A Happy Lunch

November 24, 2014

Yesterday was the birthday of our friend Eric.  Some of us took him out for lunch today at Seasons In the Park.

Lunch for Eric

Here we have (left to right) Dorothy Barkley, Michael Kluckner, myself, the ever-loving, and birthday boy Eric Philips.

The food was great and the company even better.  Given our backgrounds — having gotten to know each other through the Grandview Heritage Group — it is not surprising we spent time discussing heritage issues, history, the use of various woods in building and elsewhere, recycling, and local development issues.

A marvelous couple of hours!


Wise Words

November 24, 2014

The French Really Know …

November 24, 2014

… how to advertise orange juice!


November 24, 2014

the autobiography of a mayfly
would be as short as a page
and as dense as perfect memory

the madness of dashing hither and yon
across the summer’s blue distance
to seek the one mate of perfect desire

the need to avoid the bloodletting wars
of birds and trout at cool water’s edge
to arrive in one piece at the perfect place

the keenness of invention, of new hieroglyphics,
to tempt her away from the maddening crowds
to sing her, to win her with this perfect dance

the sense of fulfillment, slowly drifting to earth
with all power spent, all duty completed
to remember, to listen to the end of this perfect life

Wise Words

November 23, 2014
A permanent state of transition is man’s most noble condition

— Juan Ramon Jimenez

Death By Police

November 23, 2014

News reports say that a disturbed man was killed by police bullets at Knight & 41st yesterday.  There will be a police news conference this afternoon to explain their actions but, frankly, from the information already available it is obvious that this was a completely unnecessary death.

The man was armed with a two-by-four piece of lumber and was threatening people walking by.  There is no doubt that he needed to be pacified and probably taken away for help (or incarceration if required).  What he certainly didn’t need to do was die.

It seems that police surrounded him and used gun-fired bean bags to try to disarm him.  That didn’t work.  So the police closed in, to within two meters, and shot him multiple times with real bullets until he was dead.  Why?  The man had a piece of lumber, not a projectile weapon and therefore the only possible danger was to people immediately close to him.

He could have been shot in the legs and disabled.  The police could have used Tasers, usually their favourite toys, and brought him down.  The police could have used a riot shield to knock the lumber out of the way and grabbed him by sheer numbers.  The police could have simply surrounded him until he fell asleep or gave up.

There was absolutely no reason why the man should be shot dead at point blank range. None.

Beach: Water’s Edge

November 23, 2014

“Beach:  Water’s Edge” (2008), acrylics, plastic shoe, on canvas, 18″ x 36″

Click on the image for a larger picture.

Laundry Then and Now

November 23, 2014

Today is laundry day in our household.  The ever-loving — a self-described laundry Nazi — loves to split the pile of cloths and linens into a much larger variety of “types” than the simple whites, coloureds, reds that my mother taught me.  Thinking of this got me musing about how drastically this particular household function has changed in the last 70-odd years.

Time was that the laundry represented a full day of  hard physical labour, one that most housewives faced each week with dread.  Today, that has all changed, at least in the westernized world.  With automatic machines and efficient driers, each load takes perhaps just four or five minutes of effort to load, unload and fold.  Five or six wash and dry loads can be completed with less physical effort than a single wash load (not including wringing and drying) meant to my grandmother.

In my research on the retail and social changes on Commercial Drive in the middle of the last century, one of the key factors of modernization that emerges in the 1930s and 1940s is the evolution of many hardware stores into appliance retailers; and, prior to the introduction of TV in the 1950s, it was the steady improvement in laundry technology that drove this process.

As an aside, it is worth mentioning that virtually all domestic technology engineers in the 1920s to 1950s were men, men who would have had little or no first-hand knowledge of the drudgery of household laundry.  I assume that the power of persuasion by their female partners played a significant role in these improvements.


First published 5th January 2011

Night Music: Velvet Underground & Nico

November 22, 2014


A Shelter For East Van

November 22, 2014

I have heard today that the City is soon to open a much-needed 24-hour homeless shelter in the 1600-block of East Pender.

It will have 40 beds and will operate on a reservation system.  Homeless folks will be allowed to bring their pets and their carts.  It will offer three meals a day and laundry service.  Access will be via the back lane.

There will be a public meeting about the shelter on Tuesday at 5:30pm at the Wise Hall.

