A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for April 2007

[LINK] L’anglosphère anglosphérienne

Over at The New Republic, Johann Hari shreds British neoconservative historian Andrew Roberts and his new history A History of the English-Speaking Peoples Since 1900:

Bush, Cheney, and–in a recent, glowing cover story–National Review, have, in fact, embraced a man with links to white supremacism, whose book is not a history but an ahistorical catalogue of apologies and justifications for mass murder that even blames the victims of concentration camps for their own deaths. The decision to laud Roberts provides a bleak insight into the thinking of the Bush White House as his presidential clock nears midnight.

Yes, Hari’s examples do seem to support that thesis.

Elsewhere, Naomi Klein takes a look at the jury-selection process in the trial of Conrad Black (“Class War in Black’s Courtroom”) and finds out something interesting. It turns out that Conrad Black, someone who favoured the Americanization of the tax system and the welfare state and public policy partly through appeals to the Anglosphere, is being tried by jurors drawn from a population that seems to dislike the kind of Americanization he has come to personify.

Regardless of what else happens in the Black saga, the jury-selection process has already provided an extraordinary window onto the way regular Americans, randomly selected, view their elites — not as heroes but as thieves. As far as Black is concerned, this is all terribly unfair–he is being “thrown to the mobs” because of rage at the system and, unlike American billionaires, he doesn’t “dress in corduroy trousers” or donate his fortune to AIDS charities. Black’s lawyers even argued (unsuccessfully) that their client could not get a fair trial because the average Chicagoan “does not reside in more than one residence, employ servants or a chauffeur, enjoy lavish furniture, or host expensive parties.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 28, 2007 at 8:30 am

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[BRIEF NOTE] Iraq’s ruin

Riverbend, author of Riverbend blog, is fleeing Iraq with her family.

Since last summer, we had been discussing it more and more. It was only a matter of time before what began as a suggestion- a last case scenario- soon took on solidity and developed into a plan. For the last couple of months, it has only been a matter of logistics. Plane or car? Jordan or Syria? Will we all leave together as a family? Or will it be only my brother and I at first?

After Jordan or Syria- where then? Obviously, either of those countries is going to be a transit to something else. They are both overflowing with Iraqi refugees, and every single Iraqi living in either country is complaining of the fact that work is difficult to come by, and getting a residency is even more difficult. There is also the little problem of being turned back at the border. Thousands of Iraqis aren’t being let into Syria or Jordan- and there are no definite criteria for entry, the decision is based on the whim of the border patrol guard checking your passport.

An airplane isn’t necessarily safer, as the trip to Baghdad International Airport is in itself risky and travelers are just as likely to be refused permission to enter the country (Syria and Jordan) if they arrive by airplane. And if you’re wondering why Syria or Jordan, because they are the only two countries that will let Iraqis in without a visa. Following up visa issues with the few functioning embassies or consulates in Baghdad is next to impossible.

So we’ve been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees- the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare- stay and wait and try to survive.

On the one hand, I know that leaving the country and starting a new life somewhere else- as yet unknown- is such a huge thing that it should dwarf every trivial concern. The funny thing is that it’s the trivial that seems to occupy our lives. We discuss whether to take photo albums or leave them behind. Can I bring along a stuffed animal I’ve had since the age of four? Is there room for E.’s guitar? What clothes do we take? Summer clothes? The winter clothes too? What about my books? What about the CDs, the baby pictures?

The problem is that we don’t even know if we’ll ever see this stuff again. We don’t know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends. And to what?

It is a tragedy that Riverbend has to leave her country and join the ever-growing Iraqi diaspora. That emigration is less tragic than joining the ranks of the possibly hundreds of thousands of Iraqi dead isn’t much comfort.

Various contested casualty figures for the Bosnian War aside, it seems that a bit more than of a hundred thousand people died in that most bloodiest of the wars of Yugoslavian succession. Among other things, the Bosnian war created a whole system of criminal law that was tasked with trying and, if the evidence supported it, punishing the imbeciles who ravaged that country and its neighbours.

