundreds perhaps, will be shared and re-shared many times over, and the campaign builds.

It's an amazing difference from that campaign stop in 1968 when school kids were brought in to provide the backdrop for the national news. We still have backdrops in political gatherings, but today's campaign manager's real job is getting the message out through social media, and in building virtual excitement, quite possibly charisma, in the contemporary context.

And by that standard Tom Mulcair is building and driving excitement and charisma. Even Jeem had to have his photo taken with Tom. It won't be the last. It's going to be a long campaign.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015.

March 18, 2015

Something is truly broken in Israel

It was a surprising election outcome; the polls had suggested an end to the right wing lunacy that has plagued Israel for far too long. Instead we have another four years as Israel continues on its road to apartheid. 

Gideon Levy, writing the-day-after in Haaretz, offers a wonderful perspective. There's a reason this courageous journalist receives death threats.

The first conclusion that arose just minutes after the announcement of the exit polls was particularly discouraging: The nation must be replaced. Not another election for the country's leadership, but general elections to choose a new Israeli people – immediately. The country urgently needs that. It won’t be able to stand another term for Benjamin Netanyahu, who emerged last night as the man who will form the next government.
If after six years of nothing, if after six years of sowing fear and anxiety, hatred and despair, this is the nation's choice, then it is very ill indeed. If after everything that has been revealed in recent months, if after everything that has been written and said, if after all this, the Israeli phoenix succeeded in rising from the ashes and getting reelected, if after all this the Israeli people chose him to lead for another four years, something is truly broken, possibly beyond repair.

Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people and they deserve him. The results are indicative of the direction the country is headed: A significant proportion of Israelis has finally grown detached from reality. This is the result of years' worth of brainwashing and incitement. These Israelis voted for the man who will lead the United States to adopt harsh measures against Israel, for the man whom the world long ago grew sick of. They voted for the man who admitted to having duped half the world during his Bar-Ilan speech; now he has torn off his mask and disavowed those words once and for all. Israel said "yes" to the man who said "no" to a Palestinian state. Dear Likud voters, what the hell do you say "yes" to? Another 50 years of occupation and ostracism? Do you really believe in that?
On Tuesday the foundations were laid for the apartheid state that is to come. If Netanyahu succeeds in forming the next government in his spirit and image, then the two-state solution will finally be buried and the struggle over the character of a binational state will begin. If Netanyahu is the next prime minister, then Israel has not only divorced the peace process, but also the world. Piss off, dear world, we're on our own. Please don't interfere, we're asleep, the people are with Netanyahu. The Palestinians can warm the benches at the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Israel boycotters can swing into high gear and Gaza can wait for the next cruel attack by the Israeli army.
The battle for all these has yet to be officially decided. The next prime minister will be crowned by Moshe Kahlon and the heads of other small parties. At the time of this writing, Kahlon has yet to declare his intention. The ball is in these parties' court; they will decide if Netanyahu continues. Most of them despise him, but it's doubtful whether they will have the courage to turn their backs on the public. That will be their test. That will be the test of their courage and integrity. Moshe Kahlon and Aryeh Dery, do you truly believe Netanyahu is better than Isaac Herzog for the society and social welfare you purport to care for? Does the country's decent and courageous president, Reuven Rivlin, believe Netanyahu will be a better prime minister than Herzog? There is a lot resting on his shoulders now – but the fact that a figure like Netanyahu and a party like Likud succeeded in maintaining power as the country's leading faction already says a great deal.
Netanyahu is threatening to surpass David Ben-Gurion as Israel's longest running leader. He is already in second place, and yet it's hard to think of one significant achievement on his part. The list of damage he has done is long. But he is the nation's, or much of the nation's, chosen one. That choice must be respected, even if it makes it difficult to hope for a good outcome. The only consolation is that another Netanyahu term will prompt the world to act. That possibility is our only refuge.
By Gideon Levy. Published in Haaretz, March 18, 2015, under the title: Netanyahu deserves the Israeli people, and they deserve him

Photos courtesy of Haaretz.

