A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for March 2009

[LINK] “A failed policy is running on fumes”

The Globe and Mail‘s Qubec writer Konrad Yakabuski has an article in his paper’s business section in which he points out that Québec, despite doing its very best to develop an automobile branch-plant industry like Ontario’s, didn’t, and that it may be all the better that this endeavour failed.

There was a time when Quebec suffered from a corrosive case of Ontario-envy. The 1965 Canada-U.S. auto pact, enshrining free trade in cars and a decades-long bull run for Ontario’s car plants, generated fanciful conspiracy theories about a federal plot to impoverish Quebec. The chronic five-percentage-point gap in the unemployment rates between each province was chalked up to a single factor: car-making capacity.

No wonder successive Quebec governments sought desperately to make the province a kind of Ontario-lite. There was an interest-free $220-million loan ($375-million in current dollars) extended to General Motors in 1987 to keep just one plant in Quebec. There were massive subsidies offered and/or paid to Hyundai and Toyota to build assembly plants in the province.

[. . . ]

General Motors shuttered its Quebec plant in 2002 – with that loan still outstanding.

Today, the old GM site is home to Faubourg Boisbriand, a sprawling residential-commercial real estate development that already generates more in municipal taxes than the auto plant ever could. And the unemployment rate in bustling Boisbriand roughly matches the Quebec average, which is now almost a full percentage point lower than Ontario’s.

This tale of economic transformation should make Ottawa and Ontario sufficiently leery about extending more aid to GM and Chrysler. But it also explains why they, along with Washington, have no choice but to prop up the car makers for a while longer.

Ontario, like Michigan, has allowed itself to remain so dependent on the auto industry that it has little or nothing lying in wait to replace it. In rhyming off the Ontario auto industry’s statistics – 150,000 direct jobs, 340,000 indirect ones, 14 per cent of Canada’s manufacturing output and 23 per cent of its manufacturing exports – federal Industry Minister Tony Clement may have thought he was making a case yesterday for saving car plants. But those statistics are also an indictment of sorts.

When any industry so dominates the economy of a single region as the auto assembly sector has in Southern Ontario, it has a levelling effect, draining labour and capital from every other sector. In the growth phase, this creates a virtuous circle, as evidenced by the Ontario of the 1960s. But when that sector begins an irreversible decline, as the Big Three most certainly have, the circle becomes a vicious one.

Yakabuski argues that Ontario, by locking up so many human, financial, and other resources in an automotive sector that was bound to eventually become a sunset industry to be outsourced to more cost-effective manufacturers elsewhere in the world, has made a botch of things. How bad? We’ll see. The prospect of Ontario being a have-not province certainly beckoned strongly enough before the recent economic crisis.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2009 at 10:51 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Torontonians can crack Internet spy networks, you know

Steve Kupferman at Torontoist provides a decent summary of the recent discovery by Toronto-based researchers of the GhostNet computer espionage network.

The New York Times broke a story on Sunday that has since stirred up some local interest (and some national interest as well): Toronto researchers Greg Walton and Nart Villeneuve of the U of T Munk Centre for International Studies’ Citizen Lab were, along with Ottawa-based consultancy SecDev, instrumental in ferreting out some very shady spy activity happening on at least 1,295 computers around the world, approximately 30% of which were owned and operated by so-called “high-value” targets, including journalists, embassies—even the Dalai Lama. A lot of the data necessary for the investigation was gathered abroad, but the brunt of the analysis happened right here, in Toronto, under the aegis of U of T.

[. . .]

