A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[URBAN NOTE] Five Toronto links: St. Michael’s, 650 Parliament, TTC, Norm Kelly, Toronto 2033

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  • Robyn Urback writes at CBC Toronto about the, sadly, unsurprising scandal at St. Michael’s College School regarding the abuse and sexual assault of students.
  • Many of the tenants displaced by the 650 Parliament Street fire will find themselves homeless very soon, if they cannot find a way to pay for their unwanted hotel stays. CBC reports.
  • The CodeRedTO report on the TTC makes the point that mass transit in Toronto is vulnerable, particularly needing secure funding and more effective governance. CBC reports.
  • blogTO takes a look at what is next for politician and Twitter star Norm Kelly, after he lost his seat in the Toronto elections.
  • Spacing announces its upcoming launch of its first fiction anthology, Toronto 2033, in an event next week in the Junction.

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

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  • Bad Astronomer notes Apep, a brilliant trinary eight thousand light-years away with at least one Wolf-Rayet star that might explode in a gamma-ray burst.
  • Centauri Dreams notes that AAVSO, the American Association of Variable Star Observers, has created a public exoplanet archive.
  • The Crux considers/u> different strategies for intercepting asteroids bound to impact with Earth.
  • D-Brief notes the discovery of a solar twin, a star that might have been born in the same nursery as our sun, HD 186302 184 light-years away.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that although NASA’s Gateway station to support lunar traffic is facing criticism, Russia and China are planning to build similar outposts.
  • JSTOR Daily notes the research of Katie Sutton into the pioneering gender-rights movement of Weimar Germany.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money celebrates the successful clean-up of the Cuyahoga River in Ohio, once famously depicted on fire.
  • The Map Room Blog links to maps showing Apple Maps and Google Maps will be recording images next for their online databases.
  • Jamieson Webster at the NYR Daily takes a critical, even defensible, look at the widespread use of psychopharmacological drugs in contemporary society.
  • Roads and Kingdoms carries a transcript of an interview with chefs in Ireland, considering the culinary possibilities overlooked and otherwise of the island’s natural bounty.
  • Rocky Planet considers the real, overlooked, possibility of earthquakes in the relatively geologically stable east of the United States.
  • The Russian Demographics Blog notes how, in the transatlantic wine trade, American interest in European wines is surely not reciprocated.
  • Starts With A Bang’s Ethan Siegel notes how Einsteinian relativity, specifically relating to gravitational lensing, was used to predict the reappearance of the distant Refsdal Supernova one year after its 2014 appearance.

[PHOTO] Looking north on Ossington at Dupont

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Looking north on Ossington at Dupont #toronto #ossingtonave #dupontstreet #dovercourtvillage #morning #blue #latergram

Written by Randy McDonald

November 20, 2018 at 10:30 am

[WRITING] Thoughts on debunking and writing and educating and creating

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The other week, someone on Facebook shared an infographic cartoon that really grabbed me.

One of the earliest blog-like postings I’ve ever written, and argably my biggest still, was my 2004 post “France, its Muslims, and the Future”. In that essay, dashed out in the space of a couple of days in the spring of my grad school year at Queen’s, I put paid to the Eurabia conspiracy theory. There was simply no plausible way that Muslims were on a trajectory to becoming the majority population in France, never mind Europe, in anything like a human lifetime; there were simply not enough Muslims, not a large enough difference in fertility, and not enough interest among the diverse Muslim populations of France in an unprecedented merger. That done, I ended my essay on an optimistic note: “Now, on to issues worth real debate, like how to best integrate French Muslims into wider French society.”

Now, anyone who has followed the Western discourse about Muslims and their numbers in the West in the intervening fourteen and a half years should know that this did not happen. If anything, the prevalence of Eurabian conspiracy theories has grown, not just becoming mainstream throughout the West but finding strong echoes elsewhere in the world, in South and Southeast Asia for instance. Muslim demographic conspiracy theories have become more normal.

I am not saying that my one blog post alone, mind, could have done it. I used facts that were publicly available, using arguments that were reasonable, joining as any number of people better positioned than I ever was who also made and shared these facts and arguments. These have been shared again and again, seemingly to no avail. Why? The belief in a Muslim conspiracy, aided by decadent traitors, has nothing to do with facts, is not disprovable, is not meant to be disproved. Rather, this belief is a matter of a political stance.

