Creating A New Rembrandt

June 30, 2016

Can technology be used to create a new Old Master? Not re-create an old work, but create a new work from scratch, including the surface feel?

A group of Dutch technologists have certainly made an attempt. And a credible one, if one assumes that such a project is not beyond the pale from the very beginning.

Jonathan Jones, art critic, just hates the whole idea:

“What a horrible, tasteless, insensitive and soulless travesty of all that is creative in human nature. What a vile product of our strange time when the best brains dedicate themselves to the stupidest “challenges”, when technology is used for things it should never be used for and everybody feels obliged to applaud the heartless results because we so revere everything digital … What these silly people have done is to invent a new way to mock art.”

I agree with Jones that “a fake is a dead, dull thing with none of the life of the original”, but I find myself unable to match his disgust. It is a mighty clever thing they have done and should be appreciated at that level at least.

Night Music: Dionne Warwick

June 30, 2016

Cannes Lions Winners

June 30, 2016

The Cannes Lions Festival is always worth watching for those interested in creativity and technique in marketing and advertising. Some of the very best creatives and film makers link to produce wonderful short works.

There is always some controversy to keep us interested. As Creative Review’s piece on Cannes discusses, a few pieces were withdrawn even after prizes were awarded.  The same report lists all the winners.  Terry O’Reilly of “Under The Influence” attended Cannes and his blog has some interesting discussions.

Here are a couple of prize winners that I found particularly special. The first is a 3-minute piece from the Spanish lottery corporation that is beautifully made and has a heart-warming message.


The other has a personal meaning to me, suffering as I do from COPD. It is called the Breathless Choir:

Beautiful and creative stuff.

Aphantasia: Hard To Imagine

June 29, 2016

One of the delights of each week for me is to listen to the Quirks & Quarks podcast on CBC Radio. I always learn something and this week was no different.

I learned that there is something called aphantasia, which is an inability to produce mental images. Those with this condition have no mind’s eye and do not “see” things in their mind as most of us do.  For example, if someone is talking to me about Paris, then an image of the Eiffel Tower may well pop up in my head. But for those with aphantasia this doesn’t happen.


Oddly, this doesn’t seem to affect imagination directly because one sufferer is the author Michele Sagara, well-known for her narrative depictions of fantasy worlds. Another is Blake Ross, founder of Firefox.

This is a recently discovered disorder because those who have it assumed everyone thought the way they do, and those without it had no idea that mental images could be done away with.  The discovery was essentially accidental.

The podcast is worth listening to. It begins at 1:31.

May-June Books

June 29, 2016
"Rathert than beat the children it is better to buy them books" -- Russia 1926

“Rather than beat the children it is better to buy them books” — Russian poster from 1926

At the beginning of May I decided I would spend the summer reading the entire works of John Le Carre, John Irving, and Len Deighton, each in order of publication. I have done this exercise before with PD James, Vladimir Nabakov, Laurence Gough, and several others, and have enjoyed watching the maturity of the authors as they grow into their craft. At the same time, I will continue to read other books as they come to hand.

The plan has been to read Le Carre and Irving first, followed by Deighton later in the year. This two-month list, therefore, is heavily weighted in favour of Le Carre as his earlier works are easy to read in a day or so, while, as I note below, Irving’s were always a tougher go.

I began the period by finishing Franklin Rosemont’s Joe Hill: The IWW & the Making of a Revolutionary Working Class Counterculture (2nd ed., PM Press, Oakland CA), which was originally published in 2003. Much as I enjoyed and appreciated the content, this was a tough read due to the style of the writing.

Next up was John Irving’s first novel, Setting Free the Bears from 1968. I had a lot of trouble getting through this to the end and if it had been the first Irving I had ever read I am not sure I would have bothered to keep up with him. It begins well, by which I mean it has the free-flowing peculiarities that one expects from Irving, Two young Austrian proto-hippies begin a motorcycle trip with no destination in mind. However, about a quarter of the way through the book (or less), one of the characters dies and much of the remainder of the novel is taken up with two series of entries from his notebooks. One of the series contains a detailed (and I mean detailed) history of the German take-over of Austria in 1938 followed by a long review of life with the partizans in Yugoslavia. Some of this was fascinating; much was tedious. It took most of the two months to finish the book, and I could only do it by reading Le Carre novels between chapters.

