July 2nd, 2005

[BRIEF NOTE] The Thomson Collection

I was looking over notes yesterday that I'd made on visits last year to the Thomson Collection at it's old location on the 9th floor of the Bay, first with schillerium and vaneramos, then with talktooloose. It closed on the 16th of October and has since relocated to join the AGO collection, which is a pity since in its original location the collection was quite nice, wrapped around the Arcadian Court. vaneramos wrote compellingly about the Thomson Collection's importance.

The gallery overlooks the eighth-floor Arcadian Court, open since 1929, which Craig schillerium informed us had been the most exclusive dining spot in Toronto in its earlier days. White linen tablecloths were spaced evenly over a floor of white and pale reddish tile. All the high walls were cream-coloured, interspersed with mirrors. Two monstrous chandeliers dangled from the ceiling above us. I felt we had suddenly entered a chapter from a novel. In fact Craig pointed out that it was the setting, in Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, for Iris's coming out to Toronto high society. It also reminded me of the scene in Timothy Findley's Headhunter where the arch-villainous head psychiatrist goes to see the city's upper crust come and go. But that is set in the now or near future, and the Arcadian Court is clearly a feature of a bygone era.

[. . .]

The Group of Seven clearly took its inspiration from European Impressionists a generation earlier. They employed think brush strokes of pure colour, rather than subtly-blended washes. They set out to paint the Canadian wilderness, previously considered too wild and rugged to be painted, and succeeded in establishing a style uniquely Canadian. Tom Thomson is perhaps the most famous of the group, however he died mysteriously in Algonquin Park and was not alive when the Group of Seven officially formed after World War I. His most famous works were not present in this gallery.

Impressionism broke away from drawing its inspiration from historical sources and instead sought beauty in the here and now. The masters of the movement were skilled at portraying a sense of time and place, and were particularly interested in the way light played over the surfaces of the landscape. Their paintings were not concerned with details but with the overall effect. These Canadian artists mastered the same techniques, and gave them a peculiar earthy expression. A.Y. Jackson's The Stream St. Tite des Caps, 1934 depicts a snowy hillside in which all colours are reflected: yellow, green, blue, purple, shading into pink. The French Impressionists apparently learned to use blue in the reflection of daylight on surfaces by observing the blue reflections on snow, but Jackson saw a far wider palette. Seeing Franklin Carmichael's Wild Cherry, depicting blobs of pale light on blossoms under the dark shadow of conifers, I was immediately reminded of Whistler's Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket. Unfortunately, few of the paintings in the Tom Thomson collection are found online.

Hints of surrealism are also evident, particularly in Harris's stark portrayals of Lake Superior's northern shore. Islands, water, tree trunks and the play of winter light seem to acquire iconographic qualities. These were also evident in some of Franklin Carmichael's bizarre cloudscapes over mountainous territory. I felt the painters had gone beyond a bare interpretation of the landscape to stab at something more Freudian, vaguely frightening. The empty wilderness is on of Canada's unique and more daunting aspects--one still available for our experience--and the expressions of these artists 80 years ago is still meaningful today.

I had planned, last year, to write an extended piece about my reactions to the Thomson Collection. I had overheard someone on my first visit that October comment that "This is what our country used to look like," before our pell-mell urbanization and everything else. There were so many things of note: Homer Watson's aopparently prototypical southwestern Ontario landscape rocky stream in light woods surrounded by farmland in The Rising Storm, 1885, the bright blue sea of Morrice's Tangiers, the Beach and the vivid water of Carmichael's Cranberry Lake, 1931, the earlier urban perspectives of Lawren Harris, schillerium's observations about their feel for the detail of the northern Ontario landscape, talktooloose's ongoing metacommentary. The time for such a piece has passed, I fear, and I don't have the time to write a blogged equivalent to Orchid Thief, so here at least you have what's left.
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[ISL] The Problem with Island Populations

My thanks to Errol for forwarding to me this article from the New Zealand Herald, which explores the migration-related demographic problems experienced by some of the smallest Pacific countries.

