Friday, April 30, 2010


I'm in the USA this week, a country I can see from my window at home. It's just across the water where that barricade of mountains rises up over a few wisps of smoke trailing upward in the wind from Port Angeles. It's oh so close, but it's a big rigamarole getting there from Victoria. Once across the strait on the Coho ferry it's only a two hour drive to the Tacoma Narrows bridge, skipping the sometimes hair raising drive through Seattle. Squeezed between Puget Sound and and Lake Washington, Seattle acts like a kind of sphincter to motorists trying to get by it. I usually take the Coho to avoid it, but the Coho schedule is infrequent and not that favourable and since the tightening up of the border the formalities require getting to the terminal an hour ahead of time. Combine this with the necessity of getting there early enough to make sure you can get on board, and the time needed to get to my destination stretches from two hours to six hours.
But it's six of one and half dozen of the other, so this time I took the 7am BC Ferry to Tsawassen. That turns out to be a pretty good time to go. The border crossing isn't too crowded, and it was still morning when I switched from I5 to 405. It went pretty well, no traffic jams, not even any slowdowns. But it was still 6 hours from the time I got in line at the ferry to the time I arrived in Puyallup.
Puyallup lies in a lush river valley and is famous locally for one thing- the Western Washington Fair, which takes place in September. The same roller coaster that awed me so much as a child still twists and turns next to Fifth Street but the grounds have expanded since then.
A little farther down the street the high school football field has been rebuilt in grand style, and is named after Mr. Sparks, the coach who led them to the state championship. He taught mechanical drawing when I was there and had the nickname of Blinky. I never would have guessed that he would become our football coach.
The top of the hill above the fairgrounds has changed beyond recognition. When I knew Puyallup my Uncle Clarence had a nice little acreage there. I especially remember the wonderful pies my Aunt Ivy used to bake from the yellow cherries growing next to the house. Now I can't even make out where that little acreage was. I'm told it was about where the Target store is now. In fact the whole South Hill is covered with malls and big box stores where it once sported small farms and acreages just like my uncle's. I'm not opposed to commerce and business at all, but I must say I liked it a lot better the way it used to be.
When I come for a visit I always take a drive by my old house and the high school. Both are still there. I always wonder if the new owners still have trouble with condensation. I had a crush on the girl next door, but her family moved away while I was away in the Navy and I have no idea what ever happened to her. The high school has a new addition and doesn't look the same. Hard to believe it's so long since I left.
Funny, though. Guys wore their pants really low when I was there, too... though they were above the hips at least.
Going back I'll probably take highway 9 after I get around Seattle. It's curvy, quiet, scenic and very rural. Recommended to anyone who likes to take his time and relax.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Cattle Point

