A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[LINK] “What Russian students learn about Russia’s enemies”

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At Open Democracy, Sergei Golunov suggests that Russian students are being instructed in a worldview steeped in conspiracy theories and ridiculous geopolitics, encouraging xenophobia and nationalism.

In Russia, conspiracy theories involving clandestine and sinister external actors are widespread. Many of these theories are geopolitical in nature, involving a perceived antagonism toward Russia because of its vast territory and natural resources. Other theories are underpinned by Russia’s differing Orthodox civilisation.

These theories have replaced the concept of ‘international class struggle,’ which was once a Soviet mainstay justifying the inevitable confrontation between the Soviet Union and the West. Alarmingly, many of these new theories have permeated Russia’s education space, where they are intended not only to shape knowledge but to secure the political loyalty of Russia’s youth.

Using the Russian State Library online catalogue, I identified 86 such textbooks written by 61 authors, then reduced the list to works by 44 of them. I analysed the books’ educational context, assessed the prevalence of conspiracy theories within them, and categorised the most prominent. I found that approximately half the authors of these textbooks resort to conspiracy theorising.

Most geopolitical textbooks that include conspiracy theories portray the United States as the primary conspirator against Russia and, accordingly, as a threat to Russia’s existence, independence, and territorial integrity. Other conspirators cited include China, Germany, and Japan, as well as certain ‘alliances’ of states in international organisations and the Muslim world. Beyond risks to Russia’s territorial integrity, some theories outline support for ethnic and/or religious separatist movements in and around Russia. Since the mid-2000s, many textbooks have also denounced a supposed ‘fifth column’ inside Russia.

Approximately half the authors of these textbooks resort to conspiracy theorising.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2015 at 10:46 pm

[LINK] “Yet Another Ghost Town in China Shows Extent of Regional Debt Crisis”

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Bloomberg warns of the Chinese debt bubble, grounded heavily in real estate investment.

China’s Ordos city, where towers that sprang from Inner Mongolian farmland now sit empty, is showing the hangover has just begun from a decade-long building boom.

Ordos City Huayan Investment Group Co., a developer whose chairman headed a group of livestock researchers, is at high risk of defaulting on 1.2 billion yuan ($194 million) of bonds if investors exercise an option to offload them in December, said Haitong Securities Co. and China Investment Securities Co. Also in the city, Inner Mongolia Hengda Highway Development Co. asked noteholders to defer rights to sell back private securities in April due to cash shortages, according to China International Capital Corp.

The city whose fortunes reversed as a coal boom turned to bust is grappling with China’s slumping property market that researcher SouFun Holdings Ltd. said led to more than 10 “ghost towns.” Five years after the first building was finished in the eastern city of Tianjin’s replica of Manhattan, the district remains almost deserted. Locals in the city of Handan, where a burst property bubble left half-constructed high-rises, have blocked streets to protest soured investments.

“Many small-city developers are running into financial trouble,” said Liu Yuan, a Shanghai-based research director for Centaline Group, China’s biggest property agency. “It’s the problem Ordos faces after its property bubble burst.”

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2015 at 10:42 pm

Posted in Economics

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[LINK] “Pineapple Industry Leaves Costa Rican Communities High and Dry”

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The Inter Press Service’s Diego Arguedas Ortiz describes how commercial pineapple plantations have led to serious contamination of the water table in parts of Costa Rica.

Since Aug. 22, 2007, these [four] rural communities have only had access to water that is trucked in. They can’t use the water from the El Cairo aquifer because it was contaminated with the pesticide bromacil, used on pineapple plantations in Siquirres, a rural municipality of 60,000 people in the Caribbean coastal province of Limón.

“Chemicals continue to show up in the water,” Briceño said. “During dry periods the degree of contamination goes down. But when it rains again the chemicals are reactivated.”

The failure of the public institutions to guarantee a clean water supply to the residents of these four communities reflects the complications faced by Costa Rica’s state apparatus to enforce citizen rights in areas where transnational companies have been operating for decades.

The technical evidence points to pineapple plantations near the El Cairo aquifer as responsible for the pollution, especially the La Babilonia plantation owned by the Corporación de Desarrollo Agrícola del Monte SA, a subsidiary of the U.S.-based Fresh Del Monte.

But it is public institutions that have had to cover the cost of access to clean water by the local communities.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2015 at 10:39 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Remington’s Men of Steel threatened as Toronto strip clubs die out”

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Metro Toronto‘s Jessica Smith Cross describes how classic men’s strip joint Remington’s may close down entirely, as condo development drives it from its Yonge and Gerrard neighbourhood.

Between the ever-increasing development in Toronto and city regulations that prevent new clubs from opening, strip clubs have become a declining business, according to Remington’s general manager Dave Auger.

“Some of them have sold their businesses to developers, some of them their owners have aged and it was just more feasible to cash in.”