Pacific countries that have easy access to New Zealand stand out in the region as having particularly "shaky and vulnerable" populations, says Waikato University demographer Professor Ian Pool.

Professor Pool said an examination of age pyramids provided by the Secretariat of the Pacific Community in Noumea showed Niue, Tokelau and the Cook Islands had very unstable populations.

The people of all three countries have free access to New Zealand because of historical connections.

Niue and the Cook Islands self-govern in free association with New Zealand and Tokelau is a non-self-governing territory of New Zealand.

Professor Pool said in Niue's case, the country of only about 1200 people had just 14.9 per cent in the labour force entrant age, between 15 and 24 years.

"That is very small and it is critical for development."

Worldwide the percentage of populations in that category would be about 20 per cent, he said.

Professor Pool said Niue's profile was similar to Tokelau (14.8 per cent) and the Cook Islands (15.6 per cent) and the three were probably similarly affected by out-migration to New Zealand.

He said Niue had a low number of children aged under 15, about one third of the tiny population, similar to the Cook Islands and Tokelau.

Of concern was that both Niue and the Cook Islands had negative growth rates, meaning they were losing people, compared with all other Pacific countries which had positive growth rates.

Tokelau showed little change in population size since 2001.

[. . .]

The combined population of the seven smallest Pacific Island countries and territories (51,800) was about equal to the combined population of Vanuatu's two towns.

These problems likely aren't solvable, at least not when populations in the Pacific islands want First World standards of living and see relatively little prospect of achieving these at home, and do see that the only thing keeping them from mass consumist prosperity (and, perhaps, more open and diverse societies than their societies are birth) is the cost of the plane ticket and assorted other relocation and startup expenses. Absent an exceptionally strong commitment to their insular homeland, why would a Niuean (or a Tokelauan, or a Cook Islander) stay? Tonga and Samoa are both independent states, true, and in theory one would expect that this independence would discourage emigration, but in actual practice as many Tongans and Samoans live outside their archipelagic homelands as inside. Barring remarkable exceptions like Singapore, all small islands can expect to see massive emigration, independent or no.

[BRIEF NOTE] One Thing About the United States

"I was walking down Via Guerzoni with my little girl and I saw a man with a long beard and a djellaba being stopped by two westerners with a mobile telephone. They were asking him, in Italian, for his documents, the way the police do," the witness said.

"At the junction with Via Croce Viola there was a pale-coloured van on the pavement," she continued. "Then, all I heard was a loud noise like a thud. The van suddenly shot backwards and then set off again, away from the mosque, passing me at high speed. And the three people I'd seen, they weren't there any longer."

The CIA's abduction and torture in 2003 of Abu Omar, a resident of Milan and a radical Muslim cleric suspected of al-Qaeda links, has become a major issue in Italian-American relations (see Reuters, The New York Times, The Guardian, Agenzia Giornalistica Italia). The idea that the United States is ignoring due process and abducting people in foreign countries is alarming. What's more alarming still is the possibility that, as the Washington Post suggests, this fits into a recent history of the United States collaborating with the public-security bureaucracies of other countries in ways outside the notice--never mind control--of the actual democratically elected governments.

In Italy, the justice department and public have been demanding answers from the United States and their own government since Nasr disappeared as he was walking to a mosque on Feb. 17, 2003. And justice departments and government investigators in other countries have begun to unearth information about their governments' roles in apprehensions once thought to be the work of the CIA alone.

In Sweden, an inquiry discovered that Swedish ministers had agreed to apprehend and expel two Egyptian terrorism suspects in 2002 but called the CIA for help in flying them out of the country when they could not charter a flight quickly to take the suspects to Egypt.

A former CIA official said the covert operation was exposed after the CIA paramilitaries drew attention to it by arriving commando-style, in semi-opaque masks, and "went through the standard drill as if they were arresting Khalid Sheik Mohammed," the architect of the Sept. 11 attacks.

In Canada, a government inquiry has revealed a greater role by Canadian intelligence in the Justice Department's secret 2002 "expedited removal" of a Syrian-born Canadian citizen to Syria after he was detained as he changed flights at a New York airport.

