A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for June 2006

[BRIEF NOTE] The Troubles of Mississauga

In the comments to my post yesterday on the wives of accused Islamist terrorists in Toronto, angel80 points out that the fact that many of the youths were in Mississauga might be critical.

While being in the top ten Canadian cities by population, Mississauga has few cultural institutions for a community its size due to its proximity to Toronto. It is by far the largest city in Canada without a daily newspaper (The Mississauga News is three days a week), and currently doesn’t have any television stations or commercial radio stations. Mississauga is beginning to break away from its label as a “bedroom community” to Toronto… (Wikipedia)

They’re teenagers! Planning a jihad must be way more exciting than hanging out in the shopping mall!

Indeed, whenever I have visited Mississauga myself, I’ve always been reminded of Gertrude Stein famous quote about her former home city of Oakland, California, that “There is no there there.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if boredom might indeed play a role in the decisionmaking processes of young bored men to take up revolutionary terrorism. For some people, the choice between the excitement of jihad and hanging out at Square One might actually be difficult. I also wonder if maybe, just maybe, Mississauga is Canada’s closest equivalent to the famous poor banlieues of France, home to people disconnected from the wider urban area and lacking the social and other capital that they’d need to engage and enjoy themselves.


Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2006 at 4:52 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Love of country is one thing, and there are other things

From a front-page article in today’s The Globe and Mail, “Hateful chatter behind the veil”, about the online conversations of the partners of suspects in Toronto’s alleged ring of Islamist terrorists.

When it came time to write up the premarital agreement between Zakaria Amara and Nada Farooq, Ms. Farooq briefly considered adding a clause that would allow her to ask for a divorce.

She said that Mr. Amara (now accused of being a leader of the alleged terror plot that led to the arrests of 17 Muslim men early this month) had to aspire to take part in jihad.

“[And] if he ever refuses a clear opportunity to leave for jihad, then i want the choice of divorce,” she wrote in one of more than 6,000 Internet postings uncovered by The Globe and Mail.

Wives of four of the central figures arrested last month were among the most active on the website, sharing, among other things, their passion for holy war, disgust at virtually every aspect of non-Muslim society and a hatred of Canada.

[. . .]

There is nothing casual about Ms. Farooq’s interpretation of Islam. She reiterates the belief that jihad is the “sixth pillar” of the religion, and her on-line postings are decidedly interested in the violent kind. In the forum titled “Terrorism and killing civilians,” she writes a detailed point-by-point explanation of why the Taliban is destined to emerge victorious in Afghanistan.

Virtually every other government on the planet, however, she only has disdain for.

[. . .]

Ms. Farooq’s criticism is often directed first at other Muslims. When another poster writes about how he finds homosexuality disgusting, Nada replies by pointing out that there are even gay Muslims. She then posts a photo of a rally held by Al-Fatiha, a Canadian support group for gay Muslims. “Look at these pathetic people,” she writes. “They should all be sent to Saudi, where these sickos are executed or crushed by a wall, in public.”

[. . .]

Ms. Farooq’s hatred for the country is palpable. She hardly ever calls Canada by its name, rather repeatedly referring to it as “this filthy country.” It’s a sentiment shared by many of her friends, one of whom states that the laws of the country are irrelevant because they are not the laws of God.

In late April of 2004, a poster asks the forum members to share their impressions of what makes Canada unique. Nada’s answer is straightforward.

“Who cares? We hate Canada.”

As the poem goes, “[e]very woman adores a Fascist,/The boot in the face, the brute /Brute heart of a brute like you.” Not just women, now, mind; in our enlightened age, most anyone can find someone who’s willing to accomplish tasks of world-historic importance aimed against Them.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 29, 2006 at 6:57 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On the queerness of science fiction

The cover article on the latest issue of fab is Scott Dagostino’s “Why is Sci-Fi so gay?” Dagostino’s examination of the increasing prominence of queer themes in science fiction is worth reading, not least for its broad historical perspective on science fiction’s acceptance of these themes and official Star Trek‘s relative reluctance.

Felice Picano was both a pioneer and publisher of gay fiction [in the 1970s], celebrated for his autobiographical work and suspense novels. He loved what was happening in the sci-fi genre and worked on stories of his own (now collected in Tales: From a Distant Planet). His own novel, Dryland’s End, he explains, “is set in a matriarchy, so the women have been in charge for thousands of years. Nobody works, machines do everything – it’s just very, very different. In a situation like that, where everything has turned around, what’s a gay relationship? How important is that? Who’s going to be upset by that when all marriages consist of two women with a guy on the side?”

Science fiction, Picano argues, had become an integral tool for gay people: “The idea is to put out something so utterly different and yet human and amusing and interesting and involving that it will wipe away old ideas. That’s what science fiction is supposed to do – to wipe away old ideas and give you new ones!”

[. . .]

