A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for January 2011

[CAT] Catpack in New York City

Catpack in New York City
Originally uploaded by randyfmcdonald

This picture of a catpack–a meshed backpack for cats–is something I found at the blog Joe. My. God. who got it from Buzzfeed, and also on the blog Fucked in Park Slope. As a carrier, it might be suitable, although I’ve my doubts. I’m certain that Shakespeare wouldn’t be fond of it at all, and that few cats would appreciate the recreational value especially with the jostling about.

If anyone can provide me with the ultimate source for this photo, I’d quite appreciate it.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 28, 2011 at 10:02 am

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[PHOTO] Observation tower, 315 Bloor Street West

The new headquarters of the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs will be located in the building on 315 Bloor Street West that hosted first the Dominion Meteorological Office, then the University of Toronto’s Admissions and Awards office. I’ve a photo of the entire building from July 2009 here.



Observation tower, 315 Bloor Street West (3)

Think of this post as an experiment. Which of the three different takes of the same subject at the same time do you prefer?

Written by Randy McDonald

January 28, 2011 at 8:30 am

[DM] “Some thoughts on Dutch-Afrikaner connections”

I’ve a post up at Demography Matters taking a look at the long and continued relationship of Dutch and Afrikaners, then wondering why there aren’t more Afrikaners living in Netherlandophone Europe.


Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2011 at 11:59 pm

[LINK] “The alarm bells of Nagasaki”

Continuing the theme of urban decay in Japan that Spike Japan highlighted, a recent Economist article took a look at Nagasaki and didn’t like what it saw.

In Mr Ikeguchi’s youth, when Nagasaki was rebuilding itself after nuclear devastation in 1945, the streets near his house rang with the sound of shipwrights walking to the Mitsubishi yard each morning. Now Nagasaki’s economy has gone still. The port city’s fortunes show how three forces sapping Japan’s energies—depopulation, overcentralisation and foreign competition—are hurting not just rural backwaters but once-prosperous cities on Japan’s fringe. The phenomenon remains partly hidden. Residents of luxury apartments across the bay complain about Irifune’s shabby appearance. If only they knew, Mr Ikeguchi says, how bad it really is.

Nagasaki’s troubles are self-reinforcing, argues Takamitsu Sato, president of the Nagasaki Economic Research Institute. Since the 1960s a brain drain has sucked people towards Osaka and Tokyo. Young people who left to find jobs elsewhere never came back. Even now, seven in ten college students leave to study, and over half of young people find jobs elsewhere.

The brain drain reinforces a demographic trend. The prefecture’s working-age population has shrunk from over 1m in 1990 to 874,000 in 2008, a result both of the exodus and a declining birth rate. The prefecture of 1.45m is shrinking and ageing so fast that one of Nagasaki’s main department stores, Tamaya, has closed down its children’s department and stocked up on undergarments and hearing aids. With shrinking investment, and fewer jobs and young families, new house-building has fallen by half in the past ten years.

So now Nagasaki’s living standards are falling too, a shock in a country where economists said that individuals could be better off even if the overall economy shrank in size. Mr Sato’s institute reckons that if today’s trends continue, GDP per person will fall from ¥3.26m ($28,000) in 2007 to ¥3.14m by 2020. Everything, he says, is going downward.

Linking everything to demographics may be annoying, but with a generally contracting domestic market the hopes of Japan rest on trade with the outside world. Nagasaki certainly has a history of privileged contacts, as trade port during the Shogunate and all. Will new ones be formed? Who knows.

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2011 at 10:43 pm

[LINK] “Ancient Tools May Mark Earlier Path Out of Africa”

The ancient human diaspora from our species’ east African homeland may have begun at a much earlier time, Brian Switek writes at Wired Science. Tools have been found.

Uncovered at a Jebel Faya rock shelter, just west of the Straits of Hormuz at the mouth of the Persian Gulf, the tools are 125,000 years old. Previous estimates placed the dispersal of modern humans from North Africa around 70,000 years ago. If correct, this new study indicates that humans in eastern Africa left earlier, and traveled to Arabia.

