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Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014
9:11 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Crude awakening"
NOW Toronto's Cynthia McQueen writes about how the stretch of railroad in midtown Toronto--a stretch that roughly parallels Dupont Street and runs just behind my home, actually--is being used to transport processed oil. The potential for catastrophe is obvious, although I can say that going through my neighbourhood the trains move slowly, at least.

Ken Brown has lived near the Canadian Pacific stretch of tracks between Avenue and Yonge for 42 years.

Since the 72-railcar explosion in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, that killed 47 people last summer, he’s noticed something unnerving: an increase in DOT-111 tankers carrying oil through the neighbourhood. In fact, those railcars that derailed in Lac-Mégantic, carrying highly volatile Bakken oil from North Dakota, came through Toronto en route to that disaster.

Brown has counted at least two trainloads of oil with 100 cars each passing through Toronto every day.

[. . .]

Keith Stewart, a climate and energy specialist with Greenpeace, sees security concerns as “largely manufactured to decrease transparency.”

The difficulty with rail, he says, is that constitutionally it was “granted all these extraordinary powers because at that time building the rail lines was about constructing the country, and so right now they’re still almost completely impervious to outside regulation apart from the federal government.”

Stewart, too, has noticed an increase in DOT-111 tanker traffic on the CP tracks running through his Dupont-and-Dufferin neighbourhood in the last five years.

“There’s been a huge increase, and that’s been done with no oversight,” he says. “All you have to do is watch the train tracks. If you see the cars are DOT-111 tankers, you know they’re filled with oil.”

For 20 years, the TSB has commented on the vulnerability of DOT-111s because of their thin hulls, among other things. But a phase-out plan currently under way means they’ll be in use for another 10 years.

(1 comment | comment on this)

7:06 pm - [URBAN NOTE] "Public Works: Reconsidering the Town Square"
Torontoist's Peter Goffin makes the case that Toronto has much to learn from Washington D.C. in the use of parks and public space, specifically in having a lot of public space that isn't necessarily accessible.

In 2012, architecture, planning, and design firm Gensler launched “The Town Square Initiative,” a challenge to its designers to “unearth and re-imagine” public space in major cities around the world. Hypothetical designs were thought up for Shanghai, Tokyo, New York, Chicago, and many more. But perhaps the one most applicable to Toronto was devised for Washington, D.C.

In tourism pamphlets and establishing shots for House of Cards, it’s clear Washington has a lot of great public space. The iconic National Mall alone is over three kilometres of public square. Why, they could probably fit, like, a million people there. The city’s grid, designed in the 1790s, is famous for its wagon-wheel configuration. Roads angle out like spokes from circular centres, creating a bevy of small, round, or triangular plots of land, many of which have been put to use as public space.

But, as D.C. has developed from a modest government town into the heart of a thriving greater metropolitan area that is a home to 5.8 million people, the centralized spaces that have served the city for centuries have become less accessible to a large number of residents. The Washington Post declared the National Mall too big to serve as a proper community space. One assumes it might be overly touristy, too. How much community-building can take place in a spot where half the people are just trying to find the Air and Space Museum? And, as for the vaunted 18th-century city grid, it “disintegrates along the city’s southern borders, where it collides with the Anacostia and Potomac rivers,” Gensler’s Carolyn Sponza writes. That means none of the neat colonial-planned public space for Washingtonians outside the city’s core.

Toronto has had a similarly difficult relationship with major public space. Ninety years ago, University Avenue was slated to be our landmark, our National Mall. That dream died with the start of the Depression.

(1 comment | comment on this)

3:58 pm - [LINK] "The Scientific Quest to Prove Bisexuality Exists"
Benoit Denizet-Lewis' recent article in The New York Times is one I quite liked. Besides touching on the science and psychology of sexual orientations including bisexuality, he also manages to effectively communicate the stigma still felt.

(I default to gay now if people ask. It's easier, and requires rather less convincing.)

“Let me tell you a story,” [activist Brad S. Kane] said, recalling the time he represented a heterosexual woman in a case against gay neighbors who were trying to have her dog put down. “People would say, ‘You’re gay — why aren’t you helping the gay couple?’ I’d say, ‘Because I always side with the underdog.’ The poor dog was in animal prison at animal control, with nobody to advocate for it. The dog needed help, needed a voice.” He paused and caught my eye in the rearview mirror. “You’re probably wondering where this is going and whether I’ll shut up anytime soon.”

