Tag Archives: security

Thoughts on 9/11 Ten Years After

I am probably one of very few people in North America who has never seen a picture of the Twin Towers falling. Ever. In ten years. There are several reasons for this. I didn’t and don’t have a TV because I feel very bludgeoned emotionally by the trauma and tragedy of the world. It doesn’t mean I don’t care. I care very much. Too much. So I have never wanted to see the people falling, the towers crumbling.

Even ten years later, when CBC’s The Current talks to a girl who was 12 at the time in a school near by, I find myself welling up with tears and emotion. It affected me enough that I don’t think I could handle the images. And I know what a terrible thing it was.

I was geographically far removed from the event, living in Vancouver, BC. And when a friend posted online in the morning before I went to work that a plane had flown into the World Trade Center I thought it was an unfortunate accident. As I drove to work I soon realized the severity of what was going on. I was glued to the radio all day, alternating between tears and panic.

I felt a fear that day that I had never known before and it makes me very sad to realize that many people have gone through this or live in a constant state of fear in countries and regimes fueled by violence and tyrannies. My world, my comfy world of little mundane issues was turned upside down. Like many, I didn’t know if we were under attack and war had reached our shores. I only know that my security was undermined and I was not prepared. Ten years later, were we to be attacked full on, I find I’m still unprepared. How do you prepare for such a thing. I’d like to think I’d survive, that I’m tough, that I’d adapt, but I don’t really know, and I hope I never have to find out.

The falling of the towers was also the final clincher in my mental health. I didn’t know I was going into clinical depression. I was already suffering from despair and sadness and not being able to cope with the little things. I was knocked completely for a loop after that. It was a long, painful year of recovery after that.

My story “Horizons” for the Mammoth Book of On the Road was for a collection of road trip stories. It was written during this time and about a woman who is late for work and therefore doesn’t die when 9/11 happens. She deals with guilt about being tardy while others were good and showed up on time. She also chooses to disappear, drive into the wilderness and camp for who will know that she didn’t die in the collapse of the towers? Interestingly, this story (which is not SF) got very little attention or reviews and even I forget about its existence. I might post it on this blog in the next few days.

What 9/11 did was put the Taliban on the map for many of us. It also gave George Bush his misguided holy crusade. Perhaps the good things were that emergency response measures and security were looked at closely but we also received an overlarge dose of paranoia. To this day it’s easier to fly from Canada to Europe than it is to the US because of ludicrous standards. And line ups and waits at airports seem to increase every year with another over-the-top precaution. Not all of them are but there are significantly stupid ones.

Many of us perhaps grew more fearful. Overall I haven’t, though it’s such reminders as this and close friends dying that tell me to enjoy every day and make it worthwhile. I still love and fear but I don’t let some threat keep me from doing the things I want, ever. And I will never understand nor condone that innocent lives should ever be taken just so some nutjob who wants to push his/her views on someone else can get attention. Here’s to world peace, letting us live and love and working at not hurting each other.

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Vancouver and the Olympics

Well, I wasn’t really going to post much more on the Olympics. After all, they’ve started and no matter how much I dislike the amount of money spent, they’re in full swing. And it’s time for the athletes to shine.

I won’t be going to any of the paid venues because I can’t afford them. I’m not a big fan of crowds but there’s still a chance I can take in one of the many free events going on. It’s a bit odd on how quiet the media was about these until just a few days before. One or two newspapers listed them but I heard little on the radio, my main form of news.

Grey skies and flowers in Feb.

In the transportation end of things VANOC stressed (with many signs on the major thoroughfares) to take alternative forms of transportation for the Olympics. Walk, bike or transit the signs said. Then the “buts” began. But, said John Furlong, try not take transit when people are trying to get to their time-sensitive venues. He somehow missed that people had time-sensitive jobs and not all of us get free time to watch the Olympics. You can bike but don’t use transit at the same time because, although people are normally allowed to take their bikes normally, they can’t during the Olympics. Oh and you can walk, but don’t expect to actually get to where you’re going. Areas are cordoned off  without even a walkway through.

A friend of mine tried to get to the Arts Club Theatre to see a play a week ago, before the Olympics started. She gave herself plenty of time and took the SkyTrain. When she got off she went to take one of the small boats to Granville Island but the route was blocked off. She called Arts Club who would not change her ticket to another time and gave her a long circuitous route, involving a lot of walking, two buses and a shuttle to get to Granville Island. She never made it and found out later that Arts Club neglected to mention the train running from where she was, at Science World, right to Granville Island.

However, that said, extra SkyTrains and buses have been running, and another friend reports that her sister (visiting from Scotland) has made it on time to every venue in under an hour. VANOC seems to be doing a good job in having extra vehicles, as long as you can take transit under their terms. Don’t count on anything else and don’t count on taxis. In regards to other traffic around the lower mainland, it’s been the same as always or lighter and I’ve not had to deal with any changes, but then I’m avoiding downtown.

I live near one of the practice rinks. A few weeks ago they started cordoning off the rink from the gym, school and other facilities. I work out at the gym and was made aware well in advance of the upcoming inconvenience. They put up large concrete barricades and started erecting the chainlink fence. It’s not just a single fence but the outer fence is around six feet and the inner fence is 8-10 feet high. Thankfully, there is no razor wire at the top or slavering dogs running about. It was uglier until they put up the blue green branding tarps that’s part of the official Olympics look. I have to say this, the colors are nice and the blue and green must represent the greenery of BC, available all year round in the grass here in Vancouver, and the blue of the ocean (certainly not the sky, which is often grey in winter). And a bit of white.

Cameras clustered like grapes.

I wasn’t too happy to see Stalag 2010 going in and I still think it’s overkill. There are two security checkpoints around the rink, but not where the vehicles drive in. There is a third one for the official vehicles. But what I find even more ridiculous is the overkill of the spyeyes. These cameras are in clusters of three, plus a few other individual ones, plus the people in the three security booths, plus the guys in the parking lot, plus the person checking people’s passes, all behind the blue-green fence. And this is only a practice rink for something, hockey I would presume. Yikes!

