A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for November 2005

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] The Ignatieff Affair

Canadian philosopher and writer Michael Ignatieff has been parachuted into the federal riding of Etobicoke-Lakeshore by the Liberal Party of Canada as their star candidate. This action has many of the inhabitants of this riding, heavily central and eastern European in population, upset, as The Globe and Mail notes.

Protesters in the riding also claim Mr. Ignatieff has no ties to the Ukrainian community and worse, has actually disparaged the community’s heritage in his 1993 book on nationalism called Blood and Belonging.

Ms. Oleksiuk said the passage in the book that is offensive to Ukrainians reads as follows: “My difficulty in taking Ukraine seriously goes deeper than just my cosmopolitan suspicion of nationalists everywhere. Somewhere inside I’m also what Ukrainians would call a great Russian and there is just a trace of old Russian disdain for these little Russians.”

The riding has many relatively new immigrants from Ukraine and Poland who will not welcome Ignatieff to their community, Ms. Oleksiuk said.

I was surprised by this news since I own a copy of Ignatieff’s Blood and Belonging and I didn’t remember anything that Ukrainians could seriously object to. It didn’t take me long to find potentially objectionable passagess.

I have reasons to take the Ukraine seriously indeed. But, to be honest, I’m habving trouble. Ukrainian independence conjures up images of peasant embroidered shirts, the nasal whine of ethnic instruments, phoney Cossacks in cloaks and boots, nasty anti-Semites.

From my childhood in Canada, I remember expatriate Ukrainian nationalists demonstrating in the snow outside ballet performances by the Bolshoi in Toronto. ‘Free the captive nations!’ they chanted. In 1960, they seemed strange and pathetic, chanting in the snow, haranguing people who just wanted to see ballet and to hell with the politics. They seemed fanatical too, unreasonable. Hadn’t they look at the map? How did they think Ukraine could ever be free?

Yet the tendentious fanatics who refused to look at maps, who refused to accept that Soviet power would last an eternity, got it right, and the rest of us got it wrong (79-80).

Throughout Blood and Belonging, Ignatieff adopts the strategy of positioning himself as a cosmopolitan outsider, as someone who may be tied to a particular forum for new nationalism by ancestry (Ukraine) or by birth (Canada/Québec) or by life experience (the former Yugoslavia) or not at all, as a witness to a new nationalism that disrupts a hitherto smooth-functionining non-national framework. He ends Blood and Belonging by concluding that although post-Cold War nationalism is destabilizing and dangerous, it might well be the only way for peoples not in control of their own nation-states to preserve their group identities. A middle way is needed but, alas, is wanting. In the specific case of Ukraine, after confronting his own reluctance to acknowledge a distinct Ukrainian nation, rooted in his aristocratic family’s long-standing attachment to Ukraine and its territories as Russian, Ignatieff concludes from the perspective of the early 1990s that Ukrainian nationalism will be hard-pressed to overcome its Soviet inheritances.

If I was a Ukrainian-Canadian, would I have a legitimate right to think that Ignatieff was slighting my nation, for whatever reason? I have to conclude that I would. I also have to say that in Blood and Belonging, Ignatieff was working out his inherited kneejerk reactions to Ukrainian nationalism and identity as a writerly trope, with no small success. That said, there are more substantial reasons to oppose Ignatieff’s nomination apart from the Ukrainian issue.

At tonight’s meeting, the association executive, which earlier took issue with some of Mr. Ignatieff’s statements on Ukrainian nationalism, will challenge the rejection of the other two candidates — one of whom is the association president. It also will question whether Mr. Ignatieff qualifies for a nomination under the party’s rules that state candidates must be “ordinarily resident in Canada.”

Mr. Ignatieff, 58, who has lived outside Canada for the past 30 years, bought a condo in Toronto at the end of the summer but is still teaching at Harvard University outside Boston. He has been appointed a visiting professor of human rights at the University of Toronto, but that appointment does not begin until Jan. 1.

“I’d like to own a house in the Bahamas. Would that make me resident there?” asked association membership secretary Myroslava Oleksiuk.

