Posts Tagged Canada

Join the Ugly Sweater Party |

Join the Ugly Sweater Party

Ugly sweaters have taken over. Here’s why we love to bask in their hideous warmth

By Sarah Elizabeth Richards 


Christmas Sweater

Getty Images

Don’t put away your ugly holiday sweaters just yet. The holiday theme party craze has staying power this season. If you missed your local ugly sweater run billed as the “ugliest 5K on the planet” that’s held in 32 cities in the U.S. and Canada, you can still make the ugly sweater church potluck and tacky sweater pub crawl. Remember when we used to exchange ugly sweaters at white elephant parties? These days you can’t afford to give a good one away. You’ll need it for the surge of ugly sweater white elephant parties where you wear the sweaters and bring a different gift. An ugly dog sweater, perhaps?

There used to be a time when ugly sweaters were considered vintage kitsch as people discovered them in thrift stores or relatives’ closets and wore them as statements that softly mocked the manufactured holiday sentiment of 1970s Christmases. Or at least they generated a good laugh. I’m thinking of Bridget Jones’ favorite reindeer jumper worn by Colin Firth’s Mark Darcy.

Now ugly sweaters are so mainstream that the Whole Foods of Boston held the “tackiest holiday party of the year” last week. Bank of America released a commercial this season in which a couple used the cash back from their credit card purchases to throw an ugly sweater party. Coke Zero sponsored an Ugly Sweater Generator website this fall in which participants had the opportunity to design their own hideous garments. The company hired knitters to make the 100 most popular designs.

So why do we love ugly sweaters so much? Well, besides being warmer than sparkly holiday tank tops, they’re fun in a geeky sort of way, explains Shelby Walsh, president of Trend Hunter, an agency that follows social and cultural trends. “What we’ve found is that glamorizing awkward has become the new cool,” she says, referring to the popularity of the Facebook favorite “These sweaters are getting tackier and tackier. It’s almost a competition to see who can make the most fun of themselves.”

In fact, the most devoted ugly sweater wearers have taken the fashion to a new creative level. ( published a slide show of some doozies.) People attach jingle bells, wear battery packs hooked up to blinking lights and glue on 3-D touches, such as cotton balls for snow or orange snowman noses. “It’s like Halloween for Christmas,” says Adam Paulson, a Chicago financial adviser who started a business selling ugly sweaters on the Internet with two friends in 2009.

When they launched the site four years ago, they scoured local thrift stores and sold 80 the first season. Now they have 10,000 sweaters in stock. Paulson’s favorite embellishments: A sweater with a baby doll in a cloth baby carrier that was sewn on the front. “It was supposed to be Baby Jesus in a Baby Bjorn,” he says. There was also a woman who wrapped garland around a green sweater and carried a star tree topper. “When she lifted her hand, she would look like a Christmas tree,” says Paulson, co-author of the Ugly Christmas Sweater Party Book: The Definitive Guide to Getting Your Ugly On.

The ugly sweater trend strikes an emotional chord by connecting you to the Christmases of your childhood. According to Paulson, that includes parties with “old school” touches, such as the Chipmunks Christmas album and the yule log on the TV. “There’s an important nostalgia element,” adds Jennifer Baumgartner, a clinical psychologist and author of You Are What You Wear: What Your Clothes Reveal About You. “You think about a relative or favorite teacher who used to wear them. When you wear your Christmas sweater, you’re celebrating that association.”

The phenomenon also facilitates social connection, adds Krystine Batcho, a psychology professor at Le Moyne College in Syracuse, New York who studies nostalgia. “Research shows that one of the most beneficial aspects of nostalgia is that it promotes a sense of belonging. You feel like you’re part of a little club where everyone gets the same joke,” she says. “With ugly sweaters, you try to out-dork each other and laugh. It’s a great way to combat holiday stress.”

Join the Ugly Sweater Party |


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What the U.S. Can Learn From Canada’s High-Paying Jobs Recovery – Richard Florida – The Atlantic Cities

What the U.S. Can Learn From Canada’s High-Paying Jobs Recovery


·         SEP 23, 2013

What the U.S. Can Learn From Canada's High-Paying Jobs Recoveryilkerender/Flickr


As a resident of Toronto (hold the Rob Ford jokes), I often say there are many things the United States can learn from its northern neighbor. Thanks to its stable regulated banking and mortgage systems, Canada was able to sidestep many of the worst aspects of the 2008 economic and financial crisis. The country’s sensible approach on gun control has made its cities, including Toronto, among the safest in the world (Doug Sanders of the Globe and Mail recently proposed that the country become an “urban safety” exporter). Its health-care system delivers better outcomes at a fraction of the costs. I could go on.

