A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for May 2015

[PHOTO] Model of Commerce Court

Model of Commerce Court  #toronto #skyscraper #cibc #commercecourt #financialdistrict #doorsopentoronto

This model of Commerce Court stood in the lobby of skyscraper Commerce Court West on Doors Open.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 31, 2015 at 4:03 pm

[CAT] “Feline fine: the café cats of Amsterdam”

The Telegraph features an article by Beulah Devaney looking at the cat cafes of Amsterdam. Apparently the city has such a rodent problem that cats make sense, everywhere.

When I first arrived in the Netherlands I attended an expat cultural exchange workshop which consisted entirely of my fellow expats assuring me that I was probably already sharing a bed with at least three furry housemates. In London if I moved into a mouse-infested house I would have reacted with horror, convinced I was living in a festering dump. In Amsterdam, however, a few uninvited houseguests are par for the course.

Many reviews of Amsterdam cafés on TripAdvisor are from British and American tourists exclaiming in horror that there was a cat in the restaurant. They claim it’s unhygienic to have a feline in a dining environment but little do these tourists realise that this is usually a mark of quality. Because a café with a cat is a café without mice. Or at least fewer of them. Cats just make sense in a city like this. Everyone has a cat, or a dog, or a really good reason why they’ve haven’t invested in a furry rat catcher.

This is why it comes as no surprise that various Amsterdam businesses are defying food safety laws and keeping their cats to hand. Food safety inspectors have ominously informed the Dutch press that they will show no mercy when confronted with furry fugitives but it’s hard to take these dire warnings seriously.

Amsterdam is a city that knows what’s good for it: without cats in cafés we would be overrun by marauding mice. In fact we are so committed to cats that 975 residents were prepared to contribute to a crowdfunding campaign to launch Kopjes, a new Amsterdam café where you can pet eight feline residents, adopted from local animal shelters.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2015 at 5:59 pm

[CAT] “How fancy cats evolved: The science of our most adorable pets”

Salon features an excerpt from Richard C. Francis’ new book on evolution, Domesticated: Evolution in a Man-Made World.

A number of fancy cat breeds began with a mutation—often confined to one individual in a litter—that had an obvious effect on the phenotype. The Scottish Fold, for example, was founded by a barn cat from Perthshire, Scotland, with peculiarly forward-bending ears. Someone decided it would be a good thing to perpetuate this mutation. The Manx, from the Isle of Man, has a skeletal mutation that causes the tailless condition, among its other effects. In this it somewhat resembles the Japanese Bobtail, a natural breed with a quite different mutation. Munchkin cats have a mutation that causes limb shortening analogous to that of the dachshund.

Polydactyl cats have extra toes and constitute a recognized breed in the United States, called the American Polydactyl. They seem to have originated in southwest England, from where they made the Atlantic crossing by ship to New England, where they are especially abundant. One important reason for their early success was the widespread belief among sailors that they brought good luck—another example of the role of human caprice in the domestication process. The record for polydactyly is 27 toes, set by a Canadian cat. Here’s hoping that the record isn’t broken.

There is another mutation, called radial hypoplasia (RH), or “hamburger feet,” which results in a different form of polydactyly, of a spiraling nature. A creative breeder in Texas sought to build on this deformity in constructing a “Twisty cat” breed, in which the spiraling extends to the bones of the forelimb. Twisty cats also have extremely short forelimbs and relatively long hind limbs, which cause them to sit like a squirrel—hence an alternative name, “squitten.” Twisty cats are banned in Europe on humanitarian grounds, but not in the United States; the same is true of the Munchkin. It is time that the United States caught up with the United Kingdom in this regard. The deliberate breeding of skeletally deformed breeds is unconscionable.

Some of the oddest-looking breeds result from a mutation that causes hairlessness. Actually, these cats aren’t completely hairless; they just look that way. The first such breed originated in 1966 from a single naked kitten, appropriately named Prune. It is a mystery to me why anyone would want to perpetuate this condition; I suspect it is simple neophilia.

Given the climate there, it is particularly perverse that the Sphinx is a Canadian breed. But then, two other notable hairless breeds, the Donskoy and Levkoy, were created in Russia and Ukraine, respectively. One hopes they are indoor cats. Other cat breeds were founded by less drastic mutations of the coat, including the Cornish Rex (downy hair), Devon Rex (short guard hair), Iowa Rex (dreadlocks), and American wirehair (dense wiry coat).

