A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for November 2014

[PHOTO] At the Cavalcade of Lights, Nathan Phillips Square

At the Cavalcade of Lights, Nathan Phillips Square

Written by Randy McDonald

November 30, 2014 at 4:04 pm

[LINK] “The Mediterranean town where houses are on sale for less than $2”

The Washington Post‘s Rick Noack writes about an effort to kickstart life in the Sicilian municipality of Gangi by offering houses for ridiculously low amounts. I would note that even if this works for Gangi, this will not work for Sicily as a whole, in much the same way that Fogo Island’s strategy of positioning itself as a hub for artists can’t be adopted across Newfoundland.

With nearly 50 million visitors last year, Italy is among the world’s top tourist destinations. Those interested in staying longer than just a few days could be interested in the special offer of a town on the island of Sicily: The town’s council is selling about 20 houses for less than $2.

Since this summer, about 150 potential buyers have come to Gangi from as far as Brazil and Australia, according to European news site The Local. At least 50 people have formally applied for the properties, and the application process is now closed and the future Gangi house owners are expected to be announced later this week, real estate consultant Marie Wester told The Washington Post. According to estimates, the buyers would need to invest about $50,000 to renovate the houses.

To outside observers, the extraordinarily cheap offer might seem confusing, but the town council thinks the sales will benefit Gangi and its 7,000 inhabitants in the long term. Sicily is known for its beauty, but it’s economy lags far behind other regions of Italy. The inexpensive properties are supposed to revitalize Gangi and prevent the town’s population from declining further.

Unable to find jobs on the island, located to the south of mainland Italy, many people have decided to move toward the north, where unemployment rates are much lower. Hence, Gangi’s population has dwindled and the amount of empty houses has increased, reflecting a broader Sicilian problem.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2014 at 3:05 am

[LINK] “Crimea is becoming more Russian — and less hospitable to minorities”

The Toronto Star shares Michael Birnbaum’s Washington Post article looking at the situation for minorities–ethnic and religious, here the Ukrainians–in Crimea.

Eight months into the Russian annexation of the Black Sea resort region of Crimea, traces of Ukraine’s 60-year rule here are rapidly being wiped away. Now Ukrainians themselves worry that they are next.

The Ukrainian language has vanished from school curriculums, Russia’s two-headed eagle has been bolted onto government buildings and Russian laws are slowly taking hold. And as the peninsula Russifies, Ukrainians and other minority groups are finding that an area once renowned for its easygoing cosmopolitanism is now stifling. Some are fleeing their native home.

Many complain that they have been written off both by the world and by Ukraine itself, which is focused on the bloody conflict in its southeast. The turmoil is a harsh consequence of the first major land grab in Europe since the Second World War — and it comes despite Kremlin assurances that life would be better in Crimea for Russians and Ukrainians alike.

The Ukrainian Orthodox Church has quickly become a haven for Ukrainian-speakers in Crimea, who can gather on Sunday mornings to gossip and to send up prayers in sanctuaries whose authorities sit in Kyiv, not Moscow. But Archbishop Kliment, the leader of the church here, fears for his future.

“I get up worried and I go to bed worried,” he said, speaking in the converted school building in Simferopol that houses the church headquarters on this peninsula of 2.4 million. “They are closing down Ukrainian schools, Ukrainian newspapers. It’s all closed, and the Ukrainian church is the only thing left.” One poll taken when Crimea was still part of Ukraine found that about 12 per cent of Crimean residents, or 280,000 people, identified as Ukrainian Orthodox.

Since the Russian takeover, the church leader says, pressure has forced him to close almost a third of his congregations. Several of his priests have fled.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2014 at 12:34 am

[LINK] “Finland legalises gay marriage”

The Guardian shares the good news.

The Finnish parliament has narrowly approved a citizen’s initiative to legalise same-sex marriage.

Gay couples in Finland have been able to enter into registered partnerships since 2002, but until now the country was the only in the Nordic region not to allow same-sex marriage. Finland is now the 12th European state to do so.

In the vote, 105 members of parliament supported the legal amendment while 92 opposed it.

The measure will end the distinction in Finland between same-sex unions and heterosexual marriages and give such couples equal rights to adopt children and share a surname.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2014 at 12:32 am

[URBAN NOTE] On how the Toronto real estate market is hard on renovators

The Globe and Mail‘s Denise Balkissoon describes one unexpected effect of Toronto’s tight real estate market.

As Toronto’s real estate market continues its wild run, it’s not just potential homeowners who are having trouble finding affordable properties. For infill developers and resellers – otherwise known as flippers – bidding wars and wild-eyed buyers are making it hard to turn a profit rehabilitating broken homes.

