January 9th, 2017


[PHOTO] Fourteen photos of #chihulyto, Royal Ontario Museum

The Royal Ontario Museum's exhibition of Dale Chihuly's glasswork ended yesterday. Last Friday, I went to see it. I was impressed by the technical skill involved in these works, the larger assemblies of work were wonderfully evocative of alien forests. Individual pieces left me a bit cold: Yes, they were technically impressive, but what were they communicating? What were they trying to communicate?

Chihily at the ROM (1)

Chihily at the ROM (2)

Chihily at the ROM (3)

Chihily at the ROM (4)

Chihily at the ROM (5)

Chihuly at the ROM (6)

Chihily at the ROM (7)

Chihily at the ROM (8)

Chihily at the ROM (9)

Chihily at the ROM (10)

Chihily at the ROM (11)

Chihily at the ROM (12)

Chihily at the ROM (13)

Chihily at the ROM (14)

[BLOG] Some Monday links

  • Bad Astronomy shares a photo of the Earth and Moon taken by a Mars probe.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money responds to a baffling claim by a New York City policeman that stranger rape is more of a concern than acquaintance rape.

  • Personal Reflections' Jim Belshaw, returned from Denmark, wonders
    about the extent to which social happiness is maximized by stability and security.

  • Progressive Download's John Farrell argues that scientists should approach the theory of evolution in a less mechanistic light.

  • Window on Eurasia reports on the transformation of United Russia into a parallel structure of government akin to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, and engages with the possibility of a pro-Russian Ukrainian government-in-exile.

  • Alex Harrowell of Yorkshire Ranter looks at the problems of an independent central bank, finding that failings attributed to these are actually faults of government.

  • Arnold Zwicky looks at the highly evolved fashion sense of faggots, in the context of Italy's divides and celebrities.

[URBAN NOTE] "Hugh's Room shutters amid financial troubles"

NOW Toronto's Kevin Ritchie was the first to report yesterday about the closing of financially insolvent but culturally critical west-end music venue Hugh's Room. Here's to hoping Hugh's Room can find its way out.

The mid-sized concert venue and restaurant's owner is facing insolvency and has shuttered the club in order to mull over financial options.

“To all our supporters – performers, audience, and staff – I am sincerely sorry to have to say that Hugh’s Room has reached a point of insolvency,” owner Richard Carson said in a statement. “More information will be available over the next few days as to how we can proceed from here, but at this time we are closing our doors until we can see what options are available to us."

Rumours the venue was experiencing financial troubles began to spread on social media over the weekend after shows were cancelled at the last minute.

"We are in serious financial trouble, but we have not declared bankruptcy," Hugh's Room booker Colin Puffer told NOW. "Although that is one of the options being looked at. However, it is only one of a few options."

[URBAN NOTE] "‘Cashman’ Russell Oliver returns to retail roots with new Yonge St. store"

The Toronto Star's Lisa Wright reports on how Toronto pawn shop owner Russell Oliver is diversifying beyond gold to high-end goods. I wonder what the mainstreaming of a pawn shop chain says about the economy.

When you think of Toronto’s “Cashman” Russell Oliver, you probably think of gold trinkets, wads of cash and that annoyingly catchy jingle rather than Hermès handbags or Cartier cufflinks.

In fact you probably consider him kooky more than anything — whether covered head to toe in silver spray paint or dressed as the “Loan Arranger” cowboy in his television ads. But Oliver couldn’t care less.

After 40 years in the gold-buying game, the veteran pitchman from those corny commercials is not only in expansion mode, he’s also changed his tune recently with a return to his retail roots at his new store on Yonge St. north of Wellesley.

“It’s like I’ve come full circle,” he says.

In his decades of buying bling like gold chains (Mr. T was both a customer and appeared in an old commercial) watches, coins and even teeth, and then shipping them off to a refinery for profit, Oliver also set aside some of the nearly new trinkets in his safe because “they were just too beautiful” to send to a smelter, he explains.

[URBAN NOTE] "North St. Lawrence Market dig delves deep into Toronto’s foodie history"

In the Toronto Star, John Lorinc describes fascinating archeology being performed at Front and Jarvis Streets beneath the North Market, close to the heart of the early city.

In a muddy trench where the North Market once stood, archeologists Peter Popkin and David Robertson scan for clues about a long-buried structure: shards of ceramic and brick mingled with stone remnants give a hint of an elaborate network of drains built in the early 1830s to serve the butchers who once sold meat on this spot.

This pit — and the rest of this extensive dig at Front and Jarvis Sts., across from St. Lawrence Market — is providing a rare glimpse back in time to the earliest origins of Toronto’s foodie industry, which has grown over two centuries to become the $17-billion-a-year behemoth it is today, encompassing everything from artisanal butcher shops to grocery giants.

