A fail of two cities

Posted: November 15, 2013 in Humour
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george-vancouver-memorial

Capt. George Vancouver has two different cities within a four-hour drive of each other named after him.

It looks like Dana Larsen’s dream of legalizing marijuana is going up in smoke. With less than a month to go, the Sensible B.C. petition campaign is reportedly not even close to the number of signatures required for Elections B.C. to consider putting the question to a popular vote as it did two years ago with the anti-HST drive.

Team K&K thinks this is a drag, not only because we agree with the roughly three quarters of British Columbians who think spending millions of dollars each year prosecuting people who enjoy puffing on a plant is preposterous, but also because it’s always fun when the unwashed masses get to pretend we have an actual say in things.

Of course, Metro Vancouver dwellers will have a chance to weigh in on a different referendum question in the next civic election regarding increased TransLink funding. Lower Mainland mayors are furious about it because they see it as the Liberals simply squirming out of their responsibility to take care of the problem and, by putting a vaguely worded query about funding models to a mostly uninformed electorate, it will instead simply become a verdict on TransLink itself. Let’s face it, most people view its unelected board of directors as a cabal of ineffective bureaucrats with a bigger sense of entitlement than Pamela Wallin on her birthday. It’s not hard to imagine how suburbanites who’ve never had the experience of being jammed cheek-to-armpit into the 99B-line on a rainy day will vote when asked to give them even more of their tax dollars to improve public transit and help make Vancouver a truly world-class city.

You know who’s never going to be a world-class city though? Vancouver, Washington. The upcoming election could be a perfect opportunity to vote on formally asking the Americans  to change the name to something else. Sure, they named their own city Vancouver years before we did but it’s not like Washingtonians are kidding themselves they’re not a distant second on the world stage as they’ve openly debated reverting back to Fort Vancouver for years.

Other options they might want to consider are Granville (since we’re not using it any more), Vancover (given that American spellings usually drop the letter “u” anyway), Surrey (due to their being Portland’s less attractive, more crime-ridden neighbour across the river), or even Vansterdam (which makes more sense than us keeping the nickname given that their state government has already legalized pot).

(This post was first published in Kudos & Kvetches  © Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier)

Going out with a bang

Posted: October 30, 2013 in Humour
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For those who’ve put it off until the last minute, there’s still time to throw together a disappointing Halloween costume.

The ancient Celtic-based holiday, a day the veil between the world of the living and the dead is said to be the thinnest, is probably one of our most cherished because it offers something for everyone.

Children get to wear fancy costumes, break the usually non-negotiable taboo of accepting candy from strangers and then spend days getting high on high-fructose corn syrup. Young adults or those pretending to be have an opportunity to escape their mundane existences for at least one night of the year, embracing the whimsy of childhood innocence that never truly disappears, and don ridiculous and/or skimpy outfits, drink their faces off and potentially have weird sex with someone dressed as a zombie or a Smurf. Lonely seniors, meanwhile, get to have adorably dressed children visit them at their homes for a fraction of a second.

Plus there’s no need to purchase expensive presents, attend awkward family dinners or feign lapsed religious beliefs.

Of course, most grown-up Halloween enthusiasts already ventured out over the weekend into a costumed sea of Avengers, Heisenbergs, stale Internet memes and sexy Hannah Montanas because Oct. 31 falls on a Thursday this year. All Hallow’s Eve has essentially become All Hallow’s Week, a bit like how Boxing Day morphed into the discounted shopping frenzy now known as Boxing Week.

But while we can see the appeal of stretching out a holiday, we’ve never understood why it is considered OK to terrify pets, small children and/or jittery war vets with a week of sporadic explosions at all hours of the night.

While it’s true Vancouverites are known for their love of sparking up illicit substances in general, we’re not sure what’s up with this obsession with bright lights and loud noises. It’s just not as big a deal in other Canadian cities. The Chinese were the ones who first came up with the idea of blowing things up for fun centuries ago, so maybe it’s partly to do with the city’s considerable Asian population. Could be it’s exacerbated by Diwali, the five-day, fireworks-friendly Indian festival of light, which takes place around the same time. But you can’t buy or launch cherry bombs, M-80s or Roman candles in neighbouring Richmond or Surrey, which probably has something to do with the fact that around a dozen people die each year from fireworks and many more blow off important body parts.

According to Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services, fireworks can also cause more than half a million dollars of damage on a single clear night, but the city nonetheless remains one of the few in the Lower Mainland where people are cheerfully allowed to set off pyrotechnic devices cooked up in overseas factories with sketchy safety standards.

