A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

[WRITING] Maciej Cegłowski, “Shuffleboard At McMurdo”

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Maciej Cegłowski’s essay “Shuffleboard At McMurdo”, recounting his experience of a visit to the less popular side of Antarctica, is superb travel writing.

Rodney gathers us in the ship’s auditorium for a briefing. Both the Americans and the New Zealanders have invited us to visit. Zodiac landings will be conducted with military precision, with four groups of twelve passengers sent on the half hour, and a final raft of ten picked volunteers from the crew. In a nod to geopolitical realities, the Russians will be taken directly to the gift shop.

On the other side of the continent, the question of how to handle visitors at research bases has become vexing. The boom in Antarctic tourism now brings forty thousand people a year across the Drake Passage to the Antarctic Peninsula. At Palmer station (population 40), smaller ships are allowed to come ashore, but kept out of the buildings where work is done. Larger ships aren’t allowed to land at all. Instead, volunteers from the base come aboard to brief the passengers and awkwardly sell souvenirs in the ship’s bar. Palmer handles about a dozen ships and over a thousand visitors every summer, sometimes on consecutive days, and the staff there feels the pressure.

Things are easier in the Ross Sea. This year only two ships—the Shokalskiy and its sister ship the Khromov—will visit this side of Antarctica, bringing about a hundred visitors. There are never going to be cruises here in any numbers. The trip takes too long and cannot be made comfortable. The same rounded bottom that keeps the Shokalskiy from snagging on sea ice makes it roll like crazy in open water. On a regular cruise ship, thirty degrees of roll sends grand pianos smashing into the walls, and leads to refunds, incident reports and investigations. The Shokalskiy rolls to thirty degrees every four seconds, back and forth, all the way across the Southern Ocean. A few times a day the ship tilts past forty degrees, the angle at which the grippy foam placemats on every surface release their hold on a coffee mug. And at least twice during the voyage, we roll past fifty degrees ①. At that point it makes more sense to try to stand on the walls than the floor.

Rodney says there is no cost-effective way to build a new passenger ship that could cruise the Ross Sea. The Russian charters ② are marginally profitable, but they are getting old, and are probably not worth overhauling. Few people have five weeks and tens of thousands of dollars to spend on a trip that can’t even guarantee them a glimpse of their destination. The ban on heavy fuel oil, strict limits on the numbers of people who can land, ice safety requirements, and outrageous weather mean you will never see a Carnival cruise ship at McMurdo. And that’s for the best.

The only way tourists might come to the Ross Sea in numbers would be by air, but the memory of the 1979 crash, when an Air New Zealand plane flew into the side of Mt. Erebus, is too painful. There’s still visible wreckage on the volcano. Once the Russian ships are gone, the only people touring the Ross Sea will be dignitaries flown in by the various national programs, one-off charters, and the occasional mad sailor.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 26, 2016 at 9:40 pm

[DM] Andrew Coyne in the National Post on the contingent nature of liberalism in Canada

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I write from a Canadian perspective. Sometimes, it’s important to remember that mine, too, is a pespective consequent to any number of highly contingent events. Andrew Coyne’s recent article in the National Post “Canada’s openness a product of our history, geography more than a particular Liberal trait”, is worth reading in full. He’s entirely right to point out, of course, that the relative success of liberal themes in Canada is highly contingent on any number of factors. (Canada has no prospects for any substantial unauthorized cross-border migration, for instance.)

If Canadians are in a less belligerent mood than our American and European cousins, it may be because we have not endured anything like the series of calamities they have. In contrast to the United States, median incomes in Canada have grown steadily for most of the past 20 years; inequality, whether measured from the top or the bottom, is nothing like as bad. Our housing market did not collapse, nor did our banking sector.

We have no experience with terrorism on anything like the scale of recent attacks in the United States or Europe, let alone 9/11. Neither has immigration presented the kinds of challenges here that it has elsewhere. We have no counterpart to the 12 million illegal immigrants that are the source of so much controversy in the U.S. And while the 25,000 Syrian refugees we have admitted in the past year far exceed the American intake, it is a tiny fraction of the numbers that have arrived on Europe’s shores and borders. (People in other countries talk admiringly of the Canadian “points” system, but 3,000 miles of ocean and a cold climate are probably a more effective means of selection.)

