A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for the ‘Social Sciences’ Category

[BLOG] Seven links on the TRAPPIST-1 system

leave a comment »

News of the remarkable density of planets, including potentially Earth-like planets, in the system of nearby ultra-cool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 spread across the blogosphere. This NASA JPL illustration comparing the TRAPPIST-1 worlds with the four rocky worlds of our own solar system, underlining the potential similarity of some worlds to the worlds we know like Venus and Mars and even Earth, went viral.

Supernova Condensate provided a good outline of this system in the post “A tiny red sun with a sky full of planets!”.

One interesting thing is that TRAPPIST-1 is tiny. Really tiny! It’s a class M8V ultracool red dwarf, which really is about as small as a star can get while still being a star. Much smaller and it wouldn’t be able to even fuse hydrogen. I’ve put it side by side with a few other familiar celestial objects in this image. As you can see, it’s a little bigger than Jupiter. It’s actually roughly the same size as HD189733b, a much studied hot jupiter, and noticeably smaller than Proxima, our friendly neighbourhood red dwarf. Lalande 21185 is on the larger end of the scale of red dwarfs, and is also one of the few you can actually see in the night sky (though you’ll need a dark sky to find it).

Ultracool red dwarfs really are tiny, but they’re also extremely long lived. Quietly burning stellar embers which exemplify the old saying that slow and steady wins the race. Because these little stars don’t burn their fuel too quickly, and because they’re low enough in mass to be fully convective, they can burn for trillions of years. Long after the Sun exhausts the fuel in its core, flares into a red giant and then cools silently in the darkness, TRAPPIST-1 will still be burning, providing warmth for it’s little planetary entourage.

Not much warmth, mind you. TRAPPIST-1’s handful of planets are huddling around their parent star as if it were campfire on a cold night. The entire star system would fit inside Mercury’s orbit and still have cavernous amounts of room to spare. So close are those planets, that they have years which pass by in mere Earth days. The shortest has a year which is just 1.5 Earth days long. The longest year length in the system is still less than a month.

aureliaOf course, I say Earth days, because these planets don’t have days as such. They’re so close to their parent star that they’re certain to be tidally locked. The gravitational forces are sufficiently different that they cannot rotate at all. One side constantly faces the tiny red sun in the sky, and the other side constantly faces outwards towards the cold night. It’s quite likely that the night sides of these planets may be frozen in a permanent winter night, never gaining enough warmth to thaw. Half a planet of permanent Antarctica.

Supernova Condensate was kind enough to produce an illuminating graphic, hosted at “Model Planets”, comparing the TRAPPIST-1 system to (among others) the Earth-Moon system and to Jupiter and its moons. The TRAPPIST-1 system is tiny.

The Planetary Society Blog’s Franck Marchis wrote a nice essay outlining what is and is not known, perhaps most importantly pointing out that while several of the TRAPPIST-1 worlds are in roughly the right position in their solar system to support life, we do not actually know if they do support life. Further research is called for, clearly.

Centauri Dreams’ “Seven Planets Around TRAPPIST-1” has great discussion in the comments, concentrating on the potential for life on these worlds and on the possibility of actually travelling to the TRAPPIST-1 solar system. The later post “Further Thoughts on TRAPPIST-1” notes that these worlds, which presumably migrated inwards from the outer fringes of their solar system, might well have arrived with substantial stocks of volatiles like water. If this survived the radiation of their young and active sun, they could be watery worlds.

The cultural implication of these discoveries, meanwhile, has also come up. Jonathan Edelstein has written in “We Just Got Our ’30s Sci-Fi Plots Back” about how TRAPPIST-1, by providing so many potentially habitable planets so close to each other, would be an ideal setting for an early spacefaring civilization, and for imaginings of said. If a sister world is scarcely further than the moon, why not head there? Savage Minds, meanwhile, in “The Resonance of Earth, Other Worlds, and Exoplanets”, hosts a discussion between Michael P. Oman-Reagan and Lisa Messeri talking about the cultural significance of these and other discoveries, particularly exploring how they create points of perceived similarity used as markers of cultural import.

