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Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for October 2007

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Written by Randy McDonald

October 25, 2007 at 11:38 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Quebec Citizenship

The debate on the establishment of a distinct Québec citizenship regime (see The Globe and Mail, Montreal Gazette seems to have taken a fairly illiberal turn, not least since it isn’t altogether clear whether it would be possible for a Québec citizenship regime to establish different legal status for Canadian citizens based on their province of birth. Bavarian citzenship in Germany comes closest to what’s being proposed right now, but practically speaking it seems to be useless in the face of the existence of a common regime of civil and political rights for all German citizens across Germany.

Does anyone know off-hand of other subnational citizenship regimes and how they work?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 24, 2007 at 8:26 pm

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[MUSIC] Kanye West, “Stronger”

As detached as I am from the pop charts, I hadn’t heard anything of Kanye West’s latest number one single, “Stronger”, until finfin pointed out last night that the video quotes extensively from the very enjoyable if retrofuturistic anime Akira. (The song itself samples Daft Punk’s Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” quite heavily.) I enjoyed both song and video, and you all?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 24, 2007 at 8:20 pm

[LINK] “In Spain, the Catholic church loses battle to prevent a member from leaving the fold”

Via chrishansenhome, Victoria Burnett’s International Herald Times article “In Spain, the Catholic church loses battle to prevent a member from leaving the fold” tells the story, the most significant portions of which are excerpted below.

The National Court ruled that the archdiocese of Valencia, in eastern Spain, should note in its baptismal records that Manel Blat González, a 41-year old union worker, had left the church. The decision is a symbolic blow to the church, which faces a dwindling flock and disenchantment among a once-devout people who see it as increasingly out of step with modern life.

Blat, who was baptised 40 years ago, sent several applications to the church to have his name expunged from baptismal records after he became disillusioned by what he saw as the church’s narrow attitudes. Blat, who is gay, said he was particularly angered by the church’s stance on same-sex marriage, which is legal in Spain.

“I felt I was part of an organization that neither wanted nor respected people like me,” Blat said in a telephone interview. “The church doesn’t represent my values.”

The archdiocese refused Blat’s request, arguing that baptismal records were historic documents that could not be altered. Blat turned to Spain’s Data Protection Agency, which sued the archdiocese on the basis that all data collected about private individuals should be kept up to date and conserved for as long as strictly relevant. The archdiocese appealed a ruling in the data protection agency’s favor in May last year, but the appeal was dismissed Oct. 10. A spokesman for the Valencia archdiocese said it was studying the ruling and may appeal before Spain’s Supreme Court.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 24, 2007 at 8:15 pm

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[LINK] Some Friday links

  • ‘Aqoul has a whole slew of interesting posts up, from an exploration of the technical problems with Unicode-represented Arabic language on the Internet, to a roundup of the whole Turkey-Armenia-Kurdistan mess, to a commentary on how state-driven Iranian and Chinese investment in Iraq is taking off.
  • Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing links to an English-language blog that explores Tropa de Elite, an extraordinarily popular Brazilian film about elite military police in Rio de Janerio who, among other things, happily torture and murder slum dwellers in large numbers.
  • Edward Hugh’s Bonoboland outlines the overheating of the Romanian economy, as emigration not only diminishes the size of the Romanian labour force but fuels a growing trade deficit via the emigrants’ remittances.
  • Centauri Dreams explores the risks to humanity if our electromagnetic broadcasts were detected by superior civilizations out there.
  • Crooked Timber features a link to an interesting BBC deocumentary that, among other things, presents archival recordings of the speech patterns and accents of British and Irish POWs in German captivity in the time fo the First World War. Things change.
  • Joel at Far Outliers links to an interesting post exploring the way in which the hostility of African Anglicans to gay rights could be traced to the late pre-colonial period, when sexual “deviance” acquired links to tyranny and Muslim imperialism as in the case of Buganda’s King Mwanga II.
  • Douglas Muir at A Fistful of Euros links to a disturbing article by Serbian writer Vladimir Arsenijevic at Sign and Sight, “Our negroes, our enemies”. Arsenijevic writes about the way in which the traditional racist stereotypes of Albanians in the old SFRY have hardened under Milosevic into a eliminationalist and denialist hatred which has been spreading. “Almost a third of young people believe that the Chinese – the only relatively large group of foreigners in our country – should have their residence permits removed, even if they obey the law. Every third teenage boy and every second teenage girl is looking down on homosexuals and people infected with HIV.”
  • inuitmonster reports that the Georgian government is hoping to use an open-air Boney M concert in South Ossetia to bring independence-minded South Ossetians back into the fold.
  • Speaking as someone who got my Chief Scout Award back in 1995, reluctant props to the city of Philadelphia for charging local Scout troops market rent for the use of city’s facilities because of their continued ban on gay scouts
  • Chriostopher Hitchens, génocidaire? According to an account feorag at the Pagan Prattle, Hitchens favours dealing with radical Islam by killing as many Muslims as it takes. Sigh.
  • Finally, Strange Maps hosts a Finnish map of Europe if the Nazis won. The point of divergence seems to be around 1944, with an Italy divided on north-south lines but a successfully (re)conquered Soviet Union.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 19, 2007 at 11:35 am

