Book Review: Babylon Berlin

September 20, 2017

Back in August, I read a Guardian piece about an upcoming European crime drama called Babylon Berlin based on novels by Volker Kutscher.

I was intrigued because, after all, northern Europe has been the source of a great deal of excellent detective material recently — Wallender, The Killing, Girl with a Dragon Tattoo, etc;  and the period, Germany of the late 1920s, is fascinating and lively — think Cabaret, So I ordered the only one of the novels held by VPL. It was the second in the series, the one called Babylon Berlin.

Now, I can usually push myself through most material but after two weeks effort, I have reached page 180 of the 520 and I have absolutely no feeling for any of the characters and the plots, such as they are, are tedious and failing to grab my attention.  The beginning of the book seems more like vignettes that might look good on the screen (and which seem to have been included only for that purpose) but which fail miserably on the page due to the dullness of the writing.

I was almost happy to receive the email from VPL telling me my time was up because I’ve given up on it, and I cannot recommend it.

Advertisements

Housing At Britannia — Important Meeting

September 19, 2017

This coming Thursday, September 21st, there is a very important forum on the question of whether there should be housing on the re-developed Britannia Community Center site and, if so, what kind of housing should be contemplated there.

A week or so ago, Elizabeth Murphy wrote an opinion piece in the Sun that opposed housing of any kind on the site. This led to my own argument, more or less in favour of the idea with certain conditions, and a very spirited email exchange between a number of interested parties. Now, it is the broader community’s turn to have a say.

This particular debate about the future of a vital community resource is perhaps the most important we will have in this neighbourhood this decade, and I urge everyone interested in the future of Grandview to attend.

I would also urge that this debate be continued in the broadest possible sections of our community through public gatherings, email chains, and other means, rather than be delegated to a small and perhaps unrepresentative (though worthy) group who are able to attend certain committee meetings.

Finally, we must ensure that the decision on whether or not to include certain types of housing at Britannia be a genuinely community-wide decision, made by a plebiscite or some other form of all-resident participation.

In the meanwhile, I again urge everyone to attend this forum and make yourself heard.


Major Road Disruption at Commercial & Broadway

September 15, 2017

Upgrades to the Commercial Skytrain station will start to impact drivers and bus users starting today, according to a report in the Province.

The installation of a new overhead walkway across Broadway will involve a massive crane sitting in the road, blocking a sidewalk and some traffic lanes. The #9 and #99 buses will have temporary stops other than in their usual places from today until October 1st.

“The weekend of Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 is when drivers will really feel the pain. Broadway will be closed completely so that a crane can be erected in the middle of the road. The two cranes will move the largest piece of the walkway, which weighs 13,600 kilograms, into place over the road.  “It’s a pretty significant disruption, obviously, to Broadway as we do that, but it’s necessary to make that lift take place,” said Matt Edwards, manager of engineering project delivery. Drivers are encouraged to avoid the area while detours are in effect.”

 


Twenty One Years And Counting

September 15, 2017

Yet another year without cigarettes. Twenty-one years today, wow.

It might seem tedious to keep harping on this year after year, but frankly I think giving up smoking after 35 years of slavery to the habit was the smartest and bravest thing I ever did. And I know for a dead certainty that I would not be here writing this today if I had continued smoking the way I did.  So I’ll keep celebrating my freedom, year after year!

And this year is even more special as I have joined a very select few having the chance to clean up their COPD with an experimental treatment that involves scrubbing the lungs, under general anaesthetic, with liquid nitrogen. I had the first of three treatments 10 days ago and already feel my breathing is somewhat easier. By the beginning of November I will have had all three procedures and then we will see. I have high hopes. And it makes those 21 years of denial all the more worthwhile.


Housing at Britannia?

September 11, 2017

Elizabeth Murphy has written another of her pieces in the Vancouver Sun. On this occasion, she is noting with horror the possibility of using public spaces, such as parks, to build housing in Vancouver.