And yet, even with all these advantages, we have had our brushes with nativism. It has become conventional wisdom that the Harper government lost the last election over it, but if you look at the polls two things jump out: the success of the anti-niqab campaign, especially in Quebec; and that Conservative support rose in the four weeks after the Syrian refugee crisis forced its way into the campaign. It was, not coincidentally, the Conservatives who, of the three parties, took the most cautious line on the crisis.

It is probably true that they overplayed their hand in the end: Canadians do not like to have their nativism rubbed in their faces. But if the Parti Québécois made the same mistake — the ban on religious wear in the civil service was also initially popular — it should not be forgotten that the McGuinty government in Ontario owed its re-election in 2007 to a similar calculated appeal to public fears. (We do not know how Kellie Leitch’s iteration will play out, but so far the polls are with her.)

I linked to the article at Demography Matters for obvious reasons.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 26, 2016 at 8:50 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Why Victoria is the perfect place to begin the royal tour”

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MacLean’s shares a Canadian Press article describing why the British Columbian capital of Victoria is a perfect place for a tour of British royalty in Canada to start.

When Prince William, his wife Kate and their children land in Victoria on Saturday aboard a Royal Canadian Air Force helicopter, the future king and queen will survey the city that has more connections to the monarchy than any other place in Canada.

Parts of the city named in 1844 after Prince William’s great, great, great, great-grandmother Queen Victoria still resemble a slice of England, complete with Tudor-style mansions and double-decker buses painted with the Union Jack.

In Victoria’s inner harbour, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge will see two of the city’s most prominent landmarks — the Fairmont Empress Hotel, named after Queen Victoria’s additional title Empress of India, and the provincial parliament buildings, both of which were built by British architect Francis Rattenbury.

Monique Goffinet Miller, a Victoria-based spokeswoman for the Monarchist League of Canada, said the city is abuzz as many residents and tourists of all ages prepare to stake out a place on the lawn of the legislature building for a ceremony on Saturday to welcome the Royal Family.

“The lights of the B.C. legislature building are there because they were lit for the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria and they’ve been burning ever since,” she said of the site’s significance. “It was meant to look like Her Majesty’s crown.”

Written by Randy McDonald

September 26, 2016 at 8:30 pm

[ISL] “Rural Internet Access Town Hall”

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Over at his blog, Peter Rukavina describes his part in bringing the Internet to rural Prince Edward Island.

Robert Morrissey was Minister of Economic Development in the Catherine Callbeck government in the early 1990s when I began work on the first website of the provincial government. As such, he was the first person I came to know as “the Minister,” and it takes every fibre of my being to call him Robert, let alone calling him “Bobby,” which is what he prefers, and what everybody else calls him.

In last year’s federal election, Robert (er, Bobby) was elected Member of Parliament for Egmont, the district on the western end of Prince Edward Island, and it was in this capacity that, through an intermediary, he reached out to me earlier this year to ask if I could help to facilitate a town hall on rural Internet access he was planning to host for his constituents. He needed someone impartial – which is to say, someone not in the Internet business themselves – to explain the basics of Internet access to those attending, and to sketch out what’s available on the ground right now, how much it costs, and, in the end, why it’s more expensive and slower than what we in urban PEI have access to.

I’m no Internet-access expert, but I know my way around the terminology, I’ve suffered from poor rural Internet myself (when I first crafted http://www.gov.pe.ca, it was on the end of a 14.4 Kbps modem connection), and I have some facility in explaining complicated things, so I agreed, and after some schedule juggling, this past Friday, September 23 was set as the date, and the St. Louis Community Centre, deep in the heart of West Prince, was set as the location.

St. Louis, in PEI terms, is a long drive from Charlottetown (the first time I had a meeting planning for the area, back in 1993, my coworkers were surprised to hear I wasn’t staying overnight). But it’s really not that far – 2 hours from door to door – and so I set off around 4:00 p.m. on Friday afternoon for a planned 6:00 p.m. arrival and setup and a 7:00 p.m. meeting.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 26, 2016 at 8:00 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “That time the CN Tower had the highest nightclub ever”

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Written by Randy McDonald

September 26, 2016 at 7:45 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Toronto Metros-Croatia, 1976 Soccer Bowl Champions”

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Torontoist’s Jamie Bradburn described the difficult birth of soccer in the Toronto in the 1960s.

