Follow the Money

Campbell struggled out of his heavy wool knit jacket before he sat down.

“Winter is coming,” he said ominously, quoting a favourite line from ‘Game of Thrones’. Winter here on the Sunshine Coast consists mostly of water, i.e. rain. Only once ever eight years does it actually snow in Gibsons. Last year was one of those years. Since neither the town nor the people are prepared or equipped for any accumulation of snow it pretty well shuts everything down. Four-wheel drives, private snow ploughs and shovels were suddenly in big demand or better yet, a plane ticket to a warm place.

“Going anywhere this winter?” Camp asked me.

“Well, in fact we are. We booked a two-week trip to Costa Rica in December. We’re really looking forward to this.”

“Must be nice. I’m looking forward to a rainy Christmas season at the store. Just no snow please until January. Talking of places in the sun have you ever heard of Malta, the small Island state, between Sicily and Libya, once a British Colony?”

“Sure, I’ve heard of it. Sounds lovely.”

“Last week, Malta’s most famous blogger and investigative journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia was murdered with a Semtex car bomb. I’ve done a bit of digging and it turns out that the small island state is home to over 70’000 corporations and 600 investment funds and for a mere $ 650’000 you can buy Maltese citizenship which makes you a European. Last year Malta sold over 5000 of these dubious passports. It looks like Daphne stepped on some golden toes with her reporting of corruption, drug and oil deals, prostitution and money laundering right up to the young prime minister’s wife. Apparently Malta has become a play ground for Libyan militia-billionaires to Italian Mafiosi and multi millionaire tax-evaders from Russia, the Gulf states, China and anywhere else.”

“Sounds like a real treasure island,” I said. “Costa Rica on the other hand seems like an interesting place. No military, no air force, no submarines. Imagine that. They spend their money on education, social programs, healthcare, infra structure and debt financing.”

“It’s a smart move not to have a military. I wish more countries would adopt that policy. Do we really need a military or fighter jets here in Canada?”

“You know it’s the US who is pressuring us Camp, to increase our military spending from 24 billion to 32 billion, part of our Nato commitments they say but it’s mostly about the flow of money south. Just look at the latest spat between Bombardier and Boing. It’s all about the mula.”

“Isn’t everything?” Camp said laconically. “You want to find the culprit in any shady enterprise. Follow the money. No matter if it’s the Vatican or the drug cartels. Or take a look at our federal finance minister. He thought a blind trust was when he closed his eyes while his millions moved into a loop hole and an account in Alberta He’s been going around the country waving an accusatory finger and scolding us middle classers to stop using legal means to avoid paying taxes.”

“Tax avoidance is legal, tax evasion is not,” I pointed out. “Of course in my case I have nothing to avoid or evade.”

“Nor me,” Camp laughed.

“Clare and I went on the Sunshine Coast Art-Crawl last weekend,” I said, switching to a positive topic. “We had a ton of fun. Over 150 studios, homes, workshops and galleries opened their doors all the way up the coast, from Gibsons to Earls Cove. So many talented artists from blacksmiths’ to glass blowers, painters, potters, stained glass artist, photographers, designers, weavers, carvers and jewellers presented their work. What I enjoyed the most was seeing all these fantastic houses and workspaces tucked away in the woods, including the wonderful traditional longhouse of the Sechelt Band.”

“Yes, the Sunshine Coast is awash with artists of every description including writers and playwrights, actors and filmmakers. We have our very own cultural treasure island here on the coast,” Camp said, proud like a father about the achievement of his many children.

“Did you decorate ‘Coast Books’ for Halloween next week?” I asked, knowing that I’ll get a rise out of him.

“Halloween! It’s just an aberration of the Celtic New Year and used to be called Samhain. The custom probably came to America with the Irish and as far as I’m concerned it should go back there.”

“No trick or treat then?”

“I’ll show you a trick. Watch this beer, close your eyes, count to ten and then open them again…well?”

“Wow, the glass is empty. That’s a pretty neat trick Camp. Can you do the reverse?”

“Just watch me.” With that he held up two fingers in a peace or victory sign and like magic two fresh foaming pints arrived.”




