A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for August 2007

[LINK] Some Friday links

  • Over at Bonoboland, Edward Hugh draws parallels between language policy as it exists in Catalonia and as it should exist in the Baltic States vis-à-vis immigrants, and points out that Hungarian unemployment rates have been falling of late because of the past generation of declining birth rates.
  • Joel at Far Outliers quotes from Tony Judt‘s recent history of Europe, describing how Europe’s New Left looked to early Marxists in contradistinction to contemporary Soviet-bloc Communists.
  • Language Hat points out that the legacies of Stalinist repression in the 1930s may have doomed efforts to establish Belarusian as a “normal” language in its home territory, widely used by different social strata.
  • I’ve not cared to follow the story of Idaho Senator Larry Craig, recently revealed to have solicited for sex in an airport washroom, very closely. Some of the better coverage in the blogosphere includes Jason Kuznicki’s speculations as to whether Craig’s closetedness reflect character flaws which made him a bad senator, and the Tin Man’s notes (1, 2) on how the Republican Party’s quick purging of Craig contrasts to its tolerance of Louisian senator David Vitter’s (female) prostitutes and reveals a structural homophobia.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2007 at 10:30 pm

[META] Blogroll Changes

The link to Phil Hunt’s blog, now Amused Cynicism, has been updated, and Liza’s Boobs, Bums & Bad Dialogue! has been added.

I’ve also reluctantly deleted some blogs which appear to be inactive. If they become active again, they’ll of course return.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2007 at 10:08 pm

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[MEME] Ten years back

I first heard about the death of Princess Diana late at night, very early on the morning of the 1st of September. I was insomniac, wiorried about my first day as a first-year student at the University of Prince Edward Island, and flipping through the television channels. I got to the block of French channels and one of them–TV5?–was showing images of a car crash in Paris, something about … I couldn’t concentrate enough to listen, and I didn’t understand why international news channels werre covering a car crash in Paris, and so I turned off the television and finally went to sleep.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2007 at 4:26 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] “Will Pakistan Survive?”

William Dalrymple‘s recent article in Outlook India, “Will Pakistan Survive?”, is worth reading, if only as a representation of the common wisdom that the problem with Pakistan isn’t the Pakistani people nearly so much as it is a Pakistani state, founded on an alliance between feudal landlords and the military, that combines malign neglect of the population with sponsorship of a variety of religiously and politically extreme ideology. If the Pakistani state is unable to educate or feed or protect its people, then parallel states founded on religious authorities will–the whole point of the Lal Masjid siege is that said mosque constituted itself as the nucleus of a separate state in the heart of the Pakistani capital, issuing laws and administering punishment to perceived miscreants.

What Dalrymple doesn’t mention is that Pakistan is becoming less and less able to solve these problems without involving the wider world–the Waziristan War is intimately connected to the NATO occupation of Afghanistan and the wider imperiatives of anti-terrorist campaigns, for instance, the Kashmir issue dominates relations with India, and the government-ordered attack on the Lal Masjid seems to have been prompted by Chinese demands that Pakistan protect the Chinese citizens taken hostage.

It should go without saying that a 21st century Pakistan that becomes as much a cockpit of international relations as 18th century Poland will do no one any good, but the self-willed weakness of the Pakistani state and the imperatives of the great powers seem set to ensure this. No one has an idea how to escape this blind alley, right?

Written by Randy McDonald

August 30, 2007 at 11:53 pm

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Oh no, Ghana has oil

The long and hitherto unsuccesful history of oil companies’ prospecting for oil and natural gas came to an end earlier this month with the announcement that six hundred thousand million barrels of oil have been found off the Ghanaian coastline. The Ghanaians are worried.

[A]s the euphoria dies down, people are debating whether oil is really the economic injection their country needs. After all, the other countries along the Gulf of Guinea that have discovered significant deposits – from Angola to Equatorial Guinea and Congo-Brazzaville – have sunk rather than flown. And Ghanaians need only travel a few hundred miles east to discover why oil is considered a curse in Africa rather than a godsend.

