Thursday, 13 November 2008

Posts of Wisdom # Infinity

You may laugh, if you wish.

Our lives are determined by where and how we were educated, and that follows all of us all along.

Love is easy. Maintaining it is not.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

"How to not get cancer"

Move away from the city.

Avoid resting laptops on your genitals.

Don't sleep in Park and Rides or bus terminals.

Beware of bluetooth devices attached to your skull.

Most importantly, avoid all physical contact with cancer patients because they're contagious.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Beheadings prove potent rib-ticklers

Talk of beheadings have been non-stop around dinner (or bar) tables for the past week. Do you know why? Because a man was beheaded senselessly on the lonesome roads of Isolation, Canada on a Greyhound bus by an (alleged) wack job psychotic.

Yes.

And journalists have been analyzing what the public's relentless fascination of the story means for humanity -- i.e., that we love the gory details (in case you weren't aware); that we still do have the ability to be shocked (in case you weren't aware); and that we (according to Globe and Mail journalist Judith Timson) crave for more information, all the while feeling shameful about "our prurience." Humans love sex and violence. In case you weren't aware..

What's most fascinating to me is all the sick laughter flying around these dinner tables about the atrocity. Every single one of my conversations invariably resorts to some shameful (yet hilarious!) quip on the matter. I won't reiterate any of these for the (very few) people who actually read this blog because I can't remember a single one.

But what it says about the human condition is that we (e.g., myself, my associates and therefore every single individual, including the newborn, on the planet, ) don't have the capacity to deal with horrific situations by being deadpan. There's some deep-rooted urge in humanity to turn darkness to light and this is no different. It seems like we need to laugh so we can make sense of a world that consistently rears it's disfigured underbelly. Laughter is how I and the people around me deal with anything bad that rests on a massive scale: alcoholism, Republicans, ugly babies and now random beheadings.

This doesn't mean we're being insensitive. Or maybe it does, I don't know. But I think it's important for all of us to deal with this kind of news the only way they know how. For many of us, that's to laugh. Ugliness is easier to accept that way. It's similar to seat-belt resistance in a car accident. It cushions the blow.

That's why AIDs is funny.

Because George Bernard Shaw once wrote: , "Life does not cease to be funny when someone dies, as it does not cease to be serious when people laugh." This quote is now bordering on cliche, but it's apt and I'm lazy.

I'm not actually lazy.

And I've just been informed that AIDs isn't funny. Neither are ugly babies.

Say, did you hear that one about the guy on the Greyhound?

Friday, 1 August 2008

Wedding Gift, pt.1

"Where's the wedding?"

"West 39th. Or something."

"Go get the invitation. Let me see it."

I shake my head, plopped myself between my folks on the couch.

"Come on! Do it, do it, do it!" pleaded my mother.

"Naw, I don't want to."

"You're boring."

"I'm too concerned that I have to get them a present. I have to give them like, what? $100?"

"No way! Bullshit. Give them, like, $25!" said my father.

Mother: "Nuh huh. One hundred. At least."

I sat there, staring at the tube, my folks bickering. I figured I'd ask my friends what they were going to give. It wouldn't matter anyway: I don't have $100. I'm broke right now -- so broke I shouldn't be hitting the bar this evening. 'Shouldn't' being the key word here...

Besides, it's not even like either the groom or the bride are good friends of mine. I mean, the groom's a s a buddy, I suppose. I've known him since high school...but it's not like we've had extensive heart to hearts late at night, revealing deep truths about ourselves over a six-pack and a late night Paul Newman flick. The price of a gift should be determined by how much time the two parties have spent together in the past year. Mack and I have spent, roughly, two hours together, and that's been in very large social settings.

Alas, this is not the way it is, and I refuse to get tangled in a Larry David moment.

Can you imagine? I buy a fancy card for $5.99 from Hallmark. Mack, the groom, opens it up and sees two crisp bills: one fiver and a twenty. He holds them between his thumb and middle finger, rubs them together and looks up at me with a cock eye. He holds them up for all in the wedding party to see and says: "Is this it?"

"Uh, uh, uh...."

And all my friends, acquaintances and potential lovers look at me in disgust for being such a poor sport and cheap bastard.

"It's his WEDDING day, you fuck head!" says the gorgeous 20-year-old I had been chatting up all night. She empties the triple gin and tonic, the one I had purchased for her only moments before, all over my chest --outlining my rippling pectorals.

"But, but, but --- I'm POOR! I've been TRAVELING for 7 months! I have no JOB!"

And they all proceed to BOOOOOOOOOOO me out of the reception hall.

Yes, I can see it now.

It looks as though I'm sending myself to the poorhouse over a wedding gift.

(to be continued...)

A conversation with rationality.

So many beautiful ladies. Too many. In every store, walking up every block I drag myself along. And driving in my truck, axel squeaking, I try to make eyes but they are focused, up ahead, at something or the other. Or she might look my way but that fucking axel is squealing like a baby choking on a chicken bone so she quickly averts her eyes.

“You blame your squeaking axel for women not noticing you?”

Sure.

“Did you ever consider they just didn’t notice you? Or, perhaps, there’s something else going on inside their head that they didn’t notice another face in a vast parade of faces in fast moving motor vehicles?”

You’re not helping.

“Well…”

Look at this face! How can anyone miss this?

“I see.”

*Silence.*

“Look, the women in this city are notoriously callous.”

Callous? I’d say snobby.

“Well, yeah, that too. They don’t seem to notice anybody. My girlfriend rarely looks me in the eye. I think it’s the nature of all people in Vancouver. Don’t take it personally. The people here are a bit more….secluded than the average Joe.”

Average Joe…

“I didn’t mean it like that, Joe….”

What kind of therapist are you, anyway?

“I’m not your therapist. I’m your friend.”

But you are a therapist. Do you talk to them like this?

“You pansy. I’m talking to you like this because you’re my friend. And I’m not depending on your money.”

That’s disgusting.


“It’s a joke. Look, I’ve known you for – what – 24 years? 24 years. Shit…but yeah. 24 years, Joe. We know each other pretty well and I can tell when you need a good kick in the ass. Now, you need a good kick in the ass. You’re just sitting down on it, getting nowhere and bent out of shape because you’re not doing anything. And you’re thinking about how you’re not getting anywhere instead of thinking about how to get somewhere. I can’t tell you what to do, only you can.”

