A Walk by the Seawall

Park Bench
Orig­i­nal­ly uploaded by ddruck­er.

We took advan­tage of a sun­ny fall after­noon to walk across the Bur­rard Bridge (less pre­car­i­ous look­ing than the Granville Bridge which is clos­er to home). False Creek was look­ing very autum­nal, with gold-tinged sun­shine and a sur­pris­ing amount of col­or­ful leaves. Sev­er­al con­tain­er ships were in a pret­ty Impres­sion­is­tic fog on the hori­zon. Still, it was warm enough to walk with just a light jack­et.

I often notice the inscrip­tions on park bench­es — some­times cel­e­brat­ing a grad­u­a­tion or engage­ment, but more like­ly a sort of everyman’s mon­u­ment. Some are pompous, but many are very sweet. The two I like best so far are one that reads ‘Anoth­er day in par­adise’, which is what the per­son who was being com­mem­o­rat­ed prob­a­bly said when they sat on that bench. I also liked this one. (Please sit & enjoy one of his favourite views).

A Night in 1947 vs. Cabalism of the 2000s

First, the 1940s
Photo by Matt
pho­to from Matt M.

Tonight we had a fun and inter­est­ing evening; My friend Matt want­ed to take us out to din­ner as thanks for our tak­ing care of his cat Ivan while he was away. In addi­tion, there was an event at the Port Moody Sta­tion Muse­um, where his girl­friend Oana worked: a Mur­der Mys­tery din­ner. The Port Moody Sta­tion Muse­um is inter­est­ing in and of itself — this was the end­point of the Trans Cana­da Rail­road and there are tons of inter­est­ing and evoca­tive arti­facts from the sta­tion, rail­way and area itself on dis­play.
You may have attend­ed a Mur­der Mys­tery Din­ner Par­ty or some­thing like that. They were very much the rage for sev­er­al years in the 80s; I remem­ber attend­ing one at my friends Rob and Lau­ra where I turned out to be the mur­der­er. This one was a lot more fun, because the din­ner and ‘mur­der’ all took place aboard a restored 1920s rail­car, the Venos­ta, which is now per­ma­nent­ly parked in front of the Station/Museum. Dur­ing our din­ner and ‘train jour­ney’, vol­un­teer actors, play­ing the part of sol­diers return­ing from the war, wait­ress­es, oth­er pas­sen­gers and con­duc­tor, all enact­ed a who­dunit, and we all tried to guess who the mur­der­er was and filled out some papers at the end. My guess was near­ly cor­rect (it was the victim’s wife, pre­sumed dead, who had come back to kill him part­ly for revenge and also because he was now a rich man, hav­ing made his for­tune in war bonds, and she was still named in the will. Ah yes, the usu­al.) My only mis­take was in who was the per­son his wife was mas­querad­ing as (not the wait­ress, although she was clear­ly wear­ing a plat­inum blonde wig!) The actors stayed in char­ac­ter for most of the evening, sit­ting amongst us, as the vic­tim showed up at the begin­ning, ine­bri­at­ed, and then prompt­ly dis­ap­peared, much to the mock hor­ror of all those in atten­dance. Love let­ters, telegraphs and oth­er clues were found on the train­car floor and the victim’s jack­et (which he left behind when he was pushed out of the train). It made me think of the pow­er one could have to expe­ri­ence his­to­ry as if one was actu­al­ly there, some­what the way the US’s Colo­nial Williams­burg, or Plimoth Plan­ta­tion or Canada’s Upper Cana­da Vil­lage cre­ate the illu­sion of trans­port­ing you to that era. In those cas­es, it’s the 1700s or 1800s. To trans­port some­one to the 1940s would be both eas­i­er and hard­er — it’s clos­er to present day, but the dif­fer­ences between 1947 and 2005 are sub­tler. Also, there are plen­ty of peo­ple around who were liv­ing then, who could eas­i­ly see when some­thing was inac­cu­rate or even just slight­ly off. Still, I won­der what it would be like for the Sta­tion Muse­um to one week a year pre­tend it was back in oper­a­tion, cir­ca 1947, com­plete with the Cana­di­an Pacif­ic Rail­way (CPR) employ­ees and pas­sen­gers…

Back in the US Today
Here’s some­thing real­ly amaz­ing, and more than a lit­tle chill­ing:

Sec­re­tary of State Col­in Powell’s for­mer chief of staff has offered a remark­ably blunt crit­i­cism of the admin­is­tra­tion he served, say­ing that for­eign pol­i­cy had been usurped by a “Cheney-Rums­feld cabal,” and that Pres­i­dent Bush has made the coun­try more vul­ner­a­ble, not less, to future crises.The com­ments came in a speech Wednes­day by Lawrence Wilk­er­son, who worked for Mr. Pow­ell at the State Depart­ment from 2001 to ear­ly 2005. Speak­ing to the New Amer­i­ca Foun­da­tion, an inde­pen­dent pub­lic-pol­i­cy insti­tute in Wash­ing­ton, Mr. Wilk­er­son sug­gest­ed that secre­cy, arro­gance and inter­nal feud­ing had tak­en a heavy toll in the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, skew­ing its poli­cies and under­cut­ting its abil­i­ty to han­dle crises.

I would say that we have court­ed dis­as­ter, in Iraq, in North Korea, in Iran, gen­er­al­ly with regard to domes­tic crises like Kat­ri­na, Rita — and I could go on back,” he said. “We haven’t done very well on any­thing like that in a long time.”

Mr. Wilk­er­son sug­gest­ed that the dys­func­tion with­in the admin­is­tra­tion was so grave that “if some­thing comes along that is tru­ly seri­ous, tru­ly seri­ous, some­thing like a nuclear weapon going off in a major Amer­i­can city, or some­thing like a major pan­dem­ic, you are going to see the inep­ti­tude of this gov­ern­ment in a way that will take you back to the Dec­la­ra­tion of Inde­pen­dence.”

For a while at least, you can read the whole arti­cle, before the New York Times puts it on it’s pay-per-view ‘Times­S­e­lect’ (which I hate). This lat­est rev­e­la­tion is noth­ing I hadn’t sus­pect­ed all along, but now that peo­ple feel they can speak the truth with­out being vil­i­fied (like Richard Clarke) or worse (like Joseph Wil­son, the hus­band of for­mer CIA agent Valerie Plame), the words final­ly com­ing across the wires are sug­gest­ing to me that the ‘begin­ning of the end of the US as we knew it’ did in fact take place as Pam and I made our hasty exit. I hope it does not play out as Mr. Wilk­er­son, who was a retired Army colonel and for­mer direc­tor of the Marine Corps War Col­lege fore­sees. Oh, and as for George W. Bush, Wilk­er­son said he was “not versed in inter­na­tion­al rela­tions, and not too much inter­est­ed in them, either.” Again, no sur­pris­es. I almost wish I could have stayed back in the 1940s.

Science Fiction, the BC Apple User Group, and 'Biblically Correct' Museum Tours

Did a cou­ple of inter­est­ing things yes­ter­day. Around noon I went down to the Granville Island The­atre, which was host­ing the 18th Annu­al Van­cou­ver Inter­na­tion­al Writer’s Fes­ti­val. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, the fes­ti­val, which was pri­mar­i­ly geared toward school­child­ren, hap­pened to coin­cide with a Teacher’s Strike, which is hope­ful­ly in its last day or two. There have been some bit­ter bat­tles with the Provin­cial Gov­ern­ment over the strike, which retroac­tive­ly deter­mined that it was ‘ille­gal’ (Far be it from me to take sides on some­thing I know so lit­tle about). The result was spot­ty atten­dance of events, which is a shame.

Nev­er­the­less, I got to hear read­ings of excerpts of works in progress by world famous sci­ence fic­tion writ­ers William Gib­son (of Neu­ro­mancer, Burn­ing Chrome, Mona Lisa Over­drive, etc.) and Spi­der Robin­son (Telem­path, Mind­killer, Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon), as well as get an auto­graph from Gib­son on a copy of his lat­est book, Pat­tern Recog­ni­tion).

