So What’s All This Fuss About Christmas Anyway?

So what’s all the fuss about Christmas anyway?  For some, the holidays simply mean an over-indulgence in decadent foods, the giving and receiving of presents, and a twinkling of lights red and green. To others it connotes a laborious session of cooking and cleanup, maxed out credit cards and several blown fuses.  But whether you empathize a Cratchit or plot cynically as a Scrooge, one thing is certain: the kind of Christmas Dickens’ would doth protest, is not in fact a kind of Christmas at all!  It is rather a carnal reuse, or in other words, a joke that invokes gluttony and/or involves toil – a prank we have shamelessly played on ourselves all these years passed.

Truth be told, true Noel escaped the perils of industrial capitalism and the cynicisms of our modern making long ago.  Having taken refuge in the intangible realm of spirited thought, transcendental surrender, unconditional benevolence and love, Christmas remains beyond the grip of our social anxieties.  Yonder commercial hills, it is made whole by the images we loved as children: the kitsch and the common, the festive display of garland and the twinkling merriment of homespun goodies, a moonlit melee upon the snow, the warm glow of an open fire, and the majesty of Madonna with child.  In this regard, Christmas isn’t the thing or the display; it’s the festiveness itself, just as Christmas is the twinkle, the sparkle, the glow and the holy revelation of all that is joyful and true.

Despite having drifted so far from the thrust of its original intent and purpose, the spirit of the season continues to reside within us all, churning our charities, tweaking our philanthropic twinges, and breathing benevolence into our angers and annoyances.  Tis’ a gift we should truly be grateful for! Have you not wondered why the sight of a cold wintery landscape can invoke a swell of amorousness? Or why the ringing of silver bells and the sound of holiday hymns fills you with a desire for hugs and kisses and handholding and shoulder squeezing?  These are the incorporeal deities of the Christmas spirit, a movement that moves through us all, bounding like a westerly wind, to remind us of what and who we are.

So this year, let us take pause to reflect on what makes Christmas, Christmas.  Admit the movement of the season to refurbish our thoughts and replenish our spirits by way of winter walks, wafts of spices, chimes and rhymes and hymns and hums, merriment making and buttery baking.  In the words of Charles Dickens, “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

The Scourge of Getting Old

Aging, though a marked process of accumulative change, is as overwhelmingly abstract and impossible as our own mortality and the measurement of time itself.  There is no denying that aging and time are a union of one profound reality, forming the foundational fundamentals of human experience – a reality we don’t quite understand.  It is true that most of us do not look forward to getting old, and dealing with many of the associated ailments of old age.  Sure we can increase or maintain physical activity, eat a healthy diet, manage stress, stop smoking, get adequate amounts of calcium and vitamin D, avoid substance abuse, and stay mentally active, however the reality of aging is not something we can wholly circumvent by any means.  It is rather a constant in the cycle that is life.  Nevertheless many of us tend to overlook aging and its vital, necessary and even joyful affects on all human societies.

Throughout history, many traditional, non-literate and restricted societies respected and cherished the elderly, whose accumulative wealth of knowledge, skills, wisdom and mastery of the local technologies were renowned for their necessitating factors in subsistence.  In this respect, the death of a prominent elder meant the loss of resource and access to education.  However modern society presents an inversion to the traditional structure.  No longer bound by the limited accessibility of knowledge, application and technologies, our youth now possess, in many cases, a greater skill set and knowledge base than their parents and grandparents.  This is partly due to the increased cultural importance on cognitive function associated with the information age of computers and global communications.  Modern society, in many respects, has made old age irrelevant, compounded by the contemporary emphasis on autonomy, self-control, beauty and the ability to be productive and reproductive.  Aging is thus viewed as a redundancy that must be obscured – something less valuable, less meaningful and ultimately undesirable.  If we take a look at the mechanisms of our modern culture, such as journalism, advertisement, the internet, education, commercialism, politics and social media, we see a trend in the idolization of youth, whereby each of these factions labor to serve an 18-54 demographic.  So what happens when you reach the outskirts of this exclusive youth club?  Society tells us – nothing, because you no longer matter.  However interestingly enough, most of the prominent players in society are those actually over 54.  But let’s face it: aging is unpopular in North America and in most other industrialized countries.

In keeping with our need to stay young, the crusade for the Holy Grail of longevity has yielded some incredible scientific discoveries to include the successful rejuvenation and extending lifespan of model animals.  For those of us who wish to live longer looking younger, this is good news.  There are several drugs and food supplements on the market, which have been shown to retard or reverse the biological effects of aging in some animals, such as resveratrol, (a chemical found in red grapes), acetyl-L-carnitine and alpha-lipoic acid, the drug, MK-677 and rapamycin.  Studies based on and around these external factors are the first convincing evidence that the aging process can be slowed and that lifespan can be extended through drug therapy.  During this past year, longevity political parties have cropped up in Russia, the USA, Israel and the Netherlands, with the aim at providing political support to anti-aging and radical life extension research and technologies.  The general consensus within these lobbyist groups, political organizations and scientific communities, is to provide necessary funding and research that will make radical life extension and life without aging accessible to currently living people.