Another, less-talked about area where America has something to learn from Canada is employment. In the U.S., nearly one in five jobs (17.6 percent) generated over the course of the recovery have been low-wage temp jobs — a troubling trend I wrote about this past summer. But just over the border in Canada, temp positions made up less than 3 percent (2.7 percent) of the net jobs added to the economy between 2009 and 2013, according to a detailed analysis from my frequent collaborators at the economic modeling firm EMSI.

In fact, Canada has been adding good jobs at a clip that Americans could only hope for. More than a third of all new jobs created in Canada since 2009 pay over $30 dollars an hour.

Even more interesting, EMSI charted trends in job creation across Canada’s biggest cities and metros. The chart below, from EMSI’s recent analysis, shows the percentage of job change due to temp jobs — defined as those in the “employment services” sector — since 2009 in seven leading Canadian metros.

In Toronto, where I live, temp jobs made up just 3 percent of all jobs added since the economy recovery. In Edmonton, the metro where temp jobs made up the largest share of job growth, the figure was 9 percent. In two metros — Calgary and Regina — the net contribution of temp jobs to overall employment growth was negative, even as employment grew substantially. Not a single one of these large Canadian metros even got within swinging distance of the U.S. average.

The second chart, also from EMSI’s analysis, looks at the geography of good jobs. It compares the growth of high-paying jobs to overall job growth. High-wage job growth outpaced the overall rate of job growth in six of the ten metros studied. In Toronto, high-wage jobs grew at roughly double the pace of overall job growth, 9 percent versus 4.3 percent. Growth in high-paying jobs far outpaced overall job growth in Calgary, Hamilton, Montreal and Regina as well.

The third chart traces the share of jobs paying more than $30 per hour. In Toronto, Regina, and Hamilton, more than half of the net new positions created since 2009 paid more than $30 an hour. In three other metros — Calgary, Ottawa and Vancouver — these good jobs made up between 30 and 43 percent of new jobs created. In two more, Montreal and Edmonton, high-paying jobs made up roughly one in four new jobs.

The table below compares the share of job change due to high-paying jobs versus temp jobs. The figures are staggering. In every metro the ratio of the share of job change generated by good jobs versus temporary jobs is greater than two to one.

Job Growth in Canadian Cities


Percent Change Due to Temp Jobs

Percent Change Due to Jobs Paying Over $30/hour







Quebec City
















In Toronto, 55 percent of job change was due to good jobs, while just 3 percent was due to temp jobs. In Vancouver, good jobs made up 31 percent of job change, compared to 7 percent for temp jobs. In Montreal, good jobs accounted for 26 percent of job change versus 4 percent for temp jobs.

The pattern stands in striking contrast to the United States, where new low paying, temp jobs far outnumber high-paying jobs. As EMSI bluntly and rightly put it, “Canadian cities aren’t just adding jobs. They’re adding careers.” When it comes to making good jobs, there’s a lot America can learn from our northern neighbor.

 What the U.S. Can Learn From Canada’s High-Paying Jobs Recovery – Richard Florida – The Atlantic Cities.


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Final Mars One Numbers are In. Over 200,000 People Have Applied. | Space Industry News

Final Mars One Numbers are In. Over 200,000 People Have Applied.

The first round of the Mars One Astronaut Selection Program has now closed for applications. In the 5 month application period, Mars One received interest from 202,586 people from around the world, wanting to be amongst the first human settlers on Mars.

Mars One applicants come from over 140 countries; the largest numbers are from the United States (24%), India (10%), China (6%), Brazil (5%), Great Britain (4%), Canada (4%), Russia (4%), Mexico (4%), Philippines (2%), Spain (2%), Colombia (2%), Argentina (2%), Australia (1%), France (1%), Turkey (1%), Chile (1%), Ukraine (1%), Peru (1%), Germany (1%), Italy (1%) and Poland (1%).

From this applicant pool, the Mars One Selection Committee will select prospective Martian settlers in three additional rounds spread across two years. By 2015, six-ten teams of four individuals will be selected for seven years of full-time training. In 2023, one of these teams will become the first humans ever to land on Mars and live there for the rest of their lives.

Each Round 1 applicant is now being screened by the Selection Committee, which is expected to take several months. Candidates selected to pass to the next round will be notified by the end of 2013. The second round of selection will start in early 2014, where the candidates will be interviewed in person by the Mars One Selection Committee.

Aspiring martians who have missed Round 1 or could not meet the age restriction can join subsequent Astronaut Selection Programs. Mars One will commence regular recruitment programs as the search for follow-up crews continues.

