The NPA Soap Opera Continues

April 7, 2021

Since I wrote my first thoughts back in January, we have had a few more months to see how the ground is being set up for the 2022 election. And, for the NPA in particular, these months have been eventful.

Discontent between the NPA Board and the elected NPA Councilors continued to bubble away, with the Twitterverse happy to replay over and over the hard-right credentials of the Board in contrast to the more liberal caucus. The Board seems to have decided to ignore any thought of an AGM for the party, and the preservation of their clique on the Board appears to be the sole factor in that decision. More dirty linen and a thick libertarian streak was exposed when a member of the NPA Board (or only very recently departed from the Board) chose to publicly and loudly refuse to operate his restaurant in line with medical regulations.

And then, yesterday, out of the blue it seems, the NPA Board announced that John Coupar had been selected to run as the 2022 NPA Mayoral candidate. No AGM, no transparent nominations, just a backroom deal done by a bunch of far right white guys.

I happen to have pressed for a decade or more for parties to announce their candidates early rather than leaving it to the last minute when people don’t have time to properly examine the candidates. I also happen to like John as a person; he and I have had a friendly if distant acquaintance even though our politics are miles apart. But…

This was an undemocratic coup. The Board was well aware that there were other candidates in the wings. But they didn’t care. This was a Situationist spectacle, designed to distract attention from the Board members’ backgrounds, to shut down debate before it could begin and specifically to exclude effective women who wanted their say in how their party and city is run.

Three of the four NPA Councilors issued a statement:

Not as strong as I would have liked to see. They were followed today by Clr. DeGenova who was even less satisfactory:

George Affleck, veteran NPA guy, wrote that:

With their decision, Coupar and the board have both ostracized and outed his caucus naysayers, which makes it easier not to have them as part of the NPA team in 2022, and made it clear to failed candidates like Ken Sim that this time the NPA is not messing around. Coupar’s sending a message that he should be the only centre-right candidate to focus on in order to beat the current leftist mayor, Kennedy Stewart.

Ken Sim seems to have deep-pocketed friends and I am not sure that this kind of bravado will scare him off. I suspect that the Board is counting on both Sim and the caucus failing to put together viable non-NPA tickets and organizations by 2022.

We look forward to the next thrilling instalment!


The Rise and Fall of Blockbuster

April 7, 2021

For boomers like me, Blockbusters was one of those phenomena that bursts onto the scene, appears to be ubiquitous and unstoppable, and then quickly fades like a winter’s twilight.

From a single store in Dallas, TX, in 1986, Blockbuster exploded across the continent until in October 2004 they had more than 5,700 stores in the US alone. They were the Starbucks of their age. But it all fell apart quite suddenly — what with Netflix and other streaming services and much improved internet coverage and speed — until, today, there is just one Blockbuster store left, in Bend, OR.

This map shows how the rise and fall of Blockbuster mirrors a supernova, flashing into view and then fading to nothing.


GWAC Meeting on Britannia Housing

April 6, 2021

The Epicurean Life

April 5, 2021

Something I was reading recently reminded me of my 2013 review of “The Swerve: How The World Became Modern” by Stephen Greenblatt, the John Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard.  I think it bears repeating.

The Swerve” tells the story of the re-discovery in 1417 of a long poem in Latin by Lucretius called “On The Nature of Things” which, the author claims, led to a flowering of the humanist movement, to a modern scientific view of reality, and to the disintegration of (or at least a serious challenge to) the accepted world view of the Catholic Church.  Enormous claims, and the author does a fine job of defending them.

Lucretius’ poem is a discourse on the philosophy promulgated by Epicurus (341-270 BCE), that life should be led without any fear of death, that the pursuit of personal well-being should be the prime motivator of one’s existence, and that all life and all things are composed of “atoms” that collide and coalesce and then disaggregate once again upon death.

Epicurus

The Epicurean belief that there is no creation, the universe is eternal, that death is the final end, that there is no afterlife would prove to be a major challenge for the Church, a challenge they met with both cruelty and disdain.  It is from their deliberate twisting of these teachings that most people today consider Epicureanism to be a form of gluttony and greed and little more.

The first half of the book gives an excellent background to the Europe of the late medieval period, discusses the growth of humanism through the re-discovery of Latin and Greek texts, and follows the life of Poggio Bracciolini, a Papal secretary who found, copied and circulated a manuscript of Lucretius’ De rerum natura.

