Appeared in the North Shore News – January 16, 2015
The bell of free speech is ringing loudly these days. But free speech hurts. Somebody. Some interest. Some wallet. That is why there are always attempts to stifle it. Read on.
First, the obligatory statement of revulsion for Islamic or any terrorism. But the West is hardly blameless.
The West’s mucking into Middle East matters has largely been a disaster. European colonial powers drew many illogical national boundaries there. Arab and Muslim nationalists – anyone destabilizing the status quo, anyone obstructing oil flow – is automatically vilified. Notice that Syrian President Bashar Assad abruptly fell down the enemies list, all but disappeared from the media, when the greater threat of ISIS materialized?
Note well: As an editor who made tens of thousands of choices, I would never – as I wrote at the time – publish the blasphemous novel by the unpleasantly egotistical Salman Rushdie, or the mocking Danish cartoons of Mohammed. They understandably infuriated Islam and opened the door to fatwas and terrorism. They made free speech synonymous with stupidity.
Note this above all: Horrific as it is, Islamic terrorist groups use terror only as a tactic. The deeper strategy is grimmer, as Simon Fraser University history professor Andre Gerolymatos, an international expert on espionage and intelligence, warns.
Their goal is to stampede Western people into turning on their Muslim populations, to provoke our own hate-filled version of jihad against everyone with the faith indiscriminately. That in turn would taunt and goad all Muslim countries into joining in the monumental bloodbath of an apocalyptic religious global war.
Don’t take the bait.
Now another example of free speech that won’t be universally welcome.
It began with a complaint of one or both of the owners, apparently feeling the heat of continuing controversy, of the huge house planned for West Van’s Kensington Crescent. This item appeared in this paper on Dec. 31 under the heading Setting It Straight: “To correct information in previous news articles on Sept. 7, Oct. 5, and Oct. 22, as well as the Trevor Lautens columns on Oct. 10 and Nov. 7, the size of the house under construction in Kensington Crescent, West Vancouver, after blasting permits, is 12,063.27 square feet, not as previously reported at 16,000 square feet or 17,500 square feet.”
To the reader, this was admission of a mistake. But it says here that unidentified reporters and editors – myself annoyed less than you might think – shouldn’t have been thrown under the bus. No, the bus wheels stop at town hall, its councillors and bureaucrats. (Pause for this: The Kensington Crescent edifice is entirely legal – because they allow it. I believe there’s hardly a jot of political will at town hall to limit house size, protect neighbourhoods, and all that good stuff.)
I emailed Bob Sokol, West Vancouver planning director, copies to the mayor and each councillor and others, questioning the huge discrepancy in the Kensington house’s square footage figures. No one replied. Town hall chose to answer to higher journalistic authorities. I trudged on. Oddly, following this bouncing ball turned out to be maddeningly entertaining.
You might assume real estate mathematics are bound by iron hoops.
Turns out they’re amazingly arbitrary, varying from jurisdiction to jurisdiction – almost as much mumbo-jumbo as science. For example, in some jurisdictions “heated space” determines square footage. Cathedral ceilings? Count double.
West Vancouver’s rules are that the following can be excluded: A garage or carport to a maximum of 440 square feet; decks, porches, patios, gazebos, tool sheds, pool houses, attic space, crawl space.
So town hall employs a formula. And this formula – the easily missed phrase “after blasting permits” above apparently refers to a change in the prospective size of the basement – massaged the size of this particular house down by roughly 4,000 or 5,000 square feet, as big as a sizable house in itself.
If you think that it’s in the seller’s interest to maximize a house’s square footage by including all of the above, and it’s in the buyer’s interest to minimize it by subtracting the garage, patio etc. and lowering his offer accordingly – you’ve got it.
I began toil as a proofreader in 1953 – entrusted with checking my paper’s most important content, ads – and they still fascinate me.
My third entry in the free-speech derby is William D. Gairdner’s The Great Divide: Why Liberals and Conservatives Will Never, Ever Agree, published this month by Encounter Books.
I met Gairdner, a PhD and an Olympic athlete in the 1960s, at a West Van coffee shop after his The War Against the Family appeared. Charming man. Not to those who’d have silenced him if they could, though. I’ve only tasted his latest, but his rigorous research and conservative principles shine through, undiminished.
© Trevor Lautens, 2015