July 12th, 2005

[BRIEF NOTE] Celtia?

Celtia is where we come from and where we live, said my father. Pushed to the very edge of western Europe and the islands beyond, the last remnants of the Celtic people drifted even farther west to Maritime Canada, Quebec, Ontario and New England. That is our country, Father said, Brittany and Galicia, Cornwall and Wales, Ireland and Scotland and now the New World. We are like the Kurds, without a nation but endowed with a great culture[.]

- John W. Maxwell, foreword of New Celtic Cooking, page ix

Does anyone actually believe in this pan-Celtic nationalism? My question is only partly rhetorical.
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[BRIEF NOTE] Babylon 5

I've returned from a Babylon 5 viewing session with schizmatic and acrabtree, watching the 1993 pilot "The Gathering", the series' first real episode "Midnight on the Firing Line", and the pleasantly creepy "Soul Hunter." It was quite fun. Quite apart from the inherent value of these episodes, even the very pilotish "The Gathering," it had been so long since I had last seen any Babylon 5 that I had forgotten not only all the characters' personalities (Sinclair's reserved humour, Ivanova's sharp bluntness, Londo's forced joviality, G'Kar's hatreds, Delenn's mysteries). Knowing what I know now about the story arc, it was also fun to watch these earliest episodes and realize just how much of the overall arc Straczynski had planned from the very beginning.

Although I remain fond of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and am quite curious about the new Dr. Who, I feel safe in claiming that Babylon 5 remains the best televised science fiction produced to date, at least in North America. Babylon 5, more than any of its competitors, was a show that was defined by limits, by realistic characterization and compelling plots and good acting and things that just could not be done else the dramatic universe would be ripped asunder. It's just a shame that it's no longer shown on Space.

[BRIEF NOTE] Grand Demographic Hopes at Home

From CBC Prince Edward Island:

P.E.I. wants to increase its population by 1.5 per cent annually – about 2,100 people – in part by encouraging immigration and by attracting former Islanders back home.

Premier Pat Binns said his government will announce a plan this summer aimed at boosting the population, pegged at about 138,000 when Statistics Canada did its latest estimate in April.

Binns said he's worried by a projected decline in Prince Edward Island's population. Falling birth rates mean there will be fewer working-age people in the future.

"The population decline that could potentially happen would have a devastating impact on the province and we must change the course that we are on," Binns said.

"We have to be aggressive about increasing our objectives and bringing more people to the province."

The new population strategy will include plans to try to persuade former Islanders to return home for good and to discourage people living on the Island from leaving.

However, a large part of the plan will focus on bringing more immigrants from foreign countries to the Island.

Island Studies researcher Godfrey Baldacchino is reported as conducting research into the question of what attracts migrants to Prince Edward Island. This question is vital since, as Kevin Bissett writes for the Canadian Press, federal grants are at stake.

The federal government issued a warning Monday about Atlantic Canada's dwindling population as it announced the renewal of a $700-million fund aimed at promoting economic development in the region.

Joe McGuire, the minister responsible for the Atlantic Canada Opportunities Agency, said the second phase of the Atlantic Investment Partnership will include new money for attracting and retaining skilled workers over the next five years.

"We will not have in 10 years enough people to fill the jobs we have now, let alone develop the economy," McGuire told a crowd at an industrial park in Summerside, which is part of his federal riding.

"There literally has to be tens of thousands of people."

I was going to say that unemployment and underemployment remain high, but then I remembered the shortages of skilled workers on the Island. We neglected education, don't you know?

It will be interesting to watch this plan fail.
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[BRIEF NOTE] We Can Still Have A Clash of Civilizations, Part x

Recently, in the pleasant Antipodean former dominion of New Zealand, Muslim parliamentarian Ashraf Choudhary was quoted as favouring the stoning to death of homosexuals under certain conditions.

Stoning gays to death is OK in some countries – just not in New Zealand, Muslim MP Ashraf Choudhary has suggested.

The comments came as part of an interview with Choudhary on the TV3 current affairs programme “60 Minutes” last night. The Labour list MP who supported the Civil Union Bill was asked "Are you saying the Koran is wrong to recommend that gays in certain circumstances be stoned to death?"

He replied: "No, no. Certainly what the Koran says is correct." He then partially qualified the statement: “In those societies, not here in New Zealand.”

Janine Rankin in the Manawatu Standard reports that some Muslim women in New Zealand also disagree with the indiscriminate murder of non-heterosexuals.

They said Islam's full teachings about homosexuality and adultery requires four honest and upstanding witnesses to the deed itself before punishment can be meted out. Such proof is so difficult and unlikely to get that the punishment itself is a remote possibility.

