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  • James Bow considers the idea of Christian privilege.

  • Centauri Dreams reports on the oddities of Ross 128.

  • D-Brief shares Matthew Buckley's proposal that it is possible to make planets out of dark matter.

  • Dead Things reports on the discoveries at Madjedbebe, in northern Australia, suggesting humans arrived 65 thousand years ago.

  • Bruce Dorminey reports on the idea that advanced civilizations may use sunshades to protect their worlds from overheating. (For terraforming purposes, too.)

  • Language Hat notes the struggles of some Scots in coming up with a rationalized spelling for Scots. What of "hert"?

  • The LRB Blog considers the way in which the unlimited power of Henry VIII will be recapitulated post-Brexit by the UK government.

  • Drew Rowsome quite likes the High Park production of King Lear.

  • Starts With A Bang's Ethan Siegel considers the idea that Pluto's moons, including Charon, might be legacies of a giant impact.

  • Unicorn Booty notes the terrible anti-trans "Civil Rights Uniformity Act." Americans, please act.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy considers/u> the perhaps-unique way a sitting American president might be charged with obstruction of justice.

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  • Daily Xtra notes that, in the 1930s, the shops of Yonge and Dundas supported a queer community. The tours described sound interesting.

  • Torontoist's Tricia Wood arguesthat the proposed high speed rail route in southern Ontario is wasteful spending, reflecting a two-tier transit network.

  • Steve Munro crunches data on the Queen Street route to find that buses have an advantage over streetcars.

  • The Toronto Star's Ben Spurr notes that the TTC is planning to noticeably expand its express bus network.

  • NOW Toronto's Lisa Ferguson writes about potential NIMBYism in the opposition to new high-rises in High Park.

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While skating in High Park does sound delightful, I do hope for the sake of--among others--The Globe and Mail's Marcus Gee that Grenadier Pond turns out to be consistently solid enough for skating. Sometimes regulations are a burden; sometimes, they're life-saving.

About a year back, breaking with custom, Toronto city council actually did something sensible: it ended a ban on skating on Grenadier Pond.

Skaters have been going out on the long pond in the southwest corner of High Park for a century and more. Archival photos show women in long skirts and overcoats lacing up their skates.

It is a wonderful Toronto experience. When I took to the ice on Monday morning, a middle-aged man with his shoes in a backpack was sailing around on long speed skates, his hands linked behind his back as he took big swaying strides. A couple of guys were playing shinny, using their bags as goalposts. A woman in a parka with the hood pulled up against the stiff breeze was skating alongside her dog.

One of the delights of pond skating is simply observing the ice, so different from the monochrome man-made stuff. Grenadier’s went from a cloudy white at the shallower end to an almost translucent black in deeper parts, marked here and there with circular white patches that looked like miniature galaxies in deep space. It is no wonder that Grenadier regulars wait with sharpened blades for a cold snap that will turn the pond into the city’s biggest outdoor rink.

In recent years, city officials concerned about safety and (more the point) liability issues tried to shut the party down. “No skating” signs went up. Those who ventured onto the pond sometimes found city bylaw officers hollering at them from the shore to cease and desist. They were, after all, violating Section 608-21 B of the Toronto Municipal Code, stating that, “No person shall access or skate on a natural ice surface in a park where it is posted to prohibit it.”
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Hina Alam's Toronto Star report reminds me that urban folklore is almost always interesting, at least on a Halloween evening.

On a black, cloudless night in April 1903, while a new moon sailed across the heavens, there arose a black mist in Grenadier Pond. Like a widow’s veil, it swirled and snaked — and thickened, until it took human form. A man and a horse then emerged from the water, fire in the man’s eyes and bleeding head.

“There are sounds of groaning, and, lo!, in a trice, the wraith is galloping with the speed of sunlight through the park,” reads a page 2 Toronto Daily Star article from Apr. 22, 1903, sandwiched between a labour report and a police report.

They were among many ghosts said to glide around Grenadier Pond, yet so popular were the rider and his “white nag” that a poem was written in their honour, and people spent many an hour talking about them.

However, the spectral rider and steed haven’t been seen since. It’s been 113 years.

