A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for September 2015

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • At Antipope, Charlie Stross starts a discussion about the consequences of satellites getting knocked down. How would a newly satellite-less world cope?
  • Centauri Dreams looks at red dwarfs and the challenges of their potentially habitable exoplanets.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze considers ways to detect the spectral signatures of rocky impacts on young stars.
  • The Dragon’s Tales considers why nuking Mars in the aim of terraforming will not work.
  • Language Hat considers languages with royal and commoner registers.
  • Languages of the World starts a consideration of the links between genes and history and language.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the popularity of Planned Parenthood.
  • Marginal Revolution thinks the added pollution from the Volkswagen fraud had a trivial negative effect.
  • pollotenchegg maps Russian language use in 1926 Ukraine.

Sometimes amateur writers need a professional opinion

The Globe and Mail‘s Kate Taylor had an essay on writing that I’ve been paying attention to lately.

Urjo Kareda, the artistic director at Toronto’s Tarragon Theatre from 1982 until his death in 2001, was famous for many things. One of them was his commitment to reading every offering that every aspiring playwright ever sent his theatre. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, he read as many as 500 unsolicited scripts a year.

He responded to the writers, too, delivering honest assessments of their scripts in what could be notoriously sharp-worded letters. Kareda had previously worked as theatre critic at the Toronto Star and clearly didn’t believe in mollycoddling dramatists – or deceiving would-be dramatists as to their chances.

His reading probably didn’t uncover any hidden gems; the various new play development programs he established at Tarragon were surely far more important to the theatre’s artistic success. But if Kareda’s approach to unsolicited material was inefficient, it was also admirable. It suggested a commitment to the idea of playwriting and to the community of playwrights that extended far beyond the needs of his individual company; it suggested he felt it was his duty, as a salaried cultural arbiter, to acknowledge all those unpaid aspirants in need of cultural arbitration.

When HarperCollins announced recently that it would close its website Authonomy Sept. 30, I didn’t mourn the forum to which writers could post unpublished manuscripts for peer review; instead, I mourned the professional spirit of Urjo Kareda. A handful of published, bestselling authors whose work was first discovered on Authonomy are apparently deeply saddened by its demise, but the site sounds as though it was mainly a way to get the slush pile to read the slush pile. Self-publishing, print-on-demand and the fan-fiction phenomenon have eroded the distinction between amateurs and professionals in the literary industries, but every so often you get a small reminder that sometimes you need to send in a pro.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 10:07 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Coun. John Filion’s Rob Ford book to hit shelves in October”

CBC shares the news from the Canadian Press.

The antics of Coun. Rob Ford have inspired yet another book — this time written by a fellow city councillor.

Random House Canada says John Filion’s The Only Average Guy: Inside the Uncommon World of Rob Ford will examine “what drives him, why he acts the way he does, what’s important to him.”

Filion was a journalist before entering municipal politics, and Random House says he developed an unlikely camaraderie with the wildly unpredictable councillor from Etobicoke, Ont.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 10:05 pm

[LINK] “What Content Bubble? Business Insider Scores Huge Sale”

Wired‘s Julia Greenberg describes the online journalism boom.

The eight-year-old media startup was acquired today by German publishing giant Axel Springer. The deal values Business Insider at $442 million, almost $200 million more than what The Washington Post sold for in 2013 and well above the $315 million AOL paid to acquire The Huffington Post in 2011. In the current frothy market for content, BI’s deal feels like one of the bubbliest yet.

Axel Springer will pay $343 million to acquire 88 percent of the company; it already owns a 9 percent stake. Jeff Bezos’ personal investment company Bezos Expeditions will hold the remaining shares. Henry Blodget, the co-founder, editor-in-chief, and chief executive of Business Insider, will remain at its helm.

The sale price may sound high, but Axel Springer, one of the biggest media companies in Europe, seems to be looking to the future. The company is the owner of German newspapers Bild and Die Welt; the acquisition illustrates the more traditional conglomerate’s desire to expand its influence in online news. The company has also invested in digital news startups Mic, Ozy, and NowThis Media as well as Politico’s European branch. It has also backed virtual reality startup Jaunt and news reader app Pocket.

