Monday, June 29, 2009

A New Interstellar and Online Community (at the same time!)

Seems like the last time we talked about Peter Jackson, it was surrounding his fantastic revival of Tolkien's Middle Earth - a peculiar world populated by men, women, dwarfs, elves, orcs, giant smouldering cave monsters and hobbits (among others).

Now Jackson's about to invite us to observe a new community by creating yet another new world. This one seems set to be steeped deep with Swift-like satire. District 9 is a new sci-fi movie set to hit theatres in August. The story is about a community of interstellar refugees who come to Earth and are marooned here. They're isolated by our government in District 9 - a slum in Africa (see some metaphoric connections??) where they're hated by locals and managed with less and less patience by world governments. Check out this trailer for the film:

I've got to hand it to the marketing guys who're developing this campaign. They've already created three YouTube videos, twitter feeds, facebook pages, and almost four separate websites, including one for the MNU (the company contracted to guard humans areas from alien contamination), the Everyone Deserves Equality blog (which has articles written by aliens and alien-supporters), Math from Outer Space (self-evident), and then large topographical maps detailing the breadth of District 9.

Hustling up excitement in the online and movie going community isn't anything new (see the "I Believe in Harvey Dent" campaign websites used in the lead up to the Dark Knight). But by doing it in an effective and all encompassing way, Jackson is charting into new water. If their use of social media and multiple online portals works to galvanize movie fans and whip up online hype (and thus offline theatre line-up hype) - we may see this creative marketing strategy become increasingly prominent for everything from upcoming features to toothpaste.

That might mean the TV and radio ad heavy buys might be a thing of the past to be supplanted by an increasing reliance on social media and online community creation to get out the word about products.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Five Ways to Build Community

Here I sit in my lovely living room, ready to bust out into the Commercial Drive community on what looks like a sunny Sunday morning. Or maybe I'll head out to Yaletown and see how the binary opposition of yuppieness and homelessness is getting along. Needless to say, I love action items that will help us all to work on building community.

During the 2009 CACEE Conference, which I was lucky enough to emcee, I was inspired by the keynote speakers, especially Ginger Grant, and some of the workshops to launch a new segment here at The Weekly Gumboot. The team here at Vancouver's coolest new blog is all about collecting ideas from everywhere and using them to build community. This new feature, Five Ways to Build Community, empasizes the "using" aspect of our ideas from everywhere. Enjoy!

1. Talk to Strangers: step outside of your comfort zone and start a conversation with someone you normally wouldn't talk to; whether it's a homeless person with a shopping cart, a businesswoman in a power suit, or an emo-hipster in skinny jeans, you will gain a new perspective and, possibly, expand your literal and figurative idea of "community."

2. Experiment with Food: recent findings show that food is grown, prepared and served differently around the world; trying a new dish will provide you with an interesting - and delicious - insight into another culture.

3. Give Hugs: my goodness does a big hug every make people feel great! Sure, be aware of "Canadian Space" - Jerry Seinfeld would advise on not being a "hugger" or "close-talker" - and pick your moment, but, hey, just ask The Kindness Crew just how impactful a hug can be. Hugs can change the world!

4. Take Public Transit: a great place to meet strangers! Having your hands off the wheel and your eyes off the road gives you an opportunity to experience your community from a different perspective.

5. Ask Questions: don't just ask questions; listen intently to the answers - "active listening" is what the kids call it - and make your co-conversationalist feel like they're the centre of the universe. You'll probably learn something new and amazing about people, places and things, too!

Stay classy. And have fun with it!


Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Wordle or two about Community

The Weekly Gumboot just got "wordled" - let us know if you think this semi-randomized jumble represents the true essence of our value proposition.

And that's the wordle.

A bientot.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Tour through Communist Paradise

Let's take a train through the communist paradise of Pyongyang. Ready to go kids?

Well, let's hop on the tram and explore:

Ok. Now that we've finished our little tram ride, what were your first impressions?

For me there were a couple. To start with, check out how empty the streets are. When you compare it with the mass of people and traffic of South Korea (to the left), it's startling really. And this is downtown of the capital. Maybe the North Koreans, in a totally ass backward sort of way, have got the idea of decongestion right.

Another thing I noticed was the pure blandness of the place. Lots of bright colored clothes, and interesting street energy huh? Should we all be magically transported to Kim Il Jong's paradise, half the Drive would doubtlessly be immediately purged for attire alone. Good luck Cloudman...So long Red Square.

Then of course there are the giant housing projects - similar in many ways to the buildings of the former USSR, its allies and even Japan. Missing are the character buildings that give cities around the world particular ambiance. I wonder which buildings are the homes of the upper level bureaucrats of the glorious leader's regime.

No homeless on the street though. I guess if everyone's poor, then you don't really have an opportunity to have a homelessness crisis like in Vancouver.

It's all a bit bland though huh? What are some of your observations?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Learning from Pirate Communities - Entrepreneurship

This post is certainly for general-viewing, as it has a relevant, snappy and important message - albeit a rather lengthy one. This post is also a Web 2.0 guide for members of the 2009 CACEE Conference who are participating in Philippe Desrochers's and John Horn's round table discussion: "What do Pirates and the Economic Crisis have in Common?" Enjoy, and make lots of comments to help continue the discussion!

Entrepreneurs love a downturn. And there's no better - or worse - downturn than the one our global economy is wringing us through right now. According to an up-and-coming business publication, the Harvard Business Review, "entrepreneurs look at financial challenges or a recession and, instead of wringing their hands, find ways to innovate and spin them into gold for social transformation." The biggest immobilizer today is fear. Fear to take risks. Fear to innovate. Fear to change. People don't need to possess a natural risk-taking personality to excel as entrepreneurs, either. You can set yourself apart from your competition simply by being adaptable and adept at managing change. Be nimble. Respond quickly to market shifts and the opportunities they might create.

