Summer Days, Trips and Food

I haven’t been blog­ging much late­ly, par­tial­ly because I am still some­what busy with work, and also because those times when I’m not busy, I’m usu­al­ly tak­ing it easy. The weath­er has been so warm and sun­ny, and this time of year the sun sets so late (usu­al­ly around 9:20 PM) that we are tak­ing some walks after din­ner, part­ly for weight con­trol, part­ly because it’s just too good to miss the sun­sets and light on the water.

With the good weath­er have come some trips that were a pho­tog­ra­pher’s hol­i­day, notably one where we met my broth­er and his fam­i­ly at the tail end of Skag­it Tulip Festival:

Skagit Tulips - 30

Skagit Tulips - 50

Skagit Tulips - 58

We also had a nice walk through the Rieger Bird Sanc­tu­ary on West­ham Island (where we intend to go to pick berries in a cou­ple of weeks):

Feeding a Chickadee

Duck Swimming in Dappled Sunshine

Final­ly, we took a cou­ple of walks through Stan­ley Park and Pacif­ic Spir­it Park:

Near the Pavilion

Beaver Pond - 5

Beaver Pond Lilies - 6

Pam on Spirit Park Trail

Mushrooms in Spirit Park

As you might expect, with the laid-back weath­er and walks have come the sum­mer fruits and veg­eta­bles. It’s been a great year for aspara­gus, and we heard that the straw­ber­ry har­vest, due to the dry, warm spell, is excel­lent. The apri­cots (both orange and pur­ple), sweet Donut Peach­es (sor­ry, Mom and Dad, this time they were per­fect — not like the ones you had), and Dinosaur egg plums are all appear­ing in the mar­ket, and today we saw the first of what we hope will be bushels of blue­ber­ries. Tonight, we decid­ed to fol­low the cue of Edi­ble Van­cou­ver mag­a­zine and make this superb appe­tiz­er, Stuffed Apricots:

Stuffed Apricots

10 small, per­fect­ly ripe apricots
2 oz.(55g) blue brie or oth­er mild blue cheese
4 oz. (115g) cream cheese
10 small leaves fresh basil
20–40 pine nuts, toasted

Halve apri­cots and remove pits. Mix cheeses togeth­er until well blend­ed. Fill each apri­cot half with cheese and gar­nish with one basil leaf and one or two pine nuts.

Here’s what it ends up look­ing like:

Stuffed Apricots

Thanks again, Dad, for the camera.

Coming Up for Air and Tired Old Phrases

I’ve had to neglect blog­ging for much of this month, because I’ve been work­ing very hard. It’s hope­ful­ly going to work out in the end, but this is one of those times where I have to keep inton­ing that mantra “It’s Only Tem­po­rary.” So, while today was one of those pic­ture-per­fect days we in Van­cou­ver get in the spring and sum­mer, I must con­fess that I only saw it via the occa­sion­al peek at a the KatKam web­cam from my win­dow­less office. I might as well have been under­ground, instead out in the place that has once again been named by Mer­cer Con­sult­ing, Num­ber 4 of the ‘Top 5 qual­i­ty of liv­ing rank­ing for cities world­wide’. While I am proud of the fact that my home is once again up there with Vien­na, Zurich, Gene­va and Auck­land as one of the best places to live, I have to admit that for us per­son­al­ly, for a vari­ety of rea­sons,  it’s been a very tough past cou­ple months. How­ev­er, I’m look­ing for­ward to beau­ti­ful sun­ny days with cool breezes, local straw­ber­ries and aspara­gus, walks along the False Creek sea­wall and the return of the Farmer’s Mar­kets on the week­ends. The foun­tain in the park across the street is flow­ing again, and the tulips are out in full force. I just have to be sure to get out and enjoy all of those things. After all, they are all only tem­po­rary as well.