More on Slums: Market Training

November 22, 2014

During a speech by Stewart Brand in Vancouver in 2010, he showed a video of a market in Thailand that exists on and over active railway lines. He used this to discuss how slum entrepreneurs work their way around problems. Just like a street hockey game that has to disband temporarily on the arrival of a car, I guess someone shouts “Train!” and everyone moves. Amazing!

Modern Complexities

November 21, 2014

Way back in the Dark Ages of the 1950s, I was taught a simple lesson: people who talked to themselves out loud on the street were, as my mother explained clearly and explicitly, “a little touched” and were to be avoided or at least grumbled at.

Now, of course, they are just as likely to be talking to their broker on their hands-free mobile phone. It’s hard to tell sometimes.

I’m easily confused, so I avoid them all.

I’m Not A Liberal …

November 21, 2014

… nor a Socialist nor a fascistic fanatic.  I’m not anything that believes it knows better than the individual.  So when a government decides it knows how people should eat or drink or how they spend their money it makes my skin crawl.  It matters not to me if that government is driven by “liberal” views concerning care for others or society or whether it is guided by some sense of religious or corporatist obligation.

The latest such skin-crawling episode was today when the government of New York City decided it would try to get a ban on the use of food stamps for the purchase of soda drinks.   This will help the city’s push against obesity, they say.  This “initiative will give New York families more money to spend on foods and drinks that provide real nourishment,” said the Mayor.

Dr. Farley and the state’s health commissioner, Dr. Richard F. Daines, said in an Op-Ed article in The New York Times on Thursday that the ban would not reduce the ability of food-stamp recipients to feed their families. “People would still receive every penny of support they now get, meaning they would have at least as much, if not more, to spend on nutritious food,” Dr. Farley and Dr. Daines wrote. “And they could still purchase soda if they choose — just not with taxpayer dollars.”

I wonder if the liberals who want to force poor people into better eating habits recognize that this is exactly the same as when right wing politicians demand that those in receipt of unemployment insurance need to pass drug tests in order to receive money.  It is no different in kind than jurisdictions banning the use of government funds for abortion.  In each case, the jurisdiction is saying “we know best how you should run your lives and we will use our economic power over you to ensure you get the message.”

I’d give legislators huge pay raises if they promised to discuss and act only on ways of getting the government OUT of everyone’s life!


First published: 10th October 2010

High Hue

November 20, 2014

adanac tube


There was major work going on at Adanac Towers this morning.  The street was blocked off and this massive crane was being used to lift heavy machinery to the roof.  It was either elevator parts or air conditioning, I would guess.

It would have been impressive even without the crane being an autumnal orange to match the resident trees.

Night Music: Amen Corner

November 20, 2014


I chose “Half As Nice” because (a) we sometimes forget, amid our memories of the turbulent, sexual, chaotic, political late-’60s, that this was the heyday of the classic 3 minute pop song; (b) because it was one of my favourite tunes of the period; and (c) because I always had a fancy I looked a bit like Andy Fairweather-Low in those days, and seeing him look so young in this recording gives me a nostalgic glow.

Credit to YouTube as always.


November 20, 2014

4-square4-Square (2009), TIFF print, 16″ x 20″

The Also Rans and The Never Rans

November 20, 2014

I have previously wrtitten about the Vancouver Greens, Vancouver First, and the NPA in the 2014 municipal election. This time, I have a few thoughts on the also rans and the never rans.

For well over a year before this election, activisits on the left and centre had been discussing what to do about Vision Vancouver.  There were endless discussions about the possibility of putting together an anti-Vision slate; but most of these debates bogged down as they tend to do.

Bill McCreery and others put together a revival of the 1980s TEAM party.  During the winter of 2013-14 there were extensive meetings between TEAM and Neighbourhoods for a Sustainable Vancouver (NSV) which had run candidates in 2011.  The belief and hope was that a joint-party would become the organizational base for an effective anti-Vision slate.  As usual in many such cases, egos on both sides put an end to that dream, and within a few months, both TEAM and NSV had collapsed as effective mass organizations and neither ran candidates.

Their failure to come together rang loudly through the pre-election scramble for an alternative to the ruling regime. There were talks with COPE (before their nominations) and there were hopes, always likely to be dashed, that the Greens might join in.  But all talks of an amalgamated opposition had quietened down by summer.