We’ve now entered the 21st century – a time of cloning, genetic engineering, weapons of mass destruction, holograms, nanotechnology and the instantaneous, worldwide sharing of information. We have new reproductive technologies and the possibility of extensive body modification through surgery and hormones. We are no longer enjoying science fiction, we are living it, and queers of all stripes have long found themselves in the middle of this ever-shifting body politic. Should we choose to pay attention, the sci-fi genre promises to continue doing what it always has – to expand our minds, warn us of future dangers and create new playgrounds for discovery.

Me, I was reminded of Wayne Studer writes, at his Pet Shop Boys Commentary website, about the 1993 Very/Relentless track “We Come From Outer Space.”

If there is a meaning [to this song], it appears to have something to do with the kinds of verbal exchanges that might take place between earthlings and space-aliens who have just landed. Someone of them are delightful, such as “You know the difference between the two genders? No.”

In fact, that very exchange, as well as the repeated words “We came from outer space to—to our parents,” has inspired one of my online correspondents to interpret this track (quite cleverly, I might add) as an ironic commentary on how gay people strike some heterosexuals—perhaps their own parents—as beings so different in certain ways (particularly regarding gender relationships and perceptions) that they might as well be from another world. Interestingly, this mirrors the common glam-rock “conceit that gayness is the stuff of science fiction” [. . .], most notably employed by David Bowie and Jobriath, with its implied link between homo/bisexuality and space aliens. Think Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars.

I have to admit that, sometimes, heterosexuals do confuse me. How do you construct yourselves, again? Alien beings live on Earth, too.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 29, 2006 at 6:49 pm

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[LINK] “It can’t happen here”

Over at Reason,, David Weigel’s “It Can’t Happen Here” examines the burgeoning popularity of Islam-conquers-the-world technothrillers. Weigel judges them, as he should, to be profoundly silly.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 28, 2006 at 9:07 am

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[REVIEW] The Da Vinci Code

I caught The Da Vinci Code tonight with an old friend from Queen’s, and was surprised at how much I enjoyed the film. Tom Hanks was merely adequate, Audrey Tautou was good, Ian McKellan chewed up his scenes gloriously, and Ron Howard’s filming was surprisingly pedestrian, but then, I went in expecting little enough as was. Possibly I should have spent my $11.95 more wisely, but the film was about as good as it could have been given the source material.

I still have to agree with the opinion expressed in The Rough Guide to Cult Fiction that The Da Vinci Code reads not as a novel but rather as a schematic for a computer game: The player identifies with the protagonist of Langdon, is plunged unexpectedly into a complex adventure, is sent to complete with his sidekick multiple levels (several in Paris, one in the French countryside, one on the plane, several in London, a final in Scotland), and ends up seeing, as reward for completing the game, the final secrets via a bonus computer animation. Though I’d not read the novel completely, mainly because I’d already read Holy Blood, Holy Grail and didn’t see any reason to inflict Brown’s prose upon myself, I was told by my companion that the film followed the novel fairly faithfully. I wonder, now, how closely the actual game follows Brown’s schematic.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2006 at 11:43 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] Something by Stefan Psenak

Travelling north from the Bloor TTC station, I caught a glimpse of an untitled poem by Franco-Ontarian writer Stefan Psenak subscribed to the TTC’s “Poetry on the Way” program.

She sips the bitter coffee, her eyes at once an
affront and protection. She lowers her head, find-
ing him neither handsome nor fascinating. She
doesn’t even like him, but enjoys certain aspects of
him, such as the comforting way he says, “Wait,
let me make you a cup of good coffee.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2006 at 11:28 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] What’s the point of Pride? Part 2

Following links throughout the blogosphere last night, I came upon Joe My God‘s reposted essay “Watching The Defectives”. A spirited defense of Pride Parades in their full outrageousness, the author makes the point that, in their uncensored forms, they’re a necessary rite for a traumatized community still in the process of recovery.

Joe makes some good points–I agree with him, honestly, that homophobes can easily be more terrified of seemingly conventional non-straights (“They’re everywhere!”) than of people they can pick out on sight. That said, there may well be a generation gap or a lack of shared experience between him and me; I still feel, as I wrote last year, that the main function of Pride is to function as a carnival. There were a lot of straight couples this year.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2006 at 2:45 pm

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[LINK] A morning roundup

  • David Boaz’s blog post “Stumbling in Sweden” has created a significant debate around Johan Norberg’s article in the summer 2006 issue of The National Interest, “Swedish Models”. Norberg’s contention that Sweden has been experiencing slow decline owing to the post-1970 expansion of the welfare state is controversial. Certainly the debate below Boaz’s post is fierce.
  • Karl D. John’s Asia Times article “Vietnam’s south takes leadership wheel” examines the growing influence of south Vietnamese in Vietnam’s political and economic hierarchies.
  • Henry Farrell at Crooked Timber takes a look at The New Republic‘s hostility to bloggers. He, and commenters, are unimpressed.
  • angel80 dissects the claims and failings of the Japanese whaling industry. It turns out that the Japanese aren’t that fond of whale meat, after all. Why, then, a pro-whaling position? Vested interests.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2006 at 9:15 am

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] How do languages adapt after empire? Badly, at first.

czalex‘s recent post on how Russophones in Russia continue to define the norms of the Russian language, going so far as to deny regional variants of Russian spoken outside of Russia’s boundaries–in Belarus, for instance–recognition as legitimate to the point of regulating the names of the speakers’ countries. This reminded of many of the issues that I noted in my March post on la francophonie, particularly on the divide between speakers of French in France and speakers of French outside of France. People don’t like it when they’re told that the language that they speak is an unacceptable deviation from the standard language that must be corrected, especially when the language difference relates directly to emotionally-charged political relationships.