There is something about the seashore that entrances me. The rhythmic lapping of the waves, the salty tang of the air, the sheer weight and power of the ocean, the knowledge that in the depths a world entirely alien to me teems with life, it's all so beautiful and strange. I was disappointed that today was cloudy, but even so Cattle Point, a rather wild place, was still beautiful. Beauty is everywhere, but it's easier for me to see in some places than others. It's my belief that when we perceive beauty we are perceiving God directly. It's not the things themselves that are God, but the beauty itself. That's why I think it's important to cultivate our sense of beauty. The things we see register through our senses, but it is our souls that recognizes beauty.
I am what's called a cradle Catholic, having been raised in a strongly Catholic home. Like most young people I went through a phase of skepticism before coming to the realization that the Church has mankinds deepest, most profound and thorough body of thought on morality, ethics, and the relationship we mortals have with eternity. If I had paid more attention to it I might have avoided some of the serious damage I have caused in my life. So when I hear of the likes of the New York Times, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins lecturing the Pope on morality, I am understandably disturbed. Hitchens and Dawkins want to arrest him, and I suppose their next step would be to put the rest of us Catholics in reeducation camps. The provocation du jour changes from time to time, but the technique of exaggeration, outright lies and misinformation, and above all the mindless, visceral anti catholic bigotry remains the same.
Do Catholics, even priests and nuns who take vows to serve Christ's flock, sometimes violate the moral teachings of the Church and commit grievous sins? Of course. It's just as the Church teaches- we are all fallible, we are all inclined to commit grievous offences. I am just as disturbed as anyone by prominent people who call themselves Catholic- Nancy Pelosi would be a good example- and then turn around and do their utmost to promote laws that allow the killing of babies. It is despicable for a person entrusted with the priesthood to deliberately corrupt a child, but the 50 million abortion deaths in the US since Roe vs Wade is monstrous. And keep in mind that the Church is reviled by the New York Times both for having a culture of permissiveness regarding child abuse (which it doesn't) and for opposing 'a woman's right to choose.' (a euphemism for killing unborn children) In fact the Church has been opposed to abortion since the days of the apostles when Christians routinely rescued unwanted children from dunghills where they were left for dogs and vultures to eat. It is part and parcel of the fundamental reverence for life taught by all the Church teachers and thinkers to condemn such practices. One of the most enduring Christian images is of Mary and the infant Jesus, a favourite subject of all the great artists in our tradition. The family, the child, no matter how humble is precious to the Church.
If Hitchens and Dawkins called for the arrest of the executive of Planned Parenthood and Nancy Pelosi as enablers for the holocaust of our children it would be understandable.
But still, I would say that the remarkable ignorance of the general public, and even most Catholics, regarding the teachings and insights of the Church is largely the Church's fault. With all the possibilities of the media that have come into existence in the last century it has failed to realize that the pulpit no longer has the power to influence it once had. Movies, radio, TV, and now the internet present huge opportunities which the Church has been slow to utilize. But one could go all the way back to the 16th century when the printing press came into use. From then on the Church lost its monopoly on the dissemination of Christian doctrine because more and more people could read the bible, often newly translated into the vernacular, for themselves and make up their own minds. A new class of interpreters came forward, like Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Wesley and many more who led movements in different directions. For opportunists like Henry VIII they provided all the excuse he needed to seize the Church's considerable wealth.
The inability of the Church to communicate its message continues today to the point where it has become almost incomprehensible to the modern mind. What does the public, even the Catholic public, understand about the meaning of concepts like sin, grace, free will, penance, salvation? Why does the Church insist that Jesus was literally the son of God? Is Hitchens even remotely familiar with these ideas? He shows very little sign of it, and how can he disagree with something when he doesn't know what he's disagreeing about?
As for Dawkins, his claim to fame rests in his books on the primacy of the genetic code to explain the creation of life. No room for God in his thinking. And there is nothing in the logic of the genetic code to make concepts like morality meaningful. His selfish gene is only concerned with its continuance, nothing else. And if that's the case, how can Dawkins condemn any actions by anyone since they are all predetermined by DNA- by his own theology, the DNA is always right. The fact that he has yet to follow his own logic this far doesn't say much for his intelligence.
It seems to me that the New York Times, Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins should try out a time honoured Catholic technique called an examination of conscience. That's where a person goes off by himself and thinks through his beliefs and actions in the light of the ten commandments, among other Christian orthodoxies. Of those commandments, the one about bearing false witness would seem to be especially appropriate.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The new world order

It's good to start out the day with a pot of tea at Murchies, but after a long walk through Beacon Hill Park on a warm day, nothing caps things off like a foaming mug of beer. If somebody had told me in 1975 that in 2010 a pint of beer would cost seven bucks, I would have laughed in his face. At that time I believe a glass of beer cost about two bits. On the other hand, the beer was insipid, tasteless stuff with a strong chemical aftertaste. Now, just to prove that I'm not entirely anti NDP, I hereby thank them for passing legislation to make neighbourhood pubs possible. I'm not sure who to thank for allowing us to have brew pubs, but that was when we started to see some real variety in beers. The Irish Times is not a brew pub, but it has a lovely selection of ales from the British Isles, including several Irish brews. The Irish seem to be the only people who are able to mass produce beer of such excellent quality. How do they get that fine grained, foamy head percolating up from the depths, anyway?

