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February 12, 2009

Science in the News!

Posted by Elaisha Stokes at 04:23 PM ET | Comments (0)

Space Dogdeball about to begin after last week's satellite crash.

Wind energy gets its hands dirty.
Offshore oil rigs may provide the ideal spot for turbines.

Google buys a Finish paper mill and turns it into a data center. A sign of times to come?

Darwin turns 200!!!


More entries on: Generally Interesting

February 04, 2009

An interactive book review: revisiting American war resistance

Posted by Anna Bowen at 12:13 PM ET | Comments (0)

Journal of Aesthetics and Protest #6: in three sections (2008) Christina Ulke, Robby Herbst, and Marc Herbst, editors.

Part one (or two)

I've been lugging around the most recent, brick-heavy publication of the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest put together in LA. It has been worthwhile company for long streetcar rides. This book is divided into three portions, and I think I might offer a three-fold blog entry on the book instead of trying to gulp it all down and comment in one go.

Image and video hosting by TinyPic
As I said in my first blog post ever, the Journal is one of my favorite places to come and get thick ideas about activism and then come back and think about them. It offers a creative space for resistance thinking. I originally came upon the journal when I was writing a piece for Geez magazine about Neil Harrison's art. They self-describe as a "weirdo thinktank" but come across as a sincere but kind of tortured struggle for creative collaboration and resistance in a country that has been until recently crippled under the weight of fear and empire (a contentious label, i realize) and the frustration of embarrassment from a destructive leader. From the looks of it, this issue was less painful to produce than the first full-length book.

The book is also available online for free, so anyone can read it too and feel free to create a conversation.

Like a kid in front of the cake at their own birthday party, I'd like to take a chunk out of the middle to start: The Antiwar Survey, an attempt by the editors to give a picture of the cultural expressions of anti-war sentiment in California. The editors describe the journal as three books in one, so for fun let's start with number two.

By way of an introduction, Robby Herbst describes what the Antiwar Survey section aims to do. He says that the anti-war sentiment in the States since 2003 can't exactly be described as a movement. The anti-war struggle had and has pushed past being an activist thing to being the opinion of the majority of Americans, and certainly much of the rest of the world.

Much like many of the activists I've chatted with, Herbst agrees in his introduction to this section that the anti-war movement in the States is not so much a "movement" with leaders but a splintering of committed individuals and individual nodules of effort, spontaneous, creative eruptions against perceived injustice. Herbst concludes that maybe it was/is not so much a movement but a culture.

The Survey

The Antiwar survey simply documents the results of a survey that was sent out to groups in California. Each group answered the where and why of their anti-war action, and included what they learned from it, how they measured success, and what it would take for them to do it again. The actions include everything from pottery, postermaking, and dance to more traditional forms of "direct action."

What I found striking about the survey is the question that asks "Are you connected to any other organization?" The number of respondants that said no is equally as moving as those who listed a host of other connections. It's amazing to think of so many groups and lone individual artists needing to express their rejection of the unjust war, even if they did it alone.

Some of the projects included Hillary Mushkin's "Far from War" video project where the artist interviewed folks about what their neighbourhood might look like if it was at war. The video was initially displayed in a barber shop in Eagle Rock, CA for a month. Other projects included improvised postering campaigns; "holding up" business at a Wells Fargo bank by keeping the lines jammed with volunteers; and a still dance collective that staged resistance theater in public space.

Another artist, Ehren Tool, made "war awareness art," printing war imagery onto tea cups. Tool has distributed over 7,000 cups and sees it as a way to sneak war awareness literally into people's hands and homes. It's a way for the art to linger with them.

Another moving part of the survey is the way that artists and activists (also a contentious term) responded to the questions "What was the outcome of this activity?" and "How did you measure success?" Equally poignant was the answer of those who felt their action had made a significant difference, and those who answered "I don't know." Bringing these creative actions together in one volume gives them a place and a context within the broader anti-war culture.

More entries on: Generally Interesting

January 02, 2009

Welcome to 2009

Posted by Melissa Wilson at 10:31 AM ET | Comments (0)

Whew. What a year it's been. The U.S. made history, Canada almost did and gas prices dropped to their lowest since I got my driver's license.

Toronto finished off 2008 with three bank robberies and began 2009 with three new babies and the GTA's first homicide, which, tragically, pales in comparison to the bloodbath that Calgary saw on New Year's Day. Regarding the economy, the IMF is expecting 2009 to go from bad to worse, and the Globe and Mail's Lawrence Martin predicts 2009 will see the end of Stephen Harper.

I would like to see 2009 bring some good news. A cure for cancer? Reasonable government? Baby kittens? Anything.

