Thursday, September 30, 2010

Revitalizing Whalley

Surrey City Centre Library (Architect's Design)
For more than twenty years, Surrey has been advertising itself as the "Second City" in the Lower Mainland, soon to be a rival in every way to Vancouver.  The centre of this new city was to be near the Surrey Place Mall in Whalley, a trashy neighborhood, originally settled in the 1920's by those who couldn't afford property nearer Vancouver north of the Fraser River.

For the most part, this ambition has been more a dream than a reality.

A few things actually did happen. SkyTrain came to Surrey in 1993, with Whalley stations of Gateway, Surrey Central, and King George.  The long-promised University of the Fraser Valley, originally planned for Cloverdale, became Tech BC (1999) and then the Surrey campus of Simon Fraser University (2002), located in a tower built at Surrey Place.

City Council did change a few names.  Surrey Place Mall became Central City Shopping Centre.  The main thoroughfare, King George Highway, became King George Boulevard.  East Whalley Ring Road became Whalley Boulevard; West Whalley Ring Road became University Drive; and 135th Street became City Parkway.

But now a few new projects are actually under construction.  A 75,000 square foot, four story, regional library will be opened next year.  Next door will be a new recreation centre.
Library under construction, SkyTrain (Left) and SFU Surrey
A new City Hall will be built next year near the new library, south of 104th Avenue, replacing the current City Hall on 56th Avenue. 

We can keep our fingers crossed that these projects continue, and that Surrey City Centre can start attracting the financial and commercial enterprises which someday might revitalize this neighborhood. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Stephen Colbert on Immigration

Last friday, Stephen Colbert testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on  Immigration, Citizenship, and Border Security on the subject of immigrant labour.  Because he's a comedian, some people questioned how relevant his comments were.

Sitting next to Stephen was Arturo Rodriguez, President of the United Farmworkers of America, a union for agricultural workers started by Cesar Chavez in the 1960's.  I was involved with this effort from 1968 to 1972, both in Toronto with a boycott of table grapes and at the Union headquarters at Keene, California.  I never met Arturo, but I knew his wife, Linda Chavez, who died in 2000.

Farmworkers, many of whom are immigrants, have some of the most demanding and low-paying jobs in America.  The U. S. (and Canada as well, which brings in 175,000 guest workers a year, many of whom do agricultural labour) has a long history of exploitation of farm labour.  They are excluded from the National Labour Relations Act, which gives other workers the right to have unions. They are housed in labour camps; kept from their families; isolated from local communities; exposed to pesticides; and without health care. Pay is generally minimum wage (or less).  

Even though the U. S. unemployment rate is 9.6%, few non-Hispanic Americans want agricultural jobs.

Because of the need for agricultural workers, the low pay, the physically demanding work, Americans have looked the other way for years, while undocumented immigrants have harvested their crops.  This makes the recent attacks on immigrants in Arizona and other states particularly loathsome.  To suggest that they are drug dealers or terrorists is pathetic.

I'm glad that Stephen Colbert is on the right side of this issue.  More Americans and Canadians should be, too.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Beyond A Reasonable Doubt?

An ancestor of mine, Benjamin Cooley, came to Springfield, Massachusetts, about 1643.  He was popular with his neighbors, and they chose him one of the selectmen for the community.

On March 4, 1650, Joshua Parsons, infant son of Hugh and Mary Parsons, neighbors of Benjamin, died.  The cause of death was a respiratory illness, possibly croup. His father, Hugh, a brick maker and chimney specialist, was charged with causing the death of Joshua by witchcraft, for the purpose of having his wife available to help with the corn harvest.

Hugh asked Benjamin Cooley to testify on his behalf, particularly that when he had informed Benjamin of his son's death, he had been quite upset and weeping.

Unfortunately for Hugh, Benjamin testified that he could not remember any sorrow, that instead Hugh had been smoking a pipe of tobacco at the time.  He further stated that Hugh's wife, Mary, had suspected her husband of being a witch, although she had been unable to find any direct evidence, having once searched him when he was asleep.

Other evidence against Hugh Parsons included statements that he had made that he would "be even" with anyone who did him wrong; that things he sold to others did not do well; that he sometimes talked strangely in this sleep; and that his wife often heard loud noises when Hugh was away from home.

Hugh and Mary Parsons were both found guilty of witchcraft and sentenced to prison.  Hugh's property was sold.  Eventually, Hugh was released, but Mary apparently died while still incarcerated.

