A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for March 2010

[NEWS] Some Wednesday links

I’ve a nice raft of posts tonight.

  • The Globe and Mail is among the news sources to note that an investigation of climate scientists’ E-mails in the United Kingdom–the ones at the heart of the so-called “Climategate” affair–reveals that they haven’t been committing fraud. The science holds up.
  • In this preview from the New York Times Magazine, the fact that many species exhibit same-sex behaviour is noted, with example after example after example given.
  • This March was the first March without snow on record, the Toronto Star‘s Tamara Bulaja reports, emphasizing the degree to which winter has become a three-month affair.
  • CBC reports on an interesting auction of ex-Soviet and Russian space memorabilia, everything from heat shields to toilets.
  • The Times writes about how a German bishop who’s a close ally of the current Pope is alleged to have viciously beaten any number of orphan girls.
  • Bingo attendance on PEI is down, the CBC reports, down so much that this community event might be threatened.
  • Belgium has beat Québec to the punch in banning face-covering veils.
  • Antonia Zerbisias on Facebook linked to this New York article describing how Lady Gaga made herself such a big, big pop star, complete with interviews with the woman herself.
  • Someone, for whatever reason, cut down the steeple of a historic Anglican church in Newfoundland that was threatened with closure.

[DM] “On migration and population in reunification-era Korea”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters taking a look at post-reunification population trends in a reunified Korea. Projections which assume that the North’s share of the Korean population will remain stable, or that its numbers will actually grow, are spectacularly unrealistic. One of the main problems facing a reunifying Korea will be in controlling the North-to-South flow such that the South isn’t overwhelmed by migrants and the North isn’t so denuded of people that it won’t begin to catch up.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2010 at 7:24 pm

[LINK] “Ontario foot-dragging imperils Canada-EU trade pact, officials say”

This does not please me at all. From Doug Saunders, of the Globe and Mail, comes news that Ontario might be sabotaging closer Canadian-European Union ties.

As a proposed large-scale free-trade and economic-integration pact between Canada and the 27 European Union countries enters a crucial stage of negotiations, Canadian and European officials say the deal’s biggest obstacle is the province of Ontario.

After officials from the EU Trade Commission flew to Ottawa last week to meet with their Canadian counterparts in advance of an important round of negotiations starting on April 19, officials close to the talks said in briefings that Ontario’s reluctance to open up its government procurement procedures to European bidding has become a sticking point.

“The biggest challenge right now is Ontario,” said a Canadian connected with the talks. “They are slow in terms of getting it together, and they haven’t come to the table with an offer on procurement yet. They’re not at the level that the other provinces are at. We’re concerned about them.”

Officials from Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government say their work is taking longer than other provinces because of the complexity of Ontario’s government programs, but that they remain committed to a deal in principle. Nevertheless, Canadian negotiators fear a repeat of a 2005 attempt at a Canada-EU pact, when the lack of a unified position among 11 Canadian governments led to the Europeans walking away.

The proposed Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would be a free-trade pact with a much wider scope than existing deals like NAFTA. It would allow more open labour mobility between Canada and Europe – a key goal of the Canadian negotiators – and open up government contracts with the private sector to bidding from European companies.

Access to government procurement, according EU officials taking part in the talks, is Europe’s most important goal. Opening the negotiations, the European Trade Commission demanded that all federal, provincial, municipal, regional and local governments, as well as Crown corporations and utilities, allow foreign companies to bid on contracts for goods and services in the same way that EU countries are required to do.

Ottawa promised last year that it could deliver unanimous agreement from the provincial governments to liberalize procurement, but those involved with the talks say Ontario has proven unresponsive.

Europeans say that a particularly contentious point is Ontario’s new Green Energy Act. This energy-efficiency bill is also a job-creation program that specifies projects that hire Ontario residents and use Ontario companies, offering subsidies to local suppliers of energy-efficient products and services.

[. . .]

This places Premier McGuinty’s government in a paradoxical position: A year after he played a key role the Canadian fight against in the U.S. Buy American program, which limited procurement by state governments to local suppliers and barred Canadian providers, Mr. McGuinty now finds himself accused of holding a similar position.

