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Saturday, August 29th, 2015
11:52 pm - [CAT] On Nitama, Tama, and the Kinokawa railway station
In April 2010, I reported the the story of Tama, a cat who had become master of a railway station in the Japanese city in Kinokawa.

Station-Master Tama

In June of this year mentioned that Tama had died at the ripe old age of 16. Happily, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Tama has been officially replaced by deputy Nitama.

A Japanese railway station famous for its stationmaster cat has appointed another feline as its replacement.

The station's previous cat, Tama, was mourned at a lavish funeral after she died from heart failure in June having patrolled Kishi station, south-west of Osaka, for eight years.

Tama quietly patrolled the station dressed in a custom-made cap and uniform and became a popular mascot who attracted tourists from across Japan.

The new cat — reportedly named Nitama — will take over where its much-loved predecessor left off.

The station hopes the new cat will continue to bring more visitors to the struggling local railway.

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10:35 pm - [CAT] Shakespeare, as seen by webcam
Shakespeare, as seen by webcam

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5:52 pm - [VIDEO] Starships set to "Starships" by Nicki Minaj
Earlier this month, Marcus Rowlands on Livejournal shared a fun fan video, a music video for Nicki Minaj's 2012 hit song "Starships" featuring clips from the science fiction of the past half-century.

Rowlands also linked to another version of the video, this one featuring only pre-1969 clips.

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Friday, August 28th, 2015
11:54 pm - [META] What blogs do you read?
What blogs do you read?

Let me know in the comments. I like coming across new things.

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9:31 pm - [VIDEO] Bureau of Proto Society
Bureau of Proto Society is amazing. I found it via io9 (http://io9.com/a-group-of-historians-debates-how-the-world-ended-but-1727359489):

The short anime comedy Bureau of Proto Society takes us to a post-apocalyptic bunker, when the last remnants of humanity live isolated from the world. The bunker’s historians gather each day to try to debate how the world ended—and once you see their historical sources, you’ll understand their confusion.

Sadly, this short, by writer/director Yasuhiro Yoshiura (Patema Inverted) isn’t embeddable, but you can watch it at the Japan Animator Expo website, where it will be available for the next few weeks. (Click the English flag in the upper right hand corner if you don’t speak Japanese and be aware that theres a minute-long opening before the actual short starts.) It’s a very funny film, packed with pop culture references, and snazzy ending.

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6:38 pm - [BLOG] Some Friday links

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper suggesting that stars commonly ingest hot Jupiters.

  • The Dragon's Tales reports on the spread of robots.

  • Far Outliers shares terms for making shoyu.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that Ashley Madison nearly bought Grindr.

  • Language Log notes the changing usage of "hemp" as a political term.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the plan to save New Orleans by abandoning the Mississippi delta.

  • The Russian Demographics blog notes the genetic distinctiveness of the Denisovans.

  • Towleroad notes the pulling-down of a Warsaw rainbow monument.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the American debate over birthright citizenship.

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3:43 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "How to Bring a Wheelchair to a Sex Club: A look at Toronto’s Deliciously Disabled"
Torontoist's Kaitlyn Kochany has a nice article examining the Deliciously Disabled movement, on-line and in sex clubs.

First of all: it wasn’t an orgy. Despite what you might have read in the Sun, the Star, and Vice, the party that went down at Buddies in Bad Times on August 14 is more correctly referred to as a “play party.” The 125 people who sold out the event could flirt, dance, laugh, be in various stages of undress, make out—and they could have sex, too, if they were all consenting adults.

Why was this a big deal? Those 125 people were attending Deliciously Disabled, the first fully accessible play party in Canada, if not the world. The party was different from the usual hook-up club scene in a number of ways. There were attendants onsite, to help operate Hoyer lifts and move people from wheelchairs to couches or beds and back again. There were volunteers who provided ASL translation. The bathrooms and entryways could accommodate 300-pound motorized wheelchairs. And, for the first time, people living with disabilities were at the centre of a sexual event designed to include them right from the beginning. “This event and space was for me. I was not an afterthought,” says Andrew Morrison-Gurza.

Morrison-Gurza is a Richmond Hill-based consultant who focuses on sexuality and disability. Earlier this year, he created Deliciously Disabled to further his work, which includes blogging and speaking about his lived experience as a queer man with cerebral palsy. “The brand started back in January, when I did a shoot for Now Magazine’s Love Your Body issue. They didn’t have anyone with a disability and I approached them.” After the shoot, the magazine asked Morrison-Gurza how he wanted to be described in his bio. At first, he went with his usual “queer and disabled” explainer. “And then I said, nope, you know what? I’m going to say I’m deliciously disabled.” A brand was born.

Stella Palikarova, who works on experiences and expressions of disability, came up with the idea for the play party. Last fall, she partnered with Oasis Aqualounge and began searching for venues that could accommodate disabled guests. (Oasis, with its narrow doorways and many stairs, wasn’t going to work.) “I did some poking around in terms of what, if any, accessible sex clubs exist in Toronto. I came up short.” The theatre-slash-event space Buddies in Bad Times was finally chosen after months of searching.

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3:41 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "How to ‘get’ and repair Uno Prii Annex grooviness"
The Globe and Mail's Dave Leblanc describes how 44 Walmer Road, a tower built in the 19860s from designs by architect Uno Prii, has been sensitively repaired.

Reporting for The Annex Gleaner in May, 2001, modern-architecture enthusiast Alfred Holden lamented the loss of the “curvilinear, circle-patterned balcony railings” at 44 Walmer Rd., and called them the 1969 apartment building’s “most artful and distinguishing feature.”

An Annex resident himself, Mr. Holden had written often about the whimsical designs of Estonian-born architect Uno Prii (1924–2000) and had interviewed the architect at his home, where sculpture, pottery and paintings by Prii’s own hand were in full view.

Mr. Holden argued that, just as the Eaton Centre’s flock of geese were off-limits to alterations – artist Michael Snow successfully sued mall management in 1982 when the fiberglass waterfowl were dressed in red ribbons for Christmas – architectural elements such as metal balcony railings could, perhaps, be considered art as well.

He urged unhappy building residents, who had spoken to a law student, to make waves and create a precedent.

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3:39 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Exploring Black Creek, Toronto’s mini-LA River"
Spacing Toronto's Jake Tobin Garrett has a nice photo essay exploring the largely channelized Black Creek.

I’ve been reading a lot about the LA river recently because of the announcement that Frank Gehry is working with the City of Los Angeles on plans to revitalize the river (plans that some say may clash with previous plans to renaturalize part of it.) So I decided to check out one of Toronto’s own mini-LA rivers, Black Creek.

My first glimpse of Black Creek was before I knew it was Black Creek. I saw it as I passed by on the new UP Express on my way to Newfoundland for a friend’s wedding last month. There, outside the window of the train, I saw a large concrete channel marching down the centre of a street, a trickle of water down its middle. What is that, I thought. It looked so un-Toronto to me.

Turns out it’s part of Black Creek, one of Toronto’s most polluted waterways and the smallest subwatershed of the Humber River, into which it flows.

According to this little history on the Black Creek Conservation Project website, Black Creek was channelized following Hurricane Hazel in 1954 as a way to prevent flooding and whisk stormwater away faster. It was apparently fully surrounded in its open concrete channel by 1965. The effect is pretty dramatic. It’s horrific and beautiful at the same time, in the way that weird, concrete urban things often are where nature has started to reinsert itself in all the little nooks and crannies.

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3:36 pm - [LINK] "Japan's Central Bank Is China's Biggest Cheerleader"
William Pesek of Bloomberg View notes the extent to which the Japanese economy depends on China's, to the extent that a Chinese slowdown could really hurt Japan.

Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda has a new strategy to support his country's listing economy: talking up China's.

It's a marked break with what other Japanese officials are saying. Finance Minister Taro Aso and economy czar Akira Amari have been eager to blame China's slowdown for Japan's woes. It's somewhat surreal to see them urge Beijing to implement economic reforms when they've done nothing of the sort in Tokyo -- and with more time on the job than their Chinese counterparts.

Kuroda, however, is guilty of taking things to the opposite extreme. Speaking in New York, he challenged the negativity shrouding Asia's biggest economy, saying he's "reasonably sure" China will grow between 6 percent and 7 percent this year and next -- a prediction that hardly anyone else has endorsed. Kuroda has effectively lashed his credibility, and his legacy, to China's trajectory. It's not hard to understand why he might have felt he had no choice.

Kuroda has to contend with three big problems. The first is demographics. Just as his predecessor Masaaki Shirakawa warned, Japan's consumer prices are bound to fall as its population ages. The second is a dearth of confidence: Monetary policy has been rendered comatose by the public's hesitance to borrow and banks' hesitance to lend. The third is China's slowdown -- a variable far beyond Tokyo's control, but no less critical for Japan's fate.

[. . .]

The fact that China isn't crashing should put most of the world at ease. But even a moderate slowdown could prove a lethal blow for Japan. China's combination of deflation and currency devaluation is reducing the odds that the trillions of dollars of monetary stimulus Kuroda has pumped into markets since April 2013 will ever gain any traction.

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3:34 pm - [LINK] "Catalonia Attacks ‘Infinite Cynicism’ as Spain Curbs Powers"
Esteban Duarte of Bloomberg examines ongoing controversies in Spain over federalism. I can easily imagine ways this could spiral out of control.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy has introduced rules that effectively revoke the powers of the Catalan government, the regional president’s right hand man said, before a vote that could fuel separatists’ bid to split from Spain.

Rajoy is forcing regional officials to get approval from the central government before paying commercial creditors, Francesc Homs, the head of the Catalan’s presidency department, said in an interview in Barcelona Wednesday. The national government in Madrid has also ruled that laws only come into force once they’ve been published in the Spanish Official Gazette, preventing regional leader Artur Mas from introducing legislation using the Catalan equivalent, Homs said.

Mas’s bid for independence has set him on a collision course with Rajoy who says that his plans are unconstitutional. Mas has framed the Sept. 27 regional election as a ballot on independence after Rajoy blocked his attempt to hold a referendum last November.

“When someone says we could get the region’s autonomy suspended, I tell them they’ve actually done it already,” Homs said. The central government is acting with “infinite cynicism,” he added.

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3:30 pm - [LINK] "The Dead Sea is dying"
Al Jazeera's Creede Newton reports on the decline of the Dead Sea, at best slowed down by new proposals.

The Dead Sea, a unique body of water marked by mineral-rich, unusually salty water - nearly 10 times saltier than the world's oceans - is dying. Its water level is dropping by roughly one metre each year.

"We think that the current situation is an ecological disaster," said Gidon Bromberg, director of EcoPeace Middle East (EPME), an organisation that brings together Israeli, Jordanian and Palestinian environmentalists to protect their shared environmental heritage.

"It's unacceptable: The unique ecosystem is in severe danger, threatening biodiversity, and you see dramatic sinkholes opening up along the shore," Bromberg said, referring to the large, unpredictable cavities that have appeared recently. Some are so cavernous that they swallow entire structures.

According to Bromberg, the two main reasons for the dropping water level are mineral extraction by Israeli and Jordanian companies in the artificially shallow southern basin, and the fact that 95 percent of the Jordan River - the Dead Sea's main source of replenishing water - is being diverted. The river used to provide 1,350 million cubic metres of water each year (mcm), but that flow has dwindled to just 20 mcm.

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3:25 pm - [LINK] "Letter from Iran: diplomacy trumps hostility?"
At Open Democracy, Linda Briskman argues that the negotiated end to sanctions is a plus for Iran, and the world.

People living in sanctions-supporting countries have failed to acknowledge the humanity of Iranians, thanks to a largely biased western media. There are few who would know that sanctions exceed economic hardship and include shortages of life-saving medicines. In spite of the fact that food and drugs are exempt from sanctions under international agreements, the situation reveals otherwise, with the universal right to health severely compromised. Foreign banks have hesitated to conduct business even when knowing that financial transactions were for medical imports. The shortage of vital imported medications, including for cancer sufferers and children with haemophilia, has been a source of anguish for patients and their families.

There have been detrimental effects on Iran’s youth. A priority for Iran in entering nuclear negotiations, says President Rouhani, is to create an environment conducive to doing business and to address the government’s concern about youth unemployment.

The signing of the accord and the eventual loosening of the shackles of sanctions is a remarkable exercise in peace-building through negotiation and diplomacy. The next stage is building trust to create an enduring legacy for the process that has begun.

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11:16 am - [PHOTO] Moon over Spadina Avenue
Spadina Avenue and moon #toronto #spadinaavenue #moon #evening #spadina #harbordstreet

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Thursday, August 27th, 2015
11:58 pm - [MUSIC] Nirvana, "Smells Like Teen Spirit"

I never listened to Nirvana when they were a band. The musicianship of Nirvana, including Kurt Cobain, was something I only came to recognize after the fact. I did not ha to be a fan, though, for "Smells Like Teen Spirit" to have not absorbed me during my adolescence.

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6:21 pm - [BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO announces the impending opening of Toronto's first cat café.

  • Centauri Dreams shares sharper images of Ceres from New Horizons.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes the discovery of very distant Neptune-mass planet OGLE-2005-BLG-169b.

  • The Dragon's Tales reports on the latest from the Donbas.

  • Far Outliers notes the spike in surrenders on Okinawa in June 1945.

  • Geocurrents maps the relatively balanced oil-based economic development of Colombia.

  • Marginal Revolution notes the use of the smartphone by refugees.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer observes the surprising casualty-heavy intensity of Russia's war in the Donbas.

  • Torontoist explains the import of the City of Toronto's budget surplus.

  • Towleroad notes how a fugitive priest is defending his rape of an altar boy.

  • Window on Eurasia notes one moment when Russia could have prevented the fall in oil prices.

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3:53 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "The most disturbing thing we learned from the G20"
Edward Keenan's Toronto Star article describing how, at the G20 fiasco years ago, the police collaborated with the Black Bloc is stellar.

The bad guys, the Black Bloc anarchists and vandals — the people Fenton referred to as “terrorists” — were trying to make a point, and the police reacted by proving it for them.

See, the peaceful protesters were the optimists, who gathered under the premise that our leaders — the leaders of much of the world — would listen to the people, would have to, if they gathered together in a large enough group with big enough papier-mâché puppets and loud enough chants of “Hey, hey, ho ho.”

This is the essentially generous democratic assumption behind all peaceful dissent: if enough of us speak loudly and clearly enough, our leaders will listen.

The Black Bloc do not share the faith that we live in that kind of democracy. And they make it their mission to expose that faith as misplaced. The point of their activities, which, if they don’t fit most people’s modern interpretation of “terrorism” (despite Fenton’s characterization) are certainly intended to be scary and chaotic and disorienting, is to provoke a reaction. They think the idea that police (and world leaders) serve and protect the public is a sham. Those authorities, they claim, only protect capital, and they only serve corporate interests and their own power.

And so while the innocent march and chant, the Black Bloc say to them and to the general public: if you don’t believe us, watch what happens when we smash some windows, destroy some property, light a police car on fire. See how your capitalist democracy holds up then, see how your constitution is applied, see how well your voice is heard.

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3:50 pm - [LINK] "Why the Rich Love Burning Man"
The radical online magazine Jacobin features an article by Keith A. Spencer critical of the extent to which the rich apparently now dominate the Burning Man festival. Thoughts?

Burning Man grew from unpretentious origins: a group of artists and hippies came together to burn an effigy at Baker Beach in San Francisco, and in 1990 set out to have the same festival in a place where the cops wouldn’t hassle them about unlicensed pyrotechnics. The search led them to the Black Rock Desert.

Burning Man is very much a descendent of the counterculture San Francisco of yesteryear, and possesses the same sort of libertine, nudity-positive spirit. Some of the early organizers of the festival professed particular admiration for the Situationists, the group of French leftists whose manifestos and graffitied slogans like “Never Work” became icons of the May 1968 upsurge in France.

[. . .]

Participation sounds egalitarian, but it leads to some interesting contradictions. The most elaborate camps and spectacles tend to be brought by the rich because they have the time, the money, or both, to do so. Wealthier attendees often pay laborers to build and plan their own massive (and often exclusive) camps. If you scan San Francisco’s Craigslist in the month of August, you’ll start to see ads for part-time service labor gigs to plump the metaphorical pillows of wealthy Burners.

The rich also hire sherpas to guide them around the festival and wait on them at the camp. Some burners derogatorily refer to these rich person camps as “turnkey camps.”

Silicon Valley’s adoration of Burning Man goes back a long way, and tech workers have always been fans of the festival. But it hasn’t always been the provenance of billionaires — in the early days, it was a free festival with a cluster of pitched tents, weird art, and explosives; but as the years went on, more exclusive, turnkey camps appeared and increased in step with the ticket price — which went from $35 in 1994 to $390 in 2015 (about sixteen times the rate of inflation).

Black Rock City has had its own FAA-licensed airport since 2000, and it’s been getting much busier. These days you can even get from San Carlos in Silicon Valley to the festival for $1500. In 2012, Mark Zuckerberg flew into Burning Man on a private helicopter, staying for just one day, to eat and serve artisanal grilled cheese sandwiches.

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3:46 pm - [LINK] "Sea level has climbed 8 centimetres since 1992"
CBC carries the Thomson Reuters report noting that sea levels have already risen in the past two decades.

Sea levels worldwide rose an average of nearly eight centimetres (3 inches) since 1992, the result of warming waters and melting ice, a panel of NASA scientists said on Wednesday.

In 2013, a United Nations panel predicted sea levels would rise from 0.3 to 0.9 metres (1 to 3 feet) by the end of the century.

The new research shows that sea level rise most likely will be at the high end of that range, said University of Colorado geophysicist Steve Nerem.

Sea levels are rising faster than they did 50 years ago and "it's very likely to get worse in the future," Nerem said.

The changes are not uniform. Some areas showed sea levels rising more than 25 cm (9 inches) and other regions, such as along the U.S. West Coast, actually falling, according to an analysis of 23 years of satellite data.

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3:42 pm - [LINK] "Is this China’s Chernobyl moment?"
Open Democracy's Maria Repnikova describes how the contemporary Chinese response to the Tianjin explosion demonstrates the flexibility of the Chinese system, contrasted to the late Soviet respons eto Chernobyl.

[T]he Chinese authorities, while sometimes still treating information as a “ virus on the verge of infecting the masses,” now often treat crisis coverage as a potent tool to be deployed. For the past decade, Chinese authorities have refined a ‘contained transparency’ approach, focusing on guiding public opinion via selective censorship mixed with the selective dissemination of information and responsiveness to public grievances. Some media coverage is allowed, but reporting is restricted as much as possible to the official version of the Xinhua News Agency. Central officials make appearances at disaster sites and hold news conferences, albeit sometimes after a short delay, and the official press carries hopeful messages regarding disaster relief and top-level investigations. This was the approach to Tianjin.

Although censorship was pervasive after the blast, it was carefully targeted. Many critical posts were swept from the web, but many survived, even if only temporarily. Moreover, a number of traditional media platforms launched impressive investigations of the disaster, pushing the envelope of the official directive of Xinhua-only coverage. Topics they covered included the ownership structure of Ruihai, the high death toll among fire-fighters, and the links between Ruihai and the state-owned company Sinopec. These reports called, in different ways, for greater official accountability. The state’s willingness to allow these reports to circulate points to the intentionally incomplete nature of control, a sense that bounded bottom-up feedback can be helpful rather than harmful even in a state that prizes top-down control.

Finally, we are now seeing a burst of official responsiveness to public questioning and discontent. Top executives of the offending company have been detained, and the mayor of Tianjin publicly admitted responsibility for the scandal. This official responsiveness to the disaster, however, is being carefully managed to ensure that the central state can still be seen as a benevolent guardian, while the blame is placed squarely on local officials.

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