The North Market remains the only piece of property in the entire city that has been used continually for a single function — food retailing — since its inception in 1803, notes Robertson, a partner with ASI.

At the beginning of the 19th century, Toronto was a colonial outpost, scarcely more than a garrison, a small commercial district around what today is Parliament and King Sts., with a population of fewer than 9,000 people. The colonial administrators needed a market zone and chose a spot on the harbour.

Since then, “at least” five separate market buildings — constructed successively in 1820, 1831, 1851, 1904 and 1968 — have occupied the property, once abutting the Lake Ontario shoreline before landfill stretched the city farther south.

[URBAN NOTE] "Fentanyl crisis moving east and leaders in Toronto hope to stop the epidemic’s spread"

The National Post hosts Diana Mehta's Canadian Press article noting how Toronto is preparing for the imminent onslaught of fentanyl. This CBC report suggests some is already here: Can civic leaders prepare before its effect hit hard?

The fentanyl-fuelled opioid crisis that has wreaked havoc in British Columbia is moving east, and the mayor of Toronto hopes a united and rapid response will help save lives in Canada’s most populous city.

Part of that effort begins Monday, with the first meeting of the Toronto Overdose Early Warning and Alert Partnership, which will bring together politicians, public health officials, first-responders, the coroner’s office, community groups and other stakeholders.

“I don’t think that we can sit back and be complacent for one moment,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in an interview. “The first thing you have to do is to form a partnership that sort of says everybody is going to be at the table, exchanging information, exchanging knowledge.”

While the full scope of fentanyl-related problems in the city isn’t known at this point, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Toronto’s acting medical officer of health, said there are already troubling figures indicating an uptick.

In 2015, there were 45 fentanyl-related overdose deaths recorded, up from 23 deaths in 2014, Yaffe said. Figures for 2016 are not yet available.

[LINK] "The discovery of medieval Trellech and the plucky amateurs of archaeology"

At The Conversation, Ben Edwards writes about the discovery of the lost medieval Welsh city of Trellech, and the import of its recent rediscovery by an amateur archaeologist.

The tale of how an amateur archaeologist’s hunch led him to uncover a lost medieval town and spend £32,000 of his own money to buy the land, would stand to be the archaeological discovery of any year. On the border between England and Wales, the site of the medieval town of Trellech reveals much about a tumultuous period of history – and how the town came to be lost.

The story begins in 2004, when archaeology graduate Stuart Wilson began his search for this lost medieval town in Monmouthshire, south-east Wales, near where now only a small village bears the name. In the face of scepticism from academic archaeologists, Wilson’s years of work have been vindicated with the discovery of a moated manor house, a round stone tower, ancillary buildings, and a wealth of smaller finds including pottery from the 1200s.

The town could turn out to be one of the largest in medieval Wales, and while there is more work to be done, the evidence is building. The large number of finds – including metalwork, cooking vessels and decorated pottery – point to a large settlement, and are essential in helping archaeologists date the site. What they suggest is a short-lived but intensive period of occupation between the 12th and early 15th centuries, during which the town was founded by the De Clare family as an industrial centre and later destroyed during the Owain Glyndwr rebellion in 1400. This was a period of instability on the Welsh border, with conflict between rival Welsh princes and the English throne. Settlements like Trellech would become the focus of such clashes, culminating in Glyndwr’s rebellion.

What makes the lost city of Trellech so important is its rarity and the quality of its preservation. Most large medieval settlements in England and Wales are still towns and cities to this day. This means archaeological investigations of medieval London or York for example are difficult and expensive, and can only occur piecemeal as urban redevelopment allows excavation of small areas. If Trellech turns out to be an extensive town, it will be a unique and important site. As archaeology is key to understanding the lives of everyday people who are ignored by the histories of the great and the good, sites like Trellech are the only way we gain these insights.

[URBAN NOTE] "Partying with John Waters in 1970s Provincetown"

Via 3 Quarks Daily, I came across Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain's Vice article talking about one man's perspective on Provincetown in the 1970s, a New England beach resort that was briefly the centre of interesting happening in popular culture.

America used to have sanctuaries across the country where fuck-ups, weirdos and other "marginalized" people could hide out and live without much contact with "straight" America. Places like downtown New York City in the East and West Village, Haight Ashbury in San Francisco, and, of course, Provincetown, that great artistic outpost at the very tip of Cape Cod. All these locations provided affordable living, while tolerating bizarre lifestyles. Hallelujah!

Now most of these sanctuaries have been wiped out by yuppies and gentrification, or in downtown NYC's case, fucking idiot students who've made the East Village their own private frat party. Gone are these special places to live out your life exactly as you wanted to, so we thought we'd provide a reminder to all those kids who have told us they were born too late and look fondly to the past—Quaaludes, 45 records, black beauties, 16 millimeter movies, and when "making art" was not just a hobby. You lived it.

