A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for March 2014

[LINK] Some Monday links

  • Crooked Timber’s Henry Farrell is skeptical of Josh Marshall’s new journalism site featuring paid advertisements from Big Pharma.
  • The Dragon’s Tales’ Will Baird provides another update about Ukrainian events.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that World Vision Canada, unlike its American counterpart, is legally required not to discriminate against non-heterosexuals.
  • Language Hat links to a study on the formerly Russophone Alaskan community of Ninilchik.
  • Language Log suggests that handwriting is a dying art in East Asia, too.
  • Marginal Revolution links to a book on maritime conflicts in the South China Sea.
  • The Signal features a guest post from two librarians working for the Library of Congress explaining how they do their work.
  • Savage Minds explains the myth of the sexy librarian.
  • Torontoist has two photos memorializing recently-closed stores, one from the World’s Biggest Bookstore and the other from Sears in the Eaton Centre.

[BLOG] Some Monday Crimea links

  • Eastern Approaches follows the story of Crimean Tatars who are now refugees in western Ukraine.
  • At the Financial Times‘ The World blog, John Reed examines the unlikely media star who is Crimean attorney-general Natalia Poklonskaya.
  • A Fistful of Euros’ David Weman notes the United Nations vote against the annexation of Crimea by Russia.
  • Geocurrents has a series of posts on Ukraine and its area: one on the Moldovan region of Transnistria, a possible western anchor for Russia; one on Transcarpathia, a Ruthene-populated enclave in western Ukraine not quite Ukrainian; one on Ukraine’s energy reserves.
  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley notes the Russian takeover of the Ukrainian Black Sea fleet ships based in Crimea.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy’s Eugene Volokh points out the many, many ways in which Kosovo does not compare to Crimea.
  • Window on Eurasia has a veritable brace of posts. Crimeans aren’t taking up Russian passports with much enthusiasm, it seems, while the financial costs of annexation will be significant indeed. A Russian war in southeastern Ukraine would be a difficult war to fight, while post-Soviet space has already been destabilized (1, 2). Will South Ossetia be next to be annexed? (Northern California is not so likely.) Meanwhile, Turkish support for Turkic peoples can be destabilizing.
  • Understanding Society’s Daniel Little takes a social science approach to the Russian annexation. What does it mean for the international system’s future? Will there be more annexations?

[BLOG] Some Monday science links

  • Centauri Dreams’ Paul Gilster notes that there is a class for bright F-class stars to host Earth-like worlds, and observes that the ESA’s Rosetta probe is set to rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko.
  • D-Brief suggests that mitochondrial damage might be responsible for so-called “Gulf War syndrome”.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that the Kepler satellite can detect large exomoons, links to a paper suggesting that Jupiters aren’t needed to deliver water to the surfaces of rocky habitable-zone planets, and observes that the geological cycles of the Earth are necessary for life.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2014 at 7:07 pm

[PHOTO] Walking home in Seaton Village in the late evening, 30 March 2014

This warmth and light, so late in the day (6:36!), is so appreciated.

Walking home in Seaton Village in the late evening, 30 March 2014

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2014 at 7:23 am

[PHOTO] World’s Biggest Bookstore, 30 March 2014

I’ve been following the World’s Biggest Bookstore (20 Edward Street) as it moved inexorably towards closure. The building will be torn down, eventually to be replaced by a row of restaurants.

This bookstore is now referred to in the past tense at Wikipedia. On today, the World’s Biggest Bookstore’s final day of operation, I visited the location with a friend. The vast empty shelf space surrounded us all. (Thankfully, the 50% off sale seems to have cleared out most of their stock.)

World's Biggest Bookstore (1)

World's Biggest Bookstore (2)

World's Biggest Bookstore (3)

World's Biggest Bookstore (4)

World's Biggest Bookstore (5)

World's Biggest Bookstore (6)

World's Biggest Bookstore (7)

World's Biggest Bookstore (8)

World's Biggest Bookstore (9)

World's Biggest Bookstore (10)

World's Biggest Bookstore (11)

World's Biggest Bookstore (12)

Written by Randy McDonald

March 31, 2014 at 12:34 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

(A few minutes late, yes, I know.)