Now as to the Olympics. Yes, I’ve seen some on TV. I watched some of the opening ceremonies and from what I saw they did look spectacular. Nicely done and I loved all the First Nations dancers and the giant drum. The speculation over the final torch bearer probably met everyone’s expectations with five bearers (Rick Hansen bringing the torch to the four: Nancy Greene, Wayne Gretzky, Steve Nash, Catriona LeMay Doan), and eight Canadian greats bringing in the Olympic flag (Donald Sutherland, Anne Murray, Romeo Dallaire, Betty Fox representing Terry Fox, Bobby Orr, Jacques Villeneuve, Julie Payette, Barbara Ann Scott).  But I didn’t watch it all. Still it does look world class.

The sports proceed apace and so do the protests. It is the right of every person to protest or not and do so peacefully. Unfortunately black robed and hooded thugs who care nothing about either the Olympics or the protestors’ legitimate concerns joined the crowds to cause violence and general anarchy, and put eight police in hospital the first night. I do not condone this nor support it in any way and those people should be arrested and locked up. They hurt everything, from the Olympics to the protestors to the police who are just doing their jobs. It’s one reason why I worry about going downtown and getting caught in some thug’s idea of a good time.

I hope the Olympics go well, I hope the athletes do fantastic and I hope the next venues to do the Olympics don’t feel the need to do one  upmanship and increase the ludicrous spending.

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VANOC Police State?

Well, Vancouver, are we about to be a police state? Will we feel more protected or more repressed with the beginning of the Olympics? The one billion dollar budget (that somehow the provincial government forgot to include when they were selling BC on this venture) for security means we’ll have such a plethora of police and guards that criminals are bound to take a vacation elsewhere.

A police state is defined as the “government exercises rigid and repressive controls over the social, economic and political life” of the people. It’s hard to know in advance how our social life will be affected because two weeks before they start road closures (yes, 12 days before the Olympics) we still don’t know what roads will be closed. You’d think that they might at least let us know this in advance because it will inconvenience people. And of course road closures do curtail social aspects in certain areas and affect the economic realities of businesses in these zones. And let’s see, political life. Well, Stephen Harper has decided to prorogue parliament on another whim, saying it’s to get the budget in order. Errr, excuse me, but that’s what working every day as a politician is about, not taking a vacation from the hard questions. But let’s just cease any government until after the Olympics. I’m not sure Canada will have much difference from Beijing on repression.

Interestingly, this morning CBC interviewed the person who had been in charge of the Salt Lake City Olympics security. He said police were in bright jackets so you always knew where they were. When asked about how he handled road closures he said he didn’t know because they only closed a couple of roads around the site. Unlike Vancouver, where routes into the downtown core will be closed completely, and other areas around the city will be blocked or narrowed to one lane. Anywhere where an athlete might go, might practice or might compete, will have numerous restrictions. Of course with no map yet of what areas this will be we, the simple citizens who live and work here will be left with a bewildering maze to maneuver last minute.

Oh and Translink and VANOC spoke the other day urging people to not take transit between 2 and 7 pm  so that people could get to their “time-sensitve venues.” So what are people supposed to do with those time-sensitive things called jobs? Signs put up at various intersections are already spouting to bike, walk or take transit for the 2010 Olympics. So which is it, VANOC? Do you want us to take transit but only when it won’t inconvenience all those people paying big bucks for tickets?

On top of that, we have had lessons by way of radio (and I can presume TV but I don’t watch it) on how to behave. Be nice to visitors, they say. Duh. Hello, VANOC, you’re dealing with Canadians and we are supposed to be polite by nature. Maybe not perfectly polite and we’ll be less so after we deal with delays in transit and road closures (and believe me, there is enough road rage/aggressive driving already). In fact, I’ve changed doctor’s appointments and moved them back so that I don’t have to go downtown during the Olympics. I’m not even sure I could get down there, let alone that it wouldn’t take four hours.

So the VANOC thought police are trying to bring us into line, make us behave, line up where we should and stay away if we interfere with their game. We will only be able to protest in set areas. We’ll see how that goes. I just wish all the ridiculous overkill in security (far more than heads of state even get) was not deterring from the actual Olympic feats of the athletes. As it is, I won’t be able to afford to go, I probably would not be able to drive up to Whistler without using some VANOC sanctioned vehicle, and I’ll be paying, along with everyone else for a long time.

This could have been cheaper if it wasn’t taken to olympic proportions. These people aren’t gods and nor is VANOC god. I really hope that we can survive this without feeling that we’ve been scrutinized in every direction. On that note, I haven’t heard from the VANOC thought police yet but because I’ve been protesting here I’m sure that I’m on their radar as some sort of subversive. I protest with words but VANOC would prefer even that to be repressed. Sorry, folks, but I find little to be shiny happy about with this. To the athletes, I hope you have a marvellous competition and that you’re treated well. You should be; we’re being told to greet you on bended knee.

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Why Protest the Olympics

There are people out there wondering why anyone would protest the Olympics while others are happy to protest anything for the sake of protest and anti-disestablismentarianism. Recently as the torch relay began in Victoria, pre-emptive strikes were taken by the organizers to ferry the torch bearers in a van around protestors. According to other media reports the protestors and police both met their mandate without violence or arrests.

Yet these torch bearers were cosseted away so that the protestors couldn’t protest the relay. Now I don’t know what exactly this group of protestors were trying to raise their voices against in regards to the Olympics but the last I remember (despite the changes to human rights laws that Harper has been making) Canada was a fairly free country with the right to freedom of speech. That means that if we disagree with our government and politics, or if we agree, we are allowed to voice our opinions.