I have started on Irving’s second novel, The Water Method Man, but I doubt I will finish that until some time next month. Luckily I had a number of John Le Carre’s early works to leaven the hard work of Irving.

John le Carre biography, Adam SismanLe Carre’s first two novels, The Call Of The Dead (1962), and A Murder of Quality (1963) introduce his most famous character, spymaster George Smiley. However, although the background to “Call Of The Dead” is the intelligence service, these two novels are much more in the form and style of English “cosy” detective stories. I was reminded strongly of the first few novels by PD James, before she got into her stride.  I enjoyed them both, but neither were what I was looking for in Le Carre.

His next book, and the one that made his name, was The Spy Who Came In From The Cold (1964) which is a ripping yarn and a fine thriller in the espionage genre. There are hints of the psychological understanding Le Carre brings to his later works, but this is more of an adventure story than anything.   This was followed by Looking Glass War (1965) which rather disappointed me, with too much procedural material and not enough analysis (although perhaps I missed it).

But then we come to “A Small Town In Germany” (1968) where Le Carre really comes into his own. It has the background of a spy novel but is much more a study of English diplomats and others living in the bubble of the British Embassy in Bonn in the mid 1960s. Class pettiness and bureaucratic inertia rule the day, while an outside investigator tries to track down important files that seem to have been stolen by a low level employee. From a viewpoint much later in Le Carre’s career, one might wonder why he didn’t use Smiley as his investigator rather than the less than fully developed Turner, but this was a very enjoyable read.  The background to the novel is Britain’s desire to enter the Common Market in 1966. I read it during the week in which Britain voted to leave the EU. So much has changed in fifty years!

keynes_timeI then switched gears and read Nicholas Wapshott’s “Keynes Hayek: The Clash That Defined Modern Economics.”  This is a wonderfully readable book by an economically-trained journalist which manages to elucidate some highly technical material while spinning a vibrant narrative of the clash between the twentieth-century’s two major economic theorists, John Maynard Keynes and Friedrich Hayek. I learned a great deal and would encourage everyone who is interested in what makes modern political economy tick to give this book a try.


The month has ended with Len Deighton’s first novel, “Ipcress File” (1962). Another spy novel, but very different from the ones I had read earlier this month. Where Le Carre and Irving are very precise in their prose, Deighton is loose and vernacular. It is like reading Gonzo journalism after a diet of the New York Times. The piece is episodic and with a plot that is very hard to follow. In fact, the book ends with several pages explaining what went on. I was reminded of an English cosy crime novel where the amateur sleuth gathers all the suspects in the library and ticks off the clues one by one until the villain is left exposed.  The book is, however, an interesting time capsule of “hip” pre-Beatles London in the very early 1960s.



Image: Shadows on Wood

June 29, 2016

shadows on wood

Dinner Tonight

June 28, 2016


Tonight I made a well-spiced shrimp and chorizo paella.  It tasted even better than it looked.  We finished with a buttermilk panna cotta that I set up yesterday and topped with chopped peach.

Pretty darned fine!

Night Music: Benny and the Jets

June 28, 2016

Let Them Eat Versailles

June 28, 2016

Today is the anniversary of the signing of perhaps the most disastrous treaty in history — the Treaty of Versailles that formally ended the Great War and which inexorably and inevitably led to the Second World War.


The Treaty proved that financial greed, land grabs, and bitter vengeance were no basis for a lasting peace.

Image: Cans

June 27, 2016

cans I

Poem: Complaints Desk

June 27, 2016


She fumed

and fumed loud.


And as she

disabused me

of my place

in the human

race — given

my lineage

must be replete

with morons and

monkeys —

her otherwise neat

and clipped


was interlarded

with sailors’ slang

and potty talk,

and ended with

a red-faced



“Fair dinkum, gal,”

I replied,

smiling the smile

that’ll usually

sink ’em.


nothing.  I sighed

and completed

the refund

that would send

her away.


Thank God

I’m stoned

all day.


Celebrating Emma Goldman and the Wobblies

June 27, 2016


Today we celebrate the birthday of the inspiring anarchist Emma Goldman.

It is also the 111th anniversary of the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World which seems perfectly apt.



Bill Cunningham R.I.P.

