A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for June 2008

[BRIEF NOTE] Happy 100th anniversary, Tunguska event!

Multiple people on my friends list have observed that today, the 30th of June 2008, marks the one hundredth anniversary of the Tunguska event.

At around 7:17 a.m. local time, Tungus natives and Russian settlers in the hills northwest of Lake Baikal observed a column of bluish light, nearly as bright as the Sun, moving across the sky. About 10 minutes later, there was a flash and a sound similar to artillery fire. Eyewitnesses closer to the explosion reported the sound source moving east to north. The sounds were accompanied by a shock wave that knocked people off their feet and broke windows hundreds of miles away. The majority of eyewitnesses reported only the sounds and the tremors, and not the sighting of the explosion. Eyewitness accounts differ as to the sequence of events and their overall duration.

The explosion registered on seismic stations across Eurasia. Although the Richter scale was not developed until 1935, in some places the shock wave would have been equivalent to an earthquake of 5.0 on the Richter scale[citation needed]. It also produced fluctuations in atmospheric pressure strong enough to be detected in Great Britain. Over the next few weeks, night skies were aglow such that one could read in their light, from dust suspended in the stratosphere by the explosion. In the United States, the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and the Mount Wilson Observatory observed a decrease in atmospheric transparency that lasted for several months, also from the suspended dust.

William K. Hartmann’s attempted reconstruction of the event and David Darling’s encyclopedia entry are both worth reading. Each comes to the same conclusion: The Tunguska event was not the product of the collision of a black hole and/or an alien spacecraft with the Earth, but almost certainly the product of the collision of some sort of cometary fragment with north-central Siberia.

To many, this event – the biggest space impact of modern times – serves as a reminder of the continuing threat posed to our planet by objects from space.

If the Tunguska “impactor” had exploded over a major city such as London, the death toll would have been up in the millions.

“Everything within the M25 would have been wiped out,” Dr Mark Bailey, director of the Armagh Observatory in Northern Ireland, told BBC News.

The effects of Tunguska were not limited to Siberia. In London, it was possible to read newspapers and play cricket outdoors at midnight. This is now thought to have been due to sunlight scattered by dust from the fireball’s plume.

The Russian mineralogist Leonid Kulik visited the region in 1921, interviewed local eyewitnesses and soon realised that a meteorite must have been the cause.

Some sources suggest that, had the object arrived 4h47m later, it would have collided with St. Petersburg, destroying that city with very major consequences for world history.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2008 at 8:21 pm

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with , ,

[NEWS] A Monday Miscellany

  • Radio Netherlands has a brief report on identity issues among the “East Indies Dutch,” perhaps more widely known as Dutch Eurasians (in the Anglophone world) or Indos. Descended from centuries of Dutch-Indonesian intermarriage, the hundreds of thousands of Dutch Eurasians were relocated to their nominal homeland after independence.
  • Michael Tutton, writing for the Canadian Press, warns of the major economic problems facing Atlantic Canada as the population ages more rapidly than the Canadian average, not least because of economically-motivated out migration. How will the Atlantic Canadian economy and public services fare?
  • The Payvand takes a look at the various statistical indicators of Canada’s growing Iranian-Canadian community.
  • Reuters covers the centenary of Japanese immigration to Brazil. This immigration has produced a community of a million Japanese-Brazilians, many of whom have since emigrated to Japan in search of work.
  • AFP reports on East Timor’s exceptionally high birth rate, with a reported TFR of 7.7 that’s one of the highest in the world.
  • The Globe and Mail‘s Marcus Gee writes about the various challenges imposed on women in the Japanese workforce, even though the demographic impact of excluding or marginalizing women would be severe.
  • The Financial Times‘s Bertrand Benoit writes about the problems faced by Germany in integrating immigrants that it nver expected to have. The extended conversations with a Ghanaian and a Vietnamese are worth reading.
  • Finally, the Economist seems to be uncommonly hopeful about the fate of the Sorbs, Slavs living in what was once East Germany.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 30, 2008 at 8:10 pm

[FORUMS] What sorts of (relatively harmless) GLBT stereotyping are you familiar with?

While Toronto’s approaching the climax of its Pride celebrations (see the events’s official site and its Wikipedia entry for more), something struck me via the Pet Shop Boys‘ 1993 hit “Can You Forgive Her?”.

