Feb. 22nd, 2017

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The CBC Museum is a free space inside the CBC headquarters in downtown Toronto on Front Street. The small space is full of artifacts from CBC's technological past and from more recent children's television programs like Mr. Dressup and The Friendly Giant. My attention, naturally, was focused on the latter.

The Tickle Trunk


Aluminum recording disk


CBC colour symbol


Cine-Kodak Special II film camera, circa 1955


Blocking for Jenny Maple Keys, Mr. Dressup


The Friendly Giant's Wall


Puppets of Mr. Dressup


Puppets of Sesame Park


Microphones
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CBC News notes the dense fog prevailing outside, not just in Toronto but in the wider Greater Toronto Area. The description of its density is entirely accurate.

Environment Canada has issued a fog advisory for Toronto, with a warning to drivers that visibility will be near zero in some areas.

The fog is expected to continue early Wednesday morning, and in some locations, it could last until noon.

Environment Canada said its fog advisory also applies to surrounding areas, including Peel, York, Durham and Halton Regions. Visibility will improve by mid morning as the fog dissipates.

Drivers should expect dense fog in some areas.

"Visibility may be significantly and suddenly reduced to near zero," the federal agency said in its advisory.

"Travel is expected to be hazardous due to reduced visibility."
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Facebook's Leeman shared Ashley Strickland's CNN report noting NASA's announcement that nearby ultra-cool dwarf TRAPPIST-1 has been found to have seven broadly Earth-like planets, of which three are located in that star's circumstellar habitable zone.

Astronomers have found at least seven Earth-like planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The findings were also announced at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

This discovery outside of our solar system is rare because the planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.

"This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star," said Michaël Gillon, lead study author and astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium.

The seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter. Three planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface.

The researchers believe that TRAPPIST-1f in particular is the best candidate for supporting life. It's a bit cooler than Earth, but could be suitable with the right atmosphere and enough greenhouse gases.


The Nature paper is here.
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CBC News reports on the latest issue with Presto card readers in Toronto. This is ridiculous.

The TTC wants to recover money lost to faulty Presto machines — it just doesn't know how much it's missing.

The transit agency voted Tuesday to launch a new study to find out how much the lost fares have cost them; when the results come back, the bill may just end up with Metrolinx.

"Presto's a lemon that we were forced to buy from the province," Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong said after Tuesday's meeting. "It's been a horrible experience. It doesn't work, it's broken down."

Coun. Joe Mihevc called for the study into Presto's failure rate and how much Metrolinx, which runs the Presto system, should pay to make up for that lost revenue.

At any given time, the TTC figures that eight to 10 per cent of its Presto readers aren't working.
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CBC News reports on the latest controversies surrounding the TTC union.

The executive board of the TTC's largest union local says it has unanimously approved a motion of "no confidence" in the leadership of Bob Kinnear.

In a statement late Tuesday, the board said the move follows a decision by a Toronto judge to reinstate Kinnear as head of the the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 113 and it came during an emergency session of the board held in Toronto. Local 113 represents some 11,000 TTC workers.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ontario Superior Court Justice Michael Penny reinstated Kinnear, who had been suspended for allegedly trying to split the local from its U.S.-based parent. Penny slammed the suspension.

The board, in a news release late Tuesday, said it condemned Kinnear's alleged attempt to split the local from its U.S.-based parent and it called on him to "cease and desist" from continuing his alleged campaign.

It said it also demanded that he refrain from any attempt to sue the union over his suspension and hold Local 113 responsible for any damages.
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Mike Smee of CBC News reports on the latest regarding Victoria University's holding of extensive amounts of Bloor Street West retail property while paying few taxes.

The head of Victoria University tried to convince Toronto councillors the school can come to a deal with the city — without involving the province — about the controversial tax-free status of the land the institution owns in an upscale Yorkville neighbourhood.

William Robins appeared before the government management committee Tuesday to answer questions as city staff want the school to pay taxes on a parcel of land it owns on the so-called mink mile; the school's tenants include names like Prada, Cartier, and Michael Kors.

"You can understand, I'm sure, that on the face of it, it looks as if some of the city's most successful and lucrative retailers are potentially getting a break while we are struggling with our revenues at the city," Coun. Janet Davis said.

While the school — better known as the University of Toronto's Victoria College — does not pay property taxes on the land, it's unclear whether it does on the buildings themselves.

"The lease arrangements are complicated," Robins told the government management committee. "But this is very much part of the ongoing negotiations with city staff, I can assure you that."
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Ben Spurr and Peter Edwards go into detail about the controversies involving the TTC workers' union, their erstwhile leader Bob Kinnear, and the messy legal issues involving the two and their United States-based parent union.

The battle for control of the TTC’s largest union has taken two more plot twists in less than a day.

Bob Kinnear won a victory in provincial court on Tuesday afternoon, only to lose a “no confidence” motion from Local 113 of the Amalgamated Transit Union later in the evening.

