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[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

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  • Discover‘s Collideascape notes that, even as agricultural land is falling worldwide, the productivity of this land is increasing even more sharply.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to one paper examining the extent to which saline water might make cooler planets better for live, and to another paper suggesting that planetary magnetic fields are so importance for life (and oxygen levels) that brief reversals in the history of Earth have led to mass extinctions.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a Ukrainian report that the country’s military has captured a Russian tank.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that vehemently anti-gay Minnesota archbishop John Nienstadt is being investigated for allegedly having sexual relationships with men.
  • Marginal Revolution notes that, despite economic collapse, there are some jobs (like low-paying fieldwork) that Portuguese just won’t do.
  • The New APPS Blog’s Gordon Hull notes the gender inequity involved in the recent Hobby Lobby ruling in the United States.
  • pollotenchegg maps the slow decline of Ukraine’s Jewish population in the post-1945 era.
  • Speed River Journal’s Van Waffle writes eloquently about his connections to and love of Lake Erie.
  • Strange Maps’ Frank Jacobs links to a cartographic examination of the time spent by French television news examining different areas of the world.
  • Towleroad notes a faux apology made by the Israeli education minister after attacking gay families.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Jonathan Adler notes the future of contraception coverage under Obamacare.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on fears that Crimean Tatar organizations will soon suffer a Russian crackdown, and suggests that the West should reconsider its policies on Belarus to encourage that country to diversify beyond Russia.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO shares the story of the first LCBOs opened in Toronto after Prohibition. The procedures involved were rather bureaucratic.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper that tries to answer the question of whether Titan’s different seas and lakes are connected by subsurface aquifers.
  • Languages of the World’s Asya Perelstvaig recounts the history of Russians in the San Francisco area.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money engages with David Graeber’s left-wing critique of Thomas Piketty.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen doesn’t like Scottish separatism.
  • James Nicoll of More Words, Deeper Hole finds Donald Moffitt’s late 1970s novel The Jupiter Theft somewhat better than he feared.
  • Personal Reflection’s Jim Belshaw explores (1, 2) the consequences of changes to funding in Australian higher education.
  • Peter Rukavina shares an excerpt from a typeset edition of Milton Acorn’s “Poem for the Astronauts”.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russian moves against Belarus or Kazakhstan are still possible if either country disappoints, and wonders if the Eurasian Economic Union will encourage Armenia to promote Karabakh independence rather than to seek to annex it.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell criticizes economists who work without reference to facts.

[LINK] Open Democracy on Armenia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan on Eurasia

Just recently, Open Democracy has featured a series of articles taking a look at opinion on the Eurasian Economic Union in the smaller states soon to join this Russia-directed project. What do Armenians, Belarusians, and Kazakhstanis think?

On Armenia, Greg Forbes’ article “Armenia and the EEU: the point of no return for Yerevan” suggests that Armenia is making the best of an unenviable situation.

Armenia’s dramatic turnabout decision to move towards Customs Union membership is most commonly attributed by western pundits to a campaign of sustained pressure from Moscow. Increasingly concerned with developments in neighbouring Ukraine post-Euromaidan, and hostile to soft power intrusions into the former Soviet space, Russia made clear its disappointment with Yerevan’s pursuit of an Association Agreement with Brussels. Armenia, dependent on Russia for energy, regional security and trade, and thus arguably hostage to Russian geopolitical interests, duly acquiesced.

However, as some observers have noted, there’s probably more to this picture than might meet the eye. Armenia’s President Serzh Sargsyan presides over a struggling economy and there has been significant domestic opposition to his government since contentious elections in February 2013 saw street protests dispute the legitimacy of his re-election to a second term. Yerevan’s hurried change of heart may have been prompted as much by Sargsyan’s sense of acute political vulnerability as by Armenia’s strategic dependency on Russia: Sargsyan was seeking to shore up his position with near-term economic rewards from Moscow and to forestall Russia’s possible fomenting of a more pliable client (the Kremlin boasts ties with the main opposition Prosperous Armenia Party, former President Robert Kocharian and allegedly with dozens of MPs from the ruling Republican Party).

