Sunday, October 3, 2021

Go Their Own Way


It was a tough year for good old Wile E Coyote with 11 of his peers caught and killed in Stanley Park thanks to the mindless actions of Instagram followers who got caught up in yet another Instagram frenzy trying to get a selfie with a coyote. The coyotes have been living harmoniously in Stanley Park and the West End for a 100 years with each side keeping a respectful distance but all that changed this past summer. Instead of leaving the coyotes to go about their nocturnal activities such as taking out the trash and mowing peoples lawns in the West End before retreating to Stanley Park at dawn to digest and have a good sleep, some early morning residents thought it would be cute to entice these normally reticent animals with sweet meats and cat food in hopes of getting a photo.

The coyotes were only too happy to change up their diet of squirrels etc. in exchange for posing for a nice photo and the word quickly got out to others who came bearing packaged snacks and cookies. So far so good but, when regular people started showing up empty handed, the coyotes got a little confused. Not able to distinguish between walkers and joggers who think it's cute to feed wild animals and those who realize this is not a good thing, the coyotes started demanding a cut from anyone in the Park and giving those who didn't comply a little nip or worse.

By putting up signs the Parks Board tried to get people to stop feeding the coyotes and other creatures in the Park like raccoons, skunks, and grizzly bears who wanted in on the action, but of course nobody knows how to read anymore and the shakedowns on the trails and along the seawall continued.

The Parks Board then tried to convince people to stay away from the seawall and Stanley Park itself during the early morning hours and after dusk but nobody paid any attention to these suggestions either and the Parks Board was forced to then close everything from 7:00 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. and put signs and fencing around the entire Park.

Finally the Parks Board enlisted the help of some B.C. Conservation officers to trap and kill the remaining members of the Coyote Soprano gang of extortionists, and the Park was deemed safe to reopen 24/7 to all the Instagrammers who now had to content themselves with Canada Geese photos.

One can only imagine what all this fencing and signage cost and whether it was an over reaction, but you can be sure the Parks Board didn't care because they are fearless when it comes to wasting the taxpayers money. While all the coyote fuss was going on the Parks Board was also busy erecting permanent lane dividers throughout the roadways of Stanley Park to separate the cyclists from the motorists. Never mind these two groups have also lived in peaceful co-existence for over 100 years, the Parks Board has decided that, before motorists start feeding the cyclists and get them so habituated to handouts they start biting, it was time for some preventative action.

The fact that these dividers now closed off most of the pay parking and thus cut off one of the Parks Board's main sources of income made no difference. Neither did it matter that the restaurants that pay considerable rent to the Parks Board went out of business because, again, the Parks Board doesn't think about these things which are too capitalist in nature and of no interest to cyclists who prefer handouts from motorists rather than a decent meal.

Stanley Park may now be a little bit safer but it's also a lot less fun and you have to wonder if there wasn't a better way to have handled things, like throwing people in jail who feed the animals and cyclists, and otherwise leaving the Park alone. Next time the Parks Board has its hand out for money someone should bite it and, in the meantime, let everyone go their own way.

Sunday, September 5, 2021

Summertime Blues


As the Baby Boomer generation enters its final phase now that the first half are already on the retirement rolls, there were a few defining events this summer that offered a chance for us to reflect on our contribution to all the upheaval and our own mortality. The first of course were the massive wildfires. It has now been established beyond a doubt that our carbon consuming lifestyle has made the planet warmer and this of course has made it easy for fires to start. 

The second was the panicked withdrawal and evacuation of Afghanistan that all too clearly looked like a replay of the panicked withdrawal and evacuation of Vietnam. Once again a nation was left to suffer after years of destruction, betrayal, and chaos. False hopes have given way to corruption, persecution, and indescribable loss.

How has this happened? The Boomers were supposed to make the world a better place. We were going to eliminate injustice, stop the wars, and look after the planet. Hundreds of songs of love, peace, and happiness were written by our favourite musicians outlining the changes to come, and we sang along believing it would happen. Songs like Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology), Crystal Blue Persuasion, and Imagine defined our beliefs.

But the day to day struggle was a more powerful force than idealistic dreams and after college we all got married, settled down, and focused on our careers. We still listened to the music, sang the songs, and enjoyed reminiscing but time kept marching on as one by one our idols and their messages disappeared. It was the music makers, much more so than the politicians, who kept us grounded in time and place and, as they keep fading away, we begin to realize how fast we are aging.

