A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for July 2008

[LINK] Respecting the disrespectful

Written by Randy McDonald

July 30, 2008 at 9:12 am

[TOR] The problems of Wychwood Park’s paradise

When I first visited the Toronto neighbourhood of Wychwood Park at a friend’s instigation, I was amazed by the beauty of Wychwood Park, with the decidedly creatively-shaped houses all surrounded by verdant greenery stretching high into the sky, obscuring the noise and sight of the rest of Toronto. It was designed to be that way. Founded as an artist’s colony, “[t]he land was divided into irregularly shaped lots, and careful restrictions were placed upon what could be built in the community. Most of the houses were built in the Arts and Crafts style. Many were designed by prominent architect Eden Smith, who also lived in the neighbourhood. One of Toronto’s ravines ran through the heart of the neighbourhood, and this was preserved as parkland. Taddle Creek ran through the ravine, and it was dammed to create a large pond in the middle of the park. This is now one of the only parts of the city where Taddle Creek is still visible above ground.”

Like the Toronto Islands, then, Wychwood Park is an artificially maintained paradise. If the Toironto Islands were no longer maintained, I suspect that they would drift away. Similarly, if this former gated community succumbed to the pressures of developers, all that green beauty could disappear overnight. That might be why, as reported by Robin Doolittle in The Toronto Star, someone was willing to act in a rather disturbing way to try to preserve this paradise.

Since the fall of 2006, the Shuttleworth [family] have awakened more than a dozen times to discover that the tires of their white SUV had been slashed. Threatening notes–“don’t park on the street”–were occasionally left on the vehicle. Sometimes it happened twice in a week. Then there’d be nothing for months.

While the majority of homes in the area have lot parking, the Shuttleworths don’t. An old garage in the backyard is inaccessible, so they park out front. Visitors, families with multiple cars and hilltop homeowners also park on the street.

Others vehicles through the years, mostly in the south end of the park were vandalized, but the Shuttleworths remained the main target.

On May 22, long-time Wychwood resident and neighbourhood watch head Albert Fulton, a retired math teacher and the unofficial archivist of the Toronto Islands, was arrested and charged in connection with the attacks.

The 70-year-old has been charged with criminal harassment, 10 counts of mischief, and one charge of wearing a disguise with intent in connection to incidents from November 2006 to May 2008, said Const. Wendy Drummond.

[. . .]

Wychwood, a designated heritage site, is a neighbourhood unlike any other in the country.

It’s located in the leafy hills southwest of St. Clair Ave. W. and Bathurst St., but the roads and lighting are owned by the community, which is run by a small group of trustees. A fence and large trees obscure the entrance. It’s easy to miss. Once inside, modest million dollar homes, verdant yards and even a pond make it hard to believe you’re in Toronto.

“They envisioned it as sort of a utopian artistic community where artists could live together in a co-operative environment,” Lofft said. The close-knit roots of the neighbourhood have made the last two years even more difficult. “It was urban terrorism,” Lofft said. “That’s the only thing to call it.”

The story has gotten grimmer, thanks to Albert Fulton’s disappearance on the 19th. In addition to being a resident of Wychwood Park, he and his wife also own another home in the Toronto Islands. CBC Radio 1 claimied this afternoon that his empty boat was found on the Islands, explaining why the police is now searching Toronto harbour for his body.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 29, 2008 at 8:22 pm

[META] Alternate History Tuesdays

My previous post likely lacked context.

The explanation? Every Tuesday, as frequently as I can manage it, I’ll post one review of a book or an essay from an alternate history, each Tuesday review based on material taken from a different world and written by an alternate me. I’d like to think it as entertaining, for whatever it’s worth.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 29, 2008 at 7:57 pm

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[AH] Fabricio Gibaldi, The War for Earth trilogy

Fabricio Gibaldi. The War for Earth Trilogy. Trans. by Eugenio Martín and Elizabeth Lockwood. Toronto, Canada: Cartier-McDonald Editions, 2008. 678 pp.

Sometimes it has felt as if I’m the only uchronia partisan who hasn’t read Gibaldi’s great tome. It is not a language issue: I did feel a bit uncertain about my grasp of Spanish, but not so much to deter me, and there were translations into the French that I as a good Canadian know quite early on. I only wanted to be able to read the series at one go so as to take in the trilogy as a unity and see the various brave pop uchronia-inspiring actions (Indonesia’s liberation of Indochina has come up so many times, as have the controlled collapse of the American junta mid-war, as have–of course–the decisions not to turn the weapons against each other) that has inspired so many discussion. That, and because the scientific speculative fiction fan in me wanted to see how Gibaldi would treat the Newts and their culture. How lucky I was that I logged onto the public library agency’s kilooctet-rich electronic bibliothecary mesh early enough to be among the people able to penny-rent the first large pocket edition compendium of the three novels of this timeline’s first series.

