A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for February 2008

[LINK] “I’ve found a perfect new member for the EU. If only it were in Europe”

Back in June 2006 and over at his Comment is free blog hosted by The Guardian, Timothy Garton Ash proposed that Canada would make an excellent new member-state for the European Union.

In most respects it would be a much easier fit than Ukraine, let alone Turkey. It effortlessly meets the EU’s so-called Copenhagen criteria for membership, including democratic government, the rule of law, a well-regulated market economy and respect for minority rights (Canada’s a world-leader on that). Canada is rich, so would be a much-needed net contributor to the European budget at a time when the EU has been taking in lots of poorer states. One of Europe’s besetting weaknesses is disagreement between the British and the French, but on this the two historic rivals would instantly agree. English-speaking Canada would strengthen the Anglophone group in the EU, Quebec the Francophone.

Take the list of things that many Europeans consider to be most characteristic of us – by contrast with the United States. We Europeans believe that the free market should be tamed by values of social justice, solidarity and inclusiveness, realised through a strong welfare state. We don’t have capital punishment. We believe that military force should only be used as a last resort and with the sanction of international law. We support international organisations. We love multilateralism and abhor unilateralism. We tend to think that men and women should be able to live more or less as they please with whomever they please, irrespective of gender and sexual orientation. We pride ourselves on our diversity. Check, check, check. Welcome to Canada.

From here, Ash goes on to argue that the values described as “European” (Nordic, Rhineland or Mediterranean models of capitalism, say, or certain kinds of social liberalism) are not exclusively Europeans, and are in fact shared by many people around the world, including “Americans in the liberal blue states of the US.” After criticizing Canadians and Europeans alike for their alleged “obsession with the United States, and [their] distinguishing themselves from it, often by crude stereotyping,” Ash goes on to suggest that non-American democracies should get their act together, stop punching below their weight, and start promoting the good elements of their social models, preferably in concert with other democracies. Whatever similarities exist with his arguments in his 2006 book Free World are probably quite intentional.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2008 at 10:28 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] The latest political scandal in Ottawa

The latest scandal aired in the federal parliament, relating to alleged Chuck Cadman, has been summarized in today’s The Globe and Mail.

The spectre of an alleged financial offer to a dying MP hovered over Parliament Hill on Friday as some Liberals hinted they might topple the government over the prime minister’s purported role in the alleged affair.

Opposition parties hammered the Conservatives in the House of Commons for the second straight day over allegations then-Opposition leader Stephen Harper was implicated in an overture to Chuck Cadman two days before a historic May 2005 confidence vote.

Outside the Commons, Liberal MP Garth Turner suggested time is running out for the Tories to come up with a credible explanation for what exactly was offered to Mr. Cadman — on whose shoulders the fate of Paul Martin’s Liberal government rested — in exchange for his support. “The questions have not gone away, and each day more evidence has come forward that this is a serious issue. So, unless the government refutes that very quickly, or comes out with a statement of clarification, then I think we ought to be thinking about bringing these guys down,” he said.

A tape released Thursday suggests Mr. Harper not only knew two party officials made an “offer” to Cadman, but also gave it his blessing.

Not clear is what exactly the Conservative insiders offered Mr. Cadman. The Tories insist that Doug Finley and Harper mentor Tom Flanagan only offered to take Mr. Cadman — who had left the party and was sitting as an Independent MP — back into the party fold.

But Mr. Cadman’s widow, Dona — a Conservative candidate — told CTV News her husband was livid at an alleged offer of a $1-million life insurance policy, which she said she considered a bribe.

Tory MP James Moore was left to fend off questions by opposition MPs and reporters outside the Commons. He dodged questions about whether the offer was indeed for a life insurance policy or for the Conservative nomination in the B.C. riding of Surrey North.

Jonathan Kay at the National Post is skeptical of the story. Another relative confirming the story is probably right when he concludes that nothing will be proven, one way or another, at this late date.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2008 at 5:25 pm

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[LINK] “Socialism Through the Prism of the Generation Gap”

From Inter Press Service, Dalia Acosta’s article “Socialism Through the Prism of the Generation Gap”. The relative apathy of the younger generations seems to be a significant problem.

Castro’s announcement Tuesday that he was retiring as head of state has once again raised questions about who will succeed the long-time leaders of the ruling Communist Party, who are now in their 70s and 80s, and how popular support for socialism will be kept alive, especially among the young.

“The ‘historical generation’ is not going to give up its grip on power,” said Yadira Valdivia, a librarian who lives in Havana. “I just hope that those who are in positions of power adopt the measures necessary to solve the problems in our country, rather than just trying to pretend they are doing something,” she told IPS.