The tools include small hand axes, scrapers and notched tools called denticulates. They’re described Jan. 27 in Science. According to researchers led by University of London paleogeographer Simon Armitage, the tools resemble those made in the same era by humans in eastern Africa, rather than tools found at later sites along the Mediterranean’s eastern border.

On the basis of these tools, Armitage and co-authors propose that humans crossed from eastern Africa to Arabia around 130,000 years ago. Lower sea levels may have opened a path, and increased rainfall would have made the Jebel Faya area less arid than it is today.

From southeast Arabia, humans “would have reached South Asia much earlier than assumed and would have had more time to adapt to all kinds of environments encountered in the whole of Eurasia,” wrote study co-author and University of Tübingen archaeologist Hans-Peter Uerpmann.

The findings support a scenario suggested by University of Birmingham archaeologist Jeffrey Rose in December 2010 in Current Anthropology. He described how a “Gulf Oasis” could have sheltered humans 100,000 years ago, and even earlier.

io9 has an extended question-and-answer post. One of the people asked, Adrian Parker, explained why that was a plausible timeline for settlement.

We need to go back to where modern humans emerged in east Africa. This occurred approximately 200,000 years ago. The period between 200,000 years ago until 130,000 years ago corresponds to time when there was a global ice age. During ice ages global sea levels fall as water becomes locked up in the vast ice sheets in the northern and southern hemispheres. When ice ages occur, the world’s major desert belts also expand and thus modern humans would have been restricted to east Africa as the deserts of the Sahara and Arabia posed major geographical barriers that prevented movement out of the region.

By 130,000 years ago global climatic conditions changed and we moved into an interglacial, a period of warmer, global temperatures. At this time, the Indian Ocean monsoon system was forced northwards, bringing rainfall into Arabia. The previously arid interior of Arabia would have been transformed into a landscape covered largely in savannah grasses with extensive lakes and river systems. At the onset of the inter glacial, sea levels in the southern Red Sea were over 100 meters lower than today. this led to a brief window of time when sea levels were still low and Arabia experienced a wetter climate, thus humans would have been able to cross a much narrower Red Sea, perhaps as little as four kilometers wide before sea levels rose sufficiently to make the crossing more difficult.”

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2011 at 9:13 pm

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[MUSIC] Tori Amos, “Professional Widow”

Tori Amos’ song “Professional Widow”, off of her 1996 album Boys for Pele, is difficult but rewarding. Against a harpischord, Tori Amos sings about a woman married to a famous man–rumoured to be, respectively, Courtney Love and Kurt Cobain–who’s pushing her partner towards catastrophe for her own sake.

prism perfect
honey bring it close to your lips
what is termed a landslide of principle
proportion boy it better be big boy
starfucker just like my daddy
just like my daddy selling his baby
just like my daddy
gonna strike a deal make him feel
like a congressman
it runs in the family

The narrator’s tough: “As I got to know Widow, I began to really adore her candor. She was so cut off from so many other parts of being, but here she is, deliciously convincing him to kill himself so she doesn’t have to leave fingerprints on his body. She’ll make sure he showers before this all begins. She’s ready to extract what she wants from him, the current won’t be what she wants until he’s dead. Whatever his addiction is, she’s convincing him that mother mary will supply it.” Unusual instrumentation and lyrics aside, it’s a good song.

Then, towards the end of 1996, mixer Armand van Helden did a remix.

It was a huge dance hit, in 1996 “the most played club tune around the world” though only the rhythm and a snippet of the lyrics arguably remained. Amos’ long complicated saga was reduced to the amusing salacious paired lyrics “C’mon honey put it close to my lips yeah” and “Gotta be big”. (van Helden knew his audience, I assume.)

I own the single, and, I admit, I usually head past the album version to van Helden’s remix, track #2. The song’s a dance hit; the song’s meant to be heard in the context of a busy dance club, dozens or hundreds or even more people reacting to the song, to each other. It’s the sort of genre that–remember disco–is positively queer.

It says something about my peculiarly individual and personal relationship with popular music that the van Helden remix doesn’t bring up those associations for me. Should I change this, I wonder?

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2011 at 7:00 pm

[LINK] “The Assassination of the Canadian Kid”

Walrus Magazine‘s Justin Robertson surprised me with news of a Canadian connection to Australian state-building, in the form of Canadian-born rebel and flag designer Henry Ross.

Dreck flew off Captain Henry Ross’s steel-capped boots with each step toward the mahogany-trimmed bar of the Star Hotel. He’d spent the previous twelve hours digging for gold in a cramped pit ten metres below the goldfields of Ballarat, Australia; he’d earned a brew. Bypassing like-minded patrons, sipping and spilling their pints in equal measure as William McCrae frantically wiped down his counter, Ross settled in at a secluded table of men deep in conversation. They called themselves the Ballarat Reform League. Their leader, an Irishman from Melbourne named Peter Lalor, was just then sounding off on the eight-pound miners’ tax enforced by Governor Charles Hotham, ostensibly to put a chill on gold fever. The men erupted, pounding the table and damning the colonial government. Ross smiled: it was not the first time he’d heard such talk.

Some fifteen years before, the young Ross had fought in the Canadian Rebellions, much to the embarrassment of his mother, Elizabeth, who was raising his eleven siblings at the family home in Upper Canada Toronto. What objection could the lad possibly have to British rule, she wondered? His grandfather was a Scot who’d been posted to patrol three colonies in Lower Canada during the American Revolution and liked the place enough to stay. His father had not only joined the citizens’ militia when the US attacked Canada in 1812, but made his living sewing uniforms for the colonial army. Ross had inherited his forebears’ military instincts, just not their loyalties.

[. . .]

One warm November afternoon in 1854, thousands of angry miners made their way to a reform rally on Bakery Hill, in a part of Ballarat known as Eureka. Government officials took note when the men burned their papers, and the next day conducted a brutal sweep. The miners responded by gathering back at the Hill. Standing at the summit, Lalor called out an oath: “We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other, and fight to defend our rights and liberties.” Amen, the men replied, and marched off to erect a wooden barricade around about a half-hectare of the goldfields and themselves. At the epicentre, Ross raised a flag he’d designed to symbolize unity in defiance: against a midnight blue background, a silver cross joining the five stars of the southern hemisphere’s most prominent constellation.

Does the last sentence sound familiar?

Go, read.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Toronto cyclists get sidewalk warning”

News that Toronto may soon be cracking down on cyclists who ride on sidewalks pleases me at a deep, deep level.

A Toronto city councillor wants the city to enforce a bylaw barring bicycles from the sidewalks.

Coun. Karen Stintz says there’s already a bylaw on the books, but it’s never enforced.

She says in her midtown ward she hears lots of complaints from pedestrians who are upset they have to battle for the sidewalk with cyclists.

“The bicycles go quite quickly,” said Stintz, adding that this can be dangerous when the pedestrians are seniors or people with strollers.

“It does create an unsafe environment.”

Many Torontonians have complained of near misses and minor collisions on city streets, she said.

Sister Mary Sibbald, a Toronto nun, likes the idea of cracking down.

“They are a menace sometimes on the sidewalk,” she said of sidewalk cyclists. “They come behind you so quietly and so surreptitiously.”

In 2009, a woman died after she struck her head on the pavement after being hit by a cyclist on the sidewalk.

Stintz says she wants to make sure police do more to enforce the existing bylaw, which states that only children riding bicycles with wheels under 24 inches are allowed on a sidewalk.

“The intent of this bylaw is to allow young children to cycle on the sidewalk while they learn to ride,” says a notice on the city’s website.

The fine for an adult riding on the sidewalk in downtown Toronto is $90. “Aggressive cyclists can also be charged with careless driving,” the city says.

But the penalty varies across Toronto because the bylaw wasn’t updated after amalgamation. Stintz wants the fines made equal across the city.

I’m exceptionally fond of biking and look forward to getting a new bike come spring (not buying the bike, mind, but separate story). Perhaps I’ve a terribly high tolerance for danger, but I simply don’t understand how–on most streets, in most circumstances, I add–cyclists are afraid enough of the roads to be so inconsiderate as to bike on the sidewalks intended for pedestrians. If you’re afraid of the road, might I suggest that you don’t travel on it? That’s why I don’t drive.

