What Slums Can Teach Us

April 30, 2021

In Prospect Magazine Online, there was an insightful article about how modern urban planners are learning concepts and specific ideas from the squatter slums of India, Brazil and elsewhere.  This is the latest incarnation of the new urbanism that emerged in the 1970s.  This was originally written in 2010.  I wonder what changes covid-19 will bring to this scenario:

One billion people live in these cities and, according to the UN, this number will double in the next 25 years. There are thousands of them and their mainly young populations test out new ideas unfettered by law or tradition. Alleyways in squatter cities, for example, are a dense interplay of retail and services—one-chair barbershops and three-seat bars interspersed with the clothes racks and fruit tables. One proposal is to use these as a model for shopping areas. “Allow the informal sector to take over downtown areas after 6pm,” suggests Jaime Lerner, the former mayor of Curitiba, Brazil. “That will inject life into the city” …

The book’s optimism derived from its groundbreaking fieldwork: 37 case studies in slums worldwide. Instead of just compiling numbers and filtering them through theory, researchers hung out in the slums and talked to people. They came back with an unexpected observation: “Cities are so much more successful in promoting new forms of income generation, and it is so much cheaper to provide services in urban areas, that some experts have actually suggested that the only realistic poverty reduction strategy is to get as many people as possible to move to the city.” The magic of squatter cities is that they are improved steadily and gradually by their residents. To a planner’s eye, these cities look chaotic. I trained as a biologist and to my eye, they look organic. Squatter cities are also unexpectedly green. They have maximum density—1m people per square mile in some areas of Mumbai—and have minimum energy and material use. People get around by foot, bicycle, rickshaw, or the universal shared taxi.

The article concludes with the following sobering thoughts:

And just as this was true during the industrial revolution, so the take-off of cities will be the dominant economic event of the first half of this century too. It will involve huge infrastructural stresses on energy and food supply. Vast numbers of people will begin climbing the energy ladder from smoky firewood and dung cooking fires to diesel-driven generators for charging batteries, then to 24/7 grid electricity. They are also climbing the food ladder, from subsistence farms to cash crops of staples like rice, corn, wheat and soy to meat—and doing so in a global marketplace. Environmentalists who try to talk people out of it will find the effort works about as well as trying to convince them to stay in their villages. Peasant life is over, unless catastrophic climate change drives us back to it. For humanity, the green city is our future.

Well worth the read.

Night Music: Riders On The Storm

April 30, 2021

Snacks Tonight #40

April 29, 2021

Chef John’s Rhubarb & Strawberry Custard Pie. Wonderful!

Image: Bold Colour #1

April 29, 2021

Food Photographer of the Year 2021

April 28, 2021

The Guardian has an excellent spread on winners in the 2021 Pink Lady Food Photographer of the Year contest. The overall winner, and one of my favourites, was:

Photographer: Li Huaifeng

I also liked:

Breakfast at Weekly Market by Thong Nguyen
Making Rice Noodles by Abdul Momin

Keeping Banks Safe For Our Money

April 27, 2021

As anyone who has read the papers or seen the news in the last few years knows, banks around the world have broken numerous serious laws, have had to be bailed out with taxpayers money, and yet still pay millions of dollars to inept executives and billions more to stockholders. Many of their problems involve their connection to complex financial transactions that do nothing but make money for already-rich individuals. There has to be a better way, and there is.  The economic melydown created by the covid-19 crisis seems a perfect time to reorganize the sector.

I would oblige all banks to become credit unions and I would strictly limit their functionality.

Credit unions are not-for-profit institutions cooperatively owned by their members. They operate solely for the benefit of their members rather than for outside shareholders, of whom there would be none.  Their senior management is elected by the members and their policies are offered up for approval at regular meetings of the membership. Senior management remuneration would require members’ approval. The billions of dollars that are currently paid out in dividends to outsiders would be used to increase services and lower costs for the members. Any surplus could be re-paid to the members or added to the credit union’s capital.

I would limit their functionality to the taking, managing and disbursement of members’ deposits, and to the issuance of personal loans (including credit cards) and personal mortgages.  Any member or corporation that required business loans, corporate mortgages, investments or insurance would turn to investment companies, mortgage brokers and insurance companies designed specifically for that function.

No one would be limited in their desire to engage in stock market or other investments.  But these would be handled entirely by companies separate from banks.   No longer would bank depositors’ cash be at risk in the marketplace for derivatives, for example.

Competition between credit unions, if such were needed, would become a function of service and accessibility.  I believe this would get us more branches on the streets and a more personalized service between member and bank.  It would bring banking back to the people, to a smaller scale that we can understand and control — after all, it is our money they are using.


GWAC : May Meeting

April 27, 2021

Image: Tulips and Vase

April 27, 2021

This Anarchist’s View of The Vaccination Controversy

April 26, 2021

I wrote this in 2015 when there as a measles outbreak and the last anti-vax movement.  As I read today, in the context of covid-19, of schools in Florida refusing to allow vaccinated teachers to be close to kids, as I read today of some Vancouver business people hallucinating on QAnon anti-vax nonsense, I thought it would be worthwhile to read what I had written then.