BC MLA Harry Bloy would rather we have a totalitarian state in which everyone is a shiny happy person loving all that the government does. And if not, well then, off with their heads. He in fact stated the following: “People who protest the Winter Olympics are nothing more than terrorists with limited intellect…” Wow. So now we have one of the new catch phrases in our modern vernacular, right after George Bush’s overused hyperbole of “axis of evil”  and the “war on terror” with using “terrorist” for anyone who does something I don’t like.

Here’s how I see the whole Olympics thing. The Olympic sports are a great thing. Having the top athletes compete against other countries in something that isn’t blood and violence is something that should be encouraged. Extolling the best in the world in athletics is a memorable moment and people who excel whether as brain surgeons, ballet dancers, runners or engineers should be acknowledged and cheered for their excellence and skill. I applaud that.

What I do not applaud is the Olympic committee (both internationally and VANOC) which makes their rules over those jurisdictions civic, provincial and federal. What I do not believe in is spending millions, promising the taxpayers all the time that the Olympics won’t run overbudget nor will our taxes be raised (can anyone say HST) to pay for this fanfare…and all the time we know they are going to go overbudget. What I do not support is millions of dollars spent for fancy buildings, some of which are only temporary, while people are losing jobs, and lives, because of healthcare cuts. What I protest is a million dollars worth of free tickets for politicians when nothing has been mentioned on what people who don’t have a $100 for a ticket can see.

I think these are worthy things to protest. Not the sports themselves, nor the athletes. I protest attitudes and security of a greater level than that of visiting heads of state even seem to get. I protest to the fact that anyone who has a problem with so much money gone to frivolity is deemed a terrorist by an arrogant politician who has no clue what it’s like to be underprivileged. I protest to a lowbrow attitude that anyone who dislikes the Liberal government’s brazen disregard for people in real straights (and taking forever to even give paramedics a contract) is considered of low intellect. Mr. Bloy, let’s you and I go take an IQ test and see who comes out on top.

I also protest people who protest anything just for the sake of being contrary, but I don’t believe this is the case with many of the protesters. They want people to know that not everyone is happy with the money being thrown at the Olympics, and when has an Olympics event ever made money for the hosting city? Isn’t it only once in recent memory? It would be better to say that I don’t protest the Olympics but that I protest VANOC and the International Olympics Committee, and I’ll continue to as long as we see unfairness and inequality happening even with this.

http://www.bclocalnews.com/greater_vancouver/burnabynewsleader/news/68785952.html

Addendum: Feb. 14–In light of the fact that this is now getting even more attention, although I wrote it several months ago, I’m going to add to it, to clarify. And to comment to the comments below.

I’m a little amazed that the commenter below equates spending tons of money with fun, joy-filled lives and spending no money with a boring, joyless life. There is quite a range in between no money and some money. Not to mention that, guess what, you can actually have fun and not be bored by spending little to no money. But I’m not going to list activities for you here. Spending far overbudget on the Olympics does not necessarily lead to joy. Did you see anywhere in my post where I said this or that we should spend no money? Nope. What I protest is the overspending and VANOC/IOC’s attitude.

If you’re not sure what I’m talking about read my recent post about the IOC’s attitudes towards Australia’s athletes hanging the boxing kangaroo flag in the Oympic village, or my post of Feb. 9th in regards to overkill on the budget. Here are a few more examples of the wastage of money better spent.

I know someone who was hired to get the communications village built up at Whistler for the various media. A temporary structure, it was already behind schedule and he was the second or third person hired to oversee it. Meetings in Madrid and other parts of Europe and a command to get it done, no matter the cost. He was also replaced by yet another person. Who knows how many to this date but you can bet money was wasted replacing person after person as some used the prestige of having an Olympics contract to push them into a better job, or the ones in charge let people go so they could maneuver in who they wanted.

Here’s another example. Campbell bragged this week of the $450 million spent on sports as part of the Oympics while at the same time his government has cut the arts funding budget for BC from $47 million to $3 million in just two years (that’s over 90% cut which no other area has experienced so drastically). Arts, like all the ones seen at the Olympic opening ceremonies. It’s not wrong to support sports but it is wrong to slash and get rid of arts and then demonize and pit artists against children saying if we give money to the arts we cannot give chidren a school lunch program. Even $47 million is pretty small peanut next to what’s been spent on sports or the Olympics over all. Oddly they didn’t pit the athletes against the children.

I talk to people in this city worried about the raise in taxes that will come (and has in several ways already) because of the Olympics. They worry about their children suffering under the debt that we will still be paying off twenty plus years from now. Yes, the Olympics cost money. That’s a given. But there could have been much more of a middle ground and I for one never believed the glosses that  came out in the beginning where they (politicians of course) promised us that we would not see a hike in our taxes to pay for this and that it wouldn’t run overbudget. Oddly enough, to the commenter below, because of spending all this money we could very well be leading boring and joyless lives for years to come because of the tax burden that we will be shouldering. Next time you choose a book over a movie or a walk in nature over dining in an expensive restaurant, tell me if you’re having a boring and joyless time.

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Big Brother IS Watching, You and You and Me

George Orwell, like a fair number of science fiction  writers (Clarke, Heinlein, Asimov, Dick and others), visualized some aspect of a future world, perhaps an alternate world but created a story nonetheless that had some essence of things to come.

As Wikipedia says: The novel has become famous for its portrayal of pervasive government surveillance and control, and government’s increasing encroachment on the rights of the individual. Since its publication, many of its terms and concepts, such as “Big Brother“, “doublethink“, and “Newspeak” have entered the popular vernacular.

Indeed, the phrase “Big Brother is watching” is synonymous with too much government control, or the totalitarianism that Orwell feared. After 9/11 and the right-wing paranoia of the Bush administration we saw the rise of Homeland Security, where people’s rights were taken away. Some disappeared into Guantanamo without anyone knowing where they went, without any legal aid or advice. Others, while flying through the US, were shipped off to other countries for torture, regardless of what their citizenship was.  The phrase “Homeland Security” is reminiscent of the Fatherland (Hitler’s Third Reich) and the Motherland (Communist Russia). Though these last two are examples of extreme right wing and extreme left wing governments, they both encompass a totalitarianism and the circumventing of the rights of the individual, for the greater good, for the country.