Other interpretations of the song may exist, but to me it seems pretty evident that the song’s lyrics deal with an unhappy young man who turns out to be closeted, a condition described with some sympathy by a not-unsympathetic narrator addressing a young man and with little sympathy by a girlfriend who’s using her suspicions as a weapon over him. The first sign that this isn’t just a standard unhappy relationship comes from a couplet in the middle of the song: “She’s made you some kind of laughing stock/’Cause you dance to disco and you don’t like rock.” The famous association between gays and disco lives, perhaps rightly so. *

Another sort of association with non-heterosexual males is, as expressed by Toronto Star columnist Antonia Zerbisias describes in her latest column about her gay stepson, is the assumption that they often possess a high level of cultural refinement, an ability to access and use cultural capital with ease, to know what to do, where to do it, and who to do it in front of. Another association, another stereotype with (perhaps) some truth to it.

What stereotypes regarding GLBT are you personally familiar with? I’m only familiar with Anglophone North America because, well, save for a couple of days on Montréal I’ve only had direct experience of Anglophone North America. Are stereotypes outside this cultural realm different, are they the same, are they converging towards one set of stereotypes or another? Say so in the comments.

As always, please be polite and respectful of fellow commenters. Anonymous posting is also quite fine.

* I’m not quite sure I understand why they made this association. Electronically synthesized popular music genres that descend directly from disco have consistently been quite popular to mass audiences outside of the United States (and likely Canada). To name a single example, Kylie Minogue’s latest album bombed in the United States (and likely Canada) notwithstanding the reality that she has been consistently a major star for a couple of decades in Europe and Australia. The Pet Shop Boys themselves have had many more hits in Britain and Europe generally than in the United States (and likely Canada) since the late 1980s or so. That said, I’m entirely not that I understand how that couplet is supposed to work as some kind of cue to non-heterosexuality if disco and like forms are popular, at least outside of North America. After all, it’s Europe that has ongoing parties featuring house music on Ibiza. Just saying.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 29, 2008 at 3:41 am

[URBAN NOTE] Yonge Street

I’ve just discovered that, for the past few weeks, National Post journalist Peter Kuitenbrouwer has been writing a series of articles about storied Yonge Street, starting with (on the 3rd of June) with a visit to the village of Holland Landing where Yonge Street begins (or ends) and ending on the 26th at the waterfront where Yonge Street begins (or ends).

It’s a nice little series; you should read it.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2008 at 11:54 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] The Franco-Ontarians

Language, as CBC noted, can still be as controversial in modern-day Ontario as in Québec.

The Russell Chamber of Commerce has begun collecting funds to fight a new regulation that requires signs in the municipality to be displayed in both English and French.

“We are prepared to go all the way to the Supreme Court if we have to,” said chamber president Corey Butler, after the township passed the controversial bylaw amendment at a council meeting Monday night.

The amendment, which went into effect immediately, was passed by a vote of 3-2 after its third and final reading, before a crowd of 300 residents who were sharply divided over the issue.

New business owners must now get a permit from the municipality to put up signs, and those who don’t comply with the bilingual requirement will face fines.

The debate over bilingual signs started before Christmas, when a group representing local francophones complained about the lack of French signs at the Beer Store in Embrun. Supporters have argued businesses need to recognize both the francophone and anglophone populations of the township.

Opponents, including the Russell and Embrun chambers of commerce, argued the bilingual requirement infringes on freedom of expression and gives customers the impression that a business provides service in both official languages, even if that is not the case.

At the council meeting, residents donated $2,000 to the Russell Chamber of Commerce to help with legal fees for a possible challenge.

Mayor Ken Hill, who cast the deciding vote, said the township has done its research, obtained legal and constitutional opinions and won’t back down.

“If someone challenges our bylaw, we certainly are going to defend ourselves,” he said.

Area resident Howard Galganov sent out 6,000 flyers last week asking people to boycott French-owned businesses over the issue.

Meanwhile, the Russell Township Residents Association said it is willing to work with council to resolve the bylaw dispute that has divided the municipality.

Russell is the fourth township in eastern Ontario to adopt a bilingual sign regulation, after Casselman, Clarence-Rockland and La Nation.

