Published: Asparagus (PDF) Summer/Fall 2019
April 30, 2020
Pandemic-induced shortages inspired our family to go paperless in the bathroom, and we’re not alone.
Three weeks into the coronavirus crisis, we were down to our last roll of toilet paper. My British-born wife Susan said, “We’re not going to see paper in the stores. Let’s buy a bidet.” I guess I must have made a face, because her next comment was, “You are so Canadian. Afraid to try anything new”…
Well, now I know better! I learned that “bidet“ is actually a generic term for a variety of devices. As well as standalone porcelain fixtures, it can be applied to: the high-tech Japanese toilet seats that not only wash but also dry you; plastic squirt bottles designed for the same purpose; and hand-held sprayers that attach to your toilet water supply. I also now know that a bidet is not a toilet at all, it’s only used for cleaning yourself. And I’ve learned that after using it you’ll be wet, in need of a handy towel or toilet paper.
(Note to commenters: This column has generated a significant amount of email and feedback. All comments are moderated. Climate science deniers will simply be deleted and blocked. Anyone rep[lying with “OK Boomer” will be asked for a 1000 words explaining how they came to that assessment.)
Last year was when the endless bush fires in Australia convinced me and my wife, Susan, that climate change was unstoppable. It’s also when we realized that we likely will avoid seeing the worst of the climate emergency.
At 64 and 74 years of age, my wife and I believe there’s a good chance that we’ll be gone before coastal cities are flooded, the ice caps have melted, and the planet descends into a “Mad Max” dystopia. We would like to think that this isn’t what the future has in store, but the intransigence of almost all governments to actually slow carbon emissions leaves little doubt that things are unlikely to turn around.
One of the things that age gives you is a sense of history, a feeling that you’ve seen patterns repeat and that you can see where things are heading in the near future. Over and over again, we’ve seen corporations and governments ignore the people they should protect in order to line their own pockets. What has changed now is that they’re sacrificing an entire planet instead of a town or a country. I would like to believe that the younger people marching with Greta Thunberg could change that, but honestly I can’t see it happening.
The Canadian content regulations established by the CRTC in 1971 played a major part in building our homegrown music industry. What would happen if we applied those principles to Canada’s news media sector?
In my hometown of Kelowna, B.C., in 1970, you bought your records at the Music Box store on Ellis Street. Each week you’d travel downtown to choose from the new 45s and albums that you’d heard on the local radio station. And while you were there you’d pick up the latest list of the top 30 records being played on Vancouver’s powerhouse station CKLG.
Looking at those old charts today, you’d be struck by one thing: aside from an occasional appearance by Anne Murray or the Guess Who, you would almost never see a Canadian artist in the Top 30. The charts were dominated by American and English musicians. The assumption at CKLG, and among its listeners, was that popular music came from those places, not from Canada.
Because there was little airplay for our musicians, there was also very little recording industry infrastructure in Canada. Becoming successful in music back then meant going to the U.S. to record, work and live. Today, by contrast, it’s hard to keep track of all of the Canadian artists who enjoy successful careers here and abroad. Everyone from Drake on down is able to record here and build a global profile without leaving the country. That wouldn’t have happened without Canadian content regulations.
“At 5:30 p.m. on a rainy Tuesday night, The Dispensary — one of Vancouver’s oldest grey market cannabis stores — is doing booming business. Dozens of people stop in to pick up cannabis flower, edibles, and other cannabis products. Not one of their customers seem concerned that the store isn’t licensed by the provincial government.”
The most amazing thing about our Christmas was that it even happened, and that it was a wonderful day year after year. My mother claimed that Christmas was “for the kids, not the adults” but the truth was that this was the one day of the year that she protected from my father’s interference. It is only years later that I realise just how hard that must have been.
My parents were married in 1952. They were both just 24 years of age, and my father had been widowed only six months earlier. His first wife had killed herself by walking in front of a train, leaving behind her husband and her infant child, my half-brother.
I do not know whether that trauma was the cause of my father’s psychosis, or whether her suicide was the result of something that had been with him throughout his life, but I do know that he was a desperately unhappy man. I grew up never knowing affection or approval, and my mother’s life was even bleaker.
This week the municipal council of the District of North Vancouver voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons in the District. Or, more specifically, they voted to prohibit the keeping of pigeons by one resident.
