COWSOn a trip a while back through Washington State, I stopped at a gas station to use the washroom. The paper towel dispenser displayed a warning in large red lettering: “MANAGEMENT NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR INJURIES SUSTAINED WHILE USING DISPENSER.”

I stood and pondered what sort of Cirque de Soleil performance with this wall-mounted unit could result in serious injury. Perhaps if I beavered away at the dispenser’s business end I’d have some part of my anatomy hanging by a thread, and a ticket for the Paper Towel Litigation Train…next stop, Compensation City!

Our neighbours to the south have some unique ideas about lethality and risk management. For example, in spite of the persistent media fascination with shark attacks, this species of fish has killed an average of 1 person per year off American coasts between 2001 and 2013, according the Center for Disease Control’s database.

Cows presented a relatively greater menace for the same time period, killing an average 20 Americans a year. That makes Bossy 20 times more lethal than Jaws, but there is no Discovery Channel Cow Week. In fact, cattle outpace all annual US deaths from bears, alligators, venomous snakes and spiders, put together.

Insects are even more dangerous. Stings from bees, wasps and hornets resulted in an average of 62 deaths a year in the US from 2001 to 2013, mostly from anaphylactic shock.

Just ahead of cows, right wing extremists have averaged 337 attacks in the decade after 9/11, resulting in a total of 254 fatalities, according to a study from the United States Military Academy’s Combating Terrorism Center. That works out to an average number of 23 deaths per year.
Using different definitions of political violence, International Security Program at the New America Foundation comes up with 39 annual fatalities from “non-jihadist” homegrown extremists and 26 fatalities from “jihadist” extremists.

This isn’t including deaths of unarmed black citizens from US police, the depressingly predictable result of racial profiling gone mad. The upshot is this: in post-9/11 America, right-wing extremists apparently killed more citizens than homegrown/foreign jihadists;  more if you include white law enforcement officers into the extremist mix.

We haven’t touched yet on the store-bought sleeper cells inside US homes. An astounding 43,000 consumers were injured and 349 killed (84 percent of the latter children) between 2000 and 2011, when TVs, furniture or appliances toppled over onto them. That’s an average of 32 deaths a year from household objects, according to a 2012 report from The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC).

“We know that low-cost anchoring devices are effective in preventing tip-over incidents,” CPSC Chairman Inez Tenenbaum told The Atlantic in 2012. “I urge parents to anchor their TVs, furniture and appliances and protect their children. It takes just a few minutes to do and it can save lives.”

It was always thus. The greatest risks to life and limb are invariably mundane and mostly domestic, as noted by travel writer Bill Bryson in his 1998 book, Notes from A Big Country. “Every year more than 40,000 Americans suffer injuries involving beds, mattresses or pillows…That is more people than live in greater Coventry… In the time it takes you to read this, four Americans will somehow manage to be wounded by their bedding,” the author observed.

Once you put upholstered chairs on wheels and add fossil fuels, all bets are off. In 2013, an astounding 32,719 people died from automobile accidents in the US, for an average of 89 deaths a day. This figure has consistently hovered in the eighties to nineties, year after year.

To sum up, sharks represent a laughable threat to American citizens, unlike cows, which beat out all combined fatalities from bears, alligators, venomous snakes and spiders. Islamic terrorists are just ahead of cows, but slightly behind right-wing terrorists. Home furniture and appliances kill within the terrorist range. But four-wheeled deathtraps are 67 times more fatal than all of the above added together.

Considering the stats above, architects of the so-called “war on terror” should be directing resources against bad drivers rather than jihadists, who present an existential threat somewhere between unanchored household objects and paper towel dispensers. Take note, Ottawa.

The Vancouver Courier, July 17



by Geoff Olson

Wildfires. A plebiscite flameout. Meanwhile, on the opposite coast of Canada, heated words about a war memorial planned for Green Cove in Cape Breton Highlands National Park.

In 2013, Parks Canada donated $100,000 to the private company backing the project. The centrepiece will be “Mother Canada”, a shroud-covered, 25-metre woman facing the Atlantic with her arms outstretched, beckoning soldiers lost at sea or killed in overseas conflicts. She is modelled after the much smaller, subtler figure at the Vimy Ridge memorial in France known as “Canada Bereft.”

The English lyrics to “O Canada” have supplied names to other parts of the complex: the “Commemorative Ring of True Patriot Love”, the “True North  Commemorative Square” and the “With Glowing Hearts National Sanctuary.” The memorial plan also includes a parking lot for 60 vehicles, a restaurant, souvenir shop, and an interpretive centre.

All that’s needed to complete this cringe-worthy kitsch is “The Stephen Harper Standing on Guard for Theocracy Museum of Creationism” with a diorama of apostles wrangling velociraptors by a tar pit.

Classing up the Cape Breton coast with a giant concrete dame is apparently the Trump-like brainchild of Tony Trigiani, CEO of the Toronto-based food packaging company Norstar. He and fellow privateers are seeking a total of $75 million in donations through The Never Forgotten National Memorial Foundation. (A lawyer for the organization recently trademarked the term ”Mother Canada,” presumably so no one else can make a buck sticking the phrase on a t-shirt.)

