A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for April 2009

[BRIEF NOTE] No Russia without Lenin?

Window of Eurasia’s Paul Goble has come upon an interesting argument, to wit, that modern Russia can trace its institutions directly to Vladimir Lenin and the Russian Soviet and Federative Socialist Republic that he created.

Vladimir Lenin, the Bolshevik leader who seized power in Russia in 1917 has been praised and condemned for many things, but now a Bashkir scholar has celebrated him for a role few have yet acknowledged: Lenin, Rustem Vakhitov argues, deserves recognition and honor for his role as the founder of the Russian Federation.

In a 4,000-word essay posted online this week, Vakhitov, an Ufa-based academic who writes frequently on contemporary affairs, says that that Lenin’s importance for Russians today lies in his role as the creator of the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic, the predecessor of the Russian Federation (contrtv.ru/common/3111/).

Arguing that “the cult of Lenin” in Soviet times was not only something the man himself did not want but also has gotten in the way of focusing on what Lenin actually did, Vakhitov says that the best way to begin is by asking the question: “When did the state by the name of the Russian Federation in which we live arise?”

“Many people consider that this took place in 1991 after the collapse of the USSR, but this is not true,” Vakhitov insists, adding that in fact “on December 25, 1991, the Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR passed legislation according to which the RSFSR was renamed [Vakhitov’s italics] as the Russian Federation.”

In support of that contention, the Ufa scholar notes that the law began with the following words: “The Supreme Soviet of the RSFSR affirms: 1. The State the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) from now on will be called the Russian Federation (RF),” as it is known to this day.

What that means, Vakhitov continues, is that in 1991, the RSFSR simply changed its name, out of which were eliminated the words ‘soviet’ and ‘socialist’ as an indication that the Russian Republic had changed its political system and state ideology.” “But,” he continues, “no new state arose as a result.”

This points to a fascinating quasi-duality about modern Russia. Russia is the heir apparent to the Soviet empire in its entirety: the United Nations Security Council seat, the military might including of the nuclear arsenal, the Soviet interpretation of the Second World War and its associated traumas, the claimed sphere of influence in the former Soviet Union and even beyond, and so on. Russia is clearly the superpower’s successor. But what is it? At the same time, Russia is very nearly as much of a nation-state in formation as (say) Ukraine, since as Hélène Carrère d’Encausse pointed out in her The End of the Soviet Empire, that while the smaller republics of the Soviet Union had their own national cultural and other organizations, the Russian federative republic often lacked these entirely. The republics each had their own branch of the Soviet Academy of Sciences, for instance, while Russia had to wait until 1991 to get its own Russian Academy of Sciences. Russian national identity, in this reading, is uniquely troubled in a way that didn’t afflict the cores of other multinational empires, since there never was a Russia at all as distinguished from Estonia or Ukraine or Tajikistan. At least, not until Lenin came around.

One obvious outcome of all of this is that Russian national identity will revolve even more tightly than it has around the Soviet experience, since as Vakhitov points out Russia as such owes its existence to the Soviet experience. Another, equally obvious, outcome of this is that neighbouring nation-states with differing views on the Soviet experience will come into conflict with Russia.


Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2009 at 11:21 pm

[LINK] “Unbecoming Canadian sensitivity”

Noel Maurer takes a look at the Canadian sensitivities to the persistent American claims that some fo the 9/11 hijackers came through Canada. It’s worth a look.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2009 at 10:51 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Rice on al-Qaeda: A bigger threat than Nazi Germany

Thanks to Lawyers, Guns and Money’s Robert Farley for pointing out that Condoleezza Rice said that al-Qaeda was a bigger threat to the United States than Nazi Germany, in a Q&A session with students. (Yes, it’s videotaped.)

Q: Even in World War II facing Nazi Germany, probably the greatest threat that America has ever faced –

RICE: Uh, with all due respect, Nazi Germany never attacked the homeland of the United States.

Q: No, but they bombed our allies –

RICE: No, just a second, just a second. Three-thousand Americans died in the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

Q: 500,000 died in World War II –

RICE: Fighting a war in Europe.

Q: — and yet we did not torture the prisoners of war.

RICE: We didn’t torture anybody here either.

So: al-Qaeda is a bigger threat to the United States than Nazi Germany. Think about that one for a bit.

