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

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[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

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[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

[BRIEF NOTE] One Obama Campaign Promise on Canada That I’d Like Him to Keep

From Canada’s Financial Post comes Peter Foster’s article “Obama plays ‘dirty’ oil card”.

On Tuesday, orotund Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama vowed to break the U. S. addiction to “dirty, dwindling and dangerously expensive” oil. An advisor said it was an open question whether Canada’s oil sands were Mr. Obama’s prime target, but the word “dirty” is a dead giveaway.

Mr. Obama, speaking in Las Vegas, implied that the U. S. might somehow do without the oil sands. “[T]he possibilities of renewable energy are limitless,” he declared. “We’ve heard promises about it in every State of the Union for the last three decades. But each and every year, we become more, not less, addicted to oil–a 19th-century fossil fuel.”

[. . .]

When it comes to picking on oil sands, Mr. Obama is fad surfing a popular wave. In December the U. S. government adopted a law to ban federal procurement of fuels that generate more greenhouse gases than “conventional sources.” California has also adopted low-carbon fuel standards. On Monday, a meeting of mayors in Miami slapped a Scarlet Letter on oil sands production, demanding “full life-cycle” accounting for such fuels.

This political posturing is based in the remarkable success of the environmental movement in demonization the oil sands. One surprising convert was The Times of London, which earlier this year called Athabasca production a “filthy habit,” and suggested that the next president consider an import ban.

My support for Obama’s position–likely to remain theoretical, as many note given the United States’ dependence on foreign oil, but here’s to hoping–is twofold.

1. Like others, Bloomberg’s Theophilos Argitis has pointed out that the recent economic boom in Alberta has coincided with stagnation and industrial collapse in Ontario and Québec. Canadian bank Desjardins has produced an October 2006 study (PDF format) that concludes that while Alberta’s resource boom has had an effect on (among other things) the Canadian currency’s exchange rates, it hasn’t played more than a relatively minor role in the decline of central Canadian industry, itself exposed to foreign competition. Still, the coincidence in timing is suspicious.

2. The environmental impact of the exploitation of Alberta’s oil sands is severe, as noted by (among other groups) Oil Sands Truth and Tar Sands Watch. Briefly put, the effect on Alberta’s environment is manifold, whether one’s talking about the widespread destruction of Boreal forest, the risk of exhausting local reserves of water, or growing greenhouse gas emissions. What’s worse, the Albertan government doesn’t seem interested in regulating the oil companies’ environmental damages; sometimes, the Alberta government seems to be covering things up. I like Alberta too much to want it to be deterraformed.

If production can be made environmentally friendly without a risk of ruining the natural environment of Alberta, and if the profits of this production can be spent in a way that doesn’t destabilize the Canadian economy, I’d welcome it. That said, foreign pressure can be a very good tool in the right contexts, for instance in (say) encouraging the rational exploitation of natural resources. Obama, if you can do something …

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2008 at 5:04 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] The Franco-Americans

Wikipedia reports that roughly 13 million people identify themselves as Franco-American, but that term is misleading. By the time that the great transatlantic migrations began in the mid-19th century, rapid economic growth and slowing population growth combined to make France not a source of immigrants but a magnet for immigrants. Rather, this number includes people of French stock. Most of these Franco-Americans aren’t French per se, but rather trace their ancestry to one or another of the well-rooted Francophone community established in North American even before American independence. As Pierre Anctil writes in The Canadian Encyclopedia, immigrants from a relatively agrarian French Canada–from Québec and Acadia–to an industrialized New England played a leading role in the formation of the modern Franco-American community.

From the mid-19th century to around 1930, over 900 000 francophone Québecois emigrated to the US. They migrated in waves, especially after the American Civil War, and around 1890 managed to feel at home and, in a few generations, adopted the habits and customs of their new surroundings. Their descendants are known as Franco-Americans, though the term did not appear until the end of the 19th century. The approximately 5 million Franco-Americans constitute the largest element within the Québec diaspora in all North America.

The magnitude of the huge migration (“La Grande Hémorragie“) shook Québec society and led to a renewal of nativism in New England, where almost half the emigrants settled. Most of the emigrants came from rural areas of Québec. They were looking for financial and job security, especially in textile and shoe factories. Franco-Americans’ job skills diversified over time, however, and they gained access to commercial positions and to the liberal professions. Around 1930, when the Great Depression put a stop to emigration, the New England states had gained a significant Franco-American population, most of it in industrial cities like Lowell, Lawrence and New Bedford (Mass), Woonsocket (RI), Manchester and Nashua (NH), and Biddeford and Lewiston (Me).

These French Catholic Franco-Americans created “little Canadas” in some districts in the major American cities, reproducing their cultural life and French-Canadian religious institutions. Until WWII, and despite their Americanization, the descendants of the Québecois emigrants probably managed to preserve their identity better than other ethnic groups.

Strong French Canadian identities did little to halt the assimilation of these immigrants and their American-born families, as it happens. Just in time for Fête nationale du Québec or St. Jean Baptiste Day, the Montreal Gazette published John Kalbfleisch’s article Francophone émigrés came home for St. Jean Baptiste Day”. Even early on in la grande hémorragie, Franco-Americans were decidedly unwilling to respond to the calls of their former homeland’s nationalism.

