A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for July 2006


It’s a terrible pity that it took a second Israeli massacre of civilians in the Lebanese town of Qana, one decade after the first one, to make the point that Israel shouldn’t be engaged in its ongoing, stupid, and terribly counterproductive war in Lebanon.

Never mind the mind-numbing list of atrocities minor and major that have been and doubtless will be committed. I think of the situation as requiring the application of political science’s variant upon Gödel’s incompleteness theorem: A country or other entity deeply implicated in a conflict is incapable of favouring a settlement that won’t seriously disadvantage others’ legitimate interests. In this particular case, Israel’s existential fears have combined with the country’s lack of empathy for even for Arabs who hold Israeli citizenship (Susan Nathan’s The Other Side of Israel is a good primer) to produce death and massacre for the other side. (Israeli civilians killed by Hezbollah, it should be noted, are outnumbered by Lebanese killed by the IDF by a factor of twenty.)

External intervention, by parties not excessively indebted to the ideological prejudices and bigotries of Israel and Hezbollah, is urgently needed. Will this materialize? Not before still more death. If it took three years to intervene in the siege of Sarajevo …

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2006 at 3:25 pm

[LINK] More on the Vlachs and Pindus

A Greek commenter goes into more detail about the Romance-speaking Orthodox of Greece.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 28, 2006 at 10:41 am

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[REVIEW] Superman Returns

I caught Superman Returns Wednesday night with the boyfriend down at the Paramount, catching the film in IMAX 3-D. This medium was a good medium indeed for a superhero film, though one of the scenes requiring 3-D was superfluous. The acting was competent, the plot was interesting, and though hearing the Superman theme song play while the names of Kevin Spacey and Parker Posey appeared produced a small bit of cognitive dissonance I managed to move past it. Taken on its own terms, I’d have to say that the film worked, even without the references to the vast and sprawling Superman canon, for instance the a recapitulation of the space plane incident that featured in Joe Byrne’s The Man of Steel relaunch back in 1986. I just wonder how this film would play to people unversed in Superman: Would they enjoy it, or would it seem just another dense and incomprehensible myth?

Written by Randy McDonald

July 28, 2006 at 10:37 am

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[URBAN NOTE] Natarãj Indian Cuisine, 394 Bloor Street West

The $7.25 all-you-can-eat lunch buffet at Natarãj Indian Cuisine, located in Toronto’s Annex neighbourhood west of Spadina, is a rather good deal indeed. Nice mango lassis, too.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2006 at 5:23 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] So long, Iraq

Via Islam Online:

There has been serious talk among Iraqi leaders to divide Baghdad into Shiite and Sunni zones in the east and the west to stop sectarian bloodshed and head off a bloody civil war across the country despite appearing in public committed to national unity under the coalition of Prime Minister Nuri Al-Maliki, Iraqi officials told Reuters Friday, July 21.

“Iraq as a political project is finished,” one senior government official said, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

“The parties have moved to Plan B,” he said, saying Sunni, ethnic Kurdish and majority Shiite blocs were looking at ways to divide power and resources and to solve the conundrum of Baghdad’s mixed population of seven million.

“There is serious talk of Baghdad being divided into east and west,” he said. “We are extremely worried.”

One highly placed source even spoke of busying himself on government projects, despite a sense of their futility, only as a way to fight his growing depression over his nation’s future.

Sectarian violence has mounted to claim perhaps 100 lives a day and tens of thousands flee their homes.

[. . .]

On the eve of the first meeting of a National Reconciliation Commission and before Maliki meets President George W. Bush in Washington next week, other senior politicians also said they were close to giving up on hopes of preserving the 80-year-old, multi-ethnic, religiously mixed state in its present form.

“The situation is terrifying and black,” said Rida Jawad Al -Takki, a senior member of parliament from Maliki’s dominant Shiite Alliance bloc, and one of the few officials from all the main factions willing to speak publicly on the issue.

“We have received information of a plan to divide Baghdad. The government is incapable of solving the situation,” he said.