The idea that the government of the United States sees nothing at all wrong with subverting the rule of law in other democracies is worrying, to say the least. Freedom's for everyone, including people you don't like, and, yes, including foreigners.
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[LINK] Friedman is an idiot, Part x

Over at Crooked Timber, Henry Farrell points out that, again, Thomas Friedman knows not whereof he speaks. In this case, he does not know about Ireland, and how "there’s a very strong argument to be made that it is exactly the non-Anglo-Saxon features of the Irish economy--and in particular the systematized concertation between trade unions, management, government and other social actors--that was at the heart of Ireland’s economic success in the 1990’s. This system, unbeloved of free market economists, set the broad parameters for wage and income tax policy, and provided Ireland with the necessary stability for economic growth."

Why does the New York Times keep him on as a columnist, again?
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[LINK] Imperialist Hypocrisies

One thing that never ceases to perplex me is how so many left-wingers can condemn American imperialism in Latin America and the Middle East but feel constrained to justify Russian imperialism in central and eastern Europe, as in this screed at California's Alternet. Any ideas?

[LINK] An armed society is a polite society?

James Walcott takes on one of Instapundit's inanities.

"An armed society is a polite society." Think about that. Think about societies where the adult men routinely pack and tote arms.

Afghanistan. Yemen. The badlands of northern Pakistan (Bin Laden Country). The Sunni Triangle. Beautiful downtown Mogadishu.

Do these regions and cultures leap out at you as polite societies? Places where you could safely stroll for a nightly constitutional and enjoy vigorous differences of opinion that wouldn't break out in a misunderstanding between AK-47s?

[URBAN NOTE] The Village Rainbow

I blogged yesterday about wanting to enjoy cheap beers on a patio. I wanted to move out of my comfort zone, away from the patios that I'm grown accustomed to visiting towards someplace new. I gravitated east towards Church Street, and settled on the Village Rainbow (477 Church Street). I'd eaten there once last summer, and though I was concentrating more on the company than on the food at the time I remembered enjoying it. Surely I'd do so this time, too?

I seated myself on their patio, where I enjoyed first one, then two bottles of Upper Canada Dark Ale. I lack both the experience and the vocabulary needed to describe just why I liked it, though I do feel confident in saying that these have a nicely bitter taste to them. The food that accompanied it--pork souvlaki in a pita, French fries, and a Greek salad--wasn't anywhere near the same range. The souvlaki was a bit overcooked, I fear, and the fries were indifferent at best. Worst of all was the Greek salad, which was barely more than a great wet clump of feta cheese on lettuce with some olives underneath. The indifferent service wasn't a credit to the Village Rainbow, either.

I left the Village Rainbow dissatisfied, reminded of what the great American sociologists discovered in their mid-century analyses of the political economies of urban ghettoes: You can do anything to captive markets.
  • Current Music
    Depeche Mode, "Never Let Me Down"

[NON BLOG] There Is No Cabal

I feel it incumbent upon me to state that there is no cabal, of SHWIers, that is. Why would there ever be one in Canada? Previous gatherings of the Cabal have taken place outside Canada's frontiers--or rather, are rumoured to have taken place.

The very idea that I might have met up with Jonathan Edelstein, his lovely wife Naomi, and their friend from Buffalo at the Kipling TTC station at 3:30, and then proceeded to enjoy a whirlwind tour through the city including a highly enjoyable cruise of Toronto harbour, a promenade on Dundas west from University to Spadina, and a very nice Vietnamese dinner before they had to return to the United States is ridiculous. Certainly, if I in fact knew these people, I likely would have enjoyed their company immensely. But how could I?

There certainly wasn't any enjoyable discussions on matters uchronical with Jonathan like a different outcome to the Allende regime or a Spanish-style modernization of Yugoslavia, or any mildly funny miscommunications like me expecting to meet the party at the north entrance to the Kipling TTC instead of the south, or any professed desire to meet again and not have another three-year gap. How could there be any of this? There is no cabal, after all.
  • Current Mood
    wanting to make it clear that There Is No Cabal