Russell Township, 20 kilometres southeast of Ottawa, has a population of about 14,000 and includes the communities of Russell, Embrun, Marionville and Limoges. In the 2001 census, 46 per cent of the township’s residents listed French as their mother tongue; 48 per cent listed English.

Many different populations live in Canada’s bilingual belt, a territorial surrounding and partially encompassing Québec that includes large mixed populations of Anglophones and Francophones. Acadians live at the eastern end, concentrated in Francophone-majority areas in northern and eastern New Brunswick; Anglophone Québecers are concentrated in the Montréal area and the Outauoais region opposite Ottawa and form a majority population in western Montréal island; Franco-Ontarians live mainly in northern and eastern Ontario, and form majority populations in only a few areas. One of these areas is in the combined counties of Prescott and Russell, where Francophones make up two-thirds of the population.

Ontario’s Franco-Ontarian community, amounting to perhaps a half-million people or 5% of the proince’s population, is the largest Francophone population in Canada outside of Québec, larger even than New Brunswick’s Acadians. Unlike the Acadians of that Atlantic Canadian province, who mainly live in compact territories where they form a majority population and have a strong group identity, however, Franco-Ontarians represent a diverse group, including long-settled French Canadian populations in northern and eastern Ontario and large populations of more recent immigrants from around the Francophone world, and form minority populations almost everywhere. Partly as a result, language shift to English among Franco-Ontarians is quite high; in the northern Ontario city of Sudbury, where Francophones make up 28% of the total population and can claim access to a broad variety of governmental, educational and even media resources, the shift to English remains quite high, with only 64% of the current generation of Francophones passing on their language to their children. Even Vanier, a long-established Francophone community in Ottawa that has served as something of a cultural centre, is increasingly Anglophone.

Eastern Ontario, where Prescott-Russell is located, is a partial exception to this rule. Although Francophones in eastern Ontario form only one-seventh of the regional population, they tend to be concentrated in particular areas rather than being spread out and tend to evidence many fewer income and employment disparities with. Moreover, the presence of a strongly Francophone Québec just across the Ottawa River may help language retention.

That said, the language law might be a good idea and it might be a bad idea, but I’m not at all sure that it will help in the end. In any environment where any language community historically dominates a less influential one by force of numbers and power, language maintenance never mind language revival on the part of the disadvantaged language community is going to be difficult. For instance, I’m sure that an overwhelming majority of Prescott-Russell’s Francophones speak English. What proportion of that area’s Anglophone population speaks French? Simple sign laws won’t do anything to change that dynamic, I fear.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2008 at 3:27 pm

[META] Blogroll Addition

Martin Wisse’s Wis(s)e Words is now on the sidebar.

Go, read! (White terrorists matter, too.)

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2008 at 9:53 am

Posted in Assorted

Tagged with ,

[LINK] Some Friday Links

  • Over at ‘Aqoul, The Lounsbury argues that economic reform in Sryia, at least as described by a recent Financial Times article, is the sort of economic reform that will benefit only the elite.
  • Daniel Drezner links to a poll that reveals Americans are remarkably shaky on the specifics of their religious faiths. I wonder: Is this really so rare?
  • Edward Lucas points out that an American foreign policy hat first convinces various post-Communist states to beecome accessories to torture and then reveals this complicity to the wider world isn’t th sort of foreign policy that builds lasting alliances.
  • Far Outliers cites a book describing the onset of th Mau Mau revolt, particularly the extent of inter-Kikuyu violence.
  • Gideon Rachmann calls for the world to intervene in Zimbabwe before it’s too late.
  • Joe. My. God lets us know that a California evangelical pastor is fasting for 40 days in order to try to mobilize support against gay marriage.
  • Arnold Zwicky at Language Log writes about he many, many problems involved with using brain scans to come to sweeping concclusions about sexual orientation (or, by extension, any personal characteristic).
  • Thanks to Noel Maurer, I got to see how President Bush complimented Filipinos (in front of the President of the Philippines) for being great cooks and workers–why, his own cook is Filipino!
  • From Spacing, Sean Marshall writes about the many problems with the TTC’s ugly, ugly subway maps, while Sean Micallef evokes Toronto’s humid greenness in summer.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2008 at 9:50 am