Another news report from May 1903 discusses a man named Ed Clarke who was in court on a charge of drunkenness. Clarke had been in High Park to see the phantom horseman.
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The Toronto Star's Robin Levinson King goes into detail about the recent hunt for the capybaras of High Park.

This is the true story of Bonnie and Clyde.

No, not the infamous outlaws who went on an armed robbery spree during the Great Depression. This is about the two endearing but evasive capybaras who escaped from the High Park Zoo, prompting a media frenzy and month-long search and rescue mission.

Lost in the park’s 400 acres of forest, ponds and trails, the mischievous rodents evaded capture for 36 days and cost the city at least $15,000 in services and overtime for about 30 employees, according to emails from the city’s parks and recreation division obtained through access to information laws.

It all began the morning of May 24, when the capybaras, which had been purchased for a total of $700 from a Texas breeder, were dropped off at their pen in High Park Zoo.

Zookeepers had hoped to exchange the duo, who are capable of breeding, for lonely old Chewy, High Park’s OG capybara. But Bonnie and Clyde, as they were later nicknamed by city staff, had freedom in mind and went on the lam.
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I went to the High Park Zoo in search of the capybaras, but all I could see of them was their enclosure's reinforced fence.

Capybaras reinforcement #toronto #highparkzoo #highpark #capybara #fence

I did see plenty of other animals, though. I was especially impressed by the emus.

Goats #toronto #highpark #grenadierpond #goats

Caged peacock #toronto #highpark #highparkzoo #birds #peacock

Emu in the corner #toronto #highpark #highparkzoo #birds #emu

Good archosaur, pretty archosaur #toronto #highpark #highparkzoo #birds #emu #dinosaurs #archosaurs

Together #Toronto #highparkzoo #highpark #llama #birds #ducks #swans
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  • The Big Picture shares photos from a Newfoundland where the cod fisheries are recovering.

  • blogTO notes the bars which will be screening the final concert of The Tragically Hip.

  • Centauri Dreams notes a paper finding that KIC 8462852 has been fading noticeably in recent years.

  • The Dragon's Gaze notes the detection of circumpulsar disks.

  • Language Hat looks at the International Phonetic Alphabet.

  • The Map Room Blog notes Australia's updating of its GPS maps.

  • Otto Pohl notes the 75th anniversary of the Volga German deportation.

  • Torontoist has a lovely map of High Park.

  • Window on Eurasia argues Russia is likely to heat up the war in Ukraine by posing as a peacekeeper.

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In the National Post, Nick Faris writes about the search for the second of two capybaras still on the loose.

“(The second) one’s going to be posing its own challenges,” said Ben Lovatt, a local museum owner who has participated extensively in the chase, along with park staff and rescuers from the Toronto Wildlife Centre.

“We’re giving it some time. This one’s going to require a lot more study and observation before people actually go in.”

The first capybara was retrieved Sunday evening in the park’s southeast corner, near the drainage area of a pond, where passersby had spotted them in the days before the rescue. It came nearly three weeks after the animals — new arrivals to the High Park Zoo from a breeding program in Texas — absconded from their pen and disappeared into the park’s array of trees, trails and creeks.

The search party, since then, has relied heavily on reported sightings, and on the help of Lovatt and a few other private citizens, who have spent dozens of hours in recent weeks tracking the animals’ movements and behaviour.

That reconnaissance led to the first capture, said Megan Price, a spokeswoman for Toronto Parks, Forestry and Recreation. In a game of wits, they don’t plan to stray from what has worked.

“The second plan is the same as the first plan: To narrow down, through sightings, the area that it might be located, and then to spend a couple of days looking at its patterns and its habits and where it is, so that we can really situate the traps in the best possible locations,” Price said.
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The Guardian reports.

For 19 days, the renegades roamed through a forested Toronto park, munching on grass and frolicking in ponds while social media celebrated them as folk heroes.

But the brief taste of freedom has come to an abrupt end for one of the capybaras that escaped last month from a Toronto zoo. The dog-sized rodent – native to South America and resembling a large, tailless beaver with stumpy legs – was lured into a metal cage on Sunday evening in one corner of a 400-acre park in the city.

