January 25th, 2017


[PHOTO] Ten photos from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge

"Wallace Avenue Footbridge" seems to be the most common name on the Internet for the large steel truss bridge that stretches over the rail lines north of Bloor at Dundas West, connecting Dundas Street West on the west side of the rail line with Wallace Avenue and the Junction Triangle on the east side. The views offered from the platform are wonderful, unmatched in the city, whether looking south towards Bloor Street and the GO Station and the towers of Crossways, north towards the Junction, or west (or east) towards the streets below.

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (1)

<View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (2)

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (3)

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (4)

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (5)

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (6)

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (7)

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (8)

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (9)

View from the Wallace Avenue Footbridge (10)

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • The Crux makes the case that, for too long, modern homo sapiens have underestimated the genius of the Neanderthals.

  • D-Brief looks at the efforts of some scientists to develop brewing standards for the Moon.

  • Language Hat examines different languages' writing standards--Turkish, Greek, Armenian--in the late Ottoman Empire.

  • Language Log deconstructs claims that Japanese has no language for curses.

  • Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen looks at the standards of truth by which Trump's supporters are judging him.

  • The NYRB Daily looks at the hollow Styrofoam aesthetics of the Trump Administration.

  • Savage Minds considers the idea of personhood.

  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell considers key mechanics of populism.

  • Arnold Zwicky meditates, somewhat pornographically, on a porn star of the last decade and public sexuality.

[LINK] "Premier Kathleen Wynne bombarded on social media by homophobic, sexist abuse"

There are many reasons to criticize the government of Ontario's Liberal premier, Kathleen Wynne. There are many ways to criticize her. The personal abuse described in Mike Crawley's CBC News report is not one of these ways.

The replies to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne on Twitter are not for the faint of heart.

The tweets at Wynne predominantly express anger about her record and most stay within the bounds of fair comment, not crossing the line into personal abuse. Such calls as "Resign!" "You're incompetent!" and "Worst premier ever!" are now simply part of the deal for a politician in the era of social media.

But Wynne also draws a significant number of abusive, sexist and homophobic tweets. [. . .]

The comments on Wynne's Facebook page are equally nasty, but her communications team filters out posts that contain the most abusive words so the public can't view them.

A member of the premier's staff showed CBC News nearly 40 Facebook posts filtered out from just the past week, including ones calling Wynne a "wrinkly bitch" (by a Facebook user named George Onock) a "subhuman, dirty dyke" (Frank Yurkowski) and a "lying cheating c--t."

[LINK] "Why Kevin O'Leary is a gift to Kathleen Wynne"

The Toronto Star's Martin Regg Cohn argues that the online arguments between Kathleen Wynne and Kevin O'Leary may help the former, by giving her a highly public exchange with a political opponent who can be proved wrong.

When [Kevin O’Leary] trash-talks Ontario, it’s music to [Kathleen Wynne's] well-worn ears — those ears having been bent out of shape by angry voters, and pinched by her provincial opponents.

The premier can’t push back against senior citizens with quavering voices, and it’s tough to pin down her invisible opposition rivals — akin to fighting phantoms.

O’Leary, however, is right out of central casting. The long-running TV personality is now running for the federal Tory leadership, but he went off script by taking a run at Ontario with the usual pot shots.

Not just high hydro bills, but high taxes allegedly driving away auto plants.

Which is why the premier couldn’t resist engaging him — not on a Tory campaign stage, but on the Facebook platform that now hosts fake news and faux debates. The better to bend our ears and bait our eyeballs.

[URBAN NOTE] "The day that Toronto floated above Lake Ontario in Buffalo"

The Toronto Star's Ellen Brait describes an unusual mirage, an manifestation of Toronto in the skies above Buffalo one hot summer day in August 1894.

Buffalo residents were treated to an unusual sight on Aug. 16, 1894: a detailed image of Toronto hovering over Lake Ontario.

Or rather, “a city in the air,” according to a November 1894 Arizona Republic newspaper article.

For about an hour during the mid-morning, Toronto, its harbor, and the Island to the south of the city were visible to those on the ground in Buffalo. Normally Toronto is only visible to those high up over Buffalo.

“A close examination of the map showed that the mirage did not cause the slightest distortion, the gradual rise of the city from the water being rendered perfectly,” said an August 1894 edition of Scientific American magazine.

