A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for May 2007

[BRIEF NOTE] Back from Niagara

This evening, I returned to Toronto with Jerry from our one-year anniversary trip, a visit to Niagara Falls, Ontario over the Victoria Day long weekend just concluded. A more extensive post will follow, but for the moment (i.e. until I get the pictures), I’ll just say that Niagara is a place of very scenic extremes and leave it there.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 21, 2007 at 11:59 pm

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[LINK] A Friday tour of the blogosphere

  • Otto Spijkers at 1948 explores the way in which the candidates in the recent Fnench election used the terms “globalisation” and “mondialisation” in ways that suggested that these two words weren’t synonyms of the same phenomenon.
  • Alpha Sources’ Claus Vistesen links to a contrarian analysis of his about the French economy, arguing that compared to many of its Eurozone neighbours France has what is in fact a relatively strong economy with good fundamentals.
  • Aziz Poonwalla at City of Brass links to and comments upon an interesting article regarding conversions to Shi’ite Islam in Sunni-majority Syria.
  • Joe.My.God touches upon the fallout of the failed relationship of Lord Browne (formerly of British Petroleum) and Canadian Jeff Chevalier, the whole sad story demonstrating that adequate amounts of palimony and a clean breakup are good things to have in a failing relationship regardless of sexual orientation.
  • Bert Archer wonders why the press has such an adversarial relationship with authorities, arguably more so than in the not-too-distant past.
  • Diane Duane reviews one of her favourite cafe/restaurants, Le Cirio in Brussels.
  • Otto Pohl commemorates the 63rd anniversary of the beginning of the Soviet ethnic cleansing of the Crimean Tatars from their homeland.
  • Edward Lucas‘ blog and Peteris Cedrins’ Marginalia both have extensive, accurate coverage of the recent controversy surrounding Estonia’s removal of the Bronze Soldier of Tallinn from its former position of prominence in the Estonian capital.
  • feorag at the Pagan Prattle links to news reports of a Satanic-conspiracy mania in an Italian kindergarten, twenty years after the North American wave.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 11, 2007 at 8:48 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Another European state out of the running

The odds of Serbia’s eventual accession to the European Union has just risen.

Serbia should quit striving for closer ties with the West and turn to Russia, the newly elected, right-wing parliament speaker said, while feuding pro-democracy parties remained unable to forge a coalition government.

Tomislav Nikolic, a leader of the ultranationalist Serb Radical Party and an admirer of late President Slobodan Milosevic, chaired the assembly on Tuesday after clinching the key post of Speaker during a tense overnight session that fully exposed deep divisions among Serbia’s pro-democracy groups.

“Russia will find a way to bring together nations that will stand up against the hegemony of America and of the European Union,” Nikolic told the 250-seat parliament. “I hope that a majority in Serbia will strive for membership in such an organization, not in the European Union.”

His remarks reflected a rising anti-Western sentiment here, fueled by Brussels’ decision last year to suspend pre-entry talks with Serbia over its failure to capture a war crimes suspect. Furthermore, many Serbs feel disappointed by Washington’s support for independence of Kosovo, a breakaway province in Serbia’s south.

The Serbian Radical Party was founded in 1991 by nationalist politician Vojislav Seselj. At present, Seselj is on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity associated with his leadership of the White Eagles paramilitary group, before that having come to international attention through the threateningly colourful rhetoric that he directed towards non-Serbs.

The prosecutor also replayed clips of speeches he had made, in which Seselj had recommended the “amputation” of Croatia, warned that Yugoslavia would soon become “Serboslavia” and stated that Bosnian Muslims who weren’t prepared to show loyalty to a Serb state should “start packing”.

But Seselj denied that he had been seeking to stir Serbs into a frenzy of hatred, or that he had hoped to instil fear in other ethnic groups. Instead, he argued, he’d simply been warning both Serbs and non-Serbs alike about potential dangers they faced.

Another example was the notorious statement he made when war broke out between Serbs and Croats. Seselj supposedly said, “We will gouge the Croats eyes out with rusty forks and spoons.” He told the tribunal this comment was part of the “black humour” he so enjoys.