Heard Often. Way Too Often

To keep an eye on our for­mer coun­try, Pam and I have tried to catch one of the net­work news chan­nels from the US each evening over din­ner, so we keep switch­ing between TiVO record­ings of Bri­an (Williams), Katie (Couric) and Char­lie (pro­nounced the way Sarah Palin did in the puff-piece inter­views he did her, as the sharp, twangy CHAR-ly, Gib­son). I’ve been notic­ing an annoy­ing ten­den­cy by both the reporters as well as the pub­lic (and politi­cians) for using the same phras­es over and over again. Here are a few that I’ve just about had enough of:

Come Togeth­er
What does that phrase mean? Aside from the sex­u­al dou­ble-enten­dre, as far as I can tell, it means to have a pub­lic meet­ing where  prob­lems like gang vio­lence, racial strife and pover­ty are all mag­i­cal­ly over­come by an aura of good fel­low­ship. Sor­ry, I’m not buy­ing it. It’s an emp­ty phrase uttered over and over again in front of TV cam­eras by peo­ple who have no idea what they are saying.

Until recent­ly ‘bipar­ti­san’ used to mean some­thing. I think it meant that both of the big, icon­ic US polit­i­cal par­ties sup­port some­thing, as opposed to its more com­mon oppo­site, ‘par­ti­san’ (which now that I think of it, could have been Monopar­ti­san). Now,’ bipar­ti­san’ is uttered by politi­cians mean­ing (depend­ing on which side they are on)  ‘Some­thing I want­ed but nev­er got’ or ‘Some­thing we should all look like we are try­ing for even though we real­ly don’t want it any­way’.  Like Lite and Fat-Free or Sus­tain­able, it’s an now a mean­ing­less word held aloft like a flag of vic­to­ry or rag of defeat.

Wall Street always fol­lowed by Main Street
It used to be that you could say ‘Wall Street’ and every­body knew that it referred to the New York Stock Exchange, as well as the oth­er busi­ness and orga­ni­za­tions in that gen­er­al geo­graph­ic area of Man­hat­tan. Now, like Twee­dle Dee and Twee­dle Dum or Flot­sam and Jet­sam, it has become a stu­pid short­hand for the hos­til­i­ty between the rich and con­nect­ed in the Finan­cial Ser­vices Sec­tor vs. Mid­dle Amer­i­ca. Like two squab­bling chil­dren, we are sup­posed to make sure both are tak­en care of, but not to let the oth­er get jeal­ous or sulky. I hope they break up the idiom before it becomes anoth­er ‘prim and prop­er’ or ‘tooth and nail’.

‘Bailout’ orig­i­nal­ly meant ‘an act of loan­ing or giv­ing cap­i­tal to a fail­ing com­pa­ny in order to save it from bank­rupt­cy, insol­ven­cy, or total liq­ui­da­tion and ruin’. (Wikipedia). Now it’s almost become a joke phrase, mean­ing  Free Mon­ey.  Enough, already. It’s nev­er funny.

…and the word or phrase that I’ve found the both the most ubiq­ui­tous and annoy­ing­ly impre­cise on the news these past months:

I’ve heard this word used so many times, I’ve start­ed doing the old Pee-Wee’s Play­house shtick (well, not scream­ing real loud, but say­ing ‘ding!’) every time it is uttered.  I think it was to sug­gest that like a glass house, the oper­a­tions and deci­sions of an orga­ni­za­tion (such as the Fed­er­al Gov­ern­ment) were to be eas­i­ly appre­hend­ed by the pub­lic, typ­i­cal­ly by using a Web Site or some oth­er pub­licly acces­si­ble medi­um. Was­n’t that what C‑SPAN was sup­posed to do? (except of course, nobody but the wonks and fanat­ics both­ered to watch it). Again, like ‘Come Togeth­er’, Trans­par­ent is anoth­er word or phrase overused to the point of meaninglessness.

There are oth­ers, but these are the ones that come to mind today. I’m sure that in a few weeks I’ll be sick of ‘Tor­ture Memo’ and ‘Pan­dem­ic’, because they’ll have been made just as mean­ing­less through rep­e­ti­tion by that time.