If, like me, you would prefer not to read about homicides and economic downturn on what is one of the precious last days before reality returns, here's a bit of fun: Jeffrey Simpson of the Globe and Mail has made a quiz of the year's top news items. See if you can beat my embarrassing score of just barely passing.

Instead of reflecting on the year that's just passed (we've done enough of that already), it's time to start thinking about the future. The Globe staff has made a few predictions of their own, but what do you predict for 2009? Maybe more importantly, what do you hope for 2009?

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December 17, 2008

Some parents just don't understand

Posted by Melissa Wilson at 02:41 PM ET | Comments (5)

I frequently bemoan the fact that my mom gave me a name that is both incredibly common for my age group, as well as (apparently) impossible to spell. As of this moment, however, I will cease complaining and be grateful that she did not name me Adolf Hitler.

Little Adolf Hitler Campbell ran into trouble last week when a grocery store in his native Pennsylvania refused to print "Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler!" on a cake for his third birthday. His sister JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell will likely face similar disappointment on her birthday.

His dad said he chose the name because he liked it and "no one else in the world would have the name."

Well, almost no one. I hope little Adolf doesn't discover Google and Wikipedia too quickly, or he may quickly be petitioning the court to allow him to change his name, as did a nine-year-old girl from New Zealand whose parents gave her the unfortunate name, Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii.

Both are considerably worse than Melissa Wilson.

However, I'm almost inclined to side with the Campbells on this one. Adolf Hitler is, after all, only a name, and it contains no profanity (though requesting a swastika on the cake is certainly crossing a line).

What do you think?

Are all the Jessicas and Jennifers of my generation thanking their lucky stars right now?

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February 19, 2008

Moving environmentalism forward

Posted by mason at 11:05 AM ET | Comments (0)

Two things that have come through my life recently have me thinking about problems and solutions. The first is an incredibly well-presented online video and website called The Story of Stuff. In it, activist Annie Leonard describes her years-long investigation of the lifetime of consumer goods: where they come from, how they get in our homes and what happens when we trash them. The video is about 20 minutes long and worth a look. Its design is simple and elegant and features clever animations and plain, urgent language.

But something about it makes me feel uncomfortable. It's 19 minutes and 30 seconds about the problem at hand and roughly 30 seconds about hope for change. It appears to be aimed at the average consumer, but its educational tone comes across as a bit pedantic. It encourages viewers to stay on the site and click around for information and stories about positive change, and that's probably where the real use of the site comes in, but I expect only a small percentage of viewers take the time to stick with it -- especially if they approach the topic as skeptics.

Contrast this with a talk I went to last night by Chris Turner, journalist and author of the book The Geography of Hope: A Guided Tour of the World We Need. Through a photo slideshow and Q&A session, Turner outlined some of the amazing strides being made in sustainable living in places like Germany, Denmark, New Mexico and Thailand. Concrete examples of new ways to live, with an emphasis on renewable energy, reducing consumption and recycling. He mentioned a new wave of environmentalism, moving beyond doom-and-gloom predictions and concentrating on what is possible with the technology and willpower we already possess.

In my mind, this is the best way to reach the constituencies of people who remain doubtful about the urgency of climate change or the problems with the free market system. Enough warnings. Those who will listen to the warnings have already heard, and those who will not need a new kind of motivation for change. By getting the word out -- and Turner mentioned an activist he knows who consults for Wal-Mart, and the importance of spreading our messages through the mainstream, commercial media -- we are best positioned to inspire change in others.

More entries on: Activism | Generally Interesting | Human rights | Planet Earth

June 28, 2007

Finkle Free! -- Writers' rights upheld in Ontario

Posted by john_d at 03:29 PM ET | Comments (2)


(book image courtesy

I'm just back from a courtroom on University Avenue in Toronto where a judge in the Robert Baltovich re-pre-trial threw out a subpoena demanding a local writer hand over his research materials. It's a very good day for a free press in Canada.

Derek Finkle, former editor of TORO Magazine, succeeded in protecting his background work for the book No Claim to Mercy, after months of pre-trial wrangling. No Claim to Mercy covered the 1990 Elizabeth Bain murder case, in which Bain's boyfriend Robert Baltovich was convicted, only to be released from prison after eight years when new evidence threw speculation for the crime at Paul Bernardo. Bernardo was unknown at the time of Bain's murder, but hindsight shows he was active as the Scarborough rapist when Bain disappeared from the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus. Baltovich is being retried, and his prosecutors were very interested in seeing all of the confidential interviews and research materials Finkle collected to write his book. For more info on Bain, Baltovich and Bernardo see this CBC page.

