A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for June 2014

[LINK] “Expat voting: Court denies Ottawa’s fight for 5-year rule for voters abroad”

This news reported by CBC earlier this week is quite good, I think.

Canadians living abroad, regardless of when they left the country, will be able to cast ballots in next week’s federal byelections in Ontario and Alberta.

An Ontario Court of Appeal judge made the ruling today, denying the federal government’s request for a stay of a lower court ruling that would have extended voting rights to anyone who had lived outside the country for more than five years.

Monday’s decision comes just days before voters were to head to the polls on June 30 for four byelections — two in Alberta, two in Ontario.

It paves the way for about 1.4 million longtime Canadian expats to vote alongside others who moved abroad more recently.

An amendment to the Canada Elections Act passed in 1993 barred citizens abroad from voting in Canadian elections if they were out of the country for longer than five years.

But last month, Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Penny found the five-year rule arbitrary and unconstitutional.

“The [government] essentially argues that allowing non-residents to vote is unfair to resident Canadians because resident Canadians live here and are, on a day-to-day basis, subject to Canada’s laws and live with the consequences of Parliament’s decisions,” Penny wrote in the May 2 decision.

“I do not find this argument persuasive.”

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2014 at 7:05 pm

Posted in Canada, Politics

Tagged with , , , ,

[PHOTO] Cover of Eurythmics’ 1983 album Touch, recreated by Michael Venus for Nuit Rose

The cover of the Eurythmics’ 1983 album Touch is iconic, featuring Annie Lennox in her short dyed orange hair, wearing a leather face mask and flexing her muscles.

For Nuit Rose, Michael Venus recreated the cover as part of his winning “Icons and Demigods” project.

Cover of Eurythmics' 1983 album Touch, recreated by Michael Venus for Nuit Rose

He did many more album covers, as the below photo hints at.


Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2014 at 4:50 pm

[PHOTO] Six pictures from World Pride, Church and Wellesley

I liked this mural of classic gay iconography at Church and Wellesley proper.

A mural of classic gay slogans

This humourous RuPaul invocation at a David’s Tea on Church deserves sharing.

Seen at David's Tea, Church and Wellesley

Some of the bars on Church below Maitland.

Some of the bars on Church below Maitland

A couple in bright yellow shirts was looking at the information pillar outside of Timothy’s on Church.

Looking at the information pillar outside Timothy's on Church Street

I was amused that Iceberg Vodka, one of homophobic mayor Rob Ford’s favourite drinks, was being advertised as part of Pride.

Advertising Iceberg Vodka at World Pride

Inside modernist Wellesley station, outings can end.

Inside Wellesley Station

Written by Randy McDonald

June 27, 2014 at 2:12 pm

[PHOTO] Rain-soaked alley off Dupont

Rain-soaked alley off Dupont

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2014 at 2:04 pm

[DM] “On the longevity and extended health of Icarians, among others”

I’ve a brief post up at Demography Matters taking a look at the longevity of certain Greek islanders, among others, and wondering what it might mean for the rest of us.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2014 at 3:59 am

[DM] “Secular Stagnation Part II – On Bubble Business Bound”

Demography Matters co-blogger Edward Hugh had a post up, second in an ongoing series examining the long-term consequences of below-replacement fertility and aging on economic growth.

The current situation is very different from the one John Maynard Keynes contemplated in the 1930s in his General Theory. At that point in the evolution of our economies and our societies the more advanced economies were stuck in a long lasting depression, a depression whose general dynamics are still far from being adequately understood, but one which was at least partly being perpetuated by the ineffectiveness of monetary policy due to the presence of a liquidity trap. The problem at that time was not simply cyclical, and certainly attempts to address it offer pointers to how we can handle our present day one. But the 1930s problem was not not in-principle self perpetuating. Economies really were being held back, as subsequent history has shown.

Today many economies are suffering the effects of a liquidity trap, but this time what we have is not simply a transient phenomenon since that trap is being generated by the impact of long term demographic changes in a way which was not the case in the 1930s – indeed you could speculate that in some countries the liquidity trap is a by-product of being stuck in a low fertility one. So the temporary application of exceptional fiscal and liquidity measures isn’t going to resolve the “problem” (if problem – as opposed to inevitable and natural evolution in our economic and demographic regimes – there be) since once the effects of these wear off the economy may simply return to its old lethargy. This outcome I fear is one we will see in Japan if the Abenomics stimulus is ever removed.