Yeah…

“And you better fucking get on it because you’re depressing the rest of us.”

Thursday, 10 July 2008

On Love

My buddy has girlfriend troubles. He says she can be emotional and that's fine. Yes. But he's weary and last night he laid his thoughts on me, thoughts I won't share with you now. Not for privacy's sake. Not at all. I just can't remember 'em...

But we're driving down a lonely road late at night. Dylan's aching voice his pushing through the mesh stereo speakers: "Sometimes it gets so hard to care, it can't be like this everywhere, and I'm gonna let you pass..."

"Fitting song," I said.

Buddy wasn't aware. Nope. He said: "I tell her I love her, even though she knows..."

"She knows...what?"

"Well, I just don't like throwing that word around."

"You don't like..." I grunted. "No one likes to throw it around. Man! That word's not thrown around ENOUGH. Love's simple. And always is. All LOVE means is that I feel fondly for this person and they're changing something about my insides. That's it."

"I know, but--"

"No, no. I love you man. I have fond feelings for you and you have shaped my insides in some way. People should say that more--it might open a lot of heads. I love and him and her and them. The only difference between romantic love and everyday love is the sexual impulses. That desire. That trip is romance. Without that, it's just love. Most people have this Hollywood notion of love or romance or whatever and it's fucking everything up.

He was silent for a minute, smirking, taking the motor vehicle up a steady hill. Finally, he said: "You should write an article on that. It could go a long way to explaining why people are so shut off in this city, or in this part of the world. It makes a lot of sense."

"Yeah? Well maybe I will."

And so I did.
People can be so nice.

I went to McDonald's to buy a pop. I asked the manager lady: "How much is a small pop?"

She rang it up on the till, said: "One dollar, forty seven."

I opened my palm and scanned the measly change I was holding. One loonie. Lots of pennies. Not enough.

"Oh, never mind," I said and turned to walk away.

She stopped me though, said: "Don't worry about it. Just put the change in the donation box." So I did. And she gave me a small cup of delicious Coca-Cola.

And I wonder if I would have received the same treatment if I were ugly...

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Some randomness

It's been awhile. I'm not sure what I'm even saying here. It's more just a feeling I have throbbing somewhere inside. No thoughts, really. Haven't had much of those lately. My journal's been sitting at the bottom of my bag, collecting sand.

I don't know who this is for. No one seems to read this blog. But if there's anyone out there who does, who too feels vacant, well, 'you're not alone,' as they say. I'm around. Unfulfilled.

I've been away for six months. 4 of those were spent studying in England. The rest was spent traveling, whittling my time in foreign cities with amazing people who felt, for the most part, like they weren't fit for their homes. So they drifted about, living the world because that's all they--we--feel is necessary. To Live. It should be so simple. For short spurts of time, it can be. And it's happiness. And then real life resumes.

Yes. I'm filling in for vacation time at a local newspaper. They're hiring two reporter positions. I applied. I think I'm good at this work. But I can hear the editor calling people for interviews. I'm sitting in the back cubicle. There's no action over here. No one visits me. I get few calls. I'm not in the running. My chest swells and my eyes water a little but I've trained myself not to cry because there was a time when I felt that everything works out in the end. So why cry unless it's necessary? I trained myself not to cry before I realized that I have no idea if things "always work out in the end." I haven't seen the end. When the end does comes, I probably won't know if everything worked out because I won't be here to judge such a topic. All I know is that things go well and things go bad. And sometimes humans are happy and other times we are sad.

At this moment, I am sad. It is the first full emotion I have felt since I returned home. I will not deny myself this feeling, nor will I deny my happiness, nor my fear nor my depression. To deny any emotion is to deny our humanity. We have this range for a reason. The idea, as far as I can tell, is to live it and learn from it, to carry on with experience as some sort of evolutionary survival tactic.

I don't know what I'm doing. Ever. Just floating about and hoping for the best. Many of us do that. Maybe all of us.

Right now I'm typing so it sounds like I'm busy. But I'm not busy. I'm, 24 and wasting my time. People may not see it, but I am.

Sunday, 20 April 2008

Over 11,000 Richmond citizens say NO!! to Turning Point plan

The People vs. Turning Point




There was a sign on the door and it read: “Our children are not safe.” Some 800 people filed through those doors at Debeck Elementary in Richmond Dec. 1 of last year. Many of them were parents with children. As they all filed in, women handed out little stickers of a pink house in a circle with a line drawn through it like a non-smoking sign.

The rally was set up by the Caring Citizens of Richmond, a grassroots collective that banded together last May in opposition of Turning Point Recover Society’s proposed 32-bed residential recovery facility on Ash Street.

“We support this project but we ask them to maybe have it somewhere else,” said Vivian Hui, member of the Caring Citizens of Richmond.

Seven speakers that represented the neighbourhood’s various ethnic groups presented a variety of claims that such a facility would decrease property value in the neighbourhood, increase crime rates, pose a danger to the children, etc., all running up the fact that Turning Point is not welcome. There were no RCMP officers or addictions specialists at the meeting to clarify or verify any of their claims.

“These people have used all the wrong tactics to terrify people,” executive director of Turning Point Brenda Plant told the Straight at that meeting. “They’re already condemning us but they don’t really know what we do. All they know is that we provide services for drug addicts and people in recovery.”

“Our clients are not court ordered, they’re not criminals, they just have problems—just like everyone in this room has a problem,” she said.

“The so-called Caring Citizens of Richmond will tell you that it’s just numbers and it’s density,” said Michael Goehring, former president of the board of directors, “but everything else they say, in terms of their materials and their rhetoric, indicates there’s a discriminatory attitude towards people with addiction and substance abuse issues.”

Turning Point has offered residential recovery for addicts seeking treatment for 25 years in Vancouver and Richmond with no complaints or increased criminal activity. These claims supported by both the RCMP and Vancouver Police Department—although VPD spokesperson Jana McGuiness said tracking crime growth in areas with treatment facilities would be too difficult assess because “crime is everywhere.”

Turning Point might have the advantage of Bill 23 in B.C.’s legislature to help them out. As of April 9, the provincial health bill may require cities and towns to set aside space for services for people with addictions or mental disabilities. While the bill doesn't specifically mention the Turning Point proposal, it imposes a requirement on municipalities to ensure that people with addictions don't all have to leave town to get help.

