A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for August 2009

[LINK] “Iraqi Air Force Discovered!!!!!”

Lawyers, Guns and Money’s Robert Farley linked to an unusual article from The New York Times.

Iraqi officials have discovered that they may have an air force, after all.

The Defense Ministry revealed Sunday that it recently learned that Iraq owns 19 Russian-designed MIG-21 and MIG-23 jet fighters, which are in storage in Serbia. The ministry said Iraqi officials are negotiating with the Serbs to restore the aircraft.

The Serbian government has tentatively promised to make two of the aircraft available “for immediate use,” according to a press release from the ministry. The rest would be restored on a rush basis, the ministry said.

Farley thinks that these planes, which will “constitute the entirety of the fighter capability of the Iraqi Air Force,” will play a useful role in that these MiGs could keep the Iraqi Air Force trained and active. And no, the one hundred-odd fighters flown to Iran during the Gulf War are very unlikely to be returned.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2009 at 9:13 pm

[LINK] “English Anglicans breathe new life into French chapels”

This AFP report, written by Suzanne Mustacich, is certainly interesting.

The priest is a married woman, the Anglican service is in English, yet the old stone chapel in Bordeaux is definitely 100 percent French Roman Catholic.

In southwest France, once a battlefield between medieval English and French armies, expats are breathing life into borrowed Catholic churches left empty by their local flocks, quietly sprouting a dozen Anglican congregations.

As sunlight filtered through the stained glass windows of the 19th century chapel, Reverend Gill Stratchan unpacked the chalice she would use for the Sunday service while her husband sorted prayer books.

“I was ordained a priest in a magnificent abbey in the Dordogne in 2007,” said Stratchan, a retired British schoolteacher resident in France since 1996.

Two Catholic priests and a bishop attended her ordination in their abbey. “It was a fairly unique situation for them to see a woman ordained,” she said.

But the broad-mindedness on the part of the French was not entirely unexpected. “What brings us together is stronger than what divides us,” said Father Lanuc, in charge of ecumenical relations for the Archbishop of Bordeaux.

“An English Anglican has the right to take Holy Communion in a French Roman Catholic church, which is not allowed anywhere else,” added Reverend Paul Vrolijk, Chaplain of the regional Anglican Diocese and unofficial diplomat.

Mustacich goes on to describe how the Anglicans of southwestern France, products of the recent large-scale emigration of Britons to this region, are fitting into a predominantly Roman Catholic area. The idea of female priests, for instance, is starting to cause some curiosity.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2009 at 8:59 pm

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[LINK] “Save this city”

Last Friday, The Globe and Mail‘s Trevor Cole covered the many problems and hopes for the future that the city of Hamilton, a once-industrial city perhaps an hour’s drive east of Toronto on Lake Ontario that has seen its famous steel mills start to close down and its rivalry with Toronto end in a decided defeat.

For anyone from the largest and wealthiest city in Canada-that would be Toronto, just 50 minutes away-what’s down is up in Hamilton. The waterfront and the inner city lie to the north; south spread the suburbs. That gets a bit confusing if you’re new to the place. So is the notion that Hamilton has aspirations, that becoming “one of the major cities in this country and in North America” could be destiny, not fantasy.

But it was only a few decades ago that Hamilton, “the ambitious city,” had not just Stelco and Dofasco but a cohort of blue-chip American companies that would make any city drool-Firestone, Westinghouse, Procter & Gamble, International Harvester, Life Savers, Levi Strauss. The smokestacks billowed until the evening air in the east end had a taste. Downtown, stores and restaurants thrived. Johnny Pops, head of the Papalia family, made Hamilton a hot spot of organized crime. If there’s one thing the Mafia likes, it’s the prospect of money, and Hamilton had plenty of prospects. Among all of Canada’s cities, it was the great steel hope, packing industrial muscle on a squat, sturdy frame. It wasn’t pretty, far from that, but it was a contender.

And then all that went away. Not suddenly, but relentlessly, through a series of body blows. As prosperity plumped nearby rivals such as Burlington, Oakville, Mississauga, Kitchener-Waterloo and-especially-Toronto, it skipped Hamilton completely, cruelly, until most of its big-name companies were gone, the stores along Barton Street deteriorated into dark and crumbling shells, downtown became a kind of forbidden zone, and even the Mafia couldn’t make any money. Nine years ago, an incantation penned by Tiny Bill Cody, a popular local musician, spoke to a city finally dropped to the mat. “Hamilton!…” the poem went, “Your opponents are always so huge/And you always lose. Stupid, heroic, blockhead.”

