New Views of Africa

October 8, 2019

The always useful has a review of a show of photographs at the Museum of the African Diaspora (MoAD) designed to shake up “expectations audiences might have or desire of African artists, instead allowing for these artists from 11 different countries to devise their own frameworks for understanding the places they are from.”


“Africa State of Mind reminds us of the importance of focusing on specific narratives — even if they are not related or even contradictory — as opposed to defining the continent as a homogeneous mass upon which our paranoias, desires, or disdains can be more easily projected. The different politics and ideas and representations in this show remind us that the continent contains a vast diversity of philosophical, cultural, linguistic, and sartorial life.”

The article is a worthwhile read, enlivened with a lot more photographs from the show.


New Zealand’s Flag Debate

December 14, 2015

I am guessing that New Zealand is one of those “distant” countries that one either follows or one doesn’t.  Probably because of rugby and cricket (and a favourite uncle who disappeared there decades ago), I choose to follow events over there. Thus it is that I have been intrigued by New Zealand’s debate over a new flag.

Many people like the current Kiwi flag:

NZ flag


But a million and a half New Zealanders voted in a contest to select an alternative. The winner:

New NZ flag


There will be a binding referendum in March to choose between the two. I have no dog in the fight (though I definitely prefer the fern to the Union Jack) but I love the fact the people will make the decision.  Back in the 1960s during Canada’s “Great Flag Debate”, the decision was entirely in the hands of the elite.

The Hypocrisy of Greed

November 29, 2015

The whole western world has gone nuts over ISIS or ISIL or the Islamic Caliphate. The pundits and the politicians and the military leaders say we have to stop them taking power or keeping power, have to stop them becoming a permanent presence in the middle East.  Why? Because, say the talkers, their way of life is unconscionable and needs to be eradicated from the earth.

Apparently, ISIS wants to be a sovereign state that runs itself along strict fundamentalist, not to say fascist, religious guidelines, that has a tiny elite with all the power, that wants to keep women down by imposing moral and sumptuary laws, that have religious police who are above and beyond the ordinary law, that imposes public executions and beatings, that believes all other religions are evil and need to be exterminated.

I can see exactly why people would be opposed to that — after all, we have an example of what it will be like if it succeeds: Saudi Arabia.  Read the last paragraph with wahabbist Saudi Arabia in your mind and tell me if I have gotten anything wrong?

So, we already have a fully-ISIS style government in place, And the odd thing is, the west (UK, France, US, Canada, etc) faun over the leaders of Saudi Arabia, sell them billions of dollars of advanced weaponry, conduct trillions in trade, kneel to their unelected (and unelectable) leaders.

What’s the real difference between ISIS and Saudi Arabia?  The latter has agreed to fund its personal profligacy using our money, while ISIS has not.  In other words, there is profit to be made in Saudi Arabia, but not in ISIS. It is the hypocrisy of greed.


Look Out Ukraine!

February 18, 2014

Today could be a bad day for the opposition in Ukraine.  There are reports on Twitter that metro stations have been closed in downtown Kiev and the gathered crowds have been told to leave the streets or face brutal repression.

I am watching Espreso TV — Maidan Live, but it is difficult to follow without knowing Ukrainian.

Here is a list of other Ukrainian TV stations.

Rally For Ukraine

January 26, 2014

Ukrainian rally

There is a rally for Ukraine in Vancouver this afternoon.  I cannot be there but I urge anyone who can to join in.

From Bad To Worse

January 22, 2014


Things in Ukraine are going from bad to worse, with the government having imposed vicious Soviet-style anti-protest laws.  However, it hasn’t stopped the people fighting back.  I can recommend this live feed to witness what’s going on.

More on Ukraine

December 15, 2013

I am watching the massive rally in Kiev today; tens of thousands of people, maybe more.

I enjoyed the Cossack band earlier, but tuned out when John McCain had his say.  I am much more interested in watching Klitchko the boxer as opposition leader.