Despite recent scientific discovery and research into the fountain of youth, the cumbersome idea of aging continues to burden the youth psychology of today.  Contrary to popular belief however, aging is not necessarily an ultimate demise; rather it is, in many ways, delayed gratification.  In fact, studies have shown that people grow happier not grumpier, as they get older and tend to be more optimistic rather than cynical.  Ironically cynicism, is this respect, is reserved for the younger generations, who tend to dwell more on the negative aspects and associations of daily life as a result of a lack in coping mechanisms that accumulate with age.  Research shows that older people, for the most part, accept life as it is with less expectation than their younger counterparts. Psychologically speaking, the less we expect from life, the happier we will be, albeit by mitigating disappointment.  Despite the decline of the physical quality of life after middle age, brain-scanning and psychological studies have proved an increase in mental satisfaction among aging demographics, as well as identified internal mechanisms that allow the elderly to better cope with hardship or negative circumstances.  This research simply reveals that our elderly experience greater positivity and optimism, which may be related to the way the brain processes emotional contents.  Still not convinced aging is the thing for you?  Well, here are a few other things you can look forward to in the coming years: more awake time, the benefits of grandchildren and being grandparents, accumulative knowledge or wisdom, and surprisingly, a rewarding sex life.  Aging is indeed a hallmark of biology and albeit, a true reflection of the cultural and societal conventions of the industrialized world.  Notwithstanding great skepticism and cynicism, aging continues as a momentous procession of the human experience – a true privilege.  In the words of Robert Browning, “Grow old along with me!  The best is yet to be.”

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

 

Climate Change Affects Us All, and Yes, That Means You Too Penticton!

“We are upsetting the atmosphere upon which all life depends. In the late 80s when I began to take climate change seriously, we referred to global warming as a ‘slow motion catastrophe’ one we expected to kick in perhaps generations later. Instead, the signs of change have accelerated alarmingly.” – David Suzuki

Ecologically speaking, the world as we know it will never be the same as it is now, in fact, the world hasn’t been the same for quite some time.  Some of the disturbing affects of global warming and climate change can be seen and felt right in our own backyard.  The devastation of BC forests by the parasitic pine beetle, summer droughts, more precipitation in the form of rain during the winter months, and glacial melting are only a precursor of what is to come.  However for many of us, climate change is still an abstraction, an intangible theory that excites the pages of diagnostic books, plays and movies that seemingly border science fiction.  Even though we may not see or feel the daily climatic change that is affecting our planet, while we continue to enjoy the warmth of our homes during fearsome winter storms, building snowmen in our gardens and taking chilly walks during frost season, climate change is nevertheless an existent, authentic, real-time process that will irrefutably reshape the social, economic, political and environmental landscapes of our planet in the not-so-distant future.

The harmonious functioning of our ecosystem, like all orders of life, is contingent and affecting.  It exists the way it does, because something else exists the way it does, and something else exists the way it does, because our eco system exists the way it does.  Although many contemporary theorists believe that the earth is undergoing its own natural cycle of climate change, as it has done since its accretion 4.54 billion years ago, the catalytic green house gas effect is exponentially speeding up the process, causing unnecessary damage to adaptation, the natural process of evolution and natural selection, global environments, natural resources, weather patterns, seasonal disturbances and more.  In laymen’s terms, climate change is not just a sleeping giant.  It is a waking, rousing, yawning, angry goliath, who’s ready to fee-fi-fo-fum its way to an ecological breakdown.

Here in British Columbia, the impact of climate change is just as real as it is anywhere else.  In the Okanagan Valley for instance, mean winter temperatures are increasing alongside extreme minimum temperatures during our winter months, and we have seen a decline in snowpacks throughout the Okanagan and Similkameen over the past several decades.  Even though average temperatures of our growing season and dormant season are only expected to experience modest change by 2100, the success of the agrifood industry impinges on many factors that include temperature, moisture, secure export markets and low-wage labor, all of which will be affected by future climate change.  And while water resources in the Okanagan River Basin are undergoing continuous stress due to intensive regulation for irrigation and urban water supply, recent trends in climate change may see prolonged periods of drought and diminishing water resources.  While warmer temperatures may seem attractive at the get-go, it’s important to understand that even the minutest changes in climate can have substantial ecological, social and economic consequences.  Provincial regulations on greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reductions are now being adopted by new legislation that commits our region and other regional districts to identify GHG emissions reduction strategies.  The projected target of these reduction strategies is for British Columbia to reduce emissions by 33% below the 2007 levels by 2020, and 80% below the 2007 levels by 2050.  Land use, infrastructure, transportation and construction, all have major impacts on regional energy consumption and related GHG emissions.   Communities like Penticton and those throughout the Okanagan and British Columbia must identify clear strategic paths where growth and development can occur, while encouraging sustainable options and protection of natural resources.