The original blogger argues that “[i]t’s hard not to read this as an admission by our former Secretary of State that terrorism works — or at least it worked on her, to the extent that it induced her to embrace interrogation methods that previous American administrations prosecuted as crimes. Farley also notes that, “[i]n fact, the German Kriegsmarine sank approximately 600 US and Allied merchant vessels in and around US territorial waters between January and June 1942. These attacks came shortly after Nazi Germany declared war on the United States. Approximately 1500 American sailors were killed in these attacks. I suspect that an attack on an American ship in US territorial waters would be interpreted by just about anyone as an attack on the homeland of the United States.”

From Canada, I’d also add the 1942 torpedoing of the Newfoundland ferry S.S. Caribou, at a cost of 137 dead, as an attack against the Canadian mainland, to say nothing of other attacks on ships the German weather-monitoring stations placed at various points on the Atlantic coast.

What all these means is that, while al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations can do horrible things (assuming that their agents can get past the ever-tightening webs of police and state surveillance, that is), the only organization capable of credibly challenging the existence of a state is another state. If I’m alone and say I plan on destroying Canada, or even if I’m hanging out with a few hundred friends, in person and via social networking, who will say the same thing alongside me, even if we all pledge our energies towards destroying this country, who likely are we to succeed? Really. Police measures are more suited than military interventions, and panic is not your friend regardless else you say silly things like the above and act accordingly. *

* Unless we’re talking about military interventions against states which are involved, seriously at least, in supporting terrorist attacks. That’s a different story.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2009 at 1:54 pm

[LINK] “G.O.P. Debate: A Broader Party or a Purer One?”

This article by Adan Nagourney and David M. Herszenhorn appeared in The New York Times today, dealing with the position of the Republicans after Arlen Specter’s defection.

With consensus growing among Republicans that the party is in its worst political position in recent memory, some conservatives applauded Mr. Specter’s departure. They said it cleared the way for the party to distance itself from its record of expanding government during the Bush years and to re-emphasize the calls for tax cuts and reduced federal spending that have dominated Republican thought for more than 30 years.

“We strayed from our principles of limited government, individual responsibility and economic freedom,” said Chris Chocola, a former Indiana congressman who is head of Club for Growth, a group that has financed primary challenges against Republicans it considers insufficiently conservative. “We have to adhere to those principles to rebuild the party. Those are the brand of the Republican Party, and people feel that we betrayed the brand.”

But Republican leaders in Washington argued that Republicans would be permanently marginalized unless they showed flexibility on social issues as well as economic ones.

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, the head of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he would seek to recruit candidates who he thought could win in Democratic or swing states, even if it meant supporting candidates who might disagree with his own conservative views.

Mr. Cornyn said he was taking a page from Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York, the last head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, who led his party to big gains by embracing candidates who, for example, opposed abortion rights or gun control.

“If you think about it, Schumer has been very good at this; I complimented him this morning in the gym,” Mr. Cornyn said, adding, “Some conservatives would rather lose than be seen as compromising on what they regard as inviolable principles.”

[. . .]

Saying that their party should do more to draw economic contrasts with the Democrats, several Republicans said Mr. Specter’s departure was in effect a purification rite for the party that would make it better able to make its case to the public.

“I’m not hurt by Arlen Specter walking away,” said Michael Reagan, the son of former President Ronald Reagan and a conservative talk show host. “At least now the party doesn’t waste money supporting someone who does not support the party.”

“It’s interesting that people say the right has taken over the Republican Party — but no one can say what we’ve done,” Mr. Reagan said. “We’ve been closeted for the last eight years; it’s time for the right to come out of the closet.”

That last bit makes me chuckle. I guess that the Republicans have their own purs et durs, too.

Halfway Down the Danube’s Doug Muir suggests that, based on the patterns of the past few decades, come the net midterm Obama is unlikely to continue to command as large a Democratic majority in the Senate as he does now, if a majority at all. That certainly seems possible, especially if the economy doesn’t pick up by said midterm election. If, though, he can make it work …

I’d really like the Republican Party to follow the Christian Democrats down towards, well, a happily non-militaristic sanity. If not, well, the wilderness has fit worse groups better.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2009 at 1:34 pm

[MUSIC] “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord:
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword:
His truth is marching on.

