If we Vote-By-Google this spring, the Green Party would win

If we Vote-By-Google this spring, the Green Party would win

When people start suggesting that highly paid writers such as myself – rumored to be in the high single digits! – start writing about British Columbia’s spring provincial election campaign, we do what any other sane person would do: hide under our desks until those people go away.

Well, that’s what we used to do before they invented Google. Now, whenever I want to avoid writing by wasting a lot of valuable time, I call up Google. I Google recreationally, or casually, you might say. With No Strings Attached. In other words, I Google without any meaningful commitment.

I don’t know why, but suddenly, in an era when a U. S. president promotes his executive orders on Twitter, this seemed an appropriate method to research a piece about the upcoming election.

I discovered, for example, that there really is such a thing as a “good politician,” because Google (Canadian version) returned 50.9 million hits for that phrase. Unfortunately, this is the Year of Trump, so I got 51.8 million hits for “bad politician,” perhaps signaling a negative trend in governance.

However, the results for “straight shooter” (8.78 million hits) encouraged me by crushing those who speak with a “forked tongue” (572,000 hits). I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the fact that the phrase “we’re here from the government, and we’re here to help you” tallied a pitiful 94,600 hits.

But did you know that someone out there has already searched with almost every adjective you can think of in front of the word “politician?” … Someone who may be eligible to vote.

We apparently think our politicians are less “sleazy” (351,000 hits) than “silly” (614,000), and, even more surprising, “intelligent” (821,000 hits).

British Columbians might consider saving ourselves a lot of time and expense by dispensing with political campaigns altogether and just decide the spring provincial election by the number of Google hits each candidate receives. It would be kind of like online voting.

If we switched to Google-voting, local NDP candidate Ronna-Rae Leonard would crush her Liberal opponent, Jim Benninger, by a vote of 1,530 to 1,400.

But both the B.C. Liberal Party (497,000 hits) and the B.C. NDP Party (457,000) would lose to the B.C. Green Party, which tallied an astonishing 11 million hits.

Google-voting wouldn’t out well for NDP leader John Horgan, however. He would lose to Liberal Christy Clark by 14 million to 463,000. However, once again, the Green Party tops the polls. Green leader Andrew Weaver collected 18.8 million hits.

On a positive note, “Elect Justin Trudeau” snagged 26.6 million hits, more than doubling the vote for “Elect Kevin O’Leary.” Although, when you search for O’Leary’s self-imposed nickname, Mr. Wonderful, he turns in a respectable 13.3 million. But, thankfully, not enough to win.

I have no idea what this means, but there appear to be more “goofy” Liberals (354,000 hits) than “goofy” NDPers (127,000 hits).

In the end, however, this Google- voting system might not work.

While the concept of “voting” is encouragingly strong (178 million hits), it might come from a worrisome number of illiterates. If you misspell the word “vote” by adding an extra letter “o”, it takes an extra 62 “Os” until Google cannot find any more results.

Finally, in a triumph of man over ape, the phrase “Elect George” returns 69.9 million hits, while “elect Curious George” only swings 347,000. So there’s hope.

New design, features launched on Decafnation

New design, features launched on Decafnation

The Decafnation officially launches a new look and added features today. We’re most excited about the new Photography page, which will feature candid, historical images of some Comox Valley person(s) or event every week and the story behind the picture. Readers can help identify the people and add their own related stories and memories through the comments section. You’ll also notice a stack of toggles on this page, which we call Social Studies that will change throughout the week. Just click the caramel-coloured icon to open the content. Let us know how you like the new Decafnation. And don’t forget to “like” us on Facebook.

We’ve start the Photography page off today with four historical images, including Dave Hardy at his home in Cumberland and pictures of some unidentified singers at a Renaissance Fair and some early youth football players. Share these posts with your friends by clicking the Facebook icon to help us add meaningful information to these photographs.

In the photograph at top: Molly Guilbeault getting ready to start her shift at the Leung’s Grocery lunch counter.

The mistrust of government begins at home

The mistrust of government begins at home

The strong undercurrent of government mistrust that shades the American landscape is something relatively new to Canadians. But the recent Comox Valley Regional District open house on the HMCS Quadra sewer line replacement shows how and why that mood is changing.

The open house meeting should have been an opportunity for citizens, bureaucrats and elected officials to communicate in a collaborative manner that resulted in some positive meaningful action.

Instead, the HMCS Quadra meeting erupted into a vitriolic condemnation of the CVRD’s lack of transparency on this project. You can read a report of the meeting here.

It’s a sad commentary on the openness of local government in general that this expression of anger and frustration surprised no one at the meeting, including the presenter, CVRD Senior Engineer Marc Rutten, who appeared to accept the citizens’ mistrust as routine.