Cape Bretoners are divided on the ecological and economic impact of the project. There’s been little enthusiasm from the Canadian press, including the usually hawkish Globe and Mail, which recently editorialized that  “the bigger-is-better approach to art is best left to Stalinist tyrants, theme-park entrepreneurs and insecure municipalities hoping to waylay bored drive-by tourists.”

And needless to say, we already have combat-related monuments, cenotaphs, and plaques galore across the country, along with an annual holiday that commemorates Canadian soldiers who gave their lives in past wars.

Supporters include CBC silverback Peter Mansbridge, and retired Canadian Army General Lew Mackenzie, who dismisses the controversy over Parks Canada funding of the project as “irritating.”

“People should know that the fact is that was for the website,” Lewis says of the $100,000 Parks Canada funding.  “It has nothing to do with concrete or drills or anything else.” Okay then, so why is a federal department – one tasked with preserving ecologically sensitive areas – directing public funds to a website trumpeting a private infrastructure project in a national park? Are we believe that bureaucrats within Parks Canada chose to enter into a P3 to construct a controversial colossus on the Cape Breton coast without input from the PMO?

If you said yes to the last question, I have a bridge decorated with yoga mats to sell you.
“I really wonder if this is more about setting a precedent for future “non-ecological” private projects in national parks across the country,” writes an anonymous contributor to the CBC online comments section. “This precedent uses the ability of politically-appointed ministers to make politically motivated decisions that contravene accepted and recognized national parks policy in order to further the private goals of small groups of individuals.”

My crystal ball is cracked at the best of times, but a projected $75 million cost for the memorial could represent a small investment for insiders seeking to desensitize Canadians to private penetration of Canada’s national parks, up to and including resource extraction.

Perhaps “Mother Canada” is a corporate Trojan Horse, perhaps not. Either way, she’s a concrete-and-rebar combat fetish better suited to a reactionary regime ruled by an out-of-touch despot rather than…um…what I mean is, she’s not right for Canada. Take a look yourself: in renderings on the Never to Be Forgotten Memorial website, Mom Canuck looks like the spawn of a plastic rosary figure and Tony Stark’s frigate-sized 3D printer.

Given the persistent claims from Canadian vets about denied and delayed benefits from Veterans Affairs, the feds involvement in this militaristic megaproject seems bitterly ironic. In that respect, one thing rings true in the design of The Never to Be Forgotten National Memorial: the colossus stands with her back to the nation.

The Vancouver Courier, July 10


By Geoff Olson

“Two things are infinite, as far as we know – the universe and human stupidity. And I’m not so sure about first one.” This apocryphal quote from standup physicist Albert Einstein contains a grain of truth bigger than Ayers Rock. Hence the four recent news items below about stupid guy stuff.

1. B.C. conservation officials are investigating a video posted in June to Youtube by the B.C.-based group Wolftracker TV. A unidentified boater’s backside –  black swim shorts displaying a pasty-white, come-hither muffin top – is seen as he and his offscreen buddies pursue a moose across shallow water. The man then leaps off the motorboat’s deck onto the creature’s back and rides it for 15 seconds.

“I’ve never seen anything so awesome,” one of his buddies exclaims to laughter. Muffin man pumps his fist in the air before falling off the terrified moose.

Wildlife harassment has a long and distinguished history, from the elephant-straddling Hannibal to the crocodile-wrestling Steve Irwin. In some parts it’s considered as manly as SpikeTV and truck nuts. But unfortunately for the Darwin Award seeker in the Youtube video, it’s an offense in B.C. If he’s identified and charged, I’d like see his community service include a reenacted rodeo act with rutting male moose. On dry land. With ticket sales.

2. The June 17th mass killing of African American churchgoers in Charleston, North Carolina, elicited a jaw-dropping tweet the next day from NRA board member Charles L. Cotton. He blamed state senator and pastor Clemental Pinckney for smiting himself and others.

“Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue,” wrote Cotton.

There is nowhere to take this, comically speaking. I am dumbstruck by the absurdity/douchebaggery of the National Rifle Association, and aghast that Mr. Cotton walks freely, never to be wrapped in an ether-soaked Confederate flag coated with bacon grease, and dragged from a trawler off Cape Cod for an episode of Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

3. More than 500 aircraft in Canada were reportedly struck by laser pointers last year, occasionally blinding pilots. Eighty of the attacks were in BC; fifty-two at YVR. Air Canada Pilot Russ Bellman has testified how a laser pointer hit him the left eye on May 12, 2014, and then temporarily blinded his first officer.

Swords, shanks, rifles, bayonets, intercontinental ballistic missiles, laser pointers; what is it with guys and pointy things? (I think we can safely say males of varying age and cranial capacity are responsible for most of these incidents.) I knew a guy who liked to train a laser pointer on apartment walls across from his West End high-rise, just to see the occasional cat leap into view. And as a guy, I thought that was pretty cool.

