Book reports from the DecafNation — 2016

Book reports from the DecafNation — 2016

On Jan. 1 every year, the DecafNation presents its annual collective Book Report. I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, this is the first time I’ve seen this Book Report.” You’re right, because the DecafNation didn’t exist on Jan. 1, 2016. But we plan to make this an annual tradition.

Thanks to everyone who took the time to share short reports of books they enjoyed reading during the past year. First off, submissions from some Facebook Friends.

Jackie Barrett Sharar
Capital Dames by Cokie Roberts — It’s a history of women (both sides) in DC before during and at the end of the Civil War. Illuminating.

Tony Hazarian
Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen — My teenage working-class hero explores his darkest moments and provides a ray of hope in what’s sure to be a very challenging period of American history. Master storyteller.

Sue Finnernon
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara — One of the best books I have ever read. The characterization is incredible.

Joe Ingoglia
I second this (A Little Life). Best book I’ve read in years. Very emotional. really appreciated how, over many years, it portrays love between four young men — sometimes platonic, sometime brotherly, sometimes romantic. It was difficult to read at times because of the raw emotionality of it, but ultimately rang very true for me. The relationships feel like actual relationships — with highs, lows, anger, sadness, joy and love.

Colleen Madden
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah — The less explored perspective of women during wartime (WWII occupied France). How easy it is to misunderstand motivation-your own, your family, your country. Sacrifice, enduring, love. Finding meaning and fully committing to that, in ways small and large, regardless of the possible cost.

Mike Leonard
A Dog’s Purpose by W. Bruce Cameron — As a dog lover with a new Lab puppy teaching me how to be her servant, I was drawn to this book. I am intrigued by the thought of a dog’s reincarnation.

Dave Kent
The Geography of Bliss by Eric Weiner — A thoughtful study of happiness defined by happy places around the world. Eric travels to all parts of the globe trying to understand what makes people happy. Educational, very fun writing and your left with your thoughts about … what creates an environment for bliss.

Linda Liestman
Empty Mansions: The Mysterious Life of Huguette Clark and the Spending of a Great American Fortune by Bill Dedman —  I am not usually drawn to books of this type. It was loaned to me for a post-Christmas vacation read last year, and I couldn’t put it down. I found every aspect of Huguette’s eccentricity and the amazing life of her wealthy wild-west father endlessly fascinating. I could say more, but do not want to spoil it for anyone.

SK Pepper
Dispatches from Pluto by Richard Grant — Grant is originally from U.K. and a travel writer. He buys a large farm home in the Mississippi Delta, sharing real stories about the folk there that seem unreal, and they are true. He captures the culture of this place so vividly.

Michael Colello
Danube by Claudio Magris –During the Cold War’s final years Magris followed the legendary river from its source in the Black Forest to its terminus at the Black Sea. Fusing reportage and personal recollections with musings on history, philosophy, and the arts, Magris’s account is an erudite and stunningly written portrait of Mitteleuropa. I found it wildly informative, professionally inspiring and packed with gorgeous prose. A gem.

Bill Burns
The Remnants by Robert Hill — For the last year of unending politics spiraling downward, it was comforting to find an enjoyable, easy-read novel about the lives of aging citizens of a dying town near Somewhere, USA.
Robert Hill’s prose rambles from hilarious to sly to clever, and then doubles back so it can dive right off into beautiful, heartsick, and poignant. A standout story with unbelievably effective prose. An enjoyable read.

Robert Martin
Being Mortal, Medicine and what matters in life by Atul Gawande — This book is written for both physician and patient. I wish I had read it when I was a 30-year-old physician. Gives some practical advice about how all of us should approach the end of our life.

And here’s a few more from other friends.

Ben Maynard
Half-Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life by Edward O. Wilson — The author believes the human race is on a path toward catastrophe, and probable extinction. But he’s an optimist, and proposes a solution to save our planet. There’s enough of the Earth’s natural ecosystem and biodiversity left to sustain  the planet and the modern lifestyle of humans. He suggests breaking the planet down into spheres, leaving areas such as the Amazon, the Pacific Northwest forests, Antarctica, the oceans etc. undisturbed in their natural state, while humans live in the remaining sphere and take a custodian role. Of course, (my comment) this will require some serious population controls.

Alison Brown
Girls and Sex by Peggy Orenstein — The struggle for women’s rights is not over, and may intensify during the Drumpf presidency. But this book goes deeper, suggesting that (American) people generally have no understanding of women’s sexuality. Technology, images and marketing present young women with new, perhaps greater challenges.

