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"Yeah, Whatever" is the title track off of Vancouver-based Canadian electronica group Moev's 1988 album "Yeah, Whatever". Produced by the second incarnation of this band, featuring one Dean Russell as vocalist and lyricist, this song deserved wider recognition. Russell's vocals and the guitar-driven lyrics bring to mind a sort of Canadian fusion of Depeche Mode with the Smiths.

Most unfortunately, Moev and Dean Russell never got the chance to break through into the mainstream, Russell dying of HIV/AIDS in 1994 and the band subsequently splintering. What could have been--But at least we have this.
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  • The Globe and Mail's Joanna Slater talks about how the subway system of New York City is staggering from catastrophe to catastrophe.

  • The Globe and Mail's Stephen Quinn argues it is much too late to save Vancouver's Chinatown from radical redevelopment.

  • The Toronto Star's Tess Kalinowski writes about how young buyers are driving a push for laneway housing in Toronto.
  • Bryan Tucker, also in the Toronto Star, also makes the case for laneway housing.

  • The National Post shares a story about an affordable 18th century house on the Québec-Vermont border.

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  • Yahoo News shares the story of a cat that visited every national park in the United States, with photos.

  • CBC's Mike Crawley takes a look at the impact of the Ontario $15 minimum wage, finding it should have little effect on the economy at large.

  • In The Globe and Mail, Tony Keller suggests that Donald Trump's actions do a great job of promoting China as a responsible superpower.

  • CBC notes research suggesting that global warming will make the heat island effect in cities much worse.

  • It is easy, editor David Shribman of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writes in The Globe and Mail, to mistake Pittsburgh for Paris.

  • The Toronto Star notes Ariana Grande's surprise visit to her fans in hospital before tomorrow benefit concert.

  • The Atlantic reports on the problems of post-Communist gentrification in Moscow.

  • The Georgia Straight shares one Vancouver artist's goodbye to her adopted city, beloved but now too expensive.

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Doug Alexander and Katia Dmitrieva write for Bloomberg about the statement by the Royal Bank of Canada's chief executive officer that Toronto's housing market needs to be slowed down like Vancouver's

Toronto may require measures to cool its red-hot housing market similar to moves taken in Vancouver if interest rates don’t increase, said Royal Bank of Canada Chief Executive Officer David McKay.

The head of Canada’s largest lender said Toronto housing is “running hot” and is fueled by a "concerning mix of drivers" that include lack of supply, continued low rates, rising foreign money and speculative activity. Similar circumstances in Vancouver prompted British Columbia’s government last year to impose a 15 percent tax on foreign buyers.

“In the absence of being able to use higher rates to reduce that, I do think we’re going to at some point have to consider similar measures to slow down the housing price growth," McKay said Friday in a telephone interview.

The comments from the bank CEO come as frustration grows over the unaffordability of properties in Canada’s biggest city. The average home price in Toronto jumped 22 percent in January from the previous year, the fifth straight month of gains topping 20 percent. Listings have dropped off, down by half from last year, squeezing prices further.

The CEOs of Canada’s other big banks last year called on the government to increase housing regulation amid skyrocketing prices in Vancouver and Toronto. National Bank of Canada CEO Louis Vachon said that minimum downpayments should return to 10 percent from 5 percent, while Bank of Nova Scotia head Brian Porter suggested his company was pulling back on mortgage lending due to concern about high home prices in those two cities.
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Gary Mason wrote Thursday from Victoria for The Globe and Mail about the Toronto real estate crisis, contrasting the belated responses of Toronto and Ontario unfavourably to those of his province of residence.

Of all the political U-turns B.C. Premier Christy Clark has undertaken in power, perhaps none was as jarring and unexpected as the one she performed on housing.

For most of 2015, and at least half of the following year, the Premier refused to do anything about rapidly escalating house prices in Metro Vancouver. She maintained that bringing in measures to cool the market might hurt the equity in people’s homes. She denied foreign investors had much to do with the fierce escalation in costs, relying on the faulty, self-serving data from a real-estate industry that wanted the sticker-shock insanity to continue.

