A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for December 2007

[NON BLOG] Happy New Year!

May 2008 go at least as well for you as 2007, if not much much better.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2007 at 11:47 pm

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[LINK] “Couple films mystery dark spiral”

From CBC Prince Edward Island:

Environment Canada and the Transportation Safety Board of Canada can’t explain just what it was a P.E.I. couple filmed in the Island skies on Wednesday evening.

When Tony Quigley and his wife Marie of North Tryon, just east of the Confederation Bridge, saw a dark spiral in the sky they went for the video camera.

“When we first saw it, it was going so slow. We said, is it a meteorite, or what the heck is it? So when we did start to tape, it was above the cloud and that’s the part we missed,” said Marie Quigley.

“When it came out of the cloud, we have it from there until it’s out of sight. I have no idea. I mean I didn’t think it was a UFO or anything but to me I thought something was in trouble, but it was going so slow. I mean it was at least a half an hour from the time we first spotted it till it went out of sight.”

The couple has no clue what it was. Their first calls, to the Charlottetown Airport and the RCMP, were no help. They called Environment Canada, which was also unable to identify the phenomenon.

The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has reviewed the footage to ensure the sighting was not of an aircraft in distress. A representative from the board confirmed it was not, but had no further details.

Has anyone on the Island heard anything about this story?

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2007 at 11:46 pm

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[LINK] “De la Flandre au Québec”

Back on the 12th of December, the Montréal daily Le Devoir had an interesting essaay-length article by writer and researcher Christian Dufour, “De la Flandre au Québec” (“From Flanders to Québec”). Speaking of his experiences in Brussels during a conference held by a Québec-Flemish friendship group, Dufour argued that the French language shared by Québécois with Walloons blinded Québécois to the similarities between the positions of Québec and Flanders over time.

Comme les francophones au Québec, les Flamands ont été dominés et humiliés par une minorité condescendante, leur langue a été méprisée, et ils ont porté longtemps tout le poids du bilinguisme. Comme les Québécois par rapport aux Français, les Flamands ont parfois été considérés par leurs voisins néerlandais, dont ils partagent la langue, comme des provinciaux sympathiques mais un peu rustres. Comme les Québécois, enfin, ils ont joui ces dernières décennies d’une éclatante revanche, notamment économique; ils sont devenus maîtres chez eux, sans avoir proclamé jusqu’à présent leur indépendance.

Like the Francophones of Québec, the Flemish had been dominated and humiliated by a condescending minority, their language was scorned, and for a long time that had carrie dthe weight of bilingualism. Like the Québécois with the French, the Flemish had often been considered by their Dutch neighbours, with whom they were united by language, as pleasant but rustic provincials. Like the Québécois, finally, the Flemish have enjoyed over these last few decades a sweet revenge, particularly economically; they have become masters in their own homes without having declared their independence.

Dufour also notices a slew of differences. The complications of Flemish and Belgian history by Nazism and extreme nationalism, Dufour argues, have made it difficult for Flemish to promote an uncomplicated yet positive image of their nation for themselves and the wider world. In the end, he argues, it all comes down to Brussels.

Si les Bruxellois parlaient majoritairement néerlandais, la Flandre deviendrait sans doute un pays indépendant. Mais la Flandre a perdu Bruxelles, on parle français dans sa capitale. L’indépendance obligerait donc les Flamands à l’impensable sur le plan identitaire: faire le deuil définitif de Bruxelles, avec une méga-enclave francophone au sein d’un mini-pays accouché sous le regard courroucé de l’Union européenne. C’est entre autres à cause de cette incontournable réalité bruxelloise que les partis indépendantistes flamands semblent condamnés à plafonner. Le Flamand moyen, lui, apparaît plus réaliste: le jeu semble consister à se retirer le plus possible d’une Belgique identifiée historiquement aux francophones, et qu’on essaie de transformer en coquille aussi nécessaire que vide.

If the inhabitants of Brussels spoke mainly Dutch, the Flanders would undoubtedly become an independent country. But the Flemish have lost Brussels, since French is spoken in their capital. Independence would thus oblige the Flemings to confront the unthinkable on the identity level: to finally break with Brussels, to accept a French-speaking mega-enclave within a mini-country now trapped under the aggravated gaze of the European Union. It is because of this incontestable Brussels reality that the Flemish independence parties seem condemned to remain blocked. The average Fleming feels more realistic: for him, the game seems to consist in withdrawing as much as possible from a Belgium identified historically with French-speaking people, and in making a needed Belgium as an emptied shell.

