Heather Conn Blogs

spoutin’ about by the sea

Life in lotus land: a pricey crack shack could be yours

Can you tell the difference between a mansion and a “crack shack”, a run-down home to crack addicts? Most people would picture the latter as a boarded-up hovel with broken windows in a dangerous neighborhood. Don’t be so sure.


A quick visit through the website www.crackshackormansion.com will undoubtedly change your mind. This site, a tongue-in-cheek creation by two Vancouverites, gives web users a scary– not risky scary but pricey scary — introduction to this coastal city’s real estate market in British Columbia, Canada. What a million bucks buys for habitable property in Vancouver these days ain’t much.


To emphasize this point, the site offers a questionnaire with photos, asking site visitors to identify which photo is a crack shack and which is a mansion. Your answers will undoubtedly amaze you. The site creators are having some obvious fun along the way, but they make their point: If you want to buy a home in Vancouver that’s more than a tear-down, be prepared to pay at least one million. And that’s not even for waterfront or a sea view.


(The website drew such a popular response that there’s now a new version of the questionnaire, Crack Shack or Mansion II, available on the same web page. Have fun with it.)

May 24, 2010 at 7:50 am Comments (3)

A peace profile: Ursula Franklin

                                Franklin in 2006

She might not fit your vision of a revolutionary, but long-time Toronto activist Ursula Franklin has spent decades “fighting” for peace and social justice.


Now 89, this emeritus professor and author of The Ursula Franklin Reader: Pacifism as a Map, defines peace as “the presence of justice and the absence of fear.” She likes to quote the late A. J. Muste, the well known American peace activist: “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.”


Franklin was interviewed May 6 by Anna Maria Tremonti on the CBC’s The Current. Her carefully chosen words reflected her active, conscientious mind and commitment to progressive causes, from prison reform to women’s rights. Her many honors include the Order of Canada, Governor General’s Award in Commemoration of the Persons Case, which legally declared girls and women in Canada “persons” for the first time, and the Pearson Medal of Peace for her dedication to advancing human rights.


During her CBC interview, Franklin advocated the practice of “scrupling,” rather than today’s cyber-obsession with “Googling.” In her view, people need to get together to air their scruples and make their opinions public; they can’t rely on experts and  publicists to suggest solutions. Too often, we hear that the problems facing society today are too complex to be left to the layperson. But the minds, especially of youth, need to be activated to address these issues, from globalization and environmental concerns to health and education.  


When Tremonti asked Franklin about the lack of interest in politics in today’s Canadian youth, she responded that apathy sets in when individuals, especially young people, feel that no one is listening to their concerns. Why bother to vote if no one cares about their opinions and the government will do as it pleases once it receives their votes?


Franklin is not willing to rest with the phrase “sustainable development“; she demands to know: “Sustainable of what, develop what, and for whom?” She continues to be an outspoken critic of policies of Canada’s federal government, especially its plan to build more and bigger prisons. Her husband Fred was much involved in the rehabilitation and support of prisoners.


Besides becoming a brilliant academic in a discipline where women were remarkably scarce, she had a keen interest in politics and, of course, feminism,” says Reverend Hanns Skoutajan, one of her Toronto mentees. “She fought for salary equality among the sexes especially in her university.”


 He adds: “‘Revolutionary,’ I would call her, but why is it revolutionary to be deeply concerned about the kind of country and world that our grandchildren will inherit?”


Skoutajan met Franklin when she was a professor teaching metallurgy at the University of Toronto. He remembers: “Besides teaching, I first encountered her on an anti-war demonstration in Toronto back in the 60s. She became my mentor as she was for many others who were concerned about fascist trends evidenced in many countries as well as our own.”


Franklin was born in Berlin to a Jewish mother and Gentile father, a troublesome heritage in Hitler’s Germany. The Nazis arrested the whole family and sent them to different concentration camps; however, they somehow managed to survive the Holocaust and were reunited after the war. She came to Canada in 1949 to continue her career.