Despite being approximately 93 km away, witnesses on that fateful day could see a few ships, and for the first 10 minutes, even count downtown church spires.

[URBAN NOTE] blogTO on York University Station

With words and photos, Derek Flack describes the exciting architecture of the new York University subway station.

Designed by Foster + Partners, not only will this be one of the busiest stops on the line, but it's one of those buildings that goes well beyond mere utility in the hopes of adding to a campus that's in the midst of an architectural awakening.

The sweeping roof that connects each station entrance provides a dramatic centrepiece in the York University Common, but it's also an environmental feature of the structure as its anodized aluminum panels reflect sunlight and absorb very little heat.

The west-facing "light scoop" provides a stunning view for passengers exiting the station, but also allows for less reliance on electric light sources. Meanwhile the helix-like supports on the concourse level make the station appear futuristic without coming off as hokey.

[URBAN NOTE] "Toronto is making a big push to upgrade its libraries"

blogTO's Derek Flack highlights the ongoing upgrading of not a few of the branches of the Toronto Public Library system.

Perhaps the most stunning of these upgrades is happening at the TPL's Albion Branch, where architecture firm Perkins + Will have designed a stunning new building immediately adjacent to the existing branch that dates back to 1973.

By using the parking lot as the site of the replacement, it was possible to keep the original branch in operation throughout the construction process, which is entering its final stage. The new building is expected to open in fall of this year.

When it does, it'll feature a far more robust computer area, a technology centre complete with a 3-D printer, a specially designed kids area, and a social space being dubbed the "urban living room."

Similar upgrades are coming to another branch that's seen better days. The Raymond Moriyama-designed North York Central branch is still a stunning building with its seven storey atrium, but being the second busiest branch in the system, it was deemed a priority to upgrade its features and some of the finer points of the design.

The list goes on. No less than seven branches are currently undergoing renovation efforts, including Agincourt, Eglinton Square, Runnymede, St. Clair/Silverthorn, and Wychwood. In each case, the goal is the same: to modify the existing space to serve more as a community hub rather than merely a quiet place to study or read.

[URBAN NOTE] "Vancouver third most expensive in world for housing, Toronto 13th: study"

The Toronto Star carried the Canadian Press report about Demographia's latest international survey on the affordability of housing.

An annual international survey rates Vancouver as the third least affordable housing market on the planet and it also has a warning about Toronto housing.

The 2017 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey gives Vancouver a rating of 11.8, meaning median home prices are 11.8 times higher than median household income.

Read more: Toronto house prices climb more than 22%

Only Hong Kong, with a rating of 18.1, and Sydney, Australia, at 12.2, outstrip Vancouver.

Demographia says housing markets are affordable when median prices are no more than three times higher than median household income.

[URBAN NOTE] "Spillover from Toronto’s hot housing market is now driving up prices as far away as Ni

The Financial Post's Garry Marr describes how the Toronto real estate boom is driving up prices elsewhere in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area and beyond, as far as Niagara.

Canada’s largest city just keeps getting bigger — at least in terms of what constitutes “Toronto” real estate.

Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp. said Tuesday it is seeing a so-called spillover effect as far away as the St. Catharines-Niagara region after already witnessing the impact in places like Guelph, Hamilton and Barrie.

“Our evidence indicates that increasing single-family home prices in the GTA are motivating buyers to purchase more affordable homes in nearby centres. In turn, this purchasing behaviour is driving up house prices in these markets,” said Jean Sébastien Michel, principal, market analysis with CMHC.

The Canadian Real Estate Association said in January the average price of a home sold in Niagara reached $317,861, up 16.1 per cent from a year ago.

The Crown corporation maintains the impact on price has been greatest in Hamilton, where it says there is strong evidence of overvaluation. “The growth in house prices persistently outpaced economic and demographic fundamentals,” according to the report.

[LINK] "What Donald Trump and ‘buy American’ means for Canada"

At MacLean's, John Geddes writes about the implications for Canada of "Buy American" provisions under Donald Trump. There are grounds for very serious concern, along with grounds for complete uncertainty as to what Trump might want to do.

First came the jolt—not unexpected, yet still jarring—of the bluntly protectionist rhetoric of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech. “We will follow two simple rules,” the newly sworn-in president vowed. “Buy American and hire American.” But then, outside this week’s special meeting of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s cabinet in Calgary, came soothing words from a visiting Trump adviser, Stephen Schwarzman, head of the mighty Blackstone Group investment company. “There may be some modifications,” Schwarzman said of the Canada-U.S. economic relationship, “but basically, things should go well for Canada.”