March 17, 2015

Israeli occupiers go to the polls

Gideon Levy is an outspoken Israeli journalist who writes opinion pieces for Haaretz. Called "heroic" by some, a "propagandist" by others, his weekly columns often focus on the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. He has been writing for Haaretz since 1982.

This piece appeared in yesterday's Haaretz, on the eve of the Israeli election.

The masters (and mistresses) are off to vote Tuesday, in what Israel proudly (but falsely) calls a “celebration of democracy” in “the only democracy in the Middle East.”
With all the desire to gloat and boast – and there’s a lot to brag about – we should remain grounded in reality: We must realize that this celebration is limited to the masters (and mistresses) only, that it is democracy in appearance alone.
There’s no such thing as half pregnant, and there’s no such thing as half democracy, and what will take place here today is barely half democracy. The occupying people will go to the polls. On a good day, the occupied people can only dream about the polls. Their fate will be determined in their masters’ elections. Their masters will determine their future; they have no right to participate in that process. In the meantime, their prime minister is to all intents and purposes an Israeli general who determines most of their daily lives.
The real hole in the ozone of Israeli democracy is the ongoing lives of over four million people living under a brutal, violent rule, all the while having not even the slightest amount of participation or involvement. There is no other country in the world in which millions of its subjects are denied the right to vote – while that country is labeled a democracy, and not just any democracy, but the only (!) democracy in the region.
During the term of the Knesset that will be elected today, the 20th, Israel will mark the jubilee celebration of this state of affairs; in two years, the Israeli occupation will be 50 years old. The way it looks now, it’s safe to assume that even the Knesset after this one won’t be elected based on the votes of the occupied, nor will it feature representatives who come from among them. And it will still be called democracy.
Four million people, in the besieged Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank, can perhaps vote for their "community council," the Palestinian Authority, but they can’t participate in the real game, the one that seals their fate.
For decades, their fate has been determined much more in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv than it has in Ramallah or Gaza. Their freedom, livelihoods, health, education, lives and deaths are determined in a place in which they have no status or rights. Only a system of denial, oppression and surprisingly effective brainwashing can conceal this eternal fact. Indeed, Israel has managed to deceive itself and the rest of the world for 50 years: It is a democracy, and today it is celebrating yet again.
It’s true that Israel is a democracy vis-a-vis all its citizens, with particular privileges granted to the Jews among them. It’s true that Jews are offered liberal democracy complete with many impressive freedoms. But what is all of that worth, with a terrible darkness looming in Israel’s very backyard, there in the glow of its democracy. Not only is the government in Israel’s backyard undemocratic, it’s one of the cruelest tyrannies in our world.
Was the United States a democracy before the 15th Amendment to the Constitution in 1870, which gave blacks the right to vote? Were all the Western countries considered democracies before they started allowing women to vote, beginning in 1893 with New Zealand, and lasting until 1971 in Switzerland? Is democracy for whites only? Or men only? Or masters only? Does anyone consider those things democracy?
But Israel in 2015 considers itself a democracy while ruling over the lives of four million people who lack the right to vote.
How ironic it is that some of them probably labored in recent weeks printing ballots slips for their masters in the colonial printing houses in Karnei Shomron. How ironic that Israel considers itself a democracy and Election Day a celebration, while all this goes on. How ironic that my mentioning these facts is likely to be considered treasonous by some, in this one and only and wonderful democracy.
By Gideon Levy. Published March 16, 2015 in Haaretz.

March 15, 2015

Abolish Daylight Savings Time

A week ago we stumbled into Daylight Savings Time. Oh yes, it's nice to have a bit more light in the evenings, but really, do we still need to do this time change thing twice a year? It's dark in the morning now and it is difficult to get up, there are more traffic accidents reported on the radio, and many of us are just more tired than before.

Increasingly, states, provinces and countries are changing their minds about the spring ahead and fall back routine we've had since around the time of the first world war when Germany started this debacle in an effort to reduce energy consumption.