Franklin recalls, as a teenager, hearing her mother admonish her neighbours in Berlin: “Don’t you see what’s coming?” She saw first-hand the seduction of the German people to anti-Semitism, racial intolerance, the glorification of violence, and a virulent nationalism. She decided to make it her mission to point out and warn people in her new home, Canada, of similar trends.


To protest the war in Iraq, Franklin led a parade of professors in full academic attire out of Convocation Hall at the University of Toronto when then-U.S.-President George W. Bush was honored with a doctor of law degree.


Franklin and her husband Fred have found a spiritual home in the Quaker religion, known as a Peace Church. However, Quaker meetings are considerably different from other religious services: they are silent. Only when moved by spirit is a member encouraged to speak and express their view. Every person’s opinion is seen as important as the next.


“Having attended Quaker meetings, I was always made aware of a spiritual presence but quite unlike what I had encountered in mainline or evangelical worship services where the word of God comes from the Bible and the preacher,” says Skoutajan. “While silence is powerful and scarce in our time, when that silence is broken by some deep concern it takes on a special authenticity.”


In his words: “There is a Spirit alive. One need not become a Quaker to experience it, but learn to listen deeply, dare to live mindfully, and seek peace and justice for all humankind.”


Many thanks to Hanns Skoutajan for providing the core of this content and giving me permission to put it on my blog.

May 17, 2010 at 11:23 am Comment (1)

Carrotmobs: coming to an eco-friendly business near you

food clipart carrot

Does the term “carrotmobs” conjure a riot of raving redheads for you? That’s what it made me think of, especially since I am one of those rare strawberry-locked folks (we’re only four per cent of the population, you know).


But this voice-of-the-veggies phenomenon is no hair-color love fest. No, it’s a citizens’ initiative that began in San Francisco in 2008 and operates on the opposite principle of a boycott. Rather than refuse to patronize a store because of its environmentally destructive business practices, a Carrotmob targets an eco-friendly business and shops there en masse at a designated date and time. This group action encourages consumers to reward stores that have committed to reducing their ecological footprint.



British Columbia’s first Carrotmob action was at Discovery Coffee in Victoria in October 2009. The event tripled the store’s usual sales for the day and has attracted a younger, more eco-aware clientele, according to owner Logan Gray. 


Now Vancouver, BC has launched its first Carrotmob caper for tomorrow, at Salt Spring Coffee on Main Street.  (The swarm site is near Main and 27th Avenue between 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) Why this business? Omar Mutashar, who founded the Vancouver branch of Carrotmob, says that he interviewed a number of coffee shops on Main Street about the concept and posted video clips on the Internet; online voters chose Salt Spring Coffee as their Carrotmob shop of choice.


Salt Spring Coffee won because it has pledged 110 per cent of its May 16 profits to create more efficient lighting in its store. The progressive company, which started in 1996, uses organic, fair-trade coffee and is striving to become the world’s most sustainable coffee company. Besides the Main Street cafe/store, Salt Spring Coffee has its original shop, the Ganges Cafe, on its namesake island and a kiosk at the BC Ferries terminal in Tsawwassen.


I think that Carrotmobbing is a fun, ingenious way to empower both consumers and businesses. It’s a grassroots action to show stores that their socially responsible practices will reap immediate community benefits and give them a financial edge. I hope to see a lot more Carrotmobs crop up in cities everywhere. Maybe we’ll  have Rhubarbmobs and Tomatomobs too. Here’s hoping . . .


Click here if you’d like to watch a video of a successful Carrotmob event in San Francisco, hosted by the initiative’s founder. As he says, it takes a carrot, not a stick to motivate people to positive action.


