A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for October 2005

[LINK] The Slovenian Blogosphere

Over at The Glory of Carniola, Michael M. surveys this interesting segment of the web.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 9:59 pm

Posted in Assorted

[NON BLOG] Ruby Red in the Night

Late in the evenings, or on weekends, the Dufferin Street bus tends to run irregularly, each vehicle a dozen minutes apart or more. I just happened to miss the first southbound bus that I saw, crossing Bloor just as the bus pulled up unapproachably far away ten metres to my north. And so, I continued walking south. I even make it a bit of a game: How many stops can I travel before the next bus comes? Sometimes I can make it as far as College, once or twice I’ve even made it most of the way to Queen Street.

While I was walking south of the Dufferin Mall, walking on the west side of the street, a quarter past eight, I saw a ruby red point source as a woman passed by. At first I thought that she was carrying some sort of electric torch, something as part of a costume, but she was a middle-aged woman not in any costume. I kept walking, and then I saw it again, dancing on the hedges and the walls of houses. The light, energetically red, was coming from behind me, aimed from the other side of the street at a point roughly on the same level of my head. I sped up my pace.

Fifty metres from the TTC stop at Dufferin and College, I phoned 911. Yes, as the over-busy and likely tired emergency operator said, it was probably some kids just goofing around. If, though, tomorrow’s papers are full of the Toronto Hallowe’en Sniper, they’ll have that voice recording to fall back upon. This electronic spoor, too.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 9:45 pm

Posted in Assorted

[REVIEW] Seoul Restaurant

I was hungry for Korean food this evening, and so my disembarkment at the Bathurst TTC was predictable. What wasn’t predictable was my chance encounter with talktooloose‘s gang that ended up with me joining them and talktooloose at Seoul Restaurant (621 Bloor Street West). I’d passed the restaurant on the street before, but I just hadn’t gotten around to eating there. It looked bright, and expensive, and I’d come to prefer the simpler decoration of Um Ji Bunsik and its kin.

Once inside, I was pleased to find out that my initial misapprehensions were false. The price of Seoul’s pork bone soup was in the same range as Um Ji Bunsik’s. More to the point, I’d underestimated the effects that some visual variegation–a soothing yet energizing pale yellow shade of paint on the walls, a brightly-lit room–could have on diners. Um Ji Bunsik is somewhat utilitarian, cafeteria-style, and this is still good for certain purposes. When you want to chat at length with people you’ve not seen in months, and feel comfortable doing it, you want something like Seoul Restaurant.

The pork bone soup, incidentally, was good. There wasn’t the same quantity of side dishes that I’d come to expect, but the soup was excellent. It wasn’t as hot as a normally have it, but since I tend to have mild allergic reactions while eating the pork bone soup of the purs et durs this is probably a good thing. Now I’ve a good Korean restaurant for dates.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 9:39 pm

Posted in Assorted

[NON BLOG] Winter’s Here

It was depressing yesterday afternoon when, stepping out at 3:30, the sunlight was wan and yellow, the way that I remember it being back in June when it was 9 o’clock at night. Worse still was today after I left work, when it took me a few seconds to realize that the car had left the tunnel because of the black night, just short of being ink-coloured.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 9:18 pm

Posted in Assorted

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Islam in Russia

The Financial Times has noted that Islam is a religion that seems to be doing quite well in post-Soviet Russia.

Ravil Gainutdin, chairman of the Russian Council of Muftis, says the country has 23m-24m Muslims in a population of 143m. That includes 20m native inhabitants and 3m-4m immigrants from Muslim former Soviet states.

Most live in Russia’s seven north Caucasus republics, or Tatarstan and Bashkortostan in the Urals. But there are Muslim communities in central Russia and as far north as Arkhangelsk and Murmansk inside the Arctic Circle.

Mr Gainutdin acknowledges that his numbers exceed official statistics – Russia’s 2002 census identified 14.5m Muslims – but believes his figures, compiled from within communities, are correct.

Either way, Russia has Europe’s biggest Muslim minority – 16 per cent if the Mufti is right, compared with France’s 7-8 per cent, Germany’s 4 per cent and 3 per cent in the UK. Russia had only 150 mosques when the Soviet Union imploded in 1991. Now there are 6,000. Russian Islam, says Mr Gainutdin, has undergone a spiritual and cultural renaissance.

