Feb. 4th, 2017

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  • Beyond the Beyond shares Yves Behar's thoughts on design in an age of artificial intelligence.

  • blogTO makes the case for the east end of Toronto.

  • The Big Picture shares photos of a family of Congolese refugees resettled in New England.

  • Centauri Dreams hosts an essay looking at the prospects for off-world agriculture.

  • Dangerous Minds shares photos of the beauty created by graffiti removal.

  • The Dragon's Tales looks for signs of possible cryovolcanism on Europa.

  • Joe. My. God. shares audio of the new Blondie track "Fun."

  • Language Hat remembers the life and career of linguist Leon Dostert.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money argues protest is needed in blue states, too.

  • The LRB Blog warns people not to forget about Pence.

  • Marginal Revolution considersa trends in the British economy.

  • Neuroskeptic shares disturbing findings about the prevalence of plagiarism in science.

  • Window on Eurasia notes that Russia does not expect Trump to take all the sanctions down at once.

rfmcdonald: (cats)
Popular Science's Sarah Fecht was one of many people last month noting a proposal to restore tigers to Central Asia by importing Siberian tigers to suitable habitats in Kazakhstan. I have to admit this particular rewilding plan appeals to me: Siberian tigers are so close by, after all.

Caspian tigers once roamed all over Central Asia, ranging from modern day Turkey to northwestern China. The huge cats stalked through tall reeds and shrubbery, hunting boar and deer. But in the first half of the 1900s, hunting and poisoning decimated the subspecies, and the Soviet Union's agriculture projects drained the tiger's swampy terrain to grow cotton and other crops. Disappearing habitats and food sources had wiped the Caspian tiger off the map by the 1950s.

But Central Asia may yet get its tigers back. Scientists at the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) want to reintroduce tigers to a remote area of Kazakhstan.

It's too late to save the Caspian tiger (unless we de-extinct them using genetic engineering), but the Siberian tiger, a close relative, might be able to fill the ecological hole it left behind.

"We think it's a good idea to restore this legendary animal to the habitats where it lived only 50 or 60 years ago," says Mikhail Paltsyn, a doctoral candidate at the State University of New York's College of Environmental Science and Forestry. Paltsyn is a member of the WWF and IUCN, and he was recently commissioned to study the restoration program.

Two factors bolster the case for the tiger's reintroduction. First, the collapse of the Soviet Union saw some of its agricultural programs abandoned, and natural habitats restored. Second, in 2009, scientists discovered that the Siberian tiger is a close relative of the extinct Caspian. A good portion of the Caspian tiger's DNA lives on in the Siberian subspecies, which might make it a suitable replacement for the extinct cat.
rfmcdonald: (cats)
BBC's Jane Palmer reports on how cats remain strongly individualistic, despite recent pressures from humans towards greater sociability.

How hard can it really be to herd cats?

Ask Daniel Mills, professor of veterinary behavioural medicine at the University of Lincoln, UK. In a recent study, Mills and his colleague Alice Potter demonstrated that cats are more autonomous and solitary than dogs. Carrying out the research for the project was as difficult as the cat's reputation might suggest.

"They are challenging if you want them to do certain things in a certain way," says Mills. "They tend to do their own thing."

Cat owners everywhere will sympathise. But why exactly are cats so reluctant to cooperate, either with each other or with a human? Or to flip the question around, why are so many other animals – wild and domestic – willing team players?

Group living is very common in nature. Birds flock, wildebeest herd, fish school. Predators often hunt together too, of course. Even the domestic cat's relative, the lion, lives in a pride.
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Seriously Science linked to a paper, "Use of incidentally encoded memory from a single experience in cats", which suggests cats actually have very good memory compared to dogs.

“We examined whether cats could retrieve and utilize incidentally encoded information from a single past event in a simple food-exploration task previously used for dogs (Fujita et al., 2012). In Experiment 1, cats were led to four open, baited containers and allowed to eat from two of them (Exposure phase). After a 15-min delay during which the cats were absent and all containers were replaced with empty ones, the cats were unexpectedly returned to the room and allowed to explore the containers (Test phase). Although the cats’ first choice of container to visit was random, they explored containers from which they had not previously eaten for longer than those from which they did previously eat. In the Exposure phase of Experiment 2, two containers held food, one held a nonedible object, and the fourth was empty. Cats were allowed to eat from one of them. In the post-delay Test phase, the cats first visited the remaining baited-uneaten container significantly more often than chance and they spent more time exploring this container. Because the cats’ behavior in the Test phase cannot be explained by association of the container with a pleasant experience (eating), the results suggest that cats retrieved and utilized “what” and “where” information from an incidentally encoded memory from a single experience.”
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Anne Kingston of MacLean's interviews Lianne Yoshida, the doctor who has begun performing the first abortions in decades on Prince Edward Island.

Q: Did you face protesters on Tuesday?

A: No. There were protests after the centre was announced last year. We’ve had peaceful protest in Halifax. Protesters aren’t allowed on hospital property; they have to be on the sidewalk, so there’s a parking lot in between. In Ontario, there is a “bubble zone” law so protestors can’t protest at clinic doors.