And there was also the not-insignificant fact that the B.C. treasury was getting fattened on the provincial tax that exists on home sales – easy money that can become like crack to a government.

But then Ms. Clark and her cabinet came to an uncomfortable realization: The growing public outrage over the fact that the middle-class dreams of owning a home were evaporating by the day for many and might cost the government re-election. So the Premier did what she vowed she wouldn’t and brought in a 15-per-cent foreign buyer’s tax that did precisely what it was intended to – put the brakes on the absurd, and immoral, goings-on in the real estate industry.

Unfortunately, by the time she did, it was too late for thousands.
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The Globe and Mail's Dominika Lirette reports on the support of the British Columbian government for funding a study looking into the feasibility of a high-speed rail route connecting Vancouver with Oregon's Portland.

British Columbia’s Transportation Minister says the province supports Washington State’s decision to study the feasibility of a high-speed rail line from Portland to Vancouver.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee has allotted $1-million (U.S.) from his 2017-19 state budget to examine the costs and benefits of building a system to carry travellers 400 kilometres an hour with stops in Seattle and Bellingham. A report is due in December.

Transportation Minister Todd Stone said it’s “far too premature” to talk about a potential financial commitment to a high-speed rail line, but he said the province is interested in the idea.

“The Premier sent a letter to Governor Inslee recently, extending provincial support for the state of Washington’s decision to actually do some due diligence, some analysis on this proposed high-speed rail link, and we certainly support them doing that,” Mr. Stone said.

He noted that that an agreement signed last year between British Columbia and Washington State, known as the Cascadia Innovation Corridor, highlights transportation as a key priority.

The study will examine the design and cost of a high-speed rail system, the potential demand and whether it would be economically viable. A budget document outlining the study says the high-speed rail system, if built, could connect with east-west routes in the state, as well as a similar system, in California.
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MacLean's carries Alexandra Posadzki's Canadian Press article looking at how high housing prices are driving Canadians out of major cities for markets with lower prices.

Julien Simon and his wife were living happily in their condo in the Vancouver suburb of Burnaby when life intervened last year in the form of a baby on the way.

The couple — he’s an Internet marketer, she’s an environmental engineer — couldn’t see themselves living in a shoebox crammed full of baby stuff, so they pulled up stakes, put their condo up for sale and moved about four hours away to Kamloops, B.C., where they bought a four-bedroom house for nearly the same price.

“In Vancouver, this house would be in the $2 million range,” says Simon, who works from home while his wife now works for the government as a flood safety engineer.

While more detailed profiles will emerge in subsequent releases, the 2016 census data released Wednesday found that there were more than 14 million occupied private dwellings in Canada, a 5.6 per cent increase over the five-year period that ended in 2011. That growth rate, however, was significantly lower than the 7.1 per cent rate recorded five years ago.

Thanks in large part to a commensurate spike in population that was the largest in Canada, Nunavut reported the fastest dwellings growth at 13.4 per cent, followed by Alberta (9.9 per cent), Yukon (7.8 per cent) and British Columbia (6.6 per cent).
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I have to admit to not being amused, as described by the National Post in the article "An early test of Trump’s ethics pledge: The glittering tower in Vancouver about to open its doors" written for the Washington Post by Drew Harwell, Alan Freeman and Jenny Peng, that Trump Tower in Vancouver is set to open and in so doing open up space for a whole slew of problems for the Trump Administration. I would prefer Canada not get involved at all in the political issues of our southern neighbour.

As President Trump settles into his first week in the White House, the first paying guests will begin checking in tonight into the lavish suites of the Trump International Hotel & Tower Vancouver, a glass skyscraper developed by the son of one of Malaysia’s wealthiest business executives.

The tower, the first foreign business launch of the Trump brand during the new presidency, is an early test of Trump’s controversial decision to retain ownership of his businesses while promising to combat ethical conflicts by removing himself from the management. It also shows how Trump properties around the world are likely to become focal points for protest or other forms of expressions aimed at the U.S. president and his policies.