The more that I think about it, the more that I’m certain that the 1861 US Civil War classic, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic, is one of my favourite songs. I first learned it in choir practice at L.M. Montgomery Elementary School, back when I was in Grade 5 and under the tutelage of Mrs. Gay. I love its rousing music, its lyrics’ call to determined holy war against a pitiless enemy, its uplifting chorus. I say this as a citizen of a nation, I might mention, that probably formed only as a confluence of mostly Civil War-related factor: official sympathy for a Confederate secession that would weaken the Union, popular opposition to slavery, cross-border terrorist raids that the post-Civil War Union let bitter Irish-American wages against Britain’s remaining North America possessions, et cetera. The ungovernability of the Province of Canada is probably the chief cause of Canadian unification that’s internal to Canada.

It’s still a powerful song for me. It might be my vestigial interest in Christianity post-secularization that attracts me to the language, it might be the knowledge of Confederate society under slavery that makes me think as well of the song aimed against the Confederacy as I do (and, incidentally, gives me one of several reasons not to take to Firefly), it might just be because it’s a good song written for a good cause. Regardless, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” is grand.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2009 at 1:22 pm

[PHOTO] The Canamerican Flag

The Canamerican Flag
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

I snapped this picture of the Canamerican flag in front of a bargain store on Yonge Street. I’m dubious about the aesthetics, among other things.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2009 at 9:32 am

[BRIEF NOTE] On the recent Tamil protests in Toronto

The Tamil-Canadian protest that began Sunday night outside of the American Consulate in Toronto at Dundas and University has seen arrests and minor injuries.

[The protesters] have been there for three long days, amid complaints from drivers. But now Toronto Police have finally moved in on Tamil demonstrators who have been occupying the busy intersection of University and Dundas.

At least nine people have been taken into custody and there were reportedly some violent scuffles as the authorities tried to get them out of the street. One woman was said to have been injured in the melee when she was trampled by a police horse.

For days, cops have refused to take any action against the protestors, who are trying to get U.S. and Canadian governments to intervene in the genocide in their native Sri Lanka, because the standoff was peaceful and no laws were being broken.

But when some of the hundreds assembled learned that China had used its veto power at the United Nations to stop the world from intervening in the country, tempers flared. And when the multitude tried to move onto Dundas St., cops ordered them back.

Torontoist’s Jerad Gallinger reports that the protesters, aimed at pressuring the United States into intervening in Sri Lanka, were starting some sort of internal dispute when the police intervened. The complications of this protest for traffic in the downtown core can only be imagined, while the links of the protest with the LTTE–reportedly some protesters were waving Tamil Tiger flags–likely has done even less to endear them to Torontonians in general.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2009 at 6:32 pm

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[LINK] “Judging a Branch by Its Cover”

Over at Torontoist, Stephen Michalowicz has a post examining the ongoing renovations being made to the different branches of the Toronto Public Library.

For too long, the aging 1950s-style architecture of many Toronto libraries has stood in stark contrast to the fantastic materials and services available within. But, finally, with the TPL’s Renovation and Revitalization program, new and sleek designs are ending the disparity. Since amalgamation, the library has renovated sixteen branches, reconstructed eleven branches, and built two new branches. So far, the redesigns and relocations have been a success. When Jane and Sheppard opened earlier this month, the new building was met with immediate praise. Previously, the Jane and Sheppard Branch had been a small ugly little thing tucked away inside the Jane and Sheppard Mall, but now the library shines like a glass beacon of literary enlightenment. “Jane and Sheppard has a good feeling now; very light and open,” explained Anne Bailey, director of Branch Libraries, when we talked to her about the renovation project.

[. . .]

Toronto’s public libraries are needed now more than ever. In the last half of 2008, visits to TPL branches increased by 8%, use of materials increased by 12%, and use of library computers increased by 13%. The TPL is also widening their scope to include job-hunting advice, and with a collection of more than eleven million items, including books, CDs, and DVDs, cash-strapped individuals are likely to continue using the library as a free form of entertainment. “I think it’s meeting a need,” responded Bailey, when asked about increased library traffic. “When you see people using the space and enjoying the library, you know that you’ve struck a good chord with the community.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2009 at 3:35 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] On the fact that the September 11th hijackers did not enter the US from Canada, really

Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security, recently got quite a lot of negative attention from Canadians when she said–or didn’t say; it’s confusing, apparently–that September 11th hijackers entered the US via Canada. (John McCain thinks the same thing, but he doesn’t matter so much now. Shockingly, find myself agreeing with Rex Murphy.