Bill 23 states that the health minister can “require that a community planning process be undertaken to address the needs of the population within the community.” This has already been done at a municipal level in Richmond, through the 2001 Group Home Task Force recommendations. The Task Force states, among other things, that a neighbourhood consultation is necessary in the planning process. Turning Point held one the week before Caring Citizens held their rally, but none of the 390 people who attended seemed to take it too seriously—according to both Plant and Goehring, many of them showed up to argue the necessity for such a treatment facility in their neighbourhood.

In the meantime, there are currently 130 people on the waiting list for Turning Point in Richmond, many of them women with children. The nine beds at the society’s Odlin Road facility are for men only, leaving nothing for women and no supportive housing units for recovering addicts once they complete the program. Plant says many of these people end up seeking treatment in the Downtown Eastside or they fall back into their old addiction-supporting environments.

This is what makes the Ash Street proposal so unique: clients will have both levels of care on the same piece of land.

Richmond city staff are currently reviewing Turning Point’s application for 20 support recovery beds, 10 for men and 10 for women seeking recovery from substance abuse; one care-taker suite; and 11 self-contained affordable housing units—which Turning Point says are for clients who’ve already completed the program and need extra help with independent living and integrating back into society.

If the application is rejected, the province’s new legislation could open the door for the society to file a judicial-review application and obtain a court order forcing Richmond to reconsider such a decision.

Vancouver Coastal Health’s 2006 “Mental Health and Addictions Supportive Housing Framework,” states that supportive housing should be spread throughout the city to “support individuals to stay in their own communities and to avoid any over concentration in particular areas.”

Dr. Christian Rucker, an addictions specialist based out of Vancouver General Hospital who works with Turning Point patients once a week, says spreading treatment facilities around residential neighbourhoods could give addicts a chance to escape the cycle of addiction in areas like the DTES and Whalley in Surrey.

“The most important part of managing addiction is a social treatment of taking these people out of isolation and giving them a new life and reintegrating them meaningfully in society,” says Dr. Christian Rucker. “I see the recovery movement as incredibly important in that.”

“Turning Point works because we’re in community,” Plant says. “Addiction is a disease of shame and isolation and our job here is to reintegrate these people back into community. It’s not to further shame them by putting them out on a farm somewhere. They are members of the community and they have every right to be in their home community and to get the services that they need and want.”

Residential treatment, with its rigid structure and ongoing support, acts like a community within a community. Instead of a lifestyle revolving around addiction, facilities like Turning Point offer a lifestyle that revolves around people in recovery. It’s a dose of sobriety for many of the patients who come in mentally and spiritually exhausted and desperate for change. The facilities won’t allow a client who might put the staff at risk. In a way, the staff acts as watchdogs for the neighbourhood; if the staff is safe then so are the neighbours.

Turning Point’s model of treatment is just one type of treatment on a continuum of services for people with substance abuse problems. Vancouver council is currently focusing on supportive housing with a whole continuum for people with addictions and mental health issues to stabilize their lives and re-connect with the community. Vancouver’s drug policy coordinator Don McPherson says all 650 of Vancouver Coastal Health’s proposed supportive housing units will be spread throughout the city in every neighbourhood within the next 10 years.






Never mind treatment, the people need education

Ernie Mendoza’s speech was greeted with noisy cheers and applause on Dec. 1. He’s held in rather high regard amongst Richmond residents, it seems. The Caring Citizens of Richmond chair represents the some 12,000 people who oppose the Turning Point’s proposal. He’s been the most assertive and aggressive in his approach to fight the project, claiming that because Turning Point has never run a 32-bed facility, they’re setting the community up for calamity. He believes that such a facility will subvert the nature of the largely Chinese-and-family-oriented neighbourhood.

“A large institution like this does not fit in the community,” he says. “It is not compatible of the nature of the community.”
Richmond’s 2001 Group Home Task Force—which was formed after Turning Point opened its first facility on Odlin Road—recommends that a group home can house no more than 7-10 beds and must be located on a thoroughfare (meanwhile, same Task Force also suggests that a “negative impact on home values is unlikely”). In Mendoza’s opinion, the residents will oppose anything of that size, even if it were a 32-bed convent.

“It is not logical that, for example, if you were to take [an] area, and right in the middle of that area, you build a zoo. It doesn’t work. It is not logical. It is not useful. It does not fit into the area,” he says.

But many of the arguments that Mendoza and the Caring Citizens of Richmond are projecting are common with inadequate risk communication, according to UBC psychology professor Richard Mathias. The perception that they present is more a manifestation of prejudice than of risk, due in part to the stereotype of DTES drug addicts as “bad people.”

“This is a classic case of risk communication maybe not being carried out as well as it might on either side,” says Mathias.
He believes it’s the responsibility of the experts to provide the public with the necessary information and laying it out clearly to assure people that controversial projects won’t be to the detriment of the community. This is not being done as effectively as it could be, he says, even though research indicates that treatment facilities have very little negative impact on the surrounding communities.

“If we gave them a much better feel of how treatment and management of drug addiction actually works in these kinds of settings, maybe they would become more familiar with it. With familiarity comes less of this irrational type prejudice that seems to be occurring,” he says.

“If we don’t address those things, then we can’t expect to influence the perceptions of the people who are carrying out the many complaints.”

Vancouver Coastal Health’s 2006 “Mental Health and Addictions Supportive Housing Framework,” states that comprehensive community engagement and education is vital for the city to “move forward with the maximum understanding, support and involvement from those parties who may feel they will be impacted.”

But Mathias believes the responsibility of education shouldn’t be laid squarely on the shoulders of organizations like Turning Point. They typically don’t have the risk-management skills necessary to deal with the usual backlash of a subverted status quo. The information needs to be provided for the public by public officials—respected members of the community like the RCMP, the municipality and the health authority—who believe that controversial projects are beneficial to the greater good.
Instead, the “system” has let Turning Point take the lead on the project and has unwittingly instilled a fear within the community.

“It’s easy to rile up a crowd and get, you know, 500 people to come out by publishing a leaflet that says all these horrible things are going to happen to you and your neighbourhood if this facility gets built,” Don McPherson says.