The fireworks fetish even goes all the way to the top. Despite city hall’s oft-trumpeted plan to make Vancouver the world’s greenest city, each year it encourages thousands of people to cart their trash into the West End and enjoy the visual splendor provided by countless kilos of aluminum arsenic, barium nitrate, lead dioxide, mercury, nitric oxide and more belching into the night sky. City council is also considering allowing fireworks permits for New Year’s Eve, Chinese New Year and Vaisakhi, although to be fair some of the explosions would at least probably be the colour green.

Vancouver wants to be the world's greenest city.

Vancouver wants to be the world’s greenest city.

While we hope the city’s love affair with sparkly noise pollution will someday fizzle, for now we have to accept that celebrating Halloween responsibly is simply another thing Vancouverites are collectively bad at. Like driving on snow, dealing with Stanley Cup final defeats or calmly discussing the pros and cons of adding bike lanes. Boom.

(This post was first published in Kudos & Kvetches  © Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier)

snowden

Two Vancouver independent filmmakers are working on a movie about the life of Edward Snowden, the 30-year-old former contractor for the National Security Agency currently hiding in Russia after leaking classified documents and exposing the American government’s secret mass surveillance program.

Jason Bourque and Travis Doering have already raised roughly half of the $1.7 million budget they need to make Classified: The Edward Snowden story via crowdsourcing and plan to release the film on the Pirate Bay, a controversial free peer-to-peer file sharing site, by next September.

“The concept, which I think is cool, is that it’s about Edward Snowden and freedom of information and we are going to be giving the movie away for free,” Bourque told the Courier in a recent phone interview.

He said that the anonymous element of using fundraising services like Bitcoin and Paypal makes it easier for people uneasy about the NSA potentially having a record of their support for the project to donate via their website.

Filmmakers Travis Doering (left) and Jason Bourque.

Filmmakers Travis Doering (left) and Jason Bourque.

Bourque added that, as independent filmmakers, they are probably in a better position to tell the fugitive whistle-blower’s story than for-profit film companies such as Leonardo DiCaprio’s Appian Way, said to be a front-runner in scoring the film rights from journalist Glenn Greenwald, who first broke the spying scandal for the Guardian newspaper earlier this year.

“As far as I know just from reading the trade magazines, they are sniffing around and are trying to wade through a legal minefield as to how to go about getting the legal rights,” said the 41-year-old director, best known for the Leo Award-winning documentary Shadow Company about private security contractors  operating in Iraq. “What is different for us is: one, we can move ahead far quicker than a studio and two, because we are licensing this through the Creative Commons license, it’s a whole different ballgame when it comes to legalities because we are not looking to make any money off it… Once you get into a studio [film] scenario, you are probably going to have upwards of a dozen producers, all of whom are going basically vying to justify their salaries. On top of that, you’ve got the advertisers. It’s huge and certainly the politics can become more skewed. ”

They also plan to post a record of all of their expenses for the sake of transparency, although for now project details are being kept top secret.

Doering, a 24-year-old professional computer hacker formerly affiliated with the activist group Anonymous, wrote the script on a laptop not connected to the Internet in order to keep his conversations with people who knew Snowden personally private.

The two also communicate with each other using encrypted emails.

Bourque added they hope to shoot the film entirely in Vancouver, although they may need to have a second film unit to serve as Hawaii, where Snowden was based when he leaked agency documents and fled the country.

Todd WilliamsonThey are also in negotiations with actor Kevin Zegers (The Colony, Transamerica) to potentially play Snowden.

© Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier

The Courier’s man in Pyongyang

Posted: October 15, 2013 in Travel
Tags: ,

chris-czerwinski

Western media outlets are rarely granted unfettered access to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The Vancouver Courier nonetheless recently managed to visit the secretive regime, although the newspaper wasn’t there to cover any major news stories regarding North Korea’s ballistic missile testing program, supreme leader Kim Jong-Un’s recent execution of an ex-girlfriend by firing squad or even the unlikely state visit by colourful former NBA star Dennis Rodman.

Instead, an Oakridge resident who works with the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) simply brought a copy of the paper along to pose with for our Exotic Courier section on a visit last year.

Chris Czerwinski, 58, spent several years helping to organize emergency food distribution to the remote north Asian country during a famine in the mid-’90s, but his visit last December marked the first time he’d actually stepped foot inside the so-called Hermit Kingdom. He said he was nonetheless given quite a bit of freedom to explore the country unaccompanied by government officials due to his humanitarian history.