Right now, a raft of European Union politicos are adding their support and demanding the release of Yulia Timoshenko.  Listening to the Polish –>Ukrainian translation was probably the least enlightening thing for me (though I take full responsibility for that failure.)

Hard to understand how this will work out, with about 100,000 Russian troops already in the country.  There is tough talk from the Euro politicians (freezing bank accounts of the regime members etc), but what could they really do if Yanukovych asks for military or even just internal security assistance from Putin?

Now a DJ is playing tracks for the crowd.  Whatever happened to live music to get the people inspired?

Ukraine Crashing

December 9, 2013

It looks like the crackdown on the opposition in Ukraine is in full swing.  One by one this morning, the independent websites and live streaming sources were closed by Special Forces intervention and/or internet blocking attacks.  Cell phones and other services also seem to be down in Kiev.

The main square in Kieve is still occupied by protesters but major concentrations of police and Special Forces are nearby.

ActivistWorld TV still seems to be up, and I assume it is live.   Worth watching.

Update:   This is a live feed with English commentary:


Live Streaming the Revolution in Ukraine

December 1, 2013


I have spent the last couple of hours fascinated by the live pictures coming from Kiev, Ukraine, via    For most of this time, the camera has been on a second floor balcony (?) positioned exactly between the line of armoured police and the mass of demonstrators, apparently near the Presidential headquarters.

At the beginning, the demonstrators were skirmishing with the police, throwing rocks.  Then a police charge forced them back and the demonstrators pulled away, out of sight of the camera.  Once they had gone, the police wheeled in mid-sized dumpsters and collected all the rocks from the street, presumably so they couldn’t be used again.

The police then spent some time erecting a barricade across the street behind which hundreds of them with shields stood in wait.  The protesters gradually came closer once again and, perhaps as a result of negotiations, the barricade was removed.  Now there is a solid line of perhaps sixty cops times many rows deep standing behind riot shields.  The front line of protesters is about thirty yards away.


In the no man’s land between the two forces, camera crews are conducting interviews while security men try to keep the space clear.  The aronets camera is now on the street, filming both sides.   All the audio is is Ukrainian so I have no idea of what’s going on other than what I can see.

As someone once said:  The revolution will be televised.

Barcelona Redux

August 30, 2012

Long time readers here may recall that I have a great appreciation for the look and feel of Barcelona.

If I didn’t live in Vancouver, Barcelona is probably the place I would pick to spend my time.

It was a great pleasure, therefore, to find the always-interesting Sidewalk Ballet site talking about the city today in a piece that is well worth reading.

Also, as an aside, I was watching the Vuelta a Espana race this morning as it toured along the Galician coast and I was stunned by the beauty of that area.  I have spent a very long time in Spain over the years but very little in the northwest of the country; I have clearly missed out.

Catching Up…

October 30, 2010

It has been interesting to watch the sudden surge of interest (here in the NYT, for example) in the $2 billion house/building that Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani is constructing for himself in Mumbai.  We covered the story way back in May 2008.  I’ll stick with my assessment from then:

I believe one might question how one man has amassed $43 billion in assets. But, once the guy’s got it, I can’t think of any reason why he shouldn’t spend it any way he wants. Looking through the pictures, I don’t much care for this place but if he and his family enjoy it then good for him.

Hanoi’s Subway

October 1, 2010

When I was younger, Hanoi — then the capital of North Vietnam — was subject to massive bombing by the Americans.  Between 1966 and 1972, a huge amount of ordnance was dropped on the city, causing citywide destruction.  How times have changed!

The Vietnamese government has just announced the start of work on a subway transit system for Hanoi.  They will build a 12-station 12.5 km line costing about $1 billion.  The line is scheduled to be open by 2015 and is expected to carry 300,000 passengers a day to ease traffic congestion in the city.  Financing is coming from the French Government ($384m). the Europe Investment Development Bank and the city’s state budget.