Social Criminals

“Ever heard of Crazy Eddy?” Campbell, or Camp for short, asked me after we both looked out at the gloomy grey world of Gibsons Harbour where the only colour was the bright yellow glasses of beer in front of us.

‘”Can’t say it rings a bell,” I said, ready for a homily that I knew was coming.

“Crazy Eddie is the former hedge fund manager Eddie Lampert and CEO of Sears since 2013; the iconic retail flagship formerly known as Sears-Roebuck which brought Catalogue shopping to small towns, a century before on-line shopping was even a concept. Crazy Eddie is also a fervent admirer of Ayn Rand’s bat-shit philosophy that humans perform best when acting selfishly and only winners survive. He pitted company managers against each other fighting over resources and market shares. Eddie believed that this would make them boost overall performance. Crazy Eddie’s downfall was hubris and his unfailing belief in himself, regardless of the outcomes. Damn the torpedoes. Even as far back as 2015 he was viewed as the worst CEO in America and should have fired himself long ago.”

“Wow Camp, you obviously did your homework. Why so obsessed with this guy? He sounds just like any other egoistical, maniacal, self-serving captain of industry.”

“Not quiet, the guy takes the price for worst manager, worst CEO and self-proclaimed Lord of Chaos. Just this past July he paid out $ 9.2 million dollars to executives in ‘retention bonuses’, completely in the face of the employees who are now fearing for their pension fund which is $ 200 million short and never mind any severance pay when they’re all laid off on short notice. It’s a total disgrace and a social crime. “

“A social crime,” I said. “Never heard of that one. What are the punishments?

Un-friending by social media or maybe public shaming.”

“Well, I personally think that social crimes of the sort Crazy Eddie has committed are every bit as destructive as corruption in politics or stealing from the old and vulnerable or watering down wine. Social criminals usually manage to squirrel away plenty of cash for themselves while pulling the rug out from under people that depended on them.”

“It seems to me that most of these ‘social criminals’ were once considered geniuses and wunderkinder before their fall from grace; guys like David Walsh from Bre-X mining or Ken Lay from Enron or the celebrated Bernie Madoff, a bigger thug then even Charles Ponzi himself.”

“Yes, these guys were all fuelled by one of mankind’s worst deadly sins: Greed. It’s what drives the casinos, investor schemes and even parts of the stock market.”

“Wow Camp, you’re about as gloomy as the weather outside. What happened? Did Muriel ask you to marry her or what?”

Camp looked at me as if he was going to say something rude and nasty but then instead took a long swallow from his brew. “Believe me my friend, if Muriel would ask me to marry her the sun would shine in the darkest corner of my soul. No, it’s the sad news of Gord Downie’s passing on Tuesday. He was only 53 and added more to Canadian music and public awareness of indigenous maltreatment, than any other man. His Secret Path project highlighted the death of Chanie Wenjack, a 12-year-old Ojibway boy who died from hunger and exposure after attempting to make the 1000km journey home, on foot from an Indian Residential school. Gord Downie was the ultimate Canadian voice; with his music, poetry and engagement with everybody he came in touch with. As our prime minister put it: We are less of a country without Gord in it.”

I felt stupid to have said what I did and apologized. “I’m sorry Camp, I guess the next round is on me. One for the Tragically Hip.”

We both took a beat, not saying anything. When Vicky brought us a couple of refills I couldn’t help myself and just blurted out: “It just seems there isn’t any good news out there these days. The tragedy in Myanmar, which is nothing less than genocide, with over half a million Rhohingyan refugees crossing into Bangladesh since August. It’s the largest humanitarian catastrophe since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, and it has been brewing for years.”

“Yes, and the only person who could make a difference is treating the atrocities committed as ‘fake news’ and infighting amongst extremist groups. Aung San Suu Kyi is no Nelson Mandela or Ghandi, she is only a self serving political opportunist, kowtowing to the generals.”

No lament is complete without mentioning Trumpelstilzchen. “He seems hellbent on undoing anything Obama built, like the Iran nuclear deal, the affordable care act, relations with Cuba and surely one of the worst betrayals is the annulation of the DACA program, kicking people out of the country who have no other home then the one they grew up in.”