To date Armenia has received relatively little in return for signing up to Russia’s grand project of regional integration. This reflects the profound position of weakness from which Armenia must negotiate with her patron. There are three core geopolitical drivers to the Russo-Armenian relationship and all of them are weighted in Russia’s favour: the supply of Russian energy to Armenia, the access of Armenian citizens to the Russian labour market, and Russia as Armenia’s security guarantor in the face of Azerbaijan’s revanchist aspirations.

On Belarus, Vadzim Smok suggests (“Belarus and the EEU: caught between a rock and a hard place”) that while this integration might be relatively popular, it isn’t actually changing the underlying Russian-Belarusian relationship much. The two countries are already closely integrated.

A March 2014 study by Belarus’s Independent Institute for Social, Economic and Political Research meanwhile asked the question: ‘If you had to choose between unification with Russia or membership of the EU, which would you choose?’ When the same question was asked in December 2013, about half of respondents answered in favour of the EU, but now, three months later, with the crisis in Ukraine and the help of a powerful Russian propaganda campaign, opinion has swung away from Europe, although more than a half of Belarusians still oppose the idea of hypothetical unification with Russia.

In other words, Belarusians are only interested in the economic side of integration, or to be more precise its impact on their own standard of living, and have little interest in grand political projects. If Eurasian integration brings no financial benefits, they will happily turn their attention back to the West. But recent events have shown that although Eurasian integration doesn’t seem to be moving very fast, the Lukashenka government is wary of sowing the seeds of disaffection among the public, to avoid annoying Russia.

[. . .]

A poll conducted by the Belarus Business and Management Institute’s Research Centre, in 2013 found that over 50% of owners of small-and-medium-sized businesses (SMB) saw the current level of integration in a fairly positive light, and 44% were in favour of further integration. Only 19% spoke out against the present situation, and 23% against an increase in integration. These figures nevertheless show a significant drop in approval compared to 2012: pro-integration numbers were down by 17%, and anti-integration ones up by 7%.

[. . .]

Eurasian integration has not, in fact, had any significant economic effect on Belarus, primarily because its partnership with Russia predates the ECU and EEU; in 1999 Lukashenka and then Russian president Boris Yeltsin set up the Union State of Russia and Belarus, which created close economic ties between the two countries. The current political situation is good for Lukashenka: the increasing external pressure on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine has brought concessions from the Kremlin on the single energy market, although Putin’s insistence on bilateral agreements means that he wants to use annual energy supply contracts to keep Belarus under his thumb. It also means that Belarus will be even more economically dependent on Russia than before (and it is already deeply dependent).

On Kazakhstan, meanwhile, Luca Anceschi and Paolo Sorbello argue in their “Kazakhstan and the EEU: the rise of Eurasian scepticism” that skepticism about Eurasian integration is being used strategically by the government and by opposition factors.

Rampant anti-Eurasianism represents a key factor in understanding the cleavage between the two main political alternatives to Kazakhstan’s current establishment. The first constituent of the Kazakhstani opposition appears to be favouring western models of political participation, seeing as it incarnates values and visions strongly influenced by US and European traditions. Close monitoring of its activities – as well as brutal repression – have ensured that the forces of this opposition have never become strong enough to have a sizeable impact on Kazakhstan’s political landscape. Pro-government media and political organisations have systematically discredited these actors and portrayed them as ‘foreign agents,’ working to facilitate the capitalist exploitation of Kazakhstan.

The other main opposition grouping – which can be roughly presented under the umbrella of the NatsPatrioty – is fuelled by nationalist sentiments, sits at the right of Kazakhstan’s political spectrum, and tends to manifest its views by advocating the promotion of the Kazakh language and the preservation of Kazakh culture. This group is important to the leadership in Astana, as it includes a sector of its supporters that have become increasingly uneasy with some of the government’s policies. For this reason, Nazarbaev and his associates have largely tolerated the agenda of the NatsPatrioty. The leadership has seemed unwilling to challenge their points of view and has even been known to espouse some of the NatsPatrioty’s arguments, in order to shape legislation introduced to the detriment of Kazakhstan’s main domestic minorities (Russians, Koreans, Germans, and others) or its key international partners (Russia, China, the US). Rumours that the regime has artfully fomented this strand of opposition may remain unfounded but it is undoubtedly true that some of the NatsPatrioty arguments have promoted a divisive nationalism, which is widening the gap between the different components of Kazakhstan’s multi-national fabric and, interestingly, is being used to put more distance between Astana and its neighbours.