Thus we are not simply talking about what Keynes referred to in his Essays in Persuasion as “magneto trouble” (despite this being one of PK’s favourite analogies), wherein “the economic engine was as powerful as ever — but one crucial part [the magneto]was malfunctioning, and needed to be fixed”. Which, we may ask, is the component which needs to be “fixed” here – I reiterate – could it possibly be fertility?

That’s why people are talking about permanent fiscal stimulus, assuming “stimulus” is the appropriate word here. If it is then the definition of “austerity” transits into “failure to apply permanent fiscal stimulus”. It’s a new and different world, one where there is no “back” to head for, or as the American writer Thomas Wolf put it, “you can look homeward, angel”, but “you can’t go home again”.

Current economic strategies being favoured to push the economy after 2008, at a time when it might tend to naturally decline, risk creating bubbles.

[I]t seems clear that a lot of the liquidity which is being pumped into the system by the ECB in an attempt to reflate economies on the Euro periphery is in fact arriving in cities like London, Berlin and Geneva (and specifically their housing sectors) producing all sorts of “bubbly” type activity and distortions in the domestic economies of the countries concerned, distortions which will prove hard to correct later, and may become highly negative in their effect should they eventually unwind.

All this liquidity may not have helped restore the real economies in the intended recipient countries, but it certainly – via “carry trades” and suchlike – made its presence felt elsewhere. Emerging market economies like India, Turkey, Brazil, Indonesia and South Africa saw their economies on the receiving end of large quantities of short term inward fund flows, flows which pushed the values of their currency strongly upwards, overheated the domestic economies with credit and generated long lasting distortions.

Naturally, when the US Federal Reserve started to talk about tapering its bond purchases (in May 2013) the impact was felt in one emerging economy after another across the globe, as funds suddenly began to flow out, and the values of the respective currencies suddenly started to fall sharply.

Spain on the margins of the Eurozone also comes to mind.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2014 at 3:29 am

[LINK] “The Coldest White Dwarf Ever Discovered Is An Earth-Sized Diamond”

io9’s George Dvorsky highlighted some pretty remarkable astronomical research. As described in the paper “A 1.05 M⊙ Companion to PSR J2222-0137: The Coolest Known White Dwarf?”, the aforementioned pulsar PSR J2222-0137 has a white dwarf companion.

This pulsar, dubbed PSR J2222-0137, was detected by Jason Boyles of West Virginia University in Morgantown using the Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The object is about 900 light-years away and it spins more than 30 times each second.

Further analysis showed that it wasn’t alone; this pulsar was gravitationally bound to something. Astronomers figured that it was another neutron star, or more likely a white dwarf. The two were calculated to orbit one another every 2.45 days.

To confirm that it was a white dwarf, the researchers applied Einstein’s theory of relativity. They studied how the gravity of the companion star warped space, causing delays in the radio signal as the pulsar passed behind it. Delays in travel times allowed the astronomers to determine the precise orientation of their orbit and the individual masses of the two stars; the pulsar has a mass 1.2 times that of our Sun, while the companion has a mass 1.05 times that of the Sun.

[. . .]

Fascinatingly, the astronomers figured that the white dwarf should be detectable in optical and infrared light. So they tried to use the Southern Astrophysical Research (SOAR) telescope in Chile and the 10-meter Keck telescope in Hawaii to detect it, but those surveys yielded nothing. It’s that dim.

“Our final image should show us a companion 100 times fainter than any other white dwarf orbiting a neutron star and about 10 times fainter than any known white dwarf, but we don’t see a thing,” noted Bart Dunlap, a graduate student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. “If there’s a white dwarf there, and there almost certainly is, it must be extremely cold.”

The paper suggests that the white dwarf is also noteworthy for being massive, by the standards of white dwarfs. And only 900 light years away!