In the end, Dufour claims that the Flemish are stuck by their aforementioned inability to address identity issues directly, that the circumvention of this through the complex constitutional and institutional arrangements that have created a hermetically sealed linguistic frontier that threatens Belgian unity, hasn’t solved anything. Flanders might be quite autonomous, but without a felt Belgian identity meaningful gestures like the recent recognition of Québec as a nation by the Canadian parliament might be impossible to imagine.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2007 at 6:24 am

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[BRIEF NOTE] Notes on two Himalayan monarchies

Earlier in Nepal, the constituent assembly of that country decided to abolish the monarchy as described succintly by Damakant Jayshi of Inter Press Service.

On Sunday, after a seven-hour discussion ended months of bickering over the monarchy issue between the two major constituents of the seven-party alliance — the centrist Nepali Congress party and the CPN (M) — the death knell for the beleaguered monarchy, led by the hugely unpopular king Gyanendra Shah, was sounded.

The CPN(M), which led a decade-long armed struggle against the monarchy, before laying down arms under a November 2006 peace accord and joining an interim government, had threatened to disrupt elections to constituent assembly if the country was not declared a republic first.

For the Maoists, who as part of the peace accord had agreed to confine some 30,000 of their fighters in United Nations supervised camps, the main concern was that pro-monarchy forces could still undermine the elections and move to reverse the hard fought gains of the armed struggle.

But the Maoists relented after other parties — chief among them the Nepali Congress — refused to declare the country a republic before an elected assembly convened. As per the 23-point deal agreed to by the parties, Nepal will become a federal democratic republic after the first meeting of the constituent assembly, elections to which are to be held in mid-April. The parties have agreed to announce a date soon.

[. . .]

Nepal’s monarchy has not recovered from a tragic massacre in the royal palace in June 2001. A majority of people do not believe the verdict of a government-appointed probe that the then heir to the throne, Gyanendra’s nephew, killed nine members of his family before shooting himself.

Gyanendra, who succeeded to the throne after the massacre, dismissed the elected government in February 2005 after charging it with failure to end the Maoist insurgency and ruled as an autocratic monarch for 14 months.

But faced with mass demonstrations, Gyanendra was compelled to restore parliament in April 2006. Once his title as head of the army was removed his authority was severely crippled.

With even the top officers of the Nepal army now saying, both in private as well as public, that they would accept the verdict of the elected constituent assembly, it is truly the end of the road for the ‘world’s last Hindu kingdom’.

Bhutan might seem at first glance to be handling political transitions better, as the Reuters article of Biswajyoti Das seems to hint.

Bhutanese began voting on Monday to elect members to a new upper house of parliament for the first time, a step towards democracy after a century of absolute monarchy.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom has been preparing for democracy since former monarch, King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, decided to hand power to an elected government, even as many of his citizens said they were quite happy with the way things were.

Monday’s vote is only the first step. More important polls are expected to take place in February and March with elections to the lower house, when newly formed political parties will be able to take part.

Queues of voters formed in the town of Deothang as the polls opened at 8 a.m. (0200 GMT), all dressed, as is compulsory, in traditional Bhutanese costume — gowns for the men, long dresses for the women, some of whom were carrying babies.

“I pressed the button on the computer and I’m very happy to cast my vote,” said Sonam Wangda, a 35-year-old farmer, one of the country’s 312,817 registered voters. He was referring to the electronic voting machines being used.

The country has temporarily closed its borders as authorities fear Nepal’s former Maoist rebels could cause trouble in support of ethnic Nepalis living in Bhutan, who complain of discrimination.

Tens of thousands of ethnic Nepalis fled Bhutan or were expelled in 1991 for protesting against discrimination and demanding democracy.

That last sentence, as Nava Thakuria observes at Merinews, rather substantially understates the plight of Bhutan’s ethnic Nepalis.

The tiny Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan is being praised across the world because its king is abdicating the throne in favour of democracy. But on the flip side, the issue concerning the fate of the 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in neighbouring Nepal, thrown out of Bhutan in 1991, remains unresolved. The refugees are Nepali-speaking Bhutanese. They were driven out of Bhutan because they protested the passage of a law in the 1980s that arbitrarily cancelled their citizenship. Accounting for as much as a sixth of the Bhutanese population, most of them, living in the south of the country, fled from Bhutan to Nepal in 1990. They have been living in refugee camps in Nepal since then, desiring to get back home.

Bhutan, also known as Druk Yul or the Dragon Kingdom, is surrounded by India and Tibet. The country is witnessing a transition from absolute monarchy to multi-party democracy on account of the Dragon King, Jigme Singye Wangchuk abdicating the throne and not because of any popular uprising. Earlier, his main accomplishment (that was visible to the outside world) was his Gross National Happiness standard-of-living index but in December last, after setting in motion the transition to democracy, he abdicated the throne in favour of his eldest son, the Oxford-educated Crown Prince, Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk.

The benefit of happiness, however, does not seem to have percolated through the Hindu Bhutanese. “Some 108,000 Bhutanese refugees have been registered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees,” says Suhas Chakma, the director of the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), a New Delhi based rights body. Following a visit to the refugee camps in Nepal last month, Chakma reiterated his demand that Bhutan be held accountable for settlement of the exiles.