Two capybaras, one male and one female, bolted from a small zoo in the park on 24 May. It was their first day at the High Park zoo, after being brought in from a breeder in Texas to join Chewie, the zoo’s lone capybara.

[. . .]

After initial attempts to attract the rodents by playing capybara calls over a speaker yielded no results, search teams turned to traps baited with corn and fruit to lure the animals.

Only one of them was caught on Sunday, the other capybara remains at large.
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Eric Andrew-Gee's article in The Globe and Mail looks at the import of the escaped capybaras of High Park.

[A]s the hunt settled into a waiting game, the capybaras themselves erupted into the city’s collective consciousness. Newspapers breathlessly reported every sighting. TV news trucks became a fixture around High Park. Social media went wild.

Soon, there were not one but two capybara Twitter accounts. Clever designers pasted their image everywhere. A bar on Queen Street West changed its WiFi password to “Capybara.” And one Twitter user implored High Park’s annual Shakespeare production to put The Taming of the Capybara on the program.

Even before the Toronto escape, capybaras were pseudo-stars of the Internet, beloved and endlessly memed for their surreal physical hybridity and Eeyore-ish countenance.

This was different. Early on, the capybaras were cast as heroic rebels. The nicknames didn’t take long: Bonnie and Clyde. When one local wag placed them in a photo of Steve McQueen’s motorcycle from The Great Escape, the transformation was complete.

Their lionization may have reflected a growing cultural unease with animal captivity, crystallized recently by the shooting of Harambe the gorilla after a child found his way into the ape’s enclosure. Or it may be the idea of once-tame animals fending for themselves in the wilds of High Park, which seems to have a special hold on the Canadian imagination: Last year’s Giller Prize-winning novel, Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis, is about a pack of dogs with human minds set loose in the same park.
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  • blogTO notes the spotting of a High Park capybara.

  • Centauri Dreams reflects on the Pluto landscape.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to a paper looking at percolation theory in connection to the Fermi paradox.

  • Joe. My. God. notes the homophobic and useless reactions of one anti-gay group to HIV.
  • Language Hat links to an essay linking language with emotion.

  • The NYRB Daily points to a 13th century anti-Semitic caricature.

  • Towleroad examines George Michael as a gay icon.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy talks from a libertarian perspective about the negative consequences of a Trump administration for freedom.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Ukraine should exit the Minsk process as harmful to its interests.

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CBC interviewed a local expert in capybara on the ability of individuals of this species to hide.

Catching the pair of capybaras currently on the lam in Toronto's High Park won't be an easy feat, according to an expert with experience wrangling the giant rodents in his native Brazil.

"They have this survival instinct. It's like running after a cheetah," said Diogo Beltran, who worked with the Tropical Sustainability Institute in Brazil, a country where capybaras are a major nuisance, not unlike rats or raccoons.

"In Brazil it's a hobby. We don't go out hunting turkeys — we capture capybaras in our spare time," he said in an interview on CBC Radio's Metro Morning.

[. . . B]eltran said that in Brazil, capybaras aren't always a laughing matter. Now a computer engineer, he once worked to clear large groups of capybaras from construction sites and rivers. He and his colleagues used traps to humanely capture the animals for release in the wild. But it wasn't easy.

One reason is that capybaras are semi-acquatic. They can hide in water and remain below the surface for up to five minutes at a time. It's for this reason Beltran says they can't be captured using tranquillizer darts because they'll just run into the water and drown once the sedative takes effect.
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First, a capybara update from the Toronto Star:

Today is day three of the citywide hunt for two “timid” rodents that escaped High Park Zoo Tuesday morning.

A bait, consisting of corn, fruit and the recording of low clicking sounds capybaras are known to make, was “unsuccessful in luring the escapees back into their pen,” said Megan Price, a spokesperson for the Parks, Forestry and Recreation department.

The capybaras, described as “skittish” by the zoo keepers were born in Texas six months ago and had not yet been named. They were being brought to the zoo to replace a male capybara, Chewy, when they managed to slip out of the pen.

According to Price, many people from all over the city reported of seeing what seemed to be capybaras, but they were mostly groundhogs.

