A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for September 2009

[LINK] “Britain and England: A Case Of Split Identity”

David Rickard’s Open Democracy essay makes for interesting reading, not least because of its parallels with the Canadian situation: Québécois regularly talk about their nation and English Canada being partners within Canada, but English Canadians tend to identify themselves simply as Canadians. It’s not as if there is an English Canadian identity comparable to the English, mind, but there you go. Devolution, it seems, has had huge consequences.

It was a definitive refutation of the ‘absolute’ character of the Union, in both senses: not only the unitary character of the British polity but the ‘union’ (merger, (con)fusion) within the English national identity between England and Great Britain. It was this cultural and psychological union that had sustained the political Union throughout its history, as it secured the loyalty and ‘ownership’ of the greater part of the UK, which viewed Great Britain as ‘our nation’ and the UK as “one of the great creations of this country”, to quote Vince Cable’s words at this week’s Liberal Democrats’ conference (The unconscious irony in Vince Cable’s statement is that the UK is supposed to be ‘this country’ not something that ‘this country’ (England) has created!).

But as a result of devolution, it became possible, indeed necessary, to see the UK no longer as the seamless extension of English parliamentary democracy, nationhood and power. And, more fundamentally still, the English could begin to separate their English and British national identities at a subjective and psychological level, precisely because those identities had also been split apart at the objective, political level – with ‘great(er) Britishness’ no longer being defined as a continuation and extension of Englishness but as a set of different national identities from which the English identity, too, was differentiated and distinct.

In some respects, this breaking up of (English) Great Britain, and break-down of the Anglo-British mentality, was highly desirable and long overdue, and commanded the support of most ‘progressive’ political opinion at the time when devolution went through. The old Great Britain had been the fundamental vector – driving force and instrument – of British (and, by definition, English) imperial power: the drive to incorporate multiple different nations within a single polity ‘owned’ by the English and identified with by the English.

However, this splitting of the English and British identities presented, and continues to present, a huge problem for the British state – again, in two key respects: political and national-cultural. In the former area, as is now widely recognised, asymmetric devolution as implemented by New Labour has resulted in the British government’s and parliament’s competency in many policy areas being limited to England. Notwithstanding this, all of the members of the UK parliament, including those from the devolved countries, have retained the power to introduce and vote on legislation affecting England only (the West Lothian Question). Understandably, this has led to many questioning the legitimacy of the UK parliament to serve as the legislative body for England, based on the fundamental democratic principle that no MP should make laws affecting citizens that have not voted for that MP and cannot vote them out.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2009 at 6:50 pm

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[LINK] “Georgia started war with Russia – EU-backed report”


An independent report blamed Georgia on Wednesday for starting last year’s five-day war with Russia, but said Moscow’s military response went beyond reasonable limits and violated international law.

The report commissioned by the European Union said both sides had broken international humanitarian laws and found evidence of ethnic cleansing against ethnic Georgians during Russia’s intervention in the rebel province of South Ossetia.

Each side said the report backed up its interpretation of the war. But the findings were particularly critical of U.S. ally Georgia’s conduct under President Mikheil Saakashvili and are likely to further damage his political standing.

[. . .]

“In the Mission’s view, it was Georgia which triggered off the war when it attacked Tskhinvali (in South Ossetia) with heavy artillery on the night of 7 to 8 August 2008,” said Swiss diplomat Heidi Tagliavini, who led the investigation.

The report said the war followed tensions and provocations by Russia, but Tagliavini said: “None of the explanations given by the Georgian authorities in order to provide some form of legal justification for the attack lend it a valid explanation.”

Saakashvili had said Georgia was responding to an invasion by Russian forces when it attacked breakaway South Ossetia, but the report found no evidence of this.

It said Russia’s counter-strike was initially legal, but its military response violated international law when Russian forces pushed into Georgia proper.

“Although it should be admitted that it is not easy to decide where the line must be drawn, it seems, however, that much of the Russian military action went far beyond the reasonable limits of defence,” the report said

[. . .]

Tbilisi says 228 Georgian civilians were killed in the war and 184 Georgian servicemen are dead or missing. Russia says 64 of its servicemen and 162 South Ossetian civilians were killed, but also says the figure for civilian deaths could be higher.

The report found no evidence to support Russian allegations that Georgia was carrying out genocide against the South Ossetian population.

But it said there were “serious indications” of ethnic cleaning against ethnic Georgians in South Ossetia and found Russian forces “would not or could not” stop atrocities by armed groups in areas they controlled.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2009 at 6:02 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] What do you think of LinkedIn?

Over the past year or so, I’ve received several invitations to LinkedIn, an online social networking forum that has been described to me as the businessperson’s Facebook.

I’ve turned these invitations down, so far. I certainly don’t want to overburden myself with social networks, but if I can get something useful out of them, why not?

What has your experience been with LinkedIn?

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2009 at 3:38 pm

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[DM] “On Singaporean population trends”

I’ve a post up on Demography Matters that takes a quick look at the results of the latest Singaporean census, which reports–among other things–a significant increase in the proportion of foreign-born.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2009 at 3:36 pm

[PHOTO] Boarding the train at Ossington station

Boarding the train at Ossington station
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

I snapped this picture of the average TTC commuter at the Ossington subway station.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2009 at 11:21 am

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[BRIEF NOTE] On Québec’s distinct Liberals

Paul Wells wrote last Friday about the Liberals’ latest problems.

A long letter in La Presse finds hints of “Duplessisme” in Michael Ignatieff’s Liberal party’s Quebec wing. “We deserve better,” the authors write, in a twist on Ignatieff’s own campaign slogan. The authors are John Lennard, who worked on Bob Rae’s leadership campaign and whose blog carries pictures of Dalton McGuinty, Stéphane Dion and Bob Rae (find the missing Liberal), and Jonathan Pedneault, who seems like an earnest fellow. (As a bonus, Lennard’s blog has an English version of the La Presse letter.)