Internal political rivalries, the problems facing the retraining of factory workers for service-sector jobs, a suspicion of outside initiatives, and a downtown district in catastrophic decline, are all major factors against this. Conversely, attempts to rebrand Hamilton as an artistic centre might work. In the end, given the large number of commuters to Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area and the lack of a strong local economic base, becoming a Toronto bedroom community instead of a strong independent city might be the best options.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2009 at 3:40 pm

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[LINK] “As Internet turns 40, barriers threaten its growth”

Apparently it’s the 40th anniversary of the Internet.

Few were paying attention back on Sept. 2, 1969, when about 20 people gathered in Kleinrock’s lab at the University of California, Los Angeles, to watch as two bulky computers passed meaningless test data through a 15-foot gray cable.

That was the beginning of the fledgling Arpanet network. Stanford Research Institute joined a month later, and UC Santa Barbara and the University of Utah did by year’s end.

The 1970s brought e-mail and the TCP/IP communications protocols, which allowed multiple networks to connect — and formed the Internet. The ’80s gave birth to an addressing system with suffixes like “.com” and “.org” in widespread use today.

The Internet didn’t become a household word until the ’90s, though, after a British physicist, Tim Berners-Lee, invented the Web, a subset of the Internet that makes it easier to link resources across disparate locations. Meanwhile, service providers like America Online connected millions of people for the first time.

That early obscurity helped the Internet blossom, free from regulatory and commercial constraints that might discourage or even prohibit experimentation.

“For most of the Internet’s history, no one had heard of it,” Zittrain said. “That gave it time to prove itself functionally and to kind of take root.”

Even the U.S. government, which funded much of the Internet’s early development as a military project, largely left it alone, allowing its engineers to promote their ideal of an open network.

When Berners-Lee, working at a European physics lab, invented the Web in 1990, he could release it to the world without having to seek permission or contend with security firewalls that today treat unknown types of Internet traffic as suspect.

The author, Anick Jesdanun, goes on to observe that everything from content providers’ lockout of users to ISPs’ limitations on the amount of data that can be exchanged by a user to technical problems with transferring large amounts of data like video, has the potential to slow things down.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2009 at 3:33 pm

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[PHOTO] “Here in my car”

"Here in my car"
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

I snapped a picture of this, some kind of classic car that I’ve no idea how to identify (help?), outside of OISE, among other things a teacher’s college, on Bloor Street West.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 31, 2009 at 11:54 am

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[FORUM] How homogeneous are your online networks?

Continuing from yesterday’s post, I’d like to ask you how diverse–ethnically, geographically religiously, linguistically, sexually–your networks of online contacts are. My contacts are quite diverse, constituting–I’d like to think–a reasonably diverse group, though concentrated in the North Atlantic world among native speakers of English. What about yours?

Written by Randy McDonald

August 30, 2009 at 4:09 pm

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[FORUM] How homogeneous are your social networks ?

Recently, someone was surprised when I said that in my social network, I had a substantial minority of queer male friends but instead a substantial majority of straight male friends. I honestly didn’t understand his surprise for a few minutes, and was later surprised when I found that any number of sources on the Internet (1, 2, 3, 4) actually debated the question of whether it was possible at all. I’m likely enjoying the grace of late birth here, but I haven’t had reason to suspect that my sexual orientation has hindered me from developing relationships with straight guys, if anything giving me an emotional awareness and openness that let me make significant relationships of any kind at all. It’s not like I have to worrry about being beaten to death with a tire iron or being murdered and dismembered. A diverse crowd is good, and frankly, Toronto’s mostly at the point where sexual orientation is just one element of one’s personality among many. Other interests and tendencies and whatnot can take priority now.

My network’s diverse in some ways, mind. My pool of friends might have diverse sexual orientations, but almost all of them have at least undergraduate degrees, almost all of them speak English as a first language, and almost all of them are white. Needless to say, this stands out in Toronto. No one chose to have this happen, of course, it’s just that the social networks which led to friends and the befriending of friends’ friends and so on happened to fit those patterns. My online connections are rather more diverse, of course, but still.

This brings me to the central question of this forum: How homogeneous are your social networks? Are they weighted towards a language or a religion or a neighbourhood? Have your networks’ memberships been evolving? Tell all.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 29, 2009 at 3:05 pm

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[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the immorality, even stupidity, of pretending that any atrocity is singular

Idly searching through Google News, I came across a rather interesting article by one Israeli Nazi-hunter named Efraim Zuroff written for the Jerusalem Post, “Rewriting Shoah history in Estonia”.

[I]n the Baltics, which suffered German and Soviet occupations, the historical concepts generally accepted throughout Europe and the rest of the world are turned topsy turvy, with the Nazis being regarded as the by-far lesser of the two evils and the Soviets considered the arch-villains.

