A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for April 2010

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • 80 Beats notes that the discovery the asteroid 24 Themis has substantial amounts of water ice gives credence to the idea that Earth’s oceans come from meteoritic and cometary bombardments.
  • At Border Thinking, Laura Agustín writes how about female street prostitution thrives openly in Karachi, even outside the tomb of Pakistan’s founder Jinnah.
  • Geocurrents takes note of the various nation-states of the world–Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Mongolia, Laos, et cetera–where more members of the titular nationality live outside their supposed homeland than inside.
  • The Global Sociology Blog makes the point that despite the rise of countries like Indonesia, Brazil, and China, global inequities and problems will persist even in the globalized system.
  • Language Hat blogs about the exceptional linguistic diversity of New York City.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money’s Robert Farley observes that South Korea is asking Russia and China for support after North Korea’s attack, seeking help from North Korea’s main partners and multilateralizing the affair.
  • Mark Simpson argues that regional parties of note–other parties with some representation, too–like the Scottish National Party should be represented in election debates.
  • Savage Minds’ Kerim approves of the iPad, seeing in it a great e-reader.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little notes that different age cohorts of a population can behave quite differently, based on their own experiences in a particular time.
  • At Wasatch Economics, Scott Peterson suggests that Mexico’s fertility rate may drop to the lowest-low levels of Spain and Italy.
  • Window on Eurasia reports on a Russian journalist’s experience when she donned a hijab for the day in Moscow.

[LINK] “Into Oklahoma”

Over at the Power and the Money, Noel Maurer has an interesting post (with photos!) inspired by his recent visit to Oklahoma’s second city of Tulsa. I’ve never been anywhere near Oklahoma, and it interests me that Noel finds Oklahoma to be at least as interesting and different from the US Northeast in its own way as Japan. There’s the state’s politics, for instance.

Oklahoma does have a Democratic governor, Brad Henry, who just vetoed a bill that purported to exempt Oklahomans from gun registration rules and background checks. He also vetoed a bill that would require all women desiring abortions to receive transvaginal sonograms (even after rapes) and force the doctor to describe the image to them. The legislature overrode Governor Henry, and now Oklahoman doctors cannot be sued for concealing birth defects from pregnant mothers. A bill to exempt the state from the Affordable Care Act just passed the lower chamber 71-27, and some lawmakers have begun to discuss creating a state militia separate from the National Guard.

The “only-in-America” sort of empty downtown that Noel describes is somewhat familiar to me, I think, in the way that Charlottetown stopped being as relatively bustling and busy in its downtown as it was when tourist season ends.

Downtown Tulsa is an only-in-America sort of dead. It isn’t a run-down dead, like Buffalo or most Southern small towns. And it certainly isn’t an abandoned dead, like Detroit. It’s just … empty. The impression is of an old downtown now preserved under glass. Perhaps “undead” is the right word? The people are there, you just can’t see them. A disproportionate number of the few people you see appear to be unemployed long-haired (male) musicians toting guitars and Army-surplus clothes from before 1981. Most of the rest appear to be down on their luck or stealing a smoke. The storefronts are well-maintained, but manage to look vacant even when they’re not.

The fact is, of course, that downtown Tulsa is not dead in terms of office space. The energy companies that operate here want to be near their in-state bankers and someplace they can convince their out-of-state bankers to spend some time. They also want to be near their competitors and the petroleum club and nice hotels. (Which is why Holiday Inn was just renovated and the Hotel Ambassador a few blocks south of downtown proper is such a success.)

Now, to be fair, Tulsa is not downtown. Just a few miles away is a highly manicured upscale collection of shopping malls. It could be one of the nicer parts of California. Drivers are nicer than in California, save for a disconcerting tendency to pull right into the parking spot next to people who are pulling out, and the people at the post office know each other by name. The schoolyards are full of laughing pale-skinned children. A disproportionate number of billboards advertise gun shows and tattoo parlors.