“If you were to go as a normal Canadian, you would have a minder with you from the moment you leave the hotel,” said Czerwinski, “but I had a very enjoyable experience because the new deputy country director for the WFP was also new to the country, and every weekend we could travel quite freely around the country and visit all the monuments.”

Czerwinski brought his copy of the Courier to a number of North Korea’s main attractions, such as the massive Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, the 170-metre Juche Tower, a monument built to symbolize the national philosophy of self-reliance, and the tomb of Mao Anying, Chairman Mao’s son who was killed in action during the Korean War.

Although he didn’t get his photo taken with any of them, he also witnessed a few of Pyongyang’s famously robotic traffic cops in action.

korea“The traffic police are all women and they are all very tall and very beautiful and they have these blue uniforms and black high heel boots,” he explained. “Just go on the Internet and Google them and you will see all these videos that people have taken. It’s kind of a quirky fetish thing and there seems to be a very large following.”

Czerwinski’s career as an agronomist has brought him to a wide variety of different countries since graduating from UBC in 1979, including Egypt, Chechnya, Mali, China, Sudan and Madagascar, where he met his wife Rachelle. North Korea was truly unlike anywhere else he’d ever been.

“It’s like the people are all uniform,” he said. “I mean, they are polite and the ones who speak English seem nice but people don’t seem to have any individuality.”

He added that he also found it hard to tell if their legendary nationalistic fervour is genuine or expressed out of fear of their totalitarian government.

His visit coincided with the country’s launch of its first satellite into orbit, an act most countries condemned as a threat to global security because the technology is the same as that used with intercontinental ballistic missiles. Czerwinski, whose Vancouver home falls within potential missile range, watched the event unfold from a restaurant inside a diplomatic compound where the staff all spoke English.

“The waitresses were all standing in front of this big flatscreen TV that was showing this missile being fired off,” he said. “One of the more vocal ones said to us: ‘Aren’t you going to congratulate us?’ and we were like ‘what!’ It is so hard to tell if the devotion is real or feigned.”

Czerwinski’s trip wasn’t simply for pleasure, however, as he was also there on WFP business. Whatever their social or geopolitical problems, he said mass starvation is no longer a major concern for North Koreans.

“The project I helped to develop last December really only concerns pregnant or lactating women or children, not like it was back then when it was blanket, when we were feeding most of the country.”

© Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier

BlackBerry Down

Posted: August 17, 2013 in Humour
Tags: ,

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While using our company iPhone to peruse Twitter recently, we were saddened to learn about the dire financial straits former homegrown success story Research in Motion finds itself in these days. As the makers of the once-mighty BlackBerry, Canada’s flagship tech firm has fallen far from its original glory, not unlike an actual blackberry left unpicked and unloved withering in the hot August sun.

They may have taught the world how to type with their thumbs but fickle consumers are now thumbing their noses at BlackBerry for not keeping up with the times. The company recently announced it is now exploring “strategic alternatives” to avoid going belly-up. One possible solution to help stop the bleeding here at home could be to try shamelessly pandering to Canadian national pride like other major companies do. This is a country where a doughnut chain launched by a washed-up hockey player who died while drunk driving has managed to convince people that drinking mediocre coffee is practically a patriotic duty, and Team K&K has helpfully come up with a few marketing suggestions that might put BlackBerry back in the black:

Surrounding phones with a cardboard lining as part of a “Roll up the RIM to win” campaign similar to Tim Hortons where users would have a chance to win free apps, coupons or even shares in plummeting RIM stock.

Despite the vast limitations of its own product, Molson nonetheless cornered the Canadian beer market 10 years ago through its iconic I Am Canadian ads starring a random hoser named Joe who expressed his nationalistic fervour by pointing out some of the ways Canadians differ from our neighbours to the south. Nowadays Jeff Douglas, the actor who played him, is working as a co-host on CBC’s As It Happens and is probably still available for similar ads to show how BlackBerries aren’t like iPhones. For example: “I like to eat apples, not use Apple products, and it is pronounced Zed-10 not Zee-10. Zed-10! And let’s not forget that Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone right here in Canada, eh!”

RIM’s former co-CEO, Jim Balsillie, has been trying for years to purchase an NHL team and bring them to a Canadian market. If he was able to pursue this plan again, this should get plenty of consumers on board since buying a team isn’t likely to happen if the company goes bust. As an added incentive, it couldn’t hurt to remind Canadians just how much this would piss off Gary Bettman.

Gary Bettman: The man Canadians love to hate.

Gary Bettman: The man Canadians love to hate.

As a last resort, RIM might want to consider a bold rebranding since nobody really likes the taste of actual blackberries. They’re basically the black sheep of the Rubus berry family. We suggest giving the products a new, more Canadian name like SalmonBerry, ArcticBerry, ArcticBerry Fritter or even Barrie, Ontario.

