A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for February 2011

[DM] “On Libya as an immigration country”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters outlining Libya’s status as a destination for massive influxes of migrants on the Persian Gulf model, with Egyptians (relatively well-off) and strongly disliked sub-Saharan Africans predominating. The plight of the latter group in post-Gadaffi Libya won’t be enviable.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2011 at 11:59 pm

[H&F] “On the politicization of futures (example #x)”

I’ve a post up at History and Futility taking a look at how a plausible-sounding but not inevitable scenario for world economic growth is used to ease Indian nationalist egos and support others critical (impossibly critical, really) of European policies. Futures are political.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2011 at 10:35 pm

[LINK] “Dead.ly url’s and authoritarian social network tracking”

ZDNet’s Oliver Marks expresses a certain amount of concern with the link-shortening service bit.ly, something I regularly use to make compact complete posts over at my Twitter account. Is it a good idea to let link-shortening services index people’s patterns of Internet use?

The escalating unrest in North Africa and other parts of the world continues to make us wonder about the fundamental levers of control of the entire internet, and its uses for mass interactions and broadcasts.

Bit.ly, the uniform resource locator (web site url address) shortener widely used by marketers and Twitter users relies on .ly, the Internet country code top-level domain (ccTLD) for Libya and it’s still far from clear who ultimately controls the off switch for those domains. More importantly, my Constellation Research Group colleague Alan Silberberg ruffled feathers and forced focus within US government circles last week by pointing out that their use of bit.ly isn’t consistent with expected security levels – from his blog on Huffington Post:

…I talked to many federal workers today, and received many emails and direct messages with varying degrees of use/non-use of the .ly extensions. One thing became very clear. In this age of Gov 2.0 and Web 2.0 – we need to be careful to guard against the rush of technology leading to rash decision making.

….The United States Government recently issued its own shortener, based on Bit.ly professional (paid) version with some changes to the T.O.S. and other things. They have a secondary company supporting this. To the credit of the GSA, when I inquired through a tweet about the use of .ly shorteners with regard to Government agencies and the current crisis, I got a real response within minutes showing Gov 2.0 in use. However I seriously question the reliance on a company that is in turn relying on an extension controlled by a brutal dictatorship with no regard to human rights let alone western corporate rights. There are other shortener companies that do not rely on the .ly extensions. Why create a potential back door for mischief?

…there is the more pernicious problem of the potential abuse of any redirect necessitated in any shortener program. These shorteners start executable code on your computer to do the re-direct. You don’t always know where you are being sent. Recently the Israeli government demonstrated that DDOS and other malicious code can be inserted into the backend of shorteners, a stern warning any government should be paying attention to.

These are serious domestic US security concerns, the result of reliance on the top level domain of a very unstable sovereign state. According to Bit.ly they have five root nameservers for the .ly ccTLD: two in Oregon, one in the Netherlands and two in Libya.

The Oregon and Netherlands servers are presumably reliant on obtaining updates from the .LY registry inside Libya. If they can’t, at some point they will consider the data they have stale/obsolete and stop providing information on the .LY domain. If the Libyan registry is cut off the internet the availability of .LY domains would be compromised somewhere between 0 and 28 days, with inconsistencies increasing as attempts to ‘phone home’ to the Libyan TLD servers got no response.

The final sentences caught my attention: “Being whacked on the head with a truncheon as you struggle to keep up with events on your mobile device in a fast moving crowd seems closer to Morozov’s rather dismal cautions of an Orwellian future than to Clay Shirky’s more Huxley like ‘Here Comes Everybody‘ round up of popular perspectives on ochlocracy …especially when you think that events are being recorded for posterity on closed circuit cameras and filed away in bit.ly like activity tracking systems…”

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “The slow fade of industry on Geary Avenue”

Derek Flack’s blogTO post certainly got my attention–Geary Avenue lies literally on the other side of the railroad tracks from my apartment. And I’ve not taken it much notice, notiwthstanding my four years’ residence a few dozen metres from it. Doing a quick Google search, the only explicitly Geary Avenue photos of mine I can find are three pictures of a then-abandoned grocery store at Geary and Dovercourt. It now houses a bike shop, I think.

