February 12th, 2010

[LINK] Some Friday links

  • Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell suggests that e-book publishing, by virture of the lower costs involved, will encourage the popularity of relatively short texts over novels of standard length.

  • Daniel Drezner suggests that the success of Yanukovich the Ukrainian election is a good thing, inasmuch as it indicates that Ukraine's a politically and culturally pluralistic society (unlike, say, Russia).

  • The Global Sociology blog notes that in the United States, downwards pressure on wages by immigrants isn't felt by native-born citizens but rather by recent immigrants and their families, who occupy much the same position in the labour market as the newer arrivals.

  • Douglas Muir at Halfway Down the Danube wonders about the remarkable speed at which the legacies of short-lived colonial empires like the German and the Japanese can fade away.

  • At the Invisible College, Jessica Dorsey examines where the emergent international law doctrine of the right to protect is in the world. It's controversial, needless to say.

  • Language Log examines the growing role of English in China, to the point that its actually a language of instruction in education.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money's Robert Farley considers Polish history, the consensus being that the death of the Jegallonian dynasty kept Poland-Lithuania from developing the centralized state it needed to survive. Charli Carpenter also points out that estimates of Congolese war dead have accidentally been inflated due to statistical errors, and that the figure is "only" three million.

  • Savage Minds' Joanna and Pal examine the use of the word "culture" in international discourse, relating to everything from concerns over cultural appropriate to international relations and state structure.

  • Slap Upside the Head notes that a newly-installed Conservative Senator in Canada has a history of being quite vocally and strongly homophobic.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy compares the fiscal and economic positions of California in the United States and Greece in the eurozone, suggesting that California's meeting a better reception from financial markets simply because it plays a much bigger role in the American economy than Greece does in the eurozone.

  • Window in Eurasia suggests that despite the recent resignation of Tatarstan's Prime Minister Mintimir Shaimiyev, Tatarstan is still going to retain its cultural and political distinctiveness.

[LINK] "'If you marry out, you move out'"

Besides being terribly discriminatory the news of the Kahnawake Mohawk reserve in Québec to expel non-residents of insufficiently pure blood quantum is terribly ironic, since the previous trend has been for the Canadian government to strip deny members of First Nations as Status Indians because, whatever their culture, they're partially non-First Nations heritage. Preserving the community's all well and good, but successive purges of the population--including, as one woman says, of people who contribute to the community's life--isn't a good way of keeping it dynamic, to say nothing of the human rights issues involved.

As the Mohawk band council in Kahnawake prepares to post names of non-aboriginals issued eviction notices last week, local reaction yesterday revealed mixed feelings about the evictions - even though some felt they may have been necessary.

The only thing there seemed to be any agreement on is that the interracial couples now being forced to separate or move out of the community together "should have known better."

"Nobody in this town can say they didn't know that this would happen if they married a non-native," said a Mohawk woman in her 60s sitting at a card table at the community's Golden Age Club.

"We were all taught from when we were children: If you marry out, you move out," the woman said as four of her friends, all Mohawk women of about the same age, nodded their heads in agreement.

[. . .]

Over the years, there have been at least five such separate actions, in 1880, 1939, 1971, 1973 and 1981. Delisle said this current eviction undertaking was predictable.

Although a widow now, one Mohawk woman at the Golden Age Club yesterday who had married a white man said she was "lucky" she did so before 1981, when a moratorium on mixed marriages prohibited non-aboriginals who married Mohawks from residing in Kahnawake. As a result, she was not forced to leave.

But even without the 1981 moratorium, she, like the others, said they had always known the potential cost of marrying outside. Their parents had witnessed the upheaval caused by eviction notices in the 1930s and, they themselves remembered the emotional turmoil of similar eviction notices issued in 1971 and 1973.

One woman recalled how she had refused to let her son, who was 15 at the time, into the house when he came home with a white girl from Châteauguay. "He thanks me for it now," she said.

[LINK] "China's social networks bloom without Twitter, Facebook"

AFP's report on Chinese social networking sites is unsurprising: if, in an increasingly wired society, international sites are unavailable for whatever reason, local ones will pop up to meet those needs.

China's domestic social media sites like Weibo are booming thanks to their better knowledge of the world's largest Internet market -- and the censorship stifling foreign rivals like Facebook, Twitter, and Google-owned YouTube.