“For years, improving distressed properties was our sole focus,” says Bill Crilly, a structural engineer who runs 3 Stones Custom Homes with general contractor Chris Lawrence. The company focuses on what Mr. Crilly calls “dilapidated houses that no one would want to live in,” in the downtown Toronto core, completely gutting and restoring stately, 100-year-old brick houses and outfitting the insides with luxe, contemporary design touches.

In the past year and a half, the duo has found itself regularly outbid and for the past few months has found itself entirely without a house to fix up. In early fall, for example, they tried for a house on Euclid Street, near Bathurst and College, that was listed at $960,000. 3 Stones offered $1,035,000, planning to spend around $200,000 on a six-month fix and sell for about $1.5 million.

The house sold for $1,220,000, almost $200,000 more than they were willing to pay.

“The thing is, we bought and restored the house right beside it, we know what it needed,” Mr. Lawrence says. He says the eventual buyers are in for an unpleasant surprise if they think they can get away with a cosmetic renovation. “We planned a complete gut right back to the studs.”

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2014 at 12:31 am

[ISL] “Wade MacLauchlan announces P.E.I. Liberal leadership bid”

CBC Prince Edward Island shares the news that UPEI’s former president, Wade MacLauchlan, is running for the leadership of the PEI Liberal Party and hence the premiership.

Wade MacLauchlan, law professor, author, and former president of the University of Prince Edward Island, announced his bid to lead the P.E.I. Liberal Party Friday.

MacLauchlan made the announcement at a news conference in York, just outside of Charlottetown. If he is successful, MacLauchlan will automatically become P.E.I.’s next premier.

Current Liberal premier Robert Ghiz announced on Nov. 13 he would step down pending a leading convention, which has since been scheduled for Feb. 20-21.

MacLauchlan took the stage with the majority of the Liberal caucus standing behind him, including prominent cabinet ministers who were rumoured to be interested in the leadership. Finance and Energy Minister Wes Sheridan, Health Minister Doug Currie, Innovation and Higher Learning Minister Allen Roach, Education Minister Alan McIsaac and Agriculture Minister George Webster were all on the stage.

Transportation Minister Robert Vessey introduced MacLauchlan, and announced his candidacy.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2014 at 12:23 am

[LINK] “CBC managers told of Jian Ghomeshi ‘assault’ allegations back in June”

CBC notes that CBC managers apparently were told about Jian Ghomeshi’s alleged crimes back in June of this year.

Certain CBC managers were aware back in June of allegations of “assault” — including punching and choking — involving a “series of women” by former CBC Radio host Jian Ghomeshi, an investigation by the fifth estate has found.

Until now, there were few specifics about what CBC managers knew about the rumours that were circulating about Ghomeshi. But new information provides another layer of detail about what was going on at the time.

Prompted by those allegations, CBC says it conducted an internal investigation this summer involving “a cross-section of managers, program leaders and Q employees.” But it is also unclear to whom senior managers talked.

In a survey by CBC-TV’s the fifth estate, almost all known staffers on Ghomeshi’s radio show Q said they were not contacted by CBC management as part of any investigation.

The documentary also explores what happened when CBC managers were first shown images of Ghomeshi’s alleged violence against a woman.

[. . .]

Chris Boyce, the head of CBC Radio and a central figure in the story, said “in hindsight” it is a “good question” whether CBC should have gone to the police at that time.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 29, 2014 at 12:21 am

Posted in Popular Culture

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[URBAN NOTE] “The Jihadists of Suburbia”

I’ve followed the aftermath of an alleged 2013 plot by two Canadian Muslim radicals to derail a VIA Rail train. I linked to various articles on the plot soon after it was revealed by the police, noted that the concerned father of suspect Raed Jaser came forward with his concerns, and noted the eccentricities of Tunisian-born Chiheb Esseghaier who insisted on finding a lawyer who would defend him according to Islamic law. In Toronto Life, Naheed Mustafa has an article taking a look at the lives of the two men. They both seem to have been sadly disconnected from their environments.

Raed Jaser was 15 years old when he and his family arrived in Toronto in 1993. During the Gulf War, his Palestinian parents, Mohammed and Sabah, had been forced to leave the United Arab Emirates. Mohammed worked as an ad sales rep at a newspaper and had refused to give in to Emirati government agents’ demands that he spy on other Palestinians. To avoid persecution, the Jasers headed to Czechoslovakia, then to Germany and finally to Canada. With them were Raed’s younger brothers, 11-year-old Nabil and 10-year-old Shadi. And Sabah Jaser was some five months’ pregnant with another boy. The immigration officer who interviewed the family noted in their file that their refugee case should be sorted out as soon as possible, before the baby was born.