(This post was first published in Kudos & Kvetches  © Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier)

signsThere’s no other street in Vancouver quite like Commercial Drive. There are, however, now dozens of streets in the surrounding area currently misidentified as “The Drive” after a recent marketing campaign by the Commercial Drive Business Society (CDBS) took a wrong turn.

Since many people refer to the iconic Grandview-Woodland strip simply as the Drive, the local business improvement association decided to order dozens of new signs that would add the term to existing Commercial Drive signage.

Newly installed CDBS executive director Jane McFadden said city workers then accidentally put some of them up on neighbouring streets when they were installed in June. She said many of the signs not on Commercial Drive itself will be removed but isn’t sure when.

“To be honest, I think the city is backed up,” said McFadden. “They are definitely taking them down in the surrounding area but they haven’t confirmed a date with us just because there are so many of them on holiday.”

Most new signs on the Drive itself feature a logo of the Italian flag while those on side streets do not.

McFadden, a former board member of the Yaletown BIA, wasn’t involved when the decision was made to install the signs and said she didn’t know how much they cost.

Jak King, co-founder of the Grandview Heritage Group, said he finds it difficult to believe city workers would install signs anywhere they weren’t told specifically to do so. He said he called 311, the city’s information line, after hearing dozens of complaints from local residents and ended up talking to Phil Wong, an engineer with the city’s traffic department.

“I certainly got the impression from him that there had been some long correspondence with the BIA, several years worth, about getting these signs up so I’m sure it wasn’t a mistake,” said King. “Its all very well and good for them to want to brand it, but their remit is only on the Drive, they don’t deal with anything east or west of the Drive. The city shouldn’t just go around doing these damn things without speaking to people like the GWAC [Grandview Woodland Area Council] and other local organizations that represent the residents.”

The Courier wasn’t able to speak with anyone from the city’s traffic operations department but, as the paper was being ready to be sent to press, received an email from a corporate communications staffer saying “crews are going to start taking the signs down in residential areas as soon as today and work with the staff they have available to complete the work over the next few weeks.”

The CDBS is one of 22 non-profit BIAs in Vancouver and funding for each is provided by the city as a grant which is recovered through a special  tax levy on light industrial and commercial properties. BIA boards’ annual budget requests require approval from their members at a general meeting before being submitted to city council. The CDBS received $435,343 in funding for 2013-14, a three per cent increase from the previous year.

driveEarlier this month, it launched a lawsuit against a Commercial Drive pharmacy for using the CDBS logo a circular brand that contains the words “Totally Drive certified” without permission. Its other recent initiatives include organizing the annual Italian Day Festival and sponsoring other cultural events, putting up fabric banner signs and converting the recently installed giant coffee cup sculpture in Grandview Park into a flower garden after residents complained it was becoming an unofficial garbage can and posed a danger to children.

© Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier

 

hippiesTwenty years after a bunch of crunchy granola types gathered on Vancouver Island to prevent local residents from clearcutting the virgin wilderness of Clayoquot Sound, Vancouver Island residents have prevented a bunch of crunchy granola types from accessing their virgin wilderness — even though this time they just wanted to hang out. Cue Elton John’s Circle of Life.
Plans for a Rainbow Gathering at Raft Cove Provincial Park, a remote surfing hotspot near Cape Scott, hit a road block after B.C. Parks rolled up the welcome mat and gave a hundred or so hippies the boot over the weekend.
The Rainbow Family of Living Light has held camps in off-the-grid locations around North America for more than 40 years that, for the uninitiated, are a bit like Burning Man for people with less disposable income and artistic ambitions. Or like Wreck Beach without the cops and lookie-loos.
The government stepped in after complaints from Islanders over a since-deleted Facebook page that indicated two thousand long-haired freaky people were planning to descend on the 787-hectare park and its two outhouses, although it’s common knowledge that only about 10 per cent of people who say they plan to attend something on Facebook end up doing so.
Three years ago, residents of the equally remote Vancouver Island enclave of Tahsis unsuccessfully filed a petition in the B.C. Supreme Court to stop a two-day summer music festival on the site of the town’s former lumber mill. The concert ended up losing money, quite possibly because potential visitors heard loud and clear they weren’t welcome. The event hasn’t been attempted since. At this rate, tourism businesses in the north end of the Island might want change their marketing slogan simply to: “Please just send us a cheque instead.”

(This post was first published in Kudos & Kvetches  © Copyright (c) Vancouver Courier)