A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for March 2008

[LINK] “Fleeing doctors threaten Iraq’s health”

“Like South Africa in the ’70s, the best, and most needed, keep departing,” the one-line introduction at the Andrew Chung’s article from The Toronto Star earlier this week says, only–it seems–things are much worse than that.

It was a cool spring day in Baghdad. Dr. Rafid al-Nassar and his wife, Dr. Rasha al-Manahi, were venturing out of their house to buy groceries, when gunmen in dark balaclavas drove up in a jet-black Daewoo.

In an instant, they had him on his knees and tied his hands; then they were dragging al-Manahi to the car. Both doctors were screaming, knowing she was about to be kidnapped. Luckily he’d been able to put down their 1 1/2-year-old son in the melee.

As they were pushing her into the car, a neighbour, a former Iraqi soldier, emerged from his house, firing a gun into the air.

“He tried shooting to the sky to make them afraid, so they left us,” says the 33-year-old al-Nassar. “But they kicked her in her back and her face, and me as well.”

Then they sped off.

That was the moment, in 2005, when they realized it was time to leave Iraq. They abandoned the country, leaving everything, for Jordan, where they applied to the United Nations as refugees, and to Canada as immigrants.

Three weeks ago they arrived in Toronto, and are living in a small apartment in North York. They now have two children, and heavy hearts. “I feel sad because many people are dying every day,” al-Nassar says. “My job is to be there to help the Iraqi people but I can’t because I have a family and I don’t want them to die.”

Faced with a kind of Sophie’s choice, Al-Nasser became one of thousands of doctors and specialists to leave Iraq since the invasion, which began five years ago this week. The extremism, violence, and sectarianism that has sprung up since is well established. But one of the most tragic legacies has to be the emptying of the kinds of people Iraq needs the most.

Some 70 per cent of Iraq’s most qualified doctors have left since 2003, according to estimates of the Iraqi medical establishment. Among the highest qualified “consultant” doctors, 80 per cent are gone.

[. . .]

Canada’s diaspora is quite small. The 2006 census pegged the number at 33,545, half of them in Greater Toronto.

At the urging of friends or family, some doctors came to Canada, where they are trying to settle while balancing a sense of guilt for abandoning the country they love.

Canadian Medical Association data show there are now 139 Iraqi doctors in Canada, compared with 85 in 2003. These figures reflect only where the doctors graduated, however. Some suspect this is an underestimate because Iraqi doctors very often train in Britain or the United States.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 20, 2008 at 10:42 pm

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[LINK] “China’s new intelligentsia”

Thanks to K. for pointing me to an interesting article in Prospect Magazine, Mark Leonard‘s China’s new intelligentsia”. There, he discusses his encounters with China’s growing think-tank population and their significance for future models of political economy.

We are used to China’s growing influence on the world economy—but could it also reshape our ideas about politics and power? This story of China’s intellectual awakening is less well documented. We closely follow the twists and turns in America’s intellectual life, but how many of us can name a contemporary Chinese writer or thinker? Inside China—in party forums, but also in universities, in semi-independent think tanks, in journals and on the internet—debate rages about the direction of the country: “new left” economists argue with the “new right” about inequality; political theorists argue about the relative importance of elections and the rule of law; and in the foreign policy realm, China’s neocons argue with liberal internationalists about grand strategy. Chinese thinkers are trying to reconcile competing goals, exploring how they can enjoy the benefits of global markets while protecting China from the creative destruction they could unleash in its political and economic system. Some others are trying to challenge the flat world of US globalisation with a “walled world” Chinese version.