The support the government has given to this clinic is great; they’ve put together a great group of people to organize and plan. It’s not an abortion clinic, it’s a women’s health and wellness clinic. I like that they put it in that context.

Q: Why is that important?

A: Women who get abortions are also women who are mothers and women who have gall bladder problems and women who need contraception. It’s important not to separate that. And I think a lot of the anti-abortion people say: “Well, we like mothers, but we don’t like women who have abortions,” and actually it’s the same people. We still have these false divisions about women being “good or bad”—the virgin or the prostitute. That discourse is so simplistic. So women might need abortions, they might need to get contraception, they might need STD screening.
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CBC News' Shane Ross reports on very good news indeed from Charlottetown. If the numbers are accurate, something like 2% of the Island population took part in this march.

Islanders of different ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds marched in Charlottetown on Saturday to show they welcome diversity and oppose policies that discriminate against refugees.

The march began at the bottom of Queen Street and continued peacefully up to Province House. The group — which police estimated at 2,000 — listened as organizers from the Cooper Institute and the Muslim community spoke out against Islamophobia. The speeches were interspersed with moments of silence and prayer.

"It made me happy, at a point I felt like crying just seeing the amount of people who were out here to support those injured and hurt," said Hammad Ahmed, a UPEI student, who helped organize the Charlottetown march.

Amid widespread protests late last month, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order temporarily barring citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the U.S.

The gathering in Charlottetown was part of the National Day of Action against Islamophobia and White Supremacy, and gave people the opportunity to grieve for those killed at a mosque in Quebec City last week.
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CBC News notes impending labour shortages in the Island's construction industry, particularly in the skilled trades.

The Construction Association of P.E.I. is concerned about an industry forecast that predicts a growing shortage of construction workers for the Island.

BuildForce Canada is estimating 300 more workers will be needed in the next decade, and currently more skilled workers are retiring than being hired.

Sam Sanderson, the general manager of the Island's construction association, says there's already a shortage of workers, and work in all areas of construction are expected to increase.

"Moving forward, we have some of our local contractors finding it almost impossible to find skilled people in different trade sectors presently," he said.
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MacLean's carried Laura Kane's Canadian Press article noting the beginning in a surge of applications to Canadian institutions of higher education from students which have been already affected by Trump's visa rules, or who might be.

Mahdi Ebrahimi Kahou was awarded a full scholarship last year to complete his PhD in economics at the University of Minnesota, a top-five U.S. school in his field.

But last Friday, the Iranian citizen said he watched his dream evaporate with a stroke of U.S. President Donald Trump’s pen.

“I don’t know how to explain the feeling, to be honest,” he said. “I can’t do anything. I can’t concentrate. I can’t study. Everything is hectic.”

Ebrahimi Kahou is now part of what Universities Canada calls a “surge” in applications to Canadian institutions by U.S. students, in the wake of Trump’s executive order banning entry of citizens from seven majority-Muslim countries for 90 days.

Some schools have moved quickly to extend application deadlines for foreign students, including McGill University’s graduate law department and Brock University. Others said late applications from qualified applicants will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

Ebrahimi Kahou, 29, holds a graduate degree from the University of Calgary, and his common-law wife and five-year-old stepdaughter live in Alberta. Trump’s order means the man can’t leave Minneapolis to visit his loved ones for at least the next three months.

Shortly after the order came into effect, Ebrahimi Kahou contacted Kevin Bryan, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management who had published a blog post offering to help economics or strategy students affected by the travel ban.
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Daily Xtra's Dylan C. Robertson looks at how Iranian LGBT refugees who were told by the Canadian government to try the United States have now found themselves hanging, without any place to go.

Mitra’s sanctuary is a mouldy basement in Turkey’s conservative heartland. The microbiology student’s life in northern Iran came crashing down in the summer of 2014, when she was outed as a lesbian. A neighbour beat Mitra, and her parents disowned her. Like thousands of LGBT Iranians, she fled to Turkey.

The 27-year-old now works 14-hour shifts standing upright at a textile factory, before coming home to her transgender partner. The two women sleep on a folding sofa; they have just one plastic chair.

Canada invited both to start a new life 14 months ago, when embassy staff in Turkey started a third-country resettlement application. But our country has now closed its doors, effectively suspending an informal program known worldwide for bringing scores of queer Iranians to safety.

Over the past decade, hundreds of LGBT Iranians have come to Canada, mostly through UN resettlement. But this humanitarian pipeline has dried up as Canadian officials in Turkey focus their resources on bringing Syrians to Canada.

Instead of welcoming them here, Canada has told LGBT Iranians like Mitra to try moving to the US, which President Donald Trump recently closed to all refugees, as well as to Iranians already holding visas.

Many refugees took the advice, and are now languishing in Turkey, unsure whether to try and wait out the US administration or apply to Canada, knowing that they will be sent to the back of line.