His staff say that this accusation is unfair and that the complexity of Ontario’s economy is preventing the province from meeting deadlines. They acknowledge, however, that the province was less engaged than other governments in the early months of the talks, which began in October.

“We did start off a little slow, but only because we have so much work to do, because we have such a big economy and so many sectors to consider,” said a Queen’s Park official. “B.C. is concerned about wood, Newfoundland is concerned about seals, but we’ve got a lot of work to do. … We want a deal, and we want to do what it takes to get a deal.”

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2010 at 6:28 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On the Guergis affair, or, Adapting to the Inevitable

There’s another Helena Guergis scandal afoot. The junior federal cabinet minister first brought herself to general attention when she threw a hissy fit at Charlottetown airport after she had to go through security, and now it seems that her staff were writing pro-Guergis letters to local newspapers, posing as members of the general public. A BCer in Toronto’s Jeff Jedras has his own unique take on her situation.

When her male cabinet colleague, Jean-Pierre Blackburn, was in an airport incident of his own involving a now infamous bottle of tequila, what did a senior government official tell CTV? “He remained polite. He didn’t pull a Helena apparently.” Classy, throwing your own minister under a bus like that. The Conservative punditry such as former Harper communications guy Kory Teneycke, usually tightly scripted by the Harper PMO, have been unleashed to attack Guergis and demand she quit.

They’ve also certainly been feeding Bob Fife lots of anti-Guergis vitrol. This piece he filed today is a doozy, where he reports Conservative officials have told him Guergis has a revolving door of staff, has made no friends in caucus, PMO officials want her to resign to end the misery (they’re praying before a Buddha, apparently), no one in caucus or the party is defending her, she’s not very popular, no one really likes her in caucus, and so on. They also reportedly won’t let her join in any reindeer games.

If you believe that we wouldn’t be hearing all this negativity on Guergis from official Conservative circles without Harper’s say-so, then I have a bridge in New York to sell you. It is obvious that the Harper Conservatives have launched a campaign to make Guergis as unwelcome as possible in the hopes that she will just take the hint, do them a favour, and just go away already.

[. . .]

What’s happening now is all about the optics and framing of her inevitable departure, whether it’s now, or later in the next shuffle. It’s also all in the very spirit of constructive dismissal (not legally, of course, since ministers serve at pleasure).

So that’s why I make this plea to Helena Guergis: don’t resign. No matter how many dirty stares they give you in the hallway, or nasty things Conservative surrogates say about you on Power and Politics, don’t give in. Don’t let them win, and give them the satisfaction of seeing you slink away. Just keep enjoying the ministerial limo and the business-class travel (just get to the airport on time, please) until the Harper crew finds some stones.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2010 at 5:33 pm

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[LINK] “South Korea’s Jeju, a peripheral success”

Andray Abrahamian’s Asia Times article examines Jeju-do, an island located roughly equidistant between Korea and Japan in the Korea Strait with a unique history marked by a strong local identity and difficult relations with mainland Korea.

Jeju, culturally different from the rest of Korea, has long been on the fringe of central society. The island was an independent kingdom until the 5th century AD, after which it was a tributary state to Korea’s Baekjae and Shilla dynasties. It briefly regained its independence in the 10th century and had varying levels of local administration until the newly formed Joseon Dynasty brought it firmly under central control in 1404. Though it was at this point finally integrated into Korean-Confucian modes of social organization, Jeju natives found social mobility and political or scholarly advancement severely constrained. Jeju also became a place for the central government to send exiles.

With a different founding myth, language and social traditions, Jeju natives continued to be on the outside of society and were treated as such. At various points in history, the islanders were too barbarian, too Mongolian or too Shamanist to be accepted by the central culture. This was at times expressed through unfair taxation regimes or corruption by officials dispatched to the island. At times of internal dynastic instability or foreign encroachment, their outsider status was reinforced through violence, often in excess of what one might call necessary normal physical enforcement of social stability. This meant that the islanders’ localized identity was reinforced: a subaltern, outsider’s identity, which was defined by suspicion and resistance to central control. Violent uprisings were frequent under Shilla, Baekjae and Goryo.