Alternatives did arise, of course.  Vancouver First took the right wing position (although only on Parks Board to begin with), while the NPA got their act together and took over the mainstream right-of-centre arc; and the Greens placed themselve as centrist-progressives, I guess.  That leaves COPE, OneCity, and the Cedar Party to consider.

The Cedar Party:  This was very brave, for two apolitical brothers to set up a political party in order to publicize what they saw as, at least, incompetence by Vision Vancouver and City staff in the management of landuse and zoning and contracting.  This was more a mission than a campaign; but both Glen and Nicholas learned quickly and by the end were able to hold their own in Town Hall and all-candidates’ meetings.  Once they recognized that they could hang their hat on the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods’ “Principles & Goals” document, they were able to spread the gospel of transparent collaboration and they deserved more than the 9,000 votes they got. I’ll be interestested to see what the brothers decide to do next.

Even the Left Front must be amazed at the campaign sparkle that Meena Wong brought to her role as COPE‘s mayoral candidate.  They knew well in advance that Union money wasn’t coming their way this year, and I often got the impression this campaign was going to be simply a holding action to cement their position in the DTES. But Meena Wong wasn’t having any of that.  Her fierce rhetoric and obvious passion lit up the campaign and at least put COPE in  a position to survive.  Unfortunately, she didn’t wear well as the campaign went on and she received closer scrutiny.  In the end, she didn’t seem cut out for the executive duties of civic office.  She might find provincial or federal politics a better fit.

Personally I am happy to see the party do as well as it did because we need a genuine left-wing party in Vancouver.  It might as well be COPE.

OneCity, the group that evolved from a COPE breakaway, and is bolstered by some solid progressives in the background, ran what was in my opinion the best campaign of any party.  They produced good clean policy-oriented statements on important issues, used well-produced videos, weren’t afraid of a bit of fun.  R.J. Aquino turned out to be a fine candidate who spoke well at the various meetings.  I remember that even from their earliest meeting, OneCity was always aimed at 2018, and I’m sure the 30,000 votes they atracted this time will encourage them to stay in the game.

My prefered type of governance in Vancouver remains a two-member ward system with no parties and strict financial rules.  In the absence of that before 2018, I suspect that one of the possible trajectories for OneCity would be to gradually replace COPE.  But I don’t favour that myself, because there is a place for COPE as a left-wing alternative.  I would prefer that OneCity gradually take over the labour and progressive side of Vision Vancouver, leaving Vision’s more corporatist developer-matrix to be sucked up by a revived NPA.  Vision would thus be disposed of from both ends.  We would then have a reasonable continuum of choice:  COPE – OneCity – NPA – Vancouver First.  But that begs the question: where then lies the Greens?


Failures On The Grey Edge: The NPA

November 19, 2014

The main problem for the NPA in the 2014 Vancouver municipal election was the fact that they had wasted a year, at least, of getting ready.  The brand has had a bit of a bad smell for a decade. The Sullivan-Anton-Michael Davis years were full of terrible decisions, oppressive policies, and electoral decline.  The unexpected BC Liberal election victory swept up Sam Sullivan and Suzanne Anton, leaving the battered NPA free to rebuild.

It should have been obvious that they needed to rebrand right then and there, especially as the left opposition was failing to regroup as an anti-Vision bloc in advance of the election, and many were looking to place their support. It is not like the NPA were not told. But they didn’t do anything.

They waited through last winter and then through the first half of this year, and did nothing.They were told over and over again that to beat Gregor Robertson, the NPA needed to get their person into the field early and running for name recognition.  No, they said. We don’t want to give Vision the chance to maul our candidate over so many months.

By this summer, during that rather embarrasing period when the still un-named new mayoral candidate took time to look over his team, they were still the old NPA that no-one wanted to touch with a barge pole. And when they announced the name of their choice, it was Kirk who?  He was interesting but not immediately mesmerizing — and completely unknown. So now they had two months to sell a worthy but unexciting unknown to a population that thinks civic campaigns should start just a day or two before the polls open.  So the early sales pitches for Kirk went unheard by those who needed to be moved.

Kirk LaPointe and Doug Leung and others behind the campaign did the best they could. They managed to raise a fighting fund large enough to match Vision;s advertizing, and Kirk did well in the debates — but not well enough.

Kirk came across as earnest, well-meaning, intelligent and a quick learner, But he never did learn how to give a rousing speech. I went to one event where the speech was exciting and well written and should have been given like a triumphant gospel preacher.  Instead, Kirk delivered it in a rather low-key way, with lowered tones where roaring crescendos were called for.

