A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for April 2008

[MUSIC] Boney M, “Rasputin”

I was dancing at Zipperz very early Monday morning with Jerry when Boney M‘s 1978 hit song “Rasputin” came on. The dance floor erupted in cheers.

I first heard “Rasputin” in Grade Canada’s intervention in the Russian Civil War and the Winnipeg General Strike of 1919. The charismatic Grigori Rasputin, Mr. Morrison said, helped contribute to the breakdown of the Russian Empire and to the rise of socialist radicalism all over the world, including Canada, hence his choice of this background music.

He wasn’t half-wrong. As pointed out at the BBC’s h2g2 site, while the awkwardly phrased the song’s lyrics were actually reasonably accurate.

There lived a certain man in Russia long ago
He was big and strong, in his eyes a flaming glow
Most people looked at him with terror and with fear
But to Moscow chicks he was such a lovely dear
He could preach the bible like a preacher
Full of ecstacy and fire
But he also was the kind of teacher
Women would desire

[. . .]

He ruled the Russian land and never mind the czar
But the kasachok he danced really wunderbar
In all affairs of state he was the man to please
But he was real great when he had a girl to squeeze
For the queen he was no wheeler dealer
Though she’d heard the things he’d done
She believed he was a holy healer
Who would heal her son

The song is pure cheese, of course, with the aforementioned awkward lyrics and the Boney M choruses and the Frank Farian disco music which, it turns out, was pirated from the folk songs of the Ottoman Empire. Some of the characteristic melodies of “Rasputin” are recognizable in Eartha Kitt‘s “Uska Dara.”

Still, why shouldn’t Farian have done this? If anything, our era is one of bricolage. What’s wrong with enjoying whatever products we enjoy? It is interesting how Boney M makes use of southeastern European/Anatolian folk music to describe Russia. The Orientalization of Russia, perhaps?

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2008 at 7:06 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , ,

[URBAN NOTE] Cowgirl

I passed a woman using a pay phone midtown last week. I was disturbed by the sight of her. She was dressed expensively and I assume fashionably, and she had what I think was a nice hairdo, but she looked painfully thin, with a pinched face, stick-like arms, and a waist that I’m sure I could wrap my two hands around and cover completely. I couldn’t help but wonder if she was cold all the time.

– Are you going to the rodeo? she asked her telephonic correspondent.

– Are you going to the rodeo? she asked again.

Finally, frustrated.

– Are you going to the rodeo? You know, the cowboy thing.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2008 at 3:28 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Changing Canadian economic balances

The Canadian economic landscape is shaking. From the Canadian Press.

Newfoundland and Labrador, considered for generations the poor cousin of Confederation, heralded a new era of economic independence Tuesday with a budget that delivers a substantial surplus and promises for the first time to pull it off the list of “have-not” provinces.

The new economic strength of the once hard-up province is fuelled by the soaring price of oil and carries meaning that goes beyond numbers for many Newfoundlanders.

There’s pride involved.

“We were always the poor cousin of Confederation,” Finance Minister Tom Marshall told a news conference before tabling the budget.

“Many of you, I guess like me, when you travelled the country, you would hear comments about people in this province … being on welfare and other provinces having to provide us with revenues. Those days are over.”

From Canwest.

Ontario is only two years away, and maybe less, from becoming a have-not province, TD Bank warned Tuesday.

And the added cost paying equalization payments to the giant have-not province could be the straw that pushes the federal government back into deficit for the first time in more than a decade, TD economist Derek Burleton, one of the author’s of the report said in an interview.

“This would really add to the cost of the program,” Burleton said. “There’s no doubt that … it’s one more factor that could tip the federal government into deficit down the road.”

Ontario is projected to qualify for equalization payments of $400 million in the 2010-11 fiscal year and $1.3 billion in fiscal year 2011-12 10-11, according to TD’s economic and revenue projections.

Based on the data to date, Ontario would not qualify for a payment next year but that could easily change, it added.

[. . .]

The increase in commodity prices, which has boosted the revenue-raising ability of other provinces, especially in the West, plus the inclusion of Alberta’s fiscal capacity under the newly reformed equalization rules, have combined to lower the bar for qualifying for equalization payments, it explained.

At the same time, commodity-importing Ontario has been hurt by the commodities boom, which has also boosted the value of the Canadian dollar, making its manufactured exports more expensive and less competitive.

“It is not a coincidence that Ontario’s recent slippage in terms of relative standard of living has occurred in lockstep with the rise in the loonie, soaring energy prices and heightened competition, all of which have created a perfect storm for manufacturers,” the report observed. “However, a closer look reveals that the relative decline is not so much a story of Ontario weakness as it is of booming economic strength in Canada’s commodity-based economies.”

