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Posts Tagged ‘politics

[LINK] “Belarusians try out a new language: their own”

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The Christian Science Monitor‘s Rachel Stern reports on what might be the beginning of a renaissance in usage of the Belarusian language in Belarus. Apparently Lukashenko’s government, hitherto content with presiding over the steady progress of Russian, is newly sympathetic to causes which might help differentiate Belarus from its eastern partner.

Every Monday evening, an airy contemporary art gallery in central Minsk is filled with a language rarely heard on Belarus’s streets: Belarusian.

An average of 240 people pack the premises of the gallery, dubbed Ў after a character that only exists in the Belarusian Cyrillic alphabet, for a free course to practice and fine-tune their skills in the official language. Since 1999, use of Belarusian has dropped dramatically in favor of Russian.

“We have our own language but most people here don’t use it,” says Veranika Famina, an actress who has been attending “Mova Nanova” – or “Language Anew” in Belarusian – since it launched in January 2014.

But many Belarusians are now taking an increased interest in their native language to assert their country’s own identity and culture apart from neighboring Russia. Mova Nanova and a growing number of unofficial linguistic initiatives are taking Belarusian beyond the school classes that it’s often isolated to and back into the public sphere.

“For young people, speaking Belarusian is cool. They feel more Europe-oriented,” says translator Iryna Harasimovich at the cafe at Ў, which showcases work only in Belarusian and English. “Belarus has historically been a pendulum between East and West and that’s only become more blatant due to the situation in Ukraine.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 18, 2014 at 7:40 pm

[LINK] “Twitter Suggests Scotland Is Going Solo”

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Bloomberg’s Mark Gilbert notes a study of Twitter posts suggesting that momentum may be with separatists.

Opinion polls remain inconclusive as to whether Scotland will decide to secede tomorrow, as the final hours tick by before a referendum. Still, an analysis of Twitter messages by academics at Oxford University has shed a little more light, suggesting that the momentum is with those who favor independence.

Karo Moilanen, a visiting academic at the university, has dissected more than 1 million tweets in the past month. The “yes” campaign has generated more than 782,000 missives, compared with 341,000 for those backing the “no” movement. Both camps saw a dive in activity yesterday, though those backing the Scottish nationalists were still twice as active as the unionists[.]

Moreover, Moilanen’s software, called TheySay, parses the sentiments in messages using language algorithms. The results suggest those who would go it alone are more upbeat in their tweeting than their unionist opponents[.]

[. . .] The most recent opinion polls show the “no” campaign leading with about 52 percent, compared with 48 percent for the “yes” group when undecided voters are excluded. That makes the vote too close to call given the margins of error involved and the inherent imprecision of opinion polling. So the excitement of those young Twitter users, voting for the first time, may just determine the fates of both Scotland and the U.K.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 18, 2014 at 2:21 am

[URBAN NOTE] “Rob Ford diagnosed with ‘rare,’ ‘aggressive’ cancer”

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From Canada.com:

Doctors have determined the tumour in Toronto mayor Rob Ford’s abdomen is cancerous and the mayor will now undergo chemotherapy.

The official diagnosis is liposarcoma, a maligant tumour that arises in soft tissue, said Mount Sinai’s Dr. Zane Cohen. The “very difficult tumour” is large in size at 12 centimetres long and wide. Another smaller tumour — about two centimetres— was found in the mayor’s buttocks, behind his left hip.

Dr. Cohen said it’s also a rare case, comprising only one per cent of all cancers.

“We think it’s a fairly aggressive tumor. These types of tumors are often slow growing. To get to the size that it is now is often several years,” said Dr. Cohen. He could not specify what stage the cancer is in.

Dr. Cohen said after speaking with 45-year-old Ford and his family, the decision has been made to go ahead with chemotherapy, starting with three days of in-patient treatment followed by 18 days of “washout” before repeating. He could not rule out the future possibility of radiation treatment or surgery. The initial round of chemotherapy will begin within the next 48 hours and doctors plan to reassess in 40 days time.

Liposarcoma is apparently a treatable cancer with a high survival rate, but the medical experts consulted on CBC were surprised that Cohen didn’t engage in surgery first. This, to them, suggested that the cancer had spread substantially.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 17, 2014 at 10:37 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] An update on Krasnoyarsk and Russian federalism

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Back in 2005, I mentioned that the Russian government was set to engage in some territorial consolidation in Siberia, merging the Evenk and Taymyr autonomous okrugs, creating for northern indigenous minorities, directly into Krasnoyarsk to create a single subnational division. The stated goal was to achieve greater efficiencies of government, the unspoken goal perhaps a desire to renovate the Russian federal system. A Window on Eurasia post suggests that the resultant centralization hasn’t worked well for the northern peoples concerned.