A party official said last night that “it is our view he meets the definition. He continues to teach at Harvard on Tuesdays and Thursdays but he has been living and working here [in Toronto], building his involvement in the community.”

[. . .]

Mr. Chyczij filed nomination papers by the deadline, but they were rejected because party rules required him first to resign from the executive. Mr. Chyczij said he assumed he could resign once his nomination application was accepted. Marc Shwec also filed nomination papers, but the party said it didn’t have his membership on record.

Ms. Oleksiuk said she had Mr. Shwec’s membership along with 25 others, which she was about to deliver to party headquarters when the “electoral emergency” was imposed.

I like the guy, but could the Liberal Party have at least tried to avoid the appearance of a totalitarian centrally-directed party forcing its will upon its membership?

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2005 at 7:50 pm

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[B5] Eight episodes in Season 3 have to be good

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2005 at 7:20 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Two Followups

  • According to the European Jewish Press, Alain Finkielkraut has apologized for his recent remarks, blaming the November riots in France’s banlieues on spoiled immigrants who should leave France if they weren’t happy with their situation in life and discounting the effects of racism and social exclusion.

He stressed he was not making generalisations and that his analysis was more aimed at “certain” immigrants and not immigrants “in general”.

Finkielkraut nevertheless stated that he would not want to shake the hand of the person the Le Monde article depicted him as.

“The person which emerged from this patchwork of quotes, I hate him, I do not recognize myself in this degrading individual. It is a nightmare,” Finkielkraut said on the Europe 1 radio station on Friday.

  • Despite Krist Novoselic’s attempted intervention in Island politics, last Monday “64 per cent of voters on Prince Edward Island said No to the possibility of adopting a form of mixed-member proportional representation.” In Tuesday’s editorial, The Guardian of Charlottetown argued that this both reflects the alienation of Islanders from their political system, and offers hope that this might be repaired.

There’s no doubt the subject has been of great interest to Islanders, although it was slow in igniting public interest. The last two weeks of discussion seemed to generate debate not only on electoral reform, but on the fundamental relationship between the electorate and the political system. Voter apathy and cynicism, lack of attention and respect by our politicians toward the voter and the need for parliamentary, not electoral, reform — these were just some of the subjects that came up as a result of this exercise.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2005 at 6:59 pm

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[LINK] “Why gay marriage upholds family values”

Writing in the Belfast Telegraph of Northern Ireland, Steven King makes this point.

Marriage is so central to Western civilisation that we rarely reflect upon its purpose.

It provides an anchor, if an arbitrary and weak one, in the chaos of relationships to which we are all prone. It provides a mechanism for emotional stability, economic security, and the healthy rearing of the next generation.

Governments rig the law in its favour not because they disparage all other forms of relationship, but because they recognise that not to promote marriage would be to ask too much of human virtue. Moreover, study after study shows that marriage is good for us. Married people are healthier, happier and live longer then single people.

Society has good reason then to extend legal advantages to those who choose the formal sanction of marriage over simply living together. They make a deeper commitment to one another and to society; in exchange, society extends certain benefits to them.

[. . .]

Gay marriage – and that’s what civil partnership amounts to – offers gays and lesbians the same deal society has always offered heterosexuals: general social approval and specific legal advantages in exchange for a deeper and harder-to-extract-yourself-from commitment to another human being. The financial implications arising from divorce are the same, too.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2005 at 2:25 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Life, life abounding?

atomic_orrery has been kind enough to point out that “Gliese 581, known in the game [of 2300AD] as DM-7 4003, has just been found to harbour a hot Neptune massing around 17 times that of the Earth, orbiting with a period of some 5.366 days at a mean distance of 6 million km.” This, on the same day that gridlore links to news that brown dwarves form their own planetary systems.

Astronomers peering through ground- and space-based telescopes have discovered what they believe is the birth of the smallest known solar system.

Scientists found a tiny brown dwarf — or failed star — less than one hundredth the mass of the sun surrounded by what appears to be a disk of dust and gas.

The brown dwarf — located 500 light years away in the constellation Chamaeleon — appears to be undergoing a planet-forming process that could one day yield a miniature solar system, said Kevin Luhman of Penn State University, who led the discovery.