James Washington
A Rap on Race by James Baldwin and Margaret Mead — This is not a new book, but I reread most of it this year to recall all of its insights on race, immigration, gender and other questions that people think we’ve resolved, but remain just as troubling today.

And, finally, my contribution to this list.

A Voice in the Night by Andrea Camilleri — This is the 20th installment of the 91-year-old Italian author’s Inspector Montalbano series, but not the best. I chose this book, however, to alert others to this series of humorous and poignant mysteries by a little-known writer. Start at the beginning of the series with “The Shape of Water” to follow the threads that weave through the life of a mustachioed, short-tempered and food-obsessed police detective. I particularly enjoy the translator’s notes at the back of each book explaining the Italian nuances and references. There are four more Montalbano novels yet to be translated.

Pot report stumbles on medical access

Pot report stumbles on medical access

The federal task force on marijuana released a thorough report this week that proposes to end Canada’s 93-year prohibition on legal pot production and consumption. Its 80 recommendations touched on the important considerations and concerns for a well-regulated system, and appeared to borrow from the experience of some U.S. states that are several years ahead of us.

But the federal task force failed on one important point: the merger of the medical and recreational marijuana markets.

Former Liberal minister Anne McLellan’s task force devoted an entire chapter to the issue of medical access. It noted that the Canadian Medical Association and the Federation of Medical Regulatory Authorities of Canada do not believe that doctors should write prescriptions for access to marijuana. Their arguments are sound.

  • There’s no conclusive research or evidence about how or if marijuana provides therapeutic benefits. Nor is there any conclusive data about the risks of using marijuana for medicinal purposes.
  • Physicians don’t want to be responsible for prescribing marijuana in the absence of reliable evidence. We want doctors to know what they are prescribing and why.
  • There are already other approved cannabinoid-based medicines on the market.
  • Allowing the medical marijuana market to continue as a separate system might delay or undermine funding for the necessary standard clinical drug development research.

Yet the task force recommended that legalization legislation “maintain a separate medical access framework,” at least at the outset and to re-evaluate it’s necessity in five years.

Similarly, the Canadian federal task force heard strongly from municipalities and law enforcement that medical marijuana licenses have been routinely abused.

The task force should have reviewed the multi-year experiences of states south of the border and come to a different recommendation.

Colorado, the first U.S. state to legalize use of marijuana, merged its medical and recreation markets from the beginning. It simply converted medical marijuana retail outlets into recreational stores.

In the state of Washington, lawmakers fell under the spell of lobbyists for the medical marijuana industry and kept the two markets separate when it initially legalized pot sales for recreational use in 2013. But the state closed all medical marijuana stores in July of this year, merging the two markets.

People in both states using marijuana to manage pain and other medical purposes have better access to legitimate and regulated products as a result of merging the two markets.

It’s well known that unregulated medical marijuana sales across North America were really a cover for recreational consumption. It was a way around prohibition that everyone, from law enforcement to politicians, was willing to accept on a nudge-nudge, wink-wink basis.

In the state of Washington, experts estimated that more than 90 percent of cannabis sold for ostensibly medical purposes was in fact consumed recreationally.

Similarly, the Canadian federal task force heard strongly from municipalities and law enforcement that medical marijuana licenses have been routinely abused.

The report says that “These stakeholders relayed numerous examples of instances where licenses issued under (medical marijuana), notably those to designated producers, were effectively used as a cover for illegal production and diversion to the illicit market.

“We heard about the size and scale of some of these designated producer operations and instances where law enforcement encountered thousands of plants in residential properties. Representatives from municipalities told us about the challenges these grow operations pose to neighbours, landlords and communities because of fires, break-ins and rental properties rendered uninhabitable due to mould or other contaminants.”

If there is sufficient legitimate demand for the low-hallucinogenic, high-analgesic cannabis preferred by medical users, retail stores will provide it. And medical users will have the option of growing their own.

The Wild West medical marijuana market has served its purpose as a bridge to legalization. Now it’s not only unnecessary, but poses professional risks for doctors and public safety risks for law enforcement. It’s time for a new sheriff in town.

Readers: Comox fines too low for Garry Oak damages

Readers: Comox fines too low for Garry Oak damages

From time to time, we get letters from our readers. Here are two we received questioning how the Town of Comox dealt with a homeowner who damaged a number of protected Garry Oak trees.

