Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Stanley Park

We spent our last day in Vancouver wandering around Stanley Park.

Canada Place pier from Stanley Park

It was a gorgeous day, sunny and breezy.  The pointy white object behind the cruise ship is Canada Place; this was as close as we got to it.  (Can't do everything in one trip.)  Located on a peninsula between English Bay and Burrard Inlet, Stanley Park is very scenic.  Don't miss the seaplane (they went by quite often, heading out to sea, I never figured out why), the totem posts, the gull with a mouthful of something I couldn't identify.  Stanley Park has very clearly marked lanes for walkers, cyclists, and cars, and God help you if you walk into one of the wrong lanes!

It's in Stanley Park, but I was so charmed by the Vancouver Aquarium that I gave it a separate photo gallery.  In particular I was charmed by the beluga show, which I walked into - I'd never seen a beluga whale before, I didn't realize they were white!  So here's the beluga, isn't he charming?  Look at that coy glance.

Beluga show, Vancouver Aquarium

There are several more photos of him, plus some nice moon jellyfish, and a handsome fish (with anemones) that I can't identify.  I also got a couple of shots of Harris hawks.  The Aquarium put on a raptor show, the birds flew free around the viewing area.  They were going to start with a bald eagle, they did start with a bald eagle, but they untied the jesses and he flew across the viewing area and just kept going.  I heard the docent say something about it's going to be one of those days.  The Harris hawks behaved much better.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Getting Government Out of the Way

I keep hearing this from Eric Cantor:  to get the country moving again, we have to "get government out of the way."  By this he means (as he's happy to tell you), less government regulation.  Government regulation is Bad.

California has a classic example of a business which was essentially unimpeded by government regulation.  It's called Pacific Gas & Electric.  For at least the last 50 years, based on the investigation results released today by the National Transportation Safety Board, PG&E has ignored the government's regulations regarding gas pipeline safety and maintenance, including the regulations requiring them to keep records of what pipes they had in the ground and what their condition was.  The net result?  On September 9, 2010, a 54 year old gas pipeline failed in production and produced a fireball that killed 8 people and destroyed a neighborhood.  Because PG&E was too cheap to install automatic shutoff valves, it took 90 minutes to get someone to the site to shut off the gas.  If I recall correctly, the first person they sent didn't know how to turn it off.

The pipeline failed because of a weld which was defective even by the standards of 1956 (according to the NTSB report) - PG&E installed it anyway, and to date has not located any of the records relating to who installed the pipe and where they got it.  Having lost the records, and having been too cheap to do the kind of inspections which would have identified a faulty weld, by September 2010 PG&E believed that the pipe had no welds in it.

I could go on longer about PG&E, but my point is that PG&E appears to have been operating under essentially no regulation.  They managed, under a series of Republican governors, to pack the Public Utilities Commission with retired utility executives (I remember checking their CVs at the time of the blast); and "regulation" of PG&E seems to have gone like this:  PG&E reports some safety fault.  The PUC says, gee, that's bad, you should fix that.  PG&E says, yessir, we'll fix that right away.  End of process.  Nothing was ever fixed.  No fines were ever imposed.  And eight people, and a neighborhood, died.  The neighborhood may be rebuilt.  It's too bad about the people, isn't it?

Remember this the next time you hear the Republican leadership ranting about "getting government out of the way."  I don't want government out of the way.  I want government standing squarely between me and Big Business.  My environment, my health, my life, mean nothing to Big Business when set against their profits.  If this isn't enough of an example, look into the people who are mining coal in Appalachia using a marvellous process called "mountaintop removal", or check out the reports of what fracking is doing to the Marcellus Shale in Pennsylvania.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Governor Goodhair

God Bless the Sacramento Bee.  When Gov. Rick Perry of Texas threw his Stetson in the ring (I'm sure he has a Stetson somewhere) for the Republican presidential nomination, the Bee's Viewpoints column chose to publish a series of excerpts from the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, written by the late great Molly Ivins (1944-2007 TDS, which means "too damn soon").