“Nigeria has oil in abundance, yet the local people have nothing,” said George Moore, a 29-year-old restaurant worker in Axim, a fishing village near Cape Three Point. “Is that what is going to happen here?”

Others say Ghana’s economy, which relies mainly on gold, timber, cocoa and a budding IT sector, is already doing well without the easy money that oil will provide. Since the near collapse of the economy in the 1980s, economic growth in Ghana has averaged about 5%, climbing to 6% in each of the past three years.

Poverty levels have dropped from 52% in 1990 to 29% today, according to the World Bank, making Ghana one of the few African countries on track for the main Millennium Development Goal of halving poverty by 2015. Compare that to Gabon, which has been pumping hundreds of thousands of barrels of oil a day for more than 30 years and where two-thirds of the population still lives on less than a dollar a day.

“Our country works, but the idea of us producing oil still scares me,” said Kofi Bentil, a business lecturer at Ashesi University in Accra. “It will totally change the structure of the economy. It could push us into overdrive, but it could also lead us to self-destruct.”

Ethan Zuckerman earlier provided an overview of the reasons for this fear. Briefly put, countries which earn large revenues from exports of high-value commodities like oil tend to see economic shifts away from more conventional sectors of an economy like manufacturing, as labour and capital shifts away from less lucrative sectors while national currencies gain enough value on international markets to pay for imports. When prices for these commodities drop, the resulting effect on national economies–commonly called the Dutch disease–can be devastating. High-value commodity exports, by minimizing the need for investment in human capital, can also sustain authoritarian and dysfunctional polities thankful to bypass the need for a productive and educated middle class–Saudi Arabia is perhaps a leading example of this kind of country. Just as important as the economic and political effects of oil are the geopolitical impacts, as rising world consumption drives the development and further expansion of oil and natural gas exploration beyond traditional areas, into regions of the world–like sub-Saharan Africa–which are already quite fragile. In his recent book Untapped, excerpted extensively at Slate, John Ghazvinian explores how oil and natural gas exports tended to discourage broader development even in the most favoured states: Hydrocarbon fuel riches in Francophone Gabon have fatally undermined the rest of the economy, Hispanophone Equatorial Guinea’s post-genocidal ruling clique is using the new revenues to enrich itself, and Lusophone São Tomé e Principe is reduced to hoping that its rulers are nice enough to avoid these problems, really, and the 2003 coup attempt there was meaningless. As for Nigeria’s mess, well. Zuckerman is fairly hopeful that Ghana can escape the worst effects of the oil boom because of its relatively good governance.

So will the same thing happen in Ghana? There’s reasons to think the Ghanaian government will be able to avoid some of the traps other nations have fallen into. Ghana is in excellent economic shape in comparison to its neighbors. It’s one of the very few nations in West Africa on pace to meet its millenium development goals and to halve poverty by 2015 – the percentage of Ghanaians living in poverty has dropped from 52% in 1992 to 35% by 2003. Economic growth has averaged 4.5% a year since 1983, and has been at or above 6% the last three years. This growth has had some connection to natural resources and commidities, including gold and cocoa, but has also included growth in tourism and service outsourcing. A stable, investment-friendly government has encouraged many diaspora Ghanaians to return home and start businesses. Friends from around the continent report a sense of excitement in visiting Accra and Kumasi, and a sense that the country is going through an economic revolution.

Whether Zuckerman’s hope is justified is, alas, something we’ll have to wait to see.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 30, 2007 at 7:40 pm

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[MUSIC] Pete Shelley, “Homosapien”

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that YouTube hosts the video for former Buzzcocks frontman Pete Shelley‘s debut solo single, “Homosapien.”