Speaking of market shifts, let's talk about Somalia. In his article, "You are being lied to about pirates," The Independent's Johann Hari examines the circumstances by which many Somali fishermen have been thrust into the world of piracy. After the fall of the country's government in 1991, Africa's longest coastline (Somalia's coast spans about 2,000 miles) has been unprotected. This power-vacuum has provided a perfect opportunity for the international fishing industry to steal Somalia's food supply and use the region as a dumping ground for nuclear waste ("yes: nuclear waste," says Hari - cadium and mercury were also, allegedly, thrown in the mix). Hari interviewed Ahmedou Ould-Abdallah, the UN envoy to Somalia, who claims that "there has been no clean-up, no compensation, and no prevention" of such a gross example of pollution. But one can also see how market forces have driven them to think outside the box, get creative, take risks, and work together in innovative ways. In a recent Time magazine article, Ishaan Thardoor argues that "Somali piracy has metastasized into the country's only boom industry. Most of the pirates, observers say, are not former fishermen, but just poor folk seeking their fortune. Right now, they hold 18 cargo ships and some 300 sailors hostage — the work of a sophisticated and well-funded operation."

"But John," you're undoubtedly saying. "What the heck do pirates have to do with the economic crisis and entrepreneurship? Where are you going with this?" Oh dear readers, by this point in the history of The Weekly Gumboot, you shouldn't be so wary of my ability to link, connect and develop seemingly unconnectable ideas, events, facts, and findings. As ideas-man and innovation-guru Franz Johansson outlines, "individuals, teams and organizations can create an explosion of remarkable ideas at the intersection of different fields, cultures and industries." Some of the interesting "intersections" of which Mr. Johansson speaks include, but are not limited to, computers and candy, burqas and bikinis (pictured), locusts and Volvo, and Dr. Martin Luther King and Russian Techno music.

As we connect the entrepreneurial spirit with the service we provide to students and clients around the world, what can we take as the answer to this equation: economic crisis + pirates + CACEE = ? Well, there's only one way to find out. Read on!

Let's examine four tales of piracy that reflect four pillars of entrepreneurship: risk-taking and creativity, knowing the most, personal/professional branding, and relationship-building. Here we go:

Risk taking and creativity in the Gulf of Aden. To quote Stephen Colbert, "it takes balls" to navigate a tiny speedboat nearly 300 miles off the coast of Kenya into the Gulf of Aden, climb aboard a Saudi oil tanker, capture it, steer it into port, and then hold it ransom for $20 million. But that's what happened in November 2008, when a rag-tag bunch of think-outside-the-box pirates captured the Sirius Star and its crew, which was carrying 2 million barrels of oil, 25% of Saudi Arabia's daily output. From the BBC to CNN to Al Jazeera, the world suddenly became very interested in these seemingly small-time hijackers. They did what nobody thought possible and they got noticed. Like, really noticed. Oh, and they made $3 million from the ransom, too.

The takeaway from this story: look for opportunities where you've never looked before (for example, several Canadian mining companies are setting up shop in Mongolia and they need analysts, operations experts and supply chain managers).

Sir Francis Drake knew the most. In the ultimate example of a cross-functional, inter-cultural, and multi-dimensional information interview, Sir Francis Drake gathered enough information from a group of French sailors (Le Testu was the name of their leader - unfortunately, he was caught, tortured and killed following the heist), cimarrones (escaped slaves who had no love for the Spanish), and also from secret English documents that divulged important Spanish trade routes to pillage the Caribbean port of Nombre de Dios. In the end, according to Samuel Baulf, "in gold alone the raiders had seized some 100,000 pesos (the peso was worth eight shillings three pence of English money)...and including gems and what silver they managed to recover, the total value of the haul was likely in excess of £40,000." And here's the kicker: Drake and his boys stole over 15 tons of silver. Drake knew all their was to know about the port, which, Angus Konstam argues, resulted in a watershed moment for the Spanish Main: "attacks by Sir Francis Drake proved Nombre de Dios too vulnerable to pirates."

The takeaway from this story: a recent study by the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) found that the top reason that candidates are not hired out of an interview because they don't know enough about the company; being entrepreneurial means standing out in a crowd because you know the most.

The personal brand of Edward Teach.
Konstam calls Teach - also known as "Blackbeard" - "the most famous pirate of them all." Blackbeard worked hard to establish a fearsome and terrifying image (see his flag, pictured - a demonic figure stabbing a bleeding heart), but, according to Konstam, "no evidence exists to suggest that he ever killed anyone who was not trying trying to kill him." He even preferred marooning a crew to outright slaughter. Sure, other pirates caused more mayhem, captured richer cargoes, more ships, and more valuable prisoners, but Blackbeard has come to represent the pirate genre more than any other. And it has to do with his personal brand: in 1717 a victim described him as "a tall, spare man with a very black beard which he wore very long." He added to his menacing appearance by wearing a crimson coat and and bandoleers slung over his shoulders, but it was the "burning lengths of slow match" woven into his hair that have been immortalized in everything from sailors' tales to the Blackbeard t-shirt that I own. His reputation became bigger than he ever was.

