Our Dirty Little Secret: Love of Commercialism During the Holidays

Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 5.18.04 PMDespite the festive hymns and carols serenading our radio waves and those paradoxical heartfelt messages from cinematic and media mainstream, the holiday season continues as a hallmark for consumer commercialism.  Events like Black Friday, (recently imported to Canada from the United States) and Boxing Day are, in many ways, indicators of what Christmas has become.  And yet, at the same time, we must reconcile that Christmas would not be the same without the hustle and bustle of our malls and stores, the chanting of cash registers cha-chinging our gingerbread lattes into the night, and the emotional and fiscal investments in holiday hoopla from music albums, to clothing, to kitsch decorations and thematic paraphernalia.  Let’s face it.  Deeply intertwined with the spirit of Christmas is holiday commercialism.  Its market hangs the bows, strings gleaming lights, decorates trees, cooks and bakes, and dangles those stockings by the fire.  As much as we might not like to admit it, living in the throws of a commercially-driven society, much of what we do and who we are is influenced by the marketplace.  Christmas is no exception.  From the big to the small, the rich to the poor, all of us, consciously or subconsciously collectively agree to this cyclic arrangement of spending, buying, receiving and giving.  It is arguably, part and parcel of our social contract, something that extends to all facets of our lives, from education to the workplace, to healthcare and the home.  And yet, there is an obscenity about consumerism during the holidays that we all observe.  A profane indecency that takes away from the gleaming display of Christmas in our windows and our hearts, mocking the very essence of what it’s all about. 

Identifying commercial boundaries may be more about personal, intuitive checks and balances than about creating Big Brother government surveillance over holiday spending.  Of course this does not just pertain to Christmas, but to an all season way of life.  How far do we allow the coy underbelly of marketing, advertising, media and pop culture to affect our daily lives?  When and where do we draw the line?  That thin line between safe spending and obscene consumerism looks very differently for all of us.  While many are perfectly fine with the frenzy of Boxing Day, embracing the shopping hysteria, others believe Boxing Day to be a vulgar misuse of the holiday spirit, exploiting the worst aspects of our nature.  So what can we collectively concede about the presence of Boxing Day and other spectacles like it within the context of the holidays?  Is it just as vulgar as opening the hoard of presents on Christmas Day, or is holiday shopping for Christmas Day reserved for a special, privileged judgement, (being that it is in celebration of Christ, the spirit of giving, good will, and hallowed saints)?   One way or another, it’s important to understand the origin of holidays like Boxing Day within a historical and modern day context, to decide whether it serves to hinder or uphold the holiday spirit.Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 5.17.28 PM

The exact origins of Boxing Day are not decisive.  As with many historical customs that we continue to observe today, such as Halloween, holidays like Boxing Day are likely a culmination of several historical events and practices that have evolved over time to take their own shape and place within the lexicon of modern day society.  Etymologically speaking, the term, Boxing Day may derive from a common European practice dated to the Middle Ages, when employers, masters and benefactors would give servants, subordinates and tradesmen gifts known as “Christmas Boxes” on the day after Christmas.  Likewise, the term, Boxing Day may be in reference to the Alms Box, which was given to places of worship in order to collect donations for the poor.  A similar connection may even derive from a late Roman/early Christian custom where placing metal boxes outside churches would help to collect special offerings in relation to the Feast of Saint Stephen, (a religious holiday, which in the Western Church, falls on the same day as Boxing Day). 

Despite the secular and religious connotations associated with the Bank holiday, in the Commonwealth countries, Boxing Day is primarily renowned as a shopping celebration.  A time when most stores post sales with drastically reduced items and discounts that generate overwhelming crowds and impossible queues, Boxing Day is favored by social media and news outlets as an opportunity to relay a melodramatic tale of commercial hysteria.  Recent years has seen Boxing Day grow to include an entire “Boxing Week”, where sales extend several days before and after December 26th.  In a last ditch effort to try and preserve the true purpose of Boxing Day as a Christmas holiday for family time, relaxation and recuperation, regions in parts of Northern Ontario and Atlantic Canada have prohibited retailers from opening on Boxing Day, either by provincial law or municipal bylaw.  Likewise, in the Republic of Ireland, most shops have remain closed on Boxing Day, (observed as St. Stephen’s Day) since 1902. Sales however are, in most cases, postponed to December 27th, to continue the commercial hype of what has become an annual shopping day mecca. Screen Shot 2014-12-16 at 5.18.22 PM

In light of excessive holiday spending, in the form of Christmas commercialism and Boxing Day delirium, perhaps we need to rethink and redraw our boundary lines.  While we cannot deny that commercialism is in itself, a catalytic engine for progress, a force that drives not just economies, but people, lifestyles, families, technology and even evolution itself, there may be a better approach.  It’s incredible effect on the exchange and spreading of ideas, the show of love and affection, and perhaps even as a manifestation of the human spirit, altogether demonstrates the teeter totter effect of commercialism.  While Boxing Day may prove to be a beneficial day for our economy, allowing greater access to a wider spectrum of commercial items, it also demonstrates our continuing reliance and dependency on “stuff” that at times, fills our homes, creates redundancy and clutters our lives.  For the sake of our own mental health, it is important to keep stock of what’s significant, the meaning behind our purchases, and the emotional and spiritual investments it provides.  If shopping and the whirlwind of commercialism, especially during the holidays, brings joy, happiness and a sense of peace, then this is simply what we take from it.  The process.  The experience.  But if it brings stress and confusion and a long list of credit bills, we must retrace our steps and redraw our lines, making certain not to step over them, no matter how big the yellow tags appear, and how enticing those sales may be.

The Rosetta Mission: To Boldly Go Where No Man or Woman Has Gone Before…

1893081rIf you haven’t been hiding under a rock these past several weeks, you’ve probably heard about the the Rosetta Mission.  Wasn’t that about some kind of satelite?  Something to do with a comet?  Maybe even the name of J.J. Abrams’ next space odyssey blockbuster.  If you don’t know the particulars, let us refresh: in truth, it sounds like something from an L. Ron Hubbard novel, and indeed the galactic quest of an enduring space probe, is nothing short of science fiction.  An extraordinary summit of mankind’s innovation and acumen – a beacon for posterity – the landing of Rosetta, a robotic space probe, on a 10 billion tonne rock, 4 billion years old, hurdling through space at 40,000 mph, should be hailed as one of the most prolific accomplishments of our generation.  Brilliantly pioneered by the European Space Agency, Rosetta is a 20-year project in the making, that brought together generations of people, many of whom dedicated their entire lives to the probe’s incredible journey.  Launched the 2nd of March, 2004, Rosetta reached comet 67P on the 6th of August, 2014.  It is the first spacecraft to orbit and successfully land on a comet.  And yet, when put into context, despite the sensational reality of such a feat, to many, the Rosetta mission at face-value may appear superfluous, a waste of precious resource and money, especially in light of the current global financial climate.  Could its 1.4 billion euro cost have been spent on something more economically advantageous or profitable?  Perhaps something more philanthropic such as world hunger?  For those unscientifically-inclined minds, Rosetta may seem like a simple garish display of human mastermind.  A vainglorious gesture.  The cache: Why do we do it?  Because we can.  It’s true.  Billion dollar budgets are notoriously easy to scrutinized, just for the sheer magnitude of their figures.  The Sochi Olympics cites the perfect example.  A heinous mockery of global deprivation, democracy and inequality in the face of billionaire blasé.  But surely Rosetta is not even in the same region, let alone the same ball park.  Science has its very real and true place in humanity’s ambitious development, with significant, profound, far-reaching effects to boot.