It is not for ordinary people to judge another, gossip, or make accusations, particularly without proof.

It should please me, I suppose, that these people criticize the indiscriminate killing of suspected non-heterosexuals and think that it should happen only under certain circumstances (living under Islamic law, getting caught by witness). It should, and yet it does not.

I'd be happy if fundamentalist Muslims decided to recognize that I had a right to live. That's not too much to ask, right? After all, the overheated rhetoric about how a conservative Islam is incompatible with modern liberal-democratic societies is completely without foundation, right? Perhaps a multiculturalist-inspired hostility towards all fundamentalisms is in order.
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    frustrated frustrated

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] Lessons from Madrid and 3/11

Of late, I've seen the usual right-wing commentators comparing-and-contrasting the Spanish and British reactions to the recent al-Qaeda terrorist outrages in their national capitals. The Spanish, it is said, cravenly caved in to terrorist pressure. The Britons, in contrast, remain stalwart opponents of al-Qaeda. Go to National Review's website if you don't believe me.

As is usual with right-wing commentators, these arguments work only if you ignore large chunks of reality. For starters, the large minority of British public opinion supporting the Iraq war had no parallels in Spain, where according to opinion polls 90% of the population were opposed to Spain's participation. If it hadn't been for the willingness of Spain's right-wing Popular Party government, under Prime Minister José Maria Aznar, Spain wouldn't have been in Iraq in the first place (and, it must be added, become a prominent al-Qaeda target).

Why did the Spanish vote out the Popular Party government and withdraw their country's military forces from Iraq? It wasn't because they were cowards. Rather, it's because they were angry in a most unprecedented yet inspiring fashion, as Chris Brooke suggested last year at the Virtual Stoa.

Isn't the simplest explanation for what happened in Spain just that the splendid response of the population -- with eight million on the streets in protest against last week's bombings and in defence of Spanish democracy -- had the effect of raising the electoral turnout; and that when turnout rates rise in the context of a general democratic mobilisation, Left parties are more likely to benefit, given that it's the poor, the unemployed, the working class, the less well educated and so on who are, other things being equal, those who are less likely to cast a ballot? And that all the witterings about whether the Socialists are craven defeatists in the struggle against terrorism (they probably aren't) or whether Mr. Aznar was opportunistic in attempting to pin the blame on Eta for short-term electoral reasons (he probably was) pale into relative insignificance beside this fact?

Back in December 2004, the admittedly-biased World Socialist Web Site reported that the Aznar government engaged in massive fraud by claiming that ETA, not al-Qaeda, lied on a massive scale by claiming that ETA was responsible. That Basque terrorist group specifically, and Spain's regional nationalities and nationalisms in particular, were serious issues for the Aznar government; al-Qaeda involvement would have threatened the Popular Party's hold on power.

Zapatero confirmed allegations first published in the Spanish daily El Pais on December 13 that the former Popular Party (PP) government led by José María Aznar ordered the destruction of computer records dealing with the key period between the Madrid train bombings and the general election held three days later that it lost to Zapatero's Socialist Workers Party (PSOE). El Pais reported that a specialist computer company was paid $12,000 to erase the computer records, including back-up security copies.

Zapatero confirmed the allegations during questioning at the inquiry, "In the prime minister’s office we did not have a single document or any data on computer because the whole cabinet of the previous government carried out a massive erasure."

"That means we have nothing about what happened, information that might have been received, meetings or decisions that were taken from March 11 until March 14," he added.

Since then, it has emerged that Aznar and his cabinet office in fact erased all records covering their eight years of government. According to the New York Times, a Spanish official said every file had been wiped out on the hundreds of computers at the presidential complex, known as the Moncloa Palace. "Not a single trace of any files was left behind," the official said. "Zero, nothing."

Knowledge that the files were destroyed only came to light because the commission had requested the minutes of Aznar's Cabinet Office crisis meetings on the day of the bombings. Officials from Zapatero's government could not produce them, nor any other document of the time, including conversations held by Aznar with the heads of the Spanish media, foreign envoys, what reports he received or what instructions he gave.

[. . .]

At the commission, Zapatero confirmed previous testimony from the intelligence services and police that within hours of the attack officials had concluded the “sole responsibility” for the Madrid bombings rested with Islamic terrorists and not ETA. First, a tape of verses from the Koran was found in a van near the station where the trains started their journey. Then it was discovered that the explosive used to make the bombs was Goma-2 and not titadyne, the material favoured by ETA.

Commentator Edward Hugh once disbelieved this damning argument, but he has since changed his mind since the end of the hearings which ended with all parties but the Popular Party agreeing with this basic story.

