August 19th, 2010

[PHOTO] "Warning: Filming"

Warning: Filming
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei
In telegenic areas of downtown Toronto, 8-1/2x11 sheets of paper announcing that certain locations will be used for filming something--here, Canadian director Ken Finkleman's comedy series Good Dog--regularly appear to warn the locals when to hide (or when to try to make it into a background shot).

[URBAN NOTE] On the possibilities of Toronto Mayor Rob Ford

Toronto city councillor and mayor candidate Rob Ford is a front-runner in the year-long mayoral competition that will end only with the actual election this October. He's a man with a penchant for controversy, two days ago saying that Toronto should take care of its existing population and strained infrastructure before dealing with new immigrants, today trying to recast a 1999 arrest (and conviction) in Florida for driving under the influence.

Toronto mayoral candidate Rob Ford had six words for the City of Miami police officer who arrested him on drunk driving and marijuana possession charges 11 years ago.

“Go ahead take me to jail,” Ford said after getting out of his car and throwing his hands up in the air, according to a Miami police arrest affidavit.

Ford was pulled over by the officer for driving with no lights on at 1:30 a.m. on February 15, 1999, according to the officer’s statement.

“The defendant approached me and took all of his money and threw it to the ground,” the officer wrote.

“The defendant was acting nervous. When [he] spoke to me I could smell a strong odour of an alcoholic beverage on his breath. His eyes were bloodshot.”

The officer also noted finding “a marijuana joint cigarette in the defendant’s right rear pants pocket.”

Ford was charged and later convicted with driving under the influence after pleading no contest. His marijuana possession charge was dismissed.

Ford initially denied the drug charge when confronted by a reporter on Wednesday, and then later admitted to it without mentioning the driving under the influence charge.

Ford has a long history of gaffes. In 2007, he said that "Oriental people work like dogs. … They’re slowly taking over." In 2007, repeating a--let's say--not-very-queer-friendly line of argument he used before and after, he opposed city funding of HIV/AIDS programs, saying “If you’re not doing needles and you’re not gay, you won't get AIDS, probably.” In 2006, a "drunken and belligerent Mr. Ford [was ejected] from a Maple Leafs game after he shout[ed] insults at an out-of-town couple. The attacks began after the man asks Mr. Ford to be quiet. Mr. Ford responds: “Who the fuck do you think you are? Are you a fucking teacher?” Failing to get a response, he turns his attention to the man’s wife: “Do you want your little wife to go over to Iran and get raped and shot?” Ford's politics are small-c conservative, favouring low taxes and little government involvement.

He isn't popular among downtown voters. But then, as eye weekly's Edward Keenan wrote in a 2006 article "The Rob Ford Problem" (subtitle: "Penny-pincher, name-caller, ward-heeler, right-wing raving lunatic -- if Rob Ford is as crazy as he seems, why do voters in Etobicoke like him so much?"), his appeal isn't directed towards downtown voters. Ford represents a riding in Etobicoke, a largely suburban city in the west of amalgamated Toronto, and whatever you think of the man or his politics he seems to have done a pretty good job establishing a reputation among his constituents as a man who's ready to help and who's very hostile to waste and corruption.

Walking around Etobicoke, he's approached every minute or so by people thanking him for the help he's provided or telling him to stay the course on his penny-pinching. If constituents don't approach him, he goes to them, telling them to call him if they need anything.

Rob Ford may be a raving lunatic, but he's a raving lunatic who will come to your home and stand in the rain to ensure you get 15 minutes with the city staffer who can help you. And that, as anyone who's tried to navigate the city hall bureaucracy will know, is no small thing.

Rob Ford is planning to run for mayor some day: "I'll have a basic, common sense, easy-to-understand platform," he begins. "The grass is gonna be cut, the litter is gonna be picked up. When you phone city hall you're going to get an answer; you're not going to get bounced around to 10 different departments. There's gonna be people that are gonna be accountable down there. We're gonna run it just like a business." As he goes on, it starts to sound like a breathless child's Christmas list. "We're not going to have any fat, the roads are going to be paved, the transit system's gonna be a well-oiled machine, and it's going to be clean, and it's going to be safe, and we're going to have police and there's going to be a police helicopter. And I'm going to bring in the Guardian Angels... And garbage is a huge issue, I think we have to incinerate our garbage."

The election may become an affair of the suburbs versus the downtown. It's worth noting that the downtown core of Toronto, the recipient of heavy investment--heavier than the norm--in infrastructure and social services, is home to only a quarter of Toronto's population. A recent poll suggests that Ford is the leading candidate among decided voters, comfortably outpacing his nearest competitor George Smitherman.

The modern city of Toronto is a new entity. Incumbent mayor David Miller is a man who, notwithstanding the many, drew his support from the urban core. The mayor before that, Mel Lastman, is a man who drew his support from the suburbs--before amalgamation he was mayor of suburban North York--and whose term in office has a lot in common with Ford's style. Yes, this includes the controversies, everything from his lack of familiarity with the World Health Organization during the SARS epidemic in 2003 to the jokes about being cannibalized by "natives" he made in 2000 before visiting Africa to lobby for the 2008 Olympics Games.

Be warned.

[BRIEF NOTE] A tidelocked Earth

A Tidelocked Earth
Originally uploaded by rfmcdpei
The results of the ESRI study "If the Earth Stood Still", a study by one Witold Fraczek linked to (by among others) Strange Maps, produce an interesting picture of Earth as a tidally locked world. If Earth suddenky stopped rotating--or, more precisely, if Earth's day became as long as its year, keeping the same side forever facing the Sun--the geography would change, radically and quickly.

[I]magine the earth stopping cold in its tracks. No more centrifugal force. No more bulging. Over time, the earth’s shape would approximate a perfect ball. But most of the immediate readjusting would be done by the most fluid element on our planet’s surface: the water, which by some measurements currently bulges as much as 8 km (5 mi.) at the equator. The consequences would be far more dramatic than any current climate change scenario. The oceans would not nibble at our shores. They would rise thousands of metres and swallow continents whole.

This would happen as the equatorial aquatic surplus would rush towards both poles, submerging much of the land mass towards either extremity, eventually creating an equatorial megacontinent that would ring the earth and thus separate both polar oceans.

What a strange new world this would be. As the earth would stop rotating (but presumably still circle the sun), one night-and-day cycle would last an entire year. The new continent ringing the globe (2) would include a large part of current Mid-Atlantic, Indian and Mid-Pacific seabeds, perhaps re-emerging legendary continents like Mu, Atlantis and other lands lost beneath the waves.

Most of North America would drown, a rump US still jutting out into the Northern Ocean. Of Europe, only Andalusia would remain (plus a few scattered Alpine, Pyrenean and Balkanic islets). Russia: gone. Central Asia: gone. North Africa would actually gain some land, but Afghanistan and Tibet would no longer be landlocked.

The southern hemisphere would fare a lot better: a lot less land to be lost there in the first place. Australia has to see Tasmania go, but gets a land bridge to Papua and the wider world – and that’s been a while, as attested by the development in isolation of its unique marsupial fauna. Speaking of which. Provided any animals (and humans) survive the Great Stoppage, it would be interesting to see what living on a single land mass does to the diversity of the natural world.

Because the Northern and Southern Ocean are now separate from each other, and since both basins have different capacities, there will be two sea levels, with the Southern Ocean’s zero elevation 1.4 km (0.9 mi.) lower than the Northern one.

The climate of this new Earth would be interesting. For a long time, it was thought that worlds locked on their primaries, with one side of eternal light and another of eternal night, would be uninhabitable, with the atmosphere freezing out on the night side. More recent studies suggest that the Earth could avoid such a fate, with air and water circulating constantly. The night side would still be inhospitable, though. Likely only the narrow twilight band--especially areas around the new West and East Poles--would be comfortable for our kind of life.

[BRIEF NOTE] On democracy and representation in medium-sized cities

Nissology PEI recently linked to citizen journalist site NJN Network which linked to Tim Bousquet's editorial in Halifax (Nova Scotia) weekly The Coast, "'Appalling' democracy". There's apparently been debate in the Halifax Regional Municipality--the largest municipality by population in Atlantic Canada--on reducing the number of elected representatives, so as to streamline the political system and increase voter turnout. That's a bad idea, Bousquet argues; Prince Edward Island comes up.

Last week, councillor Tim Outhit used the example of Prince Edward Island, population 130,000, which has 27 elected members in its legislature. This compares to HRM's population of about 400,000, which has 23 elected councillors. PEI's arrangement is "appalling," said Outhit.

But voter turnout on PEI has been over 80 percent in 12 of the last 13 provincial elections (the 13th had "just" 78 percent), and PEI consistently has among the highest voter turnout of any jurisdiction in North America. In comparison, even with a celebrated internet and phone voting system that made it painless to vote, in the last Halifax election voter turnout plummeted to a record low 37 percent. I'd say it's Halifax's turnout that is appalling, not PEI's.

To be sure, a lot determines voter turnout rates, including demographics, history and, in PEI's case until very recently, a scandalous tradition of spoils (a tradition shared by Nova Scotia). Maybe it's not fair to look at that one example.

So I asked Bobby O'Keefe, who works at the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, the right-wing think-tank based in Halifax, what he thought. Using data AIMS has collected, O'Keefe took 10 Canadian cities with populations between 200,000 and 500,000 and looked at the population per council district and voter turnout. His conclusion: "The more people you've got for each councillor, the lower voter turnout tends to be. Is the number the only thing at play? No, of course not. But if you want your city's citizens engaged, taking away voices from the council table might not be the best path."

O'Keefe's post is here.

[LINK] "Shifting attitudes take gay rights fight across globe, experts say"

CNN has the story down correctly. This is why coming out is so important: if you find out that a person you like belongs to an abstract class you've no experience of but strongly dislike, you're quite likely to change your mind about the class, not the person. This is especially true if the change happens while society as a whole is visibly coming to this realization.

[A]ttitudes are changing, and waning are concepts that homosexuality harms children, defies biblical teachings or destroys the fabric of society.

"Public attitudes don't change really quickly, but this is one that's changing really, really quickly," Powell said.

The trend is similar abroad, especially among younger people, said Suzanne Goldberg, a Columbia University law professor who heads the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law. The center has handled asylum cases for gay people fleeing persecution in countries including Jamaica, Brazil, Uzbekistan and Ivory Coast.

Research indicates younger people are beginning to see sexual orientation as "benign variation, so that the differences between gay and nongay couples are simply not so interesting," Goldberg said in an e-mail.

"Once that happens, societies have less interest in distinguishing between relationships of gay and nongay couples," she added.

[. . .]

Powell has been collecting data on American attitudes since 2003. While the full data will be released in his book in September, his research adds a layer of nuance to the poll numbers: Though many Americans simply do or do not recognize gay couples as families, 80 percent of Americans consider gay partners a family if they have children.

His research shows American definitions of family are becoming flexible, he said, likening the same-sex marriage debate to the rumblings preceding the 1967 U.S. Supreme Court decision authorizing interracial marriages.

Before the miscegenation ruling, researchers found younger people, those with liberal religious views and voters with higher education levels had fewer qualms with interracial marriages.