My first reaction was one of disappointment. There are factual issues, I should start by saying. Epsilon Eridani is a young star aged only one thousand million years, too young for any of its worlds to evolve a rich biosphere likely to produce a technological conscious tool-making species. Species like the Newts which spawn dozens of young at a time aren’t likely to be intelligent on account of the social skills intimately associated with the construction of societies of any complexity: Look at the anthropoids for further proof. Species capable of building flotillas of massive transplanetary vessels which reliably make the 3.22 parsecs crossing are not going to be intimidated by a monoplanetary civilization with some space stations and some high-acceleration rockets tipped with nuclear bombs and supersonic jets and surface-to-air projectiles. Gibaldi has at least managed to avoid the incessant Euronet discussions about missile throw weights and refiring rates and the possibilities of rapid improvised editation of the both and others that has blighted too many discussions, but next to his writing style–which, for once, I shall not blame charitably on the translators–that is a minor issue. The author darts about from one character to another to another with such speed that, breadth of characterization noted, I could never assimilate myself to many of the characters, noting only that, yes Helen Ntampaka in Rwanda is terrified by the Newt armies and wants to flee to Mombasa with her husband if only she can find him in time, or that the Empire of China‘s top general Li Hong Mou is brave and determined and uniquely able to come up with a Terran defense strategy that saves our world, while the scientists at the New York Technoploical Institute are able once freed from misrule to reverse-engineer the Newts’ fusion drive. (The series’ personalities are not the personalities of our own histories, for obvious reasons.)

I additionally have deeper issues with Gibaldi’s series. Gibaldi, the encyclopedias–paper; Toronto might be a North American informatics leader but it lacks in that regard unlike, well, Gibaldi’s Buenos Aires among many, many other cities–and glossies tell us, began his career as a specialist historian concerned with high medieval and early modern Europe, a period translating to a period comprising the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. As an academic, he would have had no experience of the recent war. His specialized skills and South America‘s fortunate isolation from the war would have meant that, if conscripted at all, Gibaldi wouldn’t have served on the front lines. He would certainly have exceptionally detailed knowledge of the wars, their personalities and their battles and their weapons and the horrors visited on the rest of the world forced to stand by and watch and suffer and, maybe, just maybe, be killed. I haven’t served on the front lines: I was only three when the war happened, Canada was a neutral, and my pre-university days were spent electronically processing forms eight hours a day five days a week in a gratte-ciel downtown.

What I do know, from the media I’ve consumed and studies and the people I’ve talked to, is that war is a horror. The First was product of stupidity; the Second was the product of willful evil; the Third and the worst was a product of the two combined. The existence of the League of Armed Neutrality of Japan, Korea and the Philippines, aimed at saving offshore East Asia from a pointless war, demonstrates that the unstable American congeries of interior ministerial forces run amok combined with those military leaders lacking sense combined with those sufficiently avaricious politicians did not need to do that. They did, and two hundred million dead later we’re in the world that they left to us their inheritors. Obscenely horrible scenarios were avoided, but no one alive then at the time, no one alive now, no one likely to be alive generations after, is going to escape from that. Canadians might rightly congratulate themselves for their good sense in excluding themselves from the fighting, but their country is effected. No country, not Canada, not South America, not Nouveau-Dauphiné, not even the Kerguelens can escape the effects. I can’t: Among other reasons, why do I have so many American friends?

And here Gibaldi comes with his tales of heroic war using the same weapons, the same casts of personality (individual and national) and the same brave and determined and lethal energies but only–thankfully, testimony to our good sense as a species–directed outwards by the infrared astronomy satellites’ detection of massive objections decelerating hard just the armies are massing. Entities of a literally inhuman cast are convenient, aren’t they? “The type of war doesn’t matter,” I could imagine some of his characters saying if they contacted our reality. “The spirit remains the same.” I am, as I have stated here and in other public and informatic fora, strongly in support of the sort of militaries capable of–for instance–the post-exchange peacemaking Conciliar expeditions to the United States. I am, and I’d like to think most people now alive are, opposed to that sort of easy transposition (“We can’t kill x, but we can kill y? Suits me.”)

I may be overreacting to all this. Gibaldi is a writer of popular fiction, after all, none of the glossies or another else have provided reason to suspect he’s involved with any radical groups, and so on. I might simply be wary of war what with the latest news in the Toronto Journal the newest Russian campaigns in Siberia (“security operations,” the general veteran of the liberation of Kazan’ and Yekaterinburg is quoted as saying this morning on page 2). I might also be right to do so. What does it say about partisans of uchronias when novels and stories about war, especially war on this scale, prevail over other sorts of uchronias? What does it say about our world when few find this sort of book objectionable?