“Combining our forces will allow us to unlock growth potential and expand Business Insider’s portfolio to new verticals, new locations and new digital content,” Axel Springer chief executive Mathias Döpfner said in a statement.

Axel Springer is not the only traditional media company that has been aggressively looking at—and investing in—more nimble digital upstarts that appeal to a younger audience. American media giant NBCUniversal has invested millions in BuzzFeed and Vox Media, while Hearst has funded Complex, Refinery 29, and BuzzFeed.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 10:03 pm

[LINK] “Iran Seeks $150 Billion to Target 8 Percent Annual Growth”

Bloomberg’s Kambiz Foroohar notes Iranian aspirations for booming post-sanctions growth.

Iran needs $150 billion of investment to reach 8 percent growth a year and lower youth unemployment, President Hassan Rouhani said in an address to Iranian-Americans in New York on Saturday.

Last year, Iran created 700,000 new jobs, short of the 800,000 needed for new entrants to the job market, said Rouhani, who is in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly. He was appealing to the Iranian diaspora for greater involvement in the country.

Iran and six world powers reached an historic agreement on July 14 in Vienna to curb Iranian nuclear ambitions in exchange for the easing of international sanctions. The accord survived a 60-day review by the U.S. Congress and is now being examined by the Iranian parliament.

In another part of his speech, Rouhani said Iran offered stability in a region that had witnessed wars, revolutions and natural disaster.

“In the past we used to export oil; now we export security,” Rouhani said. “Many countries in the region look to Iran’s help to defeat terrorists.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 10:02 pm

Posted in Economics, Politics

Tagged with , , ,

[LINK] “India, Bangladesh to Swap Land in End to Decades-Old Border Spat”

Bloomberg reports on the much-needed rectification of the India-Bangladesh border.

At midnight, India and Bangladesh will swap pockets of territory strewn along their 4,100-kilometer frontier to end one of the world’s biggest border disputes.

Residents of the border enclaves have lived stateless for 68 years, an anomaly dating back to Britain’s hasty partition of the subcontinent. They plan to light 68 candles, release 68 balloons and explode 68 firecrackers to celebrate the settlement, said Habibur Rahman, deputy commissioner of Lalmonirhat, a northern district that borders with India.

“They will become citizens of their choice,” he said by phone from the district. Boundary pillars demarcating the enclaves, known as the British Pillars, will be removed.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bangladesh counterpart Sheikh Hasina’s administrations had ratified the deal in Dhaka in June to swap 111 Indian enclaves for 51 Bangladeshi ones. Ending the dispute will help boost bilateral trade in the world’s least integrated region.

The enclaves are islets of territory completely encircled by the other nation, sometimes several times over. These include what’s probably the world’s only counter-counter-enclave — a piece of India inside Bangladeshi territory inside an Indian enclave inside Bangladesh.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Politics

Tagged with , , , ,

[LINK] “Diamond Trafficking Fuels Central African Republic Violence”

Ilya Gridneff and Jean-Louis Gondamoyen’s Bloomberg article is terribly depressing.

Illicit trafficking of diamonds in the Central African Republic has helped finance a more than two-year conflict, which has flared up again as the fiercest bout of fighting in the capital in a year has left more than 50 people dead, Amnesty International said.

Traders who have bought diamonds worth “several million dollars” failed to investigate if the beneficiaries are armed groups who carry out executions, rape and looting, the London-based rights group said Wednesday in a report. Local companies could soon begin exporting stockpiled gems that may have been mined by child laborers and avoided taxes.

“The international community is not doing what it needs to address what’s happening in CAR,” Lucy Graham, a legal adviser at Amnesty, said by phone.

Bangui has been paralyzed by clashes less than a month before elections meant to restore stability after the ouster of President Francois Bozize by anti-government militias in March 2013, leading to retaliatory attacks. A spike in violence began Sept. 26 after a Muslim man was found killed, sparking a march on the presidential palace that was dispersed, the looting of buildings and a breakout at the central prison.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 9:57 pm

[LINK] “Migrants find a new route to Norway, through the Arctic on bicycles”

The Arctic route described last month by the Associated Press’ Matti Huuhtanen is more of a novelty than a common route.