“For technical people, it’s called spear-fishing,” said Villeneuve, referring to the infiltration technique used by the spies. Spear-fishing consists of a crafty combination of social engineering and Trojan horse infection. Someone constructs a plausible email and sends it directly to a target user, with a word document or .pdf attachment. The attachment opens as expected when the user clicks on it, but at the same time it surreptitiously runs a small piece of code which opens a “back-door” in the victim computer, enabling the electronic assailant (please enjoy our many different ways of avoiding the politically charged epithet “hacker”) to download additional malicious code onto its hard drive at any time they choose. The attacker can then steal files, log keystrokes, and even use whatever webcams and microphones happen to be connected to the infected machine. Whoever was behind these attacks (circumstantial evidence points to the Chinese government, but Citizen Lab and SecDev refuse to make accusations) must have repeated these steps dozens, if not hundreds of times. “We’ve entered the age of do-it-yourself signals intelligence,” said Diebert/

The GhostNet Wikipedia article makes the rather impressive scope of the network, which seemed to target computers connected to Tibetan groups and the Indian government (bot not exclusively!), clear.

Compromised systems were discovered in the embassies of India, South Korea, Indonesia, Romania, Cyprus, Malta, Thailand, Taiwan, Portugal, Germany and Pakistan and the office of the Prime Minister of Laos. The foreign ministries of Iran, Bangladesh, Latvia, Indonesia, Philippines, Brunei, Barbados and Bhutan were also targeted. No evidence was found that U.S. or U.K. government offices were infiltrated, although a NATO computer was monitored for half a day and the computers of the Indian embassy in Washington, D.C., were infiltrated.

[. . .]

The researchers from the Infowar Monitor stated they could not conclude that the Chinese government was responsible for the spy network, while a report from researchers at the University of Cambridge says they believe that the Chinese government is behind the intrusions. Researchers have also noted the possibility that GhostNet was an operation run by private citizens in China for profit or for patriotic reasons, or created by intelligence agencies from other countries such as Russia or the United States.[2] The Chinese government has stated that China “strictly forbids any cyber crime”.

[. . .]

Despite the lack of evidence to pinpoint Chinese government in the operation of GhostNet, researchers have found actions taken by government officials from the People’s Republic of China that corresponded with the information obtained via the ‘GhostNet’. One such incident involved a diplomat who was pressured by Beijing after receiving an email invitation to a visit with the Dalai Lama from his representatives. Another incident was about a Tibetan woman who was interrogated by Chinese intelligence officers and was shown transcripts of her online conversations. Liu Weimin, the spokesman of the Chinese embassy in London, has denied the involvement of Chinese government, stating that there is no evidence that his government was involved. He has called the accusation part of a “propaganda campaign” and “just some video footage pieced together from different sources to attack China”.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2009 at 5:19 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Mayotte, Department 101

The electorate of the French-ruled island of Mayotte, the only one of the four islands of the Comorian archipelago in the Indian Ocean off of Africa’s eastern coast to have remained under French rule, have voted in favour of their island’s departmentalization.

The Indian Ocean island of Mayotte voted Sunday to become a full part of France in a referendum that will end local traditions like polygamy and curb powers of Islamic courts.

More than 95 percent of those who voted supported Mayotte becoming France’s 101st department, the French government announced. Mayotte is currently an overseas “collectivity” with specific autonomy powers.

The vote means that by 2011 the Muslim-majority island will complete an integration with France begun in 1974, when Mayotte split from three other islands in its archipelago which chose independence and became the Comoros.

The African Union and the Comoros administration — which sees Mayotte as a territory “occupied” by France — have denounced the referendum.

Several hundred people marched Sunday to the French embassy in Moroni, the capital of the Comoros, and burned a French flag as they sang their national anthem to protest against the Mayotte referendum, a diplomat there said.

The Comoros have seen frequent coups since independence and are poorer than Mayotte, whose relative wealth makes it a magnet for illegal migrants who make a perilous boat journey there.

About a third of the 200,000 residents of Mayotte have arrived illegally from the Comoros.

“Our elders fought so that we we could remain part of France. It’s up to us to finish that work,” said Youssoufou Majouai, a 39-year-old gym caretaker, as he cast his vote in a school in the capital Mamoudzo.

“We have wanted this for a long time, to be like mainland France, with good schools and good salaries,” said Inoussa Abdallah, 58, as he voted in Mamoudzou town hall.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy hailed the referendum as a “historic moment for Mayotte,” his office said.