It’s long believed that our solar system came into existence when a huge cloud of gas and dust collapsed to form the sun and planets about 4.5 billion years ago.

The latest finding is intriguing because it’s the smallest known brown dwarf to be discovered with planet-forming properties. If the disk forms planets, the resulting solar system will be about 100 times smaller than our system, scientists say.

It’s encouraging to learn that not only do low-mass stars and objects on the vast fuzzy border between stars and planets form their own planetary systems, but that these planetary systems might well tend to be more compact than those of hot bright stars like our own Sun. Low-mass stellar objects are dim, you see, and the closer a world is to such a faint stellar fire the more likely it is to be potentially habitable. Might it be too much to hope for more Mars, at least, out there orbiting red and brown dwarves, if not Earths?

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2005 at 2:22 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Tatsiana Khoma

br23 carries the story of Tatsiana Khoma, a Belarusian university student who’s one of the most recent victims of Belarus’ dictatorship.

[Tatsiana Khoma] is the first Belarusian (in fact, the first Eastern European) to have been elected to the Council of the biggest European students’ organization ESIB. Today she was informed that she was expelled from the Belarus State Economic University (BSEU) immediatly, and that she also has to leave her room at the dormitory today. The official reason for this action is the fact that she did not inform the university beforehand that she would go abroad (this is forbidden under a new Lukashenka’s decree about students). ESIB is now asking the European Universities Association (EUA) to revise the membership of BSEU, and all the universities around Europe to suspend their cooperation with BSEU.

Go here to sign a petition demanding her reinstatement.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2005 at 2:39 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Why I don’t care about the elections

It’s well-known by now that the Liberal minority government in Canada has fallen, and that new elections will be coming up just in time for Noel. This wasn’t a secret, mind, since this minority government was never durable. I just wish that I actually wanted to vote in this election, or thought that my vote would mean anything. Maybe I’d care if Canada had some sort of proportional representation, maybe I’d not, who knows or cares? I don’t.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2005 at 2:37 pm

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[REVIEW] Daniel Charles, Master Mind

Daniel Charles’ Master Mind is a sympathetic biography of Nobel laureate Fritz Haber. Charles has examined the life of this brilliant chemist, responsible for the manufacture of ammonia and its uses as base for both fertilizer and chemical weapons, before as a National Public Radio journalist. Master Mind does not depart from Charles’ previous work, showing Haber as a man caught by his conflicting loyalties between his love of science as a transnational culture and his fierce German patriotism. The latter was eventually his undoing, for as an assimilated person of Jewish background in an increasingly anti-Semitic Germany, Haber found himself steadily pushed away from the country and the scientific community that he so loved. The book might be unoriginal that way, but its subject matter is profoundly interesting. It’s worth reading.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2005 at 11:59 pm

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Angola, Portugal’s Ireland

Reuters notes that Angola gained its independence from Portugal just over 30 years ago. Only now, with the long post-independence civil war finally almost over, has the country felt free to celebrate its independence.

Angola fought for 14 years against the Portuguese but celebrations on November 11, 1975 to mark its liberation were marred by fighting that was to last another 27 years.

“The war dashed all hopes that came with independence,” said Cornelio Caley, professor in African sociology and history at Luanda’s Agostinho Neto University, named after the president who led the independence fight and died in 1979.

“In theory, we should be celebrating 30 years of independence, but in practice, we’re only beginning celebrate it now,” he told Reuters. “It has been delayed.”

Writing later this month for South Africa’s The Independent, Terry Leonard (“‘Angola is a rich land with many poor people'”) observed that the desperately poor post-war state of Angola is one marked by pell-mell transformation.

Luanda, the commercial heart of the country and a city untouched by the fighting, gets priority on government spending.

“Rural areas are in shambles and I can’t say if it is by design or neglect,” said Corsino, who noted some rural areas are controlled by Unita, the former rebel group now an opposition party. “There is no work in Luanda. But in the countryside the people see no hope so they come here.”

Most of Luanda’s five million people live in ramshackle shacks in fetid and treeless slums that stretch for miles to the horizon. Most are unemployed in a city that oil has made one of the most expensive in Africa.

