A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[PHOTO] Traversing the Dufferin Street underpass early in the morning, Toronto

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Traversing the underpass #toronto #queenstreetwest #dufferinstreet #underpass

I rather love the underpass of Dufferin at Queen, especially at night when it is aglow.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 9, 2015 at 1:18 pm

[MUSIC] Annie, “Songs Remind Me of You”

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My March 2014 post sharing the music video for Norwegian singer Annie‘s 2009 song “Songs Remind Me of You” periodically keeps getting +1s on G+ from people who like the song. Deservedly so, I’d say.

Here it is again.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 9, 2015 at 3:49 am

[LINK] “America’s First Satellite… Almost”

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At his blog Drew Ex Machina, Andrew Lepage writes about how, if things had gone differently, the United States might well have launched a satellite into orbit before the Soviet Union. This would have required, among other things, a reorganization of space research programs and perhaps also a perception in the US military of advantages to space travel like satellite surveillance.

In September 1954 the joint Army-Navy Project Orbiter proposal to launch a single satellite was submitted to the Department of Defense (DoD) for consideration. At about this same time, there was a building effort in scientific circles to organize the International Geophysical Year – an international scientific cooperative effort to study the Earth and its interaction with the Sun that would run from July 1, 1957 to December 31, 1958. With the US considering a commitment to launch a satellite during the IGY, the US Air Force (USAF) and the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) submitted their own satellite proposals as well. With three choices before him, Assistant Secretary of Defense Donald A. Quarles deferred the decision to an Advisory Group on Special Capabilities.

On September 9, 1955 this group choose the NRL proposal which was eventually called Vanguard (see “Vintage Micro: The Original Standardized Microsatellite”). While Project Orbiter made the greatest use of off-the-shelf hardware and had the best chance to get a satellite into orbit first, the Eisenhower administration made it clear that they wanted to use as little military hardware as possible to launch America’s IGY satellite. This was to give the project as civilian a look as possible to ease establishment of the concept of overflight rights for Earth-orbiting satellites (making it easier for later military satellites, then secretly under study, to fly their missions). The Eisenhower Administration also wanted to minimize any potential interference between the satellite program and vital defense projects like the Army’s Redstone or the USAF proposed use of their Atlas ICBM then under development (see “The First Atlas Test Flights”). Another perceived weakness in the Project Orbiter proposal was that it would launch only a single satellite with no follow up. Of course this could have been easily remedied with additional resources to build hardware for more flights but it was felt that this could have had deleterious consequences for the Redstone development program.

With Project Orbiter officially shelved, development of von Braun’s proposed satellite launch vehicle was redirected in September of 1955 in an attempt to keep it alive in another guise. In addition to the Redstone, the ABMA, under the command of Major General Bruce Medaris, was developing the Jupiter IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile). With a range of 2,800 kilometers, Jupiter’s warhead would have to withstand much more extreme conditions upon reentry into the Earth’s atmosphere than the payloads of earlier, shorter range missiles. In-flight testing of this new warhead-laden entry vehicle was needed to verify its design but a purpose-built rocket for this task was not yet available. As a stop gap measure, a modified version of von Braun’s satellite launcher was proposed. While it was not powerful enough to loft the actual warhead, the rocket would be capable of accelerating a one-third scale RTV (Reentry Test Vehicle) with a mass of 140 kilograms to hypersonic velocities. The only major change required to von Braun’s satellite launcher was the removal of the fourth stage and the installation of an adapter for the RTV.

From the start, the development of this modified Redstone proceeded so that the satellite launch option would be preserved. This rocket was designated Jupiter C (“C” standing for “Composite”) to help disguise its heritage under the Jupiter program umbrella. This would not be the first Redstone to fly in support of Jupiter development, however. Starting in March 1956, modified Redstone missiles designated “Jupiter A” commenced flight testing key Jupiter IRBM components such as the guidance system in preparation of the first actual Jupiter test flights a year later. As development of the Jupiter C proceeded ostensibly to support the IRBM project, Medaris and von Braun continued to lobby civilian and military leaders in Washington to allow them to launch a satellite.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 11:12 pm

[LINK] “Reconstructing the Lifestyles of Three Pre-Historic Amazonian Tribes”

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This brief post by Asya Perelstvaig at her Languages of the World constitutes still more evidence, this time linguistic, suggesting that current Amazonian cultures are survivors of a much larger and more complex society that collapsed, likely as a result of the post-colonial exchanges.