The French language, at least, is an emergent pluricentric language, one with multiple standards (major standards, as Wikipedia indicates, with Canadian and French variants, minor variants in Belgium and Switzerland and Acadia, emergent variants in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Pacific). The fact that these standards exist has at least as much to do with the political fragmentation of the Francophone world as it does with the fact that that a slim but growing majority of speakers of French live outside of metropolitan France. (Some of) the French might still resist the influence of other Francophone cultures, but theirs is a losing battle.

Insofar as it’s possible to make comparisons, the Russian language now is where the French language was in the 1960s. Despite the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Russian language’s speakers are still widely distributed across Eurasia; more, unlike French in 1962, Russia in 1992 started out with tens of millions of people living outside the frontiers of the Federation who spoke Russian as a first language. Unlike French in 1962, though, the Russian language was placed in direct competition with other languages already well-established as standards and was indeed often unpopular because of its prior associations, while many of the Russian first-language speakers who found themselves outside of Russia’s frontiers have emigrated to Russia. As Russophone populations contract through natural decrease, as Central Asia and the Caucasus become more nationally homogeneous, as the Baltic States continue their effective monolingualism, and–most critically–as Russia’s western neighbours promote their languages (Ukrainian, Moldovan/Romanian, perhaps soon Belarusian) ahead of Russian, the influence of the Russian language will inevitably decrease.

The Russian language is now facing a critical period. Russian may well manage to hold its own, experiencing only limited decline, if Russian economic growth continues and the Federation’s cultural and political weight grows. Even now, measured on a variety of metrics (population, GDP, land area) Russian is as important a Western language as French or Portuguese. Allowing the growth of regional variants of the Russian language–in the Baltic States, in Ukraine, in Central Asia–will, if anything, make the Russian language more attractive. Harassing non-Russian speakers of Russian to the point of denying them the right to name their own countries is exactly the sort of hegemonic behaviour that will make other languages seem more attractive, relatively easily as second languages and perhaps even as first languages. People don’t like to be told what to say.

UPDATE (8:24 AM, 27 June) : HTML corrected.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2006 at 8:24 am

[BRIEF NOTE] What harm could there be in Iranian nuclear weapons?

optimussven has linked to an analysis by Karl Vick in the Washington Post (“Iran’s Gray Area on Nuclear Arms“) on Iran’s nuclear weapons policy. Quoting a variety of Iranian scholar-politicians, Vick suggests that while Iran’s government might well stockpile nuclear weapons in a defensive posture, Iranian nuclear weapons would not be used as part of a first strike, or as part of an attack on civilian populations. A variety of precedents exist for this question in Iran, after all.

Iranian scholars who argue against nuclear weapons point out that these questions are hardly abstract in Iran. The newly minted government faced severe, real-life tests after Saddam Hussein’s troops invaded Iran in 1980. The Iraqi forces used chemical weapons on the battlefield; two decades later, badly wounded survivors still populate hospital wards in Iran.

When Iraq also launched rocket attacks on Tehran and other metropolitan areas, pressure for Tehran to retaliate was intense.

“In the eight-year war with Iraq, this was a very hot debate among all the Islamic teachers, because Iranian cities were being bombarded,” said Kazem Mosavi Bojnoordi, who sat on the defense committee of Iran’s parliament during part of the war. “The conclusion was that it’s not allowed. Never during those eight years do we have one example of Iran bombarding cities.”

Bojnoordi, now chief editor of Iran’s Center for the Great Islamic Encyclopedia, recalled that after the first salvos from Iraq, a senior Iranian commander declared, “Now we will flatten Baghdad.” The comment brought an immediate rebuke from Khomeini, whose fatwa closed the matter for the balance of the war.

Leaving aside the question of the reliability of these sources, though, a weaponized or weaponizing Iran could still inadvertantly precipitate a catastrophe. If anything has been demonstrated by the controversies provoked by Ahmedinejad’s stupid, stupid remarks, it’s that the motives of the Iranian government aren’t obviously transparent. If this analysis is correct, it’s taken a worryingly long amount of time for this argument about the basic war-making principles to make it into the public domain. People make mistakes; people can be slow; people’s acts can have disproportionate consequences. Here’s hoping that we’ll be lucky.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2006 at 11:30 pm

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