October 23rd, 2015


[PHOTO] At the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant, Toronto

The R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant is, as Wikipedia notes, "both a crucial piece of infrastructure and an architecturally acclaimed historic building". A modernist icon sprawling over the hilly slopes of the eastern end of the beaches, descending from Queen Street East into Lake Ontario, the plant is a lovely place to see. Skateboarders, I would note, seemed to love the long sloping roads, while birds nest on the buildings' walls, as the second photo indicates.

At the R.C. Harris, 1 #toronto #rcharriswatertreatmentplant #latergram #architecture

At the R.C. Harris, 2 #toronto #rcharriswatertreatmentplant #latergram #architecture #nests #birds

At the R.C. Harris, 3 #toronto #rcharriswatertreatmentplant #latergram #architecture #lawn

At the R.C. Harris, 4 #toronto #rcharriswatertreatmentplant #latergram #architecture

At the R.C. Harris, 5 #toronto #rcharriswatertreatmentplant #latergram #architecture

At the R.C. Harris, 6 #toronto #rcharriswatertreatmentplant #latergram #architecture

At the R.C. Harris, 7 #toronto #rcharriswatertreatmentplant #latergram #lakeontario

[URBAN NOTE] "Mark Towhey, former Rob Ford aide, describes working for ex-mayor as 'roller-coaster'

CBC's Metro Morning reports on the many, many allegations by Rob Ford's former chief of staff, Mark Towhey, about the misbehaviours of Ford while in office.

Mark Towhey, Rob Ford's former chief of staff, told CBC News Thursday that working in mayor's officer was "a roller-coaster" and that he warned his colleagues not to ride in a car driven by Ford, because he didn't know when the now-former mayor had been drinking.

"My understanding is [Ford drinking and driving] happened more than once and was fairly well known among [senior police officers] at least," said Towhey in an interview on CBC's Metro Morning.

Towhey refused to name any senior police service members who said officers had driven Ford home instead of charging him with drinking and driving.​

"These are completely unsubstantiated allegations and are by now, fourth-hand gossip," said police spokesman Mark Pugash on Wednesday when contacted by Metro Morning.

Towhey worked for the mayor during his election campaign and rose to chief-of-staff after Ford's election in 2010.

Towhey has written a tell-all book about his turbulent times working in the mayor's office. His 360-page account of the Ford mayoralty, Uncontrollable: How I Tried to Help the World's Most Notorious Mayor, is set for release on Oct. 27, and contains some startling revelations.

The book is out.

[URBAN NOTE] "What’s Next for Ontario’s Greenbelt?"

Torontoist's Andrew Reeves reports about the import of the impending review of the Ontario Greenbelt.

When Ontario’s 7,300 square-kilometre Greenbelt was approved by then-Liberal Premier Dalton McGuinty in 2005, reaction was mixed.

Some saw the protected space as the best defence against suburban sprawl and the gradual destruction of watersheds, forests, marshes and agricultural land in Canada’s most heavily populated area. Others worried the strict new rules would limit housing stock, jack up home prices and wipe out the nest egg farmers had built in the hope of selling their once-isolated farms to developers.

Now, 10 years after coming into force, the Greenbelt Plan—along with the Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Plan, the Niagara Escarpment Plan and the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe—is undergoing a co-ordinated land use planning review.

From March to May of this year, the province held regional town halls to solicit public feedback and encouraged municipalities, industries, regions and environmental groups to offer their thoughts on how to strengthen the existing plans.

[URBAN NOTE] "Adam Vaughan Declares Island Airport Expansion “Dead”"

Whether it was Adam Vaughan or Olivia Chow who got elected in Spadina-Fort York, if the Liberals and/or the NDP formed a government the Toronto islands' airport was not going to expand. This seems to be what will happen.

With a Liberal majority, Adam Vaughan may finally stop the Billy Bishop Island Airport expansion.

The Spadina–Fort York member of parliament will likely play a key role in the incoming government, and stopping the expansion is a top local issue. Porter Airlines wants to expand the airport runway in order to begin flying jets out of the downtown airport. The current terms and conditions governing the airport prohibit jets, and changing those rules requires the City, PortsToronto (formerly the Toronto Port Authority), and the federal government to agree to open up the tri-partite agreement.

That seems much less likely now.

Adam Vaughan told the Toronto Star that the push for the Island Airport is “dead” with a Liberal government, a sentiment echoed by local councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), who once ran against Vaughan in a by-election for the federal seat.

[LINK] "Camerawoman plans to sue refugee she infamously tripped, and Facebook"

CBC's Lauren O'Neill reports on Petra Laszlo, the Hungarian journalist who was caught on film tripping desperate refugees, and what she plans to do next. Apparently lawsuits against people who shamed her, and migration to Russia now that she is unemployable, are planned.

Hungarian TV journalist who was caught tripping and kicking refugees on camera last month is making headlines once again this week — and inciting perhaps even more rage now than she did when the infamous footage first surfaced.

This is because, according to Russian newspaper Izvestia, the former N1TV camerawoman has announced that she plans to sue one of the very Syrian refugees she was seen kicking as "a matter of honour."