Paradoxically, the power of the Chinese intellectual is amplified by China’s repressive political system, where there are no opposition parties, no independent trade unions, no public disagreements between politicians and a media that exists to underpin social control rather than promote political accountability. Intellectual debate in this world can become a surrogate for politics—if only because it is more personal, aggressive and emotive than anything that formal politics can muster. While it is true there is no free discussion about ending the Communist party’s rule, independence for Tibet or the events of Tiananmen Square, there is a relatively open debate in leading newspapers and academic journals about China’s economic model, how to clean up corruption or deal with foreign policy issues like Japan or North Korea. Although the internet is heavily policed, debate is freer here than in the printed word (although one of the most free-thinking bloggers, Hu Jia, was recently arrested). And behind closed doors, academics and thinkers will often talk freely about even the most sensitive topics, such as political reform. The Chinese like to argue about whether it is the intellectuals that influence decision-makers, or whether groups of decision-makers use pet intellectuals as informal mouthpieces to advance their own views. Either way, these debates have become part of the political process, and are used to put ideas in play and expand the options available to Chinese decision-makers. Intellectuals are, for example, regularly asked to brief the politburo in “study sessions”; they prepare reports that feed into the party’s five-year plans; and they advise on the government’s white papers.

Later in the article, he suggests that a wealthy China might pioneer, in opposition to the Western model of multi-party democracy with most parties converging towards similar policies in election, a political model wherein the roles of elections are minimized and “public consultations, expert meetings and surveys [made] a central part of decision-making.”

Leonard exposes some interesting arguments, and there is a lively discussion at the magazine’s blog. I’m left wondering whether or not this decade’s talk of a supercompetitive “China model” is any different from the 1980s’ talk of a supercompetitive Japanese model (PDF format)? Still, it’s well worth reading.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 20, 2008 at 10:36 pm

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[LINK] More on Iraqi refugees and Canada

Earlier, I’d written about Canada’s apparent lack of interest in developing a large-scale plan to take in refugees from Iraq despite the precedent of Canada’s earlier admission of tens of thousands of boat people a generation ago. Today, the Canadian government has announced that it will in fact increase its intake of refugees fleeing Iraq.

Canada will accept up to 2,000 of the most vulnerable refugees from Iraq this year, more than twice as many as came in 2007, federal Immigration Minister Diane Finley announced Wednesday in Vancouver.

“What we are doing now is a very big step forward,” she told reporters at a news conference at the offices of the Immigration Services Society of British Columbia. “We can hold our heads proudly on the world stage for what we are doing now.”

The announcement came on the fifth anniversary of the U.S.-led invasion. Ms. Finley said the new initiative was in response to an urgent appeal from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the international community to accept more refugees from Iraq.

[. . .]

Those coming to Canada will be among those most at risk, according to the UNHCR criteria, Ms. Finley also said.

The United Nations agency considers factors such as whether a person was subjected to torture or severe persecution, the extreme risks posed to women and children and whether medical requirements were not being met. “We work very closely with UNHRC,” she said, adding that the international agency identifies the priorities for resettlement, not Canada.

Ms. Finley dismissed the suggestion that the Canadian government should direct its efforts to helping displaced persons where they were, in order that they could return to Iraq when the conflict subsides. The first choice is resettlement in their own country, she said. “That is why not as many Iraqi refugees have been placed in the last few years,” she said.

She also rejected the suggestion that Canada should take in more Iraqi refugees. “On a percentage basis, we are one of the top in the world,” she said. Canada has been very generous, she added. “We’ve taken a leadership role.”

The United Nations agency has reported that more than two million Iraqis have fled to neighbouring countries over the past five years. Canada was among the top three countries for accepting refugees from Iraq last year. Canada resettled about 3,000 Iraqis during the first four years of the conflict.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 20, 2008 at 4:38 pm

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[LINK] Some population links