About Mars One: Mars One is a not-for-profit foundation that will establish a permanent human settlement on Mars in 2023. Human settlement on Mars is possible today with existing technologies. Mars One mission plan integrates components that are well tested and readily available from industry leaders worldwide. The first footprint on Mars and lives of the crew thereon will captivate and inspire generations; it is this public interest that will help finance this human mission to Mars. Mars One will select and train the human crew for permanent settlement. The search for Astronauts began in April 2013.
Top 21 countries registered:

1.    United States of America 47,654

2.    India 20,747

3.    China  13,176

4.    Brazil 10,289

5.    Great Britain  8497

6.    Canada 8241

7.    Russia 8197

8.    Mexico 7464

9.    Philippines 4365

10.  Spain 3722

11.  Colombia 3476

12.  Argentina 3474

13.  Australia 2926

14.  France 2538

15.  Turkey 2510

16.  Chile 2475

17.  Ukraine 2340

18.  Peru 2293

19.  Germany 2225

20.  Italy 2070

21.  Poland 1942

- See more at:

Final Mars One Numbers are In. Over 200,000 People Have Applied. | Space Industry News.


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Crude Landlocked as Canadians Join U.S. to Halt Pipelines – Bloomberg

Crude Landlocked as Canadians Join U.S. to Halt Pipelines

By Jeremy van Loon & Christopher Donville - May 24, 2013 3:26 AM CT


British Columbia, the Canadian province whose official slogan to its own beauty is “Super, Natural,” is invoking another saying: “No more supertankers.”

That’s potentially big trouble in a nation where oil exports amount to $73 billion annually and the industry employs more than 550,000 workers. It’s also a bad omen for nations, notably China, that have invested billions in Canadian oil projects with expectations that they will one day be able to buy vast quantities of heavy Canadian crude.


Crude Trapped as Canadians Join U.S. Blocking Pipelines

In Vancouver, with a metro-area population of 2.5 million, the evergreen-rimmed, blue sprawl of English Bay laps up to the city center and is already a port for supertankers taking crude from an existing pipeline known as the Trans Mountain conduit. Photographer: Adrian Brown/Bloomberg News.


To do that means not just pumping it from the vast tar sands – thought to hold as many as 170 billion barrels — lying mainly to the east in the neighboring province of Alberta. It also means building pipelines to carry that heavy oil, known as bitumen, west to the coast. From there, fleets of supertankers will be needed to ship it across the Pacific to Asian markets that desperately want cheap oil.

Two such projects, representing about C$11.4 billion ($11.1 billion) in investments, are on the drawing boards. British Columbia, with its mountainous forests, national parks and salmon streams standing between the crude and the sea, wants no part of those pipelines — nor does it want its scenic bays to be turned into supertanker terminals.

In Vancouver, with a metro-area population of 2.5 million, the evergreen-rimmed, blue sprawl of English Bay laps up to the city center and is already a port for supertankers taking crude from an existing pipeline known as the Trans Mountain conduit. Sean Austin offered an opinion sounded often there — that enough is enough. “English Bay shouldn’t become a parking lot for supertankers,” Austin, a 41-year-old construction worker, said in an interview as the sun set over a seawall behind him.

Chinese Caught Out?

An end to the pipeline projects would be devastating news to a number of Chinese companies including Sinopec (386) and Cnooc Ltd. (883) Collectively, they have invested $36.3 billion in Canadian oil and gas assets over the past two years — the largest foreign investment inCanada’s petroleum industry.

“The expectation for Chinese investors from the very beginning was that Canadian oil would physically be delivered to China,” Wenran Jiang, an adviser to the Alberta government on Asian investment, said in an interview. “Chinese companies are heavily invested in the oil sands and they want to see these pipelines built.”

Austin’s view is backed up by a recent opinion poll that shows 60 percent of British Columbia voters fear continued oil and gas development will ruin their green paradise. The two projects drawing their ire are Enbridge Inc. (ENB)’s Northern Gateway pipeline and the proposed expansion of Kinder Morgan Energy Partners LP (KMP)’s Trans Mountain conduit.


Kinder Morgan Campaign

Kinder Morgan has been conducting a “grassroots” campaign to meet with British Columbians that would be affected by its project, in what will amount to a two-year effort in advance of the company seeking regulatory approval in late 2013, Ian Anderson, president of Kinder Morgan’s Canadian unit, said yesterday in Calgary.

There is “value-based opposition and opinion-based opposition, and where we have our work ahead of us is to understand where that opinion lacks information, lacks clarity, and informing that,” Anderson said in an interview yesterday.


Across Rockies

Northern Gateway would cut a line across the middle of the province through a national park and over the Rockies and Coast Mountains, an area sparsely inhabited by aboriginal groups that say they don’t like pipelines. Kinder Morgan wants to more than double capacity on the Trans Mountain conduit, in operation for half a century, to 890,000 barrels a day to bring more oil through Vancouver to the city’s port.

Without these and other such projects, “Canada’s oil industry is facing a serious challenge to its long-term growth,” Craig Alexander, chief economist at Toronto-Dominion Bank, said in an interview.

While fights over TransCanada Corp. (TRP)’s Keystone XL pipeline, designed to transport Canadian tar-sands oil to U.S. refineries, have gotten most of the press, this long-simmering and escalating resentment of the province becoming a tar-sands conduit may in the end prove more damaging.

British Columbia voters on May 14 went through provincial elections in which the opposing parties fought hotly over a laundry list of social and economic issues. Yet the parties agreed vociferously on one thing: British Columbia will not sacrifice its environment for economic growth.


Harper’s Position

The national ruling Conservative Party of Prime Minister Stephen Harper favors oil and gas development and has the power to outright veto a pipeline project, following hearings by the national energy regulator. In January 2012, as pipeline regulatory hearings were about to begin, Harper’s government seemed steadfast in its support of the Northern Gateway project with Joe Oliver, Harper’s natural resources minister, accusing opponents of attempting to “hijack” the nation’s regulatory process in an effort to block energy exports.

As pipeline opposition mounted across the nation, however, Oliver in a speech last October said such projects shouldn’t proceed unless they are “safe and responsible.”

“We are committed to building a strong economy and protecting the environment,” said Todd Nogier, an Enbridge spokesman. “There is support for the project. And we are committed to increasing support.”

Even if the federal government gives the green light, British Columbia and its green groups have weapons to fight the projects beyond the court of public opinion.


Ecojustice Lawsuit

Litigation, potentially long and costly, is already a reality. Environmental groups led by Ecojusticefiled suit in September to stop the pipeline projects, contending that the federal government hasn’t performed adequate environmental impact statements on the threat to imperiled species.

One British Columbia native group, the Saik’uz First Nation, has also threatened legal action should Enbridge win a green light from the federal regulator. The company has been threatened with civil disobedience and legal action that will go on “for years,” said John Ridsdale, a hereditary chief of the Wet’suwet’en nation.

“The big concern is the tanker traffic on the coast,” according to Andrew Weaver, a University of Victoria climate scientist and the first Green Party member to win a seat in the provincial legislature. “That issue won’t go away.”


Oil Price Reaction

The uncertainty over the fate of these pipelines is beginning show up in the oil price, with Canada’s biggest export being discounted as land-locked supplies build up.

The price of Canadian heavy has fallen 17 percent from last year’s high of $90.50. The discount to the U.S. price is costing the Canadian economy C$27 billion a year in lost profits and taxes and deprives markets of the world’s cheapest crude, according to the Alberta Finance Minister Doug Horner.

A majority of British Columbians don’t care. The same poll by Forum Research in December that found 60 percent of voters opposed oil and gas development also found only 37 percent of voters in favor.

Of course, Vancouver is known as “Lotus Land” in the rest of Canada. It’s also home to yoga-gear maker Lululemon Athletica Inc. (LULU), a mayor who started an organic juice company called Happy Planet and a green movement every bit as vociferous as California’s. So even as British Columbia’s economy has traditionally been reliant on forestry and mining, the times and attitudes are changing.

“People have a right to enjoy this inlet, this very small inlet, without having to look at oil tankers,” said Austin. “You have this wonderful sea walk. If the pipeline goes through and you have more tankers, what’s the use of having a sea walk?”

 Crude Landlocked as Canadians Join U.S. to Halt Pipelines – Bloomberg.


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Mountain of Petroleum Coke From Oil Sands Rises in Detroit –

A Black Mound of Canadian Oil Waste Is Rising Over Detroit

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Petroleum coke, a waste byproduct of refining oil sands oil, is piling up along the Detroit River.


Published: May 17, 2013


WINDSOR, Ontario — Assumption Park gives residents of this city lovely views of the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit skyline. Lately they’ve been treated to another sight: a three-story pile of petroleum coke covering an entire city block on the other side of the Detroit River.

Fabrizio Costantini for The New York Times

Brian Masse, a member of the Canadian Parliament, wants a bilateral agency to investigate the pile accumulating in Detroit.


Detroit’s ever-growing black mountain is the unloved, unwanted and long overlooked byproduct of Canada’s oil sands boom.

And no one knows quite what to do about it, except Koch Carbon, which owns it.

The company is controlled by Charles and David Koch, wealthy industrialists who back a number of conservative and libertarian causes including activist groups that challenge the science behind climate change. The company sells the high-sulfur, high-carbon waste, usually overseas, where it is burned as fuel.

The coke comes from a refinery alongside the river owned by Marathon Petroleum, which has been there since 1930. But it began refining exports from the Canadian oil sands — and producing the waste that is sold to Koch — only in November.

“What is really, really disturbing to me is how some companies treat the city of Detroit as a dumping ground,” said Rashida Tlaib, the Michigan state representative for that part of Detroit. “Nobody knew this was going to happen.” Almost 56 percent of Canada’s oil production is from the petroleum-soaked oil sands of northern Alberta, more than 2,000 miles north.

An initial refining process known as coking, which releases the oil from the tarlike bitumen in the oil sands, also leaves the petroleum coke, of which Canada has 79.8 million tons stockpiled. Some is dumped in open-pit oil sands mines and tailing ponds in Alberta. Much is just piled up there.

Detroit’s pile will not be the only one. Canada’s efforts to sell more products derived from oil sands to the United States, which include transporting it through the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, have pulled more coking south to American refineries, creating more waste product here.

Marathon Petroleum’s plant in Detroit processes 28,000 barrels a day of the oil sands bitumen.

Residents on both sides of the Detroit River are concerned that the coke mountain is both an environmental threat and an eyesore.

“Here’s a little bit of Alberta,” said Brian Masse, one of Windsor’s Parliament members. “For those that thought they were immune from the oil sands and the consequences of them, we’re now seeing up front and center that we’re not.”

Mr. Masse wants the International Joint Commission, the bilateral agency that governs the Great Lakes, to investigate the pile. Michigan’s state environmental regulatory agency has submitted a formal request to Detroit Bulk Storage, the company holding the material for Koch Carbon, to change its storage methods. Michigan politicians and environmental groups have also joined cause with Windsor residents. Paul Baltzer, a spokesman for Koch’s parent company, Koch Companies Public Sector, did not respond to questions about its storage or the ultimate destination of the petroleum coke.

Coke, which is mainly carbon, is an essential ingredient in steelmaking as well as producing the electrical anodes used to make aluminum.

While there is high demand from both those industries, the small grains and high sulfur content of this petroleum coke make it largely unusable for those purposes, said Kerry Satterthwaite, a petroleum coke analyst at Roskill Information Services, a commodities analysis company based in London.

“It is worse than a byproduct,” Ms. Satterthwaite said.“It’s a waste byproduct that is costly and inconvenient to store, but effectively costs nothing to produce.”

Murray Gray, the scientific director for the Center for Oil Sands Innovation at the University of Alberta, said that about two years ago, Alberta backed away from plans to use the petroleum coke as a fuel source, partly over concerns about greenhouse-gas emissions. Some of it is burned there, however, to power coking plants.

The Keystone XL pipeline will provide Gulf Coast refineries with a steady supply of diluted bitumen from the oil sands. The plants on the coast, like the coking refineries concentrated in California to deal with that state’s heavy crude oil, are positioned to ship the waste to China or Mexico, where it is burned as a fuel. California exports about 128,000 barrels of petroleum coke a day, mainly to China.

Tony McCallum, a spokesman for the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, played down the impact of Keystone XL. “Most of the Canadian oil earmarked for the U.S. Gulf Coast is to replace declining heavy oil imports from Mexico and Venezuela that produces the same amount of petcoke, so it doesn’t create a new issue,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Much of the new coking investment has gone into refineries in the Midwest to allow them to take advantage of the oil sands. BP, the British energy company, is building what it describes as the second-largest coke refinery in Whiting, Ind. When completed, the unit will be able to process about 102,000 barrels of bitumen or other heavy oils a day.

And what about the leftover coke? The Environmental Protection Agency will no longer allow any new licenses permitting the burning of petroleum coke in the United States. But D. Mark Routt, a staff energy consultant at KBC Advanced Technologies in Houston, said that overseas companies saw it as a cheap alternative to low-grade coal. In China, it is used to generate electricity, adding to that country’s air-quality problems. There is also strong demand from India and Latin America for American petroleum coke, where it mainly fuels cement-making kilns.

“I’m not making a value statement, but it comes down to emission controls,” Mr. Routt said. “Other people don’t seem to have a problem, which is why it is going to Mexico, which is why it is going to China.”

“One man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” he said. One of the world’s largest dealers of petroleum coke is the Oxbow Corporation, which sells about 11 million tons of fuel-grade coke a year. It is owned by William I. Koch, a brother of David and Charles.

Lorne Stockman, who recently published a study on petroleum coke for the environmental group Oil Change International, says, “It’s really the dirtiest residue from the dirtiest oil on earth,” he said.

Rhonda Anderson, an organizing representative of the Sierra Club in Detroit, said that the mountain’s rise took her group by surprise, but it had one benefit.

“Those piles kind of hit us upside to the head,” she said. “But it also triggered a kind of relationship between Canada and the United States that’s allowed us to work together.”

 Mountain of Petroleum Coke From Oil Sands Rises in Detroit –


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Reservoir deep under Ontario holds billion-year-old water : Nature News & Comment

Reservoir deep under Ontario holds billion-year-old water

Search is on for signs of microbial activity isolated in Earth’s crust.

Jessica Marshall

15 May 2013

Water filtering out of the floor of a deep Ontario mine has been trapped underground for more than a billion years. It bubbles with gasses carrying nutrients that could sustain microbial life.



 Reservoir deep under Ontario holds billion-year-old water : Nature News & Comment.


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‘Star Trek’ Spaceship Model Soars Into Stratosphere

‘Star Trek’ Spaceship Model Soars Into Stratosphere


It was billed as the U.S. S. Enterprise’s first “real” flight in space, but the spaceship didn’t get quite that far.