She also intends to sue Facebook for allegedly failing to take down negative and threatening content directed towards her in relation to the video, according to NPR.

"Facebook played a major role in my situation," said Petra Laszlo, 40, to Izvestia on Tuesday according to an English translation of the interview.

Citing an almost 10,000-member strong group on the social network called "Petra Laszlo Shame Wall," she allegedly claimed that Facebook "helped embitter people against me."

[LINK] "Swedish Housing Market in `Exceptional Situation,' Minister Says"

Bloomberg's Amanda Billner reports on an unexpected housing boom in Sweden, driven by the immigration of refugees.

Sweden’s property market -- already heating up at an alarming pace amid negative central bank rates and a lack of supply -- now faces another challenge.

The country’s top minister for housing is warning that a record influx of asylum seekers will send the property market into uncharted territory as Sweden runs out of dwellings.

“We have an exceptional situation in the housing market and it’s exceptional because we’ve had an enormous lack of housing for a long time,” Mehmet Kaplan said in an interview in Stockholm on Thursday. “It doesn’t get easier to solve when the population increases further.”

Sweden on Thursday tripled its estimate for the number of asylum seekers from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan set to cross its borders, and said the cost of looking after them next year will be twice that originally budgeted. As many as 360,000 people will arrive in the Scandinavian nation through 2016, the Swedish migration agency estimates.

The question is where to put them. Warnings of the risks building in Sweden’s housing market have grown more frequent this month, with a number of bank executives sounding the alarm and the central bank revealing plans to cut its exposure to mortgage debt. The chief executive officer of Sweden’s state mortgage lender, SBAB, said developments in the housing market are now “highly distressing” as prices continue to rise at a pace he warns is unsustainable.

[LINK] "Jehovah's Witness grandparents ordered to keep faith to themselves"

What I find most remarkable about this situation, as described by CBC's Jason Proctor, is the unwillingness of the grandparents to confess what they have been doing. One would have hoped that these evangelists would should some courages, if they believed that what they were doing was right.

A pair of devout Jehovah's Witnesses have been ordered by a B.C. provincial court judge not to talk about religion in front of their four-year-old granddaughter.

The couple lost their bid for unsupervised access to the girl because they insisted on taking her to worship at their faith's Kingdom Hall despite the repeated objections of the child's mother.

The girl is identified only as A.W. and the grandparents as A.R. and B.R. in Judge Edna Ritchie's 12-page decision. And for now, they're on a short leash.

"There are many people with strongly held religious views that do not discuss those views in front of others, and specifically not in front of children," Ritchie wrote.

Unless A.R. and B.R. can satisfy the court that they can comply with the mother's wishes, Ritchie said, "their time with A.W. must be supervised and limited."

[LINK] "Russian spies in Canada: new lessons from the Gouzenko defection"

CBC News' Janet Davison reports on the latest revisiting of the famous Igor Gouzenko espionage case.

It is an intriguing slip-up in the annals of international intelligence — did Igor Gouzenko's crying baby help make it easier for the Soviet cipher clerk to defect with a bunch of secrets stuffed under his shirt in Ottawa 70 years ago?

U.K. author and historian Jonathan Haslam suggests that it did in his recently released book, Near and Distant Neighbours — A New History of Soviet Intelligence, showing how Gouzenko's domestic circumstances flummoxed his Moscow watchers

Gouzenko's story, says Haslam, demonstrates the role of accident and personality in intelligence, along with how some plain good luck can pay off for the other side.

He also argues that this history has relevance today as some of these Russian intelligence methods, and especially the mindset behind them, still seem to be in play.

The 109 documents Gouzenko snuck out of the Soviet Embassy on Sept. 5, 1945, revealed a Soviet spy ring in Canada and sparked great worry in the halls of Washington, Westminster and Moscow, not to mention Ottawa. For some historians, what became known as the Gouzenko Affair marked the beginning of the Cold War.

[BRIEF NOTE] On the inevitable growing presence of Indians on Quora

Ajay Mehta's Caravan Magazine "Colonizing India" came up recently in a Quora discussion forum on Facebook. The influx of new members from India, or South Asia more generally, into Quora is something I've noticed as I've continued to be active there. One of my most popular answers, actually, was a quick one-paragraph answer celebrating India's Mars mission, apparently quite popular among Indians.

I have not noticed any particular degeneration in Quora's quality, though, at least nothing directly related to the Indian presence. I think it inevitable that the culture of a tight-knit discussion forum, any discussion forum, will change and--from the perspective of long-timers--even decline over time. But degeneration? More Indian users, even more Indian topics, does not directly translate to degeneration. And more Indian users, it's worth noting, is inevitable: There are probably more users of English in South Asia than in North America, after all.

Intense debate is standard on Quora. The company was founded, in 2009, by two Silicon Valley veterans aiming to provide the world with “the best answer to every question.” The website quickly attracted a dedicated core of users sharing insightful answers on everything from black holes to working under Steve Jobs, the former Apple CEO. Readers vote in favour of content they find valuable, and the website ranks answers accordingly. Quora started as a private community, and its userbase remained largely centred on Silicon Valley even after it opened up to the public, in mid 2010. Press reports often described it as being overly preoccupied with start-ups and San Francisco.