Where can one start? The Holocaust in the Baltic States was profoundly complicated. Perhaps we can follow Zuroff and examine Estonia. Yes, Estonia was the first country in Europe to be declared judenfrei, but that’s because there were hardly any Jews living in Estonia in the first place, perhaps two thousand. The environment for Jews was hardly hostile, especially since very liberal minority legislation assigned the Jews a substantial amount of communal autonomy. The Soviet Union liquidated the Estonian state and many Estonian Jewish leaders, then the Nazis invaded and began their massacres without any possibility of organized Estonian opposition, so I’m rather curious as to how Estonia could be fairly viewed as responsible for its Judenfrei status.

Why this extra hostility to the Soviet Union? As I blogged way back in June 2004, the Soviet Union was considerably more harsh in Estonia than the Nazis.

“[D]uring the first Soviet occupation from 1940 to 1941, Estonia lost about 48,000 people. The three years of German occupation resulted in the death of about 32,000 citizens of various nationalities, including 929 Jews and 243 Gypsies who were either killed in concentration camps or in battle. During the second Soviet occupation, which lasted from 1944 to 1994, Estonia lost nearly 121,000 people. In all, the country lost about 180,000 people, or nearly 18 percent of the population.” To break the statistics down: In the space of a year and a half, the Soviet Union–in the 1940-1941 occupation–managed to kill half again as many Estonians as in three years of Nazi occupation. In the second occupation, more than four times as many Estonians died under Soviet rule–mainly in the Stalinist era, when the Soviet Union was concerned with eliminating all possible opposition to its rule in its newly annexed territories.

The 1939-1941 period in Estonia was rather nasty, including mass executions and the deportation of 6% of the Estonian population into the Soviet interior. The rate of mass murders and deportations slowed down under Nazi rule, not stopped, true, but it was a relief. Why not appreciate that? And why be surprised that military units, even those associated with the Nazis, which fought against the invading Soviet forces in 1944-1945, might still be honoured? (The units that Zuroff writes about seem to be ones uninvolved in atrocities.)

Zuroff gets even better.

The annual SS veterans reunion is only the tip of the iceberg of sympathy for these men who are considered fighters for Estonian independence even though the victory they sought to achieve was for Nazi Germany, which had no intention of granting them sovereignty. Thus all sorts of souvenirs of the unit are widely available for purchase, its outstanding soldiers are lauded as local heroes and their exploits are memorialized in an impressive album readily available which emphasizes “their selfless courage against communism and for the restoration of Estonian independence,” but which begrudgingly admits only in passing that they “had to wear a German uniform to do so” (The Estonian Legion in Words and Pictures, Tallinn, 2008, coedited by none other than former [twice] Estonian prime minister Mart Laar).

DURING MY visit, I encountered several additional examples of the Estonians’ reversal of conventional historical wisdom about World War II. The most famous, and the incident which sparked violent riots in Tallinn in the spring of 2007, was the removal of a monument honoring the Soviet soldiers who liberated the country from the yoke of the Nazi occupation, from its central location in the capital to a military cemetery on the outskirts of the city.

Besides grievously insulting the large Russian minority which views the Soviet troops as heroes who achieved a vital victory in the fight against Nazism, the removal of the statue was also a painful blow to the Estonian Jewish community, whose annihilation in 1941 was orchestrated by the Nazis and their Estonian collaborators. Having visited both the monument’s original location opposite the national library and its new site, it is clear that Estonians prefer not be reminded that their current narrative is a distortion of the historical events of World War II.

As I noted above, in the case of Estonia the local inhabitants bore very little responsibility for the Holocaust in their lands, inasmuch as anti-Semitism doesn’t seem to have been a notable force there and there wasn’t any local state or other agency to restrain the Nazis as in, say, Finland. Again, Zuroff doesn’t seem interested in considering the possibility that the Bronze Soldier might itself represent a foreign tyranny that was as bloody if not more so than the Nazis. Estonia was not liberated by the Soviet Union. Instead, it was occupied. Why honour that memory?7

Today [the 22nd of August] will be marked in Estonia as a day of remembrance for the victims of totalitarian regimes. This ostensibly innocuous initiative to commemorate Nazi and communist victims together is actually just a first step towards obtaining official recognition that communism and Nazism were equally evil, a major step toward undermining the current status of the Shoah as a unique tragedy and one which will help deflect attention and criticism from the Estonians’ distortion of history and failure to face their Holocaust past. (They have since independence, failed to prosecute a single Estonian Holocaust perpetrator, while bringing to trial numerous communist criminals.)