Trump and his family do not own the Vancouver project, but the president has a stake in its continued success. The developers have paid Trump’s company for the use of his name while they also pay fees for his company to manage the hotel, according to federal financial disclosures filed by Trump.

Developers say that the hotel, where workers pulled the covers off its imposing “Trump” lettering the day before Friday’s inauguration, has seen an “overwhelming amount of reservations.” Deep-pocketed buyers have also scooped up condos. Buyers include an American tech billionaire who paid $7.6 million for three luxury flats.

To many locals, the building is something of a political symbol. Some, including Vancouver’s mayor, have protested the name that appears in lights above the skyline. Eggs were thrown at a Trump hotel window during the Women’s March there on Saturday that filed past the property.

Trump’s association with overseas hotels was cited in a lawsuit brought this week by ethics experts, who argued that permits or other benefits granted to Trump-branded properties could violate a constitutional ban on foreign government payments to the U.S. president.</blockquote
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And so, as CBC reports, the housing boom in Canada's cities goes on.

Three months after issuing its first red warning on the state of the country's housing market, CMHC said Thursday that strong evidence of "problematic" conditions nationally have continued for a second consecutive quarter.

The federal agency said in its latest quarterly market analysis that those conditions persisted due to overvaluation and price acceleration.

CMHC said its assessment largely accounts for market conditions in Vancouver and Toronto, where strong price growth has been spreading to other areas.

"Price acceleration in Vancouver, Victoria, Toronto and Hamilton indicates that home price growth may be driven by speculation as it is outpacing what economic fundamentals like migration, employment and income can support," said Bob Dugan, the agency's chief economist.
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The Globe and Mail's hosts Mike Hager's report contrasting the willingness of Vancouver pot shops to report crime to the unwillingness of Toronto's, tracing this to the considerably more permissive police policies in Vancouver.

David Malmo-Levine has had numerous run-ins with Vancouver police in more than two decades fighting for the legalization of marijuana, the most intense being the time he says he was dragged by handcuffs while attempting to block a raid of a downtown cannabis seed store in the mid-1990s.

So, he said he was pleasantly surprised in May, 2015, when police returned several thousand dollars worth of bongs and cannabis products that had been stolen by a man who smashed a stolen minivan through the storefront of his illegal East Vancouver dispensary.

“It was the best they had ever treated me in my entire life of pot activism – in fact, they returned the pot and all the edibles, the hashish and everything [that was stolen],” said Mr. Malmo-Levine, who spent time in prison after losing a Supreme Court of Canada case stemming from being charged for running an underground cannabis vapour lounge more than 20 years ago.


[. . .]

Vancouver’s approach to regulating – not raiding – its 95 dispensaries stands in stark contrast to Toronto, Canada’s other largest market for these illegal stores, where police and politicians say an ongoing crackdown has become more urgent as these pot shops have become a magnet for violent thieves.

Earlier this week, Toronto police announced there had been 13 armed robberies of dispensaries in the past eight months – six of which were not reported by employees or owners of the businesses. Investigators said they believe additional robberies have gone unreported and that employees and operators of some of the targeted dispensaries have refused to answer questions or to hand over surveillance footage.
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The Toronto Star carried the Canadian Press report about Demographia's latest international survey on the affordability of housing.

An annual international survey rates Vancouver as the third least affordable housing market on the planet and it also has a warning about Toronto housing.

The 2017 Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey gives Vancouver a rating of 11.8, meaning median home prices are 11.8 times higher than median household income.

Read more: Toronto house prices climb more than 22%

Only Hong Kong, with a rating of 18.1, and Sydney, Australia, at 12.2, outstrip Vancouver.

Demographia says housing markets are affordable when median prices are no more than three times higher than median household income.
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Canadian Art's Rosie Prata talks with artists in Toronto and Vancouver whose works are now located in those cities' Trump Towers. How do they react to having their art on display in these buildings?

Much has been made of Trump’s taste, or lack thereof. Though he has existed in the public imagination for nearly four decades, evidence of his interests or tastes in regards to art are scarce. We know he knows the word, at least, because the book attributed to him, Trump: The Art of the Deal (1987), uses “art” in its title. (But then again, maybe that was a contribution from Tony Schwartz.)