Of course, in the 17th century, the cause of many illnesses was unknown.  It seems that persons could be suspected of witchcraft if they prospered over their neighbors, or if they weren't sociable. Another mark against poor Hugh was that he seldom attended local meetings or lectures, to the unhappiness of his wife, who was also kept from these social events.

So beware.  Be on good terms with your neighbors.  Help them prosper along with yourself.  Above all, give your wife no reason for suspicions about your conduct.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Healthier Living

A month ago, I reached my New Year's resolution target weight loss of twenty pounds.  I decided to try for another five pounds.  So far, I've lost one of these, giving me a year-to-date weight reduction of twenty-one pounds.

To quantify, twenty-one pounds is an 11% weight loss.  My BMI (Body Mass Index) has fallen from 28 (overweight) to 24.9 (normal).  My percentile for my height and age has fallen from 57% to 31% (U. S. figures), meaning that 69% of the population weigh more than I do for my height and age.   Being at 31% percentile is not necessarily anything to brag about, because being at 50% (average) means a BMI of 27 (overweight).  More than 60% of the U. S. population over 35 is overweight.   But it sounds a lot better than being at 57%.

BMI is calculated by dividing weight in kg by the square of height in meters; or by dividing weight in pounds by the square of height in inches multiplied by 703.  18-25 is considered normal; 25-30 overweight; over 30 obese.

I've also volunteered for the BC Generations Project, which is developing a database of 40,000 British Columbians (300,000 with partners Canada-wide) to correlate incidence of cancer with lifestyle (diet, physical exercise), medical history, physical measurements, and analysis of blood and urine.  It's a twenty-five year study, open to those 40-69.  I completed my initial contribution yesterday.        


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Credit Cards

Canadian Tire is a Canadian general merchandise retailer, known for automotive, home, hardware, and garden products. It also operates a chartered bank, Canadian Tire Bank.

In its most recent quarter, Canadian Tire earned $119.9 million, $55 million of this (46%) from its financial services (credit card) division. Because financial services are the fastest growing part of its business, it's eager to expand in this area.

A few weeks ago, Vera and I were at Canadian Tire shopping for a new steam iron.  A store employee came by with a clipboard, mentioning a store promotion.  I didn't pay too much attention, wanting to know instead why the price on the steam iron display was different from the price on the box below.  The employee asked for my driver's license, wrote down my name and address, had me sign a form, and said I'd hear from them in about two weeks.  Then she helped with my purchase.

Last thursday I received a Canadian Tire MasterCard from Canadian Tire Bank.  Not much to that.  No questions asked. I assume that they had checked more than the information I had given them.

On the other hand, my nephew Patrick, who lives in Taiwan, has had difficulties getting a credit card from the largest bank in Taiwan, Chinatrust Commercial Bank, although he's employed and has a good credit record.  So have a number of his friends.  Apparently, they are apprehensive about granting cards to "foreigners", who they think might leave and not pay their debts, even though they are permanent residents of Taiwan.

CTCB prides itself on being international, on its excellent service, and on the many awards it has won.  It operates twelve branches in the U. S., three branches in Vancouver, and appears eager to expand its services world-wide.  How does it do this by discriminating against "foreigners" in Taiwan?  I would think these are customers they would want to cultivate.  They might encourage contacts in their country of origin to bank at CTCB.

Canada had been very welcoming to immigrants from Taiwan and Asia.  The only requirement for a "permanent resident" to become a citizen is that they reside in Canada for three years and demonstrate some knowledge of Canadian institutions.  I suspect many Taiwanese-born hold dual Canadian citizenship.  How many Canadian or U. S.-born hold dual Taiwanese citizenship?  How many Taiwanese "permanent residents" in Canada or the U. S. are refused credit cards, because of where they were born?  Time for CTCB to lighten up and forget the stereotypes.  They might find it good business.   

Friday, September 17, 2010


About 8:00 pm one evening a few years ago, someone rang the doorbell.  It was dark out.  The fellow on the porch was an Edward Jones financial advisor out looking for clients.  I spoke to him briefly, telling him that I didn't use an advisor, and did my own investing through a discount brokerage.

Since then, Frank has called me every couple of months wondering how I am doing.  I tell him all of the concerns I have about financial advisors.  Still he persists.

Frank suggested I get a TFSA (Tax-Free Savings Account).  Initially I said that I didn't see much value in them, because interest rates were low and the tax savings wouldn't be much. With some prodding, however, I opened one two months ago.   He called again last saturday.  I said I'd taken his advice and opened an account.

I  had mentioned to Frank before that I didn't see how he was making any money with me.  Other investment firms had not been interested in having me as a client.  They either receive part of a commission or charge a fee, which I'm not interested in paying.

