A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for July 2004

[URBAN NOTE] Two Brief Observations

  • I’ve recently experimented and tried fast food, from McDonald’s and Burger King. I’ve rarely eaten fast food in the past, for some reason. I’ve tried the Big Mac, I’ve tried the Whopper, I’ve tried McDonald’s fish sandwich. I was surprised to find out how tasteless and inoffensive they are; I can’t imagine people actually wanting to eat them on a regular basis. McDonald’s fries are different, of course, postmodern icons in their way–made of potato yet not potato. All-you-can-eat Chinese buffets are much better.
  • Walking outside last night as the rain fell down softly, passing south on Bay and then west on Queen, I looked up to the skyscrapers of the financial district. I’ve been familiar with the spectre of urban skylines marked by illuminated towers, of course. What I didn’t see before, though, were the faint patterns made by the individual fluorescent light bulbs themselves. When you’re close enough, you can see the individual bulbs aligned to form a skeletal pattern of sorts. In the rain at midnight, it’s quite beautiful.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2004 at 7:15 pm

Posted in Assorted

[BRIEF NOTE] Two Items from Abiola Lapite’s Blog

The estimable Abiola Lapite has two particularly interesting items on his blog. The first is his observation on why anarcho-capitalism can’t work:

Sampson makes much the same point I do: what anarcho-capitalists like to refer to as “Private Military Companies” or “Private Police Forces” have already been tried in the real world and found wanting – they’re called Mafias and Warlord factions. One has to be naive in the extreme to believe that a body of men with more firepower than others around it would be content to leave those outside their circle at peace to enjoy their possesions, and it is just as naive to expect an equilibrium of forces to rapidly be achieved, or even that when it is achieved, the end result will be anything other than the same old state ACs set out to abolish. People who cling to such follies should examine not just the millenium-long history of feudalism in Europe, but also the 400+ years of feudal warfare in Japan before the Tokugawa shogunate, and also the several occasions in Chinese history when centralized authority broke down, right from the Warring States Period right down to the “Warlordism” of the early decades of the 20th Century.

He goes into more detailed criticism here.

The second is a reposting of a comment made by Ian Montgomerie, late of soc.history.what-if, on the nativism underlying much opposition to globalization:

The battle to prevent labor restrictions has already been lost, ideologically. Speaking as a cosmopolitan leftist I have been utterly dismayed at how the outsourcing issue has revealed that the American left is, when it comes to jobs, just as much a bunch of nativist isolationists as the American right. Pretty much every leftist public figure I know of or have read books by, is completely in the “outsourcing is EVIL” camp. This position is strong enough that in articles about unrelated subjects, people will stick in a crack bitching about outsourcing. If anything, the left demonstrates MORE hostility toward it than the right. It’s already been completely and totally accepted that the orthodox position of any pro-worker, anti-corporate-greed person should be to oppose outsourcing. It makes me want to puke.

I used to think that when people complained about free trade because Nike could pay third world workers peanuts to make shoes, it was a somewhat misguided sentiment but genuinely came out of concern for people in the third world. After all, the argument seemed to imply that if Nike paid third world workers a generous salary (at least by the standards of their country) and gave them good working conditions, that it would be fine and dandy for them to manufacture their shoes wherever they want.

The outsourcing issue proved my assumption completely and totally wrong – the mainstream attitude, left as well as right, really is “fuck those darkies in the third world, America first and I’ll rationalize it however I want”. Because according to the “anti-Nike” style arguments, the ideal situation would be one where third world workers weren’t at all exploited, but instead had the skills to be competitive for jobs that offered good working conditions and good salaries. But when people actually noticed that happening, the OUTSOURCING PANIC started. (And I put it in all caps because it’s so overblown, it relies on a series of anecdotes about jobs going offshore with zero perspective on the size of this effect compared to the economy and zero perspective on any countervailing tendency of the US to expand in new industries and sell new products to the developing world).

Essentially I have not seen any opposition to outsourcing which is not precisely equivalent to the worst sort of nativist protectionism. Even the rhetoric of the rationalizations is much more strained and transparent than the anti-Nike, anti-child-labor movements. Because fundamentally, people don’t care about the reasons so they aren’t paying much attention to making their rationalizations plausible. As soon as middle class Americans seemed to be directly losing their jobs to developing world labor, it was full on panic mode. Reason doesn’t vaguely enter into it. I actually heard of a protest against a software company that layed off a bunch of people in silicon valley to move the jobs to Montreal, Canada. Problem: it was a Canadian company and it was moving the jobs to its head office in Montreal.

Here here.