I quite like the song, a “fantastic bridging of punk and synth pop” as one listener calls it, Shelley’s nasal vocals playing off against an aggressively sinuous mixture of acoustic guitar and electro. Although the song seems to have achieved a measure of underground success, it seems that it–and Shelley’s solo career–took a hit from the radio ban imposed by the BBC in a homophobic knee-jerk reaction to the lyrics.

I’m the shy boy
You’re the coy boy
And you know we’re
Homosapien too
I’m the cruiser
You’re the loser
Me and you sir
Homosapien too
In my interior
But from the skin out
I’m Homosapien too

Saying that the song has a queer subtext is barely adequate.

The video is also worth watching as an artifact of its own right, of early 1980s music video futurism. Apparently inspired by the cover of the Homosapien album, it features Shelley lip-synching and gesturing around an ersatz office, singing behind phrenologists’ skull molds and lounging around a Commodore PET personal computer. I like.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 30, 2007 at 7:30 pm

[MEME] Which fantasy/sci fi character am I?

Which Fantasy/SciFi Character Are You?

I’m pleased with this result since I like Babylon 5‘s Marcus Cole despite his character’s occasional whinge of tweeness.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 30, 2007 at 2:53 pm

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[LINK] “The world around Russia: 2017”

This document, a hundred-page analysis of likely developments in the next decade in different areas of the world (Europe, Latin America, East Asia, the Middle East, the former Soviet space), was recently made available in English translation by the English-language website of the Russian magazine Russia in Global Affairs is available here. What’s most interesting to me is the way in which this paper’s language–sober, technocratic, written with an eye to ways in which the state of the author(s) can take advantage of these trends–is similar to those from comparable institutions in North America and Europe, Rand, for instance. Russia’s now normal, just another more-or-less pragmatic state jockeying for power in a multipolar world, imagine that.

(For comparison, see this summary of the scenarios constructed by Finnish parliamentary commission, written from a decidedly Finnish perspective.)

Written by Randy McDonald

August 29, 2007 at 2:53 pm

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[DM] “The Alberta advantage, continued”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters that takes a look at the ongoing shift of Canada’s workforce to western Canada and especially Alberta, especially in the context of the relative decline of non-Albertan economies.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2007 at 9:22 pm

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Belgian divorces and remarriages

Though Brussels Journal seems to be a far-right wing site devoted equally to particularly reactionary brands of Flemish nationalism and the fight against Eurabia, on its front page is a link to an interesting article in Le Figaro, Alexandre Adler‘s “La Belgique va-t-elle demander le divorce ?” (“Will Belgium ask for a divorce?”). In this article, Adler argues that Belgium is doomed to split up and thaqt it would be to France’s benefit to support the split.

La réalité, c’est que la société flamande, cette petite Bavière maritime, est en proie à un dynamisme économique et social remarquable, ayant réussi sa mutation linguistique, et dispose d’une population exactement équivalente à celles du Danemark ou de la Norvège. Méfiante à l’égard de la Hollande voisine, la Flandre indépendante serait en fait, assez vite, le plus francophile et le plus latin des États germaniques de l’Europe du Nord. Le dogme de la diplomatie française consistant à tout faire pour maintenir la Flandre en Belgique doit donc être révisé d’autant plus vite et radicalement qu’en prenant en main la revendication nationale, les chrétiens sociaux et leurs alliés libéraux et socialistes ont fait reculer l’extrême droite locale aussi efficacement que Sarkozy, en France.

The reality is that the society of Flanders, this small maritime Bavaria, enjoys a remarkable economic and social dynamism, having succeeded with its language issue, and has a population just as large as those of Denmark or Norway. Being wary with regard to neighbouring Holland, the independent Flanders would in fact rather quickly become the most francophile and Latin of the Germanic states of northern Europe. The dogma of French diplomacy that Flanders must be kept in Belgium thus should be revised, all the more quickly and radically since by creating an independent Flanders, the by taking in hand the national claim, the Christian Democrats and their liberal and socialist allies would push back the extreme right just as effectively as Sarkozy in France.

