January 22nd, 2017

[BLOG] Some Sunday links

  • Beyond the Beyond links to a US military science fiction contest.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly notes that journalism is meant to offer criticisms of the president.

  • Crooked Timber has an open forum about the inauguration.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos from seminal 1980-era London club Billy's.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper reporting on a superflare on brown dwarf EPIC 220186653.

  • A Fistful of Euros' features Doug Merrill's meditations on 2009 and 2017.

  • Language Log looks at the etymology of the Vietnamese name "Nguyen."

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at Donald Trump's desire for a military parade.

  • The LRB Blog looks at Donald Trump as a winner.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a book on the economics of skyscrapers and notes a skyscraper boom in China.

  • Steve Munro looks at buses and their distribution on TTC networks.

  • Transit Toronto looks at how Exhibition Place work will complicate multiple bus routes.

  • Window on Eurasia notes low levels of Russian productivity, shares a Russian argument as to why Russia and the United States can never be allies in the long term, looks at counterproductive Russian interference in Circassian diaspora institutions, and shares argument suggesting Trump's style of language explains why he wants to forego complicated multilateral negotiations for bilateral ones where he can dominate.

[URBAN NOTE] "A Rob-Ford-beat reporter’s advice to the scribes covering Donald Trump"

The Toronto Star shares veteran reporter David Rider's advice to journalists covering the many issues of Donald Trump, with five paragraphs drawing from his experience with Rob Ford when that man was mayor of Toronto.

1. Lack of shame is a political stun gun: Public officials caught in lies usually duck, weave and when pressed, apologize. Trump is remarkably Ford-like in his ability to boldly lie and shrug off unwelcome facts, dumbfounding reporters. Your only defence is to keep asking key accountability questions over and over and over, wherever you can, and refuse to let him dictate the story. After the Star revealed Ford was impaired at a military ball, I had to interrupt softball questions after a “Key to the City” ceremony in 2013 to ask him if he was battling alcoholism.

2. Don’t count on your competitors: Freezing out and even demonizing specific media outlets while giving preferred access to rivals is effective — divide and conquer works. It’s great that a Fox anchor stuck up for CNN, but don’t expect mass boycotts or co-ordinated demands for equal access by competitive media outlets covering the biggest newsmaker in the world. When Ford froze out the Star, some rivals helped informally, passing on press releases or notices of events when they remembered. Others actively took advantage of our disadvantage.

3. Being blackballed has its benefits: As Bob Dylan sang: “When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” Most great stories come from sources and documents, not news conferences and press releases. While it was inconvenient and unfair to be cut off from mayoral communications, it was also incredibly freeing not to have to worry about keeping the pipeline open More importantly, the flow of leaks and brown envelopes increased amid the Ford Freeze because we were seen as the outlet holding him to account. Also, some politicos felt sorry for us.

[URBAN NOTE] "Cities have no silver bullets to fight Trump"

At Open Democracy, Max Holleran argues for many reasons--the need to make broader alliance domestically, the risk of perceived overdependence on foreign connections, and more--an anti-Trump strategy cannot be based primarily on falling back to secure bases in select urban areas.

In the weeks since the election of Donald J. Trump there has been a desperate search for silver linings. Urbanites are particularly aggrieved by the Trump/Pence partnership because 'alt-right' nationalism threatens the lives of city dwellers with a bewilderingly antiquated vision of American life that seeks to roll back globalization, feminism, immigration, and gay rights. Amidst the grieving, some have already come out to insist that, while Trump’s victory bodes well for those nostalgic for a supposedly rosy past, there is a path to the future and it runs through cities.

New York’s moderate Democratic governor, Andrew Cuomo, and New York City’s left-wing mayor, Bill de Blasio, have insisted that Trump may not be that bad because, as a real estate developer and native son of Queens, he “gets” cities. Most teary-eyed New Yorkers see these statements for the conciliatory lies they are: Trump likes cities to the degree he can extract tax incentives from them. Yet, many urbanites endorse the wider message of cities as safely progressive blue zones within the red-stained 2016 national electoral map.

