by Geoff Olson

Tuesday, November 18, was a day of unintentional humour, courtesy of several media outlets incensed by a local environmental protest.

To recap, Houston-based energy giant Kinder Morgan has designs on Burnaby Mountain, and supposedly wants nothing more than to consummate its relationship with the igneous formation in a discreet, respectful way. Mainly by giving the conservation area a Brazilian and drilling two narrow, 250-metre-deep holes, without disturbances from placard-wielding voyeurs. There will be no kinky pipeline stuff –  at least not until the B.C. Court of Appeal decides on the constitutionality and applicability of Burnaby’s by-laws when it comes to dirty energy dalliances.

By the 18th, protesters were still blocking Kinder Morgan’s access to its geological love interest, in defiance of a court-ordered deadline that came into effect the previous Friday. Over at Sun News  – “Canada’s Home for Hard News and Straight Talk” –  commentator Ezra Levant was shocked and appalled by events out west. He commiserated with “Straight Talk contributor” Ada Slivinski about the RCMP’s five-day long failure to launch, lynch, or whatever.

“Ada, when your or I or any other severely normal people break the law, the cops ticket us, arrest us, whatever….why is there this special political exemption for a favoured group of radical activists?”

Slivinski noted the “shocking double standard,” and how her car would be ticketed in mere minutes if a parking meter expired in Toronto. When she asked RCMP on Burnaby Mountain about the best vantage point for filming mass arrests, and why they weren’t enforcing the injunction, one cop purportedly told her: “Big oil companies don’t tell us what to do.”

“So they’re purposefully defying the court order out of their own political motivations,” Slivinski exclaimed of the anarchical, oil-hating fuzz, who had failed to immediately rid the mountain of Gortex-wearing grannies and their tree-hugging enablers (arrests began Thursday morning).
The most telling part of this online Sun News exchange was the ad next to the video, reading “$1 TRILLION DOLLAR BOOMTOWN? A remote region you’ve never heard of may be about to become home to three natural resource booms.” An arrow points to the BC coast, near Moresby Island. “Industry giants like Shell, Chevron, and Exxon are already lining up to invest billions. But there’s still time to get in on the ground floor.”

The laugh-out-loud juxtaposition of hydrocarbon clickbait  with Levant’s demagoguery about  the “little fascist thugs” occupying Burnaby Mountain demolishes SunTV’s pretence to objectivity on this controversy, or any other where the advertising tail wags the editorial dog.

Not to be outdone by hyperbole out of Hogtown, The Province ran an unsigned editorial on November 18th edition bearing the headline, “Mountain mob don’t speak for rest of us.”Apparently the Burnaby Mountain protestors have an “almost unlimited capacity for hubris and hypocrisy,” the latter vice expressed in their consumption of fossil fuels: “pitching tents made from oil-based synthetic fabrics, arriving in vehicles powered by oil and using tools made from steel almost certainly forged with coal.”

Come now, faceless tabloid editor. You know as well as anyone else that the protestors’ main tool is collective action, forged in the fiery hell of Marxist-Leninist terror-tweeting.

In the palsied spirit of T. Herman Zweibel, the 146-year old Publisher Emeritus of The Onion, the anonymous scribe closes with “Police! Do your jobs!” This just after lecturing university teachers and students “that their high salaries and education can only be supplied by taxation on industry.”

Fine, let’s talk about that. The day after SunTV and The Province lost their shit, The Common Sense Canadian published an open letter to Prime Minister Christy Clark from Robyn Allan, NEB intervener and  former Senior Economist for B.C. Central Credit Union. The letter cites the results of Allan’s research “into Trans Mountain’s tax obligation and how that fundamentally impedes the Province’s ability to receive revenue.”

In promoting its Trans Mountain pipeline to US investors,  Kinder Morgan “boasts of cash tax refunds—two in the past five years,” writes Allan. “From 2009-2013 Trans Mountain’s combined federal and provincial Canadian corporate tax contribution averaged just $1.5 million per year.”

A puny $1.5 million per year. This suggests the joke is on you and me: the taxpaying rubes who fail to see our bottom line is a punchline to the traditional energy sector.

The Vancouver Courier, Nov. 28


By Geoff Olson

Last Tuesday  at 3 A.M., my partner and I awoke to a sound she described  as “boulders” rolling down the creek behind our house. We ventured outside the next morning to inspect the damage from the overnight rainstorm. The rumble wasn’t from boulders, but rather immense logs swept down the creek to the culvert at the end of our street, along with a splintered footbridge.

Within a few days a  municipal road crew arrived with a backhoe to clear away the mess.We escaped flooding, but homes on other blocks weren’t so lucky.

Cut to a few nights later. My wife awoke to what sounded to her like “an animal dying outside.”  It was me in the downstairs bathroom, driving the porcelain bus and feeling this is the way things end, from a barf to a whimper.

One thing I can say in defence of vomiting is that it feels so good when it stops. But on the whole, I  can’t recommend food poisoning. I haven’t spent that much time in the fetal position since the Sputnik era.

A West Coast rainstorm and undercooked eggs Benedict: not much in the way of existential threats, as far as the news cycle goes. But a reminder –  for me at least  – how the optimal living conditions for human beings fall within a very narrow spectrum.

Swollen creeks and spoiled food are nothing: approximately 99.9999999 percent of the universe will kill you dead if you are exposed to it for an instant (outer space is only five minutes straight up in your car, said astronomer Fred Hoyle). On a planet with a biosphere that’s the relative thickness of the skin of an apple, only “extromophile” organisms can survive the atmosphere’s upper reaches and the deep ocean’s thermal vents.

