UNITED NATIONS — Pop superstars ABBA addressed the General Assembly today in what officials are calling “a bizarre scheduling error”.

The floor was packed with delegates waiting to hear from Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, who was widely expected to make his historic bid for statehood.

When the house lights dimmed and the first notes of “Knowing Me, Knowing You” began to play, consternation and surprise filled the chamber.

“We expected Abbas, but instead we got ABBA” Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said shortly after the concert. “A simple mistake was made. I appeal for calm”.

Mr. Ban also questioned how ABBA was even a band. “Did they not break up in 1983, after a falling out with their manager?”

The greying rockstars reprised several of their greatest hits, including “The Winner Takes it all”, in apparent reference to Israel’s current land claims.

With surprise on their side, the band used the opportunity to press for Palestinian rights.

“If you change your mind, they’re the first in line / Honey they’re not free / Take a chance on P / If you need peace, let them know, gonna be around / They’ve got no place to go, and they’re feeling down.”

Nodding vigorously, many delegates were moved to applaud and cheer as they had seldom done before.

In a scene reminiscent of an earlier speech by Iran, the entire contingent of European Union delegates stood up as one, walked away from their desks, and formed a conga line, careening joyfully down the aisle.

Speaking shortly after the program, US President Barack Obama indicated his cautious support. “Friends, disco has been a force of oppression and terror for many decades. Let’s not kid ourselves. But frankly, even disco is better than letting Abbas humiliate us on the world stage. So I say thank you for the music — for giving it to me.”

Once upon a time, on the shores of the pacific ocean, there was a magical kingdom called Powell. This kingdom was separated from the outside world by a great sorcery called BC Ferries, leaving the citizens free to live in peace and comfort.

But all was not well. The great arena, where the citizens liked to gather and mingle, had grown old and decrepit. For a time the town wardens sought to repair the structure, but in the end it was no use. With deep sorrow, they ordered it levelled by battering rams.

When those old walls came down, the whole kingdom turned out to see. That building had been like a beating heart in the community, built by the people for the people. Now there was a nothingness, a great blank spot in the fabric of the kingdom. The beach was still there, and it was beautiful, but the only structure that remained open was a hamburger stand.

“Fear not!” cried the wardens. “We have the power to build anew on this wonderful site. Only tell us what you would like to build, as we already have a new arena.”

Then all of the citizens began to speak at once.

“How about we build a BIGGER hamburger stand?”

“What about a gated community for our valued rich people?”

“Can we please make it into a beautiful parking lot?”

“Let’s build an incinerator — I just love incinerating things!”

The town wardens looked at each other with some dismay, as these ideas did not fit the nature of the site. They were beginning to think that they should just leave well enough alone, when a small boy spoke up.

“Pardon me, sirs,” the boy said, “but couldn’t we move our library there?”

Some of the citizens were surprised. “What?! We have a library?”

“Oh yes,” said the boy. “We have a lovely little library in the catacombs below the town warden’s office. But they only have room for a few books, and the space is rather old and crummy. Kingdoms half our size have much better libraries.”

(the present library was cozy)

“Very well,” said the wardens, “we acknowledge that the library in our catacombs is too small for a kingdom such as ours. And library is a true public space, a building for the people. We will build this library.”

And so the troubles began.

By ancient custom, any decision made by the town wardens was immediately opposed. Not by everyone, mind you, but by enough people that the wardens should never feel at ease. This duty was passed from generation to generation, in a grim and serious order known only as the Naysayers. One of them stepped forward now.

“Stop at once!” she cried. “Our citizens do not have the gold you require to build this useless edifice to knowledge. The existing library is fine! Catacombs are a lovely place to keep books. And in fact, no one reads books any more. They all just read blogs on the Internet.”

One of the wardens turned to address her. “Madam, we are not asking for any of your gold today. Let us prepare a plan for the building, with all costs accounted for. There are grants and other treasures we may draw on. When we know how much gold is needed, only then can we ask for your approval.”