Higher Ground


Cro­cus­es, tak­en in the Park near our place today

I got out­side today, for the first time sev­er­al days, since for a long while I was too weak even to get much fur­ther than the bath­room. The air was mild, and despite a good deal of clouds, there were what they call here ‘Sun­ny Breaks’, which are those (some­times brief) moments when the sun­beams break through and every­thing lights up. Today, they lit up the cro­cus­es. Yes, March 1 and Spring has Sprung in the Low­er Main­land. Despite some snow on the moun­tains (and I heard that some friends even went cross-coun­try ski­ing on Cypress Moun­tain today), we are soon going to be back to ‘The Oth­er Van­cou­ver’, which is just fine by me. The good weath­er also was appre­ci­at­ed by the Real­tors who were run­ning a cou­ple open hous­es on our street today.

We Were Lucky to Move Where and When We Did

When Pam and I moved to Cana­da, we said that it was because of Bush (who I often refer to as WPIUSH). I also wrote that it was because I looked ahead to a future that looked to be unpleas­ant, because of poor deci­sions by the US gov­ern­ment in the near term hav­ing an effect on our sit­u­a­tion as future retirees. While that dim future referred main­ly to the US Fed­er­al bud­get deficit, it also was due to the greed and cor­rup­tion that we saw, and I def­i­nite­ly could feel some sort of col­lapse com­ing. Mind you, I had pre­dict­ed that a great eco­nom­ic dis­in­te­gra­tion would be com­ing (cue Sarah Con­nor look­ing at the com­ing storm at the end of the first Ter­mi­na­tor movie), but my tim­ing put it rough­ly around 2015, so I was off by a few years, but it looks like I got pret­ty close. I’m not that thrilled that the chick­ens have come home to roost a half a decade or so ear­li­er than I thought.
While I feel that we were smart to leave when we did (as we could now prob­a­bly not afford to), what I did­n’t count on was the fact Cana­da was also the right place to go, in many ways.

This past week, Fareed Zakaria wrote a piece for Newsweek, called The Cana­di­an Solu­tion. Warn­ing: I’m going to get dan­ger­ous­ly close to smug here, but will try to hold back if I do.
Accord­ing to Zakaria, our new home is in sur­pris­ing­ly good shape these days:

Guess which coun­try, alone in the indus­tri­al­ized world, has not faced a sin­gle bank fail­ure, calls for bailouts or gov­ern­ment inter­ven­tion in the finan­cial or mort­gage sec­tors. Yup, it’s Cana­da. In 2008, the World Eco­nom­ic Forum ranked Canada’s bank­ing sys­tem the health­i­est in the world. Amer­i­ca’s ranked 40th, Britain’s 44th.

Cana­da has done more than sur­vive this finan­cial cri­sis. The coun­try is pos­i­tive­ly thriv­ing in it. Cana­di­an banks are well cap­i­tal­ized and poised to take advan­tage of oppor­tu­ni­ties that Amer­i­can and Euro­pean banks can­not seize. The Toron­to Domin­ion Bank, for exam­ple, was the 15th-largest bank in North Amer­i­ca one year ago. Now it is the fifth-largest. It has­n’t grown in size; the oth­ers have all shrunk.

So what accounts for the genius of the Cana­di­ans? Com­mon sense. Over the past 15 years, as the Unit­ed States and Europe loos­ened reg­u­la­tions on their finan­cial indus­tries, the Cana­di­ans refused to fol­low suit, see­ing the old rules as use­ful shock absorbers. Cana­di­an banks are typ­i­cal­ly lever­aged at 18 to 1—compared with U.S. banks at 26 to 1 and Euro­pean banks at a fright­en­ing 61 to 1. Part­ly this reflects Canada’s more risk-averse busi­ness cul­ture, but it is also a prod­uct of old-fash­ioned rules on banking.

