It is a fallacy to state that something exists just because it can't be proven that it doesn't
I got married two weeks ago, and here are some of the pictures from the two big events of the stag that preceded it. It turned out to be a macho, testosterone-filled day as these things are wont to turn out. I thoroughly enjoyed it though, and wish I’d known a bit more about guns going in. In any case, it was a blast and most of the lads you see in the vids are some of the finest I’ve ever had the pleasure to meet.
First, the two-hour arsenal-emptying projectile-fest at the DVC, in Coquitlam.
Next up was the skydiving experience. Originally scheduled for the early morning, this was postponed to the following day because of bad weather. This turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since the better weather allowed us to fly higher and consequently, get a longer period of freefall. I felt no fear until I was almost at the altitude limit. When one of the more experienced people in the plane jumped out in his squirrel suit and disappeared in the blink of an eye, I felt the first tremulous stirrings of fear in my belly. As my tandem instructor ordered me to move to the front of the plane and sit with my feet hanging off the edge, my leaden limbs obeyed. But then, as I was perched on the edge, at 10,200 feet with nothing between my feet and the Earth below, I froze. I couldn’t move as he told me to jump and finally he had to shove us both off the plane. As you can see, it resulted in a bit of a somersault, with the sun appearing both above and below me. Absolutely exhilarating and will definitely do again….in a decade or so when I wish to feel truly alive again!
It’s been nine months since I posted the books I’ve read. Here they are:
Flashman and the Tiger
Flashman in the Great Game
Flashman on the March
Flash for Freedom!
Flashman and the Redskins
Flashman at the Charge
Flashman and the Dragon
Flashman and the Mountain of Light
Royal Flash – All the Flashman books are just what you expect: debauchery, fecklessness and a rollicking adventure all rolled into one.
Words and Rules – Pinker strikes again
A Case of Exploding Mangoes – a humorous look at the assassination of one of Pakistan’s leaders
A Long Long Way – How The Great War changed one boy from Dublin
Any Human Heart – a disjointed novel in the shape of journal entries that warn you not to think you know a human heart
Arthur and George – excellent fictionalized coverage of the Great Wyrley Outrages
Atonement – how you might accuse someone of something in the heat of the moment and live a lifetime to regret it
The Sea – how you might recall the days of your childhood as you live through the death of a loved one
The Secret Scripture – excellent novel about a woman incarcerated in an Irish asylum and the reasons behind her being there
Becoming Strangers – a detailed and thoughtful book about couples in the twilight of their years
Carry Me Down – what would you do if your secret talent was detecting lies, infallibly?
Cloud Atlas: A Novel – an intricate and well-thought out book that telescopically weaves together six stories to achieve closure for all concerned
Darkmans – a novel linguists will enjoy. A book where entire lives can tumble through the gaps between words. Who am I to disagree?
Half a Life – Naipaul writes the kind of post-colonialist fiction only he can pull off with ease
Mister Pip – a brilliant novel set during the civil war on Bougainville Island
The Blackwater Lightship – on being gay in a deeply conservative Irish family
The Blind Assassin – more Margaret Atwood on extramarital affairs in a small Canadian town
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time – an articulate look into the mind of an autistic boy
The Death of Vishnu – a dying factotum in Bombay is revered as his eponymous god of gods, within the chaos that is modern India
The Inheritance of Loss – a brutally honest book about those torn between cultures and those who profess to be something they are not
The Island Walkers – an illuminating look into small-town union formation and busting in post-war Ontario
The Northern Clemency – a look at the gritty lives of the Left during the Thatcher years.
The Patrick Melrose Novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, and Mother’s Milk
The Pickup – a novel about a woman who leaves her affluent lifestyle for a world mostly unknown to her and her ilk
The Reluctant Fundamentalist – a novel with a twist, about a Pakistani immigrant to the States in the aftermath of 9/11
I’ve let this go for too long. Here’s a cheerful bit by Sophocles, who wasn’t a bitter old man when he wrote this.
Not to be born surpasses every lot;
And the next best lot by far, when no one is born,
Is to go back whence he came as soon as possible;
For while youth is present bringing vain follies,
What woes does it not have, what ills does it not bear
Murders, factions, strife, war, envy,
But the extreme of misery is attained by loathsome old age -
Old age, strengthless, unsociable, friendless,
Where all evils upon evils dwell together.
- Sophocles, Oedipus at Colonus
Here’s a succinct chart showing the state of issuance of building permits (click to enlarge), comparing 2013 to 2012 for the months elapsed so far. While eight areas show increases compared to last year, the remaining twelve show a decrease. Burnaby is the only big city in the Lower Mainland with a whopping increase, while Surrey, Richmond, North Vancouver, Langley, New Westminster and Vancouver are all negative. As we drift farther away from Vancouver, all the areas on the periphery show marked increases, notably Pitt Meadows, Maple Ridge, Lions Bay and Port Moody.