In order to postulate multiple scenarios of BC’s future climate change and the subsequent impact on our lives, we must first look to our historic environmental past.   It is a fact that British Columbia’s climate has indeed changed over the last century. Our average annual temperature has warmed by 0.6 degrees C at the coast, 1.1°C in the interior and 1.7°C in the north between 1895 and 1995; precipitation increased in southern B.C. by 2 to 4 per cent per decade (between 1929 and 1998); sea surface temperature increased by 0.9 to 1.8°C between 1914 and 2001; snow depth and snow water content decreased in some parts of British Columbia between 1935 and 2000; and lakes and rivers throughout B.C. became free of ice earlier in the spring between 1945 and 1993.  The expediency of these changes demonstrates a speeding up of the warming process, whereby the projected rate of global warming for the 21st century becomes significantly faster than observed vicissitudes during the 20th century and likely faster than at any time during the last 10,000 years.  However, the actual rate of warming depends on how fast greenhouse gases continue to accumulate in the atmosphere and how our environment responds.  Significant evidence suggests that the affects of climate change in BC throughout the 21st century will involve a 2-5°C increase in average annual temperature, an increase in river flood risks in the spring and coastal flooding associated with storm surges; shifts in the geographical range of vegetation, (which includes economically vital forest species); reduced winter snow pack and earlier snowmelt, (affecting summer water supply); glacial retreat in the south; greater stress on species at risk; increased river temperatures traumatizing salmon breeding grounds, and reduced summer soil moisture, which will subsequently increase risk of forest fires.  Whether we like to admit it or not, climate change does not mean a more warmer days basking in the sun with margaritas in hand.  Climate change will inevitably impact our water, fish, forests and other natural resources, alongside our communities and ecosystems that invariably depend on them.

It would be nice to posit an, ‘in conclusion,’ to this very catastrophic viewpoint, but unfortunately there is no such conclusion to the epidemic that is global warming.  At least no yet.  Climate change is one of the most urgent issues affecting society today and it something we cannot continue to ignore.  However apathy and ignorance among our populations mitigates the sense of urgency and stifles any immediate action in both the private and political sectors.  The goal is to communicate the impact of our climate change to those whom climate science often fails to reach, and provoke our government into providing clear choices for feasible actions for all factions of society, not just as the national or global level, but also at the local level.   We need to lobby our local government and its agencies into making the right choices that provide support for greener, more sustainable opportunities.  We need to talk more about global climate change, and take the time to learn about our beautiful planet.  The more we know the more we’ll care, and the more we care, the more we can make a difference.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

Canada In the Line of Fire? How Will The U.S. Election Outcome Affect Our Sovereign Nation?


“For what do we live, but to make sport for our neighbors and laugh at them in our turn?” In the words of 18th century novelist Jane Austen, comes the thrust behind Canadian and U.S. relations.  Joining the popular crowds of the Western world, Canada takes aim at the theatrical display of 21rst century gladiatorial campaigning that is American politics.  While the U.S. election crusades continues to draw audience like a dark satirical comedy, Canadians watch on, mesmerized by the sucker-punch politics, the heavy-handed propaganda campaigns, and the skyrocketing expenditures that plague Uncle Sam.  It is perfect fodder for Canadian censure, and albeit Canadian phlegmatic resolve, despite the secret desire to import some of that U.S. political drama to our own political monotony.  And while American dollars continue to pour over the presidential elections from the drains of its dripping economy, Canadians continue to point a sanctimonious finger, veiled by the ‘sucker-to-saint effect’ by which we do not suffer fools gladly.  But whether envy or hubris, the irony lies in the fact that the joke is really on us.  No matter how ridiculous the U.S. political scene may seem at times, there is nothing laughable about the militate affect its thereafter has on our own.

So just how will the US election results affect Canada? Well first let’s have a look at the policies and positions of our current conservative Harper government and cross compare those with both the democratic and republican agendas.  Despite Canada’s sometimes-haughty opinion over its neighbor, Canadians must understand the interdependent nature of Canada’s relationship with the United States, (in which case, burning down our neighbor’s house will only make ours look worse!) To put it into perspective, no other economy comes close to the American weight in our trade flows, with more than 70 per cent of our exports bound for the U.S. market.  And it doesn’t stop there.  So just what is on the table?  Both parties have distinctive approaches when it comes to mitigating America’s national debt and high unemployment rates.  Obama’s tactic is simple: cut military expenditure and put a greater tax burden on the country’s biggest businesses and wealthiest citizens. Romney’s plan on the other hand, mirrors more closely the Canadian program, which emphasizes tax cuts for big business in an attempt to boost job creation and investment.  So while the U.S. economy directly impacts the performance and growth plans of a substantial number of Canadian businesses, both plans therefore have far-reaching ramifications for Canada.  Slashing the U.S. corporate tax rate will directly affect Canada’s ability to attract foreign investment and further republican cuts to government funding could likewise result in less work for Canadian companies that have benefited from American government contracts in recent years.  However the democrat’s plan to maintain government spending and re-invest in infrastructure may mean more opportunities for Canadian companies.