Mr. Perry has been governor of Texas since 2000 when he stepped into the shoes of the departing Gov. George W. Bush, who had negotiated a new job in Washington.  This means that, until 2007 when she died, he was a regular target of Molly's biting columns.  In case you didn't read Molly's syndicated column at the time, here's the link to the Bee for her remarks about the man she called "Governor Goodhair," starting in June 2001 (when Perry vetoed a bill that would have outlawed executing the retarded) through October 2006, when he participated in a gubernatorial debate by denying everything.

Molly Ivins: Molly can't say that about Rick Perry, can she?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

A Day in Kitsilano

Kitsilano, for those who've never been to Vancouver, is a neighborhood; it's across the inlet from the downtown and has several beachfront parks, plus a couple of museums.  It rained this day, so we toured museums; by the time we were museumed out, the weather had cleared and we spent some time in the park.

We began in the Maritime Museum.

It doesn't look like much from outside; but when you go in you find that it was built around the St. Roch (pronounced "saint rock"), which is in drydock.  The St. Roch is the first ship to traverse the Northwest Passage from west to east (it took 3 years) and the first to complete the Northwest Passage in one season.  You can read the web site for the several other firsts, but what charmed me is that the St. Roch was not crewed or captained by naval men.  It was owned and run by the Mounties - in effect, the police, who learned seamanship on the job, so to speak.  It was originally built for the RCMP to patrol the Arctic, and was pressed into service to sail the Northwest Passage to Halifax during World War II.  If I remember the story correctly, Captain Henry Larson took an Inuit family aboard to help him navigate the passage, which meant that something like 7 people and 17 sled dogs lived in a tent on the deck.  I have a photo of the tent in the gallery.  Given that the ship was only 104 feet long with a 25 foot beam, it must have been amazing.  They have a statue of Captain Larsen on the deck.

It was our day for interesting boats.  As we came out of the Maritime Museum, I saw what looked exactly like a Viking longship floating on English Bay!  I wasn't fast enough to get a photo with the (square red and white striped) sail up, but I got several shots of the crew maneuvering the boat into the marina near the ferry ramp, under oar power.  Here's one:

In some of the other photos, the dragon head on the prow shows.  Kitsilano is an interesting place.

We explored the Space Center and Science Museum, and the Vancouver Museum, but they were less interesting than the St. Roch.  However, in the pool around the fountain, I found a family of ducks swimming around the legs of the crab statue in the fountain (photos of the crab in the gallery):

By the time the museum closed, the weather had cleared, and we spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach in Vanier Park, taking pictures of birds, boats, and a couple that was trying to take off parasailing from ground level.  I didn't see them make it; it wasn't that windy!  If you'd like to look at the rest of the photos here's the link to the gallery:

Across English Bay from the Maritime Museum

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Debt and Ratings

I've been reading a number of really good analyses of this situation, and I'm fascinated to find that the questions in my mind are being asked by people with much more experience and subject mastery than I have.  So here are the points that annoy me:

Standard & Poor's has now downgraded U.S. Treasury Debt to AA+ (which is still pretty good).  Their argument that the deal signed this week didn't reduce the debt enough is clearly invalidated by the two trillion dollar arithmetic error in the original analysis they delivered to Treasury on Friday. 

Which brings us to the real point:  this was not an economic decision.  I have to admit I can't argue with their premise that they are downgrading U.S. debt, not because the U.S. is unable to pay, but because the U.S. appears (in the person of its Congress) to be unwilling to pay.  Felix Salmon made this point in his blog at Reuters:  
"... there’s a serious constituency of powerful people in Congress who are perfectly willing and even eager to drive the US into default. The Tea Party is fully cognizant that it has been given a bazooka, and it’s just itching to pull the trigger. There’s no good reason to believe that won’t happen at some point."
Given the brilliant analytical skills Standard & Poor's displayed over the last decade or more, I don't understand why anybody pays any attention to them.  Leaving aside their stellar performance during the subprime mess, these were the people who rated Enron AAA, right up to the day the whole pyramid collapsed.  On that basis, the U.S. should still have its rating.  We're certainly in better shape than Enron was; and we haven't defaulted yet.

