A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for June 2013

[URBAN NOTE] “The rainbow connection”

The Grid‘s Sarah Liss had a fantastic front page article pairing six pairs of queer Torontonians, one of the pair old and the other younger.

Kim Chee Lee

Age: 81.

Identifies as: Gay. Chapbook writer; tap-dancer; volunteer; gardener; former time-study analyst.

Aisha Waheed

Age 20.

Identifies as Queer. Twin; badass poet; storyteller; lip-syncer; chocolate-covered almond aficionado.

Aisha: There’s not a lot of queer Muslim visibility, and if there’s one less person hating themselves for being queer and Muslim because of seeing someone else out there, then that’d be really great. It’s not that I necessarily want to be that role model, I just want to be, like, “Hey, don’t hate yourself! There is a community! You’ll reach it eventually.”

Kim Chee: I have some friends who are Muslim, but they’re in the closet, and they don’t go to any gay things or activities.

A: Not many of us can be out. There’s a risk of homelessness, a risk of rejection, a risk of bullying. It’s a safety thing. You risk so much more if you come out. With a lot of queer youth, [I’ve heard], “I came out when I wasn’t ready,” or “I was really pressured to come out.” [People say] you should be out, because that’s one less thing you have to hide or lie about, but being out is much more complex.

K: I came out when I was seven or eight. My adoptive father had four wives, and one of them couldn’t have children, so they gave me to her as a gift, and she took care of me from the ages of four to 12. One day, [I told her], “When I look at boys, at men, I have kind of a fuzzy feeling, and I don’t know what that means.” She said, “You just like men, that’s all. You’re gay!” She was very supportive. That’s why I say I’m one of the luckiest old guys in the world. I was schooled in China, lived in Winnipeg, and came to Toronto when I was 24. To make a long story short, the first day I arrived at my job, I got picked up by this guy who’d just arrived from England. I lived at the YMCA, because in those days the YMCA had rooms. “Oh,” he said, “maybe we should get a place together.” And that was my first husband, at 24.

A: When you first arrived here in Toronto, what was the queer scene like?

K: Well, everything was underground, all the dance places, the St. Charles [Tavern], the bars. My friends would go to the gay dances on Friday nights and Saturdays, and they’d always look to their left and their right before they went in. I asked why they were doing that, and they said, “Just in case someone sees us.” They were hiding. They didn’t want people to know they were going to these places.

The whole piece is a fantastic example of contrast-and-compare.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 24, 2013 at 7:55 pm

[LINK] “New Horizons Spacecraft ‘Stays the Course’ for Pluto System Encounter”

Universe Today’s Ken Kremer notes the happy news that NASA’s New Horizons probe isn’t likely to be damaged by dust in a Pluto system that turned out to be more complex and full of stuff than was thought on new Horizons’ launch.

Following an intense 18 month study to determine if NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft faced potentially destructive impact hazards during its planned 2015 flyby of the Pluto binary planet system, the mission team has decided to ‘stay the course’ – and stick with the originally planned trajectory because the danger posed by dust and debris is much less than feared.

The impact assessment study was conducted because the Pluto system was discovered to be much more complex – and thus even more scientifically compelling – after New Horizons was launched in January 2006 from Cape Canaveral in Florida.

Two years ago researchers using the iconic Hubble Space Telescope discovered two new moons orbiting around Pluto, bringing the total to 5 moons!

It was feared that debris hitting the moons could have created dangerous dust clouds that in turn would slam into and damage the spacecraft as it zoomed past Pluto at speeds of some 30,000 miles per hour (more than 48,000 kilometers per hour) in July 2015.

“We found that loss of the New Horizons mission by dust impacting the spacecraft is very unlikely, and we expect to follow the nominal, or baseline, mission timeline that we’ve been refining over the past few years,” says New Horizons Project Scientist Hal Weaver, of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, in a statement.

After both the team and an independent review board and NASA thoroughly analyzed the data, it was determined that New Horizons has only a 0.3 percent chance of suffering a mission destroying dust impact event using the baseline trajectory.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 24, 2013 at 7:50 pm

[PHOTO] Train entering Eglinton station northbound, west track, Friday night

At Eglinton station during regular hours of operation, the northbound train usually enters Eglinton station on the east track. After 12:30 am, however, the tunnel north of Eglinton has been closed for repairs, making Eglinton the end of the line; this train later reversed and headed south. This started in February 2009 and is slated to continue to the end of this year.

Train entering Eglinton station northbound, west track, Friday night

Written by Randy McDonald

June 24, 2013 at 4:26 pm

[PHOTO] Peonies by night

One recent night as the peony blossoms yellowed and fell apart, I took some photos of the last remaining clusters of flowers.

Peonies by night (1)

Peonies by night (2)

Peonies by night (3)

Written by Randy McDonald

June 23, 2013 at 7:24 pm

Posted in Photo, Toronto

Tagged with , , , ,

[FORUM] What are obvious things you think previous generations missed?

My book review of Journey Across Russia dealt with an in-depth view of a global superpower that would disappear less than a generation after the book’s publication. No one expected the Soviet Union would dissolve, yet, clearly, it did.

What other like lacunae in the imagination do you think that the past was afflicted with?

