Dictatorship Artifacts

In sorting through stamps from the 1980s and 1990s from dozens of countries, I'm intrigued by the stamps that portray dictatorial leaders. Nearly all of them have been deposed since the stamps' issuance and some have been in the news throughout the Arab Spring (Summer/Fall/Winter). For me these stamps represent a bygone era, like my CCCP or Jugoslavia stamps, but certainly not an era that can not be repeated.

This is Suharto. Despite being a military dictator, he was a pal of the United States and other non-communist countries throughout the Cold War. He ruled Indonesia for 32 years until he resigned in 1998 after international disgrace over the deaths of 100,000 people in East Timor's struggle for independence.

This is the Philippines' former president and his shoe collecting wife Ferdinand E. and Imelda Marcos. F.E. Marcos was president from 1965-1986. During that time, he allegedly embezzled around $5 billion from the country (his cronies also embezzled ridiculous amounts of money too). Victims of torture and family members of the some 1500 executed people under his rule were awarded about $2 billion in reparations, but as the money was in the United States, they didn't get the overwhelming majority since the U.S. wouldn't release the money.

That Imelda was a looker though. Yikes!

This is media darling Muammar Gaddafi, successively the Prime Minister, Chairman of the Revolutionary Command, Secretary General, and Brotherly Leader and Guide of the Revolution of oil rich Libya (42 years of rule). He of course was executed after capture back in October, 2011 by revolutionary forces aided by NATO.

Brotherly Leader is portrayed here as the sun bringing light to his country.

Hafez al-Assad is the father of current embattled Syrian president Bashar al-Assad. Hafez was the president of Syria for 29 years and was credited with building up the nation's infrastructure, opening it up to international trade, and ensuring women's equal status in the country. On the flip side, he was deeply criticized for the political repression he exerted on the Sunni Muslim population like the Hama massacre where between 10,000 and 40,000 men, women and children were killed by the military in the month of February, 1982. The news today continues to report on Bashar's current attacks, arrests and torture of dissident groups in Syria where over 5000 civilians have been killed in the past year.

I find the stamps to be remarkable demonstrations of how narrow our view of reality is. The pictures represent temporal power that span decades, but even today we see that all of them are dead (I think Imelda might still be alive). Sure, their legacy continues in many respects, but they have nothing now. Was it worth killing and torturing thousands of their own countrymen to maintain strangleholds over their countries? For embezzlement?

Now I need to come clean. Who am I to judge them? Their actions, vile and corrupt, draw easy condemnation. But if we consider the nations that they controlled we may discover that they held them together when democracy could not. Consider Syria for a moment - the majority of the population is not educated and they are Sunni Muslims who can be swayed into fundamental and perhaps violent actions against the minority. The Philippines continue to try to find peace between the Catholics and Muslims while at the same time trying to provide an infrastructure for booming cities and outlying and impoverished villages - not an easy nation to govern. How would Canada respond if oil-rich Alberta tried to secede? Perhaps not as Indonesia did with East Timor, but I can imagine it wouldn't be pretty. Would Libya have been better off allowing foreign oil companies into the country? Nigeria tells us probably not. I can not excuse their actions, but I can not speak negatively about their legacy without offering some sober reflection.


Marathon Training: Day 11/118

So my sisters Saison and Salomé decided to run the half marathon in Vancouver on May 6. They invited me to come along and run with them, but I couldn't stomach training for and then running the half marathon on not being able to cross this off my life goals list:
21. Run a marathon
So, I signed up for the full 42 km Vancouver Marathon. I even bought my plane ticket to seal the deal. Salomé, a trained fitness trainer, designed a training regime for me. It involves a lot of, wait for it, wait for it.... running. I'm not thrilled about the five 20+ km runs and the 32 km run 3 weeks before the marathon that are in the schedule, but hey, she's the pro.

The picture above shows the view that I'll have for the hours I'll spend on the treadmill over the 17 weeks I have to train. I've been diligent in my near daily runs (a little less on the cross training day as I just do some strength exercises at home - push-ups, quad-burners, ab-scorchers, tricep-scalders...). I will have run 721 km in preparation (that's over 17 marathons, broken up over 81 runs).

The first two runs were tough. I was coming off a sedentary Christmas vacation. Since that time, the 4-5 km runs have been a real breeze. I listen to theological podcasts and do math in my head (related to the distance and time, converting from miles to kilometres). I have checked my pulse a few times - the first run peaked at 178 beats/minute, but now it has stabilized to about 160 beats/minute.

