The Doctor’s Park

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Vancouver’s Chinatown has probably seen better days.  It’s right next door to the street where there are throngs of homeless people, vagrants, beggars, and other vaguely menacing types, and many of them apparently wander over to the Chinatown district — giving it a distinctly seedy, low-rent feel.

There is, however, a small oasis of peace, quiet, and beauty in Vancouver’s Chinatown.  It’s Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Park.  With its water lilies, small pagoda, bamboo shoots, and picturesque trees, it is a fine place to sit.  Dr. Sun — who helped to overthrow the Qing dynasty and found the Republic of China — no doubt would be proud.

Sky And Sea

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There is a float plane dock across the street from our hotel in Vancouver. When I was down at wharfside this afternoon one of the planes taxied along the water, reached skimming speed, then took off over the top of one of the freighters in the Burrard Inlet. Very cool, and fun to watch — although I’m not sure I’d want to be one of the passengers.

Seagull Sound

I was up early this morning, trying to adapt to the Eastern-to-Pacific time zone change. It was black outside as I worked to get my mobile devices connected so I could catch up on the Eastern time zone world.

As the pre-dawn darkness turned to a dim and overcast gray, I heard the cry of a seagull. It’s a unique combination of high-pitched squeal and squawk that immediately tells you that you are very near a large body of water — in this case, English Bay, Burrard Inlet, and the Straits of Georgia, the principal bodies of water on which Vancouver sits. That seagull sound is one of those sounds that is so closely identified with a location that, when you hear it, you can almost smell the sharp tang of salt water and the wafting odor of seaweed decaying on shoreline rocks.

For this landlocked Midwesterner, who doesn’t have to deal with the less pleasant aspects of oceanic birds, the sound of a seagull is a welcome, pleasing sound. I sat for a while at the predawn minutes ticked by, listening to the seagull cries and the sound of the water slapping against the dock below and watching the birds wheel over the bay.

On The Pacific Rim

IMG_20140422_214024 We’ve finally reached Vancouver after a hard day’s travel that included flights to Seattle through Detroit, a multi-hour drive up the congested Route 5, and an inadvertent foray through Vancouver’s apparently immense homeless\skid row area. But we made it to the Fairmont Pacific Rim, which has a pretty nice view of the harbor and the mountains beyond.

What To Do With E-Cigarettes?

E-cigarettes are becoming more popular. The battery-powered tubes that produce flavored, nicotine-laced vapor have millions of users world-wide and are generating billions of dollars in sales — so much that tobacco companies are getting into the business. One of the users is Russell, who has turned to e-cigarettes as an alternative to tobacco.

What’s up with these devices? I’m surprised to find that, in the United States, there’s little regulation of the marketing or sale of e-cigarettes at the federal level, and there’s not much in the way of data about their health effects. In some states, for example, e-cigarettes can be sold to minors and some of the candy-oriented flavors and marketing techniques seem geared toward luring young people into a nicotine habit. No one seems quite sure, either, about the health effects of inhaling the mixture of nicotine, flavoring, and propylene glycol — a common additive that is used products like salad dressing and soft drinks. Eating propylene glycol has been studied, but inhaling its heated vapor in combination with nicotine apparently is a wild card.

For me, the big question is whether e-cigarettes are a gateway or an exit. Restrictions on sales to minors and marketing and product schemes designed to entice them seem like sensible steps, and of course we need to determine whether e-cigarettes can cause significant health problems. I’d also be interested in studying exactly who uses the devices, and for what purpose. If e-cigarettes are being used by tobacco smokers as a means of ratcheting down their addictive habit on the way to quitting entirely — as I’m hoping is the case with Russell — I’m all in favor of making them available for that purpose.

The Brady Bunch

Today my eyes passed over a website referenced to the Bundy Ranch, where ranchers and the federal government had a weird standoff about western land use.

Unfortunately for me, my quick scan initially read “Bundy Ranch” to be “Brady Bunch,” so the insipid Brady Bunch theme song started playing in my head and I was beset by images of the chipper Bradys — Carol and Mike, Greg and Marcia, grinning, head-bobbing Alice, and the two little kids that nobody cared about except for the fact that the little girl was “the youngest one in curls.”

My sisters loved The Brady Bunch and idolized Marcia, so we had to watch the show on our one TV set. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t stand the Bradys, their ludicrous, squeaky clean children, their boring split-level suburban life, and the absurd scenarios that passed for plots. I’d managed to put the whole unpleasant thing out of my mind, but clearly it was lurking there, brooding just below the surface, ready to bubble into my consciousness when I misread “Bundy Ranch.”

Prior to today I really hadn’t read or thought much much about the Bundy Ranch incident. Now I know that I will studiously avoid any news coverage about the matter, because as soon as I read the word “Bundy Ranch” the musical loop of “Here’s the story . . . of a man named Brady . . .” will begin again. Arrgh!

The Illusion Of Presumed Competence

Whenever we board an airplane or a boat, or enter a bus or a taxi, we’re presuming that the captain or driver knows what he or she is doing. We assume that they are fully trained, knowledgeable, competent, and indeed expert in their field — that they are all like C.B. Sullinger, the heroic airline pilot who coolly landed his crippled aircraft on the Hudson River a few years ago, allowing all of the passengers to be rescued.

That’s why it’s so jarring when we read disturbing stories about events like the catastrophic sinking of the South Korea ferry, which seems to have been mishandled in just about every way imaginable. When the accident occurred the boat was being steered by a third mate who had never navigated those waters, and the captain wasn’t even on the bridge. Transcripts of conversations between the boat and a boat traffic facility on shore indicate that the crew was panicky and confused about what to do with the passengers when the boat began to list, and the captain unwisely told passengers to stay inside the boat as it began to take on water, rather than come to the deck and evacuate. Worst of all, the captain was one of the first off the boat, in violation of a South Korea law that required him to stay aboard until all passengers were off the ship.

We presume that the people who have our lives in their hands are competent because it’s a necessary rationalization and mental defense mechanism. If we are taking a ferry ride in a foreign country, boarding a bus to see a ball game, or ducking into a cab at a busy airport, we can’t realistically check the qualifications and past performance of the captain or the driver — so we assume that somebody else has done it and that the person wouldn’t be in that position if they didn’t measure up. Sometimes, that assumption is unwarranted.

The next time I get into a cab, I’m going to be sure to fasten my seat belt.