Nov. 5th, 2016

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  • Apostrophen's 'Nathan Smith talks about his upcoming session at the Naked Heart literary festival here in Toronto.

  • blogTO notes that Metrolinx is set to kill Bombardier's LRT contract.

  • Centauri Dreams talks about the discovery of planets in the system of HD 87646, one not unlike Alpha Centauri.

  • Dangerous Minds talks about a documentary on skinheads.

  • The Dragon's Gaze links to two papers about the discovery of planetary debris in orbit of white dwarfs.
  • The Dragon's Tales links to a paper speculating if the primordial atmosphere of Titan was ammonia.

  • The Everyday Sociology Blog talks about the vote and immigrants.

  • The LRB Blog notes the worrying state of Brexit rhetoric.

  • The Map Room Blog links to a digital atlas of Mi'kmaq names in Nova Scotia.

  • Marginal Revolution looks at the economic meltdown in Zimbabwe.

  • The Planetary Society Blog looks at China's powerful new Long March 5 rocket.

  • Towleroad notes Kim Davis' large legal bill.

  • The Volokh Conspiracy's Orin Kerr supports Hillary, another noting how Utah can save the US from Trump.

  • Window on Eurasia argues Putin's Russia is more dangerous than the Soviet Union and suggests that the official definition of the Russian nation is brittle.

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The National Post's Laura Hensley reports on the appearance of Prince Harry in Toronto's Seaton Village, not more than twenty minutes to my west, visiting his apparent girlfriend.

American actress Meghan Markle has lived for years on a sleepy residential street of a middle-class Toronto neighbourhood without anyone really noticing.

She has walked her dogs in a nearby park. She has dined at her favourite restaurants and hung out in popular Trinity Bellwoods Park. But when reports broke that her rumoured boyfriend, Prince Harry, was visiting the TV star this week, her quiet neighbourhood in west Toronto suddenly became grounds for a media stakeout.

On Wednesday it emerged that the prince was in Toronto, after initial reports speculated the trip had been cancelled because his plans were leaked to the press.

The London Daily Telegraph reported that Harry actually had been in the city since last Friday and was staying with Markle in her home in Seaton Village — a name with important historical links that are probably well known by the prince.

Seaton Village is named after John Colborne, 1st Baron Seaton who distinguished himself at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. The prince served with the Blues and Royals, a regiment of the Household Cavalry whose battle honours also include Waterloo.

Residents of the Bathurst Street and Dupont Avenue area knew something was up when two dark SUVs were seen parked in front of the house over the weekend.
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CBC News' Shanifa Nasser reports on a problematic police chaplain here in Toronto.

A Toronto police chaplain under fire for comments made about women's "obedience" to their husbands will continue to serve with the force for the time being, CBC News has learned.

Musleh Khan met recently with Toronto police Chief Mark Saunders, and "would like an opportunity to be heard by members of the Toronto Police Service," spokeswoman Meaghan Gray told CBC News on Friday.

"We will be facilitating that opportunity. In the meantime, he continues as a volunteer chaplain," Grey said.

The force would not comment further.

Khan drew ire on Tuesday from critics including the Toronto police union and the Canadian Council of Muslim Women over comments he made in a 2013 webinar for Muslim couples.

In the almost hour-long seminar — called The Heart of the Home: the Rights and Responsibilities of a Wife — Khan appears to imply a wife must make herself sexually available and "not withhold this right from her husband without a valid excuse," such as sickness or obligatory fasting.
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NOW Toronto's Matt Williams reports on the impending closure of HMV's Eaton Centre store.

Now’s the time to stock up on all your Bob Marley posters, Sopranos DVD box sets and goofy Avengers action figures. hmv Canada recently announced that it won’t be renewing its lease at the Eaton Centre, and right now the entire store is on sale.

The news isn’t a huge shock: digital streaming continues its rise, and while vinyl sales haven’t overtaken CD sales yet, the latter is falling every year as the former steadily grows – and hmv stores are stocked with a lot of CDs.

But hmv Canada attributes the closure to its “long-term real estate strategy,” which has seen stores open and close across the country over the past decade. It can’t be cheap to rent out a space that large in Eaton Centre.