[LINK] Stratfor on Turkey

That agency’s review is right here, with the conclusion excerpted below.

Since the end of the Cold War, Turkey’s neighborhood — and its relationship with Washington — has drastically changed. Attempts to become a Central Asian or European power have failed, and the Turks are looking in different directions for opportunities. The Iraq war has proven that U.S. and Turkish security concerns are no longer in lockstep, leading Turkey to re-evaluate its alliance with the United States.

From the Turks’ viewpoint, the United States can no longer be viewed as a stabilizing force, as it has been since World War II. Moreover, Turkey no longer is a weak economic force and is not as reliant on the United States for its security. Turkey’s rapid economic growth and its strong military tradition are creating the conditions for Ankara to pull itself out of its post-World War I insularity and extend itself in the region once again. As a result, Turkey’s foreign policy no longer needs to tie itself to the United States, and Ankara can afford to make bold moves concerning issues — whether those issues relate to the Kurds, Armenians or Greeks — without losing too much sleep over any follow-on damage to its relationship with the United States. If the United States is going to act as the destabilizing force in the region through creating a major upheaval in Iraq, Turkey must at the very least attempt to take control of the situations within its old sphere of influence.

Thoughts, if any?

Written by Randy McDonald

October 18, 2007 at 11:59 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Race, intelligence, history

pompe was the first person on my friends list to report that scientist James Watson, co-discoverer of DNA, said that Africans were less intelligent than whites.

One of the world’s most eminent scientists was embroiled in an extraordinary row last night after he claimed that black people were less intelligent than white people and the idea that “equal powers of reason” were shared across racial groups was a delusion.

James Watson, a Nobel Prize winner for his part in the unravelling of DNA who now runs one of America’s leading scientific research institutions, drew widespread condemnation for comments he made ahead of his arrival in Britain today for a speaking tour at venues including the Science Museum in London.

The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when “testing” suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

I’ve two objections to make to Watson before I can cede the floor to commenters.

1. Back in August 2004, when I was still active on GNXP, I made a post on South African history, outlining how, for nearly a century, the South African state took great care to delay if not prevent the emergence of an educated middle-class non-white population in their country, through the destruction of their urban settlements, the provision of inferior education (when education was provided at all), and the imposition of a racial caste system that worked decidedly to the disadvantage of at least three-quarters of the country’s population. After such a history of intentional deprivation, I asked, would anyone be that surprised if black South Africans scored lower on IQ tests than their white counterparts? History–specifically, histories of oppression which would result, among other things, in lower scores on Western-designed tests–is something quite critical that Watson’s comments have managed to entirely overlook. One might as well say that Poland disappeared from the map of Europe for nearly a century because of some genetic shortfall among the Slavs and Balts of east-central Europe.

2. In keeping with the theory that homo sapiens sapiens first evolved in Africa, scientists have discovered that African populations are far more genetically diverse than other continental human populations, more genetically diverse than the rest of the humanity put together. This only makes sense since, as the African origins theory predicts, humans have had nearly a hundred thousand years to evolve in situ in different regions of a vast and frequently impassable continent. Talking about West Africans, Congolese, and Ethiopians as belonging to a single population defined by shared genes (as opposed to a population defined by ideology) really doesn’t make sense.

Other objections can be made, I’m sure, but I just wanted to make sure that these two got out there.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 17, 2007 at 7:22 pm

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[LINK] Post-Communist Europe’s problem

From Business Week, the article “Eastern Europe Might Never Catch Up”:

Central and Eastern Europe states are in danger of never catching up with Western Europe, as the long term economic growth potential in the region is undermined by a widening human capital gap with the west of the continent, a report has warned.

The report — called the European Human Capital Index — ranked eastern EU members and candidates on their ability to develop and sustain their human capital, and was released by the Brussels-based Lisbon Council think tank on Monday (15 October).