Times may be hard for small financial advisors.  In the recent financial meltdown, they may have lost clients. Hard to tell, though, because they always groan so much about how little they receive anyway.  Wall Street investment bankers may take home millions in bonuses, but small advisors and brokers usually have a small office, sometimes in the corner of a bank or insurance agency.  They have to be salespeople.

I spent a couple of sessions with Ellen at Coast Capital, discussing mutual funds.  That possibility fell through when Coast Capital refused to take some deposits.

I once went to the Scotia McLeod office in Semiahmoo Mall to get financial advice. The receptionist told me that they had no one to talk to walk-ins.  She said I could call and make an appointment, but didn't take my name or phone number.  I didn't contact them again.

I once contacted BMO InvestorLine.  I asked them if they stood behind the products that they sold.  She asked if I meant protection from market risk?  I said no, but if I have problems with a product or provider, would they assist me?  I don't think she understood what I meant.  Simply put, what services are they providing? I didn't open an account.

I think I've told Frank these things.  I sometimes wonder why some people are so persistent, while others are so indifferent.  From experience, I guess they find out what pays off.


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Tax Day

Good laws should be fair, understandable, and enforceable.  Whenever I have to pay income taxes, I reflect on this.

Today is another income tax instalment due date.  If net taxes owing at the end of the year (not previously deducted at source) exceed $3,000, I have to make quarterly instalments.  If net taxes owing will be less than $3,000, I can disregard the friendly reminder.

Last spring, owing to low interest rates and generally poor economic prospects  (double-dip recession on the horizon),  I disregarded the reminder.

Now I realize that my income will be a little higher than I thought, and maybe I need to pay instalments.

My Options:  (1) pay one-quarter of net taxes owing from 2008 in March and June; pay one-half of balance equaling net taxes owing from 2009 in Sept and Dec; (2) pay one-quarter of net taxes owing from 2009 each quarter; (3) pay one-quarter of net taxes owing for 2010 each quarter; (4) reduce income by loss-selling and make sure net taxes owing are less than $3,000 to avoid penalties. 

I opt for (2), making the payments I previously omitted, still leaving the door open for (4).

The Canadian income tax system is an honour system.  If they owe taxes, Canadians are expected to file returns annually, report all taxable income, and pay amounts owing.  How well does this work?  Those entitled to a refund or other benefits will probably file a return.  If they fail to file or misrepresent their income,  is the law enforced?

Are the tax laws understandable?  Or just too complex?

Are they fair?  I guess that might depend on whether you get a refund.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Woods Gap

My 6X ggrandfather Michael Woods was born in Meath County, Ireland, in 1684.  He immigrated with his family to Pennsylvania in 1724.  Pushing west, he made his way from Pennsylvania across the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Shenandoah Valley and Albemarle County, Virginia,  in 1734.  The pass he found became known as Woods Gap, officially named by the Virginia Legislature in 1757.

Later, Woods Gap was renamed Jarman's Gap after the family that owned the land in the 1800's.

Settling in Albemarle County, Virginia, Michael Woods established a plantation known as Mountain Plains (3300 acres).  After he died in 1762, Mountain Plains was sold to Thomas Adams, tobacco agent for Thomas Jefferson.  Adams bequeathed the property to John Blair, Associate Justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, after whom it was renamed Blair Park.

Michael's son, William, having received land grants for service in the American War for Independence, moved on to Greenbrier County, Virginia.  William's children in turn migrated to Kentucky (1781), Tennessee (1809), and Missouri (1819).

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pregnant? Congrats!

How often do I see it?  A young woman announces on Facebook that she is pregnant.  Immediately, there is a chorus of  "Congrats!" from her friends.  How exciting!  You're going to have a baby!

For the families, however, this news may come as a bit of a surprise.  The young woman is an unmarried teen; hasn't finished high school; has no income; has no plans for the future.  Of course, in this world, we may be told that all of this is none of our business.  Who are we, after all, to interfere with young love?

Just the one's who get to pick up the pieces.  Particularly if the young couple's favorite recreation is drug use.

Grandson is a recreational marijuana user.  No one paid much attention.  It's what young people do.  His girl friend uses crystal meth.  Last year, they had a baby.

Fortunately, the baby's paternal grandparents were in the picture.  In January, they took the baby for two weeks, while the parents were tested for drugs.  When the results came back "negative", the baby was returned to them.  (So much for drug tests.)

In April, the mother totaled the car in a four-car pileup.

In July, the grandparents took the baby back again after continued drug use by the mother.  Ministry of Children and Family Development has currently given custody to the grandparents, with the parents having visitation three times a week at the Ministry office.