“Yes, he’s mean and crazy in a world full of good and decent people,” Camp said, shaking his head. “But we have our own mini crisis here on the sunshine coast. We are once again forced to adopt stage 4 water restrictions and this in a place where the annual rainfall is close to six feet. It’s not a lack of water but a lack of infrastructure and political will. If we have to restrict water use here on the rainforest coast then we are really in trouble.”

“I’ve read that. Yes, it pisses me off too. First they spend millions to install water meters in order to monitor use and detect leaks but now apparently also to police water use. Imagine: The Water Police. It sounds like a Monty Python stick. Here come the water detective, stalking through the rain, brandishing a water pistol. Maybe I’ll just become a water terrorist and hose him down.”

Even Camp grimaced in a kind of lopsided grin at the picture. “Here is to the Water Police then, may they drown in their own folly. Cheers.”






Social Media


It was unusual to see Campbell or Camp staring at his smart phone instead of the calming vista of the harbour, violating one of his basic rules:

phone off after working hours.

He had some other rules of conduct, which he was wont to proclaim as if they were laws of nature. For example:

Put tools back where you borrow them from

            Leave no bottles or jars with caps unscrewed

            no books read and returned for refunds

            no photocopying in the book store

            never any beer left behind.

“What’s with the phone Camp, is this an emergency or a change of habit?”

Camp looked up, taken aback for a moment. He was obviously engaged with the contents of his device. “Oh, that. No, no. It’s just that both Muriel and Sophie want me to join Facebook – which I told them was never going to happen – but since I’m a curious guy I wanted to do a little research on the issue, hence the phone. Did you know that Facebook is now the world’s most dominant information medium with over 2 billion subscribers, but it has miserably failed to take social responsibility for its content.”

“No, oh well I know it’s popular but neither I nor Clare are subscribers. Remember, we’re the boomers, the generation with the computer free childhood, unlike the millennials whose first moments were most likely immortalized by a smart phone or broadcast on social media.”

“There you have it. Mark Zuckerberg has no idea what he unleashed onto the world. From his ideal of a romantic place on the internet where people find and understand each other it has been transformed into a murky non-transparent

information giant with enormous political power. Zuckerberg now admitted to the Russian disinformation campaign of over 3000 political ads masquerading as real news. These ‘boosted posts’ posed as concerned US citizens alarmed about Clinton’s candidacy which reached ten million Facebook users in the US and definitely influenced the election in favour of the moron in the white house. Facebook is incredibly successful but therein lies its weakness. For so many people it has become indispensable, almost like an addiction,” Camp said, rather passionately. “It has replaced analytical thinking and posts are consumed like fast food at face value without any proof, research or integrity. Teens use it as much to bully each other as to share moments and photos. It defines fashion, behaviour and modes of thinking. ”

“I don’t really understand the whole thing,” I admitted. “I understand the platform’s content is regulated and filtered by algorithms rather then people. Something I read the other day,” I ventured, taking a sip from the brew that magically appeared in front of us.

“That’s right,” Camp nodded adamantly, “even Zuckerberg has now relented to hire a thousand human controllers to filter content. Should be a few shekels out of his 70 billion dollar fortune. He also apologized for the ways his work was used to divide people rather than bring them together. To little to late I say. The network is constructed in a way that favours sensational and exaggerated entries, articles and videos, which can all be sponsored without identifying the submitters, thus it’s hard to separate slander and deceptions from genuine content. Fake news are consumed and broadcast without any journalistic integrity, usually to propagate misogynistic and extreme views. Thanks to Facebook such distortions and manipulations spread like a viral disease.”

“I see why you don’t want to join any social media Camp, but Facebook, Instagram, Linkedin, U-tube and Twitter are here to stay. We have a president who governs by Twitter. Nothing you and I can do about it,” I said. “Maybe you should put your phone away now. Look there is a rainbow over Keats Island. Now that is something we can all share without a subscription.”

“You’re right for once,” Camp conceded to my chagrin, “and I promise it will not happen again.

