A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Turkmen of Syria, Turkey, Russia, and ongoing complexities

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Friend of the blog Jussi Jalonen recently noted on Facebook that the Turkish shootdown of a Russian Sukhoi Su-24 on the Turkish-Syrian border, the pilots successfully escaping in parachutes only to be shot dead by Syrian Turkmen Brigades in Syria, underlines the complexities.

The Syrian Turkmen are a substantial ethnic minority, apparently concentrated near the Turkish border, amounting to the hundreds of thousands. How many hundreds of thousands? Might it even be millions? There’s no firm data, it seems, much as there is no firm data on the numbers of Iraqi Turkmen. What is known is that these Turkmen minorities are numerous, that their zones of inhabitation overlap at least in part with that of ethnic Kurds, and that they are politically close to Turkey. As Vox‘s Zack Beauchamp noted, in the particular case of Syria the Turkmen are opposed to Russia.

he Turkmen arrived in what’s now Syria centuries ago, as various different Turkic empires — first the Seljuks, then the Ottomans — encouraged Turkish migration into the territory to counterbalance the local Arab majority. Under Bashar al-Assad’s rule, the mostly Sunni Muslim Turkmen in Syria were an oppressed minority, denied even the right to teach their own children in their own language (a Turkish dialect).

However, the Turkmen didn’t immediately join the anti-Assad uprising in 2011. Instead, they were goaded into it by both sides. Assad persecuted them, treating them as a potential conduit for Turkish involvement in the Syrian civil war. Turkey, a longtime enemy of Assad, encouraged the Turkmen to oppose him with force. Pushed in the same direction by two major powers, the Turkmen officially joined the armed opposition in 2012.

Since then, they’ve gotten deeply involved in the civil war, receiving significant amounts of military aid from Ankara. Their location has brought them into conflict with the Assad regime, ISIS, and even the Western-backed Kurdish rebels (whom Turkey sees as a threat given its longstanding struggle with its own Kurdish population). Today, the Syrian Turkmen Brigades — the dominant Turkmen military faction — boast as many as 10,000 fighters, per the BBC, though the real number could be much lower.

The Turkmen role in the conflict has put them directly in Russia’s crosshairs. The Russians, contrary to their stated goal of fighting ISIS, have directed most of their military efforts to helping Assad’s forces fight rebels. The Turkmen have clashed repeatedly with Assad and his allies in the north — which led to Russian planes targeting Turkmen militants last week.

Turkey was not happy, and called in the Russian ambassador to register its disapproval. “It was stressed that the Russian side’s actions were not a fight against terror, but they bombed civilian Turkmen villages and this could lead to serious consequences,” the Turkish foreign ministry said in a description of the meeting provided to Reuters.

Could, as Beauchamp suggests, the Turkish attack have been a warning to Russia to avoid attacking Turkey’s ethnic kin? It’s imaginable, at least.

All I can add is that there’s a tragic irony here. At least in part in an effort to diminish the negative consequences from Russia’s support of armed ethnic kin against their parent state in Ukraine, Russia has now come into conflict with Turkey’s armed ethnic kin as they fight against their parent state.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 24, 2015 at 4:33 pm

[LINK] “The tawdry fall of the Postmedia newspaper empire”

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The National Observer‘s Bruce Livesay describes the continuing decline of Conrad Black’s lost Postmedia empire.

Postmedia is a national media giant with nearly 200 papers, magazines and websites. Its dailies reach 6.3 million Canadian readers every week, with some of its best-known papers including the National Post, Vancouver Sun, Calgary Herald, Edmonton Journal, Regina Leader-Post, Winnipeg Sun, The London Free Press, Ottawa Citizen and Montreal Gazette.

But Postmedia is also a ship taking on water, due to both self-inflicted and industry-wide wounds.

Of the self-inflicted variety, Postmedia was pilloried last month in the run-up to the federal election after its Toronto executives ordered 16 of its major daily newspapers to run editorials endorsing Stephen Harper. (Postmedia did the same thing last spring during Alberta’s provincial election, forcing its papers there to back Jim Prentice’s Tories).

In a surprising move, John Honderich, chair of Torstar Corp., which publishes Canada’s largest daily paper, The Toronto Star, devoted an entire op-ed page article two weeks ago heaping scorn on Postmedia’s decision, decrying “the negative impact this affair is having on the newspaper industry in general. At a time when the relevance and impact of newspapers are under attack, this doesn’t help.”

Then there was the stunning resignation of Andrew Coyne as the National Post’s editorials and comments editor. Coyne quit on the eve of the election – although he remains a columnist with the paper – when his superiors told him he was not allowed to publish a column dissenting with their endorsement of Harper. Coyne, who declines to discuss the matter, tweeted his disapproval of the censoring, saying “I don’t see public disagreement as confusing. I see it as honest.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 24, 2015 at 2:31 pm

[LINK] Dennis Perkins at Vox on the decline of the video store

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In his thoughtful essay at Vox, “I worked in a video store for 25 years. Here’s what I learned as my industry died.”, Dennis Perkins shares interesting insights.

The independent video store where I’ve worked for 15 years is finally dead. After 28 years in business, we succumbed to the “disruption” of Netflix and Hulu, bled to death by the long, slow defection of our customer base. Once we announced our closing, the few who remained mourned — then we locked the doors. Our permanent collection is gone: boxed up and shipped off to the local library.

Videoport, of Portland, Maine, lasted longer than most. It was better than most. It owed its longevity to a single, engaged owner, to strong ties to the local film scene and a collection that put others to shame. I was proud to work there, alongside a staff that paired film knowledge and exceptional customer service skills like few other places I’ve known. We were a fixture in town, until we weren’t.