May 15, 2010 at 3:17 pm Comment (1)

Quarotchety for Canada’s Governor-General

Mike Klassen, columnist for the Vancouver, BC tabloid 24 Hours, suggests that the 2010 Olympics mascot Quatchi should be Canada’s next Governor-General. Since the GG role is primarily for ceremonial purposes, he reasons that a stuffed toy could do just as well as a human. Besides, he adds, with Quatchi in place at the official GG residence, Rideau Hall, the Canadian government could turn it into a Disneyland-like attraction with theme rides based on the Olympic mascots. (Stephen Harper would be fighting to get into “It’s a small world.” He’s made being prime minister into enough of a game, he doesn’t need the rivalry.)


But I think that Quarochety, Quatchi’s twin sister (see my earlier posts), would make a far more effective Governor-General. First, she’s female, like our excellent Michaelle Jean, and unlike her shy brother, she’s not afraid to speak her mind. She’d make a great advocate for Canada and her ever-present smile would make the perfect addition at official functions.


Quite simply, Quarotchety will be around to take on the GG responsibilities; her brother Quatchi won’t. Quatchi and his fellow mascots, Sumi and Miga, were recently on death row, thanks to VANOC. The city’s Olympic organizing committee has essentially murdered its three innocent mascots as per IOC rules; symbols of Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic games aren’t allowed to exist. That’s life in today’s harsh, commercial world: one minute you’re a global media darling, the next you’re a targeted pariah slated for death.


I’m shedding no tears for this loss of corporate Olympic symbols, even though it might cause some grief for poor Quarotchety to lose her twin brother. My vote’s for you for GG, Quarotchety.

May 13, 2010 at 12:54 pm Comments (0)

Mother’s Day: Remember its original message of peace



CodePink members in San Francisco in April 2008


Did you know that the original Mother’s Day was inextricably linked with a message of peace?


Julia Ward Howe, a U.S. poet, feminist, and abolishonist, created the first Mother’s Day Proclamation in the United States in 1870. She wrote this rousing piece in reaction to the  U.S. Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. She believed that women, particularly as spouses of soldiers and those who bore sons who went to war,  held a responsibility to take a political stand for peace, not war.



                   Julia Ward Howe


Here is what Howe declared in her proclamation:


 Arise, then, women of this day!
Arise, all women who have hearts,
Whether our baptism be of water or of tears!

Say firmly:
“We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies,
Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

From the bosom of the devastated Earth a voice goes up with our own.
It says: “Disarm! Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.”
Blood does not wipe out dishonor, nor violence indicate possession.
As men have often forsaken the plough and the anvil at the summons of war,
Let women now leave all that may be left of home for a great and earnest day of counsel.

Let them meet first, as women, to bewail and commemorate the dead.
Let them solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means
Whereby the great human family can live in peace,
Each bearing after his own time the sacred impress, not of Caesar,
But of God.

In the name of womanhood and humanity, I earnestly ask
That a general congress of women without limit of nationality
May be appointed and held at someplace deemed most convenient
And at the earliest period consistent with its objects,
To promote the alliance of the different nationalities,
The amicable settlement of international questions,
The great and general interests of peace.


Subtle this proclamation ain’t, nor religiously or spiritually inclusive. But it’s a passionate voice nevertheless, and a remarkable one for its period. (Ironically, Howe wrote the words to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, which became a popular anthem sung by the Union side (the north) during the U.S. Civil War.)

                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

Sadly, Howe’s words still bear just as much relevance today, since humanity seems to have learned no lessons about the ravages of war.  Modern sons and daughters are dying in Iraq,  Afghanistan, Pakistan, Darfur.  .  .


In honor of this year’s Mother’s Day, I invite all women, mothers or not, and men to support any action or event that promotes peace. Start with yourself and share your message of peace with your loved ones and neighbors, sons, and daughters. We all need this message every day. I support the group CodePink Women for Peace and the practices outlined in the book Nonviolent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg. Remember: There’s a difference between promoting peace and protesting against war, but don’t let language nuances stop your activism.