In the company's official statement, Chief Financial Officer Harvey Berkley brings up another factor. “Unfortunately, the high real estate costs for this property have made it challenging to operate a profitable store. Given hmv Canada operates its 26,000 square foot flagship location across the street at Yonge and Dundas, [closing the Eaton Centre location] was a sensible decision.”
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Wired's Aarian Marshall writes about the potential racism problems behind the integration of Uber and like services with public transit networks.

Uber and Lyft may have changed lives in the Big American City, but they’re hardly ubiquitous. Just 15 percent of Americans use these services, according to the Pew Research Center. One-third have never heard of them. The ridesharing giants do have an excellent way to build a bigger, less urban customer base: teaming up with government.

In Florida, in New Jersey, and in Colorado, Uber and Lyft have partnered with municipalities to solve first-mile, last-mile problems, ferrying riders to bus stops, train stations, or even their homes for subsidized fares. The companies also have eyes on disrupting this country’s stretched and expensive paratransit system.

But those ambitions are troubled by a new study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Washington, and Stanford University, which says Uber and Lyft have a discrimination problem.

In Seattle and Boston, the researchers used Uber and Lyft profiles with “white sounding” and “distinctively black” names to request rides. In Seattle, UberX and Lyft drivers took 16 to 28 percent longer to accept requests from the apparently African-American profiles.

UberX drivers in Boston, who see their passengers’ names and photos only after agreeing to go get them, were twice as likely to cancel a pickup of a black rider while en route, and three times more likely to cancel on an African-American man than a white one. (Lyft did not see the same cancellation effect. The researchers speculate that, because its drivers can see the photos and names of their passengers before they accept the request, discrimination happens before the transaction begins.)
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Steve Munro's contention, as expressed in Michelle Cheung's CBC News article, appeals to me. I am tired of Metrolinx's issues with timely production, for Toronto particularly.

Is Metrolinx playing a game of chicken with Bombardier?

Transit advocate Steve Munro says yes.

"Metrolinx is basically saying to Bombardier, 'This is your last chance. Put up or shut up.'"

The provincial transit agency has filed a notice of intent to the Quebec company to cancel a $700 million contract to build light rail vehicles for the Eglinton Crosstown and Finch West lines. And while it may not cancel the contract, the agency did take the required steps should it need to ask a court to rip up the deal.

"It signals a more important and interesting change in Ontario government policy because Bombardier has had the inside track on building vehicles for years and years and years and could count on that as a way to ensure they got the business no matter what they did," says Munro. "In effect Ontario is saying, 'Hi guys, we may be going to cut you loose.'"

In July, Metrolinx signalled its concerns over Bombardier's delay in delivering the LRT test vehicle. It was supposed to be delivered in 2014. The transit agency still has not received it.
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Will Koblensky's Torontoist post highlights a Ryerson University plan that sounds entrancing. Why, indeed, isolate a campus already deeply embedded in Yonge Street from the city?

Typical university campuses are often themed. Take U of T’s Hogwarts-like architecture, or York University’s city-unto-itself feel.

Ryerson University has the distinction of being among downtown’s crowded corridors without imposing a uniform streetscape connecting its many buildings.

That’s already begun to change. Some of the urban campus’s roads have become ambient-lit walkways, and sidewalks have turned into pedestrian boulevards connecting Ryerson’s expanding array of learning centres.

The car-free section of Gould Street just east of Yonge is the genesis of what Ryerson and the City of Toronto plan as a foot traffic-favoured part of town.

The design’s aim is to invite students and anyone in the area off the main street into what Ryerson calls a public realm.


There is much more at Torontoist.
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Torontoist carries a post from Catherine McIntyre, writing for the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority, looking at the revival of local fisheries.

Some of the best fishing is in our back yard.

Two young anglers, each no more than 12-years-old, wade in the creek with their fishing rods as the sun breaks through the last of the rain clouds. It’s spawning season for Chinook salmon and the kids, along with hundreds of other community members, have congregated near Highland Creek for the seventh Annual Salmon Festival, where they hope to catch—at least a glimpse of—the fish swimming upstream.