Nothing like that is going to happen in relationship to Iraq, right? Then again, neither Mladic nor Karadzic have gotten arrested, so that does fit wth the pattern to date.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 28, 2007 at 8:17 am

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[LINK] A Friday blogospheric survey

  • Over at Alpha.Sources, Claus Vistesen outlines the fertility trap
  • , a demographic phenomenon of ultra-low fertility that is a synergistic product of postponed childbearing weakening long-term growth prospects, a shrinking ideal family size, and a perceived gap between incomes and expected expenditures, with a net result of a population far from reproducing itself. (Canada, France, the United States, and the Nordic states have escaped this trap; Italy, Germany, Spain, and Japan, not so much.)

  • At Centauri Dreams, the author describes what he calls a “Gliese moment”, a period of interest displayed on the part of a ienghbour normally incurious about extrasolar planets after news of Gliese 581 c‘s discovery made became big.
  • Joel at Far Outliers quotes an author who takes a look at how Korea’s last foreign mission prior to its 1910 annexation by Japan was ignored by the international community, explaining it in terms of the very idea being non-sensical.
  • Peteris Cedrins’ Marginalia’s most recent post outlines the ideology of the opulist and homophobic Latvia’s First Party, which turns out to be surprisingly innovative in responding to the ethnic and historical divisions of that Baltic state.
  • Besides photoblogging about Korean churches, Robert Kohler at The Marmot’s Hole introduces a book claiming that the United States supported the annexation of Korea by Japan. As commenters make clear, leaving aside the author’s perhaps dubious credentials, American support for Japan was hardly direct enough to be meaningful.
  • J. Otto Pohl reviews a book describing the post-Second World War expulsion of Sudeten Germans from what is now the Czech Republic.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 28, 2007 at 12:00 am

[BRIEF NOTE] Toronto likes Facebook, a lot

It has already been widely reported that Torontonians love Facebook, with one Torontonian in ten possessing an account. One commenter at blogTO (“500,000+ Torontonians Addicted to Crack”) claimed that the Facebook “aesthetic appeals to Canadian sensibility, while Myspace is the epitome of the kind of trash fashion that is gaining in popularity in the UK, for example.” Flawed value judgements aside, I suspect that Toronto’s surprisingly strong embrace of Facebook is about as rational as as Brazilians’ fondness for Orkut, that some sort of founder effect just happened to be at work.


Written by Randy McDonald

April 25, 2007 at 7:25 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] May Yeltsin rest in peace

The recent death of former Russian president Boris Yeltsin has prompted a new round of assessment of his legacy. Of particular note is the great suffering associated with his governance of Russia, including the immiseration of the population and an upsurge in premature mortality, both associated with the transition from Soviet Communism to, well, something else. Indeed, as angel80 points out, public health in Russia suffered hugely, male life expectancies suffering decline not only relative to developed countries but absolute decline.

The life of an average Russian in 2004 was 15-17 years less than that of an average Swiss or Japanese. This is similar to the difference between white and aboriginal Australians – in other words it is a huge gap. While the average life expectancy of a Japanese person has increased by 9 years since the early 1970s, the average Russian life is 4.5 years shorter! Even worse, while the average life expectancy of Japanese men and women is 78 and 85 respectively (7 years difference) the figures for Russians are 59 and 72 – a 13 year difference! Life expectancy for Russian men is on a par with that for Burma, Turkmenistan and Yemen. Among the countries where males can expect to live longer than Russian men are Bangladesh (62.5 years), Indonesia (65.3), Brazil (67), Vietnam (68.8), Sri Lanka (71.7).

While the association between Yeltsin’s presidency and this new wave of premature mortality does exist, I’m not sure it was evitable. Leaving aside the possible overstatement of life expectancies before the mid-1960s, male life expectancies had been under pressure from the mid-1960s on, largely owing to injuries as opposed to actual illness. This pattern seems to have been common to all eastern European populations–ethnic German immigrants in Germany from the Soviet Union even suffered this–but came to be less pronounced in populations which enjoyed more effective and responsive services, being more pronounced among Estonian Russophones than among ethnic Estonians in Estonia, more pronounced in Estonia than in Finland, more pronounced in Finland than in Sweden.