Progressives woke up on 9/11 and embraced a “city strategy” not out of a belief in government devolution, like their libertarian counterparts, but because of a lack of other options. Cities, and possibly a handful of deep blue states like Massachusetts and Vermont, seem like the only level of government to defend basic rights like abortion, environmental protection, and a fair minimum wage. Yet, the concept of “save the cities, forget the rest” has been a popular one in the era of globalization and has had dramatic economic effects when one looks at the income gap between London and Northern England or Washington, DC and nearby West Virginia. The politics of American cities have often revolved around strange bedfellows of international finance, professionals, and people of colour – in other words, the coalition that did not come through for Hillary Clinton.

The Democratic coalition is co-located in places like San Francisco, Austin, and Denver but they do not mix easily. Supporters of the Democratic Party who are people of colour feel that they have lost both cultural and economic status in cities, where they have not arrived for possibilities but are trapped by disadvantage. But all these groups are bound to cities culturally and they frequently view the Republican opposition as residents of rural areas locked into the culture of the past and, frequently, beholden to dying economic sectors as well.

Yet, Trump supporters are just as likely to be suburban women in non-Southern states, as men in rural Alabama. Despite this, the left continues to use rurality as a shorthand for conservative values. Put nicely, one speaks of heartland values. Less charitably, urban Democrats call their opponents “rednecks” living in flyover states where concern over gender equality, gay rights, climate change, and separation of church and state are stymied by backwardness. But this critique cuts both ways: many Trump supporters already view Democrats as having an urban strategy, and by that they mean one of smug elitism or, more frighteningly, a “cosmopolitan” lack of national patriotism and grounding religious and civic values.

Less charitably, urban Democrats call their opponents “rednecks” living in flyover states where concern over gender equality, gay rights, climate change, and separation of church and state are stymied by backwardness.

The anti-urbanism of Jefferson still exists in the US to the extent that urban life is seen as an opportunity to gain money and status via the density of connections in places like Manhattan and Palo Alto. The ability and privilege to live in an urban area in the US is often depicted as a princely status made possible by access to huge amounts of money. But the US is a large country: there is no single Rome where all power resides and beyond the gates are hinterlands ruled like conquered territories. The US has always been a multi-polar country with intense rivalry between urban areas: first Philadelphia, Boston, New York, and Chicago, and today, San Francisco, DC, New York, and Los Angeles. Different places specialize in different businesses and are defined by unique varieties of power: financial, cultural, political, and technological. However, there is still the idea that outside of cities people live very different lives bereft of opportunity and access to cultural life, but somehow more genuine and morally upright.

This was long a marker of the Democratic and Republican divide and a reason why candidates like Ted Cruz were inclined to trot out critiques of wicked “New York values”. But, as the new electoral map shows, this jibe doesn’t work any more. No one seemed too concerned about Donald Trump’s Queens origins or, for that matter, the fact that Bernie Sanders is a Jewish socialist from Brooklyn. The larger divide is not between town and country but cities that are winning, such as San Francisco and Boston, and cities that are losing like Gary, Indiana and Flint, Michigan.

[LINK] "Donald Trump is not the problem – he’s the symptom"

At Open Democracy, Nafeez Mosaddeq Ahmed argues that Donald Trump is not so much a cause of problems as a symptom of the deeper crises of American democracy in a time of growing economic and environmental constraints.

In 2014, a Princeton University study quantified just how badly US democracy is broken. Using a database of 1,779 policy issues, the study found that when a majority of Americans disagree with “economic elites” or “organised interests”, they “generally lose.”

The authors noted that when average citizens and affluent classes want the same policies from government, they usually get them. But when they disagree, the rich almost always win out. The study did not, contrary to numerous headlines, define the US as an oligarchy, but it did conclude that US democracy is in fact a system of “economic elite domination”.

Since then, the study has generated extensive academic debate, including three studies which have taken issue with these findings. However, the new studies do not contradict the Princeton study’s main verdict that the rich disproportionately dominate policy decisions at the expense of those who are less well-off. And the Princeton study’s verdict was not even that novel – it built on and corroborated the previous findings of numerous other political scientists studying political and economic inequalities in the US.

