Archive for April 2006
I already have a link to Newfoundland-born writer Michael Winter‘s weblog The Big Why on my sidebar, but it occurred to me that I should make specific mention of The Big Why on account of this weblog’s literary merit. I met Mr. Winter in person in (I believe) 2001, when he was touring in support of his fictional memoir This All Happened. What impressed me most about his writing style was the ability to capture specific moments in time and to give them just the right emotional spin. He does this wonderfully on his weblog, as for instance in this January 2006 post about a confrontation on the Bloor-Danforth subway line. Winter has been an influence on my [URBAN NOTE] series of posts.
Anyway, go read.
A court in ex-Soviet Belarus sentenced main opposition leader Alexander Milinkevich to 15 days in prison on Thursday for leading a big rally the previous day that police said was unlawful.
Milinkevich has become a focus for opposition to President Alexander Lukashenko, accused in the West of crushing dissent in his state lying between Russia and three European Union members.
The EU, which said Lukashenko’s landslide re-election last month was blatantly rigged, demanded Milinkevich’s immediate release.
Looking calm as the judge read out the sentence, the bearded Milinkevich denied he was guilty of any crime. “This is a political action, a political sentence,” Milinkevich told the court. “Leaders of leading political parties are behind bars.”
Other leading opposition activists were also given short prison sentences in an apparent crackdown by authorities after about 7,000 demonstrators took part in Wednesday’s rally.
br23 has links to more commentaries on this arrest. Belarus doesn’t appear to be in a pre-revolutionary situation just yet; an Orange Revolution akin to Ukraine’s is still far off, for the simple reason that Belarus’ opposition hasn’t had the freedoms necessary to maneuver. As Belarus’ first head of state, Stanislav Shushkevich, said in an interview at Transitions Online, foreign help is necessary if Lukashenko’s regime is to end.
acrabtree, the gentleman who got me hooked on The Ur-Quan Masters, has informed us in the comments that the Star Control fan community remains quite active. Not only is there an online petition aimed at allowing the creators of the first two Star Control games to compose a new game in this series, but there is an online fan project that’s remixing the classic music from Star Control 2 for the 21st century.
imomus goes to an anti-war concert and finds himself disconcerted.
What does it mean to advocate peace using the textures, rhetorics and semantics of war? How can you be into peace when you’re talking about fucking x and smashing y? And what does it mean that a representative — the only representative — of the people supposedly being helped by this evening’s events, the Iraqis, sensed a deeply alienating menace and aggression in the music being played, and associated it with the spirit of the occupation?
French journalist Jean-Paul Kauffmann‘s 1993 The Arch of Kerguelen, originally published in 1993 by Flammarion of Paris and translated by Patricia Clancy for a 2000 publication by Four Walls Eight Windows, might be the only books I’ve ever read on the Kerguelen Islands. Even so, I can say with certainty that The Arch of Kerguelen easily sets the standard for all future books, and for all like books.
The Kerguelen Islands, a volcanic archipelago in the Southern Ocean roughly equidistant from South Africa and Australia, were discovered in 1772 by the luckless French explorer Yves Joseph de Kerguelen de Trémarec, eventually included in the Fifth Republic’s French Southern and Antarctic Lands. There have been, as Kauffmann enumerates, innumerable plans to humanize the islands, starting with discussion in the salons of pre-Revolutionary Paris on settling dozens of luckless Acadian families in this open land. In the past century, in fact, there has been a more-or-less sustained human presence on the islands for most of the past century: Whaling ships have called at the islands’ harbours, people like the Bossière brothers of Normandy have tried to establish human colonies, imported rabbits and sheep have wrought havoc on native vegetation like the Kerguelen cabbage. To the author’s surprise, sheep herds and aquacultured salmon and whaling harbours can now be found on these the most isolated of islands.
No humans live there permanently, though, and none will. After several tries, the islands’ only human residents are scientists and researchers and support staff, rotated in and out. The Arch of Kerguelen of the title was sighted by Cook soon after the islands’ discovery, a great arch tens of metres high that seemed to welcome visitors to an interior notable now for being a void. Here, cartographers may impose names on the blanks in the islands’ maps while scientific researchers may here come to perform their delicate experiments, but no one stays, apart from those unfortunately buried in the graves at Port aux Français. Appropriately enough, the great modernizing dream of the Enlightenment, the belief of the philosophes in the flexibility of human beings, broke on the shores of the islands discovered in the Enlightenment’s last days. Kauffmann succeeds wonderfully in demonstrating, in a lucid prose style that survived translation, that the land’s apparent openness comes not from its openness to humanity but rather because it’s structurally irrelevant and unsuitable to humanity, because it is–in his word–“ahuman.”
I’d seen the synagogue at 10 St. Andrew Street, on the eastern fringes of Kensington Market not fifty metres away from Spadina Avenue, before. It was only this evening, as I got closer to look for a name, that I found that it was formally known as the Minsker Synagogue. Presumably, this Orthodox synagogue, one of the older synagogues in the Greater Toronto Area, was named after the Belarusian capital city of Minsk; almost certainly, the first Jews in the Kensington Market area were Litvaks.
Belarus has a long Jewish history, stemming back to the time when, as the core of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th and 15th centuries, the territory of Belarus attracted waves of Jewish immigrants fleeing western and central Europe. Jews were well-implanted in Belarus, which was included in its entirely in the infamous Pale of Settlement maintained throughout the century and a quarter of Tsarist rule. Minsk province was almost 12% Jewish by population at the end of the 19th century, Mogilev 16%. Alas, Belarus’ Jews, like their Roman and Uniate Catholic neighbours and like all Belarusians, suffered from the Tsarist empire’s Russification programs and from the poverty that pervaded what was until recently a rather poor agricultural area. So, the Litvaks fled in large numbers from their oppressed and impoverished homeland.
Hitler exterminated the Jews of Belarus in the course of Nazi Germany’s three-year occupation of the country, part of his regime’s reduction of that country’s population by a quarter, while post-Soviet emigration has gutted the remainder. Curiously enough, the largest and most coherent Litvak community is to be found in South Africa, product of post-Boer War emigration to the gold fields and their cities. Clearly, South Africa wasn’t their only destination.