A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for August 2008

[FORUM] Labour Day, Labour Day

Labour Day in Canada is fast-approaching, and in Toronto a wide range of events have scheduled by various levels of government and other organizations to celebrate thss holiday. (The airshow and Toronto Island beaches top my list.)

Is the public holiday of Labour Day popular where you are? Is it even legally recognized (I address this question to my non-Canadian readers)? Do you have plans to do anything on Labour Day, or are you just hoping to be able to find someplace to hide from the madness?

Written by Randy McDonald

August 30, 2008 at 2:58 pm

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[LINK] “Acadian author honoured for 50-year career”

I did not know that Acadian writer Antonine Maillet was being honoured for her literary career, or that her career was fifty years long.

The 50-year publishing career of a New Brunswick author was honoured in Moncton as she launched her new book on Friday.

Antonine Maillet’s new book, Le mystérieux voyage de Rien, was released on Friday with a launch at Moncton’s Capitol Theatre.

“It’s just like before giving birth to a new child,” said the 79-year-old author.

‘The Acadians have decided to remain alive’

Scholars from Japan, Sweden, Slovakia, India, Brazil, the United States and Canada have converged at the university to pay tribute to the author who has been recognized as the first person to take the oral language of the Acadians and turn it into literature.

The Bouctouche native has written 40 books of which Pélagie-la-Charrette is the best known. The novel allowed her to become the first non-European to win France’s top literary prize, the Prix Goncourt.

[. . .]

Mini Nanda, who is attending the conference from the University of Rajasthan in India, said Maillet’s work also reflects the experience of minorities in her country.

“What is common to both of them is their sense of deep empathy, love and concern for their own community — a community that is marginalized, a community whose language and culture is threatened by the central forces,” Nanda said.

The books give a voice to the people who are suppressed or silenced in society, Nanda said.

“The writers are struggling to keep the rich oral tradition alive,” she said.

Birgitta Brown, from Goteborgs University in Sweden, said she first discovered Maillet’s work in 1979 and decided to do her doctoral thesis on the author. “From my point of view she’s the finest Canadian writer,” Brown said.

Maillet said she is honoured by the attention her work is getting and that she has no plans to stop writing.

“It always surprises me that I’m still there, still writing and still enjoying it more and more,” she said.

For the uninitiated, her 1979 Pélagie-la-charette is a novel narratted by the old Acadian woman Pélagie as she brings Acadian survivors of the Great Deportation in the American South back to their homeland in what is now Atlantic Canada.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 29, 2008 at 7:40 pm

[MUSIC] Tom Tom Club, “Genius of Love”

When I first heard Mariah Carey’s 1995 song “Fantasy”, I remember thinking that, wow, that funky rhythm was something really original that made the dreary song worth listening to as background! That juxtaposition was unsettling. Thus, you can imagine my relief when I found out that “Fantasy” was built around a sample from the Tom Tom Club‘s much superior 1981 “Genius of Love”.

“Genius of Love” sounds preternaturally cheerful, with the funky rhythms (prodyuct of the song’s narrator, perhaps, who sings “I’m in heaven/With the maven of funk mutation”) and the cheerful animated music video (shown above) and the call-and-response stylings. It is: It is so cheerful that phrases like “With my boyfriend, my laughing boyfriend/There’s no beginning and there is no end/Time isn’t present in that dimention” can coexist alongside “I surely miss him/The way he’d hold me in his warm arms/We went insane when we took cocaine.” Let’s not forget how the entire song is set up by the question “What you gonna do when you get out of jail?”

“Genius of Love”: Faintly sleazy, but still wonderful.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 29, 2008 at 3:21 pm

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[LINK] “S[outh] Ossetia ‘will become Russian'”

The Ossetians are going to be reunified within Russia, or at least their leaders expect such to come about as reported by the Associated Press.

The breakaway Georgian province of South Ossetia has predicted it would become part of Russia.

Three days after Moscow recognised it as independent, parliamentary speaker Znaur Gassiyev, said Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and the region’s leader, Eduard Kokoity, discussed the idea earlier this week.

They agreed Russia would absorb South Ossetia “in several years” or earlier, he said.

Meanwhile, Georgia announced it would recall all diplomatic staff from its embassy in Moscow in protest at the presence of Russian troops on its territory.

Georgia’s parliament had urged the government to sever diplomatic ties, calling Russia an “aggressor country” and a Georgian MP said his country will eventually regain control of South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia.

“The separatist regimes of Abkhazia and South Ossetia and the Russian authorities are cut off from reality,” Gigi Tsereteli said. “The world has already become different and Russia will not long be able to occupy sovereign Georgian territory.”

The crisis has prompted an emergency EU summit on Monday with some countries pressing for sanctions against Russia.