Is the center dwindling while the periphery absorbs all excess bloat? Or is this just confirmation that the middle class has given up the ghost and is busy buying property on the outskirts, now that the GVRD core is strictly the purview of a faceless investor class.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock in the Best Place on Earth, you know that the housing market in Vancouver is experiencing a bit of a lull. You have the Real Estate board going overboard in their roseate predictions for the future, while the man on the street disdainfully stares at housing far beyond his plebeian reach. However, the consensus by almost anybody outside Canada is that we are in for a bit of a downturn. The spigot of cheap credit has been turned off, no one can conjure up the cash for a quick flip of a million dollar house, and the inventory of listings grows with every passing day.
The image above shows the full gamut of possible avenues this real estate correction can take. You have the Real Estate folks staunchly insisting that there won’t be any drops at all, everything is hunky dory, a claim belied by the 8% drop in prices seen as of April 2013. It’s safe to discount this estimate by now.
The next stop is at 10%. I’d say the IMF is pretty clueless when it comes to things like predicting housing bubbles, it’s not as if they have any reliable economists on board.
20% and 25% seem like a walk in the park, according to any Spaniard or Irishman, or even American. These countries are still reeling from their wee correction.
Finally, at 78% we have The Economist, the absolute Bible of middle management the world over. What makes these folks cast a pall of doom and gloom over the Best Place on Earth? They use outdated archaic metrics like price-to-rent ratios, price-to-income ratios and so on, statistics that many claim are meaningless in a world where Q.E. doesn’t stand for Queen Elizabeth any more.
As a starting point, here are some decent blogs that deal with this issue without any of the prevarications that you’re usually inundated with, as far as real estate is concerned. All of them are on the bearish side, but perhaps that’s simply because all bull runs must come to an end.
http://www.greaterfool.ca/ : Easily the best writer of the lot, Garth has the biggest following for a good reason. Lucid prose, compelling arguments, disdainful dismissings of inexperienced investors and above all, charisma.
http://vancouvercondo.info/ : A collection of news articles from other blogs and media about the deplorable state of real estate in Vancouver
http://vancouverpricedrop.wordpress.com/ : Three times a week, this fellow updates a top ten list of properties that have fallen the most in price in Vancouver. As of this writing, the best one has fallen 18 million dollars and shows no sign of selling.
http://theeconomicanalyst.com/ : Ben Rabidoux, a consummate public speaker who has an online feud of sorts with Garth. A welcome non-anonymous addition to the list. His posts included detailed analyses for why the current situation is just not sustainable.
http://vreaa.wordpress.com/ : Anecdotal evidence from Vancouver and its environs about the housing bubble, often cobbled together from other blogs and their comments.
http://whispersfromtheedgeoftherainforest.blogspot.ca/ : This blog has really come into its own with some eagle-eyed deductions in the recent past about unethical realtors, their equally slimy journalistic friends and “news” stories that make your flesh creep.
http://thethirtiesgrind.com/tag/vancouver-housing-bubble/ : Probably the most empathic of all the blogs out there, this one uses derision as a well-launched missile. Why not buy an overpriced shack and live in debt for the remainder of your years? A casual perusal of this blog’s offerings might have the answer.
I have certainly been remiss about reviewing books, but there is no excuse. Time’s running short, so from now on, the reviews will be shorter and batched together, as in the previous post.
How the Mind Works: a very good aggregation of cognitive knowledge, some of which you probably already know. As a compendium of all things contemporaneous in the neural sphere, this book is quite riveting.
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined: More Pinker, and this one lacks some of the finesse of his other heavyweights. There are enough facts in here to enthrall most of us, but some of the strokes are too broad and you should beware of them. However, as a refutation of all modern paranoia about violence, this book is worth its weight in Aurum.
A Fraction of the Whole: This Aussie book reads like a journal set out by a blasé teenager. Entertaining at times, always crude, this book is all-too-Australian. A good inter-generational storyline involving a family of criminals and eccentrics is the plot’s thickest point, though your eyes might glaze over at times. Scrupulous honesty is one of this book’s strengths.
The Stone Carvers: This book about an inmate at an asylum in Roscommon offers a glimpse into Ireland’s troubled past, through the eyes of the inmate and the doctor who has to decide her fate.
Unless: This book is unashamedly modest, and is a poignant tale of how those whom we rear often end up nothing like what we’d hoped. All the urbanity and smooth intellectualism of the world doesn’t prepare the protagonist of the tale for when her daughter decides to panhandle on a busy Toronto street corner. A very Canadian look at one possible outcome of a parent’s experiences.
Fingersmith: Easily one of the better books from this batch, this is the book with enough twists and turns to keep your brain beguiled. Told from one perspective and then another, your sympathies switch in this anachronistic Dickensian tale.
Saturday: Similar to ‘Unless’, this book captures a tumultuous weekend in posh London, where a renowned neurosurgeon is attacked by and saves a hooligan, in a surprising chain of events. Thoughtful and provocative, you wish you’d end up like Henry Perowne, all mammal and no reptile.
The Night Watch: This chronicle of the lives of lesbian and gay people during the Blitz describes the heartbreak and jealousy of Londoners during a very difficult period, compounded by the effort of keeping their sexual proclivities hidden. A good read, though a bit slow at times.