The very idea of an entrepreneurial Vietnam with the need for a major subway system financed by Western banks would have been simply unimaginable back in 1972.  Perhaps we should take another look at some of today’s “disaster areas” and recognize that the future can be better than the present. Life does move on.

North Korea: MSM Fails Again

June 1, 2010

North Korea is a truly fascinating country; I have followed developments there for many years.  But you can’t do that in any real sense using mainstream media.  The recent rash of stories after the sinking of the South Korean ship and the revaluation of the North Korean currency have been typical, full of economic and social collapse.  However,

[m]uch of the “evidence” we have for the latest uptick in internal tensions following the currency redenomination consists of recycled stories from unproven or unreliable sources relating anecdotes from small slices of the country. These publicly available sources for North Korea are very subjective and come through the lens of defector groups and humanitarian non-governmental organizations that, quite frankly, have their own agendas. Corroborating these reports is often impossible.

That quote is from a long and very valuable article by Alexandre Mansourov in which he paints a far more complex and interesting picture.

North Korea is not static and inflexible. Indeed, there tends to be a very dynamic picture once you look below the surface … However, there is little or no sign that current tensions, caused by changes in the distribution of power within the leaderships’ core cadre, positioning for succession, or economic reforms are eroding the overall strength of the regime. While such tensions may spill over into society, there have been no signs that they have risen to a level that significantly weakens the regime or have made it feel that drastic action is needed.

Mansourov claims that, far from the American media’s accounts of starvation and State bankruptcy,

Pyongyang is, in fact, on a path of economic stabilization. Last year’s harvest was relatively good—the second in a row—thanks to a raft of developments including favorable weather conditions, no pest infestations, increased fertilizer imports from China, double-cropping, and the refurbishment of the obsolete irrigation system. Thanks to the commissioning of several large-scale hydro-power plants which supply electricity to major urban residential areas and industrial zones, North Korea generated more electricity in 2009 than the year before … Despite a decline in inter-Korean commerce and international sanctions imposed after the North’s missile and nuclear tests in early 2009, foreign trade did not contract in any meaningful way thanks to burgeoning ties with China. Moreover, Beijing seems to be committed to dramatically expanding its direct investments in the development of the North’s infrastructure, manufacturing, and service sectors.

Importantly, Mansourov gives a far more nuanced picture of the significant economic changes that have been pushed through in the last year or so.

In view of the ongoing preparations for the leadership succession, the redenomination could be viewed as a populist measure aimed at inflicting pain on less than 10 percent of the population through wealth redistribution in order to win support from more than 90 percent of the population who still live on state salaries and have not seen any improvement in their life despite burgeoning market activities. North Korea is still fundamentally a socialist society, and Kim Jong Il’s regime probably won some measure of support from the vast majority of North Koreans for its crackdown on corruption and abuses by rich traders and corrupt government officials who benefitted the most from bustling activity in black markets.

The whole article is a very good read and a more than useful corrective to the demonizing pablum we are fed by the MSM.

Fast Train To China

March 9, 2010

Forget the slow boat: the Chinese are planning to build a rail network that will have passengers traveling from London to Beijing in just two days!  The following is from the Daily Telegraph:

China is in negotiations to build a high-speed rail network to India and Europe with trains that capable of running at over 200mph within the next ten years.   The network would eventually carry passengers from London to Beijing and then to Singapore.  It would also run to India and Pakistan … A second project would see trains heading north through Russia to Germany and into the European railway system, and a third line will extend south to connect Vietnam, Thailand, Burma and Malaysia.

Passengers could board a train in London and step off in Beijing, 5,070 miles away as the crow flies, in just two days. They could go on to Singapore, 6,750 miles away, within three days.  “We are aiming for the trains to run almost as fast as aeroplanes,” said Mr Wang. “The best case scenario is that the three networks will be completed in a decade,” he added.