Nikolic’s appointment has already complicated Serbia’s international role, by making the worthiness of Serbia to hold the rotating presidency of the Council of Europe quite open to question. As for Serbia’s prospects of membership in the European Union, it’s tempting to claim that Nikolic’s selection will only make an unlikely event somewhat more unlikely, since the Europeanization of western Balkans seems to have come to a halt in the face of western European reluctance to further expand the Union. The baleful effects of this institutional cementing of ultranationalism on Serbia itself, alas, seem likely to pass without much notice.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 10, 2007 at 7:50 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Liberalism needs better defenders

Below is the conclusion of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s Los Angeles Times commentary “Can secular Turkey survive democracy?”.

An important trait of liberalism, however, is the opportunity to learn by trial and error. Turkish secular liberals must start their own grass-roots movement, one with the message of individual freedom. They must restore the confidence of the electorate in entrusting Turkey’s economy to them, and they must reconquer the institutions of education, information, police and justice.

They must also make EU leaders understand and respect the fact that the army and the Constitutional Court — besides defending the country and the constitution — are also, and maybe even more important, designed to protect Turkish democracy from Islam.

Bringing back true secularism does not mean just any secularism. It means secularism that protects individual freedoms and rights, not the ultra-nationalist kind that breeds an environment in which Adolf Hitler’s “Mein Kampf” is a bestseller, the Armenian genocide is denied and minorities are persecuted. Hrant Dink, the Armenian editor, was murdered by such a nationalist.

It is this mix of virulent nationalism and predatory Islam in Turkey that makes the challenge for Turkish secular liberals greater than for any other liberal movement today.

Two observations.

1. Any country where the rule of law can be maintained only through the machinations of a deep state that controls the secret services and the military likely should abandon all hope as to the possibility of European Union membership. Neither Francoist Spain nor Titoist Yugoslavia recommended themselves as EEC candidates–why should Kemalist Turkey be different?

2. The assassination of Hrant Dink that refers to was carried out by a teenager who seems to have been motivated by a nationalist that combined Islamic fundamentalism with secular Turkish nationalism. Countries tend not to move beyond murderous narrow-mindedness if one gives the ideologies that undergird this narrow-mindedness control over society in general.

UPDATE (12:24 AM, 11 May 2007): Thanks to angel80 and optimussven for correcting me on the ideology of Dink’s assassin, such as it was.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 10, 2007 at 7:11 pm

[LINK] feorag and princeofcairo, especially, should like this one

Written by Randy McDonald

May 10, 2007 at 6:47 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] One final note on Québec and Scotland

Yesterday in the Toronto Star, Chantal Hébert’s article “Ahead of Scotland on issue of sovereignty” was one article of many examining the similarities between Québécois and Scottish separatism. After pointing out that independence isn’t an inevitable outcome of either movement, Hébert points out that Chrétien’s decision to keep Canada out of Iraq was smart.

As for the Scotland result, if it fits anywhere in the Canadian puzzle, it is as a validation of Jean Chrétien’s decision to keep Canada out of the Iraq war rather than as a condemnation of policies designed to accommodate the autonomous aspirations of a national minority.

The Scotland vote is part of the larger pattern of a backlash against the Iraq fiasco and those such as Blair who played a leading role in bringing it about.

That pattern also includes last week’s faceoff between President George W. Bush and Congress.

The Iraq war has unleashed powerful domestic tensions within the countries that joined the coalition.

By staying out of it, Chrétien may have deprived the Quebec sovereignty movement of one of its last best opportunities to relaunch its crusade. By the same token, the Quebec-Canada dynamics have gone a long way to keep Canada out of a quagmire of historic proportions.

To this, one might add the case of Spain, where there were considerable tensions between the government of conservative Spanish Perime Minister José María Aznar that brought Spain into Iraq (against the support of ~90% of the population) and the autonomous regions of the Basque Country and Catalonia. Iraq and regional nationalisms intersected, in the Spanish case, in the decision of Aznar to blame the Basque group ETA for the 2004 Madrid train bombings even after it became apparent that ETA was not responsible, and in so doing try to settle domestic political scores.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 8, 2007 at 8:15 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] One note about political correctness

pompe is the first person on my friends list to have linked to this BBC news item, a report on the opinions of British broadcaster and writer Sir Patrick Moore regarding the influence of women on British television.

[Moore] said: “The trouble is the BBC now is run by women and it shows soap operas, cooking, quizzes, kitchen-sink plays. You wouldn’t have had that in the golden days.”

“I would like to see two independent wavelengths – one controlled by women, and one for us, controlled by men.”