It was a laid-back sort of pre­sen­ta­tion, with both authors reclin­ing in their chairs and rem­i­nisc­ing about their youth. Robin­son cit­ed Hein­lein as his biggest inspi­ra­tion and influ­ence. Heinlein’s future his­to­ry (which the grand mas­ter of sci­ence fic­tion chart­ed out ear­ly in his career and then pro­ceed­ed to write sto­ries set at dif­fer­ent times in that future), includ­ed a peri­od that cor­re­sponds rough­ly to the present day, which he called the Interregnum,“in which a back­woods revival­ist becomes dic­ta­tor of the Unit­ed States.” (from the Wikipedia). These were to be a new dark ages, dom­i­nat­ed by reli­gious fun­da­men­tal­ism. Both authors com­ment­ed on how pre­scient Hein­lein had been in this regard, and Gib­son hoped that we were at a point where it was almost over. Gib­son had moved to Cana­da dur­ing the Viet­nam war, so when we chat­ted after­ward, we talked a lit­tle about what it was like to be an Amer­i­can expat in Van­cou­ver, cur­rent events in the US, and the fact that despite what Neu­ro­mancer had pre­dict­ed, the Japan­ese didn’t end up run­ning every­thing. “But that makes it fun because it’s inter­est­ing how they f—ed it all up”, he grinned. He rec­om­mend­ed I check out the blog Poor Man’s Insti­tute, which he deemed “hys­ter­i­cal satire”. Most inter­est­ing answer to an audi­ence ques­tion? When one kid asked them “Which Super­hero is bet­ter, Spi­der­man or Bat­man?” Robin­son cit­ed Spi­der­man (“for obvi­ous rea­sons”). Gib­son came back with a more inter­est­ing answer: “Some­one once said that Batman’s super pow­er is mon­ey.”

Lat­er in the day, I went to a meet­ing of the BC Apple User Group . It was at the Scot­tish Cul­tur­al Cen­tre, about 15 min­utes south of our house, just off of Granville Street. The pre­sen­ter was Stu­art DeSpain, project man­ag­er for Excel at Microsoft. He did a fine job of answer­ing a lot of ques­tions — some rank begin­ner queries, and a few more advanced ones. I went out for a cou­ple of beers with one of the group mem­bers, his pals, and the pre­sen­ter.
Today, I got a very inter­est­ing news clip­ping from Mak­taaq:

Muse­um tours spark con­tro­ver­sy
Writ­ten by Devon Bar­clay
Tues­day, 18 Octo­ber 2005
While the courts debate the con­sti­tu­tion­al­i­ty of teach­ing intel­li­gent design and cre­ation­ism in pub­lic schools, some pri­vate schools are tak­ing anoth­er tack. Through guid­ed field trips to venues like the Den­ver Muse­um of Nature and Sci­ence and the Den­ver Zoo, tour guides hired by church­es, pri­vate schools, and reli­gious orga­ni­za­tions are tak­ing stu­dents on a hands-on “debunk­ing” of evo­lu­tion­ary sci­ence- counter to the mes­sage those same exhibits car­ry. And while using pub­lic resources to teach cre­ation­ism has been ruled uncon­sti­tu­tion­al, these tours oper­ate with­out muse­um sanc­tion or resources, and tour the exhibits as any oth­er guest might.

The tours are led by com­pa­nies like BC (Bib­li­cal­ly Cor­rect) Tours, but are noth­ing new. BC, for exam­ple, has been pro­vid­ing the tours for over 15 years, and has tak­en around 30,000 peo­ple to major his­toric sites and land­marks through­out the state. With the growth in pri­vate, reli­gious schools, how­ev­er, demand for the tours seems to be pick­ing up.

Maranatha Chris­t­ian Acad­e­my in Arva­da has used the tour­ing com­pa­ny for its own field trips. The school’s founder, Pas­tor Don Miller, “evolved into a cre­ation­ist” from an upbring­ing as an athe­ist and after a career in phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sci­ence. He start­ed the school as part of his min­istry. “I became a believ­er through the the­o­ry of intel­li­gent design,” says Miller. “The sci­en­tif­ic facts just didn’t sup­port evo­lu­tion. I saw the lies of evo­lu­tion in the pub­lic schools, and as a sci­en­tist real­ized that it didn’t qual­i­fy as a the­o­ry.”
Now, says Miller, “we have sci­en­tists that teach cre­ation­ism in our high school. We look at evo­lu­tion, and we blow it away.” As for the tour­ing com­pa­nies, Miller says, “they’re doing it based on look­ing at the fos­sil record, and it’s the right per­spec­tive.”