UPDATE (1 August 2004, 9:14 PM) : ladyfelicity continues the discussion in her journal.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2004 at 6:41 pm

Posted in Assorted

[NON BLOG] Last Vestige of Dorm Life

I’ve gotten the last of escondidoid‘s postcards in the mail today–Aruba, Charlotte Amalie, and Barbados. They’re nice postcards–thanks!

I also received a bill from Queen’s University. I was worried, at first thinking that it was a missive of bad tidings. Instead, I found that it was a bill of five dollars levied for damage done.

From the end of August to the end of April, I lived in Phase II of Jean Royce, a second smaller satellite building. Three houses–my Shortliffe, the adjoining Tracy, and Trottier across the hall–were home to graduate students. Looking down at the cost per student table, we all have been levied only five dollars each. The list of specific damages done does not indicate any specific damages inflicted on the three graduate student houses.

Unsurprisingly, all of the damage comes from the houses inhabited by undergrads, in Miller house in Phase II but mainly in Phase I. Drunkenness and disorderliness were sadly common in Miller house. Once, a friend and I ran into three people who were staggeringly drunk at 8 o’clock on a Wednesday. I think that they might have been responsible for smashing the glass in the front entrance door, causing it to be boarded up and repaired at a cost of just over three hundred dollars.

Ah, the joys of dorm living. And this comes before the knife-wielding fellatio couple on my floor.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 30, 2004 at 6:54 pm

Posted in Assorted

[QUIZ] Nicked from jdev

Written by Randy McDonald

July 29, 2004 at 3:15 pm

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[NON BLOG] A Brief Encounter

Last night at a quarter to eleven, as I was walking south on Spadina, I was accosted by a man riding a bike. He was fairly thin and wearing a red-orange T-shirt and some jeans; the bike he was riding looked old, a barely clean green metal frame with two mismatched tires.

He offered to sell the bike to me for 15 dollars. I made a counteroffer for five, explaining when he protested that I only had five dollars on me. He went on and offered to sellthe bike to me for ten dollars, but I refused and chatted with him for a bit longer.

I popped into a Chinese restaurant to ask the proprietor what the large hunk of meat he was hosting was. As it happened, it turned out to be pork. I exited the building to see the bikerider engrossed in some kind of dealmaking with a third person, but the time that I’d progressed to the intersection of Spadina and Dundas at the heart of Chinatown (northwest corner, incidentally) he caught up to me. He offered to sellme the bike for five dollars, claiming that he really needed food. I felt uncomfortable, and left after turning down the offer.

Now, the poll:

E-mail me if you’re not on livejournal.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 28, 2004 at 5:51 pm

Posted in Assorted

[BRIEF NOTE] East German gastarbeiter

From South Africa’s Independent Online, Emmanuel Camillo’s article “Majermane ‘tired of waiting for their money’“:

More than 300 former migrant workers occupied the German Embassy and its compound for a second day on Thursday, vowed to remain until they are paid for work done two decades ago.

Riot police wielding batons injured three protesters and arrested three others in a brief clash during the night that began when shouting workers shoved a police officer.

Authorities said on Wednesday that the standoff had ended after six hours when German Ambassador Ulf Dieter Klemm told the protesters he would raise their case with Mozambican authorities.

However, the former migrant workers refused to leave the embassy and its grounds, vowing to stay until their demands were met.

“They are still occupying the embassy and negotiations continue,” a German foreign ministry spokesperson said from Berlin on condition of anonymity.

The ambassador has been talking to both the Mozambican government and the protesters, she said.

The protesters, known as Majermane, pushed their way past embassy guards and occupied the embassy compound on Tuesday. They contend Mozambique’s government owes them $2.2-million in pay for work they did in East Germany in the 1980s. Germans did not pay the workers directly and gave the money to the Mozambican government instead.

The protesters decided to continue the occupation, hoping the Germans can pressure Mozambique to pay them, said Alberto Mahuaie, a leader from the Forum of Returnees From The Ex-German Democratic Republic, or GDR, a group claiming to represent the Majermanes.

‘We are not going to pay any extra money because we owe them nothing’
The occupation was spontaneous and not planned by his organisation, he said.

“Some of our colleagues were tired of waiting and decided to invade the German embassy to try and force the two governments to sit at the same table and reach a conclusion about our demands,” Mahuaie said.

The main employment problem facing Communist-bloc economies in the 1970s and 1980s was a high rate of unemployment and underemployment. In East Germany and Czechoslovakia, however–the two most developed Communist economies apart from Yugoslavia–there were serious labour shortages, caused by labour inefficiency, plummeting birth rates, and (in East Germany’s case) high emigration rates. Exchange programs were set up by these the richest Communist countries with poorer Communist states–Czechoslovakia concentrated on the recruitment of Vietnamese, while East Germany absorbed (including Vietnamese) Cubans, Angolans, and Mozambicans. At the East German program’s peak, more than a hundred thousand immigrants in contracts of varying duration worked in Germany.

