April 19th, 2010

cats, shakespeare

[CAT] Station-Master Tama

Station-Master Tama
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei
Taken by Wikipedia's Sanpei in December 2007 and originally located here, this is a picture of Tama, "the station master and operating officer at Kishi Station in Kinokawa, Wakayama Prefecture, Japan."

In April 2006, the Wakayama Electric Railway converted all stations on the Kishigawa Line from manned to unmanned in an effort to cut costs. Station masters were selected from employees of local businesses near each station. For Kishi station, Toshiko Koyama, the neighborhood grocer, was selected as station master. Koyama had adopted Tama and other stray cats, and he fed them at the station.

In January 2007, railway officials decided to officially name Tama the station master. As station master her primary duty is to greet passengers. The position comes with a stationmaster's hat; in lieu of a salary, the railway provides Tama with free cat food.

The publicity from Tama's appointment led to an increase in passengers by 17% for that month as compared to January 2006; ridership statistics for March 2007 showed a 10% increase over the previous financial year. A study has estimated that the publicity surrounding Tama has contributed 1.1 billion Yen to the local economy. In January 2008, Tama was promoted to "super station master" in a ceremony attended by the president of the company and the mayor; as a result of her promotion, she is "the only female in a managerial position" in the company.

Tama is wearing her uniform, of course.

[OBSCURA] Tom Cochrane, "Night Busway"

Night Busway
Originally uploaded by tom cochrane
"On the York University Express bus to the subway station, all by myself."

The 196 York University Rocket is a vital service, connecting the relatively isolated main campus of York University in northern Toronto with the York-University-Spadina subway line, but it will be superseded by said line's planned extension to said campus.

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Andrew Barton's Acts of Minor Treason considers the question of why people don't care more about restrictive intellectual property rights legislation.

  • At Crooked Timber, Chris Bertram writes about his use of film for his photography, talking about the amount of attention and craft that film requires.

  • Daniel Drezner writes about the political-cum-bureaucratic controversies surrounding a leaked document that criticizes Obama's Iran policy.

  • A Fistful of Euros' Matthew Turner analyses the Liberal Democrats' surge in the British election campaign, suggesting that their weakness relative to Labour or the Conservatives comes from the fact that their voter base is spreading fairly evenly across the country, with relatively fewer strongholds.

  • The Global Sociology Blog reviews a book that examines the French model of social mobility, suggesting that a model that allows individuals the right and freedom to reach the highest ranks of society is better than simply reducing inequalities between different social groups.

  • Joe. My. God writes about the discontent of some blog readers at the amount of sexual explicitness to be found in many queer (male, I guess) blogs. It's probably inevitable, I think, since the lowest common denominator for a queer audience is sex.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money announces that it looks like the explosion that destroyed a South Korean naval ship a few days ago was "external," i.e. likely an attack of some kind. The question of proportional responses, and the cost of said, is prominent in local minds.

  • At Marginal Revolution, Tyler Cowen suggests that Greece will fail at managing its deficit, unlike Canada and Sweden in the 1990s, because the government isn't trusted enough to get the public acquiescence necessary for the cuts.

  • Spacing Toronto's Jacqueline White Appleby writes about the experiences of a fictional commuter from Toronto writer Austin Clarke's More, noting about the complexity of commutes and the book's communication of the commuting experience and the quietness of commuters in the face of the rude.

[LINK] "Brazil-China: An Asymmetric Relationship"

Intra-BRIC solidarity isn't all that, at least not for Brazil.

"Brazil must increase the added value of its sales" to balance its trade with China, said Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, the only note of criticism in his references to the partnership between the two countries after they signed a Joint Action Plan.

Bilateral trade showed "spectacular" growth of "780 percent since the beginning of my administration" in 2003, and reached 36 billion dollars in 2009 in spite of the global economic crisis, Lula said.

But this trade is asymmetric. Brazil exports almost exclusively minerals and agricultural products, and imports Chinese manufactured goods.

The various agreements signed at Thursday's meeting in Brasilia cover the agricultural sector, including cooperation between research centres and phytosanitary (plant health) issues, aimed at expanding commodity exports from Brazil.

Agreements were also reached on oil exports, and on cooperation between the two countries' state oil companies for exploring Brazilian reserves of fossil fuels. The technology sector was also included, for example joint satellite launchings, a programme that has been developed over many years, as well as intellectual property.

[. . .]

Today, Brazil is an agricultural power and the phytosanitary agreement signed with China will expand its agricultural exports. But Brazil should also increase its sales of technological products, like airplanes and their parts, because the two countries also cooperate on aviation and space technology.

The launching of the fourth joint Chinese-Brazilian satellite, possibly next year, is a sign of the strengthening of the bilateral partnership, Lula said.