“It still amazes people that there are salmon in these rivers,” says Arlen Leeming, a manager at Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA). “It wasn’t always like this,” he adds, as we walk along a deer path near the riverbed. In fact, 200 years ago, the waterways that feed into Lake Ontario were teeming with native fish populations. The Atlantic salmon was so abundant that inmates at the Don Jail eventually refused to eat any more of the fish, caught fresh and frequently on the prison premises.

In the decades that followed, industrialization, urbanization, and neglect lead to polluted waterways and the demise of many fish populations, including Atlantic salmon. In 1969, the Don River was ceremoniously pronounced dead; other nearby rivers were scarcely healthier. By 1985, the Toronto region was dubbed an “Area of Concern”—an environmental hazard zone—on the Great Lakes.

Since then, the TRCA has helped carry out myriad projects to boost the health of Toronto’s rivers and creeks and restore fish habitats. In 1987, the Toronto and Region Remedial Action Plan (RAP) was formed as a means to set goals and monitor progress around restoring the health of Toronto’s waters, particularly those that feed into Lake Ontario. The most recent progress report [PDF], released this October, highlights immense improvements in the quality of waterways and the species that live there. There have been huge reductions in E.coli counts near the waterfront, resulting in a steady decline of beach closures; the rivers along the waterfront, once thick with a greasy film, now run clear; new and restored habitats for migration, spawning, nursery, feeding and shelter have bolstered species diversity and health in the rivers and the harbour; and fish-eating wildlife are no longer at risk from contaminants.
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The Globe and Mail's Jeff Gray writes about one front on which the Airbnb struggle continues.

Outside the brightly decorated lobby of the 32-storey condominium tower at 600 Fleet St. stands artist Douglas Coupland’s statue of a giant British toy soldier standing over a fallen invading Yankee, commemorating the War of 1812. Inside, the building’s security team these days has been dealing with another, more covert invasion: tourists and partiers trying to rent units for the weekend via websites such as Airbnb, in defiance of the condo board’s rules.

On the front lines, and behind the front desk, is the building’s friendly security chief, Prince Abiona, 41, who greets many of the tower’s hundreds of residents by name as they come and go. In this war against Airbnb, the Nigerian-born Mr. Abiona, who sports a headset and whose biceps stretch the sleeves of his white Calvin Klein polo, says he is winning. His tactics include scanning the website and others like it for up to three hours a day for illicit listings in his building, questioning anyone who wanders into the lobby dragging luggage behind them and kicking out any short-term renters he finds.

The few that do slip through his defences can cause big problems. Earlier this year, he says, a unit rented out on Airbnb played host to a rowdy drunken party with about 20 people, some of whom urinated in the hallways and even in the elevator. Another time, an Airbnb partier threw up in the condo pool, forcing it to close. Often, the problem is long-term tenants who list their place on Airbnb or other similar websites, without the actual owner of the condo knowing.

“These people are just here for a few days, they just want to do what they want and they don’t care about the building,” Mr. Abiona says. “That’s why we are fighting it.”
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CBC News' Philip Lee-Shanok reports on the issue of how to pay for the proposed Rail Deck Park. I hope this question won't overshadow the need to have the park in the first place.

Toronto's chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat says she's optimistic that sources of funding for the proposed Rail Deck Park can be found and the ambitious project can get built without the need for a "view tax."

Some people are advocating a levy on homeowners who live near amenities such as parks, museums or concert halls, because the view enhances the value of their properties. The revenue would contribute to the construction and upkeep of landmarks like Rail Deck Park.

Keesmaat said city staff are crunching the numbers on the proposed 8.4-hectare green space that would be built over the waterfront rail corridor from Bathurst Street to Blue Jays Way. She is hopeful existing revenue tools will cover the price tag — an estimated $1.05 billion or more.

She points to Section 37 of the Planning Act, under which the city can require developers to help pay for neighbourhood amenities in exchange for the approval of their projects. There are also development charges that can help defray the cost, Keesmaat says.

"When we collect that money, that money is dedicated to parkland. And we do have several hundred million already collected precisely for this purpose."
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For reasons that I am sure most everyone shares this pre-election weekend, I feel dread. I am trying to counterbalance this with a good bit of hedonism, by myself and with friends. The world is still here, after all, and is so delicious. Why not enjoy it?

What about you? How are you coping? Are you coping?

Discuss.

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