Still, seven bucks for a pint puts it in the luxury item class. Maybe that's a good thing, too, as it usually means I have to stop after one round.

In those old days of 15 cent beer we used to load the tables to the point of collapse (both ours and the table's) just before closing time. That was a long time ago, but at least by the time I was of age women were allowed to enter a bar without an escort. Canada has a long tradition of protecting us from ourselves. Canadians, especially in the small prairie towns also have a long tradition of getting as drunk as possible and then getting into fights at closing time. Both traditions are alive and well in Victoria, but instead of protecting us from the evils of drink, now 'they' want to save us from the ravages of nicotine. The termites, I mean. When that campaign finally found its way into the traditional barn sized beverage rooms that only hotels could have, the barn sized beverage rooms mostly died. Their clientele of heavy smoking fishermen, farmers, truck drivers and construction workers, who are also heavy drinkers as a rule, pretty much vanished. Many of the hotels vanished, too, putting quite a few people out of work. That didn't matter to the termites, of course.

While they don't like to see us smoke and drink, they don't seem to mind if we do drugs. Oh, the police still enforce the drug laws in a half hearted way, but they know anyone they arrest will be back on the street in jig time. It's all just a show so lawyers and judges can live in grand houses. That's why there are so many drugees on the streets, not to mention living in government supported public housing, buying drugs with their welfare checks, and going through the revolving doors of our judicial system. But that isn't enough. What 'they' say we urgently need is a safe injection site. We have had needle exchanges already, which were not very popular in the neighbourhoods where they were set up. That may explain why they can't find a new location where the neighbours will accept them. I wonder why.

I am not at all sure who 'they' are, but I do know that they always have access to the media and city council, unlike us skeptics who can't seem to get the logic of 'safe injection sites' through our skulls. How does it help solve the drug problem if we make it easier to get drugs? What kind of a mixed message does it send to a kid when he's told by his parents how harmful drugs are, only to find that a government approved and sponsored place to get drugs is just around the corner?

I don't know who 'they' are, but I'm sure they are a species of termite. It failed to spoil my walk through Beacon Hill Park on Sunday to know that 'they' managed to convince a judge to let the homeless to sleep there at night. What a strange world this has become. Nevertheless, the chestnuts have burst into full leaf, the turtles were basking on a mudbank in Goodacre Lake, and only the ducks and squirrels were begging for handouts.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Victoria's Working Waterfront

I like our working waterfront (the part that doesn't primarily cater to visitors) so on Saturday I meandered down to Ogden Point to see up close the large derrick I could see in the distance from my building in Vic West. The derrick turned out to be mounted on a research ship of some type. The Commissionaire at the gate only knew that it was used for drilling in the ocean and that it was secretive enough not to allow Victoria longshoreman access to the ship. It was at the pier where cable laying ships frequently dock.

At the pier next to the Heliport another unusual ship was unloading its cargo… of yachts, apparently. This Singapore based ship sported giant cranes on its decks. From a distance they could have been monstrous praying mantises from another planet.

While I was at Ogden Point he termites were busy in the Inner Harbour. Since I don't read the papers or watch the news much I often miss out on their gatherings. It was while flipping through the channels that I caught an interview with Elizabeth May, with a swarm of plastic kayaks for backdrop. The busy little Green Party nabob is pretty much against anything that might increase our wealth. This in spite of the fact that she herself is from a prominent and wealthy American family.

Before going any further, I would like to mention how the Green Party began. Originally it was called the Alternate List, a squatters group supported by the East German secret police, Stasi. It's purpose was to destabilize the democratic government of West Berlin by mobilizing young activists to take over buildings still unoccupied after the war. Somewhere along the line the brain trust caught on to the potentialities of environmentalism to promote their vision of a world modelled on the dysfunctional socialist republics of Eastern Europe. Termites thrive in dunghills I suppose, and Eastern Europe under the communists was a typical socialist dunghill. The inhabitants of those countries are still trying to dig their way out many years after the communists were overthrown.