A senior official from the once dominant Sunni minority concurred: “Everyone knows the situation is very bad,” he said. “I’m not optimistic.”

Some Western diplomats in Baghdad say there is little sign the new government is capable of halting a slide to civil war.

“Maliki and some others seem to be genuinely trying to make this work,” one said. “But it doesn’t look like they have real support. The factions are looking out for their own interests.”

Pundits told Reuters that broadly speaking Iraq could split in three: a Shiite south, Kurdish north and Sunni Arab west. But there could be fierce fighting between Arabs and Kurds for Mosul and for Kirkuk’s oil as well as urban war in Baghdad, resembling Beirut in the 1970s.

An observation: Why is it that global metropolises with names beginning with the letter “b”–Berlin, Beirut, now Baghdad–always get so thoroughly screwed over by foreign-accentuated divisions? I suppose that Indians should be pleased that their country’s most populous city is now called Mumbai.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2006 at 4:14 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] The score, so far

Israel 9, Hezbollah 0. From The Globe and Mail:

Defence officials were still awaiting confirmation Thursday that a Canadian peacekeeper classified as missing and presumed dead was killed in fatal bombing of a UN observation post in Lebanon.

A spokeswoman for National Defence in Ottawa said there had been no further word on Major Paeta Derek Hess-von Kruedener early Thursday.

Major Hess-von Kruedener, who was serving with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization, is believed to be one of four UN peacekeepers killed when a bomb hit their post in the town of Khiyam, near the eastern end of Lebanon’s border with Israel.

Ottawa has only said that Major Hess-von Kruedener is considered missing and presumed dead. Officials would not say Thursday how long it would take to conclude the investigation.

The incident — which also claimed the lives of UN observers from Finland, China and Austria — sparked rage around the globe, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper saying he wants explanations from both the UN and the Israeli government about the circumstances surrounding the “terrible tragedy.”

Mr. Harper, who spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Wednesday afternoon, has offered no condemnation of that government but has questioned why the UN post was still being manned despite the dangerous circumstances.

The Israeli Prime Minister has offered his country’s “regret” over what was called the “unintentional killing” of the UN observers.

Liberal Leader Bill Graham criticized Mr. Harper’s reaction as “completely unacceptable” arguing that Canada has been part of UN missions for decades.

The question of the degree of responsibility Israel bears for this is seems to be centered on the question of whether or not Hezbollah was, in fact, operating rocket launchers near the now-demolished UN base.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 27, 2006 at 3:57 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] The New British Melting Pot, and Europe’s Future

Matthew Hickley’s recent article in the Daily Mail, “Britain’s biggest wave of migrants in history”, provides an interesting survey of new British immigration trends.

Britain is experiencing the ‘largest ever single wave of immigration’ in its history two years after ministers opened the door to millions of eastern European, leading academics have claimed.

Poland has produced ‘the largest ever single national group of entrants’ and Poles have now overtaken the Irish as the largest group of foreign workers in the UK, according to a study headed by a respected migration expert.

An estimated 600,000 eastern Europeans have flocked into the UK since 10 new states joined the EU in 1994, of whom around 300,000 are Polish – easily outnumbering 175,000 Irish workers, who were previously the largest group.

Britain was the only major EU economy to give the new citizens free access to its labour markets – along with Ireland and Sweden – while others such as Germany and France opted to keep them out.

Ministers claimed at the time 13,000 eastern Europeans would arrive each year, but the true figures have shown that prediction to be ludicrously wrong.

Professor John Salt, director of University College London’s Migration Research Unit and co-author of today’s report, claims the eastern European invasion is the largest wave of immigration Britain has ever seen.

His findings raise fresh questions about Labour’s claims to operate a ‘managed migration’ policy, and are likely to strengthen calls for firm limits on immigration from beyond the EU.

The huge influx has changed the face of the UK labour market especially in London and the south east, and in some areas has begun to effect public services.