Even that wouldn’t have particularly bothered me, except that the homeowner in question, Kulwant Dulay, happens to live next to the sole person complaining to the District about his pigeons – District council member Betty Forbes.
CBC reports that Dulay says he’s lived in the District of North Vancouver for 25 years and, for most of them, he’s kept homing pigeons on his property in a coop in the backyard, without ruffling any feathers. Only when he moved in next to Forbes three years ago did this become a problem.
The biggest concern with this story has to be the way that the District and Forbes very explicitly didn’t name her as the complainant, or discuss why a new bylaw was needed to deal with her complaint. It seems that only when CBC filed an FOI request did the truth emerge. There’s now a suggestion that Forbes was in clear conflict of interest.
Perhaps ironically, the previous council actually brought in rules that allow people to keep chickens in their back yards.
Postscript: Justin McElroy has a great Twitter thread recounting this saga. Including this gem in the comments:
With the single exception of my 94-year-old mother, I don’t know a single person over the age of 65 who doesn’t have a smartphone, computer, or tablet, and usually all three.
I’m well past sixty, and have worked my way through punch cards, a C-64, many versions of Windows, Apple and Linux. I know at least a few people over seventy who have a programming background or who have spent a lot of time doing graphic design and computer music composition on various machines.
That’s why I’m always amazed to read comments like these:
“Amazon Echo has been particularly popular with the older generations, as it allows them to interact with technology and the Internet in a natural, personal way, rather than via a computer.”
Donald Trump’s trade war with China was in full swing when we left for China. Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou had been arrested at a Canadian airport, and two Canadians had been detained in China. By the time we left it was July and the Canadian government was warning us to “Exercise a high degree of caution in China due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws.”
The trip was wonderful, and we came away with a much greater understanding of China and the Chinese people, and with an appreciation for how little we knew about the history, culture and government of the country.
The most striking thing about living in what is undeniably a police state was the iron grip that government has on the news media. Since the average person in China isn’t likely to use a VPN to access foreign media, most people see and read only what the Communist party wants them to see and read.
… When we returned home, I was truly looking forward to returning to my regular media diet of Twitter, Facebook and our local newspapers. Instead, I was shocked to realize that the Canadian news landscape was far too much like the Chinese one we had just left behind. The only difference was that the control was by corporate interests instead of the government.
Unless you regularly travel by transit to Langara College or the Alliance Française, you’re forgiven for not recognising this as the 49th and Langara Skytrain station. This photo was taken from the west side of Cambie Street looking east on 49th Avenue.
And unless you’re standing in front and looking directly at the entrance, there’s no way to identify this as an essential part of urban infrastructure.
Surveillance and the police state excepted, the Chinese subway systems are in most ways superior to the Skytrain. This was demonstrated when I returned home and found a Chengdu mother and child at the YVR Skytrain station struggling to figure out how to get to Surrey and how much it would cost. Once I helped her get her tickets she rode with me to the Waterfront station, out one set of turnstiles, up an elevator and around a newspaper kiosk, into another set of turnstiles, then was pointed to the Expo line. After a fifteen hour flight that was far more complex than any traveller should have to deal with.
The Chinese government is still building and maintaining an impressive network of multi-lane freeways, highways, and flyovers — with regular toll plazas — to move large volumes of automobiles relatively efficiently, but the Chinese government has also tried to move the country (or at least the major cities) away from internal combustion engines.
As well as making lots of safe space for transit users, bikes, electric motorbikes, and pedestrians, the Chinese have done one other thing to improve the traffic mix in Chengdu and Beijing: they’ve made it really hard to own a car. Much like the licences and charges in London and Singapore, rules in China pretty much limit car use in the city to the very wealthy.
Admittedly, lots of things are easier in a one-party police state, but by the same token, that doesn’t necessarily make them bad ideas.
On many arterials in Chengdu, you’ll find a full traffic lane on each side of the road dedicated to bicycles and electric motorbikes. These lanes are protected by low barriers – good looking metal railings, not concrete Jersey barriers – that keep slower vehicles safe from automobile traffic.
Outside of the bike lanes are sidewalks that are wider still, encouraging pedestrian traffic, although they’re also used by bikes and e-motorbikes. Despite these interlopers (I don’t actually know what the local rules are) the sidewalks feel spacious and safe. Tactile paving is widely used as well.