fear & loathing in Lotusland

Month: July, 2014

The Human Origin

by Zbigniew

In 1960, following visits to the Berlin Aquarium and the British Museum of Natural history, Murray Newman envisioned a bold old idea to reel in the punters for his fledgling Vancouver Aquarium: life sized sculptured replicas of the charismatic orca. In 1964 sculptor Samuel Birch was hired:

“He set up a harpoon gun on Saturna Island …. Two months later, a pod of 13 killer whales approaches the shore. Burich harpoons a young whale, injuring but not killing it. Immediately, two pod members came to the aid of the stunned whale, pushing it to the surface to breathe. Then the whale seemed to come to life and struggled to free itself–jumping and smashing its tail and, according to observers, uttering ‘shrill whistles so intense that they could easily be heard above the surface of the water 300 feet away.’ Burich set off in a small boat to finish the job. He fired several rifle shells at the whale … but the orca did not die.”1

Newman proposed saving the 15 foot, one-ton whale. A line was attached to the harpoon in its back and the whale towed to Vancouver, a journey of 16 hours through rough seas and squalls.

“Moby Doll” –the first killer whale to be studied in captivity- was put on display in a pen at the Burrard Drydocks. He died 87 days later.



“The pressures facing our oceans, and indeed our entire earth, are complex. The Vancouver Aquarium, with its long history of research and conservation work, is committed to generating science and expanded public engagement to promote the long-term solutions. Almost all of the pressures in the ocean realm are of human origin, and it will have to be humans that bring forward the needed changes.”2

Dr. John Nightingale, President & CEO, Vancouver Aquarium








A Summertime Primer

by Zbigniew

Sitting by the window for the better part of an hour and its been a river of humanity, an uninterrupted flow of youth and families, posers and poseurs, a couple of shirtless guys with large snakes draped over their shoulders, a significant contingent of suburbanites, and a whole lot of newbie’s -all making their way down Davie for English Bay and for the Festival of Light.

The Festival of Light -it’s all you really need to know about Vancouver, a summertime primer:

  • corporate sponsorship;
  • competition;
  • crowds;
  • cops;
  • razzle-dazzle;
  • drones; and,
  • forgettable.

A River Will Run Through It

by Zbigniew

“River District is Southeast Vancouver’s newest and largest waterfront community.”

” … River District will offer a new way to live, work and play in Vancouver.”

“… fronting the river, will be Pier Point, aptly named after its iconic pier. Condominium apartments here will offer easy access to tree-lined trails by the water.”

“To the east is Avalon, named for the extensive park that repeat. [sic] The area has a great expanse of public greenspace for sport and recreation. Here, homes will be multi-family, many with excellent elevated views over the river towards Mount Baker.”

“The Future is Here”


River District

Vancouver Flood Plain


by Zbigniew

Responding to the rampant speculation surrounding Mayor Gregor Robertson’s separation from Amy Robertson, his spouse of 30 years, undeclared Non-Partisan Association (Party) mayoralty candidate Kirk LaPointe declared:

“As a journalist, I have had many opportunities to report on the private lives of public figures. I long ago concluded that, unless there is an impact on duties, those matters are irrelevant.”

That’s a principled sentiment, one that both harkens back to a time when the Washington press corps kept schtum on a sitting president’s sincere and open interest in nailing anything in a skirt, yet allows space for the baroque excesses of Our Ford.

But what does LaPointe mean by “duties”?

My youthful civic lessons, “social studies”, imbedded in me the idea that the ultimate duty of elected officials was to balance prevailing and often contradictory forces -economic and civic, private and public, capital and labour, commerce and art, freedom and security etc etc etc- in a manner that yielded the most benefit, for most people, most of the time.

Of course, only a minority was so inclined, and fewer achieved The Delicate Balance -and then not for very long.

Still the expectation –or hope- is there, I hope, that some are still dedicated to the duty of bolstering the public good, that there still remains an ember of the great mid-century liberal consensus.

Local governance suggests that we’ve clearly moved in the direction of a post-democracy.

The governing coalition is heavily funded by development forces and advances their agenda shamelessly. Heritage, parks, social diversity, views, the integrity of neighbourhoods, and the even long-term viability of the local economy combined do not effect a counterbalance –they don’t carry much weight.

At the same time they’ve abdicated their political authority. They’ve bought the old canard that the civil servants can be trusted. To the unelected they’ve handed over the political functions of consultation and the definition of the public agenda. With the city’s Planning & Development ruling the departmental hierarchy, the results are skewed, unrepresentative.

So, for the beholden, the self-neutered-but-still-nominally-in-control, what duties remain? Performance.

The play’s the thing. They’re characters in a spectacle entitled The City of Vancouver, a political soap opera of boosting, spinning, dodging, and –occasionally- damage control –as when the tower mania of the mandarins punches through the façade. Mostly, it’s endless campaigning for audience approval. Ringside are a bunch of guys in expensive suits, smoking cigars and throwing money onto the stage.

Politics as show business for ugly people -and Gregor: Mayor Handsome, the star of the show, and the hero: photogenic, green, and non-threatening. He’s had a long run, but the performance is looking old, tired, unconvincing, not quite so wholesome. And, for better or worse, that’s the issue.


It’s sunny and hot. I’m enjoying lunch on a patio, under the cool of an awning, in the shadow of cranes, by the water, with Inge Finge.

“So, who the Mayor boning?” she asks.

That’s a great question.