“Never!” cried another voice. “One cent would be too much. The craft mill may close, or a horrible plague may wipe out all our labourers. The future is bleak! We cannot afford to pay for trifles such as this, no matter how cheap.”

Now another lady stepped forward, and the crowd parted around her, for all could see from the square of her shoulders that she was a Librarian.

“This library is worth it! Knowledge is a commodity more precious than gold. It is with books that we became a wise and thoughtful people. And a library can be more than a bookshelf, don’t you see? It can restore this old site to the glory and wonder it once knew. There will be rooms for meeting and gathering, there will be fantastic art adorning the walls. Families and friends will gather inside, and the eager voices of children will ring through these walls once more — quietly, I hope.”

The Naysayers were horrified. “You cannot steal this beach from us!” one of them shouted. “How dare you replace a beach with a bloody book-bin!”

“We’re not,” said the Librarian. “The library isn’t going on the beach. In fact, it will use less than a quarter of this upper lot. The trails and forests will stay. You may find this hard to believe,” she continued sweetly, “but libraries take up less space than great arenas.”

Shouts of approval followed her remarks, mixed with a grim hissing from the Naysayers.

One of the wardens spoke up. “There is a simple way to solve this,” she said. Let us send horsemen throughout the land, and ask everyone to choose their preferred site. Whichever site has the most votes…”

“Great idea!” cried the Naysayers. “We will campaign against this site, and other Naysayers can campaign against the other sites!”

“Other sites?” asked the Librarian. She was looking kind of sad.

“Oh yes, like the site near the Sheriff’s keep, by the old woods. All those woods will have to come down to make room, so we expect a lot of angry Naysayers. Or the unsuitable site inside a furniture store. Libraries have furniture, so it makes sense to some people. Building won’t work, of course. Makes for some great arguments!”

“Not only that,” said another smiling Naysayer, “but I’ll gladly disagree with any site anywhere, because books are evil.”

“Not evil,” said another one, “but gay.”

“Not gay,” said another one, “but useless to read when you could just watch the movie.”

“Not really,” said the first Naysayer, “but since I’m rich I don’t need to borrow things. And public spaces give me the creeps.”

“There are two good public spaces,” said an older Naysayer. “Public houses and public rest rooms. Can’t have one without the other, really.”

And a little voice shouted…


It was the young boy. While everyone was talking, he had built a small tower out of their soap boxes. He was balanced there now, lit from behind by the last rays of a beautiful sunset. They squinted up at him.

“Can’t you see that this arguing gets us nowhere? Bickering won’t help. Surveys won’t help. NOTHING will help until you all stop being so negative!”

This was such a daring proclamation that for a moment, no one said anything. The boy rushed ahead.

“Powell is a great place, an awesome place. We all care for it and love it very much. But our kingdom has grown old and our love has turned to fear. Now we fight against anything that might change.

“We fight about power lines, sewage plants, smart meters, water pipes, running tracks, dog parks, bridges, trails, rehab centres, the arts, the mill, burn piles, and the colour of our neighbour’s house. We want things to stay the same. Well I’m sorry –” (here the soapboxes swayed dangerously, and the crowd gasped) “I’m sorry, but I don’t remember how it used to be. I just know that things could be better. I think all of us should trust each other a little more. I think all of us should admit that our wardens are working night and day on our behalf, and deserve a little respect. I think we should not be afraid to grow, as a community.

“It’s fine to argue about things, but at some point we have to stop arguing and do something. Let’s be positive this time. I know it’s hard, but just… try.”

A silence followed this speech, broken only by creaking of the soapboxes and the cry of the gulls wheeling far overhead.

A warden cleared his throat. “You speak pretty smart for a little guy. Are you sure you’re not reading from a script, maybe some sort of blog?”

“No sir,” said the boy. “Blogs rot your brain, pretty much. I got my smarts honestly, one book at a time. From my public library.”