Public education usually only happens once the hysteria gets worked up. The education then takes place under volatile conditions. But with the province now backing public consultations in regards to Bill 23 there may now be adequate resources available to stem many of the public’s fears immediately and address the concerns rationally.

“There should be more focus on how stigmatizing these kinds of health problems is not productive and is in fact counterproductive to them and communities being healthy communities,” McPherson says.

He believes media accounts of illegal drugs over the last hundred years have been largely responsible in creating a “lightening rod for people’s fears” when it comes to users of cocaine and heroin.

12,000 people have signed a petition against Turning Point based on these notions feeding the public’s fears. The Caring Citizen and their faceless cyber affiliate NIABY (Not In Anyone’s Backyard) are using of what Michael Goehring calls “guerilla tactics” ensure that many of those people sign without knowing the true facts of what Turning Point is all about.

Ernie Mendoza was the last to speak at the December meeting. He taunted Turning Point for their “lack of credentials” and their supposed inability to maintain a facility of the proposed size.

He told the crowd: “You represent an incredible collective energy that can move mountains!” and the crowd cheered.

He said: “However, if that mountain refuses to move, you can use your ultimate weapon of mass decision—your ballot, next November!” More whoops and hollers.

Michael Goehring, former chair of the Turning Point’s board of directors, stood at the side, shaking his head. At one point he said at a minimal volume: “Shame on you.”

To which someone in the audience cried back: “No, shame on you!”

And then Mendoza said: “Turning Point fails to demonstrate clear accountability and responsibility to clear the doubts of every citizen concerned about their plans. Ladies and gentlemen, today you have spoken. And you’ve given us an overwhelming decision—to turn down this proposal!”

Mendoza thrust his microphone in the air as the crowd whistled and booed. He stood there smiling. Sweating. Beaming. The crowd cheered for a minute before erupting into a thunderous chant of “No! No! No! No!” with percussive clapping and more screaming and they all streamed out of the auditorium. Their message was clear. Turning Point isn’t welcome.


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Reflection

This story isn’t as balanced as it should be. Truly objective journalism is a myth—or so says I—but I do try to offer both perspectives when I’m writing on topics of public debate.

I had trouble with doing it this time around. It was rather difficult to include the perspectives of the Caring Citizens of Richmond—the self-identified NIABY’s (Not in Anyone’s Back Yard)—because many of their arguments were based on opinion disguised in rhetoric centred on stereotypes rather than on the realities of drug-treatment. Their concerns for the safety of their children and their neighbourhood are absolutely valid, but from what I’ve witnessed talking to some of these people and being a resident of the neighbourhood, it’s been really difficult for me to take their scare-mongering seriously. And, thus, the article has a particular bent.

So, yeah, I live three doors down from the proposed site. My parents hate the idea. My brother has threatened to burn the facility down once construction gets under way. My sister and I (well, I, mostly) have instigated voluminous arguments at family dinners about whether a drug rehabilitation facility is necessary in our community. I absolutely believe that it is and I’d be more than happy to accommodate and welcome anybody with such an illness who is fighting to get better into my neighbourhood. My parents…well, they don’t like it so much.

And the discussions, er, arguments that are taking place within my home are reflective of the arguments taking place outside. It’s an important discussion for any community to have—where they stand on addiction, so we can all come to an understanding to what the status quo is—and I’m happy to have been a part of it.

Researching and writing this story has helped me understand my own position on where I stand with drug recovery, where it’s located and why it’s necessary. I enjoyed researching it. I met some very interesting people—addicts, former addicts, people who hate addicts, people who have the interests of society in mind but can’t seem to agree on what societies interests should be, and people who care only about themselves.

I wanted to write a story about the NIMBY people vs. the rehab people—a good vs. idiotic type of story. As I started investigating the issue and as the humanity if it all unfolded, I realized it wasn’t so black and white. There were good and bad people on both sides. Idiots inhabit every cranny of our fair society, as do the intelligent ones. It’s like anything, really—bad people are attracted to everything, so long as it can serve their selfish purpose. And I saw that in the Turning Point issue—selfish people on both sides.

But in the end, I wrote the best story I could in defense of Turning Point. Richmond, and the whole of Metro Vancouver, desperately needs more facilities. Turning Point is needed, as I see it, and I’m the one writing the story. There’s a lot at stake here, more than just a neighbourhood. Addiction is everywhere, in every neighbourhood, in and around Vancouver. It’s a sad reality and the people who propel misinformation with false stereotypes and scare-mongering aren’t solving the problem.



Supporting Material

Note: I started work on this story before I arrived in the UK, and many of my source materials, from newspapers and documents, were acquired while still in Canada.

Interviews:

1) Brenda Plant, executive director of Turning Point Recovery Facility, during a Dec. 1 rally held by the Caring Citizens of Richmond opposing Turning Point’s proposal. I also talked to her during a tour through Turning Point’s recovery facility on Odlin Road in Richmond later that month.

2) Michael Goehring, former chairman of Turning Point’s board of directors, in several interviews—one at the Dec. 1 rally, a second at a coffee shop in downtown Vancouver and a third during a tour of Turning Point’s two recovery facilities on W. 13 Ave. in Vancouver—all between December and January.

3) Ernie Mendoza, Caring Citizens for Richmond chair and president of Kumon Happy Learning Centre in Richmond, at his office at Kumon in January.

4) Vivian Hui, CCR member, at the Dec. 1 rally.

5) Bob Harrison, CCR member, at the Dec. 1 rally and several days later at Blenz Coffee in Richmond.

6) Dr. Bruce Alexander, Simon Fraser University professor and drug-treatment researcher, in a phone interview.

7) Jana McGuiness, Vancouver Police Department spokesperson, in a phone interview.

8) Nycki Basra, Richmond RCMP spokesperson, in a phone interview.

9) Linda Reid, Richmond East MLA, at her office in January.

10) Dr. Christian Rucker, addictions specialist, at an interview at Vancouver General Hospital in January, as well as a phone interview.

11) Dr. Richard Mathias, professor of psychology at University of British Columbia, in a phone interview.

12) Don McPherson, city of Vancouver drug policy coordinator, in a phone interview.

13) Vince Battistelli, Executive Director of Richmond Addiction Services and George Passmore, Director of Clinical Services, in a joint interview at the office in January.