The enthusiastic revival of Islamic traditions and Muslim practice that began in the Gorbachev era of the Soviet Union has continued to the present. Tatarstan, arguably the centre of Russian Islam, is becoming a modern and progressive proto-nation-state within the Russian Federation, while most of the other Muslim subpopulations in Russia are growing in number, whether through high fertility rates or via immigration from the former Soviet south. It’s quite open to question how religious Russian Muslims actually are–myself, I suspect that Russian Muslims are more likely to be secular than not–but Islam is going to be a major force.

Unfortunately, things seem to be getting nasty. Gordon M. Hahn observed back in 2002 that excessive interference by the central Russian state in Muslim affairs could provoke a backlash by Muslims. Recently, ethnographer Emil Pain has warned that repressive state measures, aimed ostensibly against “Wahhabis” but in actual fact indiscriminately against practising Muslims, risk destabilizing interethnic relations in Russia altogether. Already, some Russian authorities are warning of a religious war in the religiously mixed Volga region, in Tatarstan and Bashkortostan.

Much depends on whether a local clash of civilizations can be avoided. A Russia torn by multiple localized ethnic and religious civil wars is not going to be a Russia capable of acting constructively, for its good and for the good of the world. Here’s hoping.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 2:57 pm

Posted in Assorted

[BRIEF NOTE] Pluto has three moons, now

From Space.com:

Two small moons have been discovered orbiting Pluto, bringing the planet’s retinue of known satellites to three and leaving scientist to wonder how it could be.

The newfound moons orbit about 27,000 miles (44,000 kilometers) from Pluto, more than twice as far as Charon, Pluto’s other satellite. They are 5,000 times dimmer than Charon.

Preliminary observations suggest they are in circular orbits around Pluto and in the same plane as Charon, said Hal Weaver of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory.

“That suggests they probably formed at the same time as Charon,” Weaver told SPACE.com in a telephone interview Friday. NASA planned a teleconference with reporters Monday at 1 p.m. ET to announce the discovery.

While scientists had predicted there might be more moons, the newfound setup is surprising nonetheless, in part because Pluto is smaller than our own Moon.

“It’s almost like a mini solar system,” Weaver said. “How can something about 70 percent the size of Earth’s Moon have all these satellites? How can that happen? We’re going to have to explain that.”

It goes without saying that this is very cool, of course.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 2:41 pm

Posted in Assorted

[MUSIC] Zazie, “Adam et Yves”

While listening to Zazie‘s 2001 album La Zazanie last night, courtesy of the Toronto Public Library system, I came across track #4, “Adam et Yves.”

Ils ont commis le péché original
Ils n’auront pas d’héritiers
Mais quel amour est idéal ?
Qui est normal ?
Ils vont de fêtes en défaites
Glamour toujours
Pourtant la guerre, ils l’ont faite
Pour oser s’aimer au grand jour
S’aimer d’amour

Some foreign languages permit sorts of wordplay that others do not. Run the above lyrics through an online translating service, and say “Adam et Yves” out loud. It only truly works if you’re an Anglophone, but “Yves” is close enough to “Ève” for the joke to work in the French language.

And yes, “Adam et Yves” is a fast-paced technopop song with breathy vocals. Let me live up to some stereotypes, eh?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 2:38 pm

Posted in Assorted

[LINK] imomus on kitsch

imomus writes about kitsch, Berlin, and the thin line separating the reflexive stuff from the unreflexive.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 2:37 pm

Posted in Assorted

[LINK] “American” is Ethnic

satyadasa explores the concept of “American” as recorded by the US Census. Being American turns out to be an ethnic thing after all, even in the United States. We’re not yet up to talking about an American diaspora, yet. Give it time.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 8:44 am

Posted in Assorted

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Why Immigration Shouldn’t Be Outsourced

Over at Newropean Magazine, contributor Walter Hunziker has proposed (1, 2) the establishment, by the European Union, of transnational regions on its frontiers, as destinations for illegal immigrants seeking access to European prosperity outside of metropolitan Europe. Immigration trends, he argues, are such that Europe is unlikely to acquiesce in a continued influx.