While energy and environment issues continue to plague our politicians, the big headline thundering across Canadian media of late has been the debate over the Keystone XL pipeline, the outcome of which will be reflected by the outcome of the U.S. election. A means of weaning U.S. dependency on foreign oil by carrying Alberta crude more than 2500 kilometers south to refineries along the Gulf of Mexico, the jury is still out.  And while both Obama and Romney may in fact approve the pipeline proposal, they each have very different views on securing U.S. energy, decisions that influence Canada’s own energy industry.  With the copycat Harper government imitating U.S. environmental policies, a more environmentally relaxed republican administration may mean less emission-reduction targets for Canada in the coming years.  Likewise the fate of the U.S. healthcare system, which has notoriously been at the epicenter of much global criticism and controversy over the years, (albeit something to really laugh about), will also perturb the Canadian medical sector.  Commonly known by the colloquial moniker Obamacare, The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is expected to result in 32 million more Americans having access to health care, which will in turn, result in a shortage of 63,000 doctors by 2015.  This will inadvertently see a southward flow of Canadian doctors and nurses that will pull at the fibers of our own distressed healthcare system.

Amidst the political fray, let us not forget the figureheads behind these campaigns. Over the years, we have seen Stephen Harper construct a good working relationship with President Obama, however critics are quick to point out the similarities between the two conservative mouthpieces, which may result in a much closer relationship between Canada and the United States.  And while Obama’s wariness over free trade has helped Harper drive home his free-trade agenda to maintain a competitive advantage over the European and Indian markets, a Romney presidency may see a renewed commitment to fast-tracking talks and concluding agreements, resulting in a more competitive trade environment for Canada.

In conclusion, our schadenfreude, or moral triumph over the U.S. economic decline, and our holier-than-thou humor over American political outplay is ultimately misplaced.  Whether we like it or not, Canada can no longer consider itself partisan or independently thinking from its southern neighbor, especially while we share clothes and bank accounts.  In the end, whether Mitt Romney or Barack Obama resume the presidency, Canada can be certain, the outcome either way will be incumbent upon Canada’s geopolitical, economical, environmental and social landscapes.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

Can Halloween Survive 21st Century Cynicism?

 

Halloween may well be an outdated brand of the past, and yet All Hallows Eve continues to captivate the hearts and minds of generations young and old.  A transcendental knickknack handed down from a bygone era of supreme superstition, Halloween reminds us that no matter how sensible and adult-like we’ve become; there lurks a creeping subconscious awaiting its chance to wreak havoc on our imagination.  Despite the fun and fancy aspect of Halloween, many parents today view the whole ghost-ghoul-goblin spectacle rather cynically, considering its ideology unfit for our children and its customary practices ultimately unsafe.

Childhood fear by way of imagination and storytelling is not a new thing.  In fact, for centuries, mythologies and folklore were created to scare children into complacency during a time when discipline relied on fear.  Instead of calming and soothing children, fairytales and folklore were used as tools to teach children, albeit at a very young age, the harsher realities of life through metaphorical anthologies.  The Brothers Grimm, for example, introduced their collection of ghoulish, eerie “children’s stories” in 1812, believing the tales were of significant value as they labored to reflect the intrinsic cultural qualities of their time.  Purposefully written in a didactic fashion, stories such as Hansel and Gretel and Little Red Riding Hood were cautionary tales and warnings for young children rather than comforting and happy make-believe.

In retrospect, our 21rst century bias may feel a sense of triumph over our ‘provincial’ Brother’s-Grimm-past.  And yet all the components that mark our history – violence, war and destruction, disconnect and disillusionment, continue to plague modern day society.  In many ways, while culture has indeed undergone drastic changes, humanity remains very much the same throughout the course of human history.  We have simply traded fairytales for video games and storybooks for iPods and TV, but these newer, fresher renditions of the past, are simply wolves in sheep’s clothing.  So the question remains: What is the relevancy of Halloween in the 21rst century, and should we be concerned over its message and its safety?

Today’s Halloween customs are the amalgamation of an epigenetic inheritance passed down by immigrant families who arrived in North America from the British Isles during the 1800s.  Like many Western traditional celebrations, Halloween takes root in both pagan and Christian ideologies.  Historically, on All Souls Day, impoverished people and children solicited door-to-door, singing and praying for those souls trapped in purgatory in return for food and cakes.   Likewise, customs surrounding the festivals of Samhain throughout the British Isles saw local townspeople wearing guises and costumes to ward-off harmful spirits, while petitioning door-to-door for fuel for bonfires, and food for feasts and spirit offerings. The modern-day notion of dressing-up for Halloween, did not however become commonplace until the late 19th century, when British children disguised in costumes, would parade throughout the neighborhood carrying lanterns made from hollowed turnips.  By 1911, this practice had migrated to the New World along with the influx of British immigrants and by 1952, the custom was widespread in North American popular culture.