The vote follows unrest in three of France’s four overseas departments, with the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe being the worse hit by rioting during a lengthy general strike for pay rises that ended this month.

All political parties and trade unions on Mayotte, which lies between northern Madagascar and northern Mozambique and where French is spoken by less than half the population, called for a yes vote.

The only dissenting voices were some Muslim clerics who fear their influence will decline if French ways are imposed on the population, most of whom speak a dialect of Swahili.

Comoros and the other member states of the Arab League, along with other regional bodies like the African Union, have denounced this vote and called for Mayotte’s integration into the Comoros, but for various reasons including the general population’s support for political integration into France and their strategic location, France is not backing down. If anything, as France 24 reports, the French state is trying to deepen the separation between Mayotte and the other islands of the Comoros archipelago by (for instance) keeping out migrants attracted to Mayotte’s much higher standard of living.

The growing number of illegal immigrants from neighbouring impoverished islands who arrive on this scenic island has however worried French authorities. According to some estimates, nearly one-third of the island’s 200,000 inhabitants could be illegal immigrants.

In 2008, about 16,500 people were turned back at the border, which is half the total number of expulsions registered by the French Immigration Ministry.

Dozens arrive every day and night from Anjouan, the Comoran island closest to Mayotte. Many of them risk their lives in small, unstable boats called “kwasa kwasa,” sailing in dangerous, shark-infested waters. The tiny French enclave of Mayotte is rich, a virtual El Dorado by the standards of the Comoros archipelago.

Mayotte’s detention centre on the island of Pamandzi, is full to capacity. A new building is being constructed, which will be finished within two years. “People do not stay here for long – 24 hours, maximum,” a police officer at the detention centre told FRANCE 24’s Lucas Menget.

[. . .]

For centuries, these islanders have traversed these waters, visiting neighbouring islands. But since 1995, residents of the islands around Mayotte cannot visit the French dependency freely. France has put in place fast patrol boats, radars and thermal night vision goggles to try to stem the flow of illegal immigrants.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2009 at 12:54 pm

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[FORUM] Do you think we’ll be able to save the environment and ourselves, and how?

This year‘s Earth Hour is widely expected to be even more successful than last year’s event. Relatively little will be achieved directly by the act of turning off lights in cities around the world for only one hour, rather, Earth Hour will be a powerfully symbolic act that will help mobilize people behind the cause of saving the natural environment. Or so we hope.

Life on Earth will survive no matter what we do. Life is durable, having survived so many asteroid impacts and periods of volcanic activity and ice age. Human beings, now, are much more fragile, depending on the continued existence of certain ecologies and certain climates and certain other facts if we are to maintain our complex planetary civilization. It’s certainly imaginable that, without sufficient mobilization and action, we won’t save the environment in time to save our civilization, maybe even our species. It’s even possible with mobilization and suitable action.

I have two questions that I would like to put to my readers today. Do you think that we will be able to prevent the natural environment from going to hell and taking us with it? And if you think that we’ll be successful, how do you think we’ll do it. Myself, I hope that we’ll be able to save the current natural environment, and I suspect that we’ll be using quite a lot of high technology: carbon sequestration, ecological engineering, maybe even solar shades.

And you?

Written by Randy McDonald

March 28, 2009 at 2:16 pm

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[CAT] “Men who love cats and the women who love them”

Rebecca Dube writes about the subject in this post’s subject line.

Any single woman with cats, plural, cringes at that dreaded stereotype – the Crazy Cat Lady.

But there’s another beleaguered minority that has been suffering silently in her shadow: men who own, and love, cats.

Dudes with feline friends have historically been put on the defensive. Romping through the park with Rover is one thing, but spend some quality time with Mr. Whiskers and people start whispering about your masculinity.