[BLOG] Some Friday links

leave a comment »

  • At Antipope, Charlie Stross wonders–among other things–what the Trump Administration is getting done behind its public scandals.
  • blogTO notes a protest in Toronto aiming to get the HBC to drop Ivanka Trump’s line of fashion.
  • Dangerous Minds reflects on a Talking Heads video compilation from the 1980s.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money reflects on a murderous attack against Indian immigrants in Kansas.
  • The LRB Blog looks at “post-Internet art”.
  • Lovesick Cyborg notes an attack by a suicide robot against a Saudi warship.
  • Strange Maps links to a map of corruption reports in France.
  • Torontoist reports on Winter Stations.
  • Understanding Society engages in a sociological examination of American polarization, tracing it to divides in race and income.
  • The Volokh Conspiracy notes the many good reasons behind the reluctance of cities around the world to host the Olympics.
  • Window on Eurasia notes that where the Ingush have mourned their deportation under Stalin the unfree Chechens have not, reports that Latvians report their willingness to fight for their country, looks at what the spouses of the presidents of post-Soviet states are doing, and notes the widespread opposition in Belarus to paying a tax on “vagrancy.”
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at the linguistic markers of the British class system.

[BLOG] Some Thursday links

leave a comment »

  • blogTO notes that the redevelopment of Toronto’s Port Lands is continuing.
  • Crooked Timber argues that climate denialism exposes the socially constructed nature of property rights.
  • D-Brief notes the reburial of Kennewick Man.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze notes there is no sign of a second planet around Proxima Centauri.
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money looks at life in Texas.
  • The LRB Blog analyzes Milo’s stumble.
  • Marginal Revolution considers the levels of disorderliness different societies, like Sweden, can tolerate.
  • The NYRB Daily reports on the poisoning of a Russian dissident.
  • The Planetary Society Blog suggests Voyager 1 picked up Enceladus’ plumes.
  • Peter Rukavina writes of his mapping of someone’s passage on the Camino Francés.
  • Supernova Condensate looks at the United Arab Emirates’ plan to build a city on Mars in a century.
  • Torontoist reported on a protest demanding action on the overdose crisis.

  • Towleroad describes the plight of Mr. Gay Syria in Istanbul and reports on the progress of same-sex marriage in Finland.
  • Understanding Society considers the complexity of managing large technological projects.
  • Window on Eurasia links to one Russian writer arguing Putin should copy Trump and links to anotehr suggesting the Russian Orthodox Church is overreaching.

[URBAN NOTE] “Ontario’s lack of foreign-buyer data sparks concern about a Toronto housing crisis”

leave a comment »

The Globe and Mail‘s Mike Hager notes how the lack of official statistics on foreign buyers of real estate in Toronto means, among other things, that less reliable data metrics like search engine hits need to be used. This just proves how modern societies need good data to address real problems.

‘Up! Up! Up!”

That’s where Toronto’s real estate market is heading, according to a Chinese-language promotional article posted last month on Fang.com, a Beijing-based web portal that lists thousands of homes for sale in countries around the world.

“You will really cry if you still don’t buy,” the same posting blares.

Toronto has become the “dark horse” of the Canadian real estate market, asserts Haifangbest.com, another site jammed with Canadian home listings. It contrasts Vancouver’s continuing drop in prices with a prediction that Toronto-area homes will rise 8 per cent in value this year.

In the months since British Columbia began taxing international buyers 15-per-cent extra on homes in and around Vancouver, those marketing Canadian real estate overseas have shifted their focus to Toronto. Last year, Toronto overtook Vancouver to become the most sought-after Canadian city for Chinese home buyers searching the property listing service Juwai.com, peaking in August just after British Columbia announced the tax aimed at curbing the public outrage over skyrocketing prices. Searches for properties in Toronto proper now surpass the total inquiries for Vancouver, Montreal, Calgary and Ottawa combined.

Richard Silver, a Sotheby’s realtor and past president of the Toronto Real Estate Board, estimates close to 20 per cent of his clients are international buyers – from China, India and the Middle East – interested in the luxury condos and houses he sells in and around the downtown core.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 21, 2017 at 9:30 pm

[URBAN NOTE] “Taxpayer-funded transit report kept secret by city”

leave a comment »

What can be said but that this, reported by the Toronto Star‘s Jennifer Pagliaro, is unacceptable?

A $100,000 consultant’s report meant to help determine whether transit projects worth billions of dollars are cost-effective has been kept secret by the city.

In June, the city paid the firm, Arup, which consults on transportation projects worldwide, to provide business case analyses for several projects planned by the city, including Mayor John Tory’s original “SmartTrack” idea for additional stops along the GO Transit rail line travelling through Toronto, and the controversial one-stop Scarborough subway extension.

