A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for July 2009

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Meanderings on identities in time

Way back in 2004, when I was finishing up my Master’s year at Queen’s University, I did a mashup reviewof two books, John Barnes’ science fiction novel The Merchants of Souls and Alison Lansberg’s Prosthetic Memory. What is “prosthetic memory?

“By prosthetic memories I mean memories which do not come from a person’s lived experience in any strict sense.”[1] When someone views, for example, a film or television program, they have a memory of the narrative events which transpired without actually having experienced those events in any manner. In her book Prosthetic Culture: Photography, Memory and Identity, Celia Lury examines the specific role that photography plays in the prosthetic memories produced by mass culture. Everyone remembers the horrific events of September 11, 2001, but many of those who recall that day did not witness the event with their own eyes. The media has “fundamentally alter[ed] our notion of what counts as experience”[2] precisely because it “bring[s] the texture and contours of prosthetic memory into dramatic relief.”[3] Media technologies make it possible for human beings to possess, like the replicants of Blade Runner, vivid memories of experiences that are not their own.

She argues that prosthetic memories are transmissible in any manner of fashions, that “the memories forged in response to modernity’s ruptures do not belong exclusively to a particular group; that is, memories of the Holocaust do not belong only to Jews, nor do memories of slavery belong solely to African Americans. Through the technologies of mass culture, it becomes possible for these memories to be acquired by anyone, regardless of skin color, ethnic background, or biology. Prosthetic memories are transportable and therefore challenge more traditional forms of memory that are premises on claims of authenticity, “heritage,” and ownership. This new form of memory is neither inherently progressive nor inherently reactionary, but it is powerful (2-3).”

This sort of phenomenon has arguably been recognized for a while, in Ernest Renan’s Qu’est-ce qu’une nation when he argued that nations were united by memories shared in common. Things are remembered by a community’s members, things are forgotten, both define the membership, the in crowd and the outsiders. This sort of belief, in John Barnes’ universe, is something actively combated since group memories and identities triggered horrors on Earth–including Japan’s vitrification, say–and the export of ethnic separatists to the stars, on the grounds that those sorts of identities, associated with groups and transmitted ultimately by individuals, are destabilizing.

This week I think that I’ve been concerned especially with identity and the transmission of cultural elements–text, photos, interactions–between people. Maybe it’s because I’m more aware of these identities at different scales, maybe it’s because I’m interested in the ways in which people learn from each other and transmit things, by the ways in which too much is communicated as well as too little.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2009 at 6:54 pm

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[LINK] “Fisheries’ outlook bleak in Eastern Canada: report”

This news is hardly a surprise.

Steps taken to curb overfishing are finally showing signs of success in many of the world’s fisheries, according to a report released Thursday, but the news isn’t so good in Eastern Canada, where there have been “dramatic stock collapses.”

The assessment report, conducted by an international team of fishery scientists, suggests that five of the 10 large marine ecosystems examined are showing improvement. None is in Canada.

Recovery rates in Eastern Canada are slow or non-existent, said Boris Worm of Halifax’s Dalhousie University, a co-author of the report.

“We’re losing entire species,” Worm said. “Many are either no longer economically or ecologically viable. We’re running the risk of destabilizing the entire ecosystem.”

Two-thirds of traditional fish resources in the Gulf of St. Lawrence have collapsed; meaning the abundance has decreased 90 per cent from its un-fished state.

How are Atlantic Canadian fishers responding? Guess.

Only Alaska and New Zealand had not been subject to excessive fishing pressure and had never declined below-target levels.

Five of the other eight ecosystems had been overfished in the past, but the fraction harvested had since declined into the target range.

“This means we now find that seven of the 10 systems are being fished responsibly,” Hilborn said. “And for five of them, this represents an improvement.”

As for Canada, Worm said, fishers have to be more cautious.

“Refrain from fishing potentially endangered species,” he said. “We have to assess situations before removing fish.”

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2009 at 3:32 pm

[LINK] “”Gender Equality”, “Child Soldiers” and “Humanitarian Law” are Axed from Foreign Policy Lang

Thanks to Facebook’s Vanessa for linking to this article by Michelle Collins in Embassy suggesting that the Harper government is subtly changing its wording of various official documents so as to–perhaps–evade Canada’s international responsibilities.

In an email communication obtained by Embassy, staff at the Department of Foreign Affairs express concern about frequent changes being made to commonly used terms, particularly where such changes are not consistent with accepted Canadian policy, and which may be carried out to minimize international obligations on issues as complex as the Omar Khadr case.