But recently there have been signs of change. Online, men are professing their love for cats, and congregating with like-minded fanciers. A popular Flickr group has collected more than 600 photos of men cuddling their cats. “Down with rabid dogism!” cries the group’s administrator. (In many of the photos the cat is actually obscuring the man’s face – displaying either the residual shame associated with male cat ownership or the feline tendency to hog the camera, I’m not sure which.)

One of the biggest YouTube hits of last year was “An Engineer’s Guide to Cats,” a hilariously deadpan look at the joys of sharing one’s life with cats, by engineer Paul Klusman. The video has been viewed more than 3.4 million times, and Mr. Klusman received more than a few marriage proposals as a result. (So far, he’s sticking with his cats.)

As it should be, the new movement is long overdue, says cat lover Michael O’Sullivan, president of the Humane Society of Canada. He and his wife have one cat and one dog now, though in the past they’ve had as many as four cats. It was Mr. O’Sullivan who introduced his wife, a dog person, to the joys of felinity.

“I like their independent personalities,” Mr. O’Sullivan says. As for the stereotypes, he says he knows plenty of macho men who wouldn’t hesitate to adopt a cat. “I think I’m fairly masculine, and it’s never really mattered to me.”

The flickr group that Dube mentions is Men with their cats, and yes, I’ve joined.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 27, 2009 at 5:45 pm

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[LINK] Two Torontoist Links

  • First, Hamutal Dotan summarizes the Ontario provincial budget, notable for a large stimulus package and a harmonized federal/provincial value-added tax (13%) to replace the separate federal (5%) and provincial (8%) taxes. Ontario may be following the federal government’s lead.
  • Jonathan Goldsbie reports on the latest statistics about newspaper/weekly readership in Toronto. It turns out that the weeklies have multiple readers per copy, which doesn’t surprise me. When I’m done reading it on the subway, rather than junking it I usually leave it on my seat for others to enjoy.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 27, 2009 at 12:54 pm

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[LINK] Some Friday links

  • Andrew Barton compares the funding and other problems of public transit in Toronto and New York City and puts Toronto ahead, not least because of the sharp cost increases in New York City that might prompt an exodus of passengers from that system.
  • Edward Lucas considers the implications of NATO-associated wargames and their implications for greater Norden.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ Douglas Muir observes the tenth anniversary of the beginning fo NATO bombing of Serbia and the continuing consequences of Serbian nationalism among the young.
  • Joe. My. God reports that following a suit by a group of descendants of Holocaust survivors, Germany has banned an ad comparing the Holocaust’s victims to animals killed in slaughterhouses.
  • Paul Wells’ wonders if the Swedish government’s apparent willingness to let Saab go under reflects the relatively much higher level of research and development spending in Sweden. Goodbye sunset industries?
  • Language Hat links to resources on Australian Aborigine languages and quotes Orham Pamuk on his love for Gustave Flaubert.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money’s Scott Lemieux argues convincingly that US Supreme Court judge Antonin Scalia is a homophobe.
  • Tyler Cowen at Marginal Revolution takes a look at the long-ternm impact of the stimulus package associated with German reunification in 1990. The results weren’t pleasing.
  • Towleroad reports on how the Moroccan government, in the run-up to elections, is repressing gays, feminists, and religious minorities.
  • Windows on Eurasia reports that the Russian government’s plan to modernize the military by instituting a new class of sergeants has been put on hold.

Yonge Street Arcade







[BRIEF NOTE] Borders gone opaque

This news is depressing..

A senior official in the Obama administration doused hopes on Wednesday that the Canadian border will be treated differently than the beefed-up Mexican boundary where drug violence is escalating and countless illegal immigrants flood into the United States every day.

“One of the things that we need to be sensitive to is the very real feelings among southern border states and in Mexico that if things are being done on the Mexican border, they should also be done on the Canadian border,” Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, told a Canada-U.S. border conference.

The daylong Brookings Institution event featured dozens of participants from both countries discussing ways in which the movement of goods and people across the Canada-U.S. border could be facilitated. Napolitano’s remarks closed the event on an almost depressing note.