There aren’t any gun shows in Charlottetown, and the malls on the outskirts haven’t hollowed out the downtown completely, but I think that there are some tattoo parlours.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2010 at 6:30 pm

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[LINK] “Persian Language TV Channel Stalled”

IWPR’s London-based journalist “Ebrahim Gilani” reported that a centrepiece of Iran’s cultural diplomacy directed towards its Persian-speaking neighbours–perhaps centrepiece of a grand cultural-cum-political offensive akin to Turkey’s towards Turkic areas of the former Soviet Union–has hit a snag. Iran’s government would prefer heavy political and cultural censorship, it seems, while Afghanistan fears Iranian influence and doesn’t want to disturb relations with its own non-Persian speaking Pushtun community, while private media competition for the Persian-language broadcast market doesn’t help.

The launch of a Persian language television channel by Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan has been postponed yet again despite an announcement in March that it was imminent.

The Iranian ambassador to Tajikistan, Ali-Asghar Sherdoost, told the semi-official Mehr News Agency on March 20 that the first broadcast of the channel would take place that night with the official launch a few days later.

A month on, and there is still no announcement about the channel starting up.

Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan are considered the three main Persian language-speaking countries and they have been negotiating on the project for over a decade. The Afghan language Dari and Tajik are dialects of Persian.

Former Iranian president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani first proposed the idea in 1991 after Tajikistan gained independence following the disintegration of the Soviet Union. At the time, Iran was showing interest in the former Soviet states of Central Asia and the Caucasus that were once part of the Persian civilisation.

With the start of the Afghan and Tajik civil wars in the 1990s, however, the plan was cast aside.

In July 2006, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad once again brought up the idea of a joint television channel at a meeting of the heads of the three states in the Tajik capital Dushanbe.

The head of Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting, IRIB, Ezatollah Zarghami, who is appointed by Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, travelled to Afghanistan and Tajikistan in February 2009 to discuss the plan.

[. . .]

One of the major issues around the launch of the venture is the difference in the broadcasting policies of the three countries since Afghan and Tajik media are open and liberal compared to Iran.

Since the presidential election in Iran last June, more than 100 journalists have been detained. IRIB, which attracts the most viewers in Iran, follows a strict censorship policy on news and other programmes.

Censorship is not limited to political issues and covers anything that does not correspond with the regime’s religious views.

Musical performances, including singing and dancing by women, are normal on Afghan and Tajik television. Last December, in contrast, the head of IRIB announced more restrictions including a cutback in the use of music and a ban on women presenters wearing makeup and went as far as banning any joking between women and men on television.

“If there is a female guest on a show the presenter must also be a woman,” Zarghami said, describing the main objective of IRIB as guiding young adults towards Islam.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2010 at 4:43 pm

[PHOTO] On the growth of a photographer

Just yesterday I found, via rdi, who found this via Robert Benson, this graphic which seems to indicate the life and progress of an aspiring photographer. The orange line is the state of knowledge about photography one possesses; the blue line is the photographer’s self-evaluation; the green line is the quality of the actual photography.

Photographer's life in graph

Keeping in mind that the confusing dislike of high dynamic range ]photography makes me critical of the graph, I’d like to think that I’m approaching the middle of the graph. Although I still like flowers and cats, among other inanimate or relatively inanimate subjects, I do try to take photographs produced according to particular methods with specific camera modes, and I try to take part in online photographic communities based on Flickr and Livejournal. I’ve no particular interest in becoming an expert or a professional photographer–I don’t need to develop my skills so much, and honestly, I’ve better things to do–but continuing to work towards a certain competency appeals strongly.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2010 at 12:41 pm

Posted in Assorted

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[MUSIC] M.I.A., “Born Free”

M.I.A.’s new single “Born Free,” is great music, tense and energetic in her particular fashion, but the video is … I can see why it got pulled from YouTube on account of violent imagery, but it’s a jaw-dropping video nonetheless. Thank goodness Vimeo hosts it.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2010 at 10:23 am

[LINK] “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”

In a followup to his Crooked Timber post on the future development of ideologies–I did a [FORUM] post–John Quiggin expounds on his ideas for renewing the left, suggesting that multiple little steps can themselves add up to a revolution, even if they represent only incremental change, so long as they’re presented as revolutionary.

