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  • 'Apostrophen's 'Nathan Smith talks about when it is appropriate to judge a book by its blurb.

  • Beyond the Beyond examines the remarkable scandal in South Korea involving with the cult and its control over the country's president.

  • blogTO notes unreasonably warm weather in Toronto this November.

  • Dangerous Minds shares a corporate sales video from the early 1990s for Prince's studio.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes the effect of Proxima Centauri on planetary formation around Alpha Centauri A and B.

  • The Extremo Files notes unorthodox ways of finding life.

  • Language Log talks about the language around Scotland and Northern Ireland and their relationship as complicated by Brexit.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a paper suggesting inheritances reduce inequality.

  • Savage Minds talks about an anarchist archaeology.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers a controversy at the Library of Congress.

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Secret Path, drawn by Canadian cartoonist Jeff Lemire, is another account of the story of an Anishinaabe child Chanie Wenjack, the same told in Boyden's Wenjack. Secret Path is a graphic novel, Lemire's wordless drawings in pencils with watercolours being interspersed with lyrics from Downie's album of the same name.

From Secret Path #canada #chaniewenjack #secretpath #gorddownie #jefflemire

Secret Path is a high point in Lemire's career, and a high point for the the Canadian graphic novel, depicting the struggle of a young boy to return home in all of its sadness and all of its glory with beautiful art.

This, too, is a book that must be read.
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Joseph Boyden's novella Wenjack is a sensitive retelling of the story of Chanie Wenjack, an Anishinaabe who ran away from his residential school one October day in 1967 and died of exposure. Wenjack's story has gained national prominence in recent years as Canadians at large have become aware of the borderline-genocidal ills of our country's Indian residential school system. Joined by another new project, Secret Path, an album by Gord Downie and a graphic novel by Jeff Lemire, Wenjack is part of a multimedia effort by Canadian artists to tell Wenjack's story, the better for us all to know.

Wenjack is as superb as one would expect given Boyden's reputation. In spare poetic prose, Boyden tells the story of how a young boy desperate to go home ended up dying alone one cold night northern Ontario railroad tracks, and why. Chanie's interior voice feels true, as true as the voices of the manitous--spirits--who, in the guise of the different animals of the bush, accompany Chanie on his final journey. As we follow Chanie to the end, Boyden helps us to understand something of who he was, and what his sufferings and his joys mean for all Canadians.

Starting Wenjack #canada #chaniewenjack #wenjack #books #josephboyden  #kentmonkman

Wenjack is a sad story that needs to be told, and is here told heartbreakingly well by one of the masters of contemporary Canadian fiction. A quick read at just over a hundred pages, it's something everyone who cares about Canada should take the time to read.
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  • The Boston Globe's The Big Picture shares some of that newspaper's best papers from last month.

  • blogTO shares Nuit Blanche photos.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly talks about the divide between journalism and content creation.

  • Centauri Dreams considers the Rosetta probe.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of the suitcases left by patients at an American insane asylum.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting extraterrestrial civilizations could be discovered via leakage from the power-beaming systems of their spacecraft.

  • Far Outliers notes the 19th century feminization of domestic service in the United Kingdom and describes the professionalization of nursemaids.

  • Joe. My. God. notes Wikileaks' shift of its big reveal to Berlin.

  • Language Log checks to see if there is any way Guiliani's statement that no woman would be a better president than Trump could be parsed in a way favourable to him.

  • The Map Room Blog links to an article describing an ambitious plan to map the ocean floor.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at an electoral reform proposal in Maine.

  • James Nicoll links to his review of Deighton's SS-GB
  • .
  • Torontoist reports about the Toronto food bank system.

  • Towleroad features a guest article describing Donald Trump's misogyny towards his partners.

  • Window on Eurasia considers the cost to Russia of hosting multiple major international sports tournaments.

  • Arnold Zwicky reports on The New York Times's Spanish-language editorial.