Despite Halloween being a very historical and long-lived tradition, the last few decades have bared witness to its change and perhaps its ultimate demise.  Long gone are the days of the five and dime, homespun costumes, treat-bag pillowcases, and groups of unaccompanied children of all ages, (usually chaperoning a younger sibling or two).  Trick-or-treating is becoming something of the past, while kids no longer reach for candied apples, popcorn balls, taffy bites, tootsie rolls and homemade treats.  Welcoming neighbors with hot apple cider and warm cookies are but a wistful image of a time departed, while neighbourhoods, once a child’s sanctuary, are now unlit suspicious streets.  Yes, the very idea of Halloween seems as outdated as the Grimm’s fairytales and their politically incorrect classic Disney counterparts.  So what happened to Halloween?

Undoubtedly tremendous change in both the makeup of our population and how we live our lives has reshaped the social and political landscapes of our civilization – stretching, pulling and retracting the very fibers of society.  While 100 years ago most people lived in rural areas alongside several families, today, we see the majority of our population in metropolitan centers, with households of no more than one or two people.  Along with the drastic population growth, developments in both the private and business sectors, together with the ‘Technological Revolution,’ has ushered in the dawn of a new age.  Over-crowding, competition, redefined family structures, immigration, globalization and social media are some of the many things that has made our world a much smaller place, and a much bigger threat.  Having replaced communal strategy for individualistic thought-think, we are seeing an insurgence of isolationism, distrust, suspicion and tenacity, the many pitfalls of our modern, fight-or-flight society.   Given these changes of the social mechanism, it does not come as a surprise that Halloween and other traditional holidays and festivals, have come under much scrutiny and controversy in recent years.  We have arrived at the event horizon.   Cities now offer alternatives to the traditional door-to-door trick-or-treating, by providing gatherings and festivals at churches, community centers, and neighborhood malls, while in some cases, trick-or-treating has been banned altogether.  Hospitals continue to offer X-rays for Halloween candy, and health officials resume their campaign for germ-free in the name of prevention, while those Children who do choose to brave the streets, are shadowed by a studying parental presence.  It is a fact: gone are the days of laissez-faire Halloween-ing. But it’s not the homemade costumes that we miss, or the candied apples, or the story telling or the worn-out pillowcases and Ouija boards.  What we truly yearn for is a return to the nostalgia of historical society – to the authenticity of family and community, to the simplified lifestyle of DIY without the busybodies of Wikipedia and YouTube.  We covet earthly connection, to our food source, to our friends and family, away from the Big Brother watchdogs of cyber world’s final frontier.  Halloween may indeed be out of favor, but our politicians and corporate heads are still churning the pot, chanting: “double, double, toil and trouble; fire burn and cauldron bubble!”

Even though street safety and in some cases, safe costume-wearing and costume-handling, is just as prevalent a threat now as it was 50 years ago, we must reconsider the meaning of Halloween in the 21rst century.  Pumpkin patches, pumpkin carving and pie making, pumpkin seed roasting and jack-o-lantern flickering, bobbing for apples and fireside stories, dress up and make-believe, decorations and corn mazes… castles of leaves, parties and hay rides, friends and family and treats!  The value of Halloween is in the gatherings and get-togethers, the laughter and fun, the sharing, the caring.  And whether you choose to trick-or-treat, or buy your costume or make your own out of bed linens and tablecloths, this Hallows Eve is all about the little toasts of the season.  After all, that’s what life’s about, right?  All the little things. So eat, drink and be scary!

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

So What’s This About October 24th…?

October 24 is United Nations Day, a day that is meant to celebrate the achievement and ongoing success of the United Nations.  This year’s celebrated theme echoes Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s most recent statement: “Let us unite, seven billion strong, in the name of the global common good.”  Yet one can’t help but wonder, what is the “global common good” and how does an organization like the United Nations help to unite our seven billion strong?  What does the United Nations actually do? 

Well, just like its name, the United Nations is in fact, a union between nations worldwide.  An international organization whose stated purpose is to facilitate cooperation in international law, international security, social progress, economic development, human rights, and achievement of world peace, the UN acts as a global governing advisory assembly.  The six principal organs of the United Nations are the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Secretariat, the International Court of Justice and the United Nations Trusteeship Council (which is currently inactive). Other prolific UN System agencies include the World Food Programme (WFP), the World Health Organization (WHO), and United Nations Children’s Fund  (UNICEF).  Each branch of the organization labors to implement its missions.  For example, the Security Council is charged with upholding peace and security worldwide by facilitating binding decisions that member states must adhere to under the terms of the Charter.  Although the Security Council is made up of 15 member states, only 5 are in fact permanent.  These include China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States.  The International Criminal Court on the other hand, is charged with trying those who commit the most serious crimes under international law, such as war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity and the crime of aggression.  The Economic and Social Council however, assists in promoting international economic and social cooperation and development, and whose chief finance ministers also head central committees like the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund.  Financed solely from assessed and voluntary contribution from its member states, the United Nations remains a global cooperative, seemingly forged from the needs of humanity.