Primary Source Material:

1) Bill 23 – 2008, Public Health Act, British Columbia Legislative Assembly
2) 2001 Richmond Group Home Task Force Recommendations
3) Vancouver Coastal Health’s 2006 “Mental Health and Addictions Supportive Housing Framework”
4) Numerous Richmond News and Richmond Review articles and letters to the editors. Some of these can be found in the Richmond News archives, if they’re working, at Canada.com/Richmond news (note: Canada.com has had some problems in the past with their archives.)
5) Turning Point’s facts and figures, applications for rezoning, distributed as a media kit by the society at the Dec. 1 rally.
6) Economic Benefits of Drug Treatment: A Critical Review of the Evidence For Policy Makers; Belenko, Steven; Patapis, Nicholas; French, Michael T.; for Treatment Research Institute, University of Pennsylvania.
7) BC Chamber of Commerce on Addiction
8) Turning Point’s Cost of Substance Abuse in B.C.
9) Letter to Richmond Mayor Malcom Brodie from Ernie Mendoza

Online sources/forums/websites:

1) niaby-richmond.com - /apps.niaby-richmond.com/Forum/message/index.cfm?topicGroupID=2478&topicID=2149&messageID=0&start=0&last=0
2) niaby.com
3) Turningpoint.com
4) http://www.richmond.ca/services/socialplan/housing/group/taskforce.htm

Note: for a city that’s supposedly wed-savvy, finding online forums and web sources for Vancouver addiction recovery was surprisingly difficult. Much of my research consisted of phone interviews and emails where sources provided me with documents I couldn’t find on the web.

Thursday, 6 March 2008

Fly, Moses, Fly!

A (great) headline: 'Thou shalt take drugs, Moses...' And then a sub-head: 'Religious visions "were hallucinations."'

The article detailed claims made by Israeli researcher Benny Shanon that Moses was under the influence of psychedelics when he saw visions of God in the burning bush. Moses may also have been tripping when he received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. Shanon theorizes that many of the stories in the Old Testament are actually recorded experiences with the drink Ayahuasca, a very powerful hallucinogen containing DMT. The Guardian reports he noticed that many of the descriptions in the Bible were very similar to encounters he had with the drink 15 years ago. Indeed, encountering the divine is a very common experience while under the influence of the drug, which is still used to this say by Amazonian shamanic tribes. The plant, Shanon says, is derived from roots and plants that grow in the Holy Land and the Sinai peninsula.

But anybody who's ever taken a psychedelic and/or has a single athiestic molecule in his/her body has probably considered this at least one, and not just about Moses. Alternative thinkers, hippie dreamers and 'atheists' in the eyes of many have claimed Jesus, too, may have been under the influence of some such substance. And Ezekial's flying wheel? That bastard was tripping.

This notion is not all that far-fetched a concept, though it is likely to offend a certain sector of the earth's population, i.e., dedicated scholars and narrow-minded zealots. But primative and ancient cultures have used mind-altering substances as an avenue for seeking the divine for thousands of years, looooong before the current perspective of drugs had become the norm. The roots and plants used to make Ayahuasca are found in the Holy Land and the Sinai Peninsula. 'Drugs' were a very different issue when Moses was rocking out: they were sacred rites for accessing hidden dimensions of consciousness inhabited by our spiritual superiors. It sounds a bit quacky, I know, but many of the world's religions are based on this primitive practice--including Hindu and the ancient drink Soma, all shamanic religions and quite possibly Judaism, according to Shanon. Substances like Ayahuasca and peyote, among other, have historically been used to access mystical portals in the psyche.

But message boards on hyper-Christian websites like BibleGateway.com have been dominated by angry posts by people who KNOW Moses was not a 'druggie' and that these 'athiests' should 'read the bible,' fueled by that backwards notion that all drugs are the devil's fruit. But wait, pious scholar! Check this Exodus ditty that God supposedly said to Moses:

34 Take fragrant drugs -- stacte, and onycha, and galbanum -- fragrant drugs and pure frankincense; in like proportions shall it be.

35 And thou shalt make it into incense, a perfume, after the work of the perfumer, salted, pure, holy.

36 And thou shalt beat [some] of it to powder, and put [some] of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy.

Sounds like some potent shizz to me, son...

To lump all drugs into the same basket is like comparing apples to McDonalds. There's no question that crystal meth and heroin are soul-suckers, obliterators of the spirit. Cocaine too. Take a walk down Vancouver's Downtown Eastside and you'll see. Bad news bears.

But there is little evidence to suggest that, say, LSD is all that harmful to the human body, beyond media reports of worst-case-scenarios and legislative fear-mongering at the peak of the 60s. But to those that are open to it, and who are brave enough, and who use it responsibly (to the extent that drug use can be 'responsible'), psychedelics or ethneogens or whatever you call them can be a rather beneficial experience. Even light trips will make the individual more aware of their relation to the cosmos, more sensitive to the life's little coincidences. These are spiritual encounters on a much lower level. A grazing of divinity's cheek.

Of course, all these substances play on the peaks and lulls of the human condition, so while they can be an exhilirating and positive experience, they can also be quite damaging too. All these drugs--psilocybin, LSD, mescaline, DMT, even cannabis and the list goes on--are a wildly unpredictable bunch. You never quite know what'll happen. Those horror stories you've heard are true but they are not the only stories.

But ANYWAY, most people today seeing God in burning bushes or in waterfalls or in the bellies of large mammals are either higher than heaven or crazy. Or both. Usually both. But prophets do still exist, usually in the form poets or artists. And, yes, artists and poets and all the other though- and culture-shifters and -makers have been using mind-altering substances all along, always and forever, to gain insight into the spiritual and the humane. Lennon was on drugs. Coleridge was on drugs. Shakespeare was on drugs. Moses...I wouldn't be suprised. If anything, it's more likely that he would have been high. He was a less evolved specimen. Think about it.

The fact that Planet Earth's three major belief systems have been predicated on the story of Moses and the mythologized version of who he was means the benefactors of these systems of thought--Muslim, Jewish and Christian--will dismiss Moses 'drug habits' without much consideration. But remember kids, their version of what's true is only theirs--it just happens to be one of the oldest, the most accessable and of the most influential.