The experience of these immigrants fascinates me, I have to admit, in part because Communist economic structures are hostile by design to the sort of labourers’ autonomy implied by international migration. I know that eternityfan is of East German background, and I wouldn’t be surprised if I had other East German readers. If they’ve any experiences with these immigrants, I’d be interestedto read about them.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2004 at 7:51 pm

Posted in Assorted

[NON BLOG] Randy Tries Japanese

As I noted yesterday, I managed to get signed up for a half-hour trial lesson in Japanese. I did go, of course–it was free.

I’d left the Toronto reference library late, and had to walk quickly (south on Bay, west on Bloor) to get to the school. I did have an entertaining brief conversation with a slim man in his 60s who wore an army khaki jacket with what I thought was East German flag decal sewn on. It wasn’t, as it turned out, but he did emigrate to Canada in 1959 from West Berlin.

The school itself is located on the “grand concourse” level (that is, second floor) of the Global Village building on 180 Bloor Street West, sharing space with, among other institutions, a LSAT prep course and the Consulate-General of Israel. The school itself was a small collection of rooms. I was met after a brief delay by a petite teacher, who gave me a detailed and somewhat intrusive form to fill out. Once I was done, we went into the classroom. I was alone.

The school’s basic philosophy is that of total immersion. The instructor tld me at the beginning of the session that I could only speak in Japanese, no English. For the next half-hour, we proceeded through a quick session acquainting me with, among other things, five Japanese vowels, the names of some common objects (beer, buses, cups) and how to refer to them. and basic terms of conversation (yes and no, thank you). I learned by imitating; I picked things up reasonably quickly. At the end of the session, the instructor tried to sign me up for a September two-month course; I begged poverty and got her to send me an E-mail for the October class, when it became available.

lautreamontg was right, I think, in being skeptical about the efficacy of this school. I enjoyed the trial lesson, and I do have an exceptionally basic grasp of the spoken Japanese language. I doubt, though, that I’d acquire a working fluency in Japanese after 23 more hours of this. Even so, the idea of learning Japanese remains an attractive sort of project.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2004 at 7:29 pm

Posted in Assorted

[QUIZ] Nicked from sbisson

I am flower named rfmcdpei !

I consist of my friends!
Are you flower too?

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2004 at 4:05 pm

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A Community for SHWIers

People who are soc.history.what-if participants might be interested to know that I’ve created a livejournal community for soc.history.what-if participants, appropriately titled shwiers.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2004 at 2:20 pm

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On Space Colonies (Part 6)

One topic broached Sunday afternoon was the lack of economic realism in fantasy novels. Crooked Timber has a brief piece on this. We three agreed that the problem can be traced back to Tolkien and Middle Earth. Consider that there is no hint of any settled agrarian economy capable of supporting Gondor’s war machine, or the question of just how exactly Mordor is supposed to equip its would-be conquering hordes if the entire country is a barren volcanic wasteland. The skill of Tolkien’s achievements elsewhere in Middle Earth, in the construction of a single broad history with a vast array of detailed cultural elements, certainly shouldn’t be underestimated. It is safe to say, though, that his worldbuilding fails on that critical point.

Science-fiction writers often face similar problems with economics, in their case with the economics of spaceflight. In certain settings–for instance, that of a post-Singularity nanotech economy where material scarcity is no longer an issue–questions of economics really do become irrelevant. In reality, questions of economics will be very important for future space colonies. My writings last year on space colonization (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) explored this. In these posts, I came to the conclusion that for the foreseeable future-say, the next century or so–settlements in space will not only be capital-intensive and dependent on massive investments for a long while, but that the most successful colonies will be those supported by prosperous and relatively powerful Earth-based polities, whether great powers (United States, Russia, Japan, China, Brazil) or confederations (the European Union, perhaps MERCOSUR). Space will not be a viable domain for libertarians.

This conclusion leaves something very important unspoken, though: What happens to the colonies which lose out to more viable settlements? When the European Union’s Ceres settlement, for instance, manages to not only develop a better industrial base for the mining of volatiles and maintenance of spacecraft than the half-dozen independent settlements on that world, but acquires a large domestic market for consumer goods, just what does happen to the independents?

Let’s take a look at the histories of Western colonial empires.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 26, 2004 at 9:34 pm

Posted in Assorted