Pandora’s Seed Droops

March 31, 2013

I spent the last week reading “Pandora’s Seed: The Unforseen Cost of Civilization” by the National Geographic Society’s Explorer-in-Residence Spencer Wells, and I was thoroughly disappointed.

I’m guessing that if it was a reader’s very first introduction to the disasters caused by the Neolithic Revolution — hierarchy, stress, planet destruction — then perhaps some of the chapters would be of value. But for the many who have studied this topic for a long time, including a couple of mentions on this blog, this was little more than a recap.

There was too much of the Sunday supplement style of writing, describing flights to exotic locales, cab journeys, and the minutia of other scientists’ looks.  I sometimes thought I was reading the lead-in to a People profile. He did have the occasional good line; perhaps the best of which correctly describes agriculture as “a virus, expanding in influence despite its negative effects on human health.”

But this was generally too shallow a dive for me.

Christmas In The Sun!

March 29, 2013

VD and 33 flags

Seen today at a sun-drenched Victoria and 33rd!

A Day Full of History

March 29, 2013

As part of my research for volume 2 of “The Drive”, I spent yesterday at the City Archives digging up papers on the local provision of social services and the birth of the Grandview Woodland Area Council in the 1960s. I was also checking out documentation on the last gasps of the Grandview Chamber of Commerce which had been the narrative hook throughout volume one.

I know it is not everyone’s cup of tea reading dusty old minutes of long-ago organizations, and studying earnest reports that usually didn’t go anywhere, but I just love it.

I chose to go yesterday because it put me in the right place for the regular Vancouver Historical Society‘s lecture series.  Last night it was the splendid Eve Lazarus talking about one of Vancouver’s most flamboyant entrepreneurs, Alvo von Alvensleben.  During my researches into the great building boom of 1908-1912, I had come across von Alvensleben, and I was aware he left Vancouver under a cloud at the beginning of the First World War.  But Eve filled in a wide range of detail, from his family in Germany, through his investment exploits in Vancouver, to his later life in Seattle.  It was a fine talk, a packed room, and a bunch of good friends.

Before the talk began, just before sunset, I took this shot of downtown Vancouver; an unusual view.

Vancouver from MOV_small

Whistling Looney Tunes On The Viaducts

March 29, 2013

wile e coyoteThe Courier this week has a story about the reservations the Strathcona Residents Association (SRA) have about the unholy haste Vision Vancouver has for demolishing the Georgia Street viaduct.  Many of these concerns are shared here in Grandview which will be the dumping ground for all the City’s eastbound traffic if we allow Council to move ahead in support of their developer allies without a comprehensive plan in place.

I wrote a letter to the Courier in support of the SRA’s position:

I am writing in support of the Strathcona Residents’ Association position on the demolition of the the viaducts as discussed in your article.  To demolish the viaducts without a comprehensive plan is simply absurd.

Cllr. Meggs’ position that we should demolish and THEN plan is horribly reminiscent of Wile E. Coyote running off the edge of a cliff in the vain hope that gravity will be suspended and not hurl him into the canyon below. But Vancouver is not a cartoon, and a rushed and foolhardy decision to move ahead — primarily to serve the needs of the Aquilini developments around the stadium — could damage the eastern parts of the City for a generation or more.

At a recent public meeting of the Grandview Woodland Area Council (GWAC) of which I am a Director, City engineers explained that the rush to remove the viaducts had caught them by surprise, that they had considered this a project that would take several more years to consider and plan. It is clear, therefore, that immediate demolition of the viaducts is a political decision rather than one that focuses on the traffic and social needs of the community.

To rush this decision today would be as rash as Tom Campbell’s decision to build the viaducts in the first place.

My own position on the viaducts is that they should be re-purposed rather than demolished.  But either way, bringing them down without a plan is ridiculous, and clearly exposes Vision’s desire to please their developer pals at whatever cost to our city.

Happy Holi!

