Saturday, February 13, 2010

Some books I'm reading or about to read

Another trip to Pulp Fiction, another haul of books (see my earlier trip). Coupled with some earlier purchases, my list of books to read is getting huge. Here are a few that I'm excited about:

The Political Brain, by Drew Westen - The Role of Emotions in Deciding the Fate of the Nation. Kansas, despite all reason or logic, vote strongly for the Republicans. Al Gore had all the arguments for the rational mind, but George W. Bush chuckled and appealed to the brain stem. It's baffling to most of us. Helpfully Drew Westen has done a great job of explaining how and why the Republicans have done such a great job of using emotion while their Democrat counterparts have failed to capture the hearts of American voters. I'm enjoying the history and the anecdotes, and trying to relate it to my experiences here in BC.

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov - I joined an online book club at Pajiba, and this is the first book. I just picked up the 50th anniversary edition at Pulp Fiction. I've read, more than a few times in the past half year, that Nabokov is the finest writer of this century, a crafter of the best sentences ever written. Luckily I'm not given to high expectations.

Inverting the Pyramid, by Jonathan Wilson - The History of Football Tactics. I've been excited about this book for a while, and it finally arrived in the mail the other day. I just finished Raymond Chandler's second Philip Marlowe novel, Farewell, My Lovely (which was a tad more over the top than his brilliant first novel, The Big Sleep) and I am already enjoying this change of pace. Ever wonder why central defenders are called centre-halves in England? Or how Hungarian teams could ever dominate European football? Or why most teams play a flat four at the back? I do.

The Club Dumas, by Arturo Perez-Reverte - While planning our trip to Spain (spits on ground at Spanish thieves), we wanted to find good books by Spanish authors, preferably about Barcelona. We settled on The Shadow of the Wind, a fun literary mystery that took place right around where we were staying. On the short-list was a series about a swashbuckling 17th century Spaniard, Captain Alatriste, which looked light and fun. Today I saw some books from the series, along with The Club Dumas, by the same author. I can't really say why I chose it instead, other than that it is an earlier book and sounds more serious.

A moment of political inspiration - Norm MacDonald

The other day I watched the BC Legislature on the web (you can post your comments about my dorkiness below), and was entirely surprised and indeed delighted to watch Norm MacDonald, MLA for Columbia River - Revelstoke, rise and deliver an inspirational speech on public services and the political process.

I've never heard anything about Mr. MacDonald, but certainly will pay more attention from now on. Anyone who champions the value of the reasoned and productive debate is deserving of our respect. I really recommend watching the video of his speech. He was calm yet passionate, and his belief in the political process was evident.

The full transcript is available here; this post highlights Mr MacDonald's views on the democratic process.

It is over eight years that this government has been in place, and what you saw with the very short throne speech that we had is a government that really has run out of new ideas — ideas about how to deal with the very serious problems that British Columbians face.

We are uniquely fortunate in this province, and I think whenever we go forward, we have to keep the problems that we have here in context. The problems that we have are manageable. There are solutions, but nevertheless, there are real issues that need to be dealt with.

The philosophy that I have, and the philosophy that those that are in the NDP share with me, is the idea that the wisdom of this province sits within the communities and with people on the ground, and that our job is to take that wisdom and bring it into this House and generate policy that is going to reflect the wider wisdom of the people in British Columbia.

Yet what we see is a government that has centralized decision-making and does not share the information in the way that it needs to with the wider population. It does not allow them to participate in the way that they need to. There are real issues that need to be dealt with.

We have a province where more and more children are slipping into poverty. That's a fact that is year after year after year. That poverty ties directly to policy decisions that are made in this House.

It's very easy to stand up and brag about the fact that there are tax cuts. This is something that the wider public embraces, but there are consequences to that. The consequence for this year is that we have a deficit. That deficit is a deficit that you cannot disconnect from the fact that taxes have been lowered. You have taken away some of the tools that taxation allows you to redistribute wealth so that you don't have large parts of your population falling into poverty. That's sound public policy.

Now, it is something that Canada has in the past done quite well — making sure that you don't allow children to fall into poverty. But it's six years in a province with all the wealth, all the potential wealth that British Columbia has, where child poverty is highest in this province.

Now at the end of the speech, in a very strange choice for this government, there was a quotation from Nelson Mandela. Now Nelson Mandela is an incredible individual. I was in Lesotho in the 1980s, '85-86, and Lesotho was surrounded by South Africa at a time when a picture of Nelson Mandela was illegal to have in a South African newspaper. To write his name was illegal. What he has accomplished is pretty amazing.