Oth­ers in the con­ser­v­a­tive reli­gious com­mu­ni­ty also speak high­ly of the tours, espe­cial­ly as a stim­u­lus for debate on the evo­lu­tion issue. Often lost in the intel­li­gent design debate are the sheer num­ber of vari­a­tions of the idea with­in the intel­li­gent design com­mu­ni­ty. “I’ve been a ‘day-age’ cre­ation­ist,” says Pas­tor Roger Funk of Faith Bible Chapel in Arva­da, describ­ing the view that the days described in Gen­e­sis could have been spaced over mil­len­nia. “But over the years, I’ve become more of a twen­ty-four hour day cre­ation­ist. With­in the Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty, there’s diver­gent views. Obvi­ous­ly we all believe God played a role in what­ev­er begin­nings of life took place, because that’s being a Chris­t­ian as we under­stand it.” But between evo­lu­tion, intel­li­gent design, and strict cre­ation­ism, Funk says, “chil­dren need to know all three. For maybe 40% of Amer­i­cans, evolution’s a strong belief. Chil­dren need to under­stand the the­o­ry, and that there are giant holes.”

Richard Stucky was raised as a cre­ation­ist, but says, “my par­ents gave me Nation­al Geo­graph­ic as a child because they want­ed me to be a free thinker.” He’s now the Den­ver Muse­um of Nature and Science’s Vice-Pres­i­dent for Research and Col­lec­tions. He believes that “it is anybody’s right to pro­vide their own inter­pre­ta­tion of the mate­r­i­al in the muse­um, but the tours pro­vide a great deal of false infor­ma­tion, more or less attack straw men, and don’t use a sci­en­tif­ic method for under­stand­ing the ori­gins of life.” Still, he says, “the expo­sure of real sci­en­tif­ic infor­ma­tion to all peo­ple is a very pos­i­tive thing.” “In sci­ence,” he says, “you use many of the same stan­dards as you would in a court­room. “You can’t just use tes­ti­mo­ny from a sin­gle source to draw con­clu­sions.”

With or with­out real holes in the the­o­ry of evo­lu­tion, it seems pret­ty clear that the tours “debunk­ing” the the­o­ry will con­tin­ue. “The tours are tak­ing place but they’re not spon­sored by the muse­um — we want to be very clear about that,” says Julia Tay­lor, a muse­um spokesper­son. “There are some free speech issues involved.”

Amer­i­cans Unit­ed for Sep­a­ra­tion of Church and State con­firms that. Says Jere­my Leam­ing, a spokesper­son for the organization’s D.C. office, “as a pri­vate group they have a free speech right to do this, as long as they’re not tak­ing pub­lic school kids or receiv­ing state sup­port. I don’t see a first amend­ment (church-state sep­a­ra­tion) issue.”

What can I say? More proof of the US’s slide into Heinlein’s Theo­crat­ic Inter­reg­num. Truth is stranger than Sci­ence Fic­tion.

A New Sweet (to me, at least)

Nanaimo BarsTonight I made anoth­er small step toward assim­i­la­tion into Cana­di­an cul­ture. Well, Cana­di­an child­hood cul­ture, at least.

Short­ly after we arrived here, I saw in the cof­fee shops and the occa­sion­al restau­rant a dessert called a Nanaimo Bar. This piqued my curios­i­ty, since I knew of the port of Nanaimo, a city on Van­cou­ver Island, as well as the name of a Street and Sta­tion I often see on the local busses and hear in a some­what taunt­ing tone on the Skytrain’s auto­mat­ed announce­ment sys­tem.

Dur­ing the show­ing of “A Sou­venir of Cana­da”, a movie based on the book by Dou­glas Cou­p­land dur­ing the Van­cou­ver Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, the image of this box flashed on the screen, and sev­er­al in the audi­ence gave gasps of recog­ni­tion and laughed. Here’s the cur­rent def­i­n­i­tion of Nanaimo bar I got from the Wikipedia:

The Nanaimo bar is a Cana­di­an dessert. A type of choco­late cake, it receives its name from the city of Nanaimo, British Colum­bia, where it first became known in the 1930s. It con­sists of a crumb-based lay­er, topped by a light cus­tard which is cov­ered in soft choco­late. Many vari­eties are pos­si­ble by using dif­fer­ent types of crumb, flavours of cus­tard, and types of choco­late.
Accord­ing to his­tor­i­cal leg­end, a group of friends in Nanaimo, who would lat­er found the Hare­wood Ladies’ Aux­il­iary, found the recipe in the Van­cou­ver Sun under the name “choco­late fridge cake,” and pop­u­lar­ized it under the name Nanaimo bar. How­ev­er, a search through the newspaper’s archives failed to turn up the recipe, so its ulti­mate ori­gin is unknown.
Recipes for sim­i­lar desserts are found in var­i­ous places and under var­i­ous names in North Amer­i­ca and Europe, but only in Cana­da is it so wide­ly known, and it is known to Cana­di­ans only as the Nanaimo bar.
The City of Nanaimo takes its Nanaimo bars very seri­ous­ly; the city’s mas­cot is known as Nanaimo Bar­ney and has the shape of a giant Nanaimo bar. The city also has an offi­cial recipe for the bar. In 1985, May­or Graeme Roberts start­ed a con­test to find the ulti­mate Nanaimo bar recipe; the unan­i­mous win­ner, sub­mit­ted by local res­i­dent Joyce Hard­cas­tle, was declared the offi­cial recipe and is avail­able as a hand­out from the City.