  • The Exchange Morning Post reports that in 2004, 1.1 million Canadians lived in other OECD countries, mostly those like the United Kingdom and Poland with long-established migration links.
  • The Taipei Times announces that the Taiwanese government is trying to boost the country’s very low TFR. Curiously enough, not only does Taiwan host four hundred thousand foreign spouses (my guess: overwhelmingly women), but more than one child in ten is born to “cross national families.”
  • The Miami Herald carries the news that 2007 was the second year in a row in which Cuba’s population declined, thanks to a below-replacement fertility, the rising death rate characteristic of an aging population, and emigration (nearly 5% of the country’s population has left since 1996).
  • Over in Spain, Romanian immigrant Costel Busuioc has won what seems to be the Spanish equivalent of American Idol.
  • The head of the International Organization for Migration has suggested that the fixed-term work contracts that the Gulf states extend to migrants is something that the West should copy.
  • Finally, Sweden’s English-language The Local explores the phenomenon of Dutch migration to Sweden in the fetchingly titled article “Dutch ditching dykes for Dalarna”.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 19, 2008 at 6:25 pm

[LINK] “En Catalogne, devenue terre d’immigration, les étrangers s’intègrent par la langue”

Over at Le Monde, Marion Van Renterghem has an interesting article (“En Catalogne, devenue terre d’immigration, les étrangers s’intègrent par la langue” “In Catalonia, a land of immigration, strangers integrate through language”) that takes a look at the travails of immigrant parents in the small town of Salt as they deal with a firmly Catalanophone school administration.

A l’école primaire La Farga, à Salt, les réunions de parents sont compliquées à organiser. Dans cette banlieue de Gérone où les étrangers affluent, l’école accueille 80 % d’enfants immigrés (100 % si l’on compte les Espagnols non catalans). Les parents ne parlent que l’arabe marocain ou le berbère, l’une des sept langues de Gambie (bambara, wolof, fola, madega, sara…), le chinois, l’urdu du Pakistan, le roumain, éventuellement le français et au mieux le castillan s’ils viennent d’Equateur, de Bolivie ou d’autres régions d’Espagne.

Les instituteurs, eux, ne s’adressent à eux qu’en catalan. Dura lex, sed lex : dans les établissements publics de la région, l’enseignement se fait exclusivement en catalan (les élèves apprennent le castillan comme une langue étrangère). Lors des réunions, le père marocain tente de deviner quelques mots de catalan qu’il traduit en français à son voisin sénégalais, lequel l’explique en bambara à sa voisine gambienne… “C’est assez bruyant, convient la directrice de l’école, Gemma Boix. En général, ces réunions se terminent dans le langage des signes, ou en faisant des dessins au tableau.”

En Catalogne, région crispée sur sa singularité “nationale” et que le succès économique a conduit à devenir la communauté la plus riche d’Espagne en nombre d’étrangers, la cohésion commence par la langue. Le gouvernement de Catalogne prépare une “loi d’accueil” qui prévoit d’obliger les municipalités à diffuser des cours sur la connaissance de la société et de la langue catalanes. Oriol Amoros, secrétaire pour l’immigration, insiste : “Le catalan est la langue de la mobilité sociale. Le parler, c’est un signe de prestige.”

Below, my rough translation into English.

At Farga primary school in Salt, parent-teacher meetings are difficult to organize. In this immigrant-attracting suburb of Girona, 80% of the students are immigrants (100% if one counts the non-Catalan Spaniards). Parents speak only Moroccan Arabic or Berber , one of the seven languages of Gambia (Bambara, Wolof, Fola, Madega, Sara…), Chinese, the Urdu of Pakistan, Romanian, eventually French and at best Castilian if they come from Ecuador, Bolivia or other areas of Spain.

The teachers only speak to them in Catalan. Dura lex, sed lex: in the publicly-owned establishments of the area, teaching is done exclusively in Catalan (the pupils learn Castilian as a foreign language). During the meetings, the Moroccan father tries to pick out some words of Catalan which he translates into French for his Senegalese neighbor, which explains it in Bambara with his Gambian neighbor… “It is rather noisy,” says the principal, Gemma Boix. “In general, these meetings finish in sign language, or in sketches on the chalkboard.”