Unfortunately, these religions regard drug use--ALL drug use--equally to rape or thievery. To find that over 3000 years of history was shaped by a particularly inspiring trip in the desert would mean that their current versions of what's what who's who are threaded with some serious bullshit. Islamic law would have to reconfigure. The US would have to revamp it's entire action plan. It would be the end of the world as we now know it.

Maybe this is the Apocalypse. Fly, Moses, fly!

The problem with British journalism

A front-page headline: 'Patrick Swayze Has 5 Weeks To Live!'

But then every other headline on the newspaper rack reads something different. He has cancer but he's not dying. He may die but he's well enought to work. It's offensive--ney, depraved--to scream the tragic details of someone's unfortunate circumstance in oversized block letters to garner readership--especially when the facts may not even be true.

The Globe and Mail, Canada's faithfully objective newspaper, simply states Swayze's 'battling pancreatic cancer,' with there's no speculation of when or if he'll die. Indeed, the Liverpool Daily Echo (who do practice the unfortunate British tradition of editorializing news stories) reports Swayze's publicist dismissed the 'five-week' claim.

Now, I don't give a fuck about Patrick Swayze beyond the fact that he's a human being like (presumably) you or I. I'm only using him as an example because it's the most recent in what I see as the problem with British journalism. Many (not all, but many, many) of these British papers routinely bend the truth, blatantly distort facts with no reservations of who they offend or how they affect anything, only sell more papers. The industry is so saturated with reading material in this country--most of it absolute garbage--that 'news' papers must resort to sensationlizing lies to swindle more readers. Who are these editors? Did they decide on journalism to add to the insurmountable idiocy of the Western world ? Or maybe the jading realities of the business corrupted their once idealistic spirits and they are now taking it out on the rest of us. Or (most likely) the bosses want more money.

Not all papers are like this but it's very telling when the Sun, the ultimate in tabloid schlock, is the country's #1 paper. On the other hand, it is quite endearing that several of these papers, Sun included, feature the perky bare breasts of young vixens on page 3 every issue. It's a fine way to start the day, let ME tell YOU. If only there were a way to feature tits and respectable journalism in one publication. The fact that it doesn't exist is Britain's biggest problem. Bar none.

Wednesday, 5 March 2008

While scribbling

I was scribbling in my notebook about Moses being stoned, high up on that mountaintop  on a train back from Liverpool. I stopped , put my pen down and the woman sitting across from me asked: "Are you writing a book?

"One day. But I'm a journalist for now."

"You're a bit young to be a journalist, aren't you?"

I shrugged, jotted something down.

"I dabbled myself, you know," she said, etching the air with her finger to illustrate what she meant. "It's nice to see something, to scribble it down."

I shrugged again. "It's more of a disease for me. But I'm writing a story about the Beatles for a paper back home, cramming as much Beatles tourism in a day as I can. It's a travel story."

She nodded, said: "I lived through the birth of the Beatles, you know. I wasn't actually there--I'm from Manchester, out that way--but I grew up with it. Grew up with them in the 60s. It was really quite exciting."

I love meeting these people, ex-hippie types, the nostalgic misfits of a time  my generation can only fathom through the music and photo stills and our imaginations. I smirked. "So you lived through the 60s?" She nodded. "How was that?"

She smiled, gazed out the window at the rolling green passing us by. She had the wrinkled, weathered face of a person who had, indeed, been there. She went there again, just for a moment. She came back and said: "It was alright, you know. People seem to think of it as quite daring but when you look back, it's not nearly as bad as what we have now, in Britain anyway. These people getting all drunk and beating each other up..."

"When you think about it, maybe all that LSD they were taking was better than all this booze they have now."

She nodded and gazed out the window again. "It was wonderful then. Really."

"I see then as the beginning of the world we have now. The catalyst for all this degeneracy, the bullshit" I said. I didn't realize I felt that way until it came out. And there it was. She nodded. She agreed with me.

"It'll come full circle again," she said. "It can't stay this way forever."

"Sure. It's going to happen sooner than later, I think. We can all feel it...building. Something's got to give. It's kind of scary when you think about it." I paused, said: "It could be better than what we have now."

"It better be, anyway," she said. She kept talking but I zoned out. The train was approaching Preston station and I gathered my belongings, bundled them in my lap.

I came back, listened to her say: "..I'm not a religious person by any means. I'm bit of everything..." I nodded. I zoned out again, I noticed the book she was reading. Cosmic Ordinance. My innards stirred. I felt something building, a climax of sorts. The train pulled up, stopped and I got up to leave. She remained seated, probably on her way to Blackpool.

And then she said: "...it's like Moses with the burning bush, up there on the mountain--"
I cut her off, said: "Do you have any idea what I was just writing about? Moses! I was writing about Moses, on the mountain!"

She smiled and her eyes twinkled up at me. She tapped her book with a finger, tapped her temple three times. "Good luck to you," she said.

"Yeah." I stumbled out to the platform, head stirring. I found the closest seat and started scribbling.

Monday, 3 March 2008

Burger King Nation

That'll be four-nineteen, the manager said.

You don't do onion rings here, do you?

A side of onion rings?

I nodded.

That'll be five-nineteen, she said.

She held out her palm. The tattoo on her inner wrist said take.

I gave her my money.

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

A Party in Hell

 There's this French party, a party in hell, with hundreds of international kids speaking languages I can't understand. So I'm the Alien.

It's not an aggressive scene or even rowdy but it's loud and pushing through the narrow corridors in this fucking maze of a house—a slithering mass of inebriated students, smoking and drinking and spilling, from the back kitchen and smoke pit, through all these bodies lining the corridor and down the stairs, to the cellar-turned-electro-dancehall. Back and forth, back and forth we go.

The dancehall—dark and sweaty and low ceilings and pillars standing in the way like catatonia and I move my hips and beat my fist on the ceiling to the pulse, the restless rhythm with all the beautiful Spanish. And one, maybe French, pure erotic, the way she sways through her world and twirls around mine and his and hers, pure electric sex ‘n’ slender eyes ‘n’ long legs ‘n’ body ‘n’ hair black as the corner of the cavern and mmmmmmmmmmm

I move on upstairs with another round of exiles, always another end to the mass moving through the mob. Pushing through the smoke, the clanging bottles and all these accents and languages. Get caught up with someone I know along the way. And again. And again. And George the Canadian clangs my bottle, said: “Y’know, if a fire broke out no one would make it alive.” My God! No windows! Two exits! So I move to the back, to the kitchen, across to the smoke pit just for some air. Yet pure oxygen is hard to come by  with the billowing of carcinogenic clouds proliferating about and above the brick walls. Up, towards the row of apartments with lamp -light beaming through closed blinds. Patrick the Polish sees this, and in broken English, warns the pooolice arrh cahming but I brush it off because the English understand parties. Bless your soul, Patrick, but they’d never call the cops, forget it Patrick.