June 26, 2016

The wonderfully individualistic fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died today at the age of 87. I will miss his constant presence in the NYT.  Here is the trailer to a grand documentary made about him a few years ago.  I saw the whole thing just a few months ago.

Night Music: I Fall To Pieces

June 26, 2016

The New Community Plan

June 26, 2016

I have now read through the full Grandview-Woodland Community Plan once and, in general, I find myself encouraged by much of what I read. It is certainly a significant improvement over the 2013 Emerging Directions draft.

While the devil is in the details — and that will take a closer read over the next few days — my position at this point is that many of the assumptions and directions underpinning the Plan seem to be fair and reasonable. Therefore, my analysis will start from a position of approval with just a number of edges needing to be improved, buffed and polished.

That being said, my main complaint throughout this excruciating four year business has been that the process was at fault: It was the complete lack of community discussion about land use that caused the public outcry against Emerging Directions; and the replacement process, the non-transparent and unrepresentative Citizens’ Assembly (CA) nonsense kept most community residents and activists at bay for a year, creating yet more division and upset and resentment.

This failure of process continues to this day. While the “experts” at City Planning needed (or at least took) a full year to analyse and decode what the CA and other discussions meant, the residents are now given just a few weeks and a couple of Open Houses (we remember how useful they are!) to make their own judgement of a final Plan that is almost 250 pages long.

The deliberate asymmetry of power continues.

Happy Birthday, Sam!

June 26, 2016


It is hard to believe that my youngest is now 40!  Happy birthday, son. Love you!

The Community Plan — Finally!

June 25, 2016

Vancouver Planning today released their draft Community Plan for Grandview after giving a full day’s briefing to the tiny minority of residents who previously formed the Citizens’ Assembly. The rest of us have to read it online and then go to a limited number of Open Houses over the next short.

I am just about to settle down and read it and I urge everyone else interested in the future of our neighbourhood to do the same.  It can be found at:

Image: Coming and Going

June 25, 2016


Night Music: Righteous Brothers

June 24, 2016

Brexit: The Morning After

June 24, 2016

The first results, from Newcastle and Sunderland, helped set the mood, with Leave doing better than anticipated. About eight hours later when I went to bed, it was all over and British democracy had spoken — the forty-plus year experiment of Britain in Europe was coming to an end.

The bankers hit the panic button, the pound tanked (taking the Canadian dollar with it), and — part two of my hopes and wishes — David Cameron resigned. It was a grand night.

I am willing to accept that the superficial logic behind the voters’ decision is deeply flawed. Most of Britain’s street-level economic woes are not caused by Europe; they are, rather, a function of the anti-person pro-austerity Tory policies of Cameron and Osborne following on from decades of Thatcherite and Blairite disasters. The vote will do nothing to stop the 150,000 non-EU and mostly non-white migrants that arrive in Britain every year. The vote will do nothing at all to protect the NHS from the ravages of Tory privatization and under-funding.

I am also willing to accept that many of the leaders of the Leave campaign are intellectual lightweights, Trump-like in their extravagant audacity, and some could even be described as evil (though Cameron and Osborne for Remain are equally bad).

But, I would argue, the deeper and most important reason for 17 million Brits to vote the way they did was to reassert local control regardless of the specific issues themselves. And for a radical decentralizer like me, this is an important movement in the right direction, and what makes last night such a glorious business.

So what next?

Cameron has already announced his resignation, which means the Conservatives will conduct another civil war within the party between the supporters of Boris Johnson and everyone else. If they mess that up as badly as they might, the Tories could quickly take themselves out of office.

The Labour Party still has to sort out its position on Jeremy Corbyn, especially as he too lost the referendum.

UKIP will no doubt hang around to be annoying during the exit negotiations. However, having achieved their only raison d’etre and without the intellectual heft to successfully pivot to another issue, I see them fading away, slowly folding themselves back into the Tory Party.

Scotland (and, I hope, Wales and Northern Ireland) will demand another independence referendum in an attempt to regain their position within Europe. My decentralising dream of there being four independent countries — England, Wales, Scotland, and a re-united Ireland — in place of Great Britain may actually come to fruition.

The Brits who this morning are bemoaning their fate will learn soon enough that Britain (or England) can stand on its own two feet and prosper. I suspect that we will see a renewal of Commonwealth-based trade ties, while the bankers will ensure that London retains its place as a major financial centre.

It is a new and exciting beginning.