May 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm Comments (0)

Earth Day 2010: Roberts Creek style

                                                                                                                       — Heather Conn photos

Why do these two subversives look so happy? They just heard wonderful news at Roberts Creek’s Earth Day event: farm-gate sales of produce and livestock are no longer illegal in British Columbia. Hurray! That means that B.C. farmers, livestock owners and gardeners can sell meat, produce or eggs from their land directly to customers. Previously, these were illegal acts in this province. Isn’t that outrageous? These women are two of our local Farm Food Freedom Fighters. Yes, they are wearing “Be subversive, Buy local” buttons, complete with logos of a masked chicken and cow.


Now, we can tear off those nasty masks. No more outlaw status for people selling organic wares on their farms. Nicholas Simons, our local MLA, and Donna Shugar, chair of the Sunshine Coast Regional District, made the announcement April 25 at the start of Earth Day festivities in Roberts Creek. Nicholas worked particularly hard to enact this status change in farm-gate sales. Thank you to both Nicholas and Donna for striving to reverse this ridiculous law. Nicholas is still working out the details, but the change wil be official soon.

In keeping with this upbeat news, the sun shone for the Creek’s annual funky event, which provided hours of local entertainment, eco-displays, and information tables on sustainable organizations and earth-minded products. Great Sunshine Coast food, as always, was available, from Rashmi’s popular Curry in the Creek to the fish taco stand. This year, the kids were treated to a mini petting zoo with dwarf rabbits, an adorable baby goat, pony rides, and a shaggy llama.


Dave Ryan, fondly known as “Farmer Dave” in the Creek, offered a free tour through the gardens and greenhouse he operates to supply the Gumboot Restaurant next-door with fresh organic produce year-round. Wearing a green hat with a four-leaf-clover insignia, he spent more than an hour answering questions from about 50 local home gardeners.


Dave offered many helpful tips from using shade cover over plants in hot sun to using seaweed in compost (not directly on plants). He praised mushroom compost and recommended “Dr. John” (John Paul, president of Transform Compost Systems Ltd. in Abbotsford, BC) as the top resource in the province for compost information.


Roberts Creek Earth Day offered its usual mix of practical tips and whimsy, from stilt-walkers and The Green Man storyteller to demonstrations of making cob as a sustainable method of house construction.



The Sunshine Coast Regional District created a giant tree of large green garbage bags to make local residents aware of waste management practices and how our trash impacts the earth.  Their display included a large sheet of paper on an easel where people could write down the ways in which they reduce their garbage. (Each household on the Sunshine Coast is allowed to dispose of one regular-sized can’s worth of garbage each week.)


Thank  you to everyone who helped make this year’s Earth Day a fun, viable, and educational event.

May 6, 2010 at 7:05 pm Comments (0)

There’s no need to fear: Underdog is here



Inexplicably, I recently woke up thinking about two animated TVcharacters from my childhood cartoon-watching days: the superhero Underdog, and Mr. Peabody from Rocky and Bullwinkle. I loved both of these characters since they were quirky and endearing rather than macho and all-powerful. I was even delighted to find an Underdog key chain decades later  at a Value Village in Bellingham, WA. I had forgotten all about that humble hero. (I’m talking about the original Underdog from the 1960s, not the more recent Walt Disney version.)


Maybe the child writer in me enjoyed Underdog’s language, which was always in rhyme like “There’s no need to fear — Underdog is here.” Wally Cox, who later spent years providing quizzical humor on Hollywood Squares, did the voice for Underdog and his alter ego, Shoeshine Boy (I don’t remember anything about that character.)


A quick check on Wikipedia just gave me some Underdog info. Apparently,  he used to crash into walls and so on, which I don’t recall at all. At such times, he would say: “I am a hero who never fails/I cannot be bothered with such details.” The young rebel in me must have relished this attitude. His superpowers, which changed per episode, varied from x-ray vision and atomizing eyes (?) to super breath. Anyone who’s smelled a real dog’s breath would realize what a stretch that last one is.