Trump was not part of the Washington political machinery, and it was this positioning as an ostensible ‘outsider’ even to the Republican Party that he used to his advantage. But ironically, the biggest reason for his victory was the sheer lack of public credibility of the Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton. Democrat voters simply didn’t come out to vote for her.

Even if they had, what would they be voting for? Clinton was the favoured candidate of Wall Street, having received the most campaign donations from the US finance and banking elite.

[URBAN NOTE] "Historicist: “The World Will Little Note Nor Long Remember…”"

Torontoist reposted Kevin Plummber's Historicist article describing the life of William McDougall, "Canadian witness to the Gettysburg Address."

It was only about 270 words long, but the Gettysburg Address has resounded for generations. Abraham Lincoln’s appearance on a podium in the small Pennsylvania farm town on November 19, 1863, has been reported upon, debated, studied by academics, memorized by school children, and mythologized in fiction and on film. Newspaper coverage of the day sometimes reflected a correspondent’s faithful observations, sometimes was tinted by an editor’s party affiliation. Conflicting and contradictory recollections of eyewitnesses, repeated—mistakes and all—in countless magazine articles and books, hardened into conventional wisdom. Certain persistent myths (that the president had hastily composed the speech on a scrap of paper aboard the train, for example) were long trusted as fact until debunked by another generation of scholars.

Among these layers of fact and legend is the tale of William McDougall. A Toronto lawyer, newspaperman, and politician, McDougall attended the Gettysburg Address by special invitation of President Lincoln. Like so many other versions of that day, McDougall’s account, recounted to and recorded by his descendants, contains a mix of both confirmed fact and unsubstantiated anecdote.

In the late 1840s, McDougall helped launch the Clear Grit movement and establish the movement’s newspaper, the North American. For the Clear Grits, Responsible Government (the principle of making Parliament accountable to the populace rather than the Crown) did not extend democracy far enough. They endorsed expanding the franchise, ballot voting, representation by population, and constraints on the political privileges of churches and the clergy, among other reform initiatives.

McDougall proved to be an eloquent orator and advocate of reform ideas. He was also an aloof eccentric, an outsider with a cynical view of politics. More interested in advancing his own political goals than solidarity with a consistent party line, McDougall shifted alliances freely depending on the issue. This, in addition to the wide number of constituencies he represented over his long political career, earned McDougall the moniker “Wandering Willie.” After McDougall’s death in 1905, obituaries noted quite euphemistically that the Father of Confederation was admired for his independence of character.

[URBAN NOTE] "Vancouver renters under pressure as landlords are persuaded to sell"

At The Globe and Mail, Kerry Gold describes the pressure faced by renters as their long-time landlords sell their properties to others, perhaps less invested in keeping their current renters and more interested in maximizing their profit.

Bob Wilson was an old-school landlord, the kind who’d rather learn how to fix a clogged drain himself than call in a plumber.

The retired firefighter owned and meticulously managed the character three-storey on leafy Barclay Street in Vancouver’s West End for 40 years, until he sold it last year for an offer he couldn’t refuse.

And he did refuse many offers. His love of his tenants, the building and his desire to keep working kept him in the landlord business.

“I am friends with almost all of them – even my new tenants I’d seem to become friends with,” says 80-year-old Mr. Wilson. “A fireman is always helping people, so you can’t change that. I love that stuff, doing them favours if they needed something. It was fantastic for me.”

He worked for 30 years as a firefighter, but he managed several small properties around the city. When he was a teenager, his basketball coach advised him to buy real estate in the West End because it would always be desirable and it had nowhere to grow, surrounded by water and the downtown to the east. His investments earned him a decent income for a lifetime.

[URBAN NOTE] "A new chapter for a beloved comic hideout"

The Globe and Mail's Mark Medley describes how Toronto comic store The Beguiling is managing its move from the soon-to-be-defunct Mirvish Village to a new College Street location.