The other method for generating new cat breeds is hybridization with existing breeds. The Siamese is most commonly used as one part of the cross. For example, the Havana Brown was the result of a cross between Siamese and American shorthair, and the Himalayan represents a cross of Siamese and Persian. Second-, third-, and fourth-order hybridizations begun with Siamese hybrids and other breeds include the Ragamuffin, Ocicat, and California Spangled. Some notable hybrids that lack a Siamese component include the Australian Mist (part Abyssinian), the Nebelung (part Russian Blue), and the Burmilla (part Burmese). The Levkoy is noteworthy not only for its uncomeliness but for the fact that it was created from a cross of two mutant breeds (the ear-challenged Scottish Fold and the hair-challenged Donskoy). The mutant ante can be ever upped.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2015 at 5:50 pm

[CAT] Shakespeare, caught in a moment

Shakespeare, caught in a moment #shakespeare #cats #catsofinstagram #caturday

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2015 at 12:38 pm

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[URBAN NOTE] On West Village urban blight and the implications for the urbanism of Jane Jacobs

In The New Yorker, Tim Wu “Why Are There So Many Shuttered Storefronts in the West Village?” looks at how high rents in Manhattan’s West Village neighbourhood are driving out local businesses. Even though the neighbourhood is desirable, people just can’t afford to operate businesses there. What can be doen to avert this plausible market failure? Has Jane Jacobs’ urbanism met its limits?

There are potentially some tax benefits for the owners of empty storefronts. But the more likely explanation is that landlords are willing to lose a tenant and leave a storefront empty as a form of speculation. They’ll trade a short-term loss for the chance eventually to land a much richer tenant, like a bank branch or national retail chain, which might pay a different magnitude of rent. If you’re a landlord, why would you keep renting to a local café or restaurant at five thousand or ten thousand dollars a month when you might get twenty thousand or even forty thousand dollars a month from Chase? In addition, if a landlord owns multiple properties, dropping the price on one may bring down the price for others. That suggests waiting for Marc Jacobs instead of renting to Jane Jacobs.

As for Jane Jacobs, she famously argued that cities were explosive drivers of economic growth, based on a theory of intra-city trade. She highlighted, among other things, the ease with which local businesses trade goods and services with each other, and eventually make the city into a net exporter of desirable goods and services. But high commercial rents can threaten that basic dynamic. If national businesses, not local ones, come to fill a neighborhood, the area may become merely an importer of goods and services supplied by CVS or Dunkin’ Donuts. Local wealth isn’t created, and the economy of the area begins to match the less-inspiring examples of suburbia. In addition, high rents, like high taxes, can damage business generally, whether local or not. Consider that even Starbucks, despite fourteen billion dollars in revenue, has begun to shutter some of its New York locations because the rent is just too high.

In the longer term, high commercial rents also damage what made neighborhoods like the West Village attractive and appealing to buyers and renters in the first place. One usually pays for distinction, and there is nothing distinct about a neighborhood where new businesses are national chains or safe, high-margin operations. The preservationist Jeremiah Moss, the author of the Vanishing New York blog, points out that Greenwich Village has been a bohemian center since the eighteen-fifties, but, since the rise in rents, it “no longer drives the culture,” and instead is becoming what James Howard Kunstler termed “a geography of nowhere.” It is possible that entire classes of stores may disappear from some neighborhoods, like mid-range restaurants, antique stores, curiosity shops, bookstores, and anything too experimental. Brooklyn has emerged as a cultural center in the past two decades in part because it has lower rents and thus more interesting businesses. But, as Brooklyn’s property values rise, it might expect some of the same problems that parts of Manhattan have.

If high-rent blight hurts New York’s municipal economy, what, if anything, might be done? Because the problem is tied almost inextricably to the value of New York real estate generally, there are no simple fixes. The #SaveNYC movement and the Small Business Congress NYC advocate the regulation of lease renewal. They support a bill written by the small-business advocate Steve Null that tries to limit rent spikes by making commercial-lease-renewal disputes subject to mandatory mediation and arbitration, like some baseball salaries. Gale Brewer, the Manhattan borough president, supports a different regulation of lease renewals, coupled with zoning rules, that encourages landlords to quit waiting for the jackpot and to start renting. Some, like Moss, want to fine landlords who leave storefronts abandoned, in the hope that they’ll then rent to smaller, quirkier companies instead of Chipotle. There may also be other original solutions to the specific problem of high-rent blight, such as, perhaps, finding ways to let pop-up stores use abandoned spaces on a seasonal basis.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 30, 2015 at 1:03 am

[LINK] “Why HIV Patients Should Start Treatment Right Away”

Bloomberg’s John Tozzi reports on a very important, and cheering, news report. Also featured at Joe. My. God., this goes to illustrate the point that the treatment of HIV/AIDS has advanced hugely.

People with HIV benefit from treatment with antiretroviral drugs as soon as they’re diagnosed, rather than waiting until damage to their immune system is evident, researchers reported May 27. The findings, from a major global trial of HIV care, were so clear and compelling that scientists released them before the trial was complete. That almost never happens in medical research, and it’s a sign that the evidence is overwhelming.

Current U.S. guidelines call for offering treatment to everyone at diagnosis. Unfortunately, the U.S. does a terrible job of getting people with HIV into treatment. Less than half the 1.2 million Americans with HIV are in care and have been prescribed antiretroviral therapy, according to CDC data[.]

The 35-country trial, funded largely by the U.S. National Institutes of Health, confirmed the benefits of early treatment. Researchers have been tracking 4,685 HIV-positive adults since 2011, all with apparently healthy immune systems. Half were randomly assigned to begin treatment immediately. The other half deferred treatment until a level of immune health, measured by a count of cells known as CD4+ or T cells, deteriorated.

After three years, the results were clear: Those who started treatment earlier did better. Their risk of serious illness or death was 53 percent lower than the group that waited. That’s a big benefit by the standards of medical interventions, which are sometimes considered successful if they improve outcomes by just a few percentage points.

Antiretroviral medications also greatly reduce the odds that people with HIV will transmit the virus to others. That benefit is well established—medication that controls viral loads can virtually eliminate the chance of infecting a partner. That’s why that big group of people in the U.S. who are diagnosed with HIV but not getting care account for a disproportionate share of new HIV infections[.]

More at the links.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 29, 2015 at 10:43 pm

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[LINK] “Transnistria: West Berlin of the post-Soviet world”

Sergei Markedonov at Open Democracy writes about how the Russian-supported exclave of Transnistria is facing hard times, now that the Ukraine that borders it is making egress impossible.

Fresh intrigue is afoot in the Transnistrian ‘frozen’ conflict. On 21 May, Ukraine’s parliament the Verkhovna Rada revoked the agreement between Russia and Ukraine on the movement of Russian troops through Ukrainian territory to Transnistria, the unrecognised republic that is, from a legal point of view, considered part of Moldova.

But that is far from everything. Rada deputies also wrote off a whole series of documents regulating the supply of Russian troops and ‘peacekeepers’ stationed in Transnistria – the Operative Group of Russian Forces.

After the Ukrainian parliament’s decision, Chișinău Airport is now the sole connection to the ‘mainland’ for the Russian military. And Chișinău is taking advantage of the opportunity. The Moldovan authorities now require Moscow to inform them of their troops’ arrival a month in advance. Since October last year, more than 100 Russian military personnel have been deported from Moldova.

Chișinău doesn’t see the Operative Group as peacekeepers: it’s an undesirable foreign presence. For Chișinău , the Russian military presence only impedes Moldova’s ‘European choice’ and fosters separatist desires on the left bank of the Nistru (Dniester) River. Made up of the former 14th Soviet Guards Army, the Operative Group was created in June 1995, when reforming the old Soviet army command.

[. . .]

Prior to 2006, Moscow and Kyiv were often seen as successful partners in Transnistria. For instance, Ukraine did not obstruct plans put forward by Dmitry Kozak, a Russian politician with ties to the Kremlin, to unite Transnistria and Moldova as a federal state in 2003. In turn, in 2005, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs more or less supported Viktor Yushchenko’s suggestions for a peaceful resolution of the stalemate.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 29, 2015 at 10:40 pm

[LINK] “Adil Charkaoui: The angriest man in Montreal”

Of all the potential spokespeople for Muslims in Canada and Québec, Adil Charkaoui is among the worst. Martin Patriquin of MacLean’s writes about how a man once suspected of terrorist connections has become a prominent figure.

Hints of [Adil Charkaoui]’s alleged former life as a terrorist have crept into Charkaoui’s present-day narrative. Two of Charkaoui’s former students, who attended his Muslim community centre in east-end Montreal, were found to have made a trip overseas to join jihadi groups in their fight against Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. More recently, two of 10 individuals arrested before they could leave on a similar mission had frequented Charkaoui’s classes.