My last post, arguing that the left needed to offer a transformative vision as an alternative to rightwing tribalism has drawn lots of interesting responses, and generated some great comments threads, both here and elsewhere (Some of them: Matt Yglesias, DougJ at Balloon Juice, Democracy in America at the Economist, Aziz Poonawalla at BeliefNet, Geoffrey Kruse-Safford, and Randy McDonald).

Since my idea was to open things up for discussion, I don’t plan to comment on particular responses. I do want to respond to one theme that came up repeatedly, a combination of discomfort with words like ‘transformation’ and ‘vision’, and a feeling that a politics in which such words are employed is inconsistent with the pursuit of incremental reforms. Even though I stressed the need to learn from such critics as Burke, Hayek and Popper about the need for reform to arise from organic developments in society and to avoid presumptions of omniscience, the mere use of words like ‘vision’ set off lots of alarm bells.

To me, the difficulty of getting this right reflects my opening point in the previous post. After decades of defensive struggle, we on the left no longer know how to talk about anything bigger than the local fights in which we may hope to defend the gains of the past and occasionally make a little progress. But the time is now ripe to look ahead.

My main point in this new post is to reject the idea that there is a necessary inconsistency between incremental progress and the vision of a better society and a better world. (I’ll link back here to my earlier post on Hope, which might be worth reading at this point, for those who have time and interest.)

The liberal and social democratic reforms of the New Deal and its counterparts in other developed countries were incremental changes. But they weren’t presented as mere technocratic adjustments to social and economic mechanisms. FDR’s New Deal and Four Freedoms, the Beveridge Report, the Swedish Folkhemmet, Ben Chifley’s “light on the hill”, Michael Savage in New Zealand, all presented their reforms in the context of a broader vision that could inspire mass support.

Combining day-to-day advocacy of immediately feasible reforms with mobilization for a broader vision of a better world implies some constraints. Most obviously, the kind of vision I’m talking about needs to be realistic rather than utopian.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 29, 2010 at 9:59 am

[LINK] Two Rwanda links

I’ve two links of interest up, one of the replacement of French by English as Rwanda’s dominant language, the other about the misuse of the Rwandan genocide of 1994 in politics.

  • In MacLean’s, Kaj Hasselriis writes (“French is out of fashion in Rwanda”
  • Jean’s trip will mark the first state visit to Rwanda from a Commonwealth country since it joined that 54-state organization late last year. But cozying up to Britain and its former colonies is only the latest chapter in Rwanda’s move to English. Many say it all started with the Rwandan genocide of 1994, when members of the country’s Hutu ethnic group killed up to 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus. The country blames France for helping arm the instigators, and then not doing enough to stop the carnage.

    In the wake of the genocide, Rwanda’s main donor became the United States. Meanwhile, thousands of exiles returned to their homeland from Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda—neighbouring English-speaking countries where many Rwandans picked up the language. Then, in 2006, a French judge dropped a bombshell. He accused Rwandan President Paul Kagame, a Tutsi, of helping start the genocide because of his alleged complicity in the rocket attack of April 6, 1994, that killed Rwanda’s Hutu president Juvenal Habyarimana—the spark for the massacre. Furious, Kagame shut down the French Embassy, kicked out the ambassador, ordered Radio France Internationale off the air in Rwanda, and closed the local French cultural centre.
    Two years later, in 2008, Kagame announced that English—which became one of Rwanda’s official languages in 1994—would replace French as the official language of instruction in the country’s schools. In the wake of that momentous step, thousands of Rwandan schoolteachers were fired because they couldn’t teach the new language.

    According to Nkusi, there has been very little public resistance to the government’s pro-English campaign. Kagame has a firm grip on power and Rwandans are not known as protesters. In fact, most citizens are reluctant to give their opinions even in private. But during an interview with a group of Rwandan teacher-trainers, some of them open up. “French flows in my veins,” says Ladislas Nkundabanyanga. “My father taught me French and my friends all speak French.” Nowadays, though, he knows kindergarten students who don’t understand the word “bonjour.” As a result, he’s convinced the French language in Rwanda is doomed. Nkundabanyanga’s colleague, Beatrice Namango, agrees. The new policy, she says, is “like telling me to keep quiet. It’s stopping me from talking.”