At this, a sort of cheer went up from the crowd. The wardens looked out, over the sea of smiling, frowning faces. They looked back at the empty site, sitting there like paper waiting for an author’s pen. And in that moment, they decided…


Will Powell get its new library, or is it all a hopeless fairy tale? Will we move forward and build something great, or will this process dragon and on forever? Find out next time, or the time after next. Or the time immediately following that time. Maybe.

Or, if you’d like to Choose Your Own Adventure, you can help shape this narrative now. Email your mayor, council, and newspaper with your thoughts. Tell your friends, tell your kids. Once in a while, dreams can come true.

One of my clearest memories of visiting my Grandfather is from about 17 years ago, on a beach near his Nanaimo home.  While the adults conversed above, I took my kid brother (I’m guessing he’d be about 5, which makes me 14) for a seaside adventure.  Soon we were running along a narrow strip of intertidal shore, between the grey sea and the cliffs.   Our dash ended in a shallow bay, where the sea reached right to the face of the rock, cutting us off ahead.  I glanced up at the cliffs.  The tide had filled a wide ditch in front of the wall, a through these waters lay a great bleached trunk, an old growth log cast loose from the wilds of Vancouver Island.  One end was lodged on the sand in front of me, and like an arrow it pointed across that trough, directly at the cliffs.  My heart began to pound, and I stepped to the log.

“What are you doing?” asked my awesome companion.

“Seeing if I can climb this,” I replied.  Grandpa used to climb things, big things.  Mountains and glaciers.  Harrowing adventure.  The log ended about two feet from the cliff.  I would have to jump over the gap and grab the rock.  If I failed, I’d fall and be drenched — in front of my little brother.

“Do you think I can make it?”


I ran lightly along the log.  I couldn’t tarry long on the far side, else it might roll.  The gap was a bit larger than I thought, but I jumped all right.  One foot missed, the other landed and both hands grabbed hold.  The rock was warm in the summer sun, a strange feeling of life-that-is-not-life that has never left me.  Robin cheered and jumped up and down, which was very encouraging.  His voice sounded thin against the waves.  I looked up… waaaaay up… and could see flowers looking down at me from the top of the cliff, some 40 feet away.  The going appeared to be steep.  Perhaps this wasn’t a wise idea.  Turning to the log, I saw that there was no way back.  I’d need my running start to cross that gap again.

“Go back around,” I called to my brother.  I was very responsible and didn’t want to see him swept out to sea.  Actually, all kidding aside, I had enjoyed a rapport with Robin ever since he could walk.  I knew what I could ask of him, and what he could be counted on to do.  I have relied on this trust more than I probably should have, I know.  It’s a brother thing.

Little Robin toddled out of sight, and I began to climb.  The cliff walls were a bit sandy, which added an element of danger but also made for many footholds, pockmarks in the weathered surface.  I only slipped once, it wasn’t my scariest climb.  My hands slowly turned black from the rock dust.  After a while I pulled myself over the lip and onto a grassy clearing.  Grown-up voices sounded nearby, and I hurried up.  My parents and grandparents where there. Robin burst from a side trail at the same moment, full of dignity from his solo quest.  We were united above the sea.

“Grandpa, I climbed them!  I climbed those cliffs!” I wasn’t interested in telling anyone else.  Here was the man, the legend, the Climbing Grandpa.  I believe I interrupted him in mid-sentence.  He looked at me and my blackened hands, bits of grass clinging to my clothes, one knee scuffed where it met with unforgiving rock.  There was an unmistakable twinkle in his eye.

“You did…?  Good for you!”

And then he drew me aside.  “See how dirty your hands are?”  Uh oh. Was the Climbing Grandpa a clean freak, like some of my other relatives?

“Well, uh, yes…”

“That’s from coal dust!  The last mine closed 40 years ago, but the dust around here still runs black.  Isn’t that something?”

And that’s how Grandpa was.  Encouragement and teaching, delivered with a smile.  I didn’t see him often, but every time I did there was something important there, something that cheered me on.  My mom has a picture of me with Grandpa and his wife Rene, back when I was younger than memory.  They flank me on our crazy old red couch.  I’m smiling like I won the lottery, like I’m sitting among heros.  And in a way I am.