“I think we should elect other people from different generations, to inject some fresh air into the government,” said Valdivia, 28, who believes a “political debate” is urgently needed.

“The most logical thing would be for the ‘historical generation’ to assume power,” said Rubén Jiménez, a 64-year-old retired armed forces officer. “The country and our leaders are prepared, but with the current threats from the United States, no move should be made that could be taken as a sign of weakness.”

But Miriam Cruz, 59, said a combination of older and younger leaders would probably emerge. “I imagine that there will be a mix, because there are capable young people. If there weren’t, it would mean the revolution had not worked.”

Written by Randy McDonald

February 29, 2008 at 5:16 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Les chinois sont à Brest, c’est trop tard.

Back in 2005, I was taken by a passage in John Lukacs‘s 1992 The End of the Twentieth Century and the End of the Modern Age.

In 1943, Louis-Ferdinand Céline wrote that the German army at the Volga was the last bulwark of Europe; after that the deluge, les Chinois à Brest. He meant not Brest-Litovsk on the Polish-Russian frontier but Brest at the westernmost tip of Brittany, of Europe. He lamented that the Germans lost the battle at Stalingrad and that their retreat westward then began (45-46).

As the various commenters noted, Céline was simply counting Russians as “Asians,” perhaps as part of a general prejudice against Slavs, perhaps because he was imaginging something like Huntington’s clash of civilizations. A pity, I suppose: I really liked the soc.history.what-if suggestion of Rich Rostrom that Céline’s words, literally understood, could best realized by a Yuan Shikai with “the character and abilities of Mustafa Kemal or maybe Lee Kuan Yew or both and the useful elements of Chiang Kai-shek” who not only founds an energetic new state but modernizes with a vengeance. (Literally “modernizes with a vengeance,” actually.)

But what’s going on now? Not only has Brest become the twin city of China’s Qingdao, but back in 2004 the French navy welcomed a Chinese flotilla around the destroyer Shenzhen led by the commander-in-chief of the East Sea Fleet. This all is part of a grimmer picture, as not only do up to a half-million people of Chinese background live in France, but many of these people are daring to become politically active. The French tourist industry is even starting to depend on the arrival of Chinese.

Céline would weep.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2008 at 3:41 pm

[LINK] “Bangladesh on the Danforth”

Nicholas Keung’s Toronto Star article “Bangladesh on the Danforth” explores the local Bangladeshi-Canadian community.

In the Mecca Restaurant, diners are enjoying Mohammad Miah’s food the traditional way, delicately digging fingertips into the aromatic biryani. The scene is a lot like Miah’s native Bangladesh, and after 25 years here, he couldn’t be happier.

“The community has grown up and we don’t have to go to the Little India to shop anymore,” laughs Miah from behind the counter. “We have everything here. This is like our Bangladeshi market back home.

“When I first got here, there was nothing Bangladeshi. Now, we’ve taken over the local businesses and we just keep growing.”

Ground-level storefronts like Miah’s – bustling grocery stores, movie rental shops, the Desh Pharmacy and businesses offering help with taxes – may be the public face of Little Bangladesh, a stretch of Danforth between Dawes Rd. and Victoria Park Ave., just south of Crescent Town.

It’s the part casual observers don’t see that makes this place really feel like home: The vertical village.

[. . .]

University of Toronto geography professor Sutama Ghosh has explored Little Bangladesh for an academic paper titled “The Production of Vertical Neighbourhoods.”

“The residents of these vertical spaces in general and Bangladeshis in particular have also transformed these residential spaces into economic spaces,” she notes.

“Among the numerous economic activities that are carried out informally, the following Bengali services are common: mosque and weekly Qur’an classes in Bengali, informal daycare facilities, at-home beauty parlours, academic tutors and Bengali language classes, informal catering services and parent-pooling for schoolchildren.”

The “forgotten cousin” of Greater Toronto’s booming South Asian community, Bangladeshis are a growing force that have transformed what was once a neighbourhood in decline. They number perhaps 50,000, a group dwarfed by other nationalities represented in Canada’s 1-million-member South Asian community.

The first wave of Bangladeshis arrived as refugees after the 1971 war of liberation from Pakistan, followed by a trickle of skilled immigrants in the 1990s. Those who have had a Western education are more likely to have arrived recently.

Besides Crescent Town, there are major pockets of Bangladeshis in Regent Park, the Eglinton Ave. and Markham Rd. area and a single apartment building in the Highway 401 and Don Mills Rd. area. Bangladeshis are the largest ethnic group in Crescent Town, accounting for more than 24 per cent of the population, up from 18 per cent in the 2001 census – and it is growing.