Last month Slough Council in Berkshire warned that local schools were struggling to cope following the arrival of 10,000 Poles in the space of a few months.

The invading army of cheap labourers has been welcomed by employers in the building, catering and farming sectors – and the archetypal ‘Polish plumber’ is a popular figure in many areas.

However economists warn that the influx is hitting British workers by keeping low-skilled wages at rock bottom, and pushing up unemployment.

Professor Salt co-wrote today’s report with Professor Phil Rees of Leeds University’s School of Geography for the Economic and Social Research Council.

Their study shows the number of foreign workers in Britain rising sharply in recent years, topping one million in 1998 and reaching 1.5 million last year – one in every 25 workers.

Net immigration into the UK has more than trebled since Labour came to power, from 106,000 in 1997 to 342,000 in 2004.

Irish workers have traditionally been the largest group in the UK. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century huge numbers of Irish ‘navvies’ arrived to help build canals and railways.

But the Irish never matched the scale and speed of recent immigration from eastern Europe, and they have shrunk as a proportion of Britain’s foreign workforce from one in five 1995 to one in ten last year – by which time they only just outnumbered eastern Europeans on 11.2 per cent and were about to be overtaken.

One observation: If relatively well-off Poland is providing such a huge number of immigrants to the United Kingdom, the numbers of Romanians and Bulgarians who will make their way north and west in 2007-2008 when their countries join the European Union will be significant indeed. “Last one out, turn out the lights”? And, of course, there’s the European Union’s southeastern and eastern peripheries to take into account, along with Turkey and the Maghreb, and (via Spain and Portugal) South America, all regions significantly poorer than Poland, all with populations already associated with the European Union labour market and the Western cultural sphere.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 25, 2006 at 11:35 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Two News Items

From the Canadian Press, 18 July 2006:

Israel will do whatever it can to ensure safe passage for Canadians fleeing Lebanon but Israel’s ambassador warns there’s no guarantee they won’t be targeted by Islamic guerrillas.

Indeed, Alan Baker suggested Tuesday that Hezbollah, the militant Islamic group that controls much of southern Lebanon, might deliberately target Canadian refugees in order to provoke an international incident.

[. . .]

Asked if he believes Hezbollah would deliberately target fleeing foreigners to create an international incident, Baker said: “Absolutely.

“Look, why do they put their artillery launching things in the back gardens of private homes? In order to provoke a response by Israel which would kill innocent people, including, as happened, eight Canadians.”

Seven Canadians were killed over the weekend and another has since succumbed to wounds suffered during Israeli attacks on Hezbollah sites in Lebanon.

That said, Baker added that he doesn’t think Hezbollah “has any reason to harm Canadians” in particular.

“The opposite. They should want that Canadians won’t be annoyed with them.”

From The Globe and Mail, 25 July 2006:

Like most residents of her village, Wafa Mahfouz was hiding with her family when she heard and felt the explosion 500 metres away that killed a Canadian family. Eight days later, she was still angry and confused about why it had happened.

“What was the guilt of those Canadians? They were not Hezbollah,” she shouted, referring to the Islamic militia Israel says it was targeting in the hard-hit village of Aytaroun, in south Lebanon. She and other villagers say they knew the Montreal side of the Al-Akhrass family only by sight.

Details of the attack on the Al-Akhrass home started to emerge for the first time yesterday, as bedraggled residents of Aytaroun began to arrive at an elementary school-turned-refugee camp in this Christian town on the outskirts of Beirut. All said that while Hezbollah had fired rockets into northern Israel from the olive groves and tobacco fields that surround the village, none were fired from close to civilian homes, as Israel contends.

[. . .]

The Israeli army has called Aytaroun, a village of 10,000 that swells to 15,000 in the summer, according to residents, “a launching ground for missiles fired at Israel,” and says it warned villagers that they would be at risk if they were near missile-launching sites. The day of that particular attack, residents say, the Israelis had been firing at Hezbollah positions around the village with artillery rounds. The Al-Akhrass home, a two-storey concrete building, was destroyed by an air strike in the afternoon, and villagers say that either they or one of their immediate neighbours seem to have been specifically targeted. It was the only attack inside the village that day. Two other homes were destroyed by the same bomb, but both of them were empty.