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  • Bloomberg notes the closure of Poland's frontier with Kaliningrad, looks at how Google is beating out Facebook in helping India get connected to the Internet, notes British arms makers' efforts to diversify beyond Europe and examines the United Kingdom's difficult negotiations to get out of the European Union, looks at the problems of investing in Argentina, looks at the complications of Germany's clean energy policy, observes that the Israeli government gave the schools of ultra-Orthodox Jews the right not to teach math and English, examines the consequences of terrorism on French politics, and examines at length the plight of South Asian migrant workers in the Gulf dependent on their employers.

  • Bloomberg View notes Donald Trump's bromance with Putin's Russia, examines Melania Trump's potential immigrant problems, and is critical of Thailand's new anti-democratic constitution.

  • CBC looks at how some video stores in Canada are hanging on.

  • The Inter Press Service notes that the Olympic Games marks the end of a decade of megaprojects in Brazil.

  • MacLean's approves of the eighth and final book in the Harry Potter series.

  • The National Post reports on a Ukrainian proposal to transform Chernobyl into a solar farm, and examines an abandoned plan to use nuclear weapons to unleash Alberta's oil sands.

  • Open Democracy looks at the relationship between wealth and femicide in India, fears a possible coup in Ukraine, looks at the new relationship between China and Africa, examines the outsized importance of Corbyn to Britain's Labour Party, and looks how Armenia's defeat of Azerbaijan has given its veterans outsized power.

  • Universe Today notes proposals for colonizing Mercury, looks at strong support in Hawaii for a new telescope, and examines the progenitor star of SN 1987A.

  • Wired emphasizes the importance of nuclear weapons and deterrence for Donald Trump, and looks at how many cities around the world have transformed their rivers.

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  • Beyond the Beyond's Bruce Sterling mourns the death of Alvin Toffler.

  • The Big Picture shares images of the Istanbul airport attack.

  • blogTO notes Toronto's recent Trans March was the largest in world history.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly interviews memoirist Plum Johnson.

  • Centauri Dreams considers the determination of distances to dim stars and looks at the total energies likely to be used in interstellar travel and interplanetary colonization.

  • Crooked Timber notes the ordered recount in Austria's presidential elections and advocates for anti-militarism.

  • D-Brief notes the exciting discoveries of Ceres, and observes that ancient tombs may have doubled as astronomical observatories.

  • The Dragon's Gaze considers where warm Jupiters form, considers the stability of complex exoplanet systems, and notes a high-precision analysis of solar twin HIP 100963.

  • The Dragon's Tales wonders if the shape of Martian sand dunes indicate a denser Martian atmosphere a bit more than four billion years ago.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog considers evictions and poverty in the United States.

  • Inkfish notes that different honeybees seem to have different personalities.

  • Language Hat notes the import of Maltese in Mediterranean history.

  • Language Log talks about Sino-Japanese.

  • Lovesick Cyborg shares the doubts of polled Americans with the viability of virtual lovers.

  • The LRB Blog shares an article supporting Corbyn.

  • The Map Room Blog notes that San Francisco was literally built on buried ships.

  • Marginal Revolution notes the collapse of Greek savings and looks at Euroskepticism's history in the United Kingdom.

  • Steve Munro updates readers on Union-Pearson Express ridership.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer thinks the Netherlands Antilles offer useful models to the United Kingdom, and is confused by a claim that that bias against Mexican immigrants does not exist when the data seems to suggest it does.

  • Torontoist goes into the life of conservative Protestant newspaper publishing Black Jack Robinson.

  • Transit Toronto notes that in a decade, GO Trains will connect Hamilton to Niagara Falls.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy argues against using the Brexit vote to argue against referenda.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the Russian deployment of military forces to the Belarus border, looks at Tatarstan's concern for its autonomy, observes the changing demographics of Ukraine, and notes the Russian debate over what sort of European Union collapse they would like.

  • Arnold Zwicky remembers his father through ephemera.

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  • blogTO notes the continued delays with Bombardier's streetcar deliveries to the TTC, looks at the expansion of WiFi to Toronto stations, and has hope for independent bookstores.

  • The Crux notes a proposal to make the Moon a solar energy power centre for the Earth.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes Venus analog Gliese 832d and observes the mass of material in orbit of WD 1145+017.

  • The Dragon's Tales studies the atmosphere of Pluto.

  • At The Fifteenth, Steve Roby reviews one book on Blondie's Parallel Lines and another on an in-universe Alien book.

  • The LRB Blog mourns Prince and reflects on the Swedish take on Brexit.

  • The Map Room Blog maps immigrants in France.

  • Towleroad shares the new Roísin Murphy single "Mastermind."

  • Window on Eurasia notes the transition of Russian to a polycentric language.

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  • Dangerous Minds shares one video club of David Bowie in London in 1967, and another of the controversies around the Cocteau Twins in 1985 Ohio.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes a study of the winds of hot Jupiter HD 189733b.

  • The Dragon's Tales looks at the evolution of Titan's atmosphere from an early date.

  • Joe. My. God. and Towleroad each note the failure of PrEP to protect a Toronto man against infection.

  • Language Hat links to a study looking at the spread of Austronesian languages.

  • Marginal Revolution writes on the economics, and the culture, of used book sales.

  • The NYRB Daily notes the problems with staging Wagner.

  • Savage Minds shares a list of new ethnographic texts.

  • Torontoist examines how Ontario's cap and trade and other green initiatives could impact Toronto.

  • Towleroad and Joe. My. God. note the Australian government's belated apology for the repression of gay demonstrators in Sydney in 1978, during the first Mardi Gras.

  • Window on Eurasia writes about the reasons for the support of diasporic Russian Jews for Putin's Russia and notes the Russian government's hostility towards open regionalism on its borders.

  • Arnold Zwicky shares and dissects a Japanese-style poem of his.

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  • blogTO identify five neighbourhoods in downtownish Toronto with cheap rent.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes one paper suggesting Earth-like worlds may need both ocean and rocky surfaces to be habitable.

  • The Dragon's Tales reports that Pluto's Sputnik Planum is apparently less than ten million years old.

  • Geocurrents begins an interesting regional schema of California.

  • Language Log notes a Hong Kong ad that blends Chinese and Japanese remarkably.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes that societies with low inequality report higher levels of happiness than others.

  • The Map Room points to the lovely Pocket Atlas of Remote Islands.

  • Marginal Revolution wonders why Amazon book reviews are so dominated by American reviewers.

  • Savage Minds considers, after Björk, the ecopoetics of physical geology data.

  • Window on Eurasia commemorates the 25th anniversary of the Vilnius massacre.

  • The Financial Times' The World blog looks at Leo, the dog of the Cypriot president.

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  • blogTO notes that graffiti artists around the world, including in Toronto, are promoting Justin Bieber's new album.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly likes pilot Mark Vanhoenacker's book about flight.

  • Centauri Dreams notes one possibility for a Europa sample mission.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes simulations which suggest spiral arms in circumstellar disks point towards new planets.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes the critical endangerment of mangrove forests, looks at the irregularly shaped core of Enceladus, and wonders about Russia's military shipyards.

  • Geocurrents maps the exceptionally complicated religious mixture of northeastern South Asia.

  • Language Hat notes the complex use of language by Julien Green and his writing.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at China's one-child policy.

  • Supernova Condensate shares most photos of Pluto.

  • Why I Love Toronto shares a list of haunted places in Toronto.

  • Window on Eurasia worries about the West stopping its support of Ukraine, and notes the ISIS war against Russia.

  • The Financial Times' The World blog notes the importance of turmoil in Moldova.

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Cody Delistraty introduces his readers to a new criticism of Michel Houellebecq as a writer of note. I would just add that it's important to distinguish between "attention-getting" and "good".

Few would call Houellebecq, who holds the Prix Goncourt, France’s highest literary honor, a “bad writer,” but in France he is known for his narrative inventiveness while his style is generally accepted as second-rate: something readers put up with in order to get to his ideas. And yet in Submission, his latest novel, his style is so distracting that the Parisian weekly L’Express called him out as “a poor writer but a good sociologist,” adding, “a good writer would not use ‘based on’ in lieu of ‘founded on,’ ‘however’ in place of ‘on the other hand,’ and ‘wine vintage’ when he wants to mean ‘vintage.’ ”

Houellebecq is a classically French intellectual in that the Idea comes above all. By systematically draping ideas over characters, he has created a text that is essentially a political treatise disguised as a novel. For instance, near the end, François gets into a dialogue with a former academic colleague, whereupon they proceed to discuss everything from the social instability caused by mass secularism to the supposed evolutionary benefits of polygamy—all this for multiple chapters, unrelieved by an explanation of feelings or a description of the setting or any of the other details that a reader of fiction might reasonably expect.

Characters, too, are created and erased at will. Myriam, François’ romantic interest, comes onto the scene near the middle of the novel, then disappears when she moves to Israel, never to be mentioned again except for three sentences in the final act. It’s clear that Houellebecq invented Myriam predominately as a comparison to the sexually submissive wives that François’ male friends are gifted after Mohammed Ben Abbes, the leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, wins the 2022 French presidential election. Nabokov famously said his characters are his “galley slaves.” Houellebecq’s characters are his way to claim his stories as novels and not academic texts.
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As I mentioned before, starting in the late 1980s and continuing into the mid-1990s, I bought Star Trek tie-in novels consistently. I bought only the tie-in novels of shows actively running. I stopped buying Star Trek: The Next Generation novels at #37 or so, while with Deep Space Nine I never got past #10. Proud Helios, #9, may in fact have been the last one that I bought. It was not a bad place to stop: high points rarely are.

Melissa Scott's Star Trek novel, as noted on its Wikipedia page, is a novel about space pirates.

When asked why she wanted to write a Star Trek novel, Scott commented, "Partly, I think, it's the simple fact that when you encounter a world and characters that you enjoy, you want to be a part of it, too. In a TV series, that temptation is particularly strong, because, after all, it is a series. There are people out there who contribute the stories, create the world, and there's always the possibility that you can become one of them. In my case, because I came to Trek from the Blish novelizations, and was acutely conscious of how the written versions compared to the actual episodes, the idea of writing not screenplays but novels was very appealing. Plus, of course, I'm a better novelist than I am a screenwriter!"

Scott remembers how she got the assignment to write Proud Helios. "John Ordover approached me, knowing I was a Trek fan as well as an established SF writer in my own right, and asked if I'd be interested in doing a book in the DS9 universe. I really liked the series, particularly the constraints of keeping the show to the single station (this was early in the show's evolution), so I jumped at the chance. I asked if he had any guidelines, any stories he particularly wanted to see, or any he didn't, and he said, no, not really, he'd leave that up to me. So I went home, mulled it over and came up with the proposal that became Proud Helios. I sent it to John, who called me back almost at once, laughing. He'd promised himself that he wouldn't do any stories with space pirates--- and here I'd sent him one he wanted to use[."]

Re-reading the used copy I bought here in Toronto, Proud Helios still stands out as a good novel. Set in the third season as the pirate ship Helios ventures desperately from Cardassian space towards the Bajoran wormhole, this is a fast-moving and well-written novel, with believable antagonists and many nice little character moments that shows Scott understood the show's characters nicely. There felt like things were at risk, always an achievement in tie-in novels contemporary with the show. I also looked coming across the notes of queerness in the novel, particularly the smuggler couple Tama and Möhrlein.
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I have been waiting for International Lefthanders Day just for the chance to review this one book.

I belong to a minority group, one that has long been unfairly subjected to prejudice on the basis of our shared innate difference and that has only recently been freed from this prejudice. I speak, of course, of left-handers, amounting to between 7 and 10% of the human population. There's nothing sinister about being left-handed, I've joked, yet for millennia there has been much prejudice, much hindrance. Were I born a generation earlier, I might have gotten off lightly by being forced to write with my right hand. Researches on handedness don't reveal any outstanding reason for this prejudice: Perhaps left-handers in the aggregate exhibit greater aptitudes for language or math or spatial relations, certainly left-handers are more likely than right-handers to be non-heterosexual, but nothing outstanding appears to justify this prejudice. Only a patchwork of biographies to testifies to the past.

Australian writer Ed Wright's 2007 A Left-Handed History of the World (Pier 9) deals successfully enough with this gap, assembling short biographies of prominent left-handers through history from Ramses the Great to the current crop of American presidents. (Barack Obama, I was pleased to learn, is one of my kind.) The left-handed content of I>A Left-Handed History of the World comes with the sidebars to the individual biographies, exploring the extent to which traits associated with left-handed people manifested in the lives of individuals profiles. We are, apparently, great conquerors, and experimenters, and good at seeing the world in new ways.

This was a fun book, all said. Recommended.

(See also this note from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.)
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I've read and re-read Wolverine: Enemy of the State, a 2008 graphic novel collecting the various issues of Wolverine in 2004 and 2005. Scripted by Mark Millar and drawn by John Romita Jr., Enemy of the State tells the story of what happens when HYDRA gets their hands on Wolverine and brainwashes him to by their mass-murdering agent of the apocalypse.

I have to agree with the reviewer who said that Enemy of the State is an exciting if shallow romp through the Marvel universe. I'd go further and say that the whole thing--Wolverine's lethality, HYDRA's aims, the revelation of the terrors hidden beneath the facade of the Marvel Universe--takes on the qualities of a highly violent camp style.

Take HYDRA, for instance. Initially, it is headed by Baron Wolfgang von Strucker, a moderate. What does he do? He complains that his wife does not love him in his diary, mourning the loss of his love even as he mentions in passing how he engages in the blood sacrifice of children.

Baron von Stucker, HYDRA moderate #wolverine #hydra #enemyofthestate #markmillar #johnromitajr

What of Baroness Elisbeth von Strucker, his Satanist wife nearly two centuries old who ends up taking HYDRA away from him? Her aims are simpler.

Baroness von Stucker, HYDRA radical #wolverine #hydra #enemyofthestate #markmillar #johnromitajr

Millar does some things well. He does not do subtle, complex villains.

Another example of this camp comes in the middle of the arc, when Wolverine breaks into the X-Mansion and tries to force Rachel Grey to use Cerebro to kill the American president. As she seemingly sets to work, obeying the man who threatens to use a terraformer developed by Reed Richards to kill everyone in Westchester County, Wolverine's brainwashers try to convince him to rape Rachel. After all, she looks just like her recently-dead mother Jean ...

This is not a good plan.

(The above image comes from a Scans Daily post collecting some images from Alan Davis' run on Excalibur, this one coming from Excalibur #61.)

"Hey, HYDRA-brainwashed Wolverine. What are you doing?"

"Oh. You're planning on raping the beloved only daughter of the feared cosmic force that burns away what doesn't work."

"Yes, sure. She's been radically depowered. She's no longer capable of draining the life-energies of the future universe to brutally beat up Galactus. She's much weaker."

"Sure. She's just one of the most powerful telepaths and telekinetics alive. But you've got claws. Go get her! I'll just stand over here."

Wolverine vs Rachel, 1 #wolverine #rachelgrey #phoenix #enemyofthestate #markmillar #johnromitajr

Wolverine vs Rachel, 2 #wolverine #rachelgrey #phoenix #enemyofthestate #markmillar #johnromitajr

Possibly Millar was trying to evoke a previous fight between Wolverine and Rachel, in Claremont's Uncanny X-Men #207, when Wolverine stabbed Rachel to prevent her from murdering a villain. My takeaway from this is simply that Wolverine, as guided by HYDRA, was making an almost hilariously bad decision.

Finally, one thing I've noticed in Millar's other books, like Kick-Ass, is that the actions of violent characters usually receive approbation by normal people, by people rooted outside of the realm of the superhero or the vigilante who approve of this violence because it is directed against people who deserve it. In this book, this role is played by Fukuko, a Japanese wife and mother whose only child was abducted by HYDRA as part of a ploy to lure Wolverine. (Her son was later murdered, fed to pigs, and buried on a barren hillside.) When Wolverine phones her and his husband to let them know what had happened and that he vows vengeance, she has only this to say.

A mother's vengeance #wolverine #hydra #enemyofthestate #markmillar #johnromitajr

Never ask Wolverine rhetorical questions.

Never ask Wolverine a rhetorical question #wolverine #hydra #enemyofthestate #markmillar #johnromitajr

Yes, the above is a picture of Wolverine riding a Sentinel into a mystic hidden city in Japan so he can kill ninjas by the hundreds.

Wolverine riding a sentinel against ninjas #wolverine #hydra #enemyofthestate #markmillar #johnromitajr #sentinels

Enemy of the State is a fun book, but I have problems taking it seriously. I think you can see why.
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I've decided to go back to an old Tuesday night habit of posting DBWI reviews of books from alternate histories. Reactions, please.


I picked up this book, an Iroquoia State University book listed as required reading on some syllabuses I read online, in Cataraqui just before I finished my visit to Ontario and New York. I was familiar with the story of British Ontario from the Canadian perspective. What, I wondered, was the American perspective? It turns out that it was not very different from the Canadian perspective at all.

The textbooks I remember from Canadian history emphasize the extent to which the Loyalist settlement in what was then Upper Canada was transitory, the extent to which many of the settlers brought over under Britain were not Loyalists as such but rather Americans interested in settling a new frontier. That so few of the Loyalists accepted resettlement to Nova Scotia or the Ottawa Valley after 1815 has been seen as proof that the British identity proclaimed by so many locals on the eve of the Napoleonic Wars actually was not durable at all. Canadians are taught that redrawing the frontier between British North America and the United States of America, west of New England, to run along the 45th parallel established a durable frontier with little chance of spillage from one side over to the other.

This, it turns out, is almost exactly what Iroquoia Under Britain says. It's somewhat more generous, placing Ontario alongside rest of the Midwest as a space of mixed and debatable loyalties that could have gone either way. I suspect that this might be history written from the comfortable victor's perspective. Certainly visiting Toronto and Cataraqui I saw little enough sign of any British heritage, downtown street gridworks aside. The locals even talk with their own, non-Canadian, accent. Iroquoia is where its majority population wants it, and I cannot imagine any Canadian who would want to change this.

There are certainly uchronical possibilities here. United, American Iroquoia and Canadian Ontario have a combined population of nearly 13 million. It's unlikely that an *Upper Canada would approach this population, if traditional Canadian immigration restrictionism has anything to do with it, but even so an Upper Canada could be a force indeed inside Canada. It could plausibly challenge Laurentia for dominance in Canada, even, and undermine the whole French-dominant bilingualism of the country. In the United States, meanwhile, the changes could be more subtle. Iroquoia likely would not have become American if the Napoleonic Wars hadn't been taken over here so early, and if the Union had not needed compensation for the split of New England. Would the Civil War have been postponed?
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This Canada Day, I decided to revisit the OUP anthology Riven Lands: Canada and Laurentia from 1980. Back when I first posted my reaction to this book in 2008, it sparked a substantial discussion about the extent to which the dissolution of old Canada into Laurentia and the new Canadian federation was inevitable. Looking at the essays again, I'm caught by the tragic inevitability of it all. From the moment the Quiet War started, the Dominion was bound for a reckoning at terrible cost to its people. It was trapped by history.

Old Canada remains trapped. Looking south from my vantage point in Boston, there just hasn't been much positive change in the Dominion. Laurentian nationalism remains as strong as Canadian resentment, each set of grievances distracting each country from tackling its own crying issues The economic crash hit both countries hard, though Laurentia was at least spared the housing boom. (Is it ever likely that Montréal will regain its pre-war population, or Ottawa?) The Maritime Canadian provinces continue to drift, most notable for being a source of migrant workers for anywhere that will take them: the rest of Canada, the United States, Britain and Ireland even. (Newfoundland's separation last year wasn't unexpected, not with oil affording it an incentive to try to start over again. Here's to wishing them success.) In Canada west of the Ottawa, meanwhile, stagnation. Will Alberta try to follow Newfoundland? Will Premier Ford be able to save Ontario's industry?

Maybe social democracy will rise and save everyone, uniting all of old Canada across the old borders. Who knows? By this point, I really doubt the competence of the old Canadian political classes to solve old issues, never mind resolve current problems. The world moves, and moves ahead.

I keep wondering if Canada could have survived. On a few forums today, I suggested that if not for the Social Credit governments of the post-war era and their hyperinflationary policies, there might have been enough wealth to sooth differences between Laurentians and the rest of Canada. If Spain and Yugoslavia could survive the 1970s and 1980s, could Canada not also manage? The United States was surely at least as attractive a market as western Europe, and intra-Canadian grievances until the 1960s were certainly not as deep as those in Spain and Yugoslavia. Or was the collapse of Canada preordained? Was Canada, paradoxically, not multinational enough, with a sufficiently large and united Anglo population falsely thinking itself large enough to override the Laurentians?
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Brian Bethune's review in MacLean's of the new book edited by John Lorinc, The Ward: The Life and Loss of Toronto's First Immigrant Neighbourhood, really makes me want to read it. How many people know that, where City Hall stands now, an entirely different neighbourhood once existed?

To arrive in Toronto, and to arrive poor, in the decades before the Great War—when the city’s population ballooned from 56,000 in 1871 to 376,000 in 1911—almost always meant arriving in St. John’s ward. Stretching over a large chunk of what is now Toronto’s central core—between Queen and College Streets, Yonge and University—the ward had always housed many of the city’s first outsiders: Catholic Irish and black Canadians. Now they were joined by new waves of non-traditional immigrants: Jews, other eastern Europeans, Italians and Chinese.

The 50-odd short pieces in The Ward—a mixed collection of memoir, archival research and micro-history—bring it back to vivid, impressionistic life. Crammed into cheap lodgings, subject to an appalling sanitation system and often desperately poor, the inhabitants were nonetheless remarkably entrepreneurial. All kinds of businesses flourished in the neighbourhood, legal and illegal: The ward was ground zero for bootlegging during Ontario’s flirtation with prohibition from 1916 to 1927. Contributors to The Ward explore the rag trade, the sex trade, Chinese laundries and paper boys. The outspoken former city councillor Howard Moscoe provides “My Grandmother the Bootlegger”; gallerist Stephen Bulger writes on Arthur Goss, Toronto’s first official photographer—in an era where there was such a thing—whose photos became source material for Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion. There are entries on the Eaton’s strike of 1912, the drive to eradicate tuberculosis, and monumental avenues never constructed. Writers pore over old maps and try to reimagine what once was.
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Dwight Garner's review in The New York Times of the first volume of Larry Kramer's ambitious GLBT-themed history of the United States makes me curious.

Most histories of gay men in America begin around the time of the Stonewall riots in New York City in 1969, when homosexuality fought its way into the national consciousness. Mr. Kramer’s novel rewinds to prehistoric monkeys swapping viruses in the jungle. You get the sense he’d like to go back further. One narrator comments, “Everyone has been infecting everyone else since the Garden of Eden.”

From here on out, like a Sabbath elevator, Mr. Kramer’s book stops at every floor. American Indians bring “anal intercourse into general use in this country.” The mostly male settlers at Jamestown take a great deal of comfort in brotherly love. In this telling, George Washington, who disappears into the woods with “cute young Indian fellows,” is gay, as are Hamilton, Franklin, Lincoln, Jackson, Pierce and Buchanan. Minutemen jokes? Check.

Mr. Kramer doesn’t skim demurely over this material. Scenes don’t dissolve when the candle is snuffed out. Lincoln stars in a sex scene in which, his lover reports, “my big bed took quite a beating.” Lewis, in this book, is frequently, secretly fond of Clark. Samuel Clemens: totally gay. Huck and Jim are “the country’s first gay rock stars.”

There is a method, of sorts, to Mr. Kramer’s madness. He combines these stories with those of unknowns, fictional men of no special importance, some of whose tales are moving. Under this novel’s busy surfaces, the author is saying something quite specific: That gay men have always been with us, long before homosexuality had a name, and it is past time we extend to these men our historical sympathy and imagination.

Americans may have pretended they didn’t know gay men existed. One character, during the Truman presidency, addresses this nonsense in his own way: “You can’t work in a haberdashery in the sticks without knowing what a fairy is.”
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  • blogTO notes that Yorkville's Lettieri is shutting down.

  • Crooked Timber starts a debate as to who won the latest Greece/Eurozone confrontation.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting a new way to analyze carbon-rich exoplanet atmospheres.

  • The Dragon's Tales observes that India is hoping to build its next aircraft carrier quickly.

  • Languages of the World's Asya Perelstvaig announces that people can now apply for her online Stanford course.

  • Marginal Revolution argues that antibiotics are of underestimated value.

  • Spacing reviews an interesting-sounding book, The Language of Space.

  • Towleroad notes an anonymous college lacrosse player who has just published a book of love poems to his boyfriend.

  • Window on Eurasia argues that Russia wants to weaken Baltic faith in NATO and suggests that everyone, detractors and supporters alike, overestimate Putin.

  • The Financial Times' World blog notes that apparently Russia was unhappy with being ignored, so explaining in part why it went into Ukraine.

rfmcdonald: (Default)
Starting with a review of Erik Larson's very good The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America, John Moyer goes on to write at length about the importance of the footnote.

Devil, as a work of non-fiction, relies heavily on sources and thereby on attribution. Larson has done his research and needs to display that in all its peacockian glory. But one of the failings of the book (and why any non-fiction I ever write will have three sales: myself and my parents) is that he eschews end notes in favour of a lumpy stew of references and citations shoved in willy-nilly at the back. Oh, there’s endnotes, but nothing in the text to indicate that (get out of here, “brackets”, you’re at best insufficient for this mighty work). For the majority of readers, I imagine that’s not a problem 4) but considering there are almost 30 pages of references, it clearly matters to some…but also considering this book is predominantly about 19th-century architecture, we can safely assume not too many people care about that either.

But the relegation of these endnotes to the mires near the “Acknowledgements” means that the connection between the work and the work, between the research and the words on the page, is lost. Academia uses footnotes for a (very) good reason, that being the work is as (or more) important than the final product. Anyone who’s read, say, Benjamin5, or, God help you, Massumi, knows that the final product is sometimes, er, opaque6, but no matter! The text is littered with helpful numbers, 1s and 2s and more that gently float above as little reminders that the work of research is as least equal to the writing of the text. Noel Coward said reading footnotes was like “having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love”, which suggests that “making love” is a foreign country to Noel (you get lost in the “midst” of a gallery or when returning home from the invasion of Troy, not in “making love”, but that’s the British language for you; why be accurate when you can be archaic), but also, a fundamentally wrong reading of footnotes (or, I’ll grant you, endnotes).


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