Kinnear’s victory came when a provincial judge reinstated him as Local 113 president three weeks after he was deposed from the top job in the TTC’s largest union.

His loss came hours later, when the Local 113 executive board unanimously voted “no confidence” in him and called for his resignation in an emergency session, a statement issued by Local 113 said.

In a decision issued Tuesday, Justice Michael Penny of the Ontario Superior Court of Justice granted an interlocutory injunction that allowed Kinnear to regain control over Local 113.

On Feb. 3 the local’s U.S.-based parent union, Amalgamated Transit Union International, abruptly deposed Kinnear and placed Local 113 under a trusteeship. ATU International accused him of attempting to disaffiliate the local from its parent organization without the consent of Local 113 members.
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NOW Toronto's Jonathan Bruce offers advise as to what Toronto's up-and-coming bands can do to avoid getting burned by overexposure.

I saw a band the other day and it wasn’t great. On a bill of five acts, they played the weakest set to the smallest crowd of the night. Forgettable songs, negligible stage presence. The visiting team was outclassed in terms of talent and originality by the hometown Toronto bands on the bill. But somehow, according to my insider intel, they got paid more than the other four combined.

This is how a buzz band becomes a bubble band.

The buzz band is the great hope in an industry plagued by falling record sales. Buzz bands are young, hungry and up for anything. The music biz is eager to sign them and send them on the road, and promoters love them because they sell tickets.

Like the overblown real estate market, buzz bands are out of hand. These acts often come with agents and managers that make dollar demands that are out of whack with reality. Do-it-yourself schlepping is out, and the pop factory is back in. But how much longer can the buzz band factory keep churning them out?

As long as streaming pays out fractions of pennies in royalties, artists will rely on performing live for the bulk of their income. This situation puts major economic pressure on promoters to pay big fees to bands in an increasingly competitive marketplace. And if the artist fails to attract audiences, they flame out and the bubble bursts. Pop!

Having booked close to 2,000 emerging bands for local music series Wavelength over 17 years, I have watched many buzz bubbles burst. We were lucky to see some alumni go on to international fame. We were in the right place at the right time to host early gigs by Broken Social Scene, Constantines, Owen Pallett and Grimes. Many others crashed and burned, but I’m too nice to name-check those acts.
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Rosie DiManno's long-form article "’I’m getting burned!’ Slaying the beast that was the Badminton and Racquet Club fire" examines just what happened at the recent devastating fire at Yonge and St. Clair, in detail.

Fire and water: The crisis and the cure.

But it took 20 hours of steadfastly blasting the latter to extinguish the roiling conflagration of the former last week at the Badminton and Racquet Club of Toronto.

Bringing the blaze to heel — preventing it from leaping to condos and businesses on the four corners of St. Clair Ave. and Yonge St. — required a collective yeoman effort over three days: 520 firefighters, 167 fire engines, pumpers and three tower trucks with articulating booms, hazardous materials unit, dozens of hoses pumping simultaneously, an excavator and countless air cylinders consumed.

And still, days later, small spot fires continued sparking back to life.

A tall chore, killing a fire; throttling it.
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This is great. The Guardian carries Reuters' report from the South China Sea.

China, in an early test of US President Donald Trump, is nearly finished building almost two dozen structures on artificial islands in the South China Sea that appear designed to house long-range surface-to-air missiles, two US officials told Reuters.

The development is likely to raise questions about whether and how the United States will respond, given its vows to take a tough line on China in the South China Sea.

China claims almost all the South China Sea, which carries a third of the world’s maritime traffic. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims. Trump’s administration has called China’s island building in the South China Sea illegal.

Building the concrete structures with retractable roofs on Subi, Mischief and Fiery Cross reefs, part of the Spratly Islands chain where China already has built military-length airstrips, could be considered a military escalation, the US officials said in recent days, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“It is not like the Chinese to build anything in the South China Sea just to build it, and these structures resemble others that house SAM batteries, so the logical conclusion is that’s what they are for,” said a US intelligence official.
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Frances Robles' front page article in The New York Times noting how Muslims from Trinidad and Tobago are being recruited in large numbers for ISIS and like organizations is alarming.

Law enforcement officials in Trinidad and Tobago, a small Caribbean island nation off the coast of Venezuela, are scrambling to close a pipeline that has sent a steady stream of young Muslims to Syria, where they have taken up arms for the Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

American officials worry about having a breeding ground for extremists so close to the United States, fearing that Trinidadian fighters could return from the Middle East and attack American diplomatic and oil installations in Trinidad, or even take a three-and-a-half-hour flight to Miami.

President Trump spoke by telephone over the weekend with Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago about terrorism and other security challenges, including foreign fighters, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, a White House spokeswoman, said.