The takeaway from this story: personal branding "expert," Kristie T, points out that 75% of buying decisions are made on emotion and, given that we are exposed to over 3,000 marketing messages per day, it is important to distinguish yourself from the rest of the world. I'll sum it up with a Kenyan proverb: "utu wa mtu ni tabia yake" (roughly, it means "you are the way that others see you.") As you build your value proposition, think about how you want to be seen.

Building relationships with Madame Cheng.
It was 1807 and hundreds of Chinese pirates were looking for a leader. An opportunity presented itself. And on to the scene emerged the greatest pirate in the history of pirates. She called herself Madame Cheng. Madame Cheng was ruthless, wily and charismatic. She could also build relationships and had an eye for talent. As she cajoled and negotiated and charmed her way to prominence in China's pirate community, Madame Cheng took on a young lover; the adopted son of a fisherman named Cheng Pao. And here's the kicker: she made the kid head of the Red Sea fleet, which was the biggest and most important in the Confederation. By 1810, Madame Cheng's pirate fleet was larger than those of most countries navies. Through organization, relationship-building and recognizing top talent, Madame Cheng created a pirate fleet the likes of which no one has ever seen (or well ever again see). And for three years she ran the shipping lanes of the China Sea and Strait of Malacca for decades.

The takeaway from this story: it's an easy one; over 80% of employment opportunities are developed because of who we know, not necessarily what we know. Furthermore, when you have positive relationships with clients and co-workers, they will be excited and eager to spread the word - the good word - about you.

Needless to say, there all several aspects of entrepreneurship - piratical or not - that can be applied to the non-entrepreneurial world of employment.

Practically speaking, by the time this post has been live for a few hours, Philippe and I will have experienced a simply outstanding conversation about the entrepreneurial spirit being applied to finding, securing and developing a meaningful career. Also practically speaking, if you are interested in and/or excited to pass along such ideas to your students and/or clients, strongly consider wrapping your proposal in a pirate package. A veritable pirate pack, if you will. In my experience, kicking off a workshop or a topic in a workshop with a fantastic, out of this world, pop-culture-immersed tale of a famous - or infamous - pirate really piques the audience's interest. Take pirates as a metaphor for student-engagement, people: superheroes, film characters, musicians, politicians, and cartoon characters work well, too. And once you've seduced them with said edutaining strategy, start sprinkling in the career education content (an easy connection, as you can see) as well as some tangible and specific next steps that they can take away from the workshop. Just when an audience realizes that, in fact, they're not actually listening to an amazing story about pirates, but are actually learning about networking, gender-equality, resumes, multi-culturalism, environmental stewardship, or entrepreneurism, well, it's too late. And it's a beautiful thing.

Yes, many - or most - of the pirates are gangsters. No, this doesn't make hostage-taking okay. But this article has outlined some of the ways that these seagoing thugs are dealing with a recessive global economy. "Pirates were the first people to rebel against this world," says Hari. They didn't like the rigour, restrictions and "oppressiveness" of the seafaring alternatives of, say, the Merchant Marine or Royal Navy, so they chose a more independent, democratic and risky life at sea. Recent findings show that in excess of $300 million US in shellfish is being stolen from the Somali coast by illegal trawlers each year. They have no government to speak of. Organizations are dumping nuclear waste in their waters and on their land. Somalia just might be the worst place on Earth.

Kinda puts the global recession in perspective, eh? They don't "fit" in the current economic system, which is probably why the independent Somalian news site, WardheerNews, found that 70 per cent of Somalians "strongly supported the piracy as a form of national defence." Some even call them the "Volunteer Coastguard of Somalia"! And we can most certainly call them entrepreneurs.

So, mateys, take what ye learned today and apply it to yer teachin. Being entrepreneurial might just get us out of this economic mess.

- Sir John the Pirate

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Angry Rich People

Beware of angry, rich people.

It's something that most politicians are acutely conscience of. Just as the Cambie line transit planners who'd been originally considering sending Vancouver's latest skytrain line along the old BC Hydro train tracks through Kits, Kerrisdale and South Vancouver. The potential noise and property depreciation helped galvanize the city's west side against the project eventually leading to the decision to burrow (sort of) under Cambie Street.

We all can still remember the nightmare that created for commuters, shop owners, and residents.

Now a new group of condo owners in Vancouver's trendy Yaletown district are rallying against the city's HEAT shelters placed in their neighbourhood. Created in the winter to save homeless lives from the harsh winter cold, the shelters have since become a hub of community and the first line of support for the city's most desperate citizens.

Recently, Global News did a story outlining the Beach Avenue condo owners' concerns.

In short, neighbours are frustrated with a variety of issues stemming from the HEAT shelters including: semi-public sex in a nearby park, needles left lying around, new criminal elements, open drug use, and according to some people, the intimidation of residents by some shelter clients.

They also claim there was no consultation and the city simply decided there was a need and opened the doors without heads up to residents.

They're right. But there's a reason behind this quick unilateral action. In order to deal with the emergency situation precipitated by the freezing cold and record snowfall in the city, Mayor Robertson and his HEAT team had to move quickly, pushing the shelters through without the usual consultative process. Nobody wanted the tragic case of "Tracy" (a homeless woman who was burnt alive trying to keep herself warm) to be repeated.

Nobody is saying this isn't a tough situations for the residents of Beach Ave. What I take exception to is many residents' insinuation that the area is a closed community and they have no interest in figuring out how to live with neighbours who don't own, nor rent, but who simply survive. Community and neighbourhoods aren't confined to those who own a condo - we're all part of community.

On the Drive, we live right above a pharmacy that issues methadone, a recovery shelter, a bunch of low-income housing and a group of young homeless kids who make the garage next to us their home. Sure they're loud sometimes. Sure sometimes it pisses us off. But we do not disavow their right to be there and we deal with it.