Of course, all of this (which I've only highlighted), has caused considerable stress to everyone in the family.  But, hey, it's a free society.  Who needs marriage to have children?  Or an education?  Or restrictions on our fun?  Sadly, we eventually find out.     

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Getting High on Hemp

A  Facebook friend wants to be a hemp products distributor .  Apparently, there are many industrial products that can be made from the cannabis plant other than THC (aka pot, weed, marijuana).  Some of them are even good for your health.  Or so the hemp promoters will tell us.

Maybe so.  Why am I such a cynic?  After all, if you want to manufacture rope or clothing from the fiber of the cannabis plant, what's wrong with that?

My suspicion is that the interest in hemp is not about wanting to be in the rope or clothing business.  It's about wanting to be in the drug business.  After all, that's where the money is.

What's wrong with smoking a little weed, anyway?  Lots of people do it.  Is it any worse than alcohol?  Isn't it something an informed adult, in a free society, should be able to do?  Why is the state interfering in our  pleasure?

I'm a libertarian.  I really don't care what you do, if it only affects you.  However, right now, it's illegal; and while I believe in personal freedom, I also believe in living by the law.  If it's no worse than alcohol, I doubt that it's any better.  If this is so, it introduces a list of social problems, particularly in the hands of  young people.

Is Marijuana a gateway drug to methamphetamines?  You can point to other influences for drug use: social, educational, and psychological.  I think, however, there is a connection.

So I hope that the hemp business is really just about hemp.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Guilt and Consequences

In books, the author gets to impose consequences on his characters.  If they sin, they probably pay the price. In real life, I'm not always sure of this.

In June, I bought an e-reader.  Because books whose copyright have expired are now free, I've read a few from the last century.  Among these are The Mayor of Casterbridge (Hardy, 1886);  Lord Jim (Conrad, 1900); and Under Western Eyes (Conrad, 1911).

The three novels centre around young men who make mistakes in their early life and later suffer because of them.

Michael Henchard, while drunk, humiliates his wife into leaving him for another, taking his daughter. This act comes back to haunt him years later, and ultimately he dies a broken man.

Jim, a young first mate, fearing that his ship might sink, abandons it, along with the captain and two others, leaving eight hundred migrants aboard to fend for themselves.  This act of cowardice plagues him, eventually leading him to seek atonement by taking a fatal bullet for the crime of someone else.

Razumov, a young student, betrays another seeking refuge.  Eventually, he confesses his act and suffers for it.

The plots all depend on the consciences and psychological underpinnings of the characters.  They are about morality.  The conflict is within.

Of course, in novels the author can heighten the drama to keep our interest and make an impact.  I wonder, though, how many actually live their lives tormented by past deeds; and how many  just shrug them off.   

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Too Little In It?

Maybe we're in the wrong neighborhood.  Maybe it's just too hard to sell home services, and those who could provide them have given up.  Most of my neighbors do their own home maintenance, although the odd one hires someone to mow their lawn or pressure wash their driveway.

It's curious to me how seldom anyone tries to sell me services.  I'm not an impulse buyer.  You won't sell me a vacuum cleaner going door to door.  But sometimes I've let someone clean the gutters, wash the windows, trim the hedge, or even pressure wash the walk (before I bought my own pressure washer).

The summer is almost over and no one has asked whether I have something he might do.  After all, I do have things that I've put off or don't quite know whom to ask.

I would think that someone could start a business establishing leads for small businesses or retired persons wanting to do the odd job.  If they asked me, I might say that I'm mostly my own yardman, but I wouldn't mind someone pruning the trees once in a while, or removing the thatch from the lawn and aerating it, or picking up the junk for recycling (Surrey cancelled the annual recycle week), or making minor repairs.  These are things that I might eventually get around to, but someone could also do them for me.  No one asks.

I also wonder why companies, like Sears Home Central, who have done work for me in the past, never call to ask if there is something else they might do.  After all, they re-shingled the roof and installed living room carpet.  Why don't they follow up about doors and windows or kitchen cabinets?  Why leave the initiative always to the customer?

Friday, September 3, 2010

My Many Labels

When I answered the phone at 5:00 am, I was surprised to hear the voice of a former financial advisor.  He was upset.  I was destroying careers.

The previous friday I had called his office, and the staff being away, had left a courtesy message.  I was filing a complaint against an insurance company that was refusing to pay me what they owed.  The annuity in question had been sold by the financial advisor's firm.  I thought I should let them know.