As Europe grapples with record-breaking numbers of migrants, a trickle of asylum seekers from Syria and the Mediterranean region have found an unlikely route: Through Russia to a remote Arctic border post in Norway, partly on bicycles.

Police Chief Inspector Goeran Stenseth said Monday that 151 people have crossed the border this year near the northeastern Norwegian town of Kirkenes, 2,500 kilometres (1,550 miles) northeast of Oslo.

He said that most of the migrants are from Syria, with some from Turkey and Ukraine, and that they mainly cross in motor vehicles although some have resorted to arriving on bicycles because the Storskog border post is not open to pedestrians, in line with a Norwegian-Russian border agreement.

“There have been about 100 during the past two months, at least 50 in July and looks like August will be much the same,” he told The Associated Press. “But the conditions will be bad soon. It’s getting colder by the day … Soon no one will be able to bike, that’s for sure.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 9:56 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “To remember the Galleria Mall is not to hate change”

I liked Edward Keenan’s Toronto Star article about the Galleria.

My esteemed colleague John Semley recorded a video column for thestar.com this week, pithily taking the vinegar out of “people who lament the passing of so-called ‘vintage Toronto,’” including the “tacky, gaudy neon stretches of Yonge St.,” and the “iconic eyesore Honest Ed’s.” The occasion for his comments was that some of us had been pouring one out and saying a few kind words in anticipation of the likely redevelopment of Galleria Mall, near Dufferin and Dupont.

“Nostalgia is fine and everything, but there’s a certain phoniness in shedding crocodile tears for a halfway rundown strip mall that most of us only went to to smirk about how halfway rundown it is.” Instead, he says “good riddance” and suggests we all need to “embrace newness.”

Now, I can’t be sure Semley is talking about me here. But as perhaps the only mainstream newspaper columnist to have recently written a remembrance of Galleria Mall — and as someone who has written lovingly in the past about Yonge St. neon, Honest Ed’s, and Captain John’s, among other passing eyesores — I figure I might as well make a point of clarification. Because whenever I write about memories of a place to mark a significant change, I get responses from people that are variations of “good riddance”: Why you getting sentimental about that ugly, unloved relic, Keenan? What do you want to do, freeze the city in amber? Save some junky old restaurant or store? Why do you hate change?

The thing is, I love change. I think that the mark of a living, growing city is that it’s constantly evolving, constantly being reinvented, as new generations and new immigrants make their own marks atop the footprints of those who came before.

I just also like noticing change — taking note of things, especially landmarks, that have been an odd or familiar or interesting part of the city as they’re about to disappear. I think of it like a little retrospective slideshow played at a graduation ceremony: we’re moving on to bigger and better things, and we’re happy about that, but we sure had some moments there in that place we’re leaving behind, didn’t we?

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 9:54 pm

[URBAN NOTE] Vjosa Isai in the National Post on making Old City Hall a mall and museum

Vjosa Isal’s report caught my attention.

In at least five years, visitors at Toronto’s Old City Hall could be greeted not by metal detectors at a security screening checkpoint, but shiny new storefronts. The former city hall building could be transformed into a mall, according to a city staff report.

Toronto’s Government Management Committee is set to consider the report next Monday, which proposes tenant options for the heritage property after provincial and municipal courts clear out by Dec. 31, 2021.

Real estate brokerage firm Avison Young was hired to analyze the space and market, and recommended that plans for the historic building at Bay Street and Queen Street West be implemented within five years “in order to generate and maintain market interest”.

“The results of the analysis concluded that the highest and best use for Old City Hall would be conversion to a retail centre that contains a mix of food service, leisure, event and civic uses,” it said, with part of the space possibly reserved for management and city offices.

The city’s suggested base rental rate is $41 per square foot, not including maintenance and operating costs.

See also Kelly Korducki’s Torontoist post.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 30, 2015 at 6:15 pm