Now vacant at Geary and Dovercourt (3)

Geary Avenue might be a candidate for Toronto’s ugliest street. Running parallel to the CPR tracks north of Dupont, it starts at Ossington Avenue in the east and runs a short 1.4 kilometres before coming to an unceremonious end halfway between Dufferin Street and Lansdowne Avenue. A mix of commercial and residential properties, the street is defined by something of an identity crisis. Although its mixed use legacy goes back a hundred years, it remains remarkable to track just how many different types of businesses currently make Geary their home. Along with a variety of autoshops, here one finds a hydroponics outfit, a mixed martial arts training facility, a costume rental warehouse, a couple of Portuguese bakeries and a karaoke bar (to name only a few).

It’s a bit ugly, it’s certainly gawky, but its awkward transition from industrialism to something more complex if less aesthetic makes it photoworthy indeed, Flack argues convincingly.

Go, see the photos. And the abandoned grocery store photographed above is visible in its new form, the last photo in his essay.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2011 at 7:09 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Belarusian Rock Band Thinks Toronto is Fun”

Torontoist’s Hamutal Dotan reported on a music video by Belarusian rock group Lyapis Trubetskoy (Russian: Ляпис Трубецкой), originally posted in the toronto Livejournal community, that features Toronto.

When I went over to YouTube I found it had 109,314 views.

Dotan noted that the video doesn’t connect lyrically to Toronto. Rather, Toronto–and the Niagara Falls–are a starting point, as a polace providing stock imagery and perspectives.

Group “Lapis Trubeckoy” presented in the Internet video for the song “I Believe” from their new album “Fun.” Director of the video was Alexei Terekhov, who shot for a group of famous clips “Ay”, “Capital” and “Lights.”

Visual range of the new movie is based on minimizing the effect of the world—shot in real life, people, ships, vehicles and aircraft in the video turned into toys from children’s designer, hurriedly scurrying hither and thither. In contrast, in the frame periodically appears gigantic and all-powerful Sergei Mihalok.

“In this clip, I tried to convey the impression that the person who is small fry, an ant compared to the infinite universe, really, a very important element of a whole,” says Alexey Terekhov. In principle, the used technology is already quite well known in world, but it was important the combination of form and meaning of the song. Because quite often we have seen in the clips form for form’s sake at the level of: “Oh, look how I can do.” And I always try to fill in the form of an idea.

“Like.” They picked us!

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2011 at 4:38 pm

[LINK] “Assessing the Fall of the USSR”

The opinion of Ilya Somin at the Volokh Conspiracy is, unsurprisingly, quite positive.

Even the more authoritarian post-communist successor states are all far freer than their communist predecessors were. For example, all of them have vastly greater freedom of speech, freedom of religion, protection for property rights, and freedom of internal and external mobility (nearly all communist governments forbade emigration for most of its citizens, and most also severely restricted internal movement). I am no fan of the quasi-authoritarian government of ex-KGB colonel Vladimir Putin, but it’s a lot less repressive than the USSR was by any conceivable measure. For example, my relatives living in Russia feel free to openly criticize the government and vote for opposition parties. Even under Gorbachev, public criticism of the government was severely circumscribed and opposition parties were banned until just before the regime fell.

On the economic front, after a difficult transition in the mid-1990s, there have been massive increases in incomes and standards of living. For example, per capita GDP in Eastern Europe (including Russia and Ukraine) rose from 33% of Western European levels in 1992 to 45% in 2008. Those countries that adopted free market policies most rapidly and completely (e.g. — Estonia, Poland, and the Czech Republic) had the highest growth rates and least painful transitions. These figures greatly understate the true amount of economic progress because much of the 1992 GDP consisted of military spending (at least 20% of Soviet GDP at the time) and shoddy communist products many of which did not meet any real consumer demand.

Finally, the fall of the USSR lifted the specter of global nuclear war arising from a confrontation between the two superpowers. Although US-Russian relations are sometimes tense today, there is no realistic chance that the two nations will go to war.

[. . .]