After I saw that cartoon at the start of this post, I was reminded of a passage from Jean-Paul Sartre’s 1946 Anti-Semite and Jew, in which Sartre talks about the fundamental lack of good faith in the bigot, how their very arguments are used to justify their prejudice without regards to actual facts.

Never believe that anti‐Semites are completely unaware of the absurdity of their replies. They know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words. The anti‐Semites have the right to play. They even like to play with discourse for, by giving ridiculous reasons, they discredit the seriousness of their interlocutors. They delight in acting in bad faith, since they seek not to persuade by sound argument but to intimidate and disconcert. If you press them too closely, they will abruptly fall silent, loftily indicating by some phrase that the time for argument is past. It is not that they are afraid of being convinced. They fear only to appear ridiculous or to prejudice by their embarrassment their hope of winning over some third person to their side.

As I concluded in a recent Quora answer, it is really not worth debating anything with these people. People who will believe whatever the hell they want to believe will do so regardless of how much truth you give them. If it’s worthwhile continuing the debate, it is for the sake of other people looking at the debate, to prove to these others that you at least are not acting from the position of the prejudiced bigot looking to justify untrue things. If no one is watching, at least no one who is uncommitted, I would recommend discontinuing the debate. Life is too brief to waste in sterile discussions.

Of late, I’ve really been thinking a lot about why I might want to write non-fiction. (Fiction is another issue entirely; more on that later.) I really, really am tired of getting involved in sterile dialogues. I’ve been writing on the Internet for two decades, starting back on Usenet in 1997, and I have grown so tired of the greater-than sign “>”, metaphorically and otherwise; I have grown very tired of the proliferation of unending and sterile exchanges that the greater-than sign indicates, growing in number with each exchange to the point of pushing the text that passes for dialogue far to the right, far away. I am tired of only replying and counter-replying; I only want to write new things, highlight new issues and new connections, engage with people who are actually interested in real dialogue and learning new things.

(Is this a manifesto? There have been worse.)

Written by Randy McDonald

November 19, 2018 at 11:55 pm

[NEWS] Five sci-fi links: Gunn, Williams, KSR, cyberpunk, Chabon on Stewart

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  • In an interview with Mark Alpert at Scientific American, golden age SF author James Gunn argues that science fiction still has the potential to save the world.
  • At Universe Today, writer Matt Williams talks about how practising science journalism helped him become a better writer of science fiction.
  • Wired, noting the release of the new Kim Stanley Robinson novel Red Moon, makes the case for his importance as a writer.
  • Paul Walker-Emig at The Guardian makes the case that cyberpunk is full of tropes and aesthetics that are decades old, that the subgenre needs desperately to reinvent itself.
  • Michael Chabon, writer on the new Picard series, enthuses about the joys of working with Patrick Stewart.

[NEWS] Five links about smart animals: elephants, octopuses, gorillas, primates, termites

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  • D-Brief notes that elephants seem to count the same way humans do.
  • JSTOR Daily takes a look at the reasons why octopus mothers maintain such long, silent vigils over their eggs.
  • Happily, the mountain gorilla is now no longer a “critically endangered” species. CBC reports.
  • The Crux looks at how studies of communication among other primates can help solve the question of how language developed among humans.
  • D-Brief notes the determination that a collection of termite mounds dates back four thousand years, product of a sophisticated hive insect society.

Written by Randy McDonald

November 19, 2018 at 9:15 pm

[NEWS] Five D-Brief links: Small Magellanic Cloud, Pluto, Neanderthals, Atacama, rogues

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  • D-Brief notes that the Small Magellanic Cloud is losing gas, diminishing its future capacity for starbirth.
  • D-Brief notes evidence that the strange ridges of Pluto are legacies of glaciers.
  • Neanderthals, a new analysis shared by D-Brief suggests, suffered from head trauma at rates similar to that of Homo sapiens.
  • D-Brief notes how recent heavy rain in the Atacama Desert of Chile killed many of the local extremophile microbes adapted to desert conditions, with obvious implications for life on Mars.
  • D-Brief notes the discovery of two rogue planets, OGLE-2012-BLG-1323 and OGLE-2017-BLG-0560.