It used to be that a camera trained on you and watching your every move was considered an invasion of privacy. Many years ago, before Homeland Security, my boyfriend had a friend in Calgary that worked for the local telecommunications company (at that time AGT–Alberta Government Telephones). He could not say what he did but it involved hidden cameras trained onto the streets outside the buildings. Every war commander knows that the way to break the enemy, to overcome them, is to either hinder or monitor their communications.  So every wise nation protects its communications and every ambitious or suspicious nation spies on its perceived enemies and communicates what it sees.

There are numerous instances of spy planes and spies. We accept that that is what countries do. There are cameras on you at the border or at your bank machine, to protect you. There are cameras on the roads now, webcams we call them, that show us the line-up at ferries, or freeways, or intersections, or borders. These are all informative pictures that we can use to plan around daily obstacles. But that is not their main purpose. They are surveillance methods to watch and control people, and to identify someone should there have been an accident, a murder, an escape.

There are those that argue that we need the greater security. We need protection from the evil terrorist/mugger/alien/your favorite bad guy. And yes, we do need some form of security, but there comes a time when government or police forces are also watching too much and our individual freedom is curtailed. I would say there is not one person who has not committed a small crime or infringement, whether it’s lying, cheating, jaywalking, running a yellow light, or drinking too much. Which means, that we’re all human and if allowed our little indiscretions, will most likely not make the bigger ones.

When I worked for Nokia, there were cameras everywhere. Corporate espionage is high. However, with all those cameras in the halls and the reception area, they were not allowed to train cameras on our workspaces, nor in the bathrooms. I’m not sure what the exact law it but watching someone 24/7 is not allowed. The head of security also told us that though they viewed all video footage they could not report on such things as two people having sex in the office. This video footage was only for such crimes as theft and breaking and entering.

Sarnia, Ontario is upset over a US surveillance balloon that watches over the river. The company claims it can be used for disaster planning, and other situations that arise. However, the mayor of Sarnia says that when the balloon (with camera inside that can see for 5 miles) first went up the company said it was for Homeland Security, but now they sing another song and say it’s not trained on Sarnia and it’s just research.

Google Earth has already heard concerns about their filming of much of the world, down to vans with cameras driving on the streets. And that many of these cameras take a picture of everything on the street, including you getting into your car, coming and going, and in some cases right into your windows to see what you’re up to. Sure, they claim it’s inadvertent but the pictures of us are showing up everywhere, even if we eliminate You Tube.

The 2010 Olympics will see a gigantic increase in security forces in and around Vancouver. They will be putting up many more cameras than are already up, by government and private businesses. After the Athens Olympics all extra cameras were supposed to come down. Instead the police turned them into citizen surveillance systems. Hello, Big Brother. BC’s privacy commissioner has promised that we won’t have the same situation.

Taken from A Report on Camera Surveillance in Canada: “Despite the growth in CCTV, there is not convincing  research evidence that it aids in deterring, responding to and investigating crime.” That’s just one study but the Big Brother security folks want to sell cameras and keep their jobs and probably think we should live in a society that watches your every move and therefore you must behave. http://www.surveillanceproject.org/files/SCAN_Report_Phase1_Final_Jan_30_2009.pdf

There is a group counting the cameras in Greater Vancouver before the Olympics so that people can, in general be aware of how much surveillance there always is. But if you plan to come to the Olympics and actually venture anywhere public in Vancouver, you can bet that you’ll be filmed. In fact, there is probably not a street in any commercial area that doesn’t have one camera or another. It’s pretty impossible to remain invisible these days unless you’re in the boonies. Big Brother is here, and is watching all of us right now.  And maybe, just maybe, Big Brother likes to watch.

 

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Who Watches the Watchmen: Police Investigating Themselves

Canada’s police have been going through the ringer lately and rightfully so. We have both civic police and the RCMP. In some cities and jurisdictions the RCMP are the only police force where there is no other policing body. They are spawned from Canada’s oldest police unit, the NorthWest Mounted Police (NWMP). They began with the fur trade, the frontier and the Gold Rush. There are romantic images of Mounties on their horses, dressed in the traditional red serge uniform with the brown stetson hat. They were considered noble and strong, and the Mounties “always get their man” was a tagline for years.

Now, a cumulation of mismanagement, inferior training, bad judgment calls and arrogance have come back to smack the force in the face. Their reputation has deteriorated so much in recent years that they are becoming a laughing stock. It didn’t help that they sold the copyright to their image to Disney. Yes, perhaps Mickey Mouse could do better in red serge.

What has lead to this now lamentable record and public scorn? There are several very public cases, the most notorious, that of Robert Dziekanski who was tasered to death at the Vancouver airport by four RCMP officers. Dziekanski’s biggest fault: he didn’t speak English and was confused from hours of being lost in the airport with inept handling from airport staff. And he picked up a desk stapler. The ensuing inquiry that wrapped up recently showed a farce of statements by the supposedly well-trained Mounties who should be able to resolve many situations with communication and not escalated violence.

Besides statements that contradicted the video footage (and without it Dziekanski would be dead and we would never have come close to the truth) the big, strong and supposedly fit officers feared for their lives and that of their fellow officers, because Dziekanski picked up a desk stapler. As I’ve said before, if these guys get scared so easily then they have no right being a police officer. And this statement, them fearing for their lives, is a crucial phrase that probably every RCMP officer ever investigated for a death at their hand has uttered.

Other notable cases were that of Kevin St. Arnaud, shot dead after being chased through a field and surrendering. The officer, a rookie, said St. Arnaud looked threatening and was overtop of him where he fell, when he fired. Witnesses (including 24-year veteran officer) and forensic evidence indicated the officer was standing and five meters away when he fired, and that St. Arnaud had raised his hands in surrender. The outcome: the officer was not found to have committed any wrongdoing.