As a species, humans are weirdly defenceless generalists, born hairless, helpless,  and able to exploit niches only through wits alone. Ultimately, we can only take shelter in our mental constructions, whether they take the form of  bungalows, ballots, bylaws, or antiobiotics.

On a planet of extremes, we have our code of mutual aid to hold things together. When a creek breaches or a diner retches, the code kicks in. These laws and regulations are not built on the belief that my material success is conditional on your failure, but something quite different: my highest potential hinges on you thriving as well.  At minimum, a problem for enough hairless generalist apes becomes a problem for them all.

The eight-hour work day, child labour laws, food safety regulations: these were once only ideas in our hominid heads, that generations had to fight for – and sometimes die for – before they were enshrined into law.

Yet in the past three decades some clever apes been clawing back rules and regulations that benefit the many while advancing tricky new ones that enrich the few. And in some cases, ignoring law altogether, as in the militarized mania for “regime change” – with endless sequels –  in the Middle East.

According to UN estimates, there are over 50 million refugees in the world today, the highest number since the end of World War II. Most have resulted from the fatuous global wars on drugs, terror, and trade barriers. And here we sit snugly in a  continental fortress bracketed by two oceans, relatively free from austerity and uncertainty, while our leaders smugly lecture us about dire threats spawned by religious fanaticism, full stop.

We still have it pretty good on the west coast – sure, it rains a lot, but at least it’s not bullets. Others have taken note of the security and scenery, making the Lower Mainland a major berth for offshore investment. With all the credit washing in, the progressive green agenda of Vancouver’s reigning civic party has lost its shine, at least when it comes to infrastructure development. While Vision versus NPA isn’t quite Coke versus Pepsi, the corporate backing of both campaigns has already left a taste of snake-oil.

The local press is eager to remind us Vancouver is one of the best places on Earth to live, which is as much truthful as truthy. Unlike other spots on the globe, the political environment isn’t poison enough to do you in permanently. But it’s gone off enough to make you gag.

The Vancouver Courier, Nov. 14


standollBy Geoff Olson

Software makers used to drop“ easter eggs” into Macintosh programs – frivolous extra features for users to find. In a similar fashion, for over a decade filmmakers have been tucking surprises into a string of CGI-heavy superhero flicks.

You may have recognized Stan Lee in his brief cameos, including a hot dog vendor in the first X-Men, a security guard in The Hulk, and a redneck truck driver in Thor. In the Avengers he appears as a chess-playing man in a park who tells a TV interviewer he doesn’t believe superheroes are real.

Stan Lee is no actor – at least not in the professional sense. For decades he was Marvel Comics’ Manhattan-based chief editor and writer. Beginning in the early sixties, he and his bullpen of artists turned out a string of superheroes with problems more mundane than mythic.  Spiderman struggled with high school neurosis, billionaire Iron Man inventor Tony Stark had a heart condition, and The Fantastic Four’s Ben Grimm was a seething pile of self-hatred known as “The Thing”.

Hitting the zeitgeist like a bullseye, Lee found a young audience in the millions. Kids glommed onto his company’s mix of purple prose, imaginative artwork, and adolescent power fantasies.

For an introverted, underweight youngster living in an airbase town in Ontario, it was like something went off in my head – and my parents had the good sense not to discourage my choice of reading material. I learned about “antimatter” in the pages of The Fantastic Four, and first encountered Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem Ozymandias in The Avengers. Lee had me constantly running to a dictionary.

Unlike DC comics, Marvel chose to challenge its audience rather than condescend to it, expanding its readership into teen and adult territory.

“The comics page was a more personal and intimate interface than the cinema screen. It lacked the intimidating lustre of the movies, and the images could be slowed down, rewound, fast-forwarded and studied in detail,” noted author and comic writer Grant Morrison in his 2011 book, Supergods.  But the archetypal sweep of Lee’s story lines, with their dynamic rendering by Kirby and company, had to wait for the digital age to do them cinematic justice.

That’s where my adult ambivalence comes in. The simplistic struggle of good versus evil seemed right for 12-cent stories stamped onto 20 pages of cheap newsprint – “fiction suits” for boomer kids to safely explore the moral dimensions of life. But today? Perhaps it’s because Stan Lee’s output had such a huge impact on me as a kid, I unrealistically expected more from Hollywood than men in Day-Glo unitards clobbering evil-doers with foreign accents.

Needless to say, these wide-screen superhero sagas aren’t meant for the likes of me. They are engineered primarily for a 16-to-25-year old male demographic, with stripped-down dialogue that translates smoothly for the increasingly influential Chinese market.

The scripted action has more in common with first person shooter games than a subversive art form. While Stan Lee’s Silver Age stories challenged young readers to think outside the box, most big-budget superhero films entice consumers to vegetate inside the cineplex, with product as disposable as plastic 3D glasses.

Unlike the highly inventive Pixar films, with their “plums for moms” (jokes and references meant for adults), Marvel Studios seems content to hammer the audience into slack-jawed submission with special effects, and regurgitate its intellectual property in paint-by-numbers sequels. There are the imaginative exceptions from the Disney subsidiary, such as  Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But by and large, militarism fits in easily with the messianic themes; Hollywood filmmakers with Pentagon-approved scripts find access to billions of dollars worth of military equipment and personnel at little or no cost.

The arc of the Marvel universe from a psychedelic era cottage industry to a flag-waving entertainment Borg can’t all be laid at the doorstep of Stan Lee, however. That would be like blaming Saint Paul for megachurches or Christian rock. The retired Lee is now an icon rather than prime mover. So considering that I owe the man my early inspiration to write and draw, my favourite Marvel Studio moments are still the “easter eggs”-  the brief scenes where I recognize the affable, self-promoting New Yorker, still sharp as a tack at 91.

The Vancouver Courier, Nov. 21