Finding time is the real challenge. Those 721 km will take around 72 hours. I have a feeling I'll be driving back to the gym (at my school) in the evenings to get my runs in. So far, I've been able to fit them in during my work day.

The marathon route is quite exciting. I will run west from from Queen Elizabeth Park on 49th Ave through Pacific Spirit Park, the UBC campus, Spanish Banks, Jericho and Kitsilano Beaches, along English Bay, around Stanley Park to the finish line in downtown Vancouver. The sea level elevation is going to be a great advantage as I'm training at over 1000 m above sea level; oxygen shouldn't be a problem.

Man Scouts: Poker & UFC

I blogged about the Man Scouts first event back in November where I was lauded one of the cornholing champs. I missed the second event where everyone stood around watching oil get changed (then enjoying pints at a pub). Last Saturday night nine of us got together to watch UFC Rio and play some poker. The poker buy in was $10 (with half the winnings going to charity).

Sadly, Trinity won (above). This is sad because I don't think he was really trying to win - or he just hustled us from the start. Art (below) was the silent but skilled player (we have to tell ourselves this to make sense of our losses of course).

It was a great time. I learned that I'm not bad, but not great at Texas Hold 'Em and that I will never be a mixed martial arts contender.

Development Permit Application

Behold our latest massing diagram from NORR Architects Planners. It consists of our 6000+ square foot common house (bottom corner), 36 underground parking stalls, 6 one bedroom units, 10 two-bedroom units, 14 three-bedroom units and 6 four-bedroom units. Because of the slope of our acre of land, there are four tiered courtyards spread through the project and a large garden plot at the top of the hill.

The smaller envelope of buildings (fewer building structures) allows for more energy efficient buildings. In pre-permit application meetings, our architects discovered that we would be required to build with steel framing because of new provincial fire codes. The new design also allows for 100% accessibility (for the mobility challenged) to all front doors. You can see the pathways in front of the units and the 2 elevators (darkest sections).

The documents related to this plan (still being developed) form part of our development permit (DP) application to the city of Calgary. The process takes 4-6 months and this DP from the city is needed before we draw up building plans (and get a building permit) and engage a builder.

Jasen is one of our lead design team members. He led us in discussions regarding the site plan and unit floor plans on January 18. I am still very impressed with how our cohousing group functions through consensus decision making.

Chris ScottHanson is our project manager and continues to keep us focused on the important elements of our project.

Can you spot Amber in the pink scarf? This is a pretty exciting time for Dragonfly Cohousing. Our membership grows almost every week and we are nearing our sales goals bit by bit.


A couple weeks ago, this graphic video surfaced of U.S. Marines urinating on the corpses of Taliban soldiers in Afghanistan. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton was quick to condemn the acts and the United States as a majority expressed disgust. There were some who said it was normal, acceptable and even important that Marines disgrace their enemies - but they were a minority.

I agree with Clinton and the U.S. government in condemning the acts, but I am confused by the fact that they refuse to condemn other acts and even persecute the ones who bring light to far more horrific acts, like this one:

In April 2010, Bradley Manning (allegedly) released a pile of documents and media to Wikileaks including this video from 2007 which features American soldiers in an Apache helicopter firing on unarmed civilians (including journalists and children). No legal action was ever taken against the men who reported lies about the civilians carrying AK-47s and an RPG, who while pointing their guns at a group of 9 men who aren't paying any attention to them say "Light 'em all up. Come on, fire!" and following unprovoked deadly fire say "Oh, yeah, look at those dead bastards. Nice." and as a van comes to pick up the wounded (no weapons in sight) the gunner is pleading "come on, let me engage." They ultimately engage and kill those inside the van and the wounded.  "The official statement on this incident initially listed all adults as insurgents and claimed the US military did not know how the deaths ocurred." (Wikileaks)

So now, with this out in the open, how does the United States Government and military respond? The do not prosecute the murderers. They imprison (in solitary confinement for about a year) Bradley Manning (now aged 24) for releasing sensitive documents.

Well, with my limited power and status as a Canadian citizen, I condemn the actions of the United States government and military. Shame and disgrace surrounds your entire establishment.


*Bradley Manning was listed as a candidate for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. Both China and Burma are chastised for imprisoning former peace prize winners Liu Xiaobo and Aung San Suu Kyi.