This is almost precisely where I came in. In April 2008 I watched Stéphane Dion try to explain that the Quebec wing of his party was doing fine. This is always difficult when it isn’t so. As Mr. Ignatieff will soon demonstrate.

While the Québec Liberal Party under Jean Charest currently forms the provincial government, it has been disassociated from the Liberal Party of Canada since 1955, this latter’s provincial branch scoring relatively few seats at the federal level and having its strength concentrated in the multiethnic and multilingual island of Montréal.

As for “Duplessisme,” that refers to the conservative and clerical nationalism that preceded the great secularization and modernization of the Quiet Revolution of the 1960s. The letter’s writers did not mean it as a good thing. Without regaining some strength in Québec, not least strength on the ground, the chances of the Liberals to form the Canadian government are that much slimmer.

The letter that Wells references is here.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2009 at 4:27 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] Some cities grow, others shrink

I’ve blogged a fair bit about the former East Germany, inasmuch as that territory is the first terriory in the First World to start the process of rapid aging and relative decline that will soon mark many polities in the First World (and elsewhere). Back in July, I wrote about how cities as a rule are going to continue to thrive, not least because they so completely dominate their rural hinterlands, but some cities are going to outlive–or have already outlived–their functions and are set to decline rapidly.

Acts of Minor Treason recently explored that theme in relation to Detroit. The Detroit Free Press‘s Jeff Gerritt suggests that the Detroit experience is unique to America, but I don’t think so, at least not in the broad details.

Today, despite all efforts, it just keeps on rolling downhill. Its population is fleeing, it’s buckling under unemployment unprecedented since the Great Depression, and its shadow of a mass-transit system, the Detroit People Mover, moves less than ten thousand people per day. Nearly half of its population is illiterate. Even Flint, which I wrote about back in April, has it better off – Flint doesn’t have Detroit’s reputation as a decaying wreck of a city to contend with.

This may be set to change. In the article “From Motown to Hoetown,” the Toronto Star’s environment reporter Catherine Porter wrote about how Detroit may be on the cusp of becoming a model of a 21st century city [. . .] What some entrepreneurs are paying attention to now is the prospect of working with Detroit as it is – taking the vast tracts of vacant land that comprise half that sprawling once-metropolis and vastly expanding its current network of urban gardens and farms. Detroit isn’t hurting for space; the article focuses on thirty-five acres of land in central Detroit where only five structures remain standing. Everywhere else, nature has returned. The entrepreneurs’ plan is to create multiple good-sized farms throughout the city, working the good land that urban decay has finally brought to light again.

[. . .]

Detroit, I think, is going to be North America’s first real, familiar lesson that growth cannot last forever. All of American and Canadian history has been predicated on the concept that there is always another frontier, that there are always new riches to exploit, new mountains to climb, and that every step takes you a little bit higher. I see that still today, when the York Region countryside just north of Toronto, some of the best agricultural land in Canada, is broken up and plowed under for endless sprawling fields of box communities where every house is built to one of six blueprints. In Detroit, I’m seeing hope for the future – hope that we’ll recognize that some things can’t last forever, and that we’ll choose to moderate our civilization before cold events make that choice for us.

This resonates a bit with me. I’ve never been to Detroit, but for many years the local cable television network carried the Detroit affiliates of ABC, CBS, and NBC. Every evening on the nightly news, I got a glimpse of a very unhappy urban area. People who’ve read my blog know how concerned I am about regional inequalities, within the city of Toronto and in the Greater Toronto Area. If shrink and decline is necessary, or will be necessary, I hope we’ll be able to learn from Detroit.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2009 at 1:22 pm

[DM] “No place like home: Brazilian immigrants leave US for better job prospects”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters linking to this Christian Science Monitor article about how Brazilian immigrants in New england are starting to return in considerable numbers to Brazil, aided by the United States’ economic issues and Brazil’s economic growth. Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2009 at 1:19 pm

[PHOTO] Fire in the sky

Fire in the sky
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei

When I took this picture on the 22nd of August, the day of massive storms that saw huge amounts of wind and rain and multiple funnel clouds, I was inside a friend’s house. We were trying to dry out after the storm, one that distributed the rain with an uncanny precision (everything to the one side of the body, nothing to the other). The power was out, and we were trying to play a Scrabble travel game. And then the lightning hit.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 29, 2009 at 7:53 am

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[LINK] “Turkey, Armenia to sign landmark deal”

Wonderful, wonderful news.

Turkey and Armenia will sign a landmark deal to establish diplomatic ties next month in Switzerland in a bid to end decades of animosity over World War I massacres, Turkish officials said Sunday.

“The foreign ministers will come together on October 10 and sign the drafted document,” Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told reporters, without giving details.

The signing is to take place in Zurich, a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Foreign ministers Ahmet Davutoglu of Turkey and Eduard Nalbandian of Armenia will ink two protocols, the texts of which had been agreed earlier and internationally hailed as a major breakthrough, he said.

Swiss Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey, whose country acted as a mediator in reconciliation talks between the two neighbours, is also likely to attend the ceremony, he said.

Long estranged by a bloody history, Turkey and Armenia announced last month the talks had resulted in two protocols calling for the establishment of diplomatic ties and re-opening their border.

They also set a timetable for a series of steps to improve ties.

A Swiss foreign ministry official said the signing ceremony “will probably take place in Switzerland,” while Armenian officials were not available for comment.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 28, 2009 at 3:28 pm