July 24th, 2005

[URBAN NOTE] La ville-reine

As I walked north from Union Station on Bay after disembarking from the GO Transit terminus, through the complexes of buildings which inspire Canada's hatred of Toronto, running west on Queen Street to make sure that the streetcar didn't catch up to me before I got to the University Avenue stop, and treaded north across the railway tracks to reach my abode, I realized once against that I loved this city. Toronto's great skyscrapers, rising into the sky from a vantage point in the direction of the harbour, are but an introduction.
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[URBAN NOTE] Mississauga

I visited bonoboboy and vorpal at their Mississauga residence yesterday evening. It's a bit surprising, but I've never visited the inner-rim of suburbs surrounding Toronto, whether the new or old cities. So much of the Greater Toronto Area still is marked "Here by dragons" on my cognitive maps. As it happens, it doesn't look altogether bad for a extensive-development subruban setting.

[REVIEW] Stargate SG-1

Excluding episodes watched half-attentively and accidentally on the television, last night I got my first Stargate SG-1 episode, the very first one, the pilot "Children of the Gods." I was favourably impressed: cute leads, good acting, interesting storyline. I will have to watch more, and in order.

What particularly struck me, as I sat on the futon next to bonoboboy, was the very American nature of this science-fiction show worked for me. Too often, televised science fiction takes American cultural icons--political figures, historical events, et cetera--and positions them as transcendant values, something that everyone can take for granted to the exclusion of icons from every other culture. Not that this is really such an issue, since Americans often appear to be the only national population that survived to develop interstellar travel. This America-centric perspective works rather nicely on Stargate SG-1, simply because it is, in fact, set in the United States of America. Image and reality match up.

[NON BLOG] CFTAG After-Report

I met up with schizmatic for a couple hours' entertaining discussion. Some high points.

  • Stargate SG-1 is a very fun series. It's interesting to see a contemporary science fiction setting featuring real military forces. Also, machine guns seem to have a higher firing rate than most sci-fi energy blasters.

  • The technothriller universe is much scarier than our own. Not only do many enemy states go to any length to hurt the US--Dale Brown's novels, punctuated by nuclear exchanges, come to mind--but even American allies are plotting to wage savage war. Consider, in Larry Bond's Cauldron, the willingness of a Franco-German alliance to use nuclear weapons against US carrier groups and bloodily conquer central Europe, or the desires of Japan in Tom Clancy's Debt of Honor to attack the United States and conquer Siberia.

  • Japanese manga and Korean manwha have managed to take over American-style comics' market share quite nicely, penetrating beyond comics' traditional teenage male market to reach entirely new demographics, like girls/women. This is an achievement.

  • It's annoying how, in Star Trek and kindred televised science-fiction, races are made archetypes, the Peaceful Thinkers, say, and the Brutal Conquerors.

  • Circa 1910, the German language was poised for an extraordinary period as a world language, with millions of Teutophones living outside Germany in central and eastern Europe, sizable German-language communities in places as far separated as Texas and Rio Grande do Sul and South Australia, millions of Germanized Asheknazic Jews, and great prestige in business and scholarship. Two world wars put an end to this.

We actively recruit, so if you're in the GTA next Sunday at 1 o'clock and in the vicinity of the Starbucks at Yonge and Wellesley, come, join us!
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    not very counterfactual, despite the name of the group

[BRIEF NOTE] Why We're Lucky We Had The States in '45

Europe could have become many things after the defeat of the Nazis. J. Bradford Delong ">noted in Chapter 5 of his online book Slouching Towards Utopia?: The Economic History of the Twentieth Century that membership what he calls the "convergence club"--the group of countries converging towards British and North American levels of economic output per capita and living standards--was determined largely by politics. As Delong notes, "[a]t the end of World War II we did not speak of "North Atlantic" economies. When we talked about "fully-industrialized" economies we spoke of the "Anglo-Saxon economies"--Canada, Britain, Australia, and the United States--and we spoke of Germany, following its disastrous Sonderweg. That we now speak of "North Atlantic" and even of "OECD" economies as sharing common structural characteristics is the result of two post-WWII economic miracles: the rapid convergence of the economies of continental western Europe to the levels and structure of the U.S., Canada, and Britain; and the extraordinary economic miracle of Northeast Asia."

In his 1997 article "Post-WWII Western European Exceptionalism: The Economic Dimension", Delong goes on to describe in detail two alternative post-war histories for western Europe. In one, a western Europe that either was conquered outright by Stalin or was communized via mass elections; in the other, the lack of American economic aid would force western Europe to that retreat into the same kind of highly regulated national protectionism that eventually drove Argentina out of the First World. Paris, Madrid, Rome, and Frankfurt could have shared the same fates as Buenos Aires, save that they would have had much more menacing neighbours.

The United States could have decided, after its second expensive and initially unpopular involvement in an extra-hemispheric war, to retreat from western Europe and to allow the continent to rebuild itself as best it could. Isolationism was strong in the United States, after all, and the decision to commit the United States to a permanent alliance with the non-Communist countries of Europe--and at significant cost, too--was unpopular. Imagine a world with no Marshall Plan, therefore no European Economic Community and no trente glorieuses, no attractive models of consumer capitalism and social democracy to attract the subjects of Communist countries, no attractive targets for exports for nearby First World-aspiring countries, no embedding of West Germany firmly within a consensus-driven European framework, no continent-wide entrenchment of basic civil and political rights. As tempting as it is to draw an uninterrupted lineage from Coudenhove-Kalergi's Pan-Europa to the European Union of 2005, a case just can't be made that Europe was bound to be prosperous and democratic. The United States had to step in and act constructively. What would have been true for western Europe would, I suspect, also hold true for Japan, and still more for the rest of war-devastated Eurasia.

Canada and the Australasian dominions likely would have done well enough for the first generation after the United States' fateful decision, as would the United States itself. If anything, their status in the post-war world would be significantly greater thanks to the devastation of their potential rivals. In the longer run, it would have done decidedly bad things even to these favoured countries. What would the world be like, after all, if it was even poorer and less democratic than it is now? Quite probably it would be a rather more violent world: It's unlikely that a democratic Argentina with G-8 membership credentials as secure as Canada's would have invaded the Falkland Islands.

The United States might have neglected its role in the global balance of power after the First World War to the world's lasting regret. After the Second World War, though, it did a superlative job, not only averting the creation of a Soviet hegemony stretching from the English Channel to the Pacific, but that prevented western Europe from following Argentina's trajectory into economic decline and political chaos, and in so doing, saving the world from a rather nasty fate. It's quite demeaning (to the United States, to its intentions) to demand that the rest of the world pay obeisance to the United States because of this intervention. It also denies history to pretend that, for reasons not immediately in the United States' interest, the United States did something remarkably good.
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