The unprecedented Rosetta mission endeavored to complete the most detailed study of a comet ever attempted.  Appropriately named after the Rosetta Stone, a stele of Egyptian origin featuring a decree in three scripts that revolutionized our understanding of the past, likewise, the European Space Agency’s protégé, will allow scientists to unravel the mysteries of comets: indeed, the oldest building blocks of our Solar System left intact from it’s birth and infancy.  Still thinking PR Gimmick by the scientific community?  Think again.  Rosetta may have generated more likes and upvotes on social media, raising the public profile of science, but it is definitely no artifice.  In fact, Rosetta may very well be the next biggest leap for mankind, one that leaves an imprint on industry, technology, social science, philosophy, history, and perhaps even the very evolution of our species.  But before we get ahead of ourselves, for those economically-mindful critics, let’s talk dollars and cents.  Or in this case, euros.Juno_space_probe

The 1.4 billion euro cost of the Rosetta mission covers development and construction of the spacecraft and all of its instruments, including the lander, its launch and operations.  To put it into context, if we were to divide that number by the 20 years of development, from its inception in 1996 to its completion in 2015, contemporaries such as physicist Andrew Steele, have calculated the cost has put European citizens out 0.20 cents per year.  That is a fraction of what most spend on movie tickets and magazines.  But who can put a price on scientific knowledge?  Comparatively, while the same cost may comfortable pay for four A380 jumbo jets, it would barely cover half the price of a modern submarine, and when considering that the total cost of USA’s military budget, when including external funding directly connected to American military spending, is closer to $1 trillion per year, these expenditures should really be put into some kind of perspective.  Canada’s conservative government has spent nearly half a billion on outside legal fees since it came into power in 2006 and more than $450,000 to defend the Prime Minister, his staff and ministers.  If we take these kinds of figures into consideration, skeptics of the Rosetta mission may want to be slightly more lenient on the European Space Agency’s stringent budget.  It’s true that frugalities and economies have been made when considering missions like Rosetta by the ESA.  Due to the extensive length of the mission project, much of Rosetta’s components were designed and manufactured near the beginning of the decade or earlier, at a time when materials were somewhat inexpensive due to inflation.  In addition, while the initial objective for Rosetta was to be a sample-return mission, surmounting costs meant that scientists had to be satisfied with simply landing a spacecraft on a speeding comet.  Indeed the incredible low cost of the mission when compared against the vast lexicon of government spending, serves as a reminder that sending probes into space is much cheaper than sending people.  Earlier this year, for less than the cost of the film, Gravity, India successfully put a probe in orbit around Mars.Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 5.37.11 PM

So while you may still be inclined to believe that funding subscriptions of the 20 member states of the European Space Agency to it’s space projects is a waste, you may want to look at the particular benefits of the Rosetta mission.  Studies show that government funding into scientific research has a direct effect on the economy, in some cases, helping it to grow by a staggering 20%.  Despite all this space jargon, the monies don’t go to comets or asteroids or other such cosmic “debris,” rather it is spent here on Earth, creating thousands of jobs, new technologies, (more specifically in Rosetta’s case, Low-intensity Low Temperature Solar Cells, temperature controlling systems, and other highly innovative subsystems, some of which have been reused in other ESA missions), and industries throughout Europe.   Probing forms of scientific inquiry about the world around us are vital to initiating change in our society and to our quality of life.  Whether a downstream effect of the building blocks of basic research, or in a more deliberately applied way, parallels can be made from science across all factions industry.  For example, one can’t design a new cancer drug unless one understands the mechanisms that cause cancer in a cell. Another such example is the World Wide Web, which developed out of a system designed to help particle physicists communicate more efficiently.  Similarly, a recent increase in numbers of A-level students taking physics at university is no coincidence.  Missions like Rosetta, generate a higher profile for science in the media.  Television programs made widely available, such as The Cosmos, and celebrities such as Bill the Science Guy and Niel Degrasse Tyson, are apart of a greater think tank that labours to get people talking and engaged.  Rather than thinking about Rosetta and its contemporaries as gimmicks, like most of the reality TV which litters our cable, these people and projects awaken the youth to newfound sympathies – to stir the brewing cauldrons of imagination.  The youth, who may one day become our world’s leading scientists and engineers, are first inspired by the introduction of Rosetta and like projects.  Of course, while the directly applied research of the Rosetta mission is to find answers to very fundamental questions about the history of our planet, how it evolved and if life really emerged on earth or rather was brought to earth by comets like 67P billions of years ago, (by detecting water, ice or complex carbon compounds found on the surface of these relatively unchanged chunks of space rock) the trickle down effect of such an innovative scientific feat is not something to be overlooked by critics, skeptics, tax payers and economists alike.  It is important that we all understand the offshoot effects of what may initially appear as pure science, or knowledge for knowledge sake.  Scientific research and understanding contributes to the stockpile of human awareness and insight that consecutively and consequently, turns over the engines of our innovation and evolution.  The advancement of knowledge always holds relevance and applicability to everyday life, in the practical and profound.  1.4 billion euros.  What is it worth to you?

 

The Christmas Tree: A Beacon of Holiday Culture Past & Present

eb02c640225a2b424ad75e6528431324Christmas.  What does it mean to you?  Perhaps it is a smell.  A memory.  Faith.  Tradition.  The kitsch.  A collectivization of many little things coming together to form that golden interlace threading the holiday season in shimmering splendour.  Born out of a cosmic nursery of love and goodwill, Christmas is contextualized by the rich history, custom, and philosophies it imbibes, ordained by the baroque of religious pageantry.  Inasmuch as it is an action, Christmas is a feeling; manifesting the greatest aspects of humanity’s nature.  It’s regalia plays just as important a role as the idea of Christmas itself, giving form to its nebulous nature in droves of colour to contrast the opaque underbelly of nature’s seasonal landscape.  It takes shape in our homes and hearts by the garland along our railings and mantles, the lights that adorn our houses, the decorations and the music, the food, drink and narratives.  But one of the more important and iconic symbols of Christmas, besides of course the Nativity and Saint Nick himself, is that of theChristmas tree.  As the calendar rolls through November to December, we can’t help but get excited about its process and unveiling.