[. . .]

The Nepal government has raised the issue with the Bhutanese authorities in 15 rounds of talks; but it has failed to persuade Thimphu to allow the refugees to return to Bhutan. Not a single refugee has returned to Bhutan.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2007 at 5:36 am

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[BRIEF NOTE] Speak white

Thinking about language-driven nationalist strife one night earlier this month, I came upon the full text of Michèle Lalonde‘s 1968 poem “Speak White” is available at Everything2. The first two stanzas are reproduced below.

Speak white
Il est si beau de vous entendre
Parler de Paradise Lost
Et du profil gracieux et anonyme qui tremble dans les
Sonnets de Shakespeare

Nous sommes un peuple inculte et bègue
Mais nous ne sommes pas sourds au génie d’une langue
Parlez avec l’accent de Milton et Byron et Shelley et Keats
Speak white
Et pardonnez-nous de n’avoir comme réponse
Que les chants rauques de nos ancêtres
Et le chagrin de Nelligan

The poem is heavily ironic, beginning in the tone mocking the sort of stereotypical awe that a provincial might be supposed to feel for the metropole and shifting into a sharp criticism of the links of languages–different languages, not just English–with domination. Summaries are quite possible, but as a translator at Everything2 notes the promiscuous mixture of English and French is difficult to translate for a monolingual’s appreciation, and–I’d add–outside of the context of the society of “Speak White.” Briefly put, Canada in the 1960s and even into the 1970s was one where Canadian bilingualism remained highly unequal, as French in Québec played an unexpectedly minor role in public and business discourse and French outside of that province scarcely counted at all. This poem’s title, “Speak white,” comes from the not-uncommon response of some Canadian Anglophones to the sound of French.

“Speak White” and sort of the long-buried resentments it expressed motivated radical change in Canadian language policies, with Québec adopting strongly French-promoting language laws and the federal government promoting official bilingualism as a federal government policy and across the country. The idea of perfect English/French bilingualism is likely impossible. As recent statistics indicate, considerably more Francophones speak English than the other way around, and without a massive and wholly unexpected increase in Francophone numbers there is going to be little reason for Anglophones outside of Québec and the adjacent “bilingual belt” to learn French. Even so, these relatively successful efforts at language engineering in the favour of French have arguably helped stave off Québec’s secession: If federalists hadn’t proved that the Canadian state could comfortably accomodate the French language and its speakers, I suspect that the 1980 referendum vote might have gone the other way. It didn’t in 1980, of course, and it didn’t in 1995, and I suspect that any future secession from Canada might come about out of the center’s simple fatigue with holding onto all of its peripheries. That’s sad but tolerable–at least Canadians won’t have to confront this issue in the full spirit of resentment of the time of “Speak White.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 30, 2007 at 7:40 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Bhutto and Pakistan

Several people have referred to the assassination of Benazir Bhutto as a historic event, the sort of shock that will be singled out as a critical event by writers of school textbooks and participants in alternate-history discussions. Easily granted that she was hardly a revolutionary–Bhutto was deeply embedded in Pakistan’s feudal power structures, and the allegations of corruption aren’t reassuring–she might well have been the last scion of the ancien régime who could have been at least imagined to do something.

Now, she’s dead. The ability of the different factions of the ancien régime to govern–the political parties, the state, the military–seems to be in question. After Bhutto, the deluge? I leave it to you to imagine who the Jacobins might be.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2007 at 11:30 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Belgium’s Germanophones

Belgian’s electoral crisis has been solved for now with a new government, though the underlying tensions between the Netherlandophone Flemish and Francophones in Wallonia seems set to explode into confrontation sooner or later. Perhaps it will be over Francophone migration to Brussels’ nominally Netherlandophone suburbs, or it might be that Miss Belgum’s inability to speak Dutch will be the trigger.. One group of Belgians most notable for its absence from the past year’s crisis are the seventy thousand or so Germanophones of Belgium, concentrated in a few territories in eastern Belgium and described–as in Reuters’ November “”Achtung?” — Belgium’s German-speakers pipe up” and Le Monde‘s more recent “Les germanophones, des Belges heureux” (“The Germanophones, the happy Belgians”)–as a satisfied minority perplexed by its fate in the case of a Belgian breakup. Says Reuters:

At a parade in the mostly German-speaking town of Eupen on November 11 to honor Saint Martin, the patron of generosity who shared his coat with a beggar, the carnival mood was tinged with concern and rare shows of patriotism.

As children and brass bands paraded towards a giant bonfire in one of the main town squares, Belgian flags were — unusually — displayed on windows, and painted on some people’s cheeks.