*  *  *  *  *

Much of the western world appears to be suffering from a recurrence of measles, a disease that many of us had thought to have been essentially eradicated. It is a simple and undeniable fact that 99% of cases of measles can be avoided through the use of vaccination. However, some people see the potential dangers of that vaccination as worse than the disease itself; and that has created a major controversy, especially among those who are involved with public education.

I have followed this issue closely in the media and have, indeed, indulged in some conversations on Twitter about whether parents should be forced to vaccinate their children regardless of their own views. People that I usually trust have been strong advocates on both sides of the issue.  This is my point of view.

As an anarchist, I cannot possibly support the idea that parents should be forced, by law, to vaccinate their children, against measles or any other disease. To support such an idea would be a complete negation of my core beliefs regarding personal freedom. That being said, the anarchism to which I aspire is not a life without rules, it is a life wherein one makes a free choice whether or not to be a member of certain groups which have their own rules. In this case, I believe that schools, community centres, libraries etc can make rules, if their members so choose, that bar unvaccinated children from their premises and their services.

The perfectly reasonable price of personal freedom of choice is the acceptance of the consequences of such choice.

In the case of measles, my suggestion is far from radical; many school boards across the country already bar unvaccinated children. Unfortunately, we have not taken that step in Vancouver. Here, we are left in the ridiculous situation where I cannot give my school-bound child a peanut butter sandwich for lunch (on the off-chance that some other kid might be allergic) but I am forced to accept that some other kid may give mine a deadly disease. That is truly bizarre.

Night Music: Gentle On My Mind

April 26, 2021

Poem: Southern Comfort

April 26, 2021


It was a slam bam thank you ma’am kind of night.

“It’s alright,” she said with a slight frisson of uncertainty perhaps

as she unwraps and taps the money-box on the dresser.

He pays to caress her, to possess her as she bumps and grinds

and too quickly finds the kind of passion paid for.

He wants more before he’ll leave: sixteen and still hard.

But she’s on guard, body barred against free love.

Push came to shove.  Above his pleas she screamed and screamed

until the apartment teemed with neighbours and passers-by

who wondered why this nigger came by and by to be in a white girl’s room.


It’s a warm, hormone-rushing, mosquito-swarming kind of night.

Fox-fire bright, passions tightly wound and sprung.

No brass bells are rung, no masses sung, but masses gather to enjoy

the black boy toy with the last of his time on a slippery slope

as the hempen rope grips and gropes for his hopeless neck.


Peyote’s Brilliant Visions

April 25, 2021

The last time I used magic mushrooms was more than forty years ago.  In the spring of 1980 I was deeply depressed having disastrously screwed up a wonderful love affair; the mushrooms grabbed my depression and acted like an iron anchor tied to a drowning man. I remember spending an entire long weekend hiding under the covers of my bed, unable to move and scared to emerge. When I got straight, I didn’t want to repeat that depth of despair and so I never used them again.

However, I had had good times with them before then and, re-reading a marvelous piece in The Public Domain Review called Brilliant Visions: Peyote Among the Aesthetes, I was reminded of those better days.

The extract looks at the discovery of peyote by Havelock Ellis and his band of friends, including W.B. Yeats and Arthur Symoms, at the very end of the nineteenth century. In those days, peyote buttons could be obtained from a particular pharmacist in London and Ellis purchased a few and decided to make some notes on their effect:

“Having acquired his sample, Ellis proceeded to make a liquid decoction of three buttons which he drank slowly in Symons’ apartment over two hours. He began to feel faint, his pulse weakened, and he lay down to read … [H]e first noticed the visual effects as they impinged on the note-taking process: ‘a pale violet shadow floated over the page around the point at which my eyes were fixed’. As evening closed in he was gradually enveloped by … ‘a vast field of golden jewels, studded with red and green stones, ever changing.’ From this point on ‘the visions continued with undiminished brilliance for many hours’.

In an article published in the following year called Mescal: A New Artificial Paradise, he expanded on these effects.  “Every part of the colour spectrum competed in his visions, he wrote, and yet

“there was always a certain parsimony and aesthetic value” in their combinations. He was “further impressed, not only by the brilliance, delicacy, and variety of the colours, but even more by their lovely and various textures — fibrous, woven, polished, glowing, dull, veined, semi-transparent”. He compared the patterns that formed and dissolved to the “Maori style of architecture” and “the delicate architectural effects as of lace carved in wood, which we associated with the moucrabieh work of Cairo”. They were “living arabesques”, constantly in flux yet with “a certain incomplete tendency to symmetry …

When Ellis became exhausted by the visions in darkness, he turned on the gas light. The shadows that leapt to life reminded him of the “visual hyperaesthesia” of Claude Monet’s paintings.”