March 27, 2013


La Patrona: A First Review

March 26, 2013

It was a marvelously perfect Spring day today for my first trip out of the house in nearly a week.

The ever-loving and I had a lot to do — what with shopping and blood work, banking and pharmacy visits, a haircut and a visit to the book store — and we really enjoyed both the sunshine and the cool air as walked from one end of the Drive to the other.  We had already decided to give the new restaurant La Patrona a try, and by the time we got there we were happy to rest our weary limbs.


La Patrona has taken over the space that was for years the Caffe Amici, famous mostly, I believe, for the old geezers who would sit on the patio and leer at the passing women.  The new place is bright and clean and the El Salvadoran family that run it — mother, son and daughter-in-law — are friendly and eager to make it work.  They offer breakfast, lunch and dinner, though right now they have a small basic menu that I am sure will grow over time (papusas are promised eventually).

Herself had a classic breakfast with poached eggs and bacon, and the eggs looked picture perfect rather than wet and squiggy as they are in so many places.  She certainly enjoyed it.  I tried their special Deep Dish breakfast:  a casserole filled with a scrambled egg, ham, tomato and onions mix cooked on a piece of naan bread.  It was cleverly seasoned and tasted great.  It was big enough that I couldn’t finish it all.  The coffee was strong and delicious and came with re-fills.  I am sure we will be back.

They are a fine addition to the Drive’s eclectic food choices and I wish them all the best for a successful future.

Fish and Chips On The Drive

March 24, 2013
Is this the future for Grandview Park?

Is this the future for Grandview Park?

As I have written earlier this month, there is much controversy about having food trucks on Commercial Drive.  I have written my own letter to the City which I am happy to share here:

I am writing to complain in the most vigorous terms about the imposition by the City of a mobile food truck that has recently begun parking in front of Grandview Park. I am also concerned that additional food truck licenses are being considered for Commercial Drive against the wishes, I believe, of the BIA and most residents in the neighbourhood.

According to the City’s own food truck program documentation, the City expects food trucks to

(a) create local economic benefits;
(b) provide food options for communities currently underserved; and
(c) enlive the street scene.

It is clear to anyone who knows Commercial Drive that none of these expectations are being met in this case: The economic benefits will flow only to a merchant who already operates on the Drive; there are already 93 restaurants on Commercial Drive between Venables and Broadway offering a dazzling array of eat-in and take-out food options (inclusing excellent fish and chips); and Commercial Drive is already considered one of the most lively street scenes in the City.

The previous paragraph will be true for any and all food trucks that appear on Commercial Drive. With regard to the Daily Catch’s van in particular and its position on Grandview Park, there are additional issues. As you are aware, Grandview has a significant deficit in green space when compared with other areas of the City. Therefore, to have our premier park marred by the presence of a food truck is simply outrageous. The truck also takes up coveted street parking space used by all property-tax-paying businesses on the Drive. There are also odour and noise issues to consider.

Each of these problems will be magnified by the presence of — so we hear — up to four such trucks on the Drive.

With regard once again to the Daily Catch, there can be no argument that they have now invested considerable sums on their truck and so some compromise needs to be found for them — away from any Park or residential area. Having them remain outside their own store seems one option, though I understand a number of food businesses on that block have complained about their presence. Perhaps they could move to the Cut where they would gain traffic from the SkyTrain. Perhaps they could be accommodated on the City’s parking lot at Commercial and Adanac where the bike route would be favourable for them. Other suggestions have included the Waldorf Hotel and the busy transit area of Commercial and Hastings.

At a well-attended public meeting of GWAC earlier this month, the President of the Commercial Drive BIA specifically stated that the BIA was and is utterly opposed to food trucks on the Drive, and that they had only become involved through pressure from the City. Given that both the BIA and a considerable number of residents are opposed to their presence, can you please give assurances that no further food trucks will be imposed on us?

The letter was sent to the City Licensing Department and copied to The Daily Catch, the BIA and GWAC.