At Trump’s three-storey penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, a gaudy marble-and-gold rococo travesty lit by candelabras, there’s no art on view, except for a reproduction of Renoir’s La Loge in Melania’s office, and various depictions of Greek gods. “Part of the beauty of me,” Trump once explained, “is that I am very rich.”

One would expect to see a similar display of garishness at the properties that bear his name, but for the two in Canada—the aforementioned Trump International Hotel and Tower in Toronto and Trump Tower in Vancouver—it turns out that such expectations are wrong. Many of the artworks come from artists whose own political views are in opposition to all that Trump stands for.

Though Trump is a shareholder in some of the buildings that bear his name, including those in New York, Las Vegas and Chicago, he has limited involvement in many Trump properties, and very little decision-making power in regards to what art is housed in the franchises embellished with his name. The buildings themselves have been sites of protest, and the Vancouver Women’s March event on January 21 includes a stop at the Trump building on West Georgia Street.

A 500,000-piece mosaic themed on multiculturalism, created by Stephen Andrews, a gay artist who has lived openly with HIV for decades, adorns the covered driveway leading into Toronto’s Trump Tower. Andrews is an artist whose politics are sure to offend the delicate sensibilities of Trump’s vice-president, Mike Pence, who believes in the efficacy of electro-conversion therapy for LGTBQ+ people.

There’s also the Michael Snow–designed Lightline, a streak of light reaching to the Tower’s 65-story peak. When it was installed in 2012, the Toronto Star called it “a mix of bold flashing colours with a weird thing on top,” noting that “the skyscraper light appears to be the manifestation of Donald Trump himself.” Later that same year, Toronto Life reported that the artwork was malfunctioning, but conceded that at least it wasn’t “demanding its money back,” as its investors were, “or smashing on the street below,” as the building’s antenna and glass panels had. A 2013 profile of Snow noted that “Trump and Snow actually have a lot in common: unshakable ego, wilful disregard for public opinion and a knack for stoking controversy.” It’s a comparison that Snow would now likely contest.
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At The Globe and Mail, Kerry Gold describes the pressure faced by renters as their long-time landlords sell their properties to others, perhaps less invested in keeping their current renters and more interested in maximizing their profit.

Bob Wilson was an old-school landlord, the kind who’d rather learn how to fix a clogged drain himself than call in a plumber.

The retired firefighter owned and meticulously managed the character three-storey on leafy Barclay Street in Vancouver’s West End for 40 years, until he sold it last year for an offer he couldn’t refuse.

And he did refuse many offers. His love of his tenants, the building and his desire to keep working kept him in the landlord business.

“I am friends with almost all of them – even my new tenants I’d seem to become friends with,” says 80-year-old Mr. Wilson. “A fireman is always helping people, so you can’t change that. I love that stuff, doing them favours if they needed something. It was fantastic for me.”

He worked for 30 years as a firefighter, but he managed several small properties around the city. When he was a teenager, his basketball coach advised him to buy real estate in the West End because it would always be desirable and it had nowhere to grow, surrounded by water and the downtown to the east. His investments earned him a decent income for a lifetime.
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CBC News' John Reiti reported on Toronto city councilor Jim Karygiannis' call for a tax to be levied on foreign buyers of Toronto real estate.

A Toronto councillor is renewing calls to implement a foreign buyers tax to cool down the city's red-hot real estate market.

Coun. Jim Karygiannis, who held a Thursday news conference alongside a McMaster University economist, has sent a letter to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne asking for permission to slap a five-per-cent tax on foreign buyers.

Ontario has balked at the idea of taxing foreign buyers over concerns that such a tax could significantly hurt the value of homes that people already own. The province is also keeping an eye on Vancouver's market, where a 15 per cent foreign buyers tax came into effect on Aug. 2, 2016.

"We're not taxing our own folks," Karygiannis told reporters at city hall.


Torontoist has pointed out that even if this tax achieves its limited goal of cooling down the market, it cannot be the only response.

Some real estate groups in the city have come out against implementing a tax here, warning that a “knee-jerk” reaction isn’t the answer. And that might be the case, but if a move like this might prevent Toronto market from reaching the absurd levels Vancouver has seen in recent years—where seven-figure prices on real estate are the norm—it could be worth looking into.

So many Torontonians are already priced out of home ownership, and it’s worth considering all options to make sure the situation doesn’t get worse. But a tax won’t fix everything: there are bigger issues to consider in the landscape of Toronto’s unaffordable housing situation. If imposing a new tax will alleviate some of the pressure, it could decrease housing demand, but it doesn’t solve the supply side of the problem. City Council needs to commit to more than just asking the provincial government to deal with it, and no one policy is going to solve an issue as nuanced as housing affordability.


http://torontoist.com/2017/01/foreign-homebuyer-tax/
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The Globe and Mail's Brent Jang notes that Toronto's housing market is continuing to lead Vancouver's.

Canada’s two largest housing markets are going in different directions, with the Greater Toronto Area poised for another rally in 2017 while the Vancouver region girds for a decline.

Royal LePage forecasts the median residential price in the GTA will jump 10 per cent this year while Greater Vancouver will experience an 8.5-per-cent price decrease for various housing types.

“People in Toronto think that they live in this outlandishly expensive region, but they don’t realize just how affordable homes are relative to the price of homes in Vancouver. There is a dramatic difference,” said Phil Soper, chief executive officer of the real estate firm.

Last month, the average price for detached houses sold in the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver’s territory was $1.68-million, compared with $1.02-million in the GTA. In the city of Vancouver, the price for detached properties averaged more than $2.6-million last month, compared with $1.29-million for sales in the city of Toronto.

The GTA tops the list of nine selected major markets covered by Royal LePage in its 2017 outlook. Other price gains are envisaged in Greater Montreal (4 per cent), Calgary (2.5 per cent), Winnipeg and Halifax (2 per cent), Ottawa (1.7 per cent) and Regina (1 per cent). Edmonton is forecast to have a decline of 0.9 per cent, leaving Greater Vancouver trailing the pack in the forecast.
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I post Gary Mason's Friday column in The Globe and Mail mainly so that I can criticize it. Does it make sense to criticize Vancouver for not being prepared for an unexpected bout of weather? I write this, incidentally, on a day in Toronto where some centimetres of softly falling snow seem to be on the verge of shutting the town down.

Every few years or so, Vancouver gets to do something it does better than any other city in the country: embarrass itself.

This occurs when there is a snowfall. And when this happens, the rest of the country gets to laugh as the snowflakes that call Vancouver home melt into a puddle of tears and self-pity. Yet the hysteria that has greeted winter this year has set historic records for wailing and chuntering.

For those who haven’t heard, Vancouver has been experiencing a few weeks of real, genuine, Canadian winter. They are conditions the rest of the country (and B.C.) greets with a yawn around this time of year. But in Vancouver, it has touched off near riots.

There are now calls for an independent inquiry into how the city has managed the recent spate of snow and freezing rain. Yes, you read that correctly: an inquiry.

Look, I get that the city could have been better organized for the blast of winter it has received. It lost a gamble that the weather would warm, and the ice on the streets and sidewalks would melt. To be fair though, Vancouver is experiencing a weather reality it hasn’t faced in three decades.
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The National Post hosts Diana Mehta's Canadian Press article noting how Toronto is preparing for the imminent onslaught of fentanyl. This CBC report suggests some is already here: Can civic leaders prepare before its effect hit hard?

The fentanyl-fuelled opioid crisis that has wreaked havoc in British Columbia is moving east, and the mayor of Toronto hopes a united and rapid response will help save lives in Canada’s most populous city.

Part of that effort begins Monday, with the first meeting of the Toronto Overdose Early Warning and Alert Partnership, which will bring together politicians, public health officials, first-responders, the coroner’s office, community groups and other stakeholders.