After hearing the blast that blew out windows over a wide radius, Manal Hassan al-Allawiyeh and other villagers ran to the scene of the Al-Akhrass family home and with their bare hands dug frantically at the rubble .

There was little left of the structure, or of the more than a dozen people who had been inside. “We ran toward the homes to try and save them, but we found only parts of people,” Ms. al-Allawiyeh said. “We recovered six to eight bodies, but they were all in pieces.”

She and other villagers believe there are still several bodies trapped in the ruins of the home.

Residents said the 11 deceased were buried in a quick funeral. At least three others were wounded.

The full death count in Aytaroun is impossible to determine, since the village is now the effective front line in the confrontation between Israel and Hezbollah.

Israel 8, Hezbollah 0.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 25, 2006 at 11:24 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] The Horn of Africa at War

The Head Heeb has more on the impending Ethiopian-Somalian war that I wrote about yesterday. What’s going on?

First, in brief. Ethiopia supports the autonomy of Somaliland, at least in part because Somaliland provides Ethiopian commerce with another sea outlet that isn’t Eritrea, also in part because an autonomous Somaliland nicely undercuts pan-Somali nationalism. (Formerly French Djibouti, populated in part by ethnic Somalis, is another outlet.) Yebo Gogo notes that Somalian Islamists’ desire to fulfill the dream of a Greater Somalia has led them to support not only Somali separatists in the eastern Ogaden region that was the subject of the Ogaden War of 1977-1978, but to help Oromo separatists in Ethiopia’s central region of Oromia. The territroy of Oromia, not incidentally, completely envelops Addis Ababa. This leaves aside the unhelpful aid lent by Eritrea to Somalia’s Islamists, Sudan’s potential role as a troublemaker for either side, or the potential for wider involvement now that the Islamic council has apparently declared a jihad against Christian-dominated Ethiopia.

It goes without saying that this situation is very bad. All of the potential players have entirely legitimate reasons to wage war. How could they not, pitted against neighbouring countries that would like to clientelize or disintegrate them entirely? With no one involved interested in compromise and no one outside committed to controlling the situation, things almost seem to be destined to escape mortal control. Yay.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 21, 2006 at 10:51 pm

[MUSIC] Franz Ferdinand, “What You Waiting For?”

The compilation album Q Covered Best of 86/06 has a few good tracks, like Nick Cave’s cover of Pulp’s “Disco 2000,” Corinne Bailey Rae’s version of Björk’s “Venus As A Boy,” the Editors’ take on REM’s “Orange Crush,” and The Magic Numbers’ take on The Smiths’ “There Is a Light That Will Never Go Out” manages to overcome its Morrissey inheritance in becoming minimalist and sublime. (The Flaming Lips’ cover of “Can’t Get You Out of My Head” and Travis’ “… Baby One More Time” work only as light comedy, as an in-joke of sorts by po-faced rockers.)

Me, my favourite track on the album is the first one, Franz Ferdinand‘s cover of Gwen Stefani‘s “What You Waiting For?”. Franz Ferdinand and Gwen Stefani can, with only a bit of shoehorning, be qualified as prominent members of the New Wave revival. Stefani’s strengths lie on the dance end of that spectrum, in forms ancestral to modern electronica, a poppish and danceable sort of Ladytron, and the original “What You Waiting For?” reflects this. Franz Ferdinand lies at the other end of the spectrum, a direct inheritor of New Wave and indie rock with two decades’ worth of accumulated studio polish and electronic stylings, and their guitar-driven version reflects their style quite nicely. The interpolation of a couple of lines of Billy Idol‘s “White Wedding” (It’s a nice day for a white wedding/it’s a nice day to start again”) doesn’t hurt, either.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 21, 2006 at 10:35 pm

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