Throughout the contentious meeting that at moments threatened to spin out of control, Rutten never once acknowledged the possible veracity of a citizen’s concern. But why would he? The project’s details were presented as a fait accompli which “are too far along in the process to change now.”

Rutten couldn’t have done a better job of fostering distrust in the regional district.

If governments don’t genuinely want input from citizens, especially those directly affected by a specific project, then why invite them to a meeting on the pretence that their input might matter? It’s disingenuous and elevates people’s rage. And it creates mistrust of government. People start concocting conspiracy theories to explain what might seem like simple logistic solutions to CVRD staff.

Open house public meetings are usually held before finalizing a project’s details. For example, the CVRD presented several options to Royston and Union Bay residents at an early open house on the South Sewer Project, and residents picked their preferred one.

But the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission and CVRD engineers have turned a deaf ear to public concerns about its sewerage system planning, which has caused widespread suspicion, mistrust and anger.

Some of the blame for perpetuating government mistrust lies with elected officials who make these decisions but intentionally avoid the open houses they know will be contentious. Their absence forces staff to take all the heat.

Sewage Commission Chair Barbara Price and Courtenay director Bob Wells made token 15-minute appearances at the beginning of the open house, while everyone looked at informational posters and mingled with coffee and cookies in hand.

But they both left before the serious work of the question and answer period began. Why didn’t they stick around and absorb the public reaction to their decisions?

No other members of the Courtenay-Comox Sewage Commission showed up at the HCMS Quadra public meeting. Even the CFB Comox representative, Major Marc Fugulin, was absent.

The lack of good watchdog journalism in the Comox Valley contributes to the mistrust of local government. Not one reporter attended the question and answer period. And no local media has reported on the meeting.

Without a public watchdog to hold elected officials accountable, governments naturally adopt a less communicative and responsive attitude.

Elected officials are, after all, volunteer public servants. Most of the time they are sincere about achieving the common good. But the public needs to know if and when apparent altruism cloaks a personal agenda or a conflict of interest, or when governments steamroll projects over powerless citizens.

At the end of America, Trump

At the end of America, Trump

For as far back as I can remember, people have warned me about the certain implosion of America. They made comparisons to fall of the Roman Empire and Sodom and Gomorrah. The unmistakable signs were everywhere, they said.

As a teenager coming of age in the midwest during the 1960s, it was the length of my hair and the music I listened to that apparently signaled the End of the World, or at least the fall of America. Trivial matters, but the top of a slippery slope, they said.

Sometime in 1965, I went to a music store in Willemar, Minnesota, with my rock and roll bandmates to find a 45 rpm copy of the Rolling Stones new hit song “Satisfaction.” When we enquired, the owner of the store physically chased us out while lecturing us on how filth, smut and evil music would damn our souls, and tear down the clean white fabric of American society.

That man was right, of course, because the America that existed in his mind was about to come crashing down.

Long hair, hippies, marijuana and rock music picked up the message of the Beat Generation and wallowed in its individual freedoms. Audacious people marched for civil rights and women’s rights. College campuses roiled in protests over an unjust war. Comedians publicly flouted four-letter words.

The collapse of America continued. Gay people started coming out. Same-sex couples demanded marriage equality. Environmentalists warned of climate change. The era of white European privilege started to fade into more diverse faces.

And, then, I’m sure the music store man would say, the final blow was delivered in 2008 when voters elected an African-American as the President of the United States. That was too much. It pushed the music store man, and millions of other people like him, over the edge, and into the waiting arms of Donald Trump.

And so, at the climax of his inauguration speech yesterday, the 45th president promised that the “American carnage stops now!”

Those “rusted-out factories” littering the landscape like “tombstones” over a post-Armageddon wasteland will be shined up and made new again. Factories will hum with workers loving their jobs. Climate change won’t exist. Men can freely assault women. Pesky journalists seeking truth will be discredited. We’ll bomb more of the people we don’t like.

We’ll chase all the bad Muslims and Mexicans out. No more racial unrest because, well, what did African-Americans have to lose, anyway?

And so, I have to admit, my music store man had a point back in 1965. My generation did take America on a slippery ride. But the tragic fall he envisioned wasn’t the expansion of human rights or a realization that the destruction of this planet might means the end of human existence. But it did, somehow, give us Trump.

The decline of America will not occur because of how America has changed over the last 50 years, and probably not at the hands of terrorists or a crazy dictator.

America is more likely to fall because a false Messiah does not understand his place, and his nation’s place, in this world. Because he sees permanence in the riches and comforts he enjoys today, and which he promises for tomorrow, not realizing they are only temporary and that he cannot turn back time.

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.