The failure to get a candidate out there early and often was a strategic error.  Another was the apparent lack of concern about the Vancouver First Party.  The NPA were clearly worried about the effect of Bob Kasting’s candidacy for Mayor. In fact, as the October 17th deadline approached for candidates to withdraw from the race, the NPA put on a full court press to try to get Kasting to pull the plug (which he did anyway later, to little effect).  As an early endorser of Kasting for Mayor, I was subject to a lot of pressure to get Bob to pull out of the contest. I know others were too.

But when the NPA were asked at the same time what they were doing about Vancouver First, they generally pooh-poohed the very idea that V1 was an issue at all.  But in the end, it was conservative vote splitting, from the NPA to the more radical Van First, that lost them a share of controlling Council.


  • the use of the angry white man’s voice on some TV ads was a mistake.  The ads were much improved with Kirk’s more moderate tone;
  • the overall need to concentrate on Kirk LaPointe’s lack of recognition led to a downplaying of the rest of the NPA Council team. In my opinion, they each should have been given a campaign plank to sell; something to hang their hat on and get known for.  The difference in votes between the last few Vision successes and the highest of the NPA failures was quite small.  Had more work been done on selling the members of the team, that might have been eradicated;
  • the release of the campaign donors did no real harm to the NPA, but didn’t help it either:  Peter Armstrong was simply this year’s Rob McDonald in people’s minds.

In the end, according to a lot of people I have talked to since the election, a lot of it came down to trust and optimism.  So many told me that they just couldn’t hold their nose long enough to vote for NPA, there was a lack of trust in the brand.  They also seemed swayed by Vision’s optimism which they compared — unfairly in my judgement — to NPA more dour expression.

Kirk LaPointe made a lot of promises about how a new NPA administration would work, stressing transparency, accountability, collaboration with the neighbourhoods.  If the NPA of 2018 want to break through the trust barrier, their reps on City Council had better live up to the LaPointe hype.  However, if we see a lot of 10 – 1 votes (with the NPA bloc voting with Vision) on controversial developments, their future is guaranteed to be as flawed as their past.

Pizza Branding

November 19, 2014

pizza hutI was in marketing for quite a while before I retired. I still have a fascination with the art of marketing, and applaud when it is done well.  So I am a sucker for “insider” stories about major brand renewals, such as that happening at market-leader but aging Pizza Hut.

Fastcodesign.com has a great piece on how Pizza Hut is moving to a fourth rebranding in less than two decades. The campaign is being led by Deutsch LA, the same group that just completed the Taco Bell revamp.

The logo, the menu, the customer audience, black as the new red, even the buildings themselves have come under the re-design microscope. Jared Drinkwater, Pizza Hut’s VP of Marketing says:

“If you look at the trends in food among young consumers, it’s about flavor exploration. We felt like nobody was doing that in pizza.”

He shakes off any idea that Pizza Hut is going upscale:

“If you think about the cast iron in the pans in the back of our restaurant, it has that gritty look. And we think, from a design perspective, the food pops really nicely.”

Time will tell.

How Will We Die?

November 19, 2014

I was drawn to the World Health Organization’s recently published “The Global Burden of Disease:  2004 Update” through David Kenner’s review article in Foreign Policy.    The WHO’s report is a snapshot of the world’s health as of 2004.  From that, “using projections of economic growth and advances in medical treatment”, they extrapolate the leading causes of death in 2030.


It is interesting to me that the three causes expected to kill more people (heart disease, lung disease and traffic accidents) are each deaths by consumer choice in the use of fatty foods, tobacco, and automobiles.

I was surprised to see that tobacco consumption is expected to rise.  But then again, it is reasonable that developing nations should buckle under the full weight of tobacco advertising just as we did.  It is a pity that they can’t seem to skip that bit of our experience.  But Big Tobacco can make the stuff for as little as it needs to keep the wholesale price low, and governments quickly become addicted to the tobacco sales taxes they collect.  The guy on the street hardly stands a chance.

A final thought:  when you add up the cost of the world’s military, the tobacco and road transportation industries, and the unhealthy parts of agribusiness, it quickly becomes apparent that modern capitalism is in large part an economy of death.  I’m certain that is something we could change if we really wanted to.


First published:  December 2008