My Grandfather passed away on January 22, at the age of 90.  Sitting here typing this, I wonder more than ever if I’m just a new version of him.  Sure, Grandpa Gordon never quite mastered computers, just as I never learned to ride the rails like a crazy hobo.  I’m sure we both wished we did.  Like me he loved mountain climbing, easily naming summits on every horizon.  What I feel when I take each rise, when I look out at the wide world around me, I know he felt. His numerous slides bear witness to exceptional photography skills, an obsession I share.  His empathy for individuals, and his lifelong desire to teach — both are borne in my work, where I use computers not just for the sake of mastering the logic, but to help people understand.

Maybe I am Grandpa Gordon 3.0.  So much of what made him that kind of man is in my blood.  Of course, I know my story is different, and that the differences have his approval.  Thus inspired, we carry on.

“Good for you!”

That was my Grandpa.

The last time I heard of solar sails, they were in an Arthur C. Clarke novel.

Here on earth, we now have different possibilities:

Late last month, the Australian Solar Sailor company announced they’d signed a deal with China’s biggest shipping line, COSCO, to fit some of their jumbo jet sized solar-powered sails to a tanker and bulk carrier. The 30 metre long sails, festooned in photovoltaic panels are expected to catch enough wind to reduce fuel costs by between 20% and 40%, whilst those PV cells will provide the ships with 5% of their electricity. A computer automatically angles the sails for maximum wind and solar efficiency, and if all goes to plan the sails will have recovered their initial cost within four years.

Tip o’ the organic hat to TreeHugger.  Now if only we could get above that tiny 5%…

I remember listening to silence on the radio, unaccustomed, eerie silence, while my mother stood nearby and the rain fell softly against the glass. A long time before, many people had died at war.  I listened through the static, trying to picture myself there, trying to understand a sacrifice we all pay homage to.

I didn’t grow up a pacifist, and I didn’t grow up a patriot.  Like many Canadians, my default war heros are medics, peacekeepers, negotiators.  You know, those guys who negotiate within an established framework and build multilateral consensus.  Us Canadians really like multilateral consensus.  But is that what our countrymen died for, on the beaches of Normandy?

I’ve been to Juno Beach.  I watched little kids swim in the light blue waters where a thousand Canadians died, most of them young men with earnest smiles and uncertain eyes. I know this will sound controversial, but it’s a blog so I’ll just forge ahead: I don’t like WWII Germany.  Those guys really shouldn’t have been building bunkers above those sand cliffs, really shouldn’t have been invading, slaughtering, and whatnot.  I’m proud of the Canadians who fought and died on that day. If they had failed, if we all had failed on different fronts, we would be remembering things very differently.  I haven’t been to many battlegrounds, so when I remember our fallen troops I remember sunny Juno, were we fought against evil.

Or did we?

Throughout our history, did brave men and women really fall “against evil”, and while “defending our freedoms”, or did they fall because they were violently killed by other brave men and women defending a different set of freedoms or at least following a different set of orders?  Probably yes.

Did the lessons of the World Wars lead the way for a wiser Canada, a Canada who will never fight except in the cause of peace?  Apparently no.

Remembrance day commemorates our losses against each other, our sacrifices against violence, discrimination, and organized hatred.   That’s what I wear the poppy for.  Not for glory, or democracy, or national defence (and I’m looking at you PMSH).  I wear the poppy to remember that loss, as I believe all war is, in the end.

Here’s to peace, eh?

There were about 50 000 sites worldwide on the day I made my first homepage.

The year was 1995, and I wasn’t some grubby kid sitting in his parents’ basement.  No sir, my room was on the second floor.  Netscape 1 had just hit the scene, and the Internet was about to explode.  So was my computer - every few hours I had to restart as it ran out of memory.  The future was coming, and out there in the wilderness I could sense a change.

Now it’s 2008.  I’m married.  I have a house.  I own a business.  181 million websites are out there.

There’s been a few changes.  I think it’s time to try something new.