A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for May 2009

[VIDEO] Dufferin Street, from Bloor Street down to Queen Street West

This is a six-minute video, taken from the window of a TTC bus, of the west side of Dufferin Street, from the Dufferin subway station on Bloor Street down to Queen Street West in Parkdale.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2009 at 8:42 pm

[FORUM] Where do you get your news from?

Earlier this week, a commenter on my post about the Chicago conservative talk show host who got waterboarded and realized it was actually torture was surprised to learn that this wasn’t a story of note in Canada. The Canadian and American media environments do tend to cover different subjects, then, at least to some extent, and even if someone like me pays attention to the news it’s still fairly easy to miss something.

Where do I get my news from? I use my RSS newsreader to read various news sites–Toronto’s Globe and Mail and Star, the CBC, the New York Times and the Times of London–in addition to visiting the websites of these papers, especially the Toronto ones. I frequently use Canada’s Google News aggregator for targeted keyword searches, sometimes doing the same at Google News’ various Francophone aggregators. I also get a fair amount of my news from the blogosphere, whether on Livejournal, the wider non-Livejournal blogosphere, even Facebook.

Where do you get your news from? Are there particular news sites that you like to visit, any methods that I haven’t mentioned above that you use–straightforward Google or Yahoo searches, say?–anything else that I haven’t thought of?

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2009 at 12:34 pm

[LINK] Some Saturday lnks

It’s Saturday, yes, but I’ve been busy and I’m here and you’re here, so here we go again.

  • blogTO’s Christopher Reynolds points to a new Korean neighbourhood in Toronto at Yonge and Finch, apparently known as “North Korea” due to its northerly location as opposed to Koreatown (“South Korea”) at Bloor and Christie.
  • The Bloor-Lansdowne Blog has a picture of a basketball game in Dufferin Grove park, one of the several Toronto parks with very heavy communtiy involvement.
  • Crooked Timber suggests that convergent US and EU unemployment rates show that labour flexibility laws don’t really mean that much in regards to unemployment levels generally. Thoughts?.
  • The Invisible College’s Richard Normam writes about the scale of the economic collapse in Zimbabwe, as witnessed from Harare.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money’s Robert Farley blogs about China’s apparent willingness to copy, without any credit at all, Russian military technology (here, carrier-based fighters).
  • Normblog reacts to the recent conviction in Montréal of Rwandan Désiré Munyaneza for crimes against humanity comitted during the Rwandan genocide, and its relationship to the principle of universal jurisdiction.
  • According to Noel Maurer at The Power and the Money, Brazil is considering building a high-speed rail link between Rio de Janeiro and São Paulo. The economics might well work here, at least.
  • Spacing Toronto’s Jake Schabas blogs about the forgotten hamlet of Elmbank, a Toronto suburban community obliterated by industrial expansion.
  • Window on Eurasia reports that some Abkhazians are afraid of being absorbed by their Russian sponsor.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2009 at 9:08 am

[LINK] “Metropass Opens More Doors”

This news item certainly goes a long way to justify my monthly purchase of a Metropass, a swipe card allowing me unlimited travel on the entire TTC network.

It used to be that a Metropass would only get you as far as the front door of Toronto’s hot spots.

But starting this summer, your transit pass also will get you past the door — for a reduced price — at five of the city’s top tourist destinations. The first phase of a new affinity program at the TTC means Metropass holders will get a 20 per cent discount at the Toronto Zoo, Ontario Place, the CN Tower, the Ontario Science Centre and Casa Loma.

The program ties into Tourism Toronto’s Stay-cation theme, in which recession-ridden residents are being encouraged to enjoy local attractions.

“It’s a good thing for our customers. It provides a value-add. Metropass customers are our most loyal by purchasing a monthly pass, so it’s a nice little extra for them,” said TTC chief marketing officer Alice Smith.

The program isn’t expected to cost the TTC anything other than promotions on the system.

“The attractions are offering a discount on admission but hopefully they would make it up in terms of volume,” said Smith.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2009 at 11:36 am

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[PHOTO] El Convento Rico, 750 College Street

El Convento Rico, 750 College Street
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

This unremarkable entryway at 750 College Street in Little Italy leads to El Convento Rico, one of the more notable gay clubs in Toronto and certainly one of the very few Latin-themed gay bars.