“I don’t think that we can sit back and be complacent for one moment,” Toronto Mayor John Tory said in an interview. “The first thing you have to do is to form a partnership that sort of says everybody is going to be at the table, exchanging information, exchanging knowledge.”

While the full scope of fentanyl-related problems in the city isn’t known at this point, Dr. Barbara Yaffe, Toronto’s acting medical officer of health, said there are already troubling figures indicating an uptick.

In 2015, there were 45 fentanyl-related overdose deaths recorded, up from 23 deaths in 2014, Yaffe said. Figures for 2016 are not yet available.
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This multiply-authored feature in The Globe and Mail takes a vivid look at the worsening drug problem in the Downtown Eastside in the era of fentanyl and related opiates.

Deirdre is leaning against an alley wall, prepping a needle full of crystal methamphetamine that could be contaminated with fentanyl. She and a friend have paused to cheer as an employee of a nearby needle exchange rushes over to revive an overdosing man.

“Breathe bro, breeeeathe!” another bystander shouts as he gently slaps the man’s blue face while the employee preps oxygen and a syringe of naloxone that can reverse the deadly effects of opioids.

A small team of firefighters and paramedics take over. The first responders believe the man – Justin – is the one they revived in the same spot a day earlier.

Deirdre, who asked that her real name not be used, and her friend prepare their rigs and inject them into their arms, the scene in front of them no deterrent to the risk that could put them on the pavement in need of a similar lifesaving intervention.

It is 11:29 a.m. on a frigid Wednesday morning– the second-last Wednesday of December, when millions of dollars of social-assistance payments flood into the Downtown Eastside, or DTES. For recipients who regularly use drugs, this day – known in the neighbourhood as “Cheque Day,” “Welfare Wednesday” or “Mardi Gras” – dramatically increases their risk of a fatal overdose.

Though much of Canada has felt the effects of the fentanyl-driven overdose crisis, British Columbia has been hardest hit, experiencing more fatal overdoses this year than in three decades of record-keeping. The death toll is expected to climb to more than 800. Two weeks ago, eight overdose deaths were recorded in the Downtown Eastside in a single day.
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The Globe and Mail's Frances Bula looks at how even Vancouver's Downtown Eastside is sharing in the housing construction boom of the wider Vancouver metropolitan area, perhaps at the expense of the deprived people who live in that neighbourhood.

A prominent long-vacant lot on the edge of the Downtown Eastside is about to be developed by the company also building the Trump Tower.

But because of a city zoning policy put in years ago and the developer’s preference for something different, the new building at the rapidly transforming corner of Hastings and Abbott across the street from the Woodward’s project will be a rental.

“It is an important and underutilized corner of the city,” said Phillip Scott, the director of development for Holborn Group. He said rental residential is a good fit for the diversified company, adding that “the larger scale of rental building projects such as this helps to deliver amenities and …sustainable living space.”

The 132-unit building is being designed by architect Gair Williamson, who has done a number of unique projects in the Downtown Eastside, Chinatown and Strathcona, including The Keefer, the Paris Block and the Paris Annex, and projects that combine social and market rentals.

The Holborn lot, which used to house a one-storey building that had a food market in its last incarnation, has sat vacant for years. In the decade since Holborn bought the site, the area has changed dramatically.
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  • blogTO notes that a Vancouver nerd bar is opening up shop in Toronto.

  • Dangerous Minds provides its readers with a take on an upcoming Tom of Finland biopic.

  • The Dragon's Tales notes that Enceladus seems altogether too hot and notes that dwarf planet Makemake seems to have a surprisingly uniform surface.

  • Far Outliers looks at Afghanistan and Poland at the end of the 1970s.

  • Joe. My. God. and Towleroad each respond to the untimely death of George Michael.
  • Language Log explores the evolution of the term "dongle".

  • Marginal Revolution wonders if Donald Trump is guided by his thinking in the 1980s about a Soviet-American condominium.

  • Torontoist looks at the Toronto's century house plaques come to be.

  • Window on Eurasia suggests Russian media outside of Russia are gaining in influence and talks about modern Russia as a new sort of "evil empire".

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