I’m sure there will be readers who support the idea of food trucks here, who don’t mind our Grandview Park being turned into a version of the PNE midway where fast-food grab-joints fill the air with grease and other noxious fumes.  Fair enough, but many of us don’t want that kind of dystopian future here.

As the letter notes, there are already almost a hundred eating places within walking distance of the Park; no one is going short of choice.  In fact, if you find yourself at the Park and feel a desire for fish and chips, walk just two blocks north to Windjammer Fish & Chips where the food is at least as good as on the truck, is cheaper, and where you can sit down and enjoy your meal in the comfort of a restaurant.  Or just walk across the street to Fet’s where they also serve excellent fish and chips and you can enjoy their patio seating.

Or, of course, you could go to the Daily Catch store, buy a lovely piece of fish and cook it yourself at home.

A Horrible Week

March 22, 2013

I managed to get through the whole winter this year without any sign of a cold or the flu. But come the first day of spring I was flattened by the heaviest of head colds which, as usual in my case, became a chest infection.  Luckily I had antibiotics on hand and so the healing begins, but not quickly.  I have already missed two events that I have been looking forward to for weeks, and work on the book has ground to a standstill.

What a bummer way to start the season!

Nowruz 2013

March 20, 2013


Voluntary Taxation

March 19, 2013

It’s tax time again.  And yet again I make my pitch for an all-voluntary tax system.

Back in June 2002, I proposed doing away with all non-voluntary taxation by replacing income and all other taxes with a consumption tax. This is what I wrote in 2002, and I see little need to change the basic structure proposed:

The basic principles for a semi-anarchistic tax scheme are that it should be essentially voluntary, and concerned with ensuring equal opportunities for all. Therefore, I would propose the elimination of all personal and corporate income taxes as they violate by their very nature the voluntary aspect of taxation. I propose to replace the revenue with an all-inclusive sales tax on goods and services with a few, well-defined exceptions (the figures below represent Vancouver costs of living and could be adjusted as required):

• all foods
• shelter (to $18,000/year rent or the first $350,000 of purchase)
• all non-cosmetic medical and dental services
• all educational services
• financial services to $500/year
• legal services to $2,500/year

The sales tax should be a single percentage across all categories of goods and services in order to reduce accounting and bureaucratic requirements.

The use of the sales tax for the bulk of government revenues brings a great deal of volunteerism to the matter. The exceptions provide an important and necessary break for those goods and services which can be described as the necessities of life; above that, the more I choose to buy, the more taxes I choose to pay.  Rampant consumerism becomes a tax liability.

On the other side of the ledger, also to the good, the simplicity of the scheme allows for huge bureaucratic savings in administration and zero non-compliance. The tax would also be levied on all capital transfers outside the jurisdiction. It will oblige tens of thousands of “tax lawyers” to find genuine productive employment.

It also assumes that significant portions of current governmental activity have been done away with, returned to the people for their own handling. Those portions of government activity that do remain should be easily categorized into line items that can be shown to have a direct bearing on the level of the sales tax. In this way, the people are enabled to make decisions about what sections of government can be further cut to reduce the level of taxation. Conversely, any additional work to be performed by the government can be easily calculated as an addition to the sales tax. In other words, the cost of a government service will be immediately and directly calculable — and the people can make their judgments on whether to go ahead with it on that basis. It is one thing to say that a government program costs $600 million — an abstraction at best; it is quite another to say that program x will cause a rise in the sales tax by 1%.

In a capitalist system where the government bureaucracy acts as a nanny on so many issues, taxation of some sort is inevitable, as will be resistance to such taxation. The sales tax that I propose will allow the taxation system to operate on a voluntary basis, thus achieving considerably greater support and compliance.

Sun, Wind, Hot Chocolate and Tin Ceilings

March 18, 2013

What a glorious spring day today!   The wind was a bit snappy, but that’s what scarves (and hot chocolate at Renzo’s) are for.