The Chinese state company Sinopec is now the largest buyer of Brazilian oil, importing 200,000 barrels per day, Lula said.

The partnership extends to the sphere of international negotiations, as China has joined the Group of 77 (G77) countries that represents the developing world in multilateral bodies.

China's annual economic growth, at close to double digits, has created a large market for Brazilian agricultural and mining products, but analysts and the business community fear that the South American country may end up a mere supplier of raw materials. Closer bilateral ties have already led Brazil to refer to China as a "market economy," although economists in this country are sceptical of this description of the Asian power.

Hu said Brazil and China would diversify and increase bilateral trade, and expressed his thanks for the solidarity received in the wake of Wednesday's disaster.

[URBAN NOTE] Mass transit and cycling and transit, again

Extraordinary Observation's Rob Pitingolo blogged last Monday about how cuts to Cincinnati public transit have left him increasingly disenchanted with the idea.

It's now been almost a month since I've ridden public transportation. I've replaced almost all those trips by bicycling. I've found that biking around is ideal for short trips (less than two miles), usually the best option for medium-length trips (2 to 5 miles), and at least as (in)convenient as public transit for long trips (up to 10 miles).

I think what I liked, in principal, about public transit is that it's so cheap (compared to driving) and (in theory) gets me to the places I want to go. I don't have to worry about actually driving (a stressful activity, in my opinion) and I can read a book or a magazine as I'm ferried along to my destination.

Over the past month I realized that bicycling is cheap too - cheaper than riding public transit, in fact (assuming you aren't riding an expensive bike). And while I might not be able to read or write emails or sleep while I'm traveling from one place to another, I am exercising, and that's a form of multitasking about as good as any. I don't have to visit a gym. I don't have to schedule a workout into my day. I don't sit around at the end of the week feeling guilty because I've been "too busy" to exercise all week.

Me? The first couple of weeks this month, I'd experimented with combining cycling with the occasional token when needed, but I've reverted to the weekly pass with the cycling secondary. I'm lucky enough to live in neigubourhoods that are very TTC-accessible--the Dufferin bus runs every few minutes a couple minutes away from me, the subway line is a dozen minutes walk south, and every quarter-hour or so the eastbound Dupont bus stopped on the corner of the intersection opposite mine (the westbound stops a dozen metres from my alleyway). Biking, while fun, and a useful backup if need be, and something I might be able to integrate into my commuting--might; I can't take my bike onto the subways during peak commuting times, although the buses do mostly have racks--isn't as easy a ritual, as comfortable, as stepping onto the bus and showing the driver my Metropass.

But then, I'm lucky to have those two options, especially since I don't own or operate a motor vehicle. What would things be like for people in greater Toronto--or other cities--who don't have the options of good mass transit or cyclable commuting routes or their own vehicles?

[CAT] "From Dung to Coffee Brew With No Aftertaste"

I like cats and I like coffee, but this combination?

Goad Sibayan went prospecting recently in the remote Philippine highlands here known as the Cordillera. He clambered up and then down a narrow, rocky footpath that snaked around some hills, paying no heed to coffins that, in keeping with a local funeral tradition, hung very conspicuously from the surrounding sheer cliffs.

Reaching a valley where coffee trees were growing abundantly, he scanned the undergrowth where he knew the animals would relax after picking the most delicious coffee cherries with their claws and feasting on them with their fangs. His eyes settled on a light, brownish clump atop a rock. He held it in his right palm and, gently slipping it into a little black pouch, whispered:


Not quite. But Mr. Sibayan’s prize was the equivalent in the world of rarefied coffees: dung containing the world’s most expensive coffee beans.

Costing hundreds of dollars a pound, these beans are found in the droppings of the civet, a nocturnal, furry, long-tailed catlike animal that prowls Southeast Asia’s coffee-growing lands for the tastiest, ripest coffee cherries. The civet eventually excretes the hard, indigestible innards of the fruit — essentially, incipient coffee beans — though only after they have been fermented in the animal’s stomach acids and enzymes to produce a brew described as smooth, chocolaty and devoid of any bitter aftertaste.

As connoisseurs in the United States, Europe and East Asia have discovered civet coffee in recent years, growing demand is fueling a gold rush in the Philippines and Indonesia, the countries with the largest civet populations. Harvesters are scouring forest floors in the Philippines, where civet coffee has emerged as a new business. In Indonesia, where the coffee has a long history, enterprising individuals are capturing civets and setting up minifarms, often in their backyards.

Asian Palm Civets, like the three dozen or so other members of the family Viverridae aren't true cats, although civets and cats do both belong to the suborder Feliformia. Unlike many other members of that suborder, however, the Asian Palm Civet doesn't seem to be endangered, spread across a large swathe of southeastern Asia and having adapted to urban life. Even if I'd never drink that coffee, that's something. At least the species has another way to motivate people to preserve it, apart from its harvested musk.