[T]he forced marriage of the three, achieved largely as a result of promises by Moscow and Krasnoyarsk that the numerically small nationalities of these regions would be taken care of, has not worked well, with few of those Russian promises in fact kept and many of the numerically small non-Russians suffering from their loss of status.

And those difficulties, which they may seem small given that Dolgan-Nenetsk had only 40,000 people and Evenkia only 18,000, have cast a long shadow and slowed or even stopped one of Putin’s signature plans, the elimination within Russia of all non-Russian republics, including large ones like Tatarstan.

The difficulties that arise when such amalgamation projects are attempted were very much on public view yesterday at a meeting of deputies from these two downgraded areas help in Krasnoyarsk (nazaccent.ru/content/13158-v-krasnoyarskom-krae-obsudyat-osobyj-status.html).

Among the problems the deputies raised were the departure of representatives of federal agencies from these regions, something that prevents residents from getting the aid they need if as is the case for many they cannot afford to travel the often enormous distances from what is now northern Krasnoyarsk Kray to the republic capital.

Gennady Shchukin, the president of a group that represents the numerically small nationalities of the Russian North, said that the status of the downgraded regions needed to be raised in order to resolve some of the problems which their residents now face as a result of the amalgamation effort.

He told the meeting about a member of the Nganasan people who had to sell his deer on whom he relies for much of his livelihood in order to raise enough money to buy medicine in town, a situation that arose, Shchukin said, because there are no drug stores in the tundra now and because there are no officials to help such people get the assistance they need.

In retrospect, these complaints probably shouldn’t be a surprise. How else to increase efficiencies but to cut services?

Written by Randy McDonald

September 17, 2014 at 3:59 am

[URBAN NOTE] “Don’t count out Doug Ford just yet”

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Spacing Toronto’s John Lorinc makes the point that Doug Ford still might win.

In many ways, Tory is trying to rebuild the Lastman coalition, which has as its core centre-of-the-road midtown and suburban homeowners — some on the right-wing of the Liberal spectrum, and some of the centre-left end of the Tory universe. He also had, and was clearly courting, that subset of red-meat conservatives who agreed with Ford’s program but got tired of his antics, probably because they were getting in the way of delivering on his aforementioned program. Lastly, Tory’s camp almost certainly includes some moderately left-of-centre voters who would normally be members of Chow Nation but have opted to cast their ballots strategically so as to ensure that Rob was gone, once and for all.

That coalition, I’m guessing, is a whole lot less cohesive today than it was last week, and here’s why:

For the red meat conservatives who drifted into Toryland, Doug, surely, is the real deal. While he’ll shoot his mouth off and say impolitic things, he’s not going to run into the bushes and drink vodka, nor is he going to show up on pirated cell phone videos with a crack pipe in hand (if such videos existed, they’d have been in circulation by now). In other words, he’s Rob without the blushing, whereas Tory continues to radiate that kind of wishy-washiness one can contract by hanging around Liberals for too long.

Now, for the Tory supporters who are nose-holding progressives (you know who you are), Chow in the past week or so appears to have started to find her voice and show some passion. Moreover, she’s launched a compelling attack on Tory’s Smart Track scheme, and in fact scored big last week when she vividly demonstrated that his preferred route would pass directly through some building parcels on the former Richview expressway right-of-way on Eglinton Ave. In an election where transit is the dominant policy issue, Chow’s critique seems increasingly credible vis-a-vis Tory’s plan and its questionable financing premises, and that fact alone may be changing some minds.

In other words, Tory’s support could begin bleeding both right and left, creating — at least in the interim — a far closer, and tenser, race than we’ve witnessed to date. Whether Chow can turn her slide around remains to be seen. But what does appear likely is that Tory’s double-digit lead may begin to shrink.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 16, 2014 at 7:41 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “What has Doug Ford done for his ward? Apparently very little”

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Spacing Toronto’s Graeme Bayliss has a very unflattering description of city councillor and mayoral candidate Doug Ford’s actions on behalf of his riding, Toronto’s Ward 2, Etobicoke North.

The rookie councillor routinely calls out his City Council counterparts when he feels they are shirking their duties. Last week, he excoriated Councillor Jaye Robinson (who was bedridden with a chest infection at the time) for missing a Civic Appointments Committee meeting. Ford decried her supposed shiftlessness and claimed that her absence caused the meeting’s cancellation (which, as it happens, was an outright lie — the meeting proceeded as scheduled, with Ford himself in attendance).