It was a St. Jean Baptiste Day with a difference. Not only was it the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Société St. Jean Baptiste, main sponsor of the day’s activities. In addition, thousands of visitors from French-Canadian communities in the United States had flooded into Montreal to join the celebration.

Mainly from New England, they had emigrated over the previous decade in search of jobs in towns like Lowell and Manchester. As many as half a million people, by some counts, had bled away in La grande hémorragie. Now, perhaps 18,000 were coming back, if only for a few days.

They had been invited by the SSJB chiefly to help mark the society’s birthday. But men like Father Jean-Baptiste Primeau and newspaper editor Ferdinand Gagnon had a different motive in urging their fellow émigrés to accept. Quebec’s economy was picking up and, seeing this, perhaps some of the visitors would decide to return home for good.

[. . .]

There were speeches seemingly without end, not only back on the Champ de Mars after the mass but that evening at a dinner for 1,000 people in the Bonsecours Market building. Gagnon, we reported, assured the evening’s banqueters “that if Canada ever required the help of her sons in the States, she would see … the strength of their arms and the devotion of their hearts.”

Over the next two days, the various St. Jean Baptiste societies from Canada and the United States met in the Église du Gesù on Bleury St. to debate the future of la francophonie in North America. They urged the Quebec government to expand land grants to franco-Americans proposing to return home. There was even talk of a new, independent country, a wildly improbable union of territory on both sides of the border where francophones lived.

In March 1875, the Quebec government appointed Gagnon as repatriation agent, with a mandate to encourage the diaspora to return. Alas, things didn’t work out the way they had hoped.

A large part of the problem was those 18,000 émigrés who had visited Montreal the previous June. There was no mistaking the prosperity that many had found in the States. It showed in their clothing, in the money they splashed around and in the stories of the better life they had found.

That year, according to émigré journalist Alexandre Belisle, there was a renewed mass desertion toward the United States, “a small-scale evacuation of the province of Quebec.”

In an essay on Gagnon, historian Yves Roby writes that “for every émigré who returned, five or 10 persons crossed the border in the opposite direction. The invitation extended by Quebec had almost no appeal for a person who had already succumbed to the attraction of the United States and left everything.” Significant emigration to New England would continue until the onset of the Great Depression more than half a century later.

The Canadian Encyclopedia article concludes that “most Franco-Americans succumbed to the attractions of the American way of life and the English language, especially since they lived primarily in urbanized surroundings,” and since cultural developments in French Canadian–particularly the transformations wrought by Québec’s Quiet Revolution–had no parallels in local Franco-American life. Assimilation to an enthusiastically capitalist, mass media-consuming and Anglphone society won out in the end over very porous borders and fairly strong group identities. (Yes, I’d say that comparisons with Mexican-Americans are actually probably pretty well-grounded.)

Written by Randy McDonald

June 25, 2008 at 11:55 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Samuel Golobchuk case

From the CBC, comes the news that the sad story of Samuel Golobchuk, a brain-dead Manitoba man who was kept on life support at his family’s insistence, has come to an end.

An elderly Manitoba patient who was at the center of a debate over whether doctors have the right to end a life died of natural causes Tuesday.

Samuel Golubchuk, 85, of Winnipeg had been on life-support since last fall. He died around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Grace Hospital.

“We don’t know the exact cause, but I think he died a natural death, and that’s what he wanted. And he was with competent medical people who wanted to be there and wanted to help him,” family lawyer Neil Kravetsky told CBC News Wednesday morning.

“As far as we are concerned, Sam Golubchuk didn’t die for nothing. He died for what he believed in, and he died naturally.”

Golubchuk’s controversial case made national headlines when the elderly man’s family, who are Orthodox Jews, took the hospital to court earlier this year and got an injunction forcing doctors to keep him on life-support.

Doctors wanted to remove support systems, including a ventilator and feeding tube, because he showed no chance of improving, but his family argued that would hasten his death, an act that goes against their religious beliefs.

Three doctors chose to resign from their duties at the hospital over the case, with one commenting in a letter that he felt keeping the elderly man alive was “tantamount to torture.”

Dr. Anand Kumar, who made the original decision to end life-support, said continuing court-ordered efforts to keep Golubchuk alive were “grotesque” and “immoral,” citing newly developed ulcers and other problems.

Apart from making the obvious point that keeping someone brain-dead alive using artificial life support isn’t natural either, reiterating John Derbyshire’s point of two years ago re: Terry Schiavo that Golobchuk was conscious it surely must not have been an enjoyable existence, and wondering about the ethics of any religious tradition that hasn’t adapted to the milieu of 21st century technology, all that I can say is that I don’t ever want to be placed in a comparable situation by anyone no matter how well-meaning (by their lights). If someone does, because of misplaced hope or because of grotesque religious faith or because of some other reason, I promise to haunt them to the end of their days.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 25, 2008 at 3:11 pm

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