As Joseon’s power waned, Jeju’s long history of rebellion was brought into the modern era. In 1862, the Gang Jae Gom uprising was a reaction to the corruption of late Joseon officials. After Korea’s ports were forcibly opened to trade and the Japanese in particular began affecting local economic patterns, uprisings broke out in 1890, 1891, 1896, 1898 and, perhaps most famously, in the 1901 Lee Jae Su uprising. This first uprising of the 20th century was a violent opposition to the increasing levels of conversion and influence wielded by French Roman Catholics. All of these rebellions were from the perceived mistreatment or victimization at the hands of outside forces. The 1948 struggle of communism against capitalism was merely the latest guise under which the conflict of outsider against local expressed itself.

What followed the 4.3 Incident was a 40-year period of repression, during which local versions of language and history where subjugated to national narratives. Jeju natives were Koreanized, as media, education and military service were standardized with the rest of the Republic of Korea. This was, of course, awfully repressive, but the demands of the homogenous, territorially bounded nation-state are very different from the flowing, tributary-alliance way Confucian societies organized center and periphery relationships.

The 4.3 incident, incidentally, saw between 25 and 30 thousand people killed out of a total island population of three hundred thousand. The development of a modern, wealthy, and democratic Korean nation-state–one that didn’t practice the subordination of the periphery to the centre, but rather included everyone in a single body–was key in this.

First, Jeju’s economy experienced huge investment and development with tangible, local results in the period of repression. As of 2008, Jeju’s per capita gross regional domestic product was US$15,000. This is 78% of the national average, and higher than cities such as Daegu and Busan, in the wealthy southeast of the peninsula. Not only has income dramatically risen along with the rest of the country, but also Jeju now boasts the highest rates of longevity in the country.

South Korea’s rapid development did not fail to include Jeju. Furthermore, as 70% of Jeju’s new economy is based on tourism, for the last half-century mainlanders have visited the island with increasing frequency: there are currently around 150 commercial flights a day (and good luck trying to get a weekend flight from spring to autumn). The idea that Jeju is “exotic, but Korean nonetheless” is now a common one – the concept of Jeju as extrinsic and alien has disappeared.

Second, Jeju’s autonomy is genuine in several key areas. While foreign and military affairs are still Seoul’s purview, most major points of governance are in local hands. Key psychological indices include education and police. It is perhaps hard to overstate the value of this for a populace whose traditions and narratives were long subjugated alongside physical oppression at the hands of the authorities. The local government also controls its economic relations with the outside world, having total control over financial and visa regulations.

Furthermore, the foundation laid by prior economic development has freed up local authorities to pursue a variety of plans, including becoming a hub for regional cruise ships or for international secondary schools. Tax regimes have been set up to attract foreign investment and while the timing of the international financial crisis delayed many of the Jeju governments plans, South Korea’s currency devaluation actually helped the local economy escape the worst of the credit crunch. Jeju had a record year in 2009 as Koreans accustomed to holidaying abroad compensated for the crash of the Won by going to Jeju instead, while Japanese tourists were attracted by the buying power the Yen suddenly had.

I can’t help but wonder if Cheju’s precedent will be at all applicable to North Korea, once–or if–it begins a rapprochement leading towards reunification with the south.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2010 at 5:17 pm

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[NEWS] Four Globe and Mail links

I’ve mentioned that I like the Globe and Mail, right?

  • Columnist Margaret Wente doesn’t think much of Canadian federal Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff, arguing that partly because many Canadians can’t empathize with a public intellectual like Ignatieff, the Conservative Party has taken over Canadian centrism.
  • Ingrid Peretz writes about how the almost ridiculous toughening–criminalization, even–of normal crossings of the US-Canadian frontier is starting to separate the Québec community of Stanstead from its Vermont sister community of Derby Line.
  • The Toronto Humane Society, under new management, might euthanize most of the remaining two hundred animals in the shelter–apparently, mainly, animals with long-term conditions and otherwise unadoptable–before rebooting.
  • Doug Saunders writes about how the Moscow subway suicide bombings represents the latest spillover of the growing Russian war in the North Caucasus into Russia proper.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 30, 2010 at 8:03 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] Internal devolution in Ontario?

In a pair of posts, James Bow comes up with an interesting proposal on how to solve Ontario’s problems of growing regional fragmentation and polarization. In his first post, writing in relation to the greater Toronto Metrolinx transport authority, he outlines the problem.