“Luanda is experiencing the fastest urbanisation in the world,” said Lance Bailey, an Atlanta-based architect and urban planner. “It is home to 44 percent of Angola’s population and growing at a rate of four percent a year.”

The city, he said, was designed for 250 000 so most of the 200 000 new residents each year must live in the slums with either inadequate or no services such as water, sanitation and electricity.

[. . .]

Life remains hard and short. At one cemetery near on Luanda’s grimy edge, row after row of graves, mostly unmarked mounds of red clay, have nearly filled the vast plot opened just five years ago. Life expectancy is just 37 years. And in a testament to the quality of health care, Angola has the highest infant mortality rate in the world at 192 deaths for every 1 000 babies.

Many rural roads and bridges remain destroyed by the fighting and many areas are still littered with land-mines.

Efforts to restart Angola’s war ravaged agriculture are floundering. Most farmers, even in the fertile and once productive central highlands, live on subsistence farming and UN food aid.

“There is no incentive,” said Corsino. “Even if the farmers grow a surplus there is now way to get it to a market.”

I’ve written earlier about the growth of Angolan Portuguese, how the local dialect of that language is well on its way to replacing Angola’s indigenous languages. This isn’t necessarily bad, and this doesn’t doom Angolan identity any more than Ireland’s Anglophone character threatens Irish identity. The degree of this language shift, together with the unplanned growth of Angola’s cities not because of their attractiveness so much as because of the unattractiveness of devastated rural areas, does suggest that the process of change in Angola has escaped the control of the current corrupt government. Angolan history, as a point of fact, is marked by a uniquely exploitative and long-lasting engagement with Portugal that was responsible for one of the most thorough destabilizations of indigenous cultures by Westerners anywhere outside of the Americas, with the slave trade undermining the indigenous societies even as Angola’s states and chiefdoms were decapitated by colonialism. In Angola, more than anywhere else in central Africa, the past is irretrievable.

With its Lusophone connections, its oil economy, and its fast-depopulating hinterland, it seems like Angola might manage to decouple as thoroughly from its African surroundings as Francophone Gabon to its north. Interesting things will be happening in and around Luanda in the 21st century. After all, look at 20th century Dublin’s innovations. Surely similar things must happen in Dublin’s Southern-Hemisphere twin.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2005 at 8:05 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] The Race into Space

I downloaded the 1992 computer game Buzz Aldrin’s Race into Space last Sunday. It’s an amusing simulation game that places the human player in command of one of the two manned space programs of the Cold War–the American by default, the Soviet if you want–and racing to see who can make a successful manned lunar landing first. I’ve only played two sustained games so far, though, and both times the Soviet computer has beaten me. The online strategy guides do suggest that I should prioritize manned missions over unmanned, and argue correctly that the failure rates for the various technologies are much higher than reality suggests. Who am I to complain, though?

I mentioned that the Soviets beat me to the Moon in two separate games, once arriving in 1970, the second in 1974. The game ends abruptly for the player, a picture of the Moon (northern hemisphere of the Earthfacing side, I think) in the background and a short alternate-history text in the foreground. What’s interesting is that these alternate histories examined not the scientific or colonial consequences of an American failure–no moonbase, no manned Mars mission–but that the consequences were entirely Earthbound. The 1970 timeline featured a US recession and a stronger showing by Communists internationally; the 1974 timeline used the Soviet moon landing as a prelude to a radical coup in Moscow and an intensified Cold War. Space didn’t enter into these alternate histories on its own terms, space was only a theatre, a background.

Yesterday nhw reviewed The Dying Days. I remember being pleasantly surprised by this Doctor Who novel when I came across it in a remaindered-books bookstore. Since it’s the Doctorverse it’s slightly alternate-historical, depicting a Britain otherwise like our own with an ambitious manned space program fat with the proceeds of North Sea oil that’s capable of shenanigans on an habitable and inhabited Mars. Space, in this alternate history, is attractive on its own terms, a destination to be sought out eagerly. Would that our own solar system, with its barren ancillary worlds and brutal economic realities, have become so attractive.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2005 at 7:48 pm

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