The 384 million people now online in China, where the need to build connections (guanxi) has always been vital, have fostered an explosion in web networking, led by instant messaging and video-sharing sites QQ and Youku.

But the government, wary of the power of such networks to quickly mobilise large groups of people, has blocked foreign sites such as Twitter on and off for months, which has guided Chinese users towards domestic firms, experts say.

"The Chinese government has been deliberately fostering domestic enterprises which are generally much easier to be controlled," said Xiao Qiang, who heads China Digital Times, a US-based site that monitors web developments in China.

"This is one of the essential components of the Chinese censorship mechanism, which also creates a trade barrier for the world's largest Internet market."

Twitter and Facebook were cut off nationwide in July amid deadly ethnic unrest in the restive far-western region of Xinjiang. Authorities blamed the spread of the violence in part on agitators who used the web to stoke it.

Last month, Google threatened to abandon its Chinese-language search engine google.cn, and perhaps end all operations in the country, over censorship and cyberattacks it says targeted the email accounts of Chinese rights activists.

The ultimatum thrown down by Google has sparked a Sino-US row over Internet freedom, but observers say the problems for foreign social networking sites run deeper, as those sites are simply not tailored to Chinese users.

"Even if Facebook and YouTube were not blocked in China, they still could not compete with the popularity of Kaixin (China's Facebook equivalent), Youku and others," said Duan Hongbin, an IT analyst at Anbound consulting.

"It's like Baidu and Google in China -- generally, Google is better in terms of technology and branding. But most Chinese still prefer Baidu," he said.

"It's not because of nationalism -- the language barrier is one reason. It is normal for Chinese users to use a Chinese-language interface. There are not many web users in China who prefer an English interface."

Iran's recent crackdown on Gmail makes me wonder whether the Islamic Republic is set on following the precedents of the People's Republioc.

[LINK] "Small-town gay teens strive for big-city diversity and acceptance"

I'm glad that I never really had to deal with these issues, whether because I never encountered them or because I never noticed them or I unconsciously edited them from my memory. Still, I am in Toronto for a reason, you know.

The anti-gay slurs were tossed around Marion Miller's classroom in rural Nova Scotia as casually as paper airplanes.

"People would be in class just throwing out death threats about, like, the two people who had ever dared to come out," recalls Miller, a college student now living in Montreal who describes herself as queer.

"People would say things like, 'My cousin, I don't talk to him anymore since he came out' and 'There's not any gay people at this school because we would have rounded them up already."'

When the disparagement was too much, Miller would slip quietly outside her classroom in Pomquet, an Acadian hamlet some 2 1/2 hours northeast of Halifax.

Miller was around 14 and had only just come out to herself, close friends and family. Her classmates, she figured, wouldn't accept her.

"I was shaken. It was really scary," says Miller, now 18. "I was like, 'Wow, does this mean I could never come out? Is this what faces me in the world, these kinds of people?"'

[. . .]

Without visible support, one expert says growing up gay in a small town can be an exercise in waiting and loneliness.

"Lots of young people that we talk to really feel like they need to keep their head down, get through the teenage years and finish school," says Jennifer Fodden, executive director of a Toronto-based helpline for LGBTQ youth.

Some 6,000 Ontarians contact the Lesbian Gay Bi Trans Youth Line each year and chat with peers aged 15 to 26 who've shared many of the same questions, concerns and experiences.

Fodden, 36, says the promise of pride parades and support groups in big cities can lure youths from their rural homes before they're financially ready. Some wind up on the street as a result.

LGBTQ youth face challenges in larger centres, too, but there's generally more support and resources are handy, says Fodden, a Toronto native who came out as a lesbian at 21.

"I had more options," she says of her coming out experience. "It was a less personally excruciating process of trying to figure out who I was, for sure."

[LINK] "Toronto leads the nation in number of artists"

The Globe and Mail's James Adams makes the unsurprising observation that Canada's largest metropolis and centre of English Canada's culture industries has the most artists of any Canadian city.

Toronto has more full-time artists than any other Canadian city – 22,300 – and these artists tend to live largely in neighbourhoods in or near the city’s downtown, according to an analysis of the 2006 census released this week.

The study shows that artists, as with artists everywhere, like to congregate where the rent is (relatively) cheap, public transit is available, coffee houses, bars and job-related resources are plentiful and nearby, and the atmosphere can be described as bohemian (or at least faintly so).