In this context, the NatsPatrioty anti-EEU discourse encapsulates their duplicity vis-à-vis the establishment: the same opponents of the new framework, in fact, are defending the original idea that Nazarbaev presented 20 years ago in Moscow. Their criticism is targeted at Russia, as the NatsPatrioty see Kazakhstan as just a partner being deceitfully driven into the arms of the greedy bear. This discourse facilitates the airing of various opposition grievances, and it ultimately causes the juxtaposition of domestic issues – the country’s economic situation, a suffering job market and industries, its many environmental disasters – with international and geopolitical questions of sovereignty, respect for international law, and prestige in the global arena; a set of foreign policy concerns very dear to the leadership in Astana.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 20, 2014 at 11:02 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Bad Astronomy’s Phil Plait remembers recently departed colleague Bruce Woodgate.
  • Centauri Dreams examines the possibility of layered subsurface oceans on Ganymede.
  • Crooked Timber’s Belle Waring quite likes the song and video “Tous les Mêmes” by Belgian musician Stromae.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to one paper suggesting that circumbinary exoplanets–planets orbiting two closely-orbiting stars–might be quite common and another modelling the temperatures on the surface of a tide-locked ocean world.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes a DNA study of house mice suggesting that Vikings might have been the first to explore the island of Madeira and its neighbours, four centuries before Portuguese colonization.
  • Eastern Approaches visits east Ukraine and examines turmoil in Slovenia.
  • Far Outliers traces the evolution of the Melanesian island of Rabaul under Japan as a military base in the Second World War.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that anti-gay North Carolina Republican State Senate candidate Steve Wiles had a prior career as drag queen Miss Mona Sinclair.
  • Language Hat samples the beautiful strange poetry of the recently passed Rosemary Tonks.
  • Language Log’s Mark Liberman wonders, inspired by XKCD’s recent meditation on Morse code and Livejournal, how social media will continue to evolve.
  • pollotenchegg maps the changing relative proportions of Russians in different regions of Ukraine over more than a century.
  • Towleroad remembers the late disco great Sylvester.
  • Window on Eurasia links to warnings that Putin is a fascist bent on taking to Russia to war and concerns that so far, the Eurasian customs union isn’t boosting Russian ties with adjacent regions of Belarus and Kazakhstan.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Antipope Charlie Stross wonders if one way to deal with the overaccumulation of wealth by elites is to get them to spend it in vast showy projects, like a crash program for nuclear fusion or a colonization of the upper atmosphere of Venus.
  • Centauri Dreams reacts to the discovery of the nearby and literally ice-cold brown dwarf WISE J085510.83-071442.5.
  • Crooked Timber’s Corey Robin argues that a recent American court case regarding a whistleblower highlights a tension between an individual’s freedoms as a citizens and limits as a private individual.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to two papers suggesting that a star’s circumstellar habitable zone could expand inwards if a planet is different from Earth, one pointing to slower-rotating planets and the other to lower-mass planets than Earth.
  • The Dragon’s Tales reports on the fascinating recovery of evidence of hunting nine thousand years ago from the bottom of Lake Huron.
  • Writing at the Financial Times‘ The World blog, Edward Luce is worried about Narendra Modi.
  • Language Log comments on browser plug-ins and other like things which adjust text to fit prescriptivist dictates.
  • James Nicoll seems much less impressed than the Volokh Conspiracy’s Ilya Somin in the idea of science fiction writers being criticized for their ideologies.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer argues that a chart suggesting there’s a low chance of civil war in Ukraine actually suggests no such thing on closer analysis.
  • Towleroad notes that Russia’s anti-gay laws are now being implemented in Crimea.
  • Window on Eurasia’s links warn of the need for NATO to defend its own, highlight Belarus’ stated interest in a foreign policy that balances the European Union with the Russian sphere, and quotes Crimean Tatar leader Mustafa Cemilev on the Crimean Tatars’ continued dissidence and hope for rescue.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • At 3 Quarks Daily, Tamuira Reid writes about the minefields associated with Romani identity, starting with the name.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes a paper suggesting terrestrial worlds may be able to form in systems with hot Jupiters.
  • The Dragon’s Tales suggests that Japan is starting to investigate the possibility of orbital solar power satellites.
  • Eastern Approaches notes the political controversies in Poland associated with the canonization of native son John Paul II.
  • Joe. My. God. and Towleroad both note that Japan’s first lady Akie Abe rode in a float in Tokyo’s gay pride parade.
  • Geocurrents notes that long-time contributor Asya Pereltsvaig will no longer be contributing.
  • The New APPS Blog continues to observe the issues surrounding the Fermi Paradox.
  • Torontoist notes, with photos, a Toronto church’s annual blessing of the bikes.
  • Towleroad observes that a Buffalo, New York, school refused to share news of a gay alumnus’ wedding.
  • Window on Eurasia warns that Putin wants to regain Soviet levels of power and domination, also touching upon the Russian belief that Ukrainians and Belarusians don’t have separate histories.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell recounts a book, Robert Bickers’ Empire Made Me: An Englishman Adrift in Shanghai, telling the story of an English expatriate fascist turned policeman in interwar Shanghai.