I had no idea that Underdog was created by ad agency reps to sell cereal for television advertiser General Mills. Gee, my wee eyes were unknowing pawns to their product shilling. Having always been a dog lover, I naturally gravitated to this canine character. However, I did also enjoy Felix the Cat and his bag of tricks. (There’s no surprise where his name came from: Felis catus is  the Latin term for house cat.)


That brings me to some TV trivia: did you know that RCA began experimental television transmissions from New York in 1928, using a 13-inch, paper mache Felix the Cat figure? Rather than pay an actor to stand under hot studio lights while engineers sharpened and tweaked the image, they used Felix, who worked for a one-time fee. (I’m surprised the paper didn’t burn.) They put the black-and-white figure on a turntable and tried broadasting using a mechanical scanning disk and electronic kinescope receiver. These early “broadcasts” usually involved objects, test patterns or photographs; the image received was only two inches tall. Felix stayed on his turntable post for almost a decade while engineers tried to create a high-definition picture. (I got this info from www.felixthecat.com.)


As for Underdog, his last run was with NBC in the mid-1970s. By then, the network censored all references to him swallowing the energy pill that gave him his superpowers. They probably feared lawsuits if kids saw real medication that looked like the Underdog pills (red with a white “U”) and swallowed them. I’m too cynical to think that they genuinely cared about children’s health and well-being.

May 6, 2010 at 6:51 am Comments (0)

BP oil spill: a shocking reminder to use new energy sources

I have felt so overwhelmed by the short- and long-term ramifications of the recent oil spill in the Gulf Coast that I can barely hear about it. As anyone who watches the news knows, more than 200,000 gallons (757,000 litres) of crude oil are leaking every day into the Gulf since the rig sank April 22.


My husband thinks that British Petroleum (BP) will go bankrupt over this mess, but I’m not so sure. BP certainly hasn’t been pouring substantial money and effort into the clean-up. Countless lawsuits will definitely result from this spill, which resulted after a BP oil rig exploded on April 20, killing 11.


Relatives of the dead have sued rig operator BP-PLC, while Louisiana shrimpers have filed a class-action lawsuit against both BP and Halliburton, which they state was working to cement the rig’s well and well-cap. The shrimper suit claims that both companies and others were negligent in allowing the explosion that led to the spill. The shrimpers are asking for damages of at least $5 million, charging that the spill threatens their livelihoods.


When I think of the lost lives of the 11 men, the death and suffering of thousands of fish and fowl and millions of shell fish, the destruction of habitat, and ruining of wetlands and surrounding ecosystems for multi-years, not to mention the end of livelihoods for many, I feel too distressed to let these impacts fully sink in. As only one example, this spill threatens the future of an eco-tour boat company in Florida, of which my husband is a partner.


Here in B.C., some indirect good might come from this devastating event. It will make it much harder for the provincial government to push for oil exploration off the north-central coast, for one. It will also strengthen the case for those trying to prevent construction of the oil pipeline from Alberta’s Tar Sands to Kitimat, which would result in hundreds of oil tankers navigating the interior of north-central B.C., through prime ecosystems and challenging waterways.


Yet, I certainly don’t want to sound as if I’m looking for benefits as a result of others’ suffering. My heart goes out to the relatives of the men who died in this tragedy. These deaths seem forgotten amidst the media focus on the clean-up, lawsuits, and economic impact of the oil spill. If we ever wanted more proof that humans need to move beyond oil dependence and exploration and seek eco-friendly alternatives, to save both themselves and the planet, this event is a startling reminder. Let’s not forget the Exxon Valdez disaster either.


Meanwhile, on Canada’s Atlantic coast, Chevron plans to start drilling its second deepwater oil well May 9 in Newfoundland, 430 kilometres northeast of St. John’s. That rig is twice as deep (2.6 kilometres down) as BP’s Deepwater Horizon one that ruptured its well in the Gulf of Mexico. Considering Chevron’s horrendous environmental record in Ecuador and the Amazon, I hope that the corporation realizes that the whole world is watching this latest drilling venture.

May 6, 2010 at 6:21 am Comments (0)