Comox: The lowest tree vandalism fine on record in North America

Not a week goes by that Comox residents rightly express their outrage at Comox Council. They may also want to consider whether council’s fining of Dr. Bill Toews’ tree pruning was fair to the community. The issue is not if Toews is a nice person, but whether Comox Council’s decision met North American municipal standards.

Judge for yourselves. A short survey of similar recorded cases tells us otherwise:

2003 (Seattle, 3 trees) $30,000 (US) = $40,000 CDN
2006 ( Ajax Ontario, 100 trees) $50,000. (Mayor and Council wanted $535,000)
2007 (Glendale, California, 13 trees) $347,600 (US) = $417,120 (CDN)
2012 (Surrey BC, 39 trees) $175,000
2015 (Atlanta, 2 oaks) $11,400 (US) = $14,250.(CDN)
2016 – October – (Toronto, 40 trees) $155,000 plus charges pending under the Municipal Code and Provincial Offences Act seeking $100,000 per tree. (replant 200 trees).

The average fine per tree is $9,389.76. The median is $4,487.18 Comox Council’s $10,000 fine for illegal “pruning” of 22 trees, is actually only $3,800. The balance of $6,200 is tax-deductible development expenses. So, that’s either $426 or $172 per tree depending on whether the real fine is taken to be $10,000 or $3,800.

Either way, this makes it the lowest recorded fine in North America.

These rates are not driven by extreme environmentalism. Toronto’s aptly named Mayor John Tory, is a well-known Progressive Conservative, who supports responsible community standards. Toronto protects its greenways and heritage at $3,875 per tree. Laws and standards are not written to favour special interests and friends, but enforced to protect community interests.

As pointed out in the Comox Valley Echo, Toews received “a sympathetic hearing from council.” Indeed, he should have from councillors and a mayor who recently willfully destroyed national heritage at Baybrook, to favour an exclusive group, in spite of pleas from Heritage BC and The National Trust. Institutional vandalism can only passively encourage more vandalism. This same council now persists in seeking to evade its responsibilities as community trustees, and has seemingly set the lowest community environmental tree standards in North America.

I should add: Garry oaks have a 75 percent mortality rate. Someone who damages one tree should replant four. Toews should have planted 88 trees, not the recommended eight.

And, that’s why at least 800 Comox voters long to turn over this council. This council’s acts and words only bring disrespect to the institution.

Loys Maingon

Protected Garry Oaks?

Bill Toews is fortunate to live in Comox. The rest of us are not. Toews destroyed Garry Oaks in a ‘Special Development Permit Area’ without permission. In Comox, if you are part of “the set,” it is much easier to ask for forgiveness than permission. Toews was issued what amounts to a ‘back dated development permit’ and has to replace some of the trees he destroyed and have some others monitored, as determined by the Town’s favourite “fix-it consultants.” Hardly worth the time it took council to decide the matter. Toews looked contrite as he came to the ‘sympathetic’ council meeting and received the proverbial ‘tap’ on the wrist.

What else could I expect from a council that in July of this year included additional properties containing Garry Oaks into a Special Development Permit area and, at the very same meeting, granted permission to Councillor Maureen Swift to cut down a mature Maple tree on her property because it impeded the view on her lot. At the same time the national press was reporting that Duncan residents were vigorously protesting the destruction of a similar tree.

The Town of Comox pays lip service to the environment but they don’t really know the meaning of the word. In their assessment of the Toews’ property, let’s hope that they at least signed of’ for possible future sluffing of the hillside into the estuary, now that more ‘vital landscaping’ has been removed. By then they hope that people will have forgotten, and they will dismiss reality with their familiar (as used with the Mack Laing monies) mantra: “that was then, this is now.”

Judy Morrison

Will Comox ignore Heritage B.C. plea to save Shakesides?

Will Comox ignore Heritage B.C. plea to save Shakesides?

Let’s see if we understand this accurately:

  • An independent and nationally recognized heritage consulting firm issued a Statement of Significance regarding the former home of naturalist Mack Laing — known as “Shakesides.” They said the building is of national importance and that it should be saved for its historic value and for the enjoyment of future generations.
  • The chairman of Heritage B.C., (page 77, last page) a provincial agency committed to “conservation and tourism, economic and environmental sustainability, community pride and an appreciation of our common history,” believes the heritage value of Shakesides demands that Laing’s former home should be “conserved for … future generations” and that the Town of Comox  should “use the building in ways that will conserve its heritage value.”
  • Heritage B.C. has offered its assistance, at no charge, to the Town of Comox, for the duration of the process to repurpose Shakesides, and pretty much guaranteed the town a provincial grant through the Heritage Legacy Fund Heritage Conservation program.
  • But council members of the Town of Comox have unanimously ignored this independent and professional advice. Instead, they have decided to reduce the building down to a pile of forgettable rubble.