  • Meanwhile, over at the Invisible College, Lennart Breuker (“‘Genocidal ideology”. . . ) writes about how anti-genocide denial legislation in Rwanda is being used (Yes, it’s that bad.)
  • Several news-agencies made mention of a prominent Rwandan opposition member, Victoire Ingabire, being arrested on charges of cooperation with a terroristic rebel group, and perhaps more conspicuously, on charges of ‘genocidal ideology’. The precise scope of the relevant criminal provision is not known to me, but according to a Dutch news-agency it concerns a legal prohibition to deny genocide. However, the same (brief) article (http://www.bndestem.nl/algemeen/buitenland/6579160/Oppositieleider-Rwanda-Ingabire-gearesteerd.ece) also states that merely addressing ethnicity is formally prohibited according to Rwandan legislation since the genocide. This seems a bit unlikely, but readers who can confirm this are cordially invited to comment.

    Assuming that raising the issue of ethnicity is allowed as long as it does not amount to a denial of genocide, the question still arises whether a fair balance has been struck in this case between the right of freedom of expression and maintaining public order through a prohibition on hate speech. Particularly as Ingabire seemed to have been acting in the capacity of politician while making the concerned statements. Rwanda’s Prosecutor General confirmed the charges, but is not cited giving any concrete examples of ‘genocidal ideology’ (as the Cambodia Daily refers to the charge). The paper speculates that the charge may be based on public statements in which Ingabire has said that many Hutu’s – and not only Tutsi’s – have been killed during the genocide, who were never officially mourned. Ingabire, who is of the Hutu ethnicity herself, is said to have criticized the government for over-simplifying the account of the genocide on several occasions.

    This aspect, criticism on the government, may actually have been perceived as more of a poignant statement by the authorities than Ingabire’s views on the historical accuracy of the genocide. Critics have put forward that the ‘genocidal ideology’ prohibition has been used before to restrain political dissent (Cambodia Daily April23). But also other legal grounds have been used recently in an alleged shake-up of the military, as two high ranking generals were arrested for corruption and immoral conduct. Another senior official and former general has defected to South Africa, claiming that his life was at risk for disagreeing with governmental policies. It is to be hoped that the repressive policy as regards addressing ethnic issues does not backfire by fuelling racial division more than avoiding it, by denying the (ethnic) opposition a voice.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    April 29, 2010 at 8:24 am

    [OBSCURA] Ian Muttoo, “BOOKS”

    Originally uploaded by Ian Muttoo

    This neon sign hangs in the window of the BMV used bookstore at 10 Edward Street just one street north of Yonge-Dundas Square off Yonge, part of a small chain including shops in the Annex and Yonge and Eglinton neighbourhoods.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    April 29, 2010 at 1:31 am

    Posted in Assorted

    [LINK] “A Dying Living”

    The National Post‘s Peter Kuitenbrouwer wrote recently about how the Newfoundland seal hunt is fading in the face of unfavourable economics, a changing environment, and political opposition.

    The seal hunt in Newfoundland and Labrador, like maple syrup season in Quebec and eastern Canada, is a traditional rite of food-gathering that heralds the arrival of spring. Farmers tap maples before their fields thaw; fishermen hunt seals before sailing out to gather crab, turbot, lobster, smelt and shrimp. The supply is plentiful: Ottawa estimates the North Atlantic holds at minimum 6.9 million harp

    seals, up from three million seals 15 years ago.

    But a 40-year campaign attacking the seal hunt on moral grounds has turned many against it. And now, some fishermen and other Newfoundlanders accuse the federal Department of Fisheries of conspiring with the protesters to end the hunt. They point to new regulations enacted last year that require sealers to club seals with a hakapik — a medieval club-type weapon the hunters had traded for a rifle a generation ago. The clubbing is back, by federal mandate, and it looks bad on video.

    Lack of demand for pelts has reduced this year’s seal hunt to a shadow of its former self.