“The difference is when a capybara walks you can see their legs,” said a Facebook post by High Park Zoo.
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Yesterday, blogTO noted that two capybara escaped from their enclosure in the High Park Zoo.

(The above photo comes from the Friends of the High Park Zoo Facebook group.)

Today, I've found that they have gone viral. And what not? They are so incredibly cute.

What seems to have described by the CBC, the two female capybara escaped while being introduced to a new male.

City parks department workers were trying to introduce a new male capybara and female capybara to the enclosure to mate, and remove Chewy, when things suddenly went south.

In their attempts to make the swap, staff lost control of the new couple, hereby dubbed Bonnie and Clyde, according to Megan Price of the Toronto parks department.

The pair of bandits then made their escape, while Chewy was happy to hang out at home in his pen.

So did Bonnie and Clyde have a plan in the works for awhile? Did Chewy scare them off in an effort to keep his home? Or was it maybe just a spur-of-the-moment dash for freedom from a pair of young lovers?

As the National Post notes, the zoo staff are currently searching for the capybara on the assumption that they are currently hiding in the underbrush. I wish them well, and a quick recovery.

I just almost find myself wishing that a breeding pair had escaped: Could an indigenized capybara population be that bad?
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The National Post's Joe O'Connor and Graham Runciman report, with video, on a fan of High Park's cherry blossoms who wants to find out what happened this year.

Steve (Sakura Steve) Joniak moves with weary-purpose, camera at the ready.

Treading slowly, pausing, peering up through a large zoom lens, while hoping that he might zero in on a telling bit of evidence that could unlock a baffling springtime mystery that has taken root in High Park. The park is a Toronto icon, an idyllic, 161-acre hub for community sports teams, skating and pool parties, picnicking families, joggers, dog walkers, fishermen and those who simply want to spread a blanket beneath a shady tree and while away the afternoon.

It is the trees that Sakura Steve is most interested in. Chiefly: the sakura (cherry) blossom trees. For many Torontonians — and for many others from parts nearby and from places as far away as Japan — the sakura blossoms are the Beatles of the park’s ecosystem. Each spring they bloom, transforming a slope at the southern end of the park into a sea of pink and white. This fleeting, flowery paradise lasts but for a handful of days, attracting blossom lovers and the curious by the tens of thousands to wander in their midst.

The sakuras were a gift from a Japan, an arboreal thank you note to the citizens of Toronto for welcoming thousands of Japanese refugees after the Second World War. They are a treasure and, alas, in 2016, they are not blooming — (neither are the crowds) — and Sakura Steve is determined to find out why.

“It is disheartening,” he says, of the blossoms mysterious absence. “The blossoms, they sort of become a part of you.”
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  • blogTO celebrates High Park.

  • Marginal Revolution celebrates the life and achievements of Benedict Anderson.

  • Out of Ambit's Diane Duane shares a beautiful map of the Atlantic seaboard of the United States that she hand-drew in 1980.

  • Towleroad discusses the mechanics of a same-sex couple's wedding.

  • Transit Toronto notes upcoming meetings to discuss the future of transit in the Toronto area.

  • Window on Eurasia looks at anti-Americanism in the Russian elite and suggests Ukraine should recognize the expulsion of Circassians and other Caucasians.

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blogTO was kind enough to list places other than High Park in the city of Toronto where cherry blossoms may be found. I may have to make these pilgrimages, for, as Steve" Kupferman writes in Toronto Life, the inconstant spring may mean that there will be no sakura in High Park this year.

Anyone planning on Instagramming the hell out of their cherry blossom picnic may want to sit down for this. Steve Joniak, who in past years has been reliable at forecasting peak bloom in High Park’s famous Somei-Yoshino cherry groves, writes on his Sakura Watch blog that this year’s fluctuating temperatures will prevent the vast majority of the little pink flowers from poking out of their buds.

“2016 proved to be such an up and down year that we simply didn’t have enough consecutive warm days to help the trees along,” Joniak writes. “[I]f they are stuck in this cycle long enough, they just forget [blossoming] and let the leaves take over instead.”