The week before that, on the CFRB radio show he co-hosts with the mayor, Ford chided the 18 Toronto councillors who attended the recent FCM annual conference in Vancouver for not doing their jobs. Later on in the show, he backed away from the prospect of not doing his job by running in a Provincial election, and announced that he will instead focus on not doing his job by continuing to act as the mayor’s self-appointed Polonius. He’s turned his attention to “the job at hand with Rob into the next election.” But giving his brother a hand with his job is not the job Ford was handed.

[. . .]

Nearly 25% of Ward 2 residents live in poverty [PDF], and transit options are limited throughout the ward. A 2008 study conducted by PollutionWatch, which shows a positive correlation between poor air quality and poverty, indicates that air pollution levels in some sections of Ward 2 are amongst the highest in Toronto. The southeast corner of Ward 2 falls within Weston-Mt. Dennis, one of 13 priority areas in Toronto identified by the City as requiring considerable attention due to inadequate community services and high rates of poverty, crime, and unemployment. This, clearly, is a ward that needs an engaged and informed city councillor.

Unfortunately, Ford is neither of those things. His web site, for example, is bereft of substance: links to Twitter, Facebook, email, and RSS that lead nowhere, a ward profile with three bullet-point factoids and nine more dead links, and a homepage that refers to only two ward-specific events — one that took place two weeks ago, and another that happened last summer (although both are advertised as upcoming).

It’s possible that Ford has heard some distant rumour of the problems that plague his ward, but he appears to have done nothing substantial to fix them — no transit initiatives, no environmental initiatives, no housing initiatives.

Instead, he has put forward motions like EY21.48, wherein he motioned that a condo developer be permitted to erect three times as many A-frame advertising signs as the Municipal Code permits; EY19.40, wherein he motioned that certain properties at risk of violating driveway-widening regulations be granted an extension to the one-year extension they’d already been granted to comply with the regulations; MM7.7, with which he sought to provide the Toronto Catholic District School Board with $75,000 to build a change room; and EY11.17, with which he sought to block a pedestrian walkway with a 1.8-metre chain-link fence, as requested by a number of residents.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 15, 2014 at 7:42 pm

[NEWS] Some Monday links

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  • Al Jazeera notes the rivalry between the Islamic State and al-Qaeda, observes claims of persecution by evangelical Christians of followers of traditional African religions in Brazil, notes that separatism is unpopular in Scotland’s border regions, considers the problems of a beetle theme park in the penumbra of Japan’s Fukushima, looks at a Palestinian-American model, and considers rap music in Iran.
  • The Atlantic notes how events have vindicated the American Congress’ Barbara Lee, the only person not to vote in favour of granting unlimited war-making powers to the American presiden after 9/11, looks at the existential problems of Yiddish outside of ultra-Orthodox communities, and examines Stephen King’s thinking on how to teach writing.
  • Bloomberg notes the water problems of Detroit, looks at proposals to give Scotland home rule and Euroskepticism among the English, considers claims that Scotland might need huge reserves to back up its currency, notes ways sanctions threaten oil deals with Russian companies, examines Poland’s natural gas issues and those of the rest of central and southeastern Europe, notes Ukraine’s exclusion of Russian companies from a 3G cellular auction, notes the reluctance of Scottish banks to support an independent Scotland, and observes how domestic protectionism in Argentina is boosting Uruguay’s beef exports to Europe.
  • The Bloomberg View argues that it should be possible to cleanly break up even established nation-states, is critical of what Colombia is doing to Venezuelan refugees, argues that the achievements of social insects like acts are irrelevant to more complex beings like us, and suggests Britain has no place to criticize China over Hong Kong.
  • CBC notes the strength of Inuit oral history following the discovery of one of the Franklin Expedition’s ships, notes that the type of cancer that killed Terry Fox is now highly curable, and notes NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s proposal of a $15 an hour federal minimum wage.
  • The Inter Press Service notes Uzbekistan’s fear of Russia motivating a look for eastern allies and suggests that an anti-discrimination law can worsen the plight of sexual minorities in Georgia.
  • MacLean’s notes that Mexican economic development is good for Canada, looks at Catalonian secessionism, and suggests that a new EI tax credit won’t help Canadian business boost employment.
  • Open Democracy looked at the likely outcome of Crimean elections under Russian rule.
  • The Toronto Star revisited the unsettled state of affairs in the Central African Republic.
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