The community has changed a lot in the 20 years since brokerage consultant Ashraf Ali arrived.

“The earlier settlers were busy trying to survive in the new country. As the population started to grow, people started organizing themselves. When (Bangladeshi microcredit banker) Muhammad Yunus was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it really instilled pride in the community to get united, to do more,” says Ali. “We’ve been mistaken (for) Indians. Some of our businesses would be termed as Indian stores. Now we have a critical mass and we want to be more visible,” he says. “We are like a banyan tree. We’ve planted our root and are continuing to grow.”

A quick Googling reveals that this neighbourhood hosts, among other things, restaurants and newspapers and student services and a community services organization, also serving as background in a video of a street celebrating the Bangladeshi defeat of India in a recent cricket tournament.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2008 at 2:26 pm

[LINK] Behind the scenes at The Colbert Report

Via The Tin Man, I’ve come across an interesting video–provided by Talking Points’ Joshua Marshall–showing how Stephen Colbert preps his guests on The Colbert Report.

John Kerry looks to be pretty sporting.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2008 at 2:20 pm

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[LINK] Some mid-week links

  • Daniel Drezner points out that NAFTA is not responsible for the United States’ economic issues, and that the emergence of China, India, and the former Soviet bloc are much more at fault. At fault, that is, if the positive consequences of this competition are ignored.
  • Far Outliers links to an Asia Times article suggesting that China might satellitize North Korea, with South Korea’s blessing.
  • Language Hat hosts an interesting debate on gender in language, starting with a speculation that gender is disappearing from French.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 27, 2008 at 3:28 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Partners?

From The Globe and Mail, John Ibbitson’s article “Clinton and Obama vow to reopen NAFTA”.

Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would withdraw the United States from the North American free trade agreement with six months notice after becoming president, unless the deal were completely renegotiated.

The Democrats made the commitment yesterday at the final debate before next Tuesday’s Texas and Ohio primaries.

Both candidates have been highly critical of the trade deal, saying it has cost thousands of Americans their jobs.

Asked whether she would inform Canada and Mexico that the U.S. government was activating the six-month opt-out clause under which any country can leave the deal, Ms. Clinton replied: “I’ve said that I will renegotiate NAFTA, so obviously we’d have to say to Canada and Mexico that that’s exactly what we’re going to do; … we will opt out of NAFTA unless we renegotiate it.”

Ms. Clinton would demand new environmental and labour provisions as well as a new dispute-resolution mechanism, and she would eliminate the right of foreign firms to sue Washington for enacting measures to protect its workers.

All those demands would be negotiated with Canada and Mexico while the six-month opt-out clock ticked.

Talk of renegotiating an unfair and threatening NAFTA seems to be, in the United States’ political lexicon, some sort of trope for an unfair and threatening economic relationship with the world in general, somewhat like free trade for some Canadians. Still. Is it wrong for me to be suspicious of the United States’ willingness to renegotiate NAFTA fairly, especially with one partner that has a tenth of the United States’ population and the other with a third of the United States’ population and a third or so of the larger country’s GDP per capita, both of these members being much more dependent on trade with the United States than vice versa, especially in light of the United States’ demonstrated reluctance to abide by many of the rulings of the various tribunals involved in NAFTA?

Written by Randy McDonald

February 27, 2008 at 9:16 am

[URBAN NOTE] Going up?

Just a few months after the long line-ups by condominium brokers and their proxies for the new condominium towers at Yonge and Bloor, blogTO reports that another line has started for the new seventy-five story tower planned to be construction
at College Park, located at the intersection of Yonge and Gerrard even closer to the heart of downtown Toronto.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 27, 2008 at 8:53 am

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[URBAN NOTE] Wanna cheat the TTC?

At present, the Toronto Transit Commission is facing a slew of problems. Will the Ontario provincial government take it over and merge it into a wider regional transit network? How can the TTC work with other transit organizations in the region? Will there always be enough money to run it?

So, keeping all this in mind, I was a bit upset to find a posting made this morning on the toronto community called “TTC employees are lazy”. This post describes, at length, the methods that the author used to scam the TTC and travel for free for one month. Things like that will work nicely to hasten the day when the TTC decides to close down the Sheppard line to slow down the bleeding.

(By the way, if the TTC workers were anything, it probably wasn’t lazy: TTC drivers suffer from a higher rate of post-traumatic stress disorder than the police. Their fault for picking this line of work, I suppose.)

Written by Randy McDonald

February 26, 2008 at 11:59 pm