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Monday, November 17th, 2014
5:36 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Kurdish bookshop turns page on dark past"
Al Jazeera's Samantha North contributed an interesting article about a Kurdish-language bookstore in Istanbul, Medya Kitabevi, its owner, and their survival of decades of political controversy.

In a narrow, haphazard alley beside Istanbul's busy Istiklal Avenue, hidden behind stalls of fake designer handbags and tourist junk, sits an unassuming little bookshop. Only a few titles are displayed in the window, and the shop's enigmatic name, Medya Kitabevi (Media Bookshop) does not give much away.

Inside, the place is buzzing, shelves piled high with colourful books. Customers flit in and out, stopping to exchange friendly words with the silver-haired shopkeeper, who sits at a book-cluttered desk at the back, talking on his vintage telephone.

These days, business is going well. Owner Selahattin Bulut has sold books for the last 18 years and made Medya Kitabevi - which specialises in a wide spectrum of Kurdish literature - famous among academic and media circles. But once upon a time, being caught here could have meant going to prison. Turkey has for decades been embroiled in conflict with Kurds seeking an independent state, and after Turkey's third military coup in 1980, the state began cracking down on "subversive" political organisations, imprisoning hundreds of thousands of people, including many Kurds.

[. . .]

Bulut's story began in the southeastern city of Diyarbakir, during this dark period of modern Turkish history. In 1981, Bulut, a Kurd, was locked away in the notorious Diyarbakir Prison, accused of carrying out operations for the separatist group KUK (Kurdish National Liberators). Conditions in the prison were so barbaric that some claim it encouraged the formation of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Bulut says he endured immense suffering until his release in 1989, although he declines to go into detail. After being released from prison, he decided to help support his fellow Kurds in his own way: promoting Kurdish identity through the written word.

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3:25 pm - [BLOG] Some Monday links

  • blogTO shares pictures of the stark modernism intended for Toronto's subway stations.

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly notes problems with the American mass media's coverage of inequality.

  • Centauri Dreams shares Andrew Lepage's essay on how, judging by radius and theoretical models, many of the supposedly Earth-like planets discovered are likely much more massive.

  • Cody Delistraty links to his essay at The Atlantic talking about why people tell stories.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper examining nearby red dwarf/brown dwarf binary WISE J072003.20-084651.2.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes that Scottish separatism is still going strong.

  • A Fistful of Euros' Edward Hugh notes the steady deterioration of the Japanese economy.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that Apple is worth more than the entire Russian stock market.

  • Language Hat examines the etymology of "fair dinkum".

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the terrible Japanese treatment, in history and in life, of comfort women.

  • Marginal Revolution notes the sustained territorial expansion of Russia.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer argues that Iraqi Kurdistan is likely to declare independence quite soon.

  • The Russian Demographics Blog shares a table showing population growth in select major world countries since 1820.

  • Spacing Toronto makes the case for humanizing the Toronto skyline by giving its towers nicknames.

  • Towleroad notes that Nicolas Sarkozy would like to repeal France's same-sex marriage law, and looks at gay American director Lee Daniels.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at Russia's fragile system of government, considers the fall of the Berlin Wall from a Russian perspective as a new partition of Europe, looks at reaction to a call to shift Ukrainian to a Latin alphabet, suggests Russian subsidies to Belarus may soon come to an end, and looks at radicalism among Tajik labour migrants in Russia.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell disbelieves rumours of an alleged Labour revolt.

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7:05 am - [PHOTO] Selected images from Welcome to Colville, Art Gallery of Ontario
The Art Gallery of Ontario's Welcome to Colville exhibition was superb.

Colville's iconic "To Prince Edward Island" was the first painting visible to the entering visitor.

Alex Colville, "To Prince Edward Island" (1963)

"Elm Tree at Horton Landing" served as the cover image of an Alice Munro short story collection.

Alex Colville, "Elm Tree at Horton Landing" (1956)

There was plenty of video of Colville himself, being interviewed on any number of subjects. Here, he was talking about his connection to the Maritimes.

Alex Colville, "I have that whatever is here"

1964's "Church and Horse" was well-documented, from sketch to final project. I did not know that the horse was inspired by John F. Kennedy's Black Jack.

Alex Colville, "Church and Horse" (1964)

Alex Colville, "So, is pure, is incapable of malice"

Alex Colville, "Study for 'Church and Horse'"

Animals--especially wise animals like crows--featured heavily in Colville's work. (His belief that animals possessed an innocence that human beings lacked may have been partly inspired by his experience in the Second World War, especially at Dachau.)

Alex Colville, "Cyclist and Crow" (1981)

Alex Colville, "Seven Crows" (1981)

The theme of the deportation of the Acadians underlies "French Cross."

Alex Colville, "French Cross" (1988)

Colville's noir tendencies took form in, among others, "Pacific" and the later "Woman with Revolver."

Alex Colville, "Pacific" (1967)

Alex Colville, "Woman With Revolver" (1987)

The exhibition covered every stage of Colville's life as an artist, from his early work as a student artist to the end of his long relationship with his wife and occasional model, Rhoda Wright.

Early student work of Alex Colville

Photo of Alex Colville with wife Rhoda Wright

It was superb.

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Saturday, November 15th, 2014
11:15 am - [PHOTO] Getting ready for a wedding in Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario
Leaving Welcome to Colville, I saw that someone had rented out the Art Gallery of Ontario's Walker Court for a wedding, complete with its Gehry-designed baroque stair. Workers were still setting up as I took photos.

Getting ready for a wedding in Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario (1)

Getting ready for a wedding in Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario (2)

Getting ready for a wedding in Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario (3)

Getting ready for a wedding in Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario (4)

Getting ready for a wedding in Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario (5)

Getting ready for a wedding in Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario (6)

Getting ready for a wedding in Walker Court, Art Gallery of Ontario (7)

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Friday, November 14th, 2014
10:04 pm - [LINK] "It Turns Out That "Longevity Genes" Don't Exist"
io9's George Dvorsky notes a recent study with perhaps unsurprising things to say about longevity. It's a complex trait not coded for by a single gene.

Very few people live to be 110 or older. Incredibly, many of these "supercentenarians" do virtually nothing to stay healthy or fit, leading scientists to speculate that certain genes are responsible. But recent analysis of the human genome suggests this is an oversimplification.

The genetic underpinnings of aging are far more complex than we thought. Based on what we know of supercentarians, or super-c's, genes must play a role in longevity. For example, there's a 19% lifetime incidence of cancer in centenarians compared to 49% in normal populations. Super-c's also have lower rates of cardiovascular disease and stroke.

[. . .]

So, in an effort to determine the genetic underpinnings of longevity, a Stanford University team led by Stuart Kim mapped the genomes of 17 supercentenarians (16 women and one man). Now, that may not sound like a large sample pool, but keep in mind that there are only 74 super-c's alive today, with 22 in the United States. These 17 samples were compared to those of 34 people aged 21 to 79.

Surprisingly, the researchers found no significant differences.

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6:56 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Aquaponics: urban growers gaining ground"
Spacing Toronto's John Sherman reports on a Mississauga-based startup hoping to make aquaculture mainstream against the Greater Toronto Area. (Zoning is an issue in Toronto proper.)

A generator resting on wood planks sits shut off in a corner and large metal racks line otherwise bare walls at Aqua Greens’ warehouse during a recent visit. Yet in just a couple months’ time, co-owners Pablo Alvarez and Craig Petten hope the place will be green with fresh heads of bib lettuce, arugula, basil, and chives.

Nestled within a business park in Mississauga, the 3,400-square-foot light-industrial site they signed a lease for in early September and are now renovating is a big step toward their goal: bringing sustainable, locally grown produce to Toronto retailers’ shelves and restaurants’ menus – even in the dead of winter.

To do this, the two are taking advantage of an innovative farming technique with ancient roots called aquaponics. It’s a system in which plants are grown in water instead of soil, get nutrients from fish poop, not manure, and in Aqua Greens’ case, mature under artificial lighting rather than the sun’s rays.

Four currently empty 1,550-gallon fish tanks in Aqua Greens’ warehouse will soon play an important part in this process. Poop from fish raised within them will be filtered out, but nutrients from the waste will linger in the water that’ll then be pumped up to plants on rafts. Once there, gravity will force the water back down, and the cycle will begin again.

Proponents say plants grow faster in the controlled aquaponic environment and even stay fresher longer after reaching consumers. But when it came to establishing an aquaponic business to serve up leafy greens and herbs to the city, there was a caveat; as Spacing reported in June, Toronto’s post-amalgamation zoning bylaw doesn’t let land be used for agricultural purposes. Chicken coop or aquaponic farm, the rule applies all the same. “It was challenging and at the same time it was frustrating dealing with the zoning issues in Toronto,” Alvarez reflects.

Since that time, the two entrepreneurs were invited to speak to Toronto city council twice. Petten says “a lot of the councillors had favourable things to say,” but that he and Alvarez “were told that because it was an election year nothing was going to happen until after the election.”

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6:53 pm - [LINK] "How Green Are Those Solar Panels, Really?"
National Geographic's Christina Nunez reports on concerns about the environmental sustainability of solar panel production. (Chinese manufacturers produce more pollution, broadly speaking, than European ones for instance.)

Fabricating the panels requires caustic chemicals such as sodium hydroxide and hydrofluoric acid, and the process uses water as well as electricity, the production of which emits greenhouse gases. It also creates waste. These problems could undercut solar's ability to fight climate change and reduce environmental toxics.

A new ranking of 37 solar manufacturers, the Solar Scorecard, shows that some companies are doing better than others. Chinese manufacturer Trina scored best, followed by California-based SunPower.

The annual scorecard was created by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC), a San Francisco-based nonprofit that has tracked the environmental impact of the high-tech industry since 1982. It's the group's fifth scorecard, and it shows that the industry is becoming more—not less—opaque when it comes to the sustainability of its manufacturing practices.

[. . .]

The SVTC relies on companies' self-reported data for its scorecard, which looks at such things as emissions, chemical toxicity, water use, and recycling. The coalition says the market share of companies willing or able to share details about their operations is declining. It praises the third- and fourth-ranked companies, Yingli and SolarWorld respectively, for responding to the survey every year and for showing a continued commitment to sustainability.

Name-brand companies on the scorecard represent about 75 percent of the solar panel industry, but more generic players that care less about their environmental impact have been entering the market, said Sheila Davis, the coalition's executive director. Her group is concerned that as these discount competitors gain market share, fewer companies will make sustainability a priority.

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6:51 pm - [LINK] "Eavesdropping on the Secret Social World of Giant Otters"
Wired's Nadia Drake reports on recent progress made in deciphering the surprisingly complex communications systems of giant otters. (The paper referred to is here.)

Giant river otters (Pteronura brasiliensis) are also known as river wolves. Like wolves, they live in large, complex social groups. And like wolves, they sometimes mark their territories and communicate by howling. Found mostly in the Amazon basin (the otters in the gallery were photographed in Peru) and Brazilian Pantanal, giant otters can grow to nearly 6 feet in length and are the largest otter species on the planet.

In addition to being huge, giant river otters also have a (relatively) huge vocabulary. Adults communicate using an array of 22 sounds, researchers report today in PLoS ONE. Otter pups are born making noise, and generate an additional 11 sounds. Scientists suspect the animals’ vocal complexity reflects the complexity of giant river otters’ social structure, which includes multigenerational family groups of more than a dozen individuals.

Learning the language of these Amazonian river wolves meant studying five families of wild otters in Peru and three captive otter families kept in German zoos. Scientists recorded the otters’ different vocalizations (see some of the videos here) and the contexts in which those sounds emerged. Then they compared the ways in which the wild and captive otters communicated with one another.

Ultimately, the team classified and described 22 different adult otter noises, which is a few more than previous researchers had found. Some of the sounds, like the warning sound Hah!, are made by all age groups. Snorts are also an alert, and scientists think information about the severity of an approaching threat is encoded in the duration and number of snorts. Barking and humming noises can be greetings, or signals that the group is changing direction and going to hunt somewhere else. And then there are the mating calls, the begging calls, the simple greetings, and more.

In general, scientists suspect that animals with more complex social structures have more complex vocabularies. Among otter species, this seems to be true. Mostly solitary otters, such as the neotropical and Eurasian otters, have vocal repertoires with fewer than 10 sounds. Semi-social otters, such as the Cape clawless otter, have a few more. The sea otters found off the coast of California make about 10 distinct vocalizations. And the giant river otters, with their complicated social lives—seriously, they have all the drama—make the most noises.

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6:49 pm - [LINK] "The new cold war Russia (again) won't win"
At Open Democracy, Stefan Wolff and Tatyana Malyarenko make the argument that a replay of the Cold War with Putin-era Russia is even less likely to end with a Russian victory than this one.

While it may not look like it at the moment, the rebel-held areas in eastern Ukraine are on a straight course to become yet another so-called frozen conflict in the Russian periphery. Russian actions over the past few days and weeks have all the hallmarks of policies that were tried and tested in the early 1990s: a shaky, Russian-mediated ceasefire (the Minsk talks leading to the agreements of 5 and 19 September), modest gestures of conciliation towards the affected state (the EU-mediated Russian-Ukrainian gas deal of 30 October) and military and humanitarian support to consolidate the separatist regime and increase its dependence on Moscow (the various official and unofficial forms of assistance rendered to the rebels over the past several months). That said, it is also worthwhile to remember that establishing de facto states, such as in Georgia and Moldova, was always a means to an end—to dictate the terms of “reunification”, to gain permanent control over some former Soviet republics' foreign-policy choices.

Russia, it seems, may be getting away not just with the illegal annexation of Crimea but also with establishing yet another de facto state under its control, thus frustrating another country’s sovereign choice of seeking closer integration with the EU—either through permanent Russian-controlled instability like we see now or through a federated Ukraine in which the eastern regions would be able to represent Moscow’s interests effectively in Kiev. But this may be a serious miscalculation on Russia’s part.

Unlike 20 years ago, Ukraine’s Western partners have imposed gradually harder-hitting sanctions, the escalation of the crisis has sent the Russian rouble into free-fall and the Russian economy teeters on the brink of recession. Moreover, sustaining four million people in eastern Ukraine is of an entirely different magnitude to doing so for tens of thousands in South Ossetia and Abkhazia or a few hundred thousand in Transnistria.

Russia may not need a full-scale war to retain a foothold in eastern Ukraine at the moment, but it can hardly afford one either—and decreasingly so. We may well be at the beginning of a new cold war but, as with the last one, Russia is unlikely to win it. This offers some hope in the long term, but it is hardly a cause for yet another round of the Western triumphalism that Gorbachev considers the main reason for the regression in East-West relations. Because, when Russia eventually loses, this will have come at a much higher cost to many more people and countries than Russia and Ukraine.

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6:45 pm - [LINK] "Why 'Six Degrees of Separation' Breaks Down Inside Cities"
At The Atlantic's City Lab, Laura Bliss describes the interesting ways in which the myth that all people can be united within "six degrees of separation" are wrong, at least in densely-populated urban areas.

You've probably heard of Stanley Milgram's famous "six degrees of separation" experiment: Subjects in the Midwest were each asked to send a package through the mail to a stranger in Boston, whom they could try to reach only by forwarding the package to other people they knew on a first-name basis. Milgram reported it took only five people for the package to pass from one stranger to another, thousands of miles apart.

The study inspired one of the most lasting theorems in the social sciences, but it's also been beset with criticism since its 1967 publication in Psychology Today: In an earlier, unpublished study, only five percent of packages made it to their targets, as psychologist Judith Kleinfeld reports. In published follow-ups, fewer than 30 percent of the packages reached their destinations.

In the years since, however, computational models have suggested that, despite his research, Milgram may have actually been correct. "If you ask a computer to figure out the degree of separation between two individuals all over the world, then you get the right number," says researcher Gábor Vattay of Eötvös Loránd University in Budapest. "You get six in the U.S. and a little more in other parts of the world."

But why, when humans are tasked with relaying packages, is there such a small success rate of reaching a destined stranger in six steps—or at all? And what happens to those lost packages? Alongside four colleagues, Gábor Vattay, a physicist and researcher in complex systems, published a paper this week in PLOS One which explores these questions, using an ocean of Twitter data and algorithm called "greedy routing"—meaning, in the case of package-forwarding, an algorithm that finds a route by choosing steps that get as close in physical space as possible to the destination.

About two and a half years ago, Vattay and his colleagues started collecting geo-located tweets, eventually amassing a database of about 6 million "nodes" (users linked to locations), and about 122 million "edges" (limits to the network of users). "A virtual map of human friendship," says Vattay. They then picked pairs of users from distant metropolitan areas. Using greedy routing, the researchers attempted to identify a path between the two users by forwarding messages via friends ("follow backs"), based on geographical proximity to the target user.

Greedy routing worked quite well on large scales. A message sent from a user in New York City and destined for a user in Chicago (a distance of a little over 1,000 miles) could reach the Chicago area in a single "hop." Indeed, the researchers found messages usually arrived within the city neighborhood of the target within three to six steps. But after that, "greedy routing" broke down. In only about 20 percent of cases could any path to a target be found, even though the network was fully connected. Inside a densely-populated city, spatial proximity loses its efficiency as a way of locating a person.

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4:22 pm - [CAT] On the non-appearance of cat cafés in Toronto
Toronto was going to get a couple of cat cafés before now, but not yet. Kaitlin Wright's Torontoist post "Whatever Happened to Those Rival Cat Cafés?" explains why (funding issues, worried landlords). blogTO also some more background.

Both projects—Kitty Cat Café and Pet Me Meow—used crowd-funding site IndieGoGo to raise project awareness and funds. Both fell significantly short of their targets—Kitty Cat Café raised $5,565 of its $60,000 goal and Pet Me Meow raised $12,921 of its $70,000 goal—and neither has announced launch dates on their respective Facebook pages. What does that mean for the future of cats and coffee? And, perhaps more pressingly, if you donated, what’s happening with that non-refundable donation money?

Kitty Cat Café’s Jennifer Morozowich insists that, despite IndieGoGo’s non-refundable donation policy, she’ll make personal refunds if the café fails to open. This would be an independent endeavour, done by digging up PayPal records and the like. Those who donated toward raffle prizes—which they’ve received—would be excluded from the refund. But she hopes it doesn’t come to that.

Lower-than-expected fundraising isn’t the only reason why Kitty Cat Café has been postponed. “The City of Toronto—or, rather, the landlords here—were not as receptive to the idea,” Morozowich says. All of the spaces that Morozowich previewed have fallen through, she admits, largely because landlords aren’t crazy about live cats and food items mingling.

To remedy this, Morozowich plans to buy a building of her own, and has extended Kitty Cat Café’s launch date as a result. Because the purchase of a building will be an added expense, Morozowich is also looking for a new business partner before moving forward. Her former partner, Jeff Jarvis, is no longer affiliated with the project. The new launch is slated for spring 2015, when Zorowich expects to open somewhere in the west end.

Pet Me Meow’s Jeff Ro and Ashkan Rahimi are running into similar real estate limitations. Ro says Pet Me Meow will be a large space—one capable of accommodating 40 to 50 guests—but he hasn’t yet found a suitable venue for it. Besides, like Morozowich, he’s encountering unreceptive landlords. Toronto Public Health bylaws make the combination of live animals and food items a tough sell for building owners. Still, Ro is optimistic that with some persistence he will soon secure a location for Pet Me Meow.

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1:56 pm - [BLOG] Some Friday links

  • blogTO lists ten quirky things about the Toronto neighbourhood of Parkdale.

  • D-Brief notes that the Philae lander is in a precarious position.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes that a nearby brown dwarf is likely a singleton.

  • The Dragon's Tales looks at a reconstruction of ancient Brazilian forest.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes an attempt to recover the path of San Francisco's buried creeks.

  • Marginal Revolution questions if Scandianvians really are heavily taxed.

  • The Numerati's Stephen Baker argues we should consider how we'll integrate artificial intelligences into our lives now.

  • The Planetary Society Blog's Emily Lakdawalla reports on the Philae landing.

  • pollotenchegg lists the changing list of top 10 Ukrainian cities by population size over the past century and more.

  • Registan notes that despite turmoil Azerbaijan is not going to see reform.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the close alignment of the Russian Orthodox Church with the Russian state, as explained by a speech in which the patriarch does not mention God once.

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10:46 am - [PHOTO] Ships, and for rent
Ships, and for rent

Through a display case in the Thomson Collection of Ship Models, the Art Gallery of Ontario's rental office is visible.

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Thursday, November 13th, 2014
11:54 pm - [LINK] "'Doctor' treating First Nations girls says cancer patients can heal themselves"
The saddest thing about this quack, as reported by the CBC's Connie Walker and Marnie Luke, are the child patients who apparently won't have the chance that they could have enjoyed if only they followed actual medical treatment. May the people responsible for their suffering and potential deaths feel guilt that they did this to the young ones who depended on them.

A Florida health resort licensed as a “massage establishment” is treating a young Ontario First Nations girl with leukemia using cold laser therapy, Vitamin C injections and a strict raw food diet, among other therapies.

The mother of the 11-year-old girl, who can not be identified because of a publication ban, says the resort’s director, Brian Clement, who goes by the title “Dr.,” told her leukemia is “not difficult to treat.”

Another First Nations girl, Makayla Sault, was also treated at Hippocrates Health Institute in West Palm Beach and is now critically ill after a relapse of her leukemia.

The resort has declined CBC’s request for an interview with Clement, who is described as a “naturopathic doctor” on the resort’s website.

But the Florida state health authority has said Clement is not a licensed doctor or naturopath, and inquiries regarding the institutions where he is described in online biographies as having earned degrees have raised questions about their credibility.

The 11-year-old girl was receiving chemotherapy at McMaster Children’s Hospital in Hamilton. Doctors gave her a 90 to 95 per cent chance of survival with chemotherapy.

But her mother says she wanted to pursue a combination of traditional indigenous medicine and alternative therapies because she believes chemotherapy is “poison.”

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11:21 pm - [LINK] "Poroshenko's choices"
Open Democracy's David Marples is appropriately concerned about the prospects for positive change in a Ukraine faced with a whole slew of adverse issues, domestic and otherwise.

After almost six months in power, Ukraine’s president, Petro Poroshenko, appears to have strengthened his position following the victory of pro-Western parties in the 26 October parliamentary elections. In theory, with a new parliamentary coalition, Poroshenko can now turn to address the two most pressing problems — the breakaway regions of the Donbas and radical economic reforms. Concerning the Donbas, he has already responded firmly to the ‘elections’ in the Donetsk and Luhansk ‘People’s Republics’ (LNR and DNR): the elections were illegal and violated the Minsk Protocol signed in September.

Poroshenko’s position, however, is weaker than it might appear.

In the first place, whether or not the ‘elections’ in the DNR and LNR broke the Minsk Protocol, the Minsk accords themselves represented a form of recognition for regimes that can at best be called ‘thugocracies,’ and which are unsustainable in the long term. Even if those regimes should manage to expand their territories to capture Mariupol or other towns previously under control such as Slovyansk, the DNR and LNR cannot survive without support from Ukraine for such basic commodities as food and water. Yet in order to reach an agreement that would halt the advance of Russian regular troops, the Ukrainian side gave de facto recognition to the two Donbas regimes when they signed the Protocol in Minsk on 5 September.

[. . .]

Second, while Western media circles hailed the Ukrainian parliamentary elections of 26 October as a triumph for pro-European forces, the elections were probably not such an unqualified success in the eyes of Poroshenko. The turnout was woefully low by Ukrainian standards, at 52%, even accounting for the difficulties in voting in some regions, signifying the weariness of the electorate. Moreover, the popular success of Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk’s People’s Front, which received a higher percentage of electoral support than the President’s Petro Poroshenko Bloc, may have secured the coalition, but it also represents a potential divergence of official goals. Yatsenyuk took a more militant position in his election campaign than Poroshenko; and the People’s Front became known as 'the party of war,' with a more confrontational anti-separatist stance.

[. . .]

The national currency, the hryvnia, has fallen dramatically — it was trading at over 16 hryvnia to the dollar on 11 November — and Ukraine has lost several important industrial bases since the spring of 2014. Currently, 40% of the national budget is devoted to debt repayments and servicing, and GDP has fallen by an estimated one-third over 2014. The only solace is the agreement on reduced prices for Russian gas, achieved as a result of discussions between Ukraine, Russia, and the European Union. But the country remains the third largest purchaser of Russian gas after Germany and Turkey.

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10:33 pm - [LINK] "Malls Rise in Soweto as South African Townships Boom: Cities"
Bloomberg's Amogelang Mbatha describes one sign of the increasing wealth of black South Africans: shopping centres in their urban townships.

The Maponya Mall is a five-minute drive from one of the starting points of the June 16, 1976, riots in which police killed at least 200 people. It epitomizes the increasing gentrification of townships, with more than 200 stores, restaurants and health clubs, as well as a cinema offering the latest blockbusters.

Township economies can become an important driver of near-term growth, according to the World Bank’s Economics of South African Townships Study. The country has about 2,200 townships on the outskirts of almost every city and town, a legacy of apartheid rule that designated separate residential areas for black people far from manicured suburbs inhabited by whites.

Owned by business tycoon Richard Maponya, the mall is one of more than seven shopping centers that have mushroomed in Soweto alone as retailers compete with small businesses to cash in on South Africa’s emerging black middle class.

Townships have evolved as incomes almost tripled in 10 years. So-called black-empowerment laws opened the way for more professional positions that had been reserved for whites. Blacks also were granted access to better education and jobs after democratic rule started in 1994, when the African National Congress was voted into power under the leadership of Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president.

Townships also benefited from a growing welfare system to fight poverty. The number of township households with no income at all “fell sharply” to 1.6 percent by 2010, the World Bank report found. Annual consumption per capita rose 12.5 percent in the townships to 18,419 rand ($1,644) in the five years ending in 2011, about the same as the increase for urban areas.

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7:56 pm - [LINK] "Former CBC employee 'frustrated' with union response to Jian Ghomeshi allegations"
CBC's Ioanna Roumeliotis reports on the CBC's internal response to the Jian Ghomeshi controversy. Who knew what when?

A former CBC employee who says Jian Ghomeshi, an ex-radio host at the public broadcaster, allegedly sexually harassed her at work is shocked and outraged that the nature of her allegation is being disputed.

In an interview with CBC News, the woman, who has asked to remain anonymous, says she is infuriated at suggestions she did not tell a colleague familiar with union matters in 2010 that Ghomeshi made lewd sexual comments to her.

"This is infuriating. There is not a chance in the world that I would have stuck my neck out, gone to the union —something I felt deeply uncomfortable about doing for fear of being seen as a whiner or a baby — and not said everything that was happening to me. I am not someone who holds information back."

But what she shared is being questioned by the Canadian Media Guild, the trade union that represents most CBC employees.

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7:51 pm - [LINK] "Uranus Bland? Nope, It’s A Stormy Planet With Interesting Insides"
Universe Today's Elizabeth Howell makes the case for Uranus, first-discovered ice giant, to be considered interesting.

Sometimes first impressions are poor ones. When the Voyager 2 spacecraft whizzed by Uranus in 1986, the close-up view of the gas giant revealed what appeared to a be a relatively featureless ball. By that point, scientists were used to seeing bright colors and bands on Jupiter and Saturn. Uranus wasn’t quite deemed uninteresting, but the lack of activity was something that was usually remarked upon when describing the planet.

Fast-forward 28 years and we are learning that Uranus is a more complex world than imagined at the time. Two new studies, discussed at an American Astronomical Society meeting today, show that Uranus is a stormy place and also that the images from Voyager 2 had more interesting information than previously believed.

Showing the value of going over old data, University of Arizona astronomer Erich Karkoschka reprocessed old images of Voyager 2 data — including stacking 1,600 pictures on top of each other.

He found elements of Uranus’ atmosphere that reveals the southern hemisphere moves differently than other regions in fellow gas giants. Since only the top 1% of the atmosphere is easily observable from orbit, scientists try to make inferences about the 99% that lie underneath by looking at how the upper atmosphere behaves.

“Some of these features probably are convective clouds caused by updraft and condensation. Some of the brighter features look like clouds that extend over hundreds of kilometers,” he stated in a press release.

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7:48 pm - [ISL] "Prince Edward Island’s silver fox bubble"
At the National Post, Mark Bourrie describes Prince Edward Island's silver fox pelt boom of the 1920s. It's a story of significant, if ephemeral, achievement.

In the 19th century, Prince Edward Islanders were frugal, if poor, people. Before the fox bubble, they had one of the highest savings rates in the world. After sometimes violent confrontations with agents representing absentee land owners, by the end of the 1800s most farmers had been able to buy the land they worked.

But some Islanders looked for ways to make easy money. Silver foxes are a mutation of the common red fox. The gene for the black/silver colour is recessive, and to have a reasonable chance of breeding more silver foxes, both parents should be silver. Every once in a while, trappers caught a silver fox and sold the pelt for a jaw-dropping price. They were popular among the nobility of the Hapsburg and Russian empires, a customer base that would eventually have serious problems of its own.

Charles Dalton, a druggist from Tignish, and Robert Oulton, a New Brunswick-born farmer, began working together in a secret location on Oulton’s farm on Savage Island, near Alberton, in the 1890s to catch, domesticate and breed black foxes.

The trick was to get the foxes, which were territorial animals that didn’t adapt well to captivity, to breed. Oulton and Dalton discovered foxes are monogamous, so they built them small apartments within larger pens. They made sure the fox pens were located in quiet places and kept visitors out from January until July, since mother foxes kill their babies when they’re distressed.

Close confinement in small pens exposed the foxes to diseases, especially internal parasites, so the breeders built big, spacious enclosures with lots of room for exercise. Oulton set up his pens in copses of trees. He found a British-made wire mesh that the foxes couldn’t chew through and sank the wire deep into the ground so the foxes could not escape by tunneling.

It worked. Oulton perfected the breeding operation while Dalton quietly sold the pelts on the London market as wild-caught animals. In January, 1900, a single pelt brought $1,807 at auction, but the sheer volume of Dalton’s inventory tipped off the London fur merchants that the source of the pelts was too productive to be wild.

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7:44 pm - [LINK] "Catalonia has voted: now what?"
Patrice de Beer describes how the Spanish government's terrible mishandling of Catalonia has created a situation where a rapid change has to be undertaken, else Spain come apart.

As always in statistics, everyone has been able to twist results for their own ends. But the political results are there: 90% of voters against the status quo (instead of two thirds in 2012) and a massive, peaceful manifestation - devoid of violence, Basque style - of a vast majority of Catalans for change. Whatever Mr. Rajoy – or his PSOE (Socialist) opposition, equally hostile to granting more autonomy to Catalonia – can say, demonstration after demonstration, vote after vote, have shown a growing chasm between Madrid and Barcelona politicians together with a growing dissatisfaction within the richest and most developed region of the peninsula.

In Monday's editorials in Madrid, centre-left daily El País encapsulated the national establishment's disarray when presented with a situation they are unable to contain or repress. One editorial asked Mr. Rajoy and Mr. Artur Mas (the Catalan head of government) to “come back to the (negotiating) table”; another denounced the “day of disloyalty” in Catalonia; a third said that, now, “Rajoy knows who is the leader (in Catalonia)” and the last that “refusing to see the political effects of the N9 would be following the ostrich policy” while, in its Catalan edition, it wrote that “Mas has seized back the rudder”.

The strong arm policy adopted by the PP since its victory at the 2011 national elections, has refused to engage in dialogue not based on an iron clad status quo. Meanwhile, the PP have been playing the strategy of death by a thousand cuts, i.e. of local prerogatives, first of all on language and education – considered as provocations by Catalans so proud of their own culture. With such an obstinate attitude to Catalonia, it is no wonder tensions have been increasing steadily – then dramatically – for years.

What strikes one most when one looks at statistics is that, since 2010 when, at the PP's request, the Constitutional Court cancelled key provisions of a new Statute which had been ratified by referendum by the Catalans and a vote of the Spanish Cortes, the percentage of pro-independence has doubled to reach just under 50% (49.5% in recent polls).

A large number of “new” nationalists have joined the “old” ones. Bourgeoisie from Mr. Mas’ centre right CiU coalition, as well as leftists from Esquerra Republicana (ERC) have united to protest the lack of prospects for their nation within Spain. Another crucial reason has been Madrid's refusal to grant Catalonia a “fiscal pact” allowing them to collect taxes, a privilege which the Basque Country enjoys.

Contrary to what most Spanish politicians say, or think, Catalan leaders are not irresponsible firebrands who have been pushing Catalans to the streets only to protect their own interests (financial or others) but have merely followed their voters for fear of losing touch with them. Mr. Mas is almost as conservative, economically and socially, as Mr. Rajoy.

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