To the extent that this pattern has been weakened, it has been as a result of improved public health services and standards of living, and those have been produced by responsive and democratic governments. In the case of Russia, where the status quo had created this problem of premature mortality and other issues, what else could be done but to try to engineer Russia’s transformation into a viable and pluralistic polity? Yeltsin didn’t manage to achieve Russia’s normalization, but in his defense, he didn’t have good advice–taking, as a model for change, a Poland that had already experienced a decade’s economic decline and possessed a stronger civil society, was a bad idea, as was the failure to prevent the looting of Russia’s industries by an emergent oligarchy. I don’t think that Yeltsin specifically can be blamed for this, especially given the continuing failure of the more mature Russian political system to address these factors. Creating a Russian polity capable of addressing these human development concerns may have been too big a task for anyone.

What Yeltsin did do quite well was manage the peaceful breakup of the Soviet Union and avoiding the spread of wars of succession from parts of the southern fringe to the whole of the former Warsaw Pact and beyond: There was no Russo-Ukrainian War of 1992 fought over the Crimea, the Baltic States’ independence was recognized early on, the mistake of Chechnya wasn’t repeated in Tatarstan and Karelia and Dagestan, and there never was a military junta subjecting the world to nuclear blackmail. The last time that a Russian empire fell apart, millions of people died in a zone of continual warfare that lasted a half-dozen years and stretched from Czechoslovakia to Vladivostok. Whatever else Yeltsin didn’t do, he at least managed the impressive task of creating a remarkably durable zone of peace covering the same area. For that great achievement, if nothing else, his memory should be honoured.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 24, 2007 at 8:44 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Ah, Ségo?

Last night, I was surprised to see imomus come out for French presidential candidate Ségolène Royal, not so much because of his support for the Socialist candidate in the 2007 French presidential election as because the post “Votez Cérès, déesse de l’agriculture, des moissons et de la fécondité!” (“Vote for Ceres, goddess of agriculture, harvests, and fertility”) was most atypically written in French but, ah, bilingualism and its many benefits.

imomus‘ post is substantially facetious–an essay referencing the Wickerman and promising that, if Royal was elected, France would “not only benefit sexually, but would have harvests that would make even José Bové green with jealousy,” has to be, at least in part–but the author does make the good point that a President Royal would be a major shft, the first Socialist President in a decade since the death of François Mitterand and the first woman president of France ever.

Royal has frequently been identified with the French Republican personification of Marianne, a personnage, obviously because of her gender, perhaps also in part because her candidacy came about as a result of a challenge to the Socialist Party leadership

Why is it a woman and not a man who represents the Republic? To start with, Liberté and République are both feminine nouns in the French language. One could also find the answer to this question in the traditions and mentality of the French, suggests the historian Maurice Agulhon, who in several well-known works set out on a detailed investigation to discover the origins of Marianne. A feminine allegory was also a manner to symbolise the breaking with the monarchical regime headed by men. Note also that even before the French Revolution, France or the Kingdom of France were embodied in masculine figures, as depicted in certain ceilings of Palace of Versailles.

“When Ségolène-Ceres-Demeter is elected,” imomus concludes, “then–with the help of Zeus–we’ll cook those pigs Le Pen and Sarkozy in a great sacrificial fire. He who sows the wind …” That last is an interesting image, although I don’t think that Nicolas Sarkozy is of a piece with Le Pen, not even with his past doubtful statements regarding rioters in the banlieues. A President Royal would outrage American conservatives.

Royal continues to snipe from the sidelines about Operation Iraqi Freedom and advocates America’s withdrawal from Iraq. She believes that decisions about Iraq’s transition should be made solely by the Iraqi government, barely concealing her implicit criticism of American involvement in the region. During her keynote manifesto speech outlining her presidential platform, she not only acknowledged the divisions caused by France’s vocal opposition to the war in Iraq, but even pledged to speak “louder and stronger.”

She has also made diplomatically crass comments about President Bush. “I do not mix up Bush’s America with the American people,” she has said. “The American people are our friends.”