Grainstack in the Sunlight, Claude Monet

“The critic and philosopher Walter Benjamin, who would himself take mescaline in a clinical trial in 1934, wrote that the nineteenth century “subjected the human sensorium to a complex kind of training.” Visual illusions — from kaleidoscopes to magic lanterns to photography — made the transit from dazzling novelties to staples of mass culture. Magicians, mediums, and psychic investigators all probed the limits of the real, blurring the line between optical trickery, the subconscious mind, and the spirit world. At the moment when Ellis made his experiment, the world was being exposed for the first time to X-ray images and the cinematograph. “Visual hyperaesthesia” was a symptom not only of peyote but of the culture in which he was consuming it, and to which Monet and the impressionists were responding …

The brilliance of electricity was a recurring metaphor for peyote’s scintillating visions: the very first subject in the initial scientific trials in the United States in 1895 had compared them to the dazzling electric illuminations he had witnessed at the Chicago World’s Fair two years previously. But it was a literal stimulus too. It seemed that nothing delighted the eye of the modern mescal eater so much as the new electrical sublime. They arrived together as avatars of a future world of visual spectacle, equal parts scientific discovery and aesthetic delight.”

This is a fascinating article, full of insights and well worth the read.

Image: Bird’s Breakfast #1

April 25, 2021

Night Music: Can’t Find My Way Home

April 24, 2021

The 106 Years of Musa Dagh

April 24, 2021

Sometime in the mid-1960s, I read a novel by Franz Werfel called Forty Days of Musa Dagh. It told how a number of Armenian villages refused to be exterminated by the Ottoman Empire without a fight in 1915. I have no Armenian or Turkish background, but it was such a stirring story of heroic resistance against a racist holocaust that the memory of their struggle stayed as a bright light in my consciousness.

Over the years, on occasion, a politician or two has bruited the idea of declaring the Turkish actions as genocide and I have cheered them on. Now, finally, with Joe Biden we have a US President who is willing to stand up and say it.

There is no doubt that the current Turkish regime will shout and complain about this “insult” to a fellow NATO member. But frankly, the Erdogan regime, a semi-fascist state already, doesn’t deserve to be in NATO and is quite happy to commit another genocide against its own Kurdish people in a continuation of its bigoted behaviour. Perhaps if we properly remember the slaughter of the Armenians we might have some chance of stopping such atrocities in the future.

In Memoriam To the Martyred Victims

April 24, 2021

On this day in 1916, the flag of Irish rebellion against the English crown was raised in Dublin in what has become known as the Easter Rising (Éirí Amach na Cásca).

485 people died in the next few days, more than 60% of whom were civilians killed mostly by British bullets and bombardments. All should be remembered.

Over the following weeks, the British murdered/executed a number of Irish leaders and patriots:

  • Roger Casement
  • Éamonn Ceannt
  • Thomas James Clarke
  • Con Colbert
  • James Connolly
  • Edward Daly
  • Seán Heuston
  • Thomas Kent
  • John MacBride
  • Seán MacDiarmada
  • Thomas MacDonagh
  • Michael Mallin
  • Michael O’Hanrahan
  • Patrick Pearse
  • William Pearse
  • Joseph Mary Plunkett

Their sacrifice was not in vain, and most of Ireland is now a free republic.  When Ulster (Britain’s second oldest colony after Wales) is freed from bondage, their work will be complete.

Sam Sifton Meet James Barber

April 23, 2021

Sam Sifton holds a very high place in the kitchens of the world. He is the brain behind the very popular New York Times Cooking site. His current passion is for what he calls “no recipe” recipes, which do away with exact measurements (Fanny Farmer is screaming “No!”) and fetishizes improvisation. I haven’t read his new book, but I have read Laura Shapiro’s review in the Atlantic and she calls Sifton’s ideas “an exciting, but daunting, invitation to improvise.”

“Conventional recipes that spell out each step are useful, he says, and if you follow them correctly, you’ll arrive at the destination planned for you. But that’s not the only way to get dinner on the table, and here he evokes the great jazz masters who wouldn’t dream of relying on a printed score. Each “no-recipe recipe,” Sifton explains, is “an invitation for you to improvise,” a skill that will turn you into an imaginative, stress-free cook able to wing it through the preparation of any meal.”

She does rather make it sound as if Sifton is onto something new. But …

When I came to Canada in 1978 at the age of 29, I was certainly able to cook for myself; however, boring, predictable, and safe is how I would describe my culinary arts at that time. Back then, before there were entire channels running food shows 24/7, there were a few cooking shows on TV; and the one I was attracted to was James Barber’s Urban Peasant series. It was that show that turned me into a passably good cook.

Barber’s whole method, it seems to me, was based on use what ingredients you have, improvise methods if needed, and make it as simply as possible. Having grasped those basics, I was then able to grab ideas from all over and make some really interesting meals without worrying about dotting i’s and crossing t’s. I’ve been doing that now for forty odd years.

James Barber was a Vancouver original. Sam Sifton should try some of his recipes.

Image: Gai Lan Emergent

April 23, 2021

Night Music: La La Means I love You

April 22, 2021

Image: Na Pali Coast

April 21, 2021