The second half describes the Epicureanism of Lucretius in some detail and it is worth noting the major points:

  • Everything is made of invisible particles that are eternal, infinite in number and are in motion in an infinite void
  • Nature ceaselessly experiments
  • The universe was not created for or about humans
  • Humans are not unique
  • The soul dies; there is no afterlife; there are no angels, demons or ghosts
  • All organized religions are superstitious delusions, and are invariably cruel
  • The highest goal of human life is the enhancement of pleasure and the reduction of pain
  • The greatest obstacle to pleasure is not pain; it is delusion
  • Understanding the nature of things generates deep wonder

The book then travels forward through history to show the extent of the poem’s influence.   Early humanists, such as Giordana Bruno, were burnt at the stake for preaching its beliefs.  Thomas More wrote Utopia as a direct attack on Lucretian Epicureanism, while Lucretius was the direct inspiration of Botticelli’s Primavera.  Montaigne’s Essays are infused with epicureanism, and Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a materialist masterpiece, even mentioning “little atomi” in its description of Queen Mab. Gallileo was clearly influenced by the poem,and the Puritan Lucy Hutchinson wrote an early English translation.

Perhaps the most famous political influence was in the work of Thomas Jefferson, a self-confessed Epicurean, who added “…the pursuit of happiness” as one of the three inalienable rights of all people.

This was a fascinating read.


Reason #237 NOT to Use Facebook

April 5, 2021

After the Capitol insurrection of January 6th this year, Facebook announced that it was suspending all political donations for at least a quarter while “we review our policies.”

But Popular Information has learned that just 44 days later, Facebook donated $50,000 to the Republican State Leadership Committee (the RSLC):

“In addition to supporting the election of legislators that are pushing measures to restrict voting, the RSLC is directly encouraging state officials to make voting more difficult. The group supported a version of the Georgia voting legislation that was even harsher than the measure that ultimately became law. The RSLC supported ending no-excuse absentee voting in Georgia and completely banning drop boxes …

Facebook also suggested its pledge suspending political donations for 90 days only applied to the Facebook PAC and not to direct corporate contributions, which is how it sent $50,000 to the RSLC. But Facebook did not explain why, if it believed as an organization that political contributions should be suspended for 90 days, political contributions from its corporate funds were any different than political contributions from its PAC. “

See other reasons not to use Facebook.


I’m Saved!

April 4, 2021

Got my first vaccination dose this afternoon! It was at the Italian Cultural Centre and it was a highly efficient process.

I waited no more than five minutes to be called in after I arrived, and registration took a couple of minutes. Sent immediately to a table where an attendant waited, the jab was done painlessly and without any fuss. As instructed, I waited fifteen minutes to make sure there were no bad reactions, and then I was home free.

Even the HandiDarts, there and back, were exactly on time.

Whoopppeeee!


Phony Familiarity

March 30, 2021

My name is Jak King. I have a middle name, Roberts, named after my grandfather who was in turn named after a Boer War general. Neither I nor anyone who knows me would call me “Jak Roberts”. The only time I ever use my middle name is when filling out government forms.

So, when I got today in the mail a survey from the BC NDP, which calls me “Jak Roberts” on four separate occasions, I know perfectly well where the party is scrubbing the data from.

They want to make it seem as if we are chums and partners — “Jak Roberts, we’re in this together” — but in fact they are just proving they have no idea who they are talking with even as they ask me for a donation.

I filled out their survey; I doubt they’ll be splashing my answers across the 6 o’clock news.


Snacks Tonight #38

March 29, 2021

A sinfully simple panna cotta with almond and chocolate topping. Mmmmm mmmm.


Wither Religion?

March 29, 2021

In 2020, the number of Americans claiming to be a member of an organized church fell below 50% for the first time in eight decades of surveys according to Gallup.

As can be seen from the graph, religious membership is falling off a cliff in an accelerated curve.

“Church membership is strongly correlated with age, as 66% of traditionalists — U.S. adults born before 1946 — belong to a church, compared with 58% of baby boomers, 50% of those in Generation X and 36% of millennials. The limited data Gallup has on church membership among the portion of Generation Z that has reached adulthood are so far showing church membership rates similar to those for millennials.

The decline in church membership, then, appears largely tied to population change, with those in older generations who were likely to be church members being replaced in the U.S. adult population with people in younger generations who are less likely to belong.”

At some point soon, this trend will force us to face the issue of “churches” serving less than half the population and declining rapidly, as non-taxpaying entities. They should be obliged to turn themselves into legitimate businesses, with all the rights and responsibilities of any other corporate organization. They could organize themselves into NGOs or co-ops or for-profit groups; whatever they felt best.


Rear Window

March 27, 2021

This is the view from my desk through the window that faces out onto the back lane and the entrance to our parking garage:

It seems like a boring view, and I guess it is. Obviously I can see anyone or anything coming in and out of the garage; but more interesting to me is that I get to see (parts of) the dozens of binners who come by each day.