[. . .]

The key problem for Remington’s, though, is that a strip club can’t move or start up almost anywhere in the city without receiving a tough-to-get zoning variance from City Hall.

Remington’s may have to try because its days on Yonge Street are numbered. Most of the block it’s on, south of Gerrard, is being redeveloped, and the owners don’t want Remington’s there when their new condo/retail development is done.

[. . .]

It’s the only spot new clubs are allowed to open without a zoning variance, but it’s not economically viable, or safe for performers or patrons, Auger said.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2015 at 10:37 pm

[LINK] “We are not things!”

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Rachel Kessler’s enthusiastic review of the new Mad Max film from a Christian perspective is a fun read.

Is it possible the 2-hour high-speed spectacle Mad Max: Fury Road is one of the most spiritually profound films I’ve seen in years?

Yes, yes it is.

Much has been said regarding the film’s ground-breaking treatment of women. Honestly, the only reason I had any inclination in using one of my rare post-baby movie-going opportunities on an action film (linked to a franchise with which I have no exposure) is because men’s activist groups called for a boycott of it — how DARE the film feature a dominant female protagonist who renders the titular male little more than a glorified side-kick? Unfortunately for the MRAs, their outrage had the undesired impact of compelling me and, if the demographic sampling of my own screening is representative, a lot of other young women out in enthusiastic droves.

Charlize Theron’s Imperator Furiosa is indeed a rare specimen — a butt-kicking woman in no way defined by her sexuality. Indeed, not only is she NOT made into a sexual object, but her body is even mutilated (a fact which itself does not define her). Her actions drive the narrative, a narrative into which Max passively gets caught up. The central conflict concerns five “breeders” (i.e., sex slaves) on the run from the warlord/cult leader “Immortan Joe.” As numerous commenters have noted–we never see the sexual exploitation of these women. And they are active agents in their own stories, not merely passive victims.

There is, however, so much more to Mad Max: Fury Road, than a ground-breaking approach to female characters. The entire film is a journey of spiritual renewal — a journey from death into life. This central theme emerges in the question, what are people? Are people things? Or are people … humans, individuals, beings capable of love, courage, and self-sacrifice?

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2015 at 10:34 pm

[LINK] “It’s Easy to Defend a Molester If You Value Godliness Over Consent”

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Jazebel’s Jia Tolentino penned a distressing essay suggesting that many conservative defenders of the Duggar family, and their coverup of Josh Duggar’s abuse of his children, are working from an entirely different paradigm from the one progressives use, one where consent is not a factor.

[F]or the Duggar camp, the only sexual behavior that can be spoken about without apologizing is sex within the bounds of marriage. Everything else is wrong, and more similar for it. On the other side of the equation—the progressive camp—what’s right is what’s freely agreed to. It’s a standard determined not by religious doctrine but by a straightforward interpersonal equation—a yes and a yes, every time.

These two conceptions of sexual morality are inherently separated and, at their extremes, incompatible. I’d guess that progressives aren’t upset to de-prioritize someone else’s Judeo-Christian morality; I wonder if Christian conservatives are upset to de-prioritize consent.

The Christian sexual tradition is based—as it is on the far right, firmly—in the idea of near-unconditional female submission. Even in 2015, it’s inevitable that a sexual belief system with God as the standard and arbiter leads to a standard where consent matters less. In the worst cases—as is visible in some reactions to the Duggar situation, where his error is located in some vague over-sexualization rather than a knowing breach of consent—sex with God as the arbiter can lead to consent barely factoring in at all.


Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2015 at 10:32 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Evidence demands Toronto tear down the Gardiner east, will council listen?”

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Metro Toronto‘s Matt Elliott argues that the eastern end of the Gardiner Expressway should be torn down. Will it, though? How will people vote? He looks at the issue at length, providing speculation as to how city council will divide.

The reports are in on the Gardiner. The analysis is done. The numbers have been crunched and crunched again.

It all points to the same conclusion: When Mayor John Tory and 44 other members of council meet on June 10, they should vote to remove the eastern part of the Gardiner between Jarvis Street and the Don Valley Parkway.

[. . .]

There’s the money. Maintaining the elevated expressway connection is far more costly, requiring about $500 million more in construction and maintenance costs compared to simply removing it and building a University Avenue-like boulevard.

Then there’s congestion. On this, the studies are in agreement. With reasonable signal timing along the replacement boulevard, the impact on commuters in 2031 will represent about two to three minutes of additional delay in the morning rush hour when compared to maintaining the elevated connection. How much is avoiding a two- or three-minute delay really worth?

And finally, there’s the relatively small number of people who actually use the east Gardiner. Traffic on this section represents just three per cent of morning commutes to downtown, according to a city traffic analysis. In comparison, GO and TTC ridership represent 68 per cent.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2015 at 7:22 pm


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