That critique no longer holds. Quora today is a juggernaut, with millions of users, an expansive range of topics, and over $140 million in venture capital funding. Marc Bodnick, Quora’s head of business and community, told me in August that the website saw “particularly strong growth in India” after it introduced an Android application in late 2012, due in part to the popularity of Android-powered smartphones in the country (and perhaps also because a large number of Indians are fluent in English—currently Quora’s only language). Lengthy discussions on Bollywood actors, the Bharatiya Janata Party, and the Indian Institutes of Technology flooded the website. According to the traffic-measurement tool Alexa, 40 percent of Quora’s current visitors access the website from India—although Bodnick told me the figure stands at about 15 percent. Many Quora users now complain that this influx has degraded the quality of the website’s content and community.

In August, I spoke over email with Karl Muth, a lecturer in the social sciences at Northwestern University in Illinois and a long-time Quora contributor. “Particularly in the last 18 months,” he told me, the website has become “more heavily frequented by Indians.” As a result, Muth wrote, answers today can be “culturally, financially, or otherwise focused on India and not useful generally to the rest of the Quora population.”

The questions might not always be either. One post, from 2013, asked, “What are some interesting ways to annoy Sardars?” Another, from February of this year, demanded to know, “Why are Pakistani girls more beautiful than Indian girls?”

Muth told me several people he knows in academia have become frustrated with Quora because the “quality of answers has declined vastly,” and “people now proclaim ‘expertise’ in areas they know little about”—problems he views as “not wholly unrelated to the rise in Indian Quora users.” Other Quora users have been less diplomatic. Responding to the question “What turns people off about Quora?,” the user David Stewart wrote, in 2013, “The large, and steadily increasing, Indian presence.” The answer has earned him over 3,400 upvotes.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly describes what it takes to be a professional writer.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper considering dust in atmospheres.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes the study of a medieval Korean star catalogue.

  • Language Hat notes a program to translate Mexican writers who write in indigenous languages.

  • Steve Munro offers advice on what to do about Smarttrack.

  • Marginal Revolution refers readers to Gary Kasparov's new book on politics, criticizing Putin and much else.

  • The Planetary Society Blog shares the latest data from Dawn at Ceres.

  • Torontoist has a beautiful picture of the Prince Edward Viaduct.

  • Towleroad notes a referendum on same-sex marriage in Slovenia.

[WRITING] "Anthropology as Theoretical Storytelling"

Savage Minds' Carole McGranahan writes, with examples from her own work on Tibet, about how good anthropology is often also about effective story-telling.

Anthropologists are storytellers. We tell stories: other’s stories, our own stories, stories about other’s stories. But when I think about anthropology and storytelling, I think also of something else, of anthropology as theoretical storytelling.

What is anthropology as theoretical storytelling? Several things. A discipline engaged in explaining, understanding, and interpreting cultural worlds as well as in developing theoretical paradigms large and small for making and making sense of cultural worlds. This is not something new to anthropology. Looking across generations of anthropological scholarship, theoretical storytelling appears repeatedly. From Zora Neale Hurston’s tales and lies to Muchona the Hornet to the Balinese cockfight to Rashīd and Mabrūka and Fayga in Lila Abu-Lughod’s Veiled Sentiments and on and on. Stories stay with us. People stay with us. Esperanza. Adamu Jenitongo. Uma Adang. Gloria. Miss Tiny. Charles and Morley and Nick Thompson. Angela Sidney. Valck. Mr. Otis. Bernadette and Eugenia. Tashi Dhondup. And so many more. Anthropology as theoretical storytelling may be a method of narration by both ethnographer and subject, a means of organizing writing, a way of arguing certain ethnographic points, and an ethnographically-grounded way of approaching theory. This is not then a singular approach or description, but a term that captures a range of anthropological sensibilities and strategies.

As with many before me, in the field I found myself to be a recipient of stories. Yet not all was narrative. Some moments in the field were more staccato or fragmented, confusing or obscure; some were just talk about this or that, about the minutiae of everyday life or about nothing at all (and those are deeply cultural moments indeed). But many days included storytelling, official and not, and almost always told over shared food and drink. Some of these I asked to hear in the context of my research, and others people told me for other reasons known and unknown. Turning these stories into a written ethnography or a spoken one in the classroom involves analytical and narrative labor. This process is about both ideas and story.

More there.

[URBAN NOTE] On finding myself an unexpected Toronto Blue Jays fan

As I type, Game 6 of the American League championship between the Toronto Blue Jays and the Kansas City Royals is playing. It's the bottom of the 7th inning and the score is 2:1 in favour of the Royals. Will the Blue Jays do it? Will they make it to Game 7 with a chance to win? Might the team win the World Series? All is unresolved.

Everyone who reads this blog likely knows I'm not a sports fan. I've found myself amused to be nonetheless caught up in this. The hopes of a city, or even a country, for a winning sports team are contagious. (Since the Expos left for Washington a decade ago, the Blue Jays have been alone in Canada.) A World Series victory would bring some much-needed joy to my city and country, I think.