A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for October 2007

[LINK] “Gaming products for men who will never have sex that they didn’t pay for”

james_nicoll has a post up by that name which links to the very questionable role-playing game Hot Chicks 3.1: Naked Distress. Commentary at the website said that this game’s “usefulness will depend on your taste and the maturity of your gaming group.” There’s also an art book.

(There but for the grace of God …)

UPDATE (6:53 PM) : Not a role-playing game at all, cappadocious informs me in the comments, but an art book for RPGs.

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Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2007 at 5:31 pm

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[MUSIC] Men Without Hats, “The Safety Dance”

Men Without Hats‘s breakthrough (and only) international hit, 1983’s “The Safety Dance”, is a simple hedonistic New Wave invitation to dance, literally and perhaps also euphemistically.

We can dance if we want to
We can leave your friends behind
‘Cause your friends don’t dance and if they don’t dance
Well they’re no friends of mine
I say, we can go where we want to
A place where they will never find
And we can act like we come from out of this world
Leave the real one far behind
And we can dance

If I was looking for something dark, I might note the year 1983 and turn to the chorus “Is it safe to dance, oh is it safe to dance.” If I was; I’m think that would be a needless, even gratuitous, imposition on a bouncy happy pop song.

If I was to impose meaning on “The Safety Dance,” it would be something to the effect of how Men Without Hats was part of the emergent Canadian popular music scene that had started off in the late 1960s, at least partly as a consequence of the Canadian content requirements imposed on Canadian broadcasters, as Allison Outhit describes in her article for Canadian music magazine Exclaim!, “Canadian Content Rules”

[A] lonely wind blew down the Canadian Shield and across the prairies. Canadian songwriters and musicians were now doubly isolated: first, by virtue of living in a vast frozen wasteland whose thin population couldn’t support an indigenous radio revolution; and second, by the growth of the American music business, which roved Godzilla-like across the land, crushing station managers and Canadian play lists in its path. By the 1960s, it was obvious to anyone with a dream that the only way to get heard was on American radio. The Canadian system was simply helpless, helpless, he-e-elpless.

Or was it? Canada had begun to venture down the road of cultural protectionism in 1958, when the Fowler Commission recommended rules stating that Canadian television broadcasters (including the CBC) must offer 45 percent Canadian content. In 1971, in response to lobbying from Canadian musicians and supporters of Canadian culture, the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC, mandated by federal law to regulate Canadian airwaves) brought down regulations requiring radio stations to play a minimum of Canadian content on their stations as a condition of licence. The decision was controversial, for sure.

Supporters argued that affirmative action was the best way to give Canadian music a chance, whereas many broadcasters felt the quality of Canadian music was, let’s say, less than competitive. And it wasn’t just that Canadians wrote crappy songs: the industry-wide problem was that there wasn’t an industry.

“The main problem was, for much of the late ‘60s and ‘70s, you could listen to the radio and you knew what a Canadian song was just by the sound of it — it lacked in quality in all parts,” says Tom Tompkins, a radio programming veteran who began his career in 1969. “Production elements were lacking. There weren’t a lot of studios and producers in Canada at the time who were qualified. And the songwriting was inferior.” The badness in the booth caused Canadian DJs — much as they wanted to support Canadian music — many a dark night of the soul. “We’d go into a music meeting and we’d go through the stuff that was international, stuff that charted on Billboard. We’d add two or three a week, and then we’d hit the CanCon pile — holy shit, we used to dread it.”

Outhit points out that starting in the mid-1980s, the overall quality of Canadian popular music improved sharply. Was Men Without Hats part of this trend? I suppose that it depends on whether one thinks that bouncy, catchy, happy pop songs do or do not count in the wider scheme of things. Me, I’d ask why they shouldn’t count since it did for all those people who seem to have liked it.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 31, 2007 at 4:27 pm

[LINK] “Analysis clarifies route of AIDS”

From the Los Angeles Times:

A genetic analysis of 25-year-old blood samples has outlined a new map of the AIDS virus’ journey out of Africa, showing that today’s most widespread subtype first emerged in Haiti in the 1960s and arrived in the United States a few years later.