And it’s not that Ontario’s living standard, measured as GDP per capita, has fallen but that the three per cent annual increase since 2002 has not kept up with the five to eight per cent gains in the four western provinces, and what has been an even greater double-digit annual gain in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Since 2002 Ontario’s GDP per capita, a measure of living standards, has fallen from seven per cent above the national average and second place among the provinces behind Alberta, to what last year was two per cent below national average and fourth place among the provinces.

Out-migration is still continuing from a Newfoundland where oil wealth is distributing unevenly, and Ontario’s will still be the largest economy of any province. Even so, this all is an unprecedented power shift in the economy of Canada, for nearly a century after Confederation dominated by the rich and industrialized central Canadian provinces of Ontario and Québec.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2008 at 3:22 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , ,

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Haiti’s problems and migration

Via Reuters, Joseph Guyler Delva’s article “Haitian food crisis sending refugees to the sea”.

Acute hunger and the rising cost of living could send a new wave of boat people from Haiti, where rising food prices set off deadly riots two weeks ago and drove the prime minister from office, officials and analysts say.

In the small town of Montrouis, about 50 miles (80 km) north of Port-au-Prince, desperate Haitians say they will seize the first opportunity to take a boat toward the U.S. coast to escape the misery that plagues Haiti, the Western Hemisphere’s poorest country.

“I will leave with the next boat going to Miami because I can no longer resist this hunger,” Marcel Jonassaint, 34, told Reuters on Tuesday as he sat barefoot near the dock in Montrouis, throwing a handful of small rocks into the ocean.

“I have four children and I don’t have a job and everything is expensive, even for those who are working,” Jonassaint said. “So what do you want me to do?”

Montrouis is a coastal village, overlooking the island of La Gonave, reputed as a key launching point for migrant boats.

“I left earlier this year. Our boat was intercepted in the high seas, but I will try again,” said 29-year-old Rachel Chavanne. “I know some people, like a cousin of mine, who had a successful trip there.

“My turn will also come one day,” she said in her blue dress, with a smile on her face.

[. . .]

The U.S. Coast Guard has intercepted 972 Haitian migrants at sea since Oct. 1, compared with 376 during the same period last year. But the numbers typically fluctuate and it’s impossible to link any spike in the numbers to any one event such as the recent food riots, Coast Guard Petty Officer Barry Bena said.

“It peaks at certain points and there’s months on end when we get no Haitian vessels at all,” he said.

Pierre said her office is doing its best to persuade suffering Haitians to stay home, but “they believe the only alternative left for them is to leave.”

Migration office employees have been sent to poor, seaside neighborhoods to warn people how risky it is to take to the sea in rustic vessels, but they reply by giving examples of friends and relatives they knew made it to Miami.

“We even show them pictures of sharks eating people, but they would tell us they know many others who reached U.S soil and who are now sending money to relatives left in Haiti,” said Pierre.

The only thing surprising about all this is that this sort of mass emigration hasn’t happened on this scale earlier. Leaving aside entirely Haiti’s long history of catastrophic political misrule, the Haitian economy has never done well. Under the French, Haiti’s economy was dominated by sugar cane plantations which depended on the cruel exploitation of slaves. After independence, Haiti quickly became divided between a relatively advantaged urban population and a rural peasantry. The second half of the 20th century saw Haiti stagnate, with successive enclaved industries (the assembly plants of the 1970s and 1980s, the tourism boom aborted after AIDS appeared) failing to boost the overall economy while incompetent regimes managed to promote overall economic decline. As Manuel Orozco’s 2006 paper “Understanding the remittance economy in Haiti” (PDF format) points out, this sad economic history is responsible for the fact that something like a billion dollars American–more than one-quarter the size of Haiti’s GDP–are transferred to Haitians by immigrants, the total value of these remittances growing rapidly.

I’ve written in the past about Canada’s disregard for Iraqi refugees. The problems of Haitian migrants equally deserve exploration. Haitians have little lilelihood of a prosperous life in Haiti, and Haiti itself doesn’t seem to have very many long-term economic prospects apart from a superabundance of inexpensive labour. Sharply limiting the influx of Haitian workers to North American and other, more prosperous, economies and labour markets might protect the income of citizens who find themselves at the end of the labour market, but with certainty it also represents a catastrophe for Haitians, who if nothing else would benefit from the expanded income that a greatly enlarged flow of workers would bring. Who knows? Perhaps returning migrants might bring back the sorts of skills that could jump-start the Haitian economy.