With imagination and far-sight, the EU should create special buffer zones designed to neutralize or reduce this problem, and, going a step further, in a joint economic and political venture with neighbour countries, such border territories, covering lands on both sides of the border line, could become dynamic growth and transfer platforms ( like Hong-Kong or Singapore), that would organize the expected influx of people and merchandise in an orderly and legal way and thereby create employment, production and wealth . Such a process would permit expanding present small cities or build new cities along the EU borders. These transition zones would have “tax-free status” and as many attractive EU freedom features as politically feasible. The territories would be administered jointly by the EU and the concerned border countries.

With all due respects to Mr. Hunziker, this is an unworkable idea. The prospects of Russia abandoning either the Karelian territories that it won from Finland in the Second World War or the city of Ivangorod taken from Estonia are distant. The Estonians are just not going to cede the city of Narva to a transnational authority aimed at bringing the European Union closer to the Russian Federation. The transformation of Gaza into a cosmopolitan state, with additions of Egyptian and Israeli territory, isn’t going to work in an age of radical Palestinian nationalism. The sheer mechanics behind a merger of British Gibraltar on the north shore of the Straits of Gibraltar and Spanish Ceuta and Melilla on the south shore and Moroccan Tangiers in between into a single trans-strait entity would be immensely prohibitive. As for Cyprus, if an island of one million people can’t be unified at all why would a transnational authority work (and whose transnational authority)?

More to the point, these enclaves seem to be morally flawed. These extraterritorial enclaves under multinational authority remind me of nothing so much as the treaty ports of East Asia. Closed in Japan by Japan’s successful modernization and closed in Korea by Japan’s conquest of the Korean peninsula, the treaty ports remained viable institutions–under foreign administration with some local input, protected harbours for foreign investment and involvement with the beckoning Chinese market–only because the Chinese state was so terribly fragile. Admittedly, Shanghai prospered as the main place for encounters between Western investments and Chinese markets, enjoying a period of hothouse prosperity. That was possible only because China couldn’t function. Similarly, Tangiers’ autonomy under multinational administration occurred only after the partition of the impotent Sultanate of Morocco into French and Spanish zones.

Treaty ports, and Hunziker’s proposed entities, do look somewhat like the Special Economic Zones established by the People’s Republic in the 1980s. The SEZs were singled out by the Chinese government as zones with liberalized and stable systems of law and government, specially designed to attract foreign investment (not for export to Chinese, not, but as low-cost export platforms to the West). They differ critically in that the SEZs owed the entirety of their existence to the Chinese government; foreign governments were relevant only inasmuch as they might petition the Chinese government for special consideration of their investors. The Chinese state is a strong state, and, thankfully for the Chinese and the entire world, a rather functional state. Giving sovereignty over Shanghai to a foreign government not only would outrage Chinese nationalists, but it would make no economic sense. Why would the People’s Republic deprive itself of control of the source of one-quarter of China’s tax revenues? Even Morocco, a rather weaker country than China, was quick to absorb Tangiers and then the Western Sahara as soon as it was reunified as an independent state. Treaty ports would be a step backwards for any state.

I doubt very much that these zones would work for the European Union’s frontiers. Take Russia, Turkey, even Ukraine. These three countries do have significant problems, and quite probably many Russians, Ukrainians, and Turks would flood into the EU-25 if restrictions on their immigration were lifted (though Turkey’s emigration potential is, as I noted in January, often overestimated), but they are all more-or-less functional states. I suspect that the same would be true for the European Union’s neighbours in the southern and eastern Mediterranean, all of which have remained functioning states in the face of often extreme violence by dissidents, as in Algeria over the 1990s. These zones, administered jointly by the European Union and local governments as places where European capital could meet–I’m tempted to say exploit–desperate immigrants on terms most advantageous to capital, could emerge only in the context of the collapse of these states.

Hunziker’s zones, though interesting at a first glance, are not viable solutions. They may yet appear. I can imagine them evolving from the immigration detention camps set up last year by Italy in Libya. These zones will not be augurs of a pleasant new future. Far better suited to our potential cyberpunk future than to anything enjoyable, these zones, founded amidst anarchy and governed without necessarily bothering to acquire consent from an unwanted population, will be the first signs that the developed world has given up on the idea of human rights as a concept universally applicable to all human beings. Here’s hoping that, as seductive as these enclaves might seem to people terrified by all immigration, any immigration, they’ll never come about.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2005 at 8:40 am

Posted in Assorted