“We shouldn’t go light on one and heavy on the other,” she said of the Canadian and Mexican borders.

“This is one NAFTA, one area, one continent, and there should be parity there. I don’t mention this to suggest that everyone in this room will agree with that, I mention it to suggest it’s something I have to deal with, and so I ask for your sympathy.”

[. . .]

She later had a sobering message for Canadians hopeful that, under Obama, there would be freer movement of goods and people across a Canada-U.S. border that looks almost Utopian compared to the chaos at the American-Mexican boundary: it’s a real border and things aren’t easing up anytime soon.

“It’s as though there’s not a border at all,” Napolitano said of the close relationship between the two countries, particularly among those living in border communities.

“People are used to going back and forth, and the hockey teams go back and forth … people just don’t think of it as two different countries. But the reality exists that there’s a border there too.”

Canadians do think that they have a close relationship to the United States, probably that it’s a closer one than Mexico’s, what with a shared language and historic patterns of migration and long-standing economic integration and the clustering of our population so close to the border. A cross-border community does exist, as Napolitano said, and until recently was marked by the sort of easy travel that made the community that much more integrated. I myself remember with fondness the procedures that let me cross, with a relative minimum of fuss, over the border to camp in the Five Fingers area or visit the statue of Nikola Tesla on Goat Island in Niagara Fall, NY. As I blogged last 4th of July, the idea of accessing the United States easily appeals to me. Knowing that this is gone, and likely won’t return unless we enter a general North American passport union (and at what cost?) makes me sad.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 26, 2009 at 11:59 pm

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[LINK] “Shocking Confessions from Sun Slaughterer”

Torontoist’s David Topping reports on Jim Schwartz, a man who has
set up a blog to criticize the tabloid Toronto Sun.

He told Torontoist that the idea to give the Sun shit, consistently, started one winter ago. “I was walking to work every day, passing by the Toronto Sun newsstand and seeing ridiculous headlines….So I downloaded all of the Toronto Sun covers for an entire year, I extracted the headlines into a document, and I built a computer application to count the occurrences of each word to generate a tag cloud.”

The two most common words used in headlines? “Leafs” (thirty-five times) and “murder” (thirty times). Schwartz registered TorontoSunSucks.com, posted his findings in April, but didn’t do much else with the domain until this past new year. Since January, though, Schwartz posts a new entry a couple of times a week skewering that day’s Sun cover (like this one: “The Toronto Sun always posts interesting pictures of politicians. This one is no exception; David Miller looks like he was letting off a Raspberry Tart while the picture was being taken.”), or, in rarer occasions, praising it (like this one, of the Sun’s birthday edition, which, with a great old photo of the city, was “so close” to not sucking).

Schwartz, originally from the Niagara region, says that “where I grew up, everyone is afraid to go to Toronto because ‘it’s so dangerous.'” But, he says, “anyone who lives in the city knows it’s safe here…I blame the media for exploiting crime to sell newspapers.”

Written by Randy McDonald

March 26, 2009 at 11:50 pm

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[MUSIC] Sinéad O’Connor, “Fire on Babylon”

Sinéad O’Connor has come up with some very wonderful and powerful songs, but my favourite song of hers is “Fire on Babylon,” off of her 1994 album Universal Mother. As this Michel Gondry fansite says, “Fire on Babylon” is very intense, “an emblazoned song about an emotionally abusive mother. Sinéad sings, ‘She took my father from my life / Took my sister and brothers / I watched her torturing my child.’ At the end of the song she almost screams, ‘Fire!'”

With her powerful vocals, the raw lyrics, and the dramatic rolling beats and rhythms and strategic instrumental pauses, it’s a fantastic song. All of my favourite songs of hers are have those qualities: “Mandinka”, “Troy”, “I Am Stretched on Your Grave,” “The Emperor’s New Clothes,” “Famine.” Her quieter songs, her less angry songs–or, at least, less evidently angry ones–don’t appeal to me so much.

I wonder what that says about me.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 26, 2009 at 5:24 pm