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Friday, February 5th, 2016
11:18 pm - [DM] "How the world went from 170 million people to 7.3 billion, in one map"
At Demography Matters I link this video, publicized by Vox, which does a good job illustrating the general contours of world population growth in the past two millennia.

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8:37 pm - [URBAN NOTE] On the 35th anniversary of the Toronto bathhouse raids, "Toronto's Stonewall"
At NOW Toronto, James Dubro commemorates the 35th anniversary of the police raids which kick-started Canada's gay rights movement.

It was Toronto’s Stonewall, a brutal police raid that brought the many divided elements of the gay community together on the streets to protest in large numbers for the first time.

On February 5, 1981, 150 Toronto police officers armed with crowbars, billy clubs and sledgehammers carried out violent raids on four gay bathhouses.

The cops roughed up and arrested 289 mostly gay men on prostitution and indecency charges or as “found-ins at a common bawdy house.” Twenty more, including owners and staff at the bathhouses, were charged with being “keepers of a common bawdy house.”

Except for the roundup of suspected dissidents during the imposition of the War Measures Act in Quebec in 1970, the raids were the largest police action to that point in Canada.

Operation Soap, the cops’ code name for the raids, inspired novelist Margaret Atwood to wonder, tongue-in-cheek, “What do the police have against cleanliness?” Indeed, the majority of city councillors wanted to know the same thing and ordered an independent review by Arnold Bruner on relations between the police and “the homosexual community.”

Outrage as well as fear of outings, firings and suicides of gay men caught up in the raids led to the largest gay rights demonstrations the country had ever seen.

On the eve of the 35th anniversary of the raids, questions still remain: Why did the police never apologize? Who gave the order?

No one knows, or, at least, no one is telling.

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8:35 pm - [LINK] "Ravens might possess a Theory of Mind, say scientists"
The Christian Science Monitor's Molly Jackson reports on the latest research to suggest ravens are quite smart indeed.

From ancient Greek mythology to Native American folklore, ravens tend to have the same role: the clever tricksters you don't want to cross. Corvus corax and its relatives were even spies for Apollo, which didn't end well for his unfaithful lover Coronis, and served as the eyes and ears of Norse god Odin.

Ravens do spy on each other, it turns out, and they can infer when other birds are snooping on them. New findings, released Tuesday in a study in Nature Communications, highlight just how sophisticated – and human-like – ravens' cognitive abilities are.

"What really is the feature that's unique and special about human cognition?" asks co-author Cameron Buckner, a philosopher at the University of Houston.

Something helped propel us to learn language, built political institutions, develop arts and culture. Many biologists and philosophers think it's our ability to see things through another person's eyes, and to think about what they might be thinking, skills referred to as "Theory of Mind."

But ravens do have basic Theory of Mind, the authors suggest, after cracking one of the biggest puzzles in animal cognition debates: without speech, how can we tell what a bird is thinking?

We find out how at the article.

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8:34 pm - [LINK] On the loss of the African grey parrot from the wild
Paul Steyn's National Geographic report about this intelligent bird is terribly sad. May it flourish in protected areas, and perhaps in the diaspora, too.

Flocks of chattering African Grey parrots, more than a thousand flashes of red and white on grey at a time, were a common site in the deep forests of Ghana in the 1990s. But a 2016 study published in the journal Ibis reveals that these birds, in high demand around the world as pets, and once abundant in forests all over West and central Africa, have almost disappeared from Ghana.

According to the study, the pet trade and forest loss—particularly the felling of large trees where the parrots breed—are major factors contributing to the decline.

Uncannily good at mimicking human speech, the African Grey (and the similar but lesser-known Timneh parrot) is a prized companion in homes around the world. Research has shown that greys are as smart as a two-five year-old human child—capable of developing a limited vocabulary and even forming simple sentences.

Google the term “African Grey talking,” and you’ll find hundreds of videos—including Einstein the talking parrot’s TED presentation—showing the birds whistling and mimicking words and phrases.

The grey parrot has a wide historic range across West and central Africa—1.1 million square miles (nearly three million square kilometers)—from Cote d’Ivoire and Ghana in West Africa, through Nigeria and Cameroon and the Congo forests, to Uganda and western Kenya. Ghana accounts for more than 30,000 square miles (75,000 square kilometers) of that range, but losses of greys there have been some of the most devastating.

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8:32 pm - [LINK] "Morocco Unveils A Massive Solar Power Plant In The Sahara"
NPR notes a new massive solar power plant in Morocco, one producing power for domestic consumption. This could be the start of something big.

Morocco has officially turned on a massive solar power plant in the Sahara Desert, kicking off the first phase of a planned project to provide renewable energy to more than a million Moroccans.

The Noor I power plant is located near the town of Ouarzazate, on the edge of the Sahara. It's capable of generating up to 160 megawatts of power and covers thousands of acres of desert, making the first stage alone one of the world's biggest solar thermal power plants.

When the next two phases, Noor II and Noor III, are finished, the plant will be the single largest solar power production facility in the world, The Guardian says.

Morocco currently relies on imported sources for 97 percent of its energy consumption, according to the World Bank, which helped fund the Noor power plant project. Investing in renewable energy will make Morocco less reliant on those imports as well as reduce the nation's long-term carbon emissions by millions of tons.

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8:30 pm - [ISL] "P.E.I. Supreme Court tosses out $25M e-gaming lawsuit against province"
This CBC report leaves me baffled by the whole scandal. What, exactly, went on?

The Supreme Court of P.E.I. has tossed out a $25-million e-gaming lawsuit against the provincial government and two P.E.I. businessmen put forward by Capital Markets Technologies Inc. and 7645686 Canada Inc.

But the court also left an opportunity for the company to start over — something the company says it plans to do.

In his decision, Supreme Court Justice Gordon Campbell called the statement of claim filed by CMT "a long, rambling narrative replete with irrelevant and immaterial facts, evidence, opinion, argument and speculation." He goes on to say the statement of claim constitutes an abuse of the processes of the court.

Campbell states in his written decision that he does "not consider the claim as written to be capable of being 'fixed,'" however he grants the plaintiffs the opportunity "to start afresh and file a newly drafted statement of claim."

Campbell also says, "If the plaintiffs are incapable of succinctly stating the material facts of their claim without reliance on inappropriate or improper pleadings, their claim should not be allowed to proceed."

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8:28 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "How Ottawa got its groove on. No, seriously."
In MacLean's, Paul Wells writes about Ottawa's urban renaissance.

Much of what makes Ottawa annoying is on its way to being fixed. The city, I mean: if you’re annoyed by Ottawa as a set of ideas about how Canada should be governed, I can’t offer much hope. But as a place to live and visit, lately each year is better than the last.

Sparks Street had long been a forest of construction cranes. It’s looking good, its government buildings buffed and its private commerce more energetic. Parliament’s West Block, a dingy heap of stonemasonry when I moved to Ottawa, has been polished until it would make you proud. Soon a glass dome will cover its courtyard so MPs can debate there, while work crews renovate the stately Centre Block itself. Over the same period, senators will move across Wellington, to the long-abandoned train station, to do whatever it is they do.

Grotty Rideau Street is being repaved in stages. The big mall there is completing a quarter-billion-dollar improvement. Ground will be broken next week on a $110-million facelift for the National Arts Centre. Light rail stations are going up across the city. Any day now the mayor, Jim Watson, will visit the long-abandoned old U.S. Embassy, with three ministers from the Trudeau government, to brainstorm a new cultural vocation for an elegant old building that has been dormant for 16 years.

Taken together, it’s a modest renaissance for a modest city. There remains one big mess: a huge barren field only a few blocks west of Parliament. This is the grandly named LeBreton Flats. It was the industrial heart of dirty old Ottawa. For 40 years it has been nothing much. The ground is contaminated from the heavy industry that used to be situated there, and from the mountains of snow that city crews dumped there later.

In the last decade, civilization has begun creeping back. Results are mixed. A big and well-run Canadian War Museum opened in 2005. Condominium towers have gone up at the flats’ east end, but no business or pedestrian traffic enlivens the neighbourhood. Most of the field is still just field.

Even this is starting to change. More at MacLean's.

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8:26 pm - [ISL] "From Charlottetown to Ottawa, Anne & Gilbert rises to the top"
Sally Cole, writing for The Guardian of Charlottetown, notes the successful recent performance of Anne & Gilbert in Ottawa. As someone who saw a 2013 performance in Charlottetown, I am pleased at the success.

Celia Koughan is well versed in “Anne & Gilbert - The Musical”.

From age 11, as a member of the young company at the Harbourfront Theatre in Summerside to full-fledged cast member where she plays Annetta Bell at The Guild in Charlottetown, Koughan has risen up from the ranks of the popular musical.

But of all the shows she’s done, nothing compares with performing at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa Dec. 1-23.

“It was the highlight of my life, so far,” says Koughan.

“It was everything I could have hoped or dreamed of.”

The 20 year old was one of 25 artists in the show that took the centre by storm earlier this winter.

“It was a large company, compared with other productions we’ve staged. And a very spirited group,” says Nathan Medd, managing director of English Theatre, during a telephone interview.

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8:24 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "The Yonge and Bloor of today could be anywhere"
The Toronto Star's Christopher Hume mourns, perhaps prematurely, for the end of Yonge and Bloor as a happening cultural destination.

The richer Toronto grows, the poorer it feels. The most recent reminder came with the death of Avrom Isaacs, long one of the two or three most important art dealers in Canada.

For several decades his gallery on Yonge St. just north of Bloor was Ground Zero for anyone interested in contemporary Canadian art. Just doors away was Carmen Lamanna, the other legendary Toronto gallerist, not so much Isaacs’ rival as a fellow traveller. A few blocks west in Yorkville, Walter Moos opened his gallery in 1962, a year after Isaacs moved to Yonge

Eventually, the Village, as it was then called, was enshrined as Toronto’s designated art district. At its height, there must have been more than a dozen art galleries in Yorkville, not all of them worthy, but part of the scene nevertheless.

Today, little remains. A few dealers have hung on, but even before Lamanna and Isaacs died, both had been forced to relocate, victims of rising rents and land values that they did as much as anyone to increase.

[. . .]

By the turn of the century, however, this stretch of the city’s main street had become a series of restaurants and after the demise of the Fiesta, none of them particularly noteworthy. Lamanna’s old place even did time as a massage parlour.

Pretty soon the three-storey mid-19th century buildings that comprise the streetscape will be part of a 58-floor condo tower that has also displaced the venerable Cookbook Store that stood at the corner of Yonge and Cumberland for 31 years.

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8:22 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Shaping Toronto: Chinatowns"
Torontoist's Jamie Bradburn shares the story of Toronto's different Chinatowns.

A glance at the listing for Adelaide Street East in the 1878 city directory shows a mix of Anglo-sounding businessmen whose trades range from contracting to insurance. The name at number 9 stands out: Sam Ching & Co, Chinese laundry. Mr. Ching’s presence was a cultural milestone, as he was the first recorded Chinese resident of Toronto.

Since Ching’s era, Toronto has included several Chinatowns, a term which has evolved from its original negative connotation. As Library and Archives Canada observes, “’Chinatown’ was coined in the 19th century as a European concept to signify an undesirable neighbourhood full of vice, and peopled by an inferior race.” That proper Torontonians of the early 20th century viewed the city’s small Chinese population—just over 1,000 in 1910—as lesser beings puts it mildly.

Both the respectable and gutter press hyped up the “yellow peril,” editorializing on how the eastern mindset was alien to western concepts of democracy and good citizenship, and how the Chinese would corrupt morals via gambling and opium. Efforts to curb their presence in the laundry and restaurant trades ranged from licensing fees to unsuccessful attempts by City Council to deny business licenses. Paranoia led to provincial legislation preventing Chinese-owned businesses from hiring white women, lest they be sold into white slavery. The Rosedale Ratepayers Association wanted to keep Chinese laundries out of their neighbourhood, adding them to the long list of things people don’t want in Rosedale.

While there had been small clusters of Chinese along Queen Street (one at George, another at York), by the end of the First World War a stable community established itself in The Ward, the neighbourhood west of Old City Hall which, despite its great poverty, had welcomed numerous immigrant communities. Elizabeth Street between Queen and Dundas served as this Chinatown’s spine, lined with businesses, restaurants, and societies. It mostly served single men, thanks to a series of harsh immigration measures preventing families from joining them. These laws escalated from head taxes to the Chinese Immigration Act of 1923, which all but banned entry to Canada for two decades.

Over that time, the “almond-eyed Celestials,” as the Globe dubbed Chinese residents during the early 1920s, endured frequent police raids on gambling houses, a riot, and periodic rumours of imminent tong wars. If anything, the gambling dens offered lonely people social space, work, and shelter during hard times. Viewed as a threat to the existing social order, the Chinese found Chinatown a refuge they felt accepted in.

Much more, including photos, can be found at the link.

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6:41 pm - [BLOG] Some Friday links

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly advises readers how to conduct interviews.

  • City of Brass' Aziz Poonawalla thanks Obama for quoting his letter on Islam in America.

  • Crooked Timber takes issue with The New Yorker's stance on Sanders.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes the complexity of interactions between stellar winds and the magnetospheres of hot Jupiters.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that ex-gay torturers in the United States have gone to Israel.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money notes the scale of the breakdown in Venezuela.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at changing patterns in higher education.

  • The Power and the Money's Noel Maurer notes that carbon capture is difficult.

  • Peter Rukavina shares a preliminary printed map of Charlottetown transit routes.

  • Savage Minds notes the importance of infrastructure.

  • Strange Maps shares very early maps of Australia.

  • Torontoist notes an early freed slave couple in Toronto, the Blackburns.

  • Window on Eurasia notes the implications of global warming for Arctic countries.

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3:14 pm - [PHOTO] Looking west down the subway tunnel at Ossington Station, Toronto
Looking west, tunnel at Ossington #toronto #ossington #ttc #subway #tunnel

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Thursday, February 4th, 2016
8:16 pm - [BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • blogTO depicts a new Toronto condo tower that will also be a vertical forest.

  • D-Brief notes the latest German success with nuclear fusion.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes the discovery of Jupiter analog HD 32963b.

  • The Dragon's Tales provides updates about the Russian wars in Syria and Ukraine.

  • Geocurrents examines the demographic history of the Philippines.

  • Language Log notes odd sound borrowings into Taiwanese.</i>
  • Une heure de peine's Denis Colombi notes that sociology by its nature is political but not normative.

  • Window on Eurasia notes Russian fears that Belarus is drifting westwards and argues Kaliningraders are shifting towards a Europe-oriented identity.

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5:51 pm - [LINK] The Toast interview with Sarah Jeong on how the Internet is garbage
The Toast's Nicole Chong has a great extended interview with journalist Sarah Jeong, talking about Jeong's new book examining the new realities and visible downsides of the Internet.

The Toast: If has always been mostly garbage, why did you write this book now? Do you think we’re better positioned in terms of either will or technology to take more of the garbage out?

Sarah Jeong: The book positions online harassment as part of a larger category of long-extant problems, but when it comes down to it, it’s still a book about online harassment. One of the things I wanted to do with the book was to hammer in how online harassment has been around forever — but I don’t think there would have been an audience for the book until fairly recently. There’s a lot more mainstream awareness of harassment and online misogyny in particular.

Why do you think that is? More media coverage, more survivors of online harassment speaking out?

100% media coverage. Part of that has to do with journalists being aggressively harassed — the journalists then turn around and use their platforms to show the world what is happening to them.

But that’s not the whole story. The Internet now includes a much broader swath of the entire population, which means that the old trite victim-blaming along the lines of “it’s just the Internet” doesn’t work so well. We now recognize the Internet as just another arena for our day-to-day lives, a place that’s no less real than the offline world. The Internet’s ubiquity also means that large-scale incidents of harassment become very large-scale, sucking in celebrities, journalists, even entire media organizations.

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5:48 pm - [LINK] "One Country Will Destroy Its Ivory—and Pray for Elephants"
National Geographic's Laurel Neme writes about an interesting event in Sri Lanka.

During the past several years, I've watched country after country destroy their stockpiles of confiscated elephant ivory, preventing that ivory from somehow slipping back into the black market and symbolically demonstrating commitment to stopping the illegal trade.

But to my mind, something that’s always been missing is an apology: No country has ever formally said sorry for its complicity in the trade. Tomorrow Sri Lanka will hold a religious ceremony to do just that.

“We have to apologize,” said the Venerable Omalpe Sobitha Thero, the Buddhist priest who will lead the service. “Those elephants were victimized by the cruelty of certain people. But all of human society is responsible. We destroyed those innocent lives to take those tusks. We have to ask for pardon from them.”

Sri Lanka’s destruction of its ivory—the first by a country in South Asia—brings to 16 the total so far. (For the other countries, see the chart below.) The ivory will be crushed at an iconic oceanside park in the heart of Colombo, Sri Lanka’s capital, then burned in a city incinerator.

The ivory—the country’s entire stockpile—came from a single shipment of 359 tusks, weighing 1.5 tons, seized by customs authorities at the Port of Colombo in May 2012. The shipment was in transit from Kenya to Dubai. DNA testing later showed that the tusks came from Tanzania.

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5:45 pm - [LINK] "Kathleen Wynne honoured at holy Sikh shrine despite same-sex marriage media controversy"
The Toronto Star's Robert Benzie reports on a controversy that, thankfully, never happened. I do wonder what will end up happening in the future, with this and other culture clashes.

Premier Kathleen Wynne was honoured by Sikh leaders at the Golden Temple despite a media-fuelled controversy swirling around her visit to the holy shrine.

Wynne was warmly welcomed Sunday, receiving the “siropa” robe of honour at the Sikh faith’s most sacred site.

A large and aggressive throng of Indian news photographers accompanied the premier — here leading an Ontario trade delegation — as she toured the sprawling temple for two hours.

The second biggest story on the front page of Sunday’s Hindustan Times, one of India’s major newspapers, was about the “pro-gay” premier, who is travelling with her spouse, Jane Rounthwaite.

According to the Times, “the Shiromani Gurdwara Parbandhak Committee … would not welcome her with a ‘siropa’ … during her visit to the Golden Temple as she is a supporter of same-sex marriages.”

But Wynne was presented with the orange cotton robe in a private ceremony at the end of a tour that also saw her preparing chapati in the massive kitchen that serves 70,000 free meals to pilgrims every day.

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5:42 pm - [LINK] "A century later, the mystery of the Parliament Hill fire remains unsolved"
MacLean's hosted Jennifer Ditchburn's Canadian Press article noting the centenary this Wednesday of the fire that destroyed the old Canadian parliament buildings in Ottawa.

It’s difficult to imagine the scale of the trauma, the wartime anxiety, the shock, the anger, that would have engulfed the nation 100 years ago when the seat of the federal government went down in flames.

Seven people died that bitterly cold night on Feb. 3, 1916, when the old Centre Block burned down — the building that saw figures like Macdonald, Bowell, Tupper and Laurier pass through its halls and sit in the Dominion’s first House of Commons.

“The grand old tower put up a magnificent fight for survival. Standing while the support seemed to have burned away, it sent a solid pillow of twisting, billowing gold up into the winter night,” Ottawa Citizen reporter Charles Bishop wrote.

“Finally, it came down, crashing into the concourse in front and with it, carrying the huge, old clock which had stayed illuminated and kept on striking to the last.”

On Wednesday, the House of Commons will mark the tragedy by displaying the wooden mace that was first used as a replacement after the fire. The House will also hear the names of the victims read out, including Nova Scotia MP Bowman Brown Law.

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5:39 pm - [LINK] On Stephen Harper's interest in withdrawing Canada from the OSCE
CBC reports on something shocking, Harper's interest in taking Canada out of the OSCE.

Former prime minister Stephen Harper wanted to pull Canada out of one of Europe's leading security organization four years ago, but U.S. President Barack Obama helped convince him to stay, according to three European ambassadors.

The ambassadors described on Monday what happened in 2012, when Harper suggested Canada would withdraw from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a 57-country alliance that includes NATO and European Union countries.

The diplomats said Harper believed the organization was no longer relevant because Europe was mainly peaceful, a view that was widely shared at the time. The outbreak of hostilities between Russia and Ukraine would later change that.

Their account flies in the face of a heated denial issued by former foreign affairs minister John Baird in April, 2013 during testimony before the House of Commons foreign affairs committee.

Baird was confronted by New Democrat MP Helene Laverdiere who said she was "flabbergasted" to hear that Canada wanted to withdraw from the organization.

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5:37 pm - [LINK] "Why Canada’s military risks returning to a decade of darkness"
At MacLean's, Evan Solomon looks at the consequences of sustained underfunding of the Canadian military, and looking future underfunding.

Who would have guessed that, at the time of his most critical decision, Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan would be doing a military sample of the 1976 Genesis prog-rock song, Ripples?

“If we want to understand the ripples we are creating, we have to understand the environment we are creating them in,” Sajjan said last week. He was being asked—as he is on an almost daily basis—when he will reveal details about the long promised Liberal plan to pull out CF-18 jets from the mission in Iraq and Syria. Apparently this “ripple effect” theory is the “genesis” of the long delay. “We may not be able to control all the ripples that are out there, but we can control the ripples that we create,” Sajjan said, adding something or other about “negative ripples.”

As there is no formal military theory about “ripple effects,” it’s hard to tell exactly what the minister is talking about. But we get the gist: The decisions he makes now will have an impact on the future. The problem is, the future is already here. The Conservative mandate for the mission is up by the end of March. If the Liberals were not ready with an alternative plan—and clearly they weren’t—why didn’t they just say they would complete the original mandate and then end it? Pulling out now, after more than 100 days of post-election bombing, looks disorganized at best—at worst, it smacks of cheap politics.

But as politically charged as the bombing mission is, it is really nothing compared to the deeper funding crisis facing the military. “There is simply not enough money to buy the military hardware that we need,” says Dave Perry, senior analyst at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute. Perry is to military procurement what Nate Silver is to polling, so when he crunches the numbers on the military budget you tend to listen. “There’s three times more demand for procurement dollars than there is budgeted fiscally, which means the Canada First Defence Strategy—the plan to maintain Canada’s military capabilities to protect our interests—is now, essentially dead.”

That’s a big problem. It would cost the government another $2 billion a year for 20 years, on top of what we’re already spending, just to maintain the Air Force, the Army, the Navy—and upgrade our technology for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (the NORAD commander comes to Canada later in February to demand those upgrades). Meanwhile, NATO is asking Canada to fulfill its commitment to contribute two per cent of our GDP to military spending. That would mean another $20 billion this year alone. Not happening, NATO. Because it’s 2016. And we’re still broke.

Fulfilling the military promises Trudeau made in the campaign looks equally unlikely. “The biggest one from the campaign in terms of the budget is the idea of savings tens of billions on the acquisition of new aircraft to devote to ships,” Perry says. “The $9-billion fighter budget was set when the Canadian dollar was worth 100 cents American—and now it’s 70 cents.” We’ve lost close to 30 per cent of our purchasing power. There’s no way to save on planes and still have a viable air force.

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5:33 pm - [LINK] "This Little Red Book Confronts Sexism in the Chinese Language"
Wired's Liz Stinson notes a new Chinese-language dictionary that engages with structural sexism in written Chinese.

Activism can take many forms. In the case of Women’s Words, it takes the form of a little red dictionary. The tiny book is the work of Karmen Hui, Tan Sueh Li, and Tan Zi Hao of Malaysian design collective TypoKaki. On its pages you’ll find made-up words and phrases—Chinese characters that, through their unusual arrangement and alteration, subvert the sexism ingrained in Mandarin.

Unlike the phoneticism of English, written Mandarin relies on pictorial representations of words. These characters are made up of graphic symbols called radicals, which often are combined with phonetic or semantic components to form compound characters. Women’s Words centers on the female radical pronounced “nu” (女)—a symbol which has been a source of contention among feminists because of its visual etymology (the original female radical depicted a woman bowing before a man).

Tan Zi Hao explains that by adding, removing, or changing the position of the female radical (女) in these compound characters, he and his fellow designers devised a new vernacular of 30 feminist-leaning words and phrases. Many of the words in the dictionary are like pictorial portmanteaus, blending two separate words to make a single word with a new meaning. Take one entry, which combines the female radical with “mao” (毛), the character for the word “hair.” The designers added an extra stroke to 毛, and inserted a female radical on the left. “It indicates that a woman can be hairy, which is a word that doesn’t exist in the Chinese vocabulary,” Tan says.

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