Written by Randy McDonald

July 29, 2008 at 10:18 am

[LINK] “Not invited to the party”

The Globe and Mail‘s Billy curry has an article up (“Not invited to the party” exploring how the Algonquin people, a First Nation now residing mostly in western Québec, is marginalized, using Québec City’s quadricentennial celebrations as a frame.

Samuel de Champlain wrote fondly of his adventures with the Algonquins, the native allies who helped the founder of Quebec navigate the dangerous white-water rapids of the New World and fought at his side against the Iroquois.

“I wished to help them against their enemies,” the French explorer recalled in his journals of his 1609 encounter with more than 200 Algonquins as he explored the St. Lawrence River. “They had asked all the Indians I saw on the river’s bank to come to meet us for the purpose of making an alliance with us. … And that they now besought me to return to our settlement, for them to see our houses, and that three days later we should all set off on the war-path together.”

On the war path they went, winning the first battle of the Iroquois Wars at what would come to be known as Lake Champlain. The explorer famously sketched the battle, depicting himself in the heroic lead defeating the Iroquois with the Algonquins – as well as Montagnais and Hurons – backing him up with bows and arrows.

This summer, Champlain has come to the fore again, as rock concerts, fireworks and foreign dignitaries toast the 400th anniversary of his founding of Quebec City. His Algonquin allies, however, are now even further in the background.

“They’re celebrating, but what most of the [Algonquin] people are looking at … is 400 years of misery,” says Algonquin elder Hector Jerome, a long-time activist on the Barriere Lake reserve, three hours north of Ottawa.

Go read the rest.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 28, 2008 at 11:59 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] There’s some of the gold

The–apparently–unofficial headquarters of the Royal Bank of Canada, the Royal Bank Plaza in Toronto’s Financial District, host a particularly eye-catchingSouth Tower which rises 41 stories or 180 metres. The picture below gives you a bit of an idea of what the entire building looks like, at a more human scale. Pictures of the skyscraper are available everywhere, but below is a picture of opart of the tower at a human scale. Wikipedia explains why the glass hass that cast.

The exteriors of the structures are largely covered with glass; together they have more than 14,000 windows. Each of these windows is coated with a layer of 24 karat (100%) gold. At a cost of about $70 per window, the total value of gold in the windows is over $1,000,000 but, due to the manufacturing technique used to make the glass, the gold is unrecoverable. The gold gives the windows a distinctive colour. Gold was used as an insulator to reduce heating costs.

The Royal Bank’s gold.
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

Prestige, of course, has nothing to do with the decision to do this to the windows. They also look pretty, mind.

(Oh, and that’s me photographing myself.)

Written by Randy McDonald

July 28, 2008 at 11:51 pm

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[TOR] Some Monday news links

  • An issue of major concern to cyclists like myself is the astonishing scope of the accused bike thief Igor Kenk, “the long-time used-bicycle dealer facing a raft of charges in a sweeping probe that has so far uncovered nearly 2,500 stashed bicycles, many believed stolen.” He admitted to a journalist that he goes so far as to change the pedals and seats so as to make sure that the owners of bikes really know them.
  • It’s official: This summer is Toronto’s rainiest summer ever, with huge volumes of rain and an unusual number of thunderstorms. People seem to be taking this with a bit of incredulity, especially given the
    spectacular lack of rain in a famously (if somewhat inaccurately) rainy Vancouver.
  • Construction has begun on the Spadina subway extension, which sonjaaa mentioned will include extend north from the Downsview station at the northern end of the western branch of that line to (among others) stops at at relatively isolated York University, the other large Toronto university but hitherto isolated from the TTC subway lines. It will end deep in suburban York Region.
  • The above extension coincides with the apparent decision to abandon subway development along Eglinton Avenue, a major west-east corridor. Already, plans for an Eglinton West subway have been abandoned, and Mayor David Miller says that an Eglinton subway isn’t going to happen now.
  • Murray Whyte’s article in The Star, “Is highrise farming in Toronto’s future?”, speculates that farming might be shifted from open fields in the country to high-rise buildings in the city. It’s science fictional, but if it minimizes pollution … If.
  • Royson James at The Toronto Star argues that if Toronto won the 2008 Olympics Toronto could have remade itself in the same way as Barcelona when it won in 1992.
  • See also David Topping’s daily selection of a photo from the Torontoist flickr pool and his summary of other of Toronto news events today (Toronto’s very expensive, no one’s quite sure what’s going on with the tourism industry in Toronto, the David Dunlap Observatory that discovered Cygnus X-1 won’t be torn down after its sale, cyclists can still look for their stolen bikes, and some kids were arrested and charged with looting an apartment building emptied by an explosion last week).

Written by Randy McDonald

July 28, 2008 at 3:28 pm