Among the changes identified are the excising of the word “humanitarian” from each reference to “international humanitarian law,” replacing the term “gender equality” with “equality of men and women”, switching focus from justice for victims of sexual violence to prevention of sexual violence, and replacing the phrase “child soldiers” with “children in armed conflict.”

For many observers of Canada’s foreign policy, these are distressing language changes that water down many of the very international human rights obligations Canada once fought to have adopted in conventions at the United Nations. As one source said, in the international world of diplomacy—where officials often focus detailed discussions on the language included in documents and policies—wording makes a big difference.

Indeed, the email states “It is often not entirely clear to us why advisers are making such changes, and whether they have a full grasp of the potential impact on [Canadian] policy in asking for changes to phrases and concepts that have been accepted internationally and used for some time.”


Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2009 at 3:27 pm

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[LINK] “Was there ever a dinosaur civilization?”

Contra the statements of my Grade 7 French teacher who gave me a tarot card reading in Kingston a dozen years later, I’ve never been interested in dinosaurs very much. Brent Trent’s article at Strange Horizons raises an interesting prospect: What if a dinosaur species ascended to sentience before the K-T impact?

The hidden hunters are livid green, with dark stripes along their backs. They are bipedal, standing eight feet tall, and their four-fingered scaly hands grasp cruel spears. Unknown descendants of what future primates will call the Saurornithoides, a species of Troontid, they are the warrior caste of their cave-dwelling tribe. Eggs will be hatching soon, and there will be many hungry mouths to feed. The hunt is essential.

The horned behemoth ahead of them can’t comprehend what’s about to happen. For millions of years it has understood that predators may spring out of the nearby woods, and when this happens you run away. It doesn’t realize that ferocious intelligence has bloomed in the late Cretaceous.

The hunters wait, keeping low in the tall grass. Suddenly a blood-chilling shriek erupts on the far side of the Monoclonius herd. A collaborating group of hunters is enacting the first phase of the plan, as they spring from concealment and charge wildly at the massive animals. Predictably, the surprise startles the herd into a panicked run.

The young Monoclonius runs at the hunters without knowing they’re there. Suddenly their spears erupt from the grasses, accompanied by wild gesticulations and shrieking scaly throats. The terrified Monoclonius dashes to the side and straight into the trap.

Just a few strides in and the ground collapses. The animal’s weighty bulk impales it on numerous pikes set the day before. As it bleeds to death at the bottom of the pit, the last thing it sees is a ring of snake-like heads crowding the top, hissing with victory.

The whole thing is a provocative read, not least because Trent concludes that the above scene could well have happened.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2009 at 3:21 pm

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[LINK] Some Friday links

  • The Bloor-Lansdowne blog covers the celebration surrounding the reopening of the Bloor-Lansdowne Library.
  • Centauri Dreams covers the possibility that life in the Galaxy might emerge in great, irregular waves as punctuated evolution would hold, reports more signs that water may exist on/inside Enceladus, and suggests that the threat from comets to Earth may be quite exaggerated.
  • Demography Matters co-blogger Aslak Berg points out that better metrics indicate that European fertility is substantially higher than TFRs would indicate.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to Venus exploration proposals and the discovery of evidence of an asteroidal collision with Earth 129 thousand years ago.
  • Edward Lucas reviews a new book by the admittedly problematic Andrew Roberts that makes the point that Germany’s loss of the Second World War has everything to do with Naziism and Hitler’s erratic nature.
  • A Fistful of Euros covers the news about the expansion of new liberal visa rules to only some Yugoslav successor states, and reports on the growing irrelevance of Kosovar Albanians and Serbians to each other.
  • Language Hat reports on recent neurological discoveries suggesting that brain damage is more likely to damage knowledge of a second language than of a first.
  • Marginal Revolution links to an article claiming that China’s also suffering a bubble economy, with commenters disputing the accuracy of foreign reports.
  • Spacing Toronto’s Jake Schabas reports about a charming secret garden on Eglinton Street and touches on the history of market gardens.
  • Slap Upside the Head lets us know that a Saskatchewan public marriage commissioner who claimed that he didn’t have to perform gay marriages because of his religion lost his case.
  • Torontoist blogs about Hamilton’s image-changing efforts, vintage ads about a defunct store chance, and the Bloor-Gladstone Library’s revival.
  • Towleroad reports, rather surprisingly, that Albania’s president says he wants to push for gay marriage in his country.