At the press scrum after the hearing, one TV reporter asked this question:

"What's so wrong with turning over this material to prosecutors anyway? I mean, they're the prosecutors -- the good guys, right? They're trying to nail a murderer."

I'm pretty sure the question was rhetorical, but in case it wasn't and others out there wonder if it's possible to always know who the good guys are in a court case, just ask one of these dudes:

Wrongfully Convicted in Canada

But the protection of a writer's confidential work is less about good guys and bad guys and more about the public good, which is best served, I think, when police and courts do their own investigative work, rather than relying on the heavy lifting of writers.

Oh, and now seems like a good time to remind everyone that there's more than one way for a press to lose its freedom and independence.

More entries on: Generally Interesting

June 25, 2007

Sanitized Bacon -- do kids need protection from gay art?

Posted by john_d at 09:55 AM ET | Comments (2)


Francis Bacon, Self-Portrait (image courtesy The Telegraph)

On a day when even the stodgiest of media crews, the CTV television folks, covered the Toronto Pride parade like Santa Claus might show up at any minute, I enjoyed a few hours touring the closet. I happened to be in Buffalo, New York (great town, everyone should go -- wonderful architecture), so took in the Francis Bacon retrospective at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. The Albright-Knox provides one of those fantastic American juxtapositions -- drive through not-the-nicest part of a U.S. inner city and suddenly find yourself standing in front of a Cezanne. It's a gorgeous building, set on pristine parkland, and it will give you your marble column and fine art fix before you spend the evening wolfing chicken wings and Genesee Cream Ale at the Anchor Bar.

The Bacon show is a fine retrospective, well-curated and intelligently hung. Entitled Raw Human Emotion the show divides Bacon's work into thematic categories, touching down on his obsession with screaming mouths, Popes, the male figure, violence and mortality. I confess to knowing very little about Bacon when I entered, but it would be difficult to get through the show without one Bacon fact entering the consciousness. He liked men. Of the dozens of paintings on display, I think I counted three that depicted women, and they were all of the same woman. The rest were dark, threatening, beautiful and highly-sexualized representations of men.

And if Bacon's sexuality isn't apparent from the paintings themselves, the audio tour wand is plainly educational on the subject. "I like men," Bacon says, in response to a British interviewer's question. The painter's sex life is discussed in sometimes lurid detail on the audio tour (he had a rather violent lover during one phase of his life, and the relationship had an effect on his work), unless of course, you happen to be taking the "youth tour." That's right, depending on which code number you enter at each painting, you get either the "adult" version of the painting in question, or the kid's version, and it was hard not to notice that in the kid's version, the whole idea of liking men had been, well, cleansed from the record.

I get the point of a kid's tour. Art can be difficult and intimidating, and you want a kid to enter a painting on her own terms -- you want to start with some basic discussion of shapes and lines and colour before tackling "ideas." Okay then. But this kid's tour turned just plain silly in front of one painting that was clearly depicting two men, um, wrestling? You show adult content and then ignore the adultness of it in your kid's tour? That's a recipe for very confused kids, is it not? I contrast this show with one on Jean Cocteau I saw in Montreal a couple years back. In Montreal, as you entered the show there was a clear warning to parents about the adult content and ideas on display. At that point, it's up to the parents what the kids see and how they themselves respond to the inevitable question about what those two men are doing to each other.

Loved Buffalo; loved the gallery; hated the kid's tour.

More entries on: Generally Interesting

March 13, 2007

NY Times columnist takes you to Africa

Posted by ron at 01:03 PM ET | Comments (3)


NY Times columnist Nick Kristof wants to take you to Africa. No this won't be some cushy first-class vacation. Kristof wants to show you, first-hand, the devastation that international ignorance, war, disease and famine has wracked on parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

This is apparently the second time in a row that he's done this. This year he's even partnered up with Myspace to try to reach out to that apathetic college demographic. I want to commend Kristof for doing this, a lot of journalists lament on how those of us in the West ignore what's going on in the rest of the world. Kristof goes the extra mile in trying to do something about that apathy. Good for him.

Sadly the contest is only open to Americans. But if one of our large national newspapers want to run a contest like this I'll promote it to the rooftops.

You can also read the blog of last year's winner Casey Parks.


More entries on: Generally Interesting

February 22, 2007

I want my wind chill

Posted by john_d at 12:44 PM ET | Comments (1)

image courtesy Environment Canada

Last week on his Maclean's Blog, Potter Gold, Andrew Potter linked to a Slate article debunking wind chill as a reliable measurement of anything.