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • The Dragon’s Tales links to news of remarkably thorough reconstruction of Neanderthal and Denisovan genomes.
  • Eastern Approaches visits eastern Ukraine’s Donbas region.
  • Geocurrents’ Martin Lewis notes that Pakistan still apparently lays claim to the former Muslim-run princely state of Junagadh in Gujarat.
  • Joe. My. God. and Towleroad both note a proposed bill before the Russian parliament that would require the fingerprinting of all HIV-positive people in a national database.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes a continuing crisis in the availability of rental spaces in the American housing market, linking it to low-density zoning.
  • Torontoist notes the sad loss of a pet pigeon on Queen Street West.
  • Towleroad notes continuing controversy over the use of the HIV drug Truvada as a prophylactic against infection.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy visits controveries over affirmative action in the United States where different minorities (here, Asian-Americans) have different claims.
  • Window on Eurasia visits the increasingly problematic lot of Crimean Tatars in their Russian-occupied homeland, notes that traditionally pro-Russian Belarus is newly wary of its eastern partner, and quotes from a journalist who predicts catastrophe from a Russian pursuit of empire.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • At The Dragon’s Tales, Will Baird reports that Sweden and Finland, spooked by Crimea, are now contemplating NATO membership.
  • On a very different note, The Dragon’s Tales also notes that Saturn’s icy moon Enceladus, with a Europa-like ocean underneath, is perfectly suited for a space mission.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that workers are dying on World Cup construction sites in Brazil as well as in Qatar.
  • At the Planetary Society Blog, Emily Lakdawalla notes the very recent discovery of Kuiper belt object 2013 FY27, big enough to be a dwarf planet.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy links to a profile of the blog and its blogger in Tablet magazine.
  • Window on Eurasia has a series of links. One argues that Russia’s weakness not its strength motivated the move into Crimea, another argues that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would be a catastrophe and that the Russian government knows it, another observes Belarus’ alienation from federation with Russia.

[URBAN NOTE] “Public Works: Finding New Uses for Old Infrastructure”

Torontoist’s Peter Goffin has pointed to the Minsk Forest City project in the capital city of Belarus that might have interesting lessons for Toronto, specifically in the area of Downsview Park.

U.S.-based designers Sasaki Associates [. . .] have created an innovative master plan for the city of Minsk, Belarus, that, if implemented, would transform a disused airport into a a residential, commercial, cultural, and ecological hot spot.