It’s nearly 8 years since the crash of the twin towers, and she still doesn’t know – still – that all of the hijackers that brought tragedy that day – came into the USA – through their own customs and immigration —- not one came down through the great forests of Toronto or over the tundra of Montreal, not one of them got access to the US via what Ms Napolitano thinks of as “borderless” Canada.

Must it be said to Ms Napolitano yet again? The September 11 hijackers did not enter via Canada. Sauda Arabia is not the 11th province. Mohammed Atta did not fly into New York that terrible day from Prince Edward Island. The 9-11 hijackers did not go to “flight school” in Buttonville. Canada was not, in whole or in part, the “holding room” of the 9-11 terrorists.

What is Barack Obama doing appointing someone to head Homeland Security, who, eight years after the attacks, does not even now know where the hijackers came from and how they got into their country? Here, it’s not her ignorance about Canada which should be troubling. It’s her ignorance of the most publicized event in modern American history. How can anyone be head of Homeland Security and not know the history of the 19 men who killed nearly 3,000 Americans?

This Washington Post article–from 2005–traces the origin of this urban legend to mistaken reporting by two Boston newspapers in the confusion immediately following the terrorist attacks.

The account was born in the first days after the attacks, when reporters and government investigators were scrambling to figure out how the conspirators had carried out the plot. Bernard Etzinger, a Canadian Embassy spokesman, says the “big bang” that started the legend can be traced to two Boston newspapers.

A Boston Globe story on Sept. 13 said investigators were “seeking evidence” that the hijackers came through Canada. The Boston Herald reported the same day that federal investigators believed “the terrorist suspects may have traveled . . . by boat” from Canada.

On Sept. 14, The Washington Post reported that an unnamed U.S. official had said two suspects “crossed the border from Canada with no known difficulty at a small border entry in Coburn Gore, Maine,” and that others may have come through other Maine ports. On Sept. 16, that report was repeated by the New York Post, which also declared that “terrorists bent on wreaking havoc in the United States” had found Canada “the path of least resistance.” On Sept. 19, the Christian Science Monitor referred to Canada as “a haven for terrorists.”

“It was just one of those things where everybody says, ‘We all knew that,’ and it becomes irrefutable,” Etzinger said.

The Vanity Press’ Chet Scoville further points out that most of the five hundred or so suspicious people who entered the US from Canada in a past year are actually American citizens or landed immigrants, and that their Canadian counterparts are only a small, small minority. Blame Canada, suggests Scoville? Why not? “These are the elements of a full and comprehensive Blame Canada narrative, and one that I’m guessing will last for the forseeable future no matter who’s in charge. It serves to justify American self-image. It blames others for America’s own problems. It’s a great way to pretend that citizenship rights don’t exist in US terrorism cases. It’s handy in several ways. For that reason, I suspect it will be with us for a long time.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2009 at 9:38 am

[CAT] “Kittens found in plastic bag ‘strong and active'”

Happily, the story of the ten kittens abandoned in a plastic bag in mid-town Tornoto has a happy ending.

Staff at the Toronto Humane Society will need to wait a few more days to ensure the kittens rescued from a plastic bag earlier this week have not contracted any serious illnesses.

Ten kittens were heard crying inside a No Frills bag close to Vaughn Rd. and Oakwood Ave. on April 22. Their umbilical cords were still attached when they were found. One kitten has since died, but a spokesperson for the Humane Society is hopeful the remaining nine will survive.

“They’ve been OK, their weight is balancing out and they seem to be strong and active,” said Ian McConachie. “It’s too early to tell if there are any serious problems.”

Each kitten weighed between 101 and 118 grams when they were found and estimated to be three or four days old. McConachie said they’ll need to put on a lot more weight before staff will know if they are developing properly. “The two- and three-week mark will be a milestone,” he said. In the meantime, the kittens are being fed supplements and nursing from two cats at the Humane Society shelter.

McConachie said several people have inquired about adopting the kittens, including the man who found them. However, the kittens need to be eight weeks old and weigh 800 grams before they can be leave the society.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2009 at 8:53 am

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