Oh, and by the way, one of the reasons Stasi was so effective was that they had a large pool of recently unemployed members of the Gestapo to draw upon. Thus the direct connection the Green Party has to the Nazis. Unemployed Gestapo- Stasi- the Alternate List- the Green Party. It must be in the DNA, as an early form of nature worship was one of the features of early Naziism.

The occasion for Ms May's presence was the kerfuffle manufactured by the media over a proposal to build a marina for luxury yachts along the Songhees waterfront. Who knows how far the kayakers had to drive to launch their props. Luxury Yachts, a howl went out, it can't be! Why, why, we all thought the waterfront was reserved for canoeists and kayakers and rowers, like us. How dare they clutter up our little playground! Don't they know that it is meant for our amusement?

The fact that it would create jobs and bring in offshore money to our local economy means nothing to them, judging by some of the comments expressed by 'stake holders.' The odd thing about socialists is that while they claim to represent the interests of the 'working man,' when an actual job comes in sight they act like Little Miss Muffets.

Ogden Point is one part of Victoria's working waterfront, the one where the larger, deep ocean ships have room to tie up. The Upper Harbour is where the fishing fleet, tugs, barges, and other smaller vessels operate. Not much was going on there Sunday but I took a few shots anyway. This is also where the Galloping Goose trail system has its Victoria beginnings. And isn't this the way it should be? Who has jurisdiction over Victoria's numerous waterfronts has been the subject of a lot of wrangling over the years between the feds, the province, and the city. What part of it should be commercial/industrial, how much residential, how much recreation. I think a mix is a good thing, but there has been a strong push to eliminate the unsightliness of cement plants, scrap metal recyclers, and marine related industries I think this would be very wrong. You can build houses pretty much anywhere on land, but you can't have shipping without water. And we are a maritime community. So I welcome the luxury yachts.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


In a preindustrial age I can imagine Victoria as a city state like Venice or a principality like Monaco, but most often a polis like ancient Athens. A city state like Athens was not a stand alone city like Venice but the chief town of Attica. The chief citizens of Athens were farmers with estates in the surrounding area. Athens was a defensive point situated around the Acropolis, which might be translated as High Town. If transnational civilization collapses Mt. Douglas would be an excellent place for an acropolis. Like Athens, Victoria would need a strong navy to prevent invaders from landing on its extensive shores. Like Athens, Victoria does not have the most fertile soil and would have to depend on trade and the skills and expertise of its citizens.
The point I am trying to make is that the Victoria region has the feeling of a small country. The mountains march down to the sea at the Malahat cutting us off from the rest of Vancouver Island so that it becomes a natural border. Below that border, the geography of our hinterland is remarkably diverse and a bit confusing, what with hills, lakes, inlets and rocky coastlines. Yet it also has flat areas and fertile creek bottoms. The central part of the Saanich Peninsula is a plateau. Looking out at the fields from Stelly's Cross Road, a Saskatchewanian would feel right at home.
And on West Burnside Road, the rolling hills and meadows resemble horses heaven. In other words, just a short drive from downtown is the countryside, and a beautiful countryside it is, too. Our local farmers can't really compete with the big commercial farmers on the mainland, but many of them try. Strangely, Victoria lacks a large farmers market ala Pike Place in Seattle or Granville Island in Vancouver. That remains my biggest beef with Victoria. We need one. I know just the spot for it, too, but that's for future posts.
As a hotbed of trendy leftists ideas the 'locovore' craze finds a ready home here. A few government bureaucracies like to promote the idea, providing grants for such as community markets. And the plaint is that Big Agriculture is to blame for the unavailability of local products in the big grocery chains.
Personally, I think government regulations are a big part of the problem. Canadians are very fond of cozy arrangements, and one of the coziest of arrangements goes by the name of Marketing Board. We have all sorts of those in Canada. What they do is keep prices up by preventing too much competition which would force farmers to become efficient. We have egg marketing boards, dairy marketing boards, wheat marketing boards and probably lots more I don't know about. In order to sell these items in Canada a license is needed, which becomes your property and can be bought and sold, and the value of which relies on how much the holder is allowed to produce of the commodity. Naturally, by restricting the supply, both the price of the commodity and the value of the license is kept artificially high. This makes it very expensive for young farmers to get started and reduces the incentive for a farmer to innovate or learn to serve a specialty market. It is actually illegal for Western Canadian wheat farmers (but not Eastern Canadian farmers) to sell their grain on the open market. Farmers have been sent to jail in Canada for selling wheat! A producer of cheese in the Fraser Valley lost a long court case after being sued for having the temerity of buying milk for his product from a farmer without a milk license.
But of course, the holders of licenses do well and will fight tooth and nail to keep their privileged semi monopolies, and they have the money and influence needed to keep the politicians in line.
Those restrictions in the market fall on the primary producer, and to keep a lid on competion among processors of agricultural products a multitude of new labelling restrictions were introduced a few years ago. Ostensibly for safety and other justifications it became necessary for value added processors to attach a label listing nutritional information. Not a problem for larger manufacturers who could afford to submit their products to an independent laboratory, but many smaller, home-based concerns suddenly found themselves forced out of business.
So much for locovores.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The seedy side of downtown