Oddly, many of us grew up believing that the practice of DST was adopted for farmers. Growing up in Saskatchewan, where the time never changes, I know that to be untrue. The agricultural community in Canada and the United States was actually the only organised lobby against DST. Something to do with cows being confused by the time change, or chickens or...

Areas that use daylight saving time are marked in blue. Those that have used it in the past but stopped are in orange, while those that have never used it are in red. (Paul Eggert/Wikipedia)

Daylight Savings Time found favour in many nations with the belief that lighter and brighter evenings would mean lower demand for electricity. Studies in the US and Australia would indicate otherwise. A National Bureau of Economic Research study showed that while electricity demand dropped, the increase in air-conditioning use in the US actually increased energy consumption. The same thing was found after Australia extended DST for the 2000 Sydney Olympics; gains made in one part of the day were more than offset by energy losses at other times.

The more dangerous aspect of changing our clocks is that it is hazardous to our health. Stanley Coren, sleep expert at the University of British Columbia, recently said, "We live in a society that is chronically sleep-deprived, and very bad things happen when chronic sleep deprivation is an issue. Spring daylight saving time is a period when people lose a little extra time. Looking at different types of accidents, we found a five to seven per cent increase in accident fatalities during the three days following spring daylight saving time." This is not good, especially as pedestrians and cyclists are often the victims.

In 2008, findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine showed that in Sweden, heart attack risk rose with every spring time change. A 2012 study by the University of Alabama found that the actual risk of heart attack rose by 10 percent on the Monday and Tuesday after moving the clocks ahead one hour. This is not good in a society with an aging population a health care system itself under financial attack.

There are studies at Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich, that show shifting a daylight hour from morning to evening only increases what is termed social jet lag; that a person's sleeping schedule is out of whack with optimal circadian sleep periods, making the person chronically tired. This is not good, and it's the way many of us now feel.

There are strong supporters of Daylight Savings Time and cash certainly rules the Excited States. For example, back in the 1980s when DST was expanded in North America, the golf industry estimated that an extra month of DST was worth between $200 to $400 million. During the same time the US barbecue industry suggested their increased profits were $150 million for that extra month. Those are 1980s dollars. True enough, outdoor activities for all demographics increase with the advent of extra sunlight in the evening, but that would happen anyway because of the naturally longer days of summer.

The way the world times itself is changing, and major trading nations like Japan and China have abandoned the practice of switching clocks back and forth twice a year. Argentina, Peru, Russia and many others have seen the light. It's time we abolished Daylight Savings Time too. We will all live a little longer, sleep much better, businesses will continue to function and summer will still be filled with long and glorious days.

Copyright 2015.

March 13, 2015

JJ Bean on Cambie

Finally. There's a coffee shop along Cambie, near the Park Theatre, Black Dog Video (one of Vancouver's few remaining video outlets, and probably the best) and the wonderful women's fashion boutique, Cocoon.

Surprisingly, no one, apart from a Starbucks on the corner of Cambie and 19th, has found a way to set up an independent espresso bar along this busy Canada Line corridor.

The new JJ Bean opened recently and is having its grand opening this weekend. Staff are friendly and efficient, and the coffees at this location are nicely done indeed. It is what you will find at other JJ Bean locations; some nice, rich flavours, adequate crema, and served appropriately with a glass of water and a spoon. Why other places can't get this coffee-serving-basic right is beyond me.

There is a recurring theme at JJ Bean stores of blond wood and this location is no exception. There are several long tables for the laptop and tablet people with suitable electrical outlets. The Wi-Fi must be adequate because everyone, apart from Sherry and Jeem, seemed to be on a screen of some sort.

A drawback, and it may be temporary, is the lack of outdoor seating. The large windows open onto the street, and are seemingly controlled by customers, at least on the day of our visit.

JJ Bean on Urbanspoon

A bonus on our day at JJ Bean on Cambie was seeing an old friend, or someone who reminds us of an old friend in Argentina, named Tommy.

Locally owned by the Neate family, JJ Bean, the company, aspires to ethical business operations, including the way it sources its coffee and rewards the farmers.