Wow!  And they seem to be very serious:

China is in the middle of a £480 billion domestic railway expansion project that aims to build nearly 19,000 miles of new railways in the next five years, connecting up all of its major cities with high-speed lines. The world’s fastest train, the Harmony Express which has a top speed of nearly 250mph, was unveiled at the end of last year, between the cities of Wuhan and Guangzhou. Wholly Chinese-built, but using technology from Siemens and Kawasaki, the Harmony Express can cover 660 miles, the equivalent of a journey from London to Edinburgh and back, in just three hours.

Book me on the opening train!

North Korea: Extreme Laboratory

February 5, 2010

In another life, I wrote a lot about North Korea.  It is a fascinating place with a genius aparatus that keeps it going against all the odds, against common sense, and against the entire world.    If nothing else, it is a massive multi-million person experiment in social control.  Now, although it hasn’t been widely reported, they have actually managed to wipe out ALL private wealth.  We’ll be able to see how that works out, or whether that was going one step too far.

Getting rid of private wealth turned out to be extremely simple.  First, you cancel the currency and tell the people they can swap out their old notes for new ones.  Then you tell everyone that the exchange rate rate will be 100 old notes for one new note.  Then you only allow $30 of exchange per person.  That way, no-one has more than $30.  All other wealth simply disappears*.  That’s a neat trick that couldn’t be tried in any other country in the world.

* not including the cash held by the elite that is in anything other than the Korean currency.

Venice Becoming A Ghost Of Itself

November 14, 2009

Venice_aerialThat most marvelous of European cities, Venice, is in danger of becoming little more than a post-modern simulacrum of its flamboyant past;  a flat-screen tourist resort instead of a vibrant living city.  The city’s population is now only around 60,000.  As the AP reports:

A dozen gondolas snaked down the Grand Canal on Saturday in a mock funeral procession bemoaning Venice’s approach to the dreaded status of living museum, with a population now below 60,000.  While the largely symbolic threshold is considered by some to signal the end of the city’s viability, Venetian officials say reports of Venice’s demise are premature, and even Saturday’s somber funeral ended with a surprise, bright hope for rebirth.  In fact, while native Venetians have been fleeing the expensive lagoon city for cheaper and easier living on the mainland, the population of the historic center was officially 60,025 as of Thursday, up from the 59,992 it had fallen to in recent weeks. ”They will have the funeral in a living village, not yet dead. And it won’t die, even if it goes to 59,999,” Mara Rumiz, the city official in charge of demographics, said in a telephone interview Friday. She said the numbers don’t take into account the inhabitants of Venice’s islands — including glassmaking Murano and the Lido beach — nor the many who are not officially registered, including students. Together, they add another 120,000 souls.

That’s all well and good, but a core of 60,000 is certainly not enough to keep the city as a going concern, with necessary services for its residents.  And living in Venice is not easy:

[L]ife in Venice is for the hardy and financially resilient. Housing costs and rents drop to as much as a third in the nearby city of Marghera. And consider the logistics of an everyday errand like grocery shopping. One would likely need a water taxi ride to a supermarket, another to get home with the groceries, and then with few elevators in residential buildings, there is a heavy load to lug upstairs. Historic Venice does not permit the comfort of a car parked outside the door … Venetians themselves would like to see more money put toward retaining natives, and are critical of such projects as the new Calatrava Bridge over the Grand Canal. Building the bridge, designed by the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, ran well over projected costs while doing little to ease the lives of average Venetians.

There is, I think, little anyone outside the city can do to help.  Visiting the city more would simply add to the tourist side of the ledger and add to the pressures on the locals.  This is all very sad and difficult to watch.

Barcelona, city of genius

July 31, 2009

For someone as fascinated by architecture and cityscapes as I am, Barcelona is a dream of a city.  It is beautiful in a strictly urban fashion, and contains buildings and textures and colours of every kind to please the eye and the brain.