It goes almost without saying that this won’t happen. Québec’s inclined to limit the inflow of unskilled immigrants, the United States is building its defensive perimeter around its southern border, and raising the topic Sarkozy’s France might at best be taken as a comedy routine. It also goes without saying that Haitians are going to continue to risk death and terrible suffering for a chance at a better life. Paul Farmer once wrote that Haiti belonged to an exploitative West Atlantic system of trade and migration. It’s worrisome that Haiti seems to be dropping entirely out of that system into something like complete isolation.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2008 at 10:11 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , , ,

[URBAN NOTE] “The street with soul”

In The Sunday Star, journalist Brent Ledger writes about Yonge Street, the street that might lie at Toronto’s heart, and how he fears that continued development might literally efface its past.

Before Church St. “arrived” in the late 1980s, Yonge St. was the centre of gay Toronto and home to bars like the Quest, the St. Charles and the Parkside.

Those landmarks will live again, however briefly, during the “Yonge St. is Flaming” tour next weekend, one of 50-odd looks at Toronto’s history scheduled to take place during an annual ode to urbanist Jane Jacobs. (See janeswalk.net for details).

But what about the future?

With massive condo towers announced for both Yonge and Bloor and Yonge and Gerrard, and Ryerson planning to put a library (a library!) on the pivotal site of Sam The Record Man, I wonder how much longer my favourite street has got.

It’s not like I object to towers in general or the siting of these towers in particular. Allowing Ryerson, an institution with an alarming record for ugliness, to expand onto Yonge St. is depressing, but the condos will replace nothing more exciting than a parking lot and some forgettable small buildings, so no great loss there.

What worries me more is the signal these developments send, the message that the street is – oh hideous phrase – “open for business.” Meaning available for demolition.

We’ve already lost University Ave. to oversized institutions, Bloor St. to homogenized high-end shopping, and Bay St. to condos (was there ever a deader strip of street?).

Can Yonge St. be far behind?

[. . .]

Anchored by Morningstar at the north and Monster Records at the south, the 10-unit block at 664-682 Yonge shows what the street does best. Detailed enough to interest the eye (check out those dapper dormers) but not so massive as to overwhelm the street, it’s a comforting presence that’s open to all comers, respectable or not. This – and not the bureaucratically imposed developments to the south – is the real Yonge St.

If you’re interested to see images of Yonge Street, go to the very nice Toronto images website boldts.net, start at the pictures of the Yonge and Queen’s Quay area, and head north.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2008 at 5:24 pm

[META] Blogroll Additions

For obvious reasons, I’ve added the Spacing Toronto urban studies blog and Toronto transport maven Steve Munro’s website to the sidebar.

As always, suggestions for further additions are welcome and appreciated.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2008 at 5:13 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , , , , ,

[URBAN NOTE] After the strike

I’m still annoyed by the pointless rudeness of the TTC worker who decided to be pointlessly rude to me the night of the strike. I’m considerably more upset about the union’s inadvertant decision to separate me from the CPAP machine that I use to treat my sleep apnea at home, ensuring that I’d wake up Saturday morning with the hours of headachey disorientation that I have been so happy to escape. If I had been forced to make my commute this morning in the light spring rain, I–and who knows how many others?–might have looked kindly upon radical measures like strikebreaking or a spite-driven privatization of the TTC.

The TTC workers are fortunate that this didn’t come to pass. As Reuters reported, the TTC workers’ union obeyed the Provincial Parliament’s order to go back to work, with full service resuming by this morning. This has done absolutely nothing to abort the nice movement afoot to declare the TTC an essential service, preventing its workers from going on strike in exchange for rapid binding mediation.

The union leadership, isolated after its members ignored a recommendation to ratify the latest contract, will meet with veteran arbitrator Kevin Burkett to arrange new terms. Union leader Bob Kinnear was unavailable throughout the weekend.

But already the union’s traditional allies, including Mayor David Miller, are accepting that the status quo cannot remain.

Mr. McGuinty has said he will consider any request from the city to make the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service and Mr. Miller’s own position has shifted in the past two days.

The mayor said yesterday that he does not want to take a definitive stand on whether Toronto should follow Montreal’s lead by depriving the city’s transit employees of the right ever to walk off the job again. But he has agreed to put the matter on the agenda at council’s regular monthly meeting tomorrow, which marks a shift from his earlier resistance to the idea.

“It is a difficult issue and that is why it requires some thought,” he said. “You should not react in a knee-jerk fashion and I am confident council will do it in a thoughtful way.”>

One more thing. A commenter at Torontoist linked to statistics from the City of Toronto which provide the average hourly wage rate for different occupational groups in Toronto.

Cashiers $8.65
Truck Drivers $17.90
Delivery and Courier Service Drivers $12.95
Sales, Marketing and Advertising Managers $24.65
Chemical Engineers $27.05
Civil Engineers $24.85
Head Nurses and Supervisors $24.27
Secondary School Teachers $27.60
Social Workers $26.05
Crane Operators $24.40
TTC Drivers and Collectors: $26.58.