The bins for the neighbouring building are just to the left of the garage door, hidden by the roof. Our bins are to the right of the door and closer to the wall. The binners walk and ride between the two sets of bins and all I can see of them are their legs and whatever bag or cart they are using (their upper bodies again hidden by the garage door roof).

Over the months, I have come to recognize many of the binners by what they wear on their feet and what they are carrying. I now notice when one or more don’t come by, and I am intrigued when I see a new set of feet.

Of such small pleasures is our covid-life made.


Wise Words

March 26, 2021

On Crime Writing

March 21, 2021

Regular readers will know that I am a voracious reader of crime fiction.  I have written before of my binge reading of Vancouver’s own Laurence Gough, Norway’s Jo Nesbo, P.D. James, Michael Dibdin, Ian Rankin, and many others, including a recent trot through Peter Temple’s excellent four-book Jack Irish series set in Melbourne, Australia.

Back in April 2019 I reported on some discussions on the genre at the 2019 Edgar Awards. Now, at Boucheron, we have a long and often informative debate on the current state of the crime novel as discussed by crime writers themselves.

The second question asked (after the now-obligatory nod to diversity) asked whether crime novels had a responsibility to grapple with real world issues. It received a mixed response. On one side, Alex Segura noted:

“The best crime novels, for my money, also serve as cutting social commentary—they put a mirror up to our world, and show us how we live and are, warts and all. I don’t think crime novels should—or can, really—come up with solutions to all of society’s ills, but they should damn well try to show us a world that is like our own, so readers can at least take their vitamins with their dessert.”

While James Ziskin disagreed:

“Not at all. Sometimes we want to be entertained and other times we want to change the world. There’s room enough under our tent for pure escapist fare, farces, capers, and comedies of manners as well as fiction with social themes or conscience.”

I probably agree with Ziskin although my own reading tends to match Segura’s take.  For example, the Jack Irish books I am currently reading are teaching me a great deal about modern life in suburban Australia, and Jo Nesbo’s pieces did the same for me about Scandinavia.

There is a lot to take in here, not least a long list of writers I have yet to read. One thing to notice, though, throughout this long piece, not one of my favourite crime authors (see first paragraph above) is mentioned.  Hmmm.


The Remarkable Growth of Cities 1500-2018

March 20, 2021

Regular readers will perhaps recognize that I am a great fan of well done data visualizations of historical issues. Here is another one constructed by the folks at the Financial Times. It follows the growth of the world’s largest cities from 1500 through to 2018.  It lasts about 3 minutes and is quite fascinating.


Spring Is Here!

March 20, 2021

World Nature Photography 2020

March 18, 2021

The World Nature Photography Awards have been announced for 2020. Thomas Vijayan won best nature photographer for his wonderful image, The World is Going Upside Down:

There are some seriously beautiful images out there from last year, and they are all worth a second look. I was attracted to Raymond Nowotny‘s winning entry to the Mammals Behaviour category …

… and Diran Talmi’s Fungi and Plants winner:

Well worth the time.


Happy Pi Day 2021!

March 14, 2021

Image: Sainsbuty’s Ltd.


The Crack Cocaine of City Finance

March 9, 2021

I originally wrote this piece in early 2014. I think it is worth bringing it back into focus:

Community Amenity Contributions — CACs — are a debilitating and socially-destructive drug that the City of Vancouver has fallen addicted to over the last twenty years.  They are, to be frank, the crack cocaine of city finance and they need to be flushed right out of our system.

Perhaps many of you have never heard of CACs; they are not, after all, everyday talk in the coffee shops and diners.  CACs are a bribe developers pay the city to allow them to breach the previously agreed zoning for a particular lot.  If you want to exceed the height limits, floor space ratio (FSR), use profile, or some other aspect of what the local community has determined is best for their neighbourhood, you can negotiate a fee — the CAC — with City Planning that will get you off the regulatory hook.  City Planning then puts that money toward specific new public amenities (supposedly in that neighbourhood, but apparently not always) [these days CAC payments are just another way to cover up the gaps in the City’s budget — and that’s why Vision 2.0 keeps approving them].

That sounds like an interesting idea — if a developer wants to break the rules, that’s OK, so long as he buys us a shiny new library or a small park or a community meeting room in exchange.  But it is actually a terrible idea, especially as now the City essentially says that the availability of new community amenities are completely dependent on getting CACs from developers.  In other words, we can have nice things but only so long as we give away profitable density to developers; who, in turn, may or may not contribute some of their excess profits to particular municipal parties.  Moreover, the current system encourages spot rezoning (often against the terms of Vancouver Charter section 565A), especially when the developer is dealing with today’s majority on City Council that never votes against development applications.

