A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for February 2007

[URBAN NOTE] About Bay Station

raphinou writes at length about the closure of Bay Station for the next five weekends for repairs and the consequent diversion of west-east traffic on the Bloor-Danforth line, south to a transfer at Museum Station.

The net result of this diversion is to add a half-hour to one’s commute. No, I didn’t know this last Saturday.

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Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2007 at 6:48 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] East Germany in the Caribbean

Via Strange Maps, Alex Harrowell at A Fistful of Euros describes the interesting story of Ernst-Thälmann-Insel, a small island off the southern coast of Cuba that, according to the German Wikipedia entry, was apparently transferred to East Germany in the early 1970s as part of a deal ensuring East German purchases of Cuban sugar. Though Cuban authorities deny that there was any actual transfer of sovereignty to East Germany (and thus, perhaps, to reunified Germany even though Ernst-Thälmann-Insel doesn’t seem to have been mentioned in the reunification treaties), the fact that such a gesture was made points to the closeness of relations between the most advanced Soviet-bloc Communist state and one of the most notable Third World Communist states. For East Germany, in particular, relations with the Third World were quite important for reasons indicated by the Library of Congress’ East Germany country study:

First, in the late 1960s and 1970s, East Germany, functioning as a divided state enjoying little international status as compared with West Germany, turned to the newly independent states of the Third World to gain recognition in return for economic and technical assistance. Comparative technological and economic backwardness vis-à-vis West Germany was less important in the Third World arena than in the West; East Germany could still proffer much-needed assistance to these economically backward states. Second, East Berlin launched a propaganda campaign to identify West Germany as the heir to Germany’s imperial past, while representing itself as a German state able to offer all the qualities usually associated with Germans, such as efficiency, without the taint of a colonial past.

Cuba was of particular note, but various left-leaning and Soviet-aligned countries in Africa and Asia were also recipients of East German largesse.

Reunification changed all this, of course. Now, relations between Germany and Cuba are strained by Cuban political and cultural authoritarianism and are mitigated only somewhat by the presence of German tourists.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 27, 2007 at 7:14 am

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[REVIEW] Pan’s Labyrinth

Guillermo del Toro’s Oscar-winning movie Pan’s Labyrinth is both a perfect tragedy and an exemplar of the primeval fairy tale, freed from the somewhat sterile if polite presentations of Perrault and the Brothers Grimm. Del Toro said in at least one interview that Pan’s Labyrinth is concerned with choice, with the ability and desire of people to determine their own fates. I didn’t find it difficult to identify with Ivana Baquero‘s Ofelia. Yes, she was an eleven-year-old trapped in a partisan-populated valley in Pyrenean Spain just a few years after the Republic’s defeat and the victory of the bad guys 1, living in an isolated mill house with an ill mother suffering from a dangerous pregnancy and an overly twitchy fascist stepfather; no, this particular circumstance doesn’t reflect anything in my personal biography. The way that Ofelia responds to her circumstances, by seeking recourse in dreamy hopes and fantastical imaginings, is something that can be empathized with, that I saw quite a few people empathize with in the theatre last night. I have to agree with Baquero that Pan’s Labyrinth is indeed full of “pain and sadness and scariness and happiness”. I’d just caution potential viewers not to watch the film alone–company, and debriefing, helps immensely.

1. I came into the film sympathizing with the Republicans. How could I not? The Spanish Republic was the constitutional government of Spain challenged from within by a military run by religious fanatics and admirees of fascism and unitarism 2. From the film’s perspective, the problem is that, by 1944, the Republican choice had been well and truly closed off, that while some armed resistance to Franco’s regime continued for years after the end of the civil war–Republicans managed a brief occupation of the Pyrenean valley of Val d’Aran, for example–the fascists had most definitely won.

2. Note, as an aside, that things haven’t changed that much since the 1940s. Even now, just last year, the head of the Spanish army threatened some sort of intervention in relation to Catalonia’s new autonomy project. This may explained why the post-Franco Spanish military has been consistently underfunded.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 26, 2007 at 8:53 pm

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[LINK] Four Livejournal Links

  • arpad links to an old Cold War-era pulp novel, The Texas-Israeli War of 1999. Yes, that’s the title.
  • srk1 introduces his unwary readers to a series of remarkable statements made by Martin Amis recently, regarding how everyone really is in a mood to go after Muslims. Did we think the 21st century would be free of pogroms?
  • optimussven introduces his readers to the fine nuances of Middle Eastern nouns and adjectives. Me, it’s the frequent failure to distinguish between “Arabian” and “Arab” that makes me despair.
  • nhw discusses flaws of Dawkins’ critique of religion. Can an argument that doesn’t engage with the mindset of an ideology’s proponents be valid?

Written by Randy McDonald

February 17, 2007 at 12:55 am

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[BRIEF NOTE] The Snow Line

Out of the thousands of cubic astronomical units of space that make up the inner Solar System, only a small percentage is to be found within the snow line, “the annulus within a protostellar disk beyond which water molecules can efficiently condense to form ice,” founded early in the Solar System’s history between the orbits of Mars and Jupiter. Earth is inside this boundary, and so, like many of the asteroids and like the adjacent Earth-like planets of Mercury, Venus, and Mars, is rocky, with only a thin covering of water. Outside the snow line is the empire of ice, in the Galilean moons of Jupiter, in Saturn’s moon of Titan, on distant Neptune’s Triton, and on all of the smaller moons, comets, and other bodies to be found in these spaces. Of all of the rocky worlds found within the snow line, Earth–because of its temperate location, its significant mass, and other reasons–is the only planet where molten dihydrogen monoxide condenses out of atmosphere on a regular basis.

Not always, mind, and not consistently: There’s nothing like digging out a path to your basement apartment, through the stairwell, through a foot and a half of snow to make one realize this. Still, spring will come and my alley’s clear, so how can I complain?

Written by Randy McDonald

February 15, 2007 at 7:08 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] Pizza

You know, on a cold winter night in the midst of a mild storm that has brought the temperature after wind chill down to -27 degrees Celsius or so and will deposit a couple dozen centimetres of snow, and you’re out of food and the grocery store that’s open all night is a terrifyingly large temperature-extended distance too far away from you, there’s nothing being able to phone the local pizza place and have them drop you off a pizza at the door to your very own basement apartment. Even if you do have to stand outside in the snow, bathrobe tightly shut and snow drifting over your flipflops in the stairwell outside, because the delivery person mistakes my alley for the one to the west, the experience is still quite worth the extra money on the rent cheque.

Just saying.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 14, 2007 at 12:24 am

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[META] I’ve succumbed

I’ve joined Facebook.

I’m about as literate in Facebook now as I was in Livejournal in the early spring of 2002, so please forgive my ignorance in this new medium. I admit to being confused as to how various of my acquaintances managed to discover my profile’s existence without any public announcements–london_calling was inevitable, but nhw?

Anyhow. Friend me, will you?

Written by Randy McDonald

February 13, 2007 at 11:58 pm

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