“It’s always about the Dutch and the French-speaking communities and I’m a little disappointed that they don’t even talk about us,” said Henri Sparla, a senior citizen.

To date the German-speaking community — most of whom are tucked into the east of the French-speaking region of Wallonia — has been served well by Belgium’s political system of compromises between 6.5 million Dutch-speakers and 4 million francophones.

The kingdom recognizes German as one of its three official languages, the community has its own parliament and education system, and the European Union has described Belgium’s German-speakers as one of Europe’s most pampered minorities.

[. . .]

“What makes Belgium is that we speak different languages,” said Katerin Bauer, a 24 year-old scout leader. “The Flemish don’t consider themselves Dutch, the French-speaking don’t consider themselves as French and we are not German.”

As children followed tradition to walk through the streets singing songs and carrying paper lanterns, some of the German-speaking adults wondered what they would do if Belgium were no more.

“I wouldn’t know where I belong anymore. I speak German and live in Wallonia, where shall I go to? To France, Germany, Luxembourg? I would lose my attachment to what I call home,” said father Michael Kempen as his children gathered around the traditional bonfire.

Some German dialect speakers were included on the wrong side of the Germanic-Romance language frontier within the Belgian provinces of Luxembourg and Limburg in 1839, but most of Belgium’s Germanophones are live in Eupen-Malmedy. Formerly a territory of Prussia’s Rhine Province, after the First World War Eupen-Malmedy was ceded to Belgium and, apart from an interlude in 1940-1945, has remained Belgian ever since. After a period of Belgian repression, from the 1950s onwards Belgian Germanophones eventually came to enjoy the same government policies of cultural decentralization and self-rule as Belgium’s two dominant language groups. The modern institutionalized German-speaking community of Belgium seems to have succeeded in preserving the German language in Belgium, as described in Mercator’s analysis of that language’s position.

What would happen to this minority in the event of Belgium exploding, I wonder? The Le Monde article seems to suggest that independence might be the least unpopular choice, given a reluctance to join Germany and the potential unattractiveness of a continued alignment with an independent Wallonia. The idea of Eupen-Malmedy becoming a European Union member-state does have a certain Grand Fenwick appeal to it, but …

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2007 at 11:23 pm

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[LINK] Some Friday links

  • Amused Cynicism reports that the modern Egyptian government wants to extend copyright protection to ancient Egyptian cultural artifacts, some of them five thousand years old and more. Practicality comes to mind as a major objection to this new policy.
  • ‘Aqoul has an open comments thread on Benazir Bhutto’s assassination, and another on the way in which the American occupation authority has finally decided to patronize local tribal sheikhs.
  • Boing Boing reports on the recent brawl between Armenian and Greek Orthodox priests during clean-up at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
  • Bonoboland’s Edward Hugh reports that wage and price inflation in Russia is growing, hinting at some potential for breakdown ahead.
  • Charlie Stross blogs his Christmas wishes.
  • Crooked Timber has an open comments thread on the death of Benazir Bhutto.
  • False Positive’s Christmas cookies look delicious.
  • Joel at Far Outliers links to an interesting post about the Abayudaya, Uganda’s indigenous Jews.
  • Ian at Hunting Monsters suggests that some Israelis, at least, might be moving towards some sort of pragmatic accomodation with Hamas-run Gaza.
  • Joe. My. God links to recent reports that, in 1992, Ron Paul wrote a rather racist essay in which he claimed that 95% of Africa–Americans in Washington D.C. were criminals. (Paul says that a ghostwriter wrote it..)
  • Over at Language Log, Mark Liberman has an interesting essay about the bad side-effects of Pakistan’s post-independence policy of privileging the Urdu language over all others.
  • I’m not sure whether this thread debating the claim that the spread of English and inter-jurisdiction tax competition is creating a single European Union labour market is entirely crazy.
  • Peteris Cedrins’ Marginalia writes, in the wake of Latvia’s accession to the Schengen zone and the signing of a border territory ratifying Russian annexations of once-Latvian territories, about his frontier-crossing experiences in that Baltic state.
  • The Pagan Prattle reports that radical British parliamentarian George Galloway has outed himself as a creationist.
  • Finally, Strange Maps hosts a map of the Kiribati island of Kiritimati, also known in English as Christmas island,

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2007 at 9:59 pm

[LINK] Randy Milholland’s answer to Women in Refrigerators

The Women in Refrigerators argument is described at Wikipedia; the Milholland comic at Something Positive is here. The comments at james_nicoll‘s thread are worth reading.

(Yes, it’s the right link now–thanks mindstalk.)

Written by Randy McDonald

December 28, 2007 at 9:13 pm

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[LINK] Google News India

Thanks to dsgood for linking to Google News’ English-language India site. That site aggregates a lot of interesting articles on Pakistani affairs.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 27, 2007 at 11:10 pm

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