A group of Star Trek fans launched a model of the famed fictional vessel to an altitude of 95,568 feet (29,129 meters) above Canada, or about 18.1 miles (29.1 kilometers), they told media.

The Karman line — a commonly accepted threshold for the edge of space — is at about 62 miles, or 100 kilometers, above sea level.

Still, the high-flying feat made the Canadian group quite happy, even though the ship made a suicidal crash landing at the end of its flight.

“We lost our engines,” said Steve Schnier, a member of the group that set Enterprise aloft with a weather balloon from Stayner, Ontario, in an interview with Canada AM.

Dropping out of warp speed could have deadly results. (Image: Paramount Pictures/CBS Studios)

The Enterprise takes flight in a Star Trek showing. (Image: Paramount Pictures/CBS Studios)

“It wasn’t a smooth ride,” Schnier added concerning the ship’s final minutes. “It was moving, at one point, at 117 kilometres [72.7 miles] an hour.”

Enterprise smashed into the water near a Georgian Bay island in an area roughly 2.5 hours’ drive north of Canada’s largest city of Toronto. Searchers found it using a GPS signal.

The launch at the end of April came just weeks before Star Trek: Into Darkness, the next installment of the nearly 50-year-old franchise, zoomed into theaters in Canada and the United States this week. (Read our full review here.)

Weather balloon flights are used in science to collect information about the upper atmosphere. Other amateur groups have had fun using the idea, flying tokens ranging from teddy bears to Lego figurines.

‘Star Trek’ Spaceship Model Soars Into Stratosphere.


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Suffer. Spend. Repeat. –

Suffer. Spend. Repeat.

Sam Vanallemeersch


Published: December 8, 2012 


IN these final weeks before Christmas, it may strike you that retailers have gone out of their way to make holiday shopping as unpleasant an experience as possible. The odd truth is that they probably have. And there’s a reason for that: evidence suggests that the less comfortable you are during the seasonal shopping spree, the more money you’ll spend.

So stores crank up music, repeat the same songs, over and over again, pipe in smells, race shoppers around to far-flung points of purchase and clog their heads with confusing offers. All of which makes it more likely we’ll part more readily with more money.

Take those Christmas songs — the ones that begin to playin stores in November and last for what seems like eternity. Few of us would claim to love listening to “The Little Drummer Boy” over and over; just last month, customer complaints reached such heights in Canada that Shoppers Drug Mart, the country’s largest pharmacy chain, caved to consumer pressure and announced it would switch off Christmas music “until further notice.”

But what we love or don’t love isn’t really the point. (The Canadian chain’s ban lasted only a couple of weeks.) Music played at high volumes, for example, may be irritating, but researchers from Penn State and the National Universityof Singapore concluded it was one of several factors that leads to overstimulation and “a momentary loss of self-control, thus enhancing the likelihood of impulse purchase.”

Those who create shopping environments really don’t care what music you like to listen to. A classic 1982 study by the marketing professor Ronald E. Milliman, now at Western Kentucky University, found that slower tempos make it more likely that shoppers will linger inside stores — and spend more money. If “White Christmas” keeps you in the store, who cares whether you like its languid phrasings?

Not that faster music slows spending. The researchers at Penn State and in Singapore found that upbeat music can, in fact, overstimulate shoppers and prompt impulsive purchases. Other studies suggest that classical music incites more spending than Top 40 tunes when played in wine stores and that songs with “pro-social” lyrics result in higher tips for restaurant staff.

Smell is another part of the retailer’s arsenal. Like music, smells are selected to encourage spending, not to make your shopping experience more comfortable.

Eric Spangenberg, a Washington State University professor who specializes in the marketing power of scent, explains how retailers try to fill stores with what he calls “congruent” smells, meaning aromas that customers connect with the season or seasonal products.

“Just because people prefer something doesn’t necessarily make it effective for commercial purposes,” Mr. Spangenberg adds. Cinnamon, for example, may smell like holiday time and family togetherness, even to those of us who have never cared for cinnamon. Deploying the same olfactory reasoning, the British toy-store chain Hamleys filled its aisles with the aroma of piña coladas a few summers ago, evidently on the theory that piña colada says “vacation” — if not to children, then to the parents who pay for their toys.

Customer inconvenience can also work to retailers’ advantage. It’s well known that staples like bread and milk are often found at opposite ends of the supermarket, because this forces shoppers to travel the length of the store, past shelves of tempting nonessentials. In a department store, the same logic may guide designers to create store layouts that make it impossible for customers to move far without stopping — to let others pass, for example — thereby increasing the chances that their eyes will come to rest on products they can’t resist. Products that seem conveniently placed, including low-cost items in bins near the entrance, are probably there to coax you through the initial “deliberation phase” of shopping.

According to the theory of “shopping momentum,” as explained by researchers from Stanford, Yale and Duke Universities, we fret far more about whether to buy the first item we purchase during a trip than we do subsequent ones.