More, Adler–described on his Wikipedia as someone quite close to American neoconservatives, for whatever it’s worth–argues that France should take advantage of Belgium’s dissolution to embrace the ideology of rattachisme and to annex Wallonia, making that province France’s 23rd region and adding presumably another four or five departments to the republic. Again, my translation follows Adler’s original French.

Mais voilà, les Wallons et les Bruxellois n’auront aucune envie de former un État croupion symétrique. Comme chacun devrait le savoir, c’est le 14 Juillet que l’on fête à Liège, c’est à Paris que l’on a sacré Michaux, Marguerite Yourcenar, Simenon et même le prix Nobel de littérature belge, Maurice Maeterlinck, qui jugeait sa langue natale flamande impropre à la littérature. En se choisissant une non-capitale à Namur, en intitulant sa représentation à Paris « communauté française » et non « communauté francophone », nos compatriotes d’outre-Quiévrain nous ont déjà tout dit. Comme Helmut Kohl en 1990, Nicolas Sarkozy a donc toutes les chances de devoir gouverner une France plus grande, un peu appauvrie par la crise industrielle chronique de ses nouvelles régions irrédentistes, et un Parti socialiste certes écrêté de ses élites les plus parisiennes, mais recentré sur la vieille base populaire du Borinage et de la vallée de la Meuse, pour ne pas parler des bobos bruxellois qui valent bien les nôtres.

But the Walloons and the Bruxellois will not want to form a symmetrical rump state tail. As everyone should know, July 14th is the holiday of Liège, and it is in Paris that literature crowned Michaux, Marguerite Yourcenar, Simenon and even the Nobel Prize-winner of Belgian literature, Maurice Maeterlinck, who considered his native Flemish language unsuitable for literature. By choosing a not-capital with Namur, by entitling its representation in Paris “French community” and not “French-speaking community”, our compatriots on the other side of the Quiévrain said it all. Like Helmut Kohl in 1990, Nicolas Sarkozy has every chance to control a larger France, a bit impoverished by the chronic industrial crisis of his new redeemed areas, while a Socialist Party that has recently chopped off its Parisian elites could recenter on the old popular base of coal-mining and the valley of the Meuse, not to mention the sores of Brussels which are ours as well.

Now, it’s quite true that Wallonia is a region heavily influenced by France–I wrote back in September 2005 about the grim fate of Walloon, the local speech marginalized by a decidedly Francophone state–and that an annexation of Wallonia might seem plausible, and might even be welcomed by the French public at large–certainly De Gaulle favoured Wallonia’s annexation, the comments by French readers of this blog seem generally supportive, and I know that at least some people have imagined Wallonia’s annexation to be partial compensation for German reunification. Similarly, it’s worth noting the results of a recent poll which suggest that two-thirds of the Dutch support would support unification with Flanders, creating a sort of Greater Netherlands.

That said, these plans for expansion all require the consent of the populations of Flanders and Wallonia and Brussels. In Wallonia, the pro-annexation Rassemblement Wallonie France received barely more than 1% of the votes in the just-completed 2007 elections, even though the RWF is a direct descendant of a major Walloon regionalist party. In Flanders, the nationalist Vlaams Belang that might yet break up Flanders favours “cooperat[ing] as closely as possible with the Netherlands and with Southern Flanders (the Dutch-speaking municipalities in the North of France)”, not annexation into the Kingdom of the Netherlands, and I’m not aware of any Flemish political party that favours Flanders’ annexation. Belgium might not survive, I don’t know, but I think it’s best for France and Netherlands might just have to accept that they aren’t at all likely to have a common frontier in Brabant. It’s not that France and the Netherlands aren’t nice countries, it’s just that the Flemish and Walloons and Bruxellois don’t want to become French or Dutch.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2007 at 7:30 pm