In 1954, when the province of Ontario created the municipality of Metropolitan Toronto, they created an agency that would assure the competent management of Toronto’s regional issues without sacrificing local concerns. The two-tier system worked by allowing the local councils to remain to deal with local issues, while at the same time providing a forum for discussion of regional concerns to take place. But this only worked because of one key criteria: in 1954, the boundaries of Metropolitan Toronto encompassed most of the urban region that was Toronto. By the late 1980s, that percentage had dwindled to near 50%.

Today, the province refuses to create a regional manager for the GTA, instead opting for piecemeal special purpose bodies like Metrolinx to tackle the matter on an issue-by-issue basis. They’ve been leery of regional governance for the GTA since the 1970s when Bill Davis refused a recommendation by former premier John Robarts to expand Metro’s boundaries to encompass Mississauga, Vaughan, Markham and Pickering.

And why would they cut their own throat? A regional government for the GTA would encompass almost half of the province’s population, and an even higher percentage of Ontario’s taxes. It would certainly threaten the dominance of Queen’s Park, creating an elected official that theoretically spoke for half of Ontario.

But the issues of the region of Toronto aren’t going away, and they have to be managed lest the economy of the whole of Ontario is affected. This is probably why Dalton McGuinty has taken the steps he has done to effectively act as the regional manager for the Greater Toronto Area. This is probably why the prospect of a Metrolinx takeover of the TTC is on the table.

Unfortunately, this is likely to fuel greater resentment from the other regions of the province, particularly the north and the rural east, who feel that Queen’s Park is paying less and less attention to their issues and more attention to Toronto’s problems. Already, you’re starting to see the polarization of the province along these lines, and the risk exists that should the government of Ontario shift, the regional manager that Queen’s Park represents (such as it is) may disappear entirely.

Bow’s solution? Given the impossibility of dividing Ontario to create new provinces, devolving power within Ontario to regional governments might be viable.

There is a need for an accountable regional manager for the Greater Toronto Area, but the other areas of the province have their own issues that deserve attention as well. The political, social and economic make-up of southwestern Ontario is different but no less important than that of Toronto. Rural eastern Ontario is different still, and the National Capital Region is struggling with issues of growth management and congestion, and could use some attention of their own. And, of course, northern Ontario has long felt ignored by the politicians of Queen’s Park that it has generated enough separatist sentiment to launch political parties, and even get speculated on by mainstream politicians in the area.

So, let’s devolve. Let’s create four or five regional parliaments, receiving a share of the provincial income tax, and controlling a percentage point or two of the province’s HST. Give these regional parliaments a clear mandate covering municipal issues common throughout their own region, and leave Queen’s Park to focus on issues common to the province as a whole. Then dissolve all county-level governments and all two-tier regional governments. De-amalgamate all megacities into their component parts.

Thoughts? Does anyone here know of any jurisdiction that has done anything similar?

Written by Randy McDonald

March 30, 2010 at 11:47 am

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[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Centauri Dreams talks about the problems involved with finding an extraterrestrial intelligence’s beacon, the sort of (presumably) easily noticeable signal that could cue civilizations like ours onto the existence of other advanced civilizations or even point us towards more information-heavy channels.
  • Geocurrents discusses the Oromo population of Ethiopia, its growing support for autonomous and independence movements, and its links to the Unrepresentation Nations and Peoples Organization.
  • Hunting Monsters wonders whether the West Bank is on the verge of a third intifada against the Israeli presence, this one operating outside the control of any of the established Palestinian political parties like Fatah or Hamas.
  • Joe. My. God writes about how Britain’s Household Cavalry regiment recently hosted the same-sex marriage of one of its members without collapsing.
  • Marginal Revolution’s Tyler Cowen reports on the rapidly growing number of diabetics in China, 92 million at present.
  • Spacing Toronto observes that, with plans to build a 65-story condo tower at the Crystal Blu site, the idea of a park in that emptied space is a non-starter.
  • Towleroad writes that former US General John Sheehan, who blamed the Srebrenica genocide on (among other things) the Dutch allowing gays to serve in the military and based his statement on claimed remarks by a Dutch military commander, has retracted his statement.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 30, 2010 at 10:47 am

[PHOTO] “For Photographers, the Image of a Shrinking Path”

Stephanie Clifford’s recent New York Times article almost makes me feel guilty for maintaining a fairly active Flickr account.