He claimed that interesting programmes were screened too late at night, and said he would “rather be dead in a ditch” than appear on Celebrity Big Brother. And asked about his favourite series, Sir Patrick said he no longer enjoyed certain programmes because of their modern storylines.

“I used to watch Doctor Who and Star Trek, but they went PC – making women commanders, that kind of thing. I stopped watching.”

Is it just me, or are some of the people who complain about the tyranny of political correctness just jackasses?

Written by Randy McDonald

May 8, 2007 at 6:59 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Scotland 2007 = Québec 1976?

The Scottish National Party has emerged from the Scottish parliamentary elections with 47 seats in the Scottish Parliament, versus Labour’s 46, the Conservatives’ 17, the Liberal Democrats’ 16, and the Scottish Greens’ 2. This leaves the SNP as the single largest party in the Scottish Parliament, and potentially in a position to form Scotland’s next government. The only thing that might prevent that would be SNP leader Alex Salmond’s promise to hold a referendum on independence.

The Scottish National Party has promised its followers a referendum on whether Scotland should secede from Britain and declare independence, ending a union that began almost exactly 300 years ago, on May 1, 1707.

While only one-quarter of Scotland’s 5 million people are said by political analysts to favor independence, just the prospect of a referendum will set the British and Scottish administrations against one another from the beginning of Mr. Brown’s tenure. During the campaign, Mr. Brown, who is deeply opposed to Scottish independence, said he could not cooperate with the Scottish National Party.

Before the election, there was much speculation that a triumphant Scottish National Party would find itself having to form a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are deeply opposed to a referendum on independence.

countess_sophia argued in the comments to my Wednesday post that, barring catastrophic mismanagement on the part of the British government, Scottish independence is unlikely on economic and other grounds. I tend to agree with this, but wonder if this might not mark the beginning of a period of prolonged relative decline in Scotland: Québec never gained independence after the Parti Québécois won the 1976 Québec elections, but the uncertainty associated with the separatist victory did play no small role in cementing the economic dominance of Ontario (and Toronto, of course) in Canada over Québec and Montréal.

David Clark, writing in The Guardian, claims that the Scottish National Party has adopted “a Thatcherite small government, low-tax populism,” favouring the sort of economic policies that Scotland has (perhaps stereotypically) been slow to favour in the past, assimilating wholesale the common critique of the Scottish economy as inefficient and subsidy-dependent. Mightn’t it be a terrible irony if, despite its policies, the SNP achieved the reverse of economic success by the simple fact of this election?

Written by Randy McDonald

May 5, 2007 at 6:56 pm

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[LINK] The Edelsteins in The Overnight

Over at The Head Heeb, Jonathan and Naomi Edelstein are taking part in a fundraising campaign for a worthy cause.

I’m asking for donations to a charity event in which Naomi and I are personally participating. On June 9-10, we’ll be taking part in The Overnight, a 20-mile walk sponsored by the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, which is an issue that came up recently for one of my readers in a very personal way. The event carries a minimum fundraising commitment of $1000 per participant; a substantial portion of this amount has already been raised, but I’m asking readers to help make up the difference.

I’m not sure as yet as to whether non-American contributors can donate online, but that shouldn’t deter American readers, and besides, I believe non-Americans can use snail-mail.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 5, 2007 at 2:55 pm

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[LINK] English in Belgium

nhw links to and summarizes an interesting new study (Philippe Van Parijs, “Brussels Capital of Europe: the new linguistic challenges” PDF format)that claims that English has to be considered as one of the languages of Belgium. The language map of Belgium has been traditionally divided between Netherlandophone Flanders in the north, Francophone Wallonia in the south (this region including, in turn, the German-speaking Eastern Cantons), and a nominally bilingual but actually Francophone-majority national capital of Brussels in the middle. Now, in keeping with pan-European trends of growing fluency in English as a second language and immigration to the country that houses what is effectively the capital of the European Union, “English is more widely spoken than Dutch in both Wallonia and Brussels, and almost as widely spoken as French in Flanders. The paper then gives 1999 figures, and reasonably extrapolates from them to conclude that fewer than half of Brussels residents are now native French speakers (fewer than 10% native Dutch speakers, and very few indeed native English speakers).”

Written by Randy McDonald

May 5, 2007 at 2:49 pm

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