Against the backdrop of those apparently contrasting messages—America-first stridency from Trump, America’s friendly reassurance from Schwarzman—it’s hard to be sure what sort of threat Canada faces. Still, Maclean’s talked to three trade experts to gain insights into what’s possible. All three, quite understandably, stressed the unknowns. But they were able to point to why Trump might feel constrained, and how past friction between Ottawa and Washington offers clues about what might be in store.

There are two closely related policy fronts to watch. The first is traditional buy-America policies designed to limit the ability of Canadian companies, and other foreign firms, to compete for a piece of the massive U.S. infrastructure spending projects Trump has pledged to finance. It’s happened before. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, championed by then-president Barack Obama’s administration, required U.S. steel and iron to be used in public works projects.

Ottawa fought for Canadian steel to be allowed in some of those U.S. infrastructure projects, and won a partial deal in early 2010. But Scott Sinclair, director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives’ trade and investment research project, says that was a modest victory. “The exemptions that Canada got in the end were pretty paltry,” Sinclair said, adding that, with Trump in power, “Canada is almost certain to face buy-America provisions on U.S. infrastructure spending.”

There are, however, some limits on how much government procurement Trump can put out of bounds for non-American firms. The U.S. is part of the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Government Procurement, which applies in 37 U.S. states with a wide array different rules. It’s not easy to sort out, but Andrea Bjorklund, a McGill University law professor and expert on trade law, said what is clear is that the stakes are high for powerful American private-sector players.

[LINK] "Trump's Gift to China"

Bloomberg View's Michael Schuman notes that the end of the TPP leaves China in a stronger position relative to the United States, economically and geopolitically. Among other things, new China-centered trade arrangements seem like to fill the void left by Trump's protectionism.

A successful TPP would've bound important economies around the Pacific Rim, from Japan to Vietnam to Chile, more closely to the U.S., while solidifying America’s presence in the most vibrant and vital part of the global economy. Asian nations now have every reason to question U.S. commitment and staying power, not to mention the promises of its leaders. Several will focus their energies on China's own free-trade pact for the region, which will increase rather than decrease their dependence on the Chinese economy. If Trump asks for their backing to roll back Chinese expansionism, they're unlikely to answer the call.

By contrast, a successful TPP would've put pressure on China -- which isn't a signatory to the pact -- to respond. In theory, to compete, it would've had to open its markets further to foreign companies and begin abiding by rules of trade and business written in Washington. (Indeed, at least some reformers in China privately welcomed the deal as a means of encouraging liberalization at home.) Trump's threats of tariffs are unlikely to accomplish the same goal.

And if nothing else, why would a supposedly sly negotiator voluntarily give up one of his most powerful points of leverage? Even if Trump genuinely hated the TPP, he could've maintained an air of uncertainty about his intentions (this, at least, he seems to excel at). Instead he's shown his hand before any real bargaining with China has begun. So much for the art of the deal.

If you think none of this matters very much, then you’re dealing in “alternative facts.” The future of American business lies in Asia, where hundreds of millions of people are getting richer by the day. U.S. exporters need access to these markets. Businesses need clarity of rules across borders and the ability to build inexpensive and reliable supply chains. Bilateral free-trade agreements, which Trump claims to favor, won't suffice.

And what about the jobs threatened by the TPP? Well, the pact would indeed have killed off some jobs -- in China. By awarding preferential treatment to exports from China’s low-cost competition, especially Vietnam, the TPP would likely have greased the flow of manufacturing jobs out of the mainland. That would've placed extra strain on a Chinese economy already struggling with fading competitiveness, an aging workforce and slowing growth.

[AH] What would the post-war settlement of the Falklands with an Argentine victory be like?

The other day, I came across an article by Samuel Osborne in the Independent, "CIA had secret plan to give Falkland Islands to Argentina and relocate islanders to Scotland." In it, Osborne describes American thinking on a settlement of the Falklands War assuming--as was entirely possible--an Argentine victory.