This is where Zuroff really loses me. Why shouldn’t a country mourn the victims of all totalitarian states? The Holocaust was only one crime among many committed by the briefly allied Nazi and Soviet states in the unfortunate belt of countries between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Certainly the occupation of the Baltic States and the invasion of Finland were both precipitated by the Molotov-Ribbentrop non-aggression pact signed by Nazi Germany, certainly the Soviet Union had demonstrated its autogenocidal tendencies towards any number of ethnic, regional and class populations, certainly the occupation of a country by one side or another resulted at best in the exchange of a less murderous regime for a more murderous one. Certainly Stalin himself seems to have been planning a mass deportation of Jews to Soviet Asia on the Volga German/Chechen model. Certainly all the massacred were just as dead and just as worthy of some sort of commemoration. But no, Zuroff disagrees. Only one set of atrocities matter.

The dangerous point in pretending that one genocide or sets of acts of genocide are of singular importance, mattering more than others just because they do, is that it detracts from the whole legal concept of genocide as a thing that can happen in any number of situations. Raphael Lemkin certainly didn’t intend “genocide” to stand for a single crime. The concept of genocide was invented to apply to all manner of cases. Taking “Never again” and making it instead “Never again will the Jews by murdered by Nazi Germany and its local sympathizers in the mid-20th century” degrades the concept, denying the commonalities behind all these crimes and letting them be hidden, worse like Zuroff making these crimes political footballs and avoiding any real dialogue that could just possibly prevent the identification of future atrocities.

The article notes that Zuroff went to Tallinn in order to preside over the publication ceremony of a Russian-language holocaust text. Why, a commenter at the page wondered, if he was so concerned about Estonia’s attitude, did he not present an Estonian-language holocaust text? Obviously, he didn’t care. Only one sort of dead and persecuted people matters to him, to his shame. May other people be spared his bigotry.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2009 at 11:51 pm

[LINK] “Yemen’s tiny Jewish minority shrinking fast”

The vestigial presence of Yemenite Jews in their homeland, decades after the mass exoduses to Israel and the United States, turns out to be threatened by violence in perennially unstable Yemen.

Three more Jewish families will leave Yemen for Israel this week, according to a Yemeni rabbi who laments the dwindling of an ancient community unnerved by threats and by the murder of a Jew last year.

A Shi’ite revolt in the strongly tribal northern mountains and the growth of Sunni Islamist fervour in Yemen have made Jews uncomfortable in a land where they have deep roots.

Only 200 to 300 Jews still live among Yemen’s 23 million Muslims, mostly in the north.

Rabbi Yahya Yusuf Musa, 31, told Reuters the three families were from Raida, a town about 70 km (45 miles) north of the capital Sanaa, where a Jew was killed in December by a Muslim compatriot who has been sentenced to death for the crime.

Sixteen Yemeni Jews from Raidah moved to Israel in June, including relatives of the victim, Mashaa Yaeesh al-Nahari.

An official at Israel’s immigration ministry declined to comment due to the sensitivity of the subject.

There’s more at the Reuters site.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2009 at 11:14 pm

[LINK] “Stuck in version 1.0”

Once upon a time, Toronto–the downtown area, at least–was going to have free wireless. That never happened. Now, in the most recent issue of Now Toronto, Joshua Errett takes the city to task.

Standing at the podium at City Hall, Mayor David Miller whips out his BlackBerry, his fingers dance around the keypad, and he faces the crowd.

The most tech-positive politician in Toronto’s history, Miller is usually at ease talking to the normally adoring group gathered in front of him for last November’s Web 2.0 summit.

But this question vexes him: when will Toronto get its own Google Transit map?

After a quick smartphone consult, he’s got a reply.

Google Transit for the TTC, a Toronto version of the much-loved map that puts public transit routes, schedule and service info in an at-your-fingertips format, would be ready in the spring, he said to applause.

For transit enthusiasts and those just wanting to know the quickest route from Chinatown to the St. Lawrence Market, it was about time. The Google partnership is already in place in nearly every other Canadian city with public transportation, from Fredericton to Victoria and Vaughan, just north of Toronto.

Only now, almost a year later, there’s still no map, and it would take another map to retrace the failed promises, starting in 2006.

[. . .]

[Toronto]’s in the world’s top 10 in Twittering, in the top 20 in overall Internet use, and has loads of Web start-ups. Tons of small tech conferences like ChangeCamp are held here, with the online activists to go with them. Mozilla, maker of the popular browser Firefox, even has an office in Toronto.

But when it comes to ranking the most cutting-edge cities in the world, T.O. is a pretender – from the failure of city-wide wireless to the absence of big-name Web firms and the lack of work-friendly Internet cafés.

Most importantly, while cities like Vancouver, Washington, DC, and Pittsburgh (of all places) zoom onward to the future, Toronto’s moves toward more participatory city government, using democratizing open-source technology, are snail-like.

Errett suggests that a lack of vision, including the failure to recognize Toronto as a hub of innovation, is responsible. In a related piece, Errett also suggests all kinds of digital role models for Toronto, from Portland to Munich to Singapore.

Written by Randy McDonald

August 28, 2009 at 3:32 pm

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