What’s going on here?

Do Comox councillors lack any appreciation for history and the town’s heritage? Do they dislike pushy people — for example, the members of the Mack Laing Heritage Society — and want to tear down the building for spite?

Or both?

Either way, it’s a shame. And it’s another example of how out-of-step the Town of Comox is with the rest of the Comox Valley … and why, in the next municipal election, voters should toss the majority of them out of office.

The Town of Comox has been misusing Mack Laing’s financial gift of land and property, and cash, to maintain his home as some form of a natural history museum. The town has spent Laing’s gifted money on walkways, stairs and bridges for Brooklyn Creek — outside of the Mack Laing Park property — but hardly a cent to fulfill the last wishes of this community’s most widely admired naturalist.

Hamilton Mack Laing was a naturalist, photographer, writer and noted ornithologist, whose work from the Comox waterfront from 1922 through 1982 earned him worldwide recognition.

Laing gave his waterfront property, his home, substantial cash and personal papers from his estate to the Town of Comox “for the improvement and development of my home as a natural history museum.” The town accepted the money and, therefore, the terms of the trust.

But 34 years later, the Town of Comox has done little to satisfy his last wishes and mishandled the money Laing left, raising serious ethical and legal questions, which a provincial court may ultimate answer.

In the meantime, it’s unfathomable that seven council members and the mayor would support the demolition of a building that the provincial heritage agency and professional heritage advisors have declared has national significance.

Perhaps, the pleadings of Heritage B.C. will change the perspective of some council members. Let’s hope so.

A public and formal apology on behalf of the town for misusing Mack Laing’s financial trust for more than three decades would also be nice. But probably too much to hope for out of this council.

The Christmas fudge arrived with a resounding thud

The Christmas fudge arrived with a resounding thud

It landed on our doorstep with a resounding thud. It measured about the size of a thick hardcover novel. It weighed more than 100 copies of “War and Peace” bound together. But all there was to read was a simple card, which said, predictably, “To my brother. Love, your sister, Lynne.”

It comes every year. It is fudge … the traditional Le Masurier Christmas Fudge.

At some point during my childhood my mother went on a fudge-making binge. I have no idea why she did this. Maybe for a small-town housewife in the 1950s it was a more acceptable means of relieving stress than, for example,12 straight days of hard drinking.

Or, maybe someone just gave her a recipe and told her how easy it was to make. In any case, she made so much fudge every holiday season that we all got sick from it.

That just goes to prove how truly amazing the human body really is. You can feed your body a five-pound block of cocoa solidified by a railroad car of sugar and eggs, and the stomach cramps you get will make it seem like your body is rejecting it.

But in reality, your body is magically turning all that fudge into something really useful like fingernails and eyebrows. At least, that’s what mom told me.

After she dealt with her baking neurosis and addicting me to chocolate, she made fudge just once a year, for my birthday, which is a week before Christmas (still time to send large cash gifts!).

When I moved away from home, my mother continued to make fudge and sent me a box or two every year for my birthday. It had all the attributes of a great gift: hand-made, conjured wonderful childhood memories, edible and, most importantly, made of chocolate.

My parents have both passed on now, bless their souls, but the Christmas Fudge tradition lived on in the embodiment of my sister. She insisted on making fudge every year and sending me a birthday box the size and weight of a cement block. It must cost her a small fortune in postage stamps.

Of course, over the years, we’ve added a few new Christmas baking traditions of our own. So, by the time we get through my mother’s daughter’s fudge, a Gingerbread House, the annual nuts and bolts party mix and my son’s Ritz Bits smothered in a rich ranch flavoring that will give us all instant heartburn, we should almost be ready for Christmas dinner. And the Day After Christmas dinner and New Years Eve dinner and New Years Day Watching Football dinner, with a few lunches and breakfasts and late-night ice cream snacks thrown in.

When Jan. 2 finally rolls around, none of us will be capable of anything more than crawling from chair to couch and back to bed. And none of us will have any idea who ate all the fudge or what kind of body parts it turned into.

The good news is that modern medicine has developed new surgical methods, such as the kind performed on Al Roper, to look around inside your body and find the fudge that got stuck behind some fat cells instead of making new fingernails like it was supposed to.

Fortunately, my mother’s daughter no longer considers birthday fudgeness an appropriate expression of her sibling affections. We now exchange nice, low-fat emails instead.

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