    Just four years ago, with buyers paying a record $105 for a seal pelt, the hunt attracted 340 vessels from all over Newfoundland, pouring money into the local economy for food, fuel, clothing and ammunition. This year only one processor is buying, paying $21.50 for a Grade A pelt, plus $2.50 per pelt for the blubber.

    The weather, too, is strange: For the first time anyone can remember, no ice formed in Notre Dame Bay off Twillingate; vessels must travel to the northern tip of Newfoundland to find seals. There the boats found seals so plentiful that one boat, the Lady Victoria, caught its quota of 2,800 seals in less than a week, a record.

    John Crosbie, former federal politician and current lieutenant-governor of Newfoundland and Labrador, is rather abrasive.

    The flame of the Newfoundland iconoclast still burns bright in the old warrior. Hearing of our mission to see what was left of the seal hunt, Mr. Crosbie insisted on seeing us, promising: “I’ll be wearing my goddamned sealskin underwear.”

    Mr. Crosbie’s family made its fortune financing fishing and sealing expeditions that boasted high peril and low pay. On his wall hangs a picture of the SS Ungava, chartered in 1933 by Crosbie & Co., which brought in 49,600 seals, a record haul.

    “There has been a seal fishery in Newfoundland for 3,000 years, long before the English got here,” Mr. Crosbie says. “You became a man in those days when you went out on the seal hunt, and that’s why we are not going to be bullied into giving it up. Today, people don’t want to recognize their background. If Canadians haven’t got backbone enough to withstand criticism, tough titty.”

    The possibility that Canadians have actually changed their minds about the seal hunt–indeed, that a majority of Canadians oppose the hunt, for good reasons–doesn’t seem to come to his mind.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    April 28, 2010 at 10:53 pm

    [LINK] “Global English, Global French”

    Language Hat explores (via the New York Times) the peculiar reaction of the French to the fact that they no longer maintain exclusive control over their language, that the language’s future is in the hands of non-French whether from the wider Francophone world (in Africa, say) or by people coming to French literary culture from places as diverse Russia and English Canada.

    The fact is, French isn’t declining. It’s thriving as never before if you ask Abdou Diouf, former president of Senegal, who is the secretary general of the francophone organization. Mr. Diouf’s organization has evolved since 1970 from a postcolonial conglomerate of mostly African states preserving the linguistic vestiges of French imperialism into a global entity whose shibboleth is cultural diversity. With dozens of member states and affiliates, the group reflects a polyglot reality in which French is today concentrated outside France, and to a large extent, flourishes despite it….

    The French language is a small but emblematic indicator of this change. So to a contemporary writer like the Soviet-born Andreï Makine, who found political asylum here in 1987, French promises assimilation and a link to the great literary tradition of Zola and Proust. He recounted the story of how, 20-odd years ago, his first manuscripts, which he wrote in French, were rejected by French publishers because it was presumed that he couldn’t write French well enough as a foreigner.

    Then he invented the name of a translator, resubmitted the same works as if they were translations from Russian, and they won awards. He added that when his novel “Dreams of My Russian Summers” became a runaway best seller and received the Prix Goncourt, publishing houses in Germany and Serbia wanted to translate the book from its “original” Russian manuscript, so Mr. Makine spent two “sleepless weeks,” he said, belatedly producing one.

    “Why do I write in French?” he repeated the question I had posed. “It is the possibility to belong to a culture that is not mine, not my mother tongue.”

    Nancy Huston, a Canadian-born novelist here, put it another way: “The world has changed.” She moved to Paris during the 1970s. “The French literary establishment, which still thinks of itself as more important than it is, complains about the decline of its prestige but treats francophone literature as second class,” she said, while “laying claim to the likes of Kundera, Beckett and Ionesco, who were all born outside France. That is because, like Makine, they made the necessary declaration of love for France. But if the French bothered actually to read what came out of Martinique or North Africa, they would see that their language is in fact not suffering.

    The loss of control by mother tongue speakers of French over their language is mirrored by events surrounding the use of the English and Spanish languages. As these languages become globalized, their native speakers lose their complete control over the languages that they originated.

    Written by Randy McDonald

    April 28, 2010 at 7:12 pm