Now it may seem that a political liaison among the world’s super powers and their allies is either counterintuitive or rather avant-garde, and yet, the UN is not the beacon of our postmodern era.  In fact, the United Nations was founded in 1945 following the Second World War, a historical concept born about by historical events.  A replacement for the League of Nations, the UN was initially designed to be both a global goodwill ambassador, and an intergovernmental policing platform, to stop armed war between countries and provide an arena for open debate and discussion.  Since it’s beginning, membership has significantly grown to presently include 193 member states, with the joining of South Sudan in 2011.  Today, the UN is more commonly known for its peacekeeping initiatives.  While the UN does not maintain it’s own military, peacekeeping forces are therefore voluntarily provided by its member states.  Commonly referred to as the “Blue Helmets,” the UN’s peacekeeping force is recognized worldwide by the UN’s renowned blue and white insignia, and boasts many accolades to boot, including the Nobel Peace Prize in 1988.

So, one might ask, what is the relevance of an organization like the UN, if conflict between countries persists?  One might also consider the moral caboose of the UN – whether or not a central governing body should in fact be responsible for the well being of individual states. Despite the apparent successes of the UN, criticism and conflict continue to plague the organization for its perceived failures.  Many argue that due to the UN’s intergovernmental nature, member states demonstrate reluctance to achieve or enforce Security Council resolutions, and that disagreements in the Security Council about military action have failed to prevent many of the atrocities of the 20th century, including the Cold War, the Rwandan Genocide, the Second Congo War, starvation in Somalia, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and the continuing conflict in Darfur.  In addition to these professed shortcomings, critics have also accused the UN peacekeeping force of sexual crimes starting in 2003, in the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Sudan, Burundi and Cote d’Ivoire.

Apart from controversy over the UN’s actions, the very structure of the United Nations has been called into question.  Critics challenge the democratic nature of the UN, stating it serves only the interests of the governments of the nations who form it, rather than the individuals within those nations.  Other concerns are aimed directly at the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.  Some contemporaries are quick to criticize their veto power, while others point out their heavy investment in arms exportation and exclusive rights to nuclear power.  In this respect, the UNSC is viewed as a platform for the strategic interests and political motives of its permanent members.  Critics argue that examples can be taken from the UN’s protection over the oil-rich Kuwaitis in 1991 and its dithering with the resource-poor Rwandans in 1994, as well as its quick military action through NATO against Libya in 2011, but its present-day indecision over whether to take military action against Syria.

Whether or not one agrees with the political or moral aspects of the United Nations, or whether one even agrees with its relevancy to date, the United Nations is inarguably still a vital force for globalization, which sees the cooperation of many different states, societies, cultures and histories under the incentive of world peace.  Too good to be true?  Perhaps.  But where it fails, it may also succeed, and while the world is becoming smaller through mico and macro technologies, organizations like the UN seem to be where our future is headed.  So all hail on October 24!

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

 

TEDx At The Penticton Lakeside Resort, October 27!

This month the most talked about event of the year is happening right here at the Penticton Lakeside Resort, Saturday October 27th!  TEDx is more than just an event; it is a movement. Based on the incentive of global integration, TEDx strives to integrate local community within a global perspective from which the world is constantly evolving.  This year’s theme, Where Do We Go From Here, echoes the reality of change whereby we are constantly on the precipice.   TEDxPenticton is indeed a movement based on creation and change in real time, a revolution that we are all inherently apart of.

A nonprofit initiative, born from the TED enterprise, (Technology, Entertainment, Design) and fashioned by the spirit of its mission: Ideas Worth Spreading.  The scope of TED has exponentially grown since its beginnings in 1984, reaching communities all around the world with TEDGlobal, the award-winning TEDtalks video site, the Open Translation Project and the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs.  The TED initiative continues to attract millions of subscribers worldwide, partaking in free, accessible knowledge lead by the world’s leading, front-line thinkers and doers.  Past TED speakers have included Bill Gates, Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elizabeth Gilbert, Sir Richard Branson, Nandan Nilekani, Philippe Starck, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Isabel Allende and UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Over the years the TED initiative has helped to create an international platform from which positive change in people and their societies is made real.  In this sense, the movement of TED is quite literally the movement of humanity. 

