Fifty-five years ago this week, a Vietnamese nun poured gasoline and set fire to herself in Hue. Twenty-five years ago today, Timothy Leary died in his sleep.
After all these years, I honestly don’t know whether Dr. Leary’s work helped us understand why the monk’s death was important to us, or whether he helped mask us from the true meaning by taking us elsewhere. Many saw no conflict in actively protesting and actively tripping. In fact, many claimed then that the “enlightenment” received through herbal and chemical stimulation was an important component of our political activism. These days, I wonder more often whether we were just bullshitting ourselves and simply following the pleasure principle.
In the end, of course, both the revered Buddhist martyr and the revered western materialist trod the same path into being and nothingness.
was it the jitterbug perfume
she poured on my soul
— the fragrance of an everlasting kiss —
that keeps me staring
into the dark?
my neglected work
— lying angry like an abandoned maiden
scattered across my desk —
shivers with jealousy
as I part the curtains once more
and stare into that scented slice
Today is the 68th anniversary of the first successful climbing of Mount Everest by Tenzing Norgay and Edmund Hillary. News of the success arrived in England the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation and I remember my father, who was very excited by the news, telling me all about it. For years thereafter Edmund Hillary was the greatest hero of my young imagination.
I have one or two memories about my brother and me that pre-date May 1953, but Hillary on Everest is the earliest I can recall anything outside the family. I know from photographs that there were massive street parties I attended to celebrate the new Queen: I remember none of that. But Hillary on Everest has stuck with me all these years.
The picture is of Tensing Norgay taken by Hillary. There are no pictures of Hillary on the summit because Tensing didn’t know how to work the camera and, as Hillary said, the summit of Everest was no place to start teaching him!
The long-lost and much lamented Sandy Denny. Gosh, we were young then.
After an evening of speakers last night, and an afternoon of debate and amendments this afternoon, Vancouver City Council passed the BIA-sponsored motion entitled “Prioritizing Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First High Street.”
Rather than me try to summarize, the original Motion can be found at Motion – Prioritizing Commercial Drive as a Pedestrian-First High Street – May 18, 2021 (vancouver.ca) The final Motion approved was slightly different (the exact wording probably won’t be available to me for a few days) but the essentials are the same.
This is a plan that — through the midwifery of Councilors Fry and DeGenova — comes fully formed from the Commercial Drive Business Society (the BIA) without any consultation with groups such as GWAC, Britannia, or any others except the Italian Cultural Centre, and it must be viewed in that context: It is designed to meet the BIA Board’s view of what businesses want, and to meet certain of their specific goals.
That being said, in my opinion it has some really good things in it; policies I support and have encouraged for years — a pedestrians-first agenda, slow streets, sidewalk widening and improvements, a better matching of the southern half of the Drive with the northern half.
It also includes some things — such as “maintaining and improving” parking on the Drive — that give me serious pause.
More generally, I have some concerns that the further gentrification of the Drive — and let us make no mistake, that is what this will be — could have significant and negative effects on the poor, troubled, and often homeless folks who live and spend their time in and around the Drive. Councilor Swanson voted against major parts of this Motion for the same reason.
But the Motion passed, so what does it actually mean? Very little in my opinion. There is no budget at Planning or Engineering for any work on the plan to move ahead: that was made very clear during the Council debate. An amendment to the Motion seeks funding in a future capital plan, but that can only be considered as wishful thinking at this point. I assume that lack of funding will also prohibit the kind of extensive consultations that are suggested by the Motion. So, we stay the way we are.
And that, believe it or not, meets one of the BIA’s most important goals — to defeat or substantially delay any plan to put a segregated bike lane anywhere on the Drive (as suggested, for example, in the Climate Emergency Action Plan approved recently by Council). Some might say that was the major goal of the exercise from the beginning. As was to be expected, Councilor Boyle made a number of amendments to get a bike lane included, but each was voted down, to the relief of the Motion’s sponsors. I have no dog in that particular fight.
I am hoping that the BIA will take this opportunity of a public debate to widen their engagement with groups and individuals in the neighbourhood. They fight hard to protect the parking that they believe encourages visitors from other neighbourhoods to come to the Drive. They need to fight just as hard to include the residents of Grandview in their plans. It is we, after all, who, day in and day out, provide most of the revenue to their businesses and make the Drive the lively and wonderful place it is.
As regular readers will know, I have been deeply disappointed by most of the current bunch of Vancouver City councillors. They have approved pro-development stuff that even Vision would have been leery of supporting, and they have done nothing to improve community engagement. In fact, quite the opposite.
However, this week, they were faced with a Motion sponsored by OneCity’s Christine Boyle — to allow 12 storey buildings with 70% of all units at market rents almost anywhere in the City without any public consultation — that was so egregiously anti-democratic and anti-community that all but a few of them finally had to call a halt.
After about 100 speakers came and almost unanimously hated this misbegotten Motion, a large majority of the Councillors recognized the way the wind was blowing and crushed the Motion 7-3. Only Boyle herself, the Mayor (who only came into the meeting to vote, having avoided listening to the chorus of opposition), and Jean Swanson (who failed to see the bait-and-switch that was being proposed) gave it support.
I listened to virtually all the speakers and I did not hear one person complain about building more social housing. But I did hear scores complain about the anti-democratic spirit behind the Motion and the fact that under the City’s definition, 100% of the units built under the scheme — even those with market rentals and above — would be called social housing.
It is interesting to note that Green Councillor Michael Wiebe recused himself from the discussion under conflict-of-interest guidelines because he had received a legal opinion that, as a direct result of the increased land values that would be caused by this Motion, his condo building would significantly increase in value.
It is good that the Motion was struck down, but Boyle could not leave it there. Today, on Twitter, she claimed that Council had voted “against more co-op and non-profit homes.” This a big lie equal in fakeness to almost anything Donald Trump might have said. Council voted down a Motion that was badly drafted, that would not have achieved what she claimed, that would have further destroyed trust in Council’s willingness to listen to the people, and would have wreaked further destruction on Vancouver’s affordability.
I congratulate the majority of City Council for seeing through Boyle’s vacuous proposal. Now, hopefully, we can move on to more serious consideration of how to deal with the lack of affordable housing in this City.
To celebrate the wonderful Douglas Adams, May 25th is celebrated as towel day because, as he wrote, a towel is the most important item an interstellar traveler can take with them.
we drifted back
through the apartment,
retracing our twin trails
of panties and socks
sweaters and jeans
boots and belts
until we were
as we were
Happy 80th birthday to the one and only Bob Dylan.
In two days, it will be fifty-five years since I went to the Albert Hall in London to see Bob Dylan. There were walk outs and cat calls in the second half as Dylan went electric accompanied by the earliest iteration of The Band (most of whom were from The Hawks).
I have a memory-sense that I enjoyed both halves of the show just as well, though the second half, the electric half, was still unexpected even though one knew it was going to happen.
The Centre for the History of Retailing and Distribution has a fascinating short piece today on the history of vending machines. It focuses on Nathaniel Leverone and his Automatic Canteen Company:
“Importantly, Leverone utilised a new space for vending machines: factories. The Canteen sales pitch involved two steps: first, convince managers that workers needed a snack between meals. Leverone argued that “candy, which had previously been considered as a treat for children, actually constituted a food which was the source of quick energy for hardworking factory employees.”
It was an interesting article by itself, but it reminded me of something I wrote more than a decade ago about an automatic pizza making vending machine. So far as I can tell, his machine is still going.