Now, winter makes everyone grumpy. Clearly, the Slate editor hating on wind chill hasn't booked his Dominican vacation yet. This particular winter in my city has been psychologically more cruel than the average -- always threatening, rarely delivering, and then kicking our ass the very second we thought we might get away with it. Potter is just Potter; he likes to grumpily debunk. But a pampered New York journalist dumping on wind chill because it failed to tell him anything his freezing cell-phone dialers couldn't do just as accurately? It's an insult to Canadianness. If we couldn't marvel at wind chill temperature forecasts, what would be the point of living in Edmonton? (that was for you, Joyce)

A quick check-in with Environment Canada shows us just how important this index is to our national pride. We frickin' own wind chill:

"Canada took the lead in an international effort to develop a new wind chill formula. In April 2000, Environment Canada held the first global Internet workshop on wind chill, with more than 400 participants from 35 countries. Almost all agreed on the need for a new international standard for measuring and reporting wind chill that was more accurate, easy to understand, and incorporated recent advances in scientific knowledge."

Go ahead New York, tell me all about how expressing wind chill in relative temperature differences and "feel's like" terminology is an insult to science. I don't care. I'm rarely out in winter weather for more than half an hour at a time anyway, and if I am -- to sled with my kids, walk in the woods or go ice fishing -- like all smart Canadians I overdress in layers and then peel to adjust. What self-respecting citizen would actually use a weather report as their only evidence? Wind chill is not about ocean-moderated Manhattanites wondering if they should wear a scarf to stand outside flagging a cab. It's about me having a great excuse to keep the kids inside and not have to wrestle with their damn snow pants for the third time in one day. Too cold boys, let's watch Shrek again.

A wind chill report is the northern equivalent of the tornado "watch". I drove across the American great plains last summer, twisting my head in every direction trying to see the terrifying twister every radio station had me "watching" for every five minutes. Only later did I learn that what you really have to listen for is the tornado "warning." The "watch" means weather conditions are correct for a tornado. The "warning," that there actually is a tornado. If you hear a tornado "alert," well, yikes. Still, a little tornado "watching" sure sexes up a boring, flat drive.

People do get frostbite and even freeze to death, and the rate at which heat leaves your skin surely has something to do with that. Complaining that wind chill doesn't factor in sunshine is sort of dumb, isn't it? Has Slate-boy ever skated on the Rideau Canal on a beautifully sunny, bastardly windy day?

At its most benign, I suppose wind chill warnings aren't even supposed to represent reality. They are soft-core weather.

Woah, look at that chill on Regina.

More entries on: Generally Interesting

February 10, 2007

A gap in history?

Posted by mason at 01:03 PM ET | Comments (1)

paper stack

I've often wondered what impact digital communication will have on our record of history, and apparently I'm not the only one. In the December issue of Popular Mechanics, Brad Reagan looks at the problems faced by archivists — particularly in government — who have to preserve electronic data for generations to come:

One irony of the Digital Age is that archiving has become a more complex process than it was in the past. You not only have to save the physical discs, tapes and drives that hold your data, but you also need to make sure those media are compatible with the hardware and software of the future. "Most people haven't recognized that digital stuff is encoded in some format that requires software to render it in a form that humans can perceive," Rothenberg says. "Software that knows how to render those bits becomes obsolete. And it runs on computers that become obsolete."

A companion problem is what happens to your e-mail after you die, which I read about in the January/February issue of Foreign Policy. Could it be that we're allowing a decades-long gap in human history to emerge? Since one of the recommended solutions to avoiding the problem is to print everything from your computer that's important, perhaps we'll be contributing to a crisis of another kind, in which the forests lose out to our need for accurate record-keeping.

More entries on: Generally Interesting | Interweb

January 12, 2007

Birds Who Rap and Other Stories

Posted by mason at 12:38 PM ET | Comments (1)


I’m a little late getting to this, but a BBC blog called Magazine Monitor released a fascinating list at the end of last year: 100 things we didn’t know last year. Among my favourite tidbits, all of which are certainly worthy of their own entry:

3. Urban birds have developed a short, fast “rap style” of singing, different from their rural counterparts. [Link]

5. Standard-sized condoms are too big for most Indian men. [Link]

23. More than one in eight people in the United States show signs of addiction to the internet, says a study. [Link] (Ahem... who are these people?)

57. The word “time” is the most common noun in the English language, according to the latest Oxford dictionary. [Link]

68. The egg came first. [Link]

76. In Bhutan, government policy is based on Gross National Happiness; thus most street advertising is banned, as are tobacco and plastic bags. [Link]

87. Goths are likely to become doctors, lawyers and architects. [Link]

90. The Himalayas cover one-tenth of the Earth’s surface. [Link]

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