May. 23rd, 2006

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(Yes, I know this happened two days ago. Life's been busy.)

Attendance at Sunday's CFTAG meeting was decent and the meeting itself was quite enjoyable. We can attest that the lunch specials at Sushi on Bloor (515 Bloor Street West) are good, for instance, and that 1980s animated series imported from Japan like Robotech and Voltron can stand up surprisingly well. One especially interesting conversation related to the existence of legacy systems in the modern world, of built-in inefficiencies persisting because they are built-in, persisting and even triumphing over better standards because of inertia. Consider how the Minitel in France delayed the expansion of the technologically superior Internet in that country, or how ASCII emerged as a standard because of its direct development from the Baudot code used by telegraphists and despite the contemporary superiority of IBM's ERCDIC. Different pathways of information technology development were possible from the Industrial Revolution on, we agreed, but somehow, we also agreed, they would converge on densely-saturated environments like the ones that we're developing alkl with their own different inefficiencies.
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Over the Hedge is a film that fits quite comfortably into the new modern tradition of well-written and artistically accomplished computer-animated films which appeal to both children and adults. This film, derived (as Wikipedia notes) from an ongoing comic strip, features a cast of cute animals which get up to all manner of amusing adventures in suburbia, and can easily be appreciated on that level. Adults, for their part, can treat the film as a quiet commentary on the extensive nature of urban growth, within and without the United States--anyone in Toronto who has been following the greenbelt debate at all would be aware of the high cost that suburbia's expansion is exacting on the wider world. Celebrity-watchers will also be pleased to know that Bruce Willis pulls off his raccoon, Garry Shandling his turtle, and William Shatner his possum. It might be worth waiting for the film to come out on DVD if you don't want to watch it with audiences of young children, but I'd hardly count that as a black mark against the film itself. Go, watch.
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One great thing about YouTube is that it lets me catch up with all of the music videos I'd not seen for a while, and all of the music videos that I'd missed entirely. It's nice to be able to be reminded of things now past. As an example, the video of Romeo Void's 1981 "Never Say Never", apart from invoking the earliest days of the medium, reminds me of the band's front woman Debora Iyall, who (as I found out myself) is a rather kind person willing to respond to unsolicited fan E-mails. Similarly, the video of the Scissor Sisters' cover of "Comfortably Numb" reminds me that this song is a nice musical moment that manages to miss the irony at the heart of the song. ("No," he says as he hugs his arms against his body, "I feel fine. It doesn't hurt.")

And then, there's Neneh Cherry's "I Got U Under My Skin" video. The video is striking, directed by Jean-Baptiste Mondino in the style that one interviewer identified as "erotically charged surrealism," full of smooth surfaces and stylized shadows and, among other images, a shot of vibrating speakers that formed part of the opening sequences of the long-running CHUMCity music show The NewMusic. This video was filmed for a song, a cover version of Cole Porter's "I Got You Under My Skin," that was Cherry's contribution to 1990's well-reviewed album Red Hot + Blue. This million-selling assembly of Porter covers was one of the first prominent pop music projects aimed against HIV/AIDS. Cherry's song is unique in this collection in that her song's lyrics have accordingly been radically reworked from Porter's original.

I like the song. I don't think that the song has dated musically quite in the same way as her 1989 hit single "Buffalo Stance" (video here). The quality of Cherry's voice appeals to me whether she is singing or rapping, and the sinuous electronic instrumentation works. This, and Mondino's somewhat unsettling video, do combine to produce a decided effect that give the lyrics extra heft. Not that they need it, mind.

