A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly talks about the simple pleasures of her life.
  • Centauri Dreams discusses 2014 MU69.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that less that 0.3% of galaxies could host Kardashev III civilizations.
  • Kieran Healy shares his paper “Fuck Nuance.”
  • Joe. My. God. notes the unhappiness of one American conservative with the restoration of Denali’s name.
  • Language Hat mourns poet Charles Tomlinson.
  • Marginal Revolution argues that China’s 2008-era debt binge is now coming back to haunt it.
  • The New APPS Blog discusses the role of philosophy in making life decisions.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw dislikes the rhetoric and institutions charged with guarding Australia’s borders.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer notes that the reports of Russian losses in Donbas are likely false.
  • Torontoist is unimpressed by the satirical musical version of Full House.
  • Towleroad notes an American conservative who is going to continue participating in Scouting despite its new gay-friendliness.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes that secession rarely works out well for seceding entities.
  • Window on Eurasia notes a prediction that Ukraine is now on track to go west.

[LINK] “The world’s most famous gorilla is showing signs of early speech”

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Jake Flanigin’s Quartz article caught my attention.

Koko, a 44-year-old gorilla famous for her ability to communicate with keepers using sign language, is now showing signs of early speech. “Koko has developed vocal and breathing behaviors associated with the ability to talk, which were previously thought to be impossible in her species,” The Daily Mail reports. The new development could further blur the line between what distinguishes humans from some of our more hirsute cousins.

[. . .]

Primatologists have long believed in a limited “vocal repertoire” for each species of ape—rendering them unable to learn new sounds beyond a certain range. This theory suggests that development of verbal language is a uniquely human characteristic. Koko is perhaps on the verge of shattering scientific notion.

Marcus Perlman, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, has been working at the Gorilla Foundation, which houses Koko, since 2011. “I went there with the idea of studying Koko’s gestures, but as I got into watching videos of her, I saw her performing all these amazing vocal behaviors,” he told The Daily Mail. These were learned behaviors, and not part of a “typical gorilla repertoire,” Perlman and fellow researchers found.

Though Koko’s command of sign language is indeed extraordinary, Perlman believes she is “no more gifted than other gorillas … The difference is just her environmental circumstances. You obviously don’t see things like this in wild populations.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 1, 2015 at 7:32 pm

[LINK] “Two Big Winners From China’s Big Slowdown”

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Bloomberg View’s William Pesek notes that despite China’s slowdown, some other Asian economies are doing well. This is a consequence of more-informed investors.

How panicked were investors last week about China’s stock market plunge? Enough to treat the Korean peninsula, a place that was teetering on the brink of war, as a safe haven. Even as policy makers braced for renewed military confrontation between North and South Korea, the won staged a rally.

That’s made South Korean assets one of the few bright spots in a dark time for emerging markets. On Aug. 24 alone, investors yanked $2.7 trillion out of developing nations, with Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand especially hard hit. It matched the violent September 2008 selloff after Lehman Brothers collapsed.

[. . .]

It’s not hard to explain why many Asian economies are suffering from China’s slowdown. Exporters of commodities, who depended on a humming Chinese market, have especially suffered. But why are there such big outliers among battered emerging markets?

The answer is that investors are finally basing their decisions less on herd mentality than nuanced, case-by-case analyses. “Emerging market investors have become a lot savvier,” says economist Frederic Neumann of HSBC in Hong Kong. “Gone are the days where emerging markets were all lumped into one bucket. Today, countries with stronger fundamentals are able to resist the spread of contagion washing over global financial markets.” Along with South Korea and the Philippines, Neumann notes that even some frontier economies, like Vietnam, “have weathered global financial turmoil with apparent ease.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 1, 2015 at 7:30 pm

[LINK] “Armenia as a bridge to Iran? Russia won’t like it”

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In an Al Jazeera opinion piece, Richard Gagosian argues that while Armenia is well-positioned to benefit from the opening up of post-sanctions Iran, Russia is not likely to welcome anything that could weaken Armenian dependence on Russia.

[I]n the wake of the recent Western-brokered nuclear deal with Iran, Armenia is now looking to position itself as a “bridge”, or at least a platform, for engaging Iran. And it is geography – not geopolitics – that now counts the most in determining whether Armenia can exploit its position.

There are several advantages for Armenia, ranging from a cheap, educated workforce to low transport costs stemming from reliable infrastructure links. Perhaps most importantly, Armenia is one of the few stable neighbours of Iran, with a deep degree of stability and a long record of close and cooperative relations.

More recently, with several high-level visits of Armenian officials to Iran this year, and the planned visit to Armenia by the Iranian president, there is renewed interested in expanding trade and transport ties. The possible construction of a second twin gas pipeline has also resurfaced as a strategic priority for both countries as well.

On a smaller, yet more realistic scale, Armenia is also eager to expand its existing exports of surplus electricity to Iran. For years, as the only country in the region with a nuclear power plant, Armenia has sold electricity to neighbouring Georgia and Iran.

Iran is also keenly interested, as the planned expansion of the power grid would also link Iran to the Georgian network as well. This has also recently driven Iran to pledge to invest some $91m as its share in the $117m project. This is further supplemented by the development of hydroelectrical projects aimed at bolstering Armenian energy exports to Iranian consumers.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 1, 2015 at 7:28 pm

[LINK] Richard Warnica in the National Post on the insanity of Chiheb Esseghaier

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Richard Warnica looks at the issue of mental health. What does it mean–for the man, for his trial–if his attempt at terrorism is the product of a mental health issue?

Esseghaier was born on Sept. 19, 1982, in the Tunisian capital, Tunis, the oldest of four boys in a close, nominally Muslim but largely secular family. As a boy, he was quiet and studious, according to multiple published interviews with those who knew him back home. “He was an ordinary student,” his friend Meriam Sassi told Reuters in 2013. “There was no sign of religious militancy.”

The young man excelled academically and earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees by his mid-’20s. In 2008, he moved to Quebec to pursue a PhD, first at the University of Sherbrooke and then later at the prestigious Institut national de la recherche scientifique (INRS.) “He was an excellent student of biology,” Samir Galouli, a former colleague, told Reuters in the same story.

Once in Canada, Esseghaier became increasingly devout and increasingly erratic. He grew out his beard for the first time. He began praying regularly and, according to what fellow students and members of the Muslim community told police, started veering toward extremism. He harangued one female colleague in 2012 about what she wore and how she behaved. He reproached a male colleague for kissing a girl on the cheek. He told a third he supported “jihad by sending money to countries that had jihad.”

At the same time, Esseghaier’s personal life was deteriorating. One former roommate told police Esseghaier would spend three to four hours at a time in the bathroom and woke up the neighbours regularly at 3 a.m. with his yelling and prayers. A colleague who shared a lab with him for 20 months said “he looked like a homeless person, smelled, slept in his clothes and was in the washroom for two hours at a time,” according to an interview summary published in Ramshaw’s report.

[. . .]

After his arrest, in 2013, news reports focused on Esseghaier’s religious fervour. He demanded to be tried by Qur’anic law and gave multiple interviews denouncing Canada’s presence in Afghanistan and refusing to deny the charges against him. He played, in other words, the perfect part of the Muslim extremist, bent, by fierce ideology, on killing Canadians.

But in her report, Ramshaw suggested an alternative narrative. Esseghaier’s descent into religious extremism, she wrote, likely coincided with the onset of his mental illness. In fact, the two may have been inextricably linked.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 1, 2015 at 7:25 pm

[LINK] “Rice farming in Ontario lake sparks fight over treaty and property rights”

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The Globe and Mail‘s Oliver Sachgau described a controversy surrounding the harvesting of wild rice in a southern Ontario lake.

For years, residents near Pigeon Lake in Southern Ontario were unhappy with a local wild rice harvester who was seeding the lake, filling their shorelines with the marshy plant. But when the locals decided to take action and cut down the plants, the simmering tension exploded into a fight over treaty and property rights.

The fight is raising fundamental questions over the balance of the rights of the residents, who see the lake as a recreational area and important waterway for their boats, with the rights of the First Nation community, who see the lake as an important source of food, protected by their treaty.

The issue revolves around the northern wild rice that grows on Pigeon Lake, in the Kawartha Lakes region, about 150 kilometres northeast of Toronto. The rice, which grows in tall, thick stalks, has always been a part of the lake’s ecosystem.

[. . .]

The rice has proliferated in recent years, and now covers an estimated 10 per cent to 15 per cent of the lake’s 57 square kilometres.

Larry Wood, a local, said he noticed a First Nations man spreading rice seeds across the lake a few years ago. It is that seeding he blames for the spread of the rice, which he says has now made the waterfront inaccessible for boats and is bringing down property values.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 1, 2015 at 7:22 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Captain John’s coming apart at the last port”

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The Toronto Star‘s Edward Keenan describes how Captain John’s is being taken apart, being recycled.

On a sunny August afternoon, the mouth of the Welland Canal in Port Colborne at the shore of Lake Erie offers a picturesque lesson into the marine history of Ontario. In the waters where shipping traffic once travelled non-stop every day, a few children skinny dip off the steps of the pier; the impressive bulk and height of one of the canal’s few remaining lift bridges overlooks the fading footprint of the three earlier canals that flowed here and the stone abutments of retired bridges and locks; along West Street there are historical markers outlining the ongoing industrial history of the town straddling the now shuttered pilot’s cabin.

And from there, on the Promenade overlook, a familiar site becomes visible across the water: a red star on a white field, above the stylized seriffed letters “John’s Seafo.” Looking closer, there’s a familiar blue plank surrounded by light bulbs, with inoperable neon tubing spelling out “SEAFOOD.” It’s the old ship, alright, what’s left of it, the MS Jadran, which was anchored in the Toronto harbour at the foot of Yonge St. for 40 years, serving as Captain John’s restaurant. Before that it had spent two decades as a passenger ship in the Adriatic. Now it sits in pieces here, the recognizable upper half in pieces emerging from the earth and bush along the canal.

For a visitor from Toronto, it is a startling sight, like the sudden appearance of the beached tip of Statue of Liberty at the end of Planet of the Apes — the ruin of a familiar landmark in an unfamiliar place. What was for a couple generations an iconic fixture of Toronto’s waterfront has become, for the summer, a part of the view for Port Colborne’s residents and visitors.

More, including photos, at the site.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 1, 2015 at 7:20 pm

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