After a quick business meeting, some friends and I visited the new Home Exposure furnishings store where Label Express used to be.  They have stripped the walls back to the original brick, and also revealed the wonderful tin ceiling that was probably made by the original 1912 owner, Joseph Rodway (’tis a pity it is painted white, but we can’t have everything).  The store is wonderfully bright — especially on a sunny day like today — which is helped by the building owner’s recovery and retention of the original glazing above the large plate glass display windows.

We needed something like this along the Drive and, best thing of all, it is not another restaurant!

On The Map

March 16, 2013

Back to maps.  I have just finished reading this wonderfully entertaining book called “On The Map” by Simon Garfield.  In 450 or so pages it covers a gloriously broad history of cartography running all the way from Ptolemy to Google Maps and beyond.

This is not a scholarly volume like Jerry Brotton’s wonderfully deep “A History of the World in Twelve Maps” that I read earlier this year.  But I suspect that I learned even more from Garfield’s chatty account.  And Garfield certainly covers a wider field — from all the important maps covered by Brotton and plenty more besides, to treasure maps, maps of celebrity homes, games with maps, a history of guidebooks, the making of globes, and people who steal and deal in maps.

According to his interview on the Colbert Report, this is the author’s favourite map:


To quote Garfield, maps have a power

“to fascinate, excite and provoke, to affect the course of history, to serve as the silent conduit to the compelling stories of where we’ve been and where we’re going.”

The whole thing is wonderfully illustrated with a couple of hundred images that are well-chosen and assist the flow.  However, I am bound to note that the index is severely flawed.

I really didn’t want this book to end and I encourage everyone to give it a read.

Rain, Wind and Sushi

March 16, 2013

On a night like tonight, with the howling wind and soaking rain, it is a joy to have Britannia Sushi deliver dinner!

Rose, With Rain

March 16, 2013

Rose With Rain

A Very Short Story For Physicists

March 15, 2013

Hogg’s Bison And the Dog Particle

Ducks quarked in the field where Farmer Hogg’s bison lived a strange and charmed life, until one day they found a particle of dog in their feed, and they strung up Hogg symmetrically.


More Technology Hangups

March 15, 2013

Further to my recent piece on issues with today’s technologically driven society, here are a couple more examples where problems (both serious and trivial) arise.

One of them comes from Simon Garfield’s wonderful book “On The Map” which I will be reviewing soon.  He talks about GPS, and notes:

GPS“The resulting maps also have an effect on the way we learn to see things.  When we’re looking at maps on our dashboard or on phones as we walk, we tend not to look around or up so much.  It is now entirely possible to travel many hundreds of miles … without having the faintest clue about how we got there.  A victory for GPS; a loss for geography, history, navigation, maps, human communication and the sense of being connected to the world all around us.” (p.384)

The second comes from my own experience this morning.  Until very recently, if one saw someone standing by themselves and talking out loud, it was not unreasonable to assume that they were, as my mother might say, “touched”.  There was just such a person in the library lobby today.  It was only when I got really close that I realised she was talking into a hands-free phone gizmo attached to her ear.  The loss in this case is not for the user, of course, but for those around them.


Georgia Straight’s Golden Plate Awards

March 14, 2013

The Georgia Straight have announced the winners of their Golden Plates Award for 2013 in 158 categories!  Although many of my personal favourites were missed out once again, the Drive scored quite a few hits.

Those who came first in their category were:

  • Memphis Blues — best BBQ
  • Fratelli’s — best bakery for pastries
  • Vera’s — best burger
  • BierCraft — best imported beer selection
  • JJ Bean — best local coffeehouse chain
  • Reef — best Caribbean restaurant

Second in their category were:

  • La Grotta — best deli
  • Harambe — best African restaurant
  • St. Augustines — best BC beer selection
  • Portuguese Club of Vancouver — best Portuguese restaurant

Third in their category were:

  • La Grotta — best sandwiches
  • Libra Room — best restaurant with live entertainment
  • Santa Barbara — best deli
  • Uprising — best bread bakery
  • La Grotta — best cheese selection
  • Vera’s — best burger
  • St. Augustine’s — best pub
  • Belgian Fries — best poutine
  • Liberty Wines — best private wine store
  • Palki — best Indian restaurant

Congratulations in particular to La Grotta for scoring in three categories!  And hoorahs all round for everyone mentioned!