Spring made a surprise visit to Victoria yesterday, and took a look around. Hope she comes back soon.
The epicentre of downtown Victoria clusters around the Bay Centre, which is one of the few shopping malls I have been to that doesn't give me an immediate urge to flee. On the Government Street side is where the tourists like to go, and further south is the Parliament complex, hotels, offices and then the James Bay neighbourhood. All within a shouting distance of the picturesque and endlessly interesting Inner Harbour.
North of the Bay Centre, downtown gets seedier. The buildings are not as well maintained. Tattoo parlours, night clubs, comic book shops, consignment clothing places and so on abound. Then comes Chinatown which has a flavour all it's own, fragrant, too, with the smells coming from the produce shops. And after Chinatown the buildings get older and seedier, unoccupied lots are given over to parking.
Store Street is only a few blocks long and behind the building facades is the Upper Harbour where tourists seldom come. Most of the elderly structures here are of the utilitarian nature, but to me are full of charm. Advertising from fifty years ago or more is still painted on brick walls.
Capital Iron used to be an iron mongery serving the marine trade. By constantly reinventing itself it has managed to continue in business all these years. The lower floor used to be filled with artifacts from those olden days, but now all the ships wheels, binnacles and other gear is heaped up into one small corner along with all sorts of other ancient items of machinery. The rest of the floor seems taken up with hot tubs.
Down the street from Capital Iron is a prosperous kayak shop, and next to that is Victoria's Value Village, which now bills itself as the community donation centre. Personally, I can't imagine buying someones used underwear, but the place does a smashing business, especially at the end of the month when the welfare checks come out.
It's an area I am very fond of, a mix of decaying industrial era and decaying social activism. A middle aged Chinese-Canadian lady was giving a speech. I only spent a few minutes there so I really don't know what it was about. All I caught was a bit about how her ancestors were buried in the Chinese cemetery near Gonzales Bay. It's a lovely spot, situated on a flat shelf of land next to the sea with a rocky hill behind it. However, the lady was lamenting that the Chinese of those days didn't have citizenship rights and were forced to create their own schools and other social amenities. The largely white, middle-aged, guilt ridden audience nodded in solemn approval. Hmm. I wonder which she would prefer, a relatively peaceful and secure life in a prosperous country as a somewhat marginalized cultural minority, or a life in China at the same time. Let's see. There was the endemic warfare as various potentates sought to dominate the others, there was the Japanese invasion and the rape of Nanking, and let's not forget the fifty or sixty million who died during Mao's Great Leaps Forward or Cultural Revolutions. Of course, her family could have gone to Japan instead of Canada. There the Chinese are still not entitled to citizenship no matter how many generations they had been there. How about Viet Nam? Well, I seem to remember something about Boat People, mostly Chinese, who preferred taking their chances with sharks and hurricanes to dealing with Jane Fonda's buddies from the North.
Oh, yes, I forget. Only white people can be racist. It must be in the lexicon somewhere, although I've never actually seen it. For instance, when Mao got rid of all the Russian settlers who had lived for generations in Northwest China, that can't be racism because Chinese aren't white. I used to know a Russian refugee from there and he liked to talk about the forests of peach trees where he used to hunt wild pigs.
According to my own mental lexicon, racism is a human norm. Or maybe a better word would be race awareness, something we all have. That's not wrong. What is wrong is racial hatred, or if you want to use the fancy word, xenophobia. There was a positively hilarious piece in the National Post last week by a writer who had attended an anti racism education program. Run mostly by self-loathing, guilt ridden white women, it seems, they rather agree with me. There is absolutely nothing any white person can say, think, or do which is not racist, according to them. However, they see this as a sign of the incurable disease of being white, while I see it as proof that everybody has a finely tuned sense of who they are. We are different from each other. I like the French saying, vive la difference. Whether the deciding factor in the differences is cultural or genetic, I don't know, but I also like the biblical quote, "She is black but comely."
Racial and cultural clashes in the past took place mostly on the edges of geographic zones, but now that those zones have largely been obliterated, we really do have to think sensibly about these things, especially when we are confronted with an aggressively chauvinistic culture from the Middle East.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Cordova Bay