It is vital that we de-couple the civic amenities that residents need from the indiscriminate and rapid densification of our beautiful city that six [now thirteen] years of Vision Vancouver [and Vision 2.0] management has brought us.  The NPA and COPE were also in power during the period while this addiction took hold.

It didn’t used to be this way.  In the good old days — just a couple of decades ago — we voted on plebiscites every other year to determine which amenities we were willing to pay for by issuing City bonds.  It was mostly efficient. It was defiantly democratic.  The people got to decide what they thought was worth paying for, and the developers were not involved at all.  We need to go back to that system or something very much like it.

In return for lessening their costs, by eliminating CACs, I would tie this change into a change to the Development Cost Levy by-law to ensure a developer pays the entire cost of city infrastructure required for new development.

These changes, to CACs and DCLs, frees developers from paying CACs, obliges developments to pay for their own infrastructure, and allows the electors of Vancouver to more directly control the flow of amenities required to make us the most livable city in the world.


Publishing Lolita

March 9, 2021
Photograph by Carl Mydans / The LIFE Picture Collection / Getty

I have expressed before my deep admiration for Vladimir Nabokov, one of the truly great writers and one of the truly great subjects for literary discussion. I tend to read anything about him that I come across, and so it was no surprise that I was attracted to read Stacy Schiff’s piece in the New Yorker entitled Vera Nabokov was the first and greatest champion of Lolita.

For anyone interested in the literature of the 20th century, this is an essential trip down memory lane, capturing the difficulties of publishing a book such as Lolita in Eisenhower’s America, and the reaction to it once published.

The heroine of Schiff’s article is Nabokov’s wife Vera, who at least once saved the manuscript from the flames and who it was who suggested, finally, publishing the book in Paris.

“It was Véra who thought, days after the fifth rejection, to pursue publication abroad. Might her husband’s longtime French agent, she wondered, be interested in a novel that could not be published in America, for reasons of “straitlaced morality”? The manuscript was of an “extreme originality,” a category that in the Nabokov household tended to overlap with outlandish perversity. Véra begged for a speedy reply.”

After Graham Greene had proclaimed Lolita to be one of the best three books of the year, American publishers crawled over each other to publish in the States. At the event to celebrate its publication by Putnam (and after), it was Vera who stood “as the fire wall between Vladimir Nabokov and Humbert Humbert.”

“The New York Post took pains to observe that the author was accompanied to cocktails by “his wife, Véra, a slender, fair-skinned, white-haired woman in no way reminiscent of Lolita.” At that reception, as elsewhere, admirers told Véra that they had not expected Nabokov to show up with his wife of thirty-three years. “Yes,” she replied, smiling, unflappable. “It’s the main reason why I’m here … Véra’s presence kept the fiction in place, and Humbert’s monstrosity at bay. For the next few years, the words “who looks nothing like Lolita” obligatorily attached themselves to her name. She served as her husband’s badge of honor, his moral camouflage. She provided a comforting bit of misdirection. An accessory to the crime, Véra looked every inch the snowy-haired alibi.”

Schiff writes well about the book’s reception and its place in the canon of modern literature and Vera Nabokov’s role. She concludes:

“The long-suffering wife who stands at her husband’s side, lending moral cover, reliably serves to blot out another woman’s agony. Véra did just the opposite. She alone emphasized Lolita’s plight from the start. In interviews, among her husband’s colleagues, with family members, she stressed Lolita’s “complete loneliness in the whole world.” She had not a single surviving relative! Reviewers searched for morals, justifications, explanations. What they inevitably failed to notice, Véra complained, was “the tender description of the child’s helplessness, her pathetic dependence on monstrous Humbert Humbert, and her heartrending courage all along.” They forgot that “ ‘the horrid little brat’ Lolita was essentially very good indeed.” 

Well worth the read (and so is Lolita if you haven’t done so already).


Want To Work at The Bookstore?

March 5, 2021

The People’s Co-op Bookstore at 1391 Commercial is looking for a part-time bookstore clerk. They are looking for someone to work three days a week on a continuous basis.

If you are interested, send your resume to coopbks@telus.net.


In Memory of Rosa Luxemburg

March 5, 2021

150 years ago today, Rosa Luxemburg was born in Zamosc, Poland. As a writer, editor, economist, philosopher, and organizer, Luxemburg was an important force in the early Communist movements in Germany.

While still a schoolgirl in Poland in the 1880s, she organized a general strike and was a member of the Proletarian Party. After fleeing to Switzerland to escape arrest, she studied at the University of Zurich where she was awarded a Doctorate of Law. After moving to Germany she co-founded the anti-war Spartacus League.

She opposed both Leninism and moderate social democracy, and was murdered by the proto-fascists after the Spartacist uprising of 1919.