Traditionally decorated with edibles such as apples, nuts, and other foods, the custom of the yule tree, or as it was later known as, the Christmas tree, originated in early, modern Renaissance Germany, with predecessors traced as far back at the 16th and possibly 15th centuries.  Diverging speculative theories about its ultimate origin however, maintain the abstruseness and allure of the Christmas tree.  Often times traced to the symbolism of evergreen trees in the popularized story of Saint Boniface and pre-Christian winter rites, clearly the Christmas tree lends part of its custom to pagan ancestry.  Tree worship was common among pagan Europeans for example,  some of which survived the conversion to Christianity.  Contemporaries also concede the use of evergreen trees, wreaths, and garlands in ancient Egyptian, Chinese and Hebrew cultures, as symbols of eternal life. Today, Christmas trees are available in many different types and forms, be it artificial plastic, or shades of coniferous – spruce, pine or fir.  They are offered in many contrasting colors, shapes, sizes and designs to suit every manner of personal taste, preference or specialized theme and event.  Indeed the Christmas tree is as representative of the culture of the individual as it is society itself, and can reflect a particular time, place or circumstance in someone’s life.  Coinciding with an acute growing awareness of our carbon footprint and a temperamental global economy, the debate on artificial or realChristmas trees, has become somewhat of a hot holiday topic. Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 10.13.02 AM

Studies conducted on both sides of the argument have paradoxically proven each school of thought correct.  However, taking into account the interests of the commissioners of such studies, the interpretation and the end goal, this seems a likely outcome. For avid artificial tree supporters, or those predisposed to allergies, a study conducted by a researcher in Connecticut for example, demonstrating the potential harmful effects of spores released by real trees in the home may prove favourable.  Spores aside, while the lack of fresh pine scent may be amiss, perhaps the guilt of cutting down a new tree each year is simply enough to put you off the whole Christmas tree custom altogether.  Moreover, cost and convenience favours the artificial tree.  In lieu of a current, strong market economy, artificial trees may be especially appealing for their investment value when compared with the recurrent, annual expense of a real Christmas tree, and their relatively low maintenance is another reason not to sweep the floor of pine needles or constantly worry about watering.  On the contrary, many older artificial tree varieties may contain lead, (which was once used as a stabilizer in the manufacturing process and can easily disperse into the home), whereas most present day artificial trees, are typically manufactured with metal and polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a non-biodegradable, petroleum-derived plastic.  PVC releases harmful dioxins overtime, which are not only extremely toxic to both humans and animals, but will also end up in landfills at the end of the tree’s life cycle, contributing to the growing global pollution and refuse crisis.  The majority of artificial trees bought and sold in the U.S. and Canada are mass-produced in China, which means not only are we not spending money on our local economies in support of its workers and tree farmers, but we are also adding to our carbon footprint.  Despite the aforementioned pro et contra, artificial trees have nonetheless become increasingly popular, with sales jumping to a staggering 17.4 million in the U.S. alone in 2007. 

The argument for real Christmas trees teeters on the love of tradition, and a green thumb commitment to sustainability.  According to the U.S. EPA, roughly 33 million realChristmas trees are sold in North America each year, 93 percent of which are recycled through more than 4,000 available recycling programs. “Tree-cycling,” an easy way to return a renewable and natural source back to the environment, supports the recycling ofChristmas trees into mulch, which is thus used in gardening, landscaping, or chipped for playground material, hiking trails, paths and walkways.  Recycled trees can also be used for lake and river shoreline stabilization, fish and wildlife habitat and beachfront erosion.  Moreover, an acre of farmed Christmas trees produce enough oxygen for the daily needs of 18 people.  Likewise, a single farmed tree absorbs more than one ton of CO2 throughout its lifetime.  With more than 350 million real Christmas tress growing in U.S. tree farms alone, one can only surmise as to the annual amount of carbon retention associated with such groves.  Sustainable farming techniques are essential in safeguarding a healthy supply of Christmas trees each year, whereby for each tree harvested, one to three seedlings are planted the following spring.  Lastly, the Christmas tree farming industry employs over a hundred thousand workers each holiday season across North America, which is no small economic feat.  However, while Christmas trees are farmed as agricultural products, the repeated applications of herbicides, pesticides, and fertilizers may be used throughout their lifetime.  Ideally, farmed Christmas trees, like most other agricultural products, would be grown organically using integrated pest management techniques, and some tree farmers are in fact, offering this alternative.  It is also important to take into consideration the offshoot carbon effects of long-distance travel.  Depending on where you live, (especially for those climates where coniferous trees don’t grow), yourChristmas tree may have travelled hundred of miles to get from its home to your home.  An ideal substitute for both the real and artificial tree this Christmas, may very well be a living potted tree, which can be brought into the home temporarily over the holidays and then replanted after Christmas in your yard, or donated to local parks.   


Screen Shot 2014-11-07 at 10.11.49 AMDespite the Christmas tree debate, it’s important to note the significance of the tree itself, and why we have it in the first place.  The Christmas tree may very well be emblematic of the Christmas spirit, retaining within its process and decorative splendor, a concentrated sentiment of the holidays.  The trinkets it carries, exemplary of good cheer and endearing memories.  The bedeck of lights, waves of warmth and security, shining by the glow of blazing hearths, or simply warming a reflection of winter’s scene yonder.  A shimmering mimic of snow and frost in its flocked tips and tinsel, an angel or star to light its crown in devout majesty, and the symbol of nature itself – the tree that gives life to our planet and species.  And so the feeling of Christmas resides just as much in the reality of faith and the abstract, as it does in the concrete, while the Christmas tree remains our beacon of holiday culture.  What it really comes down to, is what that culture means to you, and what it needs to looks like in order to suit your circumstance, beliefs, values and lifestyle.  Clearly, in order to preserve what Carl Sagan once so brilliantly coined, “the pale blue dot,” – the only home we know and may ever know – we must always be aware of the cause and effect of our actions, especially in today’s tumultuous geopolitical climate and amidst the global environmental impasse we face today.  However Christmas nevertheless continues as a season of celebration and togetherness, despite the harsh realities that abound.  Perhaps it is reminder of what prevails – the better aspects of our nature – and the Christmas tree, a symbol of light, prosperity and intimacy, which helps bind its culture.  So let us embrace a solution that suits us all, albeit artificial or real, while insight breeds wisdom and a newfound hope for a better tomorrow, we do the best we can with what we have in the spirit of giving.  

Halloween: Our Past, Present & Future

shutterstock_61882039-92255_238x238Praise be to Halloween!  Our one night only, get-out-of-jail-free card, in which we can senselessly indulge in our own mystery and utter ridiculousness.  Perhaps the most paradoxical time of the calendar year, Halloween is fraught with irony and strange implication.  A break from conventional thought and practice, its customary observances miraculously cross boundaries of faith, race, language, age, gender and culture, embracing the kind of freedom we have always desired: to be who we are not, or to be exactly what we are, in a spectacular display of self-discovery and imagination.  Favourite super heroes, comic book villains, legendary creatures and our most beloved celebrities, help to blur the lines between reality and fantasy.  Stepping outside the comfortable orbit of our lives, Halloween challenges us to rethink the concrete by ways of the abstract, within a framework of mockery and frivolity.  However despite the fun and fancy of Halloween, many parents today view the macabre spectacle with cynicism, believing its traditional practices unfit and ultimately unsafe for our children.  Gone are the days of giving away candied apples and home made treats, pillow-case-costumes and going door-to-door knocking on strangers houses for treats without parental chaperon.