And I go back in to push and slither with the rest and try to talk, maybe converse, but no one understands because they’re French or German or whatever, it doesn’t matter, I’m the Alien. So I move on and on just to do it again because the pushing and the slithering is half the fun…

...until mid-journey and 3:30 am there are two lady officers in neon and silly hats, pigs sliding through the Spanish clogging the corridor. One asks me: “Whose house is this?” and she asks another, and another, and another but nobody knows, of course not! Who would? So the two pushed on, toward the stairs, all official and obtuse in their neon and the leader, the speaker, mumbles into her radio: “We’re in the party. We’re in the party.” She looks down the stairs at all these kids moving on up with matted hair and red eyes and that damned understanding that the neon’s arrived. An officer turns, asks no one in particular: “What’s down here?” “DANCING.” Of course!

The pigs move down and Michael the French—or maybe Spanish?—offers to show them someone who lives at the house. “But what’s the problem?” he asks. “The problem is I need to speak to the owner.” And someone yells “Fuck the police!” like someone always, always will in times like these and when every around goes sssshhhhhhhhhhhhh, shut the fuck up, shut UP! we have no one to thank but NWA.

And before very long I’m outside and eight other cops, men in their hats, are managing the party as it’s spilling outside. And back in, through the corridor, a tall one, a proper pig, is yelling: “Everybody out! Everybody out!” and maybe thinking exactly what I was thinking, maybe, that what a fire hazard this party had become! A windowless maze with cigarette ash mashed into the carpet, burns on the walls, smoke filling all empty space not occupied by human bodies. If ever a fire broke out…

“Everybody out!" 

And so here we are, hundreds out front, an international loitering mess chattering away in all these languages while the pigs search the house for drugs. We’ll all be charged if they find anything illegal, or so says Vlad the Russian. It's nonsense, of course, but I leave anyway before the house has been hollowed. I leave with some Estonians.

Map Assignment

This is a map for an assignment. Yah huh.


View Larger Map

Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Submarine of Love

A friend said he hates the Beatles. I asked why and he sang: “We all live in a yellow submarine.”

And then he said: “What rubbish.”

It's his problem, not mine. I’ve met a few of these nescient buggers and they typically reference “Yellow Submarine” as a testament to the Beatles’ alleged overrated legacy. I argued with my dear friend. I got flustered, red in the face. I questioned how I could be friends with this man to begin with. What a shame! that the Beatles should be remembered for that song by so many of the uninitiated, the world over. Of all the wit and insight and infectious melodies the Beatles brought, of so many (so many!) songs, “Yellow Submarine” is the staple.

On the other hand, Revolver, the 1966 album on which "Yellow Submarine" was originally released, deserves to be remembered as the essential Beatles album. It was arguably their last display as a tight functioning unit, before egos and drugs and money got in the way of all that the love. Revolver was the album that funneled their past, swirled it in Tibeten philosophy and new heartbreak and LSD and a new social consciousness and spewed them forward into their future. I’ve memorized every chord, lyric, hidden sound in the sonic foray of that entire album and the only song I could never fully embrace was “Yellow Submarine.” It’s a silly, childish song…

...and it dawns on me, discussing with my friend, that this exactly why the song is a classic. It's silly! Childish! Juvenile whimsy is what made the Beatles so damned loveable to begin with. Watching those old black and white clips of their first visit to America is like seeing four kid brothers farting around with each with all who were watching. They were in a bubble all their own. Life at that time was like their own private joke.

They could be lyrically downbeat in those early days—remembering lost love, girlfriends being untrue or whatever—but “I’m Down” could have been a far more depressing affair if it weren’t for that potent youngster energy surging through the song. The Beatles had a way of making a broken heart sound so gleeful. They didn’t just write songs, they played with them and “Yellow Submarine” was the apex of that. They were stoned and probably quite giddy when it was written. They had the world hanging by locks of flowing dippy hair in 1966 and they crafted a 2:38 minutes of aural juvenility with which the whole world could sing along.

But the song isn’t representative of the Beatles’ catalogue as a whole. To base one’s attitude of any artist solely on one song or painting or poem is like writing off all ice cream because you don’t like bubblegum. Songs like “Taxman”, “Blackbird”, “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “A Day in the Life” are incomparable in their sound, in their depth. There’s a thematic and philosophical thread running through these songs and, like "Yellow Submarine," they're important nuggets in the group's oeuvre but they exist on different levels of the band's understanding of their primary subject: that is, love as a governing force. How it affects the human psyche. How it affects the whole of humanity and how we're all in this obnoxiously bright sea vessel of existence together. "All together now... "

This is part of what makes the Beatles so appealing to so many people in so many places. This must also be why certain souls can't latch so easily. Maybe they feel love is at a loss. Or childhood is a pain. Or fun is strictly for weekends. Whayever. If they don't want in on the Yellow Submarine that’s their problem. Not mine.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

The Warehouse

a)

I felt England this weekend at the Warehouse, Preston’s three-floor testament to alternative culture. It’s a dog’s fart compared to the London scene but that city’s imprint is still undeniable in the North, especially with regards to the hair.

The Hair. Cut to look shaggy but combed and styled to perfection. A man’s hair should never be combed—nature should have its way with his scalp, show the world the beasts we really are. Limited finger manipulation is acceptable and maybe a little product for the truly unfortunate. But these cool kids? With the super slim jeans? What the hell…?

The hipster elitists were there. They’re easy to spot. They want to be. They don’t dance. They sip drinks on the side. They have the Hair and a fine-tooth fashion sense. Expressionless faces. Some wear ties. Cardigans. Flannel. Middle Eastern scarves—the ones everyone wears, the kind I’m wearing now.

I’m no stranger to hipster snobbery—Vancouver is full of it. But back home the ‘cool kids’ model themselves after the British elite. They think it’s original but I know, the outsiders know, and surely the cool kids themselves know, on some level, it’s just hand-me-down chic they pass off as original. But Snooty Bohemian is what they are so they own it. I don’t blame them. Vancouver doesn’t have much that’s its own.