In the heart of trendy College St there stands a legend of sorts, El Convento Rico, for many years the bar was a safe haven for gay, lesbian or any other person who would be persecuted for being different. Nowadays the club prides itself on being “the most mixed bar in Toronto” gay or straight and from any walk of life, they can be found here, this is a place that has to be experienced at least once.

There are free Latin dance lessons, the music played in the club ranges from Salsa, Latin, House Hip Hop and Reggae, the bar hosts an array of excellent Latin performers and the highlight of the night is the wild drag queen shows at midnight.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 28, 2009 at 9:46 am

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[BRIEF NOTE] On Nigerien uranium

Over at his sterling blog, Noel Maurer has a series of very interesting posts (1, 2, 3) exploring the economics and the politics of Nigerien uranium. Niger, an impoverished former French colony in interior west Africa, came to particular prominence a few years ago as the country alleged to be involved in selling uranium to Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in forged documents provided by Italian intelligence. Uranium plays a huge role in Niger, actually, as this unassuming country is the third-largest uranium producer in the world after Canada and Australia. France, as the former imperial power and a country that still takes a proprietary interest in the French Union’s various successor states and a country heavily invested in things nuclear, was obviously involved in that country.

In 1963, French troops rescued the government of President Hamani Diori from a coup. In 1969, the French discovered uranium, and two French companies got exclusive rights. In March 1974, French, Nigerien, and Gabonese representatives meant in Niger’s capital to discuss Diori’s insistance that the country’s uranium contracts be renegotiated. Coincidentally, Diori fell to a coup the next month. It seems that all of Diori’s French military advisors had gone on vacation and no one picked up the phone in Paris when news of the violence arrived. The New York Times went so far as to accuse France of abetting the coup because Diori wanted to give uranium concessions to Exxon. The next guy kicked French troops out of the country, but the French remained in control of the mines … and their troops came back in 1981 anyway.

Surprisingly, Niger managed to get a good deal out of it. It may get a better deal, now that a Chinese state-owned corporation is getting involved. Not that the uranium seems to have benefitted a country that, like most of the other countries in the Sahel, ranks among the poorest and least developed in the world.

Guess what other country’s involved? (Hint: It’s the second-largest developed country that’s a member-state of la francophonie.)

Two Canada-based mining companies have joined forces to intensify their development of a total of eight uranium properties in Niger. The development is set to boost investments in these uranium properties, potentially increasing Niger’s mining output.

The two Canada-based companies Northwestern Mineral Ventures and UraMin today announced they have entered into a joint venture agreement to form a new corporation that is to “advance a total of eight highly prospective uranium concessions in Niger,” according to a press release. Northwestern and UraMin both receive a 50 percent equity stake in the new company.

Northwestern has a 100 percent exploration stake in the Irhazer and In Gall concessions in Niger, which have returned very high uranium values from five of 16 surface rock samples collected from outcrops. The two concessions consist of a total of 4,000 square kilometres. The company is also involved in three uranium projects in Canada silver and gold mine in Mexico.

This involvement is somewhat controversial, not only with Nigeriens complaining about negative health effects from existing mines, but with a general discontent at the terms of Canadian corporate involvement in Niger. The abduction and eventual release of two Canadian diplomats taken in that country was at one point (falsely) linked to a “rebel group that says uranium mining companies from Canada and other countries are pillaging their land without proper compensation for residents.” The diplomats were apparently visiting one of the Canadian-owned mining sites. We’ll have to wait and see how the Nigerien uranium situation develops, I guess, and the extent to which Canadian business–and by extension, Canada–will benefit, or not, from this new economics endeavour.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 27, 2009 at 7:08 pm

[LINK] “My Kingdom for a Beer? Heineken’s ‘Eurotopia'”

Strange Maps’ latest wonder is a map of a united Europe’s component parts drawn by Dutch brewer magnate Freddy Heineken. If nothing else, his plan was ambitious.

Freddy Heineken (1923-2002), the Dutch tycoon who made his beer into a global brand, also was a dedicated Europhile. Towards the end of his life, he proposed reshuffling Europe’s national borders to strengthen the supranational project whose stated goal is an “ever closer union”.

Heineken collaborated with two historians to produce a booklet entitled “The United States of Europe, A Eurotopia?” The idea was timely, for two reasons. Eastern Europe was experiencing a period of turmoil, following the collapse of communism. The resulting wave of nationalism led to the re-emergence of several nation-states (i.e. the Baltics) and the break-up of several others (Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia). And in 1992, the Maastricht Treaty would transform an initially mainly economic “European Community” into a more political “European Union”.