If the question is whether or not Halloween remains relevant in 21st century society, the answer may very well be a resounding, yes.  When taken into the context of reality, (which in itself is obscure, subjective, changing and arguably illusory), Halloween doesn’t seem all that kooky.  Why not dress up in costumes depicting all manner of crazy?  After all, Halloween may be one of the only openly discernible contemplations of mortality in Western society, a reflection of the berserk and unknown that has surrounded us for centuries.  For children, Halloween helps to validate their imagination, giving value to their hopes, dreams and fears.  But to truly understand the relevance of Halloween, particularly in a modern context, we have to take a careful look at its origins, its exercise and its evolution throughout history.

Although the academic world diverges slightly between several different schools of thought when it comes to the origin of Halloween, a culmination of historical observances in several different countries, across diverse cultures over time, may be the most plausible narrative to explain the modern day custom we observe today.  For example, October 31st marks the eve of the Western Christian feast of All Hallows’ Day.  This particular date connotes a special time in the liturgical year.  Dedicated to remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all those faithful departed believers,  All Hallows’ Day is thematic of using comedy and ridicule to confront the power of death.  Although the name, “Halloween” most certainly derives from a Christian source, as a mutation of the Scottish colloquial, “All Hallows’ Eve,” (which overtime evolved into Halloween), the academic world, however, is divided on the origin of the festival itself.  Some concur that All Hallows’ Day borrowed its influence from Celtic harvest festivals, with possible pagan roots, (particularly as a Christianized version of the Gaelic Samhain).  Others however, argue it originated independently.  Folklorists have even detected its provenance in the Roman feast of Pomona, the goddess of fruits and seeds, and in the festival of dead, called Parentalia.  It is tenable to believe that all of these together formed our familiar, modern day observance of Halloween.  The affects of Roman Britain, followed by the invasion of the Saxons and Normans, produced a kind of cultural alloy in ancient Britain, attributing to a blend of customs, traditions and beliefs.  What is certain however, is that Halloween must be understood within a sacred and non-secular context.  For example, the most recognizable historical custom is the observance of Samhain, held on or around October 31st.  Marking the end of the harvest season and the beginning of winter, or the ‘darker half’ of the year, Samhain marked a particular time in the year, when the forces governing the spiritual and tangible conflicted, whereby spirits or fairies could cross more easily into the human realm.  These spirits were both feared and revered.  Offerings of food, drink, and portions of crops were left in appeasement, so to ensure livestock survived the winter.  Likewise, Samhain also marked the time when the souls of the dead were believed to revisit homes.  Places were set at dinner tables and by the fire to welcome them.  In several countries, including Ireland, Scotland and Wales, the festival included “mumming” and “guising” as a way of interacting or indeed safeguarding oneself against such spirits.  Going house-to-house dressed in costume or disguise, typically reciting verses or songs in exchange for food, became a customary observance, while turnips were hollowed out as lanterns, often carved with monstrous faces representing spirits or ghouls.  This practice later spread to the rest of England, known as jack-o’-laterns.   Mass Irish and Scottish immigration to North America during the 19th century imported the holiday’s celebrations, gradually assimilating into mainstream society by the first decade of the 20th century.

Today, Halloween involves an array of festive activities, including trick-or-treating (or the related “guising”), attending costume parties, lighting bonfires, apple bobbing, decorating, carving pumpkins into jack-o’-lanterns, visiting haunted house attractions, playing pranks, and telling scary stories.  Although street safety, safe costume-wearing, costume-handling and treat-collecting may be more prevalent a threat today than it was historically, due to the increase in population, technology, traffic, pop culture, news and media, the ancestral roots of modern day Halloween continues to provide the kind of shock and awe, reverence and mystery that inspires and transcends.  If just for one night, Halloween allows a glimpse into the unknown, exploiting the darkest secrets of our past, present and future by demonstrating our willingness to submit to the absinth of phenomenon in a powerful game of truth or dare.  So before you chalk up Halloween to some childish exploit geared toward marketing candy to small children and horror movies to adults, or an unsafe customary practice that ultimate holds little applicability in the 21st century, take a moment to rethink what Halloween really is about.  The gathering, the get-togethers, the laughter and fun.  The sharing and caring.  In doing so, you  may just discover that its value can be found in both the sinister and the silly.  After all, what is more real?  Reality or imagination?  And who is more naive?  The child or the adult?   Happy Halloween!

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Pure movement. Pure energy. Pure Penticton.

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Fitness, nutrition and retreat are altogether the triumvirate of modern day healthy living.  This trinity is not mastered by the glow of our iPhones, the bloop icons in our message box, the anxious roaring of our car engine, nor the noise of pop culture charging from our TV or magazine cover.  Instead, the careful crafting of healthy living is found in the portage of heart, body and mind.  A return to the simplicities of our rustic nature.  When we say goodbye to the corporate machine of consumer culture, and hello to a renewed power of individual, conscious, unfettered living.   Riverside Fitness and Health in Penticton B.C., has always been an advocate for healthy living, encouraging the power of the individual through fitness and nutrition.  Now Riverside endeavors to create something both novel and necessary for the patrons and visitors of the South Okanagan wine country.  In partnership with the Penticton Lakeside Resort, Riverside Fitness and Health will be transforming into Pure – fitness + nutrition + retreats in the summer of 2015.  The larger space offered at the Lakeside Resort will capacitate new classes, while expanding on pre-existing programs and core services with an unique focus on modern day healthy living.

Pure’s ethos derives from the belief that the migration of healthy living does not need to reinvent the wheel.  We all remember fad diets, the two week work out programs and those terrifying self-help books with bright yellow jacket covers that looked strikingly similar to a safety vest or floatation device.  They all promised impossible results with the magic blue pill of delusional utopia.  Yes, many of us, at some point, (by the rouge of our checks) recall the glutton intoxication of a whole lot of crazy.  But we’re smarter now, and we’re all grown up.  We know the miracle pill is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the trappings of those absurd quick fixes, buttress the same mechanism that got us here in the first place: the culture of instant gratification.  This is where Pure comes in.

Pure – fitness + nutrition + retreats will be ushering a new era of health and wellness to Penticton.  They assure us the journey does not begin with backbreaking ritual, fad diets or impossible promises, rather with a gentle nod.  This is the power of retreat.  The proof is in the pudding, and in this case, in the name.  Pure offers a return to the authentic.  An unrefined, unrestrained transparency that works in tandem with all faculties.  Nothing more but a small, quiet acknowledgement of the intrinsic core.  This is the Pure foundation where the brand takes its vocation, offering group classes, health and wellness coaching and nutrition counseling, with a “Golden” age series and brand new style of spin classes, all promising to keep you motivated, balanced and energized.  The re-branding of Riverside Fitness and Health encompasses not just the idea of health, but the reality of its constitution, reminding us of our quality and the value we hold in simply being.  It’s leadership in the exodus of everyday humdrum, assures a renewal of self-love by the gradual glory of our own shape.  Pure – fitness + nutrition + retreats offers up this trinity not as a daily chore or activity, but as a magnificent way of life in movement and beauty.

Wellness retreats, aimed at kick starting a healthy lifestyle by assisting in recharging and unplugging, will endeavor to recognize emotional and mental pressure points.  Renewing the intimate relationship with ourselves that we loose in the brouhaha of prosaic living, these wellness retreats will get you off the grid and in-tune with your essentials. In partnership with the Penticton Lakeside Resort, 3,5 and 7 night stays will include chef-inspired meals, lake view suites with access to lakeside walking and biking trails, on-site resort venues and facilities, spa treatments, daily group fitness, cooking classes and workshops.  Designed to massage the internal reality that gives rise to the external, Pure’s wellness retreats offers transformation and renewal by the glow of gentle and intensive detoxification and cleansing.  With an emphasis on healthy living and eating, Pure’s raw juice and smoothie bar will also offer patrons the immeasurable benefits of live foods, chalked full of enzymes that provide incredible energy, improved sleep and increased mental clarity, while promoting regularity and encouraging environmentalism via less packaging, lower carbon-foot print and a great connection to the earth.  In addition to the raw juice bar, Pure will also offer organic house-made snacks to fuel the quiet unfettered mind or your high performance lifestyle; a surefire way to cultivate and nourish.

With Pure, the journey goes hand-in-hand.  We can ditch the quick fixes and that little blue pill, watching with quiet smugness, the days of fad diets and impossible work-outs fade like a wisp by the blandishing wind, eventually whisked away back into the meringue of air.  And we smile, because above us, the blue endless dome of possibilities.  Looking skyward, our attention turns from mundane concerns, to the still small voice inside us.  With peaceful whispers it praises.  Pure movement.  Pure energy.  Pure Penticton.

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Salmon: Our Survival

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.32.53 PMYou probably wouldn’t think it, but sockeye salmon are an integral force to the well being and survival of our western interior and Pacific coastal communities and ecosystems.  I know, I know.  You’re probably thinking – what, fish?  Really?   Yes really.  This is not some dubious fear-mongering conspiracy theory brewed up by a few red nosed quacks in lab coats.  But don’t take our word for it.  Just lend an open ear to the voice of countless dedicated men and women who have studied the fundamental structure, health and importance of salmon in our Pacific coastal and interior ecosystems for the past several decades.  Their committed, decisive science labors to root out determining factors, variables and contingencies of the environment’s ultimate survival; the survival of which symbiotically effects the continuance of our own species, the illustrious homo sapien sapien.  In nature, we know everything is interconnected.  We know this because the term, interconnected has become a bit of a semantic cliche.  Something we are slightly weary of hearing.  Especially in this post-Al Gore era (too bad David Suzuki).
During the last decade, the environment has catapulted from a, “who cares” vacuum of social consciousness, into ultra celebrity status quo.  It’s trendy now to recycle.  Hybrids and electrics are all the rage.  Vintage is vogue and what’s hip is hemp.  But the environment is not a new thing.   Neither is conservation. (Remember those crafty cartoonish diagrams depicting water cloud and rain you so eagerly wanted to draw all over with your cherry-smelling marker in grade school?)  In fact, the conservation movement goes far beyond your early education years, traced back to John Evelyn’s Sylva in 1662.  It may also come as a bit of a shock to learn that salmon and their environment have been around for nearly 6 million years, (that’s only roughly 5.8 million years on us).  So maybe there’s some stock in this whole interconnection thing that warrants a deeper look.  If our lungs depend on trees to breath, our stomachs on the working of bees, our brains, the ocean and our skin and organs on bacteria, it’s reasonable to assume a sneeze or a wiggle of the feet would intrinsically affect the entire organism.  And that works both ways.  So what about the salmon?  Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.33.12 PM
Coastal watersheds and estuaries where salmon migrate and spawn, are among the most productive biological communities on earth.  Home to marine mammals such as seals, terrestrial fauna and resident and migratory birds, these watersheds produce food and fiber for the people of the Pacific Rim with large runs of salmon, trout and char, and plumes of commercially profitable shellfish and fish.  Coastal watersheds are also responsible for sustaining the temperate rain forests of the Pacific Northwest, which produce more standing biomass than any terrestrial ecosystem on the planet.  (Brings a whole new appreciation to those boardwalks under the canopy of cedar that float over a blanket of skunk cabbage and fern, doesn’t it?)  Salmon alone are one of the best species indicators of coastal and estuary ecosystem health.  Salmon runs function as giant pumps, injecting vast amounts of marine nutrients upstream to the headwaters of rivers that maintain relatively low productivity.  Salmon carcasses are the primary food for aquatic invertebrates and fish, as well as terrestrial fauna, (from marine mammals to birds to terrestrial mammals, particularly bears and humans).  Historically, few animals have been as integral to the human experience as salmon. But this exciting, integrating outlook and back story on salmon may be somewhat overshadowed by the inconvenient truth of present day salmon decline.

Screen Shot 2014-09-10 at 2.33.49 PMUnited States sockeye salmon populations are currently listed under both the US Endangered Species Act and threatened species lists by the National Marine Fisheries Service in Idaho, Oregon and Washington areas.  Canada is also not immune.  In the past, we have experienced similar decline of sockeye salmon in the Fraser and Okanagan Rivers.  Due to the impact of environmental changes, marine ecology, (ocean acidifcation), aquaculture, predators, diseases and parasites, (including farmed salmon hatchery diseases), contaminants, water temperature and governmental management of the productivity of salmon runs, the ability of the sockeye salmon to reach traditional spawning grounds or the ocean has been inhibited.  Proposed legislative efforts, such as the Northern Rockies Ecosystem Protection Act however, attempt at establishing protective measures in the headwaters of the sockeye salmon by preventing industrial development in road-less areas.  Now, as of June 2012, record numbers of a once-waning population of sockeye salmon have been returning to the Northwest’s Columbia Basin, proving that these kinds of legislation actually work.  And this is where interconnection comes into play.  The causal affect.  This year’s fishing season saw the largest return of sustainable sockeye salmon in British Columbia in almost 80 years.  That’s right.  Since 1938, when the salmon count first began.  The bountiful return beset Osoyoos Lake, (a gem of a water basin, abutting the Osoyoos Desert and buffeting the borders of Canada and the United States).  This is truly a miraculous feat, especially when considering the ominous waning of salmon numbers in the mid 1990s.  A true testament to the hard work and dedication of the Okanagan Nation Alliance Fisheries Department, who labored tirelessly on restoration projects, information was collected based on tagging studies and  the number of salmon that went over Wells Damn.  Estimates ran into the 300,000 range.  Consequently, The Department of Fisheries and Oceans opened the season for the sport fishing community to angle these wild pink fish from August 19th until Sept 2nd, requiring naught but a fishing license and the purchasing of salmon tags.  This new stock supply proved great momentum for tourism too.  Attracting anglers and sport fishermen from all across the Pacific North West, to fill resorts and hotels, cheer up cafes and restaurants and communicate an economic insurgence throughout the localities.  Roadside stands selling the catch of the day were also setup by Nk’mip Resort, catering to an eagerly revolving door of wine visitors, campers, recreational tourists, locals and passers-through, all of whom are spreading the word.  Although salmon fishing still remains small-scale, it may one day serve to compliment the vivacious wine tourism industry.  With salmon making its way into Skaha and eventually Okanagan lakes, the future appears bright.

However, before you go off hop, skipping into the sunset, let’s be clear about one thing: just because we’ve seen a return of salmon to the Okanagan Valley, doesn’t mean all our troubles are over, (or at the very least, prolonged).  The wound runs deep, the likes of which will not heal or medicate with just a band-aid.  What we need is more awareness and involvement in environmental conservation and protection.  To educate our children and cultivate greater insight into the interconnected workings of the natural world, so that they will in turn be at the vanguard of saving our planet.  Salmon conservation is not just a good start, it is an excellent start.  But it is only the start.  Just like the salmon run – the perilous struggle, hardship and determination – the onus of the rest of the journey is on all of us.

North America’s Number One Wine Destination

Screen Shot 2014-08-29 at 1.58.42 PMCanada’s wine country is the embodiment of subtle beauty.  The poignant landscapes of the Okanagan Valley, found cradled the heart of British Columbia’s southern interior are nothing short of majestic.  It’s not difficult to see why people from all around the world are flocking to partake in the Okanagan experience.  It has, up until quite recently, been the great north’s well kept secret.
    A mix of sand, gravel and clay form the foundation of the Okanagan’s extending vineyards, where vintners work a gentle hand upon the landscape, refurnishing with accents of Pinot, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Gewürztraminer.  10,000 acres of planted grapes, cultivated by a slew of international and local award winning wineries, bedeck the internal and external landscapes with insight and sophistication.  Many wineries such as Tinhorn Creek, Quail’s Gate and Mission Hill contribute to the cultural pulse of the Okanagan, bringing in world renowned musicians, artists, and performances to entertain the summer twilight.  Paired with world class cuisine and wine, the experience transcends perfection, moving into the unforgettable.  But it’s not just the majesty of wine country that captivates and inspires.  The Okanagan is also home to world class restaurants, resorts and retreats, catering to a host of seasonal agendas encouraged by a surplus of recreation activities and attractions. 
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Despite this incredible scene, the region remains small-scale and rather underdeveloped by international standards.  After all, when compared to the big whigs of France, Australia, Spain and Italy, Canada is nothing but a blip on the radar.  However, when USA Today named the Okanagan Valley as the world’s second best wine region to visit amongst a list of ten worldwide wine destinations, heads began to turn.  The ranking, compiled by votes from its readers as part of the newspaper’s Reader’s Choice 2014 Awards, saw the Okanagan bested only by Alentejo in south-central area of Portugal, making it the number one destination in North America.  No dScreen Shot 2014-08-29 at 1.58.55 PMoubt the Okanagan wine region deserves all the global accolades.  In fact, it’s a miracle the recognition hasn’t come sooner.  Vantage points are found anywhere and everywhere in the Okanagan: along the water, at the boundary of a tumbling bluff or from a roosting mountaintop.  Essence of bolsom root, and sage bloom, while the call of the osprey and loon offers up a song of creation, keeping this little piece of heaven in orbit.  And it truly is a piece of heaven.  It’s resplendent beauty appears frozen in time, kept pristine by the careful hands of its keeper.  The Okanagan Valley truly is in a league of its own.  And forget the juggernaut’s of the wine industry. Exchanging overpopulated, overworked, exhausting landscapes of commercial virility, for intimate, rustic, homespun charm is nothing short of common sense.   And while we can’t help but think that the region is just about to be launched into the fog of fame and exploit, much like the trending Croatian Adriatic coast as the new French Riveria, the region remains, for the time being, self-effacing and small-scale: all the reasons we love to love it.  After all, it’s not just our Okanagan.  It’s the world’s Okanagan.  To experience, what anyone who has been there will recognize as, its subtle beauty.

 

Boonstock Deconstructed

Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 10.29.10 AMBoonstock Penticton.  A summertime zenith of hipsters, pop fans, instagram addicts and exhibitionists.  An assessment of trail-and-error.  A disruption of social harmony.  When it comes to music festival culture, controversy is always the principal headliner.  A clash of generations, emblematic of pop culture and diverging philosophies, the social experiment of Boonstock raises questions about law, politics, community, public relations and economy.  Figuratively, the Boonstock anecdote reflects youth culture – contingent upon neoteric channels of modern day communication to feed its frenzy and promote its message.  Stories scandalously appear in all facets of social media, littering Twitter and Facebook and other online commentary feeds and threads where the wildfire of “likes” and “dislikes” reposts, hashtags and tweets spread with reckless abandon.  Amidst the haze of personal interpretation and opinion, a collective synthesis emerges.  Most agree, Boonstock Penticton was, in its own way, a kind of revolution.  Its maiden voyage set out to do and be what appeared at first, quite the impossible. Going up against well-established music festivals across North America, such as Coachella, Arise, Lollapalooza, Sasquatch, Electric Daisy,  Squamish, Shambhala, and Pemberton, Boonstock’s David and Goliath narrative proved early on, it had a lot to live up to.  The proceedings were not without their fair share of melodrama.  Struggling verily against the boomerang of local political rhetoric, issues concerning public safety and security, the potential consequences of an influx of a large external population, and the breakdown of conventionalism in the form of wild heathenism, (i.e. reaching for the lasers, dancing until the crescent sunrise, and existing in a dust bowl of empty beverage containers pursuing an army of squatting tents), Boonstock organizers and sponsors remained, (until the very last minute) locked in an uphill battle. The decision to host the event in Penticton British Columbia, was by far, one of the festival’s greatest attainments. A renowned summer mecca for wine-lovers, outdoor enthusiasts, sports fans, snowbirds and holiday makers, the town boasts of some of the world’s most breathtaking scenery.

Located in the heart of the South Okanagan Valley, the semi-arid climate situated at the tip of the Osoyoos Desert, makes sunshine a constant companion.  Refuge can be taken in the mountains, along the waterfront or anywhere in between, with an array of activities, attractions and amenities that cater to all.  The site for Boonstock was a calculated arrangement.  Access to water was a necessity, (adjacent to Skaha Lake via a private path through a sanguine sandy beach) as well as tree’d and shaded retreats for overheated and zealous festivalgoers.  Check.  But then came the issue of security.  Weeks before the event was scheduled to kick off, organizers of the festival announced they were seeking a new security company for the event following a termination of their agreement with International Crowd Management, who cited health and safety concerns with the Boonstock safety plan.  However proponents were confident that the new company, 24/7 Security Ltd.. were ready to work with local event and security professionals, and were confident that Penticton, renowned as a festival city, boasts some of the finest water safety, event security and medical experts in B.C.  This may be true.  Penticton plays host to an array of highly-anticipated festivals and sporting events throughout the year which sees hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world.  If there ever was an ideal place to present a high profile outdoor summer music festival, it would be Penticton B.C..  Check.  Two for two.  But local politicians and townsfolk were quick to incite hysteria.  Look at what happened in Gibbons, Alberta, the former home of Boonstock for the past nine years.  A home invasion, an arrest involving a drug trade and a handgun, traffic troubles and safety deficiencies all contributed to the stockpile of Boonstock degeneration, prompting its move from Gibbons to Penticton.  Drawing crowds in upwards of 8,000 spectators and festivalgoers a day, it seems likely that some anarchistic discrepancies would be observed.  But surely it is a splinter group.  For most of us in the 8,000-strong fold heralding from across B.C. and Alberta, we enjoy the delights of this transient, abbreviated community strung together by a collective of music, movement and the kind of visceral euphoria one gets from being apart of something. Screen Shot 2014-08-11 at 10.34.13 AM

In truth, music festival culture is in high-demand worldwide and has helped to create some of the most iconic events and places in modern history, putting more obscure towns like Nelson, Pemberton and Squamish on the global map.  In doing so, music festival culture has labored to create its own kind of economy, injecting capital into tourism, hospitality, food and beverage and retail that reap the benefit of both short and long term returns.  A well-established tourist destination, Penticton has the infrastructure to support and contribute to prolific events such as Boonstock, providing festivalgoers the full gambit of summertime activities and amentities outside the festival grounds, which will in turn, see them as repeating customers in the future.  An opportunity to create something prototypical for the small gem-of-a-town in the heart of B.C.’s southern interior, Boonstock may just be the golden ticket.  But then the dark cloud.  Drug overdoses.  80 hospitalized and 1 unfortunate and terrible loss.  A serious stain on the Boonstock image and a sobering admonition into the inherent dangers of drugs and alcohol.  The backlash floods.  Fingers point to deficiencies in security and police presence.  Others blame the heat and the lack of free or cheap bottled water.  But the real concern lies within the nature of the attendees themselves.  How far are they willing to go?  Just last month, the death of a 21-year old engineering student at Pemberton Music Festival sent a shiver through music festival enthusiasts, while two more deaths at the Veld Music Festival in Toronto over August long typified arguments against the entire culture.  Penticton Council member, Katie Robinson was one of the first to speak out against the festival quoted saying, “I’m not a head-banging druggie, so I wasn’t interested in it whatsoever,” only later to revoke her remark in an open letter apology.   But we all can’t help but wonder, are these individual mistakes representative?  Is the music festival scene synonymous with drug and alcohol abuse?  While it may be easy to point fingers in way of the organizers and the town itself, the truth is, no amount of security could reasonably stop young people from doing drugs or abusing alcohol.  In fact, it may be argued that while Boonstock was denied its liquor license due to “unaddressed safety concerns” this subsequently lead festivalgoers to use more drugs than usual.  The loss of alcohol revenue, may have also set a higher price on bottled water, contributing to possible dehydration in the 35+degree Celsius heat.

The truth is, most of us in that 8000-strong crowd believe in the community of Boonstock and in the carol of festival culture that takes root in a deep love for connection in music and people.  And it’s here where our stories emerge.  Most of them teetering on the unforgettable.  A marked experience. A prodigious time.  And we can’t wait until next year to do it all over again, bonded by an impartial boundless experience that will shape who and what we are tomorrow.  The Mayor of Penticton, Gary Litke is now calling for provincial guidelines to be set for large-scale summer festivals, others insist in a direct liaison between festival organizers and city council members.  Most agree that changes will have to be made.  A liquor license should be reconsidered for next year’s event in the face of efficiently planned security that is adequately communicated, and while profit margins are a driving force, essential services such a water and first aid tents should be provided.  In light of recent events, organizers at this past weekend’s Squamish Music Festival prepared a detailed security plan with free water provided at misting stations and bottled water at medical tents. However despite all these precautionary measures, the real responsibility lies within the attendees.  Taking care to stay hydrated, to not over-indulge or abuse certain substances, and remain healthy, will only help to contribute to an overall positive music festival scene.  In the end, the real message is of love and community – to share the passion we all feel for music and movement.  That, above all, should be the real driving force behind such events.  Why do we do it?  To bring people together and propagate ideas for change.  What is it good for?  To create unrivaled experiences with positive impacts that mold the social, political landscapes of our time.  So let’s be smart and do it right.

 

Big Box Business Takedown & The Consumer Revolution

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The North American ethic takes root in a noble spur of personal freedom and liberty.  Entrenched in an ambitious history that chronicles the break from Old World mentalities, the maple leaf encompasses within it, all the social, political and intellectual transformations of our past.  Ideally, Canada is observed worldwide as a place of refuge for the individual thinker – a retreat of hope and equanimity, whereby ideas of liberalism and classlessness herald wide-open spaces that can afford the kind of lebensraum Europeans could only dream of.  Yet this palatial outreach of New World thinking that once forged our nation’s Charter and the United States Declaration of Independence has since become a house of cards.  So what happened to the great idea that was North America?  Perhaps it was simply a case of: too fast too soon.

The hegemony of America’s 21st century corporate capitalism, (birthed from the ashes of the Second World War), gave rise to a new kind of social movement that now threatens the very necessity of Westernmost culture.  Landscaping the hearts and minds of its citizens with empty billboards, ad campaigns, parking lots and shopping malls, the Western Hemisphere has since entered the age of multinational conglomerates and big box businesses.  In the name of all things Americana, these commercial giants have displaced the true spirit of liberalism.  Indoctrinated by the multibillion-dollar crusades that now run our daily lives, (from the cars that we drive, to the clothes we wear, to the food we eat), we, the individual, are no longer our own, rather an extension of the omnipresent brain of corporate commercialism.  In a twisted turn of events, our strife for liberty has seen laissez-fair economics mutate into Frankenstein politics.  In hindsight, it’s hard not to yearn for the simplicity of a life long since passed, a life that curated Old World austerities.

Ironically, it was the very interconnectedness and fundamental community ethics that made European and pilgrim society so successful.  Farmers, shopkeepers and tradesmen, were in direct contact with customers, (often as friends and neighbors), while communal streets lined with small cafes and independent businesses supported complex social structures, reinforced by a collective belief in the value and worth of a commonwealth.  This traditional school of thought promoted the notion that existing with less meant the enjoyment of more.  With priority centered on family, friends, community, philosophy and nature, (the vanguard voices of our humanity), people therefore lived much more deeply, mindfully and joyfully.  Despite the recent dislodgment of the European model by way of modern globalization, there yet remains an Old World sensibility in Europe that Canadians could greatly benefit from.  Having abandoned holistic priorities for a consumer-based precedence of plastics and disposable goods, we, the North American consumer, no longer thinks of what we can do, rather, what can we get – appreciating and understanding the world only by what the world can offer us.

The reality of big box business does not concern the consumer.  The consumer cares little for community and is unaware and apathetic to the impact individual choice and opinion has on the internal and external landscapes of our cities and towns, (which, unbeknownst to the consumer, directly reflects the inner quality of our lives).  Lower pricing, convenience, greater variety, and larger quantities, is what drives the consumer, armed with the conviction that, more is more and bigger is better.  However this misplaced confidence is one of the greatest oversights of the modern age.  In fact, subservience to the big box business model has done nothing but create a deep kind of suffering in the lack of true substance and human connection.   Mistakably, we the consumer, believe that because corporate chains like Target, Walmart and Superstore offer consistency when it comes to experience and environment, as well as more competitive price points and variety, we are in better control of our own lives, able to ascertain the best (perceived) deals.  However in reality, when we adhere to big box businesses, we perpetuate our own cycle of internal, (communal) suffering, giving more power over to the oligarchy of corporate commercialism that ultimately destroys our communities, runs our governments, influences legislation and dictates our lives to the benefit of their own personal bank accounts.  In Truth, there is nothing more enslaving than a self-serving corporate agenda that cares little for democracy and even less for the people.   On the other hand, real empowerment comes from true ownership of our own lives by way of our communities and ourselves.

Consciously choosing to shop local and support smaller, independent business, sees a renewed sense of personal freedom.  Communal integration, customer service and knowledge, reflect our most basic intuitions.  While big box businesses work hard to convince us of their job-creation, economic stimulus and community investment, by lifting the lid to expose the underbelly of the true reality, we immediately observe how the corporate agenda transforms our parks into parking lots, drives wages downward (perpetuating family poverty), marginalizes local shops out of business by displaced sales and places encumbering municipal costs on local government.  All the while culture gives way to endless suburban sprawl where the pulse of the community is ultimately lost.   Conversely, key studies conducted in August 2012 by Civic Economics in Salt Lake City Utah, found that locally owned stores create a wider range of benefits for the local economy and that small businesses donate roughly twice as much per employee to charitable organizations than their large business counterparts.  Furthermore the studies also revealed that big box business reduces a community’s level of social capital, (as measured by voter turnout and the amount of active community organizations). Not to mention the plethora of ethical issues concerning outsourcing overseas, whose big box business factories see underpaid workers laboring for long hours in poor conditions, handling hazardous chemicals without appropriate protection, many of whom are children, twelve years and younger.  But that’s a whole other ball of wax.

In conclusion, the need to sustain and support our communities as a life source for our ultimate peace and happiness is absolutely vital.  In doing so, we are spurred into action – championing a new kind of social movement that calls for the return of our food, our clothes, our bodies and mind.  Amidst the fray, we realign ourselves with fresh priorities and ethics that support social welfare by endorsing the rights and freedoms of the individual rather than the rights and freedoms of the multinationals.  So let’s bring back the culture of the depanneur that celebrates social interaction, empathy and compassion within the orbit of a thriving community.  Let’s opt for quality over quantity and spend a little bit more time and money to cultivate our wellbeing.  Already we are seeing the effects of this impetus.  The rising demand for natural, organic, fair-trade and local products demonstrates a shift in our collective thinking that will in turn, shape the social and political landscapes of tomorrow.    Although big-box stores have their unfortunate place in consumerism, we are reminded of the reality of their presence, and the worth and value in small retailers and local shops.  It is up to us, not just as consumers, but as providers and champions of freedom, to provide our communities with the kind of support they need to survive.  Sometimes we just have to look a little more deeply, to find where the real bargain truly is.

– Elizabeth Cucnik

BC General Election, Tuesday, May 14th!!

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In case you haven’t heard, a BC general election is right around the corner, and it’s begging your immediate attention.  Every election by nature is a social and political call to action – a grassroots movement that manifests the democratic process to resonate our very own rights and freedoms.  By casting our voting ballot this Tuesday, May 14th we Canadians and British Columbians will be exercising autonomy in the changing, affecting and casting of our present and future.  Understanding the true power of the people within a democratic culture is about a deep understanding of collective consciousness and the realization of individual choice and personal freedom.  The 40th British Columbia general election will welcome 85 elected members to the BC Legislative Assembly, with potential for profound political and social change depending on the election outcome.  The tightening race for provincial leadership sees two major parties battling it out in a last ditch effort to convince voters of their respective platform and as people begin parking their votes, we see NDP Party currently leading with a 43% rating in the polls, with the Liberals narrowing the gap at 37%.  So just who are the Liberals and NDP anyway and what exactly do they want from us?

If you look carefully at the two frontrunners, you will notice some distinct differences between the 2013 campaign platforms, reflecting the internal dialogue and inner philosophy of the respective parties.  At the forefront we have our current premier, Christy Clark, whose leadership vanguards the BC Liberal campaign under the slogan, “Strong Economy, Secure Tomorrow.”  A basic continuation of the administration’s current strategy, (with the main emphasis focused on debt reduction via taxes), the Liberals have been quick to take aim at the “socialist” NDP opposition, peppering the public with reminders of past NDP failings from decades ago.  If nothing else, it has made for a more exciting campaign, reminding us of Stephen Harper’s 2011 federal campaign platform that focused much of its efforts taking aim against Liberal Michael Ignatieff.  And then, out of left field, came Jack Layton and the NDP.  So what can we expect this time?  Heralding the triumvirate of Liberal catchphrases: Families First, B.C. Jobs Plan, and the professed Balanced Budget, the Liberal’s 90-page plan dangles a glowing forecast for BC’s Liquefied Natural Gas, while dedicating certain strategies in effort to reduce provincial debt and deficit spending.   Orbiting the debt reduction centrepiece are proposals, (which critics have coined as “gimmicks,”) that include a five year freeze on personal income tax, children and teacher tax credits, reduction in corporate and small business tax rates, a promise to train more doctors and increase hospice space, as well as a proposed referendum on transit funding, film incentive policies, and annual forest industry missions to Asia.  However opponents criticize the plan’s lack of content as a reservoir of fatigued ideas buffered by an inexhaustible amount of publicity photos conveying a smiling Clark amidst the blooms of spring.   However many argue that the most entertaining and perhaps revealing publicity stunt came last Friday, when the Liberals took out a full-page ad in a local newspaper, advocating the clear environmental views of Green Party Leader Jane Sterk.  This tactic in apportioning the vote, and diluting the polls, characteristically brings to mind a divide and conquer mentality, which some critics have deemed as, the Liberal’s Trojan horse.

On the other side of the court we have the New Democratic Leader, Adrian Dix, who, despite scrutiny over his past political shortcomings, has revealed a seemingly fresh platform that appears to bring energy to BC’s tired political landscape.  Focusing on the environment, women equality and child poverty, the NDP platform also advocates three consecutive deficit budgets that promise to help BC climb out of the red.  Additionally, the NDP plan guarantees reviews or audits of Community Living B.C., BC Ferries, fracking, B.C.’s liquor laws and independent power projects.  With discussions over the possible sale of BC Place and the Vancouver Trade and Convention Centre, (which would release the province of a debt-plagued BC Pavilion Corporation), it seems the Liberal’s bid to paint the NDP as an oppressive “socialist” force may prove to be fundamentally misleading.  However, dissimilar to the Liberals, it seems unlikely an NDP government would support the expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline, following recent statements made my Dix insisting the party will never support Vancouver as a major oil export port.

In brief, during the next few days proceeding Tuesday’s election, its important that we, the voters, really take the time to review exactly who these people are and what they stand for – asking the more difficult introspective questions: what do they want from us, and more importantly, what we want from them?  In dedicating time to understanding our democratic process, we in turn, dedicate time to understanding ourselves – respecting the culture and community in which we live and thrive.   Whether Liberal, NDP, Green or Conservative, the only real change comes from your hands alone.

-Elizabeth Cucnik

You can go to elections bc for all your voting information:

www.elections.bc.ca