Philippe Marcade is an old friend who lived a wild life as the lead singer of the Senders, and hung out with Johnny Thunders and Jerry Nolan, as well as Richard Hell, Dee Dee Ramone, Debbie Harry, and Chris Stein. Philippe was also a featured voice in our book, Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk, which we recently celebrated with a 20th anniversary edition. Get it, it's good.

But he was more than just a French punk rocker who hung out a CBGB and Max's Kansas City. He was "in" with a bunch of malcontents who celebrated the idea of "inspired amateurism" from the lonely outpost of Provincetown, Massachusetts before commercialism ruined that town. The crew included Channing Wilroy, an actor who appeared in several of John Water's movies, the film critic Dennis Dermody, the late photographer David Armstrong, and other experimental artists.

Philippe was also good friends with both photographer Nan Goldin and writer/actress Cookie Mueller, two woman whose lives were the blueprints for today's punk girls. They were independent, intelligent, rebellious, bi-sexual, and hysterically funny. And they did it before there was this thing called punk. This is the story of the 1970s summer they spent partying in the Cape.

[LINK] "Massive drop in London HIV rates may be due to internet drugs"

The New Scientist's Clare Wilson reports on a massive drop in new HIV infections in London that is more easily explained by growing use of PrEP, the prophylactic use of new HIV drugs to prevent infections.

Gay men who defied medical advice seem to have changed the course of the HIV epidemic in the UK – for the better.

Four London sexual health clinics saw dramatic falls in new HIV infections among gay men of around 40 per cent last year, compared with 2015, new figures show.

This decline may be mostly due to thousands of people buying medicines called pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which cut the chance of catching the virus, online.

“We need to be very cautious at this stage, but I can’t see what else it can be,” says Will Nutland at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who has set up a website that gives people information on how to give themselves PrEP. “Something extraordinary has happened in the last 12 months because of a bunch of DIY activists working off our kitchen tables.”

The medicine has been approved in the UK as a drug for preventing HIV infection in both men and women, but it isn’t yet available on the National Health Service.

“People say, ‘Why don’t gay men just use condoms?’,” says Mags Portman of the Mortimer Market Centre in London, one of the clinics that has seen large declines in diagnoses. “They do, but not all the time. Straight people don’t use condoms all the time either.”

[ISL] "Talks to secure Cyprus reunification enter 'final stages'"

The Guardian's Helena Smith reports on the prospects for peace and eventual reunification in Cyprus. I only hope that the negotiating parties will not decide to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

After 18 months of intensive negotiations to settle inter-ethnic divisions, Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akıncı will attempt to finesse the details of a peace deal in Geneva this week by poring over maps and discussing territorial trade-offs before tackling the potentially explosive issue of security.

Asked if he was optimistic as he arrived at the UN’s European headquarters on Monday morning, Anastasiades, the Greek Cypriot leader, said: “Ask me when we are finished.”

For an island the finer skills of peacemakers has long eluded, the talks are seen as a defining moment in the arduous process of resolving what has long been regarded as the Rubik’s cube of diplomacy.

On Sunday, the new UN secretary general, António Guterres, described the talks as a historic opportunity. In Nicosia officials on both sides of the buffer zone spoke of “the best and last chance” for a settlement. Other experts described the talks as the endgame.

“This is the final phase of the final phase,” said Hubert Faustmann, a professor of history and political science at the University of Nicosia. “It will be the first time since 1974 that Turkey and the Greek Cypriots will hold direct talks at the negotiating table.”

A week of fierce horse-trading lies ahead before Greece, Turkey and former colonial power Britain – the island’s three guarantors under its post-independence constitution – convene on 12 January to address the issues of troop presence and security in an envisioned federation. Both are seen as crucial to ensuring 1974 is never repeated.

[LINK] "Inside Quebec's far right: Radical groups push extreme message"

CBC News' Jonathan Montpetit writes about how the position of Québec as a place where North American and European influences meet, normally a positive thing, has recently allowed far-right activists of these two traditions to meet and mingle.

On a sunny day in mid-October, about 100 people gathered outside Quebec's National Assembly, chanting their concern that immigration was eroding Quebec culture.

They were members of the various groups that make up the far right in Quebec: Justiciers du peuple, PEGIDA Quebec and Soldats d'Odin among them.

Standing apart from the crowd that Saturday were a dozen members of a group that even the rest of the far right finds radical.

Scaling the nearby walls of the Citadelle, Atalante Québec unfurled a banner that read, "Death to terrorists, Islam Out."

"Atalante are guys that are a bit more extreme than us," said Katy Latulippe, who heads the Quebec chapter of Soldiers of Odin, a group that has proposed patrolling Quebec City neighbourhoods popular with Muslims.

Other far-right groups avoid talking about race, preferring to speak of religious fundamentalism instead.