Keep Calm and Carry On

March 13, 2013

The story of how the “Keep Calm and Carry On” poster came to public attention.  A nice piece.

Cliff Top

March 12, 2013

Cliff Top

“Cliff Top” (November 2008), acrylics on canvas, 30” x 30”

For a better view of this painting, see here.

The Scythe, Modernity and The Crash To Come

March 12, 2013

For those of you who are keen on fighting back against the tyranny of modern technolgy, you could do a lot worse that read Dark Ecology” by Paul Kingsnorth.  It is a fairly long piece (by internet standards) but worth every minute you spend with it.

Each summer, Kingsworth teaches the use of scythes in England and Scotland and in this article he uses the scythe as a surrogate for other simple tools when compared to modern machinery.  He explains the delight one gets in using a scythe, but remarks that most people use brushcutters these days:

“Brushcutters are not used instead of scythes because they are better; they are used because their use is conditioned by our attitudes toward technology. Performance is not really the point, and neither is efficiency. Religion is the point: the religion of complexity. The myth of progress manifested in tool form. Plastic is better than wood. Moving parts are better than fixed parts. Noisy things are better than quiet things. Complicated things are better than simple things. New things are better than old things. We all believe this, whether we like it or not. It’s how we were brought up.”

He really hits the nail on the head when he confronts critics who claim that he and those like him are simple-minded back-to-the-earth idealist dreamers:

“Romanticizing the past” is a familiar accusation, made mostly by people who think it is more grown-up to romanticize the future. But it’s not necessary to convince yourself that Paleolithic hunter-gatherers lived in paradise in order to observe that progress is a ratchet, every turn forcing us more tightly into the gears of a machine we were forced to create to solve the problems created by progress…

Critics confuse “a desire for human-scale autonomy, and for the independent character, quirkiness, mess, and creativity that usually results from it, with a desire to retreat to some imagined ‘golden age.’ It’s a familiar criticism, and a lazy and boring one. Nowadays, when I’m faced with digs like this, I like to quote E. F. Schumacher, who replied to the accusation that he was a ‘crank’ by saying, ‘A crank is a very elegant device. It’s small, it’s strong, it’s lightweight, energy efficient, and it makes revolutions’.”

Kingsnorth looks closely at the “green movement” of the last century, noting how badly it failed:

“The green movement, which seemed to be carrying all before it in the early 1990s, has plunged into a full-on midlife crisis. Unable to significantly change either the system or the behavior of the public, assailed by a rising movement of “skeptics” and by public boredom with being hectored about carbon and consumption, colonized by a new breed of corporate spivs for whom “sustainability” is just another opportunity for selling things, the greens are seeing a nasty realization dawn: despite all their work, their passion, their commitment and the fact that most of what they have been saying has been broadly right—they are losing.”

Worse, he says, we now have neo-environmentalism, often described as simple “ecopragmatism” but which is “something rather different” as described by the PR blurb for Emma Marris’s Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in a Post-Wild World, one of the movement’s canonical texts

For decades people have unquestioningly accepted the idea that our goal is to preserve nature in its pristine, pre-human state. But many scientists have come to see this as an outdated dream that thwarts bold new plans to save the environment and prevents us from having a fuller relationship with nature.