For nearly two decades, visitors to the Beguiling, the charmingly overstocked comic-book emporium in the heart of Toronto’s Mirvish Village, would often be greeted by the sight of long-time owner Peter Birkemoe sitting in his “office” – perched behind his computer, at the first-floor cash register, surrounded by the ever-encroaching comics, artworks, ‘zines and other ephemera that have made it the most important comic-book store in Canada, and one of the greatest in the world.

“I’ve spent more of my life, hour-wise, awake, in this room, than I’ve spent in any [other] building,” Birkemoe said one morning earlier this month, as he took a break from preparing for the store’s last day, on Tuesday. He laughed, quietly, as if realizing this for the first time. “That will be sad.”

Countless obituaries were written about Honest Ed’s, the discount department store that anchored Mirvish Village, an eclectic block of art studios, restaurants and other small businesses, in the days before the brightly lit retailer shut its doors on Dec. 31, the result of a redevelopment that will significantly alter the southwest corner of Bathurst and Bloor in the coming years. The Beguiling, at least to its customers, is as vital an institution.

Since the store moved into its current home more than 20 years ago, it has served as a sort of clubhouse for many in the city’s comics community. It will survive, in name and in spirit, in a different form – a new location, on College Street, on the edge of Kensington Market, opened last month – but at the same time one can’t help but feel a sense of an ending, that a chapter is coming to a close.

“It will definitely be hard to have that feeling of something just so densely packed with history,” said the comics artist Michael DeForge. “I’m sure the new location will eventually get as lived in, and accumulate that history as it goes on, but that’s going to be a hard thing to get back again.” </blockqutoe>

[URBAN NOTE] "Goodbye to the Mirvish Village people"

The Toronto Star's Sandro Contento looks at some of the people who flourished in the Honest Ed's-subsidized artist's neighbourhood of Mirvish Village, what they achieved and what they are now losing.

Gabor Mezei has been an artist on Markham St. for four decades. He marvels at making a go of it for so long and, at 83, takes nothing for granted. For afternoon naps in his gallery he hangs up a WILL RETURN sign, to which he has added, “Gabor hopes he . . .”

He survived the Holocaust in Hungary before moving to England, where he worked as a civil engineer. Once in Canada, at the age of 40, he decided with some trepidation to become a painter. He feared himself too old for the romanticized apprenticeship.

“If you look at art history,” he said, artists “all start in their 20s, struggling and starving and falling in love and getting bread for a painting.”

To his continuing amazement, he skipped all of that. In 1977, he landed studio space in the heart of Mirvish Village, the Markham St. block of mostly Victorian houses running south from Bloor St. W. to Lennox St.

It was a buzzing cultural enclave at the time, the vision of sculptor Anne Mirvish, whose husband Ed, of Honest Ed’s fame, owned all but one of the houses on the street. Considered an artist’s colony by the mid-1960s, it was sustained by commercial rents far below market value, which were also enjoyed by bookstores, restaurants and boutiques.

[URBAN NOTE] "The demise of the first “air rights” project in Toronto"

Spacing Toronto's Chris Bateman looks at the Davisville Centre, a failed effort at a shopping mall to be built above the Davisville subway yard in the 1960s.

When Toronto’s first subway line opened in 1954, much of track north of Bloor Street was located in a shallow, open trench.

The money-saving open cut construction technique was an old one: The Metropolitan Railway, which became the Metropolitan line of the London Underground, used the same method to cut through the centre of London in the 1860s.

While it saved money versus conventional tunnelling, the result for Toronto was a large scar on the east side of Yonge Street from Church Street to Eglinton Avenue.

The most conspicuous outdoor area was in the Yonge and Davisville area, where the TTC built its service yard and train storage area. There, a tangle of tracks radiated out from the subway line, covering an area of approximately 10 acres.

Starting in the 1960s, the TTC began covering up some of the trenches due to safety concerns and noise complaints from neighbours. Between St. Clair and Summerhill stations, the line was hidden beneath a grass-covered deck (look out the window of the train and you can still see the sloped sides of the original cutting.)

Also in 1960, a Montreal-based development firm proposed the first major “air rights” development in Toronto. The Davisville Shopping Centre was to be built on stilts over the Davisville subway yard, covering almost all of the TTC tracks and buildings.