In just the past 5 years alone we have lost David Bowie, Glenn Frey, Paul Kantner, Keith Emerson, Greg Lake, Leon Russell, Prince, Chuck Berry, Greg Allman, Glen Campbell, Walter Becker, Tom Petty, Marty Balin, Ric Ocasek, Ginger Baker, Spencer Davis, Little Richard, Neil Peart, Kenny Rogers, Eddie Van Halen, Bill Withers, Dusty Hill, Gerry Marsden, Phil Spector, B.J. Thomas, Mary Wilson, and this summer Charlie Watts.  

But there are a trio of boomers who are determined to take the singularly most impressive human achievement of all time, landing on the Moon, to a new level. Branson, Bezos, and Musk have been demonstrating impressive technological advancements in space travel over the summer in spite of all the world's problems and this may be the new frontier that lifts us out of our doldrums. We need this because we are all getting older, the world's problems aren't going away, and there just ain't no cure for the summertime blues.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Share The Land

In the painting by Kent Monkman entitled "The Scream" you can see it all with the R.C.M.P. seizing the children from their homes and handing them over to the priests and nuns while their mothers scream in anguish. How something like this could ever have been allowed to happen is only believable when you realize the high level of racism that exists in this country. No settler Canadian would have ever tolerated such an outrageous trampling of parental rights but it was okay to do this to the Indians.

After Canada was established in 1867 it created the Indian Act of 1876 which gave the federal government complete control over First Nations identity, political structures, governance, cultural practices and education. The government then used this power to try and assimilate First Nations people into mainstream society and terminate their cultural, social, economic, and political distinctiveness. The Act replaced hereditary chiefs with band councils, made it illegal to practice any Indian festival, dance, or ceremony including cultural activities such as the potlatch, powwows, and sundance, it was illegal for First Nations to hire lawyers or bring about land claims against the government, First Nations people could not vote, and a pass system was put in place to control their movements off the reserves.

The Act also provided the federal government with the obligation to provide an education for First Nations people so, in 1883, in partnership with the churches, they began setting up residential schools across the country, with attendance mandatory. The purpose of the schools was to remove the children from the influence of their own families and culture and assimilate them into the dominant Canadian settler culture in order to "kill the Indian in the child." As a result, their hair was cut off, they were forbidden to speak their own language, wear their traditional clothes or keep any Indian objects, they were given new Christian names, and the missionary staff spent a lot of time instilling Christian practices and ideas while denigrating their own spiritual traditions. 

The schools operated on a half day system where the students spent half a day in the classroom and the other half of the day at work helping run the school, with girls doing the domestic cooking, cleaning, sewing and laundry chores while the boys were involved in construction, general maintenance, and agricultural labour. As a result, the education they received was very sub-standard nor did they learn any useful vocational skills that could be applied to the job market when their schooling was completed. And while they were at school the children were often subjected to beatings, confinement, and sexual assault. Over 150,000 First Nations, Metis, and Inuit children were put through this system with the last school only closing in 1996.

But perhaps the worst thing of all was the way the children's health was so badly neglected. Underfed, overcrowded, and malnourished, all in the name of saving money, the children were vulnerable to tuberculosis, influenza, smallpox, measles, typhoid, diphtheria, pneumonia, and whooping cough. In spite of recommendations made by the government's own medical experts to improve the health and medical services of the schools the government and churches refused to make any changes, again because of cost, and, as a result, thousands of children died or committed suicide.

Even worse than the fact thousands of children died is that half of these deaths weren't even documented and the school graveyards are filled with nameless crosses. And who ever heard of a school having a graveyard in the first place? The incomplete record keeping didn't even track attendance or scholastic achievement never mind cause of death or the names of the poor unfortunate souls. And the reason the bodies were buried on the school grounds is because the government and churches didn't want to pay for the cost of sending the bodies back to the families.

It took some modern radar mapping technology to uncover the bodies of 215 children at one of these notorious schools, in spite of all the denials from officials who ignored what parents had been trying to tell them for years, and now we can only imagine how many other buried bodies there are across the more than 139 former residential school grounds in Canada. Finally the Canadian public is waking up to the injustices that have been inflicted on First Nations people over our own lifetimes and we are horrified and shamed. The secrecy, complicity, and duplicity of the churches and past governments of all parties must now end and serious restitution and reconciliation begin. 

Canada has enjoyed pointing the finger at other countries for their genocidal practices but now the world has seen what hypocrites we really are with the genocide of our own people. Our delay tactics in implementing the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), the court challenges the government is engaging in to deny adequate health coverage, housing, and compensation to First Nations people, and the ongoing boil water advisories on so many reserves illustrates the lack of meaningful actions behind our government's many self-serving announcements.  