Written by Randy McDonald

June 26, 2014 at 2:59 am

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

  • Crooked Timber comments on Amanda Lepore’s essay in The New Yorker criticizing the idea of “disruption”.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes the discovery of Gliese 832c, a super-terrestrial planet orbiting a red dwarf 16 light years away that is either a super-Earth or a super-Venus.
  • The Dragon’s Tales notes that one consequence of Scottish independence could be the United Kingdom’s nuclear disarmament.
  • The Financial Times‘s The World blog notes speculation that Russia could be behind the bugging of the Polish foreign minister.
  • Joe. My. God. observes that some American reactionaries see Russia as a refuge from liberalism.
  • Language Hat notes the ongoing controversy over the origins of the Yiddish language.
  • The Planetary Science Blog’s Emily Lakdawalla provides updates on Mercury’s Messenger probe and the Venus Express as well.
  • Savage Minds makes the argument that it’s better to engage with people not abstractions.
  • Steve Munro notes extensive construction around Spadina and Dundas this summer.
  • Towleroad links to an article about once-prominent ex-gay John Paulk.
  • Window on Eurasia notes high mortality in Russia.
  • Yorkshire Ranter Alex Harrowell wonders how Andy Coulson got his security clearance.

[LINK] “Titan’s Atmosphere May be Older than Saturn, a New Study Suggests”

Here’s another Universe Today article by Shannon Hall, this one relating directly to Titan. This one seems to suggest that this planet-sized moon did not necessarily form in orbit of Saturn. Would it have been captured, like Triton in the Neptune system?

A combined NASA and ESA-funded study has found firm evidence that the nitrogen in Titan’s atmosphere originated in conditions similar to the cold birthplace of the most ancient comets from the Oort cloud — a spherical shell of icy particles that enshrouds the Solar System.

The hint comes in the form of a ratio. All elements have a certain number of known isotopes — variants of that element with the same number of protons that differ in their number of neutrons. The ratio of one isotope to another isotope is a crucial diagnostic tool.

In planetary atmospheres and surface materials, the amount of one isotope relative to another isotope is closely tied to the conditions under which materials form. Any change in the ratio will allow scientists to deduce an age for that material.

Kathleen Mandt from the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio and colleagues analyzed the ratio of nitrogen-14 (seven protons and seven neutrons) to nitrogen-15 (seven protons and eight neutrons) in Titan’s atmosphere.

“When we looked closely at how this ratio could evolve with time, we found that it was impossible for it to change significantly,” Mandt said in a press release. “Titan’s atmosphere contains so much nitrogen that no process can significantly modify this tracer even given more than four billion years of Solar System history.”

The team found that our Solar System is not old enough for this nitrogen isotope ratio to have changed as much as it has. By comparing the small change within this ratio, Mandt and colleagues found that it seemed more similar to Oort cloud comets than to Solar System bodies including planets and comets born in the Kuiper belt. The team is eager to see whether their findings are supported by data from ESA’s Rosetta mission, which will study comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko later this year.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 25, 2014 at 7:40 pm

Posted in Science

Tagged with , , , ,

[LINK] “A New Mantra: Follow the Methane — May Advance Search for Extraterrestrial Life”

Universe Today’s Shannon Hall notes advances in the search for atmospheric methane on exoplanets. This biomarker, present on worlds like Titan among potentially very many others, can now be detected at a distance of light-years in a whole variety of environments.

The search for life is largely limited to the search for water. We look for exoplanets at the correct distances from their stars for water to flow freely on their surfaces, and even scan radiofrequencies in the “water hole” between the 1,420 MHz emission line of neutral hydrogen and the 1,666 MHz hydroxyl line.

When it comes to extraterrestrial life, our mantra has always been to “follow the water.” But now, it seems, astronomers are turning their eyes away from water and toward methane — the simplest organic molecule, also widely accepted to be a sign of potential life.

Astronomers at the University College London (UCL) and the University of New South Wales have created a powerful new methane-based tool to detect extraterrestrial life, more accurately than ever before.

[. . .] Sergei Yurchenko, Tennyson and colleagues set out to develop a new spectrum for methane. They used supercomputers to calculate about 10 billion lines — 2,000 times bigger than any previous study. And they probed much higher temperatures. The new model may be used to detect the molecule at temperatures above that of Earth, up to 1,500 K.

[. . .]

The tool has already successfully reproduced the way in which methane absorbs light in brown dwarfs, and helped correct our previous measurements of exoplanets. For example, Yurchenko and colleagues found that the hot Jupiter, HD 189733b, a well-studied exoplanet 63 light-years from Earth, might have 20 times more methane than previously thought.

Written by Randy McDonald

June 25, 2014 at 7:37 pm