In an effort to convert the dialogue of modern day into a comprehensive thought-think, TEDxPenticton draws upon the communities of the South Okanagan, to share in a TED-like know-how, by engaging societal and individual appreciations on all levels.  This year, an inspiring program orchestrated by world-class speakers and stirring musical performances touching on a wide-range of subjects, will leave you wanting more.  Streaming live from the Penticton Lakeside Resort, TEDxPenitcton 2012 will be made accessible to the world through the renowned TEDx website, a ground-breaking affair you won’t want to miss!  Following the event, an exclusive dinner at the Bufflehead Pasta and Tapas Room, hosted by Executive chef, Chris Remington, will feature a set menu of mixed greens, a choice of salmon, chicken parmigiana, or an 8oz New York steak, served with seasonal vegetables and potatoes with a tiramisu dessert for only $25++.  Seating is limited at both events, so to reserve your table today, go to www.thebufflehead.com or call 250-493-9768, and to book your TEDxPenticton experience and for information, please visit: tedxpenticton.com

– Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

Preserving The Season…

Living as we do in rural bliss near an abundant harvest, Penticton-ites have the luxury of indulging in the delights of farmer’s markets, fall fairs, and field-to-table produce. The earthly labor of love that yields all this natural, whole, unprocessed food compels us to put every last tomato and apple to good use.  Indeed the terra firma of humanity is our intrinsic connection to the earth and its soils, nostalgia if you will, that compounds the harvest season and fills us with an indiscriminate sense of plentiful contentment. Heralded as a fall tradition, the once vital historical understanding of food preservation, (which facilitated our survival through the dearth of winter), has bestowed upon us a diverse culinary repertoire of jams, jellies, pickles, chutneys, smoking, salting, drying, canning or bottling.  While food preservation is no longer necessary for subsistence, it nevertheless remains imperative to the conjoint nature of our relationship with the natural world, as well as our role within the food web. So why not exploit this cornucopia of historic medleys this autumn, to revisit the roots of food conception and explore a myriad of sensational flavours, tastes and smells?

Food preservation has long been used as the process of treating and handling food to halt or slow down food spoilage, edibility, and loss of quality and nutritional value.  There are several methods of food preservation, each of which helps to preserve and store the food in different ways.  Many vegetables for instance, keep well frozen, retaining nutrients as well as texture, flavor and color.  Canning is a superior method for preserving fruits and vegetables with high water content, such as mushrooms, tomatoes, beans and peaches.  The most ancient food preservation technique however is drying or dehydration and often goes hand-in-hand with fermentation and smoking, as well as the burying of food in the earth’s soil.  Pickling fruits and veggies such as peppers, cauliflower, onions, beetroot, fish, apples and pears, make excellent relishes and sauces.  They also lend themselves well to jelly, jam, chutney, and ketchup, like apple thyme jelly, fresh fig preserves or pear and butternut squash preserve.

Recipes for culinary fall favorites characteristically involve some type of food preservation technique, be it canning, pickling, drying or smoking.  Now is the perfect time to take full advantage of the abundant harvest from our local farmers.  Simple or decadent applesauce recipes can be made sweetened or unsweetened, chunky or smooth, dried apple chips are the perfect healthy grab-it-and-go snack, apple pie, apple cider, and with nothing going to waste, leftover apple cores and peels can be used to make homemade apple pectin for jams, jellies and marmalade.  Freezing our tomatoes is a surefire way to create the most flavorful pasta; pizza sauces and soups, while freezing leafy greens and herbs make for excellent dips, casseroles, soups, stews, smoothies and sauces.   By taking full advantage of the widely prolific summer squash for instance, one can enjoy a plentiful supply of breads, muffins, soups and purées.

Contrary to popular belief, capitalizing on the abundance of fall does not require much added effort, and the benefits of conserving nutrient-rich bounty are outstanding.  With each new harvest season comes new options and possibilities in which we can branch out and expand our culinary repertoire. Preserving our food cannot only free up time in the busy season, but also allows for the enjoyment of a diverse menu throughout the winter months.  The food revolution of today proclaims a newfound independence from the corporate food industry along with greater insight and knowledge of our foodstuff.   Food preservation crafts the pulse of the season and gives back to ourselves the love of real food, not only rooted in our history, but from our history, our future.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Little Taste of Tuscany…


Get ready to partake in a true feast for the senses, as the changing seasons usher in a new rhythm of cultural exposé to toast an array of fall occasions in the South Okanagan!  The renowned Downtown Community Market, every Saturday morning on 100-block Main Street, continues to hallmark the season’s calendar, as well as the Parrot Summer Nights, heralding live music every weekend on the Barking Parrot patio.  A colorful selection of fast-approaching culture, entertainment, food and wine events, will show off the best the South Okanagan has to offer in the coming weeks.  With events to stir the senses and sensationalize the seasonal experience, you can easily dive into the roster of fun-filled, dynamic, culturally driven ventures.  Come check out the fast pace action of the 12th annual Penticton Dragon Boat Festival, or get your funk on during the Penticton Jazz Festival, a three-day music spectacular.  Become a bohemian for the day at the ReImagine Art Festival, an artistic revolution of sorts that will see local artists take to the streets in a celebration of innovation and creativity.  And, of course, if your glutton for a little bit of countrified worldliness, to quench that insatiable appetite for fine wines and delectable foods, the Festival of the Grape will surely please your palate, followed by Oktoberfest, (great beers, great food and tons of fun – need we say more?) and of course, the celebrated Okanagan Fall Wine Festival, (assured to unravel you in a wash of cultural extravagance).