I agree with many of the points she is making, including her thesis that the driving dynamic behind this movement is the desire to centralize, taking control from the locally based community centre associations, that was pushed forward so aggressively when Penny Ballem was City Manager. I also agree with her praise for new amenities that have been developed to include housing, such as the Strathcona and Mount Pleasant libraries.

However, when it comes to the redevelopment of Britannia, she has the history wrong and draws inaccurate conclusions from that faulty reading.  She blithely records that, during the development of the Britannia site in the 1970s that “housing was moved off the site.”  In fact, 77 houses were expropriated and demolished for the Community Center, many with barely grudging assent from the owners as recorded in Clare Shepansky’s definitive history of the removals. To this must be added 40 or 50 more that were torn down in the original building of Britannia School and the subsequent expansions in the 1950s primarily for playing fields.

It is entirely wrong to suggest, therefore, that the Britannia site has historically been a public asset. It was for many decades a thriving residential neighbourhood. The community could make a good and valid argument that we deserve to recover some of the housing that was lost to us in the 1970s, especially today when the need for affordable housing in Grandview is becoming acute.

It would seem to me that at this early stage where plans are not yet drawn up that we could take cues from the developments cited earlier in Strathcona and Mount Pleasant and possibly have the best of both worlds. The current green space could be preserved while a new library, gyms, pool, and schools could be designed with housing above (keeping, of course, to a maximum four-storey height). Let’s get creative!

I have not yet made up my mind whether I support the notion of housing as part of Britannia’s necessary and welcome redevelopment, but an inaccurate and revisionist history does a disservice to the people of Grandview and adds nothing to the debate.


Happy Birthday, Victoria!

September 9, 2017

 

Happy birthday to the most beautiful daughter a Dad ever had — beautiful in looks and beautiful by nature. I’m so proud of you!


The Inverse Proportion of Dirt

September 8, 2017

First written in October 2010, it seems a good time to republish this:

When I was a kid, I bet I ate a whole field’s worth of dirt as I played.  My mates and I mucked around in the Thames which, in those days, was little better than a sewer; we got colds and upset stomachs and simply ran them off, more as likely in pouring rain.  Sometimes we got real diseases like mumps and measles but they were considered age appropriate and we all knew it would be over in a week or two.  If any of us had suggested we had an allergy to peanut butter, say, then we would have been stuffed with it until we got over it.  We spent our childhoods shaking hands with every germ and bacteria on the ground and in the air and we grew up to be a fairly healthy generation.

These days parents protect their kids from any kind of contamination and we have the sickest kids in history, I bet.  Many parents pride themselves on keeping their home environments as — or more — sterile than hospitals.  And yet their children have allergies to this and contra-indications to that.  They are as clean as they can be and they are sick as dogs.

I believe there is a direct relationship between the health of kids and the amount of dirt they eat.  The more bugs they collect early in life, the better immunities they develop later; and the more sniffles they get as a child the less likely they are to show hypochondriac tendencies as adults.  To put it another way, the less a household pays in cleansing and sanitizing and “protecting” their kids, the less they will need to spend in health care costs later.

This change from healthy dirt to dangerous prophylaxis has occurred within my lifetime.  How did it come about?  Marketing and capitalism, that’s how.

By the 1940s and 1950s, major industrial cleaning companies had developed a whole range of cleaning solutions.  No one really needed them, but the marketers set out to convince parents, mothers especially, that they were doing their children great harm if they did not use their products.  They used fear as the primary motivation — not only fear of sickness in their kids, but more viscerally the fear of appearing to be a bad mother. And they succeeded perhaps beyond their wildest dreams.

And now we are all paying for it, with a generation of children with allergies and neuroses and medical conditions that were almost unknown fifty years ago.  It sure did the Johnson & Johnsons and the Hoovers of the world a lot of good financially, but is this really progress?