Just then his phone cascaded through the first bars of Randy Bachman’s ‘Taking care of business’. I looked at Camp and shrugged my shoulders. He answered reluctantly. Some promises last only as long as it takes to say them. He hung up almost immediately. “A goddarned telemarketer doing a surveys on eating habits.“

“You were more fun when you left your phone at work.”

“Right you are again,” he said with a shake of his head, dramatically pushing the off button on his smart device.

“Cheers to face-to-face,” I said.

“Yes, I’ll drink to that,” Camp retorted with a lopsided grin.








Guns, Crazies and History revised

It’s a perfect Indian summer day here on the Sunshine Coast. Baby blue skies, summery warm in the sun and cool enough to wear a sweater in the shade. Camp was sitting at our usual table on the patio, alone except for a couple of locals. He was immersed in the latest news and about to share his insights with me.

“Fifty nine dead, over five hundred wounded, the worst massacre in the USA which is saying a lot. One crazy loner, a retired accountant, armed with a truckload of automatic assault rifles is responsible. When are the Americans going to realize that guns and crazy people don’t mix. In fact guns do not belong in glove compartments, purses, pack pockets, pick-up trucks, hotel rooms, houses and apartments.”

I sat down and signalled to Vicky for a couple of pints. “Camp, you’re preaching to the choir. I grew up in country that is armed to the teeth, where every able bodied male that has served in the Swiss military has a semiautomatic rifle and ammo stored at home. I looked it up. Switzerland has about 47 guns per 100 residents while the US has 89 guns and Yemen 55. Yet in Switzerland gun ownership comes with a lot of education and gun crimes are unusual. In the US 33’000 people died due to gunshot wounds in 2015.”

“People with guns kill other people,” Camp said. “It’s as simple as that. They should outlaw all handguns, automatic rifles and assault weapons. Hunting rifles only with background checks. Gun control and a buyback of prohibited firearms in Australia after the 1996 Port Arthur massacre, which left 35 people dead, stopped mass shootings and plunged gun death by 72%.”

“You obviously have done your research Camp. You need to watch Jim Jeffries u-tube video about gun protection. He says it all.”

We solemnly sipped our beers, gazing out at the tranquil harbour spread out before us. Hard to imagine what snaps somebodies mind to where they become a harbinger of death and mayhem. “Only humans murder humans and only humans know how to hate and loathe,” I said.

“On the other hand only humans know love and show kindness to strangers and only humans display compassion,” Camp countered.

“Yeah, but we always find ways to hurt one another,” It’s a miracle that we made it this far as a species.

“I want to change the subject to something closer to home and equally troubling. Muriel and I went to see a film adaption of Richard Wagamese’s novel,: ‘Indian Horse’ at the Vancouver film festival on Monday. The story follows the life of Saul Indian Horse, who was taken away from his Ojibwa family and placed in a Catholic residential school where he was not allowed to speak his language. As was the directive he was denied his Indigenous heritage as he witnesses abuse. He finds escape in hockey, where his talent helps him escape the nightmarish school and he eventually became a professional player. However, the traumatic experiences of the past continue to haunt him and he is also constantly belittled and taunted for being native. It’s a fantastic film and profoundly moving, about a very sad chapter in Canadian History. We really have not come to terms with the fact that we are still racist and prejudiced and that we constantly revise the true history.”

“It all comes down to a lack of education,” I offered.

“Yes, but it is us, the colonizers, who are lacking the education, not them,” Camp said. “Treating them as victims rather than as equals and part of our national family does not improve their lot in life. If you have a chance, go watch this movie.”

“Yeah, when we were in Mexico last year and I brought up the disappearance of the 43 students in Guerrero to Carlos, my language teacher, he asked me about the 1500 indigenous woman missing or killed in Canada.”

“We have a lot to learn,” Camp said. I looked at the calm waters of Howe Sound and wondered how much mystery lurks just below the surface and is hidden from view, a good metaphor for the way we view our collective history. “We can shape the future and we can revise the past but we cannot escape the present,” I mumbled, feeling a bit confused.

“You’re wiser than a tree full of owls,” Camp remarked with a lopsided grin. “And presently my mug is empty which calls for a refill I believe.”

“Two pints coming up,” Vicky acknowledged our hand signals.