Written by Randy McDonald

June 23, 2013 at 12:23 am

[REVIEW] McDowell and Conger, Journey Across Russia: The Soviet Union Today

Thursday, I was lucky. Bart McDowell and Dean Conger‘s classic 1977 National Geographic book Journey Across Russia: The Soviet Union Today was one of the first books I ever read on the former Soviet Union, in the adult stacks in Charlottetown’s Confederation Centre Public Library. Much to my surprise, I found a copy for sale, literally on the street at Bloor and Brunswick, for a mere five dollars. This copy even came with the classic two-sided ethnopolitical February 1976 map of the Soviet Union tucked away neatly in the back!

McDowell and Conger, <I>Journey Across Russia: The Soviet Union Today</i>

Journey Across Russia is a remarkable not least because of the date of its publication. In 1977, the Soviet Union was arguably reaching its peak relative to the United States, not that deep into the era of Brezhnevian stagnation at home while expanding its military footprint abroad. The Soviet model of course had its obvious flaws, but the Soviet Union did seem to work, did seem a viable alternative to the Western liberal democratic capitalist order. This book sought to communicate to Western readers something close to an insider’s view of this fascinating, threatening, different society.

The biggest flaw of this book is that it doesn’t deal with the ongoing oppression experienced by Soviet citizens. Reading Journey Across Russia from my particular position with my knowledge 36 years after its publication, I wonder what lacunae Intourist and state censors forced on the author. (The chapter including Crimea doesn’t mention the Crimean Tatars, for instance.) Against this limitation in the depth of the book is the incredible breadth of this book, including interviews with people from a variety of social strata coming from all fifteen Union republics, and beautiful photos along with. And even the limitation in depth isn’t so serious: again, reading with my post-Soviet mind, I see numerous indications of the ethnic tensions in Soviet society, with Georgians wanting to be seen as Europeans and seeing Russia as being as foreign as France, Armenians describing the way past Armenian sufferings influence the current generation’s perceptions, the author’s noting the quiet ethnic tension in Kazakhstan marked by Russophone incomprehension of said country’s titular nation, and a Russian who tried to order a salad in Estonia ended up getting served with sliced eel while his American Estonian-speaking counterpart got smiles and the food he wanted. (Class tensions are lower-key.)

My main emotional reaction to this book is a sort of sadness. The picture of Soviet society that I got from the book is, in part, of a society that was devoted despite itself to its further development. The ambitious geoengineering projects–canals in the Turkmenistan desert, the overextensive development of the Soviet North, even plans to rechannel the Amur–are a case in point. They were environmentally potentially catastrophic, sure, but they did reflect a sort of ambition that liberal-democratic capitalist Westerners could identify with. I can almost understand why many Western leftists so overempathized with the Soviet Union as to be called on it later by Susan Sontag. Knowing how badly life would deteriorate for many of the individuals and entire peoples encountered in the book, I wished things could have been different.

This book has the flaws of its era, but in other respects transcends them. It’s a fascinating worthwhile read, a look at a complex world power just a decade and a half before its fall. Recommended.

[LINK] “OB298 — A Preliminary Atlas of Drone Strike Landscapes”

Quiet Babylon’s Tim Maly has a post up, part of the Murmuration Festival of Drone Warfare, describing in text and in satellite images the leading to a drone-strike in October 2012 on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. Who was hit, with what, where, launched from where, made where, and so on–the different factors are described. For instance:

The Arena
Tappi—where the strike happened—is in Pakistan, near the Afghan border. It is sometimes spelled ‘Tapi’, sometimes called a village, and sometimes called an area. It is in North Waziristan, a mountainous region with a socially and religiously conservative culture. The rugged terrain makes it a difficult place to make a living and many locals emigrate to become labourers. When they can, they prefer a medical education.

After the fall of the Taliban government in Afganistan, insurgents began to move across the border and set up shop. In 2007, concerns over the Talibanization of the region led the National Security Council of Pakistan to hold a meeting to decide how to address the detriorating law and order situation. Their plan of action included the deployment of drones.

The region is marked by frequent blood feuds and Waziri religious leaders have been known to use outsiders—such as US forces hunting al-Qaeda fugitives—as a means of settling scores.

The Drone
The drones that killed Bibi Mamana were almost certainly US drones—MQ-1 Predators, flown by the CIA. They’ve been flying missions and hitting targets in Pakistan since 2004. The vast majority of the more than 360 strikes that have happened in Pakistan have been in North Waziristan.

The MQ-1 Predator was originally designed to be a high endurance surveillance platform, but later upgrades allowed it to carry a missile payload. A Predator can fly up to 740km, hold above a target for up to 14 hours, and still return to base. These high endurance times are perfect for the CIA, as it means they can keep a constant presence over an area, observing it for weeks.

Drones are not individual objects. They are distributed hyper-entities, smeared across the globe. A typical Predator system configuration might include four aircraft, one ground control system, a data distribution terminal, and a sattelite network to enable over-the-horizon control. The main piloting is often done from a remote location, but a ground crew is required in the field to maintain, launch, and land the aircraft.

Go, read the whole thing.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 22, 2013 at 8:45 pm