December 27th, 2010

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • At blogTO, Matthew Harris blogs about the ongoing condo boom in the tony Toronto neighbourhood of Yorkville. No, Toronto doesn't have a real estate bubble, really it doesn't ...

  • Charlie Stross blogs about his recent second visit to Japan, a country that he sees has being alien but with this alienness rooted as much in its own distinctive history as in its futurisms.

  • Daniel Drezner makes the point that certain conservatives in the United States don't want to accept, that the US shouldn't have to boost its military spending up to Cold War levels since the United States isn't facing a power as remotely as globally powerful as the Soviet Union.
  • Eastern Approaches wonders what the European Union's policy to post-crackdown Belarus is going to be. The author doesn't seem to expect that much will change, owing (I suspect) to European lack of effort rooted in lack of interest.

  • At Far Outliers, Joel writes about how an American missionary in 1860s Japan created the modern system of Romanization and kickstarted English-language education in Japan.

  • Maximos blogs about Sydney, Australia's, disappeared tram (streetcar?) network.

  • Mark Dandridge photoblogs his encounter with Britain's Gilbert and George.
  • Science not Fiction's Kyle Munkittrick uses Google's Ngram viewer to note that people really aren't talking about the future--or at least, using the word "future"--as much as they were before 2000.

  • Window on Eurasia has an interesting brief piece on Russia's Assyrian minority.

[LINK] "Pitcairn mayor on child porn charges"

My thanks to New Zealand correspondent errolwi for sending me this article (from the New Zealand Herald's Edward Gay) about the latest alleged sex crime on Pitcairn Island.

The mayor of the tiny Pacific island torn apart by sex trials six years ago is facing 25 charges of possessing images and videos of child pornography on his computer.

Pitcairn leader Michael Warren, 46, will face the island's Magistrate's Court this month.

He has been charged with 20 representative counts of possessing indecent photos of children and five of possessing pornographic images, videos and documents involving children.

[. . .]

According to court documents, police examined Warren's computers and found more than 1000 pornographic images and videos of children on them.

While the police searched the home, Warren is alleged to have said he had downloaded pornographic photos and videos to his computers by accident using the file-sharing application Limewire. Limewire has since been shut down.

[. . .]

In 2004 and 2006, seven of the island's 12 men faced a total of 55 sex crimes, some dating back 40 years. Six were found guilty, with four sentenced to jail terms of up to five years. The crimes included rape, incest and indecent assault against girls from the age of 7.

The then mayor, Steve Christian, was one of those convicted. He was found guilty of five rapes on girls as young as 11. His son Randy was convicted of four rapes and five indecent assaults.

At the time Warren described the criminal proceedings as show trials.

"We believe this whole thing was a set-up from the beginning," he said.

Warren's lawyer, Tony Ellis, did not return phone calls.

Posted without further comment.

[LINK] "The Oddities and Anomalies of Svalbard"

This Geocurrents post outlines the interesting situation of the peculiar Arctic archipelago of Svalbard. Briefly, the islands can be described as almost Norwegian.

Svalbard, about the size of Sri Lanka or Tasmania, is [. . .] notable for its geopolitical anomalies. The coal-rich archipelago came to Norway through the Svalbard Treaty of 1920. The treaty, signed* by the United States, Denmark, France, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden, ostensibly granted Norway “full and absolute sovereignty” over the entire landmass. Svalbard, the Wikipedia stresses, is not a dependency of Norway, but is fully part of the kingdom. In actuality, the situation is more complicated. Norway’s sovereignty over Svalbard is limited and the islands remain legally distinct from the mainland. Norwegian tax laws, for example, do not apply to Svalbard, and immigration rules compromise Norwegian dominion. The 1920 treaty stipulates that residents of all countries are entitled to residency in Svalbard and are granted the right to establish commercial enterprises. In terms of residency potential, the archipelago is something of a global commons.

Several foreign communities have taken advantage of Svalbard’s open borders. The islands have long supported a significant Russian population. A Russian state-owned coal company maintains Svalbard’s second largest settlement, Barentsburg, population 500 or so. Coal mining is no longer very profitable, however, and thus requires heavy subsidies from Moscow. Oddly, Thais form the second largest foreign group. In the 1970s, evidently, a number of local miners took a tropical vacation, several returning with Thai wives. Other citizens of Thailand followed, attracted by Svalbard’s relatively high wages. According to a recent story, the local supermarket “now has an ‘Asian corner’ with rice, chilies, soy and fish sauce and other Thai condiments."

Despite its open-door policy, Svalbard does not present an easy migration option. Bitter winter cold and months of darkness, as well as an average July high temperature of 45 degrees F (7 degrees C), deter would-be immigrants. So too does official policy; welfare is not provided, and anyone without a job and a place to stay can be summarily deported. Svalbard also lacks local democracy. The governor of the archipelago, who also acts as police chief, is appointed by Oslo. Building regulations are extremely strict, and most land is devoted to nature reserves. Other oddities abound, as summarized on a libertarian website whose enthusiasts were eyeing Svalbard as a potential “European Freestate.” According to commentator Joffeloff, “outside the settlements it's illegal to not carry a gun; inside the settlements you had better get it away quickly because then you are suddenly an unaccountable madman, guilty until proven innocent just like on the mainland.” (Guns are to be carried outside of the settlements for protection against bears.)

[DM] "On Spike Japan"

I've a post up at Demography Matters pointing to the interesting blog Spike Japan, a photoblog by one Richard Hendy that takes him to various economically declining and depopulating areas of Japan.

Spike Japan is one of those blogs that works on two different levels, as a personal travelogue and as an extended meditation on the existential economic problems of post-growth societies. Visit it for both of these reasons.