The arti­cle goes on to laud Canada’s bet­ter hous­ing mar­ket (and it does­n’t even have to note that there was no ‘Sub-Prime’ mess here, either). The oth­er day we learned that Oba­ma’s “Amer­i­can Recov­ery and Rein­vest­ment Act” deals with Health Care, because the num­ber 1 rea­son that an Amer­i­can goes bank­rupt is because of a major med­ical prob­lem. Not need­ed here, and as I found dur­ing my recent ill­ness, the sto­ries that some US politi­cians and oth­ers make that we have to wait for­ev­er to get to a doc­tor or get sub-stan­dard health care are utter­ly false, in my expe­ri­ences. Just this past week, I walked (slow­ly) 3 blocks to our local clin­ic, wait­ed about 20 min­utes to see a doc­tor the first time, and 15 min­utes on my return vis­it. My blood tests were done in 3 days, and did­n’t cost me a penny.
Zakaria goes on to notice the oth­er good news for those of us in Canada:

The gov­ern­ment has restruc­tured the nation­al pen­sion sys­tem, plac­ing it on a firm fis­cal foot­ing, unlike our own insol­vent Social Secu­ri­ty. Its health-care sys­tem is cheap­er than Amer­i­ca’s by far (account­ing for 9.7 per­cent of GDP, ver­sus 15.2 per­cent here), and yet does bet­ter on all major index­es. Life expectan­cy in Cana­da is 81 years, ver­sus 78 in the Unit­ed States; “healthy life expectan­cy” is 72 years, ver­sus 69. Amer­i­can car com­pa­nies have moved so many jobs to Cana­da to take advan­tage of low­er health-care costs that since 2004, Ontario and not Michi­gan has been North Amer­i­ca’s largest car-pro­duc­ing region.

Of course that last bit about Ontario pro­duc­ing most of North Amer­i­ca’s cars is also not such good news, as the dire straits of the auto indus­try have hit that province at least as hard if not hard­er than Michigan.

Even the immi­gra­tion poli­cies that Pam is learn­ing in detail these days, as she stud­ies to become an Immi­gra­tion Con­sul­tant, get some atten­tion by Zakaria:

The U.S. cur­rent­ly has a brain-dead immi­gra­tion sys­tem. We issue a small num­ber of work visas and green cards, turn­ing away from our shores thou­sands of tal­ent­ed stu­dents who want to stay and work here. Cana­da, by con­trast, has no lim­it on the num­ber of skilled migrants who can move to the coun­try. They can apply on their own for a Cana­di­an Skilled Work­er Visa, which allows them to become per­fect­ly legal “per­ma­nent res­i­dents” in Canada—no need for a spon­sor­ing employ­er, or even a job. Visas are award­ed based on edu­ca­tion lev­el, work expe­ri­ence, age and lan­guage abil­i­ties. If a prospec­tive immi­grant earns 67 points out of 100 total (hold­ing a Ph.D. is worth 25 points, for instance), he or she can become a full-time, legal res­i­dent of Canada.

Zakaria notes that com­pa­nies have begun to notice, and that Microsoft sit­u­at­ed their lat­est research cen­ter here in Vancouver.

At any rate, I’m not try­ing to gloat or hold our good for­tune over the old friends and fam­i­ly we left behind in the States, but per­haps they can now under­stand why we don’t seem to have the same lev­el of dread and pan­ic when we talk about our eco­nom­ic prospects that they do. Cana­di­ans right now seem to be more con­fi­dent, and less like­ly to respond emo­tion­al­ly to the news (part­ly because our news is also less sen­sa­tion­al­is­tic). Giv­en that we have bet­ter safe­ty nets, includ­ing health care, a sta­ble bank­ing sys­tem, and even our food inspec­tion sys­tem, which caught the bad peanut but­ter when it came to the bor­der, that’s not all that sur­pris­ing. Pam and I find our­selves con­tin­u­al­ly shak­ing our heads as we watch the Evening News from the major US TV Net­works, some­times in relief, and some­times in bewil­der­ment that things in the coun­try we left have got­ten so bad.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Snow In the Mountains In Vancouver