[PHOTO] Silent protest

Silent protest
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

“Stop giving handouts to the rich and start giving handouts to the poor,” this of several oversize cardboard images of homeless people says.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 31, 2009 at 11:34 am

[PHOTO] Squirrel at St. Michaels

Squirrel at St. Michaels
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

I took a photo of this black squirrel running about a rock garden on the grounds of the University of Toronto’s St. Michael’s College back at the beginning of May. I’m astounded that I was able to capture it, putting it in the center, even.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 30, 2009 at 1:48 pm

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[MUSIC] 808 State, “One in Ten”

I forget how I happened upon 808 State‘ “One in Ten” on Audiogalaxy, but I did. It’s a song taken from their 1993 album Gorgeous, which drew upon UB40’s 1981 single “One in Ten”.

I am the one in ten-a number on a list
I am the one in ten-even though I don’t exist
Nobody knows me but I’m always there
Statistical reminder of a world that doesn’t care.

I am the one in ten-a number on a list
I am the one in ten-even though I don’t exist
Nobody knows me…

When I first heard the song, I thought that it referred to the (now discredited) figure in the Kinsey Reports that claimed one-in-ten men were homosexual. But no, it’s a song prompted by the one-in-ten rate of British unemployment, perhaps unsurprisingly since the band took its name from a British unemployment form. It may not be a coincidence that 808 State released the song just when Britain’s recession was ending. The lyrics start out by relating directly to unemployment, but G. Anahera states the obvious in the essay “Ub40 “One in Ten”: Raising Political Awareness” and points out that remainder of the lyrics reference all manner of disenfranchised–the cancer sufferer, homeless women, murder victim and murderer, Third World famine victims–and that “UB40 valued the importance of equality and dignity, and [strongly] opposed Thatcherism for the way it was treating the “common” people.” It doesn’t say anything about queer people, but can’t that be implied? Why not?

Written by Randy McDonald

July 30, 2009 at 1:04 pm

[DM] “Matt Carr on Reflections on the Revolution in Europe”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters linking to Matt Carr’s superb rebuttal of the latest Eurabian tome, Christopher Caldwell’s Reflections on the Revolution in Europe. Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

July 30, 2009 at 12:36 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Do Americans hate national health care because they hate fetus-based cosmetics?

As the Canadian Press’s Lee-Ann Goodman reports, conservatives are doing everything that they can to avoid the creation of a national health-care system covering all Americans.

The commercial opens with an aging couple sitting at their kitchen table, plaintive piano music playing in the background.

“They won’t pay for my surgery, but we’re forced to pay for abortions,” says the miffed husband in the new spot produced by the pro-life Family Research Council.

It ends with this warning from the narrator: “Our greatest generation denied care. Our future generation denied life. Call your senator. Stop the government takeover of health care.”

Right Wing Watch hosts the commercial in its entirety.

As is so often the case in the United States, another political battle has become a war waged over values as health-care reform remains the top order of business this week on Capitol Hill.

Democrats reached a fragile agreement on Wednesday with the party’s rebellious rank-and-file fiscal conservatives, clearing the way for a vote in September on health-care legislation.

Six senators were also engaged in closed-door negotiations aimed at a bipartisan deal as a new Gallup poll suggested only 44 per cent of Americans believe new health-care laws would improve medical care in the United States.

Amid this uneasy environment, interest groups opposed to President Barack Obama’s plans have been pulling out all the stops by injecting values into the argument, suggesting his plan will result in more abortions and seniors being encouraged to end their lives.

Republicans have been urging House Speaker Nancy Pelosi for an explicit exclusion of abortion services in any health-care bill, and have threatened to stall debate in the House of Representatives if it doesn’t happen.

What the two silly, silly people in the commercial don’t understand is thaat abortions solve their problem: not only does he manage to avoid surgery when the fetuses are rendered into magical stem cells, but his wife also gets to enjoy youth-restoring fetus-based cosmetics! How can anyone oppose those noble goals?

More seriously, I am confused about the invocation of choice by opponents of this health plan? So far as I know, unlike Canada’s Medicare, the plan would not make doctors employees of government, instead mandating the individual’s purchase of insurance with subsidies from employers and the government thrown in. It can understand how some American conservatives might see the Canadian system as intrusive, although as André Picard points out the anti-Medicare case made by Canadian Shona Holmes on American television is misleading, to say the least. But mandating individuals’ purchase of insurance?

The rhetoric opposing national medicare in the United States seems to centre around fears that individuals will lose their autonomy, their freedom of choice. How can they be free to choose, I wonder, if they’re unable to afford basic therapies and have to go without? I’m quite confused.

Can one of you help me?

Written by Randy McDonald

July 30, 2009 at 10:59 am