Home to both Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, Barcelona was the playground of Antoni Gaudi.  Our hotel was in the Gracia neighbourhood and within walking distance of several Gaudi “monuments”.  The Sagrada Familia church didn’t impress me, though I was impressed to learn that several million visitors per year make it one of Spain’s largest attractions.  However, Gaudi’s more domestic architecture, such as the Casa Mila …

Gaudi Domestic_small

… and the Casa Battlo ….

Gaudi 2_small

were interesting distractions just a block each from where we were staying.  A more modern rendition of Gaudi-esque forms was also close….


Each of these buildings features balconies; and I was particularly taken with the range of balconies throughout Barcelona.  Each building seemed to be different and each building seemed to revel in these marvelous excretions.

Barcelona balconies

And then, there is the modern stuff!  Barcelona’s skyline seems to change every decade, with each generation of architects seeking to make their mark.  Just two examples among so many:  There is the glorious Torre Agbar:


(image from

And a marvelous red building that I saw only on our way out to the airport …

red tower

(image from

This is part of Las Torres Fira, by architect Toyo Ito.  No wishy-washy rust colour;  just red and proud of it.

We had barely a day in Barcelona, with too much to see.  I need to return there and just spend a good long time looking at the architecure of the place.  I have absolutely no idea whether it actually works as a city, but for the visitor with an eye to its looks, that hardly matters.

Art Writ Large

April 14, 2009

In another place, an earlier incarnation, I wrote a lot about North Korea.  It is a fascinating place (so long as you don’t actually have to be there).  Now they have produced art on a scale unimaginable today in the west.


This glorious piece created to celebrate what would have been the Great Leader’s 97th birthday (except that inconvenience called death got in the way) is stupendous in scale and concept.  It is time we stopped sabre-rattling and started to appreciate the vision of the Korean artist!

The VERY Rich Can Cool Their Heels

December 21, 2008

When we were in Mexico last week, I distinctly remember saying to myself that having hot sand between my toes was a serious problem.  And if I was rich enough, why should I have to waste time putting on flip-flops or sandals just to walk about — why not not just cool the entire beach instead?


The London Times Online reports:

Versace, the renowned fashion house, is to create the world’s first refrigerated beach so that hotel guests can walk comfortably across the sand on scorching days.   The beach will be next to the the new Palazzo Versace hotel which is being built in Dubai where summer temperatures average 40C and can reach 50C.  The beach will have a network of pipes beneath the sand containing a coolant that will absorb heat from the surface. The swimming pool will be refrigerated and there are also proposals to install giant blowers to waft a gentle breeze over the beach.

Of course, the whole thing comes with a carbon footprint that would give Al Gore palpitations.  But it is for the VERY rich, so why worry?

Soheil Abedian, founder and president of Palazzo Versace, said he believed it is possible to design a refrigerated beach and make it sustainable. “We will suck the heat out of the sand to keep it cool enough to lie on,” he said. “This is the kind of luxury that top people want” … The 10-storey hotel will have 213 rooms, several with their own internal swimming pools, plus 169 apartments …

Competition to serve the world’s rich is getting intense, especially in Dubai. The city already boasts the world’s first seven-star hotel, the Burj Al Arab, while Armani, a competitor with Versace, is building a similarly branded Dubai hotel. The refrigerated beach is designed to give Versace the edge in this battle of luxury lifestyles.

We Are Almost Twice As Old As Mickey Mouse!

November 19, 2008

bcflagWhile we are in a celebratory mood, I should note in passing that in White Man’s history, British Columbia is 150 years old today.  The land was created out of the mouth of Sir James Douglas in a speech he gave on a cold and wet November morning to a bunch of fur traders and trappers at Fort Langley on the Fraser River.

I shouldn’t knock it, really.  Douglas, who was Governor of Vancouver Island, saw a huge influx of American miners flood into the Interior during the Gold Rush days of the 1840s and 50s.  He realized that if the British Crown didn’t step up and make a statement, then the territory could easily become an extension of the Oregon Territory.  His proclamation on that blustery day saved us for cricket and tea parties, parliamentary supremacy, and God Save The Queen.