Heineken’s proposal would lead to the creation of dozens of new European states, which would have a comparably small population size (mostly between 5 and 10 million), some basis in history, and for the most part would be ethnically homogenous.

The theory behind Heineken’s idea is that a larger number of smaller member-states would be easier to govern within a single European framework than a combination of larger states competing for dominance.

In all, 24 countries–the EU-27 minus the three Baltic States–would be divided into 75 units, for instance with Spain being divided into the six units of Galicia-Asturias, Castilia Madrid, Navarre-Aragon Bilbao, Catalonia, Valencia, and Andalusia. Needless to say, this plan wouldn’t work, not only because of the complete disinterest of European Union member-states to be dismembered in the name of a deeper union, but because the regions don’t even make sense. Grouping the Basque Country together with Aragon, uniting Wallonia with Lille, building a “Noricum” out of southern Austria and Slovenia? Please.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 27, 2009 at 3:10 pm

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[LINK] “Minsk’s Resistance on Breakaway Republics Reflects Deeper Problems in Russian-Belarusian Rel

Paul Goble at Window on Eurasia reports on the Belarusian government’s continued resistance to Russian initiatives, suggesting that he’s playing Europe off against Russia, and that this desire to maximize Belarus’ autonomy is why the State Union never had a chance/

Minsk’s latest refusal to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia and even more the suggestion by some officials there that Moscow should “compensate” the Belarusian government to get it to take that step reflect underlying problems in the relationship of the two Slavic countries, according to a leading Moscow analyst.

In an essay posted online today, Sergey Markedonov argues that “the basic problem in Russian-Belarusian relations” is that the two sides entered into “the ‘unification’ process” for entirely different reasons, something that has become increasingly obvious and increasingly annoying to Moscow (www.polit.ru/author/2009/05/26/realizm.html).

For Moscow, the Moscow specialist on ethnic relations in and among the post-Soviet states insists, the Union of the Russian Federation and Belarus was never more than “an ideological project,” something that represented either a move away from “the Belovezhskaya complex” or, especially under Vladimir Putin, yet another “sublimation of Soviet nostalgia.”

But for Minsk, the entire process of a “brotherhood of Slavic states” was completely pragmatic, a policy predicated on the ability of Belarus to make use of Russian resources “for the development of [its own] national model of economics and politics” and thus reinforcing its national independence.

Such “a geopolitical dialectic,” Markedonov continues, was based on the reality that “in Moscow, no one ever considered Minsk an equal partner and ally.” Russian officials rarely consulted with their Belarusian counterparts, and consequently, Alyaksandr Lukashenka was able to realize his own version of the Sinatra doctrine – “I did it my way.”

That approach worked very much to his own advantage. On the one hand, it allowed the Belarusian leader to get aid from Russia while not ignoring his country’s location at the edge of Europe. And on the other, it helped him domestically where any concession to Moscow is likely to be seen as undermining Belarusian independence.


Written by Randy McDonald

May 27, 2009 at 3:02 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Owl and Chickadee

Many thanks to Torontoist’s Jamie Bradburn for reminding me of two magazines that I loved as a child (“Vintage Toronto Ads: Brainy Birds for a Child You Love”.

Hands up—how many of you read Chickadee or Owl during your childhood or purchased it for kids you knew? With features like the cartoon adventures of the Mighty Mites and the experiments of Dr. Zed (aka York Region science teacher Gordon Penrose), these magazines aimed to introduce scientific and environmental concepts to young readers.

Owl began publishing in 1976, with early subscription ads featuring praise from the likes of Pierre Berton, even if the language used may not have been deemed appropriate for innocent ears (“It’s a damn good magazine!”). Both magazines faced financial difficulties due to publisher Young Naturalist Foundation’s anti-advertising stance, but a fundraising campaign in 1980 kept the publications afloat.

I was quite pleased to find out that Owl and Chickadee are still quite active, even though OWL/TV came to an end in 1994. It’s nice when vestiges of childhood get a chance to survive, for a while at least.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 27, 2009 at 2:57 pm

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Go for VISA
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

I’ve seen this ad for VISA–the credit card company–at various spots in Toronto. While I’m certainly not a fan of credit card debt, this sculpture does strike me as worthy of some positive attention.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 27, 2009 at 12:11 pm