Now I was being told that the complaint would be a mark against one of their young advisors.  I should have discussed the problem with them.  I didn't add to the issue by pointing out that I had written to the other advisor seven months before and had not received an answer.  I explained what I was doing and why.  The financial advisor calmed down when he realized that the complaint was not against his firm.  He finally said he understood.  I asked him if he knew that it was 5:00 am.

To add to my reputation as a "Career Destroyer", I have recently been labeled a "Bible Twister" and a "Breed Racist".

The "Bible Twister" label was given to me by a Jehovah's Witness when I said, among other things, that I didn't think that when the Bible said that Eve was created from the rib of Adam, that this was to be taken literally.  Didn't it mean that Eve was created as a partner to Adam, created in a similar manner?  To say that she was literally created from his rib would make her his clone.  She would have the same DNA and be a man.

No, I was assured, God gave Eve estrogen.  Estrogen?  But you can't change a man to a woman by giving him estrogen.  Well, I was told, Eve was really created from dust.  Safer ground, I assumed.

The label "Breed Racist" came from a statement I made that Pit Bulls can be aggressive and that I'm glad that neither of my neighbors have one.  Didn't I know that it's the owner, not the breed, that causes dogs to be aggressive, I was told.  It may be, I said, but how can I tell which owners raise well-socialized dogs and which raise attack dogs?   It's something I'm happy not to have to worry about.

New labels always come as a surprise.  I try to be a reasonable person.  I guess I'll just have to try harder.


Thursday, September 2, 2010

For a Kegful of Dollars

My 4xg grandfather John Gabriel lived in Cooper County, Missouri.  He owned a distillery, made whiskey, and sold it to the natives.  He also had a nail keg full of silver dollars.

One night in July, 1830, Jack Harris, a slave from a neighbouring farm, and Edmond Gabriel, a slave from the Gabriel farm, called out to John that they wanted to buy some whiskey.  John went with them down to the still.

When they reached the still, Jack Harris struck John with an ax, cleaving his skull, and killing him instantly.  He and Edmond then took the body to the barn, where they tried to make it appear that John had been kicked by a horse.

The next day, Jack Harris was seen in Boonville, Missouri, with a large amount of money.  He was soon arrested.  Edmond Gabriel gave evidence against Jack.  Jack Harris eventually confessed, but said that he had been hired to do it by Abner Weaver, John's stepson and son-in-law, who was after John's money.

Abner's mother, and John Gabriel's second wife, Sarah Jones Gabriel was also implicated.  She was charged and spent nineteen days in jail.  However, Sarah was released for lack of evidence, possibly because Jack Harris, not being a legal person, could not testify in court.  Abner Weaver was also let go.

Jack Harris was hanged.  Edmond Gabriel was sent south and sold.

Sarah Gabriel and Abner Weaver left the county.  It was later rumoured that Abner had been shot and killed in Texas, trying to steal horses.

John's daughter Nellie Gabriel married Henry Fisher. Henry died in 1845, and Nellie managed the family farm for another twenty-eight years, before passing in 1873.  Nellie's granddaughter Emma Fisher Igo was my Mother's grandmother.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Witness at Your Own Risk

I guess I could have told them on the first day that they were probably wasting their time.  However, Jehovah's Witnesses get credit for knocking on doors and giving out their message.  It helps them get to Paradise.

They probably starting coming about eight years ago.  Frank was nice guy who liked my dog, and I didn't mind listening to him.  He would read little passages from the Bible, and I didn't say much.  He had retired from Pepsi-Cola, and I had worked briefly for Pepsi in the 1960's.

In January of last year Frank suffered an aortic aneurysm.  Whether he elected not to have surgery or it wasn't possible, I don't know, but Frank passed away.  I went to his memorial service at the Kingdom Hall.

After that, Frank's friend Peter started coming to the door.  Peter was far more intense than Frank. When I didn't respond properly to his message, he started warning me about my fate.  I told him that the Bible needed to be interpreted; that you couldn't accept every word literally.  Gradually our relationship deteriorated.

Last fall, we agreed that Peter wouldn't come to my house anymore.  His partner tried to object, saying that  she would rather argue with me than have the door slammed in her face.  Peter overruled her.  He said that what I meant by "interpreting" the Bible was "twisting" it.

I once asked Peter if all Jehovah's Witnesses thought exactly the same way.  He assured me that they did and what was wrong with that?  I thought about freedom of thought and respect for the opinions of others, but didn't press it.  

I was concerned that although my next door neighbour had never witnessed to me, he is a Jehovah's Witness, and maybe our relationship would be damaged.  We didn't seem to speak for awhile.  He came over last week to ask a favour, though, so I guess we're still getting along.