  • Centauri Dreams notes that the imaging of exoplanet Beta Pictoris b means great things for the future of exoplanet searches.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes that now, we have the technology to search for true Earth analogues at Alpha Centauri.
  • The Dragon’s Tales observes that Scotland’s offshore islands–the Shetlands, the Orkneys, the Western Isles–are now starting to examine their options for self-governance.
  • Gideon Rachman at the Financial Times‘s The World Blog notes that the shocking mass death sentences issued to more than five hundred people in Egypt augurs nothing good about justice in that country.
  • Geocurrents notes that all kinds of separatisms, among Russophone populations in the former Soviet Union and among Russian autonomous republics, have been galvanized by Crimea.
  • Joe. My. God. notes that an anti-gay coalition is no longer holding its conference in Russia, on account of Crimea.
  • Language Hat links to the Calvery Journal, an online journal of Russian-language culture.
  • The New APPS Blog’s Jason Reed writes about how highly uninspired budget cutting at the University of Southern Maine reflects a “particular hollowness” in the heart of the university.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests that a Russian invasion of Ukraine would begin no later than mid-May, notes the prominence of evangelical Christians in the Ukrainian government, and worries about Crimean Tatar prospects inside Russia.

[URBAN NOTE] “Eulogy for a Bookstore”

At Torontoist, John Lorinc remembers his days working at the Annex location of Book City, set to close this weekend.

Part-timers were expected to show up at about 4:45 p.m., arriving just in time to take the baton from the day crew. Stacks of books waiting to be shelved sat in piles on the floor next to the cash desk. In the cluttered basement would be several boxes of just-arrived remainders, ready to be hauled upstairs.

The manager, John Snyder, was typically pacing around the store, clutching a thick sheath of print-outs with the latest Penguin order. “Another day, another 50 cents,” he’d sigh, his voice full of mock exasperation.

I grew up during the golden age of Toronto bookstores. When my parents walked us downtown, we invariably made an extended pit stop at Britnell’s, the original Coles, at Yonge and Charles, or The Book Cellar, in Yorkville. On those visits, I would grab a thick picture book—Time Life Goes to the Movies!, or some such thing—and hide in a corner, flipping the pages.

So I leapt at the opportunity to work in a bookstore. The job, as any veteran will tell you, isn’t nearly as romantic as the literary image (see 84, Charing Cross Road, etc.). You get to know lots of books by their covers—I could identify hundreds of authors and titles, never having read any of them. You learn that customers can be annoying (a well-known literary critic came to the cash one day, wondering archly how we organized the fiction section) or outright dishonest (the surreptitious pocketing of merchandise in the stairwell).

The job involved a lot of tidying (to this day, I am unable to be in a bookstore without straightening the display tables) and a certain relentlessness: spring titles, fall titles, calendars. Repeat.

Written by Randy McDonald

March 26, 2014 at 3:57 am

[LINK] Two links on Chinese real estate investors in Detroit

Salon‘s Henry Grabar explored the potential benefits at length for American cities–including Detroit–of large-scale Chinese investment back in January in “How China could save Detroit.”

Incumbent Mike Bell may have lost the Toledo, Ohio, mayoral election in November, but he departs this month with a kind of celebrity in urban development circles. His success in luring Chinese investment to Toledo, 50 miles south of Detroit on Lake Erie and with a population of 280,000, remains the envy of larger American cities. A Chinese university will soon set up a branch downtown; rare Chinese antiques will be shown at the Toledo museum this year. A waterfront redevelopment project is underway, courtesy of Chinese capital.

It’s a sign of things to come. The American real estate industry has finally tapped the faucets of global finance, and projects are swimming in Chinese capital. According to data from Real Capital Analytics, the Chinese spent $4.3 billion on commercial property in the United States in 2013, more than in the previous five years combined. The country is easily the fastest-growing source of foreign direct investment in the U.S., and Boston Consulting Group has predicted that Chinese offshore assets will double over the next three years.

“The trend for Chinese companies going abroad has just started,” Zhang Luliang, the chairman of state-owned Greenland Holding Group Co., said in October, shortly after his company agreed to buy a 70 percent stake in Brooklyn’s Atlantic Yards project. That development, which will include 15 apartment buildings behind the 19,000-seat Barclay’s Center arena, is the biggest U.S. commercial real estate project yet to receive Chinese backing. But it is joined by similarly large deals in Oakland, Los Angeles and San Francisco. In the latter city, China’s Vanke Co. Ltd. agreed to partner on a $620 million apartment project with Tishman Speyer just 45 days after chairman Wang Shi saw it for the first time. Existing structures, like Manhattan’s GM Building, part of which was sold for $700 million to Soho China Ltd. this summer, have also proven popular.

Those projects have journalists and developers buzzing with excitement. And yet, they may represent as little as one third of what the Chinese are spending on U.S. property. The bulk of Chinese property investment is in residential real estate.

According to a survey by the National Association of Realtors, the Chinese spent more than $8 billion between March 2012 and March 2013 on U.S. homes, accounting for 12 percent of residential property sales to foreign buyers (up from 5 percent in 2009). They are now second only to Canadians among international buyers, having leapfrogged the U.K., India, Germany and Mexico in the past five years.