In the first place the Spanish government appeared to be much more open with information, with almost hourly press conferences from the Interior Minister, and a detailed explanation of the 'evidence' almost as if 'we' the public were the investigating judge. Only as events moved forward did we discover that this apparent 'openness' was to a great extent a charade, and that behind the curtains a furious row was taking place between the security services and the government.

Hugh's conclusion is worth repeating:

Of course the biggest difference between Spain and the UK, is that the Madrid bombs lead to a change of government, while the London ones clearly will not. But then, while there may be ’information control’ the UK government is not engaged in an act of ’fundamental deception’ of its people, the Spanish government was. On the bigger question, as to whether Blair will in fact eventually go the way of Aznar, only history will judge.

It's not a sign of Spanish weakness that a mobilized Spanish electorate rejected Aznar and the Popular Party. Rather, it's a sign of Spanish strength, of Spain's willingness to confront leaders who were casually lying in order to escape blame for their unpopular policy. It speaks volumes about Spanish democracy that it was able to resist such partisan manipulations.

If you believe that the War against Terror takes precedence over everything else--the quality of democracy, the honesty of elected officials--this is a sign of weakness. More's the pity for you.
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[NON BLOG] More on the 22nd Century

Century 22 PBEM continues interestingly. Turkey's takeover by a self-guiding artificial intelligence ended in the context of a medium-sized war, with Arabia defending itself against a threatened Turkish invasion while Russia pointlessly fought a massive air war over the Black Sea and Anatolia against Turkey. In the end, the Turkish military staged a coup and overthrew the AI. One brief flirtation with the idea of a renewed imperialism in the Ottoman mold later, and there was a popular revolution that tossed out that regime. All's well on Earth for the time being.

The momentary stabilization of Earth's cutthroat geopolitics happened to coincide with the discovery of alien artifacts in the Pi 3 Orionis planetary system by the Japanese. A mining camp was set up on an airless world, extracting common metals for an unknown purpose. Little is known of the aliens since they took care to destroy almost every trace of their civilization that could be found. Disturbingly, the aliens were active in the Pi 3 Orionis planetary system possible as recently as fifty years before the game's present (late 2120s). The question of how to manage first contact is pressing, not least because there is the very real chance that if a single Terran state or alliance manages to discover the aliens they could try to enlist them as allies against their human enemies. So far, the discussions are bogging down in the traditional mutual national hatreds. This is not good.
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    waiting for Turn 6

[BRIEF NOTE] Great Lakes Geopolitics

On the day after Canada Day, Pearsall Helms blogged about the continued demise of Detroit.

Other industrial cities on the Great Lakes have experienced terrible upheavals over the last several decades, but Detroit is in a class of its own as to the depth and intractability of its problems. As the American population migrates south and west en masse the old industrial cities of the north and midwest are dying. In America, Detroit is perhaps the city most synonomous with urban decay, a shabby monument to the death of the old school working man's city. It is the bleak negative image in the national consciousness of sunny thriving centers of the new economy like Phoenix or Portland. Yet this was not always the case. In 1950 it was America's fourth-largest city, nearly two million strong, ground zero of the new automobile economy. By the middle of the 1980's it had hollowed out, its population halved, with rampant unemployment, poverty, and violent crime.

Yesterday, The Globe and Mail carried an article by Anthony Reinhart examining how Buffalo, subject to a similar process of decay, was increasingly coming into the orbit of a booming Golden Horseshoe. Already, someone has written an article joking about annexing Buffalo to Canada.

Hordes of liberals are currently looking to our saner cousin with yearning in their hearts, but Canada has issued stern preemptive warnings not to get any bright ideas. Keep your distance, she says, I'm not that kind of girl. But what if there were another way--a way we could leave this nutty nation, but keep our friends and our community? Well maybe, for Buffalo, there is such a way.

I propose that Buffalo simply secede from this dysfunctional union of states and join Canada. We're right on the border anyway, and it's been pretty clear for a while that our state and federal governments don't care very much for us. Frankly, the likely fate of Buffalo, New York, couldn't be much worse. Buffalo, Ontario, on the other hand, has an extremely bright future ahead of it.

More plausibly, Buffalo like Rochester--directly connected to Toronto by high-speed ferry--seems inclined to try to plug into southern Ontario's prosperous economy via cross-border initiatives.

This, the dominance of Ontario in its immediate hinterland, is a remarkable change. Once upon a time, Toronto was smaller than either Detroit or Buffalo, perhaps the two leading industrial cities of the United States on the shores of the eastern Great Lakes. Now, Toronto is the regional metropolis of note. Things have changed.
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