Toronto sports fans needed a champion in 1976. The Argonauts hadn’t hoisted the Grey Cup since 1952. The Maple Leafs were nine years into their Stanley Cup drought. The Toros had fled to the hockey hotbed of Birmingham, Alabama. The Blue Jays were preparing to launch their first season, so who knew how long it would be before they reached the World Series?

The Metros-Croatia victory in the 1976 Soccer Bowl was an underdog story the city could embrace. The team endured a strife-filled season, not enhanced by a league which disliked the ethnic tenor of the team’s name and was annoyed that a perennially indebted franchise with meagre attendance made the finals instead of a premier market like New York.

As soccer exploded as an amateur sport across North America in the mid-1960s, veteran sports entrepreneurs, especially NFL owners, saw an opportunity for a professional gold mine. Two rival leagues began play in 1967: the National Professional Soccer League (NPSL) and the United Soccer Association (USA). Both were confident that soccer was the sport of the future. “We won’t go broke in soccer,” declared Jack Kent Cooke after a USA meeting at the Royal York Hotel in February 1967. “It will succeed. I’ve never backed a loser and I don’t intend to start now.”

Cooke may have later regretted that statement. While he had tasted success with Toronto’s Maple Leafs baseball team, had a winner with basketball’s Los Angeles Lakers, and got the Los Angeles Kings off the ground, he wasn’t so lucky with the USA’s Los Angeles Wolves. Nor were the other owners in either league. Heavy financial losses, coupled with a looming anti-trust lawsuit, prompted the leagues to merge in January 1968, forming the North American Soccer League (NASL).

The merger left a complicated legal situation in Toronto. Both leagues were attracted to our city by its multicultural diversity and growing amateur and semi-pro soccer infrastructure—in youth soccer, participation across Metro rose from 5,000 in 1964 to 17,500 in 1969, while senior leagues steadily added teams. With the merger, the NPSL’s Falcons agreed to buy out USA’s Toronto City, which was owned by Knob Hill Farms proprietor/future Maple Leafs owner Steve Stavro, who quickly wondered where his first payment was. He was also miffed that the Falcons wanted a piece of the annual promotion of a match between European teams he retained as part of the settlement. Stavro threatened legal action to prevent the Falcons from opening their home season at Varsity Stadium in May 1968.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 26, 2016 at 7:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “People power fuelled rebuild of Lakeview power plant site”

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The Toronto Star‘s San Grewal tells an inspiring story.

Call it a victory for the little guy.

Saturday’s historic announcement to kickoff Mississauga’s monumental Inspiration Lakeview project, with 26 hectares of newly created conservation land connected to a 100-hectare mixed-use community to house 20,000 residents next to the city’s waterfront, should never have happened.

“It started before 2006,” Councillor Jim Tovey said during a boat tour Saturday around the site, just offshore and on the edge of the city’s border with Toronto. Elected officials from every level of government were on board.

The Lakeview project will feature a mix of commercial, residential and cultural buildings on the western side of the site, which will be connected to a man-made 26-hectare conservation area featuring meadows, a forest, wetlands and trails on what is currently still part of the lake.

Tovey spoke about how before becoming a councillor in 2010, he and a group of local citizens organized themselves, partnering with a University of Toronto expert, to unite residents against the powerful forces pushing for a new gas-fired power plant where the giant coal-fired Lakeview generating station had stood for almost 50 years.

At the time of the plant’s demolition in 2007, the province had a plan in place to simply replace coal with gas, with an ally in former mayor Hazel McCallion.

Even before the plant was torn down, “We wanted to create the Lakeview legacy project,” Tovey said. The push to get rid of the plant seemed incomprehensible in a province whose thirst for electricity could barely be quenched. But Tovey and others knew demand in the area was actually beginning to decline, with the loss of manufacturing and renewable energy sources coming online.

Written by Randy McDonald

September 26, 2016 at 7:00 pm