The Big U: How could you not love a group called the Crotobaltoslavonians or the Stalininist Underground Battalion? You’ll find both in the American Megaversity, a classic parody of any major-league American university extant today.
Snow Crash: What if the mind could be frozen with a single glimpse of malware that acted on the firmware in the brainstem? It might sound hokey today, but it’s the central premise of this thrilling book, which is a joyous romp through more -ologies than you can care to rattle off. Hiro is the hacker who sets out to save the world, with his teenage sidekick in tow. The rest has to be read to be believed, with a special mention to Fido.
Cryptonomicon: Another Stephenson work, this one has two story plots that run in parallel. One is the classic codebreaking legend of Bletchley Park, while the second is a fictionalized group of cyber-entrepreneurs who seek to build a secure data haven in the Sultanate of Kinakuta. Detailed analyses and technical explanations of cryptography are sprinkled throughout the book, though Stephenson does get minus five for not having read the Lovecraftian mythos he named his book after.
Being too busy to review each and every book I read while in the land of Joyce, here’s a simple list of books I read while in lovely Eire:
The Black Count
Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power
Killing Kennedy: The End of Camelot
Manhunt: The ten-year search for Bin Laden
The Quickening Maze
The Little Stranger – 5/5 for mounting horror
The Long Song
The Garden of Evening Mists
The Glass Room
The Children’s Book
The Finkler Question
The Sisters Brothers
In a Strange Room
Jamrach’s Menagerie – one of the best from this trip
Parrot and Olivier in America
Snowdrops – good tale of exploitation in post-collapse Russia
Half-Blood Blues: A Novel – Mischlings in the Third Reich
South: the story of Shackleton’s 1914-1917 expedition
Endurance: Shackleton’s Incredible Voyage
The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents
A Hat Full of Sky
The Best of British SF 2
The Epic of Gilgamesh
A Case of Exploding Mangoes
Young Zaphod Plays it Safe
Spawn of the Comet
Ships in the Night
Toy Shop and Two Others
The Pit and the Pendulum
Year’s Best Science Fiction: Volume 11
Year of the Jackpot
That is all.
I was fairly diligent about tracking the places I visited during my 160 days in Europe. Most of the places below are dining establishments, but there are tons of other sites as well, tourist attractions and otherwise. Click on a different date to see the places I went to on that day. This is much better when viewed out of this iframe, in its own tab.
The Home icon should change, depending on the day, to one of Dublin, London, Paris, Helsinki, Tallinn, Rome, Zurich, Oslo or Geneva.
Norway was the last Scandinavian country on the European mainland I hadn’t visited and thanks to Ryanair and their 50 Euro return flights from Dublin to Oslo, I went there this weekend. It was a bit colder than Dublin, with a diurnal temperature ranging from -7 to -12 and a nocturnal temperature from -7 to -16. Oslo is one of those sprawling metropolises that grows and grows. I landed there at night and had some reindeer meat for dinner, followed by some beers at the Sosialen Bar, where two beers cost me 31 Euro, the priciest beers I’ve had to date. But that’s to be expected in Oslo, a city that frequently shows up in the list of ‘Most Expensive Cities’ to live in.
After a few beers, my friend showed me the spot of the bombing last year in Oslo, where Anders Breivik set off the explosives. The shattered glass has been left intact with that day’s papers inside, as a reminder of extremism in situ, so to speak. The next day dawned bright and cold and I was off to Holmenkollen, the ski jump that overlooks Oslo and promises a great panoramic view of the city and the fjords. It was everything I’d expected, and the sweeping postcard-like landscapes were a sight to behold. You could see the ice creeping on the few unfrozen lakes at this time of year. After a warm meal at Stockfleth’s, it was off to the Museum section of town where I saw the Kon-Tiki itself! Preserved and kept intact by maintenance, every boy’s childhood dreams of exploration are manifest in this humble vessel which carried Thor Heyerdahl across the Pacific. After that it was off to see the Fram, the historic ship that carried a host of Norwegian explorers to the polar extremities of this planet. Bonus: you actually got to walk the deck of the Fram. Perhaps I even stood in the very same spot where Amundsen stood as he directed the Fram on the conquest of the South Pole. Walking on the deck of the Fram was easily the coolest thing I’ve done all year. The Fram Museum is full of artifacts taken on previous expeditions, when men who scarcely seem to be made of flesh and blood walked this earth and did things that boggle minds even today. In between the ski jump and the museums, I also checked out the Nobel Peace Center and Akershus Fortress, right on the water in downtown Oslo.
The next day was colder and we went for a leisurely walk in Vigeland Park, where the outdoor sculptures are truly extraordinary. Despite the temperature, a few hardy tourists were about, taking pictures of the statues and freezing their butts off. After that it was off to the Christmas market in Oslo, where I bought some cured reindeer meat and cheese. They should be good little gastronomic reminders of a weekend spent in Oslo, the final weekend trip during my sojourn in Europe and a fitting close to six months of travelling in some of the most beautiful locales on the planet.