It hasn’t been so long since independent rental joints had the opposite problem. Before Videoport, I spent 10 years working at Matt & Dave’s Video Venture. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that our downfall came at the hands of a buyout by a major rental chain. Suspiciously well-dressed guys with clipboards started dropping in; soon enough, we were gone, one of the estimated 30,000 video stores in America gobbled up by Blockbuster or Movie Gallery or Hollywood Video, each eager to dominate the booming VHS rental racket. If only those chains knew that within a decade, they’d be goners too.

I spent 25 years of my life in an industry that no longer exists. Maybe I’m not the most ambitious guy. But that time has provided me with an up-close look at not just how the industry is changing but how people’s tastes, and the culture those tastes create, have changed with it.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 24, 2015 at 2:29 pm

[LINK] “Google Strips Down Google Plus”

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The Wall Street Journal‘s Alistair Barr writes about the controversial changes to Google Plus. As only an occasional user, mainly via my phone or other Android devices, I do note the reduced complexity of this social networking service. Was it necessary to do this?

Google Plus began in 2011 as the company’s answer to Facebook FB -1.00%: a social network that could help hundreds of millions of people stay in touch — and help Google, a division of Alphabet Inc.GOOGL -0.88%, collect valuable identity and interest-based data about them. But the result was a complex, confusing service that tried to act as a central hub for many other Google products. Ultimately, few people spent much time on it.

The new Google Plus is about connecting around common interests rather than people. It focuses on just two features, Google said: Collections, which let users follow streams of content on topics like surfing or niche types of photography, and Communities, which let groups of people with the same interests join up and discuss topics like Game of Thrones or painting.

A key difference between the new Google Plus and its earlier incarnations is that it’s now possible to follow a member’s posts about a specific subject without receiving that person’s posts on other topics.

Gone from Google Plus, or on the way out, are the Hangouts messaging service,a tool for organizing events, and the ability to share your location. Photo uploading still works, but the ability to tag people by name is limited. These features mostly survive as standalone products, some of which are successful, such as the new Google Photos storage service.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 24, 2015 at 2:28 pm

[LINK] “Refugee hails Halifax: ‘Like a dream to me’”

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The Halifax Chronicle-Herald‘s Fraqnces Willick writes about a lesbian refugee from Gambia, happily resettled in Halifax.

One month ago, Jahu Camara’s life changed forever.

The young woman stepped off a plane at Halifax Stanfield International Airport, and in an instant, everything was different.

She was free.

“I was feeling like I was in a different world. Everything was like a dream to me,” said Camara, 20.

“If I remember where I am from and where I am, it’s just like a dream.”

Camara is originally from Gambia, in northwest Africa, but she fled to neighbouring Senegal in October 2014. As a lesbian, Camara knew that remaining in Gambia meant not only hiding her sexuality but also living under the constant threat of imprisonment and torture.

“Being a homosexual in Gambia is a deadly act,” she said, sitting at a kitchen table in Dartmouth.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 24, 2015 at 2:25 pm

[LINK] The Toronto Star on possible Ontario connections to Québec organized crime

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Multiple people have linked to Peter Edwards’ Toronto Star article “Corruption in Quebec construction industry ‘far more widespread than we originally believed’”. This has implications for Québec, but also for Ontario, too.

The commission heard an Ontario mafia expert from York Regional Police saying that his force may be investigating government contracts that have been awarded to organized crime groups.

York Regional Police Det. Mike Amato declined to talk about any instances he knew of in which mafia groups he had been speaking about were able to win a contract by being the lowest bidder.

“That question there is too close to something that we are working on right now,” Amato told the commission.

“The question that he asked brings something to mind in terms of a link that may exist. I’m not saying it does exist, but it’s a possible theory.”

His testimony came a week after a joint investigation by the Toronto Star and Radio-Canada highlighted the recent rise of the ’Ndrangheta, or the Calabrian mafia, which the RCMP has listed as one of its “Tier 1” threats in the GTA.

There’s much more at the Star.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 24, 2015 at 2:22 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Have Toronto police learned anything at all about de-escalation?”

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Spacing’s John Lorinc is decidedly unimpressed by the Toronto police’s promise to make sure more of its officers can deescalate conflicts.

In mid-September, when absolutely no one was paying attention, senior police officials presented two lengthy reports (here and here) to the Toronto Police Services Board, outlining how the force has responded to the detailed recommendations of an unprecedented coroner’s inquiry into three police killings (Reyal Jardine-Douglas, Sylvia Klibingaitis, and Michael Eligon), as well as an exhaustive review of lethal force on emotionally distressed individuals, by former Supreme Court justice Frank Iacobucci.

These exhaustive external critiques focused on de-escalation and specialized training in how to deal with people suspected to be in distress (e.g., someone suffering from schizophrenia who is off their meds and acting in a menacing way). “[T]he importance of de-escalation in police encounters can not be over-emphasized,” Iacobucci wrote.

While both Iacobucci’s report and the coroner’s inquest received extensive media coverage, the police response, presented publicly after more than a year of deliberation, generated little news. Canadian Press ran a short item that began, “Toronto police have undergone a ‘cultural change’ in dealing with those in crisis in the wake of two reports that scrutinized the force’s policies, Chief Mark Saunders said Thursday.” Both CP and The Toronto Star noted the box score, saying the vast majority of the recommendations – 140 between the two – had been implemented.


Written by Randy McDonald

November 24, 2015 at 2:19 pm


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