The Immigration and Refugee Board didn’t believe the family’s story and rejected their claim, but four years later they were accepted under a now-defunct program that allowed refugee claimants to stay if they were stateless and therefore had no country to be deported to. Raed, however, didn’t qualify: while his parents were navigating the refugee system, he’d earned a criminal record. In 1997, he was convicted of fraud offences totalling more than $15,000, for various big-ticket items, including a gas oven and sound equipment. He ignored the order to leave the ­country. Two years later, still living in the GTA, he was arrested again, this time for uttering a death threat to a manager of a Richmond Hill pub. He was sentenced to two years’ probation and fined $1,000.

[. . . Raed Jaser] spent most of his spare time at suburban mosques, including the Jam’e Masjid in Markham, which is colloquially known as Middlefield for the road it sits on. The mosque is large and white, with arched windows and traditional domes and minarets. The people who attend it are mostly middle-class South Asian–Canadians who live nearby.

At Middlefield, Jaser would often spend his free time proselytizing to other Muslims. It seems an odd thing—preaching to those already praying—but it’s not uncommon among devout Muslims. You may already be an observant Muslim, but you can always use a boost to stay on the right track. When he wasn’t proselytizing, he’d watch YouTube lectures given by celebrity scholars and preachers like Abdur Raheem Green, Bilal Philips and Farhat Hashmi. Their lectures are not unlike the kinds of sermons a conservative Christian might hear at a megachurch—a mix of scripture and motivational talk about how to live a moral life by applying religious principles to everyday problems. Part history lesson, part advice, part fear of God’s wrath, all wrapped up in a slick production.

In 2010, Jaser met a man at Middlefield who shared his obsessions. Chiheb Esseghaier, then a 28-year-old Tunisian doctoral student at the Université du Québec, specialized in nano­technology and biosensors. He had a full beard, an intense gaze behind metal-rimmed glasses and the withdrawn ­personality of a bookworm. Even though they came from very different backgrounds, they fell into long conversations about religion, politics and Esseghaier’s studies.

Esseghaier began visiting Jaser in Toronto, often crashing at his home. He never spoke to Jaser’s wife even though she was in the apartment. (Which isn’t that unusual: in Jaser and Esseghaier’s strict interpretation of the Muslim faith, men and women who are unrelated simply do not interact.) The men talked about how they believed Muslims were oppressed by the West. They talked about how wrong it was that Canada had troops in Afghanistan with the NATO mission. NATO, in Esseghaier’s view, was intent on colonizing the country and forcing secularism upon Muslims.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 9:03 pm

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO covers Spacing’s new Toronto store.
  • Crooked Timber has a measured response to the death of mystery novelist P.D. James.
  • The Dragon’s Tales links to a paper modeling the development of river deltas on Titan and on Earth.
  • Far Outliers notes the awkward advantages of Japanese-Koreans in North Korea.
  • Joe. My. God. features a guest post from Carl Siciliano, operator of a shelter for GLBT youth.
  • Language Hat notes a recent study suggesting that even forgotten languages are not truly forgotten by humans once exposed to them.
  • Marginal Revolution looks at the complications of France’s 35-hour work week.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes the Hajnal line dividing European population and observes the return of natural increase in Russia.
  • The Signal has a fascinating interview about the complexities of digital art preservation.
  • Transit Toronto notes John Tory’s order to restore cut bus service to dozens of routes, including my Dupont bus.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Chinese dams might dry up Kazakhstan’s Lake Balkhash and examines the consequence of Russia’s stripping expatriates of their citizenship.

[PHOTO] “But they weren’t doing much, so we killed them all … ?”

"But they weren't doing much, so we killed them all ... ?"

This May 2013 photo was taken as I was walking with my father down the former course of Garrison Creek, along Bathurst Street near Fort York. On the side of a stairway leading from the street towards the fort, builders had erected a wall with a potted history of the Toronto area, the only entry relating to native peoples being a notation that First Nations settled the area circa 9000 BC. Below that entry, someone had scrawled some graffiti: “But they weren’t doing much, so we killed them all … ?”

First Nations erasure is a major problem in Canadian history. In this particular case, the graffiti artist missed a singular point about Toronto’s pre-European history, that there were no mass killings of indingenous peoples by Europeans, that the main mass killings were conducted by other indigenous peoples. The mid-17th century Beaver Wars fought for control of the North American fur trade ended up seeing the dispersion of the native groups indigenous to south-central Ontario, notably the Huron. C.M.W. Marcel’s 2006 Counterweights essay goes into interesting detail about the ephemeral Iroquois colonization of the northern shores of Lake Ontario. This settlement included two villages in modern Toronto’s boundaries, Teiaiagon on the eastern shore of the Humber River in west-end Toronto and Ganatsekwyagon in east-end Toronto on the Rouge River. That first village later hosted the Mississaugas, an Algonquian-speaking Ojibwa group that has since been displaced from the area. (Wayne Roberts’ 2013 NOW Toronto essay is recommended.)

History is interesting.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 28, 2014 at 10:27 am