Snow In the Moun­tains In Vancouver

You can have too much of any­thing, be it snow, hol­i­day days off, or time spent indoors by the fire sip­ping hot choco­late. All of these things are good things, until you have too much of them.  The snow has def­i­nite­ly out­stayed its wel­come in Van­cou­ver in 2008/09. It is cer­tain­ly the most I’ve ever seen in the rel­a­tive­ly short time I’ve lived here. It’s not only the depth, but the dura­tion and rep­e­ti­tion that has us going more than a lit­tle stir-crazy. It’s been 22 days of the white stuff on and off, but nev­er melt­ing away, since the first of it fell on Decem­ber 13. (I learned from Frances Bula’s blog about the city that the record for Van­cou­ver is 33 days in 1964/65.) Pam and I have despaired that each time we dis­cuss ven­tur­ing out with the car, to make a trek down to meet my broth­er, or even just fill the tank, sure enough, the flakes start to fall some more and we shelve our plans yet again. We’ve been out, trudg­ing down to Granville Mar­ket and back with pro­vi­sions more than a cou­ple of times, but our lack of snow tires and the treach­er­ous roads have kept the car under­ground and unusable.

Things that I have learned from this Snowmegadon, as oth­ers have referred to it:

  1. The city of Van­cou­ver has 47 snow ploughs. Yes, in Cana­da it’s spelled ‘plough’, not ‘plow’ as it is in the States. They are get­ting 5 more snow ploughs before the 2010 Olympics, which will bring the num­ber up to 52. That’s for the whole city.
  2. Roofs here were not made for this kind of snow accu­mu­la­tion. There have been many col­laps­es, although most of the seri­ous ones I’ve heard of involve north­ern Wash­ing­ton state, rather than BC, but I’m sure that there have been several.
  3. YVR (the Van­cou­ver Air­port), despite being vot­ed Best Air­port in North Amer­i­ca in 2006 and 2007 is also not made for this kind of weath­er. It has peri­od­i­cal­ly had to shut down. There have been many sto­ries of peo­ple spend­ing days (and sleep­ing there at night) dur­ing some of those shut-downs. Lug­gage has piled up. Who wants to bet it won’t get that high a stand­ing in next year’s vote?
  4. Rats don’t take a snow day hol­i­day. Pam and I saw one in the snow:Ratty in the Snow
    Rat­ty in the Snow

I’m sure that I’m putting on weight from all the cook­ing I’ve been doing. Tonight it was Thai-Style yel­low Cur­ry. Last night it was Swedish Meat­balls (if we were going to have Scan­di­na­vian style weath­er, then by gol­ly, we were going to eat that way too).  Late Decem­ber and ear­ly Jan­u­ary has seen Pot Roast, Roast­ed Lemon-Herb Chick­en, Piz­za (all from from scratch) Sou­vla­ki-style Pork (from Costco),  Kasha Var­nishkes (Buck­wheat Groats and Far­falle for those who aren’t famil­iar) French Toast, Buck­wheat Pan­cakes, and oth­er assort­ed home­made culi­nary projects like apple­sauce and sweet pickles. 

We’ve also got­ten to bed lat­er and lat­er and slept in lat­er and lat­er, until I final­ly said the night before last that we had to adjust back to PST, rather than the rough­ly Hawai­ian time zone that we seemed to be liv­ing in.

Now, with the hol­i­days offi­cial­ly over, I’m hop­ing that we can escape our con­do and get out and about. Besides, blog­ging about the weath­er is almost as bor­ing as being cooped up for the past 22 days.

Snowbound with George on Christmas Eve

Our Patio with the most Snow we’ve ever seen on it

Our patio with the most snow we’ve ever seen on it

You always assume that things will turn out as planned, but some­times they don’t. Pam and I had all but packed our suit­cas­es ear­li­er in the week for a trip to vis­it with my broth­er and his fam­i­ly in Seat­tle, as well as my par­ents, who were going to be vis­it­ing from Bal­ti­more. Moth­er Nature had oth­er ideas.