[URBAN NOTE] "Do-it-yourself art spaces are under siege — and we need to do everything we can to pr"

CBC Arts features an essay by an anonymous author talking about the importance of improvised, do-it-yourself, not-quite legal public art spaces for the art scenes of cities across the world, and the threats that these centres face from (among others) the alt-right.

In the late fall, a friend anxiously explained to me how the online message board 4chan has evolved. When it first started in 2004, it was an open, free-thought avenue — mostly for anime nerds. But over a decade later, it has become a hotbed for ultra right-wing, misogynistic, white supremacist ideas and activity.

My friend has been receiving news from her friends in the U.S. that their grassroots, do-it-yourself art and music spaces have been directly shut down through 4chan. Members of the anonymous internet forum have declared DIY spaces as spawning grounds for radical leftist ideas that are threatening America's freedom. Using the Ghost Ship tragedy in Oakland as a front to support their case, 4chan users have been calling local fire departments and reporting DIY venues as safety hazards to the public. Upon inspection, many of these small art hubs have fallen short of meeting city safety codes and have been forced to cease all activity.

Hearing about the closure of DIY spaces in America has been heartbreaking. However, from my forward-looking home of Toronto, it all seemed like a distant sci-fi story. But on January 10, this vigilante wave hit Toronto: one of the city's rare DIY spaces was shut down. A 4chan member called the fire department, citing the art hub as unsafe; the fire department came for inspection and prohibited the organizers from continuing operations.

Like most DIY art and music spaces, this one (which I will keep unnamed) was a community-driven initiative that was centred on providing a platform for underrepresented cultures. Instead of being propelled by making money, DIY venues are motivated by artistic appreciation and experimentation. They are places where people of colour, folks from the LGBTQ community, people with disability, women, youth and other marginalized demographics can express themselves or congregate feeling safe from discrimination. They are spaces where those failed by mainstream culture can present or see art that they relate to. For 10 years, this hidden community gathering space has been one of these beloved places, servicing a distinct cross-section of Toronto — myself included.

[URBAN NOTE] "Can Wasaga Beach find its way out of the shade?"

The Toronto Star's Betsy Powell describes the many problems faced by Wasaga Beach, a resort community on Georgian Bay popular with Toronto vacationers that has been faced with falling tourist numbers in recent years. (I should mention, for the record, that I have never been here.)

A bundled-up couple walking a dog and a lone snowmobiler had the world’s longest freshwater beach to themselves on a recent morning as a frigid wind swept across Georgian Bay.

“Nothing down here will open. Who’s going to come and park here when it’s cold?” Deputy Mayor Nina Bifolchi says, driving past a stretch of closed-for-three-seasons fast-food eateries and bars facing the beach.

She was on the losing side when council voted to buy the properties for $13.8 million in 2015, using money borrowed from a bank and the province.

That’s no small sum for the town of 18,000 that will collect $20.3 million in property taxes this year and spend $48 million in operating and capital costs.

But waterfront purchase proponents, led by Mayor Brian Smith, argue Wasaga Beach needed a “bold” step after a steady decline in tourists — the town’s economic lifeblood — of roughly 100,000 a year between 2002 and 2012, compounded by a massive fire in 2007 that destroyed a bustling street mall in the beach’s east end. The mall was never rebuilt and has since been replaced by a beer garden and kiosks.
forums, me, non blog

[FORUM] What sort of a difference do you think #womensmarch has made and will make?

All weekend, my Facebook and other social media feeds--Tumblr, Instagram, Twitter, G+, probably even LinkedIn--have been filled with images of people taking part in their local manifestation of the Women's March. I've seen images of people marching in protest of the new president in dozens of communities around the world, with photos coming from as close to home to me as Toronto and as far away as Antarctica. It's quite heartening.

My question tonight is simple. Do you think that #womensmarch is the beginning of something big? Is it your sense that it might lead to new mass movements of decided heft? Is that your experience, so far? Or do you think it might not be all that, in the end, if not for others then not for you?

Please, discuss.