In my class on October 5, 2015, we talked about how ancestral languages can be reconstructed on the basis of their present-day descendants and how such linguistic reconstructions (particularly reconstructions of the vocabulary) can be used to reimagine the lives of the speakers of such ancestral languages. While most of our examples in class dealt with Indo-European languages (with a brief foray into the Polynesian world), here I would like to present another example where the same sort of socio-cultural reconstruction can be done on the basis of unwritten languages who offer us a rare glimpse into the lives of the their speakers’ linguistic ancestors. This example concerns three indigenous South American language families: Arawakan, Tukanoan, and Nadahup. These languages are spoken in the Upper Rio Negro region, on the border of Columbia and Brazil (see the map on the left adapted from muturzikin.com). The present-day Arawak languages are shown in pale-green, Tukanoan languages are shown in yellow, and Nadahup languages in brown. (The best-known language in the Nadahup family—at least in linguistic circles—is Nadëb, which exhibits the rarest Object-Subject-Verb order, found only in a handful of languages around the world, 4 in the WALS sample.) Of the three families, only the Nadahup is limited to this region, while Tukanoan languages are also spoken elsewhere through South America and Arawakan languages are found from Brazil to the Caribbean.

Epps (2015: 581) describes the present-day speakers of the languages in these three families who live in the region as follows:

“within the Upper Rio Negro region, the contemporary Arawak and Tukanoan peoples are settled river-dwellers who rely predominantly on fishing and bitter manioc cultivation for subsistence; the Nadahup are semi-nomadic forest-dwellers who prioritize hunting and gathering but also cultivate small garden plots.”

But did their ancestors live the same way? Since there is no indigenous form of writing, we must turn to contemporary languages and reconstruct the ancestral tongues. Such reconstructions were made by Payne (1991) for Proto-Arawakan, Chacon (2013) for Proto-Tukanoan, and Martins (2005) and Epps (forthcoming) for Proto-Nadahup. The relevant reconstructed words are given in the table below (adapted from Epps 2015: 582). The exact pronunciation of these reconstructed forms is not relevant for our present purposes; what matters is whether or not a given word reconstructs for a particular proto-language. A dash in a given table cell indicates that the word does not reconstruct for that family.

[. . .]

Since the only language for which the entire lexical set reconstructs is Proto-Arawakan, Epps concludes that its speakers “lived in settled villages, probably along larger rivers, and made use of ceramics, diverse domesticated plants… and animals … — consistent with archaeologists’ conception of early Arawak peoples as settled agriculturalists, much as they are today” (p. 581). In contrast, speakers of Proto-Tukanoan and Proto-Nadahup must have had very different lifestyles from those found among their descendants today. As can be seen from the table above, in Proto-Tukanoan a word for ‘canoe’ cannot be reconstructed. Similarly absent from the reconstructed Proto-Tukanoan vocabulary are “words for animals typical of larger rivers, as well as words for ‘canoe’, ‘paddle’, or ‘fish-trap’” (ibid). From this lexical gap, it has been concluded that speakers of Proto-Tukanoan were “less river-oriented than they are today” (ibid). However, the presence of a broad range of words for domesticated plants suggests that they engaged in agriculture. Likewise, the reconstruction of ceramic-related words means that speakers of Proto-Tukanoan manufactured ceramic goods.

As for speakers of Proto-Nadahup, they too must have had a different lifestyle from that of their present-day descendants. As mentioned above, today’s Nadahup peoples are “semi-nomadic forest dwellers who prioritize hunting and gathering but also cultivate small garden plots… [and] manufacture … ceramics” (ibid). Their ancestors, in contrast, appear to have neither “relied on domesticated plants, with the apparent exception of tobacco” (pp. 581-582) nor engaged in manufacturing ceramics since words for such objects are not reconstructed for the ancestral tongue.