Meanwhile, Russia and South Ossetia plan to sign an agreement on the placement of Russian military bases in South Ossetia.

The province’s deputy parliamentary speaker Tarzan Kokoiti said South Ossetians have the right to reunite with North Ossetia, which is part of Russia.

“Soon there will be no North or South Ossetia — there will be a united Alania as part of Russia,” he said, using another name for Ossetia. We will live in one united Russian state.”

Written by Randy McDonald

August 29, 2008 at 3:15 pm

[LINK] Some Friday links

  • ‘Aqoul’s Matthew Hogan wonders why there’s so little investment in manufacturing in the Middle East and North Africa, with most of the answers centering around rent seeking, unclear comparative advantage, state repression that makes domestic expansion and foreign investment problematic, and underinvestment in human capital.
  • blogTo reports that the TTC is adding more bike racks to buses on more of its routes. Maybe I should use these racks at some point.
  • Daniel Drezner examines the question of what, exactly, the recent Russian-Georgian war demonstrates about Thomas Friedman’s theory that no two McDonald’s-hosting countries will go to war, and his commenters have at it.
  • Over at Far Outliers, Joel produces an excerpt by Michael Burleigh on catastrophically radical Romania’s Iron Guard and Martin Meredith on the disastrously undoing of the corrupt Americo-Liberian aristocracy.
  • Paul Wells reported earlier that Prime Minister Harper kept the Governor-General in Canada, likely so as to expedite his request for a dissolution of parliament and a new federal election. He suggests that the election, otherwise pointless and expected even by Harper himself to be another minority government, might be called in order to take advantage of a potential breakthrough in Québec.
  • Language Hat briefly examines (through The New York Times) the linguistic diversity of the Caucasus, including a despairing fragment from an Ossetian linguist who fears that the only master manuscript of a magisterial lexicon of the Ossetian language that was compiled was destroyed in the bombardment of Tskhinvali.
  • Matthew Blackett at Spacing Toronto reports on the happy news that the scramble intersection at Yonge and Dundas works without inflicting any human casualties at all. More coverage of the intersection should be here.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 29, 2008 at 6:47 am

[BRIEF NOTE] Building machines

Earlier this week Noel Maurer wrote a post (“Building a Machine”) on how Venezuela’s ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela seemed to be building a polity-controlling political machine akin to Chicago’s Cook County Democratic Organization.

The idea is to make key aspects of everyday life dependent on support for the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). It’s not Communism; rather, it’s Daleyism, put in charge of a country. Do it right, and there will be no need for secret police or election stealing. Do it wrong, and your government will eventually (if you’re unlucky) start breaking heads or (if you’re lucky) become like Mexico.

The least machine-like part of the emerging PSUV machine involves the Mercal stores. The Bolivarian Republic imports food and other basic products (or purchases them from approved suppliers) at market prices, and then resells them to the public through the Mercales. I visited several; except for the one in a high-priced part of Chacao, there were always lines. This should not be unexpected, of course. If the idea is to get basic products into people’s hands at subsidized prices, then lines are what should result, if the prices really are subsidized.

[. . .]

Subsidies are expensive. I haven’t been able to find any information on how much Venezuela spends on Mercal subsidies. That doesn’t mean that it’s out there; that just means that it’s hard to find. This IESA case on the stores, published in 2008, has no data past 2005. So it’s hard to tell whether the government is actually stimulating “food security” or just subsidizing imports, which is probably the last thing it needs to be doing in the middle of an export boom.

[T]he stores give the government a political hedge against inflation. For a brief period last year, the government tried to fight rising inflation via price controls. That led to problems. (Venezuela reminds me of Mexico back in the 1980s and early 1990s. Boy, do I have price control stories from back in the day.) Now, though, the government can let inflation rip while protecting some of its constituents from the worst effects, albeit at a growing fiscal cost.

Finally, the Mercal stores provide the infrastructure for creating a machine. It wouldn’t be hard to add ration cards or other ID requirements to the stores; accelerating inflation would provide a rationale. Of course, other income subsidizing programs could also be politicized: vigorous multi-party politics and a vigilant press is the reason that doesn’t happen in Mexico and Brazil, but it has elsewhere. My instinct, though, is that it would be much easier to politicize access to subsidized stores than access to an income-supplementing program.

All that reminded me of my native Prince Edward Island, where the incumbent premier Robert Ghiz might well lose his job come the next election because, among other things, he seems to have respected the Supreme Court’s decision that political patronage is illegal and that it’s quite right to hire people for their skill sets and not for their affiliation to the ruling political party of the day. There’s also the time in the early 1970s that the very popular premier Alex Campbell decided, wth no small measure of support from an afraid populace, to deal with the possibility of hippie infestation by passing a law that declared public gatherings of more than three people illegal. (It was later quietly pointed out that this law might, in fact, be unconstitutional.)