It all started with our founding Prime Minister, John A. Macdonald, whose statues everywhere are now being painted red and/or getting toppled. The world is watching us now and our leaders need to know we are embarrassed and ashamed of being Canadian. We need to own up to the treaties we have already signed and start making meaningful progress on the ones still in negotiation. Most of all we need a dramatic reassessment of our relationship with the First Nations people that lets them know we are truly sorry for what we have done and that we are ready to move forward with real solutions for sharing the land.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Fish Global And Poach Local

This past month a pair of free divers off of Jericho Beach came upon some illegal crab traps and immediately contacted the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO). After dragging the ocean bottom for the next few days the DFO came up with more than 250 illegal traps that were all of commercial grade but without any identification or locator floats. Clearly a poaching operation where the poachers retrieve the traps at night using GPS coordinates and then sell the catch to unscrupulous or unsuspecting buyers.

Earlier in the year the DFO and Canadian Coast Guard seized another 337 illegal crab traps in Boundary Bay, part of an annual operation that has netted 1,000 illegal traps over the past few years. Both operations netted traps that were filled with female and undersized crabs and other fish that would otherwise have been sold. With this many illegal traps it's no wonder crab and other species are getting harder and harder to find and we aren't even talking about all the illegal fishing for cod, rockfish, halibut, and salmon that is going on under the nose of the DFO which doesn't have the manpower or budget to properly enforce regulations along the B.C. coastline.

But this local illegal fishing pales in comparison to what is going on in the rest of the world, and the biggest offender by far is China with its distant water fleet of over 17,000 boats. While technically doing most of its fishing in international waters, where these drag net trawlers are seriously overfishing, they have also been caught fishing within the restricted domestic zones of Korea, West Africa, and South America. The illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing index ranks China as the worst performing nation followed closely by Taiwan, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Russia and some African countries also make the top 10 list. The four worst areas in the world for IUU fishing are; the coast of West Africa where it makes up 40% of the catch, Western Pacific 34%, West Bering Sea 33%, and the Southwest Atlantic 32%.

One of the main contributing factors to overfishing is the ability of fishing boats to stay at sea continuously thanks to transshipment where fishing boats unload their catch to refrigerated cargo vessels which also keep them re-supplied with fuel and food. These reefer vessels then pull into ports with lax fishing regulations and unload their cargo. All of these boats mostly fly flags of convenience allowing them to pay low wages and making it difficult to enforce any safety standards or working conditions.

Working conditions couldn't be worse than the slavery on fishing boats operating out of Thailand that stay out at sea for years at a time. The hundreds of horrific stories of rescued fishermen and deckhands that have spent three or more years on board filthy ships working 16 hour days for free and being fed just enough to stay alive seem to belong to another era, but they are happening right now with kidnapped men from mostly Cambodia or Burma. All this to satisfy the world's demand for seafood.

The demand for seafood has led to over 60% of the world's fish stocks being fully fished and 33% of the world's fish stocks overfished. Without a serious reduction to allow stocks to rebuild experts estimate the world's fisheries will collapse by 2050. Meanwhile there are millions of tons of unwanted bycatch that are caught and discarded including an estimated 300,000 whales and dolphins that are killed each year.

And if that wasn't bad enough we have the cruel and wasteful habit of finning sharks to supply the Chinese with the main ingredient for shark fin soup. The trade in shark fins is now widely condemned and in most cases illegal but that didn't stop some local Vancouver importer who was recently fined $60,000.00 for bringing in 434 kg. of silky shark fins. The same type of importer who is probably quite happy to buy the crabs that have been caught by local poachers. 

Saturday, May 1, 2021

Space Race Round 2


In the 1960's the Space Race was all about a competition between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. to be the first to get to the Moon.  At first the Russians were in the lead with the first satellite (Sputnik) and the first manned space flight and orbit of Earth (Yuri Gagarin) the first space walk, the first soft lunar landing of an unmanned space craft, and the first lunar orbiter. But eventually, through the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs, the Americans came from behind with their superior technology and landed the first man (Neil Armstrong) on the moon on July 16, 1969.

While the Russians at that point gave up on putting men on the Moon they didn't give up on the next part of the Space Race which was establishing an orbiting space station. In April, 1971 Salyut 1 was launched and on April 23, 1971 a crew on Soyuz 10 became the first crew to dock with the first orbiting space station. The Salyut space station program would last until 1986 when it was replaced with the Mir space station the first modular space station and one that was assembled in orbit and lasted until 1996 when it started to lose its orbit.

