August 20th, 2010


[PHOTO] "Batman at Yonge and Dundas"

On G20 Sunday, the day after the Black Bloc riots on Yonge Street, the area was quiet, even in the afternoon. At Yonge-Dundas Square, some enterprising fellow decided to try to tap into the zeitgeist by posing as crime-fighting Batman for photographers like myself in exchange for change. I gave him a toonie.


He insisted I take a second one.


I think I prefer the second.

[PHOTO] On World Photography Day

I shared in the surprise of some when I learned that today was apparently World Photography Day. Apparently the organizers of the holiday--not a statutory holiday, alas--want to celebrate the anniversary of the date in 1839 when the French government announced that it had bought the patent for the daguerrotype and that it now offered the technique to the world. Yes, they have a Flickr group.

[LINK] "A Near-Term Read on Life in the Galaxy"

At Centauri Dreams, Paul Gilster comments on a recent blog post by astrobiologist Caleb Scharf. Assuming that life is actually spread throughout the galaxy by a natural sort of panspermia, what would that life look like? And where would it be found?

Scharf writes:

"Although it’s a complex problem, it seems likely that life driven by cosmic dispersal will end up being completely dominated by the super-hardy, spore-forming, radiation resistant, rock-eating (endolithic) type of critters. There will be no advantage to a particularly diverse gene pool. Billions of years of galactic transferral will have whittled it down to only the most indelicate and non-fussy microbes – super efficient, super persistent, and ubiquitous – the galactic top dogs."

All of this would fit with what we see on Earth, for we know about numerous organisms in extreme environments here that do indeed survive under conditions most living things would consider hostile. Scharf’s point, though, is that if panspermia is true on a galactic level, then tough organisms like these should be just about everywhere. As our robotic probes grow in sophistication, they should start finding life’s tenacious foothold throughout the Solar System, from the ancient seabeds of Mars to the smog-choked surface of Titan. A galactic panspermia would know no favorites, and it has had billions of years to work.

Galactic panspermia, in other words, is going to make itself apparent in the not distant future. If we find that this is not the case, that life doesn’t pop up just about everywhere we look, then the case for panspermia at this level is vastly weakened, although we can still see a role for panspermia between planets. The larger question of life around other stars, in that case, will remain as intractable as it does today, and will require our most advanced instrumentation to detect in the form of atmospheric biomarkers on Earth-like planets near enough to study.

[LINK] "Camden preparing to close its libraries, destroy books"

This news report horrifies me. If a city can't maintain such a basic service--such a fundamentally democratizing service, I'd argue, providing citizens at large with access to information and learning that they might not otherwise get--what future does it have? The Philadelphia suburb has an even rougher future ahead with these kinds of distorted budgetary priorities.

Camden is preparing to permanently shut its library system by the end of the year, potentially leaving residents of the impoverished city among the few in the United States unable to borrow a library book free.

At an emotional but sparsely attended meeting of the library board Thursday, its president, Martin McKernan, said the city's three libraries cannot stay open past Dec. 31 because of severe budget cuts by Mayor Dana L. Redd.

"It's extraordinary, it's appalling," McKernan said.

All materials in the libraries would be donated, auctioned, stored, or destroyed. That includes 187,000 books, historical documents, artifacts, and electronic equipment. Keeping materials in the shuttered buildings is a fire hazard, officials said, and would make them vulnerable to vandalism and vermin.

"They don't want to see our children grasp a future, but go down the toilet," said Jean Kehner, who described herself as a Camden resident for 76 years.

Redd is facing a $28 million projected deficit stemming from reductions in state aid and a long-standing lack of taxable property. She is planning deep cuts in all departments, and she told McKernan last month that she would slash funding to the 105-year-old library system by about two-thirds.