The fact that Cana­da is enjoy­ing the first coast-to-coast ‘White Christ­mas’ in 40 years is not lost on me, and it is pret­ty out there. Pam and I had a nice time walk­ing in the first of the snow­storms, and it looks like storm num­ber three, which start­ed last night, will dump near­ly as much on us.

The car is not ready to dri­ve on these kinds of roads. We don’t have any snow tires, as we don’t dri­ve that much to begin with and nei­ther of us use it to get to a work­place (unlike the days when I was work­ing in Burn­a­by for IBM). Snow tires are not usu­al­ly need­ed here.

So, here we are, like hiber­nat­ing bears in our cave, look­ing out at the snow. Well, not exact­ly like bears in one key respect: Hiber­nat­ing bears don’t eat, and I’ve been cook­ing like crazy. I roast­ed a chick­en stuffed with herbs and lemon (an old Jamie Oliv­er recipe that I’ve com­mit­ted to mem­o­ry), and yes­ter­day did a large pot roast with car­rots, parsnips, turnips and potatoes.  This after­noon I baked a tray of oat­meal muffins (after also bak­ing a bunch of cook­ies ear­li­er in the week). We’ve also got some steaks in the freez­er, and since Granville Mar­ket is closed for the next 2 days, we’ll prob­a­bly eat those as well, along with some of oth­er food in our larder, which we stuffed full just in case the weath­er did get worse.

The oth­er thing I did, which I do near­ly every year, was watch Frank Capra’s movie “It’s a Won­der­ful Life”.  For me, it tran­scends movie mak­ing to become a piece of art, the same way that some Nor­man Rock­well illus­tra­tions do. I keep find­ing new details in it, the way you do with any great piece of sto­ry­telling or music. There’s always some lit­tle motif or pas­sage here or there that after the 10th hearing/viewing you sud­den­ly real­ize is referred to or echoed in some oth­er place. Capra’s film also has a lot more res­o­nance now, when the news reports from the States ear­li­er in the evening eeri­ly echoed (or pre­saged?) the talk in the movie of peo­ple being fore­closed on their homes because of not being able to pay mort­gages, runs on banks and acts of char­i­ty. How many peo­ple might be, this evening, need­ing to draw upon char­i­ty for the first time in their lives, the way that George Bai­ley had to?

I noticed that a week or so again, Wen­dell Jamieson of The New York Times wrote a fas­ci­nat­ing reassess­ment of the film, and actu­al­ly found it to be essen­tial­ly a big fat lie, some­thing that he first sus­pect­ed when he was shown the film at school when he was 15 year’s old:

“It’s a Won­der­ful Life” is a ter­ri­fy­ing, asphyx­i­at­ing sto­ry about grow­ing up and relin­quish­ing your dreams, of see­ing your father dri­ven to the grave before his time, of liv­ing among bit­ter, small-mind­ed peo­ple. It is a sto­ry of being trapped, of com­pro­mis­ing, of watch­ing oth­ers move ahead and away, of becom­ing so filled with rage that you ver­bal­ly abuse your chil­dren, their teacher and your oppres­sive­ly per­fect wife. It is also a night­mare account of an end­less home renovation.

Holy Cow!  Believe it or not, his opin­ion of the film’s mes­sages actu­al­ly gets harsh­er still:

Many are pulling the movie out of the archives late­ly because of its pre­science on the per­ils of trust­ing bankers. I’ve found, after repeat­ed view­ings, that the film turns upside down and inside out, and some glar­ing — and often fun­ny — flaws become appar­ent. These flaws have some­how deep­ened my affec­tion for it over the years. Take the extend­ed sequence in which George Bai­ley (James Stew­art), hav­ing repeat­ed­ly tried and failed to escape Bed­ford Falls, N.Y., sees what it would be like had he nev­er been born. The bucol­ic small town is replaced by a smoky, night­club-filled, boo­gie-woo­gie-dri­ven haven for show­girls and gam­blers, who spill rau­cous­ly out into the crowd­ed side­walks on Christ­mas Eve. It’s been renamed Pot­tersville, after the vil­lain­ous Mr. Pot­ter, Lionel Barrymore’s schem­ing financier.

