Friday, July 20, 2012

The bizarre cult of granite countertops

What is it with granite countertops? I thought I had left them behind in Canada, slowly leaking radon gas into all those updated kitchens, to be blamed in future for a cancer epidemic.
And often quite ugly.
But in La Prensa this week there was an ad for Las Colinas Residencial, a little housing development outside San Pedro Sula. And the selling features included "cocino con mueble de granito."
These are tiny houses, crammed onto small lots. The two-bedroom houses are 675 square feet; the big four-bedroom, two-storey models are 1,130 square feet.  Two colours of paint, PVC windows, 10 per cent down and payments as low as $257 a month, even at 10 per cent interest rates. (Interest rates are remarkably high here, a big drag on the economy. The problem, a business guy said, is that people just don't feel an obligation to repay loans. I got the impression he didn't.)
But the houses still had granite countertops.
A cultural anthropologist could probably do a doctorate on the allure of granite countertops. They can be nice, I'm sure, cool and smooth. But how did they become totemic, a necessary feature in every remodelled kitchen or condo development in Canada and Honduras?
I've never actually had a granite countertop. In the first house I co-owned, we replaced the bad formica with better fake wood-strip formica, one of the few home handyman projects I've done that has worked out. We painted the cabinets white and added red plastic knobs from Ikea and stuck a portable dishwasher into a space under the counter. Presto, a kitchen reno.
In our place here, which rents for about $325, the counters are tile, and not all that well done. But they serve.
But many Hondurans, like Canadians, apparently want granite. Maybe they plan on some serious baking, and need a cool surface to roll out their brioche dough.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Christy Clark three times as popular as President Lobo

OK, Christy Clark's approval rating in the latest Angus Reid poll is worrying for Liberals. Only 28 per cent of British Columbians approve of the job she's doing, compared with 45 per cent approval for Adrian Dix. Conservative leader John Cummins is tied with Clark.
And 55 per cent of British Columbians say their opinions of Clark have worsened in the last three months, despite the party and government's efforts to win back lost suport.
It could be worse. La Prensa published a Gallup poll yesterday that found eight per cent of Hondurans approve of the job President Porfiro Lobo is doing. Only twelve per cent of Hondurans said they think the country is generally going in the right direction.
It's pretty tough to get into single digits. People here tend to be partisans of one of the two main parties, so even the people who voted for the president are giving him failing grades.
Though I have noticed an interesting phenomenon. People often say they support the Liberal or National party. But they rarely seem to think it would actually make much difference for the country if their side wins.
There's one big difference in the positions of Lobo and Clark. Presidents can only serve one term under the Honduran constitution. The election isn't until next fall, but the elaborate primary process is underway and it's difficult for a president to get anything done in the last 18 months of his term. (No women presidents yet. The left/reform Libre party has nominated Xiomara Castro Zelaya, wife of the Maunel Zelaya, the president deposed in the 2009 coup, but she is a long shot.)
By the end of the process, his party - National - will have a new leader for the election.
Clark, however, is 10 months away from an election. The party is in trouble in the polls, tainted by scandal and abuses and unable to convince people it actually has a vision or a plan that goes much beyond slogans. And there is the sense of desperation, which is never attractive and rarely produces sound decisions.
And Clark, who faced the huge, maybe impossible, challenge of undoing the perception of arrogance and dishonesty caused by the HST fiasco, is now actually a drag on the party's fortunes.
A new leader is always an option. But not a likely one. The obvious candidates - Kevin Falcon, George Abbott, Rich Coleman - are all associated with the Campbell government's failings. An outsider, like Surrey Mayor Diane Watts, might have a better chance.
But every potential candidate would have to look at the polls and the prospects and judge whether the election next year is winnable. There's might not much satisfaction in spending four years in opposition.