Family Bowling

We attended a birthday party at a bowling alley for one of the boys in our cohousing group. It was the first time our children have been bowling and it won't be the last! Both kids loved it!

The kids had the gutter guards put up so the adults had to bowl in a separate lane (adults are hard on the gutter guards apparently). This meant that the kids only got through 6 frames while the adults got through 14. The kids also learned not to play with the bowling balls on the rack as the incoming ones come in fast and hard - rather high possibility for pinching your fingers...

Blaise was the big winner on the kids side, though just a few points ahead of the birthday boy.

Amber cleaned all the adult's clocks with strikes and spares (and luck, since this is the first time she's bowled since Montreal, 2004).


Old Friends

Over the last few weeks I had the great opportunity to catch up with some longtime very close friends. This is Alan. I first met him in a combined concert band in which we were the only two french horn players. I was in grade 6, he was in grade 5. Since we were reunited in 1994, we have been great buddies. Even though he lives in Edmonton, I only see him once or twice a year. We were able to spend a couple hours visiting each other on Dec 18.

Last week Justin passed through Calgary. The last time we saw each other was when he and Alan visited my family in Guatemala in May, 2008 (nearly 4 years ago). We spent a couple evenings together playing games and then a full day skiing at Nakiska. He lives in Tennessee.

Kris and I hadn't seen each other in nearly 7 years. So much had happened in both of our lives that it was hardly worth trying to catch up. We just talked about interests, current life situations, etc. over coffee at McDonald's (his pick!) for a couple hours. He's moving from Edmonton to Vancouver now.

The best aspect of continuing friendships is the shared history and trust that even though years pass, we can count on their compassion, concern and care always.


Beer Tasting: New Year's Eve

As a part of our Dragonfly Cohousing community development, we plan social events where members can interact outside of business meetings. Now that our group has grown to 60 people, the Social Team is planning more frequent smaller get togethers. Amber and hosted just such a gathering on New Year's Eve: Beer Tasting.

Every attendee brought a couple interesting beer and I outfitted them with a score card and a small glass. Since there were 9 people, we had 18 beer to sample.

The suggestion was made that we try each one blind so I asked Jae to help me pour and deliver the various brews. We were also among the more enthusiastic drinkers so we finished everyone else's samples when they didn't want to (there were 3 people who didn't like beer at all).

First the fruit beer, then the rest:
  1. Van Diest Früli (Strawberry Beer, Belgium, 4.1%)
  2. Brouwerij Lindemans Pecheresse (Peach Beer, Belgium, 2.5%)
  3. Brouwerij Huyghe Floris Kriek (Cherry Beer, Belgium, 3.5%)

  4. Harviestoun Mr Sno'balls (English Pale Ale, Scotland, 4.5%)
  5. Fernie Brewing CompanyWhat the Huck (Huckleberry Wheat Ale, Canada, 5%)
  6. Pivovar Litovel Original Litovel Premium (Czech Pilsener, Czech Republic, 5%)

  7. Boddingtons Pub Ale (English Pale Ale, England, 4.7%)
  8. Fuller's Organic Honey Dew (Honey Beer, England, 5%)
  9. Diebels Premium Altbier (Altbier, Germany, 4.9%)

  10. Half Pints Little Scrapper I.P.A. (American India Pale Ale, Canada, 6%)
  11. Howe Sound Brewing Devil's Elbow IPA (English IPA,  Canada, 5.7%)
  12. Natural Brew Outrageous Ginger Ale (Ginger Ale, USA, 0%)

  13. Young's Double Chocolate Stout (Milk Stout, England, 5.2%)
  14. Rogue Ales Shakespear Oatmeal Stout (Oatmeal Stout, USA, 6.1%)
  15. Microbrasserie Charlevoix La Vache Folle - ESB (Strong Bitter, Canada, 6%)
Everyone had very different scores - some giving their lowest scores to my last beer tasting's winner (Young's Double Chocolate Stout). So, I'll tell you my top 7: Young's Chocolate Stout, Devil's Elbow IPA, Mr Sno'balls, Little Scrapper IPA, La Vache Folle, Organic Honey Dew, Pecheresse)

I did mention that we had 18 beer on the menu, but we petered out at around 11:30 and didn't get to the Maple Stout, Benedictus, and Innis & Gunn.