To lift a quotation and to choose to paraphrase what he said and put it into the throne speech just seems particularly inappropriate. I mean, he has a pretty clear set of standards that I think wouldn't synchronize with the direction that this government goes.

One of the things he said that I think is a direct quotation, rather than to paraphrase it, is this: "There can be no keener revelation of a society's soul than the way that it treats its children." Now that's a quotation that is exact from Nelson Mandela. When you look at government policy, what you see is — certainly, with the poverty piece — no effort, no sincere effort on behalf of this government to deal with a very real problem.

You have Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, who has called on the Premier — has called on the Leader of the Opposition as well — to meet with her to work together on a poverty plan, asked legislators here to work on dealing on that poverty issue. Yet the Premier will not participate in dealing with that.

We heard nothing in the throne speech that really talks about that issue at all, because it's not a priority for this government. Yet if you're going to quote Nelson Mandela, to be true to what he believes in…. He says very clearly that you have to deal with the issue of child poverty, but year after year I've come to this House and it is never dealt with in a meaningful way. That's fundamentally wrong.

Well done, Norm MacDonald. Take note, Gordon Campbell; that is the way to quote Nelson Mandela. And that is how you should approach public policy, as a tool for improving the lives of British Columbians.*

* Thanks again to Paul Willcocks over at Paying Attention for this simple idea.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Why I love Vancouver

Yep, it's spring already in this rainy city. Photo by Galit Mastai.

There are so many reasons to love Vancouver, but here are a few of them for those of you that need a pre-Olympics pick-me-up.

The weather

It's already springtime. One year I played tennis outside every week starting the last week of January. It's not uncommon to see our first flowers coming up in the middle of January. Yes, we'll have some shitty weather in February, and then it will rain until the end of April, but right now it's sunny. Here are some photos my friend Galit took recently in our Mt. Pleasant neighbourhood.

The neighbourhoods

Today, to enjoy the sun, we went over to Commercial Drive to grab some coffee and pastries for breakfast. I miss two things about Commercial after moving over to Mt. Pleasant last year: Italian cafes and Chinese grocers. I was once a denizen of Abruzzo, the best place to watch soccer in the city, and it feels very good to go back to order an Americano con leche para ir (the servers are always Spanish-speakers). We got our coffees, and while waiting were treated to a goal by Messi in Barca's match against Getafe.

Abruzzo, Magpie and Highlife, the Saturday trifecta. Sadly Magpie
closed down a couple of years ago.

From Abruzzo we wandered up to Fratelli's, an amazing Italian bakery at 2nd and Commercial. A spinach and feta brioche and chocolate croissant complimented the Italian coffee perfectly. From there we wandered back down the street, stopping at Highlife World Music to buy some records, a new offering in an excellent music store.

The bookstores

I've written before about Pulp Fiction, the best bookstore in the city, and I'd like to mention another. Bookstores, more often than not, accurately reflect the neighbourhood they are situated in. Like Pulp Fiction, like Little Sister's in the West End, the People's Co-op Bookstore on Commercial embodies this principle well. In addition to the standard fare, it also features local and Canadian writers, labour theory and queer fiction, and a great selection of magazines. Unfortunately they were out of Charles Demers' excellent Vancouver Special, a book I highly recommend to anyone with an eye on Vancouver's history and politics.

I tried to pick a good quote, but there are too many.

I almost never leave a bookstore without a book, so I apologize, PCB. I've been on a tear recently, and need to read the ones I already have.

It's home

On my way home from coffee, pastries and shopping, I stopped in at Tino's, my barber shop on Commercial. For $15, and about 12 minutes of my time, he gives me a perfect haircut with only the briefest of instructions. Here is a typical exchange:

Tino: A trim?
Me: Yep. Pretty short.

And that's it. Really. I'll be good for another couple of months, then when my hair's to shaggy again, over to Tino's I'll go.

Then I stopped in at Dollar Grocers for some Avalon milk and to say hi to Quoc (who asked for my autograph... guess I haven't been in in a while).

So, yah, the Olympics may suck for some folks who commute to downtown to work or need to take transit during the gold medal hockey game, and homelessness may still be a huge issue, and the Downtown Eastside may still feel like a warzone on occasion, and there are huge swaths of South Vancouver that deserve zero attention and gang warfare may spill over onto our streets, and it may rain for a month straight at times (for real, it did a few years ago), and there might not be many corporate headquarters and we may all dress in Gore-tex and it might be hard to find a slim-fit dress shirt...

But I sure love Vancouver.