It’s a simple thing: if cycling is going to be made an integral part of the transit strategies of Toronto, cycling and cyclists should be just as much subject to traffic regulations as every other vehicle and driver on the streets of this city. Reject that, and then you reject that idea. Either/or, people, either/or.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2011 at 12:53 pm

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[H&F] Pets, mind

In a new post at History and Futility, I briefly suggest that the thing attracting us most to pets–apart from their cuteness, of course–is the fact that they have minds, that there’s someone capable of interaction, someone self-willed and individual.

Go, comment.

Written by Randy McDonald

January 27, 2011 at 9:04 am

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[LINK] Two primate links

Both of these are from the ever-interesting io9. Thanks for pointing me to it, Glenn!

  • First comes the news that chimpanzees have the ability to generate and transmit cultural elements, to wit, the ability to undo snare traps.
  • The snare traps are used in the Bossou region of Guinea primarily to capture cane rats. The locals don’t eat chimpanzees because the chimpanzees are thought to be the reincarnation of their ancestors, but the snares will trap and kill anything that wanders inside. Still, the Bossou chimpanzees suffer far fewer snare deaths than their counterparts elsewhere, and it’s all because they’ve learned how to avoid this deadly fate.

    Researchers from the Japan Monkey Center observed five different male chimpanzees deactivate snares on six separate occasions. Once, they saw a chimp shake a snare until it broke. Another time, a group of adult chimps and a juvenile male came across a trap. The youngest chimp then managed to make the ropes holding the snare together become untied, rendering the trap harmless. All these chimps seemed quite expert and none met with any injuries – indeed, any mistake made would have almost certainly killed or maimed the chimp.

    The researchers believe these behaviors have actually been passed down from generation to generation, which is supported by the fact that the juvenile chimp handled the deactivation when it’s highly unlikely he was the most experienced of the party. Only the chimps in the Bossou region have displayed this ability. It’s possible that this all comes from an individual chimp a few generations back who escaped a snare and passed down these behaviors to all that followed.

    What’s really amazing is that it isn’t one specific action the chimps use to destroy the snares – multiple methods are used, suggesting the chimps really do perceive the snare as a general threat that can be dealt with using different strategies, and not just a stimulus that provokes a particular unthinking response.

  • Second, we learn that orangutans are genetically quite diverse despite having evolved little.

    The family Hominidae, commonly known as the Great Apes, has four main members: humans, chimpanzees, gorillas, and orangutans. Humans and chimpanzees are the most closely related species, and then both are more related to gorillas than orangutans, who are all alone on their corner of the family tree. Orangutans are now the latest members of the great ape family to have their genomes sequenced, and they’ve revealed some surprising details about our evolutionary story.

    The most shocking has to be that the orangutan genome hasn’t changed in 15 million years. To put that in some perspective, our species didn’t even really exist until 200,000 years ago, and even the Homo genus doesn’t stretch much further back than 2.4 million years. Chimpanzees don’t become distinct from our evolutionary ancestors until about six million years ago, and gorillas don’t emerge until about 7 million years ago. Orangutans are, by the standards of the rest of their family, an incredibly ancient species.

    The key difference is that the orangutan genome evolved very slowly, without any of the rapid-fire bursts of acceleration that we can find preserved in the genomes of humans or chimps.

    [. . .]

    Part of the puzzle seems to be a kind of DNA element known as “Alu”. Alus are repetitive stretches of DNA that comprise about 10% of our genome and can account for unexpected mutations that help drive evolution. Humans have about 5,000 of these Alus, chimps have 2,000, but orangutans [have 250].

    Still, after 15 million years of genomic slumber, orangutans woke up about 400,000 years ago, diverging into the Sumatra and Borneo species. Intriguingly, modern orangutans – particularly the Sumatran orangutans – have incredibly diverse DNA, which seems counter-intuitive considering their evolutionary history. Locke explains:

    Go, read.

  • Written by Randy McDonald

    January 26, 2011 at 10:29 pm

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