The analysis fills in a gap in the history of the virus, whose migration has been known in only sketchy form from its origin in Africa in the 1930s to its first detection in Los Angeles in 1981.

[. . .]

The analysis, published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, focused on a variety of HIV known as subtype B, the most prevalent form in most countries outside of Africa.

Michael Worobey, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Arizona and senior author of the study, analyzed five blood samples collected in 1982 and 1983 from Haitian AIDS patients in Miami.

The samples were held in frozen storage by the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Worobey and his colleagues looked at two viral genes and compared their sequences with viruses from around the world.

As a baseline, they used virus samples from Central Africa that are considered some of the earliest forms of the human immunodeficiency virus .

Because viruses constantly mutate, researchers could construct a rough timeline of development by measuring how much the genes in more recent samples had drifted away from their ancestral forms.

The team found that the Haitian samples were genetically the most closely related to the African virus, indicating that they were among the earliest to branch off.

Statistically, researchers found a 99.7% certainty that HIV subtype B originated in Haiti, Worobey said.

Worobey surmised that the virus was brought to Haiti by workers who had gone to the Democratic Republic of Congo, formerly known as Zaire, after it became independent in 1960. The virus appears to have been carried to the United States by Haitian immigrants between 1966 and 1972, according to the mutation timeline.

As Reuters’ article on the subject points out, and as this Aidsmap article from March made clear, it looks very much like it took only a single person, travelling from the Democratic Republic of Congo to Haiti, to transport HIV-1 to that Caribbean country.

They found that HIV was brought to Haiti by an infected person from central Africa in about 1966, which matches earlier estimates, and then came to the United States in about 1969.

The researchers think an unknown single infected Haitian immigrant arrived in a large city like Miami or New York, and the virus circulated for years — first in the U.S. population and then to other nations.

It can take several years after infection for a person to develop AIDS, a disease that ravages the immune system.

“That one infection would have become two, and then it doubles again and the two becomes four,” Worobey said. “So you have a period — probably a fair number of years — where you’re dealing with probably fewer than a hundred people who are infected.

“And then, as with epidemic expansion, at some point the hundred becomes 200, you start getting into thousands, tens of thousands. And then quite rapidly you can be up into the hundreds of thousands of infections that were probably already there before AIDS was recognized in the early 1980s.”

Written by Randy McDonald

October 30, 2007 at 3:56 pm

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[MUSIC] Public Image Ltd., “Rise”

“Rise” is the only song I’ve ever heard off of Public Image Ltd.‘s 1986 Album/Compact Disc/Cassette, but despite this sad gap in my musical repertoire, I still feel secure is saying that “Rise” has to be one of the most impressively post-punk and grandiose songs out there.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2007 at 4:26 pm

[LINK] Museum Station, revived

The toronto Livejournal community has reported that the long-delayed plan to refurbish the Museum TTC station has finally gotten off the ground.

Come January, there will be two Royal Ontario Museums, one above ground, one below.

The Museum subway station is in the middle of a $5 million remake that will see its 48 columns transformed into copies of objects from the ROM’s fabled collection. And for good measure, there will also be pieces from the Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art just across Queen’s Park.

“We realized we needed to find things that originally were load bearing,” [architect Gary] McCluskie says. “They had the heft and the size we needed. We came up with five objects and they will be installed in a repeating pattern along the 48 columns in Museum station.”

These objects include a late 19th-century house post made by the Oweekeno people in Rivers Inlet, B.C., a stone carving of the ancient Egyptian god of death and fertility, Osiris, as well as a Toltec warrior from Central America.

The copies were made in Oakville by Design Plaster Mouldings using a vandal- and graffiti-proof concrete reinforced with glass. When completed, they will be wrapped around the pillars that extend along the length of station at track level. The upper storey is not a part of the project.