“For a period of three years the inhabitants of the Falkland Islands will be given a chance to consider whether they wish to remain on the Falkland Islands or whether they wish to relocate to an area of British jurisdiction, either in the UK or elsewhere under British sovereignty, with a relocation grant of $100,000 per person," Mr Rowen wrote.

“It is likely that many residents will find this sufficient inducement to relocate to some other area, perhaps in Scotland or elsewhere where conditions may be similar to the Falkland Islands.”

He adds: “Any residents who do not wish to relocate will be free to remain and become Argentinian citizens at the end of three years.

“The cost of the relocation grants to be paid to any residents of the Falkland Islands wishing to relocate elsewhere will be borne fifty/fifty by the Argentinian and British governments.”

The plans were addressed to Paul Wolfowitz, a Department of State advisor to President Ronald Reagan.

They also called for "some appropriate penalty upon the Argentinians for having used armed force to seek to settle an international dispute."

This sort of intermediate phase of British rule under Argentine sovereignty, followed by a complete reversion to Argentine sovereignty, seems like a plausible outcome assuming that the United Kingdom had decisively lost the contest to control the islands. Is it? What price would Argentina be forced to pay for its conquest of the Falklands? And how would this--the acquisition of the islands, also the cost of their acquisition imposed by the United States--complicate the democratic transition in Argentina of our timeline in the 1980s?

[AH] How could New Zealand have ended up part of the United States?

My Feedly feed pointed me to a provoactive article by Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog written by one Matt Novak, "New Zealand Could Have Been Part of the United States". The title sounds sensationalistic, but Novak does make the good point that the young British colony of New Zealand in the mid-19th century did have very close ties with the United States.

New Zealand became a British colony in 1841, but white emigration to the island nation, which was inhabited by the native Maori people, didn’t really surge until gold was discovered in 1861. The gold rush saw New Zealand’s population explode in the 1860s from roughly 99,000 at the start of the decade to 256,000 by 1871. The gold rush brought plenty of Californians, and the colony became inundated with a relatively small but rowdy bunch of Americans who didn’t acknowledge any allegiance to the United Kingdom.

As historian Gerald Horne explains in the 2007 book The White Pacific, “When gold was discovered in Otago in 1861, it was the New Zealanders who attracted attention from California to the point where there was very temporary talk of New Zealand becoming a part of the United States. In both England and New Zealand it was widely believed that an independent New Zealand would gravitate toward the U.S. sphere.”

If the small colony of New Zealand had sought independence from Britain in the 1860s or 70s, Americans could well be calling it a territory, or even a state. After all, there were just 33 American states in 1860.

The New Zealand gold rush also happened to coincide with the beginning of the American Civil War. After the war, there was a Confederate diaspora to the South Pacific—former slave owners in the Southern United States who kept up the slave trade in places like Fiji and Australia. Former American Confederates fled to places like New Zealand, which itself had outlawed slavery, but was just a short hop away from where the trade of human beings was still tacitly accepted.

Anywhere from 60,000 to 120,000 slaves were brought to Australia to work in sugar and cotton fields there between the 1860s and 1900, despite the fact that the country officially forbade slavery. Trade skyrocketed between the United States and New Zealand in the second half of the 19th century as a result of this increased activity by Californians and Confederates in the South Pacific—traders trafficking in both the gold rush of human beings, driven by British and American demand for cheap cotton, and the literal gold rush.

These certainly were close links. For the United States to have been able to challenge British rule in New Zealand, however, would imply a United States with a much stronger navy relative to the British Empire than OTL. Too, there would be plenty of closer targets in the British Empire for the United States to aim for--Canada, to start, and the Caribbean if the United States had the appetite. Notwithstanding the significant American influence in Polynesia, a United States that was able to take over New Zealand would be a much bigger naval power than OTL.

Is there a scenario that could give us an American New Zealand? What would it involve? With minimal divergences, I could only imagine a United States that had waged a successful war against the British Empire in concert with other great powers. A Franco-American alliance, maybe? A peaceful handover is more difficult to imagine still, though perhaps if the United Kingdom thought it could not secure these islands passing it to an ally might be imaginable. Another possibility I can imagine would involve Americans actually preempting the British and the French in extending their sovereignty over the homeland of the Maori, something perhaps involving early whalers.

What would work? As importantly, what would an American New Zealand look like? I am afraid that, if the paradigm applied to the indigenous peoples of the American West was applied here, the Maori might encountered significantly worse outcomes than in our history.