July 30th, 2005

[BRIEF NOTE] No Future for Belgium?

The title of Steve Jacob's article "Belgique: chronique d'une mort annoncée", published by the Montréal daily Le Devoir last Friday and also available here, translates literally as "Belgium: chronicle of an announced death." An assistant professor in political science at Université Laval, Jacob argues that after 175 years the Belgian state has reached a dead end, with federalist reforms doing little to satisfy discontented nationalists and the very idea of a pan-Belgian identity evaporating.

Ainsi, 175 ans après la création de la Belgique, l'union entre les Flamands et les Wallons semble être consommée. Même si le couple dort encore dans le même lit, il y a bien longtemps qu'il ne fait plus le même rêve. Les forces centrifuges gagnent du terrain. Leurs points de vue prennent de l'ampleur et reflètent les aspirations de la population. Ainsi, le courant indépendantiste, majoritaire au Parlement flamand, dicte l'agenda du gouvernement fédéral en matière d'autonomisation de la fiscalité, de la sécurité sociale, de l'emploi, etc. Dans ce contexte, il devient de plus en plus difficile de gouverner la Belgique puisque la plupart des discussions politiques achoppent, tôt ou tard, sur une tension communautaire -- ce terme désigne les relations entre les communautés linguistiques -- qui frise la scène de ménage. Actuellement, la Belgique est coincée dans un cul-de-sac où il n'est pas possible de faire marche arrière. Le seul dénouement semble donc être la disparition programmée du pays. Les solutions en cas d'éclatement du royaume sont différentes dans les trois régions du pays.

What would Belgium's three regions--Netherlandophone Flanders, Francophone Wallonia, and the city-state of Brussels--do if the Belgian state collapsed? The Flemish would at last have «Een Vlaanderen Staat in Europa», while the Walloons are apparently strongly interested in the rattachiste ideal (in a 2003 poll, 36% of Walloons favoured some sort of federation with France while only 14% favoured independence) and the Bruxellois would prefer an ill-defined autonomy from both the Flanders that surrounds their city and the Wallonia that shares their language. (The European Union may take on a major role in determining Brussels' fate--Brussels, the European capital district?)

Jacob's predictions seem almost too gloomy, but then, what if he's right? An independent Flanders, a Wallonia that's a French region just like Picardie-Nord de Calais or Lorraine, a city-state of Brussels: Will these plans ever transcend the realm of theoretical cartography? At the very least, none of these are impossible outcomes.
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    sympathetic sympathetic

[LINK] The Road to Avonlea Con

Thursday's Globe and Mail featured a fantastic article by Gayle MacDonald: "A trip down Avonlea lane."

In 1989, a young girl named Sara Stanley skipped across the TV screen in blond curls and a pinafore, and into the hearts of thousands of viewers.

Played by the Toronto-based actress Sarah Polley, she was the star of the seven-year, Lucy Maud Montgomery-inspired series
Road to Avonlea, which aired in Canada on CBC Television and in the United States on the Disney Channel.

When it ended its run in 1996, fans were distraught, mainly because it was one of the few remaining feel-good family shows -- cut from the same cloth as better-have-a-hankie-handy programs such as
The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie.

Unable to turn their backs on the bucolic, turn-of-the-century Prince Edward Island town of Avonlea, fans in far-flung locales around the globe stayed connected through the Internet, chatting about their favourite episodes and characters such as the inimitable Hetty King (played by Jackie Burroughs), the geeky but decent Jasper Dale (R.H. Thomson), and the handsome boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Gus Pike (Michael Mahonen).

Then two years ago, one diehard
Road to Avonlea supporter, Ruth Williams of Southfield, Mich., had an idea: She'd organize the first Avonlea Convention. Last July, Toronto's Black Creek Pioneer Village hosted the inaugural event, which drew fans from across Canada, the United States and Hungary. This year, the two-day Avonlea pow-wow -- which has been shortened to AvCon 2005 -- will be held from tomorrow through Sunday at the same venue.

Williams, 45, hopes to attract several hundred Avonlea aficionados. "I figured if fans can organize conventions for
Star Trek [the 19th-annual Toronto Trek convention took place recently] and Andy Griffith [thousands flock to Mount Airy, N.C., to celebrate that show's anniversary each September during Mayberry Days], then why can't we?", Williams asks.

Go read the rest of the article, please. Popular/mass culture is monstrously regenerative, isn't it?
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    constructively insular

[BRIEF NOTE] On Alien Artifacts in Science Fiction

A thought: Might the alien artifacts beloved of science-fiction--those exceptionally high-tech good manufactured by long-vanished extraterrestrial cultures, capable of great tasks and of being reverse-engineered for profit--be science fiction's equivalent of oil?

Consider that the oil and natural gas industry is a capital-intensive industry drawing upon little labour or, for that matter, not necessarily having much of a connection at all with thye wider economy. The ambitious corporations or states which happen to control the industry have massive financial resources at their disposal, regardless of what happens to the wider economy. This can encourage very bad policy-making--the Ba'athist militarization of Iraq comes most quickly to mind.

In a science-fiction context where alien artifacts are presumably either rare or difficult to exploit, control and use of these artifacts would be limited to a select few. It would be difficult to insert these artifacts into the wider economy, at least until reverse-engineering proved profitable, but these artifacts would still influence the wider economy. The artifacts would exist apart, exerting influence but not being influenced in turn, providing their owners with a vital edge over non-owners.

Yes, I've been watching Babylon 5 lately. Why do you ask?
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