Writing somewhat earlier, Gordon Chang traced this flood of capital to Chinese insecurity about their country’s future (“China’s Newest City: We Call It ‘Detroit'”).

The Chinese are coming, but what are they doing? Dongdu International will make a big contribution to downtown by redeveloping the Detroit Free Press building, turning it into a retail and residential complex, but that ambitious plan appears to be the exception. China’s rich are investing in the Motor City like they invest in their own country, where they buy multiple units at a time. In China, like here, they often keep their acquisitions vacant, treating new properties like stores of value.

The Chinese buy-and-hold tactics in Detroit suggest patience, but that’s not the whole story. The bigger story is that the parking of wealth offshore indicates capital flight. The Chinese have only 13% of their wealth outside China, according to Oliver Williams of WealthInsight, while the global average is 20% to 30%, so some of transfers of wealth abroad are normal for a developing society.

But it’s not just money that is fleeing. A study conducted by Bank of China and Hurun found that more than half of China’s millionaires have taken steps to emigrate or are considering doing so. This statistic tells us the transfers of cash out of China are not just normal diversification.

There is substantial disagreement as to how much Chinese individuals have already stashed offshore. Boston Consulting Group estimates they hold $450 billion in assets outside their country, and WealthInsight believes the number to be $658 billion.

Yet everyone agrees that the figure, whatever it is, will go up fast. Boston Consulting, for instance, predicts offshore assets will double in three years. CNBC late last month called the movement of Chinese capital “one of the largest and most rapid wealth migrations of our time: hundreds of billions of dollars, and waves of millionaires flowing out of China to overseas destinations.”

Written by Randy McDonald

March 26, 2014 at 3:24 am

[URBAN NOTE] “High-end shops in downtown Oakville closing doors”

The Toronto Star‘s Sam Grewal has an interesting report from the shopping districts of suburban Oakville west of Toronto. Relatively prosperous, the community’s high-end shops are apparently going wanting for customers in the aftermath of the recession.

Inside downtown Oakville’s Second Chance consignment clothing store, described as “upscale resale,” the almost new Coach bag going for 85 bucks won’t be there for long.

It’s brisk business during the Saturday lunch hour, but around the corner, along Lakeshore Rd. (old Oakville’s main strip), the stores where some of the clothes inside Second Chance were originally bought are hurting.

“A lot of people with money, they’re not shopping here any more,” says Rita Hollis, owner of L.J. Shoes and Leather.

She works the counter at her own store. “It’s all the owners working inside the shops now. They never used to, but who can afford all the staff anymore?”

Gesturing around her empty store she rattles off the names of a half-dozen high-end retailers that used to draw business to her shop before they recently closed. “Garvey’s (Fine Men’s Wear) and Silkeborg were huge.”

Silkeborg, a high-end clothing, accessories and home interiors boutique, used to be located in a heritage building across the street. Now, above the papered windows, the sign is all that’s left. More than a dozen other storefronts along old Oakville’s once booming high street are also boarded up or feature “store closing” signs.

Higher rents and parking rates, as well as competition from outlet malls, online and cross-border shopping, are mentioned by struggling business owners. But the recent recession’s impact on Oakville’s affluent class is the theme they all turn to.

“They’re cashed out. We call it ‘maxed’,” says Greg McKinnon, owner of The Running Company. “They’re paying $2,000 a month for the Beamer and the Land Rover in the driveway, they have million-dollar mortgages and $50,000 in landscaping. There’s not a lot of money left over.”

Written by Randy McDonald

March 25, 2014 at 7:19 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Eglinton Crosstown east tunneling to cause major traffic congestion”

Global News’ David Shum shared the news that tunnelling on the Eglinton Crosstown line, that controversial light-rail component of Toronto’s hoped-for mass transit system, is going to disrupt traffic on Eglinton Avenue east of Yonge for the next few years.

The underground tunneling project involves drilling a 3.25-kilometre section west to Yonge Street and is expected to last nearly three years.

Lanes along that portion of the Eglinton route will be reduced to one direction each side for the duration of the project.

The machines work in pairs and each are about 81 metres long, weighing 511,000 kilograms. They were given the nicknames Don and Humber representing the rivers nearby.

Traffic in the area will also be heavily congested as the walls are built for the underground stations at Laird, Bayview and Mt. Pleasant.

The Eglinton Crosstown light rail transit system is a 19-kilometre corridor that includes a 10-kilometre underground portion, between Keele Street and Laird Drive.

The Ontario government has invested $5.3 billion into the project which will be comprised of 25 stations linking 54 bus routes, three subway stations and various GO Transit lines.

Here’s hoping it actually gets built!