Since the collapse of communism, economic growth in the former communist states is far above growth seen elsewhere on the continent, narrowing the difference in economic wealth between the two halves of the continent.

But researchers now fear that a continuation of this performance is unlikely, unless certain problems are urgently addressed.

“The entire study shows a closing of the gap in the last 15 years, but now it could widen again,” Peer Ederer, the lead author of the study warned during the report’s presentation.

“An economy does no longer only have to be efficiency-driven. If you want to be able to compete with Western Europe and Asia, you have to become an innovation-driven economy,” he said later on.

In particular, the report highlights the region’s shrinking population, continuous brain-drain, chronically high unemployment and inadequate investment in education and skills – especially in workers aged 45 or more — as the main problems.

“Stop early retirement schemes, reduce unemployment, stimulate part-time employment. Keep them in the job, get them in the job, in every way possible,” Dr Ederer said.

The Lisbon Council’s website is here, and the report in question (“The Challenge of Central and Eastern Europe”) is here.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 16, 2007 at 11:55 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Why boycott Beijing over Darfur?

Am I alone in finding the calls for a boycott of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics on the grounds that Chinese investments in Sudan may have some link to the ongoing genocide in Darfur strange (1, 2)?

The activists who want to punish China could make use of the partial precedent of the American-led boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics held in Moscow, but that was part of the hostile international reaction to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Note that this decision could come about only because it was the Soviet Union itself that had invaded Afghanistan, not a mere Soviet trade partner with very ambiguous ideological and other links to the Soviet Union. (The retaliatory Soviet-led boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics held in Los Angeles seems to have been simple tit-for-tat, perhaps accompanied by gerontocratic paranoia.) A case can be made that Chinese moneys bear a certain measure of indirect responsibility for Sudan’s latest traumas, yes, but it would be a fairly weak case that could also be extended to Sudan’s neighbours and, indeed, to Western countries which purchase their oil from the same fungible international markets to which Sudan sells. Should the Olympics be closed down on the grounds of global culpability? One might as well have boycotted the Los Angeles Olympics because of the death squads active in the United States’ Central American proxy states/satellites–if anything, the case in favour of a boycott would have been stronger because of the United States’ role in training the militaries which committed those crimes in the first place.

This won’t happen, of course. The Darfur activists involved might be able to sway public opinion in their countries somewhat, but they aren’t going to be able to get their governments to insult a rising China that’s intent on making next year’s Summer Olympics a globally-televised demonstration of China’s evolution into a world-class power. I just find it irritating that they’ve been trying to make this case, and in fairness, perhaps also a bit sad that this tactic is one of the more effective that they can come up with.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 16, 2007 at 7:58 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] I have to read this

I briefly choked on my coffee this morning when, sittong on the subway, I read an article like this in my local edition of Metro about Ron Currie, Jr.‘s new short story collection God is Dead.

Triumph of evil

The nightmarish satires of Ron Currie’s God Is Dead have a scary ring of truth about them, says Michel Faber

Saturday July 28, 2007
The Guardian

God Is Dead by Ron Currie
Buy God Is Dead a the Guardian bookshop

God Is Dead
by Ron Currie
182pp, Picador, £12.99

In the first chapter of God Is Dead, God is, briefly, alive. He has taken on the form of a sick, wounded female refugee in Darfur. Apart from possessing a miraculously infinite bag of sorghum to share with her fellow sufferers, God’s earthly incarnation has no divine aid to offer. In fact, “due to an implacable polytheistic bureaucracy”, she is utterly powerless to influence the outcome of the Sudanese disaster and can only beg forgiveness for her impotence. Within days, God is a corpse on the battlefield.

It’s a bold beginning to what is more a collection of short stories than a novel. (Four of the “chapters” were previously published as standalone pieces, and there is little continuity of character or plot.) The news of God’s death triggers all sorts of bizarre upheavals in various nations, including mass looting, mass suicides and, finally, a war between the Evolutionary Psychologist Forces and the Postmodern Anthropologist Marines. Along the way, we meet a psychiatrist from the Child Adulation Prevention Agency, a conscience-stricken Colin Powell who calls George Bush a “silver-spoon master-of-the-universe motherfucker”, and a talking dog.

The rather bleak premise makes me think that the above reviewer, Michel Faber, may well be right in proclaiming the collection a bit too nihilistic. Then again, Bookslut quite likes it, so “wait and see for myself” is probably the best strategy.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 16, 2007 at 7:30 pm