On July 15, 1975 the original Space Race was over with the Russian Soyuz and American Apollo space craft docking together in space in an historic handshake marking the first cooperative international flight. This would eventually lead to the start of a collaborative space program that saw both Russian and American astronauts on board Russian Soyuz and American Space Shuttles to visit the Mir space station. On June 29, 1995 nearly 20 years later an American and Russian space craft were again docked together.

In 1998, after the end of the Mir space station, the first component of the International Space Station (ISS) was launched from Russia and on November 2, 2000 the first long-term residents arrived. Jointly operated by the space agencies of the U.S., Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada, the ISS is made up of many modules, components and labs and is serviced by a variety of space craft including the Russian Soyuz, and the private American SpaceX which replaced the Space Shuttles. Continuously occupied since its inception it maintains an orbit 400 km. above Earth and serves as a laboratory for all sorts of scientific research. But this international partnership may be all coming to an end by 2025 when Russia has said it will be leaving.

There's a new player now in the latest Space Race, which is all about setting up a manned base on the Moon and putting humans on Mars, and that is China. Not allowed to be part of the ISS, China has now launched its own Space Station (CSS) and Russia is a partner. A modular design that will see the core module go into space at the end of April followed by at least 10 more modules and crewed missions over the next year to complete construction by the end of 2022, the CSS will be the world's second fully functioning orbiting space station. It will also support the China Survey Telescope that will be launched afterwards and is expected to have 300X the Hubble Telescope's field of view.  

Perhaps one of the most impressive displays ever of robotic technology was last years Chang'e 5 lunar exploration mission where it was able to send a Lander to the Moon (after separating from a lunar Orbiter) equipped with a drill and scooping device, that gathered samples and put them in a container on the Ascender which then launched from the Moon and did a rendezvous with the Orbiter where it transferred the samples before falling back to the Moon's surface. The Orbiter then returned to Earth with the samples, only the third country to bring back samples from the Moon. A year earlier Chang'e 4 landed a lunar rover on the far side of the Moon and provided the world's first pictures of this part of the Moon's surface. The rover was able to transmit data back to Earth, despite the lack of radio frequencies on the far side, via a dedicated satellite sent earlier to orbit the moon. The landing and data transmission is considered a landmark achievement for human space exploration.

On July 23, 2020 the Chinese sent Tianwen 1, a solar powered robotic spacecraft consisting of an orbiter, lander, and the Zhurong rover, to Mars where it went into orbit around Mars on February 10, 2021. After checking for a suitable landing site it plans to land in May or June and, if the landing is successful, it will be the only country after the U.S. to deploy a rover on Mars. In addition to studying the geology and atmosphere and caching samples, one of the main objectives is to test the technologies required for returning Mars samples back to Earth in a similar way the Moon samples were obtained.

Meanwhile the U.S. rover Perseverance and its helicopter/drone Ingenuity are already on the Martian surface, having landed there on February 18, 2021. They will also be busy collecting samples for later retrieval, looking for past environments capable of supporting life, and testing oxygen production from the Martian atmosphere. The race is on to not only get to Mars, where three countries have now landed spacecraft, but to find a way of living there and getting back to Earth.

The secret will be finding a way to build a propellant plant and a base that is close to an underground water/ice deposit. This will allow for the production of liquid oxygen and methane rocket fuel made out of ice and the carbon dioxide rich atmosphere. This is the plan proposed by SpaceX which is testing its Starship for a planned Mars flight in 2024 using a spacecraft that in the meantime can be refueled in space.

In the meantime the U.S. is proceeding with its Artemis program that has the goal of returning humans to the Moon by 2024 (nearly 50 years since they last set foot there) and eventually setting up a more permanent presence. Until a lunar Gateway is built (that would serve as a mini space station orbiting the Moon providing communications and short term habitation) humans will be lifted into space onboard an Orion spacecraft which will then meet up with a SpaceX Starship HLS (human landing system) for getting back and forth to the Moon. 

While this second round of the space race may be between China and the U.S. what makes it a little different this time is the participation of private companies like SpaceX. Having demonstrated innovative ways addressing technological problems, they have saved massive amounts of money in the process and opened up new ways of looking at what is possible. Either in partnership with governments or on their own they may be the ones who eventually build the cities on the Moon and Mars.