July Books

July 28, 2016



I began this reading period with a failure. I had obtained “The Bourgeois Virtues“, the first part of an economic history trilogy by Deirdre N. McCloskey.  However, I realised quite quickly that I just could not handle 1,500 pages of densely argued apologia for bourgeois capitalism, written with an arrogant certainty of its ethical superiority. I threw in the towel at page 27.

Thankfully, my fall back was John Le Carre’s “The Naive and Sentimental Lover” (1971). This is his only non-genre novel and a superb piece of storytelling. According to a brief note in Wikipedia, this tells the fictionalised story of Le Carre’s relationship with another writer and his wife during Le Carre’s divorce from his own wife. It is about double the page count of his earlier novels, and covers a lot of ground that was familiar to me from my own knowledge of London and the West Country of my youth. This is not straightforward narrative, playing with time and location, and with elements, I thought, of magic realism. It engaged me on several levels and I found it a marvelous read.

I then moved on to “Sudden Death” (2013) by Alvaro Enrigue, which I covered in more detail in an earlier post.

Len DeightonNext up was Len Deighton’s second novel, “Horse Under Water” (1963).  This is much more tightly written and plotted than his first, but full of stereotypical characters. However, our working class hero has become a more James Bond-like figure who argues with Cabinet Ministers, harangues Ambassadors, orders NATO staff to launch jets, and gets the girl(s). It is still full of excellent local detail (both about London and, in this case, southern Portugal), especially about food.  One interesting point is that, written in 1963, it has a very different view of “the drug problem” than we see today. Cocaine is not considered a Western problem at all, and cannabis comes from Morocco and the Middle East — South America is not even mentioned. The big problem as Deighton sees it at that date is heroin. However, he does have a major character state that marijuana will be made legal and taxable “in five years” — say the late 1960s. Perceptive, but about 45 years in advance of reality.

And now for something completely different: “Vancouver Is Ashes: The Great Fire of 1886” by Lisa Anne Smith (2014). Ms. Smith has scoured the contemporary accounts, and Major Matthews’ detailed interviews, to create what is essentially an eye-witness account of the fire that destroyed Vancouver. The use of direct quotes and small anecdotes produces a lively narrative, which the author expands judiciously.   Well worth the quick read.

Back to Le Carre, this time for “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”.  This is an odd one. It is Le Carre in full control, as Smiley is obliged to re-imagine the recent past of the Department in order to track down a high-placed Russian mole. It is odd because I read this already knowing their are two more in the Karla trilogy, and thus the ambiguities remain at the end of this volume. It is also odd because it is in this volume that the author rewrites the bios of several important characters, including Smiley himself from what they have been in earlier books. Most emphatically, Smiley’s marriage to Ann — which we learn from each of the previous books lasted just two years  before she ran off with an Argentinian race driver — has unfortunately survived all the years, and they live in a brutally unsatisfactory relationship.While recognising how well it is put together, I did not find this as engrossing as earlier stories.

And I finished the month off with Robert Galbraith’s third outing “Career of Evil“. I did a brief review on the first two Cormoran Strike novels some while ago.  This is J.K. Rowling in her detective fiction role, and damn good she is at it too. She has interesting plots, with multiple sub-plots about personal; relationships, and a clear ear for the interior monologues that describe motive and reasoning. I like the Galbraith style and I look forward to the next.

The VPL loan system (a community treasure) has caught up with me and I start August with five books on my desk, and more expected next week. Looks like another busy reading month ahead!



Night Music: Molly

July 28, 2016

I grew to like the track through liking the beautifully made movie.

Now We Wait and Worry Some More

July 28, 2016

This afternoon, Vancouver City Council approved the Grandview Woodland Community Plan by the not-surprising vote of 10-1 with only Councillor Adriane Carr voting against.

However, not content with the Planning Department’s four years of work, Councillor Reimer had produced a long list of substantive amendments to the Plan that she had conjured together over night. Those amendments — which included allowing the full 12 stories for the Boffo Tower — were approved by majority and so it was this amended Plan that was finally bulldozed through Council.

Councillor Geoff Meggs made it clear he was disappointed in the level of density Grandview would accept under the Plan, and he suggested that we were not carrying our weight. I am certain he will be looking for spot rezoning applications he can help push through against the word and spirit of the Plan, especially around the south end of Commercial.  I am sure most of his Vision brethren will be right behind him.


  • Boffo doesn’t need any genuine public hearings for a rezoning now and I expect them to move swiftly, looking for permission to start digging that big hole every tower needs;
  • how quickly will we see applications along Hastings between Clark and Nanaimo?
  • how quickly will Broadway & Commercial change?  Will tower plans await the subway decision?
  • will the renoviction rate accelerate as rapidly as tenants’ advocates fear with new height allowances?
  • What effect will all this have on the debilitating business and residential rent increases currently afflicting the Drive?
  • Are the folks managing the Britannia Renewal project as upset as they should be that the City has decreed there will be housing on Britannia? And will this Community Plan override any Renewal Plan produced in the future?

An awful lot of intelligent people put an awful lot of effort into trying to help the Community understand what the Plan might meet for them and their quality of life. Outside the strictly-limited boundaries of the Planning process there was an intense debate about height, density, social justice. A great many people got very interested and then got very frustrated by the process that was deliberately closed down, first by the faux “Citizens’ Assembly” and then the year long wait while Planning decided how to spin the Assembly’s requests, refusing to talk with or meet with the neighbourhood during that time.

That being said, I am sadly aware that most people in Grandview will leave their residences tomorrow to head to work or school or recreation and not give a moment’s thought. They might read a report on the hearing in the Metro while they commute, and then turn to the sports pages. In the months ahead they will get cranky about all the building fences blocking sidewalks and smaller streets, but it will be a generalised annoyance only.  Only when the towers are completed at both ends of the Drive will they wonder what was there before.

How do we get to those masses of people and make then understand that they should have some say in the future of their own neighbourhood; and that by having a say they can and will change plans for the better?

The NO TOWER Coalition did a wonderful job with their weekly information tables in Grandview Park. They actually talked with thousands upon thousands of residents and visitors, more than three thousand of whom agreed to sign the petition against the Boffo Tower.  They also did a really good job with getting the signs out and about throughout the community.

But that wasn’t enough to engage the active interest of the mass of the middle class, Vision’s heartland. Vision’s constant polling (they are the only full time party in Vancouver) lets them know if they are in trouble in places, like Grandview, where they need to be strong to maintain a majority in the at-large Council chamber. In this case, they felt confident enough to tear down four years of work by their Planning Department with amendments apparently rushed together overnight. While this hardly compares with the pages and pages of hastily-scribbled last-moment amendments that formed part of the DTES Plan, it shows a constant need for Vision to intrude their ideology onto the technical work of the Planners.

I have written several times before about the assymetric power relationship in which a pick-up team of unpaid untrained and unprofessional(ly qualifed) volunteers goes head to head with a well-funded developer, a plethora of expensive PR agents, compliant mainstream media, and as often as not, the power of the incumbent Council regime. This can only be solved by structural changes to the system and it must include a return to the third-party appeals process that we lost a decade or so ago. I also believe that a ward system is key to most of the needed changes.

However, that is all for the next generation of activists to figure out.