Alas for Royal, A Fistful of Euros’ assessment is likely correct in predicting her eventual defeat. Her 25% showing is smaller than Sarkozy’s 30%, and although François Bayrou managed to carry only his native department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques his support base is more likely to lean towards Sarkozy than towards Royal. At least she managed to galvanize the Socialist Party and, who knows, maybe she might manage to follow Mitterand’s precedent and come back in his second time. In the meantime, Sarkozy’s economic policies seem to be somewhat more likely to deal with the problems of the French economy–relatively dynamic by western European standards, but still performing below par with a high rate of unemployment that does much to threaten the very substantial cultural integration of France’s immigrant minorities, Muslim included, that has already taken place. Ségo in 2011?

Written by Randy McDonald

April 24, 2007 at 8:03 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] Fatalities on the TTC

When I heard the loudspeaker in my northbound subway car below Yonge Street crackle to life this morning and announce the closure of the subway line north of Eglinton station, I’d thought that there’d been a suicide. Instead, as blogTO reports, there had been a fatal accident on the track involving Toronto Transit Commission workers.

One worker was crushed by heavy equipment and died (a worker for 5 years in the crew, name not yet released). Two others were taken to hospital. One will be released with a broken rib, the other is still be assessed but (his?) condition has stabilized.

The disruption to hundreds of thousands of Torontonians’ commutes is expected to continue until at least tomorrow.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 23, 2007 at 2:58 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] Weekend Weather

This weekend past, the weather in Toronto was beautiful, summer-like with daytime temperatures in the low 20s and perfectly clear skies. Yesterday, I set out with Jerry for a trip down to the Beaches neighbourhood in southeastern Toronto, a trendy and gentrfying district of shops and homes that provides a mainland counterpart to the Toronto Islands‘ Lake Ontario beaches. The light that came down from cloudless sky was of a remarkable clarity, illuminating the minutest details: the shallow water bordering the white sand beach, the multi-stage kite flying in the sky, cocktails at the Lion on the Beach pub (1958 Queen Street East) where we brunched. Thinking in retrospect, the afternoon reminds me of songs from Jane Siberry, “One More Colour,” say

or perhaps “Mimi on the Beach”. It was a glorious time.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 23, 2007 at 2:54 pm

[LINK] The shape of the blogosphere

sbisson links to the famous graphic representation of the blogosphere that has been circling about the Internet for the past couple of weeks, the one that shows a dense rich tapestry of woven blogs at the centre with other blogs–Livejournal, porn blogs, and sports–on the periphery. The suggestion by a commenter that Livejournal’s seeming isolation might just be an artifact, that Livejournal blogs like my own which have connections to external blogs have been grouped in the main cluster, is worth considering, though I’ve no idea if the author actually did or did not adjust for this.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 22, 2007 at 11:59 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] On the conviction of al-Attar

From Reuters:

An Egyptian court convicted an Egyptian-Canadian dual citizen on Saturday of spying for Israel and sentenced him to 15 years in prison, saying he had been “seduced by Satan” into selling out his country.

Three Israelis, said to be Mossad agents and tried in absentia, were also found guilty in the case and given 15-year jail terms. Israel has dismissed the case as a fabrication.

Egyptian trials of suspected spies for the Jewish state have often soured relations between Israel and Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab country to make peace with Israel.

Egyptian prosecutors said Mohamed Essam Ghoneim al-Attar, 31, was recruited by Israel in 2001 while living in Turkey.

They said intelligence agents helped him get a Canadian residency permit under a fake name and found him work in a bank to help him spy on Egyptians and other Arabs.

A month ago, Xtra–Toronto’s free gay weekly–carried an article highlighting el-Attar’s sexual orientation which, despite the denials claimed by the article, definitely isn’t heterosexual. el-Attar arrived in Canada claiming refugee status apparently on the grounds of his sexual orientation, while the Egyptian government claimed that el-Attar was a “gay Zionist”.

The Canadian government aided el-Attar’s defense, with Foreign Minister Peter MacKay questioning the legitimacy of el-Attar’s confession on the grounds that it was produced only under torture. el-Attar’s lawyer promises an appeal of his client’s case.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 21, 2007 at 7:03 pm

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