Last year JJ Bean contributed to a variety of causes, including $8000 to the not-for-profit Seeds of Hope Foundation in Guatemala which provides educational opportunities to women and children. Over $12,000 was donated to sponsor the education, and room and board of 10 girls in Kenya and Tanzania through the Canadian Harambee Education Society. The company also made donations to coffee growing co-ops in Guatemala and Peru to improve conditions for the workers and their families. Some time this spring, twelve JJ Bean staff will be building homes in Guatemala through Habitat for Humanity Canada. The company contributed $18,000 to the cause, and raised another $5,500 through customers donations. All that, and the bunch of donations it makes to local concerns, makes for an even better tasting coffee, wouldn't you agree?

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015.

March 11, 2015

Cherry Blossoms at Sunrise in Vancouver

It has been an early spring on the left coast.

The sun grows warmer each day and the return of daylight savings time signals the advance of spring and summer. Barbecues, beaches and late nights on the balcony.

These March mornings have been cold, with temperatures near freezing at sunrise. At that early hour the world is a quiet place; the air is still and the trees are full of light and colour and promise.

Vancouver's official Cherry Blossom Festival takes place beginning April 2nd. The real festival, nature's festival, is taking place right now.

Photos by Jim Murray. Copyright 2015.

March 10, 2015

Jeem goes to the Vancouver International Wine Festival

I've always wanted to attend the  Vancouver's Wine Festival, one of Canada's largest events of its kind, and this year it happened, as a gift to Sherry and Jeem. And so it happened that three of us journeyed downtown, by transit of course, on a fine early spring afternoon.

The festival started in 1979 as a smallish fund raising event for the Vancouver Playhouse Theatre Company. Then, it was a two day event held at Hycroft, the mansion owned by the Vancouver University Women's Club. In 1988 the venue changed to the Vancouver Convention Centre, where it has remained, and today its primary charitable partner is Bard on the Beach.

This is no longer a small two day event. It is a big deal indeed. Thousands of people attend throughout the ten days of the festival. Special event tickets are sold out months in advance.

There are people everywhere. Queues form for almost everything, oddly reminiscent of Expo 86.

The price of admission gets pours at tens and tens of wineries, and some complimentary snack foods too (much needed with all that wine), and with the wine pouring freely, so to speak, Jeem was soon into the whole experience. Or debacle.

The main focus of our afternoon was the wines of Australia, the feature nation of this year's festival. To help geographically-challenged Canadians, and visiting Americans, a large map is positioned clearly to indicate the country, with a special arrow to highlight its wonderful national capital: Canberra.

Australia has some wonderful wine regions and all seemed to be represented at the festival. Time did not permit a full and complete circuit of the entire nation however.

Have I mentioned the large crowd of Vancouverites eager to slosh their way through a Sunday afternoon?

And then there was Jeem to contend with.

At a certain stage, the tastings, at least for Jeem, became confusing. "What exactly am I trying now, and what was the one I just finished?" and  "Am I still in Oz or have we entered Argentina?" were constant questions.

Hmmm.... Who let this guy in?

A notable highlight for the three of us was the wonderful Mad Fish Sauvignon Blanc Semillon. From Burch Family Wines, to which Jeem visited a number of  years ago, this refreshing wine features abundant fruit flavours and a citrus richness. The wine comes from the Margaret River region of Western Australia, and priced under $20, it's a great value.

A  BC winery that impressed us, for their whites, was 8th Generation Vineyard from Summerland. The owners are originally from Germany and their wines have a European flair. Stefanie and Bernd Schales have a passion for their craft that was truly intoxicating. Stefanie is a 10th generation winegrower, while Bernd is an 8th generation winemaker. They are the first generation from their families to create wines in the New World and their winery is one to watch.

All too soon it seemed, though not before stops in the Okanagan, France and Argentina, it was time to leave. Time in fact to pick up a free transit pass for the journey home. And not a minute too soon given all the wine consumed.

Possibly too late for Jeem however. Can't take him anywhere.

Photos by Jim Murray. 
Copyright 2015.

Man-down image staged. Photo by Susan Dickson.
Jeem was not harmed in the making of this post.