Here’s the thing about Pot­tersville that struck me when I was 15: It looks like much more fun than stul­ti­fy­ing Bed­ford Falls — the women are hot, the music swings, and the fun times go on all night. If any­thing, Pot­tersville cap­tures just the type of excite­ment George had long been seeking.

Not only is Pot­tersville cool­er and more fun than Bed­ford Falls, it also would have had a much, much stronger future. Think about it: In one scene George helps bring man­u­fac­tur­ing to Bed­ford Falls. But since the era of “It’s a Won­der­ful Life” man­u­fac­tur­ing in upstate New York has suf­fered terribly.

On the oth­er hand, Pot­tersville, with its night­clubs and gam­bling halls, would almost cer­tain­ly be in much bet­ter finan­cial shape today. The gam­bling halls would be thriv­ing and a great social expe­ri­ence instead of the cae­sars casi­no slot at we have now.

I checked my the­o­ry with the oft-quot­ed Mitchell L. Moss, a pro­fes­sor of urban pol­i­cy at New York Uni­ver­si­ty, and he agreed, point­ing out that, of all the upstate coun­ties, the only one that has seen growth in recent years has been Saratoga.

“The rea­son is that it is a resort, and it has built an econ­o­my around that,” he said. “Mean­while the great indus­tri­al cities have declined ter­rif­i­cal­ly. Look at Con­necti­cut: where is the growth? It’s in casi­nos; they are con­stant­ly expanding.”

In New York, Mr. Moss added, Gov. David A. Pater­son “is under enor­mous pres­sure to allow gam­bling upstate because of the eco­nom­ic problems.”

“We ease up on our lot of cul­tur­al behav­iors in a depres­sion,” he said.

What a grim thought: Had George Bai­ley nev­er been born, the peo­ple in his town might very well be bet­ter off today.

Well, I’m not sure that the raunchy Vegas-like Pot­tersville is any bet­ter than the Biff Tan­nen’s alter­nate Uni­verse town of Hill Val­ley (which does­n’t get a rename, despite the sim­i­lar biz­zaro treat­ment) in Back to the Future II.  I’ll bet that a few choice grotesque zooms on the land­scape of Pot­tersville would have hor­ri­fied the rest of us as much as it did George Bai­ley rather than thrill him that that his town was less bor­ing with him not in it. Capra per­haps did­n’t want to hit us over the head with the mes­sage, so it did­n’t escape the 15-year old Mr. Jamieson’s cynicism.

Any­way, apt or not, I still find it a great piece of sto­ry­telling, even if it teach­es us all the wrong things. Jamieson is not alone in his dis­dain for the film. Besides the fact that the movie was con­sid­ered a finan­cial flop (too expen­sive to make, did­n’t make back what it cost), Charles Affron on says:

The impe­tus and struc­ture of It’s a Won­der­ful Life recall the famil­iar mod­el of Capra’s pre-war suc­cess­es. Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Wash­ing­ton and Meet John Doe. In each of these films, the hero rep­re­sents a civic ide­al and is opposed by the forces of cor­rup­tion. His iden­ti­ty, at some point mis­per­ceived, is final­ly acclaimed by the com­mu­ni­ty at large. The pat­tern receives per­haps its dark­est treat­ment in It’s a Won­der­ful Life. The film’s con­ven­tions and dra­mat­ic con­ceits are mis­lead­ing. An idyl­lic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of small-town Amer­i­ca, a guardian angel named Clarence and a Christ­mas Eve apoth­e­o­sis seem to jus­ti­fy the film’s peren­ni­al screen­ings dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. These are the signs of the ingen­u­ous opti­mism for which Capra is so often reproached. Yet they func­tion in the same way “hap­py end­ings” do in Moliere, where the arti­fice of per­fect res­o­lu­tion is in iron­ic dis­pro­por­tion to the real­i­ties of human nature at the core of the plays.

Maybe I should have just watched Rudolph the Red Nosed Rein­deer instead.