It’s different in the UK. England made this style. They arguably have one up on New York when it comes to fashion. There’s nothing self-conscious about these UK hipsters—they seem to believe they really are the Hot Shit. And maybe they are…to some regulating entity that dictates this kind of thing.

Maybe they feel they’re original or offbeat—and perhaps as individuals they are. But as a mass, they’re only drifting along the same shallow stream of culture like the rest of us. Whether they’re of a different school or class or culture or whatever doesn’t really matter—they’re just like everyone else in that they’re only interested in something. That really doesn’t mean much in terms of our humanity. What sets them apart is that their pretentiousness turns them into assholes in the eyes of everyone else looking in.

I should have been partying or dancing instead of gawking at these hip freaks in their leather jackets, thinking about all this. I was leaning against a wall and wishing I had hair like that.

I sipped my beer. I knew better than that, that proving oneself to the world can only be on our own terms, not on any based on any fashion or music or philosophy. Take from as many different ideas as possible, ideas that are of interest to the I. Not because someone else thinks highly of them but because they suit our individual selves. The foundations of Western culture is based on the individual and yet so many stick to what others have proposed. Fatten up on other ideas. Don’t feed purely off the junk of Pitchfork magazine…

b)

Then again, these people might not read Pitchfork, based on the music they’re dancing to. The ground floor, the busiest floor, spun British indie rock all night and (gasp!) it all sounded the same. Arctic Monkeys what?

I hate to say such a thing more than I hate Hate itself—and as a writer it’s a lazy way to describe anything—but there’s no other way to put it. Clich├ęs have their purpose. "All the music sounded more or less the same." College kids in cardigans and scarves bobbed along and guzzled beer. The women did something that I suppose resembled dancing but in a room full of white folks that never works out. Besides, the music wasn’t exactly danceable…

I’m not ragging on indie rock—whatever that means—or the merit of British music as a whole. This island has provided the templates for great music of all varieties. Radiohead are the King Biscuit in my books, never mind the Beatles or Bowie or British Sea Power.

But right now, there’s very little making its way across the Atlantic that can appeal to the North American taste. There’s desperation for change and a call for progress happening on that side—politically, socially, spiritually and, as a result, artistically. Musically. Leading ‘indie’ acts like Arcade Fire and Animal Collective sound nothing like their peers. There is a template for indie music, of course! whether it's North American, British or whatever, but there’s something progressive happening over there that I now realize to be unique to North America.

Most of what’s passing as indie in the UK is, on the surface at least, quirky riffage, youthful howling and college anthems. Entrails of the zeitgeist. Indie for indie’s sake. There’s a reason the Rascals are popular only in Britain.

This is more or less what I was thinking about watching drunks stumble and sway along the dance floor, sometime between midnight and 2 a.m. Some kid, Dominic Monaghan identical twin brother? kept bouncing along, snarling, shouting along to every word of every song. He was living it. What I r thought then couldn’t have made a difference—nor should have it. My opinions are only mine. Those words and those sounds, that night, were his youth and he was but one in a crowd loving and taking it all. None of my bitching about the scene or anti-social behaviour could ever change that.

I sucked at the bottle and danced to the best I could. A multi-coloured strobe light washed over the crowd, over my face and in my eyes so I ducked out, raised my hand in the air. Another song, “Hey Boys, Hey Girls”…as the lights danced on my hand, on my wrist, washed up my arm. And the beat, it pulsed and I danced and I think I lost my key that night but I didn’t care. I was living youth too that night. I was living England, tragic music and cardigans be damned.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Why so dense?

I can't understand Martin Buber. Not in my room, not in the library, not at Cafe Nero with these two nitwit, horse-faced wenches giggling every 25 seconds. Buber's writing doesn't appeal to my 21st century hunger for bullet paragraphs packed with information. I need it all laid out, fast and clear language. Things may have been different in the mid-20th century but, phooey! excuses are excuses. Why would anyone write in such an opaque language? Isn't the idea to appeal to the most people possible? The widest possible audience?

This has little to do with UK entertainment, I know, I know, except that a great many British writer have bewildered the dim with their long-winded prose. Say what you will about "Heart of Darkness," Conrad never cared about the masses. He had his audience, the snob. Intelligent writers should at least try to appeal to the idiot. They need the most help after all...

Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Missionary!

I have a mission, it seems, to write about entertainment. UK entertainment, to be exact. This is not my preference but my grades depend on it.

I know very little about this subject, beyond the rise of New Rave, the (supposed) superiority of the British version of 'The Office' and Sophie Howard's breasts.

SO! the blog will be more of a discussion and critique of British media as seen by a crusty young North American-cum-visitor as it relates to a crusty young North American-cum-visitor, and thus North America as a whole.

(I know this because God came to me some weeks ago in the form of a burning bush. I thought this strange because it was raining. I was not stoned. He told me my opinions are that of the whole of North America. I told him he must be stoned. He turned me to dust. I apologized. He returned me to human form and said, 'Be gone, young man!' And I was.)

The blog will be used not just to dissect UK media but UK culture as a whole, because media is nothing more than a reflection of a culture's desires, intelligence and history. As I said, I know very little of any of this. So this should be fun...

MY FIRST NOTE:

I can't escape Britney's twat. Slogging through UK entertainment blogs like the Guardian, Yahoo and Mr. Entertainment, I've noticed that over half (!) of all entertainment news in this country is brought from across the Atlantic. Britney needs a mental exam. Lohan's still on drugs. Paris...something, something. Hollywood's PR community is so muscular the whole WORLD can feel it flex.

I'm not sure why this suprises me right now. I've been over on this side before. I've walked through Piccadilly Circus and seen the Hollywood movie banners plastered across buildings and billboards with screaming lights. I've been picked through a Hello! magazine on more than one occaison to find all the pages filled with the same made-up faces I see day in and day out on my mother's coffee-table copies of People Magazine...save for the photo spread of the Beckhams...who now live in America.

I think it's sad, not for England's dwiddling celebrity power--or even the world's lack thereof. I'm sad because I desperately wanted to leave all this garbage back at home, across the pond. But no. There's Britney, in full resolution and crazy as ever.