The study, based on an examination of 89 postal regions in Toronto by Hamilton-based Hill Strategies Research, found that the Parkdale district, on the western outskirts of downtown, had, at six per cent, the highest concentration of artists as a percentage of a neighbourhood’s total labour force. However, the median income of the 720 artists (out of a work force of 12,000) in Parkdale was, at $16,400, one of the lowest among Toronto artists and well below the roughly $28,700 median earnings for Toronto’s overall labour force. (Parkdale’s overall median earnings in 2005 was around $32,200.)

The neighbourhood with the second-highest concentration, at 5.5 per cent of the labour force, was what is generally known as West Queen West/Kensington Market, bordered roughly by Dufferin St. to the west, Bathurst to the east, King to the south and College to the north.

Number three, at 5.3 per cent, was the greater Annex area, bordered roughly by St. Clair Ave. to the north, College to the south, Ossington to the west and Bathurst on the east.

Fourth, at 5.2 per cent, was the northern Annex/Yorkville district, with Bathurst as a western boundary, Yonge to the east, Bloor St. as the southern perimeter and St. Clair to the north.

I don't live in any of these neighbourhoods, but I live quite near all of these and might spend most of my free time in them, in fact.

[BRIEF NOTE] Let's not have a war on cars, but rather, a war on stupidity

I like Spacing Toronto, but there are some posts, like the one Dylan Reid made last Thursday ("Why did the police take aim at pedestrians?") which annoy me profoundly. As you might know, the month of Janaury 2010 in Toronto was marked by an anomalously high number of pedestrian deaths as a result of collisions with motor vehicles. As I blogged a couple of weeks ago that may well be an entirely normal statistical blip that can happen any time. Reid, however, is unhappy with the police reaction.

On Wednesday Jan. 27, Toronto woke up to radio, TV and newspapers saturated with stories about reckless pedestrians, and images of Toronto Police “blitzing” pedestrian behaviour in downtown Toronto. Suddenly it was pedestrians’ fault for getting themselves killed. While a few drivers were ticketed too, they were not emphasized in the stories.

What happened? The change in tone seems to have been a direct response to the police campaign. The first sign was a segment on CBC TV’s The National on Jan. 26, where the cameras were there to watch police warn pedestrians and then drive along with a policeman as he talked about reckless pedestrians. The next day, the stories focused on police stopping people on foot for various infractions in the downtown business district. They had plenty of quotes or clips from police representatives and the pedestrians being stopped, and not many from others. There was only minimal discussion about driver behaviour, mostly buried at the end of the stories.

Now that the deadly January and, I hope, the police crackdown are past, it’s a good time to look back and analyze the whole affair, one last time, in more depth. I’ve heard outrage from a lot of people about this police campaign, and it had various negative effects on pedestrianism in Toronto.

The police campaign consciously shifted the blame-game towards pedestrians. This strategy ignored the fact that many of the pedestrians killed in January were behaving in a legal and responsible manner when they were killed by vehicles. Instead, it reassured drivers that they did not need to examine or change their own behaviour, relieving them of responsibility. By trivializing the causes of the deaths as “those crazy pedestrians,” it threatened to derail a developing and constructive discussion about how Toronto intersections can be made safer. And it portrayed walking itself as an unsafe activity.

He goes so far as to say that a Toronto police officer's statement that a woman hit by a bus should have been watching where she was going was unfair.

All I can say to all this is that, regardless of legalities, everyone on the roads--pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicle drivers--should be paying attention to their surroundings, even when they're doing things correctly. I don't see any grounds for saying that pedestrians do a good job of obeying the rules and being safe. How many times have you seen (or been) rushing across the street in the hopes of making the traffic, even hanging around on the centre line while waiting for the other lane to clear? Pedestrians walk without taking care; cyclists bike through pedestrian traffic and don't signal; cars and trucks are driven by people who sometimes don't look for smaller people and things nearby.

These collisions are all a matter of kinetic energies, really, and it's just that people are so much more fragile than things made of metal, especially heavy things. Since when have caution and prudence been bad things? Blitz pedestrians, blitz cyclists, blitz drivers, blitz everyone who isn't being sufficiently safe, but identifying one class as especially culpable is foolish.