One of my definitions of an urban village is that it serves a local area and another is that it is in walking distance of the residents of its neighbourhood. Cordova Bay minimally qualifies for both definitions. Much of the neighbourhood has the feel of an out of town beachfront resort. A few amenities have congealed there amidst a few clusters of developments catering to seniors, but mostly it is a string of cottages along the beach which have turned quite upscale in recent years.
McMorrans is a restaurant that has been the nightlife there since the old days, and Saturday they had a closing down party. No longer will they have a big band playing on Saturday night's for people to dance to. Nope, those stylish old ways don't suit the times, I guess. Further down the road, right next to the golf course, and right below a mammoth condo development, is an organic produce market where you can buy your arugula. Things are different now.
So the family invited everyone down for a barbecue so they could say goodbye to the community they have served for so long. To help create an appropriate atmosphere, they also invited local antique car collectors down to show off their shiny machinery. Those old cars are indubitably far more photogenic than there descendants. Quite a few of them were even older than me.

Friday, April 2, 2010

A few days ago the view of Ross Bay and Clover Point was a study in calmness and serenity but it's not always like that.

Victoria is a windy city, and I'm not speaking here of the politicians who gather together every year under the dome beside the Inner Harbour.

Except when the Swiftsure races are being held, some wind is perfectly normal in Victoria, especially around the changing off the seasons. Then there are days (more often nights) when it gets up some real momentum and shrieks and howls so much I have to get up and close all my windows to make the blinds stop thrashing about. This morning it was really really, blowing, so like all good Victorians I hastened down to Ross Bay so the salt spray coming across the road could splash my old but trusty Ford Escort. You can't be a real Canadian unless you have a rusty car.

I wasn't the only one trying unsuccessfully to capture the power and fury of the ocean in jpeg format, but I did my best. The wind was strong enough to take my breath away, and it was good I had the beater to brace myself against otherwise I wouldn't have been able to hold my camera steady.

For firefighters, electricians and woodchopper crews it's already been a busy day as Mother Nature was pruning the trees. She does a lot of work, but leaves a mess which is kind of inconvenient for anyone who unwisely leaves his car parked under a large tree. Without a car handy, large branches make do by falling on electrical lines, forcing frustrated couch potatoes to curtail their TV watching.

All right, we've had enough of this rambunctious weather. Somebody order up a nice big helping of warm sunny days, and make it snappy.