Archive for February 2014
Livejournal’s James Burbidge has a post reflecting on his experience of the World’s Biggest Bookstore. In his experience, it wasn’t all that much.
I remember when it opened. At the time, the Coles chain, which it was a part of, was the very bottom of the barrel as bookstores went. Even in Peterborough, where I lived at the time, it was the last stop if you were looking for something. In Toronto, the top of the pecking order was occupied by Britnell’s and the U of T bookstore, and there was a vibrant collection of good second hand bookstores as well as various other chain and independent bookstores. (This was before W.H. Smith and Coles merged into the monster which would later become Chapters.)
Coles was good only for mass-market paperbacks and for Coles’ Notes. The staff rarely knew much about books. Quality always lost out to price: if you were looking for Shakespeare, for example, you could find Signet Classic editions but never New Arden ones.
The WBB was a bit of a step up — its section mangers, by and large, were relatively knowledgeable, and its larger size meant that, just by brute force, it was more likely to have something you were looking for. But it was, and remained, basically a bigger Coles. If you had been exposed to Foyles in London or FNAC in Paris, its rather grandiose claims to size were a little wearing.
It was a good place to shop for genre paperbacks — it retained an independent ordering policy for a long time, perhaps up to the end — and would frequently have midlist books absent from other stores. It was still worse for SF than Bakka, or for mysteries than Sleuth of Baker Street, but if you worked downtown it was closer. But it would never have the interesting books reviewed in the TLS, for example.
There is fuss, he argues, simply because there has been so much change–specifically, so many stores closing down or being consolidated–in the book retail landscape.
Ignoring the online world, Britnell’s has gone; Nicholas Hoare has gone; Lichtmans has gone. (Ben McNally on Bay street is the last independent bookstore downtown, AFAICT.) W.H. Smith and Coles were swallowed into Chapters which was itself devoured by Indigo and the branches which aren’t Indigo superstores are now IndigoSpirit stores which are (unbelievably) worse than the old Coles stores were (less selection). In the downtown Toronto PATH area two surviving Coles bookstores (in BCE Place and Commerce Court) have closed within the last year.
I saw Island cartoonist Sandy Carruthers‘ sketch of a giant lobster ravaging a coastal community in the basement of Charlottetown’s Art Guild and loved it. There is something decidedly and uncomfortably non-vertebrate about these uncuddly things; were they larger, or if they tasted less good …
News that Lake Erie, southernmost of the Great Lakes and one upstream from Lake Ontario, is facing environmental catastrophe again as phosphorous runoff feeds algae blooms, featured prominently in this evening’s news. See the observation by CBC’s Margo McDiarmid.
Lake Erie, once a success story about how a polluted lake can be brought back to life, is once again struggling to survive.
During the summer months, the most southern of the five Great Lakes is smothering under huge blooms of green algae, often thousands of square kilometres in size.
A new report to be released by the International Joint Commission (IJC) this Thursday recommends some immediate steps to save the lake.
The acting Canadian chair of the IJC, Gordon Walker, told the House of Commons environment committee that Lake Erie is in a crisis.
[. . .]
Phosphorus was a problem that many people thought had been solved in the mid-60’s.
Canadian researchers discovered that phosphorus in laundry detergent was turning lakes green with algae.
The phosphorous feeds the algae, which absorb the oxygen in the lakes and create dead zones.
In 1972, the U.S. and Canada signed the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement, which committed them to take action.
That included banning phosphates from all laundry detergent. Within 10 years the levels of phosphorus had dropped and the lakes were on the mend.
But in 2011, a 5,000-square-kilometre algal bloom in Lake Erie was a sign of more trouble. It prompted the IJC to launch a study into the problem.
The report concludes that phosphorus is getting back into Lake Erie from agricultural fertilizers used in growing corn for ethanol and other crops. Domestic lawn fertilizers are also a source of the phosphorus, said Walker.
“Every home wants to have it on their front lawn, he said. “It all runs into the river and it’s untreated and that becomes a problem.”
The report says rivers in Indiana and Ohio that flow into Lake Erie are the largest sources of phosphorus, but some of it also comes from Ontario’s Grand and Thames rivers.
Greg Miller’s Wired Science article explaining the Nicaragua Canal connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans is a worthy read. This canal, currently being promoted by the Nicaraguan government in conjunction with Chinese investors, could have serious environmental consequences, by dividing areas of land and uniting hitherto-separate bodies of water. (A background of extensive seismic and even volcanic activity complicates.)
A final route for the canal has not yet been announced, but the proposed routes pass through Lake Nicaragua, which covers about six times the area of Los Angeles and is Central America’s largest lake.
The lake is a major source of drinking water and irrigation, and home to rare freshwater sharks and other fish of commercial and scientific value, Huete-Pérez and Meyer say. The forest around it is home to howler monkeys, tapirs, jaguars, and countless tropical birds–not to mention several groups of indigenous people (some of whom have challenged the project in court, so far to no avail).
Meyer, who’s done field work in Nicaragua for 30 years, says the area is a natural laboratory for evolutionary biology. Just as Darwin’s finches evolved into different species as they adapted to the unique environment of individual islands, so it goes with fish as they’ve colonized the region’s network of crater lakes. “These crater lakes are like islands in a sea of land from a fish’s perspective,” said Meyer, who has been characterizing genetic changes in the region’s cichlid fish populations.
[. . .]
Huete-Pérez and Meyer worry primarily about the dredging necessary to accommodate massive container ships: The proposed canal is 90 feet deep; the lake averages just 50 feet. “The initial digging would create a huge sediment issue that would be bad for water quality in the lake and the wetlands around it,” Meyer said.
Pedro Alvarez, a civil and environmental engineer at Rice University raises another water-related concern. It may be necessary to dam the San Juan River, the main route for water flowing out of the lake, to keep the water levels high enough for the canal’s locks to work properly, Alvarez says. “If you do that you’re going to change the hydrology of many lakes and rivers,” he said. “Some may dry up.”
Lovejoy sees other potential problems. He’s especially worried about creating a conduit between the Pacific Ocean and Caribbean Sea. “It’s creating the potential for an enormous invasive species problem,” he said. That problem could include venomous Pacific sea snakes invading the Caribbean and a disruption of Caribbean fisheries from an influx of competing species, predators and disease.
[. . .]
The seismic risks may have been overblown for political purposes. But they’re not negligible, and they probably represent the worst-case scenario, says Alvarez, the engineer from Rice University. “Releasing a dam could be a catastrophic event that I don’t even want to think about,” he said.