The report produced by Arup, however, was never publicly released as part of a city staff report to executive committee in June, which was then debated at a July council meeting.

The missing consultant information adds to a series of questions over future transit plans that include delayed reports and a secret briefing note on the Scarborough subway extension that has been called a “political football,” and still-incomplete analysis of the mayor’s key campaign promise for an additional heavy rail service that is moving ahead, while heavily modified.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 21, 2017 at 8:45 pm

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

leave a comment »

  • James Bow offers his prescriptions for a fix to thje issues of guaranteed minimum income.
  • The Dragon’s Gaze links to a paper suggesting that, from the perspective of long-term habitability of exoplanets, stars slightly more massive than the sun are preferable.
  • Language Hat introduces the toponym of the “triplex confinium”, here the point where Serbia meets Romania and Hungary.
  • Language Log considers Trump’s particular rhetorical style, in relation to his claim of something terrible happening in Sweden: What is he actually hinting at?
  • Lawyers, Guns and Money argues that talk of a Turkish-style deep state in the United States is a fundamental misreading of the American situation that plays into Trump’s hands.
  • The LRB Blog looks at street-level community organization in Baltimore, suggesting that it points the way to the future of anti-Trump resistance.
  • Marginal Revolution reports on Noah Webster’s preference for Americans.
  • Personal Reflections’ Jim Belshaw considers the nature of Chinese-Australian trade in agricultural goods.
  • The Power and the Money’s Noel Maurer argues that North American integration would continue even with the end of NAFTA, given the advantageous nature of American trade with Mexico.
  • Savage Minds talks about teaching in the era of Trump.
  • Supernova Condensate identifies eight important things about uranium that people should know.
  • Torontoist shares a photo from yesterday’s drag queen reading to children at Glad Day.
  • Window on Eurasia looks at Russia’s partial recognition of the Donbas republics and the handing out of Russian passports to their citizens, notes the potential for anti-Lukashenka protests in Belarus to trigger a Russian intervention in its sphere of influence and looks at minority languages threatened by Russian.
  • Arnold Zwicky looks at Southern Hemisphere flowers in his California garden and notes horsetails.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 21, 2017 at 4:00 pm

[LINK] “The Stories We Tell about Resettlement: Refugees, Asylum and the #MuslimBan”

leave a comment »

Anthropologist Nadia El-Shaarawi, writing at Savage Minds, describes her experiences interviewing Middle Eastern candidates for refugee status and frames them in the context of the anti-refugee sentiment and exclusionary state structures.

As a volunteer legal advocate working with refugees who were seeking resettlement, I learned to ask detailed questions about persecution. These were the kind of questions you would never ask in polite conversation: Who kidnapped your best friend? Were they wearing uniforms? What did those uniforms look like? Where did they hit you? Did you pay a ransom for her release? How did you identify her body? Questions like these, which refugees are asked over and over as part of the already extreme vetting that they undergo to be granted asylum and resettlement, are personal, intimate, painful. They demand a precise and consistent command of autobiographical detail and the strength to revisit events that one might otherwise want to forget. They try to get to the heart of what happened to a person, what forced them to leave everything behind.

On a more cynical level, these questions try to catch a person in a lie, to identify those who are not “deserving” of refuge. The answers are checked and cross-checked, asked again and again across multiple agencies and organizations. In separate interviews, family members are asked the same questions. Do the answers match up? Do the dates and places make sense? Were you a victim of persecution? Are you who you say you are? While these questions and their answers shape the narrative of an individual resettlement case, there is a way in which they don’t get to the heart of what happened to a person, why someone was forced to flee, cross at least one border to enter another state, and is now seeking resettlement in a third country.

Vetting, extreme or otherwise, is about inclusion and exclusion. But before someone even gets to the arduous, opaque process of being considered for resettlement in the United States, decisions are made at the executive level about who to include in a broader sense. While the Refugee Convention provides protection for any person with a “well-founded fear of persecution” on specific grounds, this has never been the full story of the US refugee program, where a presidential determination each year decides how many refugees will be resettled, and from where. Some die-hard advocates and detractors aside, refugee resettlement has historically had bipartisan support and mostly stays under the radar of public attention, except, it seems, in moments where it becomes a reflection of broader anxieties and struggles over belonging and exclusion.

Written by Randy McDonald

February 19, 2017 at 4:00 pm