The High Park Nature Centre agrees with this assessment. “If they do bloom in mid-to-late May there will certainly be fewer flowers,” the centre’s website says.

Links are at the site.
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blogTO noted that this year, the cherry blossoms are likely to bloom somewhat late, between the 5th and the 12th of May. CBC reports that the cool and erratic spring is likely to threaten the blossoms.

High Park's beautiful cherry blossoms will bloom late this year, if at all, according to one expert.

Jennifer Halpern, an outreach co-ordinator at the High Park Nature Centre, told CBC Radio's Metro Morning that the cold spring is to blame for the delay.

"Because of the mild winter weather and the cool spring now, we're feeling very certain that we're not going to have such a full show of the cherry blossoms," Halpern said.

She continued by saying many of the buds could turn directly into leaves instead of flowers and there could be far fewer blossoms this year.

"What we are seeing now is the buds are staying very tight. The tips have turned to green, but some of them have not widened, and instead they have elongated, and that's how we know they are turning to leaf."
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The Toronto Star's Valerie Hauch has a lovely long-form article looking at the origins and development of High Park. (I'll be going there later this month, as the cherry blossoms bloom and the world warms.)

It was a Toronto winter carnival unlike any other – if only because it featured a “Wolf Man.” On Saturday Jan. 31, 1925, tens of thousands of Torontonians cheered in High Park while they watched “Wolf Man Joe LaFlamme” drive a sled team of timber wolves and huskies across Grenadier Pond and up onto the snowy slopes of the park, dashing around on a circuit.

The Toronto Daily Star had brought LaFlamme – a trapper, dogsledder and hotelier – and his team in from the northern Ontario town of Gogama (near Sudbury) as the highlight of the High Park winter carnival, organized by the newspaper. Various winter sports, such as skiing, snowshoeing, tobogganing, were demonstrated and competitive events held.

Although LaFlamme was apt at wrangling the wolves (aside from one wee mishap in which a wolf escaped for a day before being recaptured), a Star article warned people: “don’t let your children or dogs near them.”

The carnival was, well, a howling success, with the city forced to add more streetcars to ferry people to High Park, where the Star estimated 50,000 had gathered for the event.

In an editorial the Star opined that if the event made people “visit High Park and Grenadier Pond” and discover the “great winter playground” that was on their doorstop, it would be worthwhile.
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Torontoist's Jamie Bradburn took an interesting look at the role of public philanthrophy in the development of public parks in Toronto.

When Judy and Wilmot Matthews announced a donation of $25 million in November to revitalize the land underneath the elevated section of the Gardiner Expressway, it was one of the largest gifts of public space from a private donor in Toronto’s history. The Matthews’ Under Gardiner project follow in the footsteps of past donors who, especially in the realm of parks, have used their generosity to provide spaces for residents to enjoy.

One of the first philanthropists to look after our public space needs was John Howard. One of the first professional architects in Upper Canada, Howard worked for the city during its early years as its official surveyor and engineer. Among his projects was the Bank of British North America building at the northeast corner of Yonge and Wellington and the Provincial Lunatic Asylum on Queen Street (now the site of CAMH). In 1836 Howard purchased 165 acres outside the western limit of the city, and spent decades beautifying the properties which became Colborne Lodge and High Park.

In 1873, Howard acted on his desire to see his property become a public park. During negotiations with the city, he donated 120 acres up front, with the remainder reserved for his personal use until his death. Several conditions were imposed on his gift: the land would be forever held as a free public space for Torontonians to enjoy; a grave plot was reserved for Howard and his wife, surrounded by an iron fence originally belonging to St. Paul’s Cathedral in London; and that no intoxicating liquor could ever be sold on the grounds. Howard requested an annual annuity of $1,200 per year, and an appointment as the park’s forest ranger for $1 per year.

City council mulled over the offer for six weeks. Arguments against accepting Howard’s gift included the amount of the annuity, and the park’s location outside the city limits—how many people would venture that far west? Farsighted councillors who sensed the city would expand to the park and beyond carried the day in a 13-2 vote in favour of Howard’s wishes. Two years later, following Howard’s advice, the city added to the park 170 acres purchased from Percival Ridout.


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