Sales of these these devices should be tightly controlled, even if the NRA insists that “if laser pointers are banned, only cat-fancying Powerpoint users will have laser pointers.”

4. “Being sodomized is acceptable in Islam if the goal is to carry out jihad, according to a cleric on a new video,” reports The Toronto Sun.

Abu al-Dema al-Qasab informs terrorists-to-be how to carry out a successful suicide bombing mission by anally concealing explosives. “However, to undertake this jihadi approach you must agree to be sodomized for a while to widen your anus so it can hold the explosives,” the “cleric” says in the video.

This video was allegedly first aired on a Shia-based satellite television station, but its provenance is shaky. The background of al-Dema al-Qasab is “also unknown,” notes The Sun. No word on radicalized young males from Brixton to Brisbane going gaga for Mission Implantable, or if the mystery mullah has anything else to sell us – say, info on illegal centrifuge tubes or Flubber bound for Iran.

But my wandering mind returns to the motorboat muffin man. I envision him as angry and vengeful after western justice metes out a one-sided romantic encounter with a male moose. Would the sentence expand his horizons enough for radicalized membership in al-Qasab’s butt-blasting battalion? It’s the start of a fractured fairy tale that turns my frown upside-down.

The Vancouver Courier, July 3


by Geoff Olson

For Sale: Vancouver City Hall. Cash only, please. No Questions asked. Condition: fair

Vancouver–the Cayman Islands of Real Estate! ™

The Government of British Columbia Inc. (“BC Gov Inc.”) is a leading real estate agency and owner of boutique development-region Greater Vancouver™. As the least scrupulous real estate agency in North America, we have a proven record of helping our clients–the global elite–diversify their portfolios and realize above-average return on investment through unfettered real estate speculation.

– anonymously written item on Vancouver Craigslist

For some time, the media debate over Vancouver’s overheated real estate scene has resembled a seventies-era Sam Gross cartoon of three blind men examining an elephant.

“An elephant is like a rope,” says one holding the creature’s trunk. “An elephant is flat like a rug,” says another, feeling an ear. The third blind man squats behind the animal with his hands in a heap of droppings.“An elephant is soft and mushy,” he insists.

Only recently have local pundits felt the outlines of something truly elephantine in the local real estate market: foreign investment.

First there was the revelation that no official Canadian bodies track foreign investment in residential property, unlike other jurisdictions around the world. The cry is now for data. We must have more information to determine who’s buying what where! A worthy and necessary sentiment, if a little late in the game.

Yet a journalist who contributes to a newspaper on the opposite side of the world has supplied some figures pertinent to this issue. “Immigration data demonstrates that the influx of rich immigrants to Vancouver (80 per cent of them Chinese) is unmatched by any other city in the world, at least in terms of wealth-migration schemes that clearly define asset benchmarks,” notes Ian Young of The South China Morning Post.

Between 2005 and 2012, two federal programs, the now-defunct Immigrant Investor Program and the still-operative Quebec Immigrant Investor Program, allowed 45,000 millionaire migrants to arrive in Vancouver, Young observes. “Let’s put that in perspective. The entire United States only accepted 9,450 wealth migration applications in the same period under its famous EB-5 scheme, likely representing fewer than 30,000 individuals,” he writes.

Beijing is set to ease financial restrictions on the amount of money that can leave the country each year, which may amplify current trends in foreign wealth transfer to Vancouver.

91 per cent of Chinese Communist Central Committee members have relatives abroad, according to figures from the Chinese government itself. Canadian journalist Jonathan Manthorpe believes the elite and their families are pulling up stakes from Mainland China because of domestic environmental collapse and political instability. And why wouldn’t those with the means, motive, and moolah – from Beijing and beyond – target an ecological Oz where press and government alike have conducted public discussions about power and property in Braille?

Manthorpe notes the inhibiting influence of what he calls “the Komagata Maru syndrome,” the fear of being labelled a racist for singling out an ethnically identifiable group. For his part, Young argues the idea of foreign investors effecting Vancouver’s real estate market may technically be a myth, since “foreign” buyers often have “residency rights or dual citizenship in Canada, or are able to make their purchase via a suitably endowed proxy (ie: a spouse or child with residency).”

Yes, we certainly could use more data. We also need to have an adult conversation about affordability without bigotry, Ian Young observes. Because ultimately this isn’t about race, it’s about capital – massive amounts of it pouring in from outside Canada, which is distorting the local real estate market, compromising governance, and turning Vancouver’s much-vaunted “liveability” into a stand-up comic’s punchline.

And given the scale of the affordability problem, talk of taxing property flippers doesn’t even offer a band-aid solution. It’s more like a tongue depressor for a Millennial hemorrhage.

At BC Gov Inc., we believe that “Housing is for Hedge Funds,”™ not humans, and that “community” is merely a feel-good euphemism for “commodity.” By willfully neglecting our legal power to curb international real estate speculation in Vancouver, and by failing to prioritize Vancouver residents over international investors, we are actively pursuing our mandate to serve the global elite by “Selling out the Next Generation of British Columbians.”™
– from Vancouver Craigslist

The Vancouver Courier, June 24