The other case was Ian Bush, shot in the back of the head while in police detention. Again, it took place in northern BC and a rooky copy said it was self-defense because he was being choked. Yet Bush was shot in the back of the head, not the side or front. Forensic evidence and character witnesses didn’t match up to what happened. Yet again, the officer feared for his life.

These are just three cases that took place in BC, and rookie cops were involved in two of them But in all three a man died and the officers feared for their lives in questionable circumstances. And in all three, charges were not laid, though the Dziekanski case could still see charges brought against the officers because of its high publicity if nothing else. And in all three cases the police investigated their own.

There have been outcries of biased investigation, which the RCMP adamantly deny. Of course they would but the evidence stacks against them. Questionable outcomes, officers never found in the wrong and a system that perpetuates itself in negligence and inefficient training have knocked the RCMP down to little better than some criminals. Still, this is not the majority of officers, but bad and very notorious publicity hurts their image as a whole.

Some areas in Alberta use retired police officers to investigate deaths involving officers but even so, there is still the possibility of the police protecting their own and staying loyal to an ethic that has been passed down through the years. Having different officers from other regions investigate an event has the same problem. Sometimes junior officers have investigated senior officers, where inexperience will lend itself to abuse or misjudgment.

The recently completed report on RCMP self-investigation recommends “that serious cases involving sexual assault, death or serious injury cases should, in some cases, be turned over to outside investigators to ensure independence.” Absolutely. And though the RCMP are balking at some of these recommendations, there shouldn’t be a problem if an investigative body was set up. These situations are still relatively rare and no matter where a death or sexual assault happened in the province investigators could fly there within two hours.

It will be extremely rare where there could be two cases at once. The RCMP should welcome a nopartial investigation. As well, as I’ve said before they need to look at themselves and their training all over again. New drivers in BC have to display an “N” for a year or two and have certain restrictions. Perhaps rookies in the RCMP should have the same and not be allowed out on their own or maybe even carry a gun until they know how to handle themselves. (Ireland actually runs with no police officers carrying guns.) And some retraining in nonagressive means needs to be carried out. A friend who was once a police officer said that officers are not given much training in martial arts or even negotiation, which means they’ll often go for weapons before negotiation.

I hope the RCMP will see this as a way to buff up their now very tarnished image (especially in BC) and accept the recommendations gracefully. I hope they’ll look at retraining and extended training in peaceful negotiations and in disarming someone without escalating violence. And I hope they will be able to live up to the former image of being Canada’s finest and noble security force.

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Vermeer and Rembrandt at the Vancouver Art Gallery

Last night I attended the show at the Vancouver Art Gallery; “Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art Masterpieces from The Rijksmuseum.” I went with a friend who is also interested in art history so we tended to discuss details and  techniques a lot. Though you could zip through the show in about 20 minutes, we took two hours. The show was bigger than I was expecting. In the past, some of the VAG shows were really lacking so it was a pleasant surprise.

The works included mostly paintings, some etchings, charcoal and brush sketches, drypoint work, watercolors of plants, blown glass goblets and containers, Delft ceramic tiles and vessels and silver items (and a few miniature chairs, 6 inches high). Although Vermeer and Rembrandt were featured as the main (or most famous) attractions, there was a myriad of works by other Dutch masters, many who had been trained by Rembrandt. A few of the names I remember from the show are: Gerard Ter Borch (quite a few pieces), Frans Hals, Karel du Jardin, Adriaen van Ostade, Jan Steen, Pieter de Hooch, Aelbert Cuyp,  Salomon van Ruysdael, Hobbema, Visscher, etc.

The pictures ranged in size from small etchings and sketches (4-5 inches) up to five foot paintings. Many were either in original or very old wooden frames. I wished there had been more detail on the frames but we realised that the makers were probably lost in antiquity as just nameless craftsmen. One frame was carved with leaves and berries, a blank shield at the top and an odd woodsy, gnome face at the bottom. It was a true work of art in itself and about three inches in depth.

The images themselves ranged from watercolors of plants and portraits. to pastoral images, cityscapes, mythical and iconic images, still lifes of fruit, flowers, vessels, dead animals, portraits of course and daily life scenes. Overall it was a very good cross section of the Golden Age of Dutch art. Not many of the paintings were ones that I am familiar with, and I have looked at a good many books of medieval and renaissance art, but many were recognizable as being by one person or the next.

Four glass vessels were in the show; three drinking glasses and a flask in blue with engraved swirls and words on it. The other three were blown glasses and the plainest was also very interesting. It was a small cylindrical beaker of about 4 inches in height, of very clear glass (harder to attain in those eras) and with a few decorations that looked like wriggly worms with hands at the end, in clear and teal blue glass. I found the decoration, which covered the lower quarter of the glass, almost modern in its design. The glass vessels were also included to compliment the paintings which had similar or exact goblets in the images.

The silver items were amazingly shiny and looked brand new. I believe that the museums must have cleaned and polished them at the point of acquiring them. There were platters, ewers, spice sets, candlesticks, containers and a Jewish menorah. Many were covered with flowers and chasework, and sometimes whimsical creatures or raised motifs and arms. It would have been nice to have had more of a write-up beside these pieces. I wanted to know if they were molded, hammered, chased, or other techniques but they were probably like the glass vessels, meant to compliment images in the paintings.

The paintings were all behind glass, put into the frames. All of the three-dimensional artifacts were in Plexiglas cases on graphite metal stands, very sturdy and no way they could be knocked over. VAG is notorious for being somewhat lower grade when it comes to museum security, a reason that the truly great pieces of art don’t always make it to Vancouver. There were the requisite guards/watchers in every room. Several guys had that CIA look with a cord wriggling into their ears and walkies in their hands, but were professional and inobtrusive. The rest were probably volunteers and not “real” security.