Asian Palm Civet Over A Tree

And its cuteness, of course.

[URBAN NOTE] On Hanlan's Point Beach and the serenities of nature

Hanlan's Point Beach, in the extreme west of the Toronto Islands, is Toronto's only clothing-optional beach. It's only one out of two beaches in Canada that are officially designated clothing-optional beaches, in fact, the other one being Vancouver's Wreck Beach. The legalization of the beach's unofficial status as a nude beach led to Hanlan's Point becoming, well, a pretty normal beach. Save for sunscreen consumption per capita.

The effective beach season starts in late May and ends in late September, while actual swimming off the beach is possible only well within this period. On low-attendance days there are usually fifty or more people on the clothing optional side of the beach at any one time, with almost none to be seen on the "textile" side. On hot and sunny weekends five hundred or more people can often be found. Again, the end of the beach reserved for those who prefer swimsuits is usually only sparsely populated. Although there is no requirement for nudity on the clothing optional end, almost everyone takes the opportunity to completely shed their clothes. There are occasional curious individuals or groups who walk down the length of the beach while fully clothed, looking distinctly out of place. The regular beach goers routinely ignore this. Sailboats and motor boats often anchor just offshore to allow their owners to also enjoy the beach.

Prior to becoming "officially" clothing optional in 2002, Hanlan's Point Beach was a traditional site for nude sunbathing for decades. It was also an infrequent target of police crackdowns on this behaviour. Its official status has resulted in a distinct increase in ferry traffic, and it appears to be a profitable component of public and private sector advertising campaigns, since it draws visitors to Toronto. Police and park officials now work in partnership with the beach goers to maintain the beach's friendly atmosphere.

As is common for most public nudist-friendly venues, males make up a large percentage of the users of the beach, but women can make up to one quarter of the total on popular weekends. Recent years continue to see an increase in the number of families who attend.

This beach is mentioned on the website of the Federation of Canadian Naturists, and is the regular site of day trips by several local nudist organizations. It is the second officially recognized clothing optional beach in Canada and the only one created by a municipal bylaw.

But. Xtra!'s James Burrell warns that the beach, traditionally a hangout of queer Torontonians among others, will see its serenity threatened by the Toronto Island Airport. Located just to the north of Hanlan's Point Beach, perhaps a five or ten minute walk (although the two aren't physically connected, as far as I know), the once-marginal airport has become a growing hub thanks to the success of Porter Airlines, and this success--some say--will mean the beach's doom.

CommunityAir (CAIR), a volunteer resident association opposed to the expansion of operations at Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport (BBTCA), says “run-ups” – running aircraft engines for maintenance purposes – will produce “ear-splitting sound.”

“Run-ups are incredibly loud and the community has been complaining about them and saying that they should be conducted elsewhere and not in the middle of their neighborhood,” says CAIR chair Brian Iler. “They have to run the engines for 10 to 20 minutes at full-throttle to make sure there are no problems, to make sure the engines are working fine. When that happens… the beach will be unusable.”

Iler says the bulk of the run-ups occur on the weekends when Hanlan’s Point Beach is at its busiest.

Further adding to beachgoers’ woes may be the proposed installation of two U-shaped noise barriers at the airport, one with the open end pointing at the Island Yacht Club, the other pointing at Hanlan’s Point Beach. The barriers are intended to divert loud aircraft noise away from nearby waterfront residences, but Iler says they will direct it right at the beach.

I'm rather skeptical of this argument. I've been to Hanlan's Point Beach, and its isolation is only relative: you're surrounded by Lake Ontario, the Etobicoke and western Toronto skyline is visible from the water if not the beach itself, and just a couple minutes' walk through the dunes and you see downtown Toronto in all of its glory.

Will there be a lot of noise? Maybe, maybe not. I've grown skeptical of the claims of the various residents' organizations, some of which seem to be--honestly--xenophobic towards anything and anyone that intrudes on their city-managed and -maintained paradise, and worst-case scenarios are helpful in galvanizing support for this kind of desperate defense. Certainly it's something to watch out, and, if necessary, something to deal with, but he group's worst-case scenarios aren't things I'm willing to accept uncritically.

Will this discourage people from visiting? I doubt it. It won't me. The Hanlan's Point Beach, and the other beaches and vacation areas adjoining it, are heavily frequented by Torontonians because they feel like very natural environments, notwithstanding that are no point are you more than a half-hour's trip from the downtown ferry docks. We get used to noise; I hardly know what it's like to live without something audible in the background. I see no reason not to hope for the best and expect something rather pleasant in exchange.