Charkaoui, who didn’t respond to interview requests, has vehemently denied that he coaxed his former students into jihad­—and none of those students has spoken about Charkaoui at all. He has further denied that he planned a “biochemical attack in [Montreal’s] Metro” in 2002, or that he ever talked of “taking control of an airplane for aggressive purposes,” as the federal government alleged in court filings from 2013.

He has since become a Canadian citizen—proof positive, Charkaoui has said, that the government’s own allegations of terrorism were far-fetched. On the day of his citizenship ceremony, Charkaoui happily quoted from the letter sent to him from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, “welcoming him to the Canadian family.”

While he continues to draw the ire of old foes—the PQ’s Agnès Maltais, now in opposition, recently labelled him “a merchant of hate”—he is also facing criticism from an unlikely source: Muslims themselves. In March, the tabloid Journal de Montréal published an open letter to Charkaoui by Omar Kesraoui, an Algerian-born Montrealer. “In Algeria, I didn’t have a childhood or an adolescence because of Islamists like you . . . The community needs real leaders to speak in the public sphere, not charlatans like you,” reads the letter, in part. Kesraoui goes on to call Charkaoui a “self-proclaimed sheik.”

Kesraoui didn’t respond to requests for further comment, and many others from the community seem to be wary of criticizing Charkaoui in public, for fear of adding to the perceived anti-Muslim bias in Quebec society. “By coming out and saying that Adil Charkaoui is a bad person, you end up joining the ranks of those who criticize Muslims in the public sphere, and perpetuate the idea that there’s something wrong with Islam,” says Stephen Brown, a Muslim activist in Montreal and a Charkaoui critic. “So, guys who proclaim themselves to be spokespeople can say anything and nothing is going to happen to them.”

Written by Randy McDonald

May 29, 2015 at 10:37 pm

[URBAN NOTE] blogTO on Artscape Gibraltar Point

blogTO features a guest post by Daniel Rotsztain introducing readers to Artscape Gibraltar Point, an artist’s retreat on the Toronto Islands.

(I so need to go there.)

One of Toronto’s most important spaces for artists is located far from the city’s west-end galleries, east-end lofts and downtown museums. At Artscape Gibraltar Point on Toronto Island, where the flows of Lake Ontario meet and the poplar and dog wood trees grow right to the water’s edge, the electric mix of urban and wild energy of Toronto’s southern limit has fuelled the city’s creative scene for 15 years.

[. . .]

Artscape Gibraltar Point began its life as the original Island Public School. The oldest part of the building dates back to a 1909 one-room schoolhouse. The facility was added to and expanded to accommodate the growing Island population to create the current 30 000 square foot facility.

In the 1950s, Metro Toronto began demolishing houses to make way for an Island-wide park and enrolment in the school dropped. To make use of the empty space, the Toronto Board of Education established the Natural Science Program bringing grade 5 and 6 classes to the Island from the city for nature education.

In 1998 when the new Island Public School was built 500 metres east, the building original school building seemed destined for demolition. Passionate Islanders, well seasoned in the art of activism from their fight to save their homes, fought hard to prevent its demolition.

Inspired by the setting, the Islanders had a vision to repurpose the school as an arts centre. Their cause was aided when Artscape took it on and with their backing, the Islanders were successful in saving the building.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 29, 2015 at 10:34 pm

[LINK] “Justice Minister Peter MacKay, 49, quitting politics”

The Toronto Star‘s Tonda Maccharles reports on the departure of Conservative Peter Mackay from the Canadian political stage. As has been noted by several people on Facebook, Mackay’s departure means that the Conservative Party is almost entirely lacking in prominent figures apart from Harper himself. Can this possibly bode well for their chances in this year’s elections?

Peter MacKay, the Progressive Conservative who joined ranks with Reformer and Canadian Alliance leader Stephen Harper to unite the right and form the modern Conservative Party of Canada, is quitting politics.

With the prime minister at his side at an event in Nova Scotia, MacKay announced he will not run again in the federal election five months from now.

“I’ve come to difficult decision . . . for entirely personal reasons, to step back from public life and to concentrate on my young and growing family.”

[. . .]

MacKay said he will remain as minister of justice until the federal election, at the request of the prime minister, and has not sought or accepted any other offers of employment. He will likely join the private sector after the next election.

Written by Randy McDonald

May 29, 2015 at 10:31 pm