By the time Matt Eich entered photojournalism school in 2004, the magazine and newspaper business was already declining.

Matt Eich, a freelance photojournalist, edits photos in his Norfolk, Virginia home-office.

But Mr. Eich had been shooting photographs since he was a child, and when he married and had a baby during college, he stuck with photography as a career.

“I had to hit the ground running and try to make enough money to keep a roof over our heads,” he said.

Since graduation in 2008, Mr. Eich, 23, has gotten magazine assignments here and there, but “industrywide, the sentiment now, at least among my peers, is that this is not a sustainable thing,” he said. He has been supplementing magazine work with advertising and art projects, in a pastiche of ways to earn a living. “There was a path, and there isn’t anymore.”

Then there is D. Sharon Pruitt, a 40-year-old mother of six who lives on Hill Air Force Base in Utah. Ms. Pruitt’s husband is in the military, and their frequent moves meant a full-time job was not practical. But after a vacation to Hawaii in 2006, Ms. Pruitt uploaded some photos — taken with a $99 Kodak digital camera — to the site Flickr.

Since then, through her Flickr photos, she has received a contract with the stock-photography company Getty Images that gives her a monthly income when publishers or advertisers license the images. The checks are sometimes enough to take the family out to dinner, sometimes almost enough for a mortgage payment. “At the moment, it’s just great to have extra money,” she said.

Mr. Eich and Ms. Pruitt illustrate the huge shake-up in photography during the last decade. Amateurs, happy to accept small checks for snapshots of children and sunsets, have increasing opportunities to make money on photos but are underpricing professional photographers and leaving them with limited career options. Professionals are also being hurt because magazines and newspapers are cutting pages or shutting altogether.

Trained photographers, one of the persons interviewed said, have an ability to look for and create narratives. Amateur photographers, though, have very low expectations for compensation, recognition–never mind actual money!–generally being enough for them. I know that’s the case for me.

Thoughts? Has Clifford happened to capture an actually existing phenomenon? It does strike me that she doesn’t adequately capture the existence of niche markets for professional photographers, whether commissioned jobs or art projects, that amateurs can’t fill but professionals could profit from.

Incidentally, Mr. Eich’s online presence can be found via this Google search, and Ms. Pruitt’s Flickr site–she operates under the nom de net Pink Sherbet–is here.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 30, 2010 at 9:44 am

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[NEWS] Some Monday links

  • The Times‘ Giles Whittell observes that the firing of Canadian-born American conservative David Frum, he who claims to have invented the phrase “axis of evil,” from his conservative think-tank employer on the apparent grounds that his criticism of the Republican Party’s strategy was treasonous, says something about the American right-wing’s internal coherence.
  • The news that there’s the beginnings of an arms race in the Arctic isn’t surprising, but perhaps the argument (as advanced by Michael Byers) that this expansion of capacity is to be expected of an area that’s traditionally been quite underserviced should be more widely known.
  • The Globe and Mail‘s Robert Silver does not like the recent, popular, legislation in Québec banning users of the niqab from interacting with government-provided services. Others in the comments disagree, strongly, some pointing out that the legislation has only been proposed and hasn’t reached its finished form, if it passes at all.
  • The University of Ottawa didn’t handle the abortive Ann Coulter speech that never got a chance to be held there, the Globe and Mail‘s John Allemang argues, between the provost’s warning her to watch her language and his argument that academic freedom’s being threatened by safe-space concepts.
  • In the New York Times and elsewhere, Andrew Kramer writes in the aftermath of this morning’s Moscow subway bombings about the prominence of the female suicide bomber–often motivated by personal loss, whether related to Russian government actions in the North Caucasus or not–in contemporary Russian anti-terrorist strategies and in the popular imagination.
  • Recent studies of tree rings have revealed that the Khmer empire of the late medieval period, centered on the famous ruined city of Angkor, was brought down by an erratic climate, swinging from prolonged drought to torrential monsoons, that threatened the empire’s food supply and damaged its infrastructure.