What does all this prove? Whether on the Gulf of St. Lawrence on on the shore sof the Caribbean,a dn likely in many other places besides, it’s probably a very good thing for the state not political parties to judge who should get access to the necessities of life. The Nika riots don’t recommend themselves as systems of government.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2008 at 11:09 pm

[LINK] “Angola, Brazil: A culture shock divide”

Brazil’s emergence as one of the famed BRIC powers, coinciding as it does with the massive oil-driven economic boom in a similarly Lusophone Angola that lies on just the other side of the South Atlantic Ocean, has seen Brazil emerge as one of Angola’s major trading partners as described in Mario do Queiroz’s article “Portuguese – the Common Language of Trade”. This economic engagement doesn’t mean, as Paula Góes points out in her Global Voices Online links post “Angola, Brazil: A culture shock divide”, that there aren’t more than a few misunderstandings along the way, as a Brazilian’s blog post from Angola and an Angolan’s from Brazil illustrate.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2008 at 1:27 pm

Protected: [LINK] And now for something completely different

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Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2008 at 11:33 am

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[NEWS] Some Thursday links

I haven’t posted enough links to articles from Inter Press Service, have I?

  • Kalinga Seneviratne in “Population Decline – Enter the Matchmaker” takes a look at how, instead of doing anything to alleviate conditions of gender inequality and economic hardship that help discourage family formation, the Singaporean government is trying to promote matchmakers as a useful new tool for boosting the birth rate.
  • Zoltán Dujisin’s “How the Hawks Won” makes a direct connection between Saakaashvili’s recently increasing authoritarianism at home and his recent appalling poor performance in the recent war in Abkhazia and South Ossetia. If those two territories-soon-to-be-countries distrusted Georgina promises before …
  • Mario Osava in “The Complications of Coming into Sudden (Oil) Wealth” examines how Brazilians and their government are thinking about regulating the revenues set to be produced by Brazil’s massive new offshore oil. Demagoguery is a well-justified fear.
  • Zoltán Dujisin in “Russian Language Toned Down: takes a look at recent trend in language policy and use in Ukraine, where education and other government facilities has been steadily Ukrainianized even as most of the mass media and business remain Russophone, and knowledge and use of the Ukrainian language are growing particularly among the young and in southern Ukraien. (After the fall of the Soviet Union Russophones and Ukrainopphones were roughly equally as numerous.)
  • Vesna Peric Zimonjic writes (“Uneasy Over the Kosovo Parallel With Georgia”) about how public opinion in Serbia, while broadly supportive of Russia, are concerned about the certain associations that the precedent of recognizing the independence of a territory liberated by foreign intervention from ethnic cleansing and a threatened genocide have with their own recent history. Kosovars, for their part, deny the relevance of South Ossetia and Abkhazia to their situation.
  • Lowana Veal’s “Filling Up on Hydrogen” takes a look at how, thanks in no small measure to cheap and abundant geothermal energy, hydrogen-fuelled cars and boats are starting to appeal in some number.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2008 at 11:26 am

[TOR] “One giant diagonal step for pedestrians”

From Spacing Toronto’s Dylan Reid comes the post “One giant diagonal step for pedestrians”.

Starting on Thursday, pedestrians will be able to cross the intersection of Yonge and Dundas diagonally, without worrying about cars.

The City is ready to activate a “pedestrian priority phase” at this intersection. In addition to the regular east-west and north-south traffic phases, there will be a phase specifically for pedestrians to cross the intersection any which way they want. All the vehicle traffic signals will be red, and all the pedestrian signals will signal “walk” — including new signals facing diagonally across the intersection. The pedestrian priority phase will be 28 seconds out of a total 80-second cycle for the three traffic signal phases.

During the regular traffic phases, pedestrians will still be able to cross in the normal way, too. This is a change — and a huge improvement for pedestrians — from the way many of these systems work in other cities, where pedestrians can’t cross during the car traffic phases. It was made easier by the fact that cars are already not allowed to make any turns at this intersection. It’s a good decision by the city — it means the new phase is a clear benefit for pedestrians, rather than a trade-off with potentially longer wait times.


(Yonge and Dundas, for those of you who don’t know, is one of the busiest intersections of downtown Toronto.)

The reaction from toronto seems to be one of confusion about how the rules will play out. My reaction is confusion as to how the rules of the crossing will play out. I assume that various of my readers live in communities with pedestrian scrambles: How do they work out for you, and your community?

Written by Randy McDonald

August 27, 2008 at 3:26 pm