This caused its own problem near the end, after we had been walking around the exhibition for nearly two hours. My friend and I discussed pieces, looking closely at brushstrokes and details, or how a hand, a vessel or a building had been rendered. We talked about qualities of light, colors used, whether a piece was faded, the faces realistic, the towns real or fantasy, the landscapes, etc. as well as the difference from one master or one painting to another. I need reading glasses for up close and used them to see the fine detail of the paint, which brought me within a few inches of the painting.

I’m very well aware of museum protocols and would never touch a painting or drawing (though almost all were under glass anyways) because I know the damage these would cause. So as my friend and I talked about the works she or I would point out something in a painting, using a finger to point. At one point I leaned in to look at a small painting and put my hand on the edge of the metal stand of the display right next to the painting. In swooped a watcher and told me not to touch the stand. I was hardly jeopardizing the piece or the stand.

The next and last room had paintings ranging in size down to a smaller piece about eight-twelve inches long. As we discussed the image of the woman taking off her stockings (a painting I have seen before) in her bedroom, I pointed out the lines that her garters had left on her legs. In swooped the socially inept watcher to say, don’t touch the paintings. I pointed out that I wasn’t and she replied, your fingers don’t have eyes so they don’t need to be so close. ??? WTF? This did irritate me in the rudeness and inanity of it all. And we had done this throughout the full exhibition only to have this creature at the end get proprietary with her little ounce of power. I wrote a letter to the VAG, not that it will do much good (years ago I used to volunteer there until they started charging their volunteers–yep, pay to volunteer).

All in all, I thought it was a good show and a great chance to see the actual works of the Dutch masters that I had not seen before in person. The admission isn’t cheap at $20.50. (I believe Tuesday nights might be free but you’d have to check that.) If you’re used to museums in England and Scotland where they are now mostly free, it’s a lot. Luckily I had a pass, but it was worth it, except for the few troglodyte guard dogs.

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US Border Security Escapades

Over the years I have gone over the Canadian-US border a lot. With friends in Seattle I’d drive down sometimes several times a month. In most cases, there have been the usual spate of questions by the border guards and away I’d go. Since 9/11 I’ve only been stopped once, which was pretty much the random draw of the lane. Some guards have been big on asking numerous questions, which often contain, where are you going, where are you staying, how long will you be gone, how long have you known your friends, where did you meet them, open your trunk, whose car is this, where do you work, etc. Fairly standard. The following three tales relate some of the more…involved interactions with US border security (who are definitely more tight-assed than the Canadian side).

Incident one really wasn’t a big issue. A friend and I were going down to the US on a sunny Sunday. We noticed that day that there were a lot of Asians and Arabic people. And sure enough we were pulled over and searched at random. However, when we had to go inside and present our ID and answer questions, we noticed the predominance of the aforementioned peoples. I told my friend at that point that it was obvious we were picked just so that US customs could not be charged with racism in their searches. I’d say the ratio was one white person/car to ten people of darker skin types. Interesting when you consider that the border crossings probably have the ratio the other way around with at least ten white people to one person of color going over. This was before we heard much of the phrase “racial profiling.”

Incident number two involved the fast lane border passes. I forget what they were called but they all ended with September 11, and several years later they brought back the passes but call them Nexus now. Because I was going down every weekend I applied for and received the pass. It took months to receive. The first day of using it, which speeds up going through the border when you have nothing to declare, was a Sunday. I picked up my friend and we started on our way down. Now I had an apple in the car that I had been intending to eat and forgot about.

We we arrived at the booth, in honesty I said, I have an apple I forgot to eat (which was most likely a Washington apple anyways). Well, the border guard, you know the type, the ex-arm sergeant who’s bitter that he didn’t get promoted who believes everyone is still a bug that has to be brought into line and brainwashed to OBEY ORDERS tells me to pull over. I got out of the car and said, “Here is the offending apple.”

But, oh no, that was not good enough. We had to go upstairs. I can’t remember whether they searched the car but most likely. We had to stand with all the other boys and girls and wait to get a filled out reprimand form for disobeying the rules of the pass, where I tried to reiterate that I had only forgotten to eat the apple and I had let them know, which was not heard and I was told, another infringement and we will take away your pass. It was my first day of using it, I had been honest about what I had, it was a mistake, but still I was treated like I was one degree short of a mass murderer. 

Shortly after, 9/11 happened and the passes were made null and void. However, they didn’t refund our money for the unused portions. I should say that with the pass, if you bought anything at all, even a pack of gum, you were expected to fill out a claim form to be deposited when you went through the border. The problem with these forms was that the provincial government would then send you a bill for any taxes on the amount spent. Normally, when you buy something and go through the border you have a tax/duty free exemption of a certain amount depending on how long you’ve been gone. This was somehow waived if you used the passes and had to pay more. Which did garner me another search when I bought a bottle of wine and chose to go through the regular lineup rather than pay extra taxes (which defeated the purpose of buying over the border).

Incident number 3 involved going down for the Christmas holidays. It was the morning of Christmas eve and I was planning to stay at my friends in Tacoma, driving down in my Honda Civic. However, we had had a freak snowstorm the night before, with about two-three feet of snow, and I couldn’t get my car out of the parking spot.

I chose to take the bus rather than remain in Canada for the holidays. Over the years I have had streaks of color in my hair: turquoise, blue, purple, red. I’m not sure what color it was then but probably purple. We’re not talking punkified cuts here but long hair with a streak or two. I had a winter coat that was made up of squares of purple, yellow and green. I wore quite a few rings.