What about life expectancy? It is true that life expectancy in Russia and Eastern Europe fell in the early 1990s. But as this German Max Planck Institute study describes, life expectancy in those countries began falling in the mid-1960s, with a brief acceleration in the early 1990s, that was soon reversed. One can’t blame the fall of the USSR for a trend that long predated it. The same study also shows that life expectancy in Eastern Europe (and to a lesser extent Russia) began to rise again in the late 1990s, possibly because of increased economic growth and improvements in standards of living. Moreover, most of the fall in Russian life expectancy in the 1990s predated privatization of the economy and was probably caused by rising alcoholism (due in large part to falling vodka prices) rather than by economic shocks.

Many fewer proxy wars, too.

My biggest problem with Somin’s analysis is that the apocalyptic shock of the transition–felt particularly hardly and durably in already-peripheral areas of the Communist bloc, like Caucasus and Central Asia, but elsewhere, too–isn’t considered sufficiently. Yes, the mortality rates were deteriorating throughout, but there was certainly a deterioration.

In a best-case scenario, I suppose that you’d have seen Khrushchev manage some sort of controlled reintegration of the Soviet bloc with the wider world, perhaps a sort of convergence in the manner imagined by any number of people in the 1960s, before the west-east gaps in Europe became too big. Was that ever possible?

Go, read, discuss.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2011 at 2:35 pm

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • At 3 Quarks Daily, Jenny White makes the point that Turkey’s military-guided pluralism under Ataturk (for want of a better term) is highly historically contingent on specific developments in early 20th century Turkey. It can’t be copied over easily.
  • Acts of Minor Treason’s Andrew Barton, after admitting to voting for the Conservatives in 2006, wonders how different the minority government’s passive-aggressive approach towards opponents is from what’s going on in Wisconsin.
  • At A (Budding) Sociologist’s Commonplace Book, Dan Hirschman celebrates his blog’s third anniversary with links to his favourite posts.
  • Bluejacket 1862 is not positive on the idea of Britain opening up its banks to foreign ownership.
  • At Border Thinking, Laura Agustin comments on a recent report examining international marriage brokering as trafficking.
  • Burgh Diaspora links to a map showing GDP change by county in the United States. Florida, the interior South, and the Midwest look terrible.
  • Centauri Dreams describes the construction of new Internet protocols suitable for the light-minutes necessarily inserted into space travel.
  • The Russian-language photo blog centralasian has a post showing paintings from an exhibition of Swiss landscape painting.
  • In a guest post at City of Brass, Dean Esmay makes the point that Western ill-founded belief in the imminent Caliphate is so foolish it’s destructive.
  • Amitai Etzioni draws from his personal experience to make the point that Betty Friedan and The Feminine Mystique deserve to be celebrated.
  • At Geocurrent Events, Martin Lewis notes the salience of tribal identity in Libya, and wonders why tribal identity isn’t taken more seriously.
  • The Global Sociology Blog notes how the attitudes behind the sociological functionalism of Talcott Parsons, holding that each person had a specific place, helped push his brilliant daughter into killing herself.
  • Marginal Revolution speculates as to the sorts of people who’ll remain famous far into the future. {People who symbolizes areas of human thought and achievement, like Jesus and Einstein, rank highly.

[PHOTO] Dupont and Dufferin, looking east, winter morning

Dupont and Dufferin, looking east, winter morning
Originally uploaded by randyfmcdonald

For an intersection near enough to the heart of things, at the right times and right angles Dupont and Dufferin can be a surprisingly big intersection.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 28, 2011 at 7:34 am

Posted in Assorted

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the TTC, its workers, their union, and Torontonians

“Thank goodness what’s happening in Wisconsin could never happen here” was the title of james-nicoll‘s post announcing the Ontario provincial government’s introduction of legislation making the TTC an essential service and stripping workers of the right to legally strike.

Ontario’s government tabled legislation Tuesday to declare the Toronto Transit Commission an essential service, which would strip transit union workers of the right to legally strike.

Labour Minister Charles Sousa introduced The Toronto Transit Commission Labour Disputes Resolution Act, saying it “was the right thing to do.”

“We have acted reasonably in introducing this bill,” he said.