For Yaletown's newest shelter residents, there needs to be a greater conscience that they are new to the neighbourhood and need to do their best to minimize their disruption and clean up after themselves. It sounds like the HEAT shelter staff are already rallying clients to do just this.

For the people of Yaletown, it's going to be trickier and take some bigger sacrifices. Treating their new neighbours with a little more leniency and respect would be a great start. The homeless tend to be pretty adaptable to new environments. Rich folks, on the other hand, tend to be decidedly less adaptable.

Desperate people have to go somewhere and a solution is not to ghettoize the Downtown Eastside to keep them out of sight from the cafe late crowd. As Councillor Kerry Jang has said, City Hall is committed to closing the shelters down, but only after homelessness in the area has been solved and everyone has a warm, safe place to sleep at night. Until then Vancouver's communities (both affluent and not) need to extend a hand to help, not a slap in the face, to the more desperate of us.

Do the residents of Yaletown really feel so strongly about the exclusive nature of their neighbourhood that they're willing to toss people back on the street and call the cops to sweep them away? I hope not. Because if they do, they'll probably discover pretty quickly that much of the street disorder (which according to BIAs has dramatically decreased over the last few months) will be back with a vengeance.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Homeless Soccer Kicks Ass

This year I've gotten involved with Homeless Soccer program called Dreamcatchers.

The soccer's a blast. Players from our team are drawn from the New Fountain Shelter. Each Sunday at around 9:30 AM, a bus pulls out from the shelter (one of five emergency shelters set up by Gregor's HEAT team) and heads to Britannia.

On the bus are a few outreach workers and a variety of enthusiastic (and sometimes if it was a big Saturday night - not so energetic players). Ages range and so do skill levels. Some players can pass, dribble and shoot without any effort. Others have trouble standing up. I'm in the middle.

Throughout the morning, we usually drill. Our coach, a deputy fire cheif who may or may not be named Steve (I just refer to him as coach, which helps me avoid looking like an idiot for not remembering his name after meeting him half a dozen times) takes us through drills. We do all the drills any soccer team does - square passes, kicking the ball against the wall to get a perfect touch, and of course, the ol' scimmage.

Last weekend we played a game against another homeless soccer team from the North Shore who came equipped with a full kit. Our team sported fancy Rob and Big black t-shirts. Rob and Big are two gangster-looking guys. They sport baggy jeans and baseball caps. No one on the team knows who they are or why they're on our shirts - but then that's part of the fun of it all.

Atired in our Rob and Big shirts, the team assembled. We had a great crew and it was a beautiful day to be playing. Coach had set up a rough court in Woodlands Park off the drive and we started passing the ball around to get warmed up. When the whistle went, our team launched into action.

At half time, I was near dead. Slowly the team was starting to colease togeather. We were passing faster and fewer whistles were getting blown on yours truly. Everyone was working up a healthy sweat in the afternoon sun. After husling off the field we indulged in fresh oranges and a case of warm bottled water. Hello plastic intake.

Despite an earnest effort, we scored but one goal that game. A teammate from OnSite took a swift shot and put it under the fancily garbed opposing keeper's arms. It was a great victory. I won't tell you how many goals the other guys scored, but I will tell you that they were sponsored by the Whitecaps and we were sponsored by Rob and Big. I'm not saying that made a difference, but...

Next week the team will assemble again for practice. Slowly but surely we're becoming a small but tight crew. One of the ways I know is that when Earl (a player who happens to be an amazing aboriginal wood carver) or Don (super groovy hip sporty fellow) happen to not come that week, we all notice. We're from different places and certainly very different experiences, but the soccer, like it can be all over the world, is a binding force a la super glue.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

An End to the Elite Foreign Service?

My friend David Eaves recently wrote an interesting article predicting the obsolescence of Canada's foreign service.

David looks at the history of the service, charting it's birth, its initial elite nature (comprised of some of the best educated and best travelled white men in the country) and its current methods of recruitment - which seem seem dead set on encouraging more of the same.

I put it out to you, dear readers - and particularly to those of you who have worked in a capacity for the federal government - is the Foreign Service and DFAIT in particular comprised of a disproportionate number of snobs? Do these snobs serve a purpose - do they have special skill sets, character, or education that enable them to do their job representing all of us abroad better than a lowly bureaucrat from HRSDC or Immigration? Maybe you get by my tone that I have an opinion about this.

More importantly, if indeed the FS needs to remodel itself, how will this effect the carefully constructed elite community of foreign service officers that has existed for decades? Good or bad?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Car Free Community

Does our community need cars? Sure it does! I mean, we're reliant on all kinds of stuff from far, far away. And we live in places that, for a lot of us, are far, far away from where we work. And we can't always twitblog to our friends; we need to go and see them - you know, to personalize the experience in a way that pressing yourself against a computer screen just doesn't quite pull off.

Moving on...

So, yes, in today's big picture, we need cars. But on a glorious Sunday (June 14, 2009 to be specific), the people who visited Commercial Drive shared a common experience of, um, experiencing of a carless (not careless) community. But that's enough from me. Let's see what World Renowned Health Promotion Specialist, Michelle Burtnyk, has to say about the Car Free Community.

Great job, Michelle. I especially like how your report concluded with random additions to the community. Welcome to Vancity, Steve Sloot!


Monday, June 15, 2009

Tennis Builds Community

Next to yachting, polo and golf, tennis has traditionally been considered a sport reserved for the idle rich - an elitist past time where the masses had no place. But it's not Victorian England anymore, folks, and we need to recognize that tennis has gained immensely in popularity. I think, however, there is an enduring perception among many is that it's just for stuck up blue bloods.