I’ve tried them in some places since then. They have dif­fered slight­ly, but in gen­er­al they are all sweet, have dif­fer­ent ratios of fill­ing to top­ping and crumb bot­tom lay­er, and some have more coconut in that lay­er than oth­ers. The choco­late also varies from recipe to recipe. It’s been fun to try dif­fer­ent ver­sions to com­pare them, even though it’s kind of like an adult order­ing a twinkies or marsh­mal­low treats. When I saw the box at the IGA, I decid­ed it was time that I tried mak­ing them first as the aver­age Cana­di­an has prob­a­bly tast­ed them. Then, I’ll try the orig­i­nal recipe.
The instruc­tions (in Eng­lish and French, of course), essen­tial­ly call for the con­tents of bags A, B, and C cor­re­spond­ing to the base, fill­ing and top­ping respec­tive­ly, mixed with but­ter in dif­fer­ent amounts. No bak­ing is involved, as the box says.

The results were aching­ly sweet and the fill­ing had an unpleas­ant grainy tex­ture. You wouldn’t want to read the ingre­di­ents on the side of the box, and it’s like­ly more than one case of type 2 dia­betes result­ed from ingest­ing too many of these, but I guess that a rite of pas­sage of sorts has been achieved, albeit about 30-odd years too late. I’ll nev­er be a native Cana­di­an, nor will I have had a child­hood with these in it, but they are a fun new dis­cov­ery.

Different Trains: The Vancouver Antique Trolley

We’ve recent­ly been to the Home Show at the Sta­di­um, but the event wasn’t very pho­to­genic (although the Glide­house, a mod­ern pre­fab house that is exact­ly the kind of place we would have built on our land in Ver­mont, had we gone with Plan A — that’s the plan that would have kicked in if Bush and his min­ions had been defeat­ed. Oh well.)
Speak­ing of trains (if the pre­vi­ous entry is still vis­i­ble), on Sat­ur­day around 1 PM we did some­thing that was far more quaint and pho­tograph­able. We took a trip on the last week­end of the year that the Van­cou­ver His­tor­i­cal Soci­ety runs the trol­ley line between Granville Island and Sci­ence World. It’s a short trip in an old (about 80 years or so) trol­ley car, com­plete with com­plete­ly refur­bished wood pan­el­ing, woven cane seats, and some of the orig­i­nal adver­tis­ing in those cards above the win­dows (Let’s go Square Danc­ing on the Trol­ley! — Anoth­er one involved mak­ing pies that were ‘digestible’).

The whole expe­ri­ence was just shy of a Dis­ney­land ride, and the car was full of tourists and par­ents with their chil­dren. The peo­ple who run it also get into the spir­it; one of them was clear­ly wear­ing a han­dle­bar mus­tache, clear­ly enjoy­ing the chance to play dres­sup each week­end dur­ing the sum­mer and fall. I have more pic­tures of our short trip to the 1920s on Flickr. It was a nice way to spend a sun­ny fall after­noon.

The trol­ley also had an inter­est­ing link to the future: In it were details of a pro­pos­al for a street­car that would fol­low some of the same tracks. I would absolute­ly love it, but as some­one point­ed out, the mass tran­sit bud­get (as well as the patience with all of the con­struc­tion and has­sles for it) was pret­ty much being blown by the RAV line I men­tioned in my last entry. A pity, as it would be an incred­i­bly con­ve­nient way for me to go to the east end of down­town, rather than the cur­rent way, which is a bus up Granville and then con­nect­ing with the Sky­train.

Of course, I nev­er met a mass tran­sit con­veyance I didn’t like. Even one that is not much dif­fer­ent than the Teacup ride.