As the heat of the summer slowly fades into a new kind of nostalgic warmth, we turn our attention to the changing colors, the ripening grapes and the season’s harvest. In keeping with the fall’s food and wine agenda, The Penticton Lakeside Resort will play host to an exclusive alfresco dining experience this month, with “Taste of Tuscany,” happening this September 28th.  Featuring Executive Chef, Chris Remington, of the Bufflehead Pasta and Tapas Room, indulge in exquisite culinary creations paired by the best BC vintages amongst the sweeping panorama of Lake Okanagan and the breathtaking beauty of the valley.  Taste of Tuscany is truly the penultimate dining experience, exemplifying the spirit of Italy with real Canadian conviction.  A locally inspired five-course menu featuring organic produce direct from Valley View Farm, along with live entertainment will enrapture and enthuse.  Limited space is available, so book early. You can call to make reservations at: 250-493-8221.

This season take in all the valley has to offer, and indulge yourself in the valley’s authentic local culture and harvest celebrations!

-Elizabeth Cucnik

 

 

 

Subaru Ironman Canada This Sunday!

This Sunday, August 26th, all eyes turn to Penticton, as the Sports world bows its gracious head to Subaru Ironman Canada, one of the most grueling and yet awe-inspiring events in the world of sport.  Ironman triathlon features a 2.4-mile swim, a 112-mile bike and a complete marathon (26.2 miles) all in succession without break. Athletes have 17 hours to complete the event (from the 7 a.m. start until midnight).  Penticton’s Subaru Ironman Canada is the oldest Ironman race hosted on the North American continent and will see its 30th anniversary this year as it continues to be revered as one of the best Ironman events attested by its history and model course.  With a population of only 30,000, Penticton’s community contributes over 4500 volunteers, nick-named the “Iron Army,” and is generally upheld as one of the most athlete-friendly cities.  This year more than 2800 athletes will compete in the 30th annual triathlon.  The large field includes athletes from each of the Canadian provinces, 44 U.S. states and more than 25 countries.

Like many great things, Ironman triathlon owes much of its greatness to the humblest of beginnings.  In the late 1970s, a group of Navy Seals stationed in Hawai’i, argued the moot point of archetype athleticism, debating whether cycling, running or biking produced the best athletes in the world.  Unable to concede, Navy commander John Collins suggested they put their theories to the test, by hosting a race that would combine all three sporting activities in succession.  Hence, on February 18th, 1978, 15 competitors decided to put themselves to the test by swimming 2.4 miles, biking 112 miles and running 26.2 miles.   Collins was quoted saying, “Whoever finishes first will be called the Ironman,” and thus, the Ironman Triathlon was born.  Of the 15 men to start off in the early morning on February 18, only twelve completed the race.  With no further marketing efforts, the race gathered as many as 50 athletes the following year, seeing its first female athlete, Lyn Lemaire, a championship cyclist from Boston, place sixth overall to become the first “Ironwoman.”   Following a ten-page article in Sports Illustrated, hundreds of curious participants contacted Collins about signing up for the next year’s race… and it has continued to grow in world renown ever since.

Interestingly, of all the athletes to have competed in 2011 Suburu Ironman Canada, 70% were men and only 29.9% were female.  Although the numbers of female athletes are growing, men generally dominate the sport.  Surprisingly, the oldest women to compete in the 2011 Subaru Ironman Canada was Madonna Buder at 81 years of age, while the youngest was Ciena Calavitta, 21 years of age, both of whom were from the United States.  While the top professional athletes exalt finishing times above and beyond what seems humanly possible, the female professional athlete’s finishing times fall short of their male counterparts by a mere half an hour.   However, the women of the Ironman Triathlon have inspired some of the most enduring and memorable races throughout the event’s history.  For example, in 1982, Julie Moss, a then college student competing to gather research for her exercise physiology thesis, collapsed just yards from the finish line after being the first-place hopeful.  Despite Kathleen McCartney passing her to take the women’s title, Moss nevertheless crawled to the finish line, a performance that was broadcast worldwide and created the Ironman mantra that just finishing is a victory.

Today thousands of athletes worldwide compete at an Ironman event each year, the vast majority aim simply to just finish the course, or set a personal record if they’ve raced this distance before. People completing the event within the strict timeline, are thus recognized as “Ironmen” or “Ironwomen.”   Apart from the Ironman mantra, many professional and amateur athletes alike compete around the world at Ironman Triathlon races to qualify for the annual Ironman World Championships.   Although much has changed since the event’s humble beginnings with Navy commander John Collins and his group of sporting enthusiasts, the Ironman format remains constant, and with 28 full-distance races worldwide and more than 25,000 athletes, the franchise and brand has truly become a worldwide phenomenon.