And hey, look no further than the hallowed Vancouver clubs of Hollyburn, Lawn and Tennis or Jericho to see why. Membership fees there are exorbitant, wait lists are years long, tennis white and proper etiquette are de rigeur. I happened to weasle in to Jericho for a game the other day and was amazed to see that, at 4:30 pm on a week day, the courts were chocablock. I know that Vancouverites like to take it easy in the summer, but this was a little much. "Oh the idle rich...." I thought, shaking my head. As a little aside, though, a cooled water fountain at every court was rathah deeelightful.

But seriously, tennis does not have to be all about pomp, circumstance and exclusivity. It can be a great social past time, welcoming people of all backrounds and circumstance to grab a racquet, wack a ball and build some community with every rally. Let Jericho and Hollyburn have their fun, no harm there, but the rest of Vancouver also needs access to public courts to bring the sport invented by Kings and for kings to us, the people!

Here's a little an example of how tennis, at least for me, makes me feel part of my community. Most evenings, now that it's light so late, I head over to the best public courts in the city at Stanley Park and pick up a game with whoever is hanging out at the practice wall. It's a colourful scene down there with people of all abilities, shapes, sizes and personalities out to have fun and happy to play. There's also always new people flocking to the courts looking for a game. And then there are the "lifers" - the people who seem to never leave: like the feisty Czech dude who lives out of his tennis bag, or underwear man, who plays in his tighty whites and has a wicked backhand, or the lumbering, bearded fellow who plays in 18 hole Doc Martens or the East European woman who scowls a lot and attacks each ball with such ferocity you just have to smile. Their daily presence make the courts cozily familiar. And then, of course, there is the heron colony which kicks up a rockin', squackin' serenade to the lively rallys below. And, if you're lucky, like we were the other night, you might witness the dramatic spectacle of a massive bald eagle dive bombing the nests looking for tasty heron nibblies! Hey, Hollyburn, Hey Lawn and Tennis, eat your hearts out!

Vancouver needs more well maintained hard courts like the ones at Stanley Park. The courts at Kits Beach for example are sorely in need of repaving, given the crowds who use them in the summer months. Gregor, Louie, Parks Board folks, I'm guessing tennis isn't on the top of the city's pressing priority list, nor should it be given the desperate situation in the DTE, but it wouldn't take much to fix up a few more courts and give more Vancouverites access to this fun and inclusive pastime.

Shelters form the Backbone of Marginalized Community

One of the most inspiring things I've witnessed recently has been the generosity and general sense of hope implicit in the New Fountain Shelter. Here is a community built on compassion, which helps in a very real way some of our poorest citizens.

The New Fountain, along with four other shelters has been baring the brunt of the homelessness crisis and were opened roughly half a year ago as an emergency shelter. Since then they've assisted dozens of people to find permanent housing, pick up career skills, and provided a safe and respectful place for young and old to stay.

Safe and respect are key words here. No violence or violent individuals are tolerated and mounted in the staff room is a small list of names of violent offenders who have been permanently barred from the shelter.

"They're predators," said one of the staff members. "They come here to sell drugs and prey on our clients. When they do so, we ask them politely to leave."

A few hours in one of the shelters is illustrative.
The clients vary in age and appearance. Some have recently been released from jail. Others sport large gashes and open soars. Most seem very happy to have a bed to sleep on where they need not worry getting robbed while they sleep. Almost everyone is incredibly polite to service staff who hand out syringes, medical supplies, toiletries, donated clothing, and cookies generously.

The New Fountain is also equipped with a soup kitchen where residents can come for a quick meal. In the corner there's a small TV with a small group of folks camped out around it sweating in the heat. The shelter smells of vegetable soup. Everything is clean and tidy.

Other people are in their rooms - small 10 X 10 foot rooms with a canvas sheet serving as a door. We're note talking about the Hilton here. There are two beds in each room and around 15 - 20 rooms in the shelter. Since the shelter is intended to be as low barrier as possible, pets sometimes stay with clients in their rooms.

"Sometimes a dog, cat, mouse or other animal is the only friend the person has," said one outreach worker. "If we don't let them bring in their pet, they won't come in themselves. We try to keep the barriers as low as possible so we can help as many people as possible."

Many of the residents living in the shelter these days are worried. New Fountain and the four other shelters like it opened as part of the city's HEAT (Homeless Emergency Action Team) initiative have funding for now - but that funding could well dry up at the end of June. If it does, many of the folks who now have a home (for many this is the first home they've had in years) could find themselves alone and back on the street.

The diaspora that would follow would be tragic. One of the most commendable and advantageous things about the New Fountain and other shelters like it is that they provide a hub of community. Not only do they rejuvenate people who have suffered years on the street but they provide dozens of clients with services from helping them find employment to locking down more permanent housing. Here truly is a place where everyone knows your name.

The emergency shelters are critical because they are the first rung in the ladder of recovery. Without this rung, many people will find it almost impossible to climb out of homelessness - despite an earnest wish to do so. Let's hope the BC Liberal government agrees.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Building Bridges by the Bay: The San Francisco Experience

San Francisco is a lot like Vancouver. Sure, we don’t have a famous bridge (although I personally think a Lion’s Gate sounds a lot more impressive than a Golden Gate) or a prison on an island (although those held in captivity on Vancouver Island due to ever increasing ferry rates may beg to differ), but there was a very familiar feel to San Francisco.