When we arrived at the border, we all had to disembark and go through customs. At the counter this hulking black guy started asking questions that went something like this: Where are you going? To my friends for Christmas. What are you going to do there? Eat and sleep and visit. How much money are you bringing down? About $30. That’s not very much. What if you need something. It’s Christmas eve; I’m not planning to shop. The stores will be closed. What if you get stranded or the bus breaks down? I’ll call my friends. What if you can’t reach them? I have three credit cards right here. You could have them maxed out. What are you going to do if you’re stuck? (At this point I was getting angry. I almost said, I’ll stand on the street corner and sell my rings.) My cards aren’t maxed out. I could call my friends or use my bank card. How do I know that you have any money in your account? (I almost said, but bit my tongue, are you asking me all these questions because of the color of my hair? ) Look, I was going to drive down but my car got stuck in all the snow. (Suddenly a look that suggests I’ve just moved one level above bug out to steal US jobs on Christmas eve.) Oh, you have a car? Yes, I couldn’t drive because of the freak snow storm. (And luckily for me.) Here’s a bank receipt from yesterday showing that I have money in my account. Oh, you have money in your account. Okay you’re free to go. Have a nice Christmas. Yeah, right. (What this guy was really trying for was to make me cry so that he could go, why are you crying? Oh, don’t worry, little lady, you can go now.)

I will never ever ever take a bus over the border again. They automatically think you’re an unemployed lowlife. Still, it wasn’t as bad as the woman I sat beside on the way back. She was American living and working in Canada. She said, It doesn’t matter which customs I go through. Watch, I’ll be the last back on the bus. She had to bring bill receipts showing she had an address in Canada because the official letter/piece of paper wasn’t enough. And sure enough they ran her through the ringer before she was allowed back on the bus.

If you’re ever needing good examples of anal retention and people pushing power, the border is a great place place to hang out.

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Keeping Track When Your Cat Makes Tracks

This was first published in Technocopia in 2000. I have updated the links. Remember the technology may have changed in nine years.

I heard a vet on CBC radio say that cats need a square mile of territory each, hence why they fight so much in the city. My cat certainly likes his outdoors but if he actually traveled a square mile he’d be made into road pizza by the semis that hurtle along the road several blocks away. So where does he go during the day when he’s not eating and sleeping?

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it’s also bitten Technocopia’s readers who have asked a similar question: How can I keep track of my cat (or dog)? Of course, most vets will admonish that the way to keep your cat safest and to know where it is, is to keep it indoors. For those who believe in individual freedom for felines tracking them is not such a problem, or is it?

What happens if Sigmund your purebred Burmese is catnapped, or Frodo the Pekingese dog escapes house arrest yapping into the wild blue yonder and isn’t seen for hours? There are even people in the agricultural sector who would love to know where their cattle get rustled to or find that little lost sheep in the hills giving birth to three-headed twins.

While people are interested in tracking their animals for different reasons, the technology has not lived up to need. Global positioning systems (GPS) on the market for everything from yachts to directional maps in cars have not been viable for tracking animals. The cat’s collar would need a receiver for gathering information from the GPS satellite, and a transmitter to send to the home base—your home PC or a receiving center.

GPS tracking has the additional problems of losing transmissions emitted from building interiors, too big and heavy for most animals to wear, only certain regions are covered, and it would need constant battery replenishment to operate twenty-four hours a day. Until the units become more compact and lighter they’re not a good bet for finding your cat.

The GPS problem seemed solved when a company called Global Trak announced devices such as Pet Trak, Execu Trak, Senior Trak and Kid Trak, a line of personal GPS tracking devices small enough to put in a purse or on the wrist of a child. For about $695 you could purchase a regional license and a demo unit. However, Pet Trak turned out to be more elusive than your cat before going to the vet’s. People who paid the money and expected goods in 1998 are still waiting. Bob Parks wrote a very informative article for Wired and today you will find nothing when you do a search.

Microchip embedding is currently used in the UK as well as the US, Canada and other countries. While this technology helps identify an animal it will not help track one. Peter Watson for Bayer UK said that all cats and dogs imported to the UK are required to have microchips. Many animal protection societies and vets are using these regularly.

The implant (is encased in bioglass, an inert material, and is about the size of a small rice-sized pellet. It is subcutaneously injected into the dorsal area of the neck. Recorded on the chip is a ten to fifteen-digit alphanumeric code that designates the country where the chip was implanted, the manufacturer and an ID number. The microchips should last about ten years and can be easily removed by a vet using a local anesthetic. It is now called Tracer Advance and could be smaller longer lasting. You can check it at: http://www.tracer-microchips.co.uk/

The handheld reader for the implant (costing about £370 in 2000) transmits a weak radio signal of one frequency, which is absorbed by a small coil attached to the microchip. This powers the microchip with enough energy to transmit the encoded information back to the reader’s receiver. The reading range is just two inches so this is best for identifying an animal once it’s found.

Destron Fearing of St. Paul’s, MN also supplies their HomeAgain microchipping. The American Kennel Club (AKC) endorses HomeAgain and part of the registration fee they collect goes toward funding free distribution of scanners to veterinarians and animal protection agencies across the US. http://www.akc.org/public_education/responsible_dog_owner.cfm So far, as of 2000, over 500,000 animals have microchips implanted and over 28,000 animals have been located and returned to their owners.

HomeAgain uses the BioBond anti-migration cap, which is a porous polypropylene polymer that inhibits the migration of the pellet by building up fibrocytes and collagen fibers within the animal. Cost is about $12.50 and a vet injects the chip. The scanners are similar to Bayer UK’s and work on Radio Frequency Identification (RFID). http://public.homeagain.com/index.html

Having your animal tagged in some way for identification would be helpful if it does become lost then found. Pellets can be implanted on animals as small as birds or reptiles and as large as horses.

Another monitoring system had been developed by CompuGuard Services in Oakwood Village, Ohio (looks like they filed for bankruptcy in 2003). They specialized in prison bracelets or house arrest technology and were slightly incredulous that we would consider such an item for tracking animals. A base unit was attached to the phone line and had a built-in delay feature of several minutes. This allowed for the unit to make sure the person had left the area where they were supposed to be. Once the unit confirmed the person was gone it transmitted on a special radio frequency to the monitoring center. Maybe everyone escaped and they went out of business. A special drive-by unit (if a person phoned in that he/she was attending an AA meeting) would allow CompuGuard to confirm that the person was in the vicinity within five hundred feet.