Trinidad has a history of Islamist extremism — a radical Muslim group was responsible for a failed coup in 1990 that lasted six days, and in 2012 a Trinidadian man was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a plot to blow up Kennedy International Airport. Muslims make up only about 6 percent of the population, and the combatants often come from the margins of society, some of them on the run from criminal charges.

They saw few opportunities in an oil-rich nation whose economy has declined with the price of petroleum, experts say. Some were gang members who either converted or were radicalized in prison, while others have been swayed by local imams who studied in the Middle East, according to Muslim leaders and American officials.
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Leah McLaren in MacLean's reports on the alleged Russian conspiracy to overthrown the government of Montenegro. This is, well.

Last weekend in Britain, the Sunday Telegraph trumped the weekend papers with a seismic front page splash. “Russia plotted to overthrow Montenegro’s government by assassinating Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic last year, according to senior Whitehall sources,” the headline blared.

According to the story, unnamed sources had revealed that last October the Montenegrin government had intercepted an election day coup plot to stage a mass murder in the country’s parliament that would take down the Montenegrin Prime Minister with it. Serbian nationals had planned to sneak into the parliament and open fire on the crowd of politicians while dressed in police uniform making it look like the local constabulary had turning on the government. Subsequently, the plan was to install a pro-Russian government.

This news in itself is not actually that surprising, since there were in fact a series of arrests in Montenegro last October but at the time the conspiracy was blamed on Serb paramilitaries and Russian nationalists who have long sought to steer Montenegro off its long-held pro-Western course. The Whitehall sources, however, alleged that the plot was in fact directed by Russian intelligence officers with the support of Vladimir Putin himself. The aim? An attempt to sabotage the country’s plan to join NATO—which is still on course to happen later this year.

The startling allegation emerged last week as Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, tore into NATO, dismissing it as a “Cold War institution” in his speech at an international security conference in Munich.
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James Jeffrey reports for the Inter Press Service about how Somaliland, particularly its capital of Berbera, is trying to look forward to a bright future independent of a Somalia Somalilanders wish to separate from.

Crossing African borders by land can be an intimidating process (it’s proving an increasingly intimidating process nowadays in Europe and the US also, even in airports). But crossing from Ethiopia to Somaliland at the ramshackle border town of Togo-Wuchale is a surreally pleasant experience.

Immigration officials on the Somaliland side leave aside the tough cross-examination routine, greeting you with big smiles and friendly chit chat as they whack an entry stamp on the Somaliland visa in your passport.

They’re always happy to see a foreigner’s visit providing recognition of their country that technically still doesn’t exist in the eyes of the rest of the political world, despite having proclaimed its independence from Somalia in 1991, following a civil war that killed about 50,000 in the region.

A British protectorate from 1886 until 1960 and unifying with what was then Italian Somaliland to create modern Somalia, Somaliland had got used to going on its own since that 1991 declaration, and today exhibits many of the trappings of a functioning state: its own currency, a functioning bureaucracy, trained police and military, law and order on the streets. Furthermore, since 2003 Somaliland has held a series of democratic elections resulting in orderly transfers of power.

Somaliland’s resolve is most clearly demonstrated in the capital, Hargeisa, formerly war-torn rubble in 1991 at the end of the civil war, its population living in refugee camps in neighbouring Ethiopia. An event that lives on in infamy saw the jets of military dictator Mohammed Siad Barre’s regime take off from the airport and circle back to bomb the city.

But visitors to today’s sun-blasted city of 800,000 people encounter a mishmash of impassioned traditional local markets cheek by jowl with diaspora-funded modern glass-fronted office blocks and malls, Wi-Fi enabled cafes and air-conditioned gyms, all suffused with typical Somali energy and dynamism.
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Euractiv carries an AFP report looking into the possibility that Scotland's Shetland Islands might, in the case of the United Kingdom falling apart, try to separate from Scotland to form a sort of West Nordic microstate thanks to the oil in the archipelago's waters.

Of all the consequences of the Brexit vote, the fate of the Shetland Islands in the North Atlantic and their oil fields and fisheries may not top the list for negotiators in Westminster and Brussels. But it soon might.

But the prospect of a new bid for Scottish independence as Britain leaves the EU is making some residents of these rugged islands think again about whether they would be better off alone.

“It would be wonderful,” Andrea Manson, a Shetland councillor and a leading figure in the Wir Shetland movement for greater autonomy, told AFP.

The movement’s name means “Our Shetland” in the local Scots dialect, a derivation of Middle English which has replaced the islands’ original Germanic language, Norn.

The remote archipelago, already fiercely independent in spirit, is geographically and culturally closer to Scandinavia than to Edinburgh, and politically more aligned with London and Brussels.

In the past 1,300 years, Shetland has been overrun by Scandinavian Vikings, pawned to Scotland as a wedding dowry by Denmark, subsumed into the United Kingdom in 1707, and dragged into the European Economic Community against its will in 1973.

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