Commissioned by a Russian consulting firm to conjure up a vision for what used to be Minsk-1 Airport, Sasaki has come up with “Forest City,” a 3.2-square km mixed-use district in the middle of the Belarusian capital, where museums, homes, businesses, and, yes, forests lie side by side. It’s still just the stuff of renderings and project descriptions, but whether or not the City of Minsk bites, Forest City is garnering a fair amount of buzz on architecture and urban design blogs from around the world.

Under the Forest City plan, structures that once served the airport would be updated and integrated into what Sasaki calls “a 24/7 vibrant, diverse, and balanced mixed-use program.” In a nod to the area’s history of aviation, the original terminal would be transformed into an air museum. Meanwhile, the old airstrip has been reimagined as “Runway Park,” a long strip of green space, in which vegetation grows through holes cut into the tarmac.

In fact, Forest City would be veined with a whole connected system of parks, woodland, and waterways winding their way toward a natural tributary south of the district. With space earmarked for everything from canoeing, to ice skating, to art galleries and community centres, Forest City would be just what its name suggests: rural and urban, all at once.

To Torontonian ears, this Forest City thing sounds a lot like Downsview Park—a derelict airfield due to come back from the dead as a mixed-use community where urban housing abuts parkland. Could Toronto offer a real-world model for Sasaki’s master plan? Perhaps not. Downsview Park has been a divisive, ever-changing, sometimes ignored initiative since it was announced in 1999 by the Jean Chrétien government. Originally planned as a National Park in an urban setting, it was handed over in 2012 to Canada Lands Company, the guys who sell off government property for profit. Last November, builders Mattamy Homes struck a deal to construct 1,000 residential units on the park’s lands. In fact, you can already stake your claim to one. To some, the Mattamy deal is the first step in developing a planned community of city homes in pastoral surroundings right by the subway line. For others, it’s sparked worry that the National Park vision is dead and that Downsview will one day be a Mississauga-style housing development.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 22, 2014 at 6:05 pm

[LINK] “The Myth of the Orthodox Slavs”

At Transitions Online, Bulgarian Boyko Vassilev writes against Samuel Huntington’s famous arguments that Eastern Orthodox Slavs–Bulgarians, Ukrainians, Russians among others–aren’t so inherently distinctive from western and central Europeans as is often claimed. At least they aren’t so distinctive that Bulgarians don’t aspire to the same sorts of things as others.

Different as they are, Ukraine has much in common with Bulgaria. Both are divided in their attitude to Russia – it’s just that in Ukraine the division is territorial, in Bulgaria philosophical. Both have been rocked by protests, although those in Ukraine ended with an explosion, those in Bulgaria with implosion. And both belong to a seemingly unhappy family – the Orthodox Slavs.

These countries of Slavia Orthodoxa (Bulgaria, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine) top the surveys for fatigue, unhappiness, and pessimism. All have low rates of fertility and high rates of crime. Some fought recent wars – and lost them. There is no spectacular business success here. Only one, Bulgaria, was not a member of either Yugoslavia or the USSR. And only one, Bulgaria again, is an EU member. Still, Bulgaria is the poorest country in the EU and is not known for its stability.

[. . .]

First, not all Orthodox Slavs are hard-line Russophiles. Serbs and Montenegrins are, but from a distance – a luxury Belarusians do not possess. Bulgarians and Ukrainians are at least divided. There, you have many people who are culturally Russophile but politically pro-Western; it is possible to love Dostoyevsky and democracy simultaneously.

Second, not all members of Slavia Orthodoxa are anti-Western; quite the contrary. Bulgarians are more pro-Western even than some fellow EU members. Even Russians have a strong pro-Western tradition. Russian historian Alexander Yanov traces it to Kyiv and Novgorod.

Third, Eastern Christians are not by nature spoiled losers; they also can prosper and flourish. “Byzantine” is not a synonym for tyranny and obedience; it marks one of the cradles of European civilization, a continuation of Rome. Misery is caused by corrupt cliques, not by the blood in your veins or the faith in your soul. Culture is not only what you inherit, but also what you acquire. In this sense, Bulgaria, Ukraine, and Russia could be free, prosperous, and democratic


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