In Catalonia, an area driven by its singularity as a “nation” singularity with an economic success that has made it the biggest attand that economic success resulted in becoming the community with the largest nubmer of immigrants in all of Spain, cohesion start with the language. The government of Catalonia is preparing a “law of reception” which envisages to oblige the municipalities to organize courses aimed at promoting knowledge of Catalobnian society and the Catalan language. Oriol Amoros, secretary for immigration, insists that “Catalan is the language of the social mobility. Speaking it is a sign of prestige.”

The ongoing Catalanization of Catalonia’s education system is part of a broader set of language policies maintained for the past thirty years which have had the aim of promoting the use of the Catalan language. These policies have succeeded: Of all of the regional langauges of Europe, Catalan is easily the healthiest with a growing number of speakers and broad use at every level of society. Occitanophones can only dream of having similar status. Incorporating the recent wave of immigrants from beyond Spain does fit with John Rex’s argument that encouraging knowledge of Catalan among immigrants so that they can participate in wider Catalonian society is a vital task, just as encouraging fluency in various world languages (Spanish, French, English) is essential for a globalized Catalonia. Here’s to hoping for this project’s success.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 19, 2008 at 6:15 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Canada recognizes Kosovo

On the same day Japan recognized Kosovo earlier today, Canada followed suit, Foreign Minister Maxine Bernier making it clear that the Canadian government doesn’t see the particular route by which Kosovo gained independence as a precedent for Québec or any other secessionist territory.

Canada on Tuesday formally recognized Kosovo’s independence, but stressed it was not setting a precedent to be exploited by the Quebec separatist movement.

The move swiftly triggered an angry response from Belgrade which recalled its ambassador to Ottawa in protest, as world powers called for calm after some of the worst violence since Kosovo unilaterally declared independence from Serbia last month.

“Today, we joined the international community and recognized Kosovo as a new state,” Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier told public broadcaster CBC, a day after Serbs clashed with UN police in the town of Kosovska Mitrovica.

However, Bernier made it clear that Kosovo’s new nation status was a “unique case” which would have no bearing on the aspirations of Quebec nationalists to split from the rest of Canada.

“As the declaration issued by Kosovo’s parliament also makes clear, the unique circumstances which have led to Kosovo’s independence mean it does not constitute any kind of precedent,” Bernier said in a statement.

“Statements made by other countries recognizing Kosovo’s independence have echoed this point.”

“You cannot compare that with Quebec,” he told CBC.

Serbia’s ambassador to Canada, historian and writer Dušan T. Bataković (personal homepage, Wikipedia), has been recalled in line with Serbia’s policy of withdrawing ambassadors from any country which recognizes Kosovar independence. It’s worth noting back in 1998, Bataković came up with a plan for cantonizing Kosovo that would have involved the attachment of the lands of monasteries (including lands lost to land reform after 1941, disproportionately distributed to Albanians) to ethnic Serb cantons and the division of political power 50:50 between Kosovo’s two major ethnic groups in all of Kosovo’s major cities. (Elsewhere, he said that Serbia should avoid “the completely outdated concept of administrative decision making by simple majority vote.”)

Written by Randy McDonald

March 18, 2008 at 8:07 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Arthur C. Clarke, rest in peace

So far, five people on my friends list have noted that Arthur C. Clarke has died at the age of 90.

We’ll miss him.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 18, 2008 at 7:37 pm

[MUSIC] Björk, Volta

The ongoing riots in Tibet have made the possibility of Björk having anything to do with the People’s Republic of China ever again after her association of “Declare Independence” with Tibet in Shanghai even more unlikely. This is a pity for the Chinese, since her latest album Volta is quite listenable, her best album since the difficult but compelling Homogenic. Very much a revisiting of some of the themes of Post, Volta manages to avoid being little more than a remix album thanks to some very interesting creative collaborations. “Declare Independence”, with its unusual percussion and shouted lyrics and revisiting of the theme of “Army of Me” remains the standout track for me, but the duet “The Dull Flame of Desire” with Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons fame is an interesting sort of torch song and “Earth Intruders” is just so wonderfully catchy.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 18, 2008 at 2:17 pm

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[LINK] “Lazare Ponticelli, France’s Last Veteran of World War I, Is Dead at 110”

Via The New York Times, Douglas Martin’s article “Lazare Ponticelli, France’s Last Veteran of World War I, Is Dead at 110”.