“My life is in danger; I can’t go back. If I could, I would. But I can’t,” says Mitra, who agreed to speak with Xtra under a pseudonym. “I’m not Turkish, because I can’t work and study here. I’m nobody.”
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Torontoist's Jamie Bradburn reports on how the Toronto Sun, the right-wing tabloid of note in Toronto, has since its foundation in 1971 has been a forum for expressing lots of terrible sentiments about lots of different people.

In a response to a reader question on Twitter earlier this week provoked by Toronto Sun columnist Tarek Fatah’s comments on the Quebec City mosque shooting, Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale described the Sun as publishing, beyond a decent sports section and solid tabloid-style news coverage, “the country’s worst opinion writers.” While readers can debate Dale’s use of “worst,” the current crop of Sun columnists continues a long tradition of deliberately provocative writing that has shaped the paper since its inception in 1971.

It’s a tradition that hasn’t always landed on the right side of history. To be fair, flipping through the back pages of any newspaper exhumes opinions which would be questionable today. Skeletons among the Toronto press range from George Brown’s attacks on Irish immigrants during the early days of the Globe to unflattering descriptions of minorities in the Star which matched the prejudices of the day.

But the Sun has always stood out for its unapologetic view of the world, which grew from cockiness as the new kid on the block and its ability to connect with its conservative readership. It played upon fears of outsiders, and earned its stripes as a dedicated Cold Warrior by labeling opponents as evil Communists/Marxists/socialists/bleeding hearts/etc.

During the 1970s and 1980s the Sun’s biases regarding anyone who wasn’t white provoked consternation among minority groups, which nearly caused the City to pull its advertising from the paper. An extensive report by the Urban Alliance on Race Relations published in 1987 pulled few punches in its analysis of the paper’s stances: “The sheer volume of racial stereotypes, racism, scapegoating, and the presence of statements that may elicit fear and hatred against racial minorities can leave little doubt that there is considerable prejudice and racism directed toward non-whites and ethnic minorities within the pages of the paper.”


There's homophobia, to name a single instance.

Let’s be blunt: the Sun was intolerant toward homosexuals during the 1970s and 1980s. From cartoonist Andy Donato’s frequent limp-wristed depictions of gays to editor Peter Worthington’s threat following the 1981 Bathhouse Raids to expose names of anyone rounded up in subsequent police scoops, there was no sympathy to anyone who wasn’t heterosexual.

Perhaps the most homophobic of the lot was Queen’s Park columnist Claire Hoy. In piece after piece, Hoy depicted homosexuals as sad, pathetic creatures. He was convinced that there was an agenda by homosexuals to gain access to classrooms to convert innocent children to their perverted lifestyle. “It is not true that homosexuals want simply to be left alone to do whatever it is they do to each other,” he wrote in January 1978. When a “Gaydays” celebration was held later that year, he wondered why “more Torontonians don’t let them know they’re not welcome here” and when people would “wake up and realize the danger of keeping silent in the face of this creeping, crawling sickness in our society?”
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Derek Hawkins' Washington Post article describes how the "black bloc", anarchist rioters who go ot of their way to riot in their identity-hiding all-black uniforms, is making a comeback. I'm decidedly not impressed by this, not least since I remember what they did to downtown Toronto during the G20 protests in 2010, and how the black bloc rioters went out of their way to undermine peaceful protesters. Looking to the cowards too afraid of revealing their identities to meaningfully commit to change would be a terrible, terrible mistake.

An oft-cited history of “black bloc” tactics by Daniel Dylan Young of A-Infos, a multilingual anarchist news and information service, suggests that the practice has its roots in Germany in the late 1970s. At the time, hoards of young people had taken residence in vacant buildings in inner cities, setting up cooperative houses in the bowels of abandoned warehouses and tenements. Similar communities cropped up in the Netherlands, Denmark and elsewhere in Northern Europe.

In 1980, however, the city governments began to crack down. German authorities evicted and arrested thousands of squatters that winter, triggering protests across the country, one of which turned violent in Berlin, with rioters destroying an upscale shopping area, according to Young.

“In response to violent state oppression radical activists developed the tactic of the Black Bloc,” Young wrote in 2001. By masking up in black, he wrote, activists “could more effectively fend off police attacks, without being singled out as individuals for arrest and harassment later on.”

The tactic spread to Amsterdam and other cities with large squatter populations. Toward the end of the decade, protesters were making wide use of it. In summer 1987, when President Ronald Reagan delivered his famous “tear down this wall” speech in West Berlin, he was met by tens of thousands of protesters, including a 2,000-person “black bloc,” as the New York Times reported then.

It’s not clear exactly when “black bloc” tactics crossed the Atlantic, but two large protests in 1990 — one in Washington against the Gulf War, the other in San Francisco against Columbus Day — were both disrupted by black-clad groups that destroyed downtown property, according to Young.

The tactic was hardly ever more visible than it was during the massive protests against the 1999 World Trade Organization summit in Seattle. Demonstrations began peacefully, but several hundred “black bloc” activists — described by the Seattle Post-Intelligencer at the time as “masked anarchists wearing black” — smashed windows, looted stores and vandalized buildings. The confrontation, dubbed the “Battle in Seattle,” delayed the start of the meeting and cast a shadow over the proceedings.

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