The conference that I was attending in San Fran was themed ‘Building Bridges by the Bay’, and was an opportunity for college health professionals across North America to share ideas, build relationships, and work together to create environments that support health and wellness. The theme was fitting – not just for the conference, but for the city it was held in.

Here are the ‘ABCDs’ of why I loved San Francisco so – and why it reminded me so dearly of Vancouver.

A city that may be as diverse if not more diverse than Vancouver – how wonderful it is. There’s something beautiful about communities that can preserve the heritage of their culture while living peacefully with others of all creeds, faiths, orientations, and ethnicities. Wandering through the Castro District, the infamous neighborhood where Harvey Milk brought due attention to gay rights and laid the groundwork for future gay rights activists to fight for their rights, was a humbling experience and a foray into the accepting world Milk must have envisioned.

San Francisco and Vancouver share a coastline – and what a coastline it is. While in Vancouver, finding a spot on the beach on a Saturday afternoon sometimes requires a 6am spot-holding stealth mission, the cooler temperatures in San Francisco allow you to actually appreciate the beach for it’s innate natural beauty – vast expanses of sand and the softly lapping waves – instead of the discarded beer bottles and incessant chatter you find on a sunny Saturday down at Kits beach.

Curious weather
Maybe it’s working up at SFU that has given me an appreciation for fog. There’s something mysteriously appealing about a fog-laden city – it brings a sense of calm to the rustle and bustle of the hectic Union shopping district, and bestows upon the Golden Gate Bridge a sense of furtive beauty.

Before and during construction, the Golden Gate Bridge was widely known as, “the bridge that couldn’t be built”, due to insurmountable difficulties like swift water and strong wind. With determination and vision, this impossibility came to being. I saw a similar determination in the eyes and hearts of gay rights protesters marching the streets of San Francisco in protest of Proposition Eight (which was sadly upheld in a Supreme Court vote on May 26). Despite this, the determination displayed by San Franciscans was voracious, and just as the infamous bridge was build despite ferocious opposition, so too will gay rights one day come to be recognized. In another must-be-mentioned show of determination, I must give accolades out to all the San Franciscan joggers and bikers who take on the hills of San Francisco – that may be, I must admit, the one department in which San Franciscans take the cake.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Sinful Community

“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the city of sin.” The flight attendant pretty much hit the nail on the head as the US Airways Airbus descended into the dusty Las Vegas afternoon. It is at this point that I would like to acknowledge that, yes, I realize that millions of happy tourists, businesspeople, gamblers (might not be happy), and horny/terrified soon-to-be-married men and women are excited – if not ecstatic – to participate in the excess of Las Vegas; I am not one of those people. I'm in town for the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE) conference that's wrapping up as I type, and you can follow my professional twitblogging here. To summarize: a decent - at times mediocre - conference that was fortunately filled with amazing, inspirational and disgustingly kind people from around the world.

But I digress...

Now. The mandate of The Weekly Gumboot is to take ideas from everywhere and use them to build community. And to do so in a positive way. We don’t throw stones. does a fine job of that. To be honest, I’m struggling to not throw stones at the outspokenly sinful and excessive community of Las Vegas. Excess and dishonesty and corruption and environmental degradation are, truly, everywhere. So, sure, it'd be easy to deliver some delightful jabs at the town of Las Vegas and point out that it might very well symbolize the downfall of the American Empire. It's also hard to even think of throwing stones, though. Because everyone here is just so darn nice. (I also like that you can walk around everywhere with a beer-in-hand).

Things have changed since a community of Mormon Farmers settled here in 1854. Perhaps peoples' unflappable kindness hasn't, though. And people who live and visit here are certainly proud of Vegas and the sinful things for which it stands, as you can see by these "fun facts" about Sin City.

But there's a truly interesting story to tell about Las Vegas. And here are, according to recent findings (ie. interviews with locals and tourists, data from my twitblogs on the interscape, and stuff I just made up) the top five sins of, um, Sin City:

Sexual Shenanigans. Here I sit in the country where Janet Jackson's Superbowl escaped-boob caused a nationwide moral soul search. On Monday, I sat in a taxi in the same country and listened to Mike, the cab driver, use every lude, inappropriate, hyper-sexual, misogynistic, and, I think, anti-Canadian idiom in his -sexual-lexiconal-toolkit to describe just how much a young guy like me could score in the town of Las Vegas. Such a hypocritical juxtaposition of values has not gone unnoticed. America's sexual shenanigans just seem to be centralized here in Sin City. I gotta say, being a little more accepting of, say, television boobs (Rick Mercer and Bob Rae swam naked on the CBC, I'm just saying) might make our North American community less likely to flock to one particular place, unleash their inhibition and be unhealthy consumers of the global sex trade so long as it stays here (the clap comes with you wherever you go, though; don't forget that).
A city on a plateau in the desert. I'm not too sure what the Mormon farmers had in mind when they settled here, but Las Vegas sits in the middle of the Sierra Nevada and Spring Mountains, about 2,180 feet above sea level. Look. Sin City exists in an arid basin surrounded by dry mountains. It's sustainability is as unlikely as that of the panda bear. And, as with the panda bear, people are struggling to grasp why the town is doomed to dry up and blow away in the dusty desert wind.
Water, water everywhere, and it really makes you think. How many of you have seen Ocean's Eleven? After pulling off the caper, Danny and the boys stand in front of the Bellagio, taking in the water-show that goes off about every 20-30 minutes. In fact, the use and over-use of water on The Strip is quite spectacular. What is more spectacular is that it happens amidst an amazing conversation between city officials, developers,, entertainers, environmentalists, and, well, everyone else about the very real danger that Las Vegas might run out of water by as early as 2010. Even if the current $500 million pipeline project goes through, it might only help the city limp along until 2012, at which point Sin City could be suffering from a daily shortage of 45 million gallons of water. If you use the metric system, well, it's actually quite worse... Okay, forget the metric system, the volanoe at the Mirage Hotel uses 11,000 gallons of water per minute!
The culture of excess. Sure, you can walk around with a beer or glass of wine/martini in hand all around the city. But, in light of our global environmental, um, clusterf@#k, it seems a tad ridiculous that Sin City allows people to just toss bottles, glasses and everything else into the garbage. Now some of the hotels and entertainment chains, like Harrah's, have bought into this up-and-coming trend of recycling. But it's yet to catch fire. Oh man. And then there is the food. A few of my fellow conference goers made a pledge to eat prime rib each and every night. Another discussed the amazing experience of a $40 seafood buffet that saw him consume "like, 30 crab claws." In Las Vegas, such dreams are reality. The United States makes up around 5.5% of the global population. The country consumes nearly 45% of the Earth's resources (and about 94% of the ocean's crab claws). Las Vegas is the epicentre for such mass-consumption. And the Gulf of Mexico is the epicentre of an oceanic dead zone, where farm fertilizer (think prime rib and industrial farming) has drained into the ocean and screwed up the eco-system to the point where nothing can live in a 1,700 square mile area. Honestly, this connection wasn't too hard to make. Oh, and one of the biggest and coolest clubs in Las Vegas is called XS...or "excess." Sirens are whaling, but the techno-thumping of Sin City's club scene kinda drowns it all out, I guess.
What does living beyond means mean? According to recent findings, Las Vegas is one of the centres of the subprime mortgage crisis in the US; the town is also suffering from 30% unemployment. Of course, most media and "stats" will tell you that the unemployment rate is closer to 12%, but for the people I talked to at the Rio last night, it definitely feels like 30%. And then there's the gambling. The lack of connection between a nation thrown into crisis because it chose to live on credit - to live beyond its means - is quite staggering. And such behaviour was so impactful, so interconnectedly material and greedy, that it has brought the rest of the world into the fold. People. Watch any movie, show, YouTube video, or instructional video about gambling: the house always wins. And then they take yours...

Unlike my friend and Weekly Gumboot contributor, Stewart Burgess, Las Vegas and it's sinful lifestyle are not sustainable. I am truly fascinated by this place and the "fun facts" about its people as well as its very nature. And if Las Vegas is symbolic of something bigger and more meaningful in terms of the way our North American culture chooses to sin, what does this tell us about where we're headed as a regional community? Or a global one?

My friends, it's been quite a ride. And I'll be happy to be home in a city with a few trees and bike paths in the next few hours. To Sin City and the Paris Hotel, it's been an experience. Adieu!


Monday, June 8, 2009

From the Kenya Bureau: "Island Snatchers!"

It is my pleasure to introduce Martin Muli, The Weekly Gumboot's Kenya Correspondent. That's right, folks. The Weekly Gumboot has a correspondent. In Kenya. From Kenya. "Our man in Nairobi," as we call him. Because, dear readers, this community-based twitblog of ours embraces ideas from everywhere. Even Kenya. Nay. Especially Kenya. I first met Mr. Muli in the halls of Simon Fraser University and, through a series of adventures that have taken us from the raging rivers of Merville, BC to the "night clubs" of Victoria, we've become dear friends. This modest publication is lucky to have him. What comes below is his story. Well, one of them. As with anyone who supports gumboot clad pirate communities in nature, he's got a few...


"Mr President, Migingo is gone," The Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister is purported to have told the president. Migingo is a tiny rocky island inhabited by fishing communities whose population totals less than 1,000 people. Migingo, drawing inhabitants from across East Africa, is located 5.4 nautical miles (10km) off Kenya’s Sori -Bay in Karungu division, Migori district. Kenyans have taken their close proximity to the island as an implication of ownership. On the other hand, Ugandan authorities say the island falls within the boundaries of its eastern district of Bugiri. Indeed the Google earth map clearly indicates Migingo islands are located within Uganda boundaries. The Google earth coordinates for the island are 2°48’06.82”S and 32°38’45.25”E. Google earth offers maps and satellite images of pinpointed or complex regions (Editor's note: due to The Gumboot's tight budget, we only have the these two pictures).

Migingo was not known to East Africans until a few months ago when Kenyan fishermen living in the island started complaining about harassment from their Ugandan counterparts. Harassment was emanating from fellow fishermen and local authorities who demanded Kenyans to pay taxes for fishing in or near Ugandan waters.

This simple disagreement has attracted ministers, presidents and international organizations to resolve the dispute. Immediately after Kenyan fishermen complained of harassment, Kenyan Foreign Affairs Minister put together a delegation of ministers to meet their counterparts from Uganda. They agreed that the Ugandan flag erected on the Island should be pulled down and all military personnel from Uganda to be withdrawn from the Island. That did not happen.

The Kenyan police commissioner flew to Uganda to further discuss the unfolding Migingo saga, but the meeting didn't reall go anywhere. Uganda actually increased the number of military police in the island! To keep Kenyans hopeful of peaceful resolutions, it was declared that President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya and President Kaguta Yoweri Museveni of Uganda would meet to discuss the Island saga during the COMESA meeting in Lusaka. The meeting took place, but none of the heads of state gave clear direction about the ownership of the Island.