Much more detail at the site.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:50 pm

[LINK] “The silences of Argentina’s election”

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Daniel Voskoboynik at Open Democracy is critical of the model of economic development in Argentina particularly, concentrated on the extraction of natural resources. As a Canadian, this sounds altogether too familiar.

Over the last two decades, Argentina and much of Latin America have seen the entrenchment of extractivism, a particular economic model based on the intensive exploitation of natural resources to be sold on the global markets. Under extractivist policies, the economy centres on the production of primary exports, and on the location of new sources of natural wealth.

While this model can bring vast windfalls when commodity prices are high, many social movements and scholars have raised significant questions about the impact, sustainability and social value of extractivist projects in the medium term. Such scrutiny, however, has hardly penetrated the mainstream media discussions or the political chatter mill.

Extractivism is no new phenomenon in the region. Under the colonial dominion, Latin American territories were essentially the object of plundering of raw materials. Contemporary extractivism, however (also known as progressive extractivism), tends to be wrapped in beneficial alibis: governments assert that the revenues accrued through commodity royalties and taxes will be distributed and devoted to social projects. In other words: the more they can extract, the more money they raise; and the more money they raise, the more they can fund.

During the twelve years of Kirchnerista rule, extractivism has become the prevailing feature of Argentina’s economic development. Prompted by global commodity prices and government policies, the country has experienced a major boom in extractive sectors such as agribusiness, mining, and hydrocarbon extraction.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:46 pm

[LINK] “Why Ukraine needs its own Harvey Milk”

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Open Democracy’s Anton Dmytriiev argues that, to start to make headway, LGBT Ukrainians need to start engaging with wider civil society.

Let’s start with copying: during Gay Pride in Kyiv this summer, there was a lot of talk about Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be appointed to public office in the USA in 1977. But what’s important here is that this only happened eight years after the Stonewall Riots in New York. During those years, the American public had gradually become aware of LGBT rights.

Milk served just 11 months in office in San Francisco, but in that time he sponsored an important anti-LGBT discrimination law for the city, and prevented the passing of a discriminatory amendment to Californian state law. This campaigning led to the assassination of Milk along with San Francisco’s mayor George Moscone in 1978.

Now here’s a question: how many Ukrainian and Russian gay activists – not just ordinary guys but the ones that give media interviews, lead organisations and spend grant money – were assassinated in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed? The answer is: none.

Do you know why? Because none of these gay activists and their organisations present any threat whatsoever to public life, the government or the ethical values of any part of the population, and nor do they bring anything new to the political or everyday life of their fellow Ukrainians.

None of our gay activists or organisations present any threat to our public life or government.

This is not to say that people should aim for martyrdom,. But it’s all very simple – not one gay rights organisation represents the interests and hopes of even 1,000 people. It can aspire to this, but in Ukraine, more often than not, NGOs (including LGBT ones) are like Potemkin villages – pure facades, set up to satisfy somebody’s own personal interests.

It’s an interesting argument.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:43 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Australia’s New Cities Minister Sounds Warning as Sydney Sprawls”

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Bloomberg’s Jason Scott notes severe real estate pressures in urban Australia.

The populations of Sydney and Melbourne are set to almost double by 2060, Australia’s new Cities Minister Jamie Briggs said, sounding a warning that ailing infrastructure and surging house prices must be tackled to ensure they remain livable.

“For a country that brags about the fact we’re a big, wide land we live in very small urban spaces,” Briggs, who was appointed last month by new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, said in an interview in Canberra Wednesday. “That trend is only going to continue.”

The nation’s major cities are coming under increasing pressure as public transport and roads fail to keep up with population growth. The inclusion of a cities minister in Cabinet indicates Turnbull’s commitment to urban planning and its importance to unlocking productivity and economic expansion.

Turnbull, a self-made millionaire who ousted Tony Abbott last month in a ballot of governing party lawmakers, is renowned for using public transport in his home city of Sydney and last week was pictured riding a tram in Melbourne.

Written by Randy McDonald

October 8, 2015 at 8:41 pm


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