I had a friend once by the name of Mary Jabe
Out with the guys and getting high was her only game
And now the tears in her eyes, there she lies
It drove her crazy, all the boys say that's it


In Cherry's version, the lyric "I've got you deep in the heart of me/Down so deep in any part of me/I've got you, got you, got you under my skin" takes on unsettling new overtones. "I Got U Under My Skin" is a well-constructed song, but I can't say that I could ever feel entirely comfortable with it.
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Although I don't read much fan fiction, I do make exceptions for the After-Action Repors and Fanfiction posted at the Paradox Interactive Forums by players of simulation games like Europa Universalis II and Victoria. The overly mechanistic nature of these games can produce some decidedly unlikely results--my favourite example of this is of the player who began hoping to restore Hungary's frontiers to those of the defunct Kingdom and ended up conquering Europe--but they don't have to do this. Besides, the heavily strategy-oriented nature of the game lends itself well to the sorts of timelines I'm familiar with from soc.history.what-if.

My favourite AAR report is the The Third Empire; a PDF file of some three hundred pages that excludes the comments is available here. The game begins with a France that, under a fictional Napoleon V born to the Prince Imperial, has entered the 1920s as an authoritarian Third Empire with certain fascist overtones. This France goes on to wreak havoc on a European scale, the player's last post describing the French-led invasion of the Soviet Union, accompanied by its fascist allies in Spain and Italy and its neutered Nazi German satellite.

This story is entertaining enough, but what makes it especially interesting is the author's infusion of the Cthulhu mythos into the mix--the Indochinese insects have just taken over FDR and prompted a nasty war with the British Commonwealth in alliance with Japan over old Indian ruins in Québec. I might be easily amused, but this is authentically interesting and creative stuff. I'm impressed.
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As a result of the weekend's referendum on independence, Montenegro is set to become the newest independent state in the world. The margin of victory was thin, with the 55.5% of the votes cast being just barely higher than the 55% threshold set by the European Union, but it's enough to gain Serbian recognition.

The most immediate problem facing Montenegro, as Douglas Muir noted at A Fistful of Euros, is that Montenegrin secession is going to trigger decidedly strong sentiments directed against Montenegrin separatists in particular, and Montenegrins generally. Even in the comments to that very thread, fevered conspiracy-mongering was evidenced. In the long term, looking at the peculiar demographic history of Montenegro and the changing nature of ethnic identification among the Orthodox Christian Slavs of Montenegro, I fully expect certain people to note that the strong support lent by ethnic Albanians in the south and Bosniaks in the Sandzak on the border and judge the referendum as invalid on these grounds. In the short term, the Montenegrins living in Serbia may be threatened, not with violence but rather with exclusion.

The next thing to watch out for: will Kostunica follow up on his pre-election threat to treat Montenegrins in Serbia as foreigners? This would be vindictive and stupid, so let’s hope not. There are something like a couple of hundred thousand Montenegrins living in Serbia; they’re perfectly well integrated into Serbian society, and they send a lot of money home to Montenegro. Kicking them around would poison relations between the two states, while serving no purpose other than to vent nationalist frustration.


This should be considered in the context provided by a February 2000 IWPR report on the Montenegrins of Serbia.

Vladimir, 40, has lived in Belgrade since childhood. He considers himself a Belgrader, and like so many of his fellow citizens he opposes the Milosevic regime.

But he is also Montenegrin, and so no longer expresses his views openly - fearing that even his closest friends might accuse him of being a separatist.

"I am angry and scared. It seems that Serbs in Belgrade can be against Milosevic, but not me. Suddenly I don't feel I belong here anymore."

He is so worried that he's reinforced his front door with steel bars. The more relations between Montenegro and Serbia deteriorate, the greater his fear.

The garden of the Moscow Hotel in downtown Belgrade is empty. It has been a traditional meeting place of Montenegrins of all ages. Now the only people who congregate there are pensioners loyal to the Yugoslav president.

Montenegrins have been coming to Serbia for decades. Many headed to Belgrade to be educated, others settled in the northern Serbian province of Vojvodina.

There are now more than 1 million of them living in Serbia - almost twice the population of Montenegro.


It would be so profoundly stupid to try to disenfranchise one-eighth of the Serbian population of eight million. And yet, this may happening.

Worse can be expected shortly. Montenegro will be followed in its independence by Kosova. Expect the Serbian political climate to deteriorate sharply indeed.
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