He said about 1.5 million Torontonians use the TTC every day and a work stoppage costs the city’s economy about $50 million a day.

Premier Dalton McGuinty insisted the move is not about bowing to pressure from the Toronto’s new mayor ahead of a provincial election.

“We have received a proposal from Toronto’s city council. We have listened to them, we have talked to representatives of the workers as well and we have heard from many Torontonians,” McGuinty told reporters.

“Whatever we do it is about helping the people of Toronto and ensuring that their needs are being met.”

One of Mayor Rob Ford’s first orders of business after sweeping into office late last year was having the TTC declared an essential service.

In January, Toronto City Council voted 28-17 in favour of asking McGuinty to introduce legislation to declare the TTC essential.

The essential service designation takes away transit workers’ right to legally strike amid a contract dispute. Instead, negotiations could be subject to binding arbitration by a third party.

The transit workers union’s leader, Bob Kinnear, criticized this, calling Mayor Ford a coward for not saying he’s down to bring down the unions instead of assuring service.

Local 113’s contract with the Toronto Transit Commission expires March 31 and Kinnear tried to pre-empt the essential services designation by promising not to strike during negotiations.

That offer was rejected by Ford’s TTC chair Karen Stintz.

“Over and over Karen Stintz has been talking about continuity of service,” Kinnear said. “The proposal that we put forward would have guaranteed continuity of service throughout this round of bargaining. But unfortunately Karen has got the wrong C-word. She’s looking for confrontation, that’s what this legislation is about.”

Instead of lobbying the province for a bill to bash workers, the city should be pressing Queen’s Park for operating cash to run the transit system, something it stopped doing annually under former premier Mike Harris, he said.

“That’s what they should be focusing on, not this mirage that taking away workers’ rights is going to somehow alleviate the problems people face each and every day on transit,” Kinnear said.

He’s not going to be listened to. Kinnear is in a relatively weak position, both in relationship to the wider city (I’ve never heard anyone refer to him in a complimentary fashion) and to a union membership that found him the most acceptable candidate. Mayor Ford’s government is as unsentimental towards unions as a municipal government can get, and the prospects of a groundswell of opinion opposing the designation is unlikely. TTC workers just aren’t very popular, not only because of wages which seem ridiculously high–overtime, it seems, is the TTC’s substitute for adequate staffing at rush times–but because of a lack of transparency in disciplinary proceedings that has gotten people to share videos and photos featuring TTC workers misbehaving on the job. It’s reached the point where the mass of Torontonians doesn’t especially care about the financial and other costs of essential service designation, so long as the union gets crushed. I’m certainly not inclined to believe Kinnear’s promise not to strike without the designation. The sorts of hopes for a broader coalition you see being made on the union’s Facebook page are unrealistic.

No one outside Toronto will help. The potential ramifications of this for other unions in Ontario hasn’t deterred anyone. While the provincial government might not be inclined to breaking unions, its dependence on seats in Toronto with the provincial election coming up in October makes paying attention to the Torontonian mood critical, besides which Globe and Mail‘s Marcus Gee and the National Post‘s Peter Kuitenbrower both agree that the provincial government wouldn’t mind making responsibility for public transit in Toronto a municipal one, in terms of funding and in terms of political risk. Let Mayor Ford, not Premier McGuinty, be chastised by the electorate if things end badly.

And so, despite Steve Munro’s suggestion that everyone should calm down, we’re heading towards a shift. I’m inclined to support the designation on sentimental grounds, though it is likely that the designation will further reduce city flexibility in negotiations. Parallels with Wisconsin have been made, obviously, but it’s unlikely that the parallel will take hold on account of the workers’ isolation. Good will is lacking.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 27, 2011 at 8:02 pm

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[PHOTO] Papier-mâché, shopAGO

I wish I kept the information for the artist who made this startling papier-mâché column. All I can tell you is that it was for sale two months ago in the Art Gallery of Ontario gift shop.

Papier-mâché, shopAGO (1)

A close-up.

Papier-mâché, shopAGO (2)

Written by Randy McDonald

February 27, 2011 at 3:23 pm

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