So why does anyone pay attention to them?  Because the U.S. Government says they must.  The Treasury Department chooses not to be in the business of rating the securities that banks can invest in, so they've outsourced that business to the three rating agencies.  Who have just downgraded the debt they issue.  Does anyone else find this weird??  Move over, Mad Hatter, I want a clean cup.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

More on the Bach Festival

I decided I wanted to write up all of my trip to the Carmel Bach Festival.  I discovered before we left for Vancouver that the Festival began the weekend Jim set off on his first backpacking trip, so I sprang for some concert tickets and 3 nights of motel (all the time I could spare, I had to be at a meeting Thursday evening), and off I went, to spend the next three days eating, sleeping, and attending concerts and lectures.  It was great.  I dumped my stuff at the motel and walked down to my first concert, an amazing semi-staged production of the St. John Passion, which I wrote up in my last post:

The staging in street clothes (see blog) really startled me at first, I thought, can this be the dress rehearsal?  But it really worked.  That evening I went to a smaller concert on double quartets.  The Festival’s new concertmaster explained, before performing the Mendelssohn Octet, that they would do (on period instruments) the original 1825 version which Mendelssohn composed at age 16, which he (the concertmaster) had been asked by the Library of Congress to collate.  It was wonderful. 

I started the next day by almost not getting to the church on time – I miscalculated the available parking at the Carmel Mission, and just made it to the 11 AM organ concert.  I hoped to get to a vocal master class at noon but had to give it up, the Mission was too far away.  Monday night’s concert (not in street clothes) was CPE Bach, Vivaldi, Telemann, Purcell, and a surprisingly good Concerto Grosso by one Richard Mudge.  I also attended the pre-concert talk, at which I learned that C.P.E. Bach ran a musical salon in late 18th century London.  I didn't know that.  All the pre-concert talks were streamed live and are available on the Festival web site.

Tuesday I attended the obligatory lecture on Bach and numerology; only part of this will be streamed live because the lecturer went way over his allotted 30 minutes!  But it was great.  That afternoon I attended a “solo spotlight” centered around the Cantata BWV 55 for solo tenor, plus some flute and harpsichord works, all Johann Sebastian.

Which brings me to the Festival politics.  You may have noticed that quite a bit of what I listened to at the Bach festival wasn’t Bach at all.  This is the first year for the new Festival music director, Paul Goodwin – Bruno Weil just retired after directing it for years.  Goodwin is a long lanky Brit with a major sense of humor, and he’s shaken up some of the stalwarts.  I had two conversations with (much) older attendees who were offended/distracted by the street clothes staging of the St. John Passion, and listened to a (much) older man who complained that they had “taken all the Bach out of the festival,” just before attending a concert of Vivaldi bassoon and cello concerti which he had presumably paid for.  I thought the whole thing was fabulous, but then I like all that period’s music, not just Bach.  

When not in street clothes, Goodwin conducts in a knee-length frock coat (Victorian, not eighteenth century; it had no defined waist).  I haven’t seen one of those for years.

Tuesday evening’s concert, The English Spirit, had not only no Bach, it only had one Baroque piece – the masque from Purcell’s Dioclezian.  It was all English composers – which means the next one after the Purcell was by William Walton (Fa├žade Suite No. 1), a very odd piece set to some incomprehensible poetry by Dame Edith Sitwell.   Yes, they had a narrator read it.  It made NO sense.  This was followed by a choral piece by Sir John Taverner (who is a friend of the music director’s!), and ending with Vaughn Williams’ Serenade to Music.   

The Purcell masque was absolutely hilarious, I practically fell out of my chair laughing; the couples on either side of me never, as far as I could see, cracked a smile.  They were grim.  The Taverner piece, from a choral singer's point of view, was terrifying - four long, slow, soft a capella sections, in very close harmony, after which the orchestra came in under them.  It is appallingly easy to be flat in that situation and they were not flat; I congratulate them.

The Vivaldi bassoon concert I mentioned was my last concert – performed on a period bassoon, and a period cello with five strings (high E).  The web site called it Double Reed Virtuosity, but the printed program said Low Down Vivaldi!  I would have liked to stay and see the film about the Eroica, and the full scale concert in the Mission basilica, but I had to get home.