PERHAPS the subtlest technique in the salesclerk’s repertory, and a reliable way to turn negative emotions into sales, is known as “disrupt-then-reframe.” The idea is to confuse a potential customer, so as to evoke uncertainty, then rush in and offer a reassuring path through the resulting confusion. In a vivid demonstration of the effect in 1999, the psychologists Barbara Price Davis and Eric W. Knowles sent researchers door to door, selling holiday cards for charity. When they described the price as $3 for one package of cards, 35 percent of people decided to buy. But when they described the same offer in terms of “300 pennies,” and then added a clarifying coda — “It’s a bargain!” — their success rate shot up to 65 percent.

We hunger for what psychologists call “cognitive closure,” and if spending is the solution, so be it.

To stretch the idea slightly, might we think of most holiday shopping ploys as a large-scale exercise in “disrupt-then-reframe”? The music’s too loud, the lights are too bright, the streets, subways and buses are sardine tins. The relentless sensory overload — from the cinnamon smells to the Salvation Army bells — fuels agitation and an impulse to escape. How convenient, then, that there appears to be one obvious route through the chaos: buy that Nintendo Wii or that iPad or that designer perfume — whatever you’ve been wavering over — and be done with it.

We might, and probably should, rail against such techniques. We could choose to shop online, as millions do. But we might also turn our attention within, to ask why it is we’re so bothered by the lights and the crowds, so disturbed by anxiety that we’ll shop in order to make it go away. An alternative might be to cultivate what Buddhists call “nonattachment” — and if the earliest Buddhists tended to practice this in beautiful natural settings, perhaps that’s only because they lacked shopping malls. Stand on a busy downtown street at dusk on a pre-Christmas Saturday with this in mind, and decline to be swayed by the exhortations to spend, and it suddenly becomes a purely exhilarating spectacle, as breathtaking, in its own way, as any waterfall or mountain panorama.

A final truth about holiday shopping and happiness: even those of us who don’t enjoy the experience might be forced to admit that we enjoy disliking it. After all, nobody is forced to wait till December to buy gifts, yet every year we do so in droves, plunging with abandon into the precisely choreographed awfulness the retailers work so hard to perfect. I’m not quite ready to go as far as the poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht, who writes that holiday shopping fulfills “an ancient need to gather and tithe, and serves as a modern-day ritual of renewal.” I won’t claim that “The Little Drummer Boy” actually improves my holiday season. But things would feel very strange without him.

 Suffer. Spend. Repeat. –


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Free Wood Post – Canada and Mexico Scramble to Build National Security Fences to Keep Out Republicans

Canada and Mexico Scramble to Build National Security Fences to Keep Out Republicans

November 8, 2012

By Kyle Murphy

The Canadian and Mexican governments announced on Wednesday plans to build security walls along their borders to prevent Mitt Romney’s supporters from illegally seeking sanctuary in their countries.  While moving to Canada under a Republican presidency has long been suggested by American liberals, it appears the U.S.’s northern neighbor had never been concerned with the threat until it was made by the American right.

“If you think I’m some right-wing nut,” said Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper in a CBC news interview, “just wait until THOSE guys get here.”

“They make me look like Che-freakin’ Guevara.”

Mexican President Juan Del Sandro Il Saint Sanduvale had a similar reaction, though in Spanish.

American Conservatives expressed shock that other countries would want to keep them out, especially in light of their history of launching illegal wars, destroying the environment, opposing equal rights, and possessing an unflinching belief that health care is a commodity rather than a necessity.

“I don’t know what exactly we could do to win these Canadians over,” said Dale Johnson, a dejected Tea Party supporter considering a move north.  “Maybe offer to bring up tons of free automatic rifles with us and give them out as gifts?”

Construction of the separate Canadian and Mexican security fences is set to begin by Friday.

 Free Wood Post.


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US detention of Imran Khan part of trend to harass anti-drone advocates | Glenn Greenwald | Comment is free |

US detention of Imran Khan part of trend to harass anti-drone advocates

The vindictive humiliation of Pakistan’s most popular politician shows the US government’s intolerance for dissent


Imran Khan, head of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf


Imran Khan, centre, chairman of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, with party’s supporters. He has led a high-profile campaign against US drone strikes. Photograph: A Majeed/AFP/Getty Images

Imran Khan is, according to numerous polls, the most popular politician in Pakistan and may very well be that country’s next Prime Minister. He is also a vehement critic of US drone attacks on his country, vowing to order them shot down if he is Prime Minister and leading an anti-drone protest march last month.

On Saturday, Khan boarded a flight from Canada to New York in order to appear at a fundraising lunch and other events. But before the flight could take off, US immigration officials removed him from the plane and detained him for two hours, causing him to miss the flight. On Twitter, Khan reported that he was “interrogated on [his] views on drones” and then added: “My stance is known. Drone attacks must stop.” He then defiantly noted: “Missed flight and sad to miss the Fundraising lunch in NY but nothing will change my stance.”