Further, the TTC workers’ union has a website, worthamillion.ca.

Really? After the workers rejected a contract that would have promised them a 3% wage increase even as Ontario is entering a recession?

That’s a bit of gall, don’t you think?

Written by Randy McDonald

April 28, 2008 at 3:28 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , ,

[BRIEF NOTE] One more thing

I’m sure that other people in Toronto have thought of the example of Ronald Reagan’s treatment of the 1981 air traffic controllers strike.

Say what you will about Reagan; much can and should be said. One thing that he did do superbly was caling bluffs.

(Obviously, any parallels with other, similar phenomenons are entirely intentional.)

Written by Randy McDonald

April 26, 2008 at 7:21 pm

[URBAN NOTE] A-biking I go

I’m very, very thankful that Jerry had my bicycle conveniently stashed, saving me what surely would have been hours fo commuting by foot around Toronto. It was half an hour to my workplace. Surprisingly, it took me just another half-hour to get to my home–the TTC usually gets me there in 40-45 minutes.

I’m somewhat unaware of the conventions of Toronto biking, although the lack of hand signals and the tendencies to bike against traffic and/or on the sidewalk are disturbingly common. I’d liek to thank that I’m relatively conscientious, since (among other things) I wear myn helmet and eve know the cycling hand signs. I was pleased to see that car drivers were generally quite respectful, with the exception of a single car that came up within two or three feet of me. When I caught up to the vehicle at a stop light, I looked at the two old ladies inside, who looked at me with expressions close to that of horror. I waved back at them with a pleasantly tight smile that I’m sure they deserved in their venerable old age.

Now, off again. White T-shirts are probably best for visibility, right?

Written by Randy McDonald

April 26, 2008 at 7:18 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , ,

[URBAN NOTE] The TTC is on strike

The TTC is on strike.

Subways, streetcars and buses were taken out of service at midnight after TTC workers rejected a tentative contract settlement.

But the strike could be over by Monday as the provincial government scrambles to put together back-to-work legislation that could be passed as early as Sunday.

Government House Leader Michael Bryant has been advising Progressive Conservatives and New Democrats that an order in council will be passed today, clearing the way for tomorrow’s session.

A draft of the bill should be available today to give MPPs in all three parties time to vet it.

The Sunday passage of the law would guarantee that Monday morning commuters will not be inconvenienced.

Within minutes of the contract being rejected, the provincial labour ministry announced mediators were calling union officials and the TTC back to the bargaining table at 1 p.m. today.

The tentative deal was rejected by 65 per cent of the 9,000 members of the Amalgamated Transit Union, including operating and maintenance employees.

“We have assessed the situation and decided that we will not expose our members to the dangers of assaults from angry and irrational members of the public,” said union president Bob Kinnear.

The union has been in a legal strike position since April 1 but had promised 48 hours’ notice of a service withdrawal.

Kinnear said union members had faced increased threats from passengers, despite giving the notice. This time, he said, they wouldn’t be so generous.

I should be straight here: I didn’t feel very friendly towards the burly TTC worker who was standing outside of the Wellesley station at 12:45 am last night, yelling to everyone that there was no TTC service and telling me to listen to the radio when I asked what was going on. But were those sorts of feelings only the cause of the union’s surprise announcement, or also an effect?

On the streets, TTC riders and drivers alike were caught by surprise.

In the minutes before midnight word of the strike spread among TTC riders unsure of how they’d get home.

“Fuck TTC, Fuck TTC!” chanted one group of disgruntled riders outside the Davisville subway station.

Minutes earlier, Al Evans, a bus driver, had pulled the 97A bus out of the depot and embarked north on Yonge Street.

“No one’s told me anything about a strike,” he said, as he began to radio central command.

“I hope there isn’t one because it’s Friday night and people got to get home.”

Mr. Evans said he voted no to the agreement because he had friends who were maintenance workers, and it didn’t look out for their interests.

John Conley, 32, was riding eastbound on the Bloor-Danforth line when he heard the news. He uses the subway every day to go to work at Yonge and Front as a bank manager. The only alternative he has to get there from his Avenue Road and St. Clair Avenue home is to walk.

As has been pointed out above and doubtless will be pointed out elsewhere, shutting down TTC service in the middle of a Friday night is really not the best way to earn brownie points with anyone.

blogTO has coverage, while Torontoist has tagged its ongoing coverage of the strike. toronto‘s post contains much more heat than light.

On the plus side, I no longer have any reason not to bike or walk to work.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 26, 2008 at 10:07 am

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , ,