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Saturday, July 4th, 2015
3:25 pm - [REVIEW] Five reviews of the Toronto Fringe Festival
This year, I've been reviewing plays for Toronto theatre website Mooney On Theatree. I'm happy to report that all five of the shows I reviewed were quite good, each in their own way.

  • OCD - Obsessive Compulsive Darryl is a wise and insightful one-actor show by comedian Darryl Pring explaining his mental illness and how he bounced back from hisw lowest power.

  • All Our Yesterdays is an artistically successful, politically necessary, and heart-rending look at the plight of two sisters taken by Boko Haram.

  • The Philanderess is a superb 21st century take on Shawe's classic The Philanderer. This is my favourite so far.

  • Let's Start A Country! is the most unusual show of the lot, a well-guided freeform exploration, with comedy and video projectors and crowns, of the first hour in the life of a micronation.

  • Anatolia Speaks is a quiet and powerful story, an account of one Bosnian refugee's life told to her ESL class.

I hope to be going to more shows through the Festival, and will post my reactions (and links to Mooney reviews) here.

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9:59 am - [PHOTO] Patriotic corner store, Dupont and Dufferin
Patriotic corner store #toronto #dupontstreet #dufferinstreet #canadaday #fireworks #flags

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Friday, July 3rd, 2015
5:19 pm - [BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO notes that John Tory supports the decriminalization of marijuana.

  • The Dragon's Gaze considers if there might be a hot Jupiter orbiting a pulsating star.

  • The Dragon's Tales wonders if multicellularity in cyanobacteria three billion years ago helped drive the Great Oxidation Event.

  • Far Outliers notes the 1878 introduction of football to Burma.

  • A Fistful of Euros notes that Europe is muddling through in the Mediterranean versus migrants and observes that even the optimistic scenarios for economic growth in Greece are dire.

  • The Frailest Thing considers the idea of a technological history of modernity.

  • Language Log notes an example of multiscript graffiti in Berlin.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes how the Confederate cause won the Civil War despite losing the battles.

  • Marginal Revolution argues that default will do nothing to make the underlying issues of Greece business-wise better.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at the intriguing geology of Ceres.

  • Peter Rukavina shows the Raspberry Pi computer he built into a Red Rocket tea tin.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog links to a paper studying Russian patriarchy and misogyny in public health.

  • Spacing Toronto looks at the genesis of the Bloor Viaduct's Luminous Veil.

  • Towleroad examines the Texan pastor who threatened to set himself on fire over same-sex marriage.

  • Une heure de peine celebrates its eighth birthday.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy reacts to the Michael Oren controversy over American ties with Israel.

  • Window on Eurasia warns that Putin's system in Chechnya is not viable, predicts a worsening of the Russian HIV/AIDS epidemic, and notes that Jewish emigration from Russia has taken off again.

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2:15 am - [PHOTO] Ziggurat on Bathurst Street
Condos in the evening

Approaching the BStreets condo complex on Bathurst just south of Bloor Street West from the south, the tiered white levels evoked for me the structure of the Mesopotamian ziggurat.

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Thursday, July 2nd, 2015
4:54 pm - [MUSIC] Ace of Base, "The Sign"
I'm a bit sad today. Not an hour ago, I found out that my venerable RCA CD/tape player no longer plays CDs.

My venerable RCA CD/tape player #electronics #rca #cd #tape

I've had it for two decades. It was with me in Charlottetown; it eventually came with me to Toronto. Maybe it can be fixed, maybe it cannot, maybe it is just not worth the effort. It was, admittedly, a device I used less and less over the years, as I transitioned to playing music off my computer. The last time I used it was a couple of months ago, when I played the superb 2003 maxi-single of Yoko Ono's "Walking on Thin Ice".

What was I wanting to play today? Ace of Base's 1993 debut album, something I found yesterday discarded on the side of Bathurst Street along with their followup and two French-language novels I wanted to read.

Rescued from the roadside #toronto #jacquespoulin #gabrielleroy #aceofbase #bathurststreet #books

Specifically, I wanted to hear "The Sign".

I'm perfectly willing to agree with the casual evaluation of Ace of Base's music, that it was a sort of lowest-common-denominator Europop that was briefly fashionable international in the early to mid 1990s and the commercial counterpoint to other more challenging and innovative movements. This is entirely true.

Is this all that there is to the music of Ace of Base, though? I could note, if you're interested in the sociological implications, that Ace of Base's hits arguably inaugurated the current era of Swedish domination of the international pop charts. (Well, that and Roxette in the late 1980s.) Ace of Base counts.

More to the point, Ace of Base counts to me. Along with the aforementioned Roxette, Ace of Base was the first pop music group with albums I owned, actively seeking them out and buying them with my money. I was attracted to the music for good reasons: it was popular, it was cheerful, it was catchy, it came from the world outside. The music of Ace of Base did, and does, make me happy. Surely it's unfair to condemn anything that can do that.

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3:54 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Vintage Toronto Ads: The 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival"
Torontoist's Jamie Bradburn writes, with examples of ads, about the Toronto Fringe Festival in 1999.

Three months before the 1999 Toronto Fringe Festival opened, new artistic director Chuck McEwen received an unpleasant surprise: a call from the owner of the building where the festival’s offices were located indicating the summer event had to find a new home. “That was an unexpected and high-pressure situation,” McEwen told the Star. “We had such a small amount of time to actually find a space and then move. And it’s difficult finding office space in the Annex area that fits our current budget. So it was tense.”

Quarters were found at Bloor and Spadina, and the festival rolled on. Over 11 days, 93 shows were presented. The best known, The Drowsy Chaperone, was promoted as coming from “the co-creators of Honest Ed! The Bargain Musical.” Having evolved from a stag party, the show earned kudos during its run at the George Ignatieff Theatre. “You’ll laugh, you’ll cry,” noted Now reviewer Glenn Sumi. “Well, OK, you won’t cry. But you won’t want to leave either.” The Star’s Robert Crew accurately predicted that, with a little reworking, “the potential is enormous and it will be back.” The show eventually won five Tonys for its Broadway run in 2006-2007.

There is much more at Torontoist.

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8:28 am - [PHOTO] Downtown Toronto as seen from Bathurst and Dundas
Downtown Toronto as seen from Bathurst and Dundas #toronto #skyscraper #cntower #bathurststreet #dundasstreetwest

As anyone who glanced at my Flickr and Instagram feeds in the past day or so can tell, I've been posting lots of photos from the Toronto Fringe Festival. The whole thing is a fun experience, and it's nice to document it with images as well as with words.

The above is one of my favourite shots to date. Walking from the Robert Gill Theatre at the University of Toronto on College Street where I had my first show southwest to the Factory Theatre on Bathurst below King, I passed through the broad low intersection of Bathurst with Dundas. Looking east, Toronto's skyline lay exposed before me.

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Wednesday, July 1st, 2015
5:09 pm - [AH] More thoughts on Riven Lands: Canada and Laurentia from 1980
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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4:09 pm - [PHOTO] The July Pan Am Metropass
The July PanAm Metropass #toronto #panamgames #ttc #metropass #

The 2015 Pan-American Games are being held in Toronto, and the Metropass of the TTC for this month has been designed accordingly. "Like."

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Tuesday, June 30th, 2015
8:59 pm - [FORUM] What are you planning on doing this Canada Day?
Do you have any plans for this specific holiday? Or do you hope for something lower-key than a plan and long simply for rest?


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6:41 pm - [LINK] "Venus and Jupiter Meet At Last"
Universe Today's Bob King reports on a conjunction of Venus with Jupiter in the night sky. I actually saw it myself last night before I read this article, hovering in the western night sky above the condos from Queens Quay and Spadina.

The year’s finest conjunction is upon us. Chances are you’ve been watching Venus and Jupiter at dusk for some time.

Like two lovers in a long courtship, they’ve been slowly approaching one another for the past several months and will finally reach their minimum separation of just over 1/4° (half a Full Moon diameter) Tuesday evening June 30.

The view facing west-northwest about 50 minutes after sunset on June 30 when Venus and Jupiter will be at their closest. If bad weather moves in, they’ll be nearly as close tonight (June 29) and July 1. Two celestial bodies are said to be in conjunction when they have the same right ascension or “longitude”and line up one atop the other. Source: Stellarium

Most of us thrill to see a single bright planet let alone the two brightest so close together. That’s what makes this a very special conjunction. Conjunctions are actually fairly common with a dozen or more planet-to-planet events a year and 7 or 8 Moon-planet match-ups a month. It’s easy to see why.

All eight planets travel the same celestial highway around the sky called the ecliptic but at different rates depending upon their distance from the Sun. Distant Saturn and Neptune travel more slowly than closer-in planets like Mercury and Mars. Over time, we see them lap one another in the sky, pairing up for a week or so and inspiring the gaze of those lucky enough to look up. After these brief trysts, the worlds part ways and move on to future engagements.

More is at Universe Today, with King looking at how conjunctions work.

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6:39 pm - [LINK] "Prospects for a future Kurdistan"
Open Democracy's Gary Kent writes about the issues likely to face a separatist Kurdistan.

Baghdad's obstinacy is also driving independence but Kurdistan is landlocked and many are wary of putting all their eggs in the Turkish basket, which once prompted former KRG Prime Minister Barham Salih to argue for three export routes through Iraq, Turkey and Iran (and, conceivably, Syria one day.) A unilateral declaration of independence could cut off imports, exports, passports, and airports. Independence would have to be negotiated with Baghdad through complex agreements on assets and liabilities, water, energy and security. Crucially, the KRG's southern boundaries including Kirkuk must to be finalised to avoid the province becoming a flashpoint for Arab revanchism for decades to come.

The commonsense view is that ISIS should first be defeated before independence but given, as a senior security adviser told me, “Humpty Dumpty fell off the wall and definitely won't be put back together,” maybe the way to defeat ISIS is to recognise that Sunnis and Kurds will never again accept unalloyed Baghdad rule.

Before ISIS, Sunni provinces neighbouring Kurdistan had begun to think that the dynamic Kurds could assist their economic salvation, especially in reliable electricity supplies. Shia Basra in the south, about the same size, population and economic weight as Kurdistan but with much more oil, had been champing at the bit for greater decentralisation. A much looser arrangement, perhaps one day a confederation, could be a bigger incentive for Sunnis to overthrow ISIS in Sunnistan than centralised and sectarian Shia rule from Baghdad. Every day that ISIS keeps Mosul makes it harder to reinstate the old Iraq.

Kurdistan has to be match fit for any possibility including independence and escape the sovietesque legacy of the old Iraq. The state employs most people, which suffocates the private sector and also undermines citizenship because, as one senior party official told me, “people who are employed by the state have to listen to the state.”

The rentier economy is almost wholly dependent on energy although the Kurdistan parliament has just passed a law allowing the KRG to borrow on international markets and is establishing a sovereign wealth fund for when energy revenues dry up. A mineral extraction law is also before Parliament and minerals could become a major money-spinner. Once the bread basket of Iraq, Kurdistan could achieve food self-sufficiency and export surplus wheat, apples and pomegranates.

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6:36 pm - [ISL] "Reward increased to $500,000 in potato tampering investigation in P.E.I."
The Canadian Press reports on the latest in a criminal investigation on Prince Edward Island.

Prince Edward Island’s potato industry has increased the reward it is offering to $500,000 for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of whomever is responsible for inserting metal objects into potatoes.

The new reward is available until Aug. 15, and tips received from Aug. 16 to Oct. 31 will be eligible for the previous reward amount of $100,000.

The federal government recently announced it will spend $1.5 million to buy metal detection equipment to help find foreign objects in potatoes from the province.

The funding will be used to purchase and install detection equipment, while an extra $500,000 from the province is being used for on-site security assessments and training.

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6:34 pm - [LINK] On how Canadian television may break through in Ukraine
At the National Post, the Canadian Press' Murray Brewster writes about how Canadian content may make it onto Ukrainian television.

The Littlest Hobo, Anne of Green Gables, maybe even Flashpoint could find a new lease on life in Ukraine as the country’s broadcasting council scrambles to fill TV screens with something other than Russian programming, says a senior Ukrainian official.

To counter — both real and perceived — propaganda throughout the war-torn country, President Petro Poroshenko’s government pulled the plug on the Russian signals, leaving a dramatic hole in entertainment and information schedules, said Iurii Artemenko.

The country needs both hardware to improve its own radio and television signals and replacement programming.

“We try to find something,” Artemenko said in an interview with The Canadian Press. He recently returned from a trip to South Korea, where he was pleading for content.

“We need high-quality content, shows, dramas, movies, cultural programs,” he said at the same time as expressing his fondness for Quebec cinema.

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6:31 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Blood & Fog: The Military’s Germ Warfare Tests in San Francisco"
At Discover's Body Horrors, Rebecca Kreston notes how the American military tested biological weapons in 1951.

The Nuremberg Code was drafted in 1947 following the appalling revelations of human experimentation committed in Nazi concentration camps. The overarching goal of the Code was to establish a set of rules for the ethical conduct of research using human subjects, guaranteeing that the rights and welfare of such participants would be protected. Two important principles guide and define this Code: the concept of voluntary, informed consent and that no experiment shall be conducted in which “there is an a priori reason to believe that death or disabling injury will occur.”

Just four short years later, the government of the United States would violate the Code as it undertook one of the largest human experiments in history, spraying the city of San Francisco with a microbe, Serratia marcescens, in a simulated germ warfare attack.

The genus Serratia are a group of soil and water-dwelling microbes with one very neat party trick: the manufacture of a red pigment known as “prodigiosin,” derived from the Latin prodigiosus for its marvelous and seemingly supernatural coloring; this color ranges from a lurid vermillion to a washed-out pink depending upon the microbe’s age. This unique property has been regularly exploited in microbiology as a biological marker, tracking metabolic behavior and transmission of bacteria in various environments. For this reason, the microbe is an ideal tool for such work, a showy microbe that naturally flies a very noticeable red flag.

The origins of Serratia are, despite the microbe’s technical laboratory applications, often quite prosaic. The bacteria thrives in wet environments and may be seen forming pink streaks on the insides of shower curtains and along toilet bowls in the homes (surely not mine or yours) of the sanitationally challenged.

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6:29 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Toronto’s connection to U.S. Supreme Court’s same sex marriage ruling"
Spacing Toronto's John Lorinc notes how gay marriage in Toronto paved the way for same-sex marriage's breakthroughs in the United States.

There’s a strange but compellingly human irony in that fact that last week’s momentous same-sex marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court can be traced back to a relationship between two Ontario women who had lived together for almost a decade in a relationship that subsequently fell apart.

Their private acrimony triggered a court battle that set the legal stage for the City of Toronto’s move to start issuing marriage licenses in 2003 to same sex couples — among them, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a long-time lesbian couple from New York who toppled the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, the key precursor to this latest, and hopefully last, decision to guarantee same sex rights in all fifty states.

“M and H,” as those two women are referred to in court documents, met in the early 1980s, started a relationship, moved in together in a house H had owned since 1974, and established a small advertising firm. The business started to go sour, money became an issue, and M eventually walked out. She sued, demanding that the house be sold, and the proceeds divided.

At the time, courts and politicians were grappling with the question of same-sex benefits – i.e., do employee health plans or other benefits apply to same-sex couples in the same way they do with straight partners? But in the case of the break-up of M and H, the issue came to focus on the ragged end of a relationship, not its day-to-day finances. If straight couples, either formally married or in common-law relationships, have to divide up their assets when love dies, does it not follow that the same rules should also apply to same-sex couples?

On May 20, 1999, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld an Ontario court ruling, which had struck down a crucial definition in the province’s Family Law Act. Section 29 of that law defined married or common law relationships as being between a “man and a woman.” That specific language, the Supremes ruled, “is declared of no force and effect.”

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3:20 pm - [BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • Centauri Dreams looks at the reheated gas giant orbiting white dwarf WD 0806-661.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes the poor state of the oceans in the Permian.

  • Geocurrents maps the right-wing nationalist note in the 2015 Turkish election.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the rapid and thorough success of the gay rights movement.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw considers the Greek crisis with reflections on Australia.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog maps population losses in Ukraine over 1939-1948.

  • Torontoist features a journalistic piece looking at a day in the life of a firefighter.

  • Towleroad notes that Christian protesters in South Korea were unable to shut down pride there.

  • Understanding Society considers quantum physics' effects on the mind.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy announces a legal history panel at next year's medieval conference at Kalamazoo.

  • Whatever's John Scalzi celebrates same-sex marriage in the United States.

  • Window on Eurasia argues Ukraine should continue to resist and finds risible Russia's nullification of the 1954 transfer of Crimea to Ukraine.

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10:09 am - [PHOTO] Financial District in the rain
Financial District in the rain #toronto #financialdistrict #skyscraper #rain #baystreet #frontstreet

Walking out of Union Station in a rush to meet up with an Internet friend Saturday, this is what I saw.

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Monday, June 29th, 2015
8:03 pm - [NEWS] Some Pride links

  • Christianity Today notes how the Bible verses used to debate same-sex marriage have changed over time.

  • On the subject of same-sex marriage, Lawyers, Guns and Money observes the differences between this court case and past cases involving interracial marriage, Savage Minds looks at the anthropological perspective, and the Tin Man reflects on the achievement.

  • Locally, Torontoist looks at the political history of Pride, the National Post observes the decision of Patrick Brown, Progressive Consrrvative leader, to march in pride as the first leader to do so, Elton John's Torontonian husband David Furnish reflects on his history growing up gay in Toronto in the 1970s and 1980s, and an epochal 1976 kiss-in at Yonge and Bloor is described in the Toronto Star in the context of LGBT activism.

  • Internationally, CBC reported on the police attack on a gay pride march in Istanbul.

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6:48 pm - [LINK] "Lebanon Just Did a Whole Lot More Than Legalize Being Gay"
Muftah's Erin Kilbride describes the ways in which Lebanon's recent overturning of laws against non-heterosexual behaviour is indebted to trans issues even as these are ignored by external press coverage.

LGBTQ rights supporters rejoiced on Thursday with news that homosexuality is no longer illegal in Lebanon. A court ruling abolished a case against an unnamed transwoman – accused of having a “same sex relationship with a man” – stating that homosexuality can no longer be considered a crime because it is “not unnatural.” Lebanese law only prohibits sexual acts “contradicting the laws of nature.”

Mirroring coverage of LGBTQ advancement in the Western world, however, a vast majority of reports, blogs, tweets, and celebratory Instagram posts conspicuously erase the critical role of trans people in securing this victory.

Conveniently forgetting the “T” in LGBTQ advocacy and communications efforts is not new. In gender battles from the U.S. to the Philippines, trans people are both purposefully and unconsciously excluded from public discourse. The “transgender exclusion” permeates media coverage, advocacy efforts, health care plans, gender-based social services, and extends into the work of prominent and prestigious gay-rights organizations. Human Rights Campaign, widely regarded as America’s preeminent LGBTQ research and advocacy group, is the target of frequent criticism for its historic failure to include trans issues in their advocacy. While HRC has made significant and praiseworthy in trans advocacy and awareness raising efforts in the recent past, it may be worth mentioning that a Google search for “human rights campaign trans” produces this article first: Why The Transgender Community Hates HRC.

Coverage of Lebanon’s recent ruling has not been an exception to the global tendency to erase the “T” in LGBTQ. The landmark ruling originated in a case brought against a transwoman, yet coverage of the “historic statement” has almost exclusively used the word “gay[.]”

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