The State Department acknowledged Khan’s detention and said: “The issue was resolved. Mr Khan is welcome in the United States.” Customs and immigration officials refused to comment except to note that “our dual mission is to facilitate travel in the United States while we secure our borders, our people, and our visitors from those that would do us harm like terrorists and terrorist weapons, criminals, and contraband,” and added that the burden is on the visitor “to demonstrate that they are admissible” and “the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.”

There are several obvious points raised by this episode. Strictly on pragmatic grounds, it seems quite ill-advised to subject the most popular leader in Pakistan – the potential next Prime Minister – to trivial, vindictive humiliations of this sort. It is also a breach of the most basic diplomatic protocol: just imagine the outrage if a US politician were removed from a plane by Pakistani officials in order to be questioned about their publicly expressed political views. And harassing prominent critics of US policy is hardly likely to dilute anti-US animosity; the exact opposite is far more likely to occur.

But the most important point here is that Khan’s detention is part of a clear trend by the Obama administration to harass and intimidate critics of its drone attacks. As Marcy Wheeler notes, “this is at least the third time this year that the US has delayed or denied entry to the US for Pakistani drone critics.”

Last May, I wrote about the amazing case of Muhammad Danish Qasim, a Pakistani student who produced a short film entitled “The Other Side”, which “revolves around the idea of assessing social, psychological and economical effects of drones on the people in tribal areas of Pakistan.” As he put it, “the film takes the audience very close to the damage caused by drone attacks” by humanizing the tragedy of civilian deaths and also documenting how those deaths are exploited by actual terrorists for recruitment purposes.

Qasim and his co-producers were chosen as the winner of the Audience Award for Best International Film at the 2012 National Film Festival For Talented Youth, held annually in Seattle, Washington. He intended to travel to the US to accept his award and discuss his film, but was twice denied a visa to enter the US, and thus was barred from making any appearances in the US.

The month prior, Shahzad Akbar – a Pakistani lawyer who represents drone victims in lawsuits against the US and the co-founder of the Pakistani human rights organization, Foundation for Fundamental Rights – was scheduled to speak at a conference on drones in Washington. He, too, was denied a visa, and the Obama administration relented only once an international outcry erupted.

There are two clear dynamics driving this. First, the US is eager to impose a price for effectively challenging its policies and to prevent the public – the domestic public, that is – from hearing critics with first-hand knowledge of the impact of those policies. As Wheeler asks, “Why is the government so afraid of Pakistanis explaining to Americans what the drone attacks look like from a Pakistani perspective?”

This form of intimidation is not confined to drone critics. Last April, I reported on the serial harassment of Laura Poitras, the Oscar-nominated documentarian who produced two films – one from Iraq and the other from Yemen – that showed the views and perspectives of America’s adversaries in those countries. For four years, she was detained every single time she reentered the US, often having her reporters’ notebook and laptop copied and even seized. Although this all stopped once that article was published – demonstrating that there was never any legitimate purpose to it – that intimidation campaign against her imposed real limits on her work.

That is what this serial harassment of drone critics is intended to achieve. That is why a refusal to grant visas to prominent critics of US foreign policy was also a favorite tactic of the Bush administration.

Second, and probably even more insidious, this reflects the Obama administration’s view that critics of its drone policies are either terrorists or, at best, sympathetic to terrorists. Recall how the New York Times earlier this year - in an article describing a new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism documenting the targeting of Pakistani rescuers and funerals with US drones – granted anonymity to a “senior American counterterrorism official” to smear the Bureau’s journalists and its sources as wanting to “help al-Qaida succeed”.

For years, Bush officials and their supporters equated opposition to their foreign policies with support for the terrorists and a general hatred of and desire to harm the US. During the Obama presidency, many Democratic partisans have adopted the same lowly tactic with vigor.

That mindset is a major factor in this series of harassment of drone critics: namely, those who oppose the Obama administration’s use of drones are helping the terrorists and may even be terrorist sympathizers. It is that logic which would lead US officials to view Khan as some sort of national security threat by virtue of his political beliefs and perceive a need to drag him off a plane in order to detain and interrogate him about those views before allowing him entrance to the US.

What makes this most ironic is that the US loves to sermonize to the world about the need for open ideas and political debate. In April, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton lectured the planet on how “those societies that believe they can be closed to change, to ideas, cultures, and beliefs that are different from theirs, will find quickly that in our internet world they will be left behind,”

That she is part of the same government that seeks to punish and exclude filmmakers, students, lawyers, activists and politicians for the crime of opposing US policy is noticed and remarked upon everywhere in the world other than in the US. That demonstrates the success of these efforts: they are designed, above all else, to ensure that the American citizenry does not become exposed to effective critics of what the US is doing in the world.

 US detention of Imran Khan part of trend to harass anti-drone advocates | Glenn Greenwald | Comment is free |


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