Or, as Peter Kareiva, says:

“Humans degrade and destroy and crucify the natural environment, and 80 percent of the time it recovers pretty well.” Trying to protect large functioning ecosystems from human development is mostly futile; humans like development, and you can’t stop them from having it. Nature is tough and will adapt to this: “Today, coyotes roam downtown Chicago, and peregrine falcons astonish San Franciscans as they sweep down skyscraper canyons. . . . As we destroy habitats, we create new ones.” Now that “science” has shown us that nothing is “pristine” and nature “adapts,” there’s no reason to worry about many traditional green goals such as, for example, protecting rainforest habitats. “Is halting deforestation in the Amazon . . . feasible?” he asks. “Is it even necessary?”

Kingsnorth responds:

“If this sounds like the kind of thing that a right-wing politican might come out with, that’s because it is. But Kareiva is not alone. Variations on this line have recently been pushed by the American thinker Stewart Brand, the British writer Mark Lynas, the Danish anti-green poster boy Bjørn Lomborg, and the American writers Emma Marris, Ted Nordhaus, and Michael Schellenberger. They in turn are building on work done in the past by other self-declared green “heretics” like Richard D. North, Brian Clegg, and Wilfred Beckerman.”

Kingsnorth argues that these neo-conservatives are misunderstanding the problem, probably deliberately:

“What do we value about the Amazon forest? Do people seek to protect it because they believe it is “pristine” and “pre-human”? Clearly not, since it’s inhabited and harvested by large numbers of tribal people, some of whom have been there for millennia. The Amazon is not important because it is “untouched”; it’s important because it is wild, in the sense that it is self-willed. It is lived in and off of by humans, but it is not created or controlled by them. It teems with a great, shifting, complex diversity of both human and nonhuman life, and no species dominates the mix. It is a complex, working ecosystem that is also a human-culture-system, because in any kind of worthwhile world, the two are linked.”

“The neo-environmentalists, needless to say, have no time for this kind of fluff. They have a great big straw man to build up and knock down, and once they’ve got that out of the way, they can move on to the really important part of their message. Here’s Kareiva, giving us the money shot in Breakthrough Journal with fellow authors Michelle Marvier and Robert Lalasz:

Instead of pursuing the protection of biodiversity for biodiversity’s sake, a new conservation should seek to enhance those natural systems that benefit the widest number of people. . . . Conservation will measure its achievement in large part by its relevance to people.

There it is, in black and white: the wild is dead, and what remains of nature is for people. We can effectively do what we like, and we should.”

He looks at the future through the eyes of the past:

“Look at the proposals of the neo-environmentalists in this light and you can see them as a series of attempts to dig us out of the progress traps that their predecessors knocked us into. Genetically modified crops, for example, are regularly sold to us as a means of “feeding the world.” But why is the world hungry? At least in part because of the previous wave of agricultural improvements—the so-called Green Revolution, which between the 1940s and 1970s promoted a new form of agriculture that depended upon high levels of pesticides and herbicides, new agricultural technologies, and high-yielding strains of crops. The Green Revolution is trumpeted by progressives as having supposedly “fed a billion people” who would otherwise have starved. And maybe it did; but then we had to keep feeding them—or should I say us?—and our children. In the meantime it had been discovered that the pesticides and herbicides were killing off vast swaths of wildlife, and the high-yield monoculture crops were wrecking both the health of the soil and the crop diversity, which in previous centuries had helped prevent the spread of disease and reduced the likelihood of crop failure.

It is in this context that we now have to listen to lectures from the neo-environmentalists and others insisting that GM crops are a moral obligation if we want to feed the world and save the planet: precisely the arguments that were made last time around.”

“What does the near future look like? I’d put my bets on a strange and unworldly combination of ongoing collapse, which will continue to fragment both nature and culture, and a new wave of techno-green “solutions” being unveiled in a doomed attempt to prevent it. I don’t believe now that anything can break this cycle, barring some kind of reset: the kind that we have seen many times before in human history. Some kind of fall back down to a lower level of civilizational complexity. Something like the storm that is now visibly brewing all around us.”

This is a sad pass we have come to.  Humanity has been too clever by half.