Lazare Ponticelli, who outlived more than 8.4 million other soldiers who fought under the French flag in World War I to become France’s last living veteran of the war intended to end all wars, died Wednesday at his home in Kremlin-Bicêtre, a Paris suburb. He was 110.

Fewer than two dozen World War I veterans are thought to be alive. Six have died this year, including the last German veteran and the next-to-last French one.

Survival in itself is not necessarily an achievement, and Mr. Ponticelli said in an interview with Reuters last year that he “never knew how I got to this point.”

He was always emphatic that the glory belonged to the more than 1.3 million French soldiers who were killed. Last week Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates honored the war’s survivors, including the last American veteran to serve overseas, Frank Buckles, 107.

By contrast, the German government paid no attention to the death on Jan. 1 of its last veteran, Erich Kästner.

When Jacques Chirac was president of France, he vowed to honor the last veteran with a state funeral, but Mr. Ponticelli fought the idea, saying it would be an insult to all the men who died without commemoration.

But after the death in January of the only other French veteran of the war, Louis de Cazenave, also 110, Mr. Ponticelli agreed to a smaller ceremony to honor all veterans. “No racket, no procession,” he specified.

Lazare Ponticelli was born on Dec. 7, 1897, near the northern Italian village of Bettola. Poverty drove him to leave the village alone to go to France, which he considered “paradise,” according to Agence France-Presse.

He worked in Paris as a chimney sweep and paper boy, and in 1914 he lied about his age to join the French Foreign Legion. He was the last veteran of the legion to have fought in World War I.

He was soon at the front line in the forest of Argonne, where the French were hampered by not having trenches. The Germans did. He also fought at Verdun. Reuters reported that he once rescued a wounded German and a wounded French soldier caught between the front lines.

At an Armistice Day ceremony last year, he said he had only one thought during combat: “We’re all going to die.”

When Italy entered the war in 1915, Mr. Ponticelli was drafted into the Italian Army and fought against the Austrians in Tyrol, where he was wounded in the face.

He returned to France after the war and started a piping company with two of his brothers, which now employs 4,000 people, Agence France-Presse reported. He became a French citizen in 1939.

[. . .]

Mr. Ponticelli’s view of war was dispirited. “You shoot at men who are fathers,” he once said, according to an obituary by Reuters. “War is completely stupid.” He kept his many war medals in a shoe box.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 17, 2008 at 11:59 pm

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[LINK] Some language links

  • The decision of German Chancellor Angela Merkel to use German in her upcoming address to the Israeli Knesset has angered many Israelis who don’t want the language of the Nazis used in their natinal parliament.
  • A letter-writer to the Jamaica Gleaner is critical of the idea of identifying Jamaican Patois as a language separate from English on the grounds that Jamaican speech is defined by its intimate relationship to the English language.
  • Variety reports that the Ukrainian government is excluding the import of films with Russian dubbing and Ukrainian subtitles, perhaps partly as an effort to promote the use of Ukrainian in movies and create a Ukrainian dubbing industry. This creates obvious conflicts for the half of the Ukrainian population that uses Russian as its main language.
  • AFP reports that English is by far the most popular foreign language selected by students in Estonia, far outpacing Russian and German never mind the distant fourth of French. Many Estonians are worried that without more knowledge of other foreign languages, Estonia could be marginalized in Europe.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 17, 2008 at 2:23 pm