The most promising development in tracking wayward animals was Micro Trax by Harris Corp, in Melbourne, Fl. Harris hoped to have Micro Trax up and running in twelve months of funding. Micro Trax was a radio-based system and would require an infrastructure of call centers.

With Micro Trax, a domino-sized receiving unit, which could easily fit on an animal collar, woud transmit a spread spectrum wave signal. The receiving center picks up the signal that can penetrate buildings, car trunks, basements, glove boxes, etc., and accurately locate an animal to within ten meters of its location. If you were up in the mountains in a log cabin Micro Trax might not work. Its efficiency would depend on the widespread infrastructure of operating centers and less populated areas were bound to have fewer of these centers.

The biggest problem with Micro Trax or any other unit attached to a collar is that the collar can fall off or be taken off if your feline is catnapped. Brian Holt of Harris Corp. believed the bigger market would be in making sure your dog or cat stayed within set perimeters and if it went beyond, the receiving center would send a message to you via Internet or by phone.

Likewise, he said it would be one way of keeping track of whether your child ends up where he/she is supposed to be. Micro Trax could also be placed with certain household items or jewelry. However, the unit could be removed in the rare case of abduction or theft. If the unit is made so it can’t be removed there runs a risk of injuring the wearer in the attempt to remove it.

Holt said that units would probably run about $100 with a monthly service fee of $10, comparable to buying a pager. Different services could be offered with varying price ranges. As well, units could be devised of different sizes and ruggedness depending on the need.Harris Corp. was determining the market viability and what consumers actually wanted. If you check therir site today http://www.rfcomm.harris.com/ they’re big on communications for defense, military and emergency aid, but there is nothing about Micro Trax.

 Until some other company comes up with the infrastructure for locating your favorite, wayward pet, there are several other precautions to take for the safety of your animal. You can try any of the following:

  • Make sure the animal has a safe collar with proper identification.
  • Have it tattooed at the local SPCA or by your vet.
  • Check your area or your vet for microchip implant availability.
  • Keep your pet indoors.
  • Fence your yard or put your dog on a long chain (advisable for dogs but cats need to be away from climbable objects so they don’t hang themselves).
  • Take your dog to obedience classes so it learns the rules.

SOME USEFUL SITES:

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Taser Inquiry–Dziekanski’s Death

The inquiry continues into the Tasering death of Robert Dziekanski, or the conducted energy weapon, as the police call it. One of the RCMP officers testified yesterday to conflicting admissions. Now, if you’ve seen the video the crucial moments are fuzzy, where Dziekanski is actually tasered. But even though he tossed a chair or two he was not in a high fury. You can see he is agitated or scared, by his fast breathing. Then you see there are security guards who don’t seem to be talking to him but keeping him penned in and it looks as if he’s barricading the doors.

What the guards and RCMP probably didn’t know was that he was there for hours and hours. He would have been dehydrated and confused, tired, maybe angry. What the guards did know is that he spoke a foreign language, pretty common for people coming in to an airport. It doesn’t look like anyone tried to communicate with him in his language.

The video shows four RCMP coming in and talking to him. He throws up his hands and walks away. What I thought, was that a taser needs to touch a person’s skin, but it fires dart-like electrodes. At the point that they fire the Taser Dziekanski smashes his fist into his hands and does look a bit combative but he’s just been zapped. Then they hit him again, and he rolls out to the floor, obviously in great pain. You see an officer fire a third time and I don’t know when the other two shots were fired.

Now the officer, Constable Gerry Rundel, testified yesterday saying that Dziekanski resisted and took a combative stance. If I throw my hands into the air, does that mean I’ll now get shot by the police, by Taser or gun? How does this gesture then differ between that of saying “I give up” or “I’m frustrated and can’t communicate” with uh, “Rarrr, I’m coming at you like a man-eating tiger”?

Rundel also said that he feared for his life at one point. Fear? For his life? Let’s see, there were three security guards just standing around before the police came. The four, count em, fourRCMP officers carrying weapons and wearing bullet proof vests somehow couldn’t talk to or restrain one man just standing there at the time. It used to be, before Tasers, that cops were trained on how to restrain a person without causing more damage. But they seem to just fire at him, and five times?

There’s much ado made about the stapler. Not a staple gun, not an industrial, electric staple gun. Just a stapler used for stapling a few papers together. I’ve put one through my finger before and somehow not only lived to talk about it but have borne no scars. But the RCMP who are supposedly trained in methods of restraint and oh, powers of observation, mistake the nasty office stapler as a weapon for which they fear for their lives? All you secretaries and aides of the world unite! Forget the pitchforks and scythes. Grab up those staplers and we will put fear in the hearts of those who oppose us.

If this is the state of our police force, then no wonder gangs are taking over. Sorry, but they’ve becoming pussies if a stapler scares them and if it takes four men armed with Tasers to take down an agitated man. If an officer fears for his life over such an action, then he should not be a police or RCMP officer. And if this is how they’re trained, I too fear for my life should I ever have to encounter the RCMP.

The police chiefs are now out in force today, defending the Taser and saying it saves lives (and it does seem to take a few too). Well,  if we go with the adage, guns don’t kill people, people kill people, then it stands that indeed Tasers don’t kill people, police kill people. I am critical here because there has been far too much abuse by those who are supposed to uphold the law. If their training makes them more fallible than the perpetrator, then they need new training, including how to minimize damage and physically restrain someone. How about some martial arts?

It used to be that a Taser was to be used if there was risk of injury to the individual or others. Serious risk of injury. Use as a last resort before pulling out the gun. But now, everyone better be on their best behavior because the next time you give someone the finger, swear, or turn your back on the RCMP they will Taser you as being combative and resistant. They won’t talk to you, they won’t find other ways to take you down. In fact, if you’re going to jump off a bridge and you turn your back, make sure you really mean to commit suicide because they’ll Taser you on the way down.

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