People from both countries have made wild allegations about the Island. Some claim that Oil has been discovered around the island and some Arabic countries have initiated separate negotiations with both countries to start exploiting the resource - or at least exploring the area to see if the rumours are viable. Others claim that it is payback by Kenyan President to his Ugandan counterpart after the supposed millitary support he offered him during the disputed 2007 elections. It is also claimed that it is a plot by one faction of Kenya's coalition government to make Kenyans realize how indecisive the current president truly is.

It is important to note that Idi Amin, the former Ugandan dictator who ruled during the 1970s, attempted to snatch several Islands and regions from Kenya but was stopped by the decisive and authoritive president who ruled Kenya at that time by daring him to make a move. The current Ugandan president has been accused of harbouring ‘expansionist ambitions’ and it is alleged that he is ready to snatch the Island rich in Nile perch fish.

Kenyans became impatient with the leadership and decided to claim the Island in support of their fellow countrymen living there. Habitants of Kibera the biggest slum in Africa uprooted a railway line that transports valuables to Uganda. Those living next to the border stopped all cargo lorries from transporting anything from Kenya to Uganda and vice versa. This grassroots, people driven action has lead to a peaceful agreement after both sides decided to spend two months carrying out a survey that will establish the real ownersship of the island. They will also use colonial maps from the UK.

The Ugandan flag has then pulled down and both sides have agreed on a joint security force to provide security in the Island until a permanent solution is found.

I am mostly interested in how the story has unfolded from mere fishermen fighting for their livelihood to the point that politicians, police commissioners, government spokespersons, and presidents have been attracted to this curious situation. I foresee organization of African Union and international criminal court joining in the fray to arbitrate if the survey does not offer a lasting solution. Or else it will be ... military against military ... over Migingo Island!

Martin Muli (our man in Nairobi)

Friday, June 5, 2009

Go Mikhail Go!

That's certainly not what the Canadian Border Services are saying, nor what the Conservative government is saying either. But it is what me, many of my friends, and many liberal and NDP politicians are saying. Most importantly, it's what the church community that's sheltering Mikhail Lennikov is certainly saying.

In case you haven't caught the news recently, Lennikov is currently hunkered down in Vancouver's First Lutheran Church off Kingsway. He's seeking asylum from deportation by the Canadian government who want to give him the boot forworking as a KGB contractor in the 1980s. According the government, anyone who's admitted to espionage against Canada or Canadians is subject to deportation.

According to First Lutheran Reverend Richard Hergesheimerm, his church was renovated several months ago to install a shower and make a livable space for Lennikov. They knew what the result of Lennikov's appeals would be and set about to get ready to get ready for the long haul. When asked about the church's desicsion to provide sancuary Hergesheimer replied "We know that what we're doing with sanctuary is illegal. We know that. But it's not wrong. We think were doing the right thing."

Lennikov's persecution and the desicsion to support his asylum has been fueled by a great deal of anger among the church's 225 congregants.

It's a reaction Hergesheimer hasn't seen before. All of the sudden elderly women are writing to their politicians for the first time in their lives in support of a former KGB agent who is a member of their congregation.

"This has made people very angry. Angry at what they see is an injustice," said Hergesheimer.

It's an injustice that Lennikov doesn't deserve. He has been a contributing member of his new home for decades. He's a longtime congregationalist (an attribute hardly identified with hardcore KGB agents) and he's got a wife and son who are settled and happily living here. He was not James Bonding about the country killing CSIS agents. He provided Japanese translation services. Too boot, if we send him back to Russia, he'll hardly be heralded by his countrymen as hero. Instead he'll have to start all over again - without his family - and that's if he doesn't find himself tossed in prison (as he says is likely). How does any of this make sense? Since when is the specific rule of law and lack of compassion of the Conservatives overrule common sense? Wait, don't answer that question.

Let's hope the conservatives come to their senses and realize they are persecuting a decent and contributing member of our society.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Our NIMBY Dilemma

We live on Commercial Drive. Behind our apartment is an alleyway frequented by dozens of bottle scavengers as well as a growing colony of homeless people and drifters. The colony is lodged under an overhang parking area.

During the winter time, my partner sometimes dropped off hot soup or food for the residents living there. There were only one or two people living there at the time, which made sense considering the cold (read: rainy) and inhospitable Vancouver winters. Now as spring turns to summer, the population of the overhang has grown.

Initially, we didn't have any problem with this. Our homeless neighbours weren't bothering anyone. The minimal increase in garbage around the alley was a pain in the ass, but that was really the only issue.

Then as new folks joined the older residents, things began to change. More scavenging around the area made us feel a bit more self conscious about the possibility of crime in the area. And then there was the noise.

At first it was just a shout here and there. But often it seemed to be party time at the colony with all manner of yelling at 11 PM 12 AM, 4 AM etc. In the afternoons we watched as a white Mercedes cruised around passing out vials to our neighbours. We weren't quite sure why, but this was frustrating.

While we can handle the dealing; the noise is a problem. Neither of us enjoy being woken constantly through the night to loud hooting or screaming arguments.

Ultimately, we'll soon see just how effectively community can transcend income and status. The next time there is a loud flare up (and we aren't too groggy / lazy to get up), we're planning on wandering over to talk to our neighbours. We'll kindly ask if they mind keeping the noise down. We're hopeful that the fact that while drugs and booze may be an issue, the dictum of sharing common community space will prevail. If it doesn't (or if the drugs cloud out neighbourly decency), we'll most certainly find ourselves in a very difficult NIMBY dilemma.

It's a dilemma we don't want to find ourselves in, because the alternative of calling the cops is not appealing at all.