There’s an artist’s conception of the completed station over at the toronto link. It looks good.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2007 at 4:21 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] Literary hit-and-run

Thursday evening, while walking west towards home along Dupont, I came across the distressing sight of a pile of books dumped carelessly into the westbound lane, very near the intersection of Dupont and Palmerston. It was terrible to see the pile so carelessly spread out over the space of a metre or so, and to hear the crunch of the paperbacks’ spines as cars drove over them. During a pause in the traffic, I dashed out into the street to pick up one relatively nearby book, and found it was a romance novel written Doris Mortman. Carefully, I put the stripcovered book back down on the pavement and went on my way.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 29, 2007 at 4:18 pm

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[LINK] Megalopolitan Toronto

American writer and urban-studies specialist Richard Florida has recently moved to Toronto and started a column in the Globe and Mail. His first column, “Wake up Toronto – you’re bigger than you think” in today’s edition, is worth reading for his suggestion that Toronto’s future lies in its development into the nerve centre of a major transnational economic and social entity in the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence region.

What has happened is that the mega-city has become the nerve centre of one of the world’s greatest mega- regions, a trans-border economic powerhouse that stretches from Buffalo to Quebec City. It’s important to recognize this, because mega-regions have replaced the nation state as the economic drivers of the global economy.

A glimpse of this new reality came earlier this month when The Globe and Mail revealed that Canadian Football League owners were negotiating to bring an National Football League team to Toronto, and that the most likely and logical choice of available teams was the Buffalo Bills. The Bills are now seeking permission to play two games at the Rogers Centre next season. The move makes sense because the market for American-style football in Toronto is huge, but even more so when you think of the Buffalo-Toronto corridor in a way that was fashionable before 9/11 but has gone mostly unmentioned since: as a single economic entity – a mega-region, in other words.

[. . .]

These days, Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area are the economic success story. But, border or no border and heightened post-9/11 security notwithstanding, the two cities are effectively part of the same mega-region – let’s call it Tor-Buff-Chester – with 22 million people and $530-billion in economic activity, making it the 12th-largest mega-region in the world and fifth-largest in North America.

[. . .]

According to our definition, mega-regions are made up of two or more contiguous cities and their surrounding suburbs, and generate more than $100-billion in annual economic output. Looked at this way, the mega-region centred in Toronto and Buffalo stretches to Guelph, Waterloo and London to the west, Ottawa, Montreal and Quebec City in the east, and includes Ithaca, Syracuse, Rochester and Utica in the United States. If I knew then what I know now, I might have given it the more accurate, if even clunkier, moniker “Tor-Buff-Loo-Mon-Tawa.”

In North America, only the mega-regions of Bos-Wash (Boston-New York-Washington), Chi-Pitts (running from Chicago through Pittsburgh), LA-San Diego-Tijuana, and Char-lanta (Charlotte through Atlanta) are larger. In the rest of the world, Tor-Buff-Chester is outflanked only by Greater London, Greater Tokyo, Osaka-Nagoya, Amsterdam-Antwerp-Brussels, Rome-Milan-Turin, Frankfurt-Stuttgart and Barcelona-Lyons.

It’s interesting to see that Toronto’s hinterland really might extend that far beyond Toronto proper, beyond even Canada’s borders. Since at least the 1960s, Canadian journalists, sociologists, and others have been writing about the Quebec City-Windsor Corridor, a concentration of population, industry, and wealth that stretches from Windsor, Ontario in the southwest (just next to Detroit) northeast towards Québec City, and has Toronto very nearly dead-centre, with its importance rising since then with Montréal’s relative decline. More recently than that, at least as earlier as my brief 2005 observation about the decline of the American cities of Detroit and Buffalo relative to Toronto, others have been suggesting that these and other cities might try to recover by linking with a luckier Toronto. I only hope that Toronto’s up to the challenge.

UPDATE (11:11 PM) : Peter links to a Marginal Revolution discussion thread which, in turn, links to a 2007 City Journal| article that is very critical of Buffalo’s prospects for revival.

UPDATE (30 October, 2:40 PM) : Richard Florida links to this post in a roundup of reactions to his Globe and Mail article.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 27, 2007 at 7:53 pm