A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for December 2015

[FORUM] How will you be celebrating the end of 2015?

For the first time in a long time, I’ll be celebrating New Year’s Eve quietly at home. No party with friends, no sightseeing on the streets, just a quiet evening at home.

And you?

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 10:18 pm

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

  • The Broadside Blog’s Caitlin Kelly asks what readers are reading.
  • Centauri Dreams looks at the miraculous way gravitational lensing can refract supernovas.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes the compplex HD 100546 system.
  • The Dragon’s Tales looks at the dinosaurs of ancient South Africa.
  • Geocurrents looks back on the past year.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer considers which Republican presidential candidates might be good drinking partners.
  • Torontoist suggests things to do this New Year’s Eve.
  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russia is even alienating Armenia and notes Russian upset over Turkish support for the Crimean Tatars.

[URBAN NOTE] Why I Love Toronto at year end

Tumblr-based Toronto blog Why I Love Toronto has been wrapping up the year with a series of year-end posts, noting newly-closed attractions of various kinds, looking at new places of interest, and celebrating the best exhibits of the year.

Strongly recommended, these posts and the blog itself. Everything is covered: muséums, restaurants, shopping, the works.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 12:35 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Free rides, later service, New Year’s Eve, December 31”

Transit Toronto reports about New Year’s Eve public transit options. Full and detailed schedules are provided.

You may never get that free lunch that you’ve been waiting for, but you can ride your favourite train, subway, bus or streetcar free of fare New Year’s Eve and early New Year’s Day. Many Greater Toronto Area, Hamilton and Golden Horseshoe transit agencies are offering passengers free rides and later service to help everyone get home safely after celebrating the start of 2015.

Most local transit agencies absorb the cost of the free rides in their budgets. However, a major distillery is sponsoring free TTC service until about 4 a.m.— in 2010, the TTC estimated this cost at about $85,000. In Durham Region, two major employers are paying the bills to offer residents free and later DRT service. In Guelph, the downtown business association is footing the bill for free and later Guelph Transit service, while down in St. Catharines, the union representing area paramedics and other emergency medical service personnel and several businesses are grabbing the cheque for the free and later rides.

Ride safely, guys.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 12:31 pm

[LINK] “Resolute seeks more than $70-million in damages over revival of Nova Scotia paper mill”

The Globe and Mail carries this Canadian Press report about an unusual complaint brought against Nova Scotia under NAFTA rules.

Resolute Forest Products Inc. is seeking damages of more than $70-million under the North American Free Trade Agreement, citing losses it blames on the government-aided revival of an idled paper mill in Nova Scotia.

The Montreal-based company said in a statement late Wednesday that it has filed a notice of arbitration under NAFTA, saying the closure of its Laurentide mill in Quebec was a result of competition from the paper mill in Port Hawkesbury, N.S.

The mill, idled for about a year, was restarted with aid of more than $124-million in government assistance in 2012.

“Resolute contends those measures discriminated in favour of Port Hawkesbury and resulted, among other damages, in the closing of Resolute’s Laurentide mill in October 2014, depriving Resolute of its investment in that mill, and the value of other investments, in violation of the company’s rights under NAFTA.”

The company said it is seeking damages for direct losses of some $70-million, as well as unspecified consequential damages “and additional costs and relief deemed just and appropriate by an arbitral tribunal.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 12:30 pm

[LINK] “Atlanta’s alarming HIV/AIDS epidemic reminiscent of New York in the ’80s”

Al Jazeera’s report on the rampant HIV epidemic in Atlanta, particularly concentrated among blacks, is alarming. At a time when such progress is being made in preventing and controlling the epidemic, this is shameful.

“Atlanta is like New York was in the ’80s in the need to develop a public health response to a serious [HIV] epidemic,” said Devin-Barrington Ward, an advocate based in Washington, D.C., who helped organize the Georgia symposium.

The issue is particularly acute for young gay and bisexual black men. One Emory University study followed a group of Atlanta-area men ages 18 to 39 who had sex with men during 24 months and found that 12.1 percent of the black men under 25 contracted HIV, compared with only 1.0 percent of the white men under 25 — “one of the highest figures for HIV incidence ever recorded in a population in the resource-rich world,” according to the National AIDS Manual. What’s more, AIDS is the leading cause of death among black people in Georgia ages 35 to 44, according to the state Department of Public Health.

Grady Memorial, one of the nation’s largest public health hospitals, also found alarming numbers, through a grant-funded project that allowed its staff to offer opt-out HIV screening to all patients entering its emergency room: About half the patients diagnosed with HIV already had clinical AIDS. This means they had the virus for years and not received the sort of treatment that would prevent further deterioration of their immune systems.

“None of my colleagues [nationally] are seeing those numbers,” said Dr. Wendy Armstrong, a researcher at Emory University’s Center for AIDS Research. “It’s appalling.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 12:28 pm

[LINK] “Elon Musk `Stepping on Toes’ in Space Race, Russia Official Says”

Bloomberg’s Alexei Anishchuk reports that the reorganization of Russia’s space program into a state corporation is allegedly a product of competition with Elon Musk’s business.

Elon Musk’s success in launching reusable space rockets means Russia must make its own projects cheaper as the cash-strapped country struggles to retain its share of the market, the country’s defense-industry chief said.

“The main goal today is to make space cheap,” Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who’s in charge of defense, told Rossiya 24 TV in an interview on Wednesday in Moscow. “Competitors are stepping on our toes. Look at what billionaire Musk is doing with his projects. This is very interesting, well done, and we treat this work with respect.”

Rogozin’s comments follow the first successful liftoff and landing of a reusable spacecraft this month by Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp. The South African-born mogul says the technology will dramatically cut the cost of space launches.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 12:26 pm

[LINK] “Weather anomaly puts North Pole temperatures at 4 C this week”

The report by CBC’s Katherine Barton about the ridiculous heat wave on the North Pole deserves wider sharing.

A weather anomaly sweeping across the world will cause temperatures at the North Pole to reach nearly 4 C this week.

Texas, Australia and England are just a few of the regions that have seen a spate of extreme weather this month, including tornadoes, brush fires and flooding. Now, forecasters say the North Pole will see temperatures well above normal.

CBC North’s resident meteorologist, Ashley Brauweiler, says the severe weather system that wreaked havoc in the U.S. and beyond is the reason.

“We have temperatures above zero near the poles and that’s because the jet stream is bringing that warm air from the South up and along Greenland and Iceland and that’s what causing those strong storms,” Brauweiler says.

“They’re seeing the same storms that were affecting the southern states.”

At the North Pole on Thursday, temperatures are expected to hit 3 C. On New Year’s Day it will be nearly 4 C.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 12:21 pm

[LINK] On the impending defrosting of the permafrost of Alaska

The Dragon’s Tales linked to Andrea Thompson’s Scientific American report noting that the Alaska permafrost is set to melt, with potentially catastrophic results for climate.

Up to a quarter of the permafrost that lies just under the ground surface in Alaska could thaw by the end of the century, releasing long-trapped carbon that could make its way into the atmosphere and exacerbate global warming, a new study finds.

The study, detailed in the journal Remote Sensing of Environment, maps where that near-surface permafrost lies across Alaska in more detail than previous efforts. That detail could help determine where to focus future work and what areas are at risk of other effects of permafrost melt, such as changes to local ecosystems and threats to infrastructure, the study’s authors say.

About one quarter of the land in the Northern Hemisphere is permafrost, or ground that stays frozen for at least two years. Some of it has been in that frozen state for thousands of years, locking up an amount of carbon that is more than double what is currently in the Earth’s atmosphere. But with temperatures in the Arctic rising at twice the rate of the planet as a whole, permafrost across the region is beginning to thaw, releasing that carbon from its icy confines.

“There’s a lot—a lot—of soil carbon that’s below ground in these Arctic and boreal systems,” U.S. Geological Survey scientist and study co-author Bruce Wylie said. “That’s the big threat.”

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 12:18 pm

[LINK] On the impending rush to develop Antarctica

The National Post hosts Simon Romero’s New York Times article noting the beginnings of a rush to start exploiting Antarctica. This, it’s worth noting, will probably not work out well for the locals.

On a glacier-filled island with fjords and elephant seals, Russia has built Antarctica’s first Orthodox church on a hill overlooking its research base, transporting the logs all the way from Siberia.

Less than an hour away by snowmobile, Chinese laborers have updated the Great Wall Station, a linchpin in China’s plan to operate five bases on Antarctica, complete with an indoor badminton court, domes to protect satellite stations and sleeping quarters for 150 people.

Not to be outdone, India’s futuristic new Bharathi base, built on stilts using 134 interlocking shipping containers, resembles a spaceship. Turkey and Iran have announced plans to build bases, too.

More than a century has passed since explorers raced to plant their flags at the bottom of the world, and for decades to come this continent is supposed to be protected as a scientific preserve, shielded from intrusions like military activities and mining.

But an array of countries are rushing to assert greater influence here, with an eye not just toward the day those protective treaties expire, but also for the strategic and commercial opportunities that exist right now.

“The newer players are stepping into what they view as a treasure house of resources,” said Anne-Marie Brady, a scholar at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury who specializes in Antarctic politics.

Some of the ventures focus on the Antarctic resources that are already up for grabs, like abundant sea life. China and South Korea, both of which operate state-of-the-art bases here, are ramping up their fishing of krill, the shrimplike crustaceans found in abundance in the Southern Ocean, while Russia recently thwarted efforts to create one of the world’s largest ocean sanctuaries here.

Written by Randy McDonald

December 31, 2015 at 12:15 pm