“I know I am,” said Ian Lawrence, a slender and youthful 40-year-old [American Institute of Bisexuality] board member in the passenger seat.

“Well, bisexual people are kind of like that dog,” Kane said. “They’re misunderstood. They’re ignored. They’re mocked. Even within the gay community, I can’t tell you how many people have told me, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t date a bisexual.’ Or, ‘Bisexuals aren’t real.’ There’s this idea, especially among gay men, that guys who say they’re bisexual are lying, on their way to being gay, or just kind of unserious and unfocused.”

Lawrence, who struggled in college to understand and accept his bisexuality, nodded and recalled a date he went on with a gay television personality. When Lawrence said that he was bisexual, the man looked at him with a pained face and muttered: “Oh, I wish you’d told me that before. I thought this was a real date.”

Hoping to offer bisexuals a supportive community in 2010, Lawrence became the head organizer for amBi, a bisexual social group in Los Angeles. “All kinds of people show up to our events,” he told me. “There are older bi folks, kids who say they ‘don’t need any labels,’ transgender people — because many trans people also identify as bi. At our events, people can be themselves. They can be out.”

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3:49 pm - [LINK] "Here's what Mexico City is teaching the rest of Latin America about gay marriage"
Via Towleroad I came across Dudley Althaus' Global Post article arguing that the progress of gay rights in Mexico is influencing Latin America more generally.

I'm hesitant about this argument, not least since South American countries--notably but not only Argentina and Uruguay--have seen equal or even greater shifts towards equality than Mexico, and seem from my very limited knowledge to have done so independently of Mexico. That said, Althaus does seem to have gotten the general liberalization of Mexican society done. (Noel Maurer?)

In Mexico’s modernizing capital, the word these days seems to be “keep calm, and marry on,” a nonchalance toward gay marriage that’s slowly catching on across Latin America.

Pushing that message, Mayor Miguel Angel Mancera stood witness recently to the mass wedding of 58 lesbian and gay couples, who said their vows in unison.

"This is one more event in ... the city of freedoms,” Mancera, who presided over a similar ceremony in July, told the 74 women and 42 men taking the plunge. Mexico's capital is “a city that is concerned about and working on moving ahead,” he said.

The latest gay nuptials took place at a museum just blocks from Mexico City’s central plaza — and from the cathedral pulpit of Cardinal Norberto Rivera, who has railed against gay unions as “perverse” affronts to Mexican families and the “divine project.”

But this city’s left-leaning government has been poking the eyes of Catholic leaders and other cultural conservatives for more than a decade now. Promoting diversity — sexual, political, religious — is official policy here. The Mexican capital in many ways has set the pace of social change across Mexico and the region.

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3:41 pm - [LINK] "Humane Society rescues lobster — yes, really"
The Toronto Star carried Nicole MacIntyre's Hamilton Spectator article reporting on a lobster's rescue from a St. Catherines parking lot.

(Myself, the idea of repatriating the lobster to the east coast makes some sense.)

The Lincoln County Humane Society is looking for a new home for a lobster — affectionately named Mickey — that was abandoned in a St. Catharines parking lot.

“No, it’s not a joke,” said executive director Kevin Strooband.

The society received a call Wednesday morning about a lobster that was found inside a box in a business parking lot off of St. David’s Road. An inspector responded, as the society does with all calls of animals in danger, and picked up the lonely crustacean that was likely bought at a grocery store.

The next stop was to buy a salt water tank, where Mickey is now happily bobbing.

Strooband suspects the lobster, whose claws were not banded, was likely part of an April fools prank, but he said that’s no way to treat a living thing. Now the humane society will ensure that Mickey find a safe place to live out his days, said Strooband. That means no pot or butter.

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1:10 pm - [BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • The Broadside Blog's Caitlin Kelly makes a case about the benefits of radical honesty.

  • At the Buffer, Belle Beth Cooper describes how she has streamlined her writing style.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes that China's space station isn't doing much.

  • Eastern Approaches observes the continuing popularity of Polish populist Lech Kaczynski.

  • The Financial Times' The World blog notes the vulnerable popularity of UKIP's Nigel Farage.

  • Geocurrents' Asya Perelstvaig comments on the entry of Jewish businessman Vadim Rabinovich into the Ukrainian presidential contest.

  • Joe. My. God. is unconvinced by the suggestion that marriage equality means the end of gay bars.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money's Erik Loomis speculates about the responsibility of American consumers for air pollution in exporting Asia.

  • At the Planetary Society Blog, Constantine Tsang describes evidence for volcanism on Venus.

  • Savage Minds interviews one Laura Forlano on the intersections between anthropology and design.

  • Towleroad mourns the death of godfather of house music Frankie Knuckles.

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11:01 am - [PHOTO] Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (2)
Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (7)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (8)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (12)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (17)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (18)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (19)

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12:00 am - [BRIEF NOTE] Is Marc Nadon Canada's Harriet Miers?
Marc Nadon was nominated to the Supreme Court of Canada as one of three judges from Québec of the total of nine serving on the court. His nomination was rejected on the grounds that, among other things, he hadn't served as a lawyer in Québec for long enough.

Carissima Mathen at the Ottawa Citizen noted the background.

Nadon’s appointment was made under section 6 of the Supreme Court Act, which reserves three of the Court’s nine seats for Quebec (which, unlike other Canadian provinces, has a civil law tradition). Candidates must be either judges on Quebec courts, or members of its bar with 10 years standing. At the time of his appointment, Nadon was neither: he sat on the Federal Court of Appeal, and had not been a member of the bar for years.

The federal government insisted that Nadon was nonetheless eligible. It pointed out that previous Supreme Court justices have been appointed from the Federal Court; and it argued that there is no meaningful difference between past and present bar membership. It had in hand an opinion from a former justice, Ian Binnie, giving it the “all clear.” It even, brazenly, attached two clauses to the Budget Implementation Bill to “declare” that the Supreme Court Act should be interpreted to permit Nadon’s appointment.

Nadon’s stalled candidacy created headaches for the Court, which has been operating without its full judicial complement for months now. It faced considerable pressure to resolve the issue.

Remarkably, none of that seemed to matter. In a 6 to 1 ruling, the Court confirmed what Professor Michael Plaxton and I argued in a 2013 article: section 6 exists not just to ensure technical expertise in civil law, but to maintain Quebec’s confidence in the Court. To hold otherwise would be to “rewrite history.” The Court emphasized that past bar membership is sufficient for the non-Quebec seats (thereby confirming the validity of past Federal Court appointees). But it isn’t enough for Quebec; and it wasn’t enough for Nadon.

This was welcomed in Québec. It was also welcomed by the opposition, as CBC noted.

In a six-to-one decision, Canada's highest court deemed Nadon to be unqualified to sit among them as a Quebec member, and that the changes the government made to the Supreme Court Act (which would have allowed him to sit) were actually unconstitutional.

New Democrat justice critic Françoise Boivin said she was happy with the court's ruling and took aim at the fact that the government passed those changes to the law through an omnibus budget bill. She said she still hasn't digested that two little articles were passed that had the capacity to review historical positions in naming judges.

"Honestly, it's insulting," she said.

"I'm not just saying for Quebec. It's insulting for lawyers, it's insulting for the justice and it's especially insulting for that great institution that is the Supreme Court of Canada," she said.

The matter of constitutionality is a sticking point for retired judge John Gomery, who said the appointment was bad in the first place because Nadon doesn't have the expertise to serve on the court.

"It must be a profound embarrassment for the government," he said in an interview on CBC Radio's The House. "They made what has turned out to be a bad and illegal and unconstitutional appointment and it has sort of exploded in their face."

This occurs in the background of the recent departure of Jim Flaherty as finance minister.

Is anyone reminded of the Harriet Miers in the United States, centering on a White House lawyer nominated by Bush to the United States Supreme Court in 2005 despite lacking key qualifications who was eventually rejected?

(1 comment | comment on this)

Tuesday, April 1st, 2014
10:49 pm - [LINK] "Creative Constraints and Starflight"
I've been a big fan of the Canadian science fiction writer Karl Schroeder ever since I came across his Permanence in 2003</u>. His Centauri Dreams essay explaining the thinking behind his new novel Lockstep, which makes use of cyrogenics to simulate the social effects of faster-than-light travel,

Creativity under constraint is the best kind of creativity; it’s the kind that really may take us to the stars someday. In this case, by placing such mutually contradictory — even impossible — restrictions on myself, I was forced into a solution that, in hindsight, is obvious. It is simply this: everyone I know of who has thought about interstellar civilization has thought that the big problem to be solved is the problem of speed. The issue, though (as opposed to the problem), is how to travel to an interstellar destination, spend some time there, and return to the same home you left. Near-c travel solves this problem for you, but not for those you left at home. FTL solves the problem for both you and home, but with the caveat that it’s impossible. (Okay, okay, for the outraged among you: as far as we know. To put it more exactly, we can’t prove that FTL is impossible any more than we can prove that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I’ll concede that.)

Generations of thinkers have doubled down on trying to solve the problem, unaware that the problem is not the same as the issue. The problem — of generating enough speed to enable an interstellar civilization — may be insoluble; but that doesn’t mean the issue of how to have a thriving interstellar civilization can’t be overcome. You just have to overcome it by solving a different problem.

The problem to solve doesn’t have to do with speed (or velocity, for you purists), but rather with duration.

Enter Lockstep. In the novel, all worlds, all spacecraft and all habitats participating in a particular civilization use cold-sleep technology “in lockstep:” the entire civilization sleeps for thirty years, then simultaneously wakes for a month, then sleeps for another thirty years, etc. All citizens of the lockstep experience the same passage of time; what’s changed is that the duration of one night per month is stretched out to allow time for star travel at sublight speeds. In the novel I don’t bother with interstellar travel, actually; the Empire of 70,000 Worlds consists almost entirely of nomad planets, wanderers populating deep space between Earth and Alpha Centauri. Average long-distance travel velocity is about 3% lightspeed, and ships are driven by fission-fragment rockets or ‘simple’ nuclear fusion engines.

The result is a classic space opera universe, with private starships, explorers and despots and rogues, and more accessible worlds than can be explored in one lifetime. There are locksteppers, realtimers preying on them while they sleep, and countermeasures against those, and on and on. In short, it’s the kind of setting for a space adventure that we’ve always dreamt of, and yet, it might all be possible.

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10:35 pm - [LINK] "Cutting foreign aid won't defeat anti-gay laws in Africa and Latin America"
Via Towleroad I came across Ari Shaw and Mauricio Albarracín's Global Post article talking about foreign aid and gay rights make some worthwhile points about strengthening local institutions instead.

I don't think that it gets the quite real differences between Latin America and Africa, not least of which is the much greater extent of grassroots support for gay rights in the first region as compared to the second. Homophobia does exist in Latin America, but not nearly to the same extent as in Africa. Is Africa is uniquely and homogeneously homophobic? No, as Marc Epprecht noted at CNN. It is a world region where, for a variety of reasons, homophobia is especially well-entenched at this point. Different strategies may have to be applied, perhaps including more precisely targeted foreign aid programs.

Foreign governments and international donors seeking to help should, instead, increase financial and technical support for African LGBT rights organizations and human rights institutions.

LGBT activists in many African states face highly restrictive and dangerous conditions that limit their ability advocate for reforms. In many cases, these laws not only discriminate against LGBT individuals but also criminalize or severely restrict public dissent and association around LGBT issues.

The burgeoning African system of human rights courts and commissions should be strengthened to provide an important and necessary tool for enhancing LGBT rights and activism in the region.

The experience of LGBT rights activism in another developing region — Latin America — offers insight into the roles regional human rights bodies can play.

In the past several years, advances in gay rights in Latin America have outpaced those in the United States and some European nations. Argentina and Uruguay, for instance, have full marriage equality, while Mexico, Brazil, and Colombia offer some form of legal protection for same-sex couples and families.

Violence and inequality persist, but in many national debates around LGBT rights, the Inter-American human rights system has been an important resource for gay rights activists.

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10:22 pm - [LINK] "Fallen Financier Jérôme Kerviel's Long Walk"
Gregory Viscusi's Bloomberg BusinessWeek article following Jérôme Kerviel as he hiked across Italy and France was bemusing. What was this man allegedly responsible for huge losses thinking? (Since then, it has turned out that he will be going to jail for three years but won't be forced to repay the nearly five billion Euros lost to his his former employer.)

As long as Jérôme Kerviel keeps walking, he says he can forget about the €4.9 billion ($6.8 billion) loss that France’s Société Générale (GLE:FP) says he’s responsible for—and the three years of jail time he faces for the crime. “I thought about it every day for six years, but since I started this walk I haven’t even once,” he said as he made his way through forests, vineyards, and auto repair shops in the Tuscan countryside on an 870-mile trek from Rome to Paris. On March 19, France’s highest appeals court upheld his conviction for the 2008 trading fraud, though it challenged the bank’s assertion that Kerviel was solely responsible for the full extent of the loss. Despite that small victory, within a few weeks Kerviel will be ordered to start the prison term handed down after a 2012 appeal.

The 37-year-old former trader admits exceeding trading limits, faking documents, and entering false data into computers, but says his superiors turned a blind eye as long as his trades made money. He has argued that the loss was exaggerated as Société Générale dumped his holdings in a panic and surreptitiously added failing subprime mortgages to the total, attributing those losses to Kerviel. “When I first saw my face on a TV screen with a €5 billion loss attached, I had no idea what they could have been talking about,” he says over morning coffee, rolls, and several Marlboros in a €50-a-night hotel outside Florence. “I still don’t.”

In a 2010 trial, Kerviel was found guilty of fraud. In the appeal decided on March 19, Kerviel’s lawyer argued that prosecutors never did a detailed study of how Société Générale sold off the positions—a contention the court said warranted investigation. Jean Veil, a lawyer for the bank, calls claims that SocGen hid losses in Kerviel’s positions “pure invention” and has no comment on Kerviel’s walk from Rome. A new trial will decide what share of the billions lost Kerviel must repay. In any event, SocGen has said it doesn’t expect to collect.

Kerviel, a native of Brittany who rose through the ranks to SocGen’s trading floor without attending an elite school, has become something of a folk hero in France. After the 2008 loss, he had a fan club, and supporters produced a comic book and T-shirts. French TV has run extended reports on his walk from Italy, and a Facebook page created for it has 5,700 “likes” and garners dozens of supportive comments a day. “He impressed me with how serious and friendly he is,” says Filippo Falugiani, owner of the hotel where Kerviel bunked in Bargino, a village where the vineyards of Chianti start to give way to the suburbs of Florence. “I can’t believe he can be solely responsible for the loss.”

Kerviel says his two-month hike isn’t aimed at gaining sympathy or keeping him out of jail. “I’m not trying to manipulate the justice system,” he says. Instead, Kerviel insists he is on a personal journey and wants to publicize Pope Francis’s November attack on the “tyranny” of financial markets. “I was both a participant in and a victim of the system he denounced,” he says. “His message spoke to me.” Kerviel, who describes himself as a believer but not a practicing Catholic, says he met with the pope in Rome, and his Facebook page shows a photo of him shaking the pontiff’s hand. The Vatican says it has no record of the meeting and that it was fleeting at most.

Since starting on Feb. 24, Kerviel has covered 10 to 20 miles a day, with a friend in Paris planning the route and reserving rooms in homes or cheap hotels. His expenses have averaged about €40 a day, all of it lent by friends. He’s grown a beard and picked up a tan, and his three-pack-a-day smoking habit is down to less than one. It snowed in the mountains of southern Tuscany, but the weather turned springlike the second week of his walk. Near Siena, Kerviel’s GPS steered him onto a highway where carabinieri stopped him. They were so amazed by his tale of losing billions of euros that they let him off without a fine. “They got a good laugh out of it,” Kerviel says as cars whiz by him a few days later.

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10:11 pm - [LINK] "Pristine but desolate, the Italian villages facing extinction"
I've been meaning for some time to link to Max Rossi and Lisa Jucca's Thomson-Reuters article chronicling the decline of an Italian village, as out-migration and a low birth rate take their toll.

It's perhaps especially noteworthy that this village is in the northwestern region of Liguria, around Genoa. This region's population has shrunk by a quarter-million people since 1971, with recent trends including a surplus of deaths over births not quite compensated for by immigration.

Gorreto, population: 105, was always small, but now the tiny village, nestled in a river valley in northern Italy, is on the brink of extinction.

Most of the remaining residents are over 60 and the primary school attended by Mayor Sergio Capelli, 72, closed about 30 years ago - a stark example of the nationwide demographic decline as Italians live longer and have fewer babies.

"To witness the slow death of the valley makes me sad," says Capelli, a retired railway engineer who hopes to attract people to the town by organizing cultural events. "I am trying to save all these villages," he says.

[. . ..]

The Val Trebbia area is an extreme example of the demographic problem in Italy, whose median age of 44.2 is the world's fourth highest, after Monaco, Japan and Germany, according to the CIA World Factbook.

Longer life expectancy and falling fertility rates have meant Italy's population has been steadily ageing for decades. But the longest and harshest economic crisis since World War Two has made matters worse.

As unemployment has risen to a record 12.7 percent, much higher among younger people, immigration has fallen by a third since 2007. At the same time, emigration, of mainly young highly-educated Italians, has doubled.

[. . .]

Younger immigrants - mainly from Romania - are beginning to move to the Val Trebbia area, finding jobs helping the elderly or in manual labor like brick-laying.

A quarter of the children attending the primary school of the town of Rovegno that now serves the whole Trebbia Valley have immigrant parents. The only child born in Gorreto last year was the daughter of a Romanian couple who moved there in 2009. Another baby, born the previous year, left as his family moved away.

"Maintaining the school is costly. But without the school this valley would simply die," says Marcella Delle Piane, a literature teacher who has spent 26 years at the school.

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8:44 pm - [LINK] "McDonald’s Wants to Be Your Coffee Shop"
I've been following the evolution of McDonald's for some time, not least because of its surprisingly good coffee. Venessa Wong's Bloomberg BusinessWeek article suggesting that coffee is going to be an integral part of the McDonald's experience as the fast-food restaurant tries to take over a chunk of the cafe market makes sense to me.

Some have ruminated about the deeper meaning of McDonald’s (MCD) free coffee promotion, which runs through April 13. Here’s one more thought: It’s another attempt to promote the chain as a so-called third place—that daily destination away from home and away from work, and a concept that Starbucks (SBUX) essentially owns—via its McCafé beverage line.

[. . .]

Of course, McDonald’s coffee giveaway is also part of the company’s ongoing efforts to keep people hooked on its breakfast while fast-food restaurants such as Taco Bell (YUM) launch morning menus, and also to drum up interest in McDonald’s bagged coffee, which is coming to grocers. But there’s a decided push to market McCafé as a social product: The “Make Friends with McCafé” sampling events include live music (Karmin performed in New York) and comedy.

The question is, what’s friendship have to do with McCafé? Consumers already head to McDonald’s for quick, on-the-go breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, so it seems the chain now wants to develop a strong affiliation with other occasions: an afternoon break or a leisurely meet-up with friends—the kinds of moments you probably associate with Starbucks. Following in Starbucks’s footsteps, McDonald’s brought in expensive espresso machines and Wi-Fi and introduced seasonal hot beverages.

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7:00 pm - [BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • At the blog Buffer, Kevan Lee shows what lengths--in characters and in words--tweets and blog headlines and blog posts should be, according to science.

  • Patrick Cain notes that Canadians have no way of knowing how many banned guns there were under the former registry since its junking.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper examining what, exactly, is needed for a planet to become Earth-like.

  • The Dragon's Tales, meanwhile, links to a paper claiming that the Cambrian explosion of biodiversity was a product of a nearby gamma-ray burst.

  • Geocurrents explores the question of whether and how it matters to call the eastern European country "Ukraine" or "the Ukraine".

  • Joe. My. God. links to a site gathering the first and last lines from noted gay novels.

  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, bloggers question whether the American soldiers who perpetrated genocide in the Wounded Knee massacre of 1890 should have their Medals of Honor stripped from them, and have no truck with the idea that American airpower can save Ukraine.

  • John Moyer responded to OKCupid's boycotting of Mozilla for its anti-gay president by quitting Mozilla, and explains why.

  • At the Planetary Society Weblog, Emily Lakdawalla examines the latest thinking on Titan's methane lakes and oceans. Where do they come from?

  • pollotenchegg maps the distribution of Hungarians in former Hungarian territories in central Europe.

  • Strange Maps examines how maps are used to lie in George Orwell's 1984.

  • Torontoist shares a picture of a vintage streetcar on the streets of east Toronto's Scarborough.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy comments on the International Court of Justice's ruling against Japan on the subject of its supposed scientific whaling program, and argues that a federal system for Ukraine might not be bad notwithstanding Russian bullying.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russia's military depends heavily on the technological and industrial output of southeastern Ukraine, relying on now-suspended cooperation.

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3:19 pm - [PHOTO] Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (1)
I've long been involved in Prince Edward Island's Scouting movement, as a Scout in my own right and as the son of a scoutmaster. On my trip last summer to Prince Edward Island, I joined my parents in visiting Camp Buchan, Prince Edward Island's only scout camp.

Located on the Island shore of the Northumberland Strait roughly a half-hour's drive southeast of Charlottetown, Camp Buchan is a beautiful place. This August day I was particularly lucky, since it was low tide. So much more was revealed.

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (1)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (2)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (3)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (4)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (5)

Low tide at Camp Buchan, Belfast, Prince Edward Island (6)

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Monday, March 31st, 2014
11:58 pm - [URBAN NOTE] On the 60th anniversary of the Yonge subway
On Saturday the 30th, the Yonge subway line celebrated its 60th anniversary of operation. Stretching from Union station north along Yonge Street to Eglinton, this 1954 subway line was the first built in Canada, and is still the spine of the entire transit grid in Toronto.

  • blogTO's Chris Bateman had a photo essay showing how politicians and the general people reacted to the subway. One commenter notes that users seemed rather excited to be riding the line.

  • Torontoist's Jamie Bradburn outlined a barely-avoided moment of pique, as Ontario's premier and Toronto's mayor found a way to share the on switch for the cameras.

  • Transit Toronto's Robert Mackenzie has a very nice, detained two-part overview (1, 2) of the histo and impact of the Yonge line.What was the first ride like? What streetcar and bus routes were transformed? Mackenzie has it all.

  • Finally, from the Tumblrverse comes
  • lexestrex</b>'s beautiful image showing the original different colour schemes of the different subway stations along the line. (I reshared it on my Tumblr.)

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9:01 pm - [BRIEF NOTE] On what the discovery of 2012 VP113 means
The recently-announced discovery of 2012 VP113, one of the most distant bodies ever discovered and one of the first objects likel to belong to the Oort cloud, is exciting. It was widely covered in the blogs I read: Bad Astronomy and Centauri Dreams and D-Brief and The Dragon's Tales and the Planetary Society Weblog all had features.

Bad Astronomy's Phil Plait did a good job of outlining the import of the discovery. Why is a body likely only a few hundred kilometres in diameter important?

Astronomers have announced the discovery of an amazing object in our solar system: 2012 VP113, an icy body with an orbit so big it never gets closer than 12 billion kilometers (7.4 billion miles) from the Sun! That’s 80 times the distance of the Earth from the Sun. No other solar system object known stays so far from the Sun. And at its most distant, it reaches an incredible 70 billion kilometers (44 billion miles) from the Sun—and it takes well over 4,000 years to circle the Sun once.

It’s not exactly clear yet, but it’s likely that VP113 is a member of the Oort cloud, a huge collection of gigantic frozen ice balls that orbit the Sun way, way past Neptune. Sedna is the only other object known in that part of the remote solar system, and it gets closer to the Sun by a smidge than VP113 ever does. The closest point an object can get to the Sun is called perihelion, and VP113 has the largest perihelion distance of any object known.

Emily Lakdawalla of the Planetary Society, meanwhile, makes a good case that the existence of this body and of the similar Sedna do not at all provide evidence of a "Planet X" influencing their erratic orbits. (It looks like their orbits wee disrupted by nearby stars in the young solar system instead._

I have confess to a bias here: I really wanted this coincidence in argument of perihelion to be strong evidence of a planet X. I would love for there to be a planet X. So would [discoverers Chad Trujillo and Scott Sheppard], evidently, because they spent quite a bit of space showing it could work. And so would Nature, because then the first clear indication of a planet X would be in an article published in their journal.

But Hal [Levison] dashed my hopes, or at least my certainty. "It's a very weak result," he told me; and indeed the paper spends more column inches on what 2012 VP113 tells us about the inner Oort cloud as a population than it does about this potential "perturber." Meg Schwamb seems to agree; her News & Views piece didn't even mention the possibility of a planet, only that "This result may be the first hint we have of an identifiable signature of the inner Oort cloud’s formation mechanism on the orbits of closer-in Solar System bodies. If true, any formation mechanism proposed for the origin of Sedna and 2012 VP113 will need to explain this orbital structure."

Hal told me that he looked carefully at whether the clustering in argument of perihelion could just be a statistical fluke, but that ultimately, he "believes the data."

The question is whether it's a planet. And then you have to be a little careful. If this population were massive enough, if there were like one or two Earth masses in it, which is possible, because something like a hundred Earth masses was scattered out as Uranus, Neptune, Jupiter, and Saturn were growing, then maybe it's the self-gravity between these objects themselves that's doing it. There may be other explanations for this, rather than the extreme position of, "it's a planet"; but I can believe there's something going on.

Hal was more interested in a different coincidence about Sedna and 2012 VP113. "It's a little odd that the first two objects that have been discovered have perihelia that large. There's not a guy at 55 or 60 AU. It probably means there's an inner edge to this population; that certainly would constrain things." I poked at this, really wanting the distance to tell me that there was a planet X at 80 AU, but unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Hal said that some solar system formation simulations do turn out to have an inner edge to the inner Oort cloud or first-generation Oort cloud without the help of any interloping planet, "Because you have to get far enough away from the planets to stabilize the orbits for long periods of time. I don't think it's hugely surprising that that edge is there." He pointed me to this 2012 paper, which mentions a 100-AU inner edge in the abstract.

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7:03 pm - [LINK] Some Monday links

  • Crooked Timber's Henry Farrell is skeptical of Josh Marshall's new journalism site featuring paid advertisements from Big Pharma.

  • The Dragon's Tales' Will Baird provides another update about Ukrainian events.

  • Joe. My. God. notes that World Vision Canada, unlike its American counterpart, is legally required not to discriminate against non-heterosexuals.

  • Language Hat links to a study on the formerly Russophone Alaskan community of Ninilchik.

  • Language Log suggests that handwriting is a dying art in East Asia, too.

  • Marginal Revolution links to a book on maritime conflicts in the South China Sea.

  • The Signal features a guest post from two librarians working for the Library of Congress explaining how they do their work.

  • Savage Minds explains the myth of the sexy librarian.

  • Torontoist has two photos memorializing recently-closed stores, one from the World's Biggest Bookstore and the other from Sears in the Eaton Centre.

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3:19 pm - [BLOG] Some Monday Crimea links

  • Eastern Approaches follows the story of Crimean Tatars who are now refugees in western Ukraine.

  • At the Financial Times' The World blog, John Reed examines the unlikely media star who is Crimean attorney-general Natalia Poklonskaya.

  • A Fistful of Euros' David Weman notes the United Nations vote against the annexation of Crimea by Russia.

  • Geocurrents has a series of posts on Ukraine and its area: one on the Moldovan region of Transnistria, a possible western anchor for Russia; one on Transcarpathia, a Ruthene-populated enclave in western Ukraine not quite Ukrainian; one on Ukraine's energy reserves.

  • At Lawyers, Guns and Money, Robert Farley notes the Russian takeover of the Ukrainian Black Sea fleet ships based in Crimea.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy's Eugene Volokh points out the many, many ways in which Kosovo does not compare to Crimea.

  • Window on Eurasia has a veritable brace of posts. Crimeans aren't taking up Russian passports with much enthusiasm, it seems, while the financial costs of annexation will be significant indeed. A Russian war in southeastern Ukraine would be a difficult war to fight, while post-Soviet space has already been destabilized (1, 2). Will South Ossetia be next to be annexed? (Northern California is not so likely.) Meanwhile, Turkish support for Turkic peoples can be destabilizing.

  • Understanding Society's Daniel Little takes a social science approach to the Russian annexation. What does it mean for the international system's future? Will there be more annexations?

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3:07 pm - [BLOG] Some Monday science links

  • Centauri Dreams' Paul Gilster notes that there is a class for bright F-class stars to host Earth-like worlds, and observes that the ESA's Rosetta probe is set to rendezvous with Comet 67P/Churymov-Gerasimenko.

  • D-Brief suggests that mitochondrial damage might be responsible for so-called "Gulf War syndrome".

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes that the Kepler satellite can detect large exomoons, links to a paper suggesting that Jupiters aren't needed to deliver water to the surfaces of rocky habitable-zone planets, and observes that the geological cycles of the Earth are necessary for life.

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