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rod mickleburgh

Like any smart tourist, Stephen Harper spent his first morning in Beijing at the stunning Temple of Heaven, its main structure a magnificent sight etched against one of those perfect blue skies that authorities in the smog-encrusted lair of Mao conjure up every now and then for visiting dignitaries.

Even better for our man in China, just a few Tiananmen Square tank lengths away is the ever-popular Echo Wall, not to be confused, of course, with that other great wall.

This one is a circular, brick edifice that was built, for reasons unknown, so that a person can whisper something along one side of the wall and have it heard clear as a bell by someone a fair distance away. So they say …

Of course, this may be apocryphal, but I have it on some authority that this is where Mr. Harper chose to raise the ticklish issue of human rights, which, as you know, he would never sell out for "the almighty petro-dollar."

Mr. Harper faced the Echo Wall and said in a low voice: "Canada is concerned about the lack of human rights in China."

A hundred metres distant, Chinese President Hu Jintao shouted back: "What did you say? I couldn't hear you."

And that was that.

A rival passes on

When Georgia Straight publisher Dan McLeod heard the news from a former secretary last week that his old adversary, Tom Campbell, had passed on, he immediately e-mailed back: "Tell the cops I had nothing to do with it."

Mr. McLeod's response was understandable.

"Tom Terrific" was mayor of Vancouver during the zany, counterculture days of hippie-yippie-trippie power in the 1960s, when Fourth Avenue was the city's answer to Haight-Ashbury and an eatery there (now Sophie's Cosmic Cafe) felt the need to post a sign saying: "We do not serve hippies or beatniks." Not that anyone actually ate hippies or beatniks, but still …

Bad-mouthing longhairs at every turn, Mr. Campbell waged relentless war to send Mr. McLeod's fledgling alternative newspaper on a permanent vacation.

In 1967, the city manipulated its licensing bylaw to ban the Straight from the streets at a time when the paper had reached a paid circulation of 60,000. It took more than a month for the Straight to get its business licence back, and years to return to profitability.

"[Tom Campbell]thought the hippies were going to take over, and we were helping the whole movement hang together," Mr. McLeod recalled. "He felt we were threatening the status quo, which he was part of."

The 68-year grandfather said he met his adversary only once.

"I went to serve him with a court document. His little dog bit me on the ankle."

Dwindling Hope

I am sad to report that, according to the latest census, there is less Hope in the province than there was during those halcyon days when the local MLA was Harry Lali.

Since 2006, population of the chainsaw wood-carving capital of the Fraser Valley and the legendary Home Restaurant has plummeted by 216 Hopesters, a distressing decline of 3.5 per cent.

Explanations range from chainsaws or pies gone bad, to the demise of Dinotown down the road, to the unforeseen failure of renowned honeymoon hot spot, Bridal Veil Falls, to work its customary, baby-making magic.

Abandon Hope all ye who enter here seems to have taken hold of those perched for a time on the route to Hell's Gate.

Meanwhile, nearby Spuzzum is booming. Tired of being scorned as beyond Hope, the dot on the map has had its ranks swollen by a dozen Spuzzum newbies over the past five years, an astonishing population boost of 60 per cent.

Those stuck in diminished Hope can only look with envy at their Spuzzum cousins and plead: "We'll have what they're having."

Odds and sods from all over

Sign outside a London, Ont. sports shop: "Caterpillar, giving insects a bad name since 1925."

Top newspaper story in Abbotsford, heart of the province's Bible Belt, home to a hundred churches, where more than 60 per cent of the city's good burghers profess to follow a Christian faith: "Abbotsford awarded lingerie football team."

Provincial ranking of B.C. in terms of wages, salaries and supplementary income per employee: fifth. Newfoundland: third.

School appearance fee charged by the London Olympics' ludicrous, single-eyed mascots, Wenlock and Mandeville, described by a scathing critic as the result of a drunken